Saturday, November 12, 2011

Scientist or Artist ~ Chewy Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Squares


I am not much of a baker, rather more of a “cooker”.  Baking is more of a science in that you have to be precise with measuring each ingredient in order for the product to turn out well. To me, cooking is more of an art, allowing more flexibility and creativity with ingredients, mixing and matching whatever is on hand or what seems like should be added. 

As part of my CSA share, I acquired whole-wheat pastry flour from the Missouri Grain Project.  I used small amounts of the flour for fish batter, but in order use up all of the flour, I realized I would have to awaken the scientist in me and get to baking. 

I decided to make Chewy Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Squares based on a recipe from Woman’s Day magazine (Sept 2011).  I chose this recipe since cookies are a forgiving type of baking, allowing a bit more flexibility with the ingredients. I also like dessert recipes that offer some nutritional value.  Ingredients for this cookie bar include cinnamon, nutmeg, oats, dark chocolate chips and dried cherries, each providing a boost in vitamins and minerals. I used the whole wheat pastry flour in place of all-purpose flour for additional nutrients and fiber. With so much goodness, one can almost justify eating these for breakfast!  Baking soda, vanilla, salt, butter and sugar are also ingredients certainly not helping the nutrition profile but are necessary to make the science happen and the end product taste good!

Tip: when a recipe calls for nutmeg, use a microplane to grate whole nutmeg-it really makes a difference! 

Ingredients:
1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour (Missouri Grain Project)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg 
2 sticks unsalted, softened butter 
¾ cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs (Good Earth Egg Company, Bonne Terre, MO)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup dried cherries

Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Then slowly add in the eggs and vanilla.
Slowly add in the flour mixture until just combined. (this is important in baking: if you over-stir, you will create too much gluten and your product will be tough)
Spread in a prepared 13x9 baking pan.
Bake at 350 F for about 16-18 minutes until golden brown.



2 comments:

  1. I think I've posted the EXACT same thing about being a cooker more than a baker because of the science! Too funny.

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  2. We use MGP grain for much of our baking, as we make most of our own bread and all our non-bread baked goods. We now buy it mostly as whole-grains and grind it when needed, which gives an even higher quality and flavor. Experimenting with both their hard and soft wheat is interesting, too, as each one has specific uses.

    As a farm couple who bakes a lot, I’d gently quibble with the idea that successful baking requires strict adherence to scientific ratios. You have to get them roughly right, and they certainly are based on specific chemical needs in places, but I’ve found that one need not obsess over detailed measurements in most cases. Like any other form of cooking, it’s best to start with strict adherence to recipes as you gain experience and confidence, but over time you start to learn what leeway you have with which ingredients, and how you can experiment within the boundaries of their specific characteristics. Just as a good cook knows how to substitute leeks for onions or yogurt for sour cream, a good baker can play around with ingredients quite a bit to get just what they want. There are also good recipes and poor recipes, and it takes some experimentation to learn which is which.

    For example, experimentation has allowed me to revise an old family coffee cake recipe that uses shortening and buttermilk, neither of which we purchase otherwise or produce on our farm. My version uses butter and yogurt. I had to revise the quantities of both because they don’t behave precisely the same way (you need less butter than shortening and more yogurt than buttermilk) but the end result behaves just right and works far better in our kitchen, eliminating the need to make special purchases for one recipe. In the same recipe, we now use up to half MGP wheat flour instead of all white, which changes the liquid needs (wheat flour absorbs more liquid) but results in a heartier texture and flavor along with better nutrition. Again, that’s not something a recipe can teach you, it’s something you learn by iterative experimentation, which to me is the heart of really learning to prepare food of any kind.

    So I’d encourage you to treat baking this way, taking Julia Child’s advice not to care if you screw up, as long as you’re paying attention to what you learned.

    I’m glad MGP is reaching all the way to STL; we’re friends with the founder and are really proud of what she’s building.

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