Archive | Getting Started/Starting Over RSS feed for this section

Triple Chocolate Cookies

10 Feb

Triple Chocolate Cookies with Oats
Qty. approx 48

Notes:

You can substitute the cocoa and chocolate more to your tastes, and use candy bars if necessary: Natural for the Dutch-processed cocoa; milk chocolate for the unsweetened, etc.

You can use any kind of chips you like.  These cookies are a good way to empty any open bags of chips laying around.  You can also experiment with the amount of chips you use.

If you’re called away, keep the dough cool (but not frozen) until you can finish the batch.

Dry Ingredients
1¾ c. bread flour
¼ c. AP flour
¼ c. Dutch-processed cocoa
1¾ c. oats
1 c. brown sugar
¼ c. white sugar
1 TBL instant espresso
½ tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
8 oz. white chocolate chips
8 oz. semisweet chips
4 oz. milk chocolate chips

Wet Ingredients and Fats

2 TBL unsalted butter, melted
6 TBL unsalted butter, softened
2 TBL lard or shortening (lard preferred)
3 eggs
1 egg yolk
2 TBL dark corn syrup
2 TBL vanilla (or to taste)
10 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 TBL vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place rack in the middle; line room temp baking sheets with parchment.

Begin melting chocolate with 1 TBL of the vegetable oil. This can be done in the microwave, or over direct, very low heat.  Once melted, mix in cocoa and allow to cool.

While you’re at the stove or microwave, heat up a very small amount of water to add to the instant espresso, then set aside.  Then, melt the 2 TBL of butter and set aside to cool. (That’s important!)

While the chocolate is melting, begin assembling the rest of the cookies:

Cream the butter, lard, 1 tsp of the salt and brown sugar in a mixer set to medium.  (Use beater attachments.) This will take about four minutes to fluff up and lighten in color a bit.  If you need to use a hand mixer for this, that’s fine; no need to worry about timing. Everything can sit for a few extra minutes if necessary.

In a separate mixing bowl, mix your room temp eggs, single yolk, white sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, cooled espresso paste, cooled melted butter and last TBL of salt.  (If the butter’s too warm, it’ll cook the eggs.  No joke.)  Use a whisk to incorporate the ingredients, but gently: Do not incorporate air.  If you incorporate too much air, combined with the baking powder your cookies may rise too quickly, the droop and spread.

Allow this mixture to sit for a couple minutes, mix, then repeat once more in another couple minutes.

While the egg mixture sets and activates, assemble the dry ingredients in another bowl: Whisk together flours, oats, baking powder and chips until slightly aerated and well-mixed.  This takes less manpower than you think, so be careful not to overmix.

At this point, you can turn around and mix the egg mixture.  (You’ll notice that the salt has activated the flavors, sugars, and eggs. Another stir helps this along.)  Now, you can incorporate the chocolate into the egg mixture with the same whisk.

Pour the egg/chocolate mixture into the bowl containing the creamed butter and sugar.  Mix this on low until incorporated; about 30 seconds or so.  This will not be a smooth mixture, so again, don’t overmix.

Finally, add the flour/chip mixture.  Use the lowest setting, or mix by hand.  A good rule of thumb?  Your batters and doughs are usually mixed properly well before you think they are.  Overmixing will flatten bakery, making it tough and dense.

Set the dough aside in a cold space to set the dough: About 30 minutes in a freezer, or 1 hour in a fridge or cold mudroom.  AC vents are useful for this in warmer climates, too, but if necessary, you can let the dough set on its own at room temperature for a few hours.  The melted chocolate will take care of this eventually.

Once set, use a 1½ TBL scoop to place 9 to 12 cookies on the pan.  (I always start low in case I’ve done something wrong.)  You’ll want to shape these cookies using either your index and middle fingers, or the bottom of your scoop.

Rotating, parchment and room temp cookie sheets will help ensure that your cookies do not burn.

Bake for 12 minutes, rotating at the 6-minute mark.  You can do these two cookie sheets at a time, too, by using a rack just beneath the middle one.  However, this makes rotating the cookies—turning them around and switching racks—very important.

Repeat until finished, using room temp cookie sheets each time.  You can re-use the parchment each time so you don’t have to wash them.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time I washed my cookie sheets.  But you know what?  What burns never return, my friends.

Please let me know if you have questions, suggestions, or anything else.  Your feedback is important to me!

Baking for Coworkers: Triple Chocolate Cookies

9 Feb

I work in a fairly large department, fully half of which would be happy to have a Food Day every day.  Did someone have a baby?  Food Day!  Is someone going to have a baby someday, maybe?  Food Day!  Did the sun rise in the east and set in the west?  Food Day!  Hey, it’s Boxing Day.  In Canada.  But what the hell: Bust out your Crock Pot®, ‘cause it’s Food Day.

As you would expect from this description, the Super Bowl Big Game set this truly sweet—and hungry—half of the department to work.  The sign-up sheet made the rounds, with plates and napkins of course chosen first by a problematic colleague known as Meat Sweats.  (Do you really want to know?)  Others were left to choose from more complicated requests such as five pounds of nacho cheese, crab or crab-like or sour-cream-and-onion dip, and “NO CHEESE TRAYS, PLEASE.”

Now, it’s perhaps not without reason I sit pretty far away from most of the department.  (I love them–I do!– but I really don’t need to see them or hear them much.)  So when these lists reach me, everything’s usually taken except for, say, fruit fluff and pasta salad, both of which my pride prevents me from even considering.  For Super Bowl Big Game Food Day, I did what I always do: Scribble “bakery” somewhere on the bottom of the page alongside my initials.  No one’s argued with me yet.

What complicated things for me, though, was the preposterous blizzard the belted us the Wednesday just prior to Super Bowl Big Game Food Day.  I usually have a lot of baking supplies on hand, but I hadn’t done much to replenish them since Christmas; I would be damned, though, if I was going to make a trip to the store after shoveling out a quarter of my alley with only two adults and two children.  I’d have to make do with what I had around.

This proved to be easier than I expected, the reason being is that as I’ve mentioned numerous times, there’s only so fancy you can get when baking for your coworkers.  Similar to my Soft, Chewy and Creamy Sugar Cookie, I have in reserve more of my own highly adaptable recipes that allow me to switch our more sophisticated ingredients for less whenever necessary.

For this particular Food Day, I made my Triple Chocolate Cookies with Oats.  I swapped out my usual Penzey’s Dutch-processed cocoa for natural cocoa; used some melted milk chocolate along with an easy semi (all candy bars); and substituted butterscotch chips where I would’ve used chopped dark chocolate in the 80 to 90 percent range, making what resulted in the first better-than-bakery cookies that taste like Cocoa Puffs.  And you know what?  They were a huge success, just like that.

I’ll post the recipe for you tomorrow evening. Be sure to check back then for my foolproof recipe, clear instructions, and tricks and tips to help you bring the best cookies for your next Random Occasion Food Day.

Seriously Low-Carb Tzatziki

2 Feb

It was requested the other day that I make some of this stuff to have around the house.  See, when you don’t eat a lot of carbs most days, butter tends to become your No. 1 condiment.  And while butter goes great on everything, there comes a time when you realize that you’d rather polish your shoes with it instead of melting it on even one more thing, ever.  Or for a long time, at least.

The challenge tzatziki presents is that while it is a relatively low-carb sauce, the greek yogurt required for the recipe will tend to have more carbs than you’d like.  FAGE, for example, runs about six carbs per seven-ounce serving.  Not bad, unless you’re hoping to crumble your bunless burger in a bowl of the stuff because you just can’t take it anymore.  One more slab of plain meat, and you’re on a rocket sled to the Hostess outlet.  You’re [thisclose] to taking a bath in Donettes.

My solution is this:  Instead of greek yogurt, use sour cream blended with ricotta.  (Mascarpone would work, too.)  Sour cream itself is, well, sour, obviously–much more so than you might think.  What’s more, it has the consistency of slime.

But what it doesn’t have is even one carb.  To take advantage of this, ricotta can be added to blunt the sour taste as well as thicken it.  You’ll need to toss the mixture in a blender or somehow otherwise machine-mix it, of course, as the textures are quite different; with this bit of extra work, though, you’re getting a base for your sauce that very well approximates the texture and taste of greek yogurt–but with zero carbs.

I won’t give you a recipe for this, however; you’re all too smart for that.  I can tell you that I used about a half-cup of ricotta with a full tub of sour cream, and that you might want to use more or less of either depending on your tastes, but honestly, tzatziki recipes are everywhere so you’ll just need to find one you like the best.  The trickiest thing about tzatziki is that the flavors need to steep for a long time, so salting it properly the first time just can’t be exact: The flavor really will change overnight.  Which really is not so tricky because unlike baking, you can always just add more of what you need until it tastes like you want.

I should maybe cook, like, regular food more often.

Chai Cookies, Step Two

30 Jan

For step one, please click here.  For the sugar cookie base, please click here.

It’s good to note before you get started here that you’ll want the best available spices for this.  Now, if you can’t afford to spend a lot, that’s no problem; I think a strong, authentic chai could still be approximated using standard grocery store spices.  In this case, you’ll want to compensate with higher quantities of flavors that remain strong and sharp even in their cheapest state.  (Ginger and black pepper come to mind.)

What will work best, on the other hand, are bulk spices that you grind and pulverize yourself in a mortar and pestle.  Many grocery stores now carry truly inexpensive bags of bulk spices in their produce departments: Whole nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon sticks, for example.  These are also often available at ethnic grocery stores and of course, through my favorite spice house, Penzeys.

Things get a little trickier from here.  As noted earlier, an authentic proportion of spices is difficult to find in a cookie recipe.  This is where you come in.

Step Two: Chai Flavor

Consider this a great challenge as a developer, the experience of which you’ll relish even as you contemplate bashing your head in with the mortar and pestle you’ve been using for several strained hours under bright kitchen lights.  You’ll learn a lot doing this but know that you won’t have the proper mix together until your heart breaks along with your back.  Pre-mixed “chai” spices just won’t do this for you.

I can give you general guidelines, but what you’ll want to do is find a cup of your favorite chai and taste it several times with cream, and then without.  But more importantly, grab the list of ingredients, and with this you can collect the spices you’ll need.  Generally, you’ll want large quantities of:

  • Black pepper
  • Cardamom, green and black
  • Ginger
  • Star Anise
  • Cloves

Plus, you’ll need smaller quantities of standard baking spices for a well-rounded flavor:

  • Nutmeg
  • Allspice
  • Cinnamon
  • Mace
  • Orange/Lemon Peel
  • Baking spice mixes

You’ll develop your mix using the egg mixture created in step four of my standard sugar cookie recipe.  Start with a ¼ tsp of each spice, add a pinch of salt, mix and taste.  At this point it’ll probably taste like coffeecake, so start adding each of those top five spices about 1/8 tsp at a time.  (Include a dash of salt with each iteration.)

You’ll want this to be quite strong, and don’t be surprised if you’ve added more pepper than anything else; the trick is to keep going until you think it’s just about too much. Once you think you might’ve crossed the line, begin adding salt, about a dash at a time, until the flavor is full-bodied—until it seems as though it’s bloomed.  You’ll proceed with the process as usual after this.

What really brings it home, however, is adding your spice mix into your rolling sugar.  This does not need to be exactly the same as what you added to the egg mixture; it really only needs to be sharp and spicy so you’ll again want to use a good amount of black pepper, cardamom, ginger and star anise in the mix, plus wee amounts of baking spices.  Roll your cookies in this mixture generously, then bake.

Now, if in the end you find the flavor too sharp, too peppery, or too whatever, you can save these by dusting the cookies with powdered sugar; adding vanilla frosting; dipping in white or dark chocolate; or crumbling them into ice cream.  Failing that, set them out to dry for a week or so, then use them for a cookie crust topped with a soft meringue.  It’s your choice.  Either way, you will have done something special by putting the real chai experience in a mere cookie, all while honing your taste and observation skills .

Happy pulverizing!

Chai Cookies: Step One

30 Jan

I set about making chai cookies with one thing in mind: I wanted to know if I could make a chai cookie could be made to taste–and recall–real chai tea.  Which is to say, a cookie that had all of the spice and bite of chai tea, plus the softness of the cream used to cut the spice when you drink it.  I reasoned that this could be relatively easy using a creamy sugar cookie to counter what would be an enormous amount of spice.

And by “enormous” amount of spice, I do mean an enormous amount of spice.  You’ll find recipes calling for all of a ¼ teaspoon each of, say, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon.  I suppose that’s tasty enough.  But what is that, really, but freezer pumpkin-pie flavor?  You need a punch–and a happy ending–to make a real chai.

But you can’t get there without a little foreplay.

Step One: The Cookie Base

This is the easy part, so we’d might as well start here.  To make a sugar cookie that’s creamy enough to replicate tea with cream, the texture will be as important as the actual flavor.  You’ll want a cookie that tastes a bit like cream or milk, yes, but you’ll want it to be soft in a way that’s reminiscent of the way tea with cream feels.

It’s easier than you might think.  You’ll start with a standard sugar cookie recipe, a chewy one, then add some dry milk and cream cheese to the mix.  Both have the flavor, of course, and the acid in each will tenderize the dough a bit to encourage more softness.  (Believe it or not, dry milk will impart a creamier flavor than the real thing.) With that in mind I developed what I call the Standard Soft, Chewy and Creamy Sugar Cookie.  You’ll find to be foolproof and highly adaptable once you’ve practiced it a few times.

Chocolate-Covered Krispie Bites with Mini-Chips

8 Jan

As I mentioned, I did a few things right, and this is one of them. But this was not my first go-round with these things, not at all.

I’m not sure why, for example, I thought I could throw a warm, melted marshmallow  mixture on top of krispies and chocolate mini-chips without melting said chips.  Honestly, sometimes I do these things without even thinking, and then I’m stuck with the shame of whatever preposterous thing I had in my head to do.  I wish there was a 12-step group for people like me—like, WTF Anonymous or something like that.  I shouldn’t have to do crack just get some support.

Local crack problems notwithstanding, keeping those chips intact will be your biggest obstacle. Per4manceplus’s page at ehow (found here), however, shows what should have been obvious to me from the start: Freeze the motherf*%!ers.  I mean, hello.

But then you’re presented with another issue, and that’s the basic flavor.  Most krispie treats have a flavor I’d describe as thin; it’s flavor about as full-bodied as water.  Since these were to be bite-sized and covered in semi, the flavor needed to be about as strong as a punch in the face.  I turned to the folks at Cook’s Country for ideas.

And like the freezing, I should’ve known their answer:  Cook’s Country adds white chocolate to its melted marshmallow mixture.  Better white chocolate (more cocoa butter than tropical oils) makes for a what can only be described as a sound flavor base.  I did however have to use half again as much white chocolate as Cook’s Country recommends, and easily (and necessarily) three times the salt.  (You may achieve a favorable flavor with less; I recommend adding about 1/8 tsp at a time while stirring until the flavor is full-bodied and to your taste.)

Next, as recommended by Per4manceplus, I kept the marshmallow mixture as cool as possible, taking it off the heat and stirring constantly to finish it off.  Then, not wanting to take any chances—I’d already failed more than once—I placed the bowl of marshmallow mixture into a pot of cold water.  This shock encouraged the crystallization of all the sugars in the mixture, but that’s okay: Developing and breaking those bonds help both texture and flavor and in this case, light, airy and crispy krispie treats.

Now, for the fun part.  Handling lukewarm, melted marshmallows is like using Saran Wrap with packing tape:  It sticks to itself; it doesn’t straighten out; it’s very quickly a ball of useless crap.  What’s more, you’ve got to be quick about things so the chips remain as intact as possible.  I used cooking spray on several spatulas– and my own hands–to get this stuff straight in the pan.  You will have to do the same.

What a terrible photo.

Truth is, I’m still not completely happy with them.  For starters, I think I can improve the flavor even more, and they certainly did not need to be coated in semi which, although very pretty, was a bit overpowering and an extra step that required tempering and some other assorted pains in my ass.  I mean, I’m always up for pain and sorrow, but not that much.  These will have to resurface in another form.

&*(@$(*! Camera

2 Jan

Once upon a time, there was a nice camera named Kodak.  It was a proud camera with a lot of megapixels and, depending on the settings, could even catch my cat doing cute things.  Kodak knew it was better than its old coworker Vivitar, which only shoots fast enough to catch the cat’s anus as it runs away.

Then one day Kodak, proud camera that she was, decided to shoot only what she deemed worthy of those massive megapixels, and sod the rest.  “Documentation’s not my game anymore, bitch!” she cried. “You and your food can just jam it!”

This is what I imagine was happening as I wiped butter, flour and who knows what else off the Kodak, which I believed held the photographic evidence of fudge that looked like vomit, brown sugar meringue that shrunk like wool in hot water and cookies that deflated like a flat chest.  And my ego.

Now, you might think it’s a blessing that I don’t have all my shots, but it isn’t.  It’s important to make a note of one’s mistakes so they’re not repeated.  It’s also important to know that those of us who are quite good at something still—or rather, constantly–make some fantastic mistakes.

I will have to do my best then to describe for you what happened.  I can tell you right away, though, that my biggest error was trying new things while under a time crunch.  I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that this will always break your heart, but as a baker my overconfidence, which I know damn well never works out for anyone, wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me.  It seems I thrive on failure the same as I thrive on success.

So sit back and check out my failures.  A little schaudenfreude never hurt anyone.

What Can Brown (Cookies) Do for You?

2 Jan

Chocolate-chips cookies are a holiday staple.  Scratch that: They are a staple, period.  You can, for example, buy chocolate-chip cookie cereal, which is a grain and, according to the MIT food pyramid, one needs six to 11 servings of grains per day to live a wonderful life.  Suck it, gubmint food nannies.

Anyway, despite the fact that I have developed a foolproof, infinitely adaptable chocolate-chip cookie recipe (see here for a maple version), I decided that having had success fiddling around with saturated/unsaturated fat ratios in brownies, I would try to replicate that same, very desirable chew in cookies.  I have been close using combinations of butter and lard, but the chew eventually gives way to softness and while that’s still good, I wanted to bake a cookie that remained chewy over time.

So, here’s what I did, using a standard quick-bread mixing method:

2 c. all-purpose flour
2 c. oatmeal
1 ½ c. dark brown sugar
8 oz. semisweet chips
2 tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
Raw sugar for decorating

1 lg egg
2 TBL vanilla
12 TBL butter, melted
2 TBL lard (melted with butter)
2 TBL vegetable oil

These did turn out chewy… after biting through the tortoise-like shell.  What’s more, the dark brown sugar made these things very, very brown and combined with the oatmeal, they tasted a little like granola.  Here’s what I think happened:

Because I was using cooking oil, I omitted some of the ingredients used to soften cookies, thinking that it might be too much, like when I added too much honey to a previous batch.  And while the ratio of saturated to unsaturated fats might be right for creating that awesome grocery-store chew, not all saturated fats behave the same.  That’s why and additional egg yolk is often used to soften cookies and encourage some chew.

I also omitted a TBL of corn syrup, also useful for softening and chew, given its hygroscopic properties.  But plainly, one or the other or both should have remained in the recipe.  Or, one of the two, and only one TBL of vegetable oil… you get the idea.  I have to continue experimenting, and I’m just not smart enough to know what will happen, exactly, before I do it.  (Off the top of my head, though, I think the best bet’s to add one egg yolk, and reduce the oil by one TBL.  The egg yolk will emulsify–suspend–the water in the butter and the oil together.)

The quantity of dry ingredients is also just a bit too high, I think, also evidenced by the cookie’s stiffness and granola flavor.  Reducing the flour and oats by a ¼ each would probably do the trick.  The dark brown sugar, which contains a very high quantity of molasses, also added to the granola flavor.  And of course, the ridiculous brown color.

They were still quality cookies, though.  I put them out at the office without owning up to them–they were too brown and I’m too vain–but they were gone in an instant.  But that could also be because, as one of the least favored in my work group, no one knew the cookies came from me.

Sunday Fudgy Sunday

2 Jan

The original plan was to help out an old man with a sweet tooth.  I mean, a real sweet tooth.  I’m not talking about the coworker who cuts a quarter off a muffin with a butter knife, proclaims herself to be naughty, then pukes it up in a bathroom on a different floor.  No, I mean I think that old guy eats sugar packets when we’re not looking.

This makes him an easy target for fudge, seeing as how that stuff, no matter how you make it, is nearly all sugar.  Personally, I’m not much of a fan; the kind I’ve had is the kind of fudge sold in cute country stores and is always, and unrepentantly, dried out.  Can’t figure out why a proprietor would leave a large, uncovered tray of fudge in a refrigerated case.  Transmission fluid would dry out if left uncovered in a refrigerated case.

And traditional fudge can be tricky as it is: Like all candy, the temperature to which you heat your sugar will determine its characteristics and in this, precision is key.  If your candy thermometer is off, your candy will be off.  If your timing is off, your candy will be off.  In this case, heating the sugar component of fudge too high will produce a dry, crumbly fudge, which is how I suspect a lot of fudge is sold at the start.

(On a side note, I would like to meet the people who will pay American dollars for what tastes like candied sand, because boy, have I got some serious rejects available for those fools.)

So while all of this is true, there actually is a very easy way to produce better-than-average fudge without regard to precision, temperature or technique.  I can’t take credit for it; it’s a Cook’s Illustrated recipe that uses sweetened condensed milk, chips, and a little baking soda to add just enough air to keep it from being too dense.  (I’m sorry, but the recipe is not free, so I can’t reproduce it here.  But if you search for “15-Minute Walnut Fudge,” you might get lucky.)

The recipe is in fact so easy, I thought I could substitute just about any flavor chip I wanted to make the fudge.  It’s the sweetened condensed milk and baking soda doing the work, both of which could hide a multitude of sins considering that precision and temperature were not involved.  With that in mind I decided, having made plenty of chocolate fudge for our favorite old guy in the past, I’d make butterscotch fudge for him using butterscotch chips, marshmallows, and chunks of Werther’s.  Pretty damn sugary, that.

This did not work out at all.

First, although the largest constituent of all chips is sugar, all bets are off after that.  Naturally, I didn’t bother to check this or even think about it knowing full well that if the type and amount of fat varies greatly between white and dark chocolate, maybe I ought to check out the content of the butterscotch chips because, you know, they’re not chocolate.  But whatever, right?

The butterscotch chips I used (purchased from Aldi and believe me, that store brings it in sweets department) actually have a remarkably high amount of palm oil in them, nearly as much as the sugar.  If you’ve worked with palm oil, then you know that while it solidifies at room temperature, it’s still very malleable.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  It’s a superb idea to use palm oil for this purpose.  White chocolate coatings will use more palm oil than shortening, making it cheaper and easier to work with; better peanut butters use palm oil instead of shortening, too, to give it that creamy texture.  As for butterscotch chips, there’s a huge gulf in taste between those made with palm oil and those made with shortening.  That said, the crappier-tasting, shortening-laden butterscotch chips would’ve been better suited to making this variety of fudge.  Here’s why.

Once mixed, melted and cooled with the sweetened condensed milk, baking soda, salt and vanilla, it never set properly.  Palm oil, though it’s solid at room temperature, is still 49.2 percent unsaturated fat.  The stuff is, like, half cooking oil, basically.  Combining this with gooey sweetened condensed milk made it impossible for it to set.  Chips made with shortening, which is a fully saturated fat, would probably set up just fine.

Then there were aesthetic issues I didn’t anticipate, but should’ve.  Butterscotch chips are an orange shade of tan and to combat this, I thought adding white marshmallows would add a nice contrast.  Except that the marshmallows ended up coated in orange-tan goo and were too large even in the miniature variety.  This made for orange-tan goo with lumps.

No problem, I thought; these shiny Werther’s chunks I just pulverized with a stubby hammer will look shiny and great even though the bag broke and there’s butterscotch dust everywhere.  Okay, that’s a lie.  “Oh shit!” was what I thought immediately.  But I added the Werther’s bits to the top anyway, which made for orange-tan goo with lumps and chunks.

I pretty much knew there was no hope at this point.  But I thought that maybe I’d get lucky–that cutting into them would reveal this marvelous contrast of colors and textures and regardless of what the tops looked like, maybe that’s what people would see first.  And maybe it would’ve been if my orange-tan goo with lumps and chunks had solidified at all.

Instead, it’s sitting in my uninsulated mudroom, held back in an old Tupperware container like some slimy alien, its nasty gooey arms clinging to the sides as if it’s going to kill me for this when it breaks out.  This fudge could be the end of me.

Please note that despite all this it is ridiculously delicious, so I will do something with it someday.

I am challenged.

29 Sep

Yes, I said that on purpose. But I’m sure I don’t need to remind you folks of just how challenged I am.  Oh, so many challenges, and so little desire to take them on.

Except for one.

A friend of mine constantly sends me recipes from Instructables, and while I won’t break bad on the good and honest hard work of most of the posters, I will happily point out the faults of those corporations that post recipes there as though they’ve got some great insight to share.  They don’t.  They’ve got a vested interest in keeping their secrets, which annoys the shit out of me because I firmly believe that nothing, and I mean nothing, should be a mystery for the home cook.  Plus, hardcore capitalist though I am, I do not appreciate it when The Man invades a creative space with finally accessible information. I fear it won’t be long before the site is just filled with commercials.

Anyway, when he sent me this recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, I was excited to maybe get some tips for making this sort of thing at home. The video’s not bad, to be honest, but still: Imagine my annoyance when I discovered a video from Pepperidge Farm instead of great, practiced advice from someone who’d labored over these things forever because for her, Reese’s are all right, but they’re just not good enough.  You know the type.

Instead it’s a recipe that calls for Pepperidge Farm puff pastry (natch), and gratefully unbranded peanut butter, chocolate, and marshmallows. Not a bad idea, I’ll grant. But if you sit through the video as I did–it’s short, so you can still respect yourself–you’ll note a couple of problems.

1. This is truly a pet peeve of mine: There’s no mention of just how cold the kitchen needs to be in order to work properly with pastry. I understand that this is processed puff pastry, and if you’ve ever made it, there’s certainly no shame in using the prepackaged stuff. I’ll never judge. But even as processed as it is, for the best results, you need to set your A/C very low. Or, if it’s winter, open a window. If you think you’ll get cold, well, you will. But you won’t die. So suck it up and move fast.

This reminded me of the current restaurant habit to, um, artfully pile all your food in the middle of a white plate, like a very expensive recreation of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Not a fan of either.

2. The three remaining ingredients are placed in the middle of the dough in a little pile, and in this order: Peanut butter, chocolate, marshmallows.   The video also advises you to use sweet chocolate, but combined with marshmallows this will most assuredly be a cloying mistake. You’ll want to use 60% at least or, better yet, a Special Dark bar. Everybody loves those things.

3. You can probably predict the next problem: Light-brown puff pastry… light-brown peanut butter… and marshmallows that carmelize to a lovely shade of… light brown. That’s a lot of brown, people.

What can brown do for you? Nothing.

I think the marshmallow is a nice counter to the peanut butter–I’m fascinated by the combo, actually–but it’s got to be incorporated in a better way. Easy solution: Mix the peanut butter and some marshmallow fluff together. This would also offer more stability to the peanut butter, which has a rather unattractive melt.

Breaking this apart on film was a mistake, no?

Finally, I really don’t think puff pastry is the best, most attractive vessel for these three ingredients. Puff pastry is awesome, yes, but a tartlet, I think, would be far superior. It’s more work than dumping stuff on prepackaged puff pastry, yeah. But a nice, bright shortcrust, filled with a sweet-salty peanut butter mixture and topped with, say a medallion of dark chocolate? Now, that would be pretty.

I think I’ll do it.