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Best Ever Crumble Bars

19 Sep

Same stuff, different URL!

I have moved to: harvette.com

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About four years ago I came across a recipe for “Apricot Crumbles” in Real Simple magazine. I pulled it out and I’ve used it about a million times since then, though oddly enough never using apricot of any sort.

Though the original recipe calls for pre-made apricot jam with a teaspoon of fresh grated ginger added, this is an excellent base recipe for crumble bars that can adapt to any fruit filling you are currently inspired by. If you have about 3/4-1 cup (sometimes I like more filling) of your favorite jam, preserves or fruit compote, you can use it in this recipe. In fact, you could even skip the vanilla extract and cut back on a most of the sugar in the crust to go with a smaller amount of a more savory filling, like hot pepper jam or jelly for instance. Serve the finished crumble bar with a dollop of goat cheese or greek yogurt and that would probably taste divine!

Some of the combinations I’ve made in the past: raspberry jam with added cardamom and cinnamon, french blueberry preserves (the most expensive filling ever, at $10 a jar!), homemade apple cinnamon jam, homemade apple-cranberry jam… and the most recent one featured in this post: homemade blueberry-cherry jam with ginger and cinnamon.

I wish I could share the recipe for the blueberry-cherry jam, but it was really more of a “I want to make crumble bars, don’t have any pre-made jams on hand, let’s raid the frozen fresh fruit I have in the freezer” situation. If you’ve read any other post on this blog, you know I like to experiment and I’m also unfortunately (for YOU and ME!) bad at measuring when I get into experimentation mode. I threw a bunch of frozen blueberries and frozen cherries into a pot over medium heat and let them defrost. Then I added  sugar, powdered ginger and cinnamon and brought it to a boil, then let it bubble away for about 10 minutes. Came out very tasty and I even have left overs!

The recipe calls for using a food processor to blend all the ingredients. This is so that the cold butter is incorporated into the flour quickly, with minimal heat so that the butter stays cold  (same technique used for pie crust and other similar pastries) while it’s blended into the flour mixture.  I’ve never used a food processor until this most recent instance of making them. I didn’t really enjoy using the food processor this time – either my processor blades are dull or the processor is just a bit too small for this recipe, because I had a bit of a hard time getting the egg and vanilla (added at the very end) into the rest of the dough mixture.

Many years ago I learned a technique for blending cold butter into flour quickly from a Cook’s Illustrated article about making biscuits – it involves using just the very tips of your fingers to rub small chunks of the butter into the flour very quickly, flinging the pieces back into the bowl, never letting the butter warm up in your hands. It doesn’t really take much more time than a food processor, especially once you’ve done it a few times, and I think it’s important and fun to learn how to do these things by hand. It helps you understand how the ingredients you are using work together to make the desired end result.

To each their own though! I left the instructions for the food processor in the recipe because I can imagine that is how most people will make them.

Best Ever Crumble Bars

  • 1 3/4 sticks butter, cold, cut into pieces (I use salted, if you use unsalted add 1/2 teaspoon salt)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 – 1 cup of your favorite jam, preserves or fruit compote

Heat oven to 375° F. Grease an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking oil spray.

In a food processor, combine the flour, white and brown sugars, baking powder, and salt if needed. Pulse to combine.

Add the butter and pulse until crumbly. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and pulse until the mixture just comes together but is still crumbly. Transfer 3/4 cup of the dough to a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Use your fingertips to press the remaining dough evenly into the baking dish, pushing the dough up about 1/4 inch around the edges.

Spread the fruit mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble the remaining refrigerated dough over the top.

Bake until golden, about 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes before cutting.

Buttermilk Cheese Fail

18 Aug

Same stuff, different URL!

I have moved to: harvette.com

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Part 2 of a two-part series: Making butter, then using the buttermilk left over to make cheese.

So, first things first: was making all that butter, just to get the buttermilk leftover, worth it? No, not really. I didn’t get very much cheese and it wasn’t worth the hours of effort I put into it – so I do have to chalk this idea up to a FAIL. The butter at least turned out great.

I also experienced a fail when it comes to the photos I took during this process. Most of them came out too dark to even share. I was using my iPhone, so what should have I expected? Not much, I guess.

This is the second time I’ve made cheese from a recipe that didn’t require cheese cultures of any sort – both times this has resulted in a cheese texture and taste that I did not like nor did I anticipate. I can’t completely blame this on the recipes or processes included with these recipes – it might just be that, due to my already making more complex cheeses at home, I was expecting a lot more than a cheese made without real cultures can produce.

Thus, no more cheese making without cheese cultures. Culture has a place, and that place is in the cheese made in my kitchen!

That said, this cheese isn’t bad. It’s a mild, sweet, curdy cheese very similar to ricotta cheese. In fact, I can’t really think of much to DO with the cheese, other than use it like ricotta. Problem is that it’s summer and I don’t feel like making or eating heavy pasta dishes.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the buttermilk left after making butter is not like the cultured buttermilk you buy at the store. It’s not something you could even use in recipes to substitute for buttermilk, as it’s not cultured. If you wanted to use it in a recipe you would have to add a teaspoon or two of apple cider vinegar to it. You could also substitute it for regular milk in most recipes.

The buttermilk is sweet tasting and is very similar to plain whole milk. In removing butter from the cream, I removed butterfat – so I basically made cream into milk. I’m a kitchen alchemist that way!

This cheese is such a fail that I won’t go into much detail about what I did to make it, as I would not recommend anyone go through the trouble of: 1) making enough butter to get a good amount of buttermilk; 2) making this particular cheese with the left over milk.

The general idea was that I let the buttermilk heat up to 160 degrees. It started forming curds when it hit 120 degrees, so I had no problems there.

After it hit 180, I took it off the heat and started spooning the curds into cheese cloth I had laid out in a colander. The rest of the process, hanging and draining the whey, was the same as the process I described in my blog post all about making soft cheese.

I still have the cheese in the fridge, it will probably be good until this weekend… so, if you have any recipe ideas for about 1 cup of ricotta-like cheese, I’m open to suggestions!

Cardamom Allspice Simple Syrup

17 Aug

Same stuff, different URL!

I have moved to: harvette.com

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In case you’re worried about my lack of posting in the past week, I can assure you that I have a large backlog of half-written posts just waiting to be finished. It may appear as if I went on a blog hiatus, but in reality I’ve been on a “finishing blog pots” hiatus! I’ve been busy doing a lot of yard work this past week (a post about that coming soon!) and also had a busy, fun weekend filled with friends and canoeing, plus much needed recovery time spent on the couch relaxing.

Anyway, Saturday morning, before doing yard work and getting ready to head out to a fabulous housewarming party, I whipped up a batch of simple syrup. I’ve been using a cardamom ginger flavored simple syrup in my iced coffee all summer long. I made it last winter as a potential base for homemade liqueur (something I WILL get into again this winter and, I’m sure, post about quite a lot!). While the syrup tasted incredible, it wasn’t quite what I was planning for a liqueur… so, I added just a touch of vodka as a preservative, bottled it and it sat in my fridge until June, when I had the good idea of adding a touch to my coffee. YUM. Best idea ever!

I ran out of this syrup last week and wanted to re-create it, but also wanted to play around with the flavors a bit. I initially intended to do cardamom and cinnamon, but couldn’t find cinnamon sticks reasonably priced anywhere. I’m sure they will start showing up in the next few weeks, due to the upcoming fall season (which is my favorite, by the way), but since I wanted the syrup now I altered my plans.

Cardamom Allspice Simple Syrup:

Yield: about 10 oz of syrup

  • 1 cup of sugar (normally white – for this one I used light brown sugar, I like the flavor it lends to the syrup)
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 teaspoon whole all spice
  • 7 cardamom pods (or small amounts of any whole spices that inspire you – I used about 1 tablespoon of fresh grated ginger in the “Cardamom Ginger” syrup)

Crush the cardamom and the allspice with the back of a spoon. The cardamom pods just need to be partially broken, enough so that some of the seeds come out. The allspice should be broken into a few smaller pieces… this crushing process helps the flavor intensity of your syrup.

In a small pot, add sugar (packed brown sugar makes a very attractive scoop in your pot!) and water. Stir and then add the spices.

Bring to a boil over medium heat and then allow to simmer (not full boil, we aren’t making candy here) for about 10 minutes. You can let it boil 15 minutes if you want the syrup on the thicker side, which I personally like.

Remove from heat, allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then strain into a glass jar or other glass container. I used a gold filter coffee strainer set inside a jam funnel – those two esoteric kitchen implements see quite a lot of use in my kitchen, often not at all for their intended purposes!

filtering brown sugar simple syrup

Making Butter

8 Aug

Same stuff, different URL!

I have moved to: harvette.com

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Part 1 of a two-part series: I’m making butter, then using the buttermilk left over to make cheese.

My kitchen was a butter-coated disaster after making FOUR batches of homemade butter Saturday afternoon. The batches were defined by the amount of heavy cream my trusty stand mixer could turn into butter at one time – this amount turned out to be 1 quart of cream per batch. I started with 1 gallon of heavy cream and ended up with 1 lb and 13oz of butter.

I wish I could say that I took pictures during the process, but it was too much of a mess! I took pictures of the mess instead. Making butter is easy and one single batch is not much to complain about – but after making batch after batch butter started falling on the counters, the floor, it was on my hands, I accidentally stepped on some and every utensil in the kitchen was dirty. Oh and  that one time I started checking facebook while the mixer was going and HEY! the butter was done earlier than I expected; I lost a bit of buttermilk due to it sloshing all over the place.

However, I really enjoyed it. At one point, while I was cleaning a huge chunk of butter, with my (clean) hands, in a large bowl of iced water, I realized that working at a small scale creamery would be awesome. I love making dairy products and I find all of the processes involved, plus the science behind it, fascinating. Sure, even a small scale creamery uses a more effective process to wash the butter than just hands and iced water (I should have used the blender or food processor, but was too lazy to drag either out), but it would still be fun.

I’m not going to go into too much of a description of making butter, it really is very easy.

Whip heavy cream in a standing mixer (or with a hand mixer, or even shake the cream in a jar) until it goes though it’s various states: frothy, whipped cream, really whipped cream, butter.

Plus others have already explained the process. Here are a few links I found helpful in my process:

How to Make Butter @ Omnomicon – The first time I made butter I followed Aleta’s directions!

Cooking for Engineers – Making Butter

Butter through the ages – lots of good background info here

The butter tastes great. Thus far I’ve used it to cook with, on homemade bread (homemade butter on homemade bread!) and on toast. I’ll probably eventually use a lot of it to bake with – I left it all unsalted and froze it so that it would stay fresh.

I did end up with the buttermilk I need to start on part 2: making buttermilk cheese. I didn’t measure the amount of buttermilk I ended up with – though I know I could have been more efficient in the process and ended up with more. This was supposed to be fun though, so I didn’t worry about it! In the next part of this series I’ll talk about the cheese I made with this buttermilk: