Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cookbook Review - The Gingerbread Architect

Simple gingerbread houses are fairly easy to create with a hand-drawn template, but when it came time to make my gingerbread house for the December Daring Bakers Challenge, I knew I wanted to do something a little more. At just the perfect time, I received a copy of The Gingerbread Architect: Recipes and Blueprints for Twelve Classic American Homes by Susan Matheson and Lauren Chattman.

Half the book is full of recipes for gingerbread and other necessities like royal icing, glossy photos of the twelve homes, as well as information on the architectural features included in each house. As someone who doesn't know a lot of specifics about architecture, I learned a lot just by reading through it. In fact I've taken a picture of my Greek Revival Antebellum Plantation Home and added the names for the features, to give an example.
House with architectural labels

The recipes for each one also include painstaking detail on how to assemble the house, as well as the timetable you should allow for the shopping, baking, preparation, and assembly (they recommend planning to do each house over a 5 day span, and I did mine all in one day, whoops).

The other half of the book is full of the templates, which is half the work. You might need to spend time recreating the templates on poster board, because I wouldn't want to cut anything out of the book, but even when I used a half size version of the template for the antebellum home, I thought it worked perfectly.

I can't wait to make another house from this book next year. I hope to spend more time with it and add more of the recommended detail than I did this time around, as well as making one more full-sized. I tried out several gingerbread recipes in my process, and the one in this book is more reliable than some I came across. I feel like Matheson and Chattman really spent the time to make twelve distinctive gingerbread homes (including pueblo and art deco!) that take time but are accessible to anyone.

Categories: Cookbook Review

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Daring Bakers December 2009 - Gingerbread Houses

Side view
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

I was excited to see this challenge, because I have never made a gingerbread house. I live less than an hour from Asheville, North Carolina, and often go up to see the winners of the National Gingerbread House Competition at the Grove Park Inn. I knew nothing I could do in my first attempt would even come close to what I see there, so I decided as long as I completed the challenge and learned something, that would be enough this time around.

Poster Board Template
The hardest thing to figure out was what kind of gingerbread house I wanted to make! I sketched several ideas - a lighthouse, a birdhouse, a dog house, but wasn't crazy about any of them. For a while I thought I'd make the basic shape and call it good but that made me feel boring.

I turned to The Gingerbread Architect by Susan Matheson for help. It is a great how-to book with templates and suggestions for decorations. I took the Greek revival antebellum plantation home idea and made it at half the scale. This meant finding different solutions for the columns, since the peppermint candy towers would have been huge.

Oreo crisp roof
I still went with her suggestions for the shutters (gum, although I accidentally picked a gum that only had green specks, not solid green color) and the roof (Oreo crisps), but went with chocolate hazelnut pirouette cookies for the columns, which sat on top of little rounds I cut out. I didn't make the gum porch, ice the entire sides, or make gum windows as suggested. Partly because I was running short on time, and partly because my reduction in scale made elaborate work more difficult.

Broken side
I struggled with the recipes given to us for the challenge - the first gingerbread recipe I made came from the hosts but was infinitely dry even after chilling 2 days. I made some test pieces with it but they cracked, so my second recipe came from the book that I used the template from. The royal icing was equally overdry and I had to start over. Even with 1/2 cup less sugar, it was difficult to work with. Most of what I learned had to do with consistency, and I would have loved a thinner icing to do more elaborate design work on the sides with. I also rolled the first quarter of the dough out to thin. I remade one of the sides but the one I left as is broke in three places as I assembled the house. That was just another instance of when I should have followed my instincts instead of rushing through because I'd procrastinated again!

Front view
I hope everyone has a marvelous new year! Happy holidays from JennyBakes.

Categories: Daring Bakers, Gingerbread

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

JennyBakes on The Bitten Word

One of the food blogs I follow religiously is The Bitten Word, where Clay and Zach from Washington D.C. regularly make recipes from all the food magazines many of us subscribe to. I love it because I am as guilty as anyone in thumbing through but rarely following through and actually making anything, but they do!

After Thanksgiving they put out a call for anyone who had made a recipe from a magazine for their Thanksgiving meal. I responded with the Pumpkin Pie Spectacular that I had tried from Southern Living, and they put it in a post. Thanks guys, and please do take a trip over to their blog.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Colvin Thanksgiving 2009

Nutmeg Maple Cream Pie
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
Every year we try to do something different for Thanksgiving. Since we are vegetarians, there is no meat to put at the center. One year we had mushroom crepes, another year was Moroccan filo crescents. This year Nathaniel suggested Native American food.

Quite a few things Americans typically eat for Thanksgiving are inspired by that original meal shared by the locals and the pilgrims, but I tried to dig a little deeper. I got a bunch of cookbooks from the library and looked online. The best two were Foods of the Americas by Fernando and Marlene Divina and Spirit of the Harvest by Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs.

Guatemalan Potato and Fresh Green Bean Salad
I never really nailed down a "main dish" per se, but we had a fun meal of posole, Creek corn pudding, Guatemalan Green Bean and Potato Salad (pictured), fry bread with local honey and cinnamon apple butter, and iced herbal tea.

I had planned to make another pudding for dessert - the traditional Native American kind with corn and milk and molasses, but ran out of steam. Besides that, I've had this recipe for Nutmeg-Maple Cream Pie bookmarked for years, and decided this was the time. I can justify it - maple, cream, nutmeg - surely these are native ingredients. :) It was light, creamy, and subtly sweet. Delicious, and probably my favorite part of the meal (the potato green bean salad would be a close second). The only change I made in the recipe was to use Julia Child's shortcrust, since it is my new staple crust recipe.

Carrot Blueberry Cornbread
Earlier that day, I made a bread for breakfast that was more of a cornbread, from the Spirit of the Harvest cookbook. We ate it with honey and hot Sweet Potato Tea from Adagio.

Categories: Bread, Carrot, Corn, Maple, Pie

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pumpkin Pie Spectacular

Pumpkin Pie Spectacular
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
Every year I try at least one new pumpkin pie recipe, hoping to stumble across the perfect one. The truth is, I'm not so sure I even like pumpkin pie all that much. I keep trying.

This recipe is from the November 2009 issue of Southern Living, so please follow the link to access the recipe.

I did make a few changes in the recipe - I made Julia Child's short crust instead of using a refrigerated piecrust (oh please!). I didn't put all of the gingersnap/pecan mixture inside the crust because I was worried about having enough room for the pumpkin pie part, and still ended up with enough to fill one ramekin.

I didn't make the streusel topping, mainly because of the cost of pecans - this could become a very expensive pie if you used all the nuts called for! I also only used 1/2 cup of pecans for the gingersnap layer rather than the full cup. They tell you to make a ginger-spice topping with whipped topping and spices, but I elected to whip up a little heavy cream and powdered sugar, and sprinkle it with cinnamon.

I think it looks pretty with that extra layer, but I wish the pumpkin layer was a little more heavily spiced. It was an interesting touch to use condensed milk instead of evaporated milk + sugar, and that probably helped make it the creamy texture that it was.

Categories: Ginger Snaps, Pastry, Pie, Pumpkin

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bakery Review - Village Baker - Pendleton, SC

Village Baker
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
In a recent issue of G - The Magazine of Greenville (SC), I read about the Village Baker in Pendleton, SC. The article was very complimentary, the pictures made it look like a serious bakery, so on a day off, we headed there to sample the baked goods.

Google Maps said it would be almost an hour drive but it took me about 30 minutes. Pendleton, SC, is a tiny town with a very tiny downtown - hardly a town square with a few shops and restaurants. It is incredibly close to Clemson and Easley, so there are a lot of people in proximity, and the bakery was quite busy when we were there. I am always thrilled to come across small town bakeries and candy shops.

The picture shows the general idea of what is available at the Village Baker - multiple kinds of breads, muffins, pastries, pies, cakes, and cookies. Their web site says, "We are committed to creating Artisan Breads without additives and preservatives, using unbleached and un-bromated flour. We use no trans-fats, artificial flavors or preservatives." So you know what that means - actual butter. I know, it seems obvious, baked goods should have butter; anymore so many bakeries rely heavily on Crisco!

You can taste the difference here, from the homemade Nutella-type chocolate inside the pain au chocolate, to the dense and hearty rye bread, to the most perfect almond cookie I've ever had. We'll be back!

Categories: Bakery Review

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Snickers Surprise Cookies

Snickers Surprise Cookies
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
Happy Halloween! Here is my cookie suggestion for what to do with leftover fun-size candy bars. I wish I knew where this recipe comes from, but I've had it in my recipe box for too long, copied from somewhere. It is delicious - peanut butter cookies filled with mini candy bars, which melt and then become the soft chewy centers of the cookies.

Snickers Surprises

2 sticks butter, room temp (1 cup)
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 pkg (13 oz) Snickers miniatures

1. Combine butter, peanut butter, and sugars until light and fluffy.
2. Add eggs and vanilla until thoroughly combined.
3. Mix in flour, salt, and baking soda (gradually is best!).
4. Cover and chill dough 2-3 hours.
5. Remove dough from fridge. Divide into 1-Tbsp pieces, and flatten. Place an unwrapped Snickers on each.
6. Form the dough into a ball around each Snickers.
7. Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.

Mine are usually large enough that they require 15-16 minutes.

Categories: Cookies, Peanut Butter

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Vegan Pumpkin Couscous Cake

Pumpkin Couscous Cake
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
I have a bunch of vegan and vegetarian cookbooks in my kitchen, and time and time again I find myself returning to Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson. No matter what I try from this book, it has always been delicious, and pleasing even to palates that are not vegetarian-oriented. (If you have done much cooking using recipes from people who have been vegan a long time, sometimes this is a difficulty!).

I have wanted to make this couscous cake for a long while, thinking it might be a nice alternative to cereal for breakfast. The recipe includes pumpkin, tofu, and couscous, so it is filling and good for you! The only change I made was to omit the rum and to use whole wheat couscous. I'm not going to post the recipe, because I think every kitchen should own this cookbook. You can check out the author's blog for more couscous cake ideas!

Categories: Breakfast, Cake, Couscous, Pumpkin, Tofu, Vegan

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bakery Review - Cafe du Monde, New Orleans

Beignets at Cafe du Monde
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
I just got back from a very quick trip to New Orleans, where I was at a meeting of the southeast and Texas chapters of the Music Library Association. I didn't manage to do many touristy things, a shame since this was my first time there, but I did wake up really early Saturday morning to fit in a trip to Cafe du Monde.

At Cafe du Monde, you can buy beignets or beignets to eat, plus a delicious cup of Cafe au Lait. The coffee is coffee with chicory, but that isn't exactly unfamiliar to me since I tend to make my iced coffee from the coffee/chicory blend from Cafe du Monde. It was still great to have it the way they prepare it!

My friend Laurie and I got there early, before the outside area was even open, so we sat inside in the original cafe. The coffee was extremely hot and the beignets were very fresh, and almost completely covered with powdered sugar. We sat on the edge of the cafe and got to look around at all the powdered-sugar-smeared faces, which was pretty funny. It is just impossible to eat without getting sugar everywhere, and despite constant cleaning the entire place seems slightly glazed.

Powdered Sugared Leg
I even had to take a picture of my leg covered with sugar. At some point I just gave in and stopped fighting it. Cafe du Monde is a New Orleans institution. My colleague Jon said that his sister told him that if he went to New Orleans without going there, he had basically failed at life.

Don't fail at life. Stop at the Cafe du Monde when you're in New Orleans. They make it easy - the original cafe a block from the Mississippi River is open 24 hours except on Christmas Day. You can sit in the cafe, the outdoor area, or purchase anything from a walk-up take-out window. You can also buy cans or bags of the coffee with chicory, but I just buy that at a local store here in Greenville so I didn't bother trying to cram any in my suitcase.

Categories: Bakery Review, Coffee

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Bakery Review - Greenfield's Bagels and Deli - Greenville, SC

Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
Greenfield's Bagels and Deli has become a staple in Greenville, SC, and has just celebrated their 10th year in town. On my first visit, I bought a half dozen of assorted bagels, and a few cookies to try (rainbow, my favorite, and a black and white). There looked to be delicious Kosher sandwich options for lunch, but we went with some cream cheese with our bagels, more of a breakfast option.

These are REAL bagels. None of the soft bready nonsense you get at the store. These are toothsome but not dry, chewy, and light. I'll be going back, and if you are in town, you should stop by too! They are open 7 days a week, but close early, so check their web site for hours.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Kugelhopf and Hedgehogs

Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
In one of the book clubs I am in (the only one that meets in person), we met to discuss The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, translated from the French. It takes place in Paris, where a concierge named Renee tries to keep her intelligence hidden from the people living in her building. Along the way her friend Manuela is always bringing her baked goods, and while this is a minor plot point, I decided to dig one up to try making for tonight.

The baked good getting the most attention in the book is a gloutof, which is described as "a rather voracious Alsatian cake." Despite my doubts that a cake can indeed BE voracious, it intrigued me. I had definitely never heard of it.

From page 262 of the paperback: "But Manuela's gloutof is ambrosia as well. Everything that is dry and heavy about Alsace is transformed by her hands into an aromatic masterpiece." Later in the story, Manuela's gloutof gets devoured with coffee while watching a movie.

I tried looking up a recipe for a gloutof on the internet, which usually would not fail to produce recipe after recipe for most breads or cakes. The only references I found were related to the book I had read, including a blog post that had found reviews of the original French book that said the author meant to say kugelhopf. I would be more than happy to entertain proof of an actual item called gloutof, but for now I elected to go with the wisdom of the masses and make a kugelhopf instead.

I found a recipe from Dorie Greenspan in someone's blog, although I'd urge any reader of this blog to purchase her cookbook "Baking From My Home to Yours," because it has everything in it, even apparently obscure baked goods I only learn about through literature.

A kugelhopf is pretty much a brioche, somewhat cakey, with raisins that I soaked in kirsch instead of water, since another recipe I found had that advice. I had a disaster trying to get it out of the pan because alas, I do not own a kugelhopf-specific pan! But it still tasted good, and will be just as good toasted and spread with jam in the morning with a strong cup of coffee.

By the way, The Elegance of the Hedgehog is an interesting read. At first my reaction was mixed, but it is one of those books that seems to improve after I've thought about it for a while. I finally talked my group into reading something post-apocalyptic, so who knows what creations that might inspire!

Categories: Bread, Cake, Literary Baking, Raisins

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Daring Bakers 2009 : Vols-au-Vent

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

When I saw this challenge I was pretty excited, since it would be a new skill for me. Puff pastry is one of several kinds of laminated doughs, which is a dough layered with dough and butter. I have not yet attempted croissant dough, but have tried danish pastry before. I almost signed up for the puff pastry class at the local community college, but after inquiring, discovered they were starting with pre-made dough, not teaching the making of the dough, so it was high time!

I decided to make savory and sweet vols-au-vent, and made a fresh tomato-mozzarella-basil-balsamic salad for the savory ones. The vinegar was a nice contrast to the extreme richness of the pastry.

Puff Pastry Dough
Puff pastry is a yeastless dough that you wrap around rolled out, chilled butter. There is a lot of folding and rolling but the butter absolutely must be cold or it will ruin the layering of the final product. I'm not sure I always had it right, and actually pulled a muscle in my forearm rolling out the 5th time or so. But my butter was definitely kept cold!

Vols-au-Vent with Mousse au Chocolat
It was funny that this month's challenge was from a Julia Child cookbook, because I've been on a Julia Child recipe baking and cooking binge for several months. I'm about ready to put that trend on hold - the food is all good, but so, so rich. But to celebrate this last phase of Julia Child, I made her mousse au chocolat, or chocolate mousse, from her now infamous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. So many chocolate mousse recipes that I have found are basically a chocolate whipped cream, but this is the classic recipe using eggs, and is spongy (in a good way), ethereal, and deeply chocolatey. I even found an old blog post where David Lebovitz blogs it as his standard chocolate mousse recipe. It is worth a try, and inside a homemade puff-pastry vols-au-vent, it was a rich treat.

Asparagus and Gruyere Tart
A few days later, I still had half a recipe of puff pastry to use. I scoured through cookbooks and cooking blogs, and came across a recipe on Zoe's blog for an Asparagus and Gruyere Tart. I couldn't imagine a better use of it, and it was very delicious.

So, is it worth it to make puff pastry from scratch? I found the results to be buttery and delicious, beyond the taste of anything I've found at the store. It isn't a recipe that takes a lot of devoted time, but you do have to plan ahead to allow for all the turns and butter re-chilling in between steps. As for me, I'm ready to turn to some less rich recipes for a while, but I never know where the Daring Bakers will take me!

Categories: Asparagus, Cheese, Chocolate, Daring Bakers, Mousse, Pastry, Puff Pastry, Tart, Tomato

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lee's Chocolate, Chocolate Chip, and Peanut Butter Cookies

I haven't blogged much about baking lately because I haven't done a lot of it! I did manage to still make some cookies for my student workers, and the chaos of the beginning of a busy school year seems to have balanced out to a more even gallop now.

This is a recipe I found on, it looks like it was a winning recipe submitted by someone out there named Lee. I wanted to make peanut butter chocolate chip cookies and when I saw the dough was both peanut butter and chocolate I knew I had to try them.

They were good. For them to be great, they should have half as much salt. That's the only change I'll make for next time, although I also substituted half margarine for the butter, since I have found that makes a softer, chewier cookie, which happens to be my taste.

Categories: Chocolate, Cookies, Peanut Butter

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge August 2009 - Dobos Torta

Dobos Torta
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

In usual Daring Baker fashion, or maybe usual JennyBakes fashion, I put this off until the day before the challenge needed to be posted. It was the first day of classes at the university where I work, and since I run the music library, I couldn't be sure I'd even have time at home! I set aside two hours and was able to finish most of it during that time, although the buttercream was too soft to put the cake together until 11 pm or so. Then my brain woke me up at 5 this morning demanding that I take pictures and blog about it before I went to work. So here I am, a bleary-eyed baker, wishing I realized I didn't have any hazelnuts before the wee hours of the morning. This cake would have looked nice with nuts under each caramel wedge, and sprinkled around the outside, wouldn't it? Ah, well, next time.

Dobos Torta Slice
The Dobos Torta is a five-layer sponge cake, filled with a rich chocolate buttercream and topped with thin wedges of caramel. (You may come across recipes which have anywhere between six and 12 layers of cake; there are numerous family variations!) It was invented in 1885 by József C. Dobos, a Hungarian baker, and it rapidly became famous throughout Europe for both its extraordinary taste and its keeping properties. The recipe was a secret until Dobos retired in 1906 and gave the recipe to the Budapest Confectioners' and Gingerbread Makers' Chamber of Industry, providing that every member of the chamber can use it freely.

Dobos is pronounced with an "sh" sound at the end, because that is how you say the Hungarian "s." I might be delirious, but I have been giggling and saying Daring Bakersh Challenge Augusht 2009.... you get the picture. Thanks to my co-worker who is from Hungary and could tell me how to pronounce it! He will receive a slice of torta this morning.

You might notice that this recipe involves caramel, and anyone following me for a while knows that caramel is my nemesis. It went pretty well this time. It took the sugar/lemon juice/water mixture a long time to get to the beautiful amber color, and I only burned two of my fingers while I spread it over my cake wedges, so I consider it a caramel success. Take that, nemesis. I am not sure its worth much to eat - I found it super lemony in a bad way.

So without that special wedge of caramel on the top, you are left with a cake of thin sponge cake with chocolate buttercream. It tasted good, and in the end that's really all anyone cares about! You can see many other versions of the dobos torta by heading to the The Daring Kitchen.

Categories: Cake, Caramel, Chocolate, Daring Bakers

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Best Brownies?

So Good Brownies
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
When I stumble across a recipe in a magazine that claims to be the best version of something, I'll admit to curiosity as to whether their claims are true. The August 2009 issue of Southern Living Magazine featured this brownie recipe as being the "best," so I gave it a try.

So Good Brownies
Makes: 16 servings
An Adaptation of a recipe from Baker's Chocolate

4 (1-oz) unsweetened chocolate baking squares
3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch pan with aluminum foil, allowing 2-3 inches to extend over sides; lightly grease foil.

2. Microwave chocolate squares and butter in a large microwave-safe bowl at HIGH 1 1/2 to 2 minutes or until melted and smooth, stirring at 30-second intervals. Whisk in granulated and brown sugars. Add eggs, 1 at a time, whisking just until blended after each addition. Whisk in flour, vanilla, and salt.

3. Pour mixture into prepared pan.

4. Bake at 350 for 40-44 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Cool completely on a wire rack (about 1 hour). Lift brownies from pan, using foil sides as handles. Gently remove foil, and cut brownies into 16 squares.

The magazine had a bunch of stir-in and dress-up ideas for the brownies, but I just dumped in a cup of white chocolate chips and a cup of regular chocolate chips, because I had them on hand. I had to bake them for maybe 15 minutes more because the middle wasn't setting, which made the edge ones a little hard. Mine were also considerably thicker than the picture they provide.

So were these the best? Not in my opinion. There was too much sugar, so much that they tasted almost grainy with it. The chocolate was a nice flavor, but there wasn't really a lot of depth to it. My winners probably still include Alton Brown's Cocoa Brownies for cakey ones and maybe Fat Witch brownies for fudgy ones (of course I'm still on the hunt for the elusive fudgy vegan brownie too).

Categories: Brownies, Chocolate

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Marshmallow Madness

Marshmallows are not vegetarian (did you know?) because they usually contain gelatin. A while back I came across this recipe for vegetarian marshmallows, but haven't had a chance to try making them until today! My friend Mary came over and we worked together to make these.

The end result - delicious. Sweet, clean and fresh tasting. The vanilla was strong, and since I used a real vanilla bean, it was fun to see the little black specks throughout. Not that much different from a regular marshmallow, actually, rather like the texture of the first one you take from a freshly opened bag. Marshmallows aren't my favorite treat (clearly I had to put it IN chocolate, see above) but it is nice to know they can easily be made vegetarian for those of us who do not eat meat!

The replacement for the gelatin was xantham gum, which is also used in gluten-free baking, because it adds stabilization and structure. In this particular recipe it made the vegetarian marshmallows so stable they almost refused to melt down to be made into rice krispie treats!

Vegetarian Rice Krispie Treats
Almost. We managed. :)

Categories: Marshmallows

Monday, August 10, 2009

Flamiche - Quiche Aux Poireaux (Leek Quiche)

Close up - cute leeks!
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
I find myself still on a kick of trying recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol. 1 by Julia Child. Yes the movie is coming out, but I have also gone back to read the original blog by Julie Powell from 2002-2003, The Julie/Julia Project. While the book is a story of her personal journey while she happened to be cooking through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the blog has a lot more about the recipes she tried - whether they worked, how they tasted, what she learned. As I read, I mark recipes to try!

Of all the quiches, I chose leek because that seems very French, and Julia Child really does love to use leeks in everything. While searching around the web, I came across the entry on the same recipe in Smitten Kitchen, where she marvels at how you think you know how to cook something well, and Julia Child will give you a strange technique that tastes better than anything you've ever had. I think the leek preparation in this recipe is one of those instances.

Unbaked shell
To me, however, the true star of this recipe isn't the quiche but the crust. It is a pâte brisée, known by many names - short paste, short crust, pastry dough, pie crust. Before I swore up and down by my Grandmother's recipe (with the vinegar that stops the crust from developing too much gluten), but I may have had a conversion experience. I'm not sure if it is the ration of butter to shortening, the salt that adds the correct amount of flavor, or the fraisage technique used before the chilling of the dough that makes the end texture so nice, but it really works - flaky, flavorful, and easy to work with. Fraisage is the step where you take the dough that has barely come together and smear it across the counter, small bit by small bit, which mixes the flour and fat a different way.

My only beef with this recipe is that Julia never says how much it makes. How many crusts, Julia? I decided it was way too much for one, and wish I'd cut it in half to begin with so as not to have so much weight on the outsides of the shell that I cut off.

Slice of Leek Quiche
One last confession before I go. I've been making quite a few Julia Child recipes in the last two weeks, and they are all very butter-centric and full-fat. I just couldn't bring myself to use 1 1/2 cups of whipping cream in one quiche that serves 4-6 (according to the cookbook; we cut it into 8 pieces). So I did substitute fat free half and half for the cream, which sets up just fine. The crust alone contains 12 tbsp butter and 4 tbsp shortening, so this isn't exactly a fat free dish!

Since I had about a half recipe of the pâte brisée left, I decided to use the opportunity to use up a few things in the fridge, and a key lime buttermilk tart is downstairs cooling as we speak. Technically I should have made a sweet crust for it, but I don't expect it to be too bad.

Categories: Eggs, Crust, Pie, Quiche, Leeks, Savory Baking

Monday, August 03, 2009

Baking and Cooking with Julie and Julia - Souffle L'Orange

Souffle L'Orange
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
The movie Julie and Julia comes out this weekend, the movie that was based on the book Julie and Julia, which was based on The Julie/Julia Project blog from 2002, which was devoted to cooking all the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, a cookbook whose process is chronicled in My Life in France, also by Julia Child. What foodie wouldn't be excited about this string of books and movie, and a gathering seemed inevitable.

Book and Food Club
I e-mailed some friends earlier this summer, proposing a book/movie/cooking club, a one-shot thing, where we would read Julie & Julia, meet to talk about the book and eat Julia Child food that we were inspired to try making, and then later on go and see the movie. Last night, seven women came over, Julia Child recipes in one hand and Julie & Julia in the other. We dined on cold stuffed eggs, two quiches, one with swiss and one with eggplant. Also coming from one woman's garden was ratatouille along with what Julie Powell deemed "Bitch Rice," because of the seemingly ridiculous complexity in preparing rice. One person made Julia Child's recipe for Coq au Vin, which seemed quintessentially Julia to me.

Book and Food Club
For dessert there were these amazing Chocolate Cups with Wine-Poached Peaches, definitely my favorite of the night. I had made Reine de Saba Cake in case my souffle flopped, but I did a trial one Friday night just to see if it would work. The picture at the beginning of the entry is of the original Friday night souffle, because I completely forgot to photograph the second one.

I had not made a souffle before, but in My Life in France, Julia Child mentions the Grand Marnier souffle several times, including making it on Christmas Eve as a tradition. I thought I'd attempt it first, since chocolate sounded more problematic (since chocolate is heavy). The recipe is technically Souffle L'Orange, and comes from volume 1 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. What I love about Julia Child's recipes is that while they are often complicated with steps that sometimes seem unnecessary, I felt like she was standing in the kitchen with me, allowing me to fail if I wanted, as long as I tried it (but also feeling like I wouldn't, since she'd written down exactly what she wanted me to do). Julia became an expert, the authority, but she didn't even start learning to cook until she was 37. So why couldn't I make a souffle?

Well, I could! I wasn't sure what a souffle even tasted like, so I turned to my friends at Cooks Illustrated, who say that "At its best, a soufflé rises dramatically above its rim to create a light but substantial and crusty top layer cushioned by a luxurious, creamy center that flows slowly across the tongue, richly saucing the taste buds. The contrast between exterior and interior is the essence of a great soufflé." Okay, so creamy and crusty, luxurious and light. Easy. :P

The recipe starts with what I'll call a sweet roux, although Julia calls it a bouillie. She had me massage an orange with sugar lumps, so I did, feeling ridiculous, but I think it helps release the oils before zesting. All in all the process wasn't very time-consuming, although there is always the precarious balance between mixing everything well enough and overmixing as you fold in the whites. I did less than I thought I should, because I was so afraid I wouldn't get the lightness. The first one I made rose considerably above the pan, but the one I made last night was even better.

Souffle L'Orange, after
After it has been cut into, or even as it cools, a souffle starts to deflate. But you can still see the contrast between airy and custardy, crusty and creamy. It was ethereal. I used that word after trying it Friday, and one of the people at the table used it to describe it last night. It hits your tongue and then melts away, leaving the essences fo the flavor you have made. And for a French recipe, it isn't as bad calorie wise as some of the other recipes might be, making it the ultimate indulgence.

I'm not going to type up the recipe here. Almost everyone has Mastering the Art of French Cooking on sale now. It should be a staple in every kitchen, yes, even mine, the vegetarian. I didn't think so until I looked through it and started making some of the recipes. They are complex but not impossible, with delicious, well-tested results. As Julia would say, Bon Appétit!

Categories: Dessert, Eggs, Orange

Monday, July 27, 2009

Daring Bakers July 2009 - Milano Cookies

Milano Cookies
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

We had the choice to only make one of the cookies, and while I have all the ingredients and a shiny new kitchen scale to make vegetarian marshmallows, I didn't get around to it. I still plan to, hopefully in the next month. What else am I going to use xantham gum for? No really, tell me. I have a big bag of it. Hehe.

Putting them together
These cookies make me think of family vacations because my Mom would often have a bag of milano cookies in the car on trips to the beach, and we'd each get one as a treat on the road. They weren't hard to make, although it took a while to get the size right, and they are seriously addictive. If I hadn't brought them in to work to share, I'm sure they wouldn't have lasted any longer at home.

Categories: Chocolate, Cookies, Daring Bakers, Orange

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Harry Potter Day

Harry Potter Day
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
Any day a Harry Potter book or movie comes out is a self-declared Harry Potter Day. Luckily for the universe, they decided to split the last book into two movies, meaning there will be two more Harry Potter Days in our known world. Two summers ago I made treacle tart and pumpkin pasties, and decided to bring back the treacle tart again this year.

I'm hoping by the time the next Harry Potter Day rolls around, I will have mastered modeling chocolate. I'm dying to make chocolate frogs. And if anyone knows where to find Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Bean that Jelly Bellies made in the past, please let me know (although really I needed them for today).

Treacle Tart
Treacle is another name for golden syrup, a light molasses popular in the UK and other places. It is delicious, and while I've seen corn syrup used in some treacle tart recipes, it isn't treacle if it isn't golden!

This tart isn't a hit with everyone - it seems like people either love or hate it. The molasses is sweet, sure, but the lemon and ginger really make it a complicated treat. Of course, this is Harry Potter's favorite treat, so to me it belongs on every Harry Potter Day.

Cauldron Cake
I really wanted to make a cauldron cake this year, since Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince chronicles how Harry actually gets quite good at potion making because of whoever the Half-Blood Prince is (didn't want to spoil it for you if you didn't know). A recipe I found on gave me the idea of putting a marshmallow in the middle of a cupcake prior to baking. After it had baked the full 20 minutes, the marshmallow had bubbled and browned, creating a cauldron in the cupcake that wanted to be filled with something. I wanted something to fit the unreal universe of Harry Potter, so I dyed vanilla pudding neon green.

Categories: Cake, Chocolate, Harry Potter, Pudding, Tart, Treacle

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Oatmeal Egg Bread with Cinnamon Swirl

One of my favorite go-to baking books is Bread for Breakfast by Beth Hensperger. When my husband Nathaniel mentioned on Saturday that he was really craving cinnamon raisin bread (but he hates raisins) I thought I remembered a similar recipe in that book. I had just bought more bread flour and yeast in anticipation of playing with Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, so I set to work.

The great thing about this cookbook is I would say at least a third of the recipes are designed to be made (or can be adapted to be made) the night before. So after soaking the oats and proofing the yeast, I mixed the dough - my first bread with my new Kitchen Aid mixer, woo hoo! The directions said the dough would be really soft and not to add too much flour just to make it manageable, so I decided to use the dough hook instead of my hands. It worked brilliantly, and I set it to do a rise, then punched it down and put the dough in the fridge overnight.

In the early morning, I woke up, pressed the dough into two rectangles with my fingers, spread the cinnamon sugar mixture across it, rolled up the loaves, and set it to rise. I apparently only have one bread pan, so I keep using a small pyrex as my second one, which means the second loaf spreads out a little more widely (that is the one in the first photo). I also had the mistaken idea that I could go back to sleep. Baking always energizes me; I should know that by now!

We didn't wait until it had cooled completely to try it, because we were hungry and it smelled amazing. This bread is really good. It is rich because of the eggs in the dough, and the cinnamon sugar swirl reaches enough of the bread that you get a taste of it in every bite. Toasted and with butter, it was a delicious Sunday morning breakfast.

Oven baked french toast
A few days later, the second loaf has been turned into oven baked french toast. I like french toast, but when I make it on the stove I have several problems. If I use butter I always get the pan too hot, so I end up using margarine, and a lot of it, to get that perfect browning on the outside. I've taken to using an oven baked method because I can bake all of it at once, and use far less fat in the recipe (I like to save that for when I eat it!). I use the recipe in the Betty Crocker cookbook, but really just use your favorite french toast recipe, and bake it in a 500 F oven, 5-8 minutes on each side. This time around I had to do an additional 5 minutes because the bread was so dense, but you just bake it until it is beautifully browned.

Categories: Bread, Breakfast, Cinnamon

The Tale of Two Birthday Cakes

It was my birthday two weeks ago, and we have a tradition where I work of bringing the treats for break on our own birthday. Well, that day also coincided with my department's 4th of July picnic, so I decided to make two cakes.

The recipe on the box
I asked around for chocolate cake recipes, because I just haven't found the perfect one yet. Several people said the recipe on the back of the Hershey's Cocoa box was their favorite, so I made it with zero alterations. It was okay. I'm afraid I overbaked it, which is a danger when baking chocolate cakes. What I have in my head is a cake with more layers, with fudgy ganache and chocolate mousse between the layers. I just ran out of steam.

What is your favorite chocolate cake? After I wasn't completely satisfied, I got some interesting recommendations through Twitter, that I've bookmarked to try later. I'm collecting suggestions!

Perfect Party Cake - Peanut Butter & Jelly Version
The second cake was the result of being hit by a wacky mood, and the idea to make peanut butter and jelly cake. I feel like someone suggested it to me, but I can't remember who. I adapted Dorie Greenspan's recipe for the Perfect Party Cake from Baking: From My Home to Yours, what I consider the quintessential baking cookbook. My theory was that peanut butter has a lot of fat, so I basically substituted peanut butter for some of the butter in the recipe, both for the cake and the frosting. For the cake I used about 1/2 peanut butter but only reduced the butter by 1/4 cup (this was purely by instinct, no idea why these amounts seemed right). For the frosting I replaced an entire stick of butter with 1/2 cup peanut butter. Then I used strawberry jam between the layers and left out the coconut.

I really loved this cake. The flavor combo seemed to scream Americana, summer, and fun, and I'd eat this over a pb&j sandwich any day! The basic recipe for this cake seems pretty infallible - I wonder if I could just make a chocolate version!

Categories: Cake, Chocolate, Peanut Butter, Strawberry

Monday, June 29, 2009

Applesauce Bread

Applesauce Bread
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
I bake too many sweet things. I want to bake more bread. Et voilà, I found this recipe from Bread for Breakfast, and even better it used up applesauce and walnuts that I had used in the Great Vegan Brownie Experiment. It was delicious. The hardest part in baking bread is waiting, for the rising, for the cooling, and all the while your kitchen is full of delicious smells!

Categories: Applesauce, Bread, Walnuts

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge - Bakewell Tart

Bakewell Tart
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

This light dessert consists basically of three parts - a shortcrust, a jammy layer, and a frangipane layer that is baked to a lovely brown and sprinkled with almonds. I did a little research for my jam layer, and when I found raspberries on sale, knew I would make a homemade raspberry jam. I mixed equal parts berries and sugar on the stove, pushed it through a sieve, and chilled it until it resembled jam. Apparently, raspberries have enough pectin that you don't even need to add any, but it was thinner than I would have liked after the straining process.

Bakewell Tart Slice
Bakewell Tart…er…pudding

Makes one 23cm (9” tart)
Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour
250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Sweet shortcrust pastry

Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes


Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

Categories: Daring Bakers, Almond, Frangipane, Tart, Raspberry

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Oolong Dead Tea (and Book Review)

Oolong Dead Tea
Originally uploaded by watchjennybake.
I'm a huge fan of the Tea Shop Mysteries by Laura Childs, and was happy to read Oolong Dead recently. Theodosia Browning, owner of the Indigo Tea Shop in Charleston, comes across a dead body while riding her horse, and has a mystery to solve. Incorporated throughout the book are mentions of dishes that are often found in the back of the book that you can make yourself.

I declared tonight Oolong Dead Tea night, and made two recipes from the back of the book. With the Vegetable Egg Strata and Chocolate Sour Cream Scones, I prepared Oolong #8 tea from Adagio.

Vegetable Egg Strata
I followed the recipe for the Vegetable Egg Strata except I left out the red peppers, and put the mixture in 6 ramekins instead of one square pan. I wanted the look of the individual servings, so I 1.5x the egg portion of the recipe, and ended up only baking them for 25 minutes. The eggs were just done, but not tough.

I had been given garden-fresh zucchini earlier today, so it was the star of the strata, as was the roasted garlic bread that I cubed up to put in it. This is a great recipe for using up leftovers, and could be adapted to practically any veggie/meat/cheese/bread combo.

Chocolate Sour Cream Scones
The chocolate sour cream scones were interesting. I have made scones with tofu, cream, and buttermilk before, but never sour cream! Against my usual scone method, I actually had to stir and knead them quite a bit to get the dough to come together, but it did not seem to have a negative impact on the final result. In her newest series, of which Eggs in Purgatory is the first, there was a recipe for sour cream biscuits with three ingredients. I made those as well, and they were a similar texture. I liked that they were easy and I always seem to have sour cream on hand!

I'm a sucker for a novel that comes with recipes. What is your favorite?

Categories: Book Review, Chocolate, Eggs, Tea