Ok, so I’ve started to really stray from just the cookbook that is in my “What Am I Doing” page. This recipe is from the Family Baking Book. I’ve made this recipe a few times and I have a few thoughts on the overall process. The actual recipe calls for ramekins but since I don’t have ramekins I went with the alternative large baking pan.

My Sticky Toffee Pudding

America's Test Kitchen Sticky Toffee Pudding

However, be warned that if you’re on the website for America’s Test Kitchen you won’t actually find this recipe there. Instead, it’s actually found in their Cook’s Illustrated website. I actually find it pretty annoying because I do already have an America’s Test Kitchen membership and as far as I can tell its the same people that are behind all of their websites. Its fine if you want me to pay for access to Cook’s Illustrated, it’s just frustrating to see that website be so clearly connected and that the recipes and information do not seem substantively different. Sorry about the minor rant, but hey, it’s my blog.

Back to the food. I have made this recipe 3 times and each time it’s gone relatively smoothly.

  • One of the things is that I’ve noticed that the amount of toffee this recipe produces is a lot. I do have a number of Asian friends who have, in general, a palate towards less sweet food. So in the future, I think its safe to say that I can probably cut back on the toffee recipe.
  • I’ve only used cooking spray for my baking pan and did not flour the pan. I didn’t do it only because by the time I’m ready to pour I have normally put the flour away and I forget about doing that step. It seemingly hasn’t made a difference in taste. Who knows maybe the flour could make a world of difference. Probably not.
  • I always buy too many dates! I bought so many I decided to make it again just so I can clear enough of them out of my fridge.
  • After prep, the boiling of water seems to slow down the whole process, I think a quick boil at the beginning prior to preparing all ingredients would make things faster. Those minutes waiting for water to boil while everything is just sitting there seems interminable.
  • I don’t have a glass measuring cup so I end up eyeballing the amount of boiling water to add to the dates. I normally fill the bowl until all the dates are submerged. However, I think this is probably resulting in too much water in the mixture. The last time I did that I had to add 5 minutes (40 in total) because otherwise it was way too underdone. Normally I hate to overcook baked goods but you really have to check the consistency from the top after pulling it out of the oven.
  • I have my blender to pulse the brown sugar and the dates together, if you don’t have either a food processor or a blender than maybe this recipe is out of your reach for now.
Total time from start to clean up was about 1.5 hours but I think there’s definitely room for improvement. The result has been very positive. The large majority appreciating the level of moistness.
Conclusion: Simple recipe with great results! Another ATK winner.

Why hello there, it’s been a while since I last posted but then again these posts aren’t exactly time-sensitive.

One of the easiest recipes out there that most beginners can make is a simple banana bread. I’ve actually sourced the recipe for the banana bread from the America’s Test Kitchen Baking book. However, I’m pretty sure that this recipe is also in the Complete cookbook as well. While the regular recipe is for regular banana bread (and I’m pretty sure the photo is for the regular), I made the slightly different version that they provide which cuts down the sugar and adds in some bittersweet chocolate. So, the comparison photos would look a bit different.

Anyways, here is the America’s Test Kitchen shot of the banana bread compared to what I made:

Test Kitchen Banana Bread

My slice of the Chocolate Banana Bread

 

So I guess I wonder how they were able to achieve the level of marbling on their loaf because without the chocolate in my bread I don’t think it would have had nearly as much character. Otherwise, the banana bread came out not bad. I have a few notes about the whole process:

  • I went out and bought a 8 1/2″ by 4 1/2″ loaf pan to make the bread. Which is a bit of a pain because I do have limited cabinet space. I bought it because loaf pans are not really expensive (I bought the Baker’s brand that America’s Test Kitchen recommends) and because they actually do advise to use the right-sized loaf pan for recipes since they are developed with those dimensions in mind. I think this makes some sense because the distribution of the same volume will definitely vary and the same amount of time and heat to a different surface area may affect the doneness of the loaf.
  • I had a hard time figuring out what 1/2 cup of chocolate looks like prior to actually cutting it up. I like to prepare all ingredients beforehand and I really didn’t know how much chocolate to use. Kind of a silly thing but hey, it’s a learning process for me.
  • Cutting into the loaf, some parts were a bit too crumbly. To the point that a slice might start to break up into half. I’ll have to figure that out somehow. You don’t see the effect in the photo I took because I was selective in the photos I would take.
Anyways, I think the important part is the taste and I’d say that the recipe is tasty but not overly banana-y (if that’s a word). Now that I have a properly-sized pan, I think I’ll probably give this recipe a few more goes to see if I can refine my approach to address my issues so far. Or maybe I’ll try out a different Test Kitchen Banana Bread recipe.
Stay tuned, for more… eventually.

 

 

Ok, this post is a bit of a cheat because this item is not actually in the cookbook that I normally reference (hence no page # in the title). However, it is still from America’s Test Kitchen as it is in an episode from Season 11 (as of writing is the current season).

Normally, I like to give a recipes a few attempts before I blog about it. The main reason I do that is to help iron out where the chinks are and to see how I might have improved the process for myself. This time is different because of the sheer size of the meal. The pork shoulder (or pork butt as it is also commonly called) I bought was about 9 lbs worth. Since, it’s only myself and my mom at home I would almost never make anything close to this size of meat for dinner. What was different was the presence of guests that would help to consume the roast. Anyways, I figure that I was able to make it for dinner and I’m posting because I’m not sure when I’d be able to make the same roast.

Let’s get on with the details:

ATC Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder

My slow roasted pork shoulder

 

Overall, I was pretty happy with the way the roast turned out. The meat was juicy and tender and it broke apart beautifully. I also don’t think that the result was that far removed from the show’s own result.

That’s not to say I did not make my fair share of mistakes.

While the food was great, and the actual process is not that hard in concept, I had a few hitches along the way.

 

  1. Finding pork shoulder or pork butt was tough! I checked Real Canadian SuperStore, and M&M Meat Shops and found nada. I eventually found this Italian butcher a couple of blocks north that had the shoulder with problems. From now on, I’m going straight to the butcher for my meat, I don’t care about the extra trip, it’s worth it.
  2. Since I was new at even going to a butcher (first time ever), I only told him I wanted a pork butt. So he cut it and it was great with one exception, it was too big. This recipe calls for 6-8 lbs and I was cut 9 lbs. My fault for not specifying because I’m sure people ordering pork butt generally get a hefty chunk of meat.
  3. I found out that my knife is way too dull (I’ll probably need to get a sharpener now). I was trying to cut the cross-hatch on the fat cap and it would take 4-5 cuts to get through the fat to the meat. Part of it might be due to the thickness of the fat but I’m sure a much bigger reason is due to the dullness of the blade.
  4. I seasoned a little too agressively. In my zeal to get the pork seasoned and in the fridge, I had accidentally seasoned it with black pepper as well. The recipe calls for the black pepper to be added just before putting it in the oven. By the time I realized my mistake the pig was already in the fridge.
  5. The V-Rack was a disaster… short synopsis, I went to buy a v-rack and found one with a pan at the RCSS. Got it ready had the meat on and bam, to friggin’ big for the oven! Solution: take my smaller roasting pan (oval shaped) put the water in there, use the V-rack I bought and have it straddle the roasting pan and then put both of them on top of a baking sheet. Who knew my oven was so tiny… mental note to figure out the actual internal dimensions of the oven next time.

While the above seems like a litany of issues, they were all manageable. If I were to make the roast again it would go way smoother. I think a lot of it is first-timer issues. Although, the whole v-rack thing at the time seemed like a complete disaster.

As I said earlier, the roast came out great after only 5 hrs of slow-roasting (it came up to 190 perfectly) and I am totally happy with that result. However, I am less happy about the peach sauce. I don’t really know what it is, but I guess I want more peachy flavour and I guess it was dominated a bit by the white wine or something else. I really have no idea, if anything, I’ll probably make it with cherry sauce to see if that one goes better with the roast.

Final Thoughts: After some initial first-timer hassles, this recipe came out as advertised, juicy, flavourful and tender. I’m getting hungry thinking about it. The roast part is not that hard, so if you’re having a dinner party, you can feel confident in trying this recipe out.

A lot of people I have given a blondie to have never heard of a blondie. The way I have been explaining it has been by saying “it’s like a brownie but blonde not brown”. I think that explanation communicates the idea behind the blondie, but does not convey the biggest difference. That difference is in the the chocolate flavour. In my mind, a brownie has a rich, chocolate flavour that is pretty through and through the whole brownie. A blondie has some ch0colate flavour (from the semi-sweet and white chocolate chips) but it does not have nearly the same level of chocolate flavour.The description from America’s Test Kitchen describes the Blondies as “although blondies are baked in a pan like brownies, the flavorings are similar to those in chocolate chip cookies—vanilla, butter,

and brown sugar”.

All that being said, I would say that as a matter of personal taste, I actually prefer the blondies over the brownies. Even up against the Chewy, Fudgy Triple Chocolate Brownies I still prefer to eat Blondies. I think the Test Kitchen description for the recipe is dead on “we set out to fix the blondie so it would be chewy but not dense, sweet but not cloying, and loaded with nuts and chocolate”.

As usual, a photo comparison between the America’s Test Kitchen and my attempt at the Blondies recipe.

America's Test Kitchen Blondie

America's Test Kitchen Blondie

My Blondie

My Blondie

If you were to look up the recipe, you might find that there is no actual Blondie recipe listed. Rather it is listed as Congo Bar. The main difference between a Congo bar and a Blondie is the use of coconut.

Personally, I don’t love coconut but I also do not hate coconut. For example, I’m alright with eating a Bounty chocolate bar, but I won’t go out and buy one. So I have only ever baked the Blondie variation and never the Congo bar variation. Knowing how much I enjoy the Blondie recipe, I think it’s even less likely that I would make the Congo bar recipe. If the Blondie recipe turned out to be a dud than perhaps I’d give Congo bars a shot.

A couple things to note:

  • Just as with the Brownie recipe, the Test Kitchen recommends creating a foil sling which I have decided is not worth the effort.
  • Don’t overbake even a little bit. The first attempt at the recipe I let it sit in the oven for maybe a minute longer than recommended and it overbaked and became a bit too dry. With my oven, I generally use the lower range of the recommended baking times.
  • Give it time to cool. This recipe gets very tempting to just dig in as soon as the Blondies are done. While they are delicious right out of the oven, those chocolate chips can be pretty piping hot. Mild burn notice.

Conclusion: Sometimes, chopping chocolate is a pain in the neck. Especially if you don’t have a particularly sharp knife like me. This recipe is very easy for beginners and the reward is quite delicious. So, get out to your kitchen and give this recipe a shot.

This brownie is different than regular brownies in that the goal of the brownie was (as they have written) “distinctly chewy—a moist, dark, luscious brownie with a firm, smooth, velvety texture. It must pack an intense chocolate punch and have deep, resonant chocolate flavor, but it must fall just short of overwhelming the palate.”

So I have tried making this recipe a couple of times and for comparison’s sake:

Now the first batch I made followed the recipe in the book pretty closely. However, later that night I decided to make a second batch to bring to the office to have other people try out (pictured) since my first batch seemed pretty successful.

Unfortunately, for the second batch I found that I had run out of semi-sweet chocolate. I had to make up for the 2 oz. of semi-sweet I didn’t have so I ended up using dark chocolate. So technically, the pictured brownie I have has 4 types of chocolate and not 3.  In the brownie I made there is: unsweetened, semi-sweet, dark and cocoa powder.

I actually think the process here is pretty easy to do and the worst part is the waiting 2 hours! for the brownies to fully cool. Anyways, I did vary from the instructions a bit and made a few notes about the recipe.

  • I use only one sheet of foil for the pan and I do not make the sling. I’ve tried using 2 pieces like they recommend but it is such a pain to do since the foil is generally so much larger anyways. I end up just pushing the foil to the corners and letting any excess hang over or get trimmed with scissors. Taking the brownies out with just the one piece of foil has never been a problem.
  • To melt the butter and the chocolate I have to really cut the chocolate down quite a bit, I find that the chocolate takes way longer to melt down when they are only cubed. I’ll probably end up cutting the pieces a bit more but I will also microwave them at the beginning to get the melting going. Same goes for the butter. In fact I’ll probably have it in the same bowl all at the same time.
  • The mixing bowl for the dry ingredients is supposed to be a medium bowl. That size works as is but I felt like it was just a tad too cramped and next time I’ll make them in a large bowl. I like being able to whisk without worrying about spilling anything.

Conclusion: It’s a great straight forward recipe. Totally appropriate for those new to baking and even I can pull it off.

Hi there,

It’s been a while since I’ve last updated. I have been busily cooking away, I just haven’t bothered posting in a while.

I have been making Sables or otherwise called French Butter Cookies. The difference the book says between a French butter cookie and an American butter cookie is the sandy texture of the French version as opposed to the more sturdy American variety.

America's Test Kitchen - Sables

My Sables - First attempt

So, the first thing that is odd about the recipe is the fact that you have to hard boil an egg and push the yolk through mesh. While odd, their reason for doing so was the need for the yolk without the extra water. Apparently the hard boiling of the egg traps the water in the yolk and prevents it from releasing.

I’ve made this recipe 3 times at the time of the post and I feel that the each successive batch has gotten better and better. That said, each time I’ve made these cookies, I’ve had a generally positive reception.

My Sables - 2nd attempt

There are a few things about my experience that I’d like to note:

1. The first time I followed the instructions for hard boiling, the yolk was not fully cooked through and there was still uncooked yolk inside the outer-cooked yolk shell. After that, I left the egg in the boiling water longer than specified and it was fine.

2. Again with the yolk, I also did not push it through the strainer as specified and instead crumbled it by hand as best as I could. This decision made for a faster prep and less clean up time without sacrificing the end result.

3. The dough before freezing is very sticky and soft to handle. The stickiness made rolling up neat cylinders tougher and I think next time I might chill the dough for 10 minutes and handle it then.

4. My first time cutting the cylinders of dough I was constantly crumbling them or the cooking was splitting in half. I mostly fixed it by cutting thicker cookies but at that thickness, I was only able to make about 30 cookies instead of the 40 as specified in the book.

5. I gave the cookies a couple extra minutes in the oven to really give them more colour. If you compare the first and second attempts (crappy lighting by me acknowledged), I think you’ll agree that the second one looks a lot nicer because of it’s more golden look.

6. Last thing was the fact that I had a tough time finding Sugar in the Raw or Turbinado sugar. I eventually found it but this stuff took a bit of scrounging.

Conclusion: I think this recipe is great, I’ve had to make a number of adjustments to the original but I never made any bad Sables with this recipe. Also, they are delicious. If you see me, I might have a whole tupperware full of them so you can try them out yourself.

On page 431, the recipe would produce blueberry muffins that “would taste great with blueberries of any origin, even the watery supermarket kind”.

America's Test Kitchen Blueberry Muffins

My attempt at the Blueberry Muffin

First of all, I took the picture with my cellphone since I could not find my digital camera at the time.

Overall, I think the whole process was only alright. The end product was a nice muffin but there are some parts of the recipe I was not particularly satisfied with.

I guess the first thing I noticed was how non-golden the top layer turned out. I stayed true to the timing in spite of how non-golden the muffins looked for fear of over-baking and drying the muffin excessively.

Maybe that’s just my oven, but I haven’t been able to pin down why they turned out this way. When I looked at the bottom half it did turn out nice and golden.

Anyways, there are 2 things I found:

  • The topping of sugar was too much and I feel detracted from the muffin. Firstly, the sugar that was called for in the recipe created a pretty thick layer of sugar on top of the muffin. So much so that I would probably cut down the amount of sugar in half or less. Also, the recipe called for lemon zest using a rasp grater (I don’t have one that fine so I just used what I could) and I could not really detect any citrus-y flavour. If I make this again I’ll probably scrap the zest as well.
  • The blueberry jam that is called for took longer than I expected to reduce (maybe an extra 10 minutes for some reason) but I’m not sure I could not have gotten similar or better results using off the shelf blueberry jam. I’ll probably test it out with the jam and without the jam to see how different it all turns out.

With the above 2 in mind, I think everything else about the recipe is fine. The result was good, one of my friends was a monster and scarfed down 3 of them also, my mom was also quite satisfied. These muffins, turned out better than store-bought, but aren’t the so clearly head and shoulders above other blueberry muffins. With all that said, I would make these again, with the above adjustments.