Kitchen Experiments: Angel Food Cupcakes

Ah yes, angel food. A cake so light, fluffy, and fat free that angels sing about it and eat it exclusively. Or something like that. Angel food cake is one of my favorite experimental desserts. Not only is there a unique method but the bigger version of this cake is kind of show stopping, but that’s another post ūüėČ

Angel food cake is a meringue based cake. I’m already familiar with meringues, so this wasn’t very new to me. Besides the fact that meringues and I roll mad deep, I’ve made angel food two other times.¬†The first time didn’t go so well. My cake didn’t rise as high as it should’ve. While it yielded tasty results, it didn’t look like the cake I envisioned. What went wrong? I probably deflated the whites a bit. Since I now know my way around meringues, I knew this wouldn’t happen again, and I’ve got pictures to prove it!

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At first, I was skeptical to make these cupcakes. Angel food, the big cake, requires cooling upside down. It’s the weirdest thing but hey, I’m not going to argue with that recipe. I wondered how it would work or if the cupcakes would end up deflating after cooling. Even with those doubts in my mind, I went for it.

The first step to making this recipe is to separate a dozen large eggs. We only need the whites. Save the yolks, though! I have 12 yolks chillin’ in the fridge with no aim. I’ll think of something. After separating, leave them out for a while to get to room temperature. Egg whites are best separated cold but they whip better room temp. Strange but true. I separated mine and went to the gym. Seems oxymoronic to make these after the gym but that’s how I roll. I also went ahead and pre-sifted the cake flour, powdered sugar, and salt, and set it aside. When in doubt, mise-en-place it out. Quote me.

Egg whites and yolks

After I got back from the gym, I got to work. Let me preface this by saying all your utensils MUST BE GREASE FREE. Whites are so finicky, they won’t get all voluminous if there’s grease. They’ll never, ever whip. Ever. No fixing that, so make sure your bowl, beaters, and spatulas are grease free. A good way to do this is to wipe your tools down with either lemon juice or vinegar. Now that everything’s clean, preheat the oven to 350 and line a million cupcake pans. Okay, so not a million but this recipe faithfully makes 36 cupcakes, so line enough wells for that. Set all that aside and let’s get started.

Pour those whites into your giant bowl, or in your stand mixer if you’re a lucky duck. Start beating the whites until they get frothy and bubbly. Shouldn’t take too long. Add the cream of tartar. What is that? Well, it’s neither cream nor tartar. It’s actually potassium bitartrate, which is a byproduct of wine making. I hear they scrape this stuff off wine barrels. It’s purpose here is to stabilize the whites. With this stuff, your whites will not fall. Crucial stuff here.

After adding the cream of tartar, continue beating the whites until you have soft peaks. How do you know you’re there? Turn off your beaters, dip them straight down into the whites and pull them back up. Turn the beaters on its side and look at the whites on the tip. If some of the whites stay on the beater and look like the picture below, you’ve got soft peaks. No whites on the beaters? You’re not there yet! Keep going and check periodically.

Soft Peaks 2

Continue beating the whites and gradually add the sugar. Keep beating the whites until they’re super fluffy, and thick. At this point, they’re probably at a medium peak (like in the photo). Add the vanilla and beat it in. You know you’re done whipping the whites when the trail of the beaters stays on the whites.¬†No trails? Keep going.

At this point, we’re done beating. Grab your spatula and pre-sifted dry ingredients as it is time to fold them in. The best way to fold in the dry ingredients is by doing it in thirds. Don’t throw it all in and mix because you’ll risk deflating the egg whites. We definitely do not want that. Despite the fact that there’s cream of tartar in here, it won’t help keep all that air in. Fold gently and carefully, but also making sure to completely incorporate the dry ingredients. My favorite folding method is the “cut and sweep.” I basically take my rubber spatula and “cut” straight down the middle of the bowl, then I “sweep” the side of the bowl into the middle. Rotating the bowl helps!

Folding the dry

Once done folding, spoon the batter in gently into the lined cupcake tins. Bake the cupcakes for 18-19 minutes or until golden and puffy. Cool completely and top with frosting. I went for a raspberry whipped cream because I low key made these for Valentine’s Day. Except not really but these make a cute lover’s day dessert! Like, I won’t tell if you and your partner eat all 36.

Cupcake!

Even with all that doubt in my mind, the cupcakes came out beautifully. Fluffy and light, just like they should be. They’d be completely fat free had I not topped them with whipped cream but it’s whatever! I hope I helped demystify the angel food process (in cupcake form, at least). While it looks intimidating, the results are way too delicious to not try and make these.

Angel Food Cupcakes – barely adapted from How Sweet It Is

Makes 36 cupcakes

  • 12 large egg whites (1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups sifted powdered sugar (sift before measuring)
  • 1 1/8 cups sifted cake flour (sift before measuring)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

  1. Separate the eggs, and let the whites sit at room temperature. While that’s resting, sift the cake flour, powdered sugar, and salt together. Set aside. Line your cupcake pans, and place your oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and preheat to 350F
  2. Using an electric mixer or stand mixer, begin to beat the whites until frothy and bubbly. Add the cream of tartar, and continue beating until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, while still beating, and continue until the whites have thickened and have medium peaks. From there, beat in the vanilla extract.
  3. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the dry ingredients in thirds, making sure to fully incorporate each addition before adding more. Once batter is smooth, carefully spoon the batter into the prepared pans.
  4. Bake the cupcakes in the preheated oven for 18-19 minutes or until golden and fluffy. Cool the cupcakes completely before frosting.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • For the raspberry whipped cream, I beat a pint of heavy whipping cream until soft peaks, added two tablespoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, and 1/3 cup of seedless raspberry jam. I reckon a shot of booze will go good here ūüėČ

Kitchen Experiments: Baked Cinnamon Apple Chips

So far, I’ve been all about apples this fall. Besides the two awesome recipes I’ve posted thus far, this one is a favorite: the simple and delicious baked apple chip.

It all started years ago, when I bought a bag of apple chips that brought like, three in the bag. I loved them but was outraged by the fact that the bag was practically empty. As usual, I uttered an “I can probably make this myself but way better” and started planning. After I figured it out, I made so many and so often, I got sick of them. It’s been quite a minute but I decided to bring them back; for old time’s sake.

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For apple chips, you don’t need many tools and they aren’t as fancy as you may think. First, you need your apples (obviously), a cutting board, and knife. You can use any apple you’d like but I’m very partial to the Granny Smith. For you lucky ducks who have a full sized mandoline, you can skip this step. I cut them so it’s easier for me to core and slice but if you have an apple corer, this is the time to use it. For those like me who don’t have a full sized mandoline, it’s time to cut the apples. I like quartering them to remove the core. That, and a quartered apple is easier to slice once cored.

Now that the apple is quartered, let’s core. Place an apple quarter on one of its flat sides. Introduce the knife to the apple at an angle (like maybe 45 degrees?) and slice out the core. Sounds weird to explain it like this, so I hope the pictures helped! Once that’s done, we can move on to slicing.

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At this point, if you’ve got the knife skillz, you can do it by hand. I do not, so I use a hand mandoline. I call it the ‘handoline.’ Catchy, right? I love slicing with it because I get kind of uniform slices every time. I say ‘kind of’ because depending on the amount of force used when slicing, the end product can end up either too thick or thin. Speaking of which, if free handing, make sure they’re all about the same thickness. This is crucial to the apple chip’s chippyness. And for safety’s sake, use the hand guard. Yeah, I know I’m not using mine but do as I say and not as I do. SAFETY FIRST.

Now that all the apples are sliced, let’s talk toppings. If you’re a purist, you can lay them out on the baking sheet and bake them as is. I’m not, so I like topping mine with cinnamon sugar. I use about two tablespoons of sugar to 1/2-1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon per apple. The amount of cinnamon varies, depending on how festive I’m feeling. You can pretty much go either way here, and top them however you like. Toss the slices in the sugar and cinnamon, making sure they’re all somewhat coated. On prepped baking sheets (prepped = lined with parchment), lay out your slices carefully. Make sure they’re as close as possible without touching. This isn’t one of those recipes where you can get away with throwing everything on the pan all haphazardly. Take the time to line them up.

At this point, you should’ve had your oven preheating before you even started. For those keeping score, it’s at a whopping 250 degrees fahrenheit. I know what you’re thinking; “does my oven even go that low?” Yes it does! Believe me, I thought mine didn’t either. Now, place your apple soldiers into the oven and bake for AN HOUR AND A HALF. Why so long? Well, apple chips get their chipyness from being dehydrated in the oven. The low temperature and long bake time makes it so the dehydration is done carefully and evenly, so the apples hold their shape and are crisp when done. You really can’t crank the oven up with shorter times to speed up the process. It won’t work, and your apples will burn. Patience, grasshopper. You shall be rewarded.

Midway through baking, flip the slices over and rotate the pans in the oven. Also, watch the apples as they can burn if you don’t. Believe me, I know. After that painstaking hour and a half is over, it’s time for the slices to cool. This is also crucial because out of the oven, the slices are still floppy and not very chippy. We don’t want that. Let them sit on the baking sheet for at least 10 minutes, and watch your previously floppy apple crisp with delight. The apples turn into chips that still taste very much like apples, with a slight sweetness from the sugar and a hint of spiciness from the cinnamon. They are extremely addicting, so make a lot!

Coolin' chips

Coolin’ chips

I’m glad I brought these back from the mental grave I dug them into. It reminded me of why I started making them (and also why I stopped). I can’t hate them though; they are the perfect snack.

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Baked Cinnamon Apple Chips

Makes about four cups

  • 2 large apples (I love using Granny Smith)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1-2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 250F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. On a cutting board, quarter and core the apples. If you have a full sized mandoline, feel free to core the apples (with a corer) before slicing. Or, you can slice them without coring.
  3. Once quartered and cored, begin slicing the apples. You may do so with a knife or with a hand mandoline (handoline!).
  4. Place the apple slices in a large bowl and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar. Gently toss the apples to evenly coat. Carefully place the apple slices on the prepped baking sheets as close as possible without touching.
  5. Bake the apple slices for an hour and a half, flipping the slices over and rotating the pans halfway through baking. The apples are done when they look a little wrinkly and are dry to the touch.
  6. Cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes before devouring. Any leftovers keep well in an airtight container for a couple of days.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Please watch them while they bake! Multitasking while baking this batch caused me to burn half. Again, do as I say…

Kitchen Experiments: Pilot Cookies

Recipe development has always scared me. I’ve been baking for a while now, so it was only a matter of time until I finally made something up myself. Baking is a science and that means that if things aren’t exact in the formula, it can go south fairly quickly.

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I set out on trying my hand at cookies as my first attempt at sweet recipe development. The first thing I thought to myself was: “how many of my favorite mix-ins can I put into a cookie dough?” With that in mind, I looked for a guide to help me formulate this recipe.

Michael Ruhlman’s “Ratio” was the help I was looking for. I read and re-read the chapter on cookies one day at work, and without looking at the recipes included in the chapter, I used his formula and wrote my first draft on a piece of scrap paper.

The formula is fairly simple: 1 part sugar: 2 parts fat: 3 parts flour. This formula is the same one behind chocolate chip cookies, which is what I was going for. He measured by weights but I wanted to measure by volume, so my ratios were; 1/2 cup of sugar: 1 cup of butter: 1 1/2 cups of flour.

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From there, everything else was easy. I knew I wanted to put as many mix-ins as I could, but ended up settling for four: rolled oats, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and pretzels. In my first draft, I wanted to replace some of the flour with ground oats, and chop up the pretzels to incorporate it into the dough.

Satisfied with my first draft, I made my first batch of cookies and ended up failing. Since I took out some of the flour for oats, the cookies were too brittle and barely made it from the tray to the cooling racks. The chopped up pretzels weren’t much help, as they made the cookie heavier and took over the entire cookie. I took my scrap paper and went back to the drawing board.

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Not to be defeated by a failed batch, I decided to put back the flour I took out and incorporate the rolled oats as a mix-in. I also took the chopped pretzels out and opted to top each scoop of dough with one instead. I said a little prayer and popped them into the oven on my second try. It took me two weeks to try to make this recipe and I think it was definitely worth the wait. The cookies came out with the right structure; sturdy but not heavy. The oats made them chewy, which went great with the soft chocolate and sweet butterscotch chips. And then the pretzel. Easily the best part of the cookie! I was worried the oven would soften them but they stayed crispy atop the cookie, and added a little saltiness.

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I took my cookies to class with me and they were definitely a hit! My classmates were already supportive of me and my baking endeavors (those sweethearts), so I already felt better about debuting these with them. One of my classmates even said these were her new favorite!

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To be completely honest, they were the inspiration behind this cookie. I am part of this super new and innovative program called CO*OP that aims to bridge the college to career gap in New York City for advertising and marketing graduates. For those who don’t know, I graduated college over a year ago and have been struggling to start my career¬†ever since. This opportunity kind of fell into my lap this past summer, and I have been rocking with it ever since. We’re the guinea pigs for the program, so things are always changing and we’re just rolling with the punches. Our founder told us from the beginning¬†that we were the pilot, hence the name of these cookies. We’re the first group and since this was my first try at creating a sweet recipe, I named them pilot cookies (that, and because ‘oatmeal butterscotch chocolate chip pretzel cookies’¬†is¬†a mouthful).

I learned a lot while creating and trying these cookies out, and definitely had fun doing it. For one, I won’t replace ingredients for¬†others without seeing how it’ll affect the final product. Since these are my pilot, it’s only a matter of time until I start creating more recipes on my own (with Ratio’s help, of course)!

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For more information on CO*OP, check us (and my face) out here and here. 

Pilot Cookies Рa  Lucy the Baker Original

Makes 28-30 cookies

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) of unsalted butter, room temperature and slightly softened
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup each of rolled oats, chocolate chips, and butterscotch chips
  • 28-30 salted pretzels

Directions:

  1. Place the oven racks in the middle of the oven, and preheat to 350F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a medium sized bowl, cream together with an electric mixer the slightly softened butter and the sugars until light and fluffy; up to five minutes. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula and add the egg and vanilla extract. Mix until completely incorporated.
  4. Gradually add the flour mix to the batter, scraping down the sides of the bowl periodically. Do not overmix!
  5. Fold in the oats, chocolate and butterscotch chips with a rubber spatula. Using a small disher or two spoons, scoop the batter onto the prepared baking sheets, about an inch or two apart. Place a pretzel atop each scoop of batter and gently press down so the pretzel sticks to the cookie dough.
  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until edges are golden brown. Rotate the pans halfway through baking.
  7. Cool cookies on the pan for a minute before transferring to racks to cool completely. For storage, place in an airtight container at room temperature. Cookies should keep for about a week.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Make sure your butter is room temp and slightly softened; not completely softened, as that will affect your final product. If your butter got too soft, make the batter and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour to firm the dough back up. To know if your butter is ready, gently press it with a finger. It should be firm, not too cold, and your finger should only make a slight indent.¬†
  • To prevent overmixing, incorporate the last bit of flour with a rubber spatula instead of the mixer. It’s also a good opportunity to scrape the bowl and make sure all the flour is incorporated.¬†
  • I use a #50 disher (similar to this one), which holds 1 1/4 tablespoons of dough. Feel free to use a larger one or two spoons to scoop your batter.¬†
  • To rotate your pans during baking, switch the top tray and the bottom tray (so the top one is now on the bottom rack and vice versa), and turn them 180 degrees. Sounds confusing but I hope that makes sense!

Kitchen Experiments: Bagels

Bagels have been on my list for the longest; probably since I started baking bread. I don’t know why it took me so long to get to them. I guess it was probably because everything about bagels¬†seemed so daunting. I also thought a stand mixer was required for these kinds of things. While they may make the process easier, they are by no means a requirement. Back when I put these on my list, they stayed there because of how much work goes into them. I am never afraid of more work, especially when it’s in the kitchen because it’s always a labor of love to me. But the fact that these bagels take two whole days to make was the main reason I put them off for so long. I quickly found out that there wasn’t much of a challenge and that maybe two days isn’t necessary. Either way, I finally got to cross them off my list (twice!)

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First things first, you need a sponge. This is the starter for the bagels, which is a combo of 1 teaspoon instant yeast, 4 cups of bread flour, and 2 1/2 cups of room temperature¬†water. Stir the ingredients together until homogenous and kinda looks like pancake batter. Cover and let rise at room temp for two hours. The first time I made these (yes, I made them twice), I started the sponge and went out to see a movie. I am totally serious, too. The movie was fantastic, as was my sponge when I got home. Technically, you’re supposed to let it rise for two hours but mine did fine with more than that. Honestly, I thought I was gonna come home and find my house overtaken by the sponge! It really was fine, and I got to work soon after.

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Now, it’s dough time. Nothing out of the ordinary here; more yeast (1/2 teaspoon), bread flour (3 3/4 cups), salt (2 2/4 teaspoons) and sugar (1 tablespoon). Fairly simple. Heads up though; make sure your flour is bread flour. I think that because mine was some “better for bread” flour, that may have had something to do with the finishing texture. Nothing terrible, just may not have been what I was looking for.

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After forming a somewhat cohesive dough ball, it’s time for the most labor intensive part of the entire recipe: the kneading. This is where a stand mixer would really come in handy because this blob needs to be kneaded for quite some time. 10 whole minutes by hand (if you’re brave). Knead the blob until it’s firm but still smooth, pliable and not sticky. If a tad dry, add small amounts of water to rehydrate the dough. Too sticky? Add a bit more flour and knead until desired texture. Rule of thumb: when making doughs, you know you’re pretty much done kneading when it’s no longer sticky. The trick is to keep kneading it to that point without adding a ton of flour. Challenging, but the more you do it, the more you’ll know by feel when you need more flour versus more kneading.

After kneading, break out your scale and your bench scraper because it’s portioning time! According to Deb and the recipe, standard bagels are 4.5oz., so that’s what I did. I got a dozen but please reference the recipe for different sizes/weights. Cover the dough balls with a damp towel and let them rest for 20 minutes. Take advantage of this break, as kneading that dough was no easy feat! Also, line some baking pans with parchment for later.

To form the dough balls into bagels, I picked up one of the rested dough balls and began making an indent in the middle, and kind of wiggling my thumb into¬†the ball to begin making the hole. After the dough was pierced through the indent, I widened it while turning the dough to make sure it stayed pretty uniform. After forming them all, I placed them on a lined baking sheet, covered them with plastic wrap and let them rest again for another 20 minutes. I cleaned up during the wait; baking’s messy!

This is where things get interesting. After the 20 minutes is up, fill a bowl with some cool/room temp water. Not cold and not hot; cool. Carefully take one of the rested bagels and plop it in the water. It should float within seconds. Got a sinker? Carefully dry off the tester, return it to the pan, cover and let rest an additional 10-20 minutes and re-test until it floats. That’s how you know it’s ready for the next step: an overnight rise in the fridge (aka retarding). The first time I made these, I did the overnight rise and my bagels came out good. The second time, I skipped the overnight rise and let them rise for about four hours. I did not note much of a difference. Is the overnight rest necessary? Probably. Does it mean you won’t have delicious bagels if you shorten the time? No. If you have the time (and fridge space), go for the overnight. If not, four hours works just fine. Carefully dry the tester bagel and return to the pan. Pop them in the fridge to rest overnight (or four hours).

Now that the bagels have spent time in the fridge, it’s time to bake. Turn your oven on up to 11 (ahem, 500F), and prep a large, wide pot with some water. Bring the pot to a boil with a tablespoon of baking soda. Before baking, bagels bathe in this boiling hot solution. Why? To form that signature bagel crust. You know the one; where the bagel is all crisp on the outside but chewy and soft on the inside. I heard this is the reason why bagels only get toasted on one side (the inside part, if you were wondering). Giant pretzels go through the same process, but that’s another post. Once boiling, place as many bagels as will fit in the pot (mine fit 3) and let them sit in there for two minutes¬†before turning them over and letting them sit in a minute longer. Remove those moist pre-bagels and place them back on the lined baking sheet that’s been sprinkled with cornmeal. This helps them not stick to the paper once wet.

Once you’ve bathed all your pre-bagels, pop them in that scorching oven for five minutes. After that, rotate the pans (180 degrees and switch the top and bottom pans) and bake at 450F for five minutes or more. After the five minutes, check them because mine took much longer than that. I think I baked mine for 10-15 more minutes before they¬†got all golden brown; keep an eye on them. After they get all nice and brown, cool them on the sheet on racks until cool enough to handle.

That’s basically it! Not so bad, if I do say so myself. And I’m talking about the process and the bagels! They came out delicious. Although they weren’t what I was used to (AHEM, prepackaged stuff), they were pretty darn good. I’m telling you, I made them twice in two weeks! The crispy crust was definitely there (thanks baking soda bath!) and they were fluffy, and chewy in the middle like they’re supposed to be. Like a typical New Yorker, I had mine with a schmear of good old fashioned cream cheese (no lox though; maybe in the future). ¬†I have to say though, this was quite the challenge. But not challenging enough that I won’t want to tackle them again, perhaps with a different flavor and recipe. Whatever I decide to do, you’ll know.

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Bagels – recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

(Holy crap, I am NOT typing all that out again. Please visit the lovely Deb at Smitten Kitchen to re-read the recipe in recipe format. Also, check out her tips and variations of these bagels!)

Kitchen Experiments: Chocolate Souffle

Souffles always seemed like a mythical dessert to me. I’ve heard so many good and bad things about them, mostly about how finicky and difficult they are to pull off. The only time I’ve seen them is on TV, being made by professionals who know the ins and outs of this show stopping and fantastical dessert. My sister had been nagging me to make these but I kept putting off because I only thought about their supposed difficulty, and because I was afraid of failure. She was so adamant about me making them, she even bought me the set of ramekins. Even then, I put them off for as long as possible. I decided to look them up to see what all the fuss was about and realized that souffles are nothing I haven’t tackled before! Since I’m not one to decline a challenge, I finally went for it.

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Souffles are actually a pretty simple dish. In this case, it’s basically just melted chocolate and whipped egg whites; both of which I have tons of experience in. With that in mind, here’s how I did it.

Using this recipe as my guide, I started out by prepping my ingredients earlier in the day. For this, we need the whites separate from the yolks. Both will be used but at different steps in the process. The best way to separate an egg is cold out of the fridge; they separate a lot easier than if the whole egg was room temp. Egg whites are best whipped at room temp, so store the yolks and whites in separate containers and leave them out. In a rush? Place the lidded containers in a little bit of warm water for several minutes until they’re no longer cold. I also took out the butter, and went about my day. I didn’t make these until after dinner, which meant that the separated eggs and butter had plenty of time to reach temp.

When I was ready, I started out by preheating my oven to 375F. Once that was done, I buttered and sugared my ramekins. These were four 4oz ramekins, meaning they are tiny. I reckon this recipe could possibly work with a muffin tin if these sized ramekins are unavailable. The easiest way to coat them is with a brush, if you have it. If not, feel free to use a napkin or your hands. Once buttered, spoon in some sugar into a ramekin and slowly move it around the ramekin to evenly coat. I like to rotate the ramekin over another one so that the excess sugar can fall into the next one. Continue until all ramekins are coated.

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Place the buttered ramekins to the side because it’s chocolate time! Grab three ounces of semi sweet chocolate chips. I used my scale to weigh mine out for accuracy’s sake. I’m not sure how much that is by volume; my guess is almost a cup or so. Throw the chips into a heat proof bowl, along with the room temp butter. Place the bowl over a small pot with simmering water. This setup is called a double boiler. I don’t know why it’s called that, considering that nothing besides the water in the bottom pot could be boiling but okay. This process helps melt the chocolate gently, without burning it. While we’re on the subject of messing chocolate up, take care to not get any water from the double boiler inside of your melting chocolate; it will seize and it just won’t work or be a pretty sight.

Once melted, take off the double boiler and add the vanilla or other flavoring. I took advantage of this part and threw in a little cognac for good measure ;). Start adding the egg yolks, one at a time, and stir it¬†into the chocolate. This is another reason why things are better at room temp. Had the yolks been cold, it would have seized the chocolate and things would’ve gotten real messy, real quick.

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After incorporating both yolks, put the bowl off to the side; it’s time for step three: the meringue. In my last Kitchen Experiments installment, I made meringues and walked through the process of how to get stiff peaks. This is the same method/technique/principle here. It may also be where a lot of people tend to screw up, perpetuating the myth that souffles are intimidating and difficult. Since we already know how to handle meringues, this wasn’t that difficult. Place your room temp whites, sugar, salt, and instant peak security (the cream of tartar) in the bowl, and begin to whip with an electric mixer. Make sure the bowl and beaters are grease free, as that will also ensure the creation of the meringues. Keep going till they’re voluminous, fluffy, shiny, and leave a trail in the bowl. Stop the mixer, dip the beaters and lift them up. If the peaks stay standing without flopping over, the whites are ready. If not, keep on trucking till they are.

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Now that the meringue is done, it’s time to fold it into the chocolate. Do this in two installments with a rubber spatula. Gently fold it it, taking care not to deflate the whites. Rotating the bowl helps for even folding. Don’t fret if you get some streaks, it’s all good!

Once all the whites are folded, pour into the prepared ramekins. I used an ice cream scoop for easy portioning but feel free to spoon or pour; whatever works best for you. Place the ramekins on a sheet pan and pop into the oven for 15-20 minutes. At around the 10 minute mark, turn your oven light on and surprise yourself with the sights. I know I did!

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After about 15-18 minutes in the oven, I took mine out. I was so excited to see they worked! I quickly plated one and began photographing. The one thing that was a fact about the souffle myth is that they do fall fairly quickly; which is why this is such a fancy and last minute dessert. As they cool, the tops deflate. Not pretty but still delicious. Speaking of which, these things were so good! It was like eating a slightly underbaked, cloud like brownie. The insides were very fluffy (thanks, meringue!) and super chocolatey. Yeah, it was piping hot but it really was amazing. It exceeded my expectations and is making me wonder what took me so long to make these!

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Despite all myth surrounding this heavenly dessert, I’m glad I conquered it and hope that anyone else out there afraid of souffles does too. It really is a simple process that with a little bit of care and good technique, it can definitely turn out successful.

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Mini Chocolate Souffles – adapted from Tablespoon

Makes four 4oz ramekins

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3oz semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-2 teaspoons rum (optional)
  • 2 eggs, separated and room temp.
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, plus more for ramekins
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Use the 1/2 tbsp butter to thoroughly coat the insides of four 4-oz. ramekins. Fill the ramekins with sugar and dump out, tapping out the excess. The insides of the ramekins should be completely coated with sugar.
  2. Over medium-high heat, bring a small pot with a couple inches of water to a simmer. Place a heatproof bowl on the pot, making sure the water is NOT touching the bowl.  Add the chocolate chips and butter to the bowl, and stir until completely melted. 
  3. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, rum if using, and egg yolks, one at a time. Set aside.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine egg whites, sugar, salt and cream of tartar. Using an electric hand mixer, whisk the egg white mixture until stiff peaks form. 
  5. Gently fold the egg white mixture in two batches into the chocolate mixture. Spoon into the ramekins, filling them 3/4 full and bake souffles for about 15-20 minutes or until puffed and set. Sprinkle tops with powdered sugar if desired and serve immediately.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Don’t skip the powdered sugar at the end! Sift some on top before serving. Just make sure there aren’t any fans around
  • Feeling extra? Serve with ice cream on the side.

Kitchen Experiments: Orangettes

Orange is definitely one of my favorite flavors. Along with the other citrus fruits, oranges are full of freshness and flavor. One of my favorite things to do is actually peel an orange by hand. I like to get my fingers in there and just pull back the peel, and watch the orange oils just leak out and get all over my hands. It’s like nature’s perfume! Obviously I’m no stranger to oranges but it wasn’t until recently that I experienced a dark chocolate covered candied orange peel. I instantly fell in love. I was never really one to eat any kind of fruit with chocolate; not even the super popular chocolate covered strawberries. It just wasn’t my thing. I liked my fruits and chocolate separate when I was a kid, and never thought to try them together until adulthood. Blame the ‘refined palate’ I’m now claiming because I’m game to chocolate with fruit, and the darker the chocolate the better.

Back to the candied orange. It was definitely an experience and an eye opener. With the whole “do it myself” kick I’ve been going through, I knew I could probably pull this off. I used this recipe as a guide¬†and got going.

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Making orangettes is super simple but very time consuming. It can take all day, but the majority of the process is just waiting. To get started, grab some oranges and carefully remove the peel off in segments. I like to cut off the top and bottom of the orange; trying to take away as little as possible of the actual orange. We just want a little opening into the pith. From here, I score the peel four times around the orange, and then use my hands to carefully remove the peel. Oddly enough, we actually want the pith. Ideally, when eating an orange the pith isn’t edible but for this purpose, we need it as it helps hold the sugar and gives the orangette its structure.

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After peeling the whole orange, slice the peel into strips. Try to make them as even as possible, but don’t fret if they’re not. I find that the thicker the slice, the better but this also takes longer to dry later. Play around with the sizes and thickness until you find what you like. After you have your strips ready, bring a pot with water up to a boil. Place the strips into the boiling water and blanch for five minutes. Rinse the peels and repeat the process two more times. This process is done to get rid of the bitterness found in the peel, and helps soften them up for the next step. For this part, I changed out the water each time and blanched them a total of three times. I’m sure it isn’t necessary to change the water each time, but I did for extra security.

After the last blanch, place an equal amount of water and sugar into your pot and bring to a simmer. Essentially, this is a simple syrup, and is what turns regular orange peels into orangettes. Amounts of water/sugar can vary, depending on how many orangettes you plan on making. For the one orange I used, I made my simple syrup using two cups of water with two cups of sugar. I did this for two reasons; one of which was because of my failed first attempt. The first time I tried to make these, I didn’t use enough water and sugar; the strips were touching the bottom of the pot. On top of the fact that they were sticking, I had the heat a little too high and ended up with caramelized orange peels. It could’ve been good but it was NOT what I was looking for.

Peels in syrup

Peels in syrup

When the syrup is at a simmer, put the peels in the pot and keep at a simmer for an hour. Yes, I know. A whole hour. Don’t stray too far from the pot, either. It needs to stay at a simmer or else you’ll end up with my first attempt’s result. Not good. While you wait, eat the orange you now have laying around if you haven’t already. This is also a good time to think about what kind of chocolate is best to dip the finished orangettes in. Personally, I’m a fan of dark chocolate. In this case, it goes very well with the orangey sweetness of the orangettes against the bitter tones of a dark chocolate.¬†Bittersweet and semisweet also work extremely well, but you can use what you like. For this instance, I used semisweet.

Now that the peels have been simmering in the syrup for an hour, it’s time for removal. Carefully lay out each orangette atop of a cooling rack. Place a baking sheet under the rack to catch the syrup drippings. Right now, you should have a pot full of orange simple syrup. That was reason number two! Save the syrup and use it to sweeten tea, cocktails, or even lemonade.

Here comes the hard part: more waiting! The orangettes need to be completely dry before dipping in chocolate. For me, it took several hours; I didn’t really note how long it actually took. After they’re completely dry, they should be a little sturdier and less sticky. Melt the chocolate of your choice, either on a double boiler or carefully in the microwave. Dip each orangette, and place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. At this point, you have creative license to dip them however you want; either completely, halfway, or a simple drizzle. For the non-chocolate lovers (ahem, my folks), toss the orangettes in some granulated sugar but only before serving! The orangettes tend to soak the sugar up and they get kind of wet and sticky; not cool.

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Orangettes are just plain awesome. ¬†They’re sweet, chewy and intensely orange. The slight bitterness of the semisweet chocolate goes so well with the sweetness of the orangette. I mean, chocolate and orange just love each other. Pity it took me this long to figure that out. Now that I think of it, these would make an awesome gift. Honestly, I’m just thinking ahead to Christmas! Too soon, maybe.

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I’m positive this method isn’t just limited to oranges, and could produce awesome tasting candied lemon peels (lemonettes?) or lime peels (limettes, obviously). Try them with different combinations of chocolate; like limettes covered in white chocolate or lemonettes in milk chocolate. The options are endless and sure to produce a delicious result.

Orangettes – adapted from Handle the Heat

  • 1 large orange
  • 8 cups of water, divided
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 4-8oz of semisweet chocolate chunks, melted
  • 1/4 cup of sugar (optional)

Directions:

  1. Cut the top and bottom off of the orange. Score the peel four times, rotating the orange after each score. Gently remove the peel with your hands, trying to get the peel to come off in one piece. Slice the peels into uniform strips.
  2. Set a medium sized pot, and bring two cups of water to a boil. Blanch the peels in the boiling water for five minutes. Pour the peels into a colander, and rinse off with cold water. Replenish the pot with two more cups of water and bring to a boil again. Repeat the above process for a total of three times.
  3. In the empty pot, combine two cups of water and two cups of sugar over low-medium heat. Stir the sugar until it is dissolved, and bring to a simmer. Place the blanched and rinsed peels into the simmering syrup and continue to simmer for an hour.
  4. Carefully remove each peel and place on a cooling rack over a baking sheet. You can discard the syrup or keep it to sweeten drinks or tea; just place in a jar or other container and cool before refrigerating. Allow the peels to cool and dry completely, which may take several hours.
  5. After the peels have dried out, melt the chocolate over a double boiler or gently in the microwave. If you’re microwaving, melt the chocolate in 30 second increments; stirring each time. Do not scorch/overheat the chocolate. Dip each orange peel in the chocolate, and set on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Allow the chocolate to set before enjoying.
  6. Alternatively, toss the dried orange peels into granulated sugar, instead of chocolate, before serving.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • This is a whole day kind of project. Start early!
  • Again, I don’t think it’s necessary to change the water after each blanch. If you test this, please let me know!

 

Kitchen Experiments: Meringues

Meringues have always been one of my favorite mystery kitchen experiments. I never really understood how or what was required to make these yummy things, or how simple it actually is. My first tastes of meringue were courtesy of traditional Dominican desserts. Our birthday cakes are covered in meringue frosting, similar to seven minute icing. It is soft, fluffy, super sweet and resembles marshmallow fluff. When the cake is left out for a couple hours, the frosting begins to harden and form a bit of a crunchy shell. The longer it sat out, the crunchier it’d get. The thick layer of frosting¬†helps preserve the¬†cake layers underneath; keeping the cake relatively moist. As an adult, it’s still my favorite part of Dominican cakes. Sometimes, I collect my parents’ and sister’s leftover¬†frosting off their pieces of cake and refrigerate it for a couple days so some of it would harden; giving me a mix of soft, fluffy frosting with tons of crunchy bits.

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These days, the only way I can get my meringue fix is if I make them myself. This was definitely a kitchen experiment to me. I’ve played around with meringue several times before but never made the actual meringue cookie.¬†For this batch, I used Food52’s non-recipe to make my meringues. I had one egg white sitting around my fridge that needed to be made into something. This non-recipe uses ratios to figure out how much of each ingredient is needed to make consistent meringue cookies, depending on how many whites you have.

The ratios are: 1 part egg whites: 2 parts sugar: .5 parts (in tsps) cream of tartar

My amounts were:  1/4 cup of egg whites (from two whites): 1/2 cup sugar: 1/8 tsp cream of tartar.

Sounds simple and straightforward, right? Well, the difficulties (if any) lie in the method. The egg whites must be room temperature before whipping to soft peaks. Before you even do that, you have to make sure your bowl and beaters are completely grease free. Feeling skeptical? Wipe your tools down with a small amount of lemon juice before whipping.

Before beginning, preheat your oven to 225F, and arrange your oven racks in either the lower and upper thirds of the oven or place one rack in the center. Low temperatures are crucial for meringues; don’t try to hike it up so they’ll be done quicker. Your patience will be rewarded.

Pour¬†your whites in your grease free bowl with the cream of tartar and whip away with your beaters. You’ll notice how bubbly the mixture gets as¬†you whip. For this method, the whites need to be whipped to soft peaks. What does this mean? A soft peak means that when held up, the whites can’t hold the peak. Turn off your beaters and¬†dip them straight down into the bowl.¬†Lift them up and turn the beaters over. The egg whites on the tip of the beaters should be soft, airy, and begin to lose their form the longer you have the beaters facing up.

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Soft, bubbly peaks

At this stage, we’re ready to gradually add the sugar. Start by adding in the sugar, while beating, by the tablespoon. Incorporate the sugar for about 10 seconds before adding another tablespoon. Keep going until all the sugar is completely incorporated. Turn your beaters on high and beat the whites into submission. The whites will have turned into meringue, thanks to the addition of the sugar. You’ll notice the mixture is now glossy, thick and slightly heavy. Continue beating until you have stiff peaks; meaning the meringue holds the peak when held up.

After you’ve reached this point, add your flavorings. I added about 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract to this batch but the sky’s the limit. You can add zest to make lemon, lime, or orange meringues. Mint, almond, or coconut¬†extracts to make flavored meringues. You can also add melted semisweet chocolate to make chocolate meringues! The options are endless.

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Now that you have your meringue, it’s time to portion them out on a lined baking sheet. You can portion out your cookies with two spoons, a piping bag, or attempt to use a disher, like I did. It went pretty well but after a few cookies, the meringue¬†didn’t want to come out of the disher. ¬†I coaxed them out of the disher with a spatula and continued to portion them out. I topped mine with some sprinkles but it’s totally optional.

Once all portioned out, place your baking sheet in the preheated oven for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. Yes, you read that right. This is by far, the hardest part of the recipe. I know it’s such a LONG TIME but the wait is worth it. The oven’s low temperature gently coaxes out the meringues’ moisture, leaving a crunchy, melt in your mouth cookie.

You’ll notice that the finished meringues’ shine has dulled and that they are super light in weight. That dull exterior is hiding a crunchy and sweet interior that tastes like vanilla flavored air. Weird description but I feel like meringues are what marshmallows would be if they ever got completely hard.

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Now that I know how easy it is to make these, my favorite cookies won’t be out of reach anymore. I can now experiment with different flavors and make as many or as little as I want!

Meringues Without A Recipe – adapted from Food52

Makes approximately 19 meringues

  • 1/4 cup of egg whites (from two whites), room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 225F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place your oven racks in either the lower or upper thirds of the oven (for multiple sheets) or in the center of the oven (for one sheet).
  2. In a dry, clean, medium sized mixing bowl, beat the whites and cream of tartar with an electric mixer until foamy and can form soft peaks.
  3. Gradually add the sugar, by the tablespoon, waiting about 10 seconds before adding another spoonful. Continue beating until all the sugar has been incorporated and the whites are stiff and glossy.
  4. Add the vanilla (or other flavorings) and beat to incorporate. Drop the meringues onto the prepared sheet either with a piping bag, a set of spoons, or a disher.
  5. Bake your meringues for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, rotating the pan(s) halfway through baking.
  6. Turn the oven off and cool the meringues inside the oven until completely cool. Meringues should come off the parchment cleanly. Place in an airtight container to prevent softening.

Lucy’s Tips:

  • Egg whites are best separated cold but whip better when warm. Separate your eggs straight out of the fridge but leave them on the counter for an hour or so, until it’s room temp. In a hurry? Place your cold whites in an airtight container and sit the container in a bowl with warm water. Swirl the container in the water for a couple minutes or until the whites no longer feel cold.¬†