Ratio, Method and the Difference a Pan Makes

“Rebuilding” a kitchen and improper planning sometimes result in lessons learned. Sometimes that lesson is simple, follow the directions.

I like making pound cake. For one thing it’s simple. It’s also a quarter butter and a quarter sugar. The rest is just a matter of necessity. I’ve definitely experimented with size and shape before, but it was more calculated versus a last minute decision. The great thing about ratios is that you can scale up or down pretty easily. In baking, a key component for cakes is the pan in which they are baked in. Not having a loaf pan, I opted to pour my batter into my nine-inch square pyrex pan and hoped for the best. The problem here was that I was now baking in a new oven, with a new pan shape and had to figure out what my new cook time would be. That aside, the one thing I didn’t account for was the pan depth. The batter of course was quite spread out and as a result, the finished product was more crust and less soft and buttery cake. Pound cake requires a particular depth to crust ratio for success which this end result didn’t meet. As I commute back and forth between Boston and New York, I’ll have to bring down a spare loaf pan for my next batch.

Square Pound Cake

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Good Things Don’t Go To Waste

I just finished up writing about my French Apple Tart attempt.  As I read my culinary books and learn more about what it’s like to work in the industry I am more in tune with the efficiency required in the kitchen when cooking. This was a problem in last Friday’s cooking class. I am also more aware of waste and how unused food can be re-crafted into other creations to avoid waste and save money. Tonight I tried to tackle both lessons head on.

First, I was left with extra apples and pie dough from my French Apple Tart since it was smaller than the recipe called for after cutting it. The only thing that came to mind given the quantity that I had was an apple pie. I figured I had enough pie dough for one of my ramekins and I also had enough apples to fill it. I rolled out the dough and lined the ramekin and then placed the apples inside with butter and some apricot jelly.

Improvised Mini Apple Pie Filled Up
Improvised Mini Apple Pie Filled Up

I then covered the top with the remaining dough and poke vent holes in it. I brushed the top with melted butter and placed it into the oven along with the tart with 30 minutes to go.

Improvised Mini Apple Pie Ready For Baking
Improvised Mini Apple Pie Ready For Baking

It only took about 25 minutes for the pie to bake, and once the crust looked nicely browned I pulled it out to cool.

Baked Improvised Mini Apple Pie
Baked Improvised Mini Apple Pie

Once it cooled enough to eat, I was able to enjoy my second gym workout-destroying dessert of the night. I was very happy with the result. The addition of the apricot jelly added some nice texture and flavor to the end result.

The second thing that I have noticed is that I create things in single batches and don’t leverage a pre-heated oven or the fact that I already have my tools and machines out for making food.  I decided to leverage this by creating chocolate-chip walnut muffins that I can eat for breakfast throughout the week. I’ve had a lot of practice making the muffins, so this was an easy task.

I had turned down the temperature in the oven to 375 degrees F as the recipe required. I then mixed up my batter and greased the muffin tin. I was feeling pretty confident with the batter and decided to put in more chocolate chips and walnuts than usual and set my timer for 20 minutes before putting the batter into the tin.

Chocolate Chip Walnut Muffins Ready For Baking
Chocolate Chip Walnut Muffins Ready For Baking

They muffins were placed into the oven and set to bake as usual while I began the clean-up process. While I was more efficient with my time and tools, the kitchen at this point was quite croweded and needed to be cleaned up to make space. Cleaning up as you go is something so simple and yet so important when working in the kitchen. After 18 minutes the muffins looked perfect and I took them out to cool.

Baked Chocolate Chip Walnut Muffins
Baked Chocolate Chip Walnut Muffins

I realized that after 5 minutes of cooling I had forgotten to take them out of the tin and put them onto the cooling racks. I did this as quickly as possible fearing that the hot tin would cause them to become mushy as they cooled as was stated by the recipe.

Chocolate Chip Walnut Muffins Cooling
Chocolate Chip Walnut Muffins Cooling

The muffins finished on the racks, but they were noticably different than previous batches. They were a bit softer to the touch and I can’t help but wonder if it’s because of my carelessness with the recipe with respect to the addition of chocolate chips and walnuts without measuring or if it was forgetting to pull them out of the tin and place them on cooling racks immediately.  Luckily taste was unaffected and delicious as usual.

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Not As Easy As It Looks: French Apple Tart

A few weeks ago I turned on the the TV to watch the Food Network, a common occurrence these days.  The Barefoot Contessa was on with a “back to basics” special, so I decided to stay tuned in. If only you could order a cable package with just the Food Network. One items she made caught my eye, a French Apple Tart. It looked simple to make and when done, looked delicious. I figured, why not make it when I have some free time? I bought the apples and apricot jam that I needed and put them away until I had time. Tonight was such an occasion. I don’t know why I chose to spend my time this way. My cupboards and freezer are jammed packed with bread and cookies, and now I have more items to add to them.

I created my dough and put it in the fridge to stay cool for one hour. I then started peeling the apples and realized my peeler sucks; this is the first Oxo product that I would have to say is no good. Once peeled, I realized coring them would be a problem. I don’t have a melon baller, so I had to use a pairing knife. This is the second Oxo product that I have that is no good. The handle was just too big, and the apples were just too delicate. I was able to cut my slices and get them ready. Time passed and my hour was up. My next task was to roll out my dough. The dough was tough to roll and a bit dry and started to split as it became thinner and thinner. As I pressed on,  I realized that I would have to do some serious cutting to make it rectangular and uniform. This left me with some extra dough

With the dough rolled out, it was placed on parchment paper set on top of a non-stick cookie sheet. The oven was preheated to 400 degrees F and I started to place my apples on top diagonally as described. I next placed the sugar on top and then cubes of butter throughout.

French Apple Tart Ready for the Oven
French Apple Tart Ready for the Oven

I set my timer to one hour and then placed the cookie sheet into the oven. The recipe said that it should take between 45 to 60 minutes so I figured at 45 minutes I would check in for doneness (…is that a word?). At 45 minutes, it looked close to ready so I let it stay for another 10 minutes. That clearly was too long. My edges burned and as I opened the oven door smoke billowed out causing my smoke detector to go off. I’m sure my neighbors love me. I pulled out the apple tart and set it to cool.

My Baked French Apple Tart
My Baked French Apple Tart

In the meantime I heated up some apricot jelly and rum in a sauce pan to thin it out. I then drizzled the mixture on top of the tart and let it cool before taking the first bite.

French Apple Tart with Apricot Glaze
French Apple Tart with Apricot Glaze

Despite the burnt edges, the apple tart is amazing. My tart was smaller than it was supposed to be, and that might have contributed to the baking results. I also shouldn’t have let it stay for another 10 minutes, but I was afraid of opening the oven too many times and causing the temperature to drop. I envy those with a glass window in their oven doors that allows them to check their food. I also envy those with gas stoves and ovens, but I don’t want to get too greedy. One can dream.

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Irish Shortbread Cookie Disaster

I just got back from dinner with my cousin Gladys celebrating my birthday at Oishi, a Japanese restaurant in Boston’s South End. I was still feeling like making something, anything at all for practice. I know I am supposed to be working with eggs to further my skills, but I don’t think I can stomach another omelette, fritata, scrambled egg or anything of the sort for a while. My plans for making mayonnaise for my lunch sandwiches was thwarted by the power outage that I experienced and continue to experience as I can’t use deli meat for sandwiches anymore and need to get some more. Keeping up with the Irish theme I searched for something quick and simple and settled on Irish Shortbread cookies, what I hoped would be a great end to the evening as dessert.

The recipe for “Irish Shortbread Cookies” was simple requiring flour, sugar, salt and butter. How could this go wrong? I mixed my ingredients and rolled them. This dough was really sticky and stuck to my “non-stick” rolling pin.  The cookies were easy to cut with a pizza cutter, a trick I learned from Alton Brown on his show Good Eats and were put on a cookie sheet. The dough was pricked with a fork as the recipe requested and I set my timer.

Shortbread Cookies Before Baking
Shortbread Cookies Before Baking

After about 10 minutes I knew something was wrong. The cookies were just flattening out on my cookie sheet and some of the thinner ones began to brown. I took them out earlier than the recipe called for at 15 minutes, flat and missing the fork prick marks with the thinner ones close to burnt.

My Flat Shortbread Cookies
My Flat Shortbread Cookies

Unfortunately I don’t know what went wrong, yet this incident did remind me that recipes can’t be blindly followed. I wasn’t expecting them to rise, but instead harden up as moisture evaporated from the dough. I suspect that the heat was too high causing the butter to melt faster than the moisture evaporated. On the bright side, the non-burnt cookies do taste good although they are a bit on the oily side.

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