Sunday, January 30, 2011

Beth Henspberger's Challah

Undoubtedly, one of the highlights of my week is baking Challot for Shabbat. It's my once a week opportunity to knead dough and it makes me so happy. As you already know, from my previous challah posts, I've been trying out new recipes as much as I can. This weekend was no different. This week's challah recipe comes from Beth Henspberger's The Bread Bible. While this is an egg challah, it's certainly not sweet. It is perfect with egg salad, as we have at home, or with chumous or any other dip. The texture is really great, as well. The dough kneaded really well and rose nicely overnight in the fridge. As you can tell, the breads braided beautifully and turned out really prettyily. If only my dad could see them now! I upped the salt from two teaspoons to a full tablespoon, and it could still stand more. (My niece was so cute- she kept asking for salt on her challah, and then kept licking it off.) Sometimes it throws me off that an egg challah isnt sweet so I think adding sesame or poppy seeds if you have them would really help pull this challah to the more savory side. Surprisingly, I thought this challah was better the next day, in terms of both flavor and texture. I'm sending this over to Yeastspotting

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Date and Nut Sticks

Oftentimes, the key to trying out a recipe I never would have otherwise is having around an ingredient I'm not longer interested in eating. Instead of throwing it away (waste? gasp!), I stick it into a baked good of some sort. Such was the case with some dates I had laying around. Don't misunderstand me. I love dates. They're soft and sweet and delicious. But.. I'd had these around for awhile and I just didn't think I'd end up eating them. So, I began the date recipe research. Now, before I begin, let me remind you that the last time I made something with dates, the very yummy date bars, I got made fun of and still get made fun of until this day. Something about date bars must remind people of prunes, which people must associate with old people, because the jibes I got about the date bars still won't end. Some haters just don't understand how I made them or why. But I maintain that they were delicious! I mean, dates and oat crumble- what could be better? It was with this trepidation that I made these Date and Nut Sticks from Carole Walter's Great Cookies. Dates and nuts? I put a sign on them warning all possible tasters about what lay within them. And you know what? To my great surprise, these unassuming cookies were hits! Everyone thought they were delicious. Perhaps because they are encased by a sweet, vanilla-ey cookie, I dont know. But even my roommate who is the top date bar mocker was one over by them. I'm gloating about that small victory just writing about it now. And so, my friends, the date has been redeemed. Make them. Just dont dredge them in the powdered sugar like the original recipe asks for. They're better without.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chocolate Thumbprints

I made these simple little Chocolate Thumbprints for Shabbat last week after my chocolate madeleines failed. A nice alternative to their jammy counterparts, these bite sized cookies are cute and really easy to make. I made half a recipe which yielded about two dozen cookies. What's great about this recipe is that the cookie dough flattens into a nice round cookie instead of spreading all over the cookie sheet as per my previous thumbprint failure experiment. Should you decide that you must have the jam, just swap any flavor out for the chocolate filling. No harm done.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Friendship Sourdough Coffee Cake

For a very long time, I've had my eye on the Friendship Sourdough Coffee Cake recipe from Marcy Goldman's A Passion for Baking. Last night I decided it was time to whip out the sourdough starter and put it to good use. As it is, I'm always looking for alternative ways to use my starter so I dont know why it took me so long. I took out my neglected starter and fed him the night before. There must be some strong yeasts in there because he was ready to use right away. I gave him a bit extra "food" yesterday so that by the time I got home I could bake right away. I always wonder what the starter actually contributes in terms of flavor but all I can say is that the collective response to this cake was YUM. I get nervous that the sourdough flavor would come through, but I need not have worried. Here are my notes on the recipe. I used walnuts instead of graham cracker crumbs in the topping and would make 1 1/2 times of the recipe because I thought it was a bit scant. As for the cake itself, I cut back the margarine to 3/4 cup, the brown sugar to just one cup and omitted the apple/pumpkin pie spice. Regardless of the changes, the cake turned out moist and dense, but definitely nowhere near dry. I was disappointed to see that the topping sunk into the cake so next time I would bake the cake without the topping until the cake sets on top and then add the topping. Because the crumble sunk and wasnt so evident, I decided to throw together a glaze which I think was a nice touch that elevated it a tad. I'm sending this over to Yeastspotting this week!

White Spice Pound Cake

The above picture of cake is the only picture available of the final product, a. because despite my liberal greasing of the pan, it stuck and b. because my girls (who were visiting from last year) pounced on it before I had a chance to coax it out of the pan. I made the cake just because I felt like baking (and because I had egg whites in the fridge that I didn't want to waste), not intending it for anyone specific. But then, in my girls walked.... and the cake was theirs. Small as it was, it disappeared kinda fast. I had to grab it away at some point just to have a picture for this post. I guess that's a good thing. This lightly spiced pound cake comes from the Cake Bible and is easily made in the way of all Rose's cakes. One of my girls told me it tasted like Thanksgiving. I'm guessing that's a good thing. The cocoa powder and the cinnamon and cloves lent this cake a slightly muddy color, which I wasnt thrilled about, although it could have been the pan also. Because of the color, I was convinced the cake couldnt possibly be good. But they insisted it was. The proof was in the crumbs in the pan. The two changes I made were to swap vanilla for the brandy that I dont have and to use all purpose flour for the cake flour. I'm pretty sure no one missed them.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pecan Pie Tart

This Pecan Tart was the second dessert I made for the Bar Mitzvah. When asked for a specific request, the response I received was pecan pie. Immediately, I thought of Rose's Pie and Pastry Bible and sure enough she had a recipe for pecan pie in a tart form. Far more elegant, in my opinion. Going with Rose was a no-brainer, and I was pretty sure that it would be successful... until I had a few mishaps along the way. For starters, I ignored Rose's instructions to chill the panned tart dough before baking. Lesson learned- never ignore Rose. My tart shell shrunk while baking, making it unable to house all the liquid. Which I ignored as well, and was rewarded with major leakage between the sides of the shell and the pan, which then leaked to the baking pan that held the whole mess. And while I dutifully strained the cooked filling (a must by the way to get rid of some unwanted thickened stuff!), I forgot to add the vanilla afterwards. I was worried about all of this when it came out of the oven. There was lots of gelled filling to scrape off from the bottom of the pan, the baking pan it was set on, the crust itself. It was not pretty. But I soldiered on. I glazed with the chocolate lace glazed and called it a pretty tart. Everyone complimented it as well, totally unaware of the misfortunes that went along with making it. Alas, I needn't have worried because everyone who tasted it pronounced it delicious. In fact, the first word out of someone's mouth was "Yum." Or was it, "Wow"? I don't remember but the bottom line is you can never go wrong with Rose and even if you have several mishaps along the way, no one need be the wiser, and your product can still be beautiful and delicious.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Almost Fudge Cake

To the naked eye, the above picture may just look like a simple, single layer, ganache coated chocolate cake. This cake is anything but. Underneath that thin coating of glaze, is a moist, deeply chocolatey and above all FUDGY cake. Almost Fudge Cake is no misnomer. I made this cake for this past weekend, the occasion being a Bar Mitzvah that I attended (Pecan Tart up next). Intended to be served Friday night along with a slew of other desserts baked by people around the neighborhood, the cake was forgotten about until Shabbat afternoon where it served as dessert. I was a bit nervous about how it would turn out, but everyone loved it. Not a single crumb was left by the end of Shabbat. Comments ranged from, "My friends would pay you to make dessert" to "this is amazing- death by chocolate," which was a pretty nice feeling. The recipe comes from Dorie's Baking  and it was the perfect choice because not only is it deceptively simple to prepare, but it's also not the typical, dime-a-dozen chocolate cake, which I was wary of making. I'm pretty sure I underbaked it slightly, not purposely of course, so if you think that's the case, bake it a tad bit longer or just chill the cake to firm it up. I also halved the topping- I just didn't think all of it was necessary. The batter has folded in egg whites, which results in the light, crisp shell on the cake. Don't worry if it flakes off. Just brush it away and glaze.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Peanut Butter Squares

When my mom came, one of the books that I had requested from her to bring arrived as well. How To Be a Domestic Goddess was one of my very first baking books that I purchased in Israel, found in Steimatzky's, bought or around eighty shekels. Sadly, when I returned after my first year in Israel, I brought it back to America and I havent really seen it since. But when my mom brought it back I thumbed through it as if I'd never seen it. Tons of recipes jumped out at me immediately, but the first recipe I made was for these Peanut Butter Squares from the Children chapter. They were the perfect thing to make for my boss, to whom I owed something peanut butter and chocolate. No bake, and super fast and easy, they turned out delicious, and earned raves from everyone who tasted them. Definitely perfect for making with kids, and when you're looking for something fast, this is the way to go.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Carine Goren's Challah Take Three: Third Time's A Charm!

This was my last ditch attempt at Carine Goren's Challah and guess what? I finally got it right! I decreased the sugar by two tablespoons to avoid a heaviness problem and converted the amount of fresh yeast to the correct amount of dry. I also didnt use cold fermentation here and made them in one go on Thursday night. Underbaking them slightly helped to avoid them being dried out by Shabbat afternoon. You know what? They were perfect! Beautifully shaped and baked, with a nice fluffy, anything but dense, texture. All the bread was finished-- the tell tale sign of a great challah. These perfected challot are going to Yeastspotting this week!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Grasshopper Squares

Shavua tov! This week is off to a really good start so far-last night my friends L and J got married!! Her Shabbat Kallah was this weekend and to make it easier to get to, I stayed by friends of mine in Jerusalem, which altogether made it a beautiful Shabbat. I offered to bring dessert to both of my hosts and they both eagerly accepted. I asked my roommate for ideas of what to bake and she quickly said, why dont you make something parsha (the Torah portion of the week) related? I opened up my Tanach and started reading (I was on a tiyul that wasn't so entertaining..). Inspiration struck immediately! One of the plagues mentioned was locust. That led to grasshoppers which led to... Grasshopper Squares, the bar cookie based on the classic cocktail. Then I realized that my host's roommate is known for making food at her meals that tie into the parsha so this was the perfect tribute! I searched the internet and all of my books for a recipe but I couldnt find one that perfectly suited my needs so I blended the best elements of the Baked recipe as found on Serious Eats and Hershey's Mint Bars. I used the brownie base, the mint filling from the Hershey recipe and elements from both for the glaze. What do you know? This recipe is now going to be the recipe I use for these. They were so well received- everyone thought that they were not only delicious, but looked beautiful. I actually whipped out the ruler to cut them into even pieces. What I loved especially about the glaze was that even after chilling, it didnt lose its luster. I made a 9x13 inch pan and the batch evenly in half, one half per meal.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Gingersnap Raspberry/Apricot Sandwich Cookies

I think there's something special about sending someone off on a plane ride with something freshly baked. The trip can be long and lonely and home baked cookies are just the thing to make that person feel a bit more at ease on the plane. If nothing else, they sure beat plane food. And so, with a very special person leaving (my mom), I wanted to make something for her but also something with a different flavor profile, something that I know she appreciates. I mentioned to my sister that I was going to bake this recipe and she gave me the thumbs up-- because this recipe calls for jelly, which if you remember from a couple of posts back is her fave. So I opened up Martha's cookie book to this Gingersnap-Raspberry Sandwich Cookies. These cookies are simple enough to make, and I had everything in my pantry, so they were pretty much a snap to put together. The cookie features maple syrup and a full tbsp of ground ginger, which I was nervous about, albeit for no reason. The cookies are rolled in sugar and baked. They baked up to be picture-perfect, I might add. Interestingly, as they were baking, I noticed that its smell was quite redolent of a cookie that my mother used to make when we were kids, but her recipe didnt call for ginger. In any case, it brought me back to the smells of my mother's kitchen, something only baking can do. I had half empty jars of both apricot and raspberry jellies so I just used up both, which was good for some diversity. The cookies came out uniformly enough in shape that finding pairs to make sandwiches wasn't an issue. In fact, the sandwich part was kinda fun. In any case, these sandwich cookies were really well loved by my sister, brother in law and most importantly, my mom. Most didnt make it on the plane, after the munching and the saving some for my sister, but I'm pretty sure it's the thought that counts.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Rustic Thyme and Olive Bread

As I mentioned in the last two posts, my mom came to visit my siblings and me for about ten days. Sadly, she left this morning, in the wee hours but not after I was able to spend the last two days with her, bonding and cuddling. I spent the Sunday morning before I went to see her baking some things to send her off with, things I know she'd appreciate, and some cookies as well for the plane. (More on the cookies a bit later...) Knowing my mother loves olive bread (having made it for her more than once a couple years back), I decided that that's exactly what I was going to make. When I found the fougasse recipe in The Art and Soul of Baking, I also spied a recipe for Rustic Thyme and Olive Bread. The recipe was perfect as it called for thyme and olive oil, which I had from the fougasse and some olives that my roommate graciously let me use. And then I was all set to go. I made the poolish the night before and let it ferment into the early afternoon. Nothing new from there out. It was nice to knead some dough, though. I keep thinking I should do it more often. Back to the recipe. I cut the recipe in half and made one loaf. How I wish that I had Brotty with me to shape this loaf beautifully, but since it's sitting in my room in America, I knew my own two hands would have to do. I slashed with the sharpest knife I had and was pleased to see the slashes opened up somewhat nicely. I wish I had a lame.... but with my Global by my side, I really cant complain. Anyway, I baked the loaf directly on the stone, and the oven spring was nice. The final loaf smelled wonderfully of thyme and olives and both my sister and mother were appreciative of it. They both gave their approval- my sister enjoyed it with some cottage cheese and my mother had it plain. I'm sending this loaf to Yeastspotting

Carine Goren's Challah, Take Two

I know I didnt post about Take One of this challah, and I'm even hesitant to post about this one. In addition to the cookies I made last Shabbat of course I made challah. A couple of weeks ago, when I was last by my sister I tried this recipe, which comes from one of Israel's most famous bakers, Carine Goren. I found it too dense and though that it was because I applied my overnight fermentation method- meaning the dough was too cold before I put it in the oven, due to time constraints. The resulting challot were dense and chewy but tasted good and with a good crust. This weekend, I tried again this time, letting the dough warm up more before shaping and baking and upping the yeast to a full tablespoon. The result was better; the braids better looking, the flavor great, but still, a bit dense. The texture is my only complaint here though, and even that wasn't such a terrible issue. I had my fair share and all of the challah was finished at the end of the day. I definitely think this recipe warrants being made a third time but next time I would use 2.5 tbsp of yeast (as per the conversion from grams to tbsp) and see how it works out. Additionally, I would make this dough in one shot instead of fermenting it overnight, to avoid the coldness issue. For now, I'm going to omit the recipe and come back and add it once I'm happy with it. Not giving up on this one!

The braided challot.
Just baked.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Shortbread Jam Cookies aka My Failed Thumbprints

My mom has been here this past week for a much needed visit. It's been way too long since I've last seen her!   Anytime one of my parents come, all three of us who live in Israel get together by my sister's house for Shabbat and this weekend was no different. My sister asked me to bake cookies and when I asked her what she wanted me to make she said thumbprints. Apparently, they're her favorite cookie. I looked through all my books for a recipe, but they either used only part of the egg (hate waste!) or used nuts. I finally found a recipe for Giant Jam Thumbprints in one of my recent [bargain!] book purchases, Butter Sugar Flour Eggs. A quick scan through the recipe indicated to me that these were going to be shortbread like, and I was totally okay with that. Except that my thumbprints didn't quite turn out that way. They spread and turned out to be cookies with jam in the middle. So why am I posting this recipe if it failed? Well, for one, to show you that even though I only post the recipes that come out good, from time to time, I totally flop. Either you chuck it or serve it despite its looks, either way you learn from it and keep baking. Secondly, even though these dont look anything like they're supposed to, they tasted like they were supposed to and they all disappeared from the container, despite my shock. Shortbread is never bad, and shortbread with jam must be better. So instead of getting rid of them, I just decided to rename them, Shortbread Jam Cookies. Who knows? I might even make them this way on purpose next time with a different flavored jam. But if I wanted to make them turn out right, I would be sure to chill the dough quite well before shaping because it seems that the heat from my hands while rolling the cookies warmed the dough, causing the fat to melt before the cookie set. If this were a bar cookie, the pan would contain the spread. Not so here.