experiments in cooking

Posts tagged ‘Joy of Cooking’

Cranberry-Spice Icebox Cookies


Chris and I have gotten in the habit of taking homemade cookies to work for our lunches every day, but we usually run out of a weekend batch by Tuesday night, so I needed a way to make some quick cookies in the middle of the week.

Yes, I said every day. And no, we are not getting fat from this. I may eat a couple of cookies Monday through Friday, but I pay attention to my total calorie intake and I don’t eat near as many as I used to back when I was young and thought that chubby would never describe me. Anyone else ever had a point in their life where four big cookies was a small snack? And while Chris is eating more cookies than I am, since he gave up regular pop completely, he can afford to eat a few cookies.

Plus, there’s something good about eating fresh sweets instead of processed, store-bought sweets. Eaten in moderation, homemade cookies can add a little nutrition, especially those with nuts or cranberries or oatmeal in them. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Anyway, as I said, we keep running out of cookies mid-week, when I’m usually so busy I don’t have much time to mix up and bake cookies. So, last weekend I used the “Fourteen-in-one” cookie recipe from my Joy of Cooking to mix up some spice cookie dough. I mixed dried cranberries into half the dough, and the other half I left plain. Then, in the beloved icebox cookie tradition, I refrigerated the dough to pull out the cranberry-spice dough as needed during the week.

On Tuesday evening, I discovered it was easy as could be to slice off nine cranberry-spice cookies and bake them for about 10 minutes. After cooling for just a short while they were ready to store to eat over the next couple of days.

As for the other half of the dough, I plan to roll out the plain spice cookie dough this weekend and cut out cookies with Jonah using some Christmas cookie cutters and maybe the new dog bone cookie cutter my mom gave me at Thanksgiving.

Our poor dogs won’t get any, though. They’re all on a diet. So maybe I shouldn’t make any cookie shapes that will get their hopes up.

 

“Fourteen-in-one” cookie basic ingredients

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ pound unsalted butter cut into 14 pieces, at room temperature (that’s 2 sticks)
1 cup superfine sugar (you can also pulse granulated sugar in a food processor for 1 minute)
½ teaspoon table salt
1 large egg yolk
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla


To make them into spice cookies:

Substitute 1 cup packed light brown sugar for the sugar and add ¾ tsp ground cinnamon, ½ tsp ginger, ¼ tsp nutmeg, ¼ tsp allspice, and 1/8 tsp ground cloves to the flour.

Optional: dried cranberries (chopped or whole; you can mix them into the entire batter or into just half of it) 

On medium speed, mix butter, sugar and salt until fluffy. Add egg yolk, whole egg, vanilla and melted chocolate (or wet chocolate mixture) and mix until well blended. Reduce speed to low and add flour and spice mixture slowly until well combined. Divide dough in half. Roll the dough into a roll if you want to slice cookies from it after it’s chilled. If you want to roll cookies later, you can leave the dough in a dish shape. Wrap dough and refrigerate until firm. (At least 1 hour and up to several days. Dough may also be frozen for up to a month.)

Substitute 1 cup packed light brown sugar for the sugar and add ¾ tsp ground cinnamon, ½ tsp ginger, ¼ tsp nutmeg, ¼ tsp allspice, and 1/8 tsp ground cloves to the flour.

 

Optional: dried cranberries (chopped or whole; you can mix them into the entire batter or into just half of it)

Preheat oven to 375 degree F and prepare two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

You can slice the cookies in desired thickness and place about two inches apart on the cookie sheets.

For rolled cookies, on a well-floured surface, roll dough out to 1/8 inch thick. Cut cookies with cookie cutters. May re-roll scraps one time. Any scraps left over at this point should be rolled into balls, placed on a cookie sheet, and flattened. Place cookies on baking sheets and place sheets into oven (one on lower rack, one on upper). Bake for 6–10 minutes, rotating sheets half way through baking (watch closely for browning).

Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies

The classic chocolate chip cookie is one of the best tasting cookies you can make with little effort. But for whatever reason—possibly because of the easily accessible readymade dough at the grocery store, or maybe because someone else is always making them—I haven’t made plain chocolate chip cookies myself in years. But recently, with our church bake sale coming up, I decided it was time to make my own. The recipe I went with was one from Joy of Cooking, because I liked the name: “Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies.” Classic sounds a lot more interesting than plain.

And man, were these cookies yummy. They spread a fair bit and taste both chewy and soft. This is the only cookie I’ve made this year that everyone in the house wanted to eat—adults and kids alike.

 

Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies from Joy of Cooking

Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease cookie sheets. Whisk together thoroughly:

1 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour

½ tsp baking soda

Beat on medium speed until very fluffy and well blended:

8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

½ cup sugar

½ cup packed light brown sugar

Add and beat until well combined:

1 large egg

¼ tsp salt

1 ½ tsp vanilla

Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended and smooth. Stir in:

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Drop the dough by heaping teaspoonfuls onto the sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until the cookies are just slightly colored on top and rimmed with brown at the edges, 8 to 10 minutes; rotate the sheet halfway through baking for even browning. Remove the sheet to a rack and let stand until the cookies firm slightly, about 2 minutes. Transfer the cookies to racks [or a tea towel or wax paper] to cool.

French Almond Wafers (tuiles)

I have made these thin, almond-flavored cookies twice now. Both times, they came out looking nothing like they were supposed to. They are supposed to be round, but I just can’t seem to manage it. Yet with all the trouble I’ve had making these, they are so delicious that I am going to keep making them until I get it right. 

This is a wafer that spreads when you bake it, so much so that both times the wafers have run together and spread all over the pan, so that I had to cut them into slices with a pizza cutter. And I made a big mess both times too. And yes, I yelled a lot. But regardless of how they look, they taste yummy.

When I made them for friends a couple of weeks ago, as a back-up dessert for a cake that didn’t rise properly, my friends ate every wafer in the dish. Actually, they tried to hide the few they didn’t eat, but their four-year-old daughter found them and ate the rest while we were sitting at the table playing Scrabble.

Then I made the wafers for a church Thanksgiving meal last night, and again, they disappeared. (It sure is a thrill to pick up your dish after a potluck and discover that the crowd ate everything you brought.)

I’ve got to admit, when I made the wafers on Saturday, I was pretty fed up. The first sheet of wafers I had to throw out because I forgot to top them with almonds, and as a result they spread so thin I couldn’t make anything out of them. And I also dropped the cookie sheet face down on the open oven door. Then the second sheet of wafers spread together and had to be sliced into pieces. Also, you are supposed to drape the wafers over bottles or rolling pins to curl them, and my bottles and pins kept rolling around on the counter. Only the third sheet of wafers looked okay, but there were only four of them. I had produced four correct wafers out of a batch that should have made two dozen.

I was almost ready to throw out all my odd-shaped wafers, but I picked up a scrap to eat and realized that they just tasted too good to throw away. So I piled them in a pretty, but small, serving dish, twined artificial autumn leaves around the dish, and confidently labeled them “French Almond Wafers (tuiles).”

You have got to try these yourself. And if they don’t look the recipe says they should—well, no one but you and I will know what they are supposed to look like.

 

Tuiles (French Almond Wafers) from the Joy of Cooking

These curled wafers are often brought to the table at the end of a special dinner and served with chocolate truffles, coffee, and brandy. Their name is the French word for tiles, because they are shaped like the curved terra-cotta roof tiles so prevalent in the south of France. Almost paper thin, with a subtle almond flavor, tuiles are curled by being draped, while still warm and pliable, over a rolling pin until cool and firm. The step that requires attention is removing them form the baking sheet. The trick is to use a wide spatula with a very thin blade and to work very quickly. Cookie sheets need to be clean and cool before you make a new batch.

Have all ingredients at room temperature, 68 to 70 degrees. Position a rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Very generously grease cookie sheets or cover with parchment paper or well-greased aluminum foil. Have ready several rolling pins or bottles the same width as the rolling pin to shape the wafers.

Warm, stirring constantly, over very low heat until very soft but not thin and runny:

5 tbsp unsalted butter

Whisk together until very frothy:

2 large egg whites

1/8 tsp salt

1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp sugar

¼ tsp almond extract

¼ tsp vanilla

Gradually whisk in:

½ cup sifted cake flour (not self-rising)

A bit a time, whisk in the softened butter until the mixture is well blended and smooth.

Drop the batter by heaping measuring teaspoonfuls

onto the sheets, spacing about 3 inches apart. Don’t crowd, as the wafers will spread a great deal. [Note: the only time I’ve kept the cookies from spreading together, I placed only four on the plan.] Using the tip of a knife and working in a circular motion, spread each portion into a [3-inch] round. Very generously sprinkle the rounds with:

½ to 2/3 cup sliced almonds, coarsely chopped [Note: I did not chop the sliced almonds]

Bake 1 sheet at a time until the wafers are rimmed with ½ inch of golden brown, 6 to 9 minutes; rotate the sheet halfway through for even browning. Remove the sheet to a rack and let stand for a few seconds. As soon as the wafers can be lifted without tearing, loosen them with a thin-bladed wide metal spatula and slide them, bottom side down, onto rolling pins or bottles. (Remove the wafers to the rolling pins 1 at a time, so the others remain warm and pliable. If some of the wafers cool too quickly to shape on the rolling pins, return the sheet to the oven briefly to warm and soften them.) As soon as the tuiles are firm, transfer to racks [or wax paper] to cool.

Cold Butter Makes for a Short Lightning Cake

How cool a name is “lightning cake?” And the original German name, blitztorte, is pretty cool too.

I decided to make this cake last Saturday largely because of the name. Also, I’ve never made a “lemon-scented yellow cake” from scratch, as Joy of Cooking described the cake. It sounded so fancy—but it was supposed to be fast and really easy.

I had the best intentions, but I made a mistake early on by working with cold butter. I was supposed to bring all the ingredients to room temperature, but I started rushing, like I often do, and didn’t pay attention.

I wasn’t sure it would matter. I mean, does it really matter if your butter is a little cold?

Yes, it does. Allrecipes.com states, quite clearly, “If the butter is too cold, it won’t beat evenly; it won’t incorporate air and increase in volume.” And, according to Baking911.com, if there aren’t enough air cells, the cake won’t rise.

But did I listen?

After awkwardly beating a stick of cold butter that kept getting stuck in the beater paddles—because it was cold, duh!—I pushed on. The batter looked fine. But as I watched the cake bake through the oven door, I got worried.

It wasn’t rising.

The color was nice, but this was going to be one dense cake.

I pulled the cake out of the oven when the color was right and it was fully cooked, but I worried that it might be too dense to eat. As it turned out, I shouldn’t have worried about that—it was dense but moist and lemony, and iced with homemade chocolate glaze (also a Joy of Cooking recipe), it was pretty yummy. It tasted mighty nice with coffee.

But on Saturday afternoon, as I looked at the short little cake I’d made, just after it came out of the oven, I decided I needed a backup dessert in case the cake turned out to taste awful. Because, of course, I had once again decided to serve a new dessert to guests—and I didn’t want to be caught with a dessert that would ruin the end of the meal.

The recipe suggested almonds as a possible topping for the cake in lieu of icing, so I decided to make some almond wafers as garnish for the cake. I figured, if the cake did taste awful, we could eat the wafers.

It’s worth mentioning that the almond wafers were also a new recipe. I guess I love life on the edge. And, as could be expected, baking the wafers did not go smoothly.

It was an adventure worth telling. And that’s a story for another day.

Lightning Cake (Blitztorte)

This is a German Blitztorte, named for the speed with which it can be produced. It is a quite simple lemon-scented yellow cake, delicious with or without the topping, or frost it with any powdered-sugar or quick icing.

Have all ingredients at room temperature, 68 to 70 degrees. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour [leave out flour if you intend to serve from the pan] one 8×2–inch round pan or line the bottom with wax or parchment paper.

Whisk together thorough:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

In a large bowl, beat until cream, about 30 seconds:

8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter

Gradually add and beat on high speed until lightened in color and texture, 3 to 5 minutes:

1 cup sugar

Beat in 1 at a time:

3 large eggs

Beat in:

1 tsp grated lemon zest [or lemon extract]

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Stir in the flour mixture just until smooth. Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly. If desired [and not planning to ice the cake], sprinkle the top with a mixture of:

1/3 cup chopped or sliced natural almonds or other nuts

1 heaping tablespoonful sugar

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Slide a thin knife around the cake to detach it from the pan. Invert the cake and peel off the paper linking, if using. Let cool right side up on the rack. [Note: I iced the cake in the pan and served it from the pan.]

How Pumpkin Spiced-Swirl Bread Taught Me a Lesson

“Do not make new dishes for guests.”

I read that advice somewhere, but I’ve ignored it many times.  I’ve lost count of how many times I tried new recipes for dinner guests or took a new dish to a party. Plus, I’ve been on a roll lately, turning out one new successful dish after another. By last weekend, I had begun to think I was invincible.

And then I tried to bake a loaf of pumpkin spice swirl bread for a church women’s breakfast. (You can find the recipe here at the blog “Chickens in the Road.”)

Having learned a little about yeast dough in the last few weeks, I started the process two days ahead. Thursday night, I mixed and kneaded the dough and set it in the fridge to rise overnight. Friday night, I kneaded the dough again (Jonah and I had fun “spanking” the dough, which I told him had been naughty), rolled it out into a rectangle, and added the filling of butter, brown sugar, and pumpkin pie spice (which I made myself by combining 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, and 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg). Then I rolled up the dough, placed it in a loaf pan, and put it in the refrigerator to rise again overnight. All I would have to do Saturday morning was bake the loaf.

And that’s where I ran into trouble.

It should have gone smoothly. I followed some tips from my Joy of Cooking for adding steam to the oven for the first 15 minutes of baking by spritzing water into the oven with a water bottle. That went well, and was fun. But the recipe said to bake the loaf for 25 minutes, and when 25 minutes had passed, I felt some doubt about the loaf being finished. I left it in for a few more minutes, but then I began to worry I would over cook it. And because I don’t have any experience baking loaves of bread, I didn’t have any instincts to rely on.

I did have this advice from Joy of Cooking: When the bread is done, it should pull away from the sides of the pan and make a hollow sound when you thump on the bottom. But to really know if it’s done, check the temperature with an instant-read thermometer.

Well, I didn’t have a food thermometer. I had been delaying the purchase of one for weeks, because I wasn’t sure what kind to get or how much to spend. But, surely, no one really needs to rely on a thermometer. Surely I could figure out from appearance, smell, and touch whether the bread was done.

After giving the bread about 5 minutes more than the called-for 25 minutes, I pulled it out of the oven. It smelled done. The crust was a nice color. The bread had pulled away from the sides of the pan. Would it pass the thump test? I slid a knife around the loaf on all sides and tried to carefully slide it out of the pan. To my horror, a giant chuck of bread stuck to the pan.

My eyes widened in horror. Not sure what to do, I thumped the rest of the loaf on the bottom, then realized I didn’t know how to interpret the sound it made. So, I shoved the rest of the loaf back into the pan and prayed it would meld to the part of the loaf still stuck inside. And maybe cook a little more while sitting in the loaf pan.

I asked myself, Should I have cooked it longer? Was 30 minutes really enough time? But I had no time to do anything about it. I was due at the breakfast in minutes. So I let the bread sit while I got ready to leave, then wrapped the pan in a cloth and drove off to my women’s breakfast.

After reaching the breakfast, I was able to let the bread sit for a few minutes because I’d arrived early to set up. Eventually, though, the time came when I had to try cutting a slice. I pulled out a knife, hoped for the best and cut in—and discovered that the entire center of the loaf was doughy and completely uncooked.

“Ooh, that’s not done,” I said … which was an understatement. Pretty on the outside, on the inside, the loaf of bread was as far from done as it could be.

“How bad is it?” said Janice, a church friend who was standing nearby. She had been drawn over by the smell of fresh bread, and now she leaned in to take a look.

“Oh, that’s really not done!” she said.

I was crestfallen.

Oddly, Janice looked as crestfallen as me. “It smells great, though,” Janice said.

She sounded disappointed. I knew Janice loved bread. So I cut off a piece from the top of the loaf, where it was cooked through. “Try it,” I said.

Janice took a bite. “Well, that part tastes really good!” she said. And she perked up a little.

I looked at the loaf. Then, quickly, I sawed off the top third of the loaf, cut it into chunks, and laid the chunks of bread on the cloth I’d brought from home.

I carried the rest of the loaf over to the trash can and dumped it in.

At the breakfast, I watched women walk by the serving table, stop to look at the bread chunks, and read the grand little sign I’d made at home before coming: “Pumpkin spice bread.”

Then, wonder of wonders, I watched almost all of it disappear.

Even so, serving those chunks as “pumpkin spice bread” was humiliating.

I learned some valuable lessons from this failure. First, I was taking a big risk baking a loaf of bread for guests when I’d never baked a loaf of bread before. Second, l didn’t leave myself enough time to make sure the bread was done before leaving the house. Third, sometimes a baker can salvage part of a loaf, but I’ve been humbled—I know I can’t count on that every time, and there’s very little to be proud of in serving ruined chunks of bread instead of a glorious full loaf.

Also, that afternoon I went to Walmart and bought an instant read thermometer.

Who Needs Meat When You’ve Got Homemade Soup and Breadsticks?

Soup, Salad, and Breadsticks


In my house, we eat a lot of meat. Pork chops, bacon, sausage, chicken, steak, roast, hamburger, bologna, ham, salami … the list goes on and on.

Yes, I will admit, we are one of those households that eats meat for two out of three meals every day. But I’ve been thinking it would be a good idea to have some meals in my repertoire that don’t involve meat.

Why?

Why would I want to eat a meal without meat when bacon tastes so, so good?

I know that’s what my husband wonders. And if I wanted to serve a meal without meat, I knew I’d have to make it a meal so tasty that Chris wouldn’t even notice there was no steak or pork chop on his plate.

Back to why I would want to prepare a meal with no meat main dish: First, meat costs a lot, and there are times at the end of the month when nothing is on sale and I could save a little money if I didn’t have to run out to the store to buy high-priced chicken or beef or whatever. Second, eating meat makes calories add up fast, and I like to have some “light” suppers on my list for days when I’ve had a big lunch or when I’d like to indulge a little for dessert after supper. Third, I know that decades ago, people ate a lot of meals without meat, largely because of reason #1 above (they couldn’t afford it), and now and then I like to experience what things were like for previous generations. Although I must admit my personal journey back in time would only be a partial historical re-creation; I wasn’t planning to shut off our electricity or move the bathroom out to the backyard for the night of the big Meatless Dinner.

Anyway, for my meatless meal experiment, I settled on a menu of soup, salad, and homemade breadsticks. I figured, if the breadsticks and soup turned out great, we could stuff ourselves with bread and allow the aroma of the chicken stock-based soup to fool our brains into thinking we’d feasted on chicken.

Would it work?

My Joy of Cooking includes a simple recipe for stracciatella, or Italian parmesan and egg soup that I decided to try. It’s essentially a deconstructed matzo ball soup, with egg, parmesan, breadcrumbs, and spices cooked just a couple of minutes in a simmering chicken stock.

Garnished with the magical spice nutmeg, my current favorite, the soup turned out pretty yummy. No, it wasn’t filling, but for that purpose we had—oh, yes!—steaming, buttery, parmesan-sprinkled hot homemade breadsticks.

They were beautiful. They smelled heavenly. They tasted delicious. And, as Chris pointed out, they looked, smelled, and tasted a fair bit like Crazy Bread from Little Caesar’s, the cheapest pizza chain in America.

“Is that a compliment?” I asked. I wasn’t sure.

“Well, you love Crazy Bread,” he said.

It’s true, I do.

I ate four breadsticks, one bowl of soup, and a simple side salad. And guess what? I did not miss the meat. I really didn’t.

But I have a confession to make.

While the chicken stock was coming to a simmer, while the breadsticks were baking, before the salads were made, I got worried that Chris would freak out when he figured out there wasn’t any meat for dinner. So I sliced up some summer sausage to put on his plate next to the soup. And I ate a slice myself. So help me, I did.

Below are the recipes needed to make for this simple soup and homemade breadsticks (which, incidentally, reheated well for a meal the next day).

I have left out any reference to the pre-meal summer sausage snack. I was weak … but you don’t have to be.

Italian Parmesan and Egg Soup (Stracciatella)

A Roman specialty, stracciatella derives its name from the word straccetti, little rags—describing the strands of egg that float in the broth.

Bring to a simmer in a medium saucepan:

3 cups chicken stock

Meanwhile, whisk together until blended:

1 large egg

1 ½ tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon dry unseasoned breadcrumbs (I had only Italian breadcrumbs and used them instead)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (I didn’t have any so I left this out)

1 small clove garlic, finely minced

Stir this mixture rapidly into the simmering stock and stir until the egg is set, 30 to 60 seconds. Garnish with:

Freshly grated or ground nutmeg or grated lemon zest

Ladle into warmed bowls

Homemade Pizza or Breadstick Dough (from Aunt Marilyn Hill)

1 1/3 cup warm water

1 pkg (2 ¼ tsp yeast)

1 ½ tsp salt

2 tbsp oil

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

Dissolve yeast in water. Stir in salt, sugar, and oil. Add flour one cup at a time. Mix well. Add ½ cup flour if dough is too sticky. Allow to rise for 30–45 minutes. (You may freeze the dough at this point.)

For breadsticks (from Our Best Bites):

Remove dough from bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Roll into a rectangle and cut into 12 strips with a pizza cutter.

Roll out each piece of dough into a snake and then drape over your forefinger and twist the dough. Place on baking sheet and repeat with remaining 11 pieces of dough. Try to space them evenly, but it’s okay if they’re close.

Cover pan and allow dough to rise for another 30 minutes. When there’s about 15 minutes to go, preheat your oven to 425. When done rising, bake for 10–12 minutes or until golden brown. Rub some butter on top of the breadsticks (just put a Ziploc bag on your hand, grab some softened butter, and have at it) and sprinkle with garlic bread seasoning or the powdery Parmesan cheese in a can and garlic salt. Or you could sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar.

I Made German Mennonite Zwiebach (and I’m not German)

Most families have favorite recipes that have special meaning for all the kids and grandkids. In family, there’s the iced Christmas cookies my mom had us make every year and which now my sister Jenny makes with her kids and any of the nieces and nephews who are around. There’s the family brownie recipe, the family five-minute fudge recipe, the broccoli-cheese-rice casserole recipe, the chicken gumbo recipe (a mild version that suits my bland Anglo-Saxon palate), the pineapple jello salad recipe, and so on.

In my husband’s family, thanks to his mother’s side of the family, family favorites comprise an entire menu of German Mennonite dishes. To be more specific: Germans-from-Russia Mennonite dishes.

Now, my family has been in North America for so long that we don’t have any ethnic dishes in our family recipe treasure trove. Our recipes all have American names and no special ethnic history. I love our family foods; but in my husband’s family, the names themselves are unique and beloved:

Cherry Moos

Kuchen

Vareneke …

Borscht …

Zwiebach.

I’ve been learning to bake bread lately, focusing on rolls (let’s hear it for rolls!), and every time I talked about baking in the past couple of months, my husband would say, “You should make zwiebach.”

“What on earth is that?” I asked.

Or my mother-in-law would say, “Have you tried to make zwiebach?”

And my father-in-law would say, “And there’s always Oma’s zwiebach …”

I wasn’t even sure how it was spelled. Curious, I googled “zwieback” and found recipes for something like Melba toast. Then I looked up “zwiebach,” and I found it. Sure enough, it was a roll—a “double bun,” or a roll with a topknot on it.

So when the date rolled around for my husband’s grandfather’s 90th birthday, and I found myself searching for something special I could make, the answer was obvious.

I called my mother-in-law.

“Do you have a recipe for that zwiebach?” I asked.

Mom Nichols had her grandmother’s recipe in a family cookbook she worked on a few years back, so I borrowed the book and read the recipe. It raised a lot of questions for me.

Did I need to knead the dough? When exactly did I shape the rolls? What size should they be? How many rolls would the recipe make?

Because Oma went to heaven a long time ago, and since my mother-in-law has never made zwiebach herself, I scoured the Internet for advice. I read five or so zwiebach recipes, garnered tips from most of them, and then added a sheet containing the best advice to the cookbook containing Oma’s recipe.

As I looked over all the recipes, I realized I was going to have a timing problem—I wouldn’t be home most of the night before the party and wouldn’t be able to keep an eye on the dough for the first rise. Could I refrigerate the dough?

That sent me on a whole new Google adventure. I researched “refrigerating bread dough” until I had a good plan worked out.

  1. Friday after work: Mix and knead the dough and put it in the fridge.
  2. Leave for in-laws’ house for dinner and family trip to Boo at the Zoo event.
  3. Three hours later, return from Boo at the Zoo and remove dough from the fridge.
  4. Warm the chilled dough and complete the first rise.
  5. Stay up really, really late shaping dough, completing a second rise, and baking the rolls.

I own three cookie sheets, and I decided to bake all the rolls at once. I wound up with about 36 rolls. All golden brown, plump double rolls with an aroma that drew Chris into the kitchen.

He had to eat one away.

“Is this what they’re supposed to be like?” I asked.

“They taste like Oma’s!” he said.

“You’re kidding,” I said. “Really?”

“Although these are bigger than hers,” he said.

“Are they supposed to be small? Oh, dear,” I said.

“Oh, it’s fine,” he said. “Try one!”

Oh, yes, they were good. But I never had Oma’s zwiebach, so I didn’t know if I’d done what I wanted to do: reproduce a favorite.

The next morning we got into the car with two bags of rolls and drove to Abilene, Kansas, for the birthday party. We got there at noon, and I realized right away that the news that I was bringing zwiebach had spread.

“Heard you brought zwiebach,” said one of the uncles.

“Looks like zwiebach,” said someone else.

But the big test remained. As I watched the zwiebach disappear from the serving table, I also looked around the room to find people eating it. Chris’s grandma had one. Great Aunt Noreen had one. Uncle Kevin had one. Aunt Becky had one. In fact, almost everyone had one.

Had I done it?

I started walking around the room, stopping at each table for just a moment.

“Good zwiebach!”

“Nice job.”

“These taste just like Oma’s.”

“ALMOST as good as Oma’s,” said Uncle John.

“Keep making the zwiebach,” said Uncle Kevin.

Well, Uncle Kevin, I will.

I don’t have any German blood, I’m not one of the family, but what better way to let them know I love and respect my husband’s heritage? And my boys are a quarter German. They and their future wives are going to know about zwiebach—with an “h.”

Oh, and Grandma said I can make the zwiebach any size I want.

Oma’s Zwiebach Recipe, revised by her great-granddaughter-in-law

1 cake compressed yeast [equates to 1 packet or 2 ¼ tsp]

½ cup warm water

1/3 cup sugar

3 ½ c scalded milk [I didn’t know how to scald the milk so I microwaved it until it was hot]

1 cup shortening [I used ½ cup shortening and ½ cup butter]

4 tsp salt

Dissolve yeast in warm water with part of the sugar. Pour milk on shortening. When cool, add salt and rest of sugar.

Add the yeast mixture and 10–12 cups of flour [enough to make a medium dough that may be sticky. Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic.]

Let rise until double (about two hours at 80 degrees). SHORT COLD RISE: I let it rise in the refrigerator for three hours. When I took it out, it was almost double. At this point I boiled 1–2 cups of water in the microwave, then put the dough in the microwave with the hot water. The bread was raised double in less than an hour.

Knead down, then pinch off small to medium-sized of dough and put on greased pan. For every ball you roll, roll a second smaller one and set it on top of the first roll. Press down lightly with the knuckle of your index finger to meld the two rolls. Let rise for 30 minutes. Now bake at 375 for 20–25 minutes.

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