Monday, February 25, 2013

Toys for Adults: The Kitchen Store is Your Playground Now!

No, not that kind of adult toys!  This is a family blog, for goodness' sake.  However, today I will deviate, so to speak, from focusing exclusively on baked goods and their anecdotes to spend a bit of time on something very important but easy to overlook:  proper kitchen tools (or toys, as I prefer to call them).  Appropriate equipment can make a huge difference not only in the outcome of your creation but the process as well.  And...the process impacts whether or not you decide to make whatever it is, so if there is a way to make the process smoother and easier, you are more likely to create deliciousness more often.  The more often you create deliciousness, the more proficient you become, so you create more more often and it gets even easier and you create more and ... you get the idea.

Momentum can and will build in baking and cooking (and really anything) simply by the act of doing it.  You don't have to do it well or with perfect form, but the more you practice, the easier it will become.  When there are tools available to make your work come out better and to make the process more fluid, they are a worthwhile investment.

Now, I am not talking about tools and equipment that completely remove the baker or cook from the process.  For example, I never use a food processor for chopping because the time it takes to clean up the food processor negates any time or aggravation savings afforded by using it to chop.  I would rather use my knife and cutting board and have imperfectly diced sweet potatoes.  In other words, there are not advantages for me in using the food processor for chopping because it does not make the work easier when all is said and done; nor does it improve the quality of the creation since I can chop things just fine.  However, I will use a mandoline or grater when I need shredded apples or carrots or potatoes because typically, if a creation calls for something to be shredded, the creation needs it to be uniformly shredded, which is a much more specific parameter than simply chopped.  Achieving perfect shreds with a knife is probably possible, but I'm not going to test out that hypothesis.  In other words, in this case, the benefits of the proper tool make the work easier and the outcome better.   With me so far?  Wishing I had decided to write about the other kind of adult toy?  Well, keep reading.  Here comes the part that will enable you to rationalize (to yourself or others!) a reconnaissance trip to Sur la Table even if it's an hour away.

What follows is a partial list of what I could not do without in my kitchen for baking.  A recipe for a happy kitchen, perhaps.  I have also included explanations; most of the items are self explanatory, but some of them also come in handy in ways you might not have thought of - hence the explanation.  I have not included things like bowls, whisks, mixers - those are things that you probably already have if you're reading this!  They are also things without peculiarities for the most part.  The items below are a bit more esoteric.  If you have a suggestion, add a comment, please!  I, personally, am always looking for more reasons to go to Sur la Table even though it's an hour away AND in a huge, scary mall.

Measuring cups:  2 sets so that you can use one for dry and one for wet.  I don't like the ones with spouts because they are more annoying to clean and to level, and not any easier for pouring.

Measuring spoons:  2 sets, or one double-sided set, one for dry and one for wet.  I prefer round spoons to oval for no reason whatsoever.

European style rolling pin, that is, one without handles:  easier than regular rolling pins to maneuver and keep even pressure.  They come in various sizes two of which I have.  I find that the smaller of the two is the one I use most often.  The large one is good for very stiff doughs, which I don't really make any more.  If you bake with wheat or are interested in bread baking, take a look at all the sizes available and see what you like.

Metal dough roller:  even easier to manage than a rolling pin and perfect for small creations or especially soft ones that don't require the heft of a rolling pin (individual cookies, pie crust, tart crust).  They also can be refrigerated, which makes them even more ideal for soft dough that heats up quickly when worked.

Metal dough scraper:  gluten free doughs are sticky.  Cursing should not be part of my pie crust recipe, but it has been thus far because the dough is so hard to move.  I am hoping that my new dough scraper changes all this.

9x5x3" loaf pan, metal, not glass: this size will work for any loaf cake or quick bread or regular bread.  It is the most versatile of the loaf pan sizes out there and is often what is called for in recipes.  If this size is not called for, you can still use it.

So, that will get you started.  There are many, many other toys you can add to your kitchen and certainly many more that I have in my kitchen and use on a weekly if not daily basis.  I am hoping that this small list and the explanations will give some added perspective and inspiration to your baking.

If not, if your trip to the kitchen store is fruitless and the mall is overcrowded and you've just had it, well, I'm sure there is an adult store somewhere nearby to bring a giggle to even the most irritable of kitchen store shoppers.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Your Piece of the Pie

Another year, another dollar?  No, no, that's not it.  Another decade, another dollop, then?  No, that doesn't sound right either.  Another Christmas, a brand new MacBook Pro on which to write lots more blog posts, AND upload pictures successfully, AND create crazy ingredient spreadsheets, AND...who knows what all else?  Yes, by George, I think I've got it.  I know I do.  I am actually in possession of a computer that is able to run what Google terms "a modern browser."  A computer that does not allow me nearly enough time to shower while it boots up.  A computer that knows the year upon start up rather than being stuck in 1969 like some kind of whacked out DeLorean stuck in 1955.  As much as I loved the movie, I do not want every computer session reminding me of Doc Brown rigging up crazy cables to a clock tower just to get the thing to move.  This machine is more like Speedracer when I start the thing up...I can barely get in a sip of coffee between pushing the power button and seeing the screen illuminate with a prompt for me to Log On, Already!  Thank you, Family!

For some reason, the term "family" makes me think of a pie.  I think it's because pies can be cut in all sorts of ways and have all kinds of fillings, to start.  Pies are composed of a somewhat unlikely combination of components that meld together to make something great, not because each thing loses its identity, but precisely because each thing differs from the others, and the coming together of those differences creates something complex and tremendous.  That is not to say that the process is at all simple or that it's the same every time.  No indeed.  Making a pie is a little bit different every time, even if you're making the same pie.  The butter might be wetter, the air might be dryer, the food processor might be warmer, you might be less patient than last time...the list of factors influencing how a pie turns out is endless.  Every time, you must approach the pie making with the utmost respect, kindness and patience, both towards the pie and yourself.  Making pie never gets old, it is always a little scary, and there is constant challenge.  The rewards are always worth the labor.  When something doesn't work, well, you have learned (and you still probably have a fairly scrumptious if not perfect treat).  When something comes out better than expected, enjoy it and record it (either in your head or on paper) for future use and self-affirmation!

The holiday times are a time for families, whether your family is made up of people you are related to or people you have elected to love and behold dear or some combination of the two.  Who cares, really, about the definition, as long as you know what it means for you and yours.

Holidays are also a time for pies, naturally.  I have conducted several secret gluten-free pie making experiments that did not make it into the blog for various reasons.  One resulted in a small oven fire.  Lesson learned:  when a pie crust has two sticks of butter in it, you had best put a rimmed baking sheet under the pie as it bakes to catch the melty stuff when it oozes out.  Another trial yielded tasty but not overwhelmingly delicious results, and wasn't particularly nice to look at, though my taste tester gobbled it up.  Lesson learned:  my perspective is not the only one, and may not be 100% correct, though it is valid.  Second lesson learned:  it is possible that each one of us is our own meanest and most unforgiving critic.  (Pie sounds more and more like reflections on family as you read, doesn't it?)

On this latest attempt, I combined and adapted a couple of recipes based on my own school of thought on pie crust behavior.  My school of thought favors a combination of butter and shortening for baking consistency as well as taste and texture.  I don't care for multiple eggs in pie crust, but in gluten free crust, you need a binder, and eggs work for that purpose as well as imparting a nice hue to the crust as it bakes.  For the filling, apples were an obvious choice because they are in abundance right now, both at the farmer's market and in our fruit drawer.  I threw some cranberries in too, since apple-cranberry pie is a family favorite 'round these parts.  The crust was the experimental part, so feel free to use any filling you like.  This recipe makes two nine inch crusts, so if your pie recipe of choice only calls for a bottom crust, freeze the other half for later use.  Most importantly, share a piece of your pie with your family!  Even if you think it's lousy (the pie, not your family).  They might agree...or not (once again, about the pie).  The important thing is that you're eating pie together.


Apple Cranberry Pie for Sharing

A note before starting:  I make pie crusts in a food processor with a capacity of 11 cups.  If you have a 9 or 11 cup food processor or a stand mixer, I highly recommend using it.  If not, you can cut in the butter and shortening using a pastry knife, two knives, or your fingers.

For the crust (adapted from Blackbird Bakery Gluten Free, by Karen Morgan)~
3/4 C. tapioca flour
2 TBSP potato starch
3/4 C. arrowroot (or cornstarch)
1/4 C. plus 2 TBSP sweet rice flour, plus extra set aside
1/4 C. sorghum flour
2 TBSP granulated sugar
1/4 TSP salt
1 1/2 TSP guar gum
1 stick (8 TBSP) unsalted butter, chilled and diced
8 TBSP shortening (I use palm), chilled and diced/cut up
3 large eggs

Combine all the dry ingredients in the bowl of your chosen apparatus. Add the butter and shortening and pulse until the mixture looks like coarse bread crumbs.  Add the eggs and mix until the dough rolls itself into a ball.  This dough will be a lot softer and uniform-looking than wheat flour pie crust because of the eggs.  It will appear less clumpy and a lot more yellow.  This is no cause for alarm!

Scrape/dump/gracefully extract the dough from your food processor onto a dry surface coated with that extra rice flour.  Knead for a few turns, then divide in half, forming each half into a thick disk.  Put in the refrigerator to cool for at least 2 hours, or up to two days.  If you are impatient like I was, you can also put it in the freezer for about 20-25 minutes and achieve the same result as 2 hours in the fridge.  The dough needs to be firm when you start working with it because it softens up ridiculously fast once out of the fridge.  However if it's too firm, it is also unworkable.  If it cracks open at your first attempt at rolling, it is too firm.  Leave it at room temperature for 5-10 minutes.  If it feels firm on the outside but the middle is gooey, put it back in the freezer or fridge until it is more uniformly firm.

On a dry surface covered with rice flour, roll out both disks to about 13 or 14 inch round.  The dough is very, very sticky, so be sure and flip it often (but carefully - it tears very easily) and re-flour as needed.  This rolling out process will be slightly frustrating but it will work out.  The second time around, I put floured plastic wrap on the counter, placed the dough on that, put more flour on the dough, and then placed a second sheet of plastic wrap on top of the dough so that the transportation from counter to pie plate did not make me yell (again).  If you are a fast roller, you probably won't have to do that.  Once again, this is very, very sticky dough, but it's easy to fix tears with a finger and some cold water!  In other words, if the pie bottom doesn't make it to the pie pan in one piece, no problem!

For the filling~
6-9 apples - more or less depending on the size of your pie pan, whatever variety you like
Fresh lemon juice
1 TSP vanilla (optional)
1 TBSP arrowroot
2 (or more) TBSP sugar
1 TSP cinnamon
1 C. fresh or frozen cranberries

Peel, core, and slice the apples and place in a large bowl.
Squeeze on the lemon juice.
Stir in the arrowroot and sugar and cinnamon, and then the vanilla if using.
Fold in the cranberries.
Let sit for about 10 minutes (just enough time to roll out the dough!).

Putting it all together~
Preheat your oven to 375.
Place one of your lovely rolled out disks into your pie plate and trim to just overhang the edge of the plate.
Carefully ladle in your filling.  If you have extra, well, eat up!
CAREFULLY lay the top crust over and pinch the top to the bottom.
CAREFULLY cut vents in the top crust.
I use a paring knife and start by making an unconnected cross in the very center, then fill in between the cuts for one more set of vents.  The trick is that there are enough vents for ...well, ventilation, but not so many or so close together that your pie bursts out.

At this point, you may brush the crust with milk or a beaten egg or egg white.  It will look really nice.  When I made this pie, I was so relieved that the crust was staying together that I quick put it in the oven before realizing that I had made an aesthetic blunder in the pastry world.  However, given my dairy and egg intolerances, perhaps it was subconsciously on purpose.

Bake for 40-60 minutes on a rimmed baking sheet.  The pie is done when it gets golden brown and it very bubbly.  If the crusts start to get dark after only 20 minutes, cover them with foil for the next 20 minutes then reassess.  Enjoy!