Monday, December 10, 2012

Orange Olive Oil Cake (And Giveaway!)

Mmm....tasty cake.

This blog post is part of the Hanukkah Blog Party, where kosher bakers from all around the world share their Hanukkah themed recipes with each other and everyone else! Scroll down to the bottom of the post for more information, links to other blogs, and instructions on how to enter to win a free cookbook! You can join in the party by tweeting about the posts you read and using the hashtag #HanukkahBP. 

Chanukah is probably my favorite holiday in the Jewish calendar. Sure, you get a lot of presents, which is always nice. But more importantly, it's traditional to eat a lot of fried foods to commemorate the oil that burned for eight nights in the Temple in Jerusalem. That means there's always tons of latkes and doughnuts at Chanukah parties, both of which I love to eat. In fact, when I lived in Israel for a year, I ate about 20 jelly doughnuts in a week. Tip: Don't do that. It's a super bad idea.

Anyway, latkes or doughnuts are ideal candidates for a Chanukah blog post. You've got your fried dough, your sugar, and did I mention the tasty fried dough? There's only one problem: I really hate frying. 

No, seriously. I've never enjoyed frying. Well, except that time over Thanksgiving where I deep fried a turkey, but that's a different story. It's a messy process, potentially quite dangerous, very easy to screw up, and the oil gets in the air and messes up my eyes. There also may be some residual trauma from when I stood over a deep fryer for four hours every Saturday night in my underground college restaurant (I really need to write about that at some point.) As a general rule, I try to avoid frying at all costs.

So when I thought about what to make for my Chanukah post, I decided to find another way to incorporate oil into my baking. I Googled around for some options, pulled out all my cookbooks, and finally stumbled across a cake that uses olive oil and orange juice. Sold!

I love it when a cake comes together.
This is an awesome cake. It takes about 15 minutes to put together, with the bulk of the work spent zesting an orange. Otherwise, you can do it all in two bowls, and the second bowl is just to sift the dry ingredients together, so that doesn't really count. And in return, you get a cake with just the right amount of orange flavor without being too sweet. Plus, it's completely dairy free, so it can be served all year round!

Let me take a moment to talk about olive oil. Odds are, you've got a great bottle of extra virgin olive oil in your pantry. Please, if you can, don't use it for this cake. The quality of the cake won't be diminished, but your high-quality olive oil will go to waste. Extra virgin olive oil usually has a light and delicate flavor which can get overpowered by the taste of orange. Unless your extra virgin olive oil has a really powerful olive taste, use a cheaper olive oil. Save the good stuff for when it can really shine, like in a salad dressing. 

One last side note: I originally had a section here decrying the use of extra virgin olive oil in baking because the heat would break down the flavor compounds. I did some research into it and could not find a single source to back up that theory. While it is true that unrefined extra virgin olive oil has a lower smoke point than most oils (250 degrees Fahrenheit compared to the 400+ of corn oil), the interior of the cake is unlikely to exceed 200 degrees, so no degradation should occur. Myth dispelled!

Anyway, back to the subject at hand: The cake. Originally, I thought it came out a tad drier than I would have liked. But in an unscientific survey I conducted where I gave people cake and asked them if it was dry, no one agreed with me. Still, if you make this at home and decide it's dried out, I'd recommend increasing the oil not the orange juice. I think the flavor balance is just right, and it can always take a bit more oil. Orange juice, on the other hand, is pretty strong. Don't go overboard.

One final note: making this cake is part of a larger project I'm undertaking where I'm examining how different oils can be used in baking. Over the next month or so, I'm going to be trying out other baked goods made with olive oil, along with coconut oil and vegetable oil. If you've got recipes that you'd like me to experiment with, send them to me or mention it in your contest entry below. 

Happy Chanukah!
Seriously, doesn't that look delicious?
ORANGE OLIVE OIL CAKE (Adapted from Melissa d'Arabian's Orange Olive Oil Cake)
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Zest of 1 orange (about 1 tablespoon)
  • Juice of 1/2 orange (somewhere between 3 tablespoons and 1/4 cup of juice)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Confectioners' sugar for dusting (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  3. Mix together the sugar and eggs in another medium bowl with a hand mixer on medium speed until blended and light. 
  4. Drizzle in the olive oil and vanilla and mix until light and smooth. Add the orange juice and zest and mix well. 
  5. Add the flour mixture half at a time to the wet ingredients and mix on low just to incorporate. 
  6. Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake for 15-20 minutes. It's done when a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. It may take longer than 20 minutes to bake, but should take no longer than 25. Let the cake cool 15 minutes, dust with confectioners' sugar (if using) and serve.

Welcome to our first ever Hanukkah Blog Party, hosted by Leah of Cook Kosher and Miriam of Overtime Cook. It's traditional on Hanukkah to eat fried treats, most notably donuts and latkes, and we've got a fabulous array of Hanukkah themed recipes, treats and crafts from Jewish bloggers all over the world! Scroll down for links to all of the delicious treats.

To help get everyone into party mode, we have a bunch of fabulous new cookbooks to giveaway! Leave a comment on this post for your chance to win one of:
  • 2 copies of Susie Fishbein's new Kosher By Design Cooking Coach (sponsored by Artscroll)
  • 2 copies of Leah Schapira's Fresh and Easy Kosher Cooking (sponsored by Artscroll) 
  • 2 copies of Esther Deutch's CHIC Made Simple (sponsored by the author)
How to enter: Leave a comment on this post saying how you like to use olive oil when making food. For example: salad dressing, butter replacement when baking, frying medium, etc. Your entry must be accompanied by a valid e-mail address to qualify. If you don't want to type out your e-mail address publicly, send me an e-mail at with the subject "Hanukkah Blog Party Contest Entry" and a link to your comment (you can get your comment's unique link from the timestamp next to your name).

Giveaway ends at 11:59 PM on Sunday, December 16th. Limit one entry per person per blog, so visit the other blogs for extra chances to win!  Prizes can only be shipped within the US. Remember: entries must be accompanied by a valid email address in order to qualify.

This is the second of many fabulous Holiday Blog Parties. If you would like to be added to the mailing list to participate in future parties, please email

Stop by the other blogs and check out these Chanukah Themed Recipes:

Jamie from Joy of Kosher made Zucchini Latkes with Tzatziki
Daniel from Peikes Cookbook made Potato and Fennel Latkes Fried in Duck Fat With Chinese Five Spice Apple Sauce
Susan from The Girl in the Little Red Kitchen made Squash and Potato Latkes
Samantha from The Little Ferraro Kitchen made Ruby Red Beet Latkes with Cumin
Nechamah from TIforOA Food Ideas made Healthy Oatmeal Latkes
Liz from The Lemon Bowl made Traditional Potato Latkes
Melanie from From Fast Food to Fresh Food made (I Can't Believe They're Crispy!) Baked Latkes
Laura from Mother Would Know made Three Variations of Sweet and Savory Latkes
Sarah from Crispy Bits and Burnt Ends made Kimchee Latkes
Shulie from Food Wanderings made Baked Panko Sweet Potato Leek Latkes

Donuts and Desserts:
Miriam from Overtime Cook made Shortcut Cannoli with Chocolate Mousse Filling
Leah from Cook Kosher made 5 Minute Donuts
Estee from The Kosher Scoop made Tropical Fruit Fritters
Melinda from Kitchen-Tested made Sweet Steamed Buns
Amy from What Jew Wanna Eat made Homemade Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Gelt
Avidan from Baking It Up As I Go Along made Orange Olive Oil Cake
Tali from More Quiche Please made Glazed Chocolate Donut Holes
Amital from Organized Jewish Home made Mom's Sour Cream Sugar Cookies
Princess Lea from The Frumanista made Túrógombóc
Stephanie and Jessica from The Kosher Foodies made Beignets
Gigi from Gigi's Kitchen made Bunuelos: Mini Powdered Cheese Donuts
Esther from Esther O Designs made Edible Menorahs
Patti from No Bacon Here made Hanukkah Oreo Balls
Shoshana from Couldn't Be Parve made Churros con Chocolate
Shaindy from My Happily Hectic Life made Inside Out Apple Crisp
Eve from Gluten Free Nosh made Gluten-Free Hanukkah Sugar Cookies
Amy from Baking and Mistaking made Mini Cream-Filled French Beignets
Sarah from Food, Words, Photos made Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
Victoria from Itsy Bitsy Balebusta made Pure Vanilla Donuts
Vicky and Ruth from May I Have That Recipe made Dulce de Leche and Eggnog cream filled mini sufganiot
Dena from Oh You Cook made Poached Pears in Pomegranate Sauce
Michele from Kosher Treif Cooking made Tiramisu Cheessecake
Sharon from FashionIsha made Sparkly Chanukah Cookies
Yosef from This American Bite made Garlic, Zaatar and Olive Oil Popcorn

Appetizers, Soups, Sauces, Drinks and other Hanukkah Food:Laura from Pragmatic Attic made Caramel Spice Applesauce
Jessie from Bread and Butter made Honey Spiced Hanukkah Martini
G6 from Guess Who's Coming 2 Dinner made Sweet Potato Leek Soup
Claire from I Love Soup made Sweet Potato, Coconut & Lemongrass Soup
Jennifer from Juanita's Cocina made Kugel
Liz from Kosher Like Me made Ready, Stuff Roll!
Shelley from The Kosher Home made Hanukkah Crafts and Printables

Monday, November 26, 2012

Replacing Milk in Baking

As a kosher baker, milk and butter are two of my biggest enemies. Most of my baking is for meals with meat, so I have to keep food dairy-free. This means I have to find substitutions without sacrificing flavor. I've already addressed butter in a previous post (Replacing Butter: Vegetable Oil) so I think it's time I tackled milk.

Most of the time, I (along with most other kosher bakers) use soy milk as my substitution of choice. But there's plenty of other options out there: almond milk, rice milk, oat milk, and even hemp milk are all relatively easy to find in supermarkets these days. Friends of mine swear by different products, each one praised to the heavens about how much better it is than soy milk. How can one person choose? doing this.
The muffins in all their glory. Photo by Terri Ash
I baked four batches of muffins, with 12 muffins to a batch. Every batch was exactly the same, except for one ingredient: the milk. One had 1% milk, another used soy milk, another was rice milk, and the last was almond milk. I used oil instead of butter to make sure any "dairy flavor" could only be attributed to the milk. Here's a closer look at each muffin. Can you guess which is which? The answer is in the caption, so don't scroll down too far if you want to guess.
From left: Almond (green), rice (light blue), soy (dark blue), and 1% milk (red). 
Photo by Faigy Gilder
Just by looking at them, you can see there's a stark difference between the muffins. The soy milk muffin  has a higher dome, while the almond milk muffin looks...bumpy, for a lack of a better word. But how different do they taste?

I invited six friends of mine over to do a blind taste test. I told them about the different types of muffins and asked them to try some of each. After they tried all the variations, I asked them to guess which one had the real milk and to rank them from top to bottom. The results were very surprising:
  1. 2/3 of testers said the soy milk muffin was their favorite, with one tester going so far to say it was "the kind of muffin where you'd want to just eat the crown." (which I am taking as a good thing.)
  2. 2/3 of testers said the regular milk was their least favorite. Some described it as "dense" and "rubbery." 
  3. Only one person correctly guessed which muffin had milk. Half of the testers thought it was the rice milk. In fact, more than one person said "I can really taste the milk substitute" while eating the milk muffin. 
It's pretty clear by looking at these results that soy milk is the favored substitute. It should be noted, though, that almond milk was pretty close behind, with the same number of "points" as soy milk but with less first place votes. And if that's all you wanted to know by reading this post, feel free to stop here. But if you want to know why I think this was the result, keep going. 

I believe the reasons behind these results can be found in this table:

Nutrition Information per 1 cup of liquid
          1% milk Soy milk Almond milk Rice milk
Fat 2.5g 5g 2.5g 2.5g
Sugar 12g 7g 7g 10g
Protein 8g 11g 1g 0g

First, the soy milk has twice as much fat as any of the other options. As any good baker knows, more fat equals more flavor. Next, the sugar in rice milk is about the same as regular milk, which is probably why it was mistaken for real milk by many of the testers. 

As for why milk was so poorly received and had such a bad texture, I turned to science. Specifically, Harold McGee's On Food And Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. There, he explains that a protein in whey can sometimes weaken the gluten structure of baked goods and produce denser products. Muffins by design have very loose gluten matrices that are only just strong enough to hold onto the gas produced by chemical leaveners. If the gluten matrix was sufficiently weakened by the milk, it wouldn't be able to trap the bubbles during baking, and you'd end up with a dense muffin.

So what can you take away from this experiment? If you have to replace milk in your baking, try soy milk. If you end up using something with less fat, add some additional fat to the batter to compensate. Also, keep an eye on the sugar content, as you might have to adjust it to meet expected tastes. 

And stop panicking about milk. Apparently, no one likes it anyway. 
A piece of milk muffin no one wanted after the tasting.
Photo by Terri Ash

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cream Biscuits

It's been a while since I've written something for this blog. I mean, a really long while. It's been something like four months since my last post. Originally, I chalked it up to being busy after my move to New York Then it was because I hadn't made anything interesting. Then I told myself it was because I didn't have any pictures of my food. But the hard reality was that I could not motivate myself to write. (Though I could use a new camera.)

So I've decided to approach the blog from a different perspective. Rather than reserve the blog for long, experimental baking projects, I'm going to try and...well, just write. The posts may be shorter and might not even be about baking, but I'm going to try and make the effort to add more to this site. Starting with this post!

This morning, I woke up and decided I really wanted biscuits. I'm not sure why. I think it's because I made pie over the weekend for the first time in well over a year (the last attempt was back at Miracle Blondies) and wanted to do more butter/flour work. Or maybe I just really wanted some fat. Whatever the reason, biscuits were going to happen today.

Usually, my reluctance to making something like biscuits is the need for milk. I'll use milk in recipes, but I don't drink it. Yes, I am lactose intolerant, but that's not why I don't like milk. It's the taste it leaves in my mouth after drinking it that puts me off. As a result, I avoid recipes that use milk so I don't have a whole container of milk languishing in my fridge gradually spoiling while I pretend it doesn't exist.

Thankfully, I stumbled across a recipe from America's Test Kitchen's "Cook's Illustrated Cookbook" that didn't need butter or milk. Instead, it just called for heavy cream. And instead of rubbing butter into the flour, I just had to stir everything together, shape it, cut it, and toss it in the oven! Making the dough from start to finish took me about five minutes, and baking it took another 15. Only 20 minutes from thinking of biscuits to when I started eating them? Sold.

Making the biscuits is easy, but how do they taste? Pretty good, actually. They're not the amazing knock-out biscuits I was dreaming of, though. The taste of biscuits made with butter is very easily distinguished from those made with cream instead, and I honestly prefer butter instead of cream. But on the flip side, using cream instead of butter saves a lot of time and effort and is well worth the slightly less rich taste. I'll definitely be adding this recipe to my index of "make agains."
"Quick and Easy Cream Biscuits" (from The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook, published by America's Test Kitchen, 2011; originally appearing in Cook's Illustrated, May 2000 issue here: Quick and Easy Cream Biscuits

  • 2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for the counter
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl. Stir in the cream with a wooden spoon until dough forms, about 30 seconds. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and gather into a ball. Knead the dough briefly until smooth, about 30 seconds.

3. Shape the dough into a 3/4-inch-thick circle. Cut biscuits into 2.5 inch rounds or wedges. Place rounds or wedges on parchment-lined baking sheet. (The baking sheet can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 2 hours.) Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Replacing Butter: Vegetable Oil

It's been a while since I've been able to post something here on the blog, but I promise I have a good reason for it. Last month, I moved from Washington, DC (my home of the last few years) to New York City as part of a new job. I was so busy trying to get everything together, I just didn't have the time to bake or blog. 

But now I've been here for a couple of weeks, and last week I kicked off the new chapter of crazy baking. I began with some hamentashen for Purim, then made a gingerbread cake for Sabbath. I was all set to spend some time on Sunday making some cookies when an idea hit me. Now would be a good a time as any to revisit a problem that had been plaguing me for many years: how to replace melted butter in a cookie recipe.

[I suppose now is a good a time as any to alert you that there's going to be a lot of science talk in this post. Hold on to your hats. Also, it's worth noting that I relied heavily on Harold McGee's "On Food And Cooking" for the science aspect of this. It's an invaluable resource.]

As I've said before in other posts, when I make cookies for Sabbath or holidays, I usually need to keep them pareve, which means they have to be dairy-free (and meat free, but who's putting meat in a cookie?). The usual solution is to grab a stick of dairy-free margarine and substitute it for the butter. I've never been a big fan of this for a couple of reasons:

1) Margarine is pretty gross. 
2) Pareve margarine isn't so easy to find (at least back in DC).
3) Margarine is not so healthy for you. 

Let me take a moment to address that last one. While doing some research ahead of this post, I discovered that, for a while, margarine was thought to be healthier than butter. Butter is high in saturated fat (not heart healthy) while margarine is high in unsaturated fat (more heart healthy, relatively speaking). But more recently, scientists discovered that the process by which oil is made solid for margarine, known as hydrogenation, turns those healthier unsaturated fats into trans fats. Trans fats are just as bad as saturated fats, and in certain ways, somewhat worse. (For more information about this, I'd recommend the American Heart Association page about fats and oils, with thanks to Leah McGrath, R.D. for pointing me towards the source. You should follow her on Twitter at @InglesDietitian)

For all those reasons, I decided to see how well I could replace butter using liquid vegetable oil as the fat, thus preserving the unsaturated fats and being a heck of a lot more convenient to boot. I don't know about you, but I've always got a bottle of vegetable or canola oil in my pantry, while my margarine is very single purpose (and did I mention gross? It smells like apples and I can't tell why!). 

Taking a page out of my creaming method experiment, I decided I would take a cookie recipe that used melted butter, make a batch, then make a second batch with my substitution of vegetable oil. Then, I would get people to try one of each cookie and tell me what they thought. I would use that information to draw some kind of conclusion, although it would never stand up to rigorous scientific scrutiny.

I chose America's Test Kitchen's Molasses Spice Cookies for this test; somewhat because I wanted my first NY post to pay tribute to my first DC post, but mostly because I like the recipe. I made the first batch without any problems then moved on to the second batch. I checked the recipe and saw that it needed 12 tablespoons of melted butter.  "Great," I can hear you saying. "Just put in 12 tablespoons of oil and be done! Right?"


Interesting fact: Butter is required by law to be about 80% fat by weight. Look at any box of butter and you should see that for every 14 gram serving, only 11 grams are fat. Approximately 16-18 percent of the remaining weight is water (depending on who you ask) and the rest are milk solids and basic elements. The inclusion of water makes a difference in the final end product as well, as it leads to steam which gives some extra puffiness to the cookie during baking. Therefore, 12 tablespoons of oil was not the right way to go here.

Back when I made the first batch of cookies, I weighed the butter on my scale and got 172 grams. Using the ratio of 11 grams of fat per 14 grams of weight, I came up with about 135 grams of fat. Accounting for some rounding errors, I settled with 136 grams of oil. The water was a bit trickier. I was aiming for 32 grams of water, which would have been 18.6% by weight. Unfortunately, I over-poured a bit and ended up with 34 grams of water (19.7% by weight). I made a note to add a bit of flour later on to account for the extra liquid. 

I proceeded with making the cookies without any other incidents. One thing I did note was the difference in the consistency of the cookie batter. The butter batter was much stiffer and drier, whereas the oil batter was very loose and sticky. This wasn't particularly unexpected though. Butter is a semi-solid at room temperature, with some of the solid fat turning into liquid (and back again if the temperature is right) and other fat particles remaining in the liquid state once it's reached. So with time and the right temperature conditions, the butter-based batter would tend to be a bit firmer.

When I removed the oil-based cookies, I noticed that they were a lot flatter than I expected. I couldn't figure out what had happened. I thought i had accounted for the puff by adding the water! It wasn't until a couple of hours later that I realized what the culprit might have been: the lack of acid. Milk, believe it or not, is an acid; primarily lactic acid. That acid reacts with baking soda to produce lift and puff in the cookie. Oil, on the other hand, has no pH value and is therefore neutral. I wasn't getting as much of a reaction as I wanted from my leavening agents! I'm not sure what the best way to fix that would be, but that's for another experiment.

"Enough with the science!" I can hear you shouting. "What about the TASTE?"

OK, OK! I gave four people one of each cookie and asked them to tell me which they preferred and any other comments (A fifth person was given cookies as well, but I lost track of which cookie was which so I had to invalidate her data point. Sorry, Rebecca.). Three out of four preferred the oil cookie, praising its chewiness. Everyone agreed that the texture of the oil cookie was softer than the butter cookie (one called it "mushy"). Two people said the butter cookie was sweeter, which I could understand given the presence of lactose (milk sugar) in butter. Overall, everyone thought both cookies were good and they'd eat both again.

So what's the takeaway from this experiment? I think my oil and water solution gets me about 80% of the way towards a good replication of the butter cookie. I still need to find a way to introduce a bit more acid to work with the leavening agents. I also would like to see what would happen if I used a bit of shortening to provide more structure to the fat, since shortening is a solid at room temperature. It would negate a lot of the "health benefits," but I could live with that.  Broadly, I think the takeaway is that using the oil to replace the fat proportionally by weight works very well and is worth some more exploration in the future. 

Oh, and I guess the other takeaway is: Either way, you've still got a darn good cookie to eat.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

(Challenge-winning!) Reverse Chocolate Chip Cookies

Preface: Hello, regular and visiting readers. It's been a while since I've written a full post on this blog, but I'm trying to get back into the swing of things with this post. There's been some insanity going on with other parts of my life, but with any luck, they'll be under control sooner vs later. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the story below.

From time to time, friends of mine hold potluck meals over Sabbath and assign different parts of the meal to the guests. I almost always get dessert, which usually leads to stories that you've read in previous posts (of which the most drastic example is probably the Miracle Blondies). It also makes friends of mine raise a hue and cry when I have to use margarine instead of butter, since most Sabbath meals are meat and I can't serve something with butter.

But this week, I received one of my favorite e-mails ever: "The meal is dairy. Can you please make a dessert?"

I was ecstatic. I could make a Sabbath dessert with butter instead of margarine. I knew I had to bake something special, so I racked my brain for some good ideas. Finally, it hit me: reverse chocolate chip cookies. These are chocolate cookies that contain white chocolate chips. Often, macadamia nuts are mixed in as well, but I've never been a big "nut in cookie" fan, and I wasn't going out of my way to find some. Deal with it, folks.

[Quick side note: I mentioned to a friend of mine that I was making reverse chocolate chip cookies and described them to him. Here was the exchange after I had finished:

Him: That's pretty negative of you.
Me: Well, it's just my way to commemorate Kodak going bankrupt.
Him (shaking my hand): Nicely done.

Nerd humor! Anyway, back on track...]

I found a recipe online (posted below) which looked really straightforward and could easily be done in the stand mixer. "But, wait, Avidan," I hear you regular readers screaming, "how could you do it in the stand mixer? You've said over and over again that you can't use the stand mixer for butter because it has to be pareve (dairy and meat free)!"

Well, regular reader: First, let me thank you for not writing anything in all caps. That would have made me rather upset. Second, back in November,  a friend donated his stand mixer to me, thinking that I would get more use out of it than him and his wife who rarely baked. So now I have TWO stand mixers, and one of them is dairy. And ever since I got it, I've been making all kinds of things. OK, mostly a lot of different chocolate chip cookie recipes, but that's a different story. Anyway, the upshot is that I can cream butter without using a wooden spoon anymore (which is good, if you remember the Mixer vs. Spoon challenge).

I've got no great stories to tell about making the cookies themselves except for one: portion size. The recipe instructed me to use rounded teaspoons, which seemed a little small, but not so bad. Once I had the first batch in the oven, I realized I had a lot of cookie dough left, so I double-checked the recipe. Turns out, the intended yield was 60 cookies. I really didn't have time for that, so I upped the size of each cookie to about a tablespoon (give or take) and increased the baking time a bit.

A word of caution: Baking chocolate cookies is very tricky, because you can't see them brown. You have to rely on a sense of touch to know when the cookie is done. The usual rule of thumb is to gently poke the edges; if they're set, then the cookie is either done or is very close to it. The cookie will firm up out of the oven, so it's always better to underbake than overbake the cookie. I had a few anxious moments about the cookie being done, but they all turned out great and were incredibly well received.

Which brings me to the "challenge-winning" part of this story. It occurred to me after I had made the cookies that they might be the perfect cookie to win a challenge I had accepted some time ago. A friend of mine had mentioned that she had never eaten a chocolate chip cookie that she liked. I accepted the challenge to make her one that she would like, no matter how long it took me. Standing in my kitchen last weekend, I realized that this cookie might just win her over.

The next day, I gave her a cookie and asked her to try it. Her eyes lit up when she realized it was a chocolate cookie with white chocolate in it. Unbeknownst to me, she loved white chocolate, so I felt pretty good about my chances. She ate the entire cookie and proclaimed it to be delicious. I asked for confirmation that I had successfully completed the challenge (and on my very first attempt, too!). With a bit of a sigh, she conceded that I had accomplished the goal of the challenge.

Victory is mine!

(PS: I know someone out there is saying that white chocolate isn't really chocolate, so it doesn't count. While it is true that from legal and culinary definitions, white chocolate is not true chocolate because it doesn't contain any cocoa solids, I'm not getting that nitpicky. We're going with common parlance here. And besides, the friend in question is a lawyer, so if anyone was going to rule on validity, it would be her. So thank you, but I still win.)
"Reverse Chocolate Chip Cookies" (Adapted from Toll House® White Chip Chocolate Cookies)

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup cocoa (I prefer dutch processed if I can get it)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter or margarine, softened (please, use butter)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 package white chocolate chips (10-12 ounces)

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2) Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in small bowl. 
3) Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. 
4) Beat in eggs. 
5) Gradually beat in flour mixture. 
6) Stir in chocolate chips. 
7) Drop by well-rounded teaspoon onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes. IF YOU'RE USING A LARGER SIZE COOKIE: Increase baking time by 2-3 minutes. In either case, remove cookies when edges begin to firm up and centers are somewhat firm. 
8) Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Brief Update

It has come to my attention that I've been nominated for "Best Kosher Food Blog" over on the Joy of Kosher's website. I would say I'm surprised by this, but I'll admit that I self-nominated. Given that the current leader is at 1000 votes and I'm at 12, I don't think I'll win, but I figure I may as well take a shot, right? If you haven't voted, you can do so here: Best Kosher Food Blog (just search for "Baking It Up As I Go Along" to vote)

If you've arrived at this site through that voting page or via some other means, you'll probably notice that I haven't posted much since October. This is due to some technical issues I was experiencing at the time; namely, I hadn't had time to do so because of other obligations. However, I have a few posts in the works and hope to get them out as soon as possible, including a mega-ultra-gigantic-insane chocolate chip cookie. So in the meantime, please peruse the archives, subscribe through your favorite RSS reader, and I promise I'll have something new here shortly.



Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Non-Exploding Cinnamon Rolls!

Last month, I wrote a post about attempting to make cinnamon buns using a recipe from America's Test Kitchen. Needless to say, it didn't go very well (let's face it, I named it "Exploding Cinnamon Loaf" for a reason.) In response, America's Test Kitchen wrote a post on their site in an attempt to figure out where I went wrong. They suggested two things that might have contributed to my failure: 1) Converting the measurements from ounces to grams, and 2) Using a baking sheet instead of the countertop when working with the dough.

I'll address the countertop issue later in this post, but I want to talk about the gram/ounce conversion right away. (Warning: math lesson follows) My kitchen scale is accurate to one decimal place when using ounces and to zero decimal places when using grams. 1 ounce is equal to 28 grams, so 0.1 ounce is equal to 2.8 grams. This means when I have to deal with really tiny fractions like 1/8 ounce, it's much more accurate for me to use grams instead of ounces. 1/8 ounce is 0.125 ounces, but it's 3.5 grams. If I use grams, I would only be off by half a gram, which is about 0.017 ounces. Using ounces, I'd be off from anywhere from 0.025 to 0.075 ounces. So I highly doubt that using grams instead of ounces played a significant role in the cinnamon rolls failing. (Math lesson over.)

As I prepared to make my second run at the cinnamon buns, I decided that there was no way I would do this half-assed. The last time, I used a silicon spatula when rolling the dough, despite America's Test Kitchen's directions to use a metal spatula or bench scraper. So I went out and bought myself a bench scraper, just in case. I have to say, as someone who's never had a bench scraper before, it's pretty awesome. Though I don't recommend walking around town holding one; you look like you're carrying a large razor blade.

I began baking the same way I did before. Measured out my dry ingredients (this time with ounces), combined my wet ingredients in a separate bowl, then mixed the two together with the wooden spoon. Immediately, I noticed the dough come together much better than the last time. I finished the stirring, then floured my counter and turned out the dough.  I started kneading the dough and discovered that it was nowhere near as sticky as the last time. Could the problem really have just been the ounces/gram conversion? As I thought about it, I realized it was something much simpler: last time, I used the wrong flour.

This recipe uses whole wheat flour in an attempt to make the cinnamon buns healthier than the average cinnamon bun. Last time, I used the only whole wheat flour in my pantry: white whole wheat flour. This time, I remembered to get "real" whole wheat flour for the recipe. It may not seem like a big deal, but it all comes down to water absorption. Whole wheat flour (the brownish stuff) can absorb up to 13% more liquid than white all-purpose flour. While I don't know what the percentages are for white whole wheat flour, I imagine that it also cannot adsorb as much liquid as whole wheat flour. So the reason my first attempt was so sticky was that it didn't absorb all the liquid in the recipe. And if you're asking why America's Test Kitchen didn't catch that in their response, it's because I didn't mention it in the original post. Above all else, I think this is why my first cinnamon buns failed so miserably. 

That being said, I must admit that using the counter helped a lot as well. It was much easier to knead on the counter than on a surface that moved around. The dough was still stickier than I would have expected or liked, but it was nowhere close to the ungodly mess I was trying to work with before. Soon, I shaped by dough into a 9 x 12 inch rectangle (with help from the bench scraper's ruler). I spread some melted butter on the surface and sprinkled on the filling. 

Now was the moment of truth: could I roll the dough up without al the tears and spills from the last attempt? Well, sort of. Using the bench scraper did make things much easier, but  at the last roll of the dough log it tore. I did a slightly better job at patching things up, but it still wasn't great. What I was able to do this time around was roll the entire log so the tear was on the bottom where I'd cut through it anyway. I used the ruler on the bench scraper to figure out where I'd need to cut the log and made corresponding indentations. I cut the individual rolls, but discovered that my serrated knife wasn't long enough and the resulting rolls where a little uneven and torn. Still, they remained cohesive enough to arrange in the pan without too much difficulty.

I covered the pan with foil and stuck it in the oven. Midway through the baking, I removed the foil and kept a close eye on their progress. I had some problems figuring out whether they were brown enough, but I eventually made a decision and pulled them out. I inverted them onto the cooling rack and let them sit there for a moment. This seems like another time to pull out the "beached whale" metaphor I used last time, but I want something more upbeat, so let's say that they lay there like…a giant block of cinnamon awesomeness. Yeah, that's it.

Eventually, I turned them right-side up and marveled at the awesomeness. Abandoning the idea of frosting again (really, I don't need more sugar), I carefully removed a roll from the block and took a bite. It was very, very good. I didn't discern too much of a difference in taste from the exploding cinnamon loaf, other than the loaf was drier. But I was glad to have something I could share with others that didn't require me to rip off random sized pieces and scrape off burnt sugar.

In the end, I still think there's some procedural issues with this recipe, but it was a significantly better experience than the first attempt. One thing I might try if I do this again is using dental floss for the cutting instead of the serrated knife. I also think I need to work the dough some more on the counter before shaping it. But with the use of the right flour and the some additional equipment, I can move this recipe from the "complete and utter failure" category to the "pretty good but needs a bit of tweaking" category. 

Not bad, if you ask me.