Friday, February 29, 2008

My First Daring Bakers Challenge

I did it! I finally mustered up enough courage to join the Daring Bakers! I've been watching them make some amazing stuff for months now, each month wishing I could join them, but terrified that the moment I joined, they would choose some impossible recipe that I wouldn't be able to make. But I decided it was time to step up to the challenge, and have some fun in the kitchen.

Ironically, as soon as I was brave enough to join, Breadchick Mary of The Sour Dough and Sara of i like to cook had chosen French Bread, of all things, as the challenge. And Julia Child's French Bread at that. Gulp. I was mortified the minute I heard that the challenge was a yeast bread. It was only a few months ago that I first conquered my fear of working with yeast. But the things I've made since then have been very simple recipes: Brown Sugar Raisin Bread, Garlic Naan, Cinnabon Cinnamon Rolls, and Pumpkin-Cinnamon Streusel Buns. I hadn't ventured into making things like ciabatta, sourdough, focaccia, or anything like a French baguette!

Just reading the recipe (which is so many pages I can't even count them!) made my head spin! I considered, for a moment, backing out and not doing this challenge... perhaps I was not a Daring Baker after all. But, seeing as I am not the type of person who easily gives up on something she sets out to do, I put on my apron and walked into my kitchen, determined to conquer this recipe!

If you aren't a seasoned bread maker, you really need to take this recipe one step at a time. Otherwise, looking at the entire recipe all at once will easily overwhelm you (like it did me). Once you take it step by step, it really isn't too difficult. Part of what makes baking bread so hard is that there is never a set amount of flour to add to the liquid. It varies depending on the moisture content of the bag of flour you're using, the humidity in your kitchen, etc. If you use a stand mixer like I did, as you slowly add the flour, you can definitely start to see when the dough stops sticking to the sides. It will start to follow the dough hook around as it spins and will start flopping around the bowl in a large ball. Once you start to see that, stop adding the flour.

The hardest part for me was shaping the loaves, and if you're a visual person like me, reading the instructions isn't enough. Thankfully, you can go to PBS and watch some very instructive videos here. I seriously had to play those videos ten times before I was able to start. Then, I'd take my laptop into the kitchen and play a part... pause it so I could perform that step... hit play again, pause it... perform the next step... and so on and so forth. Thank goodness for modern technology :)

I don't think I had any major hiccups with this recipe. Sure, my loaves aren't the most beautiful, and I didn't get the cleanest cuts on top, but at least I didn't end up with some rocks. I didn't have a plank to transfer my loaves into the oven, so I had to work very carefully with my hands to transfer them so that they didn't deflate. Mine also didn't brown as much as I would have liked them to, but I was just happy to get anything that even remotely resembled a loaf of french bread ;) Amber made some beautiful loaves, and her tip was to mist them with olive oil instead of water during the baking process. I also like her idea of just letting them do their last rise on a baking stone, so you don't have to worry about transferring them.

It was wonderful to have homemade French Bread. Nothing tastes like fresh bread out of the oven. Will I be making these again in the near future? Probably not. I'm honestly not much of a bread person to begin with (unless it's a sweet bread); and I don't generally have the patience to spend an entire day making something. We had some of our French Bread with beef stew, but I turned the rest of it into some Cranberry Apple Bread Pudding with Butter Rum Sauce :) If you're looking for something more savory, how about some Roasted Garlic Bread?

Thanks again to Mary and Sara for choosing this month's challenge... and for doing exactly that, challenging me as a baker. I am now proud to call myself a Daring Baker!

Be sure to check out the Daring Bakers Blogroll to see how everyone else fared with this challenge. I was only one of over 100 food bloggers to join this month!

Pain Francais (French Bread)
from Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume Two by Julia Child and Simone Beck

Recipe Quantity:
3 - baguettes (24” x 2”) or batards (16” x 3”) or
6 – short loaves, ficelles, 12 – 16” x 2” or
3 – round loaves, boules, 7 – 8” in diameter or
12 – round or oval rolls, petits pains or
1 – large round or oval loaf, pain de menage or miche; pain boulot

Recipe Time: 7 – 9 hours

Flour: French bakers make plain French bread out of unbleached flour that has gluten strength of 8 to 9 per cent. Most American all-purpose flour is bleached and has slightly higher gluten content as well as being slightly finer in texture. It is easier to make bread with French flour than with American flour.

(Mary and Sara Note: This was true when this book was written in the late 50s but today it is very easy to find unbleached AP flour. In addition, you can source French style, lower gluten AP flour from several specialty millers such as King Arthur Flour)

Bakers’ Oven Versus Home Ovens: Bakers’ ovens are so constructed that one slides the formed bread dough from a wooden panel right onto the hot, fire-brick oven floor, a steam injection system humidifies the oven for the first few minutes of baking. Steam allows the yeast to work a little longer in the dough and this, combined with the hot baking surface, produced an extra push of volume. In addition, steam coagulating the starch on the surface of the dough gives the crust its characteristic brown color. Although you can produce a good loaf of French bread without steam or a hot baking surface, you will a larger and handsomer loaf when you simulate professional conditions.

(Mary and Sara Note: Julia provided a very nice step by step of how to make a simulated bakers oven at home at the end of the recipe. We will provide those same steps plus a few of Mary’s bread making/baking tips she uses for those of you Daring Bakers who want to take it to the limits!)

Stand Mixer Mixing and Kneading of French Bread Dough: French bread dough is too soft to work in the electric food processor, but the heavy-duty mixer with dough hook works perfectly. The double-hook attachment that comes with some hand held mixers and the hand-cranking bread pails are slower and less efficient, to our mind, than hand kneading. In any case, when you are using electricity, follow the steps in the recipe as outlined, including the rests; do not over-knead and for the heavy duty mixer, do not go over a moderate speed of number 3 or 4, or you risk breaking down the gluten in the dough.

(Mary and Sara Note: When this book was written the average home heavy duty stand mixer was less than 300W and the hand mixer was less than 250W. Today you can find stand mixers with much better wattage and torque. Mary has made this dough using both her old Sunbeam Mixmaster from the late 80s with a 325W motor and her Kitchen Aid 7 speed Ultra Power Plus Handheld and had both struggle quite a lot. She has also made this dough with a Kitchen Aid Artisan (350W) and it did OK but also struggled a bit at the end so if you have an Artisan, keep your eye on it, especially at the end of the kneading as the gluten really develops. Mary has made this recipe several times with her Kitchen Aid Pro V Plus (450W) and it had no problems what so ever with the dough. So, a good rule of thumb to use to decide between making the dough by hand or by machine is probably 350W or better for motor power in your mixer, either hand or stand. If it looks like your mixer is struggling, finish the dough by hand. One last reminder, always follow the speed directions of your mixer manufacturer for using the dough hook. The Kitchen Aid recommendation is not to go over Speed 2 when using the dough hook on their mixers.)

Equipment Needed: Unless you plan to go into the more elaborate simulation of a baker’s oven, you need no unusual equipment for the following recipe. Here are the requirements, some of which may sound odd but will explain themselves when you read the recipe.

4 to 5 quart mixing bowl with fairly vertical rather than outward slanting sides
a kneading surface of some sort, 1 1/2 to 2 square feet
a rubber spatula or either a metal scraper or a stiff wide metal spatula
1 to 2 unwrinkled canvas pastry cloths or stiff linen towels upon which the dough may rise
a stiff piece of cardboard or plywood 18 – 20 inches long and 6 – 8 inches wide, for unmolding dough from canvas to baking sheet
finely ground cornmeal or pasta pulverized in an electric blender to sprinkle on unmolding board so as to prevent dough from sticking
the largest baking sheet that will fit in your oven
a razor blade or extremely sharp knife for slashing the top of the dough
a soft pastry brush or fine spray atomizer for moistening dough before and during baking
a room thermometer to verify rising temperature
Mary and Sara also recommend the use of an oven thermometer

Making French Bread:
Step 1: The Dough Mixture – le fraisage (or frasage)

(Mary and Sara Note: The metric measurements were converted from an online conversion chart and then checked for us by Baking Soda, who gets a Golden Loaf Award for standing in her kitchen in her pjs and while she drank her first cup of coffee scooping flour onto scales.)

1 cake (0.6 ounce) (20grams) fresh yeast or 1 package dry active yeast
1/3 cup (75ml) warm water, not over 100 degrees F/38C in a glass measure
3 1/2 cup (about 1 lb) (490 gr) all purpose flour, measured by scooping
dry measure cups into flour and sweeping off excess
2 1/4 tsp (12 gr) salt
1 1/4 cups (280 - 300ml) tepid water @ 70 – 74 degrees/21 - 23C

(Mary and Sara Note: if you are using instant yeast, you may reduce the amount to 1 3/4 tsp or 7 gr but you will still want to "proof" it because that is important for taste development in this bread)

Both Methods: Stir the yeast in the 1/3 cup warm water and let liquefy completely while measuring flour into mixing bowl. When yeast has liquefied, pour it into the flour along with the salt and the rest of the water.

Hand Method: Stir and cut the liquids into the flour with a rubber spatula, pressing firmly to form a dough and making sure that all the bits of flour and unmassed pieces are gathered in. Turn dough out onto kneading surface, scraping bowl clean. Dough will be soft and sticky.

Stand Mixer: (Mary and Sara note: Julia did not give detailed instructions about how the dough comes together other than “combine the ingredients using the dough hook”, therefore these directions are based upon their experiences) Using the dough hook attachment on the speed the mixer manufacturer recommends for dough hook use or the lowest setting if there is no recommendation, slowly work all the ingredients together until a dough ball is formed, stopping the mixer and scrapping the bits of flour and chunks of dough off the bottom of the bowl and pressing them into the dough ball. Continue to mix the dough on a low speed until all the bits of flour and loose chunks of dough have formed a solid dough ball.

(Mary and Sara Note for both methods: Depending the humidity and temperature of your kitchen and the type of AP flour your use, you may need to add additional flour or water to the dough. To decide if this is necessary, we recommend stopping during the mixing process and push at your dough ball. If the dough is super sticky, add additional flour one handful at a time until the dough is slightly sticky and tacky but not dry. If the dough is dry and feels hard, add 1 Tbsp of water a time until the dough is soft and slightly sticky. Mary likes to keep a soup or cereal bowl of flour and a 1 cup measure of water with a tablespoon next to her mixer for this.)

Both Methods: Turn dough out onto kneading surface, scraping bowl clean. Dough will be soft and sticky. Let the dough rest for 2 – 3 minutes while you wash and dry the bowl (and the dough hook if using a stand mixer).

Step 2: Kneading – petrissage
The flour will have absorbed the liquid during this short rest, and the dough will have a little more cohesion for the kneading that is about to begin. Use one hand only for kneading and keep the other clean to hold a pastry scrapper, to dip out extra flour, to answer the telephone, and so forth. Your object in kneading is to render the dough perfectly smooth and to work it sufficiently so that all the gluten molecules are moistened and joined together into an interlocking web. You cannot see this happen, of course, but you can feel it because the dough will become elastic and will retract into shape when you push it out.

Hand Method: Start kneading by lifting the near edge of the dough, using a pastry scraper or stiff wide spatula to help you if necessary, and flipping the dough over onto itself. Scrape dough off the surface and slap it down; lift edge and flip it over again, repeating the movement rapidly.

In 2 -3 minutes the dough should have enough body so that you can give it a quick forward push with the heel of your hand as you flip it over. Continue to knead rapidly and vigorously in this way. If the dough remains too sticky, knead in a sprinkling of flour. The whole kneading process will take 5 – 10 minutes, depending on how expert you become.

Shortly after this point, the dough should have developed enough elasticity so it draws back into shape when pushed, indicating the gluten molecules have united and are under tension like a thin web of rubber; the dough should also begin to clean itself off the kneading surface, although it will stick to your fingers if you hold a pinch of dough for more than a second or two.

Stand Mixer: (Mary and Sara note: Julia did not give detailed instructions about kneading the dough other than “knead”) Place dough back into the bowl and using the dough hook attachment at the recommended speed (low), knead the dough for about 5 – 7 minutes. At about the 5 minute mark, stop the mixer and push at the dough with your fingertips. If it springs back quickly, you have kneaded the dough enough. If it doesn’t spring back continue to knead, stopping the mixer and retesting every 2 minutes. If the dough sticks to your fingers, toss a sprinkling of flour onto the dough and continue to knead. The dough should be light and springy when it is ready. Mary also recommends always finishing with about 1 – 2 minutes of hand kneading just to get a good feel for how the gluten is formed.

Both Methods: Let dough rest for 3 – 4 minutes. Knead by hand for a minute. The surface should now look smooth; the dough will be less sticky but will still remain soft. It is now ready for its first rise.

(Mary and Sara note: From here out in the recipe, there is no difference for the hand vs. stand method)

Step 3: First Rising – pointage premier temps (3-5 hours at around 70 degrees)
You now have approximately 3 cups of dough that is to rise to 3 1/2 times its original volume, or to about 10 1/2 cups. Wash and fill the mixing bowl with 10 1/2 cups of tepid water (70 – 80 degrees) and make a mark to indicate that level on the outside of the bowl. Note, that the bowl should have fairly upright sides; if they are too outward slanting, the dough will have difficulty in rising. Pour out the water, dry the bowl, and place the dough in it (Mary and Sara Note: Very lightly grease the bowl with butter or kitchen spray as well to prevent the risen dough from sticking to the bowl).

Slip the bowl into a large plastic bag or cover with plastic, and top with a folded bath towel. Set on a wooden surface, marble or stone are too cold. Or on a folded towel or pillow, and let rise free from drafts anyplace where the temperature is around 70 degrees. If the room is too hot, set bowl in water and keep renewing water to maintain around 70 degrees. Dough should take at least 3 – 4 hours to rise to 10 1/2 cups. If temperature is lower than 70 degrees, it will simply take longer.

(Mary and Sara Note: If your oven has an oven light, turn on the oven light when you start making the dough. By the time you are ready for the first rise, the temperature in your oven will be around 70 degrees. You can check with your oven thermometer. If you don’t have an oven light, like Mary, you can turn the oven on to its lowest setting about 5 minutes before you begin your rise. Leave on for 1 – 5 minutes until the temperature is around 75- 80 degrees. Turn off oven, when you open the door to put the dough in to rise, your oven will be around 70 degrees. Another trick is to put your dough on top of your hot water heater. Place a folded towel on top of the hot water heater and let rise. Also a heating pad works well. Mary also has used those give away shower caps from hotels to cover her bowls and the bowl covers for the metal mixing bowls work well too. Always lightly grease the plastic wrap or bowl cover so if the risen dough touches it, the dough won’t stick.)

When fully risen, the dough will be humped into a slight dome, showing that the yeast is still active; it will be light and spongy when pressed. There will usually be some big bubbly blisters on the surface, and if you are using a glass bowl you will see bubbles through the glass.

Step 4: Deflating and Second Rising – rupture; pointage deuxieme temps (1 1/2 to 2 hours at around 70 degrees)
The dough is now ready to be deflated, which will release the yeast engendered gases and redistribute the yeast cells so that the dough will rise again and continue the fermentation process.

With a rubber spatula, dislodge dough from inside of bowl and turn out onto a lightly floured surface, scraping bowl clean. If dough seems damp and sweaty, sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour.

Lightly flour the palms of your hands and flatten the dough firmly but not too roughly into a circle, deflating any gas bubbles by pinching them.

Lift a corner of the near side and flip it down on the far side. Do the same with the left side, then the right side. Finally, lift the near side and tuck it just under the edge of the far side. The mass of dough will look like a rounded cushion.

Slip the sides of your hands under the dough and return it to the bowl. Cover and let rise again, this time to not quite triple, but again until it is dome shaped and light and spongy when touched.

(Mary and Sara Note: You may need to lightly re-grease your bowl and plastic wrap for the second rise to prevent sticking)

Step 5: Cutting and resting dough before forming loaves
Loosen dough all around inside of bowl and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Because of its two long rises, the dough will have much more body. If it seems damp and sweaty, sprinkle lightly with flour.

Making clean, sure cuts with a large knife or a bench scraper, divide the dough into:
3 equal pieces for long loaves (baguettes or batards) or small round loaves (boules only)
5 – 6 equal pieces for long thin loaves (ficelles)
10 – 12 equal pieces for small oval rolls (petits pains, tire-bouchons) or small round rolls (petits pains, champignons)
2 equal pieces for medium round loaves (pain de menage or miche only)
If you making one large round loaf (pain de menage, miche, or pain boulot), you will not cut the dough at all and just need to follow the directions below.
After you have cut each piece, lift one end and flip it over onto the opposite end to fold the dough into two; place dough at far side of kneading surface. Cover loosely with a sheet of plastic and let rest for 5 minutes before forming. This relaxes the gluten enough for shaping but not long enough for dough to begin rising again.

While the dough is resting, prepare the rising surface; smooth the canvas or linen towelling on a large tray or baking sheet, and rub flour thoroughly into the entire surface of the cloth to prevent the dough from sticking

Step 6: Forming the loaves – la tourne; la mise en forme des patons

Because French bread stands free in the oven and is not baked in a pan, it has to be formed in such a way that the tension of the coagulated gluten cloak on the surface will hold the dough in shape.

For Long Loaves - The Batard: (Baguettes are typically much too long for home ovens but the shaping method is the same)

After the 3 pieces of dough have rested 5 minutes, form one piece at a time, keeping the remaining ones covered.

Working rapidly, turn the dough upside down on a lightly floured kneading surface and pat it firmly but not too roughly into an 8 to 10 inch oval with the lightly floured palms of your hands. Deflate any gas bubbles in the dough by pinching them.

Fold the dough in half lengthwise by bringing the far edge down over the near edge.

Being sure that the working surface is always lightly floured so the dough will not stick and tear, which would break the lightly coagulated gluten cloak that is being formed, seal the edges of the dough together, your hands extended, thumbs out at right angles and touching.

Roll the dough a quarter turn forward so the seal is on top.

Flatten the dough again into an oval with the palms of your hands.

Press a trench along the central length of the oval with the side of one hand.

Fold in half again lengthwise.

This time seal the edges together with the heel of one hand, and roll the dough a quarter of a turn toward you so the seal is on the bottom.

Now, by rolling the dough back and forth with the palms of your hands, you will lengthen it into a sausage shape. Start in the middle, placing your right palm on the dough, and your left palm on top of your right hand.

Roll the dough forward and backward rapidly, gradually sliding your hands towards the two ends as the dough lengthens.

Deflate any gas blisters on the surface by pinching them. Repeat the rolling movement rapidly several times until the dough is 16 inches long, or whatever length will fit on your baking sheet. During the extension rolls, keep circumference of dough as even as possible and try to start each roll with the sealed side of the dough down, twisting the rope of dough to straighten the line of seal as necessary. If seal disappears, as it sometimes does with all purpose flour, do not worry.

Place the shaped piece of dough, sealed side up, at one end of the flour rubbed canvas, leaving a free end of canvas 3 to 4 inches wide. The top will crust slightly as the dough rises; it is turned over for baking so the soft, smooth underside will be uppermost.

Pinch a ridge 2 1/2 to 3 inches high in the canvas to make a trough, and a place for the next piece. Cover dough with plastic while you are forming the rest of the loaves.

After all the pieces of dough are in place, brace the two sides of the canvas with long rolling pins, baking sheets or books, if the dough seems very soft and wants to spread out. Cover the dough loosely with flour rubbed dish towel or canvas, and a sheet of plastic. Proceed immediately to the final rising, next step.

(Mary and Sara Note: Empty paper towel tubes and/or bottles of spices work well as braces as well)

For Long Thin Loaves – Ficelles: Follow the steps above but making thinner sausage shapes about 1/2 inch in diameter. When they have risen, slash as with the Batard.

For Oval Rolls – Petits Pains, Tire-Bouchons: Form like batards, but you will probably not have to lengthen them at all after the two foldings and sealings. Place rolls on a floured canvas about 2 – 4” apart and cover with plastic to rise. When they have risen, make either 2 parallel slashes or a single slash going from one end to the other.

For Small, Medium, or Large Round Loaves – Pain de Menage, Miches, Boules: The object here is to force the cloak of coagulated gluten to hold the ball of dough in shape: the first movement will make cushion; the second will seal and round the ball, establishing surface tension.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface.

Lift the left side of the dough with the side of your left hand and bring it down almost to the right side.

Scoop up the right side and push it back almost to the left side. Turn the dough a quarter turn clockwise and repeat the movement 8 – 10 times. The movement gradually smooths the bottom of the dough and establishes the necessary surface tension; think of the surface of the dough as if it were a fine sheet of rubber you were stretching in every direction.

Turn the dough smooth side up and begin rotating it between the palms of your hands, tucking a bit of the dough under the ball as you rotate it. In a dozen turns you should have a neatly shaped ball with a little pucker of dough, le cle, underneath where all the edges have joined together.

Place the dough pucker side up in a flour-rubbed canvas; seal the pucker by pinching with your fingers. Flour lightly, cover loosely and let rise to almost triple its size. After unmolding upside down on the baking sheet, slash with either a long central slash, two long central slashes that cross at right angles, or a semi-circular slash around half the circumference.

For Small Round Rolls – Petits Pains, Champignons: The principles are the same here as for the preceding round loaves, but make the cushion shape with your fingers rather than the palms of your hands.

For the second stage, during which the ball of dough is rotated smooth side up, roll it under the palm of one hand, using your thumb and little finger to push the edges of the dough underneath and to form the pucker, where the edges join together.

Place the formed ball of dough pucker side up on the flour rubbed canvas and cover loosely while forming the rest. Space the balls 2 inches apart. When risen to almost triple its size, lift gently with lightly floured fingers and place pucker side down on baking sheet. Rolls are usually too small for a cross so make either one central slash or the semi-circular cut.

For Large Oval Loaf – Pain Boulot: Follow the directions for the round loaves except instead of rotating between the balms of your hands and tucking to form a round loaf, continue to turn the dough from the right to the left, tucking a bit of each end under the oblong loaf. In a dozen turns you should have a neatly shaped oval with tow little puckers of dough, le cles, underneath where all the edges of have joined together.

Place the dough pucker sides up in a flour-rubbed canvas; seal the puckers by pinching with your fingers. Flour lightly, cover loosely and let rise to almost triple its size. After unmolding upside down on the baking sheet, slash with parallel slashes going diagonally across the top starting from the upper left and going to the lower right.

Step 7: Final Rise – l’appret - 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours at around 70 degrees

The covered dough is now to rise until almost triple in volume; look carefully at its pre-risen size so that you will be able to judge correctly. It will be light and swollen when risen, but will still feel a little springy when pressed.

It is important that the final rise take place where it is dry; if your kitchen is damp, hot, and steamy, let the bread rise in another room or dough will stick to the canvas and you will have difficulty getting it off and onto another baking sheet. It will turn into bread in the oven whatever happens, but you will have an easier time and a better loaf if you aim for ideal conditions.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees about 30 minutes before estimated baking time.

Step 8: Unmolding risen dough onto baking sheet – le demoulage.
(Mary and Sara note: we are only going to describe the unmolding of The Batard but the unmolding process is the same no matter the shape of your loaf or loaves. The key to unmolding without deflating your bread is slow and gentle!)

The 3 pieces of risen dough are now to be unmolded from the canvas and arranged upside down on the baking sheet. The reason for this reversal is that the present top of the dough has crusted over during its rise; the smooth, soft underside should be uppermost in the oven so that the dough can expand and allow the loaf its final puff of volume. For the unmolding you will need a non-sticking intermediate surface such as a stiff piece of cardboard or plywood sprinkled with cornmeal or pulverized pasta.

Remove rolling pins or braces. Place the long side of the board at one side of the dough; pull the edge of the canvas to flatten it; then raise and flip the dough softly upside down onto the board.

Dough is now lying along one edge of the unmolding board: rest this edge on the right side of a lightly buttered baking sheet. Gently dislodge dough onto baking sheet, keeping same side of the dough uppermost: this is the soft smooth side, which was underneath while dough rose on canvas. If necessary run sides of hands lightly down the length of the dough to straighten it. Unmold the next piece of dough the same way, placing it to the left of the first, leaving a 3 inch space. Unmold the final piece near the left side of the sheet.

Step 9: Slashing top of the dough – la coupe.
(Mary and Sara Note: We will only describe the slashing for the Batard here. All other slashes for the other shapes are described in Step 6: Forming the Loaves)

The top of each piece of dough is now to be slashed in several places. This opens the covering cloak of gluten and allows a bulge of dough underneath to swell up through the cuts during the first 10 minutes of baking, making decorative patterns in the crust. These are done with a blade that cuts almost horizontally into the dough to a depth of less than half an inch. Start the cut at the middle of the blade, drawing toward you in a swift clean sweep. This is not quite as easy as it sounds, and you will probably make ragged cuts at first; never mind, you will improve with practice. Use an ordinary razor blade and slide one side of it into a cork for safety; or buy a barbers straight razor at a cutlery store.

For a 16 to 18 inch loaf make 3 slashes. Note that those at the two ends go straight down the loaf but are slightly off centre, while the middle slash is at a slight angle between the two. Make the first cut at the far end, then the middle cut, and finally the third. Remember that the blade should lie almost parallel to the surface of the dough.

Step 10: Baking – about 25 minutes; oven preheated to 450 degrees (230 degrees C).

As soon as the dough has been slashed, moisten the surface either by painting with a soft brush dipped in cold water, or with a fine spray atomizer, and slide the baking sheet onto rack in upper third of preheated oven. Rapidly paint or spray dough with cold water after 3 minutes, again in 3 minutes, and a final time 3 minutes later. Moistening the dough at this point helps the crust to brown and allows the yeast action to continue in the dough a little longer. The bread should be done in about 25 minutes; the crust will be crisp, and the bread will make a hollow sound when thumped.

If you want the crust to shine, paint lightly with a brush dipped in cold water as soon as you slide the baking sheet out of oven.

Step 11: Cooling – 2 to 3 hours.
(Mary and Sara Note: We know this will be the hardest thing to do for this challenge. But, if you do not let the French bread cool, the bread will be doughy and the crust will be soft. If you want to have warm French bread, re-heat the bread after it has cooled in a 400 degree oven, uncovered and directly on the oven rack for 10 – 12 minutes if it is unfrozen. If it has been frozen see the directions below)

Cool the bread on a rack or set it upright in a basket or large bowl so that air can circulate freely around each piece. Although bread is always exciting to eat fresh from the oven, it will have a much better taste when the inside is thoroughly cool and has composed itself.

Step 12: Storing French bread
Because it contains no fats or preservatives of any kind, French bread is at its best when eaten the day it is baked. It will keep for a day or two longer, wrapped airtight and refrigerated, but it will keep best if you freeze it – let the loaves cool first, then wrap airtight. To thaw, unwrap and place on a baking sheet in a cold oven; heat the oven to 400 degrees. In about 20 minutes the crust will be hot and crisp, and the bread thawed. The French, of course, never heat French bread except possibly on Monday, the baker’s holiday, when the bread is a day old.

Step 13: Canvas housekeeping
After each bread session, if you have used canvas, brush it thoroughly to remove all traces of flour and hang it out to dry before putting away. Otherwise the canvas could become mouldy and ruin your next batch of dough.

The Simulated Bakers’ Oven
Baking in the ordinary way, as described in the preceding recipe, produces an acceptable loaf of bread but does not nearly approach the glory you can achieve when you turn your home oven into a baker’s oven. Merely providing yourself with the proper amount of steam, if you can do nothing else, will vastly improve the crust, the color, the slash patterns, and the volume of your bread; steam is only a matter of plopping a heated brick or stone into a pan of water in the bottom of the oven. The second provision is a hot surface upon which the naked dough can bake; this gives that added push of volume that improves both the appearance and the slash patterns. When you have the hot baking surface, you will then also need a paddle or board upon which you can transfer dough from canvas to hot baking surface. For the complete set up here is you should have, and any building-supply store stocks these items.
For the hot baking surface: Metal will not do as a hot baking surface because it burns the bottom of the dough. The most practical and easily obtainable substance is ordinary red floor tiles 1/4” thick. They come in various sizes such as 6 x 6, 6 x 3, and you only need enough to line the surface of an oven rack. Look them up under Tiles in your Directory, and ask for “quarry tiles” their official name.

(Mary and Sara Note: When this book was written, quarry tiles had a fair amount of asbestos in them. Today, in North America and Europe, they normally are made of clay. Make sure if you decide to go purchase some quarry tiles you only purchase unglazed quarry tiles because most of the glazes used contain lead or some other nasty substance that could get transferred. A large pizza stone will also work but make sure it is at least 1/4 inch thick because the thinner ones can break when used at the high heats that baking bread requires. Make sure you never put wet tiles in the oven because they can shatter or worse as the oven heats up.)

For unmolding the risen dough from its canvas: A piece of 3/16 inch plywood about 20 inches wide.

For sliding the dough onto the hot tiles: When you are doing 3 long loaves, you must slide them together onto the hot tiles; to do so you unmold them one at a time with one board and arrange them side by side on the second board, which takes place on the baker’s paddle, la pelle. Buy a piece of plywood slightly longer but 2 inches narrower than your oven rack.

(Mary and Sara note: Today, you can buy a real baker’s paddle easily online or at a restaurant supply store for about the same money as a piece of plywood and it will have a bevelled edge that will make sliding loaves in and out of the oven easier)

To prevent dough from sticking to unmolding and sliding boards: White cornmeal or small dried pasta pulverized in the electric blender until it is the consistency of table salt. This is called fleurage.

The steam contraption: Something that you can heat to sizzling hot on top of the stove and then slide into a pan of water in the oven to make a great burst of steam: a brick, a solid 10lb rock, piece of cast iron or other metal. A 9 x 12 inch roasting pan 2 inches deep to hold an inch of water and the hot brick.

(Mary and Sara note: Other ways to get steam in the oven is pre-heat the oven and then to fill a pan with ice cubes put it on the lower rack and then pour warm water into the pan. The temperature difference between the ice cubes and the warm water will create steam. Also you can toss ice cubes on the bottom of the oven. Put a metal baking sheet on the bottom rack, pre-heat the oven with the baking sheet in the oven and right before you put your loaves in, spritz water onto the pan.)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dulce de Leche Macaroons

I decided to make these before I received my peanut butter dulce de leche (PBDDL) from Blake Makes. You see, Blake was giving away little jars of PBDDL to a lucky group of food bloggers. I was a little late in finding out about it, and when I didn't get any kind of congratulatory or confirmation email, I just assumed that I wasn't going to be one of the lucky recipients. (Yes, I was too lazy to count through the comments and figure out if I was one of the first 32 to comment on that post.)

So, as I sat around, wishing for a jar of PBDDL, I thought to myself... Why do I need to wait for someone to send me some? I bet I could make my own :) Well, I didn't go as far as making the peanut butter version, but I did try my hand at making my very own dulce de leche for the first time.

Dulce de leche literally means "sweet of milk" and is made by heating sweetened milk until it turns into this rich, caramel flavored substance. The process was very simple. I found myself wondering why I hadn't made some sooner! It was so good I could just eat it by the spoonful!

I decided to make macaroons with my dulce de leche after seeing this simple recipe in the Pastry Queen. These macaroons taste like a Mounds candy bar + caramel. They were good, but very sweet so I couldn't really eat more than one at a time. If you love coconut, you need to try these.

Oh, and of course right after I made these, I was surprised to receive a package from Blake with a cute little PBDDL jar inside! Thanks Blake! I still haven't decided if I want to just eat it with a spoon, or make something with it :) We'll see...

Dulce de Leche Macaroons
from The Pastry Queen, by Rebecca Rather

14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
3 cups lightly packed sweetened flaked coconut
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips or 1 cup toasted slivered almonds

Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats, or grease generously with butter or cooking spray.

Remove the paper wrapper from the can of the sweetened condensed milk. Use a can opener to make two small punctures in the top of the can on opposite sides. Set the can of milk in a medium saucepan, puncture side up. Fill the saucepan with water to reach two-thirds of the way up the sides of the can. Cover the saucepan and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat until the water simmers and simmer about 1 hour. Check the saucepan periodically, adding water to ensure that the level dose not drop below halfway. A bit of milk may seep out of the small holes in the can. Cook until the milk pooled on top of the can has turned a deep golden brown. (The pooled milk never turned a deep golden brown for me, but I cooked mine for 2 hours and when I opened the can, it was a light caramel color. I might try 3 hours next time and see if I can get a darker caramel.) (You may have heard that boiling the can of sweetened condensed milk unopened is a shortcut. Do not attempt this. The milk expands when heated and may erupt with explosive results.)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Remove the can from the simmering water using a pot holder or tongs (it will be very hot). Carefully open the can and use a rubber spatula to spoon the cooked milk into a medium bowl. (Make sure you whisk it together well after transferring it to the bowl to break up any clumps.) Let it cool at least 10 minutes. Add the coconut, vanilla, and chocolate chips, stirring until combined.

Use a firmly packed 1-3/4 inch-diameter scoop to drop the spoonfuls of dough on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 1-1/2 inches apart. Wet your fingertips lightly with water and gently flatten the cookie dough (no need to press hard; just press out the hump). Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until the edges are dark brown and crisp. Let the cookies cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Store the cookies for about 1 week in an airtight tin, or freeze for 1 month. Separate the layers of cookies with waxed paper or they will stick together.

Yield: About 1-1/2 Dozen.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

My Master Baker Creation

As you've probably noticed, I love to bake. I enjoy cooking as well, but I would prefer baking over cooking any day. A lot of people actually prefer to cook, because cooking allows you a lot more flexibility. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, switch things up if you feel like it... and you still end up with a great dish. It's hard to do that with baking, as baking is more of a science and if you change the recipe a certain way without taking into consideration the scientific principles involved, the results could be disastrous. As such, I would have never dreamt in a million years that me, a strict baking recipe follower, could ever come up with a recipe on my own!

Well, we had two apples sitting around and I wanted to make something sweet with them. I had some french bread laying around too, so I decided some bread pudding would be good. So an apple bread pudding it was. But then I wanted some way to make it a little more interesting. I had some cranberries in my pantry - I thought their tartness would complement the sweetness of the apples well. So then it became a cranberry apple bread pudding :) For the sauce - I first considered a toffee/caramel sauce, but I grew up with my mom putting a little bit of rum in all the desserts, so a rum sauce seemed like a good idea for this dessert (that, and we didn't have any bourbon or whiskey). And so the Cranberry Apple Bread Pudding with Butter Rum Sauce was born :) If you prefer not to include the alcohol, the sauce still tastes great on its own. I included a range for the amount of rum to be added - the lower quantity imparts a mild to moderate rum flavor to the sauce. If you prefer a stronger flavor, add the higher quantity.

I will admit that I didn't just come up with this recipe out of thin air... what I did was take some very basic bread pudding recipes and adapted them to create exactly what I was craving. I'm still so very proud of myself! I guess everyone has to start somewhere, and maybe this is where I need to start in order to become a more creative baker (perhaps even a master baker?!). I hope you give this dessert a try, and enjoy it as much as I did. If you do, please leave me a comment with any suggestions!

I'm submitting this recipe to the first Master Baker challenge. It's a new monthly blogging event hosted by Nikki of Crazy Delicious in which bakers make something using the chosen ingredient. This month's ingredient was cinnamon. To find out more about Master Baker, and how to participate, click on the logo below (deadline is March 2nd).

Cranberry Apple Bread Pudding with Butter Rum Sauce
from Good Eats 'n Sweet Treats

2 apples, peeled and diced (approximately 1 lb or 3 cups)
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp butter
4-1/2 cups day old french bread, cubed
1/3 cup dried cranberries
3 eggs, beaten
1-1/2 cups milk (I used skim - that's all we ever have on hand)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract
Butter Rum Sauce, recipe to follow

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and add the brown sugar and melt. Toss in the apples, reduce the heat and let the apples cook until soft. Set aside.

In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes with the apples and dried cranberries. Transfer to a buttered 8x8-inch baking dish.

In a medium bowl, combine eggs, milk, cream, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. Beat until well mixed. Pour over bread, and lightly push down with a fork until bread is covered and soaking up the egg mixture.

Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the top springs back when lightly tapped. The bread pudding should be moist, but not runny.

Butter Rum Sauce
from Good Eats 'n Sweet Treats

1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8-1/4 cup high quality dark rum (I used Appleton Estate Jamaican Rum)

While the bread pudding cools, combine 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup butter, cream, and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a large saucepan. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, add the rum, and stir 3 minutes more. Spoon over warm bread pudding.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

TWD: Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits

I had mixed feelings when I found out that this week's recipe, chosen by Ashley of eat me, delicious, was the Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits. I love biscuits and I loved how quick and easy the recipe looked. On the flip side, I don't like nuts, and I have very little experience making biscuits from scratch. Most of the biscuits I've made in the past were from Bisquick. So I wasn't sure if I would be successful with this recipe.

Funny thing is, I grew up in California, so the only biscuits I knew growing up were from KFC! Then I met my husband who grew up in the South. I remember the first time I was treated to his mom's homemade biscuits... oh my. I rarely come across a biscuit that is as good as hers. The only biscuit that is better is his grandmother's!

I played around with this recipe a little. I omitted the pecans, as I don't like nuts. I also used buttermilk instead of whole milk because I didn't feel like running to store to pick some up. Oh, and I also don't have a biscuit cutter, so I just used a small glass instead. You can use cookie cutters if you don't have a biscuit cutter (I don't even have cookie cutters!).

Dorie describes these as "too good" and "caramelish because of the brown sugar." I was hoping that they would be sweeter from the brown sugar, but the "caramelish" flavor was very subtle. I was extremely cautious not to overwork the dough to avoid warming the butter too much, and while my biscuits did puff up, they weren't quite as flaky as I had hoped. Not sure if it's the recipe, or just me... since I am new to biscuit making. I also forgot to check the oven a little early, so by the time my timer went off at 14 minutes, my first batch was already a little too browned. I'm also not sure why, but my biscuits browned a lot on the top, but not the sides (is that typical?).

I would call these biscuits good, but I wouldn't jump to calling them "too good" like Dorie does. Perhaps that is because I omitted the pecans and I didn't get to experience these as they were intended. I enjoyed them by spreading some butter over them and then drizzling some honey on top. To me, the best biscuits are super buttery and flaky; they can be eaten alone, without the need for any butter, honey, jams, or jellies. If you want to read an interesting article about how to make good biscuits, click here.

Thanks Ashley, for picking this week's recipe and showing me that I can easily make my own biscuits at home. As the group continues to grow weekly (we've got 50 now!), make sure you check out the blog roll on the Tuesdays with Dorie blog to see how everyone elses' breakfast creations turned out.

Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits
from Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan

2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour and 1/3 cup cake flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
1/2 cup cold sour cream (I used light sour cream)
1/4 cold whole milk (I used buttermilk)
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans, preferably toasted (I omitted these)

Getting Ready:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Get out a sharp 2-inch-diameter biscuit cutter and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.

Whisk the flour(s), baking powder, salt, and baking soda together in a bow. Stir in the brown sugar, making certain there are no lumps. Drop in the butter and, using your fingers, toss to coat the pieces of butter with flour. Quickly, working with your fingertips (my favorite method) or a pastry blender, cut and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly. You'll have pea-size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces the size of everything in between-- and that's just right.

Stir the sour cream and milk together and pour over the dry ingredients. Grab a fork and gently toss and turn the ingredients together until you've got a nice soft dough. Now reach into the bowl with your hands and give the dough a quick gentle kneading-- 3 or 4 turns should be just enough to bring everything together. Toss in the pecans and knead 2 to 3 times to incorporate them.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour and turn out the dough. Dust the top of the dough very lightly with flour, pat the dough out with your hands or toll it with a pin until it is about 1/2 inch high. Don't worry if the dough isn't completely even-- a quick, light touch is more important than accuracy.

Use the biscuit cutter to cut out as many biscuits as you can. Try to cut the biscuits close to one another so you get the most you can out of the first round. By hand or with a small spatula, transfer the biscuits to the baking sheet. Gather together the scraps, working with them as little as possible, pat out to a 1/2-inch thickness and cut as many additional biscuits as you can; transfer these to the sheet. (The biscuits ca be made to this point and frozen on the baking sheet, then wrapped airtight and kept for up to 2 months. Bake without defrosting-- just add a couple more minutes to the oven time.)

Bake the biscuits for 14-18 minutes, or until they are tall, puffed and golden brown. Transfer them to a serving basket.

Yield: Approximately 12 biscuits

Monday, February 25, 2008

Shrimp and Goat Cheese Risotto

I love risotto. Risotto can be made from a variety of different rice grains, but arborio is the most common one. You can usually find arborio rice in most grocery stores; it is usually near the other grains of rice (long grain, brown, etc.) and the couscous. Typically, the rice grains are heated in oil or butter until browned, and then stock is added, bit by bit, until the rice has soaked up all the liquid. What you end up with is a delicious, creamy rice. I just wish it wouldn't take so long to cook. For those who are patient enough, the end result is always worth the wait.

This is a great recipe for the goat cheese lovers out there. The basil complements the goat cheese well, and I think you could easily substitute chicken for the shrimp if you are not a seafood lover. Or, omit the shrimp altogether and use vegetable broth for a nice vegetarian side dish.

I have only made risotto a handful of times, and I know how nervous I was making it the first time. So I have a few tips for those who are making risotto for the first time. As you are boiling off the liquid, make sure your heat is set to low-medium. The heat should be high enough that your liquid is at a very low boil, but not so high that it is at a rolling boil. If your heat is too low, and there is no gentle boil, your rice will not cook. You will taste test it and see that it is not done, continue to add liquid to it, and the rice will continue to soak up liquid without cooking, leaving you with a soupy mess of uncooked rice (I know this from experience - ha!).

Make sure you do not add your cheese until the very end, just before serving. If you add it too early, your risotto will become grainy and oily because the heat acting on the proteins of the cheese will cause release of the oils contained in the cheese. Again, leaving you with some not so great tasting risotto.

To determine when your risotto is done, move it all to one side of your saucepan and give the saucepan a shake. The risotto is ready when it relaxes and settles some after shaking. If a lot of liquid runs away from the rice, it needs to cook a bit longer. You'll also need to do a taste test, similar to checking pasta to see if it is al dente. The rice should be soft but not mushy, and there should be very little crunch left to it. If it is hard at all, continue to cook it a little more.

Shrimp and Goat Cheese Risotto
from Food & Wine

1 quart chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
3/4 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup arborio rice (8 1/2 ounces)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chopped basil leaves
1/4 cup soft fresh goat cheese (1 1/2 ounces)
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. Add the shrimp, cover and simmer over moderate heat until just cooked, about 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to a plate to cool. Cover the stock and keep it at barely a simmer.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter in the olive oil. Add the garlic and onion and cook over low heat, stirring, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the rice and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until it is coated with oil, about 1 minute. Add the wine and simmer until almost evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add 1 scant cup of the simmering stock and cook, stirring constantly, until it is absorbed. Continue to add the stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly until it is absorbed. The risotto is done when the rice is tender but still slightly firm and creamy, about 25 minutes total. Stir in the shrimp. Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the basil, goat cheese, Parmesan, ginger and lemon zest. Season the risotto with salt and pepper and serve.

Yield: 4 servings.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sweet Bliss

I first saw these Cranberry Bliss Bars at Starbucks (they are seasonal so if you haven't seen them lately, that's why). They immediately caught my attention. They were calling my name but alas... I have a hard time bringing myself to buy such over-priced baked goods. So, I asked around at work to see if anyone had tried them to see if they were worth trying to make on my own. One of my co-workers raved about them, so I knew I had to find a good copycat recipe. I found a few different recipes online but ultimately, this one sounded the best.

I made a few changes to the recipe. I used orange juice instead of lemon juice because orange and cranberry seem like a better combination to me than lemon and cranberry. I also added some candied ginger based on some reviews I read, indicating that the Starbucks version does have a stronger ginger flavor to it. Lastly, to try to make these as authentic as possible, I used a white chocolate drizzle on top (like Starbucks does) instead of the icing that is called for in the recipe. My co-worker said these looked exactly like the ones at Starbucks. She said that they do not taste exactly like the Starbucks version, but they taste better :) That's good enough for me!

I love these bars! I must admit that they are very sweet... but they are oh so delicious! You may want to consider cutting them into smaller pieces (since they're so sweet). The cranberry and white chocolate combination is so good (if you enjoy cranberry and white chocolate, try these cookies). The candied ginger was definitely a nice addition. It is subtle and you only notice it if you are looking for it. I love cranberries and believe they should be eaten year round, not just around the holidays. So I'm happy that I can make these year-round now :)

* Update (Dec. 2008): I finally got my hands on one of these at Starbucks and I have to say that while these look just like the Starbucks version, they don't taste a whole lot like them. That's not bad, though, because I definitely prefer this homemade version. It has a better flavor to it and I like the hint of ginger in it. Just wanted to let you know, though, in case you were looking for an exact copycat recipe - because this isn't it.

Cranberry Bliss Bars

1 cup butter , softened
1-1/4 cups light brown sugar , packed
3 eggs
1-1/2 tsp vanilla or orange extract
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
1-1/2 cups All Purpose flour
3/4 cup diced dried cranberries
6 ounces white chocolate, cut into chunks
2 tbsp candied ginger, minced

4 ounces cream cheese, softened (I used 1/3 less fat Neufchatel cheese)
3 cups powdered sugar
4 tsp lemon juice or 2 tsp orange extract (I used 4 tsp orange juice)
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup diced dried cranberries

Drizzled Icing
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp milk
2 tsp vegetable shortening
orange zest , garnish (optional)
(Instead of this icing, I used melted white chocolate instead - approximately 2 ounces of chocolate with 1/4 tsp shortening)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer until smooth. Add eggs, vanilla, ginger, and salt; beat well. Gradually mix in flour until smooth.

Mix 3/4 cup diced dried cranberries and white chocolate into the batter by hand. (If using the candied ginger, add it during this step.)

Pour batter into a well-greased 9x13-inch baking pan and spread evenly. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until cake is light brown on the edges. Let cool.

Frosting: Combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, lemon juice and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth.

When the cake has cooled, spread frosting over the top of cake. Sprinkle top with diced cranberries.

Icing: Whisk powdered sugar, milk, and shortening. Drizzle icing over cranberries in a sweeping motion or use a pastry bag with a fine tip.
(Alternatively, melt the white chocolate and shortening in a ziploc bag on low heat in the microwave. Cut a small hole in the corner of the ziploc bag and drizzle chocolate over the top of the cake.)

Allow cake to sit for several hours, then slice the cake lengthwise (the long way) through the middle. Slice the cake across the width three times making a total of eight rectangular slices. Slice each of those rectangles diagonally, creating 16 triangular slices.

Yield: 16 servings.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chicken Adobo

I've been posting a lot of sweet treats lately, and realized it was about time for some good eats! Work can often be fairly stressful, so I rarely feel like cooking when I get home from work. I do most of my cooking on the weekends, or on my days off (I get a weekday off every other week). I do, on occasion, cook on a weeknight when I'm working; but I'm much more inclined to do so if it's a quick and simple, but tasty, meal.

I got this recipe for Adobo from my friend Daphne. It is a Filipino dish that is usually cooked with either chicken or pork. I have to admit that I have never had chicken adobo anywhere else, so I have no idea how this compares to other recipes. All I know is that I love the simplicity of this, and the flavor is wonderful (though it's not the most photogenic dish). The recipe calls for cooking a whole chicken, but I don't eat dark meat (I know, my family says I'm crazy!) so I just use boneless skinless chicken breasts. I'm sure that the flavor would be even more amazing if you cooked this using a whole, skin on, chicken.

This is another great weeknight meal. You can prepare/marinate the chicken the day before, and then when you get home from work, all you have to do is pop it on the stove and simmer it. You need to cook it on the stove top for quite some time (approximately 1 hour), but it's something that doesn't require a lot of babysitting - you can get it started and then walk away from it. Sometimes you need that time to relax and unwind after a long day... I imagine that you could adapt this to become a slow cooker recipe, but I haven't gotten around to trying that yet.

Chicken Adobo
from Daphne's mom

1 cup white vinegar
1 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp black peppercorn (whole)
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
2-3 bay leaves
1 whole chicken, cut up

Mix all the ingredients together and marinate at least one hour; overnight is best.

Add the chicken and marinade to a large pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for half an hour. Uncover and simmer an additional 20-30 minutes.

Serve with rice.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

TWD: Almost-Fudge Gâteau

For this week's Tuesday with Dorie recipe, Nikki of Crazy Delicious chose the Almost-Fudge Gâteau. I wasn't really sure what to expect when I saw this week's recipe. Not because it didn't look like chocolately goodness, but because I had never heard of a gâteau before. For those of you, like me, who have no idea what a gâteau is, I looked it up on :) The first two definitions don't really seem to fit this:

(1) A cake, esp. a very light sponge cake with a rich icing or filling
(2) A cake or pastry, especially a light one filled with custard, fruit, or nuts

While it has a rich icing, this is definitely not a light sponge cake, and it is not filled with custard, fruit, or nuts. The third definition is rather broad, but seems to describe this cake well:

(3) Any of various rich and elaborate cakes.

This is a super rich and dense fudgey cake topped with a chocolately glaze. I could only eat a small piece of this, but several chocolate lovers who tried it easily gobbled up their slices. If you thought the "She Ain't Heavy" Chocolate Cake was death by chocolate, try this cake :) I am not a fan of dark or bittersweet chocolate, so the next time I make this, it will probably be with semisweet chocolate (I used 60% cocoa this time). Seeing as chocolate and raspberries go so well together, I think this would also be nice if it was topped with some fresh raspberries or a raspberry sauce.

The Almost-Fudge Gâteau is something you can easily throw together without much effort/time and is still perfect for entertaining, or that special occasion (I made mine for Valentine's Day). Oh, and it's a pretty fool proof recipe too... I threw mine together rather quickly... while the chocolate was cooling, I whipped up the egg whites so it came together in no time. As I shut my oven door after putting this in, I stopped to think a moment. "Hmmmm... that came together really quickly," I thought to myself. Then it hit me. That awful feeling. I must have forgotten something. So there I was, scrambling to read over the recipe again to figure out what I had forgotten. I quickly realized that I had forgotten to add the flour! So, there I was, clambering to open up the oven, measure out the flour, and mixing it into the batter. I decided to just fold the flour in with the batter still in the pan, because transferring it out of the pan and back in would just be too messy (plus I didn't want to lose all the air I had beaten into the egg whites). As I did so, I noticed part of the flour that I had buttered and floured the pan with was starting to get incorporated into the better as well - so after I put it back into the oven I was crossing all my fingers and toes that this would turn out okay and that it would not stick to the pan.

Thirty-five minutes later, my timer went off and I went to check my cake... everything looked all right. It had cracked, like Dorie said it would and it had risen evenly across the top. At this point, it looked rather promising and I was hopeful that I had not screwed up the recipe! :) I waited patiently for it to cool and then glazed it with the chocolate topping. Then the moment of truth: I sliced a piece and handed it over to my husband, wishing him a Happy Valentine's Day. I anxiously waited for him to take the first bite, hoping I had not ruined Dorie's chocolate decadence. He stopped, only for a moment to give his approval of this recipe, before devouring the rest of his slice. Success! I was thrilled (especially since he had told me I might as well throw it out and start over when he heard I had initially forgotten the flour!). So, there you have it - proof that this is a recipe that anyone can successfully make :)

Thanks again, Nikki, for choosing this week's recipe. I had fun making it (although I was a nervous wreck between the time it went into the oven to the time it was tasted) and I think it's perfect for the next time we have dinner guests over. As the group continues to grow weekly, make sure you check out the Tuesdays with Dorie blog to check out how everyone else enjoyed this chocolately decadence!

Almost-Fudge Gâteau
from Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan

5 large eggs
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used 60% cocoa, will use semisweet next time)
1 cup of sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
2 tablespoons coffee or water (I used Kona coffee)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt

For the Glaze (optional)
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used 60% cocoa, will use semisweet next time)
½ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup

Getting Ready:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, butter the paper, dust the inside of the pan with flour and tap out the excess. Place the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a mixer bowl or other large bowl and the yolks in a small bowl.

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and add the chocolate, sugar butter and coffee. Stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are melted; the sugar may still be grainy, and that's fine. Transfer the bowl to the counter and let the mixture sit for 3 minutes.

Using a rubber spatula, stir in the yolks one by one, then fold in the flour.

Working with the whisk attachment of the mixer or a hand mixer, beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt until they hold firm, but glossy peaks. Using the spatula, stir about one quarter of the beaten whites into the batter, then gently fold in the rest. Scrape the butter into the pan and jiggle the pan from side to side a couple of times to even the batter.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the cake has risen evenly (it might rise around the edges and you'll think it's done, but give it a few minutes more, and the center will puff too) and the top has firmed (it will probably be cracked) and doesn't shimmy when tapped; a thin knife inserted into the center should come out just slightly streaked with chocolate. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let the cake rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Run a blunt knife gently around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the pan. Carefully turn the cake over onto a rack and remove the pan bottom and the parchment paper. Invert the cake onto another rack and cool to room temperature right side up. As the cake cools, it may sink.

To Make the Optional Glaze: First, turn the cooled cake over onto another rack so you'll be glazing the flat bottom, and place the rack over a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper to catch any drips.

Put the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl.

Melt the chocolate over a pan of simmering water or in a microwave oven – the chocolate should be just melted and only warm, not hot. Meanwhile, bring the cream to a boil in a small sauce pan. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir very gently with a rubber spatula until the mixture is smooth and shiny. Stir in the corn syrup.

Pour the glaze over the cake and smooth the top with a long metal icing spatula. Don't worry if the glaze drips unevenly down the sides of the cake – it will just add to its charms. Allow the glaze to set at room temperature or, if you're impatient, slip the cake into the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. If the glaze dulls in the fridge, just give it a little gentle heat from a hairdryer.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Yep! That's right. MeMe x 5. Believe it or not, I've been tagged by 5 different bloggers within the course of one week! I've been tagged by April (Abby Sweets), Bridget (Bake at 350), Lindsey (Lindsey's Kitchen), BMK (Reservations Not Required), and Laura (Kickin' Up Dough).

Here are the MeMe rules:

1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. Share 5 facts about yourself.
3. Tag 5 people at the end of your post and list their names (linking to them).
4. Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment at their blogs.

So this is going to be a really long post just about me :) Because I was tagged by not one, but five bloggers, I now need to think of 25 random things about myself and tag 25 bloggers!

Ok, so here goes...

25 things you may or may not already know about me:

1) I am the youngest of two in my family.

2) I have an older brother, who is 4.5 years older than me.

3) My husband also comes from a family of two. Not only that, but both my husband and my brother have February birthdays while both my sister in law and I have November birthdays. So my husband and his sister are exactly 4.5 years apart as well.

4) According to a skin test, I am allergic to peanuts. I found this out after I started spontaneously breaking out in hives all the time. I went through approximately 6 months where this was a problem. Now I can eat peanuts and it's usually not an issue. I still sometimes break out in hives, but I just deal with it... I love peanuts and peanut butter too much to give it up ;)

5) My parents were "boat people" that came to the US during the Vietnam War without a penny in the their pockets. They are living proof that the "American Dream" is possible.

6) I grew up in "the OC" (Orange County, California).

7) I went to college in Connecticut.

8) I went to graduate school in North Carolina.

9) We live in Texas now.

10) I don't eat mushrooms.

11) I don't eat olives.

12) I don't eat nuts (except peanuts).

13) I don't like dark chocolate.

14) I love spicy food.

15) My favorite cuisine is probably Thai.

16) I cook and bake in a tiny apartment kitchen that is approximately 45 sq. ft.

17) I met my husband online in April 2003.

18) We got engaged April 2005.

19) We were married in September 2005.

20) We were married in a small, intimate ceremony in Hawaii.

21) We have no children, just four legged kids: a dog named Star, and two cats named Linus and Stitch.

22) I am double jointed so I can rotate my right arm a full 360 degrees!

23) I have donated my hair to charity twice now: 13 inches back in 1998 and 9.5 inches this past January.

24) I love snorkeling, but have never gone scuba diving. I'm trying to decide right now if I want to go to the trouble of learning how to dive before our next big vacation.

25) I take my food photos for this blog using a regular point and shoot camera, a Canon Powershot SD1000.

Whew! It's hard thinking of so many things. Ok, now I need to tag 25 bloggers. I'm going to pick some that I know and some that I don't know at all to keep things interesting :)

Alejandra of Always Order Dessert
Anita of Dessert First
Bea of La Tartine Gourmande
Beth of Our Sweet Life
Bexxie of Pies and Bass
Brilynn of Jumbo Empanadas
Carla of Dessert Lounge
Carol of French Laundry at Home
Caroline of A Consuming Passion
Cathy of Not Eating Out in New York
Emiline of Sugar Plum
Heather of It's All About Me
Helen of Tartelette
Jen of Use Real Butter
Jenny of Foray into Food
Jessica of Su Good Sweets
Kevin of Closet Cooking
Patricia of Technicolor Kitchen
Rachel of Coconut & Lime
Robin of Caviar and Codfish
Stephanie of Ch-ch-chocolate
Suzanne of Blueberry Cottage
Valerie of Bake Your Cake and Eat It Too
Valli of More Than Burnt Toast
Warda of 64 sq ft kitchen

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

TWD: Brown-Sugar Apple Cheesecake

This week it was my turn to choose the recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie. Anyone who knows me can understand how tough this decision was for me. I will spend forever pouring over a menu before deciding what I want to order... until my husband gets mad at me and forces me to make a decision before we turn the server away for the third time ;) I love too many different things, and I'm entirely too indecisive. So with over 500 recipes to choose from, I was at a loss!

As much as I enjoyed the Black and White Chocolate Cake and the "She Ain't Heavy" Chocolate Cake," I was ready to take a small break from fancy cakes (I'm horrible at assembling cake layers). Aside from that, I had no idea what I wanted to choose. So, I poured over the book several times before narrowing it down to a select few. In the end, I chose the Brown Sugar-Apple Cheesecake. I love cheesecake, and I love apples... so it seemed perfect.

This turned out to be a soft and creamy cheesecake. Not nearly as dense as a New York Style cheesecake, but I liked that because it wasn't too heavy. Three "large" apples is a pretty subjective measure, but I usually like more fruit in anything with a fruit filling, so I used four fairly large apples, weighing a total of 2 pounds. I felt that this was the perfect cheesecake to apple ratio. Originally, I had planned on topping this with more cooked apples and caramel sauce, but in the end it was perfect as is :)

When I decided to join Tuesdays with Dorie, I had no idea what I was getting into! I don't mean that in a bad way, but what I mean is that I had no idea how quickly the group would grow! Two weeks ago, I was the third person to join Laurie in her baking endeavor. Since then, the group has grown to include thirty bakers! :) Visit our new blog to see our blog roll and who the new members are. While you're there, don't forget to check out everyone's creamy creations from this week.

Oh, and this marks my 100th post! When I started my blog back in September, it was mostly to keep track of my favorite recipes. It was also a great way for me to share recipes with my friends. Little did I know that just five months later, I'd be here, participating in blog events (like Time to Make the Doughnuts) and a part of baking groups like Tuesdays with Dorie (I also finally mustered up enough courage to join the Daring Bakers this month!). So, for those that have been along for the ride, I thank you for reading my blog. I'm thrilled to hit the 100 post milestone and look forward to many more mouth watering posts in the future :)

Brown Sugar-Apple Cheesecake
from Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan

For the Crust:
30 gingersnaps (or a scant 2 cups graham cracker crumbs)
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted

For the Apples:
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter
3 large Golden Delicious or Fuji apples, peeled, cored and cut into eighths (I used 2 lbs Fuji, cut into twelfths)
2 tbsp (packed) light brown sugar

For the Filling:
1 1/2 pounds (three 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, at room temperature (I used 1/3 less fat Neufchatel)
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
6 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp apple cider
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream (I used light sour cream)
1/3 cup heavy cream

Apple jelly, for glazing, or confectioner's sugar, for dusting (optional)

To Make the Crust:
Butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan. (I used a 9-inch so my crust went all the way up the sides of the cheesecake.)

Put the gingersnaps in a food processor and whir until you have crumbs; you should have a scant 2 cups. (If you are using graham cracker crumbs, just put them in the food processor.) Pulse in the sugar and cinnamon, if you're using it, then pour over the melted butter and pulse until the crumbs are moistened. Turn the crumbs into the springform pan and, using your fingertips, firmly press them evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan as far as they'll go. Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven. (The crust can be covered and frozen for up to 2 months.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove the pan from the freezer and wrap the bottom tightly in aluminum foil, going up the sides. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust is set and lightly browned. Transfer to a rack to cool while you make the apples and the filling. Leave the oven at 350 degrees F.

To Make the Apples:
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the foam subsides, toss in half of the apple slices and cook, turning once, until they are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle the apples with 1 tablespoon of the sugar and cook them, turning, just until coated, another minute or so. Scrape the apples onto a plate, wipe out the skillet and repeat with the remaining apples. Let the apples cool while you make the filling.

Getting Ready to Bake:
Have a roasting pan large enough to hold the springform pan at hand. Put a kettle of water on to boil.

To Make the Filling:
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese on medium speed, scraping down the bowl often, for about 4 minutes, or until it is velvety smooth. Add the sugars and beat for another 2 minutes. Beat in the cider, vanilla, and cinnamon. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Finally, beat in the sour cream and heavy cream, beating just until the batter is smooth.

Pour about one third of the batter into the baked crust. Drain the apples by lifting them off the plate with a slotted spoon or spatula, and spoon them into the pan. Cover with the remaining batter and, if needed, jiggle the pan to even the top. Place the springform pan in the roasting pan and pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 to 45 minutes (I baked mine for 1 hour and 50 minutes in the 9-inch pan), covering the cake loosely with a foil tent at the 45-minute mark. The cake will rise evenly and crack around the edges (mine did not crack at all), and it should be fully set except, possibly, in the very center--if the center shimmies, that's just fine. Gently transfer the cake, still in the pan, to a cooling rack and let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate it for at least 6 hours; overnight would be better.

Run a blunt knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the crust, open the pan's latch and release and remove the sides.