Friday, November 28, 2014

Paris-Brest to Celebrate a Harvard Victory

Loyal readers, you may not know it, but Erica and I have a deep-seated rivalry: 

We used the annual playing of the Harvard-Yale football game as the backdrop for our most recent challenge. Sadly, our local TV stations didn't think this the big match-up, so we could only get score updates via the internet. But we nevertheless donned our school colors to bake.

The Paris-Brest is actually quite easy -- an amalgam some of our previous challenges. We whipped up some pate a choux dough, and piped it into circles. We were actually quite proud of our pastry skills.

Next up, we attempted to carmelize some almonds and hazelnuts. Not sure what happened here, but the sugar crystalized, rather than browned. Maybe our heat was too low? But we figure that since we were just going throw this into a food processor, this would probably do just fine.

Erica doubted our ability to cut the pastry in half, but our knife skills seemed to have improved. 

The almond/hazelnut paste then gets folded into a cream, and piped into the halved pate a choux and topped with silvered almonds. The final product was delicious if a bit sloppy. For any of you that have ever had a Chocolate Hazelnut Croissant from La Boulange in the bay area, the innards tasted identical to that -- which was a bit of a revelation for me. So delicious. 

But the sweetest thing? A Harvard victory - 31 to 24. 


Servings: 6 small Paris-Brest
Pâte à Choux
1/3 cup (80 ml) water
6 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons (100 ml) whole milk
1/3 teaspoon (2 gm) salt
1 teaspoon (4 gm) caster sugar
1/3 cup (80 ml) (2-2/3 oz) (75 gm) cold butter
¾ cup plus 4 teaspoons (200 ml) (3.5 oz) (100 gm) cake flour
3 medium eggs, beaten
two handfuls of slivered almonds
egg for the brushing
1. Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180° C/gas mark 4 and sift the flour.
2. In a nonstick saucepan pour in the milk, water, sugar and salt. Add the butter in small pieces and put on medium heat. Stir with a wooden spoon and bring to a boil. Add the flour in one shot to the boiling liquid. Stir vigorously with a wooden spatula. Cook on the stove on a very low heat for a few minutes, until the dough becomes firm, smooth and homogeneous. The dough must be dry and detach from the bottom of the pan easily.
edium speed. Before adding the next egg make sure that everything is well blended. This way, the air will be incorporated into the dough and when baking it will make puff the Paris Brest which won’t deflate out of the oven.
4. If you don't have a standup mixer proceed mixing the eggs directly in the pan where you cooked the dough, after allowing it to cool down. Work the egg with the wooden spatula until all the egg is incorporated before adding the next one. The dough should be smooth, like a thick cream.
5. Cover the baking sheets with baking paper or a silpat mat. If you use baking paper you can trace some circles of 4¾ -inches (12 cm) to help you out piping the circles. I use a silpat mat that already is specially designed to help out piping, that could be helpful too. To pipe the Paris-Brest use a pastry bag with a 3/8-inch (10 mm) plain nozzle and pipe two circles, the outer one of the diameter of the circle you drew. Pipe a third circle on top, using the star-shaped nozzle. If you don't have one use a fork to trace some lines on its surface, this will help the choux pastry to rise properly. Brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle with slivered almonds.
 6. Bake in a moderate oven 350°F/180° C/gas mark 4 for about 23-25 minutes, in a static oven. To get rid of any moisture in the oven you can keep the door slightly open. This way the dough will dry out completely during baking. The Paris-Brest should be golden brown, with a uniform color. Let cool completely on a rack before slicing and piping with the crème mousseline.

1/3 cup (80 ml) (2 oz) (60 gm) whole almonds
1/3 cup (80 ml) (2 oz) (60 gm) whole hazelnuts
6 tablespoons (2¾ oz) (80 gm) caster sugar
1 tablespoon (15 ml) water
1. Put the sugar into a non-stick pan, over medium heat. Add water and bring to a boil.
2. When the sugar reaches 250°F/121° C (without thermometer you will need to reach the stage at which the sugar begins to boil and the syrup starts to become more and more dense), add the nuts all at once. Mix well with a wooden spoon to coat all the nuts in the sugar. At this point, the sugar will start to sand, i.e. crystallize again. Continue to stir. The sugar will melt a second time, this time caramelizing.
3. Once all the nuts caramelize, remove the pan from the heat. Pour the entire contents of the pan on a heat-resistant silicone mat or on a marble slab lightly oiled with vegetable oil.
4. Let cool completely. Break into smaller pieces and grind with a mixer until you have a thick paste.

Crème Mousseline
1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
2 egg yolks
¼ cup (60 ml) (2 oz) (55 gm) caster (superfine) sugar
3 tablespoon (45 ml) (2/3 oz) (20 gm) cake flour, sieved
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon (135 ml) ( (4.4 oz) (125 gm) European-style butter, made from cream, with 83% fat content
3 oz (80 gm) praliné
1 vanilla pod, sliced open length wise
1. In a small saucepan bring the milk to a boil with the vanilla pod. Put aside and let cool for about 10 minutes. In a bowl whisk the eggs yolks and sugar until they become white.
2. Add the flour and whisk until all mixed through.
3. Mix half of the milk in the egg, until all uniform. Pout into a small pan and put on medium heat. Cook until the cream thickens, stirring the cream continuously. When thick transfer into a bowl and cover with cling film touching the cream. Let cool.
4. In a bowl mix the softened butter with the praliné. Add to the cooled cream until homogeneous.

The November Daring Baker’s challenge took us for a ride! Luisa from Rise of the Sourdough Preacher challenged us to make Paris-Brest, a beautiful pastry celebrating the Paris-Brest bicycle race.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Boo! Scaring up a Sachertorte

We were a bit late this month because we were waiting for a special guest to come visit and enjoy our baking with us. Sara baked the cake all by her lonesome in the morning -- and did a great job. We both remarked that it was more chocolately than sugary (a good thing in both our books), and much moister than other Sachertortes we've tasted. Then I and several friends joined her in the evening for an Austrian-themed vegetarian dinner, which was delicious.

Before dinner, I made an apricot-strawberry glaze and coated the cake with it. I had less success with the chocolate glaze. It got seriously clumpy and thick after I added the chocolate to the simple syrup. I tried to thin it out with water and,while it was shiny, it did not pour as needed, so the end product didn't have the beautiful sheen of a true Sachertorte. We ran out of chocolate before we could attempt to write "Sacher" on it... probably for the best given past adventures in cake decorating.


Nonetheless, it was very, very tasty and enjoyed by all.

Happy Halloween!

The October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Korena of Korena in the Kitchen. She took us to Austria and introduced us to the wonders of the Sachertorte.

Servings: 12-16

Preparation time: 

This cake is best made in stages, as it needs time for the various components to set/chill before 

1. Cake: 30-60 minutes prep, 35-45 minutes baking, several hours cooling

2. Apricot glaze: 10 minutes prep, 5 minutes assembly, 5-10 minutes to set

3. Chocolate glaze and decoration: 10 minutes prep, 5-10 minutes assembly/decoration, 1 hour to set/chill

4. Let the cake sit at room temperature for 1 hour before serving

Equipment required:
  • 9-inch (23 cm) spring-form or other high-sided pan
  • parchment paper
  • small heavy-bottomed saucepan
  • small/medium heat-proof bowl
  • spatula
  • stand mixer with whisk and paddle attachments, or hand-held electric mixer
  • 2 large bowls (stand mixer bowl + one other)
  • fine mesh sieve
  • heat-proof spoon
  • candy thermometer (optional but nice)
  • cooling rack
  • serrated knife
  • 8½-inch (22 cm) cardboard cake round
  • whisk
  • large metal offset spatula
  • plate or baking sheet
  • waxed paper

  • ¾ cup (180 gm) (4½ oz) (125 gm) good quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 9 tablespoons (135 ml) (4½ oz) (125 gm) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1 cup (240 ml) (4½ oz) (125 gm) confectioners’ sugar (aka icing sugar or powdered sugar)
  • 6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature (see note above about egg whites)
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
  • ½ cup (120 ml) (7 oz) (100 gm) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (120 ml) (4½ oz) (125 gm) all-purpose (plain) flour (for volume measurement, spoon gently into 
  • measuring cup and level top)
  • pinch fine grain saltAssembly
  • Apricot Glaze (see recipe below)
  • Chocolate Glaze (see recipe below)
  • Writing Chocolate (see recipe below)
  • 1 cup (240 ml) heavy whipping cream, cold

1. Preheat oven to moderately hot 375˚F/350°F fan/190˚C/gas mark 5 with a rack in the centre of the oven. Butter and flower the sides of a 9-inch (23 cm) springform pan, then line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. 

2. Place the bittersweet chocolate in a heat-proof bowl and heat over a small saucepan of barely simmering water (make sure that the bowl is not touching the simmering water) or in the microwave until just melted. Set aside to cool completely, stirring often.

3. Place the butter in a large mixing bowl and beat with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer or electric mixer on medium speed until very light and creamy. Add the confectioners’ sugar on low speed, then increase to medium speed and beat again until light and creamy.

4. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl.

5. Add the cooled chocolate and vanilla and beat until well-mixed and very light and creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl.6. In a scrupulously clean bowl using the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites with about one tablespoon of the granulated sugar on high speed until foamy. Gradually add in the rest of the granulated sugar and continue beating the whites until they form soft, shiny peaks - they should hold their shape but flop over on themselves.

7. Vigorously stir about 1/3 of the whipped egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then gently fold the remaining egg whites into the chocolate mixture with a spatula until just a few wisps of egg white remain. Do this carefully so as not to deflate the egg whites.

8. Stir together the flour and salt and sift half of it over the chocolate mixture. Fold in with a spatula until almost incorporated. Sift over the remaining flour and fold to combine completely. 

9. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared springform pan.

10. Bake in the preheated moderately hot 375˚F/350°F fan/190˚C/gas mark 5 oven for 35-45 minutes (mine took exactly 40 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. The cake will crack and dome in the middle as it bakes but will flatten out as it cools.

11. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to loosen it from the pan and remove the sides. Carefully invert the cake onto a rack and remove the bottom of the pan and parchment paper, then turn the cake right-side up onto a rack and allow to cool completely.

12. Assembly: Turn the cake upside-down so that the perfectly flat bottom of the cake is now the top. Cut the cake horizontally into 2 even layers.

13. Place 1 cake layer on the 8½-inch (22 cm) cardboard cake round and spread it generously with about half of the apricot glaze. Allow it to soak in.

14. Place the second cake layer on top and spread the top and sides with the remaining apricot glaze. Work quickly before the glaze has a chance to set and use a metal offset spatula to smooth the top. Place the cake on a rack set over a plate or baking sheet lined with waxed paper and allow the apricot glaze to set.

15. Make the chocolate glaze (it must be used immediately, while still hot) and pour it over the top of the cake, first around the edge and then in the middle. Spread the excess glaze over any bare spots using a metal offset spatula. Before the glaze has a chance to set, move the cake to a serving platter.

16. With the writing chocolate, pipe the word “Sacher” in the middle of the cake and add any decorative flourishes you wish. Chill the cake until the glaze is completely set, at least 1 hour.

17. To serve: Let the cake come to room temperature for about 1 hour before serving. Whip the cream to soft peaks (this is best done in a cold bowl with cold beaters). If desired, sweeten it with icing sugar to taste.

18. Cut the Sachertorte into wedges with a large sharp knife dipped in hot water and wipe off the blade between cuts. Serve each wedge of cake with a large dollop of whipped cream. 

Apricot Glaze
Servings: 1 quantity (about 1 cup)

  • 1¼ cup (300 ml) (14 oz) (400 gm) apricot jam or preserves
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) rum (or other liquor) or water

1. Boil the jam and rum/water in a small saucepan over medium heat.

2. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture thickens and drips slowly from the spoon, about 2-3 minutes.

3. Strain through a wire mesh sieve, pressing firmly on the solids. You should have about 1 cup of glaze. Use warm.

Chocolate Glaze
Servings: 1 quantity

  • 1 cup (240 ml) (7 oz) (200 g) granulated sugar½ cup (120 ml) water
  • (4 oz) (115 gm) good quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1. Place the sugar and water in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.

2. Attach a candy thermometer and cook, stirring, until the mixture reaches 234˚F/112°C, about 5 minutes. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, use the method explained in this video.

3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the chocolate. It might thicken up quite a bit. If it does, return it to low heat and add a few drops of water if necessary to thin it out to a runny, pourable consistency. The glaze should be smooth and shiny.

4. Off the heat, stir the glaze for 30-60 seconds to cool it slightly, then immediately use it to glaze the cake.

5. Any excess glaze can be stored in a container in the fridge and added to a mug of hot milk to make hot chocolate.

Writing Chocolate
Servings: 1 quantity

  • ¼ cup (60 ml) (1.8 oz) (50 gm) chopped good quality chocolate
  • ½ - 1 teaspoons vegetable oil

1. Heat the chocolate until just melted, then stir in enough vegetable oil to get a pipeable consistency. If necessary, let the chocolate mixture cool slightly to thicken so that it is not too runny.

2. Place the chocolate in a disposable piping bag or small Ziplock bag and snip off the tip to make a small hole. I recommend a practice run on waxed paper before writing on the cake.

Storage & Freezing Instructions/Tips
The cake can be stored up to 2 days in an airtight container at room temperature.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Chodské koláče, or when cheese didn't make something better

We were tasked this month with making Chodské koláče, or a Czech circular pastry with fresh cheese and poppy seeds. Erica and I started the day working up our appetites by taking a nice bike ride over the golden gate bridge. We were certainly loving the late September "summer" of SF. 

Next, Erica whipped up some pretty tasty dough, while I took a walk through the eastern european markets in my new neighborhood looking for "quark" -- a type of fresh, creamy cheese. The internets assured me that Russian tvorog or farmer's cheese would be close enough, so I picked up the brand we usually use for pierogis.

The pastries were easily assembled after the dough finished its rise -- you mix the cheese with butter, sugar, egg whites and seasonings (rum, vanilla and lemon), to top a circular pastry, and then make a poppy-seed paste to decorate the final product.

Despite our post-ride hunger, the final products were unfortunately not our favorite result. The pastry dough remained tasty, though relatively minor, and the poppy seeds provided an interesting kick. But the cheese was simply too cheesy when mixed together with the other sweet flavors -- none of us had more than a few bites.

As always, our artistic skills were quite impressive.

 a spiral
 some lines
 a very fancy star
oh, and a bicycle! Well done us.

I will report that a few hours later, we brought home one of the pastries to my husband, who has spent significant time in the czech republic and eastern europe. He rather liked the final product, and assured us that it tasted just like some of the pastries he'd had abroad. So perhaps it was our baking skills that lacked, but our palettes....

Until next time!

The September Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Lucie from ChezLucie. She challenged us to make a true Czech treat –Kolaches!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Kürtőskalács, for real

This challenge marks the first use of Sara's new kitchen by the Baking JDs and we are excited for many more to come. Sara had had these pastries before but they were new to me. I think they would be the perfect complement to coffee, although we had them after a delicious summery lunch.

Sara made the dough before we went to a yoga class, so it was easy to complete this challenge after we got back from class and enjoyed lunch with friends. First we rolled out the dough and then cut it in a spiral shape.

Very pretty.

After wrapping a rolling pin in aluminum foil, I spun it around and as Sara wrapped the dough. Teamwork!

We (incorrectly) assumed that my silicon rolling pin (the pink one above) would be OK in the oven without being wrapped. Whoops. This was our casualty this time around -- pieces of it were apparently plastic and melted. Still appears to work, at least!

Anyway, we baked the pastries, rotating them partway through, and they came out beautifully. Our only possible mistake was that we may have rolled the dough a bit too thin. Also while our cinnamon-sugar coating stuck well to the outside, our nuts did not. More finely chopped? More butter?

Regardless, the kürtőskalács slipped right off the pins and were so tasty. They also smelled divine.

Thanks for another fun and delicious challenge, Daring Bakers!

The August Daring Bakers' Challenge took us for a spin! Swathi of Zesty South Indian Kitchen taught us to make rolled pastries inspired by Kurtoskalacs, a traditional Hungarian wedding pastry. These tasty yeasted delights gave us lots to celebrate!

Recipe: Kürtőskalács (Chimney cake)
Servings: 4

Preparation time
Preparing dough 15 minutes, first rise: about an 1 hour
Cook time: 20 minutes in oven if you using roast function. Baking at 25 minutes

Equipment required
measuring cup
weighing balance
roasting pan
2 baking sheet
4 rolling pins [we only used 2]


For the dough:
1¾ cups (8½ oz) (240 gm) all-purpose (plain) flour
2¼ teaspoons (1 packet) (7 gm) active dry yeast OR 2 teaspoons instant yeast OR 14 gm (½ oz) fresh yeast
2 tablespoons (1 oz)(30 gm) sugar
1/8 teaspoon (3/4 gm) salt
1 large egg, room temperature
3 tablespoons (1½ oz) (45 gm) melted butter
1/2 cup (120 ml) milk, lukewarm temperature

For baking/grilling:
melted butter

For the topping:
Approximately ½ cup (3½ oz) (100gm) sugar
For walnut sugar topping
About 1 cup (4 oz) (115 gm) ground walnuts, mixed with about 1/2 cup (3½ oz) (100 gm) sugar
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (1/4 oz) (6 gm) cinnamon

If you are using active dry yeast, add ½ teaspoon sugar to lukewarm milk and set aside for 5-10 minutes until it proofs (becomes foamy).

After proofing: 

You can use the other yeast types directly along with the flour.
In a large bowl combine, flour, sugar and salt. To this add egg, milk, melted butter, and yeast.

Stir the mixture until it comes together to form a dough, and then knead for about five minutes.

It will be sticky. Don’t be tempted to add any flour. Grease your hand if needed.

Transfer to a well greased container

Allow the dough to rise for 60 minutes at room temperature until doubled in volume
Prepare the rolling pins by covering them with aluminum foil, do at least two or three layers, to protect the pins from burning in the oven.

Make sure to cover the rolling pins very well. Brush them with melted butter.

Punch down the dough and divide into 4 equal parts about 4 oz (115 gm) of each.

On a well floured surface spread one portion of the dough

Shape into 1/6 inch (4 mm) thick square-shaped sheet.

Using a pizza cutter [or a sharp knife!] cut the dough into a long ribbons of about 1/2 inch (13 mm) wide.

Wrap one end of the dough strip around the spit/rolling pin, tucking in the end so the dough doesn’t unwind.

Keep the dough very thin (under ¼ inch (6 mm)) as you stretch and wind it on the rolling pun. Then roll the whole thing slightly on the counter top to flatten it/press it together.

Brush with melted butter

Roll in sugar

Place in roasting pan and bake in a preheated moderately hot oven 375°F/190⁰C/gas mark 5 for 25 minutes.

If using roast function (375⁰F/190⁰C) in the oven it will take about 20 minutes.

If you are grilling (broiling) over the fire cooking time is about six minutes, until it starts to take on a dark golden color. Turn the rolling pin at once least once (or more) throughout baking time to ensure uniform cooking.

When cake is done roll it in sugar again

If you are using other toppings brush more butter, then roll the finished cake in the toppings of your choice.

Tap the mold on a table top to release the cake and set it up right to cool.

It will release easily like this.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Kürtőskalács, but of course

The baking JDs have been delinquent this month (in posting, not in baking). We'll get a post up soon!

The August Daring Bakers' Challenge took us for a spin! Swathi of Zesty South Indian Kitchen taught us to make rolled pastries inspired by Kurtoskalacs, a traditional Hungarian wedding pastry. These tasty yeasted delights gave us lots to celebrate!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Who Likes Surprises?

There has been a lot of excitement this month, which almost derailed this challenge. The big, happy excitement is that Sara and her husband, Will, bought and moved into a new house. This is a major feat anywhere, and especially in San Francisco. The less big, less happy excitement is that I was traveling -- for business and pleasure -- for most of the second half of the month. So finding a time to get together and bake proved challenging.

For that reason, I decided to forge ahead and bake a thematic surprise cake that Sara and Will could enjoy with me. The cake I chose -- the House Cake from Surprise-Inside Cakes by Amanda Rettke (very fortunately available in Kindle version from the San Francisco Public Library!) -- was very daunting for me at the outset.

It began at 7 am with four white cakes, which I baked and popped in the freezer. I only had 9-in. cake pans, although the recipe called for 8-in. pans, but I went with what I had and it worked fine. Strangely I had four of them, as well as two smaller pans. I have no idea where all those cake pans came from.

Chocolate and red velvet cakes followed. The chocolate was especially delicious even though (or perhaps because!) I didn't cut the milk chocolate bits small enough, so they didn't melt fully into the cake as they were supposed to. The two cakes looked quite similar when baked, but the red velvet had the prettier batter.

I also made a whole lot of butter cream frosting. The amount of butter and confectioners sugar involved was shocking. After chilling, I staked two cakes together with frosting in between and begin cutting out the house. You can see the funnel shape for the roof below; I cut a straight-sided cylinder for the body of the house. I was supposed to use round cookie cutters to size the cut-outs but I didn't have any so I free-handed it, which made me a little nervous. 

My cakes were a little domed but I am not adept evening them out with a knife, so I just relied on frosting to do the trick. Once I had cut out the house shapes I filled in the holes with the other cakes crumbled together with frosting and stacked the whole thing together. It was very tall!  

Sadly I ran out of frosting midway through frosting the outside. If anyone ever tries this recipe, I recommend making two recipes of buttercream frosting instead of the one she recommends. Or else your cake will look like mine on the outside instead of the beautiful version in her book. 

While we all had some laughs at my cake's decrepit exterior, I have to admit to feeling extremely proud about the inside. At first you couldn't quite make out the door, but when we cut into it a little more, voilà! A house!

All told, this cake took over 12 hours to make, and I put it in the freezer for substantially less time than was ideal according to the recipe. That being said, a lot of those hours were not active time and, although more demanding then a regular cake, I wouldn't say this one was hard to make. I'd try a surprise cake again for a special occasion. I was glad to have such a happy event to celebrate with this one. Congratulations to Sara and Will!

I'm not including the recipe this month because it's long and involved, but if you are interested I recommend checking out Surprise-Inside Cakes from your library or buying it. Jumping down the Internet rabbit hole of surprise cakes is a fun way to spend some time, too. A zebra cake was the runner-up choice this month, and I may give it a try another time!

For the July Daring Baker’s Challenge, Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to bake a cake. But not just any cake; she asked us to add in a special surprise for our eyes as well as our taste buds!

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.