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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tips: Know Your Oven

+ Gooey, Caramel and Cinnamon Bread:

Yes, doesn't that sound delicious? Mouthwatering? Sumptuous, delightful... the perfect way to wake up? Well, I can tell you it is, unless you're coming down with the dreaded stomach flu of 2010. Which, let me say, was no walk in the park. Fortunately, I hadn't had the time to really gorge myself on it before the unexpected nausea, pain, sweats and inexplicable weakness hit. And don't forget the two days I couldn't stand to even look at the loaf sitting, barely touched, in the fridge. But, let's just leave the ordeal at that. I ate a few crumbs when it came out of the oven, collected a few globs of chewy, browned caramel on one crispy cinnamon-sugar layer and let me say this: it was fabulous. Just look at it.

But fabulous could easily have been disastrous. I did two things differently from the original recipe, but the most influential thing was definitely changing the shape and size of the pan. Even though I use half the ingredients, my cooking time had to be increased because of the shape and depth of my loaf pan. Also, I lowered the cooking temperature. Why? Know your oven. It might sound dumb to say, but our oven bakes very hot.

Reader: Isn't that the point, Fajita?
Fajita: Well yes, but...

Take for example the fact that most cookie recipes are baked at 350. Our oven, however, bakes about 15-20 degrees hotter than the internal thermometer says. An oven that is too hot, especially when it comes to delicate things like cookies, means one of two things: 1) raw cookies with burned edges, or 2) burnt cookies. Sometimes, it means both. Although I don't usually do it for things like meats or potatoes or biscuits (considerably more heat tolerant) I reduced my temperature to 325 when I first put this "Cinnamon Bread" into the oven. I feared for the butter and sugar concoction at the bottom of the dish. At 30 minutes the top was puffed, just beginning to rise, and slightly crispy. A closer look revealed the ugly truth that the interior was still only partially cooked. Thus, I added another 10-15 minutes to the cooking time. If my temperature had been higher, like the recipe called for, my bread would quickly have become too dark, and the luscious caramel it naturally creates in the bottom of the dish a burned and sickly mess.

So, the moral of the story my friends is this: know thy oven, and you now thyself. There is nothing more disappointing than an undercooked cake, or a pan of cookies as dark and bitter as lumps of coal. So, if you oven tends to cook "hot", try reducing the temperature by 10-15 degrees. You may need to bake them a few minutes longer than you initially expected, but all is fair in love and war when it comes to cooking times. Just be vigilant. Try checking on them 5 minutes earlier than the recipe says. If you have reoccurring baking deficiencies, like burned cookies, look to your oven, and try and figure out if it is a temperature issue, a time issue, or some manhandling of your ingredients.

Well, that's about all the food talk I can stomach today.

Notes: Don't go to a Holiday Party if you're sick, or have been sick in the past two days. Just because you're germ ridden doesn't make you any more festive than the rest of us. Also, wash your hands. Vigilantly.

Gooey Caramel and Cinnamon Bread
Adapted from another recipe I can't find at the moment

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup raisins
5 tablespoons butter, melted
1 (12 oz) can refrigerator biscuits
1 tablespoon cinnamon mixed with 2 tablespoons sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 325. Grease a medium loaf pan.
2. Combine the walnuts, brown sugar, raisins and butter in a small bowl. Spoon half the mixture into the bottom of the greased loaf pan.
3. Cut each biscuit in quarters and toss with the cinnamon sugar. Arrange half the biscuits in the bottom of the loaf pan. Top with half the brown sugar and butter mixture. Cover with the remaining biscuits, arranging them prettily.
4. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the top is puffed and golden, and the interior biscuits are cooked. To check, use a knife inserted into the loaf to push the biscuits apart and ensure that they are cooked thoroughly.
5. Let sit in the pan for 3-5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the pan and place a large plate on top of the biscuits. Invert the loaf, remove the pan and serve warm with remaining caramel sauce.

Refrigerate leftovers for 2-3 days, and microwave before serving.

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