Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Apple Gruyere Date Scones

Way back in the mists of time, before my blog even existed, my daughter JDE came home for a summer break during college toting a copy of Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking: From My Home to Yours, a dazzling book, filled with a mind-boggling array of enticing baked goods. The question:

Where to start?

With Apple Cheddar Scones, of course!  At any rate, that's where we started, back in the summer of 2008.  That was the first recipe we baked from Dorie's book, although it was more my daughter doing the baking and me rounding up the ingredients and equipment.  Neither one of us was all that impressed with the scones, (but the next couple of recipes, World Peace Cookies and the Perfect Party Cake were runaway hits).

We didn't photograph those early scones (no blog yet!) but a few weeks later I joined Tuesdays With Dorie and began baking weekly from Dorie's book, photographing the baked goods and posting them on Tuesdays.

As it happened, the TWD bakers had actually baked those same  scones just before I joined, possibly even the same week we baked them in my kitchen.  Now that I'm catching up with all of the recipes that were chosen before I joined the group, I needed to bake those scones again - to properly document them - and it only seems fitting that that first recipe should end up being the LAST RECIPE THAT I POST FROM THE BOOK!  Yep, that's right.  I've baked every single recipe in Baking: From My Home to Yours and today, four years after the week that I posted my first TWD recipe, I've baked my FINAL recipe from the book.  

n.o.e.'s notes:

-  You can find the recipe on the scones post of the original TWD host, The Floured Apron, or you can buy the book and have this and all of the other delicious baking recipes at your fingertips!

-  I cut the recipe to 1/4, and baked the dough as a disk in a small pie pan.  I ended up with 4 petite scones.

-  I grated the butter, which made adding it to the flour mixture a snap.

-  When we made the scones the first time we stuck right with the recipe, but this time I changed it up a bit to see if I would enjoy the end result a bit more.  I substituted gruyere for the cheddar and some nice soft dates (which I chopped finely) for the dried apples.  I kept the apple flavor by using concentrated boiled cider for the recipe's liquid.

the verdict:

The sweet taste of the dates combined well with the sharp bite of the gruyere in these scones.  If I were to make them again, I'd add some nuts (probably pecans) for texture and maybe some herbs (probably thyme or sage) to complement the other flavors.

I might be finished with individual recipe posts from Baking: From My Home to Yours, but I plan to put together some wrap-up posts of my experience with TWD and my very favorite of Dorie's recipes.  Watch this space!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Yellow Cake + Chocolate Frosting

Today, July 15, is my blog's 4th birthday - time for cake!   In his book The Modern Baker,  Nick Malgieri has a recipe he calls the "Perfect Birthday Cake" - yellow cake with chocolate frosting.  That just so happens to be my favorite combination, a perfect way to celebrate my blogoversary.

n.o.e.'s notes:

-  Some talented and dedicated bakers have been baking their way through Nick Malgieri's book as part of an effort called the Modern Baker Challenge.  I have, on rare occasions, joined them.  This post is my contribution to the cake section of the Challenge.  I started this blog in response to a different baking challenge - weekly baking of every recipe in Dorie Greenspan and her book, Baking From My Home to Yours with the original Tuesdays With Dorie group.  The Modern Baker Challenge has given me a fun opportunity to dip, however sporadically, into another baking challenge.  The Modern Bakers do not post the recipes, so if you'd like to bake this cake, you'll have to find a copy of the book!  It has come out in paperback, so you can pick it up for a reasonable price.

-  Although I'm posting this cake in honor of my 4th blogoversary, I actually baked it for my book group's 6th anniversary.  Hence the "6" candle you can see in the picture below.

-  I baked 1/2 recipe in my 6" cake pans.  I ended up with layers that were quite petite.

-  Because there was so little batter in the small pans, the cake baked very quickly.  In fact, I probably over-baked it by just the tiniest bit, which was totally annoying.

-  The cake layers had firm structure and a fine, close crumb.  There were some mysterious "swiss cheese" type holes in the cake but I have no idea why they were there.

-  You can see from the frosting how my layers weren't totally level.  I didn't want to trim them because the layers were already so small.  So I just turned the top layer upside down, leaving a flat top and bottom, but a sizeable gap in the side, which I filled with frosting.

-  Nick's Perfect Birthday Cake combines yellow layers with a fudgy ganache frosting.  

the verdict:

I was very surprised by this cake.  It could not have been more different from the standard yellow box cakes of my previous baking life.  The layers were improbably soft and tender, despite a possible minute too long in oven.  The cake was light but not dense, dry but not sawdusty.  The intense ganache frosting was a perfect complement.  It took me until my second slice to figure out that I loved the cake!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Cream Puff

It's funny: I've been baking recipes from Dorie for 4 years, but I can still get nervous butterflies when I look at a recipe.  Just thinking about today's recipe, the Peppermint Cream Puff Ring, filled me with trepidation.  The pastry is the classic French pâte à choux, and for the recipe to be successful, the dough needs to puff as it bakes, so that there's a nice hollow place for the cream filling.  You don't know until you finish baking whether you have a puff or a pancake!

I didn't have any need for a whole pastry ring this week, so I cut the recipe way back and made Cream Puffs.  In fact the ingredient volume was so small that I was able to use the little 1-cup copper saucepan that I bought in Paris.  I thought it was fitting to use this pan here at the end of my 4 year baking adventure with Dorie Greenspan and her book, Baking From My Home to Yours.  Before I joined the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group I never would have thought to go to a kitchenware store in Paris, but my visit to E. Dehillerin was a highlight of my week in Paris in 2010.  I smile every time I use the little pan I bought there.

n.o.e.'s notes:

-  You can find the recipe for this cream puff ring on the blog post of the original host, A Consuming Passion, here.

-  I made 1/8 recipe, which was enough dough for 2 small cream puffs.

-  As they baked, the little dough circles puffed a bit in the oven.  As they cooled they collapsed, but they were hollow inside.  I sliced the top and pulled out the bits of soft dough, as Dorie instructs.

-  I knew that I didn't want to use the peppermint cream from the original recipe - too reminiscent of toothpaste to me!  As I thought about other possible flavors, I remembered that I had leftover grapefruit cream in the freezer from this pie back in February, so I thawed it out and filled the cream puffs with that.  Dorie pipes her cream in beautiful rosettes, but I skipped that fiddly step and spooned the cream on the bottom of the puff and popped on the top.

-  I whipped up a few spoonfuls of ganache in the microwave, using 1 ounce of chopped chocolate and 1/4 ounce of heavy cream.

the verdict:

 The cream puffs were good - I liked the grapefruit and chocolate combination.  But even more than the taste, it was gratifying to tackle a classic recipe - and end up with a decent result.  It's gratifying that Dorie's book has kept me learning even up to the very end of this project (I have one more recipe to post, and then I will be finished with the book!)  And while I'm not comfortable with every single technique, I know that by now I've tried nearly every baking method that's out there.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Chocolate Coconut Pudding

Until I began baking with the original Tuesdays With Dorie baking group, I'd never made pudding from scratch.  Box mixes are very easy and tasty enough.  In the last few years, however, we TWD bakers have tackled homemade pudding on a couple of occasions: split level (vanilla) pudding, and real butterscotch pudding (not to mention flan, creme brulee, cup custard, pots de creme, and various bread puddings - all of these, plus a few non-Dorie offerings, can be found by clicking on my blog's pudding tag).

Dorie has a specific method to her pudding recipes, not difficult by any means, but there are several steps.  The ingredients go in and out of a saucepan and a food processor.  It might seem just a bit... unnecessary, and I know other bakers have taken shortcuts with Dorie's puddings, and proclaimed the results fine.  In the past I've tried it both ways, and I found that following each of the steps produces a smoother, creamier pudding.

The recipe for Chocolate Pudding was chosen shortly before I joined Tuesdays With Dorie in July 2008.  As I have worked my way through the recipes I missed from Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking From My Home to Yours, I knew that the pudding was coming up and I figured it would be a cinch that I'd like it.  This week I got a chance to see.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Dorie has posted the recipe for her chocolate pudding on her own blog.

-  I was running low on milk, so I used half whole milk and half coconut milk.  If you wanted to make it non-dairy (and you like coconut) you could use all coconut milk.

- After mixing the ingredients in the food processor, when I poured the liquid back into the saucepan it was quite frothy.  It settled a bit as the pudding thickened, and then smoothed out beautifully in its final trip through the food processor.

- I could have boosted the coconut flavor by topping my pudding with toasted dried coconut, but I opted for chocolate-covered cocoa nibs instead.

the verdict:

This pudding was smooth and rich, the best chocolate pudding imaginable.  I liked the little hint of coconut, but I'd love it made with all regular milk also.  The pudding would still be delicious if you didn't follow all the food processor steps, but it wouldn't reach the creamy, dreamy perfection that Dorie's method produces.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

La Palette Strawberry Tart

Several months ago, when I was in California, I came across some great strawberries.  I snapped them up and immediately baked up Dorie Greenspan's La Palette's Strawberry Tart from Baking From My Home to Yours.  The recipe has only three elements: tart crust, strawberry jam, and macerated fresh strawberries, and  I knew that each element had to shine.  The berries were amazing (so much so that I didn't even macerate), and I know that Dorie's tart crust is perfection.  To match the quality of the first two elements, I splurged on some beautiful French strawberry jam. 

I baked up some little tartlet shells, assembled and photographed them.  I was months ahead of the June posting date! (I'm baking the recipes I missed from the first 7 months of the original Tuesdays With Dorie baking group, and posting on the corresponding date 4 years later.)

But then in May my MacBook hard drive (just over a year old) went to hard drive heaven and took my strawberry tart photos with it.  They were cute photos, too, darn it!

I knew I had to re-bake the tarts, and that finally happened this week.  The photos are from the new tartlets, which we enjoyed every bit as much as the first ones.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Dorie herself posted the recipe in her column for Serious Eats.

-  The first time I baked the tart, I used Dorie's tart crust, which I've made many times before, and love!  The filling was French strawberry jam, and I used the fresh strawberries by themselves.  I didn't add sugar or liquor to them, and forgot the black pepper.

-  The second time I baked the tart, I make gluten-free tart shells using Alice Medrich's shortbread base found in her cookie book, Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies.  For the crust's sweetnener, I used golden palm sugar rather than plain white sugar, which gave it a golden color and a caramelized flavor.  This time I was home in Georgia and the French jam was still in California.  Rather than buy more strawberry jam I decided to make small batch Strawberry Honey Thyme Jam.  The jam was easy to make and delicious in flavor.  I again left the strawberries plain, and again I forgot the black pepper (darn!)

-  The recipe is interesting because all of the elements are kept separate until the time that the tart is served.  When one big tart is made, the shell is sliced, then spread with the jam and the strawberries are piled on top.

-  I usually find that making mini tarts adversely changes the recipe's proportion of crust to filling but in this case, the tart is assembled after the crust is fully baked, and the jam and berries can be increased or decreased to taste.  In fact, the berries are supposed to spill over the crust.

the verdict:

The recipe sounds so unassuming, a few simple elements, no big deal, but let me tell you: This was a sleeper of a recipe! We loved these tarts. (Both versions!)  The juicy fresh strawberries played off of the sweet strawberry preserves, all in the context of a buttery, almost cookie-like crust.  It's a perfect summer make-ahead dessert, and can be varied with whatever berries happen to be in season.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream

In much of the US in recent days the weather has been just a bit warm shall we say?  I saw the forecast of the advancing heat wave, and prepared to hunker down: changed the filters in the air conditioning system, dug out shorts and tank tops, and closed the blinds against the strong afternoon sun.

And I made ice cream.

The Tuesdays With Dorie group choose Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream soon after I joined the group in 2008.  I didn't have an ice cream maker at the time, so I took and excused absence and baked something different that week.  But now that I'm trying to finish every recipe in Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking From My Home to Yours, and with a well-broken-in ice cream maker in its permanent spot on my kitchen counter, this week was the perfect time for me to make that recipe.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the recipe on the post of the original TWD host for this recipe, Chronicles of Culinary Curiosity.

-  Some lovely local blueberries came in my farm box, so that's what I used for the ice cream.    I like that Dorie gives flexibility to add sugar and lemon juice to taste; I added slightly less sugar and a solid dose of lemon juice.  I cut the amount of sour cream by a little bit because I didn't want it to mask the blueberry flavor.

-  After I finished making the ice cream base I gave it a little taste.  The blueberry flavor seemed a bit mild and I debated whether to make up more of the cooked, pureed blueberries and add them, but in the end I decided that I'd leave the ice cream as it was, and add some fresh blueberries or blueberry sauce when I served it, if we thought it needed something.

the verdict:

I brought this ice cream to dinner with some friends. (I packed it in this container so it wouldn't melt in the 106 degree heat)  Everyone finished eating the ice cream, but nobody raved.  To me it fell somewhere between "OK" and "not that great,"  The texture was nice and creamy, the sour cream added just the right amount of tang, but the blueberry flavor was too faint.  I think the ice cream could have benefited from a lot more blueberries.  My husband agreed, "Something about the blueberries didn't go with the creaminess."  It was cold, though, and a beautiful color!