Off-the-wall recipes

Do you know what “off the wall recipes” are? Now, don’t get all excited thinking you’re going to read about chocolate papaya muffin tops or fennel sardine apricot bread. No, I’m talking about the stack of recipes I’ve clipped together and hung on the pegboard next to my work station in the King Arthur test kitchen. These are recipes I make over and over again–for potlucks, for bake sales, or for going-away lunches here at work. Or just because, after sitting for three hours at the computer, I need to bake something. Need to measure flour and sugar, melt butter, pour chocolate chips into a cup. I need to knead. And when the urge strikes, I grab my stack of recipes “off the wall” in the test kitchen, and dig in.

So, what recipes did I “dig” most this year? Not surprisingly, a whole bunch of classic favorites. Hey, there’s a reason chocolate chip cookies, apple pie, brownies, snickerdoodles, pizza, and sandwich bread never go out of style–because they’re just SO gosh-darned good–especially when they’re homemade.

Going through my off-the-wall recipes was like an archaeological dig. At the top of the pile was Sparkling Cranberry Gems, my favorite low-sugar, low-fat, whole-grain treat–perfect for “the holidays are over, baby, get back on that diet!” Farther down was Apple Pie with a Twist, something I forced myself to bake multiple times this fall. Well, that’s why they call it a test kitchen, right?! I know, it’s a tough job… I found three incarnations of brownies, and two of chocolate chip cookies. And oh, yeah–that incredible chocolate cake I made for like four office birthdays in a row last spring…

OK, enough blathering. Here they are, my top 10 off the wall recipes of 2007:

Sparkling Cranberry Gems: Beloved of me, my sister-in-law, my mother-in-law, and anyone whose taste runs to cranberries and whose waist runs to unwanted expansion… These chewy-crunchy, intensely tart-sweet cookies include only half a teaspoon of fat each, not much sugar, and a nice serving of fiber. And, bottom line: They taste FABULOUS.

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The Fastest Homemade Pizza Ever: The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are crazy here at King Arthur, as they are for retailers everywhere. This year, just to challenge myself, I vowed to make pizza for my officemates every Thursday. And this recipe was an absolute savior. The dough goes together fast, rolls/pats out without fighting, and produces a wonderful light, thin crust, perfect for your choice of toppings. Four of my teammates–Tracy, Halley, Matt, and Janet–had the chance to choose their favorites. Which ranged from artichoke hearts, Brie, and roasted red peppers, to Italian sausage and tons of cheese. Man, now that I think about it, I’m going to miss those Thursday pizza parties…

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Now or Later Pizza: Not everyone likes thin-crust pizza. For pizza Thursdays (see description above), Matt and Tracy wanted their pizzas to have a thick-and-chewy crust, rather than thin-and-light. This is another recipe that’s an easy choice when you’re busy, as you make the dough completely the night before, then refrigerate till you’re ready to shape, top, and bake.

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Apple Pie with a Twist: Best apple pie I’ve ever made. Three keys:
•Ginger Gold apples. These are available in our area ONLY for a few weeks in the fall, but mmm-MMM, do they ever make a good pie! I substitute Granny Smiths during the 49 weeks of the year when Ginger Golds are unattainable.
•Boiled cider. There’s nothing quite like super flavorful, tart/sweet boiled cider (cider boiled till it’s thick) to bring out the flavor of apples. Warning: it’s very difficult to boil down cider on your own, as it goes from perfect to way-too-thick (and possibly burned) within a minute. (If you want to give it a try anyway–don’t say I didn’t warn you!) Minor sales pitch here: Buy boiled cider. It stays good in the fridge for months and months, and is wonderful added to any type of apple dessert or spice-type cake. Or mixed with maple syrup and poured over pancakes.
•Extended baking time. As in 2 hours at 350°F. I kid you not. Put the pie on a baking sheet, bake for 30 minutes, then tent with foil and bake another 90 minutes. The foil keeps the top crust from burning; the filling insulates the bottom crust; and the apples become a gorgeous mahogany brown, and deeply flavorful (but not mushy).

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Classic Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies: Whenever I bake these I tell everyone, “These are organic whole grain cookies. No guilt!” Not really… But why not bake with organic whole-grain flour when you can? For some reason, these cookies are best enjoyed within a couple of days; after that, they become unpleasantly hard. But oh, right out of the oven… These will wow any chocolate chip cookie lover, I guarantee it. The secret: LOTS of chips. And King Arthur 100% Organic White Whole Wheat Flour.

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Brownies: Brownies MIGHT just be the dessert I’d pick for my last meal. I’m a brownie apprecianado. Fudgy and dense without being unpleasantly “wet” inside, these have a paper-thin, light-flaky top crust, the kind that turns into a shower of chocolate shards as you take a bite.

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100% Whole Wheat Pain de Mie: This is the loaf that finally pushed me over the edge: Yes, I CAN eat and enjoy 100% whole wheat sandwich bread. It’s moist, close-grained, doesn’t crumble or fall apart, and has a lovely, mildly sweet taste. To attain that Pepperidge-Farm type texture, you need a pain de mie pan. Again, sorry for the sales pitch, but if you want to make your own store-bought-clone sandwich bread–you need a pain de mie pan.

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Superdoodles, a.k.a. snickerdoodles with attitude: I developed this recipe sometime around Thanksgiving, and it’s quickly become my favorite crunchy sugar cookie. If you’re not enthusiastic about cinnamon, make regular snickerdoodles. But if cinnamon’s a favorite flavor, add cinnamon chips and extra cinnamon to make SUPERdoodles. P.S. One of our customer service ladies says she serves these with rum sauce. Now THAT’S over the top…

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Favorite Fudge Birthday Cake: “That birthday cake” is how this four-layer cake is now identified by those having tasted it at an office birthday party and wanting the recipe. Moist, deep-dark chocolate cake is layered with rich, creamy, dark chocolate ganache. That’s all there is to it. Great example of the final product being more than the sum of its parts. Typical reaction after a first bite: eyes rolling heavenward, and an ecstatic groan…

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Tea Sandwich Bread: See 100% Whole Wheat Pain de Mie, above. This version of pain de mie is for those whom you just haven’t talked into whole wheat–yet. My mom visits from Florida every September. I make a loaf of this square-cornered, close-grained, moist/firm bread, and we eat it every day–at every meal. Toast for breakfast, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, grilled cheese and soup for supper. She loves it; I love it. I love her. It’s a perfect match. P.S. It makes the ultimate French toast, too.

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So that’s it: my top 10 “off-the-wall” recipes. We’re working on identifying the top 10 recipes you, our readers, clicked on at kingarthurflour.com this past year, and I’ll be running that list soon. Till then–here’s to 2008, and lots of great baking moments!

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...