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Baking Fails Part II: Spritz–It’s all about the Buttah!

butter images

Butter sculpture at Minnesota State Fair. Each finalist for Princess Kay of Milky Way title gets her head carved in butter AND gets to take it home with her.  Where does one display butter artwork?

My brother called me the other day to tell me about another baking fail to add to the family lore. Actually, I called him to tell him about my Ostakaka blog post but it sounds better if he called me.  Anyhoo, as we laughed over past Ostakaka disasters, he confessed to his latest fail.  He had made Spritz (to you non-Scandanavians, it’s the most awesome butter cookie imaginable and should be in everyone’s arsenal of holiday cookies).  While making it, he couldn’t understand why the texture was off and the dough felt almost oily on his hands.   The finished product fared no better.  It even tasted a little chemically.

In the words of SNL Coffee Talk’s host, Linda Richman, spritz should have tasted “like buttah.”  Except it won’t, if you use the wrong butter.  Yes, there are wrong butters.  Butter is butter is butter except when it comes to baking.   Then, butter can make all the difference between success and failure.  I have been remiss in imparting my vast “butter knowledge” to others prior to this. Here’s a little course in Butter 101 just in time for the holidays.

I came upon my “butter knowledge” the old fashioned way–trial and error.  I make a lot of chocolate chip cookies in my house and I mean A LOT!!!  Especially during football season.  You know how people have superstitions about watching sports events (wearing the same pair of socks, watching it in the same chair, or any of the great ones from Silver Linings Playbook).  In my house, we have a cookie requirement.  We have to pay homage to the cookie gods to ensure a “win.”  If I fail to do this, it’s on my shoulders if they lose.  BTW:  I’m doing cookie penance this week because I didn’t make cookies AND the Patriots lost to Miami.

butter images 2

More butter sculptures! I think butter sculptures make any blog post better, don’t you?

During my countless cookie baking sessions, I noticed the cookies sometimes turned out greasy and spread a lot when baking.  I said to myself  “huh?  I wonder why?” and that was the end of that.  Until eventually, I put two and two together (yeah, I’m fast that way) and discovered that when I baked with Land O Lakes butter, they came out perfect every time.   I subsequently found out that Cooks Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen (two shows that I’m addicted to and recommend highly!) rank Land O Lakes butter their top supermarket brand and it came in second overall to some European-style butter with an butterunpronounceable name.

You may be pooh poohing me at this point and you would be in good company, my husband calls my theory nonsense but I pooh pooh him because he lacks baking standards and will eat anything.

If you still think you should go out and buy the cheapest brand because you think it doesn’t matter, RESIST THE TEMPTATION.  Baking is the finickiest of all cooking methods.  Ever watch those chefs on Top Chef wilt under the pressure when they have to make a dessert?   I rest my case.

But don’t take my word for it, I refer to you this fancy dancy chart (which someone who cares about these things took the time to compile) and it shows that the ratio of fat to moisture to milkfat solids can vary WILDLY from brand to brand.  Ergo, wildly varying components = wildly varying results.  Believe me and those one or two smart other people at America’s Test Kitchen – Land O’ Lakes is the way to go.

Note: If I had been compensated for this blog post, which I was not, not even an itty bitty bit, I would have blown it all on Mega Millions tickets for tonight’s jackpot.  So maybe it’s a good thing this blog makes no money.

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Tis the Season for…Baking Mistakes Part 1: The Making of the Ostakaka

ostakaka-swedish-cheese-cake-2There is a long  tradition of holiday baking mistakes in my family, a mantle I’m proud to continue year after year.  One of my fondest (and frequently reoccurring) memories from my childhood involved the annual “Making of the Ostakaka.” My uncle and aunt would drive up from Iowa, and after a few dozen cups of coffee around the kitchen table, talk would invariably turn to the Making of the Ostakaka.  For you non-Scandahoovians, Ostakaka (also spelled Ostkaka) is a Swedish cheesecake served with lingonberries, though us kids always had it with strawberries, except for my brother, who always acted older than his years.

My uncle’s questioning would begin starting with whether my mother had procured the rennet.  Since this is a family blog (okay, not really) I won’t gross you out with what rennet actually is, instead, suffice it to say, it is an essential ingredient in the making of cheese, or in this case, Swedish cheesecake.   A quick note on the procuring part.  I have discovered since moving to the East Coast, you can’t just go to your local Lunds or Byerly’s (two favorite Mpls grocery store chains) and buy it.  What would we do without the Internet?  No Ostakaka, that’s for sure.  Wait, that may be a good thing….

Back to the story, the questioning would continue to the buying of sufficient milk.

“Do you have  plenty of whole milk this year?”

“Yes, I have plenty of whole milk,”  my mother would assure him.

“But you remember last year…”

The words “last year” being more figurative than literal because we never had a sufficient quantity of whole milk in the house for the Making of the Ostakaka. Osatkaka requires 2 gallons of whole milk but that would assume success could be accomplished by making only a single batch.

Once the ingredient list had been sufficiently discussed, including the availability of lingonberries that year, the process would begin.  The process is as mysterious to me today, as it was back then.   Any recipe that requires you to “turn the whey off and put curds into a pan” (see recipe below), should not be attempted by mere mortals such as I (my mother and uncle being, of course, from higher and sterner stock).

Tensions were usually high during the process, swearing may have been involved, and then, waiting, waiting and waiting some more.  Would this be the year?  Would we finally get it to curdle on the first try?

“Try more rennet!”

“Why the &%*@ won’t this separate?”

Could it be the milk?  Maybe?  Poor quality rennet?  Probably.  The chefs in the kitchen…NEVER.

A trip to the store would ensue, sufficient gallons of milk bought for a second, and hopefully, final try.

Although I’m well into my fourth decade, I still have not attempted this finicky Swedish dessert.   My much younger cousin who lives in Kansas frequently “attempts” it to varying degrees of success.  Christmas is not Christmas in our family without at least one failed Ostakaka.

So, this year, it’s my turn.  I have included the recipe from our family cookbook (circa 1980) for the nostalgics and masochists in the group who want to join me. The rennet is ordered courtesy of Amazon.com and I’ve made room in the refrigerator for multiple gallons of whole milk.  C’mon Ostakaka show me what you got!  And as my mother’s aunt said in the recipe below “the lingon covers any sins!”

grandma's ostkaka

 

 

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Just Read It: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

lemon cakeI’ve changed the title of this category on my blog from Must Read Books to Just Read It. The origin of the new title comes from my son who loves to read and loves to be read to.  What he does not like is when Mom stops in the middle and wants to talk about what we just read.  As in, “what do you think is going to happen next”, etc. Interruptions to the story are not tolerated in any way shape or form.

Since he could talk, any interruption was met with an admonishment to “just rrrrread it!  Mom, just rrrrrread it!”    It is one of those wonderful quirks about him that makes me smile each and every time it happens.  Of course, Mom is not above doing it on purpose just to hear him say it.    I decided this would be a good mantra for my blog to “Just Read It.”   Of course, I don’t mean read without interruptions like how my son uses it, I want you to read, read and then read some more.  Read to your kids, read for yourself, read for pleasure, read for information.

Which brings me to my Just Read It recommendation–The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.   I currently have about a half a dozen books in various states of being read.  Lately, I’ve had a problem finding something that holds my interest.  Even a new book by a long time favorite author Elizabeth George fell flat–600 pages in to a 700+ page book and I really don’t have any desire to see it through.

When I picked up The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, I was not optimistic. There are a lot of things flawed about this book–the plot meanders (and is far from clear), the characters are not that well developed, and I never got to the point where I was rooting for the protagonist.  Soooooo, why am I recommending it?  Because of the premise.  Wow, did I just say that?  Am I seriously recommending a book solely on a strong premise?  Yes I am.  But there was also something about this book that made me want to finish it.   The premise is strange and off beat but it MAKES YOU THINK and that is a lofty accomplishment for any book.

The protagonist, a young girl at the beginning of the novel, can taste a person’s emotions in the food prepared by that person.  She can taste other things as well (whether something is organic, grass fed, etc) and this “gift” plagues her throughout the novel and it gets so bad that she seeks out factory prepared foods only.   It makes you think about how food and emotions are frequently intertwined.  It makes you wonder what you would do if given this incredible insight into the psyche of someone else.  Do you even want this information?  What should you do with it?  Hopefully the book will make you think and with that, you know what to do, JUST READ IT!

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