Friday, June 29, 2012

Maple Lace Crisps

I suppose plans are made to get thrown up in the air, right?

I've got one last busy week at work before I slow down to an absolute crawl for a few months. Some friends of my father's are throwing a Canada Day party on Sunday. My first day off after three straight late nights working, and I was planning on egg cup experiment number two on Sunday, but I need to get out a little.

The bombshell was the phone call yesterday (as I'm getting ready for work) that there's a little tradition to bring something Canada themed. Except that I work three days straight before this party. So the challenge was on.

I save a lot of recipes from a lot of different sources. You'd think I would have tucked some maple cookies, maple blondies or some other maple-flavored dessert away. Not so, as I looked through my recipe files. Then I got the idea to replace honey with maple. And I did have a recipe for Honey Lace Cookies

(Disclaimer: I am not a Martha Stewart fan. Occasionally, though, there's some good recipes that come from her or her company, not sure which).

They're fast, relatively simple and require surprisingly few ingredients – meaning I could do them around my hectic-for-me work schedule. It seemed like a perfect fit.

So, after not getting to bed until 1am this morning, at 8am I was doing a test run of these cookies:

Maple Lace Crisps
Makes a little over 2 dozen

2 tablespoons light-brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line two large baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper. Set aside. In a small saucepan, melt butter, sugar, and maple syrup. Transfer to a bowl. Whisk in flour and salt until smooth.
  2. Working quickly, drop 1/2 teaspoons of batter onto prepared baking sheets, at least 3 inches apart. Bake until cookies spread and turn golden brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack; let cool completely. With your fingers, carefully remove cookies from pan.

I made two mistakes: Number one was putting them too close together on the cookie sheet (with less than six hours of sleep and only on cup of coffee #1, three inches gets pretty relative) and, because there were fewer on the pan, burning the second batch. So be it. 

I'm not going to call them “cookies”, I am going to call them “crisps”. They were more candy-like than cookie-like and I can't really imagine dunking them in tea, as the description on Delish says (unless you are using it to sweeten). However, they were definitely maple, the recipe is easily multiplied, and I give them two thumbs up. Plus, I can see several applications for them...a little green food coloring and a candy spider as a Halloween treat, maybe painted silver (with edible paints!) for a snowflake, a garnish on a sundae or, made bigger, as a base for any number of desserts. While my father has the final say, I think they'll work.

And from this lifelong Floridian, Happy Canada Day!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Another Microwave Cake

There is a major downside with living with other people (granted, I pretty much have my own apartment upstairs, complete with a mini fridge, but no cooking appliances). Things – especially food – I think is going to be there isn't. A few weeks ago, someone got a hold of a soda that we don't normally buy that I had been saving for a later project. It only just got replaced today at the grocery store (with a two liter instead of a cans, or I might have done that today). And I could have sworn there were still four different boxes of muffin mix, two boxes of cake mix (different kinds, which is why this is an issue), a sugar cookie pop kit and a whoopie pie kit in the pantry.

I started grabbing what I needed. The whipped topping mix and hot chocolate packet (also things I'm trying to get rid of) and then the yellow cake mix. Except it wasn't there. Apparently, my mother had given it to my sister. Thanks Mom.

But I promised her I'd bake today. In steps another microwave cake experiment I'd been wanting to try.

I've been trying desperately to eat healthier, which is one reason I don't bake nearly as often as I used to. The initial recipe I had received for the Amish Friendship bread calls for either a cup of oil, but says half could be replaced by applesauce. Since single serve applesauce cups are exactly half a cup (try it – I actually wash and reuse them for snack mixes!), it worked perfectly.

Not so much for the microwave cake, for which the original recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of oil. That's less than half of the single serve container.

So, not wanting a huge project for the day and keeping my promise to my mother, today was the day for the experiment:

Microwave Chocolate Cake
Serves up to 8...maybe
1/2 Cup Flour
1/2 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Cocoa powder
1/2 Cup Applesauce
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 egg

  1. Mix dry ingredients in a small, microwave safe glass mixing bowl. This is also your baking dish, so scrape the sides down.
  2. Microwave on HIGH for 3-1/2 minutes. This is for a 1000w microwave oven, so your time may vary
  3. Immediately tip over onto a plate. Let cool and enjoy!

I was hopeful that with the milk and oil replaced with applesauce, coupled with a real egg in a more appropriate amount, would take care of the rubbery quality the original microwave cake had and still rise (unlike the mayonnaise version). Alas, it was still there, although it was a cake and not a brownie.

Still, it was good, just not two thumbs up worthy. Probably one thumb up. I have a few ideas for fixing it.

But that will have to wait. The sourdough starter is waiting...

Saturday, June 23, 2012

An Ongoing Experiment

As much as I love sourdough baking, I have never had great luck keeping a starter going for more than a few months. Not being a professional baker, I don't use it as often – or as much of it at a time – as those bakeries that have had the same starter going for 100 years.

The thing is, with the taste of those biscuit muffins I made earlier in the week, I think I've got a really good starter going. It not only is nice and bubbly and smells perfectly sour, but created one of the most sourdough-tasting baked goods I've ever made.

Tomorrow or Monday (I'm waiting for my father to get back in town to hopefully help finish it), I'm planning on tackling another box of cake mix. I have another idea on making cups for my post-workout eggs, but those are going to have to wait until later in the week anyway.

So, while I'm tending to the sourdough starter, I figured it was time to try and freeze some of it.

Like I can't stress enough, sourdough starter is a living thing. It needs to be treated with TLC. As such, I've never really been too comfortable at the thought of freezing it. There's plenty of conflicting information on this throughout the internet (I wish this site would name some sources). However, I have absolutely nothing to lose by trying.

I took a freezer baggie, labeled it, and spooned about a cup of somewhat ripe sourdough starter into it. I fed the current starter as usual, and popped the baggie into the freezer:

Hopefully, it will be a while before I know whether or not this experiment works. I would like to keep my current starter going. But should I let it go too far, all I have to do is put my frozen starter in the container with some feed, and hopefully by the time it comes to room temperature, it will be nice and bubbly again.

And if not...I have to restart the starter...again.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sourdough Biscuit Muffins

Since I've been dieting and working out, I've been pretty careful to include plenty of protein in my diet, especially right after my strength workout. I like quick microwave eggs with cheese and salsa, but I hate cleaning the bowl afterwards.

My brain finds some pretty weird sources of inspiration. Why not make a biscuit cup to nuke the eggs in, rather than having a bowl that needs to be hand washed?

It also doesn't hurt that, thanks to some of the weekly meal deals at our local grocery store, there are multiple boxes of baking mix in the pantry. With the sourdough starter well under way, it was time to try a new recipe.

The recipe is called “HoneymoonSourdough Biscuits” (I have not found the origin of why they are called that). I don't like to do more than one experiment on a recipe at a time (that way, you always know what went wrong), so I decided to simply press them into a muffin tin, rather than try and make biscuit cups just yet.

I did forget one thing about baking: Summer in Florida means lots and lots of humidity. I added probably a good 1/4 of flour just trying to handle the dough enough to knead it. What I thought would take maybe 20 minutes took the better part of an hour. I can't imagine actually trying to roll these out and cut them. They finally made it into the muffin pan:

I made quite a few mistakes with this recipe. Besides not accounting for the humidity, I also baked them for the prescribed 15 minutes, even though the recipe makes eight biscuits, not 12. So the tops came out a little burnt.

The truest test, though, was when I brought out the plate of biscuit muffins to the dinner table. Both parents as well as myself really did enjoy them, even if they were a little burnt. Dad even commented “You can actually taste sourdough in these. It's so hard to get around here.”

So what's the verdict? This one is a tough call. On one hand, I screwed up, and they aren't really going to be able to be pressed into muffin cups like I would like them to be. On the other, they were really good.

So I suppose it's one and a half thumbs up. Make again, but probably better as drop biscuits.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Lazy but Indulgent Indoor S'more

Summer is in full swing, and in most parts of the country, that means it's time for two seasonal pastimes: swimming and grilling. But the rules are different in Florida, where we can swim and grill for most of the year. (Actually, as an assistant scuba diving instructor, I pretty much swim year round)

My family's grill actually hasn't been touched in years. Part of that is no one wants to deal with the trouble of cleaning it. For the most part, I don't mind that, because I am not big on most pork or beef products and don't particularly like the aftertaste of smoke. Call me weird.

There is one grill food I do enjoy, and that's s'mores. I love chocolate. I love marshmallows almost as much. One year for the Fourth of July party, we made them with peanut butter cups instead of a regular chocolate bar. Those were heavenly.

But save for my morning Pop Tarts (occasionally – cookie dough is by far my favorite flavor), I haven't had anything s'mores since the last cookout we had at my sister's. And it's that time of year, and I come across all kinds of s'more ideas. That made me want one even more.

Fortunately, I made sure to hide a couple of the sugar cookies I made earlier in the week. A little bit of that Philadelphia Dark Chocolate Cream Cheese and some marshmallow fluff left over from some whoopie pies I made and I had a pretty good s'more:

Thing of beauty it isn't. I will refrain from talking about what I think it looks like. But looks don't matter when it's in your mouth. Yes, it's missing the “toasted” taste and feel, but it was still pretty darn good. I give this one two thumbs up.

Hopefully sometime this weekend, I'll finally get to those sourdough biscuits. Until then, eat well!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

(Sort of) Taking it Easy Week Part 2

Like I said in my previous post, I'm not the biggest fan of baking straight from a mix. Anyone can follow the instructions off the back of the box, but it doesn't bring the same satisfaction as baking something from scratch, or at least, adding a special touch, a la Sandra Lee.

But the starter is still in the fridge (more to come later this week, or maybe next week). I've got company coming over today, so I tackled one of those muffin mix boxes. Except I baked it in a loaf pan. Ha!

To be truthful, it's hard to say that's my own special spin when the instructions for baking it in a loaf pan are on the back of the box. But so be it.

The instructions are almost too simple: Mix with 1 cup of water, fold in the included cranberries (drained!) and bake for 40-45 minutes at 350. 

It looked yummy in the bowl.  It smelled so good in the oven.  And it looks even yummier now:

Cranberry Orange Loaf. It looks so yummy. But I can't dig into it yet. No, it's breakfast for us tomorrow with one of the greatest food products ever: Philedelphia Indulgence spreadable cream cheese.

Can't I just go to bed now so I can eat breakfast earlier?

Monday, June 11, 2012

(Sort of) Taking it Easy Week

Last night, I fed the sourdough starter (I do this a few days after starting it, both to make sure it keeps going and to increase its volume for use). This morning, it was nice and bubbly and smelled sour. It's ready to use, but back in the fridge it went.

For a few reasons, we end up with a lot of various baking mixes in my house. Box Tops for Education, for one (I do have a school-aged niece). Freebies that come when you buy certain items at the grocery store are another. One way or another, there were 2 boxes of cake mix, 3 boxes and one bag of muffin mix, two boxes of cookie mix and a whoopie pie kit in my pantry.

So this week's project is to knock out a couple of them. Today's project was sugar cookies.

I typically don't mind shortcuts, but typically, I don't like making anything without my own special touch. I'm not just talking baking – my lunch the past two days has been Campell's Chunky Chicken Noodle Soup. Yesterday's addition was hot sauce. Today it was a couple strips of bacon left over from last night's dinner and some Parmesan cheese. Totally different than what it's supposed to be. I even add extra dried herbs to frozen pizza.

But today, it was au natural. One stick of butter, one egg and a package of sugar cookie mix. It was almost too easy.

They aren't anything spectacular. To me, they're not anything different than a package of pre-made sugar cookies with more effort. But they were there, and with two down (one hot out of the oven, one mostly cool) and they do hit the spot.

Still, I'm thinking: Didn't I have a package of chocolate chips somewhere?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Microwave Mayonnaise Mini-Cake (or Brownie)

“Were you going to bake something today?”

This was my mother yesterday, as I was poking around for the yeast to get my sourdough starter re-started (it's nice and bubbly and chillin' in the fridge now, by the way, and hopefully I'll get to those biscuits next week). This is Mom's hint that she wants something sweet.

But I have a plan, and that involves using up some baking mixes next week when family is in town. So I had no intentions of actually baking anything until Wednesday. In steps the microwave mini-cake.

I got the original recipe from a chain email, which burst over the top of a 12oz mug and made a mess of the microwave (not to mention, it was a tad rubbery). Then I found this recipe at Instructables. It recommends using 2 tablespoons of beaten egg, rather than a whole egg.

My mind had instantly gone to my mother's mayonnaise cake recipe, which replaces the oil and egg in the recipe with mayonnaise. The first time I tried this, it came out wonderfully, but more brownie-like than cake-like. I blame this more on the light mayonnaise than anything else.

So I decided to bake us one (split 3 ways) with a little bit of baking powder. However, because of my lack of baking lately, our baking powder is a little old. It still came out delicious, but more brownie-like than cake like.

Not that that's a bad thing – I like brownies too. Mom did appreciate having a little bite of chocolate. Using regular mayonnaise or better baking powder might yield better cake results, though, so I don't guarantee texture. I like this recipe too because it's easy to mix whatever in – the original two recipes call for chocolate chips, but I could also see nuts, candy pieces, and for some reason I want to try mixing pretzels in. You could also use different extracts to flavor – almond or peppermint would be wonderful as well.

So without further ado, here's the recipe:

Microwave mayonnaise mini-cake

Serves 1-4, but who am I kidding?

1/4 cup All-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbs cocoa powder
3 tbs milk
5 tbs (1/4 cup+1tbs) light mayonnaise
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Mix dry ingredients together in either a small microwavable bowl or a jumbo microwavable mug.
  2. Add wet ingredients, mixing thoroughly
  3. Microwave on high for 3 minutes (time is for a 1000w microwave, you may need to adjust time)

 Remember you can share!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Getting the starter started (again)

The thing about sourdough starter that is sometimes easy to forget is that it is alive. It is a culture of yeast and bacteria. It eats, breathes, and even belches. Each one is a little bit different, depending on what kind of cultures are growing. And most importantly, it can die.

I can honestly say I have horrible luck with sourdough starter. However, for the most part, that's because I don't treat it right. Commercial bakeries use and replenish their starter daily. Me...not so much.

I did read in an old sourdough cookbook that it should be used at least weekly. I have kept starters doing just that for months on end. My last starter, though, had been used an re-fed to make pancakes exactly a week before I went to use it again and found it covered in pink and orange mold.

I had been treating this starter pretty well. Using it, feeding it if I wasn't using it, and keeping it in the refrigerator. Yes, it was chillin'. Yeast is active when it is warm. When it is chilled, it slows down. It doesn't break down its food as quickly as it does when it is room temperature.

The thing is, because I figured I was going to try those biscuits that week, I left it out. So it got too active, ate up everything, and died. The mold was feeding on the dead yeast.

So, for about the tenth time since I started this maybe two years ago, I am restarting the starter:

You need:

1 cup flour (I use all purpose, but I'm told almost any flour will work
Filtered water, about 1 cup, at room temperature
1 packet active yeast
Non-metallic container to hold starter
Non-metallic spoon or spatula for stirring

I particularly like the Cool Whip container for starter, because it's small and you can pour the starter into a measuring glass. Plus, the lid can be left cracked open, so it's not airtight but is sealed enough to keep bugs and dust out. Other than that, almost any non-metallic container will work. Sourdough does react to most metals when exposed for any length of time.

Mix the ingredients together. It should look like a lumpy, thick pancake batter:

 Scrape down the sides, as this is prime area for mold to grow. Leave out for about 24 hours before refrigerating

The key things to remember:
  1. IT'S ALIVE!!!
  2. Leave it at room temperature for 24 hours or so to ferment each time you feed it.
  3. IT'S ALIVE!!!
  4. Never use metal until it is in the pan
  5. IT'S ALIVE!!!
  6. Feed it with equal parts flour and water each time you use it. Some recipes call for “fresh” starter (fed before using) and some call for “ripe” starter (fed after using)
  7. IT'S ALIVE!!!
  8. Remember it will grow if you feed it without using it, so use it regularly. Feed it weekly if kept in the refrigerator, daily if kept at room temperature
  9. IT'S ALIVE!!!
  10. It's easy enough to restart if you screw up. I've done it enough.
  11. IT'S ALIVE!!!
    And most importantly...
  12. IT'S ALIVE!!!

Sourdough starter does not need as much attention as my quaker parrot, but it does need tender love and care. With a little patience and a little luck, you'll at least be baking quick breads soon.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Hello and Welcome!

Hello everyone!  My name is Jessica and I am a closet pastry chef.  Well, sort of.  Here's the story:

See, a few years ago, my father was given a batch of sourdough starter and a recipe for "Amish Friendship Bread". The point of it was to bake one loaf, and you're left with 3 extra baggies full of sourdough starter.  No one in my family could come up with anyone who really wanted it, so we kept it. 

"Amish Friendship Bread" (which, by the way, I strongly doubt is related to the Amish in any way) is one thing.  However, there's only so much of it one can tolerate.  Bread baking isn't easy in the Florida humidity, so I went in search of other Sourdough recipes.

It started with a pancake recipe from some pamphlet my mother had.  And then carrot cake from Sourdough Home.  At some point, I got the inspiration to modify my grandmother's red velvet cake recipe using sourdough starter rather than buttermilk.  It turned out okay - just not like my beloved red velvet cake.

Unfortunately for me, times have kind of changed.  I have been on a diet since August that involves limiting wheat products and sugars.  I've lost a lot of weight and I feel wonderful, but because I can't eat as much of the fruits of my labors, and my family isn't nice about letting me have my fair share (I baked a non-sourdough cheesecake, had one slice and woke up to find my mother had eaten five.  I'm not kidding), I don't always have the inspiration.  I was going to bake some sourdough biscuits, a week after making pancakes (thinking the starter would be safe), and found a thick layer of mold on top.  Not good.

So, I need the inspiration to keep it up.  My mother bought a pizzelle press (Pizzelles are these little Italian waffle cookies), and I want to see if I can make sourdough pizzelles.  I want to make sourdough biscuit cups to cook my post-workout eggs in.  And I keep finding other dessert recipes - not necessarily sourdough - that I want to try.

Therefore, once I get a new sourdough starter running, I'm going to broadcast my endeavors to the world.  My quick breads.  My biscuits.  My successes.  My failures.  Maybe a recipe here and there, or at least where I got them from.  It won't be daily - I can't too much of it anymore, but keep pushing me to bake something.  And it won't all be sourdough, for those of you who don't want to have to keep up with a starter.

So read on, eat up, and enjoy!