Category Archives: baking

passover prep.

Another in a series of bad pictures (of delicious things).

crack

matzah crack, first batch, with birthday sprinkles

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Leavened.

Photo on 2016-04-13 at 14.35

Latest loaf, all purpose with some whole wheat and a couple of tablespoons of oat bran, olive oil, molasses as sweetener.

All the years I’ve lived alone, I’ve always kept one of those classic strips of three yeast packets in my fridge. Sometimes it’s been years between attempts to bake with yeast, and sometimes I’ve pulled the packets out to discover they were three years past their use-by date (long even by my loose limits), but they were always a cheap just-in-case item. Well, now I have been baking bread almost every week for a year and more except for the months when it was too hot to turn on the oven, so a few weeks ago I went to the supermarket to pick up another Fleischmann’s three-pack. “$2.79?” I thought. “Really?” I looked at the shelf label and it told me that the unit price was $59.39 per pound (or something like that). Hmph! snorted I to myself, I know that the price for a full pound from (say) King Arthur isn’t anything like fifty-nine dollars. Key Food didn’t have any full pounds to check this, but Whole Foods, when I was lured in there by Z a day or two later, did. Price per pound? $5.39. That is, buying yeast in packets raises the price tenfold. Which is perfectly acceptable if you use one packet a year for three years, but not if you’re baking every week.

Canny Brooklyn shopper that I am, however, I waited till my next trip to Sahadi’s, where I found four different kinds of bulk yeast and got a pound of SAF Blue Label for $4.25. And look how dynamically my latest loaf rose! I always trust Sahadi’s for fast turnover, so I don’t doubt this is the freshest and happiest yeast I’ve ever had; and I am not tempted to skimp on it, but can dip my teaspoon luxuriously.
Photo on 2016-04-13 at 14.31
Let me know if you want to share my pound of yeast. I figure I have six or eight more loaves till summer, by which time my investment will already have paid for itself,  and then I’ll move the package from the fridge to the freezer for the hot months.

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Educational.

Happy New Year! I come into it with new knowledge, that it is very easy to make zabaglione.  Lifetime learning, that’s what I’m all about.

Also I made a quiche that one friend called “the best quiche he had ever had.” I think its special quality must have been that it was still warm from the oven and unctuously soft — there was nothing particularly remarkable about it. Here’s what it had: Plain butter crust with a little cornmeal thrown in, cream & almond milk for the liquid, sauteed mustard greens & spinach with onion and scallion, feta and cheddar.

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Old ways and new ways

Bread-baking season started again in October, when it finally got cool enough to have the oven on (although it remains, in mid-November, unseasonably mild). I made a satisfactory couple of loaves following Mark Bittman’s easy (food processor-kneaded) sandwich loaf process. I varied the flours, sweetener, liquid, and fat each time, and made no detailed notes, but I am getting a better feel for the texture of dough at each stage and for the shaping of loaves.  I get nice flavor and a pretty good, well-knitted texture in a bread that can last me a week of skinny slices. It turns out that watching the rise timings helps. With those two successes behind me, I attempted a much more complex recipe for French loaves found in BAKING WITH JULIA, edited by Dorie Greenspan. I started with old dough, saved from the previous week’s baking, waking it up with a little water the night before. This went into a first starter, which then made a second starter, which then went through two long rises before shaping and final rise.  The dough looked great, stretchy with big and small holes, through the second starter and even the first rise, but the second rise almost didn’t. The dough had become almost inert, seemingly.  I shaped two small baguettes, following the instructions rather impatiently — it was now eight o’clock on the second day, or twenty-four hours into the process. Maybe they should have rested longer than an hour, but I was out of time.  So into the oven they went. And there was enough oven spring to make the two sad, poorly formed logs burst and bulge out in various directions, but not enough to make the texture less than leaden. Well, whipped lead. Still edible, but dense and somewhat gummy. Rather than developing a crisp brown crust, they had the mottled look of a redheaded glassblower. Continue reading

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Limey.

No photo, so take my word for it that yesterday’s lime pie, finally dolloped with concentric rings of softly (hand-) whipped cream and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and minced lime zest, its pale face circled with a russet collar of cookie-crumb crust (speculoos mixed with very similar almond wafers), looked rather pretty. My baked goods hardly ever look pretty — maybe handsome in an undecorated fashion, but not pretty — so I was pleased. And it tasted great, the tangy, soft, cool lime and cream a fine contrast with the crunchy, cinnamon-and-gingery crust. It went beautifully with the other dessert contribution at the dinner party, Camille’s lemon cake with raspberries.

I was inspired by this frozen lemon pie recipe from Everybody Likes Sandwiches, cross-referenced with Mark Bittman and Martha Stewart and a handful of other recipes. Citrus tarts using sweetened evaporated milk are legion, and not complex at their essence, though there are so many variations that this basic simplicity can be obscured.

The only other time I went to Ralph’s place it was for another dinner party and there too I brought cream, bowl, and whisk. That time it was a chocolate torte — the red wine cake, I think. He must think I’m obsessed with beating. The Four Freedoms monument on Roosevelt Island, now visible, clean and elegant, from Ralph’s terrace, had not then been built. Like all the best midtown views, his also includes other people’s terraces, watertowers, and the Chrysler Building.

Crunching and jamming.

You remember that pear-ginger conserve I made, out of Melissa McClellan’s FOOD IN JARS book? Well, I made another recipe, nectarine-lime, and it was maybe even more delicious. It came out a gorgeous purplish-red color, too, surprisingly, suggestive of cherries or raspberries, but I figure it was all due to the nectarines’ skins.  The minced lime zest gave it a little sharp nip.

I had all the ingredients (except the millet, procured for 26 cents at the organic store on Court Street) so I made Smitten Kitchen’s vegan, gluten-free, nut-free chocolate granola bars.  So far I have not encountered any of my acquaintance with all those requirements, but the non-sensitive to whom I’ve offered the bars have enjoyed them. There are a lot of variable slots in the recipe: I used pomegranate molasses for the sweetener, tahini for the nut butter, coconut oil for the fat, dates and dried cranberries for the fruits.  Even cut with (gasp) corn syrup the pomegranate was, as I feared, somewhat overwhelming; if I make these again I will use honey and will change up the fruits, maybe to raisins and apricots. I’ll also reduce the chocolate further (I used a little less than the cup called for).  In pursuit of effective congealment I adopted the technique from the comments of heating the syrup briefly and melting the oil and tahini into it.  I baked at night, refrigerated the tin, and cut the bars in the morning, and they held together quite well. Half the batch is keeping safe in the freezer, individually wrapped purportedly for travel snack use, though I had one frozen last night.  I’d say they were a success, but not such a stunning one as to put paid to any thought of alternatives.

I’m giving you just a thumbnail photo, because why make an ugly picture any easier to see?

Granola bars. They taste better than they look.

Granola bars. They taste better than they look.

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Momentary preservation.

In the cool of the morning yesterday I made a little jar of pear-ginger conserve based on the recipe in Marisa McClellan’s book Food in Jars.

Photo on 2015-05-27 at 07.54(No, that’s not a properly sealed lid; I didn’t process it, I’ll just keep it in the fridge and use it up soon.) It’s good, though for some reason I expected it to be tangier than it turned out. McClellan’s formula includes chopped pear, half as much sugar, orange (I used tangelo) including the peel, lemon juice and zest, grated ginger, chopped walnuts thrown in toward the end.

Something else I made recently, but took no photos, and I feel uncomfortable discussing because I didn’t note the source, just jotted down an outline in my notebook: hazelnut crisps. These flourless wafers are kind of like non-puffy macaroons using the whole egg.  I baked a test batch and I’m glad I did, as they were far spreadier than I had guessed — so much so that one crept right off the edge of the baking sheet and landed in a charring lump on the bottom of the oven.  They also needed longer and hotter baking than the recipe proposed.  Once all that’s solved, they’re delicious.

Here’s my version: 1 egg; 1/2 cup sugar; scant 1/4 cup melted butter; 3/4 cup finely chopped hazel (or other) nuts; 1/2 tsp vanilla; pinch of salt. Oven 375º.  Whisk all together and let stand to thicken. Use a silicone mat or parchment; use a jelly roll pan if you are worried about cookies making a break for freedom. Drop small amounts, widely separated, and bake; after 10 minutes, pull out to separate and reshape. Bake another five to ten minutes or until they are browning nicely at the edges. Let cool and slide them off the paper. The cookies will be extremely thin.

Better macaroons.

betteroons

betteroons

In previous years I’ve used David Lebovitz’s recipe for macaroons, which calls (extraordinarily, I haven’t seen this anywhere else) for lightly cooking together the ingredients in a skillet before baking. This year I didn’t look up his recipe and just used the universally approved method that simply mixes the egg white with the dry ingredients and bakes.  And I have to say, they’re NOT AS GOOD. This morning I made a tiny batch of the Lebovitz method — of course I left out the flour; otherwise the only differences are the process and the addition of a little dab of honey — and they are not as macaroon-looking but they are charmingly juicy with a caramelized edge.  So good.  Thanks, David, it’s well worth dirtying a frying pan.

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Continuing the Passoverian theme

Should I have a tag for “Bad Pictures of Baked Goods”?

maca-maca-roon

maca-maca-roon

This morning I made a batch of coconut macaroons. It’s embarrassing how easy coconut macaroons are.  Almond ones, for some reason, cause me much more trouble, but I’m going to try for some of them later today or in the passover season and also want to make tish pishti, but these may have to wait, as I am required to produce a vegetable kugel for tonight,

Some of these macaroons have a little nutmeg and cardamom sprinkled in, with some coconut extract added. Nice, I think.

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First crunch of Passover

not really crack

Planning well ahead and expecting high demand, I’ve already made the first batch of chocolate caramel matzoh crack.  (It keeps well, if I keep my paws off it.)  This year’s brilliant innovation: I went to the bargain store on Court Street and found a marked-down bag of Lindt chocolate squares in four flavors. (Yeah, I know, bargain chocolate, but they’re fine, I promise.)  I used the Intense Orange squares mixed with plain dark chocolate and added a little minced clementine peel and some slivered almonds, and it is delicious. I filled out the tray with regular semisweet chips topped with roasted salted sunflower seeds.  Next up, the chili-flavored squares.  As to the macaroons to come, I think I will not make red velvet flavor, but I could be wrong.