Tag Archives: baking

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!


Toffee Crunch Cookies

My sister made these AH-mazing toffee cookies and took some great photos too, so just had to share ASAP.

She adapted the “Classic” chocolate chip cookie recipe I sent her from The Joy of Cooking (1997 edition). She did half chocolate chips and half toffee bits and said the chocolate kind of overpowered, so in doing it again she’d do 100% toffee. So that’s the recipe we’ll share here!

Love you, sis!

1 cup + 2 tbps flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick of butter (she microwaved it for 30 seconds at 50% heat to get it semi-melted…this will produce a flatter-crunchier-edged cookie)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup Heath toffee chunks

heath toffee

To Make:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease cookie sheets
2. Whisk flour and baking soda together and set aside
3. Cream butter, sugar and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy
4. Into the butter/sugar, beat egg, salt and vanilla
5. Stir flour mixture into butter/sugar/egg/salt/vanilla mixture until smooth and totally incorporated
6. Gently stir in toffee bits
7. Use a cookie scoop or tablespoon measure to drop balls of dough 2 inches apart on baking sheets
8. Bake 1 sheet at a time for 8 minutes (go a little longer if the edges of the cookies aren’t yet browning). Rotate the sheet 180 degrees at 4 minute mark for even baking.
9. Remove from oven; taste test; maybe let them cool; maybe eat them all immediately 🙂

toffee chunk cookies

Martha Stewart Meringues with a (Lemon) Twist

It was recently a friend’s birthday: she doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth but she does enjoy meringues, so I figured I would scope out a good Martha Stewart recipe for the occasion!

I turned to Chapter 3: Cakes of Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook to find pavlovas, which are basically just larger meringues that have a dip in the middle so you can eat them with fruit and whipped cream if you’d like.

Martha Stewart pavlovas
Martha’s pavlovas

I’ve made mini meringues in the past, and while they were still yummy, they oozed a little bit of caramelized sugar (“weeping” it’s called). This is caused by not having the sugar totally dissolved into the egg whites ~ either too much sugar to egg white ratio or not whisking sugar in slowly enough. [Side note: The pavlovas are in the oven now and I’m positive I’ve messed this up again by dumping all of the sugar in at once :(]

Here is the general recipe and my twist

2 egg whites (mine were fairly old, which is great for meringue; I’m saving the egg yolks for a day or so in the fridge to make chocolate lave cake)
3/4 cup of granulated sugar (if you have superfine sugar this is even better – or you can pulverize your granulated sugar in the food processor to make it superfine – then it will smoothly integrate into the egg whites better…I did NOT do this)…ALSO a note on sugar: eyeball the amount of egg whites you have; if the eggs are sort of small or old (as they start to have less liquid in them as they get older due to evaporation), use a smidge less sugar; better a little less than a too much sugar because you can add more, but you can’t take some away. Another lesson I need to learn myself.
Okay, back to ingredients:
Smidge of salt (technical term according to me that about equals a pinch)
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla (or just guesstimate)
My Twist:
Lemon zest!!! Again, an eyeball’s worth should do to brighten up the flavors! And if you add a fair amount, your meringues will turn out tasting like LEMON MERINGUE PIE! YUM! So the lemon zest is totally optional of course.
And then, if you have it, a bit of confectioner’s sugar…I did not have it…so skip!

To Make:
1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and line a baking pan with parchment paper.
2. Bring a pot of water to a simmer and place a glass bowl over top
3. Place the egg whites in the glass bowl and begin to whisk by hand. I asked, But Why do we have to do this over a warm bowl?!?! So I did some research for you folks: The warmth helps warm up the eggs (uh duh). Warm egg whites are easier to whip into stiff peaks so this is especially good if you hadn’t already brought your eggs to room temperature, which you definitely should have done…did I not mention that earlier? Oops sorry!
4. SLOWLY (this was not mentioned in the book) add the granulated sugar ~ literally tablespoon by tablespoon ~ as you whisk by hand. Add the salt at this time too.

Here’s where Martha moves to the stand mixer and where we deviate…my recreation follows:
5. Once the sugar is THOROUGHLY whisked into the egg whites (in other words, you cannot feel grains of sugar if you rubbed the mixture between your fingers), remove from heat and beat on medium high with your hand mixer until stiff peaks form (perhaps 4 minutes)

egg whites stiff peaks
Egg whites whipped – holding peaks

6. Add the vanilla and LEMON ZEST! and beat a little bit more until mixed
7. Use a large spoon to glop 6 heaping piles of meringue onto your baking sheet
8. Use the back of the spoon and a sweep of the wrist to spread out a little bit and form indentations in the center of each meringue without making the centers too thin (don’t want that part to cook faster than the rest of the meringue).

meringues ready for oven
Meringues ready for the oven

9. Pop those lovelies in the oven for 1+1/2 hours
10. I like to open the oven door about 20 minutes in to allow any trapped moisture to escape the oven – a trick I learned from making macarons.
11. When they easily pop off the paper, they are done. If the centers are still too chewy, you can flip them over and bake a little longer. You can also leave them in the oven with the heat off a little longer to dry. You can also transfer the paper and pavlovas to a wire rack for cooling and drying….All sorts of techniques here!

They come out smelling sugary and sweet, and if you’re like me, you’ll eat them as is…but I guess if you’re being fancy you can add berries and cream (and maybe some chocolate shavings).

Pair with: CHAMPAGNE!!!

cooked meringue
Cooked pavlova


Martha’s Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (Or, Recipe #1 and I’m Already Not Following Directions)

Welcome to Recipe #1 from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook: Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. Now, in theory, as I bake my way through this Martha Stewart cookbook, I would like to do these recipes in order, but since New Year’s Eve called for cookies instead of biscuits, I skipped right on ahead to Chapter 3: Cookies!

oatmeal raisin cookies

My first recipe in, and already I’m unable to fulfill all of the ingredient requirements (this might be a longer journey than anticipated). So I’m doing what I do best: adapting!

The original recipe called for shredded coconut. WELP, don’t have that and not going to buy it, so that’s out.

Also the original recipe called for maple syrup. Again, don’t have any of that, so I’ll sub in molasses. Well I’ll be darned if I don’t even have enough molasses! So some molasses and some honey it will be.

Okay, well other than those two things, I did *pretty much* follow the recipe and the cookies turned out great! Dense and sweet with just the right amount of oatmeal to raisin ratio.

Oh, I also used salted butter when it called for unsalted. *Grimace face emoji*

Whatever, they were delicious. I’m confident that however you choose to sweeten these or how much or little salt you use, you’ll do just fine.

So here’s the scoop (get it, like scooping cookie dough? no? okay fine) on how I re-created these.

1 & 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 sticks butter at room temp (I softened a little bit more than room temp in the microwave for 5-10 seconds on high)
1 cup light brown sugar (mine was hard as a rock so I put a few drops of water on it in a bowl and microwaved it for 10-15 seconds on high and then mashed it up with a spoon…it was about 1 cup *wobbly hand motion to indicate “more or less”*)
1/3 cup molasses and honey mixture
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups oatmeal
1 cup raisins

To Make:
1. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper
2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
3. Mix flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a bowl (aka “dry”)
4. Cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy (in a separate bowl duh) (aka “wet”)
5. Add molasses & honey to wet and mix
6. Add egg and vanilla to wet and mix
7. Mix the dry into the wet with the mixer on low speed – add it in two pours so it incorporates well and you don’t spin flour all over yourself and the kitchen by just dumping it in all at once
8. Once flour is integrated, mix in the oatmeal and raisins gently

martha stewart oatmeal raisin cookies batter
9. Use a small cookie scoop (or spoon) to scoop balls of dough onto the baking sheets and cook for 15-18 minutes, swapping the top and bottom pans halfway through for even baking.
10. Cool on the pans and then transfer cookies to a cooling rack.


My Suggested Drink Pairing: Coffee with milk and cinnamon

My Suggested Adult Drink Pairing: Port

cookies and coffee


Candy Cane Sugar Cookies!!!

I hope you had a delicious holiday weekend! No matter what holiday(s) you may or may not celebrate, it was a good three day weekend to get together with friends and family.

I was lucky enough to get warm and cozy at my parents’ house, and while most of my friends from growing up have moved away, at least a little away, so many were home for the weekend and I loved seeing all of them and sharing some cookies, coffee, donuts, sandwiches, etc. 🙂

My mom and I baked German spice cookies on Saturday, but that recipe will have to wait another week, because this week I’m sharing this yummy and festive candy cane sugar cookie recipe that I made last week.

This is perfect for: a. people who don’t like chocolate (aka crazies but they exist), b. doing something with left-over candy canes.

I adapted this recipe from allrecipes.com for chewy sugar cookies, but with some added twists. In my version, I cut their recipe in half, producing 15 large-ish cookies.

1 cup + 6 tablespoons flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt (you know I’m not too exact with my salt though)
10 tablespoons butter (I let all the butter come to room temperature and then I half melted 5 of the 10 tablespoons to achieve a slightly flatter, chewier cookie center)
1 cup white sugar
1 egg (room temp)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 candy canes (depending on how minty you like your cookies)

To Make:
1. Set oven to 350 degrees
2. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper
3. Smash up your candy canes in a Ziploc bag using the back of a frying pan or meat hammer or whatever other heavy object you have lying around. Definitely don’t grind it into a powder – think little chunks, like marbles or slightly smaller (and for those of you who are too young to know what marbles are, think of small pebbles). Keeping the candy cane chunky will add a good sticky crunch to your cookies.
4. In a small bowl, stir the flour, baking soda and salt
5. In a different (larger) bowl, use a hand mixer or stand mixer to cream (aka beat on low-med speed) the butter and sugar until uniform
6. Beat in the egg to the butter/sugar combo on low-med speed
7. Beat in the vanilla to the butter/sugar/egg combo on low-med speed
8. With a large spoon or with the stand mixer, carefully blend the dry ingredients into the wet until fully incorporated but not overly stirred


You can EITHER stir your smashed candy canes into the batter so that the pieces are spread throughout the cookie OR you can save them for last and place them on top of the cookies before they’re baked (see pic below for second version).

Personally, I think the cookies taste the same either way but they look prettier with candy cane on top, so that’s how I’m going to continue this recipe, but if you’ve already stirred your candy canes in at this point, then you should’ve kept reading until the end of this paragraph to realize that’s not where I was going. 😉 Just kidding – they will still be delicious.

9. So! Moving on!
10. Pour some extra sugar into a small bowl
11. Use your tablespoon to scoop out balls of dough and roll them into balls using your fingers.
12. Roll them in the sugar.

Processed with VSCOcam with b5 preset
13. Place them on the baking sheets
14. Slightly tamp them down to spread them out a bit
15. Sprinkle the crushed candy canes on top and press the candy gently into the dough to get them to really sink in. (I found this method was actually kind of a pain in the a** but again, I think they looked more festive in the end.)
16. Bake one sheet at a time. Start checking the cookies at about 10 minutes. Mine ended up going for 13 and were super chewy in the center and nice and crispy around the edges with sticky candy cane bits!
17. Let the cookies cool on the pan until they’re set up a bit and then use a spatula to move them to a cooling rack. (Tip: use a metal spatula to remove cookies from sheets – way sturdier and thinner to really get up under them than a plastic/silicone one.)
18. Enjoy and share! (Perfect to pair with milked coffee, Candy Cane tea from Celestial Seasonings or gingerbread ale.)



Holiday Ginger Snap Cookies

I love baking seasonally-inspired cookies around the winter holidays. Recently, I’ve made gingerbread men and speculoos cookies (a Belgian and Dutch ginger-graham cookie, like the kind they serve on Delta).

The warm flavors of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg play well together and the quantities can be tweaked to really make one pop. One of my favorite cookies to buy and eat (all year round) are crunchy ginger snaps. More crispy and gingery than gingerbread, ginger snaps are a relatively low cal cookie (relatively, they’re still cookies). And my mom says that if you are craving chocolate, eating ginger can satiate the craving instead!

Also, I am obsessed with molasses. I think it is delicious, so I added a bit more than the original recipe called for. I know they say baking is a science and each ingredient must be properly measured. And that’s probably true for the main ingredients that make the base of the cookie – flour, egg, butter and sugar. But I like to play around with the measurements of the other ingredients, like ginger, salt and molasses, to see what textures and flavors different quantities will bring out. I’m really not precious in measuring the spices uber precisely. It doesn’t always make for the prettiest, most perfect cookies, but 9 times out of 10 they are still extremely yummy!

I found a base recipe on finecooking.com. Below find my adjusted recipe based on the ingredients I had on hand and my experience in recreating a seasonally-appropriate ginger snap. Cozy up with some tea and start dunking!


In a medium bowl, whisk together:

1 & 2/3 cup flour

1 & ½ tsp ginger (I love ginger so I used 2 tsp…also easier to measure because you only have to use a 1 tsp spoon!)

1 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp nutmeg

¼ tsp salt (I used sea salt to get a little bit bigger grain because I enjoy biting into a cookie and getting a little salt crunch from time to time. You can also use finer salt if you don’t like that experience.)

¼ tsp black pepper

1 & ¼ tsp baking powder (The original recipe called for ½ tsp baking soda, which I didn’t have, so I subbed 1 tsp baking powder; baking soda is about 3-4x more potent than baking powder so you need more baking powder if you’re going to substitute, but if you use the full 3-4x your baked goods may come out a little bitter.)

In the stand mixer, fitted with the paddle, mix on medium:

½ cup butter (Unsalted because you’re already adding chunky salt. Remember, the butter should be at room temperature for easier mixing.)

¾ cup light brown sugar (The original recipe called for dark brown sugar, which I didn’t have, so I subbed light brown and added a smidge more molasses.)

Mix this for about 3 minutes until the batter is smooth and light-colored.

Then add: 1 egg yolk (also at room temperature) and 3+ tablespoons of molasses. Mix for one minute more.

With the mixer going at medium-slow, add the dry ingredients in 3-4 pours. Mix until rough pebbles form.

Dump/scrape out the dough onto an UNfloured work surface:

Knead and shape (the dough isn’t moist enough to really roll so just form it with your hands, gently pressing it together) into two 7-8 inch long logs about 1.5-2 inches in wide. They may turn about a bit square from sitting on a flat surface as you work the dough into the sticks. Then wrap them in plastic or plastic baggies. Refrigerate for 3 hours.

When you’re ready to make the cookies, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line 2 large cookie trays with parchment paper.

Use a long, sharp, NON-serrated knife to slice the log into ¼ inch rounds or even thinner if you can manage. (The original recipe called for 3/16 thick rounds and my mind couldn’t wrap itself around how I was going to measure that, so I just sliced as thin as possible for crisp cookies.)

Place the rounds on the sheets. They don’t spread much and if you’ve cut them thinly, they won’t rise much either.

At this point, I would sprinkle some sugar on the tops of the cookies and gently press it into the dough. I didn’t do that this time around, but that would be a lovely addition.

As you can see, this recipe can make about 100 silver dollar-sized cookies.

Bake one sheet at a time for 10 minutes until edges are slightly darker brown than the middles. I would start with 9 minutes and give them a check depending on how thinly you’ve sliced them and how large they are. Add additional minutes for crisper cookies, but be sure not to burn them!

Let the cookies cool about 15 minutes on the sheets to set up and then gently twist and pull each one by hand to remove them from the pan. Allow them to fully cool on a wire rack (or let’s, be honest, on a plate if you don’t have a rack). Normally, I would scarf down some piping hot cookies, however these are actually one cookie that is better fully cooled to get the true ginger flavor and a bit more crunch. Pour that Earl Grey or coffee with cinnamon and enjoy!

tea and cookies

Wine Wednesday and Halloween Crafts

I’m getting ready to embark on some Crest White Strips.  I’m prepping to forgo coffee and red wine for the foreseeable future 😦

So I figured this week I need to drink some red wine and tons of coffee to hold me over. I opened this 2009 Groth Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville CA that Mark had received as a present at some point along the way.  I used an aerator since I was only having one glass and didn’t want to pour the whole bottle into the decanter (and have learned my lesson about not doing either).

grothAt first I tasted blackberries, and then it turned to leather and tobacco.  The first glass was delicious.  I decanted the rest of the bottle the next night and had a second glass that didn’t seem as subtly wonderful as the first.  The tannins were kind of overwhelming and it had a super dry finish.  Letting it decant for another night, on the third try I found it a bit more relaxed – definitely more fruity and less leathery.  Too bad; I kinda like that smoked vibe.  It’s somehow thinner, but still dry.  I think it has a pretty hefty 14+% alcohol content.

As you know, I like to check my flavor profiles against what the producer/others have said.  While I didn’t really see any mentions of leather or tobacco, many people did note the dryness and tannins, as well as the blackberry fruit.  Maybe I’m equating the tannins with tobacco and the way a cigarette smells – dry and bitter.  A lot of people noted that this wine could use more aging and I’d agree with that assessment.

Some other fall treats? Pumpkins of course! Trying to be slightly different than my go-to jack-o-lantern carvings, I decided to play around with some old lace off of some of The Brides Project’s “fabric dresses” – dresses that are either outdated or in poor condition that we sell super cheaply to people who just want the fabric, trimmings or perhaps a Halloween costume?!?!

First I tried to tape some of the lace down in a pattern over one pumpkin and use acrylic paint over top so that when I pulled the lace away, there would be a pretty pattern.  Well that didn’t work.  The paint just got all smooshed around under the lace.  So I decided to paint the whole pumpkin white instead.  It’s a ghost pumpkin okay?!?!

ghost pumpkin 2 ghost pumpkin

For the second pumpkin, I stole an idea from a fellow Brides Project volunteer and wrapped the lace round and around the pumpkin for a “mummy” effect. She had creepy googly eyes that she pasted on peeping out from the “bandages” that looked cool. I did not have googly eyes, so I made a cute little bow on top instead.

mummy pumpkin

Finally, I’ve been trying to hold off on fall baking so as not to go cookie crazy before the wedding, but I had some extra bananas laying around, so I made these oatmeal, banana, chocolate chip cookies.

cookiesWell they’re more like dense oatmeal bars.  Literally the only ingredients are equal parts mashed banana and pulverized oatmeal, 1/2 cup of chocolate chip cookies and a dash of vanilla extract (that could definitely be skipped).  Since there’s not really added sugar besides the chocolate, I feel completely comfortable eating these for breakfast with my coffee.  I mean, no more coffee…darn it!!  Maybe I’ll start the White Strips in a few weeks instead….