30 before 30: Oreos (for the 4th of July!)

Oreos

I’ve always loved Oreos. Either by themselves, or crushed up as a cookies-and-cream type concoction. I prefer to not split them apart and eat the filling first, as many do; I just eat the whole thing at once, and then immediately reach for another.

Oreos

I thought about homemade Oreos all week. I craved them whenever I was hungry, even though I’ve never tasted them before. I thought I knew, but actually, I did not – they were even better than I could predict.

Oreos

The homemade version of the classic Oreo is just as good as the store-bought variety, and even more rich and sweet and satisfying. The filling tastes just like the standard Oreo filling, only creamier; the cookies are just as crisp and satisfying, and made with love.

Oreos

Oreos

The decision to make Oreos as the next item on my 30 before 30 list at this time was somewhat fortuitous: it was the weekend of the 4th of July, so I decided to utilize some food coloring for some red, white and blue action in celebration of the holiday. We also doubled the recipe (for a total of 51 cookies) and brought one batch to Rock Band night and another to the Big Time Freedom Fest. They were well-loved by many.

Oreos

Oreos

This recipe is quite easy. Both the dough and the filling come together in a snap, and are very easy to work with. The only part that’s time-consuming is assembling the cookies once the wafers are baked and cooled and the filling is ready. That’s probably why I hadn’t made these before – because I was intimidated by the time and wondered if the payoff would be worth it.

It is definitely worth it, especially if you have a special event or holiday coming up. The adaptation possibilities are endless: different colors, different flavors for the filling (chocolate, mint, coffee, etc.), maybe even different flavors for the wafers!

Oreos

Oreos
Adapted from smitten kitchen

Chocolate wafers:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1 large egg

Filling:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) room-temperature, unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and set two racks in the middle of the oven. Mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar in the bowl of an electric/stand mixer. While mixing on low speed, add the butter, and then the egg. Mix until everything comes together, stopping the mixer to scrape down the bowl if necessary.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Spoon rounded teaspoons of the batter onto the sheets about two inches apart. Using moistened hands, lightly flatten the balls of dough.

Bake the cookies for 9 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. After 9 minutes, remove the pans from the oven and immediately remove the cookies from the pans to a counter or cooling rack. The cookies should cool down and crisp up fairly quickly. Continue with any remainder of the dough.

To make the cream filling, beat the butter and shortening at low speed and gradually add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla extract. Once incorporated, turn the mixture to high and beat for 2-3 minutes until it’s light and fluffy.

Now it’s time to assemble the Oreos. As smitten kitchen dictates, I used pastry bags to pipe the filling onto half of the cookies – however, if you don’t want to buy/use pastry bags, I imagine using a spoon would work just as well. Sandwich the other half of the cookies onto the iced ones, matching up by size as best as possible, gently pressing down to create the sandwiches.

If you want to work with different-colored icing, decide how many colors you’d like to use and divide up the filling accordingly. For each color, beat one portion of the filling with a few drops of food coloring until incorporated, adding more drops as needed.

Advertisement

30 before 30: Chana masala + naan

Chana masala

I made this at the end of a very busy Sunday – Jeffrey and I went shopping for a whole new bed setup, which resulted in us driving all around and picking up and assembling the various components from the late morning until the late evening. It was entirely worth it, however. Our new bed is divine. And HUGE. My goodness.

But here’s the downside: I’m a little disappointed that this is the first official post for my 30 before 30 project. I was sort of hoping to emerge powerfully from the gates, kitchen tools blazing, with a perfectly tasty and satisfying dish to triumphantly cross off the list.

But here’s the honest truth: while this chana masala was ultimately good, it was way, waaaaay too spicy. As in, we couldn’t finish our servings because our mouths were on fire – and this is after stirring in some plain yogurt and taking timid bites along with generous portions of naan.

Naan

And then there’s the naan. The naan was very good. However (and I expected this to happen), it was quite different from the true restaurant style – mostly because I didn’t have a Tandoori oven at my disposal. Additionally, the dough was very sticky – it proved difficult to pull and stretch the dough pieces into the ideal shape/thinness. But fresh from the oven, these were pretty great.

It’s worth noting that I used a recipe that bakes the naan in the oven. However, there are other recipes that involve cooking the naan on the stove, which may help in mimicking traditional naan.

Naan

Oh chana masala. Why so spicy? Most likely, I wasn’t precise enough in my measurements of the hot chili pepper or the various spices, and used too much as a result. Lesson learned.

Chana masala

I have some leftovers that are too spicy to eat, sadly. My plan is to make a batch of plain lentils and then mix in the chana masala for flavor. We shall see.

So, while this wasn’t a huge success, I learned quite a bit, and for that I am thankful.

Chana masala

Chana masala + naan

Here are the recipes!

Chana Masala
Adapted from smitten kitchen

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium onions, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 hot green chili pepper, minced (I used a pepper from my frozen stash)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 cups tomatoes, chopped small or 1 15-ounce can of whole tomatoes with their juices, chopped small
2/3 cup water
4 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 lemon (juiced)

Measure all the spices (coriander through garam masala) into a small bowl and mix together (this is an optional step, but will save you time and stress later).

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat, then add the onion, garlic, ginger and pepper and sauté until browned/soft (about 5 minutes). Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the spices mix, cooking for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes and any extra tomato juice. Stir in the water and chickpeas, then simmer uncovered for 10-20 minutes (until thickened). Stir in the lemon juice and salt.

If you’re not serving right away (i.e. if your naan dough has finished rising and is ready to bake), you can remove the skillet from the heat and cover until ready to eat.

Naan
Adapted from Mark Bittman

2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons butter, melted

Combine yeast, milk, yogurt, and sugar in small bowl and set aside. Add the flour, egg, and salt to a large bowl, and mix on low with an electric mixer until just combined (I used my stand mixer). Pour in yeast mixture and mix briefly (about 30 seconds), and add 1.5 cups of water a bit at a time until the mixture forms a ball and is slightly sticky. Mine, unfortunately, was still too sticky at this point, so I had to add about 1/4 cup more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough was usable.

Lightly flour a work surface and briefly knead the dough to form a smooth, round ball. Lightly oil a bowl with a neutral oil, put the dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size (1-2 hours). My “warm place” is our oven, turned off, since the pilot light keeps the oven warm at all times.

When the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 500 degrees and place a baking sheet (or a baking stone if you have one – I don’t) on a rack positioned on lowest shelf of the oven.

Punch the dough down on the floured work surface – feel free to use more flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands and the work surface. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces (Mark Bittman suggests rolling the dough into a “snake,” then tearing the snake into 12 pieces). Let the pieces rest for 10 minutes, covered with plastic wrap or a damp towel.

Depending on how many pieces will fit on your baking sheet, stretch out the pieces individually into a teardrop-shaped oval, 6-8 inches long, 3-4 inches wide. Do this as best you can, but don’t go too crazy if the dough doesn’t stretch and keep its shape perfectly.

Take the baking sheet out of the oven and place the stretched pieces on to the sheet. Put the sheet back in the oven on the lowest rack and bake for 3 minutes. Flip the pieces over and bake for an additional 6-8 minutes. The finished naan will be nice and puffed, mottled and brown. Brush the hot pieces with the melted butter and serve.

I waited until after we ate to bake the remaining pieces of naan dough. If I were to make these again, I would likely halve the recipe – this made 12 pieces of naan, and the leftovers don’t keep especially well (although they’re decent when microwaved or lightly toasted).

Cornmeal-cherry cookies

Cornmeal cherry cookies

It’s been awhile since I’ve discussed a Good to the Grain recipe. And oh my goodness – this one certainly measures up to all previous efforts. In the book, these cookies are presented as Cornmeal Blueberry cookies – I decided to go with cherries, since a) I had a feeling they’d taste like Arizmendi‘s cornmeal-cherry scones in cookie form (and they did!), and b) I only had dried cherries at my disposal. If you’d like to see the original recipe with blueberries, Lottie + Doof has it.

Cornmeal cherry cookies

These cookies were delicious. Perfect buttery mounds of sweet cornmeal, nicely offset by the tart cherries.

Cornmeal cherry cookies

Cornmeal-cherry cookies
Adapted from Good to the Grain

2 cups corn flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal (Good to the Grain says to use only “finely-ground” cornmeal; I only had standard cornmeal and it tasted just fine to me)
1.5 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) cold butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and position the two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Cut the butter into small (1/2 inch) pieces. In another bowl, mix the butter and sugar together using a mixer (I used my stand mixer with the paddle attachment) on low, until they are just combined, then increase the speed to medium and cream for 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl using a rubber spatula.

Mix in the eggs one at a time, until each is combined. Add the flour mixture, blending on low speed until barely combined (roughly 20-30 seconds). Scrape down the bowl again, then add the milk and the cherries. Mix until the dough is combined.

Butter two baking sheets and set aside. Pour the sugar into a small bowl. Scoop out mounds of dough 3 tablespoons in size, form them into balls, and dip each ball into the sugar, coating lightly. Place the balls on the baking sheets with about 3 inches between each cookie – any extra balls of dough that don’t fit on the baking sheets should be chilled until ready to bake.

Bake the cookies for 20 to 22 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through the cooking time. The cookies will bake into lovely little mounds, complete with cracks on top, and are done baking when the sugar crust is golden brown (but the cracks still a bit yellow).

30 before 30: The List

As I mentioned previously, I am embarking on a 30 before 30 cooking project. Some general guidelines about this project:

  • I chose the items based almost entirely on my own personal curiosity to try said dishes – dishes I basically have not attempted before, and haven’t done so because I either didn’t have the proper excuse, or because I thought the projects seemed too complicated/intimidating.
  • There are plenty of classically complicated recipes out there that I didn’t include, and I’m okay with that. I don’t really have a desire to make beef wellington, so that didn’t make it on the list.
  • Some recipes on the list are probably not all that complicated. I’m okay with that as well. Like I said, this has to do more with my own desires and curiosities, and at the end of the day, it’s about having fun in the kitchen and enjoying the end result.
  • I didn’t want to include recipes that would result in an enormous amount of food, because that just seems wasteful. Example: turducken.
  • I will also avoid having to purchase too much special equipment. I already have access to a propane torch (thankfully), I already own a stand mixer (also full of thanks on that one), and I may consider buying a dutch oven and/or cast-iron skillet. But I do not plan on buying a pasta maker or novelty bakeware, as an example.

Here is my final list of projects, all of which I plan to tackle before August 2012. I will blog about each experience, and link the items to their corresponding posts once they’re completed. I won’t be going in the exact order listed below, and I aim to cross at least one item off the list every two weeks or so.

  1. Macarons
  2. Roast chicken and bread salad (Zuni Cafe recipe)
  3. Lattice cherry pie
  4. Cassoulet
  5. Pho
  6. Naan + other Indian dish (completed on 6/19/11)
  7. Baguettes
  8. Hamburgers + homemade buns + learn to grill
  9. Boeuf bourguignon
  10. Creme brûlée
  11. Lemon merengue pie
  12. Roast duck
  13. Chicken nuggets (Local Lemons’ recipe)
  14. Mole
  15. Croissants
  16. Sourdough bread
  17. Tiramisu
  18. B’stilla
  19. Ravioli
  20. Injera + ethiopian dish
  21. Souffle
  22. Carnitas + tortillas
  23. Princess cake
  24. Curry paste
  25. Tamales
  26. Thin Mints
  27. Oreos
  28. Bagels
  29. Gnocchi
  30. Baked alaska

Here goes nothing . . .

30 before 30 cooking project

I turn 30 in August 2012 (1 year and two months from now). I’m considering a “30 before 30” cooking project, where I identify and make 30 dishes that I’ve never tried and have been curious to try, but haven’t yet because a) I didn’t necessarily see a reason to, and/or b) thought the recipe seemed too complicated. Here are the ideas I’ve come up with thus far (haven’t come up with 30 ideas just yet – I just started this last night):

  1. French macarons
  2. Whole chicken (Zuni Cafe recipe?)
  3. Lattice-topped cherry pie
  4. Layer cake
  5. Cassoulet
  6. Pho
  7. Naan + other Indian dish
  8. Baguettes
  9. Hamburgers + homemade buns + learn to grill
  10. Boeuf bourguignon
  11. Creme brûlée
  12. Lemon merengue pie
  13. Roast duck
  14. Chicken nuggets (Local Lemons’ recipe)
  15. Mole
  16. Croissants
  17. Sourdough bread
  18. Tiramisu
  19. B’stilla
  20. Ravioli
  21. Injera + ethiopian dish
  22. New York Times’ chocolate chip cookies
  23. Souffle (cheese or chocolate)

Note: some of these may not actually be that “complicated,” technically speaking, but may still be considered outside the standard everyday-type recipes.

Any thoughts from the masses? What recipe/dish would you put on this list? I’m open to any/all suggestions.

Red lentil curry with leeks and tofu (slow cooker)

Red lentil curry with leeks and tofu

This recipe is so simple, and so tasty. And to top it all off, it’s quite healthy – full of lean protein and veggies and fiber (lentils are a total superfood). As healthy as this dish is, however, it does not skimp on flavor (and as an unexpected bonus, it’s vegan!).

Red lentil curry with leeks and tofu

This recipe originally comes from a Weight Watchers slow cooker cookbook, which I made a couple of times before making some significant modifications. The original recipe calls for shrimp as the add-in at the end of the slow cooking process, which was pretty good, but not my favorite (I prefer shrimp that’s been grilled or stir-fried – plus, 2 pounds of shrimp can be really expensive if you’re not buying on sale), so I used tofu instead. I also increased the amount of garlic (because 1 clove is never enough).

Red lentil curry with leeks and tofu

Lastly, I replaced the celery in the recipe with leeks. Because you know what? Celery is stupid. It’s flavorless, it smells more like sterile cleaning liquid than food and while some will argue that it provides “texture” to soup and stews and the like, I find it annoying and useless. So, I used leeks instead, because leeks provide robustness without significantly changing the main flavor.

Red lentil curry with leeks and tofu, in the slow cooker
Adapted from Weight Watchers

2 1/2 cups veggie broth
1 cup dried red lentils
1 large red onion, chopped
2-3 leeks, thinly sliced and chopped
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
4 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon peanut, grapeseed or canola oil (any neutral oil)
16 oz. firm/extra firm tofu (firmer the better)

Add the broth, lentils, onion, leeks, ginger, garlic, curry powder, cinnamon, salt, and cayenne pepper (first 10 ingredients) into your slow cooker. Stir together, cover, and cook on high for 2-3 hours (I let mine cook for the full 3 hours). I believe you can also cook the ingredients on low for 4-6 hours – the mixture is done when everything is soft and broken down.

When there’s about 45 minutes or so left on the timer, brown your tofu on the stove as preparation before adding to the slow cooker. Slice the tofu blocks into bite-sized pieces. Heat up some neutral oil (peanut, grapeseed, canola – just not olive, if you can help it) in a skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the tofu and let it brown, stirring frequently after a couple of minutes so that all the pieces brown somewhat evenly (this took about 15 minutes for me, but cooking times may vary). Add the browned tofu to the slow cooker, stir, replace the lid, and continue cooking.

Serve in bowls and enjoy! The leftovers for this recipe keep quite well – in fact, they get a little spicier after sitting in the fridge, which is a nice bonus. I imagine you could also serve this dish over some grains (couscous or rice), but it works great on its own.

iPhone theft and staying vigilant

I considered writing about this the other day. Then I decided not to. What’s the big deal, right? It happens all the time, and the outcome is much worse for many people. Then I thought more about it again. The truth is, what happened a few days ago keeps running through my head, and perhaps it’s best to just let it out.

I was robbed the other day, publicly and in broad daylight. As I do every work day, I left my apartment around 7:30 am and walked to the corner of Potrero and 24th to cross the street and head towards BART. I had my headphones in and was listening to music on my iPhone, holding the phone at my side as I walked. As I walked by the bus stop on the corner, I noticed that there was an above-average number of people waiting for either the 9, 9L, 33 or 48 to come by.

I started to cross the street. Then I felt a sharp tug on my right arm and on the string of my headphones, and I immediately turned around. A young guy (perhaps 18? 20? Or younger? I’m terrible at guessing ages) was crouched behind me and had managed to force me to drop my phone so he could grab it.

He fumbled it a little. I grabbed onto his arms to stop him from taking it. He yelled at me to let go and shoved me off. I yelled at him to give me back my phone. My own voice sounded foreign. Maybe I managed to grab him again, and he shoved me off again? The exact details are fuzzy now.

We’d moved into the street at this point, in front of the bus stop with all the people waiting. Many cars were waiting at the stoplight. He started to run across the street, through traffic. Someone honked at him. A guy waiting at the bus stop made a half-hearted attempt to run and yell at the guy, then stopped.

I chased him across the street. He was too far ahead of me at this point, and sprinted down Potrero, past 23rd. It’s done. I’m defeated, humiliated, shocked and shaking.

A car pulled over and the driver stepped out to ask me what happened. Another guy met me at the corner and asked if I needed to use his phone to call someone. I didn’t really need anyone’s help at this point, however, since I live across the street. I returned home, cancelled my AT&T service, changed some passwords, and cried on my boyfriend’s shoulder.

Why was I so upset? It’s not about the phone. It was certainly a nice phone (an iPhone 4), and a good portion of my daily life revolved around using it (listening to music, utilizing the GPS, surfing the internet, etc.). But material items are easily replaceable, and this phone is easily replaceable. I’m in the fortunate position where I can afford to buy a new phone (although I’ll end up buying the cheaper model, which is also fine – I only had the new model due to some random happenstance anyway). I spent two days without a phone after it was stolen, and aside from not getting my music fix while riding BART to get to work, I didn’t especially miss it.

It’s the act of being robbed, I think, that’s sticking with me. I can still feel the guy tugging hard and fast on my arm, the feel of his sweatshirt as I grabbed at him to try to stop him, the feel of 50+ people idly watching as this all went down.

And it’s also a feeling of disbelief. I thought of myself as someone who maintains a good sense of vigilance, especially when I’m on public transit and when it’s later at night, and fewer people are around. Since I first upgraded to an iPhone, I’ve always kept in mind the huge numbers of Muni thefts, reported mugging attempts and successes, etc. I try not to get so lost in my little device that I forget my surroundings.

I guess I never, ever imagined that something like this would happen in such a public, open space, with so many people around, under a bright shining sun with nowhere to hide. So I walked across the street holding my phone at my side, when it should have been tucked away in my bag instead. This was my daily routine, and I thought it was a safe one. Lesson learned.

The silver lining? Apparently while this was all going down, someone did call the police (as I found out later that same day). The police arrived a few minutes after I’d returned to my home, and at least one or two people gave witness reports. The police drove around looking for both me and the thief (witnesses apparently saw him jump into a car and drive off). So, I can’t claim that no one tried to help – although I can’t help but wonder how this story would have been different if someone, anyone, had stepped in to help while this was happening, had tried to pull the guy away like I did. Maybe he wouldn’t have gotten away with this, and the volume of these types of robberies would decrease. Additionally, what if I’d tried to kick him or push him away with more force? Am I not tough enough?

But I can’t know what could have happened, because it’s a done deal. Plus, it could have been worse – what if he’d had a weapon, for example? And, like I said, it’s just a phone. It’s not a rare bicycle, nor was anyone kidnapped or injured. So, it’s fine. I’m fine. From now on, it’s all about keeping my valuables hidden safely away, not ever letting my guard down and keeping a sharp eye out for both myself and my fellow city dwellers. Let’s all be safe, strong and vigilant.

An excellent way to prepare steel-cut oats – overnight!

Since late last year, I’ve made it a habit to eat breakfast before I leave for work in the morning (as opposed to eating once I get to work, after a 45-minute commute). When I do this, I’m much more alert by the time I arrive to the office, and I feel much better throughout the day. I love steel-cut oats, but they take too long to cook on an average morning, at least for me.

Solution: The Kitchn’s excellent tips for making steel-cut oats the night before.

Here’s what you do:

Ingredients:
A bit of butter or olive oil (around 1 teaspoon)
1 cup steel-cut oats
3 cups water
A few pinches of salt (2-3)

(This amount of oats and water will yield somewhere between 3-6 servings, depending on how much oatmeal you like to eat.)

In a saucepan (the Kitchn says 2-quart size, I’m not sure what size my pan was), briefly heat the butter or olive oil over medium heat, then add the oats and fry until they smell toasty (about 3 minutes).

Pour in the water, add salt and stir. Bring to a “rolling boil,” then turn off the heat, cover the pan, and leave it on the stove. Then go collapse into bed.

In the morning, uncover the oatmeal, heat on medium-low and stir a few times until you reach your desired temperature (or scoop out the amount you want and heat it in the microwave).

Transfer your leftovers to a seal-able container and put in the fridge – you can enjoy for the rest of the week, as steel-cut oats are just as awesome when stored as leftovers and re-heated.

I’ve been enjoying my oats by re-heating on the stove or microwave, then adding some strawberry jam, a handful of blackberries and a sprinkling of walnut pieces. Amazing.

Cooking on my day off: rye multigrain soft pretzels and lemon-strawberry yogurt cake

Rye multigrain soft pretzels

I had the day off from work yesterday, for Cesar Chavez day. In between cleaning out an old box of CDs (Amoeba gave me $90 for them! Unbelievable!) and other miscellaneous household stuff, I cooked a lot. I made rye soft pretzels with multigrain flour, as well as lemon-strawberry yogurt cake, and also chopped up and threw a bunch of stuff into my slow cooker to make shrimp and lentil curry. We enjoyed all three last evening while watching more episodes from season 3 of Veronica Mars.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Pretzels. The main theme here.

Rye multigrain soft pretzels

This recipe comes from Good to the Grain (again). I couldn’t resist, since I had a bag of rye flour just hangin’ out in the freezer, begging to be used.

I had already mixed the yeast and warm water and rye flour, however, when I realized I had barely 1 and 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour, and the recipe calls for 2 and 1/2 cups plus more for kneading the dough. Thinking quickly, I grabbed my multigrain flour mix from the fridge and filled in the flour gaps accordingly. The pretzels came out great, regardless, although I’m curious as to whether they would taste significantly different with more all-purpose flour. I also had to use the remains of my whole wheat flour for kneading the dough, which proved to be a little tricky.

Rye multigrain soft pretzels

Rye multigrain soft pretzels
Adapted from Good to the Grain

1 tablespoon butter, melted (for the bowl when the dough is rising)
1 package active dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup rye flour
1 cup multigrain flour mix
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 cup baking soda
Coarse sea salt (for sprinkling)

Pour the yeast into a large bowl, then add 1 1/2 cups of warm water (around 100 degrees, warm to the touch), then add the honey and stir together. Slowly add the flours and salt and stir again. The dough will be very sticky – add a little more all-purpose flour if the dough is too sticky to remove from the bowl (I didn’t do this and my dough was almost too unworkable to start kneading – I had to get creative with pouring more flour onto my work surface when my fingers were covered with dough).

Slowly pour the dough onto a floured work surface. Knead the dough for about 12 minutes, adding more flour  as needed, until the dough is tacky and soft. Lightly brush a large bowl with the melted butter. Add the dough to the bowl, cover and let rise until doubled. The original recipe says 1 and 1/5 hours – I let mine rise for at least 3 hours, while I ran errands and such.

When the dough has finished rising, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Spray two baking sheets with cooking spray (preferable the butter kind), or rub with real butter if you feel so inclined.

Slowly dump the risen dough onto a lightly floured work surface, and cut into 12 equal pieces (as equal as you can get, but some discrepancy in size is fine). Take each piece of dough and gently roll into roughly 17-inch-long rolls, with thin tapered ends. Form the dough pieces into pretzel shapes and place on the baking sheets, then let them rise for 15 to 20 minutes.

While the pretzel pieces are rising, bring 10 cups of water to boil in a large pot. Once the water is boiling (should be around the time that the dough pieces have finished rising), slowly add the 1/2 cup of baking soda. Don’t do it too fast – my pot of water almost overflowed entirely when I just dumped in the soda all at once. Whoopsie.

Gently add the pretzel pieces, 3 or so at a time (don’t crowd them), into the pot of boiling water. Let them boil for 30 seconds on each side, then gently move them back to the baking sheets (lightly pat dry). Sprinkle the boiled pretzels with the coarse sea salt.

Bake the pretzels (with the baking racks positioned at the bottom and top thirds of the oven) for 15 to 18 minutes, switching the sheets halfway through. The pretzels will be dark in color, like in the photos. Transfer them to a plate or wire rack to cool, and enjoy sooner rather than later. I had another pretzel the day after making them, and could definitely taste the difference in freshness (not bad, just not nearly as good).

Rye multigrain soft pretzels

From there, I made cake, just for the heck of it. Since I had Meyer lemons and plain yogurt, and because in-season strawberries taste like amazing red nuggets of heaven right now, I decided to take smitten kitchen’s lemon yogurt anything cake, add strawberries and double the recipe in order to bake into bundt form.

The result was pretty good. Not great, however. It was a little oiler than I like my cakes, and I should have used more chopped strawberries (I added 2 cups, and probably should have added 3). The recipe was still worth trying out, however, and was very easy to execute.

Lemon-strawberry yogurt cake

Lemon-strawberry yogurt cake

Strawberry jam crumb cake, lightened up

Strawberry jam crumb cake
It’s not exactly pretty – but it’s quite tasty.

Over at theKitchenSinkRecipes, Kristin posts a recipe for strawberry jam crumb cake and talks all about a visit to the Bay Area, where she relaxed and whipped up a buttery, indulgent breakfast treat. I wanted to try out her concoction for a number of reasons: 1) I had all the ingredients on hand, including tasty strawberry jam, 2) I’ve been wanting to try out the springform pan I got for Christmas, and 3) baking is fun and I’m sort of addicted and will take any excuse to try a new recipe.

However – I’ve lost about 25 pounds in the past year and am still plugging away down the weight loss path, and my waistline can’t quite afford to freely enjoy my rich baking habits. Therefore, while I still bake and cook a lot, I watch what I actually eat very carefully, give away the extras and lighten up the recipes whenever possible.

With this strawberry jam cake, since it’s a very simple recipe, I saw the opportunity to swap out about half the butter with some unsweetened applesauce. I also cut the amount of crumb topping in half. It may not be as perfectly buttery and wonderful as the original rendition, but this lightened up version is still pretty darn good – moist, very sweet (almost too sweet – I might cut down the amount of sugar next time), and satisfying.

Strawberry Jam Crumb Cake
Adapted from TheKitchenSinkRecipes

Cake:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup strawberry jam

Crumb topping:
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
Rounded 1/2 cup flour

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. To make the cake, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a separate (larger) bowl, whisk the butter, applesauce, milk, eggs and vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and whisk together until combined.

Spray a springform pan with cooking spray and pour in the batter. Dab spoonfuls of the strawberry jam on top of the batter, and gently swirl with a knife.

To make the crumb topping, whisk together the butter, applesauce, sugars, cinnamon and salt. Add the flour, gently stir to just bring the ingredients together, then use your fingers to fully blend. Sprinkle the mixture in clumps across the top of the cake.

Bake the cake for 25 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for at least 5 minutes. As mentioned before, this is a moist cake, and it might not be super sturdy (especially in the middle), so be a little careful when slicing and serving.