Category Archives: baking

Cooking Challenge the Second

Before the lamb there was a different challenge, one that my heart was definitely in, but my head a bit reluctant to take on:

The Traditional Clootie Dumpling

(distantly related to the great haggis, which is hunted each fall in Scotland)

So why clootie dumpling, you ask? Why not flapjack (a delicious treat bound with honey I discovered courtesy of Mull Magic) or a proper baked bread like the Selkirk Bannock? Why choose a fruitcake-dumpling hybrid that needs to be half-boiled, half-steamed, then dried, all with equipment that looks like foreign instruments of torture (this may be a slight exaggeration, but the unfamiliar can be terrifying)?

Well, that’s what you’d be asking if you already knew about my weakness for British sweets. If you didn’t yet know about that, welcome. Have a look around the place.

Actually, I can pinpoint the source of my determination to make Clootie Dumpling: my visit to the Culloden Visitor Centre cafe, one cold August day in 2011. (P.S. I tried those haggis crisps on my most recent visit, verdict: tasty, but not habit-inducing)

Problem Ingredients: Suet & Sultanas

I did a fair amount of research (read: hemming and hawing) before actually committing to making it by buying ingredients. There was the issue of suet, for one. What was it, and was it necessary? After reading through a goodly number of British pudding recipes, I concluded it was. No messing about with Italian olive oil, French butter, or American margarine. You can read about the animal fat and its uses here. Also, what about sultanas? They seemed to be another elusive ingredient States-side, at least going by the local co-ops and natural foods stores.

A question to a Whole Foods employee was answered with the fact that if they were golden raisins, they wouldn’t carry them because the processing of drying grapes for raisins darkens their color, and any chemical means to stop this process for a golden color would not be allowed by their store. Whoo-ee! Well it’s an answer, anyway.

mise en place clootie dumpling

The pound or so of suet was divided into cup-size amounts and frozen. It was very different to handle, kind of like a malleable candle wax that was stuck in cheesecloth. The cheesecloth part of course was some fibrous netting of muscle fibers or something, but I didn’t look up the physiology to be able to tell you what, exactly. Sorry/ you’re welcome?

Now for the recipe. I had plenty of possible ones to choose from, Scottish cookbook hoarder as I am, the question was which one to use?

I ended up going with the common elements in each, and improvising along the way as to cooking times. The dough seemed to come together in a ball well enough, so I floured up the cheesecloth and plonked it into the boiling water.

dumpling before clootie

Problem Process: A Heatproof Plate

Here’s what was supposed to happen in the large pot. Turn a heatproof plate upside down in the water so the dumpling will have something to rest on, and not come into direct contact with the bottom of the pan. Plus, don’t tie the cheesecloth too tightly, as the dough will expand a bit.

There, in two instructions, lay my undoing. I didn’t have a plate I wanted to risk breaking, since I was none too sure about the heat conducted by air in the oven and that conducted by water in a pot. I went for a ramekin as the sturdiest item I did have, but the ball of dough was already too big to sit nicely on that. Curses!

‘Not too tightly’ then turned into ‘not tightly enough’ as the rowdy bubbling of the water made the ramekin pitch and toss and turn the ‘clootie’ this way and that, loosening the tie and letting some of the sugar and spices leak out to color the water, as you can see. (Maybe if I had a sailor to show me how to tie knots?)

Afterwards I went to ask the staff at Kitchen Kaboodle about the heatproof question, and two ladies both thought any plate that worked in the oven should work in boiling water. Hmph! All that , and I should have just asked sooner. Well, now YOU know!

And by the way, ‘clootie’ comes from the Scots word for cloth: ‘cloot’ which was used to tie up the dough. You didn’t think you’d be learning this much from this post, did you?

trouble in the pot clootie dumpling

You can also see my attempt to prevent the chaos from continuing, the long wooden spoon balanced on top and piercing the knot to hold the open part up and away from the water. However, the roiling, boiling water was too much and ended up pulling the spoon down into the pot too, many times over the several hours needed.

It reminded me of the adventure in canning tomatoes, actually. I took a class for it, then made a successful attempt at canning some glorious tomatoes from DC’s harvest last summer. They are still in my cupboard, waiting for the right moment. (Now that I’m moving again, that would have been last week, but oh well. We do what we can, right?)

I finally settled on putting a cloth over the pot lid, both to keep the steam in better (since the spoon let it out), and provide some friction to prevent the spoon from falling, but I had to keep tending to it every 15 minutes for almost three hours. This was the reveal moment:

unveil of clootie dumpling

And it was none too pretty, so I didn’t take a photo!

But down below is when I got it into a low-heat oven to ‘dry.’ This was traditionally done in a basket or pot by the fire. (Not in Portland, OR though)

roasting clootie dumpling

Verdict: Delicious

Finally! The pale, mushy outside could have been due to either the water getting in or not drying it long enough in the oven, or both. It did NOT look like the pictures of clootie dumpling that I’d seen, with their smooth, dark surfaces, so I do have that to aspire to next time.

However, the inside was very good, with the fruity flavor of raisins and currants mixed with sweet dark notes of sugar cane.

finished clootie dumpling

It even worked well as leftovers, heated in a microwave with water-speckled paper towels as is my wont, and drizzled with cream, since I couldn’t be bother to knock up a custard (see first definition here, for all you Americans with dirty minds).

I look forward to being in my own kitchen and trying this one again, as it was one of those food memories that demands satisfaction.

 

*Please note these are affiliate links to Amazon.com. This means if you click through and purchase something from Amazon, I receive a tiny percentage. Thanks for supporting those pursuing their dreams in any way possible! :-)

Care and Feeding of a Distant Friend

Crackles, To Go
Just in time for her quick visit to the U.S., I am writing about my friend Jessica, and the care package I sent her in Beijing, China.
Having been advised that it might take a long time to arrive (‘the long boat to China’), I did a little research to see which type of cookie might stay fresh the longest. Too much moisture might lead to mold, too much butter might make them go stale, and too delicate a structure would have them arrive in a thousand pieces. So I settled on these:

Chocolate Polka-Dot Mint Crackles (adapted from A Baker’s Field Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies, a great book for all you want to know about cookies)

Ingredients:
5 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
2 c flour (I used 1 c all-purpose, 1/2 c pastry flour, 1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour)
2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
4 eggs
2 c granulated sugar (I reduced it to 1 c white sugar, 1/2 c brown sugar)
1/2 t mint flavoring (I made half a batch this way, the other half with 1/2 t cardamom and 1/4 t black pepper)
1/2 c white chocolate chips (I despise white chocolate, so went with semi-sweet)
about 1/2 c granulated sugar for rolling
about 1/3 c powdered sugar for rolling

Directions:
1. Place chocolate and butter together over low heat in a saucepan until mostly melted. Remove from heat and stir together until completely melted and smooth.
2. While that is cooling, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl.
3. Then in a large bowl, combine eggs, 2 c (or less) sugar, and your flavoring together (whether mint or cardamom or some other combination), and beat until thick and creamy. Stir chocolate mixture again to smoothness, then beat into egg mixture until it smooths out too. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the large bowl, mixing gently. Gradually add remaining flour, stir to combine, then add chocolate chips.
4. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill for several hours or overnight (it will thicken to fudge consistency).
5. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
6. Put the rolling sugar and powdered sugar in containers (I used an oval tupperware for one and a plate for the other- the tupperware with sides was handy to shake instead of handling the dough a lot).

7. Dip into the dough and roll pieces into 1-inch balls. Roll each ball in the granulated sugar first, then in powdered sugar to coat, shaking off excess. Place balls on cookie sheets 2 inches apart and squash tops slightly.
8. Bake until puffed and crackly in appearance. Since my oven is on crack, I rotated the sheets at 4 minutes, then baked for 5 more, but the book recommends 12 minutes. Only you know your oven well enough to judge.
8. Let set a minute on sheets, then take off with a spatula and place on wire cooling racks until firm and cool.
Makes 4-5 dozen.

They’re a pretty cookie, but two words of warning. When you start dipping and rolling, your hands will get dirty. Like, mudcake dirty. And it would be ideal to have an assistant to open the fridge door or move the baking baking sheets around so you don’t get little blobs of it EV-ERY-WHERE.

Second, if you are waiting between rolling the first batch and the next, put the dough back in the fridge. My first attempt showed quite a difference between those that went into the oven straight from the fridge, and those that waited around while the first batch cooked and cooled. Don’t let this happen to you!

They come out very soft and chewy, and lend themselves to easy variation, so this recipe is definitely a favorite to keep in your back pocket… as long as you have 8 hours to chill!

Do you have a good story or recipe for sending cookies (that made it!)? Do tell! I would love to hear in the comments below.

TLT Cooking School Now Open for Business!

Yes, you read that right.
As part of my Creative Endeavor Year of 2012, I am pursuing my passions for teaching, guiding, cooking and travel… by offering cooking courses!
I have been ever so excited about this since January, but managed to keep mum as I planned, prepared, and conducted two trial runs, one with friends, one with friends-of-friends whom I didn’t know (I hosted strangers!).

Both trial runs went very well, and my lovely guinea pigs gave me great feedback for how to tweak this or that aspect, which I have incorporated into my menu and planning process. I am SO READY.

The theme, and the way I incorporated the passion for travel into this activity, was Scotland. Ah yes, you do remember, I was a little obsessed with it last year? Well, it didn’t go away. Apparently I’m marked for life.
And it’s not just Scotland. While I had a marvelous time pouring over books of Scottish cultural history and traditional receipt-books, I am just as excited to do the same for other locales I have visited and have some connection with, such as Turkey, Ireland, France, and let’s not forget… Italy! (coming soon)
But for now, it’s Scotland. The menu reflected traditional peasant cuisine, with some shortcuts for practicality and taste.

Menu:

Hors d’oeuvre: Oatcakes with Cheese, Preserves, & Honey 

Vegetable Accompaniments: ‘Neeps and Tatties,’ Fresh Green Salad

Main Course: Herring Sauteed in Oatmeal 

Dessert: Millionaire’s Shortbread

The shortcuts, you will observe, involve the toppings for the oatcakes, and the millionaire’s shortbread (a bit of an anachronism when considered in context with the other dishes, but I didn’t hear anyone complaining).
I was aiming for good, peasant food that used some different ingredients and techniques than the ones we are used to here in the U.S.
I searched out local, seasonal, organic ingredients, and got most of the way there on most of the dishes (let me know when the eastern U.S. gets back in the sugar business, though). All in all, it’s been a thrilling and rewarding experience to be able to pass on some knowledge learned about a place I love and a cuisine I am very much interested in. Win-Win, all the way.

And so, I am putting out the good vibes to all you who may stop to read here from time to time. Do you know people who live in D.C. that are interested in cooking and travel? Do you live in D.C? Are you looking for something to do on a weeknight other than go out to eat or get Thai take-out?

I would love to host you and your friends, or you and your soon-to-be friends, for an evening of cooking, baking, learning, and of course… EATING! Because let’s not forget the primacy of the eating experience, and that it is what brings us together so often, in so many ways. Mangia!

And to finish, the gallery of pictures of Millionaire’s Shortbread, the rich man’s Twix Bar (shortbread, caramel, and chocolate)… how can you NOT want to gobble it all up??
If you’re interested, email me at Margaret’s email or twitterpate me at @tastelifetwice where I like to pass on others’ great content on food, life, and travel as well.


See you here (subscribe by feed / email) & there (Twitter)!

NOMNOMNOMNOM