Monday, December 6, 2010


One thing about keeping a project such as a food blog: I sometimes feel obligated to post something, even if I don't particularly feel like it. Usually this feeling of urgency happens when days span into a whole week of silence on the page. It's certainly not because there has been no cooking and/or baking going on.

Part of the recent reason has been sickness, nothing so serious- just a common cold. The day before Thanksgiving I rapidly worsened. Sneezing, at my most impressive, 12 times consecutively when my eyes watered, and my nose ran, and I lost all traces of an appetite. Great. Just in time for the biggest feast of the year. I felt better fairly quickly, and then felt like a relapse accosted me. Perhaps even a second separate cold, complete with a tiny sore throat. Fortunately, this second baby cold was no match for the probiotic/sourdough/kombucha launch that is usually my regimen, and today I finally feel top notch and more like writing about foodstuffs.

Last Friday, I was feeling pretty hungry for the first time in a whole week. I also had an uncontrollable urge for something chocolately. I made some Sourdough Brownies, which I'm pretty sure are my favorite brownie to date. I wouldn't lie and say that they tasted so much of my sourdough starter, but the starter obviously lent it's magic juju to the texture. They were black and rich, moist, but still a bit crumbly. I used the last of my macadamia nuts and some walnuts which were a surprisingly great combination. The best thing about using sourdough in a baked good continues to be that I get to use it up! I feed the little guy twice a day, so it quickly grows. One week, I'm going to try and slip some into everything I make. Maybe I'll have some time and creativity in the new year. Meanwhile, I still can't cut back on his feeding; I feel if I am good to him, he will be good to me. And he has already been so good.

It's safe to say that I am positively addicted to baking with raw sugar. If I want it to dissolve more into a batter, I run it quickly through the VitaMix so it approximates granulated. In most things, I leave it to it's large-grained self and I'm never dissatisfied. I love the crunch of it in these otherwise fudgey brownies.

Chocolate Sourdough Brownies (adapted from Loreli Aguda)
  • 1/3 c. butter
  • scant cup sugar (I used raw)
  • 2 oz. bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 c. AP flour
  • 1/4 c. cocoa powder
  • 1/2 c. sourdough starter
  • 1/2 baking soda
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 c. chopped nuts of your choice
Preheat oven to 375. Grease a 9x9 inch pan with butter and set aside.

Melt butter and chocolate over low heat in a small saucepan. Set aside to cool. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt and sugar and set aside.

Stir egg, sourdough starter and vanilla into cooled chocolate mixture, and mix until well blended.

Add wet mixture to dry mixture and stir gently to combine. Fold in nuts, and spread into prepared pan.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until the edges begin to pull away from pan.

last bite.

Saturday morning, it was snowing, our first snow. The first snow is always exciting to me, and it makes me so happy that I live in a place with changing seasons. I frequently get sidetracked when we have fluffy snow, the kind that falls in perfect flakes on your mittens. I spend whole minutes examining each tiny flake, the perfection of fractals in something so minuscule. I may get to complaining with the rest of them: the conditions of the driving, the VIPIR radar and the TV meteorologists and their "wintry mix" lingo, but I secretly love Winter. I wish that I was 8 again and didn't get cold playing outside, no matter what the thermometer says. Instead, I'm in my '30's, and baking things dusted heavily with powdered sugar, my grown-up equivalent to playing in the white stuff.

Rum Balls are always the first of my Christmas baking. They truly benefit from lazing around for a few weeks, allowing their "rumminess" to fully develop. I usually hide them in my basement so I don't keep snitching them.

This recipe is from Bon Appetit, and I've been making the same one for some time. I don't recall ever having a problem with the "dough" being too soft to roll, but that kind of happened to me this time. It could be because I used agave nectar instead of the corn syrup, (and had found a natural version of vanilla wafers that were an ounce shy of the requirement,) but I just added an extra half cup of walnuts and then let the batter rest in the fridge for 45 minutes before rolling them out. I guess, I used the raw sugar in these too and that could also have added to the textural differences. These could be vegan if you use vegan chips. With all of those changes, I'd better write it down, so we all don't forget.

Rum Balls (adapted more than I thought from Bon Appetit)
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (about 6 ounces) (I used the weight version, and bittersweet chips)
  • 1/2 c. raw sugar
  • 3 T. agave nectar
  • 1/2 c. dark spiced rum
  • 2 1/2 cups finely crushed vanilla wafer cookies (about 10 ounces) (I used a 9 oz. box of Back To Nature, pulverized in the food pro)
  • 1 c. walnuts, nearly pulverized in food pro - leave a few larger bits (may need to add an additional 1/2 c. nearly pulverized nuts, like I did...)
  • 1/2 c. or so powdered sugar for rolling in

Stir chocolate in top of double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Whisk in sugar and agave nectar, then the rum.

Mix vanilla wafers and walnuts in medium bowl to blend; add chocolate mixture and stir to blend well. If the "dough" seems soft, refrigerate until the chocolate hardens up enough to roll into balls.

Put a half cup or so of powdered sugar in shallow bowl. For each rum ball, roll 1 scant tablespoon chocolate mixture into generous 1-inch ball. I use a smallish disher. Roll balls in powdered sugar to coat evenly. Cover well and refrigerate.

Bon Appetit says they keep up to 5 days, but I say up to a month, or maybe even longer. But they'll never last that long.

This morning, I felt particularly cold driving the Boy-O to school. When I rushed back to my warm kitchen, I made caramels for the first time. I confess that I have a bottle of somewhat ancient corn syrup hiding in the cupboard, usually for a recipe that calls for a tablespoon here and there like those rum balls. I did not have enough to get the 1/4 cup I needed for these soft caramels, so I subbed in honey for the rest. I frequently think of Alton Brown, without whom I would be clueless about sugar. In particular, his explanation of sugar and how to heat it without it becoming a brittle mess is genius.


The part with Shirley Corriher that unfortunatly splits this video in half is the most helpful when it comes to heating sugar. So without furthur ado, part 2:

And, now you know all about sugar.

The key, it seems, is to mix a tiny bit of fructose with the glucose to prevent seizing. Since I was using the raw sugar, which is less "pure" than the white stuff, I'm sure that also altered the final result. But I'm happy, since they are amazing caramels: soft, sweet and briefly salty. (I also read that honey does have a high percentage of fructose, so maybe in the future, I'll try it without any corn syrup and use all honey!) I didn't add quite as much salt to the actual caramel, preferring instead to infuse the lumps of caramel with a few grains of my large Celtic sea salt when I wrapped them up. Oh, and I got 100 pieces of candy. I counted.

Soft Caramels (adapted from Foodiebride)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • heavy pinch of kosher salt,
  • 1 1/2 c. raw sugar
  • 1/4 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup (can substitute light corn syrup) (I used corn syrup and honey, 2/3 of which was syrup and 1/3 was honey approx.)
  • 1/4 cup water

Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, then lightly butter parchment. I used a 9x9 pan, since that is the only size I have.

Bring cream, butter, vanilla, a pinch of kosher salt to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.

Boil sugar, corn syrup, and water in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. (Stir only when the mixture is cold to combine, then use the swirling method.) Boil, without stirring but gently swirling pan, until mixture is a light golden caramel.

Carefully stir cream mixture into the caramel (mixture will bubble up) and simmer, stirring frequently, until caramel registers 248 on thermometer. Pour into baking pan and cool 30 minutes. Sprinkle fleur de sel or Celtic sea salt over the top of the caramel for a nice salty crunch and let sit until completely cooled. Cut into 1-inch pieces (I buttered a pizza cutter), and then wrap each piece in a 4-inch square of wax paper, twisting 2 ends to close. I started cutting the caramels after they rested about 45 minutes, and it was still hot. But, I kind of liked wrapping them up into "tootsie roll" shapes. It took me several dozen to figure out the best way to wrap, but now I've got it down!

They were soft, even when firm enough to hold the square shape for photographing purposes... and quickly molded into the shape my hands forced them via the parchment paper. You could wrap them in plain waxed paper, but I though this looked nice. I determined to put the square of soft caramel in the center of a rectangle about 4x3 inches. Fold it up like a cigar, then kind of mash the right side first to crinkle the paper, otherwise the parchment tears. Then, twist up the right side tightly. When working the left side, first firmly press the soft caramel toward the center, then repeat as for the right side. You'll have plenty of tries to get it right. And, you can eat the mistakes. I effectively ruined my lunch appetite. That's alright. It was worth it.

Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to eating some of plain old white bread for supper tonight. I just had to try making a new loaf of white bread it even though I'm sourdough crazy lately. It's an insanely easy and traditional white sandwich bread King Arthur posted the other day. I used yogurt instead of the sour cream, and it made the loveliest soft dough. It raised up out of the pan like a beautiful cloud, confirmation that even bland American white bread can be transformative and nourishing in and of itself once in a while. Especially when eaten with other healthy things. Oh, and it does makes killer toast.

I recently started another blog: rcakewalk loves links. It's a place where I've decided to keep track of my recipe links that are still taking over my life. I'm getting better about posting a quick reminder where I found something, so check it out if you wonder what's going on in my kitchen over here. I will be posting more of the links I'm intending to make soon. It's likely comprised of cookies and candies for holiday giving... some of my favorite baking of the year!

So, after proofreading this post, I'd hardly know I was sick and not feeling so productive! I guess there is more to the meanwhile than I often realize, and that is why it's nice to keep up a schedule of a blog. So much happens and is made, and sometimes unfortunately it is forgotten. A blog is a nice way of simply remembering just when and why and how I did something. And, who am I kidding... I am addicted to it. As sure as sugar calls my name from the other room, I want to tell someone about something I've just made, and this happens to be the perfect format for not annoying those who do not wish to be annoyed!


  1. Hoorah for sourdough starter. We called ours Herman. Maybe that's weird.

  2. I love this post! It's nice to take a break because you always have so much to say when you break the fast, so to speak, and it's always delightful. At least I think so!
    We haven't yet gotten snow, but I'm waiting for it. And I think you may have inspired me to try and make caramels again. I got shut down last year (it turned into a brick), and yours look so lovely I might just forget that tragedy.
    And keeping a blog. I'm totally addicted. And it completely helps me when I want to remember things. The bonus part is all the sharing that goes on!
    Glad you're feeling better!

  3. Julia, that's totally happened to me with other tries at candy making. If you have time, you should totally watch AB's tutorial... it really makes sense! They use tinker toys - so that way I can visualize!

    Nichole - I haven't named my starter... I just call him "Him". A bit like having a cat named Kitty or Cat, I should probably name him, right? He's going to stick around for awhile.

  4. So many yummy desserts. The brownies look awesome, and I've never even heard of putting sourdough starter in brownies. Does it affect the taste?

  5. do you have a favorite source for sourdough starter if we're too lazy to make and maintain our own?

  6. Ms. Meanie - I think that I could taste the starter more in the peanut butter blondies I made, the chocolate disguises it. I'm sure it adds to the fudgie-ness!

  7. Rebecca -

    If you don't know anyone to get a starter from, and don't want to start it yourself, I'd probably go with ordering from King Arthur Flour. Their starter is well established and old, and they have excellent support for breadmakers via web and good old fashioned telephone.

    There are ways to start a starter using commercial yeast, depending on your purity stances on sourdough starters... I tend to figure if I wanted to use commercial yeast, I wouldn't bother tending a sourdough starter every day. That said, many people do not feed their starters as often as I do, and turn out fab results. I think the best advice (from Nancy Silverton) is to feed your starter well for 2-3 days before baking, to build up his strength. Hope this helps!


Communication is a good thing, most of the time...