Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Failure to Rise

Well, after a recent successful run, it seemed almost inevitable that the year would end in failure. Erica and I couldn't get our schedules to match up this holilday season, so I was left to cultivate the starter on my own. One would think that being in San Francisco, home of both the original sourdough and Tartine Bakery, I'd have a leg up on this challenge.

Instead, I got a hockey puck.

I dutifully mixed my stoneground wheat flour and water every morning. I checked for that wonderfully yeasty smell, and was vaguely satisfied by a sort-of sour smell instead. But I knew once I went to bake it that it wasn't going to work - I suspect my apartment was far too cold (being in SF, we're not the type to have a heater, just flannel sheets, which sadly don't warm starter up to the necessary temperature). But I had a schedule to stick too (Will's family was coming over for dinner, and I was going to bake bread goshdarnit), and very little extra time to coax the bread into rising.

The second I plunked it onto the baking stone my suspcisions were confirmed. It just sort of spread out in a runny mess - no visable bubbles or other sign of loft. And after the requisite amount of time in the oven, I pulled out a veritable brick. Round, completely flat, and about 10 pounds, it most directly resembeled the baking stone I pulled it off of. Without letting the family know of my failure, I quickly subbed out some Acme loaf (purchased with this potential failure in mind), and our hors d'ouevres continued without problem.

To be fair to me and Erica, there was a period in law school where I cared for (and baked with) an excellent starter from my brother for almost a year. And I know Erica has had much success in this area as well. This just wasn't the month for it to work in our house. Another time!

Happy holidays to everyone!

(Pictures are coming. My computer is having some difficulty at the moment, so I can't pull them off my camera. Will repost when ready).

Our Daring Bakers Host for December 2011 was Jessica of My Recipe Project and she showed us how fun it is to create Sour Dough bread in our own kitchens! She provided us with Sour Dough recipes from Bread Matters by AndrewWhitley as well as delicious recipes to use our Sour Dough bread in from Tonia George’s Things on Toast and Canteen’s Great British Food!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Our baking is sans rival!

We made not one, but two, Filipino specialties this month--a sans rival cake and batch of bibingkas--during a weekend jaunt to Big Sur. I never thought daring bakers would involve the use of a fermented egg, but hey, that's why we're daring, right?*

Sans Rival Cake

The cake recipe, despite its filipino origin, seemed mighty familiar to us, evoking in particular this cake (as an aside - wow! That link is from 2008). But instead of hazelnuts, this meringue contains toasted cashews.

This recipe required separating 10 eggs. As we've learned in the past, the second you break a yolk into the egg whites, it's all over - the whites will never set up into the stiff peaks necessary for meringue. I'm proud to say that it only took us 14 eggs to get to the requisite 10 whites, and we were able to use the "ruined" eggs for the Bibingkas.

After crushing up the cashews and carefully folding them into our successful egg whites, we baked four separate layers to a toasty golden.

The buttercream recipe was excellent. I've never made it by tempering the eggs with a simple syrup, but I don't think I'll ever do it another way again. The frosting was rich, fluffy, and delicious. The addition of almond extract also made for a nice touch.

Yet another improvised cake display - this is an upside-down fiestaware pie dish, but it worked quite well.

Luckily we had a birthday to celebrate (and a birthday girl who happened to love cashews!), so we stuck some candles in and enjoyed!


The bibingkas required some modification on our part. Despite our clear proximity to many asian grocery stores, I was not able to pick up some fermented eggs or banana leaves. So we made do, with a regular hard boiled egg and some parchment paper. Not many pictures of our prep, but here's the final product:

It was great to work with rice flour, in anticipation of a secret project Erica and I are working on. More to come on that very soon!

A final parting shot of Big Sur:

Catherine of Munchie Musings was our November Daring Bakers’ host and she challenged us to make a traditional Filipino dessert – the delicious Sans Rival cake! And for those of us who wanted to try an additional Filipino dessert, Catherine also gave us a bonus recipe for Bibingka which comes from her friend Jun of Jun-blog.

* Disclaimer: we did not actually obtain a fermented egg... Whoops.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pass the Povitica, Please

The timing of this challenge did not turn out to be totally opportune for us, but we made the best of it -- and turned out a tasty result. I even bust out TJ's good camera to take some nicer-than-usual shots.

We had originally intended to carve pumpkins while baking but that plan was abandoned, much to Cat's chagrin. Nonetheless, and in spite of the 80-degree, sunny San Francisco weather, we stayed in the Halloween spirit while the dough was rising by watching a "classic":

The dough was pretty easy to make. We halved the original recipe to make just two loaves -- one for each of us.

We were a bit nervous about rolling it out without a sheet underneath -- a new technique for us -- but neither Sara nor I had something that would've worked and that we wanted to get dough all over. In the end, it was pretty easy to roll it out very thin without a sheet.

Instead of the chocolate filling in the challenge, we opted for a more seasonal pumpkin-pie-spiced filling. I couldn't even tell you how much spice we put in, but suffice it to say, it was a LOT. And the filling turned out to be quite yummy, even though I totally dropped the ball and forgot to get the actual *pumpkin* that we originally intended to include in it. We had to taste it a lot to be sure it was OK.

Rolling it up into the log was fun. Note the glasses of pumpkin beer in the background. Yum yum.

There's the first finished log.

Not the best picture, but that's one of the loaves rolled snake-like into the bread pan.

And the gorgeous finished product. The eggwash made it especially beautiful. And the interior looked pretty amazing, too. It didn't have the very defined striations that using cocoa powder might've produced, since our filling was a lighter brown, but it was still lovely. And delicious.

The Daring Baker’s October 2011 challenge was Povitica, hosted by Jenni of The Gingered Whisk. Povitica is a traditional Eastern European Dessert Bread that is as lovely to look at as it is to eat!

We modified the original filling recipe, leaving out the cocoa powder in the recipe and adding in a lot of pumpkin pie spice. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Les croissants! Les croissants! How we love les croissants!

We had a lot of fun with this delicious challenge. 

First of all, I have to say that Sara did the hard work of making the croissant dough, which involved rolling, a layer of butter, folding, and repeating. Mmm... butter (though less butter than one might expect, actually).

So naturally I thought this challenge was a lot of fun because I got to do the most fun parts--making the croissants and (of course) eating them.

The croissants were somewhat smaller than what we're used to. We decided, however, that we liked these smaller-sized pastries because you can eat multiple ones without feeling guilty. At all. Really great! Not that either of us really every feels very guilty about eating our creations. Just remorseful when we inevitable "taste" the batter or dough a bit too much.

We both got quite good at rolling them into perfect half-moons. You can't tell here, but we opted for 3 different flavors: plain, parmesan and chocolate.

Baking croissants produce what has to be one most delectable smells possible. Here's one fresh out of the oven. Yum.

Look how adorable they are. Also delicious. Having recently returned from a pastry-filled vacation to Paris, I consider myself an expert on the subject of deliciousness, so you can trust me here.

Voilà! Un croissant parfait! Prêt à manger.

We snacked on a plain croissant each, and then Sara whipped up a delicious breakfast-for-dinner meal and we enjoyed a little dinner party double date with our beaux. And for dessert...

... pain au chocolat!

Merci, Daring Bakers, for another amazing challenge.

The Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Not-Baking JDs

Just a minute on the soapbox, and then I'll resume to normal posting: tempering chocolate is NOT baking. It might be fun and challenging, and the results might be delicious, but we didn't turn the oven on once this month. We feared when Daring Cooks started up (a spin-off of Daring Bakers), this group would quick spiral into Daring Desserts. A quick look back proves our fears were well-placed - the last savory daring bakers challenge was the suet pie in April of 2010 (never mind that we didn't actually make the suet pie . . . ). And a number of the projects in the last year have only tangentially involved the oven, if at all - the Marquise, the Panna Cotta, and the Donuts all come to mind. Bring back the baking challenges, particularly the savory ones, or else we're going to be forced to go renegade (on an already renegade group!).

Stepping off the soapbox now.

This month, we made two chocolate challenges. The first was truffles, something Erica and I have both made many times before. So we mixed it up a bit, taking a cue from a recent trip to Laughing Moon Chocolates in Stowe, VT. To celebrate summer, we took a bunch of basil, added black pepper, and seeped both in the cream base.

Once the cream was flavored, we stirred in the dark chocolate to melt.

Once the mixture cooled, Erica braved the process of rolling it into evenly sized, evenly shaped little balls. Chocolate melts quickly, so you have to work fast. Cocoa powder helps.

We were more excited about our second treat. We decided to make honeycomb (also called sponge or sea foam candy), a confection that neither of us had really heard of before. The basic idea is similar to caramel or toffee - it's a burned sugar base - but you add baking soda once it's warm. The addition causes the hot sugar to bubble and foam, eventually creating something crunchy, light, and delicious.

We started with heating the sugar mixture.

Next we added the baking soda. For your viewing pleasure, we videoed the addition - thinking that it would be much like childhood science fair volcanoes. Not quite as dramatic, but still fun. For those careful viewers, note the use of the kitchen knife. Perhaps not the best stirring utensil.

Then we poured the entire thing into a springform pan (yes, we bought a new one - no more missing bottom) . . .

And let it harden. Eventually, we cut it into pieces with a large knife. It pretty much shatters everywhere, but we did end up with some nice chunks.

Finally, we tempered the chocolate. We chose the "seeding method," in part because we made a royal mess of Erica's granite counter top.

It was tricky to get the chocolate to follow the exact 113 degrees to 80.6 degrees to 89 degree curve, despite the use of TJ's instant read thermometer, but our lack of precision didn't really seem to matter.

Proof positive? These beautiful truffles.

Another success - but hoping for a real baking challenge next month!

The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drive and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!. These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies! This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at http://www.chocoley.com offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fraisier on the Ninth of July

Over Fourth of July weekend, Sara and I were camping in Castle Crags State Park with a group of friends, enjoying some delicious campfire cuisine instead of the traditional barbeque. However, we were lucky to enjoy some great barbeque the following weekend courtesy of Genevieve, who once again let us share our Daring Bakers challenge with a hungry group of 20 or so friends at her house. 

For a recap of Genevieve's amazing barbeque, visit her blog

To make the fraisier and leave time for it to set, we started quite early that Saturday morning. While the recipe wasn't overly complicated, it did involve several parts and steps prior to assembly. Like zesting lemons for the chiffon cake batter.

And making pastry cream.

We folded egg whites into the chiffon cake batter, which resulted in an airy texture.

Unfortunately, we found ourselves with a missing bottom to Sara's spring-form cake pan. So we improvised by placing it on a baking tray and lining it with parchment.

Pouring in the batter... so far so good.

And the result. Despite some lumpy sides due to the parchment, it actually turned out fine. Although it was somewhat disappointing for us to watch the beautifully fluffy cake shrink a bit after it came out of the oven.

In the end the cake had the perfect light consistency we were hoping for.

It was hard to resist eating the strawberries as we hulled and sliced them.

Really very difficult.

But we resisted. For the most part.

Sara and I were very skeptical of the almond paste. And quite a bit amused by its shape and appearance after removing it from its packaging.... But we were actually pleased with the end product when we rolled it out and included it in the cake. The layer of almond flavor nicely complemented the sweet strawberries and cream

We successfully, albeit nervously, sliced the cake in half to begin assembly. Phew!

Carefully arranged the strawberries.

And, after adding the cream and topping it off, we wrapped it up and stuck it in the fridge.

After devouring Genevieve's delicious barbeque, we unwrapped the cake and spread fresh whipped cream on top.

Then we decorated the top with some blueberries and more strawberries, as well as some powdered sugar.

We were very pleased with the result. Beautiful!

Mmm... and delicious.

Not the best picture, but a glimpse of the interior. Another successful challenge!

Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine.