Sunday, June 28, 2015

Pecan Praline Meringue Ice Cream Sandwiches: A Baking Adventure with Woody

Ever since Woody moved to the east coast from Minnesota to be closer to Rose and his job, I've been looking for signs that he's started to lose his Midwestern-ness.   So far I haven't seen any.  For starters, he came back for a broomball retreat, which seems like the opposite of highfalutin.  (Just to clarify, you are not highfalutin if you live on the east coast, but there is that danger if you move there from a more mundane spot.  I don't know why; that's just how it is).

Here's one way I know he hasn't been citified.  When I came home, he had already started on the pecans.  I looked at the recipe and said, "Where are the pecan halves?"  He looked a little sheepish, and said that his grocery store didn't have pecan halves.  I told him it was because he insisted on shopping at the cheapest grocery store in town.  I tell him he's frugal to a fault.  He thinks, but is too nice to say, that I'm a wastrel.

We've had a lot of bird flu in Minnesota, so there is an egg shortage.  I always buy organic eggs from small farms (wastrel!), and they weren't affected, but Woody had to pay the extra dollar for a dozen eggs.  (I know that Rose uses locally laid eggs from happy Pennsylvania hens).

If further proof were needed that Woody has not gone hoity-toity on us, note the beer in the background.  Woody and Jim sit around and drink a lot of beer while he's here.  Although beer has risen in stature of late, both Woody and Jim drank it before it was cool.  Or expensive.  And I have a feeling that the broomball retreat involves a fair amount of beer drinking.

The pieces of pecans, none of which are very big, go into the egg whites.

And make a billowy mass of meringue-to-be, just slightly brownish from the brown sugar and nuts.

Woody shows me how to get the proper amount of egg white on the cookie sheet with two tablespoons and to shape them into comely blobs.

He tells me I can shape them with an offset spatula, implying, I think, that it's about time I did something useful.  I tell him he's much better at shaping than I am, and, although he's too nice to agree, he doesn't argue with me.

They come out perfectly! They're the best meringues I ever made.  Of course, strictly speaking, I didn't exactly make them, which may have something to do with why they're the best.

Before Woody takes the meringues off to the Great Northern Woods, I tell him I must taste them, so I let some vanilla ice cream soften slightly and don't even attempt to fill the cookies neatly, or it would all melt.  They're really delicious.  The meringues have so much flavor from the brown sugar and pecans; they're not just crackly sugar.  And I think the vanilla ice cream is perfect, although I wouldn't say no to the other flavors that Rose and Woody recommend, namely dulce de leche and coffee.  They're almost as delicious as pecan pie.

Sadly for Woody, the meringues did not take the car trip intact.  They came out of their neatly packed nests in pieces, so they did not get filled with ice cream.  But the broomball boys ate them anyway, apparently without complaining.  These may become the only meringue in my cookie repertoire.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "A Box Office Smash"

Photo by Catherine Pledge
PhyllisCaroline Blog

This week's offering was the Double Damage Oblivion, which can roughly be described as chocolate and chocolate with chocolate, prompting the Alpha Bakers to ask themselves whether there can be such a thing as too much chocolate.  The answers varied with the baker.

Orin's answer to that question was a definite "No!"  No such thing.  Orin, a self-confessed chocolate lover, has been looking forward to making this triple-whammy chocolate cake since she first got the cookbook.  Here's a description of Orin's beautifully plated cake in the words of one of her tasters, a brand-new chocoholic:  "This cake is a true chocolate lover's dream.  It is very moist and melts in your mouth.  The chocolate ganache is very sweet and creamy ....  The chocolate flavor only gets better with each delicious bite without being overpowering or too sweet."

On the other hand, our favorite contrarian, Raymond, answered the question with a "resounding yes."  Too much.  Although he "loved the varying textures," he found it "too intense and too chocolate" for his taste.  In fairness, though, he had to admit that his "tasting panel just loved this cake.  Not a crumb was left....  They oohed and aahed all over the place while I was the only one not bowled over by it."

Faithy has rarely met a chocolate cake she didn't like, and she liked this one, but she prefers some of Rose's other chocolate cakes, and thought this one was missing something, namely bourbon.  When everyone had tasted the cake, she still had many pieces left, and she decided to bourbonize them. That is, she cut the leftover cake into pieces, poured bourbon (a fair amount) over the pieces, and formed them into balls.  She loved them, and so did her tasters!  So, for Faithy, it was not a question of too much chocolate, but a question of not enough booze.

Like Faithy, Jeniffer would have preferred that the Chocolate Passion layer be syruped, perhaps with Chambord or a chocolate liqueur.  On the other hand, her favorite chocolate cake eaters told her that she "had a good cake here," so she wasn't sure which objective review to credit.  Unlike some people (ahem), Jeniffer carefully read the recipe, evened out the cake layers, and ran a hot knife around the layers, resulting in a beautiful shiny professional-looking cake.

Definitely not too much chocolate for Kristina, but she did use strawberry jam, so she had only 2 out of 3 possible chocolate components.  Honestly, though, the Double Damage was almost an afterthought for Kristina, who had a mad weekend of catch-up baking, and she was perhaps more focused on the sponge cake for the shortcake she was catching up on and which had a midair disaster during the "flip the delicate sponge cake" event.  Then she made the cinnamon rolls, which looked very good.  But after those two projects, you can see why the Double Damage looked as easy as cake mix.

Katya admitted upfront that she is not a "very serious chocolate lover."  Not a chocolate hater by any means, but not one of those "guys out there for whom a dessert without chocolate might as well be a flip flop."  Katya offered up this cake for those who like "some cake with their cake, please."  She opted to use raspberry preserves mixed with a little pear jelly as her cement, which sounds like very flavorful cement.

Jen filed this cake (she called it a "super chocolate bomb") away to serve to "all the chocolate lovers out there."  She has made both the Chocolate Oblivion and the Deep Chocolate Passion Cake many times (and she has links on her blogs to some of her previous creations), but she's never before made them together.  Jen also "glued" the cakes together with raspberry jam.  Much as I love Rose's chocolate ganache, I'm beginning to think raspberry jam is the way to go with this cake to get another flavor dimension.

In a classic example of the use-what's-in-your-refrigerator approach to baking, Nancy found the leftover raspberry sauce from the Rose Red Velvet Cake.  Since that sauce could serve as syrup as well as cement, it sounds like an inspired choice, and kept the cake from being too "one-note" for Nancy.  Her "chocoholic sister-in-law" has told Nancy that she "must keep this recipe."

Catherine's review of the cake:  it had a "delicious deep chocolate flavour but was not overly sweet."  (I love writing -our instead of -or; I wish Americans would switch over).  Catherine says she'll be adding it to her "repertoire of go-to cakes."  In addition to the taste (flavour, I mean), she liked that the cake "lends itself ... to some relatively high impact but low skill decoration."  I know what she means--that's just the kind of decoration I like.  (See above photo for example of sophisticated, "high impact" decoration.  I'm not vouching for the "low skill" part).

Definitely not too much chocolate for Vicki, who declared that "rich and decadent is an understatement."  And to those of you who thought the cake would have been improved with a bit of syruping, take note of Vicki's experiment.  She mixed Trader Joe's Moreno cherries with almond extract over the cake layers, which, she said, made the layers "incredibly moist and light."

Mendy thought the cake was "fantastic"--so fantastic that its deliciousness somehow caused him to lose the pictures he had taken of it.  Or maybe it wasn't cause and effect.  All I know is that he liked the cake and he lost the pictures.  When Mendy saw Woody's name on this recipe, he knew it would be good since he's still having sweet dreams of Woody's Lemon Luxury Cake.

Next Up:  Pecan Praline Meringue Ice Cream Sandwiches.  I thought late June would be a perfect time for ice cream sandwiches, but I hope that it's not too humid where you are for the meringues to be successful.  I'm not a meringue fan, but I loved these, and they're simple to make too.  Rose recommends coffee ice cream, but I have it on good authority that her new favorite filling is dulce de leche ice cream.  I used plain old vanilla, and they were great.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Double Damage Oblivion

I don't think I've ever made (or eaten) a cake filled with another cake.  It seems like the dessert equivalent of a Turducken.  And since the Chocolate Oblivion is very rich on its own, I wasn't sure about the concept of making it richer.  But it was Woody's idea, and Woody's ideas are not usually totally off the wall, I figured I'd give it a try.

This pretty much says it all.  Chocolate.  And this is by no means all the chocolate that went into the cake.

Melt butter and chocolate together.  They have a natural affinity for each other, don't they?

Eggs beaten with the whisk attachment for five minutes.  Presumably you could do this by hand, but I wouldn't want to try it.

The batter poured into a 9-inch springform pan which is snuggled into a silicone cake pan, then placed in another pan,  and surrounded by hot water.  After a few minutes, the springform pan gets covered by a cake pan or lid.  For something that turns out quite elegant, the process has a certain makeshift jury-rigged quality.

After it bakes for just 14 minutes (or so say the instructions--mine took twice that to get up to 170 degrees).  Then it went into the refrigerator overnight, and was easily removed from the pan much later, when it looked like this:

But I'm getting ahead of myself here.  First I had to make the other chocolate cake--the Deep Chocolate Passion.  Since I was serving it for dinner, I started baking it in the morning.  Oblivion, Passion, all sounds quite sinful.

This chocolate cake gets its flavor from cocoa, not from actual chocolate, and it's much lighter in texture, but not in color.

The cocoa and boiling water turn into a rich, chocolatey, buttery looking mixture, even though there's no butter in the mix.

Mixing this cake up is fast.  One minute I was admiring the cocoa mixture, the next I was taking it out of the oven.  The hardest part of the whole Double Damage process is slicing the cake in half, a process that is almost an aside in 5 pages of instructions:  "Cut the Deep Chocolate Passion into two even layers."  I once bought a gadget that was supposed to make this an easy step, but 1) I couldn't find it and 2) as I recall, the gadget had a few problems with execution, chief among them that there was no way to set it up so that it cut two equal-sized layers.

I used the old toothpick trick, which worked pretty well.

I wanted to have another flavor other than chocolate in the cake, and I was going to use some kind of fruit preserves, but when Woody left, he reminded me that there was some vanilla buttercream left from when we made Woody's Brownies, which I will write about whenever it comes up on the schedule.  I thought that was a good suggestion (as I said, Woody's ideas are usually pretty good, and sometimes they're brilliant).

I can't call this idea brilliant, although I'll admit that part of the problem lay in my execution.  I didn't even try to make the buttercream look pretty because, after all, its only purpose is to glue the layers together.  What didn't occur to me was that, because the buttercream is white, any sloppy execution is very noticeable whereas chocolate ganache/cement wouldn't be.  Even raspberry preserves wouldn't be visible.  But vanilla buttercream?  Very, very visible.

You can see what I mean.  Have you heard of the restaurants where you eat in the dark?  Maybe I could get a job as pastry chef in one of those.  Because this cake tasted very good, and the vanilla buttercream was a nice counterpoint to all the chocolate.  It just wasn't very pretty.

Also, I think that my 9-inch springform is slightly larger than my 9-inch cake pan, because it was impossible to line up all three layers evenly.  Fortunately, the people I was serving this cake to are very polite, and they would never say, "That cake looks weird."  They said it looked amazing and tasted delicious, and they seemed genuinely pleased to have it for dessert.  (I have no idea what they said in the privacy of their own home, which is just as well).

Jim and I were quite taken with the cake ourselves, and it turned out not to be too much chocolate after all.  Still, I think that the people who halved the recipe were probably very smart because I still have a lot of cake left, and I'm trying to abide by my one-piece rule.  Jim is usually happy to have dessert on hand every day, but I'm not sure what he'll think when he sees that he has eight pieces of chocolate cake that must be eaten soon.  Happy Father's Day!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "The Champagne of Red Velvet Cakes"

Photo by Jen Knowles
Evil Cake Lady

If we learned one thing this week, it's that most Alpha Bakers are pretty squeamish about using artificial coloring.  More squeamish than they are about blue cheese, which at least is naturally blue.  And many of the bakers don't have the "Rose" bundt pan and were reluctant to add to their already sizable bundt pan collections.  So a fair number of Red Velvet Roses were neither red velvet nor rose.
Even so, the cake garnered generally good reviews.

Because "using anything synthetic" is not how she operates, Glori roasted "giant" or "mutant" beets to get her cake batter "Pepto-Bismol" pink, but alas, when it was baked, it became a "lovely beige."  Going totally "renegade" with the beige cake, she decided to forget about the raspberry sauce and doused it with chocolate syrup.  She liked the flavor of the cake and thought she'd try a natural food coloring next time, but as a "beige velvet" cake, it was pretty good.

Even though she's not a "fan of red velvet cake," faithful Faithy baked it anyway.  She doesn't like the "scary amount" of red food coloring and doesn't much care for the cake itself, seeing it purely as a vehicle for the cream cheese frosting, "ultimately the main feature of the cake."  She didn't get enough beet juice from the two roasted beetroots (Americans say beet, and others say "beet root."  This has no significance; I just thought I'd point it out.)  She thought she'd achieved at least a pretty pink cake, but when she turned it over, it "turned blonde."  It turned out the cake was pretty good, and the raspberry sauce, which she cooked long enough that it became jam-like, at least made the outside of her pink-blonde cake red.

Milagritos also went the beet(root) route.  It should no longer come as a surprise that Milagritos had "high hopes" when she saw the cake batter of achieving that sought-after red color without using Red Dye No. whatever.  It should also no longer come as a surprise that when the cake came out of the oven, it was no longer red, but "a regular golden beige.  Actually, it was pink on top and golden beige on the bottom.  Still, with the raspberry glaze, it was "so shiny, so gorgeous, so very, very red.  In a good way."  Milagritos was crazy about the raspberry glaze.

Vicki, a fervent label-reader, didn't want anything to do with bottled redness, but she wasn't sure she wanted the beet option either, so she got some of India Tree's natural colors.  Like the beet-colored cakes, it was a "beautiful shade of red" going into the oven, but coming out, it "looked like a spice cake."  Spice cakes are wonderful in their own right, but maybe not the best color for a red velvet cake.  But Vicki noted that the "cake has a wonderful flavor and light crumb.  Honestly, it doesn't need any coloring at all."

Like Vicki, Orin found a "new organic, vegetable-based food color," and like Vicki, she discovered that natural food color doesn't give you the "bright red" color that unnatural color does.  She decided not to remake the cake but instead to rely on the raspberry syrup to give "just the right red color that [she] was seeking."  And it did.  Orin looked at the suggested whipped cream accompaniment, and decided she could go one better, so she made "the Raspberry Italian Meringue from the upside-down cake recipe.  She also added rose water to the meringue for even more hints of rose.  The result?  The "uptown version" of the traditional southern Red Velvet Cake.

Jeniffer was not about to be fooled by the beet option.  She had tried it before, and added extra cocoa, and ended up with (surprise!) a "nondescript brownish hue."  This time, she "went with less cocoa and with red food colour."  In fact, Jeniffer's photo of the cake is probably the most colorful of anyone's, served with ice cream wedges "sprinkled with freeze-dried raspberries and grated chocolate."  Although she liked its "great light texture and the raspberry sauce, she probably wouldn't make it again, "unless someone requested it."  If someone sees the pictures, they just might.

Jen used the red food coloring, although she couldn't help noting that it contains "terrible chemicals that may or may not make you crazy."  Let's all hope for "may not."  Jen upped the cocoa amount for a more pronounced but still "lightly chocolatey" flavor.  She couldn't quite "gather the energy" for making the raspberry sauce, but she opted for white ganache, a fancier version of plain whipped cream made with white chocolate instead of sugar.  It sounds like a perfect match.

Katya also used food coloring, and, unlike most of us who wrung our hands about using chemicals in our food, Katya cheerfully admitted to "lov[ing] gratuitous food coloring" and also being partial to cream cheese frosting and whipped cream, so she should have been a happy baker.  But the "baking genius," as her friends call her when she serves a cake from a specialty bundt pan, unfortunately bought an off-brand of baking spray, which resulted in a two-part cake (one part on the serving plate, one part still in the pan).  So she tried again, and this time she ran out of red food coloring.  Her cake was intact, but the color was not the "glaring artificial red" she'd been hoping for.

Kim not only used the possibly evil food coloring, but also used the Rose bundt pan, so she's one of the three or four who actually made the Red Velvet "Rose."  It was Kim's first red velvet, and like the rest of us, she wondered, "why is this cake red?"  Somewhat to her surprise, she liked it:  "Tasting it baked, it was light, fragrant, soft, tangy and delightful.  Much better than a butter cake, toothier than an angel food cake, fresher  than a shortcake or quick cake."  She even thought she might make it again - without the food coloring - but would anyone get excited about a White Velvet Cake?

Nancy used the Rose pan, the food coloring, and the additional cocoa, but even with the extra cocoa, the cake was still a very bright red.  Nancy didn't miss the cream cheese icing because of the raspberry sauce, "which adds both a flavor punch and additional moisture to the cake."   In fact, one of her tasters told her that the cake was "fine," but "next time, just bring the raspberry sauce."  Nancy has used her leftover sauce on yogurt and on other fruit, and is "looking for more places to incorporate the wonderful bright raspberry flavor."

Tony approached the Red Velvet Rose with excitement, not the trepidation that some of us felt, because he remembered when red velvet cakes were a "cutting edge idea," when making a red velvet cake was "an event to get excited about and call your neighbor from the huge, black wall phone in the kitchen while looking at your avocado green appliances."  What nostalgia.  He had no trouble with the cake, but balked at spending hours coaxing puree out of raspberries.  He got plenty of raspberry flavor by reducing the juices and adding his favorite raspberry liqueur, Drillaud.

Next week, there will be no worries about food coloring.  The only question for next week is how much chocolate can you consume at one sitting?  The Double Damage Oblivion will either delight you or test your tolerance.  It contains both the fabled Chocolate Oblivion plus layers of the Deep Chocolate Passion cake PLUS a nice chocolate ganache glue.  You'll need both a nine-inch cake pan and a nine-inch springform, and you'll need to do some advance planning if you want to serve it for dinner.  And you'll need lots and lots of chocolate.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Red Velvet Rose

I'm sure we talked about the history of the red velvet cake when we made it for Rose's Heavenly Bakers, but I don't remember any discussion we might have had.  But you have to admit it's an odd, but fascinating, concept.  And it really makes you think about how much appearance has to do with taste.  Would this cake "taste" the same without food coloring?  Or would it taste the same if it had a bottle of green food coloring in it instead of red?  I'll probably never know the answer to these questions.

If you have the Rose bundt pan, and if you can get over your trepidation about using a whole bottle of red food coloring, this cake is a snap to make.  (It actually took more than one bottle because it looks like McCormick has changed its standard size of food coloring from 37 ml to 29 ml.  I had enough from another bottle to get another 8 ml.

And here is all that red color invading the unsuspecting egg whites.  Frankly, at this point it doesn't look too appealing.

But the sugar, butter, and oil mixture looks appetizing, so that makes up for it.  I don't know if it would work for every cake, but the butter/oil combination is attractive:  the taste of a butter cake, the lightness of an oil cake.  I wonder if you could do a poppyseed bundt cake with this technique.  Sans food coloring, of course.

Oops.  Back to unappetizing.  The little bit of cocoa can't possibly pack much of a chocolate punch, but it's just enough to make the batter a not very lovely beige.

Finally--the dramatic red color I'd been waiting for!  Which returns me to my original question:  who thought of this weird idea?  Well, here's a link to an article called "7 Things You Definitely Did Not Know About Red Velvet Cake."  Neither James Beard nor Irma Rombauer cared much for it, but its current popularity shows no signs of waning.

Ready for the oven.

And done!  I checked after 42 minutes, and it was already pulling slightly away from the sides, so I pulled it out.  It gained a lot of height during that 42 minutes.

There are two heart-stopping moments in the production of this cake.  (And who said that baking was a calm affair?)  One is, of course, lifting the cake pan off of the cake, hoping that the cake will emerge in one piece.  Mine had a few cracks, but no major damage.  The second is transferring it from the cooling rack to the serving plate.  My good friend, the giant spatula, helped me a lot.

I loved the raspberry sauce/glaze, even though it's not my favorite chore to press raspberries through a sieve until I get the requisite amount of puree.  I guess I should get a food mill, but raspberry puree time is the only occasion when I wish I had one.

It really is a very striking cake, even before you cut into it.

And even more so when you do make that first cut.  I served this at a dinner party, and all 8 people ate every bite.  That speaks well to the goodness of the cake, although I did at first get some complaints that it wasn't a red velvet cake without cream cheese icing.  But when they started eating it, they appreciated the moistness and tenderness of this version, and the surprising addition of raspberry sauce offset by the soft cream.  

My only reservation about the cake is the bottle of food coloring, which is really the whole point of the cake, so there's no point in objecting to it.  But next time I'm in the mood to OD on food coloring, this will be the recipe I'll choose.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Midweek Roundup: The Most Versatile Bread in the World

Photo by Milagritos Pan
Custard Guts Blog

It was fitting that Milagritos was writing her post as she was on a train to Australian's Blue Mountains to see the Dalai Lama.  Why is that fitting, you ask?  What is the connection between brioche and the Dalai Lama?  Well, this is the place that I would have to lie to find some kind of link between them, and I think it would be bad karma to make up stories about the Dalai Lama.  Although he does eat bread (with preserves) for breakfast--at 5:30 a.m.!--and why wouldn't he want to eat brioche if he had a chance?  No, the only connection is in my mind because listening to the Dalai Lama makes me happy and so does eating (and making) brioche.  And they obviously both make Milagritos happy too, even if she did feel the need to gussy up a loaf of perfectly good brioche and turn it into the Rose Brioche with cinnamon and sugar.  Also Milagritos says that the Dalai Lama has been seen drinking coffee with Richard Gere, so I'm pretty sure that he would love a nice slice of Milagritos's Rose Brioche if she offered it to him.  Or if Richard Gere did.  

But before I get too chagrined about not finding a close affinity between the Dalai Lama and brioche, let me point out what Tony thought about when he was making his business letter turns:  

            "...[T]he sides were folded up, dusted, a prayer was said, some faint
            humming of monks could be heard in the distance...  After the chanting
            subsided, the dough was wrapped loosely ...."

As you can see, I'm not the only one making these subliminal connections.  Oh, and after Tony stopped hearing the monks chanting, he started eating the bread.  He may still be talking about how good it is.  

Nancy heard no chanting, but she did hear a voice telling her to make both the brioche and the Monkey Dunkey bread, which uses brioche as a base.  And so she did.  And her little brioche were cute as can be because she made the little French snowmen known as brioche a la tete--as I'm sure you know, that is the traditional shape made in a fluted pan with a head (tete) on top.  Nancy usually has problems with some of the little tetes falling off, but this time, although some of them listed a bit, they were all intact when they came out of the oven.  And with the half-recipe of brioche she had left, she made monkey dunkey bread, which she said was a "universal hit."  

Raymond is so far ahead of the game that I had to look back several pages to find his brioche post--since he posted that, he's also written about peanut butter banana cream pie and about tourtiere.  Raymond doubled the recipe, which he loves because it doesn't have the "eggy aftertaste" that was always the basis for his dislike of brioche, so he could make both the loaf shape and the tete shape--not the minis like Nancy, but using a standard porcelain brioche pan.  His head didn't really hold its shape, but he just "let it do what it wanted to do" - and it "turned out just fine" (more than fine, in my opinion).

Kim's brioche also turned out more than fine and, even better, she was pleased as punch with the result, shaped into a single braid.  She said the bread was "about as good as I've ever had it:  tender, buttery, a little sweet, lightly tangy.  Frankly this bread should be illegal."  And just to up the illegality, she turned hers into a splendid looking grilled cheese  with pancetta and caramelized onions added.  Finally, she got to eat this sandwich as a celebratory breakfast for achieving her weight-loss goal.  Congrats Kim (even if you had nothing but celery for the rest of the day).

Vicki too was overjoyed at how the bread turned out and amazed at how easy it was the second time around (she had torn out some hair when she made it for the Orange Panettone).  "It isn't difficult, this brioche.  It just takes a bit of concentration.  And blind faith that it will all turn out in the end."  Vicki's blind faith led her to try the bread for coffee ice cream sandwiches (great idea!) and French toast (possibly even greater!).  

Faithy remembered this dough from the caramel rolls we made earlier.  (My fellow Alpha Bakers--we have already been through a lot, and we have only baked about a quarter of the recipes!)  She described it as "very soft, rich, and buttery," with a "yellow color [that] reminded me of Panettone."  Faithy's rising dough, made in a traditional dough pan, also reminded her of "eerrr....mmmm...."  (Faithy was too delicate to say the word "breast").

Like Faithy, Jen also made the traditional brioche a la tete shape, but hers didn't look so much like "eerr....mmmm...."  because it was lopsided.  Jen was unfazed:  "I hear that happens."  Jen is learning to bake with a toddler in tow.  This means that when said toddler cries in his bedroom, the oven gets turned off and finishes its baking in a cooling oven.  But guess what?  It turned out perfectly.  And maybe this method will become the latest thing in bread-baking land.

Glori was back in the kitchen after some time away from baking, and she picked a great project to show off both her baking and photography prowess:  a simple loaf of bread with a perfectly even crumb.  Her conclusion:  "This bread is so versatile, French toast, grilled cheese, plain old toast with jelly or just a slice with more butter on it.  It's just so darn good."

Or, as Mendy says, "Rose's brioche is wonderful.  The best!"  Mendy is always telling me something I didn't know.  For example, "according to Jewish law, we can't make dairy bread unless it has a known shape, lest we come to eat it unknowingly with meat."  Hence, the traditional French brioche pans have a practical as well as a decorative purpose:  you can't mistake a brioche a la tete with anything else.  I suppose you might guess that a loaf of buttery-looking brioche might contain butter, but this way there's no guessing involved.

And Jeniffer, who says this "buttery beauty is a real stunner," also brings interesting tidbits of esoteric knowledge.  Did you know that in Australia, one of the major radio stations just called for a ban on the brioche bun?  Apparently, in Oz, even McDonald's uses a brioche bun (AKA the hipster bun) and allows you to build your own brioche burger.  Also, maybe you didn't know that the rest of the world doesn't talk about "a stick of butter."  Sorry, rest of the world.  I'd like to change to the metric system, but I don't think it'll happen here.

Finally, Katya brings us to complete unanimity regarding the virtues of brioche.  "I have eaten nearly all of it and plan to eat the rest for breakfast.  Enough said."

Next week:  The Red Velvet Rose.  We made a red velvet cake from Heavenly Cakes, and it was pretty heavenly.  This one looks pretty much like the same recipe,k but it's meant to be made in a rose-shaped fluted tube pan.  Of course, you can substitute another shape.  It's served (and moistened) with a raspberry sauce and with whipped cream instead of the more traditional cream cheese frosting, although I wouldn't be surprised to see it showing up on some blogs with icing instead of whipped cream.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Classic Brioche Loaf

I've probably made Rose's brioche dozens of times over the years.  I've braided it, made it with a topknot, used it for dinner rolls and hamburger buns, used it as the base for more complicated recipes, but mostly I've just made it in a simple loaf.  Unless you only like rustic, wheaty, dense, chewy, and thickly crusty bread, you're going to like this brioche.    First of all, although it's time-consuming, most of that time is unattended, like some mythical toddler who plays quietly by himself for hours at a time and then comes cheerfully to you for a few minutes of quality time.

Here, for example, I made the sponge and the flour mixture, and let them rise for about an hour.  Then I put them in the refrigerator and went to bed.  The next morning, after my first cup of coffee and some toast made from last week's ricotta loaf, I was ready for the next step.

For all the time I spent throwing in one tablespoon of softened butter and waiting for it to get distributed, the batter wasn't completely evenly mixed when I took it out of the mixer.  I decided that after it had risen I'd just knead it a little by hand before turning it.

That actually worked just fine.  I was afraid at first that the harder parts wouldn't mix well with the softer parts, but it just took a few turns for everything to mix together.  I'm sure there's some kind of diplomacy lesson in there, but I can't figure out how to make a pithy saying out of it.

After being in the refrigerator for another day, the dough was still lively and cooperative.  It's a perfect Minnesota bread:  unfazed by the cold but loving the heat.  This is kind of out of nowhere, but did you know that Minnesota is on the same latitude as the French Riviera?  And yet we definitely don't live on anything like the French Riviera.  This factoid has always made me feel very sad about living in Minnesota in the winter, because not only is it cold, it's also unfair.

If not being on the French Riviera should bother anyone, I'm guessing it should bother the brioche, whose provenance is French, after all.  Despite its buttery, delicate appearance, brioche dough doesn't seem bothered by anything.

Including being splashed with egg yolks and cream.  (It didn't sink).

And being slashed (it didn't collapse.)

It just turned into a shiny, perfectly browned loaf of bread.  I've learned to let bread brown an extra five minutes past the time I first think it's done.  The loaf with a burnished brown exterior seems to have a deeper taste than the loaf that's a mild golden brown.  The danger is obvious--you can end up with a burned loaf of bread.  However, unlike a burned pie crust, which really can't be salvaged, a burned loaf of bread can merely have the offending crusts removed.

Sorry that there are no shots of the interior of the loaf.  Just as I was about to cut off a slice and let Woody try it, (yes, Woody is here again, and we are making Woody's Black and White Brownies as I type--he's waiting for the cream cheese to soften and I'm finishing up here).  As I was about to cut into the loaf, I remembered that I had book club on Tuesday and my assignment was to bring bread.  So I put it in the freezer so it would stay fresh for a few days.

I look forward to seeing what you did with your brioche, and I hope you love it as much as I do.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Midweek Roundup: Orange You Glad You Made This Tart?

Photo by Jeniffer Paxton
The Lone Baker

After the Stilton Baby Blue Cheesecakes, which some people adored, but others abhorred, it was nice to get to a recipe that was uniformly well received.

As Raymond put it, "There is just something so elegantly French about a tart.  Chic, understated and totally sophisticated.  On the other hand, citrus in a dessert (especially lemon or orange) just screams Italy to me.  For me, this is as good as it gets.  The two places I love most in the world combined into one simple, elegant dessert."

Faithy was similarly enthusiastic:  "This orange tart is amazing!  So intense orangey flavor!  I can't get enough of it.  This is my favorite tart so far.  The tart shell is awesome.  Usually a tart base will not be as crispy, but this was very crisp, even the base....  So good!  I didn't want to share this tart...  I kept this tart at home so I can eat as many slices as I can."

For all the times Jen said "Screw that," during the course of making this recipe, you'd think she hated it, or at least was exasperated by it.  Not at all.  She just enjoyed flouting the rules, especially the "use your food processor rule," because Jen has a Magic Bullet, which does look like a handy gadget (although the web site is annoying).  She and Mark seem poised to finish the whole thing.  

I think this is the first bruleed recipe we've had from The Baking Bible, and maybe the only one we've had from Rose.  Vicki conducted a scientific survey of which blow torch to purchase for the top of the tart, but, sadly, she never got a chance to use it because the male members of the Vicki Granny household decided that using a torch is a man's job.  But everyone was equally enthusiastic about the tart, and there was equal opportunity to eat it, if not to torch it.

On the other hand, Mendy "forgot all about the flame thrower part," and, even though he didn't bother with the manly blow torch, he still thought it was "truly a fabulous dessert."

And Orin went one better than the blow-torchers.  She not only bruleed the top (or half of it anyway), she also topped it with spun sugar from Rose's Heavenly Cakes.  I remember making that spun sugar.  It took two people, a stepladder, and a broom handle, and there's no way that I'd willingly make it on a lovely spring day.  But Orin also recommends eating the tart with a bottle of champagne.  Now that I can get behind.

A lot of people opted not to share this tart with anyone.  But those who did got happy tasters.  Milatritos said she knew she'd made a "fantastic tart" when the first comment from one of her friends wasn't "really fit for this blog."  Then... silence.  "All I could hear from people a few seconds into digging into this tart was absolutely nothing.  Not a word.  Complete silence.  Isn't that the best compliment?"

There were, to be sure, a few problems.  Nancy, distracted by a conversation with a neighbor, overbaked her crust, which she had made in tartlet shells, rather than in one large tart.  Oh Nancy, I feel your pain!  Even so, she found it a "very nice flavor combination," but just a little sweet for her taste.  Next time, she thought she'd use limes or key limes for more tartness.

Patricia's crust didn't get too brown (check the photo of her decorated tart crust if you want to see the difference that taking that one extra step can make--it's so pretty!), but she thought that the filling itself got a little too brown.  The upside to that was there was no need to use the blowtorch to get that pretty brown top.  Patricia thought it was "very tasty, but not spectacular."  She liked it better the second day and suggested making it ahead if possible.  She was expecting it to be like an orange Creamsicle, so was a little disappointed that it didn't.

But wait!  Just to prove that our taste buds are, like snowflakes, all a little different, Kristina  said she loved this tart because "it's like an orange creamsicle without the frozen, and in a crust."  She loved it--"the combination of orange and caramelized sugar is fantastic.  The little bit of lemon juice adds to the citrus punch without making it lemony."

And some of us had a little trouble with the dough.  Kim said that no matter what recipe she used for pate sucree, "the pastry cracks as I roll it, even with plastic wrap.  It seems to hold together when I press the dough together, but after resting and rolling, it [cracks].  Anyone know why?

As a matter of fact, Raymond knows why.  Or at least he knows that it does, even if the answer to the question "why" is just "because."  Raymond said that he once was invited into the kitchen of Chez Panisse, and headed right to the pastry station, where he saw a chef patching a pate sucree dough.  Raymond asked him why.  The chef said "It was the nature of these types of doughs to crack and break and there was nothing you could do to avoid it."  Now Raymond doesn't even try to avoid it; he just knows he'll be patching the dough.  Despite the cracking and patching, Kim thought the tart was just about "perfect."  "Rich yet light, citrusy yet creamy....  The two of us ate through this pie in one day, and lamented its disappearance."

All in all, though, the problems were minor and the results were very good.  And it was pretty easy, too, although as Catherine noted, it "did take a little bit of to-ing and fro-ing and multiple fridge and oven openings and closings.  But when you're baking on a weekend anything that makes you get off the couch can seem like a lot of work."  Not too much work for such "orange deliciousness," however.

Nicola was pretty much in the same frame of mind as Catherine.  She "dragged herself into the kitchen" on Sunday, having no expectations of a great result.  But she ended up comparing eating the last forkful of this wonderful tart with "reading the last chapter of a great book.  You don't want it to end, but you want to enjoy every last bit of it."  Nicola foresees a "long and meaningful relationship" with this recipe.  

Finally, Jeniffer is not only responsible for the picture of the week, with her mouth-watering photo of a perfect sliver of tart, she might also get the award (if such an award existed) for the best opening line in a blog post.  "Dad is running wild:  always look forward to the 10 pm phone call from the nursing home saying, "your Dad is using his walker as a weapon."   Somehow she managed to get from the nursing home to the oven, where she made the tart that she plans to showcase next Christmas, sans torching and instead decorated with "snow sugar and red currants."

Next up:  a nice loaf of buttery brioche.  I went back and forth about whether to even include this brioche as a stand-alone recipe because its real purpose in the book seems to be the basis for some fancier bread recipes.  But then I thought that if you only used it for breads that are flavored with white chocolate or caramel or cinnamon and sugar, you'd never taste this lovely bread on its own.  So I made the executive decision to include it, and I hope you enjoy it!  Just remember to include refrigerator time in your planning.