Pâte à Choux

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A friend who almost never cooks recently made gougères — baked puff pastries with cheese. “I could not believe how easy that was,” he told me. In fact, I can’t think of anything as impressive that needs so little work.

The secret to gougères — and cream puffs, profiteroles, éclairs, even churros — is pâte à choux (paht-ah-SHOO), a dough that’s endlessly useful, shockingly uncomplicated and fast to make.

The secret to gougères — and cream puffs, profiteroles, éclairs, even churros — is pâte à choux (paht-ah-SHOO), a dough that’s endlessly useful, shockingly uncomplicated and fast to make.

Read the rest of this article and get the recipes here.

Posted in Baking

The Wheat Lowdown

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Those of us who cook believe that you have to cook to eat; baking bread is different. With so many relatively decent loaves readily available in stores, bread-baking is more of a hobby. The result, of course, will be eaten and enjoyed — and bakers know the rewards of blowing people’s minds with a good loaf: “You made that?” — but baking is not mandatory. (I say that having just paid four bucks for a “baguette” that would serve better as a kitchen sponge.)

As with any practice, baking gets better over time. But the odd thing about bread-making is that any epiphanies you have along the way are only temporarily gratifying. You always make progress, but then your standard rises, and in the end baking provides that oddly addictive combination of satisfaction and frustration.

Producing a great baguette is an art, but whole-grain bread is real sustenance, and I wanted good ones in my repertory. So over the past few years, I’ve challenged myself to make 100 percent whole-grain bread, and to make it delicious.

Read the rest of this article and get the recipes here.

Posted in Baking

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Fruit Crisp

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                                                                                                                                                  Photograph by Kristin Gladney

By Meghan Gourley

Anyone who has opted to make crisp instead of pie is aware of its virtues: no mixing and perfecting dough, latticing strips of it, or fumbling around with pie weights. Instead, a loose mixture of butter, brown sugar, oats and flour—clumps of it—becomes the stuff that turns ordinary apples into autumn on a plate. Any and all types of apples will do; I used Cortland and McIntosh picked in upstate New York. (Is there a better way to get rid of a mound of apples?)

For added texture, leave the skin on about half the apples and cut them into same-size slices to avoid uneven cooking and burning. If using a tart variety (like McIntosh or Granny Smith) add an extra spoonful or two of brown sugar. Dust real vanilla beans or a pinch of cinnamon, cloves or nutmeg over the apples before adding the topping for rich flavor. The crumble is done when it begins to brown on top—and when the sweet smell becomes too much to resist. If you like, add a dollop of whipped cream or a splash of real cream. Watch it disappear.

Apple (or Other Fruit) Crisp

Time: About 1 hour

Makes: 6 to 8 servings

5 tablespoons cold butter, plus more for greasing the pan

6 cups pitted, sliced apples (2 to 3 pounds)

Juice of ½ lemon

2/3 cups packed brown sugar

½ cup rolled oats (not instant oats)

½ cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup chopped nuts, optional

1 cup vanilla ice cream or whipped cream (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 400 dgF. Cut the 5 tablespoons butter into ¼-inch bits and put in the fridge or freezer. Lightly butter a square baking pan. Toss the peaches with the lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of the brown sugar in a large bowl, and spread them out in the prepared pan.

2. Combine the chilled pieces of butter with the remaining brown sugar, the oats, the flour, the salt and the nuts if you’re using them in a food processor and pulse a few times, then process a few seconds more, until everything is combined but not too finely ground. (To mix this by hand, mas the mixture together between your fingers.)

3. Crumble the topping over the peaches and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the topping is browned and the peaches are tender and bubbling. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, with ice cream if you like.

Posted in American, Baking

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Rice Pudding in the Oven

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By Alaina Sullivan

Patience is a virtue with oven-cooked rice pudding. It takes some time for the rice and milk to warm up to each other, but when they finally do, the wait is rewarded. The foundation of rice pudding is incredibly simple — rice, milk and sugar. From there, the possibilities are basically limitless. I tested three versions using three different grains and three different milks: 1) Brown basmati rice and almond milk, with lemon zest, honey and crushed almonds (I particularly like the brightness of the zest here); 2) Arborio rice and rice milk, with coconut flakes and vanilla (exotic, rich, and very sweet); 3) Brown jasmine and regular cow’s milk, with nutmeg, cinnamon, and pistachios (warmly spiced with a more subtle sweetness).

The arborio version achieved the creamiest consistency, while the brown rice delivered a coarser-textured pudding with a nuttier fragrance. Brown rice takes longer to cook than white, but if you want to speed up the process and make the pudding creamier, pulse the brown grains in a food processor a few times before cooking. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

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Posted in Baking, Recipes

How to Cook Everything: The Basics: Brownies

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By Alaina Sullivan

Despite its simple seven-ingredient roster, this recipe is rich, complex and sinfully delicious. I bolstered the classic version with some nutty additions: ground almonds were substituted for part of the flour, chopped almonds were folded into the batter, and I even sprinkled more on top before it went into the oven, just for good measure.

When it comes to baking, brownies live outside the “toothpick test” rule that signals the doneness of other baked goods (like cakes and quickbreads). Once a brownie releases a clean toothpick, it’s gone too far. The trick is to time the baking so that the top firms up just enough to seal the molten middle. A good brownie is fudgy and moist; a bad brownie is cakey and dry. When my batch emerged, still slightly gooey and studded with nuts, it was hard not to indulge straight from the pan. But if you have the patience to plate, you can’t go wrong with a slice a la mode. Recipe from How to Cook Everything: The Basics.

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Posted in Baking, Recipes

Irish Soda Bread

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By Meghan Gourley

Like corned beef and cabbage, soda bread is worthy of more than its annual day on the plate. There are plenty of recipes, but my favorite is from James Beard who spent several weeks in Ireland and recreated the famous bread as he experienced it there. Unlike most recipes, his calls for whole wheat flour and baking powder, but no eggs.

The trick to a good Irish soda bread is the right amount of moisture in the dough—too much buttermilk and the top will burn before the inside cooks; not enough and the bread will turn out dry. Control the texture of the dough by adding the buttermilk one splash at a time—you want it to come together in one very sticky ball.

You should wind up with bread that is smooth, slightly dense, and perfectly salty. It’s great with a slab of butter or slice of cheddar. You can use it as sandwich bread, like James Beard, or cut it thinly and toast it.  I like it griddled—the way I had it in Ireland.

Ireland’s Famous Bread from Beard on Food

Time: About 45 minutes
Makes: One round loaf

3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 “very level” teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 to 2 cups buttermilk
Butter for greasing
Optional: 1/2 cup raisins or currants and 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds

  1. Heat the oven to 375 dgF.
  2. Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. Stir in the buttermilk, one half cup at a time, until the dough is soft but sticky. (I used the entire 2 cups.)
  4. Lightly flour a work surface and knead the dough for a minute or two.
  5. Shape the dough into a round ball and place it on a buttered baking sheet; cut a large cross in the top with a sharp knife.
  6. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the outside is brown and the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it. Serve immediately or store for up to a few days.

 

Posted in Baking, Recipes

One Dough, Endless Cookies

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Cookie recipes are just about infinite, because almost anything can be shaped into a circle and baked: hence gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free “cookies.” But the basic cookie contains three key ingredients: butter, flour and sugar. That combination has not been bettered, and it can be varied in so many ways that, really, it’s the only recipe you need.

Flavor this dough (it can be doubled, tripled, etc., and refrigerated up to two days in advance or frozen for longer), then spoon it out and fill it for thumbprints, chill and roll it and frost it, turn it into “sandwiches” or press and spread it into bars. Master those options, and you can create pretty much any cookie you can dream of. Unless you’re not open to those with butter, sugar and flour.

The Basic Dough

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch salt

1/4 cup milk, plus more if needed.

1. Heat the oven to 375. Use an electric mixer to cream together the butter and sugar; add the vanilla and egg and beat until well blended.

2. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Add half the dry ingredients to the dough, beat for a moment, then add the milk. Beat for about 10 seconds, then add the remaining dry ingredients and a little more milk, if necessary, to make a soft dough.

3. Bake using one of the four variations: Frosted Cookies, Thumbprints, Sandwich Cookies and Cookie Bars.

Yield: 2 to 3 dozen.

Posted in Baking

Brown Sugar Carrot Bread with Almonds

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By Alaina Sullivan

Impatient bakers love a good quick bread – the no-yeast, no-hassle loaf that teeters between bread and dessert. Typically a touch sweet, with a crumb more cakelike than its yeast-risen breads, quick bread is an easy solution for bakers who don’t feel like waiting.

This version is a variation on the master recipe for Fruit (or Vegetable)-and-Nut Bread from How to Cook Everything. Of the endless possibilities (think Banana-Walnut, Cranberry-Pecan, Zucchini-Sunflower, Pumpkin Ginger with Hazelnuts…) the one that struck me was a Brown Sugar Carrot Bread with Almonds. The shredded carrots ensure moisture, while the slivered almonds lend a consistent crunch. A combination of grains (all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour and wheat bran) yields a denser, heartier loaf, and brown sugar brings the right touch of molasses sweetness, while orange zest brightens the whole thing.

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Posted in Baking, Recipes

Pumpkin Crème Brûlee

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By Alaina Sullivan

All it really takes is some mascarpone and a quick whisk to transform pumpkin puree into a rich crème brûlee. Brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger and allspice are folded into the smooth mixture, giving it a flavor somewhere in between grandma’s brown sugar sweet potatoes and crustless pumpkin pie.

Dividing the mixture into small ramekins is recommended (this stuff is rich!); then sprinkle each with a thick layer of brown sugar. After a few minutes under the broiler the tops emerge bubbling, with that delicious scent of burnt sugar. If you wait a few minutes, the surface will harden slightly, allowing for the best part of crème brûlee: cracking the crust. Recipe from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express.

Pumpkin Crème Brûlee

Turn on the broiler and put the rack about four inches from the heat. With an electrix mixer or whisk, beat together a small can of pumpkin, eight ounces mascarpone, and a quarter cup of brown sugar; add a half teaspoon each of cinnamon and ginger and a pinch each of allspice and salt. Spread evenly into an ovenproof baking dish or ramekins and sprinkle the top with a thick layer of brown sugar. Broil for a few minutes, until the sugar melts, forming a crust. Serve immediately.

 

Posted in Baking

The Minimalist: Apple “Pizza” (or Tart)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m not wild about apple pie. If that makes me a bad American, so be it.

Of all the ways you can combine cooked apples, butter, flour and so on, pie is not nearly the best. I prefer either a nice crispy crumble topping made with oats, or this free-form apple tart. It is essentially an apple pizza, but uses a short dough, meaning it contains plenty of butter. It comes together very easily in the food processor.

Once you roll the dough out — into a thin circle or whatever other shape you choose (or your rolling pin chooses for you) — you have to address this question: how precious do you want this thing to be? If you have much more patience than I do you might start an elegant spiral of apple slices in the middle of the crust and loop it gracefully around until it reaches the edges. If you’re like me, you’ll randomly scatter the apples until you don’t see dough anymore. Call it rustic — I actually think it ends up looking just as nice, but maybe that’s equally un-American.

The last straw? Cut it with a pizza wheel.

Get the recipe here.

Posted in American, Baking