Tuesday, December 29, 2015

KAF Vermont Cheese Crackers

Homemade Cheese Crackers. Salty and fabulous.
I know a lot of these look burnt, but that's the way I prefer them. Yum.

I really think that PJ Hamel over at King Arthur Flour's blog, Flourish, said it best:  "I love cheese crackers. LOVE LOVE LOVE cheese crackers. Cheez-Its, Cheese Nips, even Cheetos fall into that same delightful category of cheesy CRUNCH." PJ and I are kindred spirits on this matter. 
I've been known to make myself nearly sick on Cheez-Its and Crunchy Cheetos. I just can't stop sometimes. I'm a sucker for salty snacks in general, but cheesy salty snacks are probably my favorite. These here crackers are very salty and very satisfying. (Skip the salt on top if you want to avoid some sodium.)
These crackers aren't as light and crisp as a store-bought cracker, but they do have crunch and great flavor, especially with the addition of a little Pizza Dough Flavor. I'll definitely be eating all of these, and I'll try to pace myself. 
Glad I finally gave this recipe a go.

KAF Vermont Cheese Crackers
   --adapted from kingarthurflour.com

  • 1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 cup Vermont cheese powder (I used Cabot Cheddar Shake)
  • 1/2 tablespoon Pizza Dough Flavor (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for sprinkling, if desired
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 7-9 tablespoons ice water
  • In a medium or large mixing bowl, place the flour, cheese powder, pizza dough flavor, yeast, salt, and baking powder. Mix thoroughly with a whisk.
  • Add the vegetable shortening and cut in with a pastry blender until incorporated and mixture is crumbly. 
  • Add ice water 1-2 tablespoons at a time and mix until a cohesive dough forms. Try not to over mix. Knead the dough just enough to get it into a ball, cut in half, and then shape each half into a small rectangle, about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. Wrap each rectangle in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 2 hours.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • After dough has chilled, roll out one piece of dough at a time on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper. Try to roll as close to 1/16 inch as you can.
  • Using a pizza or rotary pastry cutter, cut dough into 1 1/4 inch squares. Then pierce each square once with a fork (to prevent pita-like puffing).
  • If you'd like additional salt on top of your crackers, use a water spray bottle to spray a fine mist of water over the tops of the crackers and then immediately sprinkle with a little salt.
  • Either place pan in oven or slide parchment onto a baking stone or baking steel if you have them. On the pan or the stone, bake at 400 degrees for 7-8 minutes, or until edge pieces are well browned. If you're using a baking steel, then check your crackers at 5 minutes (sooner if they're super thin).
  • Remove crackers you consider dark enough to a cooling rack, separate the remaining crackers, and return to the oven for another 3 minutes to further crisp the crackers. (If your crackers are relatively thick, you may need to lower the temperature to about 325 and bake for 10-12 more minutes to dry them out. I would do this after you've baked the second batch though.)
  • Repeat with remaining dough. 
  • Cool crackers completely on a cooling rack and then store in an airtight container.
Makes about 160 crackers, plus edge pieces, fewer if your crackers are thicker

This reminded me of the counties map of Iowa.
These got rolled pretty darn thin.
I only remembered to salt the second batch. I like the salted ones better.
The baking steel baked these much faster than I anticipated. I love the burnt ones though.
This is all of them--minus a bunch of the burnt edges that I already ate.


Monday, December 28, 2015

Japanese Milk Bread

Japanese Milk Bread

Ah, I wish that I could say something interesting or clever about how I came to make this bread. I'm just going to sum things up by saying that it was a snowy stay-indoors kind of day, so I decided to try my hand at this Japanese milk bread I've seen here and there on Pinterest.
Since I've never had Japanese milk bread before, I'm not sure if I did it right. This bread ended up a lot moister and denser than I thought it would. It's flaky crusty on the outside, and dense and tender on the inside. I enjoyed a couple of pieces with some butter. 
There's a slight sweetness to the bread, but not so much that I'd call it sweet. My husband thought it would taste good with something like a beef stew, where you could sop up the liquid with the bread. I think it might taste good with some black forest ham and a little mayo.
So, Japanese milk bread. There it is. And here's the recipe. Enjoy.

Japanese Milk Bread
      --adapted from kingarthurflour.com

  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
  • 2 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour, plus a little more for kneading
  • 2 tablespoons Baker's Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup melted and cooled butter
  • egg wash made from 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • In a small saucepan, whisk together the 3 tablespoons water, 3 tablespoons milk, and 2 tablespoons flour. Place saucepan over low heat and whisk while it heats. When mixture thickens and you can see the bottom of the pan when you run the whisk through, it's done (about 3 to 5 minutes). Place in a large mixing bowl and allow to cool to room temperature.
  • Add the milk to the cooled mixture in the mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Add the 2 1/2 cups flour, dry milk, sugar, salt, yeast, egg and butter. Mix until all ingredients are incorporated.
  • Turn out onto a lightly floured kneading surface and knead gently until the dough is smooth and elastic, adding only a tiny amount of flour at a time to keep the dough from sticking. Remember to knead with a gentle hand.
  • Place dough back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise for 60 to 90 minutes. Dough will get puffy, but it may not double.
  • Butter/grease a 9 1/2 by 6 1/2-inch pan (maybe 10 x 7 is a better description, my pan was 9 1/2 x 6 1/2 measured on the inside). Set aside. 
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • When dough has risen, turn it out of the bowl and cut into four equal pieces.
  • Form each piece into a small loaf that just about fits the width of the pan. Cover and allow to rise 40 to 50 minutes.
  • Brush loaves with egg wash and bake at 350 degrees for 28-32 minutes, or until bread is deep golden brown on top. The bread's interior temperature should reach at least 190 degrees.
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool 10 minutes before removing from the pan and moving to a cooling rack to finish cooling.
Makes 8 servings

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Almond Flour Chocolate Toffee Brownie Cookies

Almond Flour Chocolate Toffee Brownie Cookies

These cookies are simply a variation of the Double Chocolate Almond Flour Cookies that I have here on this blog. I have a bunch of toffee bits and mini chocolate chips left over from a Scoopable Baked Cheesecake I made for a potluck; plus I had a bag of almond meal/flour needing to be baked into something. I added walnuts to make them more brownie-like and because they taste good. 
Just like the Double Chocolate Almond Flour Cookies, these cookies are not super sweet. The toffee adds some sweetness, flavor and crunch. 
Just cooled out of the oven, these cookies were crisp on the edges and tender in the middle. The texture is a little grainy because of the almond flour, but I still think these are delicious. If you are new to gluten-free cookies, these may not be awesome to you, but if you're used to non-wheat cookies, and you're a fan of chocolate, I think you'll enjoy these cookies.
If you try them, please leave me a comment and let me know your impression. I'm curious.

Almond Flour Chocolate Toffee Brownie Cookies
   --adapted from The Wannabe Chef who adapted recipe from The Food Lovers' Primal Palate

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 1/2 cups almond flour/meal
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup toffee bits
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sift cocoa powder into a medium bowl. Stir in almond flour using a wire whisk.
Cream butter and sugar until very light, about 2-3 minutes.  Add egg and vanilla and beat until incorporated.  Add salt and baking soda and beat until incorporated.  Mix in cocoa and almond flour mixture.  Stir in chocolate chips, walnuts and toffee bits.
Scoop about two tablespoon mounds onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet (or use a medium sized cookie scoop), placing about an inch and a half apart.  Gently smoosh dough to make almost 1/2-inch thick disks.  
Bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes, or until puffed and cracked.
Allow to cool on cookie sheet for about 5 minutes before moving to a cooling rack to finish cooling.
Makes about 2 dozen cookies

By the time these were baked, the light was done for the day. :/

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Two-Hour Caramels: Worth Every Minute

Slow-cooked caramels with almonds. 
Some got a little dip in Dove milk chocolate.
Caramels wrapped simply in wax paper

When I was growing up in Southern California, Christmastime involved a box or two of Sees Candy--Nuts and Chews to be precise. And my favorite grew to be the cube of caramel with almonds, dipped halfway in milk or dark chocolate. The caramel was rich and sweet, just firm enough to be chewy as opposed to gooey. The nuts were always crunchy and the chocolate just rounded off the whole experience.
Sees' almond caramels had many more almonds than these, I think, but the main point of this project was the caramel. I was determined to devote two hours on a weeknight to making these things because the picture I saw on King Arthur Flour's Instagram had me hooked.
They were this deep brown caramel color--definitely not the same as the light colored caramels I was used to making.
So far I've made these twice. I've made this caramel many times now (some might say too many times). The first time I somehow omitted the brown sugar and only used the four cups of white sugar. They still turned out fabulous. When I've made the caramels with brown sugar, it obviously produced a larger volume of caramel.
I think that I might prefer the first caramel made with only four cups of white sugar. I also used heavy cream and 1% milk, since I had those on hand, rather than the half and half. For some reason, I think the flavor if that first batch is a bit deeper and more complex, I think because it has a higher percentage of salt due to the omission of some sugar.
Either way, this is a winning recipe, totally worth the time it takes to make them. 
One of these batches makes a LOT of caramels, so be prepared to give some away.
Give it a go. You will love them.

Two-Hour Caramels
     --Adapted from KingArthurFlour.com

  • 3 tablespoons vanilla extract (measured and set aside for the end)
  • 2 cups butter, cut into one-inch chunks
  • 4 cups half and half
  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups light brown sugar*
  • 2 cups light corn syrup
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 cups roasted unsalted almonds
  • Line a half-sheet pan (or two 9x13 inch pans) with parchment and spread almonds evenly over the bottom. Place parchment in another small dish, like an 8x8 inch pan or a pie plate--this is where you will pour the caramel you scrape from the pan. Place on a heat proof surface, like stove burners set to "off" or on a cooling rack. Also make sure you've measured your vanilla and set it aside where you can grab it once the caramel reaches temperature. 
  • Gather things you need to entertain you for the next two hours and/or make sure someone is home to spell you in case you need to use the restroom or just take a little break. You've been told.
  • Into a large heavy-bottomed stock pot (like an eight-quart stock pot), put the sugars, butter, half and half, corn syrup and salt. Place the pot on a burner set to medium-low heat. Stir with a silicone spatula taking care not to splash it around. When butter is melted clip a candy thermometer on the side and pull up a tall chair or stool.
  • Keep stirring gently for the next hour and a half to two hours until the caramel reaches exactly 246 degrees** Fahrenheit on the candy thermometer. Remove the thermometer, and then remove the pot from the heat and stir in vanilla extract. Carefully pour the screaming hot caramel over the almonds, which I need to tell you will shift at this time. Once most of the caramel has been poured from the pan, pour the last bit and scrape out the pan into the smaller parchment-lined pan you have ready.
  • Use your silicone spatula to make sure caramel gets to all corners of the pan. With oven-mitted hands, carefully lift and tap the pan of hot caramel to force air bubbles up and out. 
  • Allow caramel to cool for 30 to 60 minutes and then place in the refrigerator to cool completely if you want to cut it the same day. If you can let it cool/set overnight, then allow it to cool enough to loosely place some foil or a plastic sheet pan cover on the top--not completely sealed up, so any condensation will escape.
  • When caramel has completely set up and is firm, cut it up and wrap caramels individually in small pieces of wax paper.
  • I cut my caramels into 2 x 1/2 inch sticks, which is a nice sized piece, and I got 132 pieces. 
  • Makes about 10 dozen caramels
*The first time I made these I accidentally omitted the brown sugar completely and only added the 4 cups of white sugar with the other ingredients. I liked the caramel better because to me it had a more complex flavor, which I think was caused by the relative higher amount of salt. So this is the way I make the caramel now. I just leave out the brown sugar. Either way it's the best caramel you'll ever make.
**The original recipe calls for the caramel to be cooked to exactly 248 degrees Fahrenheit, but I've found with carryover cooking, if I bring it to 246, by the time I add the vanilla, stir it in, and pour the caramel into the pan, it gets to exactly the right temperature. When I cooked it to 248, I ended up with caramel that was just a tad too hard and would crack slightly upon cutting and biting. The 246 temp produces caramel that is firm, but still allows your teeth to sink in gently with absolutely no crunch.

Monday, December 14, 2015

French Bread Cinnamon Toast

I first saw this cinnamon toast method on The Pioneer Woman's show on Food Network. I didn't try it, though, until I had a loaf of homemade French Batard that I wanted to use up before it went stale. I cut the bread thick and spread the cinnamon sugar butter on thick as well. What resulted really is the best cinnamon toast you'll ever enjoy. It's super buttery, and the layer of cinnamon sugar broiled on top is just the right amount of sweet to make this a decadent, yet simple and satisfying breakfast. If you're a fan of cinnamon toast, and you have some French bread on hand, you really must try this. I guarantee you will love it.

French Bread Cinnamon Toast
      --adapted from PioneerWoman.com

  • 4 thick cut slices of French Batard (large French bread Loaf, 1-inch slices)
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Turn your oven on to broil.
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Mix the butter, sugars, and cinnamon in a small bowl.
Spread about 2 tablespoons of cinnamon sugar butter onto each slice of bread. 
Place pan in oven and broil until topping is bubbling, fragrant, and starts to brown.
Remove from oven and serve hot.

Blue Tin Danish Butter Cookies

'Tis the season for baking cookies. 
I don't normally get into cookie baking during this season. I'm more of an English Toffee at Christmastime kind of person, but for some reason this weekend I thought it would be fun to bake up some butter cookies in the blue tin Danish cookie style. 
Well, I was hoping that I could bake up the shortbready version that I prefer, but what I got is actually closer to a firm, somewhat flavorless version that is quite similar to many Danish cookies I've tasted over the years. I was almost not going to pass this recipe along to you, but my husband says he actually loves these cookies, so I'm posting the recipe.
The original recipe calls for "caster sugar," which I mistakenly interpreted to be what Americans call powdered sugar. Apparently I was wrong. Maybe these would have turned out more to my liking if I'd used white granulated sugar. 
Perhaps someday I'll try it out with the granulated sugar. For now, this is what I have: blue tin Danish butter cookies.

Danish Butter Cookies
      --adapted from Traveling-Foodies.com

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
Beat all of the ingredients together just until incorporated. Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with an open star tip (my open star tip is also twisted).
Pipe rings of dough, about 2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter, onto the parchment lined baking sheet.  Leave about 1 to 2 inches between rings.
Bake cookies at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes, or until deep golden brown on the edges.  
Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheet for about five minutes before moving to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Once cool, serve or store in an airtight container.
Makes 2 1/2 to 3 dozen cookies

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Cup of Hot Cocoa

Hot Cocoa in a Raygun mug

This is what someone who avoids drinking coffee does when she's left with an entire container of coffee creamer after having a ton of Thanksgiving guests. She makes hot cocoa and sweetens and enriches it with the very sweet creamer.
I'm generally a fan of using non-dairy creamer in my hot cocoa--I just think it makes the hot creamy chocolatey beverage taste even better. It wasn't until I made my second cup of this hot cocoa, though, that I realized that Coffee Mate Natural Bliss is actually a natural creamer. It contains milk, sugar, and cream. Hm. Go figure. The Sweet Cream flavor is basically half and half with lots of sugar. Lots. Of. Sugar. It was the excessive sweetness of the creamer that led me to decide to use it to sweeten some homemade hot cocoa. It worked. And here's the recipe.

Cup of Hot Cocoa

In a microwave safe container (like a coffee mug), heat the milk in the microwave on high for about 2 minutes.
In another coffee mug, place the cocoa powder, salt, and vanilla extract. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of the hot milk and mix until you have a smooth paste. Add the remaining hot milk and the Natural Bliss. Stir to incorporate.
Microwave a little longer if it's not as hot as you'd like it.
Makes 1 serving

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Bubbly No-Knead Pizza Crust

I think my family let me have the bubbliest piece because they love me.

I ran across this recipe while browsing King Arthur Flour's blog Flourish a couple of weeks ago. The post was written by one of the KAF owner employees I met when I was there for a baking class--Julia Reed was assigned to take some pics in the Baking Education Center and she was such a warm person with a great sense of humor. At any rate, she titled this post "The Best Pizza You'll Ever Make" and it's true. I've made a LOT of pizzas in my day, and I really think this one was the best--and simplest. The crust got delightfully bubbly, crisp, and chewy, and it had a fabulous flavor all on its own. Then with the toppings...mmm. Just perfect. And the dough prep involved no kneading at all--just a little stirring, folding, and waiting. If you want to see a great tutorial with detailed pics of the process, click here. Below is how I did it, but know that I referred back to the Flourish post several times just to be sure I was on the right track.
So, if you're into pizza and want to experience an airy, bubbly homemade crust, you have to try this recipe. You just have to.

No-Knead Pizza Crust
    --adapted from Flourish/KingArthurFlour.com

  • 4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All Purpose Flour, plus more for dusting (Note: I used half AP and half bread flour one time and it made this pizza even better.)
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cup warmish water
Note: This pizza turns out best if you have a baking stone, or even better, a sheet of baking steel (which I do not yet have).
Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Dough might look a little dry now, but it will turn gooey and wet over while it ferments/rises. Cover bowl and allow dough to rise 24 hours. 
When dough has risen and you're about 1 1/2 hours from wanting to eat pizza, preheat oven to 550 degrees Fahrenheit.
Turn dough out onto a heavily floured surface and cut in half. Working with one piece of dough at a time, stretch one end of the dough and fold over the middle third of the piece of dough. Then stretch the other end and fold over like a letter. Go to an unfolded side, stretch, and fold just like you did before, but with the opposite sides. Tuck all of the ends to the underside and place in a floured bowl. Cover. Repeat with the other piece of dough and allow to rise for 45-60 minutes.
Get all of your toppings ready. Line a pizza peel or underside of a baking sheet that will act as a peel.
Turn a piece of dough out onto a well-floured surface. With gentle fingertips, press and stretch dough from the center taking care not to squash the outer 1/2 to 1 inch of the circle you are forming. Then gently lift dough circle with your knuckles and allow dough to stretch with the force of gravity, gently moving your knuckles around the edge to stretch and enlarge the crust. Stretch to about a 12 inch diameter and then place on the prepared parchment. Cut the parchment in a circle about 1/2 to 1 inch larger than the crust.
I topped my pizzas with homemade pizza sauce, pepperoni, sliced mozzarella, Roma tomatoes, and fresh sliced garlic.
Slide topped pizza onto the baking stone/steel, turn oven to broil, and bake/broil for about 6 minutes. (Note: if your broiler is less than 8 inches from the pizza surface, don't do the broil, just bake at 550 degrees until bubbly and melty.)
Pizza will start to char on the top of the big, bubbly edges and cheese will be melted and probably start to brown.
Slide back onto pizza peel or inverted baking sheet, cut, and serve. Be careful not to burn you mouth.

Makes two large pizzas (approx 12-inches in diameter)

Right after mixing the dough, it's lumpy and kind of dry.
Surprising how wet the dough gets after 24 hours.
These dough balls are sitting for their second rise. See the original post on Flourish for more pics.
I've really been liking the sliced mozzarella that I've been using lately on pizza.
Can you hear the angels singing? Oh my goodness. So good.

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