Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Devilish Shortcakes

Last year (or was it earlier this year?) the Tuesdays with Dorie bakers made the Tender Shortcakes, and I remember their extraordinary lightness and addictive flavor. It was a recipe that surprised me with its simplicity and yumminess.

This recipe, selected by Tania of Love Big, Bake Often, turns the volume up a notch. It lacks some of the tenderness but more than makes up for it with a punch of chocolate flavor, thanks to a respectable ratio of cocoa. I doubled the recipe as I made these for a bittersweet occasion at work. One of my coworkers is leaving to go to work at a university closer to her home (cutting 2 1/2 hours from her daily commute) and I wanted to make something especially for her. These devilish shortcakes seemed to combine the two qualities she wanted in a dessert...chocolate or fruit, or both. I served these with the last strawberries of the season, sweetened with a little sugar and served on a puff of freshly whipped cream. They were sweet and nice, the perfect gift for a coworker who is as sweet and kind as she is smart. 

If you'd like the recipe, Tania has it for you here. And you can see what the other TWD bakers thought about it here.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Plum Crostata

I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date! And that date is the monthly posting for Daring Bakers. I put off this ridiculously easy recipe until the day after it was supposed to be posted. As I was making it, it was so easy I wondered why I waited so long.

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

I had never had a crostata but I knew I wanted to make gingered plum preserves for it. The only problem was that in November, plums are pretty much gone from the markets, unless they've been picked green and transported from another continent. That's what I ended up with, and the preserves weren't as great as they normally are but they were still better than store bought. 

The crust is fairly simple to put together and work with, and rolling it out was a snap. I cut out some little hearts from the scraps instead of doing the lattice because it was 8 PM. My crostata baked for 29 minutes and cooled completely before we cut it. It was good, but I wasn't wowed by it. That could have been because it came after the many desserts during the long Thanksgiving weekend.

Thanks, Simona, for hosting this month and for picking something easy! If you'd like the recipe, Simona has it for you here.

And now for some shameless self promotion...have you entered my giveaway yet? BlogHer has graciously offered a $100 Visa gift card. You can enter here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hidden Plum Berry Torte

This is the first rewind week for Tuesdays with Dorie in a long time. I was so excited, and then it hit me.

I'd have to decide on a recipe from the ones that were made in the 9 months before I joined. And that is not an easy thing, but I finally decided on Dorie's Hidden Berry Torte.

I used homemade gingered plum raspberry preserves (recipe here) and added cinnamon and ginger to the cheese filling. My torte looked great after 40 minutes in the oven, but at 57 minutes, the top was browned and cracked. It was still jiggly, so I tented it and baked it for a few more minutes. Once cooled to room temperature, the torte was refrigerated overnight. I let it warm up slightly before removing the side of the springform pan.

The verdict? It was good, but could have been better. My Twitter buddy Nancy fine-tuned it by adding more jam (the 1/3 cup the recipe called for wasn't enough to make an impression on the taste buds) and covering loosely with foil from the very beginning. Nancy's torte was snow white on the top, definitely better than my browned top. The filling was creamy and luscious, the crust sandy like a sable cookie. It was devoured quickly at work, which is all a baker can ask for!

Check out what the other TWD members made this week. You can find them here. And make sure you check out my giveaway...YOU could win a $100 Visa gift card (and get my recipe for double chocolate scones)! Just leave a comment on this post.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cranberry Lime Galette, Sort Of

This sad object resembles a broken dam more than it does a tempting dessert, and for that I'm truly sorry. It all boiled down to one thing:

Operator error.

Yes, that means me. I forgot to add a very important component. The one that soaks up the juices and makes this recipe a luscious slice of fall:

Yup, I forgot to add the bread crumbs and ground nuts, and the juices ran out of the crust, all over and under the parchment paper and then they burned while it baked.

I can report that cranberry caramel is tasty. The burned parts, not so much.

I used my easy all-butter pie crust (you can find it here) and we did break off parts of it to enjoy. That part was good.

What did I learn:
  • Read the recipe through before making it. No really, I think this would help.
  • Make sure you scrape all of the sugar out of the mixing bowl. Between the cranberries and the lime, this dessert is plenty tart, and it needs all of the sugar the recipe calls for.
  • I supported the sides of my galette with empty ramekins before putting it in the oven, with the exception of one side that looked fine. That was the one that flopped over and let all the juices run away. Oops.
  • I used a full bag of cranberries and a diced apple, and that was way too much filling for my galette. Follow your instincts: if it looks like too much filling, it probably is.

Our host this week for Tuesdays with Dorie was the blogging family of Sarah, Rachael, Whitney, Lizzie and April who are behind Celestial Confections. I'm telling you, if I had sisters and sisters-in-law who were willing to cook and write about it on my blog, I'd be posting a lot more. Or I'd be posting less but there'd be more content. Anyway, they make the most amazing creations. They picked the cranberry lime galette and they'll have the recipe for you here. I wish mine had turned out better, but sometimes it's OK to have a fail, as long as they're funny stories, right?

By the way, have you entered my giveaway? Ghirardelli and BlogHer have teamed up for a wonderful promotion and YOU can win a $100 Visa gift card! You can enter here. You'll also find a killer double chocolate scone recipe I dreamed up just for the occasion. Let's just say these were so good, they didn't make it to work.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Easy All-Butter Pie Crust

I've been cooking and baking since I was 10 years old. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer (her second time) and it was up to me to feed my stepfather and his two sons. It wasn't pretty, but I learned to cook, more trial by fire than anything, and not even my abysmal failures discouraged me from going back in the kitchen and trying again.

My mother recovered but I kept cooking and baking. Still with mixed results but heck, I was a self taught ten year-old, so they cut me a lot of slack. My mom hated to cook and was thrilled that I liked to. I cooked mostly by trial and error at that age. The years passed and I became a decent cook, but there were certain things I couldn't master, and pie crust was at the top of the list. Until one day, thumbing through cookbooks at the Doubleday bookstore at Bal Harbour Shops in Miami Beach, I found this book:

In it was the pie crust recipe, nay, technique, that would change my life. And that's what I have for you today, a recipe with a technique that will give you the flakiest all-butter pie crust you've ever dreamed of.

Here's how it works (recipe and tips below):

Put the flour in a mixing bowl and freeze for 15 minutes.

Add chunks of butter (just toss them in) and freeze for an additional 15 minutes.

Toss the whole mess on your (clean) counter.

Roll over the mess with your rolling pin, scraping the pile of flour and chunks to the center and roll over it.

Do this until a lot of the butter is in thin flat sheets.

Gather it up and toss it back in the bowl, then pour over a mixture of cold water, cider vinegar and kosher salt.

Lightly flour your counter. Toss the mixture on the counter and roll out (the dough will be a mess so don't worry!)

Gather into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, roll your rolling pin over it a couple of times and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough in half and roll out the two halves. Congratulations, you've just made pie crust!

When I'm making pie crust for Thanksgiving, I have two mixing bowls going at the same time, one goes in the freezer when the other one comes out, so I can mass produce multiple batches of dough in less time. I find that it makes sense to make extra batches (if I'm messing up my counter, I might as well put some extra batches in the freezer.)

Here are a few tips:
  • Always clean your counter first. Even though your crust will bake and the oven's heat will kill any cooties, crumbs from your morning toast or an errant raisin aren't nice additions to your pristine pie crust.
  • If you own pets, change your shirt. Nobody loves cat hair in their pie. Not even the cat's owner.
  • If the butter chunks seem easy to roll into the flour, your dough is too warm. Gather it back up and put it in the freezer until it firms up a bit.
  • Pie crust scraps can be saved to make decorative embellishments for the top. I usually re-roll mine and make jam tarts. Or sometimes I toss them on a sheet pan, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and bake until lightly browned. Nobody needs to know you have this little treat...it will be our secret!
  • If you leave the flour/butter in the freezer too long and your butter chunks are solid, leave the bowl out on the counter for a few minutes.
  • When rolling your pie crust, roll from the center to the edge, then rotate. I prefer flouring the counter and rolling on that, but you can sandwich the crust between two pieces of plastic wrap, just be careful to reposition the plastic wrap so it doesn't become embedded in the dough.

Easy All-Butter Pie Crust (adapted from Baking with Jim Dodge)
Makes one 9" double crust or two 9" single crusts

2 cups/280 grams all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
14 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons cold water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Put the 2 cups of flour in a mixing bowl and place in the freezer. After 15 minutes, cut butter into 1" chunks and toss into bowl with flour. Combine the water, salt and vinegar, stirring until the salt is dissolved, and put mixture in the fridge.

After 15 minutes, dump flour mixture on your counter and roll over it with a rolling pin. Keep sweeping the pile into the center with a bench scraper or your hand. Keep rolling until all of the butter is in large flakes two to three inches long (or longer). The dough will stick to your rolling pin so scrape it back onto your board and keep rolling. 

Once your butter is in large flakes, gather the whole mess and put it back in the mixing bowl. Pour the water mixture over it, and press it together lightly with a spatula. Lightly flour your counter and turn the dough out onto it. Flour your rolling pin and roll the dough out, then using your bench scraper, fold it in half and roll it out to approximately a 9x14" rectangle, fold the two sides in like a letter, and roll out to approximately 8x9". Fold dough in half (it will be crumbly). Carefully wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling out for your pie.

Divide dough in half and keep the other half wrapped in plastic while you roll the first half. On a well floured counter or board, sprinkle a little flour in the top of the dough and on your rolling pin. Shape the dough into a roundish, 6" patty with your hands before you start rolling (you can roll the crust between pieces of plastic wrap if you like-you won't need to add additional flour this way). Roll from the middle of the dough out to the edge, turn the dough 90 degrees, roll from the center of the dough to the edge, and repeat the turning and rolling until your dough measures approximately 12" across (or about an inch larger for the top crust of a double crust pie). If the dough sticks to the counter while you're rolling it out, sprinkle a little flour underneath. The goal is to use just enough flour to roll it out without sticking. Don't add flour unless you're sticking.

Measure if you've rolled the dough out enough by holding the pie pan over it - it should be a couple inches larger than the pie pan

Brush off any excess flour, gently fold the dough in half, then in half again, and lay it in a buttered 9" pie pan. Unfold the dough and fit it into the pie pan, easing it into the corners gently, trim the excess hanging over the edge of the rim (or fluting the rim if you're so inclined; I'm not a fluter-sorry).

If you're making a two crust pie, you can seal the two crusts together by applying an egg wash to the rim of the bottom crust before you top with the top crust.

I used a glass pie plate here, and flipped pie plate with dough inside over a buttered second pie plate before blind (pre-) baking

To partially bake the crust, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Butter the OUTSIDE of another pan of the same size. Invert the empty pan on a baking sheet, and put the pan with the pie crust face down on the inverted pan. Bake for 10 minutes, then press down on the pan to force out any air pockets that may have formed. Bake for another 10 minutes, flip over both pie pans and remove the one you placed inside your pie crust. Continue to bake for another 10-15 minutes until the crust is golden brown. Cool on a rack and precede with your pie recipe.

I hope you'll conquer your pie crust fears as I did. Nothing beats a freshly-made pie.

BTW, I'm having a giveaway - you can win a $100 Visa gift card courtesy of BlogHer. You can find it here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Whole Wheat Pasta with Walnuts and Goat Cheese

In my mind, for a recipe to be great it has to be both adaptable and idiot proof. And this week's Craving Ellie in My Belly recipe was just such a recipe.

It was chosen by my friend Kayte at Grandma's Kitchen Table. Kayte has more energy than any three people I know. It's not unusual for her to decide she wants to make all the breads in, say a whole section of a cookbook, and have it done in three days. She amazes me!

It's been a while since I posted for CEiMB, though I have made some of the recipes, and it being Kayte's week to pick was just the incentive I needed to get back in the swing.

This was supposed to be a pasta salad, and use feta and walnut oil. I decided I wanted a hot pasta dinner, so I adapted this. I don't like feta so I used goat cheese. I thought I had walnut oil in the fridge but didn't, so I used hazelnut oil. I thought I had hazelnuts to complement the hazelnut oil, but I didn't so I went with walnuts. I was too lazy to dice the red onion so I left it out.

And you know, it was really great! The warm pasta is like a sponge for the dressing, so I did add a little more to the pasta. But all of the flavors combined very well and made it a delightful light dinner. I made this after a full day of making pie dough for the freezer (for National Pie Day, aka Thanksgiving) and it was a comforting and easy meal, successful in spite of my relentless tweaking of the recipe.

Thanks, Kayte, for a great pick! If you'd like the recipe, you can find it here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cranberry Shortbread "Cake"

I never, ever, ever would have made this "cake" if it wasn't for my esteemed blogging buddy Jessica of A Singleton in the Kitchen. And that would have been a real shame. Jessica, who will be faced with renaming her blog next year when she and beau Dudley get married, chose Dorie Greenspan's Not-Just-For-Thanksgiving Cranberry Shortbread Cake as this week's Tuesdays with Dorie selection.

I had a VERY hard time forcing myself to make this "cake." First, there's no photo in the book and I just couldn't wrap my head around how it would look. Second, although I like cranberries, I don't wake up in the morning and think "Gee, what can I make with cranberries today?" And last, the dough sounded finicky and difficult to work with. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A shortbread "cake" (I keep using quotes because it's all crust to me) surrounds a jam you make with cranberries and orange supremes. I went with a Texas pink grapefruit, both in honor of Jessica and, well, because it was what I had available. I made the super easy jam several days before I made the "cake" and tucked it away in the fridge. Last night, I checked Jessica's post (you can find it here) hoping for a photo of the completed "cake" to inspire me to make it. Yes and yes! So this morning I got up at five and started on the "cake." Surprise of surprises, I LOVED working with the dough. In fact, I plan to try this as a tart crust because I love it so much.

This recipe, except for my procrastination, was completely uneventful. Here's what I learned:
  • Knowing my natural proclivity for not evenly measuring two dough halves, I weighed them on my scale.
  • Jessica's "cake" looked as though she left a small border around the jam and pressed the crust closed around the jam. I liked that idea so I did the same.
  • Tracey tweeted that she measured the top crust to get it the right size. I didn't do that, although I did use the ring of the springform pan to gauge it. My top crust ended up a tiny bit bigger than I wanted, so I pushed down the excess.
  • Although I didn't do it this time, I am currently enamored with adding ginger to many of my recipes. I think some diced fresh ginger would make a great addition to the jam.
  • I sprinkled Demerara sugar on top of the "cake" before baking.
In case you think I'm on the fence about this one, au contraire. I loved it. The tartness of the cranberries played perfectly against the sweet, crunchy pastry. It will be hard to share this one.

Jessica, thanks for a fantastic pick. I heart you, and not just because you chose this TART.

If you'd like the recipe, I have one thing to say...buy the book already! It's the best baking book, period. But if it's not in the budget this week, Jessica has the recipe for you, as well as a tasty apple version. And there are hundreds of us baking through Baking From My Home to Yours. You can find out what the other bakers thought here.

Check back next week...I'll have something exciting for you!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

TWD - Peanuttiest Blondies

This isn't a nice way to begin, but I'm not a huge blondie fan. You have to add large amounts of something I like for me to get enthused about them. So I was a bit ambivalent when the November Tuesday with Dorie recipes were announced. Or maybe my ambivalence was because I learned what the recipes while we were here

...and knowing I would be home and not eating macarons (and having so many Deep Discussions about favorite ones) by the time I made them. I was going to make them Sunday, but I was having too much fun reconnecting with some of my Twitter buddies and one of them give me excellent advice on sourdough starters (thanks, Di!)

Monday morning, I woke up and I WANTED to bake. And it occurred to me, I'd missed my peeps. My dear coworkers, who eat anything and everything I bring in, regardless of how presentable or tasty it is (or isn't). I missed them. And though I wasn't exactly bubbling with joy about going back to work, I missed having an enthusiastic group of people who like eating what I bake.

None of this really matters. What does matter is that Nicole of Bakologie picked these blondies, and they were what helped me get my baking groove back. They were simple (except can I tell you how much I dislike chopping nuts that roll around? It's a lot.) Dorie's instructions were perfect as usual (does anyone else miss Dorie's careful, detailed instructions when baking other cookbooks?) A few observations:
  • I have a gigantic jar of smooth peanut butter from Costco so I used that instead of chunky. I added a few more chopped peanuts to compensate.
  • I recently came into a windfall of chocolate related to a future promotion (you're going to want to check back in a few weeks for that one), so I used some milk chocolate chips from my stash.
  • Dorie says to bake these in a pan lined with foil, which you butter, and I resisted the urge to use parchment instead, which doesn't require buttering. This would be the perfect use for nonstick foil (I used heavy duty, since the foil also acts as a sling). You want the foil to extend far enough over the sides for you to lift the blondies out.
  • Cut these into tiny bars as they are very rich. That won't stop some people from taking two, but one really is enough. Unless you're coming back to work after a two week vacation. Then it's OK to have two.
They were good! Not as good as my favorite brown butter blondies, but definitely not the usual boring blondie. I would make these again, happily, and maybe even do some substitutions to make it interesting.

Thanks, Nicole, for a tasty and easy pick. If you'd like the recipe, Nicole has it for you here.