Monday, December 5, 2011


Because there's nothing quite as exciting as seasonal cookies, I present to you a recipe for speculoos, ripped wholesale from the pages of Baked Explorations.

Just like its precursor, this cookbook is solid gold. Almost every recipe has an interesting backstory or a tantalizing gimmick, and the entry for speculoos (alternately "speculaas," as they're called in this cookbook) is no exception. The idea was to recreate those Biscoff cookies you're sometimes lucky enough to get on Delta flights. Biscoff are in fact a brand of speculoos, a Dutch sweetcrust pastry that is traditionally made the day before St. Nicholas' Day, which is celebrated on December 6.

As you can see from the recipe, most of the flavor here comes from cinnamon, with lots of cloves, ginger, and nutmeg to round things out. Obviously such a spice-forward recipe really benefits from using freshly-ground spices. Since these are "shortcrust pastries," sugar is cut into what amounts to biscuit dough (flour, leavener, and cold fat cut into the dry ingredients), which impedes gluten formation and results in a tender yet crunchy cookie. I found that a small cookie cutter (2" diameter at most) ensures that these bake past the soft cookie stage and into more of a ginger snap territory. As you can see, I cut this batch a little too large.

I suggest that you roll these out on a work surface dusted with powdered sugar instead of flour -- you get the same effect, without the taste and texture of unincorporated flour, or you could just use a couple layers of wax paper and save some time on cleanup. Best of all, using cookie cutters means you get to eat all the scraps that bake alongside the deliverables (see also the amazing jam sandwiches from last year). Happy St. Nick's Eve!

  • 1 3/4 c AP flour
  • 1 c packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 10 Tbsp butter, cool but not cold, cut into 1/2-in cubes
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp grated orange zest
  • coarse raw sugar
  1. Pulse flour, brown sugar, baking soda, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and salt in a food processor.
  2. Drop the butter over the flour mixture and pulse until the consistency of coarse sand.
  3. Add beaten egg and orange zest, and pulse once or twice to combine.
  4. Turn batter out onto a floured work surface and knead the dough until it forms a ball, taking care not to overwork the dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two jelly roll pans with parchment paper.
  6. Unwrap and divide dough into halves. Roll one half out on a work surface generously dusted with powdered sugar to a thickness of about 1/4 in. Cut out cookies using a small round cookie cutter and transfer to prepared pans. Repeat with second half of dough.
  7. Generously sprinkle the cookies with coarse sugar and bake for 15 minutes, rotating halfway through. Cookies should be dark brown and appear dry on top.
  8. Transfer cookies to a cooling rack and cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Visual Guide to Home Coffee Roasting

It's been about six months since I started roasting coffee at home, and in that time I've had just about every disaster you can have with such a simple task, barring an actual fire. Broken glass, charred beans, and very loud smoke alarms have given way to a ten minute routine that is not only super fun and simple but also produces consistently amazing results. If you like coffee and have $40 in your pocket, you too can save 60% on your coffee expenses (no really -- I did the math, and it's closer to 62%) and trade up for daily fresh-roasted coffee. Obviously this is an idea whose time as come. You'll need the following:

  1. A popcorn popper. I suggest the Poplite. It's got the right type of mesh at the bottom of the roasting chamber AND is the perfect canvas for the stickers you've amassed over the years.

  2. Wooden spoon with long handle. This one has been in commission for a couple of weeks. Clearly a consumable item, but one that can be replaced for under $2 at your local restaurant supply store.

  3. Metal strainer or colander. Anything will work here.

  4. Green coffee beans. Your every home coffee roasting need can be met by Tom and co. at Sweet Maria's.

  5. Oil lamp chimney. The perfect multipurpose solution to some of the basic difficulties of roasting coffee in a popcorn popper: with the combination of a chimney and a wooden spoon, you have a 3-in-1 stirrer (to make sure the beans don't burn early in the roast), container (to prevent the beans from flying out), and window (to monitor the degree of the roast).
First things first -- the little 1/2 cup scoop that comes with the popper is exactly the right measurement for one batch of coffee. Be careful not to overload the popper or you'll trigger a low-flow sensor and cause the popper to shut down for about 10 minutes. If this happens in the middle of a roast, you get to throw away a batch of incompletely roasted coffee. Also, you may think that those people on who warned you about "smoke" were doing it wrong, but make no mistake -- roasting coffee produces a huge amount of smoke and chaff, so don't try this indoors. Finally, toss out the plastic lid that comes with the popcorn popper. The popper will quickly be rendered useless for anything other than its new calling. Here's how to proceed:

Step 1: Load up the popper with a scoop of green coffee beans.
Step 2: Guide the wooden spoon through the glass chimney. In most cases, you'll see that the neck catches the wooden spoon, giving you a simple hands-free way to drop on and pull off the chimney. Place the chimney on top of the popper.
Step 3: Turn on the popper, drop the head of the spoon to the bottom of the bed of coffee, and roll the handle of the spoon between your hands (a la those wooden helicopter toys for kids). It's important to evenly distribute the heat early on in order to avoid any charred beans.
Step 4: After about three minutes, the beans will be done. Apparently the time it takes to complete a roast varies based on humidity, ambient temperature, etc., so all you can really go on is how the beans look. They'll go through a couple of audible cracks, corresponding to loss of moisture and fracturing of the seed's matrix, and you can target just about any degree of roast. I've learned a lot by reading this great visual guide to the stages of roasting, and when you order beans from Sweet Maria's, they always come with recommended roast levels for whatever you've bought.
Step 5: As soon as the beans look good, kill the power, carefully pull off the chimney and set it aside, grab the popper by the bright yellow handle, and dump out the roasted coffee into your colander. Toss the coffee to quickly quench the roast while wandering around your backyard. This step always makes me feel like one of those incense guys at a Catholic mass.
Step 6: Once the coffee has slightly cooled, transfer to a vented tin container or a bag with a gas valve. After the beans are roasted, they give off a bunch of carbon dioxide, so storing the beans in a valved container allows the carbon dioxide to push out all the oxygen, essentially vacuum sealing the coffee overnight. The aroma of a just-opened bag of fresh-roasted coffee is amazing.
Step 7: The coffee will be ready to enjoy after at least 8 hours, but in some cases a day or two is necessary to really develop the flavors. Adding name tags to your bags of coffee is optional but recommended.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Almond Raspberry Layer Cake and Siphon Coffee Mach 2

I'm right in the middle of that stretch of your late 20's/early 30's when everybody and their dog is getting married. It's hard on the wallet, but getting to see your friends from every stage of your life more than makes up for it. Sometimes, if you're known for the manly art of baking, generous friends will donate the spillover from their wedding gifts, and a couple of years ago I was lucky enough to receive this gorgeous cake stand.

Sadly, it's about an inch and a half too skinny to fit a standard 9" cake. Month after lonely month, the cake stand stood on its shelf, collecting dust. That is, until I made this amazing almond raspberry cake and realized that some cakes would just be more appetizing if they weren't towering monstrosities.

I latched on to the idea of making a 6" almond raspberry layer cake and slowly worked up to actually buying more cake pans. Boy howdy I'm glad I did -- it's a perfect candidate for a more toned-down cake experience.

As a matter of fact, this cake comes together relatively quickly, especially with half the batter to haul around the kitchen. By far the hardest part is tracking down almond paste. The first time I made this cake, I went to no less than five different stores, including Michaels (shudder), just to try to put my hands on some almond paste. It's in the baking section of your local grocery store, squirreled away on the bottom shelf, defying you to find it.

In other news, I made a pretty amazing discovery at a salvage yard in Oakland a few weeks ago -- a pristine top carafe for an old 8 cup siphon brewer. I cradled it like a newborn all the way back to Boise and, with a new 1000 mL boiling flask and some stuff from the brewer's supply store, created a fully functional siphon coffee brewer. I've been sketching out ideas for a homemade siphon brewer for a few months, and I couldn't be happier with how it turned out.

I can't say enough good things about this cake. The combination of almonds, raspberries, and dark chocolate is pretty tough to beat. Remember not to overmix and keep an eye on the baking time, and if you're not feeling chocolatey, cream cheese frosting would be a good option too. In order to make a full-on 9" layer cake, double the recipe below. Now go out and buy some unnecessary bakeware!

Almond Raspberry Layer Cake
  • 2 1/4 c cake flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3.5 oz prepared almond paste
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 5 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 Tbsp almond extract
  • 5 egg whites
  • 3/4 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup simple syrup (to keep cake moist))
  • 1/2 cup seedless raspberry preserves

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 6-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt. Set the dry ingredients aside.
  3. Place the almond paste and sugar in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in another large bowl if using a handheld mixer. Begin to cream the mixture on low speed to break up the almond paste, then increase the speed to medium for about 2 minutes, or until the paste is broken into fine particles.
  4. Add the butter and almond extract and beat it well, then the egg whites, two or three at a time, beating just long enough to incorporate after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl several times to make sure it is evenly mixed.
  5. Dust about a third of the dry ingredients over the batter and fold in with a large rubber spatula until just combined. Fold in about half the milk. Fold in half the remaining flour mixture, followed by the remaining milk. Finally, fold in the last of the dry ingredients just until no streaks of white remain. Use a light hand and do not overmix. Divide the batter among the three prepared cake pans.
  6. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in their pans on wire racks for about 10 minutes. Turn the cakes out on to wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners and let them cool completely, about one hour.
  7. Assemble the cake: Place one layer flat side up on a cake stand or serving plate. Slide small strips of waxed paper under the edges to protect the plate from any messiness accumulated while decorating. Brush first layer with simple syrup, if using. Spread 1/2 cup of the raspberry preserves over the cake, leaving a 1/4 inch margin around the edges. Repeat with the second layer, brushing syrup if using and using remaining preserves. Add the third layer and brush with syrup if using.
  8. Spread a thin layer frosting of your choice over the top and sides of the cake. Let frosting set in the fridge for about 20 to 30 minutes (this is your crumb coat) then spread a thicker, decorative coat over the base coat. If you have any frosting remaining, pipe a decoration of your choice.

Whipped Bittersweet Frosting

  • 3.5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature

  1. Melt the chocolate with the cream in a double boiler or metal bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk to blend well. Remove from heat and let stand, whisking occasionally, until the chocolate mixture thickens slightly.
  2. Place the butter in a large mixer bowl and with an electric mixer on medium speed, whip the butter until light and fluffy. Add the chocolate cream and whip until lighter in color and somewhat stiff, about three minutes. Do not whip too long or the frosting may begin to separate.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


About two years ago, one of my best friends asked me to make her a CD of stuff from the 80's. With our shared love of Siouxsie & the Banshees in mind, I spent way longer than planned on growing my post-punk collection and exploring the depths of the stuff I already had. Hope it was worth the wait!


That's Howard Devoto, one of the founding members of the Buzzcocks. After Spiral Scratch came out in 1976, Devoto saw that punk was just a flash in the pan, so he left the band and formed Magazine alongside John McGeoch, who later joined Siouxsie & the Banshees, and a keyboard player named Dave Formula. McGeoch was an insanely talented guitarist in a world where 3-chord punk was the norm (Devoto hired him after watching him play all the lead guitar parts of Television's Marquee Moon front to back). Dave Formula was an unknown entity, and since nobody else in the band knew anything about synths, he had total control over that aspect of their sound. The albums they put out between '78 and '80 were perfect examples of the amazing creativity that blossomed in the aftermath of punk.

John McGeoch and Siouxsie Sioux

Even without any context, post-punk music is great, but part of what makes it so appealing and enduring is that punk's DIY message really caught on in Britain, totally revitalizing the musical landscape. The sleeve for one of Scritti Politti's early EPs wrote out its production costs and the contact info for local record pressing plants. The Desperate Bicycles sang, "it was easy, it was cheap, go and do it!" Lucky for us, truly great bands like the Homosexuals, who still sound years ahead of their time, remain in distribution thanks to labels like Messthetics. At the time, crap keyboards were cheaper than guitars, and if the Shaggs taught us anything, it's that you don't have to be good at your instruments to make good music.

Scritti Politti's "4 A-Sides"

One of the reasons this music sounds so great is because nobody had any idea what they were doing. Case in point: in the early days of Devo, the band couldn't find the keyboards they wanted, so they built their own hardware from scratch. While on stage, sweat would pour down the sleeves of their full-body plastic suits, frying their equipment and causing totally unreproducible sounds. I think that's a great way to illustrate what happened when punk kids started picking up synthesizers.


This compilation isn't meant to be a primer on the DIY movement or the origins of synth-pop (if that's what you're after, watch the BBC's amazing Synth Britannia) -- it's more about what happened when guitar-heavy bands (e.g. the Buzzcocks) started incorporating keyboards (e.g. Magazine), before people really knew how to market pure synth pop a la the Human League and their legion imitators. The chugging glam riff, handclaps, and wobbly square-wave vrrrring during the bridge of "The Machman," the way the guitars chime into the airy synth opening of "Second Skin," the back-to-back wall of John McGeoch awesomeness that is "My Tulpa"/"Head Cut" -- with so many amazing jams to decide among, you understand why this project took so long.

Sandwell District

Lately I've been listening to a lot of deep house and techno music, and some of my favorite stuff is being released by a label called Sandwell District. During an interview, the two guys who run the label said that they both draw inspiration from early post-punk, and you can actually trace a line from then to now: Joy Division's guitars were replaced by the opening 4/4 beat of Blue Monday, and guys like Sandwell District are only following that trajectory.



  1. Men Without Hats - Ban the Game
  2. Ultravox - Slow Motion
  3. Positive Noise - Hypnosis
  4. Joy Division - Isolation
  5. Pete Shelley - I Generate a Feeling
  6. Tubeway Army - The Machman
  7. Simple Minds - Changeling
  8. The Teardrop Explodes - Ha Ha I'm Drowning
  9. The Sound - Heartland
  10. The Chameleons - Second Skin
  11. Spoons - Nova Heart
  12. Japan - Quiet Life
  13. New Order - The Village
  14. Magazine - My Tulpa
  15. Siouxsie & the Banshees - Head Cut
  16. Echo & the Bunnymen - In Bluer Skies
  17. Ultravox! - Hiroshima Mon Amour

Friday, February 18, 2011

Siphon Coffee Brewing and Hazelnut Cinnamon Biscotti

Apparently when I was a kid, I thought that coffee was the last socially acceptable addiction, but thanks to a recent obsession (see also: dub music), now I get why.

One of the joys of living near the west coast hot spots is that the guys (it's always guys) who are into coffee take it to a flat-out ridiculous level of obsession. I went to Stumptown Annex in Portland last week, and while checking out their bean selection, I casually told the counter guy that I was just getting into coffee and was interested in knowing more about the broad flavor trends between the big global coffee-producers (Central America, Southeast Asia, Africa). Lord love him, but he was totally incapable of dumbing it down for me. He said that making those kind of generalizations would be like asking what "wine from Europe" was like.

So I'll be the first to admit that I don't really know anything about coffee: up until a few months ago, I didn't really drink much coffee at all. All that changed with the first cup of coffee I made with my siphon brewer (which I found, new in the box, at the Boise flea market for $10).

I'll admit, even if I didn't I love the process -- like my friend Trey says, it's coffee theater -- and appreciate the fact that it's a great justification for indulging my love for scientific glassware, brewing coffee this way would be a waste of time if it didn't make super good coffee. My little Hario didn't disappoint.

I could never explain the process as well as the impressively-produced little video below, but the point is that the water in the brewing chamber never reaches the boiling point, so most of the bitter compounds stay in the coffee. The result is a bright, floral flavor with lots of salty, caramel-y body. I just tried an Ethiopian varietal from Stumptown that actually tasted like raspberries. Another varietal from Kenya is described as having "notes of kiwi, cocoa, pineapple and raw sugar in a cup redolent of dried flowers."

Is it all psychosomatic? Why would it be for coffee and not for wine or scotch? Admittedly, all these flavors are really subtle (it is black coffee, after all) but the fact that I can taste even one or two of them is pretty exciting. And, my brewer and hand grinder are both from Japan. The New York Times would be proud. Next, I wanted to bake something to complement my labor of love, and guess what? Biscotti go really well with coffee!

This recipe from Baked is basically perfect. Warm cinnamon, creamy hazelnuts, semisweet chocolate, and black coffee? I made another recipe alongside these (white chocolate and dried cranberries with semolina flour), but they were so sad next to the world's best biscotti that I couldn't muster up the heart to take any good pictures of them. My best advice when making these is to use plenty of parchment paper. A paper sling makes transferring the dense dough much easier.

Hazelnut Cinnamon Biscotti
  • 1 1/3 c sugar
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 1/4 c AP flour
  • 1 1/2 c blanched hazelnuts, toasted
  • 1 3/4 c (10 oz) semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 egg white
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
  3. Beat the eggs and sugar in an electric mixture until the color is uniform and the mixture thick. Add the vanilla and beat for 5 seconds. Add the flour in two batches and beat until just combined. Scrape down the bowl, add the hazelnuts and chocolate chips, and beat until just combined.
  4. Turn the dough out onto parchment paper. Use a dough scraper to form into a log about 16" long, 3 1/2" wide, and 3/4" thick. Smooth the top with an offset spatula. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until firm but not browned. Cool for 10 minutes.
  5. Lower the oven to 325 degrees F. While the log cools, whisk together the egg white and 2 Tsp of water and apply the egg wash to the top of the dough with a pastry brush.
  6. Cut the log into 3/4" slices with a serrated knife. Lay the biscotti on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, cut side down, and bake for 25 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.