Archive | Baking RSS feed for this section

Cranberry Christmas Scones

10 Mar

Chris and I bought our very first home this past August.  It’s just a small condo, but it’s such a perfect fit for us.  We also absolutely love our new neighborhood.  It feels remote and rustic, there’s hiking nearby, and just down the hill there’s just about every shop you could ever need.  Getting everything in order took a while, so we ended up hosting a holiday/housewarming party.  At the party, I made a big pot of wassail and a big pot of vin chaud (I will take pictures and post the next time I make these beverages.  They’re delicious!).  As garnish, I planned to sugar cranberries.  Well in the madness of getting everything ready for the party, I completely forgot the cranberries.  We were driving up to the Guidotti’s for the holidays the next day, and I didn’t want the cranberries to go to waste, so I poked around online and found a cranberry scone recipe on marthastewart.com.

The beginning of the recipe is pretty basic – mix the ingredients, cut in the butter until it resembles crumbs, and then mix with the cream.

You then need to knead the dough on a floured surface, and the cranberries do not make this easy!  The recipe makes this step seem like it’s a breeze, but trust me your arms will get a work out.  I continued to knead the dough until the flour was completely incorporated and I had a nice smooth texture.  I rolled the dough into a roundish square, and then sliced it into 8 equal pieces.

741B6F41-E593-4287-AEE1-39701E0C6A8E  44913533-8EEC-417E-9D1E-F5FD89746DCC

The next part was also a bit tricky.  I had to separate the pieces gently to maintain their shape.  I decided to bake them on a silpat to prevent them from browning too much on the bottom.

25F51AAE-18E9-4D49-ACA0-37D7B61513A5

The recipe then instructs you to “brush” the scones with the remaining half and half.  Well I had lost of half and half left, and brushing them lightly somehow seemed wrong.  I poured the remaining half and half over each unbaked scone, hoping that the extra cream would give them a bit more moisture.

90F7CC40-99C6-41B2-A057-8593D07BC605

I then sprinkled each scone with a bit of turbinado sugar, and topped them off with red and green sprinkles.

23AD1091-E992-4BF0-8454-9264686BEB97

89A646D3-37A0-494A-A199-5C19F622E292

They came out of the oven with an all-over light brown color, and they smelled wonderful.

  B9DA77B5-64FE-4716-8979-45C5A9885CD3        2FA00DC9-EC71-4179-AAE4-DD14565FB439

Chris and I had a scone with coffee the next morning, and absolutely fell in love with this recipe.  The cranberries added a tartness to an otherwise sweet treat, and the texture was moist and light.  Knowing that Chris’ mom would be busy preparing holiday dinner, we packed the remaining scones up and brought them to the Guidotti’s for breakfast.  They were perfect in the morning heated with a bit of butter.  We had a wonderful time visiting, and hope everyone enjoyed the scones!

Madeleines Turned Petit Almond Citrus Gateau

10 Mar

In a stroke of genius the other week, I remembered that I had not yet used my gifted Madeleine pan.  Chris and I were going to the store anyway, so I found this beautiful recipe at food52.com: Citrus Madeleines.  Instead of a grapefruit, I grabbed an orange and paired it with the lemons already in our fridge.  The first step required lots and lots of zesting.  Towards the end my arms grew tired and I zested my finger a bit – Ouch!

IMG_0852

  IMG_0853

One of my favorite parts came next: mixing the zest with sugar.  The sugar coated the zest perfectly and it just looked beautiful.

IMG_0855

The rest is your basic baked good recipe.  Mix the dry and the wet separately, and then combine them until just barely mixed.  I really attribute this step as a make or break moment in any baking project.  It’s the difference between dry and dense or moist and fluffy.  The latter of course being the preference.

IMG_0856 A little more… IMG_0858

A little more…

IMG_0860

Stop!

Here’s where my Madeleines turned gateau.  While I was mixing the perfect batter, I asked Chris to pull out the Madeleine pan and prep it for baking.  Just as the batter reached the barely mixed goal, Chris exclaimed that he couldn’t find the pan.  I too searched high and low, but came up empty-handed.  Thinking fast on our feet, we looked through the cabinet and chose a mini cake pan as a stand in.  I was slightly disappointed, but still hopeful that they would taste delicious.  Chris buttered the pan (with Smart Balance) and I lightly dusted it with flour.  We then evenly divided the batter into each rectangle.

IMG_0861

I topped them off with a few sliced almonds and popped them into the oven.  They turned out a beautiful golden brown, although slightly sunken in from the weight of the almonds.

IMG_0866

  IMG_0868

Taking a look at my final product, I dubbed the tiny cakes Petit Almond Citrus Gateau.  I cut one in half and sampled the fruits of my labor.  It was light, fluffy, and balanced.  Chris had 2 cakes exclaiming that they were, “the best things we ever made.”

The next week Chris asked me to make the cakes again for his friends dessert and wine birthday party.  We decided to bake them in a mini cupcake pan this time around.

IMG_0884

These small cupcakes turned out a bit dry.  I think they were just a bit overcooked.  Next time I’ll adjust the baking time a bit more to accommodate for the smaller size – OR I’ll just get a Madeleine pan so I can do the batter justice in that playful shell shape.

 

A Blast From the Past: 1950s Muffins

10 Feb

This past Wednesday, I had plenty of blackberries left in the fridge and not enough appetite for blackberry oatmeal or blackberry yogurt breakfasts.  I searched my favorite recipe site Food52.com and found retro black berry muffins.  The author of the recipe cites the “Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book” from 1955.  I was curious to discover if the muffins from the 1950s were any different, so I set the oven to preheat and got to work!

Here’s a look at the fresh blackberries that I chopped

IMG_0825

IMG_0824

  IMG_0826

Next I mixed the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients.  I could already tell at this point that this muffin had the makings of something much denser than my 21st century muffins.

IMG_0829IMG_0827IMG_0832Yup, much, much thicker than usual.  I should add here that the recipe called for a long-lost ingredient – shortening.  Does anyone really keep that on hand anymore?  Can you still find it in stores?  Ah well, I read up on it and found that I could substitute oil for melted shortening, but that I should expect a different (read not ideal) texture.

I kept mixing until everything was just incorporated and then divided it into a muffin pan.  This step was a rather sticky event.

IMG_0833IMG_0835I popped the pan into my preheated oven, and fretted over the small amount of sugar in the recipe.  Only 2 tablespoons!  These muffins dough balls were becoming bland, dense bricks in the oven.  I had to think of something quick.  I threw together a maple soaked oatmeal crumble topping and spread it on the muffins.  Unfortunately half of the baking time had already passed by the time I did this, so the topping did not stick very well to the tops of the muffins.

IMG_0836Once the muffins were back in the oven, I cleaned up my mess and relaxed.  All I could do at that point was wait.

When the timer went off the muffins looked and smelled done, but the topping looked like it would just fall off when I took them out of the pan.  I popped them back in at a high temp for a short time hoping that could help seal the tops a bit more.

IMG_0837

IMG_0839IMG_0840

These 1950s blackberry biscuits (definitely cannot call them muffins) were okay.  As expected, they were a bit more dense and dry.  The topping helped, but it did crumble off a bit.  The next morning I served them warm with a bit of syrup and half a banana.  I figured every biscuit is better with gravy, so maybe the blackberry variety is better with syrup.  It was.  Chris had two.

IMG_0843I wouldn’t call my trip to cooking’s past a complete success, but it gave us a quick snack/breakfast for a few mornings.  I also had two just before my run this morning.  They gave me the perfect amount of energy.  I might try to play around with the recipe a bit more, or I might keep my focus on muffins from the here and now.  Either way it was a fun journey and now I know what a 1950s muffin tastes like.

Blackpeachrange Tartlets on a Sunday Night

23 Jan

This past Sunday evening, I had a hankering for something sweet. As you’ve no doubt noticed when we get a sweet-tooth, we bake. So I started to sift through desserts on Epicurious.com trying to find something delicious to cook up.

Here’s the problem – we had no eggs.

Since pretty much every dessert recipe under the sun (related to baking anyhow) includes eggs I had a problem. Then I remembered that we could make tarts.

A while back (not sure if we blogged about it here), we made a delicious lemon tart. I remember it distinctly, because I’d never run across a crust that when complete (prior to baking), was completely crumbly. Like, not bonding, or sticking together at all after you finish food-processing it. This recipe didn’t use any eggs what-so-ever (vegans pay attention).

So, I tried to find that particular recipe again, aiming to make a blackberry tart (as we still had some in the fridge from earlier in the week). I searched…and searched…and searched. Completely failed in my Google-Fu. You’d think that if you search for “Blackberry tart without eggs,” or “Blackberry tart no eggs,” that you would be successful. It took me over 30 minutes of looking to find the first recipe without eggs.

Anyhow, I should have seen that as a sign I should give up on the idea for the evening…but no I continued on, blissfully unaware of what was to come…

Eventually I found one – and it’s not linked here because I cleared my browsing history… Basically, it’s a “mix it all together and food process the hell out of it” recipe. The problem was, we only had 1/2 a stick of butter (out of the requisite 1 stick). Strike 2 in recipeville. So, I ended up adding the difference in soft-spread margarine. The main difference was the final dough was slightly stickier than I would have expected for an eggless recipe. Anyhow, I did process the hell out of it, using a spatula ever so often to pull additional flour away from the edges to fold into the dough.

IMG_0147

I had already pulled our tartlet pans out (yes, we actually have tartLET pans). And began to pack to dough into them. It made four, and I tossed them into the oven to start baking while I turned to the filling.

So, remember that “package” of blackberries that I had mentioned? Yep, about 1/2 a pack left. Strike 3. So at this point, I pulled a “Chris cooking without Colleen’s adult supervision” and  started to wing it.

I crushed up the blackberries into a pot (with my hands – squishing the juices out of the little buggers – and yes, it was QUITE cathartic), then proceeded to rummage in the fridge for other, possibly, complimentary flavors. I found some not too ripe peaches, that were starting to shrivel from the cold. I sliced them up and tossed them in with the blackberries. Next I added some orange juice (I really have no idea how much exactly) and a poured about four seconds-worth of sugar. I cranked up the heat and let it stew for about 20 minutes.

I pulled out the cornstarch next and added about 3 tablespoons of it to the mixture (which by this time was frothing and bubbling like a cauldron). I figured that it’s about 1 tablespoon of cornstarch per cup of liquid (I think I read that somewhere), and it looked like it was “about” 3 cups of liquid.


IMG_0148

I spent the next 20 minutes whisking the mixture like a mad-man trying to break up the clumps of cornstarch. Pro tip: when you’re adding cornstarch to a liquid, first mix it with liquid to form a paste before adding it to the liquid.

Onwards. It actually tasted delicious. I took the mixture, and poured it into the newly cleaned food-processor and then blended it well so that it appeared to be a purple jelly. By this time a quick check of the crusts revealed them to be nice and golden brown. I popped them out of the oven and then poured the purple goo into their centers, and then returned it to the oven for another 5 minutes.

I shouldn’t have – that was just enough for the nice golden brown crust to go only slightly brown. If this has ever happened to you with a butter crust you know that the flavor is still ok, it’s just that the texture gets hard as a rock, really fast. Regardless, after the five minutes, I pulled them out of the oven and set them aside to cool.

Voila! Blackberry/Peach/Orange tartlets. They were actually quite delicious, albeit hard around the edges. The inside crust was perfectly cooked and Colleen raved about the filling. I’m going to count it as a success.

IMG_0153

Oh, and I have only some idea of how to recreate them. Sometimes things come to mind with madness, never to return…

 

Thanksgiving Bread Take Two: Pumpkin & Rosemary Soft Rolls

10 Dec

As I mentioned in Thanksgiving Bread Take 1, I was on a mission to make some delicious bread for a Thanksgiving dinner with friends.  Given the big bet I was making on savory muffins, I thought I might try something a little more traditional.  Since I used squash in the first one, I wanted to use pumpkin in this one.  A little more searching on Food52 and I found this recipe.

IMG_0603

I had to make the dough the night before put it in the fridge overnight.  Unfortunately, my yeast was rather old.  I mixed the yeast with some warm water and sugar to test it, but alas there was no froth.  It was too late to run to the store, so we skipped the refrigerator step and grabbed the yeast in the morning.

IMG_0619

IMG_0609

I unfortunately missed taking pictures of the dough-making process.  This involved making and herb butter with fresh dill from our patio garden, mixing it with rosemary, parsley, pumpkin purée, egg, sugar, salt, and yogurt.  Egad!  When mixing these ingredients I accidentally added an extra egg.  I ended up doubling the recipe to fix it and only later realizing that I made 40 rolls!!!  Well in went double the yeast, and then double the flour.  Mixing in the flour took forever.  I did this by hand, kneading the dough for what seemed like forever.  My arms felt like they were going to fall off.  Chris came to the rescue and helped me roll the dough into 40 small balls.  We set them on the counter to rise for 2 hours and relaxed on the couch while we waited.

IMG_0631

The last step involved brushing the rolls with egg and then covering them in coarse sea salt.  They baked in the oven for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.  They smelled delicious as they baked.

IMG_0633IMG_0635

Sure enough, these rolls turned out light, fluffy, salty, and herby.  Pure deliciousness.  The pumpkin added a nice color to the rolls, but the herb flavor came through more than anything.  I ate mine with some delicious butter someone brought for the cornbread.  I’d highly recommend these rolls if you want to bring something unique to a potluck dinner and you’re up for some serious kneading.

Thanksgiving Bread Take One: Butternut Squash Muffins

10 Dec

Every year, Chris and his friends get together in early November to share a Thanksgiving dinner together.  We all bring a dish, drink, chat, and enjoy the food.  Chris always brings the sweet potatoes (and they turn out great), but I like to make a dish myself as well.This year most of the traditional dishes were already taken, so I decided to bring the bread.  I looked through Food52.com and found a recipe for a savory muffin.  When I started to make the muffin, Chris exclaimed, “spinach in a muffin, weird.”  I too thought it was a bit strange, but then again maybe it would be amazing.

IMG_0611

I cut the squash into cubes, tossed it in EVOO, and baked it until golden brown.


IMG_0605

In the meantime, I chopped the spinach, tossed it with parmesan and feta cheese, and beat together milk, eggs, and mustard.  Yea I know, this list of ingredients had me worried as well.  Sometimes you have to bet big to win big, or so I hoped.  I then added the roasted squash cubes to the spinach and poured the egg mixture into one big bowl.

IMG_0613

Finally I slowly added the dry ingredients, mixing until barely incorporated.  First the flour, then the baking soda, then the salt, and the wait WHAT…nutmeg…at this point I had to reassure myself that they’d be amazing.

IMG_0615 IMG_0617

I evenly distributed the dough into cupcake pans.  This part was a bit tricky since the dough was rather sticky.  I also sprinkled the tops with fresh ground pepper and pressed the remaining into the tops of the tops of the muffins.  Now here is where I royally messed up.  I forgot to also press in the remaining feta cheese on the tops of the muffins.  

IMG_0623 IMG_0625

They baked for about 20 minutes at 450.  The product in the end was absolutely beautiful.  The orange of the squash and green of the spinach were vibrant and unexpected on the backdrop of a muffin.

IMG_0627

If only they tasted as good as they looked!  They unfortunately turned out a rather dense and difficult to eat.  I think a bunch of melted feta cheese on top would have definitely helped.  Ah well, my big bet didn’t pay off, but it might be worth another go.  I’ll just need to tweak the recipe to make the muffins more fluffy (and I know I can make darn good fluffy muffins) and stick a post it note to the oven reminding me to add the feta cheese to the top!

A Wicked, Twisted Road: My First Attempt At French Macarons

31 Aug

The title, besides a strong sign that I’ve listened to Reckless Kelly far too much, is fitting for my week-long journey of researching and making macarons.

Not too long ago, Chris and I had the fortune of spending a lunch hour together.  Chris threw out the usual fare for ideas – sushi, Panera, but nothing sounded right.  I was in the mood for a small café setting.  I turned to my trusty pal Yelp and found a french café with just the right ambiance: RocQ in Lake Forest, CA.

We had a wonderful lunch at the café, but I was completely distracted by the macarons in the display case.  They looked delicious, and it took everything in my power to save myself the calories and walk away without buying a few.  Macarons filled my dreams that night, and I woke up with a strong desire to make my own.  I mean how hard can those tiny cookie things be, right???

I got to work researching the delicate dessert, and quickly learned that macarons aren’t easy at all.  The amount of superstitious tips both amused me and frightened me.  The advice ranged from how long to age your egg whites to what weather is best on the day that you bake your shells.  I was completely overwhelmed, but determined to rise to the challenge.  I started by making my custard, which is also technically difficult.  From experience, I knew I would have to get my timing just right to make the perfect lemon custard for my soon-to-be perfect macarons.

I started out by squeezing and zesting my lemons.  I hate my zester, but this was nowhere near as bad as when I squeezed blood oranges for the lamb recipe. Still, I think that the zester/peeler will “disappear” sometime soon so Chris and I can buy a new one.  Well, easy part over.  Time to get my ingredients in a double boiler over heat and cross my fingers that I pull it off the heat in time.

So simple and yet so difficult: eggs, sugar, butter, and of course lemon.  I kept it just below a simmer and watched it closely.  I pulled it off the heat at the first signs of thickening, let it cool, and did a happy dance.

The consistency was perfect!

I was so fixated on getting my macarons just right.  Per my extensive reading, it’s best to age your egg whites for a day or two at room temperature.  I left a bowl of egg whites on the counter for aging and stored the custard in the fridge for later.  I came home from work the next day and found the bowl of egg whites tipped over.  Silly me, our cats must explore any sort of novel item or food on the counter.  Looks like they had some fun while mom and dad were working.  Frustrated, I separated a few more egg whites and aged them in the fridge instead.  After a few days, I pulled them out and whipped them in a metal bowl with sugar and vanilla.  I kept whipping until I could turn the bowl upside down without the meringue falling out.  This feat drew Chris’ attention and he snapped a few photos. Maybe he’ll post one of them later on.

Next, I made the almond mixture and gently folded it into the meringue until it was just incorporated.  We then searched for the right-sized pastry bag tip, but couldn’t find it.  Chris jumped in, improvised, and piped the batter on my new SilPats, while I tried not to bark at him for getting the size and shape all wrong.  Weary from the piping, I let the shells rest on the counter for a bit as some recipes advised.  I’m not entirely sure this was necessary, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.  When ready, I popped them in the oven to bake.  In my research, I read that the holy grail of macarons are the legs or feet (I’m still a little confused about the difference).  I had no idea what these so-called legs or feet looked like, but I wanted them more than anything.  The timer sounded and they smelled great.  It’s do or die.  I was terrified that they’d be a complete mess, so I had Chris pull them out of the oven while I covered my eyes.  The suspense was killing me.  Moments later Chris chimed, “love, take a look.”  When I opened my eyes, I swear I heard music.  They were beautiful, feet (I think I prefer macarons with a foot and not a leg) and all!

After they cooled, I put them together with a sweet layer of lemon curd in the middle.  Chris and I sampled one, and then two, and then three.  My french macarons were light and sweet, with a little twist of tart.  I saved a few to take over to my friend, her husband, and his younger brothers.  One of his brothers after trying his exclaimed, “oh my goodness, are there more?!?!”  Sadly, there were not more.  I only made a small batch, and boy did they take a lot of time and effort to make.  I think I will try my hand at this dessert again – you know when I have the time and energy to spare.  Maybe I’ll make a batch with a chocolate ganache or different colored shells color.  The possibilities are endless!

%d bloggers like this: