April 29, 2009

Righting Egg White Wrongs

I'm on some kind of intimidation-facing baking jag this week- vegan TWD, souffle, and now macaroons. My failure rate for egg white based recipes runs a little on the high side. It all started with a disastrous Filbert Gauteau- the genoise was so heavy you could use it as a door stop. I've never had a lot of luck with sponge cake in general and my meringue is often mediocre at best but today I put a sizebale dent in my Egg White Phobia with Hazelnut Chocolate Macaroons.
Bonbini! provided both inspiration and information to tackle these little French, blog envy inducing cookies. I went with the Hazelnut version because I had hazelnut flour on hand (left over from the aformentioned Gateau Wreck) and will take advantage of any excuse to use Frangelico in a baked good. It started out a little rough. The recipe calls for italian meringue made by boiling sugar to a soft ball stage before incorporating it in with the egg whites. First attempt I ended up with a hard crystallized mess. Second time, I burned the sugar. Finally got it right on the third try and frustratedly yet gently folded the batter together, piped it out and crossed my fingers. I was overjoyed when I took them out of the oven and saw little macaroon "feet," and pressing their little flat ends together between a big dollop of Frangelico laced chocolate ganache made me so darn proud.
Little cookies, little victories.

You can check out lots of macaroon recipes here. I used this one for the shell.

April 28, 2009

Souffle Part Deux, A Learning Lunch

In theory, practice makes perfect. After speeding through the chocolate souffle practical in class, I knew I had some homework to do so for lunch today I tried my hand at a Gruyere souffle. I prepped all of my ingredients, took my time, and crossed my fingers in hopes of success. As you can see, I had a little issue with deflation (ironic, yes?) but the texture was light and fluffy and the flavor of the cheese really came through. I paired it with a Strawberry Walnut Salad with Lemon Thyme Vinaigrette for light and educational lunch.

Speaking of education, I'm thrilled to be participating in the DineandDish Adopt A Blogger program. My adopter is Lori, creator of Recipe Girl- a fantastic blogger whose site is a great resource for recipes, entertaining menus and general cooking knowledge. Recipe Girl offers over 2,000 dishes ranging from seasonal to holiday favorites, low fat mains to decadent desserts. Whether you're a newbie like me, or a veteran blogger, you should definitely check out Lori's Blog for some great ideas for your next meal.

Cheese Souffle
adapted from New School of Cooking Curriculum
1/2 ounce flour
1/2 ounce butter
1/2 cup milk
2 ounces gruyere, grated
1 egg yolk
2 egg whites
pinch of cayenne
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375. Prepare 3 ramekins with butter and a light dusting of flour.
In a small saucepan combine flour and butter, stirring with a wooden spoon over medium heat to make a roux. Whisk in milk until and simmer one minute until thickened into a bechamel sauce. Beat in egg yolk. Gently stir in cheese. Remove from heat and add salt, pepper and cayenne to taste. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form. Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the souffle base. When almost, but not fully incorporated, add the remaining egg whites and gently fold in to combine. Pour into ramekins and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Vegan With Dorie- Chocolate Cream Tart

I love animals and while I'm not vegan (not even vegetarian) I have been looking for ways to eat more local produce and dairy, reduce my carbon footprint, as well as the amount of animal-based products in my diet. Many bloggers have embraced vegan cooking and baking and have inspired me to do the same. While thumbing through the Veganomicon dessert section I saw Smlove Pie, featuring a chocolate filling made with tofu, arrowroot powder, and hazelnut liquor. Vegan Frangelico chocolate cream? What a great place to start. They also have a recipe for vegan "Not-tella" in there- I am so making that.
Excited, I went searching for a pie dough recipe and found a basic pastry crust made with vegan shortening. I know it's Tuesdays With Dorie, not Tuesdays With Isa & Terry but please make an exception for these delicious Chocolate Cream Tartletes, vegan style. Consider it a belated Earth Day gift.

Chocolate Cream Tart
adapted from Veganomicon

1 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4tsp baking powder
1/3 cup cold nonhydrogenated vegan shortening
1/4 cup cold water
2 tsp apple cider vinegar

Chocolate Filling
1 pound silken tofu, drained
1/4 cup hazelnut liquour
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tbsp arrowroot powder
12 ounces semisweet vegan chocolate chips, melted

Preheat oven to 400. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder. Add shortening by the teaspoon, cutting it into the flour with each addition until the dough is crumbly and pebbly. Combine vinegar and water. Add into the mixture in three batches, gently mixing it into the dough with a fork until the dough holds together when pinched. Add up to 2 tablespoons more water in necessary. Gather dough into a ball and knead gently a few times. Flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Once chilled, roll out the dough into a circle on a piece lightly floured parchment and lay into a prepared tart pan. Press a piece of lightly greased tin foil onto the surface of the crust and weigh it down with pie weights or rice. Bake for 20- 25 minutes, then remove tin foil and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes until the crust is lightly golden. Remove from oven and let cool. Reduce oven temp to 350.

While the crust cools prepare the filling. Crumble tofu into a food processor or blender. Add liquer, vanilla, and arrowroot and blend until smooth. Scrape down the sides, add the melted chocolate and blend again until thoughroughly mixed. If the filling appears lumpy, strain through a fine mesh sieve. Sppon the filling into the pie crust and bake for 40 minutes, or until the filling is set but still jiggly in the center. Let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes then chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours. Top with soy whipped cream and garnish with chocolate or cocoa powder.

**This recipe should make a full size tart. I halved both recipes and yielded 2 4inch tarteletes.

April 27, 2009

Dreamy Cherry Vanilla Cheesecakes

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

I have made cheesecake twice before and all I can say about this month's Daring Bakers Challenge is...this recipe is THE BOMB!
Seriously rich and creamy but not at all heavy, thank goodness I made mini cakelettes because I would be at the gym for the rest of the week! I stuck with Abby's Infamous Recipe original style, only substituting vanilla bean for vanilla resulting in the cutest little speckles all over these fabulous cheesecakes. Keeping it old school, I made a Dark Cherry coulis to go on top. It is all I can do not to go to fridge right now and make quick work of the five remaining cakelettes.
All in good time...

Dark Cherry Coulis
2 1/2 cups frozen, pitted dark cherries
3/4 cup sugar
Juice from 1/2 a meyer lemon

For Slurry
Dissolve 1 tbsp corn starch in 1 tbsp water

Combine cherries, sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan and simmer over medium heat until sugar dissolves, approx. 10 minutes. Strain the coulis through a fine mesh sieve, reserving the whole cherries. To thicken the coulis, pour liquid back into saucepan and bring to a boil. Whisk in slurry and bring to a boil again. Once thickened, turn off the heat and let cool before using.
Top chilled cheesecakes with a spoonful of coulis and additional reserved cherries to garnish.

April 26, 2009

Sunday School In The Fast Lane

Phew! What a whirlwind. I'm still reeling from the fast pace and have sugar shakes from speed tasting my chocolate souffle straight out of the oven. I think I burned my tongue. Today's class was all about classic, and often intimidating Souffle and Pate A Choux, and even though this wasn't my first attempt at either just the thought of making them is enough to make me break out into a cold sweat.
And while they didn't come off completely without a hitch (I got a little behind with the souffles base because had to remake my roux) I am happy to report that both the souffle and the eclairs were successes.

Some tips to help you conquer your pastry fears:
-Never use a whisk with you choux dough, always a wooden spoon -Don't let your choux dough sit out for more than an hour before piping and baking.
-When whisking your pastry cream to a boil, don't allow foam to form. Just keep running the whisk around the corners of the pot.
-Many people make the mistake of over whipping egg whites. To help know when to stop, look at the size of the bubbles. You want to make sure there are no big ones left in your egg white mixture, just little bubbles throughout.

-For sweet souffle, coating your ramekins with butter and sugar to get that chewy/sweet exterior. For savory use butter and flour.

Is souffle on your pastry fears list? Why don't you give it a try.

Chocolate Souffle
from the New School of Cooking
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
3 ounces butter
1/4 cup flour
1 egg yolk
1.75 ounces bittersweet chocolate melted (over a bain marie)
1 1/2 tsp cocoa powder
3 egg whites

Preheat oven to 375
In a small saucepan over medium heat make a sandy roux with the butter and flour.
Bring the milk and sugar to a boil and add to the roux. Cook until smooth until a paste forms. Transfer to a mixing bowl and whisk in egg yolk. Add melted chocolate and cocoa. Cool to room temperature. Once the base is cooled, whip the egg whites and immediately fold into the base. Bake for 20 minutes.

April 21, 2009

Routine Maintenance

Ever feel like you're in need of a tune up? After an awful two week bout of bronchitis I'm finally getting back to my old self again, albeit a weaker, pastier version. Months worth of daily workouts were all but forgotten during my sickness and while it was great to have an excuse not to exercise I am actually looking forward to moving my muscles again. I've started slowly, and took advantage of our mini heat wave here in Southern California by swimming laps the past 2 days. While I'm on a roll I thought I'd make an Apple Fennel Salad similar to one I saw in a magazine at my doctor's office. I've become quite the fennel fan and buy it whenever I see it at the store. I've been hooked on other fennel salads in the past and this one is definitely a winner.

Apple Fennel Salad
adapted from Natural Health and Epicurious
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp lemon juice (I used Meyer)
1 apple of your choice (I used Gala) cored, quarted and thinly sliced
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
2 cups mixed greens
Handful of chopped walnuts
Salt & pepper

Toss sliced apple with lemon juice to prevent browning
In a large bowl, whisk together apple cider vinegar, olive oil, and honey. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add apple, fennel and greens and toss gently to coat. Serve topped with walnuts.

April 19, 2009

Sunday School

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I've started taking pastry classes. I'm enrolled in the Pro Baking program at The New School of Cooking, a small culinary school in Culver City, and for the next 16 weeks I will spend 4 hours every Sunday learning the fundamentals of all things pastry and you are coming along. I won't be posting the recipes we receive in class (you can find our textbook, Baking At Home With The Culinary Institute of America, on Amazon) but in my Sunday School feature, I will be sharing some of the things I learned, as well as my failures & success during practical.
This week, Custard Week, I had both the former and the latter but first, some Dairy Facts:
Whole milk is 8-10% fat. Half & Half 18%. Cream 20-40%. Milk from a cow milked in the morning has more fat than afternoon milking milk. Butter left out of the fridge is safe because fat is a preservative. So is sugar. Egg whites are all protein. The yolk provides fat (flavor) & lecithin (emulisification)

This week's practicals included Chocolate Pudding, Creme Brulee and Bread Pudding. The Chocolate pudding I made in class had good flavor but a consistency that strongly resembled spackle. Definitely over cooked. Very disappointing. When I got home, I made it again and cooked it slowly at a lower heat to a much shinier, smoother & creamier result. Yum.

This was my first creme brulee- I never make it a home because I don't have a torch and after scaring a few of my fellow students as well as myself through the handling of the class torch it is obvious I need a lot more practice. The custard itself was silky and delicious, especially with the high quality, plump and shiny vanilla beans we used. Gotta get me some of those.

This was also my first Bread Pudding (I tend to avoid them because just the idea of one makes me feel like I have to go work out) and I'll be sampling it this evening. Along with the Pudding Redux. Yeah, maybe going to the gym isn't such a bad idea after all.
Join me next Sunday School Sunday when our subject will be Souffle and Pate Choux. In the meantime, if you have any questions just post them in the comment section and I will try to ask them. Class dismissed!

April 16, 2009

2880 Minute Magic

Writing this post feels like I'm back in grade school coming up with an excuse for why my book report was late. It fell out of my backpack. The dog ate my homework. My oven broke. Seriously, my oven freaking broke! Saturday I had just taken my second attempt at coconut cake out of the oven (the first one wasn't done in the middle) when the oven door locked and the self clean when on by itself. I swear! Unfortunately I had left a cookie sheet with a silicon handle in there so the whole house started smelling like burned rubber and every single smoke alarm went off. After the cycle finished, and I cleaned up enough ash to rival Mount St. Helens, I tried to run the oven and nothing. Zilch, zip, stone cold. Two days later, my oven has been diagnosed with either a broken thermostat or a dead control panel and is scheduled to be repaired next week.
The good news is I have a double oven and once the bottom unit passed its physical I was finally able to make this mini Chocolate Amaretti Torte.

And for extra credit, I made the amaretti cookies (thanks Barefoot Kitchen Witch!) and couldn't help making these amaretti nutella sandwiches with the leftovers.

I loved this torte, it reminds me off a fancy brownie with an almond vibe, and once I had all the components together it really was a breeze to make. Head on over to Holly's blog for the recipe and don't let the dog eat your torte!

April 9, 2009

Back to School

Last Sunday was my first Pro Baking class and I was really nervous. So nervous in fact that I got lost on my way there. Would I like the instructor? What would my classmates be like? Was I out of my league? We went around the room giving our names and what we hoped to get out of the class and much to my relief I was definitely in the right place. While everyone's skill level was different, we were all there for the same reasons- a love of baking and a secret desire to see if it was possible to turn a hobby into something more. I don't know where this class will lead but one thing's for sure- these are the best blueberry muffins I have ever made.

I would like to post the recipe but I want to get permission from the school first. But trust me, they taste as good as they look.
If it weren't for this blog, and more importantly for encouragement of the people who read it, I would never have had the nerve to take these classes in the first place. So in the interest of sharing the experience here are some of the things I learned this week:

A small egg is 1 oz, large egg 2 oz, jumbo egg 4 oz.
Use a rasp (microplane) zester for overall strong citrus flavor, or a channel zester for a hint of citrus taste combined with the other flavors in your pastry.
Carrot cake is essentially a quick bread.
If your cakes are too dense or sinking in the middle you are most likely over mixing.
Wearing a chef jacket makes me feel awesome.

April 7, 2009

Southern Comfort

West Palm Beach Florida isn't exactly the south, what with the massive amounts of transplanted New Yorkers living there- my family included. Since we left Long Island when I was 6 months old, I consider myself a Floridian and identify with being a southern girl, if just a little on the Jimmy Buffet side. Now that I live in California I sometimes need to listen to the Margaritaville station on satellite radio so I can feel a little closer to my roots. And sometimes I bake pie.
Banana Cream Pie is this week's Tuesdays With Dorie and the perfect remedy for Southern Withdrawal (drawl?). I made tarlettes and gave them a sprinkling of toasted coconut for that added Florida/tiki vibe.

They are so good, you might just blow out a flip flop.

April 2, 2009

Balancing Act

After four months off, tomorrow I'm heading back to work...for one night. Being in the film business is so strange- crazy, 16 hour days filled with a madness, followed by long stretches of unemployment. When I'm on a show I barely have time to take a breath let alone do my laundry, and lately I've had so much time on my hands I spread my chores out through the week just so I'll have something on my to do list. What I really have been enjoying is the luxury of baking everyday and while I'm anxious to get back to work it makes me sad to think I'll have to give that up. When I finally do back to work full time, I hope to create a better balance between my work and home life so I thought use this one day job to create some bring bringing along these Banana Macadamia Biscotti. How can biscotti create balance? Well, while I'm standing on the set somewhere between Friday night and Saturday trying to stay awake, I will pair my (very) late night coffee with these biscotti, so my set self and my "self" self will be able to meet somewhere in the middle.
How do you find your balance?

Banana Macadamia Biscotti
adapted from Cookie Madness
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup mashed banana (1 banana)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped, toasted macadamia nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt; set aside.
In a large bowl, combine banana, oil, egg and vanilla and mix until well blended. Add the flour mixture, toasted macadamia nuts to the banana mixture and stir just until combined. If the mixture seems dry, use your hands to mix until the dough comes together.
Divide the mixture in half and shape into 8 inch logs. Place the logs about 4 inches apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat. Use your hands or the back of a spoon to shape the logs into 2 rectangles about 3 inches across. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until firm and cracked on top.
Transfer the logs to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temp to 275F. Place logs on a cutting board and slice diagonally into 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick slices. Lay biscotti cut side down on the cookie sheet and return them to the oven for 15-20 minutes until they are crisp. Flip them over and cook for 15- 20 minutes on the opposite side. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.