Friday, July 27, 2012

Daring Bakers July 2012 - Crazy for Crackers

Cheddar Pepita Rosemary Crackers
Our July 2012 Daring Bakers’ Host was Dana McFarland and she challenged us to make homemade crackers! Dana showed us some techniques for making crackers and encouraged to use our creativity to make each cracker our own by using ingredients we love.

There were four cracker recipes posted, and I decided to make versions of two of them.  The crackers you see above are based on the recipe for "Cheddar and Walnut Icebox Crackers" from The Art and Craft of the Cold Kitchen (3rd ed.). John Wiley and Sons, Inc. Hoboken, NJ: 2008.

They are "icebox" crackers because they have butter, and are shaped into logs similar to how many sugar cookie recipes work, then sliced and baked after chilling.  I made them based on what I had in the pantry, so they turned into cheddar, pepita, and rosemary crackers (rosemary from my garden!).

Three Seed Chickpea CrackersThe second recipe is based on Alton Brown's recipe for seedy crisps, only made into a gluten free cracker.  I used all chickpea flour, and they feature three kinds of seeds - poppy, sesame, and the recently trendy chia seeds.  I didn't set out to include chia seeds, but they jumped into my hands at the Swamp Rabbit Cafe, a local market and cafe featuring organic and local foods.  (Anyone with other ideas of what to do with chia should leave a comment to teach me more!).  I served the crackers with smoked swiss cheese and homemade chilled tomato soup.  It was a lovely light dinner for summer! 

After the chickpea flour was fairly successful in the crackers, it makes me want to experiment further with other high-protein flours, such as coconut.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bakery Review - A Piece of the Pie - Hendersonville, NC

Apple Pie
One day as we were driving through Hendersonville, NC, I noticed two pie places. Two pie places! In one tiny town. I knew I would need to go back and investigate. Is pie the new cupcake? I thought it would be meringues, but those are harder to master.

I stopped in at A Piece of the Pie during an afternoon thunderstorm on a very hot and humid day, after having hiked around the historic Carl Sandburg home and spent too much money at several local used bookstores. I wasn't really in the mood for pie, but I was still curious. It is really cute inside - there are homemade goods for sale, including aprons and soap. There are used books everywhere and mismatched furniture. The menu has a wide variety of pies, even for a small town, and the teenagers working the counter also tried to sell me on the homemade icecream.

 I went for traditional apple pie. The crust was a little salty for me, but possibly a side effect of someone using kosher salt. I actually crunched into it a few times! It was a nice texture other than that. The piece of pie was generous, and there were women in the shop enjoying some of their homemade ice cream. I'd go back!

The other pie place was not open on Mondays, so I'll have to report back on that one!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Baking for the Olympics - Warm Sticky Toffee Pudding

Warm Sticky Toffee Pudding
You may not have realized you should be planning an Olympics themed party, but if you had tasted this warm sticky toffee pudding, you would be making up any excuse to bake it again.  It was one of those moments where people take a bite and close their eyes in ecstasy.  For a silly little traditional English pudding!

Hey, the English aren't messing around.  I'd had dates and golden syrup in my pantry since Christmas, since I had intended on making sticky toffee pudding for the holidays and just never did.  This was so quick to pull together!  I used David Lebovitz's recipe, and left out the ginger (mainly because I forgot it), and since I baked it the night before, just didn't make the sauce until the next day. 

Don't ask about calories.  Turn on that opening ceremony and have another bite of sticky! toffee! pudding!  Hey, it has fruit in it, that's healthy right?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Thousand Layers Cake (Mil Hojas)

Thousand Layers Cake
Even though I had already read two books set in Chile for my Around the World reading challenge, when the Around the World in 52 Books group decided on The House of the Spirits as a group read, I decided to participate anyway.  I hadn't read anything by Allende before, but I thought I had, probably because she is in the same writing style as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Luis Alberto Urrea - magical realism, usually following an epic, multi-generational story, largely based on events of historical significance.  I would say I enjoyed Allende more than Garcia Marquez but less than Urrea, but I'd still recommend this book.  The character of Clara was my favorite.

With the assistance of a friend who also had the book in its original Spanish, we discovered something terrible that the translator had done - they tried to Americanize/Anglicize the food!  There are several significant events in the book that include descriptions of banquets, but the food sounded very non-Chilean.  I know the French and Spanish influence would be strong in Chile, but not to the extreme of not using any native ingredients.

And certainly not to the exclusion of dulce de leche.

Thousand Layers Cake
I may not know that much about Chilean cooking, but one thing I can say FOR CERTAIN about South America - they like dulce de leche in desserts!  Alfajores are one prime example, where each country has a different name for it, but all are variations of a shortbread cookie with dulce de leche sandwiching it together.  There also seem to be many variations of the pastry I present to you - the mil hojas.  The mil hojas, or "mil hojas de manjar," manjar being the dulce de leche, is some type of flaky pastry layered with dulce.  Sometimes it has nuts.  Sometimes it is a square.  Sometimes it has other ingredients, like regional fruit or whipped fruit.  But it always has pastry, and it always has dulce de leche.

I came across a great blog called Recipes from South America, and she had several cake recipes involving manjar.  I used her recipe for the mil hojas, which she got from her great aunt.  Traditional family recipes from Chilean great aunts seemed like just the ticket.

Is it really a thousand layers?

Well, no.  But when you're rolling out each layer into a circle that you are trying to make exactly the same size as all the other circles, it starts to feel like it!  The baked circles looked a bit like giant, thin Ritz crackers.  There were actually 14 layers of pastry, but we can account for at least 32 layers if we include the dulce de leche between each layer, and ground walnuts added every third.

I wish I had taken the time to do something to the outside of the cake.  The recipe calls for more dulce to be spread around the sides, but I was using dulce from a squirtbottle and I wasn't sure it was thick enough.  I was already oozing dulce out of the layers into a pool on the plate.  But because I didn't do anything, the very edges were a bit tough.  The edges weren't perfectly even, so I was worried that whatever I did would up making it look ugly.  As it is, it just looks sticky.  This is definitely a dessert for someone with a sweet tooth, although the walnuts do balance it out quite nicely.

By the way.  The drink you see in the background of the first picture?  That's Chilean iced coffee from the same blog where I got the cake recipe.  I took pictures early this morning, but only after zipping to Starbucks for a double shot of espresso to pull it together.  So yeah, I had ice cream for breakfast.  That's right.  Chilean iced coffee has ICE CREAM in it.  But the dark espresso makes it not sweet so much as rich.  It is easier to pull together than mil hojas, so I'd recommend it!

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Baking with Coconut Flour - Peach Crumble

Coconut Flour Peach Crisp
A few months ago, I made a strawberry rhubarb crumble with a lot of modified ingredients that I was pretty happy with.  We are already in the thick of peach season right now, so I decided to try coconut flour out in this type of recipe too.

I used the same recipe as before, except because I didn't have flaxseed (I'm out! Must remedy this!) I just left it out.  I wasn't sure it did anything.  I think I was wrong.  I think flaxseed brings everything together.  This wasn't bad, but I overbaked it a tad and the crumb topping was pretty dense.  The flavor was good though, and less savory than when I used half chickpea flour.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Baking with Coconut Flour - Pancakes

Coconut Flour Pancakes
I've seen coconut flour as an ingredient in many gluten-free recipes, but didn't know a lot about it. Once we tracked some down locally, it was time to experiment! It turns out to be very high in fiber and low in carbs, similar to chickpea flour.  This results in a heavy and dense texture with similar challenges that chickpea flour has.  I still wanted to try, because chickpea flour has a very distinct (and strong) flavor that isn't always appropriate in breakfast or dessert situations (and it is a bit stubborn to work with).

Like most alternative flours, I have started by making something that is intended to be flat.  I found this recipe for "Fluffy Coconut Flour Pancakes" that most of the commenters raved about on the page, and decided to give it a try.  In the picture above, the pancake on the upper left (one of these things is not like the other) is the original recipe.  The directions said the batter should be thick and that I'd need to spread it out, but it was really soupy at first.  The rest of the pancakes are the result of me adding extra coconut flour until I had an applesauce-thick texture.

The funny thing is, the ugly pancake was better in the end, because the others were painfully dense and needed a lot of topping and milk to get them down.  Yes we miss fluffy flour-filled pancakes, but not enough to eat something that doesn't swallow easily.  When I make these again, I'd shoot for somewhere in the middle.  And maybe add some flax seeds since that helps with some of the other recipes I've tried.  Flax seeds are frequent in vegan baking too, because they provide the lift and binding of eggs.  Of course, this recipe had a lot of eggs in it, so I'm not sure it would help.  I'll keep trying and report back. 

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Fugly Cake

Sometimes a photograph of a cake just can't do it justice. Sometimes how a cake looks can't do it justice. That is definitely the case with this fugly cake.   I'll post a picture of it unsliced at the end of this blog entry.

I knew I had to make this cake for my birthday.  I've had my eye on it ever since the guys over on The Bitten Word made it for Fakesgiving and they said one of their guests almost cried.  I put it off and put it off, why?  Because a key ingredient of this cake is caramel... sigh.

Up until the last minute, I was planning to just use dulce de leche in place of the caramel, but then the canned stuff I know I have seen a million times wasn't on the shelf, so I brought home extra sugar, and decided to just tackle it.

I made a few missteps.  I made the cake and caramel a day ahead, because the recipe said both could be chilled, and that in fact the cake would be better that way.  But I overcooked the caramel a bit (it went to the "dark amber" stage very very quickly, and I think it got all the way to "darkest amber" before I pulled it off the heat), so in the fridge it turned into a taffy texture.  Then when I wanted to assemble the cake, I had to warm the caramel back up slightly.  Then I put the cake together and the layers did a slow-moving slide to the side. Even though I put it in the fridge, it came out incredibly lopsided.

Ugly but delicious
Once I had squished the layers around a bit to get them to be somewhat vertical, and slapped on the icing (including $10 of Ghiradelli semisweet chocolate), it was holding together better.  But look at this mess!  It is tilting and caramel is EVERYWHERE (I may be finding sticky places in my house for weeks).  But how does it taste?

Well.  Okay.  This cake is completely worth any headache.  The caramel, especially in the darkest amber stage mine got to, is deep and a little salty (fine, I give in), and is almost like caramel corn.  Sandwiched between the layers and left to sit overnight, the cake absorbs some of the caramel.  The icing is rich but not too sweet.  I couldn't finish the piece I sliced for myself, but I wanted to.  So I had another partial slice for breakfast before taking in the leftovers to work.  And my co-workers were very happy about eating it.

So this little fugly cake is a master of disguise.  It is my nemesis wrapped in chocolate cake and enrobed in ganache.  And I don't think anyone feels defeated.

ETA: Link to recipe for Salted-Caramel Six Layer Chocolate Cake by Martha Stewart.