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Posts Tagged ‘Tuesdays with Dorrie’

There are few things I love more than gingerbread. Since I’m not much of a “dessert person,” the savory part of me loves the rebellious combination of spicy ginger and black pepper with sugar and molasses. For me, this is dessert, perfected, and I was thrilled to see it come up as this week’s TWD baking assignment.

gingerbread

There are about a million different ways to make gingerbread, each with varying degrees and combination of spice. This recipe was very straight-forward, focusing on the simple ginger flavor, using ground and fresh ginger and a bit of black pepper to boost the heat. Then there were two unexpected additions: instant espresso and cocoa powder. I was surprised to be including these ingredients, but each provided a pleasant bitterness and grounded what could have been a too-sweet recipe. (check out the full recipe here)

I love how easy this batter comes together — a quick mix of wet and dry ingredients and you are on your way to the oven. Don’t worry if your batter is lumpy — that’s normal and lends to an airy cake in the end.  I decided to make mine into one 9-inch cake but if I were serving it at a party, I would do mini cakes for sure so that every got an equal amount of crispy-cake-edge and moist-sticky-cake-inside.  Either way, this is such a simple cake and should definitely be your dessert staple this holiday season. It’s full of winter spices, makes your house smell amazing and tastes perfect paired with a mug of hot apple cider (with or without a splash of bourbon).

gingerbread - batter

In the end this cake had a lovely sharp bite — the combination of the spicy and bitter ingredients made for a very “grown-up” gingerbread. Perhaps a challenge for someone expecting a very sweet and only slightly gingery cake, but I loved it. Next time I would add a bit of cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg and a pinch of cardamom to give a bit more depth to the spicy flavor….but mostly because I look for any excuse to add cinnamon and cardamom to desserts.

While the cake is delicious on it’s own, it begs for a bit of something creamy on top to cut through the spice. My favorite choice: some Greek yogurt flavored with a bit of honey and lemon zest. Gingerbread AND Greek yogurt — now I’ve got two of my favorite things on one plate. Life is good 🙂

Happy Holidays!

 

 

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This is the kind of recipe that gives you faith in yourself as a baker, that makes you feel confident and sure in the kitchen and officially puts you in the camp of people who “just whip up a little something” when friends come over for Brunch. And thank goodness it is, because after last month’s bagel experiment, I was questioning whether I would continue with TWD. But then I remembered that this is a journey, that I’m becoming a better baker and that if I can throw together something as delicious and easy as these Buttermilk Crumb Muffins I must be doing something right (go here for the full recipe).

You have to love a recipe that requires nothing more than a bowl, a spoon and a baking pan. Usually I wouldn’t be able to restrain my impulse to tinker with a new recipe, adding a bit of this and a little of that. But this time I was in the midst of a busy week and was so happy to see this simple recipe that I made it to the letter and couldn’t have been happier.

Despite it’s ease, this recipe has some really smart take-away lessons:

(1.) Pull back some of the dry mixture to use as a crumble topping — it’s the best part and I love the idea that I don’t have to make a separate crumble topping.

(2.) When you are making muffins and don’t have enough batter to fill all the tins, fill any empty muffin tin 1/2 way up with water so that you whole pan cooks evenly. Brilliant!!

(3.) Although this recipe calls only for shortening and the muffins turned out light and crumbly as a result, I think they could have used the flavor boost of butter or olive oil. I find most all-shortening baked good recipes to be a bit bland and prefer to swap out at least some of the shortening with butter or olive oil whenever possible — both of these full-flavor fats lend to more complex flavors in the finished product.

Speaking of next time, although these muffins were light and tasty and the perfect simple treat in a busy work week, I will certainly make some additions in the future. Perhaps dried cherries and toasted almonds, or diced pear and ground cardamom, or chopped banana chips and bittersweet chocolate….the possibilities are endless….I think these are going to be a new staple on our brunch catering menu.

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Some things are a labor of love. And some things are just a labor. After doing this week’s TWD baking assignment, I’ve decided bagels are the latter. Don’t get me wrong — I love bagels and the ones I made were delicious. But were they more delicious than the fresh bagels I get on Sundays at my local shop? Not really. In the end, this should be chalked up as one of those projects done by people who really love making bread. I’m afraid I’m not one of those people.

All that being said, I am proud of myself for giving this “project” a go. After a first read-through of the recipe (find it here) I was pretty scared and considering skipping this round all together. There were just so many steps and in my experience lots of steps does not always make for a better recipes. So I put it off. And procrastinated some more. And then some more. And finally got down to business (you can see now why I’m 3 days late with this post!).

To get over my fear, I read and then re-read the recipe to see what I was getting myself into. As you know, I’m not really a baker. But I reminded myself that I decided to participate in TWD to get better at baking and here was another chance to face my fears. So here it goes. The recipe, however, was not comforting. It read something like this:

Work with half the dough at a time, each batch makes 5 bagels.

Shape the bagels: Stretch the dough into a purse-shaped ball, punch a hole, shape with your fingers and set aside to rest.

Boil the bagels: Boil in small batches because they can’t touch. Flip them over in the water. Take them out. Glaze them with egg white – the egg whites need to be strained (?!?) — glaze them quickly so they don’t stick and don’t let the glaze hit the pan because it can make the bagels stick.

Bake the bagels: Pour 2 cups of water in the bottom of your oven (yes, really) to create steam. Bake the bagels one rack at a time. Bake 25 minutes. Turn oven off. Bake 5 minutes. Open oven door. Bake 5 more minutes.

Now you’re done. Deep breath.

For a somewhat-non-baker like me, making this recipe feels like I’m cracking a code. True confessions: I made some adjustments. Not that I’m a rebel — I’m just an impatient person. Probably why baking and I are not always friends. So for any of you scared bakers out there, here are some short-cuts I took that worked.

1. I used regular unbleached flour, not high gluten or bread flour. Didn’t want to go around town finding the right flour.

2. I worked in 2 batches but shaped all the dough pieces at the same time.

3. I did one pan of bagels on parchment and one on an oiled pan per the recipe. Bagels stuck to the oiled pan so parchment won that technique contest.

4. I didn’t strain the egg whites. I was exhausted. I was impatient. I was starting to get angry at egg whites…and bagels. It was time to skip a step and this seemed like a good one. It all worked out in the end.

5. I tried to rush it and put both sheet pans in the oven at once on different racks — BIG mistake. The recipe was right. The bottom rack rose nicely but the top rack didn’t benefit from the steam.

6. I did do the 2 cups of water in the oven to create steam. LOVED this trick — very cool method to have up my sleeve. I kind of feel like a “real” baker having done something so cool.

In the end I had lovely, tasty bagels and, I’ll admit, was pretty darn proud of myself for making it through this recipe. Would I make them again? Probably not.

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am no pastry chef….and, in fact, I can hardly be called a baker. I think this has less to do with lack of schooling and more to do with lack of confidence. While I’ve cooked professionally for over a decade and can easily make delicious food for any size party, it takes nothing more than the simplest baking task to throw me (see: The Genoise Disaster). It’s worth clarifying that I have never been to a cooking class, never trained to be a culinary professional. But what I’m lacking in schooling I’ve made up for with my own earnest study of all things food related, a deep love of cooking/eating and an unfettered confidence (it’s just food, right?). While all of these things have seen me through my culinary career, they fail me when it comes time to bake. Maybe it’s because baking takes a precision that challenges my impatient nature. Maybe it’s because baking requires getting it right from the start and cooking allows you to fix and tinker as you go. Regardless, I tend to enter each TWD assignment with a little trepidation. But lately things have begun to to turn around….and this week’s Blueberry Nectarine Pie is a stunning example.

This pie is glorious summer perfection tucked between the best crust you’ll ever have. Big promises, I know. But this pie lives up to it. This should really be the master recipe for anyone who wants to make pie and is a little scared — it’s not only easy but also has some fail-safe steps that ensure success. (See the complete recipe on this week’s hosts: That Skinny Chick Can Bake and Manchego’s Kitchen.)

First, there’s the dough. As per most good pie dough recipes, this one uses part butter and part shortening (the butter ensures good flavor and the shortening ensures a flaky crust). This recipe makes enough for two double-crust pies. I considered cutting the recipe in half but realized this was the kind of thing that has gotten me into trouble with baking recipes before so I put my head down and did as I was told. I made the full recipe and froze the dough for the second pie. I made the dough by hand and it was a bit softer and wetter than the doughs I usually make — turns out this is what makes it so easy to roll out. Genius!!

While the dough was resting and chilling, I made the filling. The method for this filling was another revelation. I cooked HALF of the berries and nectarines with sugar and lemon zest and a bit of flour until thick and bubbly and then folded in the raw fruit and let cool. The result was the perfect jammy-pie-filling consistency that still has nice chunks of fruit. After the filling chilled I was ready to build.

This is where I usually get a little nervous — will the dough break? Will it be too sticky? Not this dough — it was the EASIEST roll-out I’ve ever experienced. The dough was soft and supple but not sticky. Success!! After filling the dough with the chilled fruit mixture and topping it with dots of butter, I covered it with the other round of dough and chilled the whole pie for about 30 minutes. The old me would have considered skipping this second chilling step thanks to that lack of patience I mentioned. But the new, better-baker version of myself knew better. So I let the pie rest, baked it for 50 minutes and was greeted with a gorgeous, golden pie with fruit filling bubbling through the vents.

Oh, and it tasted amazing, too! In fact, it was so good and so quickly gobbled up by my book club friends that I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of a cut slice. Whoops! The best part? I still have pie dough in my freezer and I’ll be getting peaches in my Farm Box next week. Peach Pie, here I come!!

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This week’s baking assignment from Tuesdays with Dorrie was naan – that lovely leavened bread that’s best used to sop up a creamy chicken korma from the local Indian restaurant. As I was reading through the recipe for the first time, I realized it’s very similar to the pizza dough we make all the time for our caterings and cooking parties. (Check out the naan recipe at this week’s host blogs: Always Add More Butter and Of Cabbage & King Cakes.) They both have flour, yeast and water..how different could they be? Well, it turns out there are a couple of key differences in cooking technique that resulted in a clear verdict: we prefer the pizza dough. Here’s how it went down in the kitchen:

The naan dough was easy enough to make. We did the overnight-rise-in-the-fridge option and that resulted in a supple dough. Our toppings were some caraway seeds and sliced scallion. The recipe suggested having a large quarry tile or pizza stone in the oven — we didn’t have either so we used the second option, the back of a baking sheet, as a cooking surface. Here’s where we ran into trouble. Even at 500 degrees, the oven just wasn’t hot enough to cook the naan quickly and encourage any browning. And since there was no oil on or in the dough, the end result, while tasty, was a very pale dough without the color and texture we expected from naan. In the end we were left sheepishly muttering that the Trader Joe’s frozen naan was so much better…why even go through this effort (gasp!). But it’s no wonder! Traditional naan is made in a firey-hot tandoori oven and the dough it slapped against the side of the oven wall, creating a blackened, blistered bread that is crunchy in some parts and soft in others and full of flavor. So this naan, while somewhat pleasant and chewy, left a lot to be desired.

Then we made our favorite pizza dough just to see what the difference in flavor and texture would be in a side-by-side tasting (and because we are always looking for an excuse to make pizza). The pizza won hands-down. First, there’s the addition of olive oil in the dough and on the outside of the dough — that helps with the texture and taste. The dough takes on some of that grassy olive oil flavor throughout. And when it’s baked in the same 500 degree oven it gets browned thanks to the olive oil. Of course, once we had pizza dough made, we couldn’t help but start topping it with all kinds of goodies….mozzarella, tomatoes, ricotta, figs….

In the end, despite our distractions with pizza toppings, we decided that we preferred the taste and texture of the pizza dough. So the next time we want some naan to eat alongside an Indian-inspired meal, we’ll use this dough recipe, brush it with some olive oil, sprinkle with the caraway seeds and a bit of onion and bake until crispy. Although chances are pretty good we’ll get distracted with toppings again……

Basic Pizza Dough

makes about 1 1/2 pounds (NOTE: This dough is easily doubled or tripled and can be used to make pizzas OR pressed into a baking sheet, topped with caramelized onions and baked up as the most delicious focaccia bread.)

3 tsp dry yeast

1 1/2 cups warm water (just warm to the touch)

2 tbl honey

5 1/4 cups flour

1 1/2 tbl salt

3 tbl olive oil

Combine the yeast, water and honey in the bowl of a standing mixer. Stir and let sit for 5 minutes.

Add the flour, salt and oil and stir. Beat with a dough-hook attachment for 10 minutes on medium, adding a bit more flour as needed, until elastic and smooth and not sticking to the sides of the bowl.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a clean towel and let sit in a warm spot for 1 hour to rise (it will at least double in size).

Now the dough is ready to use. If making pizza, cut the dough in half or thirds and press gently into a circle/oblong shape — then place on a baking sheet or onto a pizza peel. Top with your favorite toppings and slide into a 500 degree oven to bake for 10-12 minutes. If making focaccia bread, dump the dough onto an oiled 11×17-inch baking sheet and press to fill the pan. Let rise for another 45 minutes (it will fill out the pan as it rises). Top with caramelized onions (or your favorite toppings) and bake in a 375 degree oven for 25 minutes or until golden.

OR, wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 2 days or freeze for up to a month. Be sure to let come to room temperature for 1-2 hours before using.

 

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When I first read Nancy Silverton’s Sticky Bun recipe, this week’s baking assignment from Tuesdays with Dorrie, it was the middle of a busy work week and I was skeptical. Were these sticky, calorie-laden guys going to be worth the two days and one-plus pound of butter it would take to make them? I decided to set down the recipe and come back to it on my day off, and boy am I glad I did. These buns are hot-out-of-the-oven proof that good things take time, patience….oh, and butter.

The recipe is actually two recipes in one (for complete details, go to one of this week’s hosts: Cookies on Friday and Eat Drink Man Woman Dogs Cat). First, there’s the dough. This was my first time making a brioche dough and I was delighted how tasty and tender it turned out. I found making the dough quite easy — as long as you have a standing mixer and a little patience.

The second part of the recipe is the filling and forming of the buns…and here is where the butter gets a little crazy. I should say up front that I love butter. While I use olive oil for most of my cooking (and even some of my baking) I think there is an important time and place for butter. These sticky buns are absolutely that time and place. That being said, even I was a little alarmed when I was dotting the dough with 1 1/2 sticks of butter (this, after 1 1/2 sticks had already been incorporated into the dough). BUT who am I to argue with baking legend Nancy Silverton. So I took a deep, buttery, breath and continued dotting.

After the dough was enriched with additional butter and rested in the fridge for 30 minutes, I filled it will cinnamon sugar and pecans. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to work with this dough — it was supple and tender and rolled out beautifully. After freezing the logs, slicing the individual buns and nestling them in MORE butter and sugar, I covered with a towel and let them rise a final time. And here is where the magic happened. What was supposed to be a 2 hour rise turned into a 4 hour rise on my counter thanks to some errands that took longer to run that I thought. And boy am I glad they did! When I finally went to put the buns in the oven, they had plumped up and risen all the way to the edge of the pan……and when they came out of the oven and I popped them out of the pan they were amazingly light and fluffy thanks to that long rise. And when I finally bit into one, I immediately forgot the two long days of laboring involved. They were the most flaky and tender rolls I’ve ever tasted….and with that extra punch of cinnamon I added there were full of spicy goodness.

I may need to hang this picture in my office. These are truly the most beautiful baked-good I’ve ever made….and possibly the tastiest. While I may not make these buttery little devils very often, at least I know now that they are worth every dot of butter and every minute spent waiting for them to rise. I think they next time these will make an appearance is on Christmas….perhaps with a little orange zest and nutmeg in the mix….

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Sometimes in the midst of a busy week, a simple baking task can help put everything in perspective. Some sugar, some butter, some flour, a flick of wrist with nothing more than a whisk and, voila, a lovely little cake in born. A slice, still warm from the oven, alongside an afternoon cup of coffee demands a quiet moment….and such demands are not only heaven-scent but, at times, necessary. And so I have this simple little recipe for a Lemon Loaf Cake, baked on assignment from Tuesdays with Dorie, to thank for such a moment.

This is the kind of cake that’s easy to make and easy to eat. So easy, in fact, that it took nothing more than a bowl, a whisk and a few measuring cups to make this recipe. The only “special” ingredient called for was cake flour — since I was looking for simplicity on this particular afternoon, I decided to triple sift regular flour and use that instead.

While the fundamental recipe was fine (find the actual recipe on this week’s hosts: Treats and The Beauty of Life), I found this cake was begging for some improvisation. A bit more lemon zest and maybe some lemon oil to heighten the tang, a bit of vanilla bean paste or ground cardamom for a floral note, and perhaps even some toasted pistachios for an exotic, hidden crunch. The cake was dense — perfect for dipping in tea or, better yet, for toasting the next day and slathering with lemon curd. I think I’ll file this one away as a recipe to use for our Kids Cooking Camps…..thin slices of this cake would be the prefect “bread” for a summer ice cream sandwich….but that’s for a different post.

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