Monday, August 27, 2012

August Daring Bakers Challenge - Filled Pate a Choux Swans

Kat of The Bobwhites was our August 2012 Daring Baker hostess who inspired us to have fun in creating pate a choux shapes, filled with crème patisserie or Chantilly cream. We were encouraged to create swans or any shape we wanted and to go crazy with filling flavors allowing our creativity to go wild!

Pate a choux is one of my favorite things to make in the pastry world.  The textures of the "in progress" dough/batter is pretty cool.  First, when you add the flour to the hot butter/water/salt combo, the mass gets sticky and pulls away from the edges of the bowl.  It's neat.

But, the really, really, really cool part is when you add the eggs in, they and the batter slide into pieces and slip around each other in the bowl until - - POW - - it comes together.

Pate a choux

½ cup (120 ml) (115 gm) (4 oz) butter
1 cup (240 ml) water
¼ teaspoon (1½ gm) salt
1 cup (240 ml) (140 gm) (5 oz) all-purpose flour
4 large eggs

  1. Line two baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment paper, or grease pans well.
  2. Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C/gas mark 5.
  3. In a small pot, combine butter, water, and salt. Heat until butter melts, then remove from stove.
  4. Add flour all at once and beat, beat, beat the mixture until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pot.
  5. Add one egg, and beat until well combined. Add remaining eggs individually, beating vigorously after each addition. Resulting mixture should be somewhat glossy, very smooth, and somewhat thick.
  6. Using a ¼” (6 mm) tip on a pastry bag, pipe out about 30-36 swan heads. You’re aiming for something between a numeral 2 and a question mark, with a little beak if you’re skilled and/or lucky.

  1. Remove the tip from the bag and pipe out 36 swan bodies. These will be about 1.5” (40 mm) long, and about 1” (25 mm) wide. One end should be a bit narrower than the other.
  2. Bake the heads and bodies until golden and puffy. The heads will be done a few minutes before the bodies, so keep a close eye on the baking process.
  3. Remove the pastries to a cooling rack, and let cool completely before filling.

Vanilla Pastry Cream

1 cup (225 ml.) whole milk
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
6 Tbsp. (100 g.) sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbsp. (30 g.) unsalted butter
1 Tsp. Vanilla

  1. Dissolve cornstarch in ¼ cup of milk. Combine the remaining milk with the sugar in a saucepan; bring to boil; remove from heat.
  2. Beat the whole egg, then the yolks into the cornstarch mixture. Pour 1/3 of boiling milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so that the eggs do not begin to cook.
  3. Return the remaining milk to boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, continuing whisking.
  4. Continue whisking until the cream thickens and comes to a boil. Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla.
  5. Pour cream into a bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use.
  1. Take a swan body and use a very sharp knife to cut off the top half.
  2. Cut the removed top down the center to make two wings.
  3. Dollop a bit of filling into the body, insert head, and then add wings.
**These should be eaten right away, or at least the same day.  They don't store well, particularly once filled.***

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Flan for Mexican Night!

We're having some friends over for dinner tonight, Todd is cooking from one of his favorite new cookbooks, Latin Grilling.  (He's making the Yucatecan Barbecue.)  I told him I'd take care of dessert.  Although I'm sure there are many amazing Mexican desserts out there, flan is one that's easy, quick and almost universally loved!  So, that's what I'm making...

Flan is what's called a baked custard, meaning that it's baked to cook instead of stirred.  Very basically, a custard is a liquid thickened or set by the coagulation of egg protein.  Sounds yummy, huh?  Some other examples of baked custards are creme brulees, pots de creme and creme caramel (which is very similar to flan).  The other kind of custard is a stirred custard, which is a custard that is cooked by stirring on the stovetop, like creme anglaise, pastry cream and the liquid that's frozen to make ice cream.  A general rule for custards is that they can't be cooked to over 185 degrees internally or they will curdle. 

The amount and proportion of eggs, yolks/whites to liquid, as well as the type of liquid (cream/milk or combination) determines the consistency of the final product.  If a custard is going to be unmolded (like these flan), it needs to have more egg than a baked custard that will be served in the dish in which it is baked.  The additional egg provides stability, which is needed when the custard is turned out of the dish. Although the egg whites set the custard, the egg yolks make it creamy and rich.  Using whole eggs with yolks makes it the easiest to unmold after chilling. 

Here's my recipe...

Yield: six 4-oz servings

2 eggs
2 egg yolks
2 cups milk (whole milk works best for this)
1 tsp vanilla (or the contents of one vanilla bean)
pinch salt
1/3 cup sugar + 1/2 cup sugar

That's it!  Eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla!  Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and find a rectangular baking pan (that 9x12 you use to make brownies works here) and set aside.  To make the hallmark caramel topping for the flan, begin by making a caramel.  Take your 1/2 cup sugar, add a few ounces of water, stir and put the pan on the stovetop.  Cook until the sugar melts, then thickens, then finally darkens to a light amber caramel.  You should use a brush dipped in ice water to clean the sides of your pan of sugar so that the mixture will not crystallize.  If you are left with a big hardened mess, your sugar is crystallized and you will need to start again.  If the sugar is darkening too quickly for your liking, you can always turn the heat down on your burner.  Once the caramel is ready, move quickly and pour a little into the bottom of each of six ramekins, swirling around in the bottom to coat.  Do these one at a time, because the caramel will harden shortly after it hits the cool bottom of your ramekin.  It shouldn't take more than a few seconds for it to fully harden.

Ramekins with hardened caramel

Now, prepare your custard.  Put the 2 cups milk in a saucepan, heat to scalding.  While it's heating up, combine the rest of your ingredients in a bowl, whisk to combine, dissolve sugar.  Don't whisk so hard that you fully aerate the mixture.  Although you want the sugar to dissolve, you don't want a lot of bubbles.  Once the milk is scalded (thin skin on top, not yet boiling), pour it over your egg mixture, whisking constantly.  Whisk to combine, then pour through a fine-mesh sieve (metal strainer) into a clean bowl.  (Get a quart or so of water on to boil at this point for your water bath.)  Pour equal amounts of the custard into your six prepared, caramel-bottomed ramekins.  Put all the ramekins into your 9x13 baking pan and carefully move the pan to the oven.  Pour the hot water carefully into the side of the pan, making sure not to splash into your flans.  You want the water to go at least halfway up the sides of the ramekins.  Carefully push the pan into the oven, close the door and bake for about 40-45 minutes.  Remove from the oven, cool, then refrigerate.  These can definitely sit overnight! To unmold, remove from the fridge, wipe the bottom of the ramekin with a hot washcloth, then invert onto the plate.  You may have to wiggle it a little from side to side. The flan should slide from the ramekin and end up caramel side up on the dish, all beautiful-like.  Oh, and yummy.  Enjoy these, they are a treat!!

Here are some other pics of our feast: Pollo Pibil (wrapped in banana leaf), pickled red onions, guacamole, jicama lime salad, Yucatecan barbecued spare ribs and poblano quesadillas.  Our friends brought some delicious Mexican-spiced potatoes and fresh-squeezed margaritas! 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

July Daring Baker's Challenge - Crackers!

Our July 2012 Daring Bakers’ Host was Dana McFarland and she challenged us to make homemade crackers! Dana showed us some techniques for making crackers and encouraged to use our creativity to make each cracker our own by using ingredients we love.

I initially didn't care for this challenge.  Once a month, I wanna be surprised by some really difficult challenge and I'm almost always disappointed (initially) when it's not something sweet.  But, I'm coming around.  After reading the challenge, I realized it would be perfect for July!  My family was leaving for our annual beach week on the 21st and, although I'd been asked if I was bringing something, I hadn't committed to bringing sweets.  It seems like everyone in the house has been working on their "beach body," so I wasn't sure how rich, sweet desserts would be received.  But, I knew everyone would go crazy for some crackers!  I decided to make a healthy one and a cheesy one.  I loved them both, although the healthy seed crisps were definitely my favorite.  I never knew how easy it could be to make crackers and also how rewarding!  Plus, the healthy crackers gave me an opportunity to use my pasta roller, which I always love.  Hope you too enjoy making some crackers.

Healthy Seed Crisps

Yield: approximately 50 crackers (2" x 2")


1 cup (240 ml) (140 gm/5 oz) whole wheat four
1 cup (240 ml) 140 gm/5 oz) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (80 ml) (50 gm) (1¾ oz) chia seeds
1/3 cup (80 ml) (40 gm) (1¼ oz) sesame seeds
1½ teaspoons (7½ ml) (9 gm) table salt
1½ teaspoons (7½ ml) (8 gm) baking powder
3 tablespoons (45 ml) olive oil
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon (195 ml) (6½ fl oz) water


1. Mix the flours, seeds, salt and baking powder in a large bowl.
2. Add the oil and stir until combined.
3. Add the water until the dough comes together.
4. Kneed the dough 5 or 6 times and allow to rest, covered, on the counter for 15 minutes. You can also chill the dough at this point and come back later.
5. Preheat the oven to 450°F/230°C/gas mark 8.
6. Working with a quarter of the dough at a time, either use a rolling pin to reach a desired thickness (thick or thin) or roll out in your pasta rollers. If you use pasta rollers, ensure the dough is well-floured so as not to stick.  I used a pasta roller and didn't go any thinner than the thickest setting.

7. Place strips of dough on a sheet pan lined with parchment.

8. Bake for 7 minutes, flip them over and bake for 7 minutes more. Then cut or break into crackers shapes while still warm. Return to the oven for a further 5 minutes until crispy.
9. If not crispy enough when cooled, crackers can be returned to the oven.
10. Store in an airtight container and eat within 2 weeks.

Cheddar, Rosemary and Walnut Icebox Crackers

Yield: approximately 48 crackers


½ cup (120 ml) (1 stick) (115 gm/4 oz) butter, well softened
2¼ cups (540 ml) (225 gm/8 oz) grated aged cheddar cheese, firmly packed
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons (285 ml) (190 gm/6oz) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 gm) salt
1/2 cup (120 ml) (60 gm/2 oz) finely chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (1¾ gm) finely chopped rosemary


1. Combine butter, rosemary and cheese in a stand mixer and beat well.
2. Add the flour, salt and nuts and stir to combine.
3. Form the dough into two tight logs and wrap with plastic wrap.
4. Chill for at least an hour and up to several days. The log can be frozen at this point for several months.
5. Heat the oven to 325°F/160°C/gas mark 3.
6. Slice a log into 5mm (1/5 inch) coins and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.
7. Bake about 10 minutes until golden brown.
8. Store in an airtight container and eat within three days.

***I used a combination of walnuts and pecans for this recipe, since I ran out of walnuts.  Be creative, though!  Feel free to use your own favorites - cheeses, nuts/no nuts, add spices, etc.***

Monday, July 9, 2012

Homemade Oreo Cookies

I've been wanting to try this for a long while... Thanks to my friend Cheryl for suggesting it as a possible baking activity during my visit last week. Alas, with all of the swimming, dining, sporting events and wine tastings, we did not manage to fit it in. However, the spark was ignited! I checked my pantry yesterday so I could make a grocery run if I needed to. Cocoa powder, check. Butter, check. Powdered sugar, check. A little cream, check. Flour, sugar, leavener, check! Next I had to decide if I wanted to try to make these using solely cocoa powder or add in some melted chocolate. Seeing as it was 105 degrees outside when I was getting started, I decided to forego any additional heat-generating activity! What follows is the recipe I used... 

Homemade Oreo Cookie
(liberally adapted from One Girl Cookies)

Yield: about 4 dozen sandwiched cookies

1.5 cups(3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1.5 cups (12 oz) sugar
2 eggs
1.5 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/8 cups cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1.5 teaspoons salt

Cream the softened butter and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla. Sift together (or just whisk) the flour, the cocoa powder, baking powder and salt, then add to the batter and blend on low just until combined. You may need to scrape the bowl to incorporate all ingredients. Divide the dough in half, and put each half between two long pieces of plastic wrap. Use a rolling pin (or heck, a wine bottle works too) to roll out the soft dough between the plastic wrap. Put the rolled dough sheets on a cookie sheet and refrigerate for at least an hour to chill. When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350. Once the oven is at temp, remove the chilled dough and use a cookie cutter (about 2 inches) to cut round cookies. Move them to a parchment-paper lined sheet pan and bake for about 10-12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Sandwich with the filling below. 

Cream Filling

 0.5 cup (1 stick) softened butter
1 oz half and half (or 1 T each of milk and/or cream)
0.5 tsp vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar (about 15 oz)

Cream butter with half-and-half, vanilla and a pinch of salt. Add the powdered sugar, a cup at a time and mix on low until incorporated. Transfer to a piping bag with a wide round tip and pipe on one side of the sandwich cookie. **Note: This filling has a high powdered sugar content for the butter, which balances nicely with the not-so-sweet cookie. However, it will crust up if left out uncovered, so make it just before you use it and cover any remaining while you work.***

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

June Daring Bakers Challenge: Battenburg Cake

The Battenberg Cake pattern
Mandy of What The Fruitcake?! came to our rescue last minute to present us with the Battenberg Cake challenge! She highlighted Mary Berry’s techniques and recipes to allow us to create this unique little cake with ease.

This month's challenge is in honor of the celebration of the Jubilee, which marks the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth's taking the throne.  The year of 2012 has been filled with tours, celebrations, parties and events to celebrate the anniversary.  The Battenberg Cake originated in the United Kingdom in the late 1800s during Queen Victoria's reign.  The chefs of the British Royal Family were introduced to the German style of cake making which included the use of bright colors and marzipan.  The first Battenberg cake was made in that German style to celebrate the wedding of Queen Victoria's granddaughter, Princess Victoria, to Price Louis of Battenberg.  The cake is typically a light sponge, made with the use of almond flour and apricot jam. 

Traditional Battenberg Cake

Servings: about 8

¾ cup (1½ sticks) 175gm / 6 oz Unsalted Butter, softened & cut in cubes
¾ cup / 175gm / 6 oz sugar
1¼ cups / 175gm / 6 oz self-rising flour (***see end of doc on how to make your own)
3 large eggs, room temp
½ cup / 65gm/ 2 1/3 oz almond flour (or ground almonds)
3/4 tsp / 3½ gm baking powder
½ tsp / 2½ ml vanilla extract
1/4 tsp (1¼ ml) almond extract
red food color
1/3 cup (80 ml) 100gm /3 ½ oz apricot jam (I used plum buttercream)
1 cup / 225gm / 8 oz Marzipan or Chocolate Plastic (recipe to follow)

Chocolate Plastic
7 oz dark chocolate
1 1/2 oz corn syrup


1. Make the chocolate plastic by heating the chocolate in a double-boiler.  When melted, remove from heat, stir in corn syrup until thickened and pulling from edges of bowl.  Move to a plastic bag, seal and remove air, refrigerate for at least 2 hours. 

2. Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C/160°C Fan Assisted/Gas Mark 4 and grease an 8” square baking pan.
3. Line the tin with parchment paper, creating a divide in the middle with the parchment (or foil) (see below).
(4. OR Prepare the Battenberg tin by brushing the tin with melted butter and flouring.)
5. Whisk together the dry ingredients then combine with the wet ingredients in a large bowl and beat together just until the ingredients are combined and the batter is smooth.
6. Spoon half the mixture into one side of the prepared baking pan.
7. Add a few drops of red food color to the remaining batter and stir to combine.
8. Spoon the pink batter into the other half of the prepared baking pan.

Modified 8" baking pan
9. Smooth the surface of the batter with a spatula, making sure batter is in each corner.
10. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the cake is well risen, springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick comes out clean (it should shrink away from the sides of the pan).
11. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out to cool thoroughly on a wire rack.
12. Once completely cool, trim the edges of the cake with a long serrated knife.
13. Cut each colored sponge in half lengthways so that you are left with four long strips of sponge.
14. Neaten the strips and trim as necessary so that your checkered pattern is as neat and even as possible.
15. Gently heat the apricot jam and pass through a small sieve.  I defrosted some frozen plum buttercream, and beat with hand mixer.
16. Brush warmed jam onto the strips of cake to stick the cake together in a checkered pattern.
17. Dust a large flat surface with powdered sugar then roll the chocolate plastic in an oblong shape that is wide enough to cover the length of the cake and long enough to completely wrap the cake
18. Brush the top of the cake with apricot jam.
19. Place the cake on the marzipan, jam side down.

20. Brush the remaining three sides with jam.
21. Press the marzipan around the cake, making sure the join is either neatly in the one corner, or will be underneath the cake once turned over.
22. Carefully flip the cake over so that the seam is under the cake and score the top of the cake with a knife, you can also crimp the top corners with your fingers to decorate.
23. Neaten the ends of the cake and remove excess marzipan by trimming off a small bit of cake on both ends to reveal the pattern.

The finished Battenberg Cake

Saturday, April 28, 2012

April Daring Bakers Challenge - Armenian Nazook

The Daring Bakers’ April 2012 challenge, hosted by Jason at Daily Candor, were two Armenian standards: nazook and nutmeg cake. Nazook is a layered yeasted dough pastry with a sweet filling, and nutmeg cake is a fragrant, nutty coffee-style cake.  

Yield: 40 pieces


Pastry dough
3 cups (720 ml) (420 gm/15 oz) all-purpose (plain) flour, sifted
2½ teaspoons (12½ ml) (7 gm) (¼ oz) (1 packet) active dry yeast
1 cup (240 ml) (225 gm/8 oz) sour cream
1 cup (2 sticks) (240 ml) (225 gm/8 oz) softened butter (room temperature)

1 1/2 cups (360 ml) (210 gm) (7½ oz) all-purpose (plain) flour, sifted
1 1/2 cups (360 ml) (340 gm/12 oz) sugar
3/4 cup (1½ sticks) (180 ml) (170 gm/6 oz) softened butter (room temperature)
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract

1-2 egg yolks (for the wash; alternatively, some yogurt, egg whites, or a whole egg)


To make the pastry dough, place the sifted flour into a large bowl.  Add the dry yeast, and whisk it in. Add the sour cream and the softened butter.  Use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment to work it into a dough.  Switch to a dough hook and knead until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl.  Cover the dough and refrigerate for at least 3-5 hours, or overnight. 

To make the filling, mix the flour, sugar, and the softened butter in a medium bowl.  Add in the vanilla extract.  Mix the filling until it looks like clumpy, damp sand. It should not take long. Set aside.

To make the nazook, preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C.  Cut the refrigerated dough into quarters. Form one of the quarters into a ball. Dust your working surface with a little flour. Roll out the dough into a large rectangle or oval. The dough should be thin, but not transparent. Spread 1/4 of the filling mixture across the rolled-out dough in an even layer. Try to spread the filling as close as possible to the edges on the short sides, but keep about an inch of pastry dough uncovered along the long edges.

From one of the long sides, start slowly rolling the dough across. Be careful to make sure the filling stays evenly distributed. Roll all the way across until you have a long, thin loaf.  Pat down the loaf with your palm and fingers so that it flattens out just a little bit. Apply your egg yolk wash with a pastry brush.  Cut the loaf into 10 equal sized pieces using a crinkle cutter or a serrated knife.  Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for about 30 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.  Cool and eat!

This challenge was great for a couple of reasons.  First, it was easy.  I had all of the ingredients already at my house and putting the dough together took about 60 seconds.  There was no long room temperature rise period or deflate/punch.  Just work up the dough and refrigerate overnight.  Making the filling also came together in seconds and rolling and filling the dough was as easy as that ever is.  The cold dough out of the fridge really isn't very sticky, so even rolling it out on the countertop was a breeze.  Second, this dessert rocks.  The smell while it's baking is warm and cinnamony.  Straight out of the oven, these things are crispy on the outside, a little soft, slightly chewy even in the inside.  They're dangerous!  When they've cooled, they are the perfect little coffee cake.  I'm putting this one in my arsenal.  (I think they would be perfect to have rolled and cut and in a little freezer bag, ready to bake at a moment's notice for an easy, impressive snack for company.)  Enjoy these little gems!  Yummy!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

March Daring Bakers Challenge - Dutch Crunch Bread

Sara and Erica of Baking JDs were our March 2012 Daring Baker hostesses! Sara & Erica challenged us to make Dutch Crunch bread, a delicious sandwich bread with a unique, crunchy topping. Sara and Erica also challenged us to create a one of a kind sandwich with our bread!

Dutch Crunch Topping 
Yield: approximately 3/4 cup (enough for 6 dinner rolls)

1 tablespoons (1 packet) (7.5 gm/0.25 oz) active dry yeast
1/2 cup (120 ml) warm water (105-115º F) (41-46°C)
1 tablespoons (15 gm/0.5 oz) sugar
1 tablespoons (15 ml) vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon (1.5 gm) salt
3/4 cups (120 gm/4.25 oz) rice flour (white or brown)

1. Note: Do not begin making until your bread or rolls are on their final rise, within 15 minutes of using.  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and beat with a whisk; beat hard to combine. The consistency should be stiff – spreadable, but not too runny. If you pull some up with your whisk, it should drip off slowly. Add more water or rice flour as necessary. Let stand 15 minutes.

2. Coat the top of each loaf or roll with a thick layer of topping, using your fingers or a spoon. Err on the side of applying too much topping – a thin layer will not crack properly.
3. Place the rolls directly into the oven after applying the topping.
4. When baking, place pans on a rack in the center of the oven and bake your bread as you ordinarily would. The Dutch Crunch topping should crack and turn a nice golden-brown color.

Soft White Sandwich Rolls

Servings: Six sandwich rolls

1 tablespoon (1 packet) (7 gm/ ¼ oz) active dry yeast
¼ cup (60 ml) warm water (105-110º F) (41-43°C) (warm to the touch)
1 cup (240 ml) warm milk (105-110º F) (41-43°C)
1½ tablespoons (20 gm/ ⅔ oz) sugar
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil
1½ teaspoons (9 gm/⅓ oz) salt
Up to 4 cups (600 gm/21oz) all purpose flour

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer or large mixing bowl, combine yeast, water, milk and sugar. Stir to dissolve and let sit for about 5 minutes (The mixture may start to bubble or foam a bit and smell yeasty).
2. Add in vegetable oil, salt and 2 cups of flour. Using the dough hook attachment or a wooden spoon, mix at medium speed until the dough comes together.
3. Add remaining flour a quarter cup at time until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.  (For us, this usually required an additional 1½ to 2 cups of flour).
4. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 4 minutes, until smooth and elastic.
5. Place in a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 1 hour, or until doubled (or more) in size (see photo comparison).

6. Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into 6 equal portions. Shape each into a ball and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet (try not to handle the dough too much at this point).
7. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 15 minutes while you prepare the topping.
8. Coat the top of each roll and put them directly into the oven.
9. Once you’ve applied the topping, bake in a preheated moderately hot 380ºF/190°C/gas mark 5 for 25-30 minutes, until well browned. Let cool completely on a wire rack before eating.

These rolls were fantastic.  First of all, the smell coming from the oven while they were baking was OUT.OF.THIS.WORLD.  Seriously.  It was slightly sweet, yeasty and robust.  I loved watching them get golden in the oven and crackle up. 

We tried them immediately out of the oven while they were still slightly warm and let me tell you, these rolls embody everything a sandwich roll should be and more.  The crunchy topping was an extra bonus that was really easy to make.  This is a recipe I'll definitely be keeping for a *special sandwich* occasion.  You know what might be cute.  Minis.... With ham and melted cheese and a spicy dijon honey spread.  Ooooooh yeah. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

February Daring Baker's Challenge-Quick Breads

The Daring Bakers’ February 2012 host was – Lis! Lisa stepped in last minute and challenged us to create a quick bread we could call our own. She supplied us with a base recipe and shared some recipes she loves from various websites and encouraged us to build upon them and create new flavor profiles.

I'm not going to lie, I wasn't hurt AT ALL that this month's challenge was super easy and quick.  I've been out of town this entire week and still hadn't even checked the website for the challenge by this morning.  The good news is that I had a little bit of time this afternoon to put this together having friends over for brunch on Sunday so I may use the batter for muffins (instead of a loaf).  The basic quick bread recipe has flour, sugar, an egg, buttermilk, salt and baking soda.  I used some oats in place of part of the flour and added some spices to this as well.  I also made a crumb topping to sprinkle on the muffins before baking.

Blueberry Oat Quick Bread
Makes 12 muffins or 1 small loaf
1 cup blueberries (I used frozen)
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
8 oz (1 cup) sugar
2 eggs
8 oz (1 cup) buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Crumb Topping
1/2 c flour
1/2 c sugar
1/2 stick (2 oz) butter
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Pre-heat the oven to 350 and put muffin liners in your muffin pan.  Toss the blueberries with 1/4 cup of flour to keep them from sinking into the batter. In a large bowl, combine the remaining flour, oats, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and stir gently to combine. Fold the blueberries into the batter.

To make the crumb, combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix using your fingers until the pieces are pea-sized or smaller. Pour the batter into the muffin cups (fill almost full), add about a tablespoon of crumb mix to the top of each and bake for about 20 minutes.

They are done when the tops are puffed and dry, and when a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean.  Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before unmolding.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

All-Natural Red (Pink?) Velvet Cake

In honor of upcoming Valentine's Day (and to satisfy my curiosity about whether it could be done), I decided to attempt a red velvet cake using no food dyes.  I'm a food hippie for sure and I just could never understand the appeal of a cake that is red only because it uses a quarter of a cup of red food coloring in the batter.  (That's a lot right??)  But, I did some research and discovered that there is another way.  BEETS!  If you've ever handled a beet you know they can stain hands as good as any food color.  What you may not have known is that beets are often used in natural food colors to tint things reddish.  Now, I'm a good Polish girl and I do love my beets, but I know that some people don't.  It seems like beets are one of those things that people either love or hate.  Good news for those of you haters, this cake doesn't taste a thing like beets.  I even took a teensy taste of the raw batter and no beet taste there either.  It tastes like a dense, creamy, delicately chocolate-flavored pound cake.  (Many people do not know that Red Velvet Cake - the kind with the food coloring - is actually a chocolate cake.)  Ideally, I would have used fresh red beets for the recipe, but I didn't have any and there were 2 cans of sliced beets staring at me in the pantry when the idea to make this cake struck me.  So, I used the canned beets.  I can tell, though, that the red color is not nearly as intense with a canned beet, likely because it sat in water in the can, and I rinsed them before use.  These canned beets made a "pink velvet" cake, but I'll amend this post with "red velvet" made with fresh beets once I get to doing it.

I'm going to share a little bit of the challenges (and super-interesting nerd stuff that I like) about making this particular cake.  Think back to Chemistry 101.  Remember the pH scale?  Well, beets are alkaline, with a pH higher than 7 (which is "neutral").   In general, alkaline things tend to brown when baked. order to make sure that this cake didn't turn brown or purple (actually that would be kinda cool) instead of red like the beet puree, it is important to keep the pH of the batter as low, or acidic, as possible.  So, that means that baking soda (which has a pH of 12 - very basic) shouldn't be used (I used baking powder instead) and neither should "Dutch-processed" cocoa.  Natural cocoa powder is just that, natural.  Dutch-processed cocoa is cocoa where the beans have been processed with an alkaline solution.  The resulting powder is 1. more alkaline (duh) and 2. reddish-brown colored.  I only keep natural cocoa powder on hand and, usually it can be used in most recipes that call for cocoa.  The other thing that I did to decrease the pH was to add 1/4 cup of lemon juice to the beet puree, as well as a splash of vinegar.

All-Natural Red Velvet Cake
makes an 8" layer cake
(adapted from Sophistimom)

Beets (enough for 1 1/2 cups puree), about 2 large or 2 cans sliced beets
1/4 cup (2 oz) lemon juice
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 sticks (16 tablespoons, 8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
8 ounce cream cheese, softened slightly
2 cups (16 oz, 1 lb) sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups (10 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2-4 tablespoons natural (not dutch processed) cocoa powder

1. Preheat oven to 350° F (165° C). Wrap beets in aluminum foil, and roast until tender, about 60-90 minutes. Allow to cool completely.
2. Spray or butter two 8 inch cake pans. Cut out parchment paper circles and place in the bottoms of the pans and set aside. Peel the beets and cut into large chunks. Place in a food processor with the lemon juice, and puree until smooth. Stir in the vinegar.

 3. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and cream cheese with sugar until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix well.  Add in vanilla.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder. Slowly add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Add in the beet mixture and divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.

5. Bake at 350 ° F for about 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Invert cakes onto cooling racks, and allow to cool completely before filling and frosting.

Cream Cheese Icing
(from Sweetapolita)

1/3 cup  (75 g/2.5 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 packages cream cheese (12 oz/345 g), cut into cubes, cold
1 1/2 lbs (5 1/2 cups/685 g) confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup (60 ml) heavy cream
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla
pinch of salt

Using electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend butter and cream cheese on medium low speed, until just combined, about 2 minutes.  Add confectioner's sugar and beat on medium speed for about 5 minutes.  Add heavy cream and vanilla, and beat at medium high speed for about 1 minute. Frosting will be fluffy.  Be careful not to overbeat.

Assemble the cake by splitting each layer in half (horizontally - this is called "torting"), spread a layer of cream cheese icing in between each and then cover the outside of the cake with the remainder.  Cream cheese icing won't spread as smooth as buttercream, so my suggestion is just to embrace it.  Keep it homestyle! You can tint remaining icing with leftover beet puree if you want to write your message in color!  Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

January Daring Baker's Challenge-Biscuits

Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers’ host. Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (a/k/a biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens!

So, I've made a fair amount of biscuits in my day, so I decided to spice up this challenge a little by using some local produce!  In mid-January, there isn't a whole lot exciting going on in the produce section at the local grocery store.  Basically, it's cold out and, although you can get apples and oranges (heck, when can't you?), there isn't much else.  Except persimmons.  I found the biggest, ripest, juiciest persimmon and brought it home to use it in these biscuits.  What I didn't know is how juicy a persimmon needs to be in order to be considered "ripe." 

There are two main varieties of persimmon available in the US - Fuyu and Hachiya.  Although a Fuyu persimmon can be eaten before it completely ripens, a Hachiya persimmon will be terribly bitter if eaten before it is time.  The fruit has a high tannin content which makes the immature fruit bitter. The tannin levels are reduced as the fruit matures. The best way to describe a Hachiya persimmon that's ripe is that it looks and feels like a water balloon that's about to burst.  In order to help it along, I put the persimmon in a paper bag for a couple of days. When it was ready, I made some biscuits....

Persimmon Biscuits
Servings: about five 3-inch (7½ cm) biscuits

1 1/4 cup (6.25 oz) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons (30 gm/1 oz) frozen grated butter
3/4 cup persimmon puree
1/4 cup (2 oz, 60 ml) cold milk

1 tablespoon milk or cream, for glazing the tops of the biscuits

Frozen grated butter to be rubbed into dry ingredients

1. Preheat oven to very hot 475°F/240°C.
2. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl.
3. Rub the frozen grated butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles very coarse bread crumbs with some pea-sized pieces if you want flaky biscuits.
4. Add nearly all of the liquid at once into the rubbed-in flour/fat mixture and mix until it just forms a sticky dough (add the remaining liquid if needed).
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, lightly flour the top of the dough. Knead very gently about 4 or 5 times (do not press too firmly) the dough until it is smooth.
6. Pat or roll out the dough into a 6 inch by 4 inch rectangle by about ¾ inch thick. Using a well-floured 3-inch biscuit cutter, stamp out rounds without twisting.  Gently reform the scraps into another ¾ inch layer and cut more biscuits (these will not raise as well as the others since the extra handling will slightly toughen the dough).
7. Place the rounds on a baking sheet and glaze the tops with cream.  I also topped them with chopped, toasted pecans.
8. Bake in the preheated very hot oven for about 10 minutes (check at 8 minutes since home ovens at these high temperatures are very unreliable) until the biscuits are well risen and are lightly coloured on the tops. They are ready when the sides are set.
9. Immediately place onto cooling rack to stop the cooking process, serve while still warm.

The biscuits were fantastic!  The persimmon flavor was not as pronounced as I would have hoped, but it did add some moisture and faint color to the dough.  I may try it again, using more persimmon puree (no milk, but a splash of cream).  However, I really think this fruit needs another medium.  Back to the drawing board in the search of the perfect persimmon recipe! 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Weekend Danish

A danish is a special breakfast treat.  It's flaky, it's fruity, it's creamy.  It's sweet, it's rich, it's unexpected.  Oh, and guess what....?  IT'S EASY!

As long as you are not afraid of a rolling pin, making a danish is really easy.  It does take a few steps, so I recommend starting the day before you want to eat it.

First, make your fillings.  I like to have a combination of a fruit-based filling and a creamy filling.  Todd asked for mixed berries and almond, so I made a mixed berry jam filling and almond cream.

Mixed Berry Jam Filling
yield: 2 cups

2 cups crushed mixed berries
1 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons lemon juice

Cook the berries and sugar together over medium heat until most of the liquid evaporates and the mixture thickens and becomes glossy.  This can take up to 20 minutes or more.  Stir regularly and don't overheat.  Remove the filling from the stove and stir in the lemon juice.  Cool, then refrigerate for up to one week.  Bring to room temperature before using. 

Almond Cream Filling
yield: 1 cup

3/4 cup blanched almond flour (or 1 cup blanched almonds, toasted)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 egg white

Use a food processor to blend the almond flour (or almonds) and powdered sugar.  Add butter, then almond extract and egg white and process to mix.  Refrigerate for up to one week.

Once the fillings are made, get out your ingredients, food processor and a large bowl.  It's time to make the danish dough.

Danish Pastry (from Baking with Julia)
yield: 2 pounds

1/4 cup (2 ounces) warm water (105-115° F)
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup (4 ounces) milk, room temperature
1 egg, room temperature
1/4 cup (2 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups (12.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 sticks (8 ounces) cold, unsalted butter

Pour the water into a large bowl.  (Tip: Since body temperature is almost 100°F, an easy way to test water at 105°F is to make it just warm to the touch, definitely not "hot." There is no need to use a thermometer.)  Sprinkle the yeast on top to soften.  Add the milk, egg, sugar and salt and whisk to blend.  Set aside.  Put the flour into the bowl of a food processor with a blade attachment.  Drop tablespoon slices of cold butter into the flour, then pulse about 8-10 times.  DO NOT over do this, you want the butter to remain in large chunks, no smaller than 1/2" in diameter.  Empty the flour/butter mixture into your large bowl with the yeast/egg mixture and stir gently with a sturdy rubber spatula just until the dry ingredients are moistened.  Again, do not over mix the dough, it must remain in discrete pieces to end up with a flaky pastry dough.  (You are not mixing to the consistency of cookies or bread.)

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator overnight or up to 4 days.  

When you are ready to roll out the dough, flour your countertop or other flat surface, and pour the dough out onto it.  Lightly flour the top of the mound and use your fingers to shape the dough roughly into a square.  Use a floured rolling pin to roll out the dough into a square, about 16 inches on each side.  Fold the dough into thirds like a letter.  Fold up the bottom first, then flip the top over.  Turn the dough so that the closed fold is on the left (like the spine of a book).  

Roll the dough out again, this time into a narrow rectangle, about 10" wide x24" long.  Fold the rectangle in thirds again, bottom up, top down, then turn so that the spine is on the left.  Roll again, to a 20" square.  Fold again, roll out to a rectangle, 10"x24", then fold one last time.  Wrap the dough well in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (or up to 2 days).  The danish braid only calls for 1/2 recipe of dough, so at this point you can cut the dough in half, wrap one half well and freeze (for up to a month), and wrap the other half to refrigerate until cool.

Once your dough is cool, place on the floured countertop and roll out for the danish braid, to about 10" wide x 16" long.  Move to a sheet of parchment (or Silpat) and spread your fillings down the center.  If you made two fillings, start with the fruit jam on the bottom, spread it about 1/3 the width of the dough in the center.  Put the creamy or almond filling on top of the jam, spreading it not quite as wide so that the jam peeks out underneath.  

Use a sharp knife or pizza roller to cut diagonal slits in the sides of the dough, angling the cuts from the center of the pastry to the edge.  Strips should be about 3/4" wide.  Fold the strips of pastry into the center, criss-crossing the filling by alternating one strip from the left then one strip from the right.  Lightly press the ends together to seal and run your hands along the sides to straighten.  

Brush the pastry with a beaten egg white, then sprinkle with sugar and/or sliced almonds.  Cover with a light kitchen towel and allow to rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.  Since the dough is cold, it will not rise much, but should feel slightly puffy.

Bake in preheated 400°F oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden.  Remove to cooling rack.  Make a glaze by combining 1/2 cup powdered sugar with a tablespoon of coffee.  Whisk smooth then drizzle over the top of the pastry.  Best when served warm!