The Kouign of Baking Therapy

I’ve been neglecting my house and the grounds surrounding it. Not that I live in a palatial estate. Just haven’t mowed in a while. Or weeded. Or done any sort of maintenance, for that matter.

I figured it could wait until Spring Break. So I let it. When I mowed, though, I realized that something was amiss. The yard seemed swampier than usual, even after a heavy rain. (let’s hear it for Houston’s thick clay soil, everyone!)

Yeah. The main sewer line was backed up. So I crossed my fingers and hoped that it was just from the rains. But this morning, alas! It was still there. Soggy. Stinky. Gross. A plumber must be called to repair a collapsed concrete line built about 60 years ago. As luck would have it, I apparently get a teacher discount, and while I paid a very reasonable rate, I won’t be taking any trips anywhere for quite a while.

I’m talking nowhere. Not even for a lovely spring breaky brunch. *sigh*

What to do but bake something tasty? And buttery. And caramelly. Enter the beautiful Kouign Amann, that Breton pastry of legend. Say it like this: Queen Aman. I first saw it on an episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate and knew that this pastry and I were destined to meet. It looked wonderful and the host gushed over its attributes. Flaky. Gorgeous. Fabulous.

Plus, it’s a yeast dough with many steps, so, yeah. Plenty to keep my mind off the fellows digging up my yard.

I began with David Lebovitz’s recipe, making sure that the “warm” water was between 100 and 110 degrees — this has been my downfall many a time with yeasty breads, so I was very careful. Used black sea salt. It gives it a weird, pocked appearance that I’m going to call charm.

The charming pock marks.

The charming pock marks.

Now, I follow his directions to a T, making the dough and letting it rest and hour and rolling it out and covering it with the good butter (Kerrygold is superb. Or Plusgras. Don’t skimp) and some sugar (vanilla-infused here, y’all!).

Kerrygold butter lives up to its name.

Kerrygold butter lives up to its name.

Yep. I follow that recipe right up to the folding part. Because you’re going to want to add a step. One that I saw on that show. One that will make you want to make this RIGHT NOW.

So you’ve folded your dough over neatly in a little tri-fold. Now. Take your rolling pin and beat that butter like a drum. Whack it into the dough. Like a red-headed step-child. (I’m from the south. It’s okay to use that particular idiom.) Beat it like you’re the University of Texas and it’s A&M. (HAH!) Seriously, though. Smack it.

Pre-beating...

Pre-beating…

Post-beating. Look at the yellow Kerrygold butter peeping through.

Post-beating. Look at the yellow Kerrygold butter peeping through.

Then roll it out and add another layer of sugar and do the tri-foldy thing again and now continue with Mr. Lebovitz’s recipe.

You should have a lovely stack of dough and sugar and butter sitting pretty on your plate. To rest for an hour.

SONY DSC

Seriously. Black sea salt on top and golden butter peeping through cracks. This is an awesome pastry.

Then into the pie plate with MORE butter and sugar…

Sprinkled with liquid gold...

Sprinkled with liquid gold…

Let's take a closer look at that wonderfulness...

Let’s take a closer look at that fabulous butter oozing through the field of sugar and salt…sort of awesome.

…to caramelize after 45 minutes into this:

Oh. YEAH.

Oh. YEAH.

A buttery, crispy, oozy pan of amazing that (almost) makes up for the gigantuous home repair price tag.

I can’t write about the lovely aromas coming from the oven. I just can’t. There are no words. It’s heaven.

Hell will be waiting for it to cool. And I’m off to do that.

Sincerely,

Bonnycate

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Please, Sir, Can I Have Samoa?

I deserve a treat. After spending the day with ten teen robotics competitors, I deserve a treat. (I no longer need a drink: we took care of that after the 10-hour competition day. I’m okay there.)

So I deserve a treat. One I can have without leaving the couch. Or my pajamas.

I want cookies. My favorites, though, are Samoas. You might know them as Caramel deLites. The Girl Scouts renamed them. Why, I can’t say, but I do know that I’d rather nosh on cookies named for a lovely, warm, sunny country than a stripper. (Gentlemen! On the center stage! Caramel deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeLite!)

But I digress. Sue me. It’s pajamas-on-the-couch day. My problem now is that the Girl Scouts, whose presence is ubiquitous at the entrance of grocery stores, do not deliver to my door.

Lucky that I plan ahead. In my fridge: a bag of shredded coconut and a carton of heavy cream. So I can make me some of them there cookies.

Really.

They’re nothing more than shortbread cookies with holes in them (Read: Jammy Windows tops!) covered with caramel, sprinkled with coconut, and drizzled with chocolate.

Easy-peasy.

So. Make up a batch of the Jammy Windows shortbread. Cut them ALL into rings, though, and bake them according to the recipe. (But only let the dough rest for an hour or two…this is a cookie emergency.)

While they’re chilling, toast up the coconut. Don’t be alarmed if an alcohol-y, piña-colada-y fragrance wafts tantalizingly from the oven. But keep those eyes on the prize. Burned coconut is no one’s treat. I used a sweetened variety, and so I checked it every two minutes. It browned all of a sudden, just like the good peeps at Bon Appétit warned on their website… Be warned.

Bake up the Jammy Windows rounds…let’s call them shortbread from now on, yes? No jam in these wonders.

Shortbread rounds

Wee lone stars in each. For Texas. Yee haw!

Whilst they cool, make a batch of caramel. I used Martha Stewart Classic Caramel Candies recipe, but only because Alton’s recipe had soy sauce in it. WTF and I’ll make that later.

Almost to the Firm Ball stage. Tee hee.

Almost to the Firm Ball stage. Tee hee.

Mix the toasted coconut into the caramel and let it sit until it reaches a thick, spreadable consistency.

(THIS IS WHERE IT ALL WENT WRONG! See “THAT WAS THE PLAN” below.)

At this point, melt some chocolate and dip the bottoms of the cookies in it then put them on wax or parchment (or a silpat sheet) to set.

Spoon, pour, or spread a thin layer of the coconut/caramel mixture onto each of the shortbread rounds (Remember? We’re not calling them Jammy Windows any more. We decided that earlier. Check if you don’t believe me.) and place them on parchment paper or waxed paper (or silpat) to cool and set.

Once the caramel has set up nicely, melt some chocolate chips — semi-sweet, bitter-sweet, whatev. Drizzle horizontal lines across the cookies. Or just splatter them any which way. You’ve worked hard and waited enough.

Let the chocolate set up and then voilá! Tons of (much cheaper than the boxed variety) lovely, caramelly, coconutty, chocolaty, buttery fabulosity for your pajamas-on-the-couch day. Or breakfast. Again, whatev.

THAT WAS THE PLAN!!!

And it was a good plan. I was so confident in my plan that I wrote out the entire process before starting anything!

However. Pride goeth before and all that.

A combination of my new super-heating restaurant-quality pan and a less-than-accurate candy thermometer left me with a thicker, chewier coconut/caramel combo than is easily spread. So I spread it on as many cookies as I could…

It looks, well, Samoa-ish.

It looks, well, Samoa-ish.

…before it seized. Not wanting to throw it all out — it WAS tasty still — I began to roll it into small sticks. Creating something horrifying and wonderful all at the same time!

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you (DRUM ROLL)…

COCONUT TURDS!!!!!

COCONUT TURDS!!!!!

Yes. Coconut Turds. Tasty, tasty turdy-looking hard caramel and coconut.

The stuff spread on the cookies hardened into crunchy, tasty disks that popped right off the cookies. So my teacher peeps will be getting plain, tasty, caramel- and coconut-less shortbread cookies tomorrow. Ah, well.

To conclude on a positive note: when you get the itch for some nostalgic, coconutty loveliness, make these cookies. But learn from my mistakes:

  • When you’re making that caramel, heat it ALMOST to the Firm Ball stage (BWAH HAH HAH!!!!) or risk crunchy coconut turd candies.
  • Call the properly make cookies whatever you want.
  • Save considerable money by making them instead of buying the Girl Scout version…then donate all those savings to the Girl Scouts. Win-win.

Now, back to the couch and the Samoas and some serious Netflixing.

Sincerely,

Bonnycate

C is for Macaron*

I’m a bit of a Hermione. I like to learn things. And get them right. And be a bit show-offy about them. Then move on to something else.

So, macarons have recently come to my attention.

Not macaroons, those flavorous lumps of coconutty sweetness.

Macarons. Light, crispy, chewy, soft, luscious, buttercream-sandwiched pillows of heaven. Poncy. Exquisite. Difficult. Well, let’s say difficile, because they are, of course, French. And they are trés difficile.

But I’m a girl who relishes a challenge. Tell me something is near impossible, and I am all over it.

At first, I was mildly intrigued. Saw them on TV. Saw them on Pinterest. Saw them on Martha Stewart’s website. (don’t judge me!) I said to myself, “Hmmm. That might be a hoot.”

Then I tasted one. After that first eyes-rolling-back-in-my-head bite, I was hooked. No longer mildly interested, I now craved these puffy pleasures with a blinding lust. Yes, lust. Have you ever had a sweet little cloud of heaven melt on your tongue? No, you haven’t. But I have. Oh, I have.

But the making of them smacks seriously of effort. After trolling the ‘net for hours and hours, I finally settled on what I found here for a recipe and here for a (FABULOUS) troubleshooting guide and here for a how-to video. I gathered and prepped all my elements and hardware beforehand (thank you for the great advice, video chick!) and voila! Disaster…

Disappointment. No feet. All crackly. *sigh*

The visual hallmarks of a perfect macaron are a shiny, sleek shell and a “foot,” or a pretty, ruffled base. Yeah. Not happening this first time.

Three (sort of) passable cookies.

Three came close…well…close-ish. Meanwhile, I started the second batch.

I’m wary but hopeful…there are wee feet appearing!

Not a total success yet, but better! A marked improvement.

Closer!

They sort of resemble the top half of a McDonald’s hamburger, but they’re shiny, and they’re smooth, and they have feetGigantic spreading Sasquatch feet, but feet nonetheless!

I made a Nutella buttercream filling for these lovelies that I found here. Yeah, I’m just cannibalizing tons of sites tonight. But it’s worth it for food porn of this quality — look at these!

Ready to pawn off on my teacher peeps!

Next time: lemon macarons with strawberry filling. Oh. Yeah. My new obsession.

Sincerely,

Bonnycate

*Oh, and here‘s why C is for Macaron. Careful, though. It’ll eat into your brain…

The Shortbread Trials

I’m a sick, sick girl

I just analyzed a gazillion different shortbread recipes that I harvested off the internet to figure out the average ratio of ingredients and the average time/temp combo.

Sick.

All this because of a conversation with Nikki T regarding the quaint custom of the Cookie Table. Apparently, at Pennsylvanian weddings, one comes across tables full of multitudes of cookies and cookies and cookies. And cookies. Such glories!

I mean, in the South, we’ve got the groom’s cake, which is usually some sort of chocolate or Devil’s food…go figure. I’ve come across candy tables on Pinterest, but they seem more child-centered. Nothing like a table full of cookies. A veritable cookie banquet. (hee. very-TABLE.) I felt like Veruca Salt just pondering it – except I wanted that cookie feast, not the stupid bean feast she sang about. What’s up with a bean feast, Veruca, you freak?

So I felt compelled to contribute to the aforementioned Cookie Table. The percolation began. And ended quite quickly. Since declaring myself the Jammy Genius of our little group and Queen of all Canning (except the realm of blackberries, in which even mediocrity eludes me) and being flush with the CrackJam and the lovely nectar that is my Ginger-Lemon-Fig concoction, of course logic dictated that I should craft up some cookies with jam! On shortbread! Mixed with orange zest!

Yes. And there my search began for the optimum shortbread ingredient ratio. On a spreadsheet. On my computer. With actual calculations and removing recipes with anomalous ingredients. In the words of the Great Kate, Golly Moses!

Turns out the ingredient ratios for shortbread are within normal ranges across the board. The times and temps, however? Geez. Anywhere from 300˚ to 375˚* for anywhere from eight to 25 minutes. Which would yield me the perfect buttery soft cookie that was crisp enough to hold that lovely jam? How could I tell without tedious trial and error? So began the Shortbread Time Trials (with lime zest, since that was the only citrus in the house):

                     

Like an OCD Goldilocks, I kept searching for the best combination. Too soft but oily? No. Good texture, but too soft to hold its shape? No. Crispy? No. Just…no. Until I found the JUST RIGHT combo.

Best temp/time for making shortbread for plain old munching accompanied by a glass of cold milk or a cuppa Earl Grey? 325˚ for 12-14 minutes. Best temp/time for making jammy windows? 325˚ for 18-20 minutes. In my opinion, the 350˚ trials proved too crispy-crunchy for me. Not a fan. If you’re all about the crispity cookie though, 14-18 minutes at 350˚ seems to be the optimum cook time.

I’ll post some pics actual Jammy Windows when I make them for reals…

Sincerely,

Bonnycate

*BTW, that’s Fahrenheit, y’all. I figured you’d understand that without me saying because I’m located in Texas and, well, baking cookies at 325˚ CELSIUS would be cray-cray fer totes. We want cookies, not charcoal.