Saturday, October 30, 2010

Corn free candy corn - the lengths a parent will go for their child

Update:  For the most reliable recipe I have tried yet, check out my 2012 candy corn batch.

This time of year I have a lot of specialty cooking to do.  It's rough on your kid when the only thing okay for them to have is a chocolate bar and all the trick-or-treating candies are full of corn syrup and dextrose.  We actually fill our candy bucket with the little mini playdoh pots and they are quite popular.  (Who doesn't like playdoh?)  So last year I tried my hand at candy corn.  There are many recipes out there, all about the same.  It's a very touchy candy, very dependent on temperature and dry ingredients for good texture, and very humidity sensitive.  I'd put it right up there with divinity for being a persnickity confection.  It is so worth it though to have the ultimate Halloween candy accessible for my daughter.  And she loves it.  Bless her heart, she loved all the failures too!  Last year, I think I did two half batches, both of which were too firm.  The first used honey and Lyle's I think and the second I used marshmallow syrup.  (That's a homemade invert syrup made with cane sugar.)  Here's how they turned out last year; I did manage to form single kernels of each color by microwaving the dough to get it soft enough.  But it wasn't pliable enough to make three color ropes.  R was still thrilled.

Last year, I actually only found one recipe that used candy temps.  The rest used timing.  Very unreliable, as no base heat was indicated and stoves vary tremendously.  Boil for 5 minutes over low?  Goop.  Boil for 5 minutes over medium, too firm.  Medium high, you get Bit-O-Honey.  (At least that batch, made with half  honey turned out to be a fabulous candy in and of itself.)  Medium low, you might get what you're looking for.  I highly recommend a candy thermometer.  It also makes a difference how you measure your sugar.  Too much and even if you got your temp right, it will crumble on you.  I noticed that Alton Brown had a new episode of Good Eats last night that made candy corn and he had both temps and weights for ingredients listed.  Nice.  People still had varying results.  Another thing I recommend getting is the non instant kind of dry milk powder.  It is a fine powder just like the powdered sugar and you won't have little bits of undissolved instant milk in your candy.  The end crystalline structure will be much better, finer and closer to storebought.  Oh yes, SIFT your sugar.  Lumps are not your friend here and are difficult to work out.  Plus, the milk needs to be mixed thorougly into the sugar for even distribution.  I ended up with two batches this year.  One where I measured the sugar into level cups while it was still lumpy.

As you can see, even though I got the temperature of my syrup correct, I think there was too much sugar and it turned to something close to maple sugar candy.  Fortunately the girls and I happen to love maple sugar candy.  ☺  I used half maple syrup because of the very fine crystalline structure it gives.  It really messes with the temperature you are aiming for though, because the boiling point is so much lower.  I couldn't even get my sugar to completely dissolve before I reached max temp.  Evaporated cane sugar has a larger crystal than refined white sugar and takes longer to dissolve.  It also tints the candy with a more creamy color, as does the maple syrup and the Lyle's.  If you want the really white tips, used refined sugar and light corn syrup.  I much prefer the flavor of Lyle's Golden syrup, which is made from cane sugar.  It definitely has a golden color to it, but it's easier than making invert syrup from scratch when time is not your ally.  Final try, I used mostly Lyle's and maybe a tablespoon or so of maple syrup for flavor and structure.  I also added a teaspoon of water to help dissolve the sugar and scanted the powdered sugar when measuring it out.  Mine was very lumpy and probably should have been sieved before measuring.  Oh well.  This batch finally worked.  The consistency in the pot after adding the sugar mixture was like caramel frosting.  It firms up after cooling.  The final consistency is like a fondant, modeling chocolate or commercial playdoh.  I used liquid food color.  If this weren't such a special treat, I would avoid the colors or try to find natural colors to have on hand instead.  Artificial dyes sometimes affect my daughter just as much as corn syrup.

This was a half batch and made a TON of candy.  I haven't even gotten through half the dough yet.  So break out your little kid art skills and start making ropes.  A little goes a long way.  Stick the ropes together and flatten slightly, then cut into triangles.  (Yes, I know I got the order wrong, I fixed it in later roll outs.)

You can leave these as is to dry.  I like to shape mine gently a little further to get a better candy corn shape.

Since these are so affected by humidity, especially depending on just where your candy consistancy lies, I decided to stick them in the dehydrator overnight on the very lowest setting.  Worked like a charm and in the morning, they were very close to storebought consistancy.  They'll still pull moisture like anything though, so airtight containers all the way.  Maybe next time I'll try the marshmallow based recipe since I have marshmallows still in the freezer.  (Homemade marshmallows freeze!  Isn't that cool?)  I'll bet I could turn the strawberry marshmallows into Valentine's candy corn...

And now, if I haven't completely scared you away from ever trying it:  Remember, this makes a TON of candy; I highly recommend a half batch.

I recommend whirling the dry milk in a spice grinder or food processor to get a fine powder and better consistency if it is the granular instant milk powder.

Homemade Candy Corn made without corn syrup

2½ cups powdered sugar 250g  (I use powdered sugar with tapioca starch)
1/3 cup dry milk powder (that's 2 tbsp and 2 tsp for a half batch - measure AFTER powdering fine)
1/8 tsp sea salt (scant pinch if using salted butter)
1 cup granulated sugar (I use evaporated cane sugar but get an offwhite color from it)
2/3 cup light corn syrup (I used Lyle's Golden syrup and a touch of maple syrup)
5 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp water (to help dissolve the sugar)
red and yellow food coloring

Sift together the powdered sugar, dry milk and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.  In a heavy bottomed pan, bring the granulated sugar, corn or golden syrup, butter and vanilla to a boil over medium heat.  When bubbles start to form, reduce heat and stir frequently with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula until a candy thermometer reads 225-230ºF.  That's just before thread stage. 

Remove the pan from heat and gradually stir in the powdered sugar mixture until fully incorporated.  Make sure there are no lumps.  Let mixture cool about 20 minutes until still slightly warm.  (Or at least not unbearably hot.)  Divide dough into three equal pieces.  Make a dent in two of the pieces and add four drops of yellow food coloring to one and the recommended combination of red and yellow on the box for orange to the other.  (That was three red two yellow for me and I ended up adding another two red and one yellow to increase the color a bit.)  Fold the sides into the center and keep doing so until the color is evenly distributed throughout the dough.  You should use food gloves, an apron or old clothes and a silicone mat/parchnment/waxed paper if you want to avoid staining things with the color.

Pinch off a small piece about the size of a superball, (smaller than a golfball if you don't have a very long counter space), and roll each color into a long rope.  Push the three ropes together, trim the ends even, and cut into triangle shapes down the line.  Place the candies on parchment or waxed paper to dry.  Store in tightly sealed containers at room temperature.  Separate layers with waxed paper or parchment.

Makes up to 200 pieces depending on how thin you roll the ropes.

(If your candy seems a little tacky, the dehydrator trick worked for me.  Lowest setting was 95ºF and I left them in overnight.)

If your candy sets up while it is cooling, your temperature probably got too high.  It's still tasty though.  Break it into pieces and store in an airtight container.  (This happens to me at least one batch a year.)
If it won't hold a shape the temp was too low, you might be able to knead in some more powdered sugar mixture to fix that.  (It will also firm up a bit as it cools, give it some more time.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cranberry Gem drop cookies

These are a popular cookie in this house and I think they just shout Fall.  I originally made these for an egg and dairy free option for my daughter when we were doing a more strict elimination for her food sensitivities.  Now I don't have to worry so much about eggs and dairy in moderation.  But this cookie is still wonderful.  Darling hubby loves them because they are soft and cakey/chewy, but have a crisp crust when fresh.  They are simply delightful.  To really go overboard, (and drive hubby wild), I might add white chocolate chunks and pecans.  I'd definitely reduce the sugar though in that case as these are nicely sweet and just balanced by the tart cranberries as they are.

When the batter is freshly made, they will tend to spread like the ones you see above.  The next batch may turn out more like a jumble cookie as the flour absorbs moisture from the batter.  They are still delicious, just a little more rustic looking.  If you like flatter cookies, use a light hand measuring the flour.  Whole wheat absorbs more than white flour. You can also slightly flatten subsequent batches before baking.  If you like nice soft cookies, give these a try.  They freeze well and actually taste great frozen.  The other nice thing is that since this is a relatively small batch, you can't be a complete glutton.  ☺  Here's how they bake up when the batter has rested for a while.

Cranberry Gem Cookies
Makes 2 dozen
½ cup sunflower oil - the type of oil seems to make a difference in how they turn out.  We really like this result.
½ cup light brown muscovado sugar, loosely packed
1/3 - ½ cup evaporated cane sugar - use less if your applesauce is sweetened
1 tsp vanilla
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce - also good with cinnamon applesauce, use less sugar
1¾ cup white whole wheat flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp sea salt
1 c. dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 375ºF.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, stir together the oil, sugars, vanilla and applesauce with a wooden spoon.  Stir until it comes together in a cohesive batter.  You won't see any free oil.  In another bowl, whisk together the flour, soda and salt.  Add slowly to the batter and stir to almost completely incorporate.  Add the cranberries just before all the flour is mixed in.  Stir until all the flour is mixed in and the cranberries are well distributed.  Drop by rounded tablespoons full onto the parchment or use a full cookie scoop.  Cookies will spread more when batter has not rested.

Bake 12-14 minutes or until light golden brown.  Cool 1 minute on baking sheet, then move to wire rack.

Happy Baking!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ribollita con Crostini Di Pane

To be more specific, Ribollita con Crostini di "Broa".  Good for both cold weather and cold viruses.  I haven't made this soup in years, but the clipped recipe has been sitting in my favorite recipe binder all this time.  It was fabulous years ago and I think will become a rival for the house favorite, Manhatten style clam chowder.  I didn't think anything could displace that from my daughter's list of favorites.  Well, she raved about this soup.  "Mommy, this looks really good... Mommy this tastes so amazing... Mommy!  You have to put this in my container for lunch tomorrow!   Can we have this for dinner every night?  This is even better than clam chowder."  Daddy finished up his bowl and proceeded to lift it up to slurp the last bit of broth out.  Little sis took the longest, but once she got into it, she drained her bowl too.  Then proceeded to announce that she had tried it, and now she liked it.  Gee, thank you Nick Jr. 

At any rate it seems to be a home run dinner for this family.  I used the Portuguese "Corn" bread I made for the BBB challenge yesterday to make garlic crostini and it was out of this world good.  Now I need to replenish my freezer supplies of chicken broth.  That's one of three big immune boosters in this fabulous savory soup: the chicken broth, the garlic and the onions.  Great for fighting off what ails you.  Fortunately we are all healthy at the moment.  Yay!  ☺  While I do recommend homemade chicken broth, (so easy in the crockpot and almost always tastes better than store bought), I do like the Pacific brand to fall back on when I'm out.  It's okay for my daughter's allergies, so that's great.  I have yet to find a beef broth that is okay, so this weekend, the bones will come out of the freezer for that project.  I actually used napa cabbage in the soup.  Savoy holds together better and might be prettier, but my youngest very carefully picked out every last piece of cabbage and ate it with relish.  Then demolished the rest too.  Great way to get your daily veggies in too.  Fortunately, I have to worry more about that for myself than my children.  Imagine that!  So try this soup out.  It is so worth the ingredients you might not be used to.  Oh yes, ribollita meaning "reboiled", this is technically meant to be made one day and eaten the next.  It tastes better that way, supposedly.  However, as evidenced by the shiny clean bowls tonight, it is entirely edible after a long, slow simmer.  (I finished it a couple hours before dinner time and let it sit, covered, giving it a blast of heat just before serving.)  It is also wonderfully filling.  Enjoy!

Update: To make this in the instant pot, just saute the fennel, celery, onion and carrot until slightly softened using the saute function, about 5 minutes.  Add all the remaining ingredients except zucchini and bread and cook for 10 minutes using the soup or manual mode.  Add the zucchini, check seasoning and adjust, and simmer for a few minutes until zucchini is tender.  Remove bay leaf and serve soup with crusty bread.  Try this one!

Bertolli Ribollita con Crostini di Pane
Serves 8

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil - I used garlic olive oil
¼ cup each chopped, trimmed fennel, celery, onions, (leeks if you have them on hand!) and carrots
1 garlic clove, finely chopped - I used three small cloves
¼ tsp dried thyme - I used 1 generous tsp fresh lemon thyme
6 cups chicken broth (Make this vegan by using veggie broth and one or two additions*)
1 can (28 oz.) italian plum tomatoes, cut up
2 cups peeled and diced russet potatoes
1 ½ cups rinsed and drained canned cannelini beans
1 cup finely shredded Savoy cabbage or Swiss chard - Napa works fine but is not as hearty
1 cup diced, trimmed zucchini
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp each chopped fresh parsley and basil
½ tsp lemon pepper
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 slices (one per bowl) ½ thick diagonally sliced Italian bread
*to make a perfect, flavorful vegan version, use vegetable broth, 3-4 dried porcini mushrooms, minced, and optionally a splash or two of vegan Worcestershire sauce.  This soup passes muster for my vegan in-laws and my teen daughter's vegan friend. 

1. Combine the olive oil, fennel, celery, onion, carrots, garlic and thyme in a large heavy saucepan.  Cover and cook over medium low heat until the vegetables are very soft, about 15 minutes.  Do not brown.

2. Stir in the broth, tomatoes, potatoes, bay leaf, beans, and cabbage or Swiss chard.  Heat to boiling.  Reduce heat to low and simmer 15 minutes.  Add the zucchini, parsley and basil.  Cover and cook 2 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Remove from heat.  Refrigerate for 24 hours.  Just before serving, heat to boiling.  Place a piece of bread in each of 8 soup plates.  Drizzle with a little olive oil.  Ladle soup over the bread and allow to soak up the soup.

(I sliced the bread and broiled it on both sides until light golden brown, then rubbed all the pieces with raw garlic and a scraping of butter.  Olive oil would have been more authentic, but hey, I love butter.  These crispy toasts were wonderful dipped into the soup.  We prefer that to soggy bread.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

BBB - Portuguese Corn Bread... minus the corn?

I miss corn bread sometimes.  I still have a little corn meal in the pantry; I should give it away.  For the most part now, if something has corn or a corn derivative in the ingredient label, you won't find it in our house.  I REALLY hope my daughter can outgrow this allergy, but that and the soy will be the most difficult ones since they affect her so strongly.  So when I first saw this month's BBB challenge, Portuguese Corn Bread, from Elizabeth's blog from OUR kitchen I thought, well fiddlesticks, can't do that one.  But then again, I've been wanting to see if I can't at least approximate something corn like in a bread form.  I've tried corn pancakes and they turned out okay.  Not as mealy as I would have liked, but okay.  The corn flavor is the hardest to come by.  I think I'll try this one again with one more flavor tweak because the texture is so awesome toasted or grilled.  Why even bother, you ask?  I try to make as many things possible available to my daughter in a non-allergenic form as I can so she can have a sense of normalcy and not feel left out.  For instance, I will be making candy corn again this year for her.  Without the corn syrup of course.  That one in particular, the epitome of Halloween candy, makes her feel like she is really missing out.  Just try going through the grocery checkout without seeing little bags of them hanging all over!  So what did I use instead of cornmeal and cornflour?  Farina and millet.  I've heard that millet can give a corny flavor so it was worth a try.
     Tonight I'm going to toast up this rendition and serve it with nice hot Ribollita.  Yum!  Perfect for dipping in soup.  The original is Ribollita con Crostnini di Pane so this would be Ribollita con Crostini di Broa I guess.  ☺

     I ended up with a dough on the slack side (I probably could have added another ¼ cup of flour - not sure if I weighed out the full amount to begin with), and then errands ran longer than I had planned.  That and the fact that the kitchen actually warmed up beyond 67ºF perked up the dough and made it over raise just a bit.  I think I would have gotten a more round loaf with better oven spring otherwise.  I did my folding in bowl with my bench scraper and it worked great.  It's a nice dough.  Next time I may try bumping up the millet flour and cracking some whole millet down into grit sized pieces to use with the farina to see if I can get a more pronounced corn like flavor.  Right now it tastes more like cream of wheat bread, (which it is) but I think the texture is right.  Makes fabulous english muffin toast!  And it actually smells kind of like popcorn when it's toasting.

Broa - Portuguese Corn Bread
based on Jane's (Little Compton Mornings) Pao de Milho
makes one round loaf or two smaller ones

300g boiling water (~1¼ c)
7 g honey (~1 tsp)
145g white cornmeal, finely ground (~1¼ c)  I used farina (cream of wheat)
4g active dry yeast (1 tsp) I used instant yeast
120g lukewarm water (~½ c)
60g whole wheat flour (~½ c)
300g unbleached all purpose flour, as necessary (~2½ c)
15g white corn flour (~2 tbsp)  I used millet flour
10g sea salt (~1¾ tsp)
corn flour for dusting I used regular flour

1. About an hour before mixing the dough, put the cornmeal and honey into a large mixing bowl.  Pour in boiling water and stir well.  Set aside to cool until just warm.
2. When the cornmeal has cooled, pour lukewarm water into a small bowl; add yeast and whisk well.  Set aside.
3. Add the corn flour, wholewheat flour, 275g (~1¾ c) of the AP flour, and the salt to the cornmeal mixture (you'll use some or all of the remaining flour for kneading).  Stir well.  Check temp again to make sure it isn't too hot.  Stir in yeast mixture.  The dough should be pulling away from the side of the bowl.  Don't worry if it's somewhat sticky.  Don't be surprised if it's down right sloppy.
4. Kneading:  Sprinkle a little of the extra AP flour onto the board.  Plop the dough out.
5. Hand wash and dry the mixing bowl.  (Yes, this step is important.  It prepares the rising bowl, gets your hand nice and clean AND allows the dough to rest a little.)
6. Knead the dough by hand about 10 minutes.  Use your dough scraper to keep the board clean.  Add a tiny bit more of the reserved flour if the dough seems sticky but try not to add too much - the dough should be soft.
7. Proofing: As best you can, form the dough into a ball and plop it into the clean bowl (no need to oil the bowl) and cover the bowl with a plate.  Leave in a non drafty area of the kitchen for 20 minutes.
8. After 20 minutes has passed, very lightly sprinkle the work surface with flour.  Carefully turn the dough out.  If necessary, gently spread the dough out (try not to deflate it).  Using the dough scaper and still being careful not to deflate, fold the left side into the center, then the top side, right and bottom into the center.  As you lift it into the bowl, fold it in half once more.  Try to place it in the bowl smooth side up.  Cover the bowl.  Let it proof at room temp for 20 minutes more.  Repeat this step two more times.  Folds are done at 20, 40 and 60 minutes after the first kneading.  It may not be until the third time that the dough looks like the smooth, soft pillow described in books.  The amount of dusting flour used in the three folds is not more than a couple tablespoons.
9. After the final fold, cover the bowl again and let rise in a no draft place until doubled in size.  Depending on the temperature of your kitchen this can take anywhere from 1-4 hours.
10. Shaping:  Turn the dough out onto a floured board.  Gently press out into a rectangle.  Fold the left side into the center, then the top, then the right side, then the bottom.  Turn it over.  Continue to fold it underneath itself to form a tight, even ball without actually deflating the dough.  Place seam side down on a parchment covered peel or cookie sheet.  Cover with a clean tea towel and plastic and allow to rise again until just about doubled.  Another 1-4 hours.
11. Preparing the oven:  About 15 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 400ºF with a rack in the second to top position.
12. Baking:  Spray loaf liberally with water and sprinkle with cornflour.  Slide bread onto stone if using, and bake fore 15 minutes.  Turn oven down to 375º, turn the bread around and bake another 15 minutes until bread sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom. (About 200-210ºF internal temp.)
13. When the bread is done, remove to cool on a footed rack.  Wait until completely cool before cutting the bread.

Some bakers said they needed to bake it longer to finish with a nice golden color.  I accidentally preheated the oven to 500º and even though I tried to let it cool a bit, it was probably around 450º on the stone when I popped the bread in.  My loaf was done in about 29 minutes total and beautifully golden.  I also steamed the oven when I first put it in and a couple minutes later.  Great chewy crust and moist crumb in this bread.  Next time I'll make two smaller loaves and have the dough just a little less slack.  These toasted slices are great with butter and honey and would make super trenchers I'll bet.  Just check out the mouth watering smoked mackerel, olive oil, caramelized garlic, capers and herbs served on the toasted bread in the host kitchen's post!

Happy baking!
Yummy toast!

This post will go up for yeastspotting.

Update:  This bread made absobloominglutely awesome garlic crostini.  Did it under the broiler and was so seriously tasty.