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TartQueen's Kitchen


Archive for the ‘sugar’


Berry-Mint Lemonade 0

Posted on June 22, 2015 by Sahar

I love a good glass of lemonade.  Real lemonade. Not the powdered stuff.

And, with summer lasting about 8 months in Texas, it’s almost a necessary staple, along with water, iced tea, and beer, to power through the heat.

The basic lemonade recipe consists of three things: lemon juice, water, sugar.  The flavor all depends on how you personally prefer it – sweet or tart.  Personally, I like it more on the tart side.

Of course, since it is such a basic recipe, it leaves lots of room for interpretation and experimentation.  You can add just about any herb or spice that goes well with lemon – mint, basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, tarragon, ginger, pepper – for example; or, even add other fruits or juices to the mix – the list on that is pretty much endless.

My personal favorite is probably one of the more obvious ones – mint and berries. I think it’s because during the summer, when berries are truly in season, I like to find as many ways possible as I can to use them.  And, mint is a natural affinity flavor for lemons and berries.  It’s a win-win.

So, here is my recipe for Berry-Mint Lemonade.

A few notes:

1.  Yes. I have used lemon juice from the green plastic bottle. I know fresh squeezed is better, but I don’t always have a bottle of the fresh-squeezed juice around.  If you really want fresh squeezed and don’t have any or can’t find it, you can either squeeze it yourself (a pricy and time consuming prospect), or just go for the green bottle. It’s fine and most people won’t know the difference. I will say the one distinct added plus to the green bottle lemon juice is that the flavor is consistent.  Fresh lemons can vary in tartness and yield.

2.  You can use all of one berry in this if you like.  I just always happen to have a large container of cut berries in my fridge during the summer as Husband Steve’s & my go-to fruit.  Bear in mind, however, that the color and overall flavors will definitely change.  As it is with anything completely natural, there are always going to be differences in flavor – either more sweet or tart.

3.  You can use either white or raw sugar in this.  I prefer the raw because it’s a little less sweet than the white.

4.  If you don’t like or don’t have mint, you can use another herb in this.  Most herbs & spices that go with lemon work well with berries, too. You may want to experiment on the amount you want to use. Some are definitely stronger than others (i.e. rosemary, ginger, oregano), so you want to be sure what you’re using won’t overpower the other flavors.

 

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

1 c. sugar (either raw or white)

1 c. water

1/4 c. lightly packed mint leaves

2 heaping cups mixed berries

1 1/4 c. lemon juice

3 c. water

 

1.  In a small saucepan, combine the water and sugar over high heat.  Stir frequently to make sure the sugar is dissolved.

The simple syrup.  Since I made this with raw sugar, it is obviously going to be darker than with white sugar.  A simple syrup made with white sugar will be clear.

The simple syrup. Since I made this with raw sugar, it is obviously going to be darker than with white sugar. A simple syrup made with white sugar will be completely clear.

Bring the syrup just to a boil, take the saucepan off the heat, and add the mint leaves.  Allow the mint to steep in the syrup until it has cooled, about 1 hour to 1-1/2 hours.

Adding the mint.

Adding the mint to steep.

2.  Meanwhile, puree the berries.  With a food processor running, drop the berries either through the feed tube. (Adding the berries in while the machine is running guarantees that all of the berries will be pureed.  You won’t be left with any large pieces.)

Adding the berries to the food processor.  I like to wear gloves to keep the berries from staining my hands.

Adding the berries to the food processor. I like to wear gloves to keep the berries from staining my hands.

 

Let the berries process until they are pureed.

The pureeing the berries.

The pureeing the berries.

Place a small strainer over a large measuring cup (at least a 4-cup), large bowl, or a pitcher.  Pour half of the pureed berries through the strainer and, with a rubber spatula, work as much of the liquid out of the pulp through the strainer as possible, leaving behind the seeds and pulp. Be sure to scrape the outside bottom and sides of the strainer. Dump the leftover seeds and pulp into a small bowl and repeat with the other half.

On the left, a strainer; the right, a colander. They do a lot of the same things, but a strainer is used for finer work (i.e. sifting, straining purees, etc.). Don't confuse the two.

On the left, a strainer; the right, a colander. They do a lot of the same things, but a strainer is used for finer work (i.e. sifting, straining purees, etc.). Don’t confuse the two.

Pressing the pureed berries though the strainer.

Pressing the pureed berries though the strainer.

If you like, take the remaining seeds and pulp, put them back into the blender or food processor and puree again.  You’ll be surprised how much more liquid you can get out of them. (If you are fine with a more “country style” lemonade, you can skip this step and simply pour the pureed fruit into the pitcher without straining.)

The final leftovers after two sessions in the food processor and straining. You want to get as much of the juice as possible out of the berries.  I generally just put this in the compost.

The final leftovers after two sessions in the food processor and straining. You want to get as much of the juice as possible out of the berries. I generally just put this in the compost.

3.  Once the syrup is cooled, pour the syrup through the strainer so it can catch the mint.

Straining the syrup.

Straining the syrup.

I like to leave the strainer on so I can pour the lemon juice and water over the mint as well. This way, you can get as much flavor out of the mint as possible. Mix thoroughly.

Lemon juice.

Lemon juice.

Water.

Water.

4.  Place the lemonade in the refrigerator and let chill.  Mix it again before checking for flavor.

Lemonade.

Lemonade.  This also makes a great mixer, by the way.

 

Enjoy!

 

Lemon Curd 0

Posted on January 13, 2015 by Sahar

For me, winter is the best time of the year to make Lemon Curd. Why? you ask? Because winter is when I can find Meyer Lemons at the store. While I can certainly make lemon curd with regular lemons, I find Meyer Lemons have just the right mix of tart and sweet that take this lovely confectionary spread to the next level.

Meyer Lemons were grown in China for centuries and were introduced in the US in 1908 by F.N. Meyer.  Botanists believe it is a cross between a lemon and an orange.  It is generally larger, juicier, and less acidic than regular lemons.  They are usually available from fall through early spring, with their peak season during the winter.

A Meyer Lemon (l) and a standard lemon (r).

A Meyer Lemon (l) and a standard lemon (r).

IMG_2863

Regular Lemon (l) and Meyer Lemon (r)

 

Now, wait, you may be saying. What is exactly Lemon Curd?

First, there are two types of curd:

1.  Curd solids from milk.  These solids are formed when rennet (or another acid) is used to separate the milk solids from the liquid (whey) during the cheese making process.

2.  A sweet creamy spread that consists of (usually) citrus juice, egg yolks, sugar, and butter.  It can be made with other fruit such as berries.

 

A curd is a type of sauce called an emulsion.  The simplest explanation for this comes from The New Food Lover’s Companion:  “A mixture of one liquid with another with which it cannot normally combine smoothly. Emulsifying is done by slowly adding one ingredient to another while at the same time mixing rapidly (usually whisking). This disperses and suspends tiny droplets of one liquid throughout the other.  Emulsified mixtures are usually thick and satiny in texture.”  Mayonnaise, vinaigrette, hollandaise, and bearnaise are all examples of emulsion sauces.

 

A few notes:

1.  You can make this with regular lemons.  Find lemons that feel heavy for their size.  The final product will be more tart, but you can add some sugar to taste if you like after the curd is finished.

2.  The best way to go about this is low and slow.  If you show any impatience or lack of attention, you could easily over cook the curd and end up with sweet scrambled eggs.

3.  Always have extra bowls on the side in case you need to move your curd to a cool, clean bowl.

4.  Having an instant-read thermometer will come in handy.  You want the curd to come to about 160F.  It will be fully cooked at this point without scrambling the eggs (that is, if you are careful).

5.  When using the double-boiler, the boiling water should never touch the bottom of the bowl.  This will cause the eggs to cook too quickly.

6.  You can make lemon curd into a preserve: Fill a half-pint jar with a 1/2″ head space and process the jars for 15 minutes.  Take the canning pot off the heat and leave the jars in the hot water for a further 10 minutes, then take the jars out of the water, and place them on racks to cool and seal. Because of the nature of the curd, however, the texture will change during the processing, and it will only have a shelf life of 2 – 3 months because of the high dairy content.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

The lemon zest. I sue a Microplane for mine. If you don't have a Microplane, just very finely mince the zest.

The lemon zest. I use a Microplane for mine. If you don’t have a Microplane, just very finely mince the zest.

 

3 egg yolks, room temperature

1 whole egg, room temperature

3/4 c. sugar

1/2 c. lemon juice (preferably Meyer Lemons)

Zest from juiced lemons

6 oz (10 tbsp.) butter, cut into 1/4″ cubes, softened

 

 

1.  Combine the egg whites, whole egg, and sugar in a medium stainless steel bowl with either a whisk (if you have a lot of upper body strength) or a beater starting on medium-low speed and gradually increasing the speed and mix until the mixture becomes light, thick, and falls into a ribbon when the whisk or beaters are lifted from the bowl. (Doing this will help to begin the emulsion process, start dissolving the sugar, and begin to chemically cook the eggs.)

Early in the process.  The mixture is still dripping unevenly. I kinda cheated here and used the electric beaters.

Early in the process. The mixture is still dripping unevenly. I kinda cheated here and used the electric beaters.

About 10 minutes later.  The mixture is thickened and is falling much more smoothly from the beaters.  If it doesn't fall  in a ribbon, you want the mixture to at least leave a "trail" in the bowl as it falls back in.

About 10 minutes later. The mixture is thickened and is falling much more smoothly from the beaters. If it doesn’t fall in a ribbon, you want the mixture to at least leave a “trail” in the bowl as it falls back in.

 

2.  Carefully mix in the lemon juice and zest.

Adding the zest and juice.

Adding the zest and juice.

3.  Have a saucepan about 1/4 full of simmering water ready on the stove.  Place the bowl with the lemon mixture on top. (You just want the bottom of the bowl to sit over the water.)

Setting up the double boiler: Fill the saucepan about 1/4 full of water. Make sure that the boiling water never touches the bottom of the bowl.

Setting up the double boiler: Fill the saucepan about 1/4 full of water. Make sure that the boiling water never touches the bottom of the bowl.

Have a second bowl on the side in case the mixture cooks too quickly and begins to curdle (that would be the eggs scrambling).

4.  Stir the lemon mixture with the whisk constantly until the foam subsides and begins to thicken.  Adjust the heat as needed (the easiest way to do this is to take the bowl from off the top of the saucepan, or, if the mixture is cooking too quickly, move the mixture to your second bowl; if you do move to a second bowl, very carefully scrape or do not scrape the original bowl – what’s left in the bowl is more than likely going to be scrambled).

Whisking the mixture. You want to do this fairly constantly until the foam subsides. Once this happens, the eggs will begin cooking much more rapidly.

Whisking the mixture. You want to do this fairly constantly until the foam subsides. Once this happens, the eggs will begin cooking much more rapidly.  Again, remember – low & slow is the key

The foam has pretty much subsided and the mixture is beginning to thicken. If you use an instant-read thermometer, it should read between 155F - 160F.

The foam has pretty much subsided and the mixture is beginning to thicken and look darker. If you use an instant-read thermometer, it should read between 155F – 160F.

5.  Begin to slowly add the softened butter.  Just add 2-3 pieces at a time, still whisking constantly.  You want to incorporate the butter into the lemon mixture.  If you simply add the butter and let it melt without whisking, the fat in the butter will separate and you won’t be able to incorporate it. You’ll simply end up with butterfat floating on top.

Adding the butter. Be sure to whisk constantly to make sure the butter is incorporated evenly into the lemon mixture. Do not let it simply melt on top.

Adding the butter. Be sure to whisk constantly to make sure the butter is incorporated evenly into the lemon mixture. Do not let it simply melt on top.

6.  After you have incorporated the butter, switch to either a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula.  Continue stirring constantly until the curd is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon or spatula.

Stirring the curd after the butter has been incorporated. Again, keep stirring constantly, making sure to keep, especially, the curd on the side and bottom of the bowl moving. That is the curd that will quickly overcook if it isn't constantly stirred.

Stirring the curd after the butter has been incorporated. Again, keep stirring constantly, making sure to keep, especially, the curd on the side and bottom of the bowl moving. That is the curd that will quickly over cook if it isn’t constantly stirred.

Coating the back of a wooden spoon. Running your finger through the curd on the spoon will test if it's ready. If the curd doesn't drip, it's ready. This means that the eggs are cooked and your emulsion was successful.

Coating the back of a wooden spoon. Running your finger through the curd on the spoon will test if it’s ready. If the curd doesn’t drip, it’s ready. This means that the eggs are cooked and your emulsion was successful.

7.  When the curd is done, remove the bowl from the heat and pour into a clean bowl.  Very carefully scrape or do not scrape the sides of the original bowl (it depends on how your final product looks).  You can strain the mixture if you prefer. (Straining is recommended if you have larger pieces of zest or you want to smooth out a slightly lumpy curd.)

If, when you are done cooking, your eggs are curdled or scrambled, or your butter separates out, you can pour the mixture into a blender (not a food processor) and try to make a smooth curd.  However, there’s no guarantee this will work; and if it does, you may still need to strain it to remove any remaining lumps of scrambled egg or the butter may separate out again.

8.  To store, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd and place in the refrigerator. Because of the high butter content, it will set up into a fairly firm spread.  It will keep for 4 – 5 days.

A lovely, creamy lemon curd. Sometime, I eat it just like this.

A lovely, creamy lemon curd. Sometime, I eat it just like this.

 

Perfect serving suggestion.

Perfect serving suggestion.

 

Enjoy!

 

Gingersnaps 0

Posted on December 22, 2014 by Sahar

I almost love gingersnaps more than I love a really good chocolate chip cookie. Almost. It’s a photo finish, really.

Just like gingerbread, gingersnaps date back to Medieval England and predate the cake style gingerbread we know today.

Traditionally, “gingersnaps” are a crispy cookie that “snap” when eaten, hence the name.

Gingersnaps have a long history in Europe, especially England and Germany. The cookies were made using molasses as a sweetener rather than refined sugar because it was less expensive and more readily available to the average person. (At this time, white refined sugar was extremely expensive and only available to the very wealthy.) As England expanded its colonial rule, it brought many of its cooking and baking traditions to these colonized countries, including gingersnaps.

European and British food traditions continued even after the American colonies gained their independence. Recipes that had been passed down, such as the traditional molasses and ginger recipe for snaps, still flourished in American kitchens.(information from www.ehow.com)
This recipe makes a lovely crispy yet slightly chewy melt-in-your-mouth cookie. The combination of shortening and butter is what does this. An all-butter cookie would cause the dough to spread quite a bit and make a very crispy cookie. An all-shortening dough would make a more cake-like cookie. I also like to use brown sugar as opposed to white because I find the cookie has a better texture and flavor. However, if you prefer to use or all you have is white (or even light brown) sugar, feel free to use it. Feel free to play with the spices. Of course, ginger should be your main flavor. However, most traditional gingersnap recipes have cloves and cinnamon.  I decided to buck tradition and used allspice as my secondary spice. Most of the sweet spices have an affinity with each other, so I thought, why not allspice? It works well in this recipe.As for the sugar to coat the cookie dough before baking – it’s a traditional addition. If you decide you don’t want the extra sugar, then skip that step.  However, since I wanted to go traditional (sort of), I did that step using turbinado (raw) sugar.If you would like to add even more ginger flavor, you can add grated fresh and/or finely chopped candied ginger.  Add as much or as little as you like.

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

From top: molasses, baking soda, ginger, allspice, salt

From top: molasses, baking soda, ginger, allspice, salt

 

1/2 c. butter, room temperature

1/2 shortening, room temperature

1 c. dark brown sugar

1 egg, room temperature

1/4 c. molasses

 

2 1/2 c. flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. ground allspice

 

Extra sugar for rolling

 

 

1.  Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

2.  In a mixer bowl, cream together the butter, shortening, and brown sugar.

Getting ready to cream the butter, shortening, and brown sugar together.

Getting ready to cream the butter, shortening, and brown sugar together.

After creaming the butter and sugar together. You don't want to beat too much air into the mixture.

After creaming the butter and sugar together. You don’t want to beat too much air into the mixture.

Add the egg and molasses and mix until well combined.

After adding the egg and molasses.

After adding the egg and molasses.

3.  Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, and allspice.

Sifted dry ingredients. Kinda like the way it looks.

Sifted dry ingredients. Kinda like the way it looks.

4.  Add the dry ingredients to the molasses mixture 1/3 at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Mixing in the dry ingredients. Be sure to mix well after each addition and scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.

Mixing in the dry ingredients. Be sure to mix well after each addition and scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.

The finished dough. Try not to eat it at this stage.

The finished dough. Try not to eat it at this stage.

5.  When the cookie mixture is ready, take a small amount and roll into a ball about 1″ in diameter.  Roll the ball in the extra sugar to coat.

Rolling the cookie dough in sugar. This is a pretty traditional step in making the cookies.  However, if you prefer not to have the extra sugar, you can skip this step.

Rolling the cookie dough in sugar. This is a pretty traditional step in making the cookies. However, if you prefer not to have the extra sugar, you can skip this step.

Place the ball of dough onto a cookie sheet.  Repeat about 4 dozen times. Have no more than 12 per baking sheet because the cookies will spread.

Ready for the oven. The cookies will spread quite a lot, so be sure to have about 2" between each ball of dough.

Ready for the oven. The cookies will spread, so be sure to have about 2″ between each ball of dough.

6.  Bake the cookies for 15 – 18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through the baking time.

Now your house will smell like the holidays.

Now your house will smell like the holidays.

Enjoy!

 

Gingerbread 0

Posted on December 12, 2014 by Sahar

More than once when I’ve made gingerbread, my husband will come home and simply say, “It smells like Fall in here.” I take that as a compliment.

Gingerbread is a confectionary that has seemingly always been associated with Autumn and the Holidays.  In Medieval England, the term gingerbread simply meant ‘preserved ginger’. The name wasn’t for the desserts we’re familiar with until the 15th century.

According to Rhonda Massingham Hart’s Making Gingerbread Houses, the first known recipe for gingerbread came from Greece in 2400 BC. Chinese recipes were developed during the 10th century and by the late Middle Ages, Europeans had their own version of gingerbread. The hard cookies, sometimes gilded with gold leaf and shaped like animals, kings and queens, were a staple at Medieval fairs in England, France, Holland and Germany. Queen Elizabeth I is credited with the idea of decorating the cookies in this fashion, after she had some made to resemble the dignitaries visiting her court. Over time some of these festivals came to be known as Gingerbread Fairs, and the gingerbread cookies served there were known as ‘fairings.’ The shapes of the gingerbread changed with the season, including flowers in the spring and birds in the fall. Elaborately decorated gingerbread became synonymous with all things fancy and elegant in England. The gold leaf that was often used to decorate gingerbread cookies led to the popular expression ‘to take the gilt off of gingerbread.’ The carved, white architectural details found on many colonial American seaside homes is sometimes referred to as ‘gingerbread work’.

Gingerbread houses originated in Germany during the 16th century. The elaborate cookie-walled houses, decorated with foil in addition to gold leaf, became associated with Christmas tradition. Their popularity rose when the Brothers Grimm wrote the story of Hansel and Gretel, in which the main characters stumble upon a house made entirely of treats deep in the forest. It is unclear whether or not gingerbread houses were a result of the popular fairy tale, or vice versa.

Gingerbread arrived in the New World with English colonists. The cookies were sometimes used to sway Virginia voters to favor one candidate over another. The first American cookbook, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, has recipes for three types of gingerbread including the soft variety baked in loaves:

Soft gingerbread to be baked in pans.

No. 2. Rub three pounds of sugar, two pounds of butter, into four pounds of flour, add 20 eggs, 4 ounces ginger, 4 spoons rosewater, bake as No. 1.

This softer version of gingerbread was more common in America. George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, served her recipe for gingerbread to the Marquis de Lafayette when he visited her Fredericksburg, Virginia home. Since then it was known as Gingerbread Lafayette. The confection was passed down through generations of Washingtons.

(Source: History of Gingerbread, The History Kitchen, Tori Avey)

**********

A main ingredient in gingerbread is molasses.  It is basically the leftovers of the sugar making process after the sugar crystals have been removed during boiling.

There are several different types of molasses comercially available: Light Molasses, Dark Molasses, Blackstrap Molasses, Sulphured Molasses, and Unsulphured Molasses.

Grandma's is a good, consistent brand of molasses that's readily available at just about every grocery. It's an unsulphured light molasses.

Grandma’s is a good, consistent brand of molasses that’s readily available at just about every grocery. It’s an unsulphured light molasses. Plus, the company sponsors an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee. I’m all about that.

You may be asking yourself, what’s the difference? Or, you may not be.  But, I’m going to tell you anyway.

Light Molasses:  This comes from the first boiling of the sugarcane is generally the sweetest of the molasses. it is also known as “Barbados”, “Sweet”, “Mild”, or “First” molasses.  This molasses is generally used in baking, marinades, rubs, and sauces

Dark Molasses: This comes from the second boiling and after more sugar is extracted. It is generally thicker and less sweet.  it can also be called “Full” or “Second” molasses.  It can be used interchangeably with light molasses for most uses.  It is most commonly used in baking.

Blackstrap Molasses: This comes from the third boiling and is very thick and dark in color.  It has the highest mineral content because of its concentration.  While it can be found in grocery stores, it is most commonly found in health food stores. Some people will use blackstrap molasses (especially vegans) as a health food and supplement to their diets because it contains iron, niacin, and B6, among other minerals that wouldn’t necessarily be in or in very low levels in a vegan diet.

Sulphured and Unsulphured Molasses:  Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) is sometimes added to molasses as a preservative because molasses can ferment and spoil. It does change the flavor of the molasses making it less sweet. Unsulphured is preferred because it is sweeter and is closer to the original molasses flavor. And, because, well, it doesn’t have sulphur.

(Source: Healthy Eating, SF Gate)

Also, molasses can be distilled to make rum. FYI.

*********************

My inspiration for this recipe came from an old recipe found in a 1965 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book that I received from my mother-in-law not long after I married. As I was flipping through the book, it reminded me of the book my mother had as I was growing up.  I believe hers was the same edition. (She still has it. I think it’s now held together with rubber bands.) I always remember the notes and McCall’s Cooking School recipes she would save in her book.

The BHG Cookbook my mother-in-law gave me. It's a souvenier edition of the 1965 printing celebrating 10 Million copies sold.

The BHG Cookbook my mother-in-law gave me. It’s a souvenir edition of the 1965 printing celebrating 10 Million copies sold.

My 2nd. edition, 1935 printing of the BHG Cookbook. I don't think it's ever been used.

My 2nd. edition, 1935 printing of the BHG Cookbook. I don’t think it’s ever been used.

BHG 1950 printing. This is about the time the now familiar red-and-white cover was first used.

BHG 1950 printing. This is about the time the now familiar red-and-white cover was first used. I bought this off Ebay. It was obviously loved.

Mom said to me as recently as Thanksgiving that the gingerbread recipe in the BHG book is a great recipe.  In fact, she made it for my sisters and I often when we were kids.

 

Here is the ingredient list for the original recipe:

1/2 c. shortening

1/2 c. sugar

1 egg

1/2 c. light molasses

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp. salt

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 c. boiling water

(from Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, 1965 printing)

 

I will say, though, while I love the original recipe, I have changed it up a little:

* I’ve omitted the cinnamon and added quadruple the ginger.  It’s a flavor preference.

*I’ve replaced the white sugar with either dark brown or maple sugar. Again, it’s a flavor preference. The new sugars aren’t as sweet as white sugar.

*I’m using butter flavored shortening. Because I can.

Now, of course,  you can do whatever you like.  Add or subtract as you see fit.  Other sweet spices (i.e. cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, anise) will work well in this recipe, too.  However, you may want to be somewhat conservative on the amount of extra spice you use.  You’re making gingerbread, not a spice cake. Some people will also add a small amount of finely chopped candied ginger to the recipe as well.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

The maple sugar. Like most real maple products, it is not inexpensive. But, if you do have some, use it.

The maple sugar. Like most real maple products, it is not inexpensive. But, if you do have some, use it.

Ground Ginger, Salt, Baking Soda

Ground Ginger, Salt, Baking Soda

 

1/2 c. shortening

1/2 c. dark brown or maple sugar

1 egg

1/2 c. molasses

 

1 1/2 c. flour

3/4 tsp. salt

3/4 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. ground ginger

 

1/2 c. boiling water

 

1.  Preheat your oven to 350F.  Spray or butter & flour a 9″ x 9″ x 2″ baking dish.  Set aside.

2.  Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, and ginger.  Set aside.

My mom's old sifter that she gifted to me.

My mom’s old sifter that she gifted to me.

Sifted

Sifted. You can, of course, use a small strainer to sift as well.

3.  With either a hand mixer and medium bowl, or a stand mixer, beat the shortening on medium speed until it is softened.

The softened shortening. It helps the process if you have the shortening at room temperature.

The softened shortening. It helps the process if you have the shortening at room temperature.

4.  Lower the speed to low (otherwise you’ll end up with a mess) and gradually add the sugar.  Once the sugar is incorporated with the shortening, turn the speed back up to medium and continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy.

A fluffy shortening and sugar mix. This process helps to incorporate air into the shortening and make sure the sugar will mix into the rest of the batter thoroughly and not lump up.

A fluffy shortening and sugar mix. This process helps to incorporate air into the shortening and make sure the sugar will mix into the rest of the batter thoroughly and not lump up.

5.  Turn the heat back down to low and add the egg and molasses.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the ingredients are mixed thoroughly.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: always break your eggs into a separate bowl before adding to the rest of your ingredients. Otherwise, you may be sorry.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: always break your eggs into a separate bowl or cup before adding to the rest of your ingredients. Otherwise, you may be full of regret.

Egg and molasses mixed in.

Egg and molasses mixed in.

6.  Keeping the speed on low, alternately add the dry ingredients and the boiling water.  (I generally begin with 1/4 c. of the boiling water, half of the dry ingredients, the other 1/4 c. water, the other half of the dry ingredients.) By adding the ingredient this way, along with scraping down the sides of the bowl, you are ensuring even mixing as well as jump-starting the baking soda.

After adding the first 1/4 cup water. I know it looks strange, but trust me, it's fine.

After adding the first 1/4 cup water. I know it looks strange, but, trust me, it’s fine.

After adding the first half of the dry ingredients.

After adding the first half of the dry ingredients.

7.  Pour the batter into your prepared baking dish and place in the center of the oven.

Ready for the oven.

Ready for the oven.

Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean when you insert it into the cake.

So, as soon as I tokk this photo, Husband took the piece off the top.

So, as soon as I took this photo, Husband took the piece off the top.

 

Enjoy!

Really Good Oatmeal Cookies. I promise. 1

Posted on March 21, 2014 by Sahar

Now, let’s face it.  Oatmeal cookies kind of get a bad reputation.  Basically, well, because they’re made mostly of what many people consider the most healthy yet mushy and tasteless breakfast food of all – oatmeal.  And, usually raisins – which I personally consider to be Satan’s candy.

Many times, through many recipes, oatmeal cookies tend to be overly dry, or overly soft & doughy.  Not much flavor is another negative in the oatmeal cookie column.  And no amount of added chocolate chips or dried fruit will fix it.

In my quest to come up with a good oatmeal cookie (because, yes, I do like them; always have), I made many batches, researched recipes old and new, and ate more cookies than I care to admit.  I even made my husband take them to work to use his co-workers as tasters.

I finally hit upon the idea of making the cookies with dark brown sugar, adding some oat flour, and a little maple syrup for flavor.  It just made a wonderful combination.

Oh. And as for the dried fruit – I use dried cherries and cranberries. They are my two favorite dried fruits and I simply like the way they go together. However,  you can use any dried fruit you like: apricots, apples, blueberries, and, yes, raisins.

You can also use chocolate, white, or cinnamon chips as well. If you want to.

Now, admittedly, I tend to make these cookies rather large.  That’s because making cookies is not one of my favorite things to do.  I simply don’t have the patience for it.  I tend to only bake cookies during the holidays – these included.  You can make them any size you like.  But, I will say this recipe makes a lot of cookies.  With the larger size that I bake, this recipe will still make about 5 dozen.  Smaller cookies? At least 6 dozen.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Dried cherries (l) and dried cranberries (r)

Dried cherries (l) and dried cranberries (r)

Dark brown and granulated sugars.

Dark brown and granulated sugars.

From top left: Maple Syrup, Vanilla Extract, Nutmeg (c), Baking Soda, Salt

From top left: Maple Syrup, Vanilla Extract, Nutmeg (c), Baking Soda, Salt

Oat and all-purpose flours.

Oat and all-purpose flours.

The oats.

The all-important oats.

And, of course, butter and eggs.

And, of course, butter and eggs.

 

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 c. dark brown sugar

1 c. sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 tbsp. maple syrup

1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 c. oat flour

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

3 c. rolled oats

1 c. dried cranberries

1 c. dried cherries

 

1.  Preheat your oven to 350F.  Line your baking sheets with foil and parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  Set aside.

2.  In a mixer, beat together the butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Scrape down the sides as needed.

Creaming together the butter and sugars.  Be sure you make the mixture as fluffy and well-mixed as possible.

Creaming together the butter and sugars. Be sure you make the mixture as fluffy and well-mixed as possible.

3.  Turn down the heat to low and add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each egg.  Again, scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Adding the eggs.  Be sure you mix in each egg thoroughly.  This will help to dissolve the sugar and make a homogenous mixture.

Adding the eggs. Be sure you mix in each egg thoroughly. This will help to dissolve the sugar and make a homogenous mixture.

4.  Add in the vanilla and syrup.  Beat on medium-low speed until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Adding the maple syrup and vanilla extract.

Adding the maple syrup and vanilla extract.

5.  Sift together the dry ingredients – all-purpose flour, oat flour, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg.

I have vivid memories of my mom using this sifter. She gifted it to me when my husband & I moved into our house. I use it all the time.

I have vivid memories of my mom using this sifter. She gifted it to me when my husband & I moved into our house. It’s still my favorite.

The dry ingedients ready for sifting.

The dry ingredients ready for sifting.

Sifted.

Sifted.

6.  Turn the mixer to low speed and, in small scoopfuls (about 1/4 cup), add the dry ingredients, mixing well after each addition.  Again, scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Adding the dry ingredients. You want to add about 1/4 cup at a time.  This ensures complete incorporation and a whole lot less mess.

Adding the dry ingredients. You want to add about 1/4 cup at a time. This ensures complete incorporation and a whole lot less mess.

The dough after all of the dry ingredients have been mixed in.

The dough after all of the dry ingredients have been mixed in.

7.  Turn the mixer off, lower the bowl or lift the top of the mixer, and add the oats and fruit.  Lift the bowl or lower the top of the mixer, and, on very low speed, fold them into the dough.  (You can also do this step by hand.)

Mixing in the oats and fruit.  Do this on very low speed. My mixer was quite full at this point.

Mixing in the oats and fruit. Do this on very low speed. My mixer was quite full at this point.

Cookie dough. Done.

Cookie dough. Done.

8.  Drop tablespoons full of batter onto the baking sheets.  Leave at least 2 – 3 inches in between.  These cookies spread a lot.

Take a nice heaping scoop of dough, smooth it off , and drop it on the baking sheet.  These are soup spoons, by the way.

Take a nice heaping scoop of dough, smooth it off , and drop it on the baking sheet. These are soup spoons, by the way.

The cookies ready for the oven.  These are going to spread out a lot; so, don't crowd too many onto a sheet.  This is a half sheet pan (11-1/2" x 17").

The cookies ready for the oven. These are going to spread out a lot; so, don’t crowd too many onto a sheet. This is a half sheet pan (11-1/2″ x 17″).

9.  Bake the cookies 15 – 18 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through the cooking time.  Let the cookies cool on the sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer to a rack to cool completely.  (This will result in a fairly crispy cookie.  If you want the cookies slightly chewier, reduce the baking time by 2 – 3 minutes.)

See how much they spread?

See how much they spread?

Try to resist. I dare you.

Try to resist. I dare you.

Enjoy!

 

Sea Salt Caramels 0

Posted on December 23, 2013 by Sahar

Like most of us in my generation, we were raised on the good old standby, the Kraft caramel.  Nothing wrong with them, really.  In fact, we loved them.  They came in tiny individually wrapped morsels and were only found during the holidays, starting with Halloween.

Now, those were fine when we were kids. Basically, because we didn’t know any better.

However, for me anyway, once I had my first soft, small-batch caramel, Kraft just didn’t do it for me anymore.  I decided to learn how to make my own.

And, here is the result.

*************

A short history of the caramel by Samira Kawash from www.gastrnomica.org:

“Caramels first appeared on the American candy scene in the 1880s and its lineage is obscure. In flavor and character, what we know today as caramel candy is closely related to British toffee and butterscotch, which appeared in the early 1800s.  British candy historian Laura Mason suggests that caramels might have evolved in the spirit of dental charity—a softer counterpart to the hard-on-the-teeth British toffee. Stephen Schmidt, author of Dessert in America and an expert in the history of American desserts, looks to the other side of the Channel for caramel origins: “The inspiration behind American caramels were French caramels, which came to this country during the vogue for French cooking of the Gilded Age.”

Whatever its British or French origins, the caramel candy that appeared at the end of the nineteenth century was uniquely American. Home recipes most closely resembled the French version, employing basic combinations of butter, sugar, cream and flavorings. But more unique confections were spilling out of professional candy kitchens: In their quest for market share and profit, commercial producers would experiment with such ingredients as paraffin, glucose, coconut butter, flour, and molasses to alter the texture, firmness and quality of the candies.

As Catherine Owen attempted to explain to her 1887 candy-making aspirants: “Caramel is really sugar boiled until it changes color, but the candy understood as ‘caramels’ is something different.” Sara Rorer’s 1889 Home Candy Making, for example, gives a recipe for “caramel” that includes only sugar and water, boiled to “the consistency of molasses.” This would be sugar cooked to a very high temperature, over 330 degrees. Caramel candy recipes, in contrast, cook sugar with milk or butter at lower temperatures.  This is the flavor prized today as “caramel,” but for Americans in the 1880s and 1890s, that distinctive taste was not so closely attached to the caramel candy sensation. Even in caramel candy’s heyday, chocolate’s appeal and marketability were undeniable. Hence the famed Philadelphia Caramel, which was, as everybody on the eastern seaboard knew, a chewy morsel of chocolate.

Milton Hershey, who would go on to found the Hershey’s chocolate empire, began as a caramel man; his Lancaster Caramels were advertised to include a mix of 30 varieties. Prior to Hershey’s chocolate innovations of the 1890s, milk chocolate was a closely guarded European secret. Chocolate bars for eating were imported, expensive delicacies. Caramel, in contrast, could be made for every taste and budget. Caramel candy in that era was not a specific variety, but a generic form: so Hershey sold chocolate, strawberry, coffee, maple, and coconut caramels. Our familiar plain caramel would have been known in that day as another flavor, vanilla. Soon, the caramels got fancier. Nuts, cream centers, or even chocolate dipped. One day, Hershey looked at those chocolate dipped caramels and saw a new direction for his company. Exit caramels, enter the Hershey Bar.”

***********

Candy making, for the most part, is pure common sense.

1.  Don’t touch or spill the hot sugar. Especially on yourself or anyone else. There’s a reason pastry chefs and candy makers call this stuff napalm. Have no distractions (i.e. kids, pets, alcohol, etc.) in the kitchen when you are working with molten sugar.

2. Don’t make candy on a humid day.  Believe it or not, the difference between 25% and 50% humidity can affect the way the candy sets up. The wetter the day, the quicker the sugars will break down before setting up completely. In other words, the sugar in the candy will absorb the extra moisture in the air, causing it to become a sticky mess.

Conventional wisdom holds that candy is best made on a cold, dry day.  Like, say, in Texas, February.

3.  Use a candy thermometer.  A reliable candy thermometer.  Mine is a Taylor brand that I’ve used for so long, I’ve managed to scrub off the numbers:

My well-worn, well-loved candy thermometer.

My well-worn, well-loved candy thermometer.

My thermometer is the older-style mercury type.  If the bulb on this breaks, because mercury is, well, poisonous, I’ll not only have to throw away the thermometer and what I am making, but the saucepan as well.

The newer thermometers are made with alcohol that’s been dyed red.  These aren’t as dangerous if the bulb breaks.  You can at least clean out the saucepan and use it again.

These should go from tempering chocolate (90F) up to roughly 400F.  A good candy thermometer will also be labeled with the stages of cooking sugar (thread, soft ball, firm ball, hard ball, soft crack, hard crack).  Also, most good candy thermometers can also be used for deep-frying as well.

4.  Don’t let the bulb on your thermometer touch the bottom of the saucepan. (The better thermometers have the bulb about 1/4″ to 1/2″ from the bottom).  Otherwise, you could get a false reading.

5.  Use the right sized saucepan for what you’re making.  Too large and the sugar will cook too quickly and burn.  Too small and the sugar will boil over and burn not only the stove, but you.

Also, invest in some heavy-bottomed saucepans.  Flimsy, thin saucepans (or any cookware) are no good for anything, but especially bad for candy making.

6.  Read the recipe carefully and thoroughly before starting.  Have everything ready to go.  Your ingredients should be measured, your utensils ready to go, your pans prepared, and a clear path made.  There is a lot of “hurry up and wait” in candy making; but when things start to happen, they happen fast.  Pre-preparation is essential.

7.  Watch for crystallization.  This happens when the liquid in the saucepan can no longer absorb the sugar. You end up with just a big cake of sugar in the saucepan.  There’s no fixing this.  If it happens, you have to start over.

The best way I’ve found to combat this is to simply make sure all of the sugar is moistened before I start to cook it.  I just gently push the sugar down and around in the liquid (usually water and corn syrup) until it is completely moistened. Then, I put the saucepan over medium-low heat and let it cook without stirring the mixture.  I let the sugars dissolve on their own.  The more you agitate the mixture, the more likely you’ll get crystallization. So, fight every instinct you have and DON’T STIR.

If you do happen to get some sugar crystals on the side of the saucepan, take a pastry brush, dip it some water, and brush the sides of the saucepan to dissolve the sugar.  If there are any solid, un-moistened crystals, they can also cause crystallization.

Once the sugar comes to a boil and all of the sugar has dissolved, you can, carefully, stir to your heart’s content.  The danger for crystallization has passed.

8.  Don’t cook the sugar too fast.  Medium-low to medium heat is ideal.  You want to give the sugar time to dissolve and the moisture to begin to evaporate before the mixture comes to a boil.  This also gives you more ability to control the temperature and greatly reduces the risk of the sugar burning.

9.  Do not double up a recipe or substitute unless you’re an experienced candy maker.  Candy recipes, along with baking recipes, are like scientific formulas.  If you throw it out of balance or change an element, the whole experiment could fail.

Or, be a spectacular success.

***********

a) If you want to have unsalted caramels, simply use all unsalted butter and omit the salts.

b) In this example, I use a combination of brown and white sugars. I think the flavor and color are simply better. However, if you prefer to use all white sugar, go ahead.

c) I used almond extract in this example.  Again, because I like the flavor.  The more traditional flavoring is vanilla, so, if you have that, use it.  Just make sure, either way, you’re using pure extract, not artificial flavoring.

d) Use cream and butter. This is non-negotiable.

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

Light brown & white sugars. I like the combination. However, you can use all white sugar if you prefer.

Light brown & white sugars. I like the combination. However, you can use all white sugar if you prefer.

Clockwise from top: light corn syrup; almond extract; flaked sea salt, fine sea salt

Clockwise from top: light corn syrup; almond extract; flaked sea salt, fine sea salt

Flaked sea salt close up. I love this stuff.

Flaked sea salt close up. I love this stuff.

 

Cream and butter.

Cream and butter.

1 c. sugar

-or-

1/2 c. sugar

1/2 c. light brown sugar

1/4 c. water

1/4 c. light corn syrup

3/4 c. heavy cream

4 tbsp. unsalted butter

4 tbsp. salted butter

1 tsp. vanilla or almond extract

1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

1/2 tsp. Fleur de Sel or flaked (Maldon) sea salt

 

1.  Line  9-inch loaf pan with parchment paper or foil.  Make it as smooth as you can. Make sure there are no holes in the foil or paper as you press it down.  If you accidentally poke a hole or make a tear, you need a new piece.  Spray or butter the paper or foil and set the pan aside.

2.  In a small saucepan, place the cream, butter, and 1/2 tsp. sea salt and bring the cream to a boil over medium heat.

Cream, butter, and salt in the sauce pan.

Cream, butter, and salt in the sauce pan.

Bring the cream to a full boil before taking off the heat and adding the extract.

Bring the cream to a full boil before taking off the heat and adding the extract.

Take the pan off the heat, add the extract, cover the saucepan and keep warm.

3.  In a medium saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water.

The sugars, corn syrup, and water in the saucepan. Very gently mix the ingredients so the sugars are just moistened.  I basically push the sugars around until they are submerged as much as possible. After that, I leave it alone.

The sugars, corn syrup, and water in the saucepan. Very gently mix the ingredients so the sugars are just moistened.
I basically push the sugars around until they are submerged as much as possible. After that, I leave it alone.

Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil (don’t stir!) and cook until they syrup reaches 302F (Hard Crack).

(Note: This is the progression of the syrup on my stove. Your times and temperatures may vary.)

The sugars are moistened and the thermometer is attached. We're ready to go.

The sugars are moistened and the thermometer is attached. We’re ready to go.

At 5 minutes over medium heat.  There is still some undissolved sugar.  Don't stir! This is the danger point where crystallization can occur; especially if you disturb it.

At 5 minutes over medium heat. There is still some undissolved sugar. Don’t stir! This is the danger point where crystallization can occur, especially if you disturb it.

10 minutes at 210F. The sugar should be pretty much if not completely dissolved at this point.  The crystallization danger has passed.

10 minutes at 210F. The sugar should be pretty much if not completely dissolved at this point. The crystallization danger has passed.

15 minutes at 238F. The syrup should be clear at this point.

15 minutes at 238F. The syrup should be clear at this point.

20 minutes at 250F. Things start to move fast at this point.  It took about 3 minutes more for the syrup to his 302F.

20 minutes at 250F. Now, things start to move fast. It took less than 5 minutes more for the syrup to hit 302F.

Once the sugar gets past 285F – 290F, it will begin to caramelize.  Be sure to swirl the pan so the sugar doesn’t burn (especially of you’re using only white sugar)

A tip: When you’re using a larger saucepan, the thermometer may not reach down to the syrup.  Carefully tilt the saucepan so the syrup covers the bulb of the thermometer so you will get an accurate reading.  Also, be patient.  It will take some time for the thermometer to read accurately.  Wait until the mercury stops moving.

Tilting the saucepan to get an accurate temperature of the syrup. Be careful not to spill any onto yourself or the stove. Also, be sure to hold the thermometer so it doens't flip off the saucepan (which has happened to me more than once).

Tilting the saucepan to get an accurate temperature of the syrup. Be careful not to spill any onto yourself or the stove. Also, be sure to hold the thermometer so it doesn’t flip off the saucepan (which has happened to me more than once).

4.  Once the sugar has reached 302F, take the saucepan off the heat, and CAREFULLY pour the warm cream mixture into the syrup, stirring constantly to combine.

Pouring the cream mixture into the syrup. Be Careful! Spattering syrup and steam everywhere.

Pouring the cream mixture into the syrup. Be Careful! Spattering syrup and steam everywhere. Use a long-handled wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula to stir.

If the syrup begins to harden, place the saucepan back on the heat and continue to stir.

Stirring the cream and syrup together.  Trust me. It will come together.

Stirring the cream and syrup together. Trust me. It will come together.

5.  Cook the mixture to 240F (Soft Ball).  At this point, it’s OK to stir occasionally.

(Again, these are based on my stove. Again, your times and temperatures may vary.)

At 5 minutes and 228F.

At 5 minutes and 228F.

At 10 minutes and 240F. Now, I'm done cooking.

At 10 minutes and 240F. Now, I’m done cooking.

This will make a soft caramel.  If you want a firmer caramel, cook to 245F (Firm Ball).

6.  Take the saucepan off the heat, give the caramel one more good stir, and carefully pour the finished caramel into the prepared pan.

The caramel in the pan.

The caramel in the pan.

Wait 10 – 15 minutes and the sprinkle on the fleur de sel or flaked sea salt over the top.  Let the caramel sit until set, at least 2 hours or up to overnight.

The salt. it gives a wonderful flavor an has just a little crunch. If you don't have flaked sea salt, you can use fleur de del. Kosher or table salt won't work.

The salt. it gives a wonderful flavor an has just a little crunch. If you don’t have flaked sea salt, you can use fleur de del. Kosher or table salt won’t work.

7.  Lift the cooled caramel out of the pan with the paper or foil.  Cut the caramel into pieces as big or as small as you like.

Cutting the caramels. I generally cut it 8x4 and get 32 out of a recipe. If you cut it 8x6, you can get up to 48

Cutting the caramels. I generally cut it 8×4 and get 32 pieces out of a recipe. If you cut it 8×6, you can get 48 pieces.

Keep them in an airtight container either individually wrapped or between layers of wax paper for up to 2 weeks.

If you decide to wrap the pieces, you can do it simply with wax paper you no doubt have already in the drawer. Don’t go out and buy the fancy wrappers – unless you really want to.

I start off with pieces that are about 4" wide.  You don't really want them any narrower than this.

I start off with pieces that are about 4″ wide. You don’t really want them any narrower than this.

Fold the wax paper lengthwise, making sure the straight edges match. Using a very shark paring knife (this works best), cut along the fold.

Fold the wax paper lengthwise, making sure the straight edges match. Using a very shark paring knife (this works best), cut along the fold.

Fold the pieces lengthwise again (narrowest edges matching as closely as possible) and cut along the fold again.

Fold the pieces lengthwise again (narrowest edges matching as closely as possible) and cut along the fold again.

What you should end up with.

What you should end up with.

Start by placing a pice of the caramel on a piece of the paper about 1" from the end closest to you.

Start by placing a piece of the caramel on a piece of the paper about 1″ from the end closest to you.

Continue rolling until you have reached the end of the paper (obviously).

Continue rolling until you have reached the end of the paper (obviously).

Carefully twist the ends to seal.  If the paper tears, start again with a new piece. This does get Zen after about the 40th piece.

Carefully twist the ends to seal. If the paper tears, start again with a new piece.
This does get Zen after about the 40th piece.

Wrapped.

Wrapped.

Unwrapped.

Unwrapped.

 

Hey. It’s the holidays.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Makes approximately 32 – 48 pieces.

Spiced Peach Butter 0

Posted on July 03, 2013 by Sahar

Another post in my informal series on bottling Summer, I’ve moved on to peaches.

There are few fruits that say “Summer is here!” more than peaches.  Their smell, fuzzy skin, and their taste are some of the things that make summer in Texas almost bearable.

Peaches originated in China where they were cultivated since the early days of Chinese culture where they were considered a favorite fruit of the emperors. They were mentioned in Chinese literature as early as 2000 BCE.  Peaches likely reached the Middle East, then the Mediterranean, by way of the Silk Road, a 2,500-mile trade route that stretched from East Asia to ancient Persia (present-day Iran). Peaches were introduced to Europe by Alexander the Great (an example of a rare good thing coming from conquest). Later, the Romans called peaches “Persian apples” (Prunus persica).

Some historians believe peaches came to North America in 1562 with French explorers who established settlements in the area of present-day Mobile, Ala. However, it’s certain peaches also arrived in 1565 with the Spanish colonists who settled in St. Augustine, Fla. These ancient peach cultivars, described as hardier and more productive than today’s peaches, quickly naturalized into groves so widespread that later colonists believed the peach was a native American fruit.

Spanish explorers are credited with bringing the peach to South America and then eventually to England and France where it became quite a popular, but rare, treat. During Queen Victoria’s reign, it is written that no meal was complete without a fresh peach presented in a fancy cotton napkin.

Finally in the early 17th century George Minifie, a horticulturist from England, brought the first peaches to the New World colonies, planting them at his estate in Virginia. It was the early Native American tribes who actually spread the peach tree across the country, taking seeds with them and planting them as they traveled.

But it wasn’t until the 19th century that commercial peach production began in Maryland, Delaware, Georgia and Virginia. Today, peaches are grown commercially in California, Washington state, South Carolina, Georgia, Colorado, Texas, and Missouri. As well as numerous backyards all over the country.

(information from homecooking.about.com and baderpeaches.com)

 

Now, on to the recipe.

*******************************

A few notes:

1.  You can use fresh or frozen peaches in this recipe.  I will admit I used frozen for this post.  Because of weather conditions not only here in central Texas, but through most peach-growing regions, fresh peaches haven’t been as good as they could be.  Also, with a smaller supply, they’ve become rather expensive.  Frozen peaches do well in a pinch and are easier on the wallet.

However, if you can and want to use fresh peaches, do so.

2. You can use either clingstone or freestone peaches.  Clingstone peaches tend to be juicier and sweeter while freestones are less juicy.  (There are many online resources to find out which peach varieties are which.)

3.  As for the spices, use as many or as few as you prefer.  Or none.

4.  This is a soft-set butter. Meaning, that it hasn’t set up as solidly (for lack of a better word) as jelly or jam.

5.  For a complete hows and whys of making sweet preserves, please see my August 10, 2012 post, Classic Strawberry Jam (http://tinyurl.com/l67ymj4).

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

5-1/2 lbs. fresh peaches, peeled, pitted, and cut into wedges

-or-

5 lbs. frozen peaches, thawed, juices saved

1-1/2 c. peach nectar

3-1/2 c. sugar

Up to 4 tsp. sweet spices (cinnamon, ground or grated nutmeg, ground ginger, ground cloves, ground allspice)

 

Peaches. Lovely peaches.

Peaches. Lovely peaches.

Spices I used (clockwise from top): ground ginger, ground allspice, ground cinnamon, fresh grated nutmeg, ground cloves)

Spices I used (clockwise from top): ground ginger, ground allspice, ground cinnamon, fresh grated nutmeg, ground cloves)

 

1.  In a large saucepan, mix all the ingredients together.

The ingredients in the pot.

The ingredients in the pot.

Begin cooking over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves.

Sugar dissolved and we're ready to go.

Sugar dissolved and we’re ready to go.

2.  Cover the saucepan and bring the peach mixture to a boil, stirring frequently.  Uncover and boil for 30 minutes.

Beginning to boil the peaches.

Beginning to boil the peaches.

The peaches after boiling for 30 minutes. The darker color is due to the spices.

The peaches after boiling for 30 minutes. The darker color is due to the spices.

3.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and let cool for about 10 – 20 minutes.

4.  Depending on how smooth you want the butter, you can either use a potato masher or a stick blender to crush or puree the peaches.

Pureeing the peaches with a stick blender.  Unlike my apple butter, I like a smooth peach butter.

Pureeing the peaches with a stick blender. Unlike my apple butter, I like a smooth peach butter.

The pureed peaches. Lovely amber color.

The pureed peaches. Lovely amber color.

5.  Place the saucepan back over medium heat, cover, and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.  Uncover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook for about 1 hour or until the mixture is thick.  Again, stir frequently.

Boiling the peach butter. At 15 minutes.

Just starting to boil the peach butter.

After boiling for 30 minutes. The butter begins to thicken, becomes shinier and darker.

After boiling for 30 minutes. The butter begins to thicken.

The butter after 1 hour of cooking. It should be thick and shiny.

The butter after 1 hour of cooking. It should be thick, shiny, and a beautiful amber color.

One way to check for proper thickness is to run a spatula through the butter, lift the spatula up and watch how the butter flows off of it.  If it comes down in sheets, the butter is thickening properly.

One way to check for proper thickness is to run a spatula through the butter, lift the spatula up and watch how the butter flows off of it. If it comes down in sheets, the butter is thickening properly.

6.  Pour the butter into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Clean the jar rims, seal, and process for 5 minutes. (Begin timing after the water comes back to a boil.)

The finished peach butter. Yummy.

The finished peach butter. Yummy.

Makes 6 – 7 half-pint jars.

 

Enjoy!

 

Classic Raspberry Jam 0

Posted on June 25, 2013 by Sahar

Of course, with summer here, I’m in high jam-making mode.  There are few better ways to keep summer produce all year.

This time, it’s raspberry’s turn.

A few tips:

1.  Always pick ripe raspberries. They should be plump and deeply colored.  Any white spots indicate they were picked too soon.

2.  Inspect the packages.  They should be free of moisture, mold, and any stains. (Any of these will indicate spoilage.)

3.  Carefully pick through them and discard any that appear to have mold.

4.  Pick raspberries that are actually in season.  In Texas, the season is from peak season is June – September.  Buying raspberries off-season grown in South America doesn’t count.

5.  I like to keep the seeds in the jam.  It adds character. However, if you’d like to take the seeds out, press the raspberries through a strainer before adding to the saucepan.

For the complete hows & whys of canning, please read my blog post from August 10, 2012, Classic Strawberry Jam.

Now, to the recipe.

***********************************

The ingredients

The ingredients

Beautiful raspberries

Beautiful raspberries

9 c. raspberries (approximately 8 dry pints [6-oz packages])

6 tbsp. powdered pectin

2 tbsp. lemon juice

6 c. sugar

 

1.  Carefully clean and pick through the raspberries.

I ate these.

I ate these.

2.  In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the raspberries, pectin, and lemon juice.

Raspberries, pectin, and lemon juice in the saucepan.

Raspberries, pectin, and lemon juice in the saucepan.

Stir until the pectin is dissolved.

All mixed together. Some recipes will tell you to crush the raspberries. It's a completely unnecessary step.

All mixed together. Some recipes will tell you to crush the raspberries. It’s a completely unnecessary step.

3.  Heat the berry mixture over medium heat. The berries will break down as they cook.

Cooking down the berries.

Cooking down the berries.

While stirring frequently, bring the mixture to a rolling boil that can’t be stirred down.

4.  Add the sugar and stir until it’s dissolved.

Adding the sugar.

Adding the sugar.

Again, while stirring frequently, bring the jam to a rolling boil that can’t be stirred down.  Boil for one minute.

For a little additional insurance, the optimal gelling temperature for jam is 220F.

For a little additional insurance, the optimal gelling temperature for jam is 220F.

The rolling boil.

The rolling boil.

5.  Remove the saucepan from the heat.  With a spoon, carefully skim the foam from the top of the jam.

Skimming off the foam. Be careful not to get any of the hot jam on your hands.

Skimming off the foam. Be careful not to get any of the hot jam on your hands.

6.  Carefully ladle the jam into 4-oz or half-pint jars, leaving 1/4″ head space.

The ever-messy canning process.

The ever-messy canning process.

Cleaning the jar rims. Don't forget to do this. Otherwise, the lids may not seal.

Cleaning the jar rims. Don’t forget to do this. Otherwise, the lids may not seal.

Process in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes.

Delicious.

Delicious.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Four Berries Jam 0

Posted on June 06, 2013 by Sahar

Summer is my favorite time of the year for fruit.  Plums, peaches, cherries, nectarines, and, my favorite, berries.  All of them.

Berries are one fruit that are now available all year ’round.  However, I tend to eat them only seasonally.  The fruit sold in the winter not only has little taste but is generally shipped from South America; a very heavy carbon footprint.

Of course, one age-old way to hold on to that summer flavor is to make preserves.  So, that’s what I did.

 

Now, on to the recipe

*******

A couple of notes:

1.  You can use any combination of berries you like in this recipe.  Just make sure you have 9 cups total.  I used the four most commonly seen in the grocery, but if you find/have gooseberries, boysenberries, etc., you can use those as well.

2.  Always buy extra.  This is to take into account bad berries, trimming, and any that you eat along the way.

3.  Check the date on the pectin.  You want to be sure it’s good.  If it’s out of date, buy new.

4.  To get a full explanation of the hows and whys of canning, please read my post from August 10, 2012, “Classic Strawberry Jam”.

The ingredients

The ingredients

Strawberries, Blueberries, Blackberries, Raspberries.

Strawberries, Blueberries, Blackberries, Raspberries.

 

9 cups total fresh berries, trimmed, picked through, and washed  (For this recipe I used 3 c. strawberries, 2 c. blackberries, 2 c. blueberries, 2 c. raspberries)

6 tbsp. powdered pectin

1/4 c. lemon juice

6 c. sugar

 

1.  Wash the jars, lids, and rims in hot soapy water.  Place the jars in a large stockpot of boiling water to sterilize them.  Leave them in the boiling water, topping it off as needed (you need at least 1″ water above the tops of the jars).  Place the lids into a small saucepan.  Bring the water just to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and let the water simmer.  The rims don’t need to be sterilized.

2.  In a large saucepan, take the berries, 1/4 at a time and crush them with a potato masher.  It’s OK if there are some large pieces.  You don’t need to mash the berries smooth.

Crushing the berries.

Crushing the berries.

3.  Add the lemon juice and the pectin.  Stir until the pectin has dissolved.

Adding the pactin and lemon.

Adding the pectin and lemon.

 

The crshed berries, pectin, and lemon mixed together.  And, we're ready to go.

The crushed berries, pectin, and lemon mixed together. And, we’re ready to go.

4.  Place the saucepan over medium heat and, stirring frequently, bring the mixture to a rolling boil.  (You want it to come back to a boil immediately after stirring.)

A rolling boil.

A rolling boil.

5.  Add the sugar and stir until it’s dissolved.

Adding the sugar.

Adding the sugar.

The sugar dissolved and the jam beginning to take shape.

The sugar dissolved and the jam beginning to take shape.

Continue stirring frequently until the mixture again comes to a rolling boil.  Boil for 1 minute.

Another rolling boil.

Another rolling boil.

6.  Remove the saucepan from the heat. Carefully skim the foam from the top of the jam.

Skimming the foam from the jam.

Skimming the foam from the jam.

7.  Take the jars from the boiling water and drain.  Carefully ladle the jam into the jars, leaving 1/4″ of head space in the jar (use a jar gauge to make sure you’re at the right level).

Ladleing the jam into the jars. Use a wide-mouth funnel.

Ladling the jam into the jars. Use a wide-mouth funnel. It certainly reduces mess.

Measuring the headspace in the jar.

Measuring the head space in the jar.

Clean the jar rims with a damp towel.

Cleaning the jar rims. If the rims have any food on them, the jars won't seal properly.

Cleaning the jar rims. If the rims have any food on them, the jars won’t seal properly.

8.  Place the lids and rims (tighten them only finger tight) on the jars and place them back into the hot water.  Bring the water up to the boil and process the jars for 10 minutes.

9.  The jars can take up to 24 hours to seal.  However, it usually doesn’t take that long.  You’ll know the jars are sealed when the lid becomes concave.  You’ll also hear something like a “ping” when the jar begins to seal.  Once the jar is sealed, you can tighten the rim.

Ideally, let the jars sit for about 24 hours before moving them.  But, as long as you let them sit until they are cool, you should be fine.

If the jar doesn’t seal, put it in the fridge and eat the jam within 2 – 3 weeks.  You can also remove the contents from the jar, wash it and the rim, discard the lid, re-sterilize everything, fill the jar again and process.  It’s up to you.

Be sure to label and date the jars.

The finished jam in sealed jars.

The finished jam in sealed jars.

 

Enjoy!

 

Chocolate Meringues 0

Posted on May 31, 2013 by Sahar


Meringues are that almost etherial confection that can either come out beautifully or end in frustration for many a baker.

On top of a pie, as a base or crust, or in bite-sized form, in actuality, they’re easy and fun to make. They can make a dessert look elegant or festive. And mostly, especially for those of us with a sweet tooth, delicious.

There are three basic types of meringue:  Italian, French, and Swiss.

The Italian Meringue consists of boiling syrup poured slowly into beaten egg whites.  This produces a meringue that is more stable and can be used in a variety of desserts without a danger of it breaking down or collapsing.  Because boiling sugar is added to the whites, no further cooking is needed. (If you want to see an example of Italian Meringue, check out my blog post from May 31,2012: “Key Lime Pie”.)

French Meringue is the most commonly used meringue in home kitchens.  It consists of either granulated or powdered sugar slowly added to egg whites and beaten until stiff.

Swiss Meringue consists of the egg whites beaten over a bain-marie or a very slow simmering double boiler to warm the egg whites and sugar together.  Whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are warm.  The whites are then removed from the heat and beaten until they have a dense, marshmallow-like consistency.

The history of the meringue is a bit of a murky one.  The first known reference to meringues is found in Francois Massialot’s 1692 cookbook,  Nouvelle instruction pour les confitures, les liqueurs et les fruits (Instruction for new jams and fruit liqueurs).  The first reference to meringues in England is from 1706 in a translation of Massialot’s book.

Two earlier 17th Century English recipe books give instructions for confections that are recognizable as meringue, though called “white biskit bread” in the book of recipes started in 1604 by Lady Elinor Fettiplace of Appleton in Berkshire (now in Oxfordshire), and called “pets” in the manuscript of collected recipes written by Lady Rachel Fane of Kent.

Slowly baked meringues are still referred to as “pets” (meaning farts in French) in the Loire region of France due to their light and fluffy texture.

How lovely.

(some information from www.wikipedia.org)

 

There are several important things to remember when making a meringue:

1.  Make sure your eggs are separated properly.  The egg whites must be free of yolk.  Even a small amount of fat in egg whites will prevent them from reaching their full volume and may cause them to collapse.

2.  Make sure your egg whites are at room temperature.  This allows the proteins of the whites to relax and loosen.  The volume of the egg whites is not only contingent on no fat, but also the breakdown of hydrogen bonds in the protein.  A warmer temperature helps to create this.

3.  Make sure the utensils you use are clean, free of any fat (including any oily residue), and room temperature. Avoid using plastic bowls or utensils; they tend to hold on to oils.

4.  Do not overbeat the whites.  You’ll know you’ve done this if the whites begin to separate, look dry, and you see liquid (albumen) pooling at the bottom of the bowl.  There are supposedly methods for saving the whites, but I’ve never found one that works.  Just start over.

5.  When adding the sugar (or any dry ingredients), it has to be done slowly and gradually.  If you add all of the sugar at once, it won’t dissolve properly and the egg whites and will attract moisture.  Moisture is the ruination of a meringue.

A note about the cocoa powder: M. Herme uses exclusively the Valrhona Dutch-processed cocoa powder.  He calls for it in this recipe.  I did use the Dutch-processed cocoa (what I have at home is Hershey’s) and I like it; in fact, I prefer it. Dutch-processed cocoa is readily available, but, if you have natural cocoa powder, you should be fine.

Natural Cocoa Powder is made with all of the cocoa butter is removed from the cocoa liquor leaving a dry cake that is then ground down to a fine powder that’s  bitter and acidic.  Its natural acidity is used to help activate baking soda in recipes.  It’s only used in cooked or baked desserts.

Dutch Process Cocoa Powder is natural powder that’s been treated with a small amount of alkaline to reduce the cocoa’s natural acidity. The process makes the powder darker and gives it a more mellow flavor.

 

Now.  On to the recipe.

*******************************

Lotsa chocolate. My most recent class at Central Market.

Lotsa chocolate. My most recent class at Central Market.

 

This recipe is based on a recipe from the great book Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme by Dorie Greenspan (Little, Brown; 2001).  While it is a wonderful recipe, I did make a couple of changes.

1.  M. Herme calls for Valrhona cocoa powder.  While I like Valrhona and use it occasionally, it is expensive ($13.99/lb. at Central Market).  Plus, not it’s not available to everyone. You can use any type of Dutch-process cocoa you like in this recipe.

2.  He does have a step in his original recipe saying to dust the raw meringues with powdered sugar and cocoa before putting in the oven to dry.  I did that.  I found it to be an unnecessary step.  When I took my meringues out of the oven, I had to take a soft pastry brush and brush off the excess sugar and cocoa.  So, I left it out of the recipe I’m showing you.

3.  His original recipe doesn’t include cream of tartar.  I added it because it helps to add to the stability of the whites and helps to produce a stiffer peak.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

 

1 c. powdered sugar

3 tbsp. Dutch-process cocoa

4 egg whites, room temperature

1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

7 tbsp. granulated sugar, separated into 2 ea. 3-1/2 tbsp.

1.  Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 250F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set them aside.  Fit a large pastry bag with a plain 1/2″ – 3/4″ tip – you want a large tip so you can pipe generous meringue kisses.  (If you don’t have a large enough tip or a pastry bag, skip the pastry bag and use a zipper-lock plastic bag.  Seal the bag and then snip off a corner so that it creates a “tip” that’s just the right size.)

2.  Sift together the powdered sugar and cocoa and set aside.

Sifting the sugar and the cocoa.

Sifting the sugar and the cocoa.

3.  In a clean, dry mixer bowl with a clean, dry whisk attachment in place, whip the egg whites on high speed until they form soft peaks.

Egg whites and cream of tartar ready for whipping.

Egg whites and cream of tartar ready for whipping.

Soft peak stage.

Soft peak stage.

Still whipping on high, gradually add the first half of the granulated sugar.and continue to beat until the whites are glossy and form stiff peaks.

Adding the sugar.

Adding the sugar.

The egg whites at stiff peak stage after adding the first half of the sugar.

The egg whites at stiff peak stage after adding the first half of the sugar.

Reduce the mixer speed to medium-low and gradually beat in the remaining half of the granulated sugar.

Adding the remaining sugar.

Adding the remaining sugar.

The finished egg whites.

The finished egg whites.

4.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and, working with a large rubber spatula, gradually fold in the sifted powdered sugar and cocoa mixture.

I like to sift the dry ingredients on top of the egg whites before I begin to fold.

I like to sift the dry ingredients on top of the egg whites before I begin to fold. Makes for a more even mixture.

Folding the powdered sugar/cocoa mix into the egg whites.

Folding the powdered sugar/cocoa mix into the egg whites.

Work quickly but delicately, and don’t be discouraged when your beautifully airy meringue deflates a little; it’s inevitable.

Ready for the piping bag.

Ready for the piping bag.

5.  Working with half the batter at a time, gently spoon half the batter into the pastry bag.

A trick to more neatly fill a pastry bag: Take a large glass, either twist or bend the tip of the bag, and place the bag into and over the glass as shown.  Take the spatula and fill the pastry bag about 1/2 - 2/3 full.

A trick to more neatly fill a pastry bag: Take a large glass, either twist or bend the tip of the bag, and place the bag into and over the glass as shown. Take the spatula and fill the pastry bag about 1/2 – 2/3 full.

The filled pastry bag.

The filled pastry bag.

Pipe out rounds roughly 1-1/2″ – 2″ in diameter, finishing with a peak in the center onto the baking sheets (they should look like giant chocolate kisses).

Twist  or fold over the top of the pastry bag and gently work the batter down to the tip.  Be sure to work from the top of the bag down.  Don't squeeze in the center.

Twist or fold over the top of the pastry bag and gently work the batter down to the tip. Be sure to work from the top of the bag down. Don’t squeeze in the center.

Use your dominant hand to squeese from the top, continuing to twist or fold the bag as you go.  Your non-dominant hand is for guiding and lifting the bag only.

Use your dominant hand to squeeze from the top, continuing to twist or fold the bag as you go. Your non-dominant hand is for guiding and lifting the bag only.

Allow about 1 inch between each puff.  The larger the meringues, the fewer you’ll have. (M. Herme’s recipe says make the meringues 2-1/2″ for a yield of 20. Mine are generally smaller, so I’ve had as many as 40.)

Piping the meringues onto the baking sheet. Not perfect. But, hey, they're homemade.

Piping the meringues onto the baking sheet. Not perfect. But, hey, they’re homemade.

6.  Place the baking sheets in the oven and insert a handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep it slightly ajar (this helps cut down on moisture in the oven).  Bake the puffs for 1 hour, rotate the sheet pans, and bake for another hour.

A sheet pan ready for the oven.

A sheet pan ready for the oven.

A wooden spatula in the oven door for venting.

A wooden spatula in the oven door for venting.

7.  After the second hour, turn off the oven, take the wooden spoon out of the door to close the oven, and continue to dry the meringues for another 2 hours, or as long as overnight.  Take the meringues out of the oven and transfer, parchment and all, to racks to cool to room to room temperature.  Run a thin metal spatula under the puffs to release them from the paper.

The finished meringues.

The finished meringues.

*The meringues can be kept up to one week in an airtight container.

 

Enjoy!



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