Monday, April 22, 2013

A Silent Kitchen

A moment of silence for those injured or killed in the attack on the Boston Marathon and the events surrounding the capture of the coward alleged to have set the bombs.
My kitchen has been quiet this week. I haven't done any baking, with or without Ruth and company. I live within the Boston metropolitan area, though far enough away that I wasn't directly affected by the events that unfolded last week. However, Boston is as much 'home' to me as the city I actually live in is.
I've walked through the area where the bombs went off. I've been treated at two of the hospitals that took in the injured immediately after the explosions. I'm really not sure what else to say.
What a lot of people outside the region might not be aware of is that the bombs went off on Patriot's Day, the holiday that celebrates the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Incidentally,  the suspect was captured on the actual anniversary of the beginning of the war. (The first battles took place at Lexington and Concord in the early morning hours of April 19, 1775.)
I really can't think of what else to say. Boston will bounce back of course; in many ways it already has. I am still a bit shaken (and a lot mad) as a result of the events. I am sure a great many people in New England are. For now, the kitchen is quiet. Next week will be back to normal. I'm going to hunt for a treat that's either originally from Boston or is a particular favorite in Boston for next weeks' recipe.
If there's a recipe you'd like to see, please e-mail me (Miaka). Thanks.

Monday, April 15, 2013


"We're going to make another classic 'cookie' this week," I told Ruth as he came in. "Brownies!"
He nodded. "A good choice. I thought you were working on a variation with white chocolate?"
"Um, I haven't quite got the recipe right yet. One of my friends thought the last batch was cornbread."
"Needs more chocolate?" Ruth suggested.
"Yes. I'll show you when I get the recipe right," I promised. "I need a better name for them, too."
"So we shall make regular brownies this week."
"Indeed we shall! These are a very popular treat, though I've always thought they're more cake than cookie. They came to widespread popularity in the Roaring 20's, at least according to the book my recipe comes from."
"In our world," Hi-chan pipes up, "they were invented when a chocolate cake fell in but there wasn't time to re-make it."
"Or so the story goes," Ruth remarked. "There isn't enough leavening agent in them for that story to really ring true."
"No one's really sure how they came to be made the first time here either, but they're tasty anyway!"
The recipe we're using is from a Betty Crocker 'Cookie Book' that's part of my Mom's cookbook collection. I think this edition came out in the 1960's. Classic cookies change very little over the years, though, and the recipes are all still good. Let's get started!

Here is everything we need for brownies. The recipe is fairly simple. I've chosen a cocoa-based recipe to save us the hassle of melting chocolate on the stove. Ruth is sitting on the sugar. The copper canister next to him is flour, while the cocoa powder is on his other side. In front of the cocoa, Black is rolling eggs into the baking powder. On the other side, Red pushes the bottle of vanilla into the salt. The silvery brick Hi-chan has brought is shortening.

The tools! Black has decided that the cooking spray makes a good perch from which to see everything. Ruth has brought two mixing bowls, a mixing spoon, and an 8x8inch baking pan (about 20x20cm). This one is glass, but the material isn't important. (We use glass whenever possible because it makes it easier for the twins to see.) Red has the measuring spoons, of course, and Hi-chan has brought the measuring cups.

First we need to grease the pan. Ruth takes care of this while I hold the pan for him.
If you don't have cooking spray, spread a little bit of butter or margarine as evenly as possible over the bottom and sides of your baking pan.

While we're taking care of the pan, Black gets started by preheating the oven. Brownies bake at 350°F (180°C).

With the preliminary prep work out of the way, let's get started mixing up ingredients! Hi-chan helps me dump the shortening in. Our recipe calls for 1/2 cup (95g), but we're using 2/3 cup (125g) because extra shortening makes the brownies more moist and I had 2/3 of a stick left over from another baking project.

Black adds 1 cup (200g) sugar. Hi-chan is hanging out on top of the bowl again.

My turn to add something! Two eggs go in the bowl.

Red is pleased to add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. The vanilla helps bring out the sweetness and chocolate flavor of the brownies.

Ruth stirs it all up. Don't be too worried if there are clumps of shortening, they'll melt in the oven. Do make sure none of the clumps is larger than a pea, though, or you'll have spotty brownies.

Black adds 2/3 cup (96g) flour to the smaller bowl. (We did tear out the bowl before adding anything.)

Hi-chan is having fun helping add 1/2 cup (56g) cocoa powder. "Chocolate that we don't have to melt!" she chirps. "Doesn't taste good by itself, though."
"It's powdered unsweetened chocolate, Hi-chan," I explain. "Of course it doesn't taste good straight out of the box."

Red's turn again. In goes 1/2 teaspoon salt...

... and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder.

Ruth stirs the dry ingredients together carefully.
"Why are you going so slow?" Red asks.
"Flour and cocoa powder are both very light and inclined to fly," he explains. "Since I want them to stay in the bowl and not fly around, I have to stir slowly. If I go fast, the mix will go everywhere."

Now it's time to mix it all together. Black has decided that nothing interesting has happened to the bottom of the bowl, so she hopped up on the can of baking powder to see over the rim. I held the bowl of dry ingredients for Ruth while he carefully coaxed the powdery mixture out into the larger bowl with the shortening mixture. Hi-chan opted not to sit on the rim in order to avoid getting a face full of unsweetened powder.

It takes a bit of stirring to get all the dry ingredients worked in. The batter is only slightly more liquid than cookie dough when it's all mixed together. Ruth has just finished stirring.
"Thick stuff," Black remarks. "Looks tasty, though. How do we get it out of the bowl?"
"Carefully and with help," I tell her. "Why don't you go get the pan?"

Hi-chan helped the twins bring the pan over from the other side of the stove, and now they've all found good spots to watch as Ruth coaxes the batter out of the bowl I'm holding for him. It comes out slowly and plops into the pan in a glob.

Once all the batter is in the pan, I hand Ruth a spatula so he can spread it out. Make sure to tuck the batter into the corners of the pan, or it won't get there at all. Brownie batter is very much inclined to stick together.
"Looks yummy," Black comments.
"Wait until it's baked," Ruth tells her. "Then it will be even more yummy."

With the batter all spread out, it's ready to bake. Ruth places the pan carefully into the oven. These should go in about the middle of the oven.

As Ruth closes the oven door, Black sets the timer for half an hour. 30 minutes should be enough time to bake the brownies, but if it isn't put them back in for a couple minutes.

The timer has gone off and the brownies look delicious! Ruth and I pull them out and set them on top of the stove to cool.

Black sets a timer for 10 minutes to give the brownies a chance to cool. This is only an approximation, and cooling times may differ.

"It looks so delicious," Red says. "The timer went off already, can't we have some now?"
"Yes, but you can't eat the whole thing," Ruth insists. "We have to cut them first. Miaka, may I have a knife?"
"Of course! Don't drool on the brownies, ladies." This comment gets me pouty grumbles as I turn away to grab the requested knife.

Everyone is eyeing the brownies hungrily as they wait for Ruth to finish cutting them into 16 squares.

Mm, brownie!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Chocolate Chip Cookies

"We have another Reader Request, Ruth!" I told him as he came in.
"Excellent! What are we making today?" he asked, flying over to sit on my shoulder.
"+Paul Chang would like us to make some chocolate-chip cookies."
"Ah, a classic recipe." Ruth nodded. "I had been thinking we should do those at some point. Though I wonder if the recipe was created in the same manner in your world. In ours, it was the result of a Fae prank."
"Probably not quite," I explained. "Though there are some competing accounts of how the recipe came about. All the stories I've heard agree that they were invented by Ruth Wakefield, who owned the Toll House Inn of Whitman, Massachusetts. The disagreement in the stories is over how precisely the chocolate ended up in the cookies. One account has chocolate bars falling off the shelf to land in the dough and getting chopped up by the electric mixer. I'm rather disinclined to believe that one for two reasons: one, the chocolate bars would have been wrapped in paper, and two, this was the 1930s and I doubt they really had electric mixers in that time period."
"Electric mixer?" Ruth asked, slightly confused.
"Something like my stand mixer," I explained and he nodded in understanding. "Another story speculates that the recipe wasn't exactly an accident--that she was trying to come up with new recipes. The most common story, and the 'official' one as told by Nestle, is that she was trying to make a type of cookie that was chocolate all through, but ran out of the chocolate she normally used, and possibly also out of time to melt the chocolate, so she chopped up bars of Nestle chocolate and dumped them into the mix, expecting the chocolate to melt."
"Except it doesn't quite work that way," Ruth continued the tale for me. "Chunks of chocolate will generally hold together unless carefully melted, and they certainly won't distribute chocolate evenly throughout the dough."
"Exactly. However they came to be made, the cookies were a hit and have become a classic."
"Let's make some!"
This recipe is the one my family used when I was growing up. It's slightly changed from the recipe in the Betty Crocker 'Cookie Book', as we don't add any nuts.

Here we have the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies! Brown sugar is being ignored while Ruth stands on the white sugar and leans in to look at the flour. Red has brought the vanilla, and Black has corralled the egg next to the baking soda. Hi-chan has brought the shortening and dropped it on the bag of chocolate chips.

We need a cookie sheet and wire cooling racks, of course. Hi-chan has brought the measuring cups, while Black has spoons for shaping the cookies. Red has the measuring spoon, of course, and Ruth has brought two bowls and mixing spoons.

Black sets the oven to 375°F (190°C). It should have plenty of time to warm up while we mix up our dough.

We need 2/3cup (410g) shortening. Cutting it on a marking is quite easy. Hi-chan and Red hold the stick of shortening in place while Ruth makes the cut and Black watches to make sure he's cutting it in the right place. If your shortening comes in a tub, try filling a liquid measuring cup with 1/3 cup water and then adding the shortening until the water hits the 1cup mark. Don't forget to drain off the water before you add it, though!
Pardon the odd angle of this photo, Neko-kun was behind the camera and is considerably taller than me, so he got something of a bird's-eye view.

Hi-chan helps dump the shortening into the bowl.

Next we add sugars. Black dumps 1/2 cup (96g) white granulated sugar into the bowl.

This is followed up immediately by 1/2 cup (100g) packed brown sugar. ('Packed' means that you squish it into the measuring cup. It'll come out as a solid clump like you see in the picture.)

My turn now, as the next ingredient in is 1 egg.

Now Red gets a turn, adding in 1 teaspoon (5mL) vanilla.

Mix it all up now!
"Hi-chan, you're going to get bopped in the nose," Red warns.
"I like the view from the top of the bowl, though," Hi-chan mumbles, pouting. She gets down after Ruth and I both shoot her a look, though. "Fine."

It's starting to look like cookie dough already! This won't hold together if we bake it, though.

Hi-chan takes charge of adding 1 1/2 cups (150g) of flour, which pulls her out of her pouting.

I glance at the recipe to see what goes in next. "Ack, we forgot the salt!"
"I'll get it," Ruth volunteers. A moment or so later, he's back with the salt I use for baking. "Whoo, that's a bit heavy to carry."
"It's at least as big as you are, Ruth," Black remarks. "Not like at home."
"Thank you, Ruth," I tell him, taking the salt to measure it out. "Ready, Red?"
"Yup! Measuring-spoon time!" Red chirps as he comes over to carefully take the 1/2 teaspoon of salt from me and adds it to the bowl.

I refill the same 1/2 teaspoon measure with baking soda, and Red happily adds it to the bowl. That's all the dry ingredients!

Ruth stirs the dry ingredients together while everyone watches. Hi-chan has decided that the bag of chocolate chips makes a nice, if rather lumpy, cushion.

Now we add the flour mixture to the shortening mixture we made before. I hold the bowl for Ruth as he carefully scrapes it out, making sure to get all of it.

Everyone watches as Ruth stirs the dry mix in. Now we have cookie dough! It clumps up pretty nicely on the spoon. One more thing to add before we're ready for the oven.

Chocolate chips! Can't have chocolate chip cookies without the chocolate chips!
"Woah," Red remarks. "Those are massive chocolate chips."
"They are a bit bigger than I was expecting," I admit. "I'm sure they'll work though. Oops, Hi-chan, we don't need the whole bag!"
"What?" Hi-chan glances up at me, looking a little confused. "But the recipe calls for one package of chocolate chips."
"Does it want a different size package, Miaka?" Black asks.
"Yes. The recipe is expecting a 6-ounce bag of semi-sweet chips," I explain. (170g) "That bag is 10 ounces of darker chocolate, and those chips are about twice the size I expected. Personally, I'd like a bit of cookie with my chocolate chips."
"Ah, I see." Hi-chan stops pouring. "Is that good?"
"That should be plenty," Ruth assures her. "I'm sure they'll come out delicious."

"Um, Hi-chan," Ruth sounds a little bit annoyed. "I can't stir while you're standing in the bowl."
"Just trying to make sure we have enough chips," Hi-chan insists.
"There's plenty, Hi-chan," I assure her. "You don't want to be mixed into the cookies, do you?"
Hi-chan makes a reluctant grumbling sound, but she gets out of the bowl.

With Hi-chan finally out of the way, Ruth mixes the chocolate chips into the cookie dough. There's plenty of chocolate. Now we're ready to shape the cookies!

Of course, first we need a place to put the cookies. Everyone pitches in to get some parchment paper on the baking sheet.

One dozen cookies fit on this sheet. The spoons weren't cooperating with me, so these are hand-shaped; rolled into balls and lightly flattened into position. Make sure to leave 1-2 inches (3-5cm) of space between the cookies, as these will expand when baked. If you put them too close together, the cookies will blend into one another. That can be fun if you're planning on it, though.

Ruth puts the first tray of cookies into the oven. They look really tasty already!

Black sets the timer for 8 minutes as Ruth shuts the oven door. The cookies should be a delicate golden-brown when they're done. If 8 minutes isn't enough, put them back in for 2 more minutes and check again.

The cookies are just starting to brown around the very edges, with a lovely gold-brown starting on top. Ruth pulls the finished tray out so we can put the second sheet in.

The first batch is on the cooling racks! Be very careful picking these up, as the chocolate chips do melt a bit and they're quite hot. Everyone is eager to dig in! Let's wait for them to cool a bit, and for the next batch to come out, though!

The second batch just came out and got added to the racks... and Black got tired of waiting.
"Mmm, chocolate," she murmurs, sticking her face into one of the large partly-melted chips.
"You're going to get it all over your face," Ruth warns.
Somehow, I don't think Black cares...