Friday, July 27, 2012

The Daring Bakers go Crackers!

A very short and sweet post this month, but I am supposed to start packing for the plane that leaves in 12 hours to take me home. I am/was away in gorgeous Halifax, so I only got one cracker made instead of 2, but it was delicious. I made a twice baked whole wheat cracker with figs, pecans, rosemary and pumpkin seeds. I sort of followed this link, but used different fruit and flour. That's what I call following a recipe. They were delicious with blue cheese and I'll be making more as soon as it's cool enough to turn the oven on again.
The colourful buildings of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia
Thanks Dana for a great challenge!
Blog-checking lines: Our July 2012 Daring Bakers’ Host was Dana McFarland and she challenged us to make homemade crackers! Dana showed us some techniques for making crackers and encouraged to use our creativity to make each cracker our own by using ingredients we love.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Battenberg Cake for the Jubilee!

This month's Daring Baker challenge was a lot of fun. We made the kind of cake you imagined eating as a little girl at a tea party with your stuffed animals and tea set. It is a very British cake, fitting for one made during the Queen's Jubilee celebrations. Here in Canada, there was plenty of coverage of the Jubilee but we didn't talk about it in school. However in the small town where my mother and brother live, I found a small Jubilee flag in the school playground. It seems that all the kids were given them. I wonder if they all watched on TV and waved their little flags? I have no idea, so let's talk cake.

The traditional Battenberg has 2 colours and 4 squares, but I decided to make a 9-square cake. I sort of followed the challenge recipe, but was out of almonds, a major ingredient, the day I decided to make this. So, I used freshly grated coconut (I often have a coconut on hand) in the vanilla and chocolate layers and pistachio in the green layer. I didn't use food colouring, but got a nice green because I am very particular about blanching and peeling pistachios so the reddish skins don't discolour anything. It takes forever, but it's a good task when you are listening to the radio or watching TV. I had a small package of marzipan from Ikea, so used that to cover the cake, but I had to roll it quite thin and it was hot and humid so that was a bit tricky. Don't buy marzipan from Ikea--it's cheap but has absolutely no flavour. I kneaded in some almond extract, but that made it even stickier. The cake kept well, but the marzipan all stuck to the plate the next day.
I baked the cake in a small sheet pan and it was just dumb luck that I got nice squares by dividing each colour into thirds. I really enjoyed all the measuring and trimming and assembling of this cake. I am usually quite slapdash in the kitchen so a bit of precision does me good every once in a while. Which reminds me that I ran out of homemade apricot jam halfway through assembly and had to finish up with homemade orange marmalade. Thanks to Mandy of What the Fruitcake?! for a fantastic challenge, apparently put together quite last minute! Don't you love that blog name? Check out all the wonderful Battenberg cakes at The Daring Kitchen and read the challenge PDF for the recipes and the history of the cake and its name.

Blog-checking lines:
Mandy of What The Fruitcake?! came to our rescue last minute to present us with the Battenberg Cake challenge! She highlighted Mary Berry’s techniques and recipes to allow us to create this unique little cake with ease.

Oops--looking at The Daring Kitchen homepage, I realized I had forgotten to post my from-scratch cannelloni 2 weeks ago. I did make it! A triple recipe, in fact, which was just the thing for a stiflingly hot day (I sweat remembering it). Here's a photo:
Left: meat filling Right: spinach and ricotta. Both with tomato sauce and pesto bechamel. Mmm.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Banana Chiffon Cake

If you're anything like me, you buy bunches of bananas only to see them all ripen at the same second, so you miss your perfect banana-eating window of opportunity, whatever it is. For me, that window is tiny and complicated by the fact that I only like bananas on cereal or in a peanut butter and banana sandwich. I never eat them on their own. Oh, and I rarely have bread or cereal in the house. So why do I keep buying bananas, you may wonder? To bake with, of course. I think we can all get tired of banana bread, though, no matter how tasty it is. This chiffon cake has all the flavour of banana bread, but is light and airy. It's not as light as a plain sponge cake, but it absolutely melts in your mouth. And it's pretty easy, for something so huge and impressive looking, if I do say so myself.

I made one at Christmas which I frosted with a thin layer of bittersweet ganache, but cream cheese frosting is my favourite here. Use your standard recipe, but lighten it up by beating in milk until it has a consistency more like whipped cream than dense frosting. I'd give you more precise instructions, but I made this months ago. In February, actually. That's my excuse for the rather grim light in the photos. I do have the cake recipe for you, at least!

Banana Chiffon Cake
Source: My mother's kitchen Bible 1960s Purity Flour cookbook

2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable oil (I used grapeseed)
5 egg yolks
1 cup mashed banana
1 teaspoon lemon zest
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup egg whites, at room temperature
½ teaspoon cream of tartar

Your favourite cream cheese frosting, lightened with milk to a soft consistency (or chocolate ganache)
Pistachios to garnish

  1. Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl. Make a well in dry ingredients and add oil, egg yolks, banana, lemon zest, nutmeg, water and vanilla and beat until smooth.
  2. Beat egg whites until frothy. Add cream of tartar and beat until stiff peaks form.
  3. Gradually fold the batter into the egg whites. Turn into an ungreased tube pan and use a knife to cut through any large air bubbles. Bake for 1 to 1¼ hours, until a tester comes out clean. Invert to cool completely. 
  4. Run a thin knife around the pan edge and tube to loosen the cake. Invert onto a serving platter and frost generously. Garnish with pistachios if desired.
Oh, and guess what? I bought a bunch of bananas the other day...

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Daring Bakers Make Challah

Ruth of The Crafts of Mommyhood gave us a great challenge this month. I love challah and braided bread so I had a lot of fun with this, even if I did leave it till the last minute. Since the pulla I made was quite similar to challah, I decided to do a couple of new things with the dough, with varying levels of success. First, the good:
I made a braided round loaf using Ruth's very helpful video. It is a 4-strand braid and is a technique I'll use again and again. Here's what it looked like after I baked it. No pictures of it sliced, as I gave this one away, but I haven't heard any complaints yet. 
Next, I decided to do a filled loaf. There had been lots of beautiful ones on the forum, but none of them had rhubarb. Did I tell you that my nephew and I picked 10 pounds of rhubarb at my mother's? And that there's at least that much more for next weekend? Heaven! Here's the Bjorn Borg of rhubarb himself:
So, what to put with the rhubarb? I decided on pistachio paste, since there had been a can of it lurking in the cupboard for a while. Good idea, but I put way too much of the pistachio paste and roasted rhubarb, because I'm greedy. 

It was impossible to seal the cylinders and even harder to braid them. Oh, and I had six strands to work with! The unrisen braid was leaking rhubarb syrup and by the time it had risen it had popped open in a few places. It wasn't very pretty, but it was delicious. I may try this combination again and exercise a bit of restraint. Or not.

Thanks Ruth! That was fun! You can find all the challenge recipes here
Blog-checking lines: May’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge was pretty twisted – Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to make challah! Using recipes from all over, and tips from “A Taste of Challah,” by Tamar Ansh, she encouraged us to bake beautifully braided breads.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Daring Bakers Visit Armenia

We were challenged to make one or two desserts this month, and I made both, as they sounded so good. I was not familiar with Armenian baking, so I was eager to see what was in store. The first dessert was a simple cake with a crumb base, flavoured with nutmeg and sprinkled with walnuts. I went with cardamom and pistachios instead.
As you can see, the pistachios migrated a long way from the top of the cake. The batter was very liquid and I watched all the nuts get sucked into a vortex in the centre of the cake and disappear. Remember that I haven't got TV reception. The flavour and texture of the cake were good, but it reinforced why I do not like crumb cakes. The base was too rich and sweet and greasy and I ended up cutting it off. I made a second version of this cake, halving the sugar, doubling the egg and mixing all the crumbs with the egg and milk and much preferred the result. The batter was thick, the nuts stayed where they were supposed to, and it baked in the suggested time, unlike the crumb cake, which took much longer for many Daring Bakers. No photo of that one, sorry.
The second dessert was totally unfamiliar: nazook. A rich, but unsweetened butter and sour cream yeasted pastry wrapped around a rich and buttery filling. I made mine small, so they were crisp but tender. I used mahleb (or mahlab), a spice made from dried cherry pits to flavour the pastry and I used the given recipe for a vanilla filling. The mahleb gave a faint cherry-almond taste. These were delicious with coffee or tea, but again I would reduce the sugar next time. The pastry was amazing though, and so nice to work with. I didn't want to stop kneading it, even though I hate touching sour cream. That stuff is nasty, even if it does do wonders in baking.

Thanks to Jason of Daily Candor for a great challenge! You can find the full challenge post here, with step-by-step photos and a great video of Jason and his aunt Aida making nazook.

Blog-checking lines: The Daring Bakers’ April 2012 challenge, hosted by Jason at Daily Candor, were two Armenian standards: nazook and nutmeg cake. Nazook is a layered yeasted dough pastry with a sweet filling, and nutmeg cake is a fragrant, nutty coffee-style cake.