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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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    Happy Nutella Day!

    It’s that time of year again! 🙂 In 2007 two bloggers, Sara at Ms. Adventures in Italy and Michelle at Bleeding Espresso, decided that the world needed a day to celebrate everyone’s favorite chocolate-hazelnut spread. The idea caught on and this year World Nutella Day is celebrating its fifth anniversary! Last year was my first time participating and thankfully this year I remembered the date again and jumped at the excuse to buy a jar of Nutella :-).

    However– confession time– I didn’t actually buy Nutella!

    Our neighborhood store is part of the Rimi supermarket chain, and Rimi is constantly coming out with more store-brand products. In general they’re quite affordable (although not always the cheapest option) and of quite good quality. Wanting to show some loyalty to the store brand and also save a little cash, I opted to try the Rimi Delights metspähklikreem (hazelnut cream).

    A taste-test was in order.

    Did it taste exactly like Nutella? Not quite– I think Nutella has a more intense chocolatey flavor and this tastes more strongly of hazelnuts. I’m OK with that, though, so I hope Nutella will forgive me for purchasing a knock-off this year.

    I wanted to utilize the hazelnut cream in some kind of simple, portable, somewhat healthy snack. I looked at some oatmeal cookie recipes but really didn’t want to add butter and sugar to the already-rich Nutella. Then I thought of the perfect recipe– 5-Ingredient Granola Bars at How Sweet It Is. I’ve been wanting to try one of her amazing recipes for a while, and figured I could use hazelnut cream in lieu of the peanut butter in the recipe.

    The recipe calls for brown rice syrup or honey, but I didn’t think they’d require the extra sugar (in the end I did actually add a few spoonfuls). In order to make up for the lost liquid and also add some nutrients, I mixed a few spoonfuls of ground flax seeds with water (also known as a flax egg– I hoped this would also help to bind the bars together).

    The bars smelled amazing when baking– like the richest chocolate cookies. When they came out of the oven we could barely wait to dig in. After allowing them to cool for a few minutes, J went to cut a bar and got… crumbles. The bars didn’t hold together at all, so instead of granola bars, I accidentally made Nutella granola! I’m not even disappointed, because it is chewy and delicious.

    After cooling the bars stuck together a little better, but they’re still very brittle and crumbly. I hope to successfully make those granola bars one day, but for now I’m happy with this serendipitous new recipe! I made several alterations to the original recipe, so I’ll be posting my recipe for Nutella granola tomorrow. Happy Nutella Day to all and to all a good night!

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    Christmas 2010

    Christmas this year was a lovely success! Even though it was the first Christmas J’s family members and his brother’s girlfriend had ever spent away from home (it was #5 for me), there was enough joy, fun, and delicious food that everyone was as happy and comfortable as they would have been at home. While I had a little bit of stress as hostess, overall everything was casual and relaxed. We did some improvising to make everything work– we placed the kitchen table in the middle of the living room and extended it with a desk so there would be enough space for six people around it, plus we used disposal plates placed over actual dinner plates (a brilliant move in a place that doesn’t have a dishwasher).

    On Christmas Eve we ate a traditional Finnish Christmas dinner prepared by J’s mother and father, starting with the fish course, which I think I may enjoy more than the traditional Finnish Christmas kinkku (ham). Of course there was ham too, accompanied by all the traditional puree casseroles– carrot, potato, and rutabaga (the rutabaga is my favorite– it’s slightly sweetened with dark syrup).

    Dinner on Christmas Eve was followed by some clean-up, which I didn’t mind because when were at J’s house for Christmas his parents insisted on doing almost everything. This time cleaning up and washing the dishes was much more of a group effort, and I was happy that his parents were relieved of that burden this year. After-dinner clean-up was followed by an apple crisp with vanilla ice cream (I forgot to take a picture), opening gifts, plenty of wine, and even singing some Christmas songs (as her two sons refuse to join in any singing, I think J’s mother was thrilled that me and her other son’s girlfriend were more than happy to participate :-)).

    Can’t forget about Christmas candy!

    Christmas Day was definitely the most stressful day for me, as I was serving my first-ever Christmas dinner to a group of people who weren’t familiar with all the dishes being served, as it was supposed to be a traditional American holiday dinner. I remained mostly confident, but it was hard to silence some worries– what if the food doesn’t taste good? We all ate so much yesterday– what if nobody is hungry enough to eat my food?

    Biscuits baking and turkey in its serving dish.

    I made as many things in advance as possible. The buttermilk biscuits and pumpkin pie were waiting in the freezer, and I baked the mushroom stuffing in the morning before heading over to the apartment where J’s family was staying. While the stuffing baked I ran to the store in my pajamas to buy whipped cream– I couldn’t serve my pumpkin pie without whipped cream!

    Overall the plan I’d made worked out wonderfully (timing is one of the hardest things for me when it comes to making a meal, so I was pretty proud of myself!). J helped me with some of the trickier things– making sure the turkey was done, carving the meat, skimming the fat off the drippings, and making gravy. We were both so busy in the kitchen that there aren’t many pictures of our prep.

    Yummy mushroom stuffing!

    I forgot to mention that I added something to the menu that I published the other day, or actually J added something. I mentioned that maybe the meal needed some kind of salad and he said, “How about cole slaw?” I loved the idea! Although cole slaw is kind of a summery salad, I felt it was a crispy, refreshing addition to the holiday meal (plus it’s so easy to make!).

    This post is getting really long, so I should just get to the point– my Finnish audience LOVED the American meal. I had made printed menus that included the name of each dish in English and in Finnish, which everyone seemed to like. J and I had made up some of the names, since the dishes don’t actually exist in Finnish (for example, stuffing was leipälaatikko). Everyone tried everything that was on the table, which is of course polite, but it was only when people started taking seconds that I was really convinced that they liked it ;-). The biggest hits were probably the stuffing and the cole slaw (I think those were my favorites too!). I was so pleased that my first holiday dinner attempt went so well, and I couldn’t have prepared it for a warmer and more receptive crowd :-).

    Plates have been emptied, glasses have been filled.

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