Christmas Cookie Baking I

19 December 2011
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Cherry-Lemon Candy Canes, Oatmeal Raisins, & Gingerbread Disks

This weekend I started baking Christmas cookies.  I was lazier than intended (I haven’t had a lot of time to just be mellow with the family lately), and took an unplanned family shopping trip to the mall.  But even with that, and the trip to see the Lights Before Christmas, and a couple dozen Christmas cards, I still managed to make three batches of cookies happen.  Recipes and comments after the jump, but here’s the executive summary.

  1. Classic Oatmeal Raisin Cookies: definitely delicious; would have preferred slightly chewier
  2. Gingerbread Disks: flavor is good, but they were decidedly crunchy.  they work well when dipped in coffee or milk
  3. Cherry-Lemon Candy Canes: very delicious and great texture

Read the rest of this entry »


Improved White Bread, Tempting Toaster Pastry, Dire Cinnamon Rolls, and … Cheese Rage?

17 December 2011

Last week I started the story of adjusting to a new world of eating and baking without soy, eggs, or dairy (also, shrimp, walnuts, dog, and peanuts, but really I don’t like nuts much myself in baking, and very little in my cookie-and-cake repertoire was ever prawn- or canine-based), now that my son’s allergies have been diagnosed.

About a week and a half into this adventure, I can say that it’s turning out stranger than I expected.  The other day my wife was sitting on the couch asking me what I knew about “cheese rage”, supposedly a phenomenon where withdrawal from cheese and dairy manifests itself in your mood, and suspecting that she might be experiencing it.  I don’t know about cheese rage, but I know that it can’t be easy for Gabriel to adjust to all the foods he’s suddenly had to leave behind.  And it’s hard to know whether he understands what’s going on.  His preschool teacher says that he’s been getting angry at the lunches I send with him lately, because they don’t have the foods he’s used to.  A few days back he found (I don’t even know where) a stray pouch of Annie’s cheddar bunnies, which he barely liked before, and he clearly thought he had found the best thing in the world.  Poor guy.

But we’re here to talk about baking. After the jump, you’ll find a very successful white bread recipe and a mostly successful toaster pastry recipe.

Bread, takes one and two.

Last time I made a version of Brother Fitzgerald’s Basic White Bread, and was waiting for it to cool enough to try.  It turned out to be better than I expected for a first attempt.  The texture was among the best I’ve gotten, but the crust ended up a little harder than I’d have liked.  Last night it was time to bake up some more bread, so I made some modifications to the recipe.  The results were delicious.  The texture is just about perfect now, and the crust wasn’t too hard.  We ate more than half the first loaf just with this morning’s breakfast, and I’ve since found that it is great for sandwiches also.  Gabriel’s jelly toast consumption seems to have gone up, and for the first time my daughter actually eats bread that I baked (in fact she didn’t believe me when I told her it was my work).  I see this one becoming a staple recipe for our family.  Here’s the recipe, with a couple changes since last time.

White Bread for Gabriel

  • 9 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 cups warm rice milk (I used vanilla rice milk because that’s what I had, and it worked out great)
  • 2 Tbsp salt
  • 4 Tbsp sugar
  • 4 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 3 – 3 1/2 cups pastry flour
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil

Warm the milk (not boiling, but noticeably above room temperature; last time it was lukewarm, warmer is better).  Dissolve the yeast in 3/4 cups of milk and let stand for 10 minutes.  Add half the flour and all the other dry ingredients, the coconut oil and the rest of the warm milk, and start to mix (I use a stand mixer).  Add the rest of the flour in increments of 1/2 cup.  I let the dough spend a total of about 13 minutes on a the stand mixer.

Let the dough rise in a covered, greased bowl for 45 minutes.  Punch down and knead by hand for a minute or two.  Let the dough rise in a covered, greased bowl for 45 minutes.  Punch down and knead by hand for a minute or two, then divide the dough into two equal pieces and form the pieces into loaves.  Put each loaf into its own greased bread pan (I spray olive oil for this), and let it rise for 45 minutes on top of the oven while it is preheating to 410º.  Bake for 40 minutes.  Do not overbake.

Remove promptly from pans and cool on racks.

You really should let it cool before slicing, but I can never resist more than a few minutes.

I’m fully satisfied with this as a white bread, so the next phase of my bread journey will be elsewhere.  Perhaps something in the Italian herb direction.

Toaster Pastries … Tempting!

For these, I used this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, which I had previously made exactly as written (before the allergy situation arose).

Changes / Remarks:

  • I used a combination of pastry flour and bread flour in a ratio of about 3:1
  • vanilla Rice Dream instead of milk
  • 1/4 C applesauce instead of the egg
  • coconut oil instead of butter
  • the filling was based on blueberry jam
  • instead of an egg wash, I used rice milk mixed with corn statch as a “vanilla wash”.  This was a good decision.

These were just plain delicious.  The vanilla of the rice milk worked extremely well as a flavor complement to the blueberry filling, and the rice milk wash brought it out.  Gabriel did eat some of these, though admittedly I ate most of them.  Definitely going to make this again.  And again and again.  I want to try various other fruit fillings (cherry will probably be next) and also cinnamon-brown sugar.  And by popular demand from my wife, I need to start icing them.

Next time I’m going to use banana-flax-and-water as an egg substitute instead of applesauce, and also a little more bread flour and a little less pastry flour.  Not because the finished product wasn’t right with the recipe given — it was — but it was very hard to handle when preparing the pastries.  It was too soft to be able to use the fold-over pastry gadget that I have.

Dire Cinnamon Rolls … questionable

Now, my son is a cinnamon roll monster, ever since my parents made some on Thanksgiving morning.  The week after, he pulled me out of bed at about two in the morning, shouting “Cimmon rolls!  Cimmon rolls, Daddy!”  My wife found this recipe, and it seemed like just what the baker ordered, especially because the recipe claims to freeze well.  And that chest freezer in my garage is just begging to be filled with a dozen rolls of cinnamon roll dough.

I made the recipe almost exactly as described on the website, with the following comments/clarifications.

  • I doubled the recipe.  I baked one batch and froze the other one (rolled up in a log and wrapped in foil) for later.
  • I used coconut oil for the dough, but Earth Balance soy-free for the filling.
  • I skipped the margarine altogether for the icing.
  • I didn’t use maple syrup in the icing, but I did add maple extract.  1/2 tsp, perhaps?

The problem here was that the dough just didn’t rise properly, even though I waited almost twice as long as the recipe suggested.  Not clear why that would be, especially since the yeast mixture seemed to be frothing enthusiastically at the start.  The end results looked pretty weird, and nothing like the picture with the recipe.  Not at all light or fluffy, just mostly-unrisen rolls of dough.  The filling was terrific though, and the Earth Balance gave it a pleasant nuttiness.  Icing was on the verge of overpowering, but lots of people like their cinnamon rolls that way.  The dough tasted right, but the texture and look were very wrong.

I’ll be thawing out the freezer dough in a couple days, maybe we’ll be luckier next time.  I’ll be trying alternative recipes all this week, because I really want to have cinnamon rolls for Christmas.

Bring on the cookies!

This weekend is blocked out for baking mass quantities of cookies.  I’m starting with oatmeal raisin, and we’ll see where it goes from there.  Report on that soon.


Relearning How to Bake

5 December 2011

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Aside: Wow… I know I’ve gone since Tau Day (late June) without posting, but you know it’s been too long when you barely recognize the interface.  It’s going to take some getting used to…

I am the baker of my household.  My wife is the cook (with exemptions for breakfast, which is my domain, and one special recipe which comes from the Lebanese part of my heritage).  I cooked when I lived alone, of course, but without enthusiasm.  Baking, I love.

Between teaching, research, and family life, I don’t have much time to pursue my own interests, baking included.  But we are now entering the one time of year when I make time for baking, when I consider my privilege to push aside other commitments and timesinks in favor of baking almost absolute: the Christmas season.  It just wouldn’t be Christmas without baked goods filling the kitchen and surrounding area with the smell of the holidays.  If I’ve learned anything, it’s that Christmas spirit comes in through the nose.  There are pies to make, and cookies and cookies and breads and cookies and cookies and cakes and cookies and cookies.  I did say bread.  I make almost all the bread we eat around here.

Bottom line: I bake a lot, and I consider it an essential Christmas ritual to escalate baking to ridiculous levels in the immediate future.

Cut to Friday, when we learned that our son Gabriel (almost three years old, though that hardly seems possible) is allergic to egg whites, peanuts, milk, soy, walnuts, dogs, and shrimp.  (Yes, seven distinct things; this explains why it was to hard to nail down the one thing that was causing his chronic allergic reactions….)  Peanuts wasn’t a surprised, and we’ve been avoiding them for quite a while now (sunflower butter is quite nice).  But egg whites, milk, and soy?!?  In case you’ve never read ingredients lists, that’s not much different from outright being allergic to food.   (Dairy subsitutes, and egg substitutes, are almost invariably soy-based.)

So my wife has spend the weekend culling from our pantry and fridge all the newly excluded foods, and finding as many new, acceptable foods as possible (no small task, especially in small town Michigan).  Me, I’m thinking “but, cookies… how will I make cookies?”

And so begins my adventure into highly-constrained baking.

Before I get to cookies, though, today we ran out of bread.  Today I made my first attempt to bake kid-friendly, wife-friendly, dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free bread.  The recipe I used is an adaptation of Brother Fitzgerald’s Basic White Bread from The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking, an outstanding book by Rick Curry, which should be in every breadlover’s collection.  I had to make some substitutions, though.  What follows is my amended list of ingredients.

  • 9 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 cups warm rice milk
  • 2 Tbsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • ~4 cups of bread flour
  • ~3 cups of pastry flour
  • 2 Tbsp Olivio coconut-based spread

I dissolved the yeast in 1 cup of the milk (the recipe called for just 1/2 cup at this step, but I couldn’t get all the yeast to dissolve at that quantity) and let it set for a little while.  Then half the flour, the rest of the dry, the frothing yeast monster, and the the rest of the milk go into my stand mixer bowl.  I mixed it for a total of about 12 minutes, adding the rest of the flour gradually.  (Without a stand mixer, I’d have to do a bunch of kneading at this point.)

I let it double, punched it down and kneaded a minute or two, let it double, punched it down and kneaded a minute or two, let it double, punched it down, put it into bread pans and let it double.  I have a warming oven, and I let it spend the latter two rises hanging out in there.

The recipe calls for an optional egg wash (apparently that’s how Brother Fitzgerald does it), which of course I had to skip.  I misted the loaf lightly with olive oil, which has worked for me in the past with other recipes.  Then into the 425° oven to bake for 40 minutes.

It’s baking as I type this, so it’s too soon to report on how well it goes over.  Fingers crossed.

My wife’s cousin Mouse sent me this banana bread recipe, which seems like a winner, so at least I can make one baked goods treat.  Time to go exploring for more.

The next thing I attempt (assuming that this bread is not deemed so disastrously inedible that I have to make up another bread recipe, pronto) will be toaster pastries.  Y’know, Pop-Tarts.  One of my son’s favorite foods.  Before we knew about the allergies, I made this recipe, which was fine (I thought they were tasty, anyway) but a lot of work.  Actually forming the individual rectangles and positioning the filling took entirely too long.  I bought a foldover press thing from Bed Bath and Beyond that should be a big time saver.  Again, we’ll see.