Tequilas.Reviews

My favorite tequila, ArteNOM 1146.

My favorite tequila, ArteNOM 1146.

I have launched a new blog called http://tequilas.reviews.   I am doing this because I love Tequila and have found it always and even increasingly difficult to find good, reliable information on my favorite spirit.  There’s a lot of information out there, but it seems a good deal of it is put out there by the liquor distributors.  I have nothing against them at all, but I’d like to see some fan pages!  And so I thought I would start one rather than complain.   Please come and see it!

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Crazily Addictive Banana Pancakes

Every once in a while my daughter, who is the lieutenant chef, has a special request, and of course, within reason, we try to accommodate it.  This morning was Banana Pancakes.   Cliche, right?  We often get them at Harry’s in West Roxbury (where they are to die for) but that does require getting up and getting dressed. We found a great recipe at Kitchen Treaty that we played with. I knew it would be good because it involves buttermilk.  The recipe had a few revolutionary suggestions.  One was to let the batter sit after combining it, so the rising agent (baking powder) can do its job. Brilliant!  Pancakes were definitely the fluffiest banana pancakes we have ever created.  Also, the suggestion of using a scooper was a mind-blowing improvement that I never thought of, and significantly aided the process.    As a postscript you should know that there is never anything in my house but real maple syrup and this is for two reasons.  One, I live in New England, so of course great (and super-expensive) maple syrup is always available.  Two, “Pancake Syrup” is a horrifying fraud that aside is likely to negatively affect your health with its ingredients.

pancakes, banana pancakes, fluffy banana pancakes

Fluffy, hot, delicious and just-slightly crispy banana pancakes are so good you will be sorry you made them.

In any case, this is a good morning activity, but the clean up was extensive (and not yet done as of this writing).

INGREDIENTS:
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 bananas (if you only have green ones, you can add 1/4 table banana extract)
  • 2 large eggs (room temperature)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter  (room-temperature soft or melted and cooled)
  • 1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Two shakes of cinnamon
  • 1/16 teaspoon butterscotch extract
  • Powdered sugar or maple syrup (or both) for topping

DIRECTIONS:

  1. First assess your bananas– if they are green-ish, like mine, we found you could submerge them in hot water for about 5 minutes to make them softer and slightly sweeter.   That’s helpful, but not a total solution.   Because greenish bananas are less sweet and have less flavor, we added about 1/4th teaspoon of banana extract.  Also, if you get a hot buttered pan and you can get a ‘crisp’ exterior, it will bring out more of the banana flavor.
  2. Add your bananas to the bowl of a standing mixer. This can ensure a good mashing.  If you have anger issues, you can mash them separately and later.  Add the buttermilk, eggs (one at a time), butter, vanilla, banana extract if using and butterscotch.
  3. In a separate bowl, sift and add the the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Whisk together to combine.
  4. Add dry ingredients to your wet one.  Mix gently.
  5. Let the batter rest for about 5 minutes. You’ll see bubbles.  (Depending on your pan’s size, you can likely make a test pancake, and by the time it’s done and eaten you’ll be ready to make the rest)
  6. Melt butter in a large frying plan. Using an ice cream scoop, I was able to do two at a time.  I feel it’s necessary to wipe-dry the pan between pancakes because it facilitates better pancakes and reduces the chance of burning the butter.  When the pancakes bubble, flip them over, and then after about 35 seconds, take them out.
  7. Serve with sides, topping and maple syrup.  You can make them early and toast them to suit late-risers.

Perfect Bread, Easy as Pie

bread loaves

Three perfect loaves of almost no knead bread.

My first adult baking task was completed on the advice from a friend who suggested I could turn a great pie with off-the-shelf supermarket ingredients like frozen pie dough and minute tapioca, and he was right.   “Easy as Pie” was true.   Over the decade and half since, I have occasionally challenged myself to be a better baker and nothing is more challenging (or more rewarding) than making good bread.   Of course, making bread is an art people dedicate to their life to, but it starts with a good recipe and good ingredients.  The recipe from Cook’s Illustrated (via the NY Times ‘where it was titled “No Knead Bread”) is so good, so nearly flawless, that it is continually reprinted again and again, cited everywhere and all over the Interwebz is the go-to bread recipe for people who want something more interesting than bread machine bread but less complicated than San Francisco sour dough bread starter in a jar.

It has just enough steps to ward off the casual bread baker and is probably a wee too simple for the artisan.  However, it’s perfect for me, because I know how to make them efficiently and good, and I always share.

This recipe has five ingredients, so MAKE THEM GOOD.  In a rare commitment to quality, I am actually listing the brands I use, because I do think they make a difference.  Perhaps not much, but enough.

  • King Arthur All-Purpose Flour
  • Morton’s Kosher Salt
  • Heinz White Vinegar
  • Fleischman’s Yeast
  • Sam Adams Summer Ale, Harpoon UFO White (beers I use)

I use a 6-qt Le Cruset cast-iron dutch oven, which is darkened from bread baking.    I make two loaves at a time because, honestly, I didn’t want to waste the beer, and the bread never ever gets thrown away, it always gets eaten.  (And the beer is consumed too, but there’s only a little left if you make two loaves).

Ingredients

  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (15 ounces), plus additional for dusting work surface
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons mild-flavored lager
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water  at room temperature

Directions

  1. Whisk flour, yeast, and salt in large bowl.
  2. Measure out liquid ingredients.  Ensure you use room temperature water– the only thing you really can mess up is by killing your yeast by pour hot water or inhibiting it by pouring water that’s too cold on it.
  3. To avoid this issue, I pour the vinegar and beer on the dry ingredients first, allowing the mixture to get bubbly, and then add the water and mix.
  4. Mix with a rubber spatula just until mixed (you’ll have the ‘shaggy ball’).
  5. Cover with saran wrap and leave for at least 8 hours.
  6. Lay a long sheet of parchment paper inside a shallow work bowl and spray with PAM.
  7.  Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead a dozen times. Shape dough into ball by pulling edges into middle. Transfer dough, seam-side down, back to bowl.
  8. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size.  This is a minimum of two hours, but longer can be better, depending on the temperature of your house at the time of baking. 
  9. Place your empty dutch oven, in the oven at 500 degrees for 30 minutes.
  10. Lightly flour top of dough and, using razor blade or sharp knife, make one long, slit along top of dough.
  11. Carefully remove pot from oven and remove lid.
  12. Pick up dough by lifting parchment overhang and lower into pot (let any excess parchment hang over pot edge). Cover pot and place in oven.
  13. Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake covered for 30 minutes.
  14. Remove lid and continue to bake until loaf is deep brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center registers 210 degrees, 25 minutes.  (I have found that you don’t actually have to take its temperature, it’s reliably this temperature unless something is very wrong).
  15. Cool as long as you can, but you might have to cut into it and slather it with salted butter and enjoy.
Best Simple Bread Recipe

So simple, so delicious, I always make two at a clip.

Best Gingerbread Ginger Snaps / Spice Cookies

PA-based spice cookie

Ivan’s Famous Spice Cookies, my childhood in a cookie

Thanksgivings of my childhood were spent with my maternal grandparents and almost always it meant a trip to Pennsylvania and Ivin’s Famous Spiced Wafers.   My cousins and I loved these cookies so much that even with all the food and family it always what we talked about in January.  “Why can’t we get more spiced wafers?”  They were addictive, and seasonal.  So we’d have to wait 11 months until our next fix. (They’re now available at Amazon.com)  When I started to bake, I never thought about making a spiced cookie, because I didn’t really know what it was.  Turns out, it’s pretty much a Ginger Snap cookie, also sometimes called a Molasses Cookie, depending on which of the bevy of spices (cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg) or sugars (white sugar, brown sugar, molasses) is most prominent in your flavor.  I tried lots of recipes, some with real ginger, candied ginger, or even pepper in them.   Most of them were not very good.   Then my friend Carolyn (last name withheld to protect her secret) shared with me her “go to” ginger snap recipe and I was hooked.  Most of the recipes I post here are versions of other people’s recipes where I felt they could be improved, and so I improved them.  This is one of those rare recipes where there is nothing I can do to add to this recipe.  It is just about the most perfect recipe there is.  Of course, I’m a little heavy-handed with the butter, molasses and white sugar, but otherwise, it’s pretty much as written below.    The original recipe calls for a frosting, which I determined was not necessary and actually detracted from the cookies.

Whenever I make these, they always disappear, whether I cook them perfectly, or too long.   They are just that good.   I do make sure to do a few things, though.

  1. I always use Kate’s unsalted butter.  You may have a favorite, but that’s mine.
  2. Get your one egg to room temperature.
  3. Freshly grate your nutmeg, and don’t use powdered nutmeg.
  4. Make sure your spices are fresh.  If you don’t know if the company that made your spices is still in business, it makes sense to go shopping.
  5. Chill your dough before you roll it, and keep the cookies small.  They better “crack” that way, which gives them a distinct and pleasing look.

 

 

gingerbread cookies, molasses cookies, spiced cookies

Ginger bread cookies– chilled first, then rolled and baked, have distinct ‘cracked’ look.

  • 1 cup sugar (for cookies), plus more for rolling
  • 3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 cups flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. In a stand mixer, combine 1 cup granulated sugar with unsalted butter until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg and molasses.

2. In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking soda, and spices. Incorporate by whisking well.

3. Add to butter/molasses mixture and mix only until blended.

4. Chill dough if possible (leads to a better ‘cracked’ look in my opinion)

5. Fill a shallow bowl with granulated sugar. Break off pieces of dough and roll into balls; roll balls in sugar. Place on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and bake about 9-10 minutes for soft, ‘ginger bread’ cookies and 11-13 minutes for ‘ginger snap’ cookies.   Let cookies set on a cooling rack (which is nearly impossible).   The dough freezes pretty well, but they generally don’t ever see a freezer.

Final note— I have experimented with using brown sugar and it doesn’t do anything for the cookies, so don’t bother.   I find blackstrap molasses is the best kind, and it should flow pretty freely from the bottle.

home made new york style bagels,

Home Made Bagels

Homemade bagels, montreal bagel recipe, NY bagel recipe, bagels at home

This is a home-made bagel with poppy seeds, sesame seeds and salt.

If you know me and you have ever heard me talk about bagels, you know that I have a very strong opinion that bagels made outside of NYC Metro- literally anywhere else in the United States are not as good.   People say “but…” but it’s clear and demonstrable that there is an environmental advantage to being in New York.  Nature or nurture? I assume some of both, but instead of arguing, which is useless, I decided to do something about it, which entails of course, making my own bagels.

Now as anyone who either made bagels professionally or has tried at home can attest, this is not for the weak or faint of patience.  It requires a good deal of concentration and stick-to-itiveness, and even when the job is done the tasks are not over.  Bagels fresh out of the oven are doughy, hot and delicious but not like their crispy, toasted and topped counterparts.

This recipe is adapted from Homemade Baking, a beautiful appointed 12-year old book gifted to me by my sister-in-law Jane, who first made these with me. On my first flight solo it took the better part of a day to make a baker’s dozen.  The recipe is based on trying to create Montreal-style Bagels, which I have never eaten fresh (though I have eaten the frozen kind) but except for the size,  these are very much like the New York bagels I miss (in NY they would be called mini-bagels, which are prized for their slightly lower carbohydrate payload).

Bagels rising on parchment paper

It’s fun to make bagels. Especially this part.

bagels bathing, bagel bath, steam bath, water bagels

Bagels need to be boiled (or water-bathed) before baking to be real; otherwise they are ROLLS.

The recipe says it will make 32 bagels because after quartering the dough when ready, it assumes you can make 8 from each quarter.  Thinking those would be too small, I made 3 out of each quarter (with enough remaining bits to make a 13th, satisfying my NY-er need for a baker’s dozen).   You can obviously make them any size you want but 32 seems like a lot more work at every step- bagel shaping, water bathing, topping and baking.  I might even double the recipe and make them larger, depending on the occasion.

Overall, the enterprise is very simple, but the process did take about four hours of work.   Like any yeast-based product, you’re going to have to walk away for a few hours and find something else to do.  The longer you’re away, the more volume (and if you don’t overdo it, the delicious tender chew) you can expect.

Homemade Bagels baking on a pizza stone.

Making the bagels on a pizza stone. Unglazed quarry tiles were not available at the time. Likely a cookie sheet with parchment paper would work.

The recipe suggests a few steps that I ignored.  It is likely this bad attitude that made the bagels more New York-style.  The author directs you to use ‘unglazed quarry tiles’ which I didn’t have, so I baked them on my pizza stone. This was adequate, but there was just barely enough room to bake them all and keep them moving through the process of their bath to topping.  She also suggested ‘flattening them’ which I didn’t do either.  This would have resulted in kind of a mini-bialy or ‘flat bagel’, aka ‘flagel’, which I didn’t want.  I wanted a more traditional roundish product.   Lastly there was a suggestion to cover the finished-but-not-bathed bagels with a cotton cloth for 15 minutes.  By that time, covered in dough and flour, hot in the kitchen, and with bowls and seeds everywhere, I regarded that as a low priority.

Lastly, because they were bigger, they needed more time to get golden brown. (The original recipe called for about 7-8 minutes on each side, but probably these take more like 20-25 minutes).

I insist you bake them until golden brown, and don’t ask me, you’ll know when they’re done. That’s what makes them CRISPY on the outside and chewy on the inside.

Just so you know before you get started, there are a few other recipes out there that promise to be easier, and use less ingredients.  Both are found here.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Some kitchen equipment to make sure you have:

  1. 4-6 quart stockpot
  2. Pizza stone, baking tiles, etc.
  3. Slotted spoon or something you can pick up bagels from pot with
  4. Long tongs for above and moving around on the baking dish
  5. Metal spatula for variations on the same
  6. Baking rack for cooling

Ingredients

First bowl of stuff:

  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast

Second bowl of stuff:

  • 2 tablespoons malt syrup
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt (might want to go a wee bit heavier here, unless you planning to add sea salt as a topping)
  • 4 cups all purpose flour (and more for shaping and rising)
  • sesame seeds (uncooked), poppy seeds and kosher, sea or your favorite edible-sized salt

For the boiling bagel-bath water

  • 3 tablespoons malt syrup
  • 1 tablespoon of salt

 

A Bowl of Poppy Seeds for Homemade bagel topping.

Poppy seeds, sesame seeds and salt were great bagel toppers. Sunflower seeds are popular in NY. Onion and garlic are good, but anecdotally not too popular.

Directions (are you sitting down?)

  • Combine first bowl of stuff: 1 cup water and sugar and then yeast.  (If you have supreme confidence in your yeast, you can proceed but I like to wait till there’s some bubbling and puffiness).
  • In a separate bowl, combine the second bowl of stuff: dissolve the malt into the 1/2 cup water. Add the egg, oil and salt. Stir.  Don’t put the whisk away, you’ll probably need to whisk again before combining as things with oil can separate.
  • Using a stand mixer with a dough hook, add the first bowl of stuff and two cups of flour; mix for about one minute at the lowest speed.
  • Then add the second bowl of stuff and the next 2 cups of flour and mix for about 3 minutes at the same speed.
  • Then, prepare to separate the dough like you peel an advertising or price label off something you’re giving as a gift– slow, careful pulling.  You’ll need some extra flour to make dough handleable, and then you can knead it a bit before throwing it into a bowl and covering with plastic wrap (I suggest you either spray the plastic wrap with PAM or throw some more flour on the dough, or you’ll have to de-tangle the plastic wrap from the dough when it’s done rising).
  • Let rise for about 2 hours.  Take out, punch down and let rise again for about 2 hours.
  • When you’re ready for the whole thing to begin, take out the dough and cut into quarters.  See my earlier note about size.  There are lots of ways to ‘make bagels’ out of dough and they have been written about in detail at Serious Eats.  I chose the rope method, which suggests you toss a thin log over your hand, pinch together voila- bagel shape.
  • Prepare your boiling water.
  • Turn your oven to 450 degrees and place your stone/tiles in it to warm up.
  • Slip in three-four bagels at a time and let them fall and resurface-  leave them in for about a minute (when accidentally leaving them in longer I didn’t notice any appreciable difference in texture).  Add toppings
    • About Toppings: It is easiest to attach toppings when the bagels are wet, but I noted that sesame seeds are great for having in a bowl and flopping the moist rings in.  Poppy seeds not as much.  It’s just an opinion, but too many poppy seeds on your bagel gets in the way of seeing the golden brown deliciousness of the bagel, and also makes them look like amateur New England bagels instead of professional NY style bagels.   So I recommend sprinkling the poppy seeds (and Salt) on top of the bagel rather than dipping/dredging.   And of course, ‘do you do both sides?’ is a personal question that you’ll have to answer for yourself.
  • Transfer topped bagels to baking stone.   Bake for about 12 minutes per side, or until golden brown.  Really golden brown, not just golden.
  • Remove and cool on baking rack.
  • Devour. Cut and freeze remaining bagels, they store well and toast well.

I like mine with cream cheese (Zausners), Lox, a lemon squeeze and a sprinkle of dill weed and crushed pepper.  But these are so good, you can just eat them with a little salted butter (Kate’s)

Lox and bagels

This is how I like them– with a ‘shmear’ of cream cheese and lox, lemon dill and pepper.

World's Best Apple Cake topped with Confectioner's SUgar

World’s Best Apple Cake (The best dessert that’s not chocolate or ice cream)

  • World's Best Apple Cake topped with Confectioner's SUgar

    The World’s Best Apple Cake, baked, and topped with confectioner’s sugar

    World's Best Apple Cake with Streusel Filling and Topping

    Apple Cake before baking–bundt pan and streusel showing

Of all the things people ask me to make, and I oblige, the World’s Best Apple Cake is at the top of the list (second only to the World’s Best Chocolate Cake).   Many apple baked goods suffer from a lack of cohesion— apple pies (and their ilk) often feature hard or brittle crusts with soft sugary apples in them.   When the crust and pie filling aren’t married (but crash into each other) there is a discordancy that I find highly unsatisfying.    On the other hand, the term apple cake brings up the idea of some kind of bad grandmotherly offering– some kind of dry, crumbly thing that has as much apple flavor as a dry martini has vermouth.

On the other hand, this cake has it all– deliciousness, moistness, crunchy yummy streusel topping, and of course, rich and real apple flavor. It comes from the The Cookie Shop and the original recipe is here.  Many recipes called “the best” aren’t even close, but this one really takes the cake (:]).  Seems like that recipe was adapted from an original Martha Stewart recipe (who got it from someone else) which confirms that everything has been done, but still it’s a great recipe.

However, as always, I found it necessary to make a few tweaks.

  1. I use slightly less cinnamon and more vanilla, salt and sugar.
  2. I only use Honey Crisp apples (in a pinch I’ll use Pink Lady or Fuji, but I try to stay on Honey Crisp).
  3. I added a streusel layer that I added to the bottom, the middle and the top (see recipe below).
  4. I have consistently found that baking time maximum is 75 minutes (the original recipe says 75-90 minutes).

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (the original recipe calls for 1 tablespoon but I can’t fit the tablespoon measure in the bottle of cinnamon, so I just take the easy way out).
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/3 cups canola oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3-4 honey crisp apples (you can substitute your favorite apple, but HCs are the perfect balance of sweet-tart), chopped. [Editor’s note: probably three or four cups of chopped apples is the right amount]
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Recipe

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray; set aside (you’ll have to empty it out after a while if it pools on the bottom)
  2. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream vegetable oil, sugar, and eggs; mix on high speed until satiny and lemon-colored, about five minutes.
  4. Add dry ingredients until just incorporated.
  5. Chop the apples by cutting the apple’s sides off and then dicing finely; you should end up with three-five cups of diced apple. (I leave the pieces rather large, but the size is up to you and your knife skills.   The apples cook all the way through so don’t worry about crunch factor).
  6. Add apples to batter; mix to combine. Add vanilla, mixing until incorporated.
  7. Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 75 to 90 minutes.
  8. Remove from oven, and cool slightly on a wire rack.
  9. Invert cake onto rack; turn cake right-side up to cool completely on rack
  10. When cool, sift powdered sugar on top.  (Cookie shop shows the cake with sugar on top but doesn’t list it as a step or an ingredient; I have been asked to top the cake with cream cheese frosting but so far have refused).
Streusel Topping*:
1/4-1/2 cup pecans
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/8 cup butter
pinch of salt
1/4-1/2 tsp vanilla
1/8-1/4 tsp cinnamon
Combine pecans, flour, brown sugar, vanilla and unsalted butter and salt, to taste, in the Cuisinart or equivalent.
Grind to till combined, paste-like but not paste.
Lay in the bottom of the bundt pan; pour on batter about 1/3 full.  Add another “stripe” of streusel.”  Fill the bundt pan with the remaining batter, then top with the rest of the streusel topping.
*This is totally improvisational, and all amounts are approximate.  I usually don’t measure at this part, so you’ll have to find the amounts that work for you.  I find it hard to get it wrong.

Father’s Day Sugar Cake: Part Three of the Butterscotch Triology

sugar cake, perfect cake, father's day dessert, robert deutsch cake, simple dessert, perfect easy dessert, egg whites

Old Fashioned Sugar Cake as developed by the website chocolatechocolateandmore.com. Fantastic!

This simple and delicious dessert was made for Father’s Day, and is the third of my dessert recipes to feature butterscotch extract. (Oatmeal and Chocolate Chip cookies being the first and second). I’m not sure how I found this recipe (think it was through some kind of Pinterest investigation) but I am glad I did.  It was from a site called chocolatechocolateandmore.com, so you know it’s good!  Warning: it contains no chocolate.

The recipe was near-perfect, but as always, I had to go and mess with it.   A couple of tweaks were necessary, not least of all was the elimination of the cast-iron pan, as mine recently broke (snapped, really).  Of course, increasing the vanilla and salt levels (this worried me at the batter stage, but paid off at the cake stage).   Lastly, I added 1/8 tsp of butterscotch extract (Frontier brand), which is a bit of guilding the lily—you can leave it out and it makes for a great, simple dessert.  But I thought it needed just a tiny little bit more personality.   Also, I found myself wondering what it would be like if I beat the egg whites (to stiff foamy peaks) with the sugar separately and then folded them into the rest of the recipe.  I didn’t try it, but that is how egg whites are frequently used in baking this type of light dessert.

My one big deviation from the recipe as written was to add a cup of sugar to the shortening, milk and vanilla combo, rather than add it all to the wet ingredients with the dry.  I felt it was necessary.  Did it make a difference?  I think when you can cream or semi-cream your sugar, you eliminate the possibility of that granular mouth feel.

Despite my track record of putting great desserts on table, my family doubted this would be a dessert they would like.  After all, it’s not chocolate, and what is it, really? Plain cake?  But no, as its original author contends– it’s melt in your mouth delicious.  Might I need to add a streusel layer (one of my other obsessions)?  Most likely.     This is also a great cake as a base– for covering with strawberries, or strawberry filling (like that from my version of hand pies) or some other kind of sweet confection.  If you have a good maple syrup, you might substitute for that for the butterscotch.

As for whether this is better in the morning, it will be hard to tell, since my family of four almost completely cookie-monstered the cake last night, which rarely happens.

So if you have a Father (or Father substitute) that you want to make happy, this a great recipe: simple and quick.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 heaping teaspoon salt
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1/8 tsp butterscotch extract
  • confectioner’s sugar for covering

Instructions

  1. Cream together shortening and milk for about 3 minutes, (it will look like small curd cottage cheese.)
  2. Add in 1 cup of a sugar and the vanilla.   Continue to mix.
  3. in a separate bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add flour, one third at a time to the milk mixture, blending well after each addition.
  4. Add in egg whites, beating just until all combined.
  5. Pour batter into a greased and floured (not sprayed) 9 inch round cake pan.
  6. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 40-45 minutes (mine was ready at 43) or  test for doneness.
  7. Let cool on wire rack for at least 45 minutes before serving, cover top with powdered sugar.

After cooling, I ‘heavily dusted’ the top with powder sugar, covering the top like a ski-chalet after a heavy Vermont snow.  The original recipe called for a dusting, but I thought it needed more.  Some in my house suggested it needed frosting, but I am not among those who agree.  However, you can check out this simple vanilla cream frosting recipe (at the bottom of this chocolate cake recipe) if you like.  Otherwise, Happy Father’s Day!

Chocolate Chunk, chocolate chip cookies, perfect chocolate chip recipe

Sublime Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chunk, chocolate chip cookies, perfect chocolate chip recipe

Chocolate chip cookies, made according to best practices: crispy on the outside, chewy and soft on the inside, full of chocolate and delicious.

Or How to Make the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie.

If you knew me, you would know that there was period in my life where I was obsessed with creating the perfect chocolate chip cookie.  This particular obsession stayed with me for about two years. During that time I continually asked the question, how could one chocolate chip cookie be so different from another?   Having eaten my way through scads of cookies at bake sales, restaurants, bakeries and neighbors’ houses, I was struck by why one cookie, be it a cellophane-wrapped one at a nearby deli was so dry, crumbly and flavorless,  while just a few doors down at another place they were chewy in the center, crispy on the outside and delicious in every way to the point that you wanted to eat the wax paper it came in.  Everyone is basically using the same ingredients: flour, butter, vanilla, salt and chocolate, how could the cookies be so different? Was there a secret ingredient?

If you care about food then you have asked this about lots of things.  The English can’t figure out why Americans can’t make proper tea, and that can have as little as three ingredients.  Simple black coffee differs from restaurant to restaurant and house to house and from coast to coast.  I hypothesized that if the quality of the ingredients was better, the overall end product would be correspondingly better.  So I commenced my experimentation by trying out what looked like the best of everything: premium chocolate, eggs that came from chickens within hours, farm milk and butter, expensive flour and premium vanillas.  Cooks Illustrated did a vanilla taste test that concluded that McCormick’s (the kind available in most markets) was the best for things that will be cooked at high temperatures (e.g. cookies).

With that, and my anecdotal experience that home bakers routinely turn out better cookies than Whole Foods, I decided to research equipment and techniques.  There is a lot to both.   King Arthur Flour did an experiment on the complexion of your pan and the difference between parchment, silicon mats and lightly greased pans has been written about extensively.   The Cook’s Illustrated recipe recommends periods of rest between beatings to allow the air to infuse properly into the cookies.  Epicurious (et al) recommend chilling your cookies, especially if they have a high fat (butter) content.

Ultimately, the right chocolate chip cookie for a person is exactly like the right bed.  Everyone’s likes are different, and vary based on age and may continue to evolve.   The perfect cookie may not be an objective, achievable thing, but I do believe it is possible to make a great and distinct cookie that will win over most people.   After years of experimentation, I finally found one I’m ready to share, though I can hardly take credit for it.   Most people I know well enough to ask them about their chocolate chip cookie recipe either use the Toll House recipe (which is fine) or one of the three Cook’s Illustrated recipes.   I have made them all repeatedly for years and they turn out predictably good cookies all the time.

But I was not satisfied, and had to continue to experiment.  Luckily, even mediocre chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven are good to eat, so experimenting was not a hardship.   I kept seeing recipes I had to try– there’s even one on the box of baking soda!  Finally, I noticed one on the Ghirardelli Chocolate Chip bag (duh) and with a few tweaks, it made the perfect cookie for me (and the people in my immediate circle of friends who are subject to trying such things).   It was pronounced “the bingo” and “best.cookie.ever.”     So I figured it was time to share with you.

INGREDIENTS
  • 2 1/4 cups unsifted flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 HEAPING teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 11 .5 ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate Baking Chips  (use 7 oz chips and 1 bar [4 oz] choppeda semi-sweet bar) or you could use a whole bag of chips, if you’re lazy
  • 1 cup butter (I use Kate’s unsalted butter), browned (which comes after simple melting) and cooled.
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • ~Three drops of butterscotch extract (about 1/16th teaspoon).
DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat oven to 350ºF
  2. Stir flour with baking soda and salt and chocolate, set aside
  3. Using a stand mixer, combine sugars, and then add browned butter.
  4. When completely mixed, add eggs one at a time
  5. Add vanilla and butterscotch, mix well.
  6. Add dry ingredient by mixing by hand with a spatula (I have stopped using the mixer to combine wet and dry ingredients, and find that it is significantly important to the final texture)
  7. Refrigerate for a few hours (but feel free to eat some cookie dough before you put it away).
  8. When ready, use a 2-oz scooper to make rather large cookies.
  9. Place 9 to a sheet. (I use parchment paper and a cushion-air baking pan)
  10. Bake for approximately 15 minutes.
  11. Let sit for at least 5 minutes, for the cookies to set

So even though this recipe comes from mostly from Ghirardelli,  I wanted to discuss the things that make it different from your standard Toll House recipe, including the three tweaks I made, which come from various places.

  1. The melting of the butter comes from Cook’s Illustrated, who suggest that browning the butter (so that it produces an almost nutty smell) produces a great cookie.  They are right.
  2. Using chopped chocolate instead of all chocolate chips was inspired by an almost perfectly written piece over at Serious Eats, a website you should visit all the time if you care about what you eat.   They say you should use ALL chopped chocolate which I agree with, but also like the mixed up texture of using both.
  3. Not sifting the flour is a counter-intuitive step for a baker, but seems to work wonders, and is in the original recipe.
  4. Adding Butterscotch is of course, my own obsession.  (I recommend Frontier brand, which is available at Amazon and probably your local health food store. Do not use artificial butterscotch flavor).
  5. More Salt and Vanilla. I’m probably using closer to 3/4 teaspoon of salt than a 1/2, but I use the 1/2 teaspoon and get a big heap on it.   When combined with butterscotch and more vanilla, these three ingredients give the cookies a deep and soulful flavor that is intense and satisfying.
  6. Using 11.5 oz of Chocolate.  Standard bag of chips is 12 oz and the Ghirardelli baking bars come in 4-oz sizes (unless you get the massive high-end bars, which come in all kind of sizes). Before this recipe, I used a fat cup (9 oz) of semi-sweet chips, but measuring out 11.5 ounces was a revelation.
  7. Making them big.   It’s a cliche to say go big or go home, but I feel like when I’m making desserts for the crowd, make ’em big.  Why make little cookies?  It’s more work!   Also, if you make ’em big it’s more likely that you can achieve that crispy on the outside soft in the middle perfection that most people love.    I end up with a nine to a tray, instead of 12.

Lastly, a great cookie dough is an important part of your arsenal.  Not just for baking cookies, but for eating straight, as I love to do.  I spent much of my youth eating out of a roll of cookie dough purchased from the supermarket. Only in my thirties did I realize I could make my own which would be better and free of high-fructose corn syrup anytime I wanted, and I could freeze it so I would always have it.

If you are like me, and obsessed with chocolate chip cookies, you may find as I did, that here is so much to read, that it’s hard to know where to start or where to stop.  Epicurious, the Huffington Post and Bon Appetit have great articles about what to do and not do and besides my recipe, maybe the only things you need. For now, anyway.

chocolate chip cookies, chocolate chunks, perfect cookies

Sublime chocolate chip cookies. Better than any other–even if the photograph isn’t going to win any awards.

 

 

 

 

Breakfast of Champions!

Bagel, Salami and Cheese

A breakfast sandwich composed of Soppraseta, Swiss Cheese and a well-toasted bagel

bagel_with_cheese_and_salami

When I first called this “The Breakfast of Champions” I was being facetious. Unlike its eponymous namesake, it has basically all the wrong things going for it. It’s high in fat (thanks to the salami). It’s high in sodium, thanks to the cheese and the salami, and it’s high in sugar due to the massive carb-load of the bagel. Also, it doesn’t even contain eggs (which Hazel Grace would object to). That being said, it tastes really, really good, and is perfect for those about to trek out into the cold, cruel word who need to be fortified for a long time.

I use three ingredients:

Ingredients:

  • 1 Bagel
  • Jarlsberg (Swiss) Cheese
  • Salami

Though it’s a simple makeup,  it’s always about personal preference. If you want to add stuff  to change its texture or flavor, like mustard, banana peppers, cole slaw, or any typical sandwich topper, go ahead.  But bagel sandwiches do get messy, even when prepared correctly.   So, if you’re going to do it, you have to do it right.  (This assumes you don’t have one of those assembly line toasters that have frustrated legions of college students and hotel buffet visitors).  And doing it right means cooking it in three stages:

Directions:

1. Toast the bagel (lightly).

2. Melt the cheese on the bagels.  (I use foil to ensure no over-melting onto toaster parts)

3. Finish by covering the melted-cheese bagel with salami and toasting on high, or broil (if you promise not to walk away from the toaster).

4. When salami is crisp, and cheese bubbly, remove from toaster and let set, two-three minutes.  If you don’t allow it to cool, the cheese will slide off.   Let it set and cut into halves (or make a sandwich).

 

More on this sandwich

My father used to make this for breakfast, where I grew up outside of metro New York City.  There, you can’t fall down without hitting a great bagel.  Now, I live in Massachusetts and look though I might, it seems great bagels are hard to come by.  You can argue with me, but you can’t win.  It’s a matter of taste and birthright; if you were born in the tri-state area, you likely have a higher standard for bagels than the rest of the country.  I don’t why that is, but I know that people who move to Massachusetts from California simply stop eating Mexican food.  Is our Mexican food bad? No, it’s just that they are used to something very different, likely more authentic, and in all reality (with few exceptions), much much better.   And really, Mass is kind of weird that way.  Though I have eaten in Chinese restaurants around the country and on both coasts, only here in Massachusetts did I find Chinese restaurants that serve rolls with dinner.   Bread rolls.  Rolls made of bread. But I digress.

So there are two keys to making this sandwich perfect.  One, start with the best ingredients.  I find the Applegate Naturals soppressata is a reliably tasty item.   Sure, we could argue about the

Salami, Swiss Cheese and an Everything Bagel

Making a great meal, even for the low arts, starts with the best ingredients (when you’ve got ’em).

history of soppressata and cured meats and I don’t doubt there are better, more authentic versions out there.  But Applegate is good and easily available;  and it in comes in a package (horrors!) which makes it easier to keep inventory control.   Jarlsberg, is of course, the most famous brand of Swiss Cheese, and is frequently sold in triangles, guaranteeing it will be nearly impossible to slice.  However, you’ll need to slice it.
The second thing is patience.  You may want to simply toast everything together, but  I find skipping any of these steps results in things being soggy where you want them to be crispy or spongy where you want them to be melty.