Archive for March, 2013

March 28, 2013

Fingerprint Blossoms

IMG_0621The blossoms are out and spring is in the air!  I am reminded of a craft I did with my girls last year during their spring break.  I just brought these pictures out with our Easter decorations and I thought I’d share. This was a really simple craft.  I only drew the trunk of the tree (as you can see, I am no artist), and the girls drew the rest with their own fingers in the style they wanted.  I bought the frames from a craft store for around $3.  I turned around the cardboard inserts that came with them and used the blank sides.  We just used the Crayola washable paint.  I’m realizing that having seasonal art in the house makes any season that much more special.  As the years go by and their little fingers grow, that simple art will become a treasure.  Only one year has passed, but I’m already seeing how this can happen.

March 19, 2013

The Science Behind Making the Most Amazing Chocolate Chip Cookies

When I was a teenager, I attempted to make cookies and misread the amount of baking soda.  I thought it said ‘1 cup’ instead of ‘1 teaspoon’.  When I came to the realization that the cookies were inedible, I decided I was no good at baking and didn’t really give it another chance for about a decade.  IMG_2966Now fast forward those 10 years to when I tried a bite of my friend Kelly’s chocolate chip cookies.  They were amazing, and she generously invited me over to make them with her.  That kind gesture gave me the confidence I needed to give baking another shot.

Fast forward another decade and I have made her recipe many times over the years.  Sometimes it is amazing and sometimes it is flat and the texture seems off.  I always wondered what I was doing wrong. My chance to determine just that came by way of my girl’s school extravaganza project looking at the science behind making chocolate chip cookies. I had so many “ah-ha” moments helping them with this project I thought it was worth sharing.

Let’s examine what the ingredients do first (these concepts can be applied to any recipe), then I’ll share the recipe my family loves.

The Ingredients

Butter gives a buttery taste, helps the flavor of the cookie linger in your mouth, helps the cookie rise to make it light and soft, and it helps bind the dough together. Make sure to soften the butter by taking it out of the fridge one hour before baking.  Do not skip this step because doing this makes a big difference. Melting the butter in the microwave will lead to flat cookies.  

Sugar makes cookies sweet, adds moisture, improves texture, and helps preserve the cookie. White sugar makes your cookie crisper; brown sugar has more moisture and makes your cookie chewier.  Many recipes call for half of each.

Creaming the Butter & Sugar is so important to the baking process. The sugar rubs against the butter making air bubbles that the baking soda will find to help the cookie rise.  If the air bubbles are not there the baking soda will not be able to make the cookie rise. Beat the butter and sugar together for up to three minutes.  The color will actually become lighter, and the creamed mixture will become fluffy.

Vanilla does not give your cookies a vanilla taste.  It is actually a flavor enhancer. Using imitation vanilla when making cookies is totally acceptable and sometimes even preferred by taste testers.  It is when you are making cold items like frostings that pure vanilla extract is best.

Flour provides structure and allows the cookies to stay together.  Mix your flour (and other dry ingredients) in with a wooden spoon rather than a mixer, and be sure not to overmix. If you use a mixer more of those air bubbles created in the creaming process will be flattened than by using a wooden spoon.

Baking Soda helps the cookie rise. It also helps the cookie brown and gives it a chewy texture. It plays a very important role so I would not deviate from your recipe.

Salt enhances the flavor of the cookie. Most recipes call for 1 teaspoon, but that is just a bit too much.  So I just eyeball about 2/3 teaspoon and I find that tastes perfect.

Chocolate Chips make the cookie delicious.  I like to add about 85% of the bag.  The entire bag seems to be a bit too much.  But I think this is a preference issue, so play around with it.

Baking the Cookies comes down to preference. Most think that the cookies should look cooked before you take them out of the oven, which is only true if you want crisp, hard cookies.  But if you like soft and chewy cookies, take them out after 8-9 minutes. (I usually do 9 minutes.) They will not look totally cooked, but they will taste amazing after they have fully cooled. Let them cool on the sheet for 3-5 minutes.  Transfer them to a cooling rack that has been covered with tin foil.  The cookies will be fragile, and the tin foil will keep them from falling through the cooling rack.

Recipe for the Most Amazing Chocolate Chip Cookies

 Preheat oven 350 degrees.

Cream the following with a mixer until you see a color and texture change to creamy white (3 min):

2 sticks of butter, softened by taking them out of the fridge 1 hour before baking

2/3 cup brown sugar

2/3 cup white sugar

Once color and texture change has been achieved, add 1 teaspoon vanilla, mix

Add 1 egg (at room temperature, take out the same time as the butter), mix

Separately Mix:

2 cups of flour (can add up to ¼ cup more)

1 teaspoon baking soda

2/3 teaspoon salt

Add to butter mixture, stirring with spoon; do not use mixer. Try not to overmix.

Add 1 package or 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (or less), gently fold into the dough.

Bake 8-9 minutes. They will not look done, but take them out and let them cool for 3-5 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack (covered with tin foil). Delicious!

March 16, 2013

St. Patrick’s Day Fruit Rainbow

IMG_3100Well I finally joined Pinterest and just in time.  I found this cute St. Patrick’s Day Fruit Rainbow idea (you can see the original picture here).

We gave it a try today.  My girl’s were able to do everything themselves except cut the mango.  They even had the cute idea of making the pot of gold from black play dough.  Once we finally gave the go ahead to start eating, it vanished so fast I thought the leprechauns took it! Pair this with Irish Soda Bread and you are set for a fun St. Patrick’s Day.

March 16, 2013

Irish Soda Bread for St. Patrick’s Day

When my daughter was three, she attended this awesome preschool co-op in Seattle.  For Saint Patrick’s Day (on my day to help), we made Irish Soda Bread.  I had never tried soda bread before.  After trying it warm from the oven I thought I have got to make this again for Saint Patrick’s Day.  Two years later and I’m finally doing it.  What makes this recipe so special is the mix of two ingredients I had no idea I liked – caraway seeds and currants.  I’ll be making this again year after year as well as the St. Patrick’s Day Fruit Rainbow.Soda Bread

3 cups sifted unbleached flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter ( ½ stick), softened at room temperature

¾ cup currants

1 tablespoon caraway seeds

1 egg

1 cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons honey

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Thoroughly mix together sifted flour, soda, baking powder, and salt.  Cut in soft butter, working it in with your fingers until it is evenly distributed and the texture is a bit like corn meal. Stir in currants and caraway seeds. Beat egg, buttermilk, and honey together in a small bowl. Add milk mixture to dry ingredients, stirring briefly only to moisten evenly.  Do not overmix.

Turn onto lightly floured board and briefly kneed just to form smooth dough.  (You may have to press a bit to get it to feel ‘smooth’ and distribute the moisture.) Shape into a high, round ball. Place on buttered baking sheet. Slash vertically and horizontally about 4 inches long and ½ inch deep. (Don’t go too deep.)

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45-55 minutes.  Cool for about 20 minutes before slicing.

The Greyston Bakery Cookbook