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Archive for the ‘Food Nifty’ Category

One of the most common “make do” dinners is grabbing take-out burgers, right? Well, at our house, that comes with a $50 price tag, so it’s a no-go… that’s half the weekly grocery budget blown on one unsatisfying meal.

We’ve been in a long-term habit of making seasoned beef patties that tuck into the freezer, so grilling homemade burgers is a very fast Did It Ourselves option, but there’s the Nasty Factory Buns problem. I’m not a fan of chemical bread. Certainly not of the $1 “buns” that would fit best in our budget.

Then, I found a bun recipe through Taste of Home, and gave it a try. If you can use a stand mixer, these really do take about 35 minutes from pulling out the flour, to pulling the buns from the oven. They’re sturdy enough to hold up to plenty of fillings, but are nice and smooshy and soft at the same time!

  • 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 1-1/4 cups warm water (comfortable on the wrist)
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg (optional… I often forget it. No biggie. You’ll just use a titch less flour.)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 to 3-1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

In a large bowl, whisk the yeast, water, oil, and sugar. Let this mixture stand for five minutes to get the yeast going. Whisk again; it will be creamy-looking, and may be a bit bubbly or foamy.

Whisk in the egg (if you’re using it) and salt, and about half the flour; whisk or stir briskly to combine them smoothly. Beat in additional flour to make a soft, smooth dough; depending on the humidity, you may need a bit more than 3-1/2 cups total. If you’re kneading by hand, work about 3-5 minutes until springy. If in a stand mixer, beat the crud out of it for a few minutes, and it’ll stop trying to stick to the bowl. It’s a soft dough.

Divide the dough into 12 even pieces for sandwich buns, or 20 to 24 even pieces for smaller dinner rolls. To form a nice ball, plop the dough piece in a bit of flour, and then into the palm of your left hand. Make a loose O shape with the thumb and forefinger of your left hand. Use the fingers of your right hand to push the ball gently into the O, pinching the dough edges together near your left palm. Repeat this pushing/pinching a few times to create a nice smooth-topped ball of dough.

For sandwich or burger buns, flatten the dough ball slightly, to about 1/2” thick, and place the shaped dough on a lightly oiled baking sheet (I prefer and recommend putting them on plain parchment paper instead, though), spacing the pieces 2-3” apart (they expand quite a lot during baking).

For dinner rolls, place the dough balls on piece of parchment and baking sheet about 1” apart for rolls that will touch and pull easily apart, and about 2” apart for rolls that will stay more separate,with a soft crust all the way around.

Let the dough rest for 10 minutes, or while the oven pre-heats to 425°. Bake for 8-12 minutes, until the rolls are golden brown. Let the rolls sit on the pan a few minutes, then remove them to a cooling rack to cool completely.

FOR CARAWAY RYE ROLLS:
Make as above, omitting the egg because I totally forgot about it, but use an extra teaspoon of salt, and replace about 1/3 of the flour with rye flour. Add a good tablespoon of dried caraway to the water/yeast mixture so the flavor permeates the dough.

Rye flour has less gluten than wheat, and I left the dough very sticky for a full first raise to help develop some spring. The proofed dough was less sticky, but still not as springy as all-wheat dough, so don’t expect that. It’s more like forming clay… and the buns do not puff as much, so let them raise on the counter a good 20 minutes at least. Pressing them to 1/2″ tall gave a 1″ tall bun, and they were delightful.

If you have vital wheat gluten, you could add some for a taller rise.

FOR CINNAMON ROLLS FROM THIS DOUGH:

Go back to the original, non-rye recipe above.

Right after it’s mixed (I use a stand mixer), I roll it out into a good-sized rectangle.Mix about 2 tablespoons of Saigon cinnamon, a drop or two of vanilla, about 1/4 cup brown sugar, and about 1/4 cup melted butter together into a smooth slurry, and spread it on the dough. Roll up and cut about 1.5″ thick (should make between 12 and 15 rolls depending on how you roll and cut).

In a 9×13 cake pan: line with parchment paper, and grate hard butter into the bottom (about 1/4 cup) and sprinkle with a bit more brown sugar, which all melts together into a goo.

Arrange rolls in the pan fairly loosely, and squash them down (they expand a ton, and if you don’t squash them, they go too high in the pan and don’t get baked in the middle.

Heat the oven to 400* and let the rolls sit on the counter while it heats. Bake about 18 minutes, until golden brown on top. Cool about 10 minutes, and drizzle with your choice of glaze… I made up one with vanilla, powdered sugar, and a bit of milk.

Raisins can be rolled up in the rolls if you are a gross heathen. Likewise, craisins if you so desire, or nuts, or maraschino cherries, or other tasty things.

Buns, buns, buns, bun. Good Did It Ourselves buns are a delight!

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The Goodies We Ate:

Dilly Garden Veg Cream Cheese

This is great on crackers or bagels, stays spreadable even after the fridge, and makes a nice spread on bread for tea sandwiches. It’s more a process than a recipe, so quantities are variable.

  • 1 8oz brick cream cheese, paddled to death in a stand mixer
  • 1/2 cup good sour cream (Daisy brand is good. Guar gum and carageenan are not good) paddled in with the cream cheese.
  • Teeny pinch each of granulated garlic and granulated onion
  • Good sprinkle of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt (accept no MSG-laden substitutes!)
  • Thumb-and-two-fingers generous pinch of dried dill
  • Several tablespoons of *very* finely minced raw carrot (whole big ones, not “baby” ones, which are never nice)

Blend all that together, and refrigerate overnight to let the flavors marry.

Lemon Cheese

This gets put between poundcake layers with jam. Or, you know, eaten from a spoon. It’s really good.

  • 1 8oz brick cream cheese, paddled to dickens in the stand mixer
  • 4 oz room temp butter, likewise paddled
  • zest of one fresh lemon
  • juice of said lemon (paddled… the theme of the day)
  • enough powdered sugar to make a lightly sweet, still-a-bit-puckery cross between glaze and frosting. I think I used about 2 cups.

Fizzy Punch

Totally cheated.

  • 2 frozen canisters of pink lemonade mixed with half the water
  • the rest of the water replaced with chilled club soda

I could have downed the entire gallon by myself.

The Poundcake Petit Fours

I used the recipe here at Rose Bakes and really liked how it tasted and turned out! I was short of shortening, so it was 3/4 butter rather than half-half butter and shortening. I also don’t buy condensed milk usually, and didn’t want to go to the store, so I used heavy whipping cream instead. Perfectly lovely.

A Note on Parchment Paper:

If you have not done so, use parchment paper rather than tin-foil, for everything. It’s awesomely wonderful and keen. No worries about aluminum, either! Baked goods release perfectly without added fats, petit four coatings slip off like a summer breeze (for those of us who sacrificed our baking racks to corral the last batch of baby chickens and never replaced them… ahem…). It also feels very British And Traditional. So, use parchment paper. It rocks.

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Faux-French Bread

So, I made a batch of French bread today.  Never Buying Loaves AGAIN.

1.5 Tablespoons yeast
1.5 Tablespoons sugar
1.5 Tablespoons oil
1 Tablespoon salt
2.5 cups warm water
about 6 cups flour

Mix all together down through water, and proof 10 minutes. Add 4 cups flour and beat the crud out of it; add up to 2 cups more to form a loose-but-nice dough. Proof, stopping by to give it a good smack down every 20 minutes for an hour or so. What will have started out as a somewhat sticky dough will autolyze into a lovely smooth elastic dough. It’s bread magic.

Divide and form 4 batards/oblong loaves, really TIGHTLY shaped (there are videos… I do a rounded-end baton, rather than a batard, but it’s fun to write Four Fat Batard Breads).

Place on an oiled sheet or parchment paper, and brush with egg wash (this is the faux bit… true French breads get their shattering crisp crust by added steam in the first part of high-temp baking. The egg wash will create a shiny, sorta-crisp crust, much like the big-store-bakery loaves, but *not* like actual French bakery loaves); slash deeply 3-4 times down the length. Preheat the oven to 425* while they rise til doubled.

Bake 425* for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375* and bake another 20 minutes. Remove and cool on a rack until you can’t stand it anymore, and break open a loaf.

For scale, this fat batard is 10" long.

For scale, this fat batard is 10″ long.

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Just now, there are some various lists floating around my home territories of the Interwebs that share “How to Build Food Storage for $5 A Week” and other similar titles and schemes. That $5 a week one has shown up five times for me, in the last five days!

Looking at it, specifically, I notice a few things that become problematic when you have to actually EAT your stored items. Nowhere does it mention these are storage items for essentially one person, not for a family. And the foods themselves are problematic. During the course of a year, with this particular list, you amass various quantities of 14 food items, and 2 non-food items, and no toilet paper at all:

12 pounds of salt. If you’re doing your own baking and such, this is pretty reasonable, and you’ll have some left to scrub the cast-iron skillet.

30 cans of condensed cream soup (salt, sugars, and chemicals)

40 cans of condensed tomato soup (salt, sugars, and chemicals) (So, that’s 70 cans of condensed soups. You get one can per week for the whole year, and get to choose 18 additional glorious days with More Soup.

A whopping 180 POUNDS of sugar… for one person. That’s in addition to the sugars added to the canned soups, box mac, and peanut butter. That’s a LOT of sugar. So much sugar. Americans eat a lot of sugar to start with, but this storage plan tops average 2005 sugar consumption levels (100 pound per person) by another 80%! And at the list’s $5/20 pound assumption, you’re spending nearly $1000 on sugar–and that’s at antique prices. Current prices for sugar in my area run about $5.50 for ten pounds (store brand), so spending only $5 a week cuts that sugar purchasing down to 90 pounds, which is much, much better, and still waaaay too much sugar for one person to consume. Our family of 6, with all our baking habits, uses about this in a year.

10 pounds of honey. More sugar, but at least it’s a digestible kind. If you have a diabetic in the family, please make sure to store a whole lot of insulin.

100 pounds of flour… which sounds like a lot, until you’re doing your own baking, and realize each loaf requires between 1 and 1.5 pounds of flour, and that means getting anywhere from 75 to 100 loaves in a year, without making any other use of flour. That’s less than 2 loaves of bread a week. And bread is practically your only protein source in this storage plan… you’ll get about 55 grams of protein per loaf of bread. A good target amount for daily protein is about .8 grams per 2 pounds of body weight. That means a 150 pound person needs to shoot for 420 grams of protein per week. This plan’s flour allotment gets you 110 grams in a week. For one person.)

Muffins

One bread-stuff option: homemade English muffins, which can be done from the pantry, if you store the right stuff!

12 pounds of macaroni noodles presumably to mix with the cream soups for some sort of protein-free chemical goulash?

21 boxes of chemical mac-n-cheese (salt, sugars, and chemicals again). Good luck making it edible without butter, because that’s not part of the storage plan.

24 cans of tuna (finally, a non-flour protein source! Only a little bit, though. You get 10 grams of protein in one meal, once a week… for one half the year. So now the plan has one person consuming a total of 120 grams of protein a week for at least half of the year, against a basic need of 420 grams a week. This is not a ratio for survival.)

6 pounds of peanut butter (hey, another tiny bit of protein! 6 pounds of PB will give you 85 two-tablespoon portions, with 8 grams of protein per portion. So you can add 1.5 sandwiches for one person per week, and get a whole 13 total additional grams of protein… now we’re up to 133 grams, against that basic need of 420 grams per thin adult per week.) (And mostly salt, sugars, and chemicals.)

6 pounds of yeast. This is not a bad amount, particularly if you know how to use it for a sour-dough start, and can make a lot of bread without adding new yeast.

40 pounds of powdered milk (the list is not specific as to whether this is non-instant milk, which requires mixing with hot water and chilling before it’s drinkable, or instant milk, which doe not. 40 pounds of non-instant dry milk will yield about 160 quarts of milk, which sounds like a lot, but actually works out to ONE person having 14 ounces of fluid milk per day. And if you store 40 pounds of instant milk, one person gets 7 ounces of fluid milk per day.)

6 pounds of shortening (one of the most chemically processed fats you could choose, with zero nutritional value on its own. Lard has actual nutritional content. And a variety of oils is better than just one hydrogenated chemical oil.)

1000 ct multivitamins (and you’re going to need ’em! The food list is really low on vitamins and minerals. Notice, there’s not a single fruit or vegetable item listed. Not one. British sailors were given more actual nutrition than this list provides.)

500 count aspirin (so, the list is made pre-Advil? That explains buying 5 pounds of honey for $5. Or 20 pounds of sugar for $5. Actually, if you only buy $5 of sugar at each buying interval, you’ll end up with a lot less sugar, so that’s a good thing. )

It sounds harsh, but a person amassing this quantity and distribution of foods is worse off than someone without any storage at all, because this plan lulls one into the idea that they are prepared. And it’s not a preparation plan. It’s not edible, nourishing food.

The very low protein levels (133 grams per WEEK if we’re generous… now take your body weight, divide it in half, and multiply by .8 to see what your baseline protein intake actually needs to be to maintain key body functions) lead to some ugly consequences: muscle wasting, increasing weakness, compromised immune function, hair loss, skin changes/rashes, mood changes including depression, and eventually shock and even death. Without consuming any protein, the human body can only live about 70 days, and those will be rife with the physical deprivation and malfunction I just mentioned. This plan gives only about 1/3 of baseline protein levels for a 150 pound person. Sooooo… live miserably and die about 8am on day 93 instead.

Yes, I know this meme/plan is only a suggestion, or a start, or something. But it’s about the worst way to go about accomplishing provident, functional storage.

WHAT WORKS BETTER

This site has a much more functional planning strategy. This site gives some solid basics and reasons why. Yes, it’s possible to build food storage $5 at a time. But, it needs to be more thought through than the $5/week plan floating around the net!

I’m not a perfect paragon of storage. Not at all. But here are the questions I look at when building at $5 a week:

  1. What does my family actually eat? We eat a lot more variety of grains than the above “plan” allows for. Wheat, oat groats, corn grits/polenta, barley, and more regularly grace our table. Going to only wheat flour would be a vast down-grade to our eating plans. We eat leafy and root vegetables, and fruits, and a wide variety of protein sources, including different rices and beans. For storage to be provident and functional, it needs to contain what we actually eat.
  2. What are the realistic quantities? For instance, our family of six will consume an average of two loaves of homemade bread, or their equivalent (homemade biscuits, rolls, tortillas, muffins, scones), per day. Seven days a week. We’ll use the equivalent of three 15oz cans of vegetables in a dinner meal. I need to store realistic quantities for our consumption, or we’ll run a high risk of feeling grossly deprived. (And that includes some items that are strictly for comfort and treats! That’s why we store fruits for making pie, and chocolate chips for cookies, and cocoa powder for cakes and pudding and hot cocoa.)
  3. Do those menu items come in shelf-stable versions? This might include dehydrated, freeze-dried, home-canned, or commercially-canned items, as well as stable-as-is items (like grains).
  4. What are the most nutritionally-dense foods I can store? (hint: sugar is not one of them. Nor is box chemical mac.)
  5. What are the most beneficial and shelf-stable protein sources I can store? (hint: dry beans and rices, lentils, and other such vegetable-based complete proteins are awesome to store, bulk up gorgeously when cooked, and can be used in a variety of cooking styles. And backyard chickens provide fresh eggs daily, no shelf-storage needed–although you can store fresh eggs, right there on the counter, for weeks!)
  6. What shelf-stable fats can I store? Oils, lard–our bodies need fats to function well! One stable source of fats is actually in certain grains–I’ll do better storing wheat berries and grinding them fresh for bread, retaining the tiny amounts of fats in the grain, than by trying to store huge quantities of pre-ground whole wheat flour that risks the fats going rancid before I use them.
  7. What seasoning sets give those basics a good variety of flavors? How can I store those in shelf-stable ways, and how much should I be storing? Salt, pepper, garlic, onion, curry, cumin, bouillons, coriander, cayenne, dry mustard, dried herbs of all kinds, more garlic, sriracha, Mex-style pepper sauces, Worchestershire, soy sauce… all of these are in our normal flavor patterns, and to be in a situation of living off only stored foods, without those flavor patterns, would be a huge spark to depression, appetite fatigue, and voluntary starvation.

    Flavor! Who knew?

    Flavor! Who knew?

  8. How can I adjust my grocery and meal planning to allow for small, consistent purchase of additional quantities to build my surplus store? Stocking up on peaches to home-can only makes sense when peaches are in season; if I’m going to put up jams and jellies, I’ll need to make sure I do purchase additional sugar in the months leading up to the cheapest fruit availability. Do I have secure, air-tight storage for seasonings, herbs, grains, etc? Can I adjust our meal plans to incorporate the least-expensive forms of high-quality protein, carbs, and fats?

I grew up with an active cycle of food storage and use, and I’m trying to do better with my current plan. Living with that active cycle is a heck of a lot of work, so involving the whole household is vital! The quantities to feed a household of ten, realistically, were enormous. It wasn’t feasible to do it all at once, and a spread-out plan that takes advantage of seasonal accessibility and careful purchasing is really the only way to make it work no matter what size household you have.

Some is better than none. Planned “some”, tailored to your household’s needs, is better than generic some.

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I think it’s important to have pleasant family traditions. Or at least, memorable ones. So, we have these Assassin Cookies, so-named because they are double-dusted in powdered sugar, and that makes for a treat that will attempt to kill you, should you inhale at the precisely wrong moment while eating them. I like these bitty, and they freeze very well (without sugar-death-dust–that will get soggy when thawing!), and they’re beloved by all adventurous souls everywhere.

Assassin Cookies

1 cup butter (1/2 pound, or two sticks). Do not substitute margarine. It is an abomination.

1/2 cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar

1 heaping teaspoon vanilla extract (my Great-Grandma Fern’s designation. It means “if you spill a little, that’s fine.”)

2-1/4 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon salt (omit if you’ve used salted butter up there at the top.)

3/4 cup chopped and smashed walnuts (or pecans). Small bits make for more consistent assassination cookies.

About 1 to 2 cups additional powdered sugar for the Assassin Dust at the end.

 

Cream the butter and sugar until it’s getting quite light and fluffy; beat in the vanilla and nuts. Beat in the flour until it all comes together to a mass.

Form the dough into small balls (3/4″ max–about 1/2 teaspoon of dough) and arrange on a baking sheet. These won’t spread much, so they can be as close as 1/2″ apart. Smoosh them just slightly in the middle with your thumb or the back of a spoon.

Bake for 10-14 minutes at 400*. They need to be done, but not really browned, or the taste of browned butter will overwhelm the nuts. Remove to a rack to cool.

While still a bit warm, toss the cookies in the additional powdered sugar, a few at a time, and then let them cool completely on the rack. Or, get impatient and put them in the freezer for a few minutes.

When cool, toss them again in the powdered sugar, and store in an air-tight canister or re-used Schrodinger’s Cookie Tin (does it hold Danish butter cookies? Or sewing supplies? Until you open the lid, it could be either or BOTH.)

Do not inhale unwisely, or they will, in fact, assassinate you.

Yay, traditions!

 

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I’ve been wanting to make homemade flour tortillas for about ever, and I finally got fed up with the cost of them at the store today.

Here’s the recipe I used, with the approximate costs for ingredients. The batch made 18 tortillas, 15 of which survive for supper (carne asada with lime and garlic, veggies, cheese. YUM. Yay, Mexican Grocery Store!) That’s $1.05 for 18, rather than $3 for 10, and my ingredient list is less than half that of the commercially packaged flour tortillas. Labor, including griddling them, took 30 minutes. Not Too Shabby. And they pass the Teenage Boy Snarf Challenge with these results: “Good flat stuff, Mother.”

  • 3 cups all purpose flour (about 75c)
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt (less than 1c)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder (about 4c)
  • 5 tablespoons lard (25c)
  • 1 cup warmish water (freeeeeee)

Whisk the dry ingredients to combine them, then cut in the lard until it “vanishes” (I used the whip attachment for my lovely 16yo red Kitchenaid, and beat the crud out of it.)

Switch to a dough hook and slowly pour in the water until the dough comes together in a soft ball. Dust this with flour and portion into golf-ball-sized ball (mine came out to 18 portions). Roll between your palms, or between one palm and the counter, to form a nice tight-ish ball.

Cover the dough portions with a towel and let them rest at least 10 minutes. Somewhere between 10 and 30 minutes lets the gluten relax all the way, and makes rolling them really thin a whole lot easier.

Heat a cast-iron pan, dry, to “drop of water skitters and vanishes”. You’ll slowly turn down the heat as you go, because cast iron holds heat really well.

Flatten and roll each round out quite thin, using a bit of flour to reduce it sticking. And by thin, I mean: thinner than you think you need. They will poof about 2-3 times thicker as they cook (thanks, Baking Powder!), so Paper Thin is a good goal. The dough is pretty elastic, which helps a lot.

Toss one onto the hot griddle or pan; griddle briefly (20-40 seconds) until browned spots form on the underside. Flip it, admire your work, and griddle another 20 seconds or so.

Remove to a tea towel on the counter, and keep going. Roll the next while the first griddles, if you’re good at rolling out. (Otherwise, get two ready and give yourself a 1-tortilla head start!) Cover the stack with a tea towel, and they’ll still be gorgeously soft and flexible, even when the cool off.

No pictures, but you can find the same recipe loads of places on-line, from bloggers who are not total Slacker Moms, and their pictures look pretty nice. My tortillas? CHEAP, tasty, healthier than the store-bought, really inexpensive, gorgeously flexible, budget-friendly, soft, toasty, and also, cost-effective! Twice the food for 1/6 the cost. That’s nice.

 

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Pretzels & Pate Choux

(Please insert the obligatory desultory comments regarding Neglect of Blog, Promise to Blog More Faithfully, Excuses of Very Crazy Life Lately, Etcetera.)

Since it’s Resurrection Day, and I am Christian, here are two elevating recipes to give a whack. Both look fancier than they are hard, which is really nice for earning bonus Slacker Mom points. And, no pictures, because: Slacker Mom.

(I will freely admit that on several occasions, we either creatively cropped photos, or turned off the date/time stamp, and faked “Easter Sunday” photos for the grandparents.)

Soft Pretzels

Right, so, it sounds really fancy to say, “Oh, we’re making a batch of soft pretzels to enjoy!” but really, what makes soft pretzels pretzels (or Prunt-zulls, if you’re a Little at my cottage) rather than boring bread is simple: a 30-second water bath in baking-soda-fortified H2O.

I also highly recommend using parchment paper when baking the soft pretzels. It keeps things from sticking horribly, and absorbs some of the moisture, so you get a crisper crust.

For 8-10 decent sized soft pretzels, or pretzel sandwich rolls (which are stupendously bliss-making):

  • 1.5 cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon yeast
  • 4 to 4.5 cups all purpose flour (I prefer unbleached)
  • 3 tablespoons butter (melted) OR 2-3 tablespoons oil

Mix all of this together and knead or slap around in a stand mixer until a smooth dough is formed. I like to leave my dough a bit on the “wet” side, and pop it into a bread bowl or plastic tub to raise, so I don’t have to knead much at all. Let it double, and if you forget, let if fall and rise again! This will take about an hour. Do other stuff in the meantime, such as getting your pretzel bath ready, and preheating the oven to 450 degrees, and lining a few baking sheets with parchment paper.

Prep your water bath: 10 cups or so of water, with 1/2 to 2/3 cup baking soda in it. Bring this to a nice boil. It foams and fizzes a bit. Do not be alarmed.

Punch down your dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide it up into 8-10 portions. I’m a slacker, to I pinch of “hold it in my palm” sized balls of dough, and however many we come up with, I’m happy.

Time to get kindergarten on the dough: roll each portion out into a snake. Make a U shape, and then twirl the ends together twice, before flipping the ends toward the bottom of the U and pressing them onto the U to seal a “pretzel” shape. Here’s a video, from Canadians, so you know they’re kind and trustworthy. Some people get really fancy and just do a flippity-twisty thing. I am not one of those people.

To make sure you have loads of surfaces for the lovely water bath to pretzelize the crust, make sure your pretzel has space between all the sections. You can use your hands to just stretch them open as needed.

If you want a pretzel sandwich bun/roll, don’t stretch the sections option; when the pretzel rises, gaps will fill in, and you’ll have a whole bun shape that slices through nicely.

Now that the pretzels are formed, you’re ready to start bathing and baking.

Use a shallow, flat-bottomed holey ladle thing (I think it’s technically a large slotted spoon?) to lower one or two pretzels into the baking soda water bath for 30 to 40 seconds. Retrieve and let them drain a moment before placing them on the parchment-lined baking sheets.

Drop another two, and while they bathe, sprinkle the still-quite-wet already-bathed ones with garlic, or salt, or both, or anything else you want stuck on the pretzel. Some recipes call for an egg wash, but I don’t particularly care for that, and the just-bathed dough surface holds onto “toppers” pretty well.

Pop the bathed pretzels into a 450* oven for about 12-15 minutes, until they have a nice deep color. Slip the whole parchment paper onto a cooling rack (or the counter, if your cooling rack was perhaps stolen by your Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal Husband last year to serve as a topper for the baby chicks’ brooder box).

I made a quick sauce with a few ounces of sharp cheddar, ditto Monteray Jack and cream cheese, plus a bit of dry mustard and a splash of milk, melted slowly together. But mostly, the kids just buttered them, and they’d be good with spicy brown mustard, too.

Cream Puffs

I love cream puffs. Here’s some information on How Cream Puffs Work. Here’s the basic recipe:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup eggs (this frees you from the tyranny of wondering what size eggs. Just crack ’em in until you have about 1 cup total, and whisk them together.)

Parchment paper is helpful for this recipe, too! Line some baking sheets before you get going, and pre-heat the oven to 425*.

Bring the water, butter, sugar, and salt to a rolling boil. Dump in 1 cup flour, and beat the tar out of it. It will gelatinize, which is cool to watch happen, and may leave a bit of film on the pan as you’re stirring. That’s fine, don’t worry about it. Keep beating/stirring hard for 4-5 minutes over medium heat, and then set it aside to cool off just a bit.

If you have a stand mixer, cool beans! Put the flour dough into the mixer and fit it with the paddle attachment. Get it running on low-ish, and drizzle in the beaten eggs a bit at a time. You’ll notice that the dough will get slimy for a minute, then smooth out nicely. Keep going until the egg is all incorporated.

If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can do it by Ye Olde Sturdy Biceps Method: add some of the egg and beat the tar out of the dough by hand. It will be lumpy and slimy for a bit, then smooth out. Keep repeating until all the egg is incorporated. I will admit to cheating: I put all the egg in at once, and just deal with about 4 minutes of slimy to get to the smooth part. It will take loads of bicep endurance. You are amazing. You can do it.

Cream puffs are great for the slacker baker, because you’re going to succeed by ignoring them. They need an initial fairly-high temperature to create the burst of steam from the moisture in the eggs (this is what puffs ’em), with a second stage of lower heat to set and dry them out, so they don’t fall flat as soon as you take them out.

Use a regular spoon to grab a nice rounded portion of dough-goop. Scrape it off onto the parchment paper. Repeat, spacing them about 2″ apart, and going for a rounded mound.

Pop them into a 400* oven for 15 minutes. WITHOUT opening the door, turn the heat down to 350* for about 35-40 minutes.

Go do other stuff. Like look up recipes of good junk to put inside the puffs. When that second timer-buzzer goes off, turn off the oven, crack the door, and let them cool for maybe 10 minutes, then remove them to a cooling rack, and use a skewer to jab a hole in the side. It should come out clean, and jabbing the hole in also gives a steam vent as another insurance against collapse.

Even if they do fall flat, they’re still a good platform for Delivering Other Tasty Stuff To Your Face-Hole.

You can make the cream puffs dairy-free by subbing non-dairy margarine (of the sort recommended for baking); you can make them gluten-free by subbing almond flour for wheat flour, 1:1—but definitely use a stand mixer, because it takes longer for the egg to incorporate, and let the mixture cool entirely before portioning it on the sheet. This helps it set up better and puff more in the oven. Almond-flour puffs are more hygroscopic than wheat puffs, so they’ll soften in the ambient humidity, but they taste fantastic, and are still good platforms, as mentioned above.

You can fill cream puffs with just about anything, sweet or savory. The vegan “egg salad” recipes that use mashed chickpeas are great, as are regular egg salad (please use sustainably, humanely raised eggs from happy hens!), tuna salad (ditto, but with fishes), etc.

For sweet, plain whipped cream with berries folded in is always a good choice. You can also use my sister’s secret weapon: pudding mix.

Addictive Pastry Cream

In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, combine:

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 3 ounce package of any flavor instant pudding mix you like

Beat the tar out of it until it’s really, really thick. Haphazardly scrape into a bowl and refrigerate until you need it. Use a rubber scraper to gather up all the haphazardly neglected dregs of addictive pastry cream and lick them off the scraper while the kids aren’t looking.

And these two lovely examples of leavened, “Risen” treats, combined with the multiple puns I made regarding Easter Sunday/Risen treats, were part of our day today.

 

 

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