Sunday, August 28, 2011

Let's Try Science! Antler Cookies part 2

Cookies were an easy choice for my experimentation. I like cookies, I have many basic cookie recipes that are only leavened with baking powder, and from what I understood about the science of how this worked, the results had a good chance of being edible. Edible was important, because I was going to eat these things no matter what.

It has been said that I get caught up, sometimes, in details. I don't think this is a bad thing, mostly. And, of course, this kind of project just feeds that repressed scientist in me. The plan was I would make a basic sugar cookie, one batch of which would be leavened with baking powder, the other with an equal measure of powdered antler.

"But," said Crazy Brain Me, "you know that differences in mixing time, ingredient temperature, baking temperature all those things will make a difference!"

"Shut up, Crazy Brain Me! I'm just making cookies to see if this works." I said.

"Yes, but you want to *really* know, right? You don't want to just maybe have it work because of something else, right?"

Sigh. Crazy Brain Me was right. So I just made one batch all in the bowl but the leavening and mixed it until almost combined. Then, I pulled the mix out, scaled it, divided the dough in half, and mixed half with the baking powder and half with the antler powder. The dough logs rested for an hour, and then were baked. Of course, Crazy Brain Me kept coming up with new and exciting variables, but dammit, I don't have two ovens and they would have different hot spots so Crazy Brain me could just shut up.

In case you are curious, yes, there was a definite stink while the antler cookies were baking. Not painful or oh-god-fumigate levels, but enough to avert my nose when opening the oven door.

There were definite, obvious differences between the cookies even right from the oven. The Antler cookies (labelled A because I am not clever) were more colored, and crisper. The Baking powder cookies (B, same reason) had a softer texture, and very little color in the same amount of time. And as for taste, well, I had to subject other people to these cookies, so I took them to see friends at the farmer's market*.

The tasting came down to this: if you like crispy cookies with a more pronounced salt note, you liked the antler cookies. If you wanted a creamier, sweeter cookie, you liked the baking powder ones. Me, I am a crispy cookie girl all the way so I have to say, yep, I am totally going to make antler cookies again. And antler biscotti. And probably a savory antler cracker.

Antler Cookies:

8 oz cool butter, cut in chunks
.5 c sugar
2 egg yolks, save the whites for brushing the dough later
.5 t vanilla extract
.25 t lemon zest
1 t lemon juice
.5 t grated antler powder
.5 t salt
2.25 c all purpose flour
raw sugar

1. Cream together butter and sugar in a stand mixer with a paddle until smooth
2. Add yolks, lemon zest and juice, and vanilla, mix on low speed and scrape bowl.
3. Add dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just combined.
4. Divide dough in 4 and roll into logs. Wrap logs in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.
5. Preheat oven to 350. Brush each log lightly with egg whites and press raw sugar around the log. Slice into cookies about a quarter inch thick or less, and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet.
6. Bake 10-12 minutes or until light golden brown, rotating the sheet pan once. Cool completely on a rack. Share. Eat. Marvel at your apocalypse preparedness.

*an interesting note: a debate sprung up on whether or not these cookies could be considered vegetarian, as the antlers were naturally shed and therefore there was no animal trauma involved. I went the safe route and asked folks before offering cookies. If you have an opinion, I'd love to hear it.

Let's Try Science! Antler Cookies part 1

I sat in my living room, looking at a piece of naturally shed antler from Bend, OR, a box grater, and a tiny pile of shavings that were the result of almost an hour and a half's worth of labor.

This... was going to be interesting.

Cooks get excited about weird things. If it is stinky, obscure, odd and edible, chances are a cook wants to do something with it. So, there was a sense of inevitability in my soul when I first heard about antlers being an early method of leavening baked goods. "I! Have! To! Do! This!" The synapses declared it, and there but for the grace of St. Honore go I. Or something like that.

First: acquisition. Luckily the internet makes conversation between strangers possible, so Ron Zimmerman was not simply helpful, but also supportive of my internet stalking/agenda. A hunter, eBay, antique store... the age didn't matter, he stated. OK! I explained the situation to basically everyone I met. My neighbors casually made my day, "Oh yeah, "they said, "we sell them as dog treats at the pet store. " Genius!

Second: preparation. Um, dudes, bones is hard. Antlers are hard. I looked at the antler piece. The cats sniffed it. I consulted awesome people. Microplane, maybe? Well, kind of, and the result was very fine but miniscule amounts and the microplane needed an edge to work from. Well why not the stubbly, sharp, knuckle destroying side of a box grater. Aw, yeah... Still slow going, but the result was a powder finer than I had expected, certainly finer than my salt.

Yes, I thought to myself, I can work with that.

Now I just need to bake. And what should I bake? Cookies, of course...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

After the zombie apocalypse, there will still be cake

Best thing I have heard recently that I now have to try: before there was baking powder, there was deer horn. That's right, antlers, ground fine, can be used as a leavener in the same ratio as you would use baking powder. Similarly to baker's ammonia, it is stinky on baking, but the smell disappears when cool. And, bonus, like baker's ammonia it actually results in a better texture.

Now who's got an antler they can send me?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Grasping at Straws

This has not been the best summer. I admit it, I've been struggling to put a good face on things but when you find yourself listening to Queen's Innuendo for motivation you aren't in the best place.

You need a Shirley Temple.

Ok, maybe you don't, but I do. I don't know what it is about this drink that wraps me up in footie pajamas and says, "It's ok, you can have fun now.", but it never fails to make me feel better about the world. Of course, as a grown up I can play with it in ways that wouldn't have been suitable when I was eight. Also, as a grown up, I can decide how many cherries it gets. This may be the best part, especially when you use cherries you have done up yourself. Or, if you have had a really bad set of weeks, you can do something like what I did. You can get really crazy and take someone else's inspiration and really customize your drink. Like, for example, making a cherry cheesecake shirley temple float.

Put rum cherries in the bottom of your glass(about a dozen, depending on how your day was.) Top with rum from the cherries, and some cherry syrup. Add cheesecake ice cream. If you think cheesecake tastes like ick, you can use vanilla or almond ice cream. Pour ginger ale over the top. You may need another cherry. Or more rum.

And footie pajamas.

Cherry Syrup

750 g of cherries, pitted (I used Ayers Creek's amazing montmorency cherries)
150 g sugar
50 g water
a dash of bitters
a squeeze of lime juice
a pinch of salt

Put everything together in a pot and bring to a gentle boil. Boil for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain through a fine strainer into a bowl pressing all of the syrup out of the fruit. The syrup will thicken slightly when cool, but you can reduce the strained syrup to intensify its flavor and thicken it if you want (you risk scorching it, so use caution!). Cool and store in a covered container in the fridge. I have no idea how long it will keep because I use it too quickly.