Archive for June, 2012

Chocolate Lulus from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies

Lots of lulus on a plate!

Lots of Lulus on a plate!

I made these cookies because I opened the book and this is the recipe that came up. They were incredibly easy to make AND they turned out great, too! Recipe makes about 36 cookies. Take the final advice and let them completely cool before eating. There is a nice crispy outside texture to the cooled cookies. (Yes, I tried them both ways!) Here’s the recipe:

3 ounces semisweet chocolate
4 ounces (1 stick) of unsalted butter
1/2 firmly packed cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups sifted unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon finely ground black or white pepper (preferably freshly ground)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Granulated sugar (for coating the cookies)

Oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with baking parchment of aluminum foil, shiny side up.

Chop or break the chocolate into pieces (or use semisweet pieces). Place the chocolate and butter in a medium-sized heavy saucepan over moderate heat. Stir frequently until melted. Add the brown sugar and continue to stir for a minute or two over the heat. Remove from the heat and let stand.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, cocoa, salt, and pepper; set aside.

In a large bowl beat the egg and vanilla just to mix. Add the chocolate mixture (which may or may not still be warm); and stir to mix.

Add the sifted dry ingredients and stir to mix.

Place a large piece of aluminum foil on the work surface. Drop rounded teaspoons of the dough any which way, close to each other on the foil.

Place some granulated sugar in a wide and shallow bowl. Pick up each cookie mound and round with hands to 1 inch in diameter. Roll in the sugar and place on the cookie sheets. (Remember to put aluminum foil on the cookie sheets!)

Press on each cookie in one direction with a table fork only to flatten it. The flattened cookies should be 1 1/2 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick. Bake for about 12 minutes rotating cookie sheet in oven once at about the 6 minute mark. Do not over bake.

Cookies are done when they feel semi-firm on the edges. They will crisp as they cool.

Store in airtight container.

Heatter, M. Maida Heatter’s Brand-New Book of Great Cookies.  Random House: 1995  pp 140-141

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French Strawberry Cake

Genoise cupcakes and two dogs

French Strawberry Short Cakes

This was the most relaxed baking experience I have had since I joined the Tuesdays with Dorrie (TWD) club back in January. While the more skilled bakers would find this a mild success, this was a wild success for me. I was completely relaxed from start to finish. Once I got over the anxiety and began to bake.

I usually read and re-read  the recipes several times to understand the recipe:  1) what equipment I need (and need to buy); 2) what ingredients I need to buy (and when to buy them); and, 3) my steps to baking and over how many hours/ days.

What gave me a full blown anxiety attack was the ‘Lovely Necessary Evil’ ingredient:  Sour Cream.  I LOVE sour cream but never eat it.  Too many calories. I pinch my waist every time I think of sour cream. And while I am quite aware of the yogurt substitute, I want the real stuff. So this caused a lot of anxiety. So I wrote down the following questions to consider:  1) Should I not try this recipe? 2) Should I use yogurt instead of sour cream? or 3) Should I use the sour cream?

So it took me three days to make the decision. Honestly, one would think I was trying to determine school bus schedules or reading the small print to a treaty on disarmament of nuclear weapons. But every time I thought about it, I would pinch that roll around my waist to see if it had gotten bigger.

So I wrote the answers my questions:

1)  Should I not try this recipe at all?  Well, I decided that if I really want to improve my baking skills, I had to bake that with which I was unfamiliar. And the genoise cake is unfamiliar to me. So, the answer?  No, I do not, not do the recipe. (It’s like math – two negatives multiplied together make a positive.)

2) Do I use yogurt? No is the answer to this one. There is, after all, a difference between sour cream and yogurt.

That leaves me with a big fat YES to question 3! Should I use sour cream? I was so relieved that I had finally made this decision and on a day when the roll at my waist didn’t seem bigger. So I proceeded to prepare. First, I was surprised that I had all the equipment I needed!  Yipppeeee!  This may be the first month that I didn’t have to buy new baking tools and equipment! So, next, I went grocery shopping and then had to look for the sour cream. I didn’t know where it was located.

Once I was standing in front of the sour cream section I was extremely happy to see  a very small, eight ounce sizes for sale.  Who Knew?????  It was exciting to know that the 32 ounces of sour cream I anticipated buying will not be shoved to the back of my frig, become ugly moldy and won’t be discovered until Halloween. I grabbed one carton and shoved it under the lettuce, low fat dressing and rice cakes. I checked out and pinched my waist.

Once home, I looked at my tiny sour cream carton with eagerness and anticipation. I bravely put it in the frig where it could be seen easily to anyone who opened that door. I was going to use sour cream. Exhausted, from all the angst and sore from pinching I sat down to watch the movie Bridesmaids. It was during the sad and lonely scene where the main character bakes herself a single cupcake (and, might I add, she was pretty darn skinny, too.) and I thought I can make cupcakes instead of the whole darn cake! This can be my PORTION CONTROL! I wasn’t changing the recipe, I was going to change the presentation. My reasoning, was that a cake would encourage cutting a second piece. A cake would get soggy in the frig with the strawberry filling.

So, I made those cupcakes. I followed all the directions, including slicing the cupcakes into three layers and adding the filling according to the directions, and then adding the frosting. (I didn’t do the piping as I consider this art and that’s a talent for another lifetime.) I did have the extra whole strawberries but I instead drizzled the juice over the top of the cakes.  I made the cakes and served them up after a rippingly low calorie dinner hummus, blanched asparagus and tabbouleh.

The portion size was just right. It is was so right that I made a second one for each of us. (I’m sure we worked off that sour cream between servings – well, at least I did with that cutting of layers. . .)  AND!  The most exciting thin I realized is that I can re-create the cake over the next couple of days. With the components stored separately, I can have ‘freshly made French Strawberry Short Cake!’

Now that’s portion control!

Oasis Naan Bread

Oasis Naan

Pretty to look at. . . Hard as cardboard!

All in all, everything went well with the exception of the timing on the baking – this includes the choice of day as well as the baking. It was a 90/ 90 day.

Because I’m self-employed and do not have a set work schedule, I scheduled in my baking and cooking to celebrate our anniversary on a day I was not on the road and didn’t have any pressing desk work to do. And because I had ALL DAY, I decided to do a simple Indian dish with rice that I found in my Potato cookbook. Our anniversary was coming up in about 10 days so I thought this is the time to celebrate it. I pictured our dinner by candlelight, perhaps a little sitar music in the background, enjoying the rice food of India (just as we do when we go out to our favorite Indian restaurant). With homemade naan and a rich spicy meal. I even thought I might dress up in a sari (not that I have one. . . but you can see how far this fantasy went…)

So, at 7:00 a.m. when my husband was leaving for his job, I yelled out, “By the way, we are celebrating our anniversary tonight because I’m too darn busy on the actual date!” He kindly shrugged his shoulders and said, “Okay, but do I have to bring the gift for tonight?” I said no but thought that it would be nice – even if I didn’t have his yet, the fantasy continued.

So anyway, back to the baking. After he left, I went to the grocery store to pick up the items I needed for the day. By the time I returned home, and not paying much attention to the weather report, I played with the dogs a bit and made certain that our three-legged hound is doing well. Gave her a massage. Checked my email, paid some bills, etc. All the time eater tasks. At one point, I wiped my brow from the heat and realized, I had to get ‘crackin.’ So, I begin making the bread. And it is now mid-day and it is 90/ 90 or better. In my other world of working with and riding horses, 90/ 90 is the line:  when it is 90 degrees (or higher) and humidity is 90% or better DO NOT RIDE. So, what do I do?

I baked at 500 degrees.

And I cooked on stove top.

And in spite of the heat it went well, as long as I didn’t rush. The bread rose very quickly which became helpful because I hadn’t realized I would be baking only 2 of these breads at a time. Because I had no experience with tiles (and therefore had no tiles) I used the back of a baking sheet. And because I had no experience with baking in this style, I ended up second guessing the length of time to bake.

And here is where I criticize the directions. Either this book thinks that everyone is pretty well advanced OR the editor was out to lunch eating pizza rustica, but the recipe seemed to allow for a whole lot more that 8 naans at a quarter inch think and 6 inches across. I think I could have made 16 naans with what I had. But the recipe said 8 and, being the novice that I am, I did 8. And for whatever reason, it hit me that I was going to be baking 2 at a time rather than all 8 at once.

And because it appeared that these babies were going to be bigger than described, I thought, “Okay, I’ll bake a little longer.” (Stop wincing, everyone!)

So I did – about 4 minutes longer. So now I have extended the baking time at 500 degrees at 90/ 90 all the while getting dinner ready.

I got really hot. I had to change from jeans to shorts (I dislike wearing shorts). I changed t-shirts because of the dough and flour I had manged to get all over me. My hair frizzed up. My make-up would have melted (if I had any on). In short, I was a mess.

And while the naan came out beautifully. . .

They were hard as cardboard. Which I didn’t discover until we sat down to dinner.

I did make my simple meal – which was spicy and rich as I thought (yeah that went well, but we were both perspiring like waterfalls).  And there was no candlelight (even THAT put off too much heat.)  And there were no gifts (that’s coming up on the actual day.) And I looked like a tragic figure out of a Dickens novel. I give my husband credit – he didn’t say a word about the bread, other than ask what the green things were on top. (Scallions, hon)

So, it didn’t turn out as planned but the meal was okay and we did try the naan and I made it! This recipe presented me with lots of new experiences in baking:

1) Never before had I done anything Indian, (except using curry and other spices);

2) I’ve never baked anything at 500 degrees before; and,

3) I have never baked with tiles.

Soooooooo
I gained, if not new skills for ‘application’ then I have a better ‘understanding’ of the baking experience! (Bloom’s taxonomy is at work here!) That’s all I can ask for at this time is that I pay attention to the weather before starting another project like this- and maybe some baking tiles for my anniversary.