2017 The Year in Food August – Scale

Gratefully, I have naturally started to get requests on a larger scale than previously. So instead of “Yeah, bring something” it’s more like “We’re having a party and…”   I have liked the challenge of trying to understand the audience and plan for meeting their needs for baked goods.   Sometimes there are requests (weddings, funerals, other celebrations); sometimes the event’s theme dictates the structure, i.e. religious holiday and sometimes I am sharing duties with another baker or chef and so coordinating flavors, tastes, etc. becomes something that needs to be done.    Hitting up the restaurant supply store has been great for my imagination, because they have all the things that young up and coming bakers need to plate, carry and deploy the product.   Above, two sets of identical setups for the holiday.

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2017 Year in Food July – Copycat Recipes

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I love to do the ‘copycat’ recipes.  In fact, the reason I started really baking in the first place was to make things for my kids that would be less harmful (if only slightly) than the supermarket brands of the same thing.  I never wanted to say ‘don’t eat twinkles!’  I just wanted to say “the corporations make bad decisions regarding what goes into twinkles, and so I will show you we can make them without artificial flavors or colors or unnecessary preservatives.”  Of course, mine will go bad within three days and theirs will still be edible after the zombie apocalypse has subsided (see Zombieland for details). Above, I was not content to use anything bottled, so I made the marshmallow creme filling, the ganache and icing for the squiggle on top for these Hostess-lookalikes. This is the ‘piping the marshmallow creme’ stage, which was a lot of fun, but somewhat challenging to fill the cupcakes without breaking them open.

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2017 The Year in Food June – Bread

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I really love making bread.  I don’t love it more than anything else, but it is a true exercise in faith.  You make it, and then go to bed.  When you get up in the morning, you expect the sun to rise and the bread to rise.   Having both makes the world seem like it might be OK.  It’s true that all the real estate advice talks about making chocolate chip cookies before an open house, because it creates a welcoming aroma second to none.  However, I have found that the wafting scent of baking bread causes a kind of drunken happiness that seems like a mix between coming home and the anticipation of a welcome sensory experience of a crunchy, soft, chewy repository for butter or jam that recalls a childhood zenith of satisfaction–even if it wasn’t necessarily your childhood.

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2017 Year in Food May – Food Color

IMG_2681Of course once you have a level of comfort with something, as I started to have with meringue cookies, then I wanted to do something more exciting with them (except for some of the flavors they are a rather boring off-white color).  For my friend Jill’s wedding, I wanted to create something that honored her but I realized quickly that color creation was a whole skill unto itself, that I wasn’t going to master in a few hours.  I did manage a pretty good green and purple, which were the colors of the logo of the first company we worked at together.  I created a rudimentary double-pastry bag from two small and one large zip-loc bag, and experimented with the shape, height and colors.   I think I got about 25 usable ones at the end.

January   |  February  | March  |  April  |  May  |  June

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2017 Year in Food April – Passover Foods

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In the past few years I have been perfecting the art of SCALE.  And that is, how to plan for more than just ‘a few cookies.’    In this picture, I had just made gefilte fish to serve about four nights of Passover—of which I was only going to be at two of.  This recipe for Salmon Gefilte Fish came to me from my brother.  It is a dish that really doesn’t get the respect it deserves, but it deserves no respect because the flavorless, chewy, gelatin-soaked fish-sponges they sell in the jar are horrible and should be avoided at all costs.   Right up there with box cake mix (comments turned off, sorry).

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2017 Year in Food February – Silicon Valley (Molds)

The temptation to use silicon molds was too much, and coincidentally I had made caramel so I figured “why not?”  Not sure it’s something I would add to my repertoire as an ongoing thing, but nice to know I can pull it off if I have to (sounds romantic, no?)

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2017 Year in Food March – Macaroons

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I absolutely love macaroons and I love dipping things in chocolate.  So when I realized I got to do both it was a very exciting moment for me.   I cannot regularly temper the chocolate correctly– this seems like something like a B Chord on the guitar—I will have to keep on trying and trying and failing until I either get it right or die.

January   |  February  | March  |  April  |  May  |  June

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2017 Year in Food January — Ingredients

Joni Mitchell said “I am a lonely painter, I live in a box of paints” but I (on the other hand) live in a bin of spices, flours, flavors and extracts and mostly I love it.  Having spent summers in the art studios at Buck’s Rock Work Camp, I know that I prefer to stretch parchment paper than canvas.   Below a few of my favorite things.

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Perfect Rice Krispy Treats!

Rice Krispy Treat ChocolateIn this blog, we always strive to make the routine extraordinary, and Rice Krispy treats are a case study.  No one would argue that they are not a decades-old fan-favorite,  a staple for the egg and gluten-free and probably the most popular ‘bring-your-own’ at PTAs and bake sales across the country.    There are a few issues that nearly always affect the enjoyment of these ubiquitous ‘baked’ treats.  Such as:

  1. Bad mouth feel: Made with stale cereal
  2. Too hard: Not enough marshmallow
  3. Boring: Zero flavor; or a tiring homogeny of flavor
  4. Greasy: too much butter
  5. Loose: too much marshmallow

I confess, in my years of making these I have encountered (i.e. caused) all of the above problems.   There are slight differences in recipes on the Rice Krispy box and the Stay-Puft marshmallow bags, not to mention the Internet.  Everyone has different “twists” and tweaks to make but I wanted something that was not just good but PERFECT.   I did briefly experiment with using Cocoa Krispies and Fruity Pebbles once for a tri-fecta of different kinds and different flavors, but I found that the artificial flavors of these cereals created a terrible aftertaste.

Also, there a number of different marshmallows on the market ranging from the Stay-Puft brand to Vegan-friendly types, and of course, if you have patience, lots of sugar, time and a candy thermometer, it’s not that hard to make them on your own. But I digress.

The Breakthrough: I found that mixing in chocolate (Specifically this) cereal, the treats had a varied, and better flavor profile.  Of course if you are a reader of this blog you know that I added vanilla and salt as well.  And of course, used more marshmallows.  Lastly, I have an aversion to making anything in an 8×8 pan, though I can’t explain why, but it leads me to only want to make things in a 9×13 pan.

Ingredients:

  1. 4.5 cups of Rice Krispies cereal
  2. 2 cups of Chocolate Koala Crisp cereal
  3. 60 StayPuft marshmallows (that’s 1 1/2 bags)
  4. 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  5. At least one tablespoon of McCormick natural vanilla extract
  6. A pinch, or up 1/8th tsp of salt to taste

 

Directions:

  • Spray a 9×13 pan with PAM or the equivalent.  Add parchment paper.
  • In a large bowl, completely combine Rice Krispies and Chocolate Krispies.
  • Melt the butter in a dutch oven.
  • Add 60 marshmallows; stir until completely melted.
  • Add salt; vanilla, turn off heat, or turn to low (depending on your stove)
  • Add krispy mix, one cup at a time.   (It’s helpful to have two people doing this).
  • When desired consistency has been achieved, turn out contents of dutch oven into 9 x 13 pan.
  • Spray a spatula with pam and level the mixture.
  • Cool
  • Turn onto a cutting surface and cut into small squares; this will allow people to eat more of them which is better than people eating one and longing for more.
  • Place extras in a ziploc bag.  Add to lunches or bring to office as necessary.

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Vanilla Maple Frosting

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes
Though Ireland is rich in heritage, I must say that my experience with both the nation and the holiday has been limited to savory experiences.   Needing to come up with something for an office pot luck, I turned to the world of baking to find something good to bring.   Apparently, putting Guinness Stout in cakes and bread is done quite widely, or at very least, lots of people write recipes about this combination.   Having read quite a few of them, I determined two things. One, I needed to buy some stout (and had no idea if that would be challenging on the eve of Saint Patrick’s Day, but then I remembered I live in Boston) and two that I was probably going to make cupcakes, not a cake.    I figured since beer-baking was new, I’d want to try it out before I shared it with a crowd.  You don’t really want to start slicing a cake just to see if tastes good.  In any case, they came out wonderfully and even my wife said they were as good or better than my signature best chocolate cake ever, which for me, was liking finding a pot of a gold at the end of rainbow. 

Ingredients/Cupcakes

Makes 24 Cupcakes.

  • 1 cup Samuel Smith Chocolate stout
  • 10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa 
  • 1/2 cup regular unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 + 1/4 cups superfine sugar
  • ¾ cup sour cream
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1.5 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2+1/8 tsp of salt

Ingredients/Frosting

  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 2-3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon of salt, to taste
  • 1 tsp maple extract or a tablespoon of maple syrup

Directions

For the cupcakes: preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray cupcake pan and use liners.

  1. In a saucepan, combine stout and butter, melt and then cool.
  2. Whisk together sifted cocoa and superfine sugar and add to stout-butter combo.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine sour cream, eggs and vanilla; mix well.
  4. Add to stout mixture.
  5. Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.
  6. Add to stout mixture.
  7. Whisk or just combine; use a #2 scoop to fill your cupcake trays.
  8. Whack your tray to reduce air pockets, place in oven for 22 minutes

For the frosting:Make sure ingredients are at room temperature

  1. Cream butter and cream cheese together.
  2. Add confectioner’s sugar.
  3. Add vanilla, maple syrup extract and heavy cream, add a pinch of salt.
  4. Mix until smooth.

Transfer frosting to piping bag (or equivalent) and frost cupcakes.