Friday, June 26, 2020


Today, we at A Book of Cookrye desired variety in our lives! Because of the intermittent grocery shortages and general laziness, most of our suppers have been variations of the classic "Throw what's on hand into a pan and come back when it's baked" style of cooking, and decided we want dessert! Maybe in the future we'll look fondly back at this time when you had to be creative when planning meals around what was available and what was on sale, but right now we want chocolate.
Anniversary Slovak-American Cook Book, First Catholic Slovak Ladies' Union, 1952

Chewy Brownies
¾ c butter (or margarine)
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1¼ c sugar
½ c brown sugar
3 eggs, separated
4 oz unsweetened chocolate*
2 tsp vanilla
1 c flour

Heat oven to 350°. Grease a 9"x13" pan. Melt the chocolate and set aside to cool.
Beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugars and beat until light. Beat in the chocolate. When mixed, add the egg yolks (adding them separately prevents cooking the eggs if the chocolate wasn't cool enough) one at a time. Add the vanilla when all is mixed, beat well. Add the flour and beat until smooth.
Spread into the pan and bake 40 minutes. Cut while warm and remove from the pan after they cool.

*If desired, you can use cocoa powder instead of baking chocolate. Add an extra quarter cup of butter to the recipe (or use shortening, margarine, or cooking oil). When beating in the sugar salt and baking powder, add also ¾ c cocoa powder.

Source: Rose Sabol (of Whiting, Indiana), Anniversary Slovak-American Cook Book, First Catholic Slovak Ladies' Union, 1952

Because we haven't gone to the grocery store in a while, we had to fudge the recipe just a little bit. We already knew we were going to use cocoa powder instead of baking chocolate because it has such a long shelf life. Baking chocolate can go rancid after a few months (especially if the house isn't always kept cool), but cocoa powder can last years. It generally doesn't get the chance to demonstrate its longevity in our presence, but a can of that magical brown fairy-dust lasts through so many more creations than a box of baking chocolate squares. Ever since the Baker Company cut their chocolate boxes in half (which we are still irked about), a recipe like this would have literally used up a whole package.

We must admit we're fudging here and using margarine instead of butter, which is something we do a lot in brownies anyway. But we nearly ran into a brownie-cancelling halt: there wasn't enough margarine. We added cooking oil to make up for the deficiency. We figured it'd be fine since that's what brownie mixes use. Also, it's still mostly butter (or a decent imitation). You probably won't notice the difference once we get chocolate on it.

Rose Sabol of Whiting, Indiana seems to have put a lot of thought into this recipe. Most brownie recipes we see just have you dump all the ingredients in a bowl (or sometimes right into the pan). Rose Sabol, on the other hand, has decided that she wants a little brown sugar flavor but not too much. Most recipes will just do half brown and half white sugar, but today we are adding just a smidge of brown. I can only assume that this was arrived at after careful deliberation in the Sabol kitchen.

Also of note: this recipe actually has leavening from whipped egg whites. We've only seen one other brownie recipe that did that, and it was in a Betty Crocker handout. Out of curiosity, we checked to see if we were making the same recipe (with perhaps a few alterations over the years). After all, a lot of these community cookbooks have recipes that come directly from ingredient labels or from magazine ads. Even today, when copyright law is more enforced than ever, it seems that food companies have unofficially decided not to sue groups like the West Puskahosee Methodist Ladies' Auxiliary for including company-developed and copyrighted recipes in their community cookbooks. Anyway, despite having an odd similarity in the directions, this recipe is not the one from the Betty Crocker handout from 16 years earlier.

Anyway, we got this beaten good and well. We had a happy bowl of buttery, sugary goodness, whipped to airy perfection. What better landing place could there be for our wonderful chocolate?

A lot of today's recipe may be altered due to shortfalls of key ingredients, but we were still super excited about this magical moment when the chocolate met the batter. It's that magical moment when the bowl of delicious batter becomes something beautiful. Something divine. Something full of chocolate.

We were perhaps a teensy bit too excited at bringing more chocolate into our lives. With one overenthusiastic stroke of the spoon, we made a mess of the cocoa powder. If you've read about any of our previous culinary perpetrations, you'll know that this happens a lot.

Well, after that brief detour with a wet rag, let's see the amazing delight that awaits us in the bowl! It really looks like it's made with the richest and best ingredients rather than a lot of second- and third-choice substitutions based on what was on hand. Better yet, it tasted like we had made it exactly according to the directions with all the real butter and chocolate squares the Slovak-American Ladies' Union could have dreamed of.

And so, we get to the whipping-up of the egg white. Here we must register surprise. The exact model of mixer we once had (before it fell from its precarious shelf and never turned on again) appeared when we rummaged in the drawer! Here is mine before it tragically fell and broke, seen when we were testing the theory that you can substitute Diet Coke for eggs:
I still miss this thrift-shop-found friend and regret that it fell off what little shelf space I had in my room at the time.

It's always a bit of a hunt to find all the pieces of an appliance when it's long been disused. You can generally assume that if the motor turned up in a drawer, the rest of the attachments will probably be somewhere. Very few people keep a food processor motor base and throw out the blades. But when you're using an appliance that hasn't been plugged in for a few decades, the pitchers, beaters, blades, or whatever's supposed to go with it may lie in a very remote place, buried under strata of things that were never gotten rid of. In kitchens with enough storage space to forget things, the old appliances may be layered by the decade, as replacements and upgrades were purchased but someone said "We can't throw the old one away! It still works!"
We eventually found the beaters for this mixer buried in the back of a different drawer and it was like an unexpected and very welcome reunion between self and appliance.

I still find it unusual that we're supposed to do anything that involves skill in a brownie recipe. Most of the brownie recipes I've seen, whether they're very old or whether they came out this year, are extremely easy to make. In fact, they are so easy that the existence of brownie mix actually confounds me. It's almost as if most recipe creators intended brownies to be for those who never learned to bake but want to make something delicious. In that sense, brownies are a bit like the casseroles of desserts: if you can get all your ingredients into the same pan, you will almost certainly get what you wanted after baking. We therefore find it strange that today's brownie recipe requires you to have that practiced knack of carefully folding in egg whites without deflating them.

To our amazement and surprise, that one whipped egg white turned a bowl of chocolate clay into a beautiful, creamy, dreamy, amazing delight that makes you want to just get out a ladle and eat. If Rose Sabol of Whiting, Indiana made recipes that looked this good, she better have gotten all the respect she deserved for her baking. Just look at this pan of chocolate divine!

Spread into the pan, it looked less like uncooked batter and more like a delicious chocolate mousse. I swear, one day I am going to put a batch of cake or brownie batter into an ice cream freezer instead of an oven and see what happens.

You know how we said we didn't want to bake this because the batter was so good? When we saw this desiccated-looking pan of brown come out of the oven, we suspected that we shouldn't have. "The batter was so delicious!" we said to ourselves. "Why did it have to go in the oven?" 

But our fears were assuaged when we cut these open and saw the inky black that lay below. Not that baking improved the batter, but it at least didn't make it worse.

As soon as we bit into one, we forgave Rose Sabol of Whiting, Indiana for making us bake these after mixing them. They are marvelously chocolaty, and somehow simultaneously light and airy yet wonderfully dense. It was like a very light cake that somehow turned to fudge while you ate it. This recipe may involve a few more bowls than most brownie recipes do, but you owe it to yourself if you love chocolate.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Banana Yeast Bread: or, Banana bread that is not also dessert

Today, we at A Book of Cookrye are sharing an interesting idea we had: what happens when you put bananas instead of sugar into yeast bread? Make no mistake, we do love banana bread. Why else would we have made it so many times? This time, we wondered what would happen if you made a banana bread that doesn't become a cake just because you made it in a cake pan. So we had the bright idea of just putting it into a yeast dough recipe and seeing what would happen. We consulted our new favorite cookbook (we fell in love with it when we saw the battered cover) and found...
Anniversary Slovak-American Cook Book, First Catholic Slovak Ladies' Union, 1952

This recipe seemed perfect for inserting bananas because it has mashed potatoes. We have no familiarity with altering bread recipes, so we were afraid that just dumping mashed bananas into an otherwise normal recipe would ruin it in unforeseen ways. But swapping mashed bananas for mashed spuds seemed reasonably safe.

Banana Yeast Bread
1 c banana (packed firmly into the cup when measuring)
1 c warm water
½ packet yeast (if you don't know when you'd use the rest, just use the whole thing)
1 pinch sugar
4 c flour
1½ tsp salt
3 tbsp fat
1 or 2 tbsp milk

Mix the sugar, water, and yeast. Set aside 5 minutes to make sure it foams and that the yeast is alive.
Thoroughly blenderize the yeast-water and the banana.
In a large bowl, mix 3½ c flour with the salt. Rub in the fat with your fingertips until it's thoroughly mixed. Add the banana mixture. Mix well, adding the remaining flour as needed if it's too goopy. Knead until springy and elastic. Cover with a wet cloth or paper towel (don't hang it over the top of the bowl, lay it directly on top of the dough and press it firmly onto its surface). Refrigerate for a few hours, or up to a few days.
When ready to bake, take the dough out, punch it down if it's risen any, and put it in a warm place. Let it rise until double in height.
Roll the dough into small balls, and place them on a greased baking sheet. If the dough is too runny and/or sticky to shape into rolls, you can either divide it among muffin cups or put all of it in a loaf pan.
Brush the tops of the rolls with milk. If you have no brush, you can pour a splash of milk across the top and quickly spread it with your finger before it has time to soak in. Let rise.
Bake at 350° until thoroughly done. Be careful- when you do any of the doneness tests (thumping it to see if it sounds hollow, pressing it to see if it springs back, etc), it may seem completely done but still be doughy in the middle. I even stuck a toothpick in the center and it came out dry, yet the center of the bread was still just hot dough. Find or borrow a meat thermometer and insert it so the tip is in the center of the bread (make sure it's also about halfway between the top and bottom). It should read about 195°.
This bread reheats very nicely the next day in the microwave.

adapted from a recipe by Louise Zaremba (of Joliet, Illinois), Anniversary Slovak-American Cook Book, First Catholic Slovak Ladies' Union, 1952

In our happy theory, using mashed bananas instead of mashed potatoes would make this a slightly-sweet bread with an interesting subtle flavor that you don't get from adding a bit of extra sugar. But first, we had to obtain yeast for this endeavor. In ordinary times, we'd have just gone out to buy some. But yeast has gotten as scarce as the good toilet paper. We did some very very deep digging into the back of the pantry and found this. I turned on the date-stamp on the camera just to emphasize how many years it has lain dormant and unbaked.

In normal times, we'd have thrown this out in a decluttering spree, but in this plague we are more vigilant than ever about holding onto every dusty seasoning packet and can of pickled carp fillets. You just never know when the next shortage will strike, or what will go scarce. And as there was no yeast to be had in the store, it was this yeast (which has reached age of consent in some jurisdictions) or nothing.
We almost always test yeast in warm water before baking, but it's hitherto always been a formality. We've never had any reason to believe the yeast was dead. But today, we put it in water with fervent hope instead of bland certainty. We even gave the yeast a packet of sugar (pocketed from some coffee shop years ago and kept in a container with many just like it- because we would surely use it someday) hoping that food would wake it up.

And so, we sprinkled the yeast over the warm, slightly-sugared water, wondering if we had merely moistened a packet of corpses.

Yes, there are some bubbles already in the water, but that's just from frothing it up a bit while stirring.

A minute elapsed, and we glanced back into the glass. Was the yeast alive and foaming, or were we merely seeing their dead remains separate and spread out into the water? 

I'm sure you already guessed the happy result. We wouldn't have announced banana bread only to write that the yeast was dead and we cancelled the recipe. The yeast looked lifeless for quite a long time, but every time we glanced at it we thought it might have changed a little bit. But eventually it decided to look happy and lively, and we were thrilled to get out the rest of the ingredients and (hopefully) make some delightful bread.
It's aliiiiiiiiiiiive!

In a normal world, bread is one of the cheapest things you can make. But in a normal world, flour is cheap and easy to find. These days, the grocery store is like a perpetual night-before-Thanksgiving. Aisles that normally are ignored (the baking aisle, the toilet paper aisle, the spice rack) are suddenly swamped and ravaged, leaving bare shelves and the remains of package-ripping carnage. I'm amazed that we have this flour at hand to make bread out of. You'd think we'd be rationing it by the tablespoon for white sauce and brown gravy, but we have enough flour to use two pints of it (that's an entire quart of flour) in a recipe without even knowing if it will work.

And now, we get to our mashed "potatoes." We didn't actually get out a fork and mash the bananas, we just broke them into measuring-cup lengths and shoved them in there. Yes, there are some large pieces of banana embedded in there, but that didn't matter, as you will see.

And this is why I didn't even bother cutting the bananas up. We are bringing out the power tools to do the work for us. This blender has been surprisingly resilient. Sure, it smells like burning electricity and sounds overloaded whenever you make it pulverize even the mushiest of foods, but it keeps not dying.  

Meanwhile in another pan, things look more like a normal recipe. Incidentally, butter is as plentiful as ever. Not that I'm complaining about fully-stocked butter, but doesn't everyone suddenly trying home baking (note if this includes you: welcome to the wonderful world of bread and cake! Be sure to lick the rubber spatula!) want butter to spread on their homemade creations?

Well, we say it looks normal, but really it looks like the beginning of a normal pie crust. Incidentally, I had considered making this with whole-wheat flour, but that is just about impossible to get this month. This unfortunately means that we can't try to pretend this is healthy. Yes, it has two bananas in it, but I don't know anyone who's ever gotten slim and trim from putting blueberries into muffin batter. They all were happy and sated though.

Speaking of bananas, it is time to add them! Yes, the blender has turned them into a splat the color of a 1970s economy car, but the appearance did not unnerve us. In baking, we've only ever seen bananas in three places: pudding, cream pie, and bread that is so sweet it's basically a cake. This is the first time we've ever baked anything that doesn't surround the bananas in a dessert's worth of sugar. This, therefore, is an experiment: do bananas taste different when you bake them? If so, are they any good without heavy sweetening?

We were hoping we would be able to dump the extra flour, unused, back into the sack for another time. After all, flour is as scarce as face masks right now. However, what should have been a kneadable bread dough was in fact this sticky mess.

We added the rest of the flour and like a miracle, the dough turned into a sticky un-kneadable mess to a sticky, barely-kneadable one. It took a long time to get it to look like this semi-cohesive mass. If you liked squishing Play-Doh more than sculpting it, this recipe is for you. To make things go a bit more nicely, I was not alone in the kitchen. So this wasn't a long ordeal of dough-kneading, but just absently slapping the dough between my hands while conversing.
As you can see, the dough is still hopelessly sticky, but it seems to want to hold a shape instead of just slowly dripping through my fingers. We thought that perhaps if we were very careful-handed in shaping it and used a lot of flour, it might actually turn into the rolls we would have gotten had we actually followed the recipe.

At this point, we figured this bread was a kneaded as it could get, so we shoved it under a wet shop towel and left it in the refrigerator. It later occurred to us: is the blue dye they use in these things food-safe?

We then had a minor problem. As shown above, our hands were a hopeless sticky mess. They needed not just a quick wash but a hard scouring. We happened to know that in this kitchen, a scrub brush resides in the drawer of random implements. However, our hands were so covered in the floury ooze that we could not extract it without smearing what felt like flour-based flypaper adhesive onto half the things in the drawer. We had to call for help and literally ask "Could you take that object out of the drawer and hand it to me?"

As we learned when trying out a handwritten bread recipe in the back of a cookbook, if you let your yeast dough just sit in the refrigerator for a few hours, it starts to taste a lot better. The yeast flavor gets so much stronger since the yeast has more time to eat the sugar and turn it into all the things that make yeast bread taste so nice. We nearly didn't do that with this batch of dough because we feared that the yeast would at any time remember that it's supposed to be dead. Of course, yeast has no memory that we know of, but we also worried that our little microscopic bread friends would finally die of old age before the dough was ready to bake.
Reassuringly, the dough looked just a teeny bit puffed-up after we took it out of the refrigerator, as it should. The dough continues rising very slowly even in the cold. While one doesn't need to use a massive bowl to allow room for expansion, the dough does get just a tiny bit enlarged. So, after being awakened from a long slumber and put through a blender, it looked like our yeasts were still fit to make our bread lovely and light!

We squished the dough flat and put it in a barely-warm oven to rise. Sure enough, this yeast that had needed such a long time to come to life earlier today had become so lively that the dough rose with delightful speed. I almost felt bad at taking this yeast, which has survived so long and still been so vigorous, and baking it.

You know how we managed to knead this dough into something that, while extremely sticky and messy, could at least be shaped into rolls? It turns out that the long refrigerated rest followed by the long time rising has made it even runnier than before. This dough was too goopy to shape into rolls. And if we did manage it, the dough would run and spread out into flat patties anyway.

We thought to ourselves, why not make bread muffins? Those are always a cute way to serve bread. This dough was going to need as much help holding a shape as cake batter, and muffins seemed like an adorable way to give it the support of a pan. But this is the only muffin pan we found in the house.

These small cupcake pans mystify me, especially when they're so old. Who only makes six cupcakes at a time? How deep did you have to dig for extra-small-batch cupcake recipes, especially in the years before the internet made it possible to quickly look up "recipes to serve one"? You might say that this pan is for when you've already baked most of your batter in the big 12- or 18-cup pan,  and you're scraping off the bottom of the bowl. But why would you get out a second pan? You're only going to have to wash it afterward along with the big one that was already dirty.
Well, we certainly were not going to wait for these to rise and bake if we can only make 6 at a time. This fun bread experiment would turn into a 10-hour ordeal by gluten. We rummaged further into the cabinets and found a loaf pan to just dump the dough into so we could bake it all at once and be done with it.

We were thinking about putting an egg wash on top of this. It'd add a nice glaze to it. But if you've ever used an egg wash, you know that you barely use any of the egg for it unless you're brushing it over a lot of bread. We have previously mentioned how irksome it is to dump most of an egg down the drain just so you can get an aesthetically-appealing shine on your baked goods. You can avoid waste by just putting the rest of the egg in a small frying pan and scrambling it for a quick snack, or you can (if you're the sort of person who's so organized they always know exactly what's going on in their refrigerator) freeze the extra for future bread batches. We at A Book of Cookrye decided to just pour out a tiny splash of milk to brush on top instead. In baking class, they mentioned milk wash as an option, and (with a slightly contemptuous undertone) said it had a more "homemade" and "unprofessional" look. As it happens, I don't care how unprofessional my banana bread looks, so here we are.
You could glaze the top of the bread with those last few drops that didn't come out of the milk carton.

This baked for nearly an hour. We had planned on serving bread with dinner, but we had to cancel that because we were not going to let dinner dry out on the stove while telling everyone to shut up and wait until the bread was ready at some undetermined time in the future. Eventually, when we gave the bread a good thump, it sounded hollow. When we jammed a toothpick in there, it came out dry. The bread was golden on top and (theoretically) ready.

We began to suspect that the bread was in fact not ready (despite testing positive for doneness) when we saw how pale it looked on the sides. Sure, the sides are fully cooked, but they didn't look.... finished somehow.

Sure enough, when we sliced the bread open, there was a core of hot dough spanning the length of the loaf. We hastily put it back in the oven. But how would we make very sure the bread was baked?
Well, as it happens, one of our friends surprised us with a thermometer! When one of the many mail-order packages arrived (like most people, we've been doing a lot more mail-order of late), he handed the unopened box over with "I think this is yours."
I haven't gotten this much of a surprise since a friend of mine I visit a lot had to get his house rewired. He specifically ordered wall outlets with USB plugs because I always have a dead phone battery and no charger.
This bread is measurably done.

And here's the finished bread! We are now very certain that it's baked because we jammed a thermometer in there and verified it. It got so dark I almost feared we burned it.
You can also see where we didn't manage to get the milk wash all the way to the edges.

As you can see, there is no raw dough in there! It only took an hour and a half to finally get this baked. After all the runniness, the mess, the stickiness, the random detours with a blender, the yeast that's older than most teenagers, and other misadventures, I was surprised to see that it looked so much like actual bread when we cut into it.

If you look under the wrapping, you can see that the bottom and sides are also nicely browned. This bread turned out so very lovely and right.

Now, when we first got the dough mixed up and ready for its afternoon in the refrigerator next to the pickles, it had a very slight sweetness to it (after all, the yeasts needed to eat something). The bread dough wasn't Hawaiian-roll sweet, but just ever-so-slightly so. That sweetness was quite gone by the time these were baked, leaving behind a lovely, rich bread. There was a slight banana flavor underneath, but not enough to make one think "Bananas!". The banana taste was just strong enough to add a subtle I-don't-know-what-this-is-but-it's-rather-nice extra flavor. It turns out that once the sweetness is gone from bananas, the remaining taste is really interesting and complex. When we mixed that with the lovely flavors of yeast bread, it was absolutely delicious.
In the future, when it's easy to get flour again, I will definitely be trying this again with whole-wheat. The flavors already in the bread seemed like they'd go really well with whole-wheat flour instead of white. Also, we could eat massive hunks of it without feeling bad.

This bread was also really sturdy. It'd be great with soups or with anything that has a lot of sauce that you'd want to sop up. Its rich flavor would complement it and make it so much nicer.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Almond Cookies!

Today's recipe begins with a cake plate.

Our Mom of Cookrye bought this from an estate sale-- sort of. Is it an estate sale if they're still alive to sell everything personally? Anyway, one of my grandmother's friends was moving out of her family-sized house into something much smaller. Our Mom of Cookrye bought this at the house sale, and it is still known in our house as "Mrs. Masseth's Cake Plate." It's a bit smaller than cake plates usually are, but we thought it was so pretty we hunted down some special smaller cake pans just so we could make a cake that fits on it. Then we lost Mrs. Masseth's Cake Plate.
We've been looking for it for years, and were sure it was in one of the many boxes that we have dutifully carried from garage to garage as we periodically take a new address. Either that, or someone had broken it a long time ago and the pieces had furtively gone on to the trash. However, it turned up.....
on the knickknack shelf which holds all the pictures and a lot of keepsakes. Our great-uncle's railroad signalman's lantern (which he bought when the Chicago Transit Authority sold off all their kerosene lights) was perched on top of it. Mrs. Masseth's cake plate has lived in plain sight with all the other sentimental keepsakes all this time, and none of us noticed that it has spent a few years as a lantern stand. And we personally use this lantern all the time! How did we not notice it was on Mrs. Masseth's cake plate every time we took it off the shelf to go tend the garden at night? And how did we not notice Mrs. Masseth's cake plate every time we put the lantern back?
This is the lantern. It wakes up cicadas.

Upon finding Mrs. Masseth's cake plate after several years of wondering where it went every time we had a party, we had to commemorate its return to us! (We also had a new thing to contemplate: how special are those priceless photos and treasures if we can ignore them so much we forget what's there?) But unfortunately for cake-worthy parties, there's a plague on. Since we weren't about to have a lot of people over, we couldn't put a cake on Mrs. Masseth's cake plate. We needed a special treat with a bit more of a shelf life.

The American Woman's Cook Book, 1948

Almond Cookies
¾ c butter
¾ c sugar
1 egg
½ tsp vanilla
¼ tsp salt
½ c ground almonds
1½ c sifted flour

Heat oven to 375°. Grease a sheet pan.
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla, salt, and almonds. Beat thoroughly. Add the flour a little at a time, blend gently but thoroughly. Drop from a teaspoon onto the baking sheet. If desired, you can shape each teaspoon into a ball and press it a little flat- but leave them thick enough that they can have a soft middle when baked.
Bake about 15 minutes. The cookies may be a tiny bit doughy in the middle but will finish cooking by their own retained heat.
Makes about 45 cookies.

Source: The American Woman's Cook Book ed. Ruth Berolzheimer, Culinary Arts Institute, 1948

Looks pretty good, doesn't it? This is at the bottom of a post on Mid-Century Menu. She didn't write about this recipe, but instead noted at the bottom that she really liked them. We've made a few recipes from her site, and every time she says one is good, she is right (even when putting mashed potatoes into coconut candy).
True, ground almonds are a bit expensive, but we still have a bag of almond meal left over from an attempt at going gluten-free. While it was feasible to avoid gluten (especially since stores routinely stock gluten-free things and it's not a novelty craze anymore),  going gluten-free didn't help any of us get slimmer and trimmer.  This failure to feel miraculously healthier for eating brown-rice pasta may be due (at least in part) to the fact that you can make gluten-free recipes that start out looking like this.

We used to mutter about people who don't know what a gluten is but heard on the morning talk show that it's bad for you. But our friends with wheat allergies report that they can now eat whatever they want instead of being restricted to the back shelf of the bland aisle at a health food store. Besides, we get to watch the absurd end results of people basing their diets on what those perky TV hosts told them to do. Like how for some reason a lot of people went keto and decided that involved drinking lots of cream. We at A Book of Cookrye aren't going to pretend that adding almonds to these cookies will make them better for you. Almonds may be just now coming off of their time in the superfood spotlight, but this recipe starts off like this.

As a friend said (and this line has almost certainly been in circulation for some time), half of the really good recipes begin with "Brown the beef and onions..." and the other half begin with "Cream the butter and sugar..."

And now, we reach that most special moment: we add the title ingredient to this recipe! I always feel a bit bad when cooking with things so extravagant as ground almonds. Have you priced ground almonds lately? Whenever expensive ingredients get involved, I always feel like my recipe is not worthy. This has caused some sad wastage. We nearly lost all the fresh rhubarb in our refrigerator to mold before we decided to make it rumble. So as we dumped the expensive almond meal into the cookie dough, we told ourselves that we must bake it or else it will go rancid and be a total waste instead of just going into a cookie recipe. We can't wait for a almond-worthy recipe to be hand-delivered to us by the gods with a certificate of divine endorsement.

Usually, when you add the title ingredient of a cookie recipe to the dough, it looks different after. If you're making spice cookies, it gets browner. If you're making oatmeal cookies, it gets lumpier. But once we got these mixed, you could not tell we'd added one of the most expensive things on the baking aisle to it.

If you're buying almond meal instead of grinding them yourself, this recipe basically flies together. Before we knew it, we were ready for the long slog of baking almost 4 dozen cookies in an oven that only holds one sheet pan at a time. Even though the cookies are really tiny and therefore will bake fast (and also we can get a lot of them on one pan), that is a long time to pull baking sheets in and out of the oven. While we were waiting for the first batch to bake, we started shaping the remaining dough into teaspoon-sized balls. We thought it would be more... presentational. Or something like that. We just dropped first batch from a teaspoon and got a pan of teaspoon-sized splats, but these would theoretically look nicer. Besides, what else were we doing while waiting for things to come out of the oven? You can only wipe the counter so many times before you go from tidy to obsessive.
Also, if you're wondering why Our House of Cookrye has made such a big deal of Mrs. Masseth's Cake Plate, it's because from the top it looks like this.

And here's the first batch. Because we took the line "drop from a teaspoon onto greased cookie sheet" literally, they really are just teaspoon-sized splats of cookie dough. As we were plopping the misshapen dough blobs onto the cookie sheet like cafeteria mashed potatoes, we had to tell ourselves that this recipe may not have come to us from Mrs. Goodfellow in her own handwriting, we had to use the precious ground almonds in something because they don't keep forever.

The rest of the cookies did not look so higgledy-piggledy since we had time to make them look nice and neat. We then regretted this, because the dropped ones look so gosh-darn adorable and the nicely shaped ones look so mechanically uniform. We also made a mistake in baking the later batches- since the first ones baked at the recipe-specified temperature got brown really quickly while the inside still seemed nearly raw, we assumed our oven was running a little bit hot and lowered the temperature. We should not have done that. In the end, the first batch was perfectly soft and just right in the middle, but the later ones were crunchy all the way through (although this did make them perfect for dunking in tea).

With that said, this really is a fantastic recipe. They're utterly delicious, and just a smidge softer than shortbread. If you like using almond extract in things, you really need to try these. If you don't, you should try them anyway because they're amazing.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Fruit Crisp: or, Turning those expiring fruits into desserts

Today, we at A Book of Cookrye present another entry in our ongoing intermittent series of avoiding waste! There's a plague on, and groceries are more scarce than ever. Even if your grocery store looks normal and plentiful again, you've doubtless noticed faint dizzy spells when paying for what used to be affordable. We posted the following line to our friends online:
If you often don't eat berries fast enough to keep them from expiring, keep them out on the refrigerator shelf instead of in the fruit drawer. They will dry out rather than go moldy. So instead of discarding them, you can stir them into pancakes, muffins, and cakes. Once they're baked, you can't tell they ever got a bit pruny.
In a previous lifetime, people might have commented with things like "Ewww" or "You're still eating those?" or "Why don't you just throw them away?" But in these times, we got comments like "Making note for future reference." No one was grossed out at the thought of eating blueberries that have hardened nearly to rocks in the refrigerator. (By the way, this really works. Keeping your berries out on the counter or in the fruit drawer of your refrigerator will make the uneaten ones go moldy. But the air in the main part of your refrigerator will dry them out instead. Also, your berries won't start looking dried until at least the time when they would have expired anyway.)
I'm not going to say that it's more important than ever not to waste food. It's just more obvious now that it's either more expensive or out of stock. We all know how I feel about wasting food:

Even in times of plenty, wasting food is taking all the farm labor, all the fuel used for farming equipment, all the fertilizer (whether it was used for your produce or for the animal feed that went into your meat), all the energy used for refrigerated shipping, all the expense and resources of packaging... and literally throwing it away.
Anyway, today we found some moldy raspberries that got mistakenly put in the fruit drawer. Half of them had gone moldy, and the others had only hours before they too were expired. And so, we are going to make fruit crisp! This is a wonderful way to use up absolutely any fruit that is getting too old to eat. A lot of us forget that fruit pies and cobblers and crisps used to be very popular ways to make something delicious out of fruit that looked ready for the trash. Do you have apples that are wrinkled on the outside and are brown when you cut them open? Do you have mushy berries? Wrinkled, shrinking grapes? Plums turning into prunes? By the time you bake them, you'll never know that they were looking sad and drippy.
Fruit crisp also is easy to make in any size you like. You can easily make a small fruit crisp if you want nice treat just for yourself, or (if you have a lot of old fruit on hand or the store had a lot of wrinkly, pruny fruits on clearance) make a big one just as easily.
Using those sugar packets that come with your to-go orders (because of course you would never just pinch it from restaurants as you leave) is a wonderful way to reduce how much sugar you must use from your baking pantry now that sacks of it are getting scarce.

And now we sweeten the fruit! Add sugar to taste. As this is not cake-making, we needn't worry about one mis-measurement leading to disaster. If you have no idea how much sugar "to taste" is for you, start with one tablespoon per cup of fruit.
The next step is to take the fruit, cut it open so the sugar can permeate it, and let it soak in the sugar and any spices you'd like to add. This step is totally optional, though I find it helps the flavor of very expired fruit. If you will be baking this in a pan instead of folding one yourself out of foil, you can just do this in the pan and forget about getting out a container which will later need washing. (We do not recommend letting the fruit soak in a homemade pan of folded foil- there will be tiny pinholes that the juice will leak through. This drip-through isn't a problem in baking because the juice quickly cooks until too thick to go through.)

These particular raspberries may look fresh and delightful in the photo, but that's because I already picked out the ones with gray fur. Many of them were moldy only on one side, so in the name of avoiding waste we discarded the bad side and figured that we're baking them which will deal with anything we missed. They were also so mushy that the container looked like this after just a quick shake.

If you look in the above photo, you will also see some dark wrinkly things. Those are dried blueberries. We didn't purchase them dried, we just remembered to avoid putting them in the drawer. They sat out in the refrigerator, and so the uneaten ones turned into those raisin-looking things instead of becoming too moldy to eat.

As you can see, the blueberries are already re-plumping in the juice that has exuded from the raspberries. Even if you don't let the berries marinate, the more dried-out fruit will quite indistinguishable from the fresh after things get boiling hot in the oven. Also, if you have a large stash of those raw sugar packets from coffee shops you've never used in anything, this is a great time to get them out and use them up. It will help stretch out your pantry now that flour and sugar have to be rationed in many stores. Raw sugar may be too gravelly to use in cakes and cookies (unless you want to sand your teeth off), but it will dissolve into the fruit juices and also add a nice extra flavor.
Anyway, let's move on to making the topping. You start with a knob of butter (or margarine) and about 1-and-a-half times as much sugar. It can be brown or white, depending on what's at hand.
This wasn't quite enough brown sugar, so pretend that we have about one and a half times as much in the bowl. Also, yes we are reusing the container the berries were in. Every dish you get out is a dish you must wash.

Now just mix the two together. It should be nice and creamy.

Now add enough flour to make it crumbly and little bit dry. We're using whole-wheat flour to make ourselves feel a little bit better about whether dessert is good for you. It also adds a nice extra flavor that always goes well with the fruit underneath. You can also add whatever spices you like. We added a lot of cinnamon to this, which is why it suddenly turns dark brown in future pictures.

As you can see, it's a bit dry. This is on purpose; the boiling fruit juice will soak into it. If it starts out a bit dry, it'll stay nice and crusty instead of going too soft.

At this point, you can add whatever chopped nuts or other things you like on top of the fruit. We dumped in a handful of oatmeal. Keep in mind that whatever you use will probably still be crunchy afterward unless you're using fruit that has a lot of juices in it.

And now, with a quick bit of mixing, the topping is ready! The really nice thing about making a topping like this is you don't even need to get out a spoon. You can just use your fingertips.
And now, just look at how perfectly crumbly it is, which makes it so easy to sprinkle onto the fruit.

Obviously we want a lot more tasty topping than that, but this is just to show you about how crumbly it should be when you make it. But be sure you don't put too thick a layer of topping, or else the very upper surface will go dry as sand. If you keep the topping thin, the steam from the bubbling fruit will keep things nice and moist. If you like to have a lot of topping with your fruit, use a big enough pan that the fruit is spread out a bit thin. That way there's a lot of tasty crust with every bite of fruit.

And here we see the happy result!

I'm not going to lie, I'd have made this regardless of whether I'm skimping on groceries or not. It's easy and delicious.