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

Monday, December 8, 2014

BB: English Dried Fruit Cake

English Dried Fruit Cake"Fruit Cake" is deceptive, to American ears--that phrase means the sticky dense cake with all the candied cherries. Call this a "nut cake with dried fruit" maybe. Or an apple cake, for the hefty component of fresh apples. Whatever you call it, it's easy and good. Maybe if I'd left my dried fruit in a little larger pieces it would have been more prominent, but the main impression in my version is moist pecan cake. This is a batter cake that doesn't need a mixer--the butter is melted to mix with the sugars, then the other wet ingredients are mixed in. The dry ingredients go in another bowl, and are tossed with the pre-soaked dried fruit and the pecans. My dried fruits were mostly pear and apricot, a few prunes and golden raisins to fill out the amount. Add wet to dry, fold it all together, and pour into a 13x9" pan--I used my insulated one so I didn't need to fuss with baking strips. I did use the optional dark rum, brushing it on the bottom of the cake after it came out of the pan, then all over the top after skewering the cake to aid the rum dispersion. It gave a nice bit of extra flavor, but I'd like to make this again with a few weeks of lead time, and baste the cake with rum periodically to get a more alcoholic version. I sent half of the cake off with sister-in-law for her pre-school training session Friday, and took the rest to my office where several people who remember the Heavenly Cake Bake-Through have been asking when cake-of-the-week will start appearing. I didn't get any comment from my office, and s-i-l reported that one person said it had too many nuts (is this possible? not in my world...), but otherwise it was well received. However, s-i-l herself apparently got a wad of orange peel that didn't mix in well, so she had an overwhelming orange 'hit' in her piece. I'll just have to watch for that if I make this again, as the grated peel had plenty of opportunity to disperse in the wet mixture early in the mixing process. English Dried Fruit Cake English Dried Fruit Cake English Dried Fruit Cake

Monday, December 1, 2014

BB: Kouigns Amann

Kouigns AmannBaked 11/23/14

Finally, an assigned recipe. :)

I'd never heard of this pastry before: it's a puff pastry relative with fewer turns and sugar incorporated into the last turn to make it sweet and add crunch. Years ago I made puff pastry (croissants) just to say I'd done it once, but I've forgotten any techniques I might have gained then. This was essentially a new effort for me. TL;DR: I was not so successful at it.

Kouigns AmannMaking the dough was straightforward. I thought the shaping of the butter block from my high-butterfat content (Organic Valley European Style Cultured Butter) was as well, but in retrospect perhaps I should have thoroughly kneaded the butter then re-chilled it if necessary to get it to temp. I did a pretty minimal kneading mostly to get the right sized block, then checked the temperature to be sure I was in range. Alas, in the second turn I could see that my butter wasn't in a smooth layer, but was in little shingles under the dough. The obvious issue was the butter and dough not rolling out together, but exactly what I did wrong is less clear--maybe the temperature of one component was off (I checked the butter but not the dough), maybe the butter needed kneading to gain plasticity, maybe my rolling technique needs work.

Kouigns AmannI didn't see a way to fix the shingled butter at that point in the process, so I went ahead with cutting and shaping the pastries, let them rise in English muffin rings, and baked them. I got a pool of butter on the baking sheet which is probably in part due to blobs of butter melting out of the pastries. It was actually only about 2-3 tablespoons, but I suspect if the dough had layered properly there would have been less.

We tried one of these warm from the oven as Rose suggested, and even though it wasn't as well layered as I'd have liked, the flavor was good. The sugar-limiting folks next door found it on the edge of too sweet, and thought the 1/5 of a kouign amann we each got from the sample was plenty. The rest were frozen and brought out for Thanksgiving breakfast, where older brother's family (much less sugar-averse) thought they were wonderful.

Kouigns AmannKouigns AmannKouigns AmannKouigns Amann

BB: Frozen Pecan Tart

Frozen Pecan Tart
Baked 11/25/14

My pie contribution to the Thanksgiving pie collection was this one from the Baking Bible, intended to be served frozen. It's a pâte sucrée (sweet cookie tart crust) with a riff on pecan pie filling...and a lot less of the filling to the amount of pecans. That's all to the good for me, as the thicker traditional pecan pie is something I can only take in very small slices. The ratio here is much more to my liking.

I struggled with the crust, despite the promising technique of laying the rolled-out crust over an 8-inch cake pan to help shape it, then placing the 9.5-inch tart pan on top and flipping it all together before finishing the easing of the crust into the pan. All that seems to go fine, but my bad luck(?) (poor skills? who knows!) with blind-baking continue, and my baked crust had cracks all over. I patched a few with scraps of unbaked dough when the pie weights came out, but still had cracks most of the way around the sides and some in the middle. I painted a lot of them with dark chocolate (knowing I planned to do a chocolate drizzle), but still had a lot of leakage of the filling. It made getting the tart off the tart pan base rather....challenging.

After the pie cooled and was detached from the pan and base, it got a chocolate lace topping (a drizzle of ganache, that is) before being frozen. It was fine served frozen though the flavors weren't pronounced, and I wonder if it would do as well or better at room temperature. Still, it was very nice to have this pie all prepared and out of the way, just needing to be pulled out and sliced before dessert.

I didn't get much feedback from the rest of the family beyond "it was very good"--our Thanksgiving pie race is always won by the Black Bottom Pie, and this year was no exception. The rest, even a Frozen Pecan Tart from Rose, just become "the other pies", I'm afraid.

Frozen Pecan TartFrozen Pecan TartFrozen Pecan Tart

BB: Luscious Apple Pie

Luscious Apple PieBaked 11/26/14

Nephew (of the folks next door) wanted to make an apple pie for the Thanksgiving crowd, and sister-in-law and I suggested it be for Wednesday night instead of yet another pie in the Thanksgiving dinner collection. He and I agreed on the Luscious Apple Pie from The Baking Bible. I made the crust, and we shared the rest of the work to get the pie into the oven.

--the apples were one Granny Smith and the rest Honey Crisps.
--instead of fresh apple cider thickened with corn starch, we used boiled cider from King Arthur Flour, reducing the amount to about 1/3 cup and adding a little more cornstarch to the amount sprinkled on the apples
--we used a silicone pie shield instead of foil, and found that the pie bubbled at the edge of the crust rather than in the steam slits, and made the crust a bit soggy in spots where the juices accumulated under the shield

We didn't have quite 4 hours to let the pie cool completely, though I speeded it up a bit using my stone countertops as a heat sink. It turned out fine--the first slice or two leaked some juices, but the rest of the pie set up quite well. I'm not the greatest of pie pastry makers, but this one was still reasonably flaky despite my skill level with it. The filling was indeed luscious, with a nice amount of cinnamon (we used the strong Vietnamese cinnamon from Penzeys). No leftover apple pie afterwards!

Luscious Apple PieLuscious Apple PieLuscious Apple Pie