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Category Archives: baking
For the past few weeks, it feels as if I’ve been camping out in my own kitchen. To acclimate a four-legged family member to our home, we gated off and puppy-proofed that room. We may come to regret the kitchen location, but it seems to make sense for the baby who needs easy access when heading outdoors on quick notice.
Already named “Denver” before he joined us, this puppy’s routine around the kitchen finds at least one of us playing with him, brushing his chocolate-brown coat, teaching him to sit with miniature milk bones, or bumping into each other while opening the refrigerator to search for treats for the trainers.
Now that Denver’s entertaining himself for longer stretches of time, he runs loose around the corner into the butler’s pantry—a safe puppy play environment with no carpets or butler to be found.
Denver, like our older dog Cammie, loves tiny pieces of raw carrot, which make great little training rewards for warm, furry creatures. A more mature pet now, Cammie trained with carrots starting at 8 weeks old and they remain her favorite puppy perk. It’s impossible to bring an orange bunch into the house without her waiting patiently in hopes that one will fall to the floor.
Though the carrots serve as rewards, tiny dabs of butter work well as diversions. When we were training Cammie, she wanted to nip at everyone, and we learned from a devoted dog lover to curb her mouthing and nipping habit with a slather of chilled butter. Within 48 hours, she received countless praises and stopped the nipping. We’re keeping the butter to a minimum with Denver, and he nips when seeking attention or alerting us to his needs. A little sweet creamy butter even helps prevent the rest of the household from nipping at each other, too.
When a cake appears around our place, we’re suddenly all on our best behavior. Just as with puppies, where behavioral experts advise to have a toy ready at all times, it could prove beneficial to have a slice of cake ready at all times for people. If there’s a stick or two of quality butter on hand, use them to make this dense cake-based crust that holds a gooey layer of cream cheese, butter and powdered sugar.
If you can call it traditional, original gooey butter cake may be made with basic staples stocked in home kitchens. Quality butter and cake flour are worth the extra effort of rounding up, though any will do to turn out a rich gooey butter cake. In St. Louis, where locals claim to have created the confection, commercial bakeries offer the cake laced with everything from chocolate chips to key lime. The recipe shared here resembles the original.
Gooey Butter Cake
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder1 stick unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
¼ cup powdered sugar
- Sift dry crust ingredients together. Add beaten eggs and melted butter and stir until thoroughly mixed. Press thick, sticky dough into greased 9 x 12 baking pan.
- Mix cream cheese with eggs, butter, vanilla and powdered sugar. Beat at medium speed 2 minutes. Pour over unbaked dough.
- Bake 35 minutes at 350 degrees until puffy and golden. Cool completely and dust with remaining powdered sugar.
Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner, Cook On: 1 part chaos, 2 parts calm
First published by The Highlands Current
By Mary Ann Ebner
There’s something organic about bring-a-dish gatherings with few rules to pull people together for musings on more than food. We all know someone who cringes at the mention of a potluck. He or she may avoid edible uncertainty, but that’s part of the point. Bringing something you love can spark fresh perspectives for companions.
The starting point, at a minimum, should be a dish that can be served on a plate and eaten with basic utensils. Even without rules, it’s unlikely everyone will bring their signature dessert, but worse things can happen besides a table loaded with sweets. There’s usually a taste or two for everyone, with a range of gluten-free, vegan and carnivorous recipes.
Years ago, when I worked at a campus radio station, it was announced that the year-end party would be a potluck. The general manager and engineer were full-time employees, but the rest of us were students with limited cash flow. We spent little time or money on cooking, and when we dined out it was usually at the Stagger Inn over pitchers of beer and platters of potato skins. That was high-end nutrition compared to the microwavable sandwiches peddled from campus vending machines.
As potluck day rolled around, our lack of money and cooking experience didn’t stop us from covering a couple of desks with an assortment of contributions. At least three salads turned up, along with a fruit pie that was probably stocked from the freezer section, although its creator chose not to say.
The fruit pie was popular, but the most sampled dish was a bowl of blackberry Jell-O. It wasn’t spiked (or so we were told) or topped with whipped cream but represented the willingness to take part without making a fuss over ingredients and temperatures.
Shared meals not only spread the work around but bring communities together — the best payoff. Fresh spinach is a reliable crowd pleaser and does its work in simple or lavish recipes. This variation of spanakopita is essentially spinach pie made with phyllo sheets, which are easy to use but require quick work to prevent them from becoming brittle. If you find a few triangles left over, wrap them up. They’ll taste even better the next day.
Potluck Spinach Pie
3 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 small red onion, chopped
3 to 4 bunches fresh spinach, trimmed
1 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1 cup roasted sunflower kernels
20 sheets phyllo pastry, thawed
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Lightly beat eggs with fork in mixing bowl, stir in ricotta and Parmesan, season with salt and pepper, set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Sauté onion and garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add mushrooms. Cook over medium heat 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add to ricotta mixture.
Cook trimmed spinach in remaining olive oil until leaves wilt. Season with salt and pepper. Remove spinach from pan, drain and chop. Stir into ricotta mixture along with fresh parsley.
After all other ingredients are prepped, unroll phyllo sheets and cover with plastic wrap and a damp towel during assembly. Butter large baking pan and layer two sheets of phyllo dough over bottom of pan. Brush layer with butter and sprinkle with sunflower kernels. Repeat with three more layers. Spoon the spinach ricotta mixture over the top layer. Sprinkle with sunflower kernels. Cover with phyllo layer, brush with butter, sprinkle with sunflower seeds and repeat to use remainder of sheets. Brush top layer with butter. Using a serrated knife, cut into squares, then into triangles. Bake until golden, about 40 minutes.
First published at The Highlands Current
Cook On: 1 part chaos, 2 parts calm, text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner
Hamantaschen are three-cornered treats stuffed with many favorites—prune, apricot, poppy seed or cream cheese fillings. The traditional pastries of Purim, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the defeat of the villain Haman, taste great any time of year. Make hamantaschen and test a triangle or two before curious neighbors smell the delicious aroma and drop in with an appetite.
By Mary Ann Ebner
It often pays off to stash a little chocolate — and cocoa — in the cupboard. The confectionery staples embellish everything and cool weather calls for cocoa.
To those who temper chocolate, temperature matters beyond the chocolate thermometer. As autumn arrives, chocolate delicacies hold up longer, while demand from chocolate lovers increases.
When temperatures dipped, Alps Sweet Shop stepped up chocolate production. The family business, which has locations in Beacon and Fishkill, has handcrafted small-batch fine confections for more than 90 years. It was founded by Peter Charkalis and today is run by his granddaughter, Sally Charkalis-Craft, and her husband, Terry Craft, a master chocolatier.
Terry Craft, master chocolatier and co-owner of Alps Sweet Shop, pours 110 pounds of salted caramel onto a cooling tray at their Beacon location.
Customers streamed in to Beacon’s Main Street location last week to choose from sweets in cases brimming with chocolate-covered caramels, heaven-and-earth truffles, chocolate glace fruits, almond butter crunch and molded chocolates.
Terry Craft and his candy makers work year round but fall production keeps them in the kitchen even longer, stirring kettles bubbling with the likes of salted caramel and dark chocolate. He studied his craft in the U.S., Belgium, France, Canada and England, and although producing confections is labor intensive, he says he finds the work rewarding.
“It’s a feel-good type of business,” Craft said. “People are either coming in here to make themselves happy or to make someone else happy.”
The recipes haven’t changed since Peter Charkalis’s day, but the production methods have evolved from the days when every morsel was handmade. Sally’s mother, Mary Charkalis, recalled a turning point in 1968 when the shop bought its first piece of machinery, an enrober. Sally’s grandfather was not happy about the purchase, so her father waited until he was on vacation in Greece to have it delivered. (He eventually came around to appreciate its benefits.)
An enrober — which moves confections down a conveyor belt, along a cold plate to set the bottom and then through a curtain of chocolate for coating — still stands ready in the Beacon shop. Alps has since further modernized its methods by purchasing an automated candy wrapper and computerized molding equipment.
Like any connoisseur in matters of taste, Craft knows cocoa (or cacao, as it is more commonly known where it’s grown). He prefers a Criollo cocoa bean from Ecuador. The common Forastero bean is a close second but he says it doesn’t have the pronounced flavor. As a third option there’s the Trinitario, a hybrid of the Criollo and the Forastero.
“The best of the best [chocolatiers] can tell you while eating them not only what part of the world a bean is from but the region or plantation where they’re grown,” Craft said. “This particular plantation has a patented fermentation process and right now I have exclusive U.S. rights. These Ecuadorian Criollo beans are right off the plantation.” He cracked open a bean, removed the nib and gently crushed it.
“The nib is where the excitement starts,” he explained. “The nib is pressed and the cocoa butter is extracted and what’s left is called the chocolate liquor,” the paste that serves as the essential ingredient for chocolate. Craft sells the Ecuadorian product to restaurants and pastry chefs as well as a microbrewer. He also coats whole beans in organic chocolate and recently filled an order for 25,000.
“You can taste the earthiness, a savory touch, fruitiness and the soil of the region,” he said. “And the cocoa bean is off the charts with its flavonoids and high in vitamins and minerals.”
Savor a piece of gourmet chocolate or make the cake recipe here that calls for cocoa powder and bits of chocolate. Some chip chocolates have a high melting point, so a better choice is a premium chocolate like the break-up bars that Alps produces in milk, dark and organic white chocolate.
Fragrant cocoa powder, Kahlua and rich chocolate enhance this Bundt cake.
Home cooks should be able to find small quantities of good cocoa at local markets. Natural unsweetened cocoa, non-alkalized, will be darker while alkalized will soften bitterness. Some cocoas may also affect rise and texture of a cake. This chocolate cake always pleases, thanks in part to flavorful chocolate, powerful cocoa and a dose of Kahlua.
Chocolate Kahlua Cake
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 ¾ cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
4 eggs, beaten
16 ounces sour cream
¾ cups canola oil
⅓ cup Kahlua
6 ounces chocolate, broken into small pieces
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 cups powdered sugar
1 ½ cups Kahlua
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter Bundt pan and dust with cocoa. Mix flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda and salt. Add eggs, sour cream, oil and Kahlua. Stir thoroughly and fold in chocolate pieces. Pour batter into pan and bake 1 hour.
Whisk glaze ingredients and set aside.
Allow cake to cool, then invert. Pour glaze over cake and set 1 hour. Refrigerate if serving next day. Serve with fresh mint leaves.
Photos by M.A. Ebner, first published by The Highlands Current
Quarts of local blueberries, ears of Hudson Valley sweet corn and a mess of fresh greens boasted just-picked prominence at the Beacon Farmer’s Market last weekend, but crusty-on-the-outside, delicate-on-the-inside pretzels added to the market’s choice. These weren’t the stadium-style commercial fare thawed at the riverside and warmed up in assembly-line fashion, but individually prepared pretzels made with locally milled flour and pulled recently from the oven.
To describe the pretzels as “adequate” in size would be unforgivable. Twisted and baked by Beacon’s All You Knead Artisan Bakers, the day’s offerings ranged from generous to gigantic, so good and perfectly satiating for hungry market shoppers. My son (who worked up an appetite while playing Pokémon GO around town) promptly polished off one of the crispy golden purchases — hand-rolled, boiled, baked and finished with sea salt and butter — and we each saved another for later … but not much later. We shared them at home that afternoon and made plans to test our own old-fashioned recipe.
A couple of years ago, friends took my family on a tour of one of the country’s oldest bakeries, the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery in Pennsylvania’s Amish country. Tucked into an historic stone house in the town of Lititz, the bakery’s owners still turn out soft pretzels on site, in their building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Before tasting their boiled and baked specialty, we learned how to hand-roll our own baking rope using a premeasured piece of dough to shape it into a traditional design with three open loops. We didn’t actually pop our own rope twists into the oven, but while we practiced the rolling and shaping technique, our docent shared a lengthy backstory of the pretzel and its early beginnings as a noble treat of baked dough twisted into a semblance reflecting crossed arms held in prayer. I hadn’t really made much of a connection between prayer and pretzels prior to that but lately I’ll admit to a quiet reflection with my pretzel indulgence, in hopes that I can polish off the salted symbol without seeing an immediate body bulge along with unwelcome pounds.
That’s the thing with just-baked bread and other wheat-based foods. Their richness packs a few calories but appreciating the taste of a warm slice of sourdough or a buttery garlic knot once in a while can be too much to resist. And freshly baked bread or just-twisted pretzels don’t have to fall into the luxury goods shopping cart. Homemade and bakery-fresh bread puts loaves with a long shelf life to shame and preparing yeast breads at home costs little — for ingredients or baking tools. For this pretzel recipe, the dough also works well in loaf form. Instead of breaking pieces into pretzel-sized portions, divide the batch of dough into four parts and shape into mini loaves. Follow all other directions for boiling and baking. When ready to eat the loaf, slice it down the middle but only half way through the loaf and stuff with a spoonful of egg salad or grilled vegetables. Or thinly slice your pretzel loaf and drizzle it with honey.
Working with a few ingredients turns basic dough into a shared pleasure and letting friends and family roll their own ropes into a range of custom shapes from twists to knots makes the real work easy. The end result: a pretzel far better than any stadium-bought substitute.
Salty Soft Pretzels
Yield: 1 dozen pretzels
1 package active dry yeast
1¼ cups water (85 degrees)
1 teaspoon granulated maple sugar
4 cups flour
2 tablespoons kosher salt
For pretzel boil
3 cups water
¼ cup baking soda
In a large bowl, combine yeast and sugar in warmed water, (not exceeding temperature guidelines). Without stirring, yeast should activate in 5 to 10 minutes. Once activated, gradually add flour to bowl. Mix thoroughly until all flour is absorbed. Remove ball of dough and place on lightly floured surface. Knead dough firmly for a few minutes and cover dough mound with a moistened towel. Let rise 20 minutes. Uncover and pinch dough off into desired number of pieces for pretzels.
Individually roll dough pieces on lightly floured surface into rope forms, about 15 inches in length. Twist the dough into any shape you like or go traditional starting with an upside-down U, crossing ends twice and dropping the large loop down to fold over onto the ends of the rope. Tuck ends under or over large loop.
In a medium saucepan, bring water and baking soda to a low boil. With a slotted metal spatula, lower pretzels one at a time into boiling water and allow to float in boiling solution 30 seconds. Remove and place onto parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle immediately with kosher salt or sesame seeds or your custom spice blend. Bake about 20 minutes at 400 degrees until golden brown. Remove from oven and serve warm or add your favorite dip … hummus, mustard or salted caramel.
By Mary Ann Ebner, first published by The Highlands Current
With his standard limit of one daily cup, Charles Day would rather skip coffee than drink it stale. The Cold Spring resident has tasted his way to faultless flavor not simply by sipping through a procession of espressos or lattes but by perfecting beans before the first pour.
Day started home-roasting coffee beans soon after he and his wife, Susan Wallach, relocated from his native England to Brooklyn.
“Susan’s sister’s husband got me interested in roasting 15 years ago,” Day said. “He presented us a roaster as a gift.”
The gift served them well but met its retirement. Now on his third roaster, Day, who moved to Cold Spring 11 years ago, uses a Gene Café CBR Model 101, made in Korea.
Before and after — green coffee beans and freshly roasted beans
“It’s been very impressive,” Day said as he prepared to roast a batch of Sumatra Wahana Rasuna Honey beans. “You can get one for a few hundred dollars but this one was a little over 500 bucks.”
The roasting area doesn’t require much space. The roaster sits close to a basement wall with a window used for ventilation. Before Day begins the process, which is a full-on sensory engagement, he scans the raw beans and runs his hands through the tray to check texture and look for imperfections.
“Broken beans can lodge themselves into the little holes in the roaster and can burn,” Day said. “Then you get a bad batch.”
Charles Day of Cold Spring inspects a tray of green beans in his home roasting process.
He experiments with beans of various origins to make a balanced cup, purchasing from green coffee suppliers, including Roastmasters.com in Connecticut and Sweet Maria’s in Oakland, California. Even the slightest change in roasting time can alter the profile of a batch as the process transforms the green coffee into powerfully aromatic brown beans.
Susan appreciates his darker range of coffees as well as an often-present warm aroma — roasty and earthy — wafting through the house. “He and I like different coffees,” she explains, so the aroma is constantly changing.
Anyone who has savored a custom cup of the family’s coffee (full disclosure: I enjoyed every drop) will never willingly return to mass-produced beans.
Cold Spring’s Charles Day fires up his home coffee bean roaster.
Day says coffee’s distinct smoky scent takes him back to his youth in Rochester, Kent. Though tea was rather important, the smell of fragrant coffee reminds him of his teen years. “I used to change buses for school and where I changed buses there was a little store, a coffee and tea store, with a roaster,” he said. “That’s where I used to smell it.”
Tea still matters to Day but since moving to the U.S., he drinks more coffee. He’s been mostly vegan for three years, but emphasizes that “mostly” keeps him eligible for an occasional diversion with his coffee. “Susan makes a coffee icing on a chocolate cake,” he said. “So sometimes, yes, I’m mostly vegan.”
Day recently conducted a roasting demonstration at Wave Hill, a public garden and cultural center in the Bronx, where he works as the Ruth Rea Howell horticultural interpreter. As a member of Cold Spring’s Tree Advisory Board, he pays precise attention to details in professional and personal endeavors.
Charles Day — cooling the beans— engages all of the senses in home roasting.
In his roasting log, Day keeps a record of procedures, including dates, temperatures, roasting time, stages of the roast and overall taste. The roaster combines heat with an agitation method as well as a collection process to retrieve the chaff, the light husks that come off beans as they expand during the roast. When the roasting begins, an audible crack sounds, similar to the sound of popcorn popping.
“One of the most important points of having the log is it tells me details of cracks,” he said. “Until that first crack, the coffee is not roasted. Immediately after that first crack is finished, the coffee can be withdrawn as a very light roast. You can continue to the second crack for a darker roast and beyond that, it can be roasted to black and very dark.”
With this particular batch, Day estimated he would roast for 17 minutes with a peak temperature of 482 degrees Fahrenheit. As the first crack sounded, he dropped the temperature to 460 degrees and checked the remaining time for roasting: 6.5 minutes. Once the batch reached the desired stage, he recorded the time, temperature and crack notations and transferred the beans from the rotating chamber to the cooling tray.
After cooling, Day stores his roasts in airtight jars and labels them. Within a week, he fires up his roaster to replenish the family supply for grinding, brewing and relishing, favoring the freshness over store-bought beans, which may age for months.
“The general recommendation is not to use the beans for 24 to 48 hours,” he said. “It’s best after 48 and we tend to make it by the cup with a filter throughout the week. After a week it’s still perfectly drinkable but it’s not quite as flavorful.”
If you’re not a home-roasting candidate, search for a respected roaster. Day enjoys the beans roasted in small batches by Coffee Labs Roasters in Tarrytown and sold at Bank Square Coffeehouse in Beacon. “When I roast it, I guarantee that it’s fresh,” he says, “but there’s a good reason why there are professional roasters.”
½ pound (two sticks) salted butter
3 cups flour
2¼ cups sugar
2¼ teaspoons baking soda
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons freshly ground coffee (medium grind)
1½ cups buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Mix flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and ground coffee. Add butter. Blend gently two minutes until crumbly texture forms. Reserve ¾ cup of dry mixture and set aside. Add buttermilk and mix thoroughly. Gently fold in beaten eggs.
Pour into a greased and floured 8-inch springform pan. Sprinkle reserved dry mixture over top of batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. Cool, remove from pan and serve with coffee.
Text and photographs by Mary Ann Ebner, first published by Philipstown.info