April 27, 2012

ISO the Perfect Frosting - The Final Take

It is definitely safe to say I enjoyed coming up with and making the mini cakes more than I enjoyed the frosting. I knew that would likely be the case, since these are meringue style frostings often equated to melted marshmallow. This round was seven-minute frosting and sea foam frosting, which are the same except for the sugar used. Making them was simple and done within the seven minutes, though I think my heat wasn’t high enough, so I did not get stiff peaks. For my intentions with the frosting, it wasn’t an issue, and they both held their shape well nonetheless.

The only difference between the frostings was a slight color variation, and the sea foam to me tasted more of toasted marshmallow. Both were very sweet, and I was thankful that my chocolate genoise cupcakes were not.

I may not have found the perfect birthday cake frosting, but I am certainly glad to know that there are so many more options than the American buttercream, so I consider my quest a successful one. I will continue to use the flour frosting in lieu of buttercream, the Swiss meringue with strawberry was fantastic, but I’ll cut back the butter a little, and these frostings might be used every now and again as a fanciful topping or sandwiched between graham crackers.

Seven-Minute Frosting
1-1/3 C sugar
2 egg whites
1/4 t cream of tartar
5 T water
1/8 t salt
1 t vanilla

Combine sugar, egg whites, cream of tartar, water, and salt in the top of a double boiler over medium-high heat. Using an electric mixer, beat on high until peaks form, about 5 minutes. Remove the mixture from heat, add vanilla, and continue to beat for 1-2 minutes more.

Enough for 12 cupcakes or the top and sides of a 2-layer cake.

Sea Foam Frosting
1-1/2 C brown sugar, packed
2 egg whites
5 T water
1/8 t salt
1 t vanilla

Combine sugar, egg whites, water, and salt in the top of a double boiler over medium-high heat. Using an electric mixer, beat on high until peaks form, about 5 minutes. Remove the mixture from heat, add vanilla, and continue to beat for 1-2 minutes more.

Enough for 12 cupcakes or the top and sides of a 2-layer cake. 

April 25, 2012

The Versatile Pretzel

Working with yeast doughs is becoming more and more enjoyable for me, and I’ve now made this soft pretzel dough three times. As my confidence has grown, so has my curiosity about what more can be done with the dough. Each experiment has yielded a new dish that I’ll be happy to make again. Since April 26th is National Pretzel Day, this is the perfect time to share!

The soft pretzel recipe is adapted from Home Baked Comfort (Williams-Sonoma) by Kim Laidlaw, which is an awesome recipe book. I’ve made half a dozen recipes so far and there are many more I’ll be making.

Soft Pretzels
1 C warm water, 110º F
1 package active dry yeast
1 T sugar
3 T olive oil, plus more for pans
3-1/4 C all-purpose flour
1 t salt

7 C water
1/3 C baking soda

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine water, yeast, and sugar and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.

Add the olive oil, flour and salt. Using the dough hook attachment, knead on medium-low speed until dough is smooth, about 10 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball, and place in a bowl. Cover with plastic film and proof in a warm, draft-free area until doubled, about 1 hour.

If making soft pretzels, line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper, brush with olive oil, and set aside. Divide the dough into 12 pieces, rolling each piece of dough into a long rope, about 12 to 18 inches, depending on how thick or thin you want the pretzels to be. Take one rope and lay it horizontally on your counter. While holding an end in each hand, bring the two ends together to form a circle and then criss-cross the ends and firmly push them to the bottom of the circle to form a pretzel shape. Once shaped, place on the prepared pans.

Heat oven to 400º F. Fill a large, wide pan with 7 C of water and 1/3 C of baking soda and bring to a boil. Gently place 2 to 3 pretzels in the boiling water for 50-60 seconds, turning once with a spatula or slotted spoon. Remove and place back on baking sheets. Once all of the pretzels have been boiled, sprinkle with coarse salt and bake until browned, about 12 minutes. Boiling them is what gives these pretzels their beautiful color and true pretzel taste so don’t skip this step. Best enjoyed the day they are made.

For the pretzel dough pizza, I made two small pizzas, about 7-inches each and had dough left over for a few pretzels. I also made the water mixture to boil all of the dough, but in the future I will only do that if I am making strictly pretzels. The dough for the pizza was prebaked for about 5 minutes and then the pizza was constructed and returned to the oven for the dough to complete baking and the toppings to heat through.

For the pretzel dogs, I made a half batch of dough and portioned it equally into 4 pieces (next time I’ll divide it into 6) and then shaped each piece into a flat rope, about 12 inches long. I rolled each beef link in dough and baked for 14 minutes on a parchment lined sheet tray.

April 22, 2012

Tasty Split Pea Soup?

The man and I each grew up eating quite a bit of soup of many different varieties. Of course, a good bowl of soup is best enjoyed on a cold day to fight off the doom and gloom, but even on a hot day, we don’t mind.
Over dinner one night, I realized there are some dishes I haven't eaten in at least 15 years. Sure, food cycles in trends, moving in and out of popularity, tastes change, and many foods that we grew up on were more a necessity because they were cheap. So would split pea soup be something that I still found tasty?

It sure is! Maybe not quite like our Moms', but we certainly enjoyed it all the same, even freezing some for another day, rain or shine.

Split Pea Soup
3 T butter
1 C yellow onion, chopped
1/2 C celery, chopped
1/2 C carrot, chopped
1 T minced garlic
2 C ham, chopped
1 lb bag split peas
1/2 t each salt, pepper, paprika, dried mustard
2 C chicken broth, 4 C water
1/4 C sour cream

In a dutch oven, melt butter then sauté onions, celery, carrots, and garlic for 3 minutes. Add the spices and ham and cook for 5 minutes. Add the peas then stir in the broth and water, cover and simmer for 3 hours, stirring occasionally. If during the 3 hours the liquid evaporates, add more water as needed, up to 2 C, depending on how thick or thin you want it. Whisk in the sour cream and serve.

Makes 6 hearty servings.

April 19, 2012

ISO the Perfect Frosting - Take Two

As previously posted, Swiss meringue buttercream was up next in my frosting quest. I had a strawberry cupcake all picked out to try as well. This time it wasn’t one of my own, but the strawberry cupcake recipe from Sprinkles that you can find on the interwebs. Funny enough, I just got a new cookbook recently published by Back in the Day Bakery for my birthday, and had tagged the strawberry cupcake in it. Then it hit me that the recipes were identical. The ingredients and quantity were the same with one minor addition. Also, the buttercream frosting recipes were identical, again with the same small change.

I too made a couple of minor changes and the result was a flavorful cake that held it's shape upon being unwrapped and bitten into.

The Swiss meringue buttercream, on the other hand, left something to be desired. It was much simpler and quicker to make than anticipated, which is always a plus. The consistency was incredibly rich and smooth. A thicker texture than the flour frosting, but when you dipped into the frosting, it was as light as air. This time around I was smart enough to make cupcakes and one 9-inch cake to get a better feel and taste for the frosting. Piping onto the cupcakes was a breeze, even after adding strawberry puree. Spreading it onto the cake was also smooth and effortless.

The flavor of the plain frosting was similar to the flour frosting made with 10X. There was only a hint of sweetness and butter flavor coming through and not much else. Once I added the strawberry puree it developed a sweeter taste and a mild strawberry flavor which I will definitely make again.

Next up are the seven-minute frostings!

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting
2 large egg whites
1/2 C sugar
1 C unsalted butter, room temperature, cubed
2 t flavored extract (I used 1 t fresh lemon juice and 1 t vanilla)
1/2 C strawberry puree, optional

In a double boiler, lightly whisk egg whites and sugar until temperature reaches 140º F, then remove from heat. Pour egg mixture into the bowl of stand mixer, and using the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high until doubled in volume, about 2 minutes.

Remove the whisk attachment and put the cubed butter into the mixing bowl. Push the butter to the bottom of the bowl, and then begin mixing with the paddle attachment. Starting on the lowest speed, increase the speed in 10 second intervals until medium-high. Continue mixing until light and fluffy, for a total time of 2 minutes. Pause mixing, scrape down sides of bowl, and add extracts (and strawberry puree if using), and mix on medium-high for one minute.

Makes enough for 24 cupcakes or a 2-layer 8-inch cake.

Strawberry Cupcakes
1-1/2 C fresh strawberries, pureed
1-1/2 C all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1/4 t coarse salt
1/4 C whole milk, room temperature
1 t vanilla
1/2 C unsalted butter, room temperature
1 C sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
2 large egg whites, room temperature
zest from one lemon

Preheat oven to 350º F. Line 12 standard muffin tins with liners and set aside.

Puree strawberries in a food processor and then add milk and vanilla and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt, set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar, and lemon zest on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Add egg and whites and continue mixing on medium-high until just blended.

Mixing until just incorporated after each addition, add half of the flour mixture, then the strawberry mixture, then the remaining flour mixture.

Divide batter evenly among prepared cups. Bake for 18 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

April 17, 2012

Flaky Pie Dough

Until recently, I only had a few pies under my belt and had never made pie dough from scratch. I have never been that big of a fan of pie, and cue gasp, that includes cheesecake as well. Now after having made several pies and many, many batches of flaky pie dough, I have a new appreciation.

Flaky Pie Dough
450g all-purpose flour
300g unsalted butter, cold, cubed
150 ml water, cold
1 t salt

The above recipe will make two 9-inch pie shells or eight 5-inch pie shells. If your food processor is less than 12 cups, cut the recipe in half and make only one shell at a time. The best results will come from cold ingredients and minimally handling the dough. Returning the dough to the fridge when not in use gives the gluten time to relax which will help maintain it's rolled shape.

Make the Dough
Measure and cut the butter into 1-inch cubes and return to fridge to keep cold. In a measuring cup, measure water, add salt, and stir until dissolved. Place water in fridge to keep cold. In a bowl of a food processor, measure the flour, then add butter. Pulse 10 times, keeping the butter in large chunks. Slowly stream the water into the flour mixture while continuing to pulse, about 10 to 12 pulses. The butter should remain in large pea size pieces with the dough being only just moist enough to hold together.

Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and gently press the dough together. Evenly divide the dough in half and press each half into the shape of a disc about 5 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick. Wrap each piece securely in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 6 hours before using. For best results, it can be kept in the fridge for 48 hours until use or frozen for 1 month.

Roll the Dough
On a large, lightly floured surface, roll one disc of dough into a large circle, about 16 inches in diameter. To maintain a circular shape, work from the center towards the edges. Stop the rolling pin about one-half inch from the edge to keep from pressing the dough too thin. It is unnecessary to continually rotate and flour both the dough and surface during this process. Doing so will cause the butter to melt from the heat of your hands and the dough will lose it's flakiness. The overuse of flour will make the dough tough.  Only sparsely flour your hands and rolling pin just so the dough doesn't stick. Working with the dough quickly so that it remains as cold as possible will also make handling easier. Loosely roll the dough onto the rolling pin and transfer to the pie dish. Gently smooth it into place with one hand, while holding the edge up with the other hand, working around the entire dish. Leave about 1 inch of dough overhanging the dish and place in fridge until ready to use.

Top with Dough
Repeat the same method to roll out another disc of dough for the top of the pie. If you are making a lattice top, cut the strips at this point. Place the prepared dough in fridge on a foil lined baking sheet. After the dough has chilled, you can either create the entire lattice top and then place on the pie (my preferred method) or make it directly on top of the pie. Keep in mind if the pie filling was precooked and still warm, it will heat up your dough making it difficult to position.

Once the top is situated, take the overhang of the top and bottom dough and gently roll it under, making a ridge that can be fluted, crimped, or any other decorative design you choose. You can then brush with an egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. If you leave the dough as a complete round, don't forget to cut slits in the top to allow for venting.

You can blind bake the shell if you need only a single baked crust for your pie recipe. Once the dough has been placed in the pie dish, and the ridge fluted or crimped as above, place a piece of parchment paper in the dish and let it overhang. Fill with pie weights, rice, or beans and bake for 18-20 minutes at 350º F. Remove the items from the pie crust and return it to the oven to bake for 5-7 minutes, until the dough has a light golden color and is dry to the touch. Let it cool completely and then it is ready for your filling as directed by the recipe of choice.

April 13, 2012

Deep Dish Comfort

I’ve been making this chicken pot pie for many moons when a conversation with the man went like this:

Man: Why don’t you put mashed potatoes in it?

Me: I could do that.

Sha-zam! We just made a tasty dinner even better. Not just in flavor, but it also became simpler to fix, great for busy weeknights, nights when you need a warm dinner to fight off the chill, or just because comfort food is always welcome.

Most ingredients are usually on hand, and because I want to keep this dish simple, I do use all prepared items. Those that feel ambitious and really want to turn up the charm can make this much more homemade.

Chicken Pot Pie
1 lb boneless chicken breast, cubed
1/4 C light Italian dressing
4 oz cream cheese, cubed
14 oz vegetables, canned or frozen
12 oz prepared mashed potatoes
1 refrigerated pie crust

Heat oven to 375º F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate with one pie shell, keeping the other shell cold in the fridge. Prebake the empty shell in the oven for 5 minutes to keep the crust from getting soggy during baking.

Meanwhile, in a large pan or skillet, place the dressing and chicken over medium heat and cook for 2 minutes. Add cream cheese, stirring until it is melted. Add mashed potatoes, then fold in vegetables.
Place filling in prepared pie dish. Grab the other pie shell and unroll, gently laying it on top of the filling. Flute, crimp, or push down with fork tines to connect top shell to bottom. Cut a few slits in the center of the dough to allow steam to escape. If your filling is especially full or liquid, place a baking sheet under the pie for easy clean-up just in case bubbling over occurs.

Bake for 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Allow the pot pie to set for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. I can't usually wait that long and that's okay too! If there are any leftovers, cover them up and refrigerate, it tastes just as good the next day.

April 10, 2012

ISO the Perfect Frosting - Take One

Frosting? Icing? Whatever you choose to call it, I’m in search of the perfect one!

Craving a typical birthday cake for my birthday, and being left deflated by the traditional American buttercream, has sent me on a quest for the perfect frosting. I am looking for a frosting that is light and smooth, not overly sweet, and easily workable. I am not interested in being able to pipe intricate details, flowers, or anything of the sort on my baked goods.

I decided to start with flour frosting. Selecting 3 different sources and finding that they were all near identical, I created two variations and amended the methods as necessary. I was pleased with how the flour frosting with granulated sugar turned out. It was mildly sweet and had a full texture for being so light. With the confectioner's sugar, the butter was overpowering, which led to a greasy frosting that wasn’t sweet at all. It did pipe smoothly, but I suspect that's all thanks to the butter.

I have my go to for chocolate frosting, it’s decadent in all its fudgy simplicity. I’ll go more into detail about that one in a future post along with a super moist chocolate cake.
Next up will be a Swiss meringue buttercream, stay tuned...

Flour Frosting
1 C heavy cream, can also use whole milk
1/4 C all-purpose flour
1 C unsalted butter, room temperature
1 C granulated sugar or confectioner's sugar (10X)
1 t vanilla
1/2 t salt

The above recipe makes enough to frost 24 standard size cupcakes or fully ice a 2-layer, 9-inch cake.
In a small saucepan, whisk flour into milk and then add the salt. Heat on medium-high, whisking constantly until it thickens to the consistency of pudding. It may seem like it isn't going to thicken and then, voila!, it's done. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Once cool, stir in the vanilla and set aside.

If using granulated sugar, complete using method below.
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the cooled milk mixture and beat for about 5 more minutes.

If using confectioner's sugar, complete using method below.
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Add the cooled milk mixture, combining well. Add the confectioner's sugar in 4 increments and then beat for about 5 minutes.

April 7, 2012

Not Very French Brioche

There is a local chain of restaurants whose bakery provides rich, buttery rolls while you wait for your entree. I was unable to locate any recipes for these little death balls, but did run across others who were also looking. My research took a turn and led me to brioche. Since bread baking is new to me, I looked at several different recipes and blog posts, finally deciding to create my own.

Once it came time to reap the rewards of patiently waiting hours for the dough to proof and proof some more, I split the dough into thirds to prepare in various methods, none of them traditional. Let’s not forget, also to proof one last time before baking and filling the house with warm scents. The first third was rolled out with a rolling pin and then sliced into cubes. I lined the muffin pan with baking cups, then added 5 cubes of dough into each. The next third was divided into even amounts and rolled into balls and placed in a sprayed muffin pan. The remaining third was evenly portioned and deep fried in the shape of flattened, small rolls.

The baked dough in both ways came out with a tender inside that you could really sink your teeth into. They were mildly sweet, some made more so after being brushed with melted butter and topped with sugar or cinnamon-sugar. The cubed rolls were definitely whimsical treats to eat, being able to peel a section of dough off and pop it in my mouth. The deep fried were also hearty little rolls with the fried crust giving it an extra something, just not something that I was keen on.

The taste of brioche reminds me of something that I can’t quite put my finger on. There is a strong sense that a buried memory is associated with this flavor. Guess I’ll just have to make some more to see if it will aid in bringing the memory to light! I also have a fab pear bread pudding that the brioche would make a tasty base for.

1/3 C milk, warmed to 110º F
1-1/4 t active dry yeast
1/3 C sugar
3-1/2 C all-purpose flour, divided
1 t salt
1 C unsalted butter, cubed, room temperature
4 eggs

The above recipe will make 12-16 rolls, depending on size.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add milk, yeast, sugar and 1/2 C flour, mix until just combined. Gently place remaining flour, then salt on top of mixture. Let stand for 45 minutes.

Lightly spray or oil a medium size bowl and set aside. Using the dough hook on low speed, mix all ingredients inside the bowl until combined. Add the eggs and continue to mix on medium speed until the dough is smooth, about 5 minutes.

Add the cubed butter and mix on medium speed for 10 minutes. Once the dough has pulled together into a shiny ball, place in prepared bowl. Cover with plastic film and set in a warm area until the dough has doubled in size, about 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Punch the dough down to work out any air bubbles, re-cover and store in the fridge for a minimum of 6 hours, but best if left overnight.

Heat oven to 350ºF. Prepare pans with liners or spray if necessary. Portion dough evenly and shape as desired. Place in prepared pans and let rest in a warm place for 1 hour. Bake for 18-21 minutes, until the tops are a golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately turn brioche out onto wire racks for cooling. If topping, do so now. Best enjoyed still warm from the oven!