26 November 2009

Daring Bakers: Cannolo

Recipe origins: Italy (UK)
Inspirations and References: Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, Allen Rucker, Michelle Scicolone
Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

If you want me to giggle, all you have to say is the word "cannoli."

I blame a misspent youth watching American sit-coms. In this case, the Golden Girls.

For those of you who've been fortunate enough to avoid the show (really, it hasn't aged well). Three senior women all live together in Florida. One is an aging Southern Belle who's retained her vixen-like qualities; one is a slightly ditzy but sweet grandmotherly type from Minnesota, and a divorced teacher who's brought her slightly senile mum named Sophia with her.

I don't recall the entire episode, but I recall Sophia talking about her (dead) husband and the game of "find the cannoli."

So when I read this month's challenge was cannolo, well...my mind immediately went there...but with 90 year olds.

Now, I'm going to be a good girl and not draw any symbolism between cannolo-making and playing hide the cannoli. Really, you know. And if you don't, well...I've been told there are books and even DVDs you can get a hold of.

Regardless of such associations, cannoli are a treat. My occasional Saturday shopping at the swankychichifooderie will have my nose plastered to the cold case window spying the pyramid of cannoli--chocolate chip, vanilla and banana (with banana being my favourite).

Normally when I find food I like, I figure out a way to make it at home, but for whatever reason it never occured to me to do the same with cannoli. I'm not afraid of deep fat frying (although, truth be told, I don't like the smell of frying oil). I'm not afraid of sweetened cheese or cream. The pipine bag thing does concern me as it schmecks of foofy cake decorating--something I generally avoid.

I'll tell you something. This was probably the most fun DB challenge I've done in ages. Maybe as fun as the bagels from a couple of years ago.

I quartered the recipe--I didn't want to end up with 40 of these things, because I'd wind up eating 40 of these things. The dough was a little raggedy, so I added more oil and water. I let it rest about 2 hours before rolling and frying.

That's when I felt like one of MacBeth's witches. The violent bubbling from my cauldron as I lowered the dough-wrapped metal cylinder was jolly fun. I loved the warty toad-like appearance of the finished pastry...I really loved how easily the pastry released from the tubes. I shouldn't have worried about the piping--althought I could have probably done something fancy that peeked out the sides, I didn't need to: a simple vanilla swirl was all that was needed.

The finished product was crispy, with a relatively light pastry and filled with creamy sweet goodness. My friends and I were quite happy with them. Thanks Michele!

Click here for a list of participating Daring Bakers.


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22 November 2009

Comfort & Restoration: Peanut Butter Chocolate Brownies

Stress eating.
If stress eating were a military rank, I'd be the Commander-In-Chief.
If stress-eating were a popstar thing, I'd have a fragrance, cookware set and shoes baring my signature.
If stress eating were an Olympic sport (a real Olympic sport--not one of those namby-pamby ones where artistic merit marks are bought/sold), I'd be a platinum medallist.
Yeah. I'm *that* good.
Stressors come in all forms. Some of them are environmental like the street urchins' thumpathumpa music at 2:30am. Some of them are situational like the final throes of a relationship where you know you need out, but haven't admitted it. Some of them are imposed like the wall of lava-like deliverables and deadlines emitted from volcanoes of projects. Some of them are biological, caused by rampaging hormones of puberty, PMT, pregnancy or menopause. Some of them are accepted like knowing the lectures you're in for from well-meaning elderly relatives about how the the way you're living you're life is just plain wrong (but you put up with it because they are well-meaning elderly relatives).

Yes. I know some stressors are actually good for you, but really, if you're in the thick of it, stress is just...stressful.
I also know there are some who espouse exercise or meditation as means of dealing with the emotional nasties of life.
There are few things that will keep me on a somewhat even keel when life overuns life. Long drives, preferably on the 401. Loud music--lately The Cult and QOTSA. A thorough toothbrush to the grout type of cleaning. Food.
My foodish comforts come in two categories. The first are the foods whose processes lean towards stress release. Kneading bread doughs and tenderising meat with a mallet offer an obvious outlet through pushing and pulling, smacking and pounding.
The second are the foods I gravitate to for sheer physical comfort. Sweet hot milky tea. Steaks with a trickle of blood. Greasy cheeseburgers with rashers of bacon. Poutine, weighed by thick, salty gravy and gooey-from-the-heat cheese curds. Chocolate so dark the cocoa content is in the high 80s and 90s.
Sweet, fatty, salty and deeply flavoured.
Sounds like a gosh-darned good brownie to me.
Normally I'd go for a chocolate brownie, perhaps flavoured with mint or espresso, but I've not fully regained a reliable chocolate tooth. Right now, for me to enjoy it, my chocolate needs a bit of a crutch, and lately that crutch of choice is peanut butter.
I've never had luck baking with peanut butter--the cakes always come out very dry. My Google-fu turned up this well-rated peanut butter brownie recipe, which is the peanut butter component of this swirly brownie. The chocolate component is a combination of a few recipes, but with a bit of chilli pepper in for a bit of interest. Chocolate, peanuts and chillies...lovely stuff.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Brownies
Peanut Butter Batter
140g ap flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
110g peanut butter, softened
75g butter, softened
125g sugar
85g brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Chocolate batter
110g butter
55g Dutch processed cocoa powder
100g sugar
85g brown sugar
1/4tsp salt
1/4 - 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
100g flour

Butter a 23cm x 33cm (9"x13") baking dish. Preheat oven to 170C (350F).

Prepare the peanut butter batter by sifting together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Cream together the butter and peanut butter. Add the sugars and continue creaming until light and fluffy.
Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down between each addition. Mix in the vanilla.
Blend in the flour mixture in two batches and incorporate well. Set aside.

For the chocolate batter, brown the butter until it has a nutty fragrance. Stir in the cocoa, sugars, salt and pepper. Stir until smooth. Turn off the heat and remove the pot from the hob.
Beat the eggs and vanilla until foamy. Temper the eggs by beating in a couple of spoons of the hot cocoa mixture. Incorporate the flour mixture and the rest of the cocoa mixture in alternate additions (dry-wet-dry-wet-dry).

Dollop in the batters in a checkerboard pattern in the buttered dish and marble them together.
Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until dense crumbs cling to an inserted skewer. Let cool thoroughly in pan before turning it out to cut into as many pieces as you see fit.


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08 November 2009

Granola-topped pumpkin bread

For years I thought pumpkins were only good for two things: Jack-o-lanterns and halva. Eventually soups and pies were added to the list.

There it stood for years: four uses, take 'em or leave 'em.

That is, until this year.

Mum handed me a 796ml tin of pumpkin purée, with the expectation of a Thanksgiving pie. The pie (well, tarte, if we want to be all foofy about it) was made...but that left about 2/3 of the purée unused. You see, she thought that entire tin would be used for one 8-inch pie. Umm...no.

I wasn't in the mood for a soup and I didn't have the energy or the time to make halva (even my easypeasy version). I didn't want more pies. Without the carcass, I couldn't make a jack-o-lantern...and if I did have it, it doesn't help me with the purée issue.

I've known for a while about pumpkin cakes and cookies, and after some research I found some ideas. Unlike some other ingredients, my instincts told me to trust home cooks (as opposed to FoodTV or cookbook writers) with this one. And I was right. In my dog-eared book by the good people at Harrowsmith, I found the recipe..which, true to form, I didn't follow exactly (grin).

I was very pleasantly surprised about how good it was.

It was like a a pumpkin pie had a love child with a poundcake...and the progeny had a thing on the side with some granola-loving hippies.

A nicer autumn breakfast (smeared with sweet butter, of course), I can't think of.

Pumpkin loaf
adapted from Pumpkin Yoghurt Cake from The Harrowsmith Cookbook Vol III, p252

350g ap flour
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp cardamom
90 ml flavourless oil
200g sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
250ml buttermilk
220g pureed pumpkin
a few handfuls of granola

Preheat oven to 170C/350F and line a 1-lb loaf tin with parchment paper.

Sift together flour, bicarb and spices.

Mix sugar and oil together, then beat in eggs and vanilla.

Mix in flour and yoghurt mixtures alternatly into the egg mixture (flour-yoghurt-flour-yoghut-flour), scraping the bowl's sides down as needed. Give everything a good mix and then pour into prepared loaf pan. Top with granola.

Bake for about 55-65 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Related post:
Pumpkin Bread and Butter Pudding


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03 November 2009

Comfort and Restoration: Chicken Broth

School's back in, the weather's turned cold and sniffles are everywhere. Add the current H1N1 meme to the mix and people are queued for injections, emptying shop shelves of antibacterial everything and screens of e-mails proffering "helpful hints" as to how to spot and avoid the 'flu, including giving up hugging and handshaking in hopes of "staying healthy." (Bah to that I say. Bah)

Watercooler talk has turned from the latest political discussions on pensions, media ownership and why Canadians didn't show up to greet Charles and Camilla to whether or not we'll be jabbed, whose child has been bedridden and what our individual bits of preventative and/or curative voodoo we each practise.

Regardless, when illness hits--whether it's a cold or a flu--many people turn to the revered chicken soup to, at the very least, make one feel all warm inside. Granted, some people grab a tin off the shelf and simply heat what marketers, bean counters and dieticians have dictated. Others zhuzh it up with bits of this and that. Others make it from scratch.

Me, I'll waver. If I happen to have any homemade stock in the freezer, I'll use that as my soup base, otherwise I'll doctor up store-bought.

Even though homemade soups are, I think, non-recipe recipes, mine generally start off the same way: chopped onions, sweated to translucency, garlic and then when it perfumes, add liquid, veggies, whatever meats, spices and herbs and then simmered until ready. That's what I call a "normal" soup.

Unsurprisingly, my curative broths contain a mélange of various peppers, seeds, herbs and roots. Little doubt remains of the South Indian under-, mid-, and over-tones in each spoonful. Veggies are whatever I have on hand, same for starches (noodles or rice), meat is (really) optional...but poaching a chicken breast or thigh in cartoned broth to give the illusion of a home made soup isn't unheard of.

Every once in a while, when I've collected enough chicken bits--wing tips, bones, bits of carcass--in my freezer, I'll start a stock.

No. I don't pretend to be some domestic goddess clad in a gingham dress feigning some ill-placed sense of moral superiority.

Stockmaking: It's easy. It basically looks after itself. It tastes better than what's found in tins or cartons. It's time consuming. It's cheap.

Stocks are also non-recipe recipes too. Put veggies, animal bits, and basic spices in a pot and more than cover it all with cold water. Heat, scum, heat some more, scum some more. Let it simmer until the veggies and bones have had all their innate goodnesses extracted...or as much as you want extracted. Strain, if desired. Use what you need within a few days; freeze the rest.

The recipe below is essentially the above, but quantified to a certain extent. I must admit to being sheepish about finished quantities, because of the variables of the amount of cold water you start off with and how long you let it boil (and, as a result, evaporate). Regardless, it's a worthwhile exercise, on a cool autumn night, before flu season sets in.

Golden Chicken Broth
yields 3 or more L of finished broth

1.2kg chicken, washed and jointed
2 medium cooking onions, skin on, quartered
3-5 garlic cloves, halved
1-2 carrots, cut into big chunks
1 celery rib, cut into big chunks
1 leek, cut into big chunks
2 sprigs parsley
1.5 tsp black peppercorns, crushed

Place all ingredients in a stockpot or a Dutch oven and cover with 4-6 litres of cold water, depending upon the volume capacity of your pot. Set the hob to medium-low.

After about 30-45 minutes, a layer of scummy foam will set itself on top of the water. Remove and discard as much of it as possible, while trying to keep as much of the schmaltz in the pot. Increase the heat to medium and continue removing scum every 30 minutes, until there's no more to be scummed.

Let boil, uncovered, occasionally and lazily stirring whenever the mood strikes. From time to time slurp some from your tasting spoon checking not only for salt, but also for desired depth of flavour. By my books, the stock is done when all the veggies yield to the slightest pressure of tongs, a spoon or fork. The total cooking time could be anywhere from four to six hours, depending upon your kitchen gods and how deeply flavoured you like your stock.

When done, remove the chicken herbs and veggies from the pot. If desired, strain through cheesecloth to clarify the broth.


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