Sunday, December 28, 2008

Yule Love this Month's Daring Baker Challenge

A traditional French Yule Log was this month's Daring Baker challenge. Typically when I hear Yule Log, I think of the Buche de Noel, the rolled genoise cake with chocolate buttercream decorated with meringue mushrooms to look like a log. This, however, is a different beast all together. The traditional French Yule Log is a frozen dessert with several layered elements that comes together in delicious elegance.

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.

The dessert is made up of six elements, none of which are particularly difficult to make by themselves, but it does take some serious planning to put the whole thing together. The various insert layers include a frozen creme brulee, a praline crisp, chocolate ganache, and an almond daquoise (meringue cake layer) that is all held together with a chocolate mouse and covered with a chocolate icing. I followed the recipe almost exactly except for making the creme brulee layer almond flavored instead of vanilla. I happen to be a big fan of almond and chocolate and I think the end result was very nice.

It was really important to plan the elements out in terms of baking, prep, and assembly. I benefited from reading comments by fellow Daring Bakers who had already completed the challenge. I found the following schedule worked well:
- Prepare the creme brulee layer in the mold you plan to use, and then freeze it for a few hours.
- Prepare the mouse and put it in the fridge for a few hours
- Prepare the prailine crisp layer and chill for a few hours
- After all these elements are chilled, trim the creme brulee and praline crisp to be a little smaller than the mold so the will be surrounded by the mouse.
- Pipe a third of the mouse into the pan, lay down the creme brulee, pipe another third of the mouse, lay down the crisp, cover with the remaining mouse.
- The whole thing then goes into the freezer for at least 2 hours.
- Make the daquoise and let it cool, then trim it to just fit the mold.
- Make the chocolate ganache and let cool slightly so it won't melt the rest of the log.
- Remove frozen log from freezer, pipe on ganache and cover with daquoise. Return to freezer overnight.
- The next day prepare the icing, unmold the log, cover with the slightly cooled and setting icing and return the finish product to the freezer until ready to serve.

RECIPE by Flore of Florilège Gourmand

Element #1 Dacquoise Biscuit (Almond Cake)

Preparation time: 10 mn + 15 mn for baking

Equipment: 2 mixing bowls, hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment, spatula, baking pan such as a 10”x15” jelly-roll pan, parchment paper

Note: You can use the Dacquoise for the bottom of your Yule Log only, or as bottom and top layers, or if using a Yule log mold (half-pipe) to line your entire mold with the biscuit. Take care to spread the Dacquoise accordingly. Try to bake the Dacquoise the same day you assemble the log to keep it as moist as possible.

2.8 oz (3/4cup + 1Tbsp / 80g) almond meal
1.75 oz (1/2 cup / 50g) confectioner’s sugar
2Tbsp (15g) all-purpose flour
3.5oz (100g / ~100ml) about 3 medium egg whites
1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar

1. Finely mix the almond meal and the confectioner's sugar. (If you have a mixer, you can use it by pulsing the ingredients together for no longer than 30 seconds).
2. Sift the flour into the mix.
3. Beat the eggs whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until stiff.
4. Pour the almond meal mixture into the egg whites and blend delicately with a spatula.
5. Grease a piece of parchment paper and line your baking pan with it.
6. Spread the batter on a piece of parchment paper to an area slightly larger than your desired shape (circle, long strip etc...) and to a height of 1/3 inches (8mm).
7. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for approximately 15 minutes (depends on your oven), until golden.
8. Let cool and cut to the desired shape.

Element #2 Dark Chocolate Mousse

Preparation time: 20mn

Equipment: stand or hand mixer with whisk attachment, thermometer, double boiler or equivalent, spatula

Note: You will see that a Pate a Bombe is mentioned in this recipe. A Pate a Bombe is a term used for egg yolks beaten with a sugar syrup, then aerated. It is the base used for many mousse and buttercream recipes. It makes mousses and buttercreams more stable, particularly if they are to be frozen, so that they do not melt as quickly or collapse under the weight of heavier items such as the crème brulee insert.

2.5 sheets gelatin or 5g / 1 + 1/4 tsp powdered gelatin
1.5 oz (3 Tbsp / 40g) granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp (10g) glucose or thick corn syrup
0.5 oz (15g) water
50g egg yolks (about 3 medium)
6.2 oz (175g) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1.5 cups (350g) heavy cream (35% fat content)

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water. (If using powdered gelatin, follow the directions on the package.)
2. Make a Pate a Bombe: Beat the egg yolks until very light in colour (approximately 5 minutes until almost white).
2a. Cook the sugar, glucose syrup and water on medium heat for approximately 3 minutes (if you have a candy thermometer, the mixture should reach 244°F (118°C). If you do not have a candy thermometer, test the sugar temperature by dipping the tip of a knife into the syrup then into a bowl of ice water, if it forms a soft ball in the water then you have reached the correct temperature.
2b. Add the sugar syrup to the beaten yolks carefully by pouring it into the mixture in a thin stream while continuing to beat the yolks. You can do this by hand but it’s easier to do this with an electric mixer.
2c. Continue beating until cool (approximately 5 minutes). The batter should become thick and foamy.
3. In a double boiler or equivalent, heat 2 tablespoons (30g) of cream to boiling. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smooth.
4. Whip the remainder of the cream until stiff.
5. Pour the melted chocolate over the softened gelatin, mixing well. Let the gelatin and chocolate cool slightly and then stir in ½ cup (100g) of WHIPPED cream to temper. Add the Pate a Bombe.
6. Add in the rest of the WHIPPED cream (220g) mixing gently with a spatula.

Element #3 Dark Chocolate Ganache Insert

Preparation time: 10mn

Equipment: pan, whisk. If you have plunging mixer (a vertical hand mixer used to make soups and other liquids), it comes in handy.

Note: Because the ganache hardens as it cools, you should make it right before you intend to use it to facilitate piping it onto the log during assembly. Please be careful when caramelizing the sugar and then adding the cream. It may splatter and boil.

1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar
4.5oz (2/3 cup – 1 Tbsp/ 135g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
5 oz (135g) dark chocolate, finely chopped
3Tbsp + 1/2tsp (45g) unsalted butter softened

1. Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small saucepan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color (for most of you that means darker than last month’s challenge).
2. While the sugar is melting, heat the cream until boiling. Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil.
3. Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth.
4. Add the softened butter and whip hard and fast (if you have a plunging mixer use it). The chocolate should be smooth and shiny.

Element #4 Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert

Preparation time: 10 mn (+ optional 15mn if you make lace crepes)

Equipment: Small saucepan, baking sheet (if you make lace crepes).
Double boiler (or one small saucepan in another), wax paper, rolling pin (or I use an empty bottle of olive oil).

Note: Feuillete means layered (as in with leaves) so a Praline Feuillete is a Praline version of a delicate crisp. There are non-praline variations below. The crunch in this crisp comes from an ingredient which is called gavottes in French. Gavottes are lace-thin crepes. To our knowledge they are not available outside of France, so you have the option of making your own using the recipe below or you can simply substitute rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K for them. Special note: If you use one of the substitutes for the gavottes, you should halve the quantity stated, as in use 1oz of any of these cereals instead of 2.1oz.
If you want to make your own praline, please refer back to the Daring Baker Challenge Recipe from July 2008.

To make 2.1oz / 60g of gavottes (lace crepes - recipe by Ferich Mounia):
1/3 cup (80ml) whole milk
2/3 Tbsp (8g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup – 2tsp (35g) all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp / 0.5 oz (15g) beaten egg
1 tsp (3.5g) granulated sugar
½ tsp vegetable oil
1. Heat the milk and butter together until butter is completely melted. Remove from the heat.
2. Sift flour into milk-butter mixture while beating, add egg and granulated sugar. Make sure there are no lumps.
3. Grease a baking sheet and spread batter thinly over it.
4. Bake at 430°F (220°C) for a few minutes until the crepe is golden and crispy. Let cool.

Ingredients for the Praline Feuillete:
3.5 oz (100g) milk chocolate
1 2/3 Tbsp (25g) butter
2 Tbsp (1 oz / 30g) praline
2.1oz (60g) lace crepes(gavottes) or rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K

1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler.
2. Add the praline and the coarsely crushed lace crepes. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate.
3. Spread between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.

Element #5 Vanilla Crème Brulée Insert

Preparation time: 15mn + 1h infusing + 1h baking

Equipment: Small saucepan, mixing bowl, baking mold, wax paper

Note: The vanilla crème brulée can be flavored differently by simply replacing the vanilla with something else e.g. cardamom, lavender, etc...

1/2 cup (115g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
½ cup (115g) whole milk
4 medium-sized (72g) egg yolks
0.75 oz (2 Tbsp / 25g) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean - NOTE: I used almond extract instead of vanilla

1. Heat the milk, cream, and scraped vanilla bean to just boiling. Remove from the stove and let the vanilla infuse for about 1 hour.
2. Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks (but do not beat until white).
3. Pour the vanilla-infused milk over the sugar/yolk mixture. Mix well.
4. Wipe with a very wet cloth and then cover your baking mold (whatever shape is going to fit on the inside of your Yule log/cake) with parchment paper. Pour the cream into the mold and bake at 210°F (100°C) for about 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center.
Tartelette says: You can bake it without a water bath since it is going to go inside the log (the aesthetics of it won't matter as much since it will be covered with other things)....BUT I would recommend a water bath for the following reasons:
- you will get a much nicer mouth feel when it is done
- you will be able to control its baking point and desired consistency much better
- it bakes for such a long time that I fear it will get overdone without a water bath
Now...since it is baked in a pan and it is sometimes difficult to find another large pan to set it in for a water bath, even a small amount of water in your water bath will help the heat be distributed evenly in the baking process. Even as little as 1 inch will help.
5. Let cool and put in the freezer for at least 1 hour to firm up and facilitate the final assembly.

Element #6 Dark Chocolate Icing

Preparation time: 25 minutes (10mn if you don’t count softening the gelatin)

Equipment: Small bowl, small saucepan

Note: Because the icing gelifies quickly, you should make it at the last minute.
For other gelatin equivalencies or gelatin to agar-agar equivalencies, look at the notes for the mousse component.

4g / ½ Tbsp powdered gelatin or 2 sheets gelatin
¼ cup (60g) heavy cream (35 % fat content)
2.1 oz (5 Tbsp / 60g) granulated sugar
¼ cup (50g) water
1/3 cup (30g) unsweetened cocoa powder

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes.
2. Boil the rest of the ingredients and cook an additional 3 minutes after boiling.
3. Add gelatin to the chocolate mixture. Mix well.
4. Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to gelify), use immediately.

How To Assemble your French Yule Log

Depending on whether your mold is going to hold the assembly upside down until you unmold it or right side up, this order will be different.
You will want to tap your mold gently on the countertop after each time you pipe mousse in to get rid of any air bubbles.

1) Line your mold or pan, whatever its shape, with rhodoid (clear hard plastic, I usually use transparencies cut to the desired shape, it’s easier to find than cellulose acetate which is what rhodoid translates to in English) OR plastic film. Rhodoid will give you a smoother shape but you may have a hard time using it depending on the kind of mold you’re using.
2) Pipe one third of the Mousse component into the mold.
3) Take the Creme Brulee Insert out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse. Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse.
4) Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.
5) Cut the Praline/Crisp Insert to a size slightly smaller than your mold so that it can be surrounded by mousse. Lay it on top of the mousse you just piped into the mold.
6) Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.
7) Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.
8) Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight edge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.
9) Close with the Dacquoise.
Freeze until the next day.

If you are doing the assembly UPSIDE DOWN with ONE piece of Dacquoise on the BOTTOM ONLY the order is:
1) Mousse
2) Creme Brulee Insert
3) Mousse
4) Praline/Crisp Insert
5) Mousse
6) Ganache Insert
7) Dacquoise

Unmold the cake/log/whatever and set on a wire rack over a shallow pan.
Cover the cake with the icing.
Let set. Return to the freezer.
You may decorate your cake however you wish. The decorations can be set in the icing after it sets but before you return the cake to the freezer or you may attach them on top using extra ganache or leftover mousse, etc...
Transfer to the refrigerator no longer than ½ hour before serving as it may start to melt quickly depending on the elements you chose.

It seems like a lot, and it is, but it is still totally doable. And the end product is really good. This is one of those dishes that is worth the effort and I will be repeating.

I made the dessert for our annual Winter Solstice party with friends and family and brought it to share with the crowd. It was a pleasure to share, but a little sad to see it all go. I've promised R that I will make it again for her birthday. I also brought over some bread to the party, not a big deal, but I saw a new technique on the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day blog and tried it out.

Nothing new with the bread itself, just a new presentation technique which was a big hit and I will definitely repeat. It was a sort of holiday wreath. Basically a pain d'epi but rounded as a wreath instead of straight like a wheat stalk.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Earl Grey Tea Cookies

In a word, butter. It is all about the butter. Except for the part that is all about the tea. And lucky me, I have a great brother-in-law who sent me some fantastic Earl Grey tea from his favorite London tea-ery Fortnum & Mason. Knowing I had great tea, I went in search of a great tea recipe.

I am known to make a delicious Early Grey chocolate cake with Earl Grey infused whipped cream every now and again, but I was looking for something more delicate to show off the tea. I was sure I had found it when I came across this recipe from the Kitchn for Earl Grey Tea Cookies. As I read through the recipe they made a note that, "One would think that expensive loose leaf tea would be best in this recipe. But I've actually gotten the best flavor with tea from cheap bags that I've ripped open. I think the leaves are more fine and flaky." So in the end, I opted for the mid grade tea for the cookies and the new top shelf stuff for the tea itself, because Earl Grey tea cookies are in fact delicious when served with Earl Grey tea.

These cookies are an easy icebox cookie, meaning you mix up a quick dough (in the food processor), chill it (in the icebox/fridge), slice it, and bake it. I doubled the recipe so I could freeze half of it in case I ever need a quick and easy dessert or mid day nosh.

The whole house smells wonderful as these bake. The cookies have a solid hit of the tea aroma and taste and are buttery and delicious when warm out of the oven. The great thing about this type of cookie is that it is really an excuse to bake butter. Sure there is a touch of sugar and the tea, but then just enough flour to hold the butter together while it bakes. The end result is crispy on the edges, softer inside, and melty buttery yumminess.

They are easy and delicous. Make them right now. Why are you still reading? I just told you to bake right now!

Earl Grey Tea Cookies
makes 2 dozen - from theKitchn

1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon Earl Grey tea leaves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon water
1/2 cup unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 375°F. Pulse together all the dry ingredients in a food processor until the tea leaves are pulverized.

Add vanilla, water, and butter. Pulse together until a dough is formed. Form the dough into a log onto a piece of wax or parchment paper. Wrap the paper around and roll the log smooth. Freeze now, or chill for at least 30 minutes.

When chilled, slice the log into 1/3 inch thick pieces. Place on baking sheets and bake until the edges are just brown, about 12 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Vietnamese Noodle Soup - A Post Holiday-Binge Meal

After a Thanksgiving feast that included copious amounts of turkey, pies, sticky buns, dressing, breads, etc. etc. and the ensuing several nights of leftovers, we finally needed a break. We needed something fresh, alive, and vegetarian.

When we finally hit the leftovers wall, we switched it up and made a single bowl meal of Vietnamese noodle soup. This is my version of what can be an amazing meal at the right noodle shop. For ours, I first cooked up some rice noodles and then put them in an ice bath to stop the cooking and to keep them from sticking together too much.

Into the bowl with the noodles went some fried tofu that had marinated briefly in soy, brown sugar, cornstarch, and a bit of chili paste. One could use chicken, pork, or anything else as well. You could even shred up some of that leftover turkey, but we had had enough. We also added julienned carrots, thinly sliced celery, mung bean spouts, chopped green onion, thinly shredded cabbage, sliced red pepper, a couple of lime wedges, and a handful of chopped cilantro.

Once your bowl is filled with tofu and veggies, cover it all in hot broth. Since this is a simple soup, homemade broth works best. On the other hand, if you don't have any, don't fret too much, you'll be doctoring the soup up quite a bit at the dinner table.

This is the fun part. Now you get to flavor your soup with any combination of condiments that you like. I first squeeze out the lime wedges to give a good acidic kick. I also like to add a splash of soy sauce, some hoisin, sweet chili sauce, and a good dose of Sriracha chili sauce. One cannot have too much chili in their noodle soup. Keep doctoring until the broth reaches that perfect, spicy, sweet, hot spot that fills your belly with goodness (and clears the sinuses).

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Thanksgiving Baking Recap

I did a lot more baking than cooking this Thanksgiving. Although I love to cook, at get- togethers, it has become expected that I will bake. I certainly don't mind this, as I have grown to really enjoy baking over the last year.

Since R and I both have family in town, we often end up doing double duty on holidays. This year we had a Turkey Day brunch with R's family. Erica made a bunch of delicious savory food, so I went the other direction and made a huge pan full of brioche sticky buns. And, if I do say so myself, this was the best batch yet. I used the brioche dough from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and I promise you don't want to ask how much butter, eggs, and honey is in it.

You start by whipping together butter and brown sugar and spreading it along the bottom of the pan. For my double batch we filled up a 9x15 pyrex baking dish. Then spread a handful or two of pecan halves around. The dough gets rolled out and spread with a mix of whipped butter and brown sugar with cinnamon and chopped toasted pecans. Roll the dough up, chill for a bit, and then slice into rounds. Arrange the rounds into the pan so they are just touching and fill the pan up. You can let them rise and bake immediately, but I usually get to this point, cover in cling wrap and put them into the fridge overnight. That way you can do all the prep work in the evening (or after the kids go to bed) and bake first thing in the morning. I think the slow, cold ferment also gives the dough a nice character. They come out soft, warm, gooey, and amazing.

That evening we had dinner at my mom's house with about 14 others. Again, I was on baking duty. This time I wanted to bring bread and some sort of dessert. I ended up making a loaf of crusty artisan semolina bread and a batch of pull-apart buttermilk rolls. For dessert I put together a pinenut tart that has always been a favorite of ours but one that we haven't had in quite a while.

The semolina loaf was also ABi5MaD, and therefore quite easy but delicous. The rolls were a new recipe I found at one of my favorite sites, The Fresh Loaf. Luckily there were several comments after the original recipe post that talked about needing to add extra moisture to the dough to make it workable. I would have been concerned because I, too, ended up adding quite a bit more buttermilk before I could work the dough well. Still, the dough was quite tough, almost like a bagel dough, so I was worried that the rolls would be too dense or tough. All in all they went together very easily, baked up beautifully, and were soft and delicious. We will definitely be making these again; they're tasty and have a fun presentation.

Finally, for dessert, we had the Pignoli Nut Tart that I have been making for years. It is wonderful to eat, and easy to make. It's a simple all butter pate sucree base, with an almond meal filling, baked half way, topped with pine nuts and then put bake in to finish baking. It is not too sweet, and great with a whipped cream and a drizzle of good honey.

It was a fun holiday spent with family, friends, and a lot of quality carbs.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Caramel Cake with Carmelized Butter Frosting

An indulgence best enjoyed with friends.

For those with a sweet tooth, you are in luck. I figured out that this is a very sweet cake by reading posts from other Daring Bakers who said that "this is a very sweet cake". This led to my decision to make mini cupcakes out of the cake instead so that one serving only supplied you with one day's sugar intake instead of a week's worth. I also thought they would be fun to bring to Cat and Heath's annual dessert party and the mini cupcakes would be easier to consume from a buffet.

This month's event was hosted by Dolores of Culinary Curiosity and co-hosted by Alex of Blondie and Brownie, Jenny of Foray into Food . The recipe chosen for the challenge is Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater, as published on Bay Area Bites.

I'll admit that I had a bit of trepidation after all the calls of "too sweet", but in the end, the frosting makes the cake. The cake itself is quite moist and delicious, but the brown butter frosting is insane. It is so good! I will definitely be making this again for cakes and cupcakes in the future. The smoky, earthy, salty nature of the frosting (I added a bit extra fleur de sel, which I think is key) was a wonderful counterpoint to the sweet cake (I also held back just a touch on the sugar in the cake and I think that worked well).

Although I had developed low expectations for this cake, it ended up being a true winner that everyone seemed to really enjoy.


10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter two 9-inch cake pans.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy. Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed.
3. Add vanilla extract and eggs a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.
4. Sift flour and baking powder. Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients.
5. Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes or till the sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cakes completely before icing it.


2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)

In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers.



12 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

1. Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Komisbrot - A Fruit Cake for the Rest of Us

This is a fruit cake for people who hate fruitcake.

I personally do not harbor the deep disdain for all things fruitcake as some do. What's not to like about bread, soaked in booze, studded with sickly sweet and freakishly colored "fruit"? As many of you may know, I have a perverse love of maraschino cherries, so it makes a bit of sense that I have indeed found a fruitcake every now and then that I can support.

Of course, the majority of fruitcakes out there are indeed cloyingly sweet, oddly alcoholic tasting bricks. This Komisbrot recipe is nothing of the sort. It is autumnal, light, airy, well balanced and a new favorite in our household. This apparently is a Serbian cake-bread that is unrelated to the German rye bread Kommisbrot. It's also the perfect thing to make to use up any extra egg whites. The recipe is taken from Palachinka, which is worth a browse for some beautiful food.

All of the measurements are based on the volume of 5 egg whites (for one loaf) and is reminiscent of pound cake in its construction style - 1 portion egg whites to 1 portion flour, 1 portion sugar, 1 portion chopped dried fruits and nuts and 1/5 portion oil.

I've used dried apricots, cranberries, raisins, and toasted walnuts, but any combo will work.

Whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt. The longer you whip the egg whites, the airier the bread will be. I have found that I prefer not to overdo it. A bit of density in the final product is nice.

Slowly mix the sugar into the egg whites until well combined. Gradually mix in the sifted flour with a spoon or spatula and then the fruit and nuts (I toss the chopped fruits and nuts with a tablespoon or two of the flour to help keep them suspended in the cake instead of sinking to the bottom). Finally stir in the oil.

The whole thing can go into a greased loaf pan and then into a preheated oven at around 350 degrees (a little higher works too).

Cook until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes, but check a bit earlier just to be safe.

It's a great cake with tea in the morning or for an afternoon snack.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tarte aux Pommes - and Good Friends

I was quite excited when our good friends invited us to join them and some others for a harvesty style potluck dinner. The weather has been cooling down and nothing ushers in autumn and winter better than a great seasonal meal with friends. They served individual roasted mini pumpkins filled with chicken and Jarlsberg and a very lemony buerre blanc. Our other good friend, and great cook, Cat brought a roasted pork loin, so R and I knew we wanted to bring some sides and a dessert. In addition to a large loaf of fresh bread I made, R made her famous cranberry sauce and I made this apple tart. Other friends brought salads, a baked brie, and other delights...all in all a great meal and a great evening.

The tart was very easy, delicious, and I thought it looked great. I got the recipe from The Kitchn - the food blog arm of the Apartment Therapy empire I love.

I made a cross between Martha's pate brisee and pate sucree recipe for the crust -I always make a double batch and freeze half to use later. The only real effort is in slicing the apples, and even that doesn't take too long. A portion just gets chopped and cooked down, and some are sliced thin to decorate the top. After the tarte is baked you can brush it with an apricot glaze to shine it up. I used a quince glaze since that is what I had in the house and I thought it would be nice with the apples anyway.

This is definitely worth making when you want a nice fall tarte that looks good on the table, tastes good, is not too sweet, or merely because you want an excuse to make whipped cream.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Homemade Pasta - A Pathetic Attempt at Parpadelle

For about 10 years I was a vegetarian. However, since I have never liked mushrooms, eggplant, or avocado (aka the holy trinity of vegetarianism) I often referred to myself as a carbohydratarian (which naturally preceeded the creation of this blog--carb loading without remorse). Although I now eat meat again (in limited quantity), I have also expanded my cooking/baking of carbs - hence the bread blog. Most of my time spent with dough is of the yeasted kind. For the amount of pasta we consume, before this week I'd never actually made my own. So I thought I would give it a shot. Let's just say that we need some more work.

I made a basic dough; flour, semolina, salt, olive oil, and eggs, and I cranked it through my atlas pasta machine that has been languishing in the bottom of the cupboard (even through two moves). I blame the machine for most of my frustrations. Because our counter has a deep bull nose lip and a wood molding, the machine wouldn't latch onto the edge of the counter. I was forced to clamp it to a wooden cutting board that was cantilevered off the counter at a precarious angle and was prone to sliding all over the place. This of course made it more difficult to handle the dough as it was rolled through progressively smaller passes. I also blame myself for thinking I need to work hard at keeping really long strips of dough intact. Add to that the fact that I probably should have stopped at one notch before the smallest setting, and I ended up with 10 foot long strips of translucent dough that was difficult and delicate to handle for a novice. I also didn't flour it well enough or let it dry long enough before cutting, so all of my thin layers of pasta fused together and were difficult to separate when dumping into the boiling water.

Lessons learned (assisted by a random catching of Molto Mario - on a channel that Dish is giving us free this month - where Mario Batali made homemade pasta. He used more flour, rolled not as thin, and when the sheets of pasta got too long, he just cut them into more manageable pieces, because seriously, does anyone want a 12 foot long piece of spaghetti?) I certainly plan to give this another go when I have enough time to wrangle the pasta-machine-on-cutting-board setup.

In an attempt to highlight the pasta itself, I made a simple sauce: saute thinly cut onion (or shallot) and garlic in butter and olive oil, add frozen or fresh peas, cook through, add a handful of fresh basil, toss gently with pasta and cover with parmesan/pecorino. If it's too dry you can add a bit of reserved pasta water.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Cool Weather = Warm Bread

Now that the weather has finally started to cool off, I haven't been afraid to heat the oven up. While I haven't branched out into anything new and exciting, we have been enjoying some of our favorites. I've been trying to keep a batch of 5 minute a Day dough in the fridge so we have bread or pizza whenever we want. The go-to bread dough lately has been 6 cups unbleached AP flour and 1/2 cup dark rye flour per batch. We'll get three or four small loaves, or two larger boules out of this. This is also enough for a loaf or two of bread and several small pizzas. Just for fun I've thrown in a few pics of our current favorite bread (and one semolina boule), proofed in the brotform.

I've been enjoying venturing into new bread territory, but I still can't recommend Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day more highly. Especially for anyone out there who has been intimidated by yeast breads in the past, it really is so easy. Just pick up the book and a baking stone and you're in business.

HARPER and JACK <-- Harper was sitting on my lap as I typed and wanted me to type this for her.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pizza Party with the Daring Bakers

This month's Daring Baker challenge (hosted by Rosa's Yummy Yums) was, again, a recipe I've been wanting to make but I had just never gotten around to. It's amazing how almost every month when I see the new challenge I find myself saying "oh cool, I've been wanting to try that!"

I have certainly made pizza before, but we often just use whatever bread dough we have in the fridge when we are in the habit of keeping Artisan Bread in 5...dough around. We have become particularly fond of the semolina dough as a great pizza base. We've made them in the oven on the stone, grilled them directly on the grill, and grilled them on the stone as well.

This time, we were excited to try a real pizza dough recipe, from Peter Reinhart's classic The Bread Baker's Apprentice, which I happen to have. Thus far, I have only managed to make bagels from the book, and that was only after finding the recipe somewhere online first. So I've now tried two recipes from the book and I have to admit, not my favorite so far. I am certainly planning on working with some of the other more traditional breads in the book and I will even try this pizza dough recipe again because most of the other DBers seemed to really like it. But we were largely disappointed with the taste, and the texture was only okay. The dough was fun to work with, supple and soft, and part of the DB challenge was that we had to attempt tossing the dough. I ended up doing only mini tosses because the soft dough stretched out so quickly.

In honor of the challenge I made my own mozzarella for the pizzas. I also put together a batch of pesto with some basil from the yard. To end the evening, I also put together a small dessert pizza. This one ended up being our favorite. I dotted the dough with butter and cream cheese and covered it with cinnamon spiced apples and sliced almonds. It was just sweet enough, rich and had a nice thin, crispy crust.

I definitely recommend making your own pizza: it is relatively easy and almost always better than the alternative. And most importantly, it is always fun to come up with your own toppings.

Original recipe taken from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart.

Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter).

4 1/2 Cups (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) Unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant yeast
1/4 Cup (2 ounces/60g) Olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it’s better with)
1 3/4 Cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) Water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 Tb sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting


1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.
The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.

3. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.

NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.


8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C).

NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time.
During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping.
In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again.
You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.

11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter - for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

13. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for abour 5-8 minutes.

NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For an even baking, rotate 180°.

If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pane to a lower shelf before the next round. On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly.

14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Homemade Mozzarella

I don't drink a lot of milk, due in large part to a lapse in consumption when I was about 9. Prior to that, I could down a few glasses of cold, nonfat milk like it was going out of style. But I was also sick a lot as a kid. One summer, my mom took me to the regional hospital for several tests to see if we could figure things out. One thing the various doctors tried was to take me off milk for six months, thinking I may be allergic to dairy products. They eventually decided that the dairy was not to blame and said I could start drinking milk again. We went straight to a Mexican restaurant that evening, and I ordered cheese enchiladas and a large milk. Talk about getting sick! Needless to say, I never became a milk fan again.

R and I do drink soy milk, and we keep organic milk in the house for the kids, which is running $3.75+ a half gallon. So when everyone remarks about the astronomical rise in grocery costs, I'm nodding my head in agreement. And it seems the big ticket items on our grocery receipts are always cheese and milk, often totaling about $15 of our weekly $45-50 bill. Luckily, when I checked the recipe for making cheese, it specifically warned that the process would not work with "ultra pasteurized" milk, like our organic stuff. Who knew regular milk was so cheap? A gallon of good ol' fashioned milk is about $2.70. So I picked up a gallon of the cheap, pasteurized, non-organic milk and we were ready to rock.

I don't think I did everything exactly right, because my curds never set up well, but the end result was good. I am going to keep working at it, and make some ricotta as well (I've a hankering for ricotta gnocchi) so I'll keep you updated.

The process is pretty easy.

Add citric acid to milk, heat the milk to 90 degrees.

Add vegetable rennet, stir, and let sit on low, or off the heat for about 5 minutes. After the curds have separated and set at the top, cut through them with a knife, and spoon the curds out of the whey with a slotted spoon into a microwaveable bowl.

Drain off any excess whey and microwave for 30 seconds.

Drain whey and knead until the cheese cools. Heat again, drain, and knead.

Once it reaches about 135 degrees, it's ready to knead on the counter. Pull it and knead it like it's taffy. Finally, stretch it out and knead it into a tight, shiny ball, and plunge it into an ice bath until it cools. It's ready to use once it's cool, or you can wrap the cheese in plastic and keep it in the fridge.

You can use the leftover whey to make ricotta, which I attempted to do, but you are supposed to not handle the whey too much, and I had already drained and strained the heck out of it because my curds had not set well enough to spoon out of the pot completely. The ricotta attempt failed, but I think next time, I'll add a touch more rennett and leave on the heat for a bit longer than 5 minutes after the curds begin to set. Trial and error.

I got all my supplies for the 30 minute Mozzarella Kit as a gift from my wife for my 30th birthday earlier this year (but she got it at ). I'm planning to master the mozarella and ricotta, and then maybe we'll branch into a hard cheese for fun.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Best Pastry Assistant Ever - and Really Good Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have been having fun with two things in the kitchen lately 1. experimenting with great chocolate chip cookie recipes, and 2. having H want to help cook. Almost every day when I get home from work, H will tell me, "I'm going to get my apron and help you cook, Dada!" She'll put her apron on, I'll set her on the counter and she'll "help" me cook. It has been a lot of fun for us. Plus, there's the added bonus of H learning more and more about food and cooking. She has always had a great palate - last week, I gave her some Pecorino on her pasta and she told me, "Dada, this tastes like goat cheese." Technically it's sheep's milk, but she knew it wasn't cow's milk cheese. And as young as nine months she used to eat pasta with pesto, sausage, and feta that we put through the food mill.

So it came as no surprise that she would easily jump into some Chocolate Chip Cookie adventures. I have of course read all about the CCC recipe from the NY Times that everyone is blogging about. I will get around to that eventually, but it requires resting the dough for up to 36 hours, and I just didn't have that kind of time: our friends had just had their baby girl and we wanted to bring these cookies over as a fun welcome later that day. So I scoured some of my favorite blogs and found a reference on David Lebovitz's blog to a post on 101 Cookbooks where Heidi made David's cookies (recipe). So I gave David Lebovitz's cookies a try, omitting the walnuts this time (because I really have to be in the mood for walnuts, and I didn't have any in the house).

The recipe is quick and easy, and fantastic. We have made them several times already and everyone has really enjoyed them. They are very chocolatey (I recommend using a good quality dark chocolate chip) and will probably be even better with the walnuts which we'll include next time. They are bordering on too chocolatey for R and I think the walnuts will be a great balance.

H and I will tackle the NY Times recipe next and we'll post our comparison. In the meantime, I'm going to keep enjoying the fact that H wants to cook with her Dada.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bad Daring Baker, Good Lavash Cracker

Imagine my surprise this morning when I checked my google reader list to see all of my favorite daring bakers had updated their blogs with a new Daring Baker Challenge post. Oh yeah, today's the 27th, posting day.

After bring H back from ballet, I set to work putting together this month's challenge. The challenge was hosted by Natalie from Gluten A Go Go, and co-host Shel, of Musings From the Fishbowl and was for a vegan and/or gluten free recipe. They provided both a "regular" and gluten-free version of the lavash cracker recipe and also requested that the accompanying dip be vegan and gluten free.

Luckily for me this month, crackers are not nearly as involved as past challenges. I was able to get this done while the kids napped and still get posted today.

I opted for the with-gluten recipe since I had the ingredients in the house, and I made a vegan dip of chopped/pureed curried vegetables in a wonderfully fruity Israeli olive oil. The crackers are easy and delicious, and if you put the thought into it ahead of time, there is not real reason to go out and buy crackers ever again. The dough of course can be flavored with anything (sundried tomato, cumin, cinnamon and sugar, etc.). I kept it simple this time (given the time crunch) and simple rolled some poppy and sesame seeds and some gray sea salt into the dough right before it went into the oven.

Lavosh Crackers

Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers

1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread flour or gluten free flour blend (If you use a blend without xanthan gum, add 1 tsp xanthan or guar gum to the recipe)
1/2 tsp (.13 oz) salt
1/2 tsp (.055 oz) instant yeast
1 Tb (.75 oz) agave syrup or sugar
1 Tb (.5 oz) vegetable oil
1/3 to 1/2 cup + 2 Tb (3 to 4 oz) water, at room temperature
Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings

1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, agave, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. You may not need the full 1/2 cup + 2 Tb of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.

2. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should pass the windowpane test (see … ong-Enough for a discription of this) and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

2. For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), and slightly tacky. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

3. Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).

4. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax. At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment. If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors.

4. For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Lay out two sheets of parchment paper. Divide the cracker dough in half and then sandwich the dough between the two sheets of parchment. Roll out the dough until it is a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. Slowly peel away the top layer of parchment paper. Then set the bottom layer of parchment paper with the cracker dough on it onto a baking sheet.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.) Be careful with spices and salt - a little goes a long way. If you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking. If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.

6. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).

7. When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Israeli Chicken and Cous Cous

This is a dish from my childhood. My mom would make a similar version with a whole roasted chicken. I have adapted the recipe to be made more quickly with boneless skinless chicken breasts. It is a wonderful mix of sweet orange and caramelized onions, salty olives, and aromatic thyme that soaks into the moist chicken. It is great served on a bed of cous cous with a fresh, vibrant salad (ideally with a citrus vinaigrette and feta).

Israeli Chicken

Adapted and used with permission from mom.
Serves 6 or four with a few leftover portions for lunch tomorrow.

3 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
herb and flour mix to dredge chicken in (flour, thyme, oregano, garlic powder etc.)

1-2 large yellow onions sliced into thin half moons
olive oil
1 cup sliced green olives
1 cup sliced black olives (kalamata or even plain black)
1 Tbs brown sugar
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp paprika
6-8 oz OJ concentrate
salt and pepper

Set oven to 200 deg. F

Heat olive oil and butter in a large saute pan. Dredge chicken in flour mixture and add to hot pan. Sear chicken on both sides and then place on a cookie sheet in the oven to stay warm.

Add onions to pan without cleaning it first. If there is not enough fat, add a touch more butter. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Saute onions over medium heat until starting to caramelize. Add sugar, and most of green and black olives (reserving 1/4 C. total to add in the final minutes), thyme, paprika, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate. Add OJ and 8 oz. water. Cook with the cover on, but slightly ajar for 15-20 minutes. Add chicken to the sauce mixture and cook with lid on until the chicken is cooked through. Remove lid, add remaining olives, taste for salt and pepper and cook for several minutes so sauce thickens.

Serve over a bed of cous cous.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Refreshing Watermelon Cocktail

What to do when you have a bumper crop of watermelons in the yard? Make a mint simple syrup, juice the melon and mix it with a splash of vodka topped with sparkling water. But why stop there?

Somehow I failed to get a photo of the Watermelon Granita-Tinis we also made. Take the watermelon/mint mixture and put it in the ice cream maker. When it is granita/slurpee consistency, drop a spoonful into a chilled martini glass and top with ice cold vodka - we like the Tino's Handmade vodka from Trader Joe's. The fresh watermelon juice was also really good with a splash of champagne. A delightfully refreshing cocktail as summer (hopefully, please, someday) draws to a close.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Throwdown :: Challah

Before I give away the results, let me just say that the first official Throwdown:: was a blast. I of course enjoyed the baking, but I especially enjoyed the friendly competition with my good friend Cat and the competitive judging/eating/excuse to get together with friends. I can be a bit on the competitive side, so I am often cautious about competing in events if I don’t think I have a very good chance of winning. I know that’s ridiculous, but it is the truth. It is even the case when I am “competing” against myself – as in trying a new, complicated recipe. I have been known not to try if I feared “defeat”. (This is why Daring Bakers is good for me – forces me, with the threat of public shame to attempt new things that I certainly would not try on my own.)

That said, I had no real fear of losing to Cat – no, not because I thought I was totally going to win – but because I know Cat is a great baker and a wonderful person, so who could be upset losing to those qualifications? Now, that being said (here comes that obnoxious competitive side) let me note that I was in fact the only Jew present at this competition that was, afterall, about Challah-- you know, that traditional braided bread served at Jewish holidays and on the Sabbath?

All hedging aside, and without further ado…I got trounced. The Earhearts, Heath, and my very own wife, all voted for Cat’s Challah - which was quite delicious. Congratulations Cat on a complete domination of what will hopefully be the first of many Throwdowns:: !

When we compared recipes a few things stood out. Her recipe uses butter instead of oil (which of course tastes better, but doesn’t work if you’re having a fleishig meal), and had several more eggs and more sugar (I actually used honey). The increased eggyness and sweetness gave the finished product a very Brioche texture and taste. And who can complain about, or for that matter, vote against, Brioche? I might argue that my bread was a more classical Challah, but there is no way to argue with the fact that Cat easily won this taste test.

After all that, I imagine you would prefer that I list Cat’s recipe instead of mine (she used the recipe from William Sonoma’s Essentials of Baking ), but I'm including the recipe I used as what I still believe is a great recipe for a traditional Challah. The recipe is from the Moosewood series of cookbooks from the famous vegetarian restaurant by the same name in Ithaca, NY. This particular recipe came from Still Life with Menu and you can actually find the recipe by using Google’s book search, so I won’t reprint it here – but I do highly recommend purchasing the cookbook.

The recipe makes two substantial loaves of challah, and ends up incorporating nearly 9 cups of AP flour. Needless to say, this should be kneaded by hand, and not by the woefully inadequate (only for this recipe, I didn’t mean it, really, I love you) 5 quart KitchenAid stand mixer. However, although I fear defeat, I do occasionally like to live on the edge, so I tend to push the mixer's limits a bit. As you continually add flour, the dough starts to taunt the KitchenAid…

…until finally, the dough wins, and you are forced to finish kneading by hand. Something I actually quite enjoy doing, which then begs the question, why did I bother overfilling the stand mixer in the first place?

I have not perfected my braiding skills yet, so I continue to experiment with different techniques. I read somewhere about starting from the middle and braiding out to the two sides in order to get a more uniform shape, but I ended up with an odd, stretched band across the middle. The other loaf was just a little sloppy on my part – too much handling while trying to move from counter to baking sheet, then deciding it should go on a different baking sheet, etc.

My guess, is that the softer texture of Cat’s loaf (on the right) allowed for a little more sideways slide while it baked. Regardless, this here was one fine night of carb loading deliciousness.

We did our best to keep the taste test blind. Torn up, the breads looked enough alike that we were able to plate them on different colored dishes and then have each person taste them side by side.

We did two rounds, and a few voters changed votes in between rounds, but when the vote was made, I was a 4-0 loser. In the end, I had fun baking, I had fun hanging out with friends, and I am looking forward to our next challenge, Throwdown::Chocolate Cake, also with Cat…stay tuned!