Tag Archives: food

118: Crackers

Full disclosure, guys – I did not expect this week’s experiment to work.  I figured in the worst case, it would satisfy a curiosity, and I’d get to eat hand cut homemade crackers with dip.  Ryan, on the other hand, didn’t know why I was questioning it, and thought cutting cracker dough with a laser would be a low power, simple task.  The answer was somewhere in between.

Simple ingredients, simple recipe!
Food blogging, here I come!

I’ve never made crackers before, but I had everything on hand in my bare cupboard for this recipe from The Kitchn.  As suggested, I mixed up the dough, then split it in half before rolling it out.  I took advantage of the two batches to come up with two different designs (which Ryan graciously vectorized for me.  I admittedly started this project a bit late in the evening and need help.)

Rolling it as thin as possible – the dough is springy, so you can’t work it too fast. It needs to “rest”
I layered the dough on parchment paper, and on wood.

My goal for rolling out the rough was to keep it under 3mm, 1.5 ideally.  The thinner the dough, the crispier the cracker.  I rolled it out on parchment paper – food safe, and bad things wouldn’t happen to it in the laser, just a little singeing.  I then put it on some plywood for stability, and to prevent the laser from reflecting back after it hits the honeycomb bed, which might not be the cleanest.

Pro tip: I learned when rolling out the second batch of dough that it was actually easier to roll the dough between two pieces of parchment paper when it got thin.  It was easier to flip, it seemed to spring back less, and it stayed moister while I worked with it.  I did remove the top later of parchment when I put the dough in the laser.

Test cuts – third time is the charm!  Interesting thing about cutting the dough – it was a little “sparky.”  Naturally dough isn’t homogeneous, but instead a mixture of ingredients.  The laser reacts differently to this ingredients, which created tiny little light flares.

 

Less than 3mm thick, I’m thrilled!

So, I didn’t think the laser would cut the dough at all, Ryan was thinking it would be a breeze – maybe akin to paper.  It took a few tries to get though the dough, and the right answer was some there in between – we cut at 100% power, and a slow 8% speed.  I didn’t roll it perfectly evenly, so the dough was thicker in some parts, but it still all cut.  And my test measurements were all under 3mm thick!

Heart shaped vent holes – totally a pain in the butt.

The first design was this funky hexagon shape, with little 1mm hearts cut in for venting, so the crackers wouldn’t puff.  Officially, the design is too complicated.  The outer shape is fine, but the hearts took too long to cut, and didn’t come out easily.  I actually baked the hearts in place, and then Ryan popped them out after.  And the length of time tried out the dough quite a bit since we had to have the exhaust on.  with set up, test and cutting, it was in our windy laser for about 45 minutes.  The edges of the crackers were trying to curl up!

Triangles!  Classy appearance by my phone.

Second batch we went a little more simple – a nice rounded triangle with asterisks cut for venting.  They ended up delightfully mod looking, and in were in and out of the laser in under 15.

Light toasted!

Baking is pretty straight forward, but the crackers are easy to burn as you can see.  The first batch were a little extra crisp, but edible.  The second back felt under done while they were still hot, but after they cooled they were perfectly crispy.  So, watch them closely, and make sure you let them cool, unless you are going to a crispy-chewy combo.

Midnight snack.  Homemade crackers, but I totally bought the artichoke jalapeno parmesan dip, the leftovers of which had disappeared by morning.

Verdict – The recipe was tasty but be forewarned, the crackers themselves were not airy or flaky.  They were dense, and reminded me of pita chips actually.  I may have over kneaded them.  This is a fun example of too much tool for the job – a knife easily cuts the dough.  But this would be a fun recipe to perfect for fancy dinner parties, potlucks you want to impress at, or those times you want a crunchy snack and don’t want to leave the house.

88: Lefse Pin Comb

Okay, Ryan is making me put in a disclaimer that I acknowledge how seemingly nonsensical that title of this weeks post is. It was originally “Lefse comb”, which might even be more confusing, even for those familiar with the Norwegian treat.

Lefse, for the poor souls that haven’t had it warm rolled up with butter and brown sugar, is a traditional Norwegian flatbread, made with potatoes, and cooked on a griddle.  I am not Norwegian, but I have several aunts that are, and they made stacks and stacks of them around Christmas time each year.

Disclaimer: I did not make this beautiful lefse - I got it from the Norse Nook in Osseo, WI. I also highly recommend their Dutch Apple Pie!
Disclaimer: I did not make this beautiful lefse – I got it from the Norse Nook in Osseo, WI. I also highly recommend their Dutch Apple Pie!

Growing up in Minnesota, you could buy lefse in the grocery store (or sweet talk your aunts that made enough to freeze every holiday season).  I then went to a Norwegian college in Iowa, where you could buy them as street food during summer festivals.  But only a few hours away in Illinois, lefse is nowhere to be found.  My mom took pity on me last Christmas and got me tools to make my own lefse – a griddle, lefse sticks (for moving rolled rounds of lefse) and a corrugated rolling pin.

lefsepincomb (1 of 8)The corrugated rolling pin is the devil.  Even experienced lefse makers find it unforgiving, but as a novice, it was a mess.  If the lefse dough isn’t just right, it’s sticky.  If the rolling pin isn’t floured just right, the dough works into the crevices.  From here, it sticks to any lefse you try to roll out.  If you leave it too long, it hardens into a rock. Between my first attempt at dough making and my less than optimal pin flouring, I spent hours picking dough out of the grooves (and Ryan spent hours more once I’d had enough.)

After a recent trip to MN, I had the hankering to make another batch of lefse.  I could see the apprehension in Ryan’s eyes when I even mentioned it – so I set about devising a way to clean out the little grooves in the rolling pin before it became a problem.

A comb was the best option, as it would be easy to grab with doughy floury hands, and I could sweep out several grooves at once.  The grooves are triangular, roughly 2mm wide and 2mm deep at the point, between 2mm plateaus.  I made a comb wide enough to cover 12 grooves, so it will take about 5-6 passes to clean the entire pin.  I felt making it longer would make it unwieldy, and the dough seemed to stick in spots anyway, not across the whole surface.  lefsepincomb (7 of 8)

lefsepincomb (4 of 8)The first comb was made out of bamboo, thinking wood on wood would be the best solution.  What I didn’t take into account was the pin itself is hardwood, much harder than the bamboo ply.  The little teeth started splitting, which was no good.

Second attempt was made from acrylic, which has more strength than the bamboo, but shouldn’t damage the hardwood.  It’s quite satisfying to run it through the grooves and should do the job perfectly.  It’s time to fire up the griddle – lefse anyone?

The points fit perfectly into the tiny grooves - so much so it actually got out the last of last year's lefse batch (whoops1)
The points fit perfectly into the tiny grooves – so much so it actually got out the last of last year’s lefse batch (whoops!)

lefsepincomb (3 of 8)

Many thanks to Ryan for all the excellent photography this week!

 

52: Toasts for 2015

Toasts (1 of 1)

Here’s to wrapping up 2014 and 52 weekly posts on 52 lasers! We’ve got a party to go to tonight to ring in 2015 – we’ll be heading out the door as soon as I hit post! I’ve been wanting to try more food on the laser, and decorating fancy appetizers for New Year’s Eve seems to fit the bill! Tonight I’ve made Balsamic Poached Pear and Brie bites on toast. (A tasty kind of toast for the New Year!)

And here, I feel the need to apologize – my kitchen lighting is atrocious (as are the robins egg blue counter tops) so these photos will not be winning any awards!

TJ's toasts, some funky too crusty bread, and a lovely small loaf of french bread.
TJ’s toasts, some funky too crusty bread (Ficelle), and a lovely small loaf of french bread.

This may sound dumb, but I’ve never made the little appetizer toasts before.  I mean, I don’t even own a toaster.  So I got a couple different loaves of long skinny bread and Trader Joe’s Brioche toasts to have a control (aka a back up if everything went wrong).

Right of the bat, the Ficelle loaf was out.  It was too crusty and too small.  It was tasty, but making it in to toasts was like making little hockey pucks.

The top row are pre-toasted.  Left piece is the Brioche and the bottom right are the "raw" bread.
The top row are pre-toasted. Left piece is the Brioche and the bottom right are the “raw” bread.
Little Toast awaiting it's fate
Little Toast awaiting it’s fate
Lasered first, toasted second.
Lasered first, toasted second.

The french loaf cut nicely, and I attempted to get nice, uniform thicknesses.  I wanted to test whether engraving before or after toasting would better, so I toasted a few test pieces in the oven before lasering them.  My recommendation to future toast decorators – definitely toast it first.  The ones that were engraved first then toasted seemed to not be as sharp or well defined.

As for testing between the hand cut fresh toast and the store bought Brioche toasts?  For lasering, the brioche wins.  It was much more uniform in both bread consistency (no big holes or gaps) and cutting.  It was a much better surface for words and images.

Toasts (16 of 27)

So, the laser cutting looks quite pretty, but really, appetizers are for eating, right?  Verdict on the taste – it was much better when they were lightly engraved.  Those really dark toasts you see?  They pretty much tasted like they were flavored with char.  It was interesting, because the toast was totally edible, though, unlike when you totally blacken a piece of toast.  Maybe some day some foodie will be able to work that in and make something amazing, but not today.  We found a light engraving of 30% power, 30% speed worked great and didn’t taste burned.  It tasted, well, toasty!  And honestly, even though the brioche were prettier, I liked to taste of the homemade french bread toasts better.  They were chewier and less crumbly / cracker like.  Ryan loved the brioche toasts, though, so, to each their own!

Little Toast awaiting it's fate
Little Toast awaiting it’s fate
Topped with some sliced brie - TJ's has it in a square log!  What will the world think of next?
Topped with some sliced brie – TJ’s has it in a square log! What will the world think of next?  The pears, while kind of brown looking, are soooo good.  My mouth is watering right now.
Toasts (24 of 27)
A toast for the New Year! Happy 2015!

04: Homemade marshmallows made even BETTER

I have a secret little love affair with homemade marshmallows. I blame Caitlin for introducing me to the possibility, Zingerman’s for making them blissfully commercially available, and Claire at xoJane for introducing me to a flavor that I didn’t know if I could live without – Maple Whisky! The extra push that brings the food porn to you here today was the realization that I could LASER ETCH them.  It. Is. On.

And my kitchen isn't yellow.  No amount of photo correcting was fixing that one, it seems.
My kitchen isn’t yellow. No amount of photo correcting was fixing that one, it seems.

Here is my kitchen.  Cramped, poorly lit and un-picturesque.  My career as a food blogger was over before it started.   If you want pretty and well-lit cooking shots, check out those for the original recipe at theKitchn, or Claire’s modified recipe at xoJane.  I do have one mid cooking photo for you: No one drinks alone, not even my mixer. (Maybe it’s better there are no more photos of that part…hi Mom!)

Drinking some Maker's Mark whisky for the boiled and whipped sugar that is being transformed into deliciousness.
Drinking some Maker’s Mark whisky for the boiled and whipped sugar that is being transformed into deliciousness.

Notes on Cooking the Marshmallows: This was my first attempt at this confectionery.  I actually found cooking making marshmallows quite easy, and not nearly as messy as I expected.  Clean up was a breeze if done immediately – the biggest disaster is actually my kitchen after cutting and powdering.  Powdered sugar and cornstarch everywhere. One thing I would do differently while cooking, for the laser application: get a proper sifter so the layer of powder keeping the ‘mallows from sticking to the pan was lighter and smoother.  Mine turned out a little more clumped than necessary, which contributed to a bit of the “craggy” look of my end product.

edited to add: Caitlin let me know oiling the pan also contributes to the “craggy” effect.  Too much oil + too much sugar dusting = sugar clumps.

Making them laser-friendly: To prepare the marshmallow block for the laser, I flipped it over onto a wooden cutting board, separated by parchment paper.  I figured the bottom would have a flatter surface than the top, given that it was in a glass pan.   The tops were relatively smooth after the set (more so than I expected, given the viscosity of the marshmallows) so I half wish I would have tried etching the top…it would have bypassed the clumpy sugar problem on the bottom.

All pretty, these vanilla Marshmallows are going under the knife...er...beam?
All pretty and pristine, these vanilla marshmallows are going under the knife…er…beam?  Also, notable that it is the very first food that has ever been on our laser.

Things we learned:

– On our 40 watt laser, we used 100% power, 25% speed to etch the raster design.  We tried a higher speed at first, thinking we’d keep the laser moving quickly so it wouldn’t over heat one area too fast. This etch proved too light and we had to slow it down.

– Etching sugar is an “on” or “off” kind of deal – half tones did not come out clearly, so we were left with black and white designs.

Left is one pass of the laser on vanilla, Right is two passes on Maple Whisky. (And why is American Kirby so angry all the time?)
Left is one pass of the laser on vanilla, Right is two passes on maple whisky. (And why is American Kirby so angry all the time???)

– For the first batch we did one pass of the design(s), being timid about the flavor and color.  The second batch we did two passes, throwing caution to the wind.  The dark look was more appealing and made the taste more pronounced.

All the designs laid out, pre cutting!
All the designs laid out on the Maple Whisky, pre cutting! I really like the patterned sections – I wanted to emulate those fancy printed chocolates with the look.

– The marshmallow took delicate designs surprisingly well, but there still needed to be some weight.  One pixel lines did not come through well.  Text fared pretty decently.  The smallest font size we used was 23 points, and each finished cube was roughly 2 inches.

– A pizza cutter was my cutting tool of choice.  Cutting did stretch and sometimes break the etched, caramelized portion, but they popped back into place pretty well.

– The etch wasn’t as sharp looking the next day – it seemed to bleed slightly.  Perhaps the moisture caused that?  Who knows – I’ve never tried to save a roasted marshmallow more than the time it takes to get in my mouth.

– The taste is awesome.  I want to just solid raster etch the whole top, no unlasered space left.  It is reminiscent of a roasted marshmallow, but it seemed more like a brûlée topping with its light, hard, crackly crunch.  And I highly recommend the maple whisky recipe – it was perfect.

And as promised: Foodie glamor shots!

Now, this is the glamor shot.
Dark and broody background, illustrating the complexity of simply being a marshmallow. (Forget food blogging – I’ve got the writing chops for ART SCHOOL! )
Sometimes, I can't tell which photo is better.  And I couldn't resist a lurking Kirby.
Sometimes, I can’t tell which photo is better. And I couldn’t resist a lurking Kirby.
Well...if you insist...
Well…if you insist…