Posted in baking

Daring Baker Challenge: Cranberry Spice Stollen


The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

The Recipe: I altered the flavors and mix-ins.  I used 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1 tsp of cardamom, 1/2 tsp of allspice, and a 1/2 tsp of nutmeg.  I kept the vanilla and orange extracts.  For mix-ins I used slivered almonds, candied ginger, and Craisins, and I mixed them in differently.

    Mix-ins, evenly distributed
  1. Mix yeast and water, wait five minutes.
  2. Add other wet ingredients.
  3. Add dry ingredients.
  4. Add dried fruit and nuts. (I didn’t yet.)
  5. Knead.
  6. Refrigerate overnight.
  7. Let come to room temperature for 2 hours.
  8. Roll into a big rectangle. (Mine didn’t make it to 16×24 in.  Also, I learned that rolling gluten-full dough on top of wax paper doesn’t work, because it shrinks and pulls the paper with it into lots of crinkles.  It worked so much better on a clean bare countertop.)
  9. My way of mixing in: Put mix-ins on top of rectangle and then run a rolling pin over them.
  10. Roll dough like a jellyroll, starting from one of the shorter sides so you end up with a long log.
  11. Bring the ends of the log together, and fit one into the other.  Shape into a nice circle.
  12. Dough ready for the oven.
  13. Slash the outsides of the circle every 2 inches or so.
  14. Let rise for 2 hours.
  15. Bake for 40-50 minutes at 350F, rotating pan halfway through, until bread is 190F.
  16. Cool.
  17. Brush melted butter on top.
  18. Sift powdered sugar on top.

My method of mixing stuff in was probably nicer to my hands and the gluten since there weren’t slivers of almond involved in the kneading.  But I did seem to underestimate how much to use.  I guess the bread rose enough that the amount of mix-ins got diluted.  It was good, though, and the flavors were not at all overpowering.  In fact, I wish I had tasted more cardamom.  But it was a really fun challenge, to make something so seasonal and have it come out looking like it should.  Happy holidays!

Posted in baking

Everything you ever wanted to know about crêpes, but didn’t know enough French to ask

I adore crêpes.  But I’ve had a hell of a time figuring out how to make them well.  Lucky for you, now that I’ve put in the time and untold gallons of milk, you can just read this post and make perfect crêpes tomorrow morning.

Ingredients

You can’t have a crêpe without flour, liquid, and eggs.  You can’t have a crêpe that tastes right without a dash of salt, too.  Everything else is optional.

  • Flour.  All-purpose flour is the standard choice.  Whole wheat flour works great.  Buckwheat flour is used to make galettes; I suspect this means buckwheat flour mixed with wheat flour, but I’ve only made regular crepes.  I also can’t speak on the effectiveness of different gluten-free crepe mixes.  I wouldn’t recommend bread, cake, or pastry flour, because I think AP flour gives a good balance of tenderness and strength, but you could probably get away with bread flour.
  • Liquid.  Usually this is milk.  I’ve used whole and 1% and have been equally pleased both ways.  I’ve also used part wine, and the Epicurious recipe uses part brandy.  Many recipes use half milk and half water, and I’ve supplemented some milk with water when I ran out.  I haven’t experimented beyond that, but I believe that if you choose a water-based liquid that you like the taste of, and that has a viscosity in the ballpark of milk’s, you’ll be fine.
  • Eggs.  Yep.
  • Salt.  Add a pinch or two if you’re making sweet crepes, maybe a little more if you’re making savory ones.
  • Sugar.  This is optional.  A couple of teaspoons is fine for sweet crepes, but don’t add too much, or your crepes will be too delicate.
  • Fat.  Also optional.  Many recipes contain a little butter, some call for oil.
  • Vanilla extract or other flavoring.  Sky’s the limit!

Proportions

My ratio: 1 part flour, 2 parts eggs, 4 parts milk, by weight. Or, if you don’t want to multiply, here’s a good amount:

  • 100g flour (1 cup)
  • 4 eggs
  • 400g milk (between 1 2/3 and 1 3/4 cup) The volume measurement for the milk is 1.7 cups; nothing bad will happen if you round that up or down.

I estimate that, per egg, you make 3-4 crepes, which I figure is about right for one person, although I can certainly eat more.  So using my ratio-by-weight, set 1 part to the number of people times 25g, because one egg weighs 50g.

My ratio makes a crêpe so thin it lets light pass through it.  But not everyone likes that. Many of the recipes for crêpes out there have less milk (1 part by volume/2.5 parts by weight) and/or less egg (2 eggs per cup of flour/1 part by weight).  Some also have fat, usually butter (2-4 Tbsp per cup of flour/a fourth to half a part by weight).

Mixing

This is one of the biggest problems in making crêpes.  Just mixing everything together creates lumps.  Not to worry, people have figured out how to avoid that, right?  Well, sort of.  Some people strain their batter, which means 1) they have to clean a strainer and 2) they’re losing an undefined amount of flour and 3) they have an extra step.  Some people mix their batter in a blender, which means 1) they have to clean a blender and 2) they have to wait several hours for the bubbles to subside.  Surely there must be a better way.  And there is.  In fact, it’s already a well-established cooking technique used in sauce-making.  It’s called a slurry.

If you’re going to thicken a sauce with cornstarch, you don’t just dump the starch into the sauce, because it would clump.  So instead, you add the cornstarch to a small amount of liquid, make a thick liquid – a slurry – and then mix the thick liquid with the thin liquid.  The slurry gets thinned out, but no lumps are formed.  Similarly, if you want to make lump-free crêpe batter, or pancake batter or what have you, all you have to do is make a well in the middle of your dry ingredients and make a slurry in that well, like so:

  1. Whisk together the dry ingredients in one bowl.
  2. Whisk together the wet ingredients in another bowl. (I don’t like to wash more than one, so I add the milk following these instructions and then add the eggs to that.)
  3. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients.
  4. Pour about a third of the wet ingredients into the well.
  5. Whisk in the well, just touching the dry ingredients to pull some of them in.  Keep doing this until there’s enough dries in the wets to make a fairly thick batter.
  6. Mix another third of the wets into the batter to thin it out, and then start whisking the dries in again.
  7. Repeat with the last third of the wets.

I don’t know why it works.  But it works.

There’s one other issue to address: some recipes include melted butter.  If you add melted butter to milk straight from the fridge, you will get unmelted butter, which is not good for making a batter.  I have gotten around this by melting the butter in the milk in a double boiler or the microwave, thus heating both.  But that takes time.  I found that I didn’t notice a difference when I left the butter out, so I haven’t gotten around to trying these methods, but I imagine that mixing the butter with a little of the flour before adding the liquid, or maybe even mixing the butter into the slurry when it’s on the thicker side, might solve the problem.  Alternatively, you could use oil – which sacrifices flavor, and perhaps that’s the only reason the butter is in there in the first place, but try it and see how you like it – or omit the butter.

Spreading

The real Parisian crêpe stands make their crêpes on griddles and spread them with tools made for the job.  I think it would be cool to get one, but I suspect it takes some skill to use it well.  And the reality is, real Parisian home cooks make them like the rest of us: in pans, swirling the batter around until it covers the bottom.  As long as you swirl right after putting the batter in, that works just fine.

Cooking

Many people will tell you that it is an unfortunate inevitability that the first crêpe of a batch always comes out wrong.  I suspect that these people are using too much butter in their pans.  The first crêpe gets funny edges because it’s swimming in butter, but it absorbs some and so the next crêpe has a better time of it.  I for one don’t use butter at all; just a ridiculously nonstick pan.  Seriously: I am not a proponent of nonstick cookware, but for this, I make an exception.  But a little butter (like, rub the stick on the pan real quick) is fine as long as you can keep the temperature stable enough not to burn it.

Flipping

You don’t have to flip your crêpes in the air.  They will taste the same either way.  But your level of awesomeness will increase substantially if you do.  I know.  You’re afraid.  But the worst that can happen is you flip a crêpe onto the floor.  I ask you: are you not willing to sacrifice 25 cents of foodstuff in the pursuit of awesomeness?

This will only work if your pan is seriously nonstick, and even then, you might have to release it from the pan a little first with a spatula.  Once it’s released enough to be able to slide a little in the pan, just move the pan real quick like you see TV chefs do.  It works.  Swear.  The only mistake you’re likely to make is chickening out and not flicking it hard enough.  So go for it.

Filling

I like to have parties where everyone brings a different filling.  There are lots of possibilities:

  • butter
  • sugar (granulated, brown, powdered)
  • lemon curd, and other flavors
  • jams and jellies
  • Nutella
  • fruit
  • whipped cream
  • crêpe Suzette sauce (that’s another post)
  • maple syrup…any kind of syrup
  • that wonderful chestnut sauce that I can’t find in the States (yet another post)
  • savory stuff…you can tell that’s not my really my thing, but some people dig it…goat cheese would probably be great.

Folding

There are many ways of folding crêpes, and I am unaware of any being held superior to the others.  Here are some options:

  • Fold in half one way and then in half again the other way, ending up with a quarter circle.
  • Fold the left third in and then the right third in, like a letter.  That’s enough if you’re serving it on a plate, but if you’re going to carry it around, fold it in half long ways or fold the tops and bottoms in, too.
  • Roll it up.

Freezing

Indeed, crêpes freeze well.  Layer them in between sheets of wax paper or parchment paper and put in a zip-top bag.  They defrost real quick in the microwave.

That was a long post, but I hope you’ll realize that making crêpes is not a long process.  Put a ridiculously nonstick pan on the heat, put one part flour and a dash of salt into a bowl, gradually whisk in four parts milk and two parts eggs, ladle in enough batter to just cover the bottom of the pan, swirl, cook, flip, cook a little more, fill and eat!  Bon appétit!

Posted in baking, foam

Middle Eastern Macarons

I didn't dye them, so they're just a faint green from the pistachios.

My first attempt at macarons went pretty well, and I had been excited to try them again ever since.  So when a professor who works in France came to visit our department, you know what I made.  But I didn’t go with French flavors.  Instead, I

  • swapped out the almond meal for pistachio meal (you can’t find that in stores, I just threw some pistachios in my magic bullet),
  • added a scant Tbsp rose water to the egg whites before beating them (remember, you can add some water-based liquid to your egg whites without hurting the meringue),
  • and filled them with honey jam (like I did with my May Flowers Macarons).
  • Besides these changes, I followed the exact same recipe as last time – Not So Humble Pie’s recipe – and I had the same weak point as last time – air pockets in the macarons.  But I don’t really mind them.  As soon as you bite it’s all the same anyway.

These are common flavors in Middle Eastern cuisine, so I told my friends they were Middle Eastern flavored.  One person replied “I don’t think I know what the Middle East tastes like,” but when she tried one she said “These are Middle Eastern flavored!”

And it turns out, the Middle East tastes good.  This is one of those rare dishes that I plan to make again without needing someone to specially request it.  I’ll probably try a honey buttercream instead of honey jam next time (honey jam is so sweet and sticky) but the combination of flavors with the texture of the macarons was heavenly.

A tale of warning: I wanted to make these again for some especially helpful professors as a holiday gift, but I made two different batches using defrosted frozen egg whites, which normally work fine in meringues, and they just were not right.  The first batch was too sticky, and the second batch never dried on the top, so neither came out very macaron-like.  They tasted good, but I think they taste better in macaron form.  So it looks like you should use never-frozen whites for your macarons.

 

Posted in thickening

Apricot pate de fruit

Add apricot juice to the list of things I have pectinified:

  1. Cranberry juice
  2. Blueberries
  3. Riesling wine
  4. Red wine
  5. Honey

In fact, I was planning to make decorated sugar cookies for the Daring Bakers instead, but realized I didn’t have enough time, and knew that I could always fall back on pate de fruit.  Although I guess I should call mine pate de jus, huh?

I got a bottle of apricot juice and did my usual thing – add sugar to taste, bring to a boil, add low-sugar pectin, cook until it’s the firmness you want when you drip a little onto a plate you keep in the freezer. I found that with the amount of juice I used (it was a smaller bottle than what a lot of fruit juice comes in, but still more juice than I’ve used before), I needed a packet and a half instead of just one packet of pectin in order to not have to boil it down too much.

I poured them into everything I had available to pour stuff into – my madeleine pan, my rose molds, and even two little heart-shaped baking pans.  It all worked out really well.  I put sugar on the hearts, but as you can see, the sugar makes them less reflective and pretty, and it draws out water and gets itself dissolved.

I took these (a long time ago) to a department party (the same one I took my key lime mini-pies to last year, and once again, it all got eaten) and one of our visiting students was really happy to have a vegan option for dessert :).