Monday, April 29, 2013

Flower Cookie Arrangement

Yes, these cookies are cute, but they are also delicious.

ME&A know that I am not big on crafts, you won't find fabulous family photos of adorable children in creative Halloween or Purim costumes. These cookies are one of the few instances of "cute" in my repertoire. 

Choreography & How To:
The cookies in the photo are actually 2 different cookies, a modified shortbread with currents and a sugar cookie flavored with vanilla and orange. The leaves are made of the basic sugar cookie dough with green food coloring.  I used a variety of cookie cutters for flowers and leaves. The larger cookies were made in a Wilton Flower-Pop Cookie Pan, the smaller tulips are part of a set from Nordic Ware's Flower Garden Cookie Cutters. The decorations are available in the baking aisle of the supermarket, or through  the  Cake Mate/Signature Brands LLC website.  You can use any cookie recipe(s) you choose, as long as you can shape the dough by either rolling and cutting out flower shapes, or filling a flower shaped pan.

The baking portion of the project can be completed in stages: freeze the cookies and brownies as you make them. You can work with the frozen baked goods while you assemble the flower pot. The flower pot itself took me about 45 minutes to assemble. 

The pot is a terracotta flower pot that I purchased at Home Depot. I did a bit of research, thinking that I wanted to try a recipe for baking "dirt" in a flower pot, but I have found no evidence that I trust regarding the safety of baking in unfinished terracotta pots. So I skipped baking in the clay pots, lined this one with foil and filled the flower pot with finished baked goods and candy including cookies, brownies and gummy worms. The last time I made a cookie flower pot was years ago for Adam's bar mitzvah, at that time I used small (1 quart) metal paint cans used for mixing colors; those pots were also purchased at Home Depot. I also lined the metal pots with foil and did not attempt to bake in the container itself.

  All of the cookies were baked with a stick attached- either a cookie pop stick, wooden BBQ skewer or a toothpick. Cookie pop sticks can be purchased through Wilton or any website carrying cookie making equipment. 

The large cookies are heavy and require the pot to be weighted, so I lined the pot with foil and filled the hollow space with glass marbles.  I cut the lower third of a 2 liter coke bottle, punched holes with an awl and inverted the bottle over the beads to form a holder for the various cookies.

The holes in the plastic must be large enough to accommodate the cookie pop stick. 
The larger cookies are arranged in the plastic, the stick is anchored in the marbles. For additional support, fill around each cookie with small squares of brownies to keep them in place. Smaller cookies can be anchored directly into the brownies. The brownies form the "soil" around each cookie. Leaves and worms can be scattered among the brownies as well. 

Ingredients for a basic sugar cookie:
1 cup margarine or butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg (slightly beaten)
2 tsp baking powder (sifted into the flour)
1 tsp vanilla extract 
1 tsp orange or lemon extract (or flavoring oil)
3 cups (13.5 oz) all purpose flour 

Baking pan, parchment paper 
Large bowl and either a mixer or wooden spoon
Cooling rack 
A variety of flower and leaf cookie cutters
Spatula for removing cookies from baking pan

Making the cookies:
1. Prepare and measure the ingredients. Preheat the oven to 360 degrees. Take an extra minute, measure the flour and sift the baking powder into the flour. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 
2. Cream the margarine and sugar, add the egg and extracts.
3. Add the flour, continue to mix until the mixture comes together in a ball (about 3-4 minutes).  You can mix this batter together by hand if you choose.
4. Separate about 1/4 of the dough. Wrap or cover the larger portion and chill for 30 minutes.
5. Add a small amount of green food coloring to the separated smaller portion of dough (Cake Mate makes coloring gel in tubes). Knead by hand, add more color if you need it.
Roll out the dough and cut small leaf shapes 
6. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake the leaves for 8-10 minutes, you will see the edges turning barely browish. Cool the hot cookies on the baking sheet for five minutes and then move them to a rack and completely cool. 
7. Remove the chilled dough and roll out to about 1/2 inch. Cut with cutters and move cut-outs to a baking sheet. Insert a stick into the raw dough. 


8. Decorate and bake the cookies for 10-15 minutes. The cookies will turn barely brown around the edges. Remove the cookies from the oven, allow to cool in place for about 10 minutes and then carefully move them to a cooling rack.  The cookies can be frosted or you can further decorate with icing after they are completely cooled. Cookies can be frozen, in plastic containers at this point. 

9. Prepare the washed and dried terracotta pot (or other small container) before you begin to assemble the arrangement.  Line the container with foil, fill with glass florist marbles, Invert the plastic anchor in which you have punched holes. Work slowly, the cookies will break if you handle them roughly. 

10. Place the cookies in the plastic holder, fill around the cookies with brownie pieces, leaf shaped cookies, gummy worms or gummy insects (I also found gummy frogs) should be placed between brownie pieces. If you plan to transport the flower pot, wrap plastic wrap around the arrangement to minimize movement of the cookies. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Marble - Nut Cookies

Delicious chocolate marble cookies with walnuts. These cookies are a bit time consuming to set up: the dough made and divided, chocolate is blended into a portion of the vanilla-orange flavored dough, it must be well chilled,  rolled out and then rolled up. Follow the instructions step by step,  the dough is formed  like a jelly roll. The good news: once set up, you can keep the cookie rolls in the freezer and slice and bake as needed.

4 oz shortening (margarine is my choice for these, but butter would make them richer if you are OK with a dairy cookie)
5.5 oz granulated sugar
1 large egg (extra large will make the vanilla portion of the dough too soft)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp orange extract (you can choose another flavor, I love orange and chocolate - the flavor is subtle in this cookie)
8 oz all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
large pinch kosher salt
3 Tbsp good quality unsweetened cocoa
1.5 Tbsp shortening (I used unrefined coconut oil)

Mixer (stand mixer or hand mixer) and bowl
kitchen scale
Nut chopper (unless you are purchasing chopped nuts)
measuring spoons
Surface to roll out the dough
Rolling pin
Heavy cookie or baking sheet (chocolate tends to burn in the oven if the pan is too flimsy)
Giant cookie spatula (if you have one)

I use an inexpensive, hand cranked nut chopper, hand wash and dry, it will last for years/ You will avoid the risk of over-processing the nuts and finding yourself with crunchy nut butter.

1. Measure the ingredients and have them organized and ready. If you need to chop the nuts, do so at this point.
2. Take an extra minute, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt to make sure the soda and salt is well distributed within the volume of flour.   I have found using a small metal strainer easier than using a flour sifter. 

3. Blend the cocoa and shortening in a small bowl (you can mix by hand)
4.Cream the shortening and sugar, you want to mix them until the two form a light and fluffy mixture.
5. Add egg and continue to beat for another minute or so, until the egg is entirely incorporated. Some people like to beat the egg first, then add to the creamed mixture, I have not found that this makes a difference.
6. Add the flavorings.
7. Slowly incorporate the flour blend. Mix until batter is well blended. Stop the mixer, divide the dough and set one half aside (this is the "white" dough).
8. Mix the chocolate mixture into the remaining dough in the mixing bowl. Mix well, so that the chocolate mixture is distributed throughout the portion of dough.
Cover with plastic wrap and chill for a minimum of several hours.

9. Preheat the oven to 360 degrees.
10. Remove the 2 portions of dough and roll out on a lightly floured surface.  Work quickly. The dough will soften and become sticky, with the white portion likely to be stickier than the chocolate.
11. Sprinkle the rolled out chocolate with 2/3 of the chopped nuts.
Press into the dough.  The chocolate dough is firmer and easier to handle.  Using a spatula to help you, lift the white dough and place on top of the nut sprinkled chocolate dough. Trim the white dough to be slightly smaller than the chocolate dough, it will shift a bit as you roll it up.

There is a giant spatula that comes in handy for moving large pieces of dough (or removing multiple cookies at once). You slide it under the dough and lift. There really is there is a tool for almost everything!

12. Roll the layered dough up tightly, if you roll loosely, there will be spaces and the cookie will become mis-formed as it bakes. Be careful as you roll, the "white" dough will slide toward the unrolled edge, you want to try to keep the 2 layers aligned as you roll.
13. Once the roll is formed, make slices, about 1/3 inch thick, carefully lift and place each slice on the cookie sheet, allow for 1/2 inch or so between cookies. They will not expand very much, but you don't want them to touch. Press the remaining chopped nuts onto the cookie slices.

 Roll the layered dough tightly

Slice cookies approximately 1/3 inch thick

Lift the slice, supporting it with a dough slicer or spatula

Place on a lined baking sheet and bake 18- 22 minutes at 350 degrees

14. Place the baking sheet in the top 1/3 of the oven. Lower the temperature of the oven to 350 degrees and bake for 18- 22 minutes.  The cookie will be slightly soft, but the chocolate will look like it is dry and set.  They will be soft when you remove from the oven, move them onto a cooling rack gently. They will harden as they cool down.
15. Cooled cookies can be kept for several days at room temperature. For longer storage, double wrapped or place into a freezer proof plastic container and freeze for up to a month.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Pan de Sal (Filipino soft white rolls)

Pan de Sal - "salt bread" is the ubiquitous breakfast roll found throughout the Philippines. "De Sal," meaning "of salt," is misleading - the rolls are slightly sweet, although not nearly as sweet or fluffy/airy as the familiar packaged Hawaiian rolls that are present on supermarket shelves.

I've been informed by a friend that she ate a similar breakfast bread called "Pan de Agua," when she visited her grandmother in Puerto Rico. Mexican grocery stores in our town sell a similar small white bread roll called "Bolilos." These small bread rolls all probably evolved from Spanish culinary roots.  The distinctive feature of pan de sal are the bread crumbs that coat the individual rolls, yielding the interesting contrast of a soft white bread roll with a crunchy coating.

I never considered baking pan de sal while living in Manila- every corner "Sari-Sari" store and bakery has warm rolls for sale in the morning. The Sari-Sari is the Filipino equivalent of the small corner grocery or bodega; early in the morning there are trays of warm pan de sal that are sold by the piece. They are purchased warm and carried home in a small rectangle brown paper bag. In the morning they are eaten with butter, cheese spreads, peanut butter, jam, eggs or breakfast meat. Later in the day they might be served as snacks (merienda) with sandwich spreads. When I taught at the International School I looked forward to a mid-morning pan de sal with tuna salad.

 I've found a number of recipes on line for pan de sal, some have milk and butter, some are non-dairy (pareve). The recipe I'm using here is slightly modified from Jun-Blog. Jun Belen is a Filipino food blogger, his blog has the most beautiful pictures, his pan de sal are of course picture perfect. Since I prefer to bake non-dairy recipes when I can, I opted to try Jun's recipe; his recipe is delicious.

Remember to measure the ingredients by weight: use your scale!
13.5 oz bread flour
13 oz all-purpose flour
1 TBSP yeast (see note below)
4 oz sugar
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt ("native salt" if you are making this in the Philippines)
14 oz warm water (the water should be around 100 degrees)
4 oz shortening, softened or melted, but not hot. I tried both unrefined coconut oil (a solid shortening) and Crisco (which is now trans-fat free)
1/2 c bread crumbs

Stand mixer or large mixing bowl and large mixing spoon
Rolling pin and an area to roll out and cut dough pieces
Cookie or baking sheet, lined with parchment paper
Scale, measuring spoons
Measuring cups (if you are not using a scale)

Note on yeast: Jun's recipe calls for yeast that is proofed (active dry), I opted to use SAF Gold, an instant yeast that is formulated to be used in sweet breads. SAF Gold requires no proofing, although I add the yeast and a bit of sugar into one side of the bowl along with the flour. When I add the water, I pour it near the small area where the yeast is concentrated, assuring myself that the yeast is hydrated, it will begin to bubble immediately.  You can use active dry  yeast interchangeably with instant yeast. Using active dry yeast requires proofing and will add about 10 minutes to the dough-making process. See my posting on working with flour and yeast for more information, I made this dough with my KitchenAid, but it is a soft dough and can be made easily by hand mixing.

1. Measure all of the ingredients. Line a cookie or baking sheet with parchment paper. Prepare an area to roll out and cut the dough.
2. Measure warm water - the first several times you bake you should measure the temperature of the water, you will, over time, get a "feel" for how warm the water should be. My experience has been that when using instant yeast the water should be about 105 degrees F, for active dry, the water should be a bit warmer (110 degrees F).
3. Add flour, yeast,sugar and salt into a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. See my note above.
4. Pour the warm water into the bowl, along the side that has the concentration of yeast mixed with a bit of sugar. It will begin to bubble almost immediately.
5. Start mixing the dough at low speed and pour in the melted (but not hot) shortening into the bowl while the mixer is working.  The shortening will be incorporated within a minute or two. Increase the speed to low-medium and continue to mix for 3-5 minutes. The resulting dough will be soft, airy and a bit oily.
6. Cover the dough with plastic wrap that is in loose direct contact with the dough. Covering the dough in this way eliminates air space that can dry the dough as it rises, the wrap will accommodate the rising dough. Place in a draft free place (a cool oven is a good place) and allow to rise for about an hour- the dough will be double in bulk.
7. The baked product will be light and airy- rising time is essential. The resulting dough will be soft and airy after an hour. Test the dough by pressing your finger into the dough - if the indentation stays and does not bounce back your dough is ready.
8. Turn the dough a few times, there is no need to "punch down."  Turning will deflate the dough and activate the gluten a bit. Cut the dough into 3 portions.

9. Working with one portion at a time and keeping the unused portion covered and to the side, roll out the dough to a rectangle that is about 1/2 inch thick. Trim the ends.
10. The essential step to ensuring the particular domed shape unique to pan de sal is to tightly roll the dough rectangle and to cut pieces that are about 1 1/2 inch long. The end of the log should be trimmed, the log rolled in bread crumbs and cut into portions.  Note that you need to roll tightly and might need to pinch the edge once you roll up the dough so that it does not un-roll as the rolls rise and bake. If  you skip this step the rolls will be delicious, but will not have the particular nuanced shape that are typical of pan de sal and will look like a typical rounded white bread roll.

11.The other essential step is to roll the dough log in bread crumbs, place the dough pieces cut side down and press a bit more bread crumbs onto the exposed cut side that is the top of the dough piece on the baking sheet. This did take a bit of practice, my dough pieces got prettier as I practiced. (See photos A-E.)

12. The pieces should be slightly oval, not completely round. Place the pan de sal dough pieces (the recipe will make several dozen rolls) about an inch apart on the baking sheet, allowing for space to rise. Unlike some dinner rolls that look wonderful when they rise and bake shoulder to shoulder, pan de sal look prettier when they are each individually allowed to rise and attain their particular shape.  Allow to rise in a draft free location (again, the cool oven will work until the point where you have to pre-heat the oven) for about 45 minutes. 

13. About 10 minutes before you are ready to bake the rolls, pre-heat the oven to 360 degrees F. Make sure to remove the unbaked dough if you are using your oven as a place to allow the dough to rise. Once the temperature has reached 360, place the baking sheet in the top 1/3 of the oven, close the door and lower the thermostat to 350 degrees. Bake for approximately 20 minutes. The rolls will be a light golden brown, the bread crumbs will be crusty looking.  

14. Cool for about 10 minutes before trying the warm bread. Unlike white bread, the consistency of the warm rolls will be light, airy and are ready to eat warm. Enjoy the pan de sal immediately, serve after they have cooled, or double wrap after they completely cool and freeze. 

Many thanks to Jun Belen for his email correspondence when I started to think about attempting to make pan de sal. The warm pan de sal lived up to my  memory and his non-dairy dough make this recipe an easy addition to a kosher bread baking repertoire. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Cheese - Veggie "Bacon" Biscuit Sandwiches

These are dairy (cheese) biscuits and because I don't have a full array of dairy baking tools, there is a degree of "winging it" when I make dairy recipes. For example, I do not have a pastry blender for breaking up butter into the flour mixture and use the old fashioned two-fork method.  This time I discovered that using whipped butter made the two-fork blending process easier; however, the butter must be weighed so that it the recipe incorporates the same amount of butter that would be cut from a bar. The flour and grated cheese are weighed as well, it's best to organize all of this ahead of time.

Making biscuits is a bit different than bread baking: leaving agents and salt need to distributed evenly into the flour prior to the addition of any other ingredient. Self rising flour does this for you, but as you'll see this recipe calls for part whole wheat, which makes it necessary to start with plain flour. The fat needs to incorporated into this mixture so that it is distributed in small globs. I use a very simple, but indispensable step as far as I'm concerned: take a small old-fashioned metal strainer and sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. This extra minute or two will assure that you do not have a lump of baking powder or soda in the flour, thus avoiding any chance of experiencing the bitter taste that happens when baking powder forms a lump in the dough.

 Fat (butter in this case) needs to be broken up in small pieces throughout the flour blend.

There is a very nice tool for blending fat into flour, but in a pinch, two forks, worked at 90 degree angles to each other will do the job.

The instructions here will yield 8 large (sandwich size) biscuits or in a smaller dinner/side dish size. The bacon I use, obviously is veggie.

Sandwich Ingredients
1 package of vegetarian bacon Use 2-3 slices per muffin

Biscuit ingredients:
4 oz white whole wheat flour
5 oz all- purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3 oz unsalted butter (either use whipped or cut up 3 oz from a bar)
6 oz unflavored, non-fat yogurt
4 oz grated sharp cheddar (use the sharpest cheese you can find, grate it and measure before you start mixing any ingredients)
2 oz cool water
1-2 Tbsp grated or shredded Parmesan (for sprinkling on top)

1. Preheat the oven (425 degrees) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Measure out all of the ingredients so that they will be ready for mixing. Speed and a light hand while mixing matters.
3. Sift the flours, baking powder, soda and salt into a large mixing bowl.
4. Cut the butter into the flour mixture using either a hand pastry blender or two forks working at a 90 degree angle. The butter must be broken into small bits and distributed throughout the flour. You can use your finger tips to rub the butter into the flour, but work quickly, as you don't want to warm the butter and melt it.
5. Stir in the yogurt and cheese. The mixture will, in all likelihood be dry - you can stir and mix in up to 2 oz of water.
6. The dough will form a sticky ball, you might find it easier to turn it a few times with your hands. 

7. Working quickly- you don't want to a) warm up the butter or b) start forming too much gluten - divide and form the dough into balls (they will look like slightly lumpy matzah balls). Place the balls onto the prepared cookie sheet and flatten a bit with the back of your hand.
8. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

9. Bake for 12-15 minutes (for small size) or 22-25 (for large size).  The biscuits will be a light golden color.  These biscuits are not as dry/crumbly as regular baking powder biscuits, nor are they as greasy as commercial biscuits. 
10. Allow the biscuits to cool for a few minutes, cut in half and make the sandwich. Use your imagination, for example, you can melt additional cheese, load the biscuit with lettuce and tomato in addition to the veggie-bacon or use a veggie sausage-pattie instead of the faux-bacon. 
11. The cooled biscuits can be double wrapped and frozen. Defrost partially and re-warm in a medium (350 degree) oven for a few minutes.