Sunday, September 25, 2011

The art of caramel and world peace cookies

I bake for a living.

Or as J. jokes, brings home the dough.

Really? Pinch me.

Or at least I have hacked through a week of early mornings and just barely knowing enough about baking cookies to survive a week filling a pastry case meant for human consumption and not been told to take a hike instead. Seriously. I bake at least fifty little nibbles by six in the morning, people buy them. I only imagine that people eat the damn things or at least feed it to their dog or please just just let me know you compost for Pete's sake. Honestly, I think that I would eat anything that comes out of the oven so the shop is in pretty good shape because I am rather pickey.

Like with anything there are flops. Failures. Opportunities to learn.

The last two days I have been trying to make caramel sauce, a really large vat of camel sauce. It is not working. Just as the "boss lady" gently instructed me, I mixed two cups of brown sugar, two cups of granulated sugar, one cup of water and a few tablespoons of white vinegar in a pot with very clean hands. The mixture went on medium high heat, I watched for sugar crystallization around the edge of the bubbling sugar, brushed it down with a clean brush dipped in fresh water, carefully avoiding touching the liquid hot magma doing its canalization business with the bristles. I let it go. Heating. Bubbling. Smelling wonderfully. I prepped the the three cups of heavy cream and a few ounces of dark rum in another pot, letting it come to a full boil. Timing is key. When the sugar is at the appropriate temperature which is apparently gauged by smell, color, the ability to blow perfect bubbles with the caramel liquid through a slotted spoon and the final test of dropping a spoon full in a glass of water to make sure it forms a round ball by the time it reaches the bottom, the sugar has caramelized and can be removed from the heat, the boiling cream can be carefully added in small amounts while the other hand whisks.  Then it cools. Then you pour it over everything you see. Simple enough right?

Still learning!

Next week I promise I will understand caramel sauce and why it separates if done wrong, like this morning.

Did I mention that there is so much information out there. Like here and here. 

But I did make a cheese cake with marscapone, fromage blanc and cream cheese which is studded with orange zest and baked in a cinnamon graham cracker crust served with raspberry sauce to be served all weekend. BAM!

Dabbling with caramel sauce, learning to determine when cheese cakes are done without the aide of a thermometer, understanding the jiggle of creme brulee can be a wee bit intimidating for me at times. I second guess everything I do, every action, scrutinize every flavor. Then I turn to my favorite recipes, ones that work for me, things I like to nibble and the things that I love to share with friends. I made this cookie recipe, world peace cookies within the first few days in the kitchen, needing a boost of confidence.

Everyone loved them, of course.

World Peace/Korova Cookies
Paris Sweets, Dorie Greenspan
Smitten Kitchen
Makes about 36 cookies

1 1/4 cups (175 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (30 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons or 150 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (120 grams) (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces (150 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.

Turn off the mixer. Pour in the flour mixture, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Take a peek — if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Working with a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about one inch between them.
Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

Packed airtight, cookies will keep at room temperature for up to 3 days; they can be frozen for up to 2 months. They can also be frozen in log form for months, and can be sliced and baked directly from the freezer, adding a couple minutes to the baking time.