How Not To Bake A Doorstop

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“Take a Pound of Butter, beat it in an earthen Pan, with your Hand one Way, till it is like a fine thick Cream; then have ready twelve Eggs, but half the Whites, beat them well, and beat them up with the Butter, a Pound of Flour beat in it, and a Pound of Sugar, and a few Carraways; beat it all well together for an Hour with your Hand, or a great wooden Spoon. Butter a Pan, and put it in and bake it an Hour in a quick Oven. For Change, you may put in a Pound of Currants cleaned wash’d and pick’d.”

—The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy, Hannah Glasse, facsimile 1747 London reprint [Prospect Books:Devon] 1995 ( p. 139)

We read this recipe together at the start of our class.  What exactly is an “earthen pan”?  Twelve eggs? What are caraways? (We pulled some out of the spice cabinet and had a sniff.  The kids were not impressed.)

I imagined that the women of that day must have had very large biceps, what with beating their cakes by hand everyday for an hour.  I hope that was some damn good cake!

Pound cake gets its name from the traditional weight of its ingredients: one pound each of butter, sugar, flour and eggs.  The result was, arguably, a pretty substantial loaf.  Since there was no leavening aside from the air incorporated through the creaming of the butter and the sugar, (an hour!), or through the whipping of the egg whites, (by hand!), it is highly likely that many cakes did turn out to be somewhat doorstop-ish.

Thankfully most modern recipes deviate from the historical ratios.  Many now also include chemical leavening for additional lightness.

Even talking the kids through manually mixing a pound cake seemed exhausting.  Hello Kitchen Aid, my lovely modern appliance!

After a quick safety/practical pep talk we got down to business.

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The first step in cake baking is pan preparation.  Always.  It will save you grief later on if you just get into the habit of prepping your pans first.  Trust me.

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Then we measured the dry ingredients into a bowl, by weight this time.  We went over how to use the tare function on my digital scale and why it was necessary.

“So we aren’t weighing the bowl?”

Right!

The kids were anxious about putting too much flour in, as if we couldn’t also remove the excess. Funny.

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Salt and other small amounts were more easily measured by volume.

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And for our first detour…

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Sugar.

Me: “Have you ever really looked at it?  What does it look like?”

“It’s white!”

Me: “Yes, but anything else?”

“It looks like snow!”

Me: “It does! But what about the shape?”

Blank stares.

Ok. So out came the microscope.

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“It looks like ice cubes!”

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“It looks like diamonds!”

Those little crystals would come in handy later when we were combining them with our butter.  When creamed together with the butter, the sugar granules’ sharp edges would cut into the fat and form little pockets of air that would help leaven the cake and give it a nice, even crumb.  The small amount of baking powder we added to our flour would enlarge these bubbles further once the batter was in the hot oven.

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We continued weighing and measuring.

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Then, detour #2.

Eggs. Specifically, separated eggs.  Kids love to crack eggs.  Separating them is even more fun!

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I helped each of them crack their egg, (firmly! wishy-washy will get you lots of bits of shells), and showed them how to use half of the shell to hold the contents of the egg while discarding the other part of the shell.  They encouraged each other during their respective turns, yet trepidation crept in once they themselves were faced with the task of juggling cracked shells and runny egg.

“What do I do with the other half?!”

“Oh, it’s falling out!”

But all was well!  We simply poured the egg into our bare hands, letting the white slip through our fingers.  A quick and gentle pass of the yolk from hand to hand was all that was needed to finish the job.

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We went through more eggs than we needed for the recipe; those became lunch.

Now that all the ingredients were measured we could finally get to mixing!

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Considering how long it took us to scale out our ingredients, the butter was probably a tad warmer than it should have been.  Ideally, the butter should be at cool room temperature; just soft enough to be malleable but not so warm that it is too melty to trap air.

Onward!

Mixing always seems to go so much faster than measuring…

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We creamed the butter and sugar with the paddle attachment until it was nice and fluffy, then added our room temperature eggs, one at a time.

Why?

“Because if we put all of them in, they would splash out?”

Yep.  Or they would just slosh and spin around and around.

After each addition, we used a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything was getting properly combined.

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Then we added half of our flour.

“Because if we added all of it, it would fly out?”

These guys were getting good!

Yes.  Also, it would be difficult to incorporate all the flour at once, which would force us to mix the batter longer, thereby increasing the chances of developing the gluten which would result in a tough and chewy cake.

We scraped down our bowl again and added our milk, and finally, the rest of the flour.  We mixed it until it was just combined, then finished it off with the spatula.

Trying to get the batter into the pan proved difficult with all the eager fingers barely waiting to get a swipe at the mixing bowl.

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After smoothing the top,  we ran a knife through the middle of the cake to get rid of any large bubbles.

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The pan went into the oven and I stepped quickly away from the bowl!

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About 50 minutes later:

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And 15 minutes  10 minutes after that:

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We were under the gun so we were forced to eat warm cake.  Darn it.

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Butter Pound Cake  (only slightly adapted from this recipe)

10 oz. (1 ¼ c) unsalted butter, softened at cool room temperature; more for the pan

11 oz. (2 ⅓ c) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for the pan

1 ½ tsp. aluminum free baking powder

¾ tsp. fine sea salt

12 ¼ oz (1 ¾ c) granulated sugar

2 large egg yolks, at room temperature

3 large eggs, at room temperature

⅔ cup whole milk, at room temperature

1 ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 12-cup Bundt pan, dust the pan with flour, and tap out the excess. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt until evenly combined. Set aside.

Add vanilla to the milk. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and the sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

On low speed, beat in the yolks until smooth. Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl and the paddle. With the mixer running on medium-low speed, add the whole eggs, one at a time, mixing for at least 20 seconds after each addition. Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl and paddle again.

With the mixer running on the lowest speed, add half of the flour mixture and mix just to combine, add the milk and vanilla and mix until combined, and then add the remaining flour mixture and mix just until combined.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Run a knife through the batter and tap the pan against the counter to dislodge trapped air. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only moist crumbs clinging to it, 45 to 55 minutes.

Let cake cool for 15 minutes then invert onto a wire rack and let cool completely.

 

 

 

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‘Tis the Season…

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December. The shortest month of the year in my book.  It comes in fast and goes by even faster.

But I knew we’d have to find time to have a class on gingerbread houses.  We would make them from scratch, from start to finish.  In a few hours.

Right.

The plan for the lesson: mix gingerbread dough, roll and cut out dough shapes, bake pieces, and finally, build and decorate houses.

Obviously we would have to fast track the process to fit in with time constraints, kid attention spans and patience levels.

This took a bit more prep on my part.

Namely, I made a triple batch of dough and used two-thirds of it to pre-bake the gingerbread house pieces that we would assemble in class.

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(Small confession: I ate the trimmings from all 36 of them.)

The last third of the dough would be chilled and ready for the kids to roll out.  I also made a double batch of royal icing.

Roll call. 5 kids. 3 moms. 1 dog.  Commence baking class.

Gingerbread dough, just like most cookie doughs, is made by first “creaming” the fat with the sugar, blending the two together to make a, well, creamy mixture.

I explained to the kids, that in order to combine these two ingredients, the butter would need to be at room temperature; soft enough to stir together, but not melty or oily.

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We plopped our stick of butter into the bowl and mashed it around with a wooden spoon to soften it a bit more.

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The kids took turns adding the brown sugar, three kids, 1/4 cup apiece.   We beat the two ingredients together until they were well combined.

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We weren’t trying to incorporate a lot of air into the mix, but just trying to get it well blended.

“What do you think would happen to the butter if I added a cold ingredient to our bowl?”

We talked about how it would make the butter clump up, which might make it harder to combine with the rest of the ingredients.

“So it would be better to add a room temperature egg instead of a cold one?”

Affirmatives all around.

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We finished mixing in our wet ingredients, then set them aside to concentrate on our dries, which they took turns whisking together in a separate bowl.  After smelling all the spices, that is.

“Don’t inhale the clove!”

The last step was adding dry to wet.

“What do you guys think would happen if I dumped this whole bowl of flour into the wet ingredients and tried to mix them?”

Eyes from bowl to bowl.

kid 1: “Would it be hard to mix?”

kid 2: “You could mix in a little at a time.”

Three additions later, with the help of a bowl scraper, we had our gingerbread dough ready to be wrapped in cling film and placed in the refrigerator.

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First I asked what kind of shapes they thought we would be making for our houses.  They took a look at the already baked cookies.

“Rectangles!” “Squares!”

Me: “So should I form my dough into a big round ball?”

“A rectangle!”

I showed them how to use the plastic wrap to press the dough into a nice, flat rectangle.

I explained that the dough would be too soft and sticky to roll so it would need to chill for the butter to firm up, and for the flour to keep absorbing the liquid in the dough.  For about 3 hours.

Concerned looks.

Aha! But I had dough ready for them to roll so we could proceed immediately.

Hurray!

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A quick explanation of how to roll followed:

Parchment paper, a little flour on top of that, then the dough, a little more flour, and finally a second sheet of parchment paper.

Anchor an edge of the paper/dough “sandwich” against the side of the table with your body and start rolling.

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The dough should roll nicely between the two sheets.

If it starts to stick, peel off the top sheet of paper, dust with a bit of flour and replace the parchment, then with both hands, one on each end of the paper/dough sandwich, flip the whole thing over.

Peel off the top sheet of paper, (formerly the bottom), dust with flour and continue until the dough is about 1/4″ thick.

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They were more interested in cutting out the shapes, so we moved on.

They used a knife to trace the edges of the parchment paper patterns: one square side, one front/back, and one roof piece.

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kid 1: “Wait, so we need two of each, right? Six pieces?”

yep.

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kid 2: “It’s easier to cut them out if you line the sides up.”

yep again.

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We removed any unnecessary bits surrounding the cutouts, slid the whole sheet of parchment onto the back of a the flattest sheet pan we had, and placed it into the oven.

They were anxious to decorate, but were curious about the gingerbread they could smell baking.

Me: “You get to eat that”

“Yay!”

Assorted candies, piping bags and bowls of royal icing, and spatulas were distributed around the table.

Royal icing designs they wanted to pipe on the house walls, and any candies they wanted to stick to that icing should be done first, I explained, before assembly.  The roof pieces could be added last and decorated in place.

There was little hesitation to jump in.

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While they were working on decorating, I pulled the gingerbread out of the oven, and while the cookies were still hot, used a sharp knife to trim and straighten the edges. This is super important as there is nothing more frustrating for a kid, (or adult for that matter!), than trying to fit wonky sided shapes together.

I had covered heavy, 6″ x 6″ cardboard squares with foil, which we would be building the houses on.  I showed them how to spread a layer of icing on the square to act as a foundation for the walls.

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I was a little worried that the younger kids, specifically mine, would get frustrated with assembling the houses.  The royal icing acts like cement, but it does take a few minutes to set up enough to have the pieces stand on their own.

And too much icing creates a lot of slipping and sliding.  A moderate amount is best.

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There were lots of requests to “hold this please” and “can you help me with this wall?”, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that once they got the feel of it, they did great with the construction.

The small size of the houses allowed the process to go rather quickly.  Larger houses would have required more drying time to be stable enough to continue decorating.

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Roof pieces were added. More candy. A marshmallow snowman here, a red vine path there.

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Finally, “I think I’m done! And I’d like to eat now.”

Me: “I have some leftover split pea soup.”

“Uh”

Warm gingerbread pieces are passed out to the kids who have had enough decorating.

Some decorate until the last possible moment.

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My daughter: “But I’m not done yet!”

Me: “You live here.  You can decorate all day if you want.”

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At least for another hour.

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We mixed this dough by hand, (I like the kids to be able to see the process), but it can certainly be done in a mixer, especially if you are making a larger batch.  I doubled this recipe to make enough dough for six small houses.  The walls measured 3″ x 3″, the front and back pieces were 3″ x 4 1/4″, and the roof pieces were 3″ x 2″.   The scraps can be re-rolled and re-cut.

Gingerbread

4 oz unsalted butter, slightly softened (room temperature)

¾ c packed light brown sugar

¼ + ⅛ t salt

1 egg, room temperature

½ c dark molasses

½ t vanilla

2 ¾ c flour

2 t ground ginger

1 t cinnamon

½ t baking soda

¼ t cloves

Cream butter, sugar and salt together.  Add the egg, then the molasses and vanilla.  Set aside.  Whisk the remaining ingredients together in a separate bowl, then stir them into the wet ingredients in three additions.  Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight.

Roll dough between parchment, dusting with flour as necessary.  Roll to ¼” thickness.  Leaving the dough on the parchment sheet, use a parchment paper template to cut house shapes.  Remove any scraps and slide the dough and parchment onto the back of a flat sheet pan.  Bake in a preheated, 350 degree oven until gingerbread is firm and toasty, about 10 – 15 minutes.  Use a sharp knife to trim still warm gingerbread pieces.  Let cool completely.

Make plenty of royal icing!  You can use ziploc bags to decorate with, but I prefer plastic piping bags and decorating tips with couplers, as the ziplocs tend to bust seams pretty easily.  This will result in kid meltdown.  If  you have to use ziplocs, you might have better luck with the heavier freezer bags.

Hopping on the pumpkin bandwagon…

It’s October. You can’t walk 2 feet into a store without running into pumpkins or pumpkin flavored food items.  Orange is everywhere.

My kids began asking for pumpkin baked goods as soon as Trader Joe’s started in with their fall displays back in September.  So I took that into consideration when trying to decide which recipe to make with them during our next baking class, and finally settled on Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Crumb Cake.

Pumpkin. And chocolate.  A win-win in my book.  More importantly, it continues to build on the baking concepts we have already covered.

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Because the ingredient list was pretty lengthy compared to our first two baking projects, I gathered everything in advance.

As the kids crowded around my kitchen table, I explained that the cake we would be making fell into the category of “quick breads”.  Usually the method for mixing these kind of items, (banana bread is another example), involves just mixing “wet” ingredients in one bowl, “dry” ingredients in another, then combining the two.  Easy peasy.

The kids separated all the ingredients into the two categories.  I reminded them how important it was to read their recipe through first, as sometimes it might call for an ingredient to be added out of the usual order.

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They all remembered how to measure flour, and took focused turns scooping and leveling.

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We talked about how two 1/2 cup measures would fit into one 1 cup measure. Everyone seemed clear on that.  Three quarters of a cup took a bit more thinking.

Me: “The recipe calls for 3/4 cup of brown sugar, but my measuring cups only say 1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup and 1/4 cup.”

Collective pondering.

Younger girl: “You could use three of these.” (1/4 cup)

Nodding heads.

Older boy: “You could also use one of these and one of those.” (1/2 cup and 1/4 cup)

Perfect.

They were all tickled by measuring the brown sugar, “like you’re making a sand castle at the beach!”, and each time the cup was flipped over to reveal a perfect cylinder of sugar, we heard a round of “ooohh”. Simple pleasures.

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We had another discussion about equivalent fractions in figuring out how to add 3/4 teaspoon of salt, then it was back on easy street when we only had to use one spoon to measure each of the spices.

There was plenty of sniffing of the contents of the spice jars.  Cinnamon was generally well favored, while ginger and clove garnered very strong opinions.

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Then, “Is nutmeg a nut?”

Wikipedia break.

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(FYI nutmeg is a seed.)

Time to mix in the butter.  This is where this recipe differs from the usual quick bread recipes where the butter is either creamed with the sugar or melted and added to the wet ingredients.

Cutting the butter into the dry ingredients serves two purposes here.  We are making the crumb topping, aka streusel, but we are also insuring that our cake will be super tender.  How?

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I referred to our first two classes.  When we made our pretzels we mixed flour with water and kneaded the resulting dough.  When we mixed our pate a choux we stirred our flour into the liquid ingredients and cooked it on the stove.  In both instances the goal was to activate and strengthen the gluten necessary to help leaven our product.  In the pretzel dough it provided the structure needed to capture the carbon dioxide expelled by the yeast, and in the pate a choux it provided the structure needed to trap the burst of steam that created our puffs.

But we don’t always need or want a lot of gluten development in our baked goods because it makes things chewy.  It is desirable in sourdough bread for example, but I can’t think of anybody who likes chewy muffins or chewy birthday cake.

The kids all agreed wholeheartedly with this statement.

Now that we knew how to create gluten, (adding liquid and physical manipulation), we could discuss how not to create gluten.

Back to the butter.

I explained that since we would be adding liquid to our dry ingredients we could help protect our cake batter from forming too much gluten by covering the flour granules with fat, kind of like outfitting them in itty bitty raincoats.  This, along with minimal mixing, would insure that our cake would be far from chewy.

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Once that was finished we removed part of the mixture to use later as our crumb topping.

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Next, chocolate chips were eaten added to the remainder of the crumb mixture in the bowl.

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Then we turned our attention to the wet ingredients.

The kids remembered that liquids always get measured in a liquid measuring cup and viewed at eye level.

“But what about the pumpkin?”

The puree is wet but it wouldn’t pour and settle into the pitcher like the buttermilk.  One could measure it in the dry cups and level it with a knife, but if one doesn’t enjoy washing extra dishes (me) and can employ a little math, (1 cup buttermilk + 1 1/4 c pumpkin puree = 2 1/4 c total volume), then it would be easy to measure it directly into the pitcher.

The kids understood this to mean that, as we added it, the pumpkin puree would cause the level of the buttermilk in the pitcher to rise and we would just stop adding when it reached 2 1/4 cups. Ta da!

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Vanilla was a much coveted item.  More sniffing of the contents of the bottle.

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Lastly, we added the baking soda to our wet ingredients.  This would provide the leavening in this recipe.

Fortunately, the kids had all experienced the vinegar/baking soda reaction before via some version of the volcano project, so they already knew that the baking soda would react with, well, something in our cake batter, but what?

We discussed how baking soda, a base, requires an acid to react with to create the carbon dioxide bubbles that would leaven our cake.  But we definitely didn’t have vinegar in there.

Me: “Acids taste sour.  What else did we add that was sour, or tangy?”

Kids: “Buttermilk!”

Me: “What else could we use from our kitchen if we don’t have buttermilk on hand?”

Kids: “Juice?” “Lemon?” “Pickle juice?”

Me: “Well that’s basically vinegar”

Kids: “That would be gross anyway”

Me: “What about sour cream? or yogurt? or even milk with vinegar or lemon juice added to it?”

Other mom: “or kefir?”

Yep, all those would work.  Basically anytime baking soda is the sole leavening agent, an acidic ingredient is required.

We could see very fine bubbles form in our liquid mixture once our baking soda was added.

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We gently mixed our wet ingredients into our dries.

At this point we were less worried about over mixing causing toughness than over mixing deflating our batter.  When baking soda is the only leavening agent it’s best to get the product into the oven as soon as possible, before the bubbles make their way out of the pan.

The cake batter went into the baking dish, was topped with the reserved streusel and slipped into the hot oven.  About 30 minutes later, kids began wandering in and out of the kitchen, noses in the air.  It smelled just like fall.

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This recipe is heavily adapted from the Quintessential Coffee Cake recipe in Richard Sax’s Classic Home Desserts.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Crumb Cake

2 ½ c whole wheat pastry flour
¾ c firmly packed golden brown sugar
¾ t sea salt
¾ c (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground ginger
½ t freshly grated nutmeg
⅛ t ground clove
1 c finely chopped chocolate or chocolate chips
1 c buttermilk
1 ¼ c pumpkin puree
1 t vanilla
1 large egg
1 t baking soda

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and spices. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or 2 knives until crumbly. Remove and reserve 1 cup of the mixture for the topping. Mix chocolate into the remaining flour mixture and set aside. In a separate container, mix the buttermilk, pumpkin puree, vanilla and egg together. Beat the baking soda into the buttermilk mixture and add to the flour and chocolate bowl. Fold to combine. Scrape the batter into a 9” x 13” pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle the reserved crumb mixture over all. Bake the cake until golden brown, about 35 minutes. It should feel firm but spring back to the touch. Cool to lukewarm.

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** I get asked a lot about gluten-free recipes.  This recipe works just fine with gluten-free flours, just be sure that if you are using a packaged flour blend that it doesn’t already contain any kind of leavening.

Photo credits: 3,6,7,13 by Helena Ottoson

Cabbages and Cream Puffs

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Lesson 2: Pate a choux (paht ah shoo)

Literally translated it means cabbage paste. Sounds delicious doesn’t it?

Also known as choux, it is the crispy and slightly eggy pastry that plays a supporting role in all kinds of deliciousness.

I tell the kids the reason I want to teach them how to make it is because it is very versatile.  Like the brick in their lego sets, you can create lots of different things with it…cream filled puffs and eclairs, sugar topped or stuffed with ice cream and bathed in chocolate sauce; but it can also be piped and fried to make French crullers or beignets; made savory by adding cheese to make gougeres, or even boiled like dumplings to make Gnocchi Parisienne.

Fancy fancy, right?  I think mostly they hear “blah blah sugar, blah blah chocolate, blah blah ice cream.”

They will thank me later when they are in college and all they have in the apartment is a bit of flour, some eggs, and a lonely stick of butter.

So to the recipe we turn.  We quickly gather our mis en place and get down to business.

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We discuss why it’s important to measure liquid ingredients in a liquid measuring cup rather than a dry measuring cup…”because it will spill!”, and why you should always get down to eye level to measure the liquids accurately…”it looks like there’s too much!” from above.

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Then, a reminder of what the different measuring spoons mean…”1/4 means that four of these go into one of these.”

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And butter…”1/2 cup is always one stick, so if your recipe calls for 1 cup of butter you need what?”, “2!”

The water, milk, sugar, salt and butter all get dumped in the pot.

Then we get a bit messy with the flour.

This recipe calls for 1 cup, sifted, (which means measured first, then sifted). I wanted to show them that the best way to measure flour is not by scooping it with the measuring cup, (as most people do), but by placing the empty measuring cup down, then using another utensil to lightly fluff and lift out the flour, and add it to the waiting cup.  Finally, without tamping it down, just level it off with the straight edge of a knife, spoon, etc.

The theory is that no two people scoop with the same force and therefore, by measuring the first way, more often than not you will end up with more than the recipe requires.

In theory.

So I whip out my digital scale and ask one of the children to measure a cup of flour by the usual method.  Then I measure mine by this way more accurate method.  We weigh them, and…lo and behold they are exactly the same!

Um.

Ok!  So everybody is scooping and weighing and the kids are digging the scale and we have flour everywhere and nobody else comes up with exactly the same amount.

Aha! I. am. vindicated.

Back to it then.

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We sift to remove lumps. Don’t skip this step!

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Then the kids take turns cracking the eggs into a pitcher.

Only after all our ingredients are measured do we turn to the stove.  The contents of the pot are brought to a full boil and then, off the heat, we add the flour all at once, and stir rapidly with a wooden spoon.

“It looks like mashed potatoes!”

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It’s just like making play dough.

Everything goes back on the heat and cooked for another few minutes.  The pate a choux should be stirred until it comes away from the sides of the pot and forms a smooth, shiny mass, leaving a bit of film on the bottom of the pot.

What’s happening in there anyway?

I remind the kids that in our last lesson we kneaded our dough to activate and strengthen the gluten that provides the elastic structure needed to capture the carbon dioxide expelled by the yeast.  Think of it as an expanding balloon. Without that strong but stretchy exterior, the gas would just break through the dough and leave you with flat and heavy bread.

We are basically doing the same thing here, minus the yeast.  But, if we aren’t using yeast as leavening, what are we using to fill our “balloon”?

“What do you get when you heat water on the stove?”, I ask.  “Steam!”

This is where the eggs come in.  We dry the choux paste out on the stove so we can incorporate as many eggs as possible.  Not only will the protein from the eggs provide additional strength to the pastry, but when placed in a hot oven, the moisture from the eggs will create a burst of steam, resulting in a nice lofty puff.

Once the choux paste is sufficiently cooked on the stove, it should be transferred immediately to a bowl to cool for a few minutes.  The butter will seep out if left to sit in the hot pot.

Now comes the bicep workout.  This step could be done in a mixer with a paddle attachment, but I wanted the kids to be able to see the transformation of the pate a choux.  Also, I’m always looking for ways to wear them out.

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They take turns adding the eggs, one at a time, mixing each in completely before introducing the next.

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It sloshes around a bit, looks a bit, um, slimey, and gets a little more difficult with each addition, but eventually turns into a thick and supple mixture that forms a little peak when pulled up by the spoon.

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Now we are ready to form the puffs.

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The pate a choux gets scooped into a pastry bag and piped onto a parchment lined sheet pan.  (You could also use a heavy duty freezer bag with the corner cut off, or even dropped by the spoonful.  They won’t look as pretty but they’ll taste just as good.)

In order to help the kids pipe the choux puffs as close to the same size as possible, (they would finish baking at uneven times otherwise), I traced 1 1/2″ circles onto the backside of the parchment.  To keep the paper from sliding around, we “glue” it down with a little dab of choux paste between the parchment and pan in each corner.

It’s important to pipe as straight up as possible as the choux will want to expand in the direction it’s piped.

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I show them how to twist the bag at the level of the pate a choux, place that twist in the crook of their hand and apply pressure to the bag from there, not in the middle of the bag or risk choux paste coming out the top and bottom.

Then it’s just a continuous squeeze until the circle is nearly full and when it’s time to stop piping, a little swoosh of the tip in a “c” shape to break the tip away from the puff.  It also helps if you make a little “whoop” sound.

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Any “tails” or extra pointy parts are smoothed over with a slightly damp fingertip.

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A little time in a hot oven, and voila!

We rip one apart and see that there is a big space where the steam caused the choux to puff up and then baked off.

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The puffs need to cool for about 10 minutes before we fill them and dig in!

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So does it look like a little cabbage?

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Pate a choux

1/2 c water

1/2 c milk

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

1/2 c unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 c flour, sifted

5 large eggs

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a heavy saucepan, combine the milk, water, salt, sugar and butter and place over medium heat until the butter melts and the mixture comes to a full boil. Add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. Keep stirring over medium heat until the mixture has formed a smooth mass and pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 3 – 5 minutes. A light film should form on the bottom of the pan, do not scrape it up.

Transfer to a heatproof mixing bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer and let sit for 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and mix completely before adding the next. (Use the paddle attachment for a standing mixer). When all the eggs have been added, the mixture will be thick, smooth and shiny.

Transfer the choux paste to a pastry bag fitted with a ½ inch tip, adding only as much to the bag as is comfortable to work with. Pipe out rounds of pate a choux, spacing about 2 inches apart. Smooth over any “tails” with a damp fingertip.

Bake until puffed and starting to show some color, about 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees and continue to bake until the shells feel light for their size, about 12 minutes longer. They should be nicely browned and a skewer should come out clean. Remove from the oven and use the tip of a knife to poke a small hole in each to allow steam to escape. Cool completely before filling.

Makes about 30 medium size puffs

A note on filling:

You can split the puffs in half for easy filling or poke a hole in them and fill with the help of a piping bag, like so…

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You can fill the puffs with whatever strikes your fancy, classically it’s a combination of whipped cream and pastry cream.  If you decide to go that route you’ll need about 4 cups total in order to fill all the choux puffs.

I figure I can incorporate a lesson on pastry cream into the next baking series, in custards, or even an “amazing egg” sort of unit.  That could be fun.