Saturday, January 21, 2017

ABC: Smitten Kitchen - sheet pan spinach quiche

Smitten Kitchen's spinach sheet pan quicheI've joined another baking group, the Avid Baker's Challenge, enticed by the fact that this year they are baking from the Smitten Kitchen blog. First up is the Sheet Pan Spinach Quiche, a recipe I'd seen and immediately saved to Paprika (the recipe app I use). I was attracted by the form factor--it's baked in a quarter sheet pan, so the ratio of quiche to crust is lower. The quiche filling is different, too--instead of milk or maybe half and half in the custard, this one uses cream cheese thinned with half and half.
Smitten Kitchen's spinach sheet pan quicheFor the crust I went with food processor mixing, though I used a technique from Serious Eats where I blended half the flour with the butter thoroughly, then added the rest of the flour and pulsed a bit. Then it was on to the cold water, and a dry-ish dough formed. I chilled that overnight before trying to make the actual crust. Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen warned that the crust is hard to handle for the quarter sheet pan, and recommended pressing it in. I was headed for the "press it in" approach, but having a chilled block of dough it didn't seem like I could get it into the pan only by pressing. (In retrospect, maybe I should have chilled the crumbly mixture from the food processor and then been able to spread that around the pan more easily.) I decided I would start by rolling my dough block to about the size of the pan between sheets of plastic wrap. That sort of worked, but it was very hard to get the dough well distributed until it was so warm it was turning greasy. Ultimately I chilled it again, pried it out of the pan (along with the parchment paper lining the bottom), rolled it out to get it sort of even and sort of the right size, then put it back in the pan and kept pressing. Result: pastry covering the pan, but not pretty.

Smitten Kitchen's spinach sheet pan quicheThe completed crust was chilled and blind baked, where I let it get too brown due to a little inattentiveness in the last few minutes as I was working on the filling. I made a shield for the crust before baking the filling and thought the results were just fine.

For the quiche itself I intended to use gruyere for the cheese, but ran out and filled in with cheddar. Everything else was as the recipe was as written. I was glad to have the weights for the cheese (actually for everything as I now bake mostly by weight), because my Microplane-grated parmesan was more than double the volume the recipe mentions. I had bought a nut milk bag recently to use for recipes that need to squeeze extra moisture from veggies, and discovered that too much twisting of the nut milk bag will pop a hole in it, alas. Deb said there might be too much filling for the crust, but mine fit nicely and was not even that full.

Results: The crust was nice, though not particularly flakey after its rough time getting into the pan. I like the filling including the cream cheese, and may try this style quiche with some other flavors--I like spinach OK, but this is pretty intensely spinach. Any future attempts will probably use a different crust, though!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Bread Bible: Lime-Blueberry Flaky Scones

Lime-Blueberry Flaky SconesThe June recipe for the Bread Bible bake-through is Flaky Scones. These are a rich biscuit dough which is folded several times before cutting to get flaky layers, as in a rough puff pastry dough. The recipe calls for currants, which I didn't have on hand and which probably wouldn't go over well with the raisin-averse folks next door. What I did have was some rather aged dried blueberries, which seemed like a good substitution in terms of size. I plumped those in a bit of hot water to compensate for their long time in the back of the fridge. I had looked at Rose's suggested variation of a lemon poppyseed scone, and decided that adding lime zest with my blueberries would be a nice cross-fertilization of the base recipe and the variation. I made a half recipe--sister-in-law's school term is over, so no need to bake for her classes for teachers.

As is my usual approach these days, I grated frozen butter with a box grater instead of cutting the butter into lumps then rubbing or pressing it into flakes. As someone with warm hands and a generally warmish kitchen, anything I can do to minimize handling pastry dough is to the good. I then put the grated butter back into the freezer to firm back up before incorporating it into the dry ingredients. After tossing the butter and flour mixture together, it looked like the butter pieces were already at a good size for this recipe, so I proceeded to add the heavy cream and mixed to get a dough.

Lime-Blueberry Flaky SconesAfter a bit of hand kneading to get the dry bits incorporated, the dough got turned out onto a lightly floured mat and shaped and rolled into a rectangle. That got folded into thirds, then rolled again, folded, and repeat until the dough had been folded 4 times. At this point it was definitely softening, so I wrapped it up and popped it into the fridge.

After a good chill, I finished getting the dough to about a 12 by 4 inch rectangle, then trimmed the sides (saving the scraps for a misshapen biscuit-like thing), and cut 8 triangles. After calculating the Weight Watchers SmartPoints on those, I now wish I'd gone with smaller ones--these babies come out at 17 or so points each, when my daily allotment is 30. I've already passed most of the batch, frozen and wrapped and with baking instructions, to the niblings next door.

Several days after making and freezing the unbaked scones, I baked one in my toaster oven where it took just about the time recommended for a regular oven without being frozen. (My poor scone had a bit of an accident between oven and cooling rack, developing the fracture you can see in the top picture.) I had a tough time only eating half of it--it's rich and crispy, and the dried blueberries worked well. My nephew and I both agree that the lime zest could be increased--I think I used less than the recommended amount due to measuring difficulties. There's a hint of lime, but we'd like a little more punch from it.

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BB: Mango Bango Cheesecake

Mango Bango CheesecakeLast summer, faced with life getting busier and looking at an upcoming Baking Bible assignment of the multistage Fourth of July cheesecake (take a look at Marie's), I made the decision to drop out of the fully committed group of Alpha Bakers, although continuing to bake along when time permitted and when the recipe was right for me. However, maybe that upcoming cheesecake that got me looking at another one in the book, the Mango Bango Cheesecake. I baked a half recipe for my birthday cake last summer and left myself (I hope) enough notes to blog it now as the Alpha Bakers are tackling it.

The Mango Bango Cheesecake uses a mix of cream cheese and full-fat Greek yogurt, leading to a softer and lighter result than an all-cream cheese variety. It also uses a sponge cake or ladyfinger base--I saw lady fingers at the supermarket and went with that option instead of baking a genoise.

For the mango, Rose calls for canned mango pulp. That's a semi-regular purchase for me, so I knew the places to look. The large Indian grocery store near me, Patel Brothers, had the brand Rose suggested, sweetened with sugar and not corn syrup. I always have to hunt a bit before remembering that the canned mango at Patel is over in the produce section, not in the canned goods where other canned fruits are. (They always seem to have three or more varieties of canned mango available.) The store is a madhouse on a weekend evening, with its cramped checkout area full of families with carts piled high. I was an outlier with my 3 cans of mango puree.

The cheesecake started with pressing the canned mango pulp through a sieve for extra smoothness, then concentrating most of the puree by a third by cooking it down in the microwave. I prepped the 6" springform pan (for my half-size cheesecake) by lining the bottom with trimmed ladyfingers.

Then came the easy batter. I ground some cardamom seeds with part of the sugar, then then sugar and cream cheese were beaten together, then egg yolks, lime juice, vanilla, and salt. Last to go in was the Greek yogurt and the remaining un-concentrated mango puree.

Mango Bango CheesecakeHalf of the batter went into the pan atop the ladyfinger base, then half of the concentrated mango was dolloped on and swirled a bit, then the batter, dolloping of mango, and swirling repeated. The cheesecake baked in a water bath. It was hard to tell the baking time for the half-recipe as the only guidance on when it's done is that the center should jiggle slightly after it has sat in the oven for an hour after baking. (Don't know what you would do at that point if it was undercooked.) Mine was very liquid at 10 minutes under the full-size cooking time, so I ended up baking it the recommended time for the full recipe. The top browned a bit, but in the end the texture was fine and it was very moist.

Mango Bango CheesecakeThe last touch is another round of mango puree, pushed through sieve, then combined with cornstarch and heated to get a topping. Result: very pretty cheesecake.

Taste test: excellent flavor in the cheesecake, with the mango blobs and topping giving a nice flavor burst. It was very nice with raspberries on the side, probably also would have been wonderful with some of Rose's raspberry sauce. The ladyfinger crust added absolutely nothing but (I guess) some ability to shift the finished cake onto a serving plate--it doesn't disintegrate, but the effect is basically soggy cake. That neutral base is probably the intent, but I'd like to try this cheesecake with a cookie crust for a more interesting texture and taste contrast. I will have to do some research to see if the yogurt in the cheesecake will add so much moisture that even a cookie crust would get soggy.

Bottom line: this is a little more trouble than a one-bowl cheesecake, but worth it. I might skip the pressing through a sieve especially for the mango that goes into the cheesecake body, as I don't think a bit of texture would bother me (and there was very little residue in the sieve anyway). I would like a more interesting crust--I've had this sponge-cake base on several different cheesecakes and found it added nothing every time. Graham cracker would be too jarring in the flavor department, so I would consider other cookie-crumb options.

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Bread Bible: Blueberry muffins

Blueberry muffinsI needed baked goods in a hurry one night for sister-in-law's Tickling Tech session, so started these at 9. I was hoping to have my own blueberries for this assignment from The Bread Bible bake-through, but the berries on the earliest of the bushes I planted between my house and the folks next door remain a bit underripe.

I doubled the recipe as younger niece was passing through town with 3 friends on their way to Florida for a brief end-of-the-college-semester vacation. The late start brought a few hurry-up steps. Forget bringing the butter to room temperature--I sliced it into thin pieces, threw on the sugar, and started beating in the stand mixer. Once that had something of a start on blending, I stopped the mixer and moved over to measure the rest of my ingredients. First was zesting a large lemon, and tossing the zest into the bowl with the butter and sugar. Dry ingredients: White Lily flour is my bleached AP flour of choice, instead of the Gold Medal or Pillsbury the recipe calls for, and baking powder and salt. (I opted for buttermilk over sour cream, and so used baking powder instead of soda.)

With the dry ingredients blended and the buttermilk ready to go, I went back to the butter-sugar mixture to beat it until fluffy. The egg and vanilla was beaten in, then the mixing moved to a manual process. Half the dry ingredients and half the buttermilk went on top of the butter and were folded in, then the remaining flour and buttermilk, then the "wild" frozen blueberries, straight from the bag as there's no rinsing and drying of frozen berries. As the berries start defrosting on contact with the room-temperature batter I got some streaking in the batter, but I'm not bothered by the cosmetics. (I've used one blueberry muffin recipe that mashes half the berries into the batter for moistness, then folds in the rest.)

I made 6 regular-sized muffins, then managed 23 mini muffins with the remaining batter. I sprinkled on large sugar crystals and grated a bit of fresh nutmeg over each. The sugar crystals seem to have dissolved for the most part, leaving a rather mottled top to the muffins--maybe I was too slow with getting them into the oven and gave the sugar time to melt.

The muffins baked a bit longer than called for due to the frozen berries, but emerged nicely brown and at temperature. The report was that the lemon-blueberry taste was lovely.

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Rose's Melting Pot: Chicken Cacciatore

Chicken cacciatoreI'm not sure I've ever eaten chicken cacciatore before--I don't recall it being in my mother's repertoire growing up, nor do I recall ordering it in a restaurant. Maybe it was on some school cafeteria line many years ago? Well, if I've ever had it before, I've forgotten. This is another recipe tried under the influence of the group cooking through Rose's Melting Pot, published in 1994.

Chicken cacciatore: it's a stovetop dish of chicken pieces cooked in a tomato-based sauce. No, that gives the wrong feel for the sauce--it's a mixture of chopped veggies bound together with tomato. The first impression is the tomato, but the carrots and celery add their own character.
The recipe called for a whole chicken, but I went with a pack of 4 bone-in thighs for the convenience, number of servings, and the way you really have to work at it to overcook them. Chicken cacciatore The recipe begins by by browning the chicken well, and I used just a drizzle of olive oil instead of a mix of butter and oil, knowing that my skin-on thighs would give up lots of fat quickly. After the chicken was browned it came out of the pan, any excess fat was to be removed (I had less than a tablespoon so kept it all), then in went chopped onion, carrot, and celery. That got sautéed until brown, then a minced clove of garlic was added with another minute of stirring. Then the recipe calls for a can of plum tomatoes, a small can of tomato sauce, and a bay leaf. Chicken cacciatoreI used diced fire-roasted tomatoes instead of the whole plum tomatoes--that might have given me less liquid than whole tomatoes, but never having made this before I can't be sure. The sauce simmered uncovered for 20 minutes before the chicken went back in along with some wine, wine vinegar, and a bit of sugar, then another 20 minute simmer, covered. My smaller thighs were done at that point, but the larger ones needed another 5-10 minutes.
A bit of chopped parsley and a basil leaf (plucked off the poor plant I transplanted yesterday) chiffonade for garnish, and I had a lovely supper. The sauce is thick and well-flavored, and went really well with the chicken and the roasted broccoli I had on the side.

Rose's Melting Pot: Non-Yorkshire Non-Popovers

Popover flopsI stumbled across another Internet group baking through one of Rose Levy Beranbaum's cookbooks the other day, and while I haven't decided to ask if I could join them, it did get me to pull the cookbook Rose's Melting Pot off the shelf and look at their recent assignments. The popovers caught my eye--I've made popovers several times with good success, and this one riffs off the basic recipe to use beef fat instead of butter for a Yorkshire pudding taste. I didn't see the need to buy and render beef fat when, like a good Southern cook, I keep some bacon fat around.
I tried a few other changes too, and apparently went too far as my popovers didn't "pop". I wanted a cheese and bacon flavor so added 2 tablespoons of cheese powder, and a small amount (under a half an ounce) of finely grated Parmesan to the batter. I suspect the problem was the cheese powder messing up the hydration ratio, as popovers need that blast of steam to expand dramatically.
Popover flopsAnyway, I have some lovely browned items that look sort of like tall muffins, with slightly doughy centers. The bacon-y flavor is great, but the cheese flavor was lost. I should have skipped both the cheese powder and the grated Parm given that. Not to waste my effort, I split one popover, pulled out the doughy bits, and filled the cavities with scrambled eggs. The casing is not a good popover crust, but it still serves pretty well as a pastry case.
This same recipe will show up in The Bread Bible bake-through eventually, so I'll give it another shot then.Popover flops

Monday, May 9, 2016

BB: Blueberry Buckle

Blueberry BuckleAlas, the Blueberry Buckle assignment came along a week or so too early for my blueberry bushes...the berries are not yet blue. I did find some Georgia-grown blueberries at the store, though, for this easy recipe. Seemed to me that the hardest part was picking blueberry stems off the berries.
IMG_4354I used an 8" square Pyrex dish for my buckle, with 2 small ramekins on the side for tasters as the large dish was headed off to sister-in-law's Friday morning Tickling Tech session for teachers. A mixture of sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest, a bit of salt, and lemon juice goes in the pan and mixed, then in go the blueberries to get coated with it. I spooned out a bit for each ramekin at this point. Then came a quick cake batter, mixed in the fats-into-flour method, then beating in an egg mixture. The dough got dolloped onto the ramekins and the square pan, leaving a border around the edges and a center hole in the big pan. I didn't make my center hole the suggested 2 inches (with some vague thought that my square pan might not need that large a hole, or maybe it was thinking that batter was piled up pretty good around the sides, and it closed up in the baking. I suspect that just slowed the baking down a bit, as that center part was the last to get done.

The little ramekins were done in 20 minutes. The big dish took the full 40 minutes, covered with foil to slow down the browning for the last 10. I ate my little ramekin of buckle while waiting for the larger one to finish, warm, and it was lovely with the cake topping on sweet fruit. I generally will make a crumble when I want a baked fruit dessert because I like the crunchy character of that topping, but this was a nice change.

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