Monday, July 13, 2015

Pistachio and Raspberry Financiers

Financiers were once described to me as little tea cakes.  And when they were, I conjured up the image of  a proper English tea time with elderly woman wearing big hats sipping Earl Gray from floral printed cups all while sitting next to tiered trays of several different types of these tea cakes.

It seemed so elegant--and I imagine that that image actually comes to fruition some where in the world--or at least at one point in time it did.

And even if it doesn't today it doesn't change the fact that, still, there is something elegant and quaint about financiers.

They're not ornate or ostentatious by being garnished with piped frosting or layered with different types of mousse.  It's just the cake and any flavor added to the batter by way of nuts or fruit.  Nothing is overly embellished and everything about them is restrained--but not dull.

So simple that I can't seem to find anymore words to write about them--albeit a few notes/words of advice.

Financiers are usually baked in little rectangular loaf-like pans--which I happen to own.  If you don't, it's not uncommon to use mini muffin/cupcake pans, which the author (Dorie Greenspan) of this recipe points out.  That said, the recipe baking times may differ a bit depending on which type of mold you use--so you'll need to keep any eye out for that.  I have another recipe that specifies the financier molds I have so I referenced that for the baking time and tested it out a bit on my first batch. Initially, the first batch seemed a bit over-baked.  I felt like they were a bit too crunchy on the outside edges.  So, I reduced the baking time for the next few batches and that seemed to allay that issue. However, during the next few days--while being stored in an air tight container--the financiers seemed to soften up a bit and their texture was even more cake-like--which pleased me.  I've read from other recipes that financiers are best the day they are baked and then a few days after.  I completely disagree with this.  I think they taste even better as they age a bit---I mean I'm not talking anymore than a week--but after a few days I think they taste even better--in fact I happen to think this about a lot of desserts that aren't deep fried.  But anyway, contrary to what most recipes state I think these will keep great for up to a week in an air tight container--and at room temperature.

Recipe slightly adapted from Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan

170g (12 T) unsalted butter
180g (+/- 6 large eggs) egg whites
99g (3/4c) roasted and salted shelled pistachios
200g (1c) granulated sugar
90g (2/3c) all-purpose flour
pinch of sea salt
123g (1c) fresh raspberries

Place the egg whites in a small bowl and using a fork or a small whisk, whisk the whites just until they are broken up and then set them aside.  Next, using a small saucepan melt the butter over medium heat--whisking often so you don't let any of the butter burn.  Essentially you're browning the butter--although Dorie Greenspan doesn't specifically state that.  She states to melt the butter until it just about turns a "pale golden" brown color.  So, I guess you're slightly browning it.  Anyway, once it just starts to brown remove it from the heat and pour it into a measuring cup and set it aside.  Then, take the shelled pistachios and place them in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse the pistachios until they are a course grind--be careful not to over-process them or else you might form an oily paste. Add the flour, sugar and salt to the ground pistachios and pulse until they are well combined with the pistachios.  Next, pour the mixture from the food processor bowl into a clean medium sized bowl. Pour the egg whites into the dry ingredients and whisk gently just until fully combined. Lastly, slowly pour the butter mixture into the egg white mixture and whisk just until combined.  I poured the butter mixture in incrementally--so I poured a little in and whisked it just until combined and continued doing that until I poured all of it in.  Once all of the butter is mixed in, place a piece of plastic wrap directly over the batter and refrigerate the batter for a least 8 hours or overnight.  Once the batter has been chilled, butter your molds (I used 3 1/4 inch by 1 3/4 inch rectangular molds) and then place them on a baking sheet and into the fridge to chill.  Then, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Divide the batter evenly between the molds (about 25g or 1 1/2T for each rectangular mold).  Place at least one raspberry in the middle of the batter of each financier mold.  Then, bake the financiers for about 17-20 minutes.  As I mentioned previously, I had to lower my baking time and that time ended up being 17 minutes.  Once the financiers are done--they should be springy when you lightly touch the top of one--remove them from the oven and immediately remove them from the mold and let cool completely on a cooling rack.  Store the cooled financiers for up to a week in an air tight container.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Strawberry Sour Cream Scones

I've been buying a crap load of strawberries.  They are my favorite berry--and they were having a two for one deal at the farmers market the other day.  That said, I'm getting a little frazzled trying to figure out how to consume all of them before they go bad.  I eat them every day--either on their own or in my cereal--but I still have a lot.  I mean I know I can make pies or cakes or jams but sometimes I want something a little different.  So when I came across an article on The Kitchn that so conveniently presented me with a slide show of just things to do with your spring/summer berries, I was like f yeah.  And then scrolling through it I came across these scones.

I never think of making scones.  I like scones.  My partner loves them.  They're not hard to make. My only problem with them is that they are really only good the day of baking them--like donuts--which is kind of a drag... After a day they seem to get a bit dry and a little less palatable.  But that wasn't really a factor for me. And I'm glad it wasn't because these scones were delectable.  The strawberry to dough ratio was perfect.  They were moist and tender.  And they had a crumb topping.  I love crumb toppings.  Crumb toppings--with all of their butter and sugar--can really elevate a baked good for me and this one did not disappoint.

So, if you're looking for an alternative from strawberry shortcakes or strawberry rhubarb pie, and want to expand your strawberry baked goods repertoire then make these guys because strawberry season is short and you should explore their presence in a variety of baked goods--especially these scones.

Recipe from The Kitchn

5oz (2c) all purpose flour
1.75oz (1/4c) granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt
4oz (1/2c) cold unsalted butter cut into small 1/4 inch cubes
6oz (3/4c) cold sour cream
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla bean paste--or extract
1c chopped fresh strawberries

First, line a large baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper.  Next, in a large bowl sift and whisk all of the dry ingredients together.  In a separate small bowl, whisk the sour cream, egg and vanilla together until well blended and then set it aside.  Toss the cubed butter into the flour mixture and using a pastry blender--or a fork--cut the butter into the flour until it resembles course bread crumbs. Then, pour the wet ingredients--not the strawberries--into the dry. Using a silicone spatula, gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry just until incorporated--don't keep folding or else you are going to form some gluten strands and have a tough end product.  Next, place the dough onto the prepared baking sheet and gently pat--most easily with either a spatula or the back of your hand--it into a rectangle that's about a half of an inch thick.  Spread half of the chopped strawberries over the rectangle and gently press them into the dough--they do not have to be fully embedded within the dough.  Then--most easily with the use of a bench scraper--fold the rectangle in half and pat it again into another rectangle that's about a half of an inch thick.  Spread the remaining strawberries over the rectangle, press them gently into the dough and fold it in half again.  Gently pat the dough into another rectangle, fold it in half and do that one more time--you are just trying to thoroughly fold the strawberries into the dough.  Lastly, after your final "turn" pat the dough into a large circle that is an inch thick on the baking sheet.  Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least an hour--I did mine overnight.  In the meantime you can make the crumb topping.

Crumb topping

1.75oz (1/4c) all purpose flour
1.25oz (1/4c) brown sugar
1.5oz (3 T) cold salted butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes

In a small bowl--whisk together the flour and sugar.  Then--using either your fingers, a pastry blender or a fork--blend the butter into the flour/sugar mixture--into a crumble if possible.  My mixture just formed a big mass so I refrigerated it overnight and then I crumbled it the next morning when it was nice and cold.  At any rate, cover the mixture with plastic wrap and chill it until your scone dough has chilled.

For assembly

Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Remove the scones from the fridge and remove the plastic wrap as well. If any strawberries have fallen out of the dough, just gently press them back into it.  Crumble the crumb topping evenly over the dough and then cut the dough into eight equal wedges.  Carefully separate each wedge from its neighbor--as much as possible.  They will rise and spread out so ideally a two inch gap would be nice.  Finally, bake the scones for 18-20 minutes or until they are golden brown. Remove them from the oven and let cool just enough until you can pick one up with your hand and it doesn't burn you.  Serve warm.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Rhubarb Cake

Sometimes it seems hard for me to find recipes that I would think shouldn't be too hard to find.  For example, the subject of this current post.  I wanted to find a recipe for a rhubarb cake.  But let me be clear.  I didn't want a recipe for a yellow cake that had chunks of rhubarb scattered throughout. I wanted a cake where pureed rhubarb was added to the batter to create a rhubarb cake--similar to what one would do to create a banana cake.

As I mentioned, I couldn't find it.  So I made one up.  But then bothersome things began happening. First, some odd chemical reaction occurred when I added the pureed rhubarb to the already mixed cake batter.  It fizzled and popped like a freshly opened carbonated beverage.

I guess maybe it had something to do with the acid in the rhubarb reacting with the baking soda or baking powder that I had already mixed into the batter.  But I'm no chemist so I can't precisely say for sure what went down.  Also, the cake turned from a pink to a green when I took it out of the oven. That wasn't so much of a surprise because rhubarb does have a lot of green pigments and I've seen that happen before when rhubarb meets the heat.

But it was a gross looking green--like vomit green. And then there was the actual taste and texture of the cake.  I'll be honest, it tasted nothing like rhubarb to me.  It didn't taste bad.  In fact, it tasted good--just like a yellow cake. But not like rhubarb.  And the texture of the cake was all wrong.  It was overly spongy and moist--more like a bread pudding.  Thus a fail on my part.

Perhaps this is the reason why I couldn't find a recipe. Perhaps not.  I actually think that with some tweaks, I could get it right.  So, maybe next season. On the plus side, making this cake gave me the opportunity to pretty it up in a special kinda way.  I had been wanting to try this decorating technique since I saw it last spring on Sprinkle Bakes. By the way, if you want to see a woman who makes some truly beautiful desserts with a real creative hand, check out her site here.

Some of it isn't necessarily my style but nevertheless, they all appear very well crafted.  And when I saw this cake posted, it made a visual impact on me.  Since I keep buying an obscene amount of rhubarb I had plenty on hand to make it happen.  At first, I was getting a little frustrated with peeling the thin layers of rhubarb off from the stalk.  It may have had something to do with my dull vegetable peeler.  So if you are going to attempt this, then make sure you have patience and a good sharp peeler.  But that was the hardest part about the process.  The rest was pretty simple and not too time consuming.  My pattern wasn't as uniform or pretty as the one on Sprinkle Bakes but I liked it.  I'm calling it nouveau rustic.

Recipe for two six inch rhubarb cakes

190g cake flour
200g granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2/3c buttermilk at room temp.
100g butter melted and cooled to room temp.
40g vegetable oil
100g eggs at room temp.
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 lb or 3 c of rhubarb chopped to 1/2 inch wide

*Fair warning--this recipe was not such a big success but here goes anyway...

First, cook the rhubarb.  Place the chopped rhubarb in a medium non-reactive saucepan with 3/4c of water and bring it to a boil.  Once it's boiling, reduce the mixture to a simmer and continue to cook until the rhubarb softens and begins to break down--about 15-20 minutes.  Then, remove the rhubarb from the heat and let cool completely.  Once, it's cooled to room temperature place the rhubarb in a blender and puree it until it is smooth.  Set the rhubarb aside.  Next, start the rest of the cake by preheating the oven to 350 F.  Butter two six inch cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, sift all of the dry ingredients together.  In a separate medium bowl, whisk all of the wet ingredients together--except for the rhubarb puree--until well combined.  Pour all of the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.  Using the paddle attachment, mix the dry and wet ingredients together on medium speed for about two minutes.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.  Pour the rhubarb puree in the batter, turn the mixer back on and mix until the rhubarb has been fully incorporated into the mixture (when you add the rhubarb it may fizzle and pop).  Stop the mixer and divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans.  Bake the cakes for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of each cake comes out clean.  Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool completely before removing them from the pans.

For the frosting, I made a swiss meringue buttercream base, pureed some strawberries I had and mixed it into the base.  And for the rhubarb wrapped decorating technique, I used the the link above from Sprinkle Bakes.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Tiger Cakes

Dorie Greenspan's newest addition to the written word, Baking Chez Moi, is a baking tome.  And it's amazing--albeit a bit overwhelming for me.  There is a wealth of recipes to choose from.  Unless you are looking for something very specific or something that has specific ingredients, you'll be hard-pressed over deciding just which recipe to sate your sweet tooth.  Unfortunately--but not that unfortunate because I love perusing through this book--this is what happened to me the other night.

I was paging through the book with the intent of choosing one thing to make.  My only criteria was that I needed to have all of the ingredients already on hand because it was eight o'clock at night--on a weeknight--and I wasn't even considering the idea of leaving my apartment.  Luckily, I ran across quite a few recipes that I could make.  But after reading through many of them I realized that I had to amend my criterion to not just ingredients I already had on hand.

I also needed a recipe that was fairly simple and not time consuming to make because it was just two hours before my bed time.  Finally, my search ceased with the turn of a page and the visual of these guys....these...."tiger cakes" that befell my eyes. When I started reading through the recipe I started to think that they were just inverted cupcakes.  But they're not.

For one thing, they are mostly made with almond flour.  So if anything they are more like financiers with some chocolate chunks.  Also, after sampling the batter the first thing that came to mind was chocolate chip cookie dough.  For me, it was a dead ringer.  After baking them, that correlation didn't break because they tasted like little chocolate chip cookie cakes with an additional flavor and texture courtesy of the almond flour.  They were addicting too--so easy to just pop one in your mouth and then another and another--just like a can of Pringles--except insurmountably better than Pringles.

As for the name....from what I read in the book, the chocolate is somehow supposed to create striations within the batter--so you'd have alternating stripes of chocolate and cake batter I assume. But I didn't really notice this with my tiger cakes.  The chocolate just embedded itself within the batter as though it would within a chocolate chip cookie. So I don't know what was supposed to occur.  Maybe I did something wrong.  But, whatever--tiger stripes or not--these little cakes were delicious.

Recipe unintentionally--gladly--adapted because I didn't have unsalted butter from Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan

3 large egg whites at room temp.
1c (100g) almond flour
2/3c (132g) granulated sugar
3 T all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
8 T (113g) salted butter (the original recipe calls for unsalted butter and also 1/4 tsp salt but I had only salted butter so I used that and omitted the salt)
85g finely chopped semi-sweet chocolate chunks

First, preheat the oven to 350 F and butter 24 mini cupcake molds.  Then, pour your egg whites in a large bowl and whisk them just until they are broken up.  Add the almond flour and stir until all of the flour is moistened.  Next, add the sugar, all-purpose flour and vanilla and stir until fully combined.  Then, using either the microwave or the stove top, bring the butter to a boil and then gradually add it to the batter stirring each time before you add some more butter until all of it is fully combined.  Lastly, stir in the chocolate chunks.  Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake molds and bake the cakes for about 15 minutes or until a toothpick that is inserted in the middle of the cakes comes out clean. Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool for a couple of minutes before removing them from the molds.  After the cakes have been removed from the pan let them cool completely before glazing them with the chocolate.

Recipe for chocolate glaze (the book uses a basic ganache but I already had this glaze leftover from some eclairs I made earlier and I thought it would work just as well)

3oz unsalted butter
5oz semi-sweet chocolate cut into chunks
1 T light corn syrup

First clarify the butter and then set it aside while you melt the chocolate.  Melt the chocolate in a medium heat proof bowl.  Add the still warm clarified butter and corn syrup and stir until fully combined.

To assemble, just dip each of the cakes in the chocolate and let the chocolate set before consuming--or don't and eat them as you will...

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Chestnut Sponge Cake

I purchased Alice Medrich's new cookbook, Flavor Flours.  It caught my attention when I first heard about it because I'm always curious to see if you can replicate traditional desserts and pastries (ones that use wheat flours) using non-traditional ingredients (ones that don't use wheat flours) and have them still taste...well, good.  My default impulse is to assume that the end result of these types of desserts is just mediocre. And honestly, that's not a fair assessment on my part because it's rare for me to veer away from using a good old fashioned all-purpose flour.  Maybe that will change with this new cookbook.  Yet, I don't believe that the intent of this cookbook is to convert people away from wheat flours.  It's not even a book meant to rouse healthier eating or aimed specifically at gluten free bakers--at least not intentionally.  Instead, Alice Medrich is hoping to open up our taste buds to a completely new realm of flours and how they can alter--and maybe even enhance--desserts that we know so well with wheat flours.  So in that sense, I love the book and am truly excited to try out many (all) of these recipes.  That stated, shortly after I read through the introduction of the book, I bought a slew of the flavor flours.  I didn't even know what recipe I wanted to start with--it was semi-impulsive.  But after browsing through the recipes--and simultaneously running through in my head my new flour inventory--I decided on the chestnut sponge cake.  It was simple with the most basic of ingredients--aside from the flour of course.  At first, when it came out of the oven and I removed it from the pan I thought it would be dry because I saw some dry-like crumbs at the edges of the cake. It also didn't seem as spongy as a wheat flour cake.  When I went to lightly press my finger on the top of the cake, it seemed harder than a cake I normally make.  It didn't rise much either.  But that could have been a result of me deflating the batter too much during the folding process too.  I guess I wasn't sure what it was supposed to look--or taste--like.  But all fears were extinguished when I actually bit into the cake.  It wasn't dry and it tasted kinda like a gingerbread cake with some nuttiness.  There was no disappointment or a feeling of mediocrity towards it.  I was pleased with the outcome and left with a definite sense of hope towards the non-wheat flour baked goods.  I have a feeling that they will be a valuable asset within my baking stockpile.

Chestnut sponge cake recipe from Flavor Flours by Alice Medrich

3 T (45g) clarified butter
1c (100g) chestnut flour
2/3c (130g) granulated sugar
4 large eggs
pinch of salt

First, line the bottom of an 8 inch round cake pan with a piece of parchment paper and set it aside. Place one of your oven racks in the lower third tier of your oven and preheat it to 350 F.  Set aside a large bowl.  Take the clarified butter and pour it into a small microwaveable-safe bowl and set aside. Then, in a different medium bowl whisk 2 tablespoons of the sugar, salt and the chestnut flour together and set that aside.  Next, place the eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer and attach the bowl to the mixer.  Using the whisk attachment, beat the eggs on high speed until they've tripled in volume and have thickened up.  Before the eggs have tripled in volume--while your mixer is still running--heat the butter in the microwave until it's hot and then pour it into the large bowl you've set aside. Once the eggs are done, stop the mixer and remove the bowl from it.  Now, pour 1/3 of the flour mixture over the top of the eggs and fold it into them until almost all of the flour has been incorporated.  Then, pour half of the remaining flour mixture over the eggs and fold until almost all has been incorporated.  And repeat with the remaining flour mixture.  Next, take about 1/4 of the batter and pour it into the large bowl that contains the clarified butter and gently fold the two mixtures together until they are well combined.  Lastly, pour the buttery batter mixture into the eggy flour batter and fold until well combined.  Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for 20-30 minutes (I left mine in for 22 minutes and I think it could have been done in less time--it all depends on your oven though). Remove the cake from the oven and let cool before removing from the pan.

Once the cake was cooled, I frosted it with some leftover pecan whipped cream I had from a prevous project.  I thought it would be a nice complement for it.  Alice Medrich's exact recipe uses a pear butter and creme fraĆ®che--but I didn't have any ingredients to whip that up so I went with what I had...

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sourdough Bread

When it comes to baking, bread has never been my forte.  It has always come out heavy, dense and hard as a rock.  In part, I put the onus on yeast which never seems to want to reside happily within the confines of my kitchen.  But honestly, I can't blame the yeast completely.  My apartment as a whole seems to lack good thermal regulation--it's too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer.

And since yeast is very particular about the temperature in which it inclines itself to flourish, I don't always have much luck.  However, it's spring now and the heat is off, the air conditioner has yet to be called to duty and it just so happens that the temperature in my kitchen has been consistent.  It has consistently been at just the right temperature for my diva-like yeast to strut its stuff. Thus it's bread making season for me.

With the help of an even keel temperature in my kitchen and King Arthur, lately I've been making some pretty good breads.  So I feel that my latest project should not go unmentioned.  As all of you who have ever made a sourdough know, it requires a starter.  And a sourdough starter is created by capturing wild yeast in your own home.

Basically, if you set out a bowl of flour and water mixed together, it will attract yeast.  By nurturing it--feeding it more flour and water--you encourage the yeast to grow and thrive.  It will double in size, it will effuse a fruity and tangy aroma and it will be bubbly.

It's important that you grow a good starter because when you go to actually make your bread, you don't add any additional pre-packaged yeast to the dough.  You are relying solely on the wild yeast you have caught as the leavening agent.  So you have to be good to your starter--feed it, keep it warm (but not too warm) and safe, love it, maybe even sing to it.  It's basically your child or--if you prefer--your pet.

After a week, I felt like I had raised a good starter.  It doubled in size after I fed it, it smelled fruity and tangy and it had some bubbling goin on. I've never been prouder.  The rest of the process--as far as the actual making of the bread--was fairly straightforward.  The one thing about this dough is that it's pretty sticky.  But luckily you don't spend a lot of time kneading it.  However, you do have to form it into tight boules and due to its sticky nature, it's a little difficult to handle.  Yet with some lightly floured hands and some perseverance, it is manageable.

Another thing about this bread was that you need to provide some steam in the oven for the first five minutes into baking. Apparently this helps create a good crust.  Since I don't have an oven that creates steam, I did what my King Arthur cookbook suggested.  Before I preheated the oven, I placed an empty cast iron skillet in it on the rack directly below the rack that I used to bake the bread on. Once the oven was preheated--and right after I placed the unbaked dough in it--I poured about a half of a cup of already very hot water into the cast iron skillet and poof, there was my steam. It was almost magical.

Anyway....for my first sourdough I think it came out well.  It was kind of spongy (which I think is the right texture) and had that tang that you'll find in most breads of that nature.  The crust was crusty as it should be--I'm not sure what else to say about that.  Although, I may have over-baked one of the boules a bit so part of its crust was a little darker than I would have liked but I wouldn't say it was burnt.

I have to admit that I have always been a little intimidated by bread baking.  I  suppose it has something to do with the fact that there's a lot of history behind it--I mean that it has been around a really long time.  And in that time people have had time to perfect it and make it a true craft.  And that is what gives me a little pause when I think about baking some bread--there's a lot to learn in both technique and the different mediums used to make it which seems overwhelming.  Nevertheless, I think I'm off to a good start.

Recipe ever so slightly adapted from Whole Grain Baking by King Arthur Flour

1c (9oz) ripe whole wheat sourdough starter
1 2/3c (6 5/8oz) white whole wheat flour
2 2/3c (11 1/4oz) white unbleached bread flour
1 1/2c (12oz) water at room temp.
1 T honey
2 tsp kosher salt

Using the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the starter, flours and water together on the lowest possible speed until the flours are moistened.  Then, let the dough rest for 20 minutes. After the 20 minutes are up, add the salt and honey to the bowl.  Replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook and--on low speed--run the mixer for 2-3 minutes.  Turn the mixer off, cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a tea towel and let the dough proof for 45 minutes.  After the 45 minutes is up, flour your work surface well.  Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto the work surface.  Flour your hands and lightly pat the dough into a rectangle--maybe 12 inches long by 6 inches wide (there wasn't any specified dimensions in the cookbook so I think that's about the size I patted the dough out to). Next, using a bench scraper fold the rectangle of dough into thirds like a letter--at the short sides. Then, fold it again--like a letter--at the short sides.  So now you have a rather bulbous rectangular prism of dough.  Place it back in the bowl, cover the bowl and let the dough proof again for another 45 minutes.  FYI, apparently this folding of the dough between proofs is a sort of substitution for punching down dough that has already proofed once.  After this second 45 minutes of proofing is up, you're going to do the same thing you did after the first one.  Remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a well floured surface, pat it into a rectangle and then fold it into thirds twice.  Place the dough back into the bowl, cover the bowl and let it proof for another 45 minutes.  At the end of the 45 minutes, place a baking stone or pizza stone in the middle rack of your oven.  Then place an empty cast iron skillet on the rack below the one where the stone is sitting.  Preheat the oven to 450 F.  Next, take two bowls that are close in size and line them each with a tea towel--or some sort of linen towel--and then sprinkle some flour over the towels.  No, pull the dough out of the bowl and place it on a well-floured surface.  Divide the dough in half, flour your hands and shape each half into a boule.  Place each boule into a prepared bowl, cover them and let them proof for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile--your oven is preheating and your dough is in its final proof--heat at least a half of cup of water on the stove and bring it almost to a boil.  Then, line a rimless baking sheet with parchment paper--or turn a rimmed baking sheet over so the bottom is the top and line it with parchment paper. When the oven is preheated and the boules are done proofing, turn the bowls (I know it's confusing--the whole boule/bowl thing--I'm sorry!) upside down onto the parchment paper so that the boules fall out of the bowls and are sitting atop the parchment paper.  Remove the tea towels and dust away any excess flour sitting on the dough. Open the oven door and quickly transfer/slide the parchment paper with the boules from the baking sheet to the hot baking stone. Right after they are safely on the stone, take the hot water and carefully pour it in the hot cast iron skillet (it will sizzle and steam up). Quickly close the door and let the dough bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, reduce the temperature of the oven to 425 F and let the bread bake for another 20-30 minutes--or until the internal temperature of the bread reads 210 F. Remove the bread from the oven and let cool before slicing into.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Carrot Cake with Pecan Cream Frosting

The main impetus for making this cake was based on a recently acquired ability that I've happily added to my baking repertoire.  And that would be making my own nut pastes.  Nut pastes can be expensive and aside from almond paste--which seems to be more readily available--hard to find.

Unless you order them online of course.  But I don't always feel like waiting or paying for that  stuff. So, I found a great step by step recipe/guide to making a pistachio paste and it's very easy.  And  I figured that I could adapt it to use with other nuts as well.  With that, I decided I wanted to make a pecan paste.

But then I was wondering what the heck I was going to do with it.  Honestly, I'm not sure what to do with nut pastes except eat them all by themselves--they're pretty darn good on their own. Nevertheless, I was thinking that maybe they'd make a good flavoring agent in a frosting for a cake. So, I had a possible pecan butter cream or whipped cream frosting on deck but no cake yet.  And I guess I could have made any type of cake but carrot cake--with it's spice-heavy make-up seemed like a good match.

PAC-MAN shot

Plus, sometimes people put nuts into their carrot cakes right?  But instead of incorporating the nut element into the cake, I decided to do it with the frosting.  Ingenious.  I know. Probably never been done before.

And actually--admittedly--I'm not a huge proponent of cream cheese frostings--which is commonly used for carrot cakes.  In fact, aside from a cheese cake--which is supposed to be cream cheesy--I could live without the stuff (I know--perhaps I speak baking blasphemy).  I don't like it in frosting or mousses--I feel like it's used a bit too liberally.

People want something that has some body to it so they turn to cream cheese--and it's a turn-off for me.  So my pecan cream frosting seemed way better. I thought about developing my own carrot cake recipe but then I realized that I don't exactly know what I want that recipe to be like.  I love carrot cake but I'm just not sure I've experienced enough carrot cake to accurately decide what I do and do not like with it.  So with that, I decided on a recipe from my Vintage Cakes cookbook.

This recipe was slightly different than some of the recipes I've seen in that it uses part all-purpose flour and part whole wheat pastry flour--maybe to give it a nuttier flavor?  I'm not sure it came through in the finished product but it certainly didn't hinder any of the cake's other flavors--which were quite lovely.

Also, there's a note in the recipe with suggestions of what to add to your carrot cake--with the intent to "make it your own".  Ingredients like currants, raisins, coconut and pineapple were mentioned. In an effort to find my own carrot cake recipe, I took up this suggestion and added some chopped-up pineapple to the batter.

I thought it was a nice addition but as odd as it may seem, I didn't like the way it looked in the cake--like the orange carrot color and the yellow pineapple.  It seemed very un-carrot cake like. Again, I know it seems weird. But I also didn't think that it really added anything more to the cake. In other words, as far as flavor goes, I could take it or leave.  So, when I finally do develop my own carrot cake recipe, I'll probably be leaving the pineapple out.

Recipe adapted from Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson

1c (5oz) all-purpose flour
1c (4 3/4oz) whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (I used freshly grated nutmeg)
1 1/2c (10 1/2oz) granulated sugar
1/2c (3 3/4oz) packed brown sugar (I used light brown but you could used dark too)
3/4c vegetable oil
4 large eggs at room temp.
1/2c buttermilk at room temp.
1 lb peeled and coarsely grated carrots (about 3 cups)
1c chopped pineapple (chopped to about 1/4 inch cubes)

First, grease the sides and the bottom of two round 9 inch cake pans.  Then, line the bottoms of each pan with parchment paper.  Preheat the oven to 350 F.  In a medium sized bowl, sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices together and then whisk to fully combine them.  Set them aside.  In the bowl of a stand mixer and using the paddle attachment, combine the sugars and oil. Mix for about 3 minutes on medium speed--scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl a couple times to make sure it all gets fully combined.  Next, add the eggs one at a time--adding the next egg right after the previous one becomes fully incorporated into the batter.  After all of the eggs have been incorporated, turn the mixer up to medium-high speed and mix the batter for 3 minutes.  It will increase in volume and lighten in color during this time.  Now, turn the mixer down to its lowest setting and add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating between them and the buttermilk--first add 1/3 of the dry ingredients and mix until just combined, then 1/2 of the buttermilk just until combined, 1/3 dry, rest of buttermilk and finally the remaining of the dry ingredients being careful to mix each addition until just combined.  Finally, turn off the mixer and using a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the carrots and pineapple just until evenly incorporated.  Divide the batter evenly between the 2 baking pans.  Bake the cakes for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean and the top of each cake springs back when lightly touched by your finger.  Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool for about 30 minutes in the pans before removing them from the pans.  Cool completely before assembly and frosting.

Pecan cream frosting recipe

3c of cold heavy whipping cream
1/2c of granulated sugar
1c pecan paste at room temp.

Before you start, place the bowl of a stand mixer and the whisk attachment in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.  After the bowl and whisk are cold, pour all of the cream in the bowl and whisk on medium speed.  When the cream has thickened up a bit slowly pour the sugar into the bowl while the mixer is running.  Whisk until stiff peaks have formed.  Turn the mixer off and switch to the paddle attachment.  Add in the pecan paste and mix on low speed until it has been fully incorporated.  Use the frosting immediately or refrigerate it--covered--until ready for use.

For assembly, spread a small amount of frosting on your preferred cake platter.  Set 1 layer on top of the frosted cake platter and then spread about 1 cup of the frosting on top of the bottom layer.  Top that with the second layer and then frost as desired with the remaining frosting.  You may not need to use all of it--I had maybe a 1/2c to 1 cup left over.  Slice and enjoy.