Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Turning the pages back to... Perfect Party Cake

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie pick comes from Carol of mix, mix... stir, stir. She chose the Perfect Party Cake for us to make this week. I really wanted to make it, but life has been conspiring against me again. (Jamie's doing better, but definitely not yet recovered from his tonsillectomy.) Part of why I wanted to make it is that I really enjoyed this cake the first time I made it, for my first Daring Bakers challenge in March 2007.

It's interesting for me to look back to one of my earlier posts. I was still trying to figure out the style of my blog, and definitely still working on my photography skills (something that never ends anyway...). And that blog post was done when I was still trying my hand at some process photos. You can find this week's recipe at Carol's blog or in my original post. And be sure to head over to the Tuesdays with Dorie blogroll to see what everyone else did with this week's delicious recipe!

So here's a look at my experience with the Perfect Party Cake...

I Dare to Make Cake!
(originally posted March 30, 2007)

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. =)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Proof that I can bake well...

...at least according to Gillian. =)

It's been an interesting week of vacation. Vacation mainly in the sense that I wasn't at work at all this week. Thank you to everyone who's been sending well wishes for Jamie. (My husband who had his tonsils removed last Monday, for those who haven't been following the whole saga...) Thursday afternoon and Friday morning were the worst, but he seems to be starting to feel a bit better. Drugs are your friend...

One thing that has been good about this week is that I've been able to do a bunch of baking. I made a new batch of bagels (part whole wheat this time) to restock the freezer. I made another batch of cinnamon chip scones and shared them with Brianna's day care teachers. I made some more milk loaves (also some whole wheat in those), which I will get around to blogging one of these days. Of course I didn't get to everything that I wanted to (like challah), but I have more baking planned for today and tomorrow.

One of the things that I had deliberately left until this week was my June Daring Bakers recipe. I knew I'd have the whole week to get it done. So naturally, I waited until the last day again... =) It wasn't really deliberate, it just kind of happened that way. This week turned out to be somewhat emotionally draining, between Jamie not feeling well and having to deal with Brianna and Gillian (who were taking advantage of the fact that only one adult could really keep tabs on what they were doing, or not doing...). Wednesday went by, then Thursday. Before I knew it, it was Friday morning. I realized I needed to get my act together and took another look at the recipe...

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

I wasn't really familiar with Bakewell Tart, but I did recognize all of the components. Sweet tart crust, I've made that before. Jam--no problem. I didn't have the time or energy to make my own, but fortunately I have access to some really wonderful store-bought stuff. Frangipane, that's a cool word to say. =) Actually, I've made that before, though it wasn't specifically called that. The "almond cream" in Dorie Greenspan's French Pear (or apple) Tart is basically frangipane. So I was hopefully that I wouldn't have too much trouble putting everything together to get the tart done before the day was over.

I started off making the sweet tart dough, which is similar to shortbread. I did it all by hand, as recommended. For adding the butter, the recipe suggests grating frozen butter into the dry ingredients. Yeah, not going there, since I had a bad experience the last time I tried that. I grated my well-chilled butter, though, which worked reasonably well. I tossed the butter and dry ingredients together, rubbed the butter in a bit, and then added the egg yolks and some cold water. I held back and didn't use all the water, since I didn't want the dough to be too sticky. I stopped when I could press the dough clumps together and have them stay. I formed the dough into a round, wrapped it in plastic and stashed it in the fridge to chill. It was only about 11:00 am at that point, so I figured I was doing pretty well.

Yeah, so much for that. I finally pulled the dough back out around 8:30 pm. At that point I had to let it warm up a bit before I could roll it out. The rolling went okay--this definitely isn't my favorite dough, though. It kept wanting to break when I was trying to put in in the tart pan. I probably should have added just a bit more water. But I got it done and popped it in the fridge to rest while I finished feeding the girls and chasing them to bed.

Next up was the frangipane. But first I moved the tart crust to the freezer so it could chill further while I made the filling. (I'm guessing so the jam wouldn't make it too soggy.) I took the easy route--I had picked up ground almonds the week before. I creamed the butter and confectioner's sugar together, then added the eggs one at a time. Even though I remembered to warm up the eggs, the mixture definitely looked curdled after I added them. But once the almonds and a bit of flour were mixed in, the batter came together nicely.

I took the tart crust out of the freezer and placed it on a baking sheet. Then I spread about a cup of my favorite raspberry fruit butter over the bottom of the tart shell (just eyeballed the amount). I put spoonfuls of the frangipane batter all over the raspberry butter and carefully used my little offset spatula to smooth the batter out to cover the jam layer. Then the whole thing went into the oven to bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees F.

When I checked the tart at about 25 minutes, it was puffed up a bit but looked like it needed to be a little more browned on top. So I left it in for the last 5 minutes. Then I took it out and set the pan on a rack to cool. The puffy top settled quickly into an even layer. It looked perfect. But at that point it was late, so I realized that I'd be waiting until morning to dig in and take pictures. While I was drinking my tea and winding down toward bedtime, I figured I'd check out some of the posts on the Daring Bakers forum to see how others did with this one. That's when I started to scare myself. It's really hard to tell with a big tart whether the middle is really done. I worried that the bottom crust wouldn't be cooked enough or that the frangipane wouldn't be cooked through. I finally decided that there wasn't anything I could do at that point and went to bed.

The verdict? My tart was perfect! The bottom crust was done enough. The frangipane was cooked nicely. The tart raspberry butter was a great foil for the other sweet components. To quote Gillian, "Mmm! This tastes delicious." Gillian really did love it--she quickly polished off a (small) piece and asked for more. Brianna decided that she liked the raspberry part and the tart crust, but not the almond topping. I thought the whole thing was wonderful. I was kind of worried about making the full 9" tart, since I won't have a chance to take any to work or the daycare until Monday. But we've already eaten almost a third of the tart, so we'll see how much makes it through the weekend. I'll have to see how long I can store a piece in the fridge (or maybe freezer) so that Jamie can try it. It's going to be a while longer before he's up to eating something that solid.

I really enjoyed this month's challenge. It wasn't that difficult, but it was something I probably wouldn't have tried on my own. Be sure to head over to the Daring Kitchen to see lots of other amazing Bakewell Tarts. And visit Jasmine or Annemarie for the full recipe.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

If it's Tuesday, it must be Dorie

I posted the other day on Twitter about how I was going to miss out on this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe due to some personal stuff going on. One of the hazards of Twitter is all the abbreviating you have to do to fit what you want to say into 140 characters. I mentioned that things were going to be crazy because "J" was having tonsils removed. It's a reasonable assumption to think that "J" is one of my kids. In fact, it's Jamie, my 38-year-old husband. Yes, who had his tonsils removed on Monday. I'm happy to say that he's doing pretty well, all things considered. I'm sure the liquid Vicodin is contributing immensely to that... =)

With everything going on, I don't have a dacquoise for you to see today. I thought about trying to make it, but Jamie wouldn't be able to help me eat it. And he's the real white chocolate fan in the house. (Plus I'd have to leave the coconut out--no one here will eat that.) Hopefully I'll try it sometime in the future. Instead, I thought I'd share my take on another Dorie recipe with you.

I've made the Oatmeal Nutmeg Scones from BFMHTY several times. The first time, I made them according to the recipe. I've also made some variations--adding cinnamon and raisins one time, butterscotch chips another. They're always good. Recently, I read some blog posts that mentioned cinnamon chips, and the next time I went grocery shopping, some just happened to end up in my cart. =) I've been looking for a good excuse to use them, and it occurred to me that they would be great in the oatmeal scones. I even remembered to buy some buttermilk!

The scones are easy to mix up. You start by mixing an egg with the buttermilk. Then you mix the dry ingredients together. It helps if you have enough of them, though. The day I wanted to make these, I discovered that I only had a cup of oats (the original recipe calls for 1 1/3 cups). So I decided to make up the other 1/3 cup with white whole wheat flour. Once the butter was rubbed into the dry ingredients, I added 2/3 cup cinnamon chips before adding the wet ingredients. I also cut the dough into smaller wedges (8 instead of 6 from each portion of dough). As a final addition, I drizzled some glaze on the scones when they came out of the oven (similar to the cinnamon chip scones you can get at Starbucks).

The verdict? They were awesome! I actually made them a second time this morning, since I liked them so much. This time, I used more white whole wheat flour in place of some of the all-purpose flour, and they were still fantastic. Gillian was a huge fan as well. Brianna would rather have chocolate chips in hers. =) I took some of the first batch to work, and they disappeared pretty quickly. Part of the second batch is headed for the day care this afternoon, so I don't eat them all myself. =) (And for the record, they're much better than Starbucks.)

My apologies to Andrea of Andrea in the Kitchen for missing out on her TWD pick. If you want to try this week's Coconut-Roasted Pineapple Dacquoise, be sure to head over to her blog for the recipe. And check out the TWD blogroll to see how everyone else did this week.

Cinnamon Chip Oatmeal Scones

1 large egg
1/2 cup (4 ounces) cold buttermilk
1 cup (4.5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup (4.5 ounces) white whole wheat flour
1 cup (3.25 ounces) old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup (2.25 ounces) sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
2/3 cup cinnamon chips

3/4 cup (3 ounces) confectioner's sugar
1-2 teaspoons milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

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

Stir together the flours, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the butter, and use your fingers to rub it into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly (there should be butter in different sized pieces when you are done). Stir in the cinnamon chips. Pour the egg/buttermilk mixture over the dry ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula until the dough comes together. It will be wet and sticky. Don't over mix.

Use the spatula to turn the dough 8 to 10 times to bring it together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and divide it in half. Pat each portion of the dough into a rough circle that's about 6 inches in diameter. Using a bench scraper, cut each circle into 8 wedges and gently transfer them to the prepared sheet pan.

Bake the scones for about 20 minutes, until their tops are golden and firmish. Let the scones cool for about 5 minutes on the sheet pan, then transfer them to a rack. In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, vanilla, and enough milk to make a thick glaze. Take the parchment paper from the sheet pan and place it under the rack to catch drips, then drizzle the glaze over the scones. Let the scones cool until they are just warm and the glaze is set.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Just peachy

It's been almost eleven years since we moved to Texas.  Our only visit before moving was close to this time of year--Memorial Day weekend.  I stepped off the plane at the Austin airport, and couldn't believe how hot and humid it was here.  It didn't help that we were coming from Boulder, Colorado, which was much cooler and drier.  Despite the weather, we decided that we liked Austin enough to give it a chance.  So after the long weekend, we headed home to start planning our move.

Fast forward about three months.  We moved to Austin in August.  Yes, we were insane.  I really didn't think I was going to survive the first month here.  It was 95 or higher every day.  It never went below 70, even at night.  And did I mention the humidity?  The people were really nice, but between the bureaucracy of the huge state of Texas (don't get me started on getting a driver's license here) and the weather, I was about ready to pack up and move anywhere else.  

Well, I did make it through the rest of that first summer, and we're still here.  I can actually stay outside for more than 30 seconds in the summer without feeling like I'm going to die.  I still don't like it that much, but I've learned to tolerate it.  (Though I have to say I think it's a bit much to be hitting 101 on the 15th of June...)  It's funny to watch Brianna and Gillian, our little native Texans.  The heat hardly even slows them down, but let it get below about 50 degrees and they're convinced they're going to freeze to death. =) Our water bottles are our constant companions, along with sunblock and hats.  One thing that definitely helps us survive the heat is lots of popsicles and ice cream!

And of course that brings us to this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe.  Tommi of Brown Interior picked Honey-Peach Ice Cream for us to make.  While the Texas peach crop has been limited this year, I've been able to find good ones at Central Market for the past few weeks.  So I was set as far as the fruit.  I'm not that big a fan of honey, so I changed things up there and used golden syrup instead.  The other thing I'm not a fan of is peeling peaches.  I don't know where Dorie finds her half-pound peaches, but 2 pounds for me was eleven peaches.  So I cheated a bit.  I cut up my peaches, skins and all and heated them with the syrup as directed.  Once the peaches had softened, I used my immersion blender to puree everything.  Then I put the mixture through a strainer to get rid of the bits of peel.  I'm happy to report that it worked great!  Oh, and I should probably mention that I don't really like bits of fruit in my ice cream.  So I cut up and pureed the full amount of peaches, not just half.

Next up was making the custard.  I know some of my TWD friends don't have good luck with custard, but fortunately, I don't seem to run into problems with it.  One thing that may help is that I always use a double boiler.  Yes, it takes longer, but it keeps me from stressing about scrambled eggs.  I also use a thermometer to check the temperature.  Once the custard was thickened slightly and the right temperature, I stirred in the peach puree, vanilla and about a tablespoon of rum.  

At that point it was getting kind of late, so I put the ice cream mixture in the fridge to chill overnight.  The next morning, I got the canister for my ice cream machine out of the freezer and started churning.  (I'm fortunately enough to have two canisters, so whenever I take the one out of the freezer, I put the other one in to chill.)  The recipe says that it makes a quart of ice cream, but I ended up with more than that.  By the time the ice cream was finished churning, it completely filled the canister.  I scraped the ice cream into containers and put it in the freezer to harden.

The verdict?  This is some seriously peachy ice cream.  I suppose that shouldn't be surprising, based on the amount of peaches that go into it.  It was a big hit with the girls.  (And with us adults.)  Since I found a way around peeling the peaches, I will definitely make this again when I can get my hands on ripe peaches.  And since I still have caramel sauce in the fridge from last week's recipe, I couldn't resist drizzling some over my ice cream--it was a surprisingly good combination.

If you'd like to give this one a try, head over to Brown Interior for the recipe.  And don't forget to check out the TWD blogroll for more yummy ice cream!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sweet treats

It's been a while since I've participated in Magazine Mondays.  This is probably my least favorite time of year for cooking magazines.  I don't grill much, and my passion is baking (though I do cook as well).  As a result, a lot of the recipes that are out there in magazines during the summer don't hold that much appeal for me.  Oh, there are some I like, but it's not like the baking bonanza you see during the fall and winter. =)  But I still read the magazines, and one or two things will really jump off the page at me.

This particular recipe is one of them.  As I was paging through the June/July issue of Fine Cooking, I ran across a picnic article.  The dessert was Ginger-Spice Sandwich Cookies with Lemon Cream.  I love ginger in cookies.  And the idea of lemon cream was intriguing.  All I needed was a good reason to make them.  I finally came up with one a couple weeks ago.

With the end of school looming, I had a bunch of baking to do.  I made dozens of mini cupcakes for Brianna's end of year class party, for instance.  But I also wanted to make a small gift for her kindergarten teacher as well as something for the after-school care staff.  These cookies seemed perfect.  The dough was easy to mix up, and included ginger, cinnamon and cardamom.  In my haste to get them made, I didn't actually chill the dough before shaping it into balls, but it seemed to work out okay.  I only made the one sheet of cookies I needed right away, and chilled the rest of the dough for later.  I portioned the dough with my handy #70 disher.  Rather than rolling the dough balls in regular sugar, I used turbinado sugar.  I baked the cookies for about 12 minutes, then let them rest on the pan for a few minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool.  While the cookies cooled, I mixed up the filling.  It was pretty simple--powdered sugar, cream cheese and lemon zest.  I matched cookies together as well as I could by size and sandwiched them together.  My #100 disher was perfect for the filling.

The verdict?  I don't actually know how the teachers liked them, since it was the last day of school.  When I finally had a chance to try one, I was a bit surprised at how soft the cookie part was.  But I liked the lemon and ginger together.  Jamie's reaction was pretty much the same as mine.  A few days later, I finally had the chance to bake the rest of the dough, so I took some cookies to work, too.  They seemed to be well received.  I can seem myself making these again, maybe playing around with the filling a bit.

If you're a subscriber to the Fine Cooking website, you can find the recipe here.  Or pick up a copy of the magazine, since it should still be available.  Extra incentive--there's a great ice cream article by David Lebovitz as well.  And be sure to check out the other Magazine Monday contributions on Ivonne's blog.

Bagels big and small

We love bagels around here.  I've been eating them (frequently, if possible) since I was a kid.  I grew up in the northeast--Pennsylvania, mostly--but both my parents are from New York.  So you know they taught us what good bagels are.  =)  (And for the record, my mom preferred bialys.)  I've bought bagels everywhere I've lived, and some have been better than others.  Here in Texas it's pretty hard to find good ones.  Even from bagels shops, most of the bagels you get just seem like bagel-shaped bread.  And the grocery store ones generally aren't even worth trying.  So it's probably no surprise that one of the first things I challenged myself to make after starting this blog was bagels.  

My initial attempt was the Daring Bakers recipe from June 2007.  (A great pick from Jenny.)  I couldn't believe it--I actually made bagels!  And they were good! =)  Since then, I've made that same recipe quite a few times, tweaking it to my liking.  I've tried various toppings, made cinnamon raisin bagels, and even made minis.  I've tried the bagel dough in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, too.  They were okay, but hard to shape because the dough is very wet.  I actually like that dough better just made into a regular loaf. =)  I've thought about making the bagels in Desserts by the Yard or The Bread Baker's Apprentice, but was put off by the overnight retard.  

Well, one of my big reasons for joining the BBA Challenge was to make bread recipes that I probably wouldn't otherwise.  In the case of the bagels, who knows when I might have finally gotten around to trying a different recipe.  My first attempt at this one was about three weeks ago.  The first hurdle was ingredients.  The recipe calls for high gluten flour and malt powder or syrup.  I didn't have any luck finding HG flour locally and didn't want to order any right now, so I went with regular King Arthur bread flour.  I was actually successful finding malt syrup at Central Market.  

Mixing the dough was straightforward.  I did let my sponge go too long, though.  I got sidetracked doing other stuff and it probably sat on the counter 3 to 4 hours instead of 2.  But at that point it was late and I wasn't about to start over, so I used it.  I put the sponge and the rest of the ingredients in my stand mixer to get things started.  It quickly became apparent that the dough was very stiff, so I figured I should finish the kneading by hand.  Once the dough was kneaded, I moved on to shaping.  I wanted both big and small sizes, since Brianna and Gillian like little bagels.  I ended up with 8 four-ounce ones and 9 two-ounce ones.  In the past, I've usually made my bagels by forming ropes and joining the ends.  For this batch, though, I went with the punch-a-hole-in-the-middle method.  Once the bagels were all formed, I put them on my parchment-lined pans to rise a bit.  But again, it was late, and I lost track of time and let them go too long.  Not much I could do, so into the fridge they went.  That was fun--trying to figure out how to fit two half-sheet pans into my fridge...

The next morning, I put a big pot of water on.  Once it was boiling, I added baking soda.  That's something I haven't tried before--my usual recipe uses brown sugar in the water.  For the little bagels, I boiled them a minute on each side.  For the big ones, I did 90 seconds on the first side, then a minute on the second.  After the first batch of bagels was boiled, I put them back on the pan and put them in the oven.  (I topped a couple with kosher salt and left the rest plain.)  I baked them for 5 minutes, then rotated the pan and turned the oven down as directed.  I then ended up baking them for 8 minutes longer (not just 5).  I was tempted to leave them in a bit longer so they'd get more brown, but took them out anyway.  Then I boiled and baked the second batch.  By that time, the first ones were cool enough to eat.

Some of the minis from the flat first batch

The verdict?  I can't believe I waited this long to try this recipe.  I really loved the taste and texture, and can't wait to play around with other flavors.  Everyone else loved them, too.  Except for trying to fit the pans into my fridge, the process worked really well, too.  The only thing I was unhappy with was that my bagels ended up kind of flat.  I figure there were a number of reasons for that--letting the sponge go too long, over-proofing before the retard, the shaping method...  I wasn't sure what the exact cause was, but I decided that I had to try again. =)

The following weekend, I made them again with a few changes.  I added some vital wheat gluten to my bread flour (1/2 teaspoon per cup of flour).  I did the whole process by hand--that was quite the workout!  I watched the timing much more carefully.  And I went back to my tried-and-true method of making ropes of dough and sticking the ends together.  Something worked, and my bagels were much more rounded the second time.  And still delicious! 

For the recipe, get yourself a copy of the book!  And to check out everyone else's bagels, check out the BBA Challenge blogroll.  Next up, brioche!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A little help from my friends

In my almost year and a half of blogging, I've joined several groups (TWD, DB, BBA) expecting to expand my baking horizons.  I figured I'd learn new techniques as well as try recipes that I might otherwise skip.  I definitely have.  And this baking blog has evolved a bit to where I don't just write about my baking experiments.  I've realized that I enjoy writing about what's going on in my life (especially with my kids) as well.  What I didn't expect was that in the process I would make so many great friends.  A while back, someone said something to me about how I was writing here for strangers to read.  But many of the people who read my blog aren't strangers anymore.  

We may not have met each other in person, but we've gotten to know each other quite well.  First someone invited me to join Facebook, and that's been fun.  It's allowed me interact more with a lot of people (college friends, family), not just other food bloggers.  Then more recently, I joined Twitter.  And I have to say, so far it's been a blast.  It's like baking along with a whole bunch of friends.  All you have to do is throw out a question ("What size pan would be best if I double this recipe?" or "So where exactly did you find that fresh yeast?"), and before you know it, someone is there with an answer.  It's so neat to hear the experiences that others have as they're baking through the same recipes.  

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe is a good example.  Jessica of My Baking Heart picked Parisian Apple Tartlets for us to make.  In reading through the recipe, this looked like one of the easiest TWD recipes yet.  You cut half an apple into quarters, place it on a circle of puff pastry, and sprinkle it with brown sugar and a bit of butter.  Then you bake it at 400 degrees F for about 25 minutes, and voila!--apple tartlet.  But of course I couldn't do it the easy way...

In reading this week's P&Q, a number of people said they were making their own puff pastry.  And that got me thinking.  At the beginning of the year, I was thinking about some of the things I wanted to make this year.  Puff pastry was on the list.  So I figured this was as good a time as any to try it, since the rest of the recipe was simple.  I remembered recently seeing it on Wendy's blog.  When I mentioned it on Twitter, Wendy was quick to say that it wasn't that bad to make.  Plus it gave me the chance to try a recipe from my new cookbook, The Art and Soul of Baking.  

I made the puff pastry on Sunday, at the same time that I was making coffeecake from brioche dough (post coming soon).  Wow, I went through a lot of butter this weekend!  I figured that if I was going to spend the time making puff pastry, I might as well make the full recipe.  It made over two pounds of dough.  I actually did four turns instead of three, and the dough really started to look good on the last one, so I'm glad I did it.  I chilled the dough for about 24 hours, since I didn't have a chance to bake my tartlets until Monday afternoon.  I divided the dough into four pieces (about 9 oz each) and immediately stashed two in the freezer for later. (Still debating what to do with the extra piece in the fridge--may also go to the freezer for now.)

To make the tartlets, I rolled out one of the pieces of dough to about 1/8 inch thick--it may have been a bit thicker, but it was close.  Then I hunted around in my cabinet for something that was about 4 inches in diameter to use for a template.  I ended up with the lid to a sour cream container. =)  I traced around it with my fluted pastry wheel to cut out four circles.  Next was the choice of fruit--apple or peach?  I put out another query on Twitter.  Turns out that Nancy tried these with a variety of fruit, but like the apple the best.  So I decided to go with apple.  I peeled and cut up my apples and placed them on the dough circles (on a parchment-lined pan).  They looked funny--there was a big hole in the middle from where I'd removed the apple cores.  Oh, well.  I continued on, adding some brown sugar and butter and popped them in the oven.

Twenty minutes later I checked on the tartlets.  Okay, that's a lie.  I probably turned on the oven light and peeked at them through the oven window half a dozen times in the first ten minutes, watching like a little kid to see if the pastry was puffing. =)  Fortunately it was.  Not a lot, but I expected that, since I used the fluted cutter rather than a straight knife (which compresses the layers a bit at the edge, making it harder for them to separate and puff).  But when I took them out for a closer look at twenty minutes, they definitely weren't done.  More tweeting ensued, since Tania was baking her tartlets at the same time I was.  I decided that the holes in the middle of the apples were bothering me too much, so I filled them with raisins and put the tartlets back in.  After a total of 45 minutes of baking, I finally pulled them out because I had to go pick the girls up from daycare.

When I got back, I looked at the little tarts again.  They definitely looked kind of sad, nothing like the pretty picture in the book.  Tania suggested they needed caramel sauce or something, which sounded good to me.  That's a sure sign of how far I've come in the past year and a half.  I thought nothing of whipping up a quick batch of salted caramel sauce (starting from white sugar and water) while making dinner.  And it definitely made my tarts much nicer looking. =)

The verdict?  The apples definitely weren't cooked all the way through.  I seem to have this problem a lot with Dorie's recipes (often when I substitute apples for another fruit).  I think I need to try a different kind of apple or something.  But they still tasted good, especially with the caramel.  The pastry was fantastic.  I split one of the tartlets for the girls to try.  Gillian ate everything but the apples.  Brianna just ate the raisins out of the middle of hers.  Jamie and I split another one, eating the whole thing. =)  I still have lots of pastry dough left, so I think I may have to try these again with different fruit.  

Be sure to head over to Jessica's blog to see some really lovely tartlets.  And of course check out the blogroll at Tuesdays with Dorie to see what everyone else did this week.  

Saturday, June 6, 2009

My kitchen library

I've talked a bit in the past about my extensive cookbook collection.  Okay, mostly I've talked about the additions that I've been making to it. =)  When we moved into our house (going on eight years ago), we put a bookcase in the kitchen to hold my cooking and baking books.  I figured I had plenty of room for growth.  (The computer is in the kitchen as well--I've got a great set-up!)  But I've been acquiring new books faster than I expected, and for a while now space has been getting a bit tight.  In fact, even though I weeded out some books that I don't use much, the bookcase got to be completely full, with books stacked on top of books and more on the floor.  See:

Yes, this is just the cookbooks.

I've wanted to do something about the cramped conditions in my library for a while now.  I've been scouting out options, and found something at IKEA that I thought would work nicely.  And a couple weekends ago, we finally bought it!  We brought everything home (we got some other storage stuff while we were at it) and being of sound mind (mostly), waited until the girls were in bed to start putting things together.  I have to say, I've put together quite a few bookcases in my time, and this one was probably the easiest I've ever assembled.  

We only ran into one problem.  I measured the space where the old bookcase was, to make sure the new one would fit.  And it would have, as far as height and width were concerned.  But I didn't realize that the new one was much deeper than the old one, and it blocked the access to the bathroom off the kitchen.  After putting our heads together, Jamie and I decided that it would work better in the living room.  So we moved the new one over there (not far) and put the old empty bookcase back in its original spot.

We were too tired that night to actually transfer the books, so that had to wait for the next day.  My kitchen table looked pretty interesting for a bit:

Jamie was at work (morning of Memorial Day), so Brianna and Gillian helped me move the books over to their new location.  It took me a little while to decide how to arrange things and how to adjust the shelf heights, but when we were done we had this:

How cool is that?!  I was able to fit everything into the new bookcase and still have some room left for growth.  I actually put stuff in there that I'd weeded out of the old one due to lack of space.  For now at least, I figure I have the space, so why not just keep them out.  The left side is mainly baking and the right side is mainly cooking. 

Here's a closer look at the baking shelves.  On top are the smaller books which are mainly collections of food essays, rather than regular cookbooks:  

Then we have books from Dorie Greenspan, King Arthur Flour, Rose Levy Beranbaum, and my other bread books:

Next we have chocolate, cakes, and other pastry books from the likes of Alice Medrich, Sherry Yard, and the CIA:

And at the bottom are the more scientific books, from America's Test Kitchen, Alton Brown, Shirley Corriher, and Harold McGee:

So the only question left is, what did I do with the old bookcase?  Well, when we moved into this house, I also thought it would take a really long time to fill up my kitchen cabinets.  But with all the baking I've been doing for the last year and a half, I've managed to acquire a few new pieces of bakeware along with my cookbooks. =)  So I've decided to put some of them on display, along with some of the dishes I use for taking blog pictures: 

Hopefully this will hold me for a while! =)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I will bake wif you

Life around the Cannone house has been rather challenging lately.  Of course, when is it not?  More specifically, I'm having issues with Gillian.  I've mentioned before that she's definitely making sure we all know that she's two (and a half).  But it seems like lately she's going through a particularly infuriating stage.

I know Brianna's pretty fed up, too.  Gillian keeps taking her stuff.  She has also taken to hitting, pinching, and kicking all of us when she thinks she can get away with it.  Trying to discipline her is hard, because she's at an age where she doesn't entirely understand consequences.  I can take toys away, but she doesn't always care.  It used to be that I could just dump her in the crib or playpen, which she didn't like, but that went out the window once she learned to climb out.  The most annoying part is that her response to pretty much anything anyone says is "No!" as she's running away, laughing the whole time.

I know that this is normal.  I remember Brianna going through the same thing.  Unfortunately, I don't really remember how long it lasted.  Not much longer, I hope.  Brianna tries to retreat to their room and play on her own so she doesn't have to deal with Gillian.  That usually works for a while, until Gillian decides to go looking for her.  The most successful tactic seems to be to find something to distract Gillian that she really likes to do.

This Sunday morning was a good example.  Brianna was playing quite happily in her room (Barbies or something with little pieces that she doesn't want Gillian around), while Gillian played downstairs.  When I wasn't looking, Gillian headed upstairs.  Next thing I knew, I was hearing yelling and crying from upstairs as Gillian got into something she shouldn't have.  So I headed upstairs to break it up.  I picked Gillian up, kicking and screaming, and carried her back downstairs.  As we went, I whispered to her that if she wanted, she could help me make cake.  The tears immediately stopped.  As we got to the bottom of the steps, I sent her to the bathroom to go potty and wash her hands.  She responded with, "When I'm done washing my hands you have to take the big stepstool and put it by the island and then I will bake wif you!"

So we got everything set up to make this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Cinnamon Squares.  This week's pick was made by Tracey of Tracey's Culinary Adventures.  It's a snackcake with cinnamon added to the batter, as well as a cinnamon and chocolate swirl in the middle and some chocolate glaze on top.  It seemed like a good candidate for dessert at a potluck that we were going to Sunday evening.  I decided to double the recipe and bake the cake in a 13"x9" pan, since I expected there to be quite a few people.

I first put Gillian to work on mixing up the ingredients for the swirl--cinnamon, sugar and espresso powder.  About that time, Brianna showed up to see what we were doing.  She wanted to help too, of course, so I put her to work on the wet ingredients.  She likes to crack eggs, though I have to remind her to rap the sides on the counter, not the ends. =)  She whisked them together with some milk and vanilla.  After reading through the recipe, I decided to follow Nancy's lead and substitute yogurt for some of the melted butter.  Otherwise I would have used 20 tablespoons for my doubled recipe!  I used 4 ounces of plain whole milk yogurt, which Brianna mixed in with the other wet ingredients.

Meanwhile, I had Gillian work on the dry ingredients for the cake batter.  I got out a really big bowl and had her mix the flour, sugar, salt (I used 1 teaspoon for my big cake), leavening, and cinnamon.  I've found that adding spices or different flours is great when working with kids--you can see how well they've mixed everything by seeing how evenly the colored ingredients are dispersed. =)  

I did the final mixing (stir wet ingredients into dry, then fold in my 6 ounces of melted butter), since we were dealing with a really large quantity of batter.  I put half in the pan (actually it was probably more like two-thirds) and sprinkled it with the cinnamon-sugar mixture.  Brianna helped add the mini chocolate chips.  About that time, I realized that I forgot to line the bottom of the pan with parchment, but there wasn't much we could do, so I kept going.  I carefully spread the rest of the batter on top, then into the oven it went.  I kind of guessed at the baking time, and ended up baking it for 45 minutes, at which point it tested done.  It was hard to do a toothpick test because of the chocolate inside, but it was starting to pull away from the sides slightly and looked done in the middle.  

I debated whether or not to try to take the cake out of the pan, since I'd forgotten the parchment.  I decided not to risk it, and figured it would make it easier to transport the cake to the potluck anyway.  I mixed up the chocolate glaze--I went with one and a half times the original amount--and spread it on top.  I put the cake in the fridge for a few minutes to set the glaze, and then we headed out.

The verdict?  The cake seemed to be well-received.  It turned out that another person also brought a cake, so they didn't eat as much of mine as I expected.  So some of what was left went to the daycare, where it was apparently enjoyed a lot.  Brianna and Gillian both seemed to enjoy it, and were proud of the fact that they helped make it.  I really enjoyed the flavor of the cake itself.  And I liked the combination of cinnamon and espresso in the swirl.  Much as I like chocolate, I think I'll skip the chocolate inside and on top next time.  I think pecans would be a good addition, possibly as part of a streusel on top (more thanks to Nancy for the idea).  The texture of the cake was good, and seemed fine with the yogurt substitution.  
I think with the changes, this would make a very good brunch item.

Head on over to Tracey's blog for the recipe.  And check out the blogroll at Tuesdays with Dorie for lots of other yummy takes on this week's recipe.