Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Daring Bakers Go Candy Crazy!

Greetings from Ecuador! By the time this is posted I will have been here for a week or so. I am working on a course training English teachers, and living in a very rustic setting on a Pacific Coast beach. I have heard that internet access (and electricity) can be intermittent, so I have scheduled posts for the next 6 weeks, and I'll check in as often as I can and post pictures if possible.
Update! My laptop's hard drive crashed and died the day after I arrived! Some of the posts I had scheduled, but hadn't attached the pictures yet, so I've postponed those till I get back and get a new computer. Sp now I will post about once a week, but will be back in October. Ecuador is gorgeous, by the way, and the food, especially the fruit, is amazing.
Dark chocolates with passionfruit caramel filling
This month's Daring Bakers' challenge was fantastic because it didn't require me to turn on the oven. This month's Daring Bakers' challenge was not fantastic because tempering chocolate was required. I'm sure I've whined about this before in this space, but I am not a big fan of chocolate. There's something about the texture I don't like and I'm not crazy about the flavour either, but I do like chocolate cake and other baked goods more than plain chocolate. And yes, I've had the good stuff! However, I do like a challenge, so I jumped in as soon as I had a free day. Unfortunately that free day was one where the temperature was higher than the temperature I had to bring the melted chocolate down too, causing me no end of trouble.
My sweaty chocolates after their sojourn in the freezer
First of all, I had a hard time finding a chocolate thermometer. I called a local cake decorating supply store and they assured me that they had one for the bargain price of $6.95. I drove through heavy traffic to discover that it wasn't a chocolate tempering thermometer and didn't go as low as I needed. After coming home and making a number of calls I found a store in the other direction that did have one. I got it, but it only has Fahrenheit on it, and I am hopeless with Fahrenheit. I can barely spell it, in fact. 
I chose a heavy glass bowl to melt the chocolate in, and I think this was the wrong choice for the season. It held the heat forever and meant the chocolate did not cool down. I couldn't remember the temperature range and kept running to the living room to check my laptop. Even though I am very patient, I ended up sticking it in the freezer at one point. In the end, I did get it tempered, but then I had to fill the *^*%&^ molds! I lined them with chocolate, then overfilled them with the delicious, but too thin, passionfruit caramel (more on that in my next post), meaning it was impossible to get a nice thin, even base on them. I ended up with a thick layer of chocolate on the bottom and all the chocolates joined together. I did not foresee the trouble that was to come. Can you? When I went to unmold the chocolates, the base snapped off most of them and the filling ran everywhere. Out of 26 chocolates only about 6 survived. The rest? Garbage! I went to mope on the sofa in frustration and discovered that I had obviously stepped in some melted chocolate and left chocolate footprints all over the apartment. Sigh. And I was only half finished the challenge...
Luckily for me and my floors, the next part of the challenge was a non-chocolate candy. Yay! There were so many things I wanted to try, but I picked up a basket of Coronation grapes one day, and while I was eating them and admiring their tart, concentrated flavour, I decided to make pâte de fruit with them to see if I could capture that essence in a candy. The answer is a resounding yes! Coronation grapes are the Canadian cousin to Concord grapes and they are in the markets and grocery stores in Ontario right now. They are dark purple-blue, thin skinned, tart, seedless and with a strong taste. This is the first time I have done anything with them other than eating them out of hand, as I can easily finish a basket in a day. These were perfect little bites: tart, with a great texture and the coating of sugar was a great and necessary contrast. I used this recipe. Pâte de fruit has a reputation for being tricky, but I had no troubles with this one, and in fact sat in the living room with a friend, chatting, and only occasionally stirring the boiling mixture. I am much better at that than being focused and precise!
Thanks to Lisa and Mandy for a fantastically challenging challenge! You can find the entire text of the challenge, along with photos, links and recipes here. Please check out the slideshow of the amazing creations by candy makers more daring than me! I'll miss the next Daring Bakers' challenge, but will be back for October. Cheers!

The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drive and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!. These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies! This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Apricot Jam

Do you like making jam or eating jam? Or do you like both? I love making jam, but I don't eat that much of it. This often leaves me with a surplus, unless I give all of it away. So, I tend to make jam every second year to give me time to use it all up. A friend told me recently that I don't eat it because I am 'suffering a toast shortage'. This is true. I rarely have bread in the house, but if I did, I'd eat nothing else, and cook not at all. Most of my jam ends up in yogurt, and I can eat dozens of jars of rhubarb jam this way. In fact, I hadn't planned to make any jam this year, but I saw a basket of beautiful apricots at the farmers' market a couple of weeks ago and couldn't resist. I actually don't like to eat apricots out of hand, but love them in pastries and in jam, of course. This was a very simple recipe, which made a tangy soft set jam, just the way I like it. I may not be eating it on toast, but I do see a Sachertorte in our future.
Apricot Jam
From the Williams Sonoma Book of Preserving
Makes 5-250 ml jars
3 pounds apricots
2 cups sugar
½ cup fresh lemon juice
  1. Pit apricots and slice thinly. Combine with sugar in a large pot and allow to macerate at room temperature for at least 4 hours. You can also refrigerate them overnight.
  2. Add lemon juice and bring to a boil, and cook for about 25 minutes, until thickened. Remember that the jam will be firmer when cool, so don't overcook.
  3. Ladle into hot, sterilized jars, cap, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Any jars that do not seal can be kept in the fridge.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Daring Cooks cooked with me!

Last year, when Lis asked me if I would host a Daring Cooks' challenge, I had a moment of panic. I had no idea what to choose. I said 'yes' of course, then tried to narrow down the options. There were 3 challenges I had in mind, from 3 different continents. I think I chose the most 'daring' one, as I knew the appams would be unfamiliar to most of the members. I also didn't want to choose something that was too familiar, nor something that needed hours on the stove in the hot weather, eliminating my other 2 choices. Now, you may be wondering what appams are at this point. They are a stove-top flatbread made of rice and coconut milk and yeast and salt. That's it. That's all it takes to make a bread that is both thick and spongy and thin and crisp. They are simple and delicious and naturally gluten-free and vegan. The only thing you need is time to ferment the batter. Oh, and some delicious saucy dishes to accompany them! I made about a dozen dishes to prepare for this challenge, but only included some of the recipes and linked to others. By default, I called the accompaniments 'curry', but I think this may have been a turn-off to some Daring Kitchen members. It seemed that lots of people a) don't like 'curry' and b) think of it as a winter dish. What a shame, when there are so many different types and so many fresh flavours to explore!
Let me just show you in pictures what I made, then you can link to the (giant) challenge PDF for full recipes and links.
Cooking the batter in an appachati
In preparing for this challenge, I tried about 6 recipes for appams, using rice, rice flour, cream of wheat, a packaged mix, coconut meat, coconut milk and I don't know how many other variations. In the end, I decided on this recipe from Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen. It was the most reliable and used rice, cooked rice and coconut milk, all easily obtainable ingredients. Thank you Aparna!
You can even make them flower-shaped
To accompany the appams, I made a variety of dishes, some hot, some cold, with meat, fish, and vegetables. Here are some photos. You can find all the recipes in the pdf.
Carrots with Tropical Flavours
Baked Goan Fish with Fresh Green Chile Chutney
Eggplant Curry (see link)
Sri Lankan Beef Curry
Shrimp in Coconut Milk
Thanks so much to Lis and Ivonne and The Daring Kitchen for allowing me to host a challenge! A huge thank you also to those who participated and made some amazing-looking dishes. Be sure to check out the homepage for a slideshow of them. You can find many more photos and all the recipes and techniques here. Hmm, guess I need to include these blog-checking lines:

Blog-checking lines: Mary, who writes the delicious blog, Mary Mary Culinary was our August Daring Cooks’ host. Mary chose to show us how delicious South Indian cuisine is! She challenged us to make Appam and another South Indian/Sri Lankan dish to go with the warm flat bread.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Berry Galette

Do you have a dessert that you make regularly? Or do you flit from one recipe to the next? I do a bit of both but more often I make something for a while, then completely forget about it. This galette is a good example of that. I've been making it since Baking with Julia was published in 1996, but these days I am always trying something new and it got pushed aside. What a shame, as this is a beautiful dough to work with, even if you are not fond of making and rolling out pastry. It comes together quickly in the food processor and stays soft enough to roll easily, even right out of the fridge. Fill it with any sort of berries you like (except strawberries--too watery), stone fruit or even pineapple chunks. 
Galette Dough
From Baking with Julia, contributing baker Flo Braker
Makes 2 large or 8 small

3 tablespoons yogurt/buttermilk/sour cream
about ⅓ cup ice water
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 to 8 pieces
  1. Stir the yogurt and ice water together and set aside. Put the flour, cornmeal sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse 8 to 10 times, or until the mixture is speckled with butter pieces. With the machine running, add the yogurt mixture and process just until the dough forms soft, moist curds.
  2. Divide the dough into 2 or 6 pieces and press each into a disc. Wrap and chill for at least 2 hours. It can also be frozen and thawed in the fridge.
Berry Galette

½ recipe galette dough

1½ cups mixed fresh berries (I used raspberries, blackberries and blueberries)
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter (I usually omit this, preferring to serve it with scads of whipped cream)
  1. Preheat oven to 400℉/200℃. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about ¹⁄₈"/0.3cm thick. The dough is soft and easy to roll, but lift and turn it and add more flour if necessary so that it doesn't stick. Transfer to the parchment lined baking sheet.
  3. Place the berries on top and sprinkle with the 1 tablespoon sugar. Fold the uncovered border of dough up over the edge of the berries, allowing it to pleat. Dip a pastry brush in water and coat the edge lightly, then sprinkle with sugar (I used a mixture of coarse decorating sugar and chopped pistachios).
  4. Bake the large galette for 35-40 minutes, and the smaller ones for about 25 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and crisp and the berry juices are starting to run. Place the baking sheet on a cooling rack and cool for about 10 minutes before sliding it off the parchment to continue cooling.
  5. Serve warm or at room temperature. This is best the day it is made.
See you on the 14th for my Daring Cooks' Challenge reveal! 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Strawberry Mirror Cake for Poppy

I'm back! Sort of. Well, not really. Hmmm. Not sure. I've been back from Toronto for about 5 days and have spent most of that time hanging out with my niece and nephew. Fun! Except when you are looking after a 3-year-old with some sort of nasty stomach bug and you catch it by the end of the day. What a sorry pair we were by the time his mom got home.
So, I'm not in Montreal, as that was cancelled very last minute. I'm still planning to go for a long weekend, though, as we have tickets to the tennis final (Go Nadal!). With my intermittent internet access I've been trying to sort out another short contract for the end of August and had to spend yesterday getting my passport renewed (oh, the photos are awful--why won't they let you smile?) and shopping for tickets. I do enjoy the search for contracts and plane tickets, though I'm glad I don't have to do it nearly every month, like I did for a few years.
Anyway, that's my excuse for not posting much recently, and for not visiting any of you dear readers. Are there any of you left? More apologies, for the poor photos: I took these at my mother's where the light is either blindingly bright or non-existent. I haven't even got a recent recipe for you--I made this cake in June, when strawberries were at their finest. It's 2 layers of sponge with a kirsch syrup surrounded by strawberry mousse and topped with a fresh strawberry mirror. It was fairly easy, as the components were all quite simple and there was lots of refrigeration time in between. We loved it. And who is Poppy, you may be wondering? She's my niece, who turned one in early July.