Archive for the ‘Recipe Rehab’ Category

So this recipe from Bon Appetit has been making the viral rounds, & with a surfeit of local berries in the fridge, I gave it a whirl the other week. It was… fine. But. Anything advertising itself as “snacking cake” should, in my universe, be something you can slap together when the kids are distracted by a Youtube video, ideally in a single bowl, without any precious steps like zesting lemons or thinly slicing strawberries. Also, the combined flavors of the olive oil & cornmeal really drowned out the strawberries, which is why we’re here in the first place, right? So, I fixed it. Well, fixed it to MY tastes, anyway. It makes an exceptional breakfast cake, but is sweet enough to pass as dessert, too.

I used a 9×9 pan, because I wanted a nice thick, plush cake, but you can use a 9×13 for a thinner result. Just watch the baking time, as it will be shorter than the recipe as written.

I’m including my master recipe for crumble topping, which makes far more than you’ll need for this cake. One of my best baking secrets is to always have a gallon ziploc bag of crumble made & waiting in the freezer. You can throw it on top of sliced fruit for a last minute dessert, or on top of muffins/coffee cake for an easy level-up. 

Improved Berry Snacking Cake

Makes one 9×9 cake

Preheat oven to 325F. Oil & line with parchment a 9×9-inch square baking pan.

Crumble (makes plenty of extra, can be halved if desired):

2 2/3 c sugar

2 c all purpose flour

1 c rolled oats

1/2 t salt

1/2 t cinnamon

1/4 t nutmeg OR allspice

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.

6 ounces unsalted butter, melted

Add melted butter & mix with a fork until blended but still pebbly, with some larger chunks left.


1 3/4 c all purpose flour

1/4 fine cornmeal OR almond/nut flour

1/2 t baking powder

1/2 t baking soda

1 c sugar

1/2 t salt

Combine in a large bowl & whisk thoroughly to combine, ensuring there are no clumps of baking powder or soda.

1/2 c melted butter OR vegetable oil

3 eggs

1 c sour cream OR plain yoghurt

3 T lemon juice

1 t vanilla OR almond extract

Combine in a smaller bowl & whisk until eggs are fully broken up. Add to dry ingredients & blend lightly with a fork. Switch to a rubber spatula & mix just until no dry pockets remain, making sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl. Scrape batter into prepared pan & spread level.

Top evenly with about 1 c of fresh or frozen & thawed berries/cut fruit: whole red/black raspberries, blueberries, quartered strawberries, diced peaches/plums/apples, whatever you have on hand/in season. (I used overripe red raspberries for this one.) Press the fruit gently into the batter a bit.

Scatter fruit with approximately 1 c of crumble mixture, to mostly cover, but still allowing some fruit to peek through. (Store the remaining crumble in a freezer bag for future projects.)

Bake approximately 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The edges will brown nicely & pull away from the pan a bit. Let cool to room temperature before serving, if you can stand it.


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I’m going to warn you right now, there will be no personal photos of rehabbed chocolate chip cookies in this post. J & I have given up extraneous sugar for, well, as long as we can take it. So there will be no warm, chewy, melty cookies being made in this house any time soon. Believe me when I say that I am just as disappointed as you are.

My Twitter friend Fatima has been trying to get chewy, flat chocolate cookies for years, to no avail. Instead, she gets thick, rounded, almost scone-like cookies. She was kind enough to share her most recent recipe for me to dissect:

Fatima's cookies

Fatima’s cookies

Fatima’s Chocolate Chip Cookies, Before

2 cups cake flour minus 2 tablespoons

2 cups bread flour minus 2 tablespoons

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/4 cup butter

1 1/4 cup brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

2 large eggs

1 1/4 cup chocolate chips

Sea salt

Fatima didn’t include her directions, but I think we can safely assume that the dry ingredients got stirred or sifted together, the butter & sugar got creamed together, the eggs were added, & the dry ingredients blended in.


Baking is, in part, all about proportions. My first thought in looking at Fatima’s recipe is that hey, howdy, that’s a lot of flour compared to butter – just shy of a 4:1 ratio. Unless there’s a ton of added liquid later in the recipe, this is going to be a pretty dry, dense dough. Dry doughs bake up high & round, not rising or melting much in the heat of the oven.

First thought, part two: two kinds of flour? Really? Sometimes, with really finicky recipes, you do need to do some flour blending to get the right balance of protein, aka gluten, especially when making delicate sponges. But for chocolate chip cookies? No way. The punchline: the equal parts cake & bread flour called for in Fatima’s recipe give you the approximate protein content of all-purpose flour. Yep, her recipe wants you to blend your own A/P. Life’s too short for that kind of nonsense.

The next thing that strikes me is the baking powder. Baking powder is awesome at making things puff up & stay puffed – think fluffy pancakes, layer cakes & the like. But if you’re aiming for low, flat things, baking powder’s not what you want.  Baking soda, on the other hand, likes to puff up & collapse, just the thing for flat, chewy cookies. Baking soda also helps things to brown, unlike baking powder.

The trick with baking soda is that it needs an acid to react properly. If you’ve ever had sugar cookies or muffins that had an unpleasant, soapy aftertaste, that’s unneutralized baking soda. Acids that are often used in baking include lemon juice, buttermilk or yoghurt, & molasses. In Fatima’s recipe, the acid is brown sugar – it’s a mild acid, but it works. Point of interest: if you were to make the same recipe & use all white sugar, you’d get that salty, soapy aftertaste.

Finally, I may be alone in this, but 1 1/4 cups of chocolate chips for this size recipe just seems mean. Go big, or go home, as they say.


So, here’s my revised recipe for Fatima. I adjusted the batch size down a little, to make it an easier amount to manage. It should double happily, should you need more.

Notice the 1:1.5:2 ratio of butter to sugar to flour – this makes for a nice buttery, sugary dough that spreads nicely without running all over the pan.

I hope she’ll give it a whirl & report back!

Fatima’s Chocolate Chip Cookies, Rehabbed

2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup butter (unsalted & at room temperature)

3/4 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup white sugar

1 large egg

1 1/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350F, & line 2-3 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder & salt together & set aside.

With the paddle attachment on a stand mixer, the standard beaters on a hand-held mixer, or a good old fashioned wooden spoon & a ton of elbow grease, cream the butter just until it’s smooth. Add both sugars & blend until it’s a nice sandy paste. Don’t aim to whip any air into the mixture. Add the egg & blend until it’s completely absorbed. Pour in the flour mixture & blend slowly just until the flour’s mostly absorbed. Add the chocolate chips & blend just until all the flour’s mixed in & the chocolate chips are evenly incorporated.

Using a standard ice cream scoop (for big cookies) or a teaspoon (for smaller cookies), place rounded blobs of dough on the baking parchment, about 1 1/2 inches apart. If you want to gild the lily, roll each dough ball in granulated sugar before putting it on the sheet – it makes for a lovely sweet, crunchy crust. You should get 8 big cookies or about 16 little ones on a sheet.

Bake at 350F. If you like really soft, fudgy centers, pull the cookies when the edges have set, but the center is still really wet. If you like a little more texture, bake til the centers have set. If the edges & bottoms are getting too brown before the centers are done, drop your oven temperature down to 325F.

Cool on a rack by sliding the whole piece of parchment (with the cookies still on it) onto the rack. This saves you from breaking or distorting the hot, soft cookies. Let cool completely before storing in an airtight tin.

I can’t even tell you how badly I want a warm chocolate chip cookie right now. Go. Make some. Have one for me…

Not my cookies, but darn close! Thanks to Lara on flickr for sharing her photo.

Not my cookies, but darn close! Thanks to Lara on flickr for sharing her photo.

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Recipe Rehab

I often get emails/FB posts/Tweets from friends, asking for help with a particular recipe. Rather than confine my answers to private accounts, I thought it might be fun to make blog posts out of them. You know, for the kids.

My Twitter friend Fatima posted a photo of her chocolate chip cookies last night, lamenting that they never seem to spread properly… They end up looking more like scones than the flat, round beauties she wanted.

Fatema's cookies

Fatema’s cookies

I’ve seen this phenomenon plenty of times – my mother-in-law’s oatmeal cookies look just the same, as have a large percentage of Christmas/school fair/bake sale cookies I’ve sampled over the years. A number of factors can turn an innocent cookie into a crumbly boulder or a bowl of bread dough into a doorstop, so let’s start at the beginning.

Sometimes, it really is the recipe

I usually rail against the knee-jerk “it’s not me, it’s this stupid recipe” reactions, but honestly, there are a LOT of bad recipes out there. Fatima’s recipe calls for bread flour & cake flour, & a lot of both, plus baking powder & not a whole lot of butter. I, a trained pastry chef, could make this recipe & still come out with boulders. It’s just not balanced properly to get the flat, chewy/crisp cookies she wants. How do you tell a good recipe from a bad one? Compare it to recipes that you know work. Look at ingredients & ratios. Read reviews. If something looks really off, chances are, it is.

Sometimes, it’s not the recipe, it’s your pantry

We’ve all done it at one point or another – bought jumbo eggs instead of large, run out of brown sugar & used white instead, subbed in margarine for butter. There are times when you can make subtle changes in ingredients & not notice a difference in the final dish – baking cookies (or anything, for that matter) is not one of those times. Baking is chemistry, rather delicate chemistry at times, & messing around with your ingredients can completely change how your batter/dough behaves. Basic rule of thumb: if a good recipe calls for something, it probably needs it.

Sometimes, it’s not the recipe… it’s you

How do you measure your flour when you’re baking? What kind of measuring cups do you use? Do you store your flour in the bag it came in, or pour it into a jar/bin/container? Is your kitchen usually warm or cold? Are you in a hurry when you bake, or do you take your sweet-ass time? Time, temperature, even the aeration of your flour can have a big impact on how your recipe behaves. I’m not one for Cook’s Illustrated-level minutiae – I’ve never taken the internal temperature of a stick of butter, nor am I about to ask you to – but certain environmental & behavioral factors really make a difference.

Now we’ve got the basic premise out of the way, I’ll do a post on Fatima’s cookies & show how we can make molehills out of mountains 🙂

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