Monday, May 30, 2016

Pecan Praline Scheherazades

These cookies--candies, really--are delicious, nutty caramels.  The only difficulty in making them is getting the caramel at just the right temperature, which is something I'm still working on.  I've made these before several times, and have been diligent at taking them off the stove at just the right temperature.  They were just about perfect, but I wanted them a little softer, so I decided to just wing it.  When I was thinking about this later, it occurred to me that I'd never seen a brand of caramels called Just-Wing-It-Caramels.  There might be a reason for that.

So glossy and lovely.  I let it cook longer than this.

The thing that takes the longest in making these little candies is waiting for the oven to preheat in order to toast the pecans.  After that, things speed along so quickly that you barely have time to glance at the directions again.

Pouring the caramel into the waiting pecans is heavenly.

When I saw how these spread out, I began to have doubts about my take-no-temperature technique.  Sure enough, they didn't harden.

A friend brought me this Oregon salt from a trip to the west coast.  It's perfect to balance the rich sweetness of the caramels.

The candies needed to be scraped off the Silpat and shaped into balls--some were one-bite size and others were two-bite.  I loved the softness and chewiness of these caramels, but it would have been nice if they'd kept their shape instead of pooling into a flat disc.  Still, their unloveliness meant that I couldn't give them away.  What a shame.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Lemon Icebox Cake

If you don't have a stunning picture of the cake of the week, the next best thing is a picture of a kid happily eating said cake.  There was nothing wrong with the cake, except that it had been sitting at room temperature for a few hours before I sliced into it, so it turned out not to cut in defined pieces. More like, as we affectionately called it, "cake soup."

As I was making my grocery list for this cake, the first thing I wrote was "eggs."  Then I turned the page and wrote, "more eggs."  Yes, 16 egg whites for the cake itself.  One egg white for each one-cup capacity of a 16-cup angel food cake pan.  This is very good if you have a large stash of frozen egg whites, but I used mine up making Meringue Birch Twigs.  Now I have a large stash of egg yolks in the refrigerator, which I have to use up before we go on vacation.

I believe this is what's known as a first-world problem.  Scrambled eggs for lunch!

16 egg whites make a powerful lot of meringue!

All white except for the vanilla.  The last time I bought vanilla, I got something called Pure Vanilla Plus.  I thought the name "plus" was just a gimmick, but it turns out to have specks of vanilla bean in it, which still surprises me every time I pour it into a measuring spoon.  It's not like King Arthur hid the addition of vanilla bean; I just failed to read the description.  It's pretty good vanilla.  What's your favorite vanilla for baking?

Spreading some of the cake batter onto the sides "to ensure smooth sides."  I appreciate the goal of this instruction, although my cake removal technique left something to be desired, so I didn't exactly good smooth sides anyway.

This is the first time I've used the cup and rack cooling method.  I usually use the Riesling wine bottle method, but I didn't have any wine with a narrow enough neck.  Also, the wine bottle method brings back bad memories.

And on to the lemon curd.  And more dishes.  Yes, friends, this is one of those recipes where you end up with a massive pile of dirty dishes.  Nothing is really hard to do though.

And here's the angel food cake, which would have had a lovely even exterior if I hadn't hacked away at it instead of "slowly and carefully" circling the pan with a sharp knife.  I think a thin spatula would have worked better.

And now, on to the Light Italian Meringue.  I'll confess that at this point I turned the pages to see how many steps were left.  Still quite a few, I'm afraid.

If you look in the background of this picture, you can see the warning "Caution:  Sharp Blade."  That warning isn't for my bread knife; it's for the plastic wrap cutter.  My bread knife is one of the oldest knives I've had, and it's due for replacement.  When I saw Hanaa's new, very sharp bread knife, I was filled with knife envy.

I did manage to get the top and bottom layers sliced off, which left me with the middle part to either cube or tear.  I opted for tearing.  When I get my new serrated knife, maybe I'll cube.

Then the cake pieces are layered with the Lemon Curd-Cream-Italian Meringue mixture, AKA Lemon Mousse Filling.  Very good stuff.

Here's the final result.  It only took me 6 or 7 hours, plus another 14 overnight to set it.  Not too bad.  I guess.  There must be worse ways to spend 6 or 7 hours.  Like exercising.

Because I made this cake before we went on vacation, I was actually able to make it for Mother's Day, for which occasion it is the perfect cake.  I took it to my daughter's house for brunch.  Imagine, she doesn't have a cake plate, so it had to go on a regular plate, which is why it looks stunted.  I was able to cut it into pieces, but, as I said, the pieces did not come out intact.  Jim was happily taking pictures of the cake soup, and the glops of lemon mousse that fell on the floor.  I told him to go away and take his camera with him.

Although there were a few who eyed this dessert suspiciously, everyone agreed that it tasted great.  My advice is to keep it chilled until just before unmolding it.  I didn't serve it with anything.  The filling is quite creamy, so I don't think it needs any whipped cream (and I'm a person who thinks that almost anything can be improved with whipped cream).  Raspberry sauce would have been nice, and pretty, but not essential.

If you added the raspberry sauce and the whipped cream, however, this would make a stunning trifle!  And that just may be what I'll do the next time I try this.  Even more dirty dishes!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Chocolate Ganache Tartlets

I had every intention of using my piping bag.  Really, I did.  But Jim was out of town, and I had to take my own pictures, and I suddenly thought, why don't I just try to make these as easy as possible.  And I must say, if you don't bother with the piping, they're extremely easy and almost as cute.

It's another recipe where you don't have to buy anything fancy, and you're likely to have everything at home that you need.  You do clarify the butter--and I didn't cheat here--but I have a hunch that it wouldn't be a total disaster if you just melted it.

The food processor gives you two balls of buttery, tactilely lovely dough.

Which you then turn into disks of dough and (of course) refrigerate them for a while.  No need to worry about how long they're refrigerated.

I'm pretty sure that it was sometime when I was shaping little balls of dough to fit the fluted indentations that the thought actually came to me about not piping the chocolate.  To be honest, I got a little weary of trying to shape these nicely and not poking them with my fingernail or letting the dough get so thin that the mini brioche pan showed through.

Then I had to dig up the equivalent of a long, thin sewing needle.  This is not a craftsy house!  No sewing is done in this house.  I think the long, thin thing I found is supposed to be used for trussing a bird.  Not a lot of trussing gets done in this house either.  I read someplace that there's really no need to bother, and I took that piece of advice to heart.  As it turned out, I barely had to use the needle because the tartlet shells popped right out of the pan.

Some of the tartlet shells got toasty brown, but most remained uncolored.

Here's the part where it gets super easy.  You make the ganache, and you have chunks of Scharffen Berger chocolate, so you don't have to chop it.  You just mix the milk, chocolate, and butter together, heat it all in the microwave, and strain it into a measuring cup.  Then you immediately pour the ganache into the tartlet shells.  No need to wait for it to cool, no need to get your piping equipment from the basement, no need to struggle with the tip.  It pours so smoothly, and looks smooth and shiny.

Do you think anyone is going to look at these babies and say, yuck, they're not even piped?  Even though I know that you know that's a rhetorical question, I'll tell you anyway that the answer is no.  And there were plenty left over when Jim came home.  These luscious little chocolate treats are gone in two bites (3 bites for JJ and 1 bite for Jim), and are quite effective at satisfying your chocolate craving, although Jim thinks that 3 are better than 1.

If you were to put a dab of whipped cream on top of the chocolate, that would be a good idea, but, again, no one will complain if you hand them something that's noticeably deep, rich, chocolate.  I'm going to make these again.  I might even pipe the chocolate the next time, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Blueberry Buckle

What a great recipe to know about!  I served it to my book club during the height of blueberry season, so the blueberries tasted good to begin with.  But what is so remarkable is that they ended up tasting fresher and sweeter after being baked than they did to begin with.

Well, of course there is a small amount of sugar involved, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that the blueberries tasted sweet.  But it is a small amount, and the 100 grams of superfine sugar somehow doesn't make the berries taste sugared.  It makes them taste naturally sweet.  It must be the combination of the sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest, and the fact that the berries aren't cooked--just stirred a few times--that makes them so delicious.

The batter topping is easy too--just a variation of a butter/sour cream cake.  It's a thin layer that is left to spread out on its own.  Just dab it on in a doughnut-shaped arrangement, and it will fill out to cover the berries.

I thought this was completely done, and the sides were starting to pull away from the pan, so I took it out pronto.  I was a little too quick, and there was some underdone cake batter in the middle.  By the time I realized this, I was starting to serve it and it was too late to do anything about it.  I remembered that lava cake is nothing but uncooked cake batter, so I decided that a little cake batter in a buckle would cause no harm.  And it didn't.

I should have been able to see the underdone section without even testing it.

I expect there will be a lot of conversation about what makes a buckle a buckle, and why it's called that in the first place.  This is what the Huffington Post has to say:  " A buckle layers a more traditional, cakey batter underneath the fruit.  As the dessert cooks, the cake rises around the fruit, which tries its best to sink to the bottom, making the whole thing buckle inwards."  Uh-oh.  That definition means that Rose's Blueberry Buckle is not really a buckle because the batter is on the top.
Does that mean it's a contra-buckle?  Or a reverse buckle?  Or an Elkcub?  And won't people get confused if you tell them you're serving them elk cub?

Whether you serve buckle or elk cub, I highly recommend serving it with excellent vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Midweek Roundup: "Just About Perfect"

Photo by Rosa
Simply Delicious Blog

Holey (not holy) was the word of the day in Alpha Bakers land, with everyone admiring the many holes that formed the perfect home for melting butter and oozing jam during that brief period between making and eating.

Rosa showed that you could use half whole wheat flour and still get oodles of holes and perhaps a somewhat more healthful final product (although who's kidding whom--it's the butter and jam that are meant to fill those holes, even if they're partly whole grain.  (Does that make them half grain?)  Like many of us, Rosa had to adjust the heat to find just that sweet spot between burning and failing to brown, but since she made a double recipe, she had plenty of time to get it right.

Faithy has a picture of her Goldilocks crumpets--"the first batch no bubbles ... cos not enough heat." The 2nd row ... the fire too big ... and burnt the crumpets ... and the last row...just right...but I ran out of batter."  Also, it's hot and humid in Singapore again (but what else is new?) and everyone in her household is on some kind of diet so her fantastic baked goods lie uneaten.  Thanks for hanging in there, Faithy!

Vicki has been "eagerly waiting" for the opportunity to make crumpets, which are "second only to scones" in her list of favorites.  And worth the wait, too, -- "they were so much fun to stir up."  She thinned the batter a little, to encourage the bubbles, without which a crumpet would be nothing more than a "flubbery pancake."  The result?  "Hands down these crumpets dance circles around the packets from Trader Joe's."  

Nancy was also happy to see crumpets come up on the Alpha list.  She was culling her cookbook collection when she came across an old Time-Life bread cookbook, from which she'd made her first ever batch of crumpets years ago.  Feeling nostalgic, she had a go with Rose's crumpet recipe, and found they were as good as she remembered them to be.  And she "now ha[s] 5 holey crumpets for future toasting--the 6th having been eaten off the griddle with a bit of butter."  Everyone's favorite way to eat a crumpet, it seems, although perhaps "a lot of butter" might be even better than a "bit."

Unlike Nancy, this was Rachel's first foray into crumpet-making adventures.  Her initial thought was "Crumpets???!!  I can't make crumpets!  Nobody makes crumpets at home, this will never work!"  But then she realized she has already made all manner of things most people buy at stores, so perhaps it would work.  And it did.  They turned out to be "fun, easy and just a little different.  Or as my daughter said, 'definitely weird, but still worth eating.'"

Jen said she can't hear the word "crumpet" without thinking of David Sedaris's dark adventures in his temp Christmas job as Crumpet the Elf, which, she acknowledged, does not put you in the proper frame of mind for making proper English crumpets.  But she managed to put the elf out of her mind long enough to whip up a batch of crumpets.  A batch of 5 crumpets, not 6, because she made them thick enough to split.  (Well, how was she to know you don't split a crumpet?)  The better to butter them, my dear.  

Catherine, however, would not be satisfied with 5 crumpets.  In fact, as she was writing her blog, she was waiting for her second batch of crumpets to finish their rise.  "That's how much I enjoyed making and eating the first batch."  Catherine's mother used to make crumpets (I doubt if any of us living in the U.S. could make that claim), so "they have that veil of nostalgia."  It took "a bit of fiddling" to get the heat just right, and so her second batch is going to be a bit thinner.  But the first batch was full of holes and "blissful toasted with butter and honey."  

Katya, finally back from Ireland, has been baking like a house afire to catch up.  She doesn't say whether she ate crumpets in Ireland, so I'm going to guess that she didn't, but she has eaten them from The Crumpet Shop in Seattle's Pike Place Market, which made her start thinking of the crumpet as something she might like to make.  After all, "they live on the spectrum between pancakes and English muffins, so what's not to like?  I'll make and eat anything that can be spread with butter and jam."  So she'll make them again, maybe making the batter even wetter "to encourage hole formation."  

Next week:  the homey (not holey) Blueberry Buckle.  A lovely fruit dessert on the Quick & Easy list. What could be nicer for spring?

There will be no roundup for the next 3 weeks.  I'll be in Croatia and Slovenia (and maybe Montenegro or Sarajevo, if we can work in a side trip or 2).  I should be able to post everything and stay caught up, but I'm pretty sure I won't have the time and maybe not the internet connection to write the midweek roundups.  Enjoy the buckle, the tartlets, and the icebox cake.  See you at the scheherazades!  

Sunday, May 1, 2016


When I finished making these, I said, "These are the easiest recipe in the whole book.  Why aren't they on the Q&E list?"  Then I realized that nothing made with yeast is exactly quick and easy, or at least not quick, but these are about as close as they come.  Granted, they're not as easy as going to the freezer and pulling out a store-bought crumpet, but they're so much better we're not even talking about the same thing.  Given my choice between a scone and a crumpet, I'd always take a scone, but I could see how you could get quite attached to the idea of an afternoon cup of tea with a lovely crumpet.

While you might not always have everything on hand to make scones, especially if you want to serve them with clotted cream, you're likely always to be able to make crumpets, at least if you consider yeast and cream of tartar to be staples, which I do.

This is the batter, made just with flour, yeast, sugar, cream of tartar, and water, beaten until smooth. While you're waiting the five minutes for the dough to become smooth, you might ask yourself, how did the name "crumpet" come to be?  It turns out that no one knows for sure.  It might come from crompid cake, which means curled-up cake.  Or it might be from Celtic, related to krampouezh (Breton for crepe) or crempog, Welsh for pancake.

During the hour or so that it takes the batter to rise, and the half-hour that it takes for a second rise after you add milk and baking soda, you might also realize that in the 20th century, crumpet has come to mean a woman, probably an attractive one with loose morals.  That usage might originate from Cockney rhyming slang for strumpet.  Apparently muffins means something and similar.  "In the 19th and early 20th centuries, 'muffins and crumpets' was a familiar street-cry in the U.K."  And I take it that it wasn't bakers who were calling this out.

Once you start cooking these on a griddle, you're not going to have time to think about etymology because they really don't take but a trice to cook up.  The electric griddle is nice, although I had mine set at 375 because it's nonstick, and I think it should have been at 350.  Like pancakes, the crumpets start to bubble up when they're ready to flip, but the bubbles stay in the finished product.

Rose said she kept adding more liquid to the recipe until her crumpets had "more of the holey texture characteristic of a commercial crumpet."  But I think these have even more holes, and they definitely have a better texture.  That is, they have no resemblance to cardboard.  Also they're delicious.

These turn out to be a little thicker than the cardboard crumpets you can buy.  I think you could possibly make a few more if you wanted them a bit thinner.  I like to eat them for breakfast instead of toast because then I'm eating them as a meal instead of a snack, and I'm on a no-snack diet right now.  I'm not sure how I'm going to work in the chocolate ganache tartlets that are coming up soon into breakfast.  Maybe I'll just pretend it's a breakfast Pop-Tart.