Monday, November 21, 2011

A Digression - Springerle!

For the next cookie recipe I decided to do something a little different. I was heading out to visit my parents in the Midwest in a week and I had gotten the idea to make a cookie I used to see my dad have when we visited his parents called Springerle. A traditional German cookie flavored with anise.

This wasn’t in the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, so I used this one off of Springerle I

I had never made these cookies before, but wanted to surprise my dad with them when I came to visit. As it turns out I already had the needed rolling pin for them, I had dragged this thing around for years, but never had used it before. The cookies take 2 days to do, so I planned to roll them out on Saturday and then bake them on Sunday.

The recipe is pretty simple, beating the 4 eggs, then mixing in the sugar and butter. Then the usual flour and baking but makes a stiff dough, so once I had added most of the flour to the mixture of eggs, sugar and butter I turned it out onto the counter to knead the rest of the flour in. What was neat when you added the dry ingredients was the ¼ cup of anise seed that gets incorporated into the mix.

So once I kneaded it all together, adding extra flour as needed, I rolled it out to ½ inch thick and then used the Springerle rolling pin. I definitely need some practice with this, I was very inconsistent with how much pressure I applied, so some of the dough had a good impression, but some did not.

Next was how to cut the cookies out along the design, I realized a pizza cutter would be the perfect solution and I repeated the process several times rolling out the dough, pressing in the design with the carved rolling pin, and then cutting out more cookies. I moved them all to the anise seed covered tea towel.

Next was the easy part, you let them dry for a day.

Springerle cookies drying on a tea towel covered with anise seeds

A day later and I heated the over up to 325 and proceeded to bake the cookies for 15 minutes. I figured this was mainly to dry them out more, but when I checked them after 15 minutes they were puffed up from the bottom, and I was worried I had done something wrong.

Then when I took them out, most of the kind of lost the puffiness, sort of collapsed back to their original size. I assumed this was what was supposed to happen. So I had enough to bring 3 dozen to my dad and bring a few extra to work on Monday.

When I brought them in I sent an e-mail out to explain these cookies. As it turns out I should have read the wikipedia articlel myself before I embarked on making these because it explained a lot, and it let me know what I’d done wrong the first time! You can read about Springerle here on wikipedia.

So the drying of the cookies for a day was to prevent the design from being distorted when they rise, and the puffing up was supposed to happen, and not only that, it should have stayed puffed up so they have a ‘foot.’ So I realized I had to try it again and did so during the week.

This time I baked them 20 minutes instead of the recommended 15 and it did the trick as you can see in this picture. People had liked the original ones I made, but this second batch was superior. I let them dry on the cooling racks the next few days and then packed them into a couple of tins to bring to the midwest.

Springerle cooling after baking
'Foot' at bottom of cookie

Another example of the 'foot'
Lessons learned:

For very traditional cookies it’s worth reading the history to understand better what’s going on with the cookie.

Need to practice getting consistent pressure when rolling out the designs.

These cookies would probably be perfect for cookie stamps. May try that next time!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Caramels, Page 153, 2nd Column, 1st Recipe

At the same time when I was doing the Vanilla Crisps I decided to dive into the Candy chapter of the book.

I used to make a candy from this cookbook regularly when I was in my teens called Divinity, but that was the extent of my candy making and had been more than 30 years ago.  But I had been paging through the Candy chapter and decided I’d like to try out stuff there too.  Caramels appealed, they seemed pretty simple, I like caramels, and had never had homemade ones.

As it turns out has something very close: Chewy Caramels

So I wrote up my shopping list, I figured since it called for one pound of brown sugar, I’d just buy a fresh box and use that instead of dipping into my usual baking supply.  I also needed light corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk.  The recipe I was using called for a 15 oz. can of that and I dutifully added that to my shopping list.  This would lead to an “Oh, this is what happens when you use a 35 year old recipe book” moment.

At the grocery store everything is going well until I get to the sweetened condensed milk and lo and behold, the containers are only 14 oz!  This being a candy recipe I was not confident about using that one ounce less and bought two cans.  Looking at the slightly different version, it would probably be fine to use just 14 oz, but I just wasn’t sure at the time.

As it turns out I already had a candy thermometer, but I had to use a larger pan than the 3 quart pan that was recommended.  I melted the butter then added in everything else except the vanilla and started raising the temperature of the mix, stirring constantly with the thermometer clipped to the side of the pan.

This was time consuming, and I fretted about the height of the flames and burning the mixture.  I imagine I’ll get more used to this after trying other candy recipes.  The worst part was with my combination of being nearsighted and farsighted I could not read the thermometer from more than a few inches away.  I had to take off my glasses, lean over the pot and try to read it.  I kept thinking one inopportune splash could be really bad.  I felt like I should be wearing safety glasses.

Finally after what seemed like a very long time and lots of stirring (my hand got tired!) the mixture reached the recommended temperature.  I removed it from the fire, added the vanilla and stirred it in and then poured into the buttered Pyrex pan I had ready.

Now to let it cool.  I salvaged some of the remainder from the pot and gave it a taste, and oh goodness, it tasted great.  Buttery and with a flavor I think of as distinct to caramels (and perhaps attributed to my use of dark brown sugar), very good.  But as it turns out, they didn’t quite turn out as they should have.

Although what was salvaged from the pot firmed up nicely, what I had poured in the Pyrex dish never became as firm.  It was still firm enough to cut into caramels, but it would lose shape after a bit, they were softer than they should have been.  Still delicious, but too soft.  My guess is that the thermometer was not registering the temperature properly.  I had skipped a crucial step, calibrating the thermometer, and I hadn’t done the cold water test either. One of a few lessons learned for the next try.

Lessons Learned:

Calibrate the thermometer and adjust accordingly for any future candy making.

Use the cold water test as a second measure of readiness.

Use the right size pot, I suspect that because the mixture was not that deep in the pot, it was more difficult to keep the thermometer in a position where it wasn’t too close to the bottom.  That would cause it to register as hotter than it was.

Try the recipe with just a 14 oz container of sweetened condensed milk.  It will probably be fine, but it would be nice to do a taste comparison.

Find a way to put something into the pan you pour the caramels to set in to make it easier to get them out later.  Maybe aluminum foil?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Oatmeal Rounds, Page 120, 2nd Column, 1st Recipe

Looking through the recipes, this one intrigued me, I’ve made regular oatmeal cookies plenty of times, but this one was a bit different.  So I jumped in.

Sadly there is no similar recipe I could find on  This one seems to be unique.  I will update if I find one.

When I picked this recipe, I knew that it would require refrigeration which was fine, but the real surprise was in how the cookies came together.

Radically different from previous cookie recipes, this recipe started by putting all the dry ingredients into a bowl and mixing them together.  Next step was to put in some butter and shortening into the bowl and cutting it into the dry mixture until it’s crumbly.  Basically this recipe was starting like a pie crust!

But cutting in the butter and shortening was a real trial.  The shortening was soft because it was off the shelf, and the oats interfered with my pastry blender so I had to resort to using 2 knives like my mom used to do for making pie crusts.  It was slow, tedious business.

As an aside, I always use old-fashioned oats when I make baked goods with oatmeal.  Recipes always call for quick cooking oats, but I feel like the old-fashioned ones have more “umph”.  I like them better.

I had cut in the butter and shortening as much as I was going to, which probably wasn’t as much as it should have been, but I wanted to move on.

Next step was like pie crust yet again.  Just 2 tablespoons of cold water with a teaspoon of vanilla added was to be drizzled over the dry mixture with the butter and shortening cut in and tossed enough to coat.  Neat!

Now the instructions said to form the mixture into a 2” diameter cylinder, so I dumped the bowl out onto some plastic wrap and started pulling it together.  It was hard to imagine this stuff holding together for cookies!  But I managed to create my cylinder and put it in the refrigerator over night.

The next day it was very solid and ready to cut.  Now the instructions said to slice thinly the italics right there in the book.  What the heck does that mean?  I could only imagine it meant around ⅛ of an inch, but who knows?  So I started by cutting the cylinder in half long ways so I had a nice flat edge to start with and then tried to slice off a cookie.

Well it wasn’t holding together at all at ⅛ of an inch, so I went up to ¼ of an inch and that seemed to work for the most part.  Sometimes they were still trying to fall apart, but I’d mush the sliced cookie back together and get it over to the cookie sheet.

It was still difficult to imagine how these cookies were going to turn out.  With no eggs to hold them together I was curious how they’d bake up and come off the sheet.

These went into a slightly cooler oven at 350 and I timed 10 minutes for the 8-10 minutes recommended time.  It wasn’t enough when I touched them they were completely soft. I had to let them go a minute or two longer or they wouldn’t hold together on the spatula.  
Oatmeal Rounds cooling on the rack

With that adjustment I proceeded to make the rest, it was troublesome slicing the cookies, but kind of neat too.

Once one had cooled, I tried it and I found it to be very tasty.  Almost a little butterscotchy in flavor with a really nice chewy texture.  I brought these in to work and they were very popular, definitely one to try again!

Ready to serve!
Lessons Learned:

Have the shortening you’re going to use in the refrigerator or freezer so it’s firm to start with.  It was too soft for cutting in off the shelf.

Try cutting in with all the dry ingredients except the oats, then add the oats.  Cutting in the butter with the oats there was clunky.  I could not use my pastry blender effectively.

Try using quick cooking oats one time.  The old-fashioned oats may be too heavy for cutting these cookies thinly enough.

At ¼ inch slices they needed to cook longer than 10 minutes to be able to hold together.  See if more thoroughly cut in butter/shortening and/or use of quick cooking oats allows thinner slicing and shorter cooking time.

Vanilla Crisps, Page 119, 2nd Column, 1st Recipe

It was time to pick a 3rd cookie and the Vanilla Crisps caught my eye. They looked simple enough.

The closest recipe on is Vanilla Wafers III, it has a touch less sugar, and added salt.

This cookie recipe was very standard, cream butter/shortening and sugar. (BTW, I always use butter flavored shortening in cookie recipes calling for shortening now.) Add the eggs, vanilla and blend in, then the dry ingredients mixed together.

The next part was the fun part. There were two options, drop by spoonfuls and flatten with the bottom of a floured glass, or chill and form into 1” balls and then flatten. I did the former. But oddly enough the real trick was finding a glass with a flat bottom! I ended up resorting to a Pyrex 1 cup measuring cup.

I squished the cookies fairly flat, around ⅛” inch. The interesting thing to note in this recipe is there is no leavening agent. No baking soda or powder that is present in many cookie recipes. So these cookie don’t puff up much when baked.

I liked the rough edges from using the dropped spoonfuls of dough and then the glass to flatten. I then baked them at my usual 9 minutes in a 375 oven and the result was OK. Sort of like a sugar cookie, but then I made a mistake with the final tray of cookies.

When I put them in I forgot to start the time. When I finally realized what happened I figured I’d lost about 2 minutes. So I put 7 on the timer and did not keep an eye on them. When I pulled them out about the last quarter inch of the outside edge of the cookies was lightly browned. I was dissappointed, I tend to like soft cookies and I knew these would end up crunchy. But there was a surprise in store.

Once the last batch had cooled, I tried one, and to my surprise they tasted better that the lightly cooked ones. I brought these in and got the same response, a little browning at the edges and it was a better cookie. Very tasty! I am going to try these again and let them brown at the edges and be a crispy cookie instead next time.

Lessons Learned:

Try 1” balls chilled then flattened.

Bake longer, they tasted better with a browned edge.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sandies, Page 119, 1st Column, 3rd Recipe Down

So the first recipe had been interesting in execution, but the results a little disappointing. I plan to try them again and tinker with the cooking next time, but for the next round I decided to pick a cookie I was familiar with only in its commercial form, but really like. Sandies.

As it turns out has the exact same recipe there: Sandies

So we were back to the usual cookie start, cream butter and sugar. Easy. Add in some vanilla and water. I haven’t seen too many recipes that add water, interesting. Next the flour and the nuts, but I had a problem.

I had some pecans, but they were whole, so I had to chop them up first. So I got out a cutting board and my favorite sharp knife - oh boy was that a mistake. Because they’re hard, the nuts tend to jump around when you cut and it was just plain time consuming. Chop chop chop and repeated scooping and eventually I had a cups worth. But it took a while.

Now when I added in the flour and nuts to the butter/sugar mixture, it took some patience and for the first time in my use of it, my mixer definitely had to work hard to get it all combined. It was a stiff dough.

Once it had completely mixed, I covered the mixing bowl and moved it to the fridge for the 4 hours of cooling that was recommended. Then I was in for a shock.

The recipe recommended forming the dough into balls or ‘fingers,’ whatever that means. As it turns out the book has a picture of the ‘finger’ style at the beginning of the cookies and cakes chapter. I decided I’d do balls, so I casually got out a small spoon and went to dig out a scoop and “clunk!” This big lump of dough felt like a rock!!

There was no way I was getting dough off of this with the spoon without concerted effort. So I reached for a sharp knife and started slicing into the heap of hardened dough. Not only was this still difficult, but once I had secured a piece that was the right size to roll into a ball, that was hard to do too. I really had to apply a lot of pressure to get spheres.

So forming the cookies was harder work than expected, but I worked my way through it. They bake in a cooler oven than usual for longer, so it gave me a bit more time between sheets. The neat thing was the cookies didn’t change in shape much when they baked. So I was basically getting slightly distorted spheres out of the other end of the process.

Then the final step, again something I had not done with cookies I’d made before, after they were slightly cooled, you were to roll them in some powdered sugar, this was just plain messy since I did it by hand and again, time consuming.

I let them cool completely and gave them a try, and oh they were very good. Had the wonderful shortbread/pecan flavor combination I liked from the commercial variety, but better. And the cookie was much more tender than the hard commercial version which is probably adjusted to ship without much crumbling.

I brought these in to work to great reviews. If you like Sandies at all, you’ll really like these. A bit of effort but a very nice end product.

Lessons Learned:

Buy chopped pecans or use the food processor. Chopping whole pecans by hand is a pain.

Be ready for some hard work for your hands forming the cookies.

Try the ‘finger’ shape next time.

Try coating the cookies using a bag with powdered sugar in it next time.

Butterscotch Cookies, Page 118, 2nd Column, 2nd Recipe Down

(Note - I do not include the recipe, if I find an exact match at I'll link it for any recipe I do. Also I don't have pictures for my first few experiments, but when I redo this recipe I will add them at that time.)

A similar recipe to this from is Butterscotch Icebox Cookies.

So what recipe to try first? Well I have a particular soft spot for butterscotch so as I paged through the recipes, this one caught my eye.

The recipe was off to a different start right away, typically every cookie recipe I’ve done has always started with putting either butter or shortening into the mixing bowl with some sugar and creaming them together and maybe one or two other wet ingredients. Then combining all the dry ingredients and adding those at the same time to the butter/sugar mixture.

First step here, melt the butter. Neat, first time I’ve done that for a cookie recipe. Although they talked in the recipe about melting the butter in a sauce pan and then mixing in the sugar, I put the melted butter in the mixing bowl instead. By the way, it was brown sugar in this recipe, and I always use dark brown sugar in baking (unless otherwise specified.)

As as aside I have a KitchenAid mixer and I highly recommend investing in one if you do much baking. This thing has been serving me reliably for more than a decade and powers through anything I throw at it.

So I added the sugar to the melted butter and mixed, this was decidedly different in appearance from the usual practice, next to add was an egg and the instruction to ‘beat mixture until light colored.’ With enough air beaten in it soon looked lighter, and boy did it look different from the usual cookie batter started from creamed butter and sugar.

It was like a goo of some sort with a heavy syrupy texture that held onto the pattern the beater left behind for a few moments before it smoothed back out, very cool.

As is usual for cookie recipes, lumping in all the dry ingredients came next, flour and soda. Then a final step was to add some vanilla and nuts. Although I like nuts in cookies, the family is pretty opposed, so I skipped the nuts. the result was a dough with a texture that was decidedly different in feel and look than the usual doughs I make. Very smooth and somewhat sticky. So how to handle this stuff was the next question.

The dough had to be chilled, once that was done you rolled into balls and placed on a cookie sheet. At this point I normally expect to smush the dough flat with something, but this time, you leave them alone.

So next was to bake this cookie sheet covered with brown spheres. Now some may find this not the best practice, but I use insulated cookie sheets. I like the results, no burnt bottoms and chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies come out perfect. So that’s what I use. There can be some downsides, but I haven’t experienced them yet.

The result was very cute, from a round sphere they melted down into perfectly round cookies with a slight hump in the middle. Very nice. These ended up with a nice golden brown color. And they had a really nice texture with some ‘tooth’ to it once they had cooled a little. A nice chewiness to them. But sadly, they didn’t really taste much like butterscotch.

I brought them in to work and got the same response, nice, but not butterscotch flavored.

Lessons learned:

Take only parts of the dough out of the fridge at a time for rolling into balls. When it got too warm it became very tacky and started sticking to my hands.

Next time possibly try baking longer. I did my usual 9 minutes for a cookie in a 375° oven, but perhaps a little longer will produce a stronger flavor.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Adventures in Better Homes and Gardens “New” Cook Book 1976 Revised Edition, 4th Printing 1977

It all started with a cookbook and a recipe for chocolate chip cookies. I had been dragging this cookbook around the planet for around 30 years. It had traveled halfway around the globe, survived a fire, 3 small kids, and who knows what else. But it was much, much worse for the wear. Front and back covers gone, and many pages damaged, some gone. But this cookbook had the best recipe for chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had, “Chocolate Chippers.”

It was the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. I didn’t know what edition, because that page was long gone. Although I’d usually used this book for the “Chocolate Chippers” recipe, one weekend I pulled out the newer version of the same cookbook, which I think is an 80s or 90s version, and proceeded to make the recipe for “Chocolate Chip Cookies.”

Once these came out of the oven and the kids started in the questions began – “What’s wrong with these cookies?” “They don’t taste like the ones you usually make.” “Yeah, they’re blah!” I thought how could these be so different? So I pulled out my old falling apart book and opened the books side by side. The proportions of the ingredients were a little different, but there was one critical change. The newer version of the recipe did not have salt.

Most cooks know a little salt in a sweet dish adds “pop” to it. And my boys without knowing could absolutely taste the difference. Ultimately what I realized was a big difference between my old cookbook and the newer version was there were many attempts to make the recipes healthier in the newer version.

I really don’t see the point in healthy versions of stuff that’s not supposed to be good for you in the first place. And I despise non-fat and low fat versions of stuff. I’d much rather control how much I eat than compromise the flavor. I never used the newer book again for cookies, but that difference nagged at my brain.

Being the slightly obsessive-compulsive person I am I became fascinated by how the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book evolved. I dug for information, and there was very little to be found. I could not find a listing of versions, revisions, editions, anything. And one thought seized me – I need to get a new copy of this old book before it’s completely destroyed. But how do I figure out what used copy of this book to get?

The clue was the back of the binder. Better Homes and Gardens had varied the cover and back binder design over time and I was able to find a possible match on Ebay. I contacted the seller and tried to get more information about the book but didn’t hear back, so I decided to take my chances and ordered it.

When it arrived, I was not disappointed. There was my “Chocolate Chippers” recipe, and being the mathy geek I am, I checked to see if the last page had the same page number and contents. This would be my equivalent of a checksum for a book, and it matched. So now I had it and so….. so what? I thought about how the cookie recipe was so much better and hatched a plan.

I would make one new cookie recipe each weekend. Basically take a tour of every cookie recipe in the book as a way to celebrate and have a little fun. And so it started.

I have been doing this for about 4 weeks now and it’s been a delight. So I’ve decided to start blogging my cooking adventures. What recipe I’m trying, how making it goes and will post photos too of the making and results. I didn’t take these in my first few efforts, but will do so going forward.

I will catch up with where I am, then post each weekend as I do my next experiment. I hope you enjoy it, and if you want, get a copy and follow along!

Happy baking!