Saturday, March 12, 2011

It Starts With A Good Pastry Dough

Some many great desserts start with a really good Pastry Dough.
Easy to say but, not so easy to make.  This is something I have been
working on for years but, only recently been able to come up with
something that I think is really decent.  OK, here goes...

First you collect the ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups Flour -
    This recipe uses unbleached white flour.  If you want to use Whole Wheat flour,  I would look for a different recipe 'cause the proportions here will be off...and yes, I've tried it.
  • 1 stick of Unsalted Butter (cold but not frozen) -
    I have played with a mixture of Unsalted Butter and Vegetable Shortening over the years and have had some luck with 3/4 butter to 1/4 shortening but, this time, all I had was butter so, what you get is a bit more cookie like than pastry like but that works for some things.  Of course, old timey folks swear by pastry dough made with lard but, I just can't bring myself to buy it.
  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt (ground fine) -
    Good old Morton's works fine here.  I have been using mostly sea salt in my kitchen so, I grind it in a mortar and pestle to get the size grains I need.  A fine grind works here as it spreads more evenly and doesn't leave salty spots in the dough.
  • 2 - 4 Tablespoons Ice Water -
    Yes, really!  The water has to be really cold.  Not just "out of the tap" cold, but "drop a cube of ice in the water" cold.  Not sure why this matters but it does...again, tried it...
 Other stuff you might want:
  • A Food Processor - I have a Cuisinart that I have had for so long that the plastic is yellowing.  If you are going to do a lot of cooking, it is well worth the days and days of Goodwill hunting to find a good one (or just going out to buy one if you can afford it).
  • A Pastry Blender - This is used for cutting shortening (or butter) into the flour to get a flaky crust.  
  • Plastic Wrap - To wrap up the dough while it's in the fridge.  Keeps the dough from drying out.
  • A Pastry Scraper - this is a thin, flat piece of metal, wood or plastic that you can use to scrape the dough off your work surface.
OK, now to the doing part:
  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Cut the cold butter into 1/2 in cubes.

  3. Put the butter, flour and salt into the food processor and pulse it on and off till there are no pieces of butter larger than a frozen pea.  The more you work the dough at this point, the tougher your pastry will get.  Less is definitely more in this case!!

  4. Add 2 tablespoons of Ice Water to the food processor and pulse until it this is mixed in.  Take a small handful of dough and squeeze it.  If it sticks together, its ready.  If not, add another tablespoon of water and pulse it in.  Squeeze again... you get the idea.

  5. Dump the dough crumbles out of the food processor onto a lightly floured surface. 

  6. Divide the pile into 4 even quarters.

  7. With the heel of your hand, squash each quarter of the dough going in only one direction.  This gives you layers of fat (butter in this case) and flour.  That's how the flaky happens.  Use the Pastry Scraper to gather up the dough and roll it into a ball.

  8. Flatten out the ball into a 5 inch wide, round disk and wrap the disk in Plastic Wrap.

  9. Put the disk into the fridge for about an hour... or up to a day if you don't have time to make your yummy right away.
...and that's all there is to it.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Paneer'ish Style Cheese with Black Truffles

Paneer is the easiest cheese I have ever made.  Boil some milk, add lemon juice, drain and hang it for a few hours and then eat it...pretty simple. You can eat it as is, broil it, fry it... well you get the idea.  If you are looking for something that melts, try something else.  This isn't it.

This recipe started out (once upon a time) as a simple paneer but, I just can't seem to leave anything alone for long 8-).  I have added a bit of cheese salt and, in this case, some black truffles that a friend at work gave me.  You can add all kinds of things for flavoring.  At one time or other, I have used chives, garlic, green onions, black pepper, chili peppers and various herb mixes.

First you collect the ingredients:

  • 1 gallon of Milk -
    The only hard and fast rule is that the milk can't be "ultrapasturized".  Someone told me that "ultrapasturization" changes the protein in the milk.  My basic rule is to use what I can afford...surprise.
  • 8 Tablespoons of Lemon Juice -
    This can be fresh lemon juice (takes about 3 large lemons, somehow 2 is never quite enough) or the bottled stuff.
  • 1 teaspoon of Salt (optional but recommended)-
    I use "Cheese Salt" for this.  This is a flaky, non-iodized salt I get from the Home Fermentation Center.  The salt adds to the flavor and also keeps some types of bacteria from growing.
  • 1 - 2 Tablespoons of shaved Black Truffles
Other stuff you need:
  • A colander
  • Some cheese cloth or "butter muslin"
  • A stainless steel or food grade plastic spoon
  • A large pot 
  • Isophor or some other solution for sterilizing your tools 
  • A cheese mold and follower (optional)
  • A cheese press (optional)
OK, now for the doing part:
  1. Wash your hands and sterilize your tools.  To sterilize the tools I use soak them in a solution of 1.5 teaspoons of Isophor (you can get this at a brewing supply store) in 1.5 gallons of water.  This kills off any bacteria and yeasts that might be growing on your tools (or in your cheese cloth).
  2. Boil the milk.  Do this SLOWLY and stir it often.  The faster you boil the milk, the more likely you are to scald it.  When you stir, don't scrape the bottom of the pot.  This will get browned bits into the curds later on.  I use medium-high heat and it takes about 30 minutes to get the milk to boil.  The milk will get frothy.  This is a normal part of the process.

  3. As soon as the milk starts to boil, turn the heat down to low REALLY QUICKLY.  Otherwise the milk boils over and you have a major mess to clean up.
  4. Quickly drizzle in the lemon juice and leave on the heat for about 15 seconds.  The curds will form pretty quickly.  If your milk looks like lumpy milk instead of white curds with yellow whey, you either need to heat it longer or add more lemon juice.  I tend to go with more lemon juice.

  5. Take the curds off the heat and let them rest for 10 minutes.
  6. Pour the curds into a colander prepared with a piece of damp cheese cloth or "butter muslin".

  7. Gather up the edges of the cheese cloth and press out some of the whey.
  8. Add the cheese salt and mix up the curds well.  If you don't mix them well, some parts of the cheese will be salty and others won't have any salt...not good.
  9. Add your flavoring item.  In this case, the Black Truffles.  The flavoring should be in very small pieces so it can be mixed evenly throughout the cheese curds.
  10. Now you are going to get the excess whey out of the cheese.  However you do it, it needs to hang or press for about 2 hours.

    - I use a cheese mold and a hippy-rigged press.  The press is a wooden board, a tuna can for a follower and a gallon milk jug full of water. 

    - You can just tie a piece of string around the top of the cheese cloth and hang it over your sink if you don't have these fancy fixens.  After letting your cheese hang, put the cheese cloth wrapped bundle in a mixing bowl with a small plate on top of it and put about 5lbs of weight on top of the plate.  Let this sit for an additional hour to press the cheese. 
  11. Remove the cheese cloth and you have your cheese.  You can eat it now.  It will only have a little of the flavor of your flavoring ingredient but will still be tasty.  I wrap my cheese in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight and the cheese just bursts with flavor!
The paneer will last in the fridge for about 2 weeks (or so i'm never lasts more than a week in my house).

NOTE: Just a quick note on cleanup.  Back in my days of political activism, we used milk as an adhesive to put up posters.  When the milk dries on the poster (and the wall), it sticks really well and will only come off with a sand-blaster.  Soak your pot immediately after dumping the curds.  Wipe up spills as soon as you make them.  This will make the cleanup process go much more quickly.

I hope you enjoy making (and eating) this simple cheese as much as I do!


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Procrastibaking...Ginger Snaps

Procrastibaking (yes, it is what it sounds like)!!  Thanks to Sara for the new word!

I've been craving Ginger Snaps all week and finally went out to get some powdered ginger last night from Markup of Choice.  I got up this morning and needed to do "something" before I went in to work...  COOKIES!!  More specifically, Ginger Snaps!

So, time to search for ingredients...
  • 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup dark molasses
  • 1/3 cup "cinnamon sugar" (1/3 cup white sugar + 1.5 teaspoons cinnamon)

and now the doing part...

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Sift the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a mixing bowl.  Stir it around.  Put it back in the sifter and sift again. Set this aside.
  3. Put the butter in a different mixing bowl and beat until creamy.  Now beat in the white sugar.  OK, now it's time to beat in the egg and the dark molasses.
  4. Sift 1/3 of the dry ingredients mixture into the butter mixture and stir until they are completely blended.
  5. Sift in the remaining dry ingredients mixture and mix until you get a soft, slightly sticky dough.
  6. Wet your hands (this keeps the dough from sticking to you while you form the cookies).
  7. Pull off bits of dough and roll them into 1 inch balls.
  8. Roll the balls in the "cinnamon sugar" and place them on your ungreased cookie sheet.  I used a soup bowl for this step.  Make sure to cover the whole ball.  (Picture below).
  9. Put the cookie sheet in the preheated oven.  Make sure the rack is in the middle of the oven.  Too close to the bottom and the cookies will burn on the bottom and not be cooked all the way through.
  10. Bake the cookies for about 10 minutes.
  11. Cool on a wire rack.
The dough balls laid out on my cookie sheet all ready for the oven.

and you get these wonderful, chewy Ginger Snaps.  If you like your Ginger Snaps crispy,
you want to cook them for another minute or two.

Amazing!!  It may surprise you that some of these never made it to the cooling rack...
These cookies are around 2 inches wide.  If you want to make the cookies smaller, just
remember that they won't need as much time in the oven.

I got about 3 dozen cookies out of one batch.  They were, hands down, the best Ginger Snaps I have ever eaten...especially warm out of the oven!