Rosemary shortbread

Yup. Time to delve into the Flour cookbook again. I swear one day I’ll make something that isn’t by Joanne Chang..

The Book
Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe | Joanne Chang
(Chronicle Books, 2010)

The Recipe
Rosemary shortbread

The Reason
It was my mum’s birthday, so I wanted to bake something for her. She likes shortbread, and these seemed fun and interesting. Also, logistically, it’s hella easier to transport some biscuits than it is an iced cake. Or indeed any cake. Plus it was something I’d never tried before, and the whole point of this project i to get myself doing new things.

The Cooking
I have to say, in the absence of an electric mixer, I’m seriously glad that I had my little brainwave of microwaving the butter before trying to blend it in with the sugar. It’s hardly revolutionary and it’s not exactly got Heston Blumenthal quaking in his boots, but compared with beating and beating and beating to soften the butter, it’s amazing. Yes, I’m amazed that I can walk and chew gum at the same time, too. I’m learning.

Because they’re so buttery (obviously, being shortbread) you’ve got to chill the dough before you roll it out. It wasn’t really firming up though, so I whacked it in the freezer for a few minutes, which seemed to be a mistake, as the dough kept cracking and was still very sticky. But with a bit of reworking and a bit more flour thrown in, it got back to the right texture.

You’re meant to cut out regular shapes with a knife but I have zero confidence in my ability to get things consistent, so I just used a cookie cutter. The advantage was the regular size achieved; the disadvantage was the leftover dough after cutting out. I ended up throwing a bit away, because I’d already filled up three baking sheets with cookies and I didn’t want to do another batch, especially as I’d have to rechill the dough.

I needed to use a pallete knife to slide them off the counter onto the baking sheet. I’m not sure how I ever even tried to do baking without a pallete knife to be honest.

The Cooking
They look like this:

Yes, yes, I did put them on tissue paper and toss about some sprigs of rosemary in an attempt to get all food stylist in the hizzay. And what? In my defence, the tissue paper was to wrap them in to go into a gift bag for my mum. (Seriously. So much easier than a cake.)

Tastewise, the rosemary wasn’t really detectable. There was only a teaspoon in the whole mix, so I think I’d up that a bit in future. I was paranoid about undercooking, and as a result they got a wee bit overcooked, but not to the extent that it affected the taste.

I hate ‘melt in the mouth’, as a phrase, because it’s a cliche, and always sounds kind of gross and pervy. Nonetheless, that’s what they did. Which is perhaps unsurprising given that they’re about 75% butter. My mum liked them, so yay for that.

What I’m really liking about this whole project, though, is that it’s giving me a basis of solid recipes that I can experiment from. I’m probably going to do some lavender ones (to use up the lavender sugar that will otherwise sit there forever). And some coconut ones because coconut. Any other suggestions?

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The only thing better than Oreos is home-made Oreos

The Book
Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe | Joanne Chang
(Chronicle Books, 2010)

The Recipe
Homemade Oreos

The Reason
Because they’re Oreos. I’m not sure what more reason I’d need, to be honest. Given that my flatmate has to eat at least some of what I bake, he also approved the suggestion.

The Cooking
The cookie dough was super easy to mix because you do it with melted butter and melted chocolate, so there’s none of the strenuous hours of beating to get solid butter into a whipped state. I didn’t have enough cocoa powder, so had to run to the shop and get some, which conveniently allowed time for the butter and chocolate to cool. I try to be good and avoid contributing to the commercial behemoth that is Tesco, but having one about a minute’s walk from the flat does place temptation and convenience in the path. Especially when the night bus stops right outside it and you can stagger in and buy a sandwich when drunkity.

Anyway. The mixing stage was easy. The next, slightly harder, because you have to roll the dough into a log and mine didn’t seem quite firm enough. Which, I realise as I post this, is possibly because I didn’t put the egg in. Only one, but I missed it. We’ll see how this works out… The smell is definitely right, if that counts for anything. That really intense ‘black’ smell of Oreos is present and correct.

They seem to be holding together pretty well considering the absence of egg. The heat distribution in my oven is totally messed up, so they cooked a little unevenly, and I had to do them in batches because, again, it seems to make a lot for a domestic oven. I could probably just adjust down, but I’m not quite confident to do that yet, even though it’s a pretty straightforward process.

I did mess around with the filling. Joanne Chang gives a recipe for vanilla filling or for peanut butter, so I kind of just split the difference, and made half vanilla and half peanut butter. That’s about the level of customisation I can handle right now.

The result
Gurgle. Like I mentioned, they cooked unevenly and ended up different shapes and sizes. But none were burnt and none were undercooked. So that’s something. And they 90% held together, so screw you egg! I don’t need your binding capabilities!

They look like this: Oreos.

They are, perhaps unsurprisingly, really really rich. They’re crunchier than a cake, but softer than a biscuit. They do that mouth-coating thing Oreos do. I really need more visitors to eat these things. I’mma get fat(ter).

Sesame … brittle?

The Book
Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe | Joanne Chang
(Chronicle Books, 2010)

The Recipe
Black Sesame Lace Cookie

The Reason
More Joanne Chang! This is the fourth thing I’ve made from this book; I think it’s the most recipes I’ve ever cooked from one book. This is actually proving to be really good for me; because I had a post to write afterwards, I made them, rather than just thinking ‘Oh, those would be nice to make’. Also, purely practically, I got a massive pot of black sesame seeds in the Chinese supermarket, so it was incentive to actually make use of them.

The Cooking
The preparation was super easy. It’s just one bowl and a lot of stirring. It’s another of those ‘not a last-minute thing’ things, in that it needs to be chilled for several hours. I left it over night, and as my reward for preparing the dough, ate enormous amounts of Chinese food and watched the first episode of Game of Thrones. (NO SPOILERS.) Who needs to go out on a Saturday when there’s baking to be done?

The cooking was less straightforward, which was entirely my fault. The recipe called for at least three inches of space between each ball of dough to allow them to spread, but that would have required me cooking, like, two at a time over the space of a whole day, (especially as you can’t take them off the baking sheet until they’re fully cooled) so I left a bit less space to get them all done at once. That’s actually one criticism of this specific recipe – it seems to assume you’ve got an industrial-sized oven to work with, which is unusual, as the book’s normally really good at adjusting to domestic scales.

As it turns out, they cook in about twenty minutes and cool in about fifteen, so it wouldn’t have been too onerous to have done them in batches, so lesson learned for next time.

The result
Aesthetically, kind of a disaster. I’m generally photographing things, but these really don’t deserve to be immortalised like that. I really should have left the required amount of space, because they all just ran into one big sheet. It did still look pretty – properly lacy, with the tiny holes, and the semi-transparent effect. Weirdly, the different trays cooked differently. I guess that’s not that weird. One of them ended up kind of gooey, but the other two ended up properly brittle and crisp. And tastewise, it was (is) great. Because the sesame’s got that savoury bite to it, it stops what is basically just baked sugar being too cloying

.And now I’mma go buy ice-cream, because these will be amazing on the side of ice-cream,

Buttermilk, sage and parsley scones

The cookbook project commences! This is slightly a cheat, as this is a book I’ve already been cooking from, as discussed in the kosher salt post that launched this blog, but I think it makes sense to ease myself into this.

The Book
Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe | Joanne Chang
(Chronicle Books, 2010)

The Recipe
Buttermilk Biscuits with Parsley and Sage

The Reason
Lots. Not least because I had a pot of buttermilk left over from making Joanne Chang’s red velvet cake (which turned out to be brown, because I didn’t check the recipe properly and the supermarket also had one bottle of red food dye, and a whole bottle isn’t enough to make it red, that’ll show me). The cake was awesome, though, and got me two marriage proposals, so yay. Although marriage proposals were more like threats of indentured baking servitude. Still, it’s nice to be wanted. I also wanted to try something savoury, as I’ve been baking sweet things. Also it allowed me to use both my new baking sheet and my new biscuit cutters. Also, I’m sure everyone knows this, but what Americans call biscuits, we call scones. Or near enough.

The Cooking
I struggled a little. Well, struggle is a strong word. But the book/Joanne Chang assumes that you’ll have a stand mixer, or at least a hand mixer. I have neither. They’re on the list. Combining the butter with the flour demanded time under the mixer, but as it said to mix until ‘the mixture resembles coarse crumbs’, I just rubbed the butter in by hand like you would when making a shortcrust pastry. That seemed to work once the buttermilk and so on were mixed in. I also went a little off-piste, in that the parsley is only supposed to go on top, but I threw a little into the dough mix as well.

It called for the buttermilk, cream and egg to be very cold, which makes sense, and working the super-cold dough was actually really satisfying. It just felt … right, and drove home to me that yes, Joel, you do find cooking therapeutic and yes you should do more of it.

The result
I got a bit slapdash with the cutting out, so they’re not of an even size. They still seemed to cook evenly, which is nice.

They look like this:

Buttermilk biscuits with parsley and sage

They taste great. The sage flavour is stronger than I anticipated, given that fresh herbs sometimes aren’t so strong. The kosher salt has worked its magic again. The Flour book discusses them as an accompaniment to chicken pot pie, and that would definitely work. I think I’ll do them to accompany a casserole next time. They would also be AWESOME for soaking up gravy. I think it’s also an awesome base recipe for adding in, well, anything you like, really. They’re not quite scones, but they could work really well with, say, cinammon and raisins.

I’m trying not to be too evangelical, but Flour hasn’t steered me wrong so far. The recipes are very clear and easy to follow, and the results are fantastic.