Archive | November, 2010

Cookies and Caps

18 Nov

Last weekend, I went on a baking and knitting binge. I baked homemade bread, apple cake (which has become a household fave), and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  Between mixing ingredients, peeling apples, and waiting for the dough to rise, I knitted two baby sized beanies.

Baby beanies? Is there news? Not quite… Each year our office celebrates the holidays by adopting a family and collecting donations for local charities. This year, one of the projects is knitting winter hats for the Salvation Army. As a knitter who prefers buying yarn and finding cool patterns on Ravelry, to the intricacies of finishing intermediate level projects, baby hats are the perfect segue into winter crafting.  I started the caps on Tuesday and have finished four. My goal is a contribution of 20 adorable hats.

Enough about knitting, what about the cookies?

Cookies are one of the most rewarding foods to bake from scratch. Whether you like them warm from the oven or cooled to chewy perfection (that’s me), a tasty cookie recipe can give you the confidence to pursue more challenging baking feats. Plus, you truly can taste the difference. While I will always treasure my pre-lactose sensitivity childhood memories of cold milk and piles of Oreos, these days I prefer a crumbly cookie, made with real butter and without high fructose corn syrup.

Here are a couple of tips for getting cookies from good to great:

Use real butter. When I baked in high school I used Country Crock because I could scoop it into the measuring cups. Please don’t do that. Real butter is must when baking.  While you may use Smart Balance for your toast or broccoli, make it butter for baking.

Allow the butter to soften for several hours before baking. Another baking habit that I changed was giving butter time to soften gradually instead of warming it in the microwave. This will provide a consistent texture when you slice the butter into pats to mix with the sugar.

Allow eggs to warm to room temperature This helps the eggs incorporate easily into the batter, and prevents curdling. When you pull out the butter to soften, grab a couple of eggs too. If you forget, you can warm them by placing the eggs under lukewarm water for 10 to 15 minutes.

Mix, mix, mix the ingredients. Once I made a batch of cookies where I didn’t mix in the salt very well. Some of the cookies were fine, but others were salty, and not in the good salted caramel way. I didn’t blend the ingredients and the result was a lack of uniformity. Chocolate chips need not be uniform, but the batter should be as well blended as possible.

Chill your dough. This helps the cookies not to get too flat. For these cookies, I’ll usually place the balls of dough on the baking sheet in the freezer for a few minutes before baking. I will also put the cookie dough in the fridge while the cookies are in the oven.

Rotate the pan halfway through baking time. I picked up this tip in the Grand Central Baking Book. Just like the uniform batter, consistent heat makes for a good looking and tasty batch of cookies.

Next time you are craving something sweet, break out the butter and flour and make some of your special cookies. If you are new to baking, I recommend starting small and simple. I baked cookies for years before considering making a cake or pie. This recipe, from the Grand Central Baking Book is great for beginners. Enjoy!


Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies from The Grand Central Baking Book

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter at room temperature

1 cup white sugar

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

2 eggs at room temperature

2 teaspoons real vanilla extract

2 3/4 cups quick or rolled oats

2 cups of chocolate chips (I used a combination of 3/4 cup of Ghirardelli chips from a previous batch and 1 1/4 Toll House)

Cream together the butter and sugars.  Add eggs and vanilla.  In separate bowl mix all of the dry ingredients (except the chocolate chips).  Combine the wet and dry ingredients until just mixed, then add the chocolate chips.  Place scoops of cookie dough on a greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes or until edges are slightly golden brown but the center is slightly undercooked.  Tap the pan a few times on top of the stove to remove any invisible air bubbles, then let the cookies finish cooking on the hot pan before removing.


Warm Apple Fritters

5 Nov

In the spirit of the season, my parental units invited me to join them at award winning Lattin’s Country Cider Mill and Farm for their annual Apple Festival.  After wrestling with the mud in the parking lot and taking a look at some odd-looking baby fowl with white feather legwarmers, I met my folks on the farm.  Initially, I was tempted by the idea of buying some cider.  This cider is not just any cider; this family knows the ropes.  They make cider that is delicious chilled or hot, AND they also mix the cider with blackberries, raspberries or strawberries, if you are so inclined.  I was inclined.  I sampled the strawberry apple cider and plucked some out of the fridge to purchase before leaving.  The resulting marriage is a crisp, sweet, true to flavor, seasonal libation I cherish.  Add a nip of your favorite complementary liquor in the safety of your home, and it becomes a libation in the true sense of the word.

Now I’m aware that this is a baking blog and you can take comfort that I do have something to report.  Lattin’s Cider Mill and Farm has an area where it purveys all kinds of apple inspired treats.  There are the aforementioned ciders, apple pies, donuts and even jams.  When you walk into the building, you can smell them: freshly fried apple fritters.  They fry these apple fritters and serve them shortly after allowing them to cool a bit.  I ordered two, gave one to my father and inconspicuously took a photo of the other for the benefit of this blog before indulging.  The fritter was warm and soft.  It tasted less like apple and more like sweet, buttery and slightly caramel glazed dough.  Since it is called an apple fritter, it could have had more apple taste-dad agreed.  However, to be frank, squishy apples in baked goods do not resonate with me so I was happy with the result.  The size was just right and though there were some flavors I was unable to identify (my pop mentioned apple’s constant companion, cinnamon), I would have ordered another if I had actually eaten a sensible breakfast.  Another apple treat I enjoyed was Moriah’s apple cake.  Please see Moriah’s post and recipe for a sinful apple Bundt cake on this blog that rivals Lattin’s goodies. I’ve eaten it for breakfast on more than one occasion, too.