Monday, June 27, 2011

Daring Bakers' June 2011 Challenge - From Phyllo to Baklava

Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava. This challenge was easy and hard all at the same time.  

I've been making baklava since I was 13 or 14 years old.  My mother brought home a Greek cookbook that had been translated into English and I was the first one to make it from there.  The rest is history.  Baklava has since become one of my most requested dishes. Given that, I found the challenge easy because I knew what to do, what to expect and what to look for.

The hard part, of course, was making my own phyllo.  Phyllo, for those who don't know, is a paper thin sheet of raw dough.  The commercially produced phyllo can be difficult to work with because it dries out quickly and can crack or tear.  Homemade phyllo has about a hundred more difficulties on top of those.

Let's talk about those, shall we?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Let Them Eat More Cake

Brendan came home last weekend and a few days before hand Karina had decided he needed a cake since his birthday had been on the 15th.  She leafed through *The Best of Baking (the one cookbook we couldn't live without) and hit upon their Pear Cream Gateau because it had a nice light whipped cream instead of heavy butter cream.  It's as hot as the Sun here and with the added beauty of high humidity, the heat index is the like standing on Rigel.  Just saying butter cream made us both feel sluggish.  Plus, pears...pears are juicy, bright, and just the right sweetness for hot weather.

Back to the recipe.  It called for a chocolate cake to be made, which Karina nixed right off the bat.  She was unable to match chocolate with pears in her mind.  No problem, I said, I'll just make a regular sponge.  Then I started getting out all the ingredients I'd need otherwise, only to find I didn't have any blueberry preserves (which she wasn't too chuffed about either...pears, blueberries and chocolate do not live together in her culinary world), so I pulled out black currant preserves instead.  I whipped up the cake, put it in the oven and went to whip up the cream with a little powdered sugar.  As I was pulling the cream out of the fridge, I spotted a package of cream cheese and my brain said, "oh yeah, that dog'll hunt."  I pulled it out, softened it in the microwave, added some powdered sugar and extracts, and folded the whipped cream into the whole mess.

Which is how we ended up with a cake that merely resembled the original because it had pears in the filling.

Pear Cream Cake
6 eggs, separated
4 1/2 tablespoons lukewarm water
2/3 cup sugar
1 3/4 cups cake flour, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated dried orange peel

filling and frosting:
2 15-ounce cans pears, drained with juice reserved
2/3 cup black currant preserves
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon brandy extract
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 - 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Grease a 9-inch springform cake pan.  Preheat oven to 365 degrees**.

Place the egg yolks, water and half the sugar in a medium bowl.  Beat with an electric mixer for 5 to 10 minutes or until pale and creamy.  Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold in remaining sugar.  Carefully fold egg white mixture into egg yolk mixture.  Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, then stir in the dried orange peel.  Fold flour mixture into egg mixture.  Turn the batter into the prepared pan.  Smooth the surface and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool slightly in the pan and then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.  Wrap in plastic and allow to stand overnight before cutting into layers.
Dice the pears in 1/2 inch pieces and set aside.  In a medium bowl whip the heavy cream together with the extracts until moderately stiff peaks form, adding powdered sugar to taste near the end.  Stir together cream cheese and powdered sugar to taste in a large bowl until smooth.  Carefully fold heavy cream into cream cheese until blended.  Reassemble the cleaned springform pan used to bake the cake. Cut the cake into three layers and place one layer into the bottom of the pan.  Sprinkle evenly with several tablespoons of the reserved pear juice.  Spread the layer evenly with half of the currant preserves and then with 1/4 of the cream mixture.  Sprinkle half of the diced pears evenly over cream.  Top with the second layer and repeat.  Sprinkle the third layer with several tablespoons of the reserved pear juice before placing on top.  Cover cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate, along with remaining cream, for 2 hours or until cream is set.  Carefully remove the cake from the pan and place on cake plate.  Frost with remaining cream.  You can get creative with piping and whatnot, but it's not necessary.  Chill for 30 before serving to allow cream to set slightly.
This is by far one of the best tasting cakes I have ever made, and I've been making cakes since I was 13 years old.  
*There are several cookbooks with this title.  I am referring to the one by Annette Wolter and Christian Teubner any time it is mentioned in any of my posts.
**I used a light colored pan, for a dark colored pan preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Brain Food

A couple of months ago I made a command decision to quit attending the university that I was enrolled in so that I could switch to a small community college in my area.  I did this because the community college offered a degree in culinary arts and baking/pastry, and I've decided to stop fighting myself and finally get a degree in the area that I truly love, food.  

I had to chuckle about the whole enrollment process because not only did I have to provide an official high school transcript, but I also had to take COMPASS tests in reading, writing and math.  I graduated in 1988 and math wasn't my strong suit back then.  Now?  I know I've heard of polynomials and functions, but I have no idea what they do, or more importantly, what I'm suppose to do with them.

I finished the reading with a 96, the writing with a 99, and the math with an abysmal 51. *sigh*

I did try to bolster my brain power with burst of protein before hand and while it may not have worked, it was a damn tasty try.

Tuna Salad
5 ounce can tuna in olive oil, undrained
1/2 cup shredded extra sharp white cheddar
1/4 cup chopped sweet onion
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon olive oil

Mix together all ingredients, except salt and pepper, in a medium bowl.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve on the bread of your choice with fresh vegetables.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Coffee makes it possible to get out of bed. Chocolate makes it worthwhile.

Cake is a very touchy kind of thing for me.  See, I'm not a baker (no, really, it's a major weak spot in my culinary skill set).  I can whip up stews and soups and steaks and several other dishes that start with "s" at the drop of a hat, but baking is something that requires a lot of planning and sometimes a few tears.  However, since I have a massive sweet tooth I tend to do it often.  In my world "baking" is synonymous with "sweet".

Back to the cake thing.  I always bake cakes for my kids' birthdays and I let them choose which one they want.  It's easier than making one I think they would want and having it turn out to be one they wouldn't consider if they were starving.  Karina's birthday was a few weeks ago and her choice was chocolate cake with mocha frosting.  So I used the only chocolate cake recipe that has never failed me with a French butter cream icing.  It was tasty as hell, but ugly as sin....I also lack decorating skills.

Chocolate Sponge Cake (adapted from The Best of Baking)
6 eggs, separated
4 1/2 tablespoons lukewarm water
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon very finely ground espresso (optional)

Grease a 9-inch springform cake pan.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the egg yolks, water and half the sugar in a medium bowl.  Beat with an electric mixer for 5 to 10 minutes or until pale and creamy.  Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold in remaining sugar.  Carefully fold egg white mixture into egg yolk mixture.  Sift the flour with the cocoa powder, baking powder, coffee and salt.  Fold into egg mixture.  Turn the batter into the prepared pan.  Smooth the surface and bake for 35-40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool slightly in the pan and then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.  Wrap in plastic and allow to stand overnight before cutting into layers.

French Butter Cream (adapted from The Best of Baking)
1 1/2 - 2 cups butter, slightly below room temperature
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon very strong coffee
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch of salt

Beat the eggs, sugar and salt in a medium bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water until very warm and thickened (I believe the temperature should be around 160 degrees).  Remove the egg mixture from the heat and continue beating until completely cooled.  Beat in the coffee and cocoa powder.  Beat in butter one tablespoon at a time until butter cream comes together smoothly.  If refrigerating butter cream, have it come to slightly below room temperature before using.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Creampuffs....Now With Chemical X

My mother comes from a small German town called Langmeil.  When she married my father and moved to the States she wasn't able to visit home often.  But whenever she did, my Oma's best friend, Frau Sapp (which I've probably spelled wrong), would always make cream puffs for her because they were a favorite treat.  Since I know this tidbit of information I always think of my mother, my Oma, Frau Sapp and Langmeil whenever I have cream puffs.  It's a very happy event.

What is odd about them is though they are incredibly easy to make, I very rarely make them.  Now that I've revisited them I think I'll be making them more often.

Frau Sapp went with a very simple sweetened whipped cream to fill hers and they were divine.  I went with Chantilly custard and we may have wept while eating them.  "I think the filling could live on it's own in a bowl", were the words of my best friend.  And thus we have found our Chemical X.

Cream Puffs
pate a choux:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup water
1 cup flour
4 eggs
pinch of salt

Chantilly custard:
2 cups whole milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Make the custard for the filling first as it has to cool completely in the refrigerator.  Put the milk in a medium saucepan and scald over medium heat.  In a medium bowl mix together eggs, sugar, cornstarch and salt with a whisk.  Once milk has reached temperature, take a ladleful and slowly whisk it into the egg mixture.  Repeat one more time.  Whisk tempered egg mixture slowly back into the remaining milk in the saucepan and cook until thickened.  Remove from heat, allow to cool for a minute and then whisk in the vanilla.  Pour into a bowl and put plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the custard.  Refrigerate until completely cooled.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two backing sheets with parchment paper and set aside.  Bring butter and water to a boil in a medium sauce pan.  Pour the flour and salt into the boiling liquid all at once and mix vigorously with a wooden spoon until mixture forms a ball.  Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 5 to 10 minutes.  Mix eggs into the dough one at a time, making sure to fully incorporate each one.  Mixture should now be like a thick paste and glossy.  Using a two inch ice cream scoop, drop scoops of dough onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about and inch or so between.  Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until cooked through and lightly browned.  Cool completely either on the pans or on wire racks.

Complete the Chantilly custard by whipping the heavy cream to soft peaks and then whip in the powdered sugar until stiff peaks are formed.  Fold whipped cream into the cooled custard.  Slash open each puff to create a pocket and either spoon or pipe Chantilly custard into each one.  Dust with powdered sugar and serve.  Though they should be assembled right before serving, leftover cream puffs that have been stored in the refrigerator taste awesome as well.