Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bakewell Tart…er…pudding

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.

This month’s challenge posed a true…er…challenge, given that I am away from home for awhile on an extended work trip sans kitchen. Luckily, I was able to convince (well, she begged and I agreed) my sister to be my hands for the month. Sort of like Remy and Linguini from Ratatouille, but I was on the phone speaking into her ear, not in her hat pulling her hair, and well, I’m not a mouse and she's a very competent cook on her own. But you get the idea. (THANKS AGAIN, K!)

The recipe claimed that Bakewell tarts “combine a number of dessert elements but still let you show off your area’s seasonal fruits.” My sister is in Michigan -- what are Michigan’s seasonal fruits? My self-proclaimed canned-soup-and-frozen-vegetable-eating sister had no idea… so off she went to the local farmer’s market. We quickly concluded that our jam would be of the cherry variety. Sour cherries seemed a bit more unique than the bing variety, so sour cherry jam it was. We found a good recipe online for sour cherry jam and decided to make this the night before we were going to make the tart.

Who knew jam-making was so easy??? (Well, minus the hour it took to pit all of the cherries – which yielded about 90% more cherries than we would’ve actually needed for the tart. Oopsies. At least my sister had this handy, complimentary bowl to keep her motivated, which I gave her circa 2004)

After some boiling, simmering, and cooling… voila! We had jam.

Next, the tart itself. The entire preparation (from start to scrumptious finished product) took about 2 hours. We didn’t use much jam in the tart since my sister isn't a big fan, and she confirmed afterward that the ratio turned out very nicely (only a very subtle fruit flavor along with the almond base). I will let a photo montage speak for itself.

(Isn't that crust gorgeous? My sister is the best...)

Ta da! The finished product:

My sister reported that this was an easy recipe that yielded a seemingly fancy and involved result (the best outcome!). I'll have to make it myself as soon as I get home!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

It's like rolling down a hill, pastry style

May 2009 Daring Baker’s Challenge: Strudel

Dough recipe from Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rogers

Never before have I had so much fun baking. I’ll let the pictures explain.

First, the dough:

Yes, that is a bed sheet on the table. I didn’t have a table cloth, and it turns out it’s necessary to cover the table in cloth to prevent sticking and to allow the strudel rolling/wrapping/flopping that is so much fun.

Then, the filling. The first I made was strawberry rhubarb with cheesecake. I put about 1.5 pounds of strawberries into a pan, added maybe a half pound rhubarb, some sugar and a little bit of water. This simmered for 20 minutes or so.

In the meantime, I made a cheesecake-like filling by mixing 16 ounces of cream cheese, 1 egg, 3 tablespoons butter, ¾ cup sugar, and ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract.

I coated the dough with butter, added the toasted bread crumbs, and then put down my cheese mixture in a line at one end. I topped with the strawberry rhubarb compote, and flipped over the end of the dough.

Then, just like the recipe instructed, I lifted the end of the sheet, toppling the strudel log over itself over and over again, until it was completely wrapped up at the other side of the table. It worked!

I transferred to a baking sheet and cooked for about 30 minutes.

Then, I did it all over again! The second time was slightly different. I made a chocolate almond strudel that had filling all over the rolled out dough, so the dough and filling were in layers throughout the log. I beat 3 egg yolks with 1/3 cup sugar, separately whipped the egg whites, and then combined the two. I spread this over the entire dough (no breadcrumbs needed this time because the filling itself would separate the dough layers). I then sprinkled 4 ounces semi sweet chocolate and 3 ounces minced toasted almonds.

I rolled it up the same way as the first, and baked for about 40 minutes.

They turned out pretty well. At first I thought the strawberry rhubarb one was the best thing I had ever tasted, but after my initial response I felt it was a little too sweet. It was also very difficult to slice both, and they ended up pretty messy once cut. They were so fun to make though, they could have ended up horrible and I still would have been happy. Okay, probably not, but seriously, these were fun to make.

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Agave Nectar Cheesecake

Daring Bakers April 2009 Challenge: Cheesecake

This month our challenge was simple: follow an easy cheesecake recipe from start to finish. But, as with most Daring Baker’s challenges, there was a twist: be as creative as possible.

I started out thinking of modifications from girl scout cookies to tropical fruit, but before I could decide for sure, a challenge presented itself. I was invited to a potluck dinner for which the guest of honor did not eat refined sugar.

How to make cheesecake with no refined sugar? The question intrigued me and I decided to make it my recipe modification.

After much debate, I decided to sub agave nectar (Trader Joe’s sells it) for sugar, and to make the graham cracker crust with almonds. So the recipe ended up as:

2 cups finely chopped roasted almonds
1 stick butter
1 tbsp agave nectar
1 tsp vanilla

Blended in Cuisinart, pressed into the bottom of a 9” round pan. I baked this for 10 minutes before adding the batter.

24 oz creamcheese
¾ cup agave nectar
3 large eggs
¾ cup heavy cream (reduced to make up for the additional liquid)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp vanilla

I mixed the cake ingredients, poured into the crust, and rested the pan in a larger pan of hot water. I put this in the oven at 325 (reduced because agave nectar is supposed to brown at a lower temp than sugar).

This was all easy. Deciding when it was done, however, was hard. Bake until the top is almost set? I’ve never made cheesecake before, but I found this very vague. So I turned off the heat when the center was still wobbly, and left it in the cooling oven for one hour, as suggested. The center was just set by the end of this, and I put it in the freezer overnight.

The next morning I flipped it out of the pan, while frozen (I didn’t use a springform pan because I was afraid the water bath would leak, and had read this was a good way to get out cheesecakes made in regular pans). It defrosted all day in the fridge. Right before I left for the potluck I sliced some strawberries and kiwis and decorated the top and sides.

Overall it tasted pretty good, but the texture was sort of suspicious. I don’t know how this recipe would have turned out anyway, so I don’t know if it’s the agave nectar’s fault. It was just a little too creamy for me; I wanted to see internal structure to the cake, like crumbs of mush, but instead it was smooth as a custard. But, like I said, the taste was great and I liked the way it looked, so overall it would say it was a success.

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

It ate my weekend, then I ate it.

Daring Bakers March 2009 Challenge: Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna
Recipe from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper

This was a difficult month for my relationship with the Daring Bakers. With the two most recent challenges essentially busts (Tuilles and Flourless Chocolate Cake – don’t believe the optimism in the posts – they were busts) I needed this month’s challenge to bring my baking spirits up again. I love lasagna, so I thought this would be perfect.

First, the five meat ragu. Since I couldn’t buy the meats in small enough quantities, I decided to double the recipe. Why not have leftovers? Well, that was mistake number one.

It took me several hours at multiple grocery stores to collect all of the ingredients, and several more hours to assemble and cook and the sauce. It was a full day affair. The recipe called for whole meats but then instructed us to grind them in a food processor. Having never done this before, I over-processed and my beautiful (and expensive) cuts of meat ended up as a meat paste. This mixture balled up when I started to fry it, despite my frantic efforts to break up the chunks. Not great. Later, when I added the milk, it immediately curdled and coated my already-not-ideal meat chunks in white residue. Again, fantastic. I probably would have given up here if I hadn’t already spent so much money and time on it. I stuck it in the fridge, swore that I would quit the daring bakers, and went to sleep.

The next morning I read on the Daring Bakers forum that not only did someone else’s ragu look like dog food (I believe she called it Alpo) someone else’s milk had curdled. The most encouraging part was that they still thought it tasted good. Slightly encouraged (but not enough to taste it myself), I started on the noodles.

Unfortunately, this was just as difficult as the ragu. My dough would not come together. I think it would have been much easier to use steamed spinach, but I was using raw, as the recipe recommended, and the mixture was hopelessly dry. For some reason, I decided to add more eggs instead of water. This was probably a bad call. The dough did come together but it was very eggy, almost yellow tinted behind the green, and very heavy/sticky.

I rolled it out as thin as I could without a pasta maker, hung it to dry, and then boiled it. It reminded me, both in look and touch, of alien tongue.

The béchamel sauce was the only saving grace of this entire production. It was easy and tasty and made me feel good about myself again.

I assembled the components trying to make my layers as thin and delicate as my chunky, milk-curdled ragu and thick, alien-tongue noodles would permit. I think I managed about 8 layers before I ran out of béchamel and just about ran out of room. So I popped it in the oven and thanked god that the couple I had invited over for dinner had canceled.

Now, the surprising part of this whole story – and really, I mean shocking – is that it actually turned out okay. It tasted different from a traditional American lasagne (which I must admit I prefer) but it still tasted good. Good enough to eat and want seconds. Good enough to save the leftovers. It was a miracle.

I also tried to eat the leftover noodles with a regular tomato sauce, but that didn’t work as well. Apparently the baking step was very important for these guys. They were too firm/spongy to eat just boiled.

So, I will hesitantly remain a Daring Baker. We’ll see what next month brings.

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Daring Bakers February 2009 Challenge: Flourless Chocolate Cake
Recipe from: Sweet Treats by Chef Wan

I was really excited about this month's challenge. I love simple, elegant recipes that are all about the intricacies of each ingredient. Making flourless chocolate cake is a lot like baking bread. You add very little, but every time you do so much as think about one of the ingredients the outcome is slightly different. It is sort of like painting a still life. It is really the time to appreciate the assets and limitations of your supplies, and hone basic skills. I don't know how much honing I did this month, but I certainly had fun.

The recipes starts with melting chocolate and butter in a double boiler. I chose Scharffen Berger chocolate, partially because it was readily available, partially because it did not break the bank, and mostly because once I was served it while wine tasting in Napa. (I find that I have a fond memory of just about everything I do while wine tasting.)

Next it was time to whip the egg whites into "stiff peaks." I can never remember exactly what entails a "stiff" peak, so I have no idea if I did this correctly. But this is what I ended up with:

You will note there is a flashlight on the bottom left of the last photo. This is a good time to mention that if you have trouble finding things in the back of your kitchen drawers or cabinets, you MUST try a flashlight. Using one has revolutionized my baking experience and made me not want to tear my hair out at the beginning of every baking project. Anyway, my next task was to combine the two bowls, as gently as possible to try to avoid deflating the whipped egg whites:

The following step is where I made my one (known) mistake of the recipe. I wasn't really paying attention to the exact requirements for the pan the cake was to be baked in. Apparently I was supposed to use one with an area of 50". I used a circle with a radius of 5" (A = 78.5"). I realized this afterwards, when I wondered why my cake came out so thin.

Having a cake that was 50% thinner than it should have been had a couple repercussions: (1) it seemed more like a brownie than a cake and (2) instead of reaching the optimal 140 degrees in the suggested baking time it had soared to 148 degrees, slightly drying out the flesh of the cake. This cake was very, very rich. I inadvertently created a real life Got Milk? commercial in my apartment by inviting 5 testers over, giving them each an enormous slice, and then realizing I was out of milk. But that aside, the tasting went well and everyone seemed to enjoy the cake. I think I prefer a lighter dessert, but this recipe was nonetheless a good overall baking experience.

Daring Bakers Tag: The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

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