Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cookie Carnival: Hazelnut Macaroon Sandwich Cookies

Last, but not least, for the month of May, is this month's Cookie Carnival recipe, Hazelnut Macaroon Sandwich Cookies

(As an aside, these are French "macarons" and not the American "macaroons". However, the recipe from Williams-Sonoma calls them "macaroons". Go figure.)

Oooh, fun, we get to pull out the piping bag.

After piping, the cookie tops are tamped down with a wet finger and they're ready to sit on the counter for 45 minutes before baking. I guess that's so the outsides will dry? (I dunno... I just do what they tell me.)

I pulled the first batch out of the oven too soon and they weren't quite done. They were a tiny bit "wet" inside and some had air pockets. The second batch was the more in line with the recommended "firm and golden" and they were noticeably better.

The more-done cookies had better "feet"... I guess that's what the little ridge around the bottom edge is called.

Here, have a macaroon...

(Take two, they're small.)

OK, so my macaroon-making skills need some work, but all in all, I was pleased with my first attempt.

Oh, and they're quite addictive. The more I ate, the better they got! Good thing I only made half a batch.

Thanks so much to Kate at the Clean Plate Club for picking these tasty little cuties. You can find the recipe here.

P.S. I used ground almonds rather than hazelnuts due to a hazelnut over-toasting incident.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Apple Strudel

Believe it or not, it's Daring Bakers time again. This month, the gang made... (drum roll please)... Apple Strudel!

Yeah! I've been wanting to try apple strudel forever, but have been too chicken (bock, bock).

And now a word from our sponsors...The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Enough yappin', let's get to it. I'm going to let the pictures speak for me today since I have nothing interesting to say (unlike all those other days when I have really interesting, important things to say, coughcough).

First, we start with a simple dough and give it a nice little rest and then... (this is where we step into uncharted territory, for me anyway) roll it out on a floured cloth.

Next comes a slightly strange, unfamiliar process of stretching the dough with your hands until it's paper thin.

...keep going...

...almost there...


OK, so that wasn't so hard. (I recommend spending some confidence-boosting time on YouTube watching veteran strudel makers demonstrating the technique.)

Next up, a slathering of butter...

... followed by a generous sprinkling of toasted breadcrumbs, and finally a layer of pecans and apple filling on one of the short sides.

Roll that bad boy up using the cloth, which helps to avoid spilling the whole thing all over the table (YouTube, people).

I made two smaller strudels rather than one monster strudel. For the second, I made a caramelized banana filling with some chocolate chunks and almond slivers sprinkled in.

We were to bake until the strudel was a deep golden brown. I don't think I baked mine quite long enough.

The filling was cooked through, but the pastry layers weren't very crisp. Within several hours, they weren't crisp at all. It still tasted good, though.

Here's the apple strudel...

... and the banana.

How did they taste? Both were quite tasty, although I preferred the apple. The banana bordered on "too sweet". Would I make this again? Sure. It was some work, but if the fillings were made a day ahead, it really wasn't that hard. It was a fun and impressive dessert and I'm so glad the hosts got me to try it. Thanks so much, Linda and Courtney!

I chalk this up as a successful challenge, and I'm looking forward to next month's. See ya' then!

Apple Strudel
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

2 tablespoons (30 ml) golden rum
3 tablespoons (45 ml) raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 g) sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) fresh bread crumbs
strudel dough (recipe below)
1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts *I used pecans
2 pounds (900 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (use apples that hold their shape during baking)

1. Mix the rum and raisins in a bowl. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in another bowl.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.

3. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Make the strudel dough as described below. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the walnuts about 3 inches (8 cm) from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch-(15cm)-wide strip. Mix the apples with the raisins (including the rum), and the cinnamon sugar. Spread the mixture over the walnuts.

4. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

5. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.

Strudel Dough

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.
Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.
Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.
Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

- Ingredients are cheap so we would recommend making a double batch of the dough, that way you can practice the pulling and stretching of the dough with the first batch and if it doesn't come out like it should you can use the second batch to give it another try;
- The tablecloth can be cotton or polyester;
- Before pulling and stretching the dough, remove your jewelry from hands and wrists, and wear short-sleeves;
- To make it easier to pull the dough, you can use your hip to secure the dough against the edge of the table;
- Few small holes in the dough is not a problem as the dough will be rolled, making (most of) the holes invisible.

Both Courtney and Linda did a trial run on making the strudel. Below are their notes:

Courtney's notes
- She couldn't get it to stretch to 2 feet by 3 feet, it turned out more like 2 feet by 2 feet. But the dough was tissue thin nevertheless;
- She got some serious holes, but after rolling it wasn't noticeable;
- She used a large cheese cloth which helped manipulate and stretch the dough more than a heavier cloth would have.

Linda's notes
- I made the dough by hand, just mixed the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon. Kneaded it for about 5 min like you would bread dough. This worked as well. Haven't tried using a stand mixer so I don't know how it compares.
- Instead of cider vinegar I used red wine vinegar;
- I used bread flour;
- Picking up the dough to let it stretch didn't work well for me, holes appeared pretty much instantly. Instead I stretched the dough while it was lying on the tablecloth by putting my hands underneath and stretching it out further and further;

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

TWD: Chipster Topped Brownies

Every so often you run across a dessert that really knocks your socks off. Take this week's Tuesday's with Dorie recipe, Chipster-Topped Brownies, for example. Talk about a stroke of genius... this brownie had a crunchy chocolate chip cookie crust. (Sigh)

Since brownies and chocolate chip cookies are my all time favorites, it isn't much of a surprise that I wanted these treats for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (OK, OK, snack time too). Thanks so much to Beth of Supplicious for picking these. They were da bomb!

In case you aren't drooling yet, let me share a few visuals.

The first task is to layer brownie batter in a pan. Then, dollop the chocolate chip cookie dough on top...

Smooth the cookie layer as best as you can. Some folks had problems with this. My kitchen was warm and I think that helped me get a smooth batter.

Next came the hard part; figuring out when they were done baking. There were comments on the TWD forum all over the board. Some folks baked for the recommended time and they were overdone... some for the recommended time and the brownies were goopy. I baked mine for 20 minutes longer than recommended, and the brownie layer was still leaning towards slightly underdone. This was OK, though (they are brownies, after all). After they sat, they were fine for eating.

On the down side, these won't win any awards for beauty. Mine puffed up in the oven and then cratered at the end of baking.

But all was forgiven after sampling. Forget looks! These babies rock out loud! Will definitely make these again.

FYI... I added the nuts to the chocolate chip cookie layer rather than the brownie layer since I'm a "no-nuts-in-my-brownies" type. I also added a couple of handfuls of Heath toffee bits to the cookie layer as well. They both added an extra scrumptious crunch to the topping.

All righty! That's it for now. If you'd like to see the recipe, please check out Dorie Greenspan's book "Baking, From my Home to Yours" or check out Beth's blog, above.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

TWD Rewind: Mixed Berry Cobbler

I remember last summer when the Mixed Berry Cobbler was the week's Tuesday's with Dorie recipe.

I remember because the recipe took a real beating in the discussion forum. The topping was reported to be bland, or doughy, there was disappointment that the dough and fruit layers didn't mix, it didn't measure up to a favorite recipe... and on and on.

It was enough to convince me to sit out that week. I wish I wouldn't have, though.

I made the cobbler recently and downsized it so I had two perfect little servings.

I was completely surprised to find out that I loved it! And it was so easy... perfect for a spur of the moment dessert craving.

The topping was tender and a perfect compliment to the sweet, lucious fruit base.

I cut the recipe down so it used one cup of fruit, to be split between two ramekins. I think I quartered the topping and rolled it to about 1/4" thickness or slightly thicker (I had some left over). I used a mixture of frozen blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.

I did add some extra sugar (maybe 50% more) to the topping since other bakers said it was bland.

I invite you to try it out for yourself. You can find the recipe at Beth from Our Sweet Life's site. Or, check out Dorie Greenspan's book, "Baking, From my Home to Yours".


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

TWD: Fresh Mango Bread

Wow, it seems like forever since I've blogged, but it's only been since last week. Maybe it's because I've managed to get myself hooked on a certain celebrity gossip blog and I haven't been giving the food blogging world it's fair share of Internet time.

(In case you're not up to speed, feel free to ask me what Brittany Spears, the hot new hotties from Star Trek, or Robert Pattinson are up to (sigh...). I got the scoop!)

I'm pretty sure none of those skinny celebs have been munching on mango muffins like the Tuesday's with Dorie crowd has this past week. Poor them! Thanks go out to Kelly of Baking with the Boys for picking the Fresh Mango Bread for our enjoyment.

I cut the recipe down and made muffins so I wouldn't have to figure out what pan size to use.

I bedazzled my muffins (culinarily speaking) with some streusel topping (made from 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup flour, and 3 tablespoons cold butter, cut in with a pastry blender, a food processor, or just your fingers). It was yummy!

I traded the raisins for some chopped macadamia nuts, because I knew there was no chance my kids would try them with raisins. (Why does everyone hate raisins? I don't get it.) I also had to sub lemon zest for the lime zest because I've become a pro at forgetting key recipe ingredients the moment I enter the grocery store.

The verdict? They were darn good! In spite of the stringiness of the mango, which made me think I was eating short little blond hairs with my muffin, I really liked them. Someone on the TWD forum mentioned that the more ripe the mango, the more stringy it is... so I might even try these again with non-hairy, er, non-stringy mangoes.

Okey, dokey, thanks for stopping by! Please check out Dorie Greenspan's book "Baking, From my Home to Yours", or Kelly's site above if you'd like to see the recipe.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

TWD: Brown Sugar-Apple Cheesecake

I feel guilty for dissing that poor lemon tart in my previous post, so let's move on. It's a lot more fun to talk about a Tuesday's with Dorie recipe that I *did* like. Brown Sugar-Apple Cheesecake was chosen by Jaime of Good Eats 'n Sweet Treats in February of last year. (I'm working on making the recipes from before I joined TWD.) Jamie was the third person to sign up for TWD and she's got lots of great posts to share.

It doesn't look like much on the outside, but cut into that baby and you'll find apples and cinnamon galore.

I fall hard for just about anything with apples and cinnamon, so naturally, I loved this cheesecake. So did everyone else who was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

OK, that's all I got to say. If you'd like to see the recipe, please stop by Jamie's fabulous site, or get yourself a copy of Dorie Greenspan's book "Baking, From my Home to Yours".

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

TWD: Tartest Lemon Tart

Happy Tuesday! This week, the Tuesdays with Dorie group made the Tartest Lemon Tart, chosen by Barb of Babette Feasts.

This tart was made from whole lemons. Yep, the lemon pulp, peel, and skin all got thrown into the blender with sugar, egg, cream, cornstarch and butter. It's a dessert for true lemon lovers.

I questioned my status as a true lemon lover and decided to remove the pith, the white part between the lemon pulp and the skin. (That's the pith on the left.)

I'll just cut to the chase here, since my review is not a glowing one. I didn't like it. At all. It was bitter... much too bitter to enjoy the tangy lemon flavor.

Sorry! It's bound to happen when you're baking every recipe from a cookbook. There are going to be those that don't make your taste buds dance. It's nothing personal.

I'm sure there were plenty of others that did enjoy this tart, though, so please stop by and see all of the lovely lemon tarts at the Tuesday's with Dorie site. The blogroll is on the right hand side.

If you're interested in the recipe, check out the book "Baking, From My Home to Yours", or visit Babette's site.

Bu-bye for now!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Open-Faced Designer Apple Pie

It's pie time again!

This month, the "You Want Pies with That?" bakers were challenged by Natalie of Oven Love to create a pie based on a "Family Favorite" dessert. Hmm... time to call mom.

I got on the horn with mom to find out what the family favorites were. The list looked something like this...

- lemon meringue pie (been there, done that, times five)

- chocolate cake (I made chocolate tarts, what? a week ago?)

- apple pie (December's entry)

- rhubarb pie (March's entry)

- chiffon cake (a possibility, but this was for a baby shower, and feeding raw eggs to a pregnant woman? Sorry, I like my sleep at night too much for that.)

- aber skaber (I'm assuming this is a German thing, but I got nowhere on google or my cookbooks trying to figure out what it was)

Turns out, I've already done the family favorites! In fact, it appears my blog is one big ode to family favorites.

So, I turned to one of my baking idols, Rose Levy Berenbaum, and her magnificent book "The Pie and Pastry Bible" for inspiration. That's where I ran across her beautiful Open-Faced Designer Apple Pie and my search was over.

If you want to dazzle a crowd, this pie is it! It's gorgeous, even pre-apricot glaze.

All of that beauty does come at a small sacrifice, however. This pie takes the better part of a day to make from start to finish and is labor intensive. But if you've got time, this is an impressive pie, both in looks and taste. The cream cheese pie pastry is flaky and almost reminded me of puff pastry.

Here's a shot of the pie before baking. I used a combination of Fuji and Granny Smith apples, hence, the variation in apple color.

Allrighty then! Thanks so much for stopping by. If you'd like the RECIPE, run to your nearest library or bookstore and pick up a copy of Rose's book. Or, click on the link above (the name of the pie).

Take care of yourselves!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

TWD: Tiramisu Cake

It's Tuesday again and that means it's time for Tuesday's with Dorie. This week, Megan of My Baking Adventures chose Tiramisu Cake.

Uh-oh, coffee-flavored confections. (Have I mentioned how much I detest coffee?)

Fortunately, I was saved from having to decide whether to sit this one out by a family baby shower. (Oh, and let me talk about the cake for a sec and then I'll share a fun baby shower game.)

I made the cake as directed except I went easy on the coffee flavored simple syrup we were to soak the cake layers with . Turns out this was a mistake, as the cake was on the dry side. I probably should have just soaked those babies and let everyone else enjoy it.

The filling and icing were good, though. I'm sure that if I loved coffee (and if I would have soaked the cake layers), I would have really enjoyed this dessert.

By the way, in case you're wondering, the baby decorations are actually paper cutouts that I found in the scrap booking section of the craft store. I mounted them, along with some fondant spheres, on wire. It was quick and easy.

OK, on to the baby shower game.

I asked some friends to give me ideas for baby shower games that could be played for a couples baby shower. I mean, I know of baby shower games, but none that seem like anything the fellas would get a kick out of. One friend said she had the perfect game. This is what you do... pick up an assortment of different candy bars (I got six - Snickers, Reese's PB cups, Milky Way, Kit Kat, peppermint patties, and Butterfingers), and get yourself as many diapers. Place one candy bar in each diaper and "cook" them in the microwave until they are melted beyond recognition. This took anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes depending on the bar (be careful! they're hot!). You can use the snack size candy bars, or about the equivalent of half of a Snickers bar. As you're going, use a pen to number each diaper and write down the type of candy bar. Keep this a secret.

As you can imagine, the "dirty" diapers are fairly convincing.

So then, come game time, give everyone pen and paper and pass around the diapers. The players have to guess what type of candy bar each is. They can smell them and examine them, but not tasting allowed.

It's fun to see the reactions, and a great photo op too, catching folks studying and sniffing what looks like a dirty diaper.

Once everyone has had a chance to guess, read off the answers and see how well everyone did. For our game, the best anyone got was five out of six. The Milky Way had everyone stumped.

OK, as they say, that's all folks!