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baking

the cookie shooter at Your Home Kitchen Garden

Cookie press, jerky shooter… in my mind, it has become a cookie shooter. This very affordable kitchen implement is a caulking gun for cookie dough.

There is nothing to do with gardening in my home kitchen garden these days. It’s all about staying warm and trying to enjoy the holidays. We’re very big on Christmas cookies, and my wife usually bakes more than a thousand cookies of a dozen or so varieties. I also bake some, specifically two types of cookies I loved as a child: Cut out sugar cookies with stained glass windows, and spritz cookies.

This year, I set up my computer on the dining room table and visited with many imaginary friends as I mixed spritz cookie dough, shot cookies onto cookie sheets, and added dusting sugar and other sprinkles as decorations. I got a few questions from imaginary friends, and I offered that I’d upload photos to answer some of them:

Why do they call it a Spritz Cookie?

I don’t know. I like to believe it’s because the inventor of these cookies was Hans Spritz, a young baker in the mountains of Bavaria who, except for these cookies, has been obscured by time. I Googled the name, and one web site, The Cilantropist (a name that I love), provided a lot of personal history and way too much detail… but all it added about the name “spritz” is that it’s short for “Spritzgebackenes” which, with my limited knowledge of German, I translate to mean, Cookies invented by a man named Spritz.

extruder plates at Your Home Kitchen Garden

A cookie shooter should come with several extruder plates that restrict oozing dough to specific patterns. The most seasonally-appropriate extruder plate for Christmas cookies creates little evergreen trees on the cookie sheet.

What is a Cookie Press?

While digging around the kitchen for my cookie press, I found a cookie press I couldn’t identify. Then I found the cookie press I’ve had for years, and I realized that the other cookie press was a “jerky shooter” that had come with a food dryer I’d used when I wrote my book, Yes, You Can to be published in the coming spring (the link leads to Amazon where you can order it now for delivery once it’s available).

A cookie press is a caulking gun for cookie dough. Instead of a rubber nozzle that squeezes caulk into a continuous snake or ribbon, a cookie press has interchangeable  extruder plates each intended to produce a unique design. Here’s how it works:

  1. Fill the tube of the cookie press with a soft, sticky dough.
  2. Put an extruder plate on one end of the tube and a pistol-grip plunger on the other.
  3. Pull the trigger on the pistol grip until dough starts to come through the holes in the extruder plate.
  4. Stand the cookie press on a cool, ungreased cookie sheet and pull the trigger once and then pause.
  5. After a second or two passes, lift the cookie press straight up. Extruded dough should stick to the cookie sheet.
  6. Decorate cookies as you wish before baking.

I Dub Thee Cookie Shooter

As a result of mistaking my jerky shooter for a cookie press, I decided that from that day forward, I’ll refer to my cookie press as a cookie shooter. Can’t help it, it just sounds right. You call yours what you like. If you don’t have one, look for them at department and cooking stores. One of my imaginary friends said she bought one last year for $9.99. This is a very low price to pay for a very useful kitchen implement. Amortized over the years I’ve owned my cookie shooter, it has cost about 60 cents per year. By the time they pry my cookie shooter from my cold, dead hand, I expect that number to be about 20 cents per year.

I prepared a video that shows how I work with a cookie shooter. Please have a look to get an idea of how this all works. As well, here’s the recipe I use when I make Hans Spritz’s famous cookies:

Ingredients

1 and ½ cups butter (Not margarine or shortening. Use butter or go home.)

1 cup sugar

1 egg

2 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon mint extract (the more traditional recipe calls for almond extract)

4 cups sifted flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

spritz cookies from Your Home Kitchen Garden

Spritz cookies barely change shape when they cook, and they shouldn’t change color. If the darken in the oven, they’re likley to taste burned.

Beat the butter and sugar till they’re smooth. Add the milk, egg, vanilla, and mint extract and continue mixing. Stir the baking soda into the sifted flour and add it gradually to the butter and sugar. Continue mixing while adding and for a bit longer until you have homogenous very soft dough.

Divide the dough into four parts and add two drops of food coloring to each part—usually a different color for each. Use a strong-handled spoon to mush the coloring through the dough until each portion has uniform color.

Load your cookie shooter, shoot dough onto UNGREASED cookie sheets, decorate, if you like, and bake for 8 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. If the cookies start to darken, you’ve cooked them too long.

Let them cool on the cookie sheets. Then pop them loose with your fingers.

CAUTION: If you make your spritz cookies minty like mine, don’t store them with other types of cookies. All the cookies in a container will pick up the mint flavor after just a day or two of storage. This isn’t a problem if you use almond extract instead of mint extract.

Here’s a video that demonstrates how to shoot Christmas cookies onto a cookie sheet:

 

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Rolling Pie Crust for a Fruit Pie Sure, this photo is out of sequence, but I liked it so much I wanted it at the top of the page. I hope you’ll be rolling out pie dough this way soon.

Don’t blink. Strawberries and Rhubarb are in season in my Home Kitchen Garden, but that won’t last for long. I have only two productive rhubarb plants, so I don’t eat much rhubarb in a season. I usually get three or four harvests before the plants stress out in summer heat. Thankfully, in the first few weeks of strawberry season, there is always enough rhubarb to make pie.

I used to make rhubarb pie, and it suited me just fine. In recent years, however, I’ve held out for strawberries and rhubarb… can’t say I like the combination better, but I like it as much… and more people are open to eating strawberries and rhubarb than they are to eating rhubarb alone.

Strawberry-Rhubarb from a Home Kitchen Garden Wash and cap the strawberries, and wash and cut the rhubarb to ¾-inch lengths. For the pies I made during this photo session, I used about five cups of prepared rhubarb and four cups of prepared strawberries.

Pie Insights

My mom raised me on pies made with oil-and-milk pie crusts. Classic pie crust involves cutting shortening into flour and wetting the mixture with enough milk to make a heavy dough. Oil-and-milk crust involves adding milk to salad oil and stirring that into flour. I’m sure a trained pastry chef can argue the quality of the resulting pie crusts, but for the effort, oil-and-milk is just fine.

Unless you’re someone who struggles with rolling pins (I’ve known a few admitted rolling-challenged folks), making pie is a very easy task. It is time-consuming, taking minimally 40 minutes to go from fresh fruit to assembled pie… and another 40 to 60 minutes for baking. Here’s the motivation:

When you show up to dinner with a homemade fruit pie, for some reason you impress people. My guess is that those people have never made pie and have no idea how stupid-easy it is to do. Pie is a great dessert, so why not learn to make it and enjoy the enjoyment others express toward your baking?

I measured fruit by dumping it into empty pie plates. When I’d filled two plates, I had enough fruit so I poured all the fruit into a large mixing bowl. Here’s how to make pie filling. In this case, I put three cups of sugar in a bowl and stirred in ten tablespoons of all-purpose flour. Finally, I tossed the sugar and flour mixture together with the fruit. The center photo shows half the fruit/sugar/flour mixture in a prepared pie shell. The photo on the right shows a pie ready for baking.
To make dough, put two cups of all-purpose flour in a bowl and stir in about half a teaspoon of salt (left). Measure ½ cup of salad oil, and add five tablespoons of milk to it. Don’t stir the milk and oil (center). Pour the milk and oil all-at-once into the flour, and mix until you have dough… but no more. This is enough dough to make the bottom crust and the top crust for one pie. I almost always make two pies at a time, so I use my first batch of dough to make two bottom crusts and I make a second batch of dough to make top crusts.
When the flour has absorbed all the oil and milk (left), use your hand(s) to pull the dough into a ball (center). To make a bottom or a top crust, tear the dough ball in half. Leave half in the bowl and put the other half on a piece of waxed paper where you’ll have room to work it with a rolling pin.

Rules of Thumb for Fruit Pies

I haven’t followed a fruit pie recipe in more than ten years. I’ve learned the recipe for dough from making a lot of pies. After that, I work from three rules of thumb and constant experimentation. See the box titled Recipes for Pie (below) for the shorthand of what I did in the photos. Here are the important rules of thumb for making fruit pie fillings:

1. Think of apple pie filling as the baseline and make adjustments from there. For an apple pie, if you use four-to-five cups of fruit, sweeten it with one cup of sugar, and thicken it with three tablespoons of all-purpose flour.

2. Adjust the sugar according to the fruit’s sweetness. Apples are fairly sweet; rhubarb is not.

3. Adjust the flour according to the fruit’s juiciness. Apples aren’t particularly juicy; nor is rhubarb. Strawberries, however, are very juicy.

Cover the dough with another sheet of waxed paper, then roll it out roughly into a circle. The circle’s diameter should be the full width of the waxed paper. Peel off the top sheet of waxed paper and flip the dough (with the bottom sheet of paper attached) over onto an empty pie plate. Peel off the second sheet of paper (left), then work the dough down into the pie plate so it rests on the bottom and against the inner sides (center). Trim whatever dough hangs past the edge of the pie plate (right). Save the trimmed pieces to roll out with the next dough ball.
After lining the second pie plate and distributing the filling evenly between the two shells, make a second batch of dough, divide it, and roll half out as you did for the bottom crusts. To make a lattice, peel off the top piece of waxed paper and use a pizza cutter or table knife to cut the dough into ½ inch strips. I run five parallel strips across the pie (left), then turn the pie and run five more strips on a bias. Finally, I run a strip around the rim of the pie plate (right)… this helps hold the components together when I add fluting.
To add fluting and crimp together the lattice with the bottom crust, I use my index finger and thumb on one hand to push the dough against the end of the thumb on my other hand. So, I push in with my thumb and index finger while pushing down with my thumb. Pinch the next flute where the previous one ends, and eventually you’ll get back to where you started… but the pie will have an attractive scalloped edge.

Make a Pie from Your Home Kitchen Garden

The photos in this post demonstrate every key step of making strawberry-rhubarb pie with the exception of taking the pie(s) out of the oven. Oddly, we ate the baked pies before it occurred to me to take a photo.

Before the season passes you by, harvest some rhubarb, pick some strawberries, and make some pies! Oh, and if you prefer video instructions, please visit my sister web sight, Your Small Kitchen Garden, where I’ll post links to videos demonstrating how to make strawberry-rhubarb pie.

Recipes for Pie

Pie Crust for One Pie (top & bottom crusts)

  • 2 Cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ Cup salad oil
  • 5 Tablespoons milk

Stir salt and flour together in a medium-sized bowl. Fill measuring cup to ½ cup line with salad oil. Add 5 tablespoons milk to the salad oil; do not stir. All at once, pour the oil and milk into the flour and stir until it makes dough. Form dough into a ball and use half to make a bottom crust and half to make a top crust.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Filling

  • 4 Cups prepared strawberries (wash and cap the berries)
  • 5 Cups prepared rhubarb (wash and cut to ¾ inch lengths)
  • 3 Cups sugar
  • 10 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

Put strawberries and rhubarb in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the sugar and flour thoroughly. Then toss the sugar/flour mixture with the fruit. Evenly distribute the fruit and sugar into two pie plates lined with raw pie shells. Cover pies with lattice crusts and bake on jelly roll pans at 400F degrees for 45-to-60 minutes. Pies are done when crust is golden brown and filling is oozing thick, bubbly syrup.

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