Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The great debate

Welcome to Wednesday with Dorie! (Oops.)  The first couple days of the school year have been a bit hectic and tiring for everyone, so some things are running a little behind.  No homework yet for B, but other things have been worrying her.  She is -so- my child.  What 3rd grader worries about flunking on the second day of school?  That would be my 3rd grader.  She worries so much, and takes everything so seriously.  Gee, I wonder where she got that?  But is it nature or nurture?  I've always been the same way, so is it in the genes?  Or am I causing her to be this way, mainly because my parents influenced me the same way?  Either way, I've been there, so I'm trying to do what I can to relieve some of her anxiety.  Which is tricky, since I'm also trying not to let my own anxiety show, about whether I'm being a good parent--since I have a 3rd grader who worries about flunking on the second day of school... *sigh*  No one ever said this parenting thing was going to be easy.

Fortunately, some things are easier than they look.  Like this brioche.  Though it is another one of those things you can question--is it bread, or is it pastry?  Margaret of Tea and Scones picked this recipe for us to make for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie.  You hear the word brioche, and immediately think, "French! Complicated!" (or is that just me?)  I know I felt rather intimidated by it the first time I made it, back in March of 2008 (wow, has it been that long?), when we made the Brioche Raisin Snails.  But even if you're kind of scared of yeast, it really doesn't take a lot of skill--just patience, and hopefully a stand mixer (or food processor, if you're like my friend Nancy).  Some of the bread I make is dense enough that I forego the mixer--it's not getting any younger, and I don't want to overtax it.  But brioche is a soft, sticky dough, so it doesn't cause any problems.  Despite what Dorie says, mine never really pulled away from the sides of the bowl.  In fact, you may wonder how this buttery blob could ever turn into bread.  The answer?  Time.  And some serious chilling before shaping.  

I mostly followed the recipe as written.  I used instant yeast, rather than active dry, so I reduced the amount.  I actually used some of my SAF gold yeast, which is designed to work better in a sweeter, rich dough.  (I ended up using 10 grams, or about 3 teaspoons.)  I wanted to use my "Nancy pan," so I changed the shaping a bit.  I took half the dough, which was about 600 grams.  (I froze the other half.)  I divided it into 4 portions of about 150 grams each, and formed each piece into a ball, rather than a log.  I put them in the pan, and covered it with plastic wrap.  I let it rise until the dough was almost to the top of the pan.  I skipped the egg wash, but about 15 minutes in the top of the loaf was getting rather brown, so I tented it with foil.  I ended up baking the loaf for 30 minutes, at which point the internal temperature was about 190ºF.

The verdict?  I love pastries, and brioche really isn't far off.  My favorite part is the crunchy, buttery crust.  I'm happy with how the pan worked for this loaf--the small slices provide nice portion control. =) So far, I've just been snacking on the brioche, making little jam sandwiches.  Yum.

If you'd like to try this one for yourself, you can head over to Margaret's blog for the recipe.  And be sure to check out the Links to see how everyone else did this week.  I leave you with pictures from the first day of school.  G doesn't start kindergarten til next year, but of course we had to take her picture, too. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hidden treasure

Is it just me, or do these papers remind you of candy corn?

I mentioned in my last post that I'm happy to be a DBCB (designated birthday cake baker).  Of course, I bake lots of things besides cake, so I bring other things to work as well.  I do want to be respectful of people's nutritional goals, so I try not to bring really decadent stuff too often--not that I get many complaints. =)  So I'll bake things with fruit, or whole wheat flour snuck in, as a way to offset some of the recipes made with lots of chocolate and butter.  Breakfast items are always popular--they get eaten at any time of day.  So I figured these Tuesdays with Dorie Carrot Spice Muffins would be well-received.  This pick was actually supposed to be for last week.  I'm hoping my friend Nancy will forgive me for being late to the party. =)  (And my apologies to Gaye for not making this week's Tropical Crumble.)

On the healthy side of the equation we have carrots, and the fact that these muffins are made with oil rather than butter.  I didn't mess with the flour this time, but I'd like to try these with half white whole wheat flour.  I don't think anyone would even notice, with all the flavor from the cinnamon (I used Vietnamese) and ginger.  The original recipe also called for nuts and dried fruit, both healthy in moderation.  (No chance that these would be made with coconut in this house.)  I left those out--since I knew Brianna and Gillian would complain--but I'd be fine with some raisins or pecans, so I'll have to try that at some point.  

Since I was omitting the fun mix-ins, I figured I needed to come up with something to replace them.  I went browsing on the King Arthur Flour site, and found this recipe for Cream Cheese Carrot Cake Muffins.  I'll have to make the muffins at some point, but for now, I just borrowed the filling.  I actually reduced it a bit--I mixed together 150 grams of neufchatel (2/3 of an 8-ounce package), 35 grams of sugar (about 3 tablespoons) and a couple drops of Fiori di Sicilia (I'd just use a bit of vanilla extract if you don't have that).  I put some batter in the bottom of each muffin cup, added a small scoop of filling, and topped it with more batter, so the cups were almost full.  I baked my muffins for 20 minutes at 375ºF.

The verdict?  Sometimes it's hard for me to predict what the reaction is going to be at work.  Interestingly enough, it's often the non-chocolate goodies that get the best reception, and that was certainly the case with these muffins.  They were a huge hit!  I think we're all ready for fall flavors, and the cinnamon and ginger in these definitely made me think of autumn.  It might be time to find some pumpkin recipes, too. =)   

For the original muffin recipe, head over to Nancy's blog.  To see what everyone else made this week and last, check out the Links for the muffins and crumble.  

Monday, August 8, 2011

That's the way I like it

I've been trying to write this post for the past week, and just haven't been able to figure out what to write.  Then last night I opened up my Google Reader, clicked on the latest Baking Banter post, and started laughing.  Why?  Because I'm a proud DBCB, and have been for a long, long time.  What's a DBCB, you ask? A Designated Birthday Cake Baker, of course.  Meaning that I bake birthday goodies for all the people I work with.  I've been doing it for about 15 years, and it's always appreciated.  Sometimes it's cake, sometimes cupcakes.  I've made strawberry shortcake a couple times, and several cheesecakes.  I'll come up with something on my own if necessary, but I certainly take requests.  The one that sticks out most in my mind is the German Chocolate Cake I made a few years ago for one of my employees.  I absolutely detest coconut, so I didn't actually sample the topping or the finished cake.  Fortunately, it was  a hit.  And everyone was amused by the fact that along with the cake, I also brought the rest of the bag of coconut to work.  I wasn't about to let it stay in my house!

For this latest cake, I didn't have to do anything traumatic like buying coconut.  =)  I asked M, the birthday girl, if she had any special requests.  She commented on how much she liked the texture of the frosting on the cupcakes I'd brought in a while back.  They were topped with Swiss meringue buttercream, which I've made many times.  Her only other request was something non-chocolate.  As Brianna would say, she likes chocolate, but it's not her favorite.  So I decided to go with a classic vanilla cake topped with vanilla buttercream.  I thought M would be happy with it, and I suspected that no one else would complain.  It's kind of like my favorite plain cheese pizza.  Most people might not request it, but no one will turn it down if it's around!  

For the cake, I used my favorite white cake recipe from The Cake Bible, the White Velvet Butter Cake.  I added a tablespoon of rainbow non-pareils to the batter to make the layers more festive.  You just have to work quickly to fold them in, so you don't end up with streaks of color in the batter instead of just polka dots.  I wanted a taller cake, so I baked the batter in 8" round pans, rather than the 9" ones called for in the recipe.  The layers took about 40 minutes to bake.  

As I mentioned, for the frosting, I knew I wanted to make a Swiss meringue buttercream.   I decided to try out a new recipe, from The Sweeter Side of Amy's Bread.  The main difference is that it uses about 20% shortening instead of all butter, which is supposed to help keep the frosting a bit more stable at room temperature.  As hot as it's been here lately, I wanted all the help I could get to keep the frosting from melting.  

When I was assembling the cake, I topped the bottom layer with vanilla buttercream, then had the idea to add something else.  I still had some of the raspberry "sauce" that I used for this ice cream, so I spread it on top of the frosting, before adding the second cake layer.  The whole cake got covered in buttercream, then I piped rosettes around the top (thanks to another Baking Banter post for the inspiration) and a shell border around the bottom.  The finishing touch was some rainbow sparkling sugar.

The verdict?  This cake was a huge hit with the birthday girl and everyone else who tried it.  The frosting was still rather soft, but I think it did hold up a bit better than my usual all-butter SWBC would have.  The raspberry filling in the middle was just what the cake needed--a tart contrast to all the sweetness.  I'll definitely be using that again.  

I had a lot of fun making this cake.  I love the way it turned out.  One of my favorite parts of baking is pulling together a bunch of components from different sources to make something new.  I might not make this exact cake again, but that's okay, since I'll enjoy making the next one just as much.  I encourage you to pull some books off your shelves (or find recipes online, if you prefer) and do the same thing.  Have fun!