Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Bread Bible: Touch of Grace Biscuits with Cherry-Chambord Butter

Touch-of-Grace BiscuitsThe Alpha Bakers' once-a-month bread baking assignment is the Touch of Grace Biscuits from The Bread Bible. The recipe is Rose Levy Beranbaum's adaptation of Shirley Corriher's Touch of Grace Biscuits from Cookwise. I was lucky enough to taste these biscuits as prepared by Corriher at a cooking demo at the Decatur Book Festival a few years back, where they were served with Cherry-Chambord Butter (also in Cookwise). I promptly bought Cookwise, but never got around to trying this recipe until now. For those who like cookbook authors who delve into the whys of recipes, I highly recommend Corriher's books.

The immediately apparent difference in the two recipes is in the amount. Cookwise uses 2 cups of self-rising flour, The Bread Bible 1-1/2. There's some difference in the amount of leavening, the details being somewhat confused by the instructions in both books for substituting all-purpose flour for self-rising. Side note: both books call for the very soft wheat (low protein) "Southern" flour, preferably White Lily brand. (OK, Corriher said that in the demo, not in Cookwise.) I live in Atlanta: White Lily is my standard soft-wheat flour, though I don't keep self-rising around. The ratio of shortening is the same in both books, but Corriher gives suggested amounts of buttermilk and cream for the liquid, where Beranbaum just says use either or a mix. The other major difference is in baking. Corriher bakes the pan of biscuits at 425 for 15-20 minutes. Beranbaum preheats the oven to 475, puts the pan on a heated stone or baking sheet and ups the temperature to 500 for 5 minutes, then decreases to 475 for the remaining 10-15 minutes. Both offer an optional brushing with melted butter, but Corriher does it after the biscuits are baked, Beranbaum before.

Touch-of-Grace BiscuitsTouch-of-Grace Biscuits The part of this recipe that I haven't seen elsewhere is in the shaping. The dough is extremely wet--Corriher says it should look like cottage cheese, which was more apt to me than Beranbaum's "like mashed potatoes". You scoop out a biscuit-sized lump and dump it in some plain flour, then shape it quickly, dusting off excess flour, and put it in the prepared baking pan before it flattens out under its own weight. The whole pan must be shaped and gotten into the oven in a rush, or the individual biscuits will completely merge into a single large pan bread.
Touch-of-Grace BiscuitsI thought I'd hybridize the two recipes, but my actual baking included more variations than I'd intended thanks to not checking the larder before I got started. I thought I'd bought self-rising White Lily, but only had all-purpose. I knew I had Crisco shortening in the fridge, but it had been there so long it had gotten a touch rancid. I really wanted biscuits the morning I baked these, so out came the butter. I used Beranbaum's smaller amounts and 8" cake pan (Corriher says either 8" or 9" for her larger recipe), used a rough version of the ratio of buttermilk to cream from Corriher, the butter substitution which is in neither source, baked using Corriher's simpler process, and brushed the melted butter (which thus didn't have to be cooled or clarified) on the biscuits when hot from the oven.

Touch-of-Grace BiscuitTo accompany my breakfast biscuit I made a quarter recipe of the Cherry-Chambord Butter, which is actually more than half cream cheese, blended with butter, Chambord, powdered sugar, cherry preserves, and orange zest. The quarter recipe would have been enough for the entire pan of biscuits at the amount I used.

I was surprised at the amount of sugar in the recipe, as I think of biscuits as savory (though often served with sweet toppings like honey or syrups...or Cherry-Chambord Butter). I didn't find the result sweet, though, or maybe it was masked by the wonderful hot buttery biscuit flavor. The texture is very soft and fluffy--these biscuits won't do well as a base for a breakfast sandwich, as the biscuit will fall apart around the fillings. That's OK though, I think I'll manage to get these eaten up somehow.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

BB: BlueRhu Pie

BlueRhu PieThis week's Alpha Bakers assignment makes for two recent experiences baking with rhubarb, with my use of the rhubarb variation when the assignment was cranberry upside-down cake (I couldn't find cranberries), and now a combination blueberry-rhubarb pie. Also it's a second lattice crust shortly after I made my first one for the sour cherry pie in March.

I did make things harder on myself, though, by attempting to make a smaller pie than the recipe called for. I routinely half the Alpha Bakers recipes to avoid overloading the family (though my co-workers probably wouldn't mind having more arrive in the break room on Mondays), and since this practice started back during the Heavenly Cakes bake-through, I have a supply of 6" cake pans and a springform, the right size for half of a 9" cake. The issue of a half-sized pie has only come up for black bottom pie at Thanksgiving or Christmas, and it's a 10" deep-dish pie that works well in a steep sided 8x3 tart pan. I have mini pie pans (3-4"), but nothing in the 6" size. My options were the 8x3", or a pottery 8" pan with pretty straight sides with a scallop at the top. This last is what I decided to use.

BlueRhu PieBecause my pan is bigger than a half-recipe needs, I took a hybrid approach. I made the cream-cheese crust for a 9" pie with a full double-crust or a 14-strip lattice, instead of the called-for 10-strip lattice amount. That still was a bit short for the pie pan. I made 3/4 of the filling amount, and that gave me a little more than half-full pie pan. I then mashed and folded the crust down to the level of the filling, so I really did have enough pie dough after all. The combined effect is rather like a tart, so I guess it all worked out. If I'd predicted that result, I'd have turned to the tart pan collection in the first place.

Pan sizes and math for a 3/4 recipe aside, this is a pretty easy pie. All the filling ingredients macerate for a while, then are brought to a boil, simmered for a minute, then cooled completely. Dump that in the crust, deal with the lattice top (or not), then refrigerate at least 30 minutes before baking on a preheated stone.

Taste tests were conducted by me, the nephew-next-door, and my sister-in-law, with uniform thumbs-up on the pie. (The leftovers will be held in the fridge until the 2 nieces arrive home from their colleges on Wednesday.) I think we all felt it had good blueberry flavor with the rhubarb primarily serving to cut the sometimes over-the-top sweetness of a pure blueberry pie. Sister-in-law thought the bottom crust was overbaked, but I disagree--I wonder if she got a spot where the juices leaked through and formed a hard spot.

DSCN2513BlueRhu PieBlueRhu PieBlueRhu PieBlueRhu PieBlueRhu Pie

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