Saturday, December 31, 2011

From tragedy to triumph

Or from cake disaster to delicious dessert, at any rate: bombe cake to the rescue!

My baby sister's birthday is New Year's Eve. She loves chocolate, but we were going to celebrate her birthday in the evening, and frankly, too much chocolate in the evenings makes for a really impossible bedtime for us. When I saw this new recipe for a moist yellow cake (better than a box!) with a fudgy frosting from KAF, I thought it might be just the thing.

Late the night before our party, I baked up the cake. I followed the recipe exactly, but when I opened the oven, I saw this:

My cake had completely fallen in the center. I'd never seen anything like it; I'm not sure the picture does it justice, but the sides were a full 2" high and the center had sunk to maybe 1/2". There was no way frosting could salvage this cake. I was really bummed; I definitely didn't have time to make another cake. What to do?

Suddenly I was hit with inspiration: what if I tore the cake apart and used it to create something like the ultra-successful devil's food bombe I made this summer? I knew it would need a thicker frosting than the fudge frosting that was posted with the cake recipe, so I browsed around some more on KAF's website and found this one: super-simple chocolate frosting, supposedly quick and easy, and should be thick enough to hold the cake together. With my plan in mind, I went to sleep.

The next morning, I got to work. I sliced the cake into layers (because of the sunken middle, most were missing a center) and used pieces to fill up the bottom of a small mixing bowl. I spread some frosting (which really was quick and easy...and delicious!), then more cake, more frosting, more cake, and on, until I reached the top of the bowl. I was able to get two slices that were big enough for the top of the bowl and actually had centers, so they covered the top of the bowl. After several hours in the fridge, I slipped the cake from the bowl and used the rest of the frosting to cover the cake.

The kiddos were very excited to decorate Auntie R's birthday cake.

It was a huge hit, and no one knew that this cake was not what was intended (until I told them, of course). :)

Happy birthday, little sister!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Merry Christmas to me!

Baking with Julia and some new plates for blog pictures from my hubby.
A well-loved and well-used hand-me-down from my dad:
his copy of Modern French Culinary Art.
The rest is from my first-ever cooking store shopping spree,
also courtesy of my awesome hubby.

Monday, December 26, 2011

What to get for the lady who has everything

My stepmom is one of those people who is impossible to shop for. She spent many years as an independent career woman, and when she wants something, she gets it for herself. Christmas becomes something of a trial then, because she can't think of anything that she wants.....usually, I end up buying her some jammies.

This year, though, just before Christmas, KAF posted this blog post about Pecan and Salted Caramel Candies, and I was inspired. My stepmom loves turtles...whenever we're looking for a special little thank you candy treat, I always pick her up a little box. What about homemade turtles?!

Part of the fun for me is making things as homemade as possible, so while I used the KAF post for inspiration, I didn't really want to settle for using store-bought blocks of caramel or wafers of chocolate.

I've made caramel sauce before, but never caramel candies. After some research, I finally settled on this recipe from David Lebovitz for salted butter caramels. I followed his recipe exactly, except that I'd calibrated by thermometers just before and adjusted the temperatures accordingly. (I say thermometers because, while I have a candy thermometer, I don't really trust I use it to give me an approximate sense of where we are and then pull out my thermapen for exact readings as I get close.)

I found this recipe by Emeril for homemade turtles, so while I used a different recipe for the caramel, I used Emeril's for technique. I toasted pecans for 10 minutes in a 350º oven, stirring half-way through. Then I arranged them (I couldn't quite achieve Emeril's star-shaped pattern) into eight piles on a buttered jelly roll pan.

I poured the caramel into a loaf pan (an 8" instead of a 9") and let it cool for about 10 minutes. Then I used an oiled tablespoon to pour a tablespoon of caramel over each pecan stack. The caramel definitely stayed in place better after the 10 minute rest (the caramel I tried to pour immediately just ran all over).

While the caramel was hardening, I cut up a 4 ounce bar of chocolate (60%) and melted it. Once it had cooled to 80º, I used a spoon to pour it over the turtles. (I skipped the shortening that Emeril called for.) Not knowing how she'd feel about salted caramels, I sprinkled sea salt over half of the turtles and left the other half plain.

Because I only made eight, hubby and I didn't actually get to try any of the turtles. But, and I am not normally a caramel person, the buttered salted caramels were amazing...especially sprinkled with a little sea salt and dipped into some of the leftover chocolate!

Thursday, December 22, 2011


When hubby told me that his work holiday party was going to be on Wednesday, I was thrilled....for the first time ever, our schools actually had parties on the same day! AND we both signed up for dessert. That meant I could make one dessert, split it in two, and call it a day. Hurray!

I wanted a show-stopping recipe, so I put out a call to my Twitter baking buddies for suggestions...and then spent hours and hours on my computer reading all of their suggested recipes and all of the associated comments for each recipe.....What? Doesn't everyone do that?? :) That's why I love having online baking friends...they understand things like that when most of my real-life friends say, "Why don't you just run to the store and pick up a couple of boxes of cookies?!"

Nancy and Di both gave two-thumbs up to this recipe from Dorie Greenspan, and when I gave hubby a few choices, it was the one he picked: Black forest torte, called cherry fudge brownie torte by the Tuesdays with Dorie crew.

The recipe was a process, including lighting dried cherries on fire! It was my first time ever trying to flambé anything, and it was quite exciting. :)

I made a full recipe of the brownie cake, but divided it between two six-inch pans. Because I don't have any mini springforms, I just used my two six-inch cake pans. I tipped out the brownies from the pans, and once they were cool enough, hubby built me a couple of parchment collars and then came up with the brilliant idea of using binder clips to hold the parchment together after we'd tried and failed with every kind of tape in the house.

The marscapone-cream cheese mousse layer was pretty easy to make, and we dumped half on each brownie with its collar, threw them in the fridge, and went to bed.

The next morning, I attempted to pipe some leftover preserves onto the top of my cake. It didn't go very well, so I just sprinkled hubby's with cocoa. And then we brought them to work.

To say this recipe is a show-stopper is an understatement! I walked into the lounge at the end of the day to witness people picking at the plate and having "just one more tiny nibble." Apparently there were huge debates going on in first lunch about whether the torte was homemade (everyone voted that it was purchased at a it just me, or is that the greatest compliment ever?). Today, a coworker said, "It was just so mind-blowingly good!" Apparently hubby's coworkers were still talking about it today, too.

Oh, and we all loved it, too. I'm not usually a cherry fan, but I really liked the chocolate-cherry combination in this brownie, and the addition of the chunks of chocolate. It was so fudgy and dense and delicious. And the mousse layer was just divine...I could've eaten a bowl of it! :) Hubby's email, after he first took a taste, read, "OMG, sooooooooo ridiculously good!!!!!!!"

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Wordlessish Wednesday: Gift bags

Gift bags for preschool teachers and our co-workers.
Hot-chocolate-on-a-stick (to dissolve in milk or just eat plain):
idea, cocoa blocks, marshmallows, and
candy cane biscotti dipped in white and dark chocolate.
And many thanks to Di for gift bag inspiration. :)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Twitter avatar fun: Jamie Oliver and a recap

About a year ago, Nancy suggested that a bunch of us Twitter pals liven up our avatars by choosing a chef-of-the-month, cooking one of his or her recipes, and using a picture of the dish as our avatar for the month. I have had such great fun exploring many new-to-me chefs and trying out different styles of meals!

Our December chef was Jamie Oliver, and he was actually chosen by a group vote. Although I've heard a bunch about JO, I'd never actually tried one of his recipes. I spent a bunch of time browsing on his site, and actually enjoyed reading the articles as much as perusing the recipes. I love his commitment to teaching kids about nutrition and how to prepare their own healthy foods ~ especially as someone who witnesses the nutritional habits of teens on a daily basis!

Life has been a bit hectic these days, so (as seems to be usual for me), I choose a recipe for a good dinner rather than picking something that would make a good avatar picture. Ever the practical one, that's me! :) I picked Jamie's chicken tikka masala (recipe here). The dish took about an hour and a half to prepare (which includes a 30 minute marinade of the chicken) and smelled absolutely delicious. It made a nice dinner, but I have to say that we much prefer a similar recipe that I've been making for the past couple of years: chicken with curried tomato almond sauce (found on the Daring Cooks website). That recipe contains cinnamon and peas, both of which lend the dish just a hint of sweetness that was missing tonight. Still, we all enjoyed dinner and I look forward to trying more JO recipes!

And now, the recap:

January: Thomas Keller's caramel corn
February: James Beard's snickerdoodle pear cake (a quick and easy favorite!)
March: Emeril's cheese crackers
April: Jaques Pepin's ricotta dumplings
May: David Chang's steak lettuce wraps
June: Eric Reipert's shrimp and rice pilaf
July: Ina's barbecue sauce and mashed potatoes (a big hit, especially on bbq pizza!)
August: Rick Bayless' shredded chicken with potatoes and tomatoes (we loved it!)
September: Nigella's pumpkin seafood curry
October: Mark Bittman's banana chocoalte-chip pancakes (now in the dinner rotation!)
November: Ghillie Basan's veggie tagine
December: Jamie Oliver's tikka masala

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sour cream brownies (Modern Baker)

My bookclub enjoyed the brownies paired with homemade marshmallows.

My fourth Nick Malgieri brownie recipe is another from the cookies & bars section of The Modern Baker. This one is made with technique similar to the others (truffle, Florida, and cocoa nib), but includes the addition of sour cream and walnuts. I knew that most of the people I was baking for (my kiddos and my debaters) wouldn't eat the nut version, so I actually made the recipe walnut-free and then stirred walnuts into the batter in one corner of the pan.

For all of the other brownie recipes, the 30 minute cooking time seemed perfect (even when I only made a half-recipe in an 8x8 pan), but for this one, I wondered if they might have been slightly over-baked. The toothpick test came out mostly clean. Nevertheless, these were a big hit with the kids, hubby, friends, and students. The one brownie I sampled okay; these were definitely my least favorite of his brownies...not that that's saying much, since the rest are so out-of-this-world fantastic!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Homemade marshmallows

Homemade marshmallows have been on my to-do list for a long time. I've bookmarked several recipes: one from Deb at Smitten Kitchen, one from David Leibovitz, one from Alton Brown, and most recently, one from King Arthur Flour. Whenever I'm bored, I start reading the recipes and all of the comments and think, "I really have to try these soon!" And then I get too overwhelmed at the prospect of all that mess.

The AB and KAF ones simply use sugar, corn syrup, salt, cold water, and gelatine. The ones Deb and DL posted both use egg whites. All four have pretty terrific reviews. In the interest of ease (and because I was inspired to start the process when it was nearly bedtime), I decided to go the non-egg white route, although I ended up bouncing back and forth between the four sites, using tidbits of advice from each. I started the process at about 8:30 and the marshmallows were ready to dry in their pan by 9:15, so really, it was easier than I expected.

I started by pouring cold water over gelatine in my stand mixer bowl. Then I boiled sugar, corn syrup, salt, and water until the sugar dissolved, and left it to boil untouched until it reached 238º on my instant thermometer (I actually tested my thermometer for the first time, and learned that my water boils at 210º).

Then I started my mixer on low and slowly slowly slowly drizzled the hot sugar down the side of the bowl. I increased the mixer's speed to 8 and mixed until the marshmallow was lukewarm (about 8 minutes). Thanks to Deb's warning not to touch anything! I resisted the urge to scrape the bowl and, I believe, saved myself the headache of the marshmallows sticking to everything in sight.

Finally, I used an oil-coated rubber spatula to spread it into my prepared pan, a 9x13 pan coated with a little coconut oil and then dusted with a confectioner's sugar/cornstarch mixture. I sifted some more sugar/cornstarch over the top and left the pan to sit overnight.

Today, I pulled the marshmallow slab out of the pan and put it onto a cutting board, and then used oil-coated scissors to cut it into pieces. I tried using a mini-cookie cutter to make fun shapes, but it was way too sticky. So the kids each made heart-shaped marshmallow and then I went back to cutting with the scissors. After cutting, I threw the cubes into a bowl of confectioner's sugar, stirred them to coat, and then set them in a strainer to shake off the excess sugar.

I can't believe I waited so long! These were a huge hit with the kiddos and the hubby; I'm not a huge marshmallow fan like they are, but even I couldn't resist grabbing a fluffy bite every time I walked past the pan. Next up, the egg white version!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Three-way gingersnaps (Modern Baker)

Several of my Twitter pals were baking together from The Modern Baker this past weekend. I really wanted to join in and make the three-way gingersnaps, but a debate tournament and a family trip to the science museum ate up my weekend and left me with no time for baking.

But those gingersnaps were calling my name, so last night, I quickly whipped up a half-batch. These are called three-way gingersnaps because they're made with three different forms of ginger: ground ginger, fresh ginger root, and chopped crystallized ginger. (I didn't find fresh ginger root when we were grocery shopping this weekend, so I used bottled minced ginger from the fridge.)

The gingersnaps also have honey instead of the traditional molasses, so they were a little lighter in color.

These were absolutely delicious. In fact, the half-batch (about 3 1/2 trays of cookies) is just about gone. My dad, who loves gingersnaps, said they may have been the best he's ever eaten. I am positive we'll be making these again...maybe even within the week! :)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Semolina bread (Mellow Bakers)

Even after all of this time, sometimes the miracle of bread baking just gets me. Tonight, sitting at the dinner table, eating yummy winter veggie soup and pillowy fresh semolina bread, I kind of couldn't believe that the idea to have bread and soup for dinner hadn't occurred to me until 9 a.m. this morning!

When the dinner idea occurred to me, I searched my final five! remaining Mellow Bakers for a nice one-day recipe; there was one left: semolina (duram) bread. There was also an option with a whole-grain soaker, but the kids aren't been fans of seeds, so I went with the simpler version.

I made the sponge out of duram flour, bread flour, warm water, yeast, and sugar. I let it rise for a little over an hour, and then combined it with the rest of the duram flour, bread flour, water, and some salt and olive oil. The dough was given one fold half-way through the bulk fermentation. Inspired by the BBA pane siciliano, I shaped this into a long baguette and then curled it into an S.

We loved it! The bread was soft and pillowy with an excellent flavor; it paired beautifully with the soup.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Peppernuts! (cookie exchange)

I did try to get a picture without my little assistant's hand in it,
but it was impossible, so I gave up. :)

I've been enjoying all of the virtual meals and exchanges going on lately; the round-ups are an excellent source of new cooking/baking ideas! So when Di invited me to participate in this year's virtual cookie exchange, it was a no-brainer...the only problem was deciding what to bake.

My mother-in-law is the queen of Christmas cookie baking. When we used to spend Christmas with my in-laws in Montana (before having kids negated the idea of driving the treacherous mountain passes in the winter), hubby and I would trip over each other to be the first to get to the treat shelf. The treat shelf includes tins, baggies, and boxes of heath bars, cinnamon candy, crescent cookies, fudge, beef jerky, peppernuts, pizzelles, chocolate chip cookies, peanut blossoms, sugar cookies...all homemade.

Hubby's favorite cookies in the world are his mom's crescent cookies, so I thought briefly of making those. But he looks forward to that package more than anything each year, and somehow it seems wrong to make them here. :) So then I thought of one of my favorites: peppernuts. I'd never had peppernuts before meeting my in-laws, but I was immediately drawn to the crunchy, spicy little cookies. Hubby and I always took a big baggie of them with us on the drive home, and when the curvy roads would make me a little sick, they were the only thing I could eat. Did you know that ginger is a great remedy for an upset tummy?

My mother-in-law is one of those "by feel" bakers, telling me to add stuff until it looks a certain way or "to taste" (which was so hard for me before I became more confident in the kitchen!). I'm including weights and measures for what I used, but for the flour, you really have to just keep adding it until the batter is stiff enough to roll/shape into ropes. The only other change I made to the recipe was to use unsalted butter in place of shortening.

Anita's Peppernuts
makes about 560 bite-sized cookies

2 c (400g) sugar
1 c (226g) unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs (100g)
2/3 c (160g) sour cream
2/3 c (160g) brown sugar
2 tsp (10g) anise extract
1 1/2 tsp (4g) ground cloves
1 T (6g) ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp (3g) ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp (3g) ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground pepper
2 2/3+ c (335g - 600g) all-purpose flour

1. Preheat the oven to 400º.

2. Cream the sugar and butter in a mixer.

3. Add the eggs, sour cream, brown sugar, and extract, and mix to combine.

4. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and the spices.

5. Add the flour mix to the wet ingredients and stir to combine. You may need to adjust the flour to get a stiff dough. (My MIL's initial recipe called to start with 2 2/3 c flour, which weighed about 335g; I ended up using about 560g of flour, and my dough was still rather sticky.) Some recipes I saw called for chilling the dough before rolling it out. I tried it both ways (rolling right away and chilling for a while) and didn't notice a difference; then I chilled the dough overnight and they were much easier to roll the next day.

6. Take a small portion of dough and roll/pinch it into a rope about 1/2" thick. Using a knife or bench scraper, cut the rope into really small pieces (1/2" long). Fill up a baking pan; these don't rise, so feel free to stick them close together.

7. Bake the trays for 10-11 minutes or until cookies are lightly golden. (You have to experiment with the texture you like; 12 minutes will make a really crunchy cookie. Hubby and I both prefer them crunchy on the outside but a little soft on the inside, so 11 minutes was about perfect for us. The batch that chilled in the fridge overnight took closer to 13 minutes.)

8. Let cool for a couple of minutes on the tray, and then use a spatula to transfer them to a bowl.

These cookies will last for quite a while, stored in an airtight container. You can also freeze them.

Be sure to check out Di's site later this week for the round-up of all of the delicious cookies people baked!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Caramel crumb bars (Modern Baker)

I guess it says something that I'd already made three cookie/bar recipes from the Modern Baker Challenge by December 2nd, only two days into our first cookie month! There's just something about a good cookie recipe: quick and easy to whip up, fun to share, loved by everyone.

These caramel crumb bars were no exception, although this recipe does have a few more steps than your typical cookie or brownie recipe. Make a dough (softened butter, sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and flour), press it into a pan, and let it chill. Make the filling (butter, corn syrup, dark brown sugar, and sweetened condensed milk), and let it cool.

Then assemble: spread the filling over the dough, sprinkle with the crumb topping (just extra dough with a little bit of extra flour added until it makes a crumble) and bake. Being the confirmed chocoholic that I am, I prefer the brownie recipes, but these were a big hit with the family and my students.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Cocoa nib brownies (Modern Baker Challenge)

When I gave my copy of The Modern Baker to my hubby so he could choose my "official" blogging cookie for the cookie section of the Challenge, he immediately picked cocoa nib brownies. I didn't commit, though, because I had no idea where to get cocoa nibs.

One of the best parts of being a part of this blogging community, besides having other people who love to talk about food as much as me, is getting advice and ideas. Melanie mentioned that she saw cocoa nibs at Whole Foods, and even though we live in different parts of the country, I checked and sure enough, they had them! Lucky hubby. :)

The brownies are made with a similar method to the truffle brownies and Florida brownies from Bake!, both of which are now family favorites. The butter is melted until it sizzles, and then the chocolate is added and allowed to melt. Meanwhile, the brown sugar is mixed with the eggs, and then salt, sugar, and vanilla are added. The chocolate-butter mixture is stirred in with a spatula, and then the flour is folded in. Finally half of the cocoa nibs are added to the batter and the rest of them are sprinkled over the top.

As with the other brownie recipes, NM says to refrigerate them overnight before cutting them. He also warns that it may be hard to pull the foil off the brownies because they're so moist; he's not wrong about that! Of course, when little pieces broke off, we just had to sample them, even though they hadn't been cooled overnight. These are so good! NM says, "Nibs are unsweetened, so they have to be used somewhat sparingly to avoid imparting a bitter...flavor. They're the perfect counterpoint to this fudgy brownie recipe, adding a little texture and a bit of balance to the batter's natural sweetness." I couldn't agree more!

Because they're so rich, I cut them into little 1" squares. I brought some to school to share with some of my debaters who helped to give a grant presentation the other day. Hubby brought some in to share with his coworkers; when he turned around, the container was empty. I had a little container leftover, saved for my photos, and asked hubby for permission to bring them to share with my should've seen the look I got! He was not going to give any more away! :) By the way, these are great alone, but even more excellent with a little scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

Five-grain sourdough with rye sourdough (Mellow Bakers)

My final November Mellow Bakers bread is a five-grain sourdough made with a rye sourdough. At the same time that the sourdough is prepared, a soaker is also prepared: flaxseeds, rye flakes, sunflower seeds, oats, and salt are all soaked in water.

After an overnight rest, the sourdough and soaker are combined with high-gluten flour (I used bread flour and vital wheat gluten), instant yeast, honey, and water. My dough was quite wet and I was a little nervous, but after an hour's rise (with no folds), the dough was actually easy to shape. I made a 2 pound loaf for my oval banneton and then two 2-ounce dinner rolls (I'd made a half-recipe).

The kids didn't like the bread, which was no surprise; they don't like seeds in breads. I really love multigrains, but found the rye flavor a little too strong; it was okay, but not a favorite. Hubby really enjoyed the bread with soup, as eggs in a nest, and with Thanksgiving leftovers.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it!
And to everyone out there, I hope your day was filled with lots of love and good food.
Thanks for cooking and baking and talking about food with me! :)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Butterscotch chocolate chip cookies (Modern Baker)

Oh, you have no idea how excited I am to start this section! Cookies are technically supposed to be our last section of the Modern Baker Challenge, but knowing how many cookies people generally bake at this time of year, our brilliant leaders/members decided to flip-flop the final two sections. Looking at the list of possibilities, I positively could not commit to which recipes to pick; they all sound and look so good!

My first choice would probably have been these butterscotch chocolate chip cookies, but they'd already been taken.......But wait! Just because I'm not the official blogger doesn't mean I can't try them, right? Right! :)

I made these to bring to my debate class to thank them for their hard work hosting a middle school debate tournament last week.

I was surprised by the technique. You start by mixing softened butter, brown sugar, vanilla, and eggs in a stand mixer, just until blended. Usually you cream these ingredients for quite a while, but NM warns against over-mixing, so I really just mixed them until they all came together. Then you gently fold in the flour mixture (flour, salt, and baking soda) with a rubber spatula. I was worried that it wouldn't all come together; it just seemed impossible to get all of the flour incorporated. But with patience, it worked and I had smooth cookie dough with no extra flour. Then I folded in a lot of chocolate. NM calls for 6 ounces of chopped bittersweet chocolate and 6 ounces of chopped milk chocolate. I had a 4 ounce bar of bittersweet, so I used that. And then about 6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chunks. Even missing 2 ounces of chocolate, I felt like this batter was more chocolate than cookie.

The cookies are placed in teaspoon-sized rounds on the cookie sheets. NM says to cook two trays for 15 minutes, rotating the trays halfway. By 12 minutes, both of my trays were burned. I'm not sure if they were really supposed to be tablespoon-sized? Or if 15 minutes is just way too long? NM's baking times are usually pretty accurate for my oven. I experimented and ended up finding that 10 minutes, baking one tray at a time, seemed about perfect. I was able to get about two trays of good cookies. (I figured high schoolers would eat the burned ones anyway!) So be sure to watch these carefully!!

As for the flavor...they are definitely butterscotchy/toffee-y in flavor and texture and very chocolatey. These are quite different from our normal more traditional chocolate chip cookie recipe, and quite addictive. The containers of cookies (the "good" ones as well as the slightly-overdone ones) lasted all of about 30 seconds in class....and one of my kids asked me to make them again for Monday. :)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bake! Chocolate meringue tart

Gr. I purposefully left a mini tart so I could take a photo this afternoon.
And then forgot about it until it was dark again.
This only being home for one hour of daylight is killer on the food photography. 

This weekend's Bake! pick was Margaret's; she picked chocolate meringue tart (or chocolate marshmellow pie, as my kids called it).

This one should've been easy, except that my little guy who is usually asleep by 7:00 was up until 9:30 last night, which meant this was definitely a case of distracted baking.

For the tart crust, NM calls for flaky pastry crust. I had a tart crust in the freezer, just labeled "tart crust," so I'm not sure which recipe it was (or even from which book, Modern Baker or Bake!). Either way, I divided it in half, used half to make three 4" crusts, rolled them out (easily!), and put them in the fridge to chill. (I used the other half to make this apple tart that Nancy posted earlier today; perfect for a bit of left-over tart crust and a few leftover apples.)

Meanwhile, I made the chocolate cream (a half-batch, which filled the three mini tart crusts and a large-ish ramekin): whole milk, sugar, half-and-half, corn starch, eggs, and bittersweet chocolate. Margaret had a problem with her cream not setting up...mine went the other way. It was really close for a long time...and then something happened with the little guy and when I looked back, it was so thick I could barely stir it. I was worried that it would taste curdled or lumpy, but the texture was actually perfect.

I baked the mini tart crusts until they were golden. Unfortunately, I forgot to weigh them down with beans, so they shrunk up quite a bit in the oven. While the crusts and chocolate cream were cooling, I made the meringue.

This part did not go so well. I'm not sure what happened, as I've used NM's method of heating the egg whites, sugar, and salt, and then whipping them before with great success. But mine never thickened up (check out Margaret's for a look at how beautiful and full-bodied it should've been), and again I was dealing with the little-guy-who-wouldn't-sleep, so I just gave up and dumped it on top of the chocolate. I think because of the lack of fluffiness, my meringue took a lot longer to turn golden in the oven.

It didn't matter. Hubby gobbled his mini tart right up. He said that he's normally not crazy about meringue, but he loved the crust and the chocolate, and the meringue had a more marshmellowy texture that was actually quite yummy. So despite everything, a success!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mellow Bakers: Golden raisin and walnut bread (November)

Well, my first November bread for Mellow Bakers came with me to daycare and work; this one came with me to the grocery store. It was the only way we could fit in shopping and still get the bread shaped and baked in time. So there I was in the parking lot, oiling up my hands and preshaping...... What we do for our breads! :)

I made a third of this recipe, which was enough for one medium loaf. The bread was made with a stiff biga (bread flour, whole wheat flour, water, and instant yeast), more bread flour, more whole wheat flour, salt, water, instant yeast, and golden raisins and walnuts.

This challenge has definitely changed my family's opinion on breads with fruit and nuts in them. While we used to dislike every one, we've really enjoyed the last couple, and this one was no exception. The walnuts gave a great crunch and the flavor of the bread was really enhanced by the sweetness from the golden raisins. A tasty accompaniment to dinner!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Twitter avatar fun: Ghillie Başan's veggie tagine

Our November chef for our Twitter avatar fun was Ghillie Başan, chosen by Andrea. She is new to me; according to her website, "Ghillie Başan is known for her informative and evocative books on the culinary cultures of Turkey, the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia." Sounded good to me!

There aren't many of her recipes on the web, but I did find several that sounded intriguing on her site, including the recipe for tagine of yams, carrots, prunes, and honey, a recipe from her book Modern Moroccan.

The recipe calls for yams, but with how many squash we still have in our basement, I did a little checking to see if there were any squash that could be substituted for yams or sweet potatoes. And I found one: delicata, which is even called "sweet potato squash." The recipe called for pearl onions, but I had a leek and some yellow onions in the veggie drawer, so I used them. The final substitution that I made was the stock; this is vegetarian dish which calls for vegetable stock, but I was all out, so I just used low-sodium chicken stock.

And the result? We really enjoyed this side-dish! The veggies are slightly caramelized and quite sweet. It was delicious with a roasted chicken, my most recent Mellow Bakers bread, and fruit.

Tagine of delicata, carrots, prunes and honey
adapted from Ghillie Başan

3 T olive oil
1 T butter
2 c sliced onions (GB calls for pearl onions, but I used a combination of leeks and yellow onions)
3 c peeled and cubed (bite-sized) delicata (GB calls for 2 lbs yams or sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces)
1 1/2 c cubed (bite-sized) carrots
3 T honey
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
5 oz soft, pitted prunes, cut in half
16 oz low-sodium chicken stock (GB calls for vegetable stock)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
chopped cilantro

1. Preheat the oven to 400º.
2. In a large dutch oven, heat the olive oil and butter. Add the onions and cook over medium heat until tender, about 3 - 4 minutes. Remove half of the onions and set aside.
3. Add the delicata and carrots to the pan, increase the heat to medium-high and cook until lightly browned, about 6 - 8 minutes.
4. Add the prunes, spices, and honey. Stir. Then pour in the stock, salt, and pepper. Stir and cover.
5. Put into the oven and cook for 45 minutes. Add the rest of the onions and cook an additional 10 minutes.
6. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ceremonial mask bread (Mellow Bakers: fougasse with olives)

Hubby thought it looked like a ceremonial mask
My first November Mellow Bakers bread is an olive fougasse. I made half a recipe, which made one loaf, and I could've easily made the whole thing as the entire loaf was demolished in no time.

This bread got squished into life; it's the first time I've ever taken a bread-in-progress with me to work. :) I made the paté fermentée at dinner time and mixed the dough together the next morning before work. (Luckily it was fast to knead the bread flour, whole wheat flour, water, salt, instant yeast, olive oil, paté fermentée, and olives, as hubby was shooting me dirty looks because I was making us late!!) Carrying my little measuring cup of dough, I brought it to daycare drop-off and then to work. Right before the students arrived, I scrubbed my hands, did a quick stretch-and-fold, and threw my dough into the fridge. At the end of the day, I pulled the dough and let it come to room temperature during our faculty meeting. I preshaped the dough into a round while I was picking up the kiddos from daycare, and then we headed home. There I rolled out the dough, let it rise while I made the night's soup, and then baked it up. It was finished in 20 minutes and ready to eat five minutes after that.
As I said, a big hit with the fam, and while scheduling was interesting, it wasn't too challenging to make for a quick bread and soup dinner.

Fougasse with green olives

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Thanksgiving dinner: Butternut squash bisque

I love Thanksgiving dinner. No, I mean I really love it. It has always been my favorite meal of the year, and I've actually always insisted on the exact same meal for Christmas, just so I can eat it again (although I am trying to branch out a little more to honor my hubby's preferences). I love turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, pumpkin pie, apple pie, green bean casserole...and I really love leftovers.

So when Phyl, host of our pumpkin dinner a few weeks ago, offered (with maybe a little pressure?) ;) to host a virtual Thanksgiving dinner, I was so excited! So excited, in fact, that when he asked us to pick a menu item, I just couldn't decide; I love them all! I went back and forth (our famous mashed potatoes? my dad's awesome sausage wild rice stuffing? my mother-in-law's pumpkin pie? my mom's yummy turkey?) until finally all of the categories had been taken by others and I was left with........soup. Which we've never served at Thanksgiving dinner. Hm.

Luckily, Phyl recently sent several of us a great new Thanksgiving cookbook, so I started paging through...and came across butternut squash bisque. Now, I've mentioned our abundance of squash on more than one occasion; clearly, this soup was meant to be.

The recipe states that the soup can be made up to three days ahead of time, so I made the soup on Monday night and served it on Wednesday. It was easy to make, delicately-flavored, and delicious! It's one of those soups that feels creamy and indulgent, but actually only has a small amount of cream, with much of the texture imparted from the squash itself. I thought the garnish of fried sage leaves and popcorn seemed a little fussy, but they actually only took a few minutes to pull together and they really added something special to the final product; I'd definitely include them again.

Butternut squash bisque
from The New Thanksgiving Table by Diane Morgan

for the soup
2 pounds butternut squash (I used a 4.5 pound squash and used half for the soup, which ended up being about 2 pounds of puree)
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 large granny smith apples, halved and cored
4 cups chicken broth (DM recommends homemade stock, but gives the alternative of canned low-sodium broth, which is what I used)
1/2 c heavy cream
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (I probably used closer to 1/2 tsp)
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper (the recipe actually says "salt and pepper to taste" but that drives me crazy; I need a starting point. I used 1/2 tsp of each, which seemed close to perfect, and then I sprinkled just a tiny pinch more)

for the garnish
3/4 c oil (I used safflower)
1/3 c fresh sage leaves 
kosher salt
popcorn (DM suggests a mini bag of microwave popcorn, but we never have that in the house; I just had hubby make me a small batch of air-popped)
1. Preheat the oven to 350º.
2. Peel and cube the squash into 2" pieces. Toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Spread in a single layer on a jelly roll pan. Place the apples, cut side down, on the sheet. Roast for 30 - 35 minutes or until the squash and apples are tender. (I didn't read this until too late, and roasted the squash the way I always do: peeled it, sliced it in half, took out the innards, and roasted the halve on a buttered piece of foil for about 2 hours. I added the apples when there were 30 minutes left on the timer.)
3. Purée the squash and apple (without the skins) in a food processor until smooth. Add 1 cup stock and process until smooth.
4. In a large (4-quart) saucepan, whisk the squash/apple mixture, the rest of the chicken stock, the cream, the nutmeg, and the sugar. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Make the garnish: heat the oil in an 8" sauté pan until it reaches 365º. Fry half the sage leaves for 5 seconds, remove with a slotted spoon, and place on a paper-towel-lined plate. Then fry the second half.
6. To serve: ladle the soup into bowls or mugs and garnish with the sage leaves and popcorn.

Be sure to check Phyl's site later this week for the rest of this yummy Thanksgiving meal!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Bake! Ekmek, Turkish flatbread

Our next Bake! pick was chosen by Andrea, and she picked Ekmek, basic Turkish flat bread. This was made with NM's basic Middle Eastern flatbread dough (bread flour, salt, yeast, water, and olive oil). The dough was extremely wet and hard to handle, but once again proved to me the power of the stretch-and-fold. When it finished mixing, I had to basically pour it into the bowl. After twenty minutes, I scraped it onto a lightly-dusted counter and gave it a stretch-and-fold...instantly I could see and feel the dough strengthen.

Although NM says not to let the dough rise for too long, there was no way I could make the bread in one day with the teaching-coaching-momming schedule, so I stuck the basic dough in the fridge. This afternoon, I pulled it out and continued with the rest of the Ekmek recipe: preshape the loaf, let it rest, stretch it into a long oval, dimple it, and bake. It worked out perfectly, even with the overnight rest.

I served the bread with our favorite Indian-spiced chicken with tomato chutney, and I haven't seen a meal disappear off the table that quickly in a long time!

As a sidenote: I was a little confused because the basic dough recipe says "makes enough for several flatbreads," but the ekmek recipe says "use one batch of basic dough, makes one loaf." I ended up using a full batch of the basic recipe to make a large ekmek loaf, and the pictures look just like the book, so I think that I made the right choice!

Happy Halloween from Smaug the Dragon and Bob the Builder!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Triple chocolate scones (Modern Baker)

Hubby and I both had early morning meetings today, and nothing improves an early morning meeting like a shared breakfast treat!

As I always do when I need a quick and yummy breakfast treat, I turned to Nick Malgieri. Like all of the scone recipes in the Modern Baker, these came together in about 20 minutes using the food processor: chocolate, cocoa, sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, butter, an egg, and some milk. They baked in 15 minutes and the first tray was off to hubby's meeting. 15 minutes later, the kids and I packed up the second batch and headed out the door.

These chocolate scones were a huge hit, described by one coworker as chocolately without being too sweet. Hubby said, "They were a nice chocolate scone and then you got the burst of chocolate chunk which just made you say 'Ohhhh yeah!'"

FYI: The Modern Baker was just reissued in a beautiful paperback edition, available here. Nick Malgieri has been incredibly supportive of our Modern Baker Challenge, even commenting on some of our blog posts! Consider picking up a copy of this awesome book. :)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mellow Bakers: Sunflower seed bread with paté fermentée

This was one of those clean-out-the-pantry recipes; I was short on a couple of ingredients, so I made a few changes.

Our final October Mellow Baker bread is sunflower seed bread with paté fermentée; I made the paté fermentée first thing in the morning so it would be ready when I wanted to mix up the bread in the evening.

For the soaker, JH calls for rye chops; I used the end of a bag of rye berries (chopped) and the end of a bag of cracked rye. Based on Joanna's comments that the four-hour soak didn't soften the rye chops enough, I used boiling water. This seemed to soften the rye perfectly.

The rest of the dough was made with bread flour, water, salt, instant yeast, malt syrup, and sunflower seeds. My second clean-out-the-pantry was for the seeds: I toasted the end of a bag of sunflower seeds, the end of a bag of pumpkin seeds, and flax seeds.

I made a third of the recipe, which made five large rolls. We really enjoyed them with butter; they reminded me of my favorite seeded dinner rolls at one of my favorite restaurants. A surprise win!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sesame bread sticks (Mellow Bakers) and winter veggie soup

My second Mellow Bakers bread for October is a rarity in my bread baking books: the kids and I mixed up the dough for sesame bread sticks when we got home (about 3:00), and we ate the bread sticks for dinner at about fast!

The dough is made from bread flour, salt, instant yeast, water, olive oil, and malt syrup, mixed together in the stand mixer for about four minutes. It rises for an hour, and then is scaled into 24 pieces weighing about 3/8 ounce each. These rest for 15 minutes and then comes the fun part; Natashya commented that little kids would love to help roll the "snakes," and she was absolutely right. My kids were thrilled to roll the pieces into long snakes, which I lengthened a bit, rolled on a wet cloth, and then rolled through a plate of sesame seeds. They're baked immediately for 20 - 25 minutes (ours were a little fat, so took a little longer).

These were a huge hit, and a perfect accompaniment to one of our new favorite soups. Next time, I'll probably skip the plain sesame seed topping. The kids made me scrape them off so they could eat the bread sticks plain, and the hubby and I preferred the "everything" version I made when I ran out of sesame seeds (sesame seeds, dried garlic, dried onion, and poppy seeds). I kept the sticks in a large zip baggie, and they were still good days later.

And now the soup! Several weeks ago, I was looking for a way to use up some leftover ham and a huge amount of CSA vegetables. I found this recipe, which I doctored based on what we needed to use up. Even if this soup wasn't delicious (which it is!), I would seriously make it just for the gorgeous array of colors in the bowl!

Winter veggie soup
adapted from Cooking Light

2 tsp olive oil
4 oz (125 g) chopped ham or turkey ham
1 large onion (125 g), chopped
2 tsp minced garlic
4 c (520 g) peeled, cubed acorn squash
2 c (315 g) peeled, chopped potatoes
1/2 c (80 g) carrot, chopped
1 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
28 oz tomatoes (I've used cans of stewed, diced, whole, and even fresh), drained (or not)
4 - 5 c chicken broth
4 cups (130 g) chopped greens (my favorite combination is kale, spinach, and red cabbage)
15 oz can small white beans (I've used pinto, great Northern)

1. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the ham and sauté for 3 minutes.
2. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for another 3 minutes.
3. Add the squash, potatoes, carrot, and spices, and cook for 4 minutes.
4. Add the tomatoes, and cook for 2 minutes.
5. Stir in the broth and bring soup to a boil. Simmer for 8 minutes.
6. Add greens, and simmer for 5 minutes.
7. Add beans, and cook for 4 minutes.
8. Serve.

makes about 8 servings (2 cups each)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Handmade loaves: Berne Brot Winston knot

My friend Di, host of the most excellent Virtual Cookie Exchange last winter and Sundae Sunday this past summer, decided that now that the weather is finally cooling off, it's time to bake bread! Her autumn event is dedicated to handmade loaves.

My first Mellow Bakers bread for October is Berne Brot, a Swiss challah-like braided bread. Unlike challah, Berne Brot uses butter and milk. This is a quick one-day bread; I started mixing the ingredients when I got home from work and baked the bread before bed. I couldn't decide on the type of braid to use, and almost went with a simple three or four strand braid. But as I was paging through the Bread chapter on braiding, I re-encountered the Winston Knot, a braid I had tried with challah...unsuccessfully. My biggest problem back then was that I didn't roll the strands long enough, so I ran out of dough before I was through.

This time, I followed the wonderfully clear instructions Celia offers in her Winston Knot tutorial...and it worked! Hurrah!

I made a half recipe, which made about 840 grams of dough; six balls of 140 g, rolled out to about 60 - 65 cm (24" or 25"). I tried to err on the side of too-long, so that I wouldn't run out like last time. My dough was a lot softer than challah; in his braiding section, JH suggests dusting the braid strands with the tiniest, lightest dusting of flour to help prevent softer dough strands from baking into each other; it seemed to work.

The taste was similar to challah or a less-buttery brioche, so as we always do with both of those, we made French toast.

Berne Brot
adapted from Jeffrey Hammelman's Bread

425 g bread flour
30 g vital wheat gluten
204 g milk, warmed
1 egg yolk
1 egg
61 g unsalted butter, softened
26 g sugar
9 g salt
3 g instant yeast

1. Stir together the flour, vital wheat gluten, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk the yeast into the warmed milk, and then stir the milk, eggs, and butter into the dry ingredients. Stir (I used my dough whisk) until it all comes together in a large, shaggy mass.
2. Knead in a stand mixer or by hand for 3 or 4 minutes, until the dough has developed.
3. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for an hour. Stretch and fold the dough, recover the bowl, and let rise for another hour.
4. Split the dough into equal-sized balls, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 15 minutes. Then roll each ball into a long strand and proceed with braiding. If you're interested in trying the winston knot, I strongly recommend checking out Celia's tutorial.
5. Place the braid on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Cover with baker's linen and plastic wrap. Let rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. (JH warns against letting the braid rise fully before baking; he recommends letting it rise to about 85%.)
6. Thoroughly brush the loaf with an egg wash.
7. Bake at 375º for 35 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 200º.
8. Cool on a rack.

Head over to Di's blog later this week to see the handmade loaf round-up!