Archive for the ‘Techniques’ category

phobia cure: chewy oatmeal chocolate chip cookies recipe

March 7th, 2010

Cookie recipes scare me. I remember too well as a kid struggling to hand-mix the stiff Tollhouse chocolate chip dough and then burning the cookies. My sister Margaret’s always came out just right, so I ceded that ground to her. Then there was that time I attempted to make my Great Aunt Frances’ famous ginger snaps. I can still picture the baking dough oozing across the cookie sheet, leaving a charred path in its wake.

My mom’s go-to cookie recipe was oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with wheat germ. I remember eating a lot of those—no childhood baking trauma attached. So the other day, I was in line at Trader Joe’s and saw packages of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, strategically placed for impulse purchases. Not only did I resist, but I also vowed to set aside my cookie baking phobia and make some myself.

Coincidentally, I’ve also had a copy of Sur La Table’s book Baking Kids Love by Cindy Mushet that I’ve been wanting to try out and report on. (Editorial note: I received a free review copy of this book from its publisher, Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC.) One of its 30 recipes is Chewy Oatmeal Cookies. Perfect.

Cindy’s 11-year-old daughter, Bella, helped her create the book and offers a running commentary. Photos of Bella and other kids, a colorful design, and full-page photos of the end results will appeal to kids. In addition to baking these recipes with your child, I recommend this book for kids who are old enough to read it themselves.

Although I didn’t in my adaptation of the Chewy Oatmeal Cookies recipe below, each recipe in the book lists the required tools as well as an ingredient list. Cindy includes those extra steps, for instance, when to scrape the bowl, that more experienced bakers wouldn’t need. Other recipes I’d like to try: Gone Bananas Chocolate Chip Cake, Cinnamon Streusel Coffeecake Muffins, and Crunchy-Top Vanilla Scones (along with its Scrumptious Strawberry Shortcake variation).

Cindy’s original Chewy Oatmeal Cookies recipe calls for cranberries, but I swapped in chocolate chips. I actually enjoyed making the cookies—enough so that I plan to make more cookies! Having the right gear, especially a stand mixer, helped.

Because baking with me is no longer novel and there are now so many different ways Carter can entertain himself, I never know exactly when or for how long he will join me. “Special time with Mommy” no longer is an automatic attraction. This time, he wanted to put the dough on the cookie sheets. The attraction: a mini ice cream scoop.

Gotta love the appeal of kitchen gadgets, and I highly recommend a 1 tablespoon scoop for doling out cookie dough. Carter needed some help squeezing the handles and didn’t make it through all 48 scoops, but had fun trying. The scoop was so much quicker than the two-spoon method I used to use. Carter is going to kindergarten in August, and I pictured myself up late scooping out cookie dough, so he would have cookies to take to school in the morning.

As far as taste and texture, these cookies passed the test: they were all gone fast. In fact, my neighbor Nandini, who sampled them, came over to get the recipe. She needed to make cookies that night for her son’s class. I lent her my mini scoop.

Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (see note)

Position an oven rack in the top third of the oven and another in the bottom third. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars in a large mixing bowl on low speed for one minute and then medium speed for another minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg and vanilla and beat on medium-low speed until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In three parts, add the dry ingredient to the butter mixture and beat on low speed just until a few patches of flour remain. Add the oats in three parts and then the chocolate chips. Mix until the ingredients are evenly blended. Scrape down the bowl and fold the dough a few times to make sure all the flour is incorporated and the chips are evenly distributed.

With a small ice cream scoop or a tablespoon, shape the dough into cookies. Evenly space 12 cookies on each baking sheet. Place one sheet on each oven rack. Bake for 7 minutes, then switch the pans’ positions and rotate each a half turn. Bake another 7 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown around the edges.

Place the baking sheets on cooling racks and cool the cookies completely. Once the pans are cool, remove the cookies and line the pans with new parchment paper. Bake the rest of the cookies. Yield: approximately 48 cookies.

Note: The original recipe calls for 3/4 cup of dried cranberries or other dried fruit, such as raisins, currants, dried cherries, or chopped dried apricots, with the optional addition of 1/3 cup of chopped nuts or chocolate chips.

Adapted from Baking Kids Love

when life brings you lemons, make lemonade—and mini Bundt cakes

February 7th, 2010

mini bumdt at 350I didn’t know who Nigella Lawson was until my best friend Dawn gave me Nigella’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess for a wedding gift nearly eight years ago. Nigella’s lemon Baby Bundts recipe, super simple to make with impressively pretty results, has been an ideal match for any of my three mini Bundt cake pans. (I’ve already admitting to collecting Nordic Ware, so is it a surprise I have the multi, the fluted, and the flowers mini Bundt pans?)

Tonight, I used the book’s photo of white icing dripping off the sides of a mini Bundt cake to sell Carter on having the three Meyer lemons he brought home from Lucy’s tree at daycare to do double duty: make lemonade as intended and make dessert for a Super Bowl gathering tomorrow. Bonus: both offer easy ways to engage kids in the kitchen.

Carter loves to hand-squeeze lemons, using funny enough another wedding present, a lemon squeezer from friends Anita and Cameron. Tonight, I let him cut the lemons in half with a serrated knife for the first time. (Just when you thought I’d forgotten about the child-development skills part of my blog, I’ll point out that hand-squeezing and cutting take strength and coordination, while directing where juice or a knife ends up involves hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness.)

For the cakes, however, I didn’t let Carter handle the zester, yet, even though he asked. I’m still nervous about zesting the skin off my own fingers, so I think we’ll hold off on that. We did talk about what zest is and sniff it, though, for a bit of sensory awareness.

Lots of zest (I use more than the original recipe) and the frosting are key to the cakes being flavorful. This is the first time I’ve doubled the original cake recipe, so feel free to half it. You can also use vanilla yogurt instead of plain. And, according to Nigella, the recipe will also work with just about any citrus, such as orange or lime, so make it you own and let me know how it goes.

One-Lemon Lemonade

Squeeze 1 lemon. A large lemon yielded 1/3 cup lemon juice. Heat the same yield amount of water (1/3 cup) and of sugar (1/3 cup water) in the microwave on high for 2 minutes to make simple sugar. Mix juice, simple syrup, and an equal amount (1 cup) of water to dilute. Chill and enjoy.

Lemon Baby Bundts

1 cup plain yogurt (or 2/3 cup Greek yogurt + 1/3 cup water)
1 1/2 cups butter, melted and slightly cooled
4 eggs
zest of  3 lemons (preferably Meyer)
2 cups flour
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon, scant, salt (2 pinches)

2 cups powdered sugar
juice of 2 lemons

Butter two mini Bundt pans (each with six molds). Preheat over to 325˚F.

Whisk together the yogurt, butter, eggs, and lemon zest in a small mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and fold with a rubber spatula until well combined.

Divide the batter evenly among the 12 molds. Bake for 25–30 minutes, or until the tops are starting to lightly brown and a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool cakes 10 minutes in pans before turning out on a wire rack. Cool completely before icing.

To make the icing, sift the powdered sugar into a bowl and add enough of the lemon juice to make icing about the consistency of honey. Pour icing on top of the cakes and allow to drizzle down the sides.

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess

epic failure: the rise and fall of orange-nutmeg popovers

January 9th, 2010

risefallBad omen: Carter describing the orange-nutmeg popovers in the oven as “mashed potatoes shaped like Mount St. Helens.” They looked puffy and yummy, but we all know what happened to the picturesque Mount St. Helens. It’s rare that a recipe doesn’t work for me. The orange-nutmeg popover recipe in Savory Baking just didn’t.

The recipe said to “prick each popover with a small knife to let the the steam escape because this helps them from collapsing.” I pricked. They collapsed.

Did using a blender, instead of mixing by hand, affect the batter’s airiness in a bad way? Was the baking temperature, only 375˚F, compared to 425˚F in other recipes, too low to crisp up enough the popovers? This popover recipe didn’t have any additional notes on popover baking techniques. The popover recipes in BakeWise and Baking Illustrated are much more informative.

Aside from the technical issues, the real problem was the strong, off-putting flavor. For six popovers, the recipe included 1 teaspoon each of salt, fresh ground nutmeg, and freshly ground black pepper, plus the zest of one large orange. The other ingredients were fairly standard: 3 eggs, 1 cup milk, 3 tablespoons melted butter, and 1 cup flour.

Jeff took one look at the popover on the plate and requested one of the “puffy” ones. I had to explain that these were the (formerly) puffy ones. He took one bite, put it down, and said “too nutmeggy.” I thought they tasted too salty and peppery but powered through eating one, as I tried to pinpoint the flavoring errors of my ways.

I had trouble leveling off the teaspoons (I used a 1/4 teaspoon to measure because it’s hard to scoop up fresh-ground spices) of nutmeg and pepper because of their rough texture, and I wonder if I packed the spices instead of loosely leveling them, ending up with too much. That wouldn’t explain the salt, though, because I used table salt. If I were to try these again, I would cut all of the spices in half, but keep the orange zest.

I hope my successful popover debut wasn’t beginners’ luck, which I’m prone to. (Don’t ask my brother David about the first time we played backgammon, or my brother Tom about fishing in Virden, IL, for instance. )

I also hope my favorite little baker and budding scientist, who is feeling much better, will help me experiment with another popover recipe this weekend. Carter said to me the other day: “Mommy, I have a hypothesis, and I’d like to do an experiment to test it out.” I asked him if Daddy had told him what a hypothesis is, which wouldn’t be out of character. His answer: “No. I heard it on Dinosaur Train.”

cupcake lessons

October 3rd, 2009

daddy's cupcakes

1) Overfilled cupcake batter bubble over and make a mess—as in, “What’s burning?”

2) To rescue a cupcake after its batter bakes over: Trim top to neaten. Cut the cupcake in half; sandwich cherry preserves in the middle. Serve upside down. Feed husband one. Eat two.

3) Sometimes Carter would rather watch TV with Daddy than bake with Mommy, even when baking is his idea!

Those are the lessons I learned when I made cupcakes—Carter’s idea—the night before Jeff’s birthday last month. (It’s Day 11 on the road: a couple of days of business meetings in New York followed by a New England/Canada cruise with the boys. Obviously, I’m way behind on blogging.)

I used a recipe for 48 mini cupcakes but baked them in standard-size muffin tins. When I came up with 11, I know the math and knew I should have redistributed the batter to make 12. But I was tired after a long day, and it was a lot easier to put water in the last cup. (Water in any empty cups helps protect a muffin pan in the oven.)

Most of the cupcakes came out fine (or good enough to camouflage with frosting). Carter helped frost those for the actual birthday celebration.

Carter did all the decorating. As you can see, we pretty much use the same birthday candles for everyone, whether Daddy or Pink Bear, and we’re out of red sprinkles.

I’m hanging out in Newark and don’t have the cupcake recipe with me. I’ll post it when I get home. The desserts on the cruise were beautiful and delicious—and abundant—but I’m also looking forward to getting back in the kitchen with Carter and baking our own.

daycare baking project

September 12th, 2009

Today, at daycare, the kids “made” cinnamon rolls—put premade dough on baking sheets, which Lucy baked and cooled during gym class. Afterward, the kids frosted and decorated them with raisins and candy. They sampled their creations, and each brought one home. A hands-on baking project. Yet another reason for me to love Carter’s daycare and be grateful that the NASA daycare center stiffed us.

When I was pregnant, Jeff and I had put our names on the waiting list for NASA’s onsite daycare center. The director assured us that it wouldn’t be a problem getting in. But it was. Which I found out at the end of my maternity leave when I called to set up Carter’s start date. Then I found out how hard it is to find daycare with an open infant spot. I was on my way to put a deposit down at an expensive, inconvenient center, because it was the best option I had found, when I stopped to visit one last home provider. Thank goodness. Carter has now been going to Lucy’s for over four years—and learning more than I ever could have taught him had I stayed home. (NASA finally offered us a slot when Carter was 18 months old. We declined.)

After dinner, Carter nibbled on his cinnamon roll and then said, “Mommy, You can have the rest.” It was nice of him to share, but I could taste why. The mish-mash of sweet decorations looked better together than they tasted. So if you try decorating cinnamon rolls with your kids, which is a great easy, creative, and tactile project, keep in mind it’s about the process, not the end result. (At least that’s what I told Jeff when he caught me being a bad mommy and surreptitiously throwing out the remains.)

Lemon blueberry oatmeal muffins

September 6th, 2009

Since I let my child eat blueberry coffee cake for dinner, I thought we’d try a healthier version of blueberry baked goods. Carter had two lemons from the tree at daycare, so I searched online for lemon blueberry muffins, with an eye toward healthy ingredients. In addition to having oats and whole-wheat flour, this recipe caught my eye because it calls for agave syrup, which we have leftover from making Finnley’s Super Muffins.

Today’s new baking concept was making a “well,” i.e., a hole, in the middle of the dry ingredients in which to pour the wet ingredients all at once. This technique is supposed to make it easier to mix the batter uniformly without the dreaded overmixing that can result in tough muffins. Does it actually matter? Probably not much. (Here’s a quick sampling of opinions from Chowhound). But it was fun to show Carter before he carefully and gently mixed all this goodness together.

I was concerned that these muffins might end up tasting “too healthy,” but even with the oats and whole-wheat flour, they’re not heavy—and Carter likes them, so they’re kid tested and approved!

Lemon Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins
1 1/4 cup oats (not quick cooking)
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/3 cup agave syrup
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest (2 lemons)
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a 12-muffin pan with cooking spray.

In medium-sized bowl, stir together the oats, flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg, then whisk in the milk, agave syrup, vegetable oil, and lemon zest.

Make a well in the dry ingredients, pour in the wet ingredients all at once, and stir until barely combined (do not overmix!). Gently fold in blueberries.

Divide batter equally among muffin cups. Bake muffins 20–25 minutes, or until tops start to brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Adapted from Whole-Wheat Lemon Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins on Tasty Planner, contributed by Angel’s Scullery

Great Grandma’s Coffee Cake

August 25th, 2009

Great Grandma's coffee cake decoratedMy mom’s mom was well known for her signature coffee cake, and tonight Carter and I made her recipe. (We halved it because we had only a cup of sugar, which gave me a chance to talk about dividing and fractions.) Even Carter remarked at how easy and fast it is to make. I think that helped keep him engaged in the whole process, as did letting him do several things for the first time.

Carter did the usual—scooped the flour, cracked the eggs (oops! one overboard, it happens), poured the milk. The new technique he learned was how to mix dry ingredients with butter to form coarse crumbs. I had him try using my pastry blender (I love Oxo’s blender with blades) and then I had him try doing it with his fingers, which is a great tactile experience for kids. He liked both ways, and the variety helped keep his interest.

For some reason, Carter is newly entranced with wanting to use the spatula to scrape batter into a pan; he got so excited doing it that he called for Daddy to come watch. He also insisted on sprinkling the topping. Then he put his handprint in the middle. I told him I thought we wouldn’t be able to see it after coffee cake baked, but nothing like an experiment to find out. (Sure enough, telltale ridges remained of his mark.)

When I was checking the coffee cake for doneness, Carter really wanted to use the “needle” (aka a cake tester). I was reluctant because the pan was hot, but I also want him to learn to do these things safely. I put his hand in a long oven mitt that went up his arm and guided his hand, while explaining to check to see if any crumbs stick to it: another new concept. (I can’t recommend the cake tester I have because the metal part too easily separates from its wooden handle, but I do recommend having a cake tester on hand. One of these days, I’ll probably get a Oxo cake tester as a replacement.)

Of course, once the cake cooled, Carter made it his own by adding sprinkles. The candles are for Pink Bear, who celebrates her birthday on a regular basis.

Great Grandma’s Coffee Cake

4 cups flour
2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup butter (room temperature)
1 cup milk
3 eggs
4 teaspoons vanilla 

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Butter two round cake pans or one 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

Sift together the flour, sugar, and baking powder. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, combine dry ingredients with butter until coarse crumbs form. Reserve 1 cup of mixture for topping.

To remaining mixture,  add milk, eggs, and vanilla.  Mix by hand until well blended. Pour batter into prepared pan(s) and evenly sprinkle reserved mixture over the top.

Bake at 400ºF for 35 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and a toothpick in the middle comes out clean.

odd measures

August 17th, 2009

Gadget alert! For all the recipes that call for 2/3 cup of this dry ingredient and 3/4 cup of that—say, like the banana chocolate chip oatmeal muffins or sour cream–maple muffins Carter and I recently made—it’s especially handy to  have “odd-size” measuring cups.

Odd-size measuring cups are another one of those gadgets that wish I’d bought a lot sooner! I have an All Clad set, which also includes odd-size measuring spoons (2 teaspoon, 1 1/2 tablespoon, and 2 tablespoon), from Williams Sonoma, but just look for a basic set that includes 1 1/2 cup, 3/4 cup, and 2/3 cup to take the guesswork out of measuring dry ingredients in these frequently asked-for quantities. My guess is, pretty soon, they won’t be the odd ones out.

It’s just so much easier for Carter to scoop and level flour 3/4 cup flour with a 3/4 cup measuring cup. Ditto having a 2/3 cup measuring cup to show him how to tightly pack and measure 2/3 cup of brown sugar for the banana muffins. Plus he’s learning about fractions without even knowing it!

getting the scoop

August 14th, 2009

scooping flourWhen I was growing up, I never worried about—or even knew about—the niceties of scooping and leveling flour: using a spoon or scoop to put flour into a measuring cup, then scraping the back edge of a knife over the cup’s top edge to remove any excess flour. It wasn’t until I was an adult reading baking books in earnest that found out how important this technique can be to accurately measuring flour. (Of course, serious bakers go a step further and weigh the flour.) But enough about technique. What’s more important is that scooping and leveling is fun for kids to do. Plus it’s another one of those kitchen activities that helps develop a slew of skills: fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, spacial awareness, to name a few of the usual candidates.

Carter has been scooping flour with a small metal kitchen scoop and leveling it with the back of a table knife since he was 3. In fact, that’s what we’re doing in the picture in this blog’s header, although these days I usually get brushed aside with an “I can do it myself, Mommy,” which, in the end, is the point.

you crack me up

August 7th, 2009

I can’t say you’re never too young to start cracking eggs, because it does requires a certain amount of dexterity, but I will say that preschoolers can learn this often required baking skill. Carter started this year and has a blast doing it, so if you haven’t tried it yet with kids, you might want to give it a shot.

While you probably crack eggs without thinking too much about the mechanics, the trick to teaching a young baker is to deconstruct the steps:

1) Start by having your child just crack the shell. It’s tricky to master tapping just hard enough, but not too hard. Experiment with whether it’s easier to tap on the side of bowl that you stabilize or the counter. Plan for some messes and practice for as many baking sessions as needed.

2) Once that step is mastered, demonstrate how to insert both thumbs and pull the halves apart. My cracking motion has a bit of flip to it, so Carter’s does, too. Allow for more messes and lots of practice time.

Note: Always have your child use a separate small bowl for cracking eggs one at a time and then pouring each egg in with other ingredients.

I edit a lot of books that cover child development skills. Cracking eggs involves many: hand-eye coordination, tactile exploration, and fine motor skills to name a few. Plus it’s just fun.