Pie
Sunday, March 23, 2008, 06:43 PM - comfort food, dessert, breakfast, holiday
Lately, I've been making a lot of pies. As usual, I have made up a recipe based loosely on 5 other recipes, only completely different, and its sitting in my head and I've realized I need to write it down because at some point it will be summer and I won't want to bake for a few months and I don't want to start from scratch making up a new recipe in the fall.

crust
ingredients
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup white flour
.... damn... or maybe switch those... I don't remember... I'd err on the side of what I've written, since it won't go wrong if there's not enough wheat flour but it can go wrong without enough white flour. All I know for sure is that you really can't do it all wheat. However, maybe I'll try 3/4 wheat 1/2 white next time, since I like to have as much whole grain as possible...
1 stick of unsalted butter
a spray-bottle with water

process
Leave the butter out until it's soft. Cut it into smallish pieces---maybe 1 TBS. Use a pastry blender (a device that looks like a slinky held sideways... functionally it's a huge, round fork) and moosh the butter into the flour until you have a bowl of little pieces of butter coated with flour. Spray the surface of the flour until it's lightly moist, wait a few minutes, then moosh it a bit. Repeat the process until it clings together and you find that most of it balls up and sticks to the pastry blender. Transfer all of the dough into plastic wrap, press it together into a ball, and stick it in the fridge.

Leave it in the fridge for half an hour.

Cut the dough in half and roll the two halves into circles. I find it's easiest to do this between two sheets of waxed paper. You have to pull up the paper each turn. I usually roll a few times on one side, remove the paper and put it back, flip and rotate and roll on the other side, then remove the paper and put it back, etc. Unless you are my grandmother, you will find it impossible to roll an actual circle. She had special superpowers. The rest of us have to cheat. You won't get a circle so much as you'll get something shaped like Australia (if you're lucky) or South America (if you're less lucky). To cheat, cut off peninsulas, rotate them so the smooth edge that you cut is on the outside, and slap them over inlets and fjords. Give the dough one more roll and you've got something that looks shockingly like a circle.

If you're my grandmother, you can use your superpowers to attach the pie crust to the rolling pin and roll it into the piecrust, where it will fall perfectly into the place. Me, I peel off one layer of waxed paper and flip it over into the pie pan. Then I carefully peel off the other layer, accidentally rip the crust, and pat it back together with my fingers and hope no one notices.

Make the filling, roll the second crust, and put it over the top. Cut the edges off the crust so that it just comes up to or a little past the edge of the pie plate. Then roll the bottom crust over the top crust and squeeze it together into a ridge around the pie. Then, take two fingers from one hand and make a v, and stick it on the edge of the ridge. Take one finger from the other hand and pull it through the v so you get a W shaped ridge. Move up so that one of your two fingers is in the indentation left by the previous one, and repeat the process around the pie until the edge is all ripply. wwwwwww

Take a sharp knife and stick lots of holes into the top of the pie. This lets steam escape. I like to make cool patterns like this:
>>>>><<<<

Cover the edges of the pie with a strip of aluminum foil so just the wwwwwww is covered. Stick it in an oven preheated to 325 degrees. Come back in half an hour and remove the aluminum foil. Come back in another 10 minutes and remove the pie. Turn off your oven to avoid burning your house down.

pie filling
Anything can go in a pie. I've been making fruit pies, mostly. I made an apple pie, an apple/pecan pie, several blueberry pies, and several cherry pies. All fruit pies are basically made the same. Add enough fruit to fill the pie. This varies by pie pan size. I don't know how big my pie pan is, since I've been reusing a cheap aluminum one that a pie was once purchased in. But I'd guess it's a 9" pie pan. It takes 3 cans of cherries or blueberries to fill it, and 8-10 apples (peeled & sliced), depending on how big they are. When filling a pie, apples should be heaped up, whereas berries should only come level to the surface of the bottom crust.

Regardless of what fruit you're using, the process is the same. Add 1/4 cup of flour and a bunch of spices to the fruit, stir it up so it's coated, and put it in the pie crust. With apple, I often add lemon juice as well, since I cut the apples into a bowl with lemon juice in it so they don't go brown while I'm cutting the rest of them. As for spices, use desserty spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, corriander, cardamom, allspice, ginger, etc. I don't always use every spice I can think of... just whatever mood takes me.

What to do with pie crust scraps

Pocket Pie
Last time I made a pie, I rolled the scraps out into a circle, topped it with chocolate chips, nuts, spices, and some mild cheese. I folded it over and crimped it up like a calzone and baked it with the pie. It didn't need to bake as long as the pie.

Almost but not completely unlike rugulach
Roll the scraps out as thin as possible. Top with cinnamon sugar. Roll back up. Put in the oven with the pie. It should be done in 5 minutes or so.

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Cookie Science
Saturday, December 8, 2007, 10:34 AM - dessert, holiday
A Comparison of Chocolate Mint Wafer Alteratives in Surprise Cookies

Abstract
Traditional winter holiday festivities require certain essential cookies. One of these is the Surprise Cookie, which is a chocolate mint wafer encased in sugar cookie dough. Unfortunately, chocolate mint wafers aren't universally available. This paper discusses alternatives based on availability, ease of use, and affordability. Two alternatives that rate highly on ease of use and affordability are Andes Mints and Necco Thin Mints. A baking test was conducted to compare the alternatives for taste and presentability. Andes Mints fall short of the original for taste, but match the original for presentability. Necco Thin Mints taste good, but nothing like the original; they yield few presentable cookies.

1 Introduction
Traditional winter holiday festivities require certain essential cookies. An essential cookie is one that the holidays are incomplete without. Inessential cookies are those that can be added to the mix, but that won't be missed if they're absent. What is essential varies by individual, but they are often ethnic, they usually must be made by hand, and they are usually labor intensive enough to require group effort. They serve the functions of reminding us of our heritage, bringing the whole family together to prepare, and can't be found in a store.

For instance, lefse is a traditional Norwegian holiday food. If the winter goes by and I haven't got any lefse, I feel cheated. You can buy lefse in Norway, but in the US, you have to make it by hand. Chocolate chip cookies, on the other hand, are inessential. You can slap them on the desert end of the smorgasbord, but no one would miss them if they weren't there. If Spring were to come and you hadn't had any, you could march into any grocery store and just buy them. And, if a person doesn't like the pre-packaged versions, they are trivial for one person to bake.

Surprise cookies are a traditional American holiday cookie. They appear as Hidden Chocolate Cookies in Betty Crocker's Cooky Book. Amazon.com tells us that "more than 62 million of these cookbooks sold since 1950." It's hard to find a more perfect slice of Americana. Surprise cookies fit the essential cookie criteria. They are an American tradition. They can't be bought in stores. Stuffing the mints into the cookies takes effort, so making them requires most of the family to sit around together for a few hours stuffing the cookies. Family members might even talk to each other in the process.

Unfortunately, the essential ingredient, chocolate mint wafers, ceased to be available in most major grocery stores when I was in junior high. After several years of incomplete winter holidays, Trader Joes came to town and started stocking them. I've since moved to a town with no Trader Joes, and my grocery stores do not stock the necessary chocolate mint wafers.

2 Alternatives:
A replacement for chocolate mint wafers should share certain features with the original. Obviously, they should be both chocolate and mint. Beyond this, they should be available, affordable, and easy to use. If I had limitless time and energy, I would have made chocolate truffles and added mint extract, but that would have failed the ease of use test. When the chain grocery stores failed us as kids, we tried adding mint extract to the dough and using hershey kisses, but they weren't quite right.

A survey of the candy aisle at the local Hannaford revealed what was readily available and easy. The options were Andes Mints, Necco Thin Mints, and Hershy 60% cocoa mass chocolate mint squares. I really hoped there would be a mint Hershey Kiss by now, but they only had 6 or 7 non-mint flavors. The 60% cocoa mass chocolate mint squares were extremely pricey. They were in a package that held very few of them. They were individually wrapped and would have had to have been cut into quarters to be the appropriate size. The Andes Mints were also individually wrapped and would have to be halved, but they were a fraction of the price (by pound). Necco Thin Mints were comparably priced (by pound) to the Andes Mints.

Andes Mints are two rectangular sheets of chocolate with a sheet of similarly textured mint candy sandwiched between them. Necco Thin Mints are more like Peppermint Patties. They are round, and have some sort of white mint paste coated in chocolate. Andes Mints are clearly closer to chocolate mint wafers than Necco Thin Mints. But, several points are against them. They are individually wrapped and need to be cut in half. This adds significantly to the effort of using them. Furthermore, the square shape makes it harder to wrap dough around. Given their roundness and the lack of preparation involved, if Necco Thin Mints could be used instead of Andes Mints, they would give bakers a considerable advantage.

3 Experiment
We purchased a box of Necco Thin Mints and a box of Andes Mints. We halved the Andes Mints and used the Necco Thin Mints as-is. Since there were 20 Necco Thin Mints in a box and two of them disappeared while the cookies were being made (this is traditional), we made 18 cookies from Necco Thin Mints and 27 cookies from Andes Mints. This used up our half-recipe of cookie dough. There were Andes Mints left over. We compared the cookies for taste and presentability.

4 Results
4.1 Appearance
Two trays full of cookies were baked at 400 degrees F for 6 minutes, or until golden on the edges. The tray containing 27 Andes Mint cookies yielded 27 presentable cookies with no apparent flaws. The tray containing 18 Necco Thin Mint cookies yielded 5 presentable cookies with no apparent flaws, 2 slightly burst but still presentable cookies, 10 burst cookies that weren't presentable, and 1 completely flattened cookie that seemed to have exploded and oozed out in all directions. These results are statistically significant (p<0.05). It is fair to assume that using the standard methods of cookie preparation, Andes Mints will reliably produce cookies with a presentable appearance, and that Necco Thin Mints will tend to produce flawed cookies.

4.2 Taste
Two subjects compared two cookies twice. Once in the evening with sambuca, and once in the morning with coffee. Unfortunately, given the variability in appearance, a double blind test was not feasible. On both occasions, both subjects preferred the taste of the Necco Thin Mint cookies to the Andes Mint cookies. Andes Mint cookies tasted more similar to classic surprise cookies, but without enough chocolate-minty goodness to pass muster. Necco Thin Mint cookies tasted nothing like surprise cookies. They tasted like candy-cane infused sugar cookies. This is unsurprising, since the gooey minty center broke down in the oven and turned into a hard, minty, sugar candy. Since they invariably leaked, the candy infused into the cookie dough.

5 Conclusions
Clearly, neither alternative is a suitable replacement for chocolate mint wafers. It is possible that Andes Mints could be used if two half-mints were stacked on top of each other to provide more chocolate per cookie. Further research is necessary to determine the efficacy of double Andes Mints as chocolate mint wafer substitutes.

Necco Thin Mint cookies are tasty, but nothing like Surprise Cookie. What we have discovered is a new class of cookie: "Exploding Mint Cookies." Research is necessary to determine the cause of the tendency towards explosion, and culinary options for containing the explosions. Ideally, we would like to be able to achieve more presentable but slightly burst cookies and fewer flattened cookies that explode all over the baking sheet. We have several hypotheses regarding the tendency towards explosion. It is possible that structural weak points in the dough were produced by small lumps of butter that melted, allowing the candy center to burst through. Another possibility is that we simply didn't use a thick enough layer of cookie dough around the mints. A third possibility is that some of the fragile chocolate coatings on the mints were damaged by the wrapping process, leading the candy center to leak out. These can be tested by experimenting with more thorough mixing, thicker dough coverings, and gentler handling. Further experiments will be needed to reliably produce ideal Exploding Mint Cookies.

Gluten Free Brownies
Friday, August 10, 2007, 01:12 PM - comfort food, dessert
After two batches of ruthless experimentation on guests, I have perfected a recipe for gluten free brownies. It has been modified from the original Betty Crocker to fit on the screen. Erm, that is, to fit the celiac lifestyle.

Wet Ingredients
4 squares of melted baking chocolate OR 3/4 cup cocoa powder and 3 TBS oil. Baking chocolate is usually fine, but some extra sensitive need the specially guaranteed gluten free cocoa powder. To melt baking chocolate, stick it in a microwave safe container and zap it for 15 seconds. then combine the other ingredients, then zap it for another 15 seconds, then maybe stir it a bit, then let it sit a while, then zap it another 15 seconds and stir it a bit. Eventually it will be nice and runny. It's easier than doing it on the stove, but the short amounts of time and long amounts of sitting in between are to make sure it doesn't burn, as chocolate in a microwave is in danger of doing.
4 egg yolks. You'll need the whites too, but they count as other ingredients.
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
1 tsp salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar

Dry Ingredients

1/4 tsp Xantham Gum
3/4 cup brown rice flour
3/4 cup corn flour

Other Ingredients

4 egg whites
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup chocolate chips

Process

Mix your wet ingredients. Add your dry ingredients. Set aside your other ingredients. Throw everything back in the refrigerator and let it sit for a few hours. Well, you don't have to actually refridgerate the baking powder, nuts, and chocolate chips...mostly I'm talking about eggs here.

Take everything out of the refrigerator and let it sit for a while. The mixture will be pretty viscous and could do with warming up, and egg whites need to get up to room temperature. Once room temperature has been achieved, or you get really bored and don't want to wait around any longer, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Prepare a 9x13 pan (I do this by spraying it vigorously with oil, but everyone has their own pet method, most of which involve more effort. More effort is a perfectly valid lifestlye choice, but it's not for me.) Beat the egg whites until they're fluffy and form peaks and all that. Fold 1/4 of the egg whites into the dough. Then fold the rest of them and all the other ingredients into the dough. Pour it into the 9x13 pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes. It's done when you can stick a toothpick into the middle and pull it out and have it be mostly clean.



Rice Pudding
Wednesday, June 27, 2007, 05:59 PM - comfort food, dessert, breakfast
Rice Pudding
Today I made rice pudding for dinner. I know nothing about rice pudding. I have never had rice pudding. But we had leftover rice from Chinese food the other night, and I had a sudden hankering for rice pudding. So I perused multiple recipes online, and discovered that most people think you're actually going to make rice from scratch in milk instead of using leftover rice. This seems dumb. In my ignorance, I thought the whole point of rice or bread pudding was to use up leftover rice or bread before it went south. And to presumably use them in a different format, because if people wanted them in their previous format, they would have just gone ahead and eaten them and not left them hanging out in their fridge as leftovers.

I also discovered that most people think you're going to make rice pudding in your oven. Since it's unbearably hot, this also seems foolish. Sure, it'd be great in the winter, but it's not a June activity (unless you're down under). Fortunately I found one great recipe for quick and light rice pudding that said you could make it with leftovers and you could make it on the stovetop, which will heat your kitchen a bit, but not to the degree of running your entire oven for over an hour. However, this recipe didn't fit my preconceived notions of pudding, which involve more creamy, eggy goodness. So after eyeing a bunch of other recipes, I thought I'd just make something up and use the stovetop cooking method and hope it turned out ok. Here goes:

ingredients
1 small takeout Chinese food container almost full (but not packed) of rice --- this is probably somewhere between 1 and 2 cups, but I didn't measure because the measure was in the dishwasher. I don't think the quantity matters if it's in the ballpark.
1 can of evaporated milk
1/4ish tsp of salt
3 rounded TBS of brown sugar (not packed or messed with in any way that might involve effort, just scooped out of the container and dumped in)
1 glug vanilla extract
nutmeg and cinnamon to taste (I use more cinnamon than nutmeg, since nutmeg is very potent)
1 egg

process
Dump the rice in a saucepan. Add everything else. Stir it up really well so the egg is beaten and everything is pretty homogenous. Turn on the saucepan to high. Stir frequently until it boils, then turn it all the way down, put a lid on it, and go off and play video games and make a few phone calls. Come back periodically and give it a stir. This process should take half an hour to 45 minutes... shorter if you don't care about letting it oook---you do need video games you'll be able to pause once every 15 minutes or so. When it looks good and rice puddingey, either eat it or stick it in the refrigerator to have it cold for breakfast. It makes enough that 2 people could have a big serving now, and a little serving cold for breakfast. Or 4 people could have moderately sized servings whenever.

serving suggestions
Serve with fake breakfast sausage and salad... because salad is easy to throw together really fast and you've got to have a vegetable. If you're clever with your dressing, a salad can go with this. I convinced someone else to make the salad and they dressed it with oil, malt vinegar, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and coriander, which tied nicely with both the spice of the sausage and the spices in the rice pudding.

It might also be nice with one of those froofy apple sausages.

If I were the planning ahead sort, I might pick a different vegetable, but I don't know what that would be.


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Group Cook Crepes
Friday, February 17, 2006, 06:12 PM - flatbread, dessert, high falutin'

Group Cooking


A bunch of us made group cook crepes last weekend (yeah, I've been remiss about updating lately, but these things happen). Group cooking is the bastard child of dinner parties and potlucks. Like dinner parties, you have a bunch of people and some menu of stuff selected to go together. Like a potluck, everyone chips in and cooks. It's a good fun way to get a bunch of people to have a low cost hoity toity dinner and entertainment for the evening.

Group cooks are pretty much a spontaneous, emergent phenomena that just happen with minimal effort and a bit of prodding. To have your own group cook, you should hang out on aim and accost a local friend when they show up and say, "hey, we should have a group cook." The two of you then decide what to make based on what you know other friends in your circle would enjoy. Then you contact these other friends and convince them that this is what they want to do with their evening. Although this time I somehow ended up on a telephone and aim at the same time talking with two people at once, the other party on aim was on the phone with a fourth party, and the party on my phone was in the room with a fifth party. This is what technology is for. If you can't have 5-way conversations involving 2 phones, 2 computers, a few net connections, you're missing out on one of the fine things in life.

In any case, once you've sorted out the details, everyone will show up at your house at roughly the same time(ish) with all the ingredients you don't have on hand in tow. Then labour gets distributed between people, with those who are relative experts in the chosen genre delegating tasks to other people. It's good to shake up your genre periodically so different people get the opportunity to boss people around. One of these days, we've got to do a mediteranean group cook, which I'm a complete dunce at; I think I'll learn something.

Crepes


Ingredients
3 cups flour (fluff up with a fork before measuring to pretend it's sifted)
1/4 tsp salt
6 eggs (or 5 eggs + 3 TBS H20 if you have fewer eggs on hand than you thought)
3 cups milk
4 TBS melted butter (melted)

Directions
Put the flour and salt in a bowl. Mix it up to distribute the salt. If you do this with a fork, lumps will come ouf of the flour if there are any. You might ought to sift it before measuring, but of course I don't own a sifter and I don't even have a good mesh strainer in this part of the country, so fluffing it with a fork makes sure you get the right volume if you don't have a sifter. You always need to fluff things with a fork before measuring if they say to sift because unsifted flower is packed together and sifted flour is full of air. Don't do this, however, if your recipe doesn't require sifting or you won't have enough flour because you'll have extra air. But I digress...

Dig a little hole in the flour. Break the eggs into the hole. Whisk the eggs together, gradually widening your whisking to include more flour in the liquid part. If it seems too stiff, add a glug of your milk into the liquid to thin it back out. When the flour is entirely incorporated into the egg, gradually stir in the milk. Add melted butter and stir until it's completely smooth. People say crepes will taste better if you sit the batter aside for an hour or so before cooking, but I've never met anyone organised enough to do that. But if you're that organised (weirdo), you can do that. We just set it aside for maybe 20 minutes while we waited for the stuffing to cook up.

When you're ready to cook, hand a nonstick pan, a spatula, a 1/4 inch measuring cup, some butter, and the crepe batter to the franco-american you were clever enough to invite to the bash. Crepes will magically appear. If you weren't clever, you'll need to make the crepes yourself. Heat the stove to medium. When it's warmed up, smear butter into the pan. Dollup a 1/4 cup of batter into the center of the pan and rotate the pan so that the batter runs out to the edges. When the top of the crepe is opaque instead of shiny, flip it. When you feel like it's done, remove it from the pan and put it on a plate. The first crepe will be bad, so expect to snack on it.

This makes enough crepes to give 2 dinner crepes and 2 desert crepes for 5 people and have a nice box of crepes leftover that will last quite a while in the refrigerator and make you a decent number of solo meals.

Tofu Mushroom Green-bean crepe stuffing


Ingredients
mushrooms
olive oil
black pepper
salt
white onion
firm tofu
green onions

Directions
Slice up a bunch of mushrooms. I'm not sure how many---maybe 4 cups? Who can say? Sautee them in a pan with olive oil and add a bunch of black pepper. Add a diced white onion. Slice up a block of firm tofu into striplets and throw it in the pan. Add salt to taste. Decide, after it's cooked down a bit, that it might not be enough for 5 people and raid your freezer for some frozen green beans: about 2 cups worth should do the trick, but I didn't measure, I am just guessing what was left in the bag. Put a lid on the frying pan and allow to ook.

Dinner Crepe Sauce


Ingredients
2 TBS butter
2 TBS flour
milk
swiss cheese
parmesean cheese
salt
pepper

Directions
Melt the butter in a pan on medium-low heat. Add the flour and stir it until it's bubbly and the sauce gets translucent. That means the flour's cooked. Slowly add milk and stir it until it's smooth. I have no clue how much milk I added; I just did it um... until it looked right. Helpful, aren't I? I added about a 1/4 cup of swiss cheese that I had lying around and let that melt into the sauce. Then I added maybe 1/4 cup of parmesean, but I didn't keep track of that either. I added salt and pepper to taste. If you're hoity toity, you'd use white pepper here so the pepper wouldn't show. I'm not organised enough to be hoity toity.

Dinner Crepe Assembly


Put a crepe on each plate. Spoon filling in a line down the middle of each crepe. Roll each crepe and push it to the side of the plate. Put another crepe on each plate and repeat. Center the two crepes. Pour the Sauce over the top and serve.

Chocolate Goo


Ganache is the hoity-toity word for chocolate goo. Chocolate goo is basically just chocolate melted with some other stuff to make it liquidy and yummy so you can pour it over something.

Put 1/4 cup of butter in a pan on low heat. Melt, then add 1/4 cup of butter. When that's melted, add 6 pieces of baking chocolate and stir it until it's smooth. Slowly add milk until you feel like it's just about right. Yeah, no measuring. Just stick your finger in periodically and taste it and to see if the texture is right. Add a glug or two of cognac.

Desert Crepes


Ingredients
Crepes
Sliced Strawberries
Blackberries
Frozen blueberries
chocolate goo
whipped cream

Directions
Put a crepe out on each plate. Put a heap of sliced strawberries down the center of each crepe. Roll closed and push to the side of the plate. Repeat, replacing strawberries with blackberries. Center the crepes on the plate. Spoon chocolate goo over the top of the crepes. Squirt whipped cream onto the top of the crepes. Sprinkle blueberries on top of the whipped cream. Yum.
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