01 Dec

2018: The Year in Sugar and Gluten

I didn’t stifle my baking with keto for most of this year, so this will be a loooooooong retrospective. Accordingly, I’m forsaking the slide show in favor of putting the photos with the associated yammering.

A slice of butter pecan cake.

Butter Pecan Cake. Cake isn’t my favorite, but I’m occasionally obliged to make one for someone else. This one, at least, was sturdy and barely needed to be trimmed to sit flat.

Povitica, cut to show swirls of chocolate and walnut filling.

Povitica, Round 3. I followed a GBBO recipe for my first attempt, and the bread wasn’t what I thought it should be. My second attempt involved schnecken dough, but I got overly ambitious with the filling (cream cheese, cherries, and shaved chocolate for a Black Forest feel), and it didn’t set up and consequently burst like an overstuffed garbage bag when I turned it out of the pan. Third time, I revisited the schnecken and stuck with more traditional chocolate-walnut filling, and it worked well. I still want to try it with my doughnut dough (which is also my cinnamon roll dough), just to see, but the schnecken might be a winner.

Sliced whole wheat bread

Wholly Whole Wheat Bread. (It’s less blurry in real life.) The only white flour in this loaf is the little bit that gets worked in from dusting the counter for kneading. This is particularly addictive toasted, buttered, and slathered with tangy apricot jam (not homemade, but that’s on my culinary bucket list).

Double chocolate walnut cookies resting on the baking sheet.

Model Bakery Cookbook’s Chocolate Rads.

Double chocolate walnut cookies twice the size of my hand.

With my hand for scale, looking like a little kid’s because these cookies are ridiculous. Just unreasonably large. They’re the flavor and consistency of an all-edges brownie. You could probably sell them for $5 apiece at a bake sale, but they’re excessive just to have around the house. The Model Bakery Cookbook is also the source of past croissants and English muffins, as well as the schnecken I used for the povitica. I have never regretted buying it twice.

Mini Angel Food Cakes cooling in a muffin tin elevated on top of drinking glasses.

Muffin Cup Angel Food, cooling upside down, just like the big boys.

Mini Angel Food Cake turned out of the pan.

Muffin Cup Angel Food, turned out.

Mini Angel Food Cake opened to reveal fluffy interior.

Muffin Cup Angel Food, inside view. (Per a friend: “It’s like if a marshmallow was cake.”) I make a lot of lemon curd, so I have a lot of spare egg whites in multiples of three, and muffin-cup angel food is the tastiest way to get rid of them. Don’t be afraid of angel food cake. I used to gently fold in the flour at the end… Nah. You got the beater out. Use it. If anything, the finished cake is loftier because you haven’t smashed out any of the air in the whites. Only other things you need to know are DON’T grease the pan and DON’T add any kind of extract until the very end because many (including the almond extract that is the iconic flavoring of angel food) contain oils that will make the egg whites really difficult to whip to the necessary peaks. Oh, and since the bottoms of your muffin cups probably don’t pop out like an official angel food cake pan, put a circle of parchment in the bottom of each cup so you don’t have to destroy your cakes to pry them from the bottom of the pan.

Cheddar Chive Biscuits

Cheddar Chive Biscuits. I’ve been known to make a batch of these early in the morning, and they’ll be all I eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that day. They’re I-will-fight-you-and-eat-this-whole-batch-myself delicious. When I’m not eating alone, I double or triple the recipe so I can share without violence.

Dutch Apple Galette

Dutch Apple Galette. Pie also isn’t my favorite. (I know, I’m super controversial.) I’ve always wanted to make a galette, though, because “rustic” is a food aesthetic I endorse, and my supply of apples finally corresponded with my will to pie. Pros: Rolled and baked on the same piece of parchment, so no transferring involved; crust flaky; filling tasty; no time wasted making a decorative edge and a foil protector to keep said decorative edge from charring; wraparound shape contained any potential bubbling-over mess. Cons: Still pie; shared with family members who apparently have deep, heretofore unrevealed allegiance to pie dishes and were astoundingly pissy about my anarchy. I used a filling of my own offhand design and Jacques Pépin’s tart crust. (I make it by hand because I hate noise and cleaning the food processor, and I laminate my crust dough to maximize flakiness, but other than completely ignoring the directions like some kind of BAKING ANARCHIST, that’s the “recipe” I “use.”) You know when they say “sprinkle your pie crust scraps with cinnamon and sugar and bake them alongside for a tasty snack”? This dough is actually worth doing that with because of the butter.

I also leave the sugar out of the crust, add some herbs, and use it for savory hand pies and top-crust-only pot pies. It’s versatile like that.

Leek and Potato Soup garnished with chives and bacon.

Leek and Potato Soup, just to prove I do cook things that aren’t sugar and gluten. Those things often involve bacon and cheese. This soup tastes like loaded mashed potatoes, smoothie edition. I like to use red potatoes because they’re more creamy than starchy and the little flecks of red skin add a little color. As with most of my “meal” food, the “recipe” is some of this, some of that, cook until it’s done. Super helpful, I know, but ANARCHY. My meal strategy is “If you take a bunch of stuff you like the taste of and put it together, it usually tastes pretty all right—and if it doesn’t, add more cheese and bacon.” I don’t know if it’s my Eastern European peasant stock or my Midwestern upbringing, but meals do not receive the same tolerance of complication that baked goods do.

I’ve also added chopped cooked chicken to convince more carnivorous eaters this soup is a decent meal and not a side dish because after spending all that time making a pot of soup, the last thing I want to do is cook a whole other dinner.

Apricot Scone dripping with glaze.

Apricot Scones. Yay, another thing I can use my biscuit laminating technique on! I find almond extract overpowering, so I used half the amount indicated in the linked recipe… and it was still overpowering. If you would like to taste ANYTHING other than almond extract in your apricot scone (and everything you eat for the rest of the day because it lingers), I suggest either skipping it or substituting vanilla, orange, or perhaps lemon extract. I had a teeny bit of apricot jam in the bottom of a jar and added that to the glaze (and omitted EVEN MORE almond extract—jeez, take it easy on that stuff, will ya?), and it was lovely. About half the amount of glaze would have been sufficient, honestly, but it’s hard for me to “waste” it once I make it.

Cranberry orange bagel, split and toasted

Cranberry Orange Bagels. There’s something magical about boiling bread and that not being gross. Last year’s first bagel attempt had a dense texture very much like commercial brands. This year, I’ve switched from all AP flour to half AP and half bread flour with a skosh more water to compensate for the bread flour, and the texture is a little more airy and elastic.

Word Nerd Alert: I always thought “skosh” was Yiddish, but in trying to find the correct spelling, I learned today it was stolen from Japan by U.S. servicemen stationed there during WWII.

A slice of peach galette.

Peach Galette. I was given an abundance of straight-off-the-tree peaches that were GLORIOUS but couldn’t be leisurely savored by themselves because perfect peaches don’t have the longevity of the geodes they pass off at the grocery store. Therefore, after gorging myself on fresh fruit, there was an extravaganza of peach-related baking. You get a galette! And you get a galette! And you get a galette! That’s such good crust (linked in the apple version above), even two days later with very moist filling, it wasn’t soggy on the bottom.

Looking at that picture made me crave cherry next, and lo! That craving just happened to coincide with the brief cherry season.

Dark cherry galette with a crumb topping and flaky crust

Cherry Galette. Fun fact: Rabid pie dish fans are also super loyal to cherry pie filling that’s 90% corn syrup and red dye. Fortunately for them, unless I make friends with someone who has a cherry orchard, homemade is not something I can afford to do on any but the most extravagant occasions in the future. The fresh, dried, and juiced cherries used in this pie alone cost $17, but it was $37 up-front cost to acquire those ingredients as packaged. (If the cherries hadn’t been deeply on sale, it would have been an extra $16!) I froze enough cherries for one more pie and enough juice for three more, but between money and labor (pitting three pounds of cherries takes time, yo), we’re talking a major investment. Next person who says doing it yourself is cheaper than buying processed food is going to get a $4.99 frozen Mrs. Smith’s upside the head.

Granted, mine was DELICIOUS, but it’s totally impractical. It could use a little bit less sugar next time, but it’s definitely not a recipe I can afford to make a million times to perfect.

Chocolate chip cookies everyone else assures me are amazing.

BraveTart Chopped Chocolate Chip Cookies. I’ve been searching for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe forever. Once again, everybody else was writhing in ecstasy while eating these, while I was underwhelmed, which led to the revelation that I DON’T LIKE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES. There. I said it. There is no such thing as a chocolate chip cookie that isn’t a waste of delicious cookie dough, so I’m done baking the damn things. These are kind of dry and craggy even if you underbake them, so if that’s your preference, knock yourself out. You can actually see this recipe in the online sample of the cookbook and try before you buy.

A slice of apple butter pie

Apple Butter Pie. My daughter asked for some apple butter to try. Since it’s sold here only in enormous jars, when she took one taste and decided she wasn’t a fan, I had to find something to do with the remainder. Google to the rescue! The blogger the recipe came from describes it as pumpkin pie-esque, but I’d need at least four times more apple butter before I’d make that comparison. It’s more of a cinnamon custard, so don’t expect any discernible apple influence from the scant amount used. As you can see, I got none of her “layers,” despite adding a shot of heavy cream to my whole milk to increase the fat content. Also of note, my oven is known to be dodgy, but an extra 40 minutes is beyond its usual range of wrongness, so be prepared to exceed the given baking time by some amount. I used, again, Jacques’s tart crust. Sadly, it is less miraculous after being shoved in a pie plate and filled with liquid for the better part of two hours, resulting in the same steamed-dumpling texture of every other bottom crust I’ve ever had. Free-balling it to get the air circulation probably has a lot to do with previous successes in galette form.

Mozzarella sticks with a dish of marinara

Mozzarella Sticks, Round 2. The crunch of panko is nice, but as I learned with my first attempt, the size of the crumb provides poor coverage, which makes for all-over cheese leakage. Solution: first dip in regular fine bread crumbs to get a solid coating, second dip in a mix of regular and panko to maximize coverage AND crunch. I add lots of garlic powder and dried oregano to both rounds of crumbs because I prefer my breaded cheese sauceless and therefore like the flavor on the stick itself.

Dried Cherry Shortbread Cookies

Dried Cherry Shortbread. They’re not pretty, but I was stress baking and not in the mood to roll and cut cookies, so I just sawed them off a log of chilled dough. (Actually, I ate about half the log with a spoon when sawing became too taxing for my stressed state.)

Spatchcocked chicken on a bed of potatoes, carrots, celery, and onions.

Spatchcocked Chicken. I can now cross this off the list of cooking techniques I was too scared to do. I’ve bought and hacked up more whole chickens in the past four months than I have in the past ten years because they cook so well this way. I don’t have a decent kitchen shears (well, I do, but it’s in a moving box somewhere and I can’t locate it), so I crack the ribs with a knife and cut through the soft tissue with a clean scissors to remove the backbone. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. BONUS: Cutting out the backbone creates a breach through which you can get herbed butter underneath the thigh skin to force as much flavor as possible into that meat.

Homemade Crackers.

Homemade Butter Crackers. There was a frightful week when I had no chocolate and no crackers in the house, and I could rectify only one of those snacking deficits. The pictured ones look like garlic, dill, and chive. I made another batch with rosemary and garlic and a third with parmesan. The first batch didn’t last until noon on the first day. I ran subsequent batches through the pasta roller so they’d be uniformly thin and crispy, and that increased the yield enough to last through a second day. Preparation is a pain in the butt, but I can season them with whatever I want, which is a distinct advantage over storebought. I won’t be rolling my own on a regular basis, but I’ll know what to do in the event of future cracker emergencies.

Slice of cotton cheesecake

Japanese Cotton Cheesecake. I used an 8-inch pan because I have nothing wider than a 13×9 for the water bath, and no adaptations were necessary for that bit of ANARCHY. Once the cake is chilled, you get a very pretty slice, but as is frequently the case with desserts not of American origin (you know we don’t quit until we have chocolate, caramel, peanut butter, cookies, brownies, cake, ice cream, candied nuts, nutted candies, cherries, sprinkles, and a firecracker for garnish in a waffle bowl with a shot of insulin on the side…), the flavor is quite mild. I was worried it would be eggy (I hate the taste of eggs), but fortunately, that was not the case. Since it’s kind of a blank canvas, it would benefit from a berry coulis or lemon curd to add pop. The texture is spongy like angel food cake but wet like meringue, neither cakey nor cheesy nor moussey. If I ever want to mislead people into thinking I’m an adult, I would serve this with some artfully sliced fruit atop a swirl of one of the above sauce options.

Pro Tip: A standard-size roll of aluminum foil is 12 inches wide, which is insufficient to wrap far enough up the sides of even an 8-inch springform pan to prevent water seepage, and crimping two pieces together is begging for trouble. I have a roll of 18-inch foil (sold for manly grilling needs *growls in testosterone*) specifically for this purpose, and that’s wide enough to cover even the 10-inch jumbo pan. Also do at least two layers of foil because crunching it around the pan can result in little tears, and an extra barrier between a leak and your cake is always a good thing.

Super Pro Tip: When lining pans with parchment, use a thin smear of butter as glue to hold the paper in place prior to filling.

Springform pan wrapped in foil and lined with parchment

Cross section of marble pound cake

Marble Pound Cake. Basic recipe below the cooking lesson at the link. I added a shot of vanilla and a dash of salt because ANARCHY (and flavor, sheesh). Then I held back about a cup of batter and stirred in a tablespoon of cocoa to make the chocolate batter, plopped it on top of the plain batter in the pan, and only listlessly swirled it with a knife, so it did most of the marbling on its own time in the oven, which is kind of cool. It’s dense and sturdy and would make a good ice cream sandwich.

Yellow sponge cake roll with vanilla filling and chocolate frosting

Cake Roll.  Ah, sponge cake. Possibly the worst of the cakes. So dry and, well, spongy, it’s necessary to completely saturate it with syrup to make it edible. No part of this recipe was worth repeating, but the filling called for sweetened condensed milk I didn’t have in the pantry, so I made my own with half a vanilla bean, and THAT was so good, we were eating it with a spoon. The frosting recipe only called for half a cup, after all…

Homemade sweetened condensed milk with vanilla bean

Interestingly, the linked sweetened condensed milk recipe was adapted from the BraveTart cookbook up by the chocolate chip cookies. I still have that wish listed because there are obviously great things inside other than a type of cookie I’m predisposed to dislike.

Slice of chocolate chiffon layer cake with peanut butter and caramel cream

Chocolate Chiffon Cake. Remember when I said I don’t like cake? I’d never made a chiffon cake. So soft! So fluffy! This particular recipe made three 8-inch rounds. Since it’s just me and my kid and we don’t need an entire 8-inch tall cake, I froze two of the layers, cut the remaining layer down the middle, divided each half moon into two layers, and assembled half a cake for us. BONUS: It’s much easier to make room in the fridge for half a cake.

Chocolate chiffon layer cake with peanut butter and caramel cream filling and frosting

The cake pictured is actually one of the frozen layers, and it was every bit as soft and fluffy as the fresh cake. I went with whipped cream-based frost-and-fill to follow through on the soft and fluffy theme. This one was two layers of peanut butter cream and the rest caramel cream (made with homemade caramel sauce).

Three loaves of challah

Challah. This recipe came from Breaking Breads: A New World of Israeli Baking by Uri Scheft. The KitchenAid was NOT HAPPY with this volume of stiff dough, though it did the job despite groaning and threatening to burst into flames. I think the loaves should be more bulbous in shape, but I made my dough ropes uniform end to end and only tapered at the very tips, resulting in a uniform braid end to end (funny how that works!). Doing more of a taper from a thick center would self-solve the shape of the loaf. This bread has a good dose of sugar, so it’s great with jam and phenomenal as French toast, and it made a nice sandwich with leftover Thanksgiving turkey.

Banana chiffon cake

Banana Split Chiffon Cake from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Baking Bible. It has more banana flavor than I expected, like a fluffy banana bread. I had hazelnut oil from another project and used that instead of the walnut oil called for the in the recipe—it’s fine, but I suspect walnut would have been even better, since I always load my banana bread with walnuts and love that flavor combination. This is how I broke in my new Nordic Ware tube pan, which worked flawlessly. What I need now, if I’m to continue making chiffon cakes, is an 8- or 10-quart mixing bowl, since a KitchenAid bowl full of whipped egg whites doesn’t go very well into another KitchenAid bowl 3/4 full of other stuff.

Kouign Amann, like a round, sugar-crusted croissant

Kouign Amann. (As near as I can tell, pronounced kuh-WEEN ah-MAHN.) From the same cookbook as the banana chiffon cake above. Layers of dough and butter, similar to a croissant (including the 6-hour prep time…), but cut into squares and tucked toward the middle instead of rolled triangles, and coated in sugar so they get crispy and caramelized on the bottom like a sweet roll. Another cookbook I need to buy again in print because I’m clearly going to be using it a lot. (I buy digital cookbooks because $2.99 sales are hard to beat, but I hate using digital cookbooks. If the recipes prove to be worth my while, it’s more functional for me to have a paper book.)

I spend December baking for money and don’t court disaster by attempting something new, so you’re not missing anything exciting on the baked goods front for the rest of the year. If I’m wrong, I’ll put it on Twitter.

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