Wednesday, December 31, 2008

December Daring Bakers - Yule Log to New Year's Cake

This is my first Daring Bakers challenge and what a challenge it was. This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand. They translated the recipe from the original French recipe for us English speakers and non-metric followers -- thanks! For the story of how they chose the recipe, the tremendous work they put into it and the recipe itself check out

See them -- six elements (praline not showing)!

This was quite a challenge. The finished product had to contain 6 different elements -- Dacquoise, Mousse, Ganache, Praline (Crisp), Creme Brulee and Icing. I had no praline paste, nor any prospect of procuring some, so I had to make a batch and for the gavottes I used Special K. Otherwise I had made nearly all the other elements in some form. I was aiming for a New Year's confection so I made mine as a cake rather than a log. I had a 6 inch baking ring and aimed all the elements to fit inside it. In the end, the layers slightly exceeded the height of a single ring, so I stacked two for the construction. The finished product was nearly as high as it was wide. Some days I feel that way myself! I used a white ganache icing and decorated it with edible gold sprinkles. It's off to a party tonight with lots of Prosecco and good company. Happy New Year to all!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Linzer Sables - TWD

You say sables -- I say I love Linzer tarts. My love goes back to my student days in Switzerland and Germany and being introduced to Linzer torts. Those lovely hazelnuts and raspberry jam and the interlaced crust -- what's not to like! And Linzer tarts are a great reminder.

If you had to grind nuts for the dough, this recipe would take more effort. A few years ago, I was introduced to buying ground nuts and I generally keep a supply of them in my pantry. I used some ground almonds for this recipe -- although ground hazelnuts would have been my preference. This was definately a shortcut to whip up these cookies.

I want to share another great baking short-cut. I recently bought an add-on for my stand mixer. This is in the form of a flat paddle beater with little wings. What this incredible item provides is scraping the bowl as it turns -- eliminating the need to stop and scrape down the side of the bowl. I found mine on the internet.

Here it is in action.

Here are my maple leaf Linzer sables. Dusted two and the reminder are in the freezer waiting for the holidays. Check out Living the Life for the recipe.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Wow - Twofer Pie - TWD

With everyone watching their calorie intake, it's not unusual to see people eat the pie filling and pick away at the crust and leave most of it behind. Dorie's Good for Everything Pie Crust is not like that -- and my TG guests ate the whole pie (or at least their piece of pie). One of them said, this was the best pie they had ever eaten and I have to agree. This is a keeper!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Kugelhopf Tastes Like Grandma's Coffee Cake

At first glance, the kugelhopf recipe scared me and I decided I would skip this week's posting. On Sunday, I gave the recipe a second look and changed my mind. I'm not home this week and took Dorie's advice about the kugelhopf making great toast so from the start planned to bake it in a loaf pan. I finished baking it late Sunday, tried a "few" slices (not toasted), wrapped the remaining loaf and threw it in the freezer. Given my compressed schedule and less than dramatic load pan presentation, there are no photographs of the finished cake for my posting.

My reaction, this tasted great and, even more, it reminded me of my Grandma Arps' coffee cake. She made coffee cakes for holidays -- especially Christmas. She rolled her coffee cakes much thinner (one or two inches thick) and they were sized to fit in a baking pan. She soaked the just baked cakes in butter and sugar just like the kugelhopf but also added cinnamon to the mixture. This would no doubt be a nice adaptation for the kugelhopf. Grandma Arps lived to be 92 and her parents emigrated from Wittorf in northern Germany to northwestern Ohio where many families from the same community landed. She was a great baker and made lots of cakes (one of my favorites was white hickory nut cake), cookies and homemade noodles. Grandma, thanks for the love of baking.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Yummy Chocolate Cupcakes

For me, there's never enough chocolate. I've taken chocolate classes -- learning to temper chocolate and produce tasty bonbons. So, there's always a supply of chocolate in my pantry. So this recipe was bound to please -- chocolate cake with chocolate ganache frosting. These were so easy to make -- just love them. I added a sprinkling of orange sugar to for Halloween. As usual, I gave most of them away! Check out Clara of I Heart Food4Thought for the recipe.

I got carried away with the pictures this week but enjoy.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

TWD - Pumpkin Muffins - What Not To Do

What not to do is mis-read the ingredient list and decorate your muffins with salty pumpkin seeds and be extra generous with the seeds. It didn't even taste good, didn't look like the muffins in Dorie's cookbook -- what was I thinking?

What to do then, is to carefully pick off the offending decoration! Much better, but don't look too closely.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Orange - Walnut Biscotti

This week's TWD recipe is perfect as gifts for friends. The ones I made are going to England with me today and will be a little gift to my hosts there. I packed them into decorative cello bags and they look quite impressive.

But back to the recipe. I'm not a fan of almond flavor and I could tell from the list of ingredients that the almond flavor would be overwhelming to my palate. So I substituted orange extract for the almond extract and used chopped walnuts. The result was outstanding -- mild orange flavor and the crunchy walnuts.

To the suitcase!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

TWD - Malted Milk Chocolate Drops and Saratoga Wine & Food Festival

The recipe Q&A this week provided a warning that malted milk powder might be hard to find in the stores, but my neighborhood market had Olvatine – so it was no problem. My challenge was finding Whoppers. Tried three markets with no luck and it finally struck me that the local candy shop might have them. They didn’t carry Whoppers but something better – homemade malted milk balls – with a choice of milk or dark chocolate coating. Naturally, I picked the dark chocolate ones.

Ingredients in place, I quickly made up the batch of cookies. On Monday, I took the cookies to the office and everyone loved them -- one more great recipe from Dorie’s cookbook.

Last weekend, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center hosted a Wine and Food festival – culminating in the Grand Tasting on Saturday. What a terrific event. Many fine restaurants from the area and several hundred vineyards served samples. Even more fun was a special seminar and wine tasting hosted by Kevin Zraly and Burt Wolf. We tasted seven red wines – my favorites were the Brunello di Montalcino 2003 from Aleramici, the Barabaresco 2004 from Marchesi di Gresy and the Amarone Classico 2003 from Tedeschi. From the picture, there was a whole lot of sipping going on! The Wine and Food festival is the first weekend after Labor Day – can’t wait until next year’s edition.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

TWD - Got Milk??

Whether home-made cookies or mass produced oreos, cookies taste best when dunked in a glass of milk. Dorie’s peanut butter chocolate chip cookies especially taste good with a nice cold glass of milk.

Cookies and milk almost gone!

Two things about this week’s recipe were different than other chocolate chip cookie recipes I’ve made. You can find the recipe at Proceed with Caution. The first was the proportion of oatmeal and flour – the recipe called for 3 parts old-fashioned oatmeal and one part flour. Other recipes I’ve used have 2-3 cups of flour to one cup of oatmeal. The second was the addition of cinnamon and nutmeg. I’ve never made a chocolate chip or peanut butter cookie recipe with those spices and they are very prominent in the flavor of the final product. The flavor was not unpleasant but not exactly to my liking.

Cookies are so easy to make. The tricks are chilling the dough so they don’t bake so fast and hold together better and slightly under-baking the cookies. If a recipe calls for 15-17 minutes baking, I’ll usually bake them for 15 minutes. You have to know your oven and check that the cookies are nicely browned.

This was the last weekend of summer and I visited friends in Adamant, Vermont. I took a little short cut home – the Essex Ferry across Lake Champlain. It was a fantastic summer day and the sailors were out in force on the lake with the Adirondack Mountains to the west and Green Mountains to the east. Little Bess loved the journey.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

TWD - Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream with Chocolate Chunks

Graeter's Ice Cream in Ohio makes some of the best ice cream I've ever eaten. My favorite Graeter's flavor is black raspberry with chocolate chunks. As an homage to Graeter's, I decided to add some chocolate chunks to TWD Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream. I couldn't decide wheter to use dark or milk chocolate. My thought being the milk chocolate would balance the sour cream flavor in the ice cream better than the dark chocolate. The chocolate didn't really impact the flavor but added to the texture and "mouth-feel". The key to working with the chocolate was to add it to the ice cream machine just before it's finished.

As others noted in the P&Q, the sour cream flavor was strong, not exactly what you expect in ice cream. Check out for the recipe for Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream.

I took my camera with me when I walked my dog on Saturday and snapped some pictures of flowers. I'm definately loving my new macro lens.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

TWD - Black and White Banana Loaf

There were ripe bananas on the counter and I always have couverture chocolate so I was all prepared for this week's TWD recipe.

I didn't mash the bananas too finely and the batter came together exactly as described in the recipe. I globbed the two mixtures together but didn't stir them after combining them in the pan so the marbling stayed intact.

This recipe took a lot of bowls to prepare! This wasn't one of my favorite recipes.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Walk in the Garden

A few months ago I bought a macro lens and have been enjoying photographing lots of things in detail but especially the flowers in my garden and neighborhood. It gives me a whole new appreciation for the details of nature.

Some perspectives of a Stargazer Lily in full bloom.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Peachy Keen - TWD Summer Galette

One of the best bits of summer is tasting a perfectly ripe peach -- biting into it and the warm juice running down my chin. It's interesting where you can get great peaches. Do you know that suburban Washington, DC has several large peach orchards (outside of Rockville, MD) or that they're grown on the western slope of the Rockies? A few crazy things you learn if you have a job like mine! For this week's TWD recipe I chose to use ripe peaches. While local peaches aren't ripe in NY's Upper Hudson Valley, I picked up some perfectly ripe Georgia peaches from a local farm store.

Making the galette dough went well. Practice makes perfect, right? So the Good for Almost Everything Pie Dough went more smoothly than it did for the blueberry pie. Duh, the secret seems to be in having just the right amount of liquid. Didn't my mother tell me that when she tried to teach me to make pie dough? With a good pie dough, putting the galette together was a breeze. I had a little leakage during baking (scraped that off the parchment paper) and only used a small portion of the custard because of the size of the fruit. Coreopsis from of my garden.

Summer Fruit Galette

From Dorie Greenspan, Baking - From My Home to Yours (NY: Houghton Miflin, 2006)

Good for Almost Everything Pie Dough for a single crust, chilled
3 tablespoons of peach marmalade (from Steininger's)
2 tablespoons of crushed graham crackers
4-5 large ripe peaches (I bought 8, used 4-1/2 and ate the rest but not in one sitting)

For the custard:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted in the microwave
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Roll the pie dough out between 2 sheets of parchment paper and use one of the sheets to line the baking pan. Roll the dough out into a large 1/8 inch thick circle. Use a knife to trim the dough into a 13 inch diameter circle. With a 9 inch cake pan as a template, use the tip of a blunt knife to trace a circle in the center of the dough for the area of the filling.

Using a small offset spatula, spread the marmalade over the the central circle and sprinkle the crushed graham crackers over the marmalade. The graham crackers will absorb excess moisture from the fruit. Cover the prepared dough with plastic and refrigerate while you prepare the fruit.

Blanch the peaches for 10 seconds in a pot of boiling water, transfer them to a bowl of ice water to cool, then slip off the skins. Halve and pit the peaches.

Arrange the peaches on the dough, cut side down, then gently lift the unfilled border of dough up and onto the filling. As you life the dough and place it on the filling, it will pleat. If possible, freeze the galette to give the crust a rest.

Brush the dough very lightly with a little water, then sprinkle it with a teaspoon or two of sugar. Bake the galette for 25 minutes, or until the crust is brown and the fruit is soft.

Meanwhile, make the custard: Whisk together the melted butter, sugar, egg and vanilla in a bowl; set aside until needed.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven (leave the oven on), and carefully pour or spoon the custard around the peaches. Depending on how much juice has accumulated and how much space you have between the fruit, you may not be able to pour all the custard in the galette, but even 2 tablespoons can give the right effect. Pour as much custard as you can, then carefully return the pan to the oven.

Bake another 12-15 minutes, or until the custard is set - it shouldn't jiggle when you gently shake the pan. Cool the galette on the baking sheet on a rack for 10 minutes.

Very carefully slide a small baking sheet or cake lifter under teh galette and slip it onto a rack to cool. The galette can be served when it is just warm or when it has reach room temperature. Dust with confectioner's sugar just before serving.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

TWD - I Found my Thrill on Blueberry Hill

My hostess was happy when I offered to bring the TWD blueberry pie to her July 4th celebration. The 4th was a glorious day in Saratoga Springs. The temperature was in the mid-70s and there were no clouds in the sky. I started the morning with a kayak paddle on Fish Creek (the dog went along and took a swim – amazing for a terrier), a lunch of fresh tomato sandwiches in my friend Deb’s beautiful garden and finally a late afternoon picnic dinner. It was the best 4th celebration in recent memory.

The pie was devoured by the picnickers. I added some homemade vanilla ice cream (from Dorie’s recipe) to round out the dessert. The crust recipe was more like a cookie with the abundant butter in the pie dough and although a little tricky to roll out, it held up very well. My motto that butter makes things better was especially true for the pie dough. Heck, the pie dough was good enough to eat raw -- did I mention I sampled it? With the filling, I used fresh blueberries but as suggested by other Dorettes tinkered with the bread crumbs. In my pie I substituted crushed Nilla cookies for the bread crumbs. It added some complexity of vanilla to the flavor along with the lemon zest which the picnickers really liked. I didn’t reduce the amount of sugar in the pie, just went with the cup she recommended.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

TWD - Johnny Appleseed's Finest

This week’s project was to bake Dorie’s Apple Cheddar Scones. My pantry had no dried apples and fresh apples didn’t appear to be an acceptable substitute. I picked up some beautiful fresh Pink Lady apples, peeled, cored, sliced them into thin slices and dried them on racks in a slow oven for about 6 hours. It took 2 apples to make a good half cup of dried fruit. The oven dried the apples perfectly but they were more difficult to chop into fine pieces than properly dehydrated fruit.
The recipe simply called for cheddar cheese and I chose to use an extra sharp Cabot Hunter’s cheese. The strong flavor predominated in the finished scones. The cheese over powered the dried apples unless you specifically got a slice of dried apple. The butter, as usual, made everything go down better.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

TWD - Orange Cream Puff Ring

"Yum" said one taster friend. "Very Good," said the next and all rated this week's TWD creation a 5-star dessert.

This week I transformed the Peppermint Cream Puff Ring into an Orange Cream Puff Ring. I find the combination of orange and chocolate flavors the most pleasing and since I had some candied orange peel on hand I decided to go with the orange. I adapted Dorie's recipe and steeped orange zest in the cream mixture for about a day. This produced a subtle orange flavor in the cream. Then I drizzled the chocolate ganache over the cream puff and added the candied orange peel.

One of my taster friends thought it was a long process to make candied orange peel. This is not the case. I adapted a recipe from a February 2005 issue of Bon Appetit which is quite quick and easy.

Candied Orange Peel

1 orange
1 cup sugar, divided
3/4 cup water

Remove orange part of peel from orange in long strips making sure you remove the pith. Cut peel lengthwise into thin strips. Stir 3/4 cup sugar and 3/4 cup water in heavy small saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes. Add orange peel; simmer 15 minutes. Place remaining 1/4 cup sugar in small bowl. Using slotted spoon, remove peel from syrup and transfer to sugar. Toss to coat. Store at room temperature in an air tight bowl. The orange peel keeps for several weeks.