Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Orange Cranberry Muffins

Four years ago this week the Tuesdays With Dorie bakers were baking Orange Berry Muffins, from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours, so muffins are on the menu this Tuesday here at Chez Dogs Eat The Crumbs.  The recipe calls for blueberries, but I decided that the cranberries lurking in my fridge would make the perfect pairing with the orange flavor featured in these muffins.  My mom made the best cranberry/orange bread when I was young, and I knew that orange cranberry muffins would be bound to give a warm start to a winter morning!

n.o.e.'s notes:
-  These muffins are made with buttermilk, orange (juice and zest) and honey along with the usual suspects of flour, sugar, butter, eggs and leavening.  You can find the recipe on Michelle (now the Brown Eyed Baker)'s old blog, here.

-  I always slice my cranberries crosswise in two or three pieces because I like seeing their wagon-wheel like spokes in my finished baked goods.

-  The recipe is a snap to put together and the muffins were wonderfully fragrant while they baked.

the verdict:

 I served these muffins for breakfast over the Christmas holidays and they were well-received.  They are simple and homey and the tart cranberries provide a great contrast to the soft sweetness of the muffin.

Other TWD bakers are catching up with the recipes they missed:
-  Leslie also made the muffins, and hers are all gussied up.
- Margaret made the berry surprise cake, which I remember being a ton of work; good job!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dorie's Lemon Pound Cake

The actual name of recipe is Perfection Pound Cake, from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours, and it was baked by the  Tuesdays With Dorie baking group four years ago this week.  I wasn't a member of the TWD group then, and now that the group has finished baking through the book I am catching up on the ones I missed by baking the recipes chosen early in the group's history.

"Perfection" in the title of the recipe sets a mighty high bar.  Going into my baking session I was dubious.  Not because I don't trust Dorie's recipes; I do.  If I were to bet that anyone could make an extravagant claim for a baking recipe and prove it to be true, my money would be on Dorie.  But I had read some accounts of this cake from various bakers over the years, and reports indicated that the cake tended to turn out "dry."  That's a common hazard for a pound cake.

I've been to enough Southern funerals to have tasted a goodly number of pound cakes.  Many are dry, to be sure, but I have garnered some outstanding pound cake recipes.  My absolute favorite comes from the cookbook put together by my children's elementary school as a fundraiser.  I haven't blogged that one, and I now realize that I need to remedy that.

The day I baked this cake I stood in front of my mixing bowl and contemplated added a little something to the cake batter to ensure that it wouldn't turn out dry - a dollop of sour cream or yogurt sounded like a good plan to me, but I squelched that thought and baked Dorie's recipe as she wrote it.  I wanted to know if it really is perfection!

n.o.e.'s notes:

-  You can find the recipe for this cake on Michelle (now the Brown Eyed Baker)'s old blog, here.

-  I cut the recipe in half and stuck right to the recipe.  I couldn't resist having some fun, though, and used a cute little silicone pan that I had bought at IKEA back in the fall.

-  Dorie gives the option for a lemon variation, and that's what I chose.  I figured that lemon would give the cake a boost in case it fell short of perfection.  To adapt the recipe from the basic pound cake, rub grated lemon zest into the granulated sugar with your fingertips before adding the sugar to the butter.

-  My little cake rose nicely and developed that signature pound cake crack on the top.  It was so small and cute - like a little muffin pound cake.  I think I might have left it in the oven a minute too long.

the verdict:

Well, I have to be honest here: my cake did not rise to the lofty heights of perfection.  But it was a good pound cake.  My tasters and I enjoyed the lemon flavor and the fact that it wasn't overly sugary (which can happen in a pound cake.)  Was it dry you ask? My answer is: I don't think so.  This was an issue of some discussion with my tasters and we couldn't quite decide if it was dry.  But at the same time it was not what I'd call a moist cake.  I think if I had taken it out of the oven a minute or two earlier it would have been better.  As it was the cake paired nicely with strawberries, and if I'd had any whipped cream on hand it would have been nearly perfection!

[note: my friend Leslie of Lethally Delicious is baking on the same TWD catch-up schedule and your can read her opinion of the pound cake on her post.]

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Spice Bars with Pecans and Raisins

 At this point you might be "fussed-out" from rolling, cutting, decorating, and eating fancy cookies during the December baking season.  These Raisin Pecan Spice Bars  are a perfect January treat: they are simple to throw together and their warm spices, nuts, and dried fruit make them very welcome if you're caught in deep winter's chilly grip.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The recipe from The Modern Baker by Nick Malgieri.  Since I am a (very lax) member of the The Modern Baker Challenge, and the group has agreed to not post the recipes baked from the book, I'm not including the recipe.  I can give you a glimpse of the ingredient list, though: all-purpose flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, butter, dark brown sugar, sugar, eggs, molasses, sour cream, raisins, and pecans. 

-  I couldn't find any sour cream in the fridge so I used yogurt.

- I stirred a mixture of golden and dark raisins into my batter.

-  Chopped toasted pecans from Trader Joe's are a great time saver and give a wonderful nutty flavor in baked goods!

-  Instead of one 9x13 pan, I baked the recipe in two 8x8 pans because I wanted to make sure the middle got baked through.

-  My bars took 30 -35 minutes to bake, and were still quite moist inside, with a nice crackly top.

- I cut the bars small because they were going on a big platter of bar cookies and brownies.

the verdict:

These bars have a perfectly balanced combination of flavors. The raisins are a strong presence but blend beautifully with the spices and nuts.  I like the way these bars round out a collection of bar cookies - they are great with blondies and brownies.  On the other hand, they are strong enough to stand all by themselves.  I'll turn to this recipe time and again for a versatile cool-weather cookie.

I have been enjoying the streamlined, delicious recipes from The Modern Baker.  In fact I included the book as one of my favorites in my 2010 Cookbook Roundup and purchased three copies of the cookbook in hardcover: for me and for each of my daughters.  If you don't have a copy, the book is now available at very reasonable cost in paperback!  I was honored that Nick Malgieri recently sent a paperback copy of the book to each member of The Modern Baker Challenge.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Galette des Rois for Epiphany

January 6, the twelfth day after Christmas, is the feast day of the Epiphany, which in Western Christian tradition commemorates the visit of the Three Kings to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. I have always loved celebrating Epiphany. When my girls were small, we would all dress up in finery for our Epiphany dinner and I decorated the table with scattered glittering "jewels" and candles in golden crown-shaped holders. Based on some holiday books, I baked a cake or cupcakes with one piece of colorful candy tucked inside; the person lucky enough to find that candy would be crowned with a fancy paper crown and be the monarch for the rest of the day.

I'd never really heard of any specific traditional type of cake, though, so I was excited to see a post on Nick Malgieri's blog last January for a Galette des Rois, or traditional King Cake from France. I promised myself that I'd try it the next time Epiphany rolled around. Last week got a little busy, however, and I missed baking the galette for the actual date of Epiphany. Luckily, from what I gather from French sources, the Galette des Rois Season lasts through most of the month of January, so it wasn't too late to enjoy the galette when I baked it on Sunday.

According to French custom the galette is typically baked with a fève, a dried bean or trinket, inside. The person who finds the fève in his or his the piece of galette receives a paper crown and becomes king or queen for the day, and in some circles, has to provide the cake for the next Epiphany celebration. Apparently the French bakeries have gotten quite elaborate these days and the fèves are often lovely little porcelain figurines.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- For my first galette des rois I followed the Nick Malgieri recipe.

- Instead of attempting homemade puff pastry (maybe some day!) I used the duFour brand of store-bought all-butter puff pastry. This comes in 14 oz packages, just over half the size of the 1.5 pounds of puff pastry called for in the recipe. I cut the sheet of puff pastry in half, rolled each half into a square, and cut circles approximately 9 inches in diameter from each square. I made 2/3 recipe of the filling (very easy math, and it used half a can of almond paste - I froze the other half for a future recipe) and had a bit left over after filling the galette.

- My fève was a dried cherry.

- This galette had a traditional almond cream filling flavored with vanilla and kirsch. I reduced the amount of sugar in the filling by just a bit.

- Next time I'll be more careful when scoring the puff pastry and make sure that the knife cuts to an even depth in the pastry so that the cuts will open in a regular pattern as the galette bakes. This, my first galette was a lovely golden brown and it was beautiful to me despite the random way the scoring turned out!

- Here are some galette des rois links:
- Dorie Greenspan's latest blog post talks about glaettes des rois and other types of galettes enjoyed by the French.

- Some pretty -and apparently tasty - galettes des rois from Paris bakeries can be found here.

- A step-by-step guide to homemade galette des rois was posted by Clotilde on her beautiful blog Chocolate and Zucchini. I didn't find her post until after I had baked my galette but I will definitely use it as a guide the next time I bake this treat, as it contains some fantastic tips for forming and baking the galette.

the verdict:

The galette presents a simple - and very delicious - combination of flavors, buttery crisp crust and creamy almond filling. I had fun baking this galette des rois, sampling it, and sharing it with a few neighbor families. The galette des rois is destined to become an Epiphany (or at least January) tradition in my kitchen.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Brown Sugar Pecan Shortbread Cookies (in three sizes)

As we saw in last week's post, the Tuesdays With Dorie group is officially finished with Dorie Greenspan's Baking; From My Home to Yours, having selected every recipe in the book over a 4 year period of weekly baking assignments. I wasn't a member in the first several months of the group's history, so I'm going back now and catching up on what I missed by baking the recipes that were selected early on. I am following the order that the recipes were originally selected in 2008 in Tuesday of the corresponding week here in 2012.

Here's the way it will work: The group (although I think it was just 2 bakers at that point) baked the first recipe, Brown Sugar Shortbread Cookies, on Tuesday January 1, 2008. I baked the recipe and am posting it today, the first Tuesday of January in 2012. And so on until July, when I will reach the corresponding week to the one where I joined the group in 2008, and at that point I will have baked every recipe in the book!

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the recipe on Michelle's blog post from 2008 on her blog Sugar & Spice (the blog was later renamed Brown Eyed Baker.) Michelle was one of the two bakers in Tuesdays With Dorie that first week along with the group's founder, Laurie.

- Rather than grinding up my own pecans (which isn't particularly difficult in a food processor) I used pecan meal, which is very finely ground pecans. Knowing that the meal would come in very handy some day, I'd ordered it a while ago when King Arthur Flour offered one of its periodic free shipping promotions.

- I doubled the quantity of salt in the recipe, and even so it was not very noticeable in the dough.

- The recipe calls for a pinch of cloves; I couldn't wait to see what they would contribute to the shortbread.

- Dorie's instructions are to roll the shortbread dough (in a zipper plastic bag, which is a very cool technique), cut it in squares, poke holes in the cookies with a fork before baking. I've done that with some of the past TWD shortbread recipes (here and here.) I almost always have issues with my shortbread spreading as it bakes, unless I bake it in a pie or tart pan, as I did in this post. and this one. Also my baking buddy Phyl made some shortbread cookies with cookie cutters recently, so I decided to do some experimenting with shaping my cookies:
1. I rolled some of the dough then cut it with a fluted cookie cutter. The cookies turned out pretty well, although they spread a little bit and lost some of their definition.

2. I patted some of the dough into the molds in my silicone mini tart pan. After baking, these popped out of the pan and cooled on a rack.

3. And finally, I spread some dough into my 4" fluted tart pans with removable bottoms. They released well, and produced a hefty cookie.

- All of the cookie shapes turned out well. My favorites were the ones in the silicone pan - they were a great size, baked evenly, and I loved how easily they released from the pan after baking.

the verdict:

After all the fun I had shaping and baking the shortbread it was time to see how it tasted!
The cookies were crisp around the edges and tender in the middle. They were quite buttery, with complex flavor from the brown sugar, pecans, and cloves (which were not at all noticeable as an individual element, but added a mysterious little hint of spice.) There was just enough salt. I loved these cookies and will definitely bake them again!

[edited on January 4, 2012 to add: the next recipe in the TWD rotation was Quintuple Chocolate Brownies. I previously baked this recipe and posted it here, so next Tuesday, January 10, I don't have a catch-up TWD post.]