baking

chocolate chip cookie baking in Germany

Yesterday, after two days of collecting ingredients from various grocery stores, I baked some chocolate chip cookies. It was quite an adventure.

Member of the millennial generation that I am, I documented the experience with my social media accounts. So, dear parents, grandparents, and friends who do not participate in Twitter and Instagram, here is what happened:


Chocolate chip cookie baking in Germany. | Step one: let the block of butter soften on a sunny windowsill.


Compare and sample the two barbaric alternatives to impossible-to-find chocolate chips. Decide they’re passable.


Throw the rest of the ingredients on the counter before you have the chance to wonder any longer if all those German words mean what you think they do.


Spend 20 minutes hacking at baking chocolate with a dull knife and muttering about chocolate chips.

At first I thought the butter was rancid. But then I looked at my innocent, little bag of sugar.


Taste the butter and sugar mixture and discover the loud, citrusy overtones of gelatin sugar for canning. Employ tablespoons of vanillin sugar as an antidote.

A bag of sugar shouldn’t have an ingredients list. This one did:
“Zucker, Geliermittel Pektine, Säuerungsmittel Citronensäure, Konservierungsstoff Sorbinsäure”


Taste the mutant, citrusy dough you’ve created. Add vanillin sugar. Repeat. Again. Don’t let the flatmates see you grimace.

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE BAKING IN GERMANY

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE BAKING IN GERMANY

The equivalent of several tablespoons of vanilla extract, an oven tutorial from one of the flatmates, some Celsius-to-Fahrenheit calculations, a temperature adjustment or two, and three rounds of baking later: speckled chocolate chunk cookies.


Against all odds, place a plate piled high with sweet success – baked at 185° Celsius – on the kitchen table and watch them disappear.

 

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE BAKING IN GERMANY

They were chewy; there was not even the slightest hint of citrus tang; and they were gone in 18 hours. The end.

 

 

toasted pecan spice cookies

pecan spice cookies up closeWell, it’s over. After a speedy procedure between 10:30 and 11:30 this morning, I stumbled hesitantly out of the oral surgery office, with a lot less smarts and a mouthful of stitches. Yes, yes, I just made the classic and corny you-must-be-less-wise-because-you-got-your-wisdom-teeth-out joke. I couldn’t help myself. My innocent little wisdom teeth were yanked from their happy homes; I need some puns for consolation.

The remaining sedative fog burned off on the car ride home, so by the time I walked into the kitchen, I felt pretty good. My face – from my ears and lower eyelids to below my chin – was still cold and numb, so the pain was minimal. Fortified by some ibuprofens, I decided to take advantage of my presumably short-lived comfort by making some cookies. Dad’s siblings and my cousin were set to arrive this evening, and one always wants to have cookies on hand when guests are coming. So, I stuffed a napkin in my mouth to catch my wayward drool (tmi?), strapped my ice packs to my face, and pulled out the mixer. Baking therapy. With a side of fruit juice to keep me going.pecan spice cookies on a platter

And the cookies? They’re delightfully chewy, warmly spiced, and full of nuts and raisins. You can’t go wrong. I first made them before Christmas, and between then and now I’ve whipped up a batch three or four times. I think they’re currently my favorite cookie. Their main flavor is reminiscent of gingerbread, but there are also oats for more texture, golden raisins for tangy sweetness, and toasted pecans for crunch and lovely, nutty flavor.pecan spice cookies

I have become loathe to include nuts in anything without first toasting them. They just have so little flavor if you don’t toast them; they’re just texture. But once you brown them a bit, suddenly the aromatic oils burst forth and fill the air and whatever dish to which you add them. It’s marvelous! Even the mild almond suddenly develops a personality. A quality raw pecan itself has a strong, woody flavor; add a little heat and it blooms beautifully.pecan spice cookie dough

Speaking of flavor, if you try these cookies, do use golden raisins. It really makes a difference. Regular raisins are to molasses as  golden raisins are to honey. There’s a brightness, a lightness in golden raisins that you just don’t get with the regular ones. And sometimes I think I can detect just a hint of tartness.pecan spice cookies in a box

Toasted Pecan Spice Cookies 

  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • 1 + 1/2 sticks butter
  • 1 + 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup oats
  • 1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 + 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Spread the pecans on a cookie sheet and toast them in the oven as it heats up, until deep brown a fragrant; time will vary according to oven, so be vigilant and check them every minute.

Using a mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs and beat until smooth. Add the oats, salt, baking powder, and spices (or combine separately in a bowl and pour into butter mixture) and mix until combined.

Chop the toasted pecans. Fold pecans and golden raisins into cookie dough.

Roll dough into walnut-sized balls and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes. The cookie will be puffy. As soon as you take them out of the oven, transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool. They may seem undercooked, but they’ll be fine. It’s okay if they smoosh a little bit when you move them. If you leave them on the baking sheet, they will have crispy, thin edges when they cool.

Enjoy with milk! [Makes ~33 cookies.]

how to soften chilled pie dough

cold pie doughThere comes a time in everyone’s life, or so I most earnestly believe, when you accidentally makes twice as much pie crust as necessary. Or perhaps you do it on purpose: a “one pie for now, one pie for later” sort of deal. Regardless, you have to keep the excess fresh, so you stick your the lump of pie crust dough in the fridge, snitching a bit of buttery, salty deliciousness just before you snap the container lid shut and shove it onto the nearest shelf.

The days pass and suddenly you need that pie crust. You’ve got to throw an entire pie together now. It’s the only spare moment you have, and you need it for the church potluck tomorrow or that dinner tonight where you promised you’d bring dessert or you’re watching your favorite tv show and it requires a slice of pie to go with it. But the crust is cold. Cold! And you forgot to get it out earlier. Panic.soften pie dough

So now you’ve got a choice. You can wrestle with chilled pie dough and muscle it into some sort of crust-like shape while your fingers freeze, or you can soften it up right quick and go on your merry pie-making way. But you can’t just toss it in the oven or microwave. It’ll partially cook, and you’ll have rubbery crust. Nope.

Really, the problem is all that cold butter in your dough. It’s keeping everything stiff. So to solve the problem, you just need to soften the butter – but not melt it. This is where the marvelous microwave comes it. Toss that pie dough in the microwave on a low power setting, and the butter will gently soften until your pie dough has returned to its proper pliability. Phew. On with your life!how to soften pie dough

Maybe this is a no-brainer for everyone else on earth, but I’m assuming there’s someone else somewhere who’s as impatient and pie-focused as I am. So here’s my non-recipe “how to” for softening pie dough. The instructions look long, but I promise this isn’t complicated.

How to Soften Chilled Pie Dough

Ingredients:

  • 1 frustratingly cold lump of pie crust dough
  • 1 microwave
  • some knowledge of your microwave’s settings

Instructions:

  1. Place your pie dough in a microwave-safe bowl and stick it in the microwave.
  2. Somewhere on your microwave’s keypad, there should (hopefully, probably) be a button for “time cook” or “cook time.” If there is, enter 4 minutes. (If there’s no button like that, go straight to adjusting the power level – but don’t forget to switch it back when you’re done.)
  3. Before you press “start,” find the “power” button. Most microwave’s I’ve ever used have the power automatically set at the highest level: 10. You want to set it at 1 or 2. Do that.
  4. Press “start.”
  5. Every minute take the dough out to smoosh it around a bit to be sure everything softens evenly. You can even take off the chunks that are softened and warm, set them aside, and continue microwaving the rest of the dough. Repeat until all of the dough is softened – 3 to 4 minutes, depending on your microwave.
  6. Now go make that pie!

Or

  1. Find the melt/soften butter setting on your microwave.
  2. Steps 4-6 above.

fruit-on-top baked french toast + making breakfast for company

You know you cook differently when you have company. It’s okay guys; the secret is out. Just admit it. No more nonsense. You’re not fooling anyone by waving off the inquisitive compliments of your friends and relatives, “Oh my goodness, this is so delicious.  Do you make food like this all the time?” No, is the answer. Only when you’re here, and I feel an alpha-dog-like need to prove my culinary prowess. But, “Aw, psh, it’s nothing,” you object, turning your head away so they can’t see your satisfied smirk.

It’s nothing? Yeah right. You know you rummaged around your neglected notecard filer for your grandmother’s secret recipes, flipped through your cookbooks for your most trusted dishes, and paged through dozens – no, hundreds – of food blogs online in the days leading up to the company’s arrival. You mentally planned out the meals for every day, arranging the best ones for the last few days, so you’d have some tasty leftovers to shovel into your mouth as you slump on the couch in exhaustion/depression after everyone has left. You stocked the fridge and freezer ahead of time, so when everyone arrived you could casually offer them exactly the beverage you know they’ll be wanting.  “Caffeine-free diet Dr. Pepper, anyone? Sure thing, we just had it in the fridge.”

Breakfast is always the trickiest. You can’t just offer cereal every day. That would be pathetic and not at all festive. You don’t even like cereal enough to wish that upon anyone else. But you don’t want to get up at the crack of dawn to whip egg whites – quietly, quietly now –  for waffles, nor do you want to permeate everyone’s clothes with the lingering smell of bacon and eggs more than one morning out of the week. You can make pancakes, but only once. Ummm, what else? You need something that can be ready when the first person gets up.

Enter baked french toast. It’s the solution to your problems. It’s easy, tasty, but impressive nevertheless. But there’s still that syrup dilemma  They’ll always be one person who wants real maple syrup, so you’ll have to get that. Then, what kind of artificial syrup do you get? The low-sugar? Sugar-free with aspartame? Ick. Butter flavor or not? Stupid American grocery stores with endless choices. They make daily quandaries even more difficult.

So, enter fruit-on-top baked french toast. It really is the remedy. It has all the ease and flavor of regular baked french toast, but doesn’t require syrup. The fruit on top – be it blueberries or peaches or whatever else is in season – melts into its own delightfully gooey berry compote or roasts to lightly caramelized perfection with just enough sweetness to satisfy even the most sugar-crazed child but not so much that people begin to wonder if you made dessert for breakfast. Throw everything in the pan the night before, set your oven to turn on nice and early, and enjoy a blissful night’s sleep. And when you awake with a start early in the morning, panicking about breakfast being ready for your guests, the warm smell of baking fruit will lull you back to sleep. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Got guests coming to stay for the Fourth of July? Give it a try!

baked french toast

Fruit-on-Top Baked French Toast

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons milk
  • 4 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3-5 slices of sandwich bread
  • ~2 cups blueberries or other fruit
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

[Makes enough for one 8 x 8 pan. You’re going to need more than that for company.]

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grease an 8 x 8-inch (or 9 x 9?) baking pan. Lay the slices of bread in a single layer on the bottom of the pan.

In a small bowl beat together the eggs, milk, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, nutmeg, 5 spice, and vanilla. Pour evenly over the bread. Be sure that all the bread gets some egg mixture on it. You may have to move them around with your hands a bit to be sure.

Spread the blueberries (or sliced peaches or whatever fruit) in a single layer on top of the bread. Sprinkle cinnamon and remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar evenly on top.

Bake at 350°F for 40 minutes, until the toast part has puffed and the fruit has softened (or burst, as in the case of the blueberries). Enjoy warm!

[To any friends and family members who have ever stayed at our house: the above post was written entirely in jest and should not be taken as a reflection of reality.]

gingerbread granola

gingerbread granola

Well, Website Wednesday is on vacation for the moment – an inauspicious beginning to the series, I know – while I dedicate the full force of my descriptive powers to my critique of critical essays of Pride and Prejudice. You read right. Critique of critical essays. Oh, the things I have to write. Last semester I wrote about gravestones. That’s a long story.

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Anyway, since I’ve basically committed to posting twice a week now – Website Wednesday and a recipe post on the weekend – I decided I couldn’t post nothing. Actually, it would be incredibly sensible to post nothing. I think I’m a bit crazy to demand of myself two posts a week. Then again, no I’m not. This silly little blog is becoming just as important to me as my schoolwork, so by golly I’m going to devote myself to it as if it were schoolwork. I refuse to give in. Take that, German homework and Pride and Prejudice paper!

Photo on 2013-02-26 at 21.03

So, tomorrow when I get up at 7:30 to keep working on said paper, I’ll munch on some granola. It’ll be Gingerbread Granola. Yeah. It’ll be an act of defiance of the very paper I’m working on, since I’ll have blogged about the granola when I should have been working on the paper. I may be a sleep deprived and muttering about “art versus nature” and “anti-jacobin sentiment” as I stumble to class, but I will have blogged about granola. Hah!

gingerbread granola

At this rate I am beginning to think I should call myself “The Granola Queen” and start another blog with that name. It seems like every other recipe I post is granola. Oh well. This one tastes like Christmas break, which makes it especially appropriate to eat when you’re bogged down with work that puts you in an exceedingly un-Christmasy spirit. When you don’t have time to bake gingersnaps or gingerbread, you can still have the happy flavor of Christmas spices in your bowl for breakfast. There’s even that familiar little bite of baking soda. So, snag your pen, scoot up to your desk, or hunch over your textbook, and shovel some merry gingerbread flavor into your mouth at breakfast time. It just might help.

gingerbread granola

Gingerbread Granola

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups oats
  • 1/4 cup flax seeds or flax seed meal
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 tablespoons honey (or other liquid sweetener, like agave)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 + 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 + 1/2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat over to 275°F.

In a large bowl combine the spices, salt, oats, and other dry ingredients. Mix molasses, honey, and applesauce in a small bowl. Pour the liquid into the oat mixture and stir until all of the oats are coated. When you think you have stirred enough, stir some more. Once everything is perfectly incorporated, spread the granola on a baking sheet or two and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes. The cooking time will depend on how thin you spread the granola on the baking sheets. Bake until the granola is lightly browned and mostly free of moisture. Enjoy!

strawberry rhubarb fruit leather

IMG_4507

Garrison Keillor says it best, though I would add some strawberry to his equation:

“Yes, nothing gets the taste of shame and humiliation out of your mouth like Beboparebop rhubarb pie . . .”

“But one little thing can revive a guy,
And that is a piece of rhubarb pie.
Serve it up, nice and hot,
Maybe things aren’t as bad as you thought.

Mama’s little baby loves rhubarb, rhubarb,
Beebopareebop Rhubarb Pie.
Mama’s little baby loves rhubarb, rhubarb,
Beebopareebop Rhubarb Pie.”

– Garrison Keillor on Praire Home Companion

I’m thinking in song today, and I don’t know why.

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Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man. Bake me some leather as fast as you can!

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Stew it . . .

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Puree it . . .

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Spread it on a pan . . . And put it in the oven for Claire and her friends!

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Then give it a few hours, and you’ll have perfectly sweet-tart fruit leather.

IMG_4509

Strawberry Rhubarb Fruit Leather

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint strawberries (either fresh or frozen)
  • 1 pint rhubarb pieces (either fresh or frozen)
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar

Preheat your oven to the lowest temperature it will go. That’s 170°F for my oven.

Place all of the ingredients in a pot and heat them on medium heat. Smash them a bit with a potato masher. Simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and pour into a food processor. Blend until smooth. Line two rimmed baking sheets with plastic wrap. Spread the fruit mixture evenly on the baking sheets. If your baking sheets are large, you may have to spread the fruit on only one sheet. You want the puree to be about 1/8 inch deep. Alternatively, spread the puree on the fruit leather sheets of your food dehydrator. Dehydrate for 6 to 12 hours, until the puree is not tacky. The dehydrating time will depend on the temperature of your oven or dehydrator and how thickly you spread the puree. Once the fruit leather is done, cut it, roll it, and enjoy it!

website wednesday: Eat, Live, Run

website wednesday

So, I have this idea for a new series of posts. I’m calling it “Website Wednesday.”

If this little series goes according to plan, every Wednesday I will feature one of my favorite food blogs. In my post I’ll list and describe the best recipes I’ve tried from the particular site, give any background information I can offer, and generally sing its praises.

I regularly follow an ever-expanding host of positively brilliant food bloggers. These people consistently concoct culinary creations of incredible beauty and exceptional flavor, and they take astonishingly appealing photographs of what they cook, too. Combining their food content with personal antidotes – from deeply profound to lightheartedly clever – they never cease to amaze me with their ingenuity. The bloggers I will feature are the ones like which I aspire to cook and write. I hope you’ll love them as much as I do.

So, without further fangirl verbosity, I present to you my first feature on Website Wednesday:

Eat, Live, Run

I wish I could remember when and how I discovered Eat, Live, Run. I believe it was sometime while I was in Peru, foolishly flipping through pages of food blogs overflowing with delectable dishes I had no way of cooking. Or maybe I found it through Tasty Kitchen, one of my favorite source for recipes of all kinds. Who knows. Regardless, I am very glad I did.

Eat, Live, Run is written by Jenna, a happy-looking, blonde Le Cordon Bleu graduate living in California. Her posts are full of bubbling enthusiasm for yoga, for whatever she’s cooked lately, for life, and for food photography. If you need proof of her passion for any of those pursuits, I would recommend her book, White Jacket RequiredI asked for and received it for Christmas. It’s an easy read that describes Jenna’s decision to attend culinary school, details some of her adventures therein, and explains how her decisions and a personal tragedy brought her to where she is today. I breezed through it in a few hours, and finished with a better picture of the person behind some of the food I like best.

Speaking of the food I love, the food on Eat, Live, Run is a good balance: healthy entrées and sides full of vegetables as well as decadent cakes and cookies baked with the perfect amount of butter and flour. And whatever the dish, the flavor is always perfect – I think that’s Jenna’s greatest cooking talent: her feel for flavor.

Here are the recipes from Eat, Live, Run that have made it into my “favorites” food folder:

  • Graham Cracker Torte: I’m pretty sure that this is the first ELR recipe I ever made. It blew my mind. It’s a cake made with crushed graham crackers, layered with rich whipped cream, and drizzled with caramel sauce with a hint of orange. Whoa, is it good. I’ve made it two or three times, and each time my brothers or myself have carefully cleaned the cake plate with our fingers to make sure not one drop of that incredible caramel sauces goes to waste. Also, I leave short notes to myself about recipes I’ve tried; the note for this one tells it all: AMAAAZING!
  • Thai Red Curry with Kabocha Squash: This creamy curry is bursting with limey flavor. I simplify the recipe a bit when I make it – butternut instead of kabocha squash; eggplant instead of tofu; lime zest instead of kaffir lime leaves and thai basil – but I keep coming back. It’s just so good.
  • Dairy-Free Stuffed Shells: This is one of Jenna’s recipes that was posted on PBS’s food blog, for which she writes (such a cool job!). I love the creaminess of the shell filling and so does my family. You’d never guess that the shells are stuffed with tofu rather than cheese. Simply brilliant. The only thing I’d change is the amount of salt – it’s a bit too salty.
  • Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Sweet Potato Pancakes: Another repeat winner here. I made these in California during my jobternship and then again several times since I returned. Sweet potato and chocolate is a combination to die for, especially in a pancake. Of course, I use all whole wheat flour instead of half white as the recipe calls for.
  • Tofu Banh Mi: This marinated tofu sandwich is a tasty combination of Asian-inspired sauces and slaws piled on crusty bread. It was just plain good. Even my dad liked it, and he first tried it back in the days when he was exceedingly skeptical about tofu. He’s come to accept it since then, thankfully.
  • Greek Yogurt Cheesecake with Peaches and Honey: This is recipe holds the special place as the only cheesecake that I can honestly say that I like. I dislike the combination of sweet and cream cheese, so naturally I dislike all cheesecake. Since this one is made with greek yogurt, though, I can finally enjoy both wonderful versatility of cheesecake and the flavor! Plus, it’s not so dense, so you can eat a bigger slice. Hurray! When I made this over Christmas break I topped it with a cranberry-raspberry compote instead of peaches and honey. Everyone at our New Year’s Eve party loved it.
  • Crock Pot Pork and Apples: I made this also while over Christmas break and was immensely pleased with it. I had told Mom I would make dinner but was leaving for an afternoon of running errands, so I threw the ingredients in the crock pot in less than 15 minutes, turned it on high, and returned home several hours later with my main dish already cooked and waiting. The apples and onions had softened to sweet perfection and the meat – I used some of our goat steaks – was incredibly tender. And everything had the slightest tang of mustard. Yum!
  • Elvis Granola: This granola. Oh man. It is pure peanut butter deliciousness. With chocolate. Oh yesss. I can’t stop making it. Last semester, when I had no access to peanut butter for a couple of months, it was my peanut butter stand-in. And when a sudden chocolate craving hit me the other day, this granola saved me again: I picked the dark chocolate chips out of it to satisfy my chocolate need. This semester it has a permanent place in the rotation of granolas I bring from home and eat for breakfast. The only thing I change when I make is to use applesauce instead of canola oil and to add a bit more peanut butter. You guys, you have to try this. You must.
Elvis Granola from Eat, Live, Run.

Elvis Granola from Eat, Live, Run.

There you have it, people: my first Website Wednesday feature. I really do hope you’ll go check out Eat, Live, Run, if by some miracle you haven’t heard of it already. I love that site dearly.

Also, I apologize – sort of, not really – for the astonishing amount of alliterations that abound in this post, especially near the beginning. I don’t know what overcame me, but it sure was fun.