Sunday, March 29, 2009

Gingerbread Stars with Royal Icing

Gingerbread Stars

I tried Donna Hay's recipe for gingerbread from Modern Classics Book 2. The cookies held their shape well and looked elegant topped with royal icing. I didn't care for the texture, but I liked the recipe enough to consider trying more iced cookies.

This recipe uses Golden Syrup instead of molasses, and the ground ginger flavor is strong and spicy. Here's the cookie recipe, if you care to try it.

I'd suggest finding a more reliable recipe for royal icing- the one in Modern Classics calls for way too much egg white.

Gingerbread Cookies
adapted from Donna Hay's Modern Classics, Book 2
125g butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup golden syrup
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp baking soda

Preheat the oven to 375F. Place the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with electric beaters until light and creamy. Add the golden syrup, flour, ginger, and baking soda and mix to form a smooth dough. Refrigerate for 10 minutes or until the dough is firm. Roll out the dough between sheets of wax paper to 1/4 inch thick. Place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Do not overbake!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Apple Rhubarb Pandowdy

Apple-Rhubarb Pandowdy

Apple-Rhubarb Pandowdy

Spring is here, and i'm feeling a renewed energy for cooking and baking. I've been revisiting old cookbooks, circling recipes I never thought i'd want to make. I've been checking out library cookbooks 30 pounds at a time, exploring topics like seasonal cooking, farmers markets, and kitchen gardens.

Rhubarb will be in season soon, and I'm trying to expand my repertoire ahead of time. I never had rhubarb until two years ago, so I find it particularly exciting. I love the tartness it adds, especially when combined with strawberries, apples, and other sweet fruits.

People have polarized opinions on rhubarb, which I don't find surprising. I really dislike rhubarb in a few cases:

1. The rhubarb flavor gets completely masked by sugar or orange juice/zest
2. The rhubarb is overcooked, stringy, and falling apart
3. The overall texture of the dessert is mushy and liquidy

Many fruit pies, cobblers, and crisps are plagued by similar problems. That said, a seasonal, ripe fruit dessert is heaven, and I think i'm getting the hang of picking desserts that suit my taste.

This pandowdy's flavor was so well balanced that I was willing to overlook the liquidy filling. The fruit is sweetened with maple syrup instead of sugar, and it's topped with a crisp, browned pie crust. The sweetener and spices are subtle, so the filling still tastes tartly of rhubarb and apple. A pandowdy gets its name from the "dowdy-ing" of the pastry crust:

1. not stylish; drab; old-fashioned
2. not neat or tidy; shabby

If you wanted a more attractive dessert, you could bake individual servings in ramekins or teacups. I rather like its homey appearance though. The recipe says to serve this warm, but I also like it chilled, for breakfast. The baking time and quality of ingredients really affect the finished recipe, so try not to overbake!

Apple Rhubarb Pandowdy
adapted from Deborah Madison's Local Flavors

10 oz pie dough (enough to fit a 9 inch pie pan)
4 large gala apples, peeled and cored
1 pound rhubarb
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground clove
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 tbsp unsalted butter
cream or vanilla ice cream, for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Lightly butter a 2 quart square or oval baking dish (a 7x11 pyrex works well).

2. Quarter the apples and slice crosswise about 1/4 inch thick. Dice the rhubarb into 1/2 inch pieces. If the stalks are very wide, slice them lengthwise in half first. You should have 7-8 cups fruit. Toss the fruit with the spices, flour, and salt, then add the maple syrup and toss thoroughly. Distribute the fruit in the dish and dot with the butter.

3. Roll our the dough about 1/8 inch thick and cut it about 3/4 inch wider than your dish. Lay the dough over the fruit, tucking the edges into the fruit. Bake until the crust is light gold, 30-35 minutes. Lower the heat to 350F.

4. Remove the pandowdy from the oven and slice the crust into 2-inch squares in a crisscross fashion. Using a spatula, gently press down on the crust, allowing the juices to flow up and over it. Don't worry if there isn't much juice. Return the dish to the oven and continue to bake until the crust is really golden and glazed, another 20-30 minutes. Once or twice, brush the juices over the dough. Serve warm with cream or vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Buttermilk Loaf Bread

Buttermilk Sandwich Loaf

Buttermilk Toast w/ Kumquat Preserves

When I am sick, I like hot soup. I like comforting food that's easy to stomach. But what do you eat when you're homesick, heartsick, or suffering from a bad case of what should I do with my life?

Recipes can provide different kinds of comfort. One might trigger memories of family, holidays, or after-school lunches, while another might just salve a bad day with melted cheese and hot sauce. It's not stess-eating; it's food satisfying an emotional and physical hunger.

These days, i'm hungry for simplicity. My schedule gets hectic, life gets complicated, and I gravitate towards simple recipes with few ingredients. I've been thinking about bread, mostly, and its fundamental role in food culture and history.

This recipe for Buttermilk Bread isn't life-altering, but it's well suited to weekly bread baking. I eat it toasted with a smear of salted butter and homemade preserves. The preserves are simple too- a mix of fruit, raw sugar, and water. I'll post that recipe later.

I'm hoping to try more breads and jams/jellies/conserves/chutneys. It'd be nice to expand my repertoire before summer's here.

Buttermilk American Loaf Bread
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

3 1/2 cups bread flour
2 tsp table salt
1 cup buttermilk, cold
1/3 cup boiling water
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3 tbsp honey
1 package (2 1/4 tsp) instant yeast

1. Adjust oven rack to low position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Once oven temperature reaches 200 degrees, maintain heat 10 minutes, then turn off oven heat.

2. Mix flour and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook. In 1-quart Pyrex liquid measuring cup, mix cold buttermilk and boiling water together (temperature should be about 110-degrees), add butter, honey, and yeast. Turn machine to low and slowly add liquid. When dough comes together, increase speed to medium and mix until dough is smooth and satiny, stopping machine two or three times to scrape dough from hook if necessary, about 10 minutes. Turn dough onto lightly floured work surface; knead to form smooth, round ball, about 15 seconds.

3. Place dough in very lightly oiled bowl, rubbing dough around bowl to lightly coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; place in warm oven until dough doubles in size, 50 to 60 minutes.

4. Form dough into loaf by gently pressing the dough into a rectangle, one inch thick and no wider than the length of the loaf pan. Next, roll the dough firmly into a cylinder, pressing with your fingers to make sure the dough sticks to itself. Turn dough seam side up and pinch it closed. Place dough in greased 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan and press gently so dough touches all four sides of pan.

5. Cover with plastic wrap; set aside in warm spot until dough almost doubles in size, 20 to 30 minutes. Heat oven to 350 degrees, placing empty loaf pan on bottom rack. Bring 2 cups water to boil.

6. Remove plastic wrap from loaf pan. Place pan in oven, immediately pouring heated water into empty loaf pan; close oven door. Bake until instant-read thermometer inserted at angle from short end just above pan rim into center of loaf reads 195 degrees, about 40 to 50 minutes. Remove bread from pan, transfer to a wire rack, and cool to room temperature.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate.

I am sick of chocolate. I am still baking with it.

In the past month i've done a good deal of what I call educational baking. Baking for the sake of learning something new- whether it's a technique, a flavor combination, or a cookbook author's style. Here's some of what i've tried:

1. Chocolate Bread from Tessa Kirios's Apples for Jam
Chocolate Bread

2. Chocolate Caramels from Scharffenberger's The Essence of Chocolate
Chocolate Caramels

3. Chocolate Souffle Cakes from Sara Foster's Fresh Every Day
Chocolate Souffle Cakes

4. Sour Cream Chocolate Cake Cookies from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From my Home to Yours

5. Chocolate Wafers (can't remember the cookbook)

6. Milk Chocolate Walnut Bars from Tish Boyle's Chocolate passion

The only recipe i'd make again is #3. I've probably made it 5-6 times already. I wanted to revisit it because the ingredient quantities are similar to those listed for this Gateau de Zoe, though the techniques are slightly different. It's divine, and i'll blog about it eventually.

Large quantities of all the other recipes went in the garbage. I don't want to rant about why they were bad. I'll just say they weren't worth eating. Big time texture and flavor issues.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Savory Breakfast Bread Pudding

Savory Bread Pudding

I had people over for brunch on Sunday. My favorite brunch dishes are crowd-pleasers that practically cook themselves: baked oatmeal, yeasted waffles, baked french toast, breakfast strata, or roasted vegetables. Basically anything that can be thrown in a casserole and baked.

Make-ahead dishes let me spend more time socializing than cooking. Plus, everyone gets to eat at the same time, and no one's left waiting for something to finish frying in a skillet.

This time I decided to try a savory bread pudding. Bread puddings aren't an exact science. I usually tweak the recipes I try until I get the product I want. Here are a few of my notes:

Instead of using breakfast sausage, I substituted roasted and diced red peppers that had been dried on paper towels. Other vegetables can be substituted as well, but i'd avoid anything with a lot of liquid. I like thick bread puddings, so I used a large pot rather than a 9x13 pan.

For the bread, I used the "Country White" loaf from Allegro Hearth. It worked well, though a bread with slightly more structure might have been better. I love this bread- i'm pretty sure it's what they use for white toast at Coca Cafe, and it's one of my favorites. I started with a generous 6 cups of bread cubes, then poked more into the assembled dish until it looked like enough to eventually soak up all the liquid.

This is one of the best breakfast recipes i've made in a while. The herbs, mustard, and cheese complement each other well, and the flavors are fresh and bright. It's a rich, comforting dish with crusty golden edges that beg to be scraped out of the pan. I'm hoping to make it again soon, maybe with some asparagus or butternut squash.

Savory Breakfast Bread Pudding
adapted from Sara Foster's Fresh Every Day

2 tbsp unsalted butter, plus more for buttering the baking dish
1 large yellow onion, diced
1/2 pound breakfast or Italian sausage, removed from the casing (or substitute another vegetable)
4 cups spinach leaves, washed and drained (about 6oz or 1 large bunch)
2 1/2 cups whole milk
8 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
6 cups 1 1/2 inch cubes day-old country Italian or French bread
1 1/2 cups shredded Swiss cheese (about 6 oz)
1 cup grated parmesan cheese (about 3 oz)
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary

1. Butter a 9x13 inch glass baking dish. Melt the 2 tbsp butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 3-5 minutes, until soft. Add the sausage and cook 4 minutes, breaking it up into pieces, until it's cooked through (if you want to substitute another raw vegetable, you can add it shortly after the onions, or mix in a cooked vegetable towards the end). Stir in the spinach and cook just until wilted, about 2 minutes. Remove skillet from the heat and drain off the liquid.

2. Whisk the milk, eggs, mustard, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl. Add the bread and stir to coat. Stir in the sausage, cheeses, thyme, and rosemary and pour into the prepared baking dish. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

3. Preheat the oven to 350F.

4. Twenty minutes before baking, remove the pudding from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Bake the bread pudding for 45-50 minutes, until it is puffy and light golden brown. Remove the pudding from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving. Serve warm.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Savory Pecan, Parmesan, and Thyme Shortbread

Pecan, Parmesan, Thyme Shortbread

Pecan, Parmesan, Thyme Shortbread

Since I do more sweet than savory cooking, I tend to overlook cookbooks with few or no dessert recipes. That said, i've found great recipes in general cookbooks, usually by chance. A new item in the Carnegie Library will catch my eye and i'll flip though it. If I find an interesting recipe, i'll jot it down in my journal.

When I noticed this recipe for Savory Pecan, Parmesan and Thyme Shortbread, I thought it'd be a great addition to my current repertoire of small butter cookies. The shortbread are elegant, crisp, and packed with the bold flavors of cheese and fresh herbs.

Like the other shortbread i've made, these become quite bitter when over-baked. Bake the cookies until they're just golden at the edges. In the book, the photographed cookies were quite brown and the given baking time was 20 minutes. This was too long for small cookies, so i'd suggest checking them after 12-13 minutes. I only copied the ingredients and baking time/temperature from the book, so these directions are mostly from memory.

Savory Pecan, Parmesan, and Thyme Shortbread
loosely adapted from Outstanding in the Field by Jim Denevan

8 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans

With a hand-mixer or spoon, beat the butter until smooth. Add the parmesan cheese and mix until combined. Add the flour, salt, pepper, thyme, and nuts, and mix until a cohesive dough just starts to form. Form the dough into logs or roll to 1/4 inch thickness between two sheets of wax paper. Chill for at least 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice the dough into 1/4 inch rounds or cut into shapes and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until lightly golden colored.