Blog Archives - The Baker and The Chef
 
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Breads from other countries are very hearty and dense.  There are certainly some hearty American breads, but soft rolls I think are very classically American.  It's the epitome of comfort food.  The house fills with the yeasty smell of rising bread and then as it bakes it your mouth waters from the smell of it freshly baking.  They're best piping hot right out of the oven, then carefully torn open while trying to avoid burning your fingers and then smeared with softened butter.

For me soft rolls also remind me of my baking classes in culinary school.  We made rolls every class to serve in the dining room with the dinner the food prep students made.  Just like a real restaurant one or two people would make a huge batch of dough and when it was ready to be rolled we would all gather round and talk while we shaped the rolls.  It was a good way to get to know each other as we worked our way through the dough.  At home it's a good way to get your kids into the kitchen and talking to you.

A lot of people are intimidated by bread baking.  Unlike most baking it's not exact and precise.  Ask any food professional what the difference is between a hot food chef and a baker and they will tell you that a baker is extremely precise.  In a lot of ways baking is like chemistry.  Every ingredient in your recipe is there in a specific amount to create a chemical reaction.  Baking recipes are "balanced".  Bread recipes, however, are not.  A lot of bread baking is done by feel.  That can be intimidating.  But, if you practice you will eventually develop the feel for the bread and you will find yourself looking forward to making bread.  It's a very sensuous experience.

A few key points to follow when bread making:  proof your yeast in 110 F water.  Water that is much hotter than that will kill the yeast.  Remember, yeast is alive.  Water much cooler won't sufficiently wake up the yeast.  You will still be able to make bread, but it will take quite a bit longer as the yeast will be slow and lazy.  Take the time to proof the yeast, even if your recipe doesn't specifically call for you to do so.  As I said, yeast is alive, and if your yeast has been sitting around for a while it may have died.  You don't want to go through the whole process of preparing the bread dough (or waste all the ingredients) only to discover that your bread didn't rise because the yeast was dead.

Another important concept is the use of salt.  Salt is necessary in bread making because it's a flavor enhancer, but it also inhibits the growth of the yeast.  Without it your dough would rise like crazy.  Dough that's over-risen doesn't just give you multiple loaves, it gives you multiple loaves of bad tasting bread.  But, be careful with the salt.  If you dump it directly onto the yeast you run the risk of killing it off.  Instead, mix in some of the flour with the yeast before you add your salt.

After your dough has risen the first thing you want to do is "punch" it down.  On television you often seen a very comedic scene where the character is literally punching the dough.  This isn't what you want to do.  Bread dough is a living thing, and like all living things, should be treated gently.  What you really want to do is gently work the big pockets of air out of the dough that have formed during the rising.  You're also redistributing the gases and evening out the temperature of the dough.  Stick your fingers in the dough before you punch it down and you will feel that it's warm.

When you've finished punching down the dough divide it into more manageable sizes and roll into rounds (boules) and let it rest, under plastic, on your work table.  This allows the strands of protein (gluten) to relax.  If you don't allow the proteins to relax your dough will be stiff and hard to work with and will tend to bounce back from whatever shape you're trying to make.

After it's relaxed you can begin shaping it.  In this particular recipe I was doing a few things.  I wanted to make some cinnamon bread to have for breakfast, and I wanted to make some garlic bread to have with our dinner.  I also wanted to make some soft rolls to have with our Thanksgiving turkey.  As you can see, the soft roll dough is extremely versatile.  I very rarely bake bread in a loaf pan and prefer a more free form loaf, but you can do whatever you prefer.  Depending on what type of bread you're making you will dust your pan with flour or cornmeal, or butter it if it's a loaf pan.

You can also put a wash on the top of your bread.  You can use a variety of washes.  You can paint the top with milk to get a golden brown top, or you can paint it with an egg wash (an egg mixed with a little water) for a shiny golden brown finish.  You can use water, or nothing at all.  You can also top the rolls with a variety of seeds (like poppy or sesame) or with cinnamon sugar, pretty much anything that sounds good to you.  It's an easy way to make one dough but end up with a variety of finished rolls for an interesting bread basket.

After you've shaped your bread allow it to rest again.  If you don't allow for this resting period the bread will shrink when you put it into the oven.  After it's done resting put the bread into a hot 400 F oven and bake.  How long the bread takes to finish will depend on whether you're making small rolls or large loaves.  The way to test the bread for doneness is to wait for it to be a nice golden color and for it to be fairly sturdy.  Gently flip the bread over (be careful because it will be hot) and thump the bottom side.  If the thumping makes a hollow sound the bread is done.  If it sounds dull then the bread needs more time.

When the bread is finished baking you can use it right away or you can freeze it and use it later.  If you do decide to freeze it do not wrap it until it's completely cool.  If you wrap it before it's cool the heat from the bread will create steam in the wrapping and make your bread soggy.  It's best to leave the wrapped bread out on the counter or freeze it, but don't stick it in the refrigerator.  Refrigeration actually speeds up staling and your bread won't last as long.  But, remember, if you do end up with stale loaves you can always make french toast (pain perdu)!

SOFT ROLLS:

    yield:  5 lbs raw dough

  • 24 oz (720 g) Water, 110 F
  • 1 1/2 oz (44 g) Yeast
  • 1 lb 10 oz (1250 g) Bread Flour
  • 4 t (24 g) Salt
  • 4 oz (120 g) Sugar
  • 2 oz (60 g) Powdered Milk
  • 2 oz (60 g) Shortening
  • 2 oz (60 g) Butter
  1. proof the yeast in the warm water
  2. while the yeast is proofing, scale half of the bread flour, the salt, sugar, powdered milk, shortening and butter into a bowl
  3. combine the scaled ingredients with the proofed yeast and begin mixing with a dough hook
  4. slowly begin adding the remaining bread flour, adding only as much as necessary (and sometime you may need more)
  5. mix for approximately 10-12 mins on low
  6. loosely cover the bowl with plastic and rise in the bowl until doubled in size (approximately 60-90 mins)
  7. after the dough has risen punch down the dough and shape into four rounds (or boules) and allow to rest on the work table for approximately 10 mins
  8. after resting, shape the bread into loaves or divide them into rolls and all put on a flour or cornmeal dusted pan; allow to rest again for 10 mins
  9. bake in a 400 F oven until the underside of the bread sounds hollow when thumped; an exact time cannot be given because it will depend on what size loaf or roll you're baking
The captions stopped working (again) as I was writing them.  Now when I go in and try to edit the captions I get a message basically telling me I can't edit them.  I'm not sure what the problem is, but I'm working on it.  If you have any questions please ask, I'll gladly answer!
 
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It's that time of year to do holiday cooking.  I love this time of year!  When it comes to holiday dinners I'm very traditional.  There are certain things that must be on the table for me to feel like the holiday was a success.  I love turkey, and even on Christmas when it's traditional to serve ham, I still prefer turkey.  I also have to have "pink stuff" and "green stuff".  Pink and green stuff is a concoction that my mother came up with years ago and it's become a staple at every holiday meal.

Another holiday staple is egg nog.  My extended family has a "take it or leave it" attitude when it comes to egg nog and so it's hit or miss if it will make it to the dinner table.  My immediate family loves it, especially M1, who can drink an entire quart in a matter of minutes.

In keeping with my tendency to re-work classic dishes, I thought I'd give making homemade egg nog a shot this year.  I'm so glad I did!  Compared to the commercial egg nog the homemade nog is so much lighter and more refreshing.  You can drink it with the rum or without.  We went without because it was mainly for the kids and me to drink, although I forced everyone to at least try it!

I also chose to cook the eggs to not run the risk of anyone getting sick.  That would really ruin the holiday!  The key is to gently cook everything so as not to end up with scrambled eggs.  Just like when making the pastry cream, it's critical to keep everything clean and get into the refrigerator very quickly.

I definitely recommend trying to make your own egg nog this year.  Especially for those people who claim not to like it, this will change your mind.  It's delicious and such a decadent treat!

HOMEMADE EGG NOG:

    yield: 80 oz

  • 4 c Milk
  • 1 1/2 t Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • 1/2 t Vanilla
  • 12 Egg Yolks
  • 1 1/2 C Sugar
  • 2 C Rum (optional)
  1. combine milk, pumpkin pie spice, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, in a saucepan, and heat over lowest setting for 5 minutes; slowly bring milk mixture to a boil
  2. in mixing bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar; whisk until fluffy
  3. temper the hot milk mixture slowly into the eggs; pour mixture back into the saucepan; cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until slightly thickened; do not allow mixture to boil; let cool for about an hour
  4. stir in rum (if using) and cream; refrigerate overnight before serving; shake well before serving
  5. top with a dash of cinnamon
 
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The other day I was waiting in line and my mind drifted off.  I was thinking about what I would like to make later that day.  I didn't want to make anything huge because we were going out of town and I didn't want to be forced to eat an entire pan of something or have to let it go to waste.  I was also thinking about maybe making a stop at Starbucks.

Then it came to me... I could make a white hot chocolate but instead of whipped cream or a regular marshmallow I could make a brown sugar marshmallow.  I sent a text to The Chef to ask him if he thought that sounded good and he gave me an emphatic "YES" in reply.

I dashed home so I could make the marshmallows.  The marshmallows need ten hours to set up so I needed to get those done.  I make my own marshmallows when I make Rice Krispie Treats and people ask me why mine are so much better than theirs.  When I tell them it's because I make my own marshmallows... well, they look at me like I'm crazy.  Oh well.  It's a food thing.  You either get it or you don't!

After making the marshmallows and letting them set for most of the day I made the white hot chocolate.  Usually when I make a (regular) hot chocolate I either make it with a mix or I use cocoa powder.  I figured I would have to use white chocolate as there isn't a white cocoa powder.  I knew the drink needed some richness that had to come from somewhere other than just dumping in a bunch of white chocolate.  If I did that it would just taste like a melted candy bar, which isn't bad, but not what I was going for.

I decided to add some heavy whipping cream to the milk.  I gently warmed the milk and cream and then poured it over the chocolate and stirred it together, completely melting the chocolate.  Then I whisked in a very high quality vanilla and continued whisking to get the top a little foamy.  I then added the brown sugar marshmallow, let it sit for a minute so the marshmallow could melt a little and took a sip.  It was fantastic!  So, if it's a cold night and you're looking for a special treat this is a great one!  It's quick and simple but you and whoever you make it for will love it.

-The Baker

WHITE HOT CHOCOLATE:
    yield: 32 oz

  • 2/3 C White chocolate, good quality, coarsely chopped
  • 3 C Whole milk
  • 1/2 C Heavy Cream
  • 1 t Vanilla extract
  1. place white chocolate in a medium heat-proof bowl; set aside
  2. in a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk and heavy cream; heat until bubbles begin forming around the edge of the pan, about 4 minutes
  3. immediately pour the hot cream mixture over the white chocolate pieces; when the chocolate begins to melt, stir the mixture to combine
  4. whisk in the vanilla extract; continue to whisk until a light foam forms on the top
  5. pour the hot chocolate into serving mugs; garnish with marshmallow
BROWN SUGAR MARSHMALLOWS:

    Yield: 13" x 9" pan
    Prep: butter or spray (very well) sheet pan

  • 2 envelopes Gelatin
  • 80 g Water
  • 1 t Vanilla
  • 323 g Sugar
  • 200 g Light Corn Syrup
  • 80 g Water
  • 1 g Salt
  • Powdered Sugar (for dusting) equal portion to corn starch
  • Corn Starch (for dusting) equal portion to powdered sugar
  1. Put 1st portion water and vanilla in mixing bowl and sprinkle gelatin over to bloom
  2. Put sugar, corn syrup, 2nd portion water and salt in a heavy saucepan; bring to a boil and cook to 236 F
  3. Using whisk attachment, with the mixer at full speed, pour all of the hot syrup slowly down the side of the bowl (this is the bowl with the gelatin in it); be very careful as mixture is extremely hot and may splash out
  4. Whip until mixture is very fluffy and stiff (approx 8 – 10 mins)
  5. Pour mixture into buttered or sprayed pan and smooth with an oiled offset spatula
  6. Allow the mixture to sit, uncovered, at room temp for 10 – 12 hours
  7. Mix equal parts powdered sugar and corn starch and sift generously over top of marshmallow slab
  8. Turn slab out onto a cutting board and dust that side with powdered sugar and corn starch mixture
  9. Cut into desired shapes; dip exposed edges in sugar/starch mixture or colored sugar
I apologize, but the captions aren't working.  For some reason when I put in the captions all of my pictures get deleted.  Very frustrating!  Unfortunately I can't explain what's happening in every picture, so if you're confused please ask questions and I'll gladly answer them!

-The Baker
 
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I decided to try to make some English Muffins.  See, I like to try to make things at home that you would normally buy at the store.  I've been wanting to make English Muffins for a while but I'd been putting it off because I thought there was no way I would be happy with the results.  English Muffins have such a distinctive flavor and texture that I assumed was directly related to being mass produced in a factory.  I thought I'd end up with a strange biscuit that was completely different than what I was looking for.

Yesterday I finally decided to give them a try and at least then I'd be able to take them off my to do list.  It's a very simple yeast raised dough, but it also has baking soda and folded in egg whites... that's a lot of leavening!  No wonder there are so many nooks and crannies when you cut one open!

So, now that I've finally made them what's my verdict?  I'm kicking myself that I didn't make them sooner.  And I'm also kicking myself that I didn't have the confidence to know they would be good and experiment a little.  I played it safe and just made a plain English Muffin.  Plain like you can buy at any store at any time... boring!  Like I said, I was assuming I wouldn't like them and I didn't want to waste any more ingredients than I already was.  Now I know better!  Next time I'm going to infuse some rosemary in the water and serve them filled with chicken salad... or I'm going to put chives in them and serve them with a scrambled egg sandwich... or I'll put mini chocolate chips in them and serve them toasted with peanut butter... or... well, you get the idea!

They were so good that when The Chef came home and tried one he said, and I quote, "I'm really impressed with these, and I'm not easily impressed."  Well, that was a back-handed compliment if I ever heard one, but I understood the sentiment!  They were surprisingly good and made the house smell delicious, but when you toast them the nutty smell of the toasted cornmeal just makes your mouth water!

-The Baker

ENGLISH MUFFINS:
    yield: 16 - 3" muffins

  • 1 1/4 C Water, 110 F
  • 4 C AP Flour
  • 2 1/2 t Yeast
  • 1/2 t Baking Soda
  • 1 1/2 t Salt
  • 2 Egg whites
  • Cornmeal, as needed
  1. pour water in a large bowl; add yeast, baking soda and 2 cups of bread flour; mix until smooth; allow to sit for 5 minutes uncovered
  2. while the yeast is proofing, whip egg whites until they become stiff and moist; when the egg whites have formed stiff peaks fold into dough batter using a rubber spatula until incorporated
  3. return to the mixer and add in the rest of the flour, a 1/4 cup at a time; after the first 1/4 cup mix in salt
  4. mix until dough becomes smooth; oil a bowl and place the dough into the bowl, turn dough over till all sides are very lightly coated; cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest till double in bulk, about 1 hour
  5. afterwards, pour out onto a flour dusted flat surface; gently press to release some of the air from the dough
  6. using a rolling pin roll out to a 1/2 inch thick; allow dough to rest for 3 minutes to relax; using a 3" cookie cutter, cut out circles; place the cut out pieces onto some cornmeal; you can re-roll the dough scraps; sprinkle the tops with more cornmeal
  7. cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 45 minutes; about 5 minutes before you are ready to cook the English Muffins turn on your griddle or frying pan to a medium heat; when the griddle is hot lightly oil it; place the muffins on and fry; if you are using a frying pan you may only be able to fry 3-4 at a time; fry on one side for about 4 minutes; then turn over and fry for another 4 minutes; do this once more to a total of 16 minutes
 
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I grew up in a single parent household.  My mom would make dinner every night.  Every once in a while we would get Arby's sandwiches when they were 5 for $5.  During Lent, we would either have fish sticks or Mc Donald's fish filet sandwiches on Fridays.  And we would sometimes order pizza from the Little Caesar that was just down the street.  But for the most part she would cook dinner from scratch.  I can remember eating a fair amount of pork chops.  Mom like to crust them with that Shake-n-Bake stuff you find in the supermarket.  Essentially they amounted to seasoned bread crumbs, but I guess it was convenient to make because they provided you with the bag to shake it up in.

Back then it was faux pas to cook pork to any temperature other than well done.  We all know where that road leads to.  A dried out, chewy mess.  Well, things have changed over the last few years.  The FDA now says that it is OK to eat pork at 'medium' temperature.  I swear most chefs in this country can probably tell you the exact day this happened.  It was like the best news anyone could have given out.  Bigger than the Bears winning the Super Bowl, bigger than a senate seat scandal, bigger than just about anything.  America would finally be able to enjoy a piece of pork.

This recipe is a grown-up, modernized version of those pork chops mom used to make.  No Shake-n-Bake was used this time though.  What you will have are nicely seasoned pork chops that are full of flavor and as juicy as can be.  The horseradish crust provides texture as well as flavor and makes them look like they just came out of a steakhouse.  Try these at your next family dinner or holiday party.

-The Chef

HORSERADISH CRUST:

  • 4oz butter, softened
  • 3Tbsp parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup prepared horseradish
  • 1tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1Tbsp mayo
  • 1/8 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  1. Combine the butter, parsley, horseradish, mayo, and mustard in a mixing bowl and mix well.
  2. Stir in the Parmesan cheese.
  3. Fold in the bread crumbs.
  4. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

For Making Pork Chops:
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Season pork chops with salt and pepper.  In a saute pan over med-high heat, add 2 tbsp of oil, and begin to saute pork chops.  Cook 1 minute on each side, then remove to a sheet pan.
  3. Remove horseradish crust from fridge.  Make the crust by forming it in the palm of your hands.  Try to replicate the size of the chop.  Place on top of pork chop and gently press into place.
  4. Cook pork with crust in oven for approximately 12 minutes.  Remove and place under the broiler and cook until crust is golden brown.
  5. Remove from broiler and let rest 5 minutes.  This allows the natural juices to absorb back into the meat so they don't run out because they were cut immediately.
  6. Serve with your favorite potato and vegetable.
 
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So I've been away from the blog for a little while because I've been working on a special project and I didn't want the person I was doing it for to find out the surprise.  M2's best friend in the world is Morgan and yesterday was his 3rd birthday party.

His mom planned a "Mr. Man" themed party for him.  The invitations that Abbi made had a picture of him with a graphic of a necktie around his neck.  She decorated the room with neckties and she found chocolate mustaches on a stick for everyone to hold in front of their face.  Needless to say she's very creative.  So when she asked me to make cupcakes to serve at the party I was sweating!  My shtick is really yummy goodies but not necessarily anything cute and creative.  I thought maybe I would just make a variety of cupcakes and make some sprinkles using the colors from the invitations to coordinate; boring I know, but at least they would taste good.  And then, about a week before the party, I had a stroke of genius at 4:30 in the morning... and then couldn't fall back asleep because I was planning.

There's a fabulous site called Bakerella, featuring the most amazing, creative and fun goodies.  They say imitation is the best form of flattery so my mission was to emulate some of the cupcakes she makes but re-work them a bit to fit with my own tastes and of course the "Mr. Man" theme of the party.  I remembered that Bakerella had visited The Pioneer Woman and made cupcakes that Ree gave instructions for how to decorate, so I also visited that site.

The main thing I changed is that Bakerella uses fondant, and I have a major dislike for fondant, you might even say hatred.  I instead made and used chocolate clay.  I also used my own chocolate and white cake recipes instead of the recipe they used.  I had a blast making the cupcakes, and now all I can think about are other occasions that I can make them for.  I've been calling them "Capped Cupcakes" because of the chocolate clay cap.  I hope that if Bakerella ever sees my cupcakes she's flattered and not appalled!

Making all the decorations is a major undertaking, so get a cup of coffee and a muffin and sit down for a nice long read... at least there's lots of pictures!

-The Baker

CHOCOLATE CLAY:

  • 10 oz Chocolate
  • 1/3 C Corn Syrup
  1. in a shallow bowl, melt the chocolate in microwave (be careful so that the temperature does not exceed 100 F) for approximately 1 minute; stir. if chocolate is not completely melted, return to microwave for 10 seconds at a time and stir until smooth
  2. add corn syrup to the chocolate and mix well (scrape all the corn syrup into the chocolate with a rubber spatula)
  3. using a rubber spatula, stir and fold mixture, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl well, until no shiny syrup is visible and the mixture forms a thick ball
  4. knead the clay until oil begins to ooze out, this is called "milking'; a lot of oil will come out, keep kneading until the clay is still oily but is starting to melt and feel very sticky in your hands
  5. pour mixture onto parchment paper (or waxed paper); let it sit and stiffen, uncovered, for at least 2 hours then roll into a ball and wrap in plastic until ready to use
  6. use at once or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month
  7. your cutouts will harden after a few days at room temperature and can be saved by storing in a cool, dry place
  8. just remember to not overwork the clay or it will begin to lose oil again and become sticky and impossible to work with

BAKERELLA'S SIMPLE BUTTERCREAM:
(taken from The Pioneer Woman's site)
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) salted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 pound powdered sugar
  • Cream or half-and-half for consistency
  1. cream butter and vanilla, then add powdered sugar in increments
  2. add cream or half-and-half to reach desired consistency; color with gel food coloring as desired
Notes:  Definitely check out The Pioneer Woman's site for beautiful pictures of the making of the buttercream.  I had some pretty nice pictures of me making the buttercream but they were accidentally deleted... sniff sniff...  I'm still upset.
 
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It's really hard to improve on a classic.  Especially one as ingrained in us as the peanut butter cookie.  There's no need to reinvent the wheel.  So the other day when M2 wanted to make some cookies I managed to talk her out of our old stand-by, the chocolate chip, and convinced her to make some Peanut Butter cookies.

We use a fairly standard recipe, but I do like to add some almond extract to the dough to boost the nutty flavor.  I like to make a flourless cookie, so this recipe is a nice option if you're gluten intolerant or just choosing to limit your flour intake.  These are nice and dense and full of peanut flavor.

Be sure to bake the cookies just until set and then leave the cookies on the pan to continue baking a bit before removing them to a rack to cool all the way.  For a really decadent cookie dip in some melted milk chocolate.  Grab a big cold glass of milk and enjoy these!

-The Baker

PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES:
    yield:  48 cookies

  • 2 C Peanut Butter, creamy
  • 1 C Sugar, granulated
  • 1/2 C Dark Brown Sugar
  • 2 Eggs, whole
  • 2 t Vanilla Extract
  • 1 t Almond Extract
  • 1 t Baking Soda
  • 1/2 t Salt
  • 1/2 C Milk Chocolate Chips
  1. Cream together the peanut butter, sugar and brown sugar
  2. Add the baking soda and salt
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring just until completely mixed in
  4. Stir in the extracts
  5. Stir in the chips
  6. Scoop onto parchment lined pans
  7. Bake at 350 F for 10 mins
  8. Let cool on pan for 5 mins then move to a rack to finish cooling
 
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A chocolate eclair is all that's good about French pastries... whole milk, butter, chocolate.  Is there any way that could result in something not delicious?  They're breath-takingly beautiful when you see them in a bakery display case.  At most bakeries when you order one they put it into a miniature box and tie it up with twine and it just screams elegance.

Maybe you've made these at home and they were a complete flop.  To make the pate a choux (the pastry dough) you are looking for certain things, and unlike most baking recipes a pate a choux recipe can't tell you exactly how many eggs to add.  If you've tried to make these and they didn't turn out, take a look at the recipe you used.  If it didn't explain to you that the number of eggs varies depending on a variety of variables then it will be hit or miss whether the recipe works out.

Why would the number of eggs vary?  Well, the first thing you do is bring the water (or milk) to a boil.  What happens when you boil water?  Some of it evaporates.  Most likely every time you make these the amount of water left after the boil is different.  Next, you add the flour to the boiling water and then you put it back over the heat.  The cooking again is affecting how much liquid is evaporating.  When you begin mixing the dough to cool it down you can see steam evaporating.  All of these things are affecting how much actual liquid is in the dough... and an egg is mostly liquid so you're replacing some of the evaporated liquid with the liquid from the egg, which is why it varies.

So, what are you looking for?  When you're cooking the flour over the heat the dough should come together as a ball and should look like mashed potatoes.  You want the pan to have a dried crust from the liquid evaporating.  Really what you're looking for is to get the pan to the point where you know it's going to be a pain in the butt to wash because it's all crusty.  (You won't get the crusty pan if you're cooking in a non-stick pan.)  Then you want to put the dough on the mixer and mix it to cool it down.  If you started adding the eggs right away you would end up with scrambled eggs.  When the mixing bowl is cool enough that you can comfortably rest your hand on it, you can begin adding eggs.

After you've added enough eggs, the dough is ready when it has a glossy surface, and is slightly yellow.  If it's not glossy and looks like mashed potatoes then you haven't added enough eggs.  If the dough is yellow but soupy, then you've added too many eggs.  When it's just right, you should be able to run your finger through the dough making a valley; the valley you make shouldn't disappear, but the edges should just barely start to fall in on themselves.  If the valley you make stands up rigid you're not quite there.

Next you pipe the dough onto your prepared pans and put them into a hot 400 F oven for 30 minutes.  It's important that the oven be hot because this will create the steam that will cause the dough to puff.  The opening inside the puff is where you're going to put all your luxurious filling, so you want as much space as possible!

Once the puffs have poofed up, and are a beautiful golden brown don't immediately remove them from the oven.  The insides are still a bit wet, and if you take them right out your beautiful puffs will collapse on themselves.  Begin turning down the temperature of the oven by 25 degrees every five minutes until you get to 200 F.  Then take them out of the oven and let them cool.

Once cool, poke a hole in the bottom of the puff.  Fill a pastry bag with your pastry cream and poke the tip of the bag into the hole.  Fill the puff until it starts to feel heavy.  When all the puffs are filled, gently warm the icing and dip the tops.  Set aside the dipped puffs to dry and then enjoy!

You can fill the puffs with lots of other things, and they can be either savory or sweet.  For example, you could pipe out round puffs and then cut the tops off and fill with a shrimp mousse for an elegant appetizer.  Once you master the dough let your taste buds go wild!

One word about the pastry cream.  Of course, anything that you cook or bake you always want to be careful to use clean utensils and wash your hands thoroughly.  However, with pastry cream those habits are even more important.  The ingredients are highly susceptible to food borne illnesses and you must be sure to keep everything clean and cool down the cream as quickly as possible.  The fastest way to cool the cream is to put it in a wide, shallow container and then set that container into an ice bath and then periodically stir the cream to even out the temperature.  This will quickly cool it down and keep it safe to eat.

Enjoy!

-The Baker

PATE A CHOUX:
yield:  24 - 2 1/2" eclairs
  • 1 C Water (or milk)
  • 4 oz Butter
  • 1 t Salt
  • 6 oz Bread Flour
  • 10 oz Eggs (approximately)
  1. In a heavy pot, bring water, salt and butter to a rolling boil, being sure the butter is completely melted
  2. Take the pot off the heat and stir in all of the flour, using a wooden spoon; return to the heat; cook until it's smooth and the pot looks clean (the mixture should not be stuck to the bottom or sides of the pot)
  3. Put on a mixer and on low speed begin mixing to bring the temperature down
  4. When the mixture is no longer burning hot begin adding eggs, one at a time until a glossy, but stiff paste is achieved
  5. Pipe or scoop onto parchment lined pans and bake at 400 F for approximately 30 mins; after 30 mins begin lowering the oven temperature by 25 degrees every five minutes; the reason for this is to dry out the inside of the puff so it's not soggy
PASTRY CREAM:

  • 14 oz Milk
  • 3 oz Sugar, divided (1 1/2 oz and 1 1/2 oz)
  • 1 1/2 oz Egg yolks
  • 3/4 oz Cake Flour
  • 1/2 oz Cornstarch
  • 2 oz Milk
  • 1/4 oz Butter
  • Vanilla, to taste
  1. In a heavy pot, boil milk and 1st portion sugar; stir constantly so as not to burn the sugar
  2. In another bowl whisk together the 2nd portion sugar, yolks, flour, cornstarch and milk until perfectly smooth
  3. Remove the boiling milk from the heat; using a small ladle pour some of the hot milk into the yolks mixture, whisking constantly; continue adding the milk until the yolk mixture is warm (this is called "tempering" and it will prevent you from scrambling the eggs by dumping them into the hot milk all at once)
  4. When the yolk mixture is tempered, pour everything back into the pot and put back over the heat, whisking constantly; bring back to a boil, letting it boil for one minute in order to cook out the starch; remove from the heat
  5. Stir in the butter and vanilla; dust the surface with sugar to prevent a skin from forming as it cools
  6. Place in a shallow pan and set into an ice bath to quickly cool the custard
CHOCOLATE ICING:

  • 2 oz Semi-Sweet Chocolate
  • 2 t Butter
  • 2 C Powdered Sugar
  • 4 T Water, hot
  1. Over low heat, melt together chocolate and butter; remove from heat
  2. Add powdered sugar and hot water and beat until smooth

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER:
  1. Poke a hole in the bottom of the cooled pastry shells
  2. Fill a pastry bag with the pastry cream; push the tip of the pastry bag into the hole in the shell; gently squeeze the filling into the pastry shell; when the shell starts to feel heavy it's full
  3. Gently warm the chocolate icing; dip the tops of the filled pastry shells into the icing; set aside to dry; refrigerate any uneaten eclairs
 
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I love cheesecake.  It's so satisfying to eat a slice.  Cheesecake is definitely not something I buy.  I always make it.  For some reason store bought cheesecake is insanely expensive.  Granted, it uses fairly expensive ingredients, but this is definitely one item you could make at home that will be just as good (and in my opinion, better), and if you buy your ingredients on sale you've saved even more.  Today, for example, I was at the store picking up a gallon of milk and I saw that the cream cheese was on sale for $0.84 for an 8 ounce pack.  That's a great price!  Right on the spot I decided to make a cheesecake.

A lot of people are intimidated by the process of making cheesecake.  Because it's expensive to make and it's time consuming it's not something you want to try to make only to have it not turn out.  I really believe this is a myth perpetuated by cookbooks.  They tell you that you have to bake in a special pan (a springform); you have to bake it in a water bath (a pan of water your springform sits in to gently heat the cake as it cooks to prevent cracking); unless your pan is brand new you usually have to wrap it in foil before putting it in the water bath (to prevent water from getting in and ruining your cake, or at the very least making your crust soggy); then after the cake is baked you must slowly, little by little, reduce the temperature of your oven so that your cake slowly cools and it doesn't crack.  Many cookbooks even recommend that you leave the cheesecake in the oven overnight with the oven door propped open with a towel to allow the water bath to slowly cool, and thereby allowing the cake to also slowly cool.

Jeez!  Just reading that makes me not want to make a cheesecake.  I used to think that's what you had to do... I mean, that's what the cookbooks all say.  But then I started thinking about it.  Did I really think that bakeries and restaurants allowed their precious oven space to be taken over by cheesecake production?  No way!  Oven space is money!  There had to be a better way.

So I stopped using a springform pan and just baked in a regular cake pan.  I stopped using the waterbath.  I learned that by cooking the cake at a lower temperature I could avoid cracking.  Another major cause of cracks is over-baking the cheesecake.  It can be tricky to know when a cheesecake is finished because the center should still be jiggly.  Most of the time when you bake a cake, if the center is jiggly you keep baking, but not a cheesecake!

I, of course, have a quick and easy method to get cheesecake whenever I want it.  I just send The Chef a text message to bring me a slice home with him.  Instant gratification!  The cheesecake they serve at the restaurant is great and is based on the recipe from Carnegie Deli.  The only problem is that I can't stand the crust.  They use a sugar cookie as the crust and I just don't like it.  I actually peel it off in order to eat the cake.  I knew I could make it better so I searched out the recipe to the Carnegie Deli's cheesecake and I basically make it exactly the way they say, except I substitute a graham cracker crust.  I also swirl in some ganache or chocolate chips or a fruit sauce... whatever I'm in the mood for.

The Carnegie Deli cheesecake is very unique in that it has a very dark top.  This is achieved by baking the cheesecake for a few minutes in a 500 F oven.  When it's as brown as you'd like it to be, remove it from the oven and let it cool for a good 30 minutes while the oven also cools down to 350 F.  Then put it back in the oven and let it finish baking for another 25 minutes or so.  What you're looking for is a small circle (about the size of a quarter) in the center of the cake to still be jiggly, but the rest of the cake to be set.

At this point you're probably wondering how on earth I get it out of the pan.  Easy!  I let the cake cool completely on a rack.  This is very important because drastic changes in temperature will cause cracks.  Give it as much time as it needs.  When it's completely cool stick it in the freezer and let it freeze.  After it's frozen take it out of the freezer and put it over a VERY low heat on your stove top, constantly turning the pan.  What you're doing is just slightly loosening up the butter in the crust so that the cake will slide right out.  What you don't want to do is leave one spot over the heat too long and burn it or liquefy the cake.  Have a small knife ready and periodically slide the knife around the edge of the cake.  When it easily slides between the cake and the pan and you feel the cake release it's ready to come out.  Then just flip it out onto a plate and because it's frozen you can flip it into your hand and to turn it over and then set it down onto it's serving dish.  Then let it thaw and serve.  You can also wrap it very well in plastic and put it back in the freezer for unexpected guests or for a slice every now and then.

If the cheesecake cracks it's not the worst thing in the world.  Lots of sins can be covered by whipped cream!  You can also make a sour cream glaze to pour over the top.  The key is to give yourself enough time to do all the different steps and allow the cake to cool and freeze for as long as it needs to.  If it cracks, just keep trying, you will get it, I promise.

-The Baker

CHEESECAKE:

Prep: set out cream cheese to come to room temp; prepare crust; preheat oven to 500
Yield: 1 – 8” x 2” cake

GRAHAM CRACKER CRUST:
  • 9 full graham crackers, crushed (approx 1 ¾ c)
  • ¼ C Sugar
  • 4 oz Butter, melted
  1. crush graham crackers as finely as possible using a rolling pin or a food processor; or you can buy graham cracker crumbs in the baking aisle
  2. stir it all together and press into the prepared pan; set aside

GANACHE:
  • 1 T (½ oz; 19 g) Corn Syrup
  • 2 T (1 oz; 28 g) Heavy Cream
  • 4 oz Chocolate (semi-sweet)
  1. put all ingredients into a small pot over very low heat
  2. stir constantly until everything melts together and is glossy; set aside
CHEESECAKE FILLING:
  • 20 oz (467 g) Cream Cheese
  • ¾ C (137 g) Sugar
  • 1 ½ T (17 g) AP Flour
  • 1 ½ t (7 g) Lemon Juice
  • 1 ½ t (7 g) Vanilla Extract
  • 3 whole Eggs
  • 1 Egg Yolk
  • 2 T (35 g) Heavy Cream
  1. cream the cream cheese until very smooth and creamy (scrape down bowl)
  2. beat in sugar until well incorporated (scrape down bowl)
  3. beat in flour, lemon, vanilla, eggs, yolk and cream (scrape down bowl making sure there are no lumps)
  4. bake at 500 for 12 mins until the top is dark brown and cake has slightly started to rise
  5. cool cake for 30 mins while oven temp reduces to 350
  6. return to oven and bake another 25 mins (cake should be bouncy in the center and slightly risen in the middle and sides)
Notes:  Constantly scrape your bowl during the mixing to get rid of lumps.  Lumps will not bake out and you'll end up with a lumpy cheesecake.  Have your cream cheese at room temperature.  Mix at a low/medium speed for two reasons:  1) if you whip too much air into your batter you will never get the dense consistency that most cheesecakes are; and 2) overmixing the cream cheese will cause it to become grainy, which will affect your final product.
 
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I get my sweet tooth from my mother.  She always has a stash of something hidden in a drawer.  When I was a kid I didn't know about her stash and, except for holidays, my sisters and I didn't get candy or cookies all that often.  Mostly if we wanted some cookies someone better make some.

The other thing I get from my mother is my love for reading.  At the end of the day I love to lay in bed with a book and read until I doze off.  My mother and I used to get into her huge bed and burrow ourselves under the blankets and read.  Eventually she let me in on her secret.  I was a little bit older and not as inclined to pass out within five minutes of getting into bed and she couldn't disguise the crinkling of wrappers for the pages of a book!

I loved when she had M&M's because you could take a big handful and go back to your book without having to put your book down to unwrap something.  Twizzlers were pretty good too.  But what I hated was when she had Milano Cookies.  First of all, there weren't that many in the bag so you couldn't really pig-out on them.  But, secondly, they were filled with dark chocolate... ewww!  What kid likes dark chocolate?  I'm not even sure if my mother knows that I didn't really like the cookies.  I always managed to eat a couple because it was our special time and I didn't want to ruin it, but I sure appreciated it more when she had milk chocolate!

Now that I'm "growed" up (as M2 says), I have an appreciation for dark chocolate, and Milano Cookies.  I very rarely buy them though, because my kids don't share my childhood dislike of dark chocolate and they would eat the entire bag in a few minutes, and these cookies are way too expensive for that.  They're an indulgence and should be savored.  I decided that if I could figure out how to make them we could have them any time we, well I, wanted.  And that's how this recipe came to be.

To get the right texture you really need to let the dough mix.  Follow the mixing instructions carefully, otherwise you'll end up with a dough that is very crumbly.  It will still taste good, but it won't be a Milano cookie.  Bake them until the edges have turned a nice golden brown.  Usually with lighter colored cookies (like a sugar cookie, for example) if the edges have gone brown they're slightly over-baked, but not this time.  These are such delicate cookies that they need a little baked in sturdiness.  If you don't want to fill them with ganache, as I've used, fill them with a high quality jam, nutella, or top them with a quartered maraschino cherry before baking.  Or you could always eat them plain.

-The Baker

COOKIE DOUGH:

  • 8 oz Butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 C AP Flour, sifted
  • 1 1/2 C Powdered Sugar, sifted
  • 1 t Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 t Almond Extract
  1. Cream the softened butter by itself on high for 5 mins
  2. Stir in the Vanilla and Almond extracts
  3. Add the sifted Powdered Sugar; slowly bring the mixer speed up to high; cream for 10 mins
  4. Add the AP flour; slowly bring the mixer speed up to high; cream for 10 mins
  5. Using a pastry bag and a star tip, pipe your desired shape onto parchment lined pans
  6. Bake at 350 F for 16 mins
  7. Let cool on the pan for 5 mins; then move to a rack to finish cooling
  8. When completely cool fill one cookie with ganache and sandwich shut with another cookie; let the ganache set before stacking
*Notes:  If you don't have a pastry bag you can just scoop the dough onto the pan using a spoon.

GANACHE:

  • 1 oz Heavy Whipping Cream
  • 5 oz Dark chocolate
  1. Gently warm the cream and chocolate; don't get it too hot
  2. Stir together the cream and chocolate until it's very shiny