Monday, December 30, 2019

The devishly spiked chocolate cake

Remember how we once brought a big batch of cakes to friends as a way to test whether changing the way you mix the ingredients alters the cake? These same friends are about to get a cake with a lot more alcohol than one teaspoon of vanilla extract. Today, we at A Book of Cookrye are making a cake with... this!

The above photograph, dearest of dear friends, shows about a third of a cup of Jagermeister. Inspired by a friend who replaced with the water with vodka when making cake mix (the cupcakes came out surprisingly normal if a bit dry), we are randomly substituting alcohol into cake recipes.
Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, 1978

Always follow the spatters in a cookbook to find the really good recipes. Apparently this recipe belongs to a Maine sail-making family, so it's a decent choice for gratuitously spiking. Those who live with the sea have long been known to enjoy the occasional tipple.
With that said, Maida Heatter attributes a lot of recipes in this book to various families that have handed them down for a long time. I think getting a family recipe published is a lot better than refusing to share it. Some may see it as giving the secret away. But we know a lot of people whose various elder relatives refused to ever share their best or signature recipes, and those recipes were buried under their hats. We at A Book of Cookrye always recommend writing recipes down (or showing others how to make them) rather than carrying them permanently underground.

Devilish Cake
¼ c cocoa powder
¼ c + 2 tbsp Jagermeister
¾ c sugar
¼ c butter
1 tsp vanilla
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
1 egg (large or extra-large)
½ c sour cream
1 c flour

Heat oven to 350°. Grease a round or square pan.
Heat about 2 tbsp of the liquor in the microwave until it almost boils. Whisk in the cocoa. Then add the remaining liquor. Set aside.
Cream the butter until light. Beat in the sugar, salt, baking soda, and vanilla until fluffy. Beat in the egg.
Add the flour to the bowl in three additions, alternating with the sour cream in two additions. To reduce overbeating, don't obsessively beat out every last uneven streak until the last addition of flour. Add the cocoa and liquor, stirring just until mixed.
Spread the batter into the pan.
Bake 30 minutes, or until the cake barely pulls away from the side of the pan. Take care not to overbake or it will be dry. This is very good uniced.

Adapted from Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, 1978

We have previously mentioned that we cook more alcohol than we drink nowadays. As a result, we've had a bottle of Jagermeister lurking untouched for quite some time among our possessions. A friend who did a lot of bartending gave away his many bottles when he moved across the state... five years ago. Did it expire in storage?
I always thought Jager was more of a maroon-ish color, not the same shade of brown as artificially-flavored pancake syrup. Was it originally maroon, but the artificial dye broke down while half of a decade passed in a desk drawer? (Before you judge me for keeping alcohol in a desk, I have no important papers to put there and don't like devoting kitchen space to things I never use.)
In making this cake, we'd thought Jagermeister would be a nice substitution because chocolate and anise go together really well. A lot of people have discovered chocolate and cinnamon, but far fewer have ever experienced chocolate and anise (likely because more people have a shaker of cinnamon in the cabinet).

And so, like nearly every cake made in Our Kitchen of Cookrye, we start with a lot of butter.

For those of you following along at home, you should be sure to use a different cup to measure out the cocoa and sugar. Or at least wipe the cocoa dust off before reusing it. You'd think getting a pastry certificate would have led me away from mistakes like this, but here is photographic proof that I will never learn.

Is it weird that this early stage is one of my favorite parts of cake making? After taking so many classes where we had to have flawless presentation, exquisite arrangements, and perfect eye-appeal, it's nice to know that every cake starts out as slushy splats of ingredients.

At this point, we could still change our alcohol-experimenting minds and actually follow the recipe. The heavy overlap between our strange substitutions and disappointments recommends such an we stop following our hearts and just do what the recipe says. I'd say it's unwise to mix food with alcohol, but people might think I meant that you shouldn't cook while drunk, not that randomly spiking otherwise normal recipes is ill-advised. I have done every single daft cooking experiment you see here while completely sober and (theoretically) in control of my own mind. And so, we proceeded with the spiking of the cake.

I usually have misgivings about adding water instead of milk to cakes, as we would have done here had we not dumped in liquor instead. I've done it before in an extreme pinch, and the cake always tasted like something was missing. Like, one couldn't pin down an exact flavor difference, but it was also not quite right. However, this recipe uses water and sour cream. I've used water and sour cream as a substitute for buttermilk in a lot of recipes, and I've received no complaints (including from myself).

The finished cake batter looked a lot like chocolate mousse. I keep meaning to make cake batter and pour it into an ice cream maker, and this looks like a great recipe to do it with. It was also oddly airy. Usually, when a cake batter is this light, we had to beat egg whites until they looked like shaving cream and then carefully fold them in without deflating the bubbles. Also, you could barely taste the alcohol in it. If the alcohol taste was nearly imperceptible before baking, in theory the oven time would remove the residual alcoholic sting. As I hoped, the Jager had added a nice anise flavor that I really hoped wouldn't bake out.

I didn't know if the alcohol would actually change the cake, but was very intrigued to find out.
Every now and then we see the vodka pie crust make the cooking meme rounds on social media. According to Pinterest rumors, gluten forms better in water than alcohol*. Therefore, using vodka instead of water will make for a more tender pie crust because there will be far less gluten in the dough to toughen it. The the alcohol will then bake away, leaving everyone none the tipsier. Perhaps using liquor instead of water would do the same thing here?
Notice the use of foil to avoid washing cake pans.

Well, the alcohol definitely altered the texture. No one called this a cake, but instead kept calling it "the cake-brownie thing." It was a lot more tender than cake, almost-but-not-quite fudgy. Also, the anise from the Jagermeister went very well with the chocolate. Even if you don't keep liquor on hand (though you can always get one of those mini-bottles if you're just using it for one recipe), consider adding a bit of anise to your next chocolate recipe!

*Today's baking science lesson in two sentences: Flour does not contain gluten. It contains two proteins that, when mixed together with water, combine into gluten.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Apple Cake: or, Avoiding waste by excessive baking

We at A Book of Cookrye would like to salute our wedding blender which died.

One day it simply stopped spinning and made a sad electrical whine. It never worked again, and so we sadly sent it to join many failed electrical appliances in that great thrift store in the sky. I was more than a little miffed at its death. It's generally said that people base their wedding presents on how long they think the marriage will last. Which means that my brother who got this as a wedding present should track down the person that gave them a short-lived blender and send a strongly worded note.
We tried to at least give away the pitcher on Craigslist, but no one wanted it. Perhaps everyone else who bought one of these also had their motor burn out.
In contemplating a replacement, we realized that all the blenders we see in peoples' kitchens are either very new or very old. No one has a blender they bought four years ago, they either bought it last year, or they bought it in the 1970s. If we could find a blender that has already survived a long time, it would surely never give up and die like the newer one did. With that in mind, everyone meet our new friend!

Looks like like something from the set of The Brady Bunch, doesn't it? When we plugged it in, it was eager to explore its new home.

This blender is so powerful it actually propels itself across the counter. It's so loud it sends the dog fleeing. It even rattles its own buttons.
It occurs to me that "The Quivering Buttons" sounds like a really great paperback romance title.

Today, we are using the blender to repurpose the extra apples from when we made all those individual pies. The little pies turned out smaller than anticipated, meaning that we had all this extra diced fruit that wouldn't fit.
The apples themselves were tasteless, but the spices were good.

We could have made more crusts to put the surplus apples in, but we had no desire to do that sort of extra work. We therefore decided to blenderize the apples and dump them into our banana bread recipe instead of bananas.

Apple-Spice Bread
½ c butter
1 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1 or 2 apples, cut up and cored
2 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
Dash of salt
Spices to taste (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, etc)

Heat oven to 350°. Grease a loaf or 9x13 pan.
Break the eggs into a blender. Add the apples and liquefy. To save time and reduce waste, leave the apple peels on. If they bother you, no one will notice the difference once the blender is done. And you will be putting more apple into your food and less into the trash.
Mix butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in about half a cup of the apple mixture, along with the salt, spices, and baking powder. Mix in the flour. When everything's mixed, stir in the remaining apples.
Pour into a square pan and bake. A loaf pan will take about 40-50 minutes, a 9x13 pan will be done in 20 or so.

This is really good with cinnamon icing on top.

adapted from Favorite Recipes of America: Desserts, 1968 (Banana bread contributed by Nancy Troop of Gardiner, Maine- winner at Pittston Fair)

They didn't properly liquefy until we added the eggs into there to move things along. Since the apples already had trace amounts of cinnamon and such, we decided to bring out the shakers and keep adding spices until the apple paste was visibly darker.
It's like applesauce with extra protein. Keto's the big diet trend now, right?

Now, we had to veer off the recipe because we couldn't add the eggs. They were a bit too pulverized with apples. So we just added what we thought looked like 2 eggs' worth of apple slurry.

We then figured we would proceed with the rest of the recipe as if nothing was weird, and add the rest of the contents of our blender when we would have been adding the mashed bananas. It seemed to work, though we usually get more of a runny batter than this.

Reassuringly, it at least superficially resembled a cake, even if it sprang back a bit more than I'd have liked when pressed in the center. Are cakes supposed to be bouncy?

We figured that we could not at this point fix any problems this cake had, so we just dumped cinnamon icing on it and left it for the night. In retrospect, we should have at least snipped off a corner for evaluation before serving it to others. Fortunately, this actually came out fine. As evidence, this is how much cake was eaten away.

You couldn't really taste the apples, but we added so much extra spice that we just told everyone it was spice cake. In texture, it was something halfway between cake and brownie. Next time we make apple pie, we may deliberately cut up too many apples and do this again.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Gingerbread: or, Of course we did this on Christmas

If you're reading this, it's Christmas day-- assuming you read it the day we posted it, or just happened to read it on December 25th in a later year. We at A Book of Cookrye are honestly burnt out on Christmas, and took the entire holiday break to go out visiting and avoid the high-stakes family memories. This anticlimactic Christmas has been the best we ever had. Anyway, we just happened to be in the company of friends in Ohio, where we did this.
Seventy-Five Receipts for Cake, Pastry, and Sweetmeats, Miss Leslie, 1832

It just figures that we flee from Christmas and end up making gingerbread.
Common Gingerbread
⅓ c molasses
⅓ c butter
1½ c flour
⅓ c milk
1 pinch baking soda
1 tbsp ginger (or to taste)
Other spices to taste

Heat oven to 340°.
Dissolve the baking soda into the milk, set aside.
Cut the butter into the flour like you're making a pie crust. Add the spices and mix.
Add about half the milk, quickly work it in. (You may end up having to just do all the mixing with your bare hands.) Then add about half the molasses. When it's completely mixed, add about half the remaining milk. Mix well. Add half the remaining molasses. By now the dough should be a bit softened. Mix in the remaining milk, and then the remaining molasses.
Make the dough into long, very thin ropes (about the diameter of a pencil or a little narrower). Form them into little spiral-shaped cookies, or put two ropes together and make twists.
Or, you can roll the dough out very thin and cut it into shapes. The original recipe says to dust your table with flour, but we found that unnecessary.
Bake for 20 minutes, rotating the sheet so the front is in the back halfway through the baking time. Watch the cookies carefully, because (due to the molasses) they will very easily scorch if overbaked. If they do get a bit overdone, shave off the blackened bits the same way you would burnt toast (this is what the original recipe says to do).
You may want to make a few extra scrap-dough cookies on each batch so you can taste-test for doneness. Let the test cookie cool completely (we put it in the freezer right under the blower) before eating it.
This is even better if made a day or two ahead.

We've never made gingerbread before, so using a recipe so antique we don't get a time or temperature seems like a swell idea. We've never really craved gingerbread, but this year we assembled one of those gingerbread house kits and staring at it made us want some to eat.

All right, let's step back and look at the recipe. You may notice we are really cutting back on quantity. The original recipe uses two and a half pounds of flour (that's a smidge over one kilo for all our metric friends). That's 10 cups of the stuff, which would make a lot more gingerbread than we even want to think about getting in and out of the oven. Yes, gingerbread is known to keep for a long time, so baking a lot of it at once would make sense in a time when baking day began with lighting a wood fire in the oven. But now we're cooking with gas, and also there's also a table covered with cookies already.
Also of note: this recipe has no sugar at all. The only sweetener is molasses. We at A Book of Cookrye were fine with this, but then again we pour molasses on our waffles. It appears this will be one of the many recipes that we've had to apologize for and say "Well, they didn't like things as sweet back then." There's a reason most of us looking for old-style recipes tend to find modern ones called "Old-Fashioned Nutmeg Cake" rather than finding a nutmeg cake recipe from the 1700's, and that reason is extra sugar.
The ginger flakes look like breakfast cereal, don't they?

We normally only use fresh ginger because the powdered stuff seems to have no flavor, but this dried sliced ginger turned up in our friend's spice rack. The smell of it fiercely assaulted the nose, so we figured it would actually taste like ginger and not like nothing. Unfortunately, we had to chop these into powder. This made a short recipe become tedious. Maybe we should have gotten out a blender and put them in with the milk.

The trouble with making a recipe this old is that you can never tell if it's coming out weird because it's what people liked back then or if you have erred. But as long as we're chopping things up, let's add these granules!

Those are dried orange peels. We thought orange would make a good flavor counterpoint to everything else in the recipe. Another cookbook by the Miss Leslie has a recipe for Molasses Pie, which is literally just a pie crust filled with molasses and baked. She recommends slicing oranges and laying them across the bottom of the pie before you add all the molasses. Therefore, in the spirit of Miss Leslie, we're adding these orange granules from the spice rack.

As you can see, we've got a lot of spice in here. So hopefully this will be delightfully-seasoned gingerbread. You're looking at a big heap of ginger, a smattering of orange, and several shakes of pumpkin pie spice. Also, you know you're in the house of people who cook when the wooden spoons look like this.

Things were going relatively well at first. We added the milk and, like our patron saint Fanny Cradock, thought of someone we don't like but we're too well-bred to say so, and instead took it out on the bowl of ingredients. However, this merciless approach to Christmas failed when we added the molasses. No amount of beating would mix the molasses into the rubbery mess of dough. This molasses-striped mess was the best we could manage after nearly breaking the spoon while thinking of someone we don't like and taking it out on the floury failure in the making.
Note also the move to a bigger bowl after we kept flinging things all over the kitchen.

And so, we ended up copying Fanny Cradock in another way. We pretended we were Fanny Cradock making a Christmas cake and just used our fists. The dough was soon ready for the next splat of milk.

See, when the dough is this rubbery, you have to add the liquids in just a little bit at a time. Otherwise, you end up with little hard dough curds that refuse to actually mix with the milk they're floating in. We had considered mixing the milk and molasses together. But Miss Leslie clearly states to add the two alternately, and we were going to follow her instructions. That way we could blame her if this failed. Eventually, we ended up with some oddly rubbery and springy dough that looked like this.

We actually weren't too terribly unnerved, even though we could have repurposed this dough as a rubber band. It very much resembled the dough we got when we made gingersnaps, and those came out all right. But we tasted it, and all we could detect was the molasses. And so, back to the spice-chopping!
Is this enough ginger yet?

We got the extra spice mixed in, and tasted no difference. Our only hope was that the steam in these cookies would draw out the flavor, but since this was a very dry dough that seemed unlikely. And so, we figured the dough was as good as we could get it and got to cutting! And so, because we were visiting people who still had their Mom and Grandma's things in the house, the Box of Dreams was brought forth.

I was informed this one is meant to be Santa, but to me it looks like a check engine light.

We had a relatively small batch of dough, and everyone had picked out some cutters they really wanted. The little mini ginger-dude was popular. As for myself, I wanted lots of stars and moons. We also found a very antique playing card set- hearts, spades, clubs, and diamonds.
No matter how old you are, using all the cookie cutters makes it look like 5-year-olds did it.

As you can see, the dough was oddly leathery. It tasted like molasses and flour.

This doughnut cutter was also very popular because we could simultaneously cut cookie rings and gingerbread bonbons.

As we reached the end of the dough, we decided to take the last tiny bits and actually make little twists as the original recipe suggests.

They took a lot longer than we expected to bake, especially given how thin we made them. We were paranoid that we'd burn them because they're mostly made molasses. For the uninitiated, if you overbake most desserts, they just come out a little bit extra brown and toasted-looking. If you overbake something with a lot of molasses, it just burns.

I know this shape is supposed to be a snowman, but with brown cookies I think it looks like Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo.

These baked into some very nice, surprisingly-mild molasses cookies. They were crunchy like biscotti despite only baking them once. I think the baking soda reacted with the molasses and mellowed its taste. Unfortunately, we may as well have skipped the spices entirely because they were imperceptible. We considered that next time, we could boil the milk and add the spices to it, steeping it like an herbal tea before adding it to the dough. But they were nice and light in the middle, and very good for dunking in tea.

However, if you're going to make little gingerbread twists, we recommend you twist them tightly. Otherwise they can come apart.

Lack of spiciness aside, we think we at least got the dough to come out as intended. It was crispy enough to eat, but sturdy enough that one could make little houses out of it. One could do all the traditional gingerbread things with these cookies as they came out: build houses, make tree ornaments, eat them and actually like it, and break them with friends.
However, next time we make these we will probably boil the milk and drop all the spices in it to infuse. In theory, making a high-concentration herbal tea will actually add the spice flavor to the bread.

We're going to cut in with a night-after-Christmas postscript and add that it was a LOT better the second day. The texture was a lot better, and the spice flavor actually came out and soffused the bread. So if you make it, make it a few days ahead and leave it out to ripen.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Individual Apple Tarts!

'Tis the season for everyone to get in the kitchen, regardless of whether they use the oven as a shoe rack during the rest of the year! Many people who otherwise never cook are getting out their one recipe that all their friends wait for all year. Steve who has burnt boiling water three times but makes a damn good cheesecake is out buying bricks of cream cheese. Elizabeth who has never successfully cooked a frozen pizza has loaded her cart with mushrooms, frozen puff paste, and a carefully-selected slab of cow for her legendary beef Wellington. She found the recipe online a while ago and is still not quite sure how she manages to get it right, but never dares deviate from the instructions lest adding an extra half-teaspoon of salt ruin everything. She is in line at the cash register behind Francesca who long ago swore off cooking and switched entirely to frozen dinners, but still makes her famous povitica once a year. Her great-grandmother brought the recipe from the old country, and everyone in the family swears she's the only one who still can do it right.
'Tis also the season for people to take baked goods to others. All through this time of year, all manner of homemade (or homemade-ish) things get packed into disposable tubs (or repurposed sour cream containers among the really thrifty), whereupon many hopefully-delighted recipients get to hear those blessed words that make receiving baked goods all the sweeter: "Don't worry, I don't need the container back."
We at A Book of Cookrye are no exception to this wave of traveling baked goods. At a recent family gathering, we were asked to make an apple galette. By which I mean someone clipped the recipe and thrust it at us.
A galette is basically a pie, but you bake it on a flat sheet instead of a pie pan, and sort of fold the crust up and over the sides to hold everything in. In theory, leaving the center open and exposed will both allow steam to ventilate out and also show off the tempting fruit within.
The only problem with galettes, assuming your pie crust didn't crumble apart while you were trying to make one, is that they're really hard to serve without pulverizing the crust and flattening the whole creation. The pie has no pan to support it while you're sawing it into slices. And so, we decided to make individual pies instead. On the bright side, there's be no need to worry about the pie falling apart when penetrated by a knife. However, this means making a whole lot of individual apple things.

Individual Apple Galettes
2-3 apples
1 c applesauce
½ c brown sugar
¼ tsp salt
Spices to taste
Unbaked pie crust dough

Line one or two sheet pans with foil. Roll out the pie dough and cut into circles with a 5 or 6 inch cutter. The lid to one of those screw-top Glad Ware tubs is about the right size. Leave the dough to rest while you do everything else so it becomes less springy- otherwise it'll be very annoying it it keeps bouncing out of the shape you press it into.
Cut the apples into half-inch-ish dice. Then toss with the brown sugar and spices.
Now comes the assembly part. We recommend putting each pie circle in its place on the baking pan before you make it into a baby galette. It will be easier than trying to lift a raw pie by spatula.
Put a spoonful of applesauce on the pie crust. Then add a spoonful of apples. Be sure you have a ring of bare crust around the filling.
Now, make the sides. Raise up a little of the crust and pinch it together. Press the pinch sideways so that it lies flat. Keep going around the bare dough ring, pinching the dough so it has to stay up. You may have to take out an apple piece or two so the crust can contain everything.
When you have all of the dough pinched and standing up to make a little shallow bowl for your filling, push it inward over the filling. The dough is going to fall down in the oven, but if you have it leaning over the pie instead of either upright or tilted outward, it will fall over your apple filling, thus neatly containing it. Otherwise, it will fall away from your apples, leaving you with a flat disc of dough with apples on top.
When you think you're nearly ready to bake, heat the oven to 350°.
You may think this is a lot of tedious work. It is. Feel free to just press your dough into a cupcake pan instead.
When you're done with all the pies, pour any juice the apples gave off while sitting in the sugar among all of them.
Bake until the apples are nice and tender, somewhere between 20-40 minutes depending on what type of apples you used.

The beginning of this pie starts out very simple. The big twist, which came out of some magazine Our Mom of Cookrye got at the cash register, is the applesauce you put underneath this sugary apple mess. Supposedly it adds a delightful fruit flavor.

At this point, we have to say that our pie crust skills have gotten better than we make allowances for. As an analogy, we are so terrible with driving directions that we routinely figure in an extra 30 minutes for getting lost. Every now and then, without warning, we will not get lost, which has on rare occasions meant we arrive to various parties &c up to 45 minutes early and have no idea what to do with ourselves.
Similarly, we are used to our pie crusts looking like this:

We're kind of used to our pie crusts turning out lousy. We may reach the point where we can somehow do one of those elaborate creations that practically involves making long spaghetti-like strings of pie dough and crocheting them into lace, but we'll always expect our individual pies to look like that one time we baked sugar-and-spice kidneys.

As we look back through the years, we'd like to salute our family who insisted that the crust was good even though it wasn't. It staved off defeat and encouraged us to keep practicing.I say this because while a good pie crust will puff out and get at least a little flaky, we've gotten used to ours just hardening like clay. We didn't expect nice puffy pie crusts on today's apple things, so we packed them very close on the baking sheet with no room to expand. We implicitly knew that the crusts would just harden in place into floury plaster containers for the apples. To our dismay, they turned into adorable little butter puffs with apples in the center. This meant that they had all expanded into one big megasheet of apple tartlets.
Is it just me, or do the colors in this picture somehow make it look like it came out of a 1960s cookbook?

And this was a big sheet of apple things. But even the pies that fell open puffed up so much that they sort of had a rim anyway. Curse my getting better through years of practice! Now I have to carefully prise all these fricken tarts apart!

Fortunately, the last three of these, which we baked on the little pan that came with the toaster oven, had enough space between them to avoid this problem.

Another thing that I wasn't expecting: These tartlet things were sturdy. I'm not used to being able to vertically file pies the way I do paperwork.

Usually, when individual pies can withstand this sort of stacking without crumbling to bits, it's because the crusts are so hard that you may as well try to bite into drywall. But these were actually pretty good. We've made a lot of pies where only the most charitable people would eat the crust instead of discreetly leaving it behind on the plate, but (having taste-tested one to make sure I wasn't sending out dreadful things to holiday feasts) these were actually pretty good. And being able to stack them so tightly meant that there'd be a very minimal amount of air in the container. So, if tightly sealed, they were very likely to avoid going stale before sending them out.

From all of us at A Book of Cookrye to you, merry night before Christmas! Remember, no one will remember all the obsessive decorating and planning that went into making the Special Perfect Christmas. But they will remember the high-stakes tension and the screaming of "You're ruining Christmas!" if you obsess over it. It may be a bit too late to say it now, but if you feel no one ever appreciates the effort you put into Christmas, then we recommend you don't bother. Don't get up at an ungodly hour to get things in the oven if no one ever thanks you. Get up when you actually want to, and announce that the big feast has been pushed back until later. If no one ever helps wash the special Christmas plates, go out and buy paper ones this year. If anyone complains that the tradition has been ruined because we're using plastic forks, remind them that their tradition was your drudgery, and that they never helped wash up. If no one ever helps you get the house spotless, leave it as it is every other day of the year. If anyone dares call you out on it, you have an automatic way to shut them down: point out that as you are the host and they are the guest, they have neither manners nor gratitude. Save your energy for things people do appreciate.
Also, try spreading a layer of applesauce in the bottom of your apple pies. It's actually pretty good.