Saturday, May 28, 2011

BBA #25: Pizza Napoletana

The twenty-fifth bread of the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge is Pizza Napoletana. I love pizza. All kinds. Classic American with tomato sauce and lots of toppings. Thin crust. Thick crust. Real Italian pizza were tomato sauce isn't a given and you're served a full pizza with a fork and knife. I have few travel regrets, but one of them is not leaving the train station in Naples, Italy to get a slice in the birthplace of pizza. Italy knows how to do pizza!

This recipe made six balls of pizza dough. I put four of the balls in the freezer and kept two out for this week.

After refrigerating overnight, I let the dough rest for two hours, floured my hands and then started working it with my knuckles just as Reinhart instructs. Let me just say that I am a terrible pizza shaper. The edge of my pizza dough was thick and the center became paper thin quickly and started tearing holes. I tried to start over but that didn't work. The dough was already stretched paper thin and it didn't want to thicken again. I let the dough rest of a bit and then balled it up and stretched it out small with my fingers just as Reinhart says not to do.

I had a whole counter full of toppings ready for the pizza. Then, I read Reinhart's reminder that "less is more" for the best pizza. I looked at the toppings again and chose the things I was craving right then: cheese, mushrooms and olives.

The pizza was delicious. My second attempt at shaping later this week went no better but that pizza was equally delicious. I have four more attempts in the freezer and a new to do to add to my life accomplishment list- learn to make tossable pizza dough.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Modern Baker: Bourbon-Scented Pecan Tart

Warning! This tart is a serious danger to your waistline! It is delicious and absolutely impossible to stop eating. It is pecan pie done to perfection.
I will admit I was a bit hesitant to do this tart. I've started to notice a lot of my cooking and baking involving alcohol. The French Fridays with Dorie group with all those french recipes in particular. I'm not a huge fan of using alcohol in recipes for two reasons:
 1. It's kind of a pain to acquire. I live in Oregon which means I have to go to an actual liquor store to get anything stronger than beer or wine. Inevitably I have a baby with me and I must say I'm not sure I'll ever get used to walking into the liquor store with a baby on my hip and asking for liquor. I'm not even 100% sure it's legal either even though they've never said anything. In fact, I think they know me now. I'm the baking lady who comes in asking the easiest way to get 1/4 c of this and 3 T of that.
2. I'm cooking for little kids and exposing kids to the flavors of liquor just seems wrong. When there are thousands of other recipes in the world why should I expose my three year old to beef cooked in wine? (The beef daube was delicious though!)
Now, just ignore what I said because the bourbon really made this dish fantastic. I almost omitted it but then Phyl said omitting the bourbon is a huge mistake so I earned myself so wife points and bought my husband a large bottle of Maker's Mark. Phyl was right. There isn't very much bourbon in the tart but it adds that little something that elevates this tart above a regular old pecan pie.

I encourage all of my fellow Modern Bakers and everyone else who reads this to go get the cookbook and bake it!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Modern Baker: Pumpkin-Pecan Buttermilk Tart with Cinnamon Whipped Cream

This next section of Sweet Tarts and Pies in the Modern Baker group is very dangerous. All of the tarts look incredible and yet I cannot have a whole tart sitting around this house every few days! Abby and I had the same idea to downsize the tarts.
For most of the tarts in this section my game plan is to make 1/4th of a recipe. This will fill two 4 1/2'' tart pans. This is the perfect size for a taste without having massive leftovers and after tasting just a few of these tarts I can tell you that they are absolutely-cannot-put-down delicious!

I love pumpkin pie. I look forward to it every year at Thanksgiving and this pumpkin-pecan buttermilk tart did not disappoint. It was light and creamy and the pecans were a great addition. The real show stopper of this dish was the whipped cream. Cinnamon whipped cream. It went perfect with the pumpkin pie and it was a true revelation for me.

This tart gives you a strong excuse to pass up seconds during the next holidays. You must save room for this pie!

I made one batch of the sweet tart dough and it made six 4 1/2'' tarts. I love this tart dough. It rolls out easily and tastes great. Another huge favorite and good basic to have in my baking repertoire.  The 1/4 recipe of each tart allowed me to make three different tarts on one day. Stay tuned for more yummy tarts!
Sour-cream Apple Tart, Bourbon-Scented Pecan Tart, Pumpkin-Pecan Tart

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Modern Baker: Parisian Fruit Tarts

In a Parisian pastry shop I never order the fruit tart. I always choose something chocolately- usually an eclair. Big mistake!

Pay attention everyone and especially my fellow Modern Bakers this tart is fantastic. I made a 1/4 recipe which filled two 4 1/2'' tarts. I used the sweet tart dough instead of the press-in cookie dough and it was quite delicious.

My former wannabe-baker-self can hardly believe that I not only make pretty darn good pastry cream, but that as I was making it I kept thinking, "oh, yeah, I remember how to do this." Temper the egg yolks, whisk whisk, refrigerated to set.

For the fruit I chose strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, and mango. I discovered that the secret to the great meld of flavors in this tart is the glaze. I am lucky enough to have a mother-in-law who makes jam and shares it! (As an aside- ever had chesterberry jam? It's my new favorite!!) I grabbed a jar of her homemade apricot jam to make the glaze with. Oh it was so good!

How can I explain how good this tart is? Well, I ate both of them before my husband got home from work and then began checking airfare to Paris. Why? Because this tart is so incredible it will make you want to move to Paris and open your own pastry shop!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Martha Stewart Cupcakes: Tiramisu Cupcakes

For May the Martha Stewart Cupcake group is baking tiramisu cupcakes. I love tiramisu. It is easily one of my favorite desserts and last year for the Daring Bakers I made tiramisu from scratch. I was so excited about these cupcakes and sadly they fell hugely short.

First of all, Martha- I appreciate you and all- but you are just evil sometimes. You want me to split a vanilla bean and simmer it in milk. What is so wrong with vanilla extract?? That step, yes I did it, was just a bit over the top for me this week.

Confession. I don't know how to make coffee. (I don't like coffee. Ironically, I often like light coffee flavors in desserts, but never as a beverage.)  I called my husband for help. He wasn't available. I winged it. Turns out I make a sad weak cup of coffee.

The cupcake wasn't that exciting on it's own. My coffee syrup flavoring was tasteless and I didn't like the mascapone whip cream topping. I'm not sure what went wrong here. Perhaps it was the type of mascapone I purchased, but it was way too cheesy for the dessert. Mascapone is usually light. This still tasted a bit grassy. Grass and whip cream do not mix!
This one was a failure at our house.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Daring Cooks: Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Our May hostess, Denise, of There’s a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we’d need, from creole spices, homemade stock, and Louisiana white rice, to Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.
I was absolutely thrilled and intimidated with this month's Daring Cooks challenge. My stepmother's family is from Louisiana and every Christmas Eve her mother makes gumbo for dinner. At first I thought it was a bit odd. I'm not sure I ate much of it that first year. But, quickly I came to like it and then looked forward to it as the holiday season began. Grandma has now retired from doing the big gumbo dinners. Perhaps it's time I take the reigns and learn to make gumbo myself. I think it would be a fun tradition to keep up for my family.

The roux totally intimidated me. In most other ways gumbo seems like a big stew and how hard is it to mess up stew, but the roux is the crux.
Roux at 1 min, 3 min, 8 min, 10 min, and 15 min
I was happy to find some fellow cooks posting photos of their roux at different stages. This helped me as I began cooking mine. A roux consists of some kind of fat, I used canola oil, and flour. You whisk them together for 15 minutes until the roux becomes are dark brown color. I know it doesn't sound that hard but you spend the whole time worrying you're burning it and afraid of it splattering on you. I got one little oil splatter that turned into a little water blister burn. Ouch! My step-mom uses a cast iron pot and flat ended wooden spoon to make her roux.
Roux and onions















 Once I added the onions and saw that my picture looked a lot like the example, I felt better. I then added the Creole-seasoned chicken and sausage followed by the vegetables. After letting it all meld for a bit I added the stock and let it simmer for two hours. The house smelled fantastic, very... Christmasy. LOL.

I had my step-mom and dad over to dinner for this meal. My step-mom who has been eating gumbo her whole life declared it good and my dad and husband went back for seconds. A success!! Charlotte (3) wasn't into it, but Penelope (18 months) kept demanding more sausage from my bowl. A future gumbo eater for sure! Now that I've done it once it doesn't feel so hard. Perhaps I have Christmas Eve dinner already figured out!

Great challenge! Thank you!!

Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo
Printable Recipe 

Adapted From: Daring Cooks  and From My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh

1 cup  canola oil
1 cup flour
2 large onions, diced
1 chicken (3 ½ to 4 lbs.), cut into 10 pieces
2 tablespoons Basic Creole Spices (recipe follows), or store-bought Creole spice blend
2 pounds spicy smoked sausage, sliced ½ inch thick
2 stalks celery, diced
2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced
1 tomato, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 quarts chicken stock
2 bay leaves
6 ounces andouille sausage, chopped
2 cups sliced fresh okra, ½ -inch thick slices (or frozen)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Filé powder, to taste
Tabasco, to taste
4-6 cups cooked Basic Louisiana White Rice (recipe follows)

1. Prepare homemade chicken stock, if using (recipe below).
2. Prepare homemade Basic Creole Spices, if using (recipe below).
3. Season the chicken pieces with about 2 tablespoons of the Creole Spices while you prepare the vegetables.
4. Make sure all of your vegetables are cut, diced, chopped, minced and ready to go before beginning the roux. You must stand at the stove and stir the roux continuously to prevent it from burning.
5. In a large cast-iron or heavy-bottomed pan, heat canola oil over high heat. Whisk the flour into the hot oil – it will start to sizzle. Reduce the heat to moderate, and continue whisking until the roux becomes deep brown in color, about 15 minutes.
6. Add the onions. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir the onions into the roux. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Continue stirring until the roux becomes a glossy dark brown, about 10 minutes.
7. Add the chicken to the pot; raise the heat to moderate, and cook, turning the pieces until slightly browned, about 10 minutes.
8. Add the sliced smoked sausage and stir for about a minute.
9. Add the celery, bell peppers, tomato, and garlic, and continue stirring for about 3 minutes.
10. Add the thyme, chicken stock, and bay leaves. Bring the gumbo to a boil, stirring occasionally.
11. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, skimming off the fat from the surface of the gumbo every so often.
12. Add the chopped andouille, okra, and Worcestershire. Season with salt and pepper, several dashes of filé powder, and Tabasco, all to taste.
13. Simmer for another 45 minutes, continuing to skim the fat from the surface of the gumbo. Remove the bay leaves and serve in bowls over rice. Pass more filé powder at the table if desired.

Louisiana White Rice
Servings: 4 cups
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or butter
1 small onion, minced
1½ cups Louisiana (or another long-grain white rice)
3 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1-2 pinches salt

1. Put the fat, oil, or butter and the onions into a medium saucepan and sweat the onions over moderate heat until they are translucent, about 5 minutes.
2. Pour the rice into the pan and stir for 2 minutes.
3. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.
4. Add the bay leaf and salt.
5. Cover the pan with a lid, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 18 minutes.
6. Remove the pan from the heat, fluff the rice with a fork, and serve.

Basic Creole Spices
Adapted From: Daring Cooks and From My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh
Printable Recipe

Makes ½ cup
2 tablespoons celery salt
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon ground allspice

Mix together all spices in a bowl. Transfer the spices to a clean container with a tight-fitting lid. Store up to six months.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Aspen Power Bars

Charlotte's best friend moved.... right down the street from us!
We brought them some welcome treats on moving day!
I omitted the powdered milk (none in the house) and the raisins (you know why). I was warned to cut the bars right after cooling as my friend had trouble getting them out of the pan. I think I cut them a bit too early and some bars came out but I also ended up more granola pieces than bars. It was still delicious- just not as pretty. So be warned, I think there is a window between too warm and will crumble and too cooled and stuck together.

Thanks for the recipe Katharine!

Aspen Power Bars
1 3/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup + 2 Tbs light brown sugar
Heaping ½ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
½ tsp kosher salt
¾ cup nuts or sunflower seeds
¾ cup powdered milk
½ cup raisins (optional)
½ cup dried cranberries
3 Tbs butter
¼ cup honey
½ cup peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 Tbs raspberry jam

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, brown sugar, coconut, salt, nuts, powdered milk, raisins, and cranberries.

3. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Stir in the honey, peanut butter, vanilla extract and jam until melted and fully incorporated.  Remove from heat.

4. Pour the melted ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir until fully mixed.

5. Press the mixture into the pan, compressing as much as possible . (Lay some plastic wrap over the top and then press down on the mixture.  It doesn’t stick and keeps your hands clean!)  Bake until golden, 10 to 15 minutes.  Let cool before cutting into bars.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

BBA #24: Panettone

The twenty-fourth bread of the Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge is panettone. At first read, I didn't think this was not my kind of bread. It has fruit in it. In fact, Reinhart wants me to put all kinds of crazy candied fruit in it. And, then the liquor. I'm not opposed to liquor, a good gin and tonic is a favorite of mine. But, I'm not a huge liquor-in-things person.
And, perhaps, one of the hardest blows- this is a week long bread to make! There are 4 days of making the seed culture (or 5 if yours doesn't rise properly like mine), another day to make the barm, another for the wild yeast sponge, and then yet another day to make the bread. You have to really want this bread to go to all this trouble.

Come watch the process...

Seed Culture
 Day 1- rye flour and pineapple juice.
 Day 2- bread flour and pineapple juice
Day 3. Bread flour and water. It was supposed to double. It didn't. I gave it an extra day. It didn't do anything. Do I start over or proceed? I couldn't quite tell. I decided to proceed with step 4 and hope for the best.
Day 4. More bread flour and water. 
It doubled!! I was going to proceed with making the barm but had a busy morning.
6 hours later... wow it keeps going!
Barm
The barm should be good for 2 months in the fridge. Hopefully, I can get through the next breads relatively quickly and get to the sourdough breads that all use the barm as the starter.

Wild-Yeast Sponge
Just when you thought it was time to make the bread! Nope, it's time to make the wild-yeast sponge and let it sit for 24 hours. I know, all these pictrues are starting to look the same aren't they.
While the wild yeast sponge fermented, the cranberries soaked in whisky, vanilla extract and orange extract. Yes, just cranberries. No raisins or candied fruit here!

Panettone
Is it finally time to make the bread?! Yes!
The mixed the final dough together, added the cranberries and nuts and let the dough rise. I was a bit concerned. The dough was soggy wet. I'd lost track of how many tablespoons of water I was adding (distracted baking!) and think I added one too many. However, that one tablespoon shouldn't have made it THAT much more wet? I ended up adding a lot more flour until the texture was better. It was still more sticky than tacky but I hesitated adding more flour as I'd already added a lot.
I made little rolls in a muffin tin and a large panettone in a 6'' cake pan.
The little rolls were my favorite. They were the perfect size and didn't dry out as much as the large bread did. We even had enough rolls to make an evening trip around the neighborhood to two friends and drop off rolls for dinnertime.
Did I like it? Drumroll.... yes, I did. I'm not sure I'd make it again but in the end it was a fun bread to bake. The shaping of the panettone was a great challenge. I didn't mind the cranberries either. That's fruit-in-bread progress!

Friday, May 6, 2011

{FFwD} Vanilla Éclairs

What a comedy of errors this recipe turned out to be. I have a whole new respect for pastry chefs.

First, I'm a bit behind on posting this French Fridays with Dorie recipe because I was doing a sugar-free challenge with a few friends before Easter. It was a great challenge. I did 45 days with no junk food or soda. It really helped kick junk food out of my everyday life and I hit my goal weight!
I began by making the cream puff dough. I followed the directions but when I took the éclairs out of the oven they all collapsed. I let them cool and cut them- yep, raw inside. I had some time so I decided to try again. I made a second batch and tried to follow the directions even more closely. I let them cook a few moments more until they were nice and golden. Again, the same thing happened to about half of them.
I opted to make the chocolate ganache glaze to spread on the top instead of making the vanilla glaze. In my opinion, éclairs should always have a chocolate glaze. I put the chocolate and cream into a pan and started stirring. After a moment I realized I must have made a mistake because it was the consistency of hot chocolate and I couldn't figure out how it would thicken. I checked the directions- oops- I used 3/4 cup of chocolate when the directions called for 3/4 LB. I quickly tried to calculate how much more to add. I ended up roughly estimating by dumping in. Yeah, the glaze didn't turn out quite right in consistency or taste.

The vanilla pastry cream was the one bright spot. It was perfect!

I assembled the éclairs and got ready to enjoy one before preschool pick up. But, before I could get the fork to my mouth I had to run over and wrestle some baking supplies away from the 18 month old who was ransacking my baking cupboard. I grabbed them all away from her and put them out of reach. I came back to the plate and got a finger full of pastry cream. I had expected a light hint-of-vanilla flavor. Instead, I got the powerful, overwhelming, and burning flavor of intense peppermint. Yep, one of the bottles Penelope had had was the peppermint extract. All I tasted was peppermint for the next 20 minutes.

Once that subsided though I will say that the éclairs were quite good. I was almost glad most of the puff pastry hadn't turned out because after I ate two my head was spinning from all the sugar. It was a delicious dessert but one that needs some perfecting on my part.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Modern Baker: Bittersweet Chocolate Tart

Here is my official Modern Baker recipe post for the sweet tarts! This bittersweet chocolate tart is phenomenal. It's dense and rich and the crust is sweet and crunchy like a perfect cookie. This tart is so delicious, however the richness requires a large gathering. I would be amazed at the person who could eat more than one piece in a day.

The tart begins with a press-in-cookie dough crust. It's made much like cookie dough by mixing butter, sugar, vanilla, and an egg yolk in a mixer.
After stirring in the flour I pressed the dough into my tart pan. Honestly, this was quite a process. I should have listened to Phyl and chilled the dough for a bit. The more I pressed the warmer the dough got and my fingers would slide right though the dough making holes in it.
I took the slow and steady approach and after about 8 minutes I had the tart dough nicely covering my pan. Into the oven it went.
As the crust was baking, I started melting the bittersweet chocolate in a pan.
Yes, I dipped my finger in to make sure the chocolate was acceptable. It passed.
Then, I set the chocolate aside to cool.
I simmered the cream and corn syrup and slowly added it to the cooled chocolate.
And, whisked.
Until smooth.
Finally, I whisked in the ingredient that makes all recipes better- the butter.
Poured it into the cooled crust.
And, popped it into the refrigerator to set.
I served mine with heaping whip cream and some shaved chocolate. Delicious!
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