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Staycation, Part 3: Baking

During last week’s heat wave, I wondered what in the world people did/do with no air conditioning. Air conditioning is truly a wonderful thing, and I am ever so thankful to live in a house that has it. The air conditioning enables me to turn on the oven, even when it is over 100 degrees outside and still stay relatively comfy.

One day, I made brioche buns with raisins and candied citron. I love making little buns like this. They are just the right size to have with a cup of coffee or tea for breakfast. They are not too sweet and wonderfully soft and fluffy. They also make a pretty good base for peanut butter and jelly.

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I used the recipe for brioche from Nick Malgieri’s book, Bake!: Essential Techniques for Perfect Baking, but you can use any brioche recipe, including the one I posted a little while back.

The next day, I had to feed my sourdough starters, and was looking for something new to try with them. While perusing through my copy of The Bouchon Bakery, I found a recipe for english muffins that used a sourdough starter and a baking method instead of a cooking on a griddle method. That seemed like a good recipe to try.

Unlike some other english muffin recipes, this one makes a super soft, almost batter like dough. It has to be scooped into the rings with an ice cream scoop.

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They rise for a bit and then go in the oven.

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These are the highest/biggest english muffins I have ever made. They looked fantastic coming out of the oven.

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These are easily an inch high and are surprisingly easy to split with a fork.

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There are lots of nooks and crannies to soak up butter and jam. Our only complaint with these is that there is not enough salt in the batter. They taste rather bland without anything on top. They have a slightly different texture than english muffins you buy in the store. They are kind of a cross between an english muffin and a crumpet. When toasted, they get wonderfully crispy on the outside, but are still moist on the inside, which is nice because some english muffins out there turn into hard crackers when toasted. These have a nice springy texture. They are great as a breakfast sandwich, albeit a bit high.

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From start to finish, I made 22 english muffins in about 3 hours. It could have been shorter if I had another set of rings, which I am definitely going to get for next time. Most of that time is just waiting time, so it doesn’t feel too taxing. I will most certainly be making these again, but with more salt and maybe a helping of whole wheat flour to replace some of the white flour.

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A Dream Come True

For many, many years, I have had a dream. I dream about getting up early in the morning after a refreshing night’s sleep and puttering around the kitchen while everyone is still sleeping. I dream that I will take out flour and sugar and other ingredients and mix together some really nice freshly, baked goodie for breakfast. Sometimes, I dream that I make pancakes or waffles, but mostly, I dream about making muffins. Blueberry ones, to be exact.

The reality is this: My kids wake up earlier than I do and I am a terrible sleeper and often grumpy in the mornings. Even before I had kids, I don’t think I had the gumption to get up in the morning and do more than make a cup of tea and pour a bowl of cereal. Yet, for some reason, I hold onto this dream, which is why I was excited to try the recipe for blueberry muffins from Bouchon Bakery.

Every book on baking has some kind of berry muffin recipe. This one did not seem to stand out to me especially until I got to the part where the author tells you to refrigerate the batter until the next morning. Really? This means that I could do all the messy work the night before and then just have to bake them in the morning? This looked like a recipe I needed to try.

So I did.

And it worked, sort of.

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Like all Keller’s recipes, there’s a lot of precise measuring, one or two unexpected ingredients (blackstrap molasses, anyone?), and a big mess in the kitchen. Of course, the mess is mostly my fault for deciding that I needed to triple the recipe. Why do I do these things to myself?

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Anyway, I got the batter made and sent it off to rest in the fridge while I slept and dreamt about warm muffins for breakfast. Except there was a teeny problem when I got up to finish off the muffins the next day.

The batter was cold and hard.

The last instruction before baking the muffins was to stir in the frozen blueberries. However, the batter was quite stiff and I found it almost impossible to stir it at all. After a couple of arm wrenching minutes, I gave up. That’s just not the kind of thing I do first thing in the morning. I left the batter on the counter, disgusted, and poured cereal for everyone. Sigh.

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A couple of hours later, I came back to the batter. It was quite soft now and stirring the blueberries in was no big chore. I baked a pan right away as a mid-morning snack, but there was quite a significant chunk of batter left in the bowl. This will be because, if you remember from earlier, I tripled the recipe. Clearly, I had not really thought about the implications of that act. What would we do with three dozen muffins? All my original energy and motivation for this project was just about gone.

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So, I decided not to bake the rest of the muffins. I froze them instead. Yes, I scooped out all the batter into oil-sprayed paper cups, sprinkled on the almond crumb topping, and stuck them in the freezer, unbaked.

The next day, I took them out of the pans and threw them into a plastic bag to store in the freezer, except for two. Those I stuck into ramekins and baked them in my little countertop oven.

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They took a little longer to bake, but they baked up just fine. Just as good as any other muffin I have ever baked. Finally! Success! Next time, I will skip the refrigerating step and just go ahead and stir in the berries. Then, scoop out all the batter and freeze. The brilliance in this method, in case you have missed it, is that you can have freshly baked muffins any time and you can bake one or two or ten, depending on what you need. It makes me wonder if this will work with any muffin recipe? I’ll have to get back to you on that one, or if you are willing to try it, you can let me know.

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Now, these are good muffins. Perhaps not your traditional blueberry muffin, though. The blackstrap molasses really gives it a unique flavor that brings the muffin very close to gingerbread, only with blueberries and no ginger. It’s a nice change from overly sweet muffin recipes and I liked the almond crumb topping that used almond meal instead of big chunks of almonds. Plus, the contrast in color with the muffin was nice. However, the best thing is that I still have over a dozen little muffin balls waiting for me in the freezer whenever I feel like a freshly baked muffin. And all the work has already been done. It’s a dream come true!

Interminable

This has been one of those weeks that seem to go on and on and halfway through, one wonders why it isn’t Friday yet because it seems like a whole week’s worth of work and activity have gone by in just three days. When this happens, I know that it is either Christmastime or it’s May. May, in our lives and in the lives of many people we know, is that month when summer is almost here, but not quite. You can see the end of the school year or the beginning of vacation season, but there are still a hundred and one things that need to be done before any of that can arrive. There are final evaluations, tests, recitals, end of year picnics and parties, not to mention the holidays that occur in May.

For some reason, this year seems worse than other years to me, though I know it must not be because neither one of our boys is playing baseball this season, which is always a huge time suck. I think perhaps this has been an especially draining school year for me. As the boys get older and the content of their work increases in difficulty, it requires more mental and emotional energy to juggle it all. And the lessons are not all academic, either. The major lesson this week: time management. It’s a tricky thing to teach because if someone doesn’t want to learn the easy way, the consequences can be quite hard to swallow. But, as a dear friend of mine likes to say, our job is to be a parent, not a friend.

In the meantime, while things on the school front seem to be dragging on and on, I tend to make up for it with some quick, instant gratification projects that I can (sort of) control. Like cookies.

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These are the shortbread cookies from Bouchon Bakery and they are quite good. They are crumbly and have a nice texture and sparkle from the dusting of sugar that they get right before they are baked. I like these better than my usual shortbread recipe because the dough is easier to roll out. These also use real vanilla beans instead of extract and I like the fancy speckly look they have from the vanilla.

So, what’s the lesson here? Maybe it’s when the going gets tough, bake some cookies. Really, everybody could do with a cookie break every once in awhile. A cookie can make all the difference between a day that seems to drag on and a day that is satisfyingly productive.

Better than Those Other Ones

Ok. Get ready. I am about to say something that I know some will find absolutely shocking. (whispering) I do not like Oreos. There. I said it. I know. It has something to do with how the cookie turns into a paste in my mouth and the cream in the middle has the mouthfeel of raw shortening, which, of course, is part of its makeup.

However, the idea of the cookie is not a bad one and so I was curious to try the Bouchon Bakery version, TKOs. I made up a whole bunch of the chocolate cookies as hearts last week to hand out to friends for V-day, but for us, I made a few with the white chocolate filling.

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Firstly, it’s important to whip the white chocolate filling or else it is too runny, but once whipped, it is perfect for sandwich cookies.

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How are they? In a word: sublime. The cookies are buttery, chocolatey, and a little salty, which is a good foil for the melt-in-your-mouth creamy, sweet filling. Both the cookie and the filling were easy to make, so there is only the matter of time that stands in my way of these cookies when I want them.

And, they are So, So much better than those other cookies I talked about earlier.

Also, I managed to make the chocolate chunk and chocolate chip cookie recipe from the same book.

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This recipe used extra dark chocolate, 72% as well as regular chocolate chips. The dough was beautifully silky, very unlike those stiff, break your mixer doughs that so often characterize cookie making. And the cookies baked up very nicely. You’ll notice that I did not make them saucer-sized, as these were made for a crowd, and I wanted more quantity.

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They are less sweet than the recipe that I usually make, but I like that. Also, because there are some big chunks of dark chocolate in them, the cookies are also very, very chocolatey. It goes without saying that these are much better than store bought, packaged cookies. But are they better than your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe? I’m not sure I have strong opinions about chocolate chip cookies, so you’ll just have to buy the book, and make them for yourself to see.