baking fail: cornflake cookies

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It isn’t often that I bake any more… and maybe that’s why I failed on such an epic scale with these cookies. I was doing a large-ish bake of old standards anyway, and when you’ve got a bunch of stuff going at once in a standard-sized kitchen, it’s easy to cut corners and make mistakes. However, I watched the most recent season of The Chef Show on Netflix (I never gave Jon Favreau much consideration before, but have mad respect for his reverence for bread baking and his sincere commitment to learning the ins and outs of cooking), and famous baker Christina Tosi appeared in an episode, showing the unsuspecting audience how to bake a whole load of tempting treats. Including this Corn Flake/marshmallow thing. It seemed like more trouble than it was worth (the first step being a Corn Flake crunch that had to cool completely before use), and the recipe itself also seemed finicky. Tosi told the guys in the show that if you didn’t do this (beat the butter and sugar for long enough), or that (beat the flour or add-ins for too long), or the other thing (didn’t thoroughly chill the formed cookies on cookie sheets), your cookies would not turn out.

Even though I was careful to follow the instructions to the letter, mine still spread out WAY too much. I even made the dough by weight (I normally go the much more inaccurate cup measurement way) and still ended up going wrong.

If the whole process were a bit friendlier I might try this again, but cookies that require extra steps (like the aforementioned crunch) are too time consuming for me these days. If I do ever try it again, I will document what I do differently (and share, if it works).

Cornflake marshmallow chocolate chip cookies

225 g butter, at room temperature 16 tablespoons (2 sticks)
250 g granulated sugar 1 1/4 cups
150 g light brown sugar 2⁄3 cup tightly packed
1 egg
2 g vanilla extract 1/2 teaspoon
240 g flour 1 1/2 cups
2 g baking powder 1/2 teaspoon
1.5 g baking soda 1/2 teaspoon
5 g kosher salt 1 1/2 teaspoons
3/4 recipe Cornflake Crunch (below) 270 g (3 cups)
125 g mini chocolate chips 2⁄3 cup
65 g mini marshmallows 1 1/4 cups

  1. Combine the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg and vanilla, and beat for 7 to 8 minutes. (See page 27 for notes on this process.)
  2. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix just until the dough comes together, no longer than 1 minute. (Do not walk away from the machine during this step, or you will risk overmixing the dough.) Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
  3. Still on low speed, paddle in the cornflake crunch and mini chocolate chips just until they’re incorporated, no more than 30 to 45 seconds. Paddle in the mini marshmallows just until incorporated.
  4. Using a 2.-ounce ice cream scoop (or a 1⁄3-cup measure), portion out the dough onto a parchment-lined sheet pan. Pat the tops of the cookie dough domes flat. Wrap the sheet pan tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 1 week. Do not bake your cookies from room temperature—they will not hold their shape.
  5. Heat the oven to 375°F.
  6. Arrange the chilled dough a minimum of 4 inches apart on parchment- or Silpat-lined sheet pans. Bake for 18 minutes. The cookies will puff, crackle, and spread. At the 18-minute mark, the cookies should be browned on the edges and just beginning to brown toward the center. Leave them in the oven for an additional minute or so if they aren’t and they still seem pale and doughy on the surface.
  7. Cool the cookies completely on the sheet pans before transferring to a plate or to an airtight container for storage. At room temperature, the cookies will keep fresh for 5 days; in the freezer, they will keep for 1 month.

Cornflake Crunch

makes about 360 g (4 cups)

This recipe was originally created to accompany the Cereal Milk Panna Cotta. It was one of those first-swing, home-run hits. It is incredibly simple to make and equally versatile in its uses. Put some in a plastic bag and take it on the go as the best snack ever, or use it as an ingredient in the recipes that follow.

170 g cornflakes ½ (12-ounce) box (5 cups)
40 g milk powder ½ cup
40 g sugar 3 tablespoons
4 g kosher salt 1 teaspoon
130 g butter, melted 9 tablespoons

  1. Heat the oven to 275° F.
  2. Pour the cornflakes in a medium bowl and crush them with your hands to one-quarter of their original size. Add the milk powder, sugar, and salt and toss to mix. Add the butter and toss to coat. As you toss, the butter will act as glue, binding the dry ingredients to the cereal and creating small clusters.
  3. Spread the clusters on a parchment-or-Silpat-lined sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes, at which point they should look toasted, smell buttery, and crunch gently when cooled slightly and chewed.
  4. Cool the cornflake crunch completely before storing or using in a recipe. Stored in an airtight container at room temperature, the crunch will keep fresh for 1 week; in the fridge or freezer it will keep for 1 month.

Lockdown vanilla pudding pie

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I blame the lockdown for all the ingredients I have on hand that I only use half of before I need to use them up or lose them forever. This leads me to bake random things that I have to pawn off on unsuspecting people. I suspect this is one of those experiments that won’t be welcomed with open arms, minds or mouths.

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Vanilla pudding made with coconut milk

2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 1/2 cups coconut milk (unsweetened) – feel free to use other kinds of milk to your taste
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, maybe a dash of vanilla bean powder

How to

Whisk the sugar and salt together in a small saucepan.

Separate four eggs; set the whites aside for use in something else.

Combine the cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of coconut milk to dissolve the cornstarch.

Add the cornstarch mix, the rest of the coconut milk and four egg yolks to the saucepan and whisk well.
Cook the mixture on medium heat, stir constantly.
Once mix thickens (and it will – it seems to take a while but once it starts, it gets thick quickly), lower the heat and cook for one minute while constantly whisking.
Pour the mix through a fine sieve, stir in the vanilla. Pour into a bowl, if eating as pudding. Pour into a pre-baked pie crust if making a pudding pie.
Affix plastic wrap directly to the surface of the pudding/pie filling and chill 2+ hours.
Pictured: The bit of the pudding that didn’t fit in the pie.
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Lockdown baking

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I don’t bake much any more. And during a lockdown I can’t even give the baked goods to very many people. But I also have a bunch of ingredients that need to be used… so here’s the vanilla pound cake I made the other day.

Vanilla pound cake

1 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup softened butter
3/4 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup milk (you can use milk substitutes; I used coconut milk)
2 eggs (lightly beaten)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I also threw in a dash of vanilla bean powder)

How to

Heat oven to 170c/325F. Grease and flour your loaf pan.

Sift the flour and add the baking powder.

Cream the butter and sugar for several minutes.

Slowly add the beaten eggs on low speed. Add the vanilla extract once mixed.

Add half the milk, mix. Then mix in half of the flour, keeping the mixer on a slow speed. Add the remaining milk and fold in the rest of the flour until combined.

Put mixture in prepared loaf tin. Bake for about 1 hour. Use a toothpick in the middle to check its doneness; when it comes out clean, it’s ready to take out. Cool in the pan for ten minutes; remove from pan and let cool.

caramel popcorn

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Caramel popcorn is something my mother has made my entire life. She joked with her colleagues that most days she’d serve popcorn for dinner, but caramel corn was for payday. Later I made this for all the birthday/slumber parties and the like.

The recipe came from a cookbook one of her aunts published. Since leaving home, I never make it because it’s too sweet, I can’t easily find white popcorn in Sweden, didn’t have a hot-air popper, and the original recipe calls for corn syrup.

But suddenly I had white corn, a hot-air popper and golden syrup and the ability to give the finished product away.

It’s not difficult. Here’s the recipe.

Caramel popcorn
Preheat oven to 125C

Pop about 1/2 a cup of popcorn in a hot-air popper directly into a baking dish/roasting pan

In a heavy-bottomed stovetop pot:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup or golden syrup
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanila

(You can also double this recipe, as my family usually did – and use a very large roasting pan.)

Melt butter, add the brown sugar and syrup on low-medium heat. Bring to a boil, stir constantly. Let boil 5 minutes without stirring.

Remove from heat. Stir in baking soda and vanilla. The mixture will get very foamy and lightly caramel colored.

Pour over the popcorn and stir to coat. Bake in preheated oven. Stir corn every 15 minutes, turning pan halfway through, for about 45 mins to 1 hour. It should be crispy once it cools off a bit.

dark chocolate tarts

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While I had been sort of hoping to veganize my standard dark chocolate mini tart recipe, I sort of ran out of time and made the regular ones. I changed the recipe just slightly from the old one I’ve shared before.

I mailed some of these to an office where most of the employees are distributed, so a lot of employees miss out on the final results. One employee misread the label on these as “farts” rather than “tarts”, giving him a small chuckle – that was as sweet as my shared baking ended up being for him.

Dark chocolate tarts
Tart shells
1 ½ cups chocolate cookie crumbs (or 1 cup cookie crumbs and ½ cup ground hazelnuts).
1/3 cup melted butter
1 tablespoon sugar

The change I implemented here was simply throwing whole Oreo cookies into my food processor and making them into crumbs. I didn’t fool around looking for some other chocolate cookies or removing the middle filling of the Oreo. This might have made the final shells more structurally sound.

Preheat oven to 190C. Lightly spray muffin tins (regular size or mini ones, as I usually use) with nonstick spray (I usually do not use the spray because the mixture uses a lot of butter; I did use some non-stick spray this time because I was not sure that keeping the filling from the Oreos in the mix would not stick to the pan).

Mix the cookie crumbs (and ground hazelnuts, if you are using them – I did this time) with the melted butter and sugar. Press the mixture into the muffin tins. Bake approx. 5 minutes in preheated oven.

While baking, prepare the filling. Remove from oven and lower oven temperature to 160C.

Filling
10 to 10 ½ ounces of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) – 280 to 300 grams
¾ cup heavy cream
½ cup whole milk
3 tablespoons honey (flavored honey can be nice here)
1 egg, beaten slightly

The difference this time is that I used only heavy cream and no milk in the exact same proportion (so 1 1/4c cream – minus all milk).

Over a double boiler (or glass bowl over a pan of boiling water) mix chocolate with milk and cream. Stir until chocolate is melted and fully mixed together with cream and milk (smooth consistency). Stir in honey.

Slightly beat the egg in a medium-sized bowl. Gradually stir a small stream of the melted chocolate mixture into the egg, whisking the egg and chocolate together the whole time (to temper to make sure the egg does not become like scrambled eggs). Do this with just some of the chocolate until enough chocolate has been mixed with egg to ensure that the egg will not cook. Then add the egg-chocolate mixture to the bowl of melted chocolate.

Spoon the chocolate mixture into the chocolate tart shells. Bake 25 minutes, cool for at least 30 minutes before removing from tin.

irn-bru shortbread experiment

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I am always game for trying out some different form of shortbread. And what could be more Scottish than Irn-Bru shortbread?

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I found and used a recipe I came across online on the Scotsman website, and guess what? It was a total failure. I read the ingredients for the Irn-Bru filling a few times, and it didn’t seem possible that it could come together as an ‘icing-like’ filling – and voilà, it absolutely did not. I don’t see how this could work as published, so because I didn’t have time to mess about experimenting, I used the shortbread cookies (the recipe below worked beautifully) and made a chocolate filling instead:

Shortbread
125g granulated sugar
250g unsalted butter (I used half salted, half unsalted)
375g flour

Soften butter to room temperature. Mix butter and sugar until well-combined.
Add flour and mix gently with a pastry blender/mixer until dough almost comes together, which will take about five minutes.

Gather dough together and knead lightly on a floured surface. Roll dough to roughly 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes. Reroll excess dough up to 3 times. Bake at 265 F (130 C) for about 50 minutes.

You will be making a filling from Irn-Bru and white chocolate and creating nice wee shortbread sandwich cookies. If you follow the recipe, I don’t see how it can work at all. But if you do try it and the following info works for you, enlighten me. All I can think of is that somehow “double cream” differs from “heavy cream”, but I don’t think so.

1 bottle or can of Irn-Bru soda
100g of white chocolate
50g double cream
Pinch of salt

Combine white chocolate and double cream over a double boiler until combined. Let cool and mix in 4 tablespoons of Irn-Bru. Use a piping bag to fill each sandwich. I got what was very much like soup as a result, so no piping bag, no Irn-Bru filling.

Et voilà… in the end, it was not a thoroughly Scottish treat.

we’ve changed to be

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From what or whom did we change to become what we are now?

A letter arrived in which someone exclaimed that she’d taken up near-obsessive baking, and she finally understood my own (now waning) obsession with baking or started to associate baking with some of the feelings I had attached to it – relaxation, a sense of producing something. And when did she turn from a non-baker to someone who dreamed up something sweet to create every night?

For that matter, when did I become someone who welcomed 30C/85F temperatures? There was a time when I would hide from such weather, feeling miserable in the warmth from which I could not escape.

Is it age? Is it experience? Is it the combination of both mixing to give us acceptance of or approval for things we once felt indifferent toward or actively disliked? How do we come to long for things we never wanted?

More curious… how do we change and then change back? Did we never really change or were we having a break? What are the inner workings that drive these sometimes unconscious shifts… and what shifts them back? Is it the need for reflection/rest? Is it the vitality to try something different before feeling the pull of old habits (they do, after all, die hard) and comforts?

best chocolate cake ever – supposedly

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My go-to chocolate cake recipe has always been a bit more than ‘basic’. When I first published it here in this blog way back in 2009, I referred to it as “basic”, but later, when I started baking on a grander scale, I realized that, no, in fact, it has too many separate steps to be called basic. When you can make one-cup microwave chocolate cake to satisfy those driving choco-cravings or something a few steps simpler, this one is not the easiest you can get. But every chocolate-loving friend with whom I have shared this particular cake will tell you that the extra steps are well worth it.

Many years ago when I started making this cake, one friend told me it was the second-best cake of her life (after her wedding cake). Another friend uses this recipe every time she needs a killer cake that will not fail. The other day for a work dinner, I produced this cake, and one of the dinner party guests exclaimed that it was possibly the best cake she has ever eaten. High praise indeed. Similar accolades flow every time.

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best chocolate cake ever

The only difference this time between my original recipe and what I did now is that I used two different kinds of frosting. I made a standard buttercream (cocoa, powdered sugar, butter and sprinkle of coffee), which I used as a rather thick crumb coat. On top of this, on each layer, I slathered on generous heaps of chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream, which always comes out tasting a bit like chocolate mousse. Again, worth the extra work.

Tasks and tools

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I have always said that for every task there is a tool, and while I don’t always stand by this (why accumulate more and more specialized tools when you can improvise and accumulate less), sometimes the difference the right tool makes is astounding.

One example that surprised me was when I somehow acquired a little plastic thing that makes holes in the middle of cupcakes to fill them. I thought it seemed like a wasteful wee bit of plastic until I actually used it – the days of ripped-up cupcake tops with holes inelegantly stabbed into being with not-fit-for-purpose paring knives were finally over. And the cupcake “holer” was so much quicker, neater. And for someone who makes filled cupcakes by the hundreds, rather than the dozens, this made a lot of sense.

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On a similar note, for a very long time, I have been using a cheap, flimsy but reliable blender to make my morning breakfast monstrosity (a lot of spinach and a bit of kiwi, yogurt, cinnamon and turmeric). It’s been a loyal and useful tool. I also had a KitchenAid blender, which was much more expensive and supposedly heavy-duty, but it couldn’t handle anything, meaning that I eventually went out and bought another of the cheap blenders when the first one eventually died.

Just before the end of the year, I bought a heavy-duty, rather insane, Ninja blender/food processor thing but put it away until the old, basic blender breathed its last, which happened to be this afternoon, when it spewed a not inconsiderable amount of smoke into the air and smelled of burning plastic. Yes, the time had come to give this trusty blender his well-earned retirement.

Making a smoothie in this Ninja thing is like joining an entirely different world of appliances. Not unlike moving from mixing everything by hand to the magnificent KitchenAid stand mixer (which is, apparently, the only thing KitchenAid can reliably make – my other KitchenAid appliances are weak and fragile).

Once upon a time, I lived in a seaside flat in Iceland and spent my days and nights mixing all my copious baking projects by hand. I know the difference a purpose-made appliance can make. And while this Ninja thing might be overkill, it certainly created something completely different from what I was drinking – using so much less noise.