Friday, June 27, 2014

Saturday Morning Ritual

I was listening to a podcast recently where the folks were discussing their perfect morning routines. Their discussion was centered around how to start your day productively, but it made me think about those perfect mornings where you really aren't "productive" at all -- but rather you spend the time doing things just to enjoy the act of doing them.

This month's challenge provided a perfect opportunity for one of those perfect mornings. Last Saturday, I woke up to start preparing some of the most delicious dough I've made in a while -- springy, sweet and tangy, with perfect notes of orange and cardamom. I left the dough to rise, and headed out the door to meet Erica at one of my favorite yoga studios in SF. Now if I describe this class to most people, it sounds ridiculous (there's a disco ball, club music, lots of chanting, and about 200 people), but it's a great workout and a great space.

We got back to my apartment, whipped up some smoothies and lattes to tide us over, and started in on the cinnamon rolls. Erica rolled out the dough into a large rectangle, and I spread some truly terrible filling on top -- all full of brown sugar and cinnamon and spices. :-)

We rolled it up into a log and sliced, neatly tucking the rounds into two spring form pans (who knew I had two of those lying around?)

And then we popped it into the oven. We were pretty hungry at this point, and it was super hard to wait for them to be finished. But our patience was rewarded, because these were spectacular - great texture, great flavor.

This month the Daring Bakers kept our creativity rolling with cinnamon bun inspired treats. Shelley from C Mom Cook dared us to create our own dough and fill it with any filling we wanted to craft tasty rolled treats, cinnamon not required!

Serves: 12-16 buns
  • ½ cup whole milk, warm (110-115 degrees)
  • 2¼ teaspoons instant yeast
  • 3 large eggs
  • 20 ounces (4 cups) all purpose flour (+1/4 cup if needed)
  • 3¼ ounces (3/4 cup) cornstarch
  • 3½ ounces (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • zest of 1 orange (approximately ½ tablespoon)
  • ¼ cup fresh squeezed orange juice (approximately 1 orange)
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, chopped and at room temperature
  • 10½ ounces (1½ cups) packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1½ cups confectioners' sugar
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • ¼ cup fresh squeezed orange juice (approximately 1 orange)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. In a large liquid measuring cup, whisk together the whole milk and instant yeast, followed by the eggs.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, sugar, salt, cardamom and orange zest. Break apart any clumps of zest if necessary. Attach the dough hook, turn the mixer on low speed and add the warm milk mixture followed by the orange juice. Allow the ingredients to combine for one minute. Increase the speed to medium and add the butter in pieces until it's all incorporated. The dough will be very wet. Allow it to continue mixing for 10 minutes. If the dough is still looking wet, add up to another ¼ cup of flour in 2 tablespoon increments. The dough should be very soft and delicate but not too sticky to handle. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased large bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Allow the dough to double in size, up to 2 hours. To speed things up, place the bowl inside the oven next to a small bowl of boiling water and close the door.
  3. While the dough is rising, prepare the filling. Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom and salt in a bowl. Grease 2 8-inch cake pans thoroughly and set aside.
  4. Remove the dough from the oven and place on a lightly floured countertop. Roll the dough into a large, thin rectangle. Using clean hands, spread the butter across the dough, leaving a small border around the edges, and then top evenly with the sugar mixture. Roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Cut into 12 or 16 even pieces and place in the reserved cake pans, cut side up. Cover and allow to double in size, approximately 1 hour.
  5. Bake the buns at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. Top each pan with ¼ cup of the glaze and allow the buns to cool completely. Top with the remaining glaze before serving.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Adventures in Brazilian Baking: Pão de Queijo

We were both excited about this challenge as it was a savory one, and I have fond memories of eating pão de queijo when I visited Brazil, however the finished product wasn't quite as good as expected. 

Fortunately we both had some tapioca flour on hand. Getting the other ingredients was easy. We used Monterey Jack cheese. Pictured above is TJ's homemade English dark mild ale, the first beer brewed in our new place.

As the recipe warned, the dough felt pretty weird. Sara tried some and said it tasted terrible, so of course I had to try some, too. And it tasted terrible. But I had faith that it would turn out OK.

Really strangely textured dough...

I'm pretty sure we baked our first batch of these guys for too long (25 minutes, pictured). They came out with really thick, hard shells and a somewhat bitter flavor, which the recipe warned us about. The inside, once you got to it, was OK, but they definitely weren't quite right.

We tried baking the next few batches for only about 15 minutes and they were much better. Sara never really warmed up to them. I thought they were OK, although unfortunately not as good as the Brazilian version I had in the past.

Luckily we had plenty of delicious food to see us through the evening: cheese, crackers, olives, kale salad, and, the pièce de résistance, marinated walleye from Lake Erie, which I caught last summer and froze and had been saving for no real reason. For dessert: freshly homemade frozen yogurt with caramel sauce, dark chocolate-sea salt sauce, and fresh strawberries.

This month's Daring Bakers' Challenge took us on a trip to beautiful Brazil! Renata of "Testado, Provado & Aprovado!" taught us how to make Pao De Queijo, tasty cheese buns that make the perfect snack or treat, and that will make your taste buds samba!

Preparation time:
About 30 minutes to prepare the dough, maybe 10 to 15 minutes for shaping and 20 to 25 minutes baking.

Equipment required:
  • Large Bowl
  • Sauce pan
  • Baking sheets/pans
Servings: About 80 small balls

  • 500 gm (4 cups) tapioca starch (If you have access to sour tapioca, you can use 250gm (2 cups) of each)
  • 1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
  • 2-3/4 tablespoons (40 ml) (1½ oz) (40 gm) butter
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) (3 gm) salt (or to taste depending on how salty your cheese is)
  • 3 cups (750 ml) (9 oz) (250gm) Monterey Jack Cheese (or another cheese of your liking, or a mix of cheeses), coarsely grated
  • 1 to 3 large eggs
  • Heat milk, butter, and salt in a small sauce pan until it comes to a boil. Watch closely as it may boil over. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • Sift tapioca starch into a large bowl.
  • Pour the boiled (hot) mixture over the tapioca and start stirring with a fork. The milk mixture will not be enough to form a dough yet. You will have a lumpy mixture, that's what it is supposed to be.
  • Keep stirring with the fork, breaking down the lumps as much as you can, until the mixture cools down to warm.
  • At this point, preheat your oven to moderately hot 400° F/200° C/gs mark 6
  • Add the grated cheese to the tapioca mixture and mix well, now using your hands.
  • Add one egg at a time, mix with your hands until dough comes together. I suggest you lightly beat the egg with a fork and add little bits until the dough comes together into a soft but pliable dough. You only have to knead it a bit, not as much as you knead a yeasted bread. It's OK if it is slightly sticky.
  • You can find a link to a video of the process in “Additional Information” below.
  • Form balls with the dough and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silicon mat or lightly greased with vegetable oil. If necessary, you can oil your hands to make shaping easier. The size of the balls may vary from small bite-sized balls to the size of ping pong balls. They will puff up quite a bit after baking. I personally prefer the smaller ones.
  • Bake for about 25 minutes or until they just start to brown on the bottom. You may have golden spots of cheese on the crust. Don't over-bake as they will get hard and bitter.
  • NOTE: If your dough gets too soft and sticky to shape balls, you can always add a bit more tapioca starch or pop the dough into a piping bag and pipe the dough on a baking sheet.
  • Serve hot or warm. Brazilians love them with a cup of coffee! Yum...

Sunday, April 27, 2014

There's Cardamom in my Kulich!

Our task this month was to create an easter bread, particularly one associated with our cultural heritage. While I was sorely tempted to master one of the recipes where you actually bake an egg into your braided design:


We opted for something that was a bit more traditional. My mom's family is Russian Orthodox, and growing up my mom recalls the tall, white cake associated with Easter time. With a little online research, I discovered a recipe for Kulich, along with this explanation from wikipedia:
Traditionally after the Easter service, the kulich, which has been put into a basket and decorated with colorful flowers, is blessed by the priest. Blessed kulich is eaten before breakfast each day. Any leftover kulich that is not blessed is eaten with Paskha for dessert.

Kulich is baked in tall, cylindrical tins (like coffee or fruit juice tins). When cooled, kulich is decorated with white icing (which slightly drizzles down the sides) and colorful flowers. Historically, is was often served with cheese paska bearing the symbol XB (from the traditional Easter greeting of Христос воскресе, "Christ is Risen").
So on the day before Easter, and the morning of our dear friends' (and frequent DB guests) wedding (!!), I set about preparing an easter feast, complete with these deviled eggs, this delicious spring lasagna, and the kulich.

It was an interesting recipe, relying on both yeast and egg whites for loft. The initial proofing smelled delicious and bubbled up nicely.

The dough came together well, but when we got to the stage of folding in the egg whites, I was a bit mystified. Imagine a springy and smooth bread dough. Then imaging trying to "fold-in" stiff beaten egg whites. Strange, right? But they eventually incoporated, and we set the dough to rise even further.

The recipe called for a kulich pan or a two-pound coffee tin, neither of which I had in my kitchen (sadly, Blue Bottle doesn't sell its artisan coffee in two pound tins...). So I improvised with a semi-cylindrical all metal sauce pan.

(The saucepan, while perhaps ingenious, also led to one of our first ever daring baker injuries. I hope Erica's finger is recovering nicely!)

 The resulting cake/bread wasn't quite a delicious as I anticipated based on the dough. The dough was moist and springy with a delicious aroma. The cake, however, was a bit on the dry side. Perhaps the sauce pan wasn't the best option after all (it may have also been a small mishap involving oven temperature).

The friends and family gathered for easter still took down a good portion of the dessert. As for the cultural aspect of it, my mom pointed out that my grandmother would have never included cardamom in her recipe - in fact, she probably just used white cake or bread mix (if she didn't get it from the church). Spices, nuts and dried fruit would have conflicted with the number of meats on the table...

The April Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Wolf of Wolf’s Den . She challenged us to Spring into our kitchens and make Easter breads reflecting cultures around the world.


  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup sugar + 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup scalded milk, cooled to 110 degrees
  • 1 cup + 3 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 8 large egg yolks (reserve 2 egg whites)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/4 cup chopped candied orange rind
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 2 teaspons lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2-3 teaspoons warm water
  1. In a large bowl, combine yeast, water, 1/4 cup sugar and milk, mixing until yeast and sugar have dissolved. Stir in 1 cup flour until well blended. Cover and let stand in a warm place for 1 hour.

  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine butter, 1/2 cup sugar and egg yolks. Add yeast-flour mixture from Step 1, stirring well. Add vanilla, cardamom, salt and enough of the 3 to 3 1/2 cups flour to make a soft dough. Stir in raisins, almonds and orange rind.

  3. In a small bowl, beat 2 reserved egg whites until stiff. Fold them into the dough made in Step 2. Knead by machine or hand until a smooth and elastic dough forms, about 3-5 minutes. Place in greased bowl, turning once to coat both sides. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until doubled.

  4. Coat a 2-pound coffee can or kulich pan with cooking spray. Punch down dough and knead a few times. Place it in the prpeared can, cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until dough reaches the top of the can.

  5. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place pan on a baking sheet and bake 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake another 35 to 40 minutes or until tester comes out clean.

  6. While kulich is baking, prepare glaze by combining in a small bowl the confectioners' sugar, lemon juice, almond extract and enough water to make a smooth, runny glaze.

  7. Remove kulich from oven and let cool 10 minutes. Unmold from can and cool on a wire rack. While still slightly warm, drizzle glaze over the top. To serve, cut off the crown and slice base into rounds. To keep any leftovers moist, replace the crown.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Renegade Baking

As we've alluded to before, Erica and I get somewhat frustrated when our Daring Bakers challenges contain little-to-no baking. Case in point this month? Our designated recipe was for nougat. While I'm sure it would have been delicious, we decided to stray a bit from the rules and bake something out of our long lists of baked goods to try.

Both Erica and I have been long-time fans of Heidi Swanson and her 101 Cookbooks blog (she lives here in SF, and though I've seen her out and about her four times, I've yet to have the courage to interrupt what she's been doing to say hello. But I'm pretty sure we'd be best of friends :-)). Given that spring is upon us, we decided to try her citrus-bay leaf pound cake, a combination that had us intrigued from the get go.

The recipe was quite simple - a basic pound cake with bay leaf butter and a citrus glaze. Erica started us out by soaking the bay leaves in melted butter, which smelled divine. Next we artfully arranged our bay leaves at the bottom of the pan.

The cake portion came together quickly -- whisking together the dry ingrediants, and then the wet (which included a fair amount of sour cream, interestingly enough).

The we blended those together, poured it over the arranged bay leaves -- careful not to disturb! -- and popped it into Erica's (new, no longer too hot too cold) oven.

We pulled the leaves out eventually (just like with soup, no one wants a mouthful of bay leaf while eating cake), leaving a delicate imprint.

The citrus glaze settled into the imprints. I wanted this to be more artful, but it just looked a bit random -- perhaps I'd do some additional pattern play if we make it again.

As you can see, the crumb on the cake was beautiful - moist, delicately flavored. It was delicious post dinner (thanks for the homemade pasta!), and in the morning with tea.

Forgive us DB folks! We'll follow the rules next time, so long as baking is involved!

The March 2014 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Rebecca of BakeNQuilt. She challenged us to learn to make classic nougat and to make it our own with our choice of flavors and add-ins. [Yeah, we didn't do this...]

Bay Leaf Pound Cake

You can make this pound cake with whole wheat pastry flour as well. Just be extra mindful not to over bake. Also, as David suggests, substituting rose geranium or another (edible) scented leaf is a fine idea, just make sure the leaves are unsprayed. You can bake this in a 9-inch pan, or equivalent, I like to experiment with different pan shapes.
6 tablespoons / 3 ounces / 85 g unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature, plus 1 tablespoon butter, for piping
10 fresh or dried bay leaves
1 2/3 cups / 230g all-purpose flour
1 cup / 200 g granulated sugar
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup / 125 g sour cream
finely grated zest of one orange
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Orange Glaze:
1 cup / 140 g powdered sugar
1 1/2 - 2 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon orange liquor, such as Grand Mariner or Cointreau (optional)
Melt 6 tablespoons (85g) of butter in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat and add 3 of the bay leaves. Let steep for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C. Butter a 9-inch loaf pan (or equivalent). Dust with flour and tap out any excess. If possible, line the bottom with parchment paper (if the shape of your pan makes it impossible to line with parchment, skip the paper). If you have a flat-bottomed pan, dab one side of the remaining 7 bay leaves with a little bit of butter and place the leaves, evenly spaced, on the bottom of the prepared pan, buttered side down. Alternately, if your pan doesn't have a flat bottom, you can wait, and place the remaining bay leaves atop the batter just before placing in the oven (as shown above).

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream, orange zest, and vanilla until combined. If needed, barely rewarm the butter to liquify it and pluck out the bay leaves. Whisk the butter into the egg mixture.

With a spatula, gently stir the egg mixture into the dry mixture, just until the batter is smooth. Do not over mix. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, being careful not to disturb the leaves (alternately, top the cake with any remaining leaves). Put the remaining 1 tablespoon of softened butter into a plastic bag, snip off a corner, then draw a straight line of the butter down the center of the cake (alternately, a circle if your pan is round). Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. It's better to slightly under bake, than over bake this cake.

Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the perimeter of the cake and then tip out onto a cooling rack, remove leaves, and let cool completely before glazing.

To make the glaze, combine the powdered sugar, orange juice, and orange liquor (if using). Stir until smooth, then spread the glaze over the cooled cake, allowing it to drip down the sides and harden.

Makes one 9-inch cake.

Slightly adapted from David Lebovitz's beautiful new book, My Paris Kitchen.

Prep time: 60 min - Cook time: 50 min

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Beautiful Bread

My partner in crime was lucky enough to spend most of this month on vacation in South America, so I took on this challenge alone. I'm glad I did because it was delicious -- and really pretty!

I chose to make a relatively simple cinnamon-sugar bread. The recipe reminded me a lot of a cross between challah and cinnamon buns. It involved four layers with butter and a cinnamon-sugar mixture spread in between, and then some fancy folding.

I put a twisted ball of the extra dough in the middle and brushed it with milk before baking. I glazed it with sweetened condensed milk when it was hot from the oven.

It rose beautifully in the oven and the finished project was gorgeous, not to mention both wonderful-smelling and -tasting. Several of my triangles came unfolded so if I were to make it again I would be sure to pinch them together a bit tighter.

After missing our January challenge and baking solo in February, I'm looking forward to baking with Sara again in March! In the meantime, thank you to my husband TJ for helping me take some pictures.

Beauty surrounded the Daring Bakers this month as our host, Sawsan, of chef in disguise, challenged us to make beautiful, filled breads. Who knew breads could look as great as they taste? 


Cinnamon Sweet Bread

Serves 8


For the dough
1/4 cup (60 ml) warm water
3/4 cup (180 ml) warm milk
1 large egg
1/4 cup (60 ml) (60 gm) (2 oz) butter, softened
1/4 cup (60 ml) (50 gm) (1-3/4 oz) white sugar
1/2 teaspoon (3 gm) salt
3-1/4 cups (780 ml) (450 gm) (16 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, approximately
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (8 gm) dry yeast
1/4 teaspoon (1 gm) cardamom, optional

Between the layers
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) (1/4 cup) (60 ml) (60 gm) (2 oz) butter
4 tablespoons (60 ml) (25 gm) (1 oz) cinnamon
1/2 cup (120 ml) (100 gm) (3-1/2 oz) sugar
For topping (before baking)
1/4 cup (60 ml) of milk
1 tablespoon (15 gm) (1/2 oz) sugar

For drizzling (after baking)
1 can (400 gm) (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1. In a bowl whisk the egg with milk, water, sugar, butter and yeast. Set aside
2. In another bowl sift the flour with the salt and the optional cardamom.
3. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and knead until you get a smooth dough.
Note: This recipe requires between 3-1/4 and 3-1/2 cups of flour depending on the weather, humidity and the flour brand. Start with 3-1/4 cups and if you feel that the dough is too soft, add the extra 1/4 cup. [I had to add an additional 1/4 cup or so beyond this, or about 3-3/4 cups total.]
4. Place the dough in a bowl you have brushed with some oil and cover it with a wet cloth and leave it in a warm place to double

(If you are tight on time you can heat your oven to 390°F/200°C then turn it off and place your dough in a glass bowl and place it in the warm oven with the wet cloth covering the bowl)

5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface

6. Divide the dough into 4 parts

7. Roll each part into a circle at least 20 cm (8 inch) in diameter

8. Brush the first layer with butter then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon

9. Place the second layer on the first layer repeat the brushing and sprinkling and then do the same with the third layer.

10. Top with the fourth layer, this time only brush it with butter.

11. Using a knife make cuts that divide the dough circles into 8 triangles

12. Make cuts that go 2/3 of the way in the middle of each triangle. The cuts should not reach the base of the triangle nor the tip.

13. Take the tip of each triangle and insert it into the cut you made and pull it down through from the underside

14. Arrange the triangles on your baking sheet

15. Pinch the two angles at the base (long end) of the triangle together

Note: If you would like to add the little bread coil that you see in the center of the baked cinnamon bread, simply roll a piece of dough into a rope then form it into a little coil and place it in the center where the heads of the triangles meet

16. Brush the dough with milk

17. Allow to rest for 15 minutes during which you would heat your oven to very hot 500°F/240°C/gas mark 9 (rack in the middle). (Go for the hottest your oven will do).

18. Bake for 5 minutes on very hot 460°F/240°C/gas mark 9, then lower the temperature to moderately hot 390°F/200°C/gas mark 6 and bake for 15-20 more minutes

Note: ovens do differ greatly, so the time may differ,what you want is to bake it until the under side is golden brown and the bread is baked all the way to the center. If the top of the bread is not golden brown by that time and you have a broiler (grill) in your oven. Turn on the broiler (grill) for a couple of minutes until the bread is golden brown on top. If on the other hand the top is getting too dark, consider lowering the oven temperature and covering the top of the bread with foil to stop it from over browning

19. Take it out of the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rick and drizzle with sweetened condensed milk while it is still warm.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Books and Whoopie

Erica and I are also part of a book club with some of our friends from law school (and some fantastic non-lawyers!). We try to meet once a month as well, and when our friends are lucky and the recipe isn't too complicated, we do daring bakers at the same time as our discussion. Whoopie pies made the cut, which was particularly good given hectic Decembers.

(Fun(?) fact - I don't think Erica and I have completed a December challenge since this awesomeness).

Whoopie pies are fantastically easy to make. It's a quick chocolate dough scooped out and baked. Apparently you can buy fancy molds to make your whoopie uniform and "cookie-cutter" so to speak, but who wants that? We opted for a more rustic creation:

Next came the filling. We contemplated the traditional marshmallow filling, but given that the the benevolent overlords at Whole Foods believe that marshmallow creme is from the artificial, GMO, too-much-sugar devils, we went with the vanilla recipe. We enjoyed the "cooling" process - using some edamame to bring it down to the right temperature.

Assembly was a breeze, which was great so we could continue our discussion of Eleanor and Park (a fantastic and sweet young adult novel - perfect for spending a day on the couch with a cup of tea). We had lots of extra filling, which was taken away by a book club member to make a cake -- Rachel, how did it turn out?

Word to the wise -- if you have any leftovers, these are divine straight from the freezer. Will and I traveled to Florida shortly after we made these, and they made for an excellent 10 pm treat when we got back from the airport.

Finally, given that it's the end of the year, I took a look through the archives to see what we did over the year. Award for best tasting: Chocolate Beet Cake (February). Award for prettiest (possibly ever): Prinsesstarta (March). Biggest fail (this one was easy): Sfogliatelle (November). Anyone else want to share their best or worst?

The December Daring Bakers' Challenge had us all cheering - the lovely and talented Bourbonnatrix of Bourbonnatrix Bakes was our hostess and challenged us to make fun, delicious and creative whoopie pies! Delicious little cake-like cookies sandwiching luscious filling in any flavors we chose... What else is there to say but "Whoopie!"

Servings: 8 large or 16 small whoopie pies

For the Whoopie Pies
1/2 cup (120 ml) (4 oz) (115 gm) butter
1 cup (240 ml) (7 oz) (200 gm) brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (5 gm) espresso coffee powder, optional
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (5 gm) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (3 gm) baking soda
3/4 teaspoon (4½ gm) salt
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup (120 ml) (1½ oz) (45 gm) Dutch-process cocoa, sifted
2 1/3 cups (560 ml) (10 oz) (285 gm) unbleached all-purpose (plain) flour
1 cup (240 ml) milk

1) Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.
2) In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar, espresso coffee powder (if using), baking powder, baking soda, salt, and vanilla till smooth. Add the egg, again beating till smooth.
3) Add the cocoa, stirring to combine.
4) Add the flour to the batter alternately with the milk, beating till smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and beat again briefly to soften and combine any chunky scrapings.
5) Drop the dough by the 1/4-cupful (60 ml) onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving plenty of room between the cakes; they'll spread. A muffin scoop works well here.
6) Bake the cakes in a preheated moderate oven for 15 to 16 minutes, till they're set and firm to the touch. Remove them from the oven, and cool on the pans. While still lukewarm, use a spatula to separate them from the pan or parchment; then allow to cool completely.

Servings: way more than you actually need to fill the whoopies

1 cup (240 ml) (8 oz) (225 gm) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (60 ml) (1 oz) (30 gm) all-purpose (plain) flour
1 cup (240 ml) whole milk
1/4 cup (60 ml) heavy cream (about 35%)
1 cup (2 sticks) (8 oz) (225 gm) unsalted butter, cool but not cold, cut into ½-inch (15 mm) cubes
1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add the milk and cream and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool, at least 7 minutes. (You can speed up the process by pressing bags of frozen berries or frozen corn against the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl.) Reduce the speed to low and add the butter; mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy. You can’t overbeat this mixture. Just let it go until it’s nice and smooth.

Add the vanilla and continue mixing until combined. If the frosting is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is the proper consistency. If the frosting is too firm, set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Sfogliatelle (noodles?)

Erica and her *husband* TJ joined our family down in Big Sur for Thanksgiving this year. After a day of running, biking, hot springs and lots of food, we spent much of Friday in recuperation mode. Finally, we urged ourselves off the couch and got down to baking: our challenge? Sfogliatelle, and Italian pastry dessert. 

We mixed up the dough and let it rest, making sure to keep it "very dry" per the recipe. Erica and I are both as-you-go tasters, and we should have known something was up right from the get-go. This tasted strongly of playdough. Hmm. 

We were also so thankful for the kitchen aid - given the hard consistency, I'm not sure how we would have ever managed to get this thin enough. 

The filling was better - our homemade ricotta was easy enough (even though more than half our cream was accidentally used for pie the night before...), and the semolina paste was quite tasty, bringing back memories of cream of wheat for both of us. 

But then the real disasters started. Our attempts to "stretch" the dough even further resulted in many many holes and butter everywhere. I'm not sure where we went wrong on that one -- anyone else have that problem?

We did forge ahead and end up with a log, which ultimately sliced up well. The pictures don't do it justice, but each slice reveals little tree rings inside. Pretty nifty!

We pushed out the dough into the little triangles and added scoops of the filling. Our ratio appeared to be way off, however -- we ended up with about 15 times more filling than we needed.
This picture doesn't reveal the next catastrophe. We popped the shaped triangles into the oven on a jelly roll pan, which only had lips on two sides. About 20 minutes in, the kitchen starts smelling like smoke, and we have to jump up from our yatzee game. Most of the butter, it seems, has melted off the pastry and into the bottom of the oven, where it has started smoking  like crazy. Two fire alarms start going off, and none of our family members are all that happy. 

It didn't get better once we served the dessert. While the Sfogliatelle looked quite pretty, with the ridges revealing themselves nicely, the outer "pastry" tasted distinctly like dried, ready-to-be-cooked noodles. Erica demonstrates: 

Not so good. A few of our family members choked down their entire treat, but most ended up in the trash. We looked back at the recipe to see what went wrong, but nothing obvious emerged. Perhaps its a Big Sur curse? After all, we did end up with these oft-ridiculed cannolis (looking back at that recipe, perhaps the key is -- if your dough tastes like playdough, abort, abort!). Maybe we just don't like Sfogliatelle? None of us had ever had the real thing. 
Thankfully, the dessert was preceded by these beauties. In a Baking JDs first, we re-made the pot pies from last month, this time adding some leftover turkey. Delicious!

In case this post really tempted you (up for a challenge, perhaps?), here's the recipe: 

Fresh Ricotta Cheese (makes 2 cups)
Servings: Makes 2 cups
8 cups (2 litres) whole milk (or goats milk)
1 cup (250 ml) heavy whipping cream (about 35%)
1/2 teaspoon (3 gm) salt
3 tablespoons (45 ml) fresh lemon juice
1. Line a large colander or strainer with 2 layers of lightly dampened cheesecloth over a large glass; set aside.
2. Pour the whole milk, heavy cream and salt into a large pot and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking occasionally. Reduce the heat, add the fresh lemon juice and stir/whisk continuously for 2-3 minutes. The mixture will curdle, which is exactly what you want it to do. Pour this into the cheesecloth lined strainer and let it drain for about 1 hour or until it comes to room temperature. At this point you can scrape the ricotta from the cheesecloth into a container and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
3. The liquid in the bowl is the whey, a very nutritious and tasty leftover byproduct from making cheese. It is excellent to use instead of water when baking bread, or added to soup stock. I love the stuff and never discard it. Here is an excellent article on the wonders of whey! (Note to Baking JD readers -- we used this in the pot pies with excellent results!)

Semolina-Ricotta Filling

1 cup (250 ml) milk
1/2 cup (120 ml) (4 oz) (115 gm) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (160 ml) (4 oz) (115 gm) fine semolina or cream of wheat (I have tried both and personally like the semolina version)
1 1/2 cups (360 ml) (13-1/4 oz) (375 gm) whole milk ricotta, preferably fresh (see above)
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract (or the seeds of one pod and 1 teaspoon of extract)
1/4 teaspoon (1 gm) ground cinnamon
1/3 cup (80 ml) (2 oz) (60 gm) candied orange peel (commercial or home-made)
zest of 1 lemon
Combine the milk and the sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and slowly add the semolina (or cream of wheat), whisking quickly as to avoid any lumps. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture is smooth and thick, about 2 minutes. Spread the mixture onto a lined baking sheet, about 1/2 inch (15 mm), to cool. When cool, break into pieces and place into the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment (or a food processor), and add the ricotta cheese, egg yolks, vanilla and cinnamon. Beat until very smooth and creamy. Stir in the candied orange peel and lemon zest. (Maybe even some mini chocolate chips? Or pistachios?? mmmm...I can't wait to see what you come up with)
Scrape into a container, place plastic wrap directly onto the surface and refrigerate until needed (up to 3 days).

Sfogliatelle Ricci
Servings: 14-18 pastries
You will need a large/long workspace for this. I used my dining room table for this though I am sure someone will be more creative with limited space!
3 cups (750 ml) (15 oz) (420 gm) all-purpose (plain) flour
teaspoon (6 gm) salt
3/4 cup (180 ml) warm water (about 100°F/38°C)
4 oz (115 gm) lard (I used Crisco butter flavored shortening)
1/2 cup (1 stick/4 oz) (115 gm) unsalted butter, softened
Semolina-ricotta filling (see above)
1. Combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir in the water, or use your standing mixer with the paddle attachment. The dough will be very dry. If you feel absolutely compelled, add an extra teaspoon of water but it is supposed to be very dry. Turn this out onto a clean work surface and knead the dough together, bringing in all the dry bits. At this point get your pasta roller out and ready. Roll out the dough to about 1/3 inch (10 mm) and pass through your pasta machine at the widest setting. I find it much easier to cut my dough in half and work 1/2 at a time for this step. Fold the dough in half after each pass also change the direction of the dough occasionally. After about 15 passes the dough should be very smooth. Knead the dough back into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate and rest the dough for at 2 hours, or overnight.

2. Beat the lard/shortening and butter together in your mixing bowl until very fluffy. Make sure it is thoroughly combined. Place into a bowl and set on the workspace in easy reaching distance.

3. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it into 4 equal pieces. Working with one piece of dough at a time (cover the other pieces with a towel or plastic wrap), lightly flour a piece pass it through the pasta roller set at the widest setting. Try to get the dough as even as possible, your goal is an even rectangle strip, about 4 inches (10 cm) in width. If needed, fold it over on itself a few times until you get an even strip. Once even, pass the dough through every setting, ending with the highest (mine is 7)
4. You should end up with a long 4 inch (10 cm) wide strip. Repeat with the other three remaining pieces of dough.
5. *For my own ease of use I made my own rolling pin contraption like you can see on many instructional videos. I turned 2 bowls upside down and placed them on my table where I was planning to work. I then took a rolling pin (with handles, not French) and taped the handles to the bowls. Every time that a piece of dough is finished and ready I lightly floured the dough and rolled it up onto the rolling pin. When all 4 pieces of dough were finished it made it much easier to pull out a section at a time to stretch the dough. If you are clumsy like me you might like to try this too!
6. Place one piece of a strip on you clean work surface and paint (or smear) it liberally with the lard/butter mixture. I do about a 8 inch (20 cm) section at a time. Gently pull the sides of the dough and stretch it, starting from the middle and going out, until it is about 8 or 9 inches (20 or 23 cm) in width. Begin from the short end and start rolling the dough into a very tight roll. When you start to reach the end of your stretched section, stop and liberally grease up another section, stretching and rolling until all the dough is finished. When one strip of dough is finished, overlap the end of one to the beginning of the other; continue to pull, stretch and roll up.

7. Spread the lard/butter mixture over the entire finished log and starting in the middle gently run the hands down the length to extend the length another inch (30 mm) or so. This will release any air pockets and tighten the roll. Your finished roll should be approximately 10 or 11 inches (25 or 28 cm). .
8. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. The dough may be frozen for up to 3 months, at this time. Defrost it in the refrigerator overnight before using.
9. Preheat your oven to moderately hot 400°F/200°C/gas mark 6
10. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
11. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap, and place on a cutting board. Slice off about an inch (30 mm) from each end so that they are straight and even. Cut the roll into 1/2 inch (15 mm) slices. Put the semolina-ricotta mixture into a pastry bag with a 3/4 inch (20 mm) opening (A disposable pastry bag or even a ziploc bag with the corner cut off is fine).
12. Take one slice of dough and place it on your workplace. With the heel of your hand, push out from the center in one direction. Rotate the dough and do this in all four directions. This forms the dough and opens up the layers. Pick up the piece and insert your thumbs on the inside with your forefingers on the outside meanwhile gently stretch the center to make it more into the shape of a cone. You don't want the layers to actually separate. Holding the cone in one hand, squeeze some of the filling into the cavity so it is full. Lightly push the opening closed. You do not have to seal the opening as the filling is too thick to ooze out during baking.
13. Place onto the prepared baking sheet and very lightly brush the outside of each completed pastry with the lard/butter mixture. Bake them in a preheated moderately hot 400°F/200°C/gas mark 6 oven for about 20 to 25 minutes or until they are a deep golden brown.
14. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. These are best served warm with a sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar on the day they are made. To reheat them, just place them in a moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4 oven for about 5 minutes.

Sandie of the lovely blog, Crumbs of Love, was our November hostess. Sandie challenged us to make a traditional Italian dessert, along with its American version – Sfogliatelle (or better known in the US – lobster tails!) The flakey, 1000 layers of super thin dough, shaped into a horn and filled with a scrumptious filling. Così buono!