Monday, July 27, 2009

It's About Time - Back to Daring Bakers

This summer has been crazy! Weddings, baby showers, new family members, crazy hot, a new swing set for the kids, did I mention - crazy hot? So busy in fact, that I missed last month's Daring Bakers' challenge.

I almost missed this month's challenge too. I finally made it at about 9 pm on reveal day (that would be tonight). Part of the reason for late night baking is that my son is going through a tough time in terms of what he can eat and is on a pretty restrictive diet. It seems to be helping, but I'll admit it's not a ton of fun: no dairy, no sugar, and no yeast. Yikes! That's rough in our house, but worth it to see him doing better. So I bake my creamy, sugary Daring Baker challenges (aka poison to my son) at night so as not to hurt his feelings by refusing to let him lick the bowl.

The July Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

Unfortunately I did not have time to get to the marshmallow cookies, but mark my word, I will blog those in the future. Homemade marshmallow has been on my To Bake list for a very long time.

The Milan Cookies come together very quickly, although as of this post, my chocolate has still not firmed up as much as I would like. I'm hoping as they sit, it will. Also, these cookies are definitely different than the Milano cookies you may be expecting. To my taste, these were a bit too egg-whitey. That may just have been my rushing through the recipe and the heat in my kitchen. (Did I mention it's always hot here?) but they weren't quite what I was hoping for.

The crushed, roasted and salted pistachios definitely make the cookies something special. The salty crunch they add is key.

Milan Cookies
Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network.

Prep Time: 20 min
Inactive Prep Time: 0 min
Cook Time: 1 hr 0 min
Serves: about 3 dozen cookies
• 12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter, softened
• 2 1/2 cups (312.5 grams/ 11.02 oz) powdered sugar
• 7/8 cup egg whites (from about 6 eggs)
• 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
• 2 tablespoons lemon extract
• 1 1/2 cups (187.5grams/ 6.61 oz) all purpose flour
• Cookie filling, recipe follows
Cookie filling:
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
• 1 orange, zested

1. In a mixer with paddle attachment cream the butter and the sugar.
2. Add the egg whites gradually and then mix in the vanilla and lemon extracts.
3. Add the flour and mix until just well mixed.
4. With a small (1/4-inch) plain tip, pipe 1-inch sections of batter onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, spacing them 2 inches apart as they spread.
5. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until light golden brown around the edges. Let cool on the pan.
6. While waiting for the cookies to cool, in a small saucepan over medium flame, scald cream.
7. Pour hot cream over chocolate in a bowl, whisk to melt chocolate, add zest and blend well.
8. Set aside to cool (the mixture will thicken as it cools).
9. Spread a thin amount of the filling onto the flat side of a cookie while the filling is still soft and press the flat side of a second cookie on top.
10. Repeat with the remainder of the cookies.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Sourdough Success!

I finally made the move into sourdough. I wanted to start as naturally as possible, so my culture was developed from only flour and water and the natural yeasties in the air. I developed the culture/starter using the method Susan at Wild Yeast has shared and in fact used her bread recipe as the first one to try. I started the culture last week, and fed it diligently twice a day until it was doubling in 4 hours or less. I then lowered the amount of culture used in each feeding and it still doubled in 4 hours, so I felt it was safe to give it a go.

The dough felt a little different while working with it, and I will admit that at times I didn't think it was rising enough. I was worried that I had what looked like at active starter but would end up with hockey puck bread anyway. Lo and behold, the oven spring on this bread was fantastic! I forgot to turn the heat down after putting the loaves in the oven, so they got pretty dark, but the taste was still wonderful. Pleasant crumb structure, slight sour tang. Overall, a success.

Next time I will leave the loaves in the oven with the door cracked open like Susan suggests. This time I felt I had to get them out since they were getting so dark. Plus, it's tough to leave the oven open and on when it's 101 degrees outside. I also think they would benefit from spending the night in the fridge after being shaped and before baking. This will bring out a little more of the sour flavor. The sourness should also increase as my starter ages.

It was a fun process and much less intimidating than I thought it would be. I had read a lot about the process from all the great bakers who contribute to The Fresh Loaf and may have information overloaded a bit. In the end, I just sort of fed it as regularly as possible, tried to keep it going, and built it up to the amount I needed for the first bake. I think the culture and starter are actually quite forgiving.

I am looking forward to trying the whole new world of recipes that are opened up to me now that I have an active and viable starter. In addition to all the loaves of bread, we'll be trying sourdough pancakes, sourdough english muffins.... Mmmmmmmm, carbs.