Don't get me wrong--I don't think my dad has any particular fondness for this type of bread, but one time I made it and he said, "That's good bread." I happen to like this type of bread too. It's good calorie-counting bread. You have a little slice of it with some garlic spread and you're like, that couldn't have been more than a quarter of a piece. I could have three more and only count it as one slice. By the end of the evening, half the loaf is gone and you've lost track. Perfect.

Ingredients:BreadHook

        • 4 1/2 cups of bread flour
        • 3 tablespoons sugar
        • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
        • 1 packet of Fleishmann's Active Dry Yeast (or equivalent)
        • 1 1/4 cups warm water 
        • 1 stand mixer with bread hook
        • 1 of those fancy pans like in the picture

I start with the flour. Just dump it in the mixing bowl and add in the sugar and salt. Install the bread hook in the mixer. If you don't have a mixer or don't have a bread hook, then go out and buy one. They can't be that much money. What are you saving for? Besides, with all the bread you make, the mixer will pay for itself in only fifty years. 

Mix a packet of yeast with the water and stir it up. 

IMG 2627Set the mixer to a slow speed to combine the flour, sugar, and salt. When the dry ingredients are combined, start pouring in the water. I like to pour in the water very slowly, and I keep the stream very close to the edge of the bowl. You're trying to surprise the flour here--don't announce your intentions. Just add the water so slowly that the bulk of the flour thinks that everything is still okay.

"It's all dry towards the center, only the edge is wet, there's no problem here," I say. Before you know it, you've added all the water and yeast, and the mixer is struggling to maintain speed. The flour is starting to ball up, and that ball is realizing that everything is not okay, and perhaps it never will be okay EVER AGAIN. If your flour doesn't pull together into one solid ball, then add just a tiny bit more water until it does. Show no mercy, and expect none from the bread (this is crucial).

IMG 2625Once everything is nice and smooth in a little ball, let it rise. If your kitchen is over 75°F, you can probably just leave it in the mixing bowl to rise. Sometimes, in the winter, I'll warm up the oven a little and then let it cool off. I'll put the whole mixing bowl in there so it can rise. You might get a skin on the dough, but you can fold that back in.

After the dough doubles in size, knead it back down and let it rise again. 

After the dough rises a second time, roll it out on a big floured surface. I like to roll it out to 16"x24". Cut the sheet of dough into three pieces that are 16"x8". Roll the dough into three loaves 16" long.

Put the loaves in the fancy pan, cut slits in the top, and let them rise again.

Heat up the oven to 375° and bake the bread until it's done.

Eat it all while telling yourself you just want to try a little bit.

 

On May 25th, Katie Chandler (her real name is M Night Shamalam) challenged me to make a gluten-free version of my Secret Chocolate Chip Cookies.

I decided to approach this in the most "science-y" way I could think of. I kept everything exactly the same and just told her that the cookies were gluten-free. Ha! Actually, if I had thought of it at the time, I probably would have done just that.

"Here you go, gluten-free!" I could have said.

"Wow, these are awesome, but somehow I'm getting all the gluten symptoms. How strange, I wonder if I've been attributing my allergy to the wrong thing this whole time?" she would have mused.

GlutenFreeCookies1That would have been fun. Oh well.

Instead, I took my recipe (well, it's everyone's recipe) and checked through all the ingredients. Turns out that All Purpose Flour includes gluten. Maybe that's why so many Facebookers are so opposed to using it? The chocolate chips don't have gluten. In fact, I found a lot of angry posts about gluten-free chocolate. Many find the concept of gluten in chocolate to be ludicrous; others point out that those first people can "suck it vigorously" (they didn't say which "it"). Some recipes online mention that you have to get "gluten-free vanilla," but my vanilla says right on it "A Gluten-Free Food." Where is this flour-y vanilla?

The big culprit is the flour. Apparently, tagging food as gluten-free is the latest thing. It's like tagging something as organic. I've had some exposure to organic marketing, and when something reads "Organic," the only safe conclusion to draw is that it has the word "Organic" printed on it. With "Gluten-Free" I think they just want to get on the bandwagon. So even if the food would never be expected to have gluten, they know they can grab some eyeballs with a "Gluten-Free" somewhere on the package.

I cruised the baking supplies aisle, looking for a suitable replacement, and happened upon gluten-free Bisquick. Actually, they call it "Bisquick Pancake and Baking Mix, Gluten Free." Makes me wonder: have I been hyphenating gluten-free all this time for no reason? I don't think so; I think they're wrong to not hyphenate. If you swap it around, you'll see what I mean: "Gluten Free Bisquick Pancake and Baking Mix." The "Gluten Free," "Bisquick," and "Pancake and Baking," all describe the "Mix." What kind of mix is it? It's a "Pancake and Baking" mix. It's a "Bisquick" mix. It's also a gluten-free mix, but it's not a "Gluten" mix or a "Free" mix, so those two need to be combined with the hyphen so you know that they should be taken as a pair.

With that mystery solved, I took the box of mix to the checkout. We don't have self-serve checkout in my store, so I had the opportunity to show the clerk where the missing hyphenGlutenFreeCookies2 should have been.

Here's what I intended to do: make batch-after-batch of gluten-free cookies, altering thing at a time, until I discovered a good gluten-free recipe. My plans were dashed after my first attempt. They turned out perfectly acceptable by just replacing flour with "Bisquick Pancake and Baking Mix, Gluten Free." I didn't have to change anything else. In fact, one sixteen-ounce box turned out to be the exact amount needed for one batch. Crazy convenient. The texture isn't precisely the same, but I'm not sure you'll get any closer without dreaded gluten. Here's a link to gluten-free Bisquick on the intersweb.

There are a ton of varieties of chocolate chip cookies, and everyone has their favorite. I like mine with a little crust to them, but a soft center, but too many chips ruin the experience. There's one thing most people agree on: they hate it when their cookies turn out flat. You know those cookies that spread out like pancakes, where the sad, half-melted chip is the highest peak on the cookie? You know those cookies that shatter like glass if you leave them on the cookie sheet too long before trying to scrape them off?

If problem cookies plague you, suffer no longer.flatcookies

There's a super easy answer to this problem, but a lot of people are unwilling to accept it. If you take the standard Toll House recipe, remove the butter, and substitute a Crisco baking stick, you'll get good cookies. In fact, if you use the "butter flavor" kind, it's really hard to tell the difference between that and real butter. Google the intersweb for "flat chcoloate chip cookies" (I'll wait) and you'll get that advice over and over. You'll also get tons of advice about sifting flour, using fresh baking soda, bringing your ingredients to room temperature, etc. All perfectly valid, I'm sure, but totally unnecessary. Just follow the regular recipe on the back of the bag of chips, use shortening instead of butter, and you'll get good cookies.

For a lot of people, this answer isn't good enough.crisco

A lot of people demand real butter in their cookies. A lot of these same people wouldn't dream of using real butter on their toast, but demand it in their cookies. I won't name names (Thor Hyerdahl). If you'd like tall, fluffy, triple-decker cookies, but demand a traditional butter approach, then keep reading. I've got a procedure that will hook you up.

Things you'll need:

  • 1 Oven, Pre-Heated to 350-ish
  • 1 Stand Mixer
  • 3 Insulated Cookie Sheets
  • 2.5 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 Teaspoon Baking Soda (fresh) — and when I say 1 Teaspoon, I mean 1 slightly mounded Teaspoon (don't skimp)
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt (maybe a pinch less)
  • 2 Sticks of Butter (Land O' Lakes with salt, soft but not too soft — stand each stick vertically on the counter in a seventy-degree room for three hours before starting)
  • 1/2 Cup Light Brown Sugar (packed)
  • 1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar (packed)
  • 3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 2+ Teaspoons of Vanilla Extract (just pour until you like it)
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 2 Cups of Chocolate Chips

Here's what you do (follow these steps precisely):

  1. Put the beater blade on your mixer and dump the butter in. Crank it up. I don't use the top setting because that hurls butter everywhere, but I use the second-to-top setting.cookie1
  2. Combine your 2.5 cups of flour with your 1 (mounded) teaspoon of baking soda and your 1 teaspoon salt. Do this in a reasonably-sized bowl so you don't get flour everywhere. you have to really combine these. I just use a spoon, but I take it seriously. I used to think that this step was a bit of a gag, but here's what I learned — this is the last time you're going to mix these things, so you have to do it right. Some people say you have to sift these together, but I challenge you to make the cookies both ways and show me the difference.
  3. Does your butter look creamy? Does it look shiny and whipped? If you didn't answer "yes" immediately, without hesitation, then keep waiting.
  4. Turn down the mixer and dump in your sugar and brown sugar. I use two types of brown sugar because I always have dark brown on hand and I don't know what else to do with it (who keeps buying it?). Also, keep your brown sugar vacuum sealed between uses. There's no excuse for lumpy sugar. What's a Foodsaver cost, like eighty bucks? Just get one.
  5. Crank that mixer back up and let it ramble on that sugar/butter mix. Let it go for a long time.
  6. While beating your butter & sugar, pour in vanilla. I just keep pouring until it looks good.
  7. Let that mixer run for a minute or two on high. You want this butter/sugar/vanilla to be supremely combined.
  8. Slow the mixer and crack an egg into it. Fire it back up.
  9. Repeat last step with a second egg.
  10. Okay — now you should have a combination of butter, sugar, vanilla, and egg. It should look like a really smooth batter, almost like frosting. This is important because you're barely going to mix it at all once you dump in the flour. Have you ever folded flour into stiff egg-whites? Think of it like that. Up until this point you can pound that batter into submission, but once that flour gets near it, it becomes fairly delicate.
  11. With three additions, add in the flour/soda/salt mixture. 
  12. Here's what I do: turn off the mixer, dump about a third of the flour mix in there, and then turn the mixer on with its lowest speed for as few turns as possible. You want to just barely mix the wet and dry components. I repeat that twice more until I've mixed in all the flour, and I scrape down the sides of the mixer-bowl between each addition.
  13. Once all your flour is in there, scrape off the beater blade and throw it in the sink. Put the "bread hook" blade on your mixer and dump in the chocolate chips.
  14. Again, put the mixer on it's lowest speed and turn in the chips until they're spread throughout the dough.
  15. Now you just have to spoon out the dough onto the sheets. I do a 3-2-3-2-3 pattern on each sheet, giving me 13 cookies for sheets one and two. For the third sheet, I only get 7 cookies before I run out of dough. The original recipe is supposed to yield 60 cookies. Ha! Nobody wants a two-inch cookie with five chips. Shoot for 30-35 per batch.
  16. Finally, toss those babies in the oven. Notice I say 350 instead of a more typical 375. I think they cook better at the lower temp, and it's easier to see if they're spreading. If at any point you suspect that the butter is melting before the cookie is baking, lower the temp. You might save the batch.

cookie2That's my easy sixteen-step recipe. I've made a few hundred batches of these, so I'm pretty confident, but if you have problems let me know. It doesn't take any time at all to make the dough — maybe about ten minutes. Maybe it's the lower temp, but these do seem to take a while to bake. I haven't timed them, I just look for the edges to brown before I take them out. If you like them crispy, then wait for the whole thing to brown.

If you've had problems with flat cookies and you give my steps a try, please let me know.

 

I remember this cake from when I was growing up. It's a really tasty bundt cake that was easy enough that us kids could make it from an early age. Just a few ingredients, too. Here's the quick and dirty:

  • 1 Box of Yellow Cake Mix
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1/3 Cup Water
  • 1 Cup Applesauce

Pre-heat oven to 350°. Mix those four ingredients until creamy? battery? who knows, just mix them for a while. With your other hand, smear butter on the inside of your bundt cake pan. It's really important to butter this thing well. One missed spot will screw up your whole cake. It has to be butter, too. Don't think you're going to cheap out and just spray the pan with some of that stuff. It won't work.

Once you're done mixing and buttering, turn your attention to the spice portion. Here's what I like to do:

  1. Get about 1/3 Cup Sugar 
  2. Mix in enough cinnamon that it looks right (people say 2 tbs, but I just put it in until it looks right)
  3. Dust the inside of your bundt with the mixture

That third step looks simple, but it's deceptive. If you accidentally shake on more cinnamon than sugar, the spice will dust up your butter and nothing else will stick. Except the cake; that will stick. Get that sugar to adhere somehow. Try harsh language, it works for me.

  1. Pour 1/3 of your battery batter into the pan
  2. Dust with half of your remaining cinnamon/sugar mix
  3. Pour 1/3 of your batter
  4. Dust
  5. Repeat until done with both (you should have poured three times and dusted twice)

Bake 36-41 minutes, cool for 10, then flip the cake out onto a plate.

You can make a sugar glaze if you insist on some kind of frosting. You could also just dust it with powdered sugar. The cake is fine on its own though. If you have big chunks of outer-crust missing, check the inside of the bundt pan. You probably messed up step 3. Everyone does.

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