Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Raspberry/Apple Cobbler

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was Mixed Berry Cobbler, chosen by Beth of Our Sweet Life.

Dorie's recipe calls for mixed frozen or fresh berries with a biscuit-dough topping. I fiddled around with the recipe and ended up with a part-whole-wheat topping and a black raspberry and grated apple filling. Served topped with leftover orange-flavored whipped cream from last week's cream puffs, it was a great treat.

Our freezer still holds a couple of gallon bags of frozen home-grown black raspberries. The new crop will be ripe very soon and it's time to use these up, so they were a natural choice for the filling. But I find that a raspberry-only filling is a bit seedy for our taste. I wanted to add something else. In the latest edition of Cooks' Illustrated magazine, I had noted a recipe for blueberry pie that called for adding grated apple to frozen blueberries to thicken the filling. Aha! I thought, I'll try that.

So, my final recipe for the filling called for one Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated, sprinkled with about 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice. Then I added enough frozen black raspberries to make a generous 5 cups. Our berries are somewhat tart, and then there's the tart apple and the lemon juice, so I upped the sugar to 6 Tablespoons. (Turns out I could have left it at 5.) Potato starch is my preferred thickener for pies and cobblers, so I turned to Shirley Corriher's wonderful book "Cookwise." The table on page 280 says that 4 teaspoons of cornstarch has the same thickening power as 2 1/4 teaspoons of potato starch. Using this, I calculated I'd need about 1 5/8 teaspoons of potato starch. I also added a sprinkle of salt. The rest of the ingredients were the same as Dorie's recipe. Since I chickened out on using the black pepper on the strawberry tarts, I decided to include it this time, but couldn't detect the flavor in the final result.

I made some changes to the biscuit dough topping, too. Jim and I both like part-whole-wheat toppings, so I used 2/3 cup of whole wheat flour. I also added 1/2 tsp. of vanilla extract and 1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel, for a touch more flavor, but did not increase the sugar. The dough was a little dry when it came together, and I added about 1 1/2 Tablespoons more milk. (A moist dough is best for biscuits.)

I decided to follow the cooking procedure from the Cooks' Illustrated cobbler I had made earlier this year, and cook the berries first until they were hot. Then the biscuit dough is added and you finish baking. (See picture and information at bottom of this post for more information about this recipe.)

I should have re-read the CI recipe more closely — it said to cook until the berries were bubbling around the edges. I only cooked until they were hot but not bubbling. I slid the round of dough on top of the berries using one of those flexible plastic cutting boards and sprinkled it with turbinado sugar. Then I turned the temperature up to 425 as per the Cooks' Illustrated recipe, and cooked for about 20 minutes. The dough looked done, but the berries were only beginning to bubble. Rats! I turned the temperature back to 375 and kept cooking, checking every 5 minutes. About 15 minutes later, the topping was deep brown and the filling was bubbling merrily out around the edges, but the center stubbornly refused to bubble. I was afraid to bake it any longer, the topping looked like it was going to burn soon, so I pulled it out.

(This picture shows why you should always put something underneath a berry pie or cobbler to catch those bubbling juices! The silicone mat made for easy clean-up.)

After cooling for about an hour, we sliced into it! Despite my worries, the filling was done even in the center. It had thickened nicely, in fact, perhaps too well for a cobbler. I think cobblers should be a bit runny so you can use the soft biscuit topping to soak up the juice. This filling would have been perfect for a pie instead. I guess the pectin in the grated apple and the potato starch together gave too much thickening power. I did like the way the grated apple sort of "melted" into the filling and yet made it a bit more smooth, reducing the "seedy" effect a little.

My other critique was that I thought there was too much topping and not enough filling. I'd increase the filling by 1/3 to 1/2 and decrease the topping to 2/3 or 3/4 of the original recipe.

Still, it was very good and disappeared fast!

Final conclusions? We still have more frozen raspberries—I see more cobblers in our future! For my next cobbler, I'll use the grated apple again, increase the total amount of filling to about 7 cups of berries (I'll need a deeper baking dish) and reduce the starch thickening. I'll keep the two-stage baking method but bake until the fruit bubbles around the edges. I'll use a part-whole-wheat biscuit topping recipe that calls for about 1 1/3 or 1 1/2 cups of flour, flavor it with a touch of vanilla and lemon zest, and sprinkle with sugar. We're both still "on the fence" about whether we like a smooth, one-piece topping like Dorie's recipe, or the "individual biscuit" style of the Cooks' Illustrated recipe. Both are good!

Hints for making biscuit dough:
Keep the butter very cold. Add enough liquid to make a moist, very slightly sticky dough—a moist dough rises better. Handle the dough as little as possible to avoid developing the gluten, which would make it tough. Bake in a very hot oven if possible for the lightest, fluffiest biscuits.
Hints for fruit fillings:
I find that 1 tablespoon of sugar to one cup of frozen berries suits our tastes. If I am using sour cherries I use a bit more sugar. Many recipes call for up to 2 tablespoons of sugar, which is much too sweet for us.

Here is a picture of the Cooks' Illustrated cobbler I baked in January of 2008, which gave me the idea for pre-baking the fruit.

The original recipe was for "Blueberry Cobbler" in Cooks' Illustrated magazine, July/August 2002. It is posted on their web site, but please note, the recipe is not free.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Our Garden #1

Here are some pictures from our garden that I took about two weeks ago.
(June 7, 2008)

Solomon's plume

Pink peony

Volunteer violas and dill

Volunteer daisies

Volunteer "Magenta Spreen" lambsquarters
original seed from Seeds of Change

Home-grown garlic scapes

Here are more from today, June 23, 2007.

An orange lily

"Stella d'Oro" daylily

Red blanketflower

"Happy Returns" daylily

Part of our first real crop of sour cherries, not yet ripe

A "baby" apple (it's a little bigger than a golf ball right now)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Cream Puffs

This is a late post for Tuesdays with Dorie. This week's project was the Peppermint Cream Puff Ring, chosen by Caroline of A Consuming Passion. (Hop on over to her blog for the recipe.) Thanks, Caroline! I've never made cream puff dough before and was looking forward to trying it.

Like many of us, I thought smaller individual cream puffs sounded more practical for a two-person family than one large ring. And I didn't have any mint and didn't feel like buying it. (We do have catnip growing in the garden, but no mint. The cats all voted in favor of catnip-flavored whipped cream, but they were overruled.)

The result -- mini cream puffs with orange-brandy flavored whipped cream and orange-flavored chocolate glaze. This was a half-recipe. I did have a few more puffs, but some of them broke apart as I filled them.

I had orange peel that had been steeping in brandy for a couple of months. I strained out about a quarter-cup of the peel and steeped it in 2/3 cup hot cream for about 30 minutes. (I was worried it would get too bitter if I steeped it longer.) The strained cream went into the fridge to cool.

I made a half-recipe of cream puff dough. I read the tips for cream puff pastry in Shirley Corriher's wonderful book "Cookwise." She recommends using bread flour. I didn't have any, but I did have some unbleached all-purpose flour that my husband often uses for bread baking. It's fairly high in gluten, so I used that. I took another tip from Shirley and substituted 2 egg whites for one of the eggs.

Here's the dough after cooking in the pan.

Here's the dough after beating in the egg.

I was nervous -- how would I know when I'd beaten in enough egg? What if I did too much? It turned out it wasn't so hard to tell. The dough was thick and lumpy at first. I tried beating it by hand but that was way too much work. Out came the mixer. Much better. As I beat in dribbles of egg, it morphed suddenly into a nice, smooth, shiny dough that was still pretty thick. Aha! Success!

Following the suggestion of some of the other Dorie-nators, I piped it out using a plastic zip-lock bag with a corner cut off. Some of them were pretty funky looking. I smoothed them out with an oiled fingertip (worked great).

I baked at 425 for 15 minutes, then 375 for 10 minutes. The puffs were looking quite brown even after the first 15 minutes. I was worried they would burn, but I was also worried they would fall if I stopped too soon, so I went for the next 10 minutes. They did get quite brown but did not burn. Then I let them cool for 10 minutes or so with the oven off and the oven door propped open.

When I cut them open, they were quite dry inside. I guess it doesn't take long to cook these little guys.

Final filling and assembly was scheduled for the next day, but fate intervened. Our oldest cat fell ill and died (see previous post). We were not in a cream puff mood that day. But by the next day, the initial shock was starting to pass and we were ready for a sweet treat.

I made the chocolate glaze, adding some orange-flavored brandy, whipped up the orange-flavored cream until quite stiff, added orange-flavored creme fraiche left over from last weeks TWD plus just a tad more orange-flavored brandy. (Do you detect an orange-brandy theme here?) Filled the puffs (I just used a spoon and did not bother with piping in the filling) and then drizzled the glaze using yet another plastic bag with the corner cut off.

Wow! These were great! I'm going to have to make them again, and try different types and flavors of filling. Maybe I can recreate the ones I get every summer at the Dane County Fair. I think the filling is a mixture of pastry cream and whipped cream, flavored with vanilla.

Now I want to buy a piping bag!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Memorial: Amanda, Empress of Cats

We lost our oldest cat today to a massive blood clot. She was almost 14 and was active and happy right up to the last day. It's a terrible shock to have her gone so suddenly.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: stay tuned...

My Tuesdays with Dorie for June 17 will be late this week. I've baked some mini cream puffs (and they were fun!) but won't be filling them until Wednesday.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Strawberry Tartlets

Oh boy, my very first blog post! This is also my first post for Tuesdays with Dorie. O.K., I'm not officially a member yet (gotta send an e-mail), but I've baked this week's recipe. It was "La Palette's Strawberry Tart," chosen by Marie of A Year From Oak Cottage. Wonderful choice, Marie!

I chose to make an almond pastry crust. As I usually do with pastry, I used a mix of unbleached all-purpose flour (about 2/3 of what the recipe calls for) and unbleached pastry flour (about 1/3). I ground up the almonds (whole, unblanched) in the food processor with some of the flour, added in everything else as directed -- now the recipe says to pulse in long pulses until the dough comes together. My dough was looking mighty dry and crumbly even after several long pulses. Worse yet, those nice little lumps of butter were breaking down into teensy tiny crumbs of butter. Uh-oh. My experience with pastry dough says the dough has a nicer texture with some small lumps of butter.

So I dumped the crumbs out into a bowl and gradually added some heavy cream to bring the dough together. I got carried away with adding the cream and ended up with a soft dough that could easily have been rolled out. Oh dear, hope this is going to work...I chilled the dough a bit, then pressed it into my mini-tart pans. I forgot to butter some of the tart pans. Oh well, let's call it an experiment. Does it make a difference? (Answer, no, for me it didn't. After baking, the tartlet crusts released just as well without buttering the pans.) I froze them overnight.

Time to bake - I took a hint from Rose Levy Beranbaum's "The Pie and Pastry Bible" and lined the tartlets with buttered circles cut from coffee filters. Put my well-used bean pie weights on top, just in case. Baked away -- uh-oh, when it's time to take out the liners, they are sticking to the pastry something awful! Hm. Let's bake them a little longer, maybe when the dough sets up more the liners will release...7 minutes later, the liners do indeed come out better, still with a little sticking but nothing that really affects the appearance of the pastry. Problemo, though...now the edges are really brown and the insides are still not done. And I have no foil edge coverings for these tartlet pans. Rats. Forge ahead. Turn the oven down a bit and bake them some more anyway. Victory! The bottoms are light brown, the edges are dark brown, but not burnt. Yippee!

The rest was easy -- slice the strawberries--actually my DH Jim did this for me which made it even easier! They weren't local, it wasn't quite strawberry season yet in Wisconsin though it should be soon. They were organic from California, Driscoll's brand. A bit larger than I like (I think the smaller strawberries have more flavor) but still quite tasty. Sprinkle berries with a bit of superfine sugar and some home-made orange-flavored brandy. Pull out what's left of the homemade creme fraiche and stir in more superfine sugar and orange brandy.

Whisk up a batch of shortcakes (actually it is my standard scone recipe) using some "scone mix" I had stored in the freezer -- because we just HAD to have some strawberry shortcake as well. Spread strawberry jam on tart shells, split shortcakes, top with berries and creme fraiche, serve!

Oh yum! But you know what? We liked the tarts quite a lot, but we liked the shortcakes even more! I guess we are just not French enough (actually, not at all).

The pastry came out quite nicely despite all my worries. Crisp and firm yet tender, not tough at all. Some other folks have reported that they had trouble cutting the crust. Well, tartlets solved that problem -- just pick 'em up and bite off a piece! (I love eating with my fingers. Sometimes I think I am not quite civilized, at least by American standards. It's not your fault, Mom, you tried!)

My "notes for next time" say that for the pastry dough, I'd decrease the sugar a bit, say down to 1/3 cup, and increase the almonds, say up to 1/3 or even 1/2 cup, while decreasing flour proportionately. Just my taste -- I'd prefer them less sweet and more almond-y. Also, I think I will add a tablespoon of heavy cream to the egg yolk before I put it in. Unbleached flour does tend to need more liquid than bleached, which is what Dorie says she uses. Then I will try trusting Dorie and whizzing away!

I still have two cooked tart shells and 3 uncooked ones in my freezer and they will not go to waste! (P.S. -- the scone/shortcakes are long gone.)