Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

Photo Credit: Martha, not me.
I have found my new favorite cookie.  I'd take a picture of them, but every time I make them, I can't keep them around long enough to get a good shot.  Yes, they're that good.  Earlier this week, I made a batch that was supposed to make 24 cookies, but it only made 15. That meant I must have eaten 9 cookies-worth of dough before I put them in the oven.  Dang you, Martha Stewart.

So here's the recipe.  I cheated a little, because there's nothing more annoying to me than grating ginger, so I keep this stuff around for instances such as these.  You can get it at the co-op, and it pretty much lasts forever.

The other finicky thing about this recipe is that you have to refrigerate the dough for two hours, and then again for 20 minutes.  I'm not sure why (hey, I never claimed to be an expert), but I'm not gonna mess with perfection, so I just do what Martha tells me to do.  The nice thing about all these annoying and time-consuming activities (waiting for dough to rise, refrigerating cookies for hours before you cook them, waiting for milk to cool to room temperature, etc.) is that you can do other things while you're waiting.  Like laundry.  Or watching six episodes of How I Met Your Mother.  For instance.

Now that these cookies are gone, I have to find something else to bake.  Any suggestions?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cinnamon Rolls... again.

Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls
I talk to my baked goods.  It's probably not normal, but... there it is.  Today I got home from work to find my final pan of cinnamon rolls sitting perfectly on my stovetop, and I got all ushy gushy with them: "Awww... Have you been waiting for me all day?"  Then I proceeded to eat three of them.  They were tasty.

Yesterday was one of my employees' birthday and I totally spaced it.  So, to show that I'm a caring and supportive supervisor, this morning I baked cinnamon rolls.  Lots of them.  I hadn't intended for it to happen that way; it just did.

Last night at about 7:30 I texted my friend Colin: "You wanna come over and make cinnamon rolls?" to which he responded, "Um, yeah."  Before he arrived, I began to attempt this recipe.  One of the first things I was supposed to do was combine sugar and water at a temperature of 115 degrees.  Well, one of the kitchen implements I don't have is a candy thermometer (or a meat thermometer, or anything culinarily temperature-telling), but what I did have was a regular old medicine cabinet thermometer, so I thought, "Hey, that's pretty much the same thing."

Not for baking.
So I heated up the water in the microwave, tested it with my finger, then stuck the thermometer in: 96 degrees.  I put it in the microwave for another 20 seconds and then rechecked my progress.  Instead of giving me a temperature, though, the thermometer started beeping wildly and flashing the words "HI TEMP" across the screen.  Apparently, the thermometer was under the impression that I had a serious fever and should get myself to a hospital immediately.  Lesson learned: Human thermometers are no good for measuring anything above 105 degrees.

Plan B: Guess what 115 probably feels like using your pointer finger.  This worked just fine, as evidenced by my yeast activating and my dough rising.

However, before I let it rise, I had to do some impromptu kneading with my hands (due to a lack of a "stand mixer"), which is about the time in the story where Colin rings my doorbell.  I was somehow able to pry enough sticky dough from my hands to open the front door with a combination of fingertips and elbow.  When I went back to read the instructions I realized I had missed some rather key steps, and was concerned that the rolls might not turn out.  So I said to Colin, "I think we're going to have to get started with Plan B."

Plan B is the cinnamon roll recipe that I made over Labor Day weekend.  You should also know that Plan B yields about 50 cinnamon rolls.  But if the experimental cream cheese cinnamon rolls weren't going to turn out, I had to have a backup plan.  You understand, right?

Ok.  So lots of mixing and sifting and stirring and waiting-for-everything-to-rise...  and it turns out both sets of dough were edible and gorgeous.  So this morning when I got up, I threw it all into the oven, got ready for work, and pulled the finished products out of the oven.

Then I had a slight moment of panic when I realized I had no idea what the hell I was going to do with 36 cinnamon rolls.  I mean, to bring in one pan to work is nice, but to bring in five pans... well, that's a little crazy.  People start to wonder.

The good news is, people have been wondering about me for a long time.  So I brought in three of the five pans (which was a nice compromise), and they were a big hit.  Especially for the birthday girl.

Now I just need to figure out what to do with the rest of the dough tomorrow morning.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Labor Day Baking

Rainy Lake

Like many Minnesotans, I went "up north" for Labor Day weekend.  The beginning of September can be a sketchy time near the Canadian border - it might be 85 degrees and sunny, or you may need a stocking cap and fleece jacket.  Last weekend, we got both, so on the fleece jacket days, I baked.

The best part of baking up on Rainy Lake is the kitchen in our cabin - the amount of counter space is equal to the square footage of my entire apartment back home, and it has... (wait for it...) a Kitchenaid Mixer.  I have got to get me one of these.  This one's been around for probably 40 years, and it's still kickin' like it was the day it was brought home from Sears, I'm sure.

Behold, the exact moment when Kevin falls off the wagon.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
I'd like to start this post by giving a shout out to my friend, Kevin, who has been off sugar, wheat, eggs, and dairy for the last few months.  In one weekend of baking, I totally destroyed his cleanse, and I'm not sure he'll ever forgive me.  But I know a little piece of him secretly liked it.

My new desktop wallpaper.
Since my last chocolate chip cookie experiment was such a disaster, I decided I'd start out the weekend with a sequel.  I did have a timer on this go-around, which made things much easier.  The cookies came out of the oven looking like perfect, storybook treats, and they had the texture of chewy awesomeness.

Here's what I think about these cookies, though: The fat in them is all shortening, and I used to think it was totally interchangeable with butter or (god forbid) margarine, but this turns out not to be the case.  My experience has been that Crisco gives baked goods a chewier texture, but let's face it: the stuff tastes like wax.  While those cookies were good, I felt like I could have been serving something that I got out of a clear plastic box from the baked goods aisle at Cub.  I want my cookies to have flavor, man.  So I'm gonna use butter next time and see how it changes things.

Peaches & Cream Pie
After making the cookies, I was sortof on a flour & sugar high, so when my friend Kate suggested we make a pie, I kindof couldn't stop myself.  We decided to take a walk on the wild side and see if we could make up a recipe, so we went through the pantry to see what possibilities were before us: oatmeal, jello, half a bag of white chocolate chips, marshmallows, graham crackers, and a can of peaches.  The forecast wasn't looking good.  But then we looked to our other resources: a bunch of 50-year old cookbooks.  We found a recipe for Vanilla Creme Pie, and then Kate said, "Hey!  What about a Peaches & Cream Pie?"  So we had our recipe.

Kate & our pie
Kate had never made pie crust before, so she took on this part, and it was delicious.  We had some coaching from Kevin, who advised us to a) make sure the butter was cold, and b) make sure our hands were cold when working with the butter.  Something about the gasses that are released when butter warms up?  I can't remember.  But the crust turned out well.

The next part was the filling, which Kate whipped up while I tried to figure out how to make a meringue.  Longstoryshort, our pie was gorgeous.  I don't know why people freak out about meringue.  It's totally easy if you have a KitchenAid Mixer.  *sigh*

I want to eat this picture.
Cinnamon Rolls
I really really wanted someone to stop me from making these cinnamon rolls because I feared that by this point I might put myself into diabetic shock from all the sugar I was eating.  But we had to eat something for breakfast, and I had already bought the ingredients.  And I hate wasting things.  So I made them.

A little tip: this recipe makes 8 batches.  What I mean by that is that this recipe will yield about 50 cinnamon rolls, so you'd better be hungry, or you'd better have 13 children, or - for the love of God - you'd better share with your neighbors.

This was the first time I had made anything with yeast in the dough (except maybe baking bread with my mom when I was seven), and I was so delighted by how it turned out.  The cinnamon rolls were out-of-control good (I think I had four of them at breakfast, and maybe another two for an afternoon snack) and it was surprisingly easy to do.  I think the trick to cooking and baking is that you have to a) be patient, and b) enjoy the process.  But that's probably true of everything in life.

Anyway, a few things I would recommend with this recipe:
  1. It calls for a boatload of butter.  Use a boatload of butter.  (If you're dieting, just eat one instead of four.)
  2. The frosting calls for an entire bag of powdered sugar, but I think I only used 1/2 to 3/4 of a bag - I like the texture of a thinner frosting because then it can seep into all the crevices, making everything extra delicious.
  3. These rolls really are best when they're right out of the oven.  I mean, they're a long ways from terrible if you wait to eat them in the afternoon (Ha! As if you could wait that long...), but they're really at their prime when they're all warm and gooey and the whole house smells like sweet sweet breakfastlove.
I've done a whole lot more cooking/baking since Labor Day, but I'm not good enough at blogging yet to be able to keep up!  More soon...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I hesitate to even post about this because I failed so miserably at something so easy.  But failure is part of the process, right?  Right.

So I started out with an excellent recipe - my co-worker's brother's recipe - the results of which I've tried before and loved.  And it's chocolate chip frickin' cookies, man.  I mean, how can you screw that up?  Well, I'll tell you.

But not really.
First, this weekend I stocked up on my wraps - saran wrap, aluminum foil, and wax paper.  So when I got to the point where I was supposed to put the cookies on the cookie sheet, Lazy Katie whispered in my ear, "Hey, if you put some wax paper down, you don't have to wash the pan later."  And since I rather like Lazy Katie, that's exactly what I did.  In my defense, the Waxtex box did claim that it was "For [my] microwave and baking needs."  Well, about ten minutes into the baking process, my smoke alarm started to scream "Fire! Fire!" at me, which it does from time to time, so I just put the shower cap over it and continued to watch Jon Stewart on my computer, waiting for my cookies to be done.  About three minutes later, though, I noticed that my apartment was thick with smoke.  Shit!  I took the cookies out of the oven and assessed the damage - the cookies were dark brown around the edges and not-at-all cooked in the centers.  Also, all of the wax paper edges were charred and smoking.  So much for that idea.

My second batch turned out a lot better, actually.  I switched from cookie sheets to a baking stone, and kept an eye on them, making sure to take them out when they looked almost done.  Those ones I had no problem with.

The third batch got the same baking stone treatment as the second, but two seconds into the baking process my brother called, and I forgot all about the cookies.  Result: ummm... a batch more suitable for people who enjoy a real crunchy cookie.

Hard. As. A Rock.
And batch number four.  "This time," I said to myself, "I'm going to pay attention."  But you know me.  I'm not good at just standing around waiting for cookies to bake.  So I went back to my computer and started posting about my zucchini bread adventure from two days ago.  Yeah.  Batch #4 got crispy, too. 

So all in all, I ended up with a total of five awesome cookies and twenty hockey pucks that I'm going to feed to the squirrels (or my co-workers).

Moral of the story: I have to either a) work on my attention-deficit disorder, or b) get a kitchen timer.