Friday, August 27, 2010

Ginger and White Chocolate Shortbread

Shortbread is one of my favorite sweets. With a basic recipe and some creativity there can be infinite variant of this treat.

The flavor of lemon zest and ginger are perfectly combined with the withe chocolate to give this cookie an irresistible, sophisticated flavor.


  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup of butter or vegetable substitute* (softened, cubed, unsalted)
  • 1/4 tsp of pure vanilla extract (avoid vanilla flavor)
  • 2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tbsp of grated fresh ginger (more or less, to taste)
  • 1/2 cup of white chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup of crystallized ginger (chopped)
  • 1 tsp of lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup of powdered sugar (optional, to garnish)
* Use a little less if you use a substitute such as this. If you want to reduce the amount of fat prepare some ice-water and, after adding the butter to the flour, add the chilled water a tbsp at a time, until the dough comes together.
    • Combine flour, sugar and salt to form a fountain on the counter. Add butter and pinch the butter to incorporate the flour until dough resembles coarse meal. 
    • Then add vanilla, ginger (both fresh and crystallized) and chocolate chips and mix delicately until well combined. Do no knead the dough to much to avoid gummy texture. 
    • Form a ball with the dough, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

    • Transfer the dough to the counter and roll it about 1/2 inch thick. Use a small glass, a cookie cutter or simply a knife to cut about 24 cookies. The knife is really easy and fast and could shape your cookies in geometric forms such as squares or diamonds.

    • Place the cookies in a buttered and floured pan and bake at 250°F in a preheated oven. Let the cookies cool on a rack and sprinkle them with powdered sugar, if you want.

      Heart and Soul

      Secret revealed # 2: Sourdough Bagels

      Since I started to babysit my sourdough stater, I had to cope with the urge to feed it too much. Every time I take it out of the fridge, I end up having enough for bread, English muffins, and now... bagels. Here's my favorite recipe so far, which I modified from
      A very similar recipe is in  [Reinhart, P. (2009). Peter Reinhart's Artisan Bread Every Day: Fast and Easy Recipes for World-Class Breads. Random House, Inc.], but after trying I disagree with most of the resting times. I ended up over-proofing them (they raised to much) and the result was a mushy texture and a chewy crust...

      Cooking time:
      Day 1
      Active time    ~30 mins
      Waiting time  ~4-5 hours
      Day 2
      Active time    ~45 mins
      Cooking time ~20 mins

      • 400 g 100% hydration sourdough starter
      • 150 g water
      • 550 g bread flour*
      • 38 g extra virgin olive oil
      • 25 g malt powder
      • 15 g salt
      *The amount of gluten in the flour is essential for the texture of the bagels. If you cannot find brad flour, you can use AP flour and add 1 Tbs of gluten flour for each cup of flour (about 3 Tbs for this recipe). Find more conversion tables here.

      • Mix all the dry ingredients in a blow, especially malt powder, which will dissolve unevenly otherwise. Let the dough rest for up to 30 minutes. This process is called autolyse and it will sensibly shorten the kneading time. The flour will absorb the water, so you will have a better sense of what the dough fells like, and the enzymes in the flour will start breaking down proteins (mainly gluten) and starch. Then mix for about 10-15 minutes, until your dough will pass the windowpane test (I took my pic, but given that I knead my bread by hands, it is unlikely that I will reach a better development than Susan from WildYeast). Save some flour (about 1 cup) to incorporate it in the kneading phase, because this dough is very dry and it would be easier than incorporate al the dry ingredients at the beginning.

      • Make a ball with the dough by folding the outside in the inside and place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Let the dough rise for about 3-4 hours.
      • Divide the dough into 80g-100g portions and shape them into balls.
      Shape the bagels. There are two ways you can shape the bagels: either poking a hole in the middle with your finger and slightly stretching the hole, or rolling the dough  to form a rope (about 5 inches or 10cm long) and and pinch the ends together. Place the shaped bagels on a oiled pan, cover with plastic wrap and possibly put everything into a plastic bag and retard in the fridge for 7-8 hours or overnight. To see whether the bagels are ready to be out in the fridge, drop one of them in cold water: if it floats immediately it is time to rest! Do not let overrise the bagels because they will implode and get wrinkly in the water. The one in the pic is about right.
      The next day, bring 6 quarts water to boil in a large pot (the wider the better) add 2 Tbs of malt powder and 1 tsp salt. Add the bagels to the water, as many as you can fit in one layer. Turn after 30 secs and cook for 1 min total.
      • Drain the bagles and put them back on the pan. Now it's time to make them pretty. Chose a topping (poppy seeds, sesame seeds or a mix of garlic salt, dehydrated onion and mixed seeds)  dipping the bagels upside down in the seeds that you have ready on the counter, in a bowl.
      • Bake in the oven at 350F for about 20 mins, until they develop a nice golden brown crust. Let cool for about 1 hour. Enjoy! You can store the bagels by cutting them in a half and freeze them into a tight plastic bag.

      Monday Mania

          More on Kombucha tea

          Here's a couple of month after my post on the potential health risk of Kombucha tea, Whole Foods decides to remove it from their shelf. The reason behind the decision seems to be the high content of alcohol, due to bacteria fermentation, misreported in the labels. I was happy to see that the potential risk of the beverage and the complete lack of any scientific evidence regarding the claimed benefits has been discussed lately around the web. You can find the detailed papers here, here and here.

          I also found an interview to the responsible for the brand that was removed from Whole Foods stores.

          Wednesday, August 25, 2010

          Where you can find eggs from happy chicken

          Check out this nice website.

          The sad truth about meat substitutes

          Here's the definition of what I consider one of the most idiotic misconception about vegetarian diet: meat substitutes. The idea is that since your diet is lacking meat, you need something to replace it. The most disturbing aspect of the story is that meat substitutes are designed to appear, taste, sometimes even smell like meat.

          First obvious point, what makes you think that since I am vegetarian I do want to eat something that tastes like meat? There are many reasons for not eating meat but, whatever is your reason, there is nothing right about eating meat substitutes. Let's consider them in turn.

          You do not eat meat because you do not like it.
          Then meat substitutes are not for you anyway.

          You love animals but being vegetarian is a huge effort for you since you like meat so much.

          So why would you want to be constantly remainder of its flavor?

          You don't give a fuck about animals but you do not want to get stomach cancer.
          Have you ever bother to look at the ingredients in a soy-burger? Yes, those that you easily find in supermarkets and your non-vegetarian friends try to awkwardly feed you at their BBQs. Here's the ingredients listed in one a burger from one of those popular brands:


          Most of these product's soy and oils (tons of oil) are, of course, from OMG and that's why they are so cheap. They can be very annoying while bragging about their healthy and low-fat-low-calories products.

          You are vegetarian to save the environment and thus, the future of the universe.
          See list of ingredients above.

          You don't give a fuck about the environment, you just want to lose weight.
          See list of ingredients above.

          The reason behind the whole idea of substitution is that vegetarian diets are considered subtractive diets. Most of the non-vegetarian restaurants embrace the same ideology: either subtraction, substitution or both. Most dishes listed as vegetarian options, are typically lacking many nutrients. Entrees are basically giant portions of side dishes, with no protein except for fatty cheese and if you are lucky, a huge amount of carbohydrates, often deep-fried to compensate the lack of flavors. It seems like you do not eat meat, therefore you get to eat less stuff.

          Vegetarian diets do not lack anything, and certainly not flavor or proteing. In fact, many cultures are traditionally, mainly vegetarian (India and Thailand just to mention some but Africans also consume much more vegetables the average), which suggests that one can have a perfectly balanced vegetarian diet, after getting rid of some of the misconceptions around vegetarianism.

          Begin with considering wheat gluten and other sources of proteins as real food instead of meat substitutes. Consider them as being real ingredients and try to match other ingredients to enhance their texture and flavor, which is sometimes much more saddle than meat flavor. That does not mean that seitan, for instance, is flavorless. In fact it can be really satisfying if served with the right combination of spices instead of buried in BBQ sauce.