23 December 2014

Spicy-Sweet Ginger Cookies with Chocolate

Dark chocolate and ginger; it's a specific pairing, and sometimes a perfect one. Just the heated flavors I go for this time of year when the adrenaline is high. Like those chocolate-covered candied ginger pieces, a little of each flavor alone together goes a long way. Cookie dough, however is a welcoming template for such punchy accents to spread out and mellow themselves a tad. So if you're on the lookout for a quick and kicking addition to your holiday cookie plate, give this one a try. For ginger cookie inspiration here, I turned to none other than Alice Medrich and made a few alterations. The chocolate, however, was my idea.

I adapted these cookies from Medrich's triple-ginger cookies, which have three kinds of ginger in them: ground, crystallized and fresh. And let me tell you, my favorite part of this recipe came when I grated the fresh ginger into the bowl of warm melted butter and stirred it around. A heavenly scent emerged. But as a matter of fact, everything about this one goes into the favorite category, beginning with the fact that they come together in no time, making them the perfect thing to whip up one winter vacation afternoon.

It's a hand mixed dough and doesn't even need to chill. I did freeze some of the dough balls to bake later as Medrich herself advises in all baking when possible. And since these are quite small, you'll get a lot out of the batter. As far as substitutions, I swapped out a bit of white flour for whole grain pastry, and replaced some of the crystallized ginger for dark chocolate, as I mentioned, which I shaved with a knife.

A fabulously fragrant, chewy cookie with accent and a no-frills baking affair. Now that's what I love about Medrich: precise and definitive as she is, there is also a streamlined approach. While you could easily assume that, as author of quite a few baking books and a chocolate expert, she'd require you to double sift and knead pie dough in chilled freezer bags, it's not usually so fussy. You get the feeling that she just wants something delicious in your cookie jar as soon as possible and is also able to steer you there first class. Now that's a ticket I'll hold on to. Have a lovely holiday everyone!!

Triple Ginger + Chocolate Molasses Cookies

Adapted from Alice Medrich

 21/4 cups
all-purpose flour (or half all purpose/half whole wheat/ pastry flour)

2tsp. baking soda

2tsp. ground ginger

tsp. ground cinnamon

½tsp. ground allspice (or half and half cloves and nutmeg)

¼tsp. salt

8Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and just warm

¼cup unsulphured mild or full-flavored molasses

½cup granulated sugar

cup (2.3 ounces) firmly packed brown sugar

2Tbsp. finely grated fresh ginger root

1large egg


cup (2-4 ounces) ginger chips or crystallized ginger, finely diced or, half ginger and half 70% bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine

~Turbinado sugar for rolling (optional)
  1. Position the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven for two sheets and in the center for one sheet, and preheat to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper if baking more than one sheet.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and salt, and mix thoroughly with a whisk. Set aside.
  3. Combine warm butter, molasses, both sugars, fresh ginger, and the egg in a large bowl, and mix thoroughly. Add the flour mixture and candied ginger and chocolate if using and stir until incorporated. The dough will be soft.
  4. Form the dough into 1-inch balls (½ ounce of dough for each). Optionally roll balls in coarse sugar and place them 2 inches apart on the baking sheets.
  5. Bake, rotating the sheets from back to front and top to bottom about halfway through the baking, for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they puff up and crack on the surface and then begin to deflate in the oven. (For chewier cookies, remove them from the oven when at least half or more of the cookies have begun to deflate; for crunchier edges with chewy centers, bake a minute or so longer.) Cool completely on racks. Store airtight. Dough balls can be frozen before rolling in sugar, and baked for a few minutes longer.

10 December 2014

Best (whole grain) Banana Bread

I've made a few banana breads over the years, and thought they've turned out *ok,* a few pretty good, despite being labeled in my head as a fickle endeavor. Bananas ripe enough?  Pull it out too soon? Right moisture? And the crux: is there something just flat about it? And that, my friends is the most dreary issue...the fact that the bread was an *ok* means to an end for blackening bananas. First-world problems in a baking enthusiast's mind that can simply be rectified by choosing a good recipe. My quest for a better bread begins with looks. I've noticed in some bakery display cases, the banana bread tends to be a lot darker (though not burnt) around the outside than the average home loaf, and the banana aspect evident through dark little threads inside the slice, not a yellow chunk in sight. 

When I cut into this bread, I was happy to see those threads. When I knew it was done, besides the finger spring-back and toothpick test, the top was browned. And the taste? Spot-on. Sweet but not overly-so, with a bit of nuttiness from the whole grain flour, and with a tight yet soft crumb neither cakey nor dense. And, banana-y. This recipe, from Flour Bakery, has been touted over the web for its consistent delivery and specific (though not difficult) preparation, and chances are it's not news to you, and yet, in a banana-baked world, we must hone in, because there is simply too much out there. I'm sticking to this.

The recipe calls for egg to be first whipped with sugar for a few-yes-a few-minutes, this is what aerates the batter. Then you slowly pour in the oil, like you're making an aioli. Your banana, vanilla and just the smallest bit of creme fraiche or sour cream get blended in and finally, your flour. I only made a few changes to Joanne Chang's recipe, which I thought worked well for it. Banana bread can typically afford a swap of some whole grain flour without sacrifice, so I threw in some Graham flour, and I cut the sugar down by about two tablespoons. When a recipe comes from a bakery, you can assume that it probably will be sweet enough. My other changes were to make mini loaves instead of a big loaf, for less oven time, and to use thawed frozen bananas. More information on this: it's not only economical to freeze bananas but actually good for the bread, provided you thaw smartly. 

When you thaw frozen bananas, at room temperature in a bowl for a few hours, they will release a lot of liquid. This might make you feel like you're headed into the wrong territory but fear not; all you have to do is pour that liquid into a saucepan and reduce it; what you're left with is a nice spoonful of banana "extract" that will heighten the flavor. Add that back into your banana flesh and proceed to mash lightly. I didn't have any walnuts so I skipped them and opted for a few sprinkled almonds on top. I love it lightly toasted, with a smidge of cream cheese and honey on top. As I write this, I'm debating whether to freeze the second loaf or keep it out for another day of toasting. Hmm, actually, that's not a very hard choice...

Banana Graham Bread
Adapted from Flour by Joanne Chang
1 2/3 cups (210 grams) all-purpose flour (I used 1c (125g) AP, 2/3 c (80g) Graham flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (I used Diamond Crystal or use half as much sea salt)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (230 grams) sugar (I used scant cup ~190 grams and found that fine)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (100 grams) canola or other flavourless oil
1 1/2 cups/340 grams mashed very ripe bananas
2 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream (I used creme fraiche)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped (optional- I omit)

Place rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325°F (165°C). Butter and flour your pan of choice.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, or a handheld mixer, beat together the sugar and eggs on medium speed for about 5 minutes for the stand mixer, and about 8 minutes for a handheld mixer; or until light and fluffy.

With the machine on low speed, slowly drizzle in the oil. Do not pour the oil in all at once. Add it slowly so it has time to incorporate into the eggs and doesn't deflate the air you have just beaten into the batter. Adding the oil should take about 1 minute.

Add the bananas, creme fraiche/sour cream, and vanilla, then continue to mix on low speed just until combined.

Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture and nuts just until thoroughly combined. No flour streaks should be visible and the nuts should be evenly distributed.Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top.

Bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours for a 9x5-inch loaf or 45-50 minutes for four 5x3 or three 6x3-inch loaves; or until golden brown on top and the cake springs back when you press it. If your finger sinks when you poke the bread, bake a little longer.

-Weigh ingredients if possible-especially for the bananas. Bake long enough. I let my mini-loaves go for 50 minutes. A spring-back test is good. Press your finger into the top of the loaf, the dough should spring back and the top be a nice golden brown, not at all doughy. A toothpick should come out clean. Cool completely in the pan and then more on the rack. The bread will absorb itself even more as it sits wrapped overnight. Joanne says room temp two days, freezer 2 weeks.  

-Recipe may be halved for 2 mini loaves, what I did. Just beat the eggs for a minute less in the beginning

06 December 2014

What To Make This Month

My time flies. How is it December? How is it so rainy this weekend and dark at 4:30 pm? And how were your Thanksgivings? Full-fledged cooking is not yet my charge; I did a wildcard of my favorite brownies with walnuts. I kept telling myself that despite the bombardment of foodie newsletter emails piling up that Tuesday and Wednesday, about dry brine, I did not have to cook turkey the next day. And yet. I'm riding the subway, I'm in the grocery store and I seem to feel a communal pressure that there will be a food shortage or a time shortage. Everyone learns something about cooking around the holidays, eh? Maybe you opt to scale back and keep your pantry leaner, or yes, do make that very same thing because it just works, or perhaps try something new. I think you have to just audition things in the kitchen sometimes. And remembering that takes pressure off that everything has to be perfect. Perhaps the most important move we make in the kitchen is simply what we choose to do that day.

Maybe you're wondering what the above photos are. I added a rendition of my favorite buttermilk scones in the cranberry orange flavor to Food52 for a contest. Scones, as we know by now, are a favorite breakfast choice around here. You can check out the recipe there, as well as get loads of other ideas for things to make (this was for baked breakfasts). Also, I've got my favorite pumpkin bread on ShopRite's blog this month, featuring their pumpkin puree. Go check that one out. For me, it's the Goldilocks of pumpkin breads: just right. And if you've got rye flour, don't skip that. It really adds a nice note.

A few other noteworthy things: This savory sweet potato galette from Hummingbird High, features sweet potatoes roasted and showered in a bit of of maple syrup, butter and cumin, sprinkled with goat cheese, and baked off in a flaky, buttery crust with just the right crunch of cornmeal. It found its way into my oven on a cold recent evening, and let me tell you, it's a good one. Even a half recipe was almost too much for the two of us. It's quite rich and filling, all it needs is a pile of salad greens. And the maple-cumin scent? Now that's something. Note to self: a full recipe would be great for a large gathering vegetarian side. Try it out with some seasonal sweet potatoes from the farm markets in their last weeks, it's that much better.
And speaking of vegetables, you should also know about Joy the Baker's roast cauliflower soup if you're wondering about that cauliflower you bought that's still sitting in the fridge. It's got just a hint of cumin and turmeric spice and some aromatics. Noticing the half-head of farm cauliflower tilted on its side in the bottom of the fridge, I made a little batch today. My favorite part was pulling the hot pot off the stove and smelling the aromatic steam. There was something cleansing about it.

Soup! Now I will want soup all the time. It's one of those things. The cauliflower is deepened by the roasting process and then given a quick simmer in the broth and puréed. Done and done. Similar to this carrot soup recipe. Yes, soup does require a few extra steps, but in the end it's all a little formula and it's worth it.  Especially when you've managed to store a small container leftover. As for the broth component, Joy mentions you can use vegetable, chicken or water. I used all three together. 

Baked eggs a la Amanda Hesser. This recipe is pretty much foolproof, not to mention mess-less, being that you may as well eat it right out of the ramekin. It also takes a few minutes to cool down, so it's the sort of thing you can leave for a bit on the table and it will still be warm when you sit down. The formula, 2 eggs to 1tbsp cream, salt and pepper, and cheese and herbs if you wish, can be scaled up for a crowd, too.  And on that note, I do feel I owe you a real recipe, one that I've tweaked to become a stand-by, and have a place in the archives on here. So long as the sky cooperates more this week in terms of lighting, I'll be back with that soon.  xxM