Miso Brown Butter Krispie Treats

This one is, I have to admit, a bit of a cheat. But when it’s the day after the horror that is the spring time change, a fifteen minute “baking” project that barely adapts perfection is about all a person can be expected to churn out.

Have you had Smitten Kitchen’s salted brown butter crispy treats? Please tell me you have. It’s one of the recipes that was so successful on her blog that she put it into her first cookbook as a tried and true favorite. One of our friends calls them “the precious” and I have to say, he’s not far off. The same old gooey, crunchy squares from childhood, but bumped up with the nutty toastiness of brown butter, and a judicious sprinkle of sea salt that makes them fly. We first discovered them through a batch S. made, and she consequently became our dealer while we were in Oregon, though now that we’re so many miles separate from her I’ve had to take up the mantle myself.

I’m not sure what gave me the idea – perhaps seeing several miso caramels on Food Network, or maybe SK’s own miso caramel corn – but the idea of adding a scoop of miso paste to these already flawless squares seemed to toe the line between genius and potentially horrifying.

So I did it.

The result is, surprisingly, somehow butterscotch-esque, despite no brown sugar or vanilla in the mix, and completely addictive. There’s no flaky sea salt anymore – the miso has plenty of salinity of its own – although I think you could get away with a tiny sprinkle if you can’t do without so I’ve made it optional, and I don’t even think you’d need to brown the butter, but I still did because since it needs to be melted anyway, it’s not really that much more effort.

So here, backed by Deb’s ingenuity and a mere four ingredients (well, five if you add salt), is my offering for you today: all the goo, all the sweetness, all the crunch, but with a new twist that will, I suspect, leave you tasting, and tasting again, and suddenly wondering where the whole pan got off to, because you couldn’t possibly have just eaten the entire thing…

Miso Brown Butter Krispie Treats
Marginally adapted from Smitten Kitchen‘s salted brown butter crispy treats
15-20 minutes
Makes 8×8- or 9×9-inch square pan of treats
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (½ cup; 4 ounces)
1-1½ tablespoons miso paste
⅛ teaspoon salt, optional
10 ounce bag of marshmallows
6 cups crisped rice cereal

 

  • Butter or spray an 8×8 or 9×9 inch pan, then set aside.
  • Add the butter to a saucepan and melt over medium heat. Once it has completely melted, turn the heat down to medium-low and keep an eye on it as it foams up, then subsides, then starts to brown into toasty little bits on the bottom of the pot. It’s easiest to use a pot that does not have a dark surface, since you can see color changes in the butter more easily. If your pot has a black surface, though, and you think you’re there, you can quickly dunk in a marshmallow and see whether the butter it captures has brown flecks in it (then, if you must, you can eat it). The moment you discern these little brown flecks, turn the heat off so the butter solids won’t burn.
  • With the heat off, add the miso paste, the salt, if using, and the marshmallows. Stir firmly with a flexible rubber spatula, being sure to distribute the miso paste evenly. The residual heat should be enough to melt the marshmallows, and you’ll end up with a sticky, pale golden pool of goo. Add the 6 cups of cereal all at once and stir in. You’ll need to be quite firm, again, to ensure even distribution.
  • Dump and scrape the cereal mixture into the prepared pan and press down firmly into an even layer, being sure to push it into the corners as well. You can use the same rubber spatula for this, or a piece of waxed paper, or the bottom of the cup measure you used for the cereal – it shouldn’t stick too much.
  • Set aside until fully cooled, then cut into squares of your desired size and consume.

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.’”

2016-food-blog-november-0386

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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Trying-to-be-patient Brown Butter Brioche

Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0297It’s always interesting to see what the Twelve Loaves baking group decides on as a January theme. This is a time of renewal, of fresh beginnings, of starting again or trying again or reestablishing. Last year they asked for simplicity, prompting me to try my hand at sourdough, made by weight rather than volume measurements. This year, they asked for something a little more poetic but just as abstract: bake a loaf inspired by a New Year’s resolution.

Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0292I knew immediately I would make brioche. One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2015 is to be more patient. While this would be a good goal in any area of life (or perhaps all of them), for me, it’s very specific. I want to be more patient with Lucy when we take our daily walk. My dog-daughter will be twelve years old in the spring, and though she’s still very energetic and quite healthy, she has slowed down over the years. Some of this is age, but some is insistence on getting what she wants. For her, our outing is not a walk. It’s an extended sniff. She wants to stop at every bush, at every bench, at every blade of grass, it sometimes seems. This can easily push a two mile walk into an hour-long endeavor.

Fall and Winter 2014-0915Like most of us, though, I’m a busy person. At least I feel like I am. When I get home from work, after a brief decompression (read: Facebook and a snack), I want to walk Lucy, do a final check of my email inbox, and get on with cooking dinner. Ultimately, I want to get these things done so I can changed into pajamas and deposit myself on the couch. Sniffing every blade of grass impinges on this plan, so over the past year or so I found myself getting frustrated, and even quite angry when Lucy stopped, and stopped, and stopped again.

Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0265Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0266Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0267Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0268In November I was getting ready to snap at her about such a stop, and instead I stopped. Chelsea, she’s a dog. This is her daily chance to get outside and experience the world. She doesn’t understand what I’m even asking, let alone why I’m asking, and all my impatience is doing is making us both feel bad. And really, what’s the damage to my schedule if I do let her have an extended nasal examination of the things she’s most interested in? All told, three, maybe five minutes.

Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0269I can handle that.

So I am trying to be more patient with her, gently encouraging her to hustle along rather than snapping at her. I’m delivering commands in a calmer voice, and letting the sniff session go on an extra few seconds before delivering that command at all. I’m not at total karmic peace with the extra time spent yet, but I’m working on it.

Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0275Brioche is my bread project, then, because it’s a loaf that requires patience. Rich with eggs and loaded with butter, brioche is the “cake” from the famous quote misattributed to Marie Antoinette. To integrate the massive quantities of butter the loaf requires, most recipes detail a process of bringing the fat to just the right temperature and incorporating it into the dough a maddening single tablespoon at a time. Too cold, and the butter won’t mix in. Too warm, and it will collapse the dough into a soupy mess. Too much at once, and the dough will get greasy and separate unpleasantly. It takes, typically, a 20-30 minute knead time to get the gluten chains in the flour tangling nicely and then incorporate all of that butter. After this, a long, slow, cool rise time is required, in part to build flavor, in part to develop structure, and in part just to make it easier to handle – that butter has to chill down before the dough can be manipulated successfully.

Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0270Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0271Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0272By the time you are finally ready to bake the thing, a brioche has usually been under construction for the better part of a day, if not two (sponges and overnight refrigerated rises are common). But the result – a spongy tender, light-as-air crumb inside a deeply browned crunchy crust – is remarkable. It reminds me of challah, another egg-laden loaf requiring multiple rises, but is more finely textured and even a bit richer. If your gourmet burger arrives on a deeply, perfectly rounded bun so shiny it looks lacquered and leaves a sheen of fat on your fingertips when you set it back down on the plate with a sigh, you’ve had brioche. It’s a frequent choice for a truly decadent french toast, and I was prepared, with a cringe, to sink myself into making it.

Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0273When I looked around at recipes for points of comparison, I came back, as I often do, to Cooks Illustrated, which featured a practically fool-proof take on brioche. To combat the frequent problems associated with the quantity and temperature of the butter, recipe developer Andrew Janjigian opts for a no-knead approach, relying on a combination of gentle folding of the dough (see photo series above), and time, to stimulate gluten production. The very wet dough brioche requires works well for this method, because the moister the dough, the better the enzymes in there activate the gluten. Janjigian explains that this no-knead method leads to another benefit: since we aren’t kneading the dough, we can’t spend 20 minutes mixing in all the butter. Melting it and stirring it in all at once works just fine.

Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0277As I read his explanation of the changes he’d made from the original and recognized the ease involved compared to the traditional procedure, I was almost sold. A small part of me protested that this might be cheating – that if I was really making something to represent the resolve to be more patient, I should go with the typical long knead, slow-and-steady incorporation of butter, and force myself to avoid shortcuts. But in reading the recipe again, I realized this was still going to be a long process. Even before chilling the dough overnight, I would need to perform a series of folds on the sticky, wet mass I’d created to help activate the gluten. Using large chunks of my Friday and Saturday to put this together, attend to timers, coordinate myself through the rising and proofing process, and get through the agonizing final two hours of waiting for the baked loaves to cool enough for slicing, was going to take plenty of patience. I’m only human, and it’s only January. If I’m going to be successful in this resolution, baby steps might be the way to go.

Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0278Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0279Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0280Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0281The nail in the coffin, though, was when I checked Joe Pastry’s version of brioche. He suggests pumping up the flavor by using brown butter. Since I was already going to be melting the butter, this was clearly the right thing to do. Tiny speckles of toasted nuttiness running through my dough? Yes, thanks. Now, please.

Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0282Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0283Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0284Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0285Well, not now. Two long, patient days from now. But at the conclusion of those days, slicing through a softly shattering crust into a pillowy yellow interior laced with bits of brown butter, it was all I could do to eat each slice in more than one bite. Because, you know, patience.

Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0288Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0289Serving suggestions: there’s not much you shouldn’t do with brioche. It can be a bit soft for a sandwich, but makes glorious toast and french toast. My recipe is for one regular loaf and 8 small or 6 large buns, and we used the bun shape for veggie burgers. Because they are more compact, the buns hold up to rough handling a bit better than the slices, so feel free to load them with pulled pork, or crab cakes, or egg salad, or whatever moves your taste buds most deeply.
Food Blog Jaunary 2015-0296

Trying-to-be-Patient Brown Butter Brioche
barely adapted from Cooks Illustrated
makes 1 loaf and 8 small or 6 large buns
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks)
½ cup room temperature or slightly warm water
⅓ cup sugar
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
7 large eggs, divided (but not separated!)
3 ¼ cups bread flour
1½ teaspoons salt + a pinch
  • Day one: melt the butter over medium heat in a small saucepan, preferably not with a dark bottom (it makes it easier to see the butter browning). As it melts, it will sputter and foam up. The foam will eventually subside, but shortly thereafter it will get foamy again. At this point, tilt the pan a little bit (carefully) to see the bottom – little specks of solids should be getting golden-brown. Let them get golden and then chestnut brown, then turn off the heat and set the pan aside to cool. These little dark bits are what makes it brown butter.
  • While the brown butter cools (pop it in the fridge for a few minutes if you are nervous about the temperature), combine the water, sugar, and yeast in a large glass measuring cup or a medium bowl. Stir well, then set aside for 10 minutes to allow the yeast to activate.
  • Meanwhile, whisk together the flour and salt in one bowl (a large one), and 6 of the eggs in another (a small one will do). When the yeast mixture is bubbly and smells like warm bread, add the whisked eggs and stir to combine. Whisk in the cooled brown butter, then dump the whole wet mess into the bowl with the flour and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon until no flour streaks remain. It will be a damp lump that looks more like thick cake batter than like dough.
  • Cover the bowl of dubious dough with plastic wrap and let it sit for 10 minutes.
  • Uncover the dough and pull up one edge with your fingertips (sprayed with non-stick spray or lightly coated with oil, if you’re concerned about stickiness), then fold that edge over the middle of the dough ball (see photo series above). Turn the bowl 45 degree and fold again. Repeat the process until you have made 8 folds.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes. Repeat this folding and rising process every 30 minutes for 3 more times (so you’ll do this folding process 4 times over the course of 2 hours). This helps activate the gluten without the labor intensive kneading process. After the fourth and final folding circuit, replace the plastic wrap and stow the bowl in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Day two: remove the dough from the refrigerator and relocate it to a well-floured board. Divide it into four pieces. Working one at a time, pat two of the pieces of dough into about a 4-inch round. Around the circumference of the dough, fold in the edges toward the center to form a clumpy ball (see photo series above). Turn the dough ball over and form your hand around it like a cage, then roll gently with very little pressure in light circles on the board to form a smooth, taut round (see Joe Pastry’s excellent tutorial if you need help with this). Repeat with the second piece of dough.
  • The remaining two pieces are for the buns. Divide each of them into equal thirds or quarters, depending upon whether you want 6 or 8 buns. Repeat the flattening, folding, and shaping process with each of these smaller dough pieces, then cover all dough rounds with plastic wrap and let them rest for 5 minutes.
  • Grease one loaf pan and one baking tray (or line it with parchment paper). After the dough balls have rested for 5 minutes, flip them to expose the seam side and repeat the flattening, folding, and shaping process with each one. This creates a finer, more uniform texture in the final product – a step worth doing.
  • Place the two larger balls into the loaf pan, pressing them gently into the corners. They will rise and merge into each other while baking. Place the 6 or 8 smaller rounds on the prepared cookie sheet. Cover both loosely with plastic wrap and leave to rise until almost doubled in size – this should take 1½ – 2 hours. Even after this rise, the loaf may look a bit puny. Don’t worry; it rises quite impressively in the oven.
  • Half an hour before baking, be sure your oven rack is in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350F. Cooks Illustrated suggests placing a baking stone on the rack to preheat along with the oven, perhaps to create a more even shot of heat.
  • When the loaf and the buns have nearly doubled, beat the final egg with the pinch of salt. Remove the plastic wrap and brush the loaves with the egg mixture. Set the pans in the oven (on the stone, if you’re using one), and bake until the tops are golden brown and the internal temperature registers 190F. This will take 18-20 minutes for the buns, and 35-45 minutes for the loaf. If you can remember, rotate the pans halfway through baking.
  • Once cooked through and shiny golden on top, transfer pans to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Then remove from pans, return to wire rack, and cool at least 2 hours before slicing and serving.