Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Daring Bakers make meringue filled coffee cake

I haven't got a lot of time today, but I wanted to share these pictures with you. When I first looked at the challenge, I wasn't so sure about it. I love making yeast breads, but the idea of putting a meringue inside one wasn't all that appealing. So, I went on to bake other things, and only remembered about the challenge with a week to go. One of my friends reminded me. Friends and family take a very healthy interest in these challenges!
Apricot in the front, lemon at back. 
Last Sunday morning I made the dough, and it was as silky and easy to work with as promised. I made a half recipe and divided into two small loaves. For fillings, I made one with the meringue and lemon curd and roasted almonds. Rolling this mixture up was a bit like trying to change a squirming baby. There were slips and leaks galore. The second one I filled with apricot leather from Syria, called amardeen. It's tart and tangy, but not very flexible, so rolling the dough around this and the meringue, chopped bittersweet almonds, whole cardamom seeds and more roasted almonds was another challenge.
The lemon curd coffee cake, before I attempted to roll it
In the end, both loaves were tasty, but the apricot one was the clear favourite. The amardeen softened up to a firm, jelly-like texture which, combined with the dark chocolate, crunchy almonds and surprise bits of cardamom was perfect in every way. It didn't rise as much as the lemon one, I think because the amardeen did not stretch or give, but it didn't matter one bit. The lemon one was good, and stayed moist for at least 4 days, but the nuts softened up and it just wasn't as interesting as the other one.
amardeen, cut (with scissors) to 1"/2.5cm smaller than the rolled out dough
chopped bittersweet chocolate and chopped toasted almonds, enough to generously cover the meringue
cardamom seeds from 2 pods (use 4 if making a full recipe)
The amardeen, before adding more meringue, chocolate and nuts.
Spread dough with a thin layer of meringue and centre amardeen on it. Cover with remaining meringue and sprinkle nuts, chocolate and cardamom over. Roll, making sure you are holding one edge of the amardeen, as it is reluctant to roll. Seal bottom and lay on parchment lined baking sheet. Slash every inch or so, using a very sharp knife and making sure you cut the amardeen as well as the dough. Let rise and bake as directed. See challenge PDF here for recipe.
Thanks very much to Ria and Jamie for a great challenge. I'll be making this again and I have more filling ideas. I always have ideas, and just need to work on finding time and more hungry mouths to feed!

Blog-checking lines: The March 2011 Daring Baker’s Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria’s Collection and Jamie of Life’s a Feast. Ria and Jamie challenged The Daring Bakers to bake a yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Custard tarts

I have always wanted to make custard tarts, and even have a number of recipes bookmarked, dog-eared, photocopied and handwritten(!). Like many things I want to make, it was on a list and had to wait its* turn. This list does not exist on paper, but rather in my head, where items on it come and go, depending on the whims of my memory and what I'm craving at the moment. 

The reason this recipe vaulted to the top of the list is that I signed up to test it for Food52's contest on late winter tarts. The recipe is by a member called checker, and you really should read the original post here, as the instructions are much funnier than mine. I really enjoy testing the recipes, but I always worry about giving feedback on them. What if I don't like it? I don't want anyone to think I'm a big meanie. For that reason, I only choose recipes I am confident I'll love, and this one fit that category nicely. The other difficult thing about testing recipes is making them as written. I find this a very difficult task, which is why I only test a recipe a month. Of course, next time I make this I'll make some changes, but minor ones. I'll eliminate the cinnamon and citrus peels. That's it. That's not a big change, is it? Then, for me, they'll be perfect: custardy but not too rich, and with a very flaky pastry. 

Rough puff pastry
makes more than enough for 12 tarts
Source: Gordon Ramsay via BBC Good Food
250g all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
250g butter, at room temperature, but not soft (I used chilled)
about 150ml cold water
  1. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Roughly break the butter in small chunks, add them to the bowl and rub them in loosely. You need to see bits of butter.
  2. Make a well in the bowl and pour in about two-thirds of the cold water, mixing until you have a firm rough dough adding extra water if needed. Wrap in plastic and leave to rest for 20 mins in the fridge.
  3. Turn out onto a lightly floured board, knead gently and form into a smooth rectangle. Roll the dough in one direction only, until 3 times the width, about 20 x 50cm. Keep edges straight and even. Don't overwork the butter streaks; you should have a marbled effect.
  4. Fold the top third down to the centre, then the bottom third up and over that. Give the dough a quarter turn (to the left or right) and roll out again to three times the length. Fold as before, cover with cling film and chill for at least 20 mins before rolling to use.
  5. For the tarts, roll it to a 1/4" thick rectangle, then roll the pastry up tightly, starting on a short side. It should look like a spiral from the end. Wrap and refrigerate.
I gave mine an extra turn, just for kicks.

Source: checker, a Food52 member. Here is the original text of the recipe.
4 extra-large egg yolks (I used 6 large yolks)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 3/4 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons turbinado sugar (I doubled this)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 1" piece lemon peel
1 1" piece orange peel
cinnamon for dusting
icing sugar for dusting
  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together yolks, cream, milk, sugar, flour and salt. Add the citrus peels and cinnamon and cook over medium-low heat, whisking or stirring constantly until it is thickened and just beginning to boil. Checker recommends leaving peels and cinnamon in, but I found the flavour strong, so I strained them out at this point.
  2. Remove from heat and transfer to a heatproof bowl. Cover surface of custard with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.
  3. Preheat oven to 400℉/200℃. Have ready a 12-cup muffin tray.
  4. Remove pastry from fridge and make 12 1/4" slices. Now, the original recipe has you flatten and stretch these by hand to form a cup, but I just bashed them in my tortilla press, between pieces of lightly floured waxed paper, then finished stretching them to fill the muffin cups. The tortilla press kept them nice and round. If you haven't got one, we can't be friends. I mean, take one circle of dough, rest it on your fingertips and use your thumbs to press the centre, while rotating it, until you have a circle big enough to fit in your muffin tin. It's easy, but tricky to explain. I'll try to get a photo next time. Transfer to tin, and refrigerate for a few minutes if the pastry seems warm or greasy at all.
  5. Fill each pastry case with custard to within ½" of the top. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until custard is set and pastry is golden. Cool on a rack, dust with cinnamon and icing sugar and serve. 
There should be a photo of one with a bite out of it right about here, but it was impossible to stop after just one bite. Maybe next time....

*It's not "it's", it's "its" for possession/belonging/attributes. I'll rant more about that another day.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sheridan's Black and White chocolate pudding for St Patrick's Day

Do we really need a dessert for St Patrick's Day? No, Guinness is not a dessert. Anyway, last year I made some coffee gelee and topped it with cream in a tiny beer glass. This year, I had lots of ideas, but no time. So, I decided on a rich chocolate pudding. It was made in about 10 minutes flat. Now, I am not a huge fan of chocolate pudding, and much prefer custard, but I thought I'd give it another try. I had tried a vanilla pudding a few months ago and found it too starchy, but hoped the chocolate and booze would fix that. I adapted the recipe from this one, where hundreds of commenters raved about it. I read a lot of the comments and they fell into a few categories: those that loved it; those that couldn't get the pudding to thicken; and the disturbing ones. They made weird substitutions like Cool Whip for milk, breast milk, artificial sweeteners, or they had really odd ideas about food chemistry. I don't know why I torture myself by reading comments, but sometimes it's like a car crash and you just can't look away. At least I can't: I'm nosy.

I added some Dutch-process cocoa and used 72% chocolate here. I was glad I was adding the liqueur at the end, as was very thick, even while hot. If you're skipping the alcohol, reduce the cornstarch a bit, or replace it with another liquid to get a wonderful, silky soft pudding. Have you ever tried Sheridan's? It comes in two colours that are separate, but in a fused glass bottle. The black is whiskey-coffee and the white is creamy vanilla. When you pour it, you get a layered drink. And it tastes much better than Bailey's, I think. I put the black in the pudding and the white in the cream top. Hmmm, in looking for photos of Sheridan's, I see that it is hard to find in the USA. Feel free to replace with whiskey and Bailey's.

Sheridan's Liquor
Source: Tipsy Gifts

Black and White chocolate pudding
Makes 4-6 servings
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
large pinch salt
2 tablespoons darkest Dutch-process cocoa
3 cups whole milk
6 ounces dark chocolate, melted (I used 72%)
4-6 tablespoons Sheridan's black liqueur
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons Sheridan's white liqueur

Black: Whisk dry ingredients together in a medium saucepan and then slowly whisk in milk until smooth. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until pudding just comes to a boil. Whisk for one minute. Remove from heat and whisk in melted chocolate and liqueur. Strain through a sieve and divide amongst serving dishes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
White: Whisk cream and liqueur together until soft peaks form. Serve puddings with a dollop of cream.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Maple butter tarts

I missed making pancakes on Tuesday as I do every year, but I've got all your my favourite pancake toppings in a tart shell. Butter tarts are a Canadian staple, or at least an Ontario one. They are available in every convenience store, grocery store and bakery. The best are homemade, of course, and everyone loves the ones they are used to. The ones I like best are from a great little sandwich shop in Toronto. The only problem is that they are huge! I made mine a bit daintier so you can have 2.
Butter tart recipes usually call for corn syrup, but I'm not a fan, so I replaced it with maple syrup. The result was gooey but not runny tarts. Golden syrup would be another great substitute for corn syrup. Most butter tarts have raisins in them, but there was no chance of that happening over here. I love them plain, and also with nuts or wild blueberries. I made all kinds for you. Well, for me, but you know what I mean. So what do butter tarts taste like? Deliciously sweet, and a bit like pecan pie without the pecans.
This is my kind of research
Another great thing about butter tarts is that they are very easy to make. You use a homemade flaky pastry and the filling can be made in single bowl with a wooden spoon. You can even use pre-made tartlet shells. Just don't tell me if you do. 
The wild blueberry version
Yup, they're good

Makes 12--2.5" tarts

Butter pastry:
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
½ teaspoons salt
3-7 tablespoons ice water
  1. Combine flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse until the largest pieces are the size of peas and some pieces are tiny.
  2. Add 3 tablespoons of water and pulse again. Squeeze a handful of the crumbs together to see if it holds. If not, add the water in small increments. You do not want the dough to come together in a ball in the processor. Once the dough holds together without too much effort, flatten it into a disc and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for a few hours.
  3. Let dough sit at room temperature for a few minutes, then roll on a lightly floured surface to ¹⁄₈" thickness. Cut circles using a 4.5" round cutter. Place in standard (½) cup muffin tin. Chill for 30 minutes.
Maple butter filling:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
½ cup brown sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
½ cup maple syrup (medium/amber), at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons lemon juice
¼ cup small wild blueberries, nuts, raisins (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 400℉ and place a rack in lower third of oven. Cream butter and brown sugar and add egg. Mix well, then add syrup, vanilla, salt and lemon juice and combine.
  2. If you are using any nuts, raisins or berries, add a few to each pastry shell. You only want enough to barely cover the bottom of the shell. Add syrup mixture, filling only ¾ full. Don't be tempted to fill them to the top, as they'll bubble over and you'll never get them out of the pan.
  3. Bake for 13-15 minutes, until filling is bubbly and puffy and pastry is golden. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then run a knife around each tart and carefully remove. You must remove them when they are warm, or else they will weld themselves to the pan. Cool and enjoy slightly warm or at room temperature.
Macadamia nuts are amazing in these

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Corniest corn muffins

I love the sunny yellow colour of cornmeal, but I find it ... gritty. I want to like it, so I buy nice stone-ground, organic cornmeal and keep it in my freezer, I save cornmeal recipes, and every once in a while I bake something with it. I never love what I make, but I never hate it either. Then I wait a few months and try again. I like cornmeal best when it has softened up a bit, like in polenta. I love polenta. These muffins? Not so much. They just didn't work for me. I found them quite sweet, so I didn't want to eat them with anything savoury. I thought about putting jam on them, but there were corn kernels and black pepper so that did not appeal. What to do? The usual--I put them in the freezer and have been eating them plain on the mornings when I haven't got time to make a proper breakfast. They're not bad, but it'll be a few months before I bake with cornmeal again. Thanks to Jill of My Next Life for choosing this recipe--she'll have it posted on her site. See all the corn muffins over at Tuesdays with Dorie. Oh, and if you've got a surefire cornmeal recipe, send it my way, please!