Tag Archives: baking blog

one strawberry and one blueberry muffin

Red (White) and Blue Muffins ~ Happy 4th of July!

Phew it’s been a while since I’ve whipped up any Martha Stewart treats in the kitchen, but last week I was inspired by the start of berry season, so I turned my Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook open to blueberry muffins.

Have I mentioned that I’ve been working in a bakery for the past 5 months? Mostly helping customers up front, but it’s afforded me the opportunity to sample some delicious cookies, quick breads, brioche and blueberry muffins.

At the bakery, our muffins typically turn out huge with tops that far exceed the size of the rest of the muffin. And that’s pretty much everyone’s favorite part anyway right, so what’s not to love? (My mind is jumping to Seinfeld: “It’s not, ‘Top of the Muffin TO YOU!'” with flamboyant Elaine hand gestures and then later, “I gotta haul some stumps”…such a hilarious episode.)

ANY.WAY.

In pursuit of using up some strawberries from the fridge, I decided to make a batch of mini blueberry muffins and a batch of mini strawberry muffins. PS I only own a mini muffin tin. New York apartment and all that. PPS I’m not sure I’ve ever come across a strawberry muffin before. Have you? I was really quite excited at the prospect!

I’ve never really made muffins before, but I’m not sure why not since it only calls for very standard ingredients: flour, sugar, butter, milk, baking powder, salt, vanilla extract and eggs. I think I’ve always been scared that my muffins will stick to the tin and I’ve been too lazy to purchase those little paper cups, which also seem sort of a waste to the environment.

So with this, I made to sure to super duper butter the muffin tin, not only in the wells but all along the ridges too because I knew I wanted to try to “overstuff” them to create the large muffin tops. Then I dusted the whole tin with flour and scooped in heaping spoonfuls of batter – first up was blueberry.

Since I was using a mini tin, I thought the cook time should be decreased but I wasn’t sure by how much. So I started with 15 minutes, they were clearly not done, so I turned the tray and put them back in for another 10.

They seemed to be slightly browned on top, so I pulled them out of the oven, let them cool for about 10 minutes and then flipped them over and banged the tray a few times (a new trick I learned at work) so that the muffins slide right out. I only had to manually pull a few out and they ended up breaking, mostly because the berries were at the bottom of the well and had melted and stuck to the pan.

blueberry mini muffins
blueberry mini muffins

I rebuttered, refloured and did the same with the strawberry batter, although I had even more batter to use, so I cooked for 27 minutes instead of 25.

folding strawberries into muffin batter
folding strawberries into the batter

The strawberry muffin tops were much wider than the blueberry ones and they had kind of baked into one another so the flip and tap method didn’t work and I had to use a little knife to help pop the muffins out, but none of them broke.

the bottoms of baked strawberry muffins
the bottoms of baked strawberry muffins

Some tips:

  1. Toss the fruit with flour before folding it into the batter to prevent it from sinking to the bottom of the tin.
  2. Sprinkle sugar on top of the raw muffins before baking for an extra sweet crunch. I did this on the strawberries but not on the blueberries.

    raw strawberry muffins ready for baking
    raw strawberry muffins ready for baking
  3. Bake the muffin tin on top of a cookie sheet (especially with a mini muffin tin) so that you have a wider tray to handle. It’s hard to grasp narrow edges of a muffin tin with oven mitts on.

These muffins were quite addicting and I ate at least 4 warm ones straight away. The blueberry ones were tart (small blueberries) and the strawberry ones were pretty sweet. I LOVED the way the strawberry ones smelled in the oven – like strawberry shortcake – and just like summer.

one strawberry and one blueberry muffin
one strawberry and one blueberry muffin

How perfect for July 4th to have some summer berry muffins that are red and blue and white (the muffin part?) – yum!

sour cream coffee cake going into the oven!

Baking with Leftover Ingredients in 3 Parts: Part 1

Why does everything take me so much longer than it should?

This morning I realized that I had open containers of both heavy cream (from previously made caramel) and sour cream (from previously made cookies) that I would never use in everyday life (not liking the texture of sour cream or whipped cream and not using cream in my coffee), just sitting in the fridge, waiting to go bad.

So I turned to Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, which was the root cause of me having these ingredients in the first place, to see what recipes I could make to use them up.

I came across 1. Sour Cream Coffee Cake and 2. Mocha Roulade.

Each of these cake recipes has two parts: 1. Making the actual cake and 2. Making the topping/filling.

Since the Roulade filling needed to chill for a number of hours, I decided to start there, however that will have to come in Part 3, because today, I’m going to focus on the Sour Cream Coffee Cake.

I started with the brown sugar crumble topping for the Sour Cream Coffee Cake. As I typically do, I cut the recipe in half because 1. I never need to eat alllllll the desserts I make and 2. because I didn’t have the right size cake pan so decided to improvise with a standard, smaller, bread loaf pan (9×5) instead of 13×9. We’ll see how that goes.

What overall should take me 30 minutes somehow takes me at least an hour and a half, every time. I’m not sure why because I feel like I’m moving methodically and with purpose, but when I look up at the clock, so much time has passed. Maybe it’s the inordinate amount of hand-washing I do while baking? (Who wants raw egg on their hands?)

I made the crumble topping which basically amounts to flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and lots of butter to form buttery chunks (FYI this topping would also be great on an apple crisp).

coffee cake crumble topping
coffee cake brown sugar crumble topping

Then I made the cake batter. Or….and maybe this is what slowed me down….I had an incredible brain fart. What I understood to be a 1/4 cup measuring spoon was really a 1/2 cup measuring spoon. So while all my other ingredients (baking powder, baking soda, salt) were properly measured, I had inadvertently used WAY too much flour. Crap.

And since I had already mixed up the dry ingredients, I couldn’t think of a great way to salvage what I had mixed into the proper proportions.

So I started over.

I did, however, put the mis-measured mixture into tupperware to use for some future recipe.

After redoing the dry ingredients, I whipped up the butter and sugar. And darn it again. I used too much butter. Seriously, my brain is mush right now.

So I amped up my sugar, vanilla, eggs, and wouldn’t you know it, flour mixture, to compensate. Argh.

At this point, I’m fairly certain I have no idea what I’m doing or how this thing will even turn out because the ratios are probably out of whack, but oh well, pressing on because I’m not willing to start over again.

Adding the final touch – the leftover sour cream – a perfect amount left in the carton by the way – I spoon the batter into the loaf pan and top with about 1/2 of the topping because clearly even half the recipe was way too much. Making me nervous about the lack of surface area I have created on top of my cake….

sour cream coffee cake batter
sour cream coffee cake batter

It’s in the oven. 20 minutes left. Smells good. Wait for Part 2 to see if it’s gonna be okay. *grimace face emoji*

sour cream coffee cake going into the oven!
sour cream coffee cake going into the oven!

Martha Stewart Linzer Hearts (Part II)

I’ve submitted this post to the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge. This event aims to connect food bloggers and inspire us to try new things. This month is hosted by Chinelo from Good Cake Day. The theme is LOVE IN ALL ITS FORMS. our-growing-edge-badge

In Part I of this cookie recipe from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, I blanched hazelnuts to grind into hazelnut flour for our Valentine’s Day Linzer Heart cookies. I made three variations on this cookie: plain hazelnut shortbread cookies, Nutella sandwich cookies and strawberry jam-filled heart cutout cookies.

After my trials and tribulations with making the hazelnut flour, I was then on to making the actual cookie dough. FINALLY!

Mixing the hazelnut flour, all-purpose flour, cinnamon, salt and baking powder was easy enough. Beating the butter and sugar, egg yolks and vanilla extract also went smoothly.

I combined the dry ingredients into the wet in the stand mixer, and then turned the dough out onto a floured work surface to form into disks for refrigeration. This is where I feel I kind of got tripped up. The dough was pretty dry and crumbly. I think it was generally supposed to be, but perhaps mine was even drier than necessary.

Nonetheless, I got it formed into disks and into the fridge overnight.

The next morning I took it out to roll it think to start cutting out my heart shapes. The dough crumbled apart.

It split all over the place I couldn’t get it to roll smoothly.

I left it for about 30 minutes to warm up a bit and tried again, more successfully, but still with some struggle.

Unfortunately or fortunately, I doubled the recipe so that I would have enough cookies to bring to the art show. But working in a small NYC kitchen, this meant I was manipulating about 1/5 of the dough at a time – rolling it out, cutting it into hearts, placing those hearts on a baking sheet in the freezer while rerolling the dough scraps to cut more hearts to place on a second sheet to put in the freezer. Now mind you, I only own two cookie sheets to my name.

So once the first sheet went in to the oven, I worked more dough on the counter. Pulled the cookies out of the oven, moved them onto a wire cooling rack, and turned around to place a fresh sheet of cut dough hearts on the hot pan and put it in the freezer to chill before repeating the process again and again.

This literally took me ALL DAY.

I could only work with so much dough at a time and was limited by the number of cookie sheets and space. It was like a well-choreographed dance of shifting dough and baked cookies around the room from counter to pan to rack to plate.

piles of plain hazelnut shortbread cookies, awaiting jam or Nutella
piles of plain hazelnut shortbread cookies, awaiting jam or Nutella

The other problem I encountered cutting out the hearts was that my two heart cookie cutters were too close in size. Basically I needed to cut 2 types of hearts: big ones that would be the bottom half of the cookie, and big ones with a heart cut out of the middle to go on top so that the jam can shine through.

Well my “smaller” heart cookie cutter was only slightly smaller than my “big” cookie cutter, so every time I tried to punch out a smaller heart from the bigger heart, the bigger cookie would break apart (remember my dough was already dry and crumbly).

So I did two things: 1. I simply (not so easily though) used a knife to cut out tiny heart shapes from half of the big hearts to be the top part of the cookie; 2. I decided to cut some stand-alone small heart cookies and make them into Nutella sandwich cookies – no middle hole included.

linzer heart cutouts
Baked heart cut outs

All in all, it worked out for the best. I had a TON of cookies in various sizes and flavors, which was fun. They were: big strawberry jam-filled cookies with heart-shaped holes in the middle for the jam to peek out; small heart sandwich cookies filled with Nutella; big heart cookies ~ as is, plain; and teeny tiny heart cookies (created when I used a knife to cut out the tiny hearts from the bigger cookies) tossed in powdered sugar.

Thanks to everyone who tried the cookies and gave rave reviews. They were about 24 hours in the making, my back hurt when I was done, and while I’m proud to have accomplished such an in-depth recipe, I don’t think I’ll be making them again for a long while (unless someone sends me some pre-made hazelnut flour).

jam-filled Linzer Heart Cookies

Martha Stewart Valentine’s Day Cookies

As it’s Monday, it’s time for another recipe recap from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook from which I’ve been recreating recipes. This time I tackled some sweet heart shaped cookies just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Martha Stewart's Linzer Heart Cookies
Martha Stewart’s Linzer Heart Cookies – my final outcome

As you may or may not recall, I’ve been drawing and painting pretty much my entire life, however I’ve just recently gotten the kick in the pants I needed to buckle down and paint regularly, in the form of an opportunity to exhibit some paintings in an art show in Brooklyn.

Since the art exhibit was put on by a collaborative collective of women artists and entrepreneurs, self-funded, and all of that good stuff, I figured I would also contribute some snacks to the event. Any why not some Valentine’s Day Linzer Heart cookies from Martha Stewart?

The cookies are essentially hazelnut shortbread cookies filled with jam and dusted with powdered sugar. While the original recipe calls for raspberry jam, I substituted strawberry jam, and to be frank, by the end of the whole process I kind of gave up and made a few sandwich cookies with Nutella and left some cookies plain instead of working with the jam.

I knew the dough needed to be chilled overnight, so I started on Thursday with the intention of finishing up the cookies on Friday.

I have to tell you, these were probably the hardest, most time-consuming cookies I’ve ever made, including French macarons, which should tell you something.

First, there was the matter of the hazelnut flour. I really should have thought ahead and purchased pre-made hazelnut flour, but I didn’t. Instead, I wanted to stay true to the recipe, which calls for grinding blanched hazelnuts in a food processor to create the flour.

All well and good, except I didn’t really account for the incredible annoyance that is blanching hazelnuts (in other words, removing the skins).

You see, I ordered regular, whole hazelnuts from Amazon. No problem, right? Wrong.

While these were fine and dandy as far as hazelnuts go, they weren’t blanched. Honestly I glazed right over the “blanched” direction in the cookbook the first time I read it. Like, “What’s that? Who cares?”

When I sat down to actually make the dough, I reread “blanched” and thought, ehhh whatever. So I Googled “Do I really have to blanch hazelnuts?”

Turns out the answer is Yes. Damn it. If you don’t blanch the nuts the skins can cause a seriously bitter taste. So I Googled “How to blanch hazelnuts.”

In theory, it’s a fairly straightforward process: boil water and baking soda, add nuts, boil for a few minutes, drop nuts in cold water and gently rub the skins off. Voila! Blanched hazelnuts.

Here’s what really happened: Boiled water and baking soda – no sweat. Added nuts. Water turned pink-black (as forewarned) and boiled over. Turned off heat. Mopped up puddles of water everywhere.

pot of water and baking soda boiling over pink water from hazelnuts
pot of water and baking soda boiling over with hazelnuts

Turned heat back on medium. Pot immediately boiled over.

how to blanch hazelnuts
boiling hazelnuts to blanch them – removing the skins

And so on and so forth until I couldn’t take it anymore and I scooped out the nuts to dunk them in a cold bowl of water. (PS. My white pot will never be white again. After many washes, it is still stained yellowy-pink.)

cold water turned black from hazelnuts
hazelnuts in bowl of cold water

Then came the tedious process of rubbing the skins off of the hazelnuts in the bowl of water. Fine. But what to do with the sticky skins? I could barely get two nuts clean before having to shake my hand violently over the trash can to get the skins to break loose.

I moved on to rinsing the nuts under running water, which worked okay, but not having a garbage disposal, the sink quickly filled with water and the drain was clogged with particles of skins that fell apart when I tried to grab them.

Ugh. All in all, I would NOT do this again. Take the shortcut, Hannah. Buy the hazelnut flour.

hazelnut flour
hazelnut flour

Okay, fine, got the hazelnuts where I need them in the form of powder. Now onto the dough….in Part II.

Tips from Martha: Preheating the Oven (Part 2 of 2)

As I read through Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook I’m picking up pearls of baking wisdom. But many of the recommendations and To Do’s don’t have a lot of the “Why” behind them. In these “Tips from Martha” I further investigate the deeper reasoning.

Last week, we discussed the argument that preheating the oven is a waste of energy. Today, we look at why one would need to preheat the oven for 20-30 minutes as recommended by Martha Stewart in this cookbook.

Here’s some insight into any cookbook’s guidance to preheat: Since all ovens aren’t the same (an axiom that covers the differences in oven temperatures between say gas and electric ovens or ovens by different manufacturers), cookbook authors must come up with some instruction that will get the majority of at-home cooks to the same end result.

It’s like the scientific method from 7th grade: you have to create a duplicable experiment! If the authors said, “Don’t preheat the oven” they wouldn’t then be able to follow through with reliable cook times, not knowing how long it would take anyone’s oven to get to the right temp.

SO! Part A: Cookbooks must tell you to preheat the oven so that everyone is starting from the same temperature and thus can fully follow the subsequent directions. Therefore, no matter whether or not you think preheating the oven wastes energy, it doesn’t matter: the cookbook author must advise to preheat.

BUT! Back to the deeper question at hand about preheating for 20-30 minutes. Cookbook author Dorie Greenspan explains:

“Mr. RepairMan [who was there to fix her oven] explained that ovens cycle on and off to maintain an average temperature…And that some ovens cycle further up and down from the desired temperature than others. And that some cycle more frequently than others.

“Mr. RepairMan said that when the oven light goes off for the first time, the oven is hotter than the temperature it’s set to.  For example, he explained that my oven swings plus/minus about 25 degrees F.  [And], if I set it for 350F…when it first preheats, it’ll go as high as 400F.  According to Mr. RepairMan, the oven hits its stride and keeps the most consistent temperature after it has cycled on and off three times.”

Ah ha! So there you go! Preheating the oven for a longer period of time gives the oven more time to heat to the correct temperature without crazy temperature swings. My math brain would like to illustrate with this simple graph:

Preheating Oven
Graph of when the oven temperature normalizes to desired temperature. Fabricated numbers for illustrative purposes only.

At this point your cookbook author is more confident that the directions that follow about baking time will lead you, Dear Home Cook, to a more reliable and delicious outcome.

All this leads me to conclude that it makes sense for Martha to tell us to preheat the oven for 20-30 minutes to ensure that we are on the same page temperature-wise before moving forward and thus can expect the best outcome, all else equal.

I would say this though: If you get to know your oven well (probably by employing an oven thermometer), you may discover that you can cut your preheat time or not preheat at all if you work out how much longer you may need to bake to make up that time.

Isn’t math fun!? Further thoughts?

Tips from Martha: Preheating the Oven (Part 1 of 2)

As I read through Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook I’m picking up pearls of baking wisdom. But many of the recommendations and To Do’s don’t have a lot of the “Why” behind them. In these “Tips from Martha” I further investigate the deeper reasoning.

Take, for instance, Preheating the Oven. Yes, of course, pretty much all recipes that entail using the oven tell you turn it on ahead of time. Martha Stewart goes so far as to recommend preheating the oven for 20-30 minutes before baking.

But why is this?

Before we investigate how long one should preheat the oven, first we must decide about preheating the oven at all. There are two sides to the oven preheating argument, which would be 1. to preheat vs. 2. to not preheat.

Those of the #2 to not preheat at all camp claim that it wastes energy and that food essentially will cook the same whether it goes into a hot oven or not. You may have to cook it a smidge longer, but probably not as long as you would’ve been preheating the oven. Okay, I guess I can see that argument. I haven’t seen the scientific data to back up that theory so I can’t say for sure, but it could be plausible.

Those of the #1 to preheat mindset argue that food needs to be cooked at an even temperature for the duration of the process to have the correct qualities of taste, texture, etc. (And I would argue that for baking certain desserts this is more true than for instance roasting vegetables.)

So first it’s time for you to decide whether you think preheating at all is worth it. It probably depends on what you’re making, how well you know your oven and how well you trust your senses to let you know when something is done. But whether or not #1 or #2 is universally or occasionally correct, doesn’t tell us why the advice to preheat for so long…

Next week will reveal more in Part 2!