Sunday, March 30, 2008

I dare to make cake!

It took me until today (life's been a bit challenging recently), but I've completed my first Daring Bakers challenge! This month's recipe is Perfect Party Cake, selected by Morven of Food Art and Random Thoughts.  The recipe is from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours.  As a member of the Tuesdays with Dorie baking group, I'm quite familiar with this particular cookbook, but I hadn't had a chance to make any of her layer cakes.  Based on past experiences, though, I figured the recipe would be straightforward to follow and the end result would be delicious.  Right on both counts!

I've made cakes before, but this particular challenge prompted me to try a few things that I haven't done before.  Although Morven did give us the option of selecting different flavorings, I stuck pretty much with the recipe as written.  I did substitute a teaspoon of vanilla extract for the lemon extract in the cake batter, though I did leave in the lemon zest.

The batter was easy to make.  I made sure that all of my ingredients were at room temperature before I started, which I think helped.  I chose to use buttermilk rather than milk, to complement the lemon flavor.  I divided the batter between the two pans and ended up baking them for 30 minutes.  (And hey, I had an excuse to use my cool new giant sheet pan!)

The cake layers didn't turn out too tall, but they were certainly thick enough to slice into two layers each.  That's one of the new things for me--I don't think I've ever made a cake with more than two layers.  Fortunately, the cake was really easy to work with, and I had no problem slicing the layers in half.  

I chose to fill the cake with raspberry fruit butter (like jam, but not as sweet) along with the lemon butter cream.  That was another new one--I've made buttercream frosting, but it's been years, and the one I made before was based on egg yolks, rather than whites.  I really enjoyed making this one.  The recipe warned that the mixture might curdle, but I didn't have a problem with that.  Again, I think I managed to have the ingredients at the right temperature for things to work well.  

Even though it was down to the wire, I really enjoyed making this cake.  It has a nice flavor and it comes across as very light, despite the fact that there's so much butter in it.  Now I just need to work on my decorating skills.  =)

Perfect Party Cake
Courtesy of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from My Home to Yours (page 250).

Stick a bright-coloured Post-it to this page, so you’ll always know where to turn for a just-right cake for any celebration. The original recipe was given to me by my great dear friend Nick Malgieri, of baking fame, and since getting it, I’ve found endless opportunities to make it – you will too. The cake is snow white, with an elegant tight crumb and an easygoing nature: it always bakes up perfectly; it is delicate on the tongue but sturdy in the kitchen – no fussing when it comes to slicing the layers in half or cutting tall, beautiful wedges for serving; and, it tastes just as you’d want a party cake to taste – special. The base recipe is for a cake flavoured with lemon, layered with a little raspberry jam and filled and frosted with a classic (and so simple) pure white lemony hot-meringue buttercream but, because the elements are so fundamental, they lend themselves to variation, making the cake not just perfect, but also versatile.

For the Cake
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon) (I used the buttermilk)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract (I substituted 1 tsp vanilla extract for the lemon)

For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable

Getting Ready
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.
Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean.
Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners.
Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.
The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.
Remove the bowl from the heat.
Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.
Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.
During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.
On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla.
You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.
Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.
Spread it with one third of the preserves.
Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.
Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).
Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.

The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My mom

Sorry, no flan here. I'm sure you can find many great write-ups from the wonderful Tuesdays with Dorie group--check out the blogroll here. I had decided last week that I was going to sit this one out. I'm just not a big fan of custardy things. And as it turns out, it just wasn't meant for me to participate this week.

I'm writing this post from Pennsylvania, rather than my usual Central Texas. My mom died this past Friday, and the funeral is Tuesday morning.
It's been a stressful few days, but it's been good to be here with family. One of the things my sisters and I did was look through my mom's recipe box. It's interesting to see how recipes evolve over time. My mom is definitely the one who fostered my love of cooking and baking. As my skills developed, it became rare for me to have to call her up to ask for cooking advice. It's hard to believe that I'll never be able to do that again.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

More fun with brioche

I really enjoyed making the Brioche Raisin Snails, but I still had to figure out something to do with the rest of the dough (see the previous post for the dough recipe).  I thought about just making a loaf, as Dorie suggests in the recipe for the brioche dough, but that really wasn't what I was in the mood for.  I flipped through several of my cookbooks, but nothing jumped out at me.  What I wanted was rolls.  So I decided to go for simple pull-apart dinner rolls.

I weighed the dough when I divided it (I only needed half for the snails), and each half weighed about 20 ounces.  I thought 12 rolls would be a good number, but I didn't want to deal with thirds of ounces, so I converted it to metric and each roll ended up being 48-50 grams.  =) Have I mentioned that I love my kitchen scale?  I rolled each piece into a ball and placed them all in a 9-inch round cake pan (9 around the outside and 3 in the middle).  I covered the pan with waxed paper, and since the oven was still a bit warm inside from baking the snails earlier, I put the pan in there so the dough would rise.  I left it for an hour, and when I checked on it, the rolls had completely filled the pan.  I preheated the oven to 400 degrees (the temp recommended in a number of roll recipes) and when it was ready, I baked the rolls for 20 minutes.  

The end result?  Wow.  You definitely don't need anything for these, especially butter!  =)  

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The few, the proud, the raisin lovers! (TWD)

As I was reading the various write-ups of last week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, I noticed a recurring theme... lots of people don't like raisins.  Some people left them out, while some substituted other dried fruit, such as dried cranberries (which sounds like a variation I'll have to try).  So I'm curious to see the results from this week's recipe, Brioche Raisin Snails, selected by Peabody of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody.  I, for one, love raisins, and I love them even more now that I learned how tasty they are after being soaked in rum and set on fire.  I must admit, though, that I did leave the raisins out of one end of the roll, so that Brianna would actually eat the finished product. =)

This week's recipe is really three recipes in one.  First you make brioche, which I've contemplated before, but never worked up the courage to try.  Then you make pastry cream. I've done that before, though this version is much thicker than the ones I've made in the past. Then you take those two items and put them together with rum-soaked raisins and some cinnamon sugar to make some sinfully delicious cinnamon-roll-like buns.

The brioche dough wasn't as scary to make as I thought it would be, but I do have a standing mixer to rely on.  I might have a different feeling if I had to make it by hand.  I was surprised at how solid the dough was when I took it out of the fridge the next morning, but I guess that makes sense considering how much butter is in it.  I had a pretty easy time rolling it out, though it started to get a bit too soft because I was taking too long.

As I mentioned, the pastry cream was very thick, no doubt due to the amount of cornstarch in it.  I wasn't prepared for how quickly it thickened.  Don't stop whisking, whatever you do!  I'm not a huge fan of custardy things, so I only made the half-recipe I needed to make the snails. While the end result was good, I think I'll leave the cream out next time and go with a more traditional cinnamon roll filling.  Edited... I forgot to mention that I added a pinch of salt to the pastry cream, which seemed to improve the flavor.  (That's what I get for writing up this post without referring back to my notes...)

The raisins weren't actually too scary--I made sure to use one of my super-long grill matches, and I kept a lid handy in case things got out of hand.  I did end up using it, but only because I got tired of waiting for the flames to go out on their own.  I will absolutely soak and flambĂ© raisins again--I love the way they stayed nice and moist even after baking.  

Thanks to Ulrike of Kuchenlatein for the wonderful suggestion to cut the dough with unwaxed dental floss!  I usually just use my serrated knife when cutting things like cinnamon rolls, but this dough was much too soft for that.  The dental floss worked perfectly.  

Overall, this was an extremely worthwhile and tasty experience.  I learned lots of great new things that I will incorporate into my future baking adventures, and I got to eat some fabulous buttery pastries.  Thanks, Peabody!

Brioche Raisin Snails
(adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

1 cup moist, plump raisins
3 tablespoons dark rum
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
Scant 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 recipe for Golden Brioche Loaves(page 48), chilled and ready to shape (make the full recipe and cut the dough in half after refrigerating overnight) (recipe posted below)
1/2 recipe Pastry Cream (page 448) (recipe posted below)

Getting Ready: Line one large or two smaller baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
Put the raisins in a small saucepan, cover them with hot water and let them steep for about 4 minutes, until they are plumped. Drain the raisins, return them to the saucepan and, stirring constantly, warm them over low heat. When the raisins are very hot, pull the pan from the heat and pour over the rum. Standing back, ignite the rum. (A long grilling match works well.)  Stir until the flames go out, then cover and set aside. (The raisins and rum can be kept in a covered jar for up to 1 day.)

Mix the sugar and cinnamon together.

On a flour-dusted surface, roll the dough into a rectangle about 12 inches wide and 16 inches long, with a short end toward you. Spread the pastry cream across the dough, leaving 1-inch strip bare on the side farthest from you. Scatter the raisins over the pastry cream and sprinkle the raisins and cream with the cinnamon sugar. Starting with the side nearest you, roll the dough into a cylinder, keeping the roll as tight as you can. (At this point, you can wrap the dough airtight and freeze it up to 2 months; see Storing for further instructions. Or, if you do not want to make the full recipe, use as much of the dough as you'd like and freeze the remainder.)

With a chef's knife, using a gentle sawing motion, trim just a tiny bit from the ends if they're ragged or not well filled, then cut the log into rounds a scant 1 inch thick. (I used unwaxed dental floss--slide the floss under the roll, wrap around and cross the ends on top, and then pull both ends until it cuts through the dough.)  Put the snails on the lined baking sheet(s), leaving some puff space between them.

Lightly cover the snails with wax paper and set the baking sheet(s) in a warm place until the snails have doubled in volume--they'll be puffy and soft--about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Getting Ready To Bake: When the snails have almost fully risen, preheat the oven: depending on the number of baking sheets you have, either center a rack in the oven or position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Remove the wax paper, and bake the snails for about 25 minutes (rotate the sheets if you're using two, from top to bottom and front to back after 15 minutes), or until they are puffed and richly browned. Using a metal spatula, transfer the snails onto a cooling rack.

Golden Brioche Loaves

2 packets active dry yeast (I used 3 1/2 tsp instant yeast)
1/3 cup just-warm-to-the-touch water
1/3 cup just-warm-to-the-touch whole milk
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature but still slightly firm

For The Glaze
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water

To Make The Brioche: Put the yeast, water and milk in the bowl of a stand mixer and, using a wooden spoon, stir until the yeast is dissolved. Add the flour and salt, and fit into the mixer with the dough hook, if you have one. Toss a kitchen towel over the mixer, covering the bowl as completely as you can--this will help keep you, the counter and your kitchen floor from being showered in flour. Turn the mixer on and off a few short pulses, just to dampen the flour (yes, you can peek to see how you're doing), then remove the towel, increase the mixer speed to medium-low and mix for a minute or two, just until the flour is moistened. At this point, you'll have a fairly dry, shaggy mess.

Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula, set the mixer to low and add the eggs, followed by the sugar. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes, until the dough forms a ball. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter in 2-tablespoon-size chunks, beating until each piece is almost incorporated before adding the next. You'll have a dough that is very soft, almost like batter. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a clean bowl (or wash out the mixer bowl and use it), cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, 40 to 60 minutes, depending upon the warmth of your room.

Deflate the dough by lifting it up around the edges and letting it fall with a slap to the bowl. Cover the bowl with the plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. Slap the dough down in the bowl every 30 minutes until it stops rising, about 2 hours, then leave the covered dough in the refrigerator to chill overnight.

The next day, butter and flour two 8 1/2-x-4 1/2-inch pans. (I didn't bother doing anything to the pan I baked the rest of the dough in--I figured it had more than enough butter to keep it from sticking.)
Pull the dough from the fridge and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Cut each piece of the dough into 4 equal pieces and roll each piece into a log about 3 1/2 inches long. Arrange 4 logs crosswise in the bottom of each pan. Put the pans on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat, cover the pans lightly with wax paper and leave the loaves at room temperature until the dough almost fills the pans, 1 to 2 hours. (Again, rising time will depend on how warm the room is.)

Getting Ready To Bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

To Make the Glaze: Beat the egg with the water. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the tops of the loaves with the glaze.

Bake the loaves until they are well risen and deeply golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer the pans to racks to cool for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the pans and turn the loaves out onto the racks. Invert again and cool for at least 1 hour.

Pastry Cream

2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits at room temperature

Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan.

Meanwhile, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the egg yolks together with the sugar and cornstarch until thick and well blended. Still whisking, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the hot milk--this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won't curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remainder of the milk. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, constantly and thoroughly (making sure to get the edges of the pot), bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat. (Mine never actually boiled.  And watch out--it thickens all of a sudden.)

Whisk in the vanilla extract. Let sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until they are full incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth and silky. Scrape the cream into a bowl. You can press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream to create an airtight seal and refrigerate the pastry cream until cold or, if you want to cool it quickly--as I always do--put the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water, and stir the pastry cream occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

...On a sesame seed bun

Yesterday, I was reading an interesting article over at Mary's blog Starting From Scratch about homemade granola bars.  It made me start thinking about other things that I could make instead of buying them.  That, and the fact that the selection of hotdog and hamburger buns at the grocery store was pretty picked over by the time we were doing our shopping Friday night.  =)  I didn't really feel like having to make another trip out, so I started looking online and through some of my cookbooks for recipes that I could try.

I wanted something quick, since I already spent a good chunk of the day baking my TWD recipe for this week (check back on Tuesday for the results).  I found this recipe at the King Arthur website.  I made a half-batch, splitting it between the two types of buns (9 all together).  I also used my stand mixer instead of kneading by hand.  Everyone was very happy with the hamburger buns, which we had for dinner tonight.  I think I need to work on the shaping for the hotdog buns.  I'll definitely be making these again, so I'll have a chance to experiment.  

And who knows what else I'll find to make for myself?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Beware the Ides of March...

...or at least sharp objects.  To be honest, while I'm just getting a chance to write about this now, I actually had my run-in with the box grater Thursday night.  (I was very sad that I couldn't find time to do something for Pi Day, so I had to come up with some sort of silly post to compensate for it.)  I recently bought a new grater, since my old one died (it wasn't very sturdy to start with).  I was prepping ingredients for another batch of scones that I planned to make early Friday morning to take to work.  Since I'd read several suggestions to grate frozen butter to incorporate with the dry ingredients, I thought I'd give it a try.  

Did I mention that my grater is new?  So I'm not entirely used to it, and boy is it sharp!  The sort of sharp where when you cut yourself on it, it doesn't actually hurt at first.  So there I was standing in the kitchen, asking my husband to get me a band-aid and thinking, "gee, shouldn't this hurt a lot?"  And then it did, especially since I grated the side of the knuckle on my thumb.  My next thought was something along the lines of, "How incredibly annoying!  I have a ton of baking to do this weekend (brioche, anyone?), and it's going to be a pain to do it with a bandaged thumb."

Fortunately, I realized that there's no shortage of waterproof bandages in this house, as long as I don't mind Princesses!  =)

(And the scones turned out fine.  =)  I substituted cinnamon for the nutmeg and added about 3/4 cup of raisins.  Yummy.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Apples and Grandmothers (TWD)

While I live in Texas now, I grew up in Pennsylvania, for the most part.  My mom's mom lives in upstate New York.  When I was a kid, we would often drive the 3 hours to spend a weekend at Gramma's.  I especially enjoyed it in the fall, because there was an apple orchard a few miles from Gramma's house, and we would often head home with a whole bunch of apples.  Apples and fall foliage are two of the things I really miss down here.  Central Market carries New York apples in the fall, but while they taste good, they just aren't the same.  

One of my favorite things to make with apples is pie.  So I was excited to hear that this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was Russian Grandmothers' Apple Pie-Cake, chosen by Jhianna of Burned Bits.  The recipe took me out of my usual routine, since I pretty much never make a double-crust pie.  I much prefer to top my apple pie with crumbs.  I was happy to see that raisins are added to the apples in the filling.  My favorite apple variety is Macintosh, but they tend to give off a lot of liquid when they cook.  I've found that raisins in the filling suck up some of that liquid, resulting in a nice overall texture.

The pie-cake was pretty easy to make.  I didn't want to make a 13 x 9 pan, so I halved the recipe and made it in an 8-inch square pan.  I ended up making the dough pretty late Sunday evening, and then realized that it needed to chill for at least two hours.  So it ended up in the fridge until Monday night.  Once I got the kiddos to bed on Monday, I was able to make the filling.  I didn't bother to add the lemon juice to the apples, since I was using a tart variety, and I added a bit more sugar.  I also put in the full amount of raisins (instead of doing half like everything else), since I really like raisins.  The dough rolled out nicely.  Having been forewarned by comments from some of the other TWD bakers, I really watched the time while the pan was in the oven, since the edges have a tendency to brown too much.  I only ended up baking it for 30 minutes, since the edges were getting quite dark, and the top was nicely browned at that point.  

So, how did it turn out?  The corner piece that I ate Monday night seemed kind of dry.  The apples were definitely cooked, but I was expecting the filling to be juicier.  Dorie suggests waiting until the pie-cake is pretty much cool before cutting it--did I get into it too soon?  Obviously the solution was to try another piece for breakfast.  I liked it better this morning, and Gillian liked it just fine too.  I see why Dorie recommends waiting--the texture is a lot better.  Just don't tell my husband--he gives me a hard time about eating pie for breakfast.  =)  I keep trying to convince him that there's nothing wrong with it--fruit, pastry, what's the problem?  It could be worse, I could be eating chocolate cake for breakfast.  (Maybe next week.) Wait until he sees that I've been teaching Gillian to eat pie for breakfast too.  =)

Russian Grandmothers' Apple Pie-Cake
(adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

For The Dough
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

For The Apples
5 medium apples, all one kind or a mix (I like to use Fuji , Golden Delicious and Ida Reds; my grandmother probably used dry baking apples like Cordland and Rome ) (I used Macintosh)
Squirt of fresh lemon juice (I left this out)
1 cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden)
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Sugar, preferably decorating (coarse) sugar, for dusting (I used turbinado sugar)

To Make The Dough: Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and continue to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes more. Reduce the mixer speed to low, add the baking powder and salt and mix just to combine. Add the lemon juice - the dough will probably curdle, but don't worry about it. Still working on low speed, slowly but steadily add 1 1/2 cups of the flour, mixing to incorporate it and scraping down the bowl as needed. The dough is meant to be soft, but if you think it looks more like a batter than a dough at this point, add the extra 1/4 cup flour. (The dough usually needs the extra flour.) When properly combined, the dough should almost clean the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. (My dough pieces weighed about 8 /12 ounces each.)  Shape each half into a rectangle. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or for up to 3 days. (The dough can be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 2 months; defrost overnight in the refrigerator.)

To Make The Apples: Peel and core the apples and cut into slices about 1/4 inch thick; cut the slices in half crosswise if you want. Toss the slices in a bowl with a little lemon juice - even with the juice, the apples may turn brown, but that's fine - and add the raisins. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together, sprinkle over the apples and stir to coat evenly. Taste an apple and add more sugar, cinnamon, and/or lemon juice if you like.

Getting Ready to Bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Generously butter an 8-inch square baking pan (Pyrex is good) and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat. (I didn't bother with the baking sheet.)

Remove the dough from the fridge. If it is too hard to roll and it cracks, either let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes or give it a few bashes with your rolling pin to get it moving. Once it's a little more malleable, you've got a few choices. You can roll it on a well-floured work surface or roll it between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper. You can even press or roll out pieces of the dough and patch them together in the pan - because of the baking powder in the dough, it will puff and self-heal under the oven's heat. Roll the dough out until it is just a little larger all around than your pan and about 1/4 inch thick - you don't want the dough to be too thin, because you really want to taste it. Transfer the dough to the pan. If the dough comes up the sides of the pan, that's fine; if it doesn't that's fine too.

Give the apples another toss in the bowl, then turn them into the pan and, using your hands, spread them evenly across the bottom.

Roll out the second piece of dough and position it over the apples. Cut the dough so you've got a 1/4 to 1/2 inch overhang and tuck the excess into the sides of the pan, as though you were making a bed. (If you don't have that much overhang, just press what you've got against the sides of the pan.)

Brush the top of the dough lightly with water and sprinkle sugar over the dough. Using a small sharp knife, cut 6 to 8 evenly spaced slits in the dough.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the dough is a nice golden brown and the juices from the apples are bubbling up through the slits. Transfer the baking pan to a cooling rack and cool to just warm or to room temperature. You'll be tempted to taste it sooner, but I think the dough needs a little time to rest.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Eat Your Oatmeal

I've never been a fan of hot cereal.  Oatmeal, cream of wheat, whatever...  I can't stand it, even if you put lots of brown sugar on it.  I think it's a texture thing.  I like oatmeal just fine in baked goods, though.  Oatmeal raisin cookies, apple crisp... yum.   A week or two ago, I was flipping through my copy of Baking From My Home to Yours looking for something to make for breakfast, and I saw the recipe for Oatmeal Nutmeg Scones.  Only one problem, I had no oats in my pantry.  So I added them to the shopping list, bought some from the bulk department at Central Market, and promptly forgot that I wanted to make the scones.  Then this morning, I was sitting here trying once again to come up with something to make for breakfast.  Nothing too involved, since I was still suffering from lack of sleep due to the lovely time change.  (The clock may have said 7:15 when Gillian decided it was time to get up, but my body definitely didn't agree.)  Scones sounded pretty easy.

This time I had everything I needed for the recipe.  The dough was quite easy to put together. First I mixed the egg and buttermilk in one of my Pyrex measuring cups.  I put a mixing bowl on my scale and weighed the dry ingredients as I added them, so I could keep track of exactly how much of everything I used (for next time).  I grated in some nutmeg with my handy microplane grater.

In a number of the TWD posts for the Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits people recommended freezing the butter and then grating it into the dry ingredients.  That way you can toss the butter with the flour mixture without overworking it.  I didn't feel like waiting for my stick of butter to freeze (and it wasn't until later that I thought about the fact that I already have a ton of butter stored in my freezer).  So I just grated it anyway, as quickly as I could so it wouldn't get too warm in my hand.  Even though the butter wasn't frozen, it worked pretty well.  Then I added the egg/buttermilk mixture and stirred it in with a rubber spatula just until the dough came together.  I followed Dorie's instructions for shaping it into wedges, and sprinkled some turbinado sugar over the tops before they went into the oven.

The verdict?  Very tasty!  The oatmeal blends into the scone more than I expected.  It adds texture, making the scones more rustic-looking.  They aren't overly sweet, so the sugar on top was a nice touch.  Brianna liked that part the best--she kept telling me how great they were and asking if I could make them again, but then left the bottom of the scone on the plate because she "only likes the part with sprinkles."  Definitely something I'll make again, probably adding some fruit next time.

Oatmeal Nutmeg Scones
(adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

1 large egg
1/2 cup cold buttermilk
1 2/3 cups (7 3/4 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups (4 1/4 oz) rolled oats
1/3 cup (2 1/4 oz) granulated sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp table salt
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
10 tbsp cold unsalted butter
turbinado or other coarse sugar

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Stir the egg and buttermilk together in a liquid measuring cup or small bowl.

Whisk the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg together in a large bowl.  Grate the butter (using the large holes of a box grater) into the flour mixture.  Toss the mixture with your fingers or a rubber spatula until the butter is thoroughly coated with flour.  Pour the egg and buttermilk mixture over the dry ingredients and stir with the spatula just until the dough, which will be wet and sticky, comes together.  Don't over-mix.

Still in the bowl, gently knead the dough by hand, or turn it with a rubber spatula 8 to 10 times. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide it in half.  Working with one piece at a time, pat the dough into a rough circle that's about 5 inches in diameter, cut it into 6 wedges and place on the baking sheet.  Sprinkle sugar over the top of the scones.  

Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until their tops are golden and firmish.  Transfer them to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

TWD: Snickery Squares

Thanks to Erin of Dinner and Dessert for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Snickery Squares.  While I'm not usually a big fan of peanuts, I really like Snickers bars, so I was curious to see how this one would turn out.  

All in all, it was an interesting experiment.  The shortbread crust was pretty straightforward, and I like the way it turned out.  I'm not sure how much I like the store-bought dulce de leche that I found--if I do this again, I may have to try making my own, or substitute some other sort of caramel. What really surprised me was how much I like the caramel-coated peanuts. They were easier to make than I expected, and quite addictive to munch on.  =)  I realized tonight when I was looking over the recipe that I messed up on the chocolate glaze.  It says to used 1/2 stick of butter.  For some reason, when I was finishing these up Sunday night, my tired brain read that as a full stick of butter.  They still ended up tasting quite good, but that explains why the top layer was thicker than I expected.  And the increased thickness may be why I was having such a hard time cutting neat squares.  The finished bars are quite rich, so I cut them a bit smaller than the recipe recommended.  

One tip that I can pass along that works well for me...  Instead of buttering the pan, I lined it with non-stick foil, since I figured that the dulce de leche would have a tendency to stick to the pan.  Since I don't have a silicone pan liner, I also put non-stick foil on the baking sheet that I used for the coated peanuts, instead of using parchment.  It worked extremely well.  

Snickery Squares
(adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

For the Crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
2 tbsp powdered sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten

For the Filling:
½ cup sugar
3 tbsp water
1 ½ cups salted peanuts
About 1 ½ cups store-bought dulce de leche

For the Topping:
7 ounces bittersweet, coarsely chopped
½ stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces, at room temperature

Getting Ready:
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 8-inch square pan (I used a Pyrex pan lined with non-stick foil) and put it on a baking sheet (I didn't bother with the baking sheet).

To Make the Crust:
Toss the flour, sugar, powdered sugar and salt into a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Toss in the pieces of cold butter and pulse about 12 times, until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Pour the yolk over the ingredients and pulse until the dough forms clumps and curds--stop before the dough comes together in a ball.  Turn the dough into the buttered pan and gently press it evenly across the bottom of the pan. Prick the dough with a fork and slide the sheet into the oven.
Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes, or until it takes on just a little color around the edges (mine took 18 minutes). Transfer the pan to a rack and cool to room temperature before filling.

To Make the Filling:
Have a parchment or silicone mat-lined baking sheet at the ready (I used non-stick foil to line the pan), as well as a long-handled wooden spoon and a medium heavy bottomed saucepan.
Put the sugar and water in the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Keeping the heat fairly high, continue to cook the sugar, without stirring, until it just starts to color. Toss in the peanuts and immediately start stirring. Keep stirring, to coat the peanuts with sugar. Within a few minutes, they will be covered with sugar and turn white—keep stirring until the sugar turns back into caramel. When the peanuts are coated with a nice deep amber caramel, remove the pan from the heat and turn the nuts out onto the baking sheet, using the wooden spoon to spread them out as best you can. Cool the nuts to room temperature.  When they are cool enough to handle, separate the nuts or break them into small pieces. Divide the nuts in half. Keep half of the nuts whole or in biggish pieces for the filling, and finely chop the other half for the topping.  Spread the dulce de leche over the shortbread base and sprinkle over the whole candied nuts.

To Make the Topping:
Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Remove chocolate from the heat and gently stir in the butter, stirring until it is fully blended into the chocolate.  Pour the chocolate over the dulce de leche, smoothing it with a long metal icing spatula, then sprinkle over the rest of the peanuts. Slide the pan into the fridge to set the topping, about 20 minutes; if you’d like to serve the squares cold, keep them refrigerated for at least 3 hours before cutting.
Cut into 16 bars.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Bagel Chronicles meets Master Baker

So a few weeks ago, I read that Nikki of Crazy Delicious decided to start a new blogging event, Master Baker.  For the inaugural challenge, she chose cinnamon as the theme ingredient.  I thought about participating, but nothing that I thought of making really sounded appealing. And with the deadline looming, I figured there was no way I'd come up with a good idea in time.

After taking a break from my bagel making adventures for the past couple weekends, I figured it was time for another go at it.  Sunday morning is my best time for something like this, since Jamie is home to help wrangle the kids.  I was trying to decide what new variation to try this time, and then it hit me.  Cinnamon raisin bagels!  

I did a bit of looking at various recipes online, trying to determine how much cinnamon to add. The recipes varied widely--anywhere from 1 teaspoon to 1 1/2 tablespoons for 4-5 cups of flour. I started by adding 1 teaspoon to the flour in my mixer bowl, but decided to up it to 1 1/2 teaspoons.  I also decided to increase the flour from 3 1/2 cups up to 4 cups, in yet another attempt to make dough that would actually sink when I put it in the simmering water.  (No, it still didn't work.  I had one that started to sink for a minute but then it popped back up to the top.)  I went for 3/4 cup (4 ounces) of raisins.  I used a fresh box so they would be moist, but since I had boiling water left over from making tea, I poured some over the raisins and let them plump for a couple minutes.  I added the raisins to the mixer bowl for the last minute of kneading.  Next time I think I'll add them sooner so that they'll be a bit more evenly distributed.  I transferred the dough to a bucket to rise, and spent a few minutes distracting Gillian while Jamie and Brianna played Go Fish.  =)

Once the dough was risen enough, I dumped it out onto the counter to divide it up into my usual 8 bagels.  I knew that the raisins would increase the weight, but I didn't take into account the extra flour.  I probably should have made 9 or 10 bagels this time.  As it was, I ended up with somewhat enormous mutant bagels.  Mutant because I also didn't take into account how much harder it would be to shape rings with raisins poking out all over the place.  Maybe I should have stuck with the lesser amount of flour--I think it would have been easier to deal with the raisins in a wetter dough.  And that was when I realize that the raisins weren't exactly evenly distributed.  Oh, well.  Live and learn.  After boiling the first two bagels, I cut the time down to 2 1/2 minutes per side instead of 3 in an attempt to keep the bagels from getting quite so big (they expand a lot while they're simmering).  Then I just barely managed to squeeze all eight of them onto my baking sheet.

They turned out great!  Jamie thought that the amount of cinnamon was just right.  And the extra flour turned out to be good--the bagel texture was a bit chewier than my last couple batches.  And then there's the fact that the house smelled fantastic while the bagels were baking!

Cinnamon Raisin Bagels
(adapted from the DB June 2007 challenge, found here)

1 gallon water
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1 1/2 cups (12 oz) water (I used bottled since my tap water is extremely hard)
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 tbsp instant yeast
4 cups (20 oz) bread flour (King Arthur), divided
1 1/2 tsp table salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup (4 oz) raisins
boiling water (optional)

canola oil

The dough rises quickly, so I started off by adding the gallon of water to my biggest pot and putting it on the stove to bring it to a boil. Once the water started boiling, I added the brown sugar and just turned it down to a simmer. I also started preheating the oven to 400 degrees F, and I oiled my dough-rising bucket with a bit of canola oil. I pulled out a large baking sheet and lined it with parchment paper. If your raisins are dry (or you just want to), you can plump them up a bit. I placed them in a small heat-proof bowl and covered them with boiling water. I let them soak for a minute or two (you can leave them for longer if you think they need it), then drained them on paper towels.

I put the 1 1/2 cups of water in a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup and microwaved it for one minute to heat the water. I stirred in the sugar and yeast and set it aside for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, I put 1 1/2 cups (7.5 oz) of bread flour in the bowl for my mixer and added the salt and cinnamon. I used the paddle attachment and set the mixer to stir to combine the two, and then added the liquid. Once things were blended, I started to add the other 2 1/2 cups (12.5 oz) of flour a spoonful or two at a time. Once the dough started to come together, I stopped the mixer and switched to the dough hook. I kneaded the dough for 4 minutes with the speed set to about 2. Then I added the raisins and kneaded for another minute. I used a rubber spatula to scrape the dough into my prepped bucket and turned the dough around a bit to coat it with oil.

Once the dough doubled in size, I turned it out onto a lightly-floured counter. I used my dough scraper to cut it into 8 equal pieces (4.5 to 5 oz each). I rolled each piece into a long rope, joined the ends together and placed it on the parchment-lined pan to rise a bit. I had to work a bit harder to stick the ends together, since the dough was drier. Some of the raisins tried to escape, but I just poked them back in.

Once I had 4 or 5 pieces formed into bagel shapes, I put the first couple into the water. I ended up going with 2 1/2 minutes on each side and then transferred them to a kitchen towel on the counter to rest. The others went into the water in two batches of three each. Once all of the bagels were boiled, I put them back on the parchment-lined baking sheet.

Into the oven they went. I baked them for 25 minutes, then flipped them over and put them back in for another 10 minutes. The cinnamon makes the whole house smell incredibly good toward the end of the baking time. The really hard part is waiting for them to cool enough to eat.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Making room for new friends...

It's official.  I need a bigger bookshelf for my kitchen.  =)  Between Christmas, Valentine's Day and my birthday (a week after V-Day), I've acquired 8 new cooking & baking related books.  I've already talked about some of them here and here.  The one Jamie got me for Valentine's Day was The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, which was very interesting.  I don't think I'd ever want to attend Le Cordon Bleu, but I really enjoyed reading about Kathleen Flinn's experience there.  Then he got me Demolition Desserts for my birthday.  It's nice when Jamie gets me new cookbooks, because he often chooses things that I might not think to buy for myself, but that I end up enjoying a lot.  I'm not sure how much I'll make from Demolition Desserts right now, but the pictures are lovely and it looks like it will provide lots of inspiration for new ways to combine things. 

That leaves two more.  Up until I stumbled across Tuesdays with Dorie about a month ago, I didn't own any Dorie Greenspan cookbooks.  Now I have three.  I've looked at Baking with Julia many times, and I've watched a number of the episodes on PBS, but I just never took the plunge and bought the book.  After seeing how great Baking From My Home to Yours is, I decided that I should give it a try.  And with birthday money, I just acquired Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme.  I haven't even had a chance to read through it (just got it yesterday), but I've been drooling over the pictures.  

I think I've got enough to keep me busy for quite a while.  I think I'd better stop opening emails from Borders (gotta love coupons) and just stay away from there for a while.  =)