Saturday, January 26, 2008

"If you don't like it, you can eat..."

When I was a child, the ending to the above quote was "peanut butter and jelly."  We heard it quite often, when one of us complained about whatever my mom made for dinner.  I've found myself uttering the same statement way too often lately, though mine ends in "cereal."  We don't eat much peanut butter around here.  (No one is allergic or anything, it's just not a popular food.)

The latest time was this morning.  I thought I'd stir things up a bit, since I'm tired of our usual cornmeal pancakes.  In keeping with my recent chai spices kick, I decided that Gingerbread Pancakes might be fun.  After poking around on Recipezaar, I realized that it wouldn't be hard to doctor up my usual recipe (taken from my 20-year-old Betty Crocker cookbook).  I added some cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cloves and a bit of freshly grated nutmeg to the dry ingredients and added a tablespoon of molasses to the wet.  I combined the two, and discovered that I needed to add a little more milk, since the batter was way too thick.  I think next time I'll try reducing the cinnamon a bit, increasing the ginger, and adding a little more molasses to make them more gingerbread-y.

"I don't like brown pancakes!" were the first words out of Brianna's mouth when she saw them.  At my insistence, she nibbled on a small piece.  "Yuck!  I don't like them!"  (You can imagine the whiny five-year-old voice.)  
"Why don't you like them?"
"I just don't!"
"Well, then I guess you can just eat cereal."  

At least Gillian liked them.  =)  

Gingerbread Pancakes

1 cup (4.5 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp table salt
1 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp nutmeg

1 cup milk
2 tbsp canola oil
1 egg
1 tbsp molasses

In medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour through nutmeg).  In a separate bowl or liquid measuring cup (I use my 2-cup Pyrex measure), whisk together the wet ingredients (milk through molasses).  Add the liquid to the flour mixture and stir just until combined (do not overmix).  

For each pancake, ladle 3-4 tablespoons of batter onto a hot lightly greased griddle or skillet.  Cook until bubbles appear on the surface of each pancake and the edges start to look dry, about 3 minutes.  Flip the pancakes and cook until the bottoms are golden brown, an additional 3-4 minutes.  Serve hot.  Makes about a dozen 3-4 inch pancakes.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Romancing the Stone

I love my baking stone.  It was a Christmas present in 1997 (wow, 10 years!), and it's been a permanent fixture in my oven ever since.  Okay, it's actually been in 4 different ovens, but you know what I mean.  =)  It gets used for pizza pretty much on a weekly basis, and for other breads when I have the chance to make them.  I put my pie pans directly on it to bake so the crust gets nice and brown on the bottom.  It helps my oven heat more evenly.  I love it.

Yesterday started out quite chilly, so I thought it would be a good day for soup and bread.  The soup was a new recipe, from the new issue (Feb/Mar 2008) of Fine Cooking--Classic Tomato Soup.  The bread was an old favorite--Focaccia--from my Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home cookbook.  

The dough is very wet and sticky, so it can be hard to work with.  I may have stumbled on a trick to help with that, though.  When I was making the dough last night, I had to stop for a few minutes right after I finished mixing in the second portion of the flour (Gillian was into something).  That five minute rest made the dough a bit easier to knead.  I still needed the dough scraper, but not as much, and it was easier to transfer the dough to the bowl to rise.  

The original directions have you start to shape the dough on a floured surface, then transfer it to a baking sheet with cornmeal on it.  Since the dough is so sticky, I just shape it on a sheet of parchment paper on top of my peel (though you can put the paper on a baking sheet if you don't have a stone to bake on).  The dough can then be transferred to the baking stone paper and all.  Once the dough starts to bake, it releases from the parchment paper.

(adapted from Julia & Jacques)

2 1/2 cups (11 3/4 oz)  + 1/2 cup (2 1/4 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp table salt
1 1/2 cups (12 oz) warm water
olive oil
1/2 to 3/4 tsp kosher or coarse sea salt

Put 2 1/2 cups flour, the salt and the yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer.  Mix with the paddle attachment on low speed just until blended.  Add the water and mix for about 2 minutes.  Add the remaining 1/2 cup flour and blend again until the flour is absorbed, about 30 seconds.  The dough will be more moist than most bread dough.  

Transfer the dough to a well-floured work surface.  Knead very lightly about a dozen times, using a dough scraper to gather the dough together after each turn.  Plop the dough into a large bowl that has been greased with a bit of olive oil.  Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled, about an hour.  While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

When the dough is done rising, place a sheet of parchment paper on your peel or on a baking sheet.  Turn the dough out onto the parchment paper.  Start to pat the dough into a round or oval shape.  Drizzle a teaspoon or two of olive oil on top of the dough and continue to stretch and pat the dough with well-oiled fingers until it is a 10" circle or an oval that is about 8" by 12".  

Sprinkle the coarse salt over the surface of the dough.  Let the dough rest and rise slightly for about 15 minutes.

Bake the focaccia until golden brown, about 25 minutes (mine took 22 minutes).  Place on a wire rack to cool slightly, then cut and serve.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sunday breakfast

Someday, my kids will both sleep past dawn.  Gillian didn't even make it that long this morning.  I tried to ignore her for a bit, but at about 6:30, gave it up as a lost cause and got up.  On the bright side, I got an early start on this morning's breakfast.

I actually had a plan before I got up.  When we were shopping Friday night, I picked up some cottage cheese.  (Of course, I got sidetracked by that and forgot to buy more cream cheese, but fortunately I still had a little in the fridge.)  A while back, Fine Cooking had an article on making cinnamon buns with a biscuit-type dough that uses cottage cheese to keep the dough moist.  Quick, since it relies on baking powder and baking soda for leavening rather than yeast.  I've made them a couple of times, and decided to make a variation of my own today.  Brianna doesn't care for nuts, so I substituted raisins.  Of course, she waited until she was eating one of the rolls to tell me that she doesn't like the raisins in there either.  Since I've been playing around with spices lately, I also made some changes in the filling.  The original calls for cinnamon, allspice and cloves.  I reduced the cinnamon and used cardamom and ginger in place of the allspice.  Finally, I used a cream cheese icing (the same as I used on the Coffeecake Muffins) instead of the original glaze.  It turned out that I made more icing than I needed for the rolls.  But somehow, the remainder left in the bowl mysteriously disappeared...

Cinnamon Buns with Raisins and Cream Cheese Icing
(adapted from Fine Cooking)

For the filling:
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 cup raisins

Place the sugar and spices in a medium bowl.  Stir them together with a fork until evenly mixed.  Stir in the raisins.  Set the mixture aside while you make the dough.

For the dough:
3/4 cup cottage cheese (4% milkfat)
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup (4 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
9 oz (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp table salt

1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Spray a 9-inch springform pan with non-stick spray.  (I actually cover the bottom of my springform pan with non-stick foil, wrapping the excess under the bottom of the pan before putting the ring on.  Then I put non-stick baking spray on the sides.)

In your food processor (fitted with the metal blade), combine the cottage cheese, buttermilk, melted butter, sugar and vanilla.  Process until smooth, about 10 seconds.  Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Pulse until the dough just starts to come together in clumps (don't over-process).

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead it 4 or 5 times until smooth.  Roll the dough out into a 12" by 15" rectangle, with the longer side facing you.  Brush the dough with the additional melted butter, leaving a 1/2" border.  Sprinkle the filling mixture evenly over the dough.  Roll up the dough like a jelly roll, starting with the long side.  Pinch the seam to seal, but leave the ends open.  Cut the dough into 12 even pieces (I use a serrated knife).  Place the pieces cut-side up into the springform pan (8-9 around the outside and 3-4 in the middle).

Bake until golden brown and firm to the touch, 20-28 minutes (mine took 23 min).  Set the pan on a wire rack to cool for about 5 minutes.  Run a spatula around the edge of the pan and remove the ring.  Transfer the rolls to a serving plate (I just pick up the edges of the foil I used to cover the bottom of the pan and transfer the whole thing to a plate, foil and all).  

For the icing:

2 oz cream cheese, softened
1 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp milk
4 oz (1 cup) powdered sugar

In a small bowl, whisk together the cream cheese, butter, salt, vanilla and milk.  Add the powdered sugar and whisk until smooth.

Drizzle the icing over the warm rolls and serve.  

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The final product

Glazed Butter Cookies
(adapted from CI)

2 1/2 cups (12.5 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur)
3/4 cup (5.25 oz) granulated sugar
1/2 tsp table salt
16 tbsp (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened slightly and cut into 16 pieces
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp cream cheese, softened

1 cup (4 oz) powdered sugar
4 tsp milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer and mix them together at low speed using the paddle attachment.  With the mixer on low, add the butter 1 or 2 pieces at a time.  Continue mixing until mixture is crumbly and starts to look like wet sand.  Add the vanilla and cream cheese and mix until the dough starts to come together in large clumps.  Remove the bowl from mixer and knead the dough in the bowl by hand to form a large mass.  Divide the dough into two portions and form into disks.  Wrap the dough and refrigerate it about 30 min.  (If you chill it too long, let it sit at room temperature until it is firm but gives a little.)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Working with one dough disk at a time, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of about 1/8".  Cut the dough into desired shapes and transfer them to a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them about an inch apart (they shouldn't spread much).  Bake until light golden brown, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.  Repeat with the remaining dough.  The dough scraps can be patted together, chilled and re-rolled once.  

In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, milk and vanilla to form a thick glaze.  Spread the glaze on the cooled cookies with the back of a spoon and add sprinkles if desired.  The yield will depend on the size of your cookies.  

Thursday, January 10, 2008

User error

My older daughter, Brianna, started helping me with Christmas cookies last year (she was not quite four).  Her job was the sprinkles, and she did a great job.  In fact, she did something that never occurred to me to do.  I usually have about three different kinds of sprinkles at Christmas--red sugar, green sugar, and multicolored nonpareils.  I alternate between them (one type per cookie) to end up with pretty much an even distribution.  Not Brianna.  She mixes them together on the individual cookies, in different combinations.  

So this year when we started to make cookies, she asked about making cutout cookies, and wanted to know if she could help with the rolling and cutting as well as the decorating.  It seems like there's never enough time to do everything these days, and we never got around to it.  About a week ago, she reminded me that we never got to make them.  So I told her we still could, even though it was after Christmas.  I even went to Michael's and picked up a couple more cookie cutters and some different sprinkles (since when does the Valentine's stuff show up the day after Christmas?!)

Now the reason why I don't usually make cutout cookies any time but Christmas is that I find them a pain to do.  First you make the dough.  Then it has to chill.  Invariably, I forget about it and then it's too hard to roll.  So I leave it out to soften up a bit and it gets too soft.  It cracks when I try to roll it out.  I roll it too thick or too thin.  The cookies break.  And this is all before we even get to the perils of decorating.  Of course, pretty much all of the above happened on Sunday when we were trying to make the cookies.  Plus I got a late start, so there was no way we were going to finish all in one evening.  I'm sure it didn't help that I'd spent way too much time that afternoon telling Brianna to please leave her sister alone.  Plus getting all the Christmas stuff put away.  Argh.

At the time I was rolling out the cookie dough, I was convinced that there was something wrong with it.  It was cracking like crazy.  It kept sticking to the rolling pin.  I'd made a couple modifications to the dough, but nothing big--adjusting the salt and vanilla to make the flavor more to my liking.  Nothing that should have caused a big problem.  But it just wouldn't cooperate.  I didn't let Brianna roll out any dough, though she did get to cut out some shapes.  We got cookies baked, but Brianna and I were both pretty much in tears by the end.  In fact, we only baked half the dough.  And we didn't get to decorate.

There just hasn't been time the past few evenings to do anything, much to Brianna's disappointment.  I have the day off today, so I told her that I'd pick her up early from daycare so that we'll be sure to have time for decorating today.  I decided to go ahead and bake cookies from the other half of the dough so we can have all the cookies ready to decorate at once.  I learned something.  The problem wasn't the dough.  It was me.  With the relative peace and quiet (Gillian's home sick, but can occupy herself for a bit), I was able to get the dough rolled out and the cookies cut out and baked with no trouble.  

Being a mom is definitely a learning experience.  Yes, Brianna wanted to help with the whole process, but sometimes that's just not practical.  The decorating is her favorite part anyway, and we'll both enjoy it much more if that's all we have to focus on.  There will be more chances as she gets older for her to help with the rest.  Of course, by then, I'll be listening to her fight with Gillian over who gets to do the sprinkles.  =)

Saturday, January 5, 2008

More muffins

When I asked Brianna what we should make for breakfast this morning, she immediately requested coffeecake muffins. 

Not surprising, since she wanted them earlier in the week when I made the Gingerbread Muffins. Since I had everything we needed, that's what we made.  The recipe I used was based on one from my copy of Baking Illustrated.  It's pretty easy to make, since it uses the food processor.  First you pulse together nuts, brown sugar and cinnamon and transfer to another bowl.  The flour, sugar and salt are pulsed together and then butter is cut in.  Some of the flour mixture joins the nut mixture to complete the topping, and leaveners are added to the processor bowl.  Sour cream, an egg and vanilla are whisked together and are added to flour mixture.  When everything is pulsed together, a pretty thick batter is created.  Then some of the topping is added back to the batter and pulsed just enough to swirl things together.  I used a #16 disher--I love these things--to portion the batter into the muffin pan and then added the topping.  Into the oven they went, and I had to endure the endless questioning--"Are they done yet?  Can I do the icing yet?  When will I get to do the icing?  Is it my turn yet?"

So here's Brianna, helping with her favorite part:

And showing off her completed masterpiece:

The biggest change I made this time was to do a different icing.  The one we usually do is pretty much just powdered sugar and a bit of milk, and while it's a nice complement to the muffin, it's pretty sweet.  After seeing this blog entry over at Dine and Dish, I was inspired to make a cream cheese icing instead.  It stayed sticky a lot longer than the other glaze, but boy was it tasty.  =)  Next time I'll take the cream cheese and butter for the icing out to soften when I start making the muffin batter.  Since I was pretty much making things up as I went along, this time I had to resort to softening them in the microwave.  

So here's the recipe:

Coffeecake Muffins 
(adapted from CI)

non-stick baking spray (with flour)
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 oz) unsalted butter
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (2 oz) pecans, coarsely chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
2 cups (10 oz) unbleached all-purposed flour (I use King Arthur)
1 cup (7 oz) granulated sugar
1 tsp table salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 egg
3/4 cup (6 oz) sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with non-stick baking spray (such as Pam for Baking).  Cut butter into 1/2" cubes and set aside to soften slightly.

Put dark brown sugar in bowl of food processor and process to break it up.  Add pecans and cinnamon and process until nuts are very finely chopped.  Transfer to a medium bowl.

Add flour, sugar and salt to processor bowl and pulse to combine.  Scatter butter cubes over flour mixture and process until butter pieces are oat sized.  Remove 1 cup of flour/butter mixture and add to bowl containing nut mixture.  Mix with a fork to make streusel topping.  Add baking powder and baking soda to flour mixture remaining in processor bowl.  Pulse to combine.  

In small bowl or liquid measuring cup, beat egg slightly and then whisk in sour cream and vanilla.  Pour over flour mixture and process just until a thick batter is formed (about 5 seconds).  Take 3/4 cup of the streusel topping and add it back to the batter in the food processor.  Pulse until just distributed through the batter.

Distribute the batter into the 12 muffin cups (a #16 disher or 1/4 cup measure works well).  Sprinkle each with streusel and press lightly to make sure the streusel sinks into the batter a bit.
Bake 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out with a few crumbs clinging to it.  Cool in pan about 5 minutes, then tranfer to a wire rack.

While muffins are baking, prepare the icing:

1/4 cup (2 oz) cream cheese, softened (I used 1/3 less fat since it's what I had)
1 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup (4 oz) powdered sugar
1 tbsp milk

In a medium bowl, whisk together cream cheese and butter until smooth.  Whisk in salt and vanilla.  Add powdered sugar and milk and whisk until icing is free of lumps.  Add more milk if thinner icing is desired.  

Drizzle the icing over the warm muffins and serve.  

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Gingerbread Muffins

It's been a crazy couple of days, so I'm trying to get caught up on my baking and cooking escapades from the last few days...
Since the bagel selection was quite decimated by the time we got to Central Market Friday night, I figured I'd better make some muffins so I'd have breakfast during the week.  Since I had to work on Saturday, Sunday morning was my only opportunity.  Brianna lobbied for Coffeecake Muffins (she likes to drizzle the icing on them), but I was in the mood for something different.  After some poking around on the Fine Cooking and Cooks Illustrated sites, I settled on Gingerbread Muffins with Crystallized Ginger Topping.  I still need to work on my photography skills a bit.  I like this picture the best of the ones I took, but it came out a bit blurry (no flash).

The batter was easy to put together.  Brianna still got to help, by putting the sugar/ginger topping on them, as well as greasing the pan for me.  I 'm glad that I replaced my spices recently--these use a tablespoon of dried ginger, and I could really taste it in the batter.  It wasn't quite so strong once the muffins were baked.  They turned out quite good, though next time I may skip the crystallized ginger and just sprinkle some turbinado sugar on top.  Gillian really liked them: