Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread cookies in April? Sure, they’re traditionally associated with Christmas, but I was craving them. Even better, they’re among the Monkey’s (my boyfriend) favorite kind of cookies. And finally: they’re not chocolate chip. Yes, I’ve been making a lot of chocolate chip cookies lately. It’s hardly worth a post on its own, but I’ll at least give you a picture of the jar I’ve been stocking weekly.

Chocolate Chip Cookies in Jar

Anywaaaay… back to the gingerbread.

The lesson I’ve learned from my chocolate chip cookie spree is that replacing half the sugar with Splenda works even better in cookies than it does in cakes. I was hoping this trend would continue when making a roll-out cookie like gingerbread.

Why do I love gingerbread cookies so much? When I was a little girl, my grandma made them every year for Christmas, in the familiar gingerbread man-shape, with raisins down the body for buttons and eyes. So for me, my grandma’s gingerbread cookie is the ideal, essential gingerbread cookie. Gingerbread cookie qua gingerbread cookie. (I’ve been wanting to use that phrase since I left college, sorry.)

In this batch, however, I only put raisins on some of the cookies, as they are not well regarded by the Monkey. I also played with different shapes. Ironically, one of the impetus for this batch of cookies was to use the stereotypical gingerbread man cookie cutter sitting in the back of my baking cupboard, in its original packaging, handed down from my mother. Yet, true to my impulse buyer nature, we picked up new cutters at Target, because I wanted a variety of shapes, including “Spring” shapes. When I saw a package that included an airplane, it had to be mine. Or rather, it had to be mine to be made for the Monkey. (The Monkey comes from airplane people, and he is currently helping his father restore a small two person experimental plane. He’s also working on the first steps towards obtaining his sport pilot’s license. Planes are kind of his thing. Aside from being a Monkey, that is.)

I am happy to say my cookies are a tremendous success. They are slightly chewy, slightly firm, slightly soft. The raisins give them the touch of sentimental flavor I was craving. Best of all, the sugar substitute is not noticeable or detrimental to the result. I am happy, and so is the Monkey.

Gingerbread on Plate

Gingerbread Cookies

Adapted from a recipe found years ago on allrecipes.com.
Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 cup (15.75 oz.) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinammon
  • 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup Splenda
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 cup molasses, warmed
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp warm water
  • raisins for decorating

Directions:
In a large bowl, cream shortening, sugar, egg, and warmed molasses. Dissolve baking soda in warm water and add to egg mixture. Beat until smooth. Mix in flour, spices and salt until well blended. Cover and chill for at least 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 350F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

On a floured surface, roll out dough to approximately 1/4 inch. Cut out cookies using various shapes and place at least 1″ apart on cookie sheets. Use raisins to decorate, pressing lightly.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until firm. Cool on wire racks.

Posted in Baking, Christmas Cookie, Cookie, Low-Sugar, Splenda, Sugar-Substitute, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Valentine’s Cliche: Red Velvet

All this baking obsession started in the late Summer of 2010. And like many new bakers, I was obsessed with the idea of making my own red velvet cake. I thought it was my favorite, although I didn’t know why. It seems to be the favorite of many people, and they couldn’t tell you why either. It’s a light, slightly chocolaty cake with a creamy frosting. Hm. Maybe it’s just the color. There is something undeniably magnetic about the bright red cake and contrasting white frosting. It’s playful in a way that’s “okay” for adults to enjoy. I wanted my own cake, damnit, that I could play with.

Unfortunately, this is where I confess to all you who think I only bake delicious fabulous desserts: I struck out not once, but twice. It took three tries of various recipes and recipe components to finally get what I consider to be the correct Red Velvet Cake recipe. I don’t know how many reference sources I read, how much research into the history of the thing, how it’s supposed to taste, etc. I played with Splenda & granulated sugar ratios, I played with almond flour additions, I played with all kinds of crazy arcane ingredients. Finally, I made the first successful cake for a Pirate Party and damn if it wasn’t amazing.

Pirate Party Red Velvet Cake

Historical Aside: Did you know there’s no evidence to support that this is in any way an actual “Southern” dish? Instead, it seems to have originated in the Northeast of the United States. It was the appearance of an armadillo shaped red velvet grooms cake in Steel Magnolias that gave everyone the idea that this was a Southern original. Ah, collective imagination is fun.

After my successful first cake, I turned to other full-size cakes, then eventually to cupcakes which are easier to divide and move out of the house quickly. I didn’t come back to red velvet until just a week ago when a friend requested this particular kind of cupcake for her Valentine’s Day party. What a great time to revisit the recipe and share it with you all.

I take a LOT of pride in this particular cake, as I think it’s the one I’ve done the most work to make Emily-friendly and still true to the ideal form of the original.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Heart Sprinkles

Emily’s Red Velvet Cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 1 oz bottle red food coloring
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup Splenda
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350. For cupcakes: place cupcake wrappers in two 12 muffin pans. For cake: butter and flour three 8” cake pans. Using a strainer (not an old fashioned sifter, as the almond flour tends to just get stuck), sift together cake flour, almond flour, baking powder and salt in bowl, then set aside. In a small bowl, mix food coloring, vanilla, and cocoa powder until there are no lumps. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using a mixer, beat butter, Splenda, and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, then add vanilla and cocoa-coloring mix. Add one-third of the flour mixture to the batter, beat well, then add half of the buttermilk. Beat in another third of the flour, then the rest of the buttermilk. End with the last third of the flour mix. Beat until just combined, making sure to scrape down the sides.

In a small bowl, mix vinegar and baking soda, then add straight to cake batter and stir well. Pour batter into cupcake wrappers, or divide batter between three pans and put in oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cupcakes or cakes cool in their pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove and let them cool completely. Frost with cream cheese icing.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz. cream cheese (2 packages), softened
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups icing sugar, sifted
  • pinch of salt

Directions:
Using a mixer, blend cream cheese and butter until smooth. Blend in salt, vanilla and then powdered sugar. Beat until light and fluffy, then spread on your cupcakes or cake! If you’re sprinkle-obsessed like yours truly, get out something red and festive and go to town.

Posted in Baking, Cupcakes, Low-Sugar, Splenda, Sugar-Substitute | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Pie pie pie! Mmmm, PIE!

Apple pies.

I am the kind of baker who believes that the true essence of a homemade pie is in the crust. I don’t like to judge too much, but damnit, if you present a pie that is made from a store bought crust and a homemade filling, you get a few points knocked off on my internal judging sheet. Not that I’m keeping track, but well. I’m a snob sometimes, I’m ok with this.

I’m going to talk about a specific kind of pie, but first, I must talk about the PIE CRUST. Everything else is secondary. I mean it. Get your crust right, the rest will follow.

Butter and/or Shortening

Many recipes I’ve read suggested butter or shortening in crust. Guess what – using half of each gives you the best of both worlds! Butter creates the flavor and shortening creates the flaky crust. Better yet, (according to some source I can’t find now) they have different cooking temperatures and having them layered in the pie means an even more complex flaky texture.

Keeping Cool

Keep everything COLD. Everything. The rolling pin, the pie plate, the water, the flour, everything. One of the recipes I use actually has you cut up the butter chunks and then put them in the freezer in two packets. They are nearly frozen, and then at separate times, added to the flour. These creates more layers of flaky goodness.

The Basic Recipe

My favorite recipe is the one that I can remember without looking it up. It’s got a basic ratio going on that’s hard to mess up and has the best of all possible worlds.

One Double Pie Crust
Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 3-6 Tbls ice cold water, with 1/4 tsp salt

Method:
I start by putting the fats in the freezer, along with a small glass of water that’s been salted. After the butter has chilled for awhile, I put the flour in a small bowl, then slice up the fats into little chunks, and toss them into the flour, covering them lightly. Then it’s back to the freezer for about 15 minutes.

I get out the food processor, and add the flour and fat mixture, and pulse a few arbitrary times until the butter has broken down into smaller chunks. You want it to be mealy, but not too ground down. This is where not overdoing it is so important, and where things can go wrong fast.

When that texture is just right, I start to add the ice water a tablespoon at a time. I pulse a few times, add more, until the dough starts to stick together and almost start rolling to one side of the food processor. At this time it’s not ALL wet, but that’s ok.

I transfer all this mess into a big ol’ gallon size plastic bag, and knead it a few times. Again, do NOT overdo it. Then I separate the dough into two roundish chunks, flatten them into disks, and wrap in saran wrap. Then it’s into the fridge for the dough to sit for at least an hour, and preferably up to 24 hours.

I sometimes freeze the dough for future use, and when I do that, I make sure I take it out a day in advance and let it sit in the fridge to thaw.

Then it’s time to roll on out. Flour your board or whatever you’re rolling on. Stick the rolling pin in the freezer for a few minutes, then get rolling. Roll from the middle out, working out towards each direction to hopefully give it a nice even roll. It helps to flip it over at least once in the rolling to make sure you’re not sticking to anything you shouldn’t be. Then I fold it in half (and possibly again), and lay it gently in the pie plate.

After that, you’re pretty much home free. Fill, decorate, enjoy.

The Pie & Pastry Bible

When I lived in Oregon, my social circle was dominated by culinary school students. (I still think I’d like to go to pastry chef school, but so long as I didn’t have to do the whole cooking part too.) One of them, with whom I shared a love of baking, gave me the Pie and Pastry Bible from the Patron Saint of baking, Rose Levy Beranbaum. I only recently had the guts to actually read the theory-crafting and recipes for this pie crust to beat all pie crusts.

And wow.. it kicked my basic pie crust’s ass. And the explanations about WHY it worked were just awesome. If you love pie, you will get this book. It also probably finally get you to start weighing your ingredients. This is the recipe I now use, adapted from hers.

Double 9″ Pie Crust
Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 or 11.25 oz flour (she prefers pastry, I use regular all purpose)

  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 14 oz butter
  • 1 Tbls apple cider vinegar (NO REALLY)
  • 5-7 Tbls ice cold water

I didn’t follow her technique exactly, relying instead on my above tried and true simple food processor technique. But it really is one beautiful flaky tasty crust with NO shortening required.

Homemade Blueberry Pie

Now, the real reason I started talking pies in the first place is that I wanted to share this blueberry pie recipe I recently made. It was for my father’s birthday. He LOVES blueberries. I have made blueberry pie in the past with the canned syrupy stuff, but that kind of thing would send me into a serious sugar fever in no time. So, I had to figure out a sugar-conscious method that would still make a delicious pie. And I think I did it.

Blueberry Pie

Recipe adapted from Pick Your Own.

Ingredients:

  • Doubled 9 inch pie crust
  • 9″ deep dish pie plate
  • 3 to 4 cups of Blueberries – fresh or frozen
  • 7 Tablespoons corn starch
  • 3 Tablespoons water (or grape juice)
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup Splenda

Method:

  1. Prepare the pie crusts and set aside. Wash the blueberries.
  2. Mix the dry filling ingredients. Combine the 2/3 cup sugar (or sugar/Splenda blend), 7 Tablespoons of corn starch in a bowl and mix well! Some people like 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and/or 1/4 teaspoon of allspice, mixed in, also.
  3. Mix in the liquids. Add the 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice, and 3 Tablespoons of water (or grape juice) and stir it up. If you use Splenda, it will be pretty gloppy, rather than drier crumbs, but it still works the same!
  4. Add the blueberries to the pie crust. Just pour them in! There’s lots of air space and it will cook down, so don’t worry if they mound up about an inch above the edge of the plate.
  5. Pour the liquid mix into the pie all over the blueberries. If it is a gloppy liquid, don’t worry, just pour it somewhat evenly over the top. But it doesn’t take perfection; it will smooth itself out in the oven.
  6. Cover with the second pie crust. Seal it against the edges with the pie crust, and make decorative slits with a knife. Bake at 375F for 1 hour. Remove when the pie is golden and bubbling.
Posted in Baking, Low-Sugar, Pie, Splenda | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments