Friday, September 12, 2008

baking on the westside

I apologize to the three of you who are reading, because it feels kind of useless to have a baking blog with no pictures. It's been enough of a challenge to get the kitchen organized (though truly, that was mostly done within the first week), and I haven't been remotely prepared to wrestle with the camera or the lack of good lighting in this house. Early baking experiments in our new oven(s) have been a challenge to say the least. I've been making unfamiliar recipes, which is unfortunate because it's not a great litmus test if you're baking something and have no idea how it's supposed to turn out. I owe myself a batch of chocolate chip cookies (the old standby) to really test out the oven, because from what I can tell, it may be running anywhere from 35-50 degrees hot!

Of course, I didn't realize that with the first few batches of things, so I kept cutting the baking time in an effort to keep from burning things.

To further complicate matters, we've had no internet access (a contributing factor to my lack of posting), and most of our cookbooks are still packed, which means access to recipes has been limited.

The first "I-need-to-bake-what-ingredients-do-I-have" experiment was peanut butter/Hershey Kiss cookies. They were fine, but nothing special. My preferred pb cookie recipe is from Joy of Cooking, followed second by the recipe in my basic Cookies cookbook, but instead, I used some random pb cookie recipe. Edible, but kind of a waste.

The second trial was rugelach, my first time ever making these. I don't love most of the baked goods at Katella Deli in Los Alamitos, but their mini-chocolate chip rugelah are extremely yummy, and I sort of envisioned these tasting somewhat the same. Not quite, but they held their own. I used a recipe in the KAF Cookies book (which did, ultimately get unpacked). It called for dried cherries and walnuts; I had dried cranberries and pecans. A delicious combo: I could've eaten the filling with a spoon, it was so good. Cranberries, toasted pecans, sugar, cinnamon, and melted butter whirled together in the food processor comprised the filling.

The dough is very simple and it's cream cheese-based, which I don't think I ever realized. I was intrigued by KAF's method: divide the dough into 8 pieces, roll each into a ball and flatten it into a disk, chill the disks. Then, work with one piece of dough at a time. Roll it out into an 8" circle, and then place a small lid upside down in the center of the circle. Sprinkle the filling all over the dough, to within about 1/2" of the edges. Remove the small cap (the center of the dough will have no topping on it) and use a pizza cutter to cut the dough into 8 equal pieces. Working with one section at a time, roll the cookies up from the outside edge toward the center, like you would a crescent roll. The dough near the center will stick to seal it shut, since it has no filling on it. Curve the edges of the crescent in slightly as you move the cookie to the cookie sheet. I used silpats, but since the filling oozed a little, I might do parchment next time.

I made half cranberry-pecan and the rest chocolate chip. I used a mixture of sugar, cinnamon, cocoa, and mini-chocolate chips for the filling, and I brushed the dough with melted butter before sprinkling on the sugar mixture. They tasted good, but I thought they were a teeny bit dry. Despite my love of chocolate, I must admit that the cranberry-pecan ones were actually better!

I'd definitely try these again, maybe with another dough recipe (just for fun). It made me feel connected to my Jewish roots, making them... that may sound silly, and I can't really explain it. I packaged them up by the dozen and delivered them to the nice, new neighbors who have been so welcoming and have brought us homemade cake, brownies, and jam. Yum. I'm going to like living here, if I can ever figure out the oven!

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