Sunday, May 9, 2010

Ann's March Bread: Brioche

Okay, okay, I know that this post is WICKED late, and I've been enticing the wrath of my sister for the past six weeks. I had good reasons! Such as school and getting engaged. Guess which one I enjoyed more...that's right, reference class! Just kidding, sweetie.

After failing at my bread planning last month, I was determined to do better this month. I only succeeded marginally, but that counts! My entry for an egg bread is brioche, which is a French white loaf bread with lots of butter and eggs to make it rich, almost cake-like (still clinging to last year...). I've never actually had brioche before, so I don't have anything to compare it with to make sure mine was good, but I thought it was really good.

So one of the other reasons I didn't make brioche last month was that, besides my bad timing, I each recipe I looked at said that you couldn't use a hand-held mixer because of the lengthy mixing time the dough requires to get elastic and satiny, and it's a really wet dough that wouldn't work at all to knead by hand (this totally makes sense after having made it). Dorie (I like to think we're on a first name basis now) said in her recipe that she mixed it by hand the first time she made brioche, and it was worse than running a half-marathon. One of the hallmarks of my existence is my laziness, so there was no way I was going to do that. Instead, I elected to spend a day with my lovely friend Mrs. H-B, who happens to have a Kitchen Aid mixer (my #1 priority on my gift registry). I decided to make two recipes (Dorie's and Ina's), just to see what the differences were in texture, since they had quite different methods. Well, my normal method of not adequately planning for time was once again true in this case. I had to keep the Dorie brioche dough refrigerated for a while, and that meant that I had to stay at Mrs. H-B's until super super late. One of the requirements of the recipe was to lift up the dough every half hour to deflate it. Since I also had an hour-long drive home, so this meant that I just reached over to the passenger's seat and punched it down every half hour, and then continued along with one greasy hand.

When I got home, I stored both doughs in the fridge overnight, and then baked them the next day. First, the Ina dough finished, and I couldn't wait for it to cool to before I started eating it. AMAZING. The bread was soft, pliable, and pulled apart in an almost like petals made of elastic. Yeah, I know that doesn't make any sense, but I've thought that analogy for days, and that's what I'm going with. I shared this with Megs and her visiting parents, and we slathered each piece with homemade blackberry jam from Padre. It was completely decadent, but felt comforting and cozy instead of rich. There was a very slight sweetness and the eggs gave it a really distinct flavor that was so different than your average loaf of bread. It had twice as many eggs as the Dorie loaf, which gave it a much deeper yellow color.

The next day, I tried the Dorie loaf. It was also good, but didn't have that same elasticity (although it wasn't as prevalent in Ina's after it cooled, either), and didn't rise as much as the other too. I'm not sure if this was because of my haphazard rising in the car, but the dough was absolutely gorgeous before I got it home (or maybe it dried out too much in the fridge too?), so I'm guessing that's what happened. And, frankly, Dorie has never steered me wrong. Based on pictures from other blogs that have tried the same recipe, I'm pretty certain I just did it wrong. I'll have to try it again when it doesn't involve prying plastic wrap off the bowl with one hand while I try to navigate rural Indiana roads with the other.

The Dorie bread is in the front, the Ina bread in the back.

Ina Garten's Brioche
from Barefoot in Paris

1/2 cup warm water
1 package dried yeast
3 tablespoons sugar
6 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
4 1/4 cups unbleached flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon milk, for egg wash

Combine the water, yeast, and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix with your hands and allow the stand for 5 minutes until the yeast and sugar dissolve. Add the eggs and beat on medium speed for 1 minute, until well mixed. With the mixer on low speed, add 2 cups of the flour and salt and mix for 5 minutes. With the mixer still on low, add 2 more cups of flour and mix for 5 more minutes. Still on low speed, add the soft butter in chunks and mix for 2 minutes, scraping down the beater, until well blended. With the mixer still running, sprinkle in the remaining 1/4 cup of flour. Switch the paddle attachment to a dough hook and mix on low speed for 2 minutes. Scrape the dough into a large buttered bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

The next day, allow the dough to sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Grease two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2-inch loaf pans. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and cut in half. Pat each portion into a 6 x 8-inch rectangle, then roll up each rectangle into a cylindrical loaf. Place each loaf, seam side up, into a greased pan. Cover the pans with a damp towel and set aside to rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. When the loaves have risen, brush the top of each with the egg wash and bake for 45 minutes, or until the top springs back and it sounds slightly hollow when tapped. Turn the loaves out onto a wire rack to cool.

Dorie Greenspan's Brioche

from Baking: From My Home to Yours

1/3 cup warm water
1/3 cup warm milk
2 envelopes active dry yeast
3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs (room temperature)
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks, 12 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature
Egg wash:1 egg, beaten to blend with 1 tablespoon water

Place 1/3 cup warm water, warm milk and yeast in the bowl of a standing heavy-duty mixer; stir until yeast dissolves and let proof for 10 minutes. Add flour and salt, mix on low speed just until flour is moistened, about 1-2 minutes. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat in the eggs on low speed, then add sugar. On medium speed, beat until the dough comes together, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add butter, two tablespoons at a time, beating until each piece is almost incorporated before adding next. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until dough pulls away from sides of bowl, about 10 minutes. Transfer the dough into a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature until almost doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Punch the dough down to deflate it every 30 minutes until it stops rising (it will take 2 hours in total). Cover bowl with plastic and chill in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, butter and flour 2 large loaf pans (8 1/2*4 1/2 inches). Divide dough into 2 equal pieces. Cut each dough half into 4 logs. Arrange logs crosswise in bottom of each prepared loaf pan. Place loaf pans on baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for another 2 hours. Preheat oven to 400°F. Brush the brioches with the egg wash (be careful not to deflate, be gentle) and bake until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped, about 30-35 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then run a knife around the side of the pans and turn the loaves out onto a rack. The loaves can also be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 2 months.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Elizabeth's Extra Baking - Cranberry Upside-Downer

I know you are all waiting for Ann to post her March bread. Unfortunately, she is busy with school projects right now, and by school projects, I mean "Facts of Life" marathons with her new fiance.

I figured that while we wait for Ann to post her bread, I could share a recipe I made a couple days ago (plus, I'm sick today and I don't want to do much of anything else).

We invited friends over for dinner on Sunday, but it was kind of last minute. Since I don't go shopping on Sunday, I knew I'd have to use only the ingredients I already had on hand. Dinner ended up being Spaghetti alla Carbonara, green beans with almonds, and a cucumber salad. Very simple.

Dessert is always the trickiest for me when I do last minute invites, because I start to think of fancy concoctions involving whipping cream and other ingredients that I don't have on hand. I flipped through Dorie Greenspan's book Baking: From My Home to Yours. (Have I mentioned before that this book is a winner? I believe I have! I believe I also may have previously stated that Dorie is amazing and that I want to be her best friend and that I think we might really enjoy selecting ingredients at the farmer's market together. But I digress.)

I saw the Cranberry Upside-Downer recipe in the book, and I remembered that I had a bag of cranberries in the freezer and some red currant jelly downstairs in the pantry. Hurray! Let's get baking!

The cake turned out to be magnificent. I did leave off the walnuts, since I didn't know how our guests felt about nuts, and the cake was still fabulous. It was subtly flavored with cinnamon, and the cranberries on top were a perfect balance of tart and sweet. Another winner from Dorie Greenspan.

Someday, with the help of Ms. Dorie, my children will not immediately picture white cake with colored icing when I say the word "cake." They'll know that cake can be so much more! But it will probably be a loooooooooong time before that will happen.

Cranberry Upside-Downer
from Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan

Makes 6 to 8 servings

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 teaspooon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 sticks (14 tablespoons; 7 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup minus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
2 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen (if frozen, do not thaw)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
2 large eggs
1/3 cup whole milk
1/3 cup red currant jelly

Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Put an 8-x-2-inch round cake pan on a lined baking sheet and keep it at hand. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt and keep these nearby, too.

Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan. Sprinkle over 6 tablespoons of the sugar and cook, stirring, until the mixture comes to the boil. Pour this evenly over the bottom of the cake pan, scatter over the nuts and top with the cranberries, smoothing the layer and pressing it down gently with your fingertips. (Don't be concerned if you've used frozen berries and they've caused the butter to congeal - everything will melt in the oven.) Set aside.

Working in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a bowl with a hand mixer, beat the remaining stick (8 tablespoons) of butter on medium speed until smooth. Add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and continue to beat until pale and creamy, about 3 minutes. Pour in the extract and then add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add half of the dry ingredients, mixing only until they disappear into the batter. Mix in the milk, then the rest of the dry ingredients. Spoon the batter over the cranberries and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.

Slide the sheet into the oven and bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until the cake is golden and a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and run a blunt knife between the sides of the pan and the cake. Carefully turn the cake out onto a serving platter. If any of the berries stick to the pan - as they might - just scrape them off with a knife and return them to the cake.

Warm the jelly in a small saucepan over low heat or do this in a microwave oven. Gently brush the glaze over the hot cake.

Serving: When the situation allows, I like to serve this cake about 20 minutes out of the oven, when it is still warm. However, it's more than fine at room temperature - even the following day. And, it's always good with vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.

Storing: The cake is best served the day it is made, but it can be covered and kept at room temperature overnight. Because of the berry topping, it's not a good candidate for freezing.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Elizabeth's February Bread - Cinnamon Rolls using potato dough

Photo credit:

I forgot to take a picture of the final cinnamon rolls, and intended to make a second batch (to delight Jeff), but it didn't happen. The photo above is a good representation of how they looked, because they were the "separate roll" type of cinnamon roll, as opposed to the "squished together" type of cinnamon roll:
Photo credit:

My husband prefers the former, although he adores cinnamon rolls any which way. In fact, my husband loves cinnamon rolls so much, I'm surprised he married me before I had ever made him even one batch. (...with this cinnamon roll, I thee wed...) To him, making cinnamon rolls equals showing love, which explains why he made me so many when we were engaged -- especially interesting, since I'm sort of neutral on cinnamon rolls. You can imagine that I was excited to make him this new version. Because a different kind of cinnamon roll is a different kind of love!

The recipe comes from The Bread Bible, by Beth Hensperger. The book was given to me by a friend at Christmastime, and this was my first chance to use it. I wasn't disappointed. Ms. Hensperger's instructions seemed great (which is where many baking cookbook authors fail), but the real proof of that will be when I make a recipe for some item I've never seen before.

I did struggle with the recipe a little bit, but it was all my fault:

1. I wanted to follow everything to the exact letter (even though I've made cinnamon rolls many times), so I tried to keep everything (potato water, tap water, dough) to the precise temperatures specified while having 4 kids underfoot. That wasn't wise. This was a "wait until the kids are in bed" kind of recipe.

2. I didn't use a big enough potato in the beginning (maybe I peeled it too much, because I could have sworn it was 6 oz). It didn't yield enough potato water or puree, so I chose to do that step over again. The potato aspect of this recipe already makes it somewhat more complicated than a standard cinnamon roll recipe, but it didn't help that I tried to add another potato to what I already made. I had my thermometer jumping from pan to pan like a crazy person. I think Jeff's comment was, "Does this recipe really require you to use every bowl in the house?"
Boiling potatoes on a stove I hope I no longer own in a year.

3. I don't have a food mill, and I didn't want to dirty the food processor. I know, I know. I'm totally weird about that. My food processor is particularly annoying to set up, not to mention the annoyance of cleaning the stupid thing. Still, my decision to press the potato through a sieve was not my brightest moment. It took forever, and it made this weird hairy dot formation on the back of the sieve that made me feel totally sick (I have an issue [I'm not calling it a phobia] with raised dots. More on that later). I should have just gotten out the blasted food processor. It's not that annoying.

Once I finally finished the dough, it was smooth sailing. As far as a review goes, I don't think the additional step of using potato puree turned out anything better than the other cinnamon roll recipes that I've been using for years. For that reason, I wouldn't make this again. But I'm still happy about having tried this recipe: I got some beautiful rolls out of it, and my husband was beyond pleased. He really does go crazy for these things. Did I already mention that? CRAZY! For me, cinnamon rolls are just okay. Nothing to write home about. But at least I like them. Jeff hates my two favorite vegetables: asparagus and cauliflower. Hates! How is that possible?? Life is so, so hard in our house. Harder than the Great Depression. I mean, we don't agree on food. Could it get any tougher, really?

The rolled out dough, with cinnamon and brown sugar. Note the tomato sauce can in the background. My parents always kept one in the flour to measure one cup, so I do the same.

I am a horrible estimator and divider. I can't even divide a peanut butter and jelly sandwich evenly. I use a ruler to make that first division properly. Doesn't this look like an arm with a major flesh wound?

Ready for the oven! (I had another pan with the cinnamon rolls spread out more. These ones are pushed to one side because I was hoping they would "accidentally" touch, making them the "squished together" type of cinnamon rolls, which I like a little better. It didn't work.)

My hand, after working with the dough. More raised dots. How can that not sick you out? This wasn't quite so gross that I couldn't take a picture, but still. Disgusting.

Between these nasty dots and the flesh wound above, one might get the idea that I'm not trying to inspire your appetite to make these recipes. I promise: baking can be very enjoyable. In fact, there are so many visual and textural things to LOVE that I feel bad for pointing out just the ones that grossed me out. I love the feel of the risen dough. I love the texture of the brown sugar in my hands as I spread it over the flattened dough rectangle. I love the look of the cinnamon as it is shaken out of the container. I love cutting through the rolls and placing them on the pan. I love the feel of mixing the glaze (first it seems dry, then it suddenly is almost too wet), and I love drizzling it over the rolls. If you're even reading this, you probably love those things too!

Cinnamon Rolls
from The Bread Bible, by Beth Hensperger
1 russet potato (about 6 ounces), peeled and cut into large chunks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup warm water (105°-115° F)
1 tablespoon (1 package) active dry yeast
1/2 cup granulated sugar, or 1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
5 to 51/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick), melted
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 cup dark raisins or dried currants, plump in hot water 10 minutes and drained (optional)
1 cup (4 ounces) walnuts or pecans, toasted (see NOTE) and coarsely chopped (optional)

1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
4 to 5 tablespoons milk

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the potato chunks with water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and cook, uncovered, until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the potato, reserving 1 cup of the liquid. Let the potato water cool to 105° to 115°F. Meanwhile, process the potato with the butter through a food mill placed over a bowl or puree it in a food processor fitted with the metal blade just until smooth. This produces 3/4 to 1 cup of puree.

2. Pour the warm water in a small bowl. Sprinkle the yeast and a pinch of the granulated or brown sugar over the surface of the water. Stir to dissolve and let stand at room temperature until foamy, about 10 minutes.

3. In a large bowl with a whisk or in the work bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the pureed potato, reserved warm potato water, yeast mixture, remaining granulated or brown sugar, oil, egg, salt, and 2 cups of the flour. Beat hard to combine, about 1 minute. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until a shaggy dough that just clears the sides of the bowl is formed.

4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and springy, about 4 to 6 minutes if kneading by hand. If kneading with dough hook or electic mixer, knead 4 minutes on medium speed. Dust with flour 1 tablespoon at a time as needed to prevent sticking. Take care not to add too much flour, because the dough should be very satiny.

5. Put the dough in a greased deep container. Turn once to coat the top and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Gently deflate the dough and let rise a second time until doubled in bulk, 50 minutes to 1 hour.

6. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

7. Gently deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into 2 equal portions. Roll out each portion into a 10-by-14-inch rectangle at least 1/4 inch thick. Brush the surface of each rectangle with the melted butter. Sprinkle the surface of each rectangle evenly with half of the brown sugar and cinnamon, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges. Sprinkle with the raisins or currants and nuts, if using. Starting from the long side, roll the dough up jelly-roll fashion. Pinch the seams together and, using a serrated knife or dental floss, cut each roll crosswise into 9 equal portions, each 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick. Place each portion cut side up on the prepared pan at least 2 inches apart. Press gently to flatten each swirl slightly. (Alternatively, place in 18 greased 3-inch muffin-pan cups for a top-knot effect.) Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature just until puffy, 20 to 30 minutes.

8. Put the baking sheet or muffin cups in the center of the oven and bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown and firm to the touch. Using a metal spatula, transfer to a wire rack. Immediately prepare the glaze by combining the confectioners’ sugar and milk in a small mixing bowl and whisking until smooth. Adjust the consistency of the glaze by adding more milk, a few drops at a time, to make a pourable mixture. Dip your fingers or a large spoon into the glaze and drizzle it over the rolls by running your hand or the spoon back and forth over the tops. Or, apply the glaze to the rolls with a brush. Let sit until just warm before eating.

NOTE: To toast nuts, preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the nuts on a sided baking sheet and toast, stirring once or twice, until fragrant and lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes for walnuts (halved) and pecans.

TO MAKE AHEAD: Dough may be made ahead and refrigerated overnight, covered with a double layer of plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature 3 to 4 hours before filling and rising. Once made, the buns can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze in self-sealing freezer bags for up to 3 months.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ann's February Bread: Uh....also Scones

Well after all the controversy that Listle's last post created, I feel like my month's post will be a bit of a let down. Yes, I too made scones. However, I did not intend to make scones, so does that make it better? I don't know. I had planned on making brioche this month, but somehow neglected to note in the recipe that the dough needed a good night's rest before baking, thus ruining my plans. I needed something quick, but something that wouldn't necessarily feel like a cop out. I also needed to have all the ingredients since I discovered my mistake on a Sunday afternoon and needed to have a delicious bread product ready for book club on Sunday night. So I decided I had to make three different kinds of scones as penance for my lack of recipe reading. Also, I had to make some cupcakes and chicken with brussels sprouts and rice, but I'm not blogging on those things. Suffice it to say, there was a cooking frenzy.

Luckily, the scones came together so quickly and easily that all that cooking wasn't nearly as traumatic as I had expected (the dishes, on the other hand...). I forgot that all baking isn't as time consuming and so full of multiple parts. You just throw some basic ingredients into the food processor and you're good to go! My friend Cheriiiil and I researched and made them together - we had so much fun! We decided that each type of scone had to be formed in a different way, to make the results research seem more complete.

First, we made cream scones with dried cranberries. We ended up combining a couple of different recipes; we had a recipe we wanted to try, but then adapted it with another recipe to create drop scones. They turned out delicate and rich, with a good contrast from the tart cranberries (no currants in my apartment). They spread out more than other drop scones I've had, but they would have been perfect for afternoon tea (I really wish it hadn't been Sunday so I could have gotten some clotted cream to serve with them!). Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of them, with all of the cooking and book club action, but they were excellent.

Then I made honey-nut scones, courtesy of Dorie Greenspan. They were made with whole wheat flour, walnuts, and sweetened with honey. I made them in the way I've seen scones traditionally made, by cutting circles of dough into sixths and sprinkling with sugar (I used some turbinado sugar). They looked all rustic and homemade, and the sugar on top gave it an extra crunchiness. Perfect breakfast scone.

Finally, I made black olive scones (I wanted something savory to round out my scone experience). I used some salty black Turkish olives and lots of cream in the batter, and then rolled out the dough and cut them into circles and brushed them with olive oil and sprinkled them with Maldon sea salt. The combination of the salt and cream made them taste extra decadent, and the texture was perfect - flaky but crumbly, buttery, and everything a scone should be.

I can't decide which kind was my favorite, since they were all so different, but it was great to explore the variations on scones and really get to know them. Since I felt like last year I didn't get to know the properties of cakes as well as I should have, I want to make sure I really get into that this year, and my Scones, Three Ways helped me get to know scones very well.

Cream Scones/Mrs. Humphries' Scones
adapted from Afternoon Delights by James McNair and Andrew Moore, and The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook by Brinna B. Sands

3 cups flour
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries, coarsely chopped

1. Position an oven rack so that the scones will bake in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Like a baking sheet with kitchen parchment and set aside.

2. In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt and pulse to blend well. Add the cold butter and pulse in the food processor until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Transfer a mixture to a bowl. Add the cream and the cranberries. Stir just until the mixture sticks together.

3. Drop big spoonfuls of the batter onto the parchment covered baking sheet. Bake 15 minutes or until slightly golden brown. Transfer scones from baking sheet to a bowl lined with a kitchen towel to keep them warm.

Honey-Nut Scones
adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

1 large egg
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup cold whole milk
1 1/2 flour
1/2 whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Sugar for sprinkling (I used turbinado)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. Like a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Stir the egg, honey, and milk together.

Pulse the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add the pieces of butter and pulse into dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly. You'll have pea-sized pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces the size of everything in between - and that's just right.

Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and pulse just until the dough, which will be wet and sticky, comes together. Don't overdo it. Pulse in the chopped walnuts.

Turn dough into a bowl and gently knead the dough by hand, or turn it with a rubber spatula 8 to 10 times. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide it in half. Working with one piece at a time, pat the dough into a rough circle that's about 5 inches in diameter, cut it into 6 wedges and place on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with sugar.

Bake the scones for about 20 minutes, or until the tops are deeply golden and firmish to the touch. Transfer them from the baking sheet into a bowl lined with a kitchen towel to keep them warm.

Black Olive Scones
from Tea Time Magazine, September/October 2009

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, diced
1/4 cup chopped black olives (I used Turkish olives, but kalamata or Nicoise would also be good)
2/3 cup whipping cream
Olive oil
Flaked sea salt (I used Maldon)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment and set aside.

2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter pieces and pulse until the flour mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the olives. Pulse in the cream until the mixture is just moistened (that was a terrible paragraph for both Mrs. H-B and me).

3. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Using a 2-inch round cutter, cut as many scones as possible, rerolling scraps as necessary (but not more than twice).

4. Place scones on the prepared baking sheets. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the tops of scones with olive oil; sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for 16 minutes, or until scones are golden brown.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Elizabeth's January Bread - Scones

Scones are so yummy, and yet so controversial in my family!!

My husband loves scones. But in his household growing up (his parents are from Utah, and he grew up in Arizona), scones were a fried yeast bread, dressed with honey or cinnamon sugar (similar to Indian Fry Bread or Sopapillas). So when someone says "scones," that's what he's picturing.

In my household growing up (my parents are also from Utah, and I also grew up in Arizona), scones were the same baked quick bread that some people refer to as "English scones" or "Scottish scones." Jeff and I used to argue and argue about the true meaning of the word "scone." (We argued a lot in those days about pretty much everything, so scones just slid easily into the argument mix.) There was no information available about it on the Internet back then (1997...and yes, we looked!), so we finally agreed to just call them "fried scones" and "baked scones" respectively. And we also agreed to stop arguing about it.

Fast forward 13 years, and I had forgotten all about our "fried" and "baked" agreement. We don't eat scones very often, and since I've seen a lot of baked scones during the years, I pretty much forgot about fried scones. I swear that when I decided to make scones for my first month of Year of Bread, and I just called them "Scones" without the "baked" qualifier, I wasn't trying to pick a fight! Jeff good-naturedly reminded me of my past agreement... and I grumbled.

The recipe for these scones was featured in a culinary mystery that I read (English Trifle, by Josi S. Kilpack -- a Utah author). To complicate matters, she wrote something in the book about English scones being different than American scones, which, she wrote, "are deep fried." Huh? Where outside of Utah and my husband's family home have I ever seen a deep fried scone? Anyway, I decided to research it again this time around, and it turns out that fried scones ARE INDEED unique to Utah. Besides wanting to do the "I was right, I was right" dance, the truth is that I'm happy for Utah! Really. I do not look down on Utah scones at all (oh whoops, I'm not allowed to call them that. That was part of our agreement. They're not Utah scones, they're fried scones). Anyway, I love regional food, and I hate that regional food is slowly disappearing in America, as people eat more and more Olive Garden, Burger King, and Red Lobster. Actually, regional food is disappearing all over the world, but that's a discussion for another time. (Reminder: eat local.)

So all hail the Utah fried scone!! It should be noted that I can't find any particularly good scholarship on the matter, and any links that refer to such scholarship are broken and lead nowhere. However, it does seem that food historians/anthropologists agree that English/Scottish Mormon settlers in Utah hybridized Indian fry bread and British scones. Why the settlers decided to call them "scones" when they are so different in ingredients and consistency, I'll never know. I suspect they originally shaped them the same way they did with the baked type in their home countries.

All that aside, I chose to make BAKED scones for January. They were amazing. A-MAZ-ING. Amazing like a full moon. Amazing like opposable thumbs. Amazing like OK Go's This Too Shall Pass video. Amazing.

They were tender and flaky and buttery and slightly sweet. All around fabulous! Much more tender and flavorful than an American biscuit. This is probably due to the use of butter and sour cream rather than shortening. So tasty.

The only thing I didn't love was the really long shape of the scones. Once they were rolled out like the recipe stated, the triangles were so long that the points flopped over while they baked. In the future, I will divide the dough in half and then roll out two circles instead of one.

When the dough first starts to come together, you wonder if it's going to be too dry.

But then Kapow! It forms a fabulous little ball of Yummy.

Roll it out into a circle, and cut it into triangles. (Again I'll do two circles next time, rather than one big circle.)

Brush them with the optional glaze (which I didn't think was so fabulous that it merited buying whipping cream. Maybe you can make it with milk, or you could just go without the glaze.)

Serve them with clotted cream, jam, and/or butter.

These are so tasty that when you eat them, your taste buds will explode, followed by your brain.


Sadie's Scrumptulicious Scones

1 cup sour cream (light works just as well)

1 tsp. baking soda

4 cups all purpose flour

1 cup sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

1 cup butter, cold

1 egg

Combine sour cream and baking soda in 2 cup bowl or measuring cup (mixture expands, so you'll want to have extra space). Set aside. Whisk together dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Cut butter into dry ingredients using a pastry blender until mixture resembles course corn meal. Add sour cream and egg, mix until a soft dough forms—use use your hands if necessary. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead a few times, then pat or roll until 1 inch thick. Cut into triangles, or if you prefer, cut into circles with a biscuit cutter. (Elizabeth's note: actually, divide the dough into two parts, and roll each part into a circle. Cut into triangles like a pizza. This gives you smaller, more reasonable scones.) Place scones two inches apart on lightly greased baking sheet. Bake 350 for 20-25 minutes or until bottom edges are golden brown.

Makes 8-14 depending on size of scones.

Glaze: (optional)

1 egg

1 Tablespoon whipping cream

Mix egg and cream together. Brush on top of unbaked scones and bake as directed. Sprinkle glazed and baked scones with powdered sugar. Set oven to broil, but do not move oven rack to the highest level—leave it in the center position. Put pan in oven, keeping door open about an inch and watch closely. Sugar takes 30 seconds to 1 1/2 minutes to turn a golden brown. Remove from oven, serve while still warm.

*To Freeze: Bake scones as directed. When cool, put in Ziploc bag, removing as much air as possible to ensure freshness upon defrosting. To defrost, remove from freezer and let thaw at room temperature for 2 hours. Can reheat in microwave. (Elizabeth's note: I froze some of mine and ate them the next day, taking them straight from the freezer to the microwave. They were perfect.)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ann's January Bread: Banana Bread

So I get scared any time we start a new Year, and I always have to start a little easy. For me, that equaled banana bread. I have a favorite Betty Crocker recipe that I've adapted slightly, and so I made it for my roommate Megs' birthday party.

Banana bread is pretty basic and normal, but I usually make mine more exciting by sprinkling a layer of sugar on top before baking. When it bakes the sugar creates a crackly crust that takes this from a regular quick bread to a special dessert. I also like to serve it with Nutella - bananas and chocolate are so nice together, and this is an easy way to enjoy them. (I guess it's easier to put Nutella on a banana...or eat a banana split...whatever, it's easier than making a cake!) Megs also had some leftover eggnog syrup that'd she'd made (it's actually buttermilk syrup, but she kept calling it eggnog so that's what I call it in my head). I'll add the recipe when I get it from her.

Happy Birthday, Megs!

Banana Bread
from Betty Crocker's New Cookbook

1 1/4 cups sugar, plus a few tablespoons to sprinkle on top
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (3 to 4 medium)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts

1.) Move oven rack to love position so the tops of pans will be in the center of oven. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease bottoms only of 2 loaf pans, 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2 inches.

2.) Mix 1 1/4 cups sugar and margarine in a large bowl. Stir in eggs until well blended. Add bananas, buttermilk and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Stir in flour, baking soda, and salt just until moistened. Stir in the nuts. Pour into pans. Sprinkle enough sugar on top of each loaf to cover the top of the batter completely.

3.) Bake loaves about 1 hour, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in pans on wire rack. Loosen sides of loaves from pans; remove from pans and place top side up on wire rack. Cool completely before slicing. Serve with Nutella or eggnog syrup.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Bread and Circuses

IT'S THE YEAR OF BREAD!!!!! Here are our criteria:

To start, Listle and I have found it almost impossible to define "bread". There are a lot of things we want to make that could be called bread, but don't have leavening, so we can't use that as a rule. We can't say anything that's a staple is bread, because there's a lot of superfluous bread products. We can't say that anything that can be made into a sandwich counts as bread (although cinnamon rolls sandwiching some nutella and banana could be quite tasters...). We'll probably discuss and refine our definition a lot throughout the year. So let us say that, like pornography, we can't tell you what bread is, but we know it when we see it.

Also, after the Luke fiasco, Listle isn't allowed to get pregnant and claim that her bread that month is "a bun in the oven."

Here are some rules:

1.) Six of our twelve breads must contain yeast (it's no good to do quick breads all year - and yeast seems to be what scares people, meaning us).

2.) We can't make the same bread in the same month.

3.) We want to explore as many breads as possible, so no repeats per individual. You can, however, make the same bread as someone else later in the year.

4.) The breads must be shared with one other person -with witnesses, who may or may not also get bread.

5.) We will incorporate reviews of good breads that we didn't make that we eat throughout the year.

6.) We will include book reviews related to bread.

7.) Finally, keeping up on posting on the blog is obviously a bit of a challenge for us :). So we must post our breads within two weeks of baking them. (We found that we were forgetting details of our cakes last year because we waited too long to post. No good!)

Let's get baking!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Year of Cake: Memories and Reflections, by Ann

CAKE! This year truly was glorious. But first, let me point out that Listle DID NOT want to do Year of Cake. I wish I could find a chat conversation to reflect this, but it must have all been stated over the phone. It went something like this:

Ann: I'm so excited for Year of Cake! Won't it be delightful, dearest sister?
Listle: No, it's going to be lame. Just like you. I hate you.
Ann: That saddens me, but I respect your feelings.
Listle: Your face looks like a Barbie melted in a table lamp.

See? She didn't want to do Year of Cake! So it surprised me that she loved it as much as she did. Especially since, for me, Year of Cake was in some ways not as satisfying as Year of Pie, since I like cake more. Just as Listle found that more people loved cake than pie, my group of friends is pretty pie-obsessed. I also felt that with pie, I was a little more afraid so I purposely spent more time on research and on determining the types of pies I wanted to feature. There was more forethought. With cake, there were a few where I felt like I needed to get one done so I didn't spend much time on research. I was also very disappointed that a couple of my cakes ended up being really similar to each other, like the strawberry country cake and the lagkage. I guess in the end, I don't feel like I learned tons of principles like I did with pie because I was more confident in my cake making abilities. Afterward, I kept finding classic kinds of cake that I wish I'd learned more about. Man, this is kind of a downer. I really liked all the cakes I made! I just wish there'd been more research like I did with pie. As OBE just pointed out, though, I was way busier during the entire year of cake with the Relief Society gig and starting school again and, you know, dating him, so it's understandable that I felt like I devoted less time to research.

Okay, I'll follow Listle's pre-established cake categories:

Proudest moment in the Year of Cake:
Managing to get and keep a boyfriend.

Proudest CAKE moment in the Year of Cake:
Successfully making caramels that didn't scorch for the Peach Cake Tatin and the Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake. My other caramel making experiences were so miserable, so it was super satisfying that it finally worked. Is that cake related?

Most fun moment with cake:
Making and decorating and presenting Control's bûche de Noël birthday cake.

Funniest moment with cake:
My lopsided birthday cake.

Tastiest cake:
Oh man, how to choose!? Okay the Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake was the best, but I also loved the Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake. There were also other favorites, but those were probably the two that bowled me over the most. Interestingly, they were the first and last cakes of the year.

One really crazy-great moment in the Year of Cake:
Baking with Listle in January!

Cake that delighted and surprised me:
Peanut Butter Ice Cream Cake

Cake of Listle's I wish I could have tasted:
July: nothing. I'm just kidding. Devil's Food White Out Cake

Best cake to share with a friend, any day of the week:
Sour Cream-Blueberry Crumb Cake. People went NUTS for this, but it was so easy!

Other honorable cake mentions: Okay the Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake was hands down the best one I made, but other favorites besides the Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake were the White Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes (OBE's favorites), the Peach Cake Tatin, and Peanut Butter Ice Cream Cake.

Other favorite moments: all the pictures of Listle's kids on the blog - I loved looking at them and return often to look some more! So freaking cute!!!!

Things I wish I'd done during Year of Cake:
Like Listle, I wish I'd done more piping - I just did it during the Halloween Cupcakes, but I had really wanted to do a full on piped layer cake. I realized at the end of the year that I was running out of time, but it never worked out. I also wish I'd learned more about different frostings. I guess in the end I learned more about cakes and not as much about the actual decorating of them. I also never gave a cake in full in a cake box, which is sad! However, I've kept making pies throughout this year, and so I plan to keep making cakes too. CAKE! Now bring on the bread!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Year of Cake: Memories and Reflections, by Elizabeth

What a great year!! I loved this year's theme --- more than I expected to.

I'll admit that I started slowly, and didn't really get into the spirit of things until August (I had moved over the summer). But then I took off with excitement! I loved it. I made so many cakes from August to December, it'll probably be the subject of legends told to small children all over the world for years to come.

Now for my annual awards:

Most fun thing about Year of Cake:
- Everyone loves cake. A lot of people don't love pie. Or they only like certain, very specific pies. But everyone loves cake. I enjoyed the Year of Cake a little bit more than the Year of Pie for that reason. A cake is easier to surprise someone with, because you don't have the risk of them saying "Oh....I hate custard pies." or "Oh......I hate fruit pies." or "Oh......I just plain hate pie!" And if you volunteer to take a cake to an event, you don't have to clear the type of cake with them beforehand to make sure it's going to be acceptable. I found that freedom to be really satisfying. Also, cakes are generally showier than pies, and that was pretty darn fun. I loved the looks of delight and the cheers that went up several times during the Year of Cake. I'm going to miss that feeling this coming year. ("Here's your slice of bread." "Thanks." Where's the fun in that?????)
.....That was a major clue in the coming year's theme, in case you didn't already know!

Proudest moment in the Year of Cake:
- Adam's baptism and confirmation!

Okay....proudest CAKE moment in the Year of Cake:
- Probably the straight sides and top of Ella's birthday cake. I wish I had taken a proper picture up close. I was really proud! It looked just like a bakery cake. Well......minus the mounds of buttercream decorations (I used multicolored tall candles instead).

Most fun moment with cake:
- Luke eating his first birthday cake.

Tastiest cake:
- Almost Fudge Gateau

One really crazy-great moment in the Year of Cake:
- Kicking off the year with my sister, Printer (Ann), while we made our January cakes. Wonderful!

The cake that delighted and surprised me (In much the same way that my apple pie delighted and surprised me) :
- Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Cake of Ann's that I most wished I could have tasted:
- Peanut Butter Ice Cream Cake

Best cake to share with a friend, any day of the week:
- Swedish Visiting Cake

Things I wish I had done during the Year of Cake:
- I wish I had done more with the piping requirement. I fulfilled it, but just barely. I really thought this would be the year I'd finally do some fancy cakes for my kids' birthdays, and I didn't. I still made cakes for them, but I didn't pipe the cakes. I also wish I had found and made my holy grail of cakes: the layered fudge cake, or layered mousse cake, or whatever it is that I am craving and wasn't able to produce! It is what I think of when someone says the word "cake," and I'd like to be able to make it. I'm talking fudgy, deep chocolate cake layers, sliced thin, with mousse or ganache in between. Or maybe mousse in between and ganache on top. A true chocolate lover's dream. If you have a link to a recipe like that, post it in the comments!

Of course there are dozens and dozens of cakes that I think about and wish I had made this year, but I had an awesome Year of Cakes! Besides, I will continue to make cakes. Because who doesn't love a good cake?

A cake I wish I had made

I don't want to steal any of their glory, so I'll just include a link so you can see for yourself.

From "Serious Eats."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ann Presents: Some Good Cake

I had a few good cakes this year (p.s. Listle - I don't remember a bakery-cake-buying requirement, just that we had to comment on good cake!), and I would now like to share them with you.

First, I bought some cupcakes from one of my favorite local bakeries, Blu Boy Chocolate Cafe & Cakery. They have the craziest awesome macarons that blow my mind, but everything I've tried has been spectacular. I bought a couple of cupcakes to share with some friends, and my ever-so-talented friend Mrs. H-B photographed them for me.

I need a camera like hers so bad... These were excellent chocolate and cherry flavored cupcakes. Nom nom nom!

Next, I had some good cake in Cincinnati at a German restaurant that Ol' Blue Eyes and I tried when he had an audition there in November. We got some apple strudel and German chocolate cake, but before we started eating, OBE said I needed to take a picture, because, "Ann! It's the Year of Cake!" :)

Finally, OBE and I had some good cake in honor of our one year anniversary on February 2nd (this wasn't in the actual Year of Cake, but oh well - it was still good). It was just a cake from the grocery store, but it was triple chocolate, with tons of chocolate cream between the chocolate cake layers, and a chocolate ganache on top and little chocolate hearts. We were trying to get back on our diets at this point, but this cake certainly didn't help. Unfortunately I don't have a picture of it, but it was really pretty!

Hooray for good other cake!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Elizabeth's Cake Review - West Side Bakery and West Point Market

Ann, I almost forgot to review my bakery-bought cakes!

I thought I'd love the "Must buy a cake from a pastry shop" rule, and that I'd buy a few during the year. But as it turned out, I only bought cakes once --- for Adam's baptism.

Adam was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in October. What a wonderful occasion for him and for our family! He was so excited to be baptized, and had been praying about the truthfulness of the Church for several weeks, so by the time his big day rolled around, he was very ready. I was so proud of my little boy.

I get pretty nervous at events that I'm in charge of, and I had 4 house guests (my mom, my in-laws, and my sister PRINTER [Ann]) so I didn't want to leave too many details up in the air. Early in the year, I decided to buy cakes for Adam's baptism, instead of making them. I wanted several different flavors and styles, so I decided to just go to the bakeries a couple of days in advance and buy some random 8-inch cakes. It worked out great -- just the way I thought it would. I bought two buttercream cakes with interesting stuff in the middle (I can't remember what), one lemon-coconut cake, and one carrot cake. (The only thing I didn't like so much was that it was more expensive than I had expected. I thought the cakes you special-ordered -- with all the writing and froofy stuff that's personalized to you -- would be more expensive or equally priced. I didn't expect the cake "off the shelf" to be so much more expensive. I would have known that, though, if I had researched it for 2 minutes!)

I loved the display of the cakes, I loved the variety, I loved the cake stands, and most of all.....I loved that I wasn't scrambling around trying to bake stuff for the baptism while I had a house full of guests!

(Side note: I learned something about myself from these cakes: I learned I hate real buttercream frosting. HATE. Oh well. The lemon-coconut cake was divine!)

Our family

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ann's December Cake - Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake

Behold, the mother of all cakes! My official December cake was truly a showstopper, and was filled with not a little drama. It was totally worth it because it was INCREDIBLE. Here is the story.

I wanted to keep trying out recipes from Baking, by Listle's new BFF, Dorie Greenspan, and her chocolate caramel chestnut cake seemed big and dramatic, and the chestnuts sounded like they would be fun for a December cake. I knew that they sold them at Williams-Sonoma during the holidays, so I knew I had to get up to Indy to pay a trip to the store since I didn't have time to order them online and make the cake before everyone would leave for Christmas and I would be forced to eat the entire thing myself. Luckily, Ol' Blue Eyes and I had other reasons to go to Indy.

I really need to learn a lesson about trying to fit too much into a short amount of time because OBE and I had a Salvation Army bell ringing appointment, and then we still had to drive to Indy and get to Williams-Sonoma before driving to the concert. We were in a huge rush, and when I got to the store, they said they didn't carry the chestnuts during Christmas! Are you kidding me??? Chestnuts are only for Thanksgiving??? I was so mad. But I still bought a 9-inch-square commercial-quality cake pan. As I was walking back to the car to meet OBE, I remembered that there was a specialty cheese shop nearby in the mall. I walked in, turned to my right, and instantly happened upon a jar of chestnuts. Hooray for me!!!! They happened to be $20, but I was so excited and cackled something about a Christmas miracle as I bought them. So between the really good chocolate, the chestnut puree, and the jar of whole chestnuts I bought for it, this cake is officially the most expensive one I made.

Star Wars was great, too.

The cake wasn't difficult to make, but there were a lot of parts to it. First, I made the actual cake, which looked awesome in the perfectly squared pan (I've only had pans with rounded edges before this and I was surprised at what a difference it made aesthetically). It included sweetened chestnut puree which I thought was a fun ingredient. Then I made some caramel, which never works when I try to make it, but it did this time! I mixed it into some melted chocolate to create a caramel ganache. I can't even explain how good it was - the initial chocolate flavor gave way to burnt sugar. I chopped up half of the whole chestnuts and then finally made a bittersweet chocolate ganache. Finally all my pieces were ready for assembly.

I split the cakes into three layers, then stacked layers of caramel ganache and chopped chestnuts between the cake. After the top layer, I frosted the entire thing with the remaining ganache.

And the end, I poured the bittersweet chocolate ganache over the top put it in the fridge to set up. A few hours before serving, I took it out again, to get it to room temperature, and dusted the remaining whole chestnuts in sugar to make them pretty for decoration. (You're supposed to paint them with edible gold dust, but I couldn't find it.) The final project was the most beautiful cake I've made, if it's not arrogant to say so.

The picture isn't great, but the cake was! There were so many layers of flavor - not too sweet, nutty, caramelized sugary, the best kind of chocolatey cake. Plus, it looked like a real bakery cake. Make this cake! Or come over and I'll make it again!

Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake

adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Caramel ganache:
9 ounces premium-quality milk chocolate (I used Guittard)
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature

2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups (packed) light brown sugar, divided
4 large eggs, separated
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup sweetened chestnut spread with vanilla (I got this at a ethnic foods market - it was a German manufacturer)
1/4 cup whole milk

24 jarred peeled whole chestnuts (about 7 ounces); 12 coarsely chopped, 12 left whole
1 cup sugar

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

For ganache:

Combine milk chocolate and bittersweet chocolate in medium bowl. Stir sugar, 2 tablespoons water, and cinnamon stick in heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil without stirring until syrup turns deep amber, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush and swirling pan, about 6 minutes (time will vary depending on size of pan). Add cream and salt (mixture will bubble vigorously). Bring caramel to boil, whisking until smooth and caramel bits dissolve, about 1 minute. Discard cinnamon stick. Pour hot caramel over chocolate; stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Let stand until completely cool, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour.

Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in chocolate mixture in 4 additions. Cover and refrigerate ganache overnight.

For cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour 9x9x2-inch metal baking pan. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in 1 cup brown sugar, then egg yolks and vanilla extract. Beat in chestnut spread, then milk. Sift dry ingredients over and gently mix together. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in another large bowl until soft peaks form. Add remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar and beat until stiff but not dry. Fold egg whites into batter in 3 additions.

Transfer batter to pan. Bake cake until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 48 minutes. Cut around cake to loosen. Cool cake completely in pan on rack.

Turn cake out onto work surface. Peel off parchment. Using long serrated knife, cut cake horizontally into 3 equal layers. Place 1 cake layer, cut side up, on 8x8-inch cardboard square. Spread with 1 cup ganache. Sprinkle with half of chopped chestnuts. Top with second cake layer, cut side up. Repeat with 1 cup ganache, and remaining chopped chestnuts. Top with remaining cake layer, cut side up. Spread remaining ganache over top and sides of cake. Place cake rack on sheet of foil; place assembled cake on rack. Chill while preparing glaze.

For glaze:

Bring cream, sugar, and 1/4 cup water to boil in heavy medium saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add chocolate and whisk until melted and glaze is smooth. Let cool until thick but still pourable, about 4 hours.

Pour glaze atop cake, spreading evenly over sides. Chill until glaze sets.

Brush 12 whole chestnuts with sugar. Arrange chestnuts across top of cake. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate. Let cake stand at least 4 hours and up to 8 hours at room temperature.) Serve cake at room temperature.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ann's Cake Book Review: Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin

This is a book that I processed at the library a few months ago. I made a note of it at the time to read later in the year, so I took it home over Christmas break. Unfortunately, it took me much longer to finish it than I had intended. This was for several reasons, not the least of which was that this book was lame. Here's the basic premise: Angel runs a cake baking business from her home in Kigali, Rwanda, a few years after the genocide there. Through her business and her involvement in the community, she meets various native Rwandans, immigrants, relief workers, and officials, and listens to their stories (and dishes out advice and inserts herself into other people's lives). As a result, the book is really just a lot of little vignettes that are kind of held together by the premise of the cake business. The problem is that Angel is portrayed as always knowing what is best for everyone (this falls apart a little at the end of the book, but holds true for the majority), which makes it difficult to like her. In one particularly annoying scene, she explains to the wife of an ambassador who denies the existence of AIDS in her homeland that if all the countries surrounding that country are afflicted with AIDS, then her country must have it too. It just got really old to always hear Angel telling people what they should do in "cute" ways. For some reason, the fact that she is going through menopause is also featured prominently. The author of the book is a former relief worker in Rwanda and specifically says that she wanted to tell the stories of the people she met there, and I don't think that it's a bad desire, but this makes the book extremely self-aware and therefore doesn't give it a lot of depth. She could easily have told the same stories with better writing and more of a real plot, but everything is done in such a superficial, obvious way, with no subtlety. I know that I'm the one person who hates feel-good things, but essentially every bit of this book is meant to be "heart-warming" and "charming", and I just found it obnoxious. And there is really very little cake in the book - it doesn't delve into her cake baking much at all, and instead focuses on the cake decorating. But even that is treated in a really superficial way - it only talks about the finished product, and the reader almost never gets to see Angel in action with her cakes. If you like cute stories that are calculated to manipulate you into feeling good and hopeful about life, you may like this book, but who am I to say? There was almost no chance from the beginning that it could have won me over, and I know I'm the aberration. So instead, don't read it because you're not going to get your cake fix from this book.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

MORE of Elizabeth's Extra Cakes - Strawberry Cream Cake and Pine Nut Cake

I made lots of extra cakes in December. In fact, I was a cake-making machine that month! I even made a couple of tried-and-true cakes from earlier this year.

These two cakes were new to me, though. The first, and more complicated of the two, was Strawberry Cream Cake, from my good friends (I wish) at America's Test Kitchen. I took it to a Christmas Eve party, and it was admittedly an odd choice for that type of event, since it seems better suited for a summer picnic. But whatever! I wanted to make it before the year was done, and it was such a fab-u-lous cake that I can't imagine anyone minded.

I have loved looking at strawberry cream cakes in the past, but have not enjoyed eating them very much. They're pretty but not very flavorful. The things that made this cake different were these:
  1. A strawberry "mash" in addition to the whole strawberries. It really brought out the strawberry flavor,
  2. A flavorful cream filling (from the addition of cream cheese), and
  3. A cake sturdy enough to handle the berries and cream, but not so sturdy that it was dry.
I really do think this Strawberry Cream Cake was as good as it gets in the cream cake category. But if you like cake mixes, which get all goopy when stacked, this isn't for you. But please don't serve me yours. (Is that mean?...)

The first two layers

Here you can see the way the layers are constructed:
strawberries around the circumference, strawberry mash
in the middle, cream on top of that.

Julia wants to eat it all up!

I added a cut up strawberry to the top of the cake.

The second cake was an Italian pine nut cake from the Jamie Oliver cookbook, Jamie's Italy. I made this cake for a dinner party, and it was pretty good. It is a very dense cake and not too sweet, which is VERY Italian. In fact, in my year and a half in Italy, I saw this cake many times in bakery windows, but never ate it. This version mixes like a quick bread, but it has yeast in it. It doesn't sit out to rise or anything, so it felt very odd to mix it up quickly, pour it in a springform pan, and have that strong yeast smell come back at me. It was very dense in the end (was the yeast supposed to have done something? Did my yeast die?) and I got nervous about it. It just seemed that it might be too bland to serve as the finish to a dinner party. I whipped some cream before serving it and mixed cut up strawberries and oranges to spoon on the side of the plate. I thought it was good like that, but not spectacular. I think it would be a more appropriate cake to eat with a cup of tea on a winter day or something like that. A HAND CAKE!



Strawberry Cream Cake, by America's Test Kitchen / Cook's Illustrated Magazine

Serves 8 to 10. Published May 1, 2006.

If using a cake pan, you will need one with straight sides that are at least 2 inches high; otherwise, use a springform pan. The cake portion can be made ahead of time, wrapped in a double layer of plastic wrap, and frozen; thaw the frozen cake, unwrapped, at room temperature for about two hours before proceeding with the recipe.


1 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2
teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup sugar (7 ounces)
5 large eggs (2 whole and 3 separated), room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted and cooled slightly
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Strawberry Filling
2 pounds fresh strawberries (medium or large, about 2 quarts), washed, dried, and stemmed
4 - 6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Kirsch (I omitted this ingredient and added a bit of water instead)

Pinch table salt

Whipped Cream
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon table salt
2 cups heavy cream


  1. FOR THE CAKE: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour round 9 by 2-inch cake pan or 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and all but 3 tablespoons sugar in mixing bowl. Whisk in 2 whole eggs and 3 yolks (reserving whites), butter, water, and vanilla; whisk until smooth.

  2. In clean bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat remaining 3 egg whites at medium-low speed until frothy, 1 to 2 minutes. With machine running, gradually add remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, increase speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form, 60 to 90 seconds. Stir one-third of whites into batter to lighten; add remaining whites and gently fold into batter until no white streaks remain. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then invert cake onto greased wire rack; peel off and discard parchment. Invert cake again; cool completely, about 2 hours.

  3. FOR THE STRAWBERRY FILLING: Halve 24 of best-looking berries and reserve. Quarter remaining berries; toss with 4 to 6 tablespoons sugar (depending on sweetness of berries) in medium bowl and let sit 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Strain juices from berries and reserve (you should have about 1/2 cup). In workbowl of food processor fitted with metal blade, give macerated berries five 1-second pulses (you should have about 1 1/2 cups). In small saucepan over medium-high heat, simmer reserved juices and Kirsch until syrupy and reduced to about 3 tablespoons, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour reduced syrup over macerated berries, add pinch of salt, and toss to combine. Set aside until cake is cooled.

  4. FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM: When cake has cooled, place cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Whisk at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Reduce speed to low and add heavy cream in slow, steady stream; when almost fully combined, increase speed to medium-high and beat until mixture holds stiff peaks, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes more, scraping bowl as needed (you should have about 4 1/2 cups).

  5. TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE: Using large serrated knife, slice cake into three even layers. Place bottom layer on cardboard round or cake plate and arrange ring of 20 strawberry halves, cut sides down and stem ends facing out, around perimeter of cake layer. Pour one half of pureed berry mixture (about 3/4 cup) in center, then spread to cover any exposed cake. Gently spread about one-third of whipped cream (about 1 1/2 cups) over berry layer, leaving 1/2-inch border from edge. Place middle cake layer on top and press down gently (whipped cream layer should become flush with cake edge). Repeat with 20 additional strawberry halves, remaining berry mixture, and half of remaining whipped cream; gently press last cake layer on top. Spread remaining whipped cream over top; decorate with remaining cut strawberries. Serve, or chill for up to 4 hours.

Pine Nut Cake (La Torta Della Giovane Sara) from Jamie Oliver’s book – Jamie’s Italy

1 cup unsalted butter, melted, plus a little for the pan
3 & 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs, preferably organic

2 cups sugar
zest and juice of one lemon
1 & 1/4 ounce packet active dried yeast
3 & 1/2 ounces pine nuts

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 12 inch springform pan and line it with a disc of waxed paper. Sprinkle the waxed paper with a little bit of the flour. Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then mix the yeast with the melted butter. Add this to the eggs, with the sugar, remaining flour, and the lemon zest and juice. Mix together well and pour into the cake pan. Scatter the pinenuts over the top and bake in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes or until golden.