27 December 2010

Christmas Stollen

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

Fresh from the oven Stollen loaf... sans rum and sugar coating
Being of more French heritage than German, I've never actually tasted Stollen. I've seen it occasionally at the market, but have never felt compelled to try it, probably because there are so many treats at every turn during the holidays. Now, I don't have the best track record when it comes to yeast breads (remember the brioche incident?), but I was still interested to give it a try. After all, I've got to conquer this thing at some point.

Because I have never tasted stollen, it was not until I actually read through the ingredient list that I noticed the similarities between this and the traditional hot cross buns we enjoy at Easter. A mildly cinnamon spiced bread dotted with candied citrus, cherries and almonds, the biggest difference between the two seems to be the rum and sugar coating that is typical of stollen.

nuts, candied citrus, raisins and cranberries - all in a spiced bread.  mmmmm.....
I used the recipe suggested by Penny, and it was really pretty straightforward. Make the sponge, let it rise, punch it down, add the fruit and let it rise again before baking. For a little bit of personality, I added some chopped candied ginger to mixture of candied citrus, and substituted dried cranberries for the cherries I didn't have in the house. As soon as the stollen loaves were in the oven, the kitchen took on the familiar smell of fresh hot-cross buns - all cinnamon and citrus peel. I took the freshly baked loaves from the oven and headed off to pack for our holiday vacation at my sister's in California.

As we had an early morning flight the next day, there was no time to taste my very first stollen. So, I wrapped it up with the rest of the cookies and baking I was bringing, and packed it all in my carry-on, wondering what, if any hassle I would get as I passed through security. It was only once we were at the airport that I realized I had forgotten to brush the loaves with rum and sprinkle them with sugar. I had two very naked loaves of stollen with me. {sigh}

We arrived in LA a few hours later, thankful for the uneventful trip. For breakfast the following morning, we sliced up the stollen and toasted it. It tasted exactly like cross buns. Had I not forgotten the rum and sugar coating, I imagine it would have tasted noticeably different, but we were more than pleased with the finished bread. I'm not sure if this will make it into my Christmas repertoire the way other new treats have over the years, but I suspect I will be returning to this recipe in a few short months for Easter, when I can enjoy it again in bun form.

Happy holidays to everyone. I wish you a Happy Hanukah, a Merry Christmas, and a Fantastic New Year!

Happy Baking!

Stollen Wreath
Makes one large wreath or two traditional shaped Stollen loaves. Serves 10-12 people

¼ cup (60ml) lukewarm water (110º F / 43º C)
2 packages (4 1/2 teaspoons) (22 ml) (14 grams) (1/2 oz) active dry yeast
1 cup (240 ml) milk
10 tablespoons (150 ml) (140 grams) unsalted butter (can use salted butter)
5½ cups (1320 ml) (27 ozs) (770 grams) all-purpose (plain) flour (Measure flour first - then sift- plus extra for dusting)
½ cup (120 ml) (115 gms) sugar
¾ teaspoon (3 ¾ ml) (4 ½ grams) salt (if using salted butter there is no need to alter this salt measurement)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 grams) cinnamon
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (very good) vanilla extract
1 teaspoon (5 ml) lemon extract or orange extract
¾ cup (180 ml) (4 ¾ ozs) (135 grams) mixed peel (link below to make your own)
1 cup (240 ml) (6 ozs) (170 gms) firmly packed raisins
3 tablespoons (45ml) rum
12 red glacé cherries (roughly chopped) for the color and the taste. (optional)
1 cup (240 ml) (3 ½ ozs) (100 grams) flaked almonds
Melted unsalted butter for coating the wreath
Confectioners’ (icing) (powdered) sugar for dusting wreath

Note: If you don’t want to use alcohol, double the lemon or orange extract or you could use the juice from the zested orange.

In a small bowl, soak the raisins in the rum (or in the orange juice from the zested orange) and set aside.
To make the dough, pour ¼ cup (60 ml) warm water into a small bowl, sprinkle with yeast and let stand 5 minutes. Stir to dissolve yeast completely.
In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup (240 ml) milk and 10 tablespoons (150 ml) butter over medium - low heat until butter is melted. Let stand until lukewarm, about 5 minutes.
Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl and add lemon and vanilla extracts.
In a large mixing bowl (4 qt) (4 liters) (or in the bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment), stir together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange and lemon zests.
Then stir in (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) the yeast/water mixture, eggs and the lukewarm milk/butter mixture. This should take about 2 minutes. It should be a soft, but not sticky ball. When the dough comes together, cover the bowl with either plastic or a tea cloth and let rest for 10 minutes.
Add in the mixed peel, soaked fruit and almonds and mix with your hands or on low speed to incorporate. Here is where you can add the cherries if you would like. Be delicate with the cherries or all your dough will turn red!
Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mixing with the dough hook) to distribute the fruit evenly, adding additional flour if needed. The dough should be soft and satiny, tacky but not sticky. Knead for approximately 8 minutes (6 minutes by machine). The full six minutes of kneading is needed to distribute the dried fruit and other ingredients and to make the dough have a reasonable bread-dough consistency. You can tell when the dough is kneaded enough – a few raisins will start to fall off the dough onto the counter because at the beginning of the kneading process the dough is very sticky and the raisins will be held into the dough but when the dough is done it is tacky which isn't enough to bind the outside raisins onto the dough ball.
Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
Put it in the fridge overnight. The dough becomes very firm in the fridge (since the butter goes firm) but it does rise slowly… the raw dough can be kept in the refrigerator up to a week and then baked on the day you want.

Shaping the Dough and Baking:
Let the dough rest for 2 hours after taking out of the fridge in order to warm slightly.
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4 with the oven rack on the middle shelf.
Punch dough down, divide equally and shape into 2 loaves
Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap.

Proof for approximately 2 hours at room temperature, or until about 1½ times its original size.
Bake the stollen for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue to bake for 20 to 30 minutes. The bread will bake to a dark mahogany color, should register 190°F/88°C in the center of the loaf, and should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.
Transfer to a cooling rack and brush the top with melted butter while still hot.
Immediately tap a layer of powdered sugar over the top through a sieve or sifter.
Wait for 1 minute, then tap another layer over the first.
The bread should be coated generously with the powdered sugar.
Let cool at least an hour before serving. Coat the stollen in butter and icing sugar three times, since this many coatings helps keeps the stollen fresh - especially if you intend on sending it in the mail as Christmas presents!

When completely cool, store in a plastic bag. Or leave it out uncovered overnight to dry out slightly, German style.
The stollen tastes even better in a couple of days and it toasts superbly…. so delicious with butter and a cup of tea….mmmmm

25 December 2010

Merry Macarons to you!

Parmesan Pancetta Rosemary Macarons

This holiday season has been a busy one for me, but I am not complaining. It's incredibly flattering to have people hire you to do baking for them. This means, prior to leaving for vacation, most of my nights have been spent happily up to my elbows in sugar and flour and butter and eggs... and almonds. Yes, I made quite a few macarons this month, and even spent an evening with my friend Shannon, "teaching" her how to make these finicky french cookies, or rather, teaching her how not to. The evening led to the discovery that macarons are *not* one of those kids-can-help recipes. Shannon's adorable 4 year old son, who loves to cook, and 6 year old daughter, who loves chocolate mousse, were excited to help out in any way he could. But sadly, this is what our macaron shells turned out like that night. It's not pretty, but at least we had fun.

Major macaron fail... NOT a kid-friendly recipe

Well, back in my kitchen, I was back at the mixer, fingers crossed that I could finally get feet on my little macs. Shells of various colours and flavours were prepared, and {whew} batch after batch turned out as hoped - feet and all. And what better time to bake up my MacTweets Challenge macs... Savory Sweet Holiday Macs!

It's true that there are limitless flavour combinations that can be made in a macaron. The delicate flavour of almonds makes them compatible with just about everything under the sun. From tomatoes to pork to fish to olives, almonds can be accompaniment to any of them, though not necessarily in a sweet application. Contemplating the possibilities, and flipping through Pierre Hermé's Macron, I finally settled on Parmesan Pancetta Rosemary Chocolate Macarons.

Festive red macarons with Pancetta, a sprinkling of Parmesan and Rosemary infused ganache

Hubby and I attended a wine and chocolate tasting evening several months back, and one of the treats that was better than we expected was Pancetta and melted chocolate. Yes, bacon seems to be popping up in all kinds of dessert applications, but pancetta is bacon with the flavour volume turned way up - and it really works with the tannic bitter undertones of dark chocolate. One thing I was not prepared for, when baking my macaron shells, is the effect that a sprinkling of parmegiano reggiano cheese would have on them. Baked on the same sheet and from the same batch of regular macaron shells, the parmesan shells somehow "erupted" and cracked, while the regular shells were perfectly shaped and domed. I'm not sure just what it is about the addition of cheese that causes this, but that's the only variable that can be the cause.

The mystery of the erupting parmesan mac shells

So, with my less-than-perfect Parmesan mac shells, I made a simple chocolate ganache, first infusing the cream with a bit of fresh rosemary. With the addition of some finely minced pancetta, and topped it off with a larger ruffle of the cured Italian bacon. The result? While it's not my favourite flavour of mac, it is definitely a good one. The salty and sweet mix of chocolate, almonds and pancetta, and the earthy flavour of the rosemary, made for a nice combination.

Parmesan Pancetta Rosemary Macarons
makes approximately 36 cookies, but is easily doubled
adapted from Pierre Hermé Macarons

100g almond flour
150g confectioners sugar
55g egg whites
150g granulated sugar
37g water
55g egg whites (yes, another 55g of egg whites in a separate bowl)
1/2 tsp food colouring
2 Tbsp grated Parmegiano Reggiano cheese

Prepare two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Using a fine mesh sieve, sift the almond flour and confectioners sugar together into a large bowl.
In a small bowl, mix the food colouring with the first 55g of egg whites. Stir the coloured eggs into the almond sugar mixture until well combined and set aside.
In the bowl of standing mixer fitted with a whisk, whip the second bowl of plain egg whites until they are foamy but do not yet hold a peak. Turn off the mixer and prepare the syrup:
Pour the water into a small saucepan, and pour the sugar into a mound the centre of the pot, but do not stir.
Place the pan over medium high heat, and keep your thermometer handy.
As the sugar begins to dissolve, gently and carefully swirl the mixture around to distribute any sugar that has not yet melted.
Once the syrup begins to boil, periodically check the temperature until it reaches 115˚C (239˚F).
Remove the pan from heat and check the temperature again - the syrup will continue to cook.
When the mixture reaches 118˚C (244˚F), turn the mixer up to medium speed and carefully pour the hot syrup into the egg whites in a steady stream.
Once all of the syrup has been added, turn the mixer to medium-high and whip for another 2 minutes until the meringue is glossy and holds stiff peaks.
Using your thermometer, check the temperature of the Italian meringue - it should register about 50˚C (122˚F) or slightly cooler.
Fold the meringue into the coloured almond mixture until no white streaks remain, and has a consistency similar to cake batter.
Fill a piping bag with the macaron batter and pipe small rounds onto the prepared baking sheets.  Sprinkle a small amount of cheese onto each of the macaron shells while they are still wet.
Preheat the oven to 350˚F and place rack in the centre of the oven.
Allow the piped cookies to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to form a dry "skin" while the oven comes to temperature.
To make sure the cookies are ready to bake, gently touch one with your finger, if any batter sticks to your finger, they are still too wet. You should be able to lightly press your finger to the top and have it come up clean.
Bake one sheet at a time, for 12 minutes. You should have nice puffy macaron shells with the loveliest feet you have ever seen. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool.

Rosemary Infused Chocolate Ganache with Pancetta

120ml (1/2 Cup) heavy cream
2 stalks fresh rosemary
120g (1/2 Cup) dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
50g thinly sliced pancetta

Pour the cream into a small saucepan.  Using your hands, firmly bend and "bruise" the rosemary, to help release the fragrant oils.  Add the rosemary to the cream, and gently heat the cream until it is steaming but not boiling.  
Place the chopped chocolate and salt in a medium bowl.
Remove the rosemary from the cream and pour the mixture over the chocolate, and allow it to sit for 3-4 minutes.
Gently whisk the chocolate and cream together until it is thick and silky, but be careful not to incorporate any air into the ganache.
Set the bowl aside and allow the ganache to cool to room temperature.

Set a few layers of paper towels over a shallow bowl or plate and set it near the stove.  In a frying pan or skillet, quickly fry the pancetta until it is ruffled and crispy.  Pancetta has a much lover smoke point than regular bacon, and also cooks much much faster, so there's no time to turn your back.  As soon as the pancetta is ruffly and shrunken, remove it to the paper towel to drain.  

Once the ganache has cooled to room temperature, fill a piping bag with the ganache and pipe a generous amount onto the underside of 1/2 of the macaron shells.  Place a small piece of pancetta on top of the ganache, and then add another small dot of ganache and top them all with the remaining macaron shells.
Refrigerate the macarons for at least 24 hours.  Remove the macarons from the fridge about 2 hours before serving so they can warm slightly.


10 December 2010

A Sticky Toffee Pudding Send-Off

If you happen to follow me on Twitter, lately you have seen me gushing a lot about @darrenstravels.  The owner of that twitter handle is my hero, and lucky for me, he also happens to be my uncle.

@darrenstravels  (aka "Uncle D")  My hero
"D", as he is affectionately called by nearly everyone in the family, is my mom's baby brother - "baby" by enough that he is only 12 years older than me, and I'm the baby of all the grand-daughters.  As such, he often babysat my sister and I a lot when we were little, and he's always seemed more like a big brother to us than an uncle.  Helping cement his "brother" image in our minds, he used to absolutely torment us as kids, as brothers tend to torment younger sisters.  For example; to this day, my sister won't step on a drain of any kind - not even in a shower - for fear that she'll be sucked down the drain (she was always a skinny kid).  Me?  I have vivid memories of him threatening to put me in the freezer (geez, that looks *wayyyy more menacing on paper than it was in real life) -  it was really just one of many ways to make me squirm and scream "nooooooo!", and it was as fun for me as I think it was for him.  As much as he tortured us, I know we always looked forward to nights when our parents would go out and Uncle D would come over to babysit, because we'd laugh a LOT and even get to stay up late :)

As Darren went on to his career in radio, and later television, he moved away.  I've always missed him since he moved, but at the same time, proud of who he was and what he was doing.  When Sis and I took Mom to Paris for her 60th birthday a couple of years ago, we convinced D to come along and join us for a few days - and we had a blast.  As a television producer in Toronto, he was always working incredibly long hours, and vacations were always short, but travel has always been one of his passions.  A few years ago, he made it even more of a priority, taking short trips to New York City whenever he could, and training for life-changing treks like his climb to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa.  Still, at a certain point in life, a handful of brave and incredibly smart individuals realize that we don't get to live forever, and decide to take life by the horns and go off to actually *live* their dreams.  My Uncle Darren is one such individual.  There is a price for all of this, however, and I don't just mean airfare.  He's purged himself of almost all belongings, ended a withering 23-year relationship, left his two beloved dogs, sold his home and quit his job - things few of us would have the guts to do - all so he can go and Live The Dream. For the first time since he was 14, he is now officially Unemployed, not to mention Homeless.... scary things to be when you're 50. Still, this is part of what it costs to follow your dreams.

(for those of you who crave a little adventure without the sacrifice, you can live vicariously through Darren by following his blog on rtwtravels.com)

So, a little more than a year ago, he began planning his Round The World Adventure, a two year journey to go around the world and see and do all of the things he has always dreamed about.  A 17-day bike tour through Vietnam, bungee jumping in New Zealand, working in an Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka, and participating in as many of the countless cultural festivals around the world as he can.... these are just a few of the things he has on his agenda for the next two years.  Thankfully, the boy who is "chasing summer" for the next two years is kicking off his journey with 10 days freezing his butt off to hang with us here in Edmonton.  (lucky for him, the -33 cold snap ended before he arrived! but he's still freezing...)

Bon Voyage!  Have some Coconut Cake!

In addition to taking a full day off work just to hang with my uncle (because some things in life are more important than spreadsheets and paperwork.  No, make that ALL things in life...), I also baked up the desserts for his Happy Birthday & Bon Voyage fête last weekend.  What were his requests?  My Coconut Cake (aka my "When Harry Met Sally Cake), because he loves coconut, and his favourite dessert: Sticky Toffee Pudding. Done and done! Into the kitchen I go!

My hugs in luggage tag form
Nothing makes me happier than to bake for people I care about, so I was especially happy to see how much D loved these desserts.  Between groans of delight, he was gushing with compliments ("Oh my god, this is the *best* Sticky Toffee Pudding I have ever tasted!" and "This Coconut Cake tastes better than any Bounty Bar, and they're my favourite!") - all of which makes me grin from ear to ear.  I'm so incredibly proud of him that I just want to spoil him as much as I can before tomorrow, when he literally heads off into the world, and I don't know exactly when (or where) I will see him again.... To remind him that I love him and that I'm proud of him, I also gave him these gorgeous luggage tags from Of The Fountain on Etsy.  The quote is absolutely perfect, and they don't add too much weight to the 60 litre backpack that he will be living out of for the next 730 days.  (can you imagine?)  Hopefully, if he ever finds himself a little heartsick for family and old friends, he will look at these luggage tags and smile, and know they also carry all the love and hugs and kisses that I have for him.

So, to my darling uncle... Thank you for being such an important part of my childhood, and my adulthood,  for walking me down the aisle on my wedding day, and for every time you made me laugh until my cheeks hurt.  Thank you for being my hero and my inspiration.  I love you with all my heart.  To quote E.E. Cummings.... "I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)".  Go live your dreams......

Oh yeah - and Thank You for including one winter destination and freezing your butt off just so we can all wish you Bon Voyage in person.  XOXOX

Sticky Toffee Pudding Send Off

Sticky Toffee Pudding
from Cook's Illustrated
serves 8-10

250g (1 1/4 Cups) whole dates, pitted, cut into 1/4-inch slices
180ml (3/4 Cup) warm water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
178g (1 11/4 Cups) unbleached all-purpose flour 
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
150g (3/4 Cup) brown sugar, light or dark
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
60g (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted

Toffee Sauce
113g (8 Tbsp) unsalted butter
200g (1 Cup) brown sugar, light or dark
180ml (2/3 Cup) heavy cream
1 tablespoon rum
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon juice from 1 lemon

For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 8-inch square baking dish and set it in large roasting pan lined with clean towel. Bring kettle or large saucepan of water to boil over high heat.
Combine half of dates with water and baking soda in glass measuring cup (dates should be submerged beneath water) and soak for 5 minutes. Drain dates, reserving liquid, and transfer to medium bowl. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in another medium bowl.
Process remaining dates and brown sugar in food processor until just blended, about five 1-second pulses. Add reserved soaking liquid, eggs, and vanilla and process until smooth, about 5 seconds. With food processor running, pour melted butter through feed tube in steady stream. Transfer this mixture to bowl with softened dates.
Gently stir dry mixture into wet mixture until just combined and date pieces are evenly dispersed. Pour batter into prepared baking dish. Add enough boiling water to reach halfway up sides and cover pan tightly with aluminum foil. Bake until outer 2 inches develop small holes and center has puffed and is firm to touch, about 40 minutes. Immediately remove dish from water bath and set on wire rack.
For the toffee sauce: Meanwhile, melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in brown sugar until smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved and mixture looks puffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Slowly pour in cream and rum, whisk just to combine, reduce heat, and simmer until frothy, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, cover to keep warm, and set aside.
Liberally poke top of pudding with paring knife or wooden skewer; pour toffee sauce over pudding and allow the sauce to be soaked up by the sticky toffee sponge.   Cool for 10 minutes, cut into squares, and serve accompanied by crème anglaise or vanilla ice cream.

As this dish is best served warm, re-heat it briefly in the microwave before serving if need be.

05 December 2010

Apricot Crostata

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

I was pretty excited when I saw the challenge for November, because I've actually made this dessert a number of times, even though I haven't posted about it yet.  Crostata is essentially the Italian version of the French tarte, the most noticeable difference being the pastry shell itself.  While the French Pâte Brisée is a flaky pastry made of flour, butter, egg yolk and water, the Pasta Frolla of Italy is more of a shortcrust pastry, but much more flavourful.  It uses the same building blocks as the French pastry, but adds a generous amount of sugar, fresh lemon zest and vanilla, elevating the crostata shell from a mere vessel for filling, to an actual flavour component for the entire dessert.  What's more, a common filling for crostata is jam, meaning  you can create a killer dessert in under 15 minutes when you have last minute guests and are pinched for time.  You can't get much more appealing than that, can you?

Two things that you should definitely make sure of when you are making a crostata; use fresh lemon zest in the pastry and whatever jam or filling you like best - doesn't matter if it's homemade or store-bought, if you like it on toast, it will be incredible in a crostata.  I have even used some pretty mediocre jams, just to use them up and clear some space in the fridge, only to hear groans of delight when our friends get a taste (it's a magical dessert that way).  This time, I had my eye on a tangy apricot jam, though a seedless raspberry also

I followed the pasta frolla recipe that Simona posted for us (pasted below), but as always, I used my food processor to combine everything.  If you, like my friend Shannon, happen to be one of those who struggle with pastry because you have warm hands, the food processor is the only way to go.  If you struggle, like I do, to roll out a pastry shell that doesn't shrink every bloody time, no matter what you do, then I highly recommend that you skip the rolling process entirely and simply press the crumbled dough into the tart shell and be done with it.  The number of hours I have wasted on rolling out dough and reading up on how to make sure the shell doesn't shrink, and rolling out more dough, and blah blah blah.... let's just say I could have done a LOT with those hours.  Well, since I pressed it directly into the shell and then let it chill in the fridge, I haven't looked back.  I get reliable results every time, with a lot less time, and a lot less cursing.  I doubt I will ever go back to rolling....

Press-in method for tart shells.  Perfect every time.

Pasta Frolla
1/2 c. minus 1 tablespoon [105 ml, 100 g, 3 ½ oz] superfine sugar (see Note 1) or a scant 3/4 cup [180ml, 90g, 3 oz] of powdered sugar
1 and 3/4 cup [420 ml, 235 g, 8 1/4 oz.] unbleached all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt
1 stick [8 tablespoons / 4 oz. / 115 g] cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
grated zest of half a lemon (you could also use vanilla sugar as an option, see Note 2)
1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten in a small bowl

Note 1: Superfine sugar is often also referred to as ultrafine, baker’s sugar or caster sugar. It’s available in most supermarkets. If you cannot find “superfine” sugar, you can make your own by putting some regular granulated sugar in a food processor or blender and letting it run until the sugar is finely ground.

Put sugar, flour, and salt in the bowl of the food processor and pulse a few times to mix.
Add butter and pulse a few times until the mixture has the consistency of coarse meal.
Empty food processor's bowl onto your work surface.
Make a well in the center of the mounded flour and butter mixture and pour the beaten egg and vanilla extract into it.
Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the solid ingredients then use your fingertips.
Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball.
Shape the dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. You can refrigerate the dough overnight.

OK, here's where I go off recipe and do my own thing....
I add the lemon zest in with the butter, and pulse it a few times until it has the consistency of coarse meal.
Pour the egg, yolk and vanilla into the food processor and pulse a 5 or 6 times until the liquids are fully incorporated and the mixture holds together when squeezed together.
Dump 3/4 of the dough mixture into the bottom of a tart pan, and press it firmly and evenly into the shell.  Start by concentrating on the edges of the tart, making sure they are even, then press the remaining dough into the bottom of the pan.
Place the pan in the fridge to chill for about an hour or so.
Take the remaining 1/4 of the dough, and roll it out {sigh} to about 1cm thickness.  Using a ruler and a sharp knife or pastry cutter, cut the dough into 3cm wide strips.  It is ok if not all the strips are the same length, as they will be criss
Place the strips onto a cookie sheet or flat tray, and move them to the fridge while you fill the tart shell.

For the filling:
Open your pantry or fridge
Pull out a jar of really good jam (about 600 ml), such as apricot
Open it.
Dump the jam into the crostata shell.
Spread it evenly around the shell using the back of a spoon.
Now take a bow - Ta-Daaaaaa!

Pre-heat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC)
Take the beautifully rolled strips of dough, and criss-cross them over the filled crostata, making a nice pattern.
Press the strips firmly into the edges of crostata shell, to make sure they adhere (the sugar in the dough will help that happen).
Bake the crostata in the now-heated oven for 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.
Once baked, allow the crostata to cool to room temperature, about 1-2 hours.  Serve with ice cream, whipped cream, creme fraiche, or just on it's own.
Sit back, enjoy your tasty dessert, and contemplate all the flavours of jam that you can use next time....

Jam Crostata... endless flavour possibilities

26 November 2010

Pink Pecan Pie Macarons

"What does Fall mean to you?... Does fall mean Thanksgiving, or deep cinnamon flavour, are apples your calling or do falling leaves announce the season to you? Or then, is it the warm comfort and luxury of hot cocoa or warm spiced cider?"

l'Automne.  Quite simply my favourite season of the year, when the river valley is an explosion of reds and golds, and the sunny but crisp days mean I get to spice up my wardrobe with my collection of scarves.  I love taking the pups for a walk in the park, hearing the leaves crunching under our feet.  Fall is also when many of my favourite foods come into season, like figs, pomegranates, apples, and persimmons.  It's also the perfect time of year to enjoy one of my favourite desserts... Pecan Pie!

With so many fall friendly flavours to choose from, it was difficult to narrow my macaron inspiration to just one, but I was curious to see if I could recreate the flavours of my beloved pecan pie in macaron form.  And from the endless flavour varieties I have heard of for macarons, I don't believe I have ever heard of a pecan version at all, though their sweet flavour would certainly pair well with the almond-meringue batter.  And hey - even their pink shells are good inspiration.  Whoa.  Wait wait wait wait... turns out their shells are dyed pink.  What the heck is up with that? And how is it that I am just figuring that out now?  I thought we were getting past all of that!  I haven't seen the scorching hot pink coloured pistachios of my youth since... well, my youth.  Of course I still can't figure out why cheddar cheese is orange here, yet most true cheddars are actually a pale buttery yellow colour.  I thought we were supposed to be getting away from  putting artificial colours and flavours into everything.   Of course, maybe that argument's best saved for a post when I'm not talking about day-glo pink cookies.... hmmmm that's awkward....

Since last month's major macaron fail, I made sure to clear my evening to focus on my baking, and I also turned to the previously successful Italian-meringue (a.k.a. Pierre Hermé) method.  Speaking of which - did I mention that I finally have my very own copy of Pierre Hermé Macarons? WOOHOO!!

To capture the pecan pie flavour, I swapped out a third of the almond meal for pecans, which I toasted before grinding them finely in the food processor.  Toasting nuts really brings out their flavour, and I definitely wanted noticeable pecan taste.  I sieved these in with the confectioner's sugar and almond meal before adding the liquid egg whites and the Italian meringue.  I blended in a very generous dose of rose food colouring, pushing myself not to woos out by remembering previous unappetizingly flesh-coloured macarons.   It really paid off.  Bright, colourful mac shells were soon pulled from the oven.  Now to focus on the filling...
Pecan pie has more of a syrupy kind of flavour, but I thought that a caramel au beurre salé would likely pair well with the pecaniness, and still not overpower the flavour. I was a little worried that the buttercream would look to orangey against the hot pink shells, but it watually turned out really well. To tone down some of the strong caramel flavour, I added some honey in place of the actual caramel sauce, as well as adding just a sprinkling of salt to he mixture to counter-act any light bitterness that might rear it's ugly head. The final cookie turned out almost as well as I could have hoped. The pecan wasn't quite as noticeable once the cookies were assembled, but overall, they were excellent. Not to mention the fact that they all had their little feet, and turned out beautifully. Hooray!! Macaron success!

Pecan Macarons with Caramel au Beurre Salé buttercream
makes approximately 36 cookies, but is easily doubled 
adapted from Pierre Hermé Macarons

100g almond flour
50g, toasted pecans, finely ground
150g confectioners sugar
55g egg whites
150g granulated sugar
37g water
55g egg whites (yes, another 55g of egg whites in a separate bowl)
1/2 tsp food colouring

Prepare two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Using a fine mesh sieve, sift the almond flour and confectioners sugar together into a large bowl.
In a small bowl, mix the food colouring with the first 55g of egg whites. Stir the coloured eggs into the almond sugar mixture until well combined and set aside.
In the bowl of standing mixer fitted with a whisk, whip the second bowl of plain egg whites until they are foamy but do not yet hold a peak. Turn off the mixer and prepare the syrup:
Pour the water into a small saucepan, and pour the sugar into a mound the centre of the pot, but do not stir.
Place the pan over medium high heat, and keep your thermometer handy.
As the sugar begins to dissolve, gently and carefully swirl the mixture around to distribute any sugar that has not yet melted.
Once the syrup begins to boil, periodically check the temperature until it reaches 115˚C (239˚F).
Remove the pan from heat and check the temperature again - the syrup will continue to cook.
When the mixture reaches 118˚C (244˚F), turn the mixer up to medium speed and carefully pour the hot syrup into the egg whites in a steady stream.
Once all of the syrup has been added, turn the mixer to medium-high and whip for another 2 minutes until the meringue is glossy and holds stiff peaks.
Using your thermometer, check the temperature of the Italian meringue - it should register about 50˚C (122˚F) or slightly cooler.
Fold the meringue into the coloured almond mixture until no white streaks remain, and has a consistency similar to cake batter.
Fill a piping bag with the macaron batter and pipe small rounds onto the prepared baking sheets.
Preheat the oven to 350˚F and place rack in the centre of the oven.
Allow the piped cookies to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to form a dry "skin" while the oven comes to temperature.
To make sure the cookies are ready to bake, gently touch one with your finger, if any batter sticks to your finger, they are still too wet. You should be able to lightly press your finger to the top and have it come up clean.
Bake one sheet at a time, for 12 minutes. You should have nice puffy macaron shells with the loveliest feet you have ever seen. Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool.

Caramel au Beurre Salé buttercream
makes enough to fill more than 36 cookies, but is easily doubled
adapted from Pierre Hermé Macarons

165 ml crème fraiche or heavy whipping cream
100g granulated sugar
30g salted butter + 140g salted room-temperature butter
15ml honey

In a small pan, heat the crème fraiche (or cream) but do not allow it to boil.  In a separate, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat 50g of the sugar and allow it to melt.  
Then in 3 different additions, add 50g more sugar to the pan and allow it to fully melt and caramelise until it turns a medium amber colour.  
Once the sugar reaches the right colour, remove the pan from heat and add in the 30g of salted butter, whisking  very gently until the butter is melted and fully incorporated.  Then the hot creme.  
BE VERY CAUREFUL, as the caramel will boil up and sputter, and sugar burns are super painful.  Gently whisk in the creme, then pour the caramel into a shallow, heatproof container and allow it to cool until it reaches 108˚F or cooler.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, cream the remaining 140g butter.  With the mixer on high speed, carefully pour the caramel sauce in a thin, steady stream down the inside of the bowl so as to avoid getting splashed.  Once the caramel is fully blended, continue to whisk for another 2 minutes until the buttercream is slightly fluffy.
Fill a piping bag with the finished buttercream.

On a clean work surface, turn the macaron shells upside down.
Pipe buttercream onto half of the upturned shells.
Top each filled shell with an empty cookie shell and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Remove from the fridge about 2 hours before serving.

07 November 2010

Awww NUTS.... here we go again!

delicately sweet Cashew Butter Cookies

It's kinda funny.  As a kid, I would not have classified myself as a nut lover.  Sure, I enjoyed my fair share of peanut butter on toast or in PB and banana sandwiches, but nuts in their non-butter form, not so much.  Even then, nuts of the non-peanut form were pretty much a rarity (ya ya, I know - peanuts are not "technically" nuts, whatever).  I remember sitting with my Grandpa, while everyone gathered in the living room to watch a football game, and eating roasted peanuts.  By now you've probably caught on to the fact that I have my quirks - and I was even quirkier as a kid.  You know how when you take a peanut and split in half, one of the halves has this teeny tiny extra bit on the tip of it?  C'mon, you know... this part:

my peanut has a thingy
...ok, well, being a very lovable and quirky kid, I refused to eat that part.  I would carefully crack apart each little peanut, gently remove that little thingamabob and my dear Gpa would chuckle at me and eat the thingamabob so I didn't have to.  Have I mentioned how my Gpa was the best?

(by the way, turns out the thingamabob is the "embryo"... good thing I didn't know that as a kid, or I'd have been scarred for life! I don't recall exactly how old I was when I discovered what eggs actually were.)

As years passed, I would be introduced to many other nuts, and today my pantry always has a nutty assortment of nuts to bake with or snack on.  I almost always buy them raw, and toast them myself - think of it as quality control.  With so many nuts in my pantry, it stands to reason that they'll end up in some baked goods, right?

My last nut-themed experiment produced some lovely Almond Butter Cookies that were pretty darn good.  This got me thinking about the various types of nut butters that are readily available at my local grocery store and figured that if Almond Butter Cookies turned out so well, surely Cashew Butter Cookies would be just as lovely.  Well, I was wrong - they are simply delightful and put Almond Butter Cookies to shame.  They have a delicate sweetness to them, a distinct nuttiness, and just the right amount of chewiness.  I took a batch over to a friend's last night and came home with an empty plate.  Yup, the test batch were a hit.

The recipe is the same one I used for the Almond Butter Cookies, but with cashews and cashew butter subbed in where the recipe calls for "Almond".  However, since I have yet to even hear of a Cashew Extract for flavouring,  I just used a generous dose of vanilla.  When I gave the cookie batter an initial taste, it seemed a bit "flat", kind of one-dimensional, so I grabbed a bottle of my favourite honey and added a generous squirt.  Bingo - it was exactly what the cookies were lacking!  Scooped out onto a cookies sheet and topped with a whole cashew, they bake up in just 12 minutes.  That said, they are very delicate when they first come out of the oven, so they need at least another five minutes (as much as 10 minutes if you can wait that long) on the cookie sheet to cool, before you can transfer them onto a cooling rack or plate.

big beige cookie...

Though they tasted great, they looked awfully beige, so before popping the second cookie sheet into the oven, I sprinkled some chocolate flakes overtop - not a lot, just enough to break up the beige.   Even though each cookie had less that 1/4 tsp of chocolate on it, it was just enough to add another dimension of flavour to these already scrumptious cookies.  Now they were really fabulous.  Problem is, those little chocolate flakes are hard to find, so they're not going to be in every gal's pantry.  I obsessed over finding these unusual decorations after devouring them on my first Sprinkles Cupcake while visiting my sis a couple of years ago .  I searched for several weeks before I managed to locate some though King Arthur Flour, but I can't find them on their site anymore.  They're not your average chocolate sprinkle or "jimmy", they're little squares, they're from Italy, and they contain only three ingredients: sugar, chocolate liquor and cocoa butter.

Dark Chocolate Flakes

So, what should you use instead?  I'd recommend that you grab a bar of your favourite dark chocolate, a microplane grater and sprinkle a few shavings over each ball of cookie dough... that should get you pretty close to the same result.

beige before....
what better than chocolate to add some personality

So, I hope you'll give this recipe a try and let me know what you think!

Happy Baking!

Julia's Cashew Butter Cookies
Makes 48 cookies

355g (2 1/2 Cups) flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 tsp kosher salt (half this amount if using table salt)
226 g (1 Cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
220g (1 Cup) light brown sugar
201g (1 Cup) granulated sugar
320 g (1 Cup) unsalted Cashew butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 Tbsp good quality liquid honey
140g (1 Cup) whole cashews - unsalted, plus extra whole nuts for garnish
50g good quality dark chocolate *optional, but recommended

Preheat oven to 300˚F and place rack in centre of oven.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
In a skillet, gently toast the whole cashews, being careful not to burn or scorch them.  
As soon as they are toasted, remove them from the pan and allow them to cool on a plate or wooden cutting board.  
the best way to chop nuts
Coarsely chop the cashews, either with a sharp knife (recommended), or with a food processor, using short 1-second pulses - just make sure to leave them quite coarse).  Set aside.
In a medium bow, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the unsalted butter and both sugars until well combined.   
Beat in the cashew butter until fully incorporated.  
Add the eggs, one at a time, along with vanilla and vanilla extract and honey.  Mix the batter well, scraping down the bowl as necessary to make sure everything is fully incorporated.
Gently mix in the dry ingredients until just a few streaks of flour remain.  
Finally, add the chopped cashews and mix until the nuts are well dispersed.
Using a small scoop (a #70 or 35mm disher is my stand-by for cookies), scoop heaping tablespoonfuls if dough onto prepared cookie sheet, allowing about 1 1/2 inches of space between.  
Gently press a whole cashew into the top of each cookie, flattening the cookies a bit as you go.
Sprinkle some finely grated chocolate shavings over each cookie if you please.
Bake until cookies are puffy and golden around the edges, about 12 minutes.
Cool cookies on cookie sheet until they set up, at least 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely (about 10 minutes), as these cookies are really soft until the are fully cooled.

I have no idea how long these will "keep" for - they keep getting eaten before I can find out. 

04 November 2010

It's all about the cream

I recently mentioned the amazing Strawberry Panna Cotta hubby and I enjoyed on a day trip to Sausalito, and the memory seems to be a strong one, 'cause I cannot seem to get it out of my mind.  It was creamy and delicately sweet, surprisingly thick yet not heavy or overly rich.  For a girl who misses UK double cream like I do, it was heaven on a spoon.  So it's no surprise that, upon returning home from our mini vacation I immediately began looking at recipes for this lovely italian custard.

I located a few recipes, but they were all pretty similar, so I decided to try the one in the Larousse Pâtissier app I recently downloaded onto my iPad (if you've ever met me in person, you probably know that I'm a huge Mac lover, and proud of it.  I have never owned a PC and never intend to, a decision that is reinforced every day when I'm forced to use one at work - but I'm getting off topic).  Panna Cotta is one of those great 15-minutes-or-less recipes that you can whip up without breaking a sweat.  That said, you do need to make it well in advance of your serve time, because it needs a few hours of chill and set time in the fridge before you serve it.  Great for those times, say, when you have friends coming for dinner tomorrow night and only a million things to do before then.  It's elegant and indulgent and takes very little effort - and who doesn't love that?  Oh, did I mention that you can make it in just about any flavour you want?

To take advantage of every last bit of summer fruit, I decided to make a flavoured panna cotta with ripe nectarines and a few leaves of fresh basil.  OK, so it's not exactly your most common flavour combination, but the flavour of fresh basil really does pair beautifully with the tart juiciness of nectarines.  Normally, the sugar would be mixed in with the cream and the mixture would be heated before blending in the gelatine and vanilla.  For this version, however, I sprinkled the sugar and a pinch of salt over the sliced fruit and basil, and allowed it to draw out the juices and amp up the flavours while I soaked the gelatine sheets, and warmed the cream.  From there, it's a very simple matter of gently mixing the three components together and pouring the mixture into small molds to chill and set. 

Now, about the gelatine.  Gelatine sheets can be very tricky to find where I live, whereas the envelopes of powdered gelatine is on every grocery store shelf.  You can certainly substitute the powdered kind for the sheets if you need, but then you need to sprinkle it over the cold cream before you heat it, so the gelatine can "bloom".  Personally, now that I've gotten my hands on sheet gelatine, there is no turning back.  Of course I have yet to try using agar-agar, the vegetarian-friendly seaweed based gelatine flakes, which are incredibly hard to find in town, and when I did manage to find some at a specialty store, I nearly fell over from sticker shock (I'll try it next time, though, and let you know the results).

As with most (if not all) desserts, really good quality vanilla and a pinch of salt are a must.  In a case like this where there are only a very few ingredients, you can't cheat on quality.  Fresh, ripe fruit, fresh basil leaves, and buy the very best heavy cream you can find.  Or better yet, make it with crème fraiche - the thick and velvety quality will make this dessert toe-curling-ly divine.  

Nectarine Basil Panna Cotta
serves 4

1-2 tsp neutral-flavoured vegetable oil, such as canola or grapeseed
2 sheets gelatine or 2 pkgs powdered gelatine
1 nectarine, skinned and chopped
5-6 leaves fresh basil, medium sized leaves
250ml (1 Cup) heavy cream or crème fraiche
50g (1/4 Cup) sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 whole vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla bean paste

Fill a medium bowl with cold water, and soak the gelatine sheets for about 10 minutes.  Conveniently, this is how much time you will need to prepare the rest of the recipe.
In a medium saucepan, place the chopped nectarine and the fresh basil - be sure to "bruise" or crush the leaves in order to release more of the flavour.  Sprinkle the sugar and salt over the fruit and allow it to sit for a couple of minutes.
Lightly brush a thin coating of oil into 4 small ramekins or cups that you will be using for molds.  Be sure to get into all the nooks and crannies, so that the custards will unmold properly.
Add the vanilla and cream to the saucepan with the fruit mixture, and place over medium low heat until the mixture is hot and steaming, but do not allow it to boil.  Remove the pan from heat and carefully fish out and discard the basil leaves.
Remove the gelatine sheets from the cold water, and gently whisk them into the hot cream mixture.  As soon as the gelatine has fully dissolved, pour the custard into the molds, evenly distributing the fruit amongst the dishes.
Transfer the dishes to the refrigerator for 4-6 hours, or overnight.
When ready to serve, carefully run a very thin-bladed knife around the edge of the ramekin, and turn the custard out onto a small plate.
Serve immediately.

27 October 2010

Macaron Fail

For the past couple of months, I have been a bad MacTweet-er.  I have missed not one but two challenges in a row - not because I've wanted to, but because hubby and I have been busy putting in some new flooring and putting a fresh coat of paint on a few rooms.  The downstairs portion of our house is looking pretty great now, and Molly and Riley are quickly learning they can't quite corner as fast on wood floors as they can on carpet (I'm pretty sure we're going to have to heavily pad the landing on the stairs when we finish them next).  Anyway, I'm back now, and am ready to get back to making macs!

...problem is, the Macaron gods seem to be a bit peeved with me.  Yep, that's right.... macaron FAIL!  Consider it Karma.

This month's MacTweets challenge was to create Pinkarons for Pinktober, in honour of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  This cause is important to me not only as a woman, but as a woman who has seen friends and loved ones touched by this tragic disease.  The importance of self-exams and mammograms cannot be stressed enough, as early detection is currently our best defense.

So I decided to make Pink Ginger Macarons by adding a bit of ginger syrup to the macaron batter, and then made a chocolate ganache loaded up with the a sassy kick of ginger.  Even though I'm not much of a drinker, when a friend recently told me about an incredible ginger cognac liqueur, I knew I needed to get a bottle for my baking.  Either sipped at the end of a meal, or stirred into a bowl of melted dark chocolate, it is absolutely intoxicating, though it seemed to lose a bit of its pungency in the ganache.  That was quickly and easily rectified by grating a knob of fresh ginger over the bowl and incorporating all the spicy fresh ginger juice and pulp.  In no time, we had a killer filling for our lovely pink macs.  Unfortunately, "lovely" isn't quite what I ended up with this time.

After the success I had last time I made macarons, I knew I had to stick to using the Pierre Herme Italian meringue method.  I'm quite sure they would have turned out just fine if I had been focused on my macarons and nothing else, but as you can probably guess, such was not the case.  No, I was simultaneously working on dinner for hubby and a friend while trying to make finicky french cookies (seemed like a good idea at the time).  As time for the macaron process ran out, I had no choice but to put the batter into a piping bag, seal it up and set it into the fridge until the following day.  I figured this wouldn't be a problem, as Ken at HungryRabbitNYC had used a refrigerated batter for a previous month's challenge with spectaular results... what could possibly go wrong?  Well, for starters, his macs weren't made with the already thick Italian meringue.  When day two arrived and I finally had the time to devote to piping, drying and baking mon petit macarons, I was getting hand cramps just trying to pipe the batter onto the cookie sheets.  I walked away several times, partly out of frustration, but mostly to let the batter warm up a bit and make for easier piping.  An hour and an half later, I had three sheets filled with bright pink dots.  Only the dots were bumpy.  They were lumpy.  They were ugly.  I gave the ol' "rap the cookie sheets on the table sharply a couple of times" trick a go, but there was no improvement.  Finally, after waiting and speculating different fixes,  I grabbed a small spoon and a bowl of water and attempted to "smooth" the tops down a bit - they needed to at least *look* like macs, instead of pimply pink Hershey's Kisses.  I let them dry for a full 45 minutes before I baked them, but the fact of the matter is they were simply destined to be ugly macs.  When they finally came out of the oven, any happiness I felt over the success of having feet, was quickly over shadowed by the fact that my bright pink macs were now unmistakably flesh-coloured.  Pink Ginger macs had become Soylent macs in a matter of minutes.... not at *all* what I was going for. 

And, in case you were wondering...yes, they were also still bumpy and disfigured; thanks to the wet spoon trick, any water that hadn't completely dried before they went into the oven became a volcano-like vent for the hot batter to bubble up through and collect, giving a glimpse into what macarons may look like if they're not allowed to dry before baking.  Disappointed and defeated, I set the lumpy bumpy shells aside to be filled later.

But later never really came, at least not for these shells.  They were so unappetizing that I didn't even want to serve them to anyone.  So, into the food processor they went, to ground up and be mixed into meringue another day, hopefully reincarnated as the beautiful macarons they were meant to be.

As for the ginger ganache... warmed up and spooned over a bowl of ice cream, it is simply divine - and an excellent way to soothe your bruised baker's ego.

Happy Bakings All - I wish you better results than I had this month!

25 October 2010

In the words of Homer Simpson...


Homemade Vanilla Bean Glazed Doughnuts

The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.  Thankfully, I no longer have a fear of frying, so I was pretty excited about this challenge!

Now, here in Canada, doughnuts are pretty popular, though I didn't realize just how popular - apparently Canucks consume more doughnuts per capita than anyone else.  Maybe these stats include those incredibly addictive mini-doughnuts that you get at every summer carnival, festival and fair - hot and freshly sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, they are wickedly good.  I can guarantee you that included in their count is the Canadian institution that is Tim Hortons.  Tim Horton was a hockey player (which automatically makes him a Canadian hero), who opened up a doughnut shop in 1964 with a business partner.  Today, there are over 2700 Tim Hortons locations across Canada (don't ask me why they dropped the apostrophe "s"), almost 600 in the US, and because "Tim's" is such a Canadian staple, there is even a location at the Kandahar Military Base in Afghanistan, simply to keep our troops well supplied with doughnuts and coffee.  Ironically, they're known more for their coffee than anything else these days, and if you don't believe me, next time you run into a Canadian, just ask them what a "Double Double" is, and they'll be able to tell you.  It's pretty well known that if you can get your hands on a Tim Hortons franchise, you basically have a license to print money.  Heck, at the location a block away from my work, the drive through lineup is never less a dozen cars.  While I won't go out of my way for some Tim's, I've definitely eaten there.

Mmmmmm... Doughnuts.  Chocolate, glazed or rolled in sugar!

Lori's challenge gave us the freedom to make whatever kind of doughnuts we wanted, but she provided some recipes for both cake and yeast doughnuts.  I decided to go with the more traditional yeast doughnut recipe by Alton Brown.  Party because I prefer them over cake doughnuts, and partly out of loyalty to Mr. Brown - without him, I would probably still be doing heat-'n-eat food for dinner every night.  His "Good Eats" show was a favourite of mine when hubby and I first moved in together and my cooking skills were basic at best.  His entertaining food science approach was very inspiring, and I would head into the kitchen with a "Hey, I can make that!" attitude after every episode.  It wasn't long before my cooking repertoir expanded considerably.  So, on behalf on myself and my hubby - Thanks Alton!  Now, where was I...? Oh yeah - yeast doughnuts.  Anyway, I was pondering the possibilities of all things doughnut and started thinking about French Crullers, my personal favourite in the doughnut category.  But they're completely different from all other doughnuts... they're not yeast, and they're certainly not cake - they are incredibly light and have an airy, yet moist, custard-y interior.  Well I was able to find out (thanks Google!) that crullers are actually made from pâte à choux dough - which is awesome, because I totally know how to make that! It also explains why they're my fav... pâte à choux dough is the wonderous stuff that éclairs, chouquettes and profiteroles are made from.  It's like wonder dough!
Frying up some French Crullers
Fresh French Crullers... ready to be glazed

The yeast doughnuts do take longer to make, simply because yeast doughs need time to rise and rest and rise again, but you can still have fresh, homemade doughnuts in a little under 3 hours. Conveniently though, there is just enough time while the yeast dough rises to make the crullers.  French Crullers are pretty straightforward: make the choux dough, pipe it into a swirly dough shape using a star tip and a piping bag, and fry.  When they come out of the hot oil you can glaze them or roll them in sugar, plain or seasoned with a spice of your choice, such as cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg... pretty much anything you like!  As for the yeast doughnuts, you can really go crazy with toppings, glazes and even fillings - just remember to omit cutting a hole in the doughnut if you're going to fill them.  I opted to make a vanilla glaze using confectioners sugar, vanilla and cream - and it paired perfectly with the crispy dough.  I also made a ganache to use a rish chocolate glaze for some of them.  Finally, I pureed some strawberry preserves and piped them into the few hole-less doughnuts I cooked up, and used the vanilla glaze on them as well.  A word of advice if you're going to make filled doughnuts: be careful not to overstuff them with your filling.  I sent the filled ones off to work with hubby with the warning that folks should watch out for the exploding doughnut.  I'm pretty sure one of his coworkers started their day off with a strawberry stain down the front of their shirt... oops!

Homemade Jelly Doughnuts - what could be better?

So, having made my own doughnuts from scratch, crullers are still my favourite, though the other ones are way better than store bought.  I can also say that I will certianly be making these again - to fill a request from my nephew in California.  He spent many mornings going for "doughjeez" with his grandpa when he lived in Canada, and he is bona-fide doughnut lover.  Unfortunately, we recently discovered he has a severe allergy to soy, and Sis has yet to find a doughnut they can buy down there that is soy-free.  So I'll happily cook up a fresh batch for him at Christmas.  After all, one of my favourite things about cooking and baking is making someone's day by making their favouite treat - especially if they are otherwise deprived of it.

Sweet, warm & waiting to be devoured....
Happy doughnut making!

Yeast Doughnuts
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown
Makes 20 to 25 doughnuts

360 1 1/2 cups milk
2 1/2 ounces vegetable shortening, approximately 1/3 cup
2 packages instant yeast
1/3 cup warm water (95 to 105 degrees F)
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
23 ounces all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting surface
Vegetable oil, for frying (1 to 1/2 gallons, depending on fryer)

Place the milk in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat just until warm enough to melt the shortening. Place the shortening in a bowl and pour warmed milk over. Set aside.

In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let dissolve for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, pour the yeast mixture into the large bowl of a stand mixer and add the milk and shortening mixture, first making sure the milk and shortening mixture has cooled to lukewarm. Add the eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg, and half of the flour. Using the paddle attachment, combine the ingredients on low speed until flour is incorporated and then turn the speed up to medium and beat until well combined. Add the remaining flour, combining on low speed at first, and then increase the speed to medium and beat well. Change to the dough hook attachment of the mixer and beat on medium speed until the dough pulls away from the bowl and becomes smooth, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a well-oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

On a well-floured surface, roll out dough to 3/8-inch thick. Cut out dough using a 2 1/2-inch doughnut cutter or pastry ring and using a 7/8-inch ring for the center whole. Set on floured baking sheet, cover lightly with a tea towel, and let rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oil in a deep fryer or Dutch oven to 365 degrees F. Gently place the doughnuts into the oil, 3 to 4 at a time. Cook for 1 minute per side. Transfer to a cooling rack placed in baking pan. Allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes prior to glazing, if desired.

Pâte à Choux
makes approximately 12 French Crullers

125 ml milk
125 ml water
125g unsalted butter
4g salt
140g all-purpose flour
4 large eggs (at room temperature)

Place the milk, water and butter into a small saucepan and heat over medium heat. Once the butter has completely melted, add in the flour and stir vigorously, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the dough is well mixed and resembles the texture of wet sand.
Place the dough into the bowl of a food processor (or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment). Turn the food processor on to cool the mixture for a couple of minutes. With the processor running, add the eggs, one at a time, through the feed tube. Scrape down the bowl if necessary, and continue to process until the dough becomes thick and glossy.
Scrape the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip.  Gently pipe large circles of dough onto a sheet of parchment paper sprinkled generously with flour.
Preheat the oil in a deep fryer or Dutch oven to 365˚F. Gently place the doughnuts into the oil, 2 or 3 at a time.  Cook for about 1 minute per side.  Remove from oil and place onto a cooling rack.  Allow them to cool slightly before dipping in glaze or dipping in sugar.

The incredible exploding doughnut

Vanilla Bean Glaze
60ml (1/4 Cup) heavy cream
1 Tbsp vanilla bean paste (or you can substitute with vanilla extract)
205g (1 1/2 Cups) confectioner's sugar

In a medium bowl, combine the cream and vanilla.  Gently whisk in one third of the confectioners sugar until well blended.  Gradually blend in the rest of the confectioners sugar, 1/3 at a time, whisking until smooth.

Dip the warm doughnuts into the glaze, and coat completely.  Lift the doughnut out of the glaze by threading a skewer, dowell or the handle of a wooden spoon through the hole of the doughnut.  Suspend the doughnuts over the bowl for a couple of minutes to allow the excess glaze to drip off.  Transfer the glazed doughnuts to a plate, platter or tray.  Serve immediately.

Give 'em a dip in some Vanilla Bean Glaze

Almost ready to eat.....!

11 October 2010

Happy Turkey Day! (in Canada at least)

Fall is very officially here, no question about it.  We didn't get the nice, long Indian Summer I was hoping for... not quite, anyway.  Yes, we're back to warm, sunny days, but it took less than a week for all the leaves to turn colour and drop this year.  Who can blame them?  Summer ended very abruptly this year - sunny and 28C one day, cold, drizzly and 13C the next... and then it stayed that was for over a week.  I had plans for driving down to the river valley to take some photos of my city when it is at its absolute prettiest, but I hardly had time before all the trees went from a riot of illuminated golds, vibrant oranges and fiery reds to a forest of barren branches.  And pictures of naked brown treetops doesn't extactly have the same appeal. {sigh} Oh well, at least it's warm again.

And withn fall, comes Thanksgiving - a full five weeks earlier than it comes for our neighbours to the south, though I honestly have no idea why.  It's fine with me, because we get to enjoy our traditional turkey with all the trimmings and still have enough time before Christmas to actually crave it again. We'll be heading over to dinner at my parent's house on Sunday for Round 1, then over to the in-laws' on holiday Monday for Round 2.  It's been a long time since we hosted and I prepared the whole feat myself, though I have very distinct memories of our first Thanksgiving after hubby and I moved in together....the turkey was so beautiful we took pictures of it, and my then-vegetarian sister-in-law totally fell off the meat wagon and feasted on potatoes and stuffing covered in the killer gravy that gorgeous bird produced.  Nowadays, we go elsewhere for our turkey fix and I bring the pies... natch!

One thing that's a must is Pumpkin Pie, just like my dear Grandma used to make.  Mostly because it's tradition and for some people, it's just not Thanksgiving without it... I mean, it's okay, but in all honesty, one piece a year does me just fine.  It brings back fond memories of Thanksgivings past, celebrated around the big table at Grandma & Grandpa's, everyone making sure they saved room for dessert (a LOT of room too, because for whatever reason, my Grandma could only ever cut a pie into 5 wedges - unless you were full and only wanted "a sliver"... then she might cut it into sixths).  Served with a nice big dollop of freshly-whipped cream, it was the perfect finish to an incredible feast, before, stuffed like the fair bird ourselves, we all moaned & waddled our way through the kitchen to help clean up.

But for the last 18 years that I've been making the dessert this time of year, I also make Pecan Pie, because hubby doesn't like Pumpkin Pie, and because it is my absolute favourite.  I would probably eat Pecan Pie all year round, but the flavours and richness really are best in the cooler months.  A nice flaky crust, filled with sticky, chewy, syrupy good-ness, holding all those toasty pecans together, and topped with whipped cream.  It's heaven on a fork as far as I am concerned.  But don't try to give me any of that Maple or Chocolate Pecan Pie... no sir!  I'm a purist when it comes to Pecan Pie.  Besides, chocolate can have the spolight any day of the year.  Today is the Pecan's day to shine.

Now for the dilemma - how many of each pie do I make, and in what form?  One really nice thing about Pecan Pie is that the filling (it's not exactly a custard, though it does contain eggs - it's more of a syrup tart with nuts) is firm enough that you can serve it in just about any shape you want.  I've made the traditional round pie, to be cut into several wedges (hear that, Grandma?  I said "several" wedges!), an elegant rectanular tart, and even individual tarts, which is revealed to much "ooohhhh-ing" and "aaahhhh-ing", at the same time, eliminating the need for all that cutting and serving.  Yes, it's more labour intensive to make the tarts, especially when you only have 4 tart molds the right size, but you can actually prepare and blind bake the tart shells ahead of time and then it's not much work to fill them and do the final bake on the day they're to be served.  Of course, you can also just go buy more tart molds and save a bunch of time that way too (that's the route I'm going...)

Some words of advice for these recipes; Now is not the time to try and cut any caloric corners.  Margarine is *not* an option (nor should it ever be in my opinion), the pecans should be fresh (stale nuts go rancid and bitter), as should the eggs.  For the pumpkin, though I have yet to try it (but I want to) I would imagine that real pumpkin, roasted in your own oven, would be the best. That said, I do cheat and buy canned pumpkin.  If you want to go ahead and cheat like I do, then just be sure to buy just straight "canned pumpkin" and not pumpkin pie filling.  What's the difference?  The difference is that one contains nothing but pumpkin and the other also contains spices and seasonings, and I like to decide how much of which spices go into my pie, thank you very much.

Speaking of spices, I definitely recommend that your spices be as fresh as possible - even though spices are sold in bottles big enough to last until the next millennia, it actually shouldn't.  Do yourself a favour - toss them out and buy some fresh ones.  Also be sure to buy individual spices instead of that bottle of "pumpkin pie spice".  I also am a big fan of buying whole nutmeg and grating it fresh, just when you need it.... the smell s pure heaven to me, and it tastes so much better than any jarred stuff you can find.  For my Pumpkin Pie, I also opt for minced candied ginger over ground ginger.  It gives a little more personality to the pies, and the candied aspect of it pairs perfectly with dessert, without being overwhelmingly spicey.  Of course,  if you like a bit more kick, give fresh grated ginger a try.

Oh, and another thing (though as a reader of this blog, you should already know this): the cream should be REAL whipped cream - not from a can, and just so you know, anything called whipped "topping" that you can buy in a tub in the freezer section is NOT whipped cream, it's an "edible oil product".  HUH??  What kind of oil?!?  Corn oil? Sperm Whale oil?? Motor oil??? {*shudder*}.... and don't even ask me how they can make 'edible oil' into something fat free...

Ok - back to the pies:
For the pastry, I stick with the Pâte Brisée (or flaky pie pastry) that I always use, and posted a while back - occassionally, when baking an apple or pumpkin pie, I might get a little crazy and add a small amount of cinnamon to the flour, just to compliment the spiced fillings, but the choice is yours.  Also, because these are open pies (sans top crust), filled with very 'wet' fillings, I blind bake the pastry before filling, ensuring a nice crisp crust.  As I said, you can do this the morning of, or you can make the pie shell a few days ahead and store them in an airtight container until you're ready to fill them with.....

Pecan Pie
makes one 9-inch pie, but this recipe is easily doubled
226g  (2 Cups) Pecan halves
90g (6 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted & cooled
264 ml  (3/4 Cup) light corn syrup
3 large eggs, at room temperature
200g (1 Cup) brown sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
15 ml (1 Tbsp) vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F and place rack in centre of the oven. 
Scatter pecans on a cookie sheet and place them in the oven for about 8-12 minutes to toast them, stirrung and mixing them every couple of minutes, and keeping a watchful eye that they don't burn.  A good rule of thumb when toasting nuts - as soon as you can smell them, they're done.  Immediately turn them out onto a wooden cutting board or kitchen towel, so they don't stay on the hot cookie sheet where they will continue to cook and potentially scorch.  Using a very sharp knife, roughly chop the pecans until the pieces and set aside.
Reduce oven temperature to 250F
In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients, until well combined. 
Add the chopped pecans and stir until the nuts are well incorporated.
Pout the mixture into your pie shell and bake for 50-60 minutes, until the filling is puffy, and the centre just barely jiggles when the pie gently shaken.
Remove from oven and allow to cool fully before serving.
Best served at room temperature with as much whipped cream as you like!
** NOTE: If baking individual tarts, be sure that the pecans get evenly distributed amongst all the pie shells, and bake for 20-25 minutes

Pumpkin Pie
makes one 9-inch pie, but again, this recipe is easily doubled

180ml (3/4 Cup) heavy cream
120ml (1/2 Cup) milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
908g (2 Cups) canned pumpkin puree (unseasoned)
200g (1 cup) dark brown sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1 tbsp (15g) candied ginger, finely minced
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves

Preheat the oven to 375˚F, and place a rack in the centre of the oven.
In a small saucepan, gently heat the milk, cream & vanilla, but do not allow it to boil.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, eggs, sugar and spices, until well blended.
While continuously whisking, slowly pour the heated cream mixture into the pumpkin mixture, until it is fully incorporated.
Pour the pumpkin filling into the pre-baked pie shell and bake for 20-30 minutes, until the center of the pie wiggles slightly when the pie is gently shaken.
Allow to cool fully, 1-2 hours.  Serve at room temperature with as much whipped cream as you like!