Category Archives: holiday

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Irish Whiskey Buttercream, St. Patrick’s Day, and Racism

A most astonishing thing
Seventy years have I lived;

(Hurrah for the flowers of Spring
For Spring is here again.)
                                  -WB Yeats

Apparently I only make cupcakes with booze in them.

A Missed Opportunity…

car bomb ingredients; kaluha has been dropped from most people's version. image from Sgt Mac's BarA friend sent me this recipe and actually offered to pay me to make it (as if that would be necessary). Even though I didn’t take him up on the cash, the offer somehow short-circuited my typical urge to tweak. I felt like I was “on assignment,” so it wasn’t until I was dusting the tops with cocoa powder and watching the caramel sauce cool that I realized I’d missed an opportunity to make another cocktail in cupcake form. If only I’d thought of it sooner, I could have come up with some kind of Irish Cream element, and these could have been Car Bomb Cupcakes.

An Irish Cream fudge or custard filling? Or maybe I could have added Bailey’s to the frosting along with the whisky, so the topping would mimic the shot traditionally dropped into the Guinness. Of course I would not have been the first person to come up with this idea.

…to Offend Someone?

Maybe it’s better that I didn’t go that route, though. Apparently some people find the “car bomb” name offensive because it seems to celebrate the violent tactics used by the IRA. The Connecticut bartender who claims to have invented the drink initially called his Bailey’s, Kaluha, and Jameson shot the “Grandfather” in honor of the “many grandfathers in Irish history.” It became known as the “IRA” because of the way Bailey’s bubbles up when you add whisky to it.* From there, it was a short conceptual leap to “car bomb” when he dropped it in a glass of Guinness on St. Patrick’s day in 1979.

No longer available, unclear if that's due to complaints or not. I’m sure Charles B. Oat meant no disrespect, he was just celebrating the holiday commemorating the death of the sainted Catholic Bishop who supposedly converted many Irish pagans by using shamrocks to illustrate the holy trinity the way most Americans do: with copious amounts of alcohol. Of course, that upsets some people, too, as seen in the recent controversy over American Apparel’s St. Patrick’s Day-themed merchandise, including shirts reading: “Kiss Me, I’m Drunk. Or Irish. Or Whatever.”   

The lack of malice doesn’t automatically exonerate American Apparel or the many people who will spend this Saturday drinking too many car bombs or green Budweiser. But I think the people who claim that American St. Patrick’s day celebrations perpetuate a hurtful “Drunken Paddy” stereotype or otherwise show disrespect for Irish people might be mistaken about how “Irish” anyone really thinks green beer and “car bombs” are. Sure, contemporary St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are inevitably mired in the complex history of racial politics and European imperialism. The fact that lots of Americans are really over-eager to identify with the one (now-) white ethnic group they know of that experienced overt racism and colonization is kind of bizarre and yet totally understandable. But the idea that it’s racist seems to imply that the widespread practice of wearing green while participating in an otherwise-unextraordinary early Spring bacchanalia actually bears some relationship to how people really think about or act towards Irish people.

The American Apparel shirt doesn’t mock Irish people so much as it mocks people who pretend to be Irish once a year while drinking until they do something stupid. It’s only offensive if you think there really is something characteristically Irish about drinking to excess. Similarly, the name “car bomb” is only offensive if you think there really is something uniquely Irish about vehicle-borne explosives or dropping Baileys in Guinness and chugging it before it curdles. I think the “Irishness” being performed and celebrated on March 17 bears about as much relation to Irishness as eating at Olive Garden has to Italianness. The American enthusiasm for consuming vast quantities of beer and breadsticks in the name of celebrating an ethnic heritage—whether their own or someone else’s—seems pretty innocent to me.**

Disclaimer: the lepruchan on the bottle is not meant to represent all Irish people or all people named Steve who have nieces and/or nephews, nor to imply that all Irish people or Uncles Steve wear green suits habitually or drink or even *like* Stout beer brewed in the style associated with Ireland, although it's not exclusive to Ireland, nor should it imply that they like any other kind of beer or alcholic beverages much, or at least not any more than anyone else does. Back to the subject of cupcakes after the jump…

*Does this actually happen? Why would whisky added to a liqueur that’s basically just a blend of cream and whisky with a few other flavorings bubble?

**On the other hand, I also tend to think that if someone tells you something you’re doing offends them, you should probably consider stopping it. I’m looking at you, University of Illinois fans who won’t let go of the Chief. On the other other hand, if there’s a clear and obvious distinction between offensive practices that perpetuate racial or ethnic stereotypes and hurt people’s feelings and inoffensive ones that benignly reference or perhaps even positively celebrate invented identities and traditions, I don’t know what it is.

Boo, Crystallized CaramelThey were reasonably pretty before the drizzle. Alas.

Instead of something Irish Cream-related, the third element in the original recipe I followed was a brown sugar caramel. Unfortunately, it crystallized and got clumpy before it was cool enough to drizzle. I followed the recipe exactly, even though I had misgivings, knowing how finicky caramel can be. But the recipe didn’t mention washing the sides of the pot with water or making sure you stop stirring at some point, and the brown sugar made it hard to go by visual cues. So, if you want a smooth, pretty amber drizzle instead of something vaguely excremental, I’d try another recipe—perhaps this one if you wanted to keep it vegan. The agave nectar probably works like the corn syrup that helps prevent crystallization in many normal recipes. Or you could amp up the Irish Whisky flavor by subbing that for the bourbon in a recipe like this.

Verdict

Honestly, these basically tasted like chocolate cupcakes with super-sweet vanilla buttercream. The flavor of the stout in the cake part came through a little, but the whiskey barely at all. So although they certainly sound like they’re in the spirit of the coming holiday, their “Irishness” might require some explanation, a bit like a bad Halloween costume. If I make them again, I’ll frost them with a meringe-based buttercream flavored with Irish Cream and drizzle them with a different caramel recipe, probably spiked with Irish whiskey. And maybe I’ll call them “Grandfather bomb cupcakes.” 

Recipe: Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Whiskey Buttercream (from Chef Chloe)

Ingredients:

with no extended butter-creaming or egg-beating, this is one of the easiest cupcake recipes I've ever madeCupcakes
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup stout beer (I used Short’s Uncle Steve’s Irish Stout)
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons white or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
ButtercreamJameson or Powers or whatever your favorite Irish whisky is would also work fine here
  • 1 cup shortening or margarine, at room temperature (vegan if desired)
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 to 5 tablespoons milk (vegan if desired)
  • 3 to 4 teaspoons Irish whiskey
Caramel
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ¼ cup margarine (vegan if desired, like Earth Balance)
  • 4 teaspoons milk (vegan if desired)

Method:

For the cupcakes:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F and line regular cupcake pans with 14-16 liners (I used 14 as called for, but they overflowed the cups a bit and then sank, so I would do 16 next time.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the stout, oil, vinegar, and vanilla. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and whisk until just combined. Batter may be lumpy—that’s okay. Don’t over-mix or you’ll get too much gluten development and they’ll be tough and/or they’ll be flat because you deflated some of the leavening that begins as soon as the baking soda mixes with the liquid and acid.

3. Fill the lined cupcake tins between half and two-thirds full. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean with a few crumbs clinging to it. Cool the cupcakes completely before frosting.

slightly fallen. probably means the cups were filled too full.

For the buttercream:

1. Beat the shortening or margarine (or other solid fat at room temperature) until smooth. Add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time and mix until combined. Add the milk 1 Tablespoon at at time until it reaches a spreadable consistency. Add the whiskey, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you achieve the desired taste. Beat on high for 2 more minutes until very light and fluffy.

2. If your cupcakes also fell, you can level the top with frosting if desired. To decorate with a soft-serve style swirl, transfer the frosting to a piping bag or zip-top bag with a corner snipped off, and pipe in a spiral, starting on the outside edge and working towards the center.

3. Dust the top with cocoa powder if desired—I put about a teaspoon of cocoa in a fine mesh sieve and then hold the sieve over the frosted cupcakes and tap the side of the basket with the spoon.

It's possible that I undercooked or overcooked the caramel? Based on this recipe,it's impossible to tell. Really, just don't use this part of this recipe, please.For the (gritty, crystallized) caramel:

1. Combine the brown sugar, margarine, and milk in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until it  comes together.

2. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook for 1-2 more minutes, until it begins to boil. Remove from the heat.

3. Let cool slightly and transfer to a ziptop bag and drizzle over the cupcakes.

New Year’s Eve 2012

Happy last year of the Mayan calendar! Here’s how I welcomed it: 

punch and jello shots just barely visible in the upper left corner

How the spread looked around 8pm

not pictured: meatballs, hummus, and quinoa-blackeyed pea bundles, all of which were delicious, but none of which I made so I can't tell you/link you to the recipe

Cheese Balls Three Ways: Cheddar-Cranberry, Roquefort-Shallot-Walnut, and Herbed Goat Cheese
Sourdough-risen Baguette
Sourdough-risen No-Knead Bread
Crudités
Bacon-wrapped Dates stuffed with Parmeggiano & Almonds
Deviled Eggs with Caviar
Shrimp Cocktail
Cheddar-Ale Gougères
Mini Crab Cakes with Cilantro-Lime Ailoi 
Candied Cranberries
Dulce de Leche Crisps
Chocolate-covered Strawberries
Champagne Jell-O Shots with Raspberries
Dark Chocolate Truffles rolled in Coconut or Spiced Nut Crumble
Spiced Nuts
Admiral’s Punch

Mostly crudites and cheese balls left.

How it looked around 2am

Everything linked above was a repeat. New things I would make again: the mini-crab cakes, the champagne Jell-O shots, and the cheddar-ale gougères. All three were easy, delicious, and gone by the end of the night. Things I probably won’t make again: the dulce de leche crisps, which were kind of boring—neither sweet nor salty enough to be interesting, the truffles, because the nut butter made them a little grainy, and the cocktail sauce, which was exactly like cocktail sauce out of a bottle so why bother? Nothing else exceeded or fell short of expectations. Cheese balls are cheese balls. Caviar deviled eggs are caviar deviled eggs. Details on all of it after the jump.

Cheese Balls Three Ways (from Martha Stewart)

I think swiss cheese with rosemary rolled in crushed potato chips might be pretty good. Or a pimento cheese version with american + pimentos, rolled in...I don't know, maybe pecans?

These are tasty, pretty, and super simple: all three use the same cream cheese base and then you just fold in the different cheeses and roll them in different coatings. They’re also infinitely adaptable and can be made a few days in advance. Don’t like blue cheese and walnuts? How about pepper jack and pecans? Hate cheddar? Try swiss. Vehemently opposed to fruit and cheese combinations? Sundried tomatoes would be just as festive as the craisins. The one thing I might do in the future is halve everything: 3 lbs of cheese ball is a little much, even for a pretty big gathering. 

Candied Cranberries (from the Boston Examiner)

I keep thinking these would be a good garnish for something, but I'm not sure what...maybe some kind of custard? Eggnog creme brulee?Last year, I cooked the simple syrup to the hard ball stage, and the cranberries were almost impossible to extract and separate. This year, I followed the instructions exactly and they were much easier, but retained a lot more tartness & bitterness. I loved them anyway, but not everyone will. If you want them sweeter, you might try cooking the syrup to thread stage (230-235 F) before letting it cool and adding the berries.

Dulce de Leche Crisps (from Food and Wine)

I think unless "a grown-up twist" means "with booze in it," it's probably a bad thing.

Food and Wine described these as a “a grown-up twist on the classic Rice Krispies Treats,” which I guess is accurate in so far as adulthood is generally harder and less enjoyable. The rice gets toasted and combined with dulce de leche and sliced almonds, shaped into little mounds, sprinkled with salt and more dulce de leche, and baked. I think the main problem is they’re not quite sweet enough to provide a good counterpoint to the salt and just end up kind of “meh.” It’s possible that a drizzle of chocolate, a handful of butterscotch chips, and/or a pre-sweetened cereal would improve them, although those are probably all ways of regressing back to a less grown-up treat. Maybe the lesson here is that Rice Krispies, unlike cheddars and wine, don’t get better with age.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries (from The Food Network)

This was another one of the things we had a lot of leftovers of. It's possible I should have only made 1 lb of strawberries.

You don’t really need a recipe for this: melt some chocolate, dip strawberries in it. But the link above is useful for providing guidelines about how much chocolate to melt. I added some shortening because it prevents the chocolate from blooming without the fuss of perfect tempering and doesn’t change the taste/texture all that much. I also used a ziploc bag with the corner snipped off for drizzling, which is especially useful for the white chocolate which doesn’t really get runny enough to drizzle even when melted.

Bacon-wrapped Dates stuffed with Parmeggiano & Almonds

pro-tip: use not-thick-cut bacon

After trying these with chorizo, goat cheese, blue cheese, parmeggiano matchsticks, marcona almonds, and parmeggiano+almonds together, I think my favorite filling is still the first one I tried: chorizo. But they’re all pretty good. This year, I made the mistake of buying bacon that was too nice—really thick and gorgeously smoky, but it kept splitting as I tried to wrap the dates. Normal, not-thick, not specially-smoked bacon or proscuitto is the way to go.

Deviled Eggs with Caviar (from The Splendid Table)

we always have to have something with caviar, even though by "caviar" I usually mean cheap, frozen capelin roe

I added a few tablespoons of Dijon to these because eggs just don’t taste “deviled” to me without any mustard. You could probably use all sour cream or all Greek yogurt instead of a combination. The idea of sour cream + dill + caviar combo seemed vaguely Baltic to me, but they basically just tasted like deviled eggs with caviar. Good, but nothing all that special.

Shrimp Cocktail (from Smitten Kitchen)

ice in the bowl kept these nice and chilly all night I roughly followed poaching method described by Smitten Kitchen—simmered the shrimp shells and strained them out to make a stock, and then added a hefty glug of white wine, a dozen or so peppercorns, some tarragon and thyme and a lot of salt and sugar. Brought it all to a boil, threw the shrimp in, took it off the heat and covered it, let it sit for 8 minutes. Simple, tasty, but as mentioned above: the homemade cocktail sauce is not different or better than the prepared kind.

Champagne Jell-O Shots with Raspberries (aka “Champagne gelée” per Saveur, Epicurious, and Martha Stewart)

You could also use an 8x8 or 9x13 and just cut them into "shots"

These were definitely one of the highlights of the evening. I didn’t really follow any of the recipes linked above, although they provided the inspiration. Instead, I sprinkled two envelopes of plain gelatin over 2 cups of champagne and let it soak for 5 minutes while I boiled 1 cup of champagne with 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup Elderberry cordial. I stirred the hot champagne syrup into the bowl with the soaked gelatin, stirred until the gelatin dissolved and then poured it into mini-muffin tins and plopped a raspberry in each one. I chilled them for about an hour. To unmold them, I set the mini-muffin pan in a shallow baking sheet filled with lukewarm water for 30-45 seconds and then inverted the pan over another baking sheet lined with plastic wrap. I had to shake it a little, but they popped out pretty easily.

I was really hoping some bubbles would get trapped in the gelatin, but no such luck—the champagne fizzed up when I sprinkled the gelatin over it and the boiled stuff also released all its gasses long before chilling. Based on this article, I think you’d have to add some champagne at the very end. Blumenthal dissolves the gelatin in about 2 1/2 oz champagne + 3 1/2 oz liqueur and then adds the rest of the champagne directly to the molds. So I think next time I’ll try dissolving the sugar in 1/2 cup champagne + 1/4 cup Elderberry cordial (or another liqueur), sprinkling the gelatin over 1/2 cup champagne, stirring those two together and letting them cool to room temp, and then pouring in the remaining 2 cups of champagne just before pouring it into the molds.  

Cheddar-Ale Gougères (from 101 Cookbooks)

gougeres are kind of like un-filled cream puffs, and might be tasty filled with something like a Greek or mayonnaise-based salad

I took Heidi’s advice to make these in advance up to the baking step and then freeze them—worked perfectly. They still puffed up like magic in the oven. I under-baked them slightly, so a few of them collapsed just a bit and they were a little doughy inside but still tasty. Like the cheese balls, you can flavor these however you like—any kind of cheese/herb liquid will work. I used a chocolate ale, sharp cheddar, and thyme. Maybe next time, I’ll try gruyere, white wine, and rosemary.

Mini Crab Cakes with Cilantro-Lime Ailoi (from Always Order Dessert)

I think these were my favorite

Easy, delicious bite-sized crabcakes that don’t have to be deep-fried and are tasty even at room temperature. Can be baked in advance and held at room temp or re-warmed just before people show up.

Dark Chocolate Truffles (adapted from a Gourmet recipe)

in retrospect, I should have made a truffle yin-yang. my thirteen-year-old self is disappointed in me for failing to realize that at the time.

These were just okay. I used cashew butter in place of the almond butter, but neither that nor the dulce de leche came through much. So they just tasted like chocolate and the coatings, which wasn’t bad or anything, just nothing special. Plus, the centers weren’t nearly as smooth as traditional ganache-filled truffles. Instead of rolling them in cocoa powder, I did half in white chocolate with shredded coconut and half in dark chocolate with spiced nuts and chopped sliced almonds—the latter of which was great, and I would do again. I know I’m kind of doing the: “this recipe is mediocre. I didn’t follow it at all” thing, but I don’t think following it exactly would have yielded significantly better results.

So, there you have it: a merrily excessive farewell to the old and hello to the new. Wishing everyone a 2012 precisely as productive, pleasurable, meaningful, irreverent, nourishing, exciting, and relaxing as you want it to be.

Holy Crap, it’s Christmas! Cookies Part II: Soft Molasses Cookies

warm spiced cookies + a $5 bottle of blanc de blancs (thanks trader joe!) = enough holiday spirit to finally get around to decorating the tree

The Lovechild of a Gingerbread Man and a Snickerdoodle

Most of my Christmas standards are things I make because other people like them or because they’re my grandma’s recipes. In some ways, isn’t Christmas really all about grandmas? These are the one exception. They’re the cookies I make because I like them.

you could use cinnamon sugar if you want, but there's plenty of cinnamon in the dough and with the molasses making the dough darker, I'm not sure it would have much of a visual effectTexturally, they’re almost identical to snickerdoodles—they have the same ratio of butter : sugar : flour :  eggs and they’re also rolled in sugar before baking, so the outside gets crackly and has a little crunch. But flavor-wise, they’re all gingerbread: molasses and cinnamon and nutmeg and ginger and cloves. You can imagine how they smell as they bake.

The best part about these cookies is that if you don’t over-bake them, they turn out amazingly soft. And they stay that way even after they cool, even if you don’t store them in a perfectly airtight container, even if you want to make them a week before Christmas and savor them until New Year’s Day. I think it must be because of the little bit of oil in the dough. It does make them a little more prone to falling apart, but I think that’s a small price to pay for enduring just-out-of-the-oven softness.

If you like the kind of gingerbread that bites back, you might want to double all the spices. I think they’re  perfect as is: as much butter as you can possibly get into a cookie without it melting into a puddle of goo (which they occasionally do anyway, as you can see at approximately 3 o’clock in the picture above), just enough molasses and spices to be festive without getting too overbearing, and a little sparkle from the sugary coating. They’re also the easiest part of this year’s pared-down cookie assortment.

I don't know why they look so much darker here than above. Same cookies, I swear. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Recipe: Soft Molasses Cookies (from JoyofBaking.com)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flourI would not use blackstrap molasses. Also, whatever kind of measuring device you use, spray it with non-stick cooking spray first and you'll save yourself a lot of fuss.
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/4 teaspoon regular)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons neutral cooking oil (I used peanut)
  • 1/3 cup unsulphured molasses
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup white sugar (for rolling)

Method:

1. Whisk the dry ingredients together (flour, soda, salt, & spices).

2. Cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes with a stand or hand mixer, 5-10 minutes arm power).

3. Add the oil, molasses, egg, and vanilla to the butter mixture and beat until fully incorporated.

4. Add the flour mixture and stir just until fully incorporated.butter and brown sugar, beaten until light and fluffy

5. Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to a week.

6. Preheat the oven to 375 and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

7. Put the white sugar in a bowl. Shape the cookies by pinching off pieces of dough about the size of a walnut, rolling them between your palms until they form smooth balls, and coating them in the sugar.

8. Using something with a flat bottom, like a drinking glass, flatten the balls slightly.

squish. also, this glass wants scotch.

9. Bake for 9-10 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies are crinkled but barely dry. They will look a little underdone.

10. Let them cool on the pans for about 10 minutes and then remove them to a cooling rack or paper towels to cool completely. Store any that don’t get eaten immediately in an airtight container.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day: Soda Bread with Sourdough Starter and Seeds (or not)

Loaf in the foreground was refrigerated overnight, loaf in the background was baked immediately

Soda vs. Sourdough

Sourdough soda bread is kind of a contradiction. Soda bread was created in the mid-19th century after chemical leaveners became commercially available in Ireland. Ireland’s climate is best suited to “soft” or low-gluten wheat, which is not so great for producing networks of protein that trap the gas produced by yeast. What it is great for is tender, flaky or crumbly “quick” breads. Traditional Irish soda bread is a kind of like a loaf-sized biscuit or scone, except not so flaky, because there’s not as much fat in the dough. It does have the same tender, cake-like crumb and the distinctive flavor of baking soda and buttermilk. Some people also like to add caraway seeds, currants or raisins, although apparently that’s not an “everyday” bread for the purists.

As far as I'm concerned, "slather" means thick enough to see teeth marksAt its best, soda bread is moist, dense, and a little crumbly—an ideal accompaniment for any kind of soup or stew or a thick slice of aged cheddar. It’s also great slathered with good salted butter. I wanted to get some Kerry Gold, but my grocery store doesn’t seem to carry it so I went with Lurpak instead. Both Kerry Gold and Lurpak get high marks for being made from grass-fed cows and thus higher in omega-3s and for possibly being more delicious than regular butter. I’m honestly surprised how much better the Lurpak tastes to me, but will probably still do a blind taste test sometime to see if that’s just expectation bias. They both get low marks for being expensive and flown across the ocean. Screw you, polar bears! Actually, I’d like to see a life-cycle analysis on pastured butter from Michigan (heated barns?) vs. pastured butter from Ireland.

Anyhow, the whole essence of soda bread is basically antithetical to yeast leavening, because the former depends on not having gluten networks, which would make the texture chewy and bready, and the former depends on gluten networks to trap the gas the yeast produce. However, I’m trying to prevent Ezekiel from becoming another casualty of my push to finish the dissertation (along with my social life and regular blog posting and personal hygiene…). So I decided to try using starter as just another ingredient, instead of the primary leavener—basically just substituting sourdough starter for some of the flour and water. There is probably some way to make sourdough-leavened soda bread. According to The Food Timeline, Irish people did make something similar to soda bread using sourdough or beer barm before the manufacture of sodium bicarbonate. But I couldn’t find a recipe that seemed to fit the bill online in less than ten minutes.

Seduced by Seeds

I did, however, find a few gorgeous pictures of a “Six-seeded Soda Bread” from the cookbook River Cottage Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, proud owner of the world’s most British-sounding name. And I also came across this strange sourdough quick bread involving chemical leaveners and an egg.

Nigella seeds are also known as kalonji seeds or black cumin and used primarily in South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking.I decided to kind of combine the two, with some substitutions based on what I had on hand: I used 1 T. flax meal instead of flax seeds and nigella seeds instead of poppy seeds. I’ve been accumulating bacon grease faster than I can use it, so I decided to use that instead of vegetable oil. I also decided to use regular buttermilk instead of buttermilk powder and water. And then I decided to experiment with the rising time to see what the difference would be between baking it straight away (while the baking soda action is optimal) and letting it sit in the refrigerator overnight.

The Verdict

Thumbs up: Sourdough Starter and Overnight Refrigeration

Thumbs down: Whole Grain Flours and Fennel Seed

The dough was wetter initally, so spread more horizontally

I had to bake this one longer, either because the inside was still cool from refrigeration or because it stayed so much rounder it just took longer for the center to be done, or both.

 Left: baked immediately, Right: refrigerated overnight

The sourdough starter didn’t cause any problems—the bread wasn’t tough at all, and the flavor of the loaf I refrigerated overnight was great, aside from the overwhelming fennel. It also rose beautifully in the oven, despite Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s claim that you “need to get it into the oven while the baking soda is still doing its stuff.” (Never underestimate the power of Irish soda bread to rise, you limey bastard!) The refrigeration also enabled the flour to absorb more of the moisture, so it held the shape of the loaf better and turned out much prettier. Another view:

Refrigerated loaf is about 1/3 taller

However, the multigrain flour was a terrible idea, and in retrospect I should have known better. Remember how I said it’s basically a loaf-sized biscuit? In my experience, whole wheat biscuits suck. And to make matters worse, I got all ambitious about the whole-grained-ness and instead of using half all-purpose or white bread flour, I used half “white whole wheat” which is still milled using the whole grain, it’s just a made from a kind of wheat that lacks some of the phenolic compounds in normal wheat; King Arthur’s calls it an “albino wheat.” It turned out way too crumbly and disappointingly virtuous-tasting, which is basically how I feel about everything I’ve made that was inspired by 101 Cookbooks. She takes lovely pictures and seems to have a remarkable fidelity to her particular, soy-centric idea of “health,” but man, we just have different culinary aesthetics. In the future, I’ll stick to white flour for my biscuits and soda bread. Live and learn.

Also, even though I halved the amount of fennel seed in the River Cottage recipe, it was still overpowering. Quoth Brian: “There’s no such thing as ‘a little’ fennel.” Unless you love it, leave it out. The other seeds were okay, but I think they just made an already-crumbly bread crumblier without adding much in the way of flavor. They’re kind of pretty, but ultimately I just don’t think they belong in this kind of bread.

So below, I’ve written out both the recipe I used and the recipe I’ll use next year, retaining the starter and and overnight rise, but ditching the virtue-flour and fennel seed. Since it’s not sourdough-leavened, the starter doesn’t need to be active, meaning you don’t could just as easily get the same effect by substituting some flour and water or more buttermilk.

For all those who celebrate this Thursday, Irish or not, Beannachtaí na Féile Páraic oraibh! (Blessings of St. Patrick’s Day Upon Ye!). Drink a Guinness for me.

Recipe: Seeded Soda Bread with Sourdough Starter (adapted from eHow and 101 Cookbooks)

Ingredients (for 1 loaf):

  • 1 cup sourdough starter (100% hydration, does not need to be refreshed)*
  • 1 egg
  • 2 T. liquid fat (I used melted rendered bacon grease, substitute olive or canola oil or melted butter as desired)
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup regular milk soured with 1 t. vinegar or lemon juice)
  • 1 cup whole wheat or multigrain flour (I used the Westwind Whole Grain Bread Flour)
  • 1 cup “white” whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats (regular or quick-cooking)
  • 1 T. flax meal
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 3 t. baking powder
  • 1 T. sugar (optional)
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 T each: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and nigella seeds
  • 1/2 t. fennel seeds (or caraway seeds, if desired)

Recipe: Regular Soda Bread with Sourdough Starter

Ingredients (for 1 loaf)

  • 1 cup sourdough starter (100% hydration, does not need to be refreshed)*
  • 1 egg
  • 2 T. liquid fat
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats (regular or quick-cooking)
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 3 t. baking powder
  • 1 T. sugar (optional)
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • optional additions: 1/2 cup raisins or dried currants, 1 t. caraway seeds

*If you don’t have an active starter, you can substitute 2/3 cup water and 2/3 cup flour. No yeast is necessary as the baking powder & soda do the rising in this recipe.

Method:

1. If baking immediately, preheat oven to 400 F.

2. Whisk together the starter (or just the 2/3 cup water), egg, liquid fat, and buttermilk until well combined.

3. If using the seeds, combine them and put about 1 T. aside in a small bowl for sprinkling on top of the loaf.

4. In a large bowl, stir the dry ingredients together (including the 2/3 cup flour if omitting the starter and the remainder of the seeds, if using). Then, make a small well in the center of the mixture and pour in the wet ingredients. Stir just until it begins to form a sticky dough. Add a little more buttermilk if it’s too dry and crumbly to form a ball. Add a little flour if it’s so sticky you can’t shape it.

the bacon grease formed little droplets, but mixed into the dough just fine dry ingredients whisked together. check out my amazing array of whisks! it's kind of embarassing how many I have.

Just whisked together until it forms a dough

5. If not baking immediately, cover the bowl and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Remove from refrigerator an hour before baking to allow to return to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 400F 15-20 minutes before baking.

6. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently once or twice, just until the texture is even. Lightly flour a baking sheet and place the ball on the sheet.

7. Cut a deep “x” in the top (cuts should go at least 1/3 of the way through the loaf, or deeper if desired—101 Cookbooks says 2/3 of the way through).

The first loaf, not refrigerated the second loaf, refrigerated--see how it held a higher shape instead of spreading out laterally

8. Brush the top with buttermilk (or regular milk, or melted butter or lard, or a beaten egg) and sprinkle with the remaining seeds, if using.

9. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until the top and bottom are brown and the internal temperature is at least 190F (a metal skewer inserted into the center should come out clean).

Let cool 10-15 minutes before cutting.

New Year’s Eve pictures and links

With the spiced nuts and chocolate-covered buttercreams already done in advance, almost everything else could be made the day before the party and assembled or baked the day of. Before

Hey, 2011

Welcome to the new blog austerity. Rather than write out special feature posts for all the recipes I used for our fourth annual New Year’s Eve party, I’m just going to post pictures and links with brief annotations about how I modified them (if I did) or how I’d do them differently if I make them again. They’re all finger foods, so they’re perfect for entertaining or taking to an open house party where people will be grazing rather than sitting down with plates & silverware.

Clockwise from the bottom right:

Marshmallows with Toasted Coconut
Smoked Trout Pâté
Bacon-Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Almonds (represented by the empty dish)
Goat Cheese & Pine Nut Canapés
Spinach-Artichoke Pinwheels
Spiced Nuts
Bourbon Balls
Assorted Cheesecake Bites
Fig and Blue Cheese Crackers
Scallop Mousse in Phyllo Cups
Chocolate-covered Buttercreams
Candied Cranberries
Crudité Platter with Harissa Dip

After

More pictures and recipes after the jump.

Marshmallows with Toasted Coconut

These were kind of like little poufy macaroon bites.

I used Alton Brown’s Homemade Marshmallow Recipe with almond extract in place of the vanilla, and I coated the pan in toasted coconut, sprinkled more on top, and rolled the sticky edges of the cut marshmallows in yet more. That required about 3 cups of sweetened shredded coconut, which I toasted by spreading it on cookie sheets and baking it for about 15 minutes in a 300F oven, stirring it every 5 minutes or so until it was golden brown. If you want to know more about the history of the marshmallow, that’s here.

Smoked Trout Pâté on Baguette

Would also make a lovely molded dish for a buffet served with crackers or toasted pita.

Based on a Good Housekeeping recipe, which only has 2/5 stars even though the sole reviewer says “AAA+” which seems a little hyperbolic, but maybe that’s just the nature of ebayspeak. For the party, I served it on homemade, sourdough-risen baguette. I plan on making it again the next time I make bagels because it evokes the lox & cream cheese thing, but smokier and creamier. I used regular cream cheese and mayonnaise and added a tablespoon of capers and a pinch of cayenne. The only other thing I’ll change the next time I make it is to scale it down, probably to 1/3 of the original, because the original recipe makes a kind of epic amount of pâté. Quoth Brian, who was in charge of spreading it on the baguette slices: “This is so boring. I don’t remember when I wasn’t spreading pâté on bread.”

Bacon-Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Almonds

It turns out if you decide to secure the bacon with toothpicks and then you broil the dates instead of baking them, the toothpicks may go up in flame just like matchsticks and be basically useless for serving. Live and learn: soak the toothpicks in water first.

You don’t really need a recipe for this, but here’s one from Martha Stewart. In the past, I’ve stuffed them with either chorizo or goat cheese, which usually required cutting the dates in half and was kind of a pain, which is why I went with almonds this year. I’ve also heard of people using pistachios, blue cheese, cream cheese, parmeggiano matchsticks, or ricotta. Last year, I served them in a sweet & sour pineapple/balsamic reduction sauce, which I kept warm in a chaffing dish. You could also make a spicy chorizo-laced dipping sauce. Or you can forego the stuffing and/or sauce entirely and they’ll still be pretty delicious.  

Herbed Goat Cheese with Toasted Pine Nuts on Baguette

This might also work as a vegetable and/or cracker dip, possibly thinned with a little cream.Not based on anything—really, the recipe is in the name. I combined a big log of goat cheese (10 oz) with the zest of a lemon, two cloves of garlic zapped for 15-20 seconds in the microwave just to tame the bite a little, and about tablespoon of fresh thyme and rosemary. Salt and pepper to taste and a pinch of cayenne. You could substitute a head of roasted garlic instead of raw, use 1-2 t. dried herbs instead of fresh, add a pinch of smoked paprika, some lemon juice, some olives or capers, or whatever you like. I toasted the pine nuts (about 1/3 cup) in a skillet over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes until they were fragrant and beginning to brown. You could also use toasted almond slices or chopped pecans or top it with something else, like roasted cherry tomatoes or pimentos. Like the trout pâté, this was served on slices of homemade sourdough-risen baguette.

Spinach-Artichoke Pinwheels

I got this from a Southern Living recipe posted on Myrecipes, and after making them three or four times I think I’ve decided they’re prettier than they are tasty. Perhaps they needed more cheese or something? The idea’s not bad, especially because you can make the filling and roll the puff pastry logs months in advance, and then it takes less than a half an hour to slice and bake them, and that’s including the time it takes to pre-heat the oven. I may try it again with pimento cheese instead of the spinach-artichoke spread. That wouldn’t provide as much of a visual contrast, but I think the spicy, tangy cheese filling would be a better foil for the buttery puff pastry. Or maybe I just need to add more/better parmesan and a hit of cayenne to the spinach-artichoke filling.

Spiced Nuts

new years 2011 063

That’s nearly 4 lbs of spiced nuts, approximately 50% of which are cashews. The imbalance was Brian’s doing, but I’m in favor because whenever I encounter a bowl of mixed nuts that includes cashews, I have to exert stupid amounts of willpower to be nut-blind and eat whatever happens to be on top, even if that’s a peanut. And sometimes, when I see other people near the bowl, I eye them suspiciously to see if they’re picking out the cashews the way I really want to. Which has resulted, more than once, in me catching someone else in the act of cashew-preferential nut consumption, and momentarily thinking uncharitable thoughts about them…before rushing over to join them before all the cashews are gone. My nut preferences are more or less moot once they’re all coated in a crunchy cinnamon and cayenne-spiked meringue—at which point, they’re all like crack—but it certainly doesn’t seem like you can go wrong by tipping the balance in favor of cashews.

Bourbon Balls

Much of the alcohol evaporates, so the booze provides more flavor than bite. Still, best to use something you like the taste of--apparently rum is a good alternative if you're not a fan of bourbon From Melissa Clark on Food52, these are basically balls of bourbon-soaked chocolate cookie crumbs studded with pecans. I let the “dough” sit, covered, for about 8 hours and thought it was a little dry when I began to shape the balls. In retrospect, I probably should have just added another glug of bourbon, but I thought maybe that was the texture it was supposed to have. I didn’t actually measure the cookie crumbs, because one package of Nabisco’s Famous Chocolate Wafers seemed like about 2.5 cups, but maybe the recipe is actually designed for a little less cookie? They were good, but definitely not super moist, so if I make them again, I’ll follow my instincts and add the extra bourbon.

Assorted Cheesecake Bites

new years 2011 047

This was the one thing I thought was pretty mediocre. I used an eHow recipe, halved. The original calls for only 1/2 cup sugar for 24 oz. cream cheese. I added a little more, but they still weren’t nearly as sweet as I usually expect cheesecake to be. I also wasn’t crazy about the vanilla wafer crust—if I make them again, I’ll do a more traditional graham cracker base. I also didn’t get especially creative with the toppings. Maybe in the future, if I make these again, I’ll flavor half of the cream cheese mixture with pumpkin & spices or melted dark chocolate and make little marbled cheesecake bites. As is, these are just kind of boring.

Fig and Blue Cheese Crackers

My friend Sara recommends eating them upside down so you taste the sweetness of the fig first, otherwise it can be overshadowed by the blue cheese.

This recipe from Food52 is similar to classic southern cheese straws—essentially a pastry crust recipe substituting cheese for some of the butter—but instead of cutting them into sticks, you cut them in  circles, make a tiny depression in the middle, and fill it with a dab of fig preserves. The result is like a little, buttery, bite-sized version of one of my favorite salads. I imagine you could use any kind of cheese/fruit pairing you like—goat cheese and raspberry, sharp cheddar with cherry or apricot, etc. Additionally, you can make them a day or two in advance, but make sure they’re fully cooled before you store them between layers of waxed paper or the fig preserves will stick.

Scallop MousseIf you have access to an Asian market or grocery store with a decent selection of Asian foods, you can probably get roe for about $2/oz rather than $20/oz. Another one from Food52, this one from ChefJune. Brian made this, and we both thought it was really amazing…until he added the vermouth-soaked gelatin. After that, it was polarizing. Brian thought it was so bad he didn’t want to serve it, but at least one person at the party said it was his favorite thing. I thought it was good, but not as good as it was before adding the vermouth. In the future, I would use white wine instead of the vermouth. The recipe shows it molded into one big shell, and also suggested using madeleine molds for individual serving-sizes. We just chilled it in a bowl and then scooped it into pre-baked phyllo cups with a melon baller.

Chocolate-covered Buttercreams

new years 2011 053

I’ve already posted about these, but a special message to the haters out there: don’t knock my flavor choices until you’ve tried them. I’m not “chasing the next thing.” Peppermint, cinnamon, orange, lavender, almond, and rose are all traditional candy flavorings. Lavender and rose aren’t very common in the U.S. today (although many gourmet chocolatiers and several national brands do sell lavender-flavored chocolate) but they have been popular at other times and places. In the words of a kindergartener: Don’t yuck my yum.

Candied Cranberries

If you don't overcook the syrup, they'll be prettierWhole, fresh cranberries coated in a hard candy shell and rolled in more sugar for sparkle—they pop when you bite into them, tart and sweet and totally delicious. I sort of followed Leah Bloom’s recipe on the Examiner, but I let the simple syrup cook to hard ball stage. That turned out to be a terrible idea, because it began to set into one big sauce-pan sized chunk of cranberry brittle almost before it was cool enough to try to separate the cranberries out and roll them in sugar. So next time, I’ll actually follow the recipe. These would make a lovely garnish for a holiday dessert, too—they’re like little edible jewels.

Harissa Dip with Crudité Platter

Rippley carrots and cucumbers courtesy of my new mandoline, which was a Christmas present.

I just kind of made this up as I went along: a jar of roasted red peppers, a half-pound block of feta cheese, 2 or 3 ounces of cream cheese, 3 or 4 teaspoons of harissa, a pinch of cayenne, a handful of fresh cilantro, the juice of about half a lemon, and salt to taste—all whizzed in a food processor until smooth. Creamy, briny, tangy, spicy. Thinned with a little more lemon juice and perhaps a little olive oil, this might make a nice salad dressing, too.

Happy New Year, everyone!

A Food Policy & Politics Christmas Wish List

Santa baby, just slip sustainable aquaculture
under the tree, for me.
Been an awful good girl, Santa baby,
So hurry down the chimney tonight.

I wonder if she's asking for a garbage-fed pig, too. Also, I love that it looks like she's saying, "Santa, how could you? Why, I've never heard of such a thing!"From flickr user duluoz cats

Dear Santa,

I know I can be a bit of a “negative Nancy.” I spend a lot more time criticizing existing policy and reform efforts than offering alternatives or solutions. Of course, that’s partially due to the fact that not all policies need alternatives—the flip side of a lot of my apparent negativity is that I have a much sunnier outlook on the U.S. food system than many self-identified foodies and people associated with the “food revolution.”

For example, I’m down on most anti-obesity initiatives because I don’t think obesity causes serious diseases or death. I’m open to evidence to the contrary, but in all the epidemiological studies I’ve seen (including the ones cited by the WHO and NIH when they redefined “obesity” to a lower BMI range) BMI isn’t even significantly correlated with an increased risk of mortality until you get into the territory of severe or morbid obesity (BMI 35+). The number of Americans in that category has been growing since 1980, but it still amounts to less than 5% of the U.S. population, far less than the 30-60% of overweight or obese Americans usually cited as the evidence that we’re in the midst of an obesity “epidemic.” Americans on average aren’t much fatter than they were 50 or 100 years ago. The “typical American diet” high in refined grains and sugar probably isn’t optimal for human health (for reasons other than that it makes most people fatter), but it nonetheless enables many people to live long, relatively healthy lives.

What with the kids in laps and such, I'd think Santa might be more concerned about keeping his Ginger *down*, but what do I know?From Found in Mom’s Basement.

I think we’re doing somewhere between okay and great on several other fronts, too. Although imperfect in many ways, the industrial food production and distribution systems are sometimes more efficient in terms of total inputs and carbon emissions per calorie or pound than small, local farms—environmentalists should celebrate the spread of no-till farming and possibility of safe GMO crops that increase yields with reduced water, nitrogen, or phosphorus needs. Illnesses caused by food-borne pathogens are probably less common now than at any point in our country’s history (and new estimates about the incidence of food-borne illness are even lower). For anyone who’s interested in novel foods, there’s probably never been a better time or place to be an eater. The ever-increasing flows of people, goods, and information around the world have made everything from far-flung regional specialties to ancient recipes to innovative taste experiences more available to more consumers than ever.

Of course, that doesn’t mean things couldn’t be better. So here’s a list of seven changes I would like to see in how people produce, consume, regulate, and talk about food in the U.S. It’s a bit of a motley assortment—if there’s one thing people in the “food movement” seem to agree on it’s that food is implicated in our lives in a myriad of interconnected ways. I think there’s room for improvement in multiple realms. 

Is it just me or does this look like 1950s-era photoshopping? I'm skeptical that that dude's cheeks were actually that rosy, and wonder if maybe he wasn't really wearing that hat or holidng that magic kit. From flickr user HA! Designs

1. More Garbage-fed Pigs. This might be impractical, or ultimately less efficient than just feeding them  corn, but it certainly seems like it would make sense to feed more restaurant and/or home kitchen waste food to pigs. That might require revisiting some recent changes in state and local laws—according to the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida, the practice of feeding pigs garbage in the U.S. has “declined in recent years because of stricter federal, state, and local laws regulating animal health, transportation, and the feed usage of food waste.”

1940s wartime poster from the UK, from the Mary Evans Picture Library, which will sell it to you as a mousepad or jigsaw puzzle. Click.According to George Monbiot, similar changes in the UK have caused the percentage of edible grain in pig feed to double from 33% in the early 1990s to over 60% today, replacing crop residues and food waste. He claims that was largely an overreaction to fears about mad cow disease, even though there’s no danger in letting pigs eat meat and bone meal. Given that it’s now apparently against English law to feed kitchen scraps—even vegetable matter—to pet pigs, I’m inclined to believe him.

I’m all for food safety, but perhaps we could re-examine whether recent laws about the feed usage of food waste are really protecting pigs and people from disease, or just preventing us from making good use of garbage. Anyone who’s ever worked in a restaurant knows how much food gets thrown out. Legal or not, I’ve heard about some people buying kitchen slops from restaurants to feed their pigs, and that sounds like a win-win: the restaurant profits from their garbage, and the hobby farmer gets cheap, high-quality pig food. I’m imagining something like that, but on a grander scale. Could we increase the amount of food waste in pig feed to 60-70% nationwide? Get on it, Santa.

2. More funding for food stamps. Not only do they prevent poor people from having to choose between buying food and paying the rent, they also provide the best stimulus “bang for the buck.” The biggest disappointment of the new school lunch bill is that it’s partially funded by cuts in federal funding for SNAP. If you’re the type to get your panties in a bunch over the possibility that a handful of underemployed college graduates might use them at Whole Foods, just remember 1) that’s probably not hurting anyone and 2) it’s not how the vast majority of food stamps get used. From Economix, click for link

3. More sustainable aquaculture. I love fish, but it’s getting hard to keep track of what kinds are safe and ethical and I’m worried about declining ocean stocks and the ecological impact of farmed salmon. Some promising developments I’ve heard about in the last year are aquaponics and farmed barramundi. More please?

4. Living wages for farm and food industry workers. Congrats to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, who finally won the $0.01/lb raise they’ve been fighting for since 2001, which may raise their average annual income from $10,000 to $17,000. But that’s still pretty terrible. The low cost of fast food that people like Pollan complain about is almost certainly due more to the declining cost of labor in the last three decades than to farm subsidies. Thirty years ago, most meatpacking jobs were unionized and paid decent wages. I want that back.

Of course, it’s possible that if that happened, everyone else ( at least in the bottom 80% of income earners) would need help paying for the increased cost of food. So I guess this is a two-part request, and it’s probably the “big ticket” item on the list: I want more equitable income distribution. As Ezra Klein argued on the Washington Post site recently, there’s no reason to take our current rates of income inequality for granted.

In 1969, for instance, the average CEO made 26 times what the average worker made. Today, it’s closer to 500 times.

Not so in Japan, where “it’s indecent for rich people to make too much money because, after all, these are collaborative endeavors.” I’m not saying everyone needs to take home an identical paycheck, but I have a hard time believing the work and expertise of the average CEO is worth 500 times the work and expertise of their average employee. Or that the bankers who made deals with Magnetar deserve exponentially greater compensation than the people who spend all day every day picking vegetables or disemboweling beef carcasses. If that’s too much to ask, how about this for starters: everyone who works full time should be paid enough that they don’t qualify for food stamps.

5. Less “local,” more “low-impact.” I think the locavore movement has good intentions, but proximity is a poor proxy for things like the carbon footprint of food, largely because transportation only accounts for approximately 11% of the energy used in the food system—most of the rest is used up in water delivery, fertilizer production and application, harvesting, processing, packaging, heated barns and refrigeration, and the gas or electricity you use in your own kitchen.

Photo by Carbon Trust, featured in G-Online, click for storyJames Williams suggests that watchdog groups should calculate “life cycle carbon counts,” and the European Union has introduced “carbon labels.” I’m in favor of that, even though I’m not sure how practical it is. Perhaps some of your local farmers drive their produce to a single market in a new, energy-efficient vehicle while others drive old trucks, half-full, to a dozen markets every week. Despite the complications, someone might be able to come up with some ballpark regionally-specific estimates for commonly-purchased produce, and develop a “rating” system similar to the Seafood Watch guides you can print or download.

More broadly, I’d like to see the popular discourse shift away from the obsessive focus on locality, which corporations have already successfully co-opted. Are farmers in California or sub-Saharan Africa really any less deserving of your support than some guy who happens to live 50 miles away, especially if the former can get you a greener product? Sometimes thinking “global” may require buying “global,” not local.

6. Less condescension, more compassion. No more telling people they should be buying local, organic  heirloom beets instead of sneakers and cell phones. No more sneering at people who shop at “Whole Paycheck.” For the rich and the poor and everyone in between, I just want a cease-fire. I’m tired of people scolding other people or claiming the moral high ground because of where they shop, what they buy, how they cook, or what they feed their kids. This cuts both ways—it’s as annoying when people berate vegetarians for being stupid hypocrites or sneer at insufficiently-adventurous eaters as it is when people criticize fast food eaters and get smug about having a CSA share (or even having a particular CSA—I’m looking at you, Tantre shareholders).

No more of this passive-aggressive crap either. No one lectures people about how they ought to make their own clothes, but surely most of the same arguments people make about homemade food apply. Homemade clothes would probably be better-quality (at least once the maker has some practice and skill). They could be made with local, organic textiles free from chemical dyes and designed to suit individual tastes and needs instead of being made in factories and shipped halfway around the world. Wearing them instead of ready-made clothes would reduce your dependence on and support for unethical labor conditions and the culture of cheap, disposable wearables. And yet people are much more willing to accept that some people just don’t have the time to make their own clothes.

I’ve heard people say things to the effect of “it’s about priorities” in response to those who claim that some people don’t have time to cook. Well, duh, it’s about priorities. What is “I don’t have time,” if not a different way of saying, “It is less important to me than the other things I have to do”? No one saying “I don’t have time” is claiming they’ve got fewer hours in a day than anyone else, just that more important things are occupying those hours. What “it’s about priorities” doesn’t explain is why anyone thinks they should be the one to tell someone else what their priorities should be. If you have time to cook, or make your own clothes, bully for you. What I’m asking for is that people stop assuming the same is true of anyone else. Better to assume that most people are doing the best they can with what they’ve got. The fact that someone else’s life looks different than yours doesn’t make theirs inferior—nor does it make yours inferior, which is the fear that I suspect drives most of that kind of condescension anyway.

TeacherPatti wrote about a similar issue last week in the fabulous post titled “A Different Life.”

7. “Public health” policy that focuses on health instead of thinness. Thinness is a really poor proxy for health, for reasons I’ve already mentioned above. Policies that focus on calories, BMI, and weight-loss are all designed to make people thinner—not that they’re likely to succeed at that either. If we really wanted to make people healthier, we’d stop advocating calorie-restriction dieting, which is more likely to make people fatter and less healthy in the long-term. Instead, we could devote resources to encouraging physical activity and decreasing sugar consumption. And maybe in the process we could start promoting acceptance of a wider range of body shapes and sizes, which might in turn help people develop healthier relationships with food. More on this topic before and I’m sure, again in the New Year.

I know that’’s a lot to ask for, Santa, and I know you’re a busy guy. I don’t actually expect to get any of these things, and perhaps it’s better that way—as multiple fairy tales and clichés warn us, wishes can be dangerous, volatile things, prone to tragic backfiring. In the realm of food, that seems especially true. Policies that might be better for the environment often seem to be worse for animal welfare or human health; reforms that might be better for nutrition might be bad for the environment or leave some people hungry. The food system and its effects are so far-reaching and complicated that change is never going to be simple. I’m prepared to be happy with whatever you can swing this year.

Best regards to you and Mrs. Claus,

Margot

p.s. Happy Holidays.

nomnomnomFrom Roar of the Tigers

Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Sugar Cookies with Buttercream Frosting

A Modern Tradition

This my mother’s sugar cookie recipe, from her mother before her. I don’t know who my grandma got it from or when it acquired the name “old fashioned.” It can’t be older than mid-19th C. because it calls for chemical leaveners.These are not, however, the softest sugar cookies I've ever made. Click on the picture for the link to that recipe. The whole point of the sour cream is to provide an acid to react with the alkali baking soda and produce a tender, puffy cookie. That makes them completely unlike really “old-fashioned” cookies, which were usually unleavened and baked until they were completely hard and dry (for more on cookie history, see foodtimeline.com). However, now that chemical leaveners have been around long long enough to be part of recipes handed down for three generations or more, I suppose they can be “modern” and “old-fashioned” at the same time.

I like this particular recipe for Christmas cookies because it’s not as sweet or rich as most sugar cookie recipes—the ratio of fat : sugar : flour in the dough is 1: 1: 3. Compare that to the “Classic Sugar Cookies” in Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio, which are 1: 1: 2, or Dorie Greenspan’s Sablés, which are 4: 3: 8. I’d go with one of the other recipes if I were going to leave them plain or just sprinkle them with colored sugar before baking, but I think the slightly less-sweet base makes them a better vehicle for frosting.

Frosting presents bakers with something of a dilemma: either you can make something gorgeous, sleek, and stylish, or you can make something delicious. In the cake world, that dilemma is primarily represented by fondant vs. buttercream. In the cookie world, it’s largely royal icing vs. buttercream. Behold Royal Icing: 

If I thought I could actually do half as good a job as Olivia does, I admit I might be a little more conflicted. dorie greenspans cookies                           From the Kitchen of Olivia                                                  Chow.com

Even though those are really pretty, and royal icing also has the benefit of setting up hard enough to handle any amount of stacking or transport, when it’s a choice between butter or no butter, I’m almost always going to choose butter.

They're cute enough, right? Although the noses almost invariably get squashed before anyone can appreciate them. In retrospect, I probably should have done a garland on the tree instead of ornaments, which have a vaguely pox-like effect.

Buttercream Nationalism

There are basically two kinds of buttercream—cooked and uncooked. However, there are varying techniques, and they’re referred to by nation. Italian buttercream is made by beating egg whites to stiff peaks and then cooking them by gradually adding a hot sugar syrup. Then you add softened butter, which will initially look curdled as it mixes with the hot meringue but eventually emulsifies. Swiss buttercream is similar, but instead of drizzling in a syrup, you cook the meringue by holding it over boiling water while you beat the egg whites and sugar together. French buttercream is made using the same technique as Italian buttercream, but with yolks instead of whites (a base called pâte à bombe).

For cakes and fillings, cooked buttercreams can’t be beat. All three versions are smooth and airy, pipe like a dream, and—most importantly—are totally delicious. They’re kind of like a custard or mousse made with butter instead of cream. But they’re not great for cookie decorating because they’re not very firm at room temperature. They’ll harden if chilled (just like the butter they’re largely composed of), but you wouldn’t be able to stack them first—you’d have to refrigerate or freeze them in single layers, which is a pain. And you’d have to keep them chilled in order to transport them without the frosting melting into goo. I make these primarily to send them to people who live across the country, so I need something with a little more structural integrity.

If you don't want to bother with all the fussy details, a slightly thicker layer plus some sprinkles can look just as festive.

The usual answer for cookies is American buttercream, which is just butter and powdered sugar thinned with a little milk or cream and beaten until smooth. It’s acquired a bit of a bad reputation because most grocery store bakeries use that technique, but they substitute shortening for the butter. The result is the flavorless, waxy, tooth-achingly sweet frosting you get on most grocery store cakes, which usually gets eaten around or scraped aside and left on the plate. But the method isn’t really the problem, it’s the shortening and the ratio of sugar: fat. 

Most recipes for homemade American buttercream call for nearly 4 : 1 sugar: fat. I cut the sugar by more than half. That makes it a little softer at room temperature, and if you’re going to use piping bags, you have to use small portions in the decorating bag to prevent the heat from your hands from melting it. But once it air dries, it’s just hard enough to stack (gently). Depending on how elaborate and delicate your decorations are, and what kind of abuse they have to withstand, they might arrive at their destination slightly squashed, but at least they’ll still taste terrific. 

Recipe: Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Sugar Cookies
(makes approximately 3 dozen)

Ingredients:

  • Sour cream1/4 c. melted butter 
  • 1/4 c. melted shortening or lard
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 2/3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 t. kosher salt (or 1 t. regular table salt)
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg or 1/2 t. cinnamon, or a dash of both
  • 1/2 c. sour cream

Method:

1. Pre-heat oven to 425F

2. Combine the melted fat, sugar, egg, and vanilla in one bowl. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.

3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in 3 additions, alternating with three dollops of sour cream. Stir until well combined.

4. Divide dough in half, and cover one half with plastic wrap. Roll the other out to approximately 1/4” thick and cut in desired shapes and place 1” apart on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.

5. If you’re not planning to frost them, sprinkle them with coarse or colored sugar. Otherwise, leave plain. Bake 8-10 minutes or until just beginning to darken slightly at the edges.

christmas cookies 019christmas cookies 022 

Recipe: Vanilla Buttercream
(makes approximately 3 cups, which is enough to frost about 3 dozen cookies) 

christmas cookies 043Ingredients:

  • 20 T. butter, softened (2 1/2 sticks) 
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • a pinch of table salt
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 T. heavy cream

1. Using a stand mixer or a spatula, beat the butter until smooth and creamy—about 1 minute.

2. Add the salt and gradually add the sugar, beating slowly until incorporated. Add the vanilla and heavy cream and beat until combined.

3. Increase the speed to high and beat for 4-10 minutes, or until no lumps remain and it’s satiny smooth.

Another DIY Gift Idea: Spice Bundles for Mulled Cider or Wine

Previously in DIY gift ideas: Chocolate buttercreams

I. The end of semester/holiday season is a busy time, so here’s a photo essay:

I used the softer, Ceylon or "true" cinnamon, primarily because it's easier to break into piecesFour smaller, one or two-serving satchets on the right, two larger whole-bottle packages on the leftunwaxed dental floss to tie--you could also tie a ribbon around each one, with instructions to remove the ribbon before usinga larger satchel + a bottle or two of wine (cheap, because it's meant to be spiced & sugared anyway) = a Mulled Wine Kita pint jar will hold four smaller satchels. I like to tape instructions to the lid with packing tape to sort of laminate them.

II. Briefly: what, why, and how

Mulled cider and wine is popular all over Europe and North America during the winter holiday season—in the Nordic countries it’s called glögg, in Germany it’s glühwein (glow wine), in France vin chaud (hot wine), in Poland grzane wino (heated wine), in Italy vin brulé (boiled wine) (Wikipedia can tell you all about these and more). In English, we also have “wassail,” which usually refers to mulled cider. However, the word is contraction of the Middle English wæs hæil, meaning “good health” or literally “be you healthy,” a toast and a testament to the inherently celebratory and social nature of drinking warm, spiced fruit juice (Wikipedia can tell you all about that, too).

The basic formula is fermented grape or apple juice + sugar or honey + cinnamon and/or peppercorns, feuerzangenbowlesimmered and served hot. There are lots of variations—the earliest versions of wassail were probably made with beer or mead instead of cider, glögg is sometimes made with pear juice, some versions involve adding some rum or a liqueur, spices vary from country to country and probably pot to pot. Other common additions are citrus fruits, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla. 

The most spectacular version I’ve ever had was called feuerzangenbowle, and involved suspending a cone of sugar over a pot of hot spiced wine on a piece of slotted metal vaguely like a cheese grater. You douse the sugar with rum and set it on fire, so the sugar caramelizes as it drips into the bowl. As you ladle out cups, the alcohol in the bowl of the ladle catches fire from the burning sugar, so you literally end up handing people little cups of flame.

If I could capture that in a little cheesecloth satchet to give to people for Christmas, I would. I guess this is like the next best thing:

Photo by Kore Nordmann

Recipe: Mulling Spice Bundles

For each 1-2 serving pouch:you can use storebought zest--I smelled the jar at the store and was disappointed, so I decided to dry my own

  • a quadruple-layer of cheesecloth about 6” square* 
  • a 8-10” piece of un-waxed dental floss
  • 1 t. whole cloves
  • 2 1” pieces of cinnamon stick
  • 1 t. dried orange or lemon zest
  • 1 T. brown sugar (optional, dark is better—more molasses flavor)
  • 1 t. whole all-spice berries (optional)
  • 1” piece of candied ginger (optional)
  • 1” piece of vanilla bean (optional—I used my spent beans, which I keep in a jar of sugar) 
  • 1/2 a nutmeg, lightly crushed (optional)
  • 1/2 t. whole peppercorns (optional)
  • 4-6 whole cardamom pods (optional)

For each 6-8 serving pouch (which will flavor 1-2 bottles of wine)fishing the spent vanilla beans out of the sugar, which is now also strongly perfumed with vanilla. this is what a year's worth of vanilla bean use in my kitchen looks like. a little extravagant.:

  • a quadruple-layer of cheesecloth about 9” square*
  • a 10-12” piece of un-waxed dental floss
  • 1 T. whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, broken into 1” pieces
  • 1 T. dried orange or lemon zest
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar (optional, dark is better—more molasses flavor)
  • 1 T. whole all-spice berries (optional)
  • 3-4 1” pieces of candied ginger (optional)
  • 1 vanilla bean (optional—I used my spent beans, which I keep in a jar of sugar) 
  • 2 whole nutmegs, lightly crushed (optional)
  • 2 t. whole peppercorns (optional)
  • a dozen or so whole cardamom pods (optional)

I used cloves, cinnamon sticks, orange zest, brown sugar, all-spice berries, candied ginger, and spent vanilla beans. I think cloves, cinnamon sticks, and citrus zest are the only essential things (and would be sufficient on their own) but you can use whatever else you like or can afford.

*A 2-yard package of cheesecloth makes about 8 small bundles or 6 large bundles, or 4 small ones and 2 large ones.

Instructions:

1. If you’re zesting your own oranges, do that at least 12 hrs in advance and let the zest air dry on baking sheets lined with waxed paper.

2. Cut the cheesecloth into pieces and fold into squares.

3. Add the stuff, gather the ends together, and tie it up with the floss.

4. Package with instructions for use, like:

Mulling Spices

Instructions: Place one pouch in a mug of hot cider or wine and let steep for 3-5 minutes. Press to strain and remove. Add sugar to taste, if desired. May be used multiple times—press to remove liquid, let air dry, and store in an airtight container.

For an entire bottle of wine, empty the bottle into a saucepan, add two spice pouches, and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add ¼-½ cup sugar per bottle if desired.

Or, if you’re just giving someone one of the big pouches, perhaps along with a bottle of wine:

Mulling Spices

Instructions: Place pouch in a saucepan with one or two bottles of wine. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add ¼-½ cup sugar per bottle if desired. Serve warm.

Thanksgiving Leftovers and Leftover Leftovers: Turkey and Leek Risotto & Risotto Croquettes with Homemade Turkey Stock

it's not really much to look at...I suppose I could have molded, although I suspect that would have just made it look like something out of a can The Bird That Keeps On Giving

Even after feeding nearly 30 people on Thanksgiving, a single turkey carcass can produce over two gallons of stock. And not some watery broth—this is stock so rich that it once refrigerated, it will be a solid. I make stock from chicken bones all the time, and that’s pretty good, but this seemed like, well, a different animal.

I could have picked the remaining meat off beforehand, and it would have had more flavor, but I was just planning on putting it in things based on the stock anyway so it didn't matterPerhaps it was just the size of the bird, or the amount of meat left on it. It looked like it had been pretty well  picked-over, but there must have been a lot of meat left on the back. Or perhaps it was because I used Michael Ruhlman’s “oven method.” I normally just make stock on the stovetop—I brown the bones over medium heat along with a quartered onion and two or three roughly chopped carrots and crushed garlic cloves. Then, I add a splash of white wine or dry vermouth (or vinegar if I don’t have either of those around) and simmer that for a few minutes and cover it all with water and turn the heat down low. Usually, I start it in the mid to late afternoon and simmer it for 6-8 hrs, adding more water if necessary to keep the bones covered. Just before I got to sleep, I turn the heat off and cover it so. In the morning, it’s cool  strain the solids through a couple of layers of cheesecloth or paper towel and freeze or refrigerate it in pint or quart containers. 

I decided to try the “oven method” because the turkey carcass was so big, I couldn’t cover it completely with water even in my biggest stock pot. I thought perhaps it would be better to cook it longer on lower heat without letting any liquid evaporate. Putting it in an 180F oven overnight sounded like about the right idea.

180 wasn't quite hot enough for it to "simmer"--it was actually cool enough to touch, though not grab and hold after 12 hrs of simmering, the broth was golden but clear aromatics nearly overfilling the pot 6 hrs later, it was slightly reduced in volume and unctuous and if you have less storage space, you can reduce it further either before or after straining. Some people freeze it in ice cubes and use them like bouillon.

Ruhlman suggests letting the carcass cook for 8-16 hrs before adding the other ingredients, so I left it in the oven overnight and then added the onion, carrots, and garlic the next morning. They raised the water level so high, I didn’t trust myself to be able to get it back in the oven without spilling it so I finished it over low heat on the stovetop. In total, the carcass simmered for about 12 hrs before adding the aromatics and another 6 hrs with them. I let it cool for about 6 hrs, picked out the meat—about 6 cups of it, flavorless by then but still fine as filler protein—strained it through cheesecloth, and filled 4 quart jars plus a little extra.

the fat will rise to the top, and you can easily skim it off if you want. underneath, you basically get turkey aspic

Risotto: The Stock Showcase

I didn’t have any grand plan for the stock when I made it—I assumed I’d just use it to steam dumplings and thin pureed vegetables into soup, or anywhere else I’d normally use chicken stock or bouillon. But this stock was so good, I decided to make something that would really show it off. Since risotto is just rice that’s been simmered in broth until it releases its starch and forms a thick, creamy base for whatever additions you want, it seemed like the right choice. and risotto is the best way I know to show off good stock

I often use mushrooms in risotto, but after tasting the stock, I thought it would be sufficiently umami on its own. Instead, I decided to use leeks as the primary vegetable matter. I sweated the leeks in the turkey fat skimmed from the broth, which may have added some extra turkey flavor, but any other rendered animal fat or butter or olive oil would probably have been good, too. I added some sage and thyme, and once the rice had cooked to an al dente firmness, I added some finely-grated parmeggiano reggiano. The result is lovely—creamy, rich with turkey flavor but not at all dry or flavorless like some turkey leftovers can be.

Leftover Leftovers

Wait, it gets better. If you’ve never done this with your leftover risotto, seriously, try it—it’s the best reason to make this or any other risotto. No recipe below, because it’s easy and intuitive: heat some oil in a pan while you shape golf-ball sized amounts cold, leftover risotto into balls. If desired, make a depression in the ball and insert a small piece of cheese—something that melts well, like a little ball of mozzarella or cube of raclette. Dust the balls with some flour or breadcrumbs, and then pan-fry them, turning until they’re golden brown on all sides. The cheese in the middle melts and the risotto gets warm and creamy and the outside gets crisp. These are the kind of leftovers you look forward to while you’re eating the original dish. No pictures—they got devoured too fast.

Recipe: Turkey & Leek Risotto

Ingredients

  • 4-6 T. rendered animal fat, butter, lard, or olive oilI made a double-batch, so 6 leeks here. I save the green tops for the next time I make stock.
  • 3 large leeks
  • 2 shallots
  • 2 c. arborio or bomba rice (you can substitute all or part short-grain brown rice, although it won’t be quite as creamy; brown rice also absorbs more liquid, so only use 3/4 cup brown for every cup of white)
  • 1/2 c. white wine
  • 5 1/2 c. stock (see below) or water with bouillon.
  • 1 t. thyme, dried (or use 1 T. fresh)
  • 1 t. rubbed sage (or use 1 T. fresh)
  • 2 c. shredded or chopped, cooked turkey meat
  • 4 oz. parmesan cheese, finely grated (or substitute 1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

1. Melt the fat in a large pot over medium heat. Warm the stock in a smaller pot over medium-low heat. 

2. Trim the roots and greens off the leeks, slice them down the middle and rinse to remove any grit. Slice into 1/4” pieces.

3. Stir the leeks into the fat to coat. Meanwhile, mince the shallots and add them to the pot.

4. When the leeks and shallots have softened, add the white wine and cook for about 5 minutes, or until it’s about half-evaporated/absorbed.

shallots and leeks, sweating leeks and shallots softened, wine reduced, rice added

5. Add the rice and stir. I sometimes add another tablespoon or so of fat at this point just to be sure the rice gets coated with fat before I start adding broth. That helps it retain some structure even after it’s releasing its starch into the broth.

6. Add the herbs and begin adding the warm broth 1/2 cup at a time and stir until absorbed, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot to prevent it from burning. You don’t have to stir the whole time—you can walk away and do other things, like grate the cheese. Just check on the rice periodically, add more broth as needed, and stir to deglaze the bottom. Letting it brown on the bottom will actually enrich the flavor as long as you don’t let it burn. This process will probably take 30-40 minutes, or more if you use brown rice.

7. Once the rice is cooked through, remove it from the heat. Stir in the cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper.

a finer microplane works equally well. a box grater might be a little more unweildly or produce a coarser grate, but should still melt into the risotto just fine. again, this is a double batch. with the ingredient list above, you'll end up with half as much

I like to use the small or gnarly carrots in stock because I don't have to bother peeling them--just cut off the ends and scrub well, and throw them in the potRecipe: Turkey Stock—Michael Ruhlman’s Oven Method

  • 1 turkey carcass
  • 2 onions
  • half a dozen carrots
  • half a dozen cloves of garlic
  • some bay leaves (optional)
  • a few sprigs of thyme or oregano (optional)
  • a few celery ribs and leek or carrot tops (optional)

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180-200F.straining out the solids--once most of the liquid has dripped through, I gather up the ends and squeeze it to get as much of the liquid, and flavor out as possible. it's like a giant turkey teabag.

2. Place the carcass in a large stock pot and cover with water. Cover the pot and place in the oven for 8-18 hrs.

3. Quarter the onions, roughly chop the carrots, and crush the garlic cloves. Add them to the pot and either return to the oven or place over low heat on the stovetop for an additional 3-6 hours.

4. Let cool, and then strain through cheesecloth or paper towel.

5. Chill, and skim the fat off the top if desired.

Soft Pull-Apart Wheat Rolls with Sourdough-Starter and/or Active Dry Yeast

the whole sheet of rolls can be turned out onto a cooling rack, and when cool, can be stored in a 2-gallon "jumbo" zip-top plastic bag for up to 3 days before serving

Classic Do-Ahead Dinner Rolls

Here’s what I want from dinner rolls: They should be slightly sweet, perhaps with a hint of honey. They should be a little wholesome—not like a fiber supplement, but not as cake-like as brioche or challah. And they should be pillowy soft. Also, I want to be able to bake them a day or two in advance. Especially for elaborate meals like Thanksgiving, there are always more important things to do on the day of whether you’re travelling or hosting. Bread is something you ought to be able to make ahead of time.

A couple of years ago, I made the mistake of taking Rose Levy Beranbaum’s sacarduros to Thanksgiving. Sacaduros are made by wrapping small pieces of her “hearth bread” dough—which makes a rustic, crusty, free-form loaf—around tiny pieces of butter and a sprinkle of coarse salt. You gather the ends loosely together on top so they unfold a bit while they’re baking like petals, and when you rip them open, you reveal the salty, buttery core. Fresh out of the oven, they’re lovely. But like most kinds of crusty bread, they’re best the day they’re made. If you leave them out very long, they’ll get stale and if you store them in an air-tight container, the crust gets soggy so instead of being crisp and appealing, it’s so chewy it’s hard to eat. Also, when they’re cold, you lose the hot buttered roll effect and instead they just seem unevenly risen and peculiarly salty inside.

after the second rise they're often just barely touching, but they'll rise more in the oven This year, I used Martha Stewart’s “Everything Thanksgiving” rolls. They’re placed in a 9×13 pan to rise and bake, so they form two big continuous sheets. The reduced surface area means they stay fresher longer. You can pull them apart just before serving or let guests pull them apart themselves. I modified the recipe for my sourdough starter and my other dinner roll preferences—honey instead of sugar, approximately 1/3 whole wheat flour, and half canola oil instead of all butter (to help keep them soft).

These were everything I want from a dinner roll—soft and slightly sweet. They’re rich enough to eat plain, but even better with butter, and they’re perfect for mopping up extra gravy. I made two batches on Wednesday, stored them in “jumbo” two gallon zip-top bags, and they still seemed fresh and soft when we were tearing into the second batch on Friday.

See Stewart’s original recipe or the note at the asterisk if you want to use active dry yeast instead of a sourdough starter. Or, if you want to use a sourdough starter but don’t have time to wait for two rises of 3-12 hrs each, you can use both starter and active dry yeast. The starter will give the rolls a little more flavor, like using old dough, but the active dry yeast will do most of the leavening and each rise will only take a little over an hour.

Recipe: Soft Wheat Rolls (adapted from Martha Stewart)
Makes 30 rolls

Ingredients:a double-batch for 60 rolls required 2 bowls

  • 1 cup refreshed 100%-hydration sourdough starter*
  • 1 cup warm milk (100-110F)
  • 1 T. sugar (only necessary if using active dry yeast)
  • 3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
  • 2 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 3 t. kosher salt
  • 1/3 c. honey
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more for coating bowl
  • 1-2 t. butter for greasing pan
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten plus 1 egg for brushing
  • 2 packages, or 4 1/2 t. active dry yeast (optional)

*If you don’t have a sourdough starter, increase the milk to 1 1/2 cups and increase the all-purpose/bread flour to 3 2/3 cups. Use the active dry yeast.

1. Heat the milk in the microwave or saucepan. If you don’t have a thermometer, test it by dabbing a bit on your wrist—it should feel hot to the touch, but not like burning. Whisk in the sugar and yeast, if using, and let sit 5-10 minutes or until frothy.

after whisking together the warm milk, yeast, and sugar, the surface will be smooth after 5-10 min it should be frothy. if not, the yeast is probably dead

2. Combine all of the ingredients except for the oil/butter and egg reserved for later, and stir until the dough begins to come together. Scrape onto a lightly-floured surface.

3. Knead for 10-15 minutes. If the dough is too sticky to knead, let it rest for 10 minutes underneath the mixing bowl and continue, adding bread flour 1/4 cup at a time until it sticks to itself more than it sticks to you.

4. Coat a mixing bowl with oil. Place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover the bowl and let rise for 1 1/4 hrs (active dry yeast) or 4-12 hrs (sourdough starter).

once most of the flour is moistened, kneaded until it's a smooth ball of dough

double-batch, ready to rise you can tell when it's risen if you can make a small depression in the dough and it doesn't "heal" automatically

5. Butter two 9×13 pans.

6. Divide dough into two equal pieces. Divide each piece into 15 equal pieces, each of which should be 50-55 grams (1.75-2.00 oz). Cover with a piece of plastic wrap to prevent them from drying as you shape them.

7. Press each piece of dough into a disc, gather the edges and pinch them together. Place each ball pinched-edge down in the prepared pans, 3 x 5.

if you want to know exactly how big each ball should be, weigh the whole ball of dough and divide by 30the pinched together disc method makes a smoother ball than just rolling a lump of dough in your hands

before the second rise after the second rise

8. Cover the pans and let rise for another 1 1/4 hrs (instant yeast) or 3-9 hrs (sourdough starter).

9. Preheat the oven to 375 for 20 minutes. Before placing the rolls in the oven, brush the tops of the rolls with beaten egg. Bake for 20 min, or until the tops are golden brown and the interiors are 190-200F.

10. Let cool on wire racks for 5 minutes. Turn out of pans and serve or let cool completely (approx. 3 hrs) and store in a an airtight container.

uh...something martha stewartish. "home is calling"?