Supafine? No, ULTRAfine

ULTRAfineKnow how I was all cocky about my great cookies the other day? Well, ONE coworker gave me a less glowing but more helpful piece of cookie feedback: my bud Cristina mentioned that she could detect the large crystal size of the sugar I used. I tend to go for organic bulk evaporated cane sugar, which does indeed have a noticeably large crystal size. In fact, said crystal-crunchiness had always bugged me too, but even the finer organic evaporated sugars I’ve found have still been kinda chunky like that. I’ve occasionally been precious enough to grind it down to a supadupafine size in a coffee bean grinder in order to, say, sugar a cocktail rim, but never have I done this with enough sugar to bake anything. Who has time for such frivolities?

A: The C&H company. (OK, by “time” we should probably round up to “massive industrial complexes and machinery and infrastructure” or something.) So check this out: you can buy supafine and also ULTRAFINE (“baker’s”) sugar in the grocery store! I knew that sexy fine cake flour existed, with a creepy name that makes it sound like knockoff Dove Body Wash, but I never realized that a fancy sugar also existed. I bought some recently, mainly because I was at a sketchy little mini-mart that didn’t have great selection, but I’m SO GLAD I did. Its deceptively weird milk-carton packaging is actually way easier for storage, and the stuff inside is amazing.

Cookie jarrrI’ve been using it to make the odd cocktail, such as my standby Sidecar or more recently, an Old Fashioned, which I started enjoying thanks to the most recent The Talk Show with Marco and Gruber. Anyway. Great for Old Fashioneds because you want something that dissolves quicker in less water, so you can move on to filling the majority of the drink with the important part (the whiskey). And today, I tried making white chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies with it—delish! I actually under-estimated the amount I would need, since I thought my cookies from before were both too sweet AND too crystally-crunchy. Turns out they may have only been the latter. But I daresay the texture is much improved now!

I can’t wait to try this stuff for cakes, as well as any recipe where I need sugar to dissolve fast. I think I’ll always keep a carton on hand. However, I do wish that I could get a luxury product like this in a less processed format—I know, what a brat, right?—because I do think organic sugar tastes better. It’s kind of like how I wish they made unbleached recycled Charmin, or unbleached recycled Bounty, ya know? It’s a real shame when natural products are inferior products. If I ever get windfall-rich and accomplish all my other many MANY windfall-rich goals (get a Ph.D. in linguistics; pitch a movie about online dating and actually get hired to do something with it; buy the silly ice cream joint by my house and turn it into a combo ice cream joint/neighborhood pub; get a legal pet ocelot somehow; ever fix our goddamn deck; start up a natural skincare line; buy the overpriced .com equivalents of all my silly domain hack websites; the list goes on and on) then I totally plan on making a company that makes Luxury Natural Products. Eh, maybe I will grind up a bunch of organic evaporated large crystal sugar for my next confection, just to see how it goes.

Oh, and isn’t my new foxy cookie jar adorable? It’s still on clearance at West Elm if you hurry. (Curse the lack of affiliate link.) We’d been wanting a sleek, mod-looking yet fun cookie jar for ages, and this could not fit that description better. They have some other cute animals too. Happy baking!

foxy

Will Bake For Food — Yummy treats, great cause!

I’m so excited. Historically I haven’t found much time for charity anything, but this year I’m starting to find some cool causes that are quite fun to celebrate. Not only am I attending my first ever charity auction gala this year, but I’m also participating in my first ever charity bake sale!

Will Bake For Food is an awesome event organized by two local food bloggers — they get Seattle-area culinary bloggers to bake scrumptious treats, which can be bought using donations of canned food. Win/win!

I won’t be present myself, but my chocolate chip cookies will be! And you can see my ridiculous pic  to the right, or eventually on their site when they upload it here.

Feel free to link to the event to help promote it by using the badge to the right on your site. You can also follow them on Twitter at @WillBakeForFood, Like them on Facebook, or do whatever other marketing shebangery you choose!

Culinary whimsy

Look, it’s been ages since I’ve blogged. There are a lot of good reasons for that (which we’ll get to in a minute), but perhaps I needed something really inspirational and delightful to nudge me back into it. Cue Christopher Boffoli via Mental Floss:

What a delight, right? Nothing I make has ever been quite this striking or fun, but hopefully it can serve as inspiration. At the very least, it got me to post something, right?

So let’s see — what the heck kind of food updates do I have? Well, the thing is, they’re sort of life updates. See, I started a new job in July, and the fast pace plus quick transition turnaround has just kind of sapped a lot of my blogging energy. But another big positive life change is that we’ve finally gotten to a point where we cook at home more often than not, plus I bring lunches to work more often. Both of which mean that each cooking project is that less shocking/fantastic/anomalous, so they don’t all feel post-worthy and I couldn’t possibly keep up by blogging about everything I make. Quite a victory in and of itself!

Hopefully I’ll get back to posting at least some of the more victorious or special or beautiful eats, though. The Colts are down Peyton Manning this year, so we’re not quite in full-on NFL Fan Mode with decorated cakes and whatnot, but we’re spending the holidays at home so I plan to cook up a photogenic storm then.

One night, two very different foods

#1: Red Velvet Cupcakes. Only old-school, cocoa-heavy, extra-tangy ones. #2: Kale chips. (Told ya they were different!)

For item #1, I sought out a recipe that was a bit chocolatier than most store- or bakery-bought red velvets and, well, apparently I was also seeking out tangy without meaning to. I heard from our wedding cake baker that a cake with cocoa and vinegar is the more traditional Red Velvet origin, but I managed to forget that I’d made one like that once before in that fashion and it was kind of weird and unpleasant. So! Once again! Kind of weird and unpleasantly tangy, especially with my more-tangy-than-most cream cheese frosting. But also kind of good, in that not sickeningly sweet, maybe I’ll pass these off on my coworkers kind of way. (Tee hee, in case any are reading this.)

And here’s my favorite bit: filling cupcake tins is so much easier with my Pancake Pen, which is in turn best filled by my Wide-Mouth Funnel (both of which appear on my Favorite Tools page). Also, I forgot to add sugar at first, and when I dipped my finger into the batter I got a nasty surprise. Good thing I taste tested! o_O

And for item #2, I used smitten kitchen’s kale chips recipe, only I had crazy curly kale (cale?) so the proportions and times and temps were off. Plus, we broke our Oxo Salad Spinner apparently, so I had to hand dry it. Luckily, there’s a website to fix it, but so far no luck. :( And my hand-dried curly-ass kale was sort of imperfectly crisped, like the outer bits too crisp and parts still chewey. I’m planning on letting it sit out overnight and seeing how I like it for weird breakfast, at which point I may just pop it back in the oven for a bit more crisping.

And there you have it! A night of odd choices, to be sure, but both yummy enough in their own way I hope.

Further bread success

After our Thanksgiving extravaganza, in which Grant made an adorable but short & heavy little loaf of whole wheat bread, we’ve been doing a lot of experimenting with our Zojirushi. After our slightly imperfect Turkey Day attempt, I started doing some research as to what makes for good bread.

We learned that bread flour (or high gluten content or other glutinous binders) would help create a better web with which to trap yeast bubbles, and a faster rising yeast (like Rapid Rise or Perfect Rise varieties) would both help, and that dry milk would help over wet (aka “normal”) milk.

But even though our bread-flour, dry-milk loaf turned out great, I wanted to figure out a way to use up all the whole wheat flour I’d bought, plus I wanted to try out the quicker bread recipes that only take 2 hours instead of 3.5. So I designed a blend of whole wheat and bread flour, and I included about a half teaspoon of xanthan gum in the dry ingredients. And it worked! Check out the loftiest little loaf we’ve managed yet!

Banana nut bread

I made my first-ever banana bread this weekend, since we had two squishy-soft fruits that my terrible no good very bad husband failed to eat in their prime. I loosely based it off this recipe, which had completely insane faults like directions that didn’t match the ingredients (with a note that said so) but I managed to improvise and it came out just fine. It also helped use up the sour cream from Thanksgiving — more leftover success!

I also divided up the batter so it wound up approximately 2/3 muffins and 1/3 loaf, because the only loaf pan I had was a teeny tiny toy-ish one from three toaster ovens ago. (Aluminum, too, but oh well.) They worked out quite nicely in both formats, but it was a useful reminder to me to always check the oven before the professed cook time is up — the muffins took less than half the time of the loaf.

I’m trying to learn a bit more about the chemistry of baking, so that my substitution guesses will produce better results. I *think* I’ve figured out that this recipe called for only baking soda but still rose because the sour cream was an acidic agent. We’ll go with that for now, anyway!

Leftovers, sweet leftovers

In addition to, you know, eating nothing but turkey and stuffing for like a week, we had a few other leftovers to contend with in terms of ingredients aftermath. I had asked Grant to pick up buttermilk even though I don’t think I actually used it for any of my recipes, and I also had a bunch of chives, a tub of sour cream, various veggies and of course a giant turkey carcass. What to do?

One of the obvious answers is “make buttermilk chive biscuits,” but that just seemed too easy. Besides, we have loads of leftover pumpkin cheesecake which I actually don’t much care for, and I was jealous of Grant eating dessert without me. (And while I usually just eat delicious tangy cranberry sauce with a spoon, well… it’s almost all gone now.) So I wanted at least the buttermilk or sour cream to go towards something sweet.

I eventually settled on David Lebowitz’s recipe for Lemon-Buttermilk Sherbet, from The Perfect Scoop. I modified it slightly by straining out the lemon zest and whisking in a tiny bit of lemon curd from a nearly-empty jar, so I imagine my version is a tad richer and smoother than his.

There was some leftover gingersnap-pecan crust crumbles from my Thanksgiving pumpkin cheesecake that I had saved in the freezer, so I mashed those with some melted farmstead butter to make some little crust-cuplets. The combo, as I suspected, was lovely (though I think I might also try the sherbet with some cranberry sauce!).

I also made a proper stock out of my turkey carcass and remaining drippings, which eventually became a hearty turkey barley soup with carrots, onion, herbs (including chives), and spinach. This was even better with our short and heavy but delicious whole wheat homemade bread. And I have loads of stock and even a glaze to freeze and season my cooking for the next few months, yay! I’m glad I took the time to save the bones and everything after our meal. Leftover success!

My personal baking tips

They say there are two types of cooks — bakers and chefs. Bakers are generally thought to be methodical and rule-abiding, and they deal mainly in chemistry. Chefs are innovators and risk-takers, and they deal more in physics. I had always thought myself to be more of a chef than a baker (as evidenced by my complete inability to follow a recipe exactly) — but I believe one can learn to bake even if one’s heart sings a main-course song.

I’ve received lots of compliments and inquiries about my baked goods, and I think I’ve managed to put my finger on the specific chef-like risks that I’ve incorporated into my baking practices with great success. (This is not to say I haven’t had MANY failures — I just don’t blog about those!) So here’s a list of some of the specific tweaks I tend to apply to most baking recipes.

Continue reading “My personal baking tips”

German chocolate madness

My dad turned 75 this year, and he specifically requested a German chocolate cake to celebrate. I kinda ho-hummed at the thought, but of course I was game to make my dad a special organic treat from scratch, even though I didn’t care for it myself… or so I thought.

Turns out I only hate crappy fake-ass German chocolate cake. The thing that really grossed me out as a kid was the frosting, but I think I had only ever tried the hydrogenated-tastic Betty Crocker type before. REAL German chocolate cake is essentially frosted with a mixture of homemade caramel, toasted pecans and toasted coconut — and it is AMAZING.

I found this recipe online which was clearly written by a German woman, as evidenced by some of her adorable grammar quirks. But another quirk was that she didn’t lay out all the steps ahead of time like most American recipes do — things like greasing the pans, preheating the ovens, and roasting the pecans were all interspersed with the other information. So it took a good couple reads to get organized.

Plus, as always, I added some of my own twists. Amongst other alterations, I used chocolate ganache to stick between the three layers, since I needed some anyway for the decoration. And I think it helped glue it all together better, plus it added an extra kick. And I toasted the coconut and pecans more exactly than the recipe called for, just to bring out their flavor.

And it was EXCELLENT. Man, am I excited to have a new cake recipe to enjoy! It’s not a *pretty* cake, by any means, but what it lacks in glamor, it makes up for in flavor.