Haman has got nothing on Hamentashen

I know that my mother has been trying to get me to make this particular cookie treat for a while now. She remembers them from her days in Winnipeg, where she, an "island princess", was exposed to Jewish cookery by her landlord. Not only does she now exclaim "oy vey iz mir" whenever she gets irritated with us children, she also has a predilection for hamentashen, rugelach and chocolate babka (although the latter was probably more due to Zabar's than Winnipeg).

So when my friend Susan told me she was making some Hamentashen for Purim, she also told me I should give it a go.

So, of course I turned to my favorite baking blog - SmittenKitchen for the recipe.

Of course, instead of adding orange zest (which is what her recipe calls for) I added lemon zest because it's what I had on hand. Citrus is citrus and lemon works just as well a orange in this case.

Well, I was able to get the dough to the right consistency and I used a 3-inch cookie cutter instead of her suggested 2-inch, mainly because I wanted a bigger cookie and in the SmittenKitchen blog, she mentioned that one needed to pinch the walls really tight in order to create a proper seal. So, I thought more dough would mean less leakage.

How wrong I was. Even with my careful filling of the preserves (I used apricot, strawberry and blackberry preserves) and my solid pinching...

I still ended up with little random shaped oblong cookies with preserves all over the place.

Moral of the story of Hamentashen, lots of dough doesn't mean that your filling wont leak. I think maybe next time, I'll do a half shortening half butter dough and maybe use an egg wash to seal those pesky corners!

Still, they tasted good with tea!


Wheat vs. White

Wheat. White. Wheat. White. Wheat...OK, I've been thinking about how to make my cookies and other baked items healthier so I bought a two pound bag of whole wheat flour.

And it's been sitting in my cupboard for about three weeks now with nary a use to be found. Or rather I have yet to feel inspired enough to use my whole wheat flour (not to mention a lot of the recipes I've researched, breads aside, have not been inspiring). Then I got to thinking - maybe it wasn't lack of inspiration, but rather a fear of the unknown. I admit, I am a fan of simple tried and true recipes and my recent foray into the realm of french pastry had me more than a little frustrated. But this year I am going to be adventurous with my baking! So whole wheat flour will be used in the very near future!

With the help of the inter webs, I have reassured myself that substituting whole wheat for white flour shouldn't be a problem.

According to a neat How-To on eHow.com:

1) Each flour can be substituted for the other, part per part. I.e. 1 cup of whole wheat can be used for 1 cup of white.

2) One must sift whole wheat flour so as to avoid a denser than normal product. Aeration is good.

3) In order to avoid a dryer product (because it'll happen apparently), you need to slightly increase your wet ingredients or shorten your baking time by a few minutes.

4) Fold instead of mix - you want your liquid to just absorb, not become a gluey mess.

I think that's simple enough, right? Well, let's see if the cookies I make tonight are proof positive that 4-steps to substitution works.

Stay tuned...


Longest Post Ever!

If there is one thing you need as a baker (amateur or otherwise) it's patience. Although I tend to steer towards one-bowl, under an hour recipes, I do like to challenge myself sometimes.

Personally, I think the epitome of baking lies in the realm of the French. Especially when it comes to pastries. And nothing else spells French pastry like a croissant. So of course, after a conversation with a friend and baker where it was discussed that challenging oneself was important - I decided to embark upon making croissants.

The recipe I used I found online and it was from Bernard Clayton's Complete Book of Small Breads.

Let's just say after reading it through, I realized that this was not simply a recipe - it was an undertaking. A 2-day undertaking. But I was game and not a little motivated to try something so outside my comfort zone. Allons-y!

I used a lot of flour and butter for this thing. In fact, your butter component is a mixture of flour and butter pressed into a block and then chilled until firm.

After placing my butter square to chill, I made the dough. It needs to rise for a couple of hours until doubled in bulk. Then the rolling and folding commences. About three different maneuvers with several hours of proofing in between. Patience is something one learns when one attempts making croissants.

The final roll had me using rulers and rollers to cut out perfect triangles. This is precision work people!

And...apparently this is what a raw croissant looks like?

Alas, I forgot the final rising of the croissant once the dough was cut into little 5-inch triangles. So I ended up with lovely...dinner rolls.

However, due to my small work surface - I ended up cutting my batter in half. All was not lost when I realized that I ended up goofing on the first batch - and the second batch was proofed properly before being fed to the oven. They ended up as Pain Au Chocolat.

Would I make these again? I am not sure. While I was excited to be doing something so involved, I find that I like to bang out my baked goodies. But, if I need to be challenged again...maybe puff pastry?

Cookies and Camaraderie

I might have mentioned in a previous post or two that the reason why I bake is less because I like to eat a lot of sugary treats and more because I like to make people happy.

It is a scientifically proven fact that by ingesting sugar, you stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain releasing opiods. This chemical is linked to feelings of intense pleasure hence the idea that happiness and sugar go hand in hand. Well, what better way to spread happiness than by sharing baked goodies (with sugar and chocolate and other lovely tastes) with friends?

A friend of mine decided to expound on this theory by organizing an event that had people bring baked goods (both homemade and store-bought) to a bar and basically eat and drink and be merry. And eat, drink and merriment there was!

This is just a third of the goodies that ended showing up at the event.

I decided to bring my Irish Car Bomb cupcakes and my Orange Cardamom Cookies. They were devoured with only crumbs and empty containers left for me to bring home.

Whole event was a success and I think it wasn't only due to brain chemicals - it was because there is nothing like a cookie to make one your friend. And this is just proof that this is true.