Archive for the Baking Category

Defeat doesn’t taste very good-part 1

Posted in Baking on April 1, 2010 by grimgastronomicon

I’m sitting at my computer, mulling what to write, a tropical punch Kool-Aid jammers clutched in hand (well, clutched, sucked down in a few  quick pulls, and discarded-it’s not like they contain vast amounts of liquid, or are something you really want lingering on your taste buds). While I may have another entry tomorrow touting my vast success (or at least, my mild accomplishment that I achieved via some assistance from a professional baker >_<), at the moment, I have suffered a grand defeat.

As always, many of my culinary undertakings come from seeds of ideas planted ages back, coming to fruition at utterly random times. In this case, it struck me months back that I really loved Oreos, and would love a homemade, and [mildly] more healthy approach to them; at least, I’d like to control how many various additives and chemicals are involved in the process (thanks Michael Pollan, after reading In Defense of Food, everything looked toxic to me for a while). Anyways, it became a subject of discussion with my aunt and Jess, both of whom thought it was definitely a worthy cause for me to look into (the keyword being me).

I briefly mulled (I do that a lot, you see) on what defined an Oreo. The wafer is kind of chocolately, but not especially sweet, almost salty. Crunchy and dry, to the point that milk is almost a requirement for consuming these. The filling tastes like everything I love about mass-produced icing; artificial, strangely textured and dense.

I pondered how many elements needed to be faithful for it to satisfy the same craving, and promptly forgot about it.

The other day (let’s pick Monday), I remembered my quest, and decided to undertake it. Feeling the pressure, I decided to explore the internet, and let those who have come before aid me with their knowledge. Apparently, there are quite a number of people who’ve already walked this path. That’s fine, just because someone has discovered another continent doesn’t prevent me from travelling there, and experiencing it myself (and their maps are plenty helpful).

After a quick jaunt around, the recipe from Smitten Kitchen seemed like a safe bet (cool blog as well-amazing photography). After reading through it, I decided I’d attempt it with a lower amount of sugar, trying to keep with a more purist approach to the cookies (eg. a less dominant flavour >_<), and relying more on the filling as providing the sweet focal point. I began in earnest the other night, excited at the prospect of how satisfying this would be to accomplish.

Now, I’ll say this-after getting used to a digital scale, recipes with cup amounts seem frustratingly vague, and help put me into a sloppier, complacent state. When I’m scaling with an electronic scale, I measure things to the gram. When it tells me to use a cup and a half, I may be a little less stringent. Now, combine this with my general distracted air in the kitchen, and disaster struck.

After making my dough, I was shocked to find it had the consistency of cake batter, was a pale brown (as opposed to dark chocolate coloured), and tasted far too buttery (hmmm…) Now, at this point, as I seem to bake and write this at late hours, it was around 4 in the morning, and even after significantly upping the flour, my brain was taxed to it’s limit to understand why this was doing such a poor job of coming together. Frustrated and nearing involuntary unconsciousness, I decided to throw in the towel for the night.

Conferencing with Jess the next day, she had read over my recipe, and instantly had spotted where I had made the catastrophic error…I apparently had just read the butter portion of the recipe as 1 ¼ sticks, ignoring the prefacing ½ cup + 2 tablespoons. Ugh. Yeah, so apparently some butter is packaged as 4 individually wrapped sticks. I had just blithely assumed they meant the standard block (AKA STICK) of butter one (me) purchases at the grocery store. So all said and done, I had nearly quadrupled the necessary butter in the recipe, and had sampled enough batter that I felt ill after.

Now, hypothetically, upping the other ingredients by the same ratio should hopefully solve this, but I was thoroughly put off for the moment. Tomorrow, I’ll try fixing it. If it proves untenable, I’ll dump it (which is shame, as I try not to be wasteful in my cooking or baking), and start fresh.

Part 2 to follow. It will contain success.

There can NEVER be too much peanut butter.

Posted in Baking with tags , , , , on March 21, 2010 by grimgastronomicon

Yeah, those cookies I mentioned? Made ’em Monday night. It’s now Saturday (well, late Friday night…). Let’s just chalk up the lack of posting to me coming down with a case of God of War III (protip: It’s damn entertaining).

So, I’ve always been well-aware that the actual process of baking is far more about perfecting your craft than being artistic about it-recipe tweaks are fine, but once you’re comitted to baking something, follow your instructions closely, and your product will turn out well (barring crappy ovens, unforseen circumstances etc). Conceptually, really easy to grasp, in practice (for me), not so much.

A while back, Jess made cookies from the same recipe she handed me, and while they were good, they weren’t PEANUT BUTTER cookies (though apparently this recipe was meant to emulate good ol’ fashioned peanut butter cookies, but have a more subtle flavour, and emulate traditional drop cookies or somesuch-would’ve been helpful to know this before embarking on the journey). Sure, there was an element of the flavour that was peanut buttery, but it was kind of timid and probably would’ve flinched if you noticed it.

Peanut Butter is one of my favourite sweets in this world, be it in cookies, pared with chocolate, or eaten a la carte (gross, I know). That in mind, I decided I needed some cookies that really showcased this. With recipe in hand (dutifully scaled down by jess-baking school recipes seem to expect that I’m providing for a bakery or something, pfft), I began carefully electronically scaling ingredients with utter precision, down to the gram. I was utterly convinced this would be my shining hour as an amateur baker, producing top notch cookies I could happily charge for.

I began the mixing process (made easier by a KitchenAid stand mixer-it’s seriously helpful, albeit noisy. If they come knocking, I’ll happily shill for them), and preheated the oven. Things were going well. Batter mixed, I decided it was time for a taste test…and remembered my previous complaints about the lack of peanut butter in the cookies. Cursing under my breath, I did the only logical thing-add more peanut butter. A lot more peanut butter. Peanut butter to such a degree, that I probably tripled the initial amount, completely throwing the recipe out of wack. That said, it now tasted very peanut buttery, so I was content.

I then began the process of creating little balls of peanut butter, and depositing them on a baking sheet. I noticed how pliable and squishy they were, and was concerned, but was more focused on potential Future Cookies than anything as immediate as the consistency of my product. I also forgot to flatten them with a fork.

In minutes, I was aghast to discover that my cookies were beginning to resemble the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, and with alarming alacrity, grabbed a discloth, got the things out of the oven and flattened them down somewhat (though they seemed to deflate-highly disconcerting). They also were starting to get really big. And taking a long time to bake, much longer than recipes usually call for. I noticed them browning, and gave up and took them out.

Not the most glorious batch of cookies ever, but they fulfilled the whole PEANUT BUTTER aspect pretty well. The bottoms were slightly crisp, and would’ve been burnt within another minute or so. Once cooled, the consistency was decent, albeit slightly overdone; I was concerned due to their spread, so I let them overbake.

This was mainly meant to be a test batch, though, as I’m intending to make some tweaks to it (and it shall also partially feature into a challenge I’m gearing towards-doing a blind taste test of various baked goods baked with regular all-purpose flour, and King Arthur flour that my aunt got me as a gift/souvenir from the states-Practically every book related to cooking that I have invariably mentions it as the defacto flour). If I meet with some success the next time I hit the baking battlefield, I’ll probably do a follow up to this-I’d like to leave you with more than a single photo of some large, malformed cookies.

This sends me in hunt of a more appropriate recipe though, as I clearly am wanting something as peanut buttery as possible, with a nice crumb, and an affinity for 2% milk-not too soft and crumbly, not too crisp. Now, I clearly have to Jeffrey Steingarten this project, and test out dozens of recipes, and try and come up with my own recipe that is a culmination of other good ones. Or something.