Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Amaretti - TWD: Baking with Julia

Tuesdays with Dorie: Baking with Julia - 69th installment. The recipe is Amaretti.

These cookies are a recipe from Nick Malgieri, and contain very few ingredients; almond paste, sugar, and egg whites, with optional pine nuts to top them.  I skipped the pine nuts and just went for the plain cookies.    The texture and taste are both quite addictive - crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside, and very pure almond flavor.  Yum - I will definitely consider making these again.
 The finished cookies are flatter than I expected - I think of amaretti as little domes, rather than flat disks. As soon as I put these on the cookie sheet, they flattened right out.  The dough more like a batter than a dough. I also did not have to cook them as long as the recipe said.

The recipe suggests using almond paste in a can, since that has less sugar.  I did get a can of "Almond Filling", but it looks like it has some other odd ingredients that may not enhance these cookies  - coconut (?!) and a preservative.  I also had the almond paste in a tube, so I used that instead of the can, and will save the can for a future experiment.  
The cookies stuck to the parchment, and as I was too lazy (!) to do the suggested trick of setting the parchment on a wet cloth in order to soften them up, I just used a thin meta spatula to get them off as well as I could.  The bottoms of the cookies weren't completely intact (damage hidden in the photo above! :-) but that didn't affect the taste!  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Palets des Dames- TWD: Baking Chez Moi

Maybe I'm crazy, but I want to try baking along with the Tuesdays with Dorie group for at least a few recipes from Dorie Greenspan's new Baking Chez Moi book.  I was enticed by the gorgeous photo of these cookies, and the fact that there was a free download of the recipe (the first one's free....).  I'm not sure I can keep up the pace, given the continuing "demands" (ok, complaining about baking being demanding is idiotic :-) of Baking with Julia, but I'll see.
Meanwhile, I did prepare the first recipe, this vanilla cookie called Palets des Dames.  The dough was quite simple, butter and sugar based, and came together quickly. You chill it, and then put small scoops or balls on your cookie sheet:

You bake the cookies until just golden - you can see from some of mine that I lost my focus (oops) and let them go a little too long for one of the cookie sheets, although they were perfectly delicious anyway.
Once they're baked, you ice them with a simple confectioner's sugar glaze, and that's it!  They are simple but delicious, and it's a good change of pace from the "chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate" tendency we have in our cookie baking here.

Alsatian Onion Tart - TWD: Baking with Julia

Tuesdays with Dorie: Baking with Julia - 68th installment. The recipe is Alsatian Onion Tart.
Imagine my surprise when I read the recipes for November and realized that DARN, I don't have any pastry scraps left from October's puff pastry extravaganza, and now I need to make a new batch for Alsatian Onion Tart.  I was all ready to get out the food processor when I decided to look up how Julia herself (rather than Michel Richard, the contributor of the recipe in Baking with Julia) would make the puff pastry.  I pulled out my copy of Julia's The Way to Cook, and decided to follow her recipe for pastry, and then do M. Richard's Alsatian Onion Tart.

The Way to Cook has a simpler sequence of steps, without the package method.  You cube the butter:

and then toss it in the mixture of cake and all-purpose flour:

After that, you use your hands (my method) or a stand mixer to mush the butter cubes until they are "the size of a fordhook lima bean" (!!).  We had to look that one up, which led to a lengthy discussion about lima beans.   The next step is to add water and mix up the whole mess on your work surface, eventually forming a messy rectangle, which you fold in thirds and then roll, just as in the traditional recipe.  You "turn" it this way six times.  Eventually the mess starts to look like dough:
except instead of layers of butter, you have lumps of butter throughout.    
This seemed slightly easier than the other recipe, and dirtied fewer dishes (no food processor).  
The Alsatian Onion Tart (the whole point of this escapade) was quite good.  You cook a whole lot of chopped onions in chicken broth, blanch and then saute some bacon cubes, and pile the onions, with bacon on top, onto your pastry circle. 
Tart before baking
The pastry is quite easy to roll out, as long as you stay aware of flouring the surface to ensure it doesn't stick.  I'm sure this was all easier because the temperature is rather cool right now - would not want to do this in August.  I think it would have been even better baked on a baking stone to really crisp up the bottom.  Everyone devoured it, and it also provoked a conversation about "where IS Alsace, and what is its history?"  And I still have more puff pastry, so I won't be caught off-guard next time.... ;-)

Puff Pastry Pizzettes - TWD: Baking with Julia

Tuesdays with Dorie: Baking with Julia - 67th installment. The recipe is Puff Pastry Pizzettes.
I baked this one on schedule, but then have had no time to sit and write!  So, here goes the second puff pastry adventure of October.  I used the remaining puff pastry from the previous recipe.  It was great to have puff pastry ready to just throw these together.  You cut out circles (I used my very dull biscuit cutter - since then, I have replaced it with a new, sharp one - good excuse to upgrade!)
and then top with cherry tomatoes (barely squeaked by with the last ones of the season!) and cheese.  The recipe called for goat cheese, but after a full day spent outdoors watching the Head of the Charles regatta, I couldn't face shopping, so I just used what I had, which was fresh Asiago cheese.  I also made some with mushrooms and herbs.
Pizzettes before baking
Once they come out of the oven, you brush with a little olive oil and top with a basil leaf (yum!).  My pizzettes were slightly lopsided - it was hard to anchor the round side of the tomato onto the flat surface of dough, although the directions say to push it into the pastry, I was a little too gentle with that, because I didn't want to smush the tomato.  I also wonder how "puffed" to expect the dough to be - mine didn't puff very high.

The recipe also suggests a sweet variation, with a slice of fruit or a spoonful of fruit compote.  Something to try with future scraps of dough....

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Sunny-Side Up Apricot Pastries - TWD: Baking with Julia

Tuesdays with Dorie: Baking with Julia - 66th installment. The recipe is Sunny-Side Up Apricot Pastries.
I enjoyed this puff pastry adventure.  The pastry itself was fairly easy - few ingredients, and since it's cool right now, I didn't struggle with the butter or rolling.  You make a simple dough, as the recipe says, like Play Doh, in the food processor.  You pound out the cold butter into a one inch thick slab. 
I got the "European-style" butter, hoping that it would make the pastry extra yummy, although it came in 8 ounce slabs, so I had two chunks instead of one.  You roll out the (play) doh/dough, put the butter on the center, and then fold the dough around the butter like an envelope.

At this point you start the serious rolling and folding.  I did not watch the video from the episode, so was just following the written instructions.  My rolling surface (a silicon sheet) has inch markings, so I was able to tell when I had rolled it out to the correct length (24 inches!).  You roll to 24 inches long, and then fold in three layers, like a letter.  You do the roll/fold cycle once or twice, and then chill.  You repeat these steps until it has been rolled and folded a total of six times.
Here's the dough when it had been through all the rolling and folding, with a million (OK, not a million) tiny layers of butter and dough rolled together.

At this point the dough is ready to roll and cut.  I cut out the circles using a bowl as a guide.  I bet a really sharp cutter works well for this, as it would cut through the layers cleanly - I think my tracing around the bowl with a knife made the edge a little squished.
There were no apricots to be had in my store, so I used local prune plums instead.  You poach the fruit and make a vanilla cream - mine was a little bit "tough", as I think I should have cooked it more gently, but it tasted good anyway.  
Here are the pastries before baking:

The pastries were delicious!  I would defintely prepare this again.  And I put the remaining puff pastry in the freezer for the next installment of puff pastry, later this month (to be continued... :-)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Classic French Bread - TWD: Baking with Julia

Tuesdays with Dorie: Baking with Julia - 65th installment. The recipe is Classic French Bread.
This recipe made everyone in the household say "oooooh, you're making baguettes....." :-)  Talk about an easy way to get popular....

This recipe was fairly straightforward and we liked the bread a lot.  I'm still not sure if making one's own baguettes is worth the work, since it's so easy to buy great baguettes.  On the other hand, French bread is good when it's very fresh, and baking at home gets it to you as fresh as possible.

The dough has very few ingredients, and doesn't even take too long to rise - one rise, shape the dough, rise again, and bake.  The recipe called for cake yeast, which I did not have (and also did not have time to obtain - where does one even get it? :-) so I used active dry yeast dissolved in water.   I had a time crunch on the day I was baking, so I even stuck the dough in the fridge for the first rise, and it still worked out great.  It kind of blew the lid off the bowl in the fridge, but that didn't seem to hurt anything.

I kneaded it by hand, rather than machine, because I was in the mood for that.  Long ago (back when I only worked four days per week - woohoo!) I used to bake bread every Friday, and taught myself a lot using the New Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book, so kneading and shaping is familiar to me.

I watched the video, and found myself kind of thinking about the "original" Julia child recipe that I have used in the past.  I really like Julia's explanations in general, and actually found the description in the book of how to shape the loaves rather inscrutable - a diagram in there might have helped.  The video was more illuminating, but I still kind of fudged the shaping process - something to perfect in the future.  Here's the dough after shaping, ready for its second rise:

I have a perforated metal pan for baguette baking (talk about specialty bakeware - got this as a gift), so I used that, rather than the baking stone.  It allows plenty of heat to circulate and keeps the bottom of the bread rounded rather than flat.

Thanks to everyone who has been reading and commenting on my blog - I enjoy the company of other bakers and always want to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Oven-Roasted Plum Cakes - TWD: Baking with Julia

Tuesdays with Dorie: Baking with Julia - 64th installment. The recipe is Oven-Roasted Plum Cakes.

This is a delicious recipe, and was fun to bake, despite the temperature in the kitchen being 90 degrees with very high humidity :-)   It's a great use of summer fruit, and we ate ours with ice cream.  I bet it would be good with other fruit as well.  I am curious about the recommendation in the book to use bittersweet chocolate sauce instead - maybe next time. 

The basic method is to make a brown-sugary butter cake batter and then put a surprisingly small amount of batter (2 heaping tablespoons!) into a dish, put a plum half cut-side up on top, and then sprinkle with more brown sugar before baking.  They are served face up, so you can see the carmelized plum.

I was initially a little intimidated by the amount of effort required (it was Labor Day holiday, and consequently, I felt lazy :-), but once I watched the video, it seemed easier than I had initially thought by reading the recipe in the book.  

This recipe makes 12 cakes - I had a patchwork of 10 little pans, so I made due with what I had.  My mini square pans only hold 4 ounces volume, which is half that of the recipe's recommendation of 8-9 ounce custard cups.  For those, I used a plum quarter instead of a half, and baked them for only about 12 minutes.   Here are the pans with batter and plums, and before brown sugar sprinkling:

I put a bit more than the recommended amount of batter in the half-size pans, because I didn't have enough pans, and the batter rose up and covered the plum, which wasn't as pretty (but still delicious).  Here is the result after baking. 

 They were slightly tricky to get out of the pan, as the fruit made them sticky, but since you serve them top side up, it was pretty easy to scoop out the remaining scraps from the pan and tuck them under the mini cake on the plate.