Tag Archives: experimentation

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.

Cherry & Ginger Infused Vodka

8 Sep

Same stuff, different URL!

I have moved to: harvette.com

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I haven’t been doing much cooking or kitchen experimentation as of late. The end of the summer heat and humidity zapped all my motivation, this happens to me every year – but the good news is that fall is on the way and I’ve got so many plans!

Plan number one involves an infused vodka. I love making homemade vodka infusions and homemade liqueurs – they are easy, tasty, adaptable to any crazy flavor combination you can come up with, and they always impress people at parties. At least until they beg you for the recipe and you have to admit how easy it was. The hardest part is the waiting.

This vodka infusion is for a zombie themed Halloween party. I wanted an interesting flavor combination that would also turn the vodka very dark and bloody looking, without having to add additional food coloring (still a possiblity, if I need to get it JUST the right shade of old blackish blood!). I also wanted something not super sweet or too fruity, so this is why I went with an infusion instead of a liqueur.

I decided on very dark colored cherries (which had the added Halloween benefit of causing my kitchen too look like a bloody murder had taken place), ginger, pink peppercorns and allspice. I went very light on the peppercorns and the allspice, because I can always add more later after the initial infusion. I want to make sure the cherry and ginger flavors are right before going crazy with the spice. I initially wanted it to be actually spicy, using some sort of spicy pepper that would complement the sweet taste of the cherries – but I don’t know enough about hot peppers to know which one to pick, so I decided to stick to flavors I do know. I will have to read up on spicy peppers and make a cherry pepper vodka infusion one of these days, because the idea is really stuck in my head!

I don’t have a specific recipe to share, as I just made this up as I went along, but here are the general ingredients I used:

  • 1 gallon of vodka – Stick with a good quality brand. I have found that Svedka is one of the better tasting cheap vodkas, at least for liqueur purposes. I’ve never used it for an infusion, so I hope it turns out OK, though I have some ideas to “smooth” out the taste a bit.
  • 1 lb organic dark cherries – More could have been used, potentially up to 2 lbs, but that would have gotten a bit too expensive for me.
  • Fresh Ginger – I did not measure the amount of ginger I used, best guess is about 2 oz of sliced ginger. I did not grate it (which would have imparted more flavor) due to the fact that grated ginger has made previous infusions and liquers too cloudy.
  • 1 teaspoon each of crushed pink peppercorns and whole allspiceI crushed them with the back of a spoon.

Before I talk about the process I used, I’ll talk about the infusion jar I used. This is a 2 gallon jar that my sister-in-law picked up for me a couple of years ago. I’ve used it to make a bunch of different alcohol based drinks that need time to age. You can really use any glass jar large enough to hold your ingredients – just make sure it’s not plastic or any other material that can take on and impart odors and flavors into your infusion.

If your jar lid doesn’t have a seal (mine does not), place a piece of plastic wrap or waxed paper between the jar and the lid for storage. Not sealing it properly can cause the alcohol to start evaporating. You definitely don’t want that!

The first step is to remove pits and stems from the cherries. You can use a cherry pitter and call it a day, but I sliced each cherry into quarters around the pit. I don’t own a cherry pitter and, actually, cherry flesh exposed to the vodka ought to give the infusion more flavor.

I put the cherries in the bottom of my jar, then added the sliced ginger along with the crushed peppercorns and allspice. Then I poured the vodka over the fruit. I put the jar in a cool, dark place that isn’t disturbed often – in my kitchen that is a seldom used cabinet that I mainly just use for liqueur, infusion and vinegar aging.

That’s it! Now I need to wait. Since I’m winging this one, I’m going to give it one week and try a bit. One thing about using fresh fruit (as opposed to just spices, vanilla, ginger or other similar items) is that too long of an infusion can sometimes impart a vegetal flavor to the vodka. I did this accidentally with apples last year, leaving them to sit for about a month (I was actually following a recipe that time!) and basically had a gallon and a half of undrinkable vodka!

I plan to re-bottle the infusion and then most likely add more pepper (potentially different varieties of peppercorn as well) to bring out a stronger peppery flavor – at least that is the plan, it might change, but I will certainly blog about the results!

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!

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:

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!