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Grown-up Cookies

Here I am making cookies again! This week’s Tuesday’s with Dorie recipe is a nice break from the batches of oatmeal cookies that I continue to bake in search of the perfect oatmeal cookie. I am close to a final version (I hope!). In the meantime, these Mocha Chocolate Chipper cookies were a nice treat.

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The only change I made to the recipe was to use just one tablespoon of espresso powder. The package said that one teaspoon would make a cup of instant coffee, so I thought that a tablespoon would be more than enough.

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I also scooped the dough out while it was still soft. Actually, the husband scooped it for me since I have been having a little wrist trouble lately. Must be all that heavy knitting.

Anyway, after the dough was all scooped, I froze it. Some have had trouble with these cookies spreading too much in the oven, and this is a trick that will keep that from happening, but your dough has to be fairly soft. Otherwise, your cookie may not spread as much as you like! Cookie baking is an art, I tell you.

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They turned out perfectly. My scoops were a little bigger, so there were 35 cookies in the end, not four dozen, but that’s ok. We like our cookies on the big side in our house.

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I took the cookies to a meeting and they were enjoyed by all who tried them. A couple people could not detect the coffee flavor, which I took as a good sign. I thought there was just enough coffee flavor to compliment the chocolate, but not too much so as to overpower the other flavors. I used a combination of milk chocolate and dark chocolate chips, along with some really soft, organic dried apricots from Trader Joe’s. The husband loved them. I liked them, too. The apricot was quite a nice change from the cranberries and raisins we’ve been having in our cookies lately. I worried that they would bake up hard, but they were fine. I think cherries would be nice as well.

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They have just the perfect combination of crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. They are perfect with a cup of tea or coffee, but maybe not for the likes of the kiddies if one is shy about giving caffeine to them. I may let my boys try them, but only for a daytime snack. The good news is that I still have almost two dozen frozen cookie balls in the freezer for the husband and me to eat after the boys are in bed.

The recipe is posted here if you would like to try them and I urge you to do so. They are worth it.

Fruit Studded Not Flatbread

We are near mid winter. It is cold. Produce at the store is looking sadder and sadder and spoils more easily when you get it home. Last week, the husband went to the store and brought home some beautiful looking apricots. They were a nice warm orange with blushes of red. They were also from South America and kinda firm. Oh, how bad can they be if they look so good? It turns out, they can be pretty bad. Not bad as in spoiled. No, they were just so sour and hard that it was impossible not to spit them out. So, I was left with almost a dozen apricots that no one wanted to eat. What to do?

Well, make bread, of course. My original inspiration for this recipe is the recipe for blueberry schiacciata from Rustic Italian Food, but, in the end, the bread I made probably does not resemble the one in the book at all. Still, it provided the inspiration for me that I needed.

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I wanted something like a fruity foccacia bread that we could eat for breakfast; not too sweet like a sticky bun, but nice and substantial, you know, to start the day off right. The recipe starts wih a sponge, in which I used my sourdough discard from feeding my monsters. You could easily make this bread without it (directions below).

The great thing about this recipe is that from start to eating, it only took 3.5 hours, which is pretty quick for a yeast bread. The rising times are short, each less than an hour, but the oven spring of this dough is really and truly impressive.

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The dough looked like this when I put it in the oven. It barely comes over the top of the rim of the pan, so it’s maybe an inch thick.

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When the bread came out of the oven it looked like this. Whoa! What happened in that oven? I don’t know. What I do know is that this bread was fabulous. The juices from the berries bake into a nice slightly sticky glaze. The sugar that was generously sprinkled on top before baking was caramelized and slightly crunchy. The apricots remain a little firm, but tender enough to bite through easily and their sourness has turned into a pleasing tartness that is balanced by the sweet, crunchy sugar. It can only be called a flatbread in the sense that its width and length are greater than the thickness, but since we all had a tough time getting our mouths open big enough to take a bite, I think that other flatbreads might be a little offended if we called it that. That’s why we’ve named it Fruit Studded Not Flatbread.

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Fruit Studded Not Flatbread

This makes a huge loaf of bread: 12 by 18 by 2.5-3 inches high. You can make a smaller one by cutting the recipe in half and using a smaller pan. Be warned that the syrup may run over the sides of the pan and into your oven. For me, it just joins countless other little spots on the floor of the oven, but if you don’t want this, put a piece of foil under the pan to catch the drips.

Depending on the size of your portions, this could yield 12 humongous portions, 20 average sized portions, or 30 snack-type portions.

475g 100% hydration sourdough starter OR 250g water and 225g bread flour
25g water
195g eggs or 4 large
10g or 1 tablespoon osmotolerant instant yeast
80g sugar
200g bread flour
500g all purpose flour
12g or 2 teaspoons kosher salt
120g or 1stick unsalted butter, softened
Grated zest of one medium orange
Extra water, if needed
8-12 small apricots or other stone fruit, halved and pitted
1-2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries or other berries
Extra sugar for sprinking on top- I used about one half cup, but you’ll want to adjust according to the sweetness of your fruit

Equipment: spatula, stand mixer, rolling pin, 12 by 18 inch rimmed baking sheet

With a spatula, mix your sourdough starter (or the alternate ingredients) in a large mixing bowl with the water, eggs, yeast, 80g of sugar, and the 200g bread flour. It should be the consistency of pancake batter (see photo below). Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place for 30 minutes or until nice and bubbly.

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Add the all-purpose flour, salt, soft butter, and orange zest to the sponge and mix on low-medium until the dough is nice and smooth. It should be a soft dough. If the mixer sounds strained, it is too stiff. Add extra water, one tablespoon at a time and mix until the dough is soft and smooth, but not sticky. It might be tacky, but it should not stick to your hands when you touch it. The dough should have cleaned the sides of the bowl really well.

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Leave the dough in the bowl and place in your warm spot for 30-60 minutes. It should be well-expanded, but perhaps not quite doubled.

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Roll out your dough on a sheet of parchment paper that is about the same size as your half sheet pan. Place the dough, with its parchment onto your pan. Press the apricots into the dough firmly. Scatter the blueberries over the dough and, using your fingers, press those firmly into the dough as well. You want to get the fruit as close to the bottom of the pan as possible to discourage them from rolling off during the rising and baking process.

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Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rise in your warm place for 45-60 minutes. Meanwhile, place a baking stone, if you have one, in the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.

Before baking, sprinkle the fruit and dough generously with granulated sugar. Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Check on the bread after 15 minutes. Turn the pan around to encourage even baking. If there is a lot of liquid pooling on the top of the dough and you happen to have a convection oven, lower the heat to 325 and turn on the convection fan for the last 15 minutes of baking. If not, try moving the pan to a higher rack in the oven to encourage the liquid to bake away.

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When you take the pan out of the oven, transfer the bread out of the pan and onto a cooling rack. Eat some immediately.

Still Jamming

Wow, I recently realized that I blew past my first blog anniversary without really thinking about it much.  Last July, I started this new little project and really was not sure if it would stick or if anyone but the husband would actually read it.  I had kind of big learning curve with figuring out how things work in the blogging world, but it’s been a fun year.  I still enjoying doing it, so, until I run out of things to say, I guess I will keep on going.  Starting the blog coincided with a renewal of a couple of interests I had left behind when my kids were little and more needy, one of which is canning.

Last year, my first blog post included this picture.

cherry grapefruit jam and preserved cherries in vanilla syrup

This was the first of many posts about jam.  I just love jam and I have really loved making my own jam over the last year.  At its peak, my jam cupboard had over 60 jars of jam in it.  I was so happy to be jamming again that I just made jam all the time.  My collection has dwindled somewhat over the winter, but it is still substantial.  In fact, I have such an excess of jam that I have been really choosy about the jams I have been making this season.  I am using only the best looking, ripest, tastiest fruit I can find and I think I can tell a difference in the quality of my jams so far.

I find myself thinking after every jam I have made in the past few months, “Wow!  This is the best jam I have ever had.”  Well, clearly, I am fickle because it can’t be true for every single jam I have made this season so far, but I still think it.  Maybe what I really mean is, “Wow!  I can’t believe I can make something so incredibly tasty!”  Lately, I found myself thinking these thoughts about my most recent jam.

Maybe it’s the extremely hot summer we have been having, but all the fruit seems more flavorful and beautiful than years in recent memory.  Look at these beautiful apricots I found at the local roadside stand.  I almost didn’t buy them.  They were a little pricey, but I decided to splurge on making a jam that I had yet to make to my satisfaction.  Last year’s apricot jam was made with supermarket fruit and it was runny and not very flavorful.  Seldom do I find locally grown apricots that look this good.  I think apricots just don’t do well in this region, but maybe this year’s weird weather is just what they like.  In any case, I was determined to try making a better jam this year and I had a few more tricks up my sleeve for doing it.

First trick:  Let the fruit macerate for awhile.

I rough sliced 2.5 pounds(after pitting) of apricots and tossed it with 2 pounds of sugar and the juice of two lemons.  I let it sit at room temperature for 20 hours.  I stirred it occasionally and the next morning, it looked like this.

Look at all that juicy syrupy yumminess!  Next, I brought the pot to a boil.  Here’s the next trick I used:  After the mixture had come to a boil, I used a large strainer spoon and pulled out as many fruit chunks as I could.  I did this because I wanted some chunks of fruit in my final product.  If I just let it boil away for half an hour, all the fruit would disintegrate and it would be more like a puree.  That is not what I wanted.  Then, I let the remaining sugar/juice mixture boil away until the setting point.  At first it bubbled and foamed up quite a bit.

The bubbles are pretty big and it sounds more or less like boiling water.  I did not skim it right away.  I choose to do that later to try to keep as much of the volume of the jam as possible.

After a little while, it looked more like this.  Still very foamy, but the bubbles are much smaller and denser.  I turned down the heat a bit and started testing the liquid.  It was almost ready, so I added the apricots back in to cook for a few minutes.

Still pretty foamy, right?  Well, this is when I started skimming, but I did it skimpily.   I also added the grated zest of the two lemons I used earlier.  Then, I jarred them up and processed them.

They look pretty good, don’t they?  I almost forgot to tell you, I put one apricot kernel in the bottom of the jars (2 kernels for the big jar).  This supposed to impart a subtle flavor, but I won’t know until I open one up.  All I can tell you is that this might be the best apricot jam I have every tasted.  It’s not as clear as I would like.  The foam was hard to get rid of, but I think a little is ok for this time.  I love that the flavor is just pure apricot, with no other flavors to change it.  The color is great and it is nice and thick with bits of fruit to chew on, but still spreadable.  I am really happy with this jam and I feel that it represents a lot of things that I have learned about jam making this past year.  I still have a lot to learn, though, so this will not be the last time I make this jam.  In fact, I already have an idea of how to cut down the foam, but I’ll save that for another day.

Likewise, I have really learned a lot through my year of blogging.  I love how I can look back and really see what I have learned through my posts.  I have had a lot of successes, but also a lot of failures and it has all been good because of what I have learned through the process.  Thank you for joining me on my jamming, crafting, baking, and other crazy  adventures and misadventures.  Here’s hoping there will be many more adventures  (and jars of jam) ahead.

Cake Every Day

Thursday’s sugar plum cake was gone in one day.  No, we did not eat it all ourselves.  I shared some with a friend.  But, Friday morning, there was a cake shaped hole in my tummy.  So, I had to make another cake, but I used a different recipe.  Yes, I know, I said I was going to do the same one with different fruit, but I am fickle.  I like to try new things.   Lately, I have been really taken with Nigel Slater and his book, Ripe.  I just needed to try a recipe from this book, so I did.

I made the Cake for Midsummer with fresh organic apricots and raspberries.

I am always intrigued by how many British chefs/bakers use self-rising flour.  It’s a tough sell among hard-core bakers here in this country, but almost every British cookbook I have looked at uses the stuff.  Well, I had some lying around from who knows when.  Seriously, the bag I have is probably over a year old and I was wondering if the leavening power was still intact, but I would never know unless I tried it, right?  And now I know that self-rising flour that is old will still rise!

In fact, the cake was super soft and fluffy.  The almond meal in the batter went really well with the apricots and raspberries.  It was really moist and not too sweet–perfect with a glass of iced tea or a cup of hot tea.  This cake we did not share, but don’t worry.  We did not eat it all in one day.  It took us three days and on the third day it was just as yummy, if not yummier.  The cake had time to dry out just a tad and it got a little denser as well and strangely, I think the fruit was more intensely flavored and the almond nuttier.

There are a number of recipes in this book that I want to try.  I love how the recipes are organized.  Every fruit has its own chapter and there are savory recipes for each fruit as well as sweet recipes.  In fact, I have been so taken with this book, that I went out and bought, Tender, which is the prequel to Ripe and focuses on vegetables.  After all, summer is not just about fruit, is it?  Plus, there are some really good looking cake recipes in there as well, so I can have veggies in my daily cake as well.  Yum!

I think I may have to have a piece of cake everyday for the rest of the summer, which is funny because I usually prefer pies in the summer.  But, these last two cakes and the bounty of summer fruits have really sparked a cake fire in my heart.  Maybe if I skip lunch everyday, I can have cake instead.  Doesn’t that sound like a great idea?