Saturday, March 21, 2015

Luxury Oatmeal Cookies


What's it?

This.  It's a It's-It.

Not really but it could be! The Alpha Bakers made cookies this week, The Baking Bible Luxury Oatmeal Cookies.  They are pure BR&;R Baking Rest and Relaxation. There is something so soothing about mixing up homemade granola with a bowl and a spoon to meet up with chocolate chip cookie dough. Put these two together and it just begged to be turned into a chocolate inside out It's-It ice cream sandwich 

Continuing along these retro lines, the scale stayed in the cupboard and out came the measuring cups and spoons.  Let's have a bit of fun, shall we, and throw caution to the wind!

Oats, walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt are doused 
with maple syrup, Lyle's Golden Syrup, honey # veered off recipe, sunflower oil, vanilla extract
and Boyjian Orange Oil # can't I follow directions?

Seriously, I could have stirred this forever.

Into the oven for twenty minutes and then five more for extra measure.  The kitchen became perfumed with cinnamon, vanilla and orange.

Nice and crunchy with a few clusters here and there for nibbling taste testing.

On to chocolate chip cookie dough,  America's favorite cookie. Easy peasy to mix up and then pour straight into the granola along with golden raisins lest they be noticed.  Camouflage raisins!

Remember a few weeks back when I ranted and raved about chocolate?  Of course you do!
I'm always on about something.

Guittard chocolate.  I now buy it whenever I am in need of a chocolate they make   Why?  What's the big deal?  I was astonished and horrified to learn there was a movement underfoot amongst certain big name chocolate companies a few years ago.  The goal: to get the FDA to change the definition of chocolate, allowing other oils to be substituted for cocoa butter.

Which is more than a little annoying since cocoa butter is pretty much what makes chocolate, chocolate.
Cocoa butter is expensive so this meant massive profits ahead.  Guittard is a family company and they steadfastly refused, starting a Don't Mess With Our Chocolate campaign..  I'm sure they as much as the next company could use a bigger profit margin but the family held firm to keep the integrity of chocolate.  And so now I buy it whenever I can.
The End

After chilling,  rolling, smooshing and baking the delicious dough, this is what you get.  
Yummy yummy cookies.
And ice cream sandwiches if you wish.

The Baking Bible is available to buy at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sour Cherry Pie

This here was the 12,000 mile Sour Cherry Pi Day Pie, give or take a few frequent flier miles.

The Alpha Bakers took on fresh sour cherry pie this week.  Collectively, we looked high and low for sour cherries because we are diligent that way.   The options were frozen and canned.  This is not the season for fresh cherries  in the northern hemisphere.   Any one of these cherry choices turn out excellent pie with Rose's Baking Bible recipe.

And that is saying something!  This recipe is calibrated for fresh cherries and yet here we are substituting canned and frozen with pretty spectacular results.  Maybe even dried.

Why are sour/tart cherries so difficult to find?  Chalk it up to regional demand, growing seasons, climate requirements and  the fact loads of sour cherries are juiced and bottled.  

We need to storm the Bastille and demand sour cherries be brought back to market!

First up Rose's cream cheese dough.  It's really fantastic. 

  Iowa grandmother's 100 year old rolling pin.  I so wish I had asked her to teach me to make pies the few times I saw her as a teenager.  What a wasted opportunity.  

She never wanted the handle fixed, preferring to use pressure on the handle-less end to make a perfectly round pie dough for her cherry pies..  

The cherries....finally a delightful market manager offered to call his higher end restaurant contact.  The market has a restaurant next door. I don't know if that means there are different distributors for restaurants vs grocery stores.   

Nearly a week (Thank you, Raymond, for the heads up!)  later, Dave the store manager rang to say the  package of frozen French cherries arrived.  Here's La Frutiere's  web site  Have a look.  They distribute to many countries and have an amazing selection of fruits.. 

Double double toil and trouble

Pie dough chilling in the frig, cherries happily bubbling away on the stove, what could possibly go wrong?  
Evidently everything for someone with no cherry pie making experience..

See all the lovely juice?  It refused to thicken.  I  got out the Thermapen and took its temperature.  Now here's a bit of wonkiness.

The instructions say to boil for one minute.  Cornstarch thickens fruit juices at 212 degrees F/ 100 C .  I watched the fruit boiling and watched the Thermapen degrees go up and down.  Repeatedly.

confused cartoon : Character illustration design. Girl confused cartoon,eps Illustration

I can only guess that even though the frozen fruit was fully thawed, it was still not at room temperature as fresh or canned cherries might have been.  These ultra juicy cherries released even more cold juice during cooking, and it caused  the temperature to fluctuate.  But it still refused to thicken, even when it finally reached 212F. 

Did I start out with too much juice?  

Could this cause the cornstarch to fruit and juice ratio to be off? 

Monsieur Sous Chat  would like to know

"This is not an improper, immaterial and irrelevant question."
Sous Chat likes Perry Mason

If it wasn't for the Alpha Baker FB and Hanaa's excellent suggestion, this would have been a pie disaster and big disappointment for me..   I had already followed Chowhound's  advice to add a grated and squeezed green apple for the pectin.  It helped somewhat but not enough.  The extra cornstarch Hanaa instructed me to add did the trick.

Who knew cherries have different pH levels? And that pH levels and things like acidity levels play havoc with cornstarch, let alone fresh, frozen or canned. What amazes me is all the zillions of home bakers who have churned out gorgeous cherry pies through the years with little more than a bowl and rolling pin.

Suited up in tin foil for the oven

By this time I had zero patience left to putz around with lattice.  Maybe next time it will look like proper lattice.

As for turning mid baking for even browning, didn't happen.

We favor lighter crust anyway. 

Cherry pie not Cherry Compote!
Gratefully thickened

This pie is incredible and even better the next day!.

Which is a near miracle for a first time cherry pie maker winging it with frozen cherries.

My daughter and I did have a giggle reminiscing  over the last time she baked with her grandmother.  It was cherry pie. My mom never made cherry pie, not once, but would bake anything for her cherished granddaughter.  They had so much fun baking  a pie together even if it was with canned cherry pie filling.


Turning leftover pie dough into cinnamon sugar treats.

So good with a cup of tea.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Baking Joy

This is my youngest granddaughter touching bread dough for the first time.  
"Grandma, I love you!  It is so soft!"
She was absolutely enthralled with the feel of the dough
and I was the lucky recipient of all that enthusiasm. 

Take no notice of the chocolate face


"I get to paint egg on dough?"

Sprinkling cinnamon, sugar and pecans. Raisins nixed.

Roly poly.  

She found cutting the dough with dental floss quite fun.

And then her mom came.  I quickly threw the buns in a pan and sent them to be baked at their house.  I never dreamed she would enjoy making cinnamon rolls so much.   She's baked many things with me but I have never seen this reaction before. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Caramel Buns

 This week the Alpha Bakers make Caramel Buns.  I've made cinnamon rolls in the past for my kids on
Christmas morning.
Cinnamon Rolls
  Filled with preservatives, artificial flavorings and dye, it was a rare treat.  Being able to make homemade rolls is so much better.

Book in hand, I plotted out the steps like the Panettone.  This recipe, while seeming to be complicated, actually turned out not to be complicated at all, once it was sorted through and the brunch instruction clarified by Nancy on FB.  The rolls start with a Brioche dough.

Brioche sponge blanketed with flour mixture waiting to break through like lava. 

After the first warm rise. .

Rolling and filling after an overnight stay in the frig.

Using plastic wrap to provide even tension while.rolling since I didn't have a plastic ruler.  The dough was covered in a cinnamon, brown sugar and pecan mixture.  Golden raisins.soaked in water and kalua for two days in the frig were sprinkled over the top.  (Still trying to finish off the kalua leftover from Heavenly Cake days.)  They were nice and plump and had such a mild flavor. During the reduction of the raisin syrup I added a half tablespoon of Lyle's Golden Syrup.  It significantly enriched the flavor.

                                                        Proofed and ready for the oven.

                                               Waiting for the delectable raisin butter glaze.

                       Drizzled with the decadent caramel sauce and adorned with toasted pecans,  we sprinkled a bit of sea salt.  It really set off the caramel.

                      Pillsbury  may have lost a  cinnamon roll customer but gained a bread flour one..  So far everyone who has tried them can't believe the caramel.

The Baking Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Rosemary Focaccia

First Bread Bible Bake

The Bread Bible Alpha Bakers launched this week with rosemary focaccia.
The first time I tasted focaccia was in San Francisco at a little pizzeria on Green Street.  Huge pans of pizza in the window stopped us in our tracks.  

Golden Boy Pizza

The combinations were not the typical with or without mushroom choices.  This was back in 1980, before pesto was a household name.
Inside people stood knee deep eating  pizza.  Every stool was taken, all three tables filled. Behind the counter the pizza maker kneaded dough.  He was crammed among pans, sacks of flour and  proofing buckets with barely enough room to turn around. .

One bite and  we were forever ruined.  
Pizza would never be the same.

Edging our way through the crowd we asked the man what kind of pizza we were eating... 


Never heard of it.  He was a gregarious fountain of information.  Many questions later, we learned just about everything there was to know about focaccia.  For instance, fog in San Francisco directly affects the quality of the dough.  Hot days ruin it.  The foggier the day, the better the focaccia.  

 The guy was hilarious.  Is there anything more infectious than someone who is passionate about their work?

That was what,  thirty five years ago?  We still risk life and limb, navigating the car up the steepest hills in SF.  It's a game of  jockeying for a double parked space, jump out, run in and grab pizza to go.

Sunday was the day to try my hand at making focaccia.  First step,  poaching garlic in warm olive oil.  Honestly, it didn't seem like much was happening until I tasted a clove.  It  was mild and didn't have that sharp bite.

Mixing up the dough taxed a twenty five year old Kitchen Aid.   Soon a giant lump of dough resembling mozzarella wrapped around the paddle. 

So far, so good.

 The stretchy dough was peeled then placed into an oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap and shut away in the microwave for four hours,  Thankfully it more than doubled in less than the required time.  

Turned onto an oiled half sheet pan, it was left to rise for another hour.   I  decided not to use the garlic cloves, afraid of deflating the bubbles.  In fact, I was leery of stretching the dough at all.

More garlic oil drizzled over the top with chopped rosemary, sea salt and into the oven.

I was stunned to open the oven door and see golden focaccia.

The first slice revealed a light and airy bread.  I learned from reading that focaccia is the highest of the Italian flatbreads.  So different than commercial focaccia .And surprisingly easy to make. 

A quick batch of pesto and we were in business!


Nothing short of a yeast miracle.  

Years ago I followed Marie's Breadbasketcase  chronicles and felt quite envious there wasn't a bake along.  My Bread Bible book had been sitting on a shelf for years.  I read it like fiction.    

Making the Baking Bible Swedish Apricot Bread  planted a seed.  When I posed the question to the Alpha Bakers FB group in reply to Michele's question about bread shape during baking, there was instant enthusiasm.  Not a tech person, I knew there was no way I could host such a thing.  Luckily, Glori is. She picked up the torch and ran with it.  Plus it turns out she has hidden talents.  Being a professional photographer,  she set up a beautiful blog for all our Bread Bible adventures. 

 Here we are less than a month later going full steam ahead!  It's going to be a yeasty learning curve for the next few years.  Safe to say we are excited  for the challenge.

Released in 2003,  The Bread Bible is still in print and available to buy  on Amazon, Barnes and Noble  and Alibris .along with Rose Levy Beranbaum's other baking and cooking books.  

Sunday, March 1, 2015


Hamantaschen  (watch this if you want to hear the correct pronunciation) cookies are delightful little bursts of flavor encased in a sweet buttery cookie crust to celebrate Purim.  Purim is a momentous celebration in the Jewish faith honoring Esther for foiling the nasty Haman's evil plot back in 473 B.C.

The annual Jewish Food festival is filled with scrumptious treats so I was looking forward to making these cookies.

The Baking Bible recipe offers a choice of poppy seed, apricot or prune filling.  I chose all three, halving each recipe.  It was quite soothing mixing up each batch.  The dough is mixed together in a food processor, kneaded a bit and chilled.

It is then rolled, cut in circles, rimmed with an egg wash, stuffed with filling and pinched into three corners, creating the traditional  Hamantaschen shape for a final brush with egg wash.  Luckily my clumsy shapes didn't affect the delicious cookies.

Don't they look like they are ready to party?

After a final quick chill off they went to the oven.  While still warm,  those with poppy seed filling are given a brush with apricot.preserves, which have been brought to the boil, strained and showered with lemon zest.  Trader Joe's organic apricot jam never tasted so good..

                          Time for tea and Hamantaschens. And maybe watch Nicky's Family again.  Truly an  inspiring story, very much like Esther's.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lemon Posset Shortcakes

                               This week the Alpha Bakers made Lemon Posset Shortcakes, which are genoise cakes with a  creamy Meyer lemon topping.  And since forever, I have had horrible luck with genoise.

So it was not with excitement that I began The Bake this week. Still, how can anyone be cranky when these beauties are in season?

Meyer lemons are a cross between a lemon and common orange or mandarin. Grown in pots as ornamental trees in China, they were brought to the United States in 1908 by Frank Meyer during a trip with the United States Department of Agriculture.  

Thank you Frank!  

But it was Alice Walters and Martha Stewart who popularized the lovely, mild lemons in the late 1990's.  For being such delicate things, they are a hearty tree that yields fruit within four years after planted from seed.  They are capable of producing thousands of lemons.  I know one thing, they have vicious spikes to protect their fruit.  

Years ago we transplanted a Meyer lemon tree from a lady who was determined to chop it down.  Nothing could persuade her otherwise, not even a batch of Rose's lemon curd, which she loved.  The neighbor agreed to let us move it next door to my mother in law's former home.  It lost its leaves and a harsh below freezing cold snap threatened its very existence.  And then it burst into bloom.  It was truly one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.  The scent was glorious. 

  They can even be grown indoors.  

Ramekins for the genoise sponge cakes which worked well.  They turned out easily. 

                Unexpected surprise!  This time they didn't have any flour balls and rose to a good height. Out of Baker's spray, I used coconut spray oil and dusted with the Wondra flour.

Once cooled,  a very sharp knife easily cut out the tops to hold the cream, thanks to Monica's posting on Facebook.  I missed seeing that bit in the book.  This is what is incredibly helpful about the Alpha Bakers FB page; helping to avert disaster..

Brushed with lemon syrup and then sealed with apple jelly, they were ready for the Lemon Posset which had been chilling in the refrigerator, separating into two layers.

The l-o-n-g wait was finally over.  Well, it wasn't really because they were supposed to set in the frig between the first layering of the thicker Posset and the second layer of the thinner Posset, but I missed that part, too.  I also missed the instruction not to use the watery Posset at the very bottom of the dish and happily spooned it over the top and down the sides. The presentation wasn't as professional looking but it didn't matter.  They tasted like an upscale Twinkie with the most amazing exquisite lemon cream.  This is definitely on the Make Again list but next time, no fiddling about with individual ramekins.  Too many requests for seconds!