The Blog

Another creative baking adventure

I committed baking heresy again: I made cookies without a recipe. Well. Sorta. I made cookies with 4 recipes and followed none of them. Ginger cookies. I like ginger-molasses cookies, and every year I add a new variation to the collection

It isn’t that I don’t like recipes. I do! I love them.

I’m just really unfaithful. Sometimes I stray because I lack an essential ingredient (eggs, once) or have an ingredient in excess I’m using up by throwing it into every food I make. (dried cranberries) Mostly I stray for the fun of it. “I wonder what happens if I sub in cream cheese for butter!” “Will honey work in these cookies instead of sugar?”

Fretting over ingredients and measurements goes against everything I enjoy about baking. I’ve learned a few basic principles and proportional balances, and as long as I honor those parameters, I have confidence the results will be edible.

Maybe even tasty.

When I confess to recipe cheating (after I’ve let people eat the results and they come back for seconds) I often get stares of horrified astonishment.

That’s because people believe the phrase “cooking is an art, but baking is a science.” and it leaves them worried that any recipe deviation will lead to disaster.

Not so. Ha. No. First, baking is no more or less an art than any other form of cooking. And second, precision instruction-following is not even a part of the scientific method.

Scientific investigations go something like this:

  1. Observe a phenomenon,
  2. Form a hypothesis. AKA make a guess.
  3. Develop a methodology to test your guess hypothesis. AKA think up an experiment.
  4. Enact your method. Experiment.
  5. Document & review results.

Thassit. Reproducibility is the part where you circle back around to step 1 and test what you observed as the result of the prior experiment. In other words, it’s a fancy way of saying, “Can I make it happen again?”

Precision reproduction is important when validating a new scientific discovery, sure, but when it comes to baking?

In a sense I do adhere to the “baking is science” adage, but I do it by enjoying the exploratory observation & hypothesis-testing steps. “Golly, I wonder if these ingredients will go together. They all taste good, and they go well in pairs. LETS DUMP IT ALL IN AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS.”

And the results this time were delicious! Here’s the recipe for this year’s chewy, spicy, addition to my ginger cookie recipe collection.

1. Cream together:

  • 3/4 c. shortening:  1/2 stick butter & 1/2 package (4 oz) cream cheese
  • 1/2 brown sugar (packed)
  • 1/2 c white sugar

2. Then add one at a time:

  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c. molasses…or more. I put in a fair bit more…

3. In a separate bowl, sift together:

  • 2 c. flour
  • 1+ tsp powdered ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cloves if you want. I do not ever want.
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

4. Add dry ingredients to the mixer bowl and mix until just blended.

5. stir in 1/2 c. diced crystallized ginger if you want to really ginger up things.

5.5. Chill dough if you want it to be easy to handle. Otherwise prepare for sticky fingers

6. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

7. Put some sugar in to a bowl, scoop out spoonfuls of dough & toss in sugar to cover.

8. drop sugar-covered dough bits onto parchment-covered cookie sheets.

9. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 min depending on size. Done when they are crackly on top & centers flatten slightly.

Try not to eat them all in one sitting. IMG_6823

That’s all the all for now.

A random thing I’ve gleaned after listening to Spotify for 2 days

I haven’t given Spotify a lot of data to churn yet, but its algorithm has correctly noted that I like Warren Zevon. So when Spotify puts together its suggested music queues full of artists I’ve never heard before, I end up hearing a lot of Warren Zevon songs I’ve never heard, because Spotify has many Many MANY more Warren Zevon albums than I knew existed.

Today I realized I always know the Warren Zevon songs within a chords or two, well before I heard his voice. There’s a deeply identifiable signature to his music.

Yes, I know, all songwriters and bands have a sound, but I’ve been known to ask, “Who’s this?” about the same SONG many times before being able to consistently ID the composer/performer. That’s a big indicator of  how unique Zevon’s aural DNA are.

But wait, there’s more!

To my ear at least, Warren Zevon’s sound has something in common with Aaron Copeland’s compositions. I can’t begin to explain what that something is, but…especially in the slow ballads, as opposed to the hard bluesy stuff, the commonality is REALLY noticeable. 

I suspect this isn’t a connection many (any) others would make, but it’s there for me.  The sounds evoke similar feels. Something nostalgia-y, but not exactly nostalgic for anything I ever knew myself, more saudade-like, haunted acknowledgement of  something distant in time and space.

ANYway.

I just wanted to make that observation before I forgot it. So I shared it.

That’s all for now.

Recording my latest baking adventure

It’s fall, so I’m baking All the Things even when I maybe could be doing other, more conventionally creative activities. This recipe started years ago as a basic sweet roll recipe, but I keep adjusting it and tinkering, and it keeps getting better.

So I’m sharing.

Ingredient List (all measurements approximate)

  • Yeast starter:
    3+ tsp active dry yeast (when I’m working with old yeast, I get v generous & use 4+)
  • aprox ½ c. 110 degree water
  • a heaping spoonful of flour

Wet component:

  • ⅓ c. butter
  • ½- to ⅔ c. milk
  • ¼- to ⅓ c. honey

Dry:

  • 3 1/2+ c. flour
  • ½ tsp salt

Filling

  • 1 c. dried cranberries soaked in hot water until plump
  • 1 c diced up fresh apples

(or whatever fruit or other filling you want in the bread. I do a cinnamon goop version without fruit, diced apples w/cinnamon & ginger, and another favorite is butter-top rolls w/diced-up dried apricots inside.)

Steps:

1. Stir together yeast, the spoonful of flour & warm water in a big bowl (this is the one you’ll use for rising the bread) until yeast & flour lumps are dissolved. Set aside. It should start bubbling up and get frothy/spongy-looking

(I know, I know, yeast doesn’t need proofing these days, but doing this gives the yeast a growth boost before putting it in a too-sweet environment. Also, there have been times it didn’t start bubbling because the yeast had..expired. ANYway.)

2. Put butter, milk & honey in a container you can microwave, zap until butter melts. Stir it all up & set aside to cool.

3.     Prep your fruits/filling & set aside to kill time.

4.     Stir together the 3 1/2 c. flour & salt in a bowl

5.     Add the flour/salt mixture & the cooling milk/honey/butter to the bowl of bubbly yeast. Stir just until well mixed. Cover with plastic wrap or wax paper or whatever.

6.     Let. It. Sit.  An hour, a couple of hours, however long the dough needs to double up.

* It rises best in warm rooms, so in winter, I use this as an excuse to bump up the thermostat. Or I start it while I’m roasting something in the oven. 

** It’s often a super-sticky dough at this point, wet and annoying. Bear with it, the results are worth the hassle. Wet your hands when handling it. I know, that’s counter-intuitive, but it works.

7.     Knead it until it gets stretchy and stops quite being so ANNOYINGLY STICKY (about 10 min in my stand mixer gets it to about the right state)

8.     Form into a ball & let it sit AGAIN until it doubles in size. Because it gets more flavo the longer you let it rise. …Or skip straight to step if you have better things to do.

9.     Punch it down, squish out all the bubbles and shape into a rectangle about 1/2–1”  thick. About twice as long as it is wide.

10.  Spoon all the fruit on top and spread to cover evenly.

11.  Roll up from the short end, fold the ends under & pinch the dough to seal — or knead and fold again several times to evenly distribute fruit through the dough. However you want to have you  filling. There’s no one right way.

12.  Set the resulting round loaf into an oiled 8×8 baker…

*or shape in some other way, I sometimes make 4 small loaves out of a batch, or a pan pf pull-apart rolls or a small loaf and freeze half…whatever suits my mood. Have fun with it!

13.  Turn on oven to 375 degrees.

14. Let your shaped dough sit about a half-hour to settle & proof into shape

15.  Bake for 45-55 minutes–or less or more depending on what kind of loaf shape you went with.

This is how the latest batch came out. It gets stale fast but then makes EVEN BETTER toast than when it’s fresh.

 

Until later, all!