Saturday, January 28, 2017

Simple and Delicious Mint Bars

These little gems are a treat we have enjoyed every year since I was a teen, probably starting when Hershey's came out with their mint flavored chocolate chips.  Those aren't readily available anymore that I have seen, but I think they do still make them since I've seen them online.  There are also chocolate mint blends out there.  The base of these bars is a wonderful brown sugar shortbread, made richer, sturdier and even more tender by the inclusion of an egg yolk.  It still has a brilliant sandy texture but does not crumble apart.  For this batch I used regular chocolate chips first, then melted and piped on some Guittard mint chips.  Unfortunately they were a bit old and didn't melt nicely.  Fresh ones work perfectly.  The reason we really like them is because they taste just like the cracked ice candy we get when we visit the candy shop in Cannon Beach, OR.  Mint candy melts would work as well, or if you don't care about having two colors, just add a couple drops of peppermint oil to regular chocolate chips and melt together, then spread over the bar base.  They are highly worth making even with the search for mint chips.  They are not super minty, just a nice hint of mint.  That's what makes them so all around delicious.

Another day, I will post a mocha variation of these which is equally delicious and absolutely perfect with a cup of coffee or tea.

Chocolate Mint Bars
makes one 9x13" pan

1 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla

2c flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp fine sea salt

1 (12oz) pkg chocolate or chocolate mint chips
¾ cup mint chips of contrasting color (optional) (add ¾ tsp coconut oil to help it flow nicely)

Preheat the oven to 335ºF.

Combine the flour, soda and salt in a bowl and set aside.  Cream the butter and sugar together.  Add the yolk and vanilla and mix thoroughly.  Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture.  The dough will be fairly stiff.  Break into small pieces and pat evenly into a 9x13" pan lined with parchment.

Bake the base for about 25 min until golden brown. Immediately sprinkle with 1 package chocolate mint chips or equivalent.  Allow to sit for a few minutes until the chips melt, then spread evenly with an offset spatula.  Alternately, melt the chips in a separate bowl and pour and spread over base.  If desired, the contrasting color/mint chips may be melted and piped on top.  Pipe the contrast in lines width-wise across the bars while the base chocolate is still melted.  Draw a toothpick across the lines lengthwise, alternating direction each stroke, to form a pattern.  Chill to set the chocolate quickly.  Store, tightly covered, at room temperature.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Fouace Nantaise - an Orange Scented Bread with the BBB

Join us this month, as we make Fouace Nantaise!  I was quite happy at the prospect of the recipe for this month because it reminded me of some of my favorite orange knots that I used to make, except without an icing glaze.  The orange flower water was certainly an exotic ingredient for me, though it was, thankfully, easy to find in the international section of the local grocery store.  Actually, when I opened it up and smelled it, I was apprehensive because it has quite a strong floral perfume to it.  And it still smelled strong when mixed in the dough.  But I needn't have worried, it mellowed when baked to a delicious hint of scent, totally enhancing the "orangeyness" of the rolls.  This is a very soft dough and bakes up nice and soft as well.

I loved how the little flecks of orange peel were so pretty in the finished rolls!  Now I had Grand Marnier and Triple Sec as my choices for orange flavored liqueurs, and after smelling them I chose the Triple Sec.  It actually had a nice, strong orange smell, while the Grand Marnier mostly just smelled sweet.  (Traditionally, the bread is made with rum rather than orange liqueur.)  For the flour, I used mostly light spelt, but the host kitchen says it was just wonderful with a bit of wheat germ added!  I don't keep that on hand because it needs to stay in the freezer and I don't have the space.  I might have to see if I can get it in very small quantities.  I did end up adding about 50g more flour to the dough, even though our host said resist the temptation to do so.  I gave it a chance with a good bit of kneading, but it was more than sticky, it was batter like.  That extra flour left it still very soft and sticky, but not so sticky that it clung to fingers.  It was perfect.  And after going back to the original recipe, I saw that it was okay to add a bit more to get it softly smooth.  (And I do love soft doughs!)

This is a delightful bread and we would love for you to bake along with us!  The rolls are soft and rich and truly fabulous with creme fraiche and Damson plum jam by the way!  Check out the original post at blog from OUR kitchen.  Then just bake your version of this bread by January 30th and send the host kitchen a note with your results and a picture or link to your post.  Then you can be included in our buddy round up at the beginning of next month.  You will also get a buddy badge graphic to keep and/or add to your post.  You don't have to have a blog to participate, a picture is fine!

Fouace Nantaise
based on Jamie Schler's recipe for Fouace Nantaise

50g (3½ Tbsp) salted butter
60g (60ml) milk
3.5g (1 tsp) active dry yeast
250g (~2c) flour (Host kitchen suggests: 50g whole wheat, 185g all purpose, 15g wheat germ)
4g (~½ tsp fine) sea salt
25g (2 Tbsp) sugar (I used coconut sugar)
45g (45ml) orange liqueur (Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or Triple Sec)
7g (~1½ tsp) orange blossom water
2 eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
zest of one orange, optional, but recommended
milk or cream, for brushing on shaped loaf

In a small saucepan, melt the butter.  Turn off the heat and pour in the milk to bring it to lukewarm.  Make sure it is not too hot by doing the baby bottle test:  Place a drop on the inside of your wrist - it should feel like nothing, neither cold nor hot.  Add the yeast and whisk in until it has dissolved.  Add the eggs and whisk together, then pour in orange liqueur and orange blossom water.  Place flour(s), sugar, salt, and orange zest (if using) on top.  Using a wooden spoon, stir until the flour has been absorbed
Knead the dough using one hand to turn the bowl and the other to dig down to the bottom to lift the dough up to the top.  Turn and fold, turn and fold, repeating until the dough is smooth and elastic.  As you knead, resist the temptation to add more flour or water.  (It is okay to add enough extra flour to the dough so that it is no longer sticky and is soft, smooth and homogeneous.)  Once the dough is finished kneading, cover the bowl with a plate or plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise in a draft-free area until almost completely doubled.
(Preheat the oven to 350ºF).
When the dough has doubled, it is ready to shape.  Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured board.  Divide the dough evenly into 7 pieces.  (I did this by weight.)  Shape each piece into a ball.  Draw the edges into the center a few times so that the ball is smooth and somewhat firm across the top.  Place one ball in the center of a parchment-lined baking sheet. Arrange the other six balls loosely around the center ball to form a flower. Cover with a clean, damp tea towel and leave to rise until almost doubled. (To test, using a floured finger, gently press against the side of the shaped bread.  If the indentation immediately jumps back, it is not ready; if it stays indented, it has over-risen; if it gradually fills in, it is ready to go.)  (Some of the babes seemed to have trouble with the dough being reluctant to rise.  That's why I bumped up the yeast to a full teaspoon.  I also turned the oven on warm, then turned it of after the burner had been on a few seconds, and let the dough proof in there like a nice proofing box.  It took a couple hours, but rose very nicely.  Maybe in summer temperatures, it's not such an issue.)
Make sure the oven is at 350ºF.  Gently brush the top of the bread with milk (or cream).  Put the tray on the top shelf of the oven (to prevent the bread from burning on the bottom) and bake for about 30 minutes until the bread is a deep golden brown.  Jamie also writes that the outer "petals" of the flower "will have just started to pull away from the center ball".
Place on wire rack to cool.  Bread may be warmed in the oven for 10 minutes if it has cooled completely and you wish to eat it warm.

Here's a tip for reviving any bread that has gone a bit stale:  Liberally wet the outside with a spray bottle, cover with foil, and warm in the oven for 10 minutes at 250ºF.  It should come out just like fresh baked.