Thursday, December 13, 2012

A sleuth of bears

If being late ever works out, this was certainly one of those time. Erica and I couldn't find a time to meet up before the posting date, but who wants to have Christmas cookies before Thanksgiving anyway? The week after seemed much more appropriate. 

This challenge was also a reminder for me about trying to do too much in the kitchen. We selected to make these chocolate-hazelnut crinkle cookies, which require an over-night chill. Since I was hosting this month, I set out to make the dough the night before. It's been a busy couple of months, so whenever I get a free night in the kitchen, I feel like I have to really use it for all its worth. This is a recipe for staying up far past my bedtime. 

So in addition to the dough, I planned to make this double-broccoli quinoa recipe for dinner. While I was at it, I need to make some dinner for the cookie baking, but instead of something simple, I got it into my head that I absolutely needed to recreate this amazing lasagna my brother-in-law had made for post-thanksgiving enjoyment. And of course I would make the noodles from scratch, yes of course. 

Oh, and why not just whip up a loaf of bread too? (This bread is divine. No joke, make it today. You can see it above, and it makes your house smell amazing. I am powerless to resist baking it once I get it in my head that I need to eat it). Totally reasonable, right? 

And then I realized we were having a pantry staples crisis, so mid-cooking, I had to run to the corner store for: butter, sugar, flour, eggs and vanilla. 

My husband came home to find that I had dirtied every appliance, pot, and bowl that we owned. Thankfully he does the dishes around here. :-)

So in comparison, a few foaming cookies were nothing.

We were hoping for something a little more exiting when we added the baking soda concoction to the hot pot. (I must also confess that these left us feeling a bit whelmed. As Erica and I concluded, they were good with tea or coffee, but just missing a little zing).

Best part about the foaming cookies? How silky smooth the dough was to work with, and our friend Emily's collection of cookie cutters.

This is a slueth of bears. Or a sloth. Your choice. Unless they're polar bears, in which case it's just a pack.

These chocolate balls, on the other hand, and the cookies they made, were delicious. I have a new cookie to add to my repertoire.

I just loved how they cracked on the outside. Hat tip to the daring baker's comment that suggested rolling in granulated sugar first. Our were super crackly, with an excellent texture on the teeth.

Grrar!! I'm a T-Rex! Or a crow...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cookies to Come!

For this month's challenge:

Holiday season is the time for sharing and Peta of Peta Eats is sharing a dozen cookies, some classics and some of her own, from all over the world with us.

Holiday season is also the time for way too busy schedules. Erica and I struggled to find a day to bake this month, but we'll be cooking up some treats on Nov. 29. Post to follow!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Napoleon Conquers Mexico

Erica and I took our baking show on the road this month. As part of a group birthday celebration (hence the candles on our "cake"), we headed down to Baja California for a relaxing vacation in the tiny town of Todos Santos with some of our other law school friends (and regular consumers of our baked treats). Knowing that this vacation was the only time in October we'd have to bake together, we came prepared to tackle the Napoleon.  

 Baking in new locations always has its particular challenges. For instance, though our beautiful vacation rental was well equipped with not one, but three, different coffee makers, it lacked true measuring cups, spoons, and a rolling pin. An improvised half-cup measure was all we had to work with. 

Fortunately, the ingrediants for this recipe were mostly simple enough to find (though more on that qualification to come). We brought cornstarch (see the plastic baggie in the photo above, which bears an unfortunate resemblance to illicit drugs) and vanilla, and picked up most of the other essentials at the local market. 

The Napoleon, like other puff-pastry deserts, involves a shocking amount of butter. Lucky for us, the butter we found in Mexico was delicious, with a creamy, yellow consistency and a divine smell. We left it to soften on the counter, while lounging by the pool you can barely make out in the background. Tough life.

Perhaps it was our wacky measuring equipment, but we had a bit of a challenge with the puff pastry dough. First, I wasn't sure why we added butter to the flour dough, and flour to the beurrage (the large pat of butter you fold in to make the layers) - I've never seen that done before, and it seemed unnecessarily difficult. Our flour dough was also extremely wet. We ended up adding in about an extra cup of flour before achieving the right consistency.  

At this point in our baking careers, I will say it is immensely satisfying to know by instinct when something just isn't coming together right, and the ways in which to fix it - usually, the answer is either (a) add more flour or (b) to hell with it, just keep going. 

 The next day we set out to assemble the layers. You can see our improvised wrapping techniques below - the flour dough ended up in a kitchen towel, while the beurrage ended up in a trash bag (a clean one, but not exactly right for the job).

Given the warm temperatures, we ended up needing to refrigerate the dough far more frequently between folds, to prevent the delicious butter from oozing out the sides. Eventually it all came together though - you can see our fancy rolling pin in the pic below. 

After some assistance with a tricky pilot light and broken oven door hinge, we got the puff pastry baked. We did not go through the extra step of weighing down our dough, but I think it turned out quite well - even, puffy layers with just enough loft. And that butter baking smell - there's nothing quite like it. 

Of course, a baking adventure in a foreign land would not be complete without a story of near disaster and redemption. The original recipe called for an uncooked, egg-white-based icing. Given that we weren't sure of the egg pasteurization requirements in Mexico, we decided to swap out that icing for whipped cream. So with four spanish-speakers in the car, I (who knows only French) was somehow selected to run into the market. I knew the word for cream was the obvious "crema" and that "vaca" meant cow. So when I saw a container labeled "crema de vaca acidificata," and no other crema in sight, I ignored that last pesky word and made my purchase. But of course - acidificata means sour. I had mistakenly purchased a container of sour cream. 

While I thought that we would just dump a bunch of chocolate on top and call it a day, Erica sent out to remedy this dilemma by mixing the sour cream with confectioners sugar. And what a brilliant strategy this turned out to be! We ended up with a delightful tangy glaze, vaguely reminiscent of cream cheese frosting. If your ever in a pinch (or even if you're not), I highly recommend trying this out!

A final shot of our completed Napoleon. Not bad for improvisation!

 Good-bye Todos Santos! We hope to visit again soon.

Our October 2012 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Suz of Serenely Full. Suz challenged us to not only tackle buttery and flaky puff pastry, but then take it step further and create a sinfully delicious Mille Feuille dessert with it!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Attack of the Giant Empanada (for reals this time!)

I haven't spent much time in Spain (save for a Madrid long weekend in college where we mainly ate bread and manchengo cheese), so I've never encountered the giant empanada before - also known as Empanada Gallega. Unlike its smaller counterpart, this empanada is baked rather than fried, and one empanada can serve five hungry members of a book club, plus leftovers. 


We weren't quite sure what to put in the filling. We wanted something vegetarian, and frankly, some of the options presented to us in the recipe sounded a bit scary (um, Tuna Fish? eek). So Erica came up with something akin to veggie pot pie - gracefully incorporating my demands for sweet potatoes and black beans. I wish I could share the recipe, because it really worked well, but I think it was largely slap dash - mushrooms, corn, peppers, sweet potatoes, black beans, onion, etc.   


I think both Erica and I were quite proud of how this turned out - both in taste and aesthetics. We had some extra dough at the end, so we braided it up and laid it on top. While it ended up being hard to cut through, the braid added a nice decorative element.

  We did forget completely to add the cheese and the hard boiled egg to the filling, which would have made it more traditional (or so I'm told). So we added it to a tossed salad instead - just as tasty. [Apologies for these pictures - we were using the fancy macro lens, but decided to wing it without the tripod. Ill advised.]

In the end, the empanada gallenga reminded me quite a bit of a calzone. It has that same, bready crust and warm, mushy innards. Quite delicious, and something I'd happily make again!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Attack of the Giant Empanada!

Friends, I apologize! My computer is refusing to upload photos, so this will have to wait until tomorrow. Giant (vegetarian) Empanada coming!
Patri of the blog, Asi Son Los Cosas, was our September 2012 Daring Bakers’ hostess and she decided to tempt us with one of her family’s favorite recipes for Empanadas! We were given two dough recipes to choose from and encouraged to fill our Empanadas as creatively as we wished!

Monday, August 27, 2012

For Once, No Ugly Ducklings

When Sara and I saw that this challenge tended toward the make-something-attractive side of the baking spectrum, we were skeptical as usual. Apparently, after over 4 years (!) of Daring Bakers challenges, however, our ability to turn out something that looks pretty has improved. We had fun with this one, and while the swans weren't the best tasting thing we've ever had, they were certainly cute.

Pâte à choux is not a very nice dough -- it's goopy, sticky and pretty tasteless. And, as enthusiastic tasters of raw batters and doughs, Sara and I were a bit disappointed with this one, though we really shouldn't be eating raw eggs in the first place.

Nonetheless, piping out the swan heads was fun. As the recipe said, they were a kind of hybrid numeral two/question mark.

Lots and lots and lots of swan heads...

Lots and lots of swan bodies...

Fortunately, my oven behaved itself for this challenge and everything came out perfectly baked.

Here is swan #1 next to the bowl of our Chantilly cream filling. For those not in the know, Chantilly cream is just whipped cream with confectioners sugar. We also threw in a dash of vanilla extract.

Check out this beautiful swan floating on some blueberry "water."

More swans... they're multiplying! No ugly ducklings here.

A whole flock -- which were eaten shortly after this photo was taken. RIP swans.

Thanks for a fun and daring challenge that took us out of our baking comfort zone and forced us to pay attention to making something aesthetically pleasing. I don't know that I will be making these again -- I didn't love the taste -- but Sara and I certainly enjoyed making them this time.

Appropriately enough, we took on this challenge on what would've been Julia Child's 100th birthday (August 15, 2012). Happy birthday, Julia! You are an inspiration to both of us.

Kat of The Bobwhites was our August 2012 Daring Baker hostess who inspired us to have fun in creating pate a choux shapes, filled with crème patisserie or Chantilly cream. We were encouraged to create swans or any shape we wanted and to go crazy with filling flavors allowing our creativity to go wild!

Friday, July 27, 2012

It tastes like childhood

As a small child, my brother and I were both quite obsessed with cheesy crackers. I was partial to Cheez-Its (particularly the white cheddar variety), while my brother has been known to devour an entire carton of goldfish crackers in one day. So while Erica and I were a little bummed by the ease of this challenge (and its similarity to this), at least we got to make fancy replications of some of my favorite childhood memories.

Fancy, you ask? Why yes. See the little container of thyme? These weren't just cheez crackers, but cheese and herb cracks. How posh.

 (Apologies for the rather lack-luster photos this time around. I was distracted in the kitchen, and then there was this bottle of wine to contend with).

These were our chedder, thyme (was supposed to be rosemary, but someone forgot to water their rosemary bush...) and walnut icebox crackers, which tasted pretty much like goldfish. They could have been a bit more well done for my liking, but at least we didn't burn anything this time around.

And these were pepper jack and oregano. I don't own any cookie cutters, so we did some free form squares, which really did end up looking (and tasting!) like Cheez-Its.

Finally, we needed something to go with our crackers. While the rest of the country swelters in what sounds like a pretty devastating heat wave, we're enjoying our own "summer" out here by the Bay - cold, foggy, soup weather. Lucky for us, someone invented corn chowder. Perfect for warming you up, while also taking advantage of spectacular summer produce.  (I know. It looks like porridge. It really did taste delicious!).

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Let Them Eat (Battenberg) Cake

Sara and I are not known for the beauty of our baked goods. Tastiness, perhaps. Beauty, not so much. But we pulled it together for this challenge and managed to turn out a Battenberg Cake that looked pretty much like it was supposed to.

The cake recipe itself was relatively easy -- pretty standard cake with almond flavoring.

We successfully created our faux-Battenberg pan.

And successfully filled one side with yellow cake and the other with pink.

Things went slightly awry in the oven when we ended up with under-cooked cake that had to be hastily returned to the oven. Highly unusual for my oven, which typically runs way too hot and burns things. We have yet to bake a cake together where nothing goes wrong and this time we had no frosting with which to fill in the holes.

Fortunately, we did have marzipan (incidentally, the name of my sister's new kitten).

Yep, nothing like marzipan to wrap over our cakes, which looked a bit worse for the wear.

Sara beautifully scored the top of the marzipan...

... and trimmed the edges.


We enjoyed slices of our Battenberg Cake while watching very entertaining Daily Show coverage of the Queen's Jubilee. All we were missing was some tea, and perhaps some finger sandwiches.

Mandy of What The Fruitcake?! came to our rescue last minute to present us with the Battenberg Cake challenge! She highlighted Mary Berry’s techniques and recipes to allow us to create this unique little cake with ease.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

30 Challah!

Erica and I have both made challah many times before - personally, I think it's one of the easiest breads to whip up, and the braiding turns out really nicely. So we were excited by this months challenge, as we knew for sure that it would turn out well.

Scheduling, yet again, turned out to be the tricky part. So we planned to eat our challah together, but bake separately. 
I made two unadorned loaves - one three strand braid, and one four strand braid. The four strand braid was tricky for me. The first time I tried it, based on an internet video, I ended up with a three strand braid and one strand just hanging out underneath. Whoops. But then I tried it again, and successfully incorporated all the strands - I like how textured it looks. 

Erica was fancier - she added poppy seeds to her beautiful loaves.

Then came from the best part. We brought our four loaves to Big Basin State Park as part of a birthday celebration (won't say which one of us or which birthday, but the title provides at least one hint :-)). 

We sliced them up, dipped them in eggy goodness, and fried them up on a camp stove. They say everything tastes better outside, but I'm pretty sure these would have tasted just as good indoors.
 Early season strawberries provided the perfect topping. 

Thanks to our hosts!

May’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge was pretty twisted – Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to make challah! Using recipes from all over, and tips from “A Taste of Challah,” by Tamar Ansh, she encouraged us to bake beautifully braided breads.