Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pear Spice Scones

By now you have probably heard that I like tea, and also that I enjoy Tea (see Chocolate Chip Cherry Scones). I created this scone when we received a recent visit from a friend. I had the holidays in mind, and we decided that these were Christmas Scones, with their combination of pear and spice. One batch of scones usually stands us well for a few days of snacking, Tea, breakfast, etc (since it is just the two of us).

·         2½ cups flour
·         ½ rounded tsp salt
·         ½ cup sugar
·         2¼ tsp baking powder
·         ¼ tsp coriander seed powder
·         ¼ tsp allspice
·         1/8 tsp ginger
·         ¼ tsp cinnamon
·         1/8 tsp cardamom
·         1/8 tsp cloves
·         6 Tbsp butter
·         1 pear (peeled, cored, & chopped)
·         2 Large eggs
·         ¾ cup half & half, heavy or whipping cream, or you can use whole milk (optional: add 1-2 Tbsp dried milk to the ingredients)
·         2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 400°F (app. 205°C)~reduce temperate when the scones go into the oven to bake.
Line baking sheets or pie dishes with parchment.
Whisk together flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, & spices.
Cutter butter into this dry mixture.
Add chopped pear to this mixture .
In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, cream & vanilla. Reserving 2 Tbsp of the egg mixture, add the rest to the dry ingredients to form a moist dough. Mix only as much as needed to incorporate all the dry ingredients. ♥ If the dough seems dry, add additional cream by the Tbsp to the mixture, until it comes together.
Transfer dough onto floured work surface, pat into a circle app. The same size as a pie pan. Brush the remaining 2 Tbsp egg mixture and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Either use cutters (I use 2” biscuit cutter) or cut into wedges. ‡ Space evenly on cookie sheet or pie dish. Reduce temperature to 375°F (app. 190°C*) and bake app. 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Best enjoyed warm, but leftovers can be eaten cold or wrapped and rewarmed in the toaster oven. Store in an airtight container.

*I use an online conversion chart and round up or down, as seems appropriate. Please adjust according to your judgement, and send me a message if you find an error. Thank you.

‡ if using a smaller size cutter, shorten time; if cutting into wedges, increase time.

Showing on this day 2010: Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls

Monday, December 19, 2011

Chai Spice Sugar Cookies

The Christmas season isn’t complete without cookies. Something about the smell of sugar and butter, maybe with a touch of spice, brings out the Elf in us. (It doesn’t hurt that around here it has been chilly, so I don’t mind the extra heat from the oven.) Naturally, I couldn’t let Christmas go by without a Chai Spice Sugar Cookie.

By reducing the sugar, and adding a bit of honey I ended up with a nice, chewy cookie. I chose to use an organic, unfiltered, raw honey because it has a far better taste than the filtered store varieties that have been making the news lately. I have seen numerous reports about the bottled variety that never failed to disappoint me in recent years, only to find out that a lot of what we find on store shelves has been ultra-filtered to the point that almost all pollen has been removed (in part to help hide the source, as pollen is like a fingerprint that helps to identify the region where it is produced). In the case of honey, all that glitters isn't gold, and in my opinion the the processing and filtering takes out the flavor that makes honey really enjoyable.

·         ½ cup butter *this was originally listed incorrectly as ¼ cup 
·         1 cup sugar
·         ¼ cup honey
·         1 egg
·         2¼ cups of flour
·         ½ tsp salt
·         ½ tsp baking powder
·         ¼ tsp cinnamon
·         ¼ tsp coriander seed powder
·         ¼ tsp allspice
·         1/8 tsp ginger
·         1/8 tsp cloves
·         1/8 tsp nutmeg
·         1/8 tsp cardamom
·         1/8 tsp white pepper
·         1/8 tsp mace
·         Additional sugar for dipping cookies in before baking

Cream butter, sugar & honey.
Add egg and beat well.
Whisk dry ingredients together and add them to the butter mixture, stirring only as much as is needed to fully incorporate all ingredients
Pack the dough into an airtight container and chill at least 1 hour.
When ready to bake, Preheat oven to 350°F (app. 175°C*)
Prepare cookie sheets by lining with parchment.
Scoop dough in app 1 Tbsp dough balls (I used a #60 cookie dough scoop). Flatten the dough into ¼” thick discs and roll them in sugar.
Bake for app. 13 minutes.
Remove from oven and allow to cool on the cookie sheet.

*I use an online conversion chart and round up or down, as seems appropriate. Please adjust according to your judgement, and send me a message if you find an error. Thank you.

Showing on this day 2010: Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Pecan Cookie Fressen

I don’t know much German, even though I spent a few years in Germany when I was a child. Yet a few words stuck, partly because they were a part of the family dialog. For example, in our house, if you ate all the ice cream, you were an ‘ice cream fresser’.

Fresser: n eater, glutton, muncher, devourer
Fressen: n food, grub, chow
                v eat, feed, eat up, guzzle, gobble up

With Christmas fast approaching, I have been baking (and fressen) cookies. Something about this season demands baked snacks, and since food additive issues don’t take a holiday, I’ve been working on some new recipes. I was always a big fan of pecan shortbread cookies, but the elfish variety contain:

·         TBHQ a/k/a tertiary butylhydroquinone which is an antioxidant that comes from petroleum and is related to butane. It should be noted that the amounts of TBHQ allowed in food are very small (0.02% of the oil of fat content in food) and there is a wide margin between acceptable legal limits and those considered to be dangerous. That said, I just prefer to limit exposure to preservatives, additives, and chemicals in general.  

·         Soy ingredients, which more than likely means GMO ingredients (to avoid genetically modified soy you need to look for organic).  The original concern regarding the genetic alteration of plants has recently been compounded by superweeds (herbicide resistant weeds) that now require a cocktail of weed killers, thereby increasing the chemical load used to bring these crops to market.

·         Whey protein concentrate which contains processed free glutamic acid (MSG- see the Truth in Labeling link below for a complete list of ingredients that can contain processed free glutamic acid).

Obviously the whey protein concentrate eliminates any choice for me, but the other two are also on my radar. In the end, the idea of having something that tastes as good, or better, without the additional ingredients wins without question.

Mildly sweet & buttery Pecan Cookies

 I found some recipes online, and with a little tweaking and simplifying I came up with this version. I haven’t had the store brand in several years, but these tastes just like I remember them, and they can be made almost entirely organic (everything that I used, besides the baking soda and cream of tartar was organic).

·         ½ cup butter
·         ¾ cup sugar
·         1 egg
·         1 tsp vanilla
·         ¼ tsp salt
·         ½ tsp baking soda
·         ½ tsp cream of tartar
·         1¾ cup flour
·         ½ cup finely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350°F (app. 175°C*) and line cookie sheets with parchment.

Cream butter and sugar, add egg & vanilla and continue to beat until fluffy.

Whisk salt, baking soda & cream of tartar into the flour and alternate folding flour mixture and pecans into the butter until fully incorporated.

Cover and chill the dough, then scoop the cookie dough in app. 1 Tbsp dough balls (I used a #60 cookie dough scoop). Flatten the dough balls into flat circles app. ¼” thick.

Bake for 12-15 minutes. These cookies don’t brown very much, so I just made sure they weren’t still doughy. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the cookie sheet.

Pecan cookies with tea.
In the background: one plate with more pecan cookies
and another plate of Chai Spice Sugar Cookies

*I use an online conversion chart and round up or down, as seems appropriate. Please adjust according to your judgement, and send me a message if you find an error. Thank you.

Showing on this day 2010: Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The difference between raspberries & beaver backsides.

Would raspberry by any other name taste as sweet? Anyone that has dealt with the sleight of hand performed by the food manufacturers on product labels knows that the industry is well aware of the importance of a name. When MSG became unpopular, labelers sought ways to clean up their lists and thus the parade of disguises for that popular additive began. I’m sure you have heard of the campaign to rebaptize high fructose corn syrup as corn sugar. In the minds of the producers of these ingredients, perception is all that matters. As a person that has had to read labels for years, I have become pretty familiar with the jargon. Similar to real estate ads, it helps to read between the lines, and you learn to steer clear of certain phrases  like autolyzed protein, ‘modified’ anything, ‘needs a little TLC’, or natural. Wait, natural? Yep, you read that right.

I have found that just because a label says “All Natural” on the front, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t flip it over to read the ingredients. And while I quickly learned to keep moving at the sight of many names, I was a little slower to learn about “natural flavors”. "Natural flavor" was the doe-eyed Bambi of my ingredient lists. I admit I sometimes wondered why they tacked flavor on the end. I had to learn the hard way (after a violent allergic reaction) that in this case of 'natural', Bambi might bite back, but it wasn't until recently that I began to learn the science, and the fiction, of flavors.

Lately there has been a lot of talk about beaver backsides, and in case you haven’t heard and think that I just derailed, read on. In some cases natural flavor has a lot less to do with the listed name than you’d ever dream. For example, natural vanilla, (strawberry) or raspberry flavor can be derived from castoreum, which is dried secretions from a beaver’s anal gland. In researching this article, I came across the FDA’s “Everything Added to Food in the United States” (EAFUS) website, which does categorize castoreum liquid and extract as EAF which means: “There is reported use of the substance, but it has not yet been assigned for toxicology research.”. Technically, a beaver’s backside is as natural as it gets, but it is NOT naturally called vanilla or raspberry.

Now, it is obvious why castoreum is taking so much heat. The idea of licking a vanilla ice cream cone flavored with beaver anal extract is sure to make people pause. It might, or might not, not be harmful, but it clearly illustrates that even a natural flavor may have been processed extensively to create the latest taste sensation and, in the case of additive sensitive individuals, that is certainly cause for caution. It also drives home the point that labelers often employ creative license when it comes to the verbiage of ingredient lists.

“FlavorIngredients” By George A. Burdock, Giovanni Fenaroli (Prof. Dr.)
FDA’s “Everything Added to Food in the United States” (EAFUS)
JamieOliver on David Letterman
HuffingtonPost with a link to 60 Minutes Givaudan segment *reference to strawberry or vanilla at 5:21