Tuesday, September 30, 2008

TWD: Double Rewind for Creme Brulee week

I've been baking this week! First I made the Russian Grandmothers' Apple Pie-Cake for the Apple Treat day at work, and then I tried adapting last week's Dimply Plum Cake recipe to see if I could solve the "dryness" problem.

But first, thanks to Mari from Mevrouw Cupcake for choosing Crême Brulée for this week's recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie. Great choice, Mari, and after reading some of the reviews, I see I'm going to have to try it! And thanks to our leader Laurie for allowing us to opt for a rewind instead. I don't have a torch (kitchen or shop type), didn't want to buy one just now, and was nervous about the broiler method.

First, the Russian Grandmothers' Apple Pie-Cake, first chosen by Natalie of Burned Bits for the week of March 11, 2008. I made this recipe pretty much as written. I used 11 apples of varying sizes and 1 bruised pear that had to be used up, and cut them into chunks. This gave me about 9 cups of apple/pear pieces. You definitely don't want much more than that, because they wouldn't fit into the pan! I did add the zest of one small lemon to the "crust," but I couldn't taste it. Next time I'd leave it out or add it to the apples instead. I added a bit of salt to the apple filling -- I think it brings out the flavor of the fruit. And the top of the crust got a nice sprinkle of Demerara sugar.

This isn't exactly like a pie or a cake. In fact I think it's most like a double-crust cobbler. Whatever it is, it's good! I made it late in the evening, and we both had some for breakfast. Jim said it wasn't bad, but he thought he'd prefer a pie. I wrapped the rest up and took into work for our Apple Treat Day. When I came back with nothing left but crumbs, he complained that I hadn't saved any more for him. My reply, "I thought you didn't like it that much!" Ah, the difficulties of spousal communication...

I wish I had taken my camera to work -- we had a lovely array of apple treats spread out along the window ledge. Most of them were very good, but too sweet for my taste, which runs decidedly to the "less sweet" side. I did enjoy a version of "Teddie's Apple Cake" from the New York Times (recipe here). Here are some comments from my co-worker Livija, who made it: "The thing that originally attracted me to Teddie's Cake is that there is no butter…only oil. Usually those recipes are very forgiving. I used 1c flour, 1 1/2 c whole wheat flour and 1/2c flaxseed meal for the 3c flour part. Also, used 1c white and 1c brown sugar for the 2c sugar part. Made it again this weekend and substituted apple sauce for part of the oil, also, and it was still delicious!"

Apple Treat day was on Wednesday, so by Sunday I was "aching to bake" again. After reading lots of posts about the Dimply Plum Cake, and thinking about what I didn't like about mine, it was time to fiddle with the recipe a bit. Here's what I did:

For the cake, my major change was to add some sour cream for moisture and tenderness. I had just about 6 tablespoons left in an open container, so that's what I used. I cut the sugar down to 10 tablespoons and increased the cardamom to a rounded 1/4 teaspoon because we both like it! I mixed the batter exactly the same, up to the point where you add the dry ingredients. At that point I added half the dry ingredients, mixed briefly, added the sour cream, mixed briefly, and then finished with the remaining dry ingredients. (Standard procedure for a butter cake.) This time I went for a 7 by 11 inch Pyrex pan, to spread the batter out a little more.

The batter was not quite so thick in consistency, but the fruit didn't sink deep into it, so that was good. As the plums were mostly gone, I dove into the refrigerator and came up with some seedless red grapes (not enough for the whole cake) and a couple of large Ginger Gold apples. OK, the grapes go on one half of the cake. The apples were sliced (without peeling, as I thought the peels were rather pretty), and briefly cooked with a little butter and a spoonful of apple juice. Unfortunately, they turned out to be the kind of apples that begin to fall apart when cooked. Yikes, pull 'em off the heat! They were layered nicely on top of the other half of the cake. The extra apple bits got put on here and there, covering up some of the grapes. I finished with a good sprinkle of Demerara sugar, and into the oven it went.

To start with I had the oven temperature between 350 and 325. After 20 minutes I rotated the cake. Gosh, lots of juice coming out of the apples! I got nervous and turned the oven back up to 350. The edges were getting brown by 40 minutes in, but center was clearly not done. After 50 minutes, the center looked better and the edges were getting mighty brown. Time to stop. I let it cook completely in the pan, not unmolding it at all.

an hour after baking -- moist and delicious! The crumb is wonderful. This is much better!
Next morning: the cake near the fruit is beginning to get soggy. Still good, but I see why Dorie went for a rather "dry" cake recipe to start with. I guess I overcompensated for the "dry cake" part.

This recipe is beginning to look like a keeper. What I'd do differently next time:
1) use an even bigger pan, probably a 9x9 square one. I think this cake is best with a thinner layer of cake and lots of fruit.
2) use sour cream, Greek yogurt, or drained yogurt, but reduce it just a bit to 4 tablespoons. Or perhaps use 1/3 cup of sour cream and leave out the oil altogether?
3) use lots of fruit, but let a little bit of cake show in between pieces.
4) possibly reduce the sugar a bit more, to about 8 tablespoons.
5) be brave and bake at 325 the whole time.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

TWD: Dimply Plum Cake

Once again it's a Thursday with Dorie for me. The recipe for this week was the Dimply Plum Cake, chosen by Michelle of Bake-en. Thanks, Michelle!

I've stopped by the picture of this cake in Dorie's book several times. It just looks so cute and, well, dimply. And plummy. So I was psyched to make it. But it turned out only so-so. Maybe you folks can help me figure out how to make a better one next time.

Thanks to the P&Q section on Tuesdays with Dorie, I'd heard that fitting 16 regular-sized plum halves into an 8x8 inch square pan didn't work so well. So, I decided to go with a 9x9 inch pan. This meant increasing the recipe for the cake batter to 1.25 times as much. I also subbed in a little bit of whole wheat flour (about 1/2 cup out of a scant 2 cups). Stayed with cardamom and orange zest for flavoring, but added about 1/4 tsp. ground ginger (couldn't really taste it, though). Also tossed in about 2 tablespoons of dried buttermilk powder for taste and tenderness. My version would have called for 15 tablespoons of light brown sugar; I reduced it to 11 tablespoons because I don't like things too sweet. The result was a nice, thick, light brown batter. Four red plums and four black plums, sliced in half, fit perfectly into the pan. A sprinkle of superfine baking sugar over the top and I was ready to go!

After 45 minutes of baking, the top and edges of the cake were turning brown, but the fruit was barely warm. I took it out of the oven and let it sit for a few minutes, then poked it in a few places with a thin paring knife. Plums -- not done. Middle of cake -- a bit underdone. Drat. I had turned off the oven, so I turned it back on to a lower heat (325) and put the cake back in for about 10 minutes. By that time the edges were getting very close to burnt, but at least the plums had heated up. Out it came. To tell you the truth, it didn't look as pretty when it came out as it had going in! The fruit was all dry and the yellow flesh of the red plums had turned brown. Sigh.

As it cooled, some juice collected in the center of the plums. I brushed that over the top of the plums. Now they looked a little nicer. Once it had cooled to warm, I tried a piece. The cake was really dry and crumbly, and the plums were only just barely cooked and too firm for my taste. It improved a bit upon sitting overnight, but still had the same problems. The cake near the plums did get more moist, but overall, still a disappointment.

The flavor of the cake was delightful, though.

I still love the idea of this cake, but am looking for a version I'll like more. Here are some of my thoughts:

Problem #1: Cake overcooked while plums are underdone. Possible solutions: slice plums thinner? Pre-cook them, as in the Cooks' Illustrated recipe posted by Obsessed with Baking?

Problem #2: Edges and bottom of cake too brown. Probably because I used a very dark-colored pan. Possible solutions: decrease oven temperature, place pan on an insulated baking sheet, wrap edges of pan with "magic cake" insulating strips?

Problem #3: Cake recipe itself may be too dry. Possible solutions: add more butter and/or oil? Add a thick liquid, such as sour cream, drained yogurt, Greek yogurt, pureed ricotta or cottage cheese? How much could I add?

Jim says he doesn't like the big plum halves and would prefer smaller pieces of fruit. I liked the big pieces. Well, I could always do half the cake "my way" and half "his way!" Or, what about baking in muffin tins, like some of the other TWDers used? Some his way, some my way. Hmmm...

TWD: It's coming... and a new feature, Bungalow Jim's Browsings

Hi folks, just wanted to let you know that my TWD post for the Dimply Plum Cake will be coming...sometime...the cake is done (and eaten), I just need to get some time to post!

In the meantime, here will be a new occasional feature for my blog -- Bungalow Jim's Browsings. My sweet hubby loves to browse around the Web and from time to time he will share something he's found that I might enjoy. I think I'll start passing them on to you folks. (Not the X-rated ones, though, or I'll get kicked off Blogspot!)

Here's one of his favorite sites, a "fun Web snippets for your coffee break" site: Dark Roasted Blend

and here's his find of the day on that site -- Rube Goldberg-esque "kinetic art." Or as Jim says, "Some people sure have a lot of time on their hands." But what a fun thing do do with it!
Cool kinetic art with more than just dominoes

Monday, September 15, 2008

TWD: Chocolate Chunkers

For this week with Tuesdays with Dorie, we made Chocolate Chunkers, from pages 70-72 of "the book." A million thanks to Claudia of Fool for Food for choosing this recipe!

"What? Another cookie? Enough, already!" was my husband's reaction when he heard this week's pick. Boy, did he change his tune once he got a taste! I suspected as much -- Dorie says these are based on Maida Heatter's Mulattoes. I've never made those, but I've made Maida's Miami Vice cookies, which are Mulattoes with a different shaping method. So I knew these would consist of lots and lots of chocolate, nuts and dried fruit, barely held together by a scant amount of batter resembling a rich, fudgey, gooey brownie. Great for dark chocolate fiends like us!

The only remaining questions were -- what sorts of chocolate, nuts and dried fruit to use? Milk and white chocolate would provide a nice color contrast, but the problem is, neither of us likes them. OK, dark chocolate all the way! We're going for broke here (expecially considering the cost of good chocolate)!

For the chunks, I used a Chocolove 55% bar with orange peel, another Chocolove 55% with cherries and almonds, a Dagoba 74%, some Callebaut semisweet, 71% Valrhona Amer Noir, and 70% Scharffenberger. I ran out around 11 ounces, so I made up the difference with an ounce of slivered almonds. The dough got Bakers' unsweetened, Callebaut semisweet, and the "fine crumbs" from making the chunks. Pecans for the nuts (I didn't bother toasting them) and sweetened dried sour cherries for the fruit (Door County Cherry De-lite, yum yum). I cut down the sugar to 6 Tablespoons (on purpose) and accidentally left out the vanilla. Oops!

By this time it was late at night and the dough went into the fridge until the next day. It was hard as a rock and impossible to form, so I had to chop it up and let it soften for a while. Then it was very sticky. I oiled my hands and formed it into little balls, ending up with 44 dough balls (and chocolatey hands, too, but not as bad as it would have been without the oil). Once again, it was late. The little balls were crowded onto oiled waxed paper, covered with plastic wrap, and into the freezer they went. Next day, time to bake -- I baked off 20 of them and the other two dozen are still frozen for later use. Best not to have too many of these around at once!

I let the dough thaw a bit before baking, but it was still cold and it did not spread AT ALL. I had to mash down the first batch with the back of a spatula partway through baking. The second batch was flattened by hand before baking. Definitely the way to go. Because they were cold, they took the full 13 minutes even though they were smaller than Dorie's.

It was really hard to wait for these to cool enough to eat without burning my mouth -- but I did. First one -- wow! Maybe I should try another...wait a minute, how did four of them disappear? Better stop now!

Notes for next time: 6 Tablespoons of sugar is OK if using semisweet in the dough, but use more for bittersweet. Try not to forget the vanilla (although they were still good without it). Next time, use 1 1/2 cups chocolate chunks (9 ounces), 1 1/2 cups mixed chopped pecans and almonds, and 1 1/2 cups dried cherries (they were great). Try soaking cherries in cherry or orange brandy. Maybe a bit of finely chopped candied orange peel? Yowza!

These cookies didn't seem quite as good the next day, once they had cooled down. But a quick 10 seconds in the microwave took care of that problem.

These are not going in to work. They are ALL FOR US! (O.K., I'd be willing to share them with my family, but they all live too far away. Maybe at Christmas...)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

TWD: Chocolate Malted Whopper Drops

Yet another "Tuesday" in the Bungalow Barbara Time Warp! Which is my way of saying I'm sorry this post is late... This week's project for Tuesdays with Dorie was to make the Chocolate Malted Whopper Drop cookies, chosen by Rachel of Confessions of a Tangerine Tart.

Would you believe I didn't even know what a Whopper candy was? Somehow I missed that particular part of Americana. And as far as malted milk, I only vaguely remember that my Dad liked chocolate malts, and after trying one once I decided I didn't like malt. That was, oh, something like 45 years ago (gulp!) and the only form of malt I've ingested since then has been in beer.

So this was a new experience all around. With malted milk powder and chocolate malted-milk ball candies on my shopping list, we went into town. I was convinced I'd find the malt powder at the natural foods co-op -- wrong, they only had malt syrup. But they did have malt ball candies in bulk. Off to the supermarket where I tracked down some Carnation malted milk powder. Interesting, it lists wheat as one of the main ingredients next to malt.

I was thinking of chopping up the malt balls in my food processor, but after reading some of the P & Q, I decided to cut them by hand into quarters. I tried a few of the crumbly bits. Hmm. Not going to be one of my favorite candies. Too sweet, not chocolatey enough. Nice crunch, though.

I reduced the sugar in the dough down to 1/2 cup since we don't like things too sweet. Other than that I followed the recipe. Some left-over candies got cut in half and put on top.

Did anyone else have trouble with how sticky this dough was? I chilled it for an hour or so, but even so, there was dough all over the portion scooper, my hands, the spatula -- everything! Eventually I figured out that using my little pump oil sprayer and constantly spraying the scoop (and my hand) worked pretty well.

After shaping them, I put the cookies into the freezer for about 20 minutes, then baked. It was hard to tell when to take them out. Mine were set and dry on the outside, but still soft and a little underbaked on the inside, which was perfect! They were even better the day after.

These aren't my favorite chocolate cookie, but they were still pretty good and we enjoyed them! I shared a few with our town librarian, but mostly they were just for us! My notes for next time say: use more Whoppers (maybe 8 ounces) and cut them just in half. Try coffee-flavored Whoppers (who knew there were so many flavors?). Maybe add a few chopped almonds.

Random thought: those half-Whoppers in the center of the cookies look a bit like nipples... But jeez, these "ladies" have some issues -- nipple-slippage, cracks, lumps, oh, let's just not go there...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

TWD: Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Cookies

Our project for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie was the Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters, on page 73 of "the book." Thank you to Stefany of Proceed with Caution for choosing this recipe!

I made a few changes to the recipe, reducing the white sugar by 1/2 cup, increasing the salt to 1/2 teaspoon, reducing nutmeg to 1/8 teaspoon, and substituting some raisins and chopped peanuts for some of the chocolate chips. As I only had smooth, natural peanut butter on hand, I ended up "mixing my own" from a combination of 2/3 cup smooth natural peanut butter, about 2/3 cup chopped peanuts, and 1 tablespoon of vegetable shortening. It all worked just fine!

The verdict? We liked them but were not crazy about them. We both agreed we'd rather have either a plain peanut butter cookie or an oatmeal-raisin-spice cookie. Tomorrow the rest of them go into work and I'm sure they will be gone fast!