Thursday, July 30, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "Pie Fixes Everything"

Photo by Kristina
Eats N Drinks

It was a small but determined band of bakers who set out to bake the elderblueberry pie.  We all had one big disadvantage compared to Rose (besides not being world-famous bakers, of course).  None of us had a neighbor who delivered right to our door, without our even asking, fresh, perfectly ripe, in-season elderberries.  Some of us had never seen an elderberry and most of us couldn't find them in our farmer's markets or in our local grocery store's produce, frozen foods, or even canned fruit sections.

Did we let this deter us?  We did not.  We persevered.  If we combined all of the fruits that we used, we would have baked an ElderBlueberryMulberryCranberryGooseberryRaspberryCurrant Pie.  And that's quite a mouthful.

I think that only one person--Vicki--actually got fresh elderberries.  When Vicki started to wonder about how we were going to source our elderberries, I knew we were in for a ride because as those of you who have been reading Vicki's blog for years know, she is a) stubborn, b) curious, c) determined, d) all of the above.  I'll let her family and friends pick the appropriate answer.  She learned that elderberries grow wild in and around her urban setting, and she got permission, of a sort, ("Just don't be conspicuous!), to pick/poach them, and she did.  And she baked a pie, which she pronounced "delightful."  She doesn't say whether she gave a piece of pie to the park ranger who looked the other way.

Michele was a close second in the Search for the Elusive Elderberry, but the combination of the search and the actual pie-baking almost did her in.  Michele's husband found out that a local farm grew elderberries, and Michele was able to get a few packages of frozen elderberries from Ann, from Norm's Farm.  The trouble started when she tried to remove the tiny elderberries from their wispy stems.  They did not want to separate, and Michele did not want to give up.  Worse, when she tasted the elderberries, they tasted "like weeds."  But she persevered, and ended up with a pie that had the flavor Rose described as "hauntingly unique."  Michele, I don't know whether this will make you feel better, or drive you further round the bend, but Rose says "I also have to admit that when frozen the tiny brambles are near impossible to remove so I just added them and they seemed to disappear when the pie was baked."

A number of bakers, planning ahead, ordered dried elderberries, and reconstituted them.  Kristina got hers from a bulk food store, and reconstituted them in apple juice.  After they soaked for a while, she said "they didn't so much get plump and juicy as they got ... not dry."  That sounds like faint praise, but Kristina enjoyed the "unique texture" provided even by the dried elderberries, and made a very lovely pie as well.  See above photo.

Kim  also discovered reconstituted elderberries, as well as rediscovering the joys of making pie crust by hand.  For Kim, the plenitude of seeds was simply a "deal breaker," but she did find out that she loved the "unique character" of the juice.  She also enjoyed working the cream cheese pastry dough by hand and found that she was able to coax layers of flaky dough, almost like puff pastry, with the heel of her hand.

I think it may have been Joan who first suggested using dried elderberries for the pie, but when she opened her bag of freeze-dried elderberries (1 out of 5 that she ordered!), she discovered that most of them were red, not the dark, almost black, color that signifies that they're ripe.  So she immediately canned, so to speak, the whole idea of elderberries, and just made a blueberry pie.  Although it sounds like it was anything but "just" a blueberry pie--it was, according to her husband, the best pie he had ever eaten.  That kind of praise doesn't come your way very often.

Catherine may have veered as far from the actual fresh elderberry as she could and still remain in the elderberry family.  She used a mixture of 3/4 blueberries and 1/4 mixed berry and elderflower jam.  In what she called a "vote of un-confidence in the potential of the filling," she opted to make several small pies, getting more practice in fooling around with pastry dough and apparently more ready to scrap the whole enterprise if necessary."  She made some thick lattice strips for her small pies, which look very pretty, and was happy with her blueberry pie--which may have had an additional flavor that "maybe wasn't blueberry."

Rachel also opted for the all-blueberry version of the pie, because her experience with elderberries was limited to Manishewitz elderberry wine, which, she says, their website touts as "bursting with the flavor and aroma of elderberry pie."  Rachel searched in vain for elderberries, and, somehow not lured by the description of the wine, made a wine-less, elderbery-less blueberry pie.  (I have to say I really empathize with Rachel's "pie irregularities."),  She thought the pie was "tasty," and the crust was "fall apart tender" but "not flaky."  All in all, "more experimentation is required."  Perhaps with wine--one way or another.

The rest of us did combinations of motley berries.  Or maybe we did motley combinations of berries.

Aimee was in the spirit of the elderblueberry pie in that she used her neighbor's in-season seedy berries (rasp- not elder-) and blueberries (she also added in some frozen mixed berries to come to the full weight).  Despite a few not-very-serious mishaps with the crust, she ended up with a "yummy dessert" served with vanilla bean ice cream.  And she got to eat the raspberries as she was gathering them, something that's not likely to happen if you're picking elderberries.

Though you wouldn't know it to look at Jeniffer's sweet little pies, this was her first-ever berry pie--a black currant and blueberry version.  In Australia, they go in for meat or other savory pies more than fruit pies, and although Jeniffer's research told her that, in fact, elderberries do grow in Australia, she had never seen them.  But she made her berry pie that was such a novelty she made individual pies so she could give them away to other fruit-pie-deprived Aussies.  She loved the cream cheese crust, but was not entirely a convert to the whole fruit pie concept.  But I have a feeling the peach galette may do it!.

Greenstein's Bakery's elderblueberry pie was made with a combinations of gooseberries, both red and green, blueberries, and red currants.  Perhaps not what Rose had in mind, but it sounds like a stunning combo.  Mendy described it as "delicious and tart and runny" (the gooseberries were very runny, and he added extra sugar because they were very tart), For that "unique" gooseberry flavor, he'll have to catch some "unsuspecting" elderberries.

Faithy also did a tri-berry pie, using mulberries, blueberries, and a few cranberries for tartness.  Faithy had a pie booth at an organization get-together, and she provided this mixed berry pie and the peach galette that's up in about 3 weeks.  People (being people) hit her dessert stand first, and cleaned her out before they even touched the salads.  "The pies were the centre of attraction."

I think we've provided some great ideas for Rose for the next time she writes about pie.  But if there's a Double Gooseberry Currant Blueberry Pie in some future book, you saw it here first.

Next up:  a non-dessert entry, whole wheat bread with walnuts.  Suggested use:  sliced thin and served with blue cheese.  I remember that there are some of you who aren't fans of blue cheese, but remember, that's just a suggestion.  I have mine ready to put in the oven right now.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

ElderBlueberry (or BlueCurrant) Pie

A few weeks ago, when people started talking about how they were going to get elderberries, or what they were planning to substitute, I realized I didn't have a Plan B.  I also realized that Rose said her elderberries are in season in August, and yet I scheduled the pie for July for some inexplicable reason.  I still wasn't worried, but when people started talking about the various berries one might substitute, I began to think that I  might end up just making a plain blueberry pie.  I still refused to worry about it, though.

So I popped into the Farmer's Market, figuring that I'd at least get good blueberries, and I saw these things--white currants.  White currants are an albino variation of red currants.  Seriously, that's what I read.  I also read that they're edible, which was good to know, seeing as how I was planning to feed them to my nearest and dearest.  They're translucent champagne-colored berries that are quite attractive.  I ate one and found them seedy and unpleasantly bitter, so that sounded like Rose's description of uncooked elderberries (although their unpleasant-to-eat nature did not bode particularly well for their use in a dessert).  They're also extremely time-consuming to remove from their annoying little stems, but I ended up with almost 284 grams of them).

I was very excited to use Rose's new pie equipment.  The red cylinder in the background is a rolling pin (Woody gave me my choice of colors, and I took red).  You can take off the ends and fill the pin with something to make it heavier (I had the idea of filling it with ice cubes so it would be heavier and colder, but I ended up deciding it didn't need any extra weight).  The rolling surface has 6-, 12- and 14-inch circles, which, along with the silicone strips that measure the thickness of the dough, makes it  pretty simple to get the crust the right thickness and diameter.

I still don't end up with a tidy pie crust, but maybe if I keep baking pies until I'm 80....

The elderberries are at least more or less the same color as blueberries.  These aren't even close.  If I added some red berries, I could pass this off as a Fourth of July pie.

But once the berries cook in syrup that turns an intense purply-red (amaranthine?  magenta?  claret?), the difference in colors were less pronounced.

I had what I considered to be a brilliant idea for decorating the pie.  I didn't want to even try to make berry cutouts, and I didn't feel like doing a lattice again, so I thought it would be cool and modern and different just to cut out a few different circles.  Somehow it didn't look as amazing as I'd hoped, partly because berries oozed out of a couple of the cutouts, spoiling the effect I was after.  This one looks like two eyes and a beak--not at all what I was aiming for.

I might try this again, but I'd make one of the circles very small.

You can still see the currants, but they look almost red now, while the blueberries are a very deep purple.  The crust looks pretty flaky.

I can't judge the ElderBlueberry Pie because I have no idea what it tastes like, but this pie is similar to Rose's description of the EBP in that the fruit is crunchy and the blueberries are barely recognizable as blueberries.  My fussy daughter, who thinks that many of the things I bake are "just odd," said she thought this was quite good "for a fruit pie," so that makes me think it's better than odd.  I will probably not go searching after either elderberries or currents next year around this time, but if someone ever gives me some, I'll know just what to do.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "Super delicious and addictive"

Photo by Faithy (Peggy)
The Amateur Baker

If I were feeling any lazier than I already am, I would do a midweek roundup for Kourambiethes in only three words:  "Everyone loved them."  But I haven't sunk quite that far yet, so here goes a full-blown summary.

Faithy considers that she cheated because she used ghee that she'd purchased and already-chopped almonds.  I think that's just smart shopping.  She also dipped them in granulated sugar before baking and then sprinkled them with confectioners' sugar.  (I think this extra step makes up for the shortcuts).  "So addictive I couldn't stop eating."  A baker's version of crack?

To Milagritos, they brought back memories of her younger days in Melbourne, which "has the world's largest Greek population outside Greece," (you probably didn't know that.  Now you do).  Milagritos remembers sampling them all, in the interests of fairness.  Having tried nearly every possible variation and permutation on Kourambiethes, so she knows of what she speaks.  "Extra delicious," is what she says.  "Thumbs up" are what her niece and nephew do.

Orin may not have sampled all the Greek cookies in Melbourne, but she does think that these cookies make you want to be Greek--"or at least have a Greek friend."  Orin tell us that "traditionally, the cookies will be sprinkled with drops of rose water prior to dusting with powdered sugar."  Instead, she strews her cookies with tiny sprigs of dried rosebuds.  I can see platters of these being served at a wedding reception--except that everyone at the party would have powdered sugar on their best clothes.

I think that Kim wrote the most poetic summary of these cookies, where she compares them variously to sand and to Marilyn Monroe,  "There's the kind of beach sand that is brownish and littered with rocks and debris.  Then there's the kind that is heavy and dark ... and is always wet.  Then there's the kind of soft white sand that glimmers in the sun ... and ... you want to spend your ... dying day on.  ....The Kourambiethes ... would definitely fall under the category of the sand-of-all-sand cookies....  They must have gone to Marilyn Monroe Charm School and learned the art of seduction....  Kourambiethes are the whitest, lightest and crunchiest sand cookies I've ever tasted...."

While some of our bakers tried to figure out how to pronounce "kourambiethes," Kristina gave up, and just referred to them as almond shortbread-y cookie things, and it turns out that a kourambieth by any other name would taste as good.  Kristina also joined a group of other bakers whose enjoyment of these cookies went in two stages:  1) eat a frightening number oneself because they are so good and 2) get them out of the house quickly so one will avoid eating any more.  Friends and colleagues of Alpha Bakers are lucky people.
Unless they are friends and colleagues of Michele.  Not that Michele isn't a good person; of course she is.  But she was not going to be giving away any of these cookies (and she made a double batch!). And not that she doesn't like giving away her baked goods.  That's part of baking.  But these cookies.... well, they're just too good to be shared.  "Add these cookies to the list of baked goods that tempt me to one of the deadly sins."  (Hint:  it's not lust).  "They are that delicious."

Here is what Rachel learned from an internet search on kourambiethes.  (I have now typed this word so often that I don't even have to think about it.  Still can't pronounce it without stumbling, though.)   "Kourambiethes can have almonds or not, can be decorated with a whole clove or not, and are usually but not always shaped in a flattened sphere.  The other distinguishing feature, which still doesn't show up in every recipe, is beating the butter and the powdered sugar for an extra-long time to enhance the tenderness of the cookie."  I hope that clears up everything for you.

Rachel's research does explain why Jeniffer baked her kourambiethes with a clove in the center.   It turns out that a number of us have some kind of Greek connection.  Jeniffer used to babysit for a "portly" toddler named Aristotle, the son of Greek deli owners.  Jeniffer learned that authentic kourambiethes are made with a clove in the center (if round) or are shaped like crescents.  Through Jeniffer, we learned that kourambiethes are not just made with any brandy, but with Metaxa (well, of course).

Catherine had a brilliant idea.  She was caught on the phone by an organization selling a raffle tickets, and, in a weak moment, she agreed to sell some.  The potential donee can either buy some tickets and receive a kourambiethes (or maybe two) or not buy the tickets and not receive the cookies. I know what I'd take.  In fact, if we lived in the same hemisphere, I'd sign up here and now.  According to Catherine, not only are these delicious, but they also have these virtues:  "minimal and straightforward," "easy peasy," "fun, fast, and easy," and "problem free."  So mix up some more, Catherine, and win the blue ribbon for most raffle tickets sold.

One of the people reading Joan's blog said that her opening photo reminded her of Elizabeth Bennet, in Pride and Prejudice:  the floral bone china, the freshly pressed linen napkins, the wine glasses.  But I keep thinking of all that powdered sugar.  Surely Mr. Darcy wouldn't spill, would he?  Even her friends' comments, ("The cookies just turned out to be beautiful to behold and delicious to savor") seem British to the core.  Would the Bennets' cook turn out these Greek biscuits for tea?  Would the entire plot line have changed had Mr. Darcy spilled sugar on his cravat?  We'll never know.

Every year, Vicki and her brother to go a local Greek Food Festival.  Vicki has noticed powdered sugar cookies, but has never bothered to taste them because she becomes giddy over the baklava.  She asked her brother if he'd ever tried them.  He said, "You mean those hard as a rock flavorless cardboard powdered sugar cookies?"  Who knows what kind of kourambiethes are sold at the Greek Festival, but "hard," "flavorless," and "cardboard" are not words that describe Vicki's "incredibly delicate and tender" cookies.  Next year they may just have to stay home, watch Never on Sunday, and eat Vicki's kourambiethes.

Aimee does a quick, one- or two-sentence summary that's always very good at, well, summarizing her experience.  This week it's "clarified butter creates a tender, nutty cookie that melts in your mouth."  That pretty much says it all.  Except that she was game enough to turn on her oven in the sauna-like heat in order to get her post up.  Aimee cleverly used a mini crockpot to clarify the butter so she didn't have to stand by the stove in her steamy kitchen.  And when her kitchen cools off, she still has some cookie dough ready to make more.

Tony, being Tony, made a few changes in the recipe, but nothing major, and certainly nothing that you might think is odd.  He added some sea salt (a few others added salt too--it was a very noticeable omission, but I figured Rose has her reasons), almond extract, orange oil, orange zest, and extra butter.  Tony also has some fun photos of some of his tasters this week--it's wonderful to see their expressions change from concentration on the job at hand to delight at the taste).

Hope I didn't forget anyone this week.  If I ever do, I'm extra-careful to include them this week.  I'm talking to you, Orin!

And next up:  the elusive elderblueberry pie.  Only the elderberries are elusive.  I actually have an elderberry bush in my front yard, but it is not bearing berries.  My plan is to go to the farmer's market Saturday morning and see if there is anything elderberry-ish in stock.  If I can't find anything, I will probably just make a plain old blueberry pie.  I know that some of you got dried fruit, and some have found a source for the fresh berries.  It will be interesting to see what everyone comes up with.

Monday, July 20, 2015


Kourambiethes (pronounced koo-rum-BYEH-dthess)
This will be a short blog post--just long enough to give these cookies the praise they deserve.  We had no electricity for two days, so I couldn't make them until late yesterday.  Sounds heard at the Wolf household during the 48 hours of no power:  "Don't open the refrigerator door!"  "How am I going to grind the coffee beans?"  "Why doesn't the garage door opener work?  Oh, never mind."  And better, "Let's go out for dinner."  But it turned out that the clarified butter stayed solid in our refrigerator for two days, and I'd already toasted and chopped the almonds, so when I finally had a working oven again, these came together in no time.

Even after two days in a nonfunctioning refrigerator, the clarified butter remained solid.

Whipping the butter and sugar together until the mixture turns white and fluffy appears to be on of the keys to this recipe.

The obligatory photo of powdered sugar falling like snow.

You have to squeeze the slightly crumbly dough a bit so that it coheres, but this is not a problem.  You can see that I didn't use blanched almonds, but I prefer almonds with their skins still on.

I weighed the cookies and got exactly four dozen!

JJ is a little dubious.  I thought he'd like anything with powdered sugar, but he prefers chocolate.  The Milano cookie wins out over homemade again!  He also likes Chips Ahoy.   Let's hope his palate is still developing.

I served these with a blueberry mousse, which turned out not to be as good as I had hoped.  I think next week's pie will be better.

I used brandy this time; last time I made them, I used orange juice.  Somewhat to my surprise, I liked the orange juice better.  Maybe some vanilla would be a good addition too, but I think it's in the nature of this cookie to have a short list of ingredients--just one more of its many virtues.

It just so happened that this recipe came up on rotation when Greece has been in the news, being forced to be fiscally responsible, or being beaten into submission by Angela Merkel, depending on your point of view.  This blog is (more or less) politically neutral, so I'll just say that, whether they're using euros or drachmas, the Greeks sure make good cookies!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "I felt as though I tasted molasses for the first time."

Photo by Kim
The Finer Cookie

This week was all about molasses.  If you like the taste of plain, unadulterated molasses, you loved these little gems.  If you didn't, well, you didn't.  As Kim said, "My first reaction to them was they were odd, as the flavour was intense, and maybe they were too moist, or greasy, or I don't know what.  But after a few days, ... I realized that I was developing a palate for these tiny punch-you-in-the face cakes.   I mean that it took me a few days to give up my preconceived notions of what molasses should taste like, and accept their simplicity."

Or, as our grandson JJ said, "This is kind of good, but it's kind of weird."  

A lot of people fell in the "kind of good" category--or even in the "I loved them" department.

Rachel appreciated that they were "much easier" [than the cheesecake] and "yummy to boot."  She also liked their simplicity, which made them high on the "child friendliness scale."  No complaints from her husband either, especially when she frosted them with leftover Dreamy, Creamy icing. Why didn't I think of that?

In a great leap of faith, Mendy doubled the recipe, making some as cakelets and some in a bigger, mini-bundt cake size.  He preferred the small bundt cakes to the cakelets, describing them as "delicious and tangy," but said he wouldn't use the crumbs again as the kids didn't like them.  We bakers are always having to please spouses and children.  It's a challenge.

Jen gave these cakelets an unqualified yes:  "these were a huge hit at our house."  At first she wasn't happy with the "cakelet" part of the recipe, thinking she'd never use mini-muffin pans.  But then she remembered she had a toddler (I'll bet she never forgot), and decided that a mini-muffin pan was just what she needed after all.  Jen recommends the non-stick variety so you don't have to spray them first.  "Super moist, incredibly flavorful, the Molasses Crumb Cakelets are a winner."

Joan's "yes" was actually a "yes but."  She called the cakelets "enchanting," but her only quibble was they seemed a little oily and underdone.  But she wants to make them again, using a lighter molasses, taking their temp, and skipping the pre-spray.  Oh, you must check out the picture of Joan's gargantuan mini-muffin pan (a contradiction in terms, I know, but one pan makes 48 muffins!).

Katya also gave these a favorable review, but her blog is in a class by itself:  part travelogue, part love song to San Francisco, part ode to Tartine's "storied morning bun," and part appreciation of the "frugal, spicy face of Northeast austerity and hospitality" exemplified by the Molasses Crumb Cakelet, which is "really really good."  "Richness isn't only in effort or butterfat."

Now for the people who belonged to the "kind of weird" group.

While everyone appreciated the ease of putting them together, some people just couldn't get past the dark, strong molasses.  In Catherine's words, "I was tempted to title this post 'blergh.'"  Her problem was the "overpoweringly strong molasses taste," although she thought perhaps the molasses she had bought was too dark and strong.  She'd like to try them with golden syrup, or even treacle.  (Now treacle does sound scary to me).

Faithy also fell into the category of "too much molasses for me."  (Faithy does love gingerbread cookies, made with molasses, but not gingerbread cake, also made with molasses.)  When she saw that the recipe contained neither butter nor eggs, she had her suspicions that she wasn't going to be crazy about them.  And, although she thought they improved with age, she wasn't (crazy about them, that is).  But they did make her crave "our Chinese mini steamed colored rice cake ... eaten with shredded coconut and orange sugar."  Now that does sound odd, but there's no accounting for taste.

There were numerous suggestions about how to make them even better.  

Jeniffer, for example, had these ideas:  "I would freeze the topping mix to be added to oat fruit crumble topping and dip the tops of the small cakes into dark chocolate instead.  Citrus zest and spices could also be added to the cake batter for a change or nuts/chocolate chips/dried fruit would also work."  But she plans to keep them in her repertoire because "you can't have enough quick pantry recipes."

Milagritos not only had some great ideas, she tried them all out--in Take 2.  Her first try was following the recipe, but her husband said he hated molasses.  Milagritos pointed out, very reasonably I thought, that these were molasses cakes.  Still, he stubbornly persisted.  So for her second version, she made a loaf cake, using coconut oil instead of canola oil, substituting honey for half the molasses, and reducing the sugar by nearly half.   Even molasses-hating husband loved this result, although, of course, they could no longer fairly be called "molasses cakelets" but could be called a molasses-honey loaf.

Vicki also had a Take 2.  She forgot to withhold the part of the mixture used to make crumbs, so her first batch was crumbless.  She figured that omission accounted for the texture, which seemed a little gummy.  She made a few other changes in Take 2 as well--substituting some Lyle's Golden Syrup (Rose has created a bunch of golden syrup super-fans) and using coconut spray dusted with cocoa to keep the outsides of the cakes from becoming too oily.  She loved the addition to her vegan repertoire, but thought the next time she made them she'd add cinnamon or cardamom or vanilla.

If you've been following Tony's blog for the months we've been doing this, it won't surprise you to hear that he is among the doctorers to this recipe.  He used 2/3 golden syrup to 1/3 molasses and a mixture of white and brown sugar.  He also added Tony's Special Spice Mix, which he didn't specify, but the photo reveals that it contains allspice, mace, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cardamom.

Our newest baker, Aimee, summed them up like this:  "a short, easily procured ingredient list makes tiny and tasty dairy and egg-free cakes."  Her suggestion for next time was to substitute honey for part of the molasses, add some warm spices, and serve them with goat cheese as part of a Thanksgiving appetizer plate.  Aimee, wait until you try the pepparkakors, which have just such a suggestion for turning a sweet into a savory.

Some people even had reservations about taking them to the office, the usual repository for an overabundance of baked goods.  Kristina must have apologized for taking them to an office barbecue because "they went over really well" and everyone told her she had "undersold them."  She thought maybe the crumbs could be improved by using butter instead of oil, but, whatever she thought of them, they disappeared at work.

Jenn was not looking forward to these because of the molasses, and a tasting verified her misgivings.  "It tasted like straight up molasses, which is not really surprising considering that is the name of the cake and the mean ingredient."  She didn't send them to her husband's office because she didn't want to serve something she didn't like to others.  Great photos, though!

Coming up:  Kourambiethes--as hard to spell and harder to pronounce than dattelkonfekt, but so delicious!  I've made them several times and I think they're my favorite cookie so far.  I can't guarantee that you'll love them, but I can guarantee that I will.

There's a plan-ahead component with the clarified butter.  Other than that, they go together pretty quickly.  Rose explains in the Ingredients section that 454 grams of butter (1 pound) should yield 390 grams of clarified butter.  She also says that clarified butter should be about 75% of the weight of the original amount, so that, by my unreliable math, would be only about 340.5 grams, it looks like there could be a pretty big margin of error.  I plan to aim for 390 grams, but won't be upset if I have less than that.  

Monday, July 13, 2015

Molasses Crumb Cakelets

From the sublime to the ridiculous(ly easy).  Last week's layered cheesecake is the kind of recipe RLB is known for:  the best ingredients, multiple components, plan-ahead with resting periods, rich but not heavy, not overly sweet, and impressive to serve and to eat.  This is the kind of recipe people are talking about when they say they can't do Rose's recipes because they're too difficult or complicated.  These cakelets are the comback for that complaint because they have ingredients you're likely to have on hand all the time, nothing unusual to buy or track down, and incredibly simple to mix up.

Do people always have molasses in their pantry?  I don't know.  Molasses has fallen out of favor, I think.  It can be overpowering, and I now greatly prefer the taste of Lyle's Golden Syrup to either molasses or dark corn syrup, although I usually have both on hand.  I didn't know about "mild flavored" molasses (compared to full-flavored) until last time I baked with Woody, and he told me that he and Rose always used mild-flavored Grandma's brand.  I got Brer Rabbit because my grocery store doesn't carry Grandma's.  I'll probably never do a taste test.

You make the "crumbs" with flour, sugar, salt, and oil.  That's it.

Then a small portion of the crumb mixture is removed to make the actual "crumbs" that you sprinkle on top of the small muffin/cakes.  Hence the "crumb cakelets."

Then you add molasses, boiling water, and baking soda, and mix everything in the mixer for a minute or two.  At first it looks like you've done something horribly wrong because the batter is very thin, but after everything is thoroughly mixed, it no longer looks like a mistake.

You could avoid an extra dirty dish by not pouring the batter into a four-cup measure, but I wouldn't advise it.  It's way easier to pour 17 grams from the cup than it is to spoon it out in the cavities.  My muffin pans are very mini, so mine were more like 15 to 16 grams.

Don't forget the reserved crumbs!  I almost did, and their crunchy texture adds a lot to the final product.

Warning #2:  Make sure these are baked through!  I took my first batch out after 9 minutes, but they were underdone.  I ate one, Jim ate one.  Although Jim said they were good, I didn't agree.  I put them out for the squirrels to eat.  They still haven't eaten them, and I'm going to be quite insulted if they ignore them.

These are from the batch that were properly baked.  It took 12 minutes, although I had two pans in the oven which probably increased the baking time.

Heavenly Cake Bakers, remember when we were baking through that book and we all had to get Financier molds because we had about four different Financier recipes?  I only had three mini-muffin pans, so I find these when I was looking for something small.  I actually liked this little loaf shape better than the muffins, but they hold more than 17 grams.  I filled them with about 32 grams of batter and was very generous with the crumb topping.

 Perfect little tea cakes!  I liked these, and I love having a recipe that's so easy to make.  This is the epitome of "Quick and Easy."  But I thought they could use a little something else.  I think that if I were to make them again, I'd add one or more of the spices usually associated with gingerbread:  ginger (duh), cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, or allspice.  And maybe I'd use half brown sugar and half white sugar.  I know that any additions would detract from the wonderful simplicity of these cakes, and maybe I'd end up deciding that simple is better, but I'd like to try some additions.  (Some of the Alphas have already been talking about adding orange or lemon, and those flavors sound promising too).  I would never mess with the crumbs, though--I love crispy crumbs.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "A Cake With All the Fireworks"

Photo by Orin
Orin's Goodies

This cheesecake is a multi-element, super-rich, elegant and beautiful show-stopper.  Some of us went all out on this one.  And some of us just kvetched.

Orin is one of those who went all-out.  She was determined to get a red cake without using red food coloring, so she went in her cupboard containing elixirs and powders, and took out her beet powder. Nope.  She ended up with a brown cake.  Then she put on her thinking cap, and decided it was the baking powder and heat that were to blame for changing the red batter to brown cake.  So she baked a second cake, this time using a sponge cake recipe with no soda or powder.  Voila--a beet-red cake made with beet powder.  She also picked 18 pounds of blueberries (not all of them used for this cake).  Then she cut, trimmed, coddled, and smoothed, and came up with the cake pictured above.  She and her tasters all had a hard time "putting their forks down."

By the way, to broaden the appeal of this cake, we shouldn't limit it to American Independence Day.  Why not declare a new holiday for former British Colonies, which would include not only the U.S., but also Australia, Canada, and Singapore! We can decide what colors to use for this holiday after we name it and decide when it is.

Milagritos fudged on three of the four elements:  instead of the red velvet cake, she used a seeded cookie base; instead of Dreamy, Creamy, etc., she used a browned white chocolate ganache; instead of blueberries, she used raspberries.  But she was true to the cheesecake, and oh, what a cheesecake!  "This is the smoothest cheesecake I've ever tasted!  Not only that, this cheesecake is invitingly tangy and savoury in the most complimentary way...not to mention very, very easy to make and bake.  Not one crack on its surface!  I have never made such an easy cheesecake which also happens to be easy on the eyes and the tastebuds."

Mendy called the cheesecake "wonderful," although he had a quibble about the lemon juice that was "sneaked into" the cake.  He used the same springform pan for both red velvet and cheesecake, and didn't have to trim to get them even.  He also suggested baking the cheesecake first, so it could be cooling while the other components are being made.  Mendy often includes photos of one or more of his charming kidlets, and it's been fun to watch them grow during the last six or seven years!  In fact, I guess I'll soon have to stop thinking of them as kidlets.

Jen, who has no pictures this time of her kidlet, says this about the cake:  "It sounds like a lot of steps and dirty dishes and pains in the asses, and it is.  But when you start eating your slice of cake, or when you cut it open to reveal the stunning layers and your friends ooh and aah, then you will find yourself thinking about when you'll make it again."  Jen highly recommends using El Rey's Icoa White Chocolate ("better than Valrhona").  (I now think of this as Evil Cake Lady's Ikea Chocolate, so I hope I'll recognize it when I see it).

Kristina made her cheesecake blue, white, and blue (yes, a "blue velvet" cake) for her birthday because she doesn't celebrate American Independence Day.  (But Kristina, just wait until next year's Former Colonies Day!).  Despite almost forgetting to put the egg yolks in the cheesecake, she said that everything turned out hunky-dory.  "Verdict:  Delicious.  I would totally make this again.  It made a great birthday cake, and disappeared pretty quickly."

Joan says she baked the "Fourth of Jolee" cake for her friend Jolee, whose birthday is on July 4 (or is it Jolee 4?), and a stunning cake it is, sitting on a mirrored table, being gazed at by a regal-looking cat.  Joan saved the blueberries to put on the cake just before serving, so you can see pictures of both a red and white cake, as well as the red, white, and blue.  Please welcome Joan back in the fold.  She took a brief respite from the group, but missed the group baking, and, of course, we missed her.  And if any of you others who felt they needed to drop out because of time or work issues, you're always welcome back when your life permits you to be an active baker again.

Rachel, one of our newest bakers, was amazingly quick to get on the schedule and make the Fourth of July cheesecake.  Rachel baked without having the advantage of just having done the Red Velvet cake, and her cake turned out less of a brilliant red than she was expecting--probably, she thought, because she didn't use bleached flour.  Rachel loves Rose's "fanatical art-through-science approach to baking."  Rose should love her appreciation of "art through science," although I'm not sure about the "fanatic" part.  Please take a look at Rachel's blog if you get a chance this week, and welcome her to the group.  Rachel has already learned why Rose insists on white chocolate with cocoa butter--Rachel picked up some good white chocolate, but also tried grocery-store chips without cocoa butter.  No comparison, she discovered:  the inferior chips were like "smooth, sweet chalk."  Not too appetizing.

When Faithy first made the red velvet cake a few weeks ago, she was a food coloring snob.  No way was she going to use a completely artificial, possibly carcinogenic chemical for her family and friends.  Unfortunately, the beetroot juice she used instead gave her a boring beige color, and Boring Beige Velvet just doesn't work as a name for a cake.  This time she threw caution to the winds and dumped in a full bottle of red food coloring, resulting in a cake that "is just WOW?"  "The cheesecake melts in the mouth and pairs perfectly ... with the red velvet....  Blueberries clean richness off the cheese and refresh the tastebuds.  I clearly forgot about the red food coloring in the red velvet....  I ate up every last crumb!"  Faithy had only one question:  "Rose, how do you make such a perfect cheesecake?"  Sometimes, you just have to go with the chemicals.

Even though Catherine made a red, white, and brown cake, she was still crazy about it, especially the cheesecake.  Catherine clearly doesn't know about the Former Colonies Day that we are inventing, or she would understand that red, white, and brown might end up being the colors of this holiday.  Like everyone else, Catherine had nothing but praise for Rose's brilliant cheesecake recipe.  "The real gem of this recipe is the cheesecake.  I hadn't made one of Rose's baked cheesecakes before and I was impressed with the ultra creamy texture and light lemony flavour."  If there were such a thing as a Nobel prize for cheesecake, I guess we all know who would come home with the blue ribbon.

Anna was one of us who didn't go all-out, yet who still ended up with a magnificent cheesecake.  Anna claims that she did everything in a hurry, and "just haphazardly frosted the cheesecake and tossed the blueberries on quickly."  If this is true, it makes you wonder why you should bother to be super-careful and methodical since the "haphazard" cake looks wonderful, or "incredible," in Anna's words.  Anna just added two extra tablespoons of cocoa to make the cake darker and more chocolate-y, so the red velvet is more of a reddish brown than brilliant red.  But how can "more chocolate flavor" be a bad thing?

To summarize Vicki's cheesecake, I'll just open with her own opening words:  "This is the most sublimely decadent cheesecake I have ever had the pleasure to taste....  Rose upped the standard by which all other cheesecakes can be judged."  (Nobel judges, are you paying attention?)  Vicki also insists that this is a very easy dessert to make.  Because of the sawing and measuring and various upside-downing, I'm not completely sure I'd go with easy, but I'll agree that it's less frightening than it first appears.

If you just looked at the pictures of Jeniffer's yummy-looking individual cheesecakes, you won't understand why she says, "I was sad, they were bad," until you realize that the bad "they" is out-of-season blueberries.  Blueberries that are both bitter and tasteless, with an "I accidentally ate a garden weed" aftertaste.  Since I have yet to see a dessert described as "tasting like fresh garden weeds," I think I understand the sadness.  Fortunately, the bad blueberries weren't enough to completely take away from the "amazing" cheesecake, "rich yet light in texture."  Jeniffer, if you make the blue-elderberry pie, maybe you should use frozen blueberries.

This recipe really inspired Michele.  She pretty much followed the directions, except that her twists and turns were just a little bit different than those in the recipe.  But she actually trimmed the cake with a razor; although she said it was an "annoying" step, she still did it.  And she really made magic with her Dreamy, Creamy etc. icing.  "Reverse shells" (I can't even do shells in drive), and Roses--her cake looks like the kind of thing that if you saw it in a bakery window, you'd do an about-face and go inside and buy it.  Unless you knew Michele.  Then you'd just ask her to make one for you and count yourself among the lucky ones.

In addition to Joan and Rachel, who have already blogged, there is a blog address for another new baker, Susan, and hopefully she'll be able to make next week's project.  Aimee, the other new baker, is still working on her blog, but maybe you'll be able to read her post next week.

And, by the way, next week is something completely different, something from the Quick &
Easy list, Molasses Crumb Cakelets.  They look plain and easy and brown, not red.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Fourth of July Cheesecake

Usually, the red, white, and blue cake relies on berries for both its redness and blueness.  I don't think I've ever before seen one that gets its red from Red Velvet.  Another first for me--the first cake that told me to use a single-blade razor to trim a cake layer.  I grumbled, "Where is Woody when I need him?"  I also grumbled, "I don't have a single-edge razor and I'm not going to go out and buy one."  I also grumbled, "This is not going to end well."  I'm still mystified by the use of the 10-inch cake pan, which at least I owned.

Other than to say that the 10-inch pan idea was a pain in the Astor Bar, I won't say much about the Red Velvet layer, at least for now, since we made it so recently, but I will include one picture of the food coloring because Jim was in love with the photos.

This is how it turned out.  I would have been pretty disappointed if I hadn't known it was going to be thin and flat.  I made the cake Friday night, and then went on to bake the cheesecake so it could have its overnight rest in the refrigerator.

No one makes cheesecakes like Rose Levy Beranbaum.  They never crack; they're silky smooth, rich, and utterly delicious.  It probably has something to do with the ridiculous amounts of cream cheese and sour cream.

Not to mention eggs.

Here it is, going into the oven in the same contraption I used for the Chocolate Oblivion.  My glass-bottomed springform pan (the one recommended by America's Test Kitchen), doesn't seem to leak, but I'm glad to wrap it in the silicone pan so it doesn't pick up any water.

It's supposed to stay in the oven with the temperature turned off for a full hour, but I took it out after 45 minutes because I didn't know whether it was supposed to start browning.  Then I had to stay up late with it while it cooled to room temperature.  But I had a glass of wine and read Orange is the New Black (which is not as good as the Netflix version, by the way), so I was pretty happy about the whole process.  I thought about sending a picture of the finished cheesecake to Woody.  Would he say, "You did good, grasshopper," or would he say, "You burned the cheesecake!"  Then I decided maybe I didn't want to know the answer.

On to the Dreamy Creamy frosting!  Woody kindly left me some wonderful Valrhona white chocolate, but I had to add some white chocolate chips that I found in my chocolate drawer.  The creamy Valrhona melted like a dream, but the (relatively) cheap white chips wanted to stay chip-ish.  Valrhona seems to be worth the price, although you can't just run to your neighborhood grocery store and pick it up in bulk.

The cheesecake came out of the springform pan more or less intact, and I put the liquid raspberry preserves on top so the cake would adhere.

Jim couldn't find a single-blade razor after all, so I had to make do with a knife.  I grumbled, but I didn't curse, so it wasn't too bad.

And I got it on top of the cheesecake, and then I turned it over on the serving plate, so I thought things were going pretty smoothly.

But dabbing the jam on the cake layer was my Waterloo.  I tried a brush, a spatula, and various other utensils, but nothing worked for me.  I told Jim that I knew this cake layer was not going to end well, and I was right.  If I made this again, I'd simply use a nine-inch cake pan in the first place and forget about the trimming and the crumb-setting.  I also said, "And I am not going to get out the pastry bag."  

But I felt so bad about how shoddy the cake looked that I thought maybe I could redeem myself with a decorative swirl (which is odd, since I have zero confidence in that technique, but it turned out okay.

The glaze for the blueberries was a wonder.  Not heavy or too sweet, it somehow intensified both the flavor and color of the berries.  Everything looked good except the splotched cake layer.  

Fortunately, JJ was not bothered by the splotches.  In fact, he thought the cake was the most amazing thing he'd ever seen, except maybe the garbage truck.  Or the fire truck.  

Everyone loved it--with some reservations.  My daughter said, "Mom, it's really good, but it's so rich."  When I left, I asked her if I could leave the rest of the cheesecake with her.  She said, "No, thanks, I want to live."  Then she said maybe I could leave a small piece.  Fortunately, our next-door neighbor was more than happy to take it off our hands, although I noticed that Jim cut off another largish piece for himself before he said goodbye to it forever.  

Then the fireworks started.  Someone in our neighborhood must have taken a trip to Wisconsin, where firecrackers and sparklers are legal, and they kept shooting them off until about 2:00 a.m.  A cheesecake is a much quieter way of celebrating Independence Day.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "A Summer Favorite!"

Photo by Michele Simons
The Artful Oven

Surprised and delighted:  these were the principal reactions to this meringue/cookie/ice cream treat.  Milagritos, for example:  she "didn't want to like them."  "Too sugary, too eggy, too creamy, just too much."   But this anticipation turned out not to be true.  The kids liked them, and the adults stole bites from the kids.  Not to blame the adults, though, as Milagritos says, after all, they were "terribly moreish."

And Mendy, whose meringues turned out crispy and almost paper-thin, thought they were "more delicious than I expected them to be.  A real treat."  Although most of the kids "slurped out the ice cream," leaving the nutty meringues behind, Shayna declared them "awesom-azing!"

Faithy was so unsure of this recipe that she made only half, and made her own rum-raisin ice cream so that there would at least be ice cream if the meringues didn't turn out.  Not surprisingly (to me, anyhow because I've watched Faithy turn out many masterpieces over the years), they were both highly successful.  Though the cookies turned out too puffy to make sandwiches, she simply turned them into "mini-Pavlovas," with the ice cream on the bottom and the meringue perched jauntily atop. "The crisp, light and airy texture pairs so well with ice cream.  Loving it."

Ever the practical baker, Vicki was surprised at how easy these were to make.  She cleverly brought out the English Muffin rings she used for the Kouign Amanns, and tried the meringues both ringed and free-form.  As someone who's not crazy about meringues, she might have been surprised at how much she liked these (Dulce de leche, coffee, and vanilla  ice cream--she tried, and liked, them all), except that she'd already been surprised at becoming a meringue lover when she tried Dattelkonfekts.  Just one suggestion for Rose:  how about a chocolate meringue?

Tony was not much of a meringue person either, because he usually finds them to be "cloyingly hyper-sweet products," or CH SP, in Tony-lingo.  Oddly, it's the brown sugar (ordinarily thought to be sweeter than white sugar) that brought them "just to the edge of sweetness."  Tony's cookies sort of decorated themselves, as he piped leftover chocolate ganache along the naturally-occurring cracks formed on the tops of the cookies.

Speaking of naturally-occurring, Jeniffer reminded us that these cookies are naturally gluten-free--no gluten substitutes required.  Jeniffer also included a list of possible meringue/ice cream combos, some of which would never have occurred to me, but all of which sound delightful:  "Think of pairing ... with salted caramel ice cream, bourbon banana for a banana foster ice cream sandwich, chocolate (of course), burnt caramel fig ice cream, coffee (not the sweet Vietnamese coffee type, but rather an Italian espresso type to counter cookie sweetness) or just a scoop of classic vanilla."

Kristina was also surprised at how easy these were--so much so that she forgot to take photos of the process.  And stunned that so much deliciousness could come from just four ingredients:  egg whites, sugar, pecans, and ice cream.  She planned to "stash them in her freezer" for her birthday barbecue dessert, but she and Jay sampled preview ice cream meringues made with French vanilla ice cream:  clearly the best choice, said Jay, whose choice it was.

The recipe was full of surprises for Kim, beginning with the meringue itself:  who would have thought that "adding all that sugar to unwhipped egg whites would give me a thick foam?"  But it did.  And the deliciousness of her homemade vanilla ice cream with "lots and lots" of egg yolks (great way to make the yolks and whites come out even) contrasted beautifully "with the chewy texture and soft bite of the pecan meringue."  I can almost taste it.

These meringues weren't really a surprise to Orin because she had the opportunity to taste them when Rose and Woody came to Texas for a demonstration and book-signing event.  They served the cookies with Woody's favorite, dulce de leche ice cream.  Orin served them with caramel macchiato gelato (which sounds pretty wonderful all by itself).  Orin froze muffin-papered amounts of gelato, ready to sandwich in the sandwiches, so her version looks neat and inviting.  "The absolute upgraded version" of ice cream sandwiches, said one taster.

No surprises for Michele either, but plenty of delights.  She knew when she started this baking project that she would "quickly deplete her supply of superlatives," and sure enough, after tasting these meringues, she was "bereft of a word to describe these delights."  She filled them with vanilla ice cream AND drizzled them with Rose's Special Blend Ganache.  By the time she finished, she was "drooling to taste them."  Sometimes a little drooling is a good thing.

Jen actually had high expectations (remember the Dattelkonfekt!), which were almost, but not quite, met.  First, she wished the pecans would have been a little toastier.  Second, although she thought coffee ice cream was a great flavor match, she found the meringues too crumbly to be wholly successful as a base for an ice cream sandwich.  Interestingly, Jen liked the addition of muscovado sugar, which brought "an almost boozy note to the meringues."  Booze without booze...some might say "what's the point?"  But others might say, "great to know about."  I say, when you're feeding toddlers, it's nice to have something that tastes sophisticated but isn't verboten for two-year-olds.

Patricia preferred the ice cream sandwiches filled with coffee ice cream to those filled with vanilla, but she surprised herself by liking the sandwiches best when they weren't sandwiched, because "the cookies are utterly amazing all by themselves."  Not the most attractive ice creamy thing, but "you'll be won over by the flavor."  And flavor is what it's all about, isn't it?

It sounds like next week's project--the Fourth of July Cheesecake--will have plenty of flavor, with the red velvet cake base, the classic Rose cheesecake filling, a cream cheese icing layer, topped with blueberries.  If you made the red velvet cake a few weeks ago, you'll know how to put it together.  The other layers don't look difficult, but any time there are four or five components, it's going to take some time, so plan ahead.  Even if you don't celebrate American Independence Day, everyone has a 4th of July, and who can resist a cheesecake?