Posted in baking

Daring Baker Challenge: Phyllo Dough and Maple Baklava

Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.

I was a little daunted by the idea of making my own phyllo dough. Even Alton Brown doesn’t make his own phyllo dough when he makes baklava.  I have now made something more from scratch than Alton Brown.  But I did decide to compromise.  I made the bottom layer myself and used store bought dough for the rest.  I also tweaked the classic recipe by making mine round and using maple syrup instead of spiced honey.  I liked the idea, but I don’t think the spices that you mix in with the nuts complement the maple flavor that well.  I doubt it’s the cinnamon, so it’s probably the allspice or the clove, or both, that’s not playing nice with maple.  That didn’t stop my friends from enjoying it, though.

homemade phyllo dough
The dough got pretty thin and translucent.

The full recipe is here.  I’ll just add a tip for rolling out the phyllo dough, if you are ever possessed to do this yourself.  It’s not as hard as you’d think, and you can use a regular rolling pin even though they suggest a wooden dowel.  But when you roll out dough, you create new surface area, and so even though you floured the dough and the counter, you still get sticky areas.  If you’re rolling out something this much, you have a lot of sticky area. So I tried buttering my work surface instead of flouring it.  After rolling a piece, it came right off of my counter instead of needing a lot of gentle prodding like before.  And then I had a head start on the buttering that you do to make the baklava.

I only baked mine once, for about 30 minutes, whereas the recipe has you do that twice.  Mine probably could’ve used some more time in the oven, but I think another full 30 minutes would have been too much.

 

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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 dry heat

I’m now that person who makes her own granola

homemade granola
After I threw away the burnt part and ate a bowl of it, this much was left.

I never thought I’d make my own granola.  I’m a cereal for breakfast except on special occasions kind of person, and I didn’t want to have to do any work for breakfast.  But lately I’ve been paying more attention to eating healthy, and I found myself wanting to decide what was in my granola.  Or maybe it’s just the hippieness of Western Massachusetts rubbing off on me.  I’m going to a yoga class this weekend, too.

I estimated that I eat 3/4 cup of cereal in the morning.  So, per bowl, the recipe (made up by yours truly) is:

1/2 cup oats

2 Tbsp flaxseeds, ground

2 Tbsp almonds, blanched and chopped

2 Tbsp sweetener (I used a ratio of half honey, one fourth agave maple syrup blend, and one fourth sugar, simply because that was how much I had left of the honey and the syrup)

1/2 Tbsp coconut oil

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 pinch salt

to be added after baking:

1 tsp candied ginger

Mix the dry ingredients, add the wet ingredients and mix them in, spread onto a baking sheet in a thin layer, and bake for 20 minutes at 325F, moving stuff around halfway through.  Cool and add the ginger.

I made four bowls’ worth, which seemed like the perfect amount for one baking sheet.  I did have one snag: it got a little too brown.  One edge got downright burnt, so I threw a little of it away, but the rest is ok…but just barely.  I don’t know if this is because 20 minutes at 325F is too much, or because my oven wasn’t really at 325F, but I suspect the latter.  I use an oven thermometer, but lately it says that the oven is at a lower temperature than it’s supposed to be at.  Maybe both my oven and my oven thermometer are off.  Alas.  I’ll check it again at 15 minutes next time.

Posted in custard, thickening

I’m a Daring Baker!

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and www.nanaimo.ca.

This is the point when I came around to making graham crackers - it looks like cookie dough!

In December I found out about the Daring Bakers, and I really wanted to join but I thought, I’m probably not up to speed with them.  But they have deadlines for getting in each month due to the way they all reveal the challenge on the same day, and the thought of missing the deadline and having to wait a long time gave me that extra push.  So I dove in, and here I am doing a Daring Bakers’ Challenge!

Unfortunately I missed the month they did cannoli only to come in right on time for the graham cracker month.  Graham crackers.  I won’t even eat the things if they aren’t in s’mores or pie crusts.  But ok.  I wanted to be a Daring Baker, I’ll do it.

At least there is also a recipe for the graham crackers to go in – Nanaimo Bars.  This is cool because it’s a Canadian recipe I had never heard of, so I’m learning.

A sheet of graham crackerness coming out of the oven.

I’ll be learning about gluten-free cooking, too.  I of course wanted a deeper understanding of the chemistry of gluten-free baking, so I read up on the different kinds of flours at Gluten Free Mommy.  I soon realized these flours replace the starch of wheat flour; the binding action of the gluten is left up to other ingredients, like xanthan gum.  Gluten-free Lifestyle gets a little more into the nitty gritty of it – you need less xanthan gum for products that would otherwise rely less on gluten than yeast breads.  Guar gum is another possible binder.  And adding protein, such as milk powder or gelatin, can be helpful, I suppose because protein strengthens the structure of the baked good.  Apparently, graham crackers don’t really need a binder, because there is no egg or gum in them at all.  I guess they don’t have to support much!

I couldn’t find glutinous rice flour anywhere, so I used white rice flour.  It seemed to work fine.  One of my flours seemed not to be milled quite fine enough, though, and left a grainy mouthfeel that kept me

Some was sacrificed to the Nanaimo bars.

from enjoying them too much, although the flavor was good otherwise.  I don’t know which it was but for some reason I suspect the sorghum.  I also substituted a little 1% milk and a little cream for the whole milk I was supposed to use.   I forgot to make my graham crackers look like crackers, but that didn’t matter for crushing them up for the Nanaimo bars.

It seems kind of a shame to forfeit the lovely texture of a custard, yummy as the mix-ins were.

The bottom layer is a chocolate custard with stuff mixed in – graham crackers, coconut, and almonds.  This is the part I would do differently the next time around.  1) The custard curdled on my first try.  I redid it a little differently: I melted the butter halfway, so it wasn’t too hot, then took it off the heat and added the rest of the ingredients, then put it back on the heat and let it thicken.  If you don’t mind dirtying up another bowl, mixing the egg with the sugar first would be extra protection.  Alternatively, you could cream the butter and sugar and then add the egg, like you’re making cookies.  The point is, if you have fat and/or sugar mixed with the egg, the proteins will be protected somewhat from curdling.  If you add the egg to already hot ingredients, you should remember, unlike me, to temper them first by adding a small amount to

Middle Layer
Yum.

the egg and then adding the egg to the rest. 2) I think the flavor would be better with melted chocolate than

cocoa powder.  I think this about most chocolate flavored things.

The middle layer is mostly butter and powdered sugar.  Gross to think about, delicious to eat.  The top layer is mostly chocolate.  Delicious again.

I served these at a party I threw recently and they got great reviews.  I happened to have a guest who eats gluten-free, so she was pleasantly surprised!

The finished bars
Ta-daaa!

PS: Apologies for the bizarre look of this page.  I wrestled with WordPress to get my pictures displayed nicely and WordPress won.  Kind of took the fun out of my first Daring Baker post, to be honest.

Posted in baking

Cantucci/Biscotti

The etymology of biscotti is such that it means twice-cooked, which they are.  But biscotti is an Italian word, and in Italy they use it to refer to cookies in general, which are not cooked twice.  Similarly, what we call biscuits (same etymology) are only cooked once. Go figure. In Tuscany, they call those things that are cooked twice and that we dunk in our coffee cantucci, and they dunk them in vin santo.  Smart folks.  They also make theirs a lot smaller than ours, unsurprisingly.  I intended to make mine Italian-sized (like the ones from Trader Joe’s), but they ended up sort of in between.  I didn’t expect such a stiff dough to spread that much.

I used a recipe sent to me by an Italian friend, Agnese.  Here’s my translation:

  1. 150 g almonds (look at the amount on the package and estimate)
  2. 250 g flour (about 2 1/2 cups)
  3. 250 g sugar (about 1 1/3 cups)
  4. ½ tsp vanilla
  5. zest of one orange and half a lemon
  6. 2 eggs
  7. ½ tsp baking powder

Peel, lightly toast, and chop almonds.
Mix sugar, flour, vanilla, zest, salt, and leavening.
Add lightly beaten eggs, mix.
Add almonds, mix.
Form dough into little logs 3cm in diameter.
Bake 15-20 min at 200C/ 390F.
Cool, slice 1cm wide.
Bake 10 min at 160C/ 320F.

I intended to follow it exactly, really I did.  But I ended up not toasting the almonds (I used slivered ones) and adding about a tablespoon of almond paste, because I had some and I thought it was cool and the dough seemed too dry to come together at first.  I’m not sure if the almond paste actually helped the consistency or if the dough just got more cooperative after sitting for a minute – the almond paste was really hard to distribute evenly, so I’m doubtful that it had much of an effect.

Biscotti

The baking went a little weird, too – I put it in for about 25 minutes at 350F (the Joy of Baking website influenced my temperatures), then let it cool, sliced it (didn’t think about how that’s actually kinda hard – see the broken tops on mine), and cooked the slices at 300F for…a long time.  I think I had them in for 10 or 15 minutes on one side, then I flipped them, another 10-15 minutes, and then stood them upright and baked for another 10-15 minutes.  I just kept going because they seemed really soft and I wanted to have real cantucci/biscotti, which everyone knows are hard and dry (so unusual to want that in my food, but I did!).  When I did take them out, they were slightly golden but really not very brown (since I kept the temperature fairly low), and still slightly soft.  After cooling, though, they were hard as rocks.  I guess that’s the trick; I won’t second-guess myself so much next time.

I found out, after a mimosa, that they taste pretty good dunked in champagne.  I personally don’t like dunking them in vin santo – I’d rather just drink the vin santo!  But the champagne was just right. Coffee, of course, will also do.

Edit: I had some left over when I went home for the break so I smuggled them to Florida (ok, it’s not technically smuggling, but with the way airport security is, I feel like I’m smuggling), and my dad tried them.  He approves but requests softer ones.  They will await him on Christmas – don’t tell!

Edit #2: My dad (and everyone else in the family) likes the new biscotti.  I followed the times and temperatures in the recipe exactly and used about 2-3 Tbsp of almond paste in addition to the regular ingredients.  I also forgot to add in almonds so I just pressed them onto the top.  They turned out soft enough that there’s no need to dunk them in anything, and the inside has a taste and texture not unlike almond macaroons.  (No surprise, since almond paste has the same ingredients). Yum. It kind of makes me want to forget about making biscotti and just make macaroons, but whatever.  Anyway, I won’t say that it’s a completely un-authentic way to do it – when I tried biscotti from my (extended) family’s store – best biscotti I have ever eaten, including, I must admit, mine – I noticed that they had a macaroon type of flavor, with a texture slightly but noticeably different from your average Starbuck’s biscotto.