Baking - General, Ingredient Insights

Blueberry Bonanza!

I recently went blueberry picking with my family at Blueberry Acres, and while the kids ate their weight in berries, the adults picked and boxed the same amount. Needless to say we now have a large stock of blueberries in our freezer, and I have been using them in many different ways. I didn’t really want to pick just one thing to profile for this post, because there are so many delicious blueberry things to make.

When I was thinking about this post, it reminded me of the movie Forrest Gump, when Bubba was telling Forrest all the different ways you could prepare shrimp. I kept thinking ‘blueberry pancakes, blueberry scones, blueberry grunt, blueberry sauce, blueberry crisp…’

So instead of highlighting one item, here is a sampling of all the blueberry delights I’ve been making. We did have some blueberry pancakes for breakfast one morning, and because we have so many berries, I didn’t even bother measuring them when I added them in, so every pancake had a good amount of blueberries (sometimes by the time you get to the last pancake you’ve scooped them all out, but not this time!) I made a blueberry cake to take to work one day, again, adding way more berries than the recipe had called for. I made a blueberry cobbler for dessert one night. And just this past weekend I made a batch of blueberry jam, in the style of the raspberry jam I made a while ago that uses apples for the pectin.

I also have some blueberries measured out and ready for a batch of Blueberry Bonanza! (That is, in fact, the name of the recipe). I am very excited about this; it takes 12 cups of blueberries! You cook the berries, then strain them through cheesecloth to extract the juice, and use the juice to make blueberry syrup. What a waste of blueberries, you might say. Not so! The remaining pulp and skins of the berries get used to make blueberry butter. Oh it’s going to be a yummy winter with all these berry preserves!

On a final note, a little tip about freezing your berries that I learned from my canning book. Obviously you want to clean your berries before you freeze them, because you won’t be able to clean them once they’ve thawed. Instead of washing them under water and trying to dry them for easier freezing, pour some out onto a towel, fold the towel overtop, and gently push back and forth on top of the towel; kind of rolling the berries around between the towel layers, thereby wiping off any residue that may be on the berries. I found this a lot easier to do than washing and drying them, and they don’t freeze in clumps like they would if they had some water left on them.

Baking - General, Ingredient Insights

Walking on Eggshells

Well, not really walking on eggshells, it just sounded like such a catchy title. This post is about eggshells, but actually about removing those pesky shards that fall into your bowl that make you cringe at the thought of biting into one in your final product.

eggshellsIn one of the baking classes I took at King Arthur Flour I remember the instructor saying that the best way to get an eggshell out of your batter is with – wait for it – an eggshell!

I had always meticulously tried to get those bits out with a pointy knife or a spoon, usually with great frustration. I tried it with an eggshell once after hearing her say that and could not believe how easy it was to get that tiny, white shard out of the bowl. It was like a magnetic attraction.

So the next time you are baking and accidentally lose a piece of shell into your bowl, put the rest of the shell to use and give it a try. I’m sure you’ll be as amazed, and relieved, as I was!

Baking - General

Jalapeno Pepper Jelly

I don’t like spicy things very much, so most of the things I make are on the sweet side. My husband, on the other hand, loves spice. He is a big fan of pepper jellies, eating it not only as an appetizer on crackers with cheese, but also on his toast in the morning. (I could handle the crackers and cheese, but not on toast for breakfast). Anyway, I’ve been stock-piling quite a few jams and jellies with the various berries that are in season right now, and got to thinking that I should probably make something he would really enjoy too.

I found a recipe in my canning book for Easy Jalapeno Pepper Jelly. The title did not lie, it was super easy. I was a bit reluctant, because I know that cutting and handling hot peppers can be risky business, especially for someone who doesn’t like them. But all I had to do was cut off the tops, scoop out the seeds, and toss them in the blender. No chopping itty bitty pieces getting my fingers coated in hot pepper juice, this was my kind of recipe.

After they were blended with some cider vinegar, I cooked them up with more vinegar and sugar – standing back a bit to avoid the fumes – added in the pectin when it was time, and ladeled it into the jars. Easy peasy. The recipe suggested for a hotter jelly you could wrap some of the seeds in cheesecloth and let it infuse the cooking jelly, removing just before adding the pectin. I would have tried this, but didn’t have any cheesecloth on hand. Maybe next time.

I have to confess, I didn’t even taste test to make sure it was okay. But my husband has had it on his toast a few times now, so I guess it was a success!

Baking - General, Recipe

Zucchini Challenge, Take Two

The abundance of summer is back in our CSA boxes, with another season of zucchini upon us. You may remember the great zucchini challenge from last summer, where my husband and I went head to head to see who could make a better use of zucchini. Well, there was no competition this year (not yet, anyway), but I did make it a personal challenge to try and come up with more interesting ways to use our zucchini.

It’s been a few weeks since I made this recipe, so I can’t even remember what made me think to look for it, or how I searched for it, but I found a recipe for a quiche crust made with zucchini. The recipe also called for carrots; I didn’t have any carrots, but I did have beets, so I made the substitution – hence the bright pink in the photos.

This recipe used 2 whole cups of grated zucchini – fantastic! Now, you might ask, as I did initially, won’t that be a soggy crust? Zucchini is so full of moisture, it always makes the top of my pizza soupy unless I cook it first to release some of the moisture. Well, if you read the recipe at the link below you’ll see that you sprinkle the grated zucchini with salt and let it drain for awhile, and then squeeze out as much of the moisture as you can. It’s a bit of work, but well worth it, both for the meal and for using up the zucchini!

I highly recommend trying this recipe out. It also uses a minimal amount of flour, so those of you who are gluten free could probably substitute another flour for the wheat flour and still get great results. You can find the link for the recipe below the photos.

Click here for the recipe for zucchini crust.

Baking - General, Ingredient Insights

Cocoa Powder Revealed

Did you know that there are two common types of cocoa power on the market? Dutch-process and natural.

Natural cocoa powder.
Natural cocoa powder.

Natural cocoa, which is simply the cocoa beans that have been roasted and powdered, is naturally acidic. Dutch-process cocoa comes from a process of neutralizing the acid in the cocoa beans before they are roasted and powdered.

When I was thinking about this, a few questions came to mind. How do you tell the difference? What kind is my usual store brand? Can they be used interchangeably? Well, let’s find out. I went for some advice online and found a couple helpful sites. If you check out the sites I list at the end you will learn the following. Dutch-process cocoa has a bold, reddish colour to it, whereas natural cocoa is a lighter shade of brown; and dutch-process has a lighter flavour, while natural has a bitterness but gives a fuller chocolate flavour in the final product.

The kind you buy in tins at the grocery store is likely natural, unless it is specifically labeled ‘dutch-process,’ and therefore most common recipes you use will work well with natural cocoa. I did get some cocoa powder at a bulk store once and noticed it had a reddish colouring, but at the time didn’t realize that there might be a difference between that and a tin from the store. I can’t remember if it affected my recipes.

So can they be used interchangeably? Apparently it can go one way, but not the other. Natural cocoa is acidic, so in recipes that call for baking soda it is a good fit, because you need an acid to make the soda work (as you may recall from an earlier blogpost). Dutch-process has had the acidity removed, so it needs baking powder in order to make a recipe work, since baking powder has an acid included. Since dutch-process does not have the acid, it will not work well in a recipe that calls for baking soda; however, natural cocoa can probably be used in a recipe that calls for baking powder, it will just have a bit more acidity to make it work. I haven’t done any experimenting, so I don’t know if it would affect the flavour, but that can be something for a future post.

For more detailed info on cocoa, you can go to the following links:

http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2010/02/cocoa-powder-faq-dutch-process-v/

http://www.joyofbaking.com/cocoa.html