Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Pizza Rustica and other things

I am even growing tired of hearing myself complain about the recipes in Baking with Julia, but to be honest, I've yet to find one that I really love. So the results have been disappointing, but already, only 4 recipes in, I've learned some things, and tried some new techniques, so from that perspective, it's been great!

This week's recipe is Pizza Rustica, essentially a cheese pie. The twist is that the crust is sweet - almost like shortbread - while the filling is savory...although not very. The combination is interesting and I can understand how people like it, but it just didn't appeal to me or The Official Taster. He kept saying "this crust would be good as peach pie" - sigh. I am so not a pie person...which explains the difficulty I had with this recipe. Half way in, I realized that I don't own any pie plates! I found an old metal one, stuck in the back of an upper cupboard, that only had a 6 inch bottom, but it was all I had. The upshot of this, however, was that the crust was really too thick, so the sweetness was quite pronounced.

As a vegetarian, I couldn't bring myself to use prosciutto, so I substituted some Kalamata olives and red peppers. I used light ricotta. Even so, I found the filling bland. If I ever made this again, I'd add a bunch of herbs and maybe some sundried tomatoes to provide a little more "ooomph".

The crust, despite its thickness, was deelish! It was a little difficult to handle - first, when cold it was as hard as the proverbial rock. I beat it with a rolling pin - that worked. Then, it kept sticking to the pin and tearing as I rolled. I just kept piecing it back together, folded it into the pan and tucked the edges under. The "lattice" top was particularly challenging for me - I'm not very good at spatial tasks, and am notorious for cutting on an angle, so of course, my lattice pieces were uneven. This may be why I just don't do pie. Whatever. I figured it was "rustica", so precision wasn't required!

The only other difficulties I had were determining when the pie was cooked, and the fact that the crust edges browned early on. I assumed the dark pan had something to do with that. I covered the edges with foil and continued baking until the filling registered 160 degrees. I have read that eggs are cooked at that temp, so that seemed to be a good call.
The bottom line? It came out well, the recipe was straightforward, the crust very tasty, the filling underwhelming, and the combination a little strange. I won't make it again. I'd much rather make Jamie Oliver's spinach phyllo pie, which is far healthier, tastier, and quicker!

Pizza Rustica freezes and reheats very well; in fact, I still have several pieces in my freezer for those days when there's no time to cook. The hosts for this week are Emily of Capitol Region Dining (http://capitalregiondiningblog.blogspot.ca/) and Raelynn of The Place They Call Home (http://tptch.com/). You can find the complete recipe in their posts.

On another note, I have found a really good recipe for biscuit cinnamon rolls (thanks to my daughter for sending me the link!) at http://joythebaker.com/2012/03/biscuit-cinnamon-rolls/. They are soooo bad for you and not like Mary's (of Bread Basket fame), but quite possibly the best biscuits I've ever made. The key is to keep that butter cold - even freeze your mixing bowl before using - and, of course, don't over handle the dough. This recipe makes a horrible mess but is so worth it. However, the search for a clone of Mary's famous cinnamon rolls continues....

Monday, March 19, 2012

Decidedly NOT Irish

So the recipe for this week's Baking with Julia group is Irish Soda Bread - NOT something that interests me, in terms of either the technique or the final product. But, not baking for a month is quite obviously out of the question, so I decided to try a couple of other recipes.
There is nothing I enjoy so much as spending a day in the kitchen, baking, just for the fun of it, and listening to a good book. So last week I made Country Bread and Challah, both from Baking with Julia.
I had made Country Bread many times before, using Jeffrey Hamel's recipe. Both recipes require an overnight pre-ferment. This recipe produced a little heavier, denser bread than Hamel's, with an almost sour dough taste.

I liked it but I also like Hamel's. The Official Taster, however, declared this superior. The recipe calls for shaping the dough into one large boule, but take my advice, that would be a VERY large boule, so better to divide it into two reasonably sized ones.

The second recipe, Challah, is not like anything I've made before. I've been wanting to make brioche and decided, for some reason, at the last minute to make challah, which the recipe says is like "eastern European brioche". It uses several eggs and lots of butter! The technique sounds a little daunting, but isn't really. It mixed up beautifully. What a lovely dough to work with - rich and supple. The real fun was in the shaping - in this case, a braid.

It looked somewhat underwhelming when I left it to rise the second time, but enlarged quite a bit. However the really impressive rise was in the oven! The loaves were HUGE, and, thanks to the wash applied before and during baking, beautifully shiny and dark.

The Challah tastes good- it's almost sweet, very rich and tender. My only problem is trying to decide what you actually DO with it. It's not the kind of bread you have before or with a meal; it wouldn't taste right as a sandwich. My daughter keeps saying "French toast" and "bread pudding" - neither appeal to me. Perhaps I'll try Bostock, a recipe in Cyril Hitz's book that calls for applying yummy things like almond paste to brioche and baking it....or perhaps that's just too decadent, even for me. It might be interesting toasted. Whatever - I need to figure it out because I have two very large loaves in my freezer at the moment!

Finally, I made Royal Wedding Scones, from Food52, which are really just blueberry scones. I found the directions really explicit and helpful in avoiding the over-working that is such a temptation with scones and biscuits. For example, the dry ingredients are mixed in the food processor, then the very cold butter is pulsed. After the wet ingredients are added, the mixture is folded with a fork and then a plastic bowl scraper into a ball shape. (As an aside, those little plastic half-moon bowl scrapers are worth their weight in gold.) This gentle handling really paid off! They were perhaps the most tender scones I've ever made, and they rose to a satisfying height. This recipe recommended freezing them until solid and then baking. Cyril Hitz always letting scones sit for 30 minutes before baking. I did neither - just couldn't wait. I should have conducted a controlled experiment, freezing one third, allowing one third to sit for 30 minutes, and baking one third immediately...but I only thought of doing that later, while I was eating them. Guess I'm not much of a scientist.

I made some changes to the recipe. Nobody needs that much heavy cream! I used 3/4 cup of fat free buttermilk and 1/4 cup of 18% (coffee) cream. Unfortunately, I didn't substitute regular for the recommended Kosher salt....but I will the next time. I find those little bursts of salt offputting in a sweet blueberry scone. And of course, I used Nova Scotia wild blueberries because, as we all know, they are the world's tastiest :)

Next up for the Baking with Julia group is Pizza Rustica - a double crusted cheese pie, with proscuitto. I'm looking forward to trying this different dish (complete with lattice crust), although I'm ambivalent about the proscuitto - I never eat pork or beef - so perhaps this will be a dish for a dinner party or for the Official Taster to keep all to himself....Stay tuned...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Adventures with Rugelach

As usual, I made this week's recipe early. Does this mean that I'm not baking enough? Perhaps I should make something from Baking with Julia every week? Aw, that wouldn't work - there's no one here to eat the output! But I digress..

Recipe number three from the book; recipe number three that I wouldn't make again. This doesn't mean it wasn't tasty - it was (is - there are still two dozen in my freezer) - but it was a complicated recipe and all you get out of it is....cookies. This feeling of disappointment has led me to re-examine my assumptions about cookies. So, let's talk about cookies.

Cookies are, to my way of thinking, sweet little things that you have with a cup of tea after dinner, or a mid-afternoon snack. There are so many cookies that you can make in literally 18 minutes from start to finish (I know, I've timed myself making chocolate chip cookies), that I cannot understand why one would want to spend a couple of hours making a single batch. NO cookie is good enough to merit that much time - it's just not possible. Perhaps I am unfairly biased against cookies, but there you have it. This attitude obviously influenced my assessment of the rugelach.

The recipe requires multiple steps - I am still confused by it, despite having read it at least ten times. This confusion was compounded by the frustration created by having to flip back and forth to the recipe for lekvar, the recipe for dough, and the instructions for putting them all together. I will admit that I listen to audiobooks while baking, so perhaps my mental processing capability was compromised but surely the instructions could have been written more clearly. I actually misunderstood the recipe and ended up with not enough nuts for the filling. So, what the heck - I left them out; my husband hates nuts in things anyway. The only nuts I included were those that were finely chopped and mixed with the cinnamon sugar for the coating. I figured he could brush those ones off, if he wanted to.

I made the apricot lekvar, which is pretty tasty. I didn't use all of it, so have spread some of it on previously-made stollen. It tastes like a low-sugar jam. Yum.
For the filling, I used a combination of golden and Thompson raisins, dried cranberries, blueberries, and cherries, with a few prunes thrown in. I did the "plumping" as suggested.
The real star of this recipe is the cream cheese dough. It has been described as a cross between pastry and dough; it is rich, almost flaky and flavourful. I intend to make it again in an attempt to replicate Mary's Bread Basket cinnamon rolls (these are legendary where I live). I found it rolled out easily, a little messy but the cookies were fairly forgiving. I think it would have been challenging to fit all the filling in, if I had added nuts, but since I didn't - it was fine.

The only real difficulty was trying to determine when the cookies were baked. Because of the cinnamon sugar coating, they were already dark. Consequently, I over-baked (big surprise) the second batch a tad. Nevertheless they tasted fine. They aren't the best looking cookies I've ever made, though!

So, bottom line on this recipe:

- the recipe itself is not written in a user-friendly manner
- there are several steps involved, making it a somewhat time-consuming and messy endeavour
- the cookies are very tasty (even the nut-averse Official Taster liked them) - just not tasty enough for this distracted baker to make again
- BUT the cream cheese dough rocks

Jessica at http://mybakingheart.com/ and Margaret at http://www.theurban-hiker.com/ are the hosts this week and their posts will have the recipe. Also, their final products look waaaay better than mine :)

Next up is soda bread. I'm skipping this one but will make something else from Baking with Julia - perhaps the brioche - mmmmmmmm

Monday, February 20, 2012

Chocolate Tart

Because I made the chocolate tart for a dinner party last week, it's already a hazy memory. My overall impressions - it took a long time to make - probably because I also made the biscotti to go in it - and although tasty, didn't have a "wow" factor for me.

However, I found it an interesting recipe; I learned a new technique - fraisage - and I gained more experience working with pastry. The dough seemed to be unworkably dry, and I was frantically considering my options for an alternate dessert for my dinner guests. But after watching an instructional video on YouTube, I managed to get the crumbly mess into a coherent mass.. and added a new technique to my arsenal.

In retrospect, I didn't roll the dough out thinly enough, because the finished crust was a little dry and, well, too obvious.

My sense is that this dessert is all about the filling and mine just didn't come out that way. And of course, as is my wont, I overbaked it. The result - a somewhat tough crust. I didn't think it was a good sign that everyone wanted to put vanilla ice cream on it. (Unfortunately, I also overcooked parts of the dinner, so my reputation, at least with these guests, is seriously compromised!)

So, what about the filling? It was very tasty - fudgy, certainly not like mousse - more like a soft brownie.

But I just couldn't figure out the point of the biscotti. My husband, who doesn't like crunchy bits unless they are on their own, was particularly disturbed by "hard things" in the filling. He's a texture guy. I am sure lots of folks liked the mix of soft and hard; we didn't.

Would I make this again? No. Although certainly my mistakes detracted from the final product, I don't think I'd like a properly rolled and cooked one enough to justify the investment of time. I kept thinking about all the work this particular recipe required and knowing that I could have made something else in half the time and been twice as pleased with the result. I'm glad we made it, however, because it was a good learning opportunity - and for me, that's really what this is about.

I am very excited and somewhat intimidated by the rugelach recipe - so many different steps and ingredients. Although with all those nuts, I suspect I'll have to find another "official" tester who isn't biased against crunchy things :)
Bake on!

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Week in Between

Our next Tuesdays with Dorie post is not due until the 21st, but I made the next recipe, chocolate tart, this past Saturday because my husband (and official taster) is off to Florida for the next 10 days.

In the meantime, I have the following to report. I made biscotti for the tart filling. It was typical biscotti - hard, crunchy and cinnamon flavoured - but seemed to make up more quickly and with less hassle than other recipes that I've tried. And it's just what I need - a nice treat with a cuppa but not good enough to call me away from my desk to sneak one or three.

In the course of making the tart, of course, I was left with 8 egg whites. I already have many of these in my freezer, from making ice cream, so it seemed like a good idea to spend my Sunday using them up....which meant more baking. I know, I know - I've could have had a healthy egg white omelet. But, you know, I am neither a good nor an inspired cook. I simply love to bake (usually while listening to a book!)

So, I turned to one of my favourite books, David Lebovitz's Ready for Dessert and decided to try his chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons. I substituted almond meal for the flour (just in case I feel the need to eat something gluten-free). Also, I only had 3 of the 5 required cups of coconut so I added oats. I don't know if these changes accounted for the extreme mess that resulted... or if it was just me (I am not known for my precision in the kitchen). Additionally, the melted chocolate was far too thick for dipping - despite the addition of an impressive amount of Kahlua. And the cookies were so soft that I could not even spread the thick chocolate with a spoon, so what the heck! I used my (very clean) index finger and it seemed to work OK. After cleaning up large amounts of sticky crumbs, cookie parts and chocolate, I had about 2 dozen intact cookies that taste surprisingly like a Bounty bar - yummm. Gooey, sweet, coconut and chocolate - they taste far better than they look!

So, that's it - no more baking for me - at least until early March when the Tuesdays with Dorie group tackles rugelah. I have 4 pcs of chocolate tart left and I'm going to take my chances and freeze them. They, the macaroons and biscotti will join the frozen output from my other baking days - Danish, stollen, brownies, hot fudge pudding, homemade ice cream, lemon curd, etc. Even I am beginning to feel ill after reciting all this - and I'm fairly sure I've forgotten something.

In retrospect, I should have named this blog "Sweet Tooth" or "There's a 250 pound woman inside of me trying to get out!"
Til next time...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

White Bread - first week of Tuesdays with Dorie

So this week, I'm trying to be gluten-free, which means my husband is my official tester. It takes a certain kind of insanity to bake bread and then not eat it. However, this bread was very easy to make. The recipe is quite correct in that you can start it after breakfast and eat it for lunch. The dough is lovely - supple, silky and easy to handle. When fully kneaded, it passes the "window pane test"
It bakes up beautifully and slices nicely.

That's the good news.

The less good news is my husband's reaction: "It's ordinary". Let me put this in context. I have been baking bread regularly for about 4 years and my go-to recipes are from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. My freezer is always stocked with loaves of pain de campagne, so we're accustomed to lean bread, with a full, aged taste. Still, an enriched bread like this has its charms - sweet, soft, melting in your mouth. This bread has a great texture

but not much taste. My husband, shamefacedly, pronounced "It's just a cut above Ben's (aka Wonder) Bread". He was fairly embarrassed to be dismissing fresh, warm, homemade bread in such a manner, but nevertheless, was not impressed by the taste. We have both been enamoured of Peter Reinhart's white bread, which is truly enriched. It uses buttermilk in place of water, an egg, and a little more sugar. It mixes up almost (but not quite) as easily and tastes amazing. So, bottom line, for me this recipe is not a keeper; when I make white sandwich bread, which is rare, I'll stick with Peter. But, as a concluding comment, let me say, that this recipe is so easy and successful, that there's little need to ever buy white bread again... but I'm probably preaching to the choir. Bake on!

Friday, February 3, 2012

The first week

This week the recipe is White Bread - a sandwich loaf. I am not anticipating any trouble with this one, since I make bread regularly. Most of what I make is from Peter Reinhardt's Bread Baker's Apprentice. I'm pretty comfortable at this point working with starters, wet dough, etc., so a straightforward sandwich loaf should be OK. The following week, however, we're doing chocolate tartlets - so I'm quickly out of my comfort zone. And some of the other recipes sound fairly intimidating. However, that's what it's all about, I guess - stretching oneself. Far more interesting than trying to get a manuscript published - at least you can eat your failures :)