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Baking

German Baking. Classic German Baking.

Most of my family is of German descent. I grew up with German influenced cooking and baking on both sides of the family. For me, the discovery of Luisa Weiss’s book, Classic German Baking, was a special treat for the holidays.

I opted to download the eBook when I found a great deal for it. I am glad I did it. I have already made two cookies for the holidays, and have dozens of treats bookmarked for the future.

Luissa’s Pfeffernüsse is far beyond those dry things you buy in the store.

I had to hide the container that I want to use for my Christmas gifts so my husband wouldn’t eat them all. I have to make more of these. I love them. Not really sweet, but just right. The secret to good German baking is finding ingredients. Like Baker’s Ammonia.

Thanks to Amazon Prime and “OliveNation” I had what I needed to make these cookies. For those of us really old, this is smelling salts. Seriously. But, it works to make the cookies vastly different from other non-traditional recipes.

I also made Vanillakipferl. The authentic version of almond crescents.

I went with the use of almond meal, and I also made my own vanilla sugar, by blitzing a vanilla bean, pod and all, in the sugar, and letting it mellow for a few days before using.

Fragile. Fresh from baking, and dredged in confectioner’s sugar mixed with vanilla sugar, these melt-in-our-mouth morsels are a memory of cookies my mom used to make. My paternal grandmother was born in Austria. These cookies are something special to me, as I pay tribute to my heritage.

Next year? I will work in advance to try Lebkuchen, which need time in advance to “age”, and who knows. Maybe I will spring for those Springerle molds.

I also have my eye on a cookie that reminds me of Berger’s cookies. That would be really bad for my waistline.

The Yeast Beast

Conquering yeast breads. One of those “bucket list” type items on an old list of things I wanted to do in retirement. With the challenge in my cookbook club this month being “Genius Recipes”, this one had to be included.

The famous No Knead Bread from Jim Lahey. Catapulted into the limelight more than 10 years ago by Mark Bittman in the New York Times. According to his website, it is one of the top ten recipes that are visited there.

There are many variations. The ratios, though, are fairly constant. The one from the book is a bit different in that it calls for active dry or instant yeast. As I learned later, every other recipe calls for instant yeast. It works with active dry as that is what was in my pantry at the moment, but I think it would be better with instant.

Here is what I did. Twice, now. Once plain. Once with dried rosemary added. First, I invested in a digital scale and made this recipe using weight, instead of measuring with cups and spoons.

Not a fancy scale, but certainly useful. Zeroed out with the bowl in it. Started with 400g of bread flour. Added 5g kosher salt, 1g yeast (I just used a 1/4 tsp for the yeast as it was so little change in weight). I thought it was interesting in the recipe that the 1 1/2 cups of cool water (55-65 degrees F) to be added used 360g for the measuring.

You mix it all together and then let it sit covered with a towel in a warm corner of your kitchen, out of direct sunlight. I let my first one rise for 12 hours, the second one for 20 hours. The longer rise gave me a bread that was definitely different. This scientific approach, although simple, is really quite educational and erased my trepidation with using yeast.

After the first rise, you flour a board. Dump the wet, sticky dough and pull into a round shape. Recommendations to use parchment paper for this will decrease the messiness of using a floured towel. This second rise or 1-2 hours wrapped loosely in the towel will just about double the dough ball. I used cornmeal for my first bread, and flour for the second.

Here is the first bread.

The crunchy cornmeal coating added to the flavor. It was crusty on the outside and dense, chewy, but with lots of air bubbles inside.

The directions call for you to use a heavy covered pot, like a Dutch oven. I used a Pyrex baking dish. It has to have a lid because what you are doing is creating an oven in your oven. The dish has to be preheated for a half hour at 475 degrees before dumping the dough from the towel into it. It will spread across the bottom. If you want a higher small boule, you need a pot that size.

This was my rosemary bread, dusted with flour. It was baked, covered, for 30 minutes, and uncovered for an additional 15 minutes. I have convection ovens so that last timing with the cover off will vary for those without air circulation. The recipe calls for 15-20 minutes uncovered.

The rosemary bread rose a bit more than the first bread.

Fresh from the oven, lifted out of the pot with a large spatula. Be careful as that pot is screaming hot at 475 degrees.

I will be making this easy recipe every chance I get. I do want to try some of the variations, like using a drizzle of olive oil, and adding sliced olives. Or, making a sweet bread with mini chocolate chips and chopped walnuts.

Google NoKnead Bread, if you want to mess around in your kitchen. Me, I need to get some instant yeast and see if it makes the bread rise more than mine. The slow “fermentation” of that 18 hour rise time makes this bread. It is almost foolproof.

Thanks to the Genius Recipe book by Kristen Miglore for rekindling my interest in baking bread, without fuss.

Cookie Central

I miss Gourmet.

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For twenty five years, I subscribed. Not just for the cooking, but for the writing.

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The seasonal articles. The travelogues. I can’t just get recipes from Epicurious. I have kept my back issues, preserved in a bookcase. Archived by month. Every December I pick a few years to read and relish.

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This year’s trip went back twenty years.

I am baking most of my cookies this year from past issues.

A few new ones.

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Like the lemon butter cookies, which taste just like those you can buy from the local Otterbein bakery. Which I sometimes pick up in Boarman’s while standing in line to check out.

A simple recipe. Cream together 1 1/2 sticks of butter and 1 cup of sugar. Add an egg and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Meanwhile whisk together 2 cups of flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Slowly add to butter mixture in a stand mixer. Add 1 heaping tablespoon of lemon zest, and 2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Make a log of the dough. Refrigerate. The longer the better. Mine was put in two days before baking. These cookies will get soft quickly, so I cut the log in half before slicing and kept the rest refrigerated until ready to do two more sheets. I got six dozen small cookies from this recipe.

In a preheated oven, I use convection bake at 350 degrees F, but the recipe  calls for 375. I have learned that my convection bake setting cooks faster and you can lower the heat making it easier to get good cookies without burning the bottoms.

I baked these for 14 minutes. The recipe calls for regular baking of about 15 minutes on that higher temperature.

I also made the chocolate version of these butter cookies.

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These were more difficult to work. They tended to crumble. They were drier in handling. The difference. Add 1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa, 10 1/2 ounces bittersweet melted chocolate and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to the mixer after adding the flour mixture. Don’t add the lemon like I did to make the cookies above. This mixture was very stiff and much drier. They taste intensely chocolate. Not that sweet. I sprinkled demerara and sparkly sugar on them before baking.

I am still doing cookies today. There will be sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies and maybe gingerbread. This year there will be boxes given to many of the family and friends who celebrate with us.

I love it when the house smells of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Just BAKE IT!!!

As opposed to just doing it. It was a New Year’s resolution to bake more. I am trying to find my own sugar cookie recipe that tastes as good as my mom’s.

This recipe isn’t bad. My mom’s uses margarine. I don’t like using margarine, but every recipe I find without margarine isn’t as good as hers. I will continue this quest to find crispy chewy cookies without margarine.

my mom’s cookies

My mom’s cookies are also incredibly thin. Every time I try and roll mine that thin, they break. Still, this isn’t a bad recipe. Pretty easy too. I am blessed with the space to bake without stress as I have an area in the kitchen I only use to bake, and it is away from cooking prep.

I have already started assembling the supplies to make all the cookies I plan to bake for the holidays. My board is actually the cut out of the Corian counter from where the sink went, from our old house. Works great as a pastry, pasta and baking rolling base.

The recipe for the cookies:

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cups fine granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Slowly mix together. Then add:
2 sticks unsalted butter, very cold and cut into thin slices

Keep mixing on low. Add 2 large egg yolks and 2 tsp vanilla extract. Mix until it becomes clumpy. Make two flattened disks of dough, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Roll out, cut and bake at 375 degrees for 12-14 minutes. Rotate pans halfway through baking.

I put the sanding sugar on top before baking. I think it adheres better that way. You can also ice them. Too much work to make icing, so I like the simple addition of red and green sugar.

I make a few little blobs to use for taste testing. I also make one big blob with the last of the dough. That is my husband’s cookie so he won’t take the good ones.

Now I just need to clean up my mess so I can make some other favorites tomorrow. I think I am looking to make dark chocolate chunk cookies. And my hazelnut butter ball cookies.

What are your favorite cookies?

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