Tag Archives: baking

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.

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Pumpkin Cookies

23 Aug

Same stuff, different URL!

I have moved to: harvette.com

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You could almost consider these cookies a quick bread in cookie disguise. Because of this they are great as a snack any time of the day – due to their muffiny texture, you can even eat them in the morning with your coffee and not feel guilty about having cookies for breakfast. Any cookie that tastes incredible AND doesn’t make me feel guilty is a winner in my book.

Many people make a version of pumpkin cookies in the fall – I’ve tried many variations on this recipe made by others, but I have to admit to enjoying my version of this recipe the most. These are moist without being too sticky on the outside of the cookie, light and airy and not dense and lumpy… all things I’ve experienced with other recipes. They also pair incredibly with dark chocolate – either in the form of  dark chocolate chips added to the batter or melted down and drizzled over top. I’ve also edited the spice mixture from what you would find on most recipes. I nixed nutmeg altogether (as I’ve mentioned before, it’s the most evil of all spices) and added ginger and cardamom, two spices that should be included in any fall spiced dessert!

I do caution you against making these on a humid day – because it seems that no matter what recipe you use, they are going to be sticky. Humid days aren’t for baking anyway, they’re for relaxing on a deck someplace with a glass of fruity sangria.

Note: This is a very sticky batter. Having a cookie scoop is incredibly useful for these cookies. I would not suggest buying one JUST for this recipe, but if you make cookies often and don’t already own one, or more, you should pick one up at your nearest kitchen store!

Pumpkin Cookies

With optional sugar glaze

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For optional glaze:

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, and salt.

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and white sugar. Add pumpkin, egg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla to butter mixture, and mix until creamy.

Mix in dry ingredients, just until all flour is incorporated.

Drop onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet by the tablespoon. Having a cookie scoop is incredibly helpful when making these cookies.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven. Cool cookies on cookie sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to completely cool.

For the glaze: whisk the sugar and cinnamon together to combine. Slowly add very small amounts of  warm water (1-2 teaspoons to start) to the mixture until it just reaches a drizzle consistency. I brush my glaze on with a pastry brush, so the whole cookie is covered.

Time to Bake the Granola!

7 Aug

Same stuff, different URL!

I have moved to: harvette.com

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I’ve only made homemade granola once before today, last summer during one of my “gluten free” stints: it turned out OK but I promptly turned it into granola bars that were not very tasty. They tasted very “healthy” and not in a good way. I brought them to a party, no one really ate them (except for the “pity tries”) and I wasn’t very surprised. Those got mostly tossed.

I eat granola on a daily basis – at least one meal each day consists of greek yogurt, granola, raw nuts, a bit of honey or a bit of raspberry jam. This has been one of my favorite meals for years and it’s very often my lunch at work. I normally shell out the big bucks for small containers of healthy granolas that are high on nutrients and low on sugar and other uneeded crap.

So, with my granola recipe I was looking for something versatile that I could add nuts or dried fruit to – this time I’m using pecans and dried cranberries, my current favorite combo (another recent favorite is almonds and dried apricots). I read through a number of recipes before deciding to just make up my own recipe this morning – it turned out great, so I’ll share it with you! And just in case you were wondering, Ruby waited on the back deck while I cooked in the kitchen.

Granola

Yields about 6 1/2 cups, fit into a 7 cup container perfectly

NOTE: Due to the fact that my pecans got a little dark, I think I’ll wait until the last 5-10 minutes of cooking time to mix those in next time.

I used:

  • 5 cups rolled oats (not quick cooking)
  • 1 cup pecan halves broken up into smaller pieces
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons canola or other cooking oil
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare a very large cookie sheet or baking tray by spraying it with non-stick spray.

In a small sauce pan mix the liquid and spice ingredients: honey, brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, salt, and canola oil. Cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the sugar melts and the mixture just begins to bubble around the edges. It will smell AWESOME. Remove from heat to cool just a bit.

Measure the oats and break up the pecans, mixing them into the oats. Slowly pour the sugar mixture over the oat mixture, stirring with a rubber spatula – though, like me, you may find it easier to just stir with your hands, to ensure everything is evenly coated!

Turn out the entire mixture onto your prepared cookie sheet. My cookie sheet was FULL, so I patted it down and smoothed out the top.

Cook for about 30 minutes (the longer you cook it, the crunchier it will be), stirring it around at least once or twice. You may find it easier to remove the pan from the oven to stir the mixture around – my pan was so full I didn’t want to risk oats all over the bottom of my oven.

Once the mixture is browned to your liking (at 30 minutes the granola was perfectly crunchy for me, but most of the pecans were too browned for my liking), take out and place on a wire rack until completely cool.

Once cool, put into a storage container and mix in the dried cranberries. This should keep indefinitely in the fridge – but I’m going to try keeping it out of the fridge in an attempt to ensure it stays very crunchy.

Beer Yeast Bread Starter

2 Aug

Same stuff, different URL!

I have moved to: harvette.com

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Every loaf of bread around here is made with a matured starter. Experience has taught me that a starter is the key ingredient to any bread  made at home; the starter imparts a better taste and texture than just throwing a bunch of active dry yeast into your dough, letting it rise twice, and baking it a few hours later. If you don’t have a starter, then at the very least let your dough hang out in the fridge for a few days – when you taste the difference you won’t be sorry you had to wait so long! Of course, I should also say that I’ve taken no bread making class, everything I’ve learned is from my own personal experience along with a lot of cookbook and internet reading about bread, yeast, starters and baking.

A friend who recently graduated from pastry school shared with me that her teacher specifically instructed the class “never use beer yeast for baking!” Oops, haven’t even been to culinary school and I’m already breaking the rules! The bread pictured above is made with yeast from a bottle of Ommegang Rare Vos.

One of my favorite kitchen experimentations over the last year has been playing around with beer yeast bread starters. To clarify, for all you home brewers out there, this is not taking a packet of White Labs ale yeast and dumping it into a bowl with flour and water. My process involves harvesting the yeast left at the bottom of a bottle conditioned beer. You will want to use the yeast from a beer that is lower on hops, as a higher the hop content will produce a bitter bread (however, totally random idea that just occured – hoppy beer, rye flour, a few caraway seeds… fantastically bitter bread?). You also probably want to do this from a bottle no one has been drinking directly from, just in the name of sanitation and all that.

Beer yeast bread starters lend a slightly sour-dough taste (the longer you keep the starter alive, the more sour the bread will be, in a GOOD way), though the starter does not impart any particular beer flavor (you could use beer as part of the liquid in your bread for that). I’m not looking to add beer flavor to my bread, with these starters I want the matured yeast flavor… the funkier and sourer the yeast flavor the better, in my opinion.

This isn’t quite a recipe, more like a method. I tend to wing it when it comes to almost everything in the kitchen, but I’ve got this process down to some specific measurements by now. If you try this I would LOVE to hear about your results! At the end of the post I’ll share some of the beers that have yielded successful starters.

Beer Yeast Bread Starter

Ingredients:

  • Bottle conditioned beer – you want to use yeast from a bomber (22 oz, 750 ml or thereabouts) . See note below regarding my experiences with certain beers.
  • 60 grams unbleached flour (or bread flour)
  • 1/2 cup luke warm water (run the water against your wrist, if it feels neither hot or cold, it’s the right temp)
  • 1-2 teaspoons of honey (optional – sometimes can help get a slow yeast going)

1. It goes without saying, you want to pour off beer from the bottle carefully. This is a fairly normal process used by beer drinkers, so that you don’t have yeasty filled glasses of beer. Once the beer has been poured off and you’ve got a yeast cake and maybe a 1-2 centimeters of beer left, swish it around a bunch to loosen all of the yeast. You want ALL that tasty yeast in your starter!

2. Pour the yeast into a glass bowl. I prefer to use my vintage 2 quart bowls, which I started collecting at thrift stores and flea markets specifically for this obsession (when you’re babying and keeping alive three different starters for weeks at a time and you’re running out of bowls to keep them in, yes, it’s kind of an obsession at that point).

3. Add the flour and water – mix with a fork fairly vigorously. You want to add air, but you do not need to worry about breaking up all the flour clumps. The yeast will do that on it’s own over the next day or so. IT’s alive! IT’s in YOUR kitchen! Cover IT with plastic wrap.

Let it hang out on your kitchen counter – a warm kitchen is best, but anything in the 70s or 80s is good. 60s is OK, but it may just take a little longer for the starter to develop.

4. Check on it in about 12 hours. This type of starter is never going to explode with foamy bubbles like a starter made with active dry yeast, but in order to tell if the yeast is doing it’s thing: look for small bubbles on top of the starter, smell it – if the smell of beer/yeast seems to over power the smell of flour, this is a good thing, move the bowl around and look at the texture of the mixture. You will also see a brownish liquid forming on the top of the starter – this is both any beer left over when you added the yeast, plus probably some new fermented booze. I mix the beer back in because I think it adds to the flavor.

If the starter doesn’t seem to be doing much at all you can add those optional teaspoons of honey at this point. This will often help get the yeast active again.

I normally allow this starter to hang out on the counter for about 2 days, checking on it to ensure it’s moving along and the texture of the mixture is thickening – it will get a glutenous, thickened, bubbly look. Here is a picture of a starter that is doing very well (click for larger image) – yours does not need to have this many bubbles to still be effective – it was 90 degrees outside and this starter practically blew up!

5. After 3-4 days your starter should be matured and ready to be used in your favorite bread recipe. But wait! You just spent all this time making the starter, what if you don’t want use it all up and have to go through that process again?

You can split your starter: scrape about half of it into another glass bowl. Add equal parts flour and water to each container (I like to stick with the 60g flour, 1/2 cup luke warm water ratio, it works for me), stirring in with a fork. Now you’ve got two starters. Let one sit out for about 12 hours, then it’s ready to use.

Stick the other one in the fridge. Once a week you can split it in half again, adding more flour and water to each side, letting one sit at room temperature for 12 hours to use. If you don’t want to continue splitting off, you can get away with just feeding and watering it once a week – adding about 30g flour and 1/4 cup of water. This can go on until your bowl is full. At that point you’ll really need to get to baking some bread!

Here is a short list of beers that I’ve had fairly good success with. Only one beer never yielded much more than a sweet smelling bowl of watery flour that eventually got mold: Dogfish Head Festina Peche (tip: mold on your starter= bad, throw it away!).

  • Ommegang Rare Vos – I’ve used this yeast multiple times with success
  • The Bruery Rugbrod – Don’t much enjoy the beer (which is a bummer, as I do enjoy rye beer) but it makes a fantastic starter. This was the first one I ever used.
  • Emperor Norton’s Cinnamon Stout – does not impart even a HINT of cinnamon to the bread. Made an excellent starter that lasted many weeks. I also froze a few tablespoons of this starter and reconstituted it months later with success.

Next I’d like to experiment more with a Berliner Weisse style beer – the festina didn’t work out because I don’t think it’s really bottle conditioned and the yeast at the bottom was pretty dead.

Bread in a Tube!

25 Jul

Same stuff, different URL!

I have moved to: harvette.com

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So, one line summary of baking bread in a vintage Pyrex Bake-a-Round: the bread tasted great, the process was fairly easy and the crust was sublime. I’m very picky when it comes to bread, so I was literally shocked at the bread that slid out of that glass tube! If you’re familiar with ever popular No-Knead Bread, I would compare the bread texture to bread baked with that method.

Instead of giving in to my normal impulse of not following directions and using methods “I know will work better” or “will make this so much healthier”, I decided to use one of the recipes that was included with the Bake-a-Around. I had three recipes to choose from: White Sandwich Bread, French Bread or Italian Bread. I went with the Italian bread because it didn’t call for a second rise.  However, I know that mixing up flour, yeast and water and letting it rise only about 45 minutes before baking is sure to make a flavorless loaf of bread – so I mixed up a sponge and let that sit for a few hours first. Also, instead of kneading by hand I used my trusty kitchen-aid and bread hook, which always does a fantastic job.

Two things I was worried about: getting the dough into the tube and not knowing if the bread would stick (who needs a rock hard loaf of bread stuck in a glass tube forever? not this baker!). I greased up the tube and sprinkled the inside with cornmeal, a process that was easier than expected. I put the dough in the tube with out a single problem. The instructions included some magical looking process involving waxed paper folded a specific number of times, etc – but I just rolled the dough up and slid it in. I don’t even own waxed paper.

I’ve never been proficient at rolling dough into a perfect rectangle, thus the loaf was a bit wider in the middle than on the ends, so that’s something to work on for next time. Otherwise, the bread that resulted from this process was excellent and I plan to use the Bake-a-Round again soon. Of course, next time I will experiment with the bread recipe – now that I know, roughly, the amount of dough that will work (and not shoot out the sides!), I’m looking forward to baking some unique artisan breads with this Bake-a-Around!

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

24 Jul

Same stuff, different URL!

I have moved to: harvette.com

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It was dark and stormy last night as Jon and I made our way into Worcester to the Armsby Abbey. Once there, we met up with many wonderful friends for birthday drinks and food. Appropriately, I ordered a Dark and Stormy to drink – their version of the drink was spicy, sweet and very strong.

Armsby has a comfortable atmosphere that includes a dark ambiance – hence my iPhone photos didn’t turn out too well. I wish I had gotten a better shot of the incredibly tasty pizza I had for dinner, named Berberian Fields for the bounty of veggies grown by the farm of the same name. Here is the description from their website: “Fresh picked Sweet Corn, Cousa Squash & Basil all from Berberian Farm (Northboro, MA) with Gruyere and a finish of Roasted Red Pepper puree.” This is a pizza I hope to recreate, at least partially, at home sometime soon.

I was pleasantly surprised and happy with the number of people that made it out to celebrate with us. I feel lucky to know so many interesting and awesome people. We even got some surprise gifts that I wasn’t expecting at all. Some a little silly, some very special (such as the molasses cookies from Jess, which I’m enjoying as I write this entry!) and one that is very appropriate to go into gushing detail about on this blog!

Check out this baby, which the fabulous Stephanie gifted to me since she knows I am seriously into bread baking.

I have never heard of this nor seen one anywhere, but leave it to Steph to find vintage pyrex that is perfect for me! I love baking bread (I love eating it too, obviously) and I also love trying new crazy methods when it comes to making, well, anything. This is definitely crazy. It’s a circular glass tube that you bake bread in. I’ve already got it opened, cleaned up and dough is rising in it as I type. I will certainly be updating with a full blog post about the process and the bread. I am very much looking forward to the novelty of a perfectly tube shaped loaf of bread!