Friday, December 16, 2016

The Last Roundup

If you made the Kouigns Amann (or Kouign Amanns, if you prefer), you already had an amazing taste treat.  Now you're in for a visual treat, as The Last Roundup features photos from every baker who braved the mysteries of laminated dough to make this Breton specialty.  This series of pictures--each one a beauty--is a fitting tribute to Rose, who was able to make the impossible for a home baker doable.

Photo by Joan
Alpha Baker Joan

Joan was troubled by the heat in her tiny kitchen, and she had a hard time persuading the butter to stay solid during the turns.  But you'd never know there was a problem from looking at that pile of pastries on her elegant floral plate.

Photo by Vicki
Heavenly Cake Walk

Vicki was not totally on board with the idea of ending the bake-through as we began, but being Vicki, and with granddaughter as sous chef, she soldiered on, making a Kouign Amann which you can almost hear crackle.  "With Roses's recipes, it's often blind faith.  Keep calm and carry on."  And she did.

Photo by Rachel
Cooking and Thinking

For some of us, including Rachel, this was not a repeat experience.  Rachel was one of about ten bakers who joined the group after it started (and special shout-out to Rachel--I don't think she's missed a single week since she joined up!).  She didn't think she was up for "this kind of pastry.  No laminating for me!"  But "these delicious buns had me literally eating my words.  They looked right, they were flaky, and they were delicious!"  

Photo by Aimee
Food Geekette

Making these Queenies was also a first-time adventure for Aimee, but does this picture make her look like a novice?  I think not.  "Somewhere between a danish and croissant.  Not too sweet.  Layers of butter.  Completely awesome still warm.  Still better than anything from the store the next day.

Photo by Mendy
Greenstein's Bakery

And this entry from Mendy, another amazing example of what you can do with a toaster oven.  These were "delicious.  Better than I remembered."  Mendy sugared the dough with all the turns, instead of just the final one, and was "glad [he] did."  And one last picture of Mendy's family, enjoying the pastries with a hearty "L'Chaim!"

Photo by Orin
Orin's Goodies

This was also Orin's first Kouign Amann, but she thinks they'll be one of the things she'll "be making traditionally in the years ahead."  And although it was a first experience, it "went so well," in part, thanks to Patricia's valuable step-by-step in her re-post of her 2014 Kouign Amann blog.  "We loved the diversity of textures, flaky, soft and chewy.  A goodness of butter rich flavor mixed with caramel heaven."

Photo by Catherine
Phyllis Caroline 

Like Mendy, Catherine thought these were "even better the second time around."  And a perfect example of one of the things she's learned after baking nearly every week as an Alpha Baker.  "Your colleagues will be disappointed eand angry if you suddenly stop bringing them baked goods on a weekly basis.  Especially after the Kouign Amann.  Boy, did they like them."

And that's all she wrote.  

It's always hard to say goodbye, isn't it?  It may be a little hard to adjust to a new reality that doesn't include baking at least one, often complicated, recipe a week, blogging about it, and reading all yours blogs and writing about them too.  

The biggest payoff for me has not been the succession of baked goodies, although it's hard to deny that that's been pretty great, but being able to read your vivid, funny, and detailed accounts of your own baking.  I've loved being invited into your kitchens, watching your successes and frustrations, and getting glimpses into the lives you lead outside the kitchen.  You are a warm, smart, thoughtful, and talented group of people.  I'll miss you all.

And thanks once again to Rose and Woody, for developing these recipes and for having confidence that anyone with an oven (even a toaster oven) can pull them off.  Of course you can smooth fondant!  Meringues in the shape of birch twigs--why not?  Laminated pastry--you can do it!  And, for the most part, it turns out that they're right.

As Mendy said, "Cheers!  L'chaim!  To life!"

Monday, December 12, 2016

Kouign Amann

It's all well and good to talk about one Kouign Amann, but what if you want to discuss two or three? I called them Kouigns Amann, but then I noticed that Rose called them Kouign Amanns.  Rose knows French better than I do, but does she know Breton?  I asked Google what the plural of Kouign Amann was, and it promptly told me it was actually KouignoĆ¹ Amann.  Well, I must say I hadn't expected that.  In the privacy of my own home, I'll continue to call them Queenies, which I've always done.

I remember how scared I was of making these the first time around.  I just didn't believe it would work out.  This time, I honestly enjoyed making them.  It was a fine way to while away a wintry December day.  During the time the day was resting, I wrapped presents and decorated the house and listened to music.

When the dough wasn't resting, I rolled it out, keeping the corners square!, and folded it in business-letter turns.  (When people stop sending letters altogether, how will bakers know how to turn laminated dough?)  I can't think of a better way to spend the day.

I even used a measuring tape to make sure my rectangles were just the right size.  Woody was with me the first time I made these.  I was alone this time, but the measuring tape and square corners made me feel that I was channeling him.

It doesn't get hard until the very last part, where the sugar is folded in, and the dough is at its thickest.

The first time I made them I was confused by the directions about how to make the final flower-like folds.  This time I understood they wouldn't all turn out the same way and, as Rose says, that's part of their charm.

Fortunately, I had my handy-dandy crumpet rings so I didn't have to improvise with foil or with flashing.

Isn't it beautiful?

I haven't quite achieved perfection yet.  There must be a perfect spot, when the top is nicely browned, and the bottom is deeply caramelized but not burned.  I moved the baking pan up to the second instead of the lowest level, but I think I must have baked them just 30 seconds too long because the bottom of the Kouign was just a tad over the line between dark and burned.  I may try using parchment instead of foil next time (unless someone's already tried parchment and it didn't work, in which case I hope you'll let me know).

I'm seriously thinking of freezing just one of these and putting it out for Santa.  I'm pretty sure if Santa got a Kouign Amann and a snifter of brandy instead of milk and cookies, I'd get some serious jewelry in my stocking.

One can always hope.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Midweek Roundup: "Delivered to Three Happy People"

Photo by Joan
Alpha Baker Joan

Joan started making her toffee at 6:00 p.m. and was writing about it at 1:00 a.m., so she must have been exhausted by the time she wrote about it, what with "the long stirring and constant temp checking."  Definitely the time-consuming part of making this toffee.  But "all's well that ends well," and her toffee "has now been delivered to three happy people."

Come to think of it, making people happy with small gifts of toffee was a theme for the Alpha Bakers this week, even if the person being made happy was the Alpha Baker herself.

Vicki certainly made her granddaughter (aka sous chef) happy with the toffee, and also with the sous chef title and the introduction of the saucier pan, which is now on her Christmas list.  And the feeling was mutual, since granddaughter/sous chef made Vicki breakfast, kept her company in the kitchen, and caught it when Vicki almost omitted the vanilla and baking soda.  A "luxurious and buttery" toffee is what these two intrepid chefs made together.  

Patricia had just one word for this toffee:  "perfect."  She wouldn't change a thing (although she spdid change the recipe a bit by spreading the toffee out in a bigger oval so it would be thinner, and by coating only the top of the toffee with chocolate and almonds instead of flipping the cooled toffee over and covering the bottom too).  This is one of her favorite toffee recipes--"perfectly crisp and chewy."

"Toffeemaking success" for Rachel, even though she, like most of us, found the actual cooking process somewhat "nerve-wracking," with the "stirring and temperature taking and fretting I'd let it get too hot and end up with crumbly toffee."  She thought she might add some salt to the almonds next time (good idea!), but she was pretty pleased with her first foray into chocolate-covered toffee.  

Kristina was pretty sure this toffee would "make a good contribution to the snack stash" for an at-home football party, and she was so right.    "When one of my friends had a piece, his eyes lit up, and he said 'Homemade skor!  Skor is my favourite!'"  "Definitely a hit" and "a great treat for the Christmas stockpile."  

In addition to making toffee, some of us waxed a little nostalgic over this, the last new recipe in the bake-off.  Jen wrote "Baking through Rose's Baking Bible these last two years has been quite a journey.  Parts fun, parts exasperating, time-consuming and lost-in-creating, delicious and exquisite and confidence building, this has been a wonderful experience."  And the toffee?  Pretty wonderful itself.  "Crunchy and sweet and perfect for the holiday platter."

This toffee, in its original incarnation in Rose's Christmas Cookies, was Orin's introduction to the Rose Baking Method, and it's been a holiday favorite ever since.  Staying true to the original version, she made it without corn syrup, but she did add the chocolate and nuts to both sides, because "who doesn't like more chocolate?"  The toffee "has a very nice crunch, and it melts in your mouth like a celebration of flavors.  It's rich and creamy, addictive, and buttery smooth crunchy.  My taster said, "this is so unlike any 'toffee' that it should have its own name."  No wonder it's won a place on Orin's holiday plate!

Katya brought happiness to her boyfriend, who is not usually an eater of sweets, but who "has a weakness for salty toffee and Heath bars...."  He said "it sticks in your teeth like something very not good for you but in a good way."  And "the teen shelvers [at the library] just stood around saying 'mmmmm.'"  Well, what do you expect from "some pretty good toffee covered (on both sides!) with chocolate and dipped (on both sides!) in nuts.  Madness.  Delicious."

Next week:  We are down to the reprise of the Kouign Amann.  I can't wait to make this again and to see all of yours!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Luxury Chocolate Buttercrunch Toffee

I wasn't too worried about making this cookie/candy because I've made the original Rose's Christmas Cookies buttercrunch toffee many times.  It used to be a regular on my Christmas cookie platter, but I haven't made it for a while.  I don't know why because everyone always loved it.

But when I started getting out the ingredients, something about the recipe deeply confused me:  the amount of chocolate was given as a range.  From 170 to 340 grams.  This from Rose, the Queen of Precision.  It must be a mistake, I thought.  Because I use the advance reading paperback copy to bake with (I know from experience that a cookbook you use once a week for two years gets torn, stained, and generally ratty), I checked the real (autographed) copy.  No, that book gave the same range.  I was so stunned I had to sit down to ponder.  Okay, I guess Rose is letting me decide how thick a layer I want on my toffee.  This is probably good.  I should be willing to take responsibility for how chocolatey I want my toffee.  But that's a big range.  I finally decided to let chance take over.  I have a huge bag (now almost empty) of Guittard chocolate chips.  I poured them in a bowl, and then looked at the scale.  223 grams.  I tossed in a few more to get it up to 225 grams.  Then I put another 225 grams in the measuring cup, to be melted at a later time.

I used dark brown sugar because I was out of light Muscovado.  Remember when your baking staples were just flour, sugar, and butter?  And remember when you'd never heard of Muscovado sugar or Lyle's golden syrup and didn't have at least four different kinds of flour in your pantry,   I dimly remember those days.  Anyway, the toffee mixture is much darker than I remember it being.  I'm too lazy to go compare recipes.

"Instant-reading" thermometers aren't really instant.  Also, the temperature varies depending on whether you take it in the center or the edge of the pan.  So much as I like the idea of taking the hot toffee mixture off the flame at just the right moment, it doesn't really happen.  At least not in my kitchen.

I love it when things change form as if by magic.  Here the chocolate melts while it sits on top of the hot toffee, which is also changing from molten lava to solid form.

I also remember when I didn't have two different sizes of offset spatulas.  Life was simpler then.

After cooling for an hour, the now-hardened toffee easily slipped off the Sil Pat and turned over without a hitch.  A lot of the almonds seemed to fall off even though I thought I'd done a thorough job of pressing them down.

Then melted chocolate and almonds go on the second side.  Press and cool.

And there you have it.  Luxury Buttercrunch Toffee with just exactly the right amount of chocolate.  It's very hard to get those proportions just right.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Midweek Roundup: "Rustic and Adorable"

Photo by Katya
Second Dinner

It's pretty hard not to like these cupcakes.  In fact, I think you'd have to be pretty grinchy not to like them, although being grinchy is always possible.

For Katya, they provided a chance to work on her "cupcake spin"--"that quick twist of the wrist, properly executed, [that] will make your cupcake frosting look both rustic and adorable, a la Magnolia Bakery or their offshoots."  Piping makes them look adorable, but if you add cherries to the raspberry mousseline, the cherries might get stuck in the piping tip.  Since Katya's previous foray into baking was brownies into which she'd forgotten to add flour ("weirdly delicious), she was satisfied with how these turned out.

Rosa has some of the best piping skills this side of the Rockies, so it's not surprising that her cupcakes also looked adorable (although perhaps not rustically so).  Rosa enjoyed the cupcakes so much, but she wished the recipe for the mousseline had made just a bit more--the better to make big and beautiful roses atop the cupcakes.  She also baked her cupcakes at 350 rather than 375 because she was afraid that temperature was too high for the delicate cupcakes.  

If you've read many of Vicki's posts, you'll know that she likes to taste-test the batter, as well as the finished product.  And yes, this was "another outstanding bowl of cake batter from Rose's repertoire." It was Vicki's "lucky day," as there was nary a glitch with meringue are mousseline.  And the result was some "pretty fancy cupcakes, ... perfect for a Fancy Nancy tea party."   I for one think that in these troubled times we could all do with more Fancy Nancy tea parties.  

I read Rachel's post with great interest because she compared smooshing the raspberries into puree with her old method (sieve and effort--ugh!) with her new method (food mill).  The food mill won, hands down, once she figured out that she had the blade in upside-down, that is.  Even though Rachel had to mix the butter by hand (her immersion blender "having given up the ghost"), all turned out well.  If you want to see what a cupcake with pink spaghetti frosting looks like, you'll have to check out her blog.  If you want to know how to get pink spaghetti frosting, you'll just have to figure out how to clog up a piping tip with a "small chunk of hardened sugar syrup."  

I have a confession to make.  I've always been comforted by the fact that Jen is almost as piping-averse as I am.  After all, if the Evil Cake Lady herself can bake 100's of great cakes without piping, why shouldn't I?  But now she's gone and made these cupcakes and decorated them so beautifully, with roses straight out of Alice in Wonderland.  Even though she claims she hid her piping errors, I didn't spot any.  Not only did her cupcakes look great, but they tasted great too.  "I immediately wanted another cupcake, but in an attempt to model good behavior for Eliot I did not.  He is in bed now, and of course I am eating another cupcake."

Catherine's "baking adventure" was a "tale of shortcuts, go-arounds, and straight out laziness."  (Note that this is a quotation from Catherine, and that I am not accusing her of being lazy.)  Catherine figured that she could find just enough energy to make cupcakes or mousseline, but not both.  So she decided to bake the cakes and make raspberry cream cheese icing instead of the mousseline, as Baker Google assured her this would be a snap.  Not quite a snap when you run out of icing sugar in the middle of the night, but Catherine managed a series of improvisations that resulted in good, though runny, frosting.  Perfect for a young dog's birthday party.  Yes, you read that right.

Next week:  Luxury Chocolate Buttercrunch Toffee, an ultra-chocolatey variation on Rose's old favorite from Rose's Christmas Cookies.

The countdown:  We're down to two.  It's only the toffee and Kouigns Amann Redux.  If you want to get in on the fun, better do it now.