Posted tagged ‘baking’

Rugelach רוגעלך

March 27, 2010

black cherry walnut rugelach

The name of these cookies basically means “little twists” in Yiddish. I cannot express how delicious I think they are. I try to only bake them when I can share them with many other people because otherwise I will eat ALL OF THEM. They are very easy to make. The best recipes I’ve found are by Eileen Goltz and can be found on the Orthodox Union website, here. Try them! The cream cheese dough puffs perfectly, always has the perfect flakiness, and is just too delicious.

My favorite fillings are apricot-walnut, cherry-walnut, and black currant. I use the recipe for the apricot ones, and just substitute different kinds of jam—normally Polaner All Fruit, which I like because it’s sweetened with only fruit juice, no evil HFCS. I’ve tried using lekvar (prune butter) as a filling; I like it in hamentaschen, but not as much in these. I’d really like to try making them with nutella filling one of these days. I’ll post those if they turn out well.

The recipes explain the whole method, but I’d emphasize that you want the layer of jam or preserves to be really thin—as thin as you can make it. Otherwise it will ooze out all over your baking sheet and burn, which is a horrible mess to clean up. Baking them on a silicon mat also helps protect against any little bit of oozed jam getting stuck to the baking sheet:

Chocolate Madeleines

March 2, 2010

I used to read so many books. Then I went to grad school.

Recently I got back into reading more, and it’s been great. I just finished Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, which was hilarious, and Guns, Germs and Steel, which was really interesting. Lest anyone believe that I only read books with titles of the form “A, B and C,”  I’m currently reading The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I’m enjoying it a lot. I tried to read it once a few years ago when I was in grad school and Beth was in Africa, (the book is about life in the Congo).  She and all her friends were reading it at the time, but I had a hard time getting into it. Now I think it’s great though. Funny how that happens with books. Ulysses seemed impossible to me on my first attempt, but I tried again a few years later and burned through half of it in just a few weeks.

Anyway, what do all these books have to do with the chocolate cookies? Well, a couple weeks ago, at the beginning of my return to reading, I thought, “Hey, I’ve always wanted to read À la recherche du temps perdu. So, I got a copy of volume one from the libary. The last time it had been checked out, they were still using stamps on cards that stuck into a pouch inside the cover: 1984. I took Vol. 1 home, and made some madeleines, which are one of my favorite cookies, (and which are a major element of one of the most famous episodes in the book). I read a few pages and ate some madeleines. I thought the first few pages were really good. But a couple days later I concluded that I’d never finish the book in my present circumstances.  Most of my reading takes place on my commuter bus ride, and Proust’s masterpiece is far too dense for bus ride reading.

The cookies however were delicious. My favorite recipe is this one, but I usually use 1 Tbsp orange flower water instead of the lemon zest and juice to flavor them. The orange blossom tastes outstanding in combination with the chocolate variation of the cookies. I recommend it highly. You can get orange flower water at asian or middle easter grocery stores, where it may be called ma zaher.

The funniest thing about orange flower water though, is that it causes the madeleines to have a similar effect on me to the one they had on Proust’s narrator. We had this diaper and rash ointment, A+D Ointment,  in the house when I was very young, and I never knew why it smelled the way it did. Turns out it was scented with orange flower water. So, opening the bottle of water always transports me back to my infant, rash having years.  It took me a while to get over that association before I could enjoy foods that used the stuff. If you too have used that diaper ointment, you may have a hard time with re-appreciating the orange blossom smell, but give it time, and if you aren’t familiar with A+D ointment, forget I said anything.

Homemade Pita

February 2, 2010

If you’ve never eaten soft, warm pita straight from the oven, frankly I feel bad for you. So, this post will chronicle the results of some experiments I’ve done in home pita baking.

Like many breads, freshly baked pita is so delicious and so different from the room temperature, dry feeling, store bought, plastic-bagged version. On top of the delicious end-product, I enjoy watching the pitas magically puff up while they bake. Have you ever wondered how that pocket gets into the pita?

Well, when they come out of the oven, pitas can be almost spherical, and are filled with a pocket of air. The loaves collapse as they cool, leaving the stuffable pocket in the finished loaf. You can see the puffage in my low-tech time-lapse movie:

These events actually spanned a period of five minutes.

If you want to make pitas from scratch, I highly recommend reading this post by Farmgirl from 2005. Her recipe makes delicious pita, and I’ve achieved a successful puff rate of  at least 70-80% with her recipe. I don’t think I can improve on her recipe at all, without doing Cooks-Illustrated-style experiments involving 50-100 batches.

But a few weeks ago, I got to thinking, “Hmmm, you know, pizza dough is made from almost identical ingredients in almost identical proportions to that pita dough. I wonder if I could make pita from pre-made store-bought pizza dough?” If this worked, it would mean that I could bake fresh pita after work, and still eat at a reasonable hour.

Rising and kneading time account for most of the delay when making any yeast bread. Generally freshly baked bread proves to be totally worth the wait. But sometimes, I don’t have the foresight to know what I want for dinner tomorrow. I think to myself at lunch time that I’d like pita and falafel for dinner. Such was the case one day last week. So I executed my pita-from-pizza-dough experiment. The result: a total success!

I began with some refrigerated, Hannaford-brand whole wheat pizza dough (Hannaford is our regional grocery chain):

I opened the package, divided the dough into 8 parts, covered them with a damp tea towel, and allowed them to warm up to room temperature:Preheat your oven to 500°F. With well floured hands and a well floured board and rolling pin, roll each ball into a 3/16″ (5mm) thick circle. Perfect circles are not important. Uniform and appropriate thickness are important.

Thick, corrugated cardboard or some higher quality hardware store paint stirrers have about the right thickness to make good depth gauges. Just place the sticks on the edges of your board and roll the rolling pin on top of them. When the pita is as thick as the stirring sticks, it will be uniformly the proper thickness. Now that I’m thinking about it, I bet a National Geographic magazine might make a good depth gauge, too. Here are the rolled out proto-pitæ:

Place the dough disks on a piece of aluminum foil. If you have a pizza peel, it will be handy for getting the pitas into the oven. If not, no big deal. The pitas go into the oven sitting on only the foil. No cookie sheets. No baking stones. Just the foil on the oven rack. The bottoms of the pitas harden too quickly on a stone or baking sheet, inhibiting the puffage. Bake the discs, two to four at a time, for 5-7 minutes. You want the insides to be fully baked, but the outsides to still be soft with just a little golden brown coloring.

After the pitas come out, place them into a paper grocery bag, and roll the bag shut, or wrap them in foil. This will keep the loaves soft as they cool.

As you can see, everything worked fine out with the whole wheat dough. However, I repeated the experiment with white-flour pizza dough from Trader Joe’s. Not surprisingly, the white-flour loaves puffed up much higher. Also, I found the first batch of pitas to be a little small. So, I’d recommend dividing the package of dough into only six parts (for a 20 oz package of dough).

Vol-au-vent how-to

January 24, 2010

Some of my favorite things to bake are pastries that look really intricate and difficult when they are finished, but that don’t actually take much work. These Vol-au-vent are a good example, but I cheated a bit: I used pre-made, packaged pâte feuilletée. So these are kind of like making chocolate chip cookies from a tube, but they look fancy, don’t they? (more…)

Homemade English Muffins

November 12, 2009

I enjoy English muffins from the store (after they’ve been split, toasted and buttered), but homemade English muffins are in a whole different ballpark. Straight off the griddle, they taste delicious with or without butter, but if you know me,you know I’ll always go with the butter if it’s an option.


English muffins on the griddle

These are one of those foods that for some reason we tend to think cannot be made at home. (Pita is another one). However, they can be made at home; they are very easy to make, and they taste much better than the storebought ones, (which do taste fine; don’t get me wrong). They don’t even require an oven, just a griddle. The first time Beth and I made these (and the second and third times as well) was in Cameroon with a propane burner and a non-stick pan. The recipe (from the “Chop Fayner”):

The Ingredients:

  • 1 c.  hot water
  • 1/2 c. scalded milk
  • 2t sugar
  • 1t salt
  • cornmeal for dusting
  • 1T yeast
  • 4 c. flour
  • 3T softened butter or margarine

The Method:

Combine the warm water, milk, sugar, and yeast. Wait 10 minutes to see that the yeast froths up. Beat in 2 c of the flour & wait 1 hour. Add softened butter, salt, and the rest of the flour. Let rise until doubled. Roll to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut into 3″ circles on a surface generously covered in cornmeal. (We used the lid of an Ovaltine™ jar to cut them out).  Let rise until doubled in height. Grill on a lightly oiled, hot frying pan until puffed and lightly browned. Flip and brown the other side. Split with a fork and enjoy!

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Braided Calzones

September 30, 2009


I made some braided calzones during tax season, as can be seen below from the forms strewn about the back of the table. I think they turned out pretty well, and the same method could be used for strudel type dessert pastries if one used pie crust instead of pizza dough.

Here’s how the construction goes: (more…)

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