European Style Baking for a Healthier Lifestyle

Tag: baking

How to Make Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

How to Make Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

I love Homemade Cinnamon Rolls Have you ever woken up in the morning and just craved a cinnamon roll? Most people have at one point or another.  Even Lemony Snicket was once quoted as saying ‘Anyone who gives you a cinnamon roll fresh out of the oven […]

Apple Tart in Less Than 30 Minutes

Apple Tart in Less Than 30 Minutes

  I am not sure about you, but sometimes I just want to impress a friend or a boyfriend or just make a treat for myself.  I might have an urge to bake but I am short on time or feeling lazy and yet I still want […]

Secrets of Shortbread

Secrets of Shortbread

shortbread
Heart-shaped Shortbread

As a pastry chef, I frequently get asked “What is your favorite dessert?”.  Well the answer is that I have many favorites! Of course, I am a pastry chef and get to eat delectable treats all day.  To say that I have a favorite is like asking a mother which child she prefers.  But, I will say that after spending many hours completing intricate wedding cakes or piping the perfect mousse, simplicity is often my favorite trait in a dessert.  And one of the simplest (and most delightful) desserts I can think of is shortbread.

Shortbread is all about the butter which of course I love.  The name literally describes the short gluten strands that are created in the cookie by greasing the flour up with butter.  But, it isn’t just the butter that makes this cookie fabulous.  It is that it is so simple and yet it goes with anything.  You can dress it up by dipping it in chocolate or adorning it with nuts.  You can crumble it and top a tart.  Or, like me, you can have it with a cup of tea and enjoy it while pondering over your day’s activities.  Which method will you choose? 🙂

Shortbread (From Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery book)

  • 180 grams unsalted butter
  • 90 g sugar
  • 2 salt
  • 6 g vanilla paste
  • 270 g all purpose flour
  • extra sugar for dusting the cookies
  1. Cream butter and sugar together in a mixer using the paddle attachment for 2-3  minutes until butter is soft, light, pale, and fluffy.  Add salt and vanilla paste.  Mix for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Mix for 1 more minute.
  2. Add flour.  Mix slowly until the dough just starts to come together and then dump the contents on the counter and knead the ingredients into a dough.
  3. Wrap with plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour or overnight.
  4. Roll dough out between two sheets of parchment paper (this will keep the dough from sticking and you will not need additional flour).  You can bang on the dough a bit with the rolling pin to soften it before rolling it.
  5. Roll the dough to about 1/4 inch thick and then cut into 2×1 rectangles.  I also like to cut my shortbread into hearts.  (This can be very elegant later if you decide to dip half the heart into chocolate).
  6. Place cut cookies onto cookie tray with at least 1/2 inch between them.
  7. Dust cookies lightly with granulated sugar.
  8. Chill cookies for at least 1 hour to relax the gluten.
  9. Bake cookies at 325 F for 15-18 minutes until they are a pale golden brown.
  10. Enjoy! 🙂
A Caramel Walnut Tart For any Occasion

A Caramel Walnut Tart For any Occasion

When I was in culinary school I had the honor of being instructed by a very fine chef who was about 70 and European.  He had a heavy German accent, could still bend a sheet tray in half, and had more energy than most 20-year-olds I […]

Better Banana Bread

Better Banana Bread

Ah banana bread, the ubiquitous go-to dessert of all home bakers- right after chocolate chip cookies.  Banana bread is great because it easy, beloved by all, and requires virtually no baking utensils.  The other great thing about banana bread is that it is easy to […]

Back to Basics- Making Flaky, Tender Bites

Back to Basics- Making Flaky, Tender Bites

Many people spend time debating the nuances of baked products- what makes one cookie better than another, one pie tastier?  In general, people can describe small things about what makes a crust or cookie delicious although, decidedly, they cannot always put a finger on what makes it the BEST.  However adjectives such as “flaky”, “tender”, “light”, and “buttery” often come to mind.  Yet, although many agree that these are desirable characteristics, how can a novice baker achieve such results without extensive practice? The answer lies, as it most frequently does in baking, in chemistry.

If you understand the chemistry behind gluten, protein, and flour you can rest assured you will almost always make a flaky product.  Gluten (and the evils of gluten) are abounding in the foodie world today.  But what exactly is it?  Gluten is nothing more than a protein found in wheat products.  It is what gives flour its texture, chewiness, and elasticity. And flours are milled differently depending on their purpose.

High protein or “bread flours” are milled for bread because this dough requires large quantities of gluten for the proper flavor and structure.  The flour with the least amount of gluten is cake flour and its low gluten properties are why it is primarily flavored for cookies.  All-purpose flour which is most commonly consumed by American households is half bread flour/half pastry flour so it has a fairly balanced amount of protein.  This makes it perfect for all manner of general baking from pies to tarts to breads.

So let’s get back to the science behind the mysterious gluten component which lurks within wheat. Gluten is composed of the proteins, glutenin and gliadin, which when worked by kneading, rolling, or manipulating flour, strengthen and add elasticity to a dough. The stretching and strengthening of flour is quite desirable in bread dough which needs that elasticity to expand. However, a “strong” dough is not encouraged in pies or cookies as it creates tough texture here.  When a baker desires to decrease a tough texture there a few tactics to take- one is to use a low protein flour.  The second way to inhibit gluten from strengthening a dough is to shorten the protein strands by adding a lubricating fat such as eggs or butter.  Finally, dough can be “relaxed” in a cool environment such as the fridge or freezer.  Placing gluten in this cool environment prevents the proteins in gluten from getting tighter and stronger.

So why so much science before I tell you the hidden secret behind a flaky dough?  Because the SCIENCE is the SECRET.  The next time you make your favorite pie dough or shortbread cookies remember, butter is your friend for a flaky dough.  Additionally, EVERY time the dough is handled or rolled or cut it must be refrigerated for at least 30 minutes to relax the gluten.  These simple rules will change your average, ho hum pie crusts and cookies into smashing crowd-pleasers. Your pies and cookies will never be the same again!

Flaky Goodness – Povidla Kolace (Plum Jam Cakes)

Flaky Goodness – Povidla Kolace (Plum Jam Cakes)

I can’t think of a cookie recipe more simple and more delicious than the recipe for Czech plum cakes.  These cookies only contain three ingredients and no added sugar and yet their flaky, light deliciousness knows no bounds.  These cookies almost remind me of a […]

Walnut Meringue Cookies : Czech Cookies at Their Finest

Walnut Meringue Cookies : Czech Cookies at Their Finest

Remember when you wanted to be just like mom? Do your hair like mom and dress like mom and bake like mom?  Well, I definitely do.  My mother used to bake European delicacies professionally so as kids we usually had to step aside and let her […]