Monday, December 20, 2010

December Daring Baker's Challenge - Christmas Stollen

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

Before I get started, I'd like to talk a little bit about yeast. Since the heart of this challenge is the yeast, it might be nice for you non-bakers out there to understand it a little better. So, what do you know about yeast? Maybe you know it is a fungus. Did you know it is alive? Yeasts are single-celled organisms, the ones used in baking (and beer making) are called saccharomyces cerevisiae. Evidence of using yeasts for baking has been found dating back to ancient Egyptian days, but they weren't discovered to be living yeasts until 1857 when Louis Pasteur wrote a paper describing their actions. When you see yeast bubbling, it means that the yeast is emitting carbon dioxide. When yeasts feed (on sugar primarily), they give off C02, which is what makes the bubbles and also what makes breads rise. Yeasts get more active when they get warm, even more active when they get warmer and then eventually die when they get too hot (which is when the bread stops growing and keeps baking). Yeasts will slow down when cold, so that is why you sometimes see yeast stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Many yeasts breads can be kept in the refrigerator to rise slowly, thus developing even more flavor. Before yeast breads are baked, they go through a process called "proofing," which basically means that you have a period of time where you want the yeast to show you "proof" that it works, that is is alive and active. So, after rising, you punch the dough down to release the built up CO2, then set it somewhere warm to "proof" right before you bake. When proofing, you usually want to see the bread rise or grow in size. Proofing is best done at warm room temperature.

Before actually starting the stollen, I'm going to need to make the candied citrus peel. I have 5 beautiful oranges here at the house, so I'm going to make candied orange peel. I used a recipe by David Lebowitz to make the candied peel, first blanching the peel, then boiling it in a sugar syrup to just below the soft-ball stage.

Stollen Wreath
Makes one large wreath. Serves 10-12 people
¼ cup water (110ยบ F)
1/2 oz active dry yeast
1 cup milk
5 oz unsalted butter
5½ cups flour
½ cup sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon extract or orange extract
¾ cup candied citrus peel
1 cup firmly packed raisins
3 tablespoons rum
1/4 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup almond pieces
Melted unsalted butter for coating the wreath
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting wreath

Before you start, soak the raisins in a small bowl with the rum and set aside.
To make the dough, pour 1/4 cup warm water into a small bowl (water at 110 will be warm to the touch, but not scalding), sprinkle with the yeast and allow to stand for about 5 minutes. This softens the yeast enough to allow you to stir to dissolve. You should soon see that the yeast begins to bubble.

In a small saucepan, combine milk and butter over medium heat until the butter is melted. Let stand a few minutes to cool. In the meantime, lightly beat eggs in a small bowl and add citrus (I used lemon) and vanilla extracts.

In the large bowl of your stand mixer, stir together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange and lemon zests. Then, on low, mix in (using the paddle attachment) the yeast/water mixture, eggs and the lukewarm milk/butter mixture. This should take about 2 minutes. It should be a soft, but not sticky ball. When the dough comes together, cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let rest for 10 minutes. Add in the candied citrus peel, dried fruits and almonds and mix with your hands or on low speed to incorporate. On a lightly floured counter (or in the mixing bowl using a dough hook), knead the dough to distribute the fruit evenly.

This should take about 6-8 minutes. (A good way to tell when the dough is well blended is that some of the raisins on the outside will start to fall off the top of the dough because it is no longer sticky enough to hold them on.) Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator overnight (or up to a week) to rise slowly and develop flavor.

Be sure you allow yourself about 5 consecutive hours for the final portion. Once you are ready to bake, remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to rest at room temperature for 2 hours to warm slightly. Punch the dough down, dump it out of the bowl and onto the counter. Roll into a rectangle, approximately 16 x 24 inches. (It should be about 1/4" thick.)

Starting on one long side, begin rolling the dough into a 24" tightly rolled log.

Transfer the log to a parchment or silpat-lined sheet pan and join the ends together to make a circle. Use your fingers to pinch the ends together to join them well. Going around the circle, cut slashes about 2/3 way through approximately every 2 inches around the circle to resemble a wreath.

Set the wreath aside to "proof" for about 2 hours at warm room temperature. After this time, it should have expanded to about 1 1/2 times the original size. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, rotate the pan, then bake for another 20-30 minutes. When done, the top should be dark golden brown and the internal temperature register 190 degrees. Transfer to cooling rack and brush with melted butter while still warm. Sprinkle generously with powdered sugar. (This butter/sugar process can be repeated multiple times. Each coat protects the stollen and prolongs the freshness.)

This stollen travels easily, keeps well and is FANTASTIC toasted with a smear of butter. Even better still alongside a cup o' joe. We have been eating off of it for days and no one could resist. This may become a new holiday tradition in the Durham home!!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

November Daring Baker's Challenge - Crostata!

In an attempt to make sure I don't get into a baking "rut" (If you call it a rut if I tend to always make chocolate or fruity layer cakes), I decided to rejoin the Daring Baker's group so that at least once a month I'd have a new baking challenge, proposed by someone other than myself. Getting back on this blog again will also hopefully help me to blog about some of my other desserts that I'm making. Just as a reminder, the purpose of this blog is for me to post pictures of some of the desserts I am making, as well as recipes and little scientific or baking-related "tidbits" that people will find interesting and explanatory.

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

What is a Crostata? A crostata is an Italian baked dessert, like a "tart" or a pie. Typically, it's roughly shaped and the edges are folded over to give it a more rustic appearance. Typically they are filled with fruit jams or a combination of fresh fruit and pastry cream. If it were summer time, I would definitely have opted for a fresh fruit and pastry cream crostata, but because so many of the fall fruits are fantastic when roasted, I opted instead to make an autumn crostata of Apple, Pear and Quince.

Just to give some background on the quince, quince is a pome fruit related to apples and pears, native to Asia. Even when it is ripe, a quince is usually too hard and too sour to be eaten raw. A couple additional interesting tidbits about quince:

-Although the book of Genesis does not name the specific type of the fruit that Adam and Eve ate from the tree in the garden of Eden, some historians and ancient texts suggest that Eve's fruit of temptation might have been a quince

- Among ancient Greeks, the quice was a ritual offering at weddings

- Like apples, the seeds of the quince, if eaten in sufficiently large quantity can be broken down in the body to produce cyanide.

OK, now that you know that stuff, can we move on to the recipe? Sure. So, here we go.

For the base layer of the crostata, we were given several recipes from which to choose for "pasta frolla," which is a shortbread dough, like a pie dough, but uses eggs instead of cold water to bind the dough. As you can imagine, it is rich and delicious and, no matter how good that filling is, the *best* part of a crostata for many people. This is Simona's pasta frolla recipe, which is what I used. (Since I made an 11" tart, I used 1.5 times the recipe.)

Pasta Frolla
3 oz powdered sugar
8.25 oz AP flour
pinch salt
4 oz cold butter
zest from 1/2 lemon
1 egg + 1 egg yolk

To make, blend the sugar, flour and salt together in a mixing bowl, then cut the butter into small pieces and rub it into the dry ingredients until it has a coarse crumb. There can be a few larger, pea-sized pieces mixed throughout.

Make a well in the center and put in the lightly-beaten egg mixture (reserve a tablespoon or so to use for glazing the crust later).

Using a fork, pull the dry ingredients into the liquid and mix together until blended.

Shape into a ball and then flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold.

While the dough is chilling, roast the fruit.

3 ripe, but firm pears
3 firm apples (I used Fuji)
1 quince
1 stick of cinnamon
4 whole cloves
1/2 cup sugar
3 T lemon juice
2 T apple cider
1 T minced fresh ginger

Peel, core, quarter and then cut the fruits into about 1" sized pieces. Mix together with remaining ingredients and roast in a 375 degree oven for about an hour, mixing occasionally, until starting to caramelize. Remove from oven and cool.

Remove the crust, and roll out on a lightly-floured surface until it is a few inches larger in diameter than your pan. Lightly place in the pan and cut excess. You can decide whether you want the crust to roll over the top loosely, or whether you want to fit it to the edge of the tart pan. Put the crust in the pan back in the fridge to stay cool while you make the additional filling.

4 oz softened butter
1/2 c powdered sugar
1/2 c packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 t vanilla
1/4 c flour

Blend butter with sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, then vanilla. Blend flour in last, only mixing until blended.

Remove crust from the fridge, pour in the filling, then top with the roasted fruit (including juices). If you have saved crust to fold over, go ahead and fold it over now. Brush the edges with the reserved egg, sprinkle with sugar and bake at 375 degrees on a preheated cookie sheet for 50-60 minutes until the filling has puffed up around the fruit and the edges of the crust are browned.

In case you weren't already thinking of it, this is EXCELLENT with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. Buon Apetito!