Monday, February 28, 2011

RHC: Sticky Toffee Puddings

Sticky Toffee PuddingQuick report with few pictures, as I was out of town for the weekend and am composing this in at the last minute. (The cinnamon roll post was mostly written on Thursday.)

Sticky toffee pudding is a British dessert, a cake with sauce and not an American's idea of "pudding". In Rose's version, dates soaked in stout are pureed, and that gets added to the cake batter for flavor and moisture. A toffee sauce (brown sugar and butter, mostly, with a dash of cream) is poured warm over the cake, add a dab of whipped crème fraîche and a sprinkle of toasted pecans and it's done.

Sticky Toffee PuddingI made 9 cakelets (a half recipe) baked in my 1/2 cup ramekins. That made a very nice sized dessert for me. The cake had a very nice flavor, and the tang of the crème fraîche complements the sweet toffee sauce and cake very nicely. I don't know how the kids next door ate this one, if they did at all (no report yet), but if they skipped the crème fraîche they really didn't get the optimum combination.

I did feed cakelets to both my brothers, and they declared it very good. I did slightly overbake my little cakes, but with the sauce and the date paste in the cake batter dryness wasn't a problem. Still, next time (there will be a next time) I'll cut back on the cooking time a little.

BBA #8: Cinnamon Rolls

BBA: Cinnamon rollsBack in the land of the familiar, after last week's only partially successful attempt at ciabatta. This week it was cinnamon rolls, and while it's my first attempt at Reinhart's version, I've made similar recipes. A favorite for a number of years for Christmas morning was "orange swirl buns", which were basically cinnamon rolls with the cinnamon replaced with orange peel.

I kept the dough quite wet--letting it knead in the mixer for most of the stated time before adding small amounts of flour. I let it rise, shaped the rolls using KA's cinnamon filling instead of the cinnamon/sugar mixture, then put the rolls into the fridge. This was not to be able to have hot cinnamon rolls the next morning, but because it was already midnight and I had to got to work the next day. :) The next evening the rolls came out of the fridge when I got home from the office, and I let them rise and come to room temperature for about an hour and a half before baking. As they had risen a good bit in the fridge, I didn't think they needed more time.

Baking went pretty smoothly, though my inability to get a very even size as I sliced the rolls had a few extra-tall rolls that got a little too brown before the shorter ones were done. (I was initially trying for 16 smaller rolls, but gave up after the first slice and went for 12.) A few pieces of foil protected the worst spots from burning.

I'm not much on the powdered sugar-and-liquid frosting/glazes, so instead I faked a cream cheese frosting. I had a small cube of cream cheese and added a dab of butter, some powdered sugar, and a dash of vanilla to make a few tablespoons of frosting. My sister-in-law had already carried off 4 rolls sans frosting for their breakfast, but I spread a little of my cream cheese mix on my roll the next morning after warming it up slightly in the toaster oven.

Taste test: it's a very light-textured roll, almost too much so for me--I think I like a little more chew in my cinnamon rolls. The little lemon flavor in the dough was good, but like others have said I'm glad I didn't add more lemon in the frosting. My brothers (older brother was down for the weekend) both approved of the rolls. However, I think next time I need cinnamon rolls I'll either go to the orange swirl buns recipe, or go back to trying to replicate my father's biscuit-based cinnamon rolls, a treasured memory from my childhood.

BBA: Cinnamon rolls
BBA: Cinnamon rolls
BBA: Cinnamon rolls

Monday, February 21, 2011

BBA #7: Ciabatta

CiabattaThis bread didn't give me major problems of mixing, kneading, shaping, or baking....but on the other hand the texture wasn't the big open-hole style that a ciabatta should be. On the other other hand, we all loved the loaf and went through the whole thing (a half-recipe) at dinner Saturday night. The "Carraba's-style" herb mix and olive oil we were dipping in into helped, sure, but the bread was pretty good too. I'll just have to see if the whole baking process gets harder when I try it again in search of the true ciabatta texture.

I used the poolish version, and used buttermilk because I had an excess and didn't care if the loaf was more tender than one made without dairy. I will try using water for a crisper, chewier version, and take a vote on what the family prefers. I did work in in the maximum amount of liquid called for in the recipe and had a nicely sticky dough, but given the texture problem I need to go even wetter. From Chris's writeup (thanks, Chris!) I also realize my folding technique needs lots of work, and the videos on the folding technique also underscore the fact that my dough wasn't wet enough.

Ciabatta Ciabatta Ciabatta Ciabatta Ciabatta

I want to keep working on this bread and try to get a more ciabatta-like texture. First idea is to work on the stretching and folding, as Reinhart says that's part of the key. Second idea is that I may have de-gassed it too much when moving it to my peel, thgouh I didn't notice a great loss of volume and there were some large air bubbles visible just below the skin as it went into the oven. All that after getting the hydration level up.

CiabattaThe ciabatta crumb shot.

Several of the ciabatta variations look good--I may try a combination of cheese and caramelized onion next. Whenever we're next ready for a bread pig-out, that is. And with the BBA Challenge schedule, it may be a while before I come back to this one. I must note, however, that I squeezed in a second round of bagels this weekend on request of the folks next door. I used the KA high-gluten flour ("Sir Lancelot"), and maybe shouldn't have cut the refrigeration period to only 8 hours, for many of the bagels were a little flat. Taste and texture are OK. I'm not going to try to solve that problem right now...

RHC: Heavenly Seduction Coconut Cake

Heavenly Seduction Coconut CakeIt's a free choice week, when we can work on catching up with cakes yet unbaked. I went with the Heavenly Seduction Coconut Cake--there's yet another coconut cake still to go, and I didn't want to have 2 scheduled too close together. I've been thinking of this one as the "5 forms of coconut cake"--of which I only managed 4. DSCN1805Dessicated unsweetened coconut, canned cream of coconut, coconut flavoring (I couldn't find a natural extract), and the conventional flaked sweetened coconut. Ignore that yellow box labelled 'coconut cream' which I'd hoped was the specialty coconut cream powder--it turned out to be the "coconut cream" that is specifically not to be used instead of canned cream of coconut. I made this one in a 6" (half-recipe) size for the same underlying reason as not baking 2 coconut items close together: neither my brother nor sister-in-law like coconut. The kids and I do, but still taking 1/3 of the family out of the tasting group makes the smaller cake the way to go. The cake, as is the other coconut one we haven't baked yet, is a white cake. Wonder why...trying to keep the color palate white to match the flaked coconut toppings?

This recipe unavoidably uses both food processor and mixer (well, if you want to use electric appliances at all, that is.) I did manage to think ahead and not do things in recipe order, so as to not have to wash the food processor in the middle. First grind the desiccated coconut with the sugar. Remove to the mixer bowl. [Note to self: solid layer of coconut oil on the top of the can will geyser the liquid underneath it when it gives way.] Open canned cream of coconut, place in food processor (what didn't splash on your shirt, that is), and homogenize. Measure out what is needed to mix with egg whites and flavorings.

Heavenly Seduction Coconut CakeThat little logistical snare avoided, the rest was easy: it's the usual butter cake mixing method. Flour, baking powder, and salt joined the ground coconut in the mixer bowl. Add the softened butter and some of the egg mixture and beat. Add the rest of the egg mixture in 2 parts, and the batter is done. My half-cake took just about 30 minutes to bake to where it started to pull away from the sides of the pan and a tester was clean, and as Rose warned, the top dipped slightly as it cooled. All the better to hold whipped cream, as it turns out.

The topping, if you don't have the coconut cream powder, is unsweetened whipped cream (I tried my hand at the gelatin-stabilized form) topped with sweetened flaked coconut. I actually added a little of my boxed "coconut cream' to my mixture figuring it might add some additional coconut flavor, but either that or the gelatin mixture gave my whipped cream a slightly lumpish appearance, though the lumps weren't really apparent in the eating. I love the simplicity of the topping idea: whip cream, pile on top of cake, add coconut. I'll be wishing for this when we do the "Southern (Manhattan) coconut cake with silk meringue buttercream" which takes 3 pages of recipe for the frosting. The whipped cream may limit the life of the frosted cake and requires refrigeration, but it certainly is easy.

Heavenly Seduction Coconut CakeTasting results: I took Rose's comment on serving this cake to heart: it was baked a couple of hours before dinner, and topped with the whipped cream and flaked coconut within minutes of eating. I had a very limited sampling this time, as older niece declined a piece for lack of appetite and brother and sister-in-law, as I said, dislike coconut. Nephew liked it, but wasn't wowed by it. Younger niece felt the unsweetened whipped cream wasn't compensated for by the sweetened coconut,and suggested a little addition of sugar would have helped. I think I agree with her, though I still enjoyed my piece very much. If I were to repeat the cake (unlikely, given the limited appeal around here) I might try toasting the flaked coconut to give some crunch and a different flavor.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

RHC: Quail Egg Indulgence Cake

Quail Egg Indulgence CakeVisit after visit to the nearby Your DeKalb Farmer's Market I've spotted the quail eggs and thought "here's where to buy them when the Quail Egg Cake comes along." Friday morning when I went to buy them after my exercise quail eggs. They were out, and the not-good English of the African immigrant stock clerk wasn't up to communicating more than "we're out".

Quail Egg Indulgence CakeAs it turned out, Friday wasn't a good day to bake the cake, anyway, so I had another chance at finding quail eggs. I went to my backup idea and called the Buford Highway Farmer's Market. Not as close to my house, but indeed BHFM had quail eggs. I picked up two backs of 10--I planned to double the recipe which called for 5 yolks, but after considering the difficulties of shelling and separating quail eggs, plus the common problem of the yolks not adding up to Rose's specified weights, the second carton seemed like a good idea. In the end I had 1 spare out of my 20. [Edited to add: quail egg costs seem to have varied a good bit, so I thought I'd add in that mine were an inexpensive $1.59 for 10 eggs. ]

Quail Egg Indulgence CakeQuail egg separation is a tough proposition--either it's just the tiny size, or those whites really do cling tighter to the yolk than chicken eggs do. Or maybe the quail eggs were fresher and that made a difference. However, once the eggs were separated, the cake came together quickly with the now-familiar butter cake mixing method. This cake uses heavy cream as the liquid, plus the butter...the 'indulgence' part is more than the effort of using quail eggs.

Quail Egg Indulgence CakeI had decided to make 6 cakelets to reduce the serving size somewhat. The base recipe called for a mini heart-shaped pan to make a cake for two. My Texas muffin pans looked to be about the right capacity at 7+ ounces, as the heart pan was supposed to be 3 cup capacity. That turned out to be almost right. My cakelets rose just above the edge of the muffin wells and formed a small lip of the lovely crusty top. When the cakelets cooled and shrank, those lovely crusts fell off in little semicircles. Had I been an unscrupulous baker I'd have scarfed them all down leaving the poor little cakes bereft of most of their crust, but I was good and served the crusts with each cakelet.

We ate these with raspberries and lightly sweetened whipped cream, and really felt that the little bit of cream was needed, even though the cake was lovely by itself.

Tasting results: only the nephew didn't think much of this one--he didn't finish his and said he'd rather have another cake than this one on some future occasion. The rest of us, though, loved the crispy crunchy crust (as advertised), the fine crumb, and the nice vanilla/butter flavor. I'll make this one again...though probably with chicken eggs next time.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

BBA #6: Challah

BBA: ChallahBread-of-the-week is Challah, the braided egg bread that's a part of many Jewish ceremonies. I'm not Jewish, but my sister-in-law and the kids (the next door neighbors) are, and for quite a while now I've been baking challah every Friday for SIL's Shabbat. After several years, I've settled into a version that's mostly whole-wheat, with dried cherries. Occasionally I'll try a variation like doing something special that's sweeter for Rosh Hashanah, but the usual response is that whatever I tried isn't as good as the standard. I need to do an updated post with my current recipe (thought I had, but it didn't turn up when I searched my blogs), but this is fairly close if you add in 1/3 c. of dried cherries. I've since converted the flour measures from volume to weight, but I don't think the amounts changed.

With that background, I decided to use partly whole-wheat flour in Reinhart's recipe for challah and add the dried cherries, all in an attempt to forestall the comments I knew I'd get otherwise from the family. I went with half whole wheat, as that's usually a fairly safe substitution. I had no problems with the dough coming together with the lower amount of water, but I did keep adding more during the (machine) kneading as I like a fairly moist dough. I reason that it will help plump the dried cherries, which might otherwise steal moisture from the dough. I have no scientific basis for this reasoning. <g>

BBA: ChallahThe first rise only got a little puffy in the allotted time , but there were no problems with the second rise--it started out at about 1 quart, and here has doubled that.

BBA: Challah As I mentioned on Chris's post, I like to do a 6-strand braid for my challahs. I started with the 3-strand, then moved up with a few attempts at what Reinhart uses for his Celebration Challah, a smaller 3-strand on top of a larger one. On my attempts with that, either the smaller loaf fell to the side (or just off-center) during rising or baking, and/or the smaller loaf got too hard and crusty before the larger one was done. The 6-strand method I currently use is fast to do and gives a nicely complicated pattern and a fairly round cross-section which bakes evenly. I don't like to taper my challahs severely, because the smaller ends just get overbaked. Just a little bulging in the middle is what I want.

BBA: ChallahImprovised proof box--a plastic storage box turned over the loaf. I usually use my warming oven's proof setting for bread, but am sticking to Reinhart's preferred room temperature risings.

BBA: ChallahThe crumb shot--nice textured.

Taste results: well, it didn't get tasted until about 9 PM, as SIL, nephew, and I went off to watch younger niece compete in the State high school diving meet. (She placed 12th--not bad for a freshman.) General reaction was that this challah was OK, but drier than the standard and not as flavorful. Some of the 'dry' problem might be that we usually get part of the challah eaten while still warm from the oven, which certainly boosts most any bread. However, I tasted it again this morning and still found it dry to the point that I reached for a little butter to go on it, something I never do with my standard version.

Another 'unfair comparisons' issue is that I didn't make Reinhart's recipe as written, and didn't use an equivalent proportion of whole-wheat flour as in my standard recipe. Nevertheless, I don't see any reason to abandon my standard for Reinhart's. Incidentally, early on in my attempts at challah I tried Beranbaum's from The Bread Bible, and also abandoned it. My memory is the same sort of issue--it just wasn't as rich and moist as the supermarket challahs (as I live very close to a large Jewish synagogue, the nearby supermarkets make good challah), and the recipe I now use is better. It certainly is if you like whole wheat and dried cherries!

Monday, February 7, 2011

RHC: Mud Turtle Cupcakes

Mud Turtle Cupcakes
Well, they taste good, and *some* of them are pretty. Others...not so much.

Cake-of-the-week for the Heavenly Cake Bakers was from the "baby cakes" chapter: Mud Turtle Cupcakes. The base is a chocolate cupcake made with cocoa powder and sour cream, which is topped with ganache, caramel, pecans (to be the turtle's legs and head), more caramel, and more ganache. Plenty of goo, in other words.

Given my continuing issue with RHC cakes as too dry for my tastes, I was careful to not overbake and took the main pan out while I still got a few crumbs on my test toothpick. Alas, several tasters still found the cake too crumbly. Mud Turtle CupcakesWorse, several cupcakes baked with a outer crust around the top rim and when the cupcake then pulled away from the sides of the liner, this crust then fell into the gap between cupcake and liner. Four cupcakes were too high in the oven (the overflow cupcake pan wouldn't fit on the rack with my big pan) and the tops probably browned too fast, but several cupcakes in the main pan did this too. That was the ugly part. But you know, by the time everything was covered in ganache, caramel, and pecans, it was hard to tell which ones had the crusted edges and which didn't.

I made the caramel twice as I let my attention waver *just* at the wrong time and cooked the sugar to too high a temperature. I was afraid that batch would set up as too chewy (or worse, as hard candy) and so made another batch. As it turned out, my teaspoons of caramel must have been a little generous and I ended up using some of the 'bad' batch when I ran out of the good. Maybe it was a little firmer than the other, but not enough to matter.

Mud Turtle CupcakesIs it just a "mud cupcake" without the pecans to make a turtle? This one is for a co-worker who doesn't appreciate nuts.

Taste results: Unanimous positives on the toppings, and close to unanimous "too crumbly" on the cake. I was careful to eat my topping with the cake, and liked the combination. Others attacked the topping first (and it was rather difficult to do otherwise, especially as we were gathered around the TV for the Super Bowl and didn't have plates), then got down to cake and variously found it uninteresting, too crumbly, a little dry, or just not up to the level of the topping. At the office today the same sort of comments came out: lovely gooey topping, cake is too crumbly, and the combination is hard to eat. I think I'll remember this topping idea for some future kid's party or bake sale, but will hunt for a less delicate and moister chocolate cupcake to go under it.

BBA #5: Casatiello

CasatielloI did not have a good baking day yesterday, with problems with bread-of-the-week and cake-of-the-week. Both ended up edible, however, just not pretty. I've got theories as to some of the issues, but part of the problem was just doing too much at once, leading to timing problems. Starting with the bread...

It's week 5 of the BBA Challenge 2011, and the bread is a variation of #4, brioche. Casatiello adds meat and cheese to a brioche dough, making a sandwich-in-a-bread loaf.

The dough gave me no problems except that I added more water than called for--beyond the normal dry winter day humidity correction somewhat, but not too far. For the meat and cheese I used a Trader Joe's "Chianti Red Wine Artisan Salami" and a sharp provolone which I cut into cubes instead of shredding for more cheese impact. (Thanks for the suggestion, Chris.) I did sauté the salami, which was good and bad. The little 'crispness' made it harder to slice and eat, but on the other hand I did get rid of a good bit of fat which the bread didn't need. There was plenty already with the buttery brioche and the cheese.

I opted to bake my casatiello in an 8" springform. All went well, the bread got to an internal temperature of 185 within the allotted time for a large loaf, and I took it out. I decided the springform counted as a 'bread pan' and went to remove the bread from it to cool....and collapsed the loaf. CasatielloThe melting cheese had stuck to the sides a little so I loosened those, unlatched the springform, but when I was wiggling to get it loose the loaf tilted a little and collapsed the bottom. The sides looked very pale and perhaps didn't have the strength to hold up the tall, crusty part that had rised above the pan. Which perhaps is a sign that I let the bread over-rise--I was working on something else and let both rises go too far. I tried turning my baked loaf upside down, and even put it back in the oven to brown a little on the bottom (and dripped cheese on the oven floor as I did so), but it only collapsed further as it cooled. If I try this bread again I'll do a two-loaf option, and maybe even bake it in paper bags.

On slicing, the edges look great, with an tight even crumb around the cheese pockets. As you'd expect, the collapsed part is denser and has lines that look like streaks of cheese. I suspect that if I toast it a little, even this part will taste fine. Or maybe it will be a good base for a savory bread pudding...if I can make one that's not so rich it causes indigestion.

CasatielloTaste results: my brother and sister-in-law liked it, as did I. Older niece had a small piece but thought that was enough, and younger niece found it way too cheesy for her. Those pockets of cheese are the opposite of what she will tolerate in a cheese bread--the grated stuff that melts away in the bread is more for her. Don't think the nephew tried the bread, as we were having a family Super Bowl snack dinner and he was more interested in the Buffalo wings, mini pizzas, mini veggie frittatas, etc.