Thursday, February 26, 2009

Whole Grain Rant

Welcome to Pet Peeve Day at Cookie Baker Lynn, the day when your host goes on a rant and you get to sit back and wonder when the medication will take effect.

Today's topic - recipes that call for boxed mixes as ingredients. Now I have no big beef with that kind of recipe. One of my husband's favorite cakes calls for a boxed cake mix and a box of pudding mix. (One of these days I'll figure out how to make it with real food, but that's a task for another day.) I just don't think of it as real cooking to use a mix. That's just stirring.

What really cheeses me off is when I pay actual money for an actual cookbook and it has recipes that use boxed mixes. I buy cookbooks to cook, not to mix! Imagine my frustration when an issue of Bon Appetite arrived a while ago with a tempting picture of whole grain pancakes on the cover and when I eagerly flipped to the recipe it called for...whole grain pancake mix! What?? What kind of a recipe is that?

Thank heavens for Bob's Red Mill Baking Book, a cookbook with real recipes that uses food for ingredients. I used the recipe for buckwheat pancakes from that book and the Bon Appetite recipe for the sauce. It made a satisfying and hearty breakfast. I feel calmer already. Pass me another pancake. I think the carbs are working.

Buckwheat Pancakes with Maple Blueberry Sauce

- adapted from Bob's Red Mill Baking Book and Bon Appetit

1 cup maple syrup
1 cup frozen wild blueberries

2 cups buckwheat flour
3 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup water
1 cup milk
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1- Boil syrup and blueberries in heavy medium saucepan until reduced to generous 1 cup, about 13 minutes. Cool to lukewarm.

2- Oil and preheat a griddle.

3- Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the water and milk, then slowly whisk in the butter. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir till just combined. Add a little more water, if necessary. The batter may thicken as it sits; add a little more water, if necessary.

4- Ladle about 1/4 to 1/3 cup batter onto the hot griddle and cook over medium heat until bubbles appear, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and cook until golden brown on the other side.

5- Serve pancakes with butter and reserved syrup.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cashmere Brownies

My husband has some funny quirks I love to tease him about. One of which is his love of coats. He buys coats the way some women buy shoes. He has a coat for every occasion and every possible weather combination. One that has a hood for rain. One that's a shell for when it rains, but it's warm. One that's perfect for snowy, cold days. One that's full of pockets, because you never know. A sporty jacket for going out running errands. A zip up for going to the gym. And that doesn't include old coats he doesn't wear but keeps for sentimental reasons, or the coats he'd like to buy, but can't justify.

I totally understand this. Really. The same old thing doesn't work for every occasion. Sometimes you require something a little dressier, a little more tailored. The same concept applies to baking. You can't make the same cake or cookies every time you bake and expect people to get excited. (Unless you only make cookies once a year, and if that's the case, why on earth are you reading this blog??) And making the same plain chocolate brownies can get a little monotonous.

Enter the perfect solution - Peppermint brownies. Take a basic brownie. Infuse it with peppermint. Frost it. And add a swirl of white chocolate to fancy it up. These are not basic, zip-up hoody, everyday brownies. They are the upscale, cashmere overcoat of brownies. It's a little extra effort, but so worth it!

Peppermint Brownies
- adapted from Cookies by Fine Cooking

10 oz. (2-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
10 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 tsp peppermint tea leaves (from about 2 tea bags)
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp peppermint extract
1/4 tsp kosher salt
4-1/2 oz. (1 cup) all-purpose flour
2 oz. ssemisweet chocolate
2 Tbsp light corn syrup
2 oz. white chocolate

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. with a rack in the center of the oven. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking pan, line it with parchment paper so that the paper extends at least an inch above the long sides, and butter the paper.

2- Place a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water. Melt 8 oz of the butter and 8 oz of the unsweetened chocolate in the bowl. Stir occasionally with a heatproof spatula until the mixture is completely melted and uniform, 6 to 7 minutes. Turn off the heat, but leave the bowl over the water.

3- In a food processor, finely grind the peppermint leaves with the sugar. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, peppermint extract, salt, and peppermint sugar until just combined. Whisk in the melted chocolate mixture. Reserve the simmering water for later.

4- Slowly add the flour, gently folding it in with a spatula, until incorporated. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out almost clean (a few bits of batter should cling to the toothpick), 35 to 40 minutes.

5- Put the pan on a rack to cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. When cool, lift the paper lining to pull the brownies out of the pan. Peel the paper off the brownies and put them on a cutting board.

6- Bring the pot of water back to a gentle simmer and set a heatproof bowl over it. Add the semisweet chocolate, corn syrup, and the remaining 2 oz butter and 2 oz unsweetened chocolate. Stir frequently with a heatproof spatula until the mixture is melted and smooth; set aside.

7- Put the white chocolate in a separate heatproof bowl and set it over the water. stir frequently until it's melted and smooth; remove it from the heat.

8- Spread the semisweet chocolate glaze over the cooled brownies in an even layer using an offset spatula. Drizzle the white chocolate over the glaze in lines. Use a toothpick or a wooden skewer to drag the white chocolate in parallel lines.

9- Refrigerate until the glaze is set, at least 20 minutes and up to 12 hours. Cut into thirty bars, about 2 inches square. To cut cleanly, use a knife rinsed in hot water and then dried. Keep the bars well covered and serve at room temperature.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Off The High Horse

Sometimes I get a bit on a baking high horse. Perhaps you know the pony I'm referring to. It's snobby about ingredients, pretentious about equipment, and takes itself way too seriously when it comes to technique. But then I encounter a recipe that makes me climb off the high horse (thank goodness, I really don't like heights) and touch ground again.

My mother-in-law gave me a recipe years ago that is soooo simple that I thought was too easy to be good. All the ingredients are things that I would have in my cupboard or refrigerator. No special shopping trip required to hunt down an ingredient. A mixing bowl, a grater, and a 9 x 13 pan are all it calls for. If you have a KitchenAid, that's a bonus, but it's not required. And as for technique, it's basically a dump cake. You put all the stuff in the bowl, you stir, you pour in the pan, you bake. C'mon, even my six-year old could do that!

But the best part is the cake that comes out of the oven. It's fabulous. Moist, fragrant, studded with raisins. It's perfect for snacking, for tea time, or for dessert. Or breakfast, if my son gets his way. (Well, hey it's got fruit in it, so that's a healthy breakfast, right?) And if you feel like this was just too easy and a delicious cake needs more effort put into it, you can drizzle some homemade caramel sauce over the top.

Pat's Grated Apple Cake

5 cups grated apples*
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1-1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp soda
1 cup raisins

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. with a rack in the center of the oven. Grease a 9 x 13-inch pan.

2- In a large mixing bowl combine all the ingredients. Mix until well blended. Pour into the prepared pan.

3- Bake for 45 to 60 minutes. The cake should be set, the top golden. A toothpick inserted near the center should come out without batter clinging to it

* You can peel the apples, if you like, but I don't. It saves a step and gives a lovely color to the cake to leave the skin on. If you have a KitchenAid grater attachment or a food processor grater, this is a wonderful time to use it. Just core the apples, cut into quarters and throw them into the machine. You'll have 5 cups grated apples in no time! But don't despair if you don't have either; a box grater works just as well, only a little slower.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Year Of Bread

Time flies when you're baking bread! It's hard to believe that the Bread Baking Babes are celebrating our first anniversary this month. We started out as twelve intrepid bakers, willing to delve into challenging recipes, have long discussions of various flours and hydration levels, and have a wild time together taming the bread of the month. We made crowns, braids, wreaths, and pockets. We lived the sweet life, went on safari, attempted an impossible miche-on, and took a trip to France . What an amazing year with a wonderful group!

As we start a new year together we've had a little re-arrangement of our roll (pun intended). We lost Sher of What Did You Eat last year and Glenna of A Fridge Full of Food bowed out so she could have a less structured approach to her food blogging. In order to bring our number back up to our full complement we have invited Natashya of Living In The Kitchen With Puppies and Gretchen of Canela and Comino to join the Babes. They have been faithful Baking Buddies, completing and posting the breads to earn a Baking Buddy badge each month. We're so pleased to welcome them to Babes!

This month, Tanna, the amazing lady who dreamed up our group, gave us a new twist on bread. Go nuts! Walnuts, to be precise. Instead of going nuts right a way, I had to go shopping. This loaf contains, besides the walnuts, 5 different grains, so it was time to add to my ridiculous collection of flours. The helpful tip was that if you didn't have oat flour or brown rice flour, you could grind them. Well, that's helpful if you have a grinder, which I don't. I certainly wasn't going to attempt this with a mortar and pestle!

Once I had the ingredients I got to work toasting the nuts, measuring the flours, and mixing up some seriously tasty bread. My first thought when I took a bite of the crusty bread was, "I know this taste. What is it? What is it?" Finally, the aha moment came - Rye Krisp crackers! Even though this bread is supposed to be all about walnuts, it really tasted exactly like Rye Krisps in bread form to me. It was good spread with butter, but I loved it even more toasted. Thank you, Tanna, for this great recipe and for this great group. Be sure to check out the other Babes and see their take on the Walnut 5 Grain bread (the links are on the side).

And if you'd like to bake along with the Babes, you have until February 26th bake and post the bread and send a link to Tanna. She'll send you a beautiful Bread Baking Buddy badge to proudly display on your site.

Five~Grain Bread with Walnuts
- adapted from The Italian Baker by Carol Field

Makes 2 - 9 X 5-inch loaves

2-1/2 cups (300 grams) walnut pieces
3-3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast or 1 1/2 small cakes (27 grams) fresh yeast
1/4 cup warm water
3 cups water, room temperature
3-3/4 cups (500 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (125 grams) oat flour or finely ground rolled oats
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (125 grams) rye flour
1 cup less 1 tablespoon (125 grams) whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup (125 grams) brown rice flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (12 grams) salt

Toast the walnuts for 10 to 15 minutes in a 350° F oven until they begin to darken and smell toasted; then chop in a food processor fitted with the steel blade or with a sharp knife to the size of a fat rice kernel. Do not grind them finely. (I left larger chunks so I could enjoy the texture in the bread.)

Stir the yeast into the warm water in a large mixing bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in 3 cups water. Mix the walnuts, flours, and salt and stir 2 cups at a time into the dissolved yeast, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. The dough should come together easily. Knead on a floured surface, sprinkling with additional all-purpose flour as needed, until firm, elastic, and no longer sticky, 8 to 10 minutes.

Stir the yeast into the warm water in a mixer bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in 3 cups water. Stir in the flours, walnuts, and salt with the paddle. Mix until the dough comes together. Change to the dough hook and knead for 3 to 4 minutes at medium speed until firm and elastic but still slightly sticky. Finish kneading briefly by hand on a surface floured with all-purpose flour.

Make sure your food processor can handle the volume of this dough. Even when done in 2 batches, there will be 4 cups flour to be processed. Stir the yeast into the warm water in a small bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Place the flours and salt in a food processor fitted with the dough blade and process with several pulses to sift. With the machine running, pour the dissolved yeast and 3 cups cold water through the feed tube as quickly as the flours can absorb it; process until the dough gathers into a ball. Process 40 seconds longer to knead. Knead in the walnuts by hand on a surface floured with all-purpose flour.

First Rise. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Shaping and Second Rise. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. The dough should be moist, firm, and noticeably elastic, if slightly sticky. Cut the dough in half and shape each half into an oval loaf to fit a loaf pan. Place the loaves in the oiled pans (preferably glass), cover with a heavy towel, and let rise until truly doubled and fully above the tops of the pans, 1 to 1 ¼ hours.

Baking. Heat oven to 400° F. Slash a pattern in the top of the loaves. One baker in Milan cuts the shape of a stalk of grain on the top; elsewhere bakers make 3 parallel slashes. Bake 40 to 45 minutes; bake the last 5 to 10 minutes out of the pans on a baking stone or baking sheet to brown the bottoms and sides. Cool completely on a rack.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Two Thumbs Up

I love getting recommendation from people whose taste I trust. It makes it much less risky to gamble two hours of my life to watch a movie if I know that my friend with identical tastes in movies raved about it. The same is true for books. There are people whose glowing review of a book means that I'll be reading that book within the next week.

Reading blogs is like getting personal reviews and raves about recipes and cookbooks. I love to see real life pictures of what a recipe yields (rather than something a food stylist created out of shortening and shaving cream) and to hear how someone who bakes in a home kitchen, rather than a commercial set-up, liked the recipe and the directions.

I've always been a bit put off by Martha Stewart. Her show and her books seemed designed to tell me in detail exactly how much better her life, her tastes, and her abilities were than mine. That's why I didn't jump for joy and run out and get a copy of Martha Stewart's Cookies when it came out last year, even though it practically had my name in the title. It was only when I started seeing some of my favorite blogs baking from the book and gushing about the book that I decided to check it out. Which I did. Literally. From the library.

The book traveled between the kitchen and my bedside. You know what that means. I was hooked. When it was time for the book to go back to the library my husband looked at all the scraps of paper bookmarking delicious recipes and said, "Is this something Santa should know about?" Well, Santa came through for me. And this is the first batch of cookies that I've made from my new book. It didn't call for any imported ingredients, specialty tools, or esoteric techniques. And the cookies were delicious. The best of carrot cake in a cookie - genius!

I think prison changed Martha. Perhaps we could be friends. Well, maybe not close friends, but we could bake together.

Carrot Cake Cookies
- adapted from Martha Stewart's Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for flattening cookies
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1-1/2 cups finely grated carrots (about 3 large carrots)
1 cup raisins*

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1- In and electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and both sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat on medium speed until well combined.

2- In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger; stir to combine. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture on low speed, just until blended. Mix in the oats, carrots and raisins. Cover the bowl and refrigerate until the batter is firm, at least one hour.

3- Preheat oven to 350 deg. F, with racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

4- Shape tablespoons of dough into balls (I used a cookie scoop to keep my hands clean), and place on the prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between balls.

5-Put about 1/2 cup all-purpose flour into a shallow bowl (like a cereal bowl). Dip the bottom of a water glass into the flour and use it to flatten the dough balls, coating it in flour each time.

6- Bake until browned and crisp around the edges, 12 to 15 minutes, rotating the sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through the baking time.

7- Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

8- Make the Cream Cheese Frosting. Place the cream cheese in a mixing bowl. Using a rubber spatula, beat cream cheese until smooth. Gradually add butter and continue beating until smooth and well blended. Sift in confectioners' sugar and continue beating until smooth. Add vanilla and stir to combine.

9- When the cookies are completely cooled, pair them up according to size and shape. Spread about 2 teaspoons of the frosting onto the flat side of one half of the pairs. Sandwich them together with the remaining cookies.

Cookies can be refrigerated in airtight containers up to 3 days.

*If your raisins are not plump and moist, soak them in hot water for at least 10 minutes to help them plump up. Drain them and dry them on a paper towel. You could also soak them in rum or Grand Marnier, but be sure not to let that liquor go to waste when you drain the raisins!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Historical Chocolate

I took an AP History class in high school. It was one of the most boring classes ever. Remember the teacher in Ferris Bueller's Day Off? My teacher was like that, only without the interesting charm and sparkle. Everything was memorizing dates, names, and treaties. Yawn. As soon as I took the AP test I promptly flushed everything from that class out of my brain.

But I've learned over the years that history, when it's not dehydrated into a stale list of facts, is actually fascinating, because history is the story of people. It's about people who did ordinary things, people who did extraordinary things, and how they changed the world around them. I have become quite fond of reading historical fiction as it is a painless way to learn history. My latest being The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (thank you, Melinda!). I highly recommend it.

Another engrossing way to learn about the past is to read old cookbooks. I have one which I adore called the Southern Heritage Cakes Cookbook. It tells not only the history of certain cakes popular in the Southern United States, it also contains old product advertisements and tells how products like baking powder and gadgets like hand-held egg beaters and oven thermostats changed the way that cakes were made. Delightful descriptions and vintage photos make it a pleasure to thumb through, and sometimes I even get sucked into baking from it.

Most recently, the Mississippi Mud Cake called to me. A cake as rich as the mud from the mighty Mississippi River? Yes, it is. Chocolate, nuts, gooey marshmallows, and chocolate frosting. Oh my! It's cross between a brownie, a lava cake, and a s'more. A word of warning, though. It is really sweet. This would be an ideal treat for children, or you could play with the recipe, using less sugar in the frosting to back off the sweetness a bit, if you don't have a big sweet tooth.

Mississippi Mud Cake
- adapted from The Southern Heritage Cakes Cookbook

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Dash of salt
1/4 cup plus 1-1/2 Tbsp cocoa
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans
10 oz. marshmallows (I used large, but I think mini might work better)

Chocolate Frosting:
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp cocoa
1/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp warm milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
16 oz. powdered sugar, sifted

1- Preheat oven to 325 deg. F. Grease a glass 9 x 13 - inch pan. (If using a metal pan, increase the oven temp to 350 deg. F)

2-Cream butter; gradually add sugar, beating well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a small bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa; add to creamed mixture. Stir in vanilla and pecans.

3-Spoon batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes until top is barely soft to the touch.

4- While cake is baking, prepare the frosting. Cream butter then add the cocoa, mixing well. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, adding warm milk as necessary, until spreading consistency. Stir in vanilla.

5- Remove cake from oven and cover top with marshmallows. Return to oven for 2 minutes or until marshmallows are soft. Spread marshmallows over cake and immediately cover with Chocolate Frosting.

6- Let the frosting harden before cutting the cake into squares.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

One Track Mind

I don't know if I'll ever learn. Really, the number of times I've blown it in the kitchen because I'm trying to juggle too many things at once is beyond counting. You would think I would know by now and refrain from tackling more than one, or at a maximum, two projects at the same time. But no.

Case in point - my daughter had a couple of friends coming over for a quick dinner before we headed out to a movie. I decided to make chili since I had the ingredients on hand and it is a quick, easy meal I could throw together in a coma. Once I got going on that, though, I realized that chili needs cornbread to go with it. No problem. I make chili and cornbread together all the time. Then I realized that we couldn't have friends over for dinner and not have dessert! I figured I'd make my easy, trusty brownie recipe. No problem, right? Well, a small problem. When I'm rushed for time, and juggling three recipes, I don't always read as carefully as I should. I added twice the amount of melted chocolate to the batter as I should.

So how was the meal? The chili was good, the cornbread was underbaked, so it was kind of cornbread pudding, but tasty cornbread pudding. And the brownies? Well, they just weren't right. A little dry. The texture and taste were off and I was saddened to have spend all that time and chocolate making a pan of brownies that no one wanted to eat.

After staring at that pathetic pan of wrong brownies for two days, fearing I'd have to chuck the whole thing in the garbage just to get it off my counter, I had a brilliant idea. Brownies and ice cream together are delicious. How about brownies in ice cream? The ice cream hid the dryness problem of the brownies and the brownies provided a delicious textural counterpoint for the ice cream. Fabulous!

Chocolate Brownie Ice Cream

- adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

8 oz (230 g) milk chocolate with at least 30% cocoa solids, finely chopped
1-1/2 cups (375 ml) heavy cream
1-1/2 cups (375 ml) whole milk
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
Big pinch of kosher salt
4 large egg yolks
2 tsp Cognac
Brownies with walnuts (about 1/2 of a 9 x 9-inch pan)

Combine the milk chocolate and cream in a large, heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is melted, then remove the bowl from the saucepan. Set it aside with a mesh strainer over the top.

In a medium saucepan warm the milk, sugar, and salt. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer into the milk chocolate mixture, add the Cognac, and mix together. Stir until cool over an ice bath.

Chill the mixture in the refrigerator 4 hours or overnight. Freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. During the last few minutes of churning, crumble in the brownies.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Bread + Cheese = Delicious

When I was a child I thought cheese was disgusting. I refused to eat it. I wouldn't allow cheese to pollute my hamburgers and I wouldn't even consider a grilled cheese sandwich. The first cheese that I actually tried and enjoyed was Milchkasse (milk cheese). As the name suggests, it was pretty mild stuff. I've gotten better, but I still prefer mild, creamy cheeses.

My husband is the opposite end of the spectrum. I don't know that he's ever met a cheese he didn't like. He adores bleu cheese, salivates for brie, and would possibly consider an offer to swap a child for cheese, if it was sharp enough. He even liked Limburger. His happy place is the cheese section of Whole Foods. I have literally seen him wipe drool off his chin when he's browsing there.

So it wasn't much of a stretch for me to figure out that the Crusty Gruyere Loaves featured on the King Arthur Flour website would make his day. I won't bother to give you the recipe here, since they've got it in a neat printable format with lovely pictures explaining every step of the process.

What I will do is tell you that this is delicious. I paired it with soup and it made a fabulous dinner. Melty cheese oozing out of warm bread. Does it get any better than that?

My only addendum to the recipe is that I chose to make the two loaves, rather than the 4 large rolls. The directions say to place the loaves cut side down on the baking sheet. This isn't really applicable to the two loaf options. I imagined a leaning tower of disaster in the oven and instead placed my loaves side by side, resting on the pinched edges. The two loaf option is tidier, with less cheese spillage, but not as visually compelling. But still delicious. Trust me on this. It's all gone!