Archive for the ‘Baking’ Category

Subject #15: Giant Cookies from How Sweet It Is

Apparently the last time I wrote about a new cookie recipe was over a year ago. How is this possible?? Did I really go a full year without trying a new (chocolate chip) cookie recipe?? Not quite: I made this recipe in November just before leaving for Russia so that I’d have something delicious and comforting to nibble on when I arrived in the strange land. Then came December and the holidays and I never got around to posting it, but a polite request from a dedicated reader for another cookie recipe reminded me ;).

What interested me about this recipe was the technique used to form the cookies: roll the dough into a ball, then tear the ball into two pieces and stick the rounded sides together, forming an oddly-shaped cookie stack. Place it on the cookie sheet with one of the torn sides facing down. (I didn’t take any pictures of this, but there are photos demonstrating the technique along with the recipe). The cookies that result should have an attractive craggy surface after baking.

The author used mini M&M’s to make colorful cookies while I used my regular chopped chocolate. I also didn’t make mine quite as giant as hers. Some commenters on the post stated that the recipe is the same as the Cooks Illustrated chocolate chip cookie, which I’ve tried before. However, it’s not identical– Cook’s Illustrated has you brown the butter, and and browned butter has characteristics that make it different from regular melted butter. Plus CI had the interesting step of whisking the eggs with the sugar and butter several times until the mixture is thick and shiny, while the How Sweet recipe just says to combine until mixed. That’s different enough for me!

So how did my cookie stacks turn out? To be honest, some of them melted together in an odd way while baking and came out looking like lumpy alien cookies.

But putting aesthetics aside, these cookies were wonderful! Even fully baked these were sort of like cookie-dough cookies, soft and rich and buttery. I think the stacking method helps to make the center of the cookie thicker and therefore it stays softer while the edges brown and become nicely crispy. The cookies also maintained their texture for several days after baking, which made me happy (I hate it when cookies become harder and dry within a day or two!). The tear-and-stack technique is something I’ll try again with other recipes since it does seem to help with texture. In the future I’d probably choose this recipe over the CI one, since without having to brown the butter it’s much quicker and more simple.

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Sesame wasabi crackers

I was in a baking mood last week. On Thursday evening I wanted to bake some cookies. J, like much of the world, is on a new-year diet, so I decided to bake while he was out and made sure to put away all the evidence before he got home. Of course when he walked in the door he asked, “What smells so good?”  Dang, caught in the act :). Fortunately the next day I was checking out the daily Top 9 recipes on Foodbuzz and this recipe for sesame wasabi crackers caught my eye. Perfect– something fun to bake that was healthy enough for J to partake in too!

The original recipe was gluten-free and called for 2 cups of almond flour. I only had enough almonds on hand to make slightly over a cup of almond flour, so I substituted whole-wheat flour for the rest. Therefore my crackers weren’t gluten-free, but they were slightly lower in fat! The rest of the recipe I followed exactly as written, and I left them in the oven for slightly over an hour after they were done baking (while I went to take a nap, since we had woken up at 6:15 [on a Saturday!] to walk a friend to the harbor).

They came out perfectly! I scored the rectangle of dough with a butter knife before baking and they easily snapped apart into neat little squares. The crackers are slightly crumbly but not hard or dry, and the sesame seeds give them a a bit of crunch. J commented that flavored crackers from the store tend to smack you in the face with whatever they’re supposed to taste like, but with these the wasabi flavor slowly becomes more distinct as you eat one. And while the flavor is definitely present, these definitely don’t contain enough wasabi to make your nose burn or anything.  I highly recommend this recipe (did I mention that it’s also super-easy and makes me wonder why I don’t always make my own crackers?).

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A birthday

This year marked the first time I’d ever been in Estonia for my birthday, August 17. Despite having lived here for a combined 5 years now, my two moves here (to Tartu in 2005 and Tallinn in 2007) both  took place in September, right after my birthday, and for the last few years I’ve managed to be on vacation in either the States or Finland on my birthday. So my 28th birthday was my first Estonia birthday, as well as my first birthday that I had to go to work… but that actually wasn’t even so bad!

My birthday started off on the right foot with balloons, cake and birthday gifts from J first thing in the morning at home (cake for breakfast is totally allowed on one’s birthday!). His gifts were great too– an adorable Muumi mug and some other stuff I’ll talk about later!

At work my day was filled with hugs and flowers from colleagues– it was fun to feel special and loved all day long, and to receive birthday greetings every time a colleague called to ask me to do something! As is the custom here, I brought in treats to share with my colleagues– wine, coffee-chocolate chip cookies, watermelon with feta, and a vanilla cake (from a mix) doctored up with mango puree and a coconut crumb topping. Ordinarily I never would have used a mix but it was just days before we left for vacation so I was short on time– forgive me? :). Luckily the cake turned out pretty good and the rich chocolate cookies (which were flavored with packets of Starbucks Via instant coffee) were a hit.

The rest of my birthday included a group run with my colleagues, after which I went home and ate more cake :). That was followed by dinner with J at African Kitchen, and then home to pack and watch TV together. It would’ve been nice to go out for drinks with friends, but unfortunately that didn’t fit into our pre-trip schedule– we were leaving for 5 weeks in the States two days later! It was a lovely way to start my 28th year (but yikes… why does 28 have to be so close to 30??).

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Savory carrot bread

Since I can’t make any chocolate chip cookies until Lent is over, I’ve been channeling my desire to bake into more savory things. On St. Patrick’s Day I made this soda bread again. It’s seriously one of my favorite breads ever, and of course I love that there’s less waiting involved because it doesn’t need to rise.

Last week I thought to bake something with carrots. My first idea was to bake an American-style banana bread (a “quick bread” that’s baked from a batter rather than a yeast dough) and include some carrots in the mix. J suggested, “Why don’t you just make a regular bread with carrots in it?” “Like a yeast bread?” Somehow that thought hadn’t even occurred to me, since all the recipes I’d found searching for “carrot bread” were of the quick bread variety. But J was able to find me a recipe in Finnish, so I willingly gave it a shot.

The recipe’s written in a short and simple style. It required milk, egg, yeast, honey (I used syrup), a touch of salt, oats (yay, I love oats in bread!), grated carrot, and flour. It bothered me slightly how imprecise the recipe is– it calls for “2 carrots” (big carrots? Small carrots? How much grated carrot should I end up with?), and “one packet of yeast” (I think the 12g packet I had is standard, but I can’t be sure). The dough was soft and sticky, but I think that was right since the recipe says to “pour the dough” onto the pan, which suggests that the soft dough is expected. It was quite a bit of dough that I shaped into a large disc. It didn’t rise very much, so we ended up with a pretty huge, low disc of carrot bread. It smelled amazing.

My first bite was a huge surprise. I expected it to be somewhat sweet because of the carrots, but it actually tasted cheesy! So weird and unexpected to find a flavor as if the bread had cheese baked into it. The inside was quite moist, which isn’t a bad thing, but next time I think I’d try to press more liquid out of the carrot shreds before adding them (once again, the recipe doesn’t mention anything about doing this). When eating the bread the next day, J also said it tasted quite yeasty — I think it was the yeasty/savory flavor that created the “cheese” illusion. So next time I might also cut down on the yeast, maybe using only 7 or 8 g instead of the whole 12g packet.

Despite wanting to make changes to the basic recipe, there was definitely nothing wrong with the bread. It was really good, and the soft moist center was contrasted by a nicely crispy top and bottom crust (especially if you toasted a wedge of it — so good!). And of course the carrot bits added a lovely color and some welcome nutrients to the bread. I think J and I are both looking forward to this plus other experiments with “vegetable breads” in the future!

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Chocolate hazelnut (Nutella) granola

As I promised yesterday on World Nutella Day, here’s what I threw together to make unsuccessful granola bars, but very yummy granola!

Chocolate hazelnut (Nutella) granola

  • 3/4 cup chocolate hazelnut paste (Nutella)
  • 1.5 tablespoons ground flax seeds mixed with 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons dark syrup
  • vanilla extract
  • 3 cups oats
  • 1/2 cup wheat bran
  • 1/3 cup chopped roasted nuts (mine were almonds and hazelnuts)
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • Preheat oven to 180 C (350 F). Place chocolate hazelnut paste in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave to melt slightly. Add flax seed mixture, syrup, and splash vanilla extract to bowl. Add oats, wheat bran and nuts to bowl and mix until everything is evenly coated. Add raisins and stir until evenly distributed.

    Press mixture into a foil-lined and greased pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool, then break up into granola-sized chunks and store in an airtight container.


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