Thursday, December 16, 2010
Today I portioned out my second batch of Amish Friendship Bread starter. I’d been doing some research online to find out what I might do with the extra portions rather than giving them away again–I thought, it’s sourdough starter. Surely there are interesting things for me to do with sourdough starter. Bread. Pancakes. Coffee cake. All I needed were some basic recipes to start with.
Well. As it turns out, there are many different types of sourdough starter and many different things to do with each of them. There is a feud within the bread-baking community (yes, there is a feud within the bread-baking community) about whether an authentic sourdough starter can include live yeast, or if it needs to be developed solely from a flour and water base that’s allowed to ferment au naturale. And then, in a completely different category, there’s the sweet sourdough starter–like the one I’ve been tending for the past few weeks. Its name is Herman.
I kid you not. It’s called a Herman starter, and it’s used to make Herman Bread and Herman Coffee Cake, among other things. I find this highly amusing for several reasons.
1. It has a proper name.
2. Its name is Herman.
3. My grandfather’s name was also Herman.
4. My grandfather ran a dairy farm, and one of the things that distinguishes a Herman starter from other types is its use of milk, not water.
5. Herman! Seriously, how could that not be amusing?
I decided the least I could do was try a batch of the bread, if only to honor my grandfather’s memory. (I never met him, though apparently I flew from Idaho to Minnesota with my mother when I was two years old and attended his funeral–a fact she brought up every time I complained that I’d never been on an airplane.)
Herman, in spite of its charming name, is a pretty basic yeast bread. You’ll need a cup of the Friendship Bread starter (here‘s a recipe, if you don’t have any on hand–though it needs to ferment for 10 days, so you’ll have to delay your baking for awhile if you’re starting from this point), a packet of yeast, and lots of flour. It needs to rise twice–once in the mixing bowl, once in the loaf pan. Find a nice warm, draft-free place for your bread dough to hang out while it’s rising. I have a built-in microwave over my oven that I never use because it’s so powerful, it burns everything. Instead, I use the microwave as a warming drawer–the lightbulb inside keeps everything toasty warm with the door open just a crack, and if I’m pre-heating while the bread is rising, all the heat from the oven collects in the overhead compartment.
And remember, always proof your yeast before you start baking–dissolve it in warm water and watch for bubbles to form around the edges. Yeast, like childhood memories of air travel, won’t last forever.
1 packet active dry yeast (.25 ounce)
1 cup warm water
1 cup Herman starter
3 T. vegetable oil
3 to 4 cups flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp. salt
Dissolve the yeast in the water and watch for small bubbles to form around the edges. When bubbles begin to form, stir the yeast mixture into the Herman starter and add the vegetable oil. Add the flour 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. Keep adding flour until the dough holds together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. (You may need to add more than 4 cups of flour--that's fine.)
Dust a countertop or cutting board with more flour. Turn the dough out on this surface and knead it for about 10 minutes, until the dough is springy and elastic. Coat the inside of a large bowl with cooking spray and place the dough in the bottom. Turn to coat the dough with oil. Place a towel over the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm place until it doubles in size (about an hour, more or less, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.)
When the dough has risen, turn it out on the floured surface again. Shape the dough into a loaf; coat a loaf pan with cooking spray and settle the dough inside. Cover the pan with the towel and return it to the designated rising place until the dough has doubled in size again.
While the dough is rising for a second time, pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. After it has risen a second time, bake the loaf for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is deep brown.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
When The Hubs and I were married–almost exactly 22 years ago now–all four of his grandparents were still living. I found that pretty remarkable, considering that I’d long since lost all of my grandparents. Within the first few years of our marriage, though, three of them passed away. I didn’t get the chance to know either of his grandfathers very well, but I loved his grandma, Florence. She enjoyed cooking, and she contributed several of her favorite recipes to our family cookbook. I’ve been toying with the idea of trying her cream puff recipe–I’m not quite brave enough to try it yet–but, finding myself with a surplus of Rice Krispies after making last week’s Skillet Cookies, I decided to make a batch of her famous Crunch Cookies instead. (Famous within the family, anyway.)
The fact that this recipe includes coconut is, of course, a big plus in my book. But even if you’re not a coconut lover, I think you’ll enjoy these cookies–they’re crackled and crunchy on top, chewy in the middle, and their texture is a mixture of those two. You’ll get lots of crunching pleasure from the Rice Krispies and almonds, which compliments the chewiness that comes from the coconut and oats. (The almonds are my addition to this recipe, as is the almond extract. Toast the almonds in a skillet for three or four minutes, until you can smell them, but get them out of the skillet quickly so they don’t burn.)
This is a pretty basic cookie recipe, with one exception: when you’re creaming together the butter, sugar and eggs, leave the mixer going on high speed for three or four minutes. Over-beating this mixture is what gives the cookies their crackly surface after they’re baked.
One final note: this will be the last recipe for sweet treats that I plan to post for awhile (or, at least, until I start thinking about dessert for our Christmas Eve dinner in a couple of weeks.) Even my well-conditioned sweet tooth is a little tired of the holiday goodies. I’m sure yours is too.
Grandma's Crunch Cookies
1 stick butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 cup oatmeal
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups Rice Krispies
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 cup chopped, toasted almonds
Combine the butter, eggs, sugars, oil, and extracts in a large mixing bowl. Let the mixer run at high speed for three or four minutes, until everything is very well combined. While it's beating, combine the oats, flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Stir the dry ingredients to combine.
Turn off the mixer and stir in the dry ingredients by hand with a large spoon. When the dry mixture has been incorporated, stir in the Rice Krispies, coconut and almonds, mixing just until combined. Allow the dough to chill for about 30 minutes before baking the cookies.
When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use an ice cream scoop to drop the dough on a cookie sheet; flatten each scoop of dough just slightly, using the palm of your hand. Bake the cookies for 10 minutes or until they're golden brown around the edges.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
I think every adult of a certain generation has a story that involves receiving an orange in their Christmas stocking–sometimes accompanied by a few walnuts, sometimes not–and being infinitely grateful for that holiday treat. My mother, Maxine, is one of those adults. Growing up in Minnesota, she didn’t see oranges very often; her Christmas orange was a kind of miracle, having traveled a significant distance to get to her. She tells the story of returning to school after Christmas and sitting behind a classmate in their one-room schoolhouse, smelling the orange that girl was eating for lunch and wishing it was hers, but knowing she wouldn’t taste an orange for at least another year. (My father, who grew up in such abject poverty that it’s hardly imaginable, probably didn’t have so much as an orange in his stocking, if he had a stocking at all.)
My husband’s grandmother, Joyce, grew up in Florida, so oranges were no novelty for her–they were a source of income for her family. She and her mother picked oranges and strawberries all year long. Often, she worked instead of going to school. It’s possible she picked my mother’s annual orange, or perhaps the one that classmate was eating. Not likely, but possible.
So oranges are an important part of our family’s history. At Christmas, we use a silver bowl filled with oranges as our centerpiece. (The photo with this post is from last year’s Christmas table.) They remind us to be thankful to the hard-working people who went before us, and to be grateful for the fact that we can afford to eat an orange anytime we want one. That bowl was given to us by Joyce, who grew up to make a small fortune in real estate and to own quite a number of lovely things. I admired that bowl in her china cabinet once, and not long afterward she wrapped it up and sent it to me. I consider that bowl to be one of the most precious things I own.
Along with the bowl of oranges, I try to use orange, both the flavor and the color, as a theme in our Christmas Eve dinner. (We eat our big meal on Christmas Eve, then take it easy with a brunch after present-opening on Christmas day.) In the past I’ve made a cheddar cheese souffle, glazed carrots, roasted sweet potatoes, chicken with orange-apricot glaze, cheesecake with peach topping; usually we crack open a bottle of Italian blood orange soda to toast the holiday as well. I try not to serve a monochromatic meal, but orange is always the featured attraction.
Now that classes are finished for the semester and only finals stand between me and the holiday break, I’ve started thinking about what this year’s dinner might look like. Any suggestions, dear readers? Do you have favorite recipes (or ideas) that might make a new contribution to The Orange Meal? Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments section–or to share your own holiday food traditions.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Perhaps you are one of those unfortunate few who don’t care for coconut. Let me just say that I feel your pain, because I used to be one of you. Then a funny thing happened: I got pregnant with my second child. Suddenly, and for reasons that are still a mystery to me, the only thing that sounded appealing was coconut. (With my first child, the object of my cravings was–I kid you not–aerosol cheese. Specifically, the bacon/cheddar flavor. Thankfully, that craving subsided after The Girl was born and my taste buds decided to start functioning again.)
My passion for coconut stuck with me after The Boy arrived, much to the amusement of my sister (a bona fide coconut addict). She makes the most luscious Skillet Cookies every Christmas, but for years I didn’t appreciate them. In fact, I turned my nose up at their coconutty exterior and refused to even try one. So imagine her surprise when I finally popped one into my mouth, rolled my eyes in ecstasy, and said, “Oh, man. These are so, so good.”
If you don’t like coconut–well, let me just say right now that I’m so sorry for you, because the people who keep saying that you don’t know what you’re missing? They’re right. Absolutely right. Some versions of the Skillet Cookie recipe call for rolling the cooked mixture in powdered sugar rather than coconut, so I suppose you could go that route if you really want to. But you might just give both recipes a try and see what you think. As I tell my children (repeatedly), people change. Taste buds change. They age and mellow and learn to appreciate the finer things in life.
Taste buds also learn that, in the words of food writer Michael Pollan, “the banquet is in the first bite.” This, I think, was the inspiration behind Key Lime Pie Drops, which anticipate the fact that you might adore Key lime pie, but not so much what it does to your waistline (which also, sadly, ages and mellows.) These treats will let you enjoy the taste of your beloved dessert without limiting your holiday wardrobe options too severely.
The same cannot be said of Skillet Cookies. But you know my motto: all good things in moderation.
Except, perhaps, for coconut.
2 sticks butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups chopped dates
2 eggs, beaten
2 T. milk
1/2 cup chopped pecans
4 cups Rice Krispies
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups shredded coconut, for coating the cookies
Melt the butter in a large skillet. Whisk in the sugar, then add the chopped dates. Boil this mixture, stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn, until thickened and bubbly.
Turn off the heat while you combine the beaten eggs and milk with a whisk. Add the egg mixture to the skillet all at once, stirring constantly, so the egg doesn’t scramble before it’s incorporated into the hot sugar. Bring the contents of the skillet to a boil once again and cook for 2 more minutes.
Turn off the heat and stir in the nuts, Rice Krispies and vanilla. Let the mixture cool slightly, then drop by teaspoons (or use a melon baller, for more evenly proportioned cookies) into the shredded coconut. Roll to cover them in this heavenly matter and chill until firm.
Store these in the refrigerator, in a covered container. Assuming you have any left to store, that is.
Key Lime Pie Drops
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 4 whole graham crackers)
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
2 T. Key lime juice
2 tsp. grated Key lime rind
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup shredded coconut
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
In a large mixing bowl, combine the first five ingredients. Add half a cup of the coconut and mix well. Add the powdered sugar in small amounts (about 1/2 cup at a time), beating until combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for at least 20 minutes.
Shape this mixture into balls (use about 1 teaspoon, or use a melon baller for more even portions.) Roll the balls in the remaining coconut, pressing down lightly so it will stick.
Store these in the refrigerator as well. They won’t keep for more than a day or so, but I seriously doubt you’ll find this to be a problem.
Friday, December 3, 2010
One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is that it gives us all an excuse to eat the things we love in the name of the people we love. I grew up in a house where plates loaded with treats were exchanged with friends and neighbors in the weeks before Christmas. My mom’s cream cheese fudge was legendary in our neighborhood, but my personal favorite was the divinity we received every year from her hair stylist, Mary Jo. (My mom tried to make her own divinity one year, apparently, and wound up with clumps of candy on the kitchen ceiling. “And that was the end of that,” she said.)
To my mind, Christmas is cookie season. And, since bars fall into the cookie category, I’m going to kick off cookie season with another of my Christmas favorites: Magic Bars. Also known as Seven Layer Bars, they’re incredibly easy, very rich and very sweet. They’re the perfect treat for once-a-year baking. There’s almost no way to ruin them—hence the name—because you’re basically just melting all the ingredients together and cutting that mixture into small portions. They’re chewy and crunchy and, be forewarned, completely addictive.
Before you get started baking, crush the graham crackers and toast the coconut. Crush the crackers by putting them in a plastic bag with a zippered top; run a rolling pin back and forth over the bag until you have fine crumbs. (Or you can use a food processor, if you’re a high-tech kitchenista.) Toast the coconut either in the oven or on the stovetop. If you’re using the oven, spread the coconut on a cookie sheet in a single layer; toast the coconut at 300 degrees for about 20 minutes, stirring once in a while until it’s evenly browned. To toast it on the stovetop, spread the coconut in the bottom of a skillet and toast over medium heat, stirring occasionally. The coconut with toast more evenly in the oven, although that process takes a little longer.
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 8 whole graham crackers, crushed)
1 stick of butter, melted
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup chopped pecans
1 ½ cups flaked coconut
1/3 cup toasted coconut
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter with a fork. Place the buttered crumbs in a 9 x 13 inch baking pan and spread them out with your fingers to create a thin, even graham cracker base for the bars. Press down firmly and make sure the base goes all the way into the corners of the pan.
Sprinkle the chocolate chips and butterscotch chips over the graham crackers, making sure you get them all the way out to the edges and in the corners. Press down gently so the chips are slightly embedded in the graham cracker crumbs. Sprinkle the flaked coconut and pecans over the chips (again, getting them all the way out to the edges and in the corners.) Pour the sweetened condensed milk evenly over everything.
Bake for 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Sprinkle the toasted coconut over the hot bars. Let them cool completely before you try to cut them. In fact, refrigerating them for 20 minutes or so after they've cooled to room temperature will encourage the bars to hold together while you're cutting them and removing them from the pan. Let them return to room temperature before serving.