Archive for the ‘baking’ Category

Crème Brûlée

For nearly an entire year, I have been a girl with a small butane torch and no ramekins in which to put custard.  Me even wanting to fill a ramekin with custard is weird in and of itself (you can search my blog for how I hated custard), but the desire came to a head if for no other reason than the desire to use this small torch.  I was lucky enough to find a steal on small ramekins (6 for $7!!!), and set on this task immediately thereafter.

Baking any custard based product is still a challenge for me; as seen here, here, and here.  I really want to get it down though and crème brûlée couldn’t be easier.  Using the recipe found in my CIA Mastering the Art and Craft Baking & Pastry book, I set to work gathering my ingredients and sauce pans.

I know what you’re thinking; “OMG!  How on earth do you make so many delicious things with an electric stove!?”  I don’t know friends (all 2 of you), but it CAN be done.  Trust.

Anyway, I followed the directions from the recipe – if you missed the link above, here it is again.  If you did not plan ahead and have 30 vanilla beans, or two from the McCormick spice jar from big box grocery, vanilla extract will suffice, just not look as pretty.  The CIA suggests

Vanilla extract can be substituted for the vanilla bean.  Blend 1 T into the custard just before portioning it into ramekins.  Vanilla beans that are used to infuse flavor into preparations such as custards can be rinsed under cold water, dried, and stored for a later use, such as making Vanilla Sugar.

Had I actually read the last sentence I could be indulging in vanilla sugar.   Uhg.

If you are not constantly stirring them mixture after you have tempered and added the sugared egg yolks, you run the high risk making scrambled eggs, so stir constantly!  If you don’t and kind of zone out of the task, get your strainer ready because you will need to pour all of your custard through it to remove the curdled eggs.  Actually, whether you zone out or not, it is best to strain it.  You know, precautionary, even if you’re as awesome as me.

Then just bake your ramekins off in a water bath so they do not get rubbery!

When you pull these guys out, or as many as you can bake (for any that you can’t/don’t want to bake off,  just put it in a sizable plastic container and use within a week or so), let them cool down and then refrigerate until they are fully chilled. But when they ARE…

Using 1 part granulated sugar to 1 part brown sugar and mixing them together completely, you have created brûlée sugar.  Take your brûlée sugar and layer it thinly on top of your custard…

Then you take that sugar and TORCH IT!  But not so much so that it is just burnt…but caramelized.

Some people pick their scabs, other break windows to relieve stress, feel good or waste time.  But if you are looking for a wonderful relief that is neither disgusting but is law-abiding, cracking through the glassy topping of this wonderful crème brûlée fits the bill.


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You’re broke.  I’m not trying to be a prick, but you are.  You lost your job, you had to downsize your life, and get a lame part-time job.  While all of these  things are huge set backs, you don’t have to be the Grinch at your holiday get-together nor do you have to show up with the bag of coal (which I imagine is an expensive gift anyway – and total NOT green…).  I wish I could instruct you on producing homemade jams and other canned goods but alas, no one has offered to let me borrow their canning supplies (save my BIL 2,000 miles away).  Instead, load up on some chocolate, peanuts, peanut butter, corn syrup, and some booze because you are staying home and turning your kitchen into a candy factory!  Let’s give the gift of sweets, made with love – something I haven’t yet seen a commercial about from Hershey’s.

Here are a few things that I want to remind you to make as gifts:

  1. Diable Peanut Brittle.  I know one ought not think of evil thoughts like…diablo during such a festive season.  But it’s good and your receivers will be way pleased.

2.   Caramel:  Who can resist the milky goodness – and heavy cream laden caramel?  It’s so delicious, and clearly                         made with love.

3.   Chocolate Covered Caramels:  If you want to get super wild, take the caramels from above, cover them in                      your favorite chocolate (I always prefer bittersweet when baking with an already very sweet product), dip,                          decorate and fin.

4.   PEANUT BUTTER BALLS: You have already ‘wowed’ your friends, family, mail delivery person and cats with your candy making abilities.  However, now is the time to really suck up to that manager of yours and make peanut butter balls.  Though somewhat time consuming, the general idea behind PB Balls is simple; it merely involves the creaming method, tempering chocolate and coating peanut butter, after of course you formed them in to balls (many ball-base comments to follow). I totally gave you the tools in the above posts to set you up to dominate PBBs!

Here’s what you need:

  • 1/2 # butter (two sticks) melted
  • 2 cups of your favorite peanut butter (chunky, creamy natural?  I don’t give a damn  These are YOUR balls!)
  • 2 cups of powdered sugar
  • 2 cups dry/powdered milk (found in a box, not in an aluminum can like evaporated milk)
  • 2 cups of cheapo corn flakes – because why would you get Corn Flakes?  Let the PB do the talking here.

Take all of the above in your mixer and cream until thoroughly blended.

At this juncture, you PB mix is going to be way too warm to ball up.  Just place it all in a bowl and keep in the refrigerator until it and you, are ready for more work.  I needed a culinary beak for a few days, but when I was good and ready, I started balling them up.  I chose to make each serving only a teaspoon – big enough for one bite – then proceeded to roll the peanut butter in to a ball in my (clean) hands.  I set the balls aside on a parchment lined cookie sheet.  After heavy handling like this, the mixture becomes warm and needs to cool down over night before being coated in chocolate.

I put the cookie sheet with the balls in the freezer to get nice and hard.  A day or so later, I was ready (mentally anyway.  If you are mentally ready to dip over 100 PBBS in chocolate the next morning, they WILL be ready to go.  Unless your freezer is set to tropical rather than tundra) to temper my favorite bittersweet chocolate to dip the balls into.

Using candy dipping tools, a fork, or a skewer, merely coat and shake off any excess chocolate from the balls (dark – and I assume bittersweet chocolate – should reach a temperature between 110-120F to be tempered.  Though I am new to the game so I welcome any credible advice).  Have another  parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet ready to place the newly chocolate coated balls on.  The first few dozen will harden up quickly since they are so cold.  However you want o make sure that your chocolate is not so hot as to melt the PBBs.  Though tempered  at 120, you should coat the chocolate at a temperature ranging between 86-90F.  Will you live if it is a tad warmer?  Yes.  Though it may not have the same beautiful finish a week later.

Since we eat with our mouths and eyes, the last thing you want your gift receivers to think of is rabbit poo as they bite in to your delicious PBBs.  So when the chocolate has hardened, make it look pretty by drizzling some chocolate over it, all spidery-web-like.

When finished, I like to put the balls in the freezer again to harden up the PB though I am unsure if it is necessary.  The PB mixture is awesome and the corm flakes add a really nice mouth feel, but more importantly, your recipients will be wowed.

If you get done making all of this candy and feel as though it still needs some bulk, add an assortment of wonderful citrus from your favorite co-op, like clementines, grapefruit, navel oranges or pears, and other seasonal fruits.  Maybe a package of your favorite coffee or tea?  Whatever you choose, your recipients will be so pleased by all of the wonderful goods that YOU created from your kitchen.  It really is a gift from the heart, home and hands.  Your time and effort have a value, and you have created a meaningful gift that will leave your friends, family and mail man talking each year about what a fantastic gift you gave them, even when we are again in boon times.

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Changing seasons, weather and holidays invoke varying tastes and desires – to me.  I’m not going to speak for you, so don’t get all up in my face about how much you love candy cane bark throughout the year.  However, there is one candy that really transcends at least two seasons and four holidays: caramel.  You can eat caramel in the fall, whether plain or draped over tart apples with a popsicle stick through its core.  Then caramel milks its way through the rest of winter while invoking comfort and security.  Security? YES.  Each bite of a soft caramel is pure security if for no other reason (that I can find) other than it invokes home, warmth, fireplaces and…security.  Wouldn’t you want to gift that to someone?

First, whip up your favorite batch of caramel, and cut it up into small servings.

BUT, before you wrap it up all cute in individual wrappers made of wax paper (see – homey, cute and sweet!), temper your favorite chocolate in a double boiler.  When it has cooled down somewhat, take a regular/two-tined serving fork or your favorite candy dipping set and dip your caramel in to the chocolate.

However, be careful to get enough of the chocolate off our caramel so as to not develop chocolate feet on the bottoms.  Having the right tools when dipping will also immensely help in avoiding this.  However, if this advice fails you, rest assured that these feet can be amputated as soon as the chocolate has set.

It’s one thing to give the gift of security, as best as chocolate covered caramel can, but it is another thing to give the gift of ugly.  You HAVE to pretty it up, which means nothing more than waiting for the chocolate to set then drizzling chocolate over it.

Do you see the difference?  DO YOU SEE THE DIFFERENCE!? No feet and super sophisticated.  Your friends, family, mail carrier and paper delivery person will be so excited to receive such a beautiful and tasty gift that your friends and family will forever be indebted to you because they will want this treat in years to come.  Your mail will never be returned to you even when you did not include enough postage and your paper will always be at your stoop on time, unless your neighbor steals it.

See?  Security in caramel.

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Rugelach is just about the most adorable little pastry (with the exception of course of petits fours).  It is not only cute, but it’s fillings are limitless.  Wikipedia explains that rugelach means “creeping vine”, but it also explains that it means “little twist” but I thought I read somewhere that it means “little horn.”  I’m so confused and don’t know what to believe, but I can tell you a few things about rugelach:

  • It’s delicious
  • It looks like a conjugal product between a croissant and a Pilsbury Crescent
  • When you bake it, you need to double-pan it up.

Really, these are the most important things to know.  Oh, and here is the recipe from Ina Garten, one of few Food Network stars who is there based on merit and not how much cleavage she can show from a single camera angle.  Anyway…

You start out with a cream cheese based dough.  After mixing it in your mixing bowl knead it on the counter wit a little bit of flour until you can form it into a disk (like pie), wrap the dough in plastic and keep it in your refrigerator for at least an hour.  If you keep it in the refrigerator for more than an hour or a day, you may just need to take it out to warm up a bit before working with it – not a big deal.  When you can work with it, try using as little flour as you can while still having the ability to roll it out in a large circle since you don’t want/need to incorporate more flour than necessary in the dough.

I have a 14 inch round cake pan which I was able to use as a stencil and cut away any of the scraps.  I decided not to utilize the scraps in any future rugelach because I feared over-working the dough which, as we know, would result in a tough end-product – gross.

The, or, a school of thought on rugelach is that you have a wet ingredient and a dry one; apricot glaze and walnuts for instance, where you paint a layer of the glaze on the dough and then sprinkle it with nuts.

raspberry poppy and almond love

I followed that school in one batch, but got totally wild with the second batch where I merely chopped some bittersweet chocolate and combined it with nuts.  Like whoa.

As you can see, I did not cover all of the dough with filling but left room in the middle and on the outsides.

Because you will be rolling the dough and baking it, you certainly don’t want all of the delicious filling to go to waste when it bakes out of the middle.  Using a pizza cutter, or similar tool, cut the ingredient topped dough into triangles as you might a pizza.  The amount is really up to you and how large you rolled your dough out.  Then starting from out the outside and going in, roll each triangle into a croissant like shape.

You should see that I did not wrap each piece tightly.  It is a little loose so as to not squeeze out the ingredients as well as allow room for the dough to expand and puff out a bit during the baking process.  If at this point you want to freeze your rugelach to bake for later, you can.  They freeze nicely and you can take out as many or as few as you may need for a breakfast treat or a dessert table feature.  On this occasion, I baked half the batch and froze the other half, waiting until Thanksgiving to bake them.

When you DO  bake them, make sure to apply an egg wash (I prefer using a whole egg with a smidgen of milk, cream or whatever is on hand) and DOUBLE PAN your cookie sheets.  If you do not, the bottoms will burn before the tops look like they are finished.

Use the egg-wash as the glue that it is to sprinkle some of the filling on the tops of the rugelach so you and guests know what is inside the different little pastries!

If these little guys were animated, wouldn’t you just want to pinch their non-existent cheeks theyaresocute!?

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If you’re like me (and you probably aren’t – snowflake theory), you have a lot of leftover pumpkin puree after you realized that your dreams of creating a million pies for Thanksgiving fell flat on its face when you discovered you aren’t feeding an army, but a family of eight.  You could certainly freeze it for the time being and pull it out when you feel like making pumpkin something or other.  Let’s be honest though – there are only three months in the year where you (read: I) feel comfortable eating pumpkin anything and September, October and November are long gone.  In an effort to not be wasteful, here are something things you can whip up with your leftover pumpkin puree (unless you DO feel comfortable chomping on pumpkin whatevers come January).

1)  Whole Wheat Pumpkin Scones

Easy peasy and pretty tasty.

The recipe only called for 1/2 Cup of pumpkin puree.  I found this unacceptable (considering how much puree I had…) and added an entire cup instead.

before baking

My only warning is that if you have never made anything with whole wheat, much less a bread recipe featuring only whole wheat (rather than a combination of WW and say regular bread flour), understand that it will be somewhat difficult to see when/if your product has baked through since you can’t judge based on the color.


As you can see, there was very little lift on these scones despite leaveners such as egg and 2 teaspoons of baking powder.  I don’t know for sure, but I would attribute such little lift to the fact that these scones contained 100% whole wheat flour, which is rather hefty.

Regardless, I love scones, and these were delicious and simple.

2) Pumpkin Cookies

This recipe is also as simple as can be.  However, what makes these cookies super fantastic, other than the fact that they contain just enough pumpkin, is that they are SOFT.  I find nothing more disappointing than hard cookies.  I won’t even eat my own cookies if they are older than three days.

Also, never forget that when making cookies, DO NOT OVER-BEAT the batter.  The longer you beat the wet and dry ingredients together, the tougher your end product will be.  Though I prefer soft cookies and some like crispy ones, no one likes tough cookies.  Remember: you are making cookies, not bread.

What is really great about these cookies, is that even cats like them as evidenced by Gene eating one on the floor when I turned my back.

3)  Pumpkin Cake with Cinnamon Ganache

I completely forgot that I made this!  Instead of pumpkin pie, I made this for our Thanksgiving table (along with apple lattice pie – natch).

TRUST that it looked way better in person – my camera phone certainly can’t do it justice.  Regardless, it was James Beard delicious as well.  I may have added more pumpkin than what the recipe called for (again), but I use my discretion for good.

4) Lastly, don’t forget…Pumpkin Pie

Unfortunately that’s all I have for pumpkin recipes this year.  I would really like some recipes that utilize pumpkin puree in entrées (I’m looking at you Caitlin) since I don’t really feel up for any more pumpkin loafs, cupcakes or much else requiring a lot of flour.  Thoughts?  Ideas?  Recipes, friends (all two of you)?  If not, then we shall close this chapter on autumn 2009.

Move over pumpkin, it’s time for peppermint, chocolate, pretzels, popcorn balls and fruit baskets.

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To be honest I cannot recall any desserts we ate in Russia.  This is not to say that they don’t have any, but I could not conjure up one of my own and so took to the Internets and came across this honey cake recipe.  The nesting dolls in the upper left-hand corner only ensure that this is a tried and true Russian recipe.  However tried and true is far from inaccurate as I will detail.

I fancy myself pretty good at baking – I even call myself a baker.  I think I grasp basic baking and cooking concepts easily and can certainly follow a recipe as well as understand what went wrong in a given recipe when it comes out sub-par.  I take a mental note of it and understand to alter it later when I again try to make it.  Given this, I was pretty frustrated with this recipe.  Though the method didn’t SEEM to make sense, but I went with it anyway in an effort to learn new techniques.  FAIL.


The recipe instructed you to heat the butter, sugar and honey in a pan and then add it to the beaten-egg-flour-mixture.  I did this. In fact, I did this twice.  The first time after adding this hot mixture to the egg-dough there were sizable chunks in it.  I figured I must have heated the sugar too hot and thus created scrambled eggs – an unappealing mouth feel and taste for sure and one I have overcome before while making pastry cream.  I tossed it all out and started again to have something similar occur, but the chunks were much smaller.  I tossed that out as well and moved on a the creaming method, which just made more sense to me and for the recipe.


butter sugar egg honey

I added the other ingredients and the batter finally came together in a smooth manner – in a batter manner if you will.

The other problem I had with this recipe was its insistence of baking eight separate layers and this may be a problem because of my relatively limited experience, or my alterations with the recipe and thus consistency of the batter, or it could be that this recipe is faulty by nature.  Whatever the culprit, I found it near impossible to spread the batter neatly and evenly as thin as requested over the spring-form pan.  After a failed attempt, I opted to bake the cakes in two pans where after baking i cut the cakes in half.  Not eight separate layers as demanded, but halfway there – literally.


super fuzzy cake picture!

The only thing in this recipe that was full proof was the cream filling, which required nothing more than mixing three ingredients together and icing the cake so it was made to be easy and coherent.


It deviated from the photo on the recipe, but it was still very attractive, and more so since I got to use one of my new display dome and trays.

And so this is how the Russian Dinner Night concluded.  We ran out of good Russian vodka but still have fantastic wine, good food and great friends, which may (or may not?…depending on how you roll) be most important anyway.

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When Honeycrisps were still fresh and not reaching the mealy apple season, I bought some of the most excellent cheese (St. Andrew someone cheese and Taleggio) from the Seward Co-Op to pair with them for dessert.  Apples and cheese make t met the same standards as the cheese and apples.  such a beautiful pairing, but what our household was missing were crackers that met the same standards.  We HAD crackers.  In fact we HAVE HAD crackers in the pantry.  As in for years.  Sitting there.  not being eaten.  Suffice to say, they were not up to par.  After this discovery, I made it my point to make my own crackers.

Using the Information Superhighway, I rediscovered the Daring Bakers Lavash Cracker challenge.  The recipe they used came from page 178 Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, which we luckily own (yeh!).  If you aren’t so lucky, you can find the recipe here.  The only thing I changed with this recipe was the inclusion of using my mixer rather than kneading and rolling by hand.  I used the dough hook to knead and I used our new pasta roller to roll the dough out super thin…


…which obviously doesn’t make for an interesting picture.  I started out on the first setting and went as thin as the fourth or fifth setting.  I ran the dough through each setting in between a few times to get a smooth texture as well as the right shape and length.


I also opted not to cut the dough.  After it was rolled thin, the shape it was in was the shape it baked at because I preferred the rustic appearance of the crackers after they were snapped in half and in other shape.  However, some Daring Bakers took Reinhart’s cutting suggestions and created very beautiful Lavash straws.


Despite the colorful picture in the book featuring a rainbow of spices and seeds, I instead stuck with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper as toppings for my crackers.  I may have over seasoned them though.


super artistic presentation

These crackers were too fabulous on their own that we completely forgot about the cheese and crackers.  Perhaps this is just a new excuse to make more though?

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