Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving treats

So the Thanksgiving meal that I cooked today was actually the second one that I had this year.  I've certainly has more than one Thanksgiving in the past.  One of the most memorable was the first year I was living in Seattle, when my first husband Nate and I had three Thanksgiving dinners in 3 days.  I didn't even want to look at turkey for quite some time after that. =)  All the meals were quite good, just too much.

This year's was a bit different.  Brianna has the days before and after Thanksgiving off from school, so on Tuesday they offer traditional Thanksgiving fare in the cafeteria for lunch.  Parents are always welcome to eat lunch with their children, but are specially invited for that day.  And while Brianna almost always takes lunch to school with her, that's one of the few days when she actually buys lunch.  Last year it was easy, since I was on vacation the whole week of Thanksgiving.  This year, I had to work the whole day (8:30am til almost 8:00pm), so it was a bit more challenging.  But I was able to make it work by taking a slightly longer than usual lunch.  The food actually was okay--turkey in gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, a roll and apple crisp for dessert.  But I swear, I probably consumed well over my recommended intake of sodium for the week in that one meal.  I think the salty gravy must be intended to cover up the rather bland potatoes. =)  But it was worth it because Brianna was so happy that I came to eat lunch with her.  And that's what Thanksgiving is all about, right?

The other nice thing that the school does each year is prepare Thanksgiving treats for all the teachers and staff.  Members of the PTA collect baked goods from everyone in the car line in the morning (repeated requests for donations, either homemade or store-bought, go out to all the parents for several days before that).  Then they wrap them up and distribute the items randomly to the teachers.  Last year, I was able to help with the whole process.  This year, I couldn't be there to help, but I figured I could at least contribute some good stuff. =)

One thing I learned last year was that it would be better to bring several small things than one big cake.  There's always that worry that not enough items will be collected to give something to everyone.  I decided to make this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, the All-in-One Holiday Bundt Cake, but in smaller versions.  The recipe was selected by Britin of The Nitty Britty.  I thought it would be a good choice because it has a little something for everyone--pumpkin, apples, cranberries and pecans.

I ended up making the recipe twice.  For the first batch, I used all the ingredients listed in the recipe.  I did make a change with the apple, though.  Instead of dicing it, I shredded it on the large holes of my box grater.  Then I squeezed a bit of the juice out of it before adding the apple to the batter, since I didn't want the cake to be soggy.  I put the batter in two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pans, and baked them for 55 minutes.  We cut into one loaf, and I saved the second for the teachers.  It turned out good, but as I expected, Brianna and Gillian weren't excited about the nuts.

So for round two, I left out the pecans.  At Brianna's request, I added chocolate chips in their place. =)  I also increased the amount of cranberries, since it seemed like there weren't enough in the first batch.  In between the two baking sessions, I had the chance to visit Sur la Table and get a couple of mini bundt pans.  They're three cups each in volume, so I used both of them plus a couple of my mini loaf pans.  I baked them all for 35 minutes.  Once the bundts had cooled, I drizzled them with a simple powdered sugar/milk glaze.

The verdict?  I liked both of the versions, but preferred the one without nuts.  The chocolate chips were actually a nice addition.  The apple didn't stand out at all, but it did add a little something.  I was quite happy with the texture and moisture level of the cakes.  I took the rest of the loaf that we sampled work with me.  It disappeared quickly, so I guess my employees it was good. =)  Hopefully the teachers who received my goodies will enjoy them.  I would definitely make this one again, maybe playing around a bit more.  And I can't wait to try some more recipes in my new pans!

If you'd like to try this one, head over to Britin's blog for the recipe.  And check out the TWD blogroll to see what everyone else made this week.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dough from Dorie

I've been in some sort of a blogging slump lately.  I've been baking, and even taking some pictures, but haven't been writing much.  I've even been having a hard time participating in the blogging events that I usually enjoy a lot.  So I'm trying to shake myself out of it.  Work has been crazy, but I don't want that to bring me down anymore.  Kids have been crazy, but hey, what else is new? =)  The holidays are here, bringing with them lots of fabulous cooking magazines, both regular November and December issues and some holiday newsstand specials.  This is the perfect time of year for blogging--in fact, I'm coming up on my second blogiversary very soon.  Hard to believe I've been at this that long!!

One thing that I'm looking forward to is the next round of Adopt-a-Blogger.  If you're a veteran blogger, please consider signing up.  I know Kristen always gets lots of newbies wanting help, so more experienced bloggers are always needed.

It's also been a while since I participated in Magazine Mondays.  But the above mentioned stack of magazines has inspired me.  In particular, something from the December 2009 issue of Bon Appetit caught my eye.  I used to subscribe to Bon Appetit, but stopped several years ago because I wasn't enjoying the magazine all that much anymore.  But that was before I started blogging and talking to other bakers via Twitter.  A couple months ago, I picked up an issue, based on comments from some of my tweeting friends.  I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it (the October 2009 issue).  For one thing, some of the articles are by authors I recognize and like a lot, such as the wonderful Dorie Greenspan.  And Peter Reinhart (breads in the November issue).  In fact, I decided to start subscribing again to save myself some money. =)

Anyway, where was I going with this?  Oh, right, the December issue.  Dorie's column jumped right out at me.  Sticky buns really aren't one of my favorites.  But these were different than the ones I've made before.  They use a Spiced Sweet Dough as the base.  I took a look at the recipe, and it's a sweeter, lean brioche with cinnamon, ginger and orange zest.  Mmm.  I had to make it.  But I didn't make sticky buns with it.  In addition to the recipe in the paper magazine, there's another one online for Streusel-Topped Chocolate-Cranberry Bread.  Now that sounded really good, especially since I recently discovered that I love cranberries and chocolate together.  The only problem is that I didn't read the recipe closely enough.  It wasn't until after I had chilled the sweet dough overnight that I realized that I was supposed to add the cranberries and chocolate before chilling.  Oops.  Now what?

I decided to play around.  I ended up using the dough to make something similar to a Danish braid, like I made here.  I took half of the dough and rolled it out into a rectangle.  I spread cream cheese filling down the middle third of the dough and cut the sides into strips for braiding.  (Check out some great how-to pics from Kelly at Sass & Veracity here.)  After braiding, I let the dough proof until puffy (maybe about an hour?) and then baked it for about 25 minutes at 350 degrees F.  For the other half of the dough, I used cream cheese filling and also some raspberry fruit butter.  I drizzled the still-warm bread with a simple glaze of powdered sugar and milk.

The verdict?  I really, really like this dough.  I will definitely be making it again.  I should have used more filling, since the dough rises a lot more than Danish dough, and the ratio of filling to pastry was off.  But it was still quite tasty.  Jamie and the girls all liked it, too.  Next up will be the chocolate-cranberry bread for sure. =)

You can find the recipe for the dough here.  I'm sure there are lots of other fun things that can be made with it.  And besides sending this over to Ivonne for Magazine Mondays, I'm submitting this to Yeastspotting.  Oh, and my TWD post will be coming in the next day or two, since Laurie said it was okay to post late this week due to the holiday.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

When you least expect it

Okay, it's time to do something about this poor blog post.  It's a shame that I've left it languishing in my drafts folder (with nothing but pictures) because this dessert deserves so much better.  It is without a doubt one of my favorite Tuesdays with Dorie recipes so far.  If you haven't tried it, you need to.  And to think I almost didn't make it...

Which recipe am I talking about?  The Cherry Fudge Brownie Torte.  Or, in my case, cranberry instead of cherry.  Why?  Because I don't like cherries.  But that's okay, because this torte is fabulous with cranberries--the tartness is a nice surprise inside the sweet rich chocolate brownie base.  And I know that some people left off the mousse layer, but it really makes the cake.  It's light and fluffy and not very sweet and is an excellent contrast to the brownie layer.

The recipe was chosen by April of short + rose, and was supposed to be posted back on October 27th, but I had just returned from a whirlwind trip to Pennsylvania.  And I actually made it the first weekend in October.  When I first read the list of October recipes, I wasn't sure about making the brownie torte.  For one thing, it had cherries, and at first I couldn't think of a good substitute.  And the dessert is quite large, and I wasn't sure I wanted to make it just for us.  I could do a smaller version, like I have for some of the other TWD recipes, but I still wasn't sold on the idea.  But then we had a manager trainee at my branch.  And it was her birthday on the 5th.  I always make birthday cakes at work.  And she said she'd take whatever I wanted to make.  =)

I mostly followed the recipe, but of course made some substitutions.  As I mentioned, I used dried cranberries in place of the cherries.  I used rum to flambe them, and then added raspberry fruit butter instead of cherry preserves.  I used Ghirardelli 72% pieces for the melted chocolate, and folded in 4 ounces of Guittard 63% chocolate chips at the end.  My brownie baked for 45 minutes.  To dress things up a bit, I piped stars of the mousse on top of the brownie base.  It looked a bit plain, though, so I added chocolate shavings to the top as well.

The verdict?  Wow.  Like I said, this is one of my favorite TWD recipes ever, and I've made a lot of them.  It was a hit with everyone else who sampled it, too.  I will certainly be making this again, probably for the holidays (if I can wait that long).  I loved the cranberries with the chocolate (I'm not sure I've tried them together before) and the surprise bits of solid chocolate in the brownie part.  As I said above, I think the mousse is an essential part of the dessert.  It's not much by itself, but it's amazing paired with the brownie.  I really wish I had some more right now...

If you'd like to try this one for yourself, head on over to April's blog for the recipe.  And check out what the other TWD bakers have made this week.  (I didn't make another one of the November selections yet, so I'm playing catch-up with this one.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Measure twice, bake once

I realized recently that I might have a problem.  It seems that I've become dependent...on my kitchen scale.  The biggest clue was a couple weeks ago when my scale started acting crazy, and I started going through withdrawal. By crazy, I mean that I would put something on it, and the scale would say that it either weighed nothing, or weighed 8 pounds.  Not good.  At first I thought it was just that the batteries were dying.  So I figured out what kind of batteries to get (and where to find them, thanks Nancy).  I went out the next morning and got some, came home, figured out how to get the old ones out, and put the new ones in.  I held my breath as I placed a handy mug on the scale, watched the display, and sighed in disappointment as it once again registered over 8 pounds.  I had to face facts--the scale was broken.  Now what?

I tried to make one recipe without it.  I had to use a dry measuring cup for flour.  I don't remember the last time I didn't weigh flour.  It was enough to send me running for the computer to investigate new scales immediately.  I have an online subscription to Cooks Illustrated, and quickly found a report on scales.  I discovered that since I bought my scale, OXO had come out with one.  It had all the features of my scale, with some cool additions.  I've liked all of the other OXO tools that I've acquired (like the rolling pin I love), so I decided to give it a try.  I scouted online for places to buy one, and went out and got it.  Okay, not exactly.  It's worth noting that the scale comes in two versions--5 pounds and 11 pounds.  First I bought the smaller one at Target because I was able to run in and pick it up on my way to work.  My thought was that I never make batches of dough that are more than 4 or 5 pounds.  What I didn't think about was the fact that you have to take into account the weight of the bowls, too.  One of my favorite bowls is glass and weighs at least a couple pounds...  So I figured out where to get the other one, went and bought it, and returned the smaller one.  Total elapsed time from when I first noticed the problems with the old scale until I had the new 11-pound one? Less than 48 hours, even with all the drama.  Like I said, I think I have a problem.  =)

By now you're probably wondering, what does all this have to do with this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe?  This week's recipe is Cran-Apple Crisp, chosen by Em of The Repressed Pastry Chef.  It's very straightforward to make, using the food processor to combine the ingredients for the topping.  Flour, oats, brown sugar, pecans (since I despise coconut), cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg (because I love nutmeg), butter, and salt (because I tasted the topping and thought I forgot the salt--turns out there isn't any in the recipe?!).  My usual method is to put a container on my scale and add the ingredients, taring the scale after each one.  The recipes in the book don't include weights, but I've had success using a weight of 4.5 ounces for each cup of all-purpose flour.  For other ingredients, I use tables in a couple of my cookbooks  that give weights for common baking ingredients.  I've found brown sugar listed as either 7.5 or 8 ounces per cup.  I split the difference, going with 1 7/8 ounces for a quarter-cup.

After I prepared the topping, I cut up apples (using up three Jonamacs that were sitting in my fruit drawer, along with one Macoun), tossed in fresh (frozen) and dried cranberries, and added some vanilla sugar (I cut it back to 1/2 cup, or 3.5 ounces), a bit of flour, and a pinch of salt.  I put the fruit in my oval gratin dish, added the topping, and baked the crisp for 45 minutes.  The recipe says to let the crisp rest for about 20 minutes if you make a single large dish, but we didn't wait that long.  The crisp was definitely on the juicy side because of that, but the juices just mingled nicely with the vanilla bean ice cream that I had made to go with it.

The verdict?  Jamie and I really enjoyed the crisp.  I love apples and cranberries together, and fruit crisp is a favorite of mine.  It makes an excellent breakfast, and the filling thickened up a bit as it cooled overnight. =)  But as we were eating it the night I made it, something seemed off with the texture and taste of the topping.  Hmm.  Then I figured out what it was.  Remember my note about the weight of the quarter cup of brown sugar?  Even better than deciding what weight of sugar to use would have been noticing that the recipe call for half a cup of brown sugar...  Good news is, the crisp was still quite good.  And when I make it again, I think I'll add more of the sugar, but maybe not the full amount.

If you'd like to try this one for yourself, with the correct amounts of ingredients, head over to Em's blog for the recipe.   And check out the TWD blogroll to see what everyone else made this week.  Laurie has given permission for us to post the recipes out of order this month, so there are several tasty things out there for your viewing pleasure.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Trick or treat

Parenthood gives you a whole new perspective on a lot of things.  Some of them are obvious from the start.  Others sneak up on you.  Daylight savings time, for instance.  There was a time when my only thought about it was that I'd get an hour more or less sleep.  Not so with kids.  For one thing, even if they can tell time, their internal clocks don't care.  So it was just me who felt really annoyed that the clock said 6:45 when they got up on Sunday morning.  Then everyone was thrown off for the day, and ended up being tired and cranky despite the "extra hour of sleep."  Yeah, right, like anyone got any extra sleep on Sunday. =)  It took forever to get Gillian to nap, and then it was really hard to get her to go to sleep that night.  Brianna was also really tired, but good luck getting her to admit that and actually take a nap.  The time change was definitely the "trick" part of my weekend.

The treat was actually being home on Saturday, which meant that I was able to join several people via Twitter to make Dorie's Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies.  Technically these are the TWD selection for November 17th.  But our fearless leader Laurie is allowing us to post out of order this month.  (thank you!)  The person responsible for this pick is one of my favorite bloggy friends, Pamela of Cookies with Boys.  Thank you, Pamela, for picking something delicious that I was able to fit into my crazy life right now.

This really is a great cookie recipe.  Chewy and spicy, with a hint of heat from a bunch of ginger and a bit of black pepper.  One suggestion--be sure to check your supply of molasses before you start mixing.  The recipe calls for half a cup.  I only had about a third of a cup of mild molasses, so I used dark for the rest.  The dough was easy to mix together, and just required a short stay in the fridge (or freezer) to firm up.  I disregarded the instructions for forming the cookies, though.  Instead of dividing the dough into pieces, I simply used my #40 disher to scoop up balls of dough.  (I got 28.)  I rolled them smooth between my hands, then rolled them in vanilla sugar.  For the first pan, I totally missed the instruction to flatten the dough balls with a glass.  I was quite happy with the results, though, so I didn't bother with it on the subsequent pans.  I baked the cookies (9 to a sheet, since Dorie warned us that they spread a lot) for about 14 minutes.  I let them cool on the sheet pan for about 5 minutes, then transferred them to a rack to cool the rest of the way, and tried to restrain myself from tasting them while they were still hot.

The verdict?  These are really fantastic!  I love spice cookies, and these are wonderful.  I couldn't really taste the pepper, but there is a hint of something there that you can't quite identify.  My cookies were nice and chewy, but you could bake them a bit longer if you prefer crisp cookies.  I made the full recipe, but ended up taking some to work on Monday to share, because these are way too dangerous to keep a full batch around.  I've already eaten more than my fair share.  Jamie really liked them as well.  As usual, my spice girl Gillian liked them too, but Brianna wasn't sure.  I'll definitely be making these again!

Pamela will have the recipe up on her blog in a couple weeks, but you can also find it here.  (Edited to add--You can find the recipe here on Pamela's blog.)  Be sure to check out Pamela's blog anyway, for the great food and wonderful pictures of her two little boys.  =)  And head over to the Tuesdays with Dorie blogroll so you can check out everyone else's creations for this week.  And of course, I have to share pictures of my little trick-or-treaters. =)