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.

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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.

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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.

Oatmeal Cookies: Third Time’s a Charm

oatmeal cookie dough on a cookie sheetMany of my readers know about my white-whale like obsession with making an oatmeal cookie like those found at Petsi’s, a bakery in Somerville, MA.  I have detailed in previous cookie recipes I have written here and here.  In those recipes I discuss how I discovered the missing ingredient was butterscotch extract (heartbreakingly discontinued by Frontier Co-op). However good the cookies may have been, they were not EXACTLY right for some reason.  This is despite soaking cranberries, using bread flour, and so much more.  Baking has brought out my inner competitive spirit, so I cannot rest until I have cracked the code, and I think I have finally cracked the code.

How? Unlike the other recipes, I started again from the beginning, and by that I mean I did not use my own previous recipes as a base, but experimented with others— I started with the Cook’s Illustrated/Baking Illustrated recipe for “Chewy Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies.” Of course, I changed it a lot since I like cranberries instead of raisins and completely reject their assumption that cinnamon should be jettisoned in favor of nutmeg. And of course, I added Frontier Coop Butterscotch extract, which was the best butterscotch extract anyone makes anywhere.  Aside from that, I had to make the following three changes:

  1. Ground Oatmeal! One thing that was stopping me was the use of whole oats.  All of the recipes and recipe writers that I respect say to use whole oats because they are better for you and have a better texture.  Those things are true, but after sampling and resampling Petsi’s cookies (what I do for you, readers) I realized that the cookie texture did not seem like mine, ergo not whole oats.   So, I ground whole oats in the cuisinart (not till dust, but no longer whole).  Bingo! Added a great flavor and texture that didn’t feel like someone trying to make me eat oats but not telling me!
  2. More Fat! Their cookies are soft in the middle and crispy outside.  I figure they have some other liquid or fat besides butter.  Oil?  Cream cheese?  Lard? Coconut oil? Many of these things were appealing thoughts, but ultimately they all changed the texture or flavor too much.  Through research I came across a solution: Sour cream.  Doesn’t change the flavor, but added a textural note that was heavily desired.
  3. Vanilla Paste!  Oatmeal cookie recipes NEVER have vanilla in them, but I don’t know why.  Vanilla makes everything better and my love has deepened when I found Vanilla bean paste, which is great for when you don’t want to add a tablespoon of liquid to your recipe but a plasma like paste is perfect.

Then I was ready.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 16 tablespoons butter (softened)
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 cups quaker whole rolled oats, ground by pulsing them in a food processor
  • 1/4 tsp butterscotch extract
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

 

Directions 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk your dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and set aside.
  3. Chop or grind walnuts, add them and cranberries to flour mixture.
  4. In a stand mixer, cream your butter and sour cream about three minutes.
  5. Add both sugars and mix until fluffy.
  6. Add the eggs, one a time.
  7. Add the vanilla paste and butterscotch extract.
  8. Add dry  ingredients to the wet ingredients until just combined.
  9. Use a 2-inch scoop to form your cookies.
  10. Bake for about 22 minutes, until the edges are just browned.
  11. Let cool for five minutes.

 

Oatmeal Cookie

 

Chocolate Macaroons

img_2061Of course, there were always coconut (plain) and chocolate macaroons for Passover when I was growing up and I always loved chocolate better until I discovered home-made coconut macaroons dipped in chocolate that were so much better.

Taking a page out of a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa, I added some chocolate to a half batch of regular macaroons I had made.  After they came out it just so happened that I had some Ghiradelli White Melting Chocolate and a bit of coconut oil which I melted and dipped them in.

I just barely got the picture taken before they all dissappeared.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 (14-oz.) bags sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tbsp. sour cream
  • 1 tbsp. heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 12 oz. bittersweet (and milk) chocolate, mixed and melted.
  • Tiny bit of salt, perhaps less than an 1/8th of a tsp
  • 2 Egg whites
  • 1/8th tsp cream of tartar
  • 2 tablespoons of non-sweetened cocoa powder, sifted

FOR MELTING

  • White chocolate (for melting)
  • Coconut oil (for making the chocolate easier to dip)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients (except egg whites and cream of tartar) until thoroughly combined.
  3. Place two egg whites and cream of tartar in a stand mixer until you can see foamy peaks. Fold into other mixture.
  4. Press dough into a soup spoon or small ice cream scoop or ball in your palm and place on baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 20-30 minutes until lightly brown. If you want them crispy on top, it will be more like 30 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven; let cool.
  7. If possible, submerge (dip) the macaroon in melted chocolate and place on a tray lined with wax paper. (Don’t even start me on tempering the chocolate, that’s a whole other thing).
  8. Refrigerate for 20 minutes before serving.