Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday Morning Strawberry Muffins

We celebrated Dan's 30th birthday last night with a huge Cuban-themed blowout: Cuban pork roast with a garlicky mojo sauce, creamy red beans and rice, bright lime-and-honey coleslaw, key lime bars (I'll post the recipe for these soon), and pitcher after pitcher of mojitos. Needless to say, we were both a little slow getting up this morning. The sink full of dishes was certainly not a welcome sight either. But there is something about post-party euphoria that still inspires me to make a little something to celebrate a wonderful night spent with friends, to commemorate the morning after the party with something to help us bask in the calm. The carton of nearly overripe strawberries in the back of the fridge led me to these muffins. Since I could not face large bowls of batter and more dishes, I made a small batch in bowls that would fill in the last remaining empty spaces in the dishwasher. Ah, the simple luxury of a strawberry muffin, the scent of tart sweetness and nutmeg, with little splashes of eye-opening red and pink--these really were a welcome treat on a sunny but groggy morning.

Thanks to all of you who came and made Dan's birthday memorable, and for those of you who couldn't make it, know we were thinking of you. Have a wonderful morning.

These muffins will be slightly tart; Dan says they taste like a muffin version of a Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie. If you'd like more sweetness, macerate your strawberries after you chop them (place them in a bowl with a few tablespoons of sugar and let them sit for 15 minutes). Drain them (or the extra juice will prevent the muffins from rising properly) then add them to the batter. Save the juice and stir it into softened butter or cream cheese for a sweet topping!

Strawberry Muffins
(Small Batch: Makes 6 regular muffins, 4 jumbo muffins)

2 T canola oil
1/4 cup milk
1/2 egg (beat the egg well, then pour in half)
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup AP flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
1/2-3/4 cup chopped fresh strawberries

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line 6 cups of a muffin tin (or 4 of a jumbo) with muffin liners, or spray with cooking spray. (Do not spray more muffin cups than you use, or you will discolor your pan. If you're not sure how many muffins cups your batter will need, spray as you fill).
2. Whisk wet ingredients (oil, milk, egg, vanilla) in a small bowl.
3. Whisk dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices) in a medium bowl.
4. Add chopped strawberries to the flour mixture; toss gently to coat each one. (Coating them in flour before adding the wet ingredients helps them to be evenly distributed and rise with the batter instead of sinking to the bottom of the muffin.)
5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix gently with a spatula just until the flour is incorporated.
6. Fill each muffin tin to the top. Bake at 375 F for 15-17 minutes for regular muffins (or 23-25 minutes for jumbos), or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
7. Cool in pan for a minutes or two, then place on a cooling rack to cool for 10-15 minutes. Serve warm. Some strawberry butter would be fabulous here.

Pour yourself a hot cup of coffee (or cold glass of milk) and enjoy!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Simple Focaccia

Two words: No kneading. If I don't have your attention, you've either never experienced the gorgeous yeasty scent of a bakery first thing in the morning and wished for that same sense of calm in your own busy home, or you're a bread purist with all the time in the world who can't believe that proper kneading might not be necessary to achieve a perfectly risen, puffed loaf. It's not. There are entire books on the subject, such as Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois (an excellent book), but the recipe I am posting today comes from Nick Malgieri's IACP Award-nominated The Modern Baker. He provides some quick methods for making traditional baked goods, such as croissant dough in the food processor instead of the usual time-consuming fold, roll, chill, repeat 4x method. This one, the focaccia, required no kneading, just a few turns in the bowl with a spatula. (The side benefit: fewer dishes!) I love it as a treat to take to the Grove for a summer concert, as a side to sop up dressing in a great salad, or just dipped in some good olive oil and balsamic vinegar--try raspberry balsamic for a fun change! Or dip in marinara for a corner pizza place treat. The photo above shows it as a side for a simple Greek Salad, a Jamie Oliver recipe. Great summer meal.

So here's the recipe (it also works as pizza dough):

Simple Focaccia (adapted from The Modern Baker)

4 cups AP flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt (a little less is you plan to sprinkle some on top as well)
1 envelope active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)
1 2/3 cup warm water
Pinch of sugar
3 T olive oil
Any dried herbs (rosemary, oregano, etc.) you'd like to include in the dough

1. In a mixing bowl or 2-cup measuring cup, combine the water, yeast, and pinch of sugar. Gently whisk in oil, and allow to sit until slightly foamy.
2. Whisk flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add any dried herbs--up to 3 T total.
3. Using a large rubber spatula, make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour in the yeast mixture and slowly stir to incorporate, from the middle of the bowl gradually moving outward, incorporating more flour as you go. Once the flour is mostly incorporated, start to fold the dough over on itself: Starting at the side of the bowl, dig down to bottom and flop (gently) half of the dough over. Repeat until no dry streaks of flour remain.
4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise is a warm place until doubled in size, from 1-2 hours. (I prefer to place it inside my gas oven when it's off, or on top of the pilot light--as long as the light's covered in your model--grilled bread is great, but not in the bowl!)
5. When the dough has doubled, prepare a 12x18-inch jelly roll pan: Lightly brush with oil.
6. Scrape dough out of bowl onto pan, being careful not to allow to to double over on itself. Press the dough out so that it fills the pan (lightly oil or cooking spray your hands if necessary). If the dough stretches and then springs back, cover it and let it sit for a few minutes, then try again.
7. Cover the dough with oiled or cooking sprayed plastic wrap and allow to sit and rise for an hour, until doubled in bulk. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425 F.
8. Once the dough has risen, brush with Olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, if your prefer (this step is optional).
9. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the focaccia is golden brown (may take less time, depending on your oven). Allow to cool on a rack, then cut or tear and enjoy!

Focaccia is easy to make your own: add olives or chopped cured meat to the dough, top with olives, sliced ripe tomatoes, even grapes and nuts! With a recipe this simple, play around with it! Have fun--it's easy to forget that step in all the measuring, but I'm convinced you can taste an anxious baker in the final result. Pour yourself some wine and relax, knowing that you'll have a refined but simple treat in a matter of hours. (Just save some of the wine for when it's finished!)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Malt Shop Chocolate Chip Cookies

You may notice a pattern in all of my cookie photos: all on a large cooling rack, in front of a window in the late afternoon sunlight. I'd never noticed this, but I do tend to bake cookies late on Sunday afternoons. You know that nostalgic notion of a pie cooling on a window sill? I guess cookies are my pie.

I'm preparing for one of my favorite Oxford events: the Summer Concert Series in the Grove. Dan and I love it. Every Sunday night in June we pack a picnic basket with a light dinner, a bottle of wine, and some dessert, we grab a blanket and the dog, and we head out for an evening in the park with music. It really seems like something out of a movie. Small children wander over and ask to pet our dog--they usually love when he licks them, though they are startled at first--friends meet us, and we all watch the sun set over the outdoor stage. It's quite perfect, really.

Tonight, we're taking a vegetable popover (basically a really thin frittata), some strawberries, a bottle of Pinot Noir, and these cookies: Malt Shop Chocolate Chip Cookies. I am the only person I know in this town who loves chocolate malts, so I'd hoped these cookies would only be for me *wink*. The dough tastes like a really thick old-fashioned malt like you'd find at the ice cream shop, Beaches & Cream, at Disney's Beach Club Resort (that's for y'all, Waldens). However, the malt flavor mellows as they bake and you end up with chewy, salty, chocolatey cookies that are begging to be taken on a picnic or dunked in ice-cold milk late at night. And I cannot even begin to describe what amazing ice cream sandwiches these would make: chocolate ice cream would take these over the top.

Give them a try; they're simple, low in fat and calories, and really rich and satisfying. Even if you're not a malt lover like me, I promise you'll love these cookies.

Malt Shop Chocolate Chip Cookies
(adapted from Cooking Light, May 2005)

1 cup packed brown sugar (I used light, but any would work)
6 T malted milk powder (such as Carnation, find it in the hot chocolate section)
5 T butter, room temperature
3 T chocolate syrup
1 T vanilla
1 large egg
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1/3 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Beat first six ingredients (through the egg) in a large bowl with a standing or handheld mixture until well-blended and fluffy.
3. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl; add in batches to the wet mixture, beating each batch on low speed until just incorporated.
4. Fold in the chocolate chips. At this point, taste the batter--if it is stiff, go ahead and start dishing out the cookies. If it is really soft, stick it in the fridge for 30 minutes. If the butter is too soft, the cookies will spread too much and flatten out instead of puffing up.
5. Place cookies by heaping teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased nonstick baking sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 minutes, or until puffed. They will not look browned, although the edges might be slightly golden. Let cool on baking sheet for 2-3 minutes, then remove and let cool completely on a wire rack.