The baking

Month: March, 2013

An afternoon of cookies

One weekend last month, I spent an afternoon making cookies.

I started with these:

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These cookies had a chocolate-coffee base with chocolate chips and chopped hazelnuts. I used the basic cookie ingredients and procedure that I wrote about here. And I added very fine-ground dark coffee, chopped hazelnuts, and chocolate chips. I used about half a cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips, half a cup of chopped hazelnuts, two tablespoons of very fine-grind coffee, and a teaspoon of cocoa powder.

Then, there were these:

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These cookies were a first-time cookie experiment that I thought up as I was making the chocolate-coffee cookies at the top of this post.

I called these cookies margarita cookies. The cookies had ground lime rind, fresh lime juice, salt, and a little bit of tequila mixed into the dough.

I used the basic cookie dough base of oil, sugar, flour, starch, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and vanilla extract. And I added lime juice and tequila – about  2 tablespoons of lime juice and about 1/4 of a cup of tequila – as the liquid ingredients. I used the fine-grind side of a cheese grater to grate about two tablespoons of lime rind into the dough.

One of the people that tried the margarita cookies said they were “phenomenal.” I was also rather pleased with the results.

I also made peanut butter cookies:

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One of the people who tried the peanut butter cookies said that these particular cookies were their favourite cookies of the bunch. I enjoyed the peanut butter cookies as well. They had a light, soft, slightly crumbly, shortbread-like texture.

To make the peanut butter cookies, I used the basic cookie formula, but replaced most of the oil with room-temperature chunky peanut butter. I used the peanuts-only kind of peanut butter, but any peanut butter should work. You could also use almond butter, cashew butter, and so on. The decorations on top of the cookies are pieces of a certain peanut butter cup cereal.

Pie – and a few tips about pastry

I made pie on March 14.

The fact that I made pie on March 14 had a little bit to do with it being pi day. And a little bit to do with the fact that thinking about pie led to me thinking up a new apple pie recipe.

When I got into the kitchen, I started work on an apple pie with gingerbread flavour and spices.

The pie tasted amazing – and also smelled fabulous. Check it out:

Apple-gingerbread pie

The gingerbread flavour came from adding molasses to the apple filling  along with the usual sugar and spice and such.

To make the filling, I used:

-three large honeycrisp apples, peeled, cored, and sliced into chunks about the size of a grape. I used honeycrisp apples because I like honeycrisp apples and I just happened to have three large honeycrisp apples lying around. You could use whatever apples you like to bake with.

-2 tablespoons lemon juice

-2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses

-2 tablespoons ground ginger. You could also use fresh ginger, and adjust the amount to your taste. I used quite a lot of ginger.

-1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

-1/2 teaspoon cloves

-1/4 cup flour, I used unbleached, all-purpose flour

Mix all of the filling ingredients together in a bowl until everything looks thoroughly blended. Like this:

Apple-gingerbread pie 4

Next, transfer the ingredients to a prepared double pie crust in a pie pan and bake at 375 degrees for about half an hour to 45 minutes. Check on the pie from time to time. The pie is probably done when the crust starts to ever-so-slightly brown around the edges.

Now, about pie crust – or pie pastry, if you prefer:

You can buy pre-made pie crusts, already loaded in aluminum pie pans. You can also buy pre-made pie pastry that you roll out and transfer to a pan yourself. Or you can make your own.

If you want to make your own pastry, a good basic recipe for pie crust is:

-2/3 of a cup shortening

-1 teaspoon salt

-2 cups all-purpose flour

-3 to 5 tablespoons cold water

Those quantities are for a double pie crust – the kind with pastry on the bottom and on the top. Divide the quantities in half for a single pie crust.

Most shortening is sold in boxes that come printed with a measurement guide on one of the edges. Like this:

Apple-gingerbread pie 5

To measure quantities of shortening, line up the cutting guide with the edge of the block of shortening, score the shortening with a knife in the desired spot, and cut the shortening.

Combine the shortening, salt, and flour in a large bowl and mix, using a regular fork or a pastry cutter tool. Stop mixing when the contents of the bowl look like this:

pastry making

Next, add the cold water. Add the cold water to the bowl one tablespoon at a time, and mix it in with the other ingredients immediately. Repeat this step until the pastry becomes dough-like and starts to stick together. Sometimes, you’ll only need a bit of water, sometimes, you’ll need four or five tablespoons: it depends. Be sure to mix after each addition of water.

Form the dough into a lump – or two equal-size lumps for a double crust. Carefully roll the dough out onto a clean, floured surface using a rolling pin. You may also want to flour the rolling pin or top of the lump of dough. Keep rolling until the dough is in a large, even, piece about 1/4 of an inch thick all over. If the dough comes out too thin, or sticks to the rolling pin or the surface, or anything of the like, re-form it into a lump and try again. And try using a bit more flour.

When the pastry dough is rolled out the way you’d like it, carefully lift it from the surface with your hands or with a spatula and transfer to a pie tray. Carefully push the pastry dough against the bottom, sides, and top edge of the pie tray. Trim any excess pastry from the pie tray with a knife.

If you’re making a double pie crust, repeat the dough-rolling process with your second lump of dough. Then, transfer the rolled out piece of dough to the top of the, filled-with-pie-filling, pie tray. Pinch the edges of the bottom crust together with the edges of the top crust. You can use a knife to score or cut designs into the top crust of the pie. Kind of like I did to the apple and pecan pies in this previous post. You can also use leftover or cut-off pieces of pastry dough to make decoration for the top of the pie crust. Try rolling out leftover dough, cutting out shapes with a cookie cutter or a knife, and sticking the pieces to the top of the pie crust. You may find that the cut-outs stick better to the top of the pie with a little bit of cold tap water as glue.

If you’re making a pie – such as pudding pie – that doesn’t need to be baked, you can still use a pastry crust, but you’ll need to parbake the crust before filling. I wrote about parbaking in this previous post.

Your first few attempts at making pastry may not turn out perfect results – but I found that I got the hang of making pastry pretty fast once I started doing it more often. And it’s always easy to cover up cosmetic mistakes with a cut-out or stuck-on dough decoration.

And a final note on coring apples:

You can slice apples into quarters and cut out the pieces of the core with a knife – or you can use an apple corer tool. I got an apple corer at a housewares store years ago. Here’s a close-up of the cutting end:

Apple-gingerbread pie 3

Basic apple corer tools are inexpensive to buy and make the process of preparing apples for baking – any kind of baking – a lot faster and easier.

The day before March 17

It’s St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow.

You could celebrate, of course, with green beverages.

You could also celebrate with cupcakes: cupcakes with green icing.

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These are coffee-vanilla cupcakes with green almond and coffee-flavour icing.

The cake itself is my own – heavily modified for taste and for ingredients – version of a yellow cake recipe in an old cookbook. The icing was a put-stuff-in-a-bowl-and-mix job. But it basically followed the recipe I used here. I added almond extract and vanilla extract for flavour. And I used cold coffee as the main liquid ingredient. I used green pigment gel food colouring to get the green colour – kind of like I did here, but with slightly less green gel.

To make the cake part of the cupcakes, you’ll need:

-2 1/4 cups flour – I used whole wheat pastry flour, pretty much just because I wanted to. Regular all-purpose flour would work too.

-1 1/2 cups sugar – I used regular fine-grind white sugar

-1 1/4 cups edible liquid matter – this is where I went for the coffee flavour by using strong coffee, I used a French press, that I’d let cool down. You could use plain water, or a milk-like beverage, cold tea, or even beer.

-4 teaspoons cornstarch – I used cornstarch, but arrowroot flour or another substance of the like would work

-1 teaspoon salt

-1 teaspoon liquid vanilla extract

-4 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix, then beat, all ingredients together in a large bowl. Line a cupcake pan with cupcake papers. Then, fill each cupcake paper about 3/4 full with batter. Bake about 20 minutes or so – keeping an eye on the cupcakes to see when they look like they’re done. The old the-cake-is-ready-when-a-toothpick-stuck-in-the-centre-comes-out-clean technique is useful if you’re not sure when the cupcakes are done. Remove tray from the oven and transfer the cupcakes to a cooling rack to cool. Icing the cupcakes will be easier – and likely infinitely more functional and less messy – if you wait until they are completely cool before attempting to ice them.

For me, this recipe yielded 26 regular-size cupcakes. I baked them in two batches of 12 and one batch of two cupcakes.

When the cupcakes are completely cool, it’s time to ice – or frost, if you prefer – the cupcakes.

I loaded up my icing gun with green icing and got to work:

St Patrick's cupcakes 2

I decided to ice the cupcakes in a simple spiral pattern using a large icing tip. I made the spirals by starting at the outside edge of the cupcake tops and working toward the centre.

Here is some of the final product on display a cupcake stand:

St Patrick's cupcakes 3

And closer up:

St Patrick's cupcakes 4

Happy St. Patrick’s, St. Paddy’s, March 17, or whatever you want to call it.

Cheers, sláinte, prosit, santé, and all that.

As a post-script, check out what my dishwater looked like after washing items that touched the green icing:

St Patrick's cupcakes 5

It’s a different kind of green suds.

Cinnamon buns – with apple

I was on vacation.

And it was great.

Of course, while I was gone, I didn’t blog. Or bake. Or do anything other than just enjoy the vacation.

One of the places I went is a place where people really know baking stuff with apples.

So, perhaps that may have inspired me to make cinnamon buns with apple slices. Or perhaps not. Here they are anyway:

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And a bit closer up:

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I used pretty much the exact same procedure as I used in this post to make the cinnamon rolls – just-into-the-oven – pictured. What I added was one peeled, cored, and thinly sliced apple. I used a honeycrisp apple, but you could use pretty much any large-size apple that you like.

After stretching out the dough, spreading margarine, and adding the cinnamon and sugar mixture, I evenly spread pieces of apple on the dough and, then, rolled and sliced it.

I let the dough rise again for a short time, and then baked at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes – keeping an eye on the oven window to watch for the buns to turn golden brown

I, of course, taste-tested one of these lovely cinnamon buns with apple. It was fabulous. And my place smelled fabulous as they were baking. I happened to have a bit of vanilla icing left over from another baking project – and I spread a bit of that icing over the warm apple cinnamon bun that I ate. Wonderful. And recommended.

I most definitely plan to make these again. I’d like to use more than one apple, but I may just stick with one as I think two apples might make things a little bit messy and prevent the dough from sticking together.