diary entries

crunch, crunch, crunch

Do you delight in The Crunch? What about The Crispy? Or The Oaty?

Right now, baking-wise, I’m a very oaty, nutty, seedy, and crunchy person. And, as usual, itching for coconut. So, the decision was made to join it all in caramelly clusters, with one self-imposed critical requirement–that the treat be batter-free, just a happy conspiracy of ingredients stuck together in a vanilla-seasoned mixture.

Inspired by trail mix, the clusters have been on my planning board for longer than a year. Over the last several months, I’ve made many, many types. As I chased my idea of a wonderfully crispy confection housing all kinds of things, a potpourri of results ensued–messy, crumbly lumps; too-sweet or too-bland nuggets; overly sticky clumps; impossible-to-bake-evenly mixtures (don’t ask). Finally, on the edge of the proverbial baking cliff, a midnight kitchen romp rewarded me with a recipe I’ll be making in many more years to come: a beautifully and deeply golden block of stuck-together components, ready to break up into small and rugged pieces. For my winter birthday (not too long ago), this crunch ruled (among other goodies).

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cornered (sweetly)

 

Lately I’ve had to contend with (sweetly) the collective begging of bakers–for a cookie recipe, it seems. Not like there aren’t enough recipes in my new book, Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes, to occupy Every Single Human Being Who Bakes for a while or at least a few weeks. So I’ve been cornered.

Here is the recipe you want, my joy of toffee cookies. The dough is made from classic baking staples–flour, baking soda, butter, brown sugar, an egg, vanilla extract and, for this baker, chopped milk chocolate-covered toffee candy. The last ingredient is, of course, considered basic material in my kitchen. The surprise component is 3 tablespoons of flaked coconut reduced to flecks in a food processor.

Follow the method by chilling the mixture for a little while, use a scoop to portion out the dough, bake the globs on sheets of non-stick aluminum foil, and the return will be a blissful yield. Now proceed into Cookie Baking Land.

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buttery and gently floral

If the mixing bowl is my playground, then flours and flavorings are my toys.

Over the years, A few years ago, I had a load of fun working some interesting flours and meals into a griddled batter for the FOOD section of the Washington Post (waffle-lovers, this one’s for you), and well before then began to substitute one or another flour–such as amaranth, kamut, buckwheat, spelt–for a given amount of all-purpose flour into well-loved batters and doughs. A very buttery, soft shortbread dough, developed, tweaked, and obsessed over for more than a decade (and possibly longer), turned into prime territory for incorporating another sort of flour. In the end, the dough was responsive to so many types that I’ve practically overwhelmed my baking file with a range of new recipes.

The rose shortbread that you have here, quietly enhanced with kamut flour, is a long-standing favorite of my working foray into creating specialty shortbread. Some time ago, I was the lucky recipient of a bottle of rose extract gel, brought to me from France by tea educator, Laurie Bell. I added the gel to the dough and the flavor gently blossomed,Another batch was highlighted with rose flower essence, and this is a fine substitute for the gel flavoring.

Shortbread is a passion of mine. Cookie confidential: The recipe passes along all the details for a perfect batch from me to you.

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mixed up (in a good way)

 

Who put the brownies in the blondies? Confession: I did. Sneaky, right?

A buttery and chewy blondie batter/dough, laden with brownie chunks, turns out the best bar cookie ever. Of course, you’ll need to have a few bars of my brilliantly-chocolate brownies or your house-favorite equivalent lounging in the freezer to begin this confection journey. The mixture is handmade–in a bowl, with a spoon or spatula.

Travel with me into The Land of the Mixed Up Blondie. You’ll be steered in the right–sweet and luscious, that is–direction.

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olive oil + corn meal = cake

The underpinning of fruity olive oil plus corn meal, buttermilk, and whole eggs fashions a luscious cake.

Cake, you say?

Yes, and I say this resoundingly (exclamation point).

A lightly sweetened wedge of the cake pairs off superbly with all kinds of summer berries or slices of mixed stone fruit, especially peaches (in cooler weather, poached pears), in a composed compote. The absence of a flavoring agent (overt or in the muted background) lets the slightly gritty wedges form a blank canvas for soaking up spoonfuls of the accompaniment. Or have a slice just by itself, with good coffee.

Thinking out-of-the-bread-box (so to speak) is a fine way to plan out a casual dessert.

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quick! an earthy bread for summer fare

Summer bread: Quick, grainy, full of character.

For passionate cooks, the challenge in outdoor grilled, salad, and sandwich weather is baking homemade bread that’s not a many-hour labor of love. For some reason, I’m drawn to soda bread right now (and frequently) because the dough, which can sweep up a range of flours, nuts, seeds, and such, comes together quickly and finishes in the oven in under an hour. This one wraps around the idea and won’t disappoint. Before placing on the baking sheet, the round is rolled in oats, producing a rugged surface. And once the bread cools completely–try not to be tempted before!–cut into thin or thick slices, using a serrated knife.

Quick-to-mix. Quick-to-enjoy. Quick-to-leave-just-the-crumbs.

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loving molasses

A cake rich in molasses and a quartet of spices (ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves) is pure Autumn Baking Joy. ABJ can be found, too, in a batch of coconut clouds, grammies, loaded, sweet toffee bread, mega-fudgy deep-dish brownies, chocolate chip slabs, golden salted butter crisps, and such. Anything handmade, sweet (or savory), radiating butter, and baked-to-perfection will do, don’t you think?

The lightly wheaten batter, another one of my whisk-and-stir favorites, is tenderized with buttermilk and finished with a generous spattering of raw turbinado sugar, creating a crunchy top that contrasts kindly against the moist interior.

Serve generous triangles of this autumn lovely with fluffs of whipped cream (spice-scented, if you like), poached pear halves, a compote of dried fruit, or tiny date-stuffed baked apples.  As the cake bakes, the irresistible aroma makes cooling and unmolding seem a terribly long, yet worthwhile, wait.

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a pumpkin morning

A pumpkin morning centers around something fresh and warm from the griddle–a cakelike, spice-scented waffle, that is.

A soft, thick batter, pressed between the grids of an iron emerges tender and fragrant with the flavors of autumn.

Have the waffle with, perhaps, a pour of warm maple syrup or swipe of honey-butter. Or a compote of gently baked pear or apple slices. But I’m content to have mine with a dusting of cinnamon-confectioners’ sugar as fast as I can get it from iron to plate.

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plump and rugged

Earthy.

If your ideal loaf is rugged and based on several flours, developed in the time it takes to preheat the oven, and can be chunked up and spread with butter during the cool-down time, here’s one you’ll be able to wrap your spatula around.

Don’t expect a flighty bread, demure and cushy. This number is a tidy mix of whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, oat flour, and buckwheat flour, leavened, lightly sugared, buttered up, then merged into a dough with a blend of buttermilk and a beaten egg. Once baked, warm pieces are prime for smears of softened butter or preserves, or a nut butter–such as cashew or almond.

Do you have your ingredients measured and mixing bowls out yet?

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mix and crunch

The fruit-and-nut Crunching Mix Crave strikes me routinely. Sometimes, I even let chocolate sneak into the mix–but not at this time. Right now, all I want is a nice combination of seeds, nuts, and dried fruit. Purveyors of already-composed mixtures, generally, leave me flat. Sorry. (Well, I’m not that sorry.) Typically, when reaching for one of those bags on the shelf of your local market, you’re buying into (literally) a preordained selection of elements. No thank you! It’s only a simple matter of deciding the elements that appeal to you the most and composing your own mixture. A homemade blend seems to taste fresher and look a lot more vibrant. You can assign your own quantity of each goody, but do portion out each with some balance in mind. Now, go forth and assemble.

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