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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Whipped Ganache Truffles

I recently made a huge batch of truffles. A week before, I had made some whipped ganache frosting for a cake and when there was a little bit left over, I stuck it in the refrigerator. On a whim, I thought I would try using the whipped ganache to make a few truffle centers. Holy moly! Those little whipped ganache truffles were so good! The texture was so ethereal and light, creamy and smooth. When served at room temperature, as all truffles should be, the filling instantly coats your tongue the moment you break into the middle.

I was worried that the whipped ganache centers would be a lot more difficult to work with, but they're really not. You basically follow the same recipe and steps as with making regular truffle centers, but in this case you simply beat the ganache after it has thickened slightly in the refrigerator. You're looking for it to be near the consistency of room temperature cream cheese before beating it with a paddle attachment (or regular beaters) until it is fluffy and smooth. The color will lighten from the addition of air. Like when whipping cream, be careful not to over beat the mixture. Refrigerate the ganache thoroughly before using a small disher to scoop out consistent amounts, just like you would for regular truffle centers. Because it comes to room temperature more quickly, you will want to stick the scooped portions back in the refrigerator for a few minutes before rolling them into nicely shaped balls.

Because you really have to dip these truffles initially while they are cold, you absolutely must plan on dipping them more than once. After dipping the first time, let them come to room temperature before dipping a second time. This will make sure you don't end up with a cracked final shell as the truffles warm up and swell.

You can still flavor them just like regular truffles; mint, however, is absolutely divine in this application! And, guess what? Technically, you could call these "reduced calorie" truffles because when you whip the ganache, it increases in volume, thus reducing the number of calories compared to a similar sized scoop of unwhipped ganache!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Baker's Math

I know there are a lot of folks out there with math phobia. I see them when my earth science students mutter that they thought they signed up for a science class, not a math class. What they, and a lot of other people, don't realize, is that math makes the world go round. We are fortunate that the universe appears to be structured in a very deliberate and organized way. I would argue that it is quite possible that until we are able to mathematically describe physical phenomena we see in our universe, we do not truly understand it.

Now, what does all of this have to do with baking bread? Well, to be honest, not a whole lot. I'm not worried about mathematically modeling the chemistry of bread baking, but I do believe that a few math skills in baking can be darn useful.

I won't lie to you. It took me a while to really grasp its usefulness, and many of you may find yourselves in that category forever. There's nothing wrong with that. You don't need baker's math to make great bread. But it comes in really handy when you want to start fiddling. Or scaling recipes. It really comes in handy there.

The whole idea of baker's math is that the recipe is presented as a list of percentages. Here's a sample recipe for french bread:

Flour 100
Salt 1.9
Yeast 0.55
Water 65

Two things you may notice right away: 1) the flour is 100%, 2) the total of all ingredients does not total 100%. All baker's math formulas are based on the flour totaling 100%. The other ingredients are listed as a percent of the flour's weight. How much weight is totally up to you. In this case, if you start with 4 cups of flour (weighing approximately 5 oz per cup), the required water would be 13 ounces. I obtained that number by using this first formula here. I plugged in 65 for the ingredient % (from the recipe above) and 20 ounces for the flour weight (4x5 oz). Multiply those two numbers together and divide by the 100 gives you how much water you need to add.

So, now if you want to use a baker's math recipe, you have a formula that can allow you to easily figure out how much of each ingredient you need. All you need to do is decide how much flour you want to start with and do one calculation per ingredient.

I used to pooh-pooh the use of the scale in the kitchen because it seemed laborious and unnecessary, but when it comes to making bread, the scale really is a rock star. Simply place your bowl on the scale, tare it, and start adding ingredients until you hit the requisite amount. Tare between each ingredient and there's no thinking involved!

But really, most cookbooks give the baker's weight and conventional measurements, so the above formula is only sometimes useful. So why the hubbub about baker's math?

Because I like to fiddle.

Lately, I've been fiddling with french bread. None of the recipes I tried quite gave me the results I was looking for, but many of the recipes had features I liked. But it is very hard to compare different recipes when they are written in conventional measurements. However, in baker's math, you can easily compare the recipes. Here are four french bread recipes from three different cookbooks that I converted to baker's percentages. The first thing to note is that they are quite similar. In fact, I could now probably write a set of parameters for what constitutes a french bread dough. And while there are a lot of factors that can influence the final product besides proportions of ingredients, it's an important place to start.

After making 5-6 different batches of baguettes, I took the above information and came up with a formula of my own I wanted to try. I decided on my percentages, and then I used the above formula to determine the weight of each ingredient. (I'll share that recipe in the not too distant future.)

What if you want to scale a recipe that is in conventional measurements? Then you need a different arrangement of the above formula.

With this formula, you need the weight of each ingredient, so you'll have to use a scale to get started. Once you have the weight of each, you can simply plug in the ingredient weight and flour weight to get the percent of each. Remember, in every case, the flour weight is 100%.

Again, baker's math is not required for bread baking, but it can be very useful when you want to compare recipes or scale them for a different yield. It may not be that hard to scale the measurements to increase a yield from 2 to 3 loaves, but what if you have a recipe that always makes loaves just a little smaller than you are happy with? With baker's math, you can simply and easily scale them up just a bit while still keeping all of the proportions equal! Handy dandy!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Homemade Breakfast Sausage

One of the things I love about cooking is that I never run out of new and interesting things to try. Making sausage has been on my list for a long time, but somehow it only recently made it to the top of the list. If you have a meat grinder, it is so very easy. The best part is that you can then tailor your sausage to your exact liking! Its great because you can mix together the seasoning and then cook a small bit and sample it before committing yourself to multiple pounds of the stuff.

I have an old fashioned meat grinder (although to be honest, I'm not sure I could tell you where it is right this second), but I also have the grinder attachment for my KitchenAid. I found the grinder attachment worked fairly well, provided that you use partially frozen meat when grinding. Unfortunately, I found the sausage stuffer add-on for the KitchenAid to be horrible. I ended up making a few cute little sausages, but - as far as I'm concerned - it wasn't worth the time and frustration of making links using my mixer. It just didn't feed properly... mainly because the food pusher does not fit snugly into the hopper. If you're darned and determined to make links, you'll want to look into a dedicated sausage stuffer (like this one), which can be found for less than a hundred bucks.

Anyway... so, I purchased a big ol' Boston butt roast. That's pork, in case you didn't know. And it's not butt. I've always wondered why the heck they call the shoulder the butt. All it does is cause confusion, but now you know, right?

Boston butt is nicely marbled, which is what you want for making sausage. Remember, there's a reason sausage tastes so good, and it's not because it's healthy for you! You do, however, want to cut away the major chunks of fat and connective tissue. There's plenty of marbling in a Boston butt and the extra gristle and fat can bog down the grinder. Cut the roast into approximately one inch squares. Place a Sil-Pat or Super Parchment sheet on a sheet tray and lay the pieces out on it so they are one layer thick. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze. When you are ready to make sausage, let the meat sit on the counter until it is about half thawed. (Or, you could only freeze until half frozen... it depends on your timeline). Run the meat through your grinder using the coarse grinding disk, if you have an option.

Once the meat is ground, the rest is quick and easy. Mix together the seasoning and then sprinkle it over the meat. Stir completely. Then form it into small patties. I made mine about 3 inches across. Keep in mind that they'll shrink a bit when cooked. Place the patties in a single layer on the baking sheet with the Super Parchment or Sil-Pat (to allow easy removal once frozen). Try to form the patties so that they are a little thinner in the middle than on the outside edges. Place the tray in the freezer and freeze them until they are rock hard. Remove from the tray and place in and air tight container.

When you are ready to cook, simply place the number of frozen patties you want in a lightly oiled pan over medium-high heat. Cover it and keep an eye on it. As soon as you hear some good sizzle going on in there, reduce the heat to medium-low. After about six minutes, turn the patties over to cook the other side. Pierce the sausage about halfway through to allow the excess grease to escape. Cook another 5-6 minutes of the second side, until the sausage is cooked through.

Homemade Breakfast Sausage
Yield: 2 pounds

2 pounds Boston butt pork roast
2 tsp table salt
1 tsp ground sage
1/2 tsp ground thyme
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground pepper

Trim the roast of excess fat and connective tissue. Cut into one inch chunks. Freeze in a single layer on a sheet pan. Either freeze solid and then remove from freezer ahead of when you want to make sausage or freeze only until about half frozen. Grind half frozen meat with a coarse grinding plate.

Mix the seasonings together in a small bowl. Sprinkle over the ground meat and mix thoroughly. Form small patties so that they are thinner in the middle than at the edge. Place on a Sil-Pat or Super Parchment on a sheet pan and freeze until solid, then transfer to an air tight container. Sausages can be cooked directly from the freezer. Start over medium-high heat in a covered pan. As soon as you hear a decent amount of sizzle, turn down the heat to medium-low. Cook 5-7 minutes per side, until cooked through.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Cheesy Broccoli Soup

A few months ago, a friend moved away to a new duty station and gave me a grocery bag full of frozen food items she couldn't take with her. The assortment included two large bags of frozen broccoli florets. From the first moment I saw them, I immediately had an urge to make a cheesy broccoli soup. I finally got around to it the other night. This is such a quick and easy soup to make and it is filling and so mouth satisfying. I made it with non-fat milk because that's what I had on hand, but it would be even better with 2% or whole milk. When you use a lower fat milk, it is not usually the flavor that suffers, but the mouth feel. Feel free to use whatever type of milk works for you!

Cheesy Broccoli Soup
Yield: 4 servings

3 strips of bacon, diced
1 medium-small onion, diced
1/4 cup flour
4 cups milk, warm
1 Knorr vegetable bouillon cube (or similar)
1 16 oz bag frozen broccoli florets
2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
salt & pepper to taste
splash of heavy cream (optional)

Heat a 4 quart pan over medium high heat. Add the pieces of bacon. Cook until the bacon has rendered its fat and browned. Spoon out the bacon onto a paper towel lined plate and set aside. Add the onion to the oil and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is tender and translucent.

Add the flour to the onion and fat and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute. Mix the warm milk and bouillon cube and then slowly add to the flour mixture, stirring with a whisk continuously. Add the broccoli and let the mixture come to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the broccoli is tender. Remove from the hear. Add the cheese, salt & pepper, cream (if using), and cooked bacon and mix thoroughly. Serve and enjoy!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Vanilla Cake

I am usually all about a chocolate cake. As I've mentioned previously, growing up, there was only one cake for us. I talked about it here. But, you know, sometimes, chocolate isn't what you're looking for (Really!). And sometimes, maybe, you want a change of pace or to offer a variety. I have a friend who is getting ready for her son's birthday. She made cupcakes out of my chocolate cake batter and loved them. Then she asked me if I had any good vanilla cake recipes. I did not, so I told her I would need to get back to her.

Six batches of cake and four pounds later, I think I have a recipe I feel good about sharing! It has a very nice crumb, and a sweet, subtle vanilla flavor. It makes great cupcakes or a layer cake. The other great thing about this cake is how easy it is to make. You just throw all the ingredients into a bowl and beat them together! The cupcakes above and below are this recipe with a nice butter cream frosting. I made a layer cake but took it to a function and felt a little too weird about trying to take a picture of a slice after it was cut.

There are two things to be careful of in making this recipe. The first is to be sure to use cake flour. Because this cake is beaten after the flour is mixed, you can't use all purpose flour. All purpose flour has way too much gluten in it; if you beat it the way you beat this recipe, you'll end up with chewy goo. That's no good! So stick with the cake flour. Secondly, don't over-bake the cake. Start testing with a cake tester a few minutes early and take it out of the oven the second that tester comes out clean. I've found if it is over-baked, it can come out a little on the dry side. It's still tasty, just not as luscious as it should be.

Vanilla Cake
Yield: 2 dozen cupcakes or 2 9" layers
Adapted from The Good Housekeeping Cookbook

2 1/4 cup cake flour
1 1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup room temperature butter
3/4 cup milk
3 eggs
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp table salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line either 24 standard sized muffin cups with papers or oil and cut a parchment round to fit the bottom of two 9" round cake pans. Measure all ingredients together into a large bowl. Beat with an electric or stand mixer for 3-5 minutes, until the batter is smooth and thick. If making cupcakes, a size 16 disher is the perfect portion size. Otherwise, spoon batter in until the cups are about 2/3 full. If making cakes, divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Bake cupcakes for 20-25 minutes, until puffed and just slightly golden and a tester comes out clean. Bake cakes 25-30 minutes, also until puffed, slightly golden, and a tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for about 10 minutes and then remove from pans to cool completely before frosting.
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