Monday, October 31, 2011

Chocolate Tiramisu

It's starting to get chilly outside.  OK, correction, it got COLD.  TODAY.  We left the house this morning in Durham and it was chilly outside, but I swear the temperature dropped at least 10 degrees between 8:00 this morning and noon.  I was not prepared.  But, I will be soon!

To prepare, get yerself some hot coffee and some booze.  Seriously.  What better way to beat the chill?  That's right, I'm making tiramisu.  Tiramisu, literally translated from Italian, means "pick me up."  This dessert will pick you up for sure.  And then shake you off and make you dance!  I'm hoping for some people to dance with me tomorrow night (so I don't look so silly dancing by myself), so hopefully this dessert will do it. 

This recipe is a slight variation on the classic tiramisu, which typically consists of ladyfinger cookies soaked in espresso, alternating layers with a zabaglione (also known as zabaione, sabayon, or zabajone), which is an egg yolk custard mixed with rum, Kahlua, brandy or marsala (some kind of alcohol).  The egg yolk custard incorporates heat and a lot of air from whipping to turn egg yolks, sugar and the sauce into a fragrant, boozy deliciousness!  (Baking holds many faces of bliss for me in particular, and standing over a double-boiler with the steamy smell of eggs, sugar and marsala wafting into my face is seriously one of them!) 

The zabaglione is mixed with mascarpone cheese, which is a sweetened Italian cream cheese, and some whipped cream.  These layers are usually topped with whipped cream, chocolate shavings and cocoa or cinnamon.  I'm adding some chocolate ganache in with the zabaglione to liven things up a little

Friday, October 28, 2011

Apple Pielettes (itty bitty apple pies) with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Mini apple pies.  Not tarts, not tartlettes, but pielettes.  Say it how you want, but these things are amazing!  Todd gave me the idea, the last time I made apple pie.  He said something about the crust to filling ratio (which is, by the way, a frequent topic of discussion in our household) and how the pie could be even more delicious if the ratio was increased and the pies were hand held.  Always a fan of mini desserts, mini ANYTHING, I was game to try! (My friend Kelly and I bought mini Windex at a gas station for our glasses when we were young.  With our allowance.)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

October Daring Bakers Challenge - Povitica!

The Daring Baker’s October 2011 challenge was Povitica, hosted by Jenni of The Gingered Whisk. Povitica is a traditional Eastern European Dessert Bread that is as lovely to look at as it is to eat!

Povitica (pronounced po-va-teet-sa) is traditional Eastern European dessert bread that is usually served during the holiday season. It is also known as Nutroll, Potica, Kalachi, Strudia, just to name a few. Family recipes, and the secrets on how to roll the bread so thin, were passed down through generations of families. However, the tradition of baking this type of bread has become somewhat of a dying art form.  I don't remember having this bread as a child, but we had a similar rolled sweet bread filled with poppy seed called macowiec.  This Daring Baker's Challenge was a blast, the thin rolling of the dough was extremely challenging, yet therapeutic, satisfying and destressing, and the finished loaves were beautiful and delicious!

(makes 4 loaves)

click here to view this recipe

To activate the yeast:
2 t sugar
1 t flour
4 oz warm water
2 T active dry yeast

For the dough:
16 oz milk
6 oz sugar
3 t salt
4 eggs
4 oz butter, melted
Up to 8 c flour, divided

Walnut Filling:
7 c ground walnuts
8 oz milk
8 oz butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 t vanilla
16 oz sugar
1 t unsweetened cocoa
1 t cinnamon

To activate the yeast, stir 2 t sugar, 1 t flour and the yeast into 4 oz warm water (approx 100° F) in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Allow to stand for 5 minutes.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lemon Macarons with Lemon Cream

It's been over a week since I've made macs and I'm going through withdrawal.   I thought I'd brighten things up with some zesty lemon macarons, sandwiched with a lemon cream filling.  I'm still playing around with my mac recipes, the proportions of ingredients, the temp, the sizes, the baking times, the aging of the egg whites.  Some days none of those things seem to matter and some days they all do.  Aaaaargh!   Alas, this is why I love these challenging darlings!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cranberry and Orange Oatmeal Scones

I really wanted to bake something new today.  Something breakfasty, but dessert-like.  Oh, and healthy too.  What?  OK, maybe this really isn't too healthy, but it feels "good for you" while you are eating it.  It's loaded with antioxidants (cranberry and orange), plus it has oatmeal in it, which we all know helps to lower cholesterol.  Woo hoo!

Two (additional) thoughts occurred to me as I enrobed myself in my cupcake apron.  1. I don't have a recipe 2. I have not been to the grocery store.  So, I decided that today's recipe was going to be a made-from-scratch, learn-as-we-go experiment, based on what I had already in my own house.  (Granted, I usually have a lot more stuff for desserts than most people do in their house, but I still needed to be choosy!)

So, I'd really like to focus on recipe creation for this post.  What goes into your favorite baked goods?  And how much?

First of all, to create a recipe for any baked good, you first need to decide what qualities you want it to have.  Moist?  Dense?  Flaky? Sweet?  Rich?  Most of the ingredients used in making baked goods fall into one (or more) of the following general categories:

Moisteners: add moisture to a baked good (examples include: water, milk, eggs, syrups, other liquid sugars like agave, molasses, honey, etc.)
Tenderizers: make your baked good more tender (examples include: sugar, butter or other fats, egg yolks, chocolate, starches or leaveners like baking powder)
Strengtheners: make your baked good stronger, more structured (examples include: flour, egg whites, powdered milk)
Driers: dries your baked good out (examples include: flours, egg whites, powdered milk)
Flavorings: Provide flavor to your baked good, may also fall into one of the other categories

A basic rule for making baked goods is that approximately 1 cup of flour will create one 8" cake layer. Remember, though, that cakes are light and fluffy and soft, but scones are supposed to be thick and dense. We're gonna need at least double the flour. Since about 8 scones would equal the size of a layer of cake (and we're making 16 scones), we'll start with 4 cups of flour. If you want to use some whole wheat flour, please do, but I generally don't go with more than 50% of the total flour in the recipe. A cup of oats helps to give these scones a "homey" feel, but you can leave them out if you'd like. Moving on to the sugar...Scones really aren't supposed to be too sweet. Often, a scone will be brushed with something (like cream or egg) before baking, and some coarse sugar sprinkled on top. Or, you can get really sassy and glaze them like I did here. Glaze can be spooned on top or drizzled across the scones. But, back to the recipe, I included a few tablespoons of sugar, but those of you who like a sweeter scone may want to increase to 1/4 cup. Baking powder and salt are needed for rise, generally up to a teaspoon is fine for a cake, but since biscuits and scones do not rely on whipping eggs for rise, you will want to add more. Two tablespoons should be fine for this recipe. Baking soda is used when baking with cocoa or yogurt, which are acidic. Since baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate (a base), it requires an acid of some kind in order to produce the reaction which causes the rise. In a pinch, you could use baking powder instead of baking soda (since baking powder contains an acid already), but you'd never want to use baking soda in place of baking powder in a recipe. Butter is a tenderizer and should be blended into the dry ingredients in order to form layers in the final product. This thinly blended butter (and occasional larger chunks) is what leads to super-flakiness in scones or biscuits. A (well-publicized) secret tip is to avoid mixing too much, because you don't want the butter to blend in homogeneously into the ingredients. Finally, to add liquids to this recipe, you really need to just feel it out. Scone batter/dough must remain thick (never pourable), so liquid should be kept to a minimum. I had 2 extra egg yolks on hand, so I mixed those with 4 eggs and a half cup of buttermilk, since I was out of cream. Since I ended up using buttermilk (an acid), I could have opted to go half and half on baking powder / baking soda. But, baking powder is fairly neutral, so the end result likely just leaves these scones with a little bit of a buttermilk taste (rather than a bitterness caused by too much alkali). To add flavor, I used the zest of one large orange and a large handful of dried cranberries.

Anytime you create a recipe from scratch, you will need to be aware of the texture of your creation as it's being made (does this seem right? too thin? too thick?) and can be adjusted as you go with the addition of more/less of the above categories of ingredients. If all else fails, just make sure you write it down, figure out how you feel about the final product and adjust the recipe the next time you make it to account for the flaws. With this recipe, I was pretty pleased with the outcome. Next time, though, I'd lessen the flour content a little in light of the oats and try cream instead of the buttermilk.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Anatomy of a layer cake

Today I would like to demonstrate how to assemble a simple layer cake, the banana blitz (or nannersplosion, please feel free to comment and let me know which name you like better), from start to finish.

To begin, the cake layers should have been baked, cooled, then wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen overnight. Bring them to room temperature to thaw for 1 hour before assembly. Also, put previously-made buttercream and ganache on the counter at room temperature for an hour as well.

Grab an appropriately sized cake board (at least 1" larger in diameter than your cake), place a small smear of buttercream on the middle of the board to keep it from sliding. Unwrap one of your cake layers and place it top-side down on the middle of the cake board. If you left your parchment on the cake when it cooled (a good idea), you can place your hand here to steady the cake as you cut it in half. Use a long, sharp, serrated knife (at least a couple inches longer than the cake) and start slicing through on one side in the center of the layer. If you watch the other end of your knife while you are moving the cake around, you will see that the knife continues to follow the path you originally cut. This helps to keep the layers even. Once the cake is cut in layers, remove the top half and set it aside.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Autumn Macs - Vanilla Bean with Pumpkin Butter and Cinnamon with Pear Cream

I designed today's baking experiment around making autumn macs that were NOT filled with buttercream.  I've had a lot of success filling my recent macarons with buttercream, but I just wanted to try something different.  My first batch today are cinnamon macarons filled with a unique filling called Pear Cream, which is basically a custard mixed with cooked/pureed pears. A splash of pear brandy is added to bring out the flavor and then the custard is blended with butter to give the filling some creaminess.

Todd suggested pairing the filling with cocoa macarons, but he's out of town and I'm not sure how I feel about chocolate and pear together...So, I decided to make cinnamon macaron shells.  I used a basic recipe to which I added about 2 T of ground cinnamon.

Before I share the pear cream recipe, I would like to take a few moments to talk about custards. Simply and scientifically put, a custard is a liquid thickened or set by the coagulation of an egg product. Doesn't that sound delicious?? Ha ha. Seriously, there are 2 types of custards, a stirred custard (which is stirred over heat and remains pourable) or a baked custard (which sets as it bakes). The basic rule for any custards is that the internal temperature should never get over 185 F. This is the temperature at which the mixture coagulates and, beyond that, it will curdle. So, what this means is that stirred custards should always be stirred or whisked while being heated and baked custards are baked at a moderate temperature, usually with the use of a water bath to regulate heat distribution. Some examples of custards include creme brulee, bread pudding, creme caramel, cheesecake, quiche and ice cream.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Some really awesome cookies

So, if the title doesn't give it away, what follows here is a recipe for some really awesome cookies! If you are a cookie person and don't already own Carole Walter's Great Cookies, please do go out and get a copy. You can buy it off Amazon right now for about 20 bucks. It's the best cookie book out there!!

Anyway, cookies were on the menu on Friday since I found out that I have a nephew who is on the mend and I decided I needed to send him a little care package. These really awesome cookies are easy to make, use ingredients I already have, travel and store well and are AWESOME!

Most people are pretty familiar with how a basic cookie recipe comes together, but this one uses a few alternate ingredients that I'd like to take some time to explain.

One of the first steps for making a cookie is usually the creaming step. Butter is whipped until soft and then sugar(s) mixed in, edges scraped down and mixture continued to be whipped until "light and fluffy." This recipe, however, uses brown sugar in addition to regular sugar, and it also calls for a small amount of corn syrup. Brown sugar is a less refined sugar than granulated sugar and usually contains molasses. The molasses contributes not only to the distinct flavor of brown sugar, but also to its more hygroscopic nature. Brown sugar contains about 35% more moisture than granulated sugar. Hygroscopic means that it absorbs or attracts moisture. So, when brown sugar is added to a recipe, it serves to allow the cookies to be chewier, even after they have been cooled. The darker the brown sugar (i.e. dark brown sugar), the higher the molasses content. The extra addition of corn syrup in this recipe helps to give the surface of the cookies a little bit of a shine and it browns at a lower temperature than regular sugar. It is also part of the liquid in this recipe, and contributes to the moisture of the cookie while limiting its spread.

Finally, Carole's recipe incorporates oatmeal in 2 forms, the whole oats that are actually mixed in to the recipe, but there is also a little over a cup of oats that are ground in the food processor and mixed in with the sugar during creaming. This seriously limits the spread potential of these cookies, since the oatmeal binds the dough. This counteracts (in a good way) the impact of the added moisture from the brown sugar, leaving you with a cookie that is magically thick and chewy. On with the recipe...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My go-to Italian Meringue Buttercream

Anytime I refer to buttercream on this blog, I usually start here. I thought I'd posted this recipe, but I can't find it, so I'll publish in a separate, bookmark-it-please post.

Buttercream is a very broad term used to describe all sorts of fillings/icings make with butter. Heck, sometimes people even call them buttercreams if they are made with Crisco. But, I don't do Crisco. Simple buttercreams (the kind you might find on a cake from a grocery store) are usually a mixture of butter/Crisco plus powdered sugar. They tend to be somewhat grainy, very sweet and hold up well to decorations. If they are part or all Crisco, they also stand up well to heat. (Butter melts, Crisco doesn't.)

More complex buttercreams involve cooking eggs (whites or yolks or both) with sugar to create a meringue, which is a very stable base for a buttercream icing. A meringue is basically a mixture of egg whites and sugar. For buttercreams, the meringue base (either Swiss or Italian style) is heated for safety and stability and later mixed with butter. The meringue produces an icing with a smoother, lighter texture, a less-sweet taste and a beautiful shine. There are two major differences between Italian Meringue and Swiss Meringue. In a Swiss Meringue, the egg whites and sugar are mixed together and the mixture is heated, usually over a double-boiler (indirect heat) to a temperature of 140 F (just almost too hot to touch and, significantly the temperature needed to kill salmonella). The mixture is then whipped until cool. This is a Swiss Meringue. To make an Italian Meringue, the egg whites are whipped separately while the sugar is heated with a little water to make a hot sugar syrup. This syrup is cooked to around 243 F (just at the end of the soft-ball stage) and then poured over whipping egg whites to form a very stable, glossy meringue. Once the meringue is cool, the butter can be added, along with any flavorings or additions. This is where it always starts!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Pecan Pumpkin Macs

I have started calling macarons "macs" in conversation with Todd.  It just makes things easier, plus I think it sounds cool.  And, yes, that means that I do have conversations with Todd about macs...

I made some macs using ground pecans instead of almonds and let me tell you, the flavor was amazing.  But it wasn't easy!  Pecans are a much oilier nut than almonds, plus I have the luxury of being able to buy ground almonds (almond meal) and with pecans, I had to make it myself.

Whoopie for Pumpkin!

I've always liked whoopie pies.  I've pretty much always liked dessert sandwiches period.  Ice cream sandwiches, cookie sandwiches and by now you know I'm somewhat obsessed with the French macarons, another dessert sandwich!  Let's get real, it's just a good idea.... Good stuff squeezed between more good stuff.  Yum.

I always enjoy baking with the seasons and my son, Josh, actually decided on pumpkin when we were at the grocery store.  He pointed and said "pumpkin."  They had carving pumpkins, but also some cute (read: littler) pie pumpkins.  I adore anything littler than it's regular size counterpart... So, I brought the baby pumpkin home.

To roast your own pumpkin (highly recommended, but very understandable to buy canned pumpkin), first rinse well, cut off the top near the stem, then cut it in half.  Use a big spoon to scrape out the seeds and pumpkin "innards."  If you are so inclined, save them so you can roast the seeds.  (Yummy with salt!)  Cut each half into thirds and place them cut side down on a sheet pan.  Roast in the oven at 350 F for about 45 minutes.

It's not necessary to peel the pumpkin, once it's roasted the skin will start wrinkling up and trying to come off anyway.  It's not easy to peel a raw pumpkin, so I always wonder why people want to do that before roasting!

Once the flesh is tender, remove from the oven and allow the pumpkin pieces to cool a bit in the pan.  Then peel the skin, using a peeler for any stubborn patches that remain.  Puree the pieces in your food processor until smooth.  You can use immediately or freeze in well-sealed plastic baggies for about 6 months or so.