27 October 2009

Daring Bakers: Claudia Fleming's Macarons...or is it macaroons?

Recipe: Macaroons
Recipe origins: Claudia Fleming's The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy TavernHostess:
Ami. S of Baking Without Fear

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Hosting a Daring Bakers' challenge is not an easy thing. Trust me, I know.

There's a wide range of abilities, experience and attitudes. From those who've never stepped foot into a kitchen (I could comment, but I won't) to those who probably own a professional kitchen. From those who try and keep to DB origins and follow a recipe exactly as written (unless there are financial, ethical or health reasons that force otherwise) to those who think of themselves as the sparkliest snowflakes of all, believing rules do not apply to them and will present a chocolate sponge as a completed challenge when the host called for a lemon meringue. metric vs Imperial, weights vs. volumes...it can be quite the tempest in a teapot.

Whenever I've come across a recipe I wasn't sure of I've done my best with it and have tried to post an accurate account of my adventures. Sometimes they are straightforward and produce fantastically tasty treats, sometimes as convoluted as Suicide Squid's origin story that sometimes produce the same fantastically tasty treats...but sometimes not so tasty treats.

When the results are good, they are very good. When they aren't, well, I try not to be unduly spiteful...quite honestly, I don't know how succesful I am at the not being unduly spiteful part.

So when it came to this month's DB challenge...well, I wasn't sure what to expect. Partly because I didn't know if I was making macarons...or macaroons. The write-up said "macaroon" but as the accompanying photos didn't look like the coconutty mini-mountains, and looked like a cross between 19thC nightcaps and happy little jellyfish, I assumed they were macarons.

Semantics, yes...but it's important.

Anyway...I've never made either before. I've eaten macaroons. I've never eaten a macaron.

I'm going on blind faith that whatever this recipe produces is a macaron.

The batter came together well enough, I suppose. I was a little concerned after the first third of the whites were incorporated as it just seemed too crumbly. By the final third, it looked good.

Which was probably the last time it actually looked good.

The first baking seemed okay...they were round and poofy, but rather lacklustre.

By the time the oven came to temp for the second baking the round, poofy lacklustryness collapsted into themselves...they kind of looked like a beanbag chair that lost the essence of being a chair.

When I took them out of the oven...they looked...rumpled. Like punching bags that had been punched one time too many.

Not all of them turned out--and that is, I think a fault of Beelzebub--of the 20 blobs (I scaled the recipe down to 40 per cent), 10 had charred bottoms: a hazard of using a stove possessed by the spirit of a lazy food-hating daemon who'd rather see me reliant upon big-box processed microwavable fud than...well...bake.

I will say of those that survived the baking process, most of them had the little feet or jellyfish skirt that I've seen in photos. For that I'm rather tickled.

So that left me 10 blobs, enough for five sandwich cookies. Given there's only one of me, five cookies are absolutely fine. Part of the challenge was to fill them and quite honestly, I wasn't very imaginative and reached for the last of the raspberry jam. Almonds, raspberries--very Bakewell Tart-like.

What did I think? Well, I'm not sure if they came out as they should. I'm also not entirely sure of the texture. I thought they'd be light and crisp not light-ish and chewy.

I've read a few Tweets by more experienced bakers than I voicing concern over the recipe, so maybe they're a better judge of this recipe than I.

But I do know I want to try my hand at macaron-making, but perhaps with a different recipe.

Click here for a list of participating Daring Bakers.


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25 October 2009

Pumpkin Bread and Butter Pudding

I was checking out email
When out the corner of my eye,
I saw a pretty little thing miaoing at me.
She said I never seen a gal,
Who looks so overworked,
Could you use a little small yummy?
In the office they'll suffice
Your kitchen it entice
Or you can sit here and give me no sway,
I said you're such a sweet young thing,
Did you think of this yourself?

She looked at me and this is what she said.
Oh, there ain't no rest for the wicked,
You need to stow their needs,
You got cakes to bake,
You got yeast to feed,
There ain't nothing that beats lychees.
I know you must whisk eggs,
I know your cookbook stack
Though I know there's somthin' you should,
Oh yes there ain't no post for the potluck,
And we need to bring something good.
--with apologies to Cage The Elephant

Okay...Hagia didn't exactly sing this...but when I looked over and saw her squirmy with glee over this month's Chatelaine Nigella feature, she reminded me that I've not yet been able to submit one post for the weekly Nigella event at I Heart Cooking Clubs (Yeah, Workasaurus and Deadlinadactyl take full credit). Add a tweet late last week from Mel of Bouchon for Two asking for pumpkinny baking and I knew I had a post that fit both bills.

My Dear Little Cardamummy handed me a 796ml tin of pumpkin purée for the Thanksgiving tarte, which left 550+ mls of purée in my hands. I made a granola-topped pumpkin loaf with some of it, cookies with the rest (yes, I realise I'm being mean and not giving you those recipes yet).

Unfortunately, and I don't know how I did this, I only ate two slices of the bread all week. Trust me, it was delicious, but I just didn't eat it. Even though it was a bit stale by the time I realised this, I knew it was more than salvageable.

Just as the bread was made because I had good food that needed to be used up, this bread pudding was made because I had good food that needed to be used up. Bread puddings are a time-tested way of stretching stale baking. Take scraps of not-the-freshest baking, give it a good soak in custard and pop it into the oven. And *poof* (literally and figuratively) you've got a good wintery dessert.

This recipe is done in the spirit of Nigella's Grandmother's Ginger-Jam Bread and Butter Pudding. I don't spice the pudding as La Lawson did, as the pumpkin bread is quite flavourful from the spicing and a bit crunchy from the granola I baked onto it, but I did take a cue from the ginger jam and used orange marmalade. The result is a lovely, soft, eggy sweet and spicy pudding. Quite honestly, I think I'll make the bread again, just so I can make this pudding.

Pumpkin Bread and Butter Pudding

1 loaf (or as much as you have of) pumpkin bread that's been hanging about a bit longer than you'd wish, sliced
Orange marmalade
3 eggs
2-3 Tbsp sugar
250ml heavy cream
375ml table cream
raisins, dried fruit, nuts (optional)

Butter a pudding dish large enough to hold the pudding and custard.

Make marmalade and butter sandwiches with the bread. Cut each sandwich in half to form triangles or squares, whichever you prefer. Arrange the little sandwiches in the buttered dish.

Whisk the eggs with the sugar and then add the milk and cream and mix well. Pour over the sandwiches. Strew whatever dried fruit or nut you wish on top of the pudding.

Let the bread soak up the custard for at least 10 minutes. This is a good time to set your oven to 350F/180C.

When your oven is to temp, pop the bread pudding in the oven for 45 -60 minutes, depending upon your kitchen gods' moods. The pudding is ready when the custard has set and is poofy.

Related post: Granola-topped Pumpkin Bread


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19 October 2009

The "You know I usually don't like Brussels sprouts, but I love these Brussels sprouts" Brussels sprouts dish

Many things don't make any sense to me.

Fahrenheit temperatures.
Directionals (as in North, South, West and East).
American football.
Trooper's Raise A Little Hell used to sell saltines*.
The apparently 6'3" non-cook who designed my kitchen.
Dan Brown's literary career.

For years I never understood how people can *not* like Brussels sprouts (or brussel sprouts). I mean really. They're cute and leafy. They're teeny little cabbages that grow on sticks...and we all know foods on sticks aren't just fun, but they taste better.

The first time I had Brussels sprouts they were curried--very simply done--lightly steamed and then sauteed with onions and masala. How anyone could not like that was unthinkable. A bowlful of those spicey sphere-ishes and I'd be as happy as Beanie with a turkey leg. I thought everybody liked Brussel sprouts.

Then I started hearing stories about slimey concoctions whose funk would make a grizzly bear in heat reach for the Febreeze. Tales about the little tiny cabbages boiled for an hour or so were enough to send me screaming out of a room in the same way as I would should Celine Dion magically appear, offering to sing me any stanza from her screechy songbook.

Who would ever treat such vegetably emeralds with such disdain?

When the exbf told me that one of his online followers uploaded a post about beautiful green orbs that beckoned him/her at the grocer...and then taunted him/her in the fridge because...well...he/she doesn't actually like Brussels sprouts, I knew I had to upload this post sooner rather than later.

This is the "You know, I usually don't like Brussels sprouts, but I love these Brussels sprouts" dish.

This is the dish that's won converts every time it's served to new people who theoretically don't like Brussel sprouts.

This is the dish that My Dear Little Cardamummy tries and tries again to replicate, but can't somehow do it (here's a hint: follow my instructions...but then again, she's not online so that bit of advice won't really help her)

It's a variant of my earlier dish made with sausage and potatoes, and makes good use of a leftover boiled potato or two. It's not an incredibly labour-intensive dish. Really: sitting at a table discarding yellowed leaves and slashing the stem ends really isn't onerous and allows for a good think or chat. Frying bacon and potatoes...that's nothing. And the veggies just steam themselves.

Even though you can make with two pots -- one to steam the veggies and one to do up the bacon and potatoes -- I do the entire dish in one vessel (my wok, to be specific). The trick to this dish is to not over cook the sprouts. Apparently this is easier said than done. The embryonic cabbages should be a bright green and still firm to the tooth with a little bit of give...I suppose slightly crunchy, but not squeaky, if you get the nuances. Once the leaves yield too easily to the tooth, you know you've cooked a bit too far.

Brussels Sprouts with bacon and potatoes
serves 4-6

500g Brussels sprouts
3-4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
cooking fat (butter, oil, bacon fat)
300-400g cubed potatoes, steamed or boiled and cooled
1-2 cloves minced garlic
Black pepper
1 onion, julienned
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce (or to taste)
Chilli pepper flakes (optional).

Clean and trim the sprouts by removing any yellowed outer leaves and slashing an "x" the stem end (if the sprouts are small) or slicing in half (if they are large).

Fry the bacon until crispy. Remove the bits, leaving the fat in the pan.

Tip in the potatoes (in batches, if necessary), adding more fat if necessary. Add onions, garlic, salt and pepper. Fry until browned and crispy and remove.

Pour about 60ml (quarter cup) of water with a healthy pinch or two of salt into the pan. Tumble in the prepared sprouts, cover and let steam for a few minutes until the sprouts are vibrant and barely cooked. Drain the water and add the cooked bacon and potato-onion mixture.

Pour in the balsamic vinegar and a splash or two or three of Worcestershire sauce and give everything a good stir. Adjust seasoning to taste, adding chilli flakes if desired.


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*Really. What part of this song says "crumbling crackers in soup is a rebellious and uber-kewl thing to do"?

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12 October 2009

My own causality dilemma and bacon-wrapped asparagus

Do I eat asparagus because it's wrapped in crispy bacon or do I eat the bacon, because it coddles roasted asparagus?

Granted it's not a question on Aristotle's scale but it is a question I ask myself every time I reach for a bundle of spears.

I was never really a fan of asparagus. My first exprience was not hopefull--overboiled to waterlogged flacidity, each stringy and bitter and acrid bite worse than the last. The next time was as a creamed soup, a palid greyed green that only hinted at its once vital jade,. The taste was no better than my introduction.

For year my culinary life was spent avoiding asparagus. I was mostly successful--the only times it appeared on my plate was when I went to fundraiser some other gala-like celebratory dinner.

Don't ask me exactly how I was introduced to bacon-wrapped asparagus. In all likelihood it was a fingerfoodish appetiser. Those pancetta-wrapped spindly spears opened my eyes to the vegetable. But it also opened my eyes to the fact that often, disliked foods can be transformed by pairing them with different flavours and/or cooking techniques. It also helped me realise that, as far as asparagus is concerned, girth does matter...and with these, the thinner, the better...for dinner at least.

Yes, I hear some of you...it's not the asparagus you like: it's the bacon.

Well, there's little doubt that bacon (in whatever form) makes many otherwise revolting foods a lot more palatable, and if all it takes is a rasher to help me vary my veggie intake from time to time, that's not really a bad thing, is it? As with many vegetables, roasting asparagus carmelises its natural sugars, which plays well with the strip of streaky, salted, smokey goodness.

Over the years I've prepared this dish many, many times--sometimes as a side dish, sometimes as an appaetiser, sometimes with roasted potatoes as a dinner on its own...but dipped into the squidgey yolk of a poached egg, these roasted, baconed roasted spears are simply delicious.

Bacon-wrapped roasted asparagus is another non-recipe recipe. Simply wrap trimmed spears in the bacon of your choice and roast in an oven until the bacon is cooked to your liking. Depending upon your particular kitchen gods (and your oven's temp), it could take 15 minutes or 25.

Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus
Serves up to 4

16 asparagus spears, washed and snapped of their woody ends
4 rashers of streaky bacon or slices of pancetta
freshly-ground black pepper

Divide the spears into bundles of four, wrapping each one in a rasher.
Place on a foil-lined baking tray and pop into a medium-to-hot oven--350F-400F (170C-200C) for about 15 minutes or until the bacon is cooked.
Dust with freshly-ground pepper before serving.


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04 October 2009

Happy Cinnamon Bun Day!

When our darling Glamah of Coco Cooks Tweeted today is Sweden's National Cinnamon Bun Day, I grabbed hold of this opportunity to coax my latent (and totally fictitious) inner Swede out and celebrate with the rest of my bun-baking brethren and my sweet-toothed sistren.

No...I didn't start playing dollies with a root veggie...nor am I part vegetable (regardless of the quality of my writing some days).

It's been a while since I've had a cinnamon bun. Why? I must admit I've gone off them. Wherever I go, coffee shops and cinnamon bun emporiums try to convince me that insipdily sugary, tar-sticky, bready turbans mortared with icing so thick, one could restore parts of Hadrian's Wall with them.

Don't get me wrong, the first time I had one of those mall kiosk cinnamon buns, I was quite enamoured. Time passed and doughnut and coffee shops, grocery stores and cafeteria versions popped up and morphed what was a happy little swirly pastry into a Frankensteinesque Type-Two Diabetes inducing meal of a snack just put a bitter taste into my mouth.

Swirls of golden dough, filled with cinnamonny-sugar and dried fruit or nuts, glazed with a brushing of butter-dampened sugar. That's the kind of cinnamon bun I prefer.

What better to celebrate Sweden's foodie feast day than to remind myself of the buns I'd happily come home to?

I've written about cinnamon buns before, but I thought a new version was called for. This one's a little more straightforward, but easily adaptable --change the almonds to the fruit or nut (or combination) of your choice. Glaze the top with any flavour or any toffee or icing.

I must admit I wasn't fully paying attention to the buns as I cut them. Sometimes counting to 12 is beyond me. Sometimes 14 is easier than 12. I quite like the effect, away from the ordered three by four order these things usually demand. Instead there's an organic movement borne of living yeast pushing the dough to fill every possible nook of the pan. Some big. Some small. Deeper golden flecked with spots of bright slivers My tray of buns is, hence, oddly reminiscent of
van Gogh's Starry Night.

It's a good version, with a slighty marzipan-ish flavour, adapted from Anita Stewart's The Flavours of Canada. Absolutely easy, yet takes much of an afternoon to make--most of that time taken up with proofing. A trifle, really, given you are returned with a house filled with bready and cinnamony scents.

Almond Cinnamon Buns
Adapted from Mrs. Peterson's Cinnamon Sticky Buns from The Flavours of Canada by Anita Stewart
(yield 12)

To bloom the yeast:
2 Tbsp hand-hot water
1/2 tsp sugar
1 dspn active dry yeast

For the dough
2 eggs, well beaten
100g sugar
110g butter, melted
pinch of salt
150ml hand-hot milk
420g ap flour
canola oil (or other flavourless oil)

For the filling
75g brown sugar
1tsp cinnamon
1dspn butter, melted
100g flaked almonds

For the glaze
2 Tbsp butter, melted
3 heaping Tbsp icing sugar
splash almond extract
2-3 Tbsp milk or cream

Bloom the yeast for 10 minutes or until a healthy, frothy head develops.

Whisk together the sugar, melted butter, salt and milk; add the eggs and bloomed yeast. Mix well. Add the flour, in thirds, beating well and scraping down the bowl between additions.
When all the flour is incorporated, lightly dust your counter with bench flour and knead for about 5-10 minutes or until the dough is elastic and as soft as a baby's bottom. Place in an oil-slathered bowl, cover and let double in size in a warm, draft-free place...about 90 minutes.

Mix the cinnamon and sugar together.

Line a 23cmx35cm (9"x14") lasagna pan with parchment paper. Butter the parchment.

Turn out the dough onto a floured surface. Knead for about five minutes and let rest. Give it the two-finger poke test*. When it passes, roll the dough into a 20cmx35cm (8"x14") rectangle.

Brush the dough with the melted butter. Sprinkle with spiced sugar and strew with almonds.

Roll up the sheet, so you have a fat, 35cm log. Cut into 12 pieces and place roughly 2.5 cm (1") apart in the prepared pan. Cover lightly and return to the warm, draft-free place until doubled in size...about one hour.

Preheat oven to 350F/180C.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until the buns are golden.

Brush the tops with melted butter, while the buns are still hot.

When the buns have cooled a little, but still warm, mix the melted butter, icing sugar and almond extract together. Add a little cream to thin it out. Drizzle over the warm buns.

* Two finger poke test: Poke the dough with your index and middle fingers to a first-knuckle depth. If the dents fill in, let the dough rest a little longer and try again. If the dents keep, you're good to go.


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