Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The mother of invention

I lost count.  I was really excited last month when I realized that I had a blogging milestone coming up.  I knew it would be sometime in February.  But I apparently wasn't paying attention.  So instead of happily announcing that I am at post #400, I can now tell you that I'm at post #402.  Oh, well. =)

Even though I already posted some this month, I figured such a momentous event called for celebrating with brownies.  Who am I kidding?  I don't need an excuse to make brownies.  But it is a good opportunity to make some new brownies.  Ones that I won't have that much competition for, since I have a feeling my kids won't eat them.  The one category I had left for this month was magazine focus.    It's not usually the first place I look, but I thought I'd try Bon Appetit.  I like a lot of what I read in the magazine, but don't search their website all that often.  The recipe that quickly caught my eye was the Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts.  It's from Alice Medrich, and I've made enough of her recipes to be pretty confident that I'd like the brownies.

I only made a couple of small changes to the recipe--I used pecans instead of walnuts, and I added salt--half a teaspoon.  I also took a shortcut and simply lined my pan with non-stick foil.  I may try another cocoa powder in the future, but for this round I went with plain old Hershey's.  The batter was easy to mix up, and I love the fact that you can make it in one pot.  The suggested baking time of 25 minutes worked great for me.

The only downside is that I was making the brownies last night after dinner.  So I knew it was going to be challenging to get decent pictures.  Sometimes I can manage to take pictures in the morning before work, but I had a very long day today.  I left the house before the sun was up, and knew that I wouldn't be home again until long after it set.  Then inspiration hit--I took a page from my friend Abby's book (she likes to take dough on field trips), and took the brownies to work with me.  Now you're probably thinking, she takes baked goods to work all the time.  That's true, but not with the intent of taking pictures of them in natural light.  Which meant, in my car:

The verdict?  The pictures turned out better than I expected. =)  I need to work on the setup if I do this again, but at least the color in the pictures is good.  The brownies were really good, too.  Jamie and I both like them a lot.  I'm not usually in a nuts-in-my-chocolate mood, but I love pecans, and they worked really well in these brownies.  I think the salt was a good addition, too.  I did share the brownies with one of my coworkers, who thought they were fantastic.

If you'd like to try the recipe for yourself, you can find it here at Bon Appetit!  So what's the most unusual thing you've done to get good blog pictures? =)

Wordless Wednesday - Shiny

(ordered from my awesome friend Anandi - check out more of her stuff!)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Grin and slurp it

I think we've hit a new milestone.  I got to sleep until 7:45am on a Sunday morning.  When I got up, both girls had been up for a little while, but it seems they didn't feel the need to get me out of bed as well.  Gillian has done this a few times lately, so I think she may have finally given up on insisting that I be awake anytime she is. =)  Oh, and we did have one other milestone this weekend:

really not sure how it's possible for her to be old enough to be losing teeth

Once I'm up, though, the questions begin.  "Is breakfast ready yet?"  "What are we having for breakfast?"  "Why haven't you started making our breakfast yet?!"  I like to bake muffins or scones on the weekend so we'll have stuff to eat for a few days during the week, but B & G aren't very patient about waiting while I do that.  Today, though, we tried something new.  Brianna asked me the other night if I knew how to make fruit smoothies.  I've been trying to find ways to get a greater variety of fruits into our diet, and this was a perfect opportunity.  When we went grocery shopping, I picked up some frozen raspberries and mango chunks as well as some fresh raspberries.  (I already had frozen peaches in the freezer, though I should probably make sure they haven't turned into a solid block of ice, since I'm not sure how long they've been in there.)  

So to hold off the ravenous horde while I did some baking, I pulled out my blender.  I can tell it's been a while since I've done that, since G commented that "I didn't know we had one of those!" =)  I started with a cup of plain yogurt.  (I usually keep Brown Cow full-fat yogurt on hand to eat with my granola.)  I added a bit of honey, since I know the girls aren't big fans of the plain yogurt as it is.  I tossed in some chunks of frozen mango and some of the fresh raspberries and about a quarter cup of milk to keep things from being too thick.  I blended it all until it was fairly smooth.

The verdict?  Definitely a hit!  Both girls finished their smoothies pretty quickly.  It doesn't hurt that they love drinking through straws.  I tasted a bit of what was left in the blender and thought it was pretty tasty.  We'll have to try some different fruit combinations to see what else they like.  And I've got a way to shut down the constant nagging. =)

Raspberry Mango Smoothies

225 grams (8 ounces) plain yogurt
22 grams (1 tablespoon) honey
85 grams (3 ounces) frozen mango chunks
60 grams (2 ounces) raspberries (fresh or frozen)
60 grams (2 ounces) milk (we used 1%)

Add all of the ingredients to a blender.  (I find it easiest to put my blender container on my scale and add everything to it, taring between ingredients.)  Blend until the mixture is smooth, which may take a minute or two if you use all frozen fruit.  Divide the mixture between two glasses and serve with straws. =)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wordless Wednesday - 41

Vanilla Cupcake with Chocolate Frosting (both from Bon Appetit Desserts)
that I made for my birthday yesterday;
frosted with a 2D tip as in this video (via Tracey)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tarts and Pi

I was excited to see the second pick this month for the TWD-Baking with Julia group.  Our group of hosts (Steph, Spike, Jessica & Jaime) chose Chocolate Truffle Tartlets for us to make this week.  I love chocolate, and I love tarts.  I like pie too, but there's something great about a tart--I really like crust, and the ratio of filling to crust in a tart is just right for me.  In addition to dessert tarts, I like to make savory ones as well.  

In the course of my TWD journey, I've acquired a lot of bakeware.  It's a testament to my love of tarts that even 4+ years ago, before I started TWD, I owned tart pans in several sizes.  I know I had a 9 1/2" one and an 11" one, as well as a set of half a dozen 4 1/2" tartlet pans.  I might have even had the 10 1/4" one already.  In an attempt to make smaller tarts--so I could make them more often with less guilt (since most tart crusts have lots of butter), sometime in the past year I picked up 6" and 8" ones.  Oh, and I also have a 14" x 4 1/2" rectangular pan that I love.  

I knew I wanted to make half the recipe, which would be three tartlets.  I didn't want to figure out a good way to divide that between four people, so I decided to make a larger tart.  So I had to determine what size to use.  That led me to one of my favorite baking activities, doing the math. =)  Yes, I know most of you are shaking your heads, wondering if I'm crazy.  But I really do enjoy it.  

My tart pans are all about the same in depth, so I really only had to do a calculation of the surface area.  The recipe says it makes six 4 1/2" tartlets.  So for one, it's 2.25 x 2.25 x π, or about 16 square inches.  For six, that's a total of about 96 square inches.  I planned to halve the recipe, so I needed a pan with about 48 square inches in area.  My 8" tart pan has an area of 4 x 4 x π, which is about 50 square inches.  Close enough!

Even though I was making half the recipe, I went ahead and made the full amount of tart dough.  I didn't want to mess with half an egg yolk, and I figured I could just freeze the extra dough.  As I've mentioned before, I prefer natural cocoa powder, so that's what I used.  In this case it was Hershey's since I didn't think the flavor of the crust would stand out due to the filling (so no point in breaking out the really good stuff).  As instructed, I left the bottom out of the tart pan (never done that before!).  The 8" pan fit nicely on one of my quarter sheet pans that I lined with parchment.  

I got a nice upper body workout making the filling.  I know that my stand mixer doesn't do a good job whipping small volumes, and I hate dragging out my hand mixer (it's a bit buried in one of my cabinets).  So I grabbed my balloon whisk and a big bowl and beat the egg yolks, vanilla and sugar by hand.  It really wasn't bad, since I was using the right tools for the job.  I added a big pinch of salt to the sugar when I was adding it; I find that it adds a lot to chocolate desserts.  For the filling, I used 60% chocolate (Agostoni discs that I buy at Central Market).  I skipped the cookies in the filling, not being in the mood for crunch.  Instead, I increased the amount of chocolate chunks (to about 100 grams total for my half recipe).  I don't care for white chocolate, so I used a mix of milk chocolate and dark chocolate for the chunks.  (I got into my supply of Trader Joe's chocolate that I brought back from our trip to Ohio early last summer. )  To make the chocolate easier to cut into chunks without it breaking into lots of little shards, I microwaved the bigger pieces of chocolate on 10% power for about 30 seconds first.  

I wasn't sure about the baking time for my 8" tart versus the tartlets.  I ended up baking the empty crust for 14 minutes.  (I froze it beforehand to make sure it would hold its shape while baking.)  My filling took 15 minutes to be dry on top and apparently set in the middle.  The tart had a chance to cool for over an hour before we cut into it, so it was pretty close to room temperature.  

The verdict?  I must have guessed well on the bake time, because the texture of the tart was perfect.  I have no doubt that we'll be making this recipe again--it was really delicious.  Brianna was a bit disappointed that the texture wasn't the same after the tart had been in the fridge overnight--she liked the slightly oozing texture it had at room temperature.  The tart was very rich; I'm not sure how anyone would be up for eating a whole 4 1/2" tartlet.  We got 8 servings out of my 8" tart, and I think I'll stick with that size in the future. 

If you'd like to give this recipe a try, you can find the recipe in the book, of course.  You can also find it by visiting this week's hosts.  To see what everyone else thought of the Truffle Tart(lets), check out this week's Links!  

p.s. I'll be back tomorrow with some cupcakes, since today is my birthday! =)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

One-sentence Wednesday - From the heart

For our Valentine's Day breakfast, I tweaked a scone recipe from King Arthur Flour--substituting cocoa powder for some of the flour (I used 42 grams of cocoa & 285 grams of flour) and adding a cup (170 grams) of chocolate chips--cut my scones into hearts, baked them for 18 minutes (skipping the freezing step), and added a simple glaze (milk & powdered sugar); the girls were impressed that I made them heart-shaped. =)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Heart of darkness

I didn't have Valentine's Day in mind when I made these brownies.  I just really wanted some chocolate.  The heart shape came about because brown squares aren't terribly photogenic. =)  I feel a little like a copycat, posting these Sweet and Salty Brownies relatively soon after my friend Tracey did. I admit, she was the immediate inspiration, but I've actually made them about 4 times in the past year.   Unfortunately, until this most recent batch, I didn't manage to take any pictures of them so I could actually post about them.  We were too busy eating them. =)  The brownies come from a cookbook that I picked up after Christmas last year--Baked Explorations.  This was actually was the first recipe that I made from the book.  (And I really need to delve into it more than I have so far.)  The recipe makes a 13"x9" pan, and since the brownies are really rich, I always cut them small, so there are plenty to share.  

To make the brownies, the first thing you do is make a salted caramel sauce.  I've mentioned before that I became a much bigger caramel fan after I discovered what a difference it makes to add salt to it.  With a full teaspoon of fleur de sel as well as some sour cream, this particular caramel sauce has a complexity to it that I really enjoy.  The next step is to make brownie batter.  I like mine bittersweet, so I used some 70% El Rey for the chocolate.  The recipe also calls for dark cocoa powder, like Valrhona.  I prefer natural cocoa; since there isn't any leavening that would be affected, I went with my preference and used Scharffen Berger cocoa powder.  Once the brownie batter is made, you spread half of it in your prepared pan--I line my Pyrex pan with non-stick foil rather than parchment.  Next you drizzle some of the caramel over the batter, and spread it to form a thin layer.  Finally, you top it with the remaining brownie batter, then stick the pan in a 350º oven.  (My brownies took 30 minutes to bake.)  Once they come out of the oven, you sprinkle the top with a mix of fleur de sel and coarse sugar; I used turbinado sugar for mine.  

The verdict?  Well, as I mentioned above, these brownies are very rich, and very delicious.  I love salt with chocolate as well as with caramel.  I also prefer fudgy brownies (as opposed to cakey ones), and these are definitely in my favorite category.  Everyone here loved them, as did my coworkers.  They've also been a hit at the daycare when I've taken them there in the past.  

If you'd like to try these for yourself, you can find the recipe in Baked Explorations.  You can also find it all over the web, but I encourage you to check out the cookbook (maybe your local library has it!) since there are lots of other great recipes in it.  Hopefully I can manage to make and blog about some more of them soon. =)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I did it my way

I used to be so good.

When I first joined Tuesdays with Dorie four years ago, I was very excited.  And I was careful to follow the recipes as written.  For my first recipe, the Brown Sugar-Apple Cheesecake (2/12/2008, can you believe it's been that long?!), I even bought a new pan, since I didn't have the 10" springform pan that was called for in the recipe.  That was before I learned to make small versions of some recipes, so we didn't have the temptation here at home and I didn't always have to find other people to eat things.  Then I started to play around more with the recipes, and not just in the ways that Dorie suggested.  Which brings me to this week's recipe.  I was excited to see that Laurie & Jules picked a bread recipe for our first week of TWD: Baking with Julia.  I love to bake bread.  At one point, I was baking pretty much all of the bread-type things that we ate.  I've backed off a bit from that, since work and kids have been taking more of my time, but I still like to bake as much of our bread as I can.  Because I've baked so many yeast loaves, I've tried a variety of different techniques and definitely have some favorites.  So when I started to make the recipe for this week, I couldn't help myself.  I pretty much stuck to the ingredient list, but went my own way when it came to mixing and kneading.

I'm getting ahead of myself a bit.  For this new incarnation of TWD, things have changed a little bit.  Instead of doing a recipe every week, we're doing two a month, on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays.  The expectation is that everyone will bake at least one of the recipes each month, if not both.  The hosting duties will be determined randomly from those interested in hosting a particular recipe; if you want to be a host, you need to participate at least once per month.  For this first recipe of the new book, Baking with Julia, our hosts are our fearless leaders, Laurie and Jules.  They picked White Loaves (p. 81-82) for us to make this week.

left - the pretty side; right - the blow out side =)

I don't make straight white bread all that often.  I usually substitute some whole grain flour for part of the white flour in that sort of recipe.  I figured I should try to stick with the recipe, though.  It says that you can use bread flour or all-purpose flour; I decided to do half of each.  I pretty much always make full recipes of bread, since we eat a fair amount of it (one loaf usually goes in the freezer).  In this case, I knew we needed hot dogs buns for dinner this week, so I made one regular loaf and made rolls with the rest of the dough (some oblong, some round).  

I measure pretty much everything by weight, so the first thing I did was sit down with my notebook and do some math.  The information in the front of the book led me to use a weight of 5 ounces (about 140 grams) per cup of flour.  That gave me just about a kilo of flour all together.  I used 560 grams (20 ounces) of water, but would increase that a bit next time since the dough was rather stiff.  I always use instant yeast, and since you need less of that than active dry yeast, I went with 7 grams.  13 grams of sugar, 17 grams of salt and 55 grams of butter rounds out the list of ingredients.  

I started off doing the initial mixing by hand with my dough whisk.  Then I switched to my stand mixer, with the dough hook.  I quickly realized that wasn't going to work without overheating my mixer, so I was going to have to knead by hand.  I wasn't in the mood for an extended stint of hand-kneading, especially once the butter was in there, so I went with a different method.  In a lot of the Dan Lepard bread recipes I've made, you knead the dough for very short periods every ten minutes until the dough starts smooth out and the gluten is developed (3-4 periods of kneading for about 10 seconds followed by a 10 minute rest).  Then you let the dough proof for about 45 minutes undisturbed.  You can read more about the technique on my friend Nancy's bread blog.  Once the dough finished its bulk proof, I shaped it.  I used about 820 grams of dough for the loaf, and made 10 rolls of about 80 grams each.  I realized after baking that I probably didn't let my shaped dough rise quite long enough--my loaf had a ton of oven spring, and ended up kind of deformed on one side. =)  I baked the rolls for 20 minutes and the loaf for 35 minutes, taking the bread's temperature to make sure it was done (about 200ºF internal temperature).

The verdict?  Definitely a nice white bread--it was very tasty as toast and had a nice texture.  I think the hot dog buns will work out well and stand up nicely to some sauerkraut.  B took one of the rolls in her lunch; I'll have to check with her later to see what she thought.  G ate one of the rolls for breakfast and informed me that it was "too puffy," meaning that she'd rather have an oval roll than a round one.  But except for the shape, she liked it.  I doubt this will replace my other favorite white loaves, but it's always fun to try a new recipe.  

If you want to try this bread for yourself, you can find the recipe in Baking with Julia or over on Julie's blog.  Be sure to visit our other host, Laurie, too.  And check out this week's Links to see what the hundreds of other TWD bakers thought.  If you'd like to join in the fun (assuming you haven't already) you can find the sign-up info here.  

Monday, February 6, 2012

Can't catch me...

I'm not sure when I became so fond of the flavor of ginger.  My favorite cookies are these Double Ginger Crackles.  While I don't like the flavor of cinnamon with chocolate, ginger is okay.  I like visiting my family in the northeast, because I can get individual bottles of ginger ale (near impossible to find around here, since people drink icky Dr. Pepper instead).  My favorite chai tea is heavy on the ginger flavor.  I've been thinking about making my own crystallized ginger, but haven't found the time yet.

I wasn't sure whether I should do this post, since I had one about granola last month.  But as my friend Phyl put it, "It's gingerbread. It's granola. Of course it deserves its own post!"  I have a tendency to become slightly obsessed with a food and make it repeatedly, in different variations.  (See Jeni's ice cream. =) )  That seems to be the case with granola right now.  Eventually I'll go back and make my favorites again, but right now I'm having fun trying out different flavor combinations.

Since I've made granola a couple times now, I was comfortable with the process.  The only thing I needed to figure out was how I wanted to change it up.  Even when I first made the granola recipe, I debated whether to use the honey, since I'm not a big honey person.  My usual substitution is to use golden syrup in its place.  But I tried the recipe as written, and it was okay.  For the second batch, I used maple syrup, and I really enjoyed that batch and will definitely make it again.  My next thought was to play around with the spices.  I didn't want them competing with the maple, so I decided this would be the time to try golden syrup.  Then I had the idea to make a gingerbread version of the granola.  I added a bunch of ground ginger to the dry ingredients, increased the cinnamon a bit, and also added a bit of cloves and nutmeg.  Since most gingerbread recipes incorporate molasses, I ended up going with a tablespoon of mild molasses and 3 tablespoons of golden syrup.

Once the granola was in the oven and nearing the end of the baking time, I could tell I'd have a winner--it smelled amazing.  Once it was out of the oven, I couldn't resist sampling it while it was still warm, but also wanted to try the granola again once it cooled so I could see what the final flavor would be like.  I could taste the ginger, but was in the mood for more.  I ended up finely dicing some crystallized ginger and adding it along with the dried fruit.

The verdict?  When I tasted the granola the next morning, the ginger flavor was definitely more prominent, thanks to the chewy bits of candied ginger.  If you don't like a really strong ginger flavor, you might want to leave it out.  Overall, I'm really happy with the way the granola turned out.  I think the amount of molasses was just right (I didn't want it to be overpowering) and I like the combination of spices that I used.  I encourage you to play around and figure out what's right for your taste!  Here's my version if you'd like to try it.

Gingerbread Granola
(adapted from Tracey's Culinary Adventures)

4 cups (340 grams) rolled oats
1 cup (115 grams) pecans, broken into pieces
1/2 cup (100 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of cloves
pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
1/3 cup (70 grams) canola oil
1 tablespoon (20 grams) mild molasses
3 tablespoons (60 grams) golden syrup
2 tablespoons (25 grams) vanilla sugar (or plain granulated sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
generous 1 cup (125 grams) dried cranberries
2 - 3 tablespoons finely diced crystallized ginger (optional)

Preheat oven to 300º F. Line a rimmed 13" x 18" baking sheet with parchment paper.

Put the oats, pecans, brown sugar, salt and spices in a large heatproof bowl and stir to combine.  Put the oil, molasses, golden syrup, and granulated sugar in a small saucepan.  Place the pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat and mix in the vanilla extract. Pour the hot oil mixture over the oat mixture and use a rubber spatula (or dough whisk) to mix until the ingredients are well combined.

Spread the granola on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the granola is golden brown, stirring every 10 minutes. Let the granola cool then add the dried cranberries and crystallized ginger (if using) and stir to incorporate. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes about 8 cups.