Posted in baking


I have been craving pancakes for sooo long. Yesterday when I got home from class, I was starving, and when I’m starving, I tend to get in a bad mood. What better way to solve both problems than to make pancakes?

I used a recipe from dakota kelly at Allrecipes, which was fine although the batter seemed way too thick.  The pancakes turned out just right though, so I guess it didn’t matter much.  It may have been due not to the recipe, but to my way of mixing.  When I have to mix melted butter with milk, I melt the butter with the milk in a double boiler (the metal mixing bowl I’m using over a pot of a little boiling water) so that the milk gets warm and doesn’t make the butter solidify when I mix them together.  But this probably makes some of the milk evaporate.  I doubt it evaporated enough to make a big difference, though.  I put the recipe on metric so I could use my scale to measure, which speeds things up.  I made the pancakes in my cast-iron skillet, which was fun.  Unfortunately my stove only heats a small part of it, so I had to keep the pancakes right in the middle for them to cook evenly.  I wonder if it would help if I preheated the skillet in the oven first so that the whole thing was hot.  At any rate, my stove definitely heated that center part, because the pancakes cooked faster than I remember them cooking at home.  I was always afraid they wouldn’t be done on the inside, but they always were.  It got too hot at one point and I burned some of the butter, which gave the outside of a couple of pancakes a gross burnt flavor, but the rest came out just right.  The recipe made about 10 medium-small pancakes.

When my roommate came in and saw me making them, she asked if they were hard to make (they’re not), and I have to say I was kind of shocked at the idea of anyone not knowing exactly how hard or easy it is to make pancakes from so many Sunday mornings with their mom.  I made sure to call my mom and thank her for all the good breakfasts.  My usual breakfast is cold cereal, and I have no problem with that (I quite enjoy my Frosted Mini-Wheats, and even when I was in France, where they really do not understand the concept of sweetened cereal, the Monoprix brand tasteless cereal + hunks of milk chocolate really grew on me). But on some Sunday mornings, the mornings before big standardized tests, and other special occasions, my mom, sometimes with the help of my sister and I, would make one of the Breakfast Trinity: pancakes, waffles, or French toast.  (The French did get some things right.)  Yes, I left out biscuits, but perhaps that’s because we never quite perfected those.  Biscuits and cinnamon buns usually took the place of a member of the Trinity when we had breakfast for dinner.

Despite my love of pancakes, I have to say that I always preferred French toast.  I realized that maybe this is because my family uses powdered sugar on French toast as opposed to maple syrup.  (And keep in mind that by “maple syrup” we always meant “maple flavored corn syrup” in the form of Aunt Jemima’s Lite.)  I tried powdered sugar on my pancakes, but it was too dry.  I think French toast has more moisture.  So I mixed a little milk in with the powdered sugar.  I think it would be better if you warmed the milk a little first, but it did the trick for me.  Never mind that this means I eat my pancakes with icing on top! It’s yummy.

Posted in dry heat, wet heat

Aglio, olio e peperoncino

This is one Italian pasta sauce that I was completely unfamiliar with.  Which is ridiculous.  But I happen to have aglio (garlic) and peperoncino (peppers) from the farm.  So I gave it a whirl.

I got contradictory advice from an Italian website and an Italian person.  The website said you just use the aglio e peperoncino to flavor the oil, and then you take them out.  The person said to leave them in.  My loyalty lies with real people. So the trick to this sauce is not to burn the garlic.  I left most of it in big pieces so I could take it out if I didn’t like it, because I’m not one of those people who are obsessed with garlic.  But I got the big pieces to cook just right – soft, slightly golden, but not brown – and I actually liked them.  The problem, rather, was with the peperoncini.  I used three little red ones that had been dried, and three was too many.  But I washed my hands very carefully immediately after handling them to try to avoid what happened last time I cut a bunch of peppers – apparently the oils stayed on my hands long enough that washing them didn’t help, and they were stinging for the next 24 hours no matter what I tried.  Alton Brown says washing your hands with baking soda works, too.  What I really need to do is just get some gloves.  The website said fresh peppers are better and I think I would have appreciated the extra flavor.

I think I used too much oil – I tried to cover the bottom of my cast iron pan, which I think is 12 inches, and my little single serving of pasta (I go with 80g per person, a tip from the same Italian person) was swimming in it. I used extra virgin olive oil, although the website said it couldn’t take the heat.  I found it fine in terms of the heat (as my Italian consultant said “Funziona lo stessoooo” it works the saaaame), but perhaps it isn’t necessary to use the expensive stuff?  I don’t know, since it’s such a simple sauce, it seems like extra virgin would be the way to go.  The pasta came out a little tough, and I think it had to do with all the sizzling that went on when I put the pasta into the hot pan with the oil.  So next time: try the peppers first, don’t overdo the oil, and add the sauce to the pasta rather than the other way around.  I’ll report back when I perfect it.

Posted in baking

Questioning Conventional Wisdom: Amish Friendship Bread

This is a dish which is perpetuated as follows: somebody gives you a baggie full of yeasty batter, and you feed it and burp it over a period of ten days, and then you mix it with the rest of the ingredients and make several batches of batter, and then you bake one and give the rest away so the cycle can start again.

My personal opinion is that everything in the name except for friendship should be in scare quotes. Number one, exactly how Amish is a recipe involving instant vanilla pudding mix? Number two, exactly how breadlike is a recipe involving such massive quantities of sugar, as well as chemical leaveners? By bread, I mean something that has a lot of gluten in order to trap the gas slowly released by yeast. Cakes and quickbreads are different. But in fact, “Amish” friendship “bread” is a quickbread. The slowest quickbread ever, perhaps, since you’re supposed to breed yeast for 10 days before baking it. So let’s rename it Slow Friendship Quickbread, and discuss what it accomplishes and what it definitely doesn’t.

First, there’s the issue of gluten. Gluten cannot form in the presence of a lot of sugar. This recipe, and indeed even the starter you get from your friend, before you decide to add anything, contains too much sugar for serious gluten development.

Why can’t I have a bread that’s light on gluten? you ask. Because gluten is what makes yeast-risen breads work. Without it, the long rises needed for yeast-risen breads would result in the gas floating out of the batter/dough (and this is a batter – another reason it’s light on gluten), and the rising power would be largely lost.

“That’s ok!” you say. “I’ll just use baking powder and baking soda instead of yeast to leaven my dough.” Yeah, that’s exactly what the author(s) of this recipe did.mBut then why do you still care for this yeast for 10 days?

I can see three possible reasons. One, because the people who changed the recipe didn’t know better. Two, because that’s where the friendship part comes in, and if you took out the friendship part, well, not only would there be nothing true left in the name, but it would be a much less extraordinary recipe.  Just Vanilla Pudding Quickbread. Three, because, perhaps, just maybe, you’re also raising flavor-creating bacteria. I’m not sold on this, because 1) instant vanilla pudding mix is not an ingredient usually found in recipes that seek to put subtle flavors on display, nor are large amounts of sugar usually a factor in sourdough breads, and 2) we grow the yeast in a bag, and I don’t know if bacteria are ever really invited to the party (Alton Brown-ism!) except by accident. But I like to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Slow Friendship Quickbread is a yummy thing to eat and a fun thing to pass on to your friends (although I suggest you halve the recipe unless you really have a lot of friends who are dedicated to baking). Not to mention the slowest quickbread ever and the only chain letter I know of that is either edible or living. So enjoy it for what it is, and don’t worry about waiting ten days to make it.

Posted in baking, candy

Petits fours

For being so dainty, petits fours can really ravage a cook.  They’re French for little ovens, which I guess was supposed to mean little baked goods.  The way I made them, they have three components: genoise cake, a jam filling, and fondant icing.

Sadly, when I wrote the draft for this entry I forgot to link to the recipe I used for the cake, and now I don’t know what it was.  I’ll edit if I find it.  Genoise is French for “from Genoa”, which is a place in Italy.  Go figure.  (Actually, I think we use English versions of French versions of Italian place names quite often.) Because I’m a linguist and linguists are into typology, here’s the basic typology of cakes:

  1. I. Creamed cakes – leavened by creaming sugar into fat.  Thus, fat is necessary.
    • Example: pound cake
  2. Foam cakes – leavened with foam.  This means they don’t need fat, although they can have it.
    • Angelfood cake – leavened with egg white foam; contains no fat at all.  People who conflate low-fat diets with morality are responsible for the name.
    • Sponge cake – leavened with egg white foam and egg yolk foam; contains only fat from egg yolks.
    • Chiffon cake – leavened with egg white foam and egg yolk foam; also contains oil.
    • Genoise cake – leavened with whole egg foam, lightly heated; may also contain butter.

So now you know where Genoise fits in.  I had never made one before and I was skeptical that whole eggs would create enough foam, but man was that a foamy cake.  Eating the batter felt like eating bubble wrap, and the cake snapped, crackled, and popped when I took it out of the oven.

I baked the cake in a 13×9 in. pan and cut it into 32 pieces.  Then I cut each piece if half and filled them with apricot jam, because that’s the kind I had.  (I have an obsession with apricot products, but I always find the fresh ones disappointing.  I’m told this is because good ones aren’t readily available.)

Finally, I had to make the fondant.  The cool thing about this dessert was that I didn’t have to buy any ingredients to make it, even though it seems sort of special occasion-y.  I had everything on hand already.  Fondant is just sugar, water, and some kind of interferent – in this case, corn syrup – and a flavoring – I used the classic vanilla extract.  You cook these (without the flavoring, which would lose its flavor in the high heat) to the soft ball stage, then cool to 140F, and then…well, the recipe I used said to put it in a food processor, which I don’t have, so I stirred it until it went from a clear syrup to a thick white mass.  Then I heated it until it was pourable and started coating the petits fours in it.  I had to keep heating it every so often, and when I heated it I stirred it to distribute the heat.  The heat made water evaporate and the stirring made the crystals get bigger and bigger, so it got to the point where it stayed hard even when it was hot enough to burn me.  Finally I realized what was going on and added some water.  That did the trick, but one time I added too much water and ended up with a thin glaze.  But after a few pours of that, it started thickening again and came full circle to about how it started out (except a little grainier for the wear).

Petits Fours
Far left: poured fondant as it should be. Middle left: Starting to get too thick. Middle Right: Overcorrected. Far Right: Almost back to normal.

They were not the prettiest dessert at our social event, but I did get some rave reviews (even from people who didn’t know I made them, which is key).  I think each component was great, but that perhaps the fondant overwhelmed the rest.  I’ll have to give that cake a try in an application where I can appreciate it a little more.  Since they come out a little dry, it’s recommended to soak them in something.  I’m not so much for rum, but I bet some sort of fortified wine would be great.

Edit: I have no idea how I missed this in my previous searches for information on poured fondant (it comes up right away now), but Joe Pastry has a great post on poured fondant that explains how to avoid my problem: let the fondant cool and harden, and then mix it with half a cup of a 2:1 sugar to water syrup (I’m guessing that’s by volume?) over low heat (keep the mix below 110F to avoid messing up the crystal structure, which is, after all, the only thing that makes fondant different from syrup), and then pour!