Experimental Oven Pancakes

Since Yakum had an early basketball game this weekend, I changed up our Saturday pancake tradition and went with oven pancakes.  I was first introduced to these by my in-laws (before they were in-laws), where the German Oven Pancake breakfast is a very big deal.  They put on a phenomenal spread at my wife’s grandparents’ house, which includes the oven pancakes, cinnamon apples, and lots of other breakfast foods.

So, I certainly didn’t put on that level of a spread, but did play with the baking vessel.  Most recipes specify a cast iron skillet, and with good reason:  the cast iron guarantees a well-crisped crust develops, which contrasts with the buttery-custardy body of the pancake.  The challenge is in mass producing, which is difficult when you only have one cast iron skillet (and a relatively small one at that).  So, I doubled the recipe and put it in a well buttered 9×13 glass dish.  It worked beautifully, puffing way up and getting nicely crisp.

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My next attempt was a single recipe, but baked in muffin tins to try for mini oven pancakes.  The challenge here is getting the right amount of butter in the bottom–you don’t want too much, otherwise it runs everywhere.  Not enough and the puff isn’t as good (and they stick like the dickens).  Not as successful, but I think this would work well with a tablespoon of cinnamon apples in the middle.  The hope is that the pancake would puff up around the filling, making serving easy.

 

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Even though they deflate once you take them out of the oven, the real secret to getting them out of the tins is to let them rest at least 10 minutes.

Here’s the recipe I used, modified from Alton Brown, cross-referenced with a bunch of recipes and tips from multiple sources on the internet:

2.25 oz flour

.25 oz sugar (or less, and I tried putting in some molasses)

pinch of salt

4 oz milk (by weight–use a scale!  By volume, this is 1/2 cup)

3 eggs

2 oz butter

400 degree oven

Put butter in pan and put in oven to melt the butter–watch carefully so it doesn’t burn.  It should take just a couple of minutes. Take out of oven once melted.

Combine dry ingredients in mixing bowl (or a measuring cup if you have one large enough).  Beat eggs and add milk.  Pour wet on dry ingredients, and mix until smooth.  Pour in pan, and put back in oven.  In a 9 or 10 inch cast iron skillet, this will take about 20 minutes to bake up into a well-puffed oven pancake.  Doubled, and put in a 9×13, it also took 20 minutes.  The recipe made 18 muffin-tin pancakes, and only took 15 minutes.

Happy eating!

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Stegosaurus Cake

The twins just turned five, and got a stegosaurus cake:

While a pentaceratops could have been fun (just like the triceratops for their three-year birthday), I went with the stegosaurus and made the plates on the back out of pentagons.

Dino-texturingSo, the icing is a little sloppy mainly because the cake was frozen when I put it on, and it immediately hardened beyond what I could smooth out.  We’ll call it dino-texture.  I didn’t want to push my luck with letting it thaw out too much before everything was in place since it took me three tries (and two wooden picks) to get the neck on without it falling.

The cake itself is my basic coffee cake recipe, but made with more liquid than usual to tighten up the crumb.  Also, I used apple cider rather than milk, and a heavy dose of cinnamon to give it an autumnal spiced cider feel.

Who you starin’ at?

The cake went over very well with the twins and with Quarta’s godfamily (Tertia’s came for lunch, but we did the cake with dinner).  Again, a success, even if a little lacking in execution.  Next time I’ll have to work quicker with the icing, and a thinner layer at first, to get it smooth.

Pizza Pointers

For the past several years (at least three), I’ve been using a pizza dough modeled after the lazy pizza dough from Smitten Kitchen.  I say modeled because I use whole wheat flour, adjusted it some , and think of it as a ratio in bakers’ math, rather than a recipe.  The genius of her recipe is in the varying levels of yeast.  I haven’t quite gotten that pinned down to something 100 percent reliable, but do have it close enough for my purposes.

The basic formula is:

100% whole wheat flour

66% water

3% yeast (for a 5-6 hour rise; for a longer rise, this drops to about 2%; for a shorter rise, this goes up to about 4%)

3% salt (for a 5-6 hour rise; for a longer rise, this can stay the same; for a shorter rise, this drops to about 2%)

So, to translate the bakers’ math into the real world, I usually use:

750g whole wheat flour

500g water

20g yeast

20g salt.

Mix together until it forms a ball (should take no more than five minutes), then cover and let rise until you need it.  Time does all the work of developing the gluten for you.  The good news is this is really flexible–if you let this basic amount go for more than six hours, you’re fine (I’ve never let it go more than 12, though–I usually don’t plan that far in advance).  This gets me four good sized pizzas (about 10 inch, depending on how thick I make the crust).

Forming the crust is a bit of an adventure, or can be.  If you’re in a rush, you can divide up the dough (I use about 330g for each crust, based on the 750g flour weight), roll the crust with a rolling pin, and toss it in the oven (at least 500 degrees; hotter is better if you can get it) for about 10-12 minutes, and have dinner.  If you want to be a little more artsy about it, you can form disks, let the gluten relax some, then start hand-tossing.  I find I get the best results when I use a rolling pin to make sure the disks are an even thickness.  If I try to eyeball it, I usually wind up with holes somewhere.  The adventure comes when you let the gluten relax too much–then the dough starts drooping like a Dali clock when you try to toss it, and you wind up with holes.  Just patch the holes and go for it–it’s still really, really tasty.

Around here, broccoli and olive (individually and together) are very popular.  Yellow cherry tomatoes cut in half are also a hit, as are sun-dried tomatoes.  A recent big favorite is a “Salad pizza”, which the crust, no sauce, and a layer of cheese covered with mixed salad greens (a light dusting of cheese on the greens gets really, really crispy and good).  Bake for about 11 minutes, again at 500 (or more), and, after it comes out, hit it with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.  I tried it out a few weeks ago to see if the kids would like it, and now they look forward to it every time.  Go figure.

 

September Birthday: Dump Truck Cake

Ikinji wanted a dump truck for his birthday this year.  It’s sort of a repeat, since I did one for his third birthday.  This was much smaller (fewer anticipated guests), and came together very quickly.

I doubled Smitten Kitchen’s Everyday Chocolate Cake recipe, and made one full-sized loaf, 12 cupcakes, and about one quarter of another loaf.  Turned out I only needed one loaf pan worth of cake to make the truck.  Some of the cupcakes got eaten at the celebration, but weren’t actually needed.

The wheels were cut out from one of the thin scraps left from squaring up the loaf.  Supports under the truck body, also cut from scraps, do double duty as a place for the wheels to lean as well as getting the body of the truck off the round. 

The icing is a slight variation on the Fast and Easy Cream Cheese Icing from Serious Eats.  I doubled the recipe, and used half cream cheese and half mascarpone to make it more like the icing on a Whole Foods chantilly cake (which I tried for the first time while we were on vacation in Colorado and celebrated a few birthdays there).  This turned out somewhat softer than the target recipe, probably because I used granulated, rather than powdered sugar.  I likely could have thickened it up with some corn starch, but it came together pretty well, and held its shape even when room temperature, so no complaints there. 

The icing job is a little imprecise since it was so soft, but I’m pretty OK with how it came out.  Ikinji was happy, too, so I think this was a success in both looks and taste.

A Non-Rushed Birthday Cake

The rains a couple of weekends ago gave me the perfect opportunity to bake Yakum’s birthday cake without rushing.  

Yep, she just turned 10.  Wow, I feel old.

Initially, she thought she would want an angel food cake, but after my birthday, she decided she wanted a repeat of that flavor combination.  OK, we’ll call it mint-limeade, no problem.

Again, the cakes baked up beautifully:  two nine inch layers, and two six inch.  I used tapioca starch for the icing this time (instead of corn starch) which was…interesting.  Tapioca makes for a base that is more extensible and mucilaginous than the corn starch.  Yep, it was basically lime-flavored slime that tried to climb the beaters until enough butter had gotten worked in to counteract some of its stickier tendencies.  Also, since I was able to go slowly and put things in the refrigerator from time to time to keep them cool, it came together far more smoothly than I was expecting.

I could have done a slightly more even base coat, but I didn’t want to overdo the icing.  I tried to do a yellow line around the top edge of the larger layers (to go with the thick yellow rope at the bottom), but by that point the icing had almost completely melted and separated, but I had so little left I couldn’t re-beat it into shape, so the line had to come off…well, most of it (remember about the sticky tapioca starch base?  Yep, still sticky after the butter melts out).  The lettering is also off kilter a little (her name around the side of the six inch layers turned out great, though), but everyone was quite happy with the outcome.  Especially Yakum, which is what really matters.

Birthday Cakes Ought Not to be Rushed

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Not too pretty, but tasty!

But if you do need to rush one, make sure it’s your own.

I baked my birthday cake last week.  The day before my birthday.  Sure, my wife would have happily done so, but she has been equally as busy as I have, and this way I get to blame any errors on myself.

I will say up front that the presentation on this one was sub-par, but flavor wise I think I nailed it.  It’s a three-layer six-inch mojito cake.  Mojitos have become somewhat of a running joke with my team at work because I’ve given mint (yes, the mint that is trying to take over the world, or at least the garden) to half of them.  Not just a couple of sprigs, either.  In one case, several plants (she asked for it…no, really) and the other several large bundles, tied up and left hanging on a computer monitor.  So, mojitos are sort of a joke because what else do you do with all that mint?  My brilliant idea was to make a mojito cake.  I went around and around about if it should be a mint cake with lime frosting, or lime cake with mint frosting, or some fusion of both in either the cake or the frosting.  I settled on using the Classic Vanilla Butter Cake from Serious Eats and using 5 grams of mint extract with 10 grams vanilla.  If I had planned farther in advance, I could have tucked some mint leaves in the sugar and infuse the flavor that way, but I didn’t plan for it, so that didn’t happen.  Maybe next time.  Still, the cake…wow.  Definitely will be my go-to cake recipe.  Even after being left uncovered at room temperature for almost a day (in a cat-proof location, of course), it was still very moist and flavorful.  Now, the recipe makes a three-layer eight inch cake, and I went for a six inch.  The remaining batter turned into cupcakes for work.  They got baked for about 20 minutes, and came out perfect.

For the frosting, I did a lime version of ermine frosting, very similar to this Seriously Citrus Buttercream from Jenni Field’s Pastry Chef Online.  Springboarding from this recipe, I used a 6:6:6:1 ratio of lime juce:sugar:butter:corn starch.  In essence, the cornstarch, juice, and sugar get cooked together to make a pudding, then, once cooled to room temperature, beaten in to some whipped butter to make a buttercream frosting. I wound up using 12 oz of juice, sugar, and butter and two of corn starch.  Again, wow.  A very citrus flavor that mellowed a bit over night.  The cupcakes got frosted at work the day of my birthday (frosting packed in a disposable pastry bag over night; by the time I made it to work, it had warmed to piping temperature), and they were a hit.

The cupcake format seemed to have just the right balance of lime and mint.  The cake…well, remember how I said it was rushed?  I frosted it the evening of my birthday, after we had finished dinner.  I neglected to level the layers, and hadn’t

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This is what happens when you don’t level your cake layers.

given the frosting enough time to come fully to room temperature.  By the time it did, though, it was pretty melty, but I didn’t have the time to pop it in and out of the freezer to keep everything chilled and solid.  So, an uneven coat of frosting, and the cake slices were lacking structural stability (since they weren’t leveled to begin with).  Nothing fancy on the top, just a swirl and some mint leaves.  Also, even though the slices were pretty thin, they were a little overwhelming.  Maybe too much icing, and the mint in the cake was a little too retiring to take on the lime.

Next time I try this (and there will be a next time), I’ll probably go 7 grams of mint and 8 grams of vanilla to bring the mint flavor forward more, especially against the very assertive lime.  I might also cut back the icing, or dilute the citrus with just a little bit of water (maybe sub out one ounce?) to make it a little less in-your-face.  Like I said, though, presentation was lacking but the taste was pretty close to spot on.

Cat in the Middle…

…of everything.  Or at least, the middle of the kitchen.

Benson’s newest favorite spot in the late afternoon/early evening is in a sunbeam. A sunbeam that falls right in front of the stove in our very small, narrow kitchen.

Why yes, this is my sunbeam.

He’s settled here partly because we’re keeping the blinds on the large window closed in the afternoon to keep the sunshine from heating up the house too much. Of course, this limits the number of sunbeams that make their way in, so the cats have to find their solar charge where they can get it. I think the other reason he’s settled in right in the middle of everything is due to his inherent cat-ness. Cats are masters at geometry, and can find the exact middle of the shortest path between two points and plop themselves down in it to frustrate, that is, help their people.

See, the middle is right here. This is the shortest path between the stove and the sink. You’re welcome.

Benson also likes being around when we’re cooking in case there’s a stray morsel of food that gets dropped, a bunch of kale that needs to be hunted, or some eggshells that need to be batted out of the sink. He’s a useful cat that way.

I’m waiting…any kale for me to attack?

All this helping is hard work. I’ll just have to take a nap right here so I don’t miss anything.

 

The Pits…Cherry Pits, That Is.

The farmers’ market has exploded with produce in the past two weeks, and sour cherries have made their appearance (along with apricots, sweet cherries, and lots of other great fruits).  Inspired by the selection,I decided I needed to make a clafoutis.  This is a quick dessert that comes from France–think baked pancake with fruit in it.  Essentially, its a thick crepe batter (or thin pancake batter without leavening) that you pour over cherries (usually) and bake until set.  Texture-wise, it sort of comes out custardy, rather than cake-like.

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The main issue with cherries is how to deal with the pits. Sure, you can just spit out the pit if you eat them one by one, but for a pie or other cooked use, you’ve got to decide how to pit them. Yes, I know, traditionally with a clafoutis you leave the pits in for the theoretical almond flavor that the pits are supposed to infuse into the baked good, but…I find it highly doubtful that you’d get much almond flavor, especially since they aren’t cracked (it’s the internal kernel that provides the compounds, I understand). Also, younger kids have a hard time handling the pits in a baked dish, and I don’t much fancy cracking a tooth on one.

So, how to handle the tedious task of pitting cherries. We don’t own a cherry pitter since it’s a uni-tasker, and don’t have room for it given how rarely we are in a place with cherries, much less olives we’d have to pit to use. I’ve used a bench knife to flatten the fruit and pick out the pits before—it’s messy, but works. The internets suggested using a bent paperclip to dig out the pit. Also, since a pitter works by pushing the seed out, I looked around and thought that maybe a decorating tip could also work. I decided to compare a closed star tip, a round tip, and a paperclip.DSC05238

The paperclip tore the cherries apart, and wasn’t all that quick. The first round decorating tip also made a mess of the cherries, but was marginally quicker. The closed star did a great job, especially once I got in a rhythm. I put the tip on my thumb, rested the cherry with the stem between my index and middle fingers, and pushed the seed through. The problem was the tines of the star started to bend. I switched to a #5 round tip, which did the job perfectly. The cherries stayed whole for the most part, and the pits came right through.DSC05241

I’m pretty pleased with the end result: a sour cherry clafouti without the risk of cracked teeth and topped with mascarpone cheese thinned with a little milk so it could mound up like whipped cream.DSC05246

Our Easter Feast

So, maybe not so much of a feast, but a collection of tasty treats.

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Obligatory hard boiled eggs.  This year, we used onion skin (the two orange ones), hibiscus/hawthorn tea (the grey-ish one between the two orange.  Straight hibiscus works well for a denim blue but I haven’t been able to find it anywhere), turmeric (pale yellow), red cabbage (bright blue), and beets (the mauve/grey one.  Not sure why that didn’t work for a nice pink this time).

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Angel food cake.  Here it is, cooling, in my grandmother’s pan (but not on the 7-up bottle she used).  I followed the recipe at Serious Eats and wow, did it turn out really well.  When I first checked the cake after 40 minutes, it had actually risen above the cooling feet, hence the bottle.  I probably let in too much cool air because it contracted a little after that, but still came out incredibly tall, light, and tasty.

We also had hot cross buns for breakfast along with the hard boiled eggs.  (No picture since WordPress is being obstinate tonight).  The cross was cream cheese sweetened with a little honey.

For dinner we had a pasta with asparagus, tomato, and sauteed mushrooms along with some challah braided into a cross and a butter lamb.

We were definitely well fed for Easter after our Lenten fast.

Happy Easter!

Pre-Lent Fried Foods

I don’t really have plans to fry food every day before Wednesday, but we did have doughnuts yesterday and falafel today.  Yum.  I wanted to try out a tip I read that if you use refined coconut oil to fry, your house doesn’t smell like, well, like you’ve been frying food.  The old oil smell gets tiresome after a day or so.  I’m happy to report that the coconut oil seems to have done the trick–the house doesn’t smell like I fried twice in the past 48 hours.  Maybe that’s me being delusional, but I’m going to go with it.

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Rolled out and circles cut

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Cutting holes…with a 1/2 Tablespoon measure

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Back:  Oil about right, but dough too wet.  Middle:  Oil too cold, dough still too wet.  Front:  Oil nearly right, but dough too dry.

I tried to do old-fashioned sour cream doughnuts.  The recipe turned out a very, very wet dough that stuck to the parchment paper I used to roll it out and the doughnuts were a pain to put in the oil.  While wrestling with it, the oil got a little on the cold side so the second batch turned out not so great. Tasty, but not as crispy as they should be.  I got frustrated and tried to add more flour.  The result is that the doughnuts fried up OK and didn’t stick, but lacked the crannies and other irregularities that are the hallmark of an old-fashioned.  Still tasted good, though.

No pictures of the falafel, but I adapted this recipe from Serious Eats.  Instead of parsley, I used kale.  Really, really good, and, as long as you plan ahead and soak the chickpeas, relatively quick to pull together.  Frying, of course, does take some time, but it was worth it.

Now that I’ve taken care of pre-Lent indulgence, I just need to figure out what exactly it is I’m doing for Lent this year.  The good news is I’ve still got a couple of days left!