Road Trip Treats

Rich’s company, Atomicdust, is sending about half of the employees (it’s a small company) to a creative professionals’ conference in Cleveland this weekend. Not sure how it happened, but they are driving (9 hours each way) instead of flying, so I offered them treats for the trip. Rich was originally planning on going, but he is swamped under an avalanche of work, so he is staying here. The treats are still going.

I thought I should try to send something fairly healthy, since they are going to be eating road food for three days. I sent blueberry fruit bars (think Fig Newtons) and chewy granola bars (though I think those disappeared before the trip even started). I haven’t heard the verdict from the road trippers yet, but we thought our quality control samples were pretty good.

I had the fruit bar recipe for probably three years before I actually made them. And then I wondered why I hadn’t made them before. The original recipe was for figs, but I adapted it for dried blueberries and dried cherries. I have never tried a fig version because we like the blueberries and cherries so much. These are better than the best fruit filled breakfast bar or newton cookie, probably because they are made with “real” ingredients and without preservatives.

Don’t make these for company the first time. And don’t make them when you are pressed for time. They aren’t hard, but they do take a little patience and you will have more fun if you aren’t rushing. The directions sound complicated, but the pictures should help a lot. I have made the dough and filling one day, and stored them in the fridge to assemble the next day. Or you can store both the filling and the dough in the freezer if you decide after doing one half that you don’t feel like doing the rest until another day.

If you have ever made cut-out cookies, you are golden. The dough is basically whole wheat cookie dough. You don’t have to be afraid of using too much flour, though, so sprinkle it with abandon. The only time it gets really frustrating is if the dough sticks to the counter, so fling the flour.

I got the recipe from the King Arthur Baking Circle bakers’ forum several years ago. The woman who posted it said she had adapted it from a recipe from Sunset Magazine from 1985. The recipe as I received it had both all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour. I use all white whole wheat flour, but you can use both.

Fruit Bars
by The Cook’s Life
Makes 48 cookies

We like either blueberries, pecans and vanilla extract or cherries, almonds and almond extract for the filling. You can also substitute dried figs for the fruit if you really want to replicate Fig Newtons.

Cookie dough:
½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
½ cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2¼ cups white whole wheat flour*
¼ cup wheat germ
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
all-purpose flour for rolling

Beat butter, sugar and white sugar until creamy. Beat in eggs and vanilla extract. Add white whole wheat flour, wheat germ, salt and baking soda and mix in thoroughly. Divide dough in half and form each half into a rough rectangle on a piece of plastic wrap. You are rolling out a rectangle later, so you might as well start with a rectangle to make it easier later.

Wrap tightly and refrigerate at least an hour, or up to 24 hours.

*You can use 1 cup white whole wheat flour and 1¼ cups all-purpose flour, if you prefer.

Fruit filling:
2 cups lightly packed dried blueberries or cherries
½ cup pecans, almonds or walnuts
1/3 cup sugar
½ cup water
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon vanilla extract OR ¼ teaspoon almond extract

If your fruit is really dried out and hard, soak it for 15-30 minutes in hot water, or until the fruit absorbs some of the water and is soft and plump. Drain the fruit before chopping, but save the water it soaked in to use as the ½ cup water in the cooking step.

Chop the nuts in a food processor, then add the dried fruit and whirl until finely chopped and pasty.

Place fruit and nut mixture in a small saucepan and add sugar, water, lemon zest and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook, stirring, until mixture boils and thickens (5-8 minutes). Add vanilla or almond extract and stir well.

Transfer to a plate, spread out in an even layer and let cool completely before using.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or grease lightly.

Remove one dough rectangle from the fridge. Sprinkle work surface and dough lightly with all-purpose flour. Roll dough to a 9 by 15 inch rectangle.

Use a ruler for this and trim the edges so they are straight. Use the trimmings to even out the edges, if necessary, but save a small ball of dough for the next step. If the dough is really cold, and the edges start to crack, give it five minutes to warm up before you roll it out. It will make things a lot easier.

Cut the rectangle into 3 strips, 3 by 15 inches.

Spread cooled filling down the middle of each strip, leaving about an inch on each side, but spreading the filling all the way to the ends.

Use a long spatula or table knife to help you fold each side up over the filling to meet in the middle, overlapping the edges if possible.

Use some of your dough trimmings to fill in any gaps. I had a lot of gaps on some of mine because I misjudged when I divided the filling and had too much on some of the strips. Just patch away – it will all come together in the oven.

Cut each strip in half crosswise and transfer to prepared baking sheet, seam side down. Brush off any extra flour. Chill filled dough strips while repeating the steps with remaining dough and filling. *

Bake chilled cookies at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cookies cool on pan on rack for 10 minutes. Then cut each strip into 4 pieces.

Transfer cookies to racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Unchilled dough

Chilled dough

*I tried chilling one pan and not the other one. The chilled cookies kept their shape a little better than the cookies I baked immediately after shaping, but it wasn’t as noticeable after cutting them into individual cookies. If you don’t have room in the fridge for a big baking sheet (it was tight for me) or if you just don’t want to take the time, you can skip the chilling step.

Remember the many patches I used on some of the strips? You can see it a little bit on the bottoms, but only if you know to look for it. Turn them over and they look beautiful.

Download recipe here.

Make it Yourself: Tortillas

Rich and I call ourselves “food snobs.” Not in a truffles and expensive wine way. But in that we judge the bread restaurants serve and the hot fudge sauce at ice cream shops. In a way I have ruined our taste buds with homemade bread and chocolate sauce. Not that we are complaining, but we do really like our own creations an awful lot.

I can’t count the times we have tried a new product and decided that we could make it better. Our other favorite thing is to take something we buy and try to duplicate it, with adaptations to suit it to our tastes.

I don’t know what made me decide to try making tortillas. I guess just to see if I could do it. And to make something that we like, and use only 5 ingredients instead of all the unpronounceable stuff on the ingredient label of some tortillas from the store. Try them yourself and add a whole new dimension to taco night.

Whole Wheat Tortillas
8-12 tortillas

I started with the Wheat Tortilla recipe out of “Flatbreads and Flavors” by Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford. Over several years I have changed the recipe and ended up with our favorite recipe. If whole wheat isn’t your thing, you can make these with all-purpose flour. But if you are feeling adventurous, buy a bag of white whole wheat flour and try ½ cup white whole wheat flour and 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour. If you like the flavor, you can try more whole wheat the next time. But trust me, you will like these as written, even if you don’t normally like whole wheat.

2 cups white whole wheat flour *
¼  tsp. salt (or slightly less)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I like canola)
¾ cup water, approximately
All-purpose flour for kneading and rolling out

Combine flour and salt in a medium bowl. Sprinkle on the oil and blend it in thoroughly. Gradually add ¾ cup water. If dough is too dry to gather into a ball, add about a tablespoon of water. Form the dough into a ball and knead briefly, just until dough is smooth, adding flour as necessary. The dough should be easily kneaded, but don’t add much flour, if possible.

Let dough rest 30 minutes, covered with plastic wrap. Then divide dough into 12 pieces for small tortillas, or 8 pieces for large tortillas. Roll the pieces into smooth balls.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat until very hot. Or use a griddle. No greasing necessary. A regular pan will work too, if you don’t have cast iron, but the cast iron makes a great tortilla, if you have it.

On a lightly floured surface, using a floured rolling pin and generous sprinkles of flour, roll out a ball of dough until it is as thin as you can make it. You are aiming for between 7 and 10 inches across, approximately. Rolling from the middle to the outside instead of all the way across the dough will help you keep the tortillas closer to round. Mine are often weird shapes, but they are tasty anyway. Keep a light dusting of flour on top and under the dough and turn it over frequently so it doesn’t stick. Don’t be afraid to use lots of flour. You can always brush it off later, before or after you cook the tortillas.

Place the tortilla in the hot pan and cook for 45 seconds. The bottom surface should be speckled with brown spots. Turn the tortilla over with tongs and cook the second side for 45 seconds. Adjust the heat if it takes longer or the tortillas start to burn.

Once you get the hang of it, you should be able to roll out a tortilla while another one is cooking.

Stack the warm tortillas on a plate and cover with a cloth towel as you cook them. Serve warm. Or cool in a single layer on racks and place in a zip-top bag as soon as they are cool. These freeze beautifully.

*White whole wheat flour is available in most major grocery stores. King Arthur Flour and Hodgson Mill are two name brands.

Download the recipe here.