Sunday, September 27, 2015

Lucky Irish Soda Bread

It's nice when a challenge goes smoothly and uneventfully, and ends up quite tasty. Sara and I had both made this type of bread before and in the end it's not a terribly difficult recipe -- pretty much flour, baking soda and buttermilk.

The dough was not especially pretty to look at and it was rather tough to handle. After about 30-40 minutes in the oven, however, it came out smelling wonderful and looking great. So great, in fact, that we dug right into it along with our semi-Irish feast -- sausage, salad, Irish and English cheeses, cornichons, Irish butter, tomato jam and mustard, plus cider and beer -- without taking any pictures.

So here's the bread remaining after Sara and I and our husbands had at it, and after I cut it the rest in half to send home with them. Just a little left -- probably the best testament to a successful challenge!

For the month of September Meredith from the Poco Loco Olsons challenged us to experiment with soda bread.

Irish Country Bread

Servings: 12 or more, based on how the loaf is sliced

  • 2½ cups (625 ml) sour milk or buttermilk
  • 2 cups (500 ml) (300 gm) (10½ oz) whole wheat four (see note above on how to measure flour)
  • 4 cups (1000 ml) (600 gm) (21 oz) all-purpose (plain) flour (see note above on how to measure flour)
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) (10 gm) baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon (6 gm) salt
  1. Preheat oven to hot 450°F/ 230°C/gas mark 8 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Mix the dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. (I do this by hand, but you could use a mixer if you’d prefer.)
  3. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients.
  4. Pour the sour milk/buttermilk into the well.
  5. Mix the dough until the flour is completely incorporated. (It will be very stiff. I find it helpful to knead the dough by hand a few times while it is still in the bowl to make sure all of the flour is incorporated before moving on to the next step.)
  6. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet.
  7. Pat or roll the dough into a circle shape that is approximately 1 inch (2½ cm) thick.
  8. Using your fingertips or the blunt end of a wooden spoon handle, make several dimples in the top of the dough. (This is very similar to the technique used when making focaccia bread.)
  9. Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the preheated hot oven and bake for 30 minutes.
  10. Reduce the heat to moderately hot 400°F/200°C/gas mark 6. Pull the baking sheet out from under the dough, so the parchment is directly on the oven rack. Bake for 10 more minutes or until the top is golden brown.*
* Note: We baked it for about 30 min. and it was definitely done, so we skipped the last 10-min. step with no apparent ill effects. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Yummy Yafawi Sfeeha

Though neither of us were familiar with the particular dish on hand for this month's challenge, we knew from the components that we would (likely) be in for a tasty treat. The yafawi sfeeha -- also known as "meat pies from Jaffa" in Palestine -- are traditionally made with lamb, but we opted for a vegetarian savory version with feta cheese. 

I mixed up the dough in the stand mixer the day before, and left the dough to chill in the refrigerator overnight. I took the tray out the next morning, so the dough was very relaxed and at room temperature when Erica came over. 

As you can see, it was super easy to work with -- we essentially just pushed it out into very thin circles. No rolling or tossing of any kind was required. Lesson learned on the development of gluten, perhaps?

Next we mixed up some fresh feta cheese, egg, parsley and mint for our filling. We spread this onto the thin dough envelopes, and then rolled them up into pinwheels. 

We popped them in the oven for a brief stint, waiting in anticipation as the kitchen started to smell delicious. 

These were a real treat. We started by serving just one a person, but by the end Erica and our husbands had polished off all twelve. Well done. I can imagine that they would be quite good with lamb or half lamb, half cheese, but these were awesome on their own. 

The July Daring Bakers’ Challenge was brought to us by Manal from Manal’s Bites. She introduced us to an authentic Palestinian dish from Java that is served as a main meal along with a bowl of soup or a salad. The “Yafawi Sfeeha” or also known as “Milwayeh” which means twisted, is crispy yet tender and full of flavor. 


3 cups (750 ml) (420 gm) (15 oz) all-purpose (plain) flour, scoop flour using cup measure then level 
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 gm) salt 
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (15 gm) (½ oz) sugar 
3 tablespoons (45 ml) powdered milk (you can substitute this with warm milk, you will need less water if using milk) 
3 tablespoons (45 ml) vegetable oil 
About 1 cup (250 ml) warm water for kneading 
Melted ghee (or olive oil) to stretch the dough (ghee gives a great texture and flavor). 

1. Mix flour, salt, sugar, powdered milk and vegetable oil then start adding the warm water until you get a tender and slightly sticky dough. Kneading will take about 8 min on a stand-up mixer or 12 min by hand. you might need more depending on where you live and the kind of flour you are using). 
2. Form the dough into small golf-ball-sized balls. Place on a baking sheet that is very well greased with ghee or olive oil and pour some more (oil or ghee) over dough. Cover and let rest at room temperature for few hours at least (or overnight). 
3. Prepare filling in the meantime. 
4. After you have your filling ready, use some of the ghee to brush a round tray (the surface that you will be working on). Take one piece of dough and using your hands, gently start spreading it as thinly and evenly as possible. 
5. Once that is done fold the upper side to the middle, then fold the opposite side to the middle as well. 
6. Spread your filling in a long line across the dough. Roll like a long tight rope making sure that it is tight enough to ensure no filling escapes. Then taking one end start rolling the rope towards the inside in a spiral shape (see photo). 
7. Put some more ghee on your baking sheet and place the done Sfeeha onto the baking sheet. Continue making the rest of your Sfeeha using ghee to keep it nice and moist. 
8. Preheat oven to moderately hot 400°F/200°C/gas mark 6 and bake Sfeeha for 15-20 minutes till golden brown. Serve hot or at room temperature with a bowl of soup during winter or a salad and Greek yogurt in summer time. 

Cheese Filling

Ingredients: 3-4 cups Nabulsi cheese, crumbled (You can use feta or Halloumi if you like but you need a reasonably hard and salty white cheese) ½ cup Italian parsley, minced (you can use fresh mint or fresh za’tar) 1 egg, beaten Black pepper 

Directions: Mix ingredients and your cheese filling is ready.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Renegade Adventures in Vegan and Non-Vegan Baking

Sara and I were loose cannons this month. We were renegade bakers. Kitchen outlaws. We'd essentially already made the Daring Bakers' challenge this month, a Charlotte Royale, so we decided to try something new. I'd pinned this S'mores Pavlova a few days before our baking date and it seemed like just the thing. Plus Sara and I were extremely curious to try our hands at making vegan "meringue" from chickpea water.

We're pretty much pros at egg-separating and making meringue at this point. The pavlova portion of the dessert involved some cocoa powder -- yum. And, strangely enough, balsamic vinegar.

We actually took the time to sift something for once.

It also involved some very tasty dark chocolate, which we folded in.

We decided to make the three pavlovas required by the recipe out of egg whites and then make one extra pavlova using the chickpeas just to see how it turned out. The chickpea water was pretty yucky looking and bean-y smelling. 

Weirdly, though, it beat right up into a frothy, white egg-y like substance, even though I mistakenly threw most of the ingredients into the bowl prior to beating. (I was supposed to whip up the chickpeas first, then slowly add the sugar, vanilla, etc.) Once all the sugar and chocolate was added, the bean-y flavor was barely noticeable.


Unfortunately, the end product wasn't quite right. We think we didn't bake it long enough. The outer shell was spot-on, but the interior was a little too goopy and stuck to the parchment paper. The chickpea pavlova was a little flatter than its egg-made cousins, but in a pinch, or if a vegan were coming over for dessert, both of us agreed that this would actually work as a substitute. Amazing!

Anyway, we had three eggs-cellent pavlovas to work with. We just had to layer 7-minute marshmallow frosting on a pavlova, give it some time under the blow torch, and then sprinkle it with graham crackers.

Mmm... blowtorched marshamallow...

Then we did it again...

And a third time. (My husband, TJ, was very happy to take a couple turns with the blowtorch.)

The finished product was really lovely looking.

We were a little nervous about cutting it, but it worked out just fine.

It was quite delicious, although we both felt a bit over-sugared afterwards. This would be a perfect dessert to bring to a summer party -- easy to make, impressive to look at, and really, really, really good to eat.

What we did not make this month:

For the June daring bakers challenge Rebecca from challenged us to make Charlotte Royale and Charlotte Russe from scratch. Savory or sweet Charlottes were definitely tasty showstopper

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Four month streak? Lamingtons

Those of you who have followed our blog for some time know that we don't always have the best luck with daring baker's challenges. Sometimes things take forever and then just aren't worth the effort. Sometimes they taste good, but look atrocious. Sometimes we end up with lasagna gum or gingerbread jails.

We, however, are on a hot streak. Those Siopoa buns were amazing. I still can't stop thinking about the tarte tatin. And that focaccia is going to be a kitchen staple, I can feel it. We were ripe for a failure, especially given that this recipe called for cornstarch instead of flour (uh, what?).

But the lamingtons were surprisingly delicious, and not all that terrible looking!

Erica kindly whipped up the inner cake part overnight (so she braved the cornstarch part).

While we had a bit of trouble cutting some of the middle pieces, the edges were just perfect.

Cake is always improved with 3.5 cups of powdered sugar, mixed with cocoa and butter. :-)

Finally, we coated these little logs in coconut, which we sent through the food processor to get the right texture.

Even though the recipe said to set for 2 hours, we tried right away. They were pretty good.

But, apparently that instruction was in there for a reason, as they turned from good to awesome as they set -- the chocolate sauce absorbed and hardened a bit, making a nice toothy shell around the soft, sweet cake. Delicious!

Think we can go 5/5?

Classic Lamingtons

Sponge Cake
Servings: 24

5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (240 ml) (225 gm) (8 oz) castor (superfine) sugar
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups (300 ml) (200 gm) (7 oz) cornflour (cornstarch)
1 ½ teaspoons (8 gm) baking powder
1 tablespoon (15 ml) (15 gm) (½ oz) butter, melted (optional)
2¾ cups (660 ml) (250 gm) (9 oz) unsweetened desiccated coconut, to assemble

Preheat oven to moderate 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.
Prepare a 4 ½ cm (1¾ inch) deep, 23cm x 33cm (9”x 13”) baking pan by lining with non-stick paper.
In a stand mixer bowl place eggs, sugar and salt. Using the whisk attachment, beat on high for 15 minutes.
While the eggs and sugar are beating sift the cornflour and baking powder at least 3 times.
After 15 minutes add vanilla and beat on high for another 5 minutes. The mixture should have at least tripled in size, be light in colour and very foamy.
Sift flour mixture over the egg mixture. I like to use a whisk but you can also use a large metal spoon to lightly fold the flour in. Some people like to use a wooden spoon but I find it too heavy. Heavy handling now will result in a flat tough sponge. If you are using butter, thoroughly fold it in now but lightly.
Spread mixture into your prepared pan and smooth out evenly. Some cooks at this stage drop the pan onto the bench top to even out the air bubbles! I have never had that much courage!
Bake in preheated moderate oven for 22-25 minutes. The sponge will rise quite a lot but then settle back down. Don’t be tempted to open the oven to peak. I also warn the family to walk gently past the oven! When baked the sponge will have shrunk very slightly from the sides and should feel springy when pressed gently.
Turn the sponge out immediately onto a wire rack to cool and reverse sponge so as not to mark the top. Allow to cool. It is best to keep the cake for a day before making the Lamingtons as the cake will be easier to handle.

Chocolate icing
3 ¼ cups (780 ml) (400 gm) (14 oz) icing (powdered) sugar
1/3 cup (80 ml) (40 gm) (1-1/3 oz) cocoa powder
1 tablespoon (15 gm) (15 gm) (½ oz) butter, melted
½ to ¾ cup (120 ml to 180 ml) milk

Sift the icing sugar and cocoa into a heatproof bowl. Stir in the butter and ½ cup milk. Set the bowl over a pan of hot water. Stir until icing is smooth adding more milk to thin the icing if needed. I find I need more than ½ cup but not quite ¾ cup of milk.

To assemble the Lamingtons:
Cut the sponge cake into 24 rectangular pieces – 6 across and 4 down. To be particular you can trim the crusts.
Keep the icing over the hot water to keep it melted. Place desiccated coconut in a shallow bowl.
Dip each piece into the chocolate icing
Allow excess to drip off then toss gently into the coconut.
Stand cakes on a wire rack to set, about 2 hours.

For the May challenge Marcellina from Marcellina in Cucina dared us to make Lamingtons. An Australian delicacy that is as tasty as it is elegant.

April Genius and Fail

I listen to an excellent mama podcast that asks listeners to report their genius and fail moments for the week, in an effort to celebrate/sympathize with the daily life of being a parent. April's challenge was certainly a genius and fail moment for me.

Genius moments? I made homemade focaccia! With a two-month old! Friends came over for dinner! The focaccia was amazing! I even took some pictures!

Fail moment?

Totally forgot to blog about it.

And dear, sweet Erica didn't want to bring up my failures, so we didn't have a post last month.

So, apologies! But this focaccia (technically, it's fugazza, the Argentinian version) deserves a post, because it's so good and so easy. Here's the recipe, so you can now make it in your own kitchens. Do it now. 


Servings: 16 slices
Preparation time: 90 minutes (including proofing)
Baking time: 20 minutes

2¾ cups (660 ml) (12-1/3 oz) (350gm) bread flour
150ml (10 tablespoons) olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (6 gm) kosher or sea salt
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (6 gm) instant dry or active dry yeast
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (5 gm) sugar
1 cup (250 ml) warm water
1 large white onion
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (6 gm) dried oregano
grated Parmesan (optional)
thinly sliced mozzarella (optional)

If using active dry yeast: Pour the warm water (100-105° F/38-40°C) into a small bowl. Stir in the sugar and yeast. Set aside for 5-10 minutes, until frothy. If using instant dry yeast: Add the yeast and the sugar with the flour.

Whisk together the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, add 5 tablespoons (75 ml) of olive oil and mix together briefly using a spoon or the dough hook.
Add the yeast and water mixture and begin to knead. The mixture should come together as a soft, stretchy dough, pulling away from the sides of the bowl. Add a bit more flour if mixture is too wet, or a bit more water if mixture seems dry or too firm. Knead for 5-10 minutes, until dough is smooth, soft and elastic.

Transfer the dough to a large, clean, oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

While the dough is rising, peel, halve and slice the onion lengthwise into very thin strips. Submerge the sliced onion in a bowl of cold, salted water and soak for 30 minutes. Drain onions well and dry with paper towels.

Preheat oven to hot 450°F/230°C/gas mark 8 with a rack in the middle.

Once it has risen, punch down the dough and shape into a smooth ball. Pour 3 tablespoons (45 ml) of olive oil into a large cast iron skillet or medium sized pizza pan with at least 1”/2.5cm sides. Place the ball of dough in the middle of the pan and press out gently with your fingers. Let dough relax for about 10 minutes.

Continue to press dough out into the pan, letting it relax for a few minutes each time as necessary, until dough covers the bottom of the pan. It should take 3 – 5 repetitions, depending on the size of the pan.
Sprinkle the onions over the top of the dough. Drizzle a tablespoon (15 ml) or two (30 ml) of olive oil over the onions, and sprinkle with the dried oregano, rubbing it between your fingertips while doing so to bring out the flavour.
Place the fugazza in the centre of the preheated hot oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until the edges start to turn golden brown. If desired, remove fugazza from oven after 15 minutes and top with thin slices of mozzarella and sprinkle with grated Parmesan then return to oven and bake until the fugazza is golden brown and crispy around the edges. Brown the onions under the oven grill or broiler for the last 2 - 3 minutes of cooking, if desired. 
Remove from the oven, allow to cool enough to handle and cut into wedges or squares to serve.

For the month of April Rachael of pizzarossa and Sawsan of Chef in Disguise took us on a trip to Italy. They challenged us to try our hands at making focaccia from scratch.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Pleasantly Surprising "Tarte Tatin"

This was the Baking JDs first attempt to bake together with a (1-month old!) baby in tow. And I'd call it a resounding success! I came over to Sara's house bearing baking ingredients and some other treats, and we got to work.

Sara -- our resident hater of cooked fruit -- chopped the veggies while we snacked on some Marcona almonds, manchego cheese, apricot jam, bread and strawberries. Then we roasted them to perfection.

We took a nice walk through Golden Gate Park with Baby C. mid-baking to enjoy the beautiful day and then got back to work.

I made the caramel on the stove and poured it over the root vegetables in a pan. Then I covered that with a layer of delicious, delicious cheese and some thyme, followed by puff pastry. Yes, don't judge us, we used store-bought puff pastry, but we've made laminate dough before and we'll bring back our A-game soon.

In any case, the cooking tarte smelled divine and came outlooking gorgeous.

We'd both been skeptical about the idea of root vegetables in this context, but this one was a huge success. I'm a big fan of the traditional tarte tatin (with apples) but I would absolutely make this again.

For the March Daring bakers’ challenge, Korena from Korena in the Kitchen taught us that some treats are best enjoyed upside down. She challenged us to make a tarte tatin from scratch.


Donna Hay’s Glazed Root Vegetable Tarte Tatin
Serves 8–10


2 medium carrots (240g), peeled
2 medium parsnips (500g), peeled
2 small sweet potatoes (kumara) (350g), peeled
2 turnips (450g), peeled
1⁄4 cup (60ml) extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and cracked black pepper
1⁄3 cup (80ml) water
1 cup (220g) caster sugar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
100g stracchino or taleggio cheese, sliced
4 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
6 sprigs lemon thyme, to serve


Preheat oven to 220°C/425°F. Cut the carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes and turnips into 1cm-thick slices. Divide between 2 large baking trays, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to combine and roast, turning half way, for 30 minutes, or until golden and tender.

While the vegetables are roasting, place the water and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat to high and cook, without stirring, for 6–8 minutes or until light caramel in colour. Remove from the heat and carefully add the vinegar, stirring to combine. Working quickly, pour the caramel evenly onto a 37cm x 24cm baking tray. Arrange the vegetables on top of the caramel, overlapping if necessary, and top with the cheese. Place the 4 slices of pastry over the top of the vegetables (pastry will overlap) leaving a 2cm overhang around the edge of the tray.

Gently press the overlapping pastry to seal and tuck in the overhanging edges. Transfer the tart to the oven on an extra baking tray to catch any spills, reduce the heat to 200°C (400°F) and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat again to 180°C (350°F) and bake for a further 20 minutes or until the pastry is puffed and cooked. Allow to stand for 5 minutes before turning out onto a board. Cut into squares to serve.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Buns In and Out of the Oven

I've got some good news and I've got some bad news. The bad news is that I had to do this month's challenge all alone. The good news is that -- it's because Sara had a baby! Both Mom and Baby Boy are doing well, and I was delighted to bring them some fresh-baked siopao and spend some quality time with the one-week-old newborn.

Fortunately for me, these Asian buns were pretty easy to make. The dough was somewhat sticky but overall a simple, yeasted dough.

I made the squash and pecan filing, but I'd like to try these again with a meat filling.

After coating everything in flour, it was pretty easy to split the dough ball up into 12 parts.

Then it was just a matter of making a flat disk...

... plopping in some filling...

... rolling it up...

... and pinching it closed. I was a little nervous about my pinching skills but they turned out to be fine.

Here are the siapaos pre-egg wash and baking.

And here they are after 20 minutes or so in the oven. Beautiful!

And delicious!

This was a wonderful challenge and inspired me to explore making steamed buns, as well, since I love those so much.

Congratulations to Sara and her husband Will on the arrival of their baby bun out of the oven!

The February Daring Bakers’ challenge is hosted by Julie of One-Wall Kitchen. She challenged us to an easy, simple filled bun using no-knead dough.


Siopao Dough and Siopao
Servings: 12 large buns

1/4 ounce (7 gm) (2 teaspoons) active dry yeast (1 packet )
1-1/2 cups (360 ml) warm water
1 tablespoon (15 ml) sugar
2 tablespoons (30 ml) melted butter
1 teaspoon (5 ml) salt
4 to 5 cups (20 oz to 25 oz) (560 gm to 700 gm) all-purpose (plain) flour
1 egg for egg-wash for the buns

1. Mix yeast, water, sugar, melted butter, and salt in a large mixing bowl.

2. Slowly mix in flour until it's fully incorporated and you have a shaggy, very tacky dough, but not wet and sticky.

3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for up to an hour in warm place until doubled. While dough is rising, you can make your filling if you haven't already pre-made it to let it cool (see recipe below).

4. Punch down dough and turn out onto a floured surface. Depending on how much flour you added, it will be somewhat tacky to pretty tacky. Fold it over several times and shape it into a smooth ball, then divide into 12 equal pieces.

5. Roll each piece into a ball and flatten it into a disc about 6 inches (15 cm) wide.

6. Place a heaping tablespoonful of filling into the center of the disc, wrap the dough around the filling, and firmly pinch it closed over the top of the filling.

7. Place filled buns on a baking sheet and loosely cover them with plastic wrap. Let them rest for 1 hour. On the top sheet, you can see where a lot of my dough was too thin. Those were the first siopao I made, before I worked out the technique.

8. Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4.

9. Beat 1 egg in a small bowl for egg wash and brush on top of each bun. In the photo, you can see that I decided not to risk baking the busted siopao as freestanding buns, so I put them in a small oven-safe dish to bake up as a loaf.

10. Bake buns for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm. In the photo, some of my pandan filling leaked out a small hole, but most stayed inside. That's a reminder to make sure there are no holes in your buns!

Winter Squash filling
[I had a fair amount left over, but it's delicious to eat on its own]

3 to 5 lbs (1-1/3 to 2-1/4 kg winter squash (I used acorn)
Olive oil
1/4 cup (60 ml) chopped nuts of choice
1/4 cup (60 ml) grated hard cheese, such as Romano, cotija, or Parmesan

1. Preheat oven moderately hot 400°F/200°C/gas mark 6.

2. Quarter your squash and rub cut edges with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt.

3. Roast the squash for 40 minutes until very soft, and use a sturdy spoon to scoop the flesh into a bowl. Discard the skins.

4. Mash the squash with a sturdy fork or potato masher. Allow the squash to cool. Sprinkle as much of the chopped nuts and cheese as you'd like into the mash and stir them in. Use 1 to 1-1/2 rounded tablespoons of filling for each siopao.

Storage & Freezing Instructions/Tips:
Store leftovers in the fridge for no more than 4 days and reheat for 30 seconds in the microwave. You can also store baked siopao in the freezer, individually wrapped airtight, and reheated in the microwave for 60 to 90 seconds. I'm not sure how well frozen, unbaked siopao will thaw because the filling is moist and might ruin the integrity of the dough as it goes through its long thaw and final rise.
Additional Information:
My mom taught me to just pinch the edges of the dough disc together to close the siopao, and then she'd steam it steam-side down, but many Filipinos use a Chinese style of pleating their siopao and steaming it pleat-side up, like this: at minute 12:12. I think seam-side down works well for baking, but you could experiment with baking your siopao pleat-side up.