Thursday, March 27, 2014

Renegade Baking

As we've alluded to before, Erica and I get somewhat frustrated when our Daring Bakers challenges contain little-to-no baking. Case in point this month? Our designated recipe was for nougat. While I'm sure it would have been delicious, we decided to stray a bit from the rules and bake something out of our long lists of baked goods to try.

Both Erica and I have been long-time fans of Heidi Swanson and her 101 Cookbooks blog (she lives here in SF, and though I've seen her out and about her four times, I've yet to have the courage to interrupt what she's been doing to say hello. But I'm pretty sure we'd be best of friends :-)). Given that spring is upon us, we decided to try her citrus-bay leaf pound cake, a combination that had us intrigued from the get go.

The recipe was quite simple - a basic pound cake with bay leaf butter and a citrus glaze. Erica started us out by soaking the bay leaves in melted butter, which smelled divine. Next we artfully arranged our bay leaves at the bottom of the pan.

The cake portion came together quickly -- whisking together the dry ingrediants, and then the wet (which included a fair amount of sour cream, interestingly enough).

The we blended those together, poured it over the arranged bay leaves -- careful not to disturb! -- and popped it into Erica's (new, no longer too hot too cold) oven.

We pulled the leaves out eventually (just like with soup, no one wants a mouthful of bay leaf while eating cake), leaving a delicate imprint.

The citrus glaze settled into the imprints. I wanted this to be more artful, but it just looked a bit random -- perhaps I'd do some additional pattern play if we make it again.

As you can see, the crumb on the cake was beautiful - moist, delicately flavored. It was delicious post dinner (thanks for the homemade pasta!), and in the morning with tea.

Forgive us DB folks! We'll follow the rules next time, so long as baking is involved!

The March 2014 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Rebecca of BakeNQuilt. She challenged us to learn to make classic nougat and to make it our own with our choice of flavors and add-ins. [Yeah, we didn't do this...]

Bay Leaf Pound Cake

You can make this pound cake with whole wheat pastry flour as well. Just be extra mindful not to over bake. Also, as David suggests, substituting rose geranium or another (edible) scented leaf is a fine idea, just make sure the leaves are unsprayed. You can bake this in a 9-inch pan, or equivalent, I like to experiment with different pan shapes.
6 tablespoons / 3 ounces / 85 g unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature, plus 1 tablespoon butter, for piping
10 fresh or dried bay leaves
1 2/3 cups / 230g all-purpose flour
1 cup / 200 g granulated sugar
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup / 125 g sour cream
finely grated zest of one orange
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Orange Glaze:
1 cup / 140 g powdered sugar
1 1/2 - 2 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon orange liquor, such as Grand Mariner or Cointreau (optional)
Melt 6 tablespoons (85g) of butter in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat and add 3 of the bay leaves. Let steep for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C. Butter a 9-inch loaf pan (or equivalent). Dust with flour and tap out any excess. If possible, line the bottom with parchment paper (if the shape of your pan makes it impossible to line with parchment, skip the paper). If you have a flat-bottomed pan, dab one side of the remaining 7 bay leaves with a little bit of butter and place the leaves, evenly spaced, on the bottom of the prepared pan, buttered side down. Alternately, if your pan doesn't have a flat bottom, you can wait, and place the remaining bay leaves atop the batter just before placing in the oven (as shown above).

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream, orange zest, and vanilla until combined. If needed, barely rewarm the butter to liquify it and pluck out the bay leaves. Whisk the butter into the egg mixture.

With a spatula, gently stir the egg mixture into the dry mixture, just until the batter is smooth. Do not over mix. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, being careful not to disturb the leaves (alternately, top the cake with any remaining leaves). Put the remaining 1 tablespoon of softened butter into a plastic bag, snip off a corner, then draw a straight line of the butter down the center of the cake (alternately, a circle if your pan is round). Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. It's better to slightly under bake, than over bake this cake.

Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the perimeter of the cake and then tip out onto a cooling rack, remove leaves, and let cool completely before glazing.

To make the glaze, combine the powdered sugar, orange juice, and orange liquor (if using). Stir until smooth, then spread the glaze over the cooled cake, allowing it to drip down the sides and harden.

Makes one 9-inch cake.

Slightly adapted from David Lebovitz's beautiful new book, My Paris Kitchen.

Prep time: 60 min - Cook time: 50 min

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Beautiful Bread

My partner in crime was lucky enough to spend most of this month on vacation in South America, so I took on this challenge alone. I'm glad I did because it was delicious -- and really pretty!

I chose to make a relatively simple cinnamon-sugar bread. The recipe reminded me a lot of a cross between challah and cinnamon buns. It involved four layers with butter and a cinnamon-sugar mixture spread in between, and then some fancy folding.

I put a twisted ball of the extra dough in the middle and brushed it with milk before baking. I glazed it with sweetened condensed milk when it was hot from the oven.

It rose beautifully in the oven and the finished project was gorgeous, not to mention both wonderful-smelling and -tasting. Several of my triangles came unfolded so if I were to make it again I would be sure to pinch them together a bit tighter.

After missing our January challenge and baking solo in February, I'm looking forward to baking with Sara again in March! In the meantime, thank you to my husband TJ for helping me take some pictures.

Beauty surrounded the Daring Bakers this month as our host, Sawsan, of chef in disguise, challenged us to make beautiful, filled breads. Who knew breads could look as great as they taste? 


Cinnamon Sweet Bread

Serves 8


For the dough
1/4 cup (60 ml) warm water
3/4 cup (180 ml) warm milk
1 large egg
1/4 cup (60 ml) (60 gm) (2 oz) butter, softened
1/4 cup (60 ml) (50 gm) (1-3/4 oz) white sugar
1/2 teaspoon (3 gm) salt
3-1/4 cups (780 ml) (450 gm) (16 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, approximately
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (8 gm) dry yeast
1/4 teaspoon (1 gm) cardamom, optional

Between the layers
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) (1/4 cup) (60 ml) (60 gm) (2 oz) butter
4 tablespoons (60 ml) (25 gm) (1 oz) cinnamon
1/2 cup (120 ml) (100 gm) (3-1/2 oz) sugar
For topping (before baking)
1/4 cup (60 ml) of milk
1 tablespoon (15 gm) (1/2 oz) sugar

For drizzling (after baking)
1 can (400 gm) (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1. In a bowl whisk the egg with milk, water, sugar, butter and yeast. Set aside
2. In another bowl sift the flour with the salt and the optional cardamom.
3. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and knead until you get a smooth dough.
Note: This recipe requires between 3-1/4 and 3-1/2 cups of flour depending on the weather, humidity and the flour brand. Start with 3-1/4 cups and if you feel that the dough is too soft, add the extra 1/4 cup. [I had to add an additional 1/4 cup or so beyond this, or about 3-3/4 cups total.]
4. Place the dough in a bowl you have brushed with some oil and cover it with a wet cloth and leave it in a warm place to double

(If you are tight on time you can heat your oven to 390°F/200°C then turn it off and place your dough in a glass bowl and place it in the warm oven with the wet cloth covering the bowl)

5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface

6. Divide the dough into 4 parts

7. Roll each part into a circle at least 20 cm (8 inch) in diameter

8. Brush the first layer with butter then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon

9. Place the second layer on the first layer repeat the brushing and sprinkling and then do the same with the third layer.

10. Top with the fourth layer, this time only brush it with butter.

11. Using a knife make cuts that divide the dough circles into 8 triangles

12. Make cuts that go 2/3 of the way in the middle of each triangle. The cuts should not reach the base of the triangle nor the tip.

13. Take the tip of each triangle and insert it into the cut you made and pull it down through from the underside

14. Arrange the triangles on your baking sheet

15. Pinch the two angles at the base (long end) of the triangle together

Note: If you would like to add the little bread coil that you see in the center of the baked cinnamon bread, simply roll a piece of dough into a rope then form it into a little coil and place it in the center where the heads of the triangles meet

16. Brush the dough with milk

17. Allow to rest for 15 minutes during which you would heat your oven to very hot 500°F/240°C/gas mark 9 (rack in the middle). (Go for the hottest your oven will do).

18. Bake for 5 minutes on very hot 460°F/240°C/gas mark 9, then lower the temperature to moderately hot 390°F/200°C/gas mark 6 and bake for 15-20 more minutes

Note: ovens do differ greatly, so the time may differ,what you want is to bake it until the under side is golden brown and the bread is baked all the way to the center. If the top of the bread is not golden brown by that time and you have a broiler (grill) in your oven. Turn on the broiler (grill) for a couple of minutes until the bread is golden brown on top. If on the other hand the top is getting too dark, consider lowering the oven temperature and covering the top of the bread with foil to stop it from over browning

19. Take it out of the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rick and drizzle with sweetened condensed milk while it is still warm.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Books and Whoopie

Erica and I are also part of a book club with some of our friends from law school (and some fantastic non-lawyers!). We try to meet once a month as well, and when our friends are lucky and the recipe isn't too complicated, we do daring bakers at the same time as our discussion. Whoopie pies made the cut, which was particularly good given hectic Decembers.

(Fun(?) fact - I don't think Erica and I have completed a December challenge since this awesomeness).

Whoopie pies are fantastically easy to make. It's a quick chocolate dough scooped out and baked. Apparently you can buy fancy molds to make your whoopie uniform and "cookie-cutter" so to speak, but who wants that? We opted for a more rustic creation:

Next came the filling. We contemplated the traditional marshmallow filling, but given that the the benevolent overlords at Whole Foods believe that marshmallow creme is from the artificial, GMO, too-much-sugar devils, we went with the vanilla recipe. We enjoyed the "cooling" process - using some edamame to bring it down to the right temperature.

Assembly was a breeze, which was great so we could continue our discussion of Eleanor and Park (a fantastic and sweet young adult novel - perfect for spending a day on the couch with a cup of tea). We had lots of extra filling, which was taken away by a book club member to make a cake -- Rachel, how did it turn out?

Word to the wise -- if you have any leftovers, these are divine straight from the freezer. Will and I traveled to Florida shortly after we made these, and they made for an excellent 10 pm treat when we got back from the airport.

Finally, given that it's the end of the year, I took a look through the archives to see what we did over the year. Award for best tasting: Chocolate Beet Cake (February). Award for prettiest (possibly ever): Prinsesstarta (March). Biggest fail (this one was easy): Sfogliatelle (November). Anyone else want to share their best or worst?

The December Daring Bakers' Challenge had us all cheering - the lovely and talented Bourbonnatrix of Bourbonnatrix Bakes was our hostess and challenged us to make fun, delicious and creative whoopie pies! Delicious little cake-like cookies sandwiching luscious filling in any flavors we chose... What else is there to say but "Whoopie!"

Servings: 8 large or 16 small whoopie pies

For the Whoopie Pies
1/2 cup (120 ml) (4 oz) (115 gm) butter
1 cup (240 ml) (7 oz) (200 gm) brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (5 gm) espresso coffee powder, optional
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (5 gm) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (3 gm) baking soda
3/4 teaspoon (4½ gm) salt
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup (120 ml) (1½ oz) (45 gm) Dutch-process cocoa, sifted
2 1/3 cups (560 ml) (10 oz) (285 gm) unbleached all-purpose (plain) flour
1 cup (240 ml) milk

1) Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.
2) In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar, espresso coffee powder (if using), baking powder, baking soda, salt, and vanilla till smooth. Add the egg, again beating till smooth.
3) Add the cocoa, stirring to combine.
4) Add the flour to the batter alternately with the milk, beating till smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and beat again briefly to soften and combine any chunky scrapings.
5) Drop the dough by the 1/4-cupful (60 ml) onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving plenty of room between the cakes; they'll spread. A muffin scoop works well here.
6) Bake the cakes in a preheated moderate oven for 15 to 16 minutes, till they're set and firm to the touch. Remove them from the oven, and cool on the pans. While still lukewarm, use a spatula to separate them from the pan or parchment; then allow to cool completely.

Servings: way more than you actually need to fill the whoopies

1 cup (240 ml) (8 oz) (225 gm) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (60 ml) (1 oz) (30 gm) all-purpose (plain) flour
1 cup (240 ml) whole milk
1/4 cup (60 ml) heavy cream (about 35%)
1 cup (2 sticks) (8 oz) (225 gm) unsalted butter, cool but not cold, cut into ½-inch (15 mm) cubes
1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add the milk and cream and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool, at least 7 minutes. (You can speed up the process by pressing bags of frozen berries or frozen corn against the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl.) Reduce the speed to low and add the butter; mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy. You can’t overbeat this mixture. Just let it go until it’s nice and smooth.

Add the vanilla and continue mixing until combined. If the frosting is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is the proper consistency. If the frosting is too firm, set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Sfogliatelle (noodles?)

Erica and her *husband* TJ joined our family down in Big Sur for Thanksgiving this year. After a day of running, biking, hot springs and lots of food, we spent much of Friday in recuperation mode. Finally, we urged ourselves off the couch and got down to baking: our challenge? Sfogliatelle, and Italian pastry dessert. 

We mixed up the dough and let it rest, making sure to keep it "very dry" per the recipe. Erica and I are both as-you-go tasters, and we should have known something was up right from the get-go. This tasted strongly of playdough. Hmm. 

We were also so thankful for the kitchen aid - given the hard consistency, I'm not sure how we would have ever managed to get this thin enough. 

The filling was better - our homemade ricotta was easy enough (even though more than half our cream was accidentally used for pie the night before...), and the semolina paste was quite tasty, bringing back memories of cream of wheat for both of us. 

But then the real disasters started. Our attempts to "stretch" the dough even further resulted in many many holes and butter everywhere. I'm not sure where we went wrong on that one -- anyone else have that problem?

We did forge ahead and end up with a log, which ultimately sliced up well. The pictures don't do it justice, but each slice reveals little tree rings inside. Pretty nifty!

We pushed out the dough into the little triangles and added scoops of the filling. Our ratio appeared to be way off, however -- we ended up with about 15 times more filling than we needed.
This picture doesn't reveal the next catastrophe. We popped the shaped triangles into the oven on a jelly roll pan, which only had lips on two sides. About 20 minutes in, the kitchen starts smelling like smoke, and we have to jump up from our yatzee game. Most of the butter, it seems, has melted off the pastry and into the bottom of the oven, where it has started smoking  like crazy. Two fire alarms start going off, and none of our family members are all that happy. 

It didn't get better once we served the dessert. While the Sfogliatelle looked quite pretty, with the ridges revealing themselves nicely, the outer "pastry" tasted distinctly like dried, ready-to-be-cooked noodles. Erica demonstrates: 

Not so good. A few of our family members choked down their entire treat, but most ended up in the trash. We looked back at the recipe to see what went wrong, but nothing obvious emerged. Perhaps its a Big Sur curse? After all, we did end up with these oft-ridiculed cannolis (looking back at that recipe, perhaps the key is -- if your dough tastes like playdough, abort, abort!). Maybe we just don't like Sfogliatelle? None of us had ever had the real thing. 
Thankfully, the dessert was preceded by these beauties. In a Baking JDs first, we re-made the pot pies from last month, this time adding some leftover turkey. Delicious!

In case this post really tempted you (up for a challenge, perhaps?), here's the recipe: 

Fresh Ricotta Cheese (makes 2 cups)
Servings: Makes 2 cups
8 cups (2 litres) whole milk (or goats milk)
1 cup (250 ml) heavy whipping cream (about 35%)
1/2 teaspoon (3 gm) salt
3 tablespoons (45 ml) fresh lemon juice
1. Line a large colander or strainer with 2 layers of lightly dampened cheesecloth over a large glass; set aside.
2. Pour the whole milk, heavy cream and salt into a large pot and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking occasionally. Reduce the heat, add the fresh lemon juice and stir/whisk continuously for 2-3 minutes. The mixture will curdle, which is exactly what you want it to do. Pour this into the cheesecloth lined strainer and let it drain for about 1 hour or until it comes to room temperature. At this point you can scrape the ricotta from the cheesecloth into a container and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
3. The liquid in the bowl is the whey, a very nutritious and tasty leftover byproduct from making cheese. It is excellent to use instead of water when baking bread, or added to soup stock. I love the stuff and never discard it. Here is an excellent article on the wonders of whey! (Note to Baking JD readers -- we used this in the pot pies with excellent results!)

Semolina-Ricotta Filling

1 cup (250 ml) milk
1/2 cup (120 ml) (4 oz) (115 gm) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (160 ml) (4 oz) (115 gm) fine semolina or cream of wheat (I have tried both and personally like the semolina version)
1 1/2 cups (360 ml) (13-1/4 oz) (375 gm) whole milk ricotta, preferably fresh (see above)
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract (or the seeds of one pod and 1 teaspoon of extract)
1/4 teaspoon (1 gm) ground cinnamon
1/3 cup (80 ml) (2 oz) (60 gm) candied orange peel (commercial or home-made)
zest of 1 lemon
Combine the milk and the sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and slowly add the semolina (or cream of wheat), whisking quickly as to avoid any lumps. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture is smooth and thick, about 2 minutes. Spread the mixture onto a lined baking sheet, about 1/2 inch (15 mm), to cool. When cool, break into pieces and place into the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment (or a food processor), and add the ricotta cheese, egg yolks, vanilla and cinnamon. Beat until very smooth and creamy. Stir in the candied orange peel and lemon zest. (Maybe even some mini chocolate chips? Or pistachios?? mmmm...I can't wait to see what you come up with)
Scrape into a container, place plastic wrap directly onto the surface and refrigerate until needed (up to 3 days).

Sfogliatelle Ricci
Servings: 14-18 pastries
You will need a large/long workspace for this. I used my dining room table for this though I am sure someone will be more creative with limited space!
3 cups (750 ml) (15 oz) (420 gm) all-purpose (plain) flour
teaspoon (6 gm) salt
3/4 cup (180 ml) warm water (about 100°F/38°C)
4 oz (115 gm) lard (I used Crisco butter flavored shortening)
1/2 cup (1 stick/4 oz) (115 gm) unsalted butter, softened
Semolina-ricotta filling (see above)
1. Combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir in the water, or use your standing mixer with the paddle attachment. The dough will be very dry. If you feel absolutely compelled, add an extra teaspoon of water but it is supposed to be very dry. Turn this out onto a clean work surface and knead the dough together, bringing in all the dry bits. At this point get your pasta roller out and ready. Roll out the dough to about 1/3 inch (10 mm) and pass through your pasta machine at the widest setting. I find it much easier to cut my dough in half and work 1/2 at a time for this step. Fold the dough in half after each pass also change the direction of the dough occasionally. After about 15 passes the dough should be very smooth. Knead the dough back into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate and rest the dough for at 2 hours, or overnight.

2. Beat the lard/shortening and butter together in your mixing bowl until very fluffy. Make sure it is thoroughly combined. Place into a bowl and set on the workspace in easy reaching distance.

3. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it into 4 equal pieces. Working with one piece of dough at a time (cover the other pieces with a towel or plastic wrap), lightly flour a piece pass it through the pasta roller set at the widest setting. Try to get the dough as even as possible, your goal is an even rectangle strip, about 4 inches (10 cm) in width. If needed, fold it over on itself a few times until you get an even strip. Once even, pass the dough through every setting, ending with the highest (mine is 7)
4. You should end up with a long 4 inch (10 cm) wide strip. Repeat with the other three remaining pieces of dough.
5. *For my own ease of use I made my own rolling pin contraption like you can see on many instructional videos. I turned 2 bowls upside down and placed them on my table where I was planning to work. I then took a rolling pin (with handles, not French) and taped the handles to the bowls. Every time that a piece of dough is finished and ready I lightly floured the dough and rolled it up onto the rolling pin. When all 4 pieces of dough were finished it made it much easier to pull out a section at a time to stretch the dough. If you are clumsy like me you might like to try this too!
6. Place one piece of a strip on you clean work surface and paint (or smear) it liberally with the lard/butter mixture. I do about a 8 inch (20 cm) section at a time. Gently pull the sides of the dough and stretch it, starting from the middle and going out, until it is about 8 or 9 inches (20 or 23 cm) in width. Begin from the short end and start rolling the dough into a very tight roll. When you start to reach the end of your stretched section, stop and liberally grease up another section, stretching and rolling until all the dough is finished. When one strip of dough is finished, overlap the end of one to the beginning of the other; continue to pull, stretch and roll up.

7. Spread the lard/butter mixture over the entire finished log and starting in the middle gently run the hands down the length to extend the length another inch (30 mm) or so. This will release any air pockets and tighten the roll. Your finished roll should be approximately 10 or 11 inches (25 or 28 cm). .
8. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. The dough may be frozen for up to 3 months, at this time. Defrost it in the refrigerator overnight before using.
9. Preheat your oven to moderately hot 400°F/200°C/gas mark 6
10. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
11. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap, and place on a cutting board. Slice off about an inch (30 mm) from each end so that they are straight and even. Cut the roll into 1/2 inch (15 mm) slices. Put the semolina-ricotta mixture into a pastry bag with a 3/4 inch (20 mm) opening (A disposable pastry bag or even a ziploc bag with the corner cut off is fine).
12. Take one slice of dough and place it on your workplace. With the heel of your hand, push out from the center in one direction. Rotate the dough and do this in all four directions. This forms the dough and opens up the layers. Pick up the piece and insert your thumbs on the inside with your forefingers on the outside meanwhile gently stretch the center to make it more into the shape of a cone. You don't want the layers to actually separate. Holding the cone in one hand, squeeze some of the filling into the cavity so it is full. Lightly push the opening closed. You do not have to seal the opening as the filling is too thick to ooze out during baking.
13. Place onto the prepared baking sheet and very lightly brush the outside of each completed pastry with the lard/butter mixture. Bake them in a preheated moderately hot 400°F/200°C/gas mark 6 oven for about 20 to 25 minutes or until they are a deep golden brown.
14. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. These are best served warm with a sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar on the day they are made. To reheat them, just place them in a moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4 oven for about 5 minutes.

Sandie of the lovely blog, Crumbs of Love, was our November hostess. Sandie challenged us to make a traditional Italian dessert, along with its American version – Sfogliatelle (or better known in the US – lobster tails!) The flakey, 1000 layers of super thin dough, shaped into a horn and filled with a scrumptious filling. Così buono!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Savory Pot Pies to Celebrate "Fall"

Around this time of year, both Sara and I get nostalgic for some good old East coast fall weather. Well, perhaps I do more than Sara, the native Californian, but she kindly plays along. So this challenge was especially appealing, and we got excited about making it and enjoying some warm cider. The Bay Area weather even seemed like it would cooperate... cool, crisp...

... until that weekend, when we were supposed to bake. It got very warm and sunny -- ahh, the much-loved San Francisco summer in October -- which was perfect for watching bluegrass in Golden Gate Park on Saturday, but not so perfect for hot cider on Sunday. Undaunted we forged ahead. We are suckers for a good savory challenge.

The recipe we chose* was relatively easy and totally vegetarian. Lots of chopping.

Then everything into a big dutch oven to thicken up.

And then into individual ramekins.

Then we made the feta scallion biscuits, using our handy butter technique from a previous challenge. I think all of my biscuits should have feta and scallions in them from now on. These were that good.

Delicious biscuits onto delicious filling, and into the oven they went.

Sneak peak inside the oven in the middle of cooking. The house smelled so wonderful.

Ahhh... the finished product. We are in the background trying to control ourselves while they cooled a little.

I think a little drool slipped out of my mouth here. 

What a delectable, if unseasonable, challenge. We loved it. I think it is a meal we will both make again!

All photo credit to my husband (!) TJ.

Hannah of Rise and Shine was our October 2013 Daring Bakers’ hostess and she challenged us to bake our own double crusted savory pot pies. Using any from-scratch crust and filling we choose, we were allowed to get completely creative with our recipe, showing off the savory flavors and fillings from our own home or region.

Whoops, not "double crusted," per the challenge, but still worth your while! The biscuits are really, really, really, really good. We also didn't do a very good job of "showing off flavors and fillings from our own home or region." But did I mention that the biscuits are really good? And so is the filling.

Vegetarian Pot Pies with Feta Scallion Biscuits
Annie's Eats

Yield: 4-5 servings


For the filling:
3 tbsp. butter
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
12 oz. baby bella mushrooms, sliced
¾ cup frozen peas
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp. red pepper flakes
6 tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 cups veggie broth
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the biscuit topping:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup chopped scallions
½ cup plus 1-2 tbsp. buttermilk


Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. Lightly grease 4-5 ramekins or other small oven-safe serving dishes. (Alternatively, use a pie plate or 2-quart casserole dish). To make the filling, melt the butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and carrots to the pan and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften. Stir in the mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have released most of their liquid and softened. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add in the flour and stir so that it evenly coats the vegetable mixture. Cook for about 1 minute. A bit at a time, stir in the veggie broth, mixing each addition until it has been fully incorporated. Once all the liquid has been added, let cook, stirring occasionally, until the filling bubbles and thickens. Remove from the heat. Stir in the peas. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide the filling mixture between the prepared serving dishes.

To make the biscuit topping, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Whisk to blend. Stir in the pieces of butter and toss to coat in the dry ingredients. Using two forks or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is coarse largest butter chunks are the size of small peas. Stir in the feta and scallions and toss briefly to combine. Pour in ½ cup of the buttermilk and stir gently with a fork until a dough has formed. If necessary, add the remaining 1-2 tablespoons of buttermilk to form a fully cohesive dough. Be careful to avoid overmixing or kneading, otherwise you will end up with a tough dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat to a thickness of about ¾- to 1-inch. Use a biscuit cutter 2½-3 inches in diameter to cut out rounds of the dough and place atop the veggie filling in the serving dishes. If necessary, reroll the dough scraps to make additional biscuits. Lightly brush the tops of the biscuits with additional buttermilk and add a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper. (There may be enough extra dough for 1 or 2 additional biscuits. Feel free to bake them as extra to enjoy with the dish!)

Transfer the baking dish(es) to a rimmed baking sheet, and place in the upper half of the oven. Bake, rotating the pan halfway through baking, until the biscuits are light golden brown and the filling is bubbling, about 20 minutes total. Let cool briefly before serving.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Preztels of Love/Shame

First off, a hearty congratulations to my co-blogger, Erica, and her husband, TJ, on a fantastic wedding - the weekend was such a treat, and I know these two have a long and happy partnership ahead of them.

I know you must be thinking -- didn't Erica just post about a delicious cake? What is that a picture of? Are those pretzels?? And, um, beer?

As I think most of you are well aware, at this point, I am the delinquent blogger. If a post is late, or doesn't have photos, it's probably my fault. This summer has been particularly rough, and I've been sitting on a JULY post until now. and now that I actually went to write it, lo and behold, I have no photos. Good think I have mad skills in paint.  (Jen, where are you when I need you?)

The July challenge was pretty nifty -- we were allowed to pick any prior challenge and give it another go. Erica and I reached far back into the archives, to before we were daring bakers, and selected a early, easy, and delicious challenge -- preztels (I know you're sad we didn't pick suet pie). They became the center of a carb and cheese-centric meal shared with our partners (pretzels, beer, and pizza), particularly once we added a delicious cheese sauce to the mix. Making pretzels is actually quite easy (what, you want a recipe? I tried to find it, I promise, but that disappeared along with the photos, oh look at that -- see below). You throw together a quick dough, roll out into logs and form, coat with a baking soda topping, and pop in the oven. Done!

Fingers crossed for a delicious (fall themed?) October recipe! 


2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons regular instant yeast
7/8 to 1 cup warm water

1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons baking soda
coarse, kosher or pretzel salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Place the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in the work bowl of a food processor equipped with the steel blade. Process for 5 seconds. Add the water, and process for 7 to 10 seconds, until the dough starts to clear the sides of the bowl. Process a further 45 seconds. Place a handful of flour in a bowl, scoop the slack dough into the bowl, and shape the dough into a ball, coating it with the flour. Transfer the dough to a plastic bag, close the bag loosely, leaving room for the dough to expand, and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 500°F. Prepare two baking sheets by spraying them with vegetable oil spray, or lining them with parchment paper. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface, and divide it into eight equal pieces (about 70g, or 2 1/2 ounces, each). Allow the pieces to rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes. While the dough is resting, combine the 1/2 cup warm water and the baking soda, and place it in a shallow bowl. Make sure the baking soda is thoroughly dissolved; if it isn't, it'll make your pretzels splotchy.

Roll each piece of dough into a long, thin rope (about 28 to 30 inches long), and twist each rope into a pretzel, as illustrated. Dip each pretzel in the baking soda wash (this will give the pretzels a nice, golden-brown color), and place them on the baking sheets. Sprinkle them lightly with coarse, kosher, or pretzel salt. Allow them to rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Bake the pretzels for 8 to 9 minutes, or until they're golden brown, reversing the baking sheets halfway through. Remove the pretzels from the oven, and brush them thoroughly with the melted butter. Keep brushing the butter on until you've used it all up; it may seem like a lot, but that's what gives these pretzels their ethereal taste.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Moveable Pastel de Tres Leches

As we've done in the past, Sara and I decided to make September's challenge for our book club. We didn't have a nice camera so the pictures do not do it justice, but it was a big hit.

The cake did indeed contain tres leches, although one of the "leches" was really some delicious crema.

We beat the egg yolks.

And folded them into egg whites, along with some flour. The cake really did have a lovely light texture.

We were supposed to let the cake sit in the milk mixture overnight but we couldn't wait. We poured it in -- as seen in the picture above -- and then stuck it in the fridge for a little while. I'm sure it tastes even better when fully absorbed and cold, but it was pretty darn good as it was.

Sara got a little overzealous in whipping the cream for a topping and ended up making some sweet butter, which she saved in a jar for later consumption. Fortunately we had more cream, as well as some fresh strawberries and raspberries.

Yummy. What a cake.

We were reading A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. Although our book club is not normally thematic, our friend, Emily, cooked a French-ish meal of soup, salad and quiche. We had some French wine. Our pastel de tres leches didn't exactly fit in, but there is a weak connection -- it's popular in Spanish-speaking Central and South America, and Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises in Spain around the same time period that he covers in A Moveable Feast ... where they also speak Spanish ... ... ...

But really, who cares, it was delicious, and Sara and I were happy to be baking again after a bit of a hectic hiatus -- during which I got married! The Baking JDs are back in action.

Inma of la Galletika was our Sept. 2013 Daring Bakers’ hostess and WOW did she bring us something decadent and delicious! Pastel de Tres Leches or Three Milk Cake, creamy yet airy, super moist but not soggy.. just plain delish!

RECIPE: Classic Three Milks Cake

  • Whipping cream -- The topping whipping cream must be very cold.
  • Sponge Cake:
    • You should not over fold the mixture it will lose volume from the bubbles breaking.
    • Avoid knocking the cake tin when containing batter
    • Add the flour slowly like rain showers.
Preparation time: 1 hour and a half

Equipment required:
• A scale for measuring all ingredients
• Some bowls
• Stand mixer
• Strainer to sift the flour
• Egg Whisk
• Square Cake pan 9”x9” (23cmx23 cm) or 9” (23 cm) round cake pan
• Saucepan
• Pastry brush
• Pastry Spatula

Servings: 12

For the vanilla sponge cake
5 large eggs (separated)
½ cup (120 ml) (4 oz) (125 gm) sugar
2 teaspoons (10 ml) of vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml) (5 oz) (140gm) all-purpose (plain) flour (sifted)

For three milks syrup
1 can (14 oz) (400 gm) sweetened condensed milk
1 can (12 oz) (340 gm) evaporated milk
1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream (about 35% fat) or 1 cup of half & half or 1 cup milk
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons (10 ml) rum (or other flavoring)

Topping and filling
2 cups (500 ml) of whipping cream (about 30% fat)
½ cup (120 ml) (4 oz) (125 gm) sugar
Canned or fresh fruit (to fill and decorate the cake)

For the Sponge Cake:
Preheat oven to moderate 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Prepare a square 9”x9” (23cmx23 cm) pan or 9” (23 cm) round cake pan
Separate the egg whites from the yolks.
Beat the egg whites on medium speed, 3 - 5 minutes.
When soft peaks form slowly add the sugar in small batches.
Whip until stiff peaks form about 5 minutes. Set aside.
In a medium bowl beat egg yolks at medium-high speed for about 5 to 6 minutes, or until the egg yolks become pale colored, creamy and puffy. Stir in vanilla.
Pour the egg yolks over the egg whites, gently fold until just combined trying not to lose any volume from the mixture.
Fold in the flour little by little in the form of rain. Mix until just combined (over-beating will result in a denser, flatter cake).

Pour the batter into the prepared 9”x9” (23cmx23 cm) square cake pan or 9” (23 cm) round cake pan.
Bake in the preheated moderate oven for 25 minutes or until the toothpick comes out clean

Let it cool
Once cool, split the cake in half, flip the top of the cake and place it on a base. Poke using a fork holes all over the cake to better absorb the three milk soaking liquid. [We cut slices in the cake to maximize absorption; we didn't cut it in half.]

Three milks syrup
In a saucepan add the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, heavy cream and cinnamon stick, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and continue boiling for 5 minutes. Remove it and let it cool.

Once it is cool, add the rum or any other flavoring you are using.
Gradually brush all the milk soaking liquid into all sides of the cake (including the cut surfaces) until all absorbed. Best to rest the cake in the fridge overnight to complete the soaking process. [We pretty much pour the whole shebang over it (gradually) and then set it in the fridge for ~15 minutes.]

Whip the cream, when soft peaks form add the sugar little by little, continue whipping until stiff peaks form about 2 mins.

Layer some whipped cream on the bottom layer and cover with canned or fresh fruit and decorate the top layer with whipped cream and the fresh or canned fruit. [We just put the whipped cream on top with the berries.]