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!