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…
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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!)

No Churn Coffee Ice Cream and DIY Cone Cups

It finally looks like summer is winding down. It’s weird because it feels like this summer was short but it was still uncomfortably hot. One of my favorite things about the heat (if not the only thing) is the fact that I get to eat ice cream. I LOVE ice cream and eat it pretty much year round, but it tastes better in warm weather. I didn’t get to eat a lot of ‘real’ ice cream that much this year; except for the countless cups of froyo and this but other than that, no ‘real’ ice cream.

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As an adult, my ice cream palette has evolved a little bit. I still have a soft spot for cookies and cream ice cream, soft serve loaded with sprinkles from the truck, and those tiny ice cream sandwiches but I like having something with some flavor. Enter coffee ice cream. I’ve been drinking coffee since I was a kid. Blame my mom, who started giving me coffee with milk (lattes?) since I was young in an attempt to get me to eat something. My mom says that I barely ate as a kid; which I find hilariously ridiculous since I love food. One of the only ways I’d apparently eat breakfast was with a mug of coffee with milk. Now, my mom drinks espresso. Or what I think is espresso, which is known to be as coffee that is not for the faint of heart. Imagine giving a kid that stuff? I don’t recall being hyper or anything but it did give me a taste for the luscious black gold. She even tried weaning me off several times to no avail because I had gotten used to the dose of caffeine and without it, I’d get headaches.

Nowadays, I take my coffee black and still get headaches if I miss my morning cup. It’s what prompted me to turn it into ice cream. Using the leftover ingredients from this dessert, I made a half batch of awesome that is still in my freezer. I posted about the magic of this no churn ice cream here and had been thinking about repeating the recipe ever since. If you can whip cream, you can make this ice cream. Super simple: whipped heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, flavorings of your choice, and an optional (ha) tablespoon of liquor. Once frozen, it’s a magical dessert that you can’t even believe it’s not traditional ice cream. For this batch, I dissolved a tablespoon of instant coffee powder in a tablespoon of scotch. It is BEYOND delicious, with a strong coffee flavor that is still present after every spoonful.

Since I have done this recipe before, I wanted to do something fun to go with it. And like most of my ideas as of late, this one came to me in the shower. Whenever I used to go to the ice cream shop, I’d get a sugar cone to go with my default cookies and cream scoop. I love the crispy and sweet taste better than I do a waffle cone. Those things taste like air. Anyway, I wanted to replicate that at home. I don’t have cone maker or waffle press, so cone cups seemed ideal. All you need is a muffin tin and a shot glass. For this recipe, you need to have patience but also work quickly, as the cones harden super fast. After the first few, I got the swing of things but was disappointed they weren’t brown enough. Either way, they came out fabulous. Despite the paleness, the flavor and signature crispness were definitely there.

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While my love for coffee and ice cream knows no bounds, it’s good to know that I can basically have it year round. Even if it does taste better in warm weather!

No Churn Coffee Ice Cream – adapted from Martha Stewart

Makes 3/4 quart

  • 7oz sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup cold, heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon liquor of choice (I used scotch)
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee powder

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, dissolve the coffee in the tablespoon of liquor. Add the sweetened condensed milk and stir together until combined. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whip the heavy cream using a hand mixer until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the whipped cream into the sweetened condensed milk mixture. Pour homogenous mix into a freezer safe container with a lid, and freeze for six hours or until firm. Remove ice cream from freezer and let sit out for five minutes before scooping and serving.

Sugar Cones – adapted from Spoon Fork Bacon

Makes 21 cone cups

  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup superfine sugar
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch salt
  • 2/3 all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Directions:

  1. Place egg whites, sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt into a mixing bowl and whisk together. Stir in flour and butter until fully incorporated and batter is smooth.
  2. Lightly spray a nonstick skillet with a small amount of cooking spray. Pour 2 1/2 tablespoons batter into the cold skillet and spread into a thin even layer. Place skillet over medium heat and cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until base has set. Flip and continue to cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Quickly lay sugar disc into a buttered muffin tin and press down with a lightly greased shot glass. Leave shot glass in the cone cup for 1-2 minutes, or until the cone cup takes its shape. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  3. Repeat until all batter has been used. Carefully store in an airtight container for up to three days.

Lucy Tips:

  • Sugar or waffle cones more your thing? Please head over to Spoon Fork Bacon for the waffle cone recipe, tips, and instructions on how to make them into cones

Brown Sugar Cookies

I happen to be somewhat of a people pleaser. I made chocolate chip cookies again recently, since they were such a hit with my folks. My dad actually asked me after the first batch was all gone when I’d make them again, so I did; except they were now a problem. My mom came to me, holding a cookie, asking me why I didn’t make them without chocolate chips. I almost cried out in shock and dismay at that suggestion. If I’m making chocolate chip cookies, they’re gonna have chocolate chips (or chunks, in that case). They’re not called chocolate chip cookies by chance, you know. I explained this to her, to which she responded with an eye roll and then left the room, with cookie in tow. I started thinking about it, and decided to appease her the next time I hit the kitchen.

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Making chocolate chip cookies sans chocolate chips sounds easy enough, right? I mean, why not just make the recipe and leave out the chocolate chips? No, as that is not how I roll. What she wanted, essentially, was a soft sugar cookie. I’m not exactly fond of soft sugar cookies, as they taste like sugar coated butter to me (which may or may not be a bad thing, depending on the day and who you ask). I also thought about making snickerdoodles, because of their hint of spice, but opted out of those for the same reason. The main difference between chocolate chip cookies and sugar cookies, besides the presence of chocolate chips, is that chocolate chip cookies require brown sugar. I wanted brown sugar cookies, and this was what I set out to make.

I love to use brown sugar in any recipe where it won’t be too noticeable. There’s just a certain warmth and chewiness you can’t get from regular white sugar. Brown sugar’s identifying characteristic is its brown color, which comes from the addition of molasses during processing. It’s also the reason why it’s soft. I had been burning thorough my brown sugar recently, so I took matters into my own hands. Brown sugar is actually really easy to make at home. All you need is white sugar, and molasses. Add 1 tablespoon of molasses to each cup of white sugar; more if you like a darker brown sugar, and mix. It’s really that simple! I started mixing it with my hand mixer, but hardware like that isn’t really required. I ended up blending in the rest of the molasses with a fork, which works a lot better and requires less clean up. Homemade brown sugar is a bit darker by comparison to the store bought stuff, so do not be alarmed.

Now, let’s talk storage. Brown sugar is moist by nature and it needs to stay that way. There are tons of stuff on the market to help keep your brown sugar soft, but I have an even easier one that doesn’t require a special purchase; a slice of bread! Just place your brown sugar in an airtight container with a slice of bread, and it’ll stay soft and moist for a couple weeks. Brown sugar is like the vampire of the baking world, as it feeds off the moisture in the slice of bread; sucking it all out in order to stay soft and sparkly. After a while, the slice of bread gets super stiff and kind of feels like a slice of toast. Replace the slice of bread periodically so the sugar won’t harden. If it does, cover the sugar with a damp paper towel and microwave in 30 second intervals until soft.

Check it, a stiff slice of untoasted bread. The brown sugar vampires did their thing on this poor slice of white bread

Check it, a stiff slice of untoasted bread. The brown sugar vampires did their thing on this poor slice of white bread

Back to the cookies. These cookies, from the fabulous Joy at Joy the Baker, are like a cross between a chocolate chip cookie (without chips) and a snickerdoodle. It has the brown sugar taste and chew from the chocolate chip cookie, and the spice and softness of a snickerdoodle. It also reminded me a lot of gingerbread cookies, which is awesome considering I don’t want to wait another seven months for a ginger flavored cookie. Anyway, these are amazing. The brown sugar kept the cookies soft and chewy, and the addition of cinnamon added that bit of spice that made them feel extra warm and fuzzy. Then, there’s that little kick in the back of your throat from the hint of ginger that sort of creeps up on you. I ended up switching out half of the flour for some whole wheat flour, which added a little nuttiness (and health?) to the cookie. All in all, it’s a lovely and tasty rendition of a sugar cookie, with just the right amount of spice to shake things up a bit. As for my mom? I didn’t hear a word from her this time, and the cookies were gone within days. I’d say I did pretty well this time 😉

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Brown Sugar Cookies – adapted from Joy the Baker

Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F, and place your oven racks un the center and upper third of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger.  Set aside.
  3. Place butter and brown sugar in a medium sized bowl and using a hand (or stand) mixer, beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Add the egg and vanilla extract, and beat on medium speed for one minute more.
  4. Add the dry ingredients, all at once, to the butter and sugar mixture.  Beat on low speed until the dough begins to come together  and the flour disappears.  Stop the mixer and finish incorporating the ingredients with a spatula.  Once all the flour is thoroughly mixed in, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  5.  Using a cookie scoop or a tablespoon, dollop balls of dough onto the prepared baking sheets.  Bake cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned around the edges.  Cool on the pan for 5 minutes, before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.  Cookies will last, in an airtight container at room temperature, for up to 5 days (if they last that long).

 Lucy’s Tips:

  • Not in the mood to make brown sugar by hand? Use your food processor! Just add the sugar and molasses, and blend!

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. 

 

DIY Pumpkin Puree and Pumpkin Pie Spice

Now that Halloween is over, we can all concentrate on the next holiday in the lineup: Thanksgiving. The following day after Halloween, I saw an onslaught of Christmas stuff everywhere. Ads are already popping up on TV, big toy books from Target and Toys R Us have landed at my door, and the seasonal aisle in my local drugstore is decked out in red, white, and green. Honestly, I’m not ready for this Christmas explosion! People are getting too ahead of themselves in preparing for the biggest shopping season of the year, but let’s concentrate on turkey day.

I love the hype around Thanksgiving, even if it is a small amount. The hype I do hear, is all about the food and the preparations behind them. Planning a meal worthy of this holiday takes a lot of time; there’s invites, place settings, decorations, and of course, the menu. Most people start prepping and planning as early as possible, even as soon as the beginning of the month. One of the biggest items on the list what can be prepared in advanced and how far in advance can it be prepared. Instead of relying on a last minute purchase of canned pumpkin, why not make it yourself this year?

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Homemade pumpkin puree is a seriously easy process that can be done well in advanced, and can get you more bang for your buck. I used Ree’s (aka The Pioneer Woman) instructions as a guide. First, buy yourself a sugar pumpkin. I got my medium sized pumpkin at my local farmer’s market for $2. Make sure it is a sugar pumpkin and not a pumpkin used for carving or decoration!

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Now that the pumpkin has been acquired, it’s time to get to work. Preheat your oven at 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside. Grab your cutting board and a large knife. If your pumpkin has a little dirt, you can wash it off but don’t worry too much about it because we’re going to peel it later anyway.

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Grab your knife and carefully slice the pumpkin into two halves. What I should’ve done here was cut the stem off, but I didn’t. You should cut the stem off first; it’ll make cutting it in two a lot easier. Now that your pumpkin is halved, use a large spoon to remove all the pumpkin guts and seeds. Save this stuff! We’re going to harvest the seeds to roast later.

At this point, your pumpkin should be rid of it’s innards. You can also cut the pumpkin into quarters for easier roasting (you may need another baking sheet, if you do). Put the pumpkin halves face down on the prepped sheet and bake in your preheated oven for 45 minutes to an hour. It’s done when a fork can easily slide into the pumpkin.

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While the pumpkin’s baking, sift through the guts for all the seeds! This is slightly tedious but pepitas are awesome, so get your hands dirty! After getting all the seeds, give them a rinse. Gently dry them with a paper towel before drizzling in a bit of olive oil, some salt and pepper. Spread your seeds out on a parchment lined baking sheet and pop them in the oven. I’d say give them about 10-12 minutes, but please watch them so they don’t burn! Once cooled, you should have a lovely, and delicious snack!

After checking your pumpkin for doneness (with the fork, remember?), remove from the oven and let cool.

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While that’s cooling, let’s talk pumpkin pie spice. A lot of people serve pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, deliciously so, and one of the main ingredients besides the pumpkin is it’s signature spice. This is the stuff that drives people nuts during the fall, mostly in those pumpkin spice latte things from coffee chains. What most don’t realize is that this signature spice mix is simply a combination of things you probably already have in your pantry! Instead of shelling out close to $8 for a tiny bottle, a quick Google search, led me to this recipe from Joy the Baker.

Pumpkin pie spice is basically a mix of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and ginger (and cardamom, if you got it). This is as easy as measuring out the spices, and mixing it in an empty spice jar. All you need is 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1/2 a teaspoon of each: ground cloves, ground allspice, and freshly grated nutmeg. Joy also adds a big pinch of cardamom (or mace), add it in if you have it. Pop all these in the empty spice jar and give it a healthy shake. Make sure all the spices are incorporated, and you’ve got pumpkin pie spice! So easy, and so affordable!

Now that we have pumpkin pie spice and pepitas, let’s get back to the pumpkin.  Grab your knife and cut your halves into quarters (if you haven’t already). Gently slide the knife under the pumpkin’s soft and tender skin. Cut your peeled pumpkin into chunks, and discard the skins.

And now, we puree. Place your chunks in the food processor and puree until the chunks resemble baby food. Periodically, scrape the sides down with a spatula. This may take several batches, depending on the size of your food processor. I have a mini prep, so mine took forever. When all of the chunks have been pureed, you’re done! Bask in the pumpkin-y glory you have now created! At this point, you can store it in jars, containers, tupperware, plastic bags, whatever you have that has a lid and can be frozen or refrigerated. This golden stuff should last a few weeks in the fridge, months if you freeze it. But we all know that if there’s pumpkin in the house, pumpkin things will be made! Just make sure to save some for your Thanksgiving pie!

Pumpkin Puree tutorial – slightly adapted from The Pioneer Woman

Pumpkin Pie Spice – adapted from Joy the Baker

Makes about 2 tablespoons

  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Directions:

  1. Blend all of the spices together, making sure to work through any lumps. Store in an old spice jar.