Buckwheat & okara pie crust

It’s quite amazing how this wonderful discovery was the result of a kitchen disaster that looked like this:

Soba Boro disaster

They are Japanese-style buckwheat cookies, soba boro (recipes here and here), that went wrong. The cookie dough was way too dry and I ended up adding a lot more oil to the mixture and when they came out of the oven, they were rock hard. Well, still edible but aside from the unpalatable hardness, the unrefined buckwheat flour and wholewheat flour which I used produced a coarse, rough texture, and the cookies were pretty tasteless. I did manage to eat up half the batch by slathering them with cream cheese and occasionally drizzling honey-tasting Organic Blue Agave Nectar.

However my plan was to recycle them into a pie or cheesecake crust that’s normally made with graham crackers or digestive biscuits. I wouldn’t want to use any commercially-prepared biscuits and it would be a shame to use some delicious cookies I had gone through the trouble of baking, so this was an ideal opportunity to bake a biscuit crust.

This is adapted from the graham cracker crust recipe from Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America.

Buckwheat Okara crust

Ingredients (for one pie crust)

Recipe calls for 10-12 graham crackers – I used the amount of cookies I had, as shown in the photo above.
3/4 Tbs sugar [reduced from 2 Tbs]
4 Tbs/60g unsalted butter, melted

Method

I crushed the biscuits in two steps. Firstly by putting them into a plastic bag and using a rolling pin to smash them into smaller pieces. As the biscuits were so hard, the sharp crumb corners tended to pierce the plastic bag, so I wrapped the bag with a towel whilst smashing the biscuits. The smaller biscuit pieces could then be ground into a fine crumb with a food processor.

As the required amount of crumbs was 1.5 cups, I made up the shortfall with okara (leftover from the last batch of soya bean milk I made), which I also crushed using the food processor.

I then mixed the crumbs together with the sugar and butter. It looked a bit dry so I added another half tablespoon of sunflower oil.

After greasing a pie pan (or rather the springform pan I was going to use to make a cheesecake), I compressed the crumbs into the base using the bottom of a glass. Voila!

In the final cheesecake, the crust tasted great with perfect texture :).

Buckwheat cookies

Buckwheat cookies
It was hard to get the colours right in my digital photos. The real cookies are more of a dark grey than the warm hues in this picture.

After two rounds of buckwheat pancakes (here and here), it was time for something new to help me use up my just-expired bag of organic buckwheat flour.

I found this recipe in the New York Times by food writer, Melissa Clark. See her blog write-up which explains its Italian origins, and also The Wednesday Chef’s report of her go at the recipe.

My baking notes:

1) Replaced all-purpose flour with wholewheat flour.

2) Reduced sugar from 2/3 cup to 1/3 cup. Still too sweet – even my family thought so! Instead of experiencing the pure taste of the flours, the main thing that hits my taste buds is the sugar :(; distracts from the distinct buckwheat character, I think. I’m beginning to realise that a good rule of thumb when following sweet recipes is to reduce the sugar to 1/4 or 1/3 of the suggested amount.

3) Used demerara sugar, but I didn’t like the way the large grains remained distinct & crunchy inside the cookies.

4) Omitted salt. I find its taste in sweet recipes overpowering and distracting as I’m used to bland food.

5) It was hard to use the handheld mixer to incorporate the dry ingredients into the creamed butter, the mixture was extremely stiff. In the final result, the biscuits were of uneven texture; instead of being consistently sandy throughout, there were tiny clumps of dough. I suspect the mixing step might be the root of this issue.

6) I had dreams of gorgeous cookies coming out of my cookie press but this dough was simply too dry and too crumbly. I ended up using the same method as The Wednesday Chef and flattened balls of dough with a fork. I used a coffee powder measure from Daiso, which looks like a large melon-ball scoop, to measure out equal amounts of dough.

7) I wonder if my dough a tad too dry? I used the yolks of regular-sized eggs, which can be 10g less than large sized eggs. The end result was just fine though.

8) I only baked them for 15 mins initially but it was way too short a time. As the outsides were done but not the insides, I popped them back in the oven on a much lower temperature for approximately an additional 15 mins, which was a hassle because I had to keep checking them every 3-5 mins.

The final result was very satisfactory. I love the dense and sandy texture of these biscuits as they remind me so much of the shortcrust pastry biscuits I grew up on. Next time, I’ll cut back the sugar and try to mix the ingredients more evenly but without over-beating. Will also try to shape them into swirls using a piping bag as recommended in the original recipe.

P.S. Next time I might try Japanese buckwheat cookies instead, soba boro そばぼうろ – they use similar proportions of buckwheat and wheat flours, but no butter, only eggs. See recipes here and here.

Rolled oats, okara & almond bars

Rolled oats & okara bars

With okara left over from making soya bean milk, I had to find a recipe to use it in, and my stock of on-the-go snacks had also run out, so these rolled oats bars seemed a good thing to make.

I started with the recipe for rolled oats bars in Sue Dengate’s Failsafe Cookbook and replaced some of the flour and oats with okara and chopped almonds, halved the sugar and used plain wholemeal flour+baking powder instead of self-raising flour.

3/4 cup wholemeal flour [if self-raising flour, omit baking powder]
1/4 cup okara [original recipe is total 2 cups flour, no okara]
1 tsp baking powder (I guessed the amount, seemed OK)
2 cups random mix of rolled oats, okara and chopped almonds
150g butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbs golden syrup

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl.

Melt butter, add golden syrup and mix into dry ingredients.

Press into slice tray and bake for 15-20 mins at 160ºC until brown.

Cut into bars while still hot and leave to cool before removing from tray.

Makes 20.

The result was very crumbly. I knew from my previous experience making okara oatmeal cookies that when cool, the mixture hardens and sticks together better, and when I bought a commercial organic flapjack (basically an oat bar), it was also very loosely held together. However, I’m not too keen on an overly loose texture and it makes this very messy to eat. I might try increasing the proportion of flour next time to see if that helps the ingredients to hold together better. Taste-wise, it turned out great though.

Okara oatmeal cookies

I had to find something to do with the okara leftover from making soya bean milk to go with glutinous rice balls, and it so happened that I also needed to make something dry and snacky. Hence I chose this Okara Oatmeal Carob Chip Cookies recipe.

Okara oat cookies

I have carob but not any carob chips, nor any nuts as required by the recipe so I decided to leave those out. When I actually started to make the cookies, I had a closer look at the recipe and thought to myself that 1/4 cup vegetable oil & 1/2 cup honey really didn’t look like enough to hold together 2 cups of okara+flour+oats (not including 1/2 cup worth of carob chips & nuts) but I decided just to wing it anyway. So making this cookie was a bit of a rollercoaster ride!

Here are the ingredients I used:

  • 1 cup okara (soybean meal)
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1-1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil [ended adding much more]
  • 1/2 cup honey [ended adding much more]
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

The oil and honey just wasn’t enough to bind together the dry ingredients so I kept adding gradually more of both oil and honey until it all started clumping together – don’t ask me how much extra I added but it was probably more than 1 cup full of liquids in total in the end. It turned out a little bit too sweet for my taste and honey is high in salicylates (hence a chance of an intolerance reaction in me) so I wish hadn’t added so much.

However, even then, I couldn’t get it to stay in drop cookie shapes on the baking tray so I gave up and pressed the whole thing into one large sheet on the cookie tray. Put into oven at 170°C. Whilst baking, the baking soda made the dough swell up and this helped all the ingredients stick together. Had to watch the ‘cookies’ very carefully as I didn’t follow the shaping instructions. When they started to look brown, I took the tray out of the oven. The ‘cookies’ seemed very soft and oily at this point though.

Then I recalled that the Anzac cookies I made before behaved in much the same way. They were also difficult to shape (but easier than these ones) and were terribly soft when removed from the oven. Upon cooling, they hardened into proper cookies.

So I left the tray of cookie mixture, which looked a lot like muesli or granola at this point, to cool. It hardened nicely then when I attempted to cut it with a knife, it broke into lots of small pieces and oats. However, breaking it by hand into cookie-sized shapes worked very well.

They turned out as quite nice cookies in the end and have been rapidly gobbled up by other members in my family too.

2/2/08 update: see also my attempt at rolled oats, okara and almond bars.

Citrus shortbread

I like to have snacks in a variety of textures. Squidgy snacks like glutinous rice balls and soft ones like cakes and muffins are nice, but sometimes I just want something more solid to sink my teeth into, so I thought it was time to do another batch of biscuits.

I chose the Citrus Shortbread recipe from Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America because of the simple list of ingredients and relatively straightforward instructions.

Citrus shortbread

As usual, I tweaked the recipe:

1) Replaced 1 cup of plain flour with wholemeal flour. Today I opened a packet of Origins Health organic wholemeal flour and realised that it is much more finely-ground than the Waitrose flour which I have been using (and is also much cheaper). Some years back I decided that Waitrose was better because it kept very well whereas Origins Health wholemeal flour went stale even before the use-by date (that was before I learnt that wholemeal flours should be kept in the fridge because they can easily go rancid). However, now that I am baking so often, I should be able to use up a packet of flour fairly quickly and I now keep my wholemeal flours in the fridge.

2) Reduced the amount of sugar from 1 1/4 cups to 3/4 cup.

3) Cut down the salt from 1 teaspoon to 3/4 teaspoon (still too much, I think).

4) Replaced the grated orange zest and lemon zest with 3/4 teaspoon of citric acid (definitely too much, lemony taste very strong and left aftertaste of citric ‘bite’). For those who need to avoid salicylates, citric acid is suggested as a good Failsafe alternative to lemon juice, vinegar etc.

Here are the quantities of ingredients I used:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
3/4 tsp citric acid

Start by sifting the flours and salt together.
Cream the butter ‘until light in texture and smooth’, then add the confectioner’s sugar and citric acid and continue creaming ‘until light and smooth’. And this is the step where things started to go wrong for me. I made exactly the same mistake as I did with these Double Wheat Cookies by creaming to the same consistency as for cakes – which gives a wonderfully light texture for cakes, but is not what cookies need. They do better with a shorter creaming time. Read my earlier notes on creaming here.

I continued with the next step of blending in the sifted dry ingredients with the hand mixer on low speed.

The final dough didn’t look anything close to the correct consistency of something you can roll out and cut cookie shapes from! It wasn’t solid enough at all. So I rummaged around in the kitchen cabinets for an old biscuit press (which has hardly ever been used) and pressed out some heart shapes onto the baking trays.

By this stage, I knew exactly what would happen: they would spread too much and completely lose their shape, just like the Double Wheat Cookies though the redeeming factor would be a wonderfully light and crumbly texture — which indeed how they turned out. Certainly very edible, and certainly very not shortbread!

Before baking, I also missed out the step of putting the cutout shapes into the fridge (covered) for 30 minutes. By this time I gave up following the recipe anyway :P …. besides, my large baking tray is too big to fit into the fridge.

The recipe states to bake at 175°C. bake for 20 mins. Halfway through, I rotated the baking trays around and from top to bottom shelf. However, at this point the biscuits on my black baking tray were already done, i.e. ‘bake until the edges of the shortbread are a very light gold’. And when I retrieved the other two baking trays at exactly 20 minutes, quite a few of the cookies were burnt. I should have realised that my biscuit press shapes were much smaller than the 1/4-inch high cutout shapes that the original recipe had intended! (Recipes for for biscuit press cookies say bake for 6-8 mins!)

*Sigh*, I’ll just have to continue working on my biscuit-making technique. Perhaps I need to have a close look at this page of tips for making cookies.

Double Wheat Cookies

This Sunday was much less of a baking frenzy than last weekend when I produced three different items in one day (OK, I cheated: one of them was a bread machine loaf ^.^). Having finished my batch of these corn muffins, I needed to make a new snack for the week to come. I flipped through various recipes I’d collected and was attracted by the simplicity of this one and the opportunity to use up the wheat germ I bought to make this wholemeal coffee cake.

DoubleWheat cookies

Here’s the recipe from Bob’s Red Mill:

DOUBLE WHEAT COOKIES

Ingredients:
1-3/4 cups Whole Wheat Flour
1 cup Butter
1/2 cup Brown Sugar, packed
1/4 cup Toasted Wheat Germ

Preheat oven to 350°F. Set aside a large cookie sheet.

In a large mixer bowl cream together the butter, brown sugar and the 1/4 cup wheat germ till light and fluffy. Stir in the flour.

Form into 1″ balls. Roll in additional wheat germ. Place on cookie sheet; flatten with tines of a fork.

Bake for 10-12 minutes Remove from cookie sheet. Cool on wire rack.

Makes 36 cookies.

I opened a new pack of Organic Dark Brown Sugar from Wholesome Sweeteners – my first time trying their brown sugar, and used my usual Waitrose stoneground wholewheat flour. Almost forgot to dry-fry the wheat germ in a pan over low heat to toast it.

Having learnt my lesson with inadequate creaming, I took pains to do the creaming properly and even after adding the flour, the mixture was so light and fluffy! Although I’ve blogged about creaming for cakes, do note that the creaming step for cookies is shorter than that for cakes, so as to limit the amount the cookies rise in the oven. According to the book Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America (p.88),

Even though cookies are essentially little cakes, most cookies should have a crisper exterior and a denser interior than cake. The shorter creaming time also means that the butter or shortening stays cooler longer. If the dough becomes warm as you mix and shape it, the cookies spread too much and run into each other. When the batter remains cool until it goes into the oven, cookies spread out at the correct rate, producing a thin, crispy edge and a softer, higher centre. (Dough or batter for cookies that are intended to spread will contain a significant amount of butter to encourage this.)

The reason why I don’t often make biscuits is because it’s so tedious and time-consuming to shape each one individually. No wonder Chinese New Year cookies are often made using a cookie press! I used the two-teaspoons method here but it’s hard to get each ball of dough exactly the same size. I forgot about the melon-ball scoop I bought ages ago, which would have helped me get evenly-sized scoops of dough; they would have been much smaller than the 1″ balls recommended in the recipe though. I used quite a fair bit of untoasted wheat germ to roll the dough in as well, at least another quarter cup.

Although the cookies are meant to be round, mine are squarish from being pressed against each other on the baking tray — I managed to squeeze the 35 cookies onto one large tray. I didn’t expect to rise much, but they really did expand! It’s the result of the high proportion of butter and hmmm, I wonder if I was too enthusiastic from the creaming? I could also clearly see the butter in the dough melting when I rolled the dough balls in my hands to shape them. Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America (p. 89) says cookies should be placed 1 to 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. I knew it would be better to leave more space between the cookies also so that hot air can circulate properly around each cookie, but I was too lazy to switch multiple baking trays from bottom to top rack in the oven, rotate them and deal with the problem arising from the fact that I only have one large baking tray, and the other two are smaller ones made of different materials that produce different results!

I don’t often bake cookies so I wasn’t sure if they were done at the end of 15 mins because they were so soft to the touch. Remembering my experience from baking Anzac cookies, I thought they would probably crisp up upon cooling, and this turned out to be true. Slightly over-brown because of the longer baking time I gave them, but I do love that burnt taste.

Despite these various minor imperfections, the end result was simply wonderful! They were so light and crumbly and very delicious. The high ratio of butter has a lot to do with the light texture. I stored the cookies in a box between layers of kitchen towel and the tissue is now drenched in oil!

I was also surprised at how sweet they tasted even though there didn’t seem to be much sugar in the recipe. I would probably reduce the amount of sugar next time.

Because of their fragile, crumbly texture, these cookies need to be carefully packed. I’ll have to pay special attention when I pack them in my bento boxes this week. Oh dear, I’m not sure there will be enough to last all week – they are so yummy, I’ve eaten about 8 or 9 of them in the last 5hrs!

Failsafe rolled oats cookies (Anzacs)

I tried this recipe out of the Failsafe Cookbook. It meets the requirements of the Failsafe food intolerance diet, but contains *yikes* white sugar & golden syrup. For someone trained on anti-candida (and other healthy-eating principles) it’s quite scary to be cooking like this! But I decided to go for it since my eating options are so limited already.

BIG ANZACS

1 cup plain flour
2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup sugar [I reduced this to 1/2 cup and cookies are definitely sweet enough]
125 g butter
2 tbs golden syrup
2 tsp sodium bicarbonate
2 tbs boiling water

Mix together flour, oats and sugar.
Melt butter and golden syrup together.
Mix bicarbonate with boiling water and add to butter mixture.
Pour into blended dry ingredients and stir to combine.
Place large spoonfuls of mixture onto greased oven tray, leaving room to spread.
Bake at 160°C for 20 mins.

[Sue Dengate, The Failsafe Cookbook (2007), p. 168]

Anzacz

[NB: this photo was taken of my 2nd batch of cookies, where I followed the oven temperature instructions exactly. The result was much darker than the first time I made these and was judging the appropriate cooking time purely by sight.]


Baking notes

1) Reduced the sugar to 1/2 cup. Will try reducing even more next time.

2) Golden Syrup is not easy to handle! Firstly because even before I had broken the plastic seal on the Tate & Lyle’s retro-styled tin, tiny ants swarmed my kitchen. Had to clean out the whole cupboard and wash the unopened tin in soap water. So I have since kept the golden syrup in the fridge, which means it’s pretty stiff when you try to spoon it out. Solution: use a metal spoon heated up in some hot water, and a hot knife to spoon and almost cut it out of the tin!

3) There was only just enough liquid to bring the whole mixture together and bits of rolled oats seemed to keep falling out instead of staying in a nice cookie ball. However, they held together very well once they were baked.

4) I was impatient and tried to use the Fan Bake function on my oven, which worked well with my muffins and puff pastry – simply reduce the oven temperature by 20°C, and cut the baking time by half. However, when I did this, the cookies were not sufficiently browned on the outside, or dry enough on the inside. In the end, I had to reduce the oven temperature to 90°C then leave them in long enough to become more solid, which took 20 mins as recommended in the recipe anyway.

My cookies were chewy – I hope they are meant to be that way. They taste really nice (the allure of forbidden sugar :)?) and because of the high quantity of oats, they are very filling as well.

P.S. Want to know why these cookies are so popular Down Under and are called ANZACS? Read a bit of food (and military) history here.