The Prodigal Baker?

Like most people taking covid seriously, I have binged numerous times from the comfort of my home. None of said binges have been detrimental to my health, unless you believe watching Netflix for 4 straight hours causes brain rot. Bingeing shows, movies, and youtube videos has helped keep me sane during insane times. It has also been a great way to avoid 2020’s greatest temptation – socializing outside. 

Who needs quality time with friends when you can watch “Last Week Tonight” re-runs? Not me. While going down that particular rabbit hole, I came across John Oliver’s discussion on food waste in America. In the episode, he revealed that Americans waste up to 40% of their food. 40%! I was shocked. That’s a lot of money being jettisoned into the garbage bin. How could people be that wasteful? However, the more I contemplated the figure, the more I believed it to be true. Why? I am embarrassed to admit that I, too, am a notorious food waster. 

I promise I’m not throwing away almost half my food, but I would toss at least some spoiled groceries every week prior to coronavirus. Instead of making and eating the contents of my refrigerator, I would opt for cafeteria food, fast food, or cave when friends invited me to share a meal at a local restaurant after work. When meal planning, I never factored in the number of days I might eat out. That is why I always had groceries that never made it to the kitchen table. 

Coronavirus has shed light on many societal issues, including food insecurity. People were rightly outraged after learning that farmers would rather let crops rot than redirect them to food banks when the supply chain was disrupted. It didn’t make economic sense for them even if the public was crying moral foul. Letters were sent to congressional members demanding the food supply chain be bolstered and modified to help the hungry and indigent. Food waste on a large scale is jarring and horrific, especially when many have lost jobs and are trying to stay afloat.

Although I was outrage by the farmers’ actions, it took John Oliver to make me realize that I was guilty too, albeit on a smaller scale. I wanted to do better. But how?

Step one, surf youtube for tips and tricks to elongate groceries’ shelf life. After perusing tips, I concluded the most helpful advice was to freeze food. 

The freezer is probably the most underutilized appliance in a kitchen. Since my roommate is quarantining with her parents at home in Hawaii (lucky gal!), I make meals for one. It’s no fun to eat the same dish every day during the week. However, freezing some of the family pack chicken thighs, half of my homemade chili, and mirepoix has meant more variety of food during the week, prepared ingredients ready to turn into delicious meals, and great leftover options when the refrigerator is looking bare. 

Another thing I discovered is baked goods generally freeze well. My first trial run was freezing half a loaf of banana bread and a few slices of lime cake. After a few weeks, I decided that a slice of banana bread would pair well with my morning coffee. I transferred a slice from the freezer to the refrigerator that evening. By morning, the serving tasted almost like it did the day it came out of the oven. God bless the freezer! I have even eaten a piece of lime cake straight from the freezer, relishing the cool treat on a hot summer day.

Frozen to fluffy biscuits

One of my favorite items to freeze is homemade biscuits. After making the NYTimes homemade biscuit dough (see previous post) and shaping them, I plopped them onto a parchment lined tray and freeze them for an hour. Once frozen, I transferred them into a ziplock bag and squeezed the air out before sealing the bag so they wouldn’t develop freezer burn over time. Whenever I feel like having a biscuit, I place one or two in the oven at 425 degrees for roughly 15 minutes until they’re golden brown. They still rise beautifully! They also taste heavenly, especially smothered in honey. Part of the reason why they taste so good is that I didn’t waste a single biscuit! Since I can no longer easily pass out my extra baked goods to colleagues and friends, the freezer has come in handy.

I am actively working towards being a reformed prodigal baker. If you have any tips about food storage, please share below. Also, have you tried freezing cakes, cookies or dough? I’d love to know which items store well in the freezer. 

Homemade Pop-Tarts

In January, I sketched out the treats I wanted to make this year. Yes, sketched. I drew pictures of a coconut cake, lemon blueberry loaf and pop-tart among other things.

Baking Wish List

Pop-tarts have been calling me for a while. DC is home to Ted’s Bulletin, an upscale diner that’s known for its milkshakes and homemade pop-tarts. When I first walked into Ted’s for brunch years ago, I was drawn to the dessert counter in the waiting area. The pastry chefs would make pop-tarts behind a glass shield, so patrons could admire the freshly baked treats without accidentally contaminating them. (I have a deeper appreciation for splash shields in our covid-19 world!)

I always thought it would be fun to recreate this childhood go-to snack. So when the pandemic hit and DC essentially shutdown, I had the time to research recipes.

Sally’s Baking Addiction has a great, straightforward recipe. The key to a good pop-tart is the homemade pie crust. You need to have both butter and crisco to achieve the desired perfect, flaky crust. Once the dough is made and you’ve let it rest for at least an hour in the refrigerator before you can assemble the pop-tarts.

Roll out the dough, cut it into rectangles, brush an egg wash on half the rectangles, and add a tablespoon or two of your favorite jam. For my pop-tarts, I used strawberry jam. Place the other half of the rectangular dough on top of the jam and sandwich the pieces together by using a fork to crimp the edges. Use a sharp paring knife to add a few slits so air can escape while baking and then you’re ready for the oven.

IMG_5270As the pop-tarts bake, make the frosting by combining some milk, powder sugar, and a splash of vanilla. Once the pop-tarts have been removed from the oven and cooled, add the frosting. To make my pop-tarts more festive, I topped them with colorful sprinkles.

 

My quarantine partner and I immensely enjoyed these pop-tarts with our morning coffee.

If you make pop-tarts, please let me know how they turn out!

 

 

 

Everything Pretzels Are Everything!

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While perusing the Trader Joe’s spice section, I noticed a new product – Everything But the Bagel seasoning. I love everything bagels because the seasoning really enhances its taste, making them savory and salty. Although intrigued by the seasoning, I had no clue what I would use it for because I don’t have the desire to make bagels from scratch. But then it came to me – everything pretzels.

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Grocery stores sell thin everything pretzels, which are divine and the perfect cracker for scooping dip. Even though I never heard of everything soft pretzels, but they must be just as good as the regular ones, right?

I used my modified version of buttery soft pretzels from all recipes.com. (See previous post for the recipe). This time they came out with a better texture because I took my time to properly knead the dough and let it rise for about an hour and a half. Once rolled, shaped, and given a baking soda and warm water bath, they were ready for the seasoning. After sprinkling on a generous amount, I popped the pretzel dough in the over. Eight minutes later I had perfect soft pretzels with a light aroma of dried onion.

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Everything and cinnamon sugar soft pretzels

Of course I brought the pretzels to my colleagues. They loved them! I dipped my pretzel into beef chili, while others squirted on mustard or had it plain. Anyway we had it, these were the best everything pretzels ever!

 

Pumpkin Bread

pumpkin bread

When I think of quintessential fall flavors, four always come to mind  – apples, cinnamon, chocolate and, of course, pumpkin!

I have not always been a fan of pumpkin. It’s not that I disliked PSL (pumpkin spice lattes) or pumpkin pie, I just never chose it when given other options. However, I eventually fell for the ubiquitous fall treat. Even as I type this post, I’m sipping on pumpkin flavored coffee.

This week, I made pumpkin bread for my colleagues who love pumpkin flavored food and for those who are open to being pumpkin converts like me. Once Upon a Chef had a simply but seemingly flavorful pumpkin loaf recipe. I loved how it called for a whole can of pumpkin and a good helping of spices.

Following the recipe as written, I made the wet dough before pouring it into a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. Since the dough is roughly half pumpkin puree, I let it bake in the oven for roughly 75 minutes. I confirmed it was done with the toothpick check before taking it out of the oven to cool.

The bread had a vibrant burnt orange color, it was extremely moist, and smelled so yummy.

What’s your favorite fall treat?

 

Would You Like S’more?

When I first moved to DC, I distinctly remember being giddy about the gas stove in my new apartment. Why? I could make s’mores! In my first grocery haul, I made sure to include jumbo marshmallows, graham crackers, and Hershey’s chocolate bars. It was the best first snack to break in the stove.

Lately, I’ve been craving these sweet sandwiches. Instead of the traditional s’mores, I decided to make s’more brownies so I could share them with friends. It was my first time making them, and it was so easy to do. They were also ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS.

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Take any box brownie mix and prepare it according to the instructions. After baking the brownies, take them out of the oven. Turn the oven to broil and move the rack up towards the top shelf. Cover the brownies with about 2 cups of mini marshmallows. Then sprinkle crushed graham crackers and chocolate chips to give the topping color and a crunchy texture. Broil the dish for roughly 5 minutes or until the marshmallows are slightly toasted. Enjoy!

 

Talents Embraced & Chocolate Almond Biscotti

I recently joined a women’s bible study group, and we’ve been discussing Courageous Women of the Bible by LaTan Roland Murphy. Although I’m only three chapters into the book, I am consistently in awe by how Murphy puts the readers in biblical women’s shoes. I have a much deeper understanding of each woman’s trials and the courage they received from God to move forward.

“Do you have a talent you have been withholding: a beautiful voice, a servant heart, the gift of teaching, speaking, or writing? Whatever God has given you, give all of it back to Him as an act of worship.” This passage really spoke to me. How many of us fail to embrace our talents? I honestly feel that in many ways I’m squandering my gift. My pastries offer a chance for people to indulge in sweet treats; however, once they congregate around the plate of food, something much more important happens- people start conversing with one another. This is the primary reason why I love baking – it brings people together. For this reason, I want to bake regularly to encourage this fellowship among friends and colleagues.

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Now onto my latest bake – chocolate almond biscotti. After reading from the aforementioned book, I was inspired to make something new. Assessing what I had in stock, biscotti was the best choice.

I love having the crunchy cookie with a good cup of coffee in cafes, and I thought my colleagues would appreciate a similar experience.

The New York Times has a wonderful selection of recipes, and their chocolate biscotti caught my eye. I modified the recipes slightly to give more texture to the cookie. Instead of adding a teaspoon of espresso I added almond extract. Additionally, I tossed in about 1/2 cup chocolate chips and a little less than a 1/2 cup almond slices.

Since I finished making the dough around 8:30 pm, I stored it in a bowl with saran wrap in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, I formed the dough into two 1.5 inch wide logs and followed the baking instructions. Roughly 1.5 hours later I had beautiful biscotti that tasted similar to brownie brittle.

My colleagues were elated to have the delicious treats! They spent 10 minutes learning about each other’s weekends and joking around while nibbling on biscotti. Although it was just a small portion of their day, I like to think that they felt happier and had a stronger connection to one another afterwards.

 

French Macarons

macaron 1

I’ve been baking consistently for about six years and I find myself making the same treats over and over again. While practice makes perfect, I started getting bored of making cheesecake, cinnamon rolls, and cupcakes all the time.

To remedy my ennui, I emailed close friends to solicit their favorite desserts. Perhaps they love a dessert that I haven’t tried yet. To show my appreciation for their suggestions, I gave them a sample of what I made.
One friend immediately wrote back saying his favorite dessert was French macarons. Finally a challenge!

As seasoned bakers know, it is vital to conduct research prior to making something new. It saves both time and ingredients.

I scoured the Internet, reading multiple recipes and watching various videos to learn how to make these tricky cookies. Afterwards, I decided that Beth’s Foolproof French Macarons tutorial was the best recipe to follow. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJ636Y8N6E8) Beth gave me the directions necessary to ensure my macarons had feet on the first try!

macaron 2

French Macarons

3 egg whites at room temperature
¼ cup white granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
2 cups confectioners’ sugar (200 g)
1 cup almond flour (120 g)
Gel food coloring (optional)

French macarons are a finicky cookie that require a keen eye and patience.
Start by whipping your room temperature egg whites until they’re foamy, then add salt, cream of tartar and white sugar. Whip until they form a peak that stands upright.

Then add the gel food coloring. Add more than you think you need since the color fades in the cooking process.

Sift almond flour and powder sugar. Fold the flour/sugar mixture into the egg white mixture until is like lava slowly falling off the spatula. If you under-mix, your cookies will crack. If you over mix, they won’t have feet (the little ridges on the bottom of the cookie that indicate a successful bake).

Pipe dollops of batter of the same size on parchment paper. Bang the tray on the counter to release any air bubbles, and then let the tray rest for at least 20 minutes so the batter is tacky to the touch.

Put the tray in a pre-heated 300 degree F oven. Bake for 20 minutes. Afterwards, let the cookies cool completely before sandwiching them together with jelly or buttercream.

 

Scrumptious Seattle Scones

Last November, I took my first solo trip. After a string of bad luck including dealing with an attempted break-in to my apartment and minor heartbreak, I decided to take a respite from life in DC. Bringing up Google flights, I searched for the cheapest upcoming flights to relatively safe major cities. Seattle was the winner at only $290 for a round trip without layovers!

Next I had to secure housing. While hotels offer many amenities, I needed more budget friendly accommodations. Thus, I found a place on Airbnb that had good reviews, including some from women who also took unaccompanied trips to the Pacific Northwest.

I went to the Space Needle, Chihuly Garden, the International District, Public Market and paid respects to Bruce Lee. I took back to DC not only indelible memories, I also a new recipe!

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Admiring the Space Needle at Kerry Park Lookout Point

Next I had to secure housing. While hotels offer many amenities, I needed more budget friendly accommodations. Thus, I found a place on AirBnb that had good reviews, including some from women who also took unaccompanied trips to the Pacific Northwest.

I went to the Space Needle, Chuhuly Garden, the International District, Public Market and paid respects to Bruce Lee. Not only did I take back to DC with me indelible memories, I also got a new recipe!

Every morning, the Airbnb host offered guests freshly baked scones with jam. Vanilla almond scones, buttery scones with strawberry jam, lemon scones with raspberry jam, and more! These scones were not the typical dense biscuits, instead they were very buttery and flaky. I audibly groaned in pleasure when I took an initial bite on my first morning in Seattle. Thankfully they made a huge batch, so I was able to take two (let me be honest, three) scones.

I knew I had to get the recipe before I left. The host received the request multiple times, so she had copies on it on hand for guests! It was a modified version of Ina Garten’s scones!

When I got home, I recreated the scones for my colleagues. I was amazed by how quick and easy it was to make them!

Below is the base of the scones. Feel free to add dried fruit, nuts, vanilla, or citrus zest to bring more flavor or texture to the scones.

I hope you loves these scones as much as I do!

4 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1.5 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk
3 extra large eggs

extras
sliced almonds, dried cherries, 1 teaspoon vanilla, dark chocolate, zest or orange or lemon, dried blueberries, etc

Combine the dry ingredients. Cut the cold butter into small cubes and then mix them into the flour just until it’s the size of small peas, which is roughly for 1 minute in a standing mixer. Do not over mix. Whisk the 3 eggs and then add a cup of milk. Add the milk and egg mixture. It will be a wet dough, so mix just until combined.

Move the dough onto a floured surface. Fold and flatten the dough a few times so it will have a nice rise. Cut the 1/2 inch tall dough into triangular or circular shapes. Put the dough onto a parchment lined baking pan and place it into a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. The scones are done once they have a golden top.

I love brushing melted butter on the freshly baked scones. Afterwards, I’ll drizzle on a simple glaze consisting of milk, powder sugar and vanilla or citrus juice.

 

Golden Biscuits

biscuits

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. When my parents would treat me to breakfast at a local eatery, I would always order biscuits. There is nothing better than having a buttery biscuit slathered with jam, honey, or sausage gravy.

This recipe is easy and makes heavenly biscuits. I followed this recipe step-by-step to produce delicious biscuits with a perfect rise: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1013741-all-purpose-biscuits

Bon Appétit!

 

 

Birthday Cupcakes

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To help a good friend properly celebrate her birthday, I made some yellow cupcakes with fun decorations.

Box cake mixes are usually of high quality and save loads of time, so I used the Duncan Hines’ Butter Recipe Cake Mix to make the batter. The cupcakes only took 18 minutes to bake to perfection in a 350 degree oven. As the cupcakes cooled, I whipped Rich’s Vanilla Bettercreme until it formed a soft peak, which took about 10 to 15 minutes on medium speed. After piping on the frosting, I transformed the plain cupcakes into gorgeous delicacies by drizzling on chocolate ganache and caramel as well as sprinkling on colorful metallic edible pearls.

I am pleased to report that my friend enjoyed the cupcakes so much that she kept them all for herself.