Thursday, November 2, 2017

Refrigerator Rolls

This recipe has been in my family as long as any of us can remember. My aunt thinks it must have been one of my grandmother's recipes that my mom adapted, although we don’t really know for sure. As far as I remember, this typed up recipe has always been there. These rolls were made every holiday when I was young. We used to call these “Chef Hat” rolls, because they looked like little chef hats. As kids, my cousins and I found this to be extremely fascinating. I believe there was more than one incident of us running around the house holding these on top of our heads like chef hats, much to our amusement. Probably not as much to our moms. I'm hoping somewhere in some storage box or forgotten drawer there is a picture of this. 

The original name of these rolls comes from the recipe suggestion to make a batch of dough, keep it in the refrigerator, and take out what you need and keep the rest for later. I believe this tip harkens back to the days when it was a realistic expectation to be able to serve a fresh-baked batch of rolls with every dinner, every night. I need a moment to wrap my head around that concept. 

Somewhere down the line, the original typed, jumbo index card was lost, but we had a Xerox copy, so we made extras, as these would disappear on occasion too. Then I made a JPG of the recipe and saved it to my desktop for quick forwarding when mom would call telling me she couldn't find the recipe. Now it's out in the interweb and the cloud to be forever remembered. 

Just gathering the ingredients together filled my head with memories, and I was transported back to a time of holiday gatherings, with the scent of these rolls wafting through the air, my bare feet running across green shag carpet, and the Bee Gees playing on 8-track. These rolls are a kind of time-machine into my childhood.  

The Recipe

(Full recipe. Half for making 2 12-inch pizzas – 350-400 F degrees, 30-40 minutes.)

2 packages of dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup shortening – 1 stick
1 teaspoon salt
3 beaten eggs
5 cups flour

Mix yeast and sugar together; let stand 20 minutes. Scald milk. Pour milk into a mixing bowl and add shortening and salt to it. Cool to lukewarm. Add yeast-sugar mixture and eggs. Add flour mixing thoroughly. Turn out on floured board and knead until satiny. Place in greased bowl. Cover and set in a warm place to rise until double in bulk, about 2 hours. Knead again. Form into smooth ball. Grease surface. Cover and keep in refrigerator. Take out amount required each time, and keep remainder covered in refrigerator. 

This dough can be used for various kinds of rolls and pizza dough.

Cloverleaf rolls: Form dough into small balls. Dip each into melted butter and place 3 balls in each section of an oiled and greased pan. Cover and let double in size. Back in 425 F degree oven for 15-20 minutes. 

*On the recipe sheet, there is a handwritten note that reads:  - scant 1/2 c ???. It is noted next to the sugar. My guess is that someone thought 1/4 cup sugar wasn’t enough and noted to add another 1/4 cup, presumably to make a sweeter roll. It looks like my mom’s writing, which would make me believe I’m right (Mom loved sweet rolls). I went with the 1/4 cup version to just try the basic version first. 

The Bake

Rise Up!
I didn’t have yeast packets, but a jar of yeast in the fridge (best place to keep it. It lasts longer.). Each packet of yeast contains about 2 1/4 teaspoons. The yeast activated nicely, almost too nicely. It took me a bit longer to prep the other ingredients and after about 25 minutes, the yeast started to spill over the container! Next time, I’ll get the other ingredients started first. A newbie baking note, if your yeast does not do this, it is not active and your dough won’t rise. 

If I had ever scalded milk before, I didn’t remember how and had to Google it, which also led me to look up why scalding milk would be called for in such a recipe, since most of my recipes do not call for it, and why most bakers swear by still adhering to the technique. 

Farm Fresh
Back in the days of yore, when you would pour yourself a nice warm glass of milk or grog, you also ran the risk of sharing that drink with a plethora of pathogenic microbes which could send you running post haste to the town physician to get yourself a good bloodletting or, if you were a person of means, an afternoon spent with a ganon of leeches. Therefore, one would scald the milk to kill off any potential harmful bacteria lurking in your milk supply. But now, thanks to our good friend Louis Pasteur, his research on microorganisms, and the desperate need to keep the local wine supply from souring, we can now drink milk straight from the carton with reckless abandon, so à ta santé!

So, if our milk is pasteurized and need to heat is obsolete, then why do bakers still choose to scald the milk? 

It’s all about the texture. Scalding milk rapidly denatures (destroys) certain proteins in the milk, thus changing how they will interact and behave chemically during the baking process. Scalding the milk will help your dough rise faster and better. Your loaf will be lighter, fluffier and softer. It also helps with moisture retention. Or…so they say. Some bakers say it’s just tradition and they don’t waste their time. Others swear by it. I went with tradition and science.  

How to Scald Milk

·      Pour milk into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and set to medium heat. 

·      Stir often. Milk can burn easily, so keep an eye on it. 

·      Heat milk to 180 degrees F, about when bubbles start to form on the
      sides of the pan.

·      Remove from heat. Allow to cool to appropriate temperature before adding to recipe. 

The recipe calls for kneading the dough “until satiny.” I found that it was a fairly wet dough and it became “satiny” rather quickly. From my extensive amount of GBBO binge-watching, I knew this wasn’t long enough to active the gluten. I kept on kneading until the dough passed the “window pane” test – if you can take a small piece of dough, flatten and stretch it out between your fingers so you can almost see through it like a window pane. It was still satiny, with a good indication of gluten-ready goodness. 

 I wasn’t sure how long to knead the second time, and I didn’t want to “overwork” the dough, so I kneaded for about three minutes or so and then formed the dough into the little balls for the clovers or chef hats. I was curious of how they would taste if I didn’t dip them in butter, so I did some with and some without. 

The Results

SO BUTTERY GOOD!!! These rolls are perfect for the holidays. On their own, they are a solid, good-tasting enriched roll, but without any dominant flavor, which makes them amazing for dipping in butter, honey, gravy, stew, or whatever is on your plate for your feast. I did notice they do tend to go dry within a couple of days, but nothing a slab of butter or gravy can’t fix. I do wonder if this may be a result of not kneading enough and that they are baked at a rather high temperature. From my understanding of what the TV has told me, enriched breads do better with a lower temperature bake. Next time, I might knock the temp down, maybe around 350 or so, and bake a little longer.

Chef Hats!

Pre-torn for the lazy diner
One issue I did have was with the rolls that I dipped in butter. Some of them didn’t stick together during the bake. I’m not sure if this was because I used too much butter or it wasn’t melted enough or just inevitable. I think a way to avoid this could be to place the three balls together at the bottom, pour melted butter over and then push together so the bottom sticks, but the bottom might be missing a little of the buttery goodness. Also, the ones that I didn’t dip in butter, came out fine, but didn’t have the richness of the ones that I did and didn’t have as nice of a crust. If you chose not to dip, I would suggest doing an egg wash or butter the tops for a nicer crust. 

I made these small, as I have no self-control and will eat more than one, but you can choose to make them as large as you like. 

I was curious of how the “refrigerator” part of these rolls would turn out. In my mind, I thought the dough would either keep rising and be over proofed or be stunted and not get a second rise when you took it out to bake. So, I made the first batch and put the leftover dough in the fridge for about 48 hours. Surprisingly, the dough still rose and baked up nicely. I’m not sure how long you could keep it before it either started to sour or lose all structural integrity, but after 48 hours it was still a-okay. 

Another great thing about this recipe, is I believe it could take on a number of “add-ins” to make them even more amazing – herbs, garlic, cheese, all three - you name it. 

Another great recipe from mom. Chef Hats will be on the table this year, and every year, with fond memories in my heart. 

My mom and her sister Gail cooking up something in the kitchen.

Saturday, September 16, 2017


In Mom’s drawer, I found several recipes she had either marked, printed or scribbled out, for popovers. I found even more versions in her email. It appears she was on a quest for the perfect popover. I don’t remember her ever baking these and I wondered why she was on such an extensive search for the recipe. I asked her sister, Gail, and my mom first learned to make popovers in her Home Economic class at Cammack Junior High (back in the day, Home Ec class was serious business). Apparently, on her first lesson, they came out great and she made them for her mom and sister at home. They were a hit! 

Popovers are similar to a Yorkshire pudding, a light hollow roll made from an egg batter. The secret of a popover is the crispy outside and the tender, airy, hollow center created by the pocket of steam formed inside while baking. The steam makes the batter “pop over” the signature shape. Sound simple enough, right? So, I wondered why she had so many different versions of recipes and little notes on how to make the perfect popover. How many different ways could you make a popover? Turns out, more than I could ever know. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of popover recipes and tips out there, and whole pages dedicated the perfection of them and to how to avoid the pitfalls and perils of the pauperized popover. Now, I was intrigued. I went on a search of my own to find the perfect popover recipe.  

After going through a ton of different recipes, including mom’s, other recipe books and online, I settled on this combination of ingredients.

The Recipe
Makes 12 popovers

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk – room temperature
3 eggs – room temperature
2 Tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt 

The ingredients are fairly simple, but the real trick to form the magic spell of the popover comes in the baking process. Therefore, we move onto:

The Bake

As many versions of the actual recipe for popovers, there are just as many hints and tips to follow to ensure a good popover, the top contenders being:

Popover Pan
Using a genuine popover pan gives you a huge advantage. Although you can use a muffin pan or even custard cups or ramekins, the pan was designed for popovers and will give you the best chance for a tall and fluffy rise. 

Shiny, New Popover Pan from USA Pan! 

Preheat the Pan, or Not
This is a bit of a controversy in the popover world. Some swear you have to heat the pan, others say it doesn't matter. If you chose to heat the pan, preheat about 2 minutes at the highest temperature you will start at (we will get to that). Make sure it is well-greased, but careful not to heat your pan too long or you will burn your butter or oil.

Ingredients warming up in the wings
All Ingredients at Room Temperature
This is pretty crucial chemistry-wise. Make sure your eggs and milk are at room temperature, and your melted butter isn’t hot. 

Mixing the Batter
It’s important to make sure your batter is light and airy.  If you are mixing by hand, a wire whisk does the best for incorporating the ingredients together and making sure you get the batter nice and bubbly and airy. I read that some people use a blender for a quick 30 seconds to a minute or a fast spin with the electric mixer, but you have to be careful not to over mix or they will not rise properly.

Do Not Peek!
Popovers Popping Over!
If anything, this is most important rule for successful popovers. DO NOT PEEK! Opening the oven door to check to see if your popovers are popping over may cause them to poop out. The sudden change in temperature interrupts the steam and rising process. Resist the urge. Grab the timer, set it and walk away. You can flip on the light and squint (as I did several times) but don’t open that door!

Start High and End Low, or Stay the Course
Not every popover lover agreed, but I found that many recipes call for reducing the temperature part way through during the bake. This helps avoid the tops to over brown and helps the popover to settle in. Others say one temp straight through to the end.

As you can see, for every rule, there’s another to break it. These are the rules and baking process I followed for the:

First Batch

Popover Pan
Preheat pan (I went for 2 minutes)
Wire whisk by hand
No peeking
Baked at same temperature throughout 

Preheated well-greased pan in 425 degree oven for two minutes. Whisked all ingredients together until bubbly and light. Poured batter in cups. Bake at 425 degrees for exactly 30 minutes. No peeking! 

These are the rules and baking process I followed for the:

Second Batch

Popover Pan
Preheat pan (I went for 2 minutes)
Wire whisk by hand
No peeking

Preheated well-greased pan at 450 degrees for 2 minutes. Whisked all ingredients together until bubbly and light. Poured batter into cups only 1/2 full. Placed a cookie sheet on the top rack of the oven to protect the tops of the popovers from over browning. Baked at 450 for 20 minutes then reduced temperature to 350 for 10 minutes. No peeking! 

The Results

First batch:

I have one popover pan. After filled the cups and put it the oven, I realized, quite some time later, that I had poured the entire bowl of batter into the 6 cups. The recipe is for 12 popovers. Oops. 

This resulted in JUMBO POPOVERS!

At least you can't say that my batter didn't popover. They popped, and then some! However, they looked amazing though, and you could certainly make the jumbo version. 

The issue I ran into was that the outside of the popovers were crispy and golden, but the insides were just underdone enough that they felt almost raw to me. There are folks who like this texture, but I found it too sushi-like for me. The inside not baking could have been the baking process, as I did the same lower temperature throughout, which some say is the way to go, others, it's a no go.

Because of the inside issue and the mammoth size, I decided to try my hand at a second batch. 

For this method, they came out quite nice, and human-sized. The insides were perfectly baked, with the smooth, eggy airy center. So good.

However, I admit, the outsides were a little darker than I (or I’m sure Paul Hollywood would) prefer. This could be due to the fact that my 90s apartment wall oven is smaller than the average oven and can overheat without warning. Next time I will play with the times a little more. Maybe 450 for 15 and 350 for 15. Maybe I could get away with 350 for 30 minutes if they were a regular size. 

Just a little too far on the crispy side.

What should you do? What I learned from studying and making popovers is the reason a perfect recipe has been sought for over a hundred years. There is no perfect recipe. Most everyone will have to adjust for all the little idiosyncrasies that come with baking – your pan, your oven, if the moon is in the seventh house… Baking is chemistry, and with all experiments, you never know what is going to cause change, so get out there and do some science!

I now totally understand why my mom was seeking the perfect popover. These are DELICIOUS!

Crispy outside, tender inside and feel very elegant and indulgent. If you get everything right, they come out light, fluffy and delicious. They are a different and impressive dish to bring to the table. Watching them popover is fun too. They really do popover and grow in front of your eyes! 

This recipe is for plain popovers, but you could make them sweet or savory. You could add cinnamon and sugar, or herbs and garlic, or cheese (Just note, you may have to play with the consistency a bit. If the batter is too heavy, it won’t pop). You can eat them plain, with butter or jam for breakfast or afternoon tea. They would make great dinner rolls for a dinner with a gravy. You can stuff them with a variety of fillings, from chicken salad to falafel. I had two for breakfast stuffed with scrambled eggs and mushrooms. Um, WOW. 

Thanks mom for the suggestion. I’m definitely making these again!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

New York Cheesecake

Mom celebrating Ginger's 1st Bday.
Today is my mom’s birthday. She would have been 72 years old. They say when you lose a loved one, the “firsts” are the always the hardest, and that’s very true today. Not being able to call her and wish her Happy Birthday (followed by the annual guilt and explanation of why her card will be late/not sent/I bought it, addressed and stamped it and now can’t find it) is so very hard. 

My mother never liked to celebrate her birthday. She didn’t want people to go out of their way or make a fuss, or reminded of her age. However, she looked forward to celebrating other people’s birthdays. She was the one in the family that always remembered everyone’s birthday, sent cards and gifts and wished them happiness. 

Mom with her dachshund scarf
Her dachshund boy, Buster
My mom was also one of those people that was difficult to buy for. She’d treasure anything you gave her, but she never really wanted anything, and, if she did, she wouldn’t tell you. Again, never wanted anyone to make a fuss. Every year I would wrack my brain to try and find something different and special, something she would want but would never buy herself. My mother loved animals, especially dogs and hummingbirds, so I usually could find something in that category. However, I couldn't rely on too many cute knickknacks, as clutter would stress her out, and there are only so many hummingbird charms or dachshund scarves you can buy one person. 

One year I couldn’t think of anything to get her, and when I asked, she, as usual, said she wanted nothing. I wanted to treat her to something special, as she deserved it. If I sent gift certificates, she would use them on someone else. If I baked something and sent it to her, there is no guarantee what condition it would arrive in (if at all). So, I asked my good friend Naomi Allen, who is an AMAZING baker (among other amazing things) if she could do me a huge favor and bake my mom cheesecake and drop it off to her. This is something Naomi is known to do. She’s like a little baking fairy, leaving sweet treats on doorsteps of unsuspecting sugar recipients.  That morning I called my mom and told her to check the front porch and, sure enough, the magical baking fairy had left a gift. One gorgeous cheesecake. She LOVED it. Seriously, loved it. “Best gift I could get,” she said. After that, cheesecakes (and other sweet treats) were a standard gift for birthdays, Mother’s Day, Christmas or just a day. In the most beautiful gesture, Naomi brought one to her memorial service for me, which was the perfect tribute to her. 

 So, today, for her birthday, I’m baking her a cheesecake.

In her drawer and her email, she had several cheesecake recipes saved, including low-fat, low-sugar versions (which I question their validity and motive to exist). I recently found the recipe for the original Junior’s Cheesecake in New York online. For Mother’s Day one year I sent her a Best of sampler from Junior’s. Three pounds of decadent cheesecake goodness. She loved every bite. I believe I will eventually try them all, but today, for her, I will bake the first cheesecake I gave her, via my friend.

The Recipe

Sunshine Graham Cracker New York Cheesecake 

1 7/8 cups Graham Cracker Crumbs
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 cup sugar, divided
2 pounds cream cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 450 F. In a bowl, place Sunshine Graham Cracker Crumbs, butter and 2 tablespoons sugar; blend well. Reserve 2 tablespoons for garnish. Press remaining mixture onto bottom and sides of a greased 9-inch springform pan. Chill in freezer while preparing filling. In mixer bowl, beat cream cheese and remaining sugar until smooth and light. Beat in eggs, vanilla and cornstarch, just until blended. Stir in sour cream. Pour mixture into prepared crust and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 200 F and bake 45 minutes. Turn off oven; allow to cool with the door opened slightly, for 3 hours. Remove sides from pan; sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture and chill. Makes 12 servings. 

First off, a big thank you to Naomi for sending me her clipped recipe, via text. This recipe has stood the test of time and corporate acquisition. Sunshine Biscuits started at the turn of the century in 1902 and became household name with their signature products, such as Cheez-It crackers and Hydrox cookies. The company was bought by The American Tobacco Company in 1966, then by G.F. Industries, then finally acquired by the Keebler company in 1996 (and as the econ train rolls, Keebler was acquired by Kellogg Company in 2001 – do you really know who owns your cookie????). At the time, Sunshine Biscuits was the third largest cookie baker in the United States. Needless to say, Sunshine Graham Crackers were quite popular, as was this recipe for cheesecake. In fact, if you Google it, there are many sites that feature this tried and true recipe by name, even though the brand no longer exists. This is also the cheesecake recipe that Naomi would make for my mother. So, I have high hopes for this bake. 

The Bake

Whirling Wafers!
Since Sunshine Graham crackers no longer exist, I used Whole Foods 365 Organic Honey Graham Crackers. Since I still don't have a food processor (I never think I want or need one, until I do, then I want one, but come up with some makeshift solution for the task at hand, then go back to thinking I don't REALLY need one), I used my VitaMix. It ground them pretty fine, maybe a little too fine, as they came out also like a flour, but hopefully it will hold well and make a smooth-looking crust. I did not reserve the 2 tablespoons for garnish, as I wanted to top it with fruit instead. 

Needs a little touch-up, but sticking!
I had a devil of a time with the graham cracker crust. I couldn't get the graham cracker mix to stick to the sides of the springform pan. Using my fingers was not working well. It wouldn't stay on the sides and I couldn't get it even. I switched to a metal spoon, and that worked much better. My springform pan is brand new, so it's super-slicky, so that probably didn't help much. Then, after building the Wall of Graham, I realized I forgot to put in the 2 Tablespoons of sugar, so there might some of the stick factor as well. Will it hold up on its own? Will the walls come down? Will it be enough when Winter comes? We will see. I don't feel it will affect the taste too much, as graham crackers are tasty on their own.

Ready to go!

I'm glad I used my stand mixer for this, as beating cream cheese, a two whole pounds of it, isn't for the meek. I may have not gotten all the lumps out, but I was also apprehensive of over mixing. I stirred in the sour cream with a spoon, just because I felt it was the thing to do.

My oven door doesn't have a "slightly open" option.
The baking instructions are a little unusual for this recipe, with the reduction of heat and leaving the cake in the oven with door slightly open after baking for three hours. I was diligent and followed them to the letter, including resisting the urge to poke at it while it was resting. It also calls for the cheesecake to be chilled after taking out of the oven, but did not specify a time. I chilled it for about an half an hour, but I would suggest longer to get a good set on it. 

Shaka, when the walls fell. 
I had a bit of a structural failure. Apparently my pan is much higher than the cake itself, therefore so were my sides, which came crumbing down when I removed the pan. The crust also crumbled at the actual cake, however, held strong enough to retain and hold the cake, just mostly aesthetic issues. A few practice runs, along with remembering the sugar, I should get the hang of it.

The Results

DELICIOUS! It seems so simple. How could I follow this easy recipe and end up making something that an entire "Factory" chain was created to do? This recipe makes a dense and yet creamy, flavorful cheesecake. I’m convinced that the baking method - bake, reduce heat, rest in oven - is a good portion of the magic to this recipe. I also think it's simplicity is a key too. Even plain, it’s quite good. You could easily add lemon, orange or any citrus to this and it should blend well with the tang of the sour
cream, but not be too sour. You could also add chocolate, fruit swirls or top it with just anything you like. Naomi says the secret ingredient to her cakes is topping them with Malley's hot fudge sauce, from Cleveland. That sounds good to me as hot fudge + cheesecake = happiness.

I was quite surprised. Even my husband, who is adamant about his dislike of cheesecake (he insists cheese should not be sweet) said, “It’s not that bad.” Now, that is a winner recipe!

I hope I did mom proud. I believe she really would have enjoyed this cake. I know I did. 

Happy Birthday Mom. I love you and I miss you. I hope you are enjoying cake in whatever form that may be among the stars. 💖

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


Page 52-53 of TGBBO Big Book of Baking
This isn’t one of my mother’s recipes. It’s from Mary Berry and was featured the technical challenge on Series 5, Episode 2, "Biscuits" of The Great British Bake Off, presented as Season 1 in the US (yes, it’s all quite confusing). This episode has a special place in my heart because It was the last episode of GBBO my mother and I watched together. I had bought all the ingredients to make the cookies for her, but sadly, shortly after, she went into the hospital, then hospice, and I never had time to make them for her. The ingredients sat in the pantry for months. Every time my eyes fell on them I was hit with grief and sadness that we never had time to make them together. I finally decided that it was time (and was able to summon the strength) to bake them. I think she nudged me a bit too. Mom would not want all those ingredients to go stale. 

The Recipe


Florentines are a lacy Italian cookie (or biscuit as the English say) made of chopped nuts and candied fruits, sugar or syrup, and butter. They are most often coated with a layer of chocolate. Traditionally, they do not contain eggs and little to no flour. 

  • 50g (1¾ oz) butter
  • 50g (1¾ oz) demerara sugar
  • 50g (1¾ oz) golden syrup
  • 50g (1¾ oz) plain flour
  • 25g (1oz) dried cranberries or glacé cherries, finely chopped
  • 50g (1¾oz) candied peel, finely chopped
  • 25g (1oz) almonds, finely chopped
  • 25g (1oz) walnut pieces, finely chopped
  • 200g (7oz) plain chocolate (70% cocoa solids)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Line three baking trays with baking parchment or silicon sheets.
  2. Measure the butter, sugar and syrup into a small pan and heat gently until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat and add the flour, chopped cranberries or cherries, candied peel and nuts to the pan. Stir well to mix.
  3. Make 18 florentines by spooning six teaspoonfuls of the mixture on to each of the prepared baking trays, leaving plenty of room for them to spread during cooking.
  4. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until golden-brown. Leave the florentines to cool before lifting onto a cooling rack using a palette knife (if the florentines have been baked on greased baking trays, then allow them to harden for a few moments only before lifting onto cooling racks to cool completely). If the florentines become too hard to remove, then pop them back into the oven for a few minutes to allow them to soften.
  5. Set a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, without letting the bowl touch the water. Temper the chocolate by breaking half of the chocolate into the bowl. Stir until the chocolate reaches a melting temperature of 53C/127F. Meanwhile, finely chop or grate the remaining chocolate.
  6. Carefully remove the bowl from the pan, add the rest of the chocolate and stir gently until the chocolate has cooled to 26C/79F.
  7. Spread a little melted chocolate over the flat base of each florentine and leave to cool slightly before marking a zigzag in the chocolate with a fork. Leave to set, chocolate side up on a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container.

This recipe contains two types of sugar that might not be familiar to some, especially outside of the UK: Demerara sugar and Golden Syrup.

Demerara Sugar
Sugar Man!

Demerara sugar is a minimally-refined raw cane sugar that's usually used to sweeten beverages. The crystals are larger and lighter in color than the more familiar turbinado sugar.I couldn’t find any demerara sugar locally and I don’t have my own personal sugar man service (at least at this time). I didn’t want to order online and wait, so I ended up using regular brown sugar in the same weight amount.

Maybe I'll go into the sugar biz.
I realized after the fact, I could have used Turbinado sugar in its place, as it is quite similar, just a different texture. Most of you will be familiar with turbinado sugar if you have ever gone to a coffeehouse. It’s the sugar in the “Sugar in the Raw” packets you find sandwiched between the other dozen or so sweetener choices. I have found turbinado sugar in nearly every grocery store, but I have yet to buy it. I have oodles of “Sugar in the Raw” packets squirreled away in drawers from various coffee events (I don’t put sugar in my coffee, but apparently, I look the type since I’m always given several packets per cup). I will note this for next time.

Golden Syrup

Golden Syrup, also referred to Light Treacle, is a thick golden amber-colored inverted sugar syrup. It has the consistency of a thin honey. The sweet syrup is actually a natural by-product of refining cane sugar. It widely available in most countries and a traditional staple in England. It can be used as sweetener with everything from pancakes to pie, much like corn syrup. Many people use it as a substitute for honey, as it does have a somewhat similar flavor – sweet, almost buttery flavor, and doesn’t have the candy-sweet aftertaste like corn syrup (in my opinion).

Although it may be difficult to find in a regular grocery store, it can be found at specialty stores, such as World Market, Whole Foods and it’s readily available online. I happened to find it at Whole Foods when shopping with my mom. It’s not as cheap as corn syrup, but, in my opinion, it has a far superior taste to corn or Karo Syrup and I can see myself opting for it whenever possible. It could become costly if you were using it recipes that called for large amounts of it, but for recipes like this, I have plenty to last me. You could probably find it cheaper online as well. Do be aware, if you are thinking of replacing one for the other, I have heard that there are complex sugar differences between corn syrup and golden syrup, especially when it comes to crystallization, that could make drastic differences in your baking. Be sure to do a quick Google search to see how others have fared in the process. 

When you start baking, you discover there’s a world of sugars out there. A handy guide to all types of sugars can be found here: 

There’s a ton of information on syrups out there. Here is one to get started:

The Bake

This was my first technical challenge. The bakers were give one and a quarter hours to bake 18 florentines. 

Chopping the fruit and nuts does take a bit of time, and my knife skills are not the best, so not all the fruits and nuts came out to a nice, fine, uniform size, but I didn’t do too bad. One could put them in a food processor or chopper, but watch that you don’t pulverize them too small. 

The Candied Peel

Prepare to be candied!
I wasn’t looking forward to this. I have avoided making candied peel because I know how long and painstaking the process can be. Oh, candied peel purists used to tell me it “really isn’t that difficult” all whilst having one hand supporting their backache and hiding the other with fresh scrapes across the fingers, wincing while citrus juice oozed into the open wounds. I seriously considered going out and buying it (the bakers were provided with a handy little jar of it, quite possibly to avoid a meltdown), until I stumbled upon Alton Brown’s article about candied peel. SO MUCH EASIER to make this way. Use the peeler! The peeler is your friend and saves so much time and many Band-Aids. You can get the pith off much easier without all the scraping and his cooking method is quicker and easier than the traditional way I knew about. Try it. You might be whipping up batches for holiday treats before you know it.

After all the chopping and candying, it was time to make the actual cookie mix. 

Golden syrup, butter and sugar. 

I used Mary’s trick for getting uniform-sized cookies. I divided the mix into three and then scoop six spoonfuls from each. It worked pretty well, not perfect, but not bad, and much faster than weighing and measuring. Be sure to give them lots of room to spread on the baking sheet. Also, make sure watch them carefully. They can over bake quickly, causing burnt edges and dried out fruits. 
Lacy enough to peek through!

It has been a long time since I worked with chocolate and I had never done too much chocolate work in general. I was a little nervous about melting and tempering the chocolate (Tempering is a process to make your melted chocolate glossy and smooth appearance and texture. It gives it that snap. If not tempered, chocolate will appear waxy, gray, and you can see where the cocoa fat has separated). 

As Mary Berry said in her masterclass on this recipe “Remember, chocolate melts in a child’s pocket so you don’t need intense heat underneath” I kept the heat low, added the chocolate at different times as instructed and the chocolate tempered fairly well. 

As for coating the florentines with the chocolate, that didn’t fare as well. The chocolate was pretty much everywhere. Kind of looked as if some tragic accident happened on my counter in an old black and white movie. So much so, I couldn’t even get a picture due to the fact that I didn’t want even imagine what would happen if I chocolate-dipped my ancient iPhone, coating the inner workings. There is no amount of rice that would ever draw that out! 

I used a pastry brush to coat the chocolate on the back of the cookies, but it did drip everywhere and I had some trouble getting the chocolate to set. It could have been a couple of things: the type of chocolate I used, the humidity in the kitchen that day, or I didn’t let it cool down enough. Eventually I did get all 18 coated with the chocolate, probably a little thicker than required, but I’m all for a thick layer of chocolate. The zig-zags proved to be a little tricky. The chocolate wasn’t holding the shape I kept moving my hand the wrong way, but I got the hang of it. They came out a bit untidy, but not terrible. 

The Results

Not too shabby!  Not sure if I would have made “Star Baker” but I think it would have done all right. 
Presented on the Gingham Alter.

These are super tasty!!! Chewy and slightly crisp and quite decadent. You get lots of flavor in each bite. As Mary Berry mentioned, they are little like a Brandy Snap, with fruit and chocolate instead of the brandy flavor. So good and very hard to stop at one!

This was my first technical challenge. The bakers were given one and a quarter hours for the bake. Needless to say, I did NOT finish in the time allotted. In my defense, I did not have the advantage of a dedicated tent, years of baking expertise and two charmingly cheeky hosts spouting puns of encouragement. I was in my kitchen, I had to take two calls, the mailman showed up with an amazon box, the cat informed me that his mealtime does not wait for any bake… Plus, I made my own candied orange peel, which was provided in the technical challenge, so that added at least an hour to my time. However, I did have the advantage of a full recipe, seeing the correct way to make them on the episode AND Mary’s masterclass episode, so I should have been ahead of the game. All and all, it was an exhausting afternoon. However, the results were worth it. 

Once you get the hang of it, I’m sure making these would become much quicker and easier, especially if you already have your candied peel and fruits chopped ahead of time. You could also do the chocolate layer at a different time if you wanted to break up the baking time as well. Lots of options once you get the steps down. I’m curious of how these would bake and taste if I added chocolate bits to the cookie itself instead of spreading the chocolate on the back. Not as decadent, but might be something I experiment with at a later date. 

No time to focus the camera. Must eat florentines now!
I know my mom would have enjoyed these. I also know she would insist I give you this warning, as I could hear her saying it in my head: “Be sure to brush and floss after!” It’s a legit reminder. The dried fruits and candied peel will stick Oreo-style in your molars and form a nice sugar-coating across your gum-lines. Unless you enjoy hanging out with your dentist as he or she drills into your enamel, I would listen to her. I brushed and flossed, Mom. Thanks for the reminder. :)