Category Archives: baking

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

Forays into darkest Moosewood

First beans, then oxtail, what’s next? Rye whiskey??

No, no, we will be continuing a review of the classics but leaving the pioneer food to delve into a different genre with today’s post:

Moosewood Fudge Brownies

If you haven’t heard of Moosewood, here’s the short version:

  • restaurant in Ithaca, NY
  • featuring healthful natural foods
  • been around for 38 years
  • has produced a lot of cookbooks…

this

one of which I love to use for new dessert ideas. In this case I was aiming to use up the last of a jar of instant espresso and some very ripe bananas. The idea was to add them into the recipe for MW’s fudge brownies, substituting the bananas for some of the liquid. Which would have worked fine if, as I was pouring the batter into the square pan, I hadn’t turned around and seen

and this

i.e. that’s what I get for going into the ‘zone’ of following a recipe and not remembering my intent to add-on to it! Bananas still to use and espresso still to finish. #firstworldproblems for sure.

Anyway, following the recipe yielded an interesting result. The brownies turned out very flat, very dense, and even a bit dry, kind of like a flourless chocolate cake (although I did use flour, a combination of white whole-wheat and whole-wheat pastry flour). This was not a case of me overcooking in my terrible oven, either. The batter suuuuure looked beautiful though, eh?
Pouring that fudge brownie batter into the pan

Here’s the order of how it came together. Trader Joe’s chocolate discs and butter, melted.

Melted to the perfect consistency to add the brown sugar and vanilla…
Whisking in the egg, giving it a frothy surface temporarily…
Getting artistic… (look Ma, one-handed whisking!)
Adding flour, a bit at a time

Moosewood Banana Muffins

And finally, that fudge-y consistency we all know and love so well. I brought these into work on an off day (we’ve been having terrible network problems, so a lot of people have been staying home), but they still went over pretty well. Wondering if anyone has had a similar result on the texture/ moisture issue though, since I like a gooey-er brownie myself.

So that was attempt number one. Since I realized I had forgotten the espresso and the bananas right before I put the brownies in the oven, it gave me some time to wash up and start over, which I determined to do. Easiest recipe to turn to in time of need? Well, these were already bookmarked to try in the same book, soooo…

 

Moosewood Banana Muffins it is (was)! (with add-ins of espresso and chocolate chips)
I had previously made a chocolate banana gingerbread, so I only had 2 bananas. I think this made the muffins a little dry, but the flavor was right on, and if you heat them in the microwave for a few seconds under a wet paper towel…… you can’t tell the difference.

I celebrated my birthday yesterday with many good friends, and am leaving in a few hours for Napoli for a solo vacation, so you could say I’m sandwiched between pleasures.
To come when I return: Scottish Cuisine: my take; Cherry blossoms of DC in 2012; and other treats of living this life full throttle. Salute!