Saturday, February 21, 2009

Visit to Mexico 1: Flowers

Some lovely flowers from the Lake Chapala region of Mexico, where Jim and I are staying:

Bouganvillia (you see it everywhere here)

Bouganvillia close up

unknown (isn't it lovely, though?)


flower of a tree (I don't know its name)

Bird of Paradise

a flowering vine

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

TWD: Devils Food White Out Cake

This week, the "Tuesdays with Dorie" crew are baking the "cover cake" -- Devil's Food White-Out Cake, featured on the cover of "Baking: From My Home to Yours" by Dorie Greenspan. Many thanks to Stephanie of Confessions of a City Eater for choosing this! You can find the recipe on her blog, or on National Public Radio's website.

With the goal of not expanding our waistlines, I made a half-recipe and baked it in two 6-inch round cake pans. The batter wasn't very deep when I poured it into the pans, and even though it rose nicely, the resulting cake layers weren't very thick. Next time, I'd use two-thirds of the recipe for this size of pan.

As I was planning a coffee-flavored frosting, I substituted brewed coffee for both the buttermilk and the water in the recipe. I also added some instant espresso powder (dissolved in the coffee), and added some dried buttermilk powder to the dry ingredients. I used bleached all-purpose flour (4.8 ounces to a cup) and a mixture of half Dutch-processed cocoa and half natural cocoa (3 ounces to a cup).

Jim and I don't like meringue. And we don't like sweet frostings. And we live in Wisconsin and do love our dairy products, so a whipped cream frosting sounded like just the ticket! I combined Dorie's recipe for White Chocolate Whipped Cream on page 458 of "Baking," and Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe for Super-Stabilized Whipped Cream on page 256 of "The Cake Bible," and added coffee and Kahlua for flavoring. Here's my recipe:

Coffee-Kahlua-White Chocolate Whipped Cream for a 3-layer 6-inch round cake

2 cups heavy cream, cold
4 ounces good-quality white chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons water
4 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 1/8 teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin
3 tablespoons Kahlua

Place the white chocolate and 6 tablespoons of the cream in a heatproof bowl and set over hot water. Stir frequently until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth. Do not overheat. Remove from heat and let cool.
Mix water and espresso powder until there are no lumps. Sprinkle gelatin over the top and let sit for 5 minutes until gelatin swells and starts to dissolve. Set over the hot water and stir until gelatin dissolves and mixture is warm. Stir into white chocolate mixture.
Once the white chocolate mixture is fairly cool, stir in Kahlua. Wait until mixture is room temperature before beating cream.
In chilled bowl with chilled whisk or beaters, beat the cream just until the marks of the beaters remain on top. Beat in the white chocolate mixture in a steady stream. Continue beating until mixture forms firm peaks. Place in refrigerator to chill for a little while.

Split the cake layers as in the recipe. Brush each one lightly with Kahlua (for my smaller cakes, it took about 1 teaspoon per layer). Fill generously with the whipped cream, frost sides and top lightly, and place in refrigerator to chill and set.

Add more frosting to sides and top (you may have a little left over--I had just enough to fill two small custard cups) and decorate with cake crumbs as per recipe. (My cake crumbs were very moist, so I took a tip from Lauren on the Problems & Questions page and toasted them lightly. Great idea!)

The contrasts of dense cake, crunchy crumbs, crunchy chopped chocolate bits in the cake, and smooth creamy frosting were wonderful!

By the time this is posted, we'll be on an airplane headed for Mexico! So I probably won't be able to do next week's recipe. I hope to post some pictures from our trip. In the meantime, please check out everyone else's cakes -- I bet they're fabulous!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

TWD Rewind: Tall and Creamy Cheescake

This was the "Tuesdays with Dorie" recipe of the week for January 30, 2008. I didn't get around to making it then, but really wanted to try it -- especially after browsing through all the luscious pictures posted by the other TWD bakers!

It was even better than the pictures!

Since we really don't need the gazillion calories in a whole cheesecake, I made a half recipe. The original recipe calls for a 9-inch springform, so what I would need is a 9 x 0.707 inch pan. Well, I don't have a 6.363 inch round pan, so I decided to round up to a 7-inch pan. That was a good choice, as it turns out -- the batter filled the pan almost to the top. No way would it have fit into a 6-inch pan.

I followed the recipe pretty much as written, making a lime-flavored version and using a graham-cracker crust. I used mostly regular cream cheese with a little Neufchatel cheese (lower-fat) and a mixture of about one part sour cream to two parts heavy cream. I wrapped the bottom of the pan in one layer of extra-heavy-duty foil. My, this is a "leisure-loving" cheesecake! Even with half a recipe, it took almost an hour and a half to bake in its water bath -- then it lolled around for another hour in its little "spa" in the oven, then it chilled out overnight in the fridge. Well worth waiting for, though!

Mine didn't get all that brown on the top. It didn't crack while baking, but split a bit while cooling. No water leaked in through the extra-heavy foil, but my graham cracker crust was still kind of soggy. I think it soaked up water from the cheesecake batter itself. Maybe I'll try something different next time. Rose Levy Beranbaum suggests pressing the crumbs onto the bottom and sides of the cheesecake after baking, but that sounds just too fussy (and also difficult) for me.

Perhaps I should make a specialty of "bare-bottomed" cheesecake. That's especially appropriate since our very small town used to be chiefly known for the (in)famous nude beach located some miles north of town. I'll call it the "Mazo Beach Bare-bottomed Cheesecake!"

Mazomanie is moving up in the world, though. Recently we were named one of the "Ten Coolest Small Towns in America" by Budget Travel magazine. Yay for us!

In the meantime, we still have a stash of frozen cheesecake to get us through the winter. (I'm pleased to report that this cheesecake freezes beautifully.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

TWD: Sorry, no Floating Islands here

Sorry folks, I decided not to make this week's recipe for "Tuesdays with Dorie," the Floating Islands.

You see, my husband and I share a dislike of meringue. We both agree that it is way too sweet, doesn't taste like much of anything other than sugar, and is basically just boring. I must admit, the processes of making the meringue and the sauce and the caramel all sounded quite fascinating...but there was no-one around to eat the results! If I ever find a friend or family member who's a meringue fan, I may try this. And I really hope we have some other chance to make the creme anglaise sauce...

I'll be posting a rewind of the Tall and Creamy Cheesecake very soon, and can't wait to get started on next week's White-out Cake! (Although, given our dislike of meringue, I may make a different frosting. I'm thinking whipped cream flavored with coffee and Kahlua, stabilized with white chocolate and gelatin. It'll be a brown-out cake instead!)

Meanwhile, please check out all the other TWD blogs for some fabulous Floating Islands.

Friday, February 6, 2009

TWD Rewind: Triple Gingerbread Cake (sans Chocolate)

For the week of January 27, 2009, the "Tuesdays with Dorie" recipe was "Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread." Somehow I just wasn't feeling enthusiasm for this recipe. I sat myself down and thought about it for a while, and realized -- it's the chocolate. I just didn't care for the idea of gingerbread and chocolate together. (Don't get me wrong, I suspect it's a great combination, it's just that my taste buds were somehow not in the mood.) Now, plain gingerbread, with three kinds of ginger, and maybe a cream cheese frosting on top -- that sounded just right!

So, a little late, I made "Triple-Ginger Gingerbread Cake with White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting" instead. We've been a bit overloaded on sweets lately, so I made 2/3 of the recipe, but baked it in the same size pan (9-inch square) for a thinner cake. I went with bleached all-purpose flour, as I've been reading that bleached flour is better for cakes. Two-thirds of the amount of butter turned out to be an awkward amount -- I rounded up to 8 tablespoons. Then I decided to use 6 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of oil instead, for a moister cake, which worked well. In the midst of measuring everything out, I discovered we were out of regular molasses and only had blackstrap molasses, which has a very strong flavor. Yikes! I made a quick substitution of half blackstrap molasses and half Lyle's golden syrup. That worked too!

It was hard to figure out how much fresh ginger to use -- I grated mine with my beloved Microplane grater, which turned it into a dense paste rather than a fluffy mince. I used about a tablespoon, I think -- 18 grams. With no stem ginger in syrup on hand, I turned to delicious Australian crystallized ginger instead.

The cake baked up wonderfully moist and springy! And the icing was already in the freezer -- leftover white chocolate-cream cheese icing that I made for the TWD Chocolate Cupcakes for Halloween. (Having a big freezer in the basement is so great...) All it needed was a splash of rum and some finely chopped crystallized ginger.

This is excellent gingerbread, although next time I'd add more ground ginger and crystallized ginger. Spicy gingerbread is what I like!

Thanks to Heather of Sherry Trifle for choosing this recipe! My apologies for doubting you and Dorie -- it was a great choice. (You can also find the recipe here as well.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Home-made Crackers!

A friend of mine at work is having to eat a very limited diet for a while, due to recent surgery on her small intestine. She told me she was getting really bored with crackers! That inspired me to try making some home-made ones. So far, I've done two batches of graham crackers, two of cracked wheat crackers, and one batch of herbed wheat crackers. They're fun!

Graham Crackers

Here are my hints for crackers, based on my experiences so far:
1) Try to roll them as evenly as possible, so they bake evenly. Also, be sure they're very thin, or they will end up soft and doughy on the inside, not crisp and "crackery."
2) You definitely don't want to underbake crackers, as that will also make them soft and doughy. On the other hand, if they are deeply browned all over they don't taste as good. You want to aim for brown edges and golden in the center.
3) You'll have to hover over them and watch carefully towards the end of baking. It will help to have a spatula and small pan or rack ready, so you can scoop off the ones that have gotten done a little early and push the rest of them back into the oven to finish up.

The graham crackers were from the recipe in the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. They do have a graham cracker recipe posted on their Web site, but it's not the same one. The one from the book has a higher ratio of whole wheat to white flour, butter instead of oil, confectioners' sugar instead of plain sugar, and no egg.

The Best Graham Crackers, from “The King Arthur Cookie Companion,” p. 332-333

1/2 c. (2 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c. (7 7/8 oz.) whole wheat flour
3/4 c. (3 oz.) confectioners’ sugar (I reduced this to 2 oz. the second time, which we preferred)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon (optional) (I reduced this to 1/2 tsp.)
1/2 c. (4 oz.) unsalted butter, cold, cut into chunks
2 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. vanilla extract (not in original recipe, I added it)
2 Tbsp. cold milk (not skim), or more as needed

* Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cut out two sheets of parchment paper as big as your baking sheets.
* In small bowl, combine honey, vanilla, and milk, stirring until honey dissolves. In bowl of food processor, process together flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Stop processor, add butter chunks, and pulse them in until mixture is crumbly and looks like coarse corn meal. (You do not want any large pieces--this is not pie crust.)
* Gradually pour milk/honey mixture through feed tube and process until mixture mostly comes together. Remove bowl from food processor, toss mixture with fork and gradually add more milk if needed. It should come together and not be dry, but not sticky either. (Note: the King Arthur recipe calls for cutting the butter in by hand, but I love to use my food processor!)
* Turn dough onto floured surface and fold it over gently a few times, until smooth. Divide into two pieces. You may wrap and chill the dough at this point, if you wish, but it is not necessary. (You can also freeze it for future use.)
* Work with half the dough at a time, keeping the remaining half covered. Lay one of the pieces of parchment paper out on your work surface, and flour very lightly. Roll out dough into a rectangle a little bigger than 10 by 14 inches. Trim edges evenly and prick all over with fork or dough docker. Use pizza wheel to cut dough into rectangles. (They recommend 16 rectangles, 4 strips x 4 strips, but I did more like 4 x 8 for smaller crackers.) Pick up the parchment and transfer to baking sheet. There is no need to separate the crackers from each other.
* Bake for about 15 minutes, until just browning around the edges and medium gold color in center. Remove from heat and let cool 8 to 10 minutes on pan, until just barely warm. The second time I made these, I used the convection bake setting at about 315 degrees. They may not take quite as long to bake that way.
* Break crackers apart along scored lines and cool completely on rack.

I made these twice, one time with regular whole wheat flour and buckwheat honey, one time with white whole wheat flour and barley malt syrup. They were great! My friend at work really liked them. So did my husband -- he promptly pulled out a jar of peanut butter and went to town. (That's why I had to make a second batch!)

My husband then said, "Could you make those Stoned Wheat Thins at home?" We go through a lot of them, so it seemed worth a try. After reading the ingredients and looking through cookbooks, I modified the Soda Cracker recipe from Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Bread. (If you like to make bread, you really must get this book, by the way. More recipes than you'll get through in a lifetime -- unless you bake bread as often as Mr. Clayton!)

rolling out the Bulgur Wheat Crackers

Bulgur Wheat Crackers adapted from Plain Soda Crackers, p. 694-697, Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads

1/4 c. bulgur wheat (1.4 oz / 40 gm), pulsed in mini food processor to break up the largest bits
2 Tbsp. solid vegetable shortening
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. malt syrup
3/4 c. boiling water
1/4 c. white whole wheat flour (1.25 oz / 35 gm)
3/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour (3.75 oz / 106 gm)
1 1/2 tsp. instant dry yeast
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 c. (2.5 oz / 71 gm) all-purpose flour, or more as needed to make dough
more flour as needed for kneading and rolling out
2 Tbsp. melted butter for brushing (I used browned butter for more flavor)
salt for sprinkling

* Place bulgur, shortening, oil, and malt syrup in heat-proof bowl. Pour boiling water on top and stir until shortening melts. Let cool to 120 to 130 degrees F.
* In mixing bowl, place white wheat flour, 3/4 c. all-purpose flour, yeast, salt, baking powder, and cream of tartar. Whisk to mix.
* Pour liquid over dry ingredients; stir vigorously to blend with spoon or spatula. Gradually add the rest of the flour to make a dough that can be kneaded. If the dough is sticky, sprinkle in more flour until it can be worked.
* Turn out on lightly floured surface and knead until soft and elastic, about 4 minutes. If the dough is too sticky, add sprinkles of flour as needed.
* Place dough into oiled or buttered bowl, cover, and refrigerate. The longer the better, up to 18 hours.
* Place one rack in center of oven and preheat to 425 F. If you have a convection oven, set to 375 F convection bake instead.
* Cut two pieces of parchment paper the size of your baking sheets. Cut another piece about a yard long.
* Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to a long rectangle about 18 inches by 6 inches. Fold one-third of dough into center from short ends, so you end up with a dough packet about 6-by-6 inches and 3 layers thick.
* Lay the large parchment out on your work surface. Roll the dough out to a very large rectangle -- aim for about 11 by 26 to 28 inches. (If you don't have enough room for this, cut dough in half and roll it in two smaller batches.)
* If the dough gets too stretchy and hard to roll, cover it up and let it rest for a few minutes so the gluten can relax. Once you've finished rolling, again let it sit for a few minutes to relax. Trim the edges neatly and remove the scraps. (Note: breaks in the dough can be patched by moistening the area lightly and applying a small piece of dough pinched from the edge. Squish the patch into place and go over it lightly with the rolling pin to flatten it out. You can use a similar technique to even up the edges.)
* Cut the long dough rectangle into two equal pieces about 11 by 13 inches. Place the two pan-sized parchment papers over the dough, centering each one on one of the dough pieces. (The parchments will overlap.) Flip the whole "sandwich" over and peel off the top layer of parchment paper. Gently pull apart the two pieces of parchment paper.
* Prick the dough all over with a fork and cut into the size and shape of crackers you desire (a ruler and a pizza wheel are good for this). Brush the top of the dough all over with the melted butter, and sprinkle lightly with salt. (Mr. Clayton recommends sprinkling from about 12 inches above the dough to get a light, even coat of salt.)
* Slide the crackers on parchment onto your baking sheet. They will shrink slightly when baked, so it will not be necessary to separate them. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, until brown at the edges and golden over almost all of the top. Remove to rack to cool.

Herbed Wheat Crackers

My last batch was Herbed Wheat Crackers,
adapted from Plain Soda Crackers, p. 694-697, Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads

About 1 Tbsp. dried rosemary and 1 tsp. dried thyme, pulsed in spice grinder or mini food processor until rosemary is in small pieces (I'm sure fresh would have been better. Maybe next time.)
2 Tbsp. solid vegetable shortening
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. malt syrup
3/4 c. boiling water
1/2 c. white whole wheat flour (2.5 oz / 71 gm)
1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour (2.5 oz / 71 gm)
1 1/2 tsp. instant dry yeast
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 c. (2.5 oz / 71 gm) all-purpose flour, or more as needed to make dough
more flour as needed for kneading and rolling out
2 Tbsp. olive oil for brushing
salt for sprinkling

* Place herbs, shortening, oil, and malt syrup in heat-proof bowl. Pour boiling water on top and stir until shortening melts. Let cool to 120 to 130 degrees F.
* In mixing bowl, place white wheat flour, 1/2 c. all-purpose flour, yeast, salt, baking powder, and cream of tartar. Whisk to mix.
* Continue as for Bulgur Wheat crackers above.

Now that I have mastered a couple of basic recipes, I want to branch out to fancier crackers! I'd like to try something with cornmeal, olive oil, and fresh rosemary, for example. And some sort of sesame cracker. Then there were all the fancy ones I saw at Whole Foods -- sundried tomato and olive, for example. All sorts of tastes in a simple cracker!

TWD: World Peace Cookies

This week, the "Tuesdays with Dorie" crowd made the world-famous "World Peace Cookies." Thanks so much to Jessica of cookbookhabit for choosing this recipe! Head on over to her blog for the recipe -- you can also find it here, here, or here (scroll down to the bottom).

This is a simple but wonderful cookie -- a French sablé (or shortbread cookie) with the addition of cocoa, chopped chocolate and flakes of sea salt. They're easy to make, easy to form (roll up, freeze, slice-and-bake) and fabulous to eat!

Now, I actually made the dough for these cookies back before Christmas, and then never got around to baking it up. (The dough keeps well in the freezer!) So I don't remember all the details of making them. I do recall that I weighed my flour and cocoa, using that 1 cup of flour = 4.8 oz and 1 cup of cocoa = 3.0 oz. But as to what chocolate and cocoa I used -- sorry, I can't recall. I know I wouldn't have gone for the "cheap stuff" with these fabulous cookies! For salt, I used French "sel gris" (the lower-budget version of French fleur de sel) that I'd picked up on sale. I do think using a flake salt rather than a finely ground salt adds a certain flair to these cookies.

I sliced 'em thick, as Dorie specifies, and that was perfect. They spread and flatten as they bake. And yes, trust Dorie when she says to take them out before they look done. Mine had cracked a bit and turned dull on the surface, but were still extremely soft. Once they cooled they were perfect!

Will these bring about world peace? Well, Jim and I have been feeling quite mellow since I baked these...but...we don't want to share them with anyone else! (So much for world peace, I guess...)

Take a look at all the other TWD bakers' blogs for more of these delicious cookies -- and don't forget to visit Dorie Greenspan's blog to see what the recipe author herself has to say!