September 6, 2012

Where We Draw Inspirations From

This blog is not dead, my friend.

I swore to keep it going, and I declared the same again a couple weeks ago, after reading this. I’m holding on to my words for as long as I’m alive. It’s just life has gotten in the way. Well, everyone has got to live their life — that’s where we draw inspirations from. Right?

After two months of joblessness, I finally returned to work end of June. During the day, I write about restaurants, food, and sometimes culture and people for an online food directory. (Note: I’m not and never want to be a restaurant reviewer, and I don’t like being labeled as such.) Occasionally, I go on interviews with restaurateurs and chefs and get to taste their specialties. Such opportunities recently led me to an enlightening session by master chef Martin Yan. Remember “Yan Can Cook” and the “If Yan can cook, so can you!” catchphrase? Boy, I got to meet him after 15 years, since the days I watched his show as a fourth-grader! And I was blown away by his talent and generosity in sharing.

In Kuala Lumpur, part of his Autumn Treasures tour ...
The master chef is plating up his Seared Fish Fillets, which is served with silky, savory Egg-White Sauce.

Work takes up a huge chunk of my waking hours. After a long day, I tried making myself sit down before the computer and write away. Alas, I either dozed off or got distracted by some TV cookery program (I’m into “New Scandinavian Cooking” lately, especially when Andreas Viestad is on), or a cookbook I’d bought recently (such as this and this), or that I needed to catch up on my reading or photo-editing.

07.16.2012

Despite the inactivity in blogging, I’ve been very productive in the kitchen, especially on weekends. I’d post all the updates on my Flickr page and occasionally Tweet about them. Kenelm had his first birthday celebration with me on a mid-July weekend. It was a three-day project that took a week of planning, including shopping. That weekend we stuffed ourselves to the brim, and these are what I’d prepared:

Rich and luxurious boeuf Bourguignon — or Burgundian beef stew — served alongside tagliatelle.
Boeuf Bourguignon (Burgundian Beef Stew), Served With Pasta

A light and simple salad of butter lettuce with Dijon vinaigrette.
Butter Lettuce With Dijon Vinaigrette

And, for the birthday cake, decadent Devil’s Food Cake with Midnight Ganache.
Devil's Food Cake With Midnight Ganache

I don’t get to cook for him every day, since we’re not living together. And due to work and other commitments and the geographic distance between us, we only meet up once or twice a week. While I’d travel to his place after work on Friday evenings, Kenelm would do the same on Sundays, when I’d prepare lunch, and sometimes a dessert, to have together. We love home-cooked everything.

Living right above the equator means the weather can get unbearably muggy at times. So, when I’m not quite in the mood to fire up the oven or the stove — though a little bit here and there is still okay — our menu of the day would be something of a cold preparation, like bibim naengmyun (비빔냉면), or Korean spicy cold buckwheat noodles, which I first made and tasted more than two years ago. I couldn’t get it off my head, that three weeks ago I rustled up two plates of it again so Kenelm could have some, too.

Bibim naengmyun 비빔 냉면

Bibim naengmyun stars one of my favorite noodles, soba, the thin and nutty and somewhat firm, grayish Japanese buckwheat noodles. They are cooked to al dente in a deep pool of boiling water, and are then “shocked” through a few rinse in running cold tap water, which immediately halts the cooking process to give you springy bites in every mouthful. Now, plop the noodles in the fridge to chill while you prepare one or two hard-cooked eggs to serve alongside later.

Gochujang 고추장 (Korean Hot Bean Paste)
Gochujang.

What actually elevates the noodles is the no-cook dressing. The hot, salty punchiness of gochujang, or Korean chile paste, is jacked up with MORE chile powder (ROAR!!), soy sauce, garlic, and toasty, nutty sesame oil. To which sugar is also stirred in to harmonize and mellow the bold, clashing nuances within. And since it’s an almost-no-cook, refreshing summery treat, the last you’ll have to do is julienne some fresh, crisp cucumber and honeyed, juicy nashi pear; halve the hard-cooked eggs; jumble them up with the chilled soba and bloody gochujang dressing; and sprinkle over a judicious handful of toasted sesame seeds for extra nuttiness. The author of the recipe suggests a scattering of crushed ice cubes over the bloody, delicious mess. Though, out of laziness, I didn’t heed his advice, I think that little touch would have added short, exciting bursts of iciness to cool the numbing heat.

Fiery. Cool. Savory. Sweet. Springy. Crunchy. Nutty. All in each bite. Glad I made this again for Kenelm. Nothing beats seeing a big, beaming smile on his face.



Korean Spicy Cold Buckwheat Noodles (비빔냉면 / Bibim Naengmyun)
Adapted from The Food and Cooking of Korea, by Young Jin Song

A quirky side of me thinks seeding cucumbers creates a waste of food (look at all the juices that are dripping down!!). So, to make myself feel better, I almost always use Japanese cucumbers, which need not be seeded — unless you’re extremely fussy — on top of giving good, juicy crunch.

As for the chile powder, Korean one makes the most sense here. But if you don’t have that, just use whatever on hand, as long as there’s a heat to it. I used Malaysian chile powder.

The author has also shared some useful tips for preparing soba: (1) do it in a large pot with plenty of water; and (2) add a few drops of flavorless cooking oil while cooking to help prevent the water from frothing up and boiling over, and to help keep the noodles separate when they’re first drained. Soba is highly starchy and sticks easily.


90 grams soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles)
1 or 2 hard-cooked eggs, cooled
½ medium-size cucumber
½ medium-size nashi pear
Crushed ice cubes, to serve

(A)
2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean hot chile paste)
1 teaspoon chile powder
2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 big clove of garlic, finely chopped
½ teaspoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted white sesame seeds, and more for sprinkling


Cook the soba in a large pot of boiling water for five minutes, or until al dente — firm and springy to the bite, and yet yields to the pressure of your teeth easily. Drain, and then rinse in running cold water, twice or thrice or until the water runs clear. This is to “shock” the noodles and rid of excess starch — different from cooking pasta. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

In a small to medium bowl, combine (A) for the dressing, and set aside. Halve the hard-cooked eggs. Seed and julienne the cucumber. Peel the pear, if preferred, and core and slice it as you would the cucumber.

Arrange the chilled soba in the center of a large serving platter. Pour over the dressing and scatter over with the cucumber and pear strips. Place the eggs on top. Just before serving, strew some more toasted sesame seeds over, if want to, and add crushed ice cubes and toss everything together.

Makes enough for two moderate eaters.

June 16, 2012

Three, and Growing

This blog turned three a little more than three weeks ago. (Hmm. Can I ever be on time?)

In my third year of blogging, my life was blessed with joy and surprises. I met Kenelm, my best friend, who’s been teaching me what love and patience are. (Sometimes he teaches me the art of eating, too.) I chanced upon friends with whom I’ve formed lifelong bonds, and with some of whom I share culinary passion as well as a similar understanding of life. Occasionally my heavy heart would be lifted up by the encouraging words from some readers. (Was it you? Thank you!)

A Meaningful Evening
Kenelm, me, and Ann at the Ice Bowl Taiwanese dessert parlor.

Then, late last month, I met up with Ann, a longtime reader of this blog, a fellow Malaysian who hails all the way from Vancouver, Canada. It was something I had not done before and would not have expected. She was on a business trip; her schedule was already hectic. Yet, she made the effort for a meet-up and for hauling over precious ingredients — vanilla bean paste; organic maple sugar; and organic maple syrup — across the Pacific for me. Although we’d not met previously, with Kenelm’s company, we spent around five hours snacking and, for the most part, chatting through a Saturday evening. It was a thrill to find someone who’s just as crazy as I am for cooking and baking, cookbooks and kitchen utensils, and grocery shopping. Ann, thank you so much. I’m sure we’ll meet again, on either side of the Pacific. (Oh hey, don’t forget about my durian cheesecake promise on your next Kuala Lumpur trip. I hope durians will be in season then.)

Gifts All the Way From Canada!

On the other hand, to be honest, my third year of blogging had also been rough due mainly to career instability. Even my inactivity can be felt on Twitter and Flickr, although so far I seem to fare better with the latter. Every now and again the thought of quitting blogging would resurface in my head. Nonetheless, thanks to the encouragement and surprises that I’d received, the determination and will to blog are here to stay.

Furthermore, upon introspection I realized, though they have evolved since this site was started, my reasons to blog remain simple but can at times, for myriad reasons, seem undoable. I want to keep myself writing. I want to hone my writing. I want to share my musings on life and on the kitchen. I want to stay connected with my family and friends, near and afar (that’s how they keep themselves posted anyway, though with them I prefer to keep mum about this blog). On top of that, I want to interact with the like-minded (which I did, and have been doing so). Blogging is not a competition; not a chore that will wear and bore the hell out of me; and not about high productivity. I blog at my own pace, my way.

This blog has been chronicling about my life, which intersects a great deal with food and my love of cooking and baking. It narrates how I grew from an adolescent who took on an independent life abroad and who couldn’t fry an egg; to a jobless fresh grad who discovered her culinary and writing interests; and to now a lass in her mid-20s who is struggling to seek a job in which she’ll find meaning pursuing, while still able to fiddle in the kitchen and to explore the other aspects of life that include love, kinship, and friendship.

I hope this blog will continue to see me grow. This often leaves me wonder and anticipate the future. Getting married to my best friend? Wading into motherhood? Oh well. I shall enjoy and cherish and learn from the journey, bit by bit. Wish me luck as I embark on my fourth year of blogging. More recipes to come!

May 26, 2012

And the Quest Ends

If you’ve been patiently awaiting my second (and probably last) installment on chocolate chip cookies, I’m sorry. I’ve been down with the cold and a sore throat for a week, and yet they refuse to leave me. Plus, I’ve been looking for jobs. If nothing goes wrong, I should resume working on June 1. Well, I guess my notion of soon isn’t that soon. Now waste no time. Let’s cut right to the chase for what would be considered the consummate chocolate chip cookie.

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies

Although Kim Boyce’s whole-wheat spin on the American classic isn’t shabby, I admit I’m partial to the New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, first unveiled on July 9, 2008, courtesy of master pastry chef Jacque Torres (an American classic perfected by a Frenchman?!) and witty food writer David Leite. But it was only after two and a half years later, as I browsed through the Orangette blog, that it hit my radar. Sometimes I wonder what I was up to then, when my journalism professors had made me pick up a copy of the paper to read every day. Did I just leaf through the A section but not the Dining & Wine? Oh, Pei-Lin!

Now, in a hope that you don’t wind up in my awkward position, especially when you have a sweet tooth and a fondness for American-style chocolate chippers, I’d advise you to read Leite’s special report and heed the words therein, and then bake up a batch of these mind-blowing cookies. I’d been there, done so. And the four lessons I took home with are:

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies: Valrhona Guajana Les Feves
In the mixing bowl are Valrhona Guanaja fèves.

Be aggressive with chocolate
To ensure the cookies live up to their name, keep the chocolate-to-dough ratio at no less than 40 to 60. In addition, use couverture chocolate for its superb melting properties, and be sure it’s of at least 60 percentage cacao and larger than commercial chips. I had amazing results with Valrhona Guanaja fèves, which are oval-shaped chocolate pieces of 70 percentage cacao; Ghirardelli baking morsels of 60 percentage cacao; as well as bittersweet chocolate of various brands, including Lindt, which was of 75 and 85 percentage cacao, and broken into large pieces for the cookies. Regular semisweet chips, however, are out of the question, as they’re way too sweet for the purpose.

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies

Never play down salt
After making the chocolate and salt combo-themed Sablés Korova, which helped me garner the first place in a chocolate bake-off in the States three years ago, I must agree with Dorie Greenspan that salt heightens the spirit of the otherwise dark, rumbly chocolate, as well as highlights chocolate’s sexy, silky mouth feel. In the case of these chocolate chip cookies, I love the ideas of using coarse salt in the dough and fine salt for sprinkling over. Salt marries with the cookies’ caramelly note seamlessly. So, it’s wise to invest in the slightly costlier sea salt or other pure salt. NO table salt, please, or your cookies will taste way too salty.

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies: Dough in the Fridge, at 1 Hour

Age the dough
This is the revolutionary technique I was referring to. Letting the dough sit in the fridge allows the wet and the dry ingredients to blend thoroughly, that is, the eggs to break through the butter-enrobed flour, which leads to superior consistency in baking. In addition, you’ll be blessed with a drier dough to handle, which makes rounder and moderately plump cookies possible. The flavor improves and the color intensifies with time, too; the cookies will taste not just of chocolate but also of butter and toffee, and look more “tanned.” I find the best results come after 36 to 72 hours of aging.

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies: Cooling in the Pan

Make the cookies BIG
We’re talking about 100 grams of dough for one four-inch cookie. This allows for three distinct textures. First, your teeth feel the crisp as they bite into the cookie’s outermost inch; then give way to the chew — the essence of the American chocolate chipper, where all the flavors jumble up — in the one-and-a-half-inch middle ring; and finally the soft center. Dough that’s been aged for at least 36 hours produces cookies with such textures.

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies: Cooling Away on the Cooling Racks

I’m sold. Nonetheless, I’ve never grown comfortable with the Warm Rule, which asks that you devour fresh-from-the-oven, still warm, ultragooey cookies. Perhaps I feel sorry the cookies aren’t given enough time to rest and see the world before going into my tummy. And I think, when eaten warm, the melty chocolaty goo can overpower the other more delicate flavors. So I prefer mine served at room temperature, when I can hold the cookie without fearing it’ll fall apart, and savor its true flavors after letting them settle down and mingle around. Moreover, cooled cookies dunk better in cold milk. Sadly, everything good seems ephemeral, including these qualities of a good homemade cookie, which stick around for only two days. After that, the cookies dry up and turn crunchier, crumblier but still taste fantastic.

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies: Baking; Ingredients Mise en Place

Of course, not forgetting some basics: read through the recipe; understand what you’re about to pursue; and use the best-quality ingredients you can source. (Psst. Learning from Boyce, to impart a hearty, nutty flavor, I’ll sub whole-wheat flour for white flour. This is where money spent on quality ingredients is put to good use.)

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies are, to me, the pinnacle of cookie perfection. (They’ve become a favorite of Kenelm’s, too.) My quest for the perfect chocolate chipper officially ends here. Should you try the recipe, your journey to the perfect chocolate chip cookie perhaps may wind up with the same fate. Which makes it all the worth waiting.



The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Jacque Torres, The New York Times and David Leite

This recipe, though perfect on its own, leaves leeway for modification or adjustment. If all-purpose flour is all you have, or, for that matter, whole-wheat flour (of neither high nor low protein contents), use it in place of cake and bread flours.

Also, you can actually age your dough for more than 72 hours, provided you remember to bake it. I’ve baked chocolate chip cookies using this recipe four times, and the furthest I went was 87 hours.

Lastly, you’ll find the dough hard to be scooped initially, so put in a bit more effort. It’ll soften gradually in room temperature (faster in the heat and humidity of Malaysia). If it gets too soft to handle, chuck it back into the fridge until it’s firm enough. Cold dough tends to crumble, too. Simply press the bits and pieces together, and that should solve the problem.

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies: Dough at 72 Hours; to Be Scooped Out, Shaped, and Baked


(A)
241 grams cake flour
241 grams bread flour
1¼ teaspoons baking soda
1½ teaspoons baking powder

1½ teaspoons coarse sea salt

(B)
284 grams unsalted butter, softened
284 grams light brown sugar
227 grams granulated sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

567 grams bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, of at least 60 percent cacao content
Fine sea salt, such as fleur de selor other pure salt


Sift (A) into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the coarse salt and whisk everything together to ensure an even distribution of the ingredients. Set aside.

In another large mixing bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, cream together (B) until light and fluffy on high speed. Add in eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Then, using a large, sturdy wooden spoon or rubber spatula, mix in the flour mixture by hand, until just combined. Drop the chocolate pieces in and mix everything together gently without breaking them. Press a sheet of cling wrap against the dough and chill for up to 72 hours. Dough may be used in batches.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 180°C. Line baking sheet(s) with parchment or nonstick baking mat(s). Set aside.

For each cookie, scoop about 99 grams of dough and, working quickly, roll between your palms to form a ball and place onto baking sheet. Turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; this will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with fine salt. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until golden brown but still soft. Remove sheet from the oven and let sit on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Then transfer the cookies onto the wire rack to cool a bit more if you like yours served warm, or completely if you, just like me, prefer to have them at room temperature. Repeat with the remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking the next day.

The New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies: Baking in the Oven

Yield: about 20 pieces of four-inch cookies



P.S. Gary, Veronica, Ryan, and Becky, if you guys are reading, the chocolate chip cookies that you ate and got you oooh-ah were made with this recipe!

May 9, 2012

Landed by Accident

For a few days I’ve been out of job. Hopefully this condition won’t persist for long. While I’m on a job hunt and taking time off to recuperate, I’ve also been thinking about the things I missed out on in blogging. Then I remembered I have yet to share with you my absolute favorite recipes for chocolate chip cookies.

(Note: I mean the hunkier, tender and chewy, crisp-at-the-edges, much-sweeter American variety. I prefer this to the dwarfed, baked-till-dry, crunchy, sometimes-shortbready, less-sweet variety that many Asians are accustomed to. Now that I’ve made my preference clear.)

About two years ago, I proclaimed, boldly, that I possessed an out-of-this-world chocolate chip cookie recipe, courtesy of our friend Ms. Betty Crocker, and that I’d thus stopped my search for the recipe. Well, I was proven wrong one-plus years ago, while reading through the archives of Molly Wizenberg’s Orangette blog. I landed on TWO chocolate chip cookie recipes by accident.

Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

The first of the two I chanced upon was for Kim Boyce’s Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies. At the point of “discovery,” a sudden urge to bake surged in me, because (1) it’s a chocolate chip cookie recipe (duh); (2) it calls for whole-wheat flour. I was quite hung up on the notion of homemade junk food made wholesome, but then I realized it was misleading sugary and fatty food can never be good for you. And just when I’d made the cookies, I was convinced that albeit a minor twist, whole-wheat flour is here to add a wonderful nuttiness to your otherwise everyday chocolate chip cookie.

One thing I feel sorry for Boyce is that: The amateur baker in me couldn’t fight the itch of modifying her recipe. I merged hers with the technique used in the other chocolate chip cookie recipe; however, not much change to the ingredients. I prepared the dough on a late Thursday night to bake on the following Sunday afternoon. At that juncture, I was darn excited. But as much as I’d hoped mine to turn out exactly like Molly’s, they did not. I wasn’t disappointed nevertheless; I had to lick my fingers, because they were this good:

When freshly baked and, of course, cooled (I associate eating warm, soft cookies with eating cookie dough), these chocolate chip cookies were tender, with teeny pockets of gooey chocolate and the earthy nutty flavor of the whole-wheat flour shone through from within. Which reminded me of the digestive biscuit. So in this case, Molly has got it right.

Boy, am I glad to have stumbled upon Boyce’s recipe for her Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies, or what.



Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Good to the Grain, by Kim Boyce, as well as Molly Wizenberg of Orangette, Jacque Torres, and David Leite

To ensure the highest of standards, I used Bob’s Red Mill stone-ground whole-wheat pastry flour and fleur de sel. Also, if you happen to have dark brown sugar, which is, for me, harder to come by, use it in place of its “lighter” counterpart.

Instead of baking right away, I let the dough “age” in the fridge for about 67 hours. This is the revolutionary technique I learned from the second chocolate chip cookie recipe, which I’ll soon be telling you about.


(A)
3 cups whole-wheat flour
1½ teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons fine sea salt

(B)
227 grams unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
227 grams good-quality bittersweet chocolate chips


In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together (A); set aside.

In another large mixing bowl, cream together (B) until pale and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to ensure even mixing. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla next. With a rubber spatula or large, sturdy wooden spoon, mix in (A) mixture by hand. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure thorough mixing. When the flour mixture is almost incorporated, stir in the chocolate chips and mix until combined. Cover the bowl of dough with cling wrap, and let the dough rest and “age” in the fridge for up to 72 hours.

When it’s time to bake, preheat the oven to 180°C. Line baking sheet(s) with parchment or silicone mats.

Remove the dough from the fridge. For each cookie, scoop three tablespoons of the dough onto one of the prepared baking sheets. If you want perfectly round cookies, roll the dough between your palms, working quick before it yields to the heat of your hands. Leave about three inches in between for the cookies to spread. If the dough, especially when right out the fridge, feels hard, work a little harder to scoop it out. It’ll soften gradually in room temperature (actually, faster in the hot Malaysian weather, so I had to work faster, too); if it’s gotten too soft to work with, chuck it back into the fridge and let it harden up.

Bake for 16 to 20 minutes, or until the cookies are evenly browned. Remove from the oven, and let the cookies sit on the sheet for 10 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Yield: about 20 cookies



P.S. Watch out for the second chocolate chip cookie recipe in my next post, which, hopefully, won’t be long from now.

April 12, 2012

“Soul Food” of Ours

Becky, Ryan, and My Family
Photo courtesy of my American friends Becky and Ryan.

It’s been far too longmore than two months(!!) — since I wrote here. While I was MIA, wonderful moments and painful episodes hit me. This year I had my first Valentine’s (yes, believe me). Recently, my American friends, whom I hadn’t seen in three years, were in town for a visit. Of course, I’ve been hard at work in between. But about two weeks ago, unfortunately, I was forced to “quit” my job. I was told how terrible I am as a writer, whose writing seems too complicated to understand.

To be fair to myself, I feel wrenched. I’m not sure if I’ve lost the motivation to write. But I know I’m not perfect, and these are the parts and parcels of life. I’m learning from my mistakes; I’m letting time heal the wounds; I’m mustering up the courage to move on and write again. Meanwhile, Kenelm — my emotional pillar and soul mate — has been giving me a great deal of strength to pull through this hardship.

Us

I met Kenelm unexpectedly through a previous job last year. Turns out, we don’t share any interests other than food and eating. (He doesn’t cook or bake, though.) One of those foods that got us closer to each other was Peter Reinhart’s Flaky, Buttery Crackers.

There was a time when I had to stay back to work overtime. (Leaving work at 10 p.m. isn't uncommon in this part of world.) It was during those “late” hours, in the office, we realized we enjoy talking to each other, and we actually share a lot of similarities! We don’t call math our favorite subject. We are so-so multitaskers. We have a poor sense of direction. We are introverts who enjoy the occasional time alone. (Sadly, the realization came after two months of ignoring each other.)

And, of course, we enjoy good food. Whenever Kenelm walked over to my desk for a chat, I’d share with him whatever food I had made. Once I had to rush off from work earlier, having promised him a sampling of Reinhart’s savory crackers, I left only four pieces on his desk because these nibbles didn’t quite live up to my expectations. But a few days later, “They were delicious!” Kenelm replied, when I told him how overrated I thought these crackers were. “Pei-Lin, you must have confidence in yourself.”

Flaky, Buttery Crackers

I’ve been learning a lot from Kenelm since the days I got to really know him. He encourages and comforts me amid the work stress and problems I would otherwise cry over. He is now a huge part of my life. So, in retrospect, I consider these simple, yet satisfying, crackers a “soul food” of ours — they got us open up ourselves to each other.

The recipe for these “soulful” crackers is from Reinhart’s acclaimed Artisan Breads Every Day. He calls them “home baked cracker[s] similar to the wonderfully buttery tasting Ritz brand crackers.” (It seems weird for a cracker recipe to find its way into a bread book. But apparently, Reinhart categorizes crackers as flatbread.) Recipe tester Pamela Schmidt concluded that a little bit of garlic powder makes the crackers even more Ritz-like. Though I kind of disagree with her on that, I feel it does help accentuate the mellow milky taste of butter and adds a savory touch to the crackers.

Don’t let my honesty and frankness discourage you, however. Taste is subjected to personal preference. Kenelm thought the crackers weren’t shabby, and I’m glad I served them to him. If you aren’t particularly after Ritz-ness, you might like them, too.



Flaky, Buttery Crackers

Flaky, Buttery Crackers
Adapted from Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day

Aside from sea salt, you can also sprinkle white or black sesame seeds over the crackers. They have a nutty dimension, which is so un-Ritz but tastes equally good.


(A)
156 grams all-purpose flour
128 grams cake flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt, or 1½ teaspoons coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder

(B)
142 grams melted unsalted butter, or vegetable or any other flavorless oil
1 (50-gram) egg, at room temperature
85 grams cold milk, of any kind

(C)
1 large egg white, at room temperature
2 tablespoons water

57 grams melted unsalted butter, for garnishing (optional)


In a large mixing bowl, whisk (A) together. Then whisk (B) together and stir into (A) mixture. Mix for one minute using a large, sturdy spoon. The dough should form a firm ball and shouldn’t be sticky. Mix in flour or water as needed to adjust the texture.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and, to ensure an even distribution of the ingredients and that the dough holds together, knead for about 30 seconds. It should be slightly tacky but not sticky.

Preheat the oven to 200°C, or 175°C for a convection oven, and line baking sheets with parchment or a silicone mat.

Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough on the floured work surface, lifting the dough with a pastry or bowl scraper frequently so that it isn’t sticking, and dusting with more flour underneath if need be. You can also flip the dough over and continue rolling with the bottom side up. Roll it to about three millimeters in thickness. Use a fork or a dough docker (a roller device with studs) to poke holes all over the surface of the dough. Whisk (C) together for the egg wash and brush evenly on the surface of the dough, then sprinkle with fine sea salt.

Use a small biscuit cutter (a crimped cutter is preferred but not required) dipped in flour to make round crackers. Place the crackers about one centimeter apart on one of the prepared baking sheets. Gather any scrap dough and repeat the rolling out, egg wash, and garnishing process till all the dough is formed into crackers. If preferred, you can also cut the dough into rectangles or diamonds with a pizza cutter.

Bake the crackers all at once, for eight minutes, then rotate the baking sheets and bake for another eight to 12 minutes, or until the crackers are firm and lightly golden. Remove from the oven and brush the hot crackers with the melted butter. Immediately, turn off the oven, then return the baking sheets to the hot oven for three to five minutes. Remove from the oven and let the crackers cool on the baking sheets. The crackers are done when they have a rich golden brown color and are fairly dry and crisp. If they don’t snap cleanly after they cool, return the baking sheets to a hot oven for a few more minutes, until they dry sufficiently to snap when broken.

Yield: four pans of crackers
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