Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bee Stings (SMS)

This week's Sweet Melissa Sundays (SMS) recipe was my pick! After pouring through the pages of this cookbook, I finally decided that I wanted to make the Bee Stings. These are Melissa's version of baked doughnuts - they're "sweet and tender brioche-style buns filled with pastry cream and then dipped in honey caramel and sprinkled with toasted almonds."

This is definitely a recipe that you'll have to plan ahead for. The dough needs 2-3 hours to rise after being kneaded, then it needs to be refrigerated overnight. When I read through the recipe, I was concerned because I have never seen a yeast dough recipe where there is only an exact amount of flour. Typically, the amount of flour you need to add will vary based on how much moisture is present in your kitchen, the flour, etc. I found that I had to add quite a bit more flour before my dough was no longer sticking to the sides of the bowl. I lost track of how much I added, but it was at least 1/4 cup more. The amount you'll need to add will be different, but in general if you add one tablespoon at a time, you won't over do it. As with most brioche doughs, it helps if you have a stand mixer, but it's not absolutely required. You just have to be ready to get a really good workout if you don't have one.

Aside from requiring extra flour, I had no problems with the dough. My dough took about 3 hours to double in volume, but that's partly because I didn't use "rapid rise" yeast. I also use my oven as a proofing box. I'll preheat it for a minute or two to get it warm, then turn the oven off and place my dough inside to rise. This guarantees that whether it's summer or winter, my dough will always rise nicely.

I found that my buns were golden brown after a short 19 minutes in the oven (11 minutes early) - so be sure to keep an eye on your buns to prevent them from burning!

While the dough was simple enough, I had major issues with the pastry cream. It's not that I've never made pastry cream before. I am used to making Dorie’s pastry cream and this one took forever to thicken up. At first, I thought it was because the water in my double boiler was just at a simmer (the recipe says not to boil it). After patiently whisking for over 20 minutes, however, I increased the heat to get the water to a boil… I then whisked for probably another 40 minutes until it started to thicken just slightly. It never got extremely thick like Dorie’s, but I gave up and stuck it in the fridge. After chilling overnight, it was thicker, but not nearly as thick as most pastry creams – not sure if this is Melissa’s intention. It reminds me of the cream you would find in a cream-filled doughnut, so perhaps this was her intention.

The honey caramel glaze is very simple to make. The honey adds a very nice flavor to the traditional flavor of caramel.

So how did these taste? They were good, but not quite what I had imagined when reading the recipe. The dough was sweet but wasn't quite as delicate as I had imagined. (This may have been my fault because I kneaded the dough much longer than the recipe indicated, while adding all the additional flour.) The pastry cream, in my opinion, was just okay. I much prefer Dorie’s pastry cream and will probably use that recipe instead the next time I make these. The honey caramel glaze was my favorite component of this recipe and tasted better than I had anticipated. Overall, I was glad I tried these, and while they're not my new favorite pastry, I could see myself making these again if I had a free weekend.

Make sure you visit the SMS Blogroll to see what everyone else thought about these sticky little treats!

Bee Stings
from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book

1/3 cup whole milk
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/3 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 ¼ tsp (1 package) active dry yeast
1 tsp kosher salt
½ cup sugar
5 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup sliced blanched almonds, toasted, for garnish (Mine were not blanched, and then I forgot to toast them)

Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream, recipe follows
Honey Caramel Glaze, recipe follows

Line two cookie sheets with parchment or aluminum foil.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment, combine the milk, egg, sour cream, vanilla and half of the flour. Mix on medium speed until it is a sticky paste.

Change the mixer attachment to the dough hook. Add the remaining flour, yeast, salt and sugar and mix on low speed to combine. Add the butter in pieces and beat on medium speed for 10-15 minutes until the dough forms a ball and is no longer sticking to the sides of the bowl. (If your dough is still very sticky, add more flour, one tablespoon at a time, until it is no longer sticking to the sides of the bowl. I had to add at least an extra 1/4 cup.)

*Edit: Please check out the tips at Pink Stripes - Wendy figured out how to make these without adding the extra flour, resulting is a lighter, not so dense bee sting!

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover is with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in volume, 2 to 3 hours.

When the dough has doubled, punch it down and turn it out onto a work surface. Divide it into 12 even pieces, each weighing about 2 ounces. (Due to the extra flour I added, mine were about 2.5 ounces each.)

Roll the dough into balls and place them 2 ½ inches apart on the prepared sheets (6 on each pan). Spray lightly with nonstick vegetable cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap (or lightly butter one side of the plastic wrap). Refrigerate overnight.

When you are ready for the final rise, remove the buns from the refrigerator. Bring about 3 quarts of water to a boil. Place an empty roasting pan large enough to hold the water on the bottom of your cold oven. Pour the boiling water into the pan.

Remove the plastic wrap from the buns. Position a rack in the top and bottom thirds of your oven. Place the cookie sheets on the racks in the oven (do not turn the oven on!)and shut the oven door. The steam of the water will help the buns in their final rise. The buns will just about double in size in about 40 minutes. (If your fridge is on a super-cold setting, your buns may take a little longer to rise. If they need more time, just boil some more water and refill the roasting pan.) When the buns have doubled in volume, remove them (and the roasting pan filled with water) from the oven.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. (Watch them carefully - mine were done at just 19 minutes!)

Remove to a wire rack to cool completely before filling.

Honey Caramel Glaze:

1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 tbsp heavy cream
3 tbsp clover honey
2 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 tsp fresh lemon juice

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the brown sugar, cream, honey and butter to a boil. Cook for 30 seconds more, then remove the pan from the heat.

Stir in the lemon juice and let cool slightly.

Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream:

1 cup whole milk
¼ cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split, or ¾ tsp pure vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
2 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp cold unsalted butter

Fill a medium saucepan with 3 inches of water and bring to a simmer. Set a bowl over the top, but make sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. (Remove the bowl and use it for the egg yolk mixture.)

In a separate saucepan, stir together the milk, half of the sugar, and the vanilla seeds and pod and heat to scalding, or until the milk is steaming and tiny bubbles are forming around the edges. Do not boil. (At this point you'll also want to strain the hot milk to remove the vanilla bean.) If using vanilla extract, add it at the end of the recipe after the butter.

In the reserved bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the remaining half of sugar until pale yellow. Whisk in the cornstarch. Little by little, whisk the hot milk into the egg mixture.

Place the bowl in the top of the double boiler, over simmering, not boiling, water. Cook, constantly whisking, until thick, about 5 minutes. (I had to increase the heat and whisk for much longer than 5 minutes.)

Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla extract, if using. Lay a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the custard (to prevent a skin from forming) and refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Whisk until smooth before using.

To Complete the Buns:

Poke a hole through the side of each bun, and hollow it out a bit. I find it easiest to do this with the pointy end of a stick thermometer or a metal skewer (a chopstick works great too!). Poke a hole large enough for an Ateco #801 1/4-inch round pastry tip to fit into. Once the stick is inside the bun, wiggle it from side to side, making room for the cream. Be careful not to poke through the other side - you don't want any of that cream coming out!

Whisk the pastry cream until smooth. Put it into the pastry bag fitted with the tip. Fill each bun with as much cream as you can without it spilling out. You should be able to fit at least 2 tablespoons into each bun.

Holding the filled bun upside down, dip the top of each bun into the honey caramel, (flip them back over) and then sprinkle with the almonds. Repeat with the remaining buns. Bee Stings are best eaten as soon a they are made, but stay yummy all day.

Tip: Freeze the buns! Once you form the dough into buns, you can place them in the freezer uncovered on the sheet before they start to rise again. Once they are frozen, cover with plastic wrap. They will keep frozen for up to 1 week. When you are ready to bake, take them from the freezer, and let them thaw unwrapped at room temperature. Proceed with the final rising before baking.

Yield: 12 Buns

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Apple Strudel (DB)

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers. Strudel is typically made from flour, egg, water and butter with no sugar added. This recipe uses vegetable oil instead of butter. After kneading the dough, it is allowed to rest and then rolled out and stretched by hand until it is as thin as tissue paper.

I've never made strudel before, so I had no idea what was involved in the process until now. It was actually fairly simple, though I was a bit intimidated after reading the instructions on how to stretch out the dough. Surely I wouldn't be able to stretch a small ball of dough into a thin piece that was 2 feet by 3 feet?! Once I started working with the dough, though, I was pleasantly surprised to find how easily stretched without tearing. I didn't end up measuring it, but was able to stretch my dough out to span the entire surface of my stove.

We were given the freedom to vary the type of filling, but I decided to stick with the classic cinnamon apple filling. Speaking of cinnamon, I added four times as much cinnamon as the recipe called for, and thought it turned out just right. The filling was actually not as sweet as I typically like my apple fillings, but my husband thought it was just right. I guess it depends on how sweet you like things ;)

Thanks to Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks for hosting this month's challenge. The pastry was delicious and I enjoyed this challenge. Making strudel pastry is one more technique I have under my belt now. That said, I probably won't be making this again unless it's to experiment with different types of fillings. When it comes to apples I think my favorite baked good is always going to be apple crumb pie.

Apple Strudel
from Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers

Preparation time
Total: 2 hours 15 minutes – 3 hours 30 minutes

15-20 min to make dough
30-90 min to let dough rest/to prepare the filling
20-30 min to roll out and stretch dough
10 min to fill and roll dough
30 min to bake
30 min to cool

2 tablespoons (30 ml) golden rum
3 tablespoons (45 ml) raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I used 1 tsp)
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 g) sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) fresh bread crumbs
strudel dough (recipe below)
1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts (I omitted these)
2 pounds (900 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (use apples that hold their shape during baking) (I used Golden Delicious apples - and sliced them into 1/8 inch slices)

1. Mix the rum and raisins in a bowl. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in another bowl.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.

3. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Make the strudel dough as described below. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the walnuts about 3 inches (8 cm) from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch-(15cm)-wide strip. Mix the apples with the raisins (including the rum), and the cinnamon sugar. Spread the mixture over the walnuts.

4. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

5. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.

Strudel dough
1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour (I used bleached flour)
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.
Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally. Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with a table cloth (I used a cheesecloth), dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.

Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.
(I did not hang my dough over the edge of anything. I found it easiest to just grab the edges of the dough and gently pull/stretch it outward. I slowly worked my way around the dough until it was completely stretched to cover the entire surface of my stove.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chipster-Topped Brownies (TWD)

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) recipe was chosen by Beth of Supplicious: Chipster-Topped Brownies. They are Dorie's brilliant idea to put a layer of chocolate chip cookie dough on top of a layer of brownies. Why haven't I seen this concept before?!

There was a lot of chatter about the recipe this week. Some had issues w/the raw cookie dough sinking into the brownie layer - I seemed to avoid this by dropping very small amounts at a time. There was also mention of the cookie layer browning and finishing cooking before the bottom brownie layer. Some pre-baked the brownie layer for a few minutes before adding the cookie dough and baking the two layers together. I considered doing that, but then decided to just make the recipe as written because if the brownie layer needed to be pre-baked, wouldn't Dorie have discovered that in her test kitchen?

So I decided to bake the brownies for the full 55 minutes to make sure the brownie layer wasn't undercooked. To avoid burning the cookie layer, I covered it with foil after 40 minutes in the oven. I probably should have done so at the 30 minute mark, but lost track of time. Still, this seemed to do the trick because my brownie layer was moist and chocolatey and my cookie layer was golden brown and crunchy.

To say that these brownies were good is an understatement. We loved them and my husband said they were one of the best things I have ever baked. I am not sure how they taste with the bittersweet chocolate, but I thought they were great with the semisweet chocolate I substituted. I loved these and will definitely be making them again.

Thanks Beth, for choosing this recipe - I am not sure how I missed this recipe in all the times I have flipped through the book, but I am so glad you pointed me towards it! If you would like the recipe, you can find it here. Make sure you visit the TWD Blogroll to see what everyone else thought about this awesome cookie/brownie combination.

* Recipes notes:
- I used 9 oz of semisweet chocolate chips in place of the 6 oz bittersweet and 3 oz of unsweetened chocolate.
- I omitted the walnuts from my brownie layer.
- I had to place a foil tent over my brownies about 40 minutes into baking to prevent the cookie layer from over browning, but I would recommend adding it at 30 minutes.
- I had to bake my brownies for the full 55 minutes before they were done.
- For more tips, click here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fresh Mango Bread (TWD)

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) recipe was chosen by Kelly of Baking with the Boys: Fresh Mango Bread. I love mangoes and was very curious to see this recipe. I wasn't really sure what to expect because I've never had cooked/baked mangoes before - I always enjoy them fresh.

This recipe is about as simple as any banana bread recipe, except dicing the mangoes may take some practice for those who are not familiar with eating them. If you've never cut a mango before, you can find instructions (with pictures) here.

The aroma coming from the oven as this bread was baking was wonderful. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but this bread tasted very similar to banana bread. The mangoes did impart a very subtle flavor to the bread, but it wasn't very prominent. I think I'll stick to enjoying fresh mangoes, but if I ever end up with an abundance of ripe mangoes, I would definitely make this bread again.

Thanks Kelly, for choosing this recipe - it was interesting and different. If you would like the recipe, you can find it here. Make sure you visit the TWD Blogroll to see what everyone else thought about this unique recipe.

* Recipes notes:
- My mango was just over 0.75 pounds and yielded 1.75 cups of diced mango. I would recommend either purchasing a large mango that is at least 1 pound, or at least 2 half pound mangoes.
- I had to place a foil tent over my bread about 40 minutes into baking to prevent it from over browning.
- I had to bake my bread for an extra 15 minutes before it was done in the middle.
- For more tips, click here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mexican Pizza and Homemade Taco Seasoning

My apologies to Babette of Babette Feasts who chose this week's Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) recipe (Tartest Lemon Tart). I would have loved to have tried it, but I just got back from my trip and I was so jet lagged. So instead of a tart this week, I bring you a super simple dinner idea - the Mexican Pizza.

I grew up in southern California and I'll admit, I used to go to Taco Bell. I almost always ordered the same thing whenever I went there - "Mexican Pizza with extra tomatoes, hold the olives please."

I haven't been to Taco Bell in years, and prefer to avoid fast food establishments in general now. So when I got a craving for a mexican pizza, I decided I could just as easily make them at home. Unlike most restaurants, there aren't many things on the Taco Bell menu that you couldn't make at home.

It was relatively easy to create the copycat Mexican Pizza recipe. Each component is simple to make, and this is actually a great weeknight meal because it comes together in no time. I don't like deep frying things, so I baked my tortillas instead. In our house, we buy the 10-inch tortillas in bulk, so that's what I used for this recipe. I then cut them into "slices" for serving. You can easily use smaller tortillas if you want to make individually sized servings instead. You can either use store bought taco seasoning, or you can just as easily make your own to cut back on the sodium (I've included a recipe below).

These are delicious, and a nice change from plain old tacos. I love that I can make my own mexican pizzas at home now, because I can customize them to suit my tastes - with extra tomatoes and no olives :) Give these a try - I think you'll enjoy them!

Mexican Pizza
from Good Eats 'n Sweet Treats

1 lb ground beef
1 tbsp taco seasoning, recipe below
1/4 cup water
4 flour tortillas (10 inch)
cooking spray
2 tbsp chopped green onions (scallions)
1/2 can (8 ounces) refried beans
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/2 cup taco sauce
1 cup shredded cheese (I used a Mexican Blend)
sliced black olives, optional

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cook the ground beef over medium heat until brown, then drain. Return the meat to the pan and add the taco seasoning and water. Continue to cook over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring often.

Spray both sides of each tortilla with cooking spray and then place them on the middle rack of your oven. Bake for approximately 6 minutes, turning them half way through. The tortillas should be golden brown and crispy, but watch them closely because they will go from golden to burnt in a matter of seconds. (They may puff up slightly in the oven - you can prevent this by poking them a few times with a knife every few minutes in the oven.) After you remove the tortillas from the oven, increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees F.

Place the refried beans in a small bowl and heat them for 30-60 seconds in the microwave.

Assembling the pizzas:
Spread 1/2 cup beans, then 1 cup of seasoned ground beef on the first tortilla. Top with the second tortilla.

Top the second tortilla with 1/4 cup taco sauce. Layer with 1/2 cup diced tomatoes, then 1/2 cup cheese and 1 tablespoon scallions.

Bake for 5 minutes. Cut each pizza into four "slices" using a knife or kitchen scissors.

Yield: 3-4 Servings

Taco Seasoning
from Amber's Delectable Delights

1 Tbsp chili powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper

Mix together all ingredients and store in airtight container.
Use within 6 months for best flavor.

Yield: 2 2/3 tablespoons (2 tbsp + 2 tsp)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

No Tiramisu Cake on the Garden Isle

Waipo'o Falls, Waimea Canyon, Kauai

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) recipe was chosen by Megan of My Baking Adventures: Tiramisu Cake. I love Tiramisu and this recipe looks amazing, but I was unable to make it this week because I am currently on the Garden Isle of Kauai! My brother is getting married in a few days on the island of Oahu, so we decided to make a vacation out of it :) I promise to make this cake when I return, so stay tuned...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Strawberry Shortcakes (SMS)

This week's Sweet Melissa Sundays (SMS) recipe was chosen by Wendy of Pink Stripes: Strawberry Shortcakes. There is nothing that I love more when it comes to strawberries than strawberry shortcakes. To say that I was looking forward to trying this recipe is an understatement.

The recipe is simple and straightforward with the typical 3 strawberry shortcake components: the strawberries, the shortcakes, and the whipped cream. The strawberries are sliced and then sweetened with sugar. The whipped cream is just that - whipped cream; nothing fancy. The shortcakes are basically sweet biscuit dough, with a little lemon zest to add more flavor. The key to making good shortcakes is handling the dough as little as possible. Overworking the dough will yield very flat, not very flaky shortcakes. If you don't have a pastry cutter, use two butter knives to cut the butter in to the dough.

I had no issues with my dough rising, though the shortcakes did not spread quite as much as I thought they would. Melissa said to place them on the baking sheet at least two inches apart, so I was expecting them to spread quite a bit! Instead, they just rose to become nice, flaky shortcakes!

These strawberry shortcakes were delicious! The perfect spring and summertime treat! The biscuit dough is sweet, but not too sweet. Paired with strawberries and whipped cream, it is perfect. I love that the shortcakes require only a few minutes of prep time, and then a few more minutes in the oven. It's the perfect last minute dessert if you have some unexpected guests coming over.

Thanks Wendy, for choosing this recipe - I loved it! If you would like the recipe, you can find it here. Make sure you visit the SMS Blogroll to see what everyone else thought about this scrumptious dessert.

* Recipe tips:
- Be careful with your shortcake dough - handle it as little as possible. Also make sure your butter is very cold before cutting it in. This will ensure your biscuits rise well and are perfectly flaky.
- Start your strawberries as the shortcakes go into the oven. By the time they're done baking and cooling, you'll be ready to go.
- The shortcakes are best eaten the day they are made, but they can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil and frozen for up to 3 weeks. Do not unwrap before defrosting.

- For more tips, click here.