Saturday, July 28, 2012

Daring Bakers - Crackers

Our July 2012 Daring Bakers’ Host was Dana McFarland and she challenged us to make homemade crackers! Dana showed us some techniques for making crackers and encouraged to use our creativity to make each cracker our own by using ingredients we love. 

Whew! I made it before the end of July. I know Daring Bakers posts usually happen on the 27th of the month but I'm feeling pretty good about getting this challenge done and posted while still in the month of July. 

This summer has been crazy busy for us. Basically the day after school got out for me we have been going, going, going. I didn't end up doing the June challenge and I thought I might not have time to make this one either but it turned out to be surprisingly easy. Sometimes just thinking about what the techniques are (especially if it is something new for me) and then what flavors to do take more effort than the actual act of making the item.Enough of the explanation on tardiness and on to the challenge. 

This month we had to make homemade crackers using two different techniques. I'm sure there are other methods, but the three presented to us were hand shaping, using a pasta roller, or shaping into a log and slicing into coins. I don't have a pasta roller so I decided to make one batch hand shaped and another batch using the sliced icebox method.

Let's chat about the first batch, shall we. I decided to make the Health Crackers. I had just about everything necessary and they seemed to be easy enough to do. I did end up switching out ground flax seeds for the wheat germ since I don't usually have wheat germ on hand but plenty of ground flax. They came together quickly and I was planning to stick them in the fridge for their 20 minute rest until I realized it was almost 10 o'clock at night. I guess time got away from me, so I decided to leave it in the fridge over night and come back to it in the morning.

I did decide to get the second batch made and refrigerated as well. For that batch I decided to use one cup of cheddar cheese and one cup of Masdammer (similar to Swiss) which we picked up at a local dairy while out on our latest bike adventure. I used almonds instead of the walnuts suggested since my walnuts were old and yucky tasting. I again refrigerated them over night.

The next day I pulled out both batches of dough. The Health Crackers were not super pliable. They have to stay cold otherwise they stick but they don't stay together well if they are cold. Kind of a catch 22. I rolled out one quarter, brushed on the egg wash and then sprinkled with sesame seeds and coarse salt. They cut easily with a pizza cutter and they took about 30 minutes to brown up in the oven.

The Cheddar, Almond, and Rosemary were easy to slice but they took much longer in the oven than the recipe stated. My crackers took about 20 minutes to bake but they were nice and crisp at the end of it. They break apart easily though so be careful where you eat these if you are worried about crumbs. Enjoy! 

Health Crackers
3 cups rolled oats
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup wheat germ (I used ground flax seeds)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup water
1 large egg white
Cracker topping:
Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, nigella (onion) seeds, salt
Salt for sprinkling

Mix the oats, flour, wheat germ, sugar and salt together in a large bowl or bowl for the standup mixer.

Combine the water and oil and stir into the oat mixture until it comes together and a dough forms.

Form dough into a disk and allow to rest in the fridge for about 20 minutes but up to a day if you are making them ahead.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Divide the dough into quarters and work with one piece at a time, allowing the remaining pieces to stay in the fridge as you proceed with rolling out the crackers.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to about 1/16 inch thick and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet by carefully wrapping the dough around the rolling pin.

Brush the dough with the egg white mixed briefly with a tablespoon of water and sprinkle with seeds and salt of your choice.
Cut the dough with a pizza wheel and bake for 25-30 minutes until browned. Crackers that are not crispy once cooled may be returned to the oven.

Store in an airtight container and eat within two weeks.

Cheddar, Almond, and Rosemary Crackers
1/2 cup butter, well softened
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary
2 1/4 cups grated aged cheddar cheese, firmly packed
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

Combine butter, rosemary, and cheese in a stand mixer and beat well (can also be done by hand). Add the flour, salt, and nuts and stir to combine. 

Form the dough into two tight logs and wrap with cling film. Chill for at least an hour and up to several days. (The log can be frozen at this point for several months.)

Heat the oven to 325°F. Slice a log into 1/5 inch coins and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake about 10 minutes until golden brown. (Mine took 20 minutes to get brown.)

Store in an airtight container and eat within three days.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Strawberry Cobbler

There are not many people who don't associate cobbler with a feeling of warmth and goodness and a feeling of "home". I usually think about making cobblers in the fall, but who can resist a cobbler with the fresh fruit that abounds in the summer!

Mind you, there is much debate it seems about what is a cobbler versus a crisp. My personal definition is that a cobbler is a dough spread over a fruit mixture whereas a crisp is a mixture of granola, oatmeal or something of the sort and put on top of the fruit. Not a big difference, but a difference for sure.

I've had this recipe in my archives for quite a while, one that was borrowed from my stepmom after sampling one of her desserts. You can use many different fruits, but the original recipe is for strawberry (or strawberry rhubarb). The butter cookie topping sets it apart from a biscuit topping cobbler. Just make sure you don't substitute salt for sugar as I did in one of my cooking gaffs which resulted in us picking the salty dough off the fruit! Enjoy!

Strawberry Cobbler

2 pints fresh (or 24 oz. frozen) strawberries or 10 oz. each rhubarb and strawberries
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Stem and rinse strawberries. Leave small or medium berries whole, but halve if large. (If frozen you can defrost a bit but they don't have to be completely defrosted.) If using rhubarb, cut rhubarb into 1/2 in chunks.

Prepare Butter Cookie Dough Topping.

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position. Heat oven to 375 degrees F.

Mix cornstarch, sugar to taste, prepared fruit and vanilla in bowl. Toss to coat. Place fruit in 8 or 9-inch baking pan (9x13 if doubling). Drop prepared dough onto fruit by heaping teaspoons.

Bake until golden, about 45 to 55 minutes (if doubling, about 2 hours).

Butter Cookie Dough Topping
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 large egg or 1 yolk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in small bowl; set aside. Beat butter and sugar until well blended. Beat in egg and vanilla. Add flour mixture; stir until just combined.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Breakfast Cookies

I made these breakfast cookies for our consumption while on a camping trip. I was so proud of myself for being ahead of the game and getting these baked right before we left but not so late that everyone was waiting on me. We each tried one for that morning's breakfast and then packed up the rest and hit the road. They were very yummy! They smelled just like an oatmeal cookie while baking in the oven.

You can imagine our disappointment then when two days into our trip some lovely individuals decided to steal all of our camping gear out of the back of our truck. These lovely gems were sitting in there with the other food items. I sure hope whoever got a hold them enjoyed them as much as we did!

They really were easy to make and I will definitely be making them again. You basically mix up all the dry ingredients, then mix up the wet ingredients and combine together. I used a pretty large cookie cutter to form the cookies (you can see that they are basically just a round ball and I don't think they spread much during baking because they didn't change their shape at all). Enjoy!

Breakfast Cookies
Source: Blueberry Girl

1 1/2 cups regular rolled oats
1/4 cup almond meal
1/2 cup mixed nuts, finely chopped
1 cup coconut flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 cup dried fruit (I used 1/2 chopped dried dates, and 1/2 raisins)

3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup sesame oil (many other oils can be substituted)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine rolled oats, almond meal, mixed nuts, coconut flakes, and salt. Stir in allspice and cinnamon. Add dried fruit and stir until evenly mixed. Make sure the dried fruit does not stick together in big chunks.

In another bowl, combine sesame oil, mashed banana and vanilla extract. Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients and stir until well combined.

Take a large cookie cutter and press spoonfuls of the batter into it. Remove cookie cutter. Bake for about 20 minutes or until edges are golden brown.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Flower Bouquets

I would have to say that while I love baking I don't know that I will ever open my own bakery. Holy cow! I had someone ask me if I could make 8 flower pot cookie bouquets to give as gifts and I agreed. Probably not the best idea while one is trying to wrap up the school year, finish report cards, organize records, and such.

The cookie baking didn't seem too difficult, although I had to bake them in much smaller batches than normal because of the sticks. The icing though was a bit of work. I think I stood hunched over the counter for four hours straight. Seriously! After about an hour in my little guy went to bed and my husband was gone for the evening so I decided to plug in Pride and Prejudice (just my 2 hour version, not the 6 hour one). I watched (you can put air quotes around watched for me) the whole movie and then the second half again. Just as I was finishing up the last cookie and my movie my husband walked in the door. I think it was about 11pm by that time and I was sooo ready for bed. It was a fun experience but I don't know if I'll be volunteering to do it again any time soon. Enjoy! 

Every available counter space had cookies cooling or drying

For the sugar cookie and frosting recipe, click here.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Vanilla Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Spontaneity at its best! The other day our son decided that he wanted to surprise Dad with a cake. Of course, he is too young to bake a cake by himself so he had to get me in cahoots with his surprise. It wasn't too difficult to say yes to such a cute little face and a heartfelt request. I can't tell yet if our son's love language is affirmation, physical touch, or giving gifts, but this is one example of how he likes to do things for others.

He made the request on Friday evening and it worked out perfectly because Dad had his volunteer shift for the police department the next day which meant that we could make his cake and present it to him at his mid-shift break without him even knowing about it. After Dad headed out for his first shift we figured out what type of cake to make. Our son wanted a road, police car, and the phrase "Good Job, Dad". He didn't know he needed to pick the flavor of the cake first. I gave him a choice from traditional flavors, chocolate, yellow, white. He decided that he thought Dad would like a white cake which was a bit disappointing for me because I am not a big fan of white cake. I quickly perused the internet and found a post that listed 50 of the best cupcake flavors. I started reading those and realized that I could make a white cake that was actually vanilla flavored; now that I could do.

The post that I mentioned that had the 50 different cupcake recipes linked to a Martha Stewart recipe which was showcasing a cupcake recipe from Billy Reece of Billy's Bakery in New York City. The recipe made 30 cupcakes but I figured that if I halved it I could bake a 9 inch square cake.

It was very easy to bake. In fact I whipped it up while our son was taking his nap. Immediately upon coming out of his room he told me that he decided he wanted "Crime" to be on the cake. I managed to convince him to keep the "Good Job, Dad" part on there and we could add a little part about "Helping Fight Crime". He was agreeable to this suggestion.

When it came to surprising Dad I was so afraid that he was going to drop the cake on the ground. Dad pulled up and wanted to come in the front door but I told him he needed to come around to the back. He thought that our son made some car/toy creation that he wanted to surprise him with. Instead he was surprised to see our son standing there holding the cake tray! Enjoy!

Vanilla Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
Source: Martha Stewart

1 3/4 cups cake flour, not self-rising
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare pan; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt; mix on low speed until combined. Add butter, mixing until just coated with flour.

In a large glass measuring cup, whisk together eggs, milk, and vanilla. With mixer on medium speed, add wet ingredients in 3 parts, scraping down sides of bowl before each addition; beat until ingredients are incorporated but do not overbeat.

Pour batter into pan. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes (17 to 20 minutes for cupcakes, longer than 30 minutes for 9x13).

Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Once cake has cooled, use a small offset spatula to frost cake. Decorate, if desired. Serve at room temperature.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting 
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
6 to 8 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. With mixer on low speed, add 6 cups sugar, milk, and vanilla; mix until light and fluffy. If necessary, gradually add remaining 2 cups sugar to reach desired consistency.

Makes about 30 cupcakes or a 9x13 cake

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Honey Sesame Chicken

I like it when I find a recipe that tastes like something I have eaten at a restaurant. I don't know why, but for me there are not too many times that I have made teriyaki dishes that taste like something I would get at a little teriyaki restaurant. Usually too much soy sauce, or too salty, or not the right consistency. This dish though changes that.

I have already made this dish twice in the time it has taken me to get it posted from first trying it. The first time it was not as big of a hit. My husband liked it fine, but the boy and I did not like it so much. We followed the recipe exactly, which I knew would most likely be a mistake since I don't really like red pepper flakes added to things. It smelled great, but at first bite I knew it was going to be a bit hot for my tastebuds. I'm not sure why it says in the recipe that the pepper flakes add flavor but not heat, because they definitely add heat. I managed to muscle down a serving but hubby had to eat all the leftovers.

The second time we made it we left out the red pepper flakes. Oh, so much better (at least for my sensitive tastebuds)! Even the little guy liked this go round of it. This is a definite keeper in our recipe arsenol. Enjoy!

Honey Sesame Chicken
Source: Six Sisters Stuff
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
1 cup honey
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup diced onion
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional - doesn't really add heat, just adds more flavor)
4 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 6 tablespoons water
sesame seeds
rice or noodles, already prepared
Season both sides of chicken lightly with salt and pepper; put into crock pot.

In a small bowl, combine honey, soy sauce, onion, ketchup, oil, garlic and pepper flakes. Pour over chicken. Cook on low for 3-4 hours or on high 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 hours.

Remove chicken from crock pot, leave sauce. Dissolve 4 teaspoons of cornstarch in 6 tablespoons of water and pour into crock pot. Stir to combine with sauce. Replace lid and cook sauce on high for ten minutes or until slightly thickened. Cut chicken into bite size pieces, then return to pot and toss with sauce before serving. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve over rice or noodles.