Friday, August 31, 2007

Baby cookies

Sometimes I don't think I'm a good blogger. I don't photograph everything I make and for some reason, there's a certain group of baked goods that I make but never blog about. It's a shame really, because these baked goods are what really are a huge part of the blog's name.

Over the past two years, Lorrie had a good number of friends and coworkers who had children. Lorrie, being friendly and social, likes to give little gift bags. These bags usually have something baby related, a container like a bucket or basket, a dozen cookies, a stuffed animal or flower, and a card.

The cookie shapes are baby bottles and baby buggies. If we know the sex of the baby we use the corresponding color. Pink for girls, blue for boys. People get a mix if we don't know.

We've experimented a little with different recipes for the cookies and the frosting and I've settled on the frosting. The cookies taste good but the dough doesn't hold its stiffness, even after being in the fridge for 24 hours, so I'm still trying different things. We've also settled on using the white nonpareils on top. We think they look better than dusting sugar and they pop against the frosting background.


OK, I made this a while ago and I have to confess, I forgot how. Well, OK, I didn't forget per se, I just didn't write down the high points of what I did. We were leaving for vacation and I was trying to pack, bake these, and load the car. I'll try to recall as much as I can.

First, I didn't make the dough. It is store-bought, frozen puff pastry dough. I just rolled it out per the instructions on the box.

The filling is peach. I had some peaches (like 4 or 5) I needed to use up before going on vacation. I simply chopped them up, threw the chunks into a sauce pan, added about 1/4 cup of sugar, and cooked until the fruit released its liquid and then reduced a little.

I cut the dough in half and then cut each half into three squares. A pizza cutter works best. Each square got a dollop of fruit and syrup in the center and then was folded over. I moved the filled triangles to a baking sheet and then covered with cinnamon and sugar. I probably should have used an egg wash to both seal the turnovers and cover the turnovers and hold the cinnamon and sugar better. Still it worked pretty well and none unfolded or came out sugarless.

So far so good. Here's where this write-up falters. I don't remember the oven temperature or how long I baked them.

Lorrie and I used these as breakfast on our trip to her parent's place.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Early Cookie Experiments

I was cleaning up a number of different folders of pictures the other day and ran across this picture:

Lorrie and I had made cookie baskets for Easter one year and we churned out 5-7 dozen cookies. Unfortunately, this was before I was blogging so taking pictures wasn't all that important and I only took this picture, with a disposable camera no less, to use up the film.

I do think this was a great batch of cookies. I'll try to zoom in and highlight some of them.

This is an Easter bunny face. The eyes and nose were candy dots, the kind that come stuck to pieces of paper. The whiskers were black licorice; we had to cut these in half because the licorice was still too thick, even as this thin rope. That was tough. The ears were done with pink sugar and I used a stencil to get the shape right.

The cookies on the left are another version of the rabbit, sitting in grass. Again the eyes and nose were the candy dots. No whiskers, we just couldn't get the whiskers small enough. The grass is coconut dyed using green food coloring. Other cookies in the picture are various Easter eggs and a church with gummi bears lined up.

Other cookies in the main picture are robin eggs (on the left), sheep, tulips, and butterflies. The robin eggs had a turquoise base with purple sugar. The sheep were just covered in coconut. The tulips were just simply designed with pink, white, or yellow frosting and then a contrasting sugar color. The butterflies were yellow or pink with M&M's as the body sections and then spots in the wings.

The white tower of drawers is where I keep the cookie decorating supplies. You can see some of the left over candy in the lower right. In the lower left you can see what looks like spray painting. I found a spray can color spray thing. I think it is meant to be like a poor man's air-brush. I played around with it, both alone and with stencils. I wasn't thrilled and probably, OK, won't, use it again.

All in all, I think they turned out pretty good and they were well appreciated. My personal favorites were the two rabbits.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Rhubarb Cake

One of the true treasures of my cookbook collection isn't Baking: From My Home to Yours, Tartine, or even the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. It's an old plastic bound collection of worn-and-torn pages between two laminated pieces of yellow construction paper. The title quotes Psalm 37.3 in black script, fancier than everyday handwriting but by no means calligraphy. "You Shall Be Fed" it proclaims. This was the fundraising effort of the United Methodist Women of Zion United Methodist Church of Denmark, WI. The purpose was to raise funds for a new addition for the church, a hand-drawn picture of which is there for your inspection, on the dedication page just past the front cover. There are no full colored, highly styled photographs but the page dividers do have little black magic marker doodles illustrating the subject of the pages that follow it. The recipes are terse. These are not instructions, these are formulas. There are no sidebars explaining terms and techniques, no science lesson on the Maillard reaction. It is expected that you know how to 'cook' because why on earth would you be buying a cookbook if you have never been in a kitchen before?

These old books, passed over many times in used book stores for the Food Network production overruns, are truly treasures. Has Rachel Ray ever included a recipe for ice?

1 empty 1/2 gal. milk carton (preferably Lake to Lake)

Pour water in 1/2 gallon carton and put in freezer until firm. Can be broken apart for crushed ice or left whole and used to keep things cold in cooler or box. May be refrozen.

Does "Whoever has a heart full of love always has something to give." sound like a quote from a Tony Bourdain book? Of course not.

But I have to admit it's more than just kitsche that brings me back repeatedly. Many of the names that appear throughout this book are the same names that appear throughout my family tree. Plus, it has notes on the recipes, and a few more grandmother.

recipes in the blank space, in the familiar hand-writing of my

Take, for example, this recipe for rhubarb cake from my great-grandmother.

Rhubarb Cake
Elsie Schneider

1/2 c. shortening
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 lg. egg
1 tsp. soda in 1 c. sour milk or buttermilk
2 c. flour
1 tsp. vanilla
3 c. rhubarb (cut in pieces)

Use well greased pan. Cream shortening, sugar, salt, and 1 large egg. Add soda, buttermilk, flour, and vanilla.

3 c. rhubarb - cut in pieces. Sprinkle 1/2 c. sugar.

That's it, that's the entire recipe. It was assumed you would know things like oven temperature for baking cakes and times. My grandmother wrote "Bake 350° 45min" in the margin (that would be a 'Moderate Oven' according to the helpful oven chart included at the book's beginning).

I've made this cake several times now, first with just rhubarb and with a rhubarb-cherry mix. Both times it was delicious. The cake, though sweet, highlighted the fruit without overpowering it. The cherries and rhubarb worked well paired, and I think I could have even reduced the sugar in the topping by a quarter cup or even all of it.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

July 2007 Just Baking Round-Up

My "Look, I post somewhere else" round-up of posts I did as editor at Just Baking in July. Things are looking good over there. We are adding new writers and content and our stats have been increasing each month.

July 10 - Campfire Baking - My brief overview on Dutch ovens. Inspired by the attempt to use one while on vacation.

July 12 - Video Learning: Decorating Sugar Cookies - A cool video on decorating sugar cookies. It was cool to see her use a pasta maker to roll the fondant.

July 19 - Share Our Strength’s Great American Bake Sale® - I also posted the Share Our Strength's Great American Bake Sale on Just Baking.

July 20 - - Do you have the perfect casserole for any occasion? - Do you want to write for Just Baking.

July 25 - Video Learning: Mooncakes - Cool baked treats for the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival.

No posts on July 3rd, 6th, 26th. I try to cover when the other writers don't post but sometimes I'm just too busy (stupid job!).

*Update* - As Just Baking no longer exists, I have removed the actual links but left the post names as a source for ideas