Scenes from Holiday Baking #1

I’ve decided to interrupt my regularly scheduled TJ Tuesdays for the next month-and-a-half or so to bring you a weekly dose of what holiday baking looks like in our house.  I’ll give you a hint, you will not find Betty Crocker in any of these pictures.  In the Misanthropic Household, holiday baking is not a frilly-apron and hot cocoa sipping type of a affair (though, there is listening to holiday music…but only after Thanksgiving).  Nay, it is a full-throttle high-precision assault that leaves no stick of butter unused and no Kitchen God un-decorated.  Planning begins in August with delivery and shipping complete no later than the second week of December.

In this spirit, I thought I’d show some pictures of what happens along the way.  We’ll start with naked paper towel rolls.

Into which went 12 batches of 2 different kinds of sable cookie dough.  Wrapped-up tightly, they’ll reside in the freezer until I’m ready to bake them off later this month.

For the first time this year, I’ve also decided to quantify the process. I know that not tracking sounds completely antithetical to my color-coded and task-listed process.  However, until now, I’ve purposely stayed away from the accounting of every pound of nuts and every trip to the grocery because I feared knowing my consumption would interrupt the creative process.  This year though, we’re keeping track because I think it would be fun to know just how many eggs are cracked in the name of holiday treats.

The tally to posting (can’t say to-date because even as I write this, I’ve already moved on in a way that includes nearly 75 ounces of heavy cream.  Moo.):

  • 3.5 lbs unsalted butter
  • 12 eggs
  • 1 lb chocolate
  • 1 lb pecans
  • 1 ish lb dried sour cherries

Want to play along at home?

Want to win a prize?

In the comments below, take a guess at the final butter poundage.  Technically I could calculate this out now but that wouldn’t be any fun.  Instead, I’ll update the number of pounds used on a weekly basis so that we’re all surprised in the end.  Operationally, final butter poundage is defined as the total pounds of butter utilized in the making of the nine holiday treats I have planned.  I will not reveal either the specifics of the treats or the total number of batches at this time.  However, you already know the total of the first two. I’ll give you another hint: only one of the nine different goodies does not include butter as an ingredient.  Informed risk takers can extrapolate as desired.   Anything else I make along the way will not be included (so take out like 20 lbs for Thanksgiving).  To make things fair, you can only cast your speculation between now and next Monday, November 19 at 11:59 PST.  The person with the closest guess gets a box of said goodies. If you already happen to be on the goodie-recipient list, I’ll throw in a dozen or so extra of whatever you would like.  Winner will be announced on Tuesday, December 4th.  Vaya con sprinkles!

P.S. Not that it matters to anyone but me, but I’ve also thrown the gauntlet at myself.  This year I’ve challenged myself to not eat any of what I make.  Not in the baking, not in the leftovers.  Let’s see if I can make it happen.

 

 

Homer has died and gone to heaven: Doughnut Muffins

Yeah, yeah, I know, you watch “Best Thing I Ever Ate” on the Food Network too. This blog does not claim to be particularly original. Tasty yes. Ground breaking? Eh. So, when I saw the episode about Sprinkles’ founder Candace Nelson’s favorite baked good I knew I had to find the recipe and bring it here. I mean come on—this is what the sister grand pubha of cupcakes puts at the top of her list. It’s gotta be good. And it is, really good. Like, reaaalllly gooood. But there is a secret to the doughnut-muffin that makes them extra super excellent that they don’t share with you on the show that I will share with you here. Promise.

Start with all room temperature ingredients. The butter, milk, buttermilk and eggs—the whole lot—at room temperature (I know you’ve hear this before). What’s more, this is no delicate batter. While you could do it with a hand-mixer, I recommend the big guns (and no TD, I don’t mean your biceps).

Grease the muffin pans but don’t use liners. You’ll see why in a second. The original recipe says to use about ½ cup of batter in each muffin cup. For me, 1/3 cup was perfect (once you see the amount of levening agent in this recipe you’ll understand why).

The batter on its own isn’t particularly interesting or unique. It’s when they come out of the oven that the magic occurs (but just the ordinary magic, not the super special magic part I’m going to tell you about at the end of this post).

While your buns are in the over, melt some butter. A lot of butter. And while you are at it, whisk together a cinnamon sugar party.

Now, as soon as you can handle the muffins without either burning yourself or crushing the muffin, the real fun begins. Start with a nice, all over butter bath. That’s right, bathe these cakes in butter.

Then, before the butter sinks in, give them a sugar scrub all over.

Don’t be shy with the sugar baby.

The doughnut muffin is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. The outside is cinnamon-sugary with a little bit of crunch while the inside is moist and crumbly.

These are delectable as they are but wait. Oh yeah, I’m going there. The only thing better than a plain doughnut muffin.

Is a jelly doughnut muffin. But that isn’t the secret part.

Here is the secret part.

If you have the discipline, let them sit in a tightly sealed container over-night. What they lose in crunch they gain in doughnuttyness. Is there anything better than a doughnut the size of a muffin?

Doughnut Muffins

Kathleen Stewart, Downtown Bakery and Creamery

12 oz. (24 Tbs.) unsalted butter, warmed to room temperature
1-3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 lb. 11 oz. (6 cups) all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. plus 2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1-3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1-2/3 cups milk
1/4 cup buttermilk

For dipping:
8 oz. (16 Tbs.) unsalted butter; more as needed
2 cups sugar
2 Tbs. ground cinnamon

To make the muffins

Put a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. In a stand mixer or a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until just mixed in. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Combine the milk and buttermilk. With a wooden spoon, mix a quarter of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture. Then mix in a third of the milk mixture. Continue mixing in the remaining dry and wet ingredients alternately, ending with the dry. Mix until well combined and smooth, but don’t overmix. Grease and flour a standard-size muffin tin. Scoop enough batter into each tin so that the top of the batter is even with the rim of the cup, about 1/2 cup (I used 1/3 C) Bake the muffins until firm to the touch, 30 to 35 min.

Melt the butter for the dipping mixture. Combine the sugar and cinnamon. When the muffins are just cool enough to handle, remove them from the tin, dip them into or brush them all over with the melted butter, and then roll them in the cinnamon sugar.

March of the penguins (into my mouth)

If I could afford it, I’d ask Morgan Freeman to narrate this post. But, I can’t. So watch this first to get you in the mood.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MB_GisVFboU

I have a very cute penguin cookie cutter and when Deb from Smitten Kitchen posted her mother’s recipe for Brownie Roll Out cookies, I knew I had a match made in heaven. I’m linking to the recipe instead of listing it below because, well, I have a baking crush on this blog and if you haven’t heard of it or read it regularly, you should.

http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/04/brownie-roll-out-cookies/

The resulting cookie is chocolate perfection. Not too sweet and acts just like a roll-out cookie, so it keeps its shape. I followed her recipe exactly up until the part where you chill the dough. At this point, I used the roll-out and chill method discussed in my sugar cookie recipe.

Obviously, you can make them any shape you want but, I promise they make extra good penguins (with white chocolate tummies).

Seriously, just like March of the Penguins…right?

…yes, even chocolate penguins mate for life.

Baklava makes the world a better place

I love baklava. Though really, it’s much more fun it you pronounce it ‘baaaaklaaavaaaa.’ Go ahead, try it. Feels good doesn’t it? For me it is one of those foods that while available all year, speaks inexorably of the holiday season.

This year I finally got up the courage to make it from scratch. And, now that I’ve done it, I have to tell you, making baklava some scratch needs no courage at all. If you buy the phyllo dough it is very easy and very fun.

Before we get to the baking, let’s talk a little bit about baklava’s origins. A brief review of its history reveals that this sweet sticky treat may very well be one of history’s first party foods. After all, much of the evidence points toward the confection as Greek in origin. Though, Mesopotamia was inevitably involved as well. While the word baklava is Turkish in derivation, many culturally specific varieties exist from Greek to Turkish to Middle Eastern. In this sense, baklava truly is a celebratory food of the world.

While I prefer it made with pistachios, I actually used walnuts because I was hoping to limit my own consumption. Sadly, or happily, it didn’t work and I managed to consume more than my fair share of the pans I made.

Phyllo dough can be found in freezer section of any grocery store. The kind I bought fit perfectly into a 9X13” pan. So, I adapted the original recipe to fit.

I went ahead and defrosted the dough in the fridge over night. This yielded perfect results as the dough did not stick and was very easy to work with.

The spice base is a combination of cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. Remember the Strawberry Shortcake dolls that smelled like fruits and spices? If I were one, I’d be Carly Cardamom.

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For the first batch, I chopped the nuts myself. For the second, I busted out Bertha, my trusty food processor. There is no shame in technological progress. The chopped nuts, sugar and spices all get mixed together in a sort of exotic orgy of awesome smells and textures.

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Each layer of phyllo dough is separated by a brushed-on layer of melted butter.

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The sugar and nut mixture gets added in at regular intervals.

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This goes on for about 20 or so layers until all the butter, nuts and dough have been utilized. Then, you cut the pieces into your desired shape and into the over goes the whole lot until everything is a nice golden brown.

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While things are already looking really tasty, the best is yet to come. Right out of the oven, you pour a fantastic syrup of honey and spices right into the pan. By the time everything cools down, the syrup gets absorbed and the result is nothing short of a pastry worthy of whatever deity you happen to worship.

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Baklava

Adapted from Epicurious, epicurious.com

Makes one pan 9X13″ pan

3 1/2 C chopped walnuts

1/2 C sugar

1 TSP ground cinnamon

1/2 TSP ground cardamom

1/4 TSP ground cloves

1/2 LB phyllo dough sheets

1.5 C melted butter

Syrup*

1 C sugar

1 C water

1/3 C honey

1/4 lemon, peel only

1 clove

* I substituted 1/4 C orange blossom water for 1/4 C of the water and did not use the lemon peel and clove.

To Make

1. Mix the walnuts, sugar and spices.

2. Remove phyllo dough from packaging, lay out flat and cover with plastic wrap and a damp towel (keep covered as dough will dry out quickly).

3. Melt the butter.

4. Starting with a single layer of phyllo, lay-out in pan and lightly brush butter over entire surface. Repeat this step until you have 8 layers in the pan.

5. Spread 1/3 of the nut mixture evenly across the 8th buttered layer of dough.

6. Add 4 more layers of phyllo, brushing each layer with butter.

7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 until all of the nut mixture has been layered.

8. Top the last layer of the nut mixture with the remaining phyllo dough (should be about 8 layers).

9. Cut the pan into desired number and shape of pieces–but try not to cut through the bottom layer of phyllo.

10. Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until the pastry is a deep golden brown.

11. While pastry is baking, make syrup. Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Remove from heat.

12. Once the pastry is done, immediately pour hot syrup over the entire pan.

13. Allow to stand at room temp. until completely cooled and the syrup has been absorbed into the pastry.

14. Re-run knife through dough, this time cutting through to the bottom of the pan.

15. Serve, enjoy and try not to eat the entire pan!

THE Sugar Cookies

I’ll admit, as much as I love baking, I’ve always had a bias against the cut-out sugar cookie. As a child I would carefully study the pictures of beautifully decorated sugar cookies in my mom’s illustrated Betty Crocker Cookbook. However, my batches of never looked anything close to the pictures. They’d puff. They’d bake unevenly. They’d stick to the rolling pin. Cats looked like panda bears, flowers like clouds. So, I dropped them off my list.

Until a few years ago that is.

My mom, ever the friendly consumer, somehow talked the proprieter of a cooking supply shop in Bozeman Montana into giving her their commercial recipe. Let me tell you, this recipe changed my life. Whether it has changed for better or worse has yet to be determined. You see, this recipe creates such beautiful cookies that people will beg you to make them. So you will. Then, they’ll get bitter when it’s been a couple of months and you haven’t produced any more. These may well be as close to crack as you can get with legal ingredients combined in a legal manner.

The recipe is simple if not a little labor intensive. Lots of butter. Lots of flour. Fragile, flaky, crumbly cookies these are not. The recipe is designed to get the little buggers to hold their shape when cooked. And they will—if you are careful about your technique. As good as the recipe itself is, the way in which you prepare the cookies is what makes them truly successful. That’s right, sugar cookie methodology. For this reason, I’ve listed the simple recipe below and then annotated the crap out of it with my own tips.

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Once you have the dough mixed up, abandon all you were ever taught about forming it into a ball and refrigerating. First you are going to roll it out. And THEN refrigerate it. So, grab a handful of dough and place in on a flat surface between two sheets of parchment.

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Now, roll it out. I like a thicker cookie (less chance of breakage), so I roll to somewhere between 1/4 and 1/8 inch. Do whatever works for you.

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Now, go ahead and clear some space in the fridge and stack the rolled -out dough one on top of the next. Let the dough chill for at least an hour. I usually let it cool over night. Once the dough is chilled, cut out your desired shapes and you are ready to bake. Note-you’ll have lots of scraps. Just ball then together, re-roll them out between parchment and store in fridge until ready to cut out next batch.

If you are anal retentive like I am, you add in one more step before baking.

I cut all of the dough out at once, and stack the un-baked cookies on to a cookie sheet (with layers separated by parchment) and put them back in to the fridge. Then I begin baking.

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Bake in the over for 12-15 minutes until the edges are just barely starting to brown.

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What’s that you say? You want some to have sugar sprinkles? Okay, here is the super secret method to getting a ton of sugar sprinkles or sanding sugar on to the cookie. First, pour a generous amount of your selected decoration into a shallow dish.

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Next, take a very cold un-baked cookie and place it front side down into the sprinkles.

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Now, push the cookie into the sprinkles. Don’t be shy, the cookie should be cold enough that it doesn’t lose its shape. Flip cookie back over and then bake as directed. The results are usually pretty cool.

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While we are sharing secrets, I might as well reveal what was until this very moment, my proprietary icing recipe.

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Ready? You Sure? Okay. To a bowl of sifted confectioner’s sugar, add fresh squeezed lemon juice. Then mix until you get the desired thickness. Pretty mind blowing right? Of course you could also use water or any other flavoring.

I like to use a two-step decorating process (really, it’s because I’m lazy and don’t have the patience to make a border and then foundation frost each cookie). First, I ice the cookie. Then I decorate it.

To ice, I get the icing very then. Then I quickly dip the tops of the cookies.

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I set the cookies on cooling racks and let the icing completely set up.

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Once the first coat of icing is set up, the cookies are ready to be fancified. Decorate as desired (same icing recipe, just thicker).

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And now you know all of my secrets.

THE Roll-out Cut-out Sugar Cookies

Makes about 6 dozen 3 inch cookies of 1/4 inch thickness

Ingredients:

  • 6 C flour, sifted
  • 1 TBS baking powder
  • 1 TSP salt (I use kosher)
  • 2 C sugar (I use ultrafine)
  • 2 C unsalted butter (same as 4 sticks), softened
  • 2 large eggs, room temp
  • 2 TSP vanilla
  • Parchment paper
  • Rolling pin
  • Cookie cutters

In standing mixer, cream butter and sugar. While mixing, sift together flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl. Once butter and sugar are creamed, mix in eggs one at a time. Add in vanilla. Decrease mixer setting to low and add in flour in 2-3 shifts. Mix until dough forms.

Roll out dough between parchment paper in three batches. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut dough into desired shapes and place on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake for 12-15 minutes until just turning gold on the edges.

I’ve added some pictures of sugar cookies past just to show they work with any shape.

bees, butterflies and flowers

B is also for baby

And break a leg.  Ironically, the only year I made these since my employment for the enemy has been the only year the blue and gold have won.  I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to realize this but next year, my work colleagues are getting more gold and cough…cough…cardinal sugar cookies around the first week of December than they’ll know what to do with.