Tuesday, June 29, 2010

{TWD} Lemon-Drenched Lemon Cake

When I was in high school I had a steady babysitting job - nearly every Saturday evening found me taking care of three adorable children and I even took some vacations with them. I have many fond memories of that family, including some very strong food associations. The mother baked fresh braided loaves of Challah bread every Friday, and there were always cold Tab sodas and Chips Ahoy cookies in the fridge, and a Sara Lee pound cake in the freezer. Invariably we'd slice and eat the cake frozen. I loved its tight crumb and the fact that it never ever tasted dry. Dry pound cake is just a shame, isn't it?

The recipe this week for Tuesdays With Dorie is called Rum Drenched Vanilla Cakes (I baked the lemon variation). Dorie Greenspan compares this cake to the texture of a Sara Lee poundcake.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Wendy of Pink Stripes chose these cakes for us this week. You can go visit her blog for the recipe. Her site is always worth a good browse; Wendy is one of my favorite baking buddies and she always features yummy sweets (including fabulous ice cream!) and wonderful veggie dishes. It makes sense that if Wendy didn't choose an ice cream recipe, she'd pick one with alcohol. Next time, Wendy, I'm going to try this cake with the rum in it.

- Although I love rum in my baked goods, given the very hot weather we've had in these parts this June, lemon sounded perfectly refreshing, so I chose the lemon variation. This meant reducing the rum and vanilla and including lemon zest in the cake and lemon juice in the syrup that soaks the cake after it's baked.

- I baked 1/3 recipe, which I split between a smallish loaf pan and a baby loaf pan. I drenched the baby one with syrup for tasting and kept the larger one plain so that I could pop it into the freezer.

the verdict:

My cake wasn't as dense or as moist as a Sara Lee pound cake. Nor was it as lemony as I would have liked. I'd definitely increase the lemon presence if I were to make it again, maybe adding lemon extract to the batter and the syrup. Or I'd skip the lemon and go for the rum version. Thanks, Wendy, for a fun and easy pick this week!

Friday, June 25, 2010

{TWD} Dressy Chocolate Loaf

Sometimes the recipe names in Dorie Greenspan's book Baking: From My Home to Yours are perfectly straightforward (Molasses Spice Cookies, French Pear Tart, Sweet Cream Biscuits), and sometimes they are a bit more of a puzzlement. This week's Tuesdays With Dorie selection is a case in point: Dressy Chocolate Loaf Cake. Some of those words - "dressy" and "loaf cake" are not usually found together.

So this week's recipe presented a semantic mystery. Is the cake truly dressy as compared to all cakes? Or is it merely dressy as far as loaf cakes go? Only one way to find out - bake it up and see!

I decided to serve this one to my book group. As a collection of people they are remarkably versatile in the dressiness department. On any given evening most of us will be in jeans but at least one of the men will be in a suit and tie from working late. At times members have come from or been on the way to cocktail parties or fancy dinners. Our desserts have been similarly varied. We've sampled fancy tarts and rustic pies. I've run the gamut of my decorating experience (sort of dressy to very casual) in cakes I've baked for my book group.

No matter which type of "dressy" this week's cake would end up being, I knew it would fit in fine with our group.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Amy of Amy Ruth Bakes chose this cake for the TWD group to bake this week. You can find the recipe on her site.

- I was very indecisive about kind of cocoa powder (the recipe didn't specify) so I used part natural and part very dark alkalized

- Instead of the loaf pan that Dorie specified, I used my long slim loaf pan, which has equivalent volume but different dimensions. As it baked, the cake rose a lot and filled the pan.

- When assembling this cake I was beset with misgivings. I'm not a huge fan of sour cream flavor, but I like it in some things. I was cautiously optimistic about the frosting. That is until I tasted it, and didn't really care for the flavor, at which point I got a bit worried.

- The other area of uncertainty was the filling. The recipe specifies splitting the loaf lengthwise and spreading raspberry jam between the layers. Despite what feels like a neverending supply of jam jars in my cupboards and fridge, I was unable to unearth any raspberry. Instead I chose a mild berry jam: cloudberry preserves from IKEA.

the verdict:

This was definitely dressy for a loaf cake, with its split, filled layers, and robe of frosting coating the top and sides. In the universe of cakes, however, it was fairly average in dressiness. But this cake was far above average in taste. The first bite brushed aside any lingering doubts I had about the various elements. This close-crumbed, moist, dark, chocolate-y cake paired beautifully with the jam filling and the sour cream frosting.

The book group agreed that this was a fine cake indeed. Perfectly dressy for a Thursday evening in summer!

Although I loved the combination of cake, jam and sour cream frosting just as it was, the cake also would be a great base for a variety of frostings. I had a few scraps of leftover cake with some peanut butter frosting and it was delicious.

I know this post is a few days late; I have been traveling and planned to write the post on Tuesday from the airplane. Except the plane didn't offer an internet connection.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

{TWD} Raisin Swirl Bread

What a difference the baking group Tuesdays With Dorie has made in my kitchen! Nearly two years of steady baking, week in and week out, has made me comfortable with a variety of techniques and ingredients. The biggest transformation , however, has been in yeast baking. My first ever yeast experience was a Dorie recipe (Kugelhopf, posted here) and I have no doubt that were it not for my participation in TWD I would never have attempted to bake with yeast.

Boy, am I glad that I did; I was bitten by the yeast bug and now I even have a separate blog devoted solely to my yeast baking. So I was pleased to see that the assigned recipe for this week is Raisin Swirl Bread. Raisin bread is a longtime favorite in our house, and the best version I've baked is a Peter Reinhard recipe from his book The Bread Baker's Apprentice (which I posted here). How would Dorie's compare?

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The recipe was chosen by Susan of the blog Food.Baby. You can find the recipe on her post.

- I made half recipe in a smallish loaf pan.

- Rather than active dry yeast, I used instant yeast. The conversion is to use 3/4 of the active dry measurement when measuring the instant yeast. The instant yeast doesn't need to be proofed, but rather is added with the dry ingredients.

- My favorite way to mix bread is by hand, but if I use a machine, I invariably use my food processor. I love the speed and precision of this method. It requires the ingredients to be mixed in a different order, but before long it really becomes second nature. First all of the dry ingredients (including the instant yeast) are combined in the food processor bowl. Then the liquid ingredients are added in a slow stream while the machine is pulsing. Continue to process the dough until it gathers into a ball, generally a minute of less. When the dough has been mixed/kneaded enough, it will register 77-81 degrees on an instant thermometer, and the dough will pass the "windowpane" test, meaning that it will be translucent when stretched between the fingers of both hands.

- Dorie's recipe calls for all-purpose flour, but I wanted bread with a sturdy crumb and some whole grain complexity, so I used a mixture of high gluten flour, oat flour, and white whole wheat flour. I added the optional nutmeg and orange zest to the dough.

- For the swirl, I used brown sugar with cinnamon and a very dark cocoa powder. After my buddy Di mentioned that she was leaving out the butter so that the bread wouldn't fall apart where the swirl was I decided to follow suit.

- I put the dough into the freezer for the specified 30 minute rest and set a timer. At the time I had a lot of other cooking and baking projects going in the kitchen - you know where this is going, right? - so when the timer rang I got distracted and promptly forgot about my dough. About 3 hours later I remembered the bread dough! At that point I moved it from freezer to the fridge for an overnight stint and the next day I formed and baked the bread.

the verdict:

When I sliced this bread, I gave a little gasp - it was so gorgeous! The swirl, with its plump raisins, looked like a string of beads. The bread had nice flavor and texture, but I have to say that it didn't unseat my favorite Peter Reinhart raisin bread. It was pretty good toasted, and I'm sure that Dorie's suggestion of French toast would be quite delicious. Also our host Susan made cinnamon toast with her bread and I'm going to try that out. Thanks, Susan!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

{TWD} Strawberry Shortcake and Friends

Friends, Part 1

The minute that I learned that this week's recipe assignment for the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group was Tender Shortcakes, I was transported back to my childhood and the countless hours I spent with my friends skipping rope. Here is one of the jump rope songs we sang:
Strawberry shortcake, cream on top.
Tell me the name of your sweetheart?
Is it .......
[.....continue listing random names until the person jumping misses, and that is deemed to be the sweetheart's name]
To match the jump rope rhyme - and because I had fabulous berries in my farm box - I knew I had to make classic strawberry, although in my opinion almost any fruit and/or berry makes a fabulous pairing with shortcakes and "cream on top."

Friends, Part 2

Speaking of friends, until I began blogging two summers ago, I thought the concept of "online friends" was a little odd. But I found that my online baking groups are communities, and discovered some kindred spirits who have become actual buddies, partners in flour and sugar. Cathy, of the blog The Tortefeasor, is one of my favorite baker/bloggers. Despite a few (ahem) years difference in our ages, we discovered that we shared a lot in common in our backgrounds and interests. Cathy's posts never fail to make me laugh, even as I identify with her baking ups and downs (mostly ups these days - two years of weekly baking breeds a reassuring level of ability) The Tender Shortcakes are Cathy's pick and I am honored to bake them along with her!

Friends, Part 3

I enjoyed this dessert with the members of my book group. We started as acquaintances, and over nearly 5 years of twice-monthly meetings, we have become close friends who have shared in each other's lives as we share discussions of the books we read together. The group members have graciously served as recipe tasters for many of the Tuesdays With Dorie sweets that I bake, and they provide valuable feedback.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- To get the recipe for Tender Shortcakes, check out Cathy's post.

- I made 2/3 recipe and the math was simple!

- The recipe was easy to put together, and I followed it exactly as written, although Dorie gives great playing around options for the shortcakes and the filling, This time I wanted the classic. Well, truth be told, I did add a tiny pinch of cardamom to the dry ingredients.

- I was low on unsalted butter, so I used salted butter and cut the salt in the dry ingredients a bit.

- My shortcakes were much smaller than specified in the recipe, but they were still an average shortcake size. I think I ended up with a dozen or more.

- I'm pretty sure I did something not quite right because mine were lumpy and didn't rise very much as they baked. The directions said to split them before topping with berries and whipped cream, but mine were so flat - and crumbly - that there was no feasible way that I could have split them. I was a little distressed that I couldn't serve them as specified, but we just piled the berries and the cream on the plate with the shortcake and that was it.

C takes her first taste of the Tender Shortcake!
the verdict:

My book group assured me that there was no reason to fret about un-split crumbly shortcakes - these were delicious! More than one group member ate more than one shortcake. JT had both of his shortcakes topped only with whipped cream, explaining that they were perfect so there was no need for berries! His wife, AT, loved the shortcakes, especially since they reminded her of shortcakes that she'd enjoyed as a child. Our host couple's daughter C agreed to demonstrate her reaction for the camera (see pictures, above and below).

We split up the leftover shortcakes, and my husband enjoyed them for dessert. It was a sad day indeed when he asked "do we have any more of those shortcakes?" and my answer was "no"...

Many thanks to my friend Cathy for choosing a classic recipe - and a delicious version at that - that is perfect for sharing with friends.

C delivers the verdict!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

{TWD} White Chocolate Brownies

I have a confession to make: for a long time I've had a bad attitude about Dorie Greenspan's recipe for White Chocolate Brownies in Baking: From My Home to Yours. I don't like the sickly-sweet taste of white chocolate, so the prospect of white chocolate brownies was just plain unappealing to me. But then I'd reason with myself: "Self, don't forget this is Dorie Greenspan's recipe. You've been pleasantly surprised many times by her recipes; as recently as last week's coconut banana ice cream pie. Maybe, just maybe, you'll like these when the time comes to bake them for Tuesdays With Dorie."

The brownies were finally chosen for this week and I stepped up and baked them, hoping to be proven wrong in my prejudgment of the recipe.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- My opinion of the brownies is no reflection of my feelings about Marthe of the blog Culinary Delights who chose the recipe this week. Marthe is an enthusiastic and generous member of Tuesdays With Dorie, and her blog is filled with yummy treats. Luckily she loved the brownies, and she gives some very helpful tips in her post (along with the recipe).

- My hopes were raised when I was that there was a surprisingly little amount of white chocolate in the brownie recipe, and a lot of orange zest in the batter, which made the brownies smell delicious as they baked.

- A full recipe would fill a 9"x13" pan. I decided to use two 8" square pans - so the brownies would cook more quickly in the middles and release from pans easily. I baked these early, before this week's P&Q was posted, but I somehow suspected that doneness - or rather, underdoneness - would be an issue. I also lined my pans with a parchment sling so that I could remove the brownies from the pan without stickage.

- The recipe calls for ground almonds and I used almond flour/meal from Bob's Red Mill. It's more finely ground and fluffy than I've been able to achieve in my food processor. Plus, it's made with blanched almonds, so it's a lovely pale golden color.

- I was tempted to use a swirl of jam rather than berries (doesn't that sound good?) but I dutifully used the specified raspberries (exactly 20 of them).

- My meringue layer turned out to be unexpectedly thin when I spread it over the brownie batter.

- It took absolutely forever for the brownies to get baked. I kept putting them back in oven for another 5 minutes. On the bright side, testing the brownies wasn't as hard as I thought it would be the knife went through the meringue layer and tested the brownie layer .

- I thought the brownies looked so pretty when I cut them - the deep red raspberries punctuating the creamy yellow crumb. I piled them on a platter with some other brownies and brought them to a neighborhood dinner gathering. Unfortunately we were not able to stay at the party, so I don't know how well they were received. I kept out a couple of brownies to photograph the next day.

- Unfortunately the meringue didn't hold up for long, and when I photographed the brownies it was a bit weepy.

the verdict:

I bit into a brownie with trepidation, and ...it was much tastier than I had expected. The orange flavor and the raspberry notes were nice and strong, and the white chocolate was all but undetectable. Although the brownies tasted nowhere near as bad as I was expecting, mine had an odd spongy dense texture which I did not enjoy.