I can’t remember the last time I baked sugar cookies. I don’t have the patience, let alone the skill, for fancy decoration. Food coloring or decorating sugars are not things I keep on hand, and, at least until now, it was hard to fit very many cookies in the Sun Oven at one time, but after my recent cake calamity I was left with a craving for something sweet. When I saw a sugar cookie baking mix at Trader Joe’s I couldn’t resist.
The dehydrating racks took care of the space issue. The mix comes with frosting and sparkling sugar and, with a yield of only about two dozen, I managed to muster up the patience to frost them. Cookie cutters were not an issue. I pick them up at yard sales or thrift stores, and now have an extensive collection of them, so it was nice to get a chance to use a few.
We were among the thousands of Los Angeles area residents without power after the massive windstorm Thursday night so I finally got to use my Sun Oven in an emergency situation. What did I make? Cookies, of course. I thought, based on the estimate given to us by the power company, that the outage would be fixed by early evening. If I’d known we’d be without power until the following day I might have rustled together something for dinner instead, but cookies were on my schedule so that’s what I made. We had just enough sunshine to get the job done.
Big Sun Oven Oatmeal Cookies
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
This batch of breadsticks can be baked in the Sun Oven in one go using the dehydrating racks (or any other method you can come up with to stack three baking sheets). They can be rolled in salt, poppy or sesame seeds, or left plain. They’ll keep for a couple of days if stored in an airtight container and can be refreshed in a hot oven for a few minutes before serving. As usual, I prepare the dough using my bread machine.
Sun Oven Breadsticks
7/8 cup water
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing
The recipe I used for Wednesday’s pie left me with a quite a bit of extra dough. If I’d left it in the freezer I’m sure it would have wound up pushed to the back and forgotten, so today I put it to good use with some of the other Thanksgiving Day leftovers and make some quiche. After consulting a few different recipes online I decided to wing it. First I baked the crusts (in the Sun Oven, of course) then filled the individual tart pans with a mixture of 4 eggs, about 2/3 a cup of mashed sweet potato, cooked chopped swiss chard, some crumbled cooked bacon, and grated Parmesan cheese. Then back to the Sun Oven to bake until the filling was set. The four pans would fit on the leveling tray, but for easier handling, and better air flow, I used two of the dehydrating racks as pictured below.
Lately I’ve been raiding Mark’s stash of corn chips when I go looking for a snack. They’re about the only thing we ever have in the house that are not sweet and require absolutely no preparation.
That’s the funny thing about my house, it’s always full of food but apart from fresh fruit there’s almost nothing that can just be eaten as is and sometimes I want to eat something now. I was hoping seasoned dehydrated veggies could become a new-found version of chips; a salty snack ready to eat straight from the container, but I think I’m going to have to keep looking. Not that the dehydrated zucchini I made the other day are bad, they just lack the satisfying crunch of chips.
Making them was, however, a good learning experience. I got started early and had the thinly sliced, lightly seasoned zucchini ready to go as soon as the sun hit the back yard. By the last rays of the day they were dehydrated to perfection. I’d seasoned them with garlic powder, dried basil, and salt. The flavor was good, and I did manage to stay away from the bag of chips in the pantry, but I think they’d be better as an ingredient in risottos or soups than on their own. I guess I’ll have to find something else to deal with the mid-afternoon hunger pangs.
I have to admit I’d never even though of dehydrating bananas until I read the instructions that came with the dehydrating racks. I wasn’t even sure what shape I should cut them into; discs or strips. It seemed obvious that discs would dry out faster but I thought strips would make a nice portable snack. I decided to try both. To fill all three racks I also cut up a couple of apples and a pear.
The apples dried the fastest. They were completely dehydrated by the end of the day. As predicted the banana discs dehydrated faster than the strips. The pear took longer than I’d expected. Both the bananas and the pear had to be finished up the next day. The banana discs (and the pear slices for that matter) came out great. I lost my patience with the banana strips. I couldn’t tell if they were dry enough to store safely so I ate them – problem solved. I’m sure that in the summer months, when there’s more usable sunshine, I’d have been able to finish all the fruit (maybe even the banana strips) in one day.
I’m sure I’m not the only one that looked at the new dehydrating racks and thought “Could they be used for baking?” The answer is yes. Today I baked a full batch of drop cookies, over three dozen, in two Sun Oven loads. The same as it would have taken to bake them in a conventional oven. The top layer baked slightly faster, but by less than five minutes, pretty much the time it took to take the top layer inside and transfer the cookies to a cooling rack.
Sun Oven Muesli Cookies
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Over the years that I’ve been using my Global Sun Oven I’ve come up with countless creative ways of stacking all sorts of baking pans to make the most of the space in the cooking chamber. Some attempts were more successful than others; the main issue was always slippage.
In fact, apart from a batch or two of tomatoes per year, I’d pretty much given up on solar food dehydrating. It was just too much hassle to fit enough stuff in the Sun Oven to justify tying up it for a whole day.
So, of course, as soon as I received my set of Sun Dry Dehydrating Racks I had to put them to the test. So what if it was already noon and the only produce I had on hand were three tiny apples. I had a new toy and I wanted to play with in now. Turns out I only had enough fruit for two layers and enough remaining hours of sunlight to get the job half done (I finished up the next day), but I could see right off the bat the slippage was a thing of the past.
The racks fit snuggly on top of each other and leave plenty of room for airflow allowing both layers to dry out at the same rate. The hardest part is keeping the Sun Oven from overheating, get distracted for too long and it will easily reach 200F or more, even with the glass door propped open. It’s a good idea to set a timer and check on it every half hour or so.
If you’ve ever had Dr. Kracker crackers you know they’re extremely crunchy, amazingly delicious, and kind of expensive. I love them, not only because they taste so good, but at just 2 weight watchers points per cracker (and they’re big crackers) they’re a great deal point-wise. Mark and I even have a nickname for them – lembas; the elven bread that sustained Frodo and Sam on their journey to Mordor – that is, when we’re not calling them “five dollar crackers” (no, they’re not really that expensive). So you can imagine how excited I was when I opened my email inbox and found a clone recipe for them from the folks over at King Arthur Flour. I couldn’t wait to try it out; baking them in my Global Sun Oven of course.
This is the first time I’ve ever baked any kind of cracker in any kind of oven. I didn’t make any changes to the actual recipe – which you can find by clicking here – but baking them in the Sun Ovens presented a few challenges that I’m still working on. Here are a few things I learned from today’s baking session. First, about the ingredients, the recipe calls for instant yeast and something called “non-diastatic malt powder”. Instant yeast can be found in most grocery stores, I used Fleischmann’s RapidRise. There may be other brands out there but you’ll have to read the fine print to make sure it’s instant. Read more »
The Sun Oven can also be used as a food dehydrator. To do so simply turn the metal latches inward and let the glass door rest on them. This will allow the moisture to escape. I used pizza pans to dehydrate the tomatoes in the picture. They are kept separated by two custard cups. Cooling racks would probably work well, too. The important thing is to leave room for the air to circulate.
Once you’ve devised a way to fit the food in the cooking chamber, the trick is to keep the temperature low enough to dry it without cooking it. This is done by keeping the Sun Oven focused away from the sun and repositioning it every half hour or so to ensure that it stays that way. You’ll actually need to keep an eye on it more than when you’re cooking.
In my (somewhat limited) experience of Sun Oven dehydrating, the top layer will be done faster than the bottom. I remove the dry pieces and consolidate what’s left as the day goes on, and if need be, I close the Sun Oven up at night and finish the process the next day. It has never taken more than two days to dehydrate a full batch; making solar food drying a perfect weekend project.