Croissants

January 14, 2012

The truth is that I have always been afraid of puff pastry. It seems to be a mysterious world filled with unwritten rules and frequent failures. But there the croissants sat on page 19 of this month’s issue of Cook’s Illustrated. I could no longer avoid it; break out the butter, and block off the next 18 hours.

Delicious, but hardly foolproof.

Who doesn’t love croissants? Rich and buttery, yet somehow inexplicably airy. But the thought of making croissants was truly intimidating; a fear fed by my inexperience. The extent of my prior knowledge of puff pastry rules was: (1) keep your butter cold, and (2) fold, fold and then fold some more. While both these rules turn out to be true, there is much more to know in order to make first-class croissants. While my results were delicious, Chris Kimball’s claim that “our recipe guarantees success” is overly optimistic. In addition to the fact that I generally think croissants take practice, there are also some real issues issues (see below) with his recipe. For Chris Kimball to “guaranteed success” is an impossible promise that doesn’t pan out. My worst batch was cooked exactly according to the instructions, and attained just 3 stars (overly brown with hard bottoms).  The best batch, with modified rising and cooking time and temperature, were 4-1/2 stars (perfectly cooked with light flaky interior).

Here’s what I’ve found out:

  1. Chris Kimball says that it is important to use European Butter. The brand he recommends, Pulgara, was a modest $5/lb. Other imported brands were twice that price.
  2. Also the recipe stresses the importance of high-protein all-purpose flour. Of course, I have no idea how much protein any particular bag of flour has. So instead of buying the recommended King-Arthur’s All-Purposed flour, I mixed a one-third part bread flour in with my regular Heckler’s All-Purpose flour. I already have 7 types of flour in my kitchen, and didn’t want to buy another bag just for this recipe.
  3. Chris Kimball warns not to make these croissants in a kitchen warmer than 78-degrees. But because the recipe was published in the dead of winter, Issue #2 seems much more important (and came without any warning whatsoever).
  4. If your overnight kitchen is below 60-degrees, the frozen croissants (from step 12) will need more than just overnight to rise (Chris Kimball says just 4 hours). For my first frozen batch, I removed from freezer at 11:30PM and they still hadn’t risen at all by 6:30AM. For my second frozen batch, I removed at 8PM and they were better, but still only slightly puffy by 6:30AM.  It appears that 58-degrees is too cold for the croissants to effectively rise, so I had to allow them to rise before my furnace turned itself down to 58-degrees for the night. The best results were to remove the frozen, shaped croissants at 6PM to be baked at 6:30AM.
  5. From what I know about butter and yeast, 68-degrees appears to be the perfect rising temperature. Much colder and the yeast won’t rise. Much warmer and the butter will melt and you’ll lose the layering that you’ve worked so hard to attain, especially since the fermentation of the yeast also adds a few degrees.
  6. The results of my first batch (refrigerated rather than frozen croissants) didn’t achieve the fluffy heights that I had imagined. Being left overnight they had over-risen, which also affected the layering as I pulled apart the croissant. The second, third and fourth batches all rose higher.
  7. Chris Kimball’s cooking time of between 20 and 24 minutes at 400-degrees is too much; after two batches I can say unequivocally that they will be too dark. I played with adjusting the temperature, time and convection fan. After four batches, my best results were obtained at 350-degrees (with convection fan on) for 18 to 20 minutes. The lower temperature meant that the outside cooked more evenly and didn’t become too dark; also it helped mitigate issues #6.
  8. Chris Kimball also comments that other recipes allow “the butter [to leak] out onto the baking sheet”; causing “thick-crusted specimens” as the croissants have “essentially fried in their own fat.” However, the same seems true about his recipe. All four batches had bubbling butter around the bottom of the croissants after 7 or 8 minutes in the oven. I read and re-read the article, yet he offers no advice on how to correct this problem. I did find that the lower oven temperature of 350-degrees reduced the frying effect, leaving more tender bottoms, but not perfect.
  9. A 1/2″ to 1″ cut in the shortest side of the dough triangle meant that the ends stretched further and resulted in a better crescent shape. It’s a little hard to understand without a picture (also here).
  10. Before bending the rolled dough into it’s crescent shape, make sure the pointy tip is tucked underneath, otherwise it may separate and slightly burn during baking.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $4.40.
How much work? Medium/High.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Cook’s Illustrated Issue: January / February 2012
Start time: Noon – Day 1. Finish time: 8:00 AM – Day 2.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared the recipe today are given below:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted European-style-butter, very cold
1-3/4 cups whole milk
4 teaspoons rapid-rise yeast
4-1/4 cups (21-1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1-3/4 ounces) sugar
Table salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon cold water

  1. Slowly melt 3 tablespoons of American-style butter in a small saucepan over low burner. Remove pan from burner and stir in milk. The temperature should be lower than 90 degrees, so whisk in the yeast, and dump into the  bowl of your stand mixer. Also add flour, sugar, and 2 teaspoons salt to the mixer’s bowl. Using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed for 3 minutes until a rough dough forms. Increase speed to medium-low and continue to mix for 1 more minute. Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and allow dough to rest for 30 minutes. That’s all the kneading they require; only rolling from here on out.
  2. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper, and use your hands to shape the dough into a 10″x7″ rectangle. It should be about 1″ thick. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  3. Build a butter block: Rip off a 20″ long piece of parchment. Fold the sheet in half to create 10″ rectangle, with 1 side like the spine of a book and 3 open sides. Fold all 3 of the open sides to make an 8″ square. You will use these folds as guides to create your 8″x8″ sheet of butter. Crease the folds sharply so that you’ll be able to easily re-fold when filled with butter.
  4. Put your 24 tablespoons of cold, European butter directly on a clean counter. Use a rolling pin to pound it for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the butter becomes workable (but not warm). Use a bench scraper to fold the butter over onto itself, and pound again into a 6″ square. Completely unfold your parchment packet, and move your 6″ square of butter to the center of one of the 8″ parchment squares. Re-fold your parchment and re-crease back into an 8″ square that completely encloses the butter. Flip over so that the flaps are facing downward. Use your rolling pin to roll and work your butter to completely fill the 8″ parchment square. Rolling outward from the center towards the corners will fill your corners. Try to roll into an even thickness. When done, place packet in refrigerator for 45 minutes (or more).
  5. Move the dough to the freezer for 30 minutes before you are ready to laminate the butter to the dough. Place dough on a lightly floured counter. Roll into a 17″x8″ rectangle. Unwrap your butter packet and put butter in the middle of the dough. Fold the sides of the dough over butter, which should just meet in center. Use your fingertips to press the seam together.
  6. Use a rolling pin to create a 24″x8″ rectangle. Fold the dough into thirds; like a letter; which will for an 8″ square.
  7. Rotate the square 90-degrees. Again, use a rolling pin to create a 24″x8″ rectangle. Fold into thirds. If the dough becomes too warm, place it in the freezer for 15 minutes before continuing to roll it out. Place 8″ square dough on the same sheet pan. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and freeze for 30 minutes.
  8. Return dough to lightly floured counter. Again, use a rolling pin to create a 24″x8″ rectangle. Fold the dough into thirds; like a letter. Place dough on the same sheet pan. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2 hours (or leave it for up to 24 hours, depending upon your schedule).
  9. When you are ready to shape your croissants, freeze the dough for 30 minutes. Put dough on a lightly floured counter. Roll dough out into a 18″x16″ rectangle. Loosely fold over to create a 18″x8″ rectangle.
  10. To form the triangle shapes of the individual croissants: On the hinged side of the rectangle, use a ruler and bench scraper to precisely mark dough at 3″ intervals  (Note: there should be 5 marks on the hinged side). Mark the opposite side of dough 1-1/2″ from left corner, then mark out 3″ intervals (Note: there should be 6 marks on the un-hinged side). You should be able to mentally connect the dots to imagine the dough triangles. Use a pizza wheel or sharp knife to cut the dough from mark to mark. Some will still be hinged (which you should cut) and some will already be disconnected (or nearly disconnected). In the end, you will have a total of 22 equal-sized triangles.
  11. Working one triangle at a time and keeping the remaining triangles covered with plastic wrap. Cut a 1/2″ slit in the center of short side of the triangle. Gently pull the 2 corners (on both side of the slit) apart  (outward) and stretch. Put the triangle on the counter. Take the sides that you just stretched and fold them onto themselves to form the widest point of your croissant (see picture here and here). Then roll halfway towards the point. Stretch out the point and resume rolling. Position so that the point is underneath, and gently bend the ends to form the distinctive crescent shape. Repeat the slitting, pulling, rolling and bending with the remaining croissants.
  12. Put at most 6 croissants per parchment-lined sheet pans, making sure that they are at least 2-1/2″ apart. While they look tiny now, they will grow into full-sized croissants. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to stand at room temperature for between 2-1/2 and 3 hours, or until they have doubled in size. Depending upon your baking schedule, you can store the pre-shaped croissants for as long as 18 hours in the refrigerator. But if you refrigerator, add at least 30 minutes to rising time. After shaping you can freeze 10 or more croissants. They only need to be placed 1″ apart on parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to freeze for 2 hours. You can they store them frozen in a Zip-lock bag for up to 2 months. When it comes time to bake them, allow to rise for at least 4-1/2 to 5 hours. (see comment about cold kitchens)
  13. About 30 minutes before baking, set an oven rack to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions. Pre-heat oven to 425-degrees. Whisk 1 egg, 1 teaspoon cold water, and a pinch salt together in a coffee cup or small bowl. Use a pastry brush to give croissants a light wash. The wash can be stored covered in the refrigerator for a few days awaiting the second batch.
  14. Reduce oven temperature to 350-degrees and put both baking sheets in oven. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes; switching and rotating baking sheets halfway through baking. Remove when the crust reaches you desired degree of doneness. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes. They can be served either warm or at room temperature.

Chicken Nuggets

December 7, 2011

I’ve been making homemade Chicken Nuggets for a few years, because I’m afraid to know what McDonald’s puts in their chicken McNuggets. Recently I saw the new Cook’s Country episode where Chris Kimball touts his own variation. There are two main difference: (1) he brines the chicken pieces for 30 minutes, and (2) he does not par-bake them in the oven.  The results were significantly more tender, though less crunchy.  The kids preferred Chris Kimball’s nuggets, giving them 5-stars.

Fresh and tender; delicious even for adults.

Comments:

  1. Chris Kimball has an elaborate description of how to cut the nuggets: first slicing on the bias into thirds, the cutting into 1/2″ pieces. I read it 100 times and couldn’t figure out what he meant (and had already deleted the Cook’s Country episode from my DVR). In the end, I think all you need to do is cut them into even bite-sized nuggets. Whatever size you like your nuggets; just make them that size.
  2. In the past I had par-baked the nuggets to be sure that the chicken was fully cooked, but it turns out that Chris Kimball is right. I checked the nuggets in this recipe and after 3 minutes in the oil and they had no trouble reaching an internal temperature of 165-degrees.
  3. If you want to make them ahead of time, allow the fried nuggets to cool and put the in a gallon-size Zip-lock bag. Freeze them for up to a month. To re-heat them put the nuggets on foil-lined rimmed baking sheet on the middle rack of a 350-degreee oven. Bake for 15 minutes; flipping them after 8 minutes.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $3.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Finish time 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared them today are given below:

Brine:
2-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 cups water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

Breading:
1-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cup panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs)
3 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon pepper
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 large egg whites
4 cups peanut or vegetable oil

  1. Cut your chicken into what ever sized pieces you like your nuggets; just be sure they are all about the same size.
  2. In a large bowl, add 1 tablespoon salt and 2 tablespoons Worcestershire into two cups of water.  Whisk until the salt has dissolved. Add chicken pieces, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Chris Kimball reminds you to not brine any longer than 30 minutes or your chicken will be too salty.
  3. Add 1-1/2 cups panko in a Zip-lock bag and crush it with a rolling pin.
  4. You will need two pie plates. In the first, add flour, crushed panko, onion powder, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, garlic powder, and baking soda. In the second pie plate, add whites from 3 eggs and briefly whisk.
  5. Remove chicken from brine and pat dry with paper towels.
  6. Working in 3 batches (up to 1-lb of chicken at a time), coat chicken nuggets in egg whites, and allow any extra egg white to drip back into pie plate. Then dredge in the flour mixture, and press lightly so that the breading adheres. Place coated chicken on clean plate. Repeat breading process with remaining chicken.
  7. Allow chicken to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes, then return chicken to flour mixture and re-coat, again pressing lightly so that the breading adheres.
  8. Adjust your oven rack to middle position and preheat to 200-degrees. Pour 4 cups oil into a large Dutch oven and heat over medium-high burner to 350-degrees.
  9. Cook the chicken in 2 batches for between 3 to 5 minutes until deeply golden brown; stirring occasionally so that they don’t stick and cook evenly. Drain nuggets on wire rack set over a foil-lined baking sheet and place in oven. Cook the second batch once the oil returns to 350-degrees.
  10. Serve with dipping sauces.

Sweet Avocado Pop Tarts With Lime Glaze

November 23, 2011

I absolutely love fresh avocados; so I added these to my “to do” list a few months ago when the recipe made the rounds on TasteSpotting and FoodGawker. When I read the recipe in detail they seemed overly sweet, so I cut back on the sugar. Unfortunately, they were still too sweet for my taste. While my kids loved the sweetness, they didn’t care for the avocado. I’d give them 3-stars, because the lime was over-powering and didn’t let me enjoy the avocado. The lime glaze was heavenly; only the lime mixed into the filling needs to be scaled back.

Overly sweet; not just an adult version of a Pop Tart.

The boys loved the idea of making home-made Pop Tarts, but next time I’ll have to stick to a more kid-friendly fruit; cherry, strawberry, orange.

Rating: 3 stars.
Cost: $5 for 4 large pastries.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 11:00 AM. Lunch: 1:20 PM.

The original recipe that I got from another blog is here. My descriptions of how I prepare it today are given below:

Pastry Dough:
2-cups all-purpose flour
2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4-cup cold water
1/2 teaspoons salt

Avocado Filling:
2 Hass avocados
3 tablespoons lime juice, fresh
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Lime Glaze:
1-cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons lime juice

  1. Cut 2 sticks of butter into 1/2″ cubes, then chill in freezer for 15 minutes. Add 2 cups flour, 3 tablespoons granulated sugar, and 1/2 teaspoons salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the cubed butter and pulse for 10 one-second pulses until the mixture resembles a coarse meal with bits of butter sprinkled throughout. With the processor running, add the cold water and processing until dough forms.
  2. Remove to a floured surface and knead for 10 seconds and form a smooth, uniform ball. Separate into two evenly sized balls, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to overnight.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350° and remove your chilled dough balls to a well-floured work surface. Roll each piece of dough out into an 8″ x 12″ rectangle; about 1/4″ thick. Cut out 16 rectangles measuring 3″ x 4″ each. You may need to assemble your scraps and re-roll your dough a few times to get even pieces. If the dough becomes too hard to work with stick your cut pieces of dough back in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to be sure that they’re chilled through once you assemble and bake the tarts.
  4. Lay your pieces onto parchment-lined baking sheets, cover with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature.
  5. Peel, pit and chop your avocados into a small dice and place in large bowl. Add the lime juice and sugar, and mash into a chunky consistency.
  6. Spoon the avocado mixture onto 4 pieces of cut pastry. Use your fingers to pre-form the second rectangle of pastry so that it is slightly cupped. Carefully place on top of each mound of avocado and use a fork to press the top and bottom of each pastry together down all four sides. Using fork; gently pierce the top of each pastry several times to allow steam to vent. Bake for 28-32 minutes or until the edges are just turning a lightly, golden brown. Remove the baked tarts to cool for 10 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, prepare your glaze by whisking the confectioners’ sugar and lime juice together in a small bowl.
  8. Finish by glazing the top of each with the lime glaze.

American-Style Sandwich Bread

November 19, 2011

As you may remember, my goal for this school year was to make my two sons’ sandwich bread for their school lunches. While I’ve missed a few weeks, I have generally settled into my happy new routine of baking their sandwich bread every Sunday. The wonderful aroma of baking bread seems to make everyone in the house happier. In terms of my actual effort, it’s only 20 to 30 minutes of hands-on work, but clock time is between 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 hours. The boys love the bread, and I am satisfied to know that it’s low in sugar and Calcium-Propionate-free.

Best sandwich loaf made weekly for my kids lunches.

Because I need the bread to stay fresh for a full week of lunches, I added a few natural “dough conditioners”. I add a tablespoon of granulated lecithin which makes for a moister loaf.  Chris Kimball’s original loaf  would dry out after a few days. I include 1/4 teaspoon of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C ) to slightly change the pH to inhibit mold growth. When I made the loaf without this it grew mold in as little as 3 days. Finally 1/8 teaspoon powdered ginger helps the yeast rise, resulting in a lighter, fluffier loaf.  My final warning requires will-power: resist the urge to slice the bread until it has cooled for 3 full hours. Slicing warm bread will allow moisture to escape from the loaf. In the best case you’re left with dry loaf, but if you then put it in a plastic bag the escaping moisture will encouraged molding after only 3 days. Never put warm bread into a plastic bag.

Recent Changes:

  1. Compared to prior versions, I have divert 3-1/2 ounces of flour and water to make a sponge the night before. The pre-ferment adds nice complexities to the flavor, and also inhibits mold by increasing acidity levels. In fact, once I perfect the yeast-to-flour ratio to ensure that the sponge always reaches full maturation, I could eliminate the ascorbic acid from the recipe.  For those occasional weeks that I don’t adequately plan ahead, I simply add the sponge ingredients together with the other dry and wet ingredients as I make the dough.
  2. I am now using 3 tablespoons of olive oil in lieu of vegetable oil or butter. I switched away from butter to eliminate saturated fats, then switch to olive oil because it’s mono-unsaturated fat is healthier than the poly-unsaturated fat found in other vegetable oil. (more info on health effects of fat)
  3. My new loaf pan has a standard pullman sandwich bread shape. It yields a 15″ loaf, which makes 25 thick slices. That’s more than enough to satisfy the weekly allotment of 10 sandwich.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $.90 for 29-ounce loaf.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Finish time 7:30 PM. (But don’t slice for another 3 hours)

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared and baked the bread today are given below:

Sponge:
3-1/2 oz warm water
1/8 teaspoon rapid-rise yeast or dry active yeast
3-1/2 oz flour

Wet Ingredients:
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk (9 ounces)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon rapid-rise yeast or dry active yeast
1 tablespoon granulated lecithin

Dry Ingredients:
3 cups bread flour (15 ounces)
2 teaspoons table salt
1/4 teaspoon fruit fresh or other powdered Vitamin C
1/8 teaspoon powdered ginger

  1. About 12 to 24 hours before making the loaf, prepare the sponge by heating water in microwave for 15 seconds to 105-degrees. Whisk in yeast and let it hydrate for 5 minutes. Finally, whisk in flour, cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm spot in your kitchen for up to 24 hours.
  2. Adjust an oven rack to low-middle position. Pre-heat the oven to 200-degrees, then turn it off. You will use the residual heat of the oven to speed the first rise.
  3. Add 9 ounces of milk to a Pyrex measuring cup (at least 2 cup capacity). Heat in microwave for 40 seconds until mixture reaches 105-degrees. Mix in olive oil, sugar, yeast and granulated lecithin; allow to hydrate for 5 minutes.
  4. Add sponge and dry ingredients (15-oz bread flour, 2 teaspoons salt, ascorbic acid and powdered ginger) to the bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook.
  5. Turn on standing mixer to lowest speed and slowly add liquid; use a rubber spatula to scrape out measuring cup. After the dough has come together, increase speed to 4 on KitchenAid mixer (medium-low on other models). Continue mixing for 10 minutes, stopping twice to remove the dough from hook. The dough will become smooth, add a little more flour or water if necessary. Lightly flour a work surface and gently turn out the dough. Knead by hand for about 15 seconds to form a smooth ball.
  6. Lightly oil a large glass bowl with non-stick cooking spray, add dough and roll around to lightly coat the dough ball. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in your warm (but turned off) oven. The dough should take about 45 minutes to double in size.
  7. Spray your loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray. Gently turn the dough out onto floured surface. Gently press the dough into a rectangle that corresponds exactly to the length of your loaf pan. Lightly spray the dough rectangle with a water bottle before rolling to try to prevent large air bubbles (or brush water on using a pastry brush). Roll the dough into a tight cylinder so that it corresponds to the length of your loaf pan, firmly pressing down as you roll to ensure that the dough sticks to itself and that there are no large air bubbles. Pinch the seam closed along the length of the cylinder, and put into your loaf pan seem-side down. Softly press the dough so that it touches all four sides of the pan.
  8. Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap, realizing that the loaf will grow above the top of the pan. Place it in a warm spot in your kitchen for between 1 to 2 hours. Depending upon pan size, wait until the dough grows to fill your loaf pan.
  9. About 20 minutes prior to baking, begin pre-heating your oven to 400-degrees. Adjust an oven rack to middle position; any lower and your bottom crust will be too hard.
  10. Carefully remove plastic wrap, spray the loaf three times with water from a spray bottle, and place loaf pan in oven. After 5 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 325-degrees and turn loaf 180-degrees. Bake uncovered for 8 additional minutes. Tent with aluminum foil to keep the loaf top very soft; baking for another 12 to 14 minutes until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads 195 degrees. Carefully remove bread from pan, and let cool on a wire rack for 3 hour before slicing.

Ingredient list from typical loaf of bread


Ultimate Cinnamon Buns

August 14, 2011

The last time I made these Cinnamon Buns was December 29, 2009; two days before I started this blog; and my oldest son has been begging me to make them again. The dough is rich and buttery, and the cream cheese frosting is sweet, but more flavorful than a standard sugar-only glaze.

Great tasting cinnamon buns, but there is a big flaw

It’s a bold claim for Cook’s Country to call these the ultimate cinnamon buns. While they are rich and delicious, the recipe has a fundamental problem that has occurred each of the five times I’ve made this recipe.  Chris Kimball claims that the butter and cinnamon sugar are “… baked together, [and] turned into a truly rich, gooey filling”.  But the truth is that the gooey filling oozes to the bottom of the pan, and after cooling forms a hard, unpleasant,  glass-like coating. If left too long to harden, it will permanently attach the buns to the aluminum foil used in baking. I haven’t found a solution prevent the formation of the epoxy-like coating. However, I have come up with a hard-and-fast rule to mitigate the damage: always remove the buns from the foil no more than 20 minutes after removing from the oven. Waiting the designated 30-minutes before removing from the foil will make a disaster of the already difficult process of removing the buns from the foil.

Issue/Comments:

  1. Originally the recipe calls for diving the rolls into 8 pieces, but the cinnamon buns are too big. Nobody would eat a whole bun, but rather always cut them in half. So instead I divide into 12 pieces, which makes a much more manageable size.
  2. The recipe calls for a 13″ x 9″ pan size. In my kitchen I have two different Pyrex casserole dishes to choose from, so I had to choose the 14″x10″. I’m not sure if this could have impacted the filling.
  3. I strongly recommend using heavy-duty aluminum foil because of the filling problem described above.
  4. There are a few other recipes that I have not tried. They include these Yeasted Cinnamon Buns and also these non-yeasted rolls.

Rating: 4-stars.

Cost: $3 for 12 cinnamon buns.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start 5 hours before serving. If making ahead, restart 2 hours before breakfast. However, the recipe only requires 30 minutes of effort.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here (the site requires free registration, but no credit card). My descriptions of how I prepare it are given below:

Dough:
3/4 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
3 eggs
4-1/4 cups all-purpose flour (22-3/8 ounces)
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter

Filling:
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Glaze:
4 ounces cream cheese
1 tablespoon whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

  1. Set eggs and 2 sticks of butter out for 30 minutes to warm to room temperature. Cut butter into 16 equal pieces.
  2. Adjust your oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 200 degrees, then it shut off. This will provide a warm environment for the dough to rise.
  3. Line a large Pyrex casserole dish with heavy-duty aluminum foil, allowing excess to hang over the edges. Apply some butter to foil.
  4. Heat milk in 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup in microwave for 50 seconds to 110 degrees.
  5. Whisk yeast into milk and let hydrate for 5 minutes, then whisk in eggs (still in measuring cup).
  6. Add flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt to bowl of a standing mixer. Attach the dough hook.
  7. Turn mixer on low (2 on a kitchen-aide), and slowly pour milk mixture in a steady stream. Mix for 1 minute until dough comes together.
  8. Increase mixer speed to medium (4 on a kitchen-aide). One piece at a time, add butter and mix for 10 minutes. The dough should be smooth and come away from sides of bowl. If the dough is still wet and sticky, one tablespoon of flour at a time until the dough releases from the sides of the bowl.
  9. Turn dough out onto clean surface and knead to form a smooth, round ball. Transfer dough to large bowl sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.
  10. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and put in warm, but turned-off, oven. Let dough rise for 45 minutes until it doubles in size.
  11. After 40 minutes, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in small bowl. Lightly flour a surface, and turn out dough, and roll dough into an 18″ square.
  12. Spread the 4 tablespoons of softened butter over the top surface of the dough, but leave a 1/2″ border around edges. Evenly sprinkle the sugar mixture over the buttered dough, and gently press down on the sugar so that it sticks to the dough.
  13. Starting with the closest edge, tightly roll the dough into a cylinder. Pinch the seam to seal and turn so that the seam side is down.
  14. Use a knife to cut in half, then in half again; then each piece into thirds, yielding 12 rolls. Place the pieces, cut-side facing upward, into prepared pan and cover with plastic wrap. If you plan to finish them tomorrow, refrigerate now for up to 24 hours. If you plan to continue today, then let them rise near the oven (or other warm spot) for 1 hour. If you refrigerated the dough, let it sit at room temperature for 1 hour before baking.
  15. After 30 minutes begin preheating the oven to 350 degrees. Add the softened cream cheese, milk, vanilla, and confectioners sugar to a medium bowl. Using a fork, mix together until smooth.
  16. Remove the plastic wrap and bake for 27 to 30 minutes. The buns will be golden brown and filling will have melted.
  17. Transfer to a wire rack, and evenly apply 1/2 cup of glaze to the tops of the buns. This will be the “primer coat”.
  18. Allow to cool for 20 minutes, then use the foil overhang to lift the buns from the pan. After 10 more minutes top with remaining glaze, and serve.

More on Baking Homemade Sandwich Loaf

August 7, 2011

Finally, I’ve perfected the sandwich bread that I’ve been working on for the past few months.  While Chris Kimball’s original recipe (which I made here) was excellent, it only lasted for a few days before going stale. In the worst case it sprouted mold after 3 days. The final loaf I made today is just as delicious as Chris Kimball’s original, but also satisfies my goal of baking a loaf that will last a full week. During the upcoming school year I intend to bake it every Sunday so my two boys can eat sandwiches all week long.

Thick oversized slices made for a delicious sandwich

The changes I made to Chris Kimball’s original recipe are:

  1. I replaced the butter with an equal amount of vegetable oil. While butter does add flavor, it also adds saturated fat, and I’m trying to make a healthier loaf. Plus, the vegetable oil makes for a softer, longer lasting loaf. Since this bread will be used to make sandwiches, the loss of the very subtle butter flavor isn’t a big deal.
  2. I have made his recipe about four times, and each time I found the dough to be too stiff and had to adjust the water each time.  In the end, I added one extra tablespoon of water to the recipe. The recipe now reads “Almost 1/2 cup of water”, by which I mean to measure out 1/2 cup (4 ounces) and remove 1 tablespoon.
  3. Because I wanted a kid-friendly texture and to promote longevity of the finished loaf, I added a few natural “dough conditioners” to help. I made the following additions:
  • 1 tablespoon of granulated lecithin, which is a vitamin, makes for a moister loaf that is not too dry.  Chris Kimball’s original loaf had a problem of drying out after a few days.
  • 1/8 teaspoon ascorbic acid (Vitamin C ) will inhibit the growth of mold by slightly alters the pH of the loaf.
  • 1/8 teaspoon powdered ginger will help the yeast rise, resulting in a lighter, fluffier loaf. Very kid friendly.

Issues:

  1. Slicing bread before bread has cooled completely will cause moisture to escape from loaf, resulting in a dry loaf. I sliced one loaf after almost 2 hours of cooling, but the escaping moisture will encouraged molding after 3 days. It you intend to keep the loaf for more than 2 days, it is important that you wait a full 3 hours before slicing.
  2. I am eying a new loaf pan for a standard sandwich bread shape. My current over-sized slices are delicious for the summertime.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: 90-cents for 29-ounce loaf.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Finish time 6:30 PM. (But don’t slice for another 3 hours)

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared and baked the bread today are given below:

Wet Ingredients:

1 cup milk (8 ounces)
Almost 1/2 cup water (3-1/2 ounces)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon rapid-rise yeast or dry active yeast
1 tablespoon granulated lecithin

Dry Ingredients:

3-1/2 cups bread flour (18-1/2 ounces)
2 teaspoons table salt
1/8 teaspoon ascorbic acid (or 1/4 teaspoon fruit fresh)
1/8 teaspoon powdered ginger

  1. Adjust two oven rack to low and low-middle position. Put a broiler pan on the bottom rack, which will be used in step 8. Pre-heat to 200-degrees, then turn off your oven. You will use the residual heat of the oven to speed the first rise. If you don’t mind waiting for 2 hours for the first rise (less in summer), then you can skip the pre-heating portion of this step.
  2. Mix together milk and water  in a Pyrex measuring cup (at least 2 cups); net weight should be 11-1/2 ounces.  Heat in microwave for 1 minute until mixture reaches 105-degrees. Mix in vegetable oil, sugar, yeast and granulated lecithin; allow to hydrate for 5 minutes.
  3. Add dry ingredients (flour, salt, ascorbic acid and powdered ginger) to the bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook.
  4. Turn on standing mixer to lowest speed and slowly add liquid; use a rubber spatula to scrape out measuring cup. After the dough has come together, increase speed to 4 on KitchenAid mixer (medium-low on other models). Continue mixing for 10 minutes, stopping twice to remove the dough from hook. The dough will become smooth. If the dough is too dry, add 1 more tablespoon of water. I like to use a spray bottle. Lightly flour a work surface and gently turn out the dough. Knead for about 15 seconds to form a smooth ball.
  5. Lightly oil a large glass bowl, put dough inside and roll around to lightly coat the dough ball. Cover with plastic wrap and place in your warm (but turned off) oven. The dough should take between 40 and 50 minutes to double in size.  If you don’t mind waiting about 2 hours for the first rise, then you can let the dough rise at room temperature.
  6. Gently turn the dough out onto floured surface. Gently press the dough into a 9″x12″ rectangle. Note that the 9″ should correspond exactly to the length of your loaf pan. Roll the dough into a 9″ cylinder, firmly pressing down to ensure that the dough sticks to itself while it rolls. Pinch the seam closed along the length of the cylinder. Spray your 9″x5″x3″ (LxWxH) loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray. Put your loaf into the pan and softly press the dough so that it touches all four sides of the pan. Spray the top of the loaf very lightly with non-stick cooking spray or dust with flour to ensure that the plastic wrap will release.
  7. Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap, realizing that the loaf will grow a few inches above the top of the pan. Place it in a warm spot in your kitchen for 45 minutes until it almost doubles in size. A finger pressed into the dough should leave a mark that rebounds slowly. Meanwhile pre-heat your oven to 400-degrees, and bring 2 cups of water to boil on the stovetop.
  8. Carefully remove plastic wrap, spray the loaf twice with water from a spray bottle (optional), and place loaf pan in oven. Pour your 2 cups of boiling water into the pre-heated empty loaf/broiler pan, and close the oven door immediately to trap the steam. After 5 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 325-degrees . Bake for 25 additional minutes, rotating half way through baking time. After 15 minutes, optionally tent with aluminum foil to keep the loaf top very soft. The bread will be done when an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads 195 degrees. Carefully remove bread from pan, and let cool on a wire rack for 3 hour before slicing.

Delicious loaf takes some time, but little effort


Ground Beef Tacos

August 1, 2011

I’ve been going through a “dry spell” recently, when I have not felt much like cooking. Pressures from work and home have led towards sleepless nights lately, and the combination has sapped my energy to do anything beyond the basics. However, my kids still need to eat, so I have been relying on easy recipes: Macaroni and Cheese, Pepperoni Pan Pizza, Barbecues Burgers, Pasta, etc.  Another of these easy recipes is ground beef tacos. I’ve made them at least 100 times for my kids, each time using a small envelope of taco seasoning costing $1. However, this week I discovered that Chris Kimball has a recipe for Ground Beef Tacos.

Sorry for the terrible cell phone photo

Chris Kimball’s recipe turns out to be no more difficult than using the envelope. Adding just one extra minute to mix my own spices; all of which were already in my kitchen. Of course, there are other improvements, but nothing that adds more than a few extra minutes. (1) Sautéing the onion and garlic, (2) blooming the spices rather than soaking them in water, (3) using tomato paste , and (4) using chicken broth instead of plain water. The kids certainly love them, but I made one mistake that prevented this tacos from reaching their full potential. As such, I’d give them a solid 3-stars; good, but not great. Fine for the kids, but no something I would consider cooking for guests.

Issues/Comments:

  1. I made one small mistake. The recipe called for 1/2-cup tomato sauce, but I inadvertently used 1/2-cup of tomato juice. This meant that I had to let the filling cook much longer to dry out the extra moisture.
  2. I just gave my kids regular  flour tortillas, not the homemade taco shells described in the recipe.
  3. Also, I noticed that the first ingredient in Taco season is Maltodextrin. I’m not sure what that is, but I don’t like the sound of it. Chris Kimball’s recipe is 100% Maltodextrin free.
  4. Actually, the only thing that has motivated me lately has been baking bread. I’ve been baking a lot of this; a loaf based upon Rustic Dinner Rolls, but formed as a typical loaf. Oddly, the dog days of summer are the worst time of year to be baking bread.
  5. Chris Kimball has a collection of 30-minute meals, I should give them a try, to get me through my motivational lull.

Rating: 3 stars.
Cost: $6.00
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Small.
Start time: 5:00. Dinner time: 5:30

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared them today are given below:

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 small onion
3 medium cloves garlic
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound 90% lean ground beef
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons cider vinegar

  1. Dice the small onion, which should yield about 2/3-cup. Peel 3 cloves of garlic.
  2. Preheat 2 teaspoons vegetable oil in skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Sauté the diced onion for 4 minutes, stirring as necessary.
  3. Meanwhile measure out and combine all dried spices into a small cup.
  4. When onions are ready, press garlic directly into skillet and add spice mixture. Cook and stir for 1 minute to bloom flavors.
  5. Add ground beef to skillet. Use a wooden spoon to break up the meat. Cook for 5 minutes, scraping the bottom of the skillet to prevent scorching. The beef should no longer be pink.
  6. Add 1/2-cup tomato sauce, 1/2-cup chicken broth, 1 teaspoon brown sugar, and 2 teaspoons cider vinegar. Heat up to a simmer, then turn down to medium-low. Continue to simmer until liquid has thickened, but not completely dry, about 10 minutes. Stir frequently and ensure that no chunks of meat remain. Adjust salt and pepper, if necessary.
  7. Place in serving bowl and pass toppings separately.

Sandwhich Loaf Bread

June 29, 2011

My pediatrician once told me that feeding my kids white bread was like giving them a spoonful of sugar. This comment hit home; so years ago I switched to whole wheat bread. My boys have grown up and are accustomed to it, but while baking bread recently I was surprised to learn that the whole premise that whole wheat bread contains less sugar turns out to be completely untrue. In fact, the opposite is true; two slices of Wonder bread contains 5g of sugar while two slices of Arnold Country Wheat contains 8g of sugar. For the past 6 years I’ve been spending $3 per loaf on this false premise.

A definite upgrade from Wonder Bread

Actually, this is my fourth recipe for Sandwich loaf that I’ve made over the past month, of which I have only blogged about one other. All haven fallen short, and were not an acceptable substitute for my kids sandwich bread.

FYI, the nutritional information for two different slices of bread, which really surprised me:

  • Arnold’s Country Wheat has 240 calories, with 3g of fat per 2 slice serving (but is free of hydrogenated oils, meaning no trans fats) . There are 44g of total carbohydrates, but also includes 5g of dietary fiber. It contains 350mg sodium and 8g of sugar (about 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar).
  • Classic Wonder Bread has 140 calories, with 1g of fat per 2 slice serving. There are 23g of total carbohydrates. There are 260 mg of sodium and 4g of sugar (which is High Fructose Corn Syrup), but would be equivalent to 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar.

Comments:

  1. My loaf reached 205-degrees after just 35 minutes. So I will try reducing the temperate next time after 5 minutes in the oven. The higher temperatures during the first 5 minutes should give it great “oven spring”, but a slower bake ought to result in a softer crust.
  2. Of course, bread made without any preservatives goes stale relatively fast. I made this bread sans preservatives to evaluate it as an acceptable substitute for store-bought loaf. It was still good after 2-1/2 days, but if I decide to cook this bread with regularity I will probably add some form of preservative. I want this bread bake this bread on Sunday and have it stay fresh through Friday’s lunch. I found list of natural preservatives that can use in sandwich bread. Reading the list the best bet sounds like lecithin, which is essentially a vitamin.
  3. I also wanted to clarify that while Arnold’s Bread contains more sugar, it is still healthier than Wonder Bread. Eating whole grains is always better than eating refined grains. Also, Arnold’s contains 4 grams of fiber (16% daily intake) and only polyunsaturated fat.
  4. When baking bread, I prefer to weigh my ingredients. I find weighting much easier and more accurate than trying to scoop out 3-1/2 cups of flour. I’ve provided weights for each ingredient that I typically weigh.
  5. As always, I am using Active Dry Yeast rather than Rapid Rise yeast, which Chris Kimball always recommends. See my full descriptions here.
  6. Do not cut your loaf before it has cooled to room temperature, or you will allow moisture to escape and give your loaf a head-start on becoming stale. After 1 hour I tried slicing my bread, placed the slices in a sandwich bag and almost immediately saw condensation. Next loaf I will try the same after 2 hours.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: 90-cents for 29-ounce loaf.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Finish time 6:30 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared and baked the bread today are given below:

3-1/2 cups bread flour (18-1/2 ounces)
2 teaspoons table salt
1 cup milk (8 ounces)
1/3 cup water (3 ounces)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons honey (I substituted 1-1/2 tablespoons sugar)
1 tablespoon rapid-rise yeast or dry active yeast

  1. Adjust two oven rack to low and low-middle position. Put a broiler pan on the bottom rack, which will be used in step 8. Pre-heat to 200-degrees, then turn off your oven. You will use the residual heat of the oven to speed the first rise. If you don’t mind waiting for 2 hours for the first rise, then you can skip the pre-heating portion of this step.
  2. Mix together milk, water, butter, and honey (or sugar) in a Pyrex measuring cup (at least 2 cups). Heat in microwave for 1 minute 5 seconds until mixture reaches 110-degrees. Mix in yeast and let hydrate for 5 minutes, by which time the butter should be mostly melted.
  3. Add flour and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook.
  4. Turn standing mixer to lowest speed and slowly add liquid. After the dough has come together, increase speed to 4 on KitchenAid mixer (medium-low on other models). Continue mixing for 10 minutes, stopping twice to remove the dough from hook. The dough will become smooth. Lightly flour a work surface and gently turn out the dough. Knead for about 15 seconds to form a smooth ball.
  5. Lightly oil a large bowl, put dough inside and roll around to lightly coat the dough ball. Cover with plastic wrap and place in your warm (but turned off) oven. The dough should take between 40 and 50 minutes to double in size.  If you don’t mind waiting about 2 hours for the first rise, then you can let the dough rise at room temperature.
  6. Gently turn the dough out onto floured surface. Gently pressing the dough into a 9″x12″ rectangle. Note that the 9″ should correspond exactly to the length of your loaf pan. Roll the dough into a 9″ cylinder, firmly pressing to ensure that the dough sticks to itself while it rolls. Pinch the seam closed along the length of the cylinder. Spray your 9″x5″x3″ (LxWxH) loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray. Put your loaf into the pan and softly press the dough so that it is touching all four sides of the pan. Spray the top of loaf very lightly with non-stick cooking spray or dust with flour to ensure that the plastic wrap will release.
  7. Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap, realizing that the loaf will grow a few inches above the top of the pan. Place it in a warm spot in your kitchen for 45 minutes until it almost doubles in size. A finger pressed into the dough should leave a mark that rebounds slowly. Meanwhile pre-heat your oven to 375-degrees, and bring 2 cups of water to boil on the stovetop.
  8. Carefully remove plastic wrap and place loaf pan in oven. Pour your 2 cups of boiling water into the pre-heated empty loaf/broiler pan, and close the oven door immediately to trap the steam. After 5 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 325-degrees . Bake for between 35 and 40 additional minutes, rotating half way through baking time. If the crust becomes too dark then tent with aluminum foil. The bread will be done when an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads 195 degrees. Carefully remove bread from pan, and let cool on a wire rack for 2 hour before slicing.

Shu Mai

June 10, 2011

Before starting this blog, I had never cooked much that could be considered “real Chinese food”. Now, one of my favorite dish is these pork pot stickers, plus I am less afraid to try other things (see here and here). These steamed pork dumplings (aka shu mai) are delicious, but are also a lot healthier than their take-out counterpart. Chris Kimball uses plain gelatin in lieu of lard to simulate the rich texture, and uses a combination of soy sauce, rice vinegar and rice wine to enhance the flavor (instead of MSG). Overall, these are excellent; 4-star; but I would have preferred a soy-sauce-based dipping sauce to the chili oil included in this recipe.

Delicious Shu Mai made without the MSG

Because I don’t have a steamer basket (who does really), I followed their quick tip to use two disposable, aluminum pie plates to form an improvised steamer. First, I poked 15 holes in the bottom of a 9″ aluminum pie pan, and placed it upside down in the bottom of my Dutch oven. Then I added water to almost cover the pie pan. I used a rolling pin to flatten a second 9″ aluminum pie pan, and placed it over a wire cooling rack to poke 20 holes. My second pie pan ripped slightly during flattening, but didn’t really affect the end result.

Issues:

  1. The Chili oil recipe yielded about four times as much as necessary, so I modified the recipe (given below) to yield a more reasonable amount. The Chili oil is quite hot, so be careful if you have a delicate palate.
  2. I could not find water chestnuts in my grocery store, and gave up looking after 5 minutes. But instead of going without, a good substitution would have been: jicama or parsnip slices.
  3. Fortunately, I was able to use my 3-1/2″ biscuit cutter and still get two full-size cut-outs for each 5-1/2″ egg roll wrapper. The original recipe calls for a 3″ biscuit cutter (but I wanted to use the one I already had in my kitchen).
  4. My local Chinese take-out charges $6 for 8 dumplings, so my $10 work of dumplings would cost me $30.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $10 for 42 dumplings.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 7:00 PM. Dinner time 8:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here (you have to give e-mail, but no credit card). The episode serves these with Chili Oil (recipe is here), but this is a “paid recipe”. You can see a video of the entire episode here. The descriptions of how I cooked both the Shu Mai and the Chili Oil today are given below:

First Prepare the Chili Oil:

2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 tablespoon crushed red pepper
1 small garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt

  1. Heat oil in small saucepan over medium heat until it measure 300 degrees on and instant-read thermometer.
  2. Remove pan from heat and stir in pepper flakes, garlic, soy sauce, soy sauce, sugar and table salt.
  3. Let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. Discard garlic before serving.

Steamed Dumplings:

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin
1 pound boneless country-style pork ribs
1/2 pound shrimp
1/4 cup water chestnuts , chopped
4 dried shiitake mushroom caps (3/4 ounce),
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon Chinese rice cooking wine or can substitute dry sherry
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 package 5-1/2 inch egg roll wrappers (1 pound)
2 carrots

  1. Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water for 30 minutes. Defrost shrimp, peel and remove vein. Cut eat shrimp in halved lengthwise. Cut the pork ribs into 1-inch pieces. Finely grate carrots on the small holes of a box grater. Chop the water chestnuts, and mince 2 tablespoons of cilantro. Finally, grate 2 teaspoons of fresh ginger. After the mushrooms have soaked for 30 minutes, squeeze then dry, and cut into then 1/4″ pieces.
  2. Add the soy sauce to a small bowl, sprinkle in the gelatin and let it bloom for 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, place half of pork cubes into a food processor and pulse ten 1-second pulses (should be ground into 1/8-inch pieces). Put ground pork in a large bowl.
  4. Add 1/2-lb shrimp and remaining pork to food processor and pulse pulse five 1-second pulses (should be ground into 1/4-inch pieces). Add to the same bowl with other ground pork.
  5. Add soy sauce mixture, chopped water chestnuts, mushrooms, cornstarch, cilantro, sesame oil, wine, vinegar, sugar, ginger, salt, and pepper to the bowl and mix until well combined.
  6. Use a 3-1/2″ biscuit cutter to cut two rounds from each egg roll wrapper. You can cut in stacks of 6 to 7 wrappers at a time. Cover rounds with moist paper towels to prevent them from drying out.
  7. Lay out 6 rounds at a time, brush the edges lightly with water. Place a heaping tablespoon of the filling mixture in the center of each round. With each hand, lift opposite sides of wrapper and pinch to form two pleats. Rotate 90 degrees and pinch again to form two more pleats. Continue two more times until you have eight folds.
  8. Pick up the dumpling. Using your thumb and index finger (as if to form the OK sign, but with the Shu Mai in the middle) gently squeeze near the top of the dumpling to form a “waist.”
  9. Use your middle finger to support the bottom of the dumpling and pack down the filling using your other hand (or a butter knife). Place on a piece of parchment paper sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Immediately cover with damp paper towel to prevent them from drying out. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.
  10. Place a small pinch of grated carrot on the center of each dumpling; mostly for appearance. I have also seen a single pea used.
  11. Cut a round piece of parchment slightly smaller than your dutch oven and poke 20 holes, and put it over your improvised steamer. Spray the parchment with non-stick cooking spray. I had to cook the dumplings in two batches, to make sure that they don’t touch. Be careful because they will plump slightly during steaming. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes per batch. Serve immediately with chili oil.

Homemade Pretzel

December 8, 2010

I came home one afternoon and wanted Pretzels; the only problem was that they took 3 hours to make. Because cravings seldom last so long, they turned out to be dessert. An important lesson I learned; when rolling out the dough into 20-inch long strings, mine only rolled out to about 12-inches. If that happens, let them rest while you roll out the other 11 pieces of dough. Finally, double back and re-roll your strands. You should get closer to 20-inches, though I have probably never surpassed 18-inches.

Afternoon snack took a long time to make.

Chris Kimball’s recipe for the Soft Pretzels. Start by making the dough as any other, using 1/4 cup of honey. This recipe kneads the dough in a food processor. Let the dough rise for an hour, punch it down, then let it rise for another 45 minutes. On a floured counter divide the dough into 12 equal parts. Roll each into a 20-inch long, 1/2-inch wide roll. After rolling to about  10 inches, let them rest while you roll the others. The resting time will let them loosen so you can finish rolling to the full length. Shape each into pretzel form. Join each seem by wetting the dough where it comes together. In batches of 4, boil for 30 seconds per side in a 12-inch skillet filled with 6 cups of water and 3 tablespoons of baking soda. Drain briefly on a wire rack, sprinkle with coarse sea salt (Kosher Salt would be a second choice). Bake at 450-degrees for about 14 minutes. Let cool for 8 minutes (no longer).

Comments:

  1. I only had enough honey for about half the honey, so I substituted some brown sugar.
  2. Because my kitchen is only about 60-degrees at this time of year, I let the dough rise in the oven. Unfortunately, I forgot and went to preheat the oven for baking and nearly ruined the dough. Fortunately I remembered before the batch was ruined.
  3. If you can’t t roll them to 20-inches, try dangling and stretching them vertically until they became long and thin.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $1.90 for 12 Pretzels.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 2:00 PM.  Ready:  5:00 PM.


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