Thursday, October 21, 2010

Blue Ridge Baker is Published!

Well, I'm little behind in posting this announcement, but I've been published in a cookbook!

I was contacted several months ago by someone from Slattery Media Group, asking if I'd like to be a part of a cookbook devoted to featuring bloggers. It sounded like an amazing opportunity, and I jumped at the chance.

I'm so glad I did. The book is beautiful - it has full-color photos of every single recipe - and is filled with many recipes that I'm anxious to try! Many bloggers in the book I was already familiar with - such as Steamy Kitchen, Honey and Jam, La Tartine Gourmande and Sprouted Kitchen to name a few - but there are many more that are new to me, so I'm excited to start looking them up!

If you'd like to purchase a copy for yourself, just follow this link (the price is in Australian dollars which is almost the same as US dollars):

In other news, I bought a house! It needs work, but it will be a wonderful home for me and my little ones when it's finished. We're moving to Iowa next week, and hoping to be living in the house by the end of next month.

So, new kitchen means finally getting back to my neglected blog! Yea! Or starting a new one under a different name. I'm not sure I can still be Blue Ridge Baker while living in Iowa.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

TWD (rewind): Dressy Chocolate Loaf Cake

Over the last few weeks - months, really - I've missed several TWD recipes that I was really looking forward to making. As I get the chance, I'm going to go back and bake a few of them. Starting with this loaf cake.

Chocolate cake rarely impresses me. I usually find it too dry, and lacking in chocolate flavor. Oh boy, did this cake prove all of that wrong! It was amazing in every way: flavor, texture, appearance - even the batter was beautiful; it looked like fluffy chocolate mousse. The cake's inherent deliciousness, is elevated to an even higher level by the elements of filling and frosting. Even with all of that, it manages to seem miraculously light. This cake is a keeper.

The cake itself is deeply chocolate-y, the crumb is moist and tight - very reminiscent of a pound cake. Superb. After baking in a loaf pan, the cake is cut horizontally into 3 layers. Each layer is filled with a tart fruit jam - I used black currant; a perfect complement in flavor and texture to the cake. The frosting is amazingly simple. It is made of nothing more than melted chocolate and sour cream. As it cools it hardens, forming a bittersweet ganache-like texture with a sour cream tang. Wow. I'll be using this frosting again. I'll be making the whole cake again for that matter!

I love that this cake has so many elements, yet is so simple. Perfect for any occasion. Thanks to Amy Ruth of Amy Ruth Bakes for making this wonderful selection. You can find the recipe on her blog.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Peach Pie

There are few things as wonderful as a perfectly ripe peach - and few things as difficult to find. Even here in North Carolina, in such close proximity to Peach Country. Thankfully, over 4th of July weekend, I lucked out with a couple pounds of beautiful, sweet, smooth organic South Carolina peaches. My family requested a pie for our festivities, and, peaches in hand, I was happy to oblige.

This pie was unbelievable. Relying almost entirely on the peaches themselves for sweetness, the fruit nestled between two layers of buttery, flaky, perfect pie crust, served with orange blossom-scented whipped cream. Oh, my. It disappeared in a matter of minutes.

Peach Pie

For the filling
2 pounds of ripe peaches, pitted and cut into chunks about 1/2" x 1" (I left my skins on to create a textural difference in the filling, but peel them if you prefer)
1 tablespoon agave nectar (Madhava brand is best, it's the real deal.)
2 teaspoons tapioca powder or cornstarch

For the crust
1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1 1/2 cups white spelt flour
heaping 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into chunks and frozen
1/4 cup - 1/2 cup ice water

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.

Combine flours and salt in a large bowl. Add butter chunks and cut in with a pastry blender. You aren't aiming for a meal-like consistency here, you want butter pieces of various sizes - though none terribly large. Add the water a little at a time, working it in with your hands until the dough comes together. Work quickly, as you don't want the butter to warm too much. Turn dough out onto a board, divide into two, form each half into a ball, flatten into a disk and wrap well in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before rolling.

When ready to assemble the pie:

Preheat oven to 375. Butter a 9" pie pan. Pull out one disk of dough at a time, and roll out on a well-floured board to about 1/8" thick. Line pie plate with first circle of dough, and trim overhang to about 1/8" - 1/4". Fill with peach mixture. Lay second circle of dough over filling, trim overhang to about 1/4 inch beyond bottom crust. Pinch edges of crust together, tuck top around bottom, and flute crust to make an attractive edge. Cut slits in top crust. If the dough seems to have softened a lot while you were working with it, pop it in the freezer for about 10 minutes before baking.

Bake for about 60-70 minutes, or until crust is evenly browned and fruit juices are thick and bubbling. Cool on a rack until warm.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

TWD: Salted Butter Caramel Brownies

It has taken considerably longer to get back into some sort of baking/blogging routine than I had expected. My life will still be in a bit of upheaval for the next several months, so bear with me!

The brownies for this week's TWD were supposed to have peppermint patty chunks in them, but there isn't a truly organic version (and the ones that are close are insanely expensive). I was planning on using chopped mint chocolate, but the town that I am temporarily in is very small, and there was none to be had! So I decided on adding pools of salted butter caramel. In my opinion, you can never go wrong with salted butter caramel.

It was a bit of an experiment, and though they were quite tasty, they weren't terribly attractive... I think I will play around with the way the caramel is incorporated. If I had had more time to make them I would have dropped spoonfuls of the warm caramel onto parchment, frozen them, and pressed them into the brownie batter so that it wouldn't be visible in the final product. I may also try a sturdier brownie recipe. I liked that this one was thin and fudgey, but it was rather flimsy and prone to falling apart. I'll let you know if I try this one again...

The brownie was chocolatey, not too sweet and nice and fudgey. I was pleased that the pools of caramel stayed soft and pliable even after 30 minutes in the oven, and the rich and creamy flavor was a wonderful contrast to the deep chocolate.

I baked these brownies for a family lunch, and they were quite a hit. Taste-wise, there really aren't any changes necessary, my only problems were more aesthetic in nature.

The Brrr-ownies were chosen by Karen of Welcome to our Crazy Blessed Life. The recipe for them (including the peppermint patties) is on her blog.

Let me add an apology for the less-than-stellar photos... We can't win them all...

Salted Butter Caramel
(makes more than you'll need for these brownies)

1 cup sugar
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons salted butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a saucepan over medium heat, cook sugar and salt, stirring frequently, until completely fluid. Add butter, stirring constantly - careful here, it will spit and boil furiously. Just keep stirring. Add cream and vanilla and stir until smooth. Pour immediately into heat-proof jar or bowl.

To finish the brownies like I made them, drop about a tablespoon of caramel into pan of brownie batter - portioning it so that there will be a pool in the center of each slice. (I cut mine into 9 pieces, so I had 9 pools). Bake as directed in brownie recipe.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Macaroon Truffle Tartlets

The longest I've ever lived in one place was the first four years of my life; spent in a house that my mom lived in as a small child, and where my cousin subsequently grew up. In the 26 years since then I have moved 21 times, and I'm about to turn that into 22. So, while I'm trying to update my blog as frequently as I can, it is difficult to do while packing up my house and moving myself and my little ones. For now, we're moving into an apartment in the lower level of my mom's house so that we can save money for the big move - number 23! - that will take place in a few months. We'll be going to Iowa so that my kids can grow up in the same amazing community I grew up in.

Once I'm settled in my mom's house I should be able to post with greater frequency, until then, these tartlets are so quick even I can squeeze them in!

These tartlets are as simple as they are delicious. What could be better than a chewy macaroon shell filled with rich bittersweet ganache? Perfection. Oh, and they're gluten-free!

Macaroon Truffle Tartlets

For the Macaroon Shell

2 large egg whites
2 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

For the Ganache

4 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream

Butter the insides of 8 regular muffin cups and line the bottom with a parchment circle - don't skip the parchment, they will stick without it. Preheat oven to 350. In a medium bowl, mix together all macaroon ingredients, stirring until evenly combined. Distribute evenly between muffin cups - about 2 tablespoons per cup - and press firmly into the bottom and sides of the cup. Bake for about 12-15 minutes, until insides look dry and outsides are golden brown. The insides will remain very light. Cool completely, then remove from pan.

Make the ganache
Place chopped chocolate in small bowl - I like to use a 2 cup pyrex measuring cup with spout for this. Heat cream, stirring occasionally until it is bubbling around the edges, but not boiling. Pour cream over chocolate, and let it sit for 1 minute. Stir chocolate into cream, starting in the center and moving out to the edges, until smooth. Don't over stir, or the ganache will separate. Divide ganache evenly among macaroon shells and refrigerate to set.

There are so many variations you could make with these: topped with whipped cream and/or berries;with a layer of jam, peanut butter or caramel under the ganache; caramelized or toasted nuts incorporated in the ganache; herb-infused ganache; crystalized ginger or citrus peel in or on top of the ganache, the list goes on!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Cherry & Brown Butter Streusel Muffins

Whew. Well, that was unexpected. It has been almost 4 weeks since I posted anything, I can hardly believe it. I went out of town fully intending to bake and post while I was there - I even drove half-way across the country with my stand mixer, digital scale and a box of baking essentials. Then about 3 days into the trip, my laptop died. My 1 1/2 year old MacBook Pro. Died. I was not so happy about this. I waiting to find out if it can be fixed, and in the meantime, I'm borrowing my mom's laptop. Thanks, Mom!

I've been back in town about a week, and finally got around to baking last night.

I miraculously found cherries for $1.49 per pound - organic, of course - and decided to make a treat for my little ones to wake up to this morning.

It is no secret around here that I'm slightly obsessed with all things containing brown butter and topped with streusel; I mean, how can you go wrong?! I thought the deep nutty flavor of the brown butter would pair nicely with the juicy, moderately tart cherries. Oh, yes. Oh. Yes.

These muffins arenot excessively moist, so don't overbake them! They are, however, soft and tender and incredibly flavorful. The brown butter really comes through, and melds beautifully with the whole wheat flour and vanilla extract. The streusel adds a wonderful crunch, while the cherries provide little bursts of juiciness every couple bites. Berries of any variety would also work great in this recipe, just be sure not to thaw them if you use frozen ones.

* * * * *

Cherry & Brown Butter Streusel Muffins

For the Streusel
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
pinch of salt
1/2 cup palm sugar
2.5 oz (5 tablespoons) unsalted butter, browned

For the Muffins
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup palm sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons arrowroot or cornstarch*
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, browned
1 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups pitted cherries, then halved

Preheat oven to 375. Line 12 regular muffin cups with liners, or butter and flour cups.

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients for streusel, mix well, and place in refrigerator until needed.

In a large bowl stir together flours, palm sugar, baking powder, arrowroot or cornstarch and salt. In the pan you browned your butter in, add milk and vanilla extract. Add butter mixture to dry ingredients, and mix until just combined. Fold in cherry halves. Distribute batter evenly among muffin cups. Crumble streusel on top of batter in cups. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a tester inserted into center of muffins comes out clean.

*You may have noticed this is an eggless recipe. If you would prefer to use eggs instead of the arrowroot or cornstarch: omit arrowroot/cornstarch from dry mix; reduce milk to 3/4 cup; add two eggs to butter mixture after you've added the milk - it should be cool enough that the eggs won't cook.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Rhubarb Curd Shortbread Bars

Curd. What an unappealing, clunky name for something so silky and delicate and delicious. Most of the curd around is of the lemon variety. I've been meaning to make it for some time, and just had trouble finding the initiative to actually do it. Not so with rhubarb curd. It never occurred to me that such a thing could exist, and as soon as I knew it did, I couldn't wait to make it.

Actually, there are about 37,052 rhubarb recipes that I want to try this Spring. I can't believe how versatile this strange stalk is - take a look at this! - and I can't wait to further explore it's many facets.

These bars are heavily adapted from a recipe I saw on Food52 - the curd is completely different, and the flavor of the shortbread is simplified. And they almost didn't happen. I ran into just about every problem possible when making these - I won't bore you with all of the details, suffice it to say I was shocked that they turned out so well. But, oh, how well they did come out... They are wonderful. Light and refreshing, creamy, sweet - but not too sweet. The rhubarb flavor is subtle, and almost delayed in its arrival. With nearly every bite I took, it gently snuck up on me.

This dessert is so unabashedly feminine, it almost seemed wrong to be eating it from the pan with a spoon. Ahem. To really do these bars justice, they should be served on dainty plates with a cup of tea.

The shortbread base is heavily flavored with ginger, and is a lovely complement to the curd. It was, however, incredibly crumbly - as you can see in the photo below; very frustrating. While crumbly is typically a good thing in regards to shortbread, here it made the bars very difficult to remove from the pan. I should have followed my instincts and lined the pan with parchment. Let that be a lesson!

These bars are fantastic, even when eaten with a spoon, and my mind is now reeling with all kinds of new curd possibilities!

Rhubarb Curd Shortbread Bars

For the Shortbread
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger

Line an 8x8 baking pan with parchment, butter parchment, set aside. Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix until just combined. Press into pan (mine was actually rather fluid as my butter was incredibly soft, so in this case, pour into pan), smooth the top and place in freezer for 30 minutes. In the meantime, preheat oven to 350. After 30 minutes, bake shortbread for about 30 minutes, or until evenly golden brown. Cool crust completely. In the meantime, make the curd.

For the Curd
1 cup rhubarb juice (from about 1 pound of rhubarb)*
3/4 cup sugar
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons lemon juice**
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into chunks
heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt
zest from 1 large lemon

Whisk together rhubarb juice, sugar, eggs, lemon juice and salt in a large heavy-bottomed pan until well-combined. Add butter and cook over medium-low heat, stirring without stopping until curd is thick enough that it holds the marks from the whisk. Pour curd into a bowl and stir in zest.

When crust is cool, top with curd and smooth surface. The curd layer should be about the same thickness as the shortbread layer, so if you seem to have a lot of curd, don't feel you have to use it all. Bake for another 20 minutes. Place in fridge for 30 minutes to set curd. Let cool completely before slicing.

*If you don't have a juicer, you can follow these instructions.

** Don't leave out the lemon juice! For some reason, I wasn't going to include it. My rhubarb juice was the most gorgeous shade of dark pink until I added the eggs. Then it turned purple. Then green. It wasn't pretty. I actually turned off the burner and almost gave up. Then I realized that the lemon juice was there to preserve the color as much as to provide additional tang. I had a tad more rhubarb juice, so I added lemon juice to it, and added that to my pan. Thankfully, the color transformed! It wasn't as deep a pink as I would have liked, but at least it was pink! If lemon juice was added from the get go, it would have been a different story. One of the many road-blocks I encountered...

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