Tuesday, December 4, 2012

TWD & BWJ: Gingerbread Baby Cakes

Okay, so I didn't buy the special pans to bake small cakes, but this recipe is flexible so I baked  Gingerbread Cake in a 9.5" pyrex pie dish.  Left to my own devices, I would choose to make something chocolate if I were going to bake something sweet and frankly, I would never choose to bake a gingerbread cake.  But why join an on-line baking group if you aren't willing to try new recipes?
Gingerbread Baby Cakes are straightforward to make. No fussing. No long waiting periods. No strange ingredients.  The recipe calls for ground and fresh ginger, which I think is unusual and adds a nice crunch if not a pronounced ginger flavor to the cake. In place of regular flour, I used  white whole wheat flour. This was only because I misplaced the new bag of regular unbleached flour. My kitchen is fairly small, but for the life of me, I could not find it.
This cake is very rich and moist. I'm not crazy about molasses, but I like the cake better each time I taste it.  It's just that the cake looks like it should be chocolate and when I bite into something thinking it's going to taste like chocolate and it doesn't, well ...
To find out how other bakers fared check out Tuesdays With Dorie.  Karen of Karen's Kitchen Stories is our host and she will be posting the recipe on her blog.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

TWD & BWJ: Buttermilk Crumb Muffins

I really appreciated this recipe from Baking with Julia. It was easy, delicious and I only had to buy two ingredients; the buttermilk and nutmeg.  I was up early Sunday morning and the muffins were ready by the time my spouse got out of bed about an hour and a half later. 
I tried an experiment with our foil muffin tins, which we have re-used a number of times. I used paper liners for six of the muffins and cooking spray for the other twelve muffins.  The paper liners worked the best. The cooking spray left us with delicious muffin tops, but the rest of the muffins were left in the pan. Now I know. Next time I'll use paper liners. 
That said, the muffins were very tender and sweet.  They make the perfect morning treat. 
To see how other bakers fared, go to Tuesdays with Dorie. Our host for this recipe is Alisa and she will post the recipe on her blog.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Wok Wednesdays: Spicy Orange Chicken

Citrus and chicken. I mean how can you go wrong? I can't resist Duck a l'Orange or roasted chicken with oranges, so stir-fried Spicy Orange Chicken seemed like a logical choice for a stir-fry.  The recipe is from the wonderful  Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge by Grace Young.

"Smells delicious, sounds dangerous."  That was my husband's first comment. This time I had the wok hot enough for a loud sizzle. The recipe was delicious and once again, I got to shop at my favorite local Asian food market to find the white peppercorns and chili bean sauce.  I also used some homemade chicken broth that I had in my freezer.  That in itself is a rare occurrence. I usually don't freeze left-over soup; I just make my family eat again later in the week.

I didn't use the Szechuan peppercorns. Somewhere in my house is a rather large bag, but I couldn't find it. Oy. Instead I used just about double the amount of the white peppercorn. We missed that light tingle, but the dish did have a kick to it. Next time, I would be tempted to add more orange zest. Maybe the orange was too small or not quite in season?  I really like a pronounced citrus flavor.

I still have a ways to go in the technique department. I still feel like I'm running a race once the stir-frying begins. In this particular case, I think I had too much liquid and the dish was soupy, although the chicken was still tender and tasty.  

  A group of us are stir-frying together and we're open to any and all who want to join. You can check out Wok Wednesdays or the Facebook page.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Wok Wednesdays: Stir-Fried Eggs with Tomatoes

Years ago, when I was just developing an interest in cooking, I bought a wok along with a beginners' Chinese cookbook.  I marveled at the recipes presented in order of difficulty. I don't know why, but I never, ever made any of the dishes from that book.  Instead, I used the wok to make vegetable tempura and omelets. What possessed me? Who knows? As I recall, the omelets came out quite well.  These days I'm happy that I now include stir-fries in my repertoire.

This week's recipe is Stir-Fried Eggs with Tomatoes. I was really pleased that I had most of the items on hand from the ingredient list.  I substituted fresh basil for the cilantro; we're not big cilantro fans and my basil plant is still producing.  I also used onions instead of shallots because I had them on hand.

I decided that in case we didn't like the recipe, I should make a second dish.  I made mu shu vegetables using tortillas as the pancakes. The recipe was adapted from Millie Chan's Kosher Chinese Cookbook.    I spent about 30 minutes, laying out all the ingredients for both recipes and then started stir-frying.  Everything went great. The only point I started to worry was when I put the eggs into the wok and they just sat there. No fabulous sizzle. No hot bubbling eggs.  I stood there for a moment and then started mixing from the bottom of the pan up. In the end, it all came together.  The garlic and onion gave the eggs a nice crunch and the basil and sesame added flavor.

This recipe is from Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge  by Grace Young, a book well worth adding to your cookbook library. To find out how others enjoyed this recipe, check out the Wok Wednesdays  site.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

TWD & BWJ: Cranberry Walnut Pumpkin Loaf

Well it's been a while since I've baked and blogged. I unexpectedly found a new career as a teaching assistant at a pre-school. Eventhough I work part time, I arrive home exhausted from running around after 10 two-year-olds.  Once a week, I cook with three and four year olds.  That is really fun.

Now that I'm used to my new schedule, I'm back with Tuesdays with Dorie.  This time:
Cranberry Walnut Pumpkin Loaf. Our host is Rebecca.  The recipe will be posted on her blog.
I have to confess to being a bit intimidated by this recipe. There is a very long set of instructions and the recipe calls for two rise times, an overnight in the fridge and  a six hour rest (okay, actually a 3 to 4 hour rest, but there was a small misunderstanding between the instructions and me.)  I then looked at the small 5.5" x  3.5" pans and thought, "All that time.... and that's what we end up with?"  I ended up having enough dough for four small loaves.

Because not everyone in my family likes raisins, I left them out and increased the amount of cranberries to one cup. As it turns out, the same someone who doesn't like raisins, also doesn't like cranberries or pumpkin. Yikes. 

I'm not sure I will make this bread again. It has a lovely texture, but the pumpkin flavor is very subtle and the frozen cranberries I used were too tart. Maybe I was just expecting something sweeter.  Given the time commitment to make this bread, I might perfer to make a cinnamon raisin loaf or a challah.  Come to think of it, a friend of mine has a recipe for pumpkin challah bread ...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Wok Wednesdays: Salt & Pepper Dry-Fried Salmon

I know. The Wok Wednesday recipe this time is Salt & Pepper Dry-Fried Shrimp, but we keep a Kosher home. I almost skipped making this dish. The dish is a dry stir-fry and there are few ingredients so it seemed to me that the flavor of the shrimp would be intensified.  The question then is what would be a good substitute.  Tofu is bland, making it wonderful for taking on the flavors of sauces and marinades, but for this dish?  Probably not a good idea.  Beef might work well, but we don't eat a lot of red meat and when we do, my family wants large portions.  In the end, I chose salmon. It's a flavorful fish and would benefit from this simple dish. 

In Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge,  Grace Young explains how to prep the fish for stir frying so that it doesn't fall apart. Velveting is a technique to protect the fish from drying out. You briefly marinate the fish in egg-white, rice wine and cornstarch followed by blanching in hot water. You also use a delicate hand when stir-frying so the fish doesn't fall apart. Grace says "The term stir-frying is more suggestive..." when talking about fish. 

This recipe also calls for Sichuan peppercorns.  When we made Kung Pao chicken, I limited my shopping to the major grocery chains and none of them carried the pink peppercorns. I ended up using a peppercorn medley.  Having read so much about other Wok Wednesday bloggers who raved about the real deal, I went to a local Asian grocery. I found a 4 oz. bag of Sze Chuan Pepper at a very reasonable price. The only thing that gave me pause was the warning on the back of the bag. Don't eat raw. Rinse under running tap water for 5 minutes and then boil for 30 minutes.   Excuse me?  Are you serious?  Am I going to suffer awful consequences for not following these instructions exactly? 

In the end, I compromised. I rinsed the peppers for 5 minutes, but then dried them, took off the tiny stems and dry roasted them for a few minutes. I'm not sorry to have my peppercorn medley, but the Sichuan peppercorns are a revelation and only a little goes a very long way. The salmon flavor was delicious and I will be making this dish again.

To see how others enjoyed this dish check out Wok Wednesdays.  You are always welcome to join in the fun. We have decided not to publish the recipes on-line, but you can borrow or buy the book. It's well worth it.  

TWD & BWJ: Berry Galette

Berry Galette is a perfect mid-summer recipe. I have always wanted to bake a galette, a free form tart. I love baked goods that look rustic and I'm not just saying that because everything I bake ends up looking rustic.  I was able to use blueberries from the local farmer's market and I added blackberries and strawberries from farther afield.

Like a few other recipes we've baked these last few months, this one is really quite easy. You just have to plan ahead because the dough needs to rest for a couple of hours. Other than that, you can make this recipe with a bowl and a pastry blender.  
The dough is really sticky. I wasn't really worried about it because we were warned that it would be. We also have to let the dough rest for a couple of hours in the refrigerator.  In the past, cooling the dough has always worked well. This time however, the dough was still very sticky and I was thinking that maybe I should have rolled out little tartlettes instead.  Oh well. 

I was not delighted with the overall result. I loved the fruit filling and I love the look of the galette, but the dough seemed kind of flimsy for a tart dough. Maybe that's because I used semolina flour instead of courser cornmeal.  The next time I make a galette, I may try a different dough.
For those of you who would like the recipe, visit the blogs of Lisa and Andrea, our gracious hosts this time round. The recipe can be found on their blogs.  You can also check out others' experiences here. After all, one of the best parts of joining a blogging group is to see the variety of results and learn from others.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Wok Wednesdays: Kung Pao Chicken

This summer has been wonderful, but busier than I ever expected. When I joined Wok Wednesdays I felt sure there would be plenty of time to stir-fry the dishes and blog about them. Instead, I've been busy getting my older daughter ready for her first year of college, I received a surprise job offer and now we are all enthralled by the Olympics.  Whew. Thus I am late posting, but oh so glad I got around to making this dish.

Kung Pao chicken is one of my favorite dishes. Now I can make it. Yay.  We have delicate palates so we do not like a lot of spice. I used two dried chilis instead of the four to eight called for in the recipe. For us, that was just the right amount of heat.

I also did not use all Sichuan peppercorns. I bought a jar of assorted peppercorns thinking I could just open the jar and pick out the pink ones. That didn't work, so I used a mixture. Still, this dish was a big success with the family.

We have a "no posting" rule in our blogging group so you won't find the recipe here, but you can read about others' experiences cooking Kung Pao Chicken here.  To find the recipe, you can buy the book "Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge" here

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

TWD & BWJ: Semolina Bread

I'm a day late with this week's recipe, Semolina Bread. I didn't anticipate how difficult it would be to find semolina flour and I left it to the last minute. Three of the four major grocery chains did not have it, but there is a new Italian market in town and this was the perfect excuse to check it out.  I also convinced my husband to come with me and enjoy an espresso.

This is a really, really easy recipe, but very time consuming; there are three (count 'em) rises, each two hours.  I benefited from the experience of other TWD/BWJ bloggers. There were comments about the saltiness of the bread, so I cut the amount of salt in half. Some bakers also said that the bread didn't rise very high, despite the long rising time. So, I didn't worry too much when my loaf looked like a fat pancake. Fortunately, the bread rose beautifully in the oven even though one would never call it a thick loaf. 

This recipe is a keeper. Now, that I have the semolina flour, the other ingredients -- flour, olive oil, yeast, salt -- are easy to find. The finished bread is chewy and delicious.  Anna and Renee are hosting this week's recipe. You will be able to find this wonderful recipe on their blogs.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Wok Wednesdays: Yin Yang Beans

The temperatures have been in the high 90's, but feel like 110 and the humidity is near 90%. We're all too listless to do much and we're certainly not going to turn on the oven in this weather. It's great weather to stir-fry and grill.

Our Wok Wednesdays challenge this time: Yin Yang Beans.  This tasty dish features green beans, scallions and pork with the piquant flavors of fresh ginger, pickled ginger and garlic.  This is a perfect summer dish as fresh beans are plentiful.  I ususally like to follow the recipe as close as possible, but since we don't eat pork (we have a Kosher kitchen), I decided to make a vegetarian version.
My first thought was to go with some tofu approximation of meat.  I decided that as much as I like Morningstar Farms products, I wasn't sure how they would work in a stir-fry.  I thought black beans might work as a contrast to the green beans.   And then it occured to me; slivered almonds would work great. They're crunchy and they would make the Yin Yang Beans a stir-fry variation of green beans almondine. Perfect.

The almonds add a nice crunch and soak up the flavors of the sauce and aromatics. I also used red onions instead of scallions. This was not so much a culinary choice as a moment of forgetfulness at the grocery store.  Overall, the beans were a success. The only change I would make is that I would use one ounce of almonds. I had used two ounces of almonds to replace the pork and that was too much.  You can read other Wok Wednesday blogs here.  And to get this wonderful recipe, get the book, Stir- Frying to the Sky's Edge by Grace Young.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wok Wednesdays (WW): Sugar Snap Peas and Shiitake Mushrooms

Better late than never. After hesitating, I've decided to join Wok Wednesdays based on the wonderful book Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge by Grace Young.

Many years ago, I sat in on a Chinese cooking class and was hooked. Or so I thought. I bought a step-by-step Chinese cookbook that started with easy stir fry recipes and worked its way to more difficult dishes and a wok with all the accoutrments. Using the wok, I quickly learned to make amazing omelets and vegetable tempura. The one thing I did not do was stir-fry.  I can't even remember why.

Flash forward a couple of decades and I used my wok to make great lo mein. Again, something about stir-frying meat or vegetables intimidated me. When Matt from Green Eats Blog had the inspired idea to start Wok Wednesdays, I knew this was another opportunity. Also, the Tuesdays with Dorie / Baking with Julia blogging group was baking with a ton of butter and although it is a wonderful group, I needed an anecdote.

Our challenge; Sugar Snap Peas and Shiitake Mushrooms.  After careful preparation, the stir-frying itself flies by.  I enjoyed this dish, although I have to work on the timing. The snap peas were nice and crunchy, but the mushrooms were too soggy. Still, I enjoyed the mix of flavors and would make this dish again.  With practice, the textures should all work out fine.

I don't feel like I have the hang of stir frying yet, but I have found that blogging along with others is a great learning experience.  As part of this group, we do not publish the recipes. For that, you'll need to go to the book, which I highly recommend.   But, if you want to pick up tips, variations, ideas, check out the other Wok Wednesdays bloggers.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

TWD & BWJ: French Strawberry Cake

I was really excited to bake the French Strawberry Cake. This recipe is hosted by Sophia and Allison and you can check out their blogs if you want the recipe...or, as always, you can check out the book, Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan. 

I was thinking this would be a great recipe this month. We had much to celebrate. There was my husband's birthday, but he likes Mocha cake. And then there was my older daughter's high school graduation but she loves a good lemon tart.

So, today, the day before TWD/BWJ blog day, I made the cake. I would say we are celebrating the first full weekday of summer vacation. It was the first Monday that we could all sleep in and I had the whole day to bake this cake.
Reading through the recipe, I thought this would be one terrific recipe. As the title suggests, it features strawberries and cream frosting. Yum.  Unfortunately, this cake was not as spectacular as I  had hoped. The recipe did say that the cake is "sturdy, firm, adaptable...and drier than most American cakes."  And indeed, the genoise I baked certainly was sturdy and dry. I have to ask myself, "Is it me?" or was that just the nature of the cake?  I just don't know genoise well enough to know the answer. 

I did like the strawberries and the cream frosting, so I'm sure these recipes will find their way into my repertoire.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

TWD & BWJ: Oasis Naan

After taking a pass on the Sticky Buns, I am really happy to be back with this recipe, Oasis Naan. Our hosts are Maggie and Phyl.  When you bake this flat bread, you will be able to find the recipe on their blogs.  Of course, you can get it from Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan, a worthy addition to any cookbook library.
I always marvel at the miracle of bread. I love the way the yeast is alive and the dough grows right in front of you. I do not know who baked the first loaf of yeast bread, but all I can say is "Bless you." It is one of life's great joys and making it is as much fun as eating it. This is one great recipe to add to your repetroire. It is made with four ingredients that are easily found.  The simple techniques require not much more than a bowl and a spoon. I guess a measuring cup helps, but still.... And the results are not only delicious, but you can customize with different spices and toppings.
The first time I made the naan, I followed the recipe. Because my younger doesn't like cumin, I made a few with just kosher salt sprinkled on top. Everyone liked the bread a lot. I also made a veggie curry to go with the bread, which to be frank didn't go over well with the kids.

 I couldn't help but think of what a great pizza dough it would make. So I made it again and topped it with pesto, tomato paste, mozarella and parmesan. Yum. It was a better success with the family. 

 My bread did puff up a lot. I see from the P&Q section that other bloggers had the same issue. To make it the perfect pizza dough, I would have liked it a bit thinner, so I'm open to any suggestions.  That said, this is a keeper.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Cheesecake Holiday

This past weekend, those of us in the USA celebrated memorial day and this year, those of us who are Jewish celebrated the holiday of Shavuot, also known as the Festival of First Fruits and the Festival of Weeks. It is one of the three agricultural festivals. We also celebrate the day that the Jews received the Torah or Five Books of Moses. It is the custom to eat dairy meals on this holiday. For many this means blintzes and/or cheesecakes. Thus in our family, we also call it the Cheesecake Holiday. I have a feeling that we are not alone in this. 

Like many food bloggers, I too have a collection of cookbooks and cooking magazines that are underused. Of all the many cheesecake recipes I have, I chose the one from Fine Cooking magazine, from April/May, 2010. The article provides a basic recipe and then gives you numerous ways to improvise. The link to the article is here. Just follow the steps in the interactive and at the end you will be rewarded with the recipe.

Because I make cheesecake so infrequently, I decided to make a very basic cake. I used two packages of regular cream cheese, one package of neufchatel and 2/3 cup of light sour cream. I also used low fat graham crackers for the crust. The texture came out rich and creamy. I also prepped some strawberries to serve on top. For those of you who are taking part in the Tuesdays with Dorie/ Baking with Julia blogging group, the recipe for the berries is the one we will be using for the French Strawberry cake. Mix a little sugar with strawberries, let sit and then mash up.
For those of you who would like more information about Shavuot, the link is here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

TWD & BWJ: Hungarian Shortbread

This week the TWD/BWJ group is baking Hungarian Shortbread. Our hosts are Lynette and Cher.  The recipe can be found in each of their blogs and as always, in the book, Baking With Julia. 
I planned to make the shortbread yesterday. I took the butter out early in the morning so it would be at room temperature when I wanted to bake.  As the day got busier and busier, I kept looking at those four sticks of butter and wondering just how wise it is to bake these cookies, when really I should be watching my weight.  For that matter, how smart is it to join a baking blog and try and lose weight at the same time?  Oh well, I will think about that next week, when we don't blog. 

I will say that this is one buttery treat. Even after I mixed the dough, it looked and felt like one huge lump of butter.  As is often the case, I took advantage of the wisdom and experience of other bakers. After reading the P & Q's on this recipe, I decided to pre-bake the bottom layer by itself for 15 minutes. I lined the pan with parchment paper and I used blackberry preserves. 

This recipe calls for grating the dough, which is a lot of fun, but you do have to wrap and freeze the dough first.  Next time, I will be more careful how I wrap the dough. It was so sticky, I just plopped it formlessly on wax paper. As a result, once the dough froze, I had to make sure I got the wax paper out of the nooks and crannies where the dough had folded over the paper.

These cookies are easy to make and very tasty, but if I make them again (and given the amount of butter that's a big if) I will cut down on the sugar and skip dusting them with confectioner's sugar altogether.  I also found that the bottom layer was a bit soggy.  Oh well, I hope the kids enjoy them when they get home from school.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

TWD & BWJ: When Life Hands You Lemons....

....Make Lemon Loaf Cake.  Our hosts this week are Truc and Michelle.  If you enjoy a lemony, easy treat, you will be able to find the recipe on their blogs. 

We are big lemon fans in our house. From an early age, my elder daughter has preferred lemon tart to birthday cake. (In fact, when she discovered that I was baking Lemon Loaf Cake, she asked if I couldn't make lemon squares instead. Oh well.)
With a little forethought, this recipe is a snap. Eggs and cream brought to room temperature -- yes. Butter melted and cooled to room temperature -- yes. Lemons zested -- yes, again.  Then, with only a whisk and bowl it all comes together so easily. 
The comments on Lemon Loaf Cake from my fellow bloggers were very helpful. I enjoy lemon treats on the tart side. Enough people commented on the mild lemon flavor, so I added the zest of a fourth lemon, a little extra lemon juice and made a glaze from lemon juice and confectioner's sugar. The loaf turned out dense and tart. Yum.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

TWD & BWJ: Pizza Rustica

 Between the hand mixed crust and my first attempt at a lattice crust, my pizza was quite rustic looking.  Our baking hosts for this treat are Emily and Raelynn.  Follow their links to find the recipe.  Or alternately, buy or borrow the book, Baking with Julia.

I usually try to stick to the recipes as they are written. Because I keep a kosher kitchen, I knew from the get-go that I would have to substitute a vegetable or two for the prosciutto. The rules of keeping kosher forbid the use of any pork or the mixing of meat and milk products. Many fellow TWD bloggers had some excellent suggestions for veggie substitutes. In the end, I went with sauteed sweet onions and roasted red peppers because I like them and they were close at hand.

I was worried about the sweetness of the crust. I am not usually a sweet & salty girl and I wasn't at all sure how this would play with the family. I thought about taking out the sugar or at least cutting the amount, but because part of the BWJ challenge is trying new recipes, what would be the point?  I would try the sweet crust and if I didn't like it, so be it.  I could change it the next time.
I have to say I loved, loved, loved this crust.  It's the best crust I've ever made. Eventhough I don't own a food processor, this was easy enough to make by hand. My older daughter thought the sweet crust complimented the savory filling, but my husband thought the crust was too sweet. At first, I wasn't crazy about the sweet/savory combo. But when I had leftovers cold the next day, I thought the sweet crust complemented the savory very well. Maybe it has to do with the temperature of the pizza. I will definitely be making this again.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

TWD & BWJ: Irish Soda Bread

Our hosts for Irish Soda Bread are Carla and Cathleen. The recipe will be posted on their blogs.

Four simple ingredients go into the basic Irish Soda Bread recipe, although you can add in other things like raisins, orange zest and such. I stuck to the basics.  My dough was really wet and sticky.  I added in a touch more flour when kneading the bread, but I didn't want to overdo it. I'm used to baking bread with yeast and I know that the amount of flour needed varies a bit each time you bake. This is the first time I've made a baking soda bread and I was afraid of making the bread too dry.  

The bread came out nicely, but not great. On the positive side, I loved the texture. It was dense and chewy. On the negative side, it tasted a bit salty and I didn't break up the baking soda enough. There were a couple of brown spots in the finished loaf that tasted of cooked baking soda. Fortunately, we could see them and pick them out. In our family, I was the one most bothered by this. The other three liked the bread.

Will I make this again? I'm not sure. It's certainly easy enough and I can make changes to make the bread less "baking sodaish" and salty, but I enjoy working with yeast and there are so many recipes out there to try.

Looking ahead to pizza rustica.

Monday, March 5, 2012

TWD & BWJ: Rugelach

I have a long, loving relationship with rugelach. I grew up in a home that appreciated food. My mother could be an adventurous cook, but baking was only a once or twice a year activity. Other than that, baking was a mystery best left to the wonderful bakeries in town.We did have one baker in the family; my grandmother from Omaha.  When our grandparents came for their annual visit, she often brought her famous rugelach. Hers were perfectly shaped little rolls filled with cinnamon, raisins and nuts. What a treat!  So I was delighted that our baking challenge this time is rugelach.

This week's Baking with Julia challenge is hosted by Margaret and Jessica. Those are the sites to visit if you would like the recipe or you can find it on pages 325-327 of the book,  Baking with Julia. I had the house to myself on Saturday, so I made the dough in the morning, let it cool in the fridge all day, rolled it out and filled it in the early evening and baked it Sunday morning before everyone woke up. It's that kind of recipe; each step made in its own time.

I made some minor variations to the recipe. My dough was very, very wet and I added about a quarter cup of flour.  It worked much better.  And, as I learned with the Chocolate Truffle Tartlettes challenge, the refrigerator is your friend. Cooling the dough made it very easy to work with.
I left out the dried fruit. I wish I could say it was because of a well thought out plan, but frankly I noticed that the raisins I had on hand were not as fresh as I would have liked. Put another way, they were ancient and I didn't want to risk using them. (I'm married to a toxicologist whose favorite saying is, "When in doubt, throw it out.")

In the end, my rugelach were not as beautiful as the photo in the book, but they were tasty just the same. I've had a hard time resisting them with their tender dough, carmelized sugar on the bottom of the cookies and the cinnamon goodness.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

BWJ -- Chocolate Truffle Tarts

Our second entry for Baking With Julia: Chocolate Truffle Tartlets. Yum. You can find the recipe on pages 382-383 of the book or you can check out our hosts' blogs: Spike, Jaime, Jessica and Steph. (Apologies to Steph of "A Whisk and a Spoon" -- the link doesn't seem to copy to my blog.)

There are two recipes, both by David Ogonowski. First you make the dough for the tarts. Reading through the recipe, I had a serious case of food-processor envy. To say this is a "hands on" recipe is putting it mildly and I had my doubts. I usually avoid making pie crusts with butter for the very reason that it seems that the butter and flour will never reach the size of small peas. Eventually using fingertips, a dough scraper, two butter knives and rubbing the dough between both palms, I got the butter mixed in with the other ingredients.   After chilling it, it rolled out like a charm.
In the end however, the dough turned out to be a bit dry and they shrunk a bit in the tartlet pan. I'm not exactly sure where I went wrong. Maybe the oven temperature was too high, maybe I left them in too long.

The filling came out like a dream; very rich and full of chocolate flavor. Although, I must invest in a metal bowl for melting the chocolate. I had to balance a small pan on top of a larger pan instead. Waiting for the chocolate to genly melt, I couldn't take my hand off the pan lest it fall.
I didn't use biscotti, but the tarts still had a nice crunch from the chocolate bits. This is just about the fanciest desert I have ever made and it was a perfect ending for our Valentine's Day dinner.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Spiderman Cupcakes

Okay. So what is a Spiderman Cupcake?  In this particular case, they happened to be Red Velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and Spiderman decorations.

After receiving A Baker's Field Guide to Cupcakes by Dede Wilson as a gift, my younger daughter, Mia started baking cupcakes for her drama class at school. She baked a double batch of the red velvet cupcakes for the dress rehearsal of a one-act play she is directing.  The recipes she used can be found on pages 42, 20 and 29 of the book.

Check out Dede Wilson's book or  Dede's website

Mia in the kitchen.
My role in all of this was to purchase the ingredients. Is it my imagination or has Dutch processed cocoa disappeared from grocery store shelves?  I went to five of the major chains in our area (Kroeger's, Harris Teeter, Food Lion, Farm Fresh and Trader Joe's) all to no avail. 
Frankly, I didn't even know there was a difference between Dutch processed and just plain cocoa.  Neither, did the grocer at Food Lion. The grocer at Harris Teeter explained that Dutch processed is more expensive and since consumer's aren't familiar with the brands, they don't buy it. Therefore, no more Dutch cocoa on the shelves. 

Mia substituted regular cocoa which seemed to work out fine. In fact, not one of the 32 cupcakes were left over.
What was left over was cream cheese frosting, about 6 cups worth. We didn't pay attention to the fact that the recipe makes four cups so there was no need at all to double it. Oh well, there's nothing to be done for it. We'll just have to bake a carrot cake.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

BWJ -- White Loaves

BWJ: Up first, White Loaves hosted by Laurie and Jules.
This is just what I enjoy in a recipe; a short list of ingredients, challenging, but not daunting, forgiving of mistakes and most importantly, a delicious result.
I go through periods of baking bread, but they are few and far between. My first effort was in high school with a friend who was a more experienced baker than I. We made an African cardomon bread from one of the old Time-Life international cooking series. 
Since then, my bread baking activity had been inspired by, among other events, the purchase of a food processor, a snow storm, challah and bagel baking classes taught by our Rabbi, and moving to Southeastern Virginia and not knowing where to get good challah.

The smaller loaf was baked in a larger pan.

As I mentioned, the White  Loaves are most forgiving. In defrosting the butter in the microwave I melted half the butter. The dough was very wet, but this seemed not to affect the end product. I also added the salt rather late in the process and that made the bread noticably salty in places, but not too much. Finally, I only have one bread pan that is 8.5" x 4.5" so I used that and a larger pan. I actually liked the loaf that was baked in the larger pan. Still, my family appreciated the results and who could ask for more?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Just beginning...

Having discovered the "Tuesdays with Dorie" community too late to join, I was happy to discover that I can participate in "Baking with Julia" and from the very beginning. The only thing is that I have to create a blog in order to participate. No problem. I'm not a great writer, and only a fair to middlin' baker. But I want to improve my baking skills, feel more at ease in the kitchen and I love reading other food blogs, so count me in.
At this point, I haven't got much to say. I do maintain a Kosher kitchen, so it may be a challenge during the week of Passover, when yeast and grains are forbidden, but I did see a recipe for Matzah...so who knows? 
See you February 7th.