Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cookie Carnival: Toasted Almond Lemon Bars

This month, the Cookie Carnival bakers made Toasted Almond Lemon Bars from "The Sweet Melissa Baking Book" by Melissa Murphy. Holly from PheMOMenon was guest host, and you can look for a roundup of all of the bars on her site soon. Thanks, Holly, for a great pick.

(Of course, I forgot the sprinkling of powdered sugar on top. I always forget that part.)

I really enjoyed these lemon bars, they were tangy, lemony, and addictive. The toasted almond base was perfect with the lemon. I thought that toasting the almonds added an extra dimension of flavor. If you try these, definitely don't skip this step.

OK, over and out until next month :)

P.S. I apologize for the short posts lately, I'm having a hard time keeping up these days. I blame the warm weather!

Toasted Almond Lemon Bars

From The Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy

Makes 1 dozen bars

"Everyone loves lemon bars. I make mine extra special by adding toasted almonds to the shortbread crust."

For the Crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup sliced blanched almonds, lightly toasted
1/2 teaspoon salt
20 Tablespoons (2 1/2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

For the Lemon Filling:
4 large eggs
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 7 lemons)
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar for sprinkling

To Toast the Almonds:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the almonds in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly golden and you can smell them. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Before You Start:
Position a rack in the center of your oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 x 13 - inch pan with nonstick vegetable cooking spray. Make a parchment "sling" by cutting two pieces of parchment paper, measuring 16 1/2 inches long by 12 inches wide (you can also use aluminum foil). Place one piece across the length, and the other across the width of the pan, with the excess hanging over the edges. You will use this sling later to lift the finished bar from the pan. Spray the sling with the cooking spray.

To Make the Crust:
1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the flour, sugar, almonds, and salt to combine. Add the cold butter in pieces and pulse until the dough comes together in a ball.

2. Turn the dough out into the prepared pan and press evenly into the bottom and 1 1/4 inches up the sides. (This crust, once it is baked, needs to act as a liner in which to pour the liquidy lemon filling. So be sure to do a good job of pressing the dough up the sides - no cracks!). Cover the dough with a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil, and fill with pie weights ( you can use dried beans or uncooked rice as pie weights as well). Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly golden. Carefully remove the pie weights and the liner and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until the whole crust is golden. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

To Make the Filling:
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until smooth. Add the almond extract and flour, and whisk until smooth. Add the lemon juice, and whisk to combine.

To Complete the Bars:
1. Pour the lemon filling into the prepared crust. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the filling is firm and lightly golden. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

2. When cool use the parchment sling to lift the entire bar from the pan and onto a cutting board. Slice into twelve 3 x 3 1/2 - inch bars. Remove from the pan and, using a small sifter, dust with the confectioners' sugar.

The bars keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. For longer storage, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze well wrapped in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil for up to 3 weeks. Do not unwrap before defrosting. Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

TWD: Chocolate Cream Tart

The Tuesday's with Dorie crowd is on it's last leg of a chocolate triple header this week. Kim of Scrumptious Photography chose the Chocolate Cream Tart for us to enjoy.

There was talk on the TWD site that this dessert might be too much of a good thing, but I decided to make it exactly as written anyway.

I'm glad I did. I thought the chocolate tart shell and the chocolate cream filling were both very good. The tart shell was so flaky and tender, it was a perfect counterpoint to the luscious smooth filling. Not that I could eat a huge piece, but it wasn't really an option with my two 4-inch tarts.

Thanks, Kim, my family (and neighbors) really enjoyed the tart!

For the recipe, please check out of Dorie Greenspan's book "Baking, From my Home to Yours" or check out Kim's blog. OK, see you next week!

P.S. I forgot to mention that I used half bittersweet and half semi-sweet chocolate. I continue to resist being turned into a dark chocolate lover :)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake

It's Daring Baker's time again! The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

I never get tired of eating or making cheesecake. It's so versatile. And judging by the variety of cheesecakes the Daring Bakers came up with this month, the possibilities are endless.

I made half of the recipe which gave me two 5-inch cheesecakes to play with.

First, I made an Orange and Amaretto with Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake. It was very good, if I do say so myself. I started out by lining the sides of the pan with cranberry halves.

Then filled with the orange amaretto cheesecake batter and topped with cranberry puree. (I've included details of how I flavored the cheesecake below.)

My second flavor was a total afterthought and surprisingly good. Say "hi" to Mr. Banana Cheesecake, his mouth courtesy of a (not) strategically placed burn mark from the upper rack of my oven.

I was amazed at how good this one tasted, and it was so simple.

Both cheesecakes were very tasty, and nice and creamy and not too dense. I will add this recipe to my list of favorites.

Here are the additions/changes I did. Following is the basic cheesecake recipe.

Orange Amaretto Cheesecake with Cranberry Swirl

For a full recipe:
- Zest two oranges. Add the zest to the sugar that will be used for the batter and rub with fingers until sugar is flavored with orange. Add sugar to batter as directed below.
- Juice one or two oranges, as needed to yield 1/4 cup juice. Combine in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons amaretto. Bring mixture to a simmer and reduce to 2 tablespoons total. Add mixture to batter toward the end of mixing.
- Add 1 teaspoon vanilla.
- Cut fresh or thawed, frozen cranberries in half and place around the sides of the pan before adding batter.
- For the cranberry swirl, combine 6 oz. frozen or fresh cranberries with 2-1/2 ounces (by weight) of sugar, 4 fluid ounces of water and seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean to a small pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Boil until the sauce has reduced and thickened, approx. 5 minutes. Cool completely. Place thickened, cooled sauce in a blender and puree until smooth. Drop the cranberry puree by small spoonful on top of the cheesecake (you may have extra). Run a knife through the batter until the desired degree of swirl is obtained.

Here's the puree before swirling with the knife.

Banana Cheesecake

- mash 1-1/2 small, ripe bananas. Add mashed banana plus 1 tablespoon flour to batter after all other ingredients have been added. Mix on low until incorporated. Proceed with recipe as directed.

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake

2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

Pan note: The creator of this recipe used to use a spring-form pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil "casserole" shaped pans from the grocery store. They're 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Question of the Day

I feel like chatting today.

So I'm wondering, have you had to take yourself or your kids, nieces, nephews, grandkids, etc to the emergency room?

What happened? How long did you have to wait? Were you scared?

I've had three visits split between two kids. One was very scary (feverish newborn, getting lost on the way to the hospital, mixed with a case of post partum blues), one was bloody (gash to eyelid, kid looked like Rocky Balboa), another scary one (baby with black poo and vomit, I later figured out he had been gnawing on an adult vitamin).

All in all, enough to add grays to my not-yet gray hair.

How about you?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

TWD: Brioche Raisin Snails

Hi all! You know that chocolate bread pudding the Tuesday's with Dorie crowd just made a coupla days ago? The one where I made my own brioche?

I have a confession to make.

The REAL reason I made brioche was not because I'm some sort of domestic diva who would be appalled at making bread pudding with anything other than homemade bread. Oh, no. The REAL reason I made brioche was because it's the primary ingredient in Brioche Raisin Snails.

(insert big, happy smiley face)

Brioche raisin snails. (Sigh.) To answer your question, yes, they DO taste as good as they look. Maybe even better.

They have a layer of vanilla pastry cream sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and plenty of fat, juicy raisins.

They looked so gorgeous before baking, it was hard putting them in the oven.

But I did. And I waited. Then I took them out. And waited. And then I tried one.

And I was happy.

The End

(The TWD gang made these in March, 2008. Check out Dorie Greenspan's book, "Baking, From my Home to Yours", or Culinary Concoctions by Peabody's blog to peek at the recipe )

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

TWD: Four Star Chocolate Bread Pudding

I'm a big fan of bread pudding. I first fell in love with it when I lived in Southeast Texas. There was a restaurant that had the bread pudding of my dreams, perfectly moistened, perfectly spiced, with raisins hidden inside and the most wonderful alcohol-laden brown sugar sauce over top.

I've never made it, so I didn't know what to expect with this week's Tuesday's with Dorie recipe, Four Star Chocolate Bread Pudding (chosen by Lauren of Upper East Side Chronicle).

I made my own brioche using Dorie's recipe. I dried the bread for several days so it was quite crunchy by the time I started. Here it is with dried cherries, ready for it's chocolate custard bath.

The custard, just before whisking in the chocolate...

I added the custard and it didn't seem right... like there was way too much liquid, so I took some out.

It still seemed soupy, but I was afraid of taking out too much, so I left it.

The finished product didn't look very appealing to me, to be honest. But I was still hopeful. Taste and visual appeal aren't always related in the baking world.

The verdict? You know, this wasn't my favorite of Dorie's recipes, but it sounds like a lot of the other TWD bakers enjoyed it. It tasted like, well, chocolate mixed with bread. You might be saying, "well, no duh!". I guess it just wasn't what I'm used to calling "bread pudding". Maybe if it had had a sauce, I would feel differently. At least I now have a data point for future bread pudding experiments.

As always, it was a learning experience.

If you'd like to see the recipe, get yourself a copy of Dorie Greenspan's book "Baking, From my Home to Yours" or check out Lauren's blog. OK, see you next week!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cake Slice: Chai Cake with Honey Ginger Cream

This month, the Cake Slice Bakers whipped up Chai Cake with Honey Ginger Cream. (Doesn't that just sound wonderful? Honey. Ginger. Cream.)

This is the seventh cake we've baked from the book "Sky High:Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes" by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne. We're baking from this book for a year and after that, it's on to another cookbook.

This was a spice cake, but not your mama's spice cake, I dare say. Unless your mama is from India, where chai tea is popular. (On a side note, I had an Indian roommate once upon a time and she faithfully made chai tea every morning, heating spices, tea, and milk in a pan. Our house always smelled so goooood!)

Cardomom is a key player in chai, but a little cardomom goes a long way for me. So I added more cinnamon and less cardomom than called for in the recipe. I also added some fresh ground nutmeg and cloves.

And how was it? It smelled lovely and tasted delicious. I thought it was a tad dry, but that might have been my fault. I might have left the cake layers out too long to cool.

As you can see, mine was for a birthday. I was low on time so resorted to using sprinkles. Yeah, sprinkles!! (That's a chunk of fresh ginger there on the side.)

As usual, with a crowd present, it's difficult to get a good photo of the interior of the cake (What do you mean, you want to eat cake right now? You can't wait a half hour until I get the perfect shot of a single slice of cake? Sheesh, so inconsiderate.) . This shot was as good as it got.

Everyone seemed to really enjoy the cake.

The icing was delicious. I've never used honey in icing before and I liked the subtle flavor it gave. I made some modifications to the icing so I could ice the cake in the traditional way. I added powdered sugar until it was thick enough to ice the sides, and added a little salt to counteract the extra sweetness. I halved the honey. I added more ginger but should have left it alone. The flavor of the fresh ginger in the icing developed as time went on.

All in all, it was a great cake and once again, I'm impressed with the variety of icings in this book. They've all been fantastic.

You can find the recipe ----> here.

OK, see you next month!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

TWD: Florida Pie

I recently made Florida Pie, another Tuesday's with Dorie catch-up recipe. It was enjoyed by the TWD gang the week before I joined last May. I remember watching the TWD bakers for about a month before I joined, thinking it looked like fun but not wanting to commit to baking every week. I guess this pie looked so scrumptious it changed my mind.

I haven't regretted the decision for a minute, thanks to desserts like this one.

This is an unusual pie, with a layer of coconut hiding beneath a creamy lime filling, topped by a coconut-filled meringue. Maybe you can tell from the picture, I left the coconut out of the meringue. I don't love coconut enough for that.

This pie was delicious. I didn't think I would like it because I'm not usually crazy about that much coconut, but somehow the chewy layer perfectly complimented the creamy filling.

Thanks to Diane of Diane's Dishes for choosing this recipe. You can find the recipe on her site, along with her totally awesome looking pie.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

TWD: Chocolate Amaretti Torte

All of the choco-holics are going to be loving the next three weeks of Tuesday's with Dorie, where we've got chocolate, chocolate, chocolate on the menu. First up, Holly of Phe/MOM/enon chose 15 Minute Magic: Chocolate Amaretti Torte.

The talk on the TWD forum this week has been where to find the "special ingredient" in this recipe, the amaretti cookies, a crunchy, almond-flavored cookie. Those with an Italian grocery, Trader Joe's, or World Market close by were in luck. Those without had advice on how to make their own cookies.

I just happen to have one of the world's most awesome grocery stores in my neck of the woods. It's called Jungle Jim's and it really must be seen to be believed. It's the largest grocery store I've ever laid eyes on. It has an "international" section as big as many regular grocery stores, with sections for Middle-Eastern, British, Asian (split into Japanese, Chinese, Thai, etc.), Italian, German, Hispanic and a few others I'm forgetting. And it just happens to have "America's Best Restrooms" if all that isn't enough for you (just when you thought you'd heard it all). Anyway, I found my Amaretti cookies at Jungle Jim's.

Look at all of that texture the ground cookies and almonds give the batter.

I can't say I loved the cookies by themselves (I thought they had a bitter aftertaste) and I was a little concerned how the cake would turn out. But my worries were for naught, the cake was delicious and had a wonderful almond flavor. I tried some the day after baking and again on the second day after baking and this cake only improved with age.

I skipped the almond whipped cream and opted for some small gumpaste flowers.

The only change I made to the recipe was to substitute semi-sweet chocolate for bittersweet, and to halve the recipe and make it in a 5-inch pan.

I also made Florida Pie this week, but will post it later. If you'd like to see the recipe for this chocolate cake, please check out Dorie Greenspan's book "Baking, From my Home to Yours", or stop by Holly's site above.

See ya later!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Raspberry Almond Tartlets

I participate in a monthly pie-making blog event called "You Want Pies With That?". Each month, a theme is chosen and members make a pie following the theme. Then, by popular vote, a favorite pie is chosen and the winner chooses the following month's theme.

This month's theme was "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" and we were to base our pie on a famous person.

For my famous person, I chose Benjamin Franklin. I've always wondered what it would be like if I could bring Ben to our time (you know, with the time machine I'm stowing in the shed out back). I wonder if he would be delighted or disgusted at the changes that have transpired since he lived, 200 plus years ago. Probably a little of both.

I figured I'd do a little research, so I read a few books about Ben. I was hoping to find out if, by chance, he had a favorite dessert. As luck would have it, Ben wasn't very particular about what he ate. According to "Ben Franklin, America's Original Entrepreneur" (where author Blaine McCormick was nice enough to translate Franklin's autobiography "for modern times" so folks like me could make heads or tails out of 1700's English), Franklin says,

"As a result of my upbringing, I maintain few opinions as to matters of food and remain so unobservant of my meals that I can barely remember what I ate within a few hours of mealtime."

Cool! I figure that means if I bake a pie when Ben visits me (remember, the time machine?), the sky's the limit! He won't remember what I made tomorrow anyway.

But I might as well try something really fabulous. Maybe it would be that one dessert he would remember. Maybe he would say to himself, "you know, I don't care much about food, but there was that one time... those... those, raspberry almond tartlets... yes, that was it."

Raspberry Almond Tartlets
from The Modern Baker, by Nick Malgieri, reprinted with permission

Nick says: Hiding a couple of raspberries under the almond filling prevents them from shriveling while these tartlets are baking, and provides a pleasant surprise when you bite into one. You can adapt this to other types of fruit, such as blueberries, sour cherries, or finely diced plums or mango (use preserves of the same flavor as the fruit - for mango, use apricot). Just be sure to use only a small amount of fruit or else the juices will boil out from under the almond filling while the tartlets are baking.

24 tartlet crusts, unbaked, made from Sweet Tart Dough or Nut Tart Dough with almonds, in tartlet pans set on a jelly-roll pan.

4 ounces (100 grams/about 1/2 cup) canned almond paste, cut into 1/2-inch (1-cm) cubes
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons seedless raspberry preserves
24 to 48 fresh raspberries, depending on their size
1/2 cup (about 2 ounces/50 grams) sliced almonds
Confectioners' sugar for finishing

1. Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

2. For the almond filling, combine the almond paste, sugar, and egg yolk in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade.

Pulse to mix until smooth. Scrape down the bowl with a spatula. Add the vanilla, butter, and the egg and pulse again to mix - you might have to stop and scrape again to get everything to mix together smoothly. Once the mixture is smooth, add the flour, pulse, scrape, and pulse several times more until the filling is perfectly smooth.

3. Remove the bowl from the food processor and lift out the blade. Use a spatula to clean off any filling stuck to it, and let the filling fall back into the bowl.

4. Put a dab of the preserves (about 1/4 teaspoon) in the bottom of each tartlet crust. Follow with a raspberry or two, depending on their size - the berries should not protrude near the top of the crust or there won't be enough room for the almond filling.

5. Using a small offset metal spatula, evenly spread 1 scant teaspoon of the filling per tartlet (a bit of the berry might poke through).

6. Top the filling in each tartlet with a pinch or two of the sliced almonds, covering the filling entirely.

7. Bake the tartlets until the dough is baked through and the filling is set and golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool the tartlets in the pans on a rack. Remove them from the pans while they are still slightly warm, inverting the pans one at a time onto the palm of your hand - they unmold more easily when slightly warm than when completely cooled.

8. Immediately before serving, dust the tartlets with confectioners sugar.

SERVING: These are a good after-dinner pastry to serve with coffee, or are excellent at teatime.
STORAGE: Keep the tartlets loosely covered with plastic wrap at room temperature on the day they are baked. Wrap and freeze for longer storage. Defrost, reheat at 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) for 5 minutes, and cool before serving.

Baking notes: I somehow forgot to pick up raspberries at the store, so I used frozen. I thawed them slightly. They seemed to work just fine. I baked maybe 5 minutes longer.

I used mini muffin pans and fit 2 teaspoons of filling per tartlet.

P.S. these really were fabulous. I'm quite certain Ben would have remembered these.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

TWD: Banana Cream Pie & Orange Cream Tart

Many thanks to Amy of Sing for Your Supper, who chose Banana Cream Pie for this week's Tuesday's with Dorie recipe. Who doesn't love banana cream pie? (All of you banana cream pie haters, just shush ;-) )

I've made enough pie now that it doesn't strike fear in my heart like it used to. Still, I'm far from an expert.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I need to try a different pie crust recipe (sorry, Dorie! it's me, not you!). I simply can not get the edge of the crust to hold it's shape and not shrink. Following the advice of long-time pie bakers, I made sure to have plenty of dough at the edge. I chilled the dough after rolling it out and before placing it in the pan. I took extreme care not to stretch the dough while I was putting it in the pan. I chilled the crusts in their pans for over an hour before popping them in the oven.

And yet, I got shrunken, shriveled crusts...

Fortunately, the crust isn't the star of this show, the filling is. This is not your typical creamy vanilla-flavored banana cream pie filling. It's more the exotic cousin of your standard filling, with brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It was the color of pale peanut butter.

It thought it tasted fantastic. I could have been easily satisfied naming it cinnamon pudding and calling it a day.

But, with the pie shells already made, it wasn't much more effort to transform it into pie...

I guess it's time for a confession. I really don't like making whipped cream. It's just sooooo much easier to grab mother's little helper out of the freezer...

Don't hate me!

I also made the Orange Cream Tart this week. I made a quarter of the recipe and it fit perfectly into a mini pie shell.

This was almost the same dessert as The Most Extraordinary Lemon Cream Tart, with the juice being different, of course, as well as the addition of gelatin.

It was fabulous and tasted like a pie version of a Creamsicle. You can find the recipe HERE at the Brown-Eyed Baker's blog.

I really enjoyed both of these pies and would be hard pressed to pick a favorite. All in all, they made for a good baking week.

OK, see you next week, when we start a chocolate triple header.