Thursday, May 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Pièce Montée (Croquembouche)

I was so excited when this challenge was revealed: cream puffs were a favourite childhood treat for my brother and I. No trip to Cantor's Bakery was complete without a giant cream puff. I have made them and éclairs, and even a Gâteau St-Honoré, but I had never assembled a croquembouche. It was tempting to jump in right away, as I had all the ingredients on hand, but I decided to wait and make it for my birthday. Of course, this also meant I could procrastinate a bit, which is always appreciated. 
One of the best things about this dessert is that it doesn't include chocolate! I decided to fill the puffs with vanilla pastry cream and passion fruit curd. For the glue, I used caramel. I wanted to make some spun sugar, but the day was a bit grey and drizzly, so I skipped it, though my first batch of caramel did spontaneously turn into spun sugar. I didn't have time at that point, as I didn't want to be late for my own brunch.
The pâte à choux was really easy to work with, and I got 35 puffs from the recipe given. I used about 30 to make the croquembouche, as that's all I could fill using the 2 batches of filling I made. I used the challenge recipe for the vanilla pastry cream, and the recipe for the passion fruit curd comes from Heavenly Cakes, by Rose Levy Berenbaum. The vanilla pastry cream was the perfect texture, but the passion fruit curd was runny, which made for some messy eating. You can find the recipe for this, as well as the rest of the challenge recipes at the end of the post.
I dipped the filled puffs in the molten caramel by hand, burning myself a number of times. Only one blister, though, which is not too bad, considering I dipped them top and bottom. It was quite easy to build the structure, as the caramel was like super glue. The croquembouche sat for a few hours while we ate our brunch, and the caramel got a bit too chewy in the humidity, but it was still delicious. I'll definitely be making this one again! Check out our host Cat's site here, and see the slideshow of creations from the Daring Bakers here.

Blog-checking lines: The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.

Recipes after the jump!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rhubarb, 3 ways

I think I'm finished with the rhubarb for this year. I picked some yesterday, but gave it all away. I know that I should spread these recipes out, but I'm really too lazy to make 3 separate blog posts, so here they are. Not sure how much baking I'll be doing this week, as it's in the 30s here already, which is unseasonably warm.

First up is a recipe from Baking with Julia. It's called Hungarian shortbread, but isn't shortbread-like at all. It's more like a cake with a layer of rhubarb jam in the middle. This is made by freezing and then grating the shortbread mixture, for a light and tender cake. I make half the recipe below in a 9" square pan, but use the full amount of rhubarb filling. You could use any jam here if you don't love rhubarb. If you don't love rhubarb you're probably not reading any longer...

Hungarian Shortbread, from Baking with Julia, written by Dorie Greenspan. Contributing baker: Gale Gand.

Rhubarb Jam
1 pound rhubarb, cut in 1" lengths
½ cup sugar
½ cup water ( I use less)
½ vanilla bean, split

Combine jam ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the rhubarb turns to mush. Cool to room temperature, or chill if making in advance. This will keep for a week in the fridge, covered.

4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 pound butter at room temperature
4 large egg yolks
2 cups granulated sugar

Whisk the dry ingredients together and set aside.
Beat the butter on high speed until pale and fluffy, and add the sugar. Beat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is light. Beat in the egg yolks. Reduce the mixer speed and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated.
Divide the dough in half and form it into 2 balls. Wrap each in plastic and freeze for half an hour, or until firm. You can also keep this dough in the freezer and thaw it overnight in the refrigerator.
Assembling and baking
Preheat oven to 350℉. Remove one ball of dough from the freezer and grate it on a box grater, using the largest holes, directly into a 9"x12"pan (or 9"x 13"). If you only made half a recipe, use an 8"x8", or 9"x9" pan. Pat the dough gently to get it into the corners, but don't press it down too much. Spread the jam overtop, and grate the remaining dough over the top, spreading evenly.
Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Mine always seems to take 50 minutes or so, even in a small pan, so be sure to check that it's firm in the centre before taking it out.

Dust with icing sugar as soon as you remove it from the oven, and cool it on a wire rack. Cut into squares when cool. You'll probably need to add more icing sugar.
These keep for a couple of days, but are best on the day you make them. They can also be frozen once baked.

Next is rhubarb soda, which is easy and refreshing.
Combine 5 cups thinly sliced rhubarb, 5 cups water and a scant 3 cups sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 5-10 minutes, or until the rhubarb dissolves. Strain and cool. Use this pink concentrate to make a soda by diluting with sparkling water. Some booze would not be out of place here...

I seem to be making lots of things with egg yolks recently, so am left with a glut of egg whites. I decided to make a pavlova-type meringue and top it with rhubarb fool. This was delicious, but as you can see in the pictures, melted fast. I only made 2, but you can easily scale the recipe up.

1 egg white
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon vinegar
a bit of vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300℉ and line a baking sheet with parchment. Beat egg whites to soft peaks, then beat in sugar gradually, until they hold firm peaks. Quickly beat in cornstarch, vinegar and vanilla. Form meringue into 2 mounds on baking sheet, making a dip in the centre to hold the filling. Place in oven and immediately reduce temperature to 250℉. Bake for 1 hour, until crisp but not browned. Turn oven off and cool in over with door propped open.

For the filling, I used the leftover rhubarb I had roasted at 375℉ with a few tablespoons of sugar, along with some of its syrup. I combined the rhubarb with about ¼ cup of cream, whipped, and an equal amount of Greek yogurt, some icing sugar and some of that pink syrup. This mess I piled into the cooled meringue shell. It was perfect--crisp and chewy, creamy, sweet and tart too.

I crumbled the second meringue and mixed it with the cream filling to make a kind of Eton mess--it was pretty good too!

There's another pound or so of rhubarb in the fridge, but I'll spare you for now! See you on Thursday with the Daring Bakers' reveal, which was one of my birthday cakes this year.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Rhuberry raspbarb crumble

Did you know that buckwheat and rhubarb are related? Not sure where I learned that, but when I saw this crumble using buckwheat and almonds I knew it would have to wait till rhubarb season. It was worth it!
Since I am down to the green rhubarb I added a handful of raspberries to the filling for their gorgeous colour. This is a super simple recipe, and it was so delicious--very tart fruit with a sweet topping. I bet it would be lovely with cream or ice cream, but I enjoyed it all by itself. The topping is more sandy than crisp, so I may add a handful of oats next time, or just squeeze it together so it's chunkier.
Here's my take on the recipe linked above, from Cannelle et Vanille:

Preheat oven to 350℉/180℃. Line a baking sheet with parchment, unless you like cleaning up boiled-over fruit goo. 

220 grams rhubarb, sliced or diced
80 grams raspberries (I used frozen)
1 teaspoon vanilla or extrait antillais (vanilla, tonka bean, sapote, mace)
50 grams sugar
10 grams cornstarch

Mix together and divide amongst small ramekins. I got 3 using these amounts. Remember that the rhubarb will slump dramatically, so fill them to near the top.

Combine in a food processor

50 grams buckwheat flour
50 grams almond flour (I used sliced almonds and saved some to sprinkle on top)
50 grams sugar
a pinch of salt

Add 50 grams of cold, unsalted butter, cut in cubes, and process until crumbs form, but it should not come together!

Sprinkle over the fruit and bake for 30 minutes, or until fruit just starts to bubble over. Let cool for at least 10 seconds before devouring.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

TWD: Rhubarb-rhubarb bread pudding

I have been on a bit of a rhubarb bender lately. Luckily, it doesn't cause a hangover, but I'm not sure the enamel on my teeth can stand up to much more. Is it just me, or does rhubarb make your teeth feel weird too? Anyway, enough about my teeth, let's talk about bread pudding, which doesn't require teeth. The original recipe, chosen by Elizabeth of Cake or Death? and posted on her site, calls for caramelized apples and apple butter, but I still had about 4 pounds of rhubarb in the fridge, so that's what I used.

I roasted some stalks of rhubarb and a vanilla been, all sprinkled with sugar in a 375℉ oven for 15 minutes or so. This resulted in tender but not falling apart rhubarb and a beautiful pink syrup speckled with vanilla seeds. I used this rhubarb in between the layers of bread in the pudding. To replace the apple butter, I cooked some sliced rhubarb with sugar, cardamom pods, a vanilla bean and a bit of water until it fell apart. I then reduced it until it was very thick and spreadable. I spread this on the bread and it was delicious--you could really taste the cardamom.

I only made 2 ramekins of the bread pudding, as it's not one of my favourite desserts, but I regretted this as soon as I tasted it. It may look a bit schlumpy and unappealing, but this was fantastic! Rhubarb and custard are a perfect match, and mine was really custardy. Here's a photo I snapped as I was eating the second one, minutes after finishing the first. Yes, it's a bit blurry, but I wanted to eat it before it cooled off. Notice I didn't bother with the sauce and roasted rhubarb garnish the second time around.
I had some of the custard mixture as well as some of the bread left over the next morning, so I made some very decadent French toast. I gave the rhubarb a rest and went for good old Canadian maple syrup. Mmmmm...

I have also made rhubarb soda, rhubarb tarts and rhubarb fool/pavlova with my mountain of rhubarb, but the pictures are stuck on a camera that stubbornly refuses to turn on. I'll post those, and the other rhubarb desserts I have in mind when I can figure out how to get the pictures.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Daring Cooks' May Challenge: Enchiladas!

This was my first Daring Cooks' challenge, and I was excited to find out that the recipe included tomatillos, one of my favourite ingredients. This recipe was definitely more Tex than Mex, but it was really good. I used poblano and serrano chiles, chicken, and lots of tomatillos and cheese. I also made corn tortillas, but I used the corn masa made for tamales rather than the finer grind made for tortillas. I thought the tortillas turned out well, so I'll continue with the tamale masa. The hosts this month, Barbara and Bunnee, were so fantastic, with their prompt replies and encouragement to all who participated. I was hoping to make more than one variety, but time got away from me. Obviously I will have to plan more carefully if I am going to make one savoury dish every month! Those of you who know me know that planning is not my strong point, though I did make these a couple of weeks ago. Only got one picture though--the leftovers didn't look so great. I'll definitely be making them again. Check out the Daring Cooks for many takes on this challenge.

Blog-checking lines: Our hosts this month, Barbara of Barbara Bakes and Bunnee of Anna+Foodhave chosen a delicious Stacked Green Chile & Grilled Chicken Enchilada recipe in celebration of Cinco de Mayo! The recipe, featuring a homemade enchilada sauce was found and written by Robb Walsh.

Monday, May 10, 2010

TWD: Quick classic berry tart

Fruit tarts like these often look better than they taste. You know the ones I mean, with the rock-hard crust, the flabby filling, and the fruit covered with a thick layer of gloopy glaze. I can assure you that these were nothing like that: the crust was crisp, but not too hard, the filling was smooth and creamy, and the fruit was fresh without a layer of glaze. I'd like to take all the credit, but this was a lovely recipe from Dorie. I made 3 individual tarts and shared them with some friends for dessert. They were substantial, but not a crumb was left over. Maybe that's because I only fed them soup and salad for dinner, but I doubt it! I really enjoyed these tarts. I used mango and blackberries to top the tarts, and while the fruit was neither local nor seasonal, it was good. I was tempted to top them with rhubarb, as I picked 10 pounds of it on the weekend, but I wasn't sure how my guests would feel about it. I do have some pastry cream and pastry left over though, so keep your eye on this space for the rhubarb tarts!
This week's fantastic pick was chosen by Cristine of Cooking with Christine. She'll have the recipe posted, so do pay her a visit if you want to impress your friends. Or, if you just want to be impressed, check out the Tuesdays with Dorie bakers to what sort of spin they've put on this week's recipe. I bet you'll find some chocolate, and lots of variety in the fruit toppings. 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Kuchen Borracho (Drunken Cake)

How could I resist a recipe with a name like that? This is a cake from Chile, and its name reflects its Germanic origins. Kuchen borracho consists of three layers of buttery cake and two layers of apples and cream. Oh, and rum! It's another winner from Warm Bread and Honey Cake, the same book I wrote about here and here.

I had kind of a tiring week at work, and am having trouble finding time to bake and write about it. I also didn't get a job I had applied for, which wasn't that unexpected, but it was still disappointing. I had a telephone interview a couple of weeks ago, and it was a bit of a fiasco. First of all, I forgot all about it, and was shopping when my phone rang. It was a blocked number, so I ignored it, thinking it was some kind of sales call. The phone rang again, and, atypically, I answered it. *(%#%@! It was the interview! She was quite understanding and offered to call me back in an hour, so I headed home, a journey that would normally take about 45 minutes. Of course, it took ages that day, and when she called back I was speedwalking through the downtown core. I couldn't bring myself to ask her to call again, so the interview started. I thought it was going well, but it was hard to hear with buses and transport trucks whizzing by. The man yelling obscenities right beside me didn't help either. I tried walking faster, so was slightly breathless by the time I reached my building. Eager to get inside my apartment, I got in the elevator....and promptly lost the signal and cut her off. How embarrassing was that? She was persistent and called me back for the fourth time to finish the interview. And that was it--I never heard back. I started a few emails, but wasn't sure what to say, not wanting to remind her of all the things that had gone wrong during the interview.  Anyway, I finally wrote to her the other day, and she forwarded me a copy of the gentle rejection letter she had sent me a week earlier. So now, it must seem to her that I am incapable of using both a telephone and a computer! But really, I never got that email. I suppose I should be more upset, but I find this pretty funny. I definitely need to practice my interview skills, though.

This cake dirtied all my bowls, but it was worth it. Apparently it keeps for 4 days at cool room temperature, but I don't think I'll be able to test that, though it is a big cake (about 4 pounds). I had a slice when it was still warm from the oven, and another for breakfast. It's got fruit, so I think it's ideal breakfast food. It would also be perfect with an afternoon cup of coffee or tea. Enjoy!

1lb 7oz tart apples, prepared weight (about 5)
2¾ oz/generous ⅓ cup granulated sugar (I used dark brown sugar)
3½ fl oz/½ cup heavy cream
(I added half a nutmeg, grated)

10½ oz/2 cups all-purpose flour
2½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt (heaping, for me)
5½ oz/scant 1½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
3 eggs, lightly beaten
5 tbsp rum
5 tbsp water
(I added some Extrait antillais, which is rum, vanilla, mace, sapote and tonka bean; vanilla extract is a good alternative)

Grease and flour a 9" springform pan--it needs to be at least 2¾" tall. Preheat the oven to 325℉/160℃.

Peel and core the apples, cut each into 8 parts and thinly slice. Combine the sliced apples with the cream and sugar, and nutmeg, if using.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Cream the butter, add the sugar and beat until creamy. Add the beaten egg in four batches, scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition. Fold in the flour in 4 batches, adding the rum and water with the third batch. (I did 3 additions of dry, alternating with 2 additions of the wet). Gently fold in the last of the flour mixture and stop mixing as soon as it is incorporated.

The batter needs to be divided evenly to create the layers in the cake, so it's best to weigh it. Weigh 11½ oz of batter into a bowl, and then transfer it to your prepared pan. Level it with a spoon or offset spatula. Add half the apple mixture (11½ oz--I eyeballed this: no more clean bowls) and spread it evenly, leaving about ½" free space around the edge of the pan. Weigh out and add another 11½ oz of the cake batter and level. Repeat with the rest of the apple mixture and the last of the batter. Your pan will be very full, but the author assures us it will not overflow during baking. Mine didn't, even though my springform was only 8¾".

Level the top and bake for 1½ hours, until a skewer comes out clean. (Mine never came out clean, but it was obvious that it was the cream and not cake batter stuck to it). I baked mine for 1¼ hours, but I think the oven may have been at 350℉. Oops. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then loosen the edges carefully before releasing the sides. Cool completely on a wire rack.

The verdict: It was great! The batter smelled and tasted very boozy, but the finished cake only has a hint of rum. The nutmeg was perfect with the creamy filling, and I'm sure other apple pie spices would be great. Cardamom, anyone? I used Granny Smith apples because they were on sale, but I am not fond of them. They were still a bit crunchy in the the finished cake, and I hate crunchy apples in desserts (unless they're raw). I did slice them quite thinly, but next time I'll use another type of apple.

Expect some rhubarb recipes next week, as it's FINALLY ready at my mother's. I'm heading up for a Mother's Day visit and what better time to raid the garden.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

TWD: Burnt sugar ice cream (sandwiches)

I usually only eat ice cream a couple of times a year, when I'm visiting Toronto. That's the home of Greg's, where you can find fabulous flavours such as cardamom, roasted marshmallow, and sweet cream. Sweet cream is my favourite: it's so fresh-tasting, and is like vanilla without the vanilla. Anyway, even though I'm not a big ice cream fan, I was excited about this recipe. I have an ice cream maker I bought when I was a teenager (I was weird like that), and I haven't used it since I moved away from Toronto in 2006. In fact, I've probably only used it a dozen times in all the years I've had it. The last ice cream I made was corn, with the freshest corn from my aunt and uncle's farm. And, yes, it was delicious.

This ice cream was simple in flavour, with no Dorie mix-ins, which I really liked. It was just sugar, caramelized, eggs yolks, milk, cream and vanilla. The custard tasted fantastic, with a slightly bitter undertone from the burnt sugar, so I knew the ice cream would be good. I decided to sandwich it in between some graham crackers, mostly because I loved the graham crackers I made in January, and was looking for a reason to make them again. They have a slight burnt sugar taste of their own, from all the honey and brown sugar, so I thought they'd go nicely together. Oh, and while I may never go for a bowl of ice cream at home, I can't resist those cheap ice cream sandwiches. There's always a box in the freezer at my brother's, at least when I get there, if not when I leave.

This week's pick was chosen by Becky of Project Domestication, so she'll have the recipe for the ice cream posted. You can find the graham cracker recipe here. I wouldn't advise using the pastry flour, as the dough is soft and sticky with all-purpose. Oh, and they certainly don't take 25 minutes to bake in my oven. 10-15 is more like it, especially as I didn't want them too crisp.

UPDATE: The graham crackers got a bit soft and cakey after being in the freezer overnight--perfect! Oh, and how did I make them? After churning the ice cream, I froze some of it in a shallow pan lined with plastic wrap. I used the same cutters to cut the ice cream, then I just sandwiched it between 2 frozen graham crackers and wrapped them with some waxed paper and origami paper. I froze them between each step, but this ice cream melts really quickly, and it was a warm day. They were at their best after at least 24 hours in the freezer, as they were impossible to eat before the crackers softened a bit. Once they did, though, they were perfect--very caramelly!