Monday, April 27, 2015

BB: Lemon Jammies

Lemon JammiesAfter last week's elaborate multi-layered cake with buttercream, it was nice to turn to a pretty simple cookie. Lemon Jammies are a sandwich cookie of lemon-flavored dough, with several filling options offered. The recipe that accompanies the cookie recipe is a lemon neoclassic buttercream, which involves the dreaded (by me, at least) hot syrup drizzled into eggs. Not going there this week.

I went with the simplest option, using a good brand of jarred lemon curd as the filling. I'd though to look around at the collection of jams and jellies in the fridge, but got into a groove with the lemon curd and used it for all of them.

Lemon JammiesI did a half batch of the cookies, and used the food processor method as both simplest and most likely to work for the smaller amounts of ingredients. The dough needs to rest at least a couple of hours to let the flour evenly absorb the moisture, and I gave it an overnight rest. Rolling the cookies out was pretty easy, though a few cookies got too soft or otherwise stuck a bit to my rolling mat, ending up a bit misshapen. I'm not in a perfectionist mood this weekend, so those got baked as long as I thought I could match a cookie half to them.

Lemon JammiesMy lemon curd application was rather on the abundant side--reviewing the recipe now that I'm done, I see it says use a heaped half-teaspoon per cookie. My cookies were a bit smaller than the suggested size, and I probably put a full teaspoon or more on most of them. These may be a bit gushy to eat.

Tasting verdict: a very nice cookie. After an overnight rest with the lemon curd filling in place, the cookies softened quite a bit and only had a bit of crunch left. I think I'd call 24 hours about the limit before the cookies would be completely soft and, I suspect, lacking without at least some crispness to contrast with the filling. Tastewise, everyone who tried them loved the bright lemony flavor.

Lemon JammiesLemon JammiesLemon Jammies

Monday, April 20, 2015

BB: Polish Princess

Completed Polish PrincessThe Polish Princess is a composed cake made up of a genoise base that's brushed with a tea-vodka-lemon syrup, then topped with two layers of pastry cream-based buttercream. One layer is blended with cocoa and has sliced walnuts (or pecans, for me) folded in, and the other has chopped raisins (I substituted dried cherries) and chopped dark chocolate folded into a vanilla base.
6I made a half-sized version with my 6-inch springform. With binder clips (almost as useful around the house as duct tape), I got my silicone Rose-branded cake strip to work on the little pan.

On the advice of another Alpha Baker, I made the pastry cream first so it could cool--it needs to be the same temperature as the cool room temp butter to make the buttercream. Then I turned to the genoise.

Some doming on the genoiseThe meringue, base of the genoise, gave me some trouble. With the half recipe, the KitchenAid stand mixer wasn't doing well with beating the egg whites, though they eventually got to soft peaks. I slowly added the sugar...and the mixture never got to stiff peaks. It was glossy, sure, but lifting the beater just got me white strings. I started over, having excess egg whites around (the pastry cream uses yolks only), and the hand mixer. Same problem. I quickly googled to verify that once you've added all the sugar it's pretty hard to overheat a meringue, so I just kept beating. Eventually some amount of body developed in the meringue that might have held a peak, and I moved ahead with the rest of the genoise, beating in egg yolks, folding in the flour mixture, and then folding in a small amount of water. The resulting cake looked just fine.
Cake with tea-vodka syrupSponge cakes generally get brushed with syrup to keep them moist, and the syrup here is a strong tea mixed with a little lemon juice and a healthy slug of vodka. The cake got skewered to help this soak in as it was brushed on the top and bottom.

The pastry cream became buttercream by beating it into softened butter, then was divided in half and the flavoring were added. The cocoa-pecan layer got spread on the cake, now back in the springform ring to support the buttercream layers and with a parchment collar to give it a bit more height. Into the fridge to chill and firm up, while the other half of the buttercream stayed at room temperature so it would remain spreadable. Once the cocoa layer was firm, the cherry-chocolate chip mixture went on top with only a slight bit of unevenness in the layers, and a little rim where I pushed up against the parchment collar. I grated chocolate on top with some spillover on the serving plate for artistic effect, and the whole thing went back in the fridge to chill overnight and meld the flavors. After careful removal of the springform ring and paper collar, then some smoothing of the parchment wrinkles with a hot spatula, I had the completed Princess.
Rather raggedy sliceTaste testing comments: I couldn't find any of the flavors I knew were in the syrup for the cake: no tea, vodka, or lemon came through. Sister-in-law and nephew agreed, no particular flavor to the cake. Overall I thought it didn't meld together as a cake--it was hard to get a bite with all three layers, and when I did, I still tasted mostly the chocolate-pecan buttercream. The butter creams independently were fine and not excessively buttery as I'd feared, but it was rather a mish-mash of components.

Sister-in-law and nephew found the cake too sweet but good. She liked the chocolate layer, but hit a large piece of cherry in the first bite of the vanilla buttercream and that dominated the flavors there. I took the remainder of the cake to the office but didn't have time to pass it around in person, so feedback was limited to the one co-worker who stopped by my office to say it was wonderful. She especially liked the cherries. [Later edit] Another co-worker stopped by my office Wednesday evening to ask if I'd made that cake he'd had on Monday. Two pieces, it turns out--he'd gotten one and taken it to his office, then came bake. He loved the flavors, agreed there was no tea/lemon/vodka taste in the genoise, and did find it a bit top-heavy with the ratio of cake to buttercream. Clearly he still enjoyed the cake. [end edit]

One further note is that I never got a clean slice, even using a hot, clean knife blade. Perhaps the combination of the cherry, chocolate, and pecan bits in the buttercream, and the 6" cake, made slicing more difficult.

Chocolate-pecan pastry buttercreamCherry-choc chip pastry buttercreamComposed cake in pan with collar

Monday, April 13, 2015

BB: Dattelkonfekt

DattelkonfektThe weekly Alpha Baker's assignment, selected with a thought to Passover, is Dattelkonfekt. Rose gives the translation of Dattelkonfekt as "Date Confections", but I mostly called them "date-nut meringues". This is a pretty easy recipe as long as you have a food processor and a mixer...and a dishwasher. Oh, and if you don't care about having the back oblaten (edible wafers that can be used as the base of the cookies) and can skip the local search or the ordering from online sources.
Dattelkonfekt First step was grinding the sliced almonds finely.
DattelkonfektDattelkonfekt Then chopping the dates.
Dattelkonfekt Then mixing the two evenly. All that was accomplished with the food processor.
DattelkonfektTurning to the stand mixer, some of the egg whites that have been accumulating in my freezer from earlier yolk-heavy recipes got beaten with lots of sugar to make a meringue. Mine actually did hold peaks, though the recipe said not to expect it. Then the two components got folded together and piped in little mounds onto parchment paper in lieu of back oblaten. Confession: I checked Amazon to see what they were and the cost, and decided I didn't care about adding that bit of authenticity, as it seemed pretty sure to not add any flavor or desirable texture. Parchment paper worked just fine, though without the wafers as a guide, I think my dattelkonfekt were a bit smaller than the intended size.
DattelkonfektThe cookies bake until barely brown, cool on the baking sheet for a little more drying, then can be peeled off the parchment paper. If using the wafers, those would be eaten with the cookies for a little more roughage. :)
Dattelkonfekt This is not my sort of cookie, though with the almonds it's a great improvement over a pure meringue that's (to me) nothing but sugar. The dates add more chew but not much flavor, but overall it's not a bad cookie. I sent about half of them next door, where sister-in-law carried most of them to Arizona when she visited over Passover. I took the rest to my office (labelled as "OK for Passover", which then led to the goy (me) trying to explain what makes some thing Kosher, then Kosher for Passover). For those who liked cookies in the meringue class, this one went over well--several people took one then came back to ask for more, always a good sign.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Bread Bible: Pita bread

Pita BreadPita bread is the assignment for Alpha Bakers Bread Bible project. I'd summarize these as pretty quick, pretty easy, very good. I did a half-recipe of the pita bread, and gave it the afternoon to develop a bit of flavor not having time to wait on an overnight rest. As always, I let my KitchenAid do the kneading, adding a bit more water early on when the dough looked too dry.

Pita BreadAfter the time in the fridge, I divided my dough into 6 lumps to make the smaller-sized pitas. I rolled them out without flour on my silicone mat, then baked the first one on the preheated oven stone. It puffed over maybe half the suface area. I briefly thought about following the instructions to increase the hydration to improve on the puffing (puffery? puff-ability?), but decided that was too much trouble. Instead, I rolled the others out a bit thinner and let them rest again, then was more careful putting them on the stone to keep the pita flat and in full contact with the hot stone. Success--the next round had pretty much a full pocket across the pita. Pita Bread
Pita BreadI stuffed one with a slices of pork sausage with pear from Pine Street Market, and some mustard greens I sautéed in a bit of the drippings from he sausage. Very nice, though I should have cut back on the mustard greens. The mustard flavor was a good compliment to the sausage, but they were quite spicy-hot. A few sinus-clearing moments there!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

BB: Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake with Strawberry Whipped Cream

Rhubarb upside-down cakeThe Alpha Bakers are tackling the Cran-Raspberry Upside Down cake this week. However, 'tis not the season for fresh cranberries in this hemisphere, and apparently Atlanta is not a market for frozen cranberries. I looked at 4 stores without success before moving on to the rhubarb variation, which is written for fresh rhubarb. Well, it's not the season for that, either, but I could get it frozen and figured I could work out how to handle frozen vs. fresh.

The main differences in the 2 variations (besides the obvious one of the fruit) is that the rhubarb is macerated a bit and the resulting juices are used in the topping. The cranberry adds lemon juice to the topping instead. If using frozen cranberries, Rose says to not defrost them, so I applied that to the frozen rhubarb and substituted some lemon juice for the non-existent juices from macerating. I used about 7 ounces of frozen rhubarb, the amount called for if using frozen (or fresh) cranberries.

Once I got through the decisions on how to work with frozen rhubarb, this began to look a little more like the quick-and-easy cake it's listed as in the book. The topping of butter, brown sugar, a bit of salt, and the lemon juice got boiled for a couple of minutes "until deeply amber"....but as I was using dark brown sugar, it pretty much started out deeply amber. I went by temperature, and was over the target in about 2 minutes. The syrup got poured into a springform pan and the frozen chunks of rhubarb, tossed with cornstarch and lemon zest, went on top.

Next up was the cake batter, which was indeed quick and easy--a butter cake with some sour cream. That got poured over the rhubarb, and then baked on a baking stone to help the topping caramelize. Baking done, the upside down part came in and I got to see how much stuck to the pan. Which was not too much, and the pieces of rhubarb could be picked out and stuck back on the cake. My cake sides weren't very pretty, as the crusty part fell off in places. Let's just call the whole effect "rustic". I used a seedless strawberry jam to glaze over the rhubarb, instead of the raspberry called for in the cranberry version.

The suggested accompaniment is a strawberry Italian meringue...which for me would definitely have removed this from the quick-and-easy category. But I don't really like Italian meringue much, and I hate making them (I always spin part of my hot sugar syrup onto the sides of my mixer bowl), so I went with the luxurious topping of strawberry whipped cream--basically whipped cream with some strawberry jam whipped in. I also stabilized mine with a bit of cream cheese, so it would hold ovenight and be sent off with sister-in-law for her Tickling Tech session Friday morning. She texted me a couple of comments: "This is delightful. It's so light. The whipped cream is heavenly." and "It looks heavy but doesn't fill you up." Another teacher asked for the recipe, and also asked how much I would charge to make one for her. Given my time crunch right now, the answer to that is "more than anyone would pay for a cake like this", but it was flattering to be asked.

Rhubarb upside-down cakeRhubarb upside-down cakeRhubarb upside-down cake

BB: Sour Cherry Pie

IMG_0665I requested pie, specifically a double-crust pie, for Pi Day, and Marie obliged with the Sour Cherry Pie as the weekly Alpha Bakers recipe. That set off The Great Sour Cherry Hunt. Sour or tart cherries, a fruit I'd be pretty unaware of if not for these baking adventures, have a short season (mid-summer) and a restricted cultivation area (Michigan, mostly, and the Pacific Northwest). This helps account for why this Georgia girl (with some sojourns in Texas and Mississippi) has never seen fresh sour cherries in a store. Scheduling this pie way off-season is then not such a problem, because many people aren't going to find the fresh sour cherries at any season.

Then there's the tart cherry concentrate, an optional ingredient to add a punch of cherry flavor. This turns out to be a food supplement item (tart cherries contain a lot of melatonin, among other purported healthful substances), and you can get a 16 ounce bottle for $25 or so of the brand Rose recommends. The recipe wants 2 tablespoons, so unless you have a use for the rest of the bottle, that's a pricey purchase for just the pie. [Postscript: 2 weeks later, I spotted a $9 bottle at Your DeKalb Farmers Market this weekend. Of course.)

Discussion of the search for sour cherries started on the Alpha Bakers' internal Facebook group more than a week ahead of the assigned date, and some people mentioned finding them frozen, presumably a better product than canned. I decided to try to find them and to also look for a tart cherry concentrate at Trader Joe's, and if not there at the nearby Whole Foods. Neither store had the cherries--frozen sweet cherries were available at Whole Foods, but no tart ones in any form but dried. I did pick up a small bottle of sweet cherry concentrate for a mere $5 or so, which I'm sure did not give the same effect as Rose was after, but might be better than no cherry concentrate at all.

I then searched out two other upscale groceries I hadn't used before, Fresh Market and Sprouts, with no better luck. After the stop at Sprouts I moved across the street to a Kroger, where I found cans of tart cherries on special for $1.59 each, and bought 3. The generic canned cherries didn't have great color, but they tasted fine.

IMG_0674 In the end I did use all 3 cans of the sour cherries, minus a good handful tossed for cosmetic reasons (black or brown spots, mostly). I drained them well, then added about 1/2 cup of the canning liquid to the filling. That seemed to give an acceptable filling consistency--a little loose, but slices mostly held together. Well, one did, at least. Some of the issues with less pretty pieces may have been with cutting small wedges for those of us who wanted some pie, but not too many calories.

The pastry is the same cream-cheese pastry I had made for the Luscious Apple Pie, which I did before the Alpha Bakers got started. I didn't achieve "flaky" this time (though I did on the Smitten Kitchen white bean and pancetta pot pies for the same meal...that's an all-butter crust), and the nieces said "not our favorite crust" but good. Sister-in-law liked the buttery flavor and the crusty-ness. This was my first attempt at a lattice crust as best I can recall, and it was surprisingly easy--I suspect beginner's luck. I did add "3.1415" for Pi Day on top, but it's pretty well camouflaged by the lattice.

We all liked the sour cherry filling, not so overwhelmingly sweet as a sweet-cherry pie. Sister-in-law took the remains of the pie to school and found at least one person familiar with sour cherry pie and very happy to finish it off with great enjoyment. I think we'll count this as a successful baking project despite the lack of fresh sour cherries.

Sour Cherry PieDSCN2346IMG_0662DSCN2349DSCN2350IMG_0666IMG_0674IMG_0675

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Luxury Oatmeal Cookies

Luxury Oatmeal Cookies
Oatmeal cookies is the Alpha Bakers' assignment this week...but the oatmeal is in the form of granola, which of course you make from scratch. The result is a good cookie, but not one that wowed me. The granola is basic: rolled oats, nuts (I used pecans instead of walnuts), oil, sugars, and flavoring. The sugars are maple syrup and dark brown sugar, and I cut back a bit on the maple syrup. After the granola was toasted lightly, it got cooled down and mixed with chocolate chips (Ghirardelli 60% cacao for me) and dried cherries instead of the called-for raisins.

The granola mixture is blended with a cookie dough, then chilled to get it firm enough to shape. It's quite a soft dough, so any delay in the shaping process meant the dough needed to go back into the fridge to not end up all over my hands as I rolled balls of dough and flattened them. Baked them until just brown, and it's done.

The result is a crisp-chewy cookie that was very good when freshly baked. However, stored in an airtight container after they were completely cooled, the cookies softened and wilted a bit. You still have a nice concoction of butter-sugar-chocolate-cherries with some oatmeal to pretend it's healthy, but without that extra crispness I thought a lot of the character was lost. I don't have any other opinions on the cookies besides this: I baked the entire batch on Sunday of last week, tasted a couple, then passed the lot on to my sister-in-law with the comment that she could use them for her Tickling Tech session at her school on Friday. By the time Friday rolled around, older niece (still home for spring break) had reduced the supply below the level needed for the teachers. Guess the cookies were pretty good after all...

Luxury Oatmeal CookiesLuxury Oatmeal CookiesLuxury Oatmeal CookiesLuxury Oatmeal CookiesLuxury Oatmeal CookiesLuxury Oatmeal Cookies