2010 Year in Review, Part II: The Non-Recipes

2010 nonrecipes collage

A Record of Sticking Places

In September, Lauren Berlant wrote the following description of writing on her blog, Supervalent Thought

Most of the writing we do is actually a performance of stuckness.  It is a record of where we got stuck on a question for long enough to do some research and write out the whole knot until the original passion and curiosity that made us want to try to say something about something got so detailed, buried, encrypted, and diluted that the energetic and risk-taking impulse became sealed and delivered in the form of a defense against thinking any more about it. Along the way, something might have happened to the scene the question stood for:  or not.

At first, I thought of that as something that applied only to “serious” writing—to articles or book chapters that unfold over months or years. But in retrospect, I think it’s actually one of the reasons I started this blog: to have a place to delve (even if only shallowly) into the kinds of questions that were distracting me from writing my dissertation and then seal them up so they’d stop cluttering my thought process. At some point in the process of writing most of the longer, essayish posts, I get sick of the topic and just want to be done with it. So I finish it, and even if I haven’t entirely resolved the question I started with, I feel released from thinking about it at least for a while.

However, the blog hasn’t quite had the intended effect of freeing me up to write the dissertation because, unsurprisingly, getting mentally “free” takes up a lot of the time and energy I ought to be spending on that other, more important “performance of stuckness.” And the whole idea of having a mentally “clean slate” before I deal with my dissertation was probably always a hopeless ambition.

So this part of the retrospective on the year is also a sort of penitent offering to anyone who’s come to appreciate or even maybe expect this kind of content. In the next six months, I need to finish and defend and submit my dissertation. Also, I’m getting married. Between the two, I’m probably not going to have the time to do a lot of longer posts on culture/history/politics. I’m toying with the idea of taking excerpts from the dissertation and editing them into blog-friendly essays on the weekends. But in case I don’t end up having the time to post much of anything substantial for at least the first half of 2011 and that makes you sad, maybe there will be something here that you missed or might be interested in revisiting.

Special Series

Image from Look at this Fucking HipsterHipsters on Food StampsA three-part look at the bogus “trend” piece published last March in Salon about college-educated people using food stamps to buy organic, ethnic, and otherwise non-subsistence-diet foods and what it says about food & social class in America:

Part I: The New Generation of Welfare Queens—A critique of the article that places it in the longer history of concern about how the poor eat

Part II: Who Deserves Public Assistance?—An analysis of the comments and some of the myths about social class and poverty in America they reflect

Part III: Damned If You Do-ritos and Damned If You Don’t—An attempt to explain the contradictory trends of patronizing vs. romanticizing the poor and how they eat and what kinds of contemporary anxieties the bogus trend of hipsters on food stamps might be a response to

Responses to Food, Inc.—Posts related to the film (and the broader agendas it gave voice to) and how they distort the picture of the American food system and confused their audience.

I never got around to going through the list of suggestions at the end of the film. Perhaps I'll get to it in 2011.Part I: No Bones in the Supermarket—An interrogation of the film’s premise that “looking” at the food system will lead everyone to the same conclusion

Part II: Is the Food More Dangerous?—The film suggests that industrial animal agriculture is responsible for the deadly strain of e coli that killed at least one innocent child, but it turns out that’s not true. Grass-fed cattle have less generic, harmless e coli but the same prevalence of 0157:H7.

Price, Sacrifice, and the Food Movement’s “Virtue” Problem—Why a food “movement” predicated on spending more or making sacrifices is necessarily limited to the privileged few.

The Myth of the Grass-Fed Pig—Why not every farm animal can or should be “grass fed,” and the ecological argument for vegetarianism.

The Myth of the Grass-Fed Pig, Part II: Cornphobia—On the epidemic of irrational fears about corn inspired by Michael Pollan’s books and the documentaries he has appeared in.

Don’t Drink the Agave-Sweetened Kool-AidWhy agave nectar Greenwashing alert.isn’t “natural,” healthy, or (probably) more delicious than other sweeteners.

Part I: Natural, My Foot—Agave nectar isn’t an “ancient sweetener” used by Native Americans, it was invented in the 1990s and involves a process almost identical to the one used to make High Fructose Corn Syrup.

Part II: What’s Wrong With Any High-Fructose Sweetener—Why agave nectar, with up to 90% fructose, isn’t a healthier substitute for sugar.

Part III: The Mint Julep Taste Test and Calorie Comparison—The results of a comparison between agave and simple syrup-sweetened mint juleps and some number crunching that shows you could theoretically cut a small number of calories by substituting agave for sugar, but not if you use the recommended amount, which is calorically identical.

Why Posting Calorie Counts Won’t WorkCalorie counts are already appearing on menus across the country, and will soon be required for most chains. This series explores why they won’t make Americans thinner or healthier. 

Another thing I didn't mention--many of the calorie counts are being posted as "ranges" that take into account all the forms of customization, which makes the numbers even less useful. What are you supposed to do with the knowledge that a burrito has somewhere between 400-1400 calories?Introduction—A brief run-down of the reasons I don’t think the policy will work as intended.

Part I: The Number Posted is Often Wrong—What you see on the label is not always what you get, and the difference isn’t entirely random. 

Part II: Most People Don’t Know How Many Calories They Burn—The problem of calorie ignorance isn’t one that can be fixed with an educational campaign—people don’t know how many calories they burn because they can’t know, because it changes, especially if they change their diets.

Part III: Calorie-restriction Dieting Doesn’t Work Long Term—A meta-literature review of three decades of research on calorie-restriction weight loss that shows again and again that by far the most common result of dieting is weight loss followed by regain. And an explanation of why the National Weight Loss Control Registry isn’t a representative sample.


Health

Probably my favorite post because writing it helped me get over/through that rough patch.When What I Want Isn’t What I Want: Temptation and Disordered Thinking/Eating—Not about nutrition, but about mental health and how easy it is to fall into into negative thought patterns about food and body image, even if you think you’re “beyond” all that

Salt Headlines That Make the Vein in My Forehead Throb—Irresponsible news media reporting about public health research, and especially comparisons between the relative merits of cutting salt  and quitting smoking, may be hazardous to my health

Stop Serving Assemblyman Felix Ortiz Salt in Any Form—A plea to the restaurateurs of New York to teach Mr. Ortiz a lesson handed down from fairytales about what it would be like to eat food without salt.Unless you are a rabbit or a chicken, cholesterol in your food does not automatically translate to cholesterol in your veins.

Things that Won’t Kill You Volume IV: Saturated Fat, Part II: Cholesterol Myths—No one, not even Ancel Keys, ever thought you should avoid dietary cholesterol. Volumes I: High Fructose Corn Syrup, II: Fruit Juice, III: MSG, and IV: Saturated Fat Part I went up in 2009.

Things That Might Kill You Volume I : Trans-fats—Why you might want to avoid trans fats, including things with “0 grams of trans fats per serving,” which still contain potentially non-trivial amounts.

HFCS Follow-up: What the Rats at Princeton Can and Can’t Tell US—A review of the study claiming rats consuming HFCS gained more weight than rats consuming table sugar

Food Policy & Politics

I'm still sometimes uneasy trying to choose between better-for-the-environment and better-for-animals and often end up buying Omega-3 enriched eggs because so far at least it seems like those eggs might be measurably different and healthier.You’re All Good Eggs: New research shows that specialty eggs aren’t any better for the environment or  more delicious—A review of the evidence for and against specialty eggs, concluding that they might be marginally more humane but come at an environmental cost.

Good Egg Update: Someone’s Keeping Score—Explaining the Cornucopia Institute’s guide to specialty eggs

A Food Policy & Politics Christmas Wish List—Seven things that might improve the U.S. food system

Robots

Who Says Robots Can’t Taste? On Cooking Robots and Electronic Noses—A survey of cooking robots and  anxieties about electronic incursions on the acts of cooking and eating

Ingredient Spotlight

The first three listed below were stand-alone posts without recipes. The others were also collected in the 2010 recipe retrospective, but I thought they might merit inclusion here, too, because they involved some research beyond just looking at a few recipes and cooking something.

I'm still not totally satisfied by what I was able to find--the active chemicals have been identified, but it's still a bit of a mystery how they work the way they do. The Sweet Science of Artichokes—Why they make things taste sweet after you eat them

Morel Time in Michigan—How to identify morels and tell them apart from vague look-a-likes.

Meet the Paw-Paw, aka the Michigan Banana—A tropical fruit for the American midwest, with its very own Johnny Appleseed. 

Two on the Tomato: The Official Verdict in the Fruit v. Vegetable Debate and The Case For Tomatoes as Dessert—On the Supreme Court case that ruled tomatoes a “vegetable,” and why there’s still a debate about them even though there are lots of other “vegetables” that are botanically fruits. And how to use them to substitute for sweeter fruits in dessert recipes.

Cheddar-Garlic Biscuits: In Defense of Garlic Powder—Why garlic powder is so maligned, and a culinary defense.

The saffron crocus--each bloom produces 3 pistils, which must be harvested by hand during the brief window when they bloom, before sunrise because the flowers wilt in the sun. Jonathan Franzen and Joël Robuchon-inpspired Rutabaga Purée—On the root vegetable’s biggest fans (some of whom use it as a curling rock), its many detractors, and its supporting role in Jonathan Franzen’s novel The Corrections.

Now in Season: Sour Cherry Pie—What makes sour cherries different from normal pie cherries, and the science of flaky pie crusts.

Deviled Eggs with Saffron Aioli—On the history of deviled eggs and why saffron is so expensive.

Pork Chops with Cider Reduction and Greens—A review of several theories on why pork is so often prepared or paired with apples.

Recipes with History

These were all in the recipe round-up, but again, they have something to offer aside from cooking instruction. New annotations to explain what else you might learn there.

Benedictines and Pimento Cheese Sandwiches for Derby Day—On Miss Jennie Carter Benedict of Louisville,  Kentucky and the shaping of an “American” cuisine for the emerging middle classI'm still tickled by the idea that a reality television show can have a soul.

Jook (Chicken and Rice Porridge)—On the cross-cultural phenomenon of prescribing bone broths and particularly chicken broth-based soups as a healing or restorative food.

Lemon and Herb Chicken Drumsticks—On the history of Labor Day and the relationship between food and holidays

Sourdough-risen Whole Wheat Bagels and the Sweetness of the Old World—On the fetishization of a humble roll with a hole, its origins in the Jewish diaspora and why you don’t have to use “malt extract” to make it authentic (but why some people think you do).

Introducing Ezekiel and How and Why to Make a Sourdough Starter—A brief history of sourdough starters and why so many of them are named “Herman.”

Buckeyes, Shmuckeyes, or if you prefer, Peanut Butter Bon-Bons—How buckeyes became Ohioan and Not, I suspect, bluffin' with her muffin. Ohioans became buckeyes, starring General Ebenzer Sproat and President William Henry Harrison.

Sourdough English Muffins: Of nooks and crannies and double-entendres—Muffin nationalism explained, and also how muffin became a slang term for women and various parts of their anatomy.

American Pumpernickel—Devil’s Fart Bread! The history of Old World and New World rye breads.

Baguettes, regular or whole wheat—On the history and Frenchification of long, skinny, crusty loaves of bread.

A Sourdough-risen Challah Trinity: Braid, Loaf, Knot—The history of challah from tithing to the temple to European decorative braided breads. 

Homemade Peeps and Chocolate-covered Marshmallow Eggs—On this history of the candy, from the therapeutic uses of the mallow flower to the contemporary, mallow-less confection.

2010 Year in Review, Part I: Top Ten Recipes of 2010

Clockwise from the top right: buckwheat crepes, tofu clafoutis with spiced plums, green bean casserole, challah, tomato soup, whole steamed artichoke, flourless chocolate-orange cake, rutabaga, peeps

The Year is Dead, Long Live the Year

Is it just me, or does it seems like it’s been ages since the last winter Olympics? Trying to remember watching the U.S. curling team choke until they finally benched Shuster is like trying to remember a dream. But at the same time, it feels like only yesterday that I was trying to figure out why artichokes make everything else taste sweet or cursing the marshmallow fluff I was trying to shape into Peeps before it turned into one big marshmallow in the shape of a piping bag. How can we possibly be knocking on 2011’s door? 

There should be a word for this sense of time simultaneously collapsing and expanding and the slightly dizzy feeling of trying to look backwards and forwards at the same time. The first time I remember feeling it was about a week before my family went to Disney World when I was seven or eight. I was sitting in the passenger seat of our sedan and watching the minutes tick by as I waited for my mom to finish an errand or something. I was itchy with anticipation about the trip and amazed at how slowly time could pass, but I also had this sort of flash of realization that in almost no time at all, we’d be packing and getting on the plane and that everything would be a warm, colorful, exciting blur, and then we’d be home again. That while the minutes now seemed endless, in what would seem like the blink of an eye, I’d be back in that car, watching time crawl again as my memories of Disney World began to fade away.

End of year retrospectives always seem like a futile attempt to hold on to what will not stay. Or maybe they’re a way of paring an unwieldy mass down to something that can be cupped in one hand. But I thought in lieu of a better indexing system, this might serve as a reference for anyone who wants to revisit an old post or who started reading regularly midway through the year and might be curious about what they missed.

I’ve divided the Year in Review into two parts: recipes and non-recipes. I apparently posted 69 recipes in the last year, although many of them were clustered two or three to a post. I’ve unclustered them, shoved them into some typical cookbook categories, and briefly annotated them below. Also, since 69 is kind of a lot, I singled out the ones I liked best—these are recipes I make habitually, the ones I know by heart, the ones I can’t wait to make again next year:

Choosing was harder than I thought it would be; also I've made a note to start posting more of the things I make all the time but rarely think to feature because "main dishes" are way overrepresented here and it turns out I'm not super excited about the cookies and candy that get disproprtionate blog space.

#10 Spiced Nuts, #9 Buttermilk Biscuits and Vegetarian Gravy, #8 Crusty Multigrain Bread, #7 Sour Cherry Pie, #6 Turkey & Leek Risotto with Homemade Turkey Stock, #5 Taffy Apple Cream Dip, #4 Lemon and Herb Chicken Drumsticks, #3 Whole-wheat Bagels, #2 Alain’s Winter Squash Soup with Homemade Croutons 

And the #1 Recipe of 2010 is….

This makes me long for spring to come again  #1 Morel "Risotto" with Israeli Couscous

2010 Recipes: The Complete Index

Basically a pie crust with cheese in place of some of the butter, spiked with cayenne and paprika. Appetizers & Snacks

Spicy Cheese Straws—Fancypants homemade cheez-its. 

Spiced Nuts (#10 favorite of 2010)—I made these last Christmas to put in gift baskets and serve at our annual New Year’s Eve party. I hadn’t planned on making them this year because no one seemed especially excited about them, but then Brian came home with 4 lbs of nuts and started following me around the house making pathetic faces and whimpering sounds. Then, I forgot to pack them so we had to buy another pound of nuts when we got to his mother’s house because apparently without them, it just wouldn’t be Christmas. In addition to nibbling, they’re great on salads with pear, blue cheese, and a mustard vinaigrette.

Artichoke & Roasted Garlic Chick Pea Dip—A delicious hummus with artichokes, rosemary, and cayenne.

Whole artichokes with butter—How to prep, cook, and eat the inimitable artichoke.

Popcorn chickpeasCrustless Benedictines and Pimento Cheese sandwiches, the perfect accompaniment to afternoon tea or mint juleps. Almost as fun to eat as they are to watch fly around the kitchen.

Benedictines—Cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches based on a recipe from the classic Louisville  restaurant Benedict’s. 

Pimento Cheese—A fantastic sandwich spread or vegetable dip made with homemade mayonnaise, cheese, and pimentos.

Kale Chips (or Chard or Kohlrabi Tops)—Bitter greens baked to a crisp, salty, addictive snack. Best coated with a little nutritional yeast and chili powder, too.

Curried Squash FrittersDeep-friedSee how yellow? zucchini shreds in a spiced chickpea batter. 

Deviled Eggs with Saffron Aioli—Not clear that the saffron made any difference, except perhaps enhancing the yellowness of the yolk mixture. Still good, just not that different from normal deviled eggs.

Taffy Apple Cream Dip (#5 favorite of 2010)—A brown-sugar and cream cheese dip lightened with whipped cream stabilized with corn starch. It’s airy enough for berries but substantial enough for slices of tart apple.

Soups This would also work with more easily-accessible greens, like spinach

Alain’s Winter Squash Soup (#2 favorite of 2010)—A simple, silky pumpkin or butternut squash soup—probably the recipe I use  most often. Vegan-optional.

Cream of Nettle Soup—A classic roux-based cream soup full of nourishing spring weeds.

Fresh Tomato Soup—Classic or creamy, trounces Campbells even though I’m a fan of the can. Vegan-optional. 

Jook (Chicken and Rice Porridge)—A savory, healing A fusion of Chinese & Euro-American chicken soup traditionsporridge made with rice cooked in bone broth until it begins to fall apart and an examination of the science behind cross-cultural beliefs about the healing power of chicken soup. 

Breakfast

Polenta with Cinnamon-Orange Prune CompoteA comforting porridge with a citrusy dried fruit topping. Vegan.

Buckwheat Crepes—I filled some of them with fresh ricotta & cinnamon-apples and the rest with soft-scrambled eggs and cheese.

Baked Eggs in Tomato SauceI routinely forget about this porridge for months on end, and then get really excited when I remember it again.A true anytime dish: savory and satisfying enough for dinner, but quick and easy enough for breakfast.

Buttermilk Biscuits and Vegetarian Gravy (#9 favorite of 2010)—Milk gravy flavored with crumbled shallots, vegetable bouillon, black pepper, and nutritional yeast with cracker crumbs for texture. Honestly, I prefer it to meat gravies.

Main Dishes

Morel "Risotto" with Israeli Couscous (#1 favorite of 2010)—A rich showcase for morels with shallots and parmeggiano reggiano (#  above)

Lemon and Herb Chicken Drumsticks (#4 favorite of 2010)—This was the only entree that didn't make the top ten, and it was definitely a close runner-upBest on the grill, but also good in the oven, though you might want to use a rack to help keep the skin crisp. I have it on good report that this also works well with chicken thighs. Think classic roast chicken, but quicker and something you can scale up and make for a crowd.

Pork Chops with Cider Reduction and Greens—Because pork loves apples. Turns out the mustard-cider reduction also makes a good salad dressing, combined with a little mayonnaise, cider vinegar, and neutral oil.

Turkey and Leek Risotto (#6 favorite of 2010)—Homemade turkey stock from the leftover Thanksgiving bird shines in this simple, but amazingly rich and savory risotto. The bones and meat on a leftover roast chicken would probably be almost as good.

Yeast Breads (all  work with sourdough starter or active dry yeast)A hot oven and pizza stone will give you big, fat bubbles

Crusty Multigrain Loaves (#8 favorite of 2010)—An adaptation of the Jim Leahy/New York Times no-knead  bread recipe using sourdough starter if you have it (active dry yeast if you don’t) and a pizza stone + water for steam instead of a covered baking dish. That allows you to make the loaves any shape you want and slash them for more even rising rather than being confined to the rustic, round boule.

No-knead pizza dough—An effortless dough with a hint of olive oil flavor, no kneading required—make in advance and have pizza for dinner with less than 20 min. of active cooking timeThese are possibly the most fun bread to make because you get to watch them rise right in front of your eyes, and then flip them and watch the classic browned circles form

Whole-wheat Bagels (#3 favorite of 2010)—Boiling makes them chewy. Malt extract makes them “authentic.” Topping them with things like fried shallots and coarse salt makes them delicious.

Challah—A soft, sweet, decadent loaf of bread that makes a beautiful braided loaf, a perfectly soft sandwich bread and great burger or sausage buns.

English MuffinsGriddled buns that pull apart to reveal lots of nooks & crannies.

Baguettes, regular or whole wheat—The classic long, skinny,Classic rubens: American rye, corned beef, sauerkraut, swiss cheese, Russian or Thousand Island dressing (mayo + ketchup + sweet pickle relish) crusty loaf originally from Austria, but popularized by France. 

American Pumpernickel—Classic deli rye with a laundry list of ingredients including cocoa powder, caraway, instant coffee, and molasses to create an almost-black bread.

Sandwich Bread—A reliable basic recipe for a standard loaf with a soft crust and even crumb. I like it with honey and oats and about half whole wheat flour.

Soft Pull-Apart Wheat Rolls—A buttery, slightly-sweet dough similar to challah, scaled up to produce 30 perfect dinner rolls. The rolls are risen and baked in two 9×13 pans so they form two continuous sheets. The reduced surface area means you can make them up to three days in advance and they’ll still stay soft and fresh—just pull them apart right before serving, or let people pull them apart at the table.

Quick Breads

Cheddar-Garlic Biscuits—Very buttery and awfully similar to ones you get at Red Lobster. Still my favorite use of garlic powderAs my friend Kevin discovered—these do not work well with whole wheat flour.

Neglected Pear Bread—A pear & almond quick bread, ideal for bruised, overripe pears

see also: Biscuits & Gravy under “Main Dishes”

Vegetables & Sides

Rutabaga Purée—A whole stick of butter made this more like a condiment than a side dish. Since then, I’ve cut the butter by half, so it’s still decadent but a little less Would also be good without the kohlrabioverwhelming.

Kohlrabi and Summer Squash with Almonds—A simple sautéed vegetable side—the almonds make the dish.

Swiss Chard Gratin—Swiss chard, stems and all, baked in a cheesy sauce with bread crumbs on top. Decadent.

Summer Squash Fritters—Shredded zucchini bound with a little egg and flour—easy and delicious. Also works as a vegetarian main dish or sandwich filling.

Fried Green Tomatoes—Egg to bind, cornmeal for crunch.  

Fresh Green Bean Casserole—Steamed fresh green beans baked in a thick, homemade mushroom cream soup with crunchy fried shallots on top.

See also: the Whole Steamed Artichokes under “Appetizers”

Dressings, Garnishes, & Building Blocks

Sourdough Starter—Flour + water + time = a yeast creature you can call your ownI tried chopsticks & toothpicks and found that the toothpicks worked better

Homemade Croutons (#2 favorite of 2010)—A great way to use up stale bread, also way better than store-bought

Homemade “Ricotta"Fresh cheese, starting with milk instead of whey

Candied Orange Zest—Extra pretty when twisted around toothpicks to dry

Candied Basil—Whole basil leaves, crystallized with a simple syrup and more sugar to coat.

Ranch “Raita”—A buttermilk crema flavored with onion, dill, and msg or nutritional yeast.

Spiced Tomato Jam—Sweet-savory refrigerator jam. Great with a strong cheese like an aged cheddar or gouda. Turkey stock and/or aspic.

Chili-yogurt sauce—A spicy, tangy yogurt dressing with only four ingredients.

American Buttercream—Less sugar, and more butter is the key to making a simple, uncooked buttercream that isn’t overly sweet.

Turkey Stock—A bone broth so rich it sets up solid in the fridge, slow-simmered in the oven for up to 18 hours.

Pouring Custard—Basically, unfrozen ice cream, also known as “crème anglaise.”

A lemony, nutmeg-spiked cognac & sherry punch. Not too sweet. Very alcoholic. Drinks

Admiral’s Punch—Like a bowl full of sidecar, but with cognac, not brandy

Jell-O Jiggler Shots—A little more booze and a little more gelatin = cocktail-strength shots you can hold in your hand. Bonus, instructions on how to make crazy layered designs.

Fresh Tomato Juice—Intense tomato flavor fresh from the garden.

Mulled Wine or Cider Pouches—Whole spices and brown sugar wrapped up in cheese cloth for single-servings or whole jugs of mulled wine or cider.

Desserts I served the crumble with pouring custard, which makes almost any dessert even better.

Apple-Berry Crumble—A little lemon juice and some dried mixed berries perk up even non-baking apples. 

Tofu Clafoutis with Spiced Plums—A thick, custardy pancake studded with spiced, roasted plums. Vegan.

Flourless Chocolate-Orange Cake—Rich, dark chocolate paired with sunny citrus, best the day after it’s made.

Sour Cherry Pie (#7 favorite of 2010)—Tart cherries make a pie filling entirely unlike the canned version—the perfect foil for a buttery crust and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Cookies & BarsRaspberry, peach, and blueberry shortbread bars in one pan--the recipe makes a huge amount

Austrian Shortbread FingersButtery dough, frozen and grated into the pan around a layer of fruit  preserves, any flavor you like, or make multiple flavors in one pan

Tomato Shortbread Squares—Just like lemon bars, but with tomato instead. Shockingly good

Green Tomato Mincemeat Bars—A vegetarian mincemeat-filled bar cookie. Rich and boozy, not for everyone.

Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Sugar Cookies—Thick, puffy, not-too-sweet cookies, perfect for A tray full of matzoh toffee--just as buttery-rich as normal toffee, with the added crunch of a matzoh crackerChristmas decorating.

The Momofuku Compost Cookie—A cookie with sweet and salty snacks in the style of the New York Times “perfect chocolate chip cookie.”

Candy

Matzoh Toffee—The cracker base makes these super easy even without a candy thermometer

Peppermint Bark—A layer of rich peppermint-flavored dark chocolate ganache sandwiched between two layers of tempered white chocolate topped with crushed peppermint

Homemade Peeps and Chocolate-covered Marshmallow EggsShaped marshmallows, flavored with traditional vanilla, or cinnamon, almond, and/or orange. Mutant rabbit-chick- snail-beasts dusted in colored sugar and vaguely oblong lumps dipped in chocolate.Chocolate and peanut butter, bearing an uncanny resemblance to both the tree nut and the deer eye

Buckeyes, aka Peanut Butter Bon-Bons—A confection with a political history.

Chocolate-covered buttercreams—I made non-traditional flavors, aside from some classic peppermint patties, but any thing you can infuse, extract, concentrate, or preserve will work.

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.

The Momofuku Compost Cookie, in the style of the NYTimes “Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie”

Or is it the NYTimes “Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie” in the style of the Momofuku Compost Cookie?

I have no idea what the originals taste like. But these were crisp at the edges, soft and chewy in middle, and addictive in the way salty-sweet things tend to be. The melty bit at the top of the picture is a molten Rolo. All told, one of the better cookies I've ever made.

A Brilliant Idea, A Broken Recipe

Almost a year ago, Regis and Kathy Lee Gifford posted the recipe for Momofuku Milk Bar’s semi-famous “compost cookie” after featuring pastry chef Christina Tosi on their show. The Amateur Gourmet and The Bitten Word  sang the recipe’s praises, but the comments were full of disappointed bakers whose cookies had spread too thin and sometimes burned at the edges before baking through in the centers, even though they’d followed the recipe to the letter.As far as I can tell, chopped up Rolos are Tosi's idea. I don't know why I've never thought of using Rolos in cookies instead of chocolate chips. Probably because my initial impulse would be to make my own caramel and at that point, it seems too precious to put in cookies. Talk about letting the perfect be the enemy of the good...

Rather than risk wasting all that butter and time on an uncertain result, I decided to add the mix of sweet, salty, and chewy additions that give the “compost” cookie its name to the recipe for the “perfect chocolate chip cookie,” adapted from pastry chef and chocolatier Jacques Torres by the NYTimes in 2008. In place of the 1 1/4 lbs of 60-percent-cacao couverture fèves (i.e. really fancy chocolate chips), I used 1/3 cup butterscotch chips, 1/2 cup peanut butter chips, 2/3 cup chopped up Rolos, 1/2 cup animal cracker crumbs, 3/4 cup crushed pretzels, and 3/4 cup crushed potato chips. I also threw in 2 tablespoons of used coffee grounds, as recommended by Rainy Day Gal, which is the only thing actually compostable in the recipe, although it wasn’t in the version posted on Regis & Kathy’s site. Perhaps Tosi was trying not to reveal all her secrets? Or maybe it’s a borrowing from one of the other dozens of similar “(everything but the) kitchen sinkcookies.

Here are the parts that don't seem especially cookie-like: coffee grounds, potato chips, pretzels.

Further Modifications, Belabored. Skip Ahead for the Recipe.

I refrigerated the dough for two days before baking the cookies, which the NYTimes recipe calls for on the recommendation of City Bakery owner Maury Rubin. That lets the flour fully absorb the moisture from the egg, which evidently produces a more even texture and better browning. I was a little worried it would also soften the potato chips and pretzels, but they still seemed pretty crisp when I was shaping them and then sort of melded into the texture of the baked cookies. 

All the mix-ins, prepped and ready to add to the dough.I also made a few changes—the NYTimes recipe calls for half cake flour and half bread flour, and the article  doesn’t explain why. That flour mixture should have approximately the same gluten content as all-purpose flour, so I just used that instead. I also substituted 1/2 cup rolled oats for 1/2 cup of the flour because I like the chewiness and the flavor. I also used 1 T. corn syrup in place of 2 T. of the white sugar because that promotes better browning (and was part of Tosi’s recipe). I cut the amount of salt in the dough to 1 t. and omitted the extra sprinkle on top because I figured the pretzels and potato chips would already make them plenty salty, which they did.

The salty-sweet combination is their primary appeal, although there’s also something to be said for their novelty and flexibility. You could add anything you’ve (n)ever dreamed of putting in a cookie—Capt’n Crunch, Oreos, malted milk balls, peanut butter cups, Butterfinger, Honey Nut Cheerios, etc. On the Regis & Kathy show, Tosi used mini chocolate chips, Raisinettes, Rolos, Cocoa Krispies, Goldfish, Ritz, and Fritos. I’m kind of liking the idea of a holiday version with crushed candy canes, Christmas M&Ms, and white chocolate or mint chips. Since they usually involve pre-made snack foods—often national brands—but they’ve been popularized by one of NYC’s hottest restauranteurs, they can be playful and pretentious at the same time.

Anyhow, if for any of those reasons you want to make the “Momofuku Compost Cookie” but you don’t want to risk trying a recipe that has failed other people, the version below worked pretty well for me. Like most cookies, they're best still warm from the oven.

Recipe: Compost Cookie (adapted from Jacques Torres via the NYTimes and Christina Tosi via Live with Regis and Kelly)

It starts with a typical cookie base; butter, brown sugar, regular sugar, eggs, vanillaIngredients:

  • 3 cups all purpose flour (14.5 oz) 
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 cups butter (2 1/2 sticks)
  • 1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 T. corn syrup
  • 2 eggs 
  • 2 t. vanilla extract  I crushed the animal crackers, pretzels and chips in the same gallon bag.
  • 1 1/2 cups sweet mix-ins (chocolate chips, chopped up candy bars, chocolate-covered nuts or raisins, sugary cereals, etc.)
  • 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs (or crushed animal crackers or vanilla wafer cookies)
  • 2 T. used coffee grounds
  • 1 1/2 cups salty snacks, slightly crushed (pretzels, potato chips, corn chips, crackers, etc.)

1. Whisk together flour, oats, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

2. Using an electric mixer or a whisk, cream the butter and sugars together for 5 minutes or until they’re smooth and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing for another minute after each addition. Add the vanilla and mix for another minute.

3. Add the flour mixture and mix on low or stir until just combined. Add the sweet mix-ins, graham or cookie crumbs, and coffee grinds, and stir until they’re evenly distributed. Then add the salty mix-ins and stir gently until combined—you don’t want them to just crumble to dust.

4. Press plastic wrap against the surface of the dough and refrigerate for at least 24 hrs, preferably 36.

Butter-sugar base beaten until fluffy and then moistened with eggs and vanilla Double-layer of plastic recommended so it doesn't pick up other smells in the refrigerator

5. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F and line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Scoop the dough onto the sheets—rolling slightly between your palms to press the mix-ins into the dough. For large, bakery-style cookies (approximately 2 dozen per batch), use scoops the size of golf balls (3 1/2 oz each, approx 1 3/4” diameter) and bake them 6-8 per cookie sheet. For smaller cookies (3-4 dozen per batch), make the scoops the size of small walnuts or ping pong balls (1-1 1/2” diameter) and place 2” apart.

6. Bake large cookies 15-20 minutes and smaller ones for 10-15 minutes or until they’re beginning to brown and the centers are no longer doughy. 14 minutes was just about perfect for mine. If your oven is uneven (and most ovens are), rotate the pans half-way through the cooking time.

7. Cool on the pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Eat warm or transfer directly to racks or paper towels to cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Roughly golf-ball sized, 8 to a sheet ran together a little bit, but not so much I couldn't separate them. More than that would have turned into one giant cookie.

Tis the Season for DIY Gifts: Chocolate-covered Buttercreams

If you want perfectly smooth chocolate coating, you have to use a plastic mold. Otherwise, unless you're a chocolate-dipping ninja, they will look "homemade." But that's sort of the point, right?

Making Candy Worth the Effort

A friend and fellow Michigan food blogger just celebrated her 10th Wedding Anniversary. The internet  informed me that the 10 years is the “tin” anniversary and her weddingAnd yet I made peppermint patties anyway because they're a classic I knew people would enjoy even if they weren't excited about the other flavors. (not-)colors were black & white, so I thought a tin full of black & white candies would be an appropriate gift. The first thing that came to mind were peppermint patties. Bittersweet chocolate may not be quite black, but contrasted with the white, creamy center, it has the right effect.

However, it seemed a little silly to make peppermint patties by hand when those are so easy to find ready-made. Sure, if you use expensive chocolate and real butter, a homemade peppermint patty might taste a little different than a York. But probably not enough to justify going to all the trouble of clearing out space in the fridge for multiple rounds of chilling and dealing with the mess of dipping things in molten chocolate.

Instead, I decided to make an assortment of flavors that aren’t as easy to buy. The black & white theme restricted the flavor options a little, mostly because I thought it would be a little strange to eat something with a white filling that tasted like something with a firmly-established color signifier, like raspberry or orange or maple. Additionally, I have this silly desire to use the “real" thing when possible or something based on it—i.e., if not fresh or frozen raspberries, then raspberry preserves or Chambord, etc. So I had to come up with flavors that 1) aren’t readily available in commercial chocolates but do go well with chocolate and 2) make both culinary and aesthetic sense in white (or nearly-white) buttercream.the hibiscus tinted the buttercream a very pale pink (left) and lavender tinted it a barely-discernable lilac which almost looked greyish (right)You could also use milk or white chocolate

The answer seemed to be other herbs, like peppermint, or something similar: flowers, spices, tea, etc. Basically anything that would make the buttercream gritty if you tried to add it in its usual edible form. So texture was the culinary justification. The aesthetic justification is that there’s not as strong of a color association with things like jasmine or cardamom. Even things like lavender, both a color and a flavor/scent, doesn’t seem like it has to be purple in the same way that raspberry has to be red. The problem with things like lavender and jasmine is they run the risk of seeming more like bath salts than candy, so I decided on a few combinations and decided to make different shapes so people could distinguish between them visually:

Peppermint (patties)
Cinnamon-orange (squares)
Lavender-almond (balls)
Hibiscus-rose (striped balls)

peppermint  cinnamon-orangelavender-almond 

For a slightly more elegant presentation, you could put them in individual fluted foil or paper cups in a flat gift box.

Choose Your Own Flavor Adventure

You can use any edible extract, oil, or concentrate or infuse a flavor into the liquid in the buttercream. Some options:

Extracts and essential oils: Most grocery stores carry peppermint, lemon, orange, almond, and raspberry extracts. Some also have rum, maple, hazelnut, chocolate, strawberry, and cinnamon. Natural or specialty foods stores sometimes have essential oils designed for therapeutic use, but many of those are not safe for internal use. You can order edible essential oils online in a wide range of flavors including all the classics and more unusual things like bergamot, clove, oregano, and key lime. Essential oils are much stronger than extracts, so you only need 1/4 and 1/2 t. Start with the smaller amount and add more if necessary. Any of them can be combined—I’m especially fond of almond + orange.

Fruit: You can flavor any kind of buttercream with 2-4 T. fruit preserves—any kind of jam, marmalade, or curd will work. If you can’t find preserves in the flavor you want or don’t want to use something pre-made, you can make them yourself by cooking the fruit down into a concentrated paste, adding sugar if desired. You may want to add a flavor extract to the buttecream, too—raspberry preserves + raspberry extract will have more “pop” than either one alone.

Here's the lavender being strained out of the milk. The floral flavors were very strong in the buttercream, but were somewhat masked by the bittersweet chocolate. But the lavender-chocolate combination was especially nice, even though it was subtle.Infusions: Herbs, spices, tea, or anything masquerading as tea can be incorporated as follows: heat the evaporated milk or cream to a simmer (20-30 seconds in a microwave on high) and add 2 T. fresh or dried leaves or flowers, and/or 1-2 t. whole spices crushed slightly. Let it steep for 10 minutes and then press through a fine mesh strainer. This is where you can really play with things that don’t show up in commercial candies—basil, rosemary, tarragon, sage, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom pods, earl grey, oolong, rooibos, chai, tea scented with jasmine or fruit. The only thing you have to avoid are spices too finely ground to strain out of the liquid, although even those could be used if you have a very fine mesh bag—one of those disposable bags some coffee shops use for loose teas would probably work.

2 1/2 lbs of Callebaut bittersweet ($15) was more than enough to cover 120 chocolates Some flavors I considered and might make in the future, especially if color isn’t an issue, are cardamom-plum, strawberry-basil, and orange-bergamot. Of the four I made this time, cinnamon-orange is my favorite, but I’m pretty pleased with how they all turned out.

They may not be quite as sophisticated as truffles—buttercream is a cheap, pedestrian filling compared to ganache, and this recipe doesn’t even call for a real, cooked buttercream, it’s the powdered sugar version. Additionally, the chocolate coating has a little shortening added to it, which is a cheat that ensures the coating will be hard and shiny without the fuss of tempering, even if you store them in the refrigerator. So these are easier, less expensive, and more of a blank canvas for other flavors. I think that’s what makes them an ideal DIY gift—what makes them special isn’t pricey ingredients, but how you customize them for your recipients. 

Recipe: Chocolate-covered Buttercreams (adapted from The Joy of Baking and Chocolate Candy Mall #3)

all the flavorings involved--lavender and hibiscus flowers infusing in hot milk, rose water, and peppermint, vanilla, orange, cinnamon, and almond extractsIngredients:

  • 3 cups (240 g) powdered sugar
  • 4 T. (20 g) butter
  • 1/4 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 t. of another flavor extract and/or 1-2 T dried herbs, loosed tea, or flowers, 1-2 t. whole spices, or 1 tea bag*
  • 3 T. (30 ml) evaporated milk or cream
  • 12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 T. shortening

*The Classics:
For peppermint patties, use 2 t. peppermint extract or 1/2 t. peppermint oil, which is much stronger
For maple creams, use 2 t. maple extract 
For vanilla buttecreams use an additional 2 t. vanilla extract
For all other options, see the notes above.

1. Let the butter come to room temperature. If using dried flowers, herbs, spices, and/or tea, heat the evaporated milk to a simmer (about 20 seconds in a microwave on high), and steep the flavor element in the milk for 10-15 minutes. Press through a fine mesh strainer.

2. Combine the first five ingredients, using a spatula or a stand mixer—hand mixer not recommended  because the powdered sugar will just get everywhere. If using a stand mixer, start on a low speed. Once everything is combined, increase the speed and beat until the mixture is very smooth and creamy (2-3 minutes with a stand mixer, 5-10 minutes by hand).

powdered sugar, softened butter, hibiscus-infused milk, vanilla, and rosewaterin a different bowl, this one peppermint

3. Cover with plastic wrap or transfer to a small container with a lid and chill for 30 minutes to an hour.

3. Prepare a few cookie sheets by covering them with foil and dusting them lightly with powdered sugar. Shape as desired—For balls, quickly roll small amounts of the batter between your hands to form 1” balls. For patties, flatten balls with your hand or the bottom of a drinking glass to a thickness of about 1 cm. For squares or rectangles, place the buttercream in a quart-sized zip-top bag and roll flat with a rolling pin or empty wine bottle. Cut away the bag, and cut into desired shapes.

this is way faster than shaping them all by hand, but the squares are a little harder to dip whatever shape I made, 1 batch = approximately 30 candies

4. Return shaped buttercreams to the refrigerator for another 30-60 minutes.

5. Melt the chocolate and shortening in the top part of a double-boiler, a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water, or in the microwave just until smooth. Let cool for 5-10 minutes, and then begin dipping the buttercreams one at a time, making sure they get completely coated. Remove with two forks, letting excess chocolate drip back into the bowl. Set back on the foil or on waxed paper. Return to the refrigerator for 30 minutes if desired to set faster—the shortening will prevent the chocolate from “blooming.”

if you're not making a quadruple-batch, feel free to use a smaller bowl the little pooling bits can be snapped off after they're cooled

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"?