Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pareve Sugar Cookies for (not exactly) a Year…

DSC04464Searching for the perfect Pareve Sugar Cookie recipe a few weeks ago, I found a bunch of references online to a now-defunct blog post (if you click the link, you will probably get a message telling you just how defunct) explaining how you could create your own sugar cookie mix in bulk.

Intrigued, I tracked down an old cached copy of the post, with the recipe, and stashed it off-line for safekeeping.  And yes, it uses shortening, and if you don’t want to use shortening, then don’t.  Sometimes, you kind of have to.  I use Butter-flavoured Crisco now that it’s pareve again here.

Here’s the recipe – shamelessly reposted word-for-word as a service to you, my beloved readers:

Sugar Cookies for the YEAR!

Warning: This makes a LOT of sugar cookie mix. image
We store it in freezer zip lock bags, pre-measured and ready-to-go at any time. (see below)

Ingredients:
12 cups all-purpose flour
6 cups sugar
2 Tablespoons baking powder
1 Tablespoon salt
4 cups shortening (I like to use the butter-flavored kind)
In a LARGE bowl, combine the first 4 ingredients. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles fine crumbs.
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**This is your cookie base mix that you can freeze. I freeze 2 cups in Ziplock quart size freezer bags. On the bag, I write: “Add 1 egg and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Bake 375 for 8 minutes.” Really easy to just pull out of the freezer and a child can really make these easily on their own. I got 6 ziplock bags and 5 more batches that we made today.
Directions for sugar cookies:
You will need 2 cups of the cookie base mix, 1 egg, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. (If the dough is still a little dry, you can add a wee bit of water, but you want the dough to be a texture that can be rolled out.)
Combine the cookie base, egg and teaspoon vanilla extract. Using your hands, mix together to form a nice dough. Roll dough to 1/8 inch thick. Using cookie cutters, cut the dough and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375° F for about 8 minutes or until a very light brown. Cool on wire rack. You can decorate with icing and sprinkles. Have fun! Makes about 2 dozen but depends on size of your cookie cutter shapes.
If you don’t have cookie cutters, you can get creative and use the edge of a drinking glass and make nice round sugar cookies.

Another Option is to use the dough to make Cherry - Almond Drops!

Combine 2 cups cookie base mix, 1 egg, and 1/2 teaspoon Almond extract. Add 1/2 cup chopped almonds and 1/4 cup finely chopped maraschino cherries. Drop from teaspoon onto greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375° F for 8 - 10 minutes or just till edges are lightly browned. Cool on rack. Makes about 2 dozen.

The only catch is that I decided to do it – for quickness’ and laziness’ sake – in my food processor.  But even in a big food processor, I could only do half a batch at a time, and even then, it was VERY crowded and would barely mix properly.  Anyway, a half-recipe made about 4 2-cup baggies for the freezer, plus one batch I made right away.  Not exactly enough for a YEAR, but perhaps for a few months if you don’t overdo things.

I made a batch of plain vanilla sugar cookies for Shabbos, cut out in loose magen david shapes and sprinkled with sugar, and they were quite well-received.  I bake them a bit longer than the directions suggest, because we like them crunchy, almost brown but not quite.

Tonight, I pulled out one of the frozen freezer baggies, threw it in back ye olde food processor and tossed in an egg and – instead of the vanilla – a teaspoon of Red Velvet Emulsion to attempt “red velvet cookies,” similar to ones I saw at WalMart the other day.  (yeah, yeah, not all my foodie ambitions are all that highbrow…)

A food processor is not strictly necessary to mix up the frozen baggies of “cookie mix,” but I was in a hurry and didn’t want to either a) wait for the mix to thaw slightly or b) get my hands dirty (okay, I know – it’s not dirt, it’s FOOD; that’s what I tell my kids, anyway).  For Shabbos, I just stirred it in a bowl, and that worked fine, too.

The Red Velvet colouring/emulsion came about after Shoshana at Couldn’t be Parve mentioned that she uses Lorann’s Buttery Sweet Dough Bakery Emulsion.  Naturally, I had to buy some, and I found a localish kitchen place that not only sold it but took paypal (I paid online, then picked up in person).  And while I was on their website, I had to pick up the Princess Cake/Cookie Emulsion AND… this bottle of Red Velvet emulsion:DSC04465

It is a scary, dark blood-red colour – almost black – when it comes out, with a gel-like texture completely unlike any food colouring I’d ever known.  Also, it’s not just colouring – it has a distinctive reddish velvety cake-ish flavour which you might or might not like.

So there you have it… Red Velvet Cookies and your very own pareve freezer cookie mix.  What I’d love is an oil-based sugar cookie recipe, but I suspect there’s  no such thing.  At some point, you really need that solid fat as a base. 

If you wanted to be totally decadent, you could probably mix up this same mixture using butter as the fat… but my food processor is pareve, so I’d have to do that by hand.  And while I’m making dairy cookies by hand, I’d probably pull out the mixer and cream the butter with the sugar – the old-fashioned way.

So… what’s your go-to pareve cookie recipe???

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Big-Kid Baking Nachas, Part II: Hobbit Cake

DSC04420I bragged here over the summer about Elisheva’s challah-baking efforts while away from home.   Well, over the last few years, it seems like she’s become the official birthday-cake baker for her circle of friends.  Usually, she does something simple, but last night, inspiration struck and she made this Hobbit-themed cake, presumably from a friend who is kind of into The Hobbit.

She baked the half-round cake (this one was a cake mix, but usually she does them from scratch) in a metal mixing bowl, lined with tinfoil and sprayed very well, then hollowed out a little opening for the door.  I think it looks great!  (said the proud mama)

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Later, she melted chocolate, cooled it on a piece of parchment, and added this cute little “doormat.”

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Now if only she’d learn to wash up her mixing bowls when she’s through…

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pumpkin, for Challahs

DSC04387   I continue to be intrigued by the concept of pumpkin challah, and I recently made a whole LOT of pumpkin mush.  I posted about that on my regular blog, but saved these luscious pumpkin-challah pics for this blog, as a special treat for readers here.

First of all, a fun discovery – you don’t need a shmancy recipe to get pumpkin challah!  I actually just used the basic Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day no-knead challah recipe, which I didn’t even love all that much.  The pumpkin kicked it into far loftier spheres.

Rather perfectly, this recipe called for 1 3/4 cups of water… for which I substituted about 1 3/4 – 2 cups of homemade frozen pumpkin purée, thawed.  That’s it – that’s the trick.  No water at ALL.  If you’re using canned pumpkin, it might not work, because it’s very dry, but homemade frozen purée is a bit waterier and this worked out just fine.  If you find that you can’t stir the mixture with your dough whisk, add a bit of water, maybe 1/4 cup at a time, until you achieve the proper consistency… it’ll still be delicious.

Look at that beautiful orange colour!  (I grabbed the sheet of paper for contrast, not realizing it had part of a drawing on it…)

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This is a fairly wet dough that could really benefit from at least one stretch-and-fold operation, if not two, an hour or so before baking.  Or you could make the dough ahead and refrigerate it.  Or some combination of the two, to whip this unco-operative, slack dough into shape.

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And here they are, all risen, streuselled (the official Canadian spelling of “streuselled” has 2 l’s, I assure you), and ready to go!  I added traditional pumpkin spice to the streusel – cinnamon, nutmeg, a tiny bit of clove.

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Okay, now – big l’havdil, but in traditional Japanese geisha culture, maiko, apprentice geisha, wear their hair in a “split peach” style, where a little bit of red fabric peeks out from their dense nest of black hair.  That bit of red is supposed to be highly tantalizing, in a frankly sensual way.

And THAT is exactly what the yellow of these finished challahs does for me.  It calls out, inviting me, in the most tantalizing way, not just to eat, but to explore these challahs.

Let’s have one more shot of these split peaches:

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Wow.

I think – short of trying lurid things with food colouring, which has its place, for sure, especially for Parshas Noach! – this is the closest you’re going to get to a really intriguing contrast between interior and exterior colour.

But now you know – it’s easier than you thought to make a totally fancy challah!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pie-ca%#^@ken!

ybday 034 I wrote on here back in June about my deep-seated, irrational NEED for a piecaken.  If you don’t remember, or have no clue what that is, you can read about it here.

So today I did – kind of.  Except it was an utter disaster, the most cr*ptacular confection I think I have ever confected.

And in case anyone thinks I am some kind of Superwoman who never blogs her failures, here ya go, in delicious step-by-step horribility…

Starting out on a promising foot with a delicious pie.  I used a sheet of malawach pastry for the top crust, rolled thin.  I’ve done it before and it actually makes a pretty decent, flaky / tasty crust.  Oh, inside this there is cherry pie filling.  And I cut proper vents, four of them, right in the middle.

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The top crust wasn’t attached perfectly at the edges, as you can see…

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…but that still doesn’t exactly explain what happened when I went to “decant” the pie on top of some of the cake mix.  Oh, yeah, did I mention I whipped up some cake mix in the meantime, while the pie was cooling?  Sounds simple, except we were OUT OF OIL.  Blah!  So I sent Naomi next door to beg from the neighbours.  This is something we do all too regularly… but it’s okay, because they are competent savvy professionals and every once in a while, even they come to call begging for sugar or rum or some such thing.  (oh, wait – the rum was ME at their door; never mind…)

Anyway, here’s what happened.  Splat!

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Oh, but that is not all… oh, no, that is not all…

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Yup.  Blorp, cherry pie filling, right all over Ted’s chair.  Of course.  But never mind.  I scraped / wiped up the chair, the floor and everywhere else, and quickly poured the rest of the cake mix over the Remains of the Pie:

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Baking took FOREVER and of course, the whole thing sank in the middle:

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But a piece of parchment on the bottom ensured that the cake itself didn’t fall apart when I decanted it from the pan:

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Yup, you can see the whole cherry-ish mess through the cake… sigh.  Nothing a little icing can’t fix.  Except I had to wait forever to ice it because the whole cake was steaming hot forever.  Did you ever get one of those McDonald’s Cherry Pies or Apple Pies that warns you “Caution:  filling is hot”?  Well, I think the filling made this pie$#!^ken extra super duper hot, in some crazy infernal way, because 45 minutes later, it was still hot to the touch.

Did I mention also that the icing (coconut-milk based) refused to set?  So, no problem, I whipped it up with some icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar if you’re south of the border) and it seemed fine.  Turned to a nice fudgy consistency, and I finally blobbed it all over the cake, where it really did appear to set nicely:

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The icing was firm enough after a few minutes that I was able to start writing on the cake, which, I must say, is NOT one of my Strengths, as such.  But I think I did a not-too-terrible job of it:

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(It says “Happy Birthday” – with a chai at the bottom and our family at the top, all tastefully surrounded by a blue border).

Done!  Ding!  Time to go!

I loaded up the cake gently on to the wagon, covered it (it was drizzling by now – of course), and trotted off with YM to my mother’s house, LATE for supper.  Gingerly transported the cake into the house, pulled up the aluminum pan covering it, and saw…

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Okay, even now I can’t look at this without snorting and metaphorically rolling on the floor with laughter.  When I first saw it, tears were spurting out of my eyes.  I could barely breathe.

As the magic moment approached, I asked Ted for the candles I’d given him to bring to my mother’s house.  No candles.  My mother happily volunteered her stash of “saved” candles from various past family birthdays.  No 1’s, no 8’s, but luckily, a couple of 9’s, and everybody knows that 9 + 9 = 18, right???

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Luckily, the light-up/singing “Happy Birthday” sign from Dollarama still works (biz a hundert un tzvantzig!), so we stuck that on there, too… look how magical!  Now picture us singing “Happy Birthday” at a madcap pace to keep up with the squeaky frenetic tones of the Dollarama light-up Happy Birthday sign (hey, I wonder if they pay royalties to use the song???).  Eventually, it stopped bleeping and we sang it the proper way, too.  I assume – at this point, I was laughing so hard I honestly can’t remember what we did.

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YM blew out the candles and we all said heartfelt things about his last and next 18 years… an awkward family tradition almost nobody enjoys when it’s his/her turn in the spotlight.

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And at last… it’s time to cut into the Pi#$%#!^!caken!!!

Mmm… smashed pie, plus fudgey cake mix = ooey, gooey goodness!

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Really!  True, some people said they didn’t want pie in their cake, and because it’s a rectangular pan with no pie bits at the ends, YM was able to grant their wishes.  But to be very, very honest, the oozing bits of cherry pie filling added not only a nice black-forest flavour to the cake but a very welcome moistness as well.

Here’s Sara’s piece, which was the most attractive of the lot:

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I ate mine without hesitation and quite enjoyed it.  And I noticed that the icing was licked clean all around the cake, so I think I wasn’t the only one please with the flavour, if not the aesthetics, of the results.

So… would I attempt a piecaken again???

Maybe.

Lessons learned:

  • start early – very, VERY early
  • hold a pan flat over the pie plate when turning it upside down so it can’t go anywhere (I was; don’t ask – I’ll do it BETTER next time…)
  • let cake cool thoroughly before icing
  • let icing cool thoroughly before icing
  • have a professional or at least someone ELSE decorate the cake
  • ice / decorate the cake at the final destination
  • wagon/sidewalk vibrations are probably not the best for maintaining Maximum Cake Integrity
  • candles – in the proper denomination(s), as required.  There is a time to Be Frugal and a time to Be Splurge-ful.  At the end of the evening, Gavriel Zev was still confusedly going on about how YM was “turning 99.”

Happily, as my facebook friends have been quick to reassure me, through their loving and caring use of the Like button to laugh at me through my status update, it's not the quality of the cake that counts, but the 18 years + 9 months of love and dedication that preceded it.

The secret heart of the piecaken was love, and maybe that’s why it was, ultimately, such a delicious failure.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Teeny Tiny Challah

DSC04221Not the tiniest challah I’ve ever made, but probably the most intricate small challah, if that makes any sense…

 DSC04220 DSC04222

Good yom tov!!!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Disappointing Apple (Stuffed) Challah

DSC04179Disappointing because it was a LOT of work and tasted, well, not extraordinary.  Blah.

I was inspired by this beautiful post about an apples-and-honey challah – sounds amazing, right?  Stuffed with apples, it truly is gorgeous – click over and check it out (the one above, left, is mine).  But she doesn’t show DSC04193you a picture of the inside, so I’ll cut right to the chase and show you that what looks like a TON of apples, going in, totalled to a few straggly bits that didn’t make a noticeable difference to the bread itself.

To be totally, TOTALLY fair, I didn’t follow her recipe.  I used Maggie  Glezer’s Czernowitzer Challah, because I’ve used it for stuffed onion/poppy challahs every Purim and it always works out okay.  I think it’s not as sweet a dough, but the texture was also eminently ordinary.

Lots of work, though…

Chop up apples – the original uses bigger pieces, and perhaps they’d be less juicy if you didn’t cut them so much… and they might not “vanish” into the bread in the same way.

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Roll out the snakes, but flatten them to add the apple.

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Ignore the odd “bone” shape of the dough here.  I felt the ends were getting too skinny, so I folded them back and it worked out okay.

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By the time I had done four of these, you can’t tell from the pictures, but I had a sopping mess on the table and was practically screaming with frustration.  I absolutely could NOT keep any of the snakes closed for more than a few seconds.  The dough was too wet and sloppy and… well, argh.  I have no idea how it looks so good in the pictures.

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This finished woven bread does NOT look good, but the magic happens when you flip it over…

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And behold – an actual, slippery, newborn challah.  You can’t tell from this picture, but 20+ challahs later, I’ve become very, VERY good at this woven challah that was new to me only a couple of weeks ago.

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In any event (or, as they say in England, “in the event,” which means a totally different thing over there - “he was sent on this important and, in the event, quite fruitless mission,” or, in this case, “she braided this awkward and, in the event, quite fruitless challah”)… so anyway. 

The challah dried out nicely while it was rising and despite my fears that the breads would slip open and slop their contents all over the pan while it baked, turning it effectively into sticky buns, the snakes actually stayed shut and miraculously, the bottom of the challah was solid and dry by the time it came out of the oven, revealing no hint of the tiny-bits-o-appley-goodness that lay within.  Very, VERY tiny bits.

A few tips from experience if you DO want to make an apple-filled challah: 

  • Use a fairly firm dough – none of that no-knead stuff here. 
  • A sweeter dough, like the one originally called for, is probably best as well.
  • Use larger chunks of apple than I did, so they don’t leach water all over your dough.  But not too large, or they’ll poke out.
  • Be generous with the apple so you can see it in the end result… but not too generous, or it’ll goober out everywhere.
  • Work quickly once you’re filling and sealing the snakes.
  • If you’re not confident in your ability to do a complicated braid with floppy, wet snakes, just simplify – create one long, fat snake and just do a coil challah instead.
  • Have a bench scraper and side towel very, very handy, and don’t hesitate to use them… everything may ooze and stick and you’ll need to dry/scrape it up quickly.
  • Bake time will be longer than usual because everything is so very, very wet.  I found my thermometer almost essential – you can’t tell if it’s done from the outside.

Oh, and finally…

  • Don’t make it for erev Yom Kippur, when everybody’s rushing to eat quickly and don’t really care how much effort you put into the $#!%^ challah.  Save it for when you can really savour it…

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Rosh Hashanah Challah Bake Sale…

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Going, going…

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GONE!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Little things…

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… can make a HUGE difference.  We all say it, but I think this is  the best example of one teeny change that can make a huge difference to my baking life.

These are my oven gloves.  You may remember them from when I ordered them.   $8 each, made from kevlar, and oven-safe to 540 http://www.breadtopia.com/store/media/kevlarmens400.JPGdegrees I have loved them for almost two whole years and they’re still going strong.  (here’s what they looked like brand-new! --->)

Anyway, they’re perfect… except they keep getting lost.  And I have nowhere good to store them in the chaos that is my kitchen.  Regular oven mitts are usually returned dutifully to the hooks next to the stove, but having nothing “hook-able,” the gloves just get tossed (by me – I admit it!) wherever when baking is done, only to be missing when they’re needed next (often just a couple of minutes later – I am that absent-minded).

And then it came to me!  I now crochet!  Just crochet a little loop onto each one and – hey, presto! – an easy shortcut to happy glove storage-land.

So I did and less than fifteen minutes later, there they are up at the top of this post and, well, here’s where we all live happily ever after.

Has a “little thing” made your baking life so much happier???  What was it?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Looks disgusting – tastes, mmm…

DSC04064Facebook status update:  “No-knead dough meets all-day crock-pot caramelized onions = easy happy pletzel eatin'!”

Made the dough last night – basic no-knead recipe, with 1/3 spelt, mostly because I was out of white flour, but also to feel just a teeny bit virtuous despite our second “starch” supper in a row (last night was homemade pasta with home-grown tomato sauce; so sue me).

Spent the morning at Humber Arboretum, but I came home to… this:

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Crock-pot caramelized onions!  Actually, I hadn’t meant to leave the crock-pot on the whole time we were out, because I started them at 1 a.m., and as far as I was concerned, they were ready by breakfast time.  But I don’t think they suffered much for the overcooking, except for looking even more disgusting than they had before.

Anyway, they look GREAT spread out on a crust… (This dough was so soft I didn’t bother with a rolling pin.  Just grabbed 1-lb for the cookie sheet and approx 2/3 of a lb (or 3/4?) for the small one, rounded them out and let them sit for a while.  By the time I came back (I spent half an hour making honey cakes!), they were very, very soft and eager to spread out just with my oiled fingertips.

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A little poppy, a little extra-coarse salt…

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Pletzl!!!

Can’t take “after” pics because I’m heading out, but trust me – these are going to be delicious!  And a super-super easy alternative to the “one-pot” cooks-all-day meal.  You know, in case your family is sick of stews and meal-in-a-dish type things.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Rosh Hashanah Bake Sale?

round streusel Well, I have no idea why, but I am putting together a challah bake sale for next Sunday, erev Rosh Hashanah.  With free pickup here or personal hand-delivery in the neighbourhood.

Why bother?  No idea.  I suppose there could be some profit in it, along with some stress and – I guess here’s what I’m hoping: lots of fun, kneading (or not), baking, sharing decent bread.  I may have even finagled my sister Sara into coming and baking with me next Sunday.  I’ll let you know how it goes – if not right away.  I have promised delivery between 3-5 pm, and pickup at 4 pm.  These are awfully tight deadlines, considering I’ve been known to still have challah in the oven at the start of Shabbos and Yom Tov, but I have a really good plan to get things rolling very, VERY early in the day.  All I need is a little sleep and maybe someone else to handle the laundry.  ;-)

Funny thing – I was looking for a picture of a baked, streuselled round challah I could post on the sale page to tantalize potential clients, but couldn’t find a single thing worth sharing after probably more than 10 years of non-stop yom tov challah baking.

Looking again, I did find the one I just stuck in at the top of the post here… which looks okay at first, until you realize that half the challah has been eaten.

Then again, though, perhaps that says a lot about the challah in question.  It’s too yummy to photograph – it doesn’t last long.  If you live anywhere nearby, grab it now, while you can!!!

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