Thursday, March 18, 2010

Granola Bars

One of the things about food and grocery stores that is so frustrating to me is that the healthy stuff is so much more expensive. I know that this is because healthy food is made with less preservatives, high fructose corn syrup (my arch-nemesis) and modified corn and soybean ingredients. As a side note I heard an underwriting ad for Monsanto today on NPR. It made me want to cry because they tried to pass themselves off as a company concerned with saving the earth's resources. Ha. I saw Food Inc. and King Corn, I know what you're up to Monsanto!

Anyhow. Where was I? Oh right, healthy things are expensive. I have no issue paying more for better food - organic fruits and vegetables and hormone and anti-biotic free meat - but the price of granola bars is ridiculous. I don't want six little bars for four dollars! But I tend to get cranky when I don't eat and when I work on pre-production for music videos like this I often don't eat for 8 hours at a time. So, I thought to myself, I'm sure I could make my own granola bars that are even a bit healthier than the ones found in stores! And so, ladies and gentlemen, that is what I did on this lovely Thursday afternoon.

I scoured the Internet and food blogs for recipes that seemed like they would be easy and delicious. But honestly, most of them contained things I really didn't want in my granola bars. I was looking for something that wouldn't be too sweet and would be full of protein and would keep me full for a little while. So, I made my own recipe based on what I read. My first original recipe!

These are fairly sweet. At first I thought they were too sweet, but after cutting them up and wrapping them individually I've stored them in the fridge and they've mellowed a bit. Next time perhaps I'll adjust the amount of honey and maybe use peanut butter instead but this time I was worried about the "glue" not being strong enough so I used variations of other recipes. They are delicious though, just as they are.

This recipe is really just a guide. If you don't like sunflower seeds you can use some other kind of seed or nut. Basically anything you think would be delicious can go in here.

Granola Bars

2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
3/4 cup peanuts, crushed
1/4 cup almonds, chopped*
1/2 cup brown sugar**
1/2 cup honey
4 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces of dried fruit (raisins and cranberries are what I used but apricots, apples, dates, figs etc. would be delicious I'm sure)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with parchment or waxed paper that extends a bit over the ends of the pan, sprayed lightly with vegetable cooking spray.

1. Crush the peanuts by putting them in a plastic bag and using a heavy jar or pan to crush them.
2. Mix the nuts, oats, wheat germ, and seeds in a baking pan with sides. Toast in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes stirring every 4 minutes to prevent things from burning. Once everything is finished toasting turn the oven off and let the mixture cool a bit.
3. Meanwhile, put the brown sugar, honey, butter, vanilla and salt in a small saucepan over low heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. The mixture should look fairly evenly colored and everything should be melted together.
4. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl with a wooden spoon, making sure that the "glue" coats all of the nut mixture and the dried fruit. Scoop the mixture into the parchment lined pan spreading it evenly. Put a small piece of saran wrap between your hands and the granola bars and push down hard to compact everything into the pan. Allow to cool completely - I put mine in the fridge for two hours.
5. Once cooled, lift the granola bars out of the pan and use a sharp knife to cut into bars, wrap in plastic wrap for individual bars on the go or keep them in an air tight container. I keep mine in the fridge because I like mine nice and firm.


*Almonds are miserable to chop. I will probably use cashews or something next time - or just buy sliced almonds...or a food processor.
** Many recipes seemed to use 2/3 or even 3/4 cup of brown sugar. I cut the amount thinking that with all the honey it might be too sweet. I might even cut it a bit more because they were so sweet.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Cinnamon Raisin Bagels

I made bagels. That statement makes me so unbelievably proud I can't even tell you. Bagels have always seemed like something that would be extremely difficult to make, I'm not sure why, but perhaps because you just don't hear about people making their own bagels. But I am afraid no longer! Bagels, although time consuming and somewhat frightening along the way, are actually a fairly straightforward process.

For full disclosure though I will admit that I goofed - big time. I misread the original recipe and used active dry yeast instead of instant yeast and panicked when the sponge didn't foam up as Deb had indicated that it would... and when, as a result of the less than foamy sponge, the flour was nearly impossible to incorporate. Once I discovered my error I thought about scrapping the whole batch and starting over again in the morning once I had purchased the correct kind of yeast, but I didn't, I persevered. The result? Cinnamon Raisin Bagels that rival any I've ever had from a bakery - even fresh from the oven.

Don't be intimidated! They may seem scary but I promise they are fairly simple so long as you read the directions and take deep breaths you'll be fine.

Cinnamon Raisin Bagels
From Smitten Kitchen

This is either a one day project that will begin in the morning and end in the evening or something you can start after dinner and cook in the morning when you wake up (as I did - and let me say, there is nothing like a fresh bagel in the morning).

Yield: 12 super large, 16 regularly large or 24 "miniature" bagels

1 teaspoon instant yeast
4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
2 1/2 cups water, room temperature

1 teaspoon instant yeast
3 3/4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons sugar
2 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar, or honey
1 - 2 cups loosely packed raisins, rinsed with warm water to remove surface sugar, acid, and natural wild yeast (I used what I had left in the box, which was about a cup and a half I think, but if you dislike raisins you can use less)

To Finish
1 tablespoon baking soda
Cornmeal or semolina flour for dusting

1. Day one: To make the sponge, stir the yeast into the flour in a large (approx. 4-quart) mixing bowl. Add the water, whisking or stirring only until it forms a smooth, sticky batter (Deb likened it to a pancake batter, I found it to be quite thick, more like biscuits). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the mixture becomes very foamy and bubbly. It should swell to nearly double in size and collapse when the bowl is tapped on the countertop. (As I noted above, mine didn't achieve this, for obvious reasons but next time, when I make it with the correct kind of yeast I'll make sure it does. Mine just expanded to twice the size.)
2. To make the dough: in the same mixing bowl, add the additional yeast to the sponge and stir. Then add 3 cups of the flour, cinnamon, sugar, salt and brown sugar. Stir (my dough was dry so I ended up using my hands to knead it together in the bowl, wetting my hands a bit when nothing was coming together) until the ingredients form a ball, slowly working in the remaining 3/4 cup flour to stiffen the dough, as needed. In the last two minutes of mixing, add the raisins. This may mean you need to add a bit more flour if the raisins are still a little wet.
3. Transfer the dough to the counter and knead for at least 10 minutes. The dough should be firm, but still pliable and smooth. There should be no raw flour – all ingredients should be hydrated. If the dough seems too dry and rips, add a few drops of water and continue kneading. If the dough seems tacky or sticky, add more flour to achieve the stiffness required. The kneaded dough should feel satiny and pliable but not be tacky.
4. Immediately divide the dough into 12 (4 1/2 ounce) pieces for super sized bagels, 16 (3.375 ounce) regular-sized bagels, or 24 (2.25 ounce) perfectly smaller bagels. Form the pieces into rolls. If you don't have a kitchen scale the 2.25 ounce balls were approximately the size of golf balls.
5. Cover the rolls with a damp towel and allow them to rest for approximately 20 minutes.
6. Line 2 sheet pans with baking parchment and mist lightly with spray oil. Poke a hole in a ball of bagel dough and gently rotate your thumb around the inside of the hole to widen it to approximately 2 1/2 inches in diameter for a supersized bagel, two inches for a large one or just slightly more than one inch for a miniature. The dough should be as evenly stretched as possible (try to avoid thick and thin spots.)
7. Place each of the shaped pieces two inches apart on the pans. Mist the bagels very lightly with the spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the pans sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes.
8. Check to see if the bagels are ready to be retarded in the refrigerator by using the “float test”. Fill a small bowl with cool or room-temperature water. The bagels are ready to be retarded when they float within 10 seconds of being dropped into the water. Take one bagel and test it. If it floats, immediately return the tester bagel to the pan, pat it dry, cover the pan, and place it in the refrigerator overnight (it can stay in the refrigerator for up to 2 days). Mine floated immediately but, if the bagel does not float, never fear! Return it to the pan and continue to proof the dough at room temperature, checking back every 10 to 20 minutes or so until a tester floats. The time needed to accomplish the float will vary, depending on the ambient temperature and the stiffness of the dough.

9. The following day (or when you are ready to bake the bagels, see head notes), preheat the oven to 500°F with the two racks set in the middle of the oven. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (the wider the pot the better), and add the baking soda. Have a slotted spoon nearby.
10. Remove the bagels from the refrigerator and gently drop them into the water, boiling only as many as comfortably fit, I fit seven (they should float within 10 seconds). After 1 minute, flip them over and boil for another minute. If you like very chewy bagels, you can extend the boiling to 2 minutes per side. While the bagels are boiling, sprinkle the same parchment-lined sheet pans with cornmeal or semolina flour.
11. When all the bagels have been boiled, place the pans on two middle shelves in the oven. Bake for approximately five minutes, then rotate the pans, switching shelves and giving the pans a 180-degree rotation. (If you are baking only one pan, keep it on the center shelf but still rotate 180 degrees.) After the rotation, lower the oven setting to 450°F and continue baking for about 4 and a half minutes, or until the bagels turn light golden brown. You may bake them darker if you prefer.
12. Remove the pans from the oven and let the bagels cool on a rack for 15 minutes or longer before serving. They are delicious with cream cheese, toasted, or just on their own!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Raspberry Birthday Cake

For my 22nd birthday I wanted to throw myself a party and bake lots of scrumptious desserts, gather my friends together and really start the next year of my life off in an exciting fashion. Well, on Saturday I did just that. And it was great. The dessert I was the most proud of was my birthday cake: a raspberry cake with Swiss buttercream frosting. Delicious! And fortunately for me (and unfortunately for my waistline) I have half a cake waiting to be eaten in the fridge.

I baked this cake a week in advance and froze it in layers wrapped in ridiculous amounts of saran wrap - think four layers of saran wrap per layer of cake. Yikes! Once it thawed a little bit I frosted it and it tasted fantastic and moist. I encourage you to make this cake (or try making some cupcakes? I'm sure those would be delicious as well.) and eat it in celebration of whatever you choose.

Raspberry Birthday Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

4 1/2 cups cake flour*
3 cups sugar
5 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups pureed frozen raspberries (I used a whole bag, 1 pound)
8 egg whites
2/3 cup milk

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter three 9-inch round or 8-inch square cake pans. Line with parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.
2. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixer bowl. With the electric mixer on low speed, blend for 30 seconds. Add the butter and raspberry puree and mix to blend the ingredients. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes; the batter will resemble raspberry ice cream at this point.
3. In another large bowl, whisk together the egg whites and milk to blend. Add the whites to the batter in two or three additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl well and mixing only to incorporate after each addition. Divide the batter among the three prepared pans.
4. Bake the cakes for 30 to 34 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the layers to cool in the pans for 10 to 15 minutes. Invert and turn out onto wire racks and peel off the paper liners. Let stand until completely cooled before assembling the cake, at least an hour. Once they've cooled, you can also freeze your layers** for later use.

Swiss Buttercream
From Smitten Kitchen

Makes enough for a 9-inch cake (plus filling, or some to spare)

1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
26 tablespoons butter, softened (3 sticks plus 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Whisk egg whites and sugar together in a big metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisk occasionally until you can’t feel the sugar granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers.
2. Transfer mixture into the mixer and whip until it turns white and about doubles in size. (Here’s a tip: when you transfer to the mixer, make sure you wipe the condensation off the bottom of the bowl so that no water gets into the egg whites. This can keep them from whipping up properly.)
3. Add the vanilla.
4. Finally, add the butter a stick at a time and whip! It will take a while to come together. Mine took about 7 minutes of serious whipping. I put it in the freezer for a little bit (mine was actually in too long) five to ten minutes should do it.

Assembling The Cake

Cake Board (corrugated cardboard piece that is 2 inches larger than finished cake, so that there is a one inch border all the way around)
Parchment Paper or Waxed Paper
Table Knife or ideally an Icing Knife

Note: If you've frozen the cake, let it thaw, unwrapped, for about an hour before attempting to frost it. If you haven't frozen the cake, Smitten Kitchen suggests sticking it in the fridge for 20 minutes to make it a bit easier to work with.

1. Put the first layer on the center of a cake board. Tuck four 3-4 inch wide pieces of parchment or waxed paper under the bottom layer to protect the cake board from any mess that might result during frosting. When you're done frosting the cake, simply pull out the pieces and Tada! nice clean cake board.
2. Spread 1/2 to 2/3 cup of frosting over the entire layer, all the way to the edges. Add the 2nd layer on top and repeat. Add the top layer and frost the top and the sides of the cake with a thin layer of frosting, this is called the crumb coat. Place the cake in the fridge for 30 minutes.
3. Remove the cake from the fridge and use the remaining frosting to finish the top and sides. Swiss Buttercream seems to smooth out pretty well, and my friend Mike complimented me on the plaster type texture on the cake - really, it was a compliment because that is exactly what it looked like, a beautifully plastered wall (that doesn't sound pretty at all, but look at the pictures and judge for yourself).
4. Pull the parchment or waxed paper out from the sides of the cake and add decorative berries or piping around the edge should you choose to do so. Voila! Prepare for your friends to be impressed.

*Okay, Cake Flour: It comes in a box people. When you're in the store looking for it for a ridiculously long time and you're sure it doesn't exist and pastry flour must be an acceptable substitute (it's not) don't give up (as I did) it is there! It's usually in a box and has pictures of cake on it, not flour. If you can't find it you can use this as a substitute, as I did, and it will work just fine.

**If you should choose to freeze the cake here are my suggestions that I gleaned from all over the Internet.
- Wrap in triple layers of plastic wrap so as to avoid freezer burn.
- I slid my finished cake layers onto cake boards and then wrapped them, attaching the cakes to the board and thus making them much sturdier and easier to move/wrap. Upon further research I found that some people don't put their cakes on boards - fine. If your cake can support itself (not this one) then don't put it on a board, you can just use boards to separate the layers in the freezer to keep cakes from sagging.
- Let the cake sit out of the freezer for about 15 minutes before unwrapping them. Let them sit an additional 30 - 45 minutes before beginning to frost.