Cooking Through Ratio: Doughs and Batters – White Chocolate Chip with Macadamia Nuts Cookies

White Chocolate Chip & Macadamia Nut Cookies
White Chocolate Chip & Macadamia Nut Cookies

Working with and revisiting ratios becomes easier and easier each and every time. Each experience builds confidence and understanding. Cassie made another special request which I was more than happy to comply with while experimenting a little. Her cookie desire this time was white chocolate chip with macadamia nuts cookies. Not having white chocolate chips nor macadamia nuts provided a good excuse to go grocery shopping to pick up additional ingredients such as flour, unsalted butter and sugar that I was running low on. To my surprise all of the sugar and unsalted butter were sold out.  There must must be a lot of baking going on in Boston.

For this cookie, I opted for a 1-1-1-1 ratio of butter, sugar,eggs and flour. I was hoping for a rich chewy cookie as described in the book. The eggs were there to provide a softer and airier crumb.

Speed and comfort using a scale are definitely noticeable now which is a great thing when in the kitchen. They help eliminate the little voice in your head that tells you that you don’t have the time, energy or desire to cook.

Once the dough was pulled I added in enough white chocolate chips and chopped macadamia nuts so that they were evenly distributed and easily visible. Using the drop method with a spoon I placed the cookie dough onto a baking sheet and put it into a 350 degree F oven.

After 15 minutes, the cookies were cooked through, although the edges were over-browned, translated as burnt. The dough had spread considerably and reminded me of the first time I attempted making the classic chocolate chip cookie variation when I broke in the new stand mixer. Despite the visual imperfections, the taste and texture were virtually flawless. Soft, chewy, some crunch and sweetness; this is what I was looking for. With more practice and experimentation I look forward to baking the “perfect” cookie.

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Cooking Through Ratio: Doughs and Batters – Pound Cake and Sponge Cake

Batter up! I’m now onto batters, the next part in the first section of Ratio in my Cooking Through Ratio series. Batters differ from doughs with one significant difference in that they contain more liquid than solids making them pourable. Another interesting thing about batters is that you can create them using the same ingredients and the same ratios but what matters most is the order that the ingredients are added and therefore batters are categorized by the method the ingredients are combined in. For instance batters can be classified by mixing method including the creaming method, foaming method, the straight mixing method or variations of them.

The first items under batters are the pound cake and sponge cake. At first I wondered why there were two seemingly different cakes under one chapter, but the reason became apparent quickly. A pound cake is 1 part fat (butter), 1 part sugar, 1 part egg, 1 part flour and is so named because a traditional cake uses a pound of each of the ingredients. A sponge cake is 1 part egg, 1 part sugar, 1 part flour and 1 part fat (butter). As with all ratios, the ratio dictates the order the ingredients are added and these cakes differ dramatically in terms of the order and therefore different methods.

The first cake to make was the pound cake. Pound cake brings back childhood memories of my grandmother. She used to love eating it and I would enjoy eating it with her.  Although we didn’t make it ourselves at home, we did enjoy cutting thick buttery slices from a box of Entenmann’s All Butter Loaf Cake. Sometimes strawberry jelly was added but it was just as good plain right out of the box. Making pound cake on my own was something I was looking forward to.

Last Thursday night while the oven was preheated to 325 degrees F, I got out my 9-inch loaf pan, measured out the ingredients, utilizing a half portion of the required ingredients and got to work. The mixer was placed on the counter, paddle attached. As the ratio indicates, the butter was put into the mixer bowl first and beat with the paddle attachment on at a medium speed. Sugar and salt were added and beat for a few minutes. This is technically the leavening stage in creaming method. As the sugar is beat into the butter, tiny air bubbles are formed. These pockets are what will expand during baking as the gas expands. The change in the butter is apparent as it becomes lighter in color as a result of the air pockets.

Pound Cake: Creaming Butter and Sugar
Pound Cake: Creaming Butter and Sugar

Eggs are added next one at a time so that they can be incorporated into the butter, sugar and salt. As the egg incorporates, the mixture appeared to become soupy and separate a bit. I was worried that the air bubbles in the butter were getting destroyed, but slowly everything started to blend together.

Pound Cake: Adding Eggs
Pound Cake: Adding Eggs

At a lower speed the flour was added to the batter. As it was added slowly a dramatic change started to take place. The batter pulled together and the flour slowly absorbed some of the moisture. To ensure that not too much gluten was created, I made sure to only mix everything as long as it took to incorporate the flour as instructed.

Pound Cake: Adding Flour
Pound Cake: Adding Flour

The batter was quickly placed into the loaf pan and placed into the preheated oven.

Pound  Cake: Batter Before Baking
Pound Cake: Batter Before Baking

After an hour I used a paring knife to check on the baking. It needed a bit more time, and 10 minutes later the cake was cooked through.

Baked Pound Cake
Baked Pound Cake

Once cooled, I sliced into the pound cake and was surprised by how dense and rich it was. My visual observations were confirmed with a delicious bite.

Pound Cake Slices
Pound Cake Slices

This pound cake differed a lot from the Entenmann’s that I remembered eating as a child, but was great nonetheless.  The texture and the sweetness were clear reminders of what this really was, a cake made in a loaf pan instead of a normal cake pan. Perception with food truly does have a powerful impact.

With the first cake batter completed, I continued on to sponge cake last night. As noted the ratio is the same, but it’s the method that differs. Sponge cake is what you think of when you think of birthday and layer cakes. I remember eating amazing homemade birthday cakes with raspberry or strawberry jelly between the layers and a sweet frosting growing up. Mom was not big on processed foods and boxes of cake mix. My sister Ashley and I ate the real deal, and so after reading over this ratio I was happy to see how easy making a good cake can be.

This cake started off with the foaming method whereby the whole eggs and sugar were first whipped in the stand mixer using the wire whisk attachment. This causes the eggs to triple in volume and produces bigger bubbles than the creaming method which yields a fluffier cake.

Sponge Cake: Whipping Eggs and Sugar
Sponge Cake: Whipping Eggs and Sugar

Once the eggs and sugar had foamed, vanilla was added and then the bowl was taken off of the stand mixer and flour was folded in gently using a spatula after it as aerated in a food processor. The folding of the flour into the egg Ruhlman points out helps preserve the network of bubbles created during the whipping.

Sponge Cake: Folding In Flour
Sponge Cake: Folding In Flour

Once the flour was folded in, melted butter was folded in as well. This was hard to incorporate and I felt like it didn’t quite combine like the other ingredients before it. It’s possible that I did not fold it in enough, although being the first time I was careful to not over-mix and destroy the bubbles.

Sponge Cake: Folding In Melted Butter
Sponge Cake: Folding In Melted Butter

The fluffy batter was placed into a cake pan immediately and placed into the oven which had been pre-heated to 350 degrees F.

Sponge Cake: Poured Batter
Sponge Cake: Poured Batter

After 40 minutes the cake was fully baked and pulled out f the oven.

Sponge Cake: Baked
Sponge Cake: Baked

Once it has sufficiently cooled, I cut a slice and was able to see the dense network of air pockets that were left from the bubbles in the batter.

Sponge Cake: Slice
Sponge Cake: Slice

Although the book instructions allowed for the addition of baking powder, I opted not to use any and focus on the ratio. I’m sure the baking powder would have provided a nice lift, but this cake was a perfect texture for adding some tasty Maine wild blueberry jam, that I picked up on our family trip to Kennebunkport a few months ago.

Sponge Cake with Wild Maine Blueberry Jam
Sponge Cake with Wild Maine Blueberry Jam

Two cakes in less than a week are enough to ruin any diet, but in my quest to learn certain sacrifices must be made no matter how hard they are and how much I suffer. It’s a tough life that I live; I know this. At least this lesson is not tough to swallow.

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The Secret Is Out!

My mother while searching for my name came across my personal web site and then clicked through to this blog. I’m currently working on a re-design which I had hoped to have done before the “unveiling”, although I’m happy that she was able to read about what I have been up to. Now the pressure’s on to step up my game and improve my skill. The power of the internet and specifically Google’s search is truly amazing. I’m fortunate to have a really nice and encouraging mother unlike Julie Powell’s mother as portrayed in the film Julie & Julia, so mom if you’re reading thanks for your support and get ready for some really good food!

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Cooking Through Ratio: Doughs and Batters – Pâte à choux

Pâte à choux with Chocolate Ganache Topping
Pâte à choux with Chocolate Ganache Topping

It has been a little over a week since my last post in this series, Cooking Through Ratio. I don’t know why this is the case. I could argue that life just gets in the way, but it’s more likely other contributing factors. Perhaps it’s the French name that doesn’t translate well into English. It could be the double cooking method combined with the fact that I have never made anything like it before. Perhaps it’s because when you mention pâte à choux by name no one knows what you are talking about. Whatever the reason or reasons tonight was the night. The choux would wait no longer.

Pâte à choux goes by many names such as its name in full, choux paste, cream puff dough, as well as erroneously puff pastry and can take many forms from sweet to savory, endure many cooking methods such as in water, in oil or in the oven and depending on the direction you want to take it can be used in any part of a meal. It comes at the end of doughs and provides a good segway to batters, the next part of this book section as it depending on the point of cooking falls between a dough and a batter.

Nothing fancy here. I opted to use the basic ratio of 2 parts liquid (water), 1 part fat (butter), 1 part flour and 2 parts eggs. To achieve a result such as a profiterole or cream puff I opted to add 1/8 of a teaspoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of sugar as suggested by Ruhlman.

After assembling my mise en place, the water, butter, salt and sugar were brought to a simmer in a sauce pot. As instructed I added flour to the mixture, stirring vigorously until it was all combined and the flour had absorbed the liquid. At the expense of dirtying another kitchen item I transferred the “dough” to the stand mixer, letting it cool for a bit so the eggs would not curdle on contact, and added 1 egg at a time, waiting for each one to be incorporated into what was becoming a “batter”.

Pâte à Choux Batter
Pâte à Choux Batter

Once combined, I scooped out portions onto the parchment lined baking sheets using a table spoon. After the second or third it was immediately obvious why the preferred method of putting out pâte à choux is with a piping bag. As indicated in the book, the combination of ingredients probably took the same amount of time if not less to combine as it took the water, butter, salt and sugar mixture to come to a simmer. This stuff was easy.

Pâte à Choux Ready For Baking
Pâte à Choux Ready For Baking

I placed both baking sheets into the pre-heated oven at 425 degrees F. After 10 minutes, the heat was dropped down to 350 degrees F for another 10 minutes. This made sense when I thought about it. The rush of high heat at first would bring the temperature of the pâte à choux up quickly, creating steam and causing it to rise by creating air pockets. After the first wave of heat, the temperature was dropped to continue the baking process with less intensity. I could see similarities to biscuit dough minus any chemical leavening. I also saw parallels to cooking meat in the oven, where cooking at high heat creates a sear and crust on the outer layer, while dropping the heat down later allows for thorough cooking without drying out the meat. I digress.

When I took the baking sheets out of the oven, the pâte à choux on the top rack expanded at least twice as much as the ones on the lower rack. Overall everything had expanded in size and my anxiety quickly dissipated.  I was triumphant in making pâte à choux. Biting into one tasted great. It was light, airy, and had a subtle flavor allowing me to distinctly taste each key ingredient as I savored it in my mouth.

Pâte à Choux Baked
Pâte à Choux Baked

Although the flavor was good, I wanted to spice things up a bit with something sweet. I haven’t made it to the custards yet which left me without ice cream or a traditional cream filling for my creations. The easy solution to this problem was to create a simple chocolate ganache with what I had on hand being some chocolate morsels and some milk. The result was a smooth chocolate sauce that was the perfect compliment in both flavor and texture.

Pâte à Choux with Chocolate Ganache Topping
Pâte à Choux with Chocolate Ganache Topping

Tonight was a fun night and a great lesson in confidence. Batters are next which continue the caloric binge I have been enjoying thus far.

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Timing, Inspiration and Peach Golden Cake Heaven

Peach Golden Cake
Peach Golden Cake

All indicators today pointed a quiet Thursday night at home, but I wasn’t in the mood to be idle. Pâte à choux is next in my Cooking Through Ratio series, although the thought of making puff pastry with some sort of filling did not seem appealing to me.  After a long day, even the most inspired cook can dread the kitchen at times.

Today was the last day of my sister Ashley’s internship at the company where I work. I wanted to make something simple and yet nice for the occasion. My parents would be arriving to pick her up while also dropping off a new clothes dresser. The pressure was on.

We drove back to my apartment and as we walked up the stairs I had yet to come up with an idea. I checked the mail and to my surprise the first issue of my Gourmet Magazine subscription had arrived. Ashley and I climbed the stairs to my apartment while I eagerly unwrapped the magazine from its plastic cover. As I thumbed the pages, I came across a recipe for Nectarine Golden Cake. It called my name. This is what I would make…well sort of.

The recipe was simple and straightforward and thoroughly enjoyed by everyone.  One thing that I did note was that having the preparation time and elapsed time as part of the recipe made planning and execution easier, defining a key variable. I was less stressed knowing approximately how much time I had.

One of the things I enjoy about cooking and my new found confidence coupled with my increasing knowledge is improvisation. I now view recipes as guides instead of absolutes. To be clear I am referring to ingredients and not the ratio between them. For instance, the recipe calls for nectarines. I have peaches. It also calls for almond extract. Don’t have that. It calls for grated nutmeg. Mine is store bought powder.  You get the idea. The essence of this cake was still there and the result was delicious, pulled out of the oven just in time as my parents arrived.

Confidence and creativity in cooking and life breed success. A year ago my cake could have been store bought. Now with a quick read of a recipe I’m able to make modifications to suit my needs. Creating recipes, now that’s where I want to be.

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Cooking Through Ratio: Doughs and Batters – More Cookies

Freshly Baked Peanut Butter Cookies
Freshly Baked Peanut Butter Cookies

It’s cookie night again tonight in my apartment.  I promised Cassie I would make her some for a care package to be mailed and by request made peanut butter cookies based on a recipe she found and has tasted. How does this fit with Michael Ruhlman’s cookie ratio you ask?

A cookie is a cookie. Cookies have different ingredients, but the requirement of sugar, fat and flour remain constant. These core ingredients, re-worked allow for variations on cookies allowing you to create cookies that are crispy, chewy, soft, hard, plain,  or chocolate and much more. The interesting thing about this cookie ratio is that it not only uses brown sugar instead of white, but the moisture and fat come from a combination of milk, shortening and an egg. Additional flavorings were added, but again the core remained the same.

I made everything in my stand mixer bowl as described and combined the ingredients using the paddle attachment. Once combined, I scooped tablespoon sized portions onto cookie sheets and baked them. 7 impatient minutes later and I was in peanut butter heaven.

Peanut Butter Cookies Cooling
Peanut Butter Cookies Cooling

The cookies are great and markedly different than the first batch of cookies I made last week. They are softer, chewier and more flavorful. There is a subtle balance of sweet along with the peanut butter and funny enough old mister shortening adds his unmistakable texture and moisture to the party. I’ll have to say one thing, working with butter and shortening is a nightmare. They make everything sticky and hard to clean, but the final product makes up for the hassle to some extent.

I am eager to substitute butter for the shortening the next time around which is actually the opposite of what is usually done to see how the change in fat affects the overall result. Butter having some water along with the fat should change things up a bit also. If only Alton Brown was around to help me do some quick math. I’ll have to wait for a day in the future and earlier hour to fully understand this ratio and how the changes in the basic ingredients lent themselves to producing this very different and very delicious final result.

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Food Bring Me Home

It was another hot day today. Everyone kept talking about it and yet the heat did not bother me. My training must be making me immune to hot temperatures. I have enjoyed a relaxing weekend with family, filled with great meals and conversation. I wondered how I could top it all off.

Acton-Boxborough Farmers Market in Acton, MA
Acton-Boxborough Farmers Market in Acton, MA

My friend Jenn started the Acton-Boxborough Farmers Market in Acton Ma. A few months ago I had helped her work on the farmers market web site and being Sunday and in the area, I had the perfect opportunity to check it out while also picking up some nice seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Farmers markets are great for what they allow you to do. They give you the opportunity to pick up fresh local food at a fair price while helping support the local economy. One thing that struck me about this particular market was the willingness of people to provide free samples of food.

Acton-Boxborough Farmers Market in Acton, MA
Acton-Boxborough Farmers Market in Acton, MA

The vegetables in particular were diverse and some unknown to me. I often try new foods on recommendation, but allowing me to taste the food allowed me to evaluate it’s freshness as well as gain a better appreciation for what it was, how it tastes and how I might cook it. Everyone was more than willing to provide simple cooking suggestions as well as full fledged recipes. The community feel and friendly atmosphere are hard to come by at the mega-grocery store and a welcomed change.

Live music, artisans and friendly volunteers all contributed to a fun environment.

Acton-Boxborough Farmers Market in Acton, MA
Acton-Boxborough Farmers Market in Acton, MA

Not wanting to end my culinary tour and trip down memory lane, I also stopped off at Westward Orchards in my hometown of Harvard, Ma. on my way back to the city.

The farm is owned and run by the Green family, the family of one of my High School classmates Stephanie. As I pulled in, the sign for fresh peaches called my name; I parked my car and headed to the farm stand building.  I grabbed a bag of peaches and walked around the store. I was greeted by her parents, then almost not recognizing her, was greeted with a cheerful hello. It’s amazing how after years (11 in this case) you can pick up some things in life with ease almost as if no time had passed at all. I learned of her recent engagement, talked about business, my new found love for food and cooking, old friends and generally just caught up. Noticing the bag of peaches in hand, she assured me that they were delicious and that I would be hooked. I would definitely be back, and back in less than 11 years for sure. I had no doubt she was right.

Westward Orchards of Harvard, MA
Westward Orchards of Harvard, MA

Though I longed for life in the city when I grew up, this weekend served as a reminder of how lucky I was to grow up where I did. Access to local fruits and vegetables and those who produce it is to some extent a luxury few have. The “apple town” I once scoffed at isn’t so bad after all. Don’t get me wrong though as  I do enjoy living in the city and what it has to offer, but the quaint contrast of small-town life is fun to partake in when given the opportunity.

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Simple Food, Simple Memories

The Brown's at Brown's Seabrook Lobster Pound in Seabrook, NH
The Brown's at Brown's Seabrook Lobster Pound in Seabrook, NH

Today I accompanied my family on some errands, the most notable being getting a new computer for my sister before school starts.  There is no better way to end a morning of errands than having a meal together at a place we used to frequent during the summer many years ago.

We first started going to Brown’s Seabrook Lobster Pound in Seabrook, NH probably because of it’s name, but also because of its simple yet delicious seafood. My family stopped here many years ago and made many return visits during my childhood. We used to go when my cousins visited from Honduras during the summer and order fresh seafood and then run across the street to eat ice cream when we were done. These were fun memories and times everyone enjoyed.

The restaurant was only 30 minutes from the mall we were at, so we decided to make the trip. At times the traffic was bad, with vacationers heading north to enjoy the beaches of New Hampshire and Maine. We remained resolute and made it to the restaurant stomachs yearning.

Brown's Seabrook Lobster Pound of Seabrook, NH
Brown's Seabrook Lobster Pound of Seabrook, NH

Orders were placed at the counter. My sister and father ordered lobster, fresh out of the in-house lobster tanks.

Lobster Tank at Brown's Seabrook Lobster Pound, Seabrook, NH
Lobster Tank at Brown's Seabrook Lobster Pound, Seabrook, NH

My mother and I ordered lobster bisque. She also had a lobster roll and I had a clam roll. Everything was well worth the wait and just as good as memory indicated it would be.

Clam Roll and Lobseter Bisque at Brown's Seabrook Lobster Pound, Seabrook, NH
Clam Roll and Lobseter Bisque at Brown's Seabrook Lobster Pound, Seabrook, NH

The simple food and establishment brought back memories of my childhood, enjoying hot summer days eating and spending time with family. I’m glad we made the trek north together as summer comes to an end and hope we can enjoy some more outings together soon.

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Cooking Through Ratio: Doughs and Batters – More Biscuits

Morning Biscuits
Morning Biscuits

Sharing food with others is fun. Sharing food with my mom and the rest of the family is the most fun because I feel like my time and effort and the enjoyment they get from eating my food are a way of saying thanks for all that they have done and all that they do. I’m spending this weekend at my parents’ house to enjoy some time together before my sister Ashley goes back to college for her junior year.

Cooking in a kitchen that is not your own is very different as you search for ingredients, tools and layout your work space. Last night I surprised my mother by making the biscuit dough. She came down the stairs and found me in the kitchen at work in shock I am sure, just before we left to go see Julie and Julia. She doesn’t own a scale so I had to determine the ratio for biscuits by doing some research. Since she has measuring cups, I resolved to find out how many dry ounces of the ingredients were in a cup so I could easily measure them. I worked everything together into a dough that was very similar to my first experience making biscuits using Michael Ruhlman’s “Chicago 3-1-2 Biscuit Ratio”.

The dough was left to chill over night in the refrigerator. I woke up this morning to roll it out and fold it over several times. It seemed like smooth sailing from here. The oven was pre-heated to 400 degrees F and the biscuits were placed on a baking sheet and put in for 20 minutes.  As luck would have it, the thermostat was having problems again. She just had it replaced, but it was still being temperamental. Since we were in a rush to head out for our plans for the day, we probably committed a cardinal baking sin and cranked up the heat to 450 degrees to try to meet our deadline. Ten minutes later they were baked through and I received rave reviews from the family all around.

These were the perfect compliment to a sausage and egg breakfast. The biscuits were great served with strawberry jelly and butter while still hot. The kudos made them that much better.

Biscuits for Breakfast
Biscuits for Breakfast
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Julie & Julia…More Julia Please

Tonight I went to see Julie & Julia with my family. We went to the 10 p.m. showing at a local theater and despite the late time were surprised that the theater we were in was empty except for ourselves. This was amazing considering all the press that has come out promoting the film.

I started reading Julia’s book, My Life in France in anticipation of the film, but was unable to read it through before the film came out. So far it has been exceptional and eye opening, providing insight into the legendary cook that goes way beyond her successful TV shows and books. I’ll admit that I was less excited to hear about Julie Powell’s story and introduction to cooking. Yes, she and I have many commonalities with respect to writing a blog food and our learning to cook, and perhaps our egotistical view that anyone should care to read our blog, but I could not find any additional contributions to the food world from her big or small post blog except for her story which has become a film. Perhaps our desires and goals are different, but I believe in give and take when it comes to anything in life, and that each student has a duty to teach what they have learned to make the world a better place. This I intend to do in the future.

I was not swayed by the onslaught of press that has come out for the film. I chose not to read any reviews and go in with an open mind and with only a cursory idea of what it was about.  Often hype ruins a movie.

Acting for both personalities was great. Amy Adams is sweet and likable as she portrays Julie Powell in this film. Meryl Streep provides a convincing and enjoyable performance as Julia Child. The acting is where I feel the film’s merits end. The Powell side of the story was definitely weaker than the Julia Child portion. The director did a great job of weaving both stories together in a non-confusing way and in the end did the best she could making a movie as my father put it “out of a story with no plot”.

Julia Child’s culinary legend is unlikely to be matched by anyone. Being able to top what she has done for cooking in society is a feat nearly impossible to top. She was an amazing person who left an amazing legacy, helping America and the world embrace the kitchen again. With the bar set high, she provides inspiration for us all to be the best we can and help others be at their best as well. Even though the movie was not a ten, it’s easy going and worth seeing even if only to be inspired. The fact that it exists is an indicator of how far and how important food has become in our society. If only it had more about Julia or perhaps if it was just a movie about her life would it have scored higher.

Bon appétit!

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