Tag Archives: Me and Martha

hard caramel dots with sea salt

#MarthaBakes Caramel Dots

Wow, it’s been a few months since I’ve written up a Martha Stewart recipe but it always seems a bit too hot to be baking up a storm during the summer. Now that fall is starting to creep in, spending days inside doesn’t seem so blasphemous.

I was recently longing for a sweet treat but didn’t feel like leaving the house to go purchase some cookies or something, so I turned to Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook for an easy recipe.

I came across these caramel dots, which are actually part of a sub-recipe for cake decorations, but who needs a whole cake when you can just eat some caramel?

Additionally, the recipe was super simple: sugar, water, lemon juice!

Step 1: Mix sugar and water and lemon juice.

water and sugar in the pot
water and sugar in the pot

Step 2: Heat until it turns into caramel

bubbling sugar
bubbling sugar

Step 3: Drizzle bits of caramel onto parchment paper* and let cool

*When the caramel was still hot (and PS it was really hot – I burnt my finger and it blistered because the caramel stuck to it and I couldn’t get it off – so don’t touch it!) I pinched bits of black sea salt on top to make a sweet-salty dessert.

stained glass-looking caramel dot
stained glass-looking caramel dot

Thoughts on this recipe:

  1. I don’t have overly processed white sugar, only pure cane sugar which is pretty coarse. I think this resulted in too grainy a caramel.
  2. These dots are super hard candies. Definitely more of a sucking candy. Next time I would add a tablespoon or two of butter to make the texture creamier and try for a chewier caramel.
  3. The ones with sugar tasted a lot more interesting and less overwhelmingly JUST SUGAR than the regular ones.
  4. The caramel dots were quite pretty – almost like stained glass.

This recipe definitely served the purpose of sating a sweet tooth and would look good on a cake, but one or two was enough.

hard caramel dots with sea salt
hard caramel dots with sea salt

Verdict: Have I ever said something was TOO sugary? This might be the first time.

Okay, time to capitalize on this dark rainy day to make chocolate chip oatmeal cookies!! 🙂

 

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ingredients for brownies

#MarthaBakes Brownies

Did you know #MarthaBakes is a well-known and highly used hashtag on Instagram? I didn’t when I started this project, but now I follow it regularly to see what other home cooks are up to as they also delve into baking and cooking adventures with Martha Stewart. And there is always the potential that the folks at Martha Stewart might choose your photo to be featured on their own Instagram feed if you are using their hashtag. But typically only if your food photos are really amazing….I’m working on it.

Needing a pot-luck offering, I turned to Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook for a brownie recipe, and found her “Fudgy Chocolate Brownies” which, as she states in the intro, are meant to be dense and fudge-like and less like a chocolate cake. Well, she nailed it. No surprise though.

After melting the requisite amount of dark chocolate and adding the sugar and seemingly a lotta eggs (4), my arm was pretty much going to fall off from trying to “whisk” this super dense, thick batter.

 

And I hadn’t even added the flour yet.

In terms of the flour, to make the brownies even richer, I subbed out 2 tablespoons of flour for 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder. I did a small amount of research ahead of time to see if I could make the straight substitution or if I would have to add/subtract other ingredients. What I generally found (since there are so many differing opinions out there on the internet) was that if you stick with a minimal amount (under 2 tablespoons), a straight substitution will be fine. It’s once you get into large quantities that you may need to add more moisture (as the cocoa powder absorbs more moisture than flour) or different leavening agents.

Since this recipe had 0 leavening agents (no baking soda, powder, cream of tartar, etc), I decided not to worry about that. The ingredient list was lovely and simple and what one wants in a homemade baked good: butter, sugar, eggs, chocolate, flour, vanilla and salt. Done.

Never having baked this recipe as written, I can’t say whether the addition of the cocoa powder helped or harmed it, but overall the outcome was moist, deeply dark chocolatey brownies. And the crispy corners were definitely the best part, so when I make brownies again, I might have to get one of these contraptions to bake it in: all brownies are corner pieces!!

slice of crumb cake

Sour Cream Coffee Cake…Updated to be More Delicious

Okay, by now you are so sick of hearing about sour cream coffee cake, as related by me in Sections 1 and 2 of this Epic Poem to Martha Stewart‘s Classic Crumb Cake.

But don’t quit reading quite yet! Because I’ve made some tweaks that have this baked breakfast cake getting even better!

Martha Stewart's Classic Crumb Cake
Martha Stewart’s Classic Crumb Cake

Tweak #1: Using the correct size pan. Duh. As you may remember, I didn’t think I had a 9×13 pan so I used a loaf pan instead. Well turns out I DID (insert Derek Zoolander voice here) have a 9×13 glass pan, and really I think that helped so much in getting a good cake to crumbly topping ratio going (i.e. more crumb topping please!!!)

Tweak #2: In the cake, I added brown sugar to give some extra moisture and richness. To do this, I straight substituted half of the called for white sugar with the same amount of light brown sugar.

Tweak #3: To amp up the flavor of the cake, I added cinnamon to the cake, and not just the crumb topping.

Tweak #4: The topping seemed really dry to me the first time around, so this time, I cut the amount of flour in half and cut the amount of butter by about a third, so that overall, the topping was damper. I kept the same amount of sugar though so that it would be proportionally sweeter!

Tweak #5: I ditched the knives I was using to cut the butter into the flour and sugar for the crumb topping and went with fingers – so much easier and quicker! I made sure that all the dry bits were coated with butter…or really that all the butter chunks were coated with flour and sugar…so that there wasn’t any dry powder remaining.

That’s about it! I found this version to be so much moister and sweeter, which is really what I prefer in my coffee cake. Unfortunately no new pics because I brought it to a party where it was basically all eaten, save for two pieces I had for breakfast the next day. It pretty much looked the same as the first time, except not as tall (due to the larger, shorter pan)….so you get the idea.

 

final "bread"

Martha Stewart Cinnamon Raisin Bread Fail

I’ve never really tried to make bread before. Sure there were childhood forays with the electric bread maker craze (which churns out deliciouuuuuuus bread that we consumed within minutes after waiting hours upon hours for it to cook), and quick breads like banana bread, pumpkin bread, scones and the like.

But I’ve never made yeast breads (except I guess pizza dough which is super easy).

To start this adventure, I chose the Martha Stewart recipe for cinnamon raisin bread, mainly because it called for all-purpose flour and not bread flour (which I need to purchase but haven’t yet) and because I had all the other ingredients on hand.

Suffice it to say, I don’t know what happened, but it didn’t work out. I kind of knew it wasn’t going to turn out well when the dough barely rose, but I kept going anyway.

Here are some of the ways in which I may have failed:

1. I used the Rapid Rise Yeast which I use for pizza dough. This type of yeast is typically added to the dry ingredients, as opposed to active dry yeast which is typically added to the warm wet ingredients (and bubbles up before everything else is added). The recipe called for active dry yeast, but I didn’t have any of that at home. Following the instructions (but subbing the rapid rise yeast instead), I added the yeast to the wet ingredients. So maybe the bread didn’t work because I used the wrong type of yeast.

But this is a head scratcher because on the yeast company’s website it does say you can make this substitution; you just can’t substitute the opposite way (active dry yeast in place of rapid rise). Hmmmm….

Also when I added the yeast, I did get that bready smell right away, which I took as a good sign.

Maybe I killed the yeast? Maybe it was old? I didn’t take the temperature of my warm milk (as instructed) before I added the yeast….so maybe it was too hot?

2. I used stale raisins. I don’t see why this should matter but the little buggers were like sticky pebbles.

rolled bread dough sprinkled with cinnamon and raisins
rolled bread dough sprinkled with cinnamon and raisins

3. I let the bread rise twice as called for in the recipe: the first time for an hour and the second time for 40 minutes or so after shaping the loaf. Perhaps I didn’t put it in a warm enough place? I just left it covered on the counter.

bread dough rising
bread dough rising

4. My “filling” wasn’t quite right. Once the cinnamon raisin dough has risen, you were supposed to roll out the dough and “sprinkle” the filling over top. I don’t really see how sprinkle was the correct word though since you were to mix cinnamon and sugar with water. Mine was more of a paste. And so that egg wash to help it stick was probably unnecessary.And so the interior of the dough was really really wet and soggy. See my photo versus the pic in the cookbook.

All these minor errors probably added up to the undercooked and unrisen center. I mean, it still tasted yummy what with the oozy cinnamon sugar core. It was kind of like a cinnamon roll and some icing would have been appreciated. But it was not bread. Le sigh. I will try again one of these days. Maybe with the correct (and newly purchased) yeast.

final "bread"
final “bread”

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.

mmmmm crispy edges and chewy center on this chocolate chip cookie

Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Who doesn’t love a chocolate chip cookie?!?! I believe they have been named the #1 favorite cookie to bake at home. There are a million good recipes out there for chocolate chip cookies, and for years, my go-to was from The Joy of Cooking (still a fave).

But since I’m working on all of Martha Stewart’s recipes from her Baking Handbook and I was desperately in the mood for chocolate chip cookies, I figured I’d try out hers!

In this book, she actually gives a recipe for chocolate chunk cookies, but since all I had on hand was mini chocolate chips, then mini chocolate chips it would be 🙂

I always tend to start with the fairly standard ratio to make basic drop cookies: 1 part flour, to 1 part sugar (usually half white and half brown) to 1 part butter. 1 egg per 1 part. 1-2 teaspoons vanilla per your liking, 1 teaspoon each of salt and baking soda, and 1 part chocolate chips.

Then you can play around with these ratios to find your ideal taste and texture.

For instance, here I was going for flatter, crisper cookies with harder edges and softer middles. So we upped the butter a little bit.

Also, for most drop cookies, you want to start with room temp butter. But I actually like to melt it slightly in the microwave which also helps create the flatter cookie.

My tips:

  1. Don’t eat them when they’re hot. The temperature masks the flavor.
  2. Realize that they are going to spread in the oven and don’t place them too close together – some of mine ran into each other creating more square-ish shapes.
  3. Create 5 tablespoon-sized balls for really really huge cookies that you can then stack together with icing to turn them into a layered cookie cake! (This is my next project with these cookies).
  4. If you have chocolate chunks, go for that instead of chips since the chips kind of get lost in the expanse of cookie. It would have been deliciously chocolatey to have bitten into a huge hunk of chocolate.
  5. Eat with milk or a malty porter.

My execution was pretty good on this recipe, although I made them a bit larger than Martha did (about 2.5 tablespoon balls). With the excess of butter they definitely spread out upon baking.

I cooked them until the edges and tops were golden brown, and then let them cool on the sheets for a few minutes before transferring them to a wire cooling rack.

They turned out delicious – flat and crispy as desired.

 

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

Ingredients:
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

 

About Me & Martha

Yes, this idea is pretty much my version of the girl that cooked her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blogged about it.

In moving again to another new city I’m excited at all the possibilities, but also kind of unsure of the next steps here. I often feel like a jack of all trades, master of none. Which, if I’m being honest, I thoroughly enjoy because there are so many avenues that I want to explore. But which isn’t great for settling into and moving up in a career path. So here’s my plan to bring some structure to my weeks and learn something new at the same time!

I’m baking my way through Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook and will write about my experiences with the recipes as I go. Why?

  1. Over my time spent in Michigan, I’ve come to love baking. I’m using my mind but also my hands to create something (and it’s great that the oven helps heat a cold apartment). That feels very fulfilling in the way that creating a painting or drawing does (some other things I love to do).
  2. I love learning. And in particular about food. And what better way to learn than to do! And hopefully by the end of the journey, I’ll be able to look back and see some improvement in my baking skills (and hopefully in my photography too).
  3. I crave routine. Whatever it may entail, I enjoy writing out a schedule for my day and having those days look pretty similar. Baking and writing will give some structure and allow me to work on both of those skill sets. It’s lovely to wake up on a chilly morning and bake in PJs while watching Netflix.
  4. I admire Martha Stewart (okay, it would be amazing to build a brand like she has). She’s strong and private, while being intensely successful. She feels “real” (I mean she went to jail – that’s pretty real). She’s got that formal New England demeanor with a tinge of New York grit which reminds me of both sides of my family. Additionally, I get a kick out of the fact that my mom claims to have been a year behind her at Skidmore College – it’s like two degrees of separation! [Side note: It turns out that it must be a different Martha Stewart because the famous one is at least five years older than my mom and went to Barnard. So nevermind.]

I hope you enjoy my journey through this book and that you learn a few things about me and baking and yourself along the way!