Monday, June 29, 2009

TWD: Perfect Party Cupcakes

I just didn't have it in me to make a layer cake this week. Too much going on, plus I only have one 9- inch cake pan. So to simplify matters, I made cupcakes.

The cake is a white cake flavored with lemon extract. I used lemon juice instead, so it probably wasn't quite as lemony as it would have been with extract, but the lemon flavor was there. 

The only other change I made was the frosting. I made a simple buttercream of butter, powdered sugar and vanilla extract. It was delicious on the cupcakes.

Some TWDers mentioned that they had rising problems, but I didn't. Mine rose beautifully, and the result was a moist cake with a light lemony flavor and a tender crumb. This was a beautiful cake, and I look forward to making it on many occasions, layers and all!

BBA Challenge: Brioche

The next bread to come along in The Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge is brioche. 

Brioche is a wonderfully rich French bread, and we had three versions to choose from: Rich Man's, Middle Class and Poor Man's. The difference in them being their butter content. I went middle of the road with the Middle Class (which still contains a none too shabby 1/2 pound of butter! Yikes!)

This was a really fun and easy bread to make. The dough is made in the mixer, then refrigerated overnight to harden the butter enough to make it workable. It is then formed into loaves or brioche a tete (pictured). Clearly, I need a little practice shaping my brioche a tete, but I'm certain I'll get it, because this bread was delicious and I'll definitely be making it again! It was delicious, and my son loved it. 

I should add that the recipe called for 2 tablespoons of sugar and I replaced it with agave. Since it was such a small quantity, I didn't alter the amounts of any of the other ingredients.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

SMS: Double Chocolate Cherry Cookies

To say that my family is comprised of chocolate lovers would be a gross understatement. It's more like fiends, or fanatics, or devotees. I have an aunt who won't eat any dessert that isn't chocolate, because it isn't worth the calories; when the local chocolate lounge opened in Asheville, I was interviewed for an article the local paper was writing on them because I was such a regular customer; when my husband fills out forms where you pick a password and have a clue for yourself as to what that password is, he picks the question "what is your favorite food" and answers "chocolate." Though he may have to change that now... Anyway, you get the idea... So there is a high bar set for chocolate desserts in my family.

I was really excited to make these cookies, and they came together quickly and easily. They were the darkest cookie dough I've ever made, so needless to say I was anxious to taste them. They looked incredible coming out of the oven: gooey chocolate pools, the dark cracked surface that was a tiny bit crisp, the soft center. I will say that Melissa's cookies have some of the best textures of any cookies I've ever had. 

Now for the taste: I thought they were really good. Definitely something I had no trouble eating several of in a row, but there are definitely some things I would tweak. 

For a cookie that has "cherry" in the title, I thought they were a little cherry poor. I think the quantity could have been doubled easily. I like the juxtaposition of the tart chewy cherries with the dark chocolate. I cut my cherries into raisin-sized pieces, following a tip from a fellow SMSer, though I kind of wish I hadn't. Maybe then I would have gotten more of the cherry punch I was looking for. I also thought the cookies were a tad too sweet, so I will use less sugar when I make them again. I used chopped chocolate chunks instead of chips, which I loved and would definitely do again. 

These were really very good cookies, and had I not made the world peace cookies a few weeks back - another double chocolate cookie, and better than these in my opinion - they probably would have seemed even more outstanding. 

Thanks to Megan of My Baking Adventures for picking these cookies. Find the recipe on her blog.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Daring Bakers: Bakewell Tart

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

I love almond desserts, so I was looking forward to making this one. 

The bakewell tart is comprised of three elements: a sweet shortcrust pastry, a layer of jam and an almond frangipane filling. All three are quite simple - especially if using store-bought jam - so I was expecting an effortless evening of baking when I set forth with this recipe. Not so. 

The crust went well enough, except that it was so wet once the eggs were in that I omitted water altogether. Also, it was difficult to roll out - even after over an hour in the fridge - so i ended up pressing it into my tart pan. 

I was intending to make my own jam - rose petal, in fact - but I wasn't able to find roses that could be guaranteed unsprayed in time. I have located a source that will have some for me in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned to see how the jam turns out. I ended up using sour cherry jam that I bought, so this was the easiest step of all!

Now to the filling: It came together easily enough, looked great as I poured it into the pan, spread evenly, I had high hopes. After not quite 30 minutes in the oven, it was quite poofy and quite brown, so I removed it from the oven. After it cooled, I cut into it, and the filling all oozed out. Back into the oven it went for about 15 minutes. After which it was still fairly runny, but I thought it would firm up as it cooled. I was wrong. Finally, after another 20+ minutes it was done on the inside.

I enjoyed this tart, but I wasn't crazy for it. Probably not something I'd make again. 


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

TWD: Pineapple...

This week's TWD recipe was for a coconut-roasted pineapple dacquoise. The recipe just didn't appeal to me... Too many eggs... The pineapple part, however, was enticing. After seeing this cake at Smitten Kitchen and finding a ripe pineapple, I knew I had to make it. 

The last time I made a pineapple upside-down cake was when I was 16. It was my grandfather's favorite dessert, and I made it for his birthday. He passed away just over 8 years ago, so I made this cake with him in mind. 

It was a hit. I made it for a family dinner, and it was gobbled up within minutes. The picture above is the second one I made in as many weeks. I made it for my husband for Father's Day (along with blueberries and dumplings, fried green tomatoes and cheese grits - none of which I was able to photograph, unfortunately). Turns out, it's one of his favorites, too!

The cake is delicious - moist, fresh, great texture. It will definitely become a regular in our house.

I used apple juice instead of pineapple as the recipe called for - just because that's what I had. I baked it in a 9" springform as Deb did - my cast iron skillet was too big. 

The first time I made it I didn't have and light brown sugar, so I used granulated for the topping. The second time I did have it, but we agreed that it was better with the granulated. 

The cake is delicious - moist, fresh, great texture. It will definitely become a regular in our house.

Here is the recipe. Visit the TWD blogroll to see some lovely dacquioses, and thanks to Andrea of Andrea in the Kitchen for choosing it and hosting this week. You can find the dacquoise recipe on her blog.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

SMS: Not Exactly Butterscotch Cashew Bars

This week's recipe was for butterscotch cashew bars. I knew I'd have a problem when I saw the list of ingredients, because it called for butterscotch chips. We're very dedicated to eating all organic food, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to find organic butterscotch chips. I was right. 

So, I was trying to decide how I could alter the recipe. I thought I could double the other ingredients in the topping, but after a second look, that didn't seem like it would work. I considered using chocolate chips, but I was looking forward to a caramely flavor. So I thought I'd find a recipe for caramel and top the crust with that - caramel is something I've wanted to try my hand at for a ong time. But because I've wanted to try it for so long, I wanted some on its own, without a crust. I didn't want to make one pan with a crust and one without, so I settled for just making caramel. So that I would be making something remotely resembling what the other SMSers were doing, I topped part of my caramel with roasted salted cashews. (The rest of it was topped with fancy sea salt I got from a great little salt/chocolate/flower shop called The Meadow, on a trip to Portland, OR last year).

I found the caramel recipe on the wonderful blog Baking Obsession. It is a variation of an Alice Medrich recipe. I didn't steep my milk with cardamom pods, because I didn't have any - though I think that would be delicious, and I'll definitely do it next time I make these - and I used brown rice syrup to avoid heating honey. These caramels took a whole lot longer to make than I thought they would, but they were worth it. They are delicious!!! Please visit Baking Obsession for the recipe

Thanks to Pamela for chosing this week's recipe - sorry I didn't exactly make it!!! The recipe for butterscotch cashew bars can be found on her blog Cookies with Boys.

Take a look here if you want to see what was supposed to be made this week.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

TWD: Honey-Peach Ice Cream

I was pretty excited to see this recipe in the June TWD line-up. Peaches are just coming into season, and it gave me a chance to pull out my all-too-infrequently-used ice cream maker.

Luckily, I planned ahead for this recipe better than I did for the cobbler of a couple weeks ago, and bought peaches early enough in advance so that they would ripen in time to make this ice cream. I am so glad I did. The ice cream is amazing.

Peach is not a flavor of ice cream that I ever buy at the store, or order at an ice cream parlor, but it is so delicious when homemade, so quintessentially summery. It was one of my grandfather's favorite flavors, so making and eating it made me think about him, wish he could be eating it with me... 

I made a few changes to the recipe:
- I cooked the peaches in maple syrup instead of honey - I grew up ascribing to the ancient Indian system of health called Ayurveda, in which the heating of honey is said to have negative health effects.
- I pureed all of the peaches after reading the P&Qs - people commented on the chopped peaches becoming icy chunks that weren't too pleasant
- I omitted the sugar from the custard and used a couple tablespoons of maple syrup. After tasting the peach mixture, I felt it was sweet enough, and without the sugar my 2 1/2 year old - who has never had sugar - would be able to eat it. 

I loved this ice cream. It was smooth, creamy, fresh, light, subtle, refreshing, amazing. Seeing as this is just the beginning of peach season, I think this ice cream will be making a few more appearances this summer.

Thank you to Tommi of Brown Interior for picking this wonderful recipe. Visit the TWD blogroll to see everyone else's ice creams.

Monday, June 15, 2009

BBA Challenge: Bagels

Bagels. I love bagels. Bagels are one of those foods that never occurred to me to attempt to make at home. Until I started following food blogs, that is. I saw them on so many blogs, and they were all so perfect and bagel-like, I was determined to try my hand at them. 

Thank goodness they're in the Bread Baker's Apprentice, because without the commitment to bake every recipe from the book, I might not have gotten around to baking them for a very long time. That would have been a real shame, because these bagels are amazing. 

They are by far the best I've ever had. My husband even loved them, and he's never met a bagel he loved. They were light and flavorful, really fun to make - though a little time consuming, just chewy enough, and not at all dry or tough. Better than I ever thought a bagel could be, and I love bagels. 

I know I will make these over and over again, and can't wait to try different flavors - this time I kept it simple with sesame seed - my favorite, and plain. 

The recipe for these fabulous bagels can be found in The Bread Baker's Apprentice. 

Sunday, June 14, 2009

SMS: Chocolate Chip Cookies with Toasted Almonds

My mom didn't bake much while I was growing up. She was a single mom, working full time, and just didn't have the time - and perhaps the interest - to master many culinary feats. The one thing she did bake consistently - and incredibly - was chocolate chip cookies. So there is a high bar to meet any time I try a new recipe. 

I thought the texture of these was perfect - chewy and not at all cakey - but the flavor of the actual cookie left something to be desired. It was just too bland if there were no chips in the bite. (Or chunks in my case.) I baked them for a couple of minutes longer than recommended, but perhaps another couple would solve the blandness. I still have a lot of dough in the fridge, so I'll report back if my opinion changes.

The recipe calls for almonds. I'm not usually a fan of nuts in my chocolate chip cookies, but I decided to make the cookies as written. I didn't think the almonds detracted from the cookies, but I didn't think they necessarily added anything either. I probably wouldn't include them again.

Overall, I really enjoyed these cookies, even though they won't be my new favorite. 

A special thanks to Melissa Murphy, owner of Sweet Melissa Patisserie, and writer of The Sweet Melissa Baking Book for hosting this week. You can find the recipe on the SMS home page. 

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Here is my second bread for the BBA Challenge: a Greek celebration bread called christopsomos. 

For this bread, we had a choice between three versions of Greek celebration bread. Once I saw the addition of figs in the christopsomos version, I knew which one I would be making. 

This bread begins with a pre-ferment called poolish. It is a mixture of flour, water and yeast that is made in advance and later added to the other bread ingredients. My poolish was a little thicker than a pancake batter - the consistency the recipe stated it should have - though it still worked wonderfully. 

There are a number of spices in the christopsmos dough, though I only had allspice and cinnamon, so that's what I used. I replaced the honey with maple syrup and added more zest than the recipe called for. I also omitted the raisins, and used more figs and walnuts.

Peter Reinhart gives special instructions for forming the christopsomos loaf, but I decided to go with a simple braid - for some reason it just appealed to me more... I was very pleased with how it came out - especially since it was my first bread braid!

We loved this bread, and ate it toasted every morning for several days with butter (and sometimes honey). The recipe does say that it's a large loaf, but wow was it enormous!!!

The recipe for this bread can be found in The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Next up in the BBA Challenge: bagels! 

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie: Parisian Tartlets

This is a very simple dessert - fruit on a round of puff pastry, with brown sugar and butter sprinkled on top before baking - therefore very open to interpretation. The recipe is for apple tartlets, though I didn't have any on hand, and honestly, all of the apples we've bought lately have been pretty flavorless. So I decided to save the apple until fall, and make something a little more seasonal. 

I settled on peach - I managed to find one that was ripe enough among a lot of unripe ones that I bought in anticipation of making Bear's Cobbler - and plum, because there was some good feedback about it on the TWD P&Q. 

I haven't been able to find pre-made organic puff pastry, so I decided to make my own. I was short on time, so wasn't sure I would be able to make it in the traditional manner. When I saw a link someone posted on the P&Q about a recipe for Nick Malgieri's quickest puff pastry, I thought I'd give it a shot.

The quickest puff pastry is all put together in a food processor, and it is indeed quick. I was very anxious to see if it would puff. 

The tartlets take minutes to put together, and I liked that there was a lot of freedom in the recipe. I put the butter and brown sugar on two of the tartlets, and left it off of two for my son. 

After about 15 minutes in the oven I checked on the tartlets, and there was a huge puddle of melted butter on the baking sheet. I was worried. I left them in for another 5, hoping that some puffing would occur, but no luck. 

Aside from the disappointment of the dough not puffing, these were delicious. Even the flat crust had a great buttery flavor. The tartlets were light and summery, and I'll definitely try them again. Maybe with a more traditional puff pastry recipe. 

Thanks to Jessica of My Baking Heart for picking this yummy yummy recipe. See everyone else's tartlets here.

*** UPDATE ***

While checking out the other TWD members' blogs this morning I saw this recipe for puff pastry on Holly's blog, Phemomenon. Her tartlets were beautiful and very puffy, so I decided to take a look at the recipe she used. It started out similarly to the one I used, but had several turns of rolling and folding - like a more traditional puff pastry recipe. After seeing this, I thought I might be able to resurrect my dough. So I pulled it out of the fridge, divided it into two balls, rolled them into rectangles, folded them like a letter, gave them a 1/4 turn, rolled and folded again, then refrigerated them for about 45 minutes, and repeated the steps. As you can see, it was a great success! So thanks to Holly for posting that recipe!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Bear's Peach (Mango) Cobbler

The cobbler I made for Sweet Melissa Sundays this week barely resembles the original recipe. The recipe was for peach cobbler, but I couldn't find any decent fresh peaches and frozen ones were insanely expensive. I found some beautiful perfectly ripe mangoes, however, and I thought they would make a good substitute. I omitted the sugar in the biscuit and filling. In the biscuit, I replaced it with maple syrup, in the filling I just left it out. I would have used agave nectar as a sweetener in the filling, but I forgot to buy any... I also left the cinnamon out of the filling, but I added some fresh thyme - about 1 1/2 teaspoons - thouh I couldn't taste it.. I added extra lemon zest to the biscuits, because I love it so much. Also, I was low on heavy cream so I used 1/4 of yogurt and 1/4 cup cream instead of 1/2 cup cream. I think that's it... Actually I thought of something else: I left the lemon juice out of the filling, as I thought it would be too tart with the slightly tart mangoes. Okay, that's really all...

The result was delicious, though perhaps a bit too tart. I added a drizzle of maple syrup to one serving I ate, and that made it incredible. I didn't use it in the first place, because I was afraid the flavor would be too overpowering, but it was quite complimentary. The mangoes were a great texture when baked - much like peaches, actualy. Not at all stringy or hairy.

I'll definitely be making more cobblers this summer as they are easy, delicious, and - most importantly - loved by my son. Who knows, maybe I'll try the real recipe for Bear's cobbler once peaches are in season here.

Thanks to Andrea of Nummy Kitchen for choosing this recipe! See the other SMS bakers' creations here.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Anadama Bread

There is a relatively new baking group that I've decided to join - The Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge - started by Nicole of Pinch My Salt. The group is baking through Peter Reinhart's book in order - which happens to be alphabetical. Most of the group is posting weekly - I think this is officially the 4th week - though I doubt that I'll be able to do that. I don't plan on sticking to a schedule, just baking as my time allows. The first recipe in the book is for Anadama bread - a traditional New England bread with cornmeal and molasses.

I am not an experienced bread maker - something that I'm trying to remedy. I'm determined to make all of my family's bread from now on, and I think I'm off to a pretty good start!

I started making the anadama before I left for work one morning, and got as far as shaping the loaves. The recipe says the dough can be put in the refrigerator at this point. When you want to bake it, it says to let it sit for 4 hours, or until it rises to the top of the pan. I had my husband put it a couple of hours before I left work, thinking that it would probably be late before it was baked and ready to eat, but when I got home, it was fully proofed. Over proofed, in fact. So the loaves both fell a bit in the oven. They also baked more quickly than the recipe stated - they were done in 30 minutes. 

We all loved this bread - my 2 1/2 year old especially. It is a very light bread, slightly sweet, delicious toasted with butter and honey. I'm sure it would make great sandwiches as well, but we haven't tried it yet. 

The only change I would make would be to omit the cornmeal on top of the loaf or use a finer one, as mine was very coarse - locally grown and ground organic grits, actually - and hurt the roof of my mouth a little when I chewed it. A minor problem... Other than that it was delicious, and I was rather proud of having made it! 

You can find the recipe here

Friday, June 5, 2009

Linzer Sables

I loved linzer cookies as a kid. Its probably been 15 years since I've had one, but I still remember exactly the texture and taste of the ones I used to eat. So, when searching for a recipe to bake the other night, these jumped out of the book at me. I'm trying to catch up on all of the recipes that the Tuesdays with Dorie group baked before I joined, and these have already been made, so they seemed to be a perfect choice. 

I had a lot of fun making these, though I wished I had something other than circles to cut them out with... Ah well, next time...

The cookies were wonderful - crisp, not too sweet, nicely spiced, a touch of jam, perfect. 

These cookies were chosen by Noskos of Living the Life in December of last year. The recipe is available on his blog. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, Boule

I finally got the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day yesterday, and immediately started out with the master recipe.

The premise behind this book is that you make large quantities of dough that you can store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Every time you want to bake something, you cut off a 1 pound piece of dough, form it into whatever shape you're making - baguette, boule, pita, etc... - let it rest, then bake it. 

There are several recipes for basic doughs (such as brioche, challah, white, wheat and more), and several recipes that can be made with each of those doughs. They have also eliminated several steps from the bread making process such as kneading! 

It feels slightly like cheating, and I don't know that I'll really hone my bread making skills this way, but I have two young kids and my own business, so I'll take whatever shortcuts I can get!

Everything about this was easy. And delicious. The crust was beautiful, crispy, the perfect thickness, deep golden; the crumb soft, chewy, not too dense, not too light. The loaf was so beautiful, I couldn't believe I made it!

There is now no excuse not to make fresh bread. I can't wait to try all of the other recipes. I'm not going to write up the recipe here because you should all go out and buy this book!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie: Cinnamon Circles

This week's pick for Tuesday's with Dorie - which I just found out I am a member of after all! - was cinnamon squares. In all honesty, the sound of it didn't really excite me, and I almost didn't make them. I went ahead, however, mainly because of the great reviews they were getting by the other TWD bakers. As always, I'm really happy I made them despite my reservations.

What you see above isn't exactly what I had planned for this dessert. I was going to make a roulade.

I've never made a roulade before, so I looked to the internet for a little advice. There were different methods out there, but I decided to use one that said to roll the cake initially when it's warm, let it cool completely, then unroll it, fill it and roll it back up. Seemed simple enough, but when I went to roll it cracked into three pieces. I don't know if my cake was too thick - about 1" - if it was too warm, too cool or something else, but a roulade was clearly out of the question.

The only way I could see to salvage my cake was to make mini layered ones out of it. So I pulled out my biscuit cutter and cut my cake into 10 circles. Then I spread a layer of frosting, sprinkled the sugar mixture, topped that with chocolate, added my top circle, frosted that, and voila! Something that looks remarkably as it was intended to, but with double the work! 

It was delicious, however. I loved the cake on its own, and I loved it with the frosting. I'm sure I'll make it again, but probably closer to the holidays. 

You can find the recipe on Tracey's blog, Tracey's Culinary Adventures. Be sure to take a look at the TWD blogroll to see all of the other yummy variations of this recipe.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Bee Stings (one day late)

I almost didn't make these - one look at the word doughnut in their description and my mind was nearly made up. I can't stand the things. But then I kept reading, and saw that they are really more like brioche, which I love, so I went ahead with them.

I posting one day late due to poor time management: I neglected to read through the entire recipe until I started making them, so I didn't know they had to rest overnight in the fridge before their final rise and baking. Anyway, I finished them up this morning, and I am so glad I went ahead with them.

The bun itself is delicious: tender, light, barely sweet. I will certainly be making these again, with or without the other elements. Though like many other bakers, I found that the dough needed quite a bit of extra flour. 

The recipe called for pastry cream, but to simplify matters, I used fresh whipped cream. I thought it was delicious, and kept with the lightness of the treat. 

The caramel glaze was heavenly. I licked every last drop of it off of everything it was on. Actually, I liked it better on its own than on the bun. It had a very subtle flavor that I thought was lost when paired with the brioche.  

Thanks to Jamie from Good Eats and Sweet Treats for picking this fantastic treat. Visit her blog for the recipe, and be sure to take a look at the other SMS bakers' blogs for their bee stings.
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