National Pretzel Day!

History of the Pretzel

Per todayifoundout.com, A common origin story of pretzels is that they were created by a monk around 610 in Italy. According to The History of Science and Technology, the monk baked strips of dough that he folded into a shape resembling a child crossing its arms in prayer. He would give these treats, which he called “pretiolas” or “little rewards,” to children who had memorized their prayers. Unfortunately- and not surprisingly- there’s no documented evidence from the 600s to confirm this story. Other similar stories star a monk from France and bakers held hostage in Germany.
While any one of these stories might have some modicum of merit, what we do know for certain is that the earliest recorded evidence of pretzels appeared in the crest of German bakers’ guilds in 1111. Later, in 1185, an illustration of pretzels appeared in the Hortus Delicarum. The manuscript was compiled by Herrad of Landsberg at an abbey in Alsace, then a region of Germany.  However, it’s very likely that pretzels existed long before either of these instances.
In a prayer book used by Catherine of Cleves in 1440, there was a picture of St. Bartholomew surrounded by pretzels. By this time, pretzels were considered a sign of good luck and spiritual wholeness—possibly due to the three holes in the common pretzel shape touted to represent the Holy Trinity at this point. The “good luck” connotation carried the pretzel to other holidays, including New Year’s Day, when in Germany children hung pretzels around their necks; pretzels hung on Christmas trees in Austria in the 16th century; and parents hid little pretzels on Easter for children to find, an early version of an Easter egg hunt. In Switzerland, the pretzel shape was used as a marriage knot, and couples would each pull on a side of the pretzel on their wedding day. The larger half brought prosperity to the marriage—it was kind of like a doughy wishbone tradition.

Today, pretzels are most popular in American and in Germany, where they are featured at Oktoberfest. In America, besides covered in salt, hard pretzels commonly come dipped in chocolate or yoghurt, while soft pretzels are served with mustard or liquid cheese. Different flavours are available all over the world, featuring nuts, seeds, and glazes—a long way from the simple dough pretzels that were commonly served religious purposes so many years ago.

I love a good soft pretzel at the mall or a baseball game at the local stadium. Its one of the first foods my daughter ate when she was an infant. I have made them so many times, its one of the recipes thats ingrained in my memory. Below is my recipe that i’ve honed over the years.

Soft Pretzels

maxresdefault

INGREDIENTS
2 cups hot water, about 110 degrees
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 tablespoons baking soda
1 large egg

Coarse or pretzel salt
Vegetable oil cooking spray
DIRECTIONS
1 Pour 2 cups hot water into bowl of electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Check water with instant-read thermometer to register about 110 degrees. Add sugar, stir to dissolve. Sprinkle with yeast, and let sit 5 minutes; yeast should bubble.
2 Add 1 cup flour to yeast, and beat on low until combined. Add salt and 4 cups flour, and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat on medium-low until dough pulls away from sides of bowl, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup flour, and knead on low 1 minute more. If dough is still wet and sticky, add 1/2 cup more flour (this will depend on weather conditions); knead until combined, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a lightly floured board, and knead about 10 times, or until smooth.
3 Pour oil into a large bowl; swirl to coat sides. Transfer dough to bowl, turning dough to completely cover all sides. Cover with a kitchen towel, and leave in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size.
4 Heat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly spray 2 baking sheets with cooking spray. Set aside. Punch down dough to remove bubbles. Transfer to a lightly floured board. Knead once or twice, divide into 16 pieces (about 2 1/2 ounces each), and wrap in plastic.
5 Roll one piece of dough at a time into an 18-inch-long strip. Twist into pretzel shape; transfer to prepared baking sheet. Cover with a kitchen towel. Continue to form pretzels; 8 will fit on each sheet. Let pretzels rest until they rise slightly, about 15 minutes.
6 Meanwhile, fill large, shallow pot with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Add baking soda. Reduce to a simmer; transfer 3 to 4 pretzels to water. Poach 1 minute. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached.
7 Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush pretzels with egg glaze. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack, or eat warm. Pretzels are best when eaten the same day, but will keep at room temperature, uncovered, for 2 days. Do not store in covered container or they will become soggy.

Until next time, Happy Baking!

Christopher

Tool of the Month

Hey all. Something that I do from time to time is scour the pages of Amazon to find something unique or useful for myself and I’ve decided to start sharing these items with you!

Today’s item is very simple. It is a package of divided microwave safe, dishwasher safe bento boxes.

https://www.amazon.com/Freshware-15-Pack-Compartment-Bento-Lunch/dp/B01GH5KQLO/ref=zg_bs_kitchen_18?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=2G51XN1KABQZ2ME6B02B

These were a God send when I started my fitness journey! The two smaller compartments can hold 3/4 cup of vegetables and 3/4 cup brown rice or quinoa and the main compartment can hold up to 8oz of whatever protein you choose. I used these for lunch and dinner every day for about 4 months to get in the swing of things. It was easy to just cook on Sunday and Wednesday and have the two meals already waiting for me in the refrigerator!

Until next time,

Christopher

Proceed with Caution

How many of you know someone who needs to eat gluten free? Dairy free? Soy Free? Im sure by now we are all raising our hands. How many of you actually know how to bake for these restrictions? Im sure fewer hands are up this time. Have no fear! I am here today to share some helpful information with you to help you through the process.

A dietary restriction is at its simplest, something that someone cannot eat due to medical or religious reasons.

A short list of some allergies are:
Gluten
Peanuts
Tree Nuts
Certain Dyes
Dairy
Eggs
Shellfish
Fish

Frankly, this list is long and no two people are alike. You could have a dad that is allergic to peanuts and eggs and his daughter may be allergic to tree nuts and dairy. There isn’t a rhyme or reason to the combinations of allergies.

To prepare properly to serve someone with a food allergy is very important. A few of these allergies have an anaphylaxis reaction, meaning they will lose the ability to breathe. Others will result in gastrointestinal discomfort. If someone has an allergy, they will know and be happy to share with you the list of foods they can eat and more importantly, what to avoid. My best suggestion for you is to proceed with caution and do your research. There are several great companies that make products that are commercially available such as Udis, Rudy’s and Bob’s Red Mill. Bob’s is the one that I have had the most luck with. They have cake mixes, pie crust mixes, pancake mixes as well as gluten free flour blend, nut flours, oat flour, etc. They are generally available at your local grocery store in the baking or health market area.

Dietary Restrictions for Religious Reasons

Kosher and Halal are just two of the numerous religious dietary restrictions. These both refer to how food is prepared.

Kosher
“This extremely complex set of guidelines includes restrictions on how meat is slaughtered, which animals/birds/seafood may be eaten (most famously pork and shellfish are not allowed), the part of the animal that can be eaten, who makes certain foods, combinations of foods, avoiding contamination, what can be eaten on religious holidays, and more. Many non-Jewish people prefer foods labeled kosher because they believe them to be cleaner / more strictly prepared.” per chewfo.com.

Halal
Meats should be slaughtered under Halal guidance; pork is not allowed. Generally, foods that are kosher are also accepted under Halal. The major exception is alcohol, which is banned under Halal. For strict observers, this may mean not eating foods cooked with vanilla extract. There are numerous guidelines for fasting, particularly during Ramadan.
Obviously, this is only the tip of the iceberg so to speak. If you have time or curiosity, go ahead and do the research. It’s really fascinating.

Below is a recipe from our friends at Sweetness and Bite. It is a white chocolate mud cake that is gluten free.

gluten-free-white-chocolate-mud-cake-slice

Gluten Free White Chocolate Mud Cake

Makes: One 7 inch round, approximately 4 inch high cake.

If you need a refresher on converting recipes to metric, click here.

A moist, dense cake with delicate white chocolate and vanilla flavors. Suitable for covering in fondant, tiered cakes, lightly carved cakes, and decorating using the three day timeline.
Ingredients

420g gluten free flour*
2 teaspoons baking powder (check that it is gluten free)
1 teaspoon Xanthan gum
350ml milk
350g butter, cut into cubes
180g white chocolate, chopped
400g caster sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs
Instructions
Preheat oven to 160° Celsius. Line the base and sides of a 7” round (at least 3” high) cake pan and make a baking strip and foil lid. If your oven gets quite hot from the bottom element, place a heavy baking sheet on the rack below the one the cake will go on.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and xanthan gum. Whisk to combine well.
In a large, heavy based saucepan, heat the milk and butter over a medium low heat, stirring occasionally with a wire whisk until the butter melts. Add in the white chocolate, and stir until the chocolate has melted. Add in the sugar and whisk until the sugar has completely dissolved (this could take several minutes). Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
The liquid mixture now needs to cool until you can comfortably hold your finger in it. You can either transfer the mixture to a large heatproof bowl to cool it faster, or you can leave it in the pot and wait a bit longer for it to cool.
When cool, add the dry ingredients in three additions. Mix with the whisk, but use a folding rather than whipping motion to avoid air bubbles.
Whisk the eggs together with a fork and add to the batter, mixing again with the whisk. Leave the batter to sit for a minute to allow bubbles to come to the surface.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bang it on the bench to remove any large air bubbles. Place the foil lid over the top and bake for 2.5 – 3 hours. To test if the cake is done, use a thin skewer. When the skewer comes out clean, insert a thin bladed knife into the middle of the cake. When that comes out clean or with only a few crumbs attached, the cake is done. If you have an instant read probe thermometer, the centre of the cake should be at least 99°C.
Remove the foil lid and allow the cake to cool in the cake pan for half an hour or so, then cover the top with foil (either unfold the edges of the foil lid and use that, or use a fresh piece of foil), securing around the edge of the pan. Leave the cake overnight to cool completely before removing from the pan.
Notes
*I used 200g tapioca flour, 170g brown rice flour and 50g potato starch.
Remember that if you use different flours than I have, your results may vary from mine. Check out my gluten free cake post for more information.
To fill and cover a cake this size with white chocolate ganache (four layers of cake/three layers of ganache filling) you will need 1.6kgs of ganache (1.2kg white chocolate to 400g cream.)
Recipe adapted from Taste

Until next time, Happy AND SAFE Baking!

Christopher

Animal Cracker in my soup…

National Animal Cracker Day

Animal Crackers. We know them. Some of us even love them. My personal favorite? The ones that are iced in bright pink and white icing with sprinkles!

April 18th is designated as National Animal Cracker day. Let’s learn some history about these crunchy cookies, shall we?

Per Wikipedia, “In the late 19th century, animal-shaped cookies (or “biscuits” in British terminology) called “Animals” were imported from England to the United States.[citation needed] The demand for these cookies grew to the point that bakers began to produce them domestically. Stauffer’s Biscuit Company produced their first batch of animal crackers in York, Pennsylvania, in 1871.[1][2] Other domestic bakeries, including the Dozier-Weyl Cracker Company of St. Louis, and the Holmes and Coutts Company of New York City, were the predecessors of the National Biscuit Company, today’s “Nabisco Brands”.

Click here to see how these are made!

Fascinating. I love seeing how things are made on a large scale. In all my years in foodservice, I’ve never had the experience in working in a large manufacturing environment.

Our friends over at PopSugar recently created a frosted animal cracker cheesecake! Below is a photo and the recipe. Let me know how it turns out! Personally, I think it may be a little too much sugar for my liking.

Here is a step by step video for you!

No Bake Animal Cracker Cheesecake

INGREDIENTS
1 2 cups frosted animal cracker cookies
2 6 tablespoons butter, melted
3 8 ounces cream cheese
4 8 ounces mascarpone cheese
5 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
6 3 tablespoons lemon juice
7 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 3 1/2 cups whipped cream, divided
9 Pink food coloring
10 Frosted animal cracker cookies, for garnish
11 Nonpareil sprinkles
DIRECTIONS
1 Pulse 2 cups of frosted animal crackers in a food processor until fine crumbs form. Combine crumbs with melted butter and press into the bottom of a springform pan. Place in the freezer for 5-10 minutes.
2 In a bowl, combine cream cheese and mascarpone cheese and mix until well combined. Add the sweetened condensed milk and continue mixing on high for about a minute, scraping down the sides as needed. There should be a smooth consistency, with as few lumps as possible. Add the vanilla and lemon juice and mix again.
3 Add 2 cups of whipped cream to the cream cheese mixture. Using low to medium speed, mix in the whipped cream until just incorporated.
4 Remove the crust from the freezer and fill the springform pan with the cream cheese mixture, making sure to smoothing everything out. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours.
5 Add pink food coloring to 1 cup of whipped cream and fold in gently until reaching the desired color. Refrigerate until set.
6 Remove cheesecake from the refrigerator and spread the pink whipped cream over the top. Then gently remove the sides of the springform pan.
7 Pipe remaining whipped cream in circles along the edge of the cheesecake and top each peak with an animal cracker. Garnish with nonpareils. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
INFORMATION
Category Desserts, Cheesecake Yield 8-10 servings Cook Time 3 1/2 hours

Until next time, Happy Baking!

Christopher

It’s National Pecan Day!

National Pecan Day April 14th

Did you know that the pecan tree is the only nut tree native to North America? I sure didnt.

April 14th is National Pecan Day and April is National Pecan Month. Here are some nutrition facts about the nut we’re nuts about:

• Pecans contain more antioxidants than any other nut variety according to ORAC values
• Pecans can help reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels
• Pecans contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals
• Pecans are a natural, high-quality source of protein and naturally sodium free

Depending on how you prepare this nut, it can be very healthy. The most popular way to prepare this nut, of course, is good old pecan pie. Pecan pie is kind of a rock star when it comes to texture. You have the buttery crisp crust, filled with the gooey mixture of corn syrup and sugar, topped with candied pecans that are sweet, nutty and crispy. It truly does have so much going for it!

Below are some fun facts about pecans, because you really should learn something today :).

• Texas adopted the pecan tree as its state tree in 1919.  In fact, Texas Governor James Hogg liked pecan trees so much that he asked if a pecan tree could be planted at his gravesite when he died.
• Albany, Georgia, which boasts more than 600,000 pecan trees, is the pecan capital of the U.S.  Albany hosts the annual National Pecan Festival, which includes a race, parade, pecan-cooking contest, the crowning of the National Pecan Queen and many other activities.
• Pecan trees usually range in height from 70 to 100 feet, but some trees grow as tall as 150 feet or higher.  Native pecan trees – those over 150 years old – have trunks more than three feet in diameter.
• There are over 1,000 varieties of pecans.  Many are named for Native American Indian tribes, including Cheyenne, Mohawk, Sioux, Choctaw and Shawnee.
• The U.S. produces about 80 percent of the world’s pecan crop.
• Before a shelled pecan is ready to be sold, it must first be cleaned, sized, sterilized, cracked and finally, shelled.

Below is a delicious recipe to use pecans in an unusual way. It’s Pecan crusted tilapia with a honey glaze.

Pecan Crusted Tilapia with Honey Glaze
54ef899991591_-_pecan-crusted-catfish-recipe-lg
Ingredients:
4 whole Tilapia fillets, cut in half lengthwise – you should have 8 pieces about 6″ x 2.5″ each
3 T organic honey
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs (or Gluten free breadcrumbs)
1/2 cup crushed pecans (I used a mini food processor) ground to fine dust
salt & pepper
3 eggs, beaten in bowl

Honey Glaze:
3 T organic honey mixed with 2 T hot water
3 T olive oil, for frying

Directions:
1) Wash Tilapia and pat dry. Using a brush, brush both sides of the fillet with honey. Generously salt & pepper both sides of the fillet.
2) Combine the Panko and crushed Pecans. Lay out your ingredients in this order: Tilapia – Egg mixture – Panko/Pecan Dip the fish in the egg, coat with panko/pecan on both sides, set aside. Repeat with all fillets.
3) Heat a large fry pan over medium heat. Add olive oil. When the oil is hot, turn the heat down to low. Add the fillets to the pan, make sure the fillets don’t touch each other. You may have to do this in separate batches. Fry on low for 2 minutes until the underside is golden brown. Turn. Fry another 2 minutes or until the fish is cooked through. Pour the honey glaze over the fish. Note: if you don’t fry on low heat, the panko/pecan coating will burn before the fish is cooked through.

Serve over rice, pasta or quinoa.

Weight Versus Volume

Hope your day is finding you well. This week I believe Spring has finally sprung around here. Its been a beautiful mid 60s all week with plenty of sunshine. The hosta are pushing up through the ground, the peony plants are reaching for the sky and the grass is taking on a beautiful green hue.

Today we are going to discuss the benefits of weighing out ingredients as opposed to measuring them. Precise measurements are not necessary in cooking, but are a critical part of baking success. I’m sure you’ve heard “baking is a science!” more than once in your life. Thats why a lot of chefs are afraid of baking. They see it as this insurmountable item that requires perfect accuracy. Not exactly but you need to be in the ballpark.

I’m sure you learned to measure the same way most others have: Scoop your 1 cup measure into the bag of flour, level it off with a knife and boom! A cup of flour goes into your bowl. The problem with that is, most recipes are weighed out using a spoon to spoon in the flour and then level it off with a knife. The scooping motion compacts the ingredient and it can add as much as an extra 3 tablespoons to a recipe, in flour’s case. A bit of extra flour can toughen bread, make your cookies rock hard and ruin the fluffy texture of your cake, making it heavy and dense. So what are you supposed to do now? Weigh it!

You will need a scale for measuring accurately. It should have a gram denomination on it as that is what you will convert your recipes to. These don’t have to be expensive. My first one was a postal scale from a big box store, like this one.

Next you will need to convert your recipe. Luckily for us, King Arthur Flour has a great chart that is very handy, as it has several pages of ingredients used in every day baking. Click here to be taken to the chart.

Thats all there is to it! Try converting some of your own recipes or use mine below to make No Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies. To help you make the transition, this recipe has both the volume and weight measurements.

No Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

No_Bake_Chocolate_Cookies_3678

Yield: 24 cookies

INGREDIENTS:
½ cup (113 grams) unsalted butter
2 cups (397 grams) granulated sugar
½ cup (120 ml) whole or 2% milk
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
½ cup (135 grams) peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups (267 grams) quick-cooking oats
DIRECTIONS:
Add the first five ingredients (through the salt) to a 4-quart saucepan.
Bring to a rapid boil and let boil for 1 minute.
Remove from heat.
Stir in the peanut butter and vanilla extract until smooth, then stir in the oats.
Using a medium cookie scoop (or 2 tablespoonfuls), drop onto parchment-lined baking sheets.
Let cool until set, about 30 minutes. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature (or in the refrigerator) for up to 2 weeks.

See? That wasn’t so hard! And now you have some delicious cookies to snack on!

Until next time, Happy Baking!

Christopher