Tag Archives: baking with fat

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.

Advertisements

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 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.

Great Customer Service: It Lives!

5 Jan

The most extraordinary thing happened to me today.  I was received great customer service.  As unbelievable as this sounds, it’s true.

I’m not sure if there’s one particular cause to what’s created this incredible lack of good, or even just adequate customer service.  When I go out shopping, one thing I’ve driven 10 miles out of the way for is literally the one, single thing missing from the shelf.  It could even be an item that should be on any store shelf within a half-mile, but if I need it, it simply will not be there.

I’ll give you an example: For some of my Xmas baking I needed peppermint patties stat.  I visited the three full-sized groceries near me, all within a half-mile of my home and I swear, surrounded by mountains of any other bagged, fun-sized and mass-produced candy you could ever want, there was an empty black chasm right where the peppermint patties were supposed to be.  In all three stores!

And what’s worse, there was no one anywhere to tell me, while looking anywhere but at me and in a diction that only another stoner can understand, that um, no, there are no more in the back, sorry.  Of course, if I had heard that, I would taken a pair of pliers to the clerk’s braces.

This is the sort of service I expected after an order of mine went pear-shaped at http://shop.nlzwear.com/.  Rumor has it that I may have entered the coupon code incorrectly or something, but I don’t know about that.  I find it hard to believe I could ever do anything wrong, ever.

In any case, I submitted the order only to see what would’ve been a monstrous charge on my card.  I immediately called and emailed, sounding no less like the very mean grandma who will not be turned away.  You know, the one with the expired coupons at the grocery store. Or anywhere.

For good measure, I even tweeted that I needed to be contacted, figuring that a nationwide shaming should do the trick.  What can I say?  I expected the worst.

Instead, Chris contacted me almost immediately and was very responsive despite my cold fish of a request.  He did not have to cancel my order—he would’ve been in his right, honestly, to profit from my ineptitude.  But he didn’t.  He kindly canceled my order so I could resubmit it properly, saving me, but costing him, 80 easy bucks.

So here’s to you, Chris at NLZWear!  I really appreciate that you helped me even though I was a complete cad.  I hope sincerely that you get rich beyond your wildest dreams selling those awesome socks.

&*(@$(*! 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.

Easy Like Lionel Richie

2 Jan

Rest assured, there are more failures to write up for you, my nine readers (see below to start), but before I retire for the evening, I’d like to leave you with a small little trifle that turned into a big success.

I mentioned in an earlier post that making the best holiday treats means making small, handheld, easily transportable treats.  This means that sweet little candy-ish things that’re made assembly-line style while you’re parked in front of a “completely legal” feed of, say, weekday football games…well, these treats are as perfect as that sentence isn’t.

This brings us to it, and it’s based on the very popular chocolate-coated Ritz-and-peanut-butter sandwiches that a lot of people make this time of year.  I love those things.  But for these new treats, I came across some perfectly round pretzel crackers, a little larger than a quarter.  A freak for all things salty and crunchy, I knew there had to be a good use for these.

First, I ate used an entire bag myself while watching an episode of “Burn Notice.”

But, I also managed—somehow–to save the remaining bag and thought that instead of peanut butter, I could make use of a jar of Nutella that’s been taunting me since I bought it in the summer.  Honestly, why do I do this to myself?  This is a carb-free house.  Usually.

So, two pretzel crackers, salt side in, Nutella and… what kind of chocolate to coat?  After several taste tests it was decided to go with white chocolate, which would also provide a really nice color contrast.

There are a couple of tricks to making these successfully, the first of which is the most important: As Nutella liquefies quickly under heat, make sure these are fully chilled before dipping.  Unlike peanut butter, to which saturated fats are added for stability, Nutella is gooey paste, made of hazelnuts, cocoa solids and here in North America, modified (with more unsaturated fat) palm oil.  It doesn’t stand on its own.

To keep the flavors balanced—they’re all very strong—keep the layer of Nutella pretty thin, and add about a TBL of shortening (or more) to your white chocolate to thin it out.  Then work quickly: Even very chilled, some Nutella will get into the white chocolate.  So long as it’s not much, though, it’ll mix right in.

Then throw them on some wax paper to set.  Some decoration really adds to them, such as a light dusting of white sanding sugar, chocolate cookie crumbs, or whatever cute things you have handy.  It doesn’t really matter, because people will love these no matter what.  Trust me on this.  Have I ever steered you wrong?

Don’t answer that.