Monday, January 26, 2015

BB: Gingersnaps

GingersnapsAh, a selection from the Quick-and-Easy List! After the multi-step panettone, I was ready for this one. If I hadn't gone to the effort of blending light brown sugar and super-fine (caster) sugar to make a substitute for "golden baker's sugar", this would have been really fast. All the dry ingredients including the sugar are mixed in a bowl. The butter, melted with golden syrup, goes in next. Mix that, add an egg and an egg white, and the dough is ready. It gets divided in thirds and chilled a bit, then rolled into 27-gram balls (or go for the 1-1/4" diameter) and baked. The baking sheet gets turned around after 5 minutes for even baking, and at that point the cookies are slightly puffed and smooth, just starting to brown. Five to seven minutes more, and the tops have gone golden brown and cracked. I actually did attempt to use the temperature given to decide when these were done, but trying to put the sensor end of my "instant read" thermometer (it's a fairly slow 7-second version) into a cookie was not successful.

The resulting cookie is nicely gingery, crisp-edged, and chewy in the center. I do tend to like a gingersnap with more bite (my sister-in-law's "Chinese gingersnaps" with lots of grated fresh ginger and white pepper, for example), but this is a very good classic gingersnap.

I took the batch of cookies to a meeting in Denver, transporting them in a ziplock bag. Unfortunately they lost that crisp edge by the time I shared them around on day 3 after baking, and instead of the lovely texture contrast of crisp and chewy, the effect was almost tough--too chewy, if that makes sense. The flavor remained, though, and several folks commented on how well they liked it.

Monday, January 19, 2015

BB: Golden Orange Panettone with Chocolate Sauce

Golden Orange Panettone with Chocolate SauceI'm sure Rose and Woody read all the Alpha Bakers' posts and think "if these people just did what the recipe said, it would have been fine!" But there's always that difference of wording, and the variations of kitchens, so sometimes things just don't seem to be working out like the recipe says. I had a little of that here, but the results were still just fine.

I've made panettone before when doing the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge, with Peter Reinhart's recipe. There are some similarities (beyond, "hey, it's panettone") and some differences, but the overall difference is that Rose's version is a much longer process to build more flavor in the dough. I compressed the schedule a little and used the shorter options in most cases: first because that's just what my schedule demanded, and second because I don't think I'm enough of a super taster to tell the difference between a biga that rested 3 full days vs. my 2-day version. It's just as well: I developed a cold before I got to the tasting part so I was definitely not getting many nuances.
Unstir-able bigaThe biga comes first. Several of us found that our results didn't quite match our expectations based on the recipe wording, which says to "stir" the flour, yeast, and water mixture, and again to stir it down after a first rise. Mine was a dough ball that had to be kneaded to get the flour incorporated, then again could be picked up and kneaded to de-gas it. In my use of the word, I couldn't have stirred it at all, though I might have taken a spatula and folded it over once in the de-gassing stage. Anyway, the biga got made Wednesday evening, rose at room temp overnight, then went in the fridge Thursday morning. I started on the dough Saturday morning to be able to bake it on the weekend.

Next up wasn't the dough, however, but cutting up the fancy candied orange peel into 1/4" bits, and mixing it and some golden raisins with Triple Sec, vanilla, and Fiori di Sicilia. Rose's recipe called for either orange oil or grated orange peel instead of the traditional Fiori di Sicilia, which she finds leaves a bitter aftertaste. I made a stab at finding the orange oil locally but failed, didn't get around to ordering it from Amazon, and didn't feel like grating that orange from the fridge. Out came my Fiori di Sicilia...I don't notice any aftertaste myself.

Very soft dough, after butter additionIn the next stage the biga got cut up, beaten into a sponge (batter), and the dry ingredients for the dough sprinkled on top. That sat at room temp to let the sponge get nice and active, during which it bubbled up in places through the dry ingredients. On to the KitchenAid for mixing with the paddle, not the dough hook, as this is a quite soft dough. Mine was softer than Rose's, I think, unless we have another of those interpretation issues. The recipe said the dough would not completely clean the bowl, and what I pictured based on baking Reinhart's recipes was the type of dough that mostly formed a ball around the dough hook or paddle, but stayed attached at the dimple of the bowl or fully at the bottom. My panettone pretty much stayed coating the sides of the bowl. Lots of nice stretchy strands to indicate that I had some good gluten formation, but not clearing the bowl at all, even after beating in all the butter. I decided it was too wet and added about another 1/4 cup of flour in tablespoon increments, but still didn't have a dough that came off the sides of the bowl. I called enough and let the dough rest before adding in the fruit.

After the rest, the recipe calls for turning out the dough onto a well-floured surface, adding the orange peel and raisins, and kneading those in using as little extra flour as possible. Well, I often (that is, in my weekly challah baking) handle my bread dough on a silicone mat with just a little oil or grease from the rising bowl. I'd already added extra flour to this dough, so I decided to try the no-flour approach. I ran the butter paper over my silicone mat and my hands, then turned out the soft dough from the mixer bowl. It worked just fine, even when the moist fruit got incorporated. I worked pretty quickly so the dough didn't have time to attach too firmly to my hands, and got it kneaded and dumped into a dough container for the first real rise.

The dough rose more than double in 1.5 hours--I should have checked at 1 hour but forgot. It moved to the fridge for 1 hour to let the butter incorporate and firm up, got folded over on itself to de-gas it, refrigerated for another hour, then formed into a ball and put it in a greased gallon bag and in the fridge again for an overnight rest. PanettoneThe next day I shaped the dough into a ball and placed it in a full-sized paper panettone mold. It rose for 3 hours to get the center just over theheight of paper. I snipped the X in the top and got it into the oven.

Panettone crumbBaking was fine, but without any real oven spring as witnessed by my snipped X that looked about like it did going in. I think my paper mold is slightly larger than the recommended size, so perhaps I shouldn't have waited for the bread to rise to the top. The recipe calls for waiting at least 8 hours before cutting, but the cold led to a somewhat overlong 3-day wait before I sliced mine.

What tastebuds I had active during the cold thought it was very nice, with a decided orange flavor even though I'd used Fiori di Sicilia. I'd been wary of the concept of chocolate sauce on sliced bread, but though the textural contrast wasn't a favorite, the chocolate-orange synergy works nonetheless. (The chocolate sauce is a 1:1 dark chocolate ganache.) Sister-in-law took the leftovers to her Friday teachers' session and had one person who strongly disliked the chocolate sauce (a milk chocolate lover, I think), but at least one loved the whole combination. If I repeat this one, I think I'll swap those golden raisins for some chopped dried apricots--raisins just don't add a lot to me.

Unstir-able bigaFilling ingredientsBiga bitsVery soft dough, after butter additionOrangePanettone-risingChilled and rested doughReady to riseRising under a shower capRisen and slashedPanettonePanettone crumb

Sunday, January 11, 2015

BB: Black and Blueberry Pie

Black and Blueberry PiePie. I could dig out the very dated quote from Mrs. Dull's "Southern Cooking" (1928), which was along the lines of "men love pie, and so we womenfolk need to please our men by baking them" but really, I love pie for myself, and don't need any excuse to bake one. This time the pie was younger niece's birthday celebration. It's so nice when the relatives are willing to accept upcoming baking assignments for their celebratory desserts!

The Black and Blueberry Pie the Alpha Bakers are blogging this week is simple and wonderful, and would be even more simple (though not so wonderful, even with my non-expert pastry skills), with a pre-bought pie crust. The recipe uses the same cream-cheese crust as the Luscious Apple Pie which I baked before the group got started. The dough was drier than I remembered in the mixing. I did add a bit more cream to the food processor before dumping the crumbly mix of flour, cream cheese, butter, etc. into a bag. It looked like a mess, but with enough pressing and pushing the crumbs became a mass that could be formed into two lumps for rolling out.

The dough chilled overnight, then the next day I rolled out the bottom crust, got it into the pan, and refrigerated it. I then rolled out the top and cut some berry-ish decorations, then slipped that crust onto a baking sheet and first into the freezer briefly, then the fridge to chill so the design wouldn't stretch when placed on the pie.

Black and Blueberry PieThen it was time for the very easy filling. The dry mixture (sugar and cornstarch, mostly) goes in a bowl, add lemon zest and juice are added to get a slurry. Dump in frozen blackberries and blueberries, stir, and turn the entire mix into the prepared crust. (Fresh berries are fine too, but it's winter in the northern hemisphere. Not getting good fresh berries right now...) On goes the top crust, after moistening the edge for a good seal. I had to let my top crust warm a bit before it could be tucked under and then crimped into a decorative edge. The pie then goes back to the fridge for another chill before baking.

Black and Blueberry PieThe pie bakes on a stone at the bottom of the oven, with a edge protector. Rose calls for a foil ring, but I used a silicone protector which I'd used on the apple pie as well as other recipes. However, when my pie was done my decorative crimped edge emerged from under the shield pretty much flat. It was also a little too brown, which is somewhat contradictory--if the silicone was too good an insulator and kept the heat from setting the crimped edge before it semi-melted, you'd have thought it would have kept things from getting too brown. But maybe not....Rose thought the silicone ring was the likely culprit, anyway. It caused some problems with the apple pie too, so I guess it needs to be chalked up as an unsuccessful experiment. Or maybe I can put it on after the pastry has set but before it started to really brown.

Black and Blueberry PieFlattened edge or no, the pie was a big hit, even with all the chocoholics next door. I served it with some barely sweetened whipped cream which gave just the right accent to the sweet berries and pastry. A la mode, with the pie warmed a bit, would also do well, but the birthday girl opted for whipped cream.

Black and Blueberry PieBlack and Blueberry PieBlack and Blueberry Pie

Sunday, January 4, 2015

BB: Chocolate Cuddle Cake

Chocolate Cuddle Cake

As I had already baked the frozen pecan tart that was the assignment for Christmas week, I looked ahead for a dessert for our Christmas dinner and landed on the Chocolate Cuddle Cake. It's just me and the folks next door for the meal, so I went with a half-sized cake. Unfortunately that doesn't reduce the amount of pans and utensils needed. :) Equipment for Choc Cuddle Cake (That's two bowls and whisks for the KitchenAid mixer, plus the Cuisinart food processor with metal blade, plus the hand mixer, plus the baking pan and another mixing bowl. This doesn't include pans and bowls for the caramel, and assorted other stuff.)

I used a 6" springform pan, not quite 3" tall. I didn't measure my parchment paper strips used to line the pan to get them 3" high, having not thought this all through, and regretted it. This is a genoise, so needs to be turned upside down to cool so that it doesn't collapse. I had to do a little hasty trimming right after taking the cake from the oven, but it all worked out. Chocolate Cuddle Cake

I don't have any notes on the cake besides the egg yolks and whites measuring as desired,not always the case with the variation in egg sizes: 2 yolks were just about the desired amount, and 2 whites a little over (which is fine--they are used to make a meringue which is folded in to the chocolate mixture). I had mixed success at getting the parchments strips off the cooled cake after holding a hot damp towel to them--about half of them came away clean leaving a smooth cake surface, and the rest stuck a bit to leave a rough surface. The cake gets covered with ganache though, so the mix of surfaces was quickly hidden.

Chocolate Cuddle Cake The ganache was straightforward using the food processor. I frosted the sides, followed the shape of the cake which curved in at the top where the cake pulled away from the top of the pan. I decided to follow the suggestion of using a pastry bag to pipe an edging at the top edge to hold in the whipped cream topping, but didn't stop to practice for the half-shells Rose used. Instead I started with a set of small swirls in several shapes, then a round of stars as there was still ganache left. I got the cake to this point on Christmas Eve, and left it in a large sealed container at room temperature overnight.

Christmas morning, after the presents were opened and while the prime rib was roasting, I started the caramel whipped cream. It's actually chocolate caramel whipped cream, to add to the decadence level. First comes caramel--sugar, a bit of golden syrup to keep it from crystalizing, and a bit of water to start. I chickened out (well, didn't quite trust this thermometer, which I hadn't used for candy before) and stopped a bit below the target temperature, but I still had a golden caramel after the cream and butter had been stirred in. For the chocolate, 2 teaspoons of cocoa get whisked into a little hot cream, then that all gets mixed into the caramel. I didn't whisk vigorously enough and later had a few spots of cocoa in my chocolate whipped cream....somehow, no one complained. The final steps were to whip more cream to soft peaks, then whip in the chocolate caramel mixture, then finally some gelatin softened in even more cream to stabilize the whole thing. I had managed the softening of the gelatin and getting it melted, but somewhere in cooing process or in adding the vanilla to it the gelatin clumped up. A few seconds in the microwave and some stirring got it back to liquid, and it whipped into the rest of the cream with no problems.

Even though the cake was half-sized I made a full recipe of the caramel whipped cream--halving the small caramel recipe would have been pretty difficult. Perhaps because of my curved-in top, I only managed to pile about a quarter (maybe a third) of the recipe on the cake, so we passed some around to dollop beside the cake slices. No complaints there. I also tackled chocolate curls with mixed success, using Rose's technique for getting the right sized bar (my silicone financier pan was about right) and then finding the right temperature for the chocolate to curl. After a lot of splinters I did get a few curls, but the chocolate was blotchy, I think because I may have stirred in some air bubbles while making my chocolate bar. Cosmetic issues only...and again, no complaints.

The half cake was a good decision as it made 6 nice-sized pieces for us. The cake was moist and even textured, the ganache added extra chocolate intensity, and the caramel whipped cream balanced the "total chocolate" effect nicely. Would I make it again? Probably not--it was a good bit of effort, and all three components (cake, ganache, whipped cream) are needed to get the well-designed cake. Sister-in-law asked if I might do just the whipped cream again and I said no. I'll hedge on that now and say maybe. For a special occasion, when I'm not juggling several other cooking tasks too. Maybe. :)

P.S. on the caramel whipped cream: the leftovers went along as the folks next door left town to visit relatives. I understand some was eaten on the plane with fruit, and the rest was finished up at their destination. Don't let it be said that any caramel whipped cream went to waste around here!

Chocolate Cuddle CakeChocolate Cuddle CakeChocolate Cuddle CakeChocolate Cuddle Cake

Monday, December 29, 2014

Pointer to my post on this week's Rose's Alpha Bakers recipe

I baked the Frozen Pecan Tart before the official bake-through started, and blogged it here:

Monday, December 22, 2014

BB: Almond Coffee Crisps

Almond Coffee CrispsMy father really loved crisp, buttery cookies. For a few years when I was high-school to college age, I'd bake him a batch of "Super Wheat Germ Cookie Balls" for a Christmas present, and he would always remark that it was about his ideal cookie. I'm sorry he's not still with us to try the Almond Coffee Crisps--it might not have displaced the wheat-germ cookies, but I bet it would be in the running.

Side note: the Web is amazing. Here is the wheat-germ cookie recipe, and I probably got it from a clipping in the Atlanta paper from some syndicated column at the same time this Milwaukee Sentinal paper was printed. My yellowed recipe card says to use half butter instead of all shortening, and I probably made it with all butter later on, though I made no notes on that. I rarely shaped it into balls and instead made "fingers" for more crispness. I must bake these again when a cookie need arises, and blog my version of the recipe.

Back to the Almond Coffee Crisps: there's some similarity in this cookie and the cookie part of last week's Ischler as almonds are ground with the dry ingredients. This week there's a hefty addition of baking powder, which must be a major factor in the resulting texture. A good bit of espresso powder goes into this one, and instead of the somewhat problematic (well, for me anyway) rolling out and cutting, the Almond Coffee Crisps are formed by making small dough balls and flattening them. I let my dough rest overnight in the fridge because of timing issues, but these can be formed and baked immediately after mixing. My dough was quite soft at that point so I'm glad I needed to wait. I did try several methods of flattening the balls (an ungreased meat pounder, then the same implement sprayed with Pam, then floured, then the bottom of a glass) but after everything kept sticking to the dough I just used my hands and tried to keep the cookie thickness as even as possible.

I baked on parchment sheets on my heavy shiny baking sheets, for 12 minutes total. While still hot, I used a brush (the recipe suggests a brush or sprinkling with your fingers) to flick more espresso powder on the cookie tops for an extra coffee punch. The cookies came out slightly raised, total crisp, and really lovely. The texture was almost like a 3-d lacework...don't think lace cookies, but a lattice.

Older niece on the first tasting thought the coffee flavor was too strong--as both nieces are coffee fiends, I'm surprised. Her sister didn't have this problem. I offered these at sister-in-law's Hanukkah party this evening, and everyone (including older niece) enjoyed them. Nephew said it reminded him a bit of creme brûlée, and we concluded it was the caramelized sugar flavor that did it. Or as a guest said, sort of coffee-toffee. I'm adding this cookie to the repeat pile.

Almond Coffee CrispsAlmond Coffee Crisps

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

BB: The Ischler

The IschlerThe Ischler is, it seems, a classic sandwich cookie-not one I'd ever encountered before, but then I haven't spent a lot of time in bakeries that have classic Austrian cookies on offer. The dough uses a healthy proportion of ground almonds instead of all flour, and the sugar is powdered sugar, taking the cookie texture towards the delicate shortbread style. It's sandwiched with apricot preserves then dipped in chocolate in the classc form, but Rose's recipe spreads chocolate ganache as a second sandwich filling instead of the chocolate dip.

I made the dough for the cookies before leaving on my quick trip to Walt Disney World for some Christmas activities, thinking I could get the cookies baked and filled before the trip so sister-in-law and the nephew could used the cookies for their cookie bags for teachers. However, time ran out on me, so I put the well-wrapped dough in the freezer to wait until I got back. (Nephew volunteered to have his mom and himself finish the cookies for me, which I turned down knowing that s-i-l was unlikely to have time or want to fuss with a 2-filling cookie. Having completed the baking myself, I'm now sure that was the right call...)

I tackled the actual baking and filling yesterday, and it all took far longer than I'd thought. Part of that was the nature of the cookie--the dough needs to be rolled thin, then there are the two fillings to prepare and which have to be done just before filling all the cookies so as to be at the proper consistency for spreading. The other part was just the handling of the dough. In my somewhat warm kitchen and with my inexpert (which means slow) cookie rolling, I needed some back-and-forth between the counter and the fridge or freezer as the dough got too warm to handle.


--I rolled most batches between 2 sheets of parchment paper, which works better for me than plastic wrap for a difficult dough as it doesn't have the wrinkling issues. I used the plastic wrap a few times when just unwrapping a new batch of dough, and really didn't see a big difference...except for the wrinkles.

--I skipped the making of levkar in favor of apricot preserves, and what I had on hand was "low sugar" apricot preserves (not artificially sweetened, just lower sugar). The texture is looser than full-sugar preserves, and the jar was a little larger than the amount the recipe called for. I heated and strained the whole jar, then reduced it to a little more than the 2/3 cup Rose called for when done properly. (Looking back, I skipped the levkar during the Heavenly Cake Bake-Through too. Must make it sometime, but I need a recipe that calls for more of the yield than here. Having an extra 2 cups of levkar in the fridge while I come up with uses for it is not an attractive prospect, with the number of jars already semi-permanently in residence in my fridge.)

--The chocolate was 62% cacao Ghirardelli chocolate chips that are now pretty standard in the grocery stores around here. Not on Rose's recommended list, but acceptable and not requiring a trip to Whole Foods. Alas, the Whole Foods quit carrying the baking blocks of Scharfen Berger that was my standard while baking through Rose's Heavenly Cakes.

The Ischler--I almost ran out of apricot glaze despite starting with more than the recipe amount. I'd used a slightly smaller cookie cutter than 2-1/4", but didn't have many over the 80 cookies (to make 40 sandwiches). I must have spread my glaze a little thickly. This may also have been true of the ganache, which I did run out of with about 8 cookies to go even after scraping a bit from some of the most recently spread cookies to eke it out. For the remaining cookies I reverted to the original Ischler: I sandwiched only the apricot preserves, melted a bit more chocolate with a little shortening, and dipped half of the cookie in that. The chocolate was a little streaky after cooling (I didn't make any attempt to temper it), but the half-dipped cookie is still a very pretty effect.

Taste test: Most of these are headed to the office holiday party on Wednesday, but I tasted one last night after all my baking efforts, then offered samples to s-i-l and nephew this evening. Tonight we all agreed that the cookie needed to be a little crisper--I thought it was lovely last night, freshly baked and filled, but despite my sealed container the cookies softened a bit overnight. Nephew wanted more apricot--he liked the cookie but thought the chocolate overbalanced the apricot. I want to hear what he thinks of the version dipped in chocolate instead of a chocolate sandwich, as I think that may give him a little more up-front apricot taste. I do have to agree that the apricot is subtle compared to the chocolate in Rose's version.

In summary, this a very good cookie, but between the long and somewhat difficult rolling-out process and the time to fill with 2 fillings, it's not one I'm likely to repeat, especially if it continues to lose crispness. Rose says it will store airtight for 5 days at room temp, so I should be OK taking these to the party on Wednesday.

The IschlerThe IschlerThe Ischler