Jan 04 2011

Crusty Cookies

Plate of Cookies

As the rest of my winter break from school slips away, I’m trying to pack in as much baking as possible. I should be working on my student film. Or that short story I planned on converting to a film script this spring. Maybe even read for pleasure. Instead, I spend my time browsing recipes and wandering the kitchen, sporting my ruffled red apron, frantically trying to fill the void somehow with an oven and a mixer.

Since I already have pork tenderloin with russet potatoes and baby carrots in the crockpot, dinner is covered. (And thank goodness! While I love to bake, I’m not so much of a fan of cooking… It seems like so much more work!) I was planning on making some caramel sauce today for a cheesecake I want to make this weekend, but I wasn’t paying close enough attention and burned it a little. Yes, I admit it, I am NOT perfect. Did I just destroy my credibility entirely with that one statement? Oops.

So what else did I have to work with? Pie crust, of course! Remember yesterday when I made the Alsatian Apple Tart? I only used half of the smitten kitchen all-butter pie crust dough that was chillin’ in the fridge. I’m feeling nostalgic so that means pie crust cookies.

Cookies & Milk

I don’t recall ever making pie crust cookies at home. Neither did my mother, who wasn’t one to make pies. But I did make them once in Foods class during my freshman year of high school. In and of itself, that was an interesting situation. The class was divided into groups, each getting their own kitchen. I was the sole girl in a kitchen of guys–you can imagine how well that went. It left a lasting impression. Thinking back, I guess teenagers aren’t to be trusted making whole pies–and considering the guys who were in my kitchen, I agree. So we made pie crust dough, rolled it out, cinnamoned and sugared it, and made cookies instead. Seeing as the crust is the best part, I’m not sure why they haven’t surfaced in my own kitchen til now.

There really isn’t a recipe. Take some pie crust–store-bought, your favorite recipe, or the one I used–and roll it out. You now have 2 options. You can use cookie cutters and sprinkle the cut shapes with cinnamon sugar. Or you can butter the rolled-out dough and sprinkle that with cinnamon sugar (or even chocolate chips, nuts, etc.), then roll it up like you’re making cinnamon buns, cut the log into individual servings, and bake those, cut side down. 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 12-15 minutes should do it, but that will vary depending on the baking sheet you use, your oven, and how well done you want them.

Crusty Cookies… sounds disgusting, but they’re oh-so-delicious!

Crusty Cookies

Jan 03 2011

I’m looking at tarts…

…and clearly I’m pretty childish because I’m giggling about it. Tarts, tarts, tarts, tarts, tarts. It’s not even a part of American slang, somehow skipping us in favor of other unsavory terms for promiscuous women, yet here I am, smiling idiotically to myself as my husband rolls his eyes like there’s something wrong with me.

According to Wikipedia, in the kitchen,:

A tart is a baked dish consisting of a filling over a pastry base with an open top not covered with pastry. The pastry is usually shortcrust pastry; the filling may be sweet or savoury, though modern tarts are usually fruit-based, sometimes with custard.

Certainly not as salacious as the ladies who bear the same names.

I spent some of my “free” time yesterday preparing all-butter pie dough, a la smitten kitchen, with no real plan for it. I felt like it, so I made it, knowing the plan would reveal itself when the time was right. Or something like that. And I was right because through divine intervention, tarts have been on my mind all day. Either I’m in for a really sweet treat, or I have a very dirty mind…

In all seriousness, when I was on the verge of turning 21, I worked as a baker’s assistant at a local bakery for 2 months. One of my jobs was to transport the freshly-baked bread from the main location to its satellite shop about forty minutes away. Once the bread was safely conveyed, my new mission was to ferry tart shells back to the main shop so my aunt (the pastry chef) could fill them. I never really questioned how they were made or even what my aunt did with them. My job, once the tarts were ready, was to finish them for display–arrange fruit, paint on an apricot glaze, that sort of thing. And I really didn’t think about them much in the intervening years either. I had a tart pan in the back of the bottom cabinet in my pantry but I don’t think I’ve even used it. This is a project begging to be completed!

I decided on the Alsatian Apple Tart from Chicho’s Kitchen, substituting the pre-made all-butter pie crust from smitten kitchen for the one in the recipe, which is pretty similar anyway. The recipe is simple, requiring very few ingredients and not a whole lot of work, but it looks like you slaved away all day in the kitchen. And the taste? I was worried because I’m not really an egg person. I was pleasantly surprised. Delicate custard surrounding tart and sweet apples, perfectly complemented by crunchy, buttery crust. Delicious! I feel almost civilized now! Almost…

Alsatian Apple Tart

adapted from Chicho’s Kitchen

smitten kitchen’s all-butter pie crust (link brings you to her tutorial), or

Shortcrust pastry:

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp sugar

1/4 tsp salt

9 Tbsp (125 g) cold butter, cut into pieces

2 Tbsp cold water

In a large bowl, mix the flour, butter, sugar, and salt with your fingertips or a pastry blender until you have pea-sized chunks of butter. Quickly stir the water into the mixture, being careful not to overmix. Once there are no dry spots, gather up the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and press it into a flat dish shape. Refrigerate dough for 2 hours (or overnight is better).

When ready to use, preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Butter the bottom and side of a tart pan with a removable bottom. Flour your work surface and roll the dough out into a circle slightly larger than your pan. Gently fold the dough in half and then half again, bring it over to your pan and then unfold it directly onto the pan. Trim the excess.

For the filling:

1 pound medium sized sweet apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced (I used Granny Smith and Gala)

3/4 cup heavy cream

6 tbsp sugar (I used vanilla sugar)

1 egg

1 egg yolk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract or 1/2 vanilla bean, scraped (if you go with the vanilla bean, scrape it into the cream and let the seeds sit in the cream for 10 minutes or more before mixing)

Layer the peeled and sliced apples on the bottom of the dough-lined pan. In a bowl, mix the eggs and sugar, then add the cream and the vanilla extract. Pour on top of the apples and bake for 50 to 55 minutes. Cool completely before serving.

Jan 02 2011

Bread and Rainy Days

Fresh Artisan Bread

New England weather is crazy. Last week started with hurricane-force winds, about a foot of snow, and wind-chills around zero degrees or less. The week ended with temps in the 50s, fog, and rain. Never a dull (weather) moment in Southern New England.

So while the snow melts away on January 2nd and I’m trapped inside, fearing tracking an unexpected mud season into the house, what else is there to do to bring sunshine into my life but bake? Bread is on the agenda today. I started with an Oatmeal loaf in my Sunbeam bread machine–something for sandwiches since it’s been a week since I’ve gone grocery shopping and we’ve run out. Oops! Once I got that going, however, I started thinking about that easy artisan bread I haven’t made in ages.

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about Five-Minute Artisan Bread. Everybody has. Like so many fads before it, it burst onto the scene to the delight of many, was baked by all, and disappeared into the sunset, forgotten just as quickly as it was discovered. You don’t hear much about it these days, but you can’t beat the simplicity. It pays off big time in results that you would expect from so much more manpower and all you have to do is wait for nature to take its course.

Steaming Hot Fresh Bread

This recipe originated in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day (which I don’t have yet, but I ordered it last week and it’s on the way!).  I discovered it on A Splendid Table.  All you need are flour, salt, yeast, and water, a couple minutes to mix them together in a plastic bin, and a bit of patience. I highly recommend refrigerating the dough for a couple hours before baking (and the longer you leave it in the fridge after the initial counter-top rise, the better the flavor it develops). It’s a great introduction into the world of artisan bread for the casual home chef. Just be careful with your measuring (remember to scoop the flour into the measuring cup and scrape the excess off) and you’ll be all set.

Buttery Bread

Five-Minute Artisan Bread

adapted from A Splendid Table

1 1/2 Tbsp sea salt

1 1/2 Tbsp granulated yeast

3 cups lukewarm (100 degrees Fahrenheit) water

6 1/2 cups unbleached flour (I substituted 2 cups with white whole wheat flour), plus extra for dusting


In a large plastic tub, mix the sea salt, granulated yeast, and warm water. With a wooden spoon, mix in the flour until there are no dry spots, but do not knead. Dough should be wet and loose, conforming to the shape of the tub. Cover loosely and let it sit at room temperature for 2-5 hours, until it flattens on top or collapses.

At this point, you should refrigerate the dough. If you plan on baking the same day, it should sit in the fridge for at least 3 hours (and up to 2 weeks)–but the longer you leave it in the fridge, the better the flavor and texture.

When ready to bake, place a metal broiler pan on the bottom rack of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have a pizza stone that allows it, preheat the stone for at least 20 minutes (in which case, you’ll be using a cornmeal-sprinkled pizza peel to transfer the dough onto the stone later). If you have Pampered Chef stoneware, you’re not supposed to preheat it. That’s what I have and I never preheat it, even making this recipe. In that case, just sprinkle some cornmeal on it and set it aside

Flour your hands and cut off a piece of dough, about 1 lb. For 30-60 seconds, work the dough ball in your hands, stretching it and turning a quarter turn each time, making a rounded top and a bunched up belly button of a bottom. Reflour hands as required but don’t expect to work it into the dough as it’s only to prevent sticking at this point.

Place the dough ball onto the prepared pizza peel or PC baking stone, belly button side down, dusting the top with flour. Let it rest somewhere warm for 40 minutes. Repeat with the rest of the dough, or return it to the fridge to use later in the 2 weeks. You can also freeze the dough balls in 1 lb portions–just thaw in the fridge overnight the day before you plan on using them.

Take a sharp knife (I like my tomato knife for this) and cut 3 slashes across the top of the dough about 1/2 inch deep, parallel or cross-hatched. Slide dough onto preheated stone (or put the PC stone with dough on it into the oven). Pour 1 cup of warm water into the broiler pan and shut the door quickly. Bake until well-browned and firm, about 30 minutes. You can test doneness by thumping the bottom of the loaf–if it sounds hollow, it’s done. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Jan 01 2011

Goals? Sure, It's Good To Have Them…

I know I said I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions–which is true, I don’t. I don’t wait for the beginning of a new year to make changes in my life–I’m in a constant state of flux. But I do have some goals–some things I’d like to accomplish–that aren’t really changes, but more of a bucket list for the year.

  • Crème brûlée. Now that I have my own kitchen torch, I can do it! I used to do the brûlée-ing in preparation for the display case when I worked as a baker’s assistant for my aunt at Bantam Bread Company, but I only worked there for 8 weeks and that was 12 years ago. Yikes! Has it really been that long?
  • Dacquoise. I’m very intimidated–but very intrigued.
  • Croissants. I’ve known since French class in high school that this involves a lot of butter and a lot of kneading. I may never eat them again after this, but I’ve always wanted to make them. This year, I shall. And I promise I won’t try to cheat by using the dough cycle on the bread machine somehow. ;)
  • Cake decorating. I hate it. I’d rather focus on flavor than presentation, but I really should work on this. If nothing else, I have 2 kids’ + hubby’s birthdays for practice.
  • Pasta. This is a bit ambitious since I currently own nothing that would aid in this, other than my KitchenAid mixer that will accept attachments, but lacks them entirely. Since I’m not exactly a fan of cooking (funny since I LOVE baking), pasta is eaten fairly frequently around here. I should probably figure out how to make it other than by dumping a box into boiling water, even if it’s only one time.
  • Sourdough. I tried once before–even harvested a wild yeast for my starter–but I neglected it in the back of the fridge and killed the poor thing off. Sort of like what I did to my kombucha. And all my plants.

A pretty respectable list. I think I can do this!

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