Tag Archives: Baking

Your Bologna May Have a Name but My Cookies Have an Attitude Problem

So…I’m having a day.  Actually, I’m on like day 3 of having a day.  It’s the kind of day where I rocket between happy and comfortable to irritable bordering on raging psychopath with a velocity that is making my head spin.  Out of fear that my head might actually start spinning horror movie style, I decided to do something to help curb the potentially catastrophic outbursts brewing in my hormone-saturated brain.  In other words, I feel unnecessarily emotional and I want cookies.  Draw your own conclusions but if you like your face as it’s currently arranged, you should probably not share any of your conclusions with me.  

I found a recipe from Epicurious for salted chocolate chunk cookies.  If there is one thing I do really well, it’s complain that you can’t buy salted M&Ms.  Yes, I know they have the pretzel ones but I don’t like the chunk of pretzel in the middle of my chocolate.  I want salted M&M’s like you get in the sweet and salty trail mix.  In fact the ONLY reason I eat the sweet and salty trail mix is for the salty chocolate candies.  If the company would just sell salted M&M’s, I could get my fix without having to ingest raisins, nuts, and seeds too.  And you can’t just salt M&M’s, the salt won’t stick.  The oils (I’m guessing from the nuts) in the trail mix is what makes it stick to the candy and so can someone work on that for me?  In the mean time, this recipe *might* be an acceptable alternative way to get my salted chocolate fix but it’s just a crutch.  We need a permanent solution and that solution depends on salty M&M’s (plan, not peanut). 

You can find the recipe here or I’ve copied it below for your convenience.    

My first concern was that I haven’t been to the grocery store in weeks.  I haven’t been much in the mood to cook or bake lately so I really haven’t been doing much of it.  And, I hate going to the grocery store when I feel good.  Going to the grocery store today would mean that the first wound-up kid that runs into me with their cart while their oblivious mother is nose-deep in a nutrition label would be liable to end up hog tied and gagged with Hefty Bags and deposited into his mother’s cart where he couldn’t escape.  So, it was imperative that I find a recipe I had the ingredients for already…for the sake of the general public.  

When I opened the refrigerator, I saw we had eggs which was the one ingredient I wasn’t sure we had.  But they were expired.  However, the date on the eggs in your fridge is really just a suggestion.  If you’ve ever raised chickens or bought fresh eggs from a farm, you probably know that there’s one really easy way to tell if an egg is still good and it doesn’t depend on some arbitrary date stamped on a package.  Good eggs sink.  When an egg starts to go bad, gasses are formed inside the shell and so if you drop a bad egg into a glass of water, it will float.  You can check eggs that are past the expiration date, by just dropping them into a glass of water.  Any eggs that bob up and down, hover somewhere above the bottom of the glass, or float should be relegated to only non-edible ventures.  But if it sinks straight to the bottom, you’re good.  Luckily the expiration date on my eggs was yesterday so I was sure they were good but I did the water test just to be sure and they sank as expected.  I will say that older eggs are harder to separate.  The white is thinner in fresher eggs so if you need to separate your eggs, you may want to use fresher ones.  Older eggs are better for boiling because they will peel easier than fresher eggs.  And thus concludes today’s egg-citing lesson on chicken ova.  

I started gathering the rest of the ingredients when I realized we didn’t have enough brown sugar left.  I thought I had a canister somewhere with some more brown sugar in it.  It only took a few minutes of me considering the potential child abuse charges that could result if I gagged a stranger’s child at the grocery store with a Hefty Bag to encourage me to find it.  Luckily I was right, there was enough brown sugar in it to save the day (or at least my cookie craving), but it was hard as a rock.  This turned out to be a silver lining.  I could have microwaved back into cooperation, but given my mood, repeatedly stabbing it with a butter knife until I had a workable substance was far more appealing.  

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I had to rough up the brown sugar.

Finally, the recipe calls for chocolate with no more than 72% cacao which seems oddly specific.  What happens between 72 and 73 percent that could possibly render the cookie inedible?  Since the recipe specified that you could use either bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, I used semi-sweet bakers chocolate which is all had on hand but was only only 54% cacao.  I prefer to use higher quality chocolate usually, but sometimes you have to weigh the benefits of remaining out of court against how badly you want good quality chocolate in your cookies.  The less interaction I have with the public today, the better.  

And, I have to say, I LOVE chopping up chocolate.  I could probably do it a lot faster in the food processor but I love the feel of my knife going through those big chunks of baker’s chocolate.  I like to pretend I’m cutting through the bones of people that drive slow in the left lane and feel all self-righteous about it and tell themselves that they have every right to drive in the left lane and pat themselves on the back for not allowing other people to speed.  Yes, I realize that sounds morbid and hateful but as I’ve said, I’m having a hateful day.  Just roll with it…unless you drive slow and act self-righteous in the left lane, you people clearly would prefer to monitor everyone else’s rolling with it instead.  Knock yourself out, I’ll just be over here fantasizing about a giant asteroid landing on your car and squashing you into an upholstery stain while you act like the freeway version of a power-hungry elementary school hall-monitor. 

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I was violent with the chocolate as well.

Anyway, there is salt in the cookie batter but that’s not that unusual.  Most sweets include a bit of salt.  A pinch of salt can enhance the sweetness of a dish.  I only put in the prescribed amount of salt because the last step in the instructions is to sprinkle flaky sea salt on top of the cookies before baking and I didn’t want the cookies to turn out too salty.  

I read through the reviews and a few people had indicated that they spread out too thin or that they were more well done than they liked and they recommended removing them from the oven before any part of the cookie looks browned.  Those that felt they were overdone had waited until the edges were starting to get a little color before removing.  Since I much prefer soft and chewy cookies, I took their advice a step further and after I shaped and salted the cookies, I put them into the refirgerator for about 10 minutes on the cookie sheets.  I learned when making sugar cookies that re-cooling the dough after it’s been rolled and cut and right before baking helps them keep their shape.  This allows the butter to re-solidify and the result is that the butter doesn’t melt as much before the cookie bakes and so the cookies don’t spread out as much.  And, since the cookies stay a little thicker, it also helps contribute to a more chewy cookie.  If you like your cookies thinner and crisper, you’ll want to skip this step.  For sugar cookies which I want to keep the shape of the cookie cutter, I actually put them in the freezer before baking.  Since these cookies needed to spread some, I just put them into the fridge for about 10 minutes before putting them into the preheated oven.

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But while we’re talking about people who review recipes, why has it become so popular for people to write reviews on a recipe that they didn’t follow at all?  I see recipe reviews all the time that say something like, “I was out of ingredients A, B, and C so I substituted these things that aren’t similar at all to ingredients A, B and C and it was terrible so I give this recipe 1 star.”  That’s like going to see Frozen and then telling everyone you hated it because you’re team Jacob.  STOP DOING THAT!  It’s fine to write a review and tell people if you made substitutions that worked or didn’t work, but to criticize a recipe you didn’t follow and tell everyone it was gross because you’re too inept in the kitchen to know that you can’t substitute a banana for a banana pepper is completely asinine and really really annoying to those of us that are trying to glean useful information from the reviews.  It’s right up there with The Weather Channel naming winter storms and people acting self-righteous for driving slow in the left lane.  

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Also, these cookies call for  A LOT of chocolate.  Using the full 8 ounces the recipe called for meant that I had to roll the cookies in my hands to get them to “stick” together with so much chocolate.  Maybe it was partly the size of the chunks I had but it seemed like the cookies were little dough and a LOT of chocolate.  Having to roll them out with my hands to get them to stick is another reason I refrigerated them before baking.  

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Possible salmonella poisoning never looked so delicious. To all of you that never eat raw cookie dough, you just don’t know what you’re missing.

Finally, I wasn’t sure how much salt was really appropriate for the top of each cookie.  Since I’m not afraid of salmonella from eating raw eggs enough to stop eating raw cookie dough, what I SHOULD have done was take one of my uncooked cookies, and used it to experiment with how much salty deliciousness I could add before I went too far.  I was really afraid of the cookies being way too salty to enjoy.  Plus, I suspect that my salt was too granular and not as “flaky” as the recipe had suggested and as a result, I had a hard time getting the salt to stick to the top of the cookie.  It kind of wanted to roll off the cookie and settle into the low spots on the top of the cookie surface.  

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My salt is not ‘flaky’ as the recipe called for.

Plus, I found that as the cookie spread out, it kind of flattened out some, but the top of the cookie doesn’t spread out.  As the cookie gets thinner, it’s the area that was making up the “sides” of the cookie that becomes the top outer edge of the finished cookie.   As a result, the salt kind of stays bunched up in the center of the cookie instead of spreading out along the top.  I wonder if it might have been better if I’d sprinkled with salt while they were first hot out of the oven but I’m not sure the salt would have stuck well.  I think that if I make these again, I’d put a pinch of salt on the top of each cookie using a different method to get it to spread out more evenly.  Instead of just trying to sprinkle it on, I’d pour the salt onto a flat surface (a pinch at a time), spread it out a little with my fingers and then press the cookie dough down onto the salt to get it to spread out a little better and get it to cover the top of the cookie more evenly. I might even spread some along the sides of the cookie (if you think of your pre-baked cookies as a cylinder, spreading a bit of salt along the sides of the cylinder) to get more even coverage across the top of the cookie.

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Sweet and salty and fresh from the oven. This is what my dreams are made of. This and salty M&M’s.

Overall, it’s not a bad cookie.  I like it.  It definitely satisfies that salty sweet craving I had and I didn’t have to face the public and possible jail time to make them.  Since cooking and baking is relaxing and soothing, I even feel a little less prone to violence. But I still wouldn’t turn down salted M&M’s if we can work that out.  I’m not ready to trade in the dream yet.  One day, I hope to eat salty chocolates with a hard candy shell without having to pick around nuts and raisins and it will be beautiful.  

However, I didn’t love the cookies as much as I wanted to.  Don’t get me wrong, they’re good.  But they just weren’t quite the yummy cookie I was looking for.  I realized as I ate one that it would probably satisfy my salty sweet craving if it was a chocolate chunk cookie with a salted caramel drizzle on it.  Or maybe I’m just in a mood where I can’t be happy with anything today?  Why don’t you try making them and tell me what you think?

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Finally, I know I joke about hurting other people because I’m feeling terrible.  But, truthfully, I am not prone to violence and I have never and never would physically hurt someone except in self-defense.  A few people have received some pretty intense tongue-lashings before, but I assure you that they deserved the full tilt of my ire at the time.  

Salty Chocolate Chunk Cookies (copied from Epicurious)

Bon Appétit  | January 2013

by Alison Roman

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 72% cacao), coarsely chopped
  • Maldon or other flaky sea salt

Place racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat to 375°F. Whisk flour, baking powder, kosher salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl; set aside.

Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter, brown sugar, sugar, and powdered sugar until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Add egg yolks, egg, and vanilla. Beat, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl, until mixture is pale and fluffy, 4-5 minutes. Reduce mixer speed to low; slowly add dry ingredients, mixing just to blend. Using a spatula, fold in chocolate.

Spoon rounded tablespoonfuls of cookie dough onto 2 parchment paper-lined baking sheets, spacing 1″ apart. Sprinkle cookies with sea salt.

Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until just golden brown around the edges, 10-12 minutes (the cookies will firm up as they cool). Let cool slightly on baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks; let cool completely. 

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Yuck of the Irish

Rumor has it that I’m Irish-ish.  And by that I mean that we had a Murphy somewhere in my bloodline so it is my duty as an Irish-woman to saturate my liver in whiskey in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.  The problem is that I was born in the south (of the new world, not Ireland) and have a taste for that “rough around the edges” American whiskey which is no way to pay homage to my Irish roots.  So, I decided my best bet for honoring my heritage is to try to bake something Irish.  Partly because I like baking and partly because I’ll need something to soak up all that whiskey.

And thus begins our quest to make Irish Soda Bread. 

The first thing I wanted to know is what makes it Irish and I looked it up but I got bored before I really got to the bottom of that mystery.  Then I wanted to know why it was called “Soda” bread.  Turns out it gets its leavening from baking soda instead of yeast.  One mystery solved is good enough for me.  So, I started hunting down recipes. 

And the plot thickens…

You see, “traditionalists” insist that Irish Soda Bread is just a bread leavened by baking soda and is not sweet and does not include fruit or any fun additives.  I suspected this bread might suck. 

Modern day cooks seemed to prefer a recipe that traditionalists called “cake” but it had raisins (usually) or other dried fruit and included sugar measured by cups instead of by teaspoonfuls.  I suspected this bread did not suck.

But, being the Irish Soda Bread novice that I am, I decided to be true to my roots and at least try to make a traditional Irish Soda Bread and see how it went.  I would then make this Irish Soda Bread Non-Traditional-Cakey-Version and compare and contrast. 

So, I donned apron!  I covered my laptop in plastic wrap to protect it from flying flour and any unfortunate spills (it works great, I recommend it if you also use your laptop for recipes in the kitchen).  I flung cabinets open gathering supplies.  I removed the cat from a cabinet.  I assaulted my pantry in my quest for baking necessities.  I removed the cat from the pantry.  I pulled needed ingredients from the fridge.  I considered making the cat an outdoor cat. 

My laptop is only allowed into the kitchen if it wears protection.

I selected my traditional recipe from my copy of The World Encyclopedia of Bread and Bread Making.  This book was obviously European – it called for “Bicarbonate of Soda.”  Have you ever heard of a more pretentious-sounding way of saying ‘baking soda’?  It’s also in metric.  Good thing I’m an engineer because I can convert units all day…but I didn’t have to because lo and behold, there’s the conversion right there on the page.  Ok European-bread-making-authors, that redeems you for the pretentious name for baking soda.

Here’s the ingredient list:

  • 2 Cups Unbleached Plain Flour
  • 2 Cups Wholemeal Flour
  • 1 Tsp. Salt
  • 2 Tsp. Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 2 Tsp. Cream of Tartar
  • 3 Tbsp. Butter or Lard
  • 1 Tsp. Caster Sugar
  • 1 1/2 Cups to 1 2/3 Cups Buttermilk

Well, first obstacle is to figure out what “plain flour” might translate to over here in the colonies.  For all I know there might be a choice of “plain flour” in my local mega mart but my choices are limited by what’s in the pantry because I’d already been to the grocery store once and have you SEEN a Publix in Georgia on a Sunday afternoon?  It’s bedlam.  So, my choices are Bread Flour, All Purpose Flour, Cake Flour, Self Rising Flour, and Whole Wheat Flour.  Yes, I may need a flour intervention – all of these were really in my pantry.  And if that wasn’t bad enough, I had five 5-lb. bags of all-purpose flour.  I’m a little anxious about the idea of running out of flour so I was buying a new bag every time I went to the grocery store.  Finally my roommate begged me to cease and desist because our pantry was becoming more of a “flour room” than a pantry.  I am proud to say that like Charlie Sheen, I have cured myself of my incessant need to buy flour with my mind and haven’t bought any all-purpose flour since before Christmas.  Although I’m down to 5 bags so I might want to put it back on the grocery list.

The sheer volume of all-purpose flour in my pantry was all the fodder I needed to presume that it would be a good “plain flour.”  Likewise, while I only have one bag of whole wheat flour, I presumed this was a good equivalent for the wholemeal flour the recipe called for. 

Yes, I really had whole wheat flour in the pantry.

Salt – finally an ingredient I’m sure about.  I used table salt because for baking the finer the grain the better.  I use kosher or sea salt usually for cooking and table salt for baking. 

As we already discussed, “Bicarbonate of Soda” is baking soda over here in the new territories.

I have plenty of cream of tartar in the pantry.  It’s often used in meringues and since I make lots of pies, I typically have it on hand.  I just presumed it’s the same stuff they’d use in Europe.

While I typically have lard on hand because I’m an old-fashioned southern girl and we use our lard in lots of down home cooking, bless my biscuits, I’m out of it…but since I buy butter with the same obsessive compulsive whim that oversees my flour-purchasing binges, we always have butter.  Never margarine, always butter.

And, in case you’ve never heard of it, caster sugar is sugar that’s finer than granulated sugar but not as fine as powdered sugar.  I didn’t have any (its hard to find) but no worries, you can just dump some granulated sugar into the old food processor and run a blade around it for a few pulses and then not only do you have some super fine sugar but you also get to inhale a nice little dust cloud of sugar.  Or if you’re more patient than I am, you can just let the food processor sit closed while the sugar dust settles. 

Create clouds of inhale-able sugar right in your own food processor!

And buttermilk is something else I like to keep on hand for making biscuits so I did have some of that but if you don’t have any, Google is your friend here.  You can use a mixture of regular milk and either vinegar or lemon juice as a substitute for buttermilk if you’re out and it works great every time.

The recipe requires you to sift together the dry ingredients and then “rub in” the butter (or lard).  If you don’t know what it means to “rub in” the butter, you just want to use your finger tips to pinch the flour and butter together until you get the mixture to the consistency of coarse crumbs.  The key is to use very cold butter (you might even consider putting it in the freezer for a few minutes) because you do not want the butter to melt.  So you’ll have to work quickly and use only your finger tips because the heat from your hands will cause the butter to soften and melt even faster.

And this is what it looks like after your butter is good and rubbed in.

 

Then the instructions tell you to add just enough of the buttermilk to form a loose dough.  The instructions also warn you that if you overwork the dough your bread will get tough, you’ll be dubbed a horrible baker, men will shun you, you’ll never get married, and you’ll die alone in a house with 18 cats which will then eat your face.  So, with great trepidation I added about 3/4 of the buttermilk in my measuring cup and prayed as I started stirring. 

But it didn’t seem wet enough…so I added the rest and I stirred but I did so very anxiously because I didn’t want to overwork the dough.  And as soon as I got it to where I thought it might hold together, I dumped it onto the floured board and lo and behold, things just fell apart from there.

I could not get the dough to stay together.  I really needed to add more buttermilk but at this point that would mean more stirring.  So I had an internal debate about which is worse: dense bread that is hard as a hockey puck from working it too much or bread that’s a little dry.  As my life with 18 cats flashed before my eyes, I decided to go for dry non-hockey-puck-ish.  I shaped it into a round as best I could, put it onto a greased sheet pan, and I prayed as I cut the traditional X in the top and slid it into a 375 degree oven.

And then…the downward spiral started.  I began to fret that I’d chosen poorly, that I should have added more buttermilk or tried to spritz the dough with water to coax it into cooperation.  I had to resist the urge to call my mother bawling and apologizing that I’d never be able to give her grandchildren now and that I hoped she could learn to love my 18 cats even if they did eat off my face.  But I feared a phone call of that nature would upset her needlessly.  So I did what any good Irish girl would do – I grabbed the whiskey, fixed a drink, and started cleaning the dishes – since somehow it seemed that I’d dirtied every single solitary dish in the kitchen already and I still had that other type of Irish Soda Bread to make.

And as I cleaned and drank a miraculous thing happened – delicious bready smells started to fill up my kitchen.  And I had a shimmering moment of hope that all might be saved and that my bread might be edible.  And when the timer finally counted off the last seconds, those hopes were dashed when this scary looking loaf came out of the oven (I didn’t even rotate the picture because it’s still just as ugly right-side-up):

Tastes just as terrible as it looks!

But I held off final judgement for the taste test. And who better to force feed a baked item to that I don’t want to eat than my roommate?  I fixed her a little plate with warm bread, some butter and jelly and got all the way to the top of the stairs before I realized she was taking a nap.  So I had to resort to an alternate taste tester:

This is Zulu - She LOVES people food.

 

Unimpressed by the flavor, she tests it as a potential toy.

Finding it unsuitable as either food or toy, she abandons it.

 

I did taste the traditional Irish Soda Bread and my original hypothesis that it could suck was right on.  It sucked.  Don’t get me wrong, it was totally edible with enough butter and jelly on it but it just tasted flour-y and dry and even though I’m sure the majority of the reason for this was my error in judgement regarding how much liquid to use in the dough, I don’t think a moist version of this would have been any tastier. 

I cut my losses, decided to feed this loaf to the birds, and moved on to the non-traditional cake-style Irish Soda Bread.  After all, I figured it couldn’t be worse than this one.  Was I right?  You’ll have to wait and see.

To be continued….

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