Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Excuses, Excuses

Ingredients for an oft-postponed test

The elders in my family prove that old saw, “It takes guts to get old.” Dad lived to 95 but spend the final 10 years in an Alzheimer haze, and Mom is now 90 but so crippled with arthritis she can barely move. It doesn’t take much to cause her a fall, and when she does, I’m the sibling to get a call from her assisted living facility. Which, incidentally, is 400 miles away.
The past two weeks have been spent cleaning up from just such an incident. First came the call, then a midnight ER trip (Thank God for our friend Betsy Ford, who stayed with Mom in the ER until my sister Ruth could arrive), then a 3AM return home. And then, three days later, a leg infection which developed into cellulitis.
I took Mom to the ER again a week ago Saturday for the leg infection, and let me tell you, Emergency Departments are hell for 90-year-olds. Luckily she was admitted to the hospital after only 6 hours, and even luckier, the infection was not MRSA. Still she had three days of in-patient IV antibiotics and was sent home exhausted and confused.  I stayed 48 more hours to help her get straightened around.
So I’m going to excuse myself for not blogging about 2-bite-dessert cookie experiments. They did go on, however, and I’m here to report success.
Mise en place for the taste test
Before Mom’s fall I performed a basic cookie test, following directions in Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio. (see previous blog) The sugar-fat-flour ratio for cookies is 1:2:3. Ruhlman suggests this flavor test: make a cookie using that ratio and only butter, sugar and flour. The point is to see for yourself what cookies’ fundamental flavors and structure are. Great idea! Except that, unlike Ruhlman and other wheat-eaters, I have 11 flours in the house. 
I selected nine of these for my cookie test: millet, sorghum, brown rice, montina, buckwheat, GF oats, ivory teff, dark teff and black cocoa. I began by creaming enough butter with sugar to make 18 cookies total - 2 of each flavor. Then, using almost every bowl I had, I divided the creamed butter/sugar into 9 parts, added flour to each, and stirred until blended, then formed balls. To keep things straight I marked a piece of baker’s parchment with numbers on which I pressed the balls to 3/8” discs. I then set my project in a 350F oven for about 20 minutes, turning the baking sheet once.
Post-baking began with discarding the mistakes - cocoa and montina. The cocoa got short shrift of butter/sugar (due to measuring errors) and was crumbly and inedibly bitter (though one could sense potential). The montina looked like moose droppings and tasted like tree bark. 
Almost every remaining cookie was powdery on the tongue, and the flavors of butter and sugar were so prominent it was hard to get past them to the flavor of grains. But subtle differences expanded upon chewing, and I soon had an interesting page of notes.
The one cookie that succeeded as plain, just-the-way-it-is, was buckwheat. That may be because I grind my own flour and keep the mill set to extra-coarse. Thus the buckwheat didn’t absorb the oven-melting butter/sugar blend and the cookies spread. However the flavor was great, with slightly caramelized edges to the cookies. They left me thinking a dab of syrup and a touch of salt, plus enough time in the oven to really caramelize things, might make for a nice treat.
I already have several good buckwheat recipes, so I wanted to move in another direction. The second-best flavor was millet, though my taste buds wanted citrus in the blend. 
Some ingredients for lemon-millet cookies
Unfortunately my first millet experiments turned out powdery. Thinking back to buckwheat, I decided to experiment with coarse grinds. There was little initial improvement, but the textural experience was interesting. That’s when I hit on an idea: simmer whole millet grains in milk to soften the seeds and incorporate these.
The results were mediocre but tasty enough to keep going. Thinking a coarse texture wasn’t wholly cookie-like, I made the next batch adding starch flours. To avoid abandoning the concept of a light, airy cookie, I made a second flour batch with commercial millet flour plus starches.
For the citrus taste I used a blend of lemon oil (available from King Arthur Flours), lemon extract and lemon zest. A small amount of xanthan gum helped cut the powdery taste, and a pinch of salt enhanced flavors.
Two-bite lemon-millet cookies
Thinking strategically, I reduced the amount of butter for the simmered grain batch by the weight of the absorbed milk. That was overcompensation, but the cookies are nonetheless keepers.
When I make them again I’ll frost them with half-sour-orange, half-lime. They’ll be more photogenic that way, and taste better too. I also think a ginger frosting would do, which gives me enough indecision that instead of posting the recipes with frosting, I’ll do without.

Lemon-Millet Cookies

Each formulation makes 6 two-bite or 8 one-bite cookies
26 gr. millet seeds
23 gr. Cornstarch
18 gr. Expandex modified tapioca starch
2 gr. Potato flour (NOT starch)
1 gr. Xanthan gum (@ 1/4 tsp)
@ 1/2 cup milk
10 gr. Butter
23 gr. sugar
1/8 tsp lemon extract
2 tsp fresh-grated lemon zest
Pinch salt


26 gr. millet flour
23 gr. Cornstarch
18 gr. Expandex modified tapioca starch
2 gr. Potato flour (NOT starch
1 gr. Xanthan gum (@ 1/4 tsp)
46 gr. Butter
23 gr. Sugar
1/8 tsp lemon extract
2 tsp fresh-grated lemon zest
Pinch salt
If making the coarse cookies, begin by simmering the millet seeds in milk for 10’. Remove from heat and drain milk from seeds using a screen or cheesecloth. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Set out a cookie sheet and a 1/2 sheet of bakers parchment.
If making the fine cookies, in a medium bowl blend flour, starches, salt and xanthan gum.
If making the coarse cookies, in a medium bowl blend starches, salt and xanthan gum.
Cream butter and sugar. Best results come from butter at @ 60 F creamed with the sugar for @ 1 1/2 minutes on high-medium speed. Add lemon extract and blend. Add zest and blend.
Add flour blend to creamed butter (fine cookies) or add drained seeds (coarse cookies) and then starches blend. Blend until dough comes together in a cohesive ball.
Divide the dough into 6 to 8 small balls and distribute on cookie sheet, leaving @ 2” on all sides of each ball. Flatten with the back of a spoon or a fork.
Bake a total of 16 minutes, rotating the cookie sheet half way through the cycle. Remove to a rack and allow to cool.

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