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.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Kouign Amann

I haven't posted in a while.  It's not as though I haven't been baking.  I have.  Like tons.  The truth of the matter is that I've been obsessed with making two particular things that I just can't seem to get right.  The infamously finicky Parisian macaron and laminated dough.

I don't even want to discuss the former of the two because I'm still irritated about it.  And plus, how many more posts about macarons do we need in the food blogging world?  Macarons are easy, they're not easy, blah blah blah.  Instead, this post is dedicated to laminated dough--and moreover one of the wonders that can arise from it, the kouign amann.

Kouign amann is almost like a candied croissant. It's quite buttery but also sweet because the dough has been sprinkled with sugar so it caramelizes when baked. Because of my extreme sweet tooth, I think I enjoy them more than actual croissants.  In the past month I've made them twice using two different recipes.

The first batch had some successful aspects but I was convinced that its flaws could be traced back to a problem I consistently have with laminated doughs which is that the dough tends to tear at certain points when I'm rolling it out.  It's a really annoying.  I've read all about why this may happen--the dough gets too warm maybe because the room is too warm so you have to let it chill.

Or, maybe everything is too cold.  I've tried to make sure my butter block and my dough are the same temperature and all that but I still get some tearing.  However, this last batch of laminated dough that I used to make the kouign amann started tearing at first but fortunately--maybe because I learned how to better roll out the dough--seemed to cease tearing.

And so most of those oh so delicate layers seemed to have remained in tact.  Which is what I like to see.  At least I think.  I know that the purpose of laminated dough is to create those layers and for pastries, like croissants and mille feuille, it's usually clearly visible if you're successful at it.

But I'm not sure I'm convinced that it's equally as important with kougin amann.  And I only question this because for one thing, you usually don't turn the dough as much as you would for something like croissants.  And, I've been doing some...uhm..."research" from some trusted bakeries that make kouign amann and I've noticed that perhaps their laminated doughs that they use to make them aren't quite as layered.

They're delicious no doubt but comparatively not layered like a croissant.  So I don't know what the deal is with all that but as long as my kouign amann come out light, buttery and caramelized--I'm ok with it.

Recipe slightly adapted from The Kitchn

1c water at room temp.
2 tsp instant yeast
2 3/4c all-purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
8 oz (2 sticks) cold salted butter
1 1/2c granulated sugar--divided

The first thing that needs to be done is making the dough.  Mix the water, yeast, flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Using the dough hook, mix everything together on medium speed until a tacky, not sticky, smooth dough forms.  If the dough is too sticky after mixing it, add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time until it's tacky feeling.  Alternatively, if it's too dry then you can add 1 tablespoon of water at a time until the reverse occurs.  After you've got a nice smooth tacky feeling dough, let the dough rest and rise until it has doubled in size at room temp.  Once it has doubled in size, place the dough in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to chill.

Meanwhile, you can make the butter block.  Lay a piece of plastic wrap on a cool/cold work surface. Take your 2 sticks of butter and place them atop the plastic wrap.  Now, you want to form a pliable butter block that when folded it won't crack--it should act like modeling clay does when it is folded over on itself.  So, you will go through a series of pounding butter and folding it in an effort to make a more cohesive and pliable butter block.  So, sprinkle some flour on the butter and--using a rolling pin--start pounding the butter so that you have one cohesive piece of butter and then pound it into a rectangular shape that's about a 1/4 inch thick.  Then--preferably using a bench scraper or something other than your warm hands--fold the butter in half and pound it again until you have a rectangle that's about 1/4 inch thick.  Sprinkle some more flour on the butter and fold it in half with the bench scraper, pound it back into a rectangle that's a 1/4 inch thick AND is approximately 6 inches wide by 10 inches long.  Wrap the block in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready for use BUT, ideally you want your dough and butter block to be at the same temperature.  So, if your dough has already been chilling in the refrigerator for a while and you are getting ready to roll it out, you probably only need to chill your butter block for just a little bit--maybe 15 minutes.  You still want your butter block pliable and if it sits in the fridge for too long it will become rigid again and will likely crack when you start making your turns.

To roll out the dough, remove it from the refrigerator.  Sprinkle your work surface with flour.  Roll out the dough over the flour into a 12 inch wide by 20 inch long rectangle.  Place your butter block in the middle of the rolled out dough so that the long side of the butter block is parallel with the short side of the dough.  Fold the top half of the dough over the butter block and then fold the bottom half over it as well--like folding a letter.  Press and seal the edges of the dough together and then fold it into thirds again.  Rotate it so that narrower side is facing you--like a book.  Roll the dough out--using more flour as needed to prevent any sticking--into a 12 inch wide by 20 inch long rectangle. Fold it into thirds again--like a letter.  Rotate the dough 90 degrees so that the narrow end is facing you and roll it out again into a 12 inch wide by 20 inch long rectangle.  Fold it into thirds again, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.  After the 30 minutes is up, remove the dough from the fridge, sprinkle more flour on your work surface and roll it out to a 12 inch by 20 inch rectangle. Then, sprinkle half of the sugar over the surface of the dough and lightly press it into the dough.  Fold the dough into thirds, rotate it 90 degrees and then roll it out into another 12 inch by 20 inch rectangle.  Sprinkle the remaining sugar on the dough and lightly press it into the dough. Fold the dough into thirds, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare 12 - 4 inch pastry rings or a muffin baking sheet.  Grease the rings or muffin cups with butter and sprinkle granulated sugar on the insides of them.  Set aside.

Once the dough has chilled, roll it out again onto a well floured work surface into an 8 inch wide by 24 inch long rectangle.  Then, cut the dough in half along the long side so that you now have two 4 inch wide by 24 inch long rectangles.  Then divide each rectangle into 4 inch by 4 inch squares--you'll have 12 total. Next, push each square into its own pastry ring or muffin cup and fold the corners of each square over to the center of the square so that they all meet in the middle and then press lightly to seal.  Then, cover the kouign amann and let rise for 30-40 minutes until they have risen and are puffy.  Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 350 F.  Once you are ready to bake the kouign amann, sprinkle the tops of each one with some more granulated sugar and then place them in the oven to bake for 40-45 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees halfway through the baking time.  Once done, remove them from the oven and let them cool slightly before removing from the rings.  Consume.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Homemade Twix

I only have one or two items under my 'Confections' category of my blog.  So I feel like I'm lacking within this realm.  A few years ago I took a chocolates making class taught by a local chocolatier. It was great fun.  Our instructor--the chocolatier--was a bit of an odd bird, very passionate about chocolate making--which isn't what made him odd by the way--and intent on making us understand the different crystalline structures in chocolate.

Note:  Once you keep chocolate cold and take it out of the cold, it starts to condense and don't look as pretty :-(
Truth be told, the only one I can remember is the beta form which is the one you aim to form when you temper chocolate--the most important form really.  When you get a bunch of beta crystals to form just so, that's when you get that pretty shine and that crisp snap that good tempered chocolate is supposed to have.  Tempering chocolate is the key to making chocolates look professional.  It's also probably the main reason why my 'Confections' category is so sparsely populated.

Tempering chocolate isn't necessarily easy for me in that I'm not always successful at it.  In the class I took we tempered it using an old fashioned method (a.k.a the super messy method) of pouring it out onto a nice marble slab and scrapping it around the slab back and forth with a bench scraper until our instructor--the chocolatier--"knew" it was done.  Well that was all well and good in class but not so much at home without an expert eye to tell me when it was tempered.

Luckily there is another method that's more suitable for home wannabe chocolatiers which is called seeding.  Seeding is less messy and gives you actual mensurable temperatures to shoot for. But, you may have to stir the chocolate until your arm falls off or--at the very least--until it is painfully aching. The way it works is you melt about 2/3 of the of the amount of chocolate you are using until the chocolate reaches a certain temperature.  Then, you remove the chocolate from the heat and little by little start adding the rest of the chocolate, stirring it until it melts and continuing to stir it--somewhat vigorously--thereafter until the chocolate reaches the tempered state temperature.  It seems pretty simple right? Well, evidently not.

I've done it many times and like I mentioned earlier, sometimes I'm successful and sometimes I'm not.  Sometimes, some of my chocolate looks perfectly tempered with an amazing shine and snap. Other times, it's got a few grayish white streaks running through part of it once it sets.  I read an article recently by J. Kenji Lopez  over at Serious Eats about three different ways to temper chocolate.  His recommended method--that he claims is foolproof--is using a sous vide cooker--which I didn't know was possible.  But now I want a sous vide cooker. Sure, they cost of hundreds of dollars but it seems well worth it if I can get a perfectly tempered chocolate in my kitchen.  Plus, I hear them things are good at cooking perfectly juicy meat too so they sound like they are a gift from heaven.  Nevertheless, a couple of weeks ago I decided to place my tempering chocolate woes aside and make Twix bars.

I love Twix bars.  Caramel and shortbread cookie encased in milk chocolate is a simple combination but also a magnificent one.  Plus it gave me a chance to practice tempering milk chocolate which I had yet to try.  And I really wanted to make perfect Twix bars that were perfect rectangular prisms--just like you kinda get out of the package.  I thought that if I froze everything just right and used a super sharp knife and a ruler to cut and measure everything up just so nicely that I could do it.  But that didn't work out.  After I assembled the shortbread and the caramel in a baking pan and froze it up for a day or so, I removed it from the cold and then the caramel quickly came to room temperature and then things got messy fast...  Also, I tried to make these Twix bars "healthier"--not healthy--but "healthier" by making a whole wheat shortbread.  This was ok but it made the cookie a little more crumblier so even when frozen it didn't always cut so pretty.  And then there was the first attempt at tempering milk chocolate--which was actually the Caramelia baking chocolate courtesy of Valrhona--which is a mouth-watering chocolate that proves that dreams can come true.

Anyway, the thing about milk chocolate is that it has different temperatures for tempering than dark chocolates--most likely based on the fact that is has different ingredients and thus different properties. What did happen when I tempered it is that it did have a bit of a snap to it but not as much as one that comes along with tempered dark chocolate.  But it didn't have a very big shine to it.  But I have some thoughts on this.  So as for the snap...well milk chocolate is "softer" than dark chocolate so that seemed like maybe it was ok.  I mean, maybe milk chocolate can't form as many beta crystals as dark because of all of the other ingredients in it?  I'm purely speculating here based on whatever makes sense in my head.  Also, maybe that's why there wasn't a shine to it.  Does tempered milk chocolate ever shine as much as dark--like maybe it's just not as glossy?  Maybe.  To make a long story short, I think I was actually successful at tempering this chocolate.  There weren't any streaks and everything was smooth, it had a bit of a snap and some shine.  And I'm comfortable with that conclusion.



9T unsalted butter at room temp.
1/4c brown sugar (light or dark)
1 1/2c whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp kosher salt

Line a 9 inch square baking pan with parchment paper--allowing an overhang of the paper on all sides so that you can easily pull the finished product out of the pan when ready.  Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Using the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy--a few minutes.  Then add the flour and salt and mix until just combined and there isn't any dry flour on the bottom of the bowl.  Now, press the dough into the prepared pan evenly.  You can use a small glass or if you have a small rolling pin to smooth it out.  If not, your hands work fine--I just wanted the top of my cookie dough to be smooth.  Bake until lightly browned which may take 25-30 minutes.  Once done, remove the pan from the heat and let cool completely.


For the caramel, I used my go-to recipe that I found and have fallen deeply in love with from a blog called Baking a Moment.  Double the recipe found here and let it cool completely before assemblage. Another option for the caramel is using a different recipe that will cook the caramel to more of a soft ball stage.  The reason for making a caramel like that would be so that you hopefully avoid the mess I had in using more of a caramel sauce.  So, instead you would use more of a firmer caramel candy...


16oz of a chocolate of your choosing.  I used a milk chocolate but dark would be delicious too.  You can choose to temper it or not.  If you do temper it and would like a good guide, visit Serious Eats.


Pour the cooled caramel over the cooled shortbread cookie crust and even out.  Then place the baking pan in the freezer until the caramel is as firm as possible--I let mine sit in there for about a day.  Once the caramel is firm remove the baking pan from the freezer.  Pull the whole assembly out of the pan using the parchment paper overhangs you created when you lined it--you may have to run a knife along the edges to loosen it up a bit.  After it's out of the pan, remove the parchment paper and place the assembly on a cutting board.  Cut the thing up into bars--a size of your choosing.  In retrospect--due to the nature of the crumblier whole wheat dough--it might be easier to cut them into 2 inch square bars.  Basically the wider the better because if you go too narrow then the cookie is more likely to be less structurally sound.  Now that you have everything cut up, put it all back in the freezer to re-firm the caramel.  When you feel your caramel is firm enough, then melt/temper your chocolate in a big bowl.  Once it's melted--and as quickly as possible--dip the chilled bars in the bowl of chocolate one by one--I found that using two forks to lift it out of the bowl was easiest.  Place the finished bars on a sheet of wax paper, parchment paper or a silicone mat and let the chocolate set. Once the chocolate is set, eat voraciously or store in an air tight container.  I've been keeping mine in the freezer but any place would be fine as long as your chocolate doesn't melt.

Friday, February 20, 2015


Recently, I was telling a friend about a time when I had food poisoning.  It happened several years ago.  A pizza burger from a greasy diner was the culprit.  I was out of town, staying in a hostel and sharing not only a bedroom, but also a bathroom with multiple strangers.

When I was talking about it, I went into some grave detail about the incident--maybe more than I should have.  It was a pretty horrific experience for me.  Funny enough--and it really isn't all that funny to me--not a couple of days after I was telling him that story it happened again.

But it wasn't a pizza burger from a greasy spoon this time, it was sushi from a supposed reputable establishment.  I don't really even like sushi. I went because my partner loves it and I was trying to be flexible/nice.  Blah.

But now, I have an even bigger aversion to it than ever and what's more--and worse--I have an aversion to pretty much anything I ate or baked the day of said incident.  And sadly I did a hell of a whole lot of baking that day.

I made a king cake for a mardi gras get-together I was planning on having (that never happened because of my food poisoning).  I was in the middle of making homemade twix bars (that are sitting in my freezer half done) that I can't even fathom finishing.  And, I made croissants.

All of these things--as strange as it may be--I associate with the day I ate some bad sushi and have little to no desire to see or taste or touch any of them.  A wave of nausea ensnares my body when the thought of any of them enters my mind.  But, on the plus side, I think this is temporary because as the days go by that aversion seems to weaken.

Which is good because the true subject of this post is clearly one of those normally undetestable but currently semi-detestable baked goods I made on that fateful day.... which was the croissant.  And as difficult as it is, with my waning aversion, I want to share my trials and tribulations with making this pastry--this pastry that can be a real bitch to make successfully.

So croissants begin with another laminated dough--like puff pastry--except different than puff pastry in that it's yeasted and I guess you don't have to make as many turns with it--like three versus five or six.  But it's still a lengthy process.  In addition, the recipe I was using from Bouchon Bakery (their recipes are never easy...) required using something called distatic malt powder.

I had no idea what it was so I had to look it up and found out that it usually is used by breadmakers. In a nutshell, it has enzymes that interact with the yeast to help yield a better rise.  That seemed like a good enough reason for me so I ordered a bag of it online (because I couldn't find it anywhere else). Once it finally got here, I could make my poolish--another thing I had to look up that I found out is basically a starter--which had to sit for 12-14 hours.

Then, finally I could make the actual dough. After you've made the dough--using your distatic malt powder and your poolish--and before you encase your butter block in it, you have to let it sit for a couple of hours.  But I wasn't sure why.  I mean normally for a yeasted item you let it sit in order for it to rise.  But the book didn't state the reason and it didn't really rise?  So I wasn't really sure what that was all about? Maybe it just needed to rest--sometimes dough just needs to rest which is fine but I thought that it would at least rise a bit...I mean my yeast was brand new...

Anyway, after it had sat for a couple of hours it was time to roll it out and encase the butter block. And from there, things sped up a bit because you immediately start your first turn and then--with this particular recipe--you wait at least 20 minutes between turns because you stick the dough in the freezer.  However, this step wasn't without its difficulties.  The same problem I had when I was making my puff pastry arose here--the dough tore and my butter started to smear on the surface. With laminated dough, you're supposed to have alternating layers of butter and dough but now my layers were becoming one in the same and I knew from experience that this was definitely going to fuck with my end product.

I was thinking about it and I was starting to believe that maybe it was happening because I was rolling it out to hard?  I have a nice heavy marble rolling pin and I take advantage of its weight when it comes to rolling dough out--especially if I am rolling out a chilled dough that needs to stay chilled and I need to do it fast.  But maybe I was being a little too rough with this dough and the tearing was my own fault.  I have a lighter wooden rolling pin too--maybe I'll try using that next time.  Anyway, after that I continued to have torn layers with butter smeared all over the place so I just tried to ignore it and muscle through it.

After the final turn I cut everything up, rolled out the croissants and set them aside to proof.  Finally after a couple hours of proofing--which they did do but maybe not as much as I had hoped--I put them in oven and baked them.  The end results were mixed--both physically and emotionally.  First off, every croissant looked completely different from the next one--which at first I was ok with but soon after I walked into a cafe for some coffee and noticed their glass cloche of perfectly identically shaped croissants and I felt defeated (angry) a bit.  Next, my croissants weren't really as "light" as I had hoped.  I mean they weren't rocks but they weren't feathers either.

I suspect it had something to do with either lack of proofing or the layers combining as one...or both. When I opened one up this was fairly evident.  The layers were there but probably not as many layers as could have been if not for the tearing that took place when I was rolling out the dough.  Instead, I feel like a lot of the layers clumped together and thus prevented thinner, more delicate layers to form. But on the upswing, they tasted buttery and were moist.  And I actually did like the way they looked. They had distinct characteristics and you could see how the layers--that did form--played out.  They looked like contours on a map or tiered rice paddy fields. Nevertheless, it was my first attempt so I'll give myself a break here.  And I'm definitely going give it another go--soon--but probably not until the nausea I feel when looking at one fully subsides.

Recipe courtesy of Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel

For the dough:

Start with the poolish:

100g (1/2c + 3T + 1 tsp) all-purpose flour
a pinch of instant yeast
100g (1/4c + 2T + 2 1/2 tsp) water at 75 degrees F

Using a small bowl, mix the yeast and flour together.  Pour the water in and mix together until all of the dry ingredients are completely moistened.  Loosely place a piece of plastic wrap over the bowl and set aside for 12-14 hours to sit at room temperature.  By the end of the 12-14 hours, the mixture should have some bubbles on top as well as some smooth cracks.

At some point before you finish the dough, make the butter block.

330g (11.6oz) unsalted butter

Take your butter--whether it be sticks or one solid piece--and place it all on either a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper that's sitting on your work surface.  Then, place another piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper on top of the butter.  Using a rolling pin, smash and roll the butter out until it's one continuous piece that is about a 7 1/2 inch by 6 1/2 rectangle.  Wrap the block up in plastic wrap or parchment paper and refrigerate until ready to use.

Now, finish the dough after your poolish has sat for 12-14 hours and your butter block is made

500g (3 1/2c + 1T + 1/4 tsp) all-purpose flour
75g (1/4c + 2T + 1/4 tsp) granulated sugar
10g (1T) instant yeast
3g (1 tsp) distatic malt powder
200g ( 3/4c + 1T + 1 3/4 tsp) water at 75 degrees F
100g (3.5oz) unsalted butter at room temp.
15g (1T + 2 tsp) kosher salt

Using the bowl of a stand mixer, add in the flour, sugar, yeast and malt powder.  With the dough hook attachment, mix the ingredients on low for about 30 seconds just so they are combined.  Then, reserve about 50g (3 1/2T) of the water.  With the remaining water, pour about half of it around the edges of the poolish which apparently is supposed to help release it from the bowl.  After that, add the poolish into the mixer bowl containing the dry ingredients as well as the rest of the water and the butter.  Mix that on low speed just until all of the dry ingredients are fully moistened.  Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl and sprinkle the top of the mixture with the salt.  Turn the mixer back on low and let it go for about 20 minutes.  After the 20 minutes is up, scrape the sides of the dough, form it into a ball and let it sit for 1 hour at room temperature.

Next, roll the dough out into at long 7 1/2 inch wide by 16 inch long rectangle.  Place your butter block in the middle of the rectangle so that the 7 1/2 inch wide side spans the 7 1/2 inch span of the rectangle.  Fold each end over the block so that they meet in the middle and then pinch the two sides together to seal it.  You'll have open butter at the sides.  Now comes the first of three turns.

Rotate the dough so that the short side (side with the open butter) faces you.  Using a rolling pin and on a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to expand the length--turning it over and rotating it and adding flour as necessary to prevent sticking.  Roll your dough out into a 22 inch long by 9 inch wide rectangle. Then, fold it in thirds--like a letter--wrap it in plastic wrap and into the freezer it goes for 20 minutes. The first turn is complete.

For the second turn, remove the dough from the freezer.  Lightly flour your work surface and rotate the block of dough so that the short side faces you.  Roll the dough into another 22 inch long by 9 inch wide rectangle--flouring, rotating and flipping over to make sure the dough doesn't stick to the work surface.  Fold the dough into thirds again, wrap it in plastic wrap and place it back into the freezer for another 20 minutes.  The second turn is complete.

For the third turn, repeat the exact same steps as you did for the second one.

Now, after the dough has sat in the freezer for 20 minutes after the last turn, place it on a lightly floured work surface.  Rotate it so the short side is facing you and roll it out into a 24 inch by 9 inch rectangle--again flouring as necessary and rotating and flipping over to prevent any sticking.  Also, it's important--evidently at this point--to ensure the dough stays cold.  So, if at any point the dough becomes too warm, place it on a parchment paper or silicone mat lined baking sheet and into the freezer until it's cold again.  Once it's been rolled out into the rectangle, cut it in half using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter.  Wrap both pieces in plastic wrap and place them in the freezer for 20 minutes. Now, the dough can be used to make croissants.

For the croissants

The dough you just made
1 egg
1T cold water

Make an egg wash by whisking the egg and water together in a small bowl.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.  Next, remove one of the pieces of dough from the freezer. On a lightly floured surface, roll it out to a 19 inch by 9 inch rectangle--flouring, rotating and flipping the dough just as before.  Trim the long side until it's 18 inches and then rotate it so the long side is facing you.  Starting at the top corner of one side of the rectangle, cut triangles out that have a 3 1/2 inch wide base--you'll get between 6-8 of them depending upon how accurate your measurements are. Take one triangle and stretch it until it's about 12 inches long.  Place it on the work surface so the base is closest to you.  Fold the tip of each corner of the base over and start rolling the triangle up to the tip. Place the rolled croissant, tip side down, on the baking sheet and lightly flatten the croissant so it doesn't roll back over.  Do this for the remaining triangles.  Repeat the entire process for the second piece of dough as well.  Brush each croissant with the egg wash.  Cover them with a tea towel or a box and let them sit at room temperature for 2 hours to proof.  You'll know they are done proofing when you lightly press a finger into one of the croissants and the impression remains.  Once they have proofed, arrange your oven racks so that they are placed at the top and bottom thirds of your oven.  Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Re-brush the croissants with the egg wash and once your oven is ready bake them for 35-40 minutes rotating them halfway into the bake time.  Remove the croissants from the oven and let them cool completely.