S’mores Cupcakes

Purpose:

To make a summer party-worthy dessert for a non-chocoholic as quickly as possible.

Protocol:

Materials:

  • All-purpose flour
  • Graham crackers or crumbs
  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Salt
  • Cinnamon
  • Unsalted butter
  • Granulated sugar
  • Dark brown sugar
  • Eggs
  • Buttermilk
  • Milk or semi-sweet chocolate
  • Heavy cream
  • Cream of tartar
  • Vanilla extract

Equipment:

  • Kitchen Aid mixer
  • Kitchen scale
  • Liquid measuring cup
  • Spatula
  • Muffin tin with cupcake liners
  • Pot that fits Kitchen Aid bowl

Procedure:

This protocol was adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s S’more Cupcakes. I love Deb AND many of her recipes make me say “ain’t nobody got time for that.” Below is a quick and dirty way to make these marvelous cupcakes. I got home from work after 7 and was out the door by 8:45, having eaten dinner and made the cupcakes. My sous chef had done steps 1-4 before I arrived to save time! (Lessons from the lab – delegation is key, take all shortcuts that don’t negatively affect the outcome/reliability of the data.)

Prepare the cupcakes:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F and place cupcake liners in a 12-cup standard tin.
  2. Food process 7 graham cracker sheets to make crumbs.
  3. Chop 4 oz chocolate.
  4. Weigh 125 g flour, 110 g graham cracker crumbs, 3/8 tsp baking powder, 3/8 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon into a bowl and stir.
  5. In Kitchen Aid, cream 1 stick butter with 67 g granulated and 106 g dark brown sugar.
  6. Add eggs one at a time, mixing and scraping between.
  7. Add 1/3 dry ingredients, mix. Add 1/2 C buttermilk, mix. Repeat. Add remainder of dry ingredients.
  8. Distribute batter among cupcake liners and bake 20 m or until toothpick comes out clean. While the cupcakes are in the oven, make the filling and frosting.

Prepare the filling:

  1. Put 4 oz chopped chocolate, 1/3 C heavy cream, and a pinch of salt in a small microwaveable bowl.
  2. Nuke for 30 s, followed by 15 s increments, until chocolate begins to melt. Stir until fully melted and set aside.

Prepare the frosting:

  1. In a VERY CLEAN Kitchen aid bowl, put 2 egg whites, 133 g granulated sugar, 1/4 tsp cream of tartar, and 3/4 tsp vanilla into a heatproof bowl and set over a pot with 1/2″-1″ of water on low to medium low heat.
  2. Whisk about 3 m, until sugar dissolves and egg whites are warm.
  3. Move the bowl to the Kitchen Aid with whisk attachment, gradually increase mixer speed to high, and beat until stiff peaks form, 4-7 m.
  4. Add vanilla and mix to combine.

Assemble the cupcakes:

  1. When the cupcakes are cooked, pop the whole tin in the freezer until the metal is cool to the touch.
  2. Use a measuring Tsp to remove cake from the center of the cupcakes.
  3. Use a table teaspoon to fill the whole with chocolate filling.
  4. Use a table tablespoon to dollop frosting on top.

Results and observations:

cupcakes

The cupcakes were tasty! Very summery, very s’mores. This is definitely the 80/20 rule (80% of the output is due to 20% of the input) version of the recipe – I’m sure they would have looked nicer and had a slightly better texture if I let them cool normally and used a piping bag for the filling and frosting, but for me it’s not worth the time. I did end up toasting the ends of the frosting with a flame later on, as it gives it the final touch.

Chocolate-dipped Salted Caramels

Purpose:

To make completely homemade chocolate caramel candies.

Protocol:

Materials:

  • Unsalted butter
  • Chocolate
  • Sugar
  • Corn syrup
  • Heavy cream
  • Vanilla beans/vanilla extract

Equipment:

  • Kitchen scale
  • Liquid measuring cup
  • Spatula
  • Accurate digital thermometer or candy thermometer (good for 80-250 F)
  • Waxed paper
  • Sharp knife
  • Dipping tool or fork or toothpicks

Procedure:

This protocol was adapted from Food & Wine’s Chocolate-Dipped Vanilla Caramels.

Prepare the caramels:

  1. Melt 2 sticks unsalted butter over medium low heat. (Don’t let it get too hot – butter will smoke and burn low temperatures relative to cooking oils.)
  2. Stir in 500 g sugar, 1 C heavy cream, 1 C corn syrup, and seeds of 1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp vanilla extract.
  3. Gradually bring to a boil, stirring.
  4. Cook over medium low heat until it reaches 245 F. This takes about an hour, and the mixture will be sticky and light to medium brown. Be careful – it will burn you badly if you get it on your skin, because the outside will cool and harden while the inside continues to burn.
  5. Meanwhile, prepare a 13×9 pan by lining it with foil and spraying with canola oil.
  6. Remove caramel from heat and stir in 1 Tbsp salt.
  7. Pour/scrape into prepared pan, cover loosely, and let harden overnight. (You can also spoon some of the fresh hot caramel over ice cream. Yum!)

Temper chocolate and dip the caramels:

This protocol was adapted from David Lebovitz’s How to Temper Chocolate. The purpose of tempering chocolate is to ensure that you form as much as possible of the ideal polymorph of the cocoa butter (polymorph V) in the chocolate. For those of you who love science as much as I do, see Compound Interest’s Infographic on Structures of Chocolate or Chocolate Alchemy’s instructions on how an organic chemist would temper chocolate. Polymorph V gives a beautiful sheen and crunch to the chocolate.

  1. Set a bowl over a pot or skillet with an inch or so of simmering water so that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the bottom of the pot or skillet, and ideally does not touch the water either.
  2. Melt 10.5 oz 50-70% cacao chocolate in the bowl, stirring frequently with the spatula. Remove from heat once the chocolate reaches ~115 F, even if the chocolate is not all melted, and continue stirring until smooth.
  3. Once smooth, drop in a >1 oz piece of well tempered chocolate. I used a freshly purchased chocolate bar that was shiny and had a nice “snap” when broken. Do not use any chocolate that has any signs of fat bloom (that’s what it’s called when your chocolate is in the pantry too long or gets hot in the car and then turns white).
  4. Stir until the chocolate has cooled to about 80 F.
  5. Carefully heat the chocolate back up to 88-90 F, and try to keep it at this temperature throughout the dipping process by reheating as needed. If you heat the chocolate above 92 F, you technically need to start over.
  6. Turn the caramels out onto waxed paper sprayed with cooking spray and use a sharp knife to cut into 1″ squares.
  7. Dip the squares into chocolate and transfer to waxed paper. (This took me forever because I had poor technique – I stabbed them with toothpicks, swirled around in the chocolate, and then tried to scrape off excess chocolate. I have since learned that the correct technique is to use a dipping tool like a fork, submerge the caramel, and then hold the tool under the caramel in the chocolate and lift it straight out of the chocolate, and then tap it straight up and down against the surface of the chocolate until there are no more drips, ~3 times, then slide off the fork onto the waxed paper). Serious Eats describes this technique nicely.
  8. Let the chocolate set, then store at room temperature. Properly tempered chocolate sets very quickly, so if you want to decorate the chocolates with sea salt, do it right away. Callebaut has great suggestions for different ways you can decorate your chocolates.

Results and observations:

Caramels setting up overnight.toseton

Cutting into the turned out caramels the next day.cuttingcaramels

The caramels were delicious, if slightly salty for my taste. Next time I would use 1-2 teaspoons of salt in the caramel, and then use salt (maybe an especially pretty one like Himalayan pink?) to decorate the top.

Finished dipped chocolates.caramels

As I mentioned above, proper chocolate dipping technique is crucial. It’s pretty difficult to keep the chocolate at the right temperature for the amount of time necessary to dip all the chocolates, so next time I would use square or rectangular candy molds, paint in a layer of chocolate, cut the caramels the right size to fit, and then pour/pipe chocolate over the caramels to fill the mold. Alternatively, I could try a Sous Vide style precision cooker or a melting pot made to maintain candy temperatures. Molds are $2-5, the other solutions ~$190. 10.5 oz wasn’t quite enough for me to dip all the chocolates, but it might have been enough if I had used the fork technique. I wrapped the undipped ones individually in waxed paper. I didn’t decorate the candies this time, but I’m excited to try some decorations next time. This recipe makes a lot of chocolates, which is great for sharing! I plan to take these to the office 🙂

Sourdough bread, 50% rye

Purpose:

To make a pumpernickel-like sourdough bread with rye flour.

Protocol:

Materials:

  • Starter
  • Bread flour
  • Rye flour
  • Salt
  • Molasses
  • Anise seed
  • Fennel seed
  • Caraway seed

Equipment:

  • Kitchen scale
  • 2-4 C container with lid for maintaining starter
  • Stiff spatula or mixer with dough hook
  • 1 Dutch oven, or heavy pot with lid that is safe to 500 F
  • Proofing basket or towel-lined mixing bowl
  • Counter top or pastry mat
  • Good bread knife
  • Optional: bench scraper/pastry cutter

Procedure:

This protocol was adapted from Breadtopia’s Sourdough Rye Bread. Please refer to this source for technical details, including a nice video on shaping loaves.

  1. Starting Tues or Wed, discard all but a tablespoon of starter every 24 h in the evening. Add 25 g bread flour, 25 g whole wheat flour, and 50 g water. Stir to combine, and let sit at room temperature in a loosely capped storage container (ours is a 2C gladware).
  2. Friday evening, make the leaven: mix 1 Tbsp starter with 25 g bread flour, 25 g rye flour, and 50 g water. Mix and let sit, loosely covered, overnight (8-12 h).
  3. To 70 g leaven, add and stir in 350 g water and 2 Tbsp molasses, making sure leaven is well dispersed.
  4. Use a stiff spatula to stir in 245 g bread flour and 245 g wheat flour until no more flour is visible. (I used my Kitchen Aid Mixer with a dough hook.)
  5. Autolyse – wait 30 m with dough loosely covered. Meanwhile, dissolve 1.5 tsp salt in 50 g warm water.
  6. Add the salt water, squeezing the dough with your hands to mix it in.
  7. Let sit loosely covered for ~6 h, folding/stirring every 1-2 h. During the first fold/stir, add 1 Tbsp fennel seed, 1 tsp anise seed, and 1 tsp caraway seed.
  8. Shape the dough into a boule or batard and rest 20 m.
  9. Place into a floured proofing basket with the seams from shaping up. (My “proofing baskets” are mixing bowls lined with thin dishtowels that I’ve rubbed flour into.) Loosely cover.
  10. Let rise 1-2 h at room temperature.
  11. Heat oven to 475 F with Dutch oven or covered clay baker inside for 30 m. (I didn’t have a Dutch oven, so I used a pizza stone covered with an inverted pot.)
  12. Dump the dough into the Dutch oven, score the loaf, cover, and bake 30 m.
  13. Remove lids and bake 15-25 m further, to 200 F internal temperature.
  14. Cool completely on racks before cutting.

Notes:

This rye dough is quite wet. Avoid adding extra flour.

Results and observations:

Coming out of the oven

IMG_0365

I ended up taking this loaf out of the oven after only 30 m, because it was already at internal temperature and looked done. It smelled AMAZING. This loaf was actually shaped and proofed as a boule, but when I put it onto the pizza stone it spread out into a batard.

 

The crumb

IMG_0367

I was pleasantly surprised by how open and uniform the crumb was. The bottom left crust was a little dark/burned for my taste. The bread was slightly sweet from the molasses and aromatic from the seeds and had a very slight sourdough tang.

An unexpected observation after eating the bread for a couple of days was the route of the word “pumpernickel” – it means gassy sprite.

Conclusions:

Wet doughs like this one are indeed easier to manage with a mixer than by hand. The day long fermentation gave a sufficiently open crumb. The pizza stone worked better than a thin pot, but doesn’t do anything to retain the shape of the loaf and is not very good for retaining steam. That Dutch oven is still on my Christmas list, and might also help with the burned bottom crust. I did a little bit better job with the flour in the proofing basket and with the scoring this time. Next time, I might try an even darker pumpernickel-type bread, like a Russian black bread. The recipe source rightly calls this aromatherapy bread!

Sourdough bread, 50% wheat

Purpose:

To make a sourdough boule with starter recently obtained from our friends C&M who received it at a starter workshop hosted by SF-based Sour Flour.

Protocol:

Materials:

  • Starter
  • Bread flour
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Salt

Equipment:

  • Kitchen scale
  • 2-4 C container with lid for maintaining starter
  • Stiff spatula
  • 1-2 Dutch ovens, or heavy pots with lids that are safe to 500 F
  • 2 proofing baskets or towel-lined mixing bowls
  • Counter top or pastry mat
  • Good bread knife
  • Optional: bench scraper/pastry cutter

Procedure:

This protocol was adapted from The Kitchn “How to Make Sourdough Bread“, which is a scaled-down and well documented version of the contemporary classic Tartine country sourdough bread. Please refer to these sources for technical details.

  1. Starting Tues or Wed, discard all but a tablespoon of starter every 24 h in the evening. Add 25 g bread flour, 25 g whole wheat flour, and 50 g water. Stir to combine, and let sit at room temperature in a loosely capped storage container (ours is a 2C gladware).
  2. Friday evening, make the leaven: mix 1 Tbsp starter with ~37.5 g bread flour, ~37.5 g whole wheat flour, and 75 g water. Mix and let sit, loosely covered, overnight (8-12 h).
  3. Stir in 475 g water, making sure leaven is well dispersed.
  4. Use a stiff spatula to stir in 350 g bread flour and 350 g wheat flour until no more flour is visible.
  5. Autolyse – wait 30 m with dough loosely covered. Meanwhile, dissolve 1 Tbsp salt in 50 g warm water.
  6. Add the salt water, squeezing the dough with your hands to mix it in.
  7. Fold the dough four times, with a quarter turn between each fold. Let rest 30 m.
  8. Repeat step 7, for a total of 6 folding cycles (3 h).
  9. Shape the dough into two rounds and rest 20 m.
  10. Place each round into a floured proofing basket with the seams from shaping up. (My “proofing baskets” are mixing bowls lined with thin dishtowels that I’ve rubbed flour into.) Loosely cover.
  11. Let rise 3-4 h at room temperature or overnight in the fridge.
  12. Heat oven to 500 F with two Dutch ovens inside for 30 m. (I didn’t have any Dutch ovens, so I used the inside of my slow cooker for one loaf and a large pot for the other. I covered both with foil.)
  13. Dump the dough into the Dutch ovens, score the loaves, cover, and bake 20 m.
  14. Reduce the oven temperature to 450 F and bake 10 m.
  15. Remove lids and bake 15-25 m further, to a deep brown.
  16. Cool completely on racks before cutting.

Notes:

Most bread recipes and bakers will tell you to feed your starter at least every 12 h. This is true if you want to be able to bake at any time on any day. I’ve had success with 24 h feedings for 2-3 days leading up to baking and a final feeding (to make the leaven) 8-12 h before baking, and keeping the starter in the fridge between bakings for up to 2 weeks. This saves flour. In a research laboratory, yeast are stored long term with glycerol at -80 C, or short term streaked out on agar with nutrients at 4 C, and then grown in liquid broth with nutrients for some period leading up to experiments.

Results and observations:

Proofing stage

proofing

Coming out of the oven

comingoutoftheoven

This picture was taken 15 minutes into step 15, the minimum suggested time for the uncovered bake. I’m not sure if you can see from this picture, but the inside of the slow cooker was a MUCH better baking vessel than the pot. It was thicker, so it retained and distributed heat better, and shallower, so it retained steam better while covered and made it easier to score the loaf once the dough was placed in. I took the loaf in the pot out immediately and gave the one in the slow cooker a few more minutes to brown. The bottom of the one in the pot was burned, and the one in the slow cooker ended up with a little tougher bottom crust than I like.

Finished loaves

finishedloaves

The loaves had nice oven spring and the one on the left was nicely scored, while the one on the right – not so much. Both had a great deal of flour left on them from the proofing baskets.

The crumb

IMG_0363

The bread had a fairly open crumb on the outside and more dense toward the center. It was tasty, with prominent but not overpowering sourdough tang. We ate it just like this!

Conclusions:

The inside of the slow cooker is an acceptable baking vessel, while the thinner pot is definitely not. I’ll put a Dutch oven on my Christmas list. Next time, I should tap out some of the flour after lining the proofing baskets so the loaves don’t end up so floury on the outside. Overall, we were happy and full from the first attempt, and learned a lot about the process and timing. Baking bread is a great excuse to stay home all day on a Saturday!

Our kitchen notebook

Welcome to my first blog post since studying abroad in college! I just finished my PhD in September, and I now have much more time to perform experiments in my second laboratory, our kitchen. I am a biochemist with a background in working with yeast, and I love to bake. My husband, Ryan, also enjoys cooking and baking and, conveniently, photography. During grad school I kept an electronic, but private, laboratory notebook, and I thought it might be fun to have a public lab notebook blog for our kitchen experiments. You can expect roughly weekly monthly posts in a roughly scientific format. I promise to report both successful and failed experiments, and I welcome discussion of the results and conclusions!

yeast