Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cinnamon pull-apart bread

My hubby celebrated his 36th birthday a few days ago. Normally he picks special foods for me to make for his day: a fun breakfast bread (or two), maybe a fancy bread for a picnic lunch, a special dinner, followed by his favorite chocolate cake with fudge sauce (an old family recipe from his grandma). This year, we were visiting my in-laws on his birthday, so we went out to lunch and hubby's mom cooked him a fancy dinner and baked his cake. I offered to make a special breakfast treat ~ my first time baking in someone else's kitchen ~ and he picked cinnamon rolls.

I used the all-purpose sweet dough from ABED, and although I was nervous at first, it was actually kind of fun to bake without my normal tools, kneading by hand, etc. I used 2/3 of a recipe to make a 9x13 pan of cinnamon rolls.

This morning, I knew the last third of the dough needed to be used, but I wanted to make something new. I'd first heard about pull-apart bread last spring, but had never actually seen a recipe until this one appeared on Tracey's blog last week. I thought it might be a fun use of our leftover bread.

So this morning, I rolled out the dough into a big (12x20") rectangle. I used my fingers to spread out two tablespoons of browned unsalted butter on the dough, and then sprinkled a little over 1/2 cup of sugar and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon on top. I cut the dough into six strips, stacked them, and then cut the line into six again. I dumped them into a 9x5 pan sprayed with cooking spray, poured the rest of the cinnamon/sugar from the counter on top of the loaf, let it rise for about 30 minutes and then baked it at 350 F for about 40 minutes.

This was a winner: super easy and we all loved it!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mellow Bakers: Vollkornbrot (June)

Here I am with the final Mellow Bakers bread for June: vollkornbrot, a dense sourdough rye bread with large amounts of whole grains.

This is one of those breads that makes a beginning(ish) bread baker like me a little nervous...made with coarse rye meal and sourdough starter, with no white flour or even whole wheat to lighten things up and only the teeniest tiniest bit of instant yeast to give it an extra push to rise. The dough barely moves and tends to look like requires pouring into the prepared pan, rather than shaping into a loaf. In fact, I debated skipping it. And then I thought about just scaling it way way down.

And then I thought, "Oh, what've I got to lose?!" and went ahead and made the whole nearly four-pound loaf. After all, this is my dad's favorite kind of bread, and JH says it keeps forever in the fridge, and if it turns out to be a nearly-inedible brick (like others' I've read about and like my own first experiences with 100% sourdough rye bread), well, it's only a little flour, right?

So after refreshing my starter and stopping at the co-op for rye meal and rye berries, I mixed up my sourdough: rye meal (coarse rye flour, aka pumpernickel flour), water, and mature sourdough culture. Then I mixed up my soaker of rye berries and water, forgetting that they only needed four hours of soaking and that it was getting pretty warm.

The first incident (because there's always an incident with me, isn't there?!) was when we opened the freezer and the bowl with the starter tumbled from the top of the fridge to the floor...thank goodness for sturdy glass harm done.

I actually let my sourdough rise for 24 starter can be a little on the slow side, and I thought a little extra time wouldn't hurt anything. Sure enough, it was just about perfect, with a clear dome on top. Then I looked at my rye berries...and the white fuzz covering some of the top layer. Yep, too long, too moist, too warm: they were covered with mold. What to do?! I first posted for advice on the Mellow Bakers forum, then read some scary article about deathly fungus that can grow on rye plants, and then called my dad, who is my guru for all things nutrition and food related. I'd already scraped off the top layer and there was no visible mold anywhere else. I have a pretty sensitive nose and I couldn't smell it anywhere else in the bowl. And hubby and I both tasted a few berries; they tasted completely normal. My dad thought we'd probably be okay.

Moving right along...hubby and I chopped up the rest of the soaked rye berries to make rye chops. This was somewhat of a pain, especially given how many they were, but we managed. Then I mixed the rye chops with the sourdough, the rest of the rye meal, more water, salt, a tiny bit of instant yeast, and some sunflower seeds.

It was supposed to knead in my standmixer for ten minutes, but it was so paste-like that the dough hook kept pushing all the dough to the sides and then spinning around. So I mixed it by hand, folding the dough over on itself in the bowl for about ten minutes. There was no noticeable change. Then a twenty minute bulk proof right in the bowl.

I scraped the paste into my pullman pan, sprinkled rye meal on top of the dough, and covered it. I let it rise for about an hour, and was surprised to notice that it did, in fact, seem to rise a little. Then it baked for an hour and a half, and sat wrapped in a towel for a couple of days.

It seemed really hard when I tried to saw through it with a knife, but happily, the inside was moist and the crust was not too dense to chew. It was really interesting plain: you could taste all of the different grains. And it was actually pretty tasty with butter. In fact, I think it tastes like what it's supposed to taste like...imagine that! We're planning to eat some for sandwiches, and I'm hoping to get some cream cheese and cucumber for my favorite use of rye bread. Still waiting to get my dad's opinion on his half of the loaf...... After my recent tart crust near-disasters, I felt like I redeemed myself a bit to have conquered the vollkornbrot! =)

UPDATE: Dad, the rye lover, declared this bread absolutely fabulous. The half loaf that I gave him is already gone, enjoyed in thin slices with either butter or cream cheese.

Look at all of those grains!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bake! Citrus-scented chocolate tart

Marthe chose the citrus-scented chocolate tart for her Bake! pick.... Although it's not technically on the schedule until the beginning of July, I will likely not be baking much for the next few weeks, and we had our end-of-the-year staff picnic today, so it seemed like the perfect time to try it out.

This tart starts with the cocoa version of the sweet pastry dough. Given my success with the sweet pastry dough, I was excited to get a more workable chocolate pastry dough than the one I tried for the tartlets last weekend. Things seemed to be going well as I mixed up the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, unsalted butter, and egg (I made a half recipe for one 10" tart) in my food processor. I refrigerated the dough for a day. Sadly, once I began the rolling-out process, this dough gave me the same sticky, rippy problems I had with the other chocolate pastry dough. It actually really reminded me of the troublesome cookie dough crust; I ended up having to do a lot of piecing together to cover the pan. I much prefer the basic sweet dough and the rich pie crust for ease of rolling and transferring.

Anyway, after I got the tart dough in place in the pan, I set to work on the filling, which was easy and smelled heavenly. It was all mixed in a saucepan: half-and-half plus sugar, and then butter and semi-sweet chocolate, and then eggs and salt, and finally lemon zest, orange zest, lemon juice, orange juice, vanilla extract, and a bit of triple sec.

Mine baked for almost twice as long as specified in the recipe; it just kept looking jiggly and the instructions say "bake until the filling is set." I was surprised by the mousse-like texture of the final product; I was expecting something a little more solid.

The tart looked a little plain, and I didn't have any orange slices to use as a garnish, so I made a simple chocolate-butter mixture and drizzled some over the top, just to jazz it up a bit.

This tart was delicious. With my massive sweet tooth, I loved that it was made with semi-sweet chocolate instead of the bittersweet called for in many of NM's other recipes. My kiddos both loved it, as did hubby. One of my friends at the lunch today said, "Oh, my, the flavor just explodes in your mouth! This puts the rest of the food here to shame!" which I thought was quite a compliment. =) Even my dad, who doesn't like chocolate, said it was excellent (although too chocolately for him, of course).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mellow Bakers: Semolina bread (June)

My second June Mellow Bakers' bread was a semolina levain. With life being busy and much to be baked, I knew we wouldn't want a lot, so I actually only made a tiny loaf (1/4 of the recipe).

It started with a liquid levain: Austin (my starter), bread flour, and water, which developed overnight. Then the preferment was mixed with more bread flour, a lot of semolina, salt, and water. My standmixer really struggled with this one: it was pretty wet and there was so little dough that the dough hook couldn't grab on. I ended up adding a bit more flour (JH says the dough should be a little drier than usual) and then kneading by hand...the dough was easy to work with once I'd added the extra flour.

My only hiccup with this one happened when I went to place the dough into my round banneton: I'd been working on prepping for the Vollkenbrot (our final June bread), so I unthinkingly dusted the banneton with coarse rye meal! When I realized what I'd done, I quickly took the dough out, brushed off as much as I could, and added semolina to the banneton instead. I retarded it in the fridge overnight, and slashed and baked this morning.

My little loaf baked for about 25 minutes (with the fake steaming method). How did it taste? Well, when I got home from work to take a picture of the crumb, this is how much was left:

Hubby, both of the kids, and I all loved it with a little butter. Hubby said it was the perfect snack bread (and the kids seemed to agree)...I thought it might make nice little buns, too.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Twitter chef avatar fun: Eric Ripert's Shrimp and rice pilaf

Better late than never!

This month's chef for our Twitter avatar fun was Eric Ripert, chosen by Leslie of Lethally Delicious. I'd never heard of Eric Ripert before, but when I looked through his recipes, I printed out several interesting dinner and breakfast ideas. I hadn't yet decided on one, but when looking through them again tonight, I realized I had everything on hand to make his quick shrimp and rice pilaf.

Shrimp and Rice Pilaf, Indian-style
adapted slightly from Eric Ripert, via Food and Wine

1 1/2 cups water
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 bay leaf
1 1/4 cups long-grain rice
2 tbsp safflower oil
1 onion, minced
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup shelled pistachios, chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1 lb shelled and devained medium shrimp, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 pitted prunes, chopped
1/2 tsp orange zest
1/2 tsp fresh dill, chopped
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1. In a 2-qt saucepan, combine the water with the salt and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Add the rice, cover, and cook over low heat for 20 minutes.
2. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet. Cook the onion, almonds, pistashios, coriander, and tumeric over low-medium heat until the onion is softened, about 4 minutes.
3. Add the shrimp, prunes, and orange zest, and cook about 3 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked through.
4. Add the rice (without the bay leaf), and then the dill and lemon juice.

Verdict: Hubby absolutely loved this one. The kiddos liked the rice (and liked that it turned our tongues yellow!), but none of the "things" in it. It was really easy to throw together and quite tasty. The prunes and nuts added a fun texture and bursts of flavor; the citrus was quite distinct and brightened the whole dish. This was a winner!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Strawberry chocolate chip frozen yogurt

I had some strawberries in the fridge to use up and decided to make my little guy's favorite treat: strawberry frozen yogurt. We usually use the recipe from David Lebovitz's Perfect Scoop. While the strawberries were macerating, I started browsing online, looking for other frozen yogurt recipes to change things up a bit. I found an interesting recipe from Food and Wine via The Bitten Word, which included some different ingredients (a little cream, some corn syrup, some lemon zest). I'd already started the process for DL's recipe, so I ended up making a conglomeration of the two, varying based on things I had in the house. And then, most of the way through the churning process, I thought about the tail-end of a bag of mini chocolate chips in the freezer. I pulled out a spoonful of the yogurt, dotted it with mini chips, and stuck it in hubby's mouth. "Good idea or bad idea?" He tasted, thought, and suddenly said, "Mmmm, good idea!!"

The results? Definitely a yummy treat! Creamier and richer than our normal frozen yogurt. The lemon adds a brightness, and the tiny bits of chocolate make you feel like you're eating chocolate covered strawberries. Yum!

Strawberry chocolate chip frozen yogurt
makes about 1 1/2 quarts

450 g strawberries (1 lb), washed, hulled, and cut into small chunks
130 g sugar
1 tsp kirsch
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp instant fruit pectin
2 tbsp light corn syrup
1 tsp lemon zest
350 g plain yogurt
125 g heavy cream
1/4 c mini chocolate chips

1. Combine the strawberries, sugar, and kirch in a medium bowl and allow to sit for an hour or two. Then blend into a purée.
2. Add the fruit pectin to the lemon juice, stirring well to combine. (The Food and Wine recipe called for geletin, which I thought I had, but then didn't, so I subbed in fruit pectin, which seemed to work just fine.)
3. Heat the strawberry purée with the corn syrup until the sugar melts, about 1 minute.
4. Off heat, add the lemon juice/pectin to the strawberries.
5. Stir the yogurt with the lemon zest, and then add the strawberry purée, and finally add the cream. Stir well.
6. Place the bowl in an ice water bath and stir occasionally, until the mixture is cold.
7. Freeze in the ice cream maker according to the manufacture's instructions.
8. About two minutes before the yogurt is finished churning, add the mini chips.
9. Enjoy the yogurt immediately (it will have a soft serve consistency) or pack it into a freezer safe bowl and freeze for several hours.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Modern Baker Challenge: Chocolate Caramel Pecan Tartlets

These little tartlets were one of my biggest challenges to-date.

I was looking for a quick and easy dessert to bring to a friend's 30th birthday party this afternoon. I wasn't sure whether or not she had a birthday cake already planned, so I wanted to pick something fun that would go with another dessert. Browsing through The Modern Baker, I settled on the chocolate caramel pecan tartlets; they looked tasty and I had all of the ingredients on hand.

My first hiccup with these was that I was counting on using some of the leftover sweet tart dough that I have in my freezer. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that these tarts actually call for the chocolate nut dough. While I was willing to compromise, hubby was pretty convinced they needed the chocolate dough, and since I'd never made it before and we didn't have any plans this morning, I decided to just make a batch. The tart dough was relatively easy: slivered almonds, sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt, butter, eggs, and water, all combined in the food processor. I used extra-large eggs, so I thought maybe I should omit the water because of the extra moisture. I should've listened to my instincts, since the dough ended up being quite wet.

While the dough was cooling in the fridge, I made up the ganache. I realized that I didn't have quite enough chocolate, so I scaled the recipe down (I made 3/4 of the recipe). NM says to use a large saucepan because the caramel boils did, but I think the pan I used was way too large, so it made it a little awkward to cook. And while I was cooking the sugar and water and simultanously heating the cream, I got distracted with the dishes and ended up scorching the cream and having to start over with that part. Anyway, the ganache wasn't difficult: sugar, water, cream, milk, salt, bittersweet chocolate (I used 60% and 72%), and unsalted butter. I probably should've waited to make the ganache, since it was completely hard by the time the crusts were ready.

Ah, the crusts. I rolled out the wet dough, using quite a bit of flour to prevent sticking and tearing, and used a small round cutter to cut circles. I used my mini-muffin pan, one of NM's suggestions for mini-tarts. It was only after I put the pan into the oven that I realized I'd forgotten to pierce the crusts with a fork. I pulled them from the oven, where they'd already begun to puff up, and quickly pierced them. Too late of course; they were still quite puffy. I used a plastic measuring spoon to push the still warm dough down to make a little cup. I thought I was in the clear, until I tried to remove the little delicate forms from the mini muffin pan. There's a reason tart pans have a removable bottom. I was able to salvage a few of them, and then I used the remaining 1/4 of the dough (still in the fridge) to make two 4" mini tart crusts.

After the crusts were finally ready, I rewarmed the ganache over a pot of gently simmering water on the stove, which went surprisingly well. I filled one 4" tart crust with plain chocolate, and then added the toasted pecans and filled the rest of the tart crusts.

I prefer the bittersweet chocolate tart with sweet tart crust. These were pretty dark; I would've preferred them with some sweetened whipped cream or ice cream. And I don't think I'll make this crust again. And I definitely won't use the mini-muffin pan again (unless someone has a foolproof technique for removing the tarts...?). Still, they were pretty tasty and went quickly at the birthday party, so all's well that ends well, I guess!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Bake! Strawberry cream cheese crumble tart

I'd never noticed what an alliterative cake this was until I was typing in the name: strawberry cream cheese crumble cake. How very appropriate for an English teacher!

Anyway, hubby's school had an end-of-the-year barbecue yesterday, and despite my sadness that he's done with school while I still have TWO FULL WEEKS left, I sucked it up and agreed to bake. When I asked hubby what he wanted me to make, he started listing off his favorite recipes, none of which were appropriate for a barbecue: bagels? scones? pizza? Seriously?

So rather than get into a big fight, I told him to look at our up-coming recipes for our Bake! twitterbakes and choose from there. He thought they all looked good, and then settled on this upcoming weekend's pick, by Kayte, strawberry cream cheese crumble tart. Looked good to me!

It was pretty easy to make the components the day before. NM cautions us not to assemble it ahead of time, although you can make all of the parts early.

The crust was the cookie dough crust. Normally, when I see that crust, I sub in his sweet tart dough which has been much more successful for me. The cookie dough crust and I did not get along when I made the Parisian fruit tart. However, that was from The Modern Baker, so I thought that maybe I'd have better luck with the one from Bake! It was easy to mix up in the food processor: slivered almonds, confectioners' sugar, flour, salt, unsalted butter, vanilla extract, and egg yolks. I pulsed and pulsed and worried that it was never going to come together and form a ball...but have faith, because eventually it did. The dough felt much better than the one from MB, not so crumbly, and I stuck it in the fridge as instructed. However, when it came time to roll it out, again it started breaking and tearing and I ended up having to piece it together. It was fine...definitely way easier than my last experience, but I still prefer the sweet tart dough for its supreme ease of rolling. And like the last time I made the cookie dough crust, it was quite crumbly.

The cream cheese filling is easy: cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla extract, all mixed in the trusty stand mixer. The only issue I had with this one is that I made it early, left it in the fridge over night, and when I went to scrape it into the tart, it was way too hard. Because it's so easy to whip up, I think I'll just make it the day-of next time.

The crumb topping was a bit odd: flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and chopped slivered almonds, all combined with melted butter. Then the whole thing is placed on a baking sheet and baked for 20 minutes. (It's supposed to be baked at the same time as the crust, but I hadn't read ahead to know that the crust benefits from an overnight rest - in the pan - before baking, so I baked it the morning-of...something to remember for next time!) This was my least favorite of NM's crumble topping, and I'm not sure why. It felt like it wasn't sweet enough. Or maybe it baked too long.

Anyway, the baby girl and I assembled the whole thing before the barbecue: baked crust, spread with cream cheese mixture, cut fresh strawberries, more cream cheese mixture, crumble topping, a dusting of powdered sugar, and a strawberry placed on top (the baby girl did that part).

This was a huge hit at the party. People were still raving to hubby today ~ except those who didn't get any, who complained. =) My hubby managed to grab one piece for photographing before it was all gone, and the four of us split it. Although it wasn't my favorite, the rest of my family loved it.