September 30, 2018

Parker House Rolls

One of my goals after graduation is to learn how to bake my own bread. It's such an art, I'd actually have an excuse to eat it myself (it's easier to justify eating bread for sandwiches than a whole batch of cookies), and it takes enough time that it could be considered a hobby all on its own. There's endless options for where to start, since there are so many different shapes, sizes, flours, and other ingredients to play with. I've already found recipes for go-tos like focaccia and fun options like cheesy pull apart bread, plus plenty of quick breads like muffins and biscuits. But those still aren't true breads to me, ones that I get to smear with fancy salted European butter (a splurge for my first kitchen) and eat hot out of the oven and as a vessel for other applications. These Parker House rolls aren't quite on the level of fancy breads from a local bakery that I can use for sandwiches or otherwise, but they're a great place to start. They're soft and pillowy and buttery with just a touch of sea salt on top, perfect to eat with dinner or to stick in my purse as a snack on the train.

Like almost all breads, these rolls start by activating the yeast, which typically involves letting the yeast sit in some warm water for a few minutes until foamy. I throw in a spoonful of sugar here so the yeast have something to feed on, speeding up the process and making sure they're definitely alive and ready to help you with this bread. Meanwhile, I melt the butter in some milk, which you would normally see for breads like brioche and not in a basic bread recipe. I find that this keeps the rolls soft and tender, plus you can't beat the flavor from the butter. That milk and butter get mixed with the yeast, a bit more sugar, some salt, and all the flour. It's all pretty simple; just make sure that you don't pour the salt directly onto the yeast or you'll kill them after all that time to make sure they're alive.

The dough only needs to be kneaded for about 5 minutes. You'll know it's ready when its springy and elastic, so keep going until that happens, adding a bit more flour as necessary. I stick to all-purpose flour here since these rolls are more delicate than the hardy breads that use high-protein bread flour. Once smooth, I roll it up and let it rise for about 90 minutes in a warm place. I get that winter is fast approaching and your heating company may not have gotten the memo, so a good trick is to turn your oven on for a minute or two until slightly warm, turn it off (don't forget!!), then let the dough rise in the warm oven. This dough does get a second rise after you shape it into rolls, so just shape them as you like and repeat the rising process.

Before baking, the rolls get brushed with a bit of extra butter. This boosts the flavor and also lets you stick some flaky sea salt on top. Yes, there's already some salt in the rolls themselves but this just gives it a little nudge towards perfection. The rolls bake until golden brown, when you can then pull them apart and load them on your plate. These are my go-to rolls for salads, meat-heavy dinners, and Thanksgiving, to the point that my family gets angry when we don't have these to put leftover turkey on. Like any bread, they're easily best when they're hot out of the oven, so you can ensure that continual happiness by refrigerating the dough after shaping and baking them when you're ready to eat. Other breads don't always have that advantage, but I'll be sure to post more carby recipes as I test them out!

1 Envelope Yeast
1 Cup Milk
1 Stick Butter, Softened
3 T Butter, Melted
3 T + 1/2 tsp Sugar
1 tsp Salt
1 Egg
4 Cups Flour
Flaky Sea Salt

Whisk the yeast, 1/2 tsp sugar, and 1/4 cup warm water together. Let sit for 5 minutes or until foamy.

In a small pot, heat the milk and softened butter until the butter melts and the milk is just warm. Pour into a large bowl and add the yeast mixture, remaining sugar, and salt. Whisk in the egg. Gradually add the flour and knead for 5 minutes or until a smooth, elastic dough forms, adding more flour if necessary.

Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place for 90 minutes or until doubled in size. Split the dough into 2" diameter pieces and roll until smooth. Place in a greased 9x13" pan so they are close but not touching, cover, and let rise for another hour.

Heat oven to 350F.

Brush the rolls with the melted butter and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 20
Recipe Adapted from Bon Appetit

September 16, 2018

Brownie Cookies

Now that I'm settling into my new kitchen in my new apartment, I've taken to baking treats for my office. Without any roommates or self-control, I needed a new audience. The one downside to working for a candy company is the fact that everyone already eats so much sugar so whatever I make has to be really, really good. It also helps if it's small, portable, and not too sweet, and these brownie cookies fit the bill. They're packed with chocolate flavor and are so incredibly fudgy and delicious. The three types of chocolate make for a rich, complex cookie that's just sweet enough for a midday pick-me-up.

The first chocolate is unsweetened chocolate. Since you melt it down and mix it with the butter, you could use a semisweet or bittersweet chocolate instead, but then you have to adjust the sugar, which then changes the texture. I like unsweetened chocolate here for its pure flavor, plus you can usually only find high-quality unsweetened chocolate so you know it's good. Once it cools slightly, it's a fairly normal process for making cookie dough. I stir in the sugar and brown sugar then the eggs and vanilla. The second chocolate, cocoa powder, is stirred into the dry ingredients, which are sifted into the dough to make sure it's all mixed in and there aren't any lumps.

The last chocolate is a big handful of chocolate chips. I've used regular ones, mini ones, jumbo ones, and even chopped up bars of chocolate. Whatever you have on hand will work just fine; it all depends on if you want itty bitty pockets of chocolate or molten nuggets. I fold them in gently to avoid overmixing then scoop the dough into balls and let them rest overnight. This distributes the moisture, allows the flour to hydrate, and solidifies the fat, which controls the spread during baking. Fortunately it only takes about an hour in the refrigerator to get some pretty tasty cookies, but if you can wait until the next day they'll be even better. I scoop the dough into balls first since it's much easier when the dough is soft and room temperature, plus it keeps me from dipping a spoon (or my finger) into the dough whenever I open the fridge.

The cookies will still be pretty soft when you pull them from the oven. I've always been a soft cookie person, and in my opinion you can't have a crunchy brownie cookie. As they cool, they'll set into soft, fudgy bites best served warm with an ice cold glass of milk. I realize my coworkers won't get to experience them at their peak like this, but they're still addicting on their own out of the cookie tin.

1 Stick Butter
4 oz Unsweetened Chocolate
2/3 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Light Brown Sugar
2 Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla
1 1/2 Cups Flour
1/4 Cup Cocoa Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Salt
3/4 Cup Chocolate Chips

Melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate together. Set aside to cool slightly.

Transfer the butter and chocolate mixture to a large mixing bowl, then add the sugar and brown sugar. Whisk in the eggs and vanilla. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together, then add to the bowl. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Scoop the dough into balls and chill for at least an hour or until firm.

Heat oven to 350F and line a cookie tray with parchment. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes or until just set.

Makes 18
Recipe Adapted from Smitten Kitchen