Sunday, February 26, 2012

Pecan Biscuits

Whew! After all the chocolate desserts that have appeared on the blog lately, I'm relieved to post a recipe for biscuits - basic, easy, breakfast-friendly, and not chocolate!  This is the next recipe in my project to finish all the recipes in Dorie Greenspan's book Baking From My Home to Yours, is Sour Cream Pecan Biscuits.  This recipe was the assignment for the original Tuesdays With Dorie group four years ago today.

n.o.e.'s notes:

-  You can find the recipe on the post of the original host blog, Ashley of Eat Me, Delicious, here.

-  Dorie's biscuits are simple enough to put together.  Although you never want to overwork biscuit dough, I didn't mix the dough quite enough; it was crumbly, and floury, which you can see in the finished product.

-  I used 3" cutters and gently patted the scraps together and cut them again.

-  I baked up half the recipe and froze the other half for a future biscuit occasion.

-  My biscuits didn't rise very high as they baked; they turned out like hockey pucks in shape - the top one pictured above is the only one that had any significant rise.

the verdict:

Although I was a little disappointed in the appearance of my biscuits, that was fleeting.  Once I tasted them - warm with salted butter - I didn't really care about their (lack of good) looks.  I loved the taste of these, a touch sweet and with appealing crunch from the nuts. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Chocolate Truffle Tarts

refrigeration dulled the appearance of the filling but not the chocolate flavors!
Fat Tuesday is often celebrated with King cakes, but on this blog post and the posts of a couple of hundred other Tuesdays With Dorie bakers today, Fat Tuesday is chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate.  And really, that is quite appropriate for the day of excesses before the austerity of Lenten fasting begins on Ash Wednesday.  In years past, the faithful would want to clear the pantry of eggs, cream, and other rich ingredients before the beginning of Lent, because these ingredients did not have a place in the strict Lenten diet during the 6 weeks before Easter.  The effort to use up the rich ingredients led to creations such as the King cakes.

Although the fasting rules are significantly more relaxed these days, I used the occasion presented by this recipe to clean out my chocolate drawer of all manner of white, milk, semisweet and bittersweet odds and ends.  And the finished product more than qualified as a rich indulgence.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- There are four host blogs for the tarts this week, and you can find the recipe at any of their sites, along with some pretty spectacular tarts: Steph, Spike, Jaime and Jessica.  Of course you can also find the recipe in the book Baking With Julia!

-  The recipe is David Ogonowski’s Chocolate Truffle Tartlets.

-  I made 1/2 recipe of the chocolate crust in the book.  Some of my fellow bakers have pointed out that the chocolate crust is very close to Dorie's recipe in Baking: From My Home to Yours.  The crust dough comes together beautifully (I used the food processor) with 5oz/cup for the flour weight, as it says in the front of the book.

-  I find that tarts are one of the easiest desserts to adapt to gluten-free baking (the fillings often have no gluten, and with a few good gluten-free crust recipes in the baking arsenal, whipping up a gluten-free dessert is simple.  So I made 1/2 recipe of gluten-free (and grain free, actually) crust from the blog Deliciously Organic.

- From each dough I made two 4" tarts (my tart molds are quite deep) and two 3" shallow tarts in my silicone mold (using 4 of the 6 wells in the mold).

-  The recipe clearly directs us to remove the bottoms of the tart pans before baking the crust, I suppose so that the crust would bake on the bottom without too much insulation from the tart pan bottoms and the baking sheet they were on.  Rule-follower that I am, I did take out the bototms of my little 4″ tarts but if I were making a full size tart I’d definitely leave the bottom in.  In fact, I would leave the bottoms in any tart pan because it was very difficult to unmold the tarts with no bottom to push against, and my crusts crumbled on the edges.

-  I made a full recipe of the filling.  The recipe calls for 8 egg yolks.  One thing learned from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc cookbook is that egg yolks vary – those on the West Coast (of the US) are smaller than on the East. So when you are using a large quantity, the differences can really multiply!  Ad Hoc suggests a weight of 15g per egg yolk, so I measured a total of 120g for the 8 yolks, using a mixture of duck eggs and chicken eggs from my farm box.

-  This was a great recipe for cleaning out the chocolate drawer - I used 4 or 5 different kinds of bittersweet - ranging from 62% to 75% - in the egg mixture for the filling.  When it came to the chocolate cubes that were stirred into the filling I used two kinds of white chocolate, two kind of milk chocolate, and two kinds of semisweet.  I don't like white chocolate but I have some hanging around so I added just a bit - 1/2 ounce of white chocolate.  The rest of my cubes were 1 oz of semisweet chocolate and 2.5 oz of milk chocolate

-  The recipe calls for biscotti or amaretti biscuits to be crumbled into the filling for crunch.  I used 5 amaretti (they seemed small, and I would use a few more next time).

the verdict:

The tarts were quite good and quite, quite rich.  Just one of the 3" tarts (which were really small) bordered on being too big of a serving!  The texture of the amaretti got lost in the heavy richness of the filling.  The gluten-free crust turned out very well, and I'll be making it again.

If you want to see a lot of chocolate tarts, go to the link post on the TWD site, and start clicking on posts of the different bakers.  Happy Fat Tuesday!!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Almost Fudge Gateau

This week my blog will feature a Tuesdays With Dorie dark-chocolate one-two punch.  Today's post is the recipe chosen by the group four years ago, Almost Fudge Gateau, and on Tuesday we'll have Chocolate Tarts for the new Tuesdays With Dorie - Baking With Julia group.

n.o.e.'s notes:

-  The founder of Tuesdays With Dorie, Laurie, featured the gateau recipe on her blog four years ago, here.

-  I baked 3/4 recipe in an 8" springform pan.

-  The cake's generous quantity of eggs are separated and the yolks are combined with melted chocolate and butter, then with flour.  Finally, the egg whites are whipped and folded into the chocolate mixture, then it's all baked until puffed and set.

-  Dorie gives an optional chocolate glaze for the cake, but I decided to dust the top with powdered sugar and call it a day.

the verdict:

Although I suspected that the cake would be good with ice cream or whipped cream, I was lazy and served it to my book group straight up.  And nobody complained!  There were plenty of smiles on the faces of my tasters, as we all enjoyed the trufflish, fluffy-yet-dense cake. It's deep and dark in flavor, rich rather than sugary.  I thought that an overnight in the fridge improved it, as it usually does with chocolate cakes, by making the texture fudgier.

All in all, this was a lovely cake, if not the very best chocolate cake in the book.  My favorite one-layer chocolate cakes from TWD:
16 Minute Magic, Chocolate Almond Torte
Chocolate Grand Marnier Cake

Leslie of Lethally Delicious baked this cake, complete with the glaze, and it's stunning.
[If you are also playing catch-up with the old TWD recipes and baked this cake this week, let me know and I will add your link here]

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Brown Sugar Apple Ginger Cheesecake

For my money the best apples in the world are Macouns, which grow in Central New York and are available for a fairly limited time each Fall.  I've been known to order these apples directly from New York orchards because there's no guarantee that in any given year I'll be able to find Macouns in Atlanta.  Luckily this past October we spent a week in New York State for the wedding of my daughter ALE to her long-time beau KJB.  In a perfect stroke of luck, it turned out to be the only week that the Macoun apples were available at the local orchard.  We commissioned some friends to pick bushels of the apples to use as table decor at the wedding.

look how pretty the apples were in baskets made by the groom's mother
Even with giving away bags of the leftover apples to wedding guests, I still ended up with lots and lots of apples.  Luckily apples keep very well when refrigerated, and I've been doling them out for lunch each day and for special cooking and baking projects, such as this week's make-up recipe for Tuesdays With Dorie, the Brown Sugar Apple Cheesecake (chosen by the original group 4 years ago this week).

why yes, that is an entire trunk filled with Macoun apples
My daughter and new son-in-law spent time over the Christmas holidays with us in California.  They are both huge fans of cheesecake so I planned a to bake this recipe for them. I carried some of the wedding apples in my suitcase from Georgia to California, and when my daughter and son-in-law arrived I baked the cheesecake for them with the apples from their wedding weekend.

n.o.e.'s notes:

-  You can find the recipe on this blog from the early days of the original Tuesdays With Dorie group four years ago.

- To enhance the flavor of the the apples, I added bit of salt as I tossed them with the brown sugar.

- For the filling, I reduced cinnamon to 1.5 tsp and added 1/2 tsp of ground ginger. Also I added 1/2 tsp salt to the cheese filling.

I thought this was a pretty ingenious way to prevent water leaking into the cheesecake crust
 - Baking cheesecake in a water bath, or "bain marie," always makes me nervous.  Although the pan gets wrapped in a layer or two of aluminum foil, it all seems poised for watery disaster.  (In fact my first-ever cheesecake got soggy in the crust that way)  This time, instead of foil, I sheathed the springform pan with a silicone cake pan.  They were both 9" pans, so the fit was nice and snug.  I put the assembly into the water bath, which I thought was pretty ingenious. I didn't have a very deep roasting pan, so the hot water went about 1/3 of the way up the side of the cheesecake.

- Somehow the pan leaked liquid (looked like melted butter in the bottom of the silicone pan when I took out the springform pan) as it baked; despite my efforts the crust was a bit soggy when I unmolded the cake.

the verdict:

Despite my crust woes, the cheesecake was appreciated by all, especially the newlyweds. We topped each piece with candied ginger which provided nice spicy counterpoint to the smooth sweetness of the cake. The apples blended nicely in texture with the creaminess of the cheesecake, while the cinnamon and ginger contributed the lovely flavors of a good apple pie.

The cheesecake might not be heart-shaped or bright red, but I think it makes a lovely story on this Valentine's Day of a special dessert for two very sweet young love-birds. 

Leslie and Margaret are also playing catch-up with the early TWD recipes.  You can find their posts: Leslie's adorable cheesecake and
Margaret's cheesecake and black/white cake

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Basic White Bread

It's been a while since I posted a sandwich bread on this blog, as usually all the yeasted goodies are posted on my bread blog.  But White Bread is the first choice in the all new Tuesdays With Dorie baking group, wherein we begin our journey through Dorie Greenspan's book Baking With Julia.

That's right, there will be more Dorie on Tuesdays!  I thought long and hard about whether to join the new group. I hemmed and hawed. I shifted my weight from one foot to the other. I waffled.  And then, I decided to give it a try; we'll see how it goes.

The recipes in the new book tend to be more complex than Dorie's recipes in the previous TWD book, Baking From My Home to Yours, were so the group is only going to bake 2 recipes per month.  I am aiming to bake at least one of the selections each month, posting on the appropriate Tuesday.  For the next several months I'll also be catching up on all of the recipes that I missed from the early days of the first TWD, posting on close to the date when they were originally assigned for the TWD group four years ago.

The book for this round of TWD, Baking With Julia is based on the Master Chefs television series that aired back in the 1990s.  Julia Child was the host of the series, and 26 bakers were guests on the show, baking with Julia Child in her kitchen.   Dorie Greenspan made it all into this book.  Of course the book's recipes are not Dorie's, or even Julia's, and it's going to be fun to try recipes from many different bakers in the course of this new version of TWD.

n.o.e.'s notes:

-  The bread recipe is a contribution by baker Craig KominiakIf you want to bake this bread, you can find the recipe on Jules' blog, here, as she is one of our hosts this week, along with Laurie of Slush.  Or you could buy the book and bake along with the group; the last I heard there are 300+ blogs from almost every state and from countries around the globe.

-  I like a sturdy crumb on my bread, so I used bread flour.

-  I never use with active dry yeast when baking, but instead use instant yeast, which doesn't need to be 'proofed' or activated.  To convert, use about 3/4 the amount that you would use of active dry yeast.  The instant yeast is added along with the flour.

-  My stand mixer has been ailing for a couple of years (I'm hoping that 2012 will be the year of Operation Repair Kitchen Aid.)  I've learned to avoid kneading dough with a mixer but to knead by hand, which I enjoy, or use my food processor instead.  I learned the food processor method from Rose Levy Beranbaum and I like it so much that even when my stand mixer is fixed I won't go back to making bread dough with it.  When using a food processor, the ingredients are mixed in a slightly different order but the dough turns out much more quickly and I think just as beautifully.  So, using this method, I first put dry ingredients together in my food processor, including the instant yeast and pulsed several times to mix the ingredients together.  Than I added the water and finally the salt, pulsing until the dough pulled together and the gluten began to develop.  Then I turned the dough onto the counter and kneaded it by hand, adding softened butter as I kneaded, although I could have done this step in the food processor also.

-  My dough was very slow on both rises: it took 2 hours for first rise and 1.5 hours for the loaves to rise after they were formed.  I just told myself that the dough was developing more flavor!

-  I made half recipe of the bread dough, which I split and baked in two medium-ish metal pans of slightly different sizes.  Did you know that if you save the papers from sticks of butter they are great for greasing baking pans?  This time I also used the papers to line the bottoms of the pans to make sure the loaves would release.

the verdict:

We enjoyed the bread toasted with butter - it has a sturdy crumb and the browned crust was a bit chewy in a good artisan-white-bread way.  While this bread doesn't unseat our very favorite white bread, it is one that we savored down to the very last crumb.

If you want to see a passel of other white bread posts, head over here and start clicking on links to the other bakers in the all-new Tuesdays With Dorie!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Black and White Chocolate Layer Cake

Dorie Greenspan's book Baking From My Home to Yours includes several Big Cakes, as it should.  Those time-and-equipment-intensive layer cakes, each composed of multiple different elements, alternately inspire and terrify me.  If this were just an average book on my shelf, I might select one of these layer cakes if I had something that I wanted to celebrate (with cake) and I had the time at my disposal to bake it.

In the course of baking through the entire cookbook as part of the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group, with recipes announced monthly as assignments for the group, however, these cake recipes periodically popped up like little landmines. Boom - a cake recipe was chosen, and suddenly I would find myself scrambling around for a layer cake occasion and meshing the cake's steps and my schedule.

It's a little easier now that I'm catching up on the recipes that I missed from the early days before I was a TWD member, and posting them in the original order, because I know which recipes are coming and when.  I have a list of all the recipes and the original posting dates [which you can see on my Tuesdays With Dorie page] so now I can plan ahead to fit baked good to appropriate event.  The Black and White Chocolate Cake was chosen as the TWD baking assignment four years ago today, and I prepared a mini version several weeks ago for my book group meeting.

n.o.e.'s notes:

-  The founder of TWD, Laurie of the blog Slush, posted the recipe on her blog in February, 2008.

-  I baked a half recipe in two 6" cake pans.  The cake layers are a vanilla buttermilk, and the cake is filled with a dark chocolate mousse and frosted with a white chocolate whipped cream.

-  I measure my ingredients by weight whenever possible, and I know that Dorie's cup of all purpose flour is 4.8 ounces or 136 grams.  This recipe calls for cake flour, though, and I had no idea how much to use by weight.  Internet sources varied wildly on weight of 1 cup of cake flour, anywhere from 3.5 oz to 4.25 oz.  I went with the heaviest because Dorie uses a "heavy cup" for regular flour (4.75 oz).  Also that's what it came out to when I double checked the measurement with my measuring cup.

-  There was no buttermilk in my fridge, so I used pourable yogurt from Traderspoint Creamery for my cake batter. (Nope, they don't pay me to mention their product, same with any brand I mention on my blog.)

-  In the cake batter I also used some wonderful duck eggs from my farm box.

-   For the white chocolate, I used a mixture of Callebaut and Ghiradelli.

-   For the dark chocolate, I used a mixture of 61% el Rey and 72% Trader Joe's.

-   This recipe used 8 bowls, 4 sauce pans, 2 cake pans, 1 cookie sheet, 1 cooling rack, 2 sieves, 4 silicone scrapers, an arsenal of table knives, 2 measuring cups, a knife, and assorted measuring spoons. To be fair, some of the bowls were prep bowls where I pre-measured ingredients, but this was a sink-ful of dishes for a little cake!

-  Constructing a cake with even layers, frosting it neatly and cutting it cleanly so that the filling doesn't smear into the layers is beyond my ability, but it must be possible because the picture of the cake slice in the book is absolute perfection!

the verdict:

The cake was well-received at my book group, but in this after-holidays time of year, most of the members were limiting carbs, or limiting sweets, or on diets, so the pieces they cut from the cake were mighty small.  I ended up with a good bit left over, and I can report that it keeps extremely well in the fridge.  Because it is not sugary-sweet, it is great any time of day, and makes for a lovely breakfast in a pinch.

The cake layers are tender and moist with a charming touch of vanilla.  The chocolate pastry cream was fantastic as a slightly-bitter filling, and the whipped cream frosting provided a creamy sweetness and just a hint of white chocolate flavor.

With this cake, I've finished all of the layer cakes in Dorie's book.  Here are my posts from the others:
Perfect Party Cake
Devil's Food "Wite Out" Cake (the "Cover Cake")
Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake (variations)
Cocoa Buttermilk Birthday Cake
Bill's Half-Sized Carrot Cake

Friday, February 3, 2012

Winter Vegetables Roasted in Bacon Grease


Yesterday was Groundhog Day and the reports are that Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and we're in for 6 more weeks of winter, although our local groundhog in Stone Mountain Georgia did not see his shadow so here in the Southeast we might be heading for an early Spring.  Whatever the weather, the markets and CSA boxes right now are boasting a bounty of earthy, bulbous roots:  humble, starchy, a bit odd in name and appearance (rutabagas and parsnips), but worth exploring in satisfying hearty main dishes and savory sides, such as this dish, Winter Vegetables Roasted in Bacon Grease.

Bacon has an important role in my kitchen.  Although I rarely eat a whole piece of bacon on its own, I use bacon for accents in many dishes, such as my favorite salad, and my favorite sauteed greens, and my favorite chicken curry.  When I cook bacon, in full slices or cut into lardons, I save the grease in a container in the fridge or freezer.  This comes in handy when it's time for greasing the pan for cooking eggs, or greens, and, as it turns out, roasting vegetables in the oven.

n.o.e.'s notes:

-  The recipe for these roast vegetables came from the kitchn, and you can find it here.

-  For the roots, I used red and golden beets and turnip, and instead of cauliflower, I used broccoli.  I've made this other times and varied the roots, but I always keep the broccoli.

-  [edited to add: These vegetables would also be delicious roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper]

the verdict:

As they roasted, the root vegetables got good and caramelized, and tender and a bit smoky in flavor from the bacon.  The broccoli got a bit crispy, which was a fantastic contribution to taste of the root veggies.  This dish is simple to put together and delivers a big flavor dividend; it's become a standby of my cool-weather cooking.