Category Archives: Baking

Brutti Ma Buoni (Ugly but Good)

While the phrase could refer to friends, family or co-workers, in this case it’s a cookie we discovered in Sicily. Having now experimented with several recipes, I have a version to recommend.

These are very easy and would be a nice addition to the Thanksgiving menu as they are light, gluten free and delicious.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups hazelnuts  (aka filberts), about 8 ounces
  • 3/4 cup powdered (confectioners) sugar — I use Whey Low sugar substitute* Note: this yields slightly sweet cookies. If you prefer more sweetness, increase to 1 cup of sugar.
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 large egg white
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spread hazelnuts on a baking tray and bake for about 10-12 minutes until they are fragrant, lightly toasted and the skins blister. Remove and transfer the nuts to a clean kitchen towel to cool. Then rub them together in the towel to remove the skins. Warning: this is messy!
  2. Lower the oven heat to 300 degrees F.
  3. Pulse nuts in a food processor until roughly chopped. You want some big pieces. (Alternatively, crush them in a bowl– takes longer but avoids pulverizing into dust.)
  4. Transfer nuts to a bowl and mix in the sugar and salt.
  5. Whip the egg white on high setting in a stand mixture until soft peaks form and then gradually add vanilla, continuing to whip until you get medium-firm peaks. Stir this into the hazelnut-sugar mixture.
  6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spoon generous-sized dollops of the “dough”, leaving 1″ of space between cookies.  They don’t spread much, if at all. Cookies can be any size you want; this amount will make about 8 large (3″) cookies or over a dozen smaller ones.
  7. Bake at 300 for 30 minutes until golden, then lower the heat to 200 and bake for another 15 minutes so they dry out and are crisp and not sticky.
  8. Cool before serving.

*A note on Whey Low. Developed for the inventor’s diabetic wife, this genius product is significantly lower in calories and glycemic index than sugar and tastes/cooks the same so no complicated calculations are needed. Only caveat: it’s pricey.

Rosemary Redux

Time got away from me this week.  We traveled to the west coast to open our summer house and it’s been nonstop errands.  So, no time for a long post but here’s a wonderful recipe to kick off summer: sweet, salty shortbread with an herbal kick.

ROSEMARY SHORTBREAD adapted from epicurious.com

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Ingredients

  • 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon honey (2 tsp if you prefer less sweetness)
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar (cut back a bit if you prefer less sweetness
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves or 1.5 teaspoons dried rosemary, crumbled
  • Optional garnish: small rosemary sprigs if using fresh herbs

 

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and generously butter (or spray with Baker’s Joy) a 9-inch cake pan or 9-inch round shortbread mold.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer beat butter with honey and sugar until light and fluffy. In another bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and chopped or dried rosemary. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat until just combined.
  3. On a lightly floured surface knead dough until it just comes together (about 8 times). With floured hands press dough evenly into pan or mold. If using cake pan, score dough into 8 wedges with floured tines of a fork and press edges decoratively with flat sides of the tines. Press small rosemary sprigs on top.
  4. Bake shortbread in middle of oven 20 to 30 minutes or until pale golden, and let stand in pan for 10 minutes.
  5. While shortbread is still warm, loosen edges from pan with a small knife and invert onto your hand covered with a kitchen towel. Invert shortbread onto a cutting board and cut halfway along score marks. (If using a cake pan, let it cool in the pan until easy to cut and remove.)
  6. Cool shortbread on a rack.

YIELD: 8 large wedges.  IMG_1910

Note: I prefer smaller pieces and this recipe works well in a square 8×8 pan too. Not as pretty though!

 

 

A Family By Any Other Name

If you’re like me, the concept of “family” is complicated. The family we’re born into may be less than ideal, incorporating fraught relationships with parents or siblings. Even in families with a relatively healthy dynamic, there’s often a tendency to act or be treated as if we are eternally eight years old.

As we get older, our definition of family expands and changes. Lines blur as our children become friends, close friends become more like siblings, and siblings may become strangers.

Since Thanksgiving is a holiday that’s typically associated with family, let’s celebrate ALL our families, not just our biological ones:

  • Circumstantial: The family we join through marriage or re-marriage
  • Work: After all, we probably spend at least as much time with our “work family” as we do at home
  • Friends: Who else could we bitch to about everything — including our families?!
  • Support System: Our family of stylists, massage therapists, manicurists etc., with whom we share stories and confidences
  • Our church, synagogue, mosque or other religious affiliation
  • Neighbors

fudge-brownies-1235430_640

This is one of my favorite recipes for dessert, whether you’re hosting or bringing something to the feast. Almond flour and Whey Low make it healthier.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone — however (and with whomever) you spend it!

Double Chocolate Almond Flour Brownies

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (I use 4 tablespoons (¼ c) butter + ¼ c canola oil)
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (substitute bittersweet if you prefer less sweetness)
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar (I use 1/3 c brown + 1/3 c white for less sweetness)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Optional: ¼ teaspoon espresso powder

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350º and butter an 8”x8” pan.
  2. Place the butter and chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler or a large glass bowl set over a pot of gently boiling water. Whisk together until the butter and chocolate are melted and well combined. Set aside and let cool for five minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, mix the almond flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and vanilla.
  4. Add the cooled chocolate and butter mixture to the egg/sugar mixture. Whisk to combine and then mix into the dry ingredients until everything is well blended.
  5. Pour the batter into the baking pan and bake for 25 minutes or until tester comes out clean with a few crumbs clinging to it.
  6. Cool before slicing.

Baking New Friends

When you’re a kid, you can become best friends with someone simply because you both hate school lunches or gym class. It’s not much more sophisticated when you’re an adult: Chances are, you’ll bond with someone at work when you discover you both loathe your boss, love French films, or nodded off in the same boring meeting. Or you’ll meet a mom in playgroup who shares your opinion that the neighbor’s “perfect” child is a spoiled brat.

I’ve found it gets a lot harder once those natural opportunities are behind you. It’s even tougher if you move to a new town, retire, work from home or become divorced, widowed or remarried.

For me, baking has become one way to connect and enrich budding friendships. This dates back to my childhood.

V lived a few streets away. I don’t remember what prompted it, but one afternoon when I was playing at her house – we must have been about 10 – we got the idea to bake something. I’m going to guess it was cookies, because what kid doesn’t like cookies? V, who was always more confident than I was, knew exactly how to start the oven. I quote: “You turn on the gas, wait awhile, and then light it.” Which is what we did.

BOOM! Both of us were knocked backwards, the smell of burnt hair everywhere. My bangs were reduced to an inch of frizz and I no longer had eyebrows. I think V was relatively unscathed except for a burned arm. Our mothers were seriously pissed off and our respective punishments forged a shared bond along with our battle scars.

Undeterred — and still liking cookies — I’ve continued to bake. And I’ve discovered that the alchemy of turning flour, sugar and butter into something delicious is not unlike turning ordinary experiences into the basis of a lasting friendship, don’t you agree?

This leads me to Baking Friend #2. T is a real baker, by which I mean that she knows enough not to improvise the way I do, has actually done it professionally, and posts very beautiful photos of all her discoveries on her wonderful blog, The Cook”s Tour.  I, on the other hand, have more of a hit or miss success rate and can make the same recipe 20 times and get it wrong the 21st. Yes, it’s a gift.

From sharing recipes, T and I have branched out to sharing details of our lives, political observations and inspirations for future travel. After knowing her for only a couple of years I am delighted to consider her a friend, even though we communicate almost entirely by e-mail.

Most recently, my neighbor H and I embarked on a baking adventure at her house. She is a woman I admire greatly, but we are both a bit shy and take a long time getting to know people. Friendship #3 is like the long, slow proofing of bread that tastes its best because you take your time making it.

A couple of weeks ago we decided to bake bagels, using a recipe I love that is usually foolproof. This time, however, lacking the necessary food processor, we opted to wing it and use the stand mixer. Since the dough was too dry to come together, we added more water. And then a little more. And a little more. (See? Winging it.) By the time we made our bagels, they had ballooned to the size of small pillows and while they weren’t what I’d call horrible, they were definitely not New York bagels either.

Still, even a relatively unsuccessful result can lead to a lot of laughter and a stronger connection. Which is ultimately a more important measure of success.

Eventually, we all figure out who’s toxic and whom we want as our friends. We may have fewer but hopefully each will be special. If I can get through life burning more cookies than I burn bridges, I’ll be very happy!

Sweet on Sourdough

As soon as we arrive at our summer place in coastal Oregon, I’m seized with an uncontrollable urge to bake. I don’t know if it’s the tang of the sea air, the crisp nights, or the mist that makes everything look a bit magical, but something makes me want to light a fire, curl up with a good book and wait for dough to rise.

Every summer begins with a new batch of sourdough starter; it’s one of the first things I do after dusting away the winter cobwebs. This is part ritual, part challenge (every loaf is a little different because I’m truly an amateur) and partly the desire to fill the house with the intoxicating aroma of fresh bread.

Sourdough is one of the oldest types of bread, dating back to the Egyptians in 1500 BC. French bakers brought sourdough to California during the Gold Rush and it’s been associated with San Francisco ever since. When you mix flour with water and expose it to air, wild yeasts join the party, converting the natural sugars in flour to acids that impart a sour flavor. As the yeast interacts with the flour mixture it produces carbon dioxide, the cause of the active bubbles that make bread rise and create its distinctive holes.

Like a beloved pet or houseplant, sourdough starter needs to be “fed” regularly; otherwise it gets stale and dies. Since we’re only here for four months a year, I can’t keep mine going indefinitely. (I don’t suppose TSA would be too thrilled if I brought a jar on plane rides back and forth!) Plus, I sometimes want to eat something else. But if you’re willing to feed it every few days, you should be able to keep your starter going for months or even years, as professional bakeries do.

The first bread you make will be rather mild; it will develop its unique-to-you flavor after a few batches, when the wild yeasts that grow in your climate have a chance to develop. It will also become more ragged and hole-y as the starter matures.

Every bakery (and baker) has a special recipe and process. I’ve combined and adapted elements of several recipes, including ideas from the wonderful The Best Bread Ever cookbook and the legendary Tartine’s. Although there are a number of steps and it takes awhile, the following is pretty much foolproof (though I’ve had some batches turn out mysteriously dense)– you’ll quickly develop a sense of how the dough should look and feel. Have fun!

What you’ll need:
• Flour (rice, whole wheat and bread flours)
• Container for starter, a food processor and a mixing bowl
• Cast iron pot with lid, about 10” diameter
• Thermometer that goes up to 220°F
• Spray mister (Pylones makes a cute one)

Sensational Sourdough

STEP ONE: Starter
In a clear container or bowl, mix 2 cups of unbleached bread flour with 1½ cups of warm water and stir well. (I use a rectangular container about 5” square wide and 6” tall because it stores well in the fridge.) Cover with cheesecloth and leave near an open window.

STEP TWO: Wait
Stir the mixture twice a day for 2-3 days; then add ½ cup of whole wheat flour, ½ cup of bread flour, and enough water to restore its original consistency. Continue stirring another day or two until the starter develops a layer of foam about an inch thick. The bubbles will be very active at this point and the starter will be stretchy and fluid.IMG_1059

STEP THREE: Dough (Warning: this is about a 5-hour process!)
1. In a food processor, combine 1 cup of starter, 1 cup of warm water, 3½ cups of bread flour and 1 teaspoon of salt. Pulse for 20 seconds, adding a bit more water if the dough doesn’t come together in a ball or seems dry and crumbly. Let it rest for 5 minutes, then pulse for another 25 seconds. Transfer the dough to a bowl and let it rise for 30 minutes in a warm or sunny part of the room.
2. Dip your hands in water and, going section by section, pull one quadrant of the dough to stretch it over the rest. Repeat the action for all four “edges” of the ball of dough. Put the ball back in the bowl, cover with a towel, and let it rest for 30 minutes.
3. Repeat the folding/stretching action every half hour for a total of 6 times (3 hours). By the end of the 3 hours, the dough will be much softer and should increase in volume about 20-30%. If not, continue the folding/rising process one or two more times.


4. Transfer the dough to a work surface and dust with flour. Flip the dough over so the floured side is on the bottom. Using a smooth rolling motion, pull the corners of the dough out and up towards the middle as you roll it into a taut round ball. Cover with a towel and let it rest for 30 minutes.
5. Line an 8-10” bowl with a fresh towel. Combine ½ cup each of whole-wheat and rice flours in a separate container and sprinkle the towel generously with some of the mixture. Reserve the rest.
6. Uncover your dough. Dust the top with whole-wheat flour and flip it over so that the floured side is on the bottom. This will become the crust.
7. Beginning with the side that’s facing you, pull out the bottom two “edges” of the ball and stretch them up to the middle of the dough. Next, pull the two “sides” of the ball and stretch them over the center. Finally, lift the top two “edges” and stretch them over the previous folds. (Imagine folding a piece of paper: bottom corners up, sides in, top down over everything)


8. Flip the dough over and roll it into a smooth, taut ball. All the folded sides will be on the bottom. Don’t worry that the seams are still visible!
9. Transfer the dough, seam side up, to the prepared bowl. Sprinkle some of the rice/whole wheat mixture on top, fold the towel lightly over the dough, and put it in the fridge.

STEP FOUR: Wait overnight.
Alternatively, let the dough rise in a warm (70-80°F) environment for 3-4 hours. But it tastes better after a long, slow rise of 12+ hours.

STEP FIVE: Bake.
1. Take the bowl out of the fridge and let the dough warm up to room temperature.
2. Put a cast-iron lidded pot (about 10” diameter) in a cold oven and preheat to 500° F. Wait 30 minutes after the oven reaches this temperature before proceeding.
3. Carefully take the dough out of its bowl, place it on a counter and dust the top with some of the rice/whole-wheat mixture. Using a sharp knife or razor blade, slash the top of the bread in a few places. This will allow air to escape as the dough rises in the oven. Be careful not to press down too hard; you want to maintain the round shape.


4. Using oven mitts, take the hot pot out of the oven, remove the lid and gently drop the dough into the pot. Replace the lid and put the covered pot back in the oven, reducing the heat to 450°F.
5. Bake for 20 minutes. Open the oven door, remove the lid and spritz the oven a couple of times with water to create some steam. Spritz again after another 2 minutes. Continue baking (uncovered) for about 20-25 minutes until the crust is a dark golden color. Check the internal temperature: the bread is fully baked when it’s 205° to 210°F at the thickest point.


6. Cool the bread on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

Yield: one large loaf.

Notes:
3 shallow, vertical slashes will create an oval shaped bread. A criss-cross pattern creates a round loaf.

Keep feeding your starter every few days to a week: Add 1 cup flour + warm water to maintain the original consistency.

A quick share

I love this blog, and the recipe looks fantastic, so I wanted to share the link with all of you:

Sables Bretons: French salted butter cookies

Go to the Web site for all his photos and details.

Sables Breton
About 30 cookies

Adapted from Little Flower Baking by Christine Moore

More than other types of cookie, these are quite sensitive to being overbaked. Some might like them darker, but I prefer mine a little less, which allows for the flavor of the salt and butter to come through. I recommend baking them one sheet at a time on the middle rack of the oven. Even in a convection oven, I find if you bake these on the lower rack, they’ll cook too quickly on the bottom.

It helps if you can make room in the refrigerator or freezer before you start rolling the cookies so you chill the baking sheets with the unbaked cookies on them. Chilling them makes it easier to score them with a fork, but if you work fast – like I did – you can probably get away with not chilling them.

I reduced the baking powder in the original recipe, but it’s still imperative that you use aluminum-free baking powder because these have a bit more leavening than other cookie recipes. Regular baking powder has a tinny taste, and you want to avoid that in these buttery treats.

2/3 cup (5.2 ounces, 150g) best-quality salted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, such as fleur de sel or Maldon
4 large egg yolks
1 cup (200g) sugar
1 3/4 cups (210g) all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
1 egg
1 teaspoon of water
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or by hand in a bowl with a sturdy silicone spatula, cream the butter and salt together on low speed until smooth, about 30 seconds.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks, gradually adding the sugar while whisking, until the yolks are light and fluffy – about a minute. With the mixer on low, add the egg yolks to the butter, stopping the mixer to scrape down any butter clinging to the sides so it all gets incorporated.

3. Sift together the flour and baking powder in a small bowl, then stir that into the creamed butter mixture until it’s completely incorporated. (Don’t overmix it.)

4. Pat the dough into a rectangle about 1-inch (3cm) thick, wrap in plastic, and chill for an hour. (The dough can be made up to five days in advance, and stored in the refrigerator.)

5. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Have a pastry scrape or thin metal spatula handy.

6. Cut the rectangle of dough in half and place one piece between two large sheets of parchment paper. Roll the dough until it is between 1/3- to 1/2-inch (1,25cm) thick. Peel off the top piece of parchment paper and, using a 2-inch (5cm) round cookie cutter, cut out circles of dough, place them on the prepared baking sheet at least 1/2-inch (2cm) apart. You may need to coax them off the parchment with the pastry scraper or spatula.

7. Roll the second piece of dough, cut out circles, and put them on the other baking sheet. (Scraps can be gathered up and rerolled to make additional cookies.) Chill the baking sheets of cookies in the refrigerator or freezer until firm.

8. To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Adjust the oven rack to the middle of the oven.

9. Beat the egg in a small bowl with the teaspoon of water. Remove one sheet of cookies from the refrigerator or freezer. Brush the tops of the cookies with the egg wash then use a fork to cross hatch a pattern on the tops of the cookies. Bake the cookies until the tops are golden brown, about 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheet in the oven midway during baking.

10. Remove the cookies from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. Brush the second baking sheet of cookies with the egg wash, rake a pattern across the tops with a fork, and bake them.

Storage: The unrolled dough can be chilled for up to 5 days or frozen for up to two months. Once baked, the cookies will keep for up to four days in an airtight container.