Dancing the Meringue

August 9, 2012

Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, Katie and I have done an awesome job making a new recipe every week. Largely the process by which we’ve done this is to check out a bunch of cook books from the library, copy all the recipes that look yummy, and then try them. If they’re good, we keep them, if they’re not, we give them to our friends.

(I kid, I kid).

Part of Katie’s secret plot is to expose me to some flavors we don’t typically cook with. I’m all for it since Father Burb** did a good job of giving us a huge range of foods as kids. I mean, how many people have had caviar before the age of 12 or have helped butcher their own deer. Seriously. That said, I’m a *little* skittish about certain flavors that I have not really cared for in the past. Most of those fall in to the category of Indian spices and flavors (This means you curry, coconut milk, and ginger!). The conflict comes in where Katie loves them and I hate them, so she checked out a book that had everything to do with using spices to make exciting food. I agreed to be open-minded about it, and we began copying recipes.

All of that is the preface to an only sort of related thought. In flipping through this book, Katie noticed a recipe for nougat. Like, REAL nougat. Not that stuff you find in candy bars, the stuff you find in the Mediterranean. She also recalled that I happen to REALLY REALLY LOVE nougat. Who knew it would be that easy to get me to like eastern flavors. Ha!

Anyhoo, she decided to “make me some” which actually means she started them, then got wrapped up in something else, so *I* made nougat. Still, it doesn’t really matter how it happened, the important thing is that it did.

Nougat, like so many other forms of yumminess, start with a hefty amount of sugar. In this case we are working with a blend of sugar, corn syrup, and honey. Bring this to a boil, stirring/whisking occasionally until it incorporates and begins to boil. Clip in your candy thermometer and brush the sides of the pan down with water. Then let it go.

While the syrup mixture is coming up to temperature, take some room-temperature egg whites and start whipping them in to meringue. Tip: Using room-temperature eggs is awesome because they are so much easier to work with, especially for something like meringue. Because the eggs are warmer, the proteins have an easier time relaxing and stretching out, meaning you can work it harder faster. Whip your egg whites in to softish to lightly stiff peaks. Tip: Save back your egg yolks! We turned right around and used them in a custard because obviously. I guess you could also mix them in to your dog’s dinner to promote a healthy, shiny coat, but  I think everyone will agree that custard is  obviously the better option. Obviously.

Once your eggs are about the right consistency, make sure your syrup reaches a “soft ball” stage. This means that when dropped in to water, the syrup will form a ball shape that is soft and loses its shape when pressed between your fingers. On a candy thermometer this is around 234 F or 224 F for those at altitude. You can see that the syrup is very very lightly starting to take on color. The bubbles will transition from small and fast to larger and slower.

Once you reach the soft ball stage, turn your eggs back on at a slow mix and pour approximately one quarter of your syrup in to the eggs. You want to pour slowly and toward the edge of the bowl so you disrupt the eggs as little as possible. Working too fast can deflate your eggs and ruin the fluffy quality of the meringue. Once you get the syrup in, turn the eggs to medium speed and put the syrup back on the stove.

Bring the remaining syrup up to a “hard crack” at around 300 F/ 290 F at altitude. When this syrup is dropped in to water it forms in to a firm and brittle sugar chunk.

You can see how the syrup has taken on a much deeper color under the bubbles. The bubbles are also bigger and slower, as compared to the bubbles in the soft ball picture. Once you reach this temperature, turn the stove off and again slowly add your syrup in to your eggs, which should be mixing at a slow speed.

Once all the syrup is in, increase the speed and continue to whip the mixture until it is fluffy and glossy.

Once everything is incorporated and smooth, add in a bit of butter and some vanilla. We also chose to add pistachios, which are traditional, although the recipe called for almonds. Another traditional flavor is rose water. Just be careful with the rose water. It’s strong stuff and can make your confection taste like soap.

BE CAREFUL! The sugar is  extremely hot and will make your mixing bowl similarly really hot. Further, working with sugar can be dangerous regarding burns. The natural instinct is to wipe it off if you get sugar on you. DON’T. It will smear and burn more of you. Get it under very cold water as soon as possible to cool the sugar off for safe removal. Also, wear shoes when you work with sugar. Seriously. Dangerous stuff. Also: delicious stuff.

Once your mixture is incorporated, you’ve mixed in your roughly chopped pistachios (or other ingredients), take the nougat at pour it in to a WELL BUTTERED cookie tray. This stuff is super super sticky so if you don’t grease your tray well…have fun getting that out. Pour in enough nougat to comfortably fill the tray, smooth it in to the corners, and refrigerate to chill and set. It’s important to let it chill for at least four hours. Remember how it was super hot? It will stay hot in the middle for quite a while. Plus it will be much easier to cut when it is cold.

Once cool, place a piece of wax paper over the top of the tray and smooth on to the nougat. Then turn your tray over and work the nougat out. I did this over a cutting board so that I could then directly slice it. I also found that it is helpful to loosen as much of it as you can before flipping it – I took my bash and chop and worked it under all the sides so that I had a lot less to detach when upside down and awkward.

You can actually see my bash and chop lines in the middle. While the sides were free, I had to take the BnC and loosen the middle. This is  significantly easier with a buddy.

Once out, place a second piece of wax paper over the top. Then take a well oiled knife and cut the nougat in to smaller pieces. You could go high class and wrap each piece in a piece of wax paper. We took the heathen approach and just stacked them in to a container. The downside is that because our house was a million degrees, they kind of stuck together on the sides. The good news is that you can pretty easily snap them apart when cold. The better news is that it also means that “one piece” might not be the same as one piece 😀

This recipe actually made two trays worth, so we had quite a lot. The nougat is sticky like a taffy (mind your teeth!) and tastes strongly like honey. However, when you get a bite with the pistachio, it is utterly to die for.

**EDIT: Mother Dear Mother was also a HUGE driver of the variety of my diet.

Dog Days

April 4, 2012

I don’t think I’ve had a corn dog since I was like, ten. They’re super fair food on a stick attitude, and for some reason I decided they’d be a good idea. Turns out they were.

The first step is to put your oil on. It will take a while to get that much oil hot, and you’re looking for between 345 and 360 degrees.

Next you’ll make your batter, which includes 1/2 cup of corn flour and the same of regular flour, salt, pepper, and 3/4 of a cup of milk. You’ll want to give this some time to rest and thicken.

Then take your dogs and put them on a skewer. Ours were kinda frozen so that part wasn’t fun. Be careful not to poke your hand, or clip the skewers. Conversely, wooden chopsticks from a fast-food place would also work.

Once they are stuck (ha), you’ll want to rub them liberally with flour.  This basically acts as your first coat and allows the batter to better stick. To prep the dogs for the flour, pat them as dry as possible with a paper towel.

When your oil is ready (use a thermometer…we use our candy thermometer because it goes to fry), you will see it shimmering and your thermometer will read your temperature at 345 or so.

You can then batter your dogs – cover liberally, and fry for about 90 seconds to 2 minutes.

(Our batter is grey because we used blue corn flour)

You can see that they are somewhat browned. Let them drip off while you crank the heat. Bring the oil up to about 390 and dip your dogs in for another 30 seconds or until perfectly chicken brown. Salt lightly and enjoy with your choice of toppings. We went for plain ketchup and mustard and it was divine.

Cracker Redux

April 2, 2012

Okay so we all saw what happened with the last cracker challenge and ultimately we were not super satisfied with the end result. They were too puffy and doughy. Katie and I both like super crispy crackers, so we tried something new.

Our basic recipe was flour, salt, and enough warm water to bring it together in to a dough. Like other doughs (think biscuits), you need a soft hand with it – work it too hard and it will get gluten-y and tough. Instead work it gently until it just pulls together. It should be springy to the touch and look about like this:

As you can see, I have some flour left over, but it came together with the right consistency without being too sticky. I let it be at this point. If it is still sticky and you’re out of flour, sprinkle in a tablespoon at a time and work it until it feels good. If it’s dry, do the same but with water instead of flour. Also for fun, we added sesame seeds to the dough, which added a nice toasty flavor.

Once your dough is ready, roll it out to whatever thickness you want. Because this has no leavening in it, they will be about as thick as you roll them with a very very slight increase in size maybe.  So roll roll roll.

You can see in the top corner I have a small bowl of flour for sprinkling, and a square-shaped cookie cutter. We did our crackers two ways: One was to cut out individual squares. The other was to roll a large slab and throw it on the pizza stone. Both ways worked equally well, although the pizza stone was faster.

Each cracker or cracker-slab was docked (poked with a fork – this lets the steam out), brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with crushed rosemary and a little salt.

Also because we had more space on the big slab cracker, we added cheese to see how that would work. Turns out it’s flippin DELICIOUS. Once the slab cracker is done, break it up in to shards. A pizza cutter worked okay too if you want more uniform pieces, but I’m impatient so ripping them up worked as well for me.

These crackers turned out to be delicious, crisp, salty, and amazing. I’m NEVER paying $4 a box of crackers again.

Fruit of Our Labor

March 27, 2012

To continue with our theme of making our own food, Katie and I decided to tackle something I adore – fruit rollups. It never occurred to me how they were made, but it turns out they are surprisingly simple. We have made apple fruit rolls as well as today’s recipe – pear strawberry rolls.

You start with fruit. A lot of fruit. Like, eight pounds of fruit. We divided this amount between pears and strawberries. Start by chunking everything up in to smaller pieces so that you can cook it down somewhat.

We cooked these down in a large pot, along with a half a cup of pineapple juice and a bit of honey. We tossed the pears in first because they took longer to cook, then added the strawberries. We let it all boil until the pears began to soften – maybe a half hour or so.

While the fruit is cooking down, we set up our food mill. In this case, we have an attachment for our Kitchen-aid.

The main attachment sets in to the front of the kitchen-aid. This is where the food will be pushed in to the mill.

The corkscrew is placed in to the center, and when on, will turn and move the food down the chamber and through the screen.

The screen is the strainer that is placed over the screw. The screw will push food down to the end, and push food out through the strainer.

Finally there is a basket placed around the entire strainer. This allows the strained food to be pushed out and fall to the right, while the solids (fruit skin, stems, etc) are pushed out the front. Make sure you have a container to catch both!

As you can see, the fruit was placed in to the top of the miller. We have a tool to push down the fruit to make sure it makes it gets all the way to the screw.

As you can see, the fruit that is strained is falling down the chamber to the right, in to the white bowl. The glass bowl is catching the fruit skin and solids that we don’t want in our strained fruit.

Once you have your strained mixture, spread it out in layers. We used a dehydrator and it made about four trays worth of puree. We set it up to go overnight, and about nine hours later we had fruit leather. You can also do this in the oven on parchment, baked on a lower temperature until dry. You want the fruit to maintain a little springiness, but not be sticky or wet feeling. Once you have your fruit rolls dried, you can tear them up in to pieces and enjoy!

Lately the BurbEx team has done a lot to change diet, including eliminating unnecessary carbs. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some carbs. But we didn’t need quite as many as we were consuming. One way of compromising about this was to start making our own cereal, granola bars and today..crackers.

I eat crackers with everything. Tuna. Cheese. Egg salad. You name it, I cracker it. But I thought to myself, why not try and make our own. Brilliant!

So the basic recipe is 2 cups flour, a little salt, a tsp of baking powder, herbs, 1/3 c oil, 2/3 cup warm water.

All the ingredients went in together, so don’t worry about form or figure. I did crush my herbs up with my mortar so that they would be more fragrant.

Once everything was in, I mixed by hand into a soft dough. DON’T overmix. If it starts to feel tough, let it rest for a few minutes and gently begin working it again.

Now there are two ways you can go about making crackers. You can roll it out in to a thin sheet all in one go and either slice with a pizza slicer, knife, or bash-n-chop. You can also do it as a big sheet and break it after cooking.

I chose to roll it out as thin as possible and cut out square shapes.

We oiled and salted our crackers, as well as docked them (forked). We then baked them for 8 minutes until starting to brown. Delish.

Crepes

January 15, 2012

Crepes have always been one of those things that is hyped up to be hard. So one day I thought why not? It turns out that they’re not too hard to make and they are quite a versitile vehicle to hold other food. Like fruit. Or chocolate. We’ve made them for sweet and for savory crepes, as well as in the traditional crepe and chocolate crepes (add cocoa powder!). Here is the basic recipe:

1 cup flour

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons melted butter

salt

Stir the wets together and add the drys, stirring just until they’re incorporated.The batter can be a little lumpy but try and smooth out the big bumps.

You can see in the back bowl there are a few lumps but largely the batter should pour nicely. Get a flat pan with some sides (we used a frying pan but a saucier is ideal) and get it screaming hot. Spray the pan with oil and pour in your first crepe. They don’t always turn out well, so we photographed the second one.

I find that to get a nice, large crepe, to use about a half  a cup of batter. Once it’s in the pan, swirl it around until you have a flat, even layer. They sell a special tool for spreading out the batter, but you don’t need it.

You can see that the liquid batter is coming over the now cooking edge along the bottom. Keep swirling in circles (although I make slight rounder crepes than Katie did :D)

When all the liquid batter has begun to cook, give it a moment to fully cook. You have to work pretty fast because these are thin little pancakes that will cook quickly. Once it’s cooked on the bottom, flip the crepe over and give it about 20 seconds on the other side. We flip them in to our oven set on warm to keep them toasty.

Before, during, or after, you can consider your filling. Ham and cheese is nice – I’d put those in as the bottom is cooking and then roll it omelette style, nutella and bananas, fresh strawberries and cream – the possibilities are endless. For this particular breakfast, I sauteed some apples in butter and brown sugar.

After dicing the apples, I threw a tab of butter in to the pan and let it melt and get hot. I then added the apples.

I gave these a moment to cook down, and then flipped in about 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. That melted and began to caramelize, so I also added some honey and cinnamon. This cooked until the apples were soft (but not mushy) and nicely caramelized – about five minutes. This will depend on how finely your apples are cut.

You can see they took on a nice chicken brown color. They also smelled delicious.

To prepare the crepes, I took one from the oven, filled it with a line of apples, and rolled it up. We had two each topped with the remainder of the apples and the leftover caramel sauce.

Oh so yum. Hopefully you’ll give these a go, and they will seem a little less scary. They’re totally worth it.

A Rose By Any Other Name

December 12, 2011

So first, a quick note of business.

What do YOU, dear readers, want to see more of on BurbEx? Refinishing projects? Embroidery and sewing? Food?  What turns you on and keeps you reading. What can we teach you, or ourselves? We’d love to get some feedback.

Until then, we’ll keep plugging away.

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Yesterday Katie and I attended a cookie party. Yes, it is just as awesome as it sounds. Everyone brought or made cookies to share. We, of course, had to be different. I went back to my roots and decided to try something I hadn’t done in a long, long time.

Rosettes.

The idea of deep-frying can be a little daunting. We’re not super sophisticated at it either, so getting the oil stable at the right temperature took a little finesse.

So down to rosettes. These are basically a fried dough, made on a set of shaped, hot irons. Think a fancy funnel cake. The irons come in several designs, and usually look about like this:

These irons are what the dough is dispersed on, so that it cooks in the shape of the iron. Some of them make cups, some are Christmas themed. These are the original 1970s version, found at Goodwill for $0.69. Yep. Under a buck.

Heat your oil to about 365 degrees. We used our candy thermometer because it goes up to deep fry. It’s important to monitor your oil temperature closely, because it impacts how the dough cooks. If it’s too cool, the dough will absorb the oil and become spongy and laden. Too hot and they will become too crispy and burn. It took about 15 to 20 minutes for our oil to heat up to the right temperature, then a little fiddling around with it to get it stable.

Then…the frying commenced.

First, make your batter:

1 cup flour

2 Tbsp sugar

salt

2 eggs lightly beaten

vanilla

1 cup milk

Mix the dry ingredients, combine the egg, vanilla, and milk, then combine it all until smooth. Ours was lumpy at first but smoothed out. This recipe makes about 60 rosettes. Prepare a tray or rack with paper towel, and place your batter in a shallow dish for dipping.

When the oil reaches the magic temperature, dip your irons in to the oil for a few seconds – 10 to 20 or so, to allow the irons to heat up. The oil also coats the irons so the batter doesn’t stick once it’s fried. Dip the irons in to the batter, being careful NOT to cover the top of the irons. Getting batter on the top makes it hard to remove the rosettes nicely after cooking.

If your oil is appropriately hot, the rosettes will immediately bubble a lot. Don’t be scared, just let them do their thing. It will take them about a minute or so to cook. Take them out when the dough is nice and chicken-brown.

Give them a moment to drip the oil off, then zoom them over to your landing zone – paper towels on a tray or rack. This will allow the excess oil to drain away. The rosette should pop off easily with a fork. After making several, I found that a couple things happened. First, our oil began to cool off because we placed cold batter in it. Monitor your oil temperature and allow it to come back up to temperature when it cools off. Also, not all of our rosettes turned out. It’s okay! Just try again. We did find that once our irons were nice and screaming hot, they would cook the batter immediately, which would then fall off in to our pie plate.  Let your irons cool off a bit if that’s the case.

As you can see, our rosette is nice and brown. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, and enjoy. They’re best served hot. They’ll hold for about a day, or three days in the fridge, or frozen up to about three months. However, I think they’re best for immediate consumption. It’s a good party trick to impress your friends.

For about a buck and a half, we had a great dessert to share with our friends. Deep frying can be as simple as that!

xo-

Rach

 

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Update! Upon reflection, I really should have included something about fire safety. I don’t use a lot of things that have only one use, but a fire extinguisher is one of them. When deepfrying, there is the possibility of a grease fire. NEVER put water on a grease fire as it will spread the fire over a large surface. Instead, find something like a pot lid to smother the flames, or use a fire extinguisher. Please be safe.

Catching Air

December 9, 2011

Air. It’s one of those things we need.

See also (at 1:19):

Anyhoo, air is awesome for a number of reasons, none less than because it is the essential ingredient to many other delicious things. (Marshmallows, meringue, or nougat anyone?)

Today, however, I want to talk about pitas. They are amazingly easy to make, and amazingly fun to watch. Here is the basic recipe:

Pita Bread

Makes 8 pitas

3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon sugar or honey
1 packet yeast
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups water, roughly at room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil, vegetable oil, butter, or shortening

If you are using active dry yeast, follow the instructions on the packet to active it (see the note on yeast above). Otherwise, mix the yeast in with the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the olive oil and 1 1/4 cup water and stir together with a wooden spoon. All of the ingredients should form a ball. If some of the flour will not stick to the ball, add more water (I had to add an extra 1/4 cup).

You might have to play with the flour/water ratio until you get a good consistency (springy), especially depending on climate. We usually need more of both in Denver.

Once the ingredients are balled up, knead the dough by hand or machine for about ten minutes. Not only does this combine the ingredients well, but it helps develop the texture of the dough.

Place it in a bowl that has been lightly coated with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and set aside to rise until it has doubled in size, approximately 90 minutes.

When it has doubled in size, punch the dough down to release some of the trapped gases and divide it into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, cover the balls with a damp kitchen towel, and let them rest for 20 minutes. This step allows the dough to relax so that it’ll be easier to shape.

While the dough is resting, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. If you have a baking stone, put it in the oven to preheat as well. If you do not have a baking stone, turn a cookie sheet upside down and place it on the middle rack of the oven while you are preheating the oven. This will be the surface on which you bake your pitas. It’s important that this is screaming hot so that your pitas cook quickly.

After the dough has relaxed for 20 minutes, spread a light coating of flour on a work surface and place one of the balls of dough there. Sprinkle a little bit of flour on top of the dough and use a rolling pin or your hands to stretch and flatten the dough.

Spray a light mist in to the oven when you are ready to begin baking your pitas to reduce blisters on your pita.

The pitas will only take a couple minutes to cook- you should see them start to expand and then pop!

That picture is blurry, but you can see it puffed up with air. When you take the pita out it will immediately deflate. Not all will pop nicely so don’t be bummed out if a few don’t work. They keep well for several days.

xo-

Rachel

Divinity

June 17, 2011

So I was going to try nougat take two yesterday, but then I decided I was too lazy. Nougat is, as you may have gathered from the previous post, finicky and exacting. So, still wanting to make candy, I decided to try something new, and decided on divinity. Apparently divinity is not a universally known candy (I remember having it as a kid), but it’s basically a cousin to meringues and marshmallows, so I figured it should go over well around here.

The steps for divinity are pretty much the same as a lot of other candy. You need a simple syrup and a meringue. This is actually  the easiest of all of the candies we’ve done, because there really are only those few ingredients and a couple of flavorings.

You beat the meringue to stiff peaks, hopefully at close to the same time you get your syrup to 250 degrees. You then beat the syrup into the meringue, let it go for 5 minutes or so, and add some vanilla for flavor. Then beat it for five more minutes, until it starts to loose it’s shine and dish it out with spoons. If you have more patience or dexterity than I do, you can make them into nice little rounds with a spoon swirl on top. Mine are more free-form, but they still taste good!

They do dry, so the texture is less sticky than something like marshmallow and less sticky than something like meringue. They’re also very sweet, so this is definitely a recipe for those who love sugar. The original recipe I used can be found here.

So anyone who knows the two of us, knows that fluffy, meringue-based candy is apparently the way to our hearts (marshmallows, anyone?). So with that in mind, and two days off in a row, I decided to try to make a homemade version of the Holy Grail of meringue candies-nougat. I started off with this recipe, which is honey-almond flavored.

Nougat starts off a lot like marshmallows, but unlike marshmallow, you don’t use the magic of gelatin to make it set up. Just the magic of egg whites, which, really, are pretty amazing. The big difference in the set up was that I added honey to the sugar and corn syrup in the simple syrup. This gives me the honey part of the flavor, and allowed me to use up an old, sugared, bottle of honey I had lying around. 

That came to a boil just like any other syrup, and at the same time I was beating two egg whites to stiff peaks. The idea is that one’s egg whites reach stiff peaks and one’s syrup reaches 251 degrees (remember 241 for those at Denver altitude) at the same moment. My timing wasn’t great, so I ended up bringing the eggs up a little fast and hard, which may have been one of my issues in the end. Once you get to this magical point, you take a 1/4 cup of hot syrup and slowly add it to your meringue. Now it’s a hot syrup meringue.

At the same time, or if you’re more organized than I was, a little before this, you should toast the nuts you want in your final candy. I went with all almonds because it’s what we had on hand. The original recipe also calls for pistachios and walnuts. The original recipe also wanted whole nuts, but I thought that might be a little unruly, so I did a rough chop on the nuts as well.

The whole time you’re doing all of these other things, your syrup continues to cook until it reaches 315 degrees. This is the beginning of a whole lot of mixing, and the transformation from egg whites and syrup to candy.

As you can see in the picture the syrup is a nice golden brown color  at this point. You want to keep an eye on it so it doesn’t scorch. Once it’s at the appropriate temperature, slow your mixer way down, and drizzle the syrup into the meringue mixture which should be at stiff peaks. The syrup is so hot it will kind of melt your meringue, but turn the mixer back up, and let it run until the candy starts to hold it’s shape again. While that mixture is re-inflating, you can grab the rest of your ingredients.

 

This particular recipe is flavored with vanilla and almond extracts (2 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp almond), a pinch of salt to bring out the flavors, and butter. Once your mixture is re-inflated, stop the mixer and add in your last ingredients. You’ll notice the butter makes the mixture shiny and opaque like taffy. From here you’re going to beat it some more, until you get a ribbon when you lift the beater out of the mixer. This texture, is like taffy, but a little softer. From here, you stir the nuts in by hand, and then spread in a well-oiled baking pan.

As you can see, this is where my experience got a little interesting. Once I had the nuts in there, it started to set up fast, and it was very hard to spread. I didn’t even manage to get it to cover the whole bottom of the pan, and I don’t seem to have the quantity of candy that the recipe suggests that I will. I suspect that my timing was a little off and some of the sections involving mixing could have been done a little more slowly and gradually. However, the taste is good, as I can attest from licking the bowl, so that gives me hope and little more preparation for next time.