Oct 31, 2013

The Other Fall Flavor: Apple Cider Gummy Candy

Over the past few years I've watched the "pumpkin" trend become huge.  Pumpkin lattes, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin beer, pretty much anything that someone can add the flavor of pumpkin to becomes pumkin-y as soon as it hits fall.  I tend to shrug at the whole thing.  I don't have anything against fall or pumpkins; I'm just not a huge fan of anything when a fake flavor is added to it.  That, and I tend to prefer the other "fall flavor".  Apples.

When I was a kid, we had an apple tree in my yard.  I remember picking apples with my sister, attempting to climb the tree, me trying to stand on her shoulders to reach the top...  It really is amazing that neither of us ended up in the emergency room because of that thing.  But the apples that grew on it were amazing, and we always made plenty of applesauce from the apples that we picked.

Living in Boston, many years later, I tend to be conflicted with regards to the fall past time of apple picking.  On one hand, getting the apples directly from the tree tend to give you the best possible fruit; the apples that you pick will last for months in the refrigerator; the cider, and cider donuts at Honeypot Hill are amazing; and it's one of the few times when it is socially acceptable, as an adult, to climb trees (a skill which I am quite pleased to still posses). On the other hand, it is more expensive, and because it's a "thing" that all the folks in the city do as a fall activity, I kind of want to tell everyone there that I'm not just a tourist, that I've worked on "real" farms; that I'm not the type who will run screaming away from a mosquito, having never seen one before.  The tipping point is a good friend of mine who grew up in Hawaii.  He gets a huge kick out of being able to pick an item of food off a tree and just eat it directly.

Being close to Halloween, I decided to stick with the theme of candy.  One of my favorite types of candy to make is gummy candy.  It's easy to make, and easy to adjust the flavor profile.  Also, it allows me to make them into all sorts of fun shapes. It's one of the great things about the prevalence of silicone ice cube trays these days is that they work equally well for the making of candy. I may be slightly obsessed, and have several of them in all sorts of fun shapes.  For anyone with geek tendencies, there are several fun ones at Thinkgeek.

So much better than store bought gummy bears!

Apple Cider Gummy Candy

  • 6 Cups Apple Cider
  • 1 1/4 Cups Granulated Sugar 
  • 6 Envelopes gelatin
  • 1 1/4 Cups Water
  • Optional: cinnamon, sugar
Reduce the apple cider until there is only 1 cup, by simmering in a 2 quart saucepan.  This is the slowest part of the whole recipe. If you boil the apple cider, it will give a different flavor due to caramelizing the sugars. I try to do this part the day before, because it needs to cool before adding gelatin.  The good side of having to spend a long time simmering apple cider is that the entire house will smell amazing.

After the cider has been reduced and cooled, place it in a bowl and sprinkle the gelatin on top, to allow it time to bloom while cooking the syrup (if you want to add cinnamon, now would be the time to do so).

Always be careful when making candy, as serious burns can occur.
Put the water and sugar in a saucepan, and attach a candy thermometer.  Cook over medium heat until the syrup reaches the hard crack stage, at 300 degrees Farenheit.  Add the cider/gelatin mixture, and mix until fully incorporated.

Candy setting in silicone ice cube trays

Pour mixture out to cool, in either a greased 8x8 inch pan, or into silicone molds, and allow to cool to room temperature.

If the mixture was set in a pan, then either slice the gummies into squares, or use cookie cutters to cut out shapes.  If silicone molds were used, then the candies can simply be popped out of the molds. At this point, they will still be sticky, and you have a choice.  If you set the candies out to finish air drying, the edges will be a little tough, like a swedish fish, but will still be soft and chewy in the center.  If you want to keep the entire piece soft and chewy, you can roll each in a coat of granulated sugar.  Personally, I like to maintain the details from my molds, and will let them air dry just a little before packing them in tupperware.  While they will get tougher over time if they are not coated in sugar, they never seem to last long enough to make that an issue.

Oct 23, 2013

Don't Fear the Candy: Turning Candy Corn from Trick to Treat

My fall "decorative" table.  Pumpkin, apples, and homemade candy corn!
It's getting close to the end of October, and we all know what that means, Halloween! Costumes, candy, apples, pumpkins, colorful leaves (and in my case a silver tabby who decides that it's cold enough to be a constant lap cat); it's a holiday almost made for creativity. As a kid I always made my Halloween costumes. And no, you don't get to see any pictures of those.  To the best of my knowledge, none exist. But between my sister and I we did have some great ones.  Spider, skunk, coke machine, some monster type creature that sprung fully formed like Athena out of the random depths of my young mind... All I remember was that it was purple and green, and I got to use these rubber monster gloves with fur on the back of the hand.  Yes, I was an odd child. Not really a surprise.

You should always be prepared for the challenges of your costume.
Over the past several years I've really lacked costume inspiration. My attempt to rock the classic "Charlie Brown" style sheet with eyes in it as a ghost led to an unfortunate incident where a group of people questioned if I was supposed to be KKK. And I am currently less than a week out from a Halloween party and still haven't even decided on a costume.

Where I have found inspiration, however, is with the Halloween candy. One of the great things about October is that it is usually cool and dry enough to make candy making a good idea. I have decided that, even if you're not the type who wants to try making candy, everyone should have the chance to eat the "real" version of candy types, just to understand the comparison.  The use of preservatives, cheaper ingredients, modified production methods and such do make candy available to a wider market, but at a price.  And that price is usually either flavor or texture.  There is absolutely no comparison between homemade marshmallows and the kind that you get for $1 a bag (although if I'm going camping, I would probably still just grab the bag of them for s'mores).

To that extent, I know lots of people who really hate candy corn.  It tends to fall squarely into the "why would people eat that?!" category, and can be considered sugared wax. To those folks, I would definitely recommend trying the real thing.  And, while I am not one of those people, it is exactly what I decided to do (and I'm really glad that I did).

As this is the first time I was attempting to make something, I turned to Alton Brown.  Because while the flavors of his recipes often require a bit of tweaking, the technique is usually spot on. So the link to the recipe is here. The basic idea is to mix powdered sugar, powdered milk, and salt thoroughly (no lumps!); make a syrup with corn syrup, granulated sugar, water, and butter (bring it to the softball stage); combine the two along with a little vanilla; cool, color, and shape.  The only special equipment that you would need is a candy thermometer. That really doesn't sound so hard, does it?

Here are the three colors of dough for the candy corn.
Here you see the dough after it has been cooled, separated and colored (sorry, it's hard to take pictures while carefully managing temperatures of a syrup.  I'd really rather not get a sticky 230 degree substance on myself, or my camera). Yes, you also see the first run of candy corn I made, before I was planning on making this a post.  I just didn't take any pictures during the first go round. I guess that just means I have more to eat.  Oh horrors...

To create the corns, roll the dough into thin ropes, and lay out three ropes.  One white, one yellow, and one orange.  Squeeze the colors together so that there is just one long tri-colored strip.
white white white white white white white white white white white white white white white
yellow yellow yellow yellow yellow yellow yellow yellow yellow yellow yellow yellow 
orange orange orange orange orange orange orange orange orange orange orange orange 
Cut the strip into triangles kind of like this, using either a knife, a pizza cutter, or a bench scraper:
Unlike with the storebought candy corn, you will end up with half of it with a white point, and half with an orange point. After the candy corn is cut, if you feel the need you can smooth out any rough side edges.  It acts just like edible clay and if you want to make other shapes, it would be easy to do so.  I have some thoughts that I want to play with, to add to my "geek candies" The last step is to lay them out for a little bit to dry, just so that they don't get all smushed.

Completed candy corn, set out to dry
And one of the advantages of being the one to make it? You can snack on all the rough edges or ugly pieces!

The taste is really a lot better, and it is not waxy at all.  I assume that in the store bought stuff, there is actually wax.  Does this take a lot more time than just buying it?  Of course. Is it worth it?  That's up to you.  Personally, I've been developing the perspective that if I'm going to eat something that's not that healthy for me, I'd rather have it be the highest quality possible (unless I'm specifically craving junk.  I have not yet undertaken making my own devil dogs, hmmm...).

A note about doing this with kids. Once the dough has cooled enough to color and handle, assembling the candy corn is something that I think that kids could help with (of course, be completely honest with yourself about the kids that you are working with. I have some adult friends that I may not trust making candy corn, let alone children.).  As far as the first steps go, however, please remember that making candy has the potential for serious burns, and should not be done with young children.

Oct 15, 2013

Blog Recommendation: Michael Ruhlman

I have recently developed a love for Michael Ruhlman.  I originally discovered him via the iPhone app Ratio, but have not yet picked up the book that it is supposed to accompany.  And It wasn't until very recently that I started reading his blog. There are recipes, cocktails, food rants, and all sorts of fun stuff. It's a very easy read, the photography on the blog is fantastic, and I often learn something while reading it.  The perfect combination!

I was originally just going to share it on the Puritan Therapy Facebook page, but there were too many posts to really pick just one.  So here is the list of where I think you should start.

  1. America- Too Stupid to Cook: Ten thousand times yes! Over the decades marketing has convinced us that many life tasks are just too difficult.  Cooking is not hard.  Cleaning (while obnoxious) is not hard. Sewing is not hard. But marketers have spend millions of dollars and many years trying to convince us otherwise, so that we will buy whatever it is that they are trying to sell.
  2. The "No Nitrates Added" Hoax: Another giant "boo!" to marketing. The moral of the story, if you don't understand how food works, you can easily be manipulated by deceptive marketing.
  3. Food Fascism: This is one that I experienced myself when I was in Portugal doing my massage training.  I was the black sheep because, not only did I not aspire to be a macrobiotic vegan, but I actually ate RED MEAT! (I would also like to point out that even if you are smoking "organic" cigarettes, it's still highly likely you will end up with a smoking related illness... but I digress)
  4. Bacteria! Run Away! Run Away!: This article even has delightful images drawn by Alton Brown! This article addresses the concerns about washing chicken. While I am much more prone to agree with Harold McGee with regards to the chicken stock argument, there is definitely an overreaction with regards to "germs", at least in the US. 
  5. Cook Your Own Food Eat What You Want Think For Yourself: Where common sense trumps the most recent news story of what common food will kill you this week.  See, for example, the poor, maligned egg.
  6. Friday Cocktail: The old-fashioned with homemade bitters : This gets me on multiple levels.  I do love me a good cocktail, but I also like knowing how to make random things.  I may now need to try making bitters...
  7. In Love with French Onion Soup: Lastly, here is one of his food recipes, to give you a taste (pardon the pun) of what they are like.  I have not tried this recipe, but it holds up to what I have come to believe about very old school peasant food recipes.  It is very simple, does not have a lot of complicated ingredients, and does not involve a lot of fancy techniques.  It reminds me of challenges on shows like Top Chef where the chef has been asked to make the judges "last meal".  Inevitably the chef who wins is not the one who composes a highly technical and complicated plate.  The one who wins is the chef who makes the requested dish like their grandmother would make.  Simple, comforting, and well executed.
Not that Michael Ruhlman needs any help from me to gain readership, but I like to promote people who I think are doing good things.

Oct 8, 2013

Science and Cooking at Harvard

I saw this link multiple times on my Facebook feed, and even had two people send it to me directly.  My reaction when I saw it was something akin to "aw crap".  I've been going to the lectures throughout the series.  They are after work, and the lines have been getting long enough for me to really not want anyone else to show up, lest I not get in.  I'd heard about the first one from a friend of mine, and when I heard that Harold McGee was going to be speaking, I jumped at the chance. You may not know who he is.  My friend, who invited me to the first lecture, didn't know who he was. He is, essentially, the father of modern food science.

Ever wonder why toast turns brown? Why milk will curdle when mixed with lemon juice? What's the deal with water and chocolate?  Why are beans, in fact, the musical fruit?  Harold McGee knows. His first book "On Food and Cooking" is not a cookbook.  It's much more of a textbook, but about the science of food.  On his blog, Curious Cook, he recently did an article on the required heat for making caramels.  He has also been inspiration for people like Shirley Corriher and Alton Brown. Yes, I may be a little excited about the fact that I now have a signed copy of "On Food and Cooking".

The evening that he spoke, he split the time with Dave Arnold from Cooking Issues. He had some really neat demonstrations with regards to the heat transference of oil vs. water, the effect of liquid nitrogen on marshmallows, and the process of infusing substances with flavor (during which I made the mental connection with why drip coffee is more bitter than espresso, and why the proper steeping time for black tea is only 2-3 minutes). He also brought in a new toy he had for making popcorn. I think the point with this (other than being able to paly with his new toy) was to further demonstrate the ideal gas law in respect to cooking (PV=nRT). But back to popcorn.  If you watch Mythbusters, you may have seen this work before.  If not, here's a clip of how it should work.  Got it? Now let's take a look at what should NOT happen.

It doesn't matter who you are, you can still clear a building with burnt popcorn
This would be what happens when you don't pay close attention to how your valves are sealed, and just keep adding heat to try to get your pressure up.  This photograph, taken by Nate Holstein, captured the moment just after the fire alarm went off. Yes, this professional chef, highly successful restaurateur, and one of the founders of the Museum of Food and Drink set off the fire alarm and evacuated the entire science building at Harvard.

Jose Andres at Harvard University
The best combination of science and entertainment thus far has been the lecture by Jose Andres. Yes, the picture on the screen is of Jello, he was talking about diffusion and  spherification. If you search for images of his food, he composes these absolutely beautiful plates, where he has concentrated flavors, and encapsulated them into a liquid ball with a gelatin skin. Or you can watch even better videos.  The video of him building a Chihuli salad to the right is kind of amazing.

The "Reverse" Cappuccino
This is done by a professional chef.  But, like virtually any form of cooking, with a little science, and the right ingredients, you can do versions at home.  This encouraged a friend of mine and I to do a "sphere" dinner.  For a starter we had olives, then we made spheres of a roasted vegetable soup, had 4 types of meatballs (Italian, Asian, middle eastern and Mexican flavors), and spheres of yogurt served with fresh raspberries and macerated strawberries for dessert.  To top it off, we did a "reverse cappuccino".  This entailed spheres of a yogurt/milk mixture combined with some honey, and some espresso balsamic vinegar caviar on top.  Everything was exceptionally tasty, but nowhere even remotely near as pretty as a world famous chef can do.  Even without having any catastrophic failures, only the reverse cappuccino was pretty enough to even try to photograph.  So now that you've seen the best, here is the layman's attempt.  It was very tasty, but I think that I could use some more practice...

Why am I telling you all this today?  Today is the first day of the Massively Open Online Course (MOOC).  Registration is still open, and it promises to be a lot of fun.  I'll be taking it, and I recommend that anyone else does as well.

You can find the course at: https://www.edx.org/course/harvard-university/spu27x/science-cooking-haute-cuisine/639

Oct 1, 2013

Desperately Seeking Samoas

There has been a nasty cold going around Boston, which led to me staying home from work sick for two days. Legitimately sick, not "oops, I have a cough.  Vacation day on the couch for me!".  I am historically very bad at admitting that I am sick and staying home accordingly.  I could be dragging my spleen behind me, and I'd be saying "no, I'm fine, really!"  So this was actually a pretty good accomplishment for me.  The downside was that I fell behind on my blog entries. The upside is the following true story, proving that I am quite happy to laugh at myself.

Despite all of my baking, candying, and other unhealthy food making, I don't tend to keep much in the way of sweets in the house.  I make things, and then tend to just feed everyone around me. Co-workers, friends, my favorite bartenders, pretty much anyone who I think would appreciate a tasty treat. Not only does it give me a way to avoid eating 10 tons of junk, but it also gives me the excuse to keep making new things. Occasionally this backfires, however.

On Monday I had a scratchy throat.  Monday/Tuesday morning I felt as though I'd been gargling razor blades. This was about the time that I decided that work was just not going to happen that day. I proceeded to stay in bed, feeling very grateful for my tablet, so that I could peruse Facebook and chit chat with people at my leisure. Around lunchtime, I realized what I wanted.  I wanted cookies.  Of course, I have no cookies in the house.  There is a 7-11 close by, but I didn't want prepackaged cookies.  That was just not going to cut it.  And there was no way that I was going to attempt to go to a bakery with good cookies.  Let's be honest, there was no way that I was going to leave my apartment. I started the mental rundown of cookie recipes, waiting for my lizard brain to shout "Yes!" (this is, in fact, the way that I tend to make all decisions on what to eat/drink).

Crack, in Cookie Form.
I had found this recipe for homemade Samoas a while back, and had been meaning to try it.  Depending on your girl scout council, you may know them as Caramel Delights.  If neither of these names have any meaning to you, then please, just walk away.  This is not me judging you, this is my attempt to save you from cookie crack. There's a reason that girl scouts sell so many cookies, and Samoas may be that reason.

As soon as I thought of it, my lizard brain decided that is what it wanted, no questions or substitutions.  So I look through the recipe. Basic sugar cookie ingredients, no problem.  Chocolate, no problem (I may have an entire cabinet of chocolate making supplies). Coconut, no problem. Caramels. Fifteen ounces soft caramels. Well, crap. That is a problem. I don't even have a caramel sauce that could be used to fake it. Meanwhile, I know that my lizard brain is not going to be satisfied until I get these cookies. Sigh. 

Well, if there is one thing that I'm good at, it's problem solving. I don't have caramels, and if I just change the flavor profile of the cookie, that is not going to be satisfying.  But! I have sugar. Sugar is in caramel.  And cream. And corn syrup. And despite the fact that I've never actually made caramel, I do know some of the physics of sugar (as a note, I would highly recommend this article by Harold McGee, in which he discusses the melting point of sugar.  It's actually a topic that is still debated). I also had this recipe by David Leibowitz for a salted butter caramel, that I had been tempted to try.

So yes, what I'm saying is that I proceeded to make caramels.  I will give you the full image, for your amusement.  First, I'm sick, with stuffed up sinuses, unshowered, and in my bathrobe.  Because tending to caramel is similar to watching a precocious two year old, it has to be constantly watched.  Therefore, I grab a chair, and sit down in front of the stove, so that I can carefully watch the temperature of the cooking sugar. I can only imagine that the image was rather amusing.  Or maybe it's just me.

The caramels recipe is very good, although they are not "soft" caramels.  The second time I made them I tweaked some temperature points, and used a higher quality butter, and they turned out amazing.  But, that's getting side tracked.  After pouring the caramels into a pan to cool, and sitting down to rest for a little bit, I proceeded to make the sugar cookies, then the topping, and then put them all together. If you opt to try to make your own Samoas, believe it when the recipe says that the coconut burns quickly, and to keep a close eye on it.  The coconut on the edges of the pan will brown very quickly, and not evenly with respect to the rest of the pan.  I did not, however, burn mine (yay!)

I think that I finally had finished cookies at around 7:00 PM. Yes, it was a ridiculous thing to do when sick. Yes, it would have gone a whole lot faster if I'd had proper ingredients. But I gotta tell you, the finished cookies? Totally worth it. Also, I had a little bit of the caramel and coconut mixture left over at the end.  So I made them into balls and just dipped them in chocolate.  All I will say about those is that it is something that will definitely, definitely happen again.