Sunday, September 28, 2014

Chodské koláče, or when cheese didn't make something better

We were tasked this month with making Chodské koláče, or a Czech circular pastry with fresh cheese and poppy seeds. Erica and I started the day working up our appetites by taking a nice bike ride over the golden gate bridge. We were certainly loving the late September "summer" of SF. 

Next, Erica whipped up some pretty tasty dough, while I took a walk through the eastern european markets in my new neighborhood looking for "quark" -- a type of fresh, creamy cheese. The internets assured me that Russian tvorog or farmer's cheese would be close enough, so I picked up the brand we usually use for pierogis.

The pastries were easily assembled after the dough finished its rise -- you mix the cheese with butter, sugar, egg whites and seasonings (rum, vanilla and lemon), to top a circular pastry, and then make a poppy-seed paste to decorate the final product.

Despite our post-ride hunger, the final products were unfortunately not our favorite result. The pastry dough remained tasty, though relatively minor, and the poppy seeds provided an interesting kick. But the cheese was simply too cheesy when mixed together with the other sweet flavors -- none of us had more than a few bites.

As always, our artistic skills were quite impressive.

 a spiral
 some lines
 a very fancy star
oh, and a bicycle! Well done us.

I will report that a few hours later, we brought home one of the pastries to my husband, who has spent significant time in the czech republic and eastern europe. He rather liked the final product, and assured us that it tasted just like some of the pastries he'd had abroad. So perhaps it was our baking skills that lacked, but our palettes....

Until next time!

The September Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Lucie from ChezLucie. She challenged us to make a true Czech treat –Kolaches!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Kürtőskalács, for real

This challenge marks the first use of Sara's new kitchen by the Baking JDs and we are excited for many more to come. Sara had had these pastries before but they were new to me. I think they would be the perfect complement to coffee, although we had them after a delicious summery lunch.

Sara made the dough before we went to a yoga class, so it was easy to complete this challenge after we got back from class and enjoyed lunch with friends. First we rolled out the dough and then cut it in a spiral shape.

Very pretty.

After wrapping a rolling pin in aluminum foil, I spun it around and as Sara wrapped the dough. Teamwork!

We (incorrectly) assumed that my silicon rolling pin (the pink one above) would be OK in the oven without being wrapped. Whoops. This was our casualty this time around -- pieces of it were apparently plastic and melted. Still appears to work, at least!

Anyway, we baked the pastries, rotating them partway through, and they came out beautifully. Our only possible mistake was that we may have rolled the dough a bit too thin. Also while our cinnamon-sugar coating stuck well to the outside, our nuts did not. More finely chopped? More butter?

Regardless, the kürtőskalács slipped right off the pins and were so tasty. They also smelled divine.

Thanks for another fun and delicious challenge, Daring Bakers!

The August Daring Bakers' Challenge took us for a spin! Swathi of Zesty South Indian Kitchen taught us to make rolled pastries inspired by Kurtoskalacs, a traditional Hungarian wedding pastry. These tasty yeasted delights gave us lots to celebrate!

Recipe: Kürtőskalács (Chimney cake)
Servings: 4

Preparation time
Preparing dough 15 minutes, first rise: about an 1 hour
Cook time: 20 minutes in oven if you using roast function. Baking at 25 minutes

Equipment required
measuring cup
weighing balance
roasting pan
2 baking sheet
4 rolling pins [we only used 2]


For the dough:
1¾ cups (8½ oz) (240 gm) all-purpose (plain) flour
2¼ teaspoons (1 packet) (7 gm) active dry yeast OR 2 teaspoons instant yeast OR 14 gm (½ oz) fresh yeast
2 tablespoons (1 oz)(30 gm) sugar
1/8 teaspoon (3/4 gm) salt
1 large egg, room temperature
3 tablespoons (1½ oz) (45 gm) melted butter
1/2 cup (120 ml) milk, lukewarm temperature

For baking/grilling:
melted butter

For the topping:
Approximately ½ cup (3½ oz) (100gm) sugar
For walnut sugar topping
About 1 cup (4 oz) (115 gm) ground walnuts, mixed with about 1/2 cup (3½ oz) (100 gm) sugar
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (1/4 oz) (6 gm) cinnamon

If you are using active dry yeast, add ½ teaspoon sugar to lukewarm milk and set aside for 5-10 minutes until it proofs (becomes foamy).

After proofing: 

You can use the other yeast types directly along with the flour.
In a large bowl combine, flour, sugar and salt. To this add egg, milk, melted butter, and yeast.

Stir the mixture until it comes together to form a dough, and then knead for about five minutes.

It will be sticky. Don’t be tempted to add any flour. Grease your hand if needed.

Transfer to a well greased container

Allow the dough to rise for 60 minutes at room temperature until doubled in volume
Prepare the rolling pins by covering them with aluminum foil, do at least two or three layers, to protect the pins from burning in the oven.

Make sure to cover the rolling pins very well. Brush them with melted butter.

Punch down the dough and divide into 4 equal parts about 4 oz (115 gm) of each.

On a well floured surface spread one portion of the dough

Shape into 1/6 inch (4 mm) thick square-shaped sheet.

Using a pizza cutter [or a sharp knife!] cut the dough into a long ribbons of about 1/2 inch (13 mm) wide.

Wrap one end of the dough strip around the spit/rolling pin, tucking in the end so the dough doesn’t unwind.

Keep the dough very thin (under ¼ inch (6 mm)) as you stretch and wind it on the rolling pun. Then roll the whole thing slightly on the counter top to flatten it/press it together.

Brush with melted butter

Roll in sugar

Place in roasting pan and bake in a preheated moderately hot oven 375°F/190⁰C/gas mark 5 for 25 minutes.

If using roast function (375⁰F/190⁰C) in the oven it will take about 20 minutes.

If you are grilling (broiling) over the fire cooking time is about six minutes, until it starts to take on a dark golden color. Turn the rolling pin at once least once (or more) throughout baking time to ensure uniform cooking.

When cake is done roll it in sugar again

If you are using other toppings brush more butter, then roll the finished cake in the toppings of your choice.

Tap the mold on a table top to release the cake and set it up right to cool.

It will release easily like this.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Kürtőskalács, but of course

The baking JDs have been delinquent this month (in posting, not in baking). We'll get a post up soon!

The August Daring Bakers' Challenge took us for a spin! Swathi of Zesty South Indian Kitchen taught us to make rolled pastries inspired by Kurtoskalacs, a traditional Hungarian wedding pastry. These tasty yeasted delights gave us lots to celebrate!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Who Likes Surprises?

There has been a lot of excitement this month, which almost derailed this challenge. The big, happy excitement is that Sara and her husband, Will, bought and moved into a new house. This is a major feat anywhere, and especially in San Francisco. The less big, less happy excitement is that I was traveling -- for business and pleasure -- for most of the second half of the month. So finding a time to get together and bake proved challenging.

For that reason, I decided to forge ahead and bake a thematic surprise cake that Sara and Will could enjoy with me. The cake I chose -- the House Cake from Surprise-Inside Cakes by Amanda Rettke (very fortunately available in Kindle version from the San Francisco Public Library!) -- was very daunting for me at the outset.

It began at 7 am with four white cakes, which I baked and popped in the freezer. I only had 9-in. cake pans, although the recipe called for 8-in. pans, but I went with what I had and it worked fine. Strangely I had four of them, as well as two smaller pans. I have no idea where all those cake pans came from.

Chocolate and red velvet cakes followed. The chocolate was especially delicious even though (or perhaps because!) I didn't cut the milk chocolate bits small enough, so they didn't melt fully into the cake as they were supposed to. The two cakes looked quite similar when baked, but the red velvet had the prettier batter.

I also made a whole lot of butter cream frosting. The amount of butter and confectioners sugar involved was shocking. After chilling, I staked two cakes together with frosting in between and begin cutting out the house. You can see the funnel shape for the roof below; I cut a straight-sided cylinder for the body of the house. I was supposed to use round cookie cutters to size the cut-outs but I didn't have any so I free-handed it, which made me a little nervous. 

My cakes were a little domed but I am not adept evening them out with a knife, so I just relied on frosting to do the trick. Once I had cut out the house shapes I filled in the holes with the other cakes crumbled together with frosting and stacked the whole thing together. It was very tall!  

Sadly I ran out of frosting midway through frosting the outside. If anyone ever tries this recipe, I recommend making two recipes of buttercream frosting instead of the one she recommends. Or else your cake will look like mine on the outside instead of the beautiful version in her book. 

While we all had some laughs at my cake's decrepit exterior, I have to admit to feeling extremely proud about the inside. At first you couldn't quite make out the door, but when we cut into it a little more, voilà! A house!

All told, this cake took over 12 hours to make, and I put it in the freezer for substantially less time than was ideal according to the recipe. That being said, a lot of those hours were not active time and, although more demanding then a regular cake, I wouldn't say this one was hard to make. I'd try a surprise cake again for a special occasion. I was glad to have such a happy event to celebrate with this one. Congratulations to Sara and Will!

I'm not including the recipe this month because it's long and involved, but if you are interested I recommend checking out Surprise-Inside Cakes from your library or buying it. Jumping down the Internet rabbit hole of surprise cakes is a fun way to spend some time, too. A zebra cake was the runner-up choice this month, and I may give it a try another time!

For the July Daring Baker’s Challenge, Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to bake a cake. But not just any cake; she asked us to add in a special surprise for our eyes as well as our taste buds!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Saturday Morning Ritual

I was listening to a podcast recently where the folks were discussing their perfect morning routines. Their discussion was centered around how to start your day productively, but it made me think about those perfect mornings where you really aren't "productive" at all -- but rather you spend the time doing things just to enjoy the act of doing them.

This month's challenge provided a perfect opportunity for one of those perfect mornings. Last Saturday, I woke up to start preparing some of the most delicious dough I've made in a while -- springy, sweet and tangy, with perfect notes of orange and cardamom. I left the dough to rise, and headed out the door to meet Erica at one of my favorite yoga studios in SF. Now if I describe this class to most people, it sounds ridiculous (there's a disco ball, club music, lots of chanting, and about 200 people), but it's a great workout and a great space.

We got back to my apartment, whipped up some smoothies and lattes to tide us over, and started in on the cinnamon rolls. Erica rolled out the dough into a large rectangle, and I spread some truly terrible filling on top -- all full of brown sugar and cinnamon and spices. :-)

We rolled it up into a log and sliced, neatly tucking the rounds into two spring form pans (who knew I had two of those lying around?)

And then we popped it into the oven. We were pretty hungry at this point, and it was super hard to wait for them to be finished. But our patience was rewarded, because these were spectacular - great texture, great flavor.

This month the Daring Bakers kept our creativity rolling with cinnamon bun inspired treats. Shelley from C Mom Cook dared us to create our own dough and fill it with any filling we wanted to craft tasty rolled treats, cinnamon not required!

Serves: 12-16 buns
  • ½ cup whole milk, warm (110-115 degrees)
  • 2¼ teaspoons instant yeast
  • 3 large eggs
  • 20 ounces (4 cups) all purpose flour (+1/4 cup if needed)
  • 3¼ ounces (3/4 cup) cornstarch
  • 3½ ounces (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • zest of 1 orange (approximately ½ tablespoon)
  • ¼ cup fresh squeezed orange juice (approximately 1 orange)
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, chopped and at room temperature
  • 10½ ounces (1½ cups) packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1½ cups confectioners' sugar
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • ¼ cup fresh squeezed orange juice (approximately 1 orange)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. In a large liquid measuring cup, whisk together the whole milk and instant yeast, followed by the eggs.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, sugar, salt, cardamom and orange zest. Break apart any clumps of zest if necessary. Attach the dough hook, turn the mixer on low speed and add the warm milk mixture followed by the orange juice. Allow the ingredients to combine for one minute. Increase the speed to medium and add the butter in pieces until it's all incorporated. The dough will be very wet. Allow it to continue mixing for 10 minutes. If the dough is still looking wet, add up to another ¼ cup of flour in 2 tablespoon increments. The dough should be very soft and delicate but not too sticky to handle. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased large bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Allow the dough to double in size, up to 2 hours. To speed things up, place the bowl inside the oven next to a small bowl of boiling water and close the door.
  3. While the dough is rising, prepare the filling. Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom and salt in a bowl. Grease 2 8-inch cake pans thoroughly and set aside.
  4. Remove the dough from the oven and place on a lightly floured countertop. Roll the dough into a large, thin rectangle. Using clean hands, spread the butter across the dough, leaving a small border around the edges, and then top evenly with the sugar mixture. Roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Cut into 12 or 16 even pieces and place in the reserved cake pans, cut side up. Cover and allow to double in size, approximately 1 hour.
  5. Bake the buns at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. Top each pan with ¼ cup of the glaze and allow the buns to cool completely. Top with the remaining glaze before serving.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Adventures in Brazilian Baking: Pão de Queijo

We were both excited about this challenge as it was a savory one, and I have fond memories of eating pão de queijo when I visited Brazil, however the finished product wasn't quite as good as expected. 

Fortunately we both had some tapioca flour on hand. Getting the other ingredients was easy. We used Monterey Jack cheese. Pictured above is TJ's homemade English dark mild ale, the first beer brewed in our new place.

As the recipe warned, the dough felt pretty weird. Sara tried some and said it tasted terrible, so of course I had to try some, too. And it tasted terrible. But I had faith that it would turn out OK.

Really strangely textured dough...

I'm pretty sure we baked our first batch of these guys for too long (25 minutes, pictured). They came out with really thick, hard shells and a somewhat bitter flavor, which the recipe warned us about. The inside, once you got to it, was OK, but they definitely weren't quite right.

We tried baking the next few batches for only about 15 minutes and they were much better. Sara never really warmed up to them. I thought they were OK, although unfortunately not as good as the Brazilian version I had in the past.

Luckily we had plenty of delicious food to see us through the evening: cheese, crackers, olives, kale salad, and, the pièce de résistance, marinated walleye from Lake Erie, which I caught last summer and froze and had been saving for no real reason. For dessert: freshly homemade frozen yogurt with caramel sauce, dark chocolate-sea salt sauce, and fresh strawberries.

This month's Daring Bakers' Challenge took us on a trip to beautiful Brazil! Renata of "Testado, Provado & Aprovado!" taught us how to make Pao De Queijo, tasty cheese buns that make the perfect snack or treat, and that will make your taste buds samba!

Preparation time:
About 30 minutes to prepare the dough, maybe 10 to 15 minutes for shaping and 20 to 25 minutes baking.

Equipment required:
  • Large Bowl
  • Sauce pan
  • Baking sheets/pans
Servings: About 80 small balls

  • 500 gm (4 cups) tapioca starch (If you have access to sour tapioca, you can use 250gm (2 cups) of each)
  • 1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
  • 2-3/4 tablespoons (40 ml) (1½ oz) (40 gm) butter
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) (3 gm) salt (or to taste depending on how salty your cheese is)
  • 3 cups (750 ml) (9 oz) (250gm) Monterey Jack Cheese (or another cheese of your liking, or a mix of cheeses), coarsely grated
  • 1 to 3 large eggs
  • Heat milk, butter, and salt in a small sauce pan until it comes to a boil. Watch closely as it may boil over. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • Sift tapioca starch into a large bowl.
  • Pour the boiled (hot) mixture over the tapioca and start stirring with a fork. The milk mixture will not be enough to form a dough yet. You will have a lumpy mixture, that's what it is supposed to be.
  • Keep stirring with the fork, breaking down the lumps as much as you can, until the mixture cools down to warm.
  • At this point, preheat your oven to moderately hot 400° F/200° C/gs mark 6
  • Add the grated cheese to the tapioca mixture and mix well, now using your hands.
  • Add one egg at a time, mix with your hands until dough comes together. I suggest you lightly beat the egg with a fork and add little bits until the dough comes together into a soft but pliable dough. You only have to knead it a bit, not as much as you knead a yeasted bread. It's OK if it is slightly sticky.
  • You can find a link to a video of the process in “Additional Information” below.
  • Form balls with the dough and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silicon mat or lightly greased with vegetable oil. If necessary, you can oil your hands to make shaping easier. The size of the balls may vary from small bite-sized balls to the size of ping pong balls. They will puff up quite a bit after baking. I personally prefer the smaller ones.
  • Bake for about 25 minutes or until they just start to brown on the bottom. You may have golden spots of cheese on the crust. Don't over-bake as they will get hard and bitter.
  • NOTE: If your dough gets too soft and sticky to shape balls, you can always add a bit more tapioca starch or pop the dough into a piping bag and pipe the dough on a baking sheet.
  • Serve hot or warm. Brazilians love them with a cup of coffee! Yum...

Sunday, April 27, 2014

There's Cardamom in my Kulich!

Our task this month was to create an easter bread, particularly one associated with our cultural heritage. While I was sorely tempted to master one of the recipes where you actually bake an egg into your braided design:


We opted for something that was a bit more traditional. My mom's family is Russian Orthodox, and growing up my mom recalls the tall, white cake associated with Easter time. With a little online research, I discovered a recipe for Kulich, along with this explanation from wikipedia:
Traditionally after the Easter service, the kulich, which has been put into a basket and decorated with colorful flowers, is blessed by the priest. Blessed kulich is eaten before breakfast each day. Any leftover kulich that is not blessed is eaten with Paskha for dessert.

Kulich is baked in tall, cylindrical tins (like coffee or fruit juice tins). When cooled, kulich is decorated with white icing (which slightly drizzles down the sides) and colorful flowers. Historically, is was often served with cheese paska bearing the symbol XB (from the traditional Easter greeting of Христос воскресе, "Christ is Risen").
So on the day before Easter, and the morning of our dear friends' (and frequent DB guests) wedding (!!), I set about preparing an easter feast, complete with these deviled eggs, this delicious spring lasagna, and the kulich.

It was an interesting recipe, relying on both yeast and egg whites for loft. The initial proofing smelled delicious and bubbled up nicely.

The dough came together well, but when we got to the stage of folding in the egg whites, I was a bit mystified. Imagine a springy and smooth bread dough. Then imaging trying to "fold-in" stiff beaten egg whites. Strange, right? But they eventually incoporated, and we set the dough to rise even further.

The recipe called for a kulich pan or a two-pound coffee tin, neither of which I had in my kitchen (sadly, Blue Bottle doesn't sell its artisan coffee in two pound tins...). So I improvised with a semi-cylindrical all metal sauce pan.

(The saucepan, while perhaps ingenious, also led to one of our first ever daring baker injuries. I hope Erica's finger is recovering nicely!)

 The resulting cake/bread wasn't quite a delicious as I anticipated based on the dough. The dough was moist and springy with a delicious aroma. The cake, however, was a bit on the dry side. Perhaps the sauce pan wasn't the best option after all (it may have also been a small mishap involving oven temperature).

The friends and family gathered for easter still took down a good portion of the dessert. As for the cultural aspect of it, my mom pointed out that my grandmother would have never included cardamom in her recipe - in fact, she probably just used white cake or bread mix (if she didn't get it from the church). Spices, nuts and dried fruit would have conflicted with the number of meats on the table...

The April Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Wolf of Wolf’s Den . She challenged us to Spring into our kitchens and make Easter breads reflecting cultures around the world.


  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup sugar + 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup scalded milk, cooled to 110 degrees
  • 1 cup + 3 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 8 large egg yolks (reserve 2 egg whites)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/4 cup chopped candied orange rind
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 2 teaspons lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2-3 teaspoons warm water
  1. In a large bowl, combine yeast, water, 1/4 cup sugar and milk, mixing until yeast and sugar have dissolved. Stir in 1 cup flour until well blended. Cover and let stand in a warm place for 1 hour.

  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine butter, 1/2 cup sugar and egg yolks. Add yeast-flour mixture from Step 1, stirring well. Add vanilla, cardamom, salt and enough of the 3 to 3 1/2 cups flour to make a soft dough. Stir in raisins, almonds and orange rind.

  3. In a small bowl, beat 2 reserved egg whites until stiff. Fold them into the dough made in Step 2. Knead by machine or hand until a smooth and elastic dough forms, about 3-5 minutes. Place in greased bowl, turning once to coat both sides. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until doubled.

  4. Coat a 2-pound coffee can or kulich pan with cooking spray. Punch down dough and knead a few times. Place it in the prpeared can, cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until dough reaches the top of the can.

  5. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place pan on a baking sheet and bake 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake another 35 to 40 minutes or until tester comes out clean.

  6. While kulich is baking, prepare glaze by combining in a small bowl the confectioners' sugar, lemon juice, almond extract and enough water to make a smooth, runny glaze.

  7. Remove kulich from oven and let cool 10 minutes. Unmold from can and cool on a wire rack. While still slightly warm, drizzle glaze over the top. To serve, cut off the crown and slice base into rounds. To keep any leftovers moist, replace the crown.