Tuesday, February 26, 2008

TWD: Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie selection comes from Ashley of Eat Me, Delicious.  I think we were all a bit relieved to see that she selected something that wasn't a cake.  =)  Last week was crazy--everyone at my house was sick at some point during the week--so I didn't get to do much baking.  (That's why there aren't any posts since the last TWD recipe.)  So I was glad to have something not too complicated when I finally got a chance to try out the recipe on Sunday evening.  While Dorie mentions that these would be a good brunch item, we found that they are nice paired with soup as well.

I really enjoyed the flavor of the biscuits.  Using brown sugar rather than regular granulated sugar really complemented the pecans.  I may have used a bit too much flour--I couldn't find anything in the book to indicate how much a cup of flour is supposed to weigh.  My usual cup of flour is about 4.5 oz, but I know the dip and sweep method usually results in about 5 oz, so that's what I went with.  I also think I probably overworked the dough--next time I'll add the pecans before the dough is completely brought together.  Like some of the others mentioned, my biscuits seemed kind of scone-like.  But still very tasty.  

Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits
(From Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

(Makes about 12 biscuits)

2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour and 1/3 cup cake flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
1/2 cup cold sour cream
1/4 cold whole milk
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans, preferably toasted

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Get out a sharp 2-inch-diameter biscuit cutter and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.

Whisk the flour(s), baking powder, salt, and baking soda together in a bowl. Stir in the brown sugar, making certain there are no lumps. Drop in the butter and, using your fingers, toss to coat the pieces of butter with flour. Quickly, working with your fingertips (my favorite method) or a pastry blender, cut and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly. You'll have pea-size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces the size of everything in between--and that's just right.

Stir the sour cream and milk together and pour over the dry ingredients. Grab a fork and gently toss and turn the ingredients together until you've got a nice soft dough. Now reach into the bowl with your hands and give the dough a quick gentle kneading--3 or 4 turns should be just enough to bring everything together. Toss in the pecans and knead 2 to 3 times to incorporate them.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour and turn out the dough. Dust the top of the dough very lightly with flour, pat the dough out with your hands or roll it with a pin until it is about 1/2 inch high. Don't worry if the dough isn't completely even--a quick, light touch is more important than accuracy.

Use the biscuit cutter to cut out as many biscuits as you can. Try to cut the biscuits close to one another so you get the most you can out of the first round. By hand or with a small spatula, transfer the biscuits to the baking sheet. Gather together the scraps, working with them as little as possible, pat out to a 1/2-inch thickness and cut as many additional biscuits as you can; transfer these to the sheet. (The biscuits can be made to this point and frozen on the baking sheet, then wrapped airtight and kept for up to 2 months. Bake without defrosting-- just add a couple more minutes to the oven time.)

Bake the biscuits for 14-18 minutes, or until they are tall, puffed and golden brown. Transfer them to a serving basket.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

TWD: Almost-Fudge Gateau

Last week's recipe was good, but I really loved this week's.  It was selected by Nikki of Crazy Delicious.  While I am absolutely a chocoholic, I rarely really enjoy chocolate cake.  I often find it too dry, and just not chocolatey enough.  I'd much rather eat brownies.  But this cake was great--very fudgy in the middle, and while it did get more cakey at the edges, it still had great chocolate flavor.  After reading some of the comments on the TWD blog, I elected to make it with El Rey Bucare, which is 58.5%, rather than with a higher percentage.  I used the same for the glaze.  I think next time I might try 70%, at least in the glaze.  The original recipe calls for a bit of coffee, but since we don't usually have any around, I dissolved some espresso powder in water.  The batter was really easy to put together.  I was surprised at just how much the top of the cake cracked, and when I was flipping it over and back again, I lost a few bits of the crunchy top, particularly around the edges (they were quite tasty).  Because the center was so moist, it tried to bond with the rack while it was cooling, but the glaze covered up the marks nicely.  I've always been a fan of chocolate and raspberry, so I also threw together a quick raspberry sauce for the side.  Yum!

Almost-Fudge Gateau
(adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

5 large eggs
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup of sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
2 tablespoons coffee or water (I used 1 tsp instant espresso powder dissolved in 2 tbsp water)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt

For the Glaze (optional)
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup

Getting Ready:

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, butter the paper, dust the inside of the pan with flour and tap out the excess. Place the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.  (I greased the bottom of the pan, stuck the parchment to it, and then sprayed the whole thing with baking spray.)

Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a mixer bowl or other large bowl and the yolks in a small bowl.

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and add the chocolate, sugar butter and coffee. Stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are melted; the sugar may still be grainy, and that's fine. Transfer the bowl to the counter and let the mixture sit for 3 minutes.  (I used the microwave to melt the butter and chocolate.)

Using a rubber spatula, stir in the yolks one by one, then fold in the flour.

Working with the whisk attachment of the mixer or a hand mixer, beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt until they hold firm, but glossy peaks. Using the spatula, stir about one quarter of the beaten whites into the batter, then gently fold in the rest. Scrape the batter into the pan and jiggle the pan from side to side a couple of times to even the batter.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the cake has risen evenly (it might rise around the edges and you'll think it's done, but give it a few minutes more, and the center will puff too) and the top has firmed (it will probably be cracked) and doesn't shimmy when tapped; a thin knife inserted into the center should come out just slightly streaked with chocolate. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let the cake rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Run a blunt knife gently around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the pan. Carefully turn the cake over onto a rack and remove the pan bottom and the parchment paper. Invert the cake onto another rack and cool to room temperature right side up. As the cake cools, it may sink.

To Make the Optional Glaze:

First, turn the cooled cake over onto another rack so you'll be glazing the flat bottom, and place the rack over a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper to catch any drips.

Put the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl.

Melt the chocolate over a pan of simmering water or in a microwave oven – the chocolate should be just melted and only warm, not hot. Meanwhile, bring the cream to a boil in a small sauce pan. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir very gently with a rubber spatula until the mixture is smooth and shiny. Stir in the corn syrup.

Pour the glaze over the cake and smooth the top with a long metal icing spatula. Don't worry if the glaze drips unevenly down the sides of the cake – it will just add to its charms. Allow the glaze to set at room temperature or, if you're impatient, slip the cake into the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. If the glaze dulls in the fridge, just give it a little gentle heat from a hairdryer.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Muffins on Monday

It's not often that I get to bake on Monday morning, since I'm usually at work.  I get a day off during the week when I'll be working on Saturday, and this week I had to take it on Monday--the day care is closed for teacher training (they do this every Presidents Day).  I was too tired to bake anything for breakfast yesterday, but I knew I'd have another chance today.  I thought I'd make muffins so I'd have something to eat for breakfast for the rest of the week (no leftovers from bagel experiments this weekend).  I've been on the fence about whether to make other recipes from Baking From My Home to Yours, since I don't know what will eventually end up as a TWD recipe, but decided to go for it.  The thing that was most appealing today was Allspice Crumb Muffins.  

I realized something this morning...  if you're going to insist on working in the kitchen with a child hanging on your legs and crying, don't be surprised if things don't turn out quite the way they're supposed to.  Gillian is recovering from some sort of stomach bug (at least I hope we're done with the worst of it), and has been especially clingy this morning.  As a result, I missed the part in the recipe about putting the crumb topping in the fridge while making the muffin batter. They looked fine going into the oven.  When I took them out, I discovered that the crumbs had melted quite a bit, and the muffin tops were all run together.  Oops.  But hey, they still tasted delicious!  I'm definitely going to have to make these again.  And maybe next time I'll manage to eat them before noon.  =)

Allspice Crumb Muffins
(adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

For the crumbs:
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground allspice
5 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

For the muffin batter:
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp table salt
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
3/4 cup lowfat milk
1/4 tsp vanilla

Getting ready:  
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Butter or spray the 12 molds in a standard 12-cup muffin pan (I use Pam for Baking).  
To make the crumbs:  
Put the flour, brown sugar and allspice in a small bowl (not too small, or you won't be able to get both hands in there) and sift them through your fingers to blend.  Add the bits of cold butter and toss to coat, then use your fingers to work the butter into the dry ingredients until you've got irregularly shaped crumbs.  Set aside in the refrigerator for the moment.  

To make the muffin batter:  
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, allspice and salt.  Stir in the brown sugar, making certain there are no lumps.  In a large glass measuring cup or another bowl, whisk the melted butter, eggs, milk and vanilla together until well combined.  (After I added the milk to the butter, I had to warm it in the microwave for a few seconds because the butter congealed in big clumps.  Then I whisked in the eggs and vanilla.)  Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and, with a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. Don't worry about being thorough--the batter will be lumpy, and that's jut the way it should be. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups (I used my #16 disher).  Sprinkle some of the crumbs over each muffin, then use your fingertips to gently press the crumbs into the batter (I missed that part, too).  

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean.  Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from its mold.  

Saturday, February 16, 2008


We don't do much celebrating for Valentine's Day.  My birthday is one week after, so I'd much rather have Jamie spend his time and energy on that (I love birthdays!).  I like getting a card, but beyond that, I don't really care.  However, Jamie found a new chocolate shop, so I got more than I expected.  

Let me back up a bit.  As I've said before, I love chocolate.  I've always loved to eat it and make chocolate desserts.  Back when I started baking, there weren't a lot of options, of course, so I used Hershey's cocoa and Baker's unsweetened and other chocolates.  Nowadays there are lots of other things out there for both baking and eating.  I don't know how many of them I would have discovered for myself, but Jamie insists on introducing me to them.  For quite a few years now, he has filled my Christmas stocking with chocolate.  Seriously, there's almost nothing else in there, and it's not a small stocking. =)  That's how I first tasted Scharffen Berger (Christmas 2006), for instance.  Some of it's plain chocolate of different brands and percentages, and some has other flavors and textures added.  He's also been known to buy me chocolate for my birthday, Mother's Day...  you get the idea.

I still haven't made much of a dent in the stuff from this past Christmas, as you can see in the picture of my pantry (below).  Most of the ones in the plastic bags and tubs are various percentages of El Rey, which is currently my go-to chocolate for baking.  I can get the discos in bulk at Central Market.  I also get Valrhona cocoa and blocks of Callebaut unsweetened chocolate there.  I love being able to buy the stuff in bulk--I get the amount I want, and the prices are great.  (They have interesting flours and spices in bulk as well.)

Now I just have to decide what I'm going to use to make the Almost Fudge Gateau for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie.

For those who are curious, the chocolates in the top picture are from Michel Cluizel, Askinosie, Enric Rovira, and Viva Chocolato! (which is also the shop where Jamie found everything).

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I heart cheesecake

Okay, so the title is a bit of an exaggeration.  I do like cheesecake, but my heart belongs to chocolate.  =)  For my first Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, I got to make Brown Sugar-Apple Cheesecake, which was the choice of Jaime at Good Eats 'n Sweet Treats.  When I first learned what the recipe was going to be, I thought, "Interesting.  I never would have thought to put apples in cheesecake." Once I read the recipe, my thoughts were less positive--"Wait, I don't have a 10-inch springform pan. And what the heck am I going to do with a cheesecake that big?"

Well, when we went to Central Market Friday night, I was lucky enough to find a 26-cm pan there, which saved me a trip to Sur la Table, Williams-Sonoma or Ace Mart.  Which was fortunate, since I didn't really have time to do much shopping since I had to work Saturday and I planned to make the cheesecake on Sunday.  I might have been able to make the cheesecake in my 9-inch pan, but I'm glad I didn't try.  I also found cute heart-shaped gingersnaps.  Most of them got crumbled up for the crust, but I saved a few whole ones for a garnish.  

I like the way Dorie breaks down the steps in the directions.  They were very straightforward to follow.  First I made the crust.  I had to rearrange quite a few things to make room for it in the freezer while I preheated the oven.  While I was waiting for the oven, I peeled and cut up the apples (I used Golden Delicious).  I only bought two (and cut them into 12 slices each), since the only ones I could find were quite large.  The crust went into the oven to bake and the apples went into my skillet to brown and be coated with brown sugar.  When the crust and apples were done, they both got set aside to cool and I moved on to the filling.  It was similar to other cheesecakes that I've made, but with different flavorings.  I put the springform pan in my roasting pan (yay!  the roasting pan was big enough).  As directed, I put part of the batter into the pan and then topped it with the apple slices.  I actually used tongs to transfer them, rather than a slotted spoon. Then the rest of the batter went in.  I added the water to the roasting pan and put the whole thing (carefully) in the oven.  I ended up baking it for 90 minutes all together.  As instructed, halfway through the baking time, I tented it with foil.  I used non-stick, but the cheesecake puffed up more than I expected, and it stuck to the foil in a couple of spots.  Oops.  That's why I'm glad I didn't try to make it in a smaller pan.  If I had planned to take the cheesecake anywhere, I would have come up with a topping to disguise the dents in the top (like caramel sauce?), but as it was, I didn't really worry about it.  I let it cool pretty much to room temp and moved it to the fridge. Before I did so, I ran a plastic knife between the edge of the pan and the crust to make sure it wasn't stuck (I didn't want cracks on top of the divots I already had).  

Jamie and I sampled it for a late dessert Sunday night, after the bare minimum 6 hours in the fridge.  I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it was quite good.  The apples made it hard to cut neat pieces, though.  We had more on Monday, and I think it was even better after it had chilled more (not surprising).  I don't know that I'll make it again just for us--it is a pretty big cheesecake, after all--but I might if I have somewhere good to take it.

Brown Sugar-Apple Cheesecake
(From Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

For the Crust
30 gingersnaps (or a scant 2 cups graham cracker crumbs)
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted

For the Apples
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter
3 large Golden Delicious or Fuji apples, peeled, cored and cut into eighths
2 tbsp (packed) light brown sugar

For the Filling
1 1/2 pounds (three 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
6 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp apple cider
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
1/3 cup heavy cream

Apple jelly, for glazing, or confectioner's sugar, for dusting (optional)

To Make the Crust: Butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan.

Put the gingersnaps in a food processor and whir until you have crumbs; you should have a scant 2 cups. (If you are using graham cracker crumbs, just put them in the food processor.) Pulse in the sugar and cinnamon, if you're using it, then pour over the melted butter and pulse until the crumbs are moistened. Turn the crumbs into the springform pan and, using your fingertips, firmly press them evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan as far as they'll go. Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven. (The crust can be covered and frozen for up to 2 months.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove the pan from the freezer and wrap the bottom tightly in aluminum foil, going up the sides. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust is set and lightly browned. Transfer to a rack to cool while you make the apples and the filling. Leave the oven at 350 degrees F.

To Make the Apples: Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the foam subsides, toss in half of the apple slices and cook, turning once, until they are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle the apples with 1 tablespoon of the sugar and cook them, turning, just until coated, another minute or so. Scrape the apples onto a plate, wipe out the skillet and repeat with the remaining apples. Let the apples cool while you make the filling.

Getting Ready to Bake: Have a roasting pan large enough to hold the springform pan at hand. Put a kettle of water on to boil.

To Make the Filling: Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese on medium speed, scraping down the bowl often, for about 4 minutes, or until it is velvety smooth. Add the sugars and beat for another 2 minutes. Beat in the cider, vanilla, and cinnamon. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Finally, beat in the sour cream and heavy cream, beating just until the batter is smooth.

Pour about one third of the batter into the baked crust. Drain the apples by lifting them off the plate with a slotted spoon or spatula, and spoon them into the pan. Cover with the remaining batter and, if needed, jiggle the pan to even the top. Place the springform pan in the roasting pan and pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 to 45 minutes, covering the cake loosely with a foil tent at the 45-minute mark. The cake will rise evenly and crack around the edges, and it should be fully set except, possibly, in the very center--if the center shimmies, that's just fine. Gently transfer the cake, still in the pan, to a cooling rack and let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate it for at least 6 hours; overnight would be better.

Run a blunt knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the crust, open the pan's latch and release and remove the sides.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bagels so good you'll cry

It's been a long week.  When I was talking to my mom last Sunday, I jinxed myself.  For the past month or so, somebody around here has been under the weather--colds and/or allergies.  I mentioned to her that I thought we were finally all pretty much well.  Famous last words... Brianna got sick on Monday and was home from daycare Tuesday through Thursday.  By the end of the day on Friday, Gillian had the same thing and has been sick all weekend.  Brianna's feeling much better, but still isn't quite herself--definitely more sensitive than usual.  And that's saying something, since she's been quite challenging to deal with lately--it's tough being five.

After last week's success with the bagels, I wanted to try them again, and the kiddos were being pretty cooperative this morning.  I knew that Jamie (my husband) would be happy with more experimentation--during the week he was looking for more recipes for me to try for other flavors that he likes (most notably egg bagels, which will undoubtedly be a future installment of the Bagel Chronicles).  Things were definitely easier the second time around, and I tweaked things a bit in the process, including using my stand mixer rather than mixing and kneading by hand.

The original recipe can be found here, as I mentioned in my last bagel post.  Here's pretty much what I did:

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
3 1/2 cups (17.5 oz) bread flour (King Arthur), divided
1 1/2 tsp table salt (the original recipe was only 1 tsp)
canola oil

1 egg white
1 tbsp cold water
assorted toppings

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.

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.  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 cups (10 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 5 minutes with the speed set to about 3.  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 (about 4 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.  

Once I had 5 or 6 pieces formed into bagel shapes, I put the first couple into the water.  They stayed in for 3 minutes on each side and then got transferred to a kitchen towel on the counter to rest.  The rest 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.  I whisked the egg white and water together and brushed it on the tops of the bagels.  Then I added toppings.  I made sure to make three salt bagels this week, since Brianna complained about not getting one last week.  I did three sesame, and branched out a bit and did one garlic and one onion this week.  For the onion and garlic toppings, I rehydrated dried minced garlic and onion with a bit of boiling water.  It worked pretty well.  

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 onion and garlic made the kitchen smell great!  It was really hard to wait for the bagels to cool enough to cut well.  Finally, they were ready.  I got Brianna's bagel ready for her.  I thought she'd be excited, since I made a point of making her a salt bagel and I put her favorite garlic cream cheese on it.  Instead, I got nothing but tears and complaints.  She didn't want that particular bagel, she wanted a different one.  I didn't put the cream cheese on the right way.  She didn't like the way I cut it.  *sigh*  Some days I just can't win.  Eventually the crying stopped, and she did eat part of it.  

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Going out on a limb

I'm kind of a shy person.  I tend not to say much unless I'm sure I know what I'm talking about.  I'm generally very cautious.  I make lists.  I plan.  Let's face it, I'm also a control-freak.  It scares me a bit to put myself out there in this blog for all the world to read.  I worry too much about what other people think.  But it's good for me to get out of my comfort zone sometimes.  And today I gave myself a big push.  I joined not one but two baking groups.  One is quite large--The Daring Bakers.  I've got some time to get used to the idea of that one, since I won't start until March.  The other is much smaller and is focused on a single cookbook--Tuesdays with Dorie.  

Part of me thinks that I must be crazy to commit myself to a weekly baking event.  What if I don't have the time?  What if I can't find anyone to eat this stuff every week?  =)  What if I don't have the equipment I need?  What if I don't like the chosen recipe (which is almost guaranteed to be the case if it has coconut)?  As you can see, sometimes I get so hung up on what ifs that it's hard to convince myself to do something.  But eventually I get past it.  I'll find the time--after all, the point is that I want something for to do for me, so I'm not always thinking of myself as somebody's mom or somebody's banker.  I'm sure I can find someone to take baked goods off my hands if we can't eat them all here at home.  I guess I get to go shopping, since I've already discovered that I need a 10-inch springform pan this week (it'll keep the 8 & 9 inch pans company).  And hey, maybe I'll try sometime that I wouldn't have otherwise and actually like it.  

Sunday, February 3, 2008

I dare to make bagels...

I love good bagels, and they're hard to come by here in the heart of Texas.  They're something I've thought about making, but I just haven't gotten around to trying them.  Several of my cookbooks have recipes (The Bread Bible and Desserts by the Yard are a couple), but I was looking for something that could be done in a couple of hours.  

As I've been reading various blogs, I've run across numerous references to the Daring Bakers. Many of the things they've challenged themselves to make are things I've been wanting to try, like croissants.  And one of the things that they've already done (in June 2007) is bagels.  

The challenge I chose to duplicate can be found here, at All Things Edible.  I made half a batch (8 bagels).  One of the things that I really like about the Daring Bakers is that they really help each other out, and give good feedback on how the monthly recipe worked (or didn't). Thanks to reading the article several times, I knew that the dough would rise fast, so I made sure to start my water simmering early.  As I read on a number of blogs, my bagels didn't sink at all--they floated immediately.  I started with two bagels in the water, but for the second and third rounds did three at a time, which just barely fit in the pot:

I'll have to work on the timing a bit more next time, since the bagels that were still waiting their turn for a dunk in the water definitely rose more than the earlier ones.  The boiled bagels had an interesting texture, firm but a bit sticky on the outside.  For shaping, I made ropes and joined the ends.  The first couple that I did I didn't join quite well enough, and they tried to come apart in the water.

I went for several different toppings.  I left three plain as a control, and did three sesame.  For the other two, I went with my favorite topping, salt.  We don't get to eat salt bagels very often, since they get soggy on top very quickly.  On the whole, I was happy with these for a first try.  When I make them again, I think I'll up the salt in the dough a bit--the bagels seemed a bit sweet to me.  I would also like to try substituting whole wheat flour for some of the bread flour.  And my shaping should improve with practice.  One thing's for sure--I think these have already spoiled me--I'm not sure I can go back to the ones we've been getting at Central Market.  Those aren't bad, but how can you beat fresh from the oven taste?

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Sugar and Spice

Yes, it's yet another recipe with spices.  If you were just going by the posts I've written recently, you'd have no idea that I'm a serious chocoholic.  I have made a few chocolate things lately (like Brianna's birthday cake), but just haven't gotten as far as writing about them.  

This latest experiment started last weekend, when I needed to make something for our monthly dance (we're members of a local chapter of USA Dance).  Whenever possible, I try to bake something for the refreshments table.  While my chocolate offerings never go to waste, I've noticed that the non-chocolate ones tend to be very popular.  After discarding several other ideas, I decided to go with shortbread.

My usual shortbread recipe is one from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book that I've made many times.  I usually top it with a simple sugar glaze, since the cookies themselves aren't all that sweet.  I modified the recipe with the addition of chai spices--cinnamom, ginger, cardamom, cloves, and a bit of nutmeg.  I knew I wouldn't have time to glaze the cookies, so I opted for a crunchy topping of coarse sugar, added to the cookies before they went into the oven.  The end result was good, but I think I over-baked the cookies a bit--they were definitely brown around the edges, and not as tender as usual.  Not bad, but worth a bit more experimenting.

I decided to give these another go today, but figured I should only make half a batch, since they're just for us (and maybe a few for work).  I thought last time that it might be good to include a bit more sugar in the dough, so I went with half a cup of powdered sugar instead of one third.  I also kept a closer eye on the timing.  I think they turned out pretty good, but I'm curious to see if they improve a bit with age.

Spiced Shortbread (1/2 batch)
(adapted from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham)

For the dough:

8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup (2 oz) powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground cloves
pinch nutmeg
1 cup (4.5 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour

For the optional glaze:

1/2 cup (2 oz) powdered sugar
2 tsp milk
1/4 tsp vanilla

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, beat the butter until it is smooth and creamy, then add the sugar and vanilla and beat well.  Add the salt and spices and mix until combined.  Add the flour and stir until the dough starts to come together in large clumps.  Form the dough into a disk and wrap it in plastic wrap.  Chill 20-30 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough until it is 1/4 inch thick.  Cut into rounds with a 2-inch cutter.  Reroll and cut the scraps until all the dough is used.  Place the cookies about 1 inch apart on the lined cookie sheet.  Prick each cookie several times with a fork and bake for about 14 minutes, or until they have barely colored around the edges.  Don't overbake; they should not brown.  Remove the cookies from the sheet and cool on a rack.

If desired, whisk together the 1/2 cup powdered sugar, milk and vanilla in a small bowl to form a thick glaze.  With the back of a spoon, spread the glaze on the cooled cookies and allow to dry.

Makes about 16-18 cookies.