Brownie Chunk Cookies update

No new recipe today, I’m afraid, for though I do know what our soup for March is, a combination of being back in school for the semester and unexpectedly running out of eggs has not left enough time for composing and photographing a final February dish.

That being said, if you need a sweet baking project in the next week, may I suggest this one? And may I suggest further, after a little experimentation this weekend, that the addition of about 2 teaspoons of instant espresso powder to the brownie component, and about 1 teaspoon of cinnamon to the cookie component, makes something even more transcendent?

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Till next week, my friends…

Guest Post: Cheddar and Green Onion Sourdough Artisan Boule

Guest post from my friend and colleague (frolleague!) K., with whom I discuss bread baking procedures and triumphs on a frantic, high-volume, excitable and regular basis. Enjoy!

BlackberryEating has officially declared 2017 the year of the soup project just in time for the cold reality of this winter: Montana is 40 below, New England is buried in snow and West Coasters down to San Diego are cold and wet from an atmospheric river that’s brought more rain in the last six weeks than in as many years.

So let’s honor this project with really good bread, the stunning artisan kind, with the open crumb, shattery crust and intense bread flavor that will drive. your. people. wild. And since everyone knows that good bread is made — not bought — this homemade cheddar onion sourdough boule will be the perfect compliment to a comforting pot of simmering soup — unless you eat it before the first ladle of liquid hits the bowl, which can happen.

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A few caveats before the formula:

1) Don’t have a sourdough starter? Make one. You’ll never buy commercial bread or use commercial yeast again. Loaded with hydrogenated oils, nitrates, sugar, bleaching agents and other harmful substances, store-bought bread is just plain bad for you. And commercial yeast is devoid of the healthful bacteria that makes fermented food so darn healthy. Breads made from commercial yeast go stale faster, taste blah, are harder to

digest, and have a higher glycolic index, among other issues. This makes commercial bread profitable and convenient, but not good and healthy.

“Sourdough Starter, America’s Rising Pet” by Sam Sifton, which ran in the NYT recently, says it all. Once you get your starter fermenting on a regular schedule — rising up and then collapsing back in a consistent manner — it’s ready to use in your bread.

I started mine more than two years ago. The directions I was reading said starter consists of flour, water and wild yeast. I tried to order the wild yeast on Amazon. Nope. I Googled it. Nothing. What? Eventually I figured out that the wild yeast are in the air all around me (duh) and you catch them by mixing equal parts flour (50/50 mix of King Arthur’s all-purpose and wheat flours) and filtered water and then waiting. Within a week the starter was bubbling, and now it’s fast and strong. I feed it daily, sometimes twice.

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2) Invest in the basic bread-making tools: a bench knife, dough spatula, scale, banneton, thermometer, and cast iron combo cooker. You need these to turn out dazzling, delicious bread.

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3) Using the very best flour possible makes a huge difference. I use a combination of King Arthur Bread Flour and 10 – 20 percent high extraction wheat flour from Grist and Toll in Pasadena, the only local miller I’ve found in the greater Los Angeles area. They use a stone mill to make whole-grain, small-batch, fresh, local organic flour. And they ship! I love the hard white for its mild nutty flavor. Grist and Toll flour creates a silky, manageable dough that is loaded with nutrition. Read about stoneground, high-extraction flour here.

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4) Be patient. Start your dough the day before you make soup and refrigerate it overnight for a next-day bake. It’s easy to make bread, but fermentation takes time. And good dough handling takes a minute, but you’ll get it, and you’ll be so glad you did. Homemade bread is a game changer. And don’t worry if the first few loaves don’t turn out perfect. Just eat them and start again.

Cheddar and Green Onion Sourdough Artisan Boule (perfect for two with a pot of soup)
The Formula
300 grams flour (270g King Arthur Bread Flour & 30g Grist and Toll Red Fife)
225g water, slightly warmed
75g starter (It’s ready to use when it’s on the rise and a bit of it floats in water.)
5g Kosher salt
4oz. sharp cheddar, cut into small cubes and brought to room temperature.
¼ – ½ cup chopped green onion (I chop them thick) and brought to room temperature.
Cornmeal or polenta for dusting
Razor blade

The Dough

  • Pour 210g warmed water in a clear bowl.
  • Add starter and mix until incorporated.
  • Add flour and mix into a shaggy dough. Let it sit for half hour.

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  • Add the salt and the rest of the warmed water. Dissolve the salt in the water and work it into the dough by folding it in or cutting it in. Let it sit for half an hour.

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  • Flatten the dough out a bit, spread the cubes and press them into the dough. Do your best to space them out. Do the same with the onion.

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  • Pull all the dough edges up and fold over, encapsulating the cheese and onion.
  • Leave it for 45 minutes, then stretch and fold again. Repeat every 45 minutes (or so) for the next several hours, until the dough starts to get fuller and come together. This will take time. Give it 4 to 6 hours and 6 to 8 stretch and folds. Be patient and get gentler with your folds as you go.

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  • Once the dough is noticeably a bit puffy and fuller, turn it onto a floured board. Lightly flour the top and flip it over using the bench knife. Do one more very gentle, half-hearted round of folds, so the dough is roughly round, and gently flip it back over.

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  • Let it sit for half an hour.
  • Lightly flour the top. Flip it again and do a final fold. Start your fold at the top edge, then the right side, then the left, then fold the edge nearest to you up and over and keep rolling the whole ball so the seam side is down.

There is your boule!

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  • Spin it once or twice on the board to seal that bottom seam. Flour your banneton well. You don’t want the dough sticking to the banneton.
  • Slide your bench knife under the boule and gently place it upside down (seam side up) in the banneton.

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  • Cover with foil and put in the fridge to bake the next day.

The Bake

  • Place your combo cooker in the oven and preheat to 500 degrees. Once preheated, wait another 20 minutes. You want it screaming hot.
  • Take your dough out of the fridge. I pluck any cheese cubes that are sticking way out of the dough.
  • Take the combo cooker out of the oven using heavy silicone mitts. Take the top off and dust the bottom of the cooker with cornmeal. It will smoke but that’s OK.

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  • Lightly flour the seam side of your dough and your hands and then gently turn the dough out into the bottom of the combo cooker. Be careful. That sucker is hot.
  • Using a new razor or ultra-sharp kitchen knife, slice a cross into the top of the dough. This allows the bread to expand and rise to its full potential.

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  • Replace the top and put it all into the oven. Cook for 10 minutes, then turn heat down to 450. Cook for another 15 minutes, then remove the top. Watch your eyes! You will release a cloud of hot steam.
  • Cook another 15 -18 minutes. Bake it out strong but don’t burn it. You want the internal temperature to reach at least 210F.
  • Put the loaf on a rack and let it cool, sitting there being beautiful while you make the soup. It’s a fine companion.

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P.S. After you’ve demolished the loaf, keep those crumbs for mac and cheese.

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Carrot Soufflé

2016-food-blog-photo-december-7A few weeks ago, I got my “what to blog about” inspiration from the unlikely source that is the Trader Joe’s samples counter. They were demo-ing carrot soufflé, a bright orange spoonful of light, sweet puree that I immediately wanted to play with. I’ve done a sweet potato soufflé before, and I thought a carrot version would work equally well as a semi-sweet holiday side dish, bumped up with a few flavor partners these bright, knobbly spears play well with.

2016-food-blog-photo-december-0684I’m not usually a fan of oranges in holiday dishes (especially the aforementioned sweet potatoes: keep that orange juice out of my carbs!), but carrots and orange are too chummy to keep separated for long. Ginger seemed like another good guest to invite to this party, and a good squeeze of maple syrup to add a burnished kind of sweetness in there.

2016-food-blog-photo-december-5Soufflé carries with it a reputation of delicacy and fussy fragility, and in some ways this is true. The elegant, gravity defying puff that is its signature is in part a result of egg whites beaten just so, but also of careful handling and a patient, even leisurely attitude. And sometimes it just falls. When that happens, you just have to shrug and accept it. Maybe have another glass of eggnog.

2016-food-blog-photo-december-0697This is a (reasonably) convenient soufflé recipe in that it involves an equal number of egg whites and egg yolks. There’s a bit of fussiness with separating, ensuring you haven’t tainted the pristine whites with even a breath of yellow, or they won’t rise up into that spongy cloud you need. But scrupulous attention helps with that, and a dash of cream of tartar ensures a quicker, fluffier snowdrift of whipped whites.

2016-food-blog-photo-december-6Apart from that, it’s just a question of integration. The carrots, after a softening boil in water and orange juice, get blended with flavoring agents, yolks, and a glug or two of cream, and then it’s just a question of folding in those whites carefully and gently, trying not to deflate anything. I’ve explained my method in the step-by-step below, but here’s another excellent reference from the kitchn, if you want more detailed guidance.

2016-food-blog-photo-december-7After a careful deposit into the oven (we want all the air we can keep in this dish of orange velvet), you are rewarded with a bronzed puff, heavier than meringue or mousse, lighter than custard – that impossible, almost strange, texture only a soufflé has – and you scoop out great spoonfuls because it’s so light, and brightly carrot-y, enhanced by the orange and the ginger and luxurious from the cream. I think this would go well with a turkey or ham-based holiday menu, but we had ours with herb and butter basted salmon, and found we didn’t miss having a starch component. Besides, it left room for a dessert I’ll show you next week: another puff, but of a very different sort, equally on board for the impending holidays.

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Carrot Soufflé
80-90 minutes, including cooling time for the carrots
Serves 4
2½ cups peeled, 1-inch carrot chunks (6-7 medium carrots)
zest from one large orange
¼ cup fresh orange juice from one large orange
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
¼ cup maple syrup
½ cup heavy cream
3 eggs, separated
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar, optional

 

  • In a medium pot with a lid, combine the carrots, orange juice, water, and salt. Plonk in the juiced halves of the orange too (reserve the orange zest for later). Pop on the lid and bring to a boil over medium high heat, and boil until the carrot pieces are tender but not falling apart: 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of your carrot chunks. Drain and cool to just above room temperature (we’re going to add raw egg yolks and don’t want them to scramble).
  • While the carrots are cooking and cooling, preheat your oven to 375F and prepare your baking dish: use the 2 tablespoons butter to grease a 1½ quart round baking dish with straight sides (by all means use a proper soufflé dish for this if you have one; I don’t. But hey, it is almost Christmas…). Sprinkle the brown sugar over the buttered sides of the container, then stow it in the freezer for 5-10 minutes. The sugar sanding creates texture to help the soufflé climb the walls of the container, and freezing it makes it take longer to dissolve in the heat of the oven, so you’re giving your puff a head start.
  • In the pot with the cooled carrot chunks, add the fresh ginger, the maple syrup, the heavy cream, the reserved orange zest, and the 3 egg yolks. Use an immersion blender (or transfer the whole mix to a blender or food processor) to break down into a smooth puree. Be sure no carrot hunks remain.
  • In a separate bowl, add the cream of tartar to the egg whites. Using a handheld electric mixture (or a whisk, if you need to work on your arms), beat the whites at first over medium, then high speed until medium peaks form. The whites will foam, and then become pure white, and finally begin to stiffen like a good whipped cream. To determine the stiffness of your peaks, turn off the beaters and lift them straight out of the whites. If you get little hills that collapse back into the mixture, you have soft peaks. If you get little tips that fold over just a bit when you pull the beaters away, you are looking at medium to stiff peaks, which is what we want.
  • Using a rubber spatula, scoop about ⅓ of the egg white fluff into your carrot puree base and stir until no white streaks remain. No need to be careful with this part – full integration is just fine.
  • Now, slide the other ⅔ of the whites into the sweet potato mixture and fold in gently until just combined – some white streaks may remain and that’s fine. I like to fold by drawing my spatula around the edge of the bowl in a horseshoe shape, then pulling it back toward me in a straight line.
  • Retrieve your frozen baking dish and fill with the soufflé mixture, being careful not to let it plop from too high (in case of deflation). Smooth off the top the best you can – this seems fussy, but it will aid in even rising.
  • Bake in a preheated 375F oven keeping the door closed the whole time for 35-45 minutes, until the edges are nicely browned and the soufflé has puffed up in the center as well as the sides. For maximum wow factor, transport carefully and immediately to the table, so your fellow diners can appreciate your soufflé skills before it deflates. Dig in with a large spoon and enjoy.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Rye Bread

2016-food-blog-november-0522I’ve felt pressed since summer, when it comes to posting – I’ve been, all too often, a negligent blogger. There are many reasons for this, especially in the past few weeks, but I realized part of the reason lately, and that reason is the absence of a group. I liked the challenge of a monthly bread assignment, and between the dissolution of the Twelve Loaves baking party, heat, and busyness, I haven’t been doing as much experimental bread baking as I used to. I looked back, for another cooking project a week or two ago, at the notes I’d made about Suzanne’s site in my Five Seed Loaves post, and was reminded of the idea for a bread – inspired by hers – that incorporated rye flour, and canned pumpkin, and maybe some rolled oats for heft. With a long weekend looming and the season of pumpkin upon us, it seemed like the right thing to do.

2016-food-blog-november-05012016-food-blog-november-0504The problem with canned pumpkin, as anyone knows who has grown frustrated by repeated testing of that pumpkin chocolate chip bread that just will not finish baking, is its incredible water content. It keeps baked goods amazingly moist, but it also is a sopping, wet, hard-to-deal-with mess if you aren’t careful, especially in dough.

2016-food-blog-november-32016-food-blog-november-0498Irvin helped me solve this problem, with the ingenious tip he discovered of cooking down your canned pumpkin first, to eliminate some of that pesky moisture and concentrate the flavor. A quick, hot fifteen minutes of near-constant stirring and folding results in a thick, deeply sunset orange pan of something the texture of thick frosting that adds flavor and richness, but won’t bog down your mixture. I foresee many pumpkin-centric baking projects in the future, now that I know this helpful little extra step.

2016-food-blog-november-0507As with most breads, this one involves a substantial knead, a long first rise, a punch and a shape and – after a roll in some pumpkin seeds and rolled oats for texture and indication of predominant ingredients – a second rise before baking for a little over half an hour. These loaves incorporate some molasses for sweetness and color, and milk rather than water.

2016-food-blog-november-0525I must admit, the rye flavor doesn’t come through overly much here, though I suspect it added to the substance and of course to the lovely toasty color of the finished loaf. The pumpkin is mild as well, but you can taste it despite the absence of the telltale wintry spices that usually accompany this big squash. It’s satisfyingly orange inside (which makes photo editing tricky, by the way!), and it is a rich autumnal flavor I already want to taste again. The oats all but disappear into the dough as it bakes, and they contribute to the pleasant, spongy density of the thick slices you’ll be carving off to slather with cream cheese.

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Pumpkin Oatmeal Rye Bread
Makes 2 9×5 inch loaves (though mine were a little stubby from overly tight loaf shaping)
4-5 hours, approximately
15 ounce can of pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1½ cups warm milk
small pinch white sugar
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1½ cups rolled oats, divided
2 cups dark rye flour
¼ cup molasses
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons melted butter
2-3 cups bread flour
½ cup raw pumpkin seeds

 

  • Cooked the canned pumpkin in a skillet over high heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning, until it is thick and reduced and takes on the consistency of a thick, spreadable frosting. You should wind up with only about ¾ cup left. Let it cool to room temperature.
  • While the pumpkin cools, combine the warm milk with the yeast and sugar, stirring briskly, then let sit for about 10 minutes to allow the yeast to activate. The surface of the milk will get bubbly and smell bread-y.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeasted milk, 1 cup of the oats, the rye flour, the molasses, the melted butter, the salt, and the cooled pumpkin. Use the paddle attachment on low to medium speed to combine.
  • Now begin adding the bread flour ½ cup at a time, paddling in each addition, until a soft dough forms that pulls and tears away from the side of the bowl. You may not need the entire 3 cups of flour – I ended up using about 2½ cups total.
  • Switch to the dough hook and knead on medium speed for about 5 minutes. The resulting dough will be soft and sticky – a play-dough that clings to your fingers – but that’s okay. The oats need time to absorb the liquid so it will become less tacky as it rises.
  • Spray the inside of the bowl with a non-stick spray or olive oil, flipping over the dough so both sides are coated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place to rise until doubled; 60-90 minutes.
  • When the dough has doubled, punch it down by depressing your fist gently into the middle, then let it sit to get its breath back for about 10 minutes. While it rests, spray two 9×5 inch loaf pans with non-stick spray and start the oven preheating at 375F. Combine the pumpkin seeds with the remaining ½ cup of oats and spread out on a flat, rimmed surface like a cookie sheet.
  • Carefully dump the risen dough out onto a very lightly floured board. The more flour you use, the more trouble you’ll have getting the seeds and oats to stick. Divide the dough into two equal hunks, then form each into a loaf and roll it through the seed and oat mixture before settling it into its respective loaf pan. If you have a lot of trouble getting the oats and seeds to stick, spray the loaf with nonstick spray or olive oil first, then have another go.
  • Cover the loaf pans with plastic wrap and set the loaves aside to rise again for about 45 minutes.
  • When the loaves have just about doubled in size again, remove the plastic wrap covering them and carefully set them into your preheated oven to bake until their central temperature reaches 180-200F; about 35 minutes.
  • Let the loaves cool in their pans about 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Brown Butter Apple Pound Cake

I’ve tried to start this post three or four times now. The first time I tried to skirt the events of the last week entirely, but that felt like lying. The second time I was overtly political, explaining exactly how I felt and why. That felt more honest, but it didn’t feel like the right move. The third time I tried to be conciliatory, citing concerns on both sides.

2016-food-blog-november-0385In the face of change, particularly because it is not the sort of change I agree with or was hoping for, I retreated to comfort. I know this is not particularly useful. I know I am reasonably safe for a number of reasons, and closing the blinds and wallowing is not helping the people who are – or soon may be – not so safe, but I did it anyway. Finally, I decided I need more time to process what I want to say, so I’ll offer this instead, as unhelpful and uninspiring as it might be: this week was rough. Let’s have cake.

2016-food-blog-november-03382016-food-blog-november-0329For me, the deepest and firmest food comfort is baking. It makes me think of being a child, it makes me think of warmth and sweetness; it makes me feel sound. In his examination of sugar and its coming to and impacts on Europe, particularly England, Sidney W. Mintz suggests that perhaps the reason we are so attracted to sugar, especially when we are young, is because human breast milk is sweet. So it makes sense that when we are troubled, or we feel that we need safety and security, we turn to sweet foods.

2016-food-blog-november2016-food-blog-november-0356The original inspiration for this cake came from Starbucks. A few years ago as part of their fall line-up of baked goods, Starbucks rolled out a brown butter pound cake spiked with Washington apples, and after sampling the dense crumb and the wet, almost too sweet apple chunks, I wanted to do my own version. For the base recipe, I went with that great baking bible Baking Illustrated, by the same cooks and recipe testers as Cooks Illustrated. Their pound cake uses cake flour for a tight but tender crumb, plenty of butter, and the richness and color and emulsifying power of extra egg yolks, rather than all whole eggs. Mine adds the extra step of browning the butter first (which then necessitates refrigerating it back into solidity before creaming it with the sugar), and a generous two cups of apple cubes – granny smith, for the tartness and minimal juice expelled during baking.

2016-food-blog-november-03462016-food-blog-november-0352Most pound cakes have a soft top that splits as it bakes, and this one did offer that classic cleaving in the center, but the rest of the top – the browned exterior on either side of that tender split, was crisp and delicate and almost wafer-like – think of the top shiny, flaky layer of an excellent pan of brownies – perhaps because I was so enthusiastic in creaming the butter and sugar and then beating in the eggs. My batter looked like a good fluffy buttercream in its initial stages.

2016-food-blog-november-0363I usually bring my baked offerings to work with me, leaving only a serving or two to enjoy at home, and this was no exception, but we were sorry about that. Especially as the week wore on, we wanted more of this comforting, moist-but sturdy, not-too-sweet confection, preferably in thick slices. But alas, it lasted only a few hours in our mailroom.

2016-food-blog-november-0368It’s funny in that uncomfortable way, but the last time I made a pound cake was also a heavy time. It’s an uncomfortable metaphor – perhaps I should start perfecting an angel-food cake recipe instead – but hindsight is what it is, and here we are. Cake.

2016-food-blog-november-0371Maybe the best way I can conclude today is with Kurt Vonnegut. In his novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, one character offers the following as a baptismal statement to a pair of brand new twins: “Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies – ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’”

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Brown Butter Apple Pound Cake
Makes 1 9x5x3 inch loaf
About 90 min
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1⅓ cups sugar
3 large eggs + 3 large egg yolks, all at room temperature
1½ teaspoons vanilla
1½ teaspoons water
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups cake flour
2 cups ½-inch cubes of granny smith apple; 1 large apple or 2 small

  • First, brown the butter. In a small saucepan, preferably with a light colored bottom so you can see what is happening, melt the butter over medium heat. As it melts, it will foam up. Keep swirling and checking the color underneath that foam; it will gradually darken from yellow to golden, and the foam will recede a bit. Watch very closely at this point, occasionally tipping the pot to see the bottom – little white solids will have collected. When these begin to turn brown, the butter will smell toasted and nutty. Take it off the stove and stow it in the refrigerator until it has solidified but is not too hard – your thumb should still press in easily.
  • While the butter cools down again, preheat the oven to 375F and prepare a loaf pan by spraying with non-stick spray and lining with parchment paper. Prep the apple by peeling it, quartering and coring it, and then slicing and cubing into ½ inch pieces.
  • In a mixing bowl (Baking Illustrated recommends using a stand mixer, but I used a glass bowl and my regular electric mixer and it was fine), combine the re-solidified butter and all of the sugar. Mix at medium speed until very light and fluffy, at least 3-4 minutes. Really. That long. It will take on a texture much like a slightly grainy buttercream frosting.
  • Beat the eggs with the egg yolks, the water, and the vanilla and, with the mixer still running, dribble in this egg mixture until all is well combined. At this point the batter will be very thick and glossy and still a bit reminiscent of frosting.
  • Now, sift in ½ cup of the flour with the salt right over the top of the batter. Once it is all snow-drifted on top there, use a rubber spatula to fold it in. Once fully combined, repeat the sifting and folding with the second ½ cup of flour.
  • Sprinkle the apple cubes over the batter, then dust with the remaining ½ cup flour. Giving the apple chunks a little flour coating helps them stay suspended in the batter during baking, rather than sinking to the bottom. Repeat the folding process one final time, being sure the flour is fully incorporated and there are no dry pockets.
  • With your rubber spatula, pour and scrape the batter carefully into the prepared loaf pan. Smooth off the top if you like, then stow in the preheated oven for 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick insertted comes out with just a few damp crumbs.
  • Let the loaf cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then use a second wire rack placed over the top of the pan to invert. The loaf will plop right out, upside down, onto this second rack. Carefully remove the pan from the loaf and flip the loaf back over top-side-up to cool completely. Peel off the parchment paper, transfer to a cutting board, and slice up thickly to eat.

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