Saturday, May 31, 2008

Banana Nut Muffins with Raisins

I had some bananas that had gone nicely brown, so I threw them in the freezer for a few days and decided to make some banana bread. I always freeze bananas before using them in a cake or bread - the ice crystals that form inside break down all the cell walls, so all the delicious juices come out without having to bother with mashing. When I'm ready to use them, I take them out of the freezer, let them get too room temperature, snip the top end off, then squeeze the banana out almost like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube.

I had leftover pecans and raisins, so I knew I'd end up throwing those into the dough. I also have a silicone muffin tray that I had yet to use, so I decided to make muffins instead of the standard loaf. As far as the recipe goes, I adopted this one after seeing something similar at Barbara Bakes.


1 c. mashed bananas (I used 2 medium)
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. yogurt
1/4 c. butter, room temperature
2 eggs
2 c. flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1/3 c. pecans, chopped
1/3 c. raisins

Combine the bananas, sugar, yogurt, butter, and eggs in a stand mixer bowl and whisk together for approximately 5 minutes, medium speed. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Remove bowl from stand mixer, and pour the sifted dry ingredients on top. Add the pecans and raisins, then fold with a rubber spatula until all the ingredients have just come together. Do not overmix! There may still be clumps of flour; there is no need to make the mixture homogenous. Preheat oven to 350ºF, then pour into a muffin tray (depending on size, you may have leftover batter - I made 6 muffins, but could have made 7). Bake for 25 minutes, or until tops are golden brown and a knife inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out dry. Allow to cool before removing from the tray.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Ciabatta Bread

I felt like making something different the other night - I've been making way too many sweets, and haven't tried my hand at bread in a while. Plain white bread has been the staple of my bread baking in the past, and while sufficient, it just isn't exciting. After searching for...well, not that long at all, I found a recipe for ciabatta bread on Peabody's site.

It turns out this was good timing. I needed some serious bread this morning to help out with a mild hangover (note to self: THAT much tequila should only be enjoyed on the weekends, not on a work night). I tried to add some oregano to give a bit of flavor, because for the first time my plant is looking real healthy. Took a tablespoon of finely chopped fresh leaves, but it didn't change the flavor at all - I'll have to add much more next time.

The sponge was made the night before I made the bread. After sitting out for 2 hours, it didn't seem to be rising too much, but after waking up the next morning, it was trying to escape from the bowl it was stuffed into.

It deflated a bit after forcing off the wrap on top, but here's a general idea of what it looked like. After letting it sit on the counter for the day, I walked home to find it nice and puffy, and smelling a bit like beer - the yeast were definitely having fun.

Mixed together the rest of the ingredients, kneaded it, and shaped it. After poking the holes on the top and flouring it, I let it sit on the counter for 2 hours to give some time to rise a bit more.

After baking on the parchment paper, on the baking stone (first time I threw parchment paper into the oven like that...I was slightly afraid I'd get a small fire), I pulled the loaves out with a spatula and let them cool down for an hour before cutting into them. It didn't turn out quite as bubbly as it should have, probably because I didn't let it rise as long as I could have in the middle steps (had to hurry up before people came over for the liquor!), but it still has a great texture, very soft inside. Tonight I'll probably pour out some olive oil and balsamic vinegar and just snack on it, always one of my favorite ways to eat bread.

Recipe (Source: Gourmet Magazine, March 1998):
1/8 t. active dry yeast
2 T. warm water
1/3 c. room temperature water
1 c. flour

Mix together the yeast and warm water, allow to stand for 5 minutes until creamy. Add in the remaining water and flour, stir for 4 minutes, then let sit at room temperature for at least 12 hours, up to 24.

1/2 t. active dry yeast
2 T. warm milk
2/3 c. room temperature water
1 T. olive oil
2 c. flour
1 1/2 t. salt

Mix together the yeast and milk, then let stand for 5 minutes. In a stand mixer using the hook attachment, mix the milk mixture, sponge, remaining water, oil, and flour, until just moist. Beat at medium speed for approximately 3 minutes, add the salt, and then beat for another 4. Move to an oiled bowl, and let it rise (this is where I definitely could have let it rise longer - next time I'll wait about 2 hours). After it's gotten nice and big, move onto some floured parchment paper and cut it in half (it will be sticky!). Form two oval-shaped loaves about 9 inches long, dimple with floured fingers, and dust the tops with flour. Let them rise for another 2 hours before moving them into the oven which should be preheated to 425ºF with a baking stone or something similar inside (heat the stone for about an hour before throwing the bread on top). I threw one loaf in at a time because my stone is relatively small, on the parchment paper and all. After 20 minutes, the loaves were nice and golden. Removed from the oven with a spatula, moved to a cooling rack for one hour before cutting in and enjoying.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Unconventional Opera Cake

From my understanding, the traditional opera cake is made up of almond joconde, coffee syrup and buttercream, with chocolate glaze. This is my first entry as an official Daring Baker, and the challenge this month was to make an opera cake without using dark colors, in support of LiveSTRONG Day (May 13th, but I think asking everyone to bake this cake within 2 weeks would have been pushing it).

I didn't want to complicate the cake with too many flavors, so I picked four main ingredients: white chocolate, raspberries, lemons, and hazelnuts. Made the hazelnut joconde on two half-sized baking sheets, so I ended up with 4 layers of cake (each sheet cut in half). After pulling it out of the oven and letting it cool, I brushed them with simple lemon syrup and let that soak in for a few minutes. The white chocolate/black raspberry whipped ganache and the lemon buttercream had been made a couple days in advance and stored in the fridge, so I let those come to room temperature, poked around at them with forks until they were nice and soft, then spread them on. Easy enough to spread, I just took a while to make sure it was all nice and flat. The layer order ended up being joconde, whipped ganache, joconde, buttercream, joconde, buttercream, joconde, buttercream, glaze.

The glaze turned darker than I intended, but it's not too bad. I was surprised at how shiny it actually turned reflects the light! Made some simple designs on top, froze the cake for about half an hour, then cut the edges off with a hot knife to give the final creation:

This picture gets a little closer to the layers, so the divisions can be better seen. It came out a little blurry. I had to borrow a camera that I don't know how to use too well. I bought a camera recently, but this was taken before that. Anyways, you can see how nice and glossy the glaze came out. The stand mixer has its reflection in the glaze (and you KNOW you love my townhouse's carpet...70's shag, woot!).

This ended up being part of my mom's mother's day present. It made me extremely happy when I brought it out, and she thought my brother and I had bought it from the bakery up the street.

Hazelnut Joconde
6 large egg whites, room temperature
2 T. granulated sugar
2 c. hazelnut meal
2 c. icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3 T. butter, melted and cooled slightly

Divide the oven into thirds, and heated to 425ºF. Line two half-sheet baking trays with parchment paper, then brush with the melted butter. In a stand mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the granulated sugar, beat until soft and glossy. Scrape this mix into another bowl and set aside. Clean out mixing bowl, then add hazelnuts and sift in the icing sugar. Add the eggs, then with the paddle attachment, beat on medium speed until lighter in color and increased in size (approximately 5 minutes). Add flour, and with a plastic spatula, fold in until just combined (think Muffin Method!), and let sit 10 minutes or so to fully combine. Fold in the meringue, followed by the remaining melted butter. Divide evenly between the two sheets, then spread evenly over the pan. Bake until lightly browned and spongy (5 minutes for the top cake, 7 for the bottom one, but that's using my oven...check frequently). Take another baking sheet and place a piece of parchment paper on the bottom, set this on top of the finished cake, and invert to release from mold. Remove the buttered piece of parchment paper and flip upside-down, so the dry side is against the cake (remove slowly so the cake doesn't tear). Allow to cool to room temperature.

Lemon Syrup
1/2 c. water
1/3 c. sugar
Juice of 1 small lemon

Bring ingredients to a boil, allow to cool to room temperature. Can be stored in the fridge for several days.

Lemon Buttercream
2 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
1 3/4 c. butter, room temperature (I said it tastes good, not that it's healthy)
1 egg, room temperature
1 egg yolk, room temperature
1/2 T. vanilla extract
Juice of 2 small lemons

Combine sugar, water, and vanilla in a small saucepan, warm over medium heat until fully dissolved. Increase heat and, monitoring by candy thermometer, heat to 230ºF. Do not stir while this is heating. In the meantime, whisk the egg and egg yolk in stand mixer until pale and foamy. Slow the speed of the mixer, and very slowly pour the syrup into the bowl, taking care not to touch the whisk. After the last of the syrup has been added, increase whisking speed to medium-high until the mixture is thick, satiny, and cool to the touch (7 minutes). In the meantime, place butter into a bowl and mash with a spatula or spoon until softened and creamy. Once the whisking mix is cool to the touch, add the butter in 2T portions. Don't add another portion until the previous portion is fully consumed by the mixture. When it is all combined, raise speed and beat until thick and shiny. Add the lemon juice, beat for another minute. It should be rather thick at this point, but if it is not, place into the refrigerator. Can be stored for a few days.

White Chocolate and Black Raspberry Ganache-Mousse
7 oz. white chocolate, chopped
1 c. + 3 T. heavy cream
1 T. Bailey's
2 1/2 T. black raspberry purée

Take frozen black raspberries, place into a food processor, and chop/grind until purée forms (you can pass this through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds at this point, but I got no complaints for skipping this). Place 3 T. heavy cream into a small saucepan and add the white chocolate. Stir until smooth and melted, then add the Bailey's and black raspberry purée, stir, and set aside to cool. Whip the remaining cream in stand mixer until soft peaks form. Carefully fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form mousse. This can be cooled and stored in the refrigerator for a few days.

White Chocolate and Black Raspberry Glaze
14 oz. white chocolate, chopped
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 1/2 T. black raspberry purée (or more to taste)

Heat and stir until smooth, remove from heat and add black raspberry purée. Cool for 10 minutes. This should be made just before the assembly of the cake.

If the buttercream and ganache-mousse have been stored in the fridge up to this point, allow them to return to room temperature. The buttercream may need some stirring with a fork to return it to the correct consistency.

Cut the two cooled hazelnut joconde pieces in half, forming 4 pieces of approximately the same size. Brush the joconde with lemon syrup (use all of it; it will soak fully). On a cutting board lined with parchment paper, carefully slide into place one of the joconde pieces. Spoon on the ganache-mousse, and spread evenly with a long knife or spatula. Carefully slide on top another piece of joconde. Divide buttercream into three portions, and spread one portion evenly on top of this joconde layer. Repeat until all joconde and buttercream is used. Freeze the cake for a few minutes, then remove from freezer and pour glaze on top (I did not use all of the glaze, as it started running all over the place). Decorate as desired, then place back into the freezer. Cool for 30 minutes, then with a hot knife, cut edges away to give the cake the iconic clean-face look. Remove from the parchment paper and place onto serving tray (it should be hardened by this point, and can be moved easily with a spatula). After edges had been cut away, my cake was able to be sliced into 16 thin slices...some people were fine with eating one, others had two, so it probably serves about 10. Leftover edges are delicious to snack on while the cake is taunting you to dig in.

Be careful when placing the glazed cake in the freezer. I lined the shelf with the leftover parchment paper that was removed from the joconde, because the glaze was sliding all over the place. Once the glaze is cold and cut, it is not an issue, and I stored this in the refrigerator. Remove and allow to come to room temperature, or slightly below it, before cutting and serving.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pecan Honey Sticky Buns

Time for another Tuesdays with Dorie recipe! This week's recipe was Dorie Greenspan's Pecan Honey Sticky Buns, using brioche as the dough.

The making of the brioche did scare me a bit. Even with a professional KitchenAid stand mixer, I could hear that it was struggling to get everything kneaded together nicely. I'll take the advice of some of the other bakers and make the brioche by hand next time - I'll just sit down in front of the TV with a pound of butter next to me and slowly work it together (that sounds so fatty). The recipe for the Pecan Honey Sticky Buns calls for half of Dorie's brioche recipe, so I had to figure out something else to do with the other half. Earlier last week, I took half the dough that I had made and decided to play catch-up with the group, making some Brioche Raisin Snails.

After rolling out the dough, layering on the butter and cinnamon-sugar mix, rolling it all up and slicing it, my buns looked tiny. I was hopeful that they'd rise up and spread, but my baking tray was larger than suggested so I knew they wouldn't fill the pan. After warming them up a bit in the oven to get a quick rise out of them, I was a little more hopeful, but they still looked smaller than I was expecting.

Fast forward a half an hour of baking, and voila, sticky buns. As mentioned, my pan was larger than suggested, so not only did my buns not spread into each other, but the glaze didn't bubble up through everything.

As can be seen in the picture above, the glaze really did try to make an attempt at getting tried bubbling its way, but just couldn't make it. Still, it didn't affect the buns too badly - they still came out nicely on the inside, pleasantly moist. I let the mass cool for about a minute before putting a piece of parchment paper on top, followed by a half-sized sheet pan, and inverting it all so the pecans would fall on top. Or rather, that was the idea. Since everything was loosely packed together (again, because the pan was too large), everything sort of fell all over the place, and the pecans all fell back underneath the buns. Simple solution is that I just spoon on some of the pecans when I'm serving it.

This is one I'll have to make next time I have a reason to put together a fancy breakfast. I'll either force myself to go out and get the right sized pan, or multiply the recipe by one and a half so I fill up the pan that I already have.

Recipe: Baking: From My Home to Yours, Dorie Greenspan, pp. 51 - 53.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Brioche Raisin Snails

The upcoming Tuesdays with Dorie recipe is Pecan Honey Sticky Buns. I read through this recipe earlier this week, and saw that it called for half of Dorie's Golden Brioche dough. Well, what am I to do with the other half of the brioche dough? I guess I could make brioche, and while I'm sure that's delicious, it doesn't sound very exciting. At the same time, I want to catch up on previous TWD posts that I missed since I'm a recent addition. Conveniently, the March 18 recipe was for Brioche Raisin Snails - perfect!

I'll probably talk a bit more about the dough itself in the upcoming sticky bun post, but suffice it to say that it was delicious even by itself. After sitting in the refrigerator overnight, I cut the dough in half (effectively giving me enough for 1 loaf), and set it out to warm up slightly before rolling it out.

The previous night, I made the rummed up raisins, as well as the vanilla pastry cream, and stored them in the fridge. The rum raisins call for dark rum in plumped up raisins. It wasn't until I got home that I realized we don't have any dark rum. Sure, we have a TON of rum, but not the dark stuff. Looking for substitutions, I could only find the non-alcoholic variety...but then I wouldn't get to play with a big flame! I finally came across a substitution list in one of my Alton Brown books: light rum can be substituted with pineapple juice flavored with almond extract; dark rum can be substituted with molasses thinned with pineapple juice and flavored with almond extract. So, I simply added some molasses to light rum, and voila! dark rum (2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons light rum, plus 1 teaspoon molasses). After making up this concoction and adding it to the heated raisins, I lit it on fire (a first for me!) and got a surprisingly blue flame. Luckily, I didn't singe any hairs, but I could definitely feel the heat. If you're doing this, make sure you use a very long lighter.

Back to the assembly, I then rolled out the dough and topped it with the vanilla pastry cream, followed by the rum raisins, and topped with cinnamon sugar. If you're making this, don't forget to leave an inch bare at the top of the roll so everything comes together.

After rolling tightly, I cut off the edges, and then sliced the roll into 1-inch portions. I ended up with 10 of these snails. It was getting pretty late, and I didn't want to wait an hour and a half for these to rise, so I put them in the oven on the warm setting, with the door cracked open, and left them there for about 20 minutes. At this time, they about doubled in size, and were very soft. I took them out of the oven, preheated to 375 degrees, and then put them back in for 20 delicious smelling minutes.

After taking them out of the oven, I set them on a cooling rack to come to room temperature. Unfortunately, I couldn't enjoy them at that moment (it was getting a tad late to be snacking), so I stored them in the refrigerator overnight. Come to think of it, I haven't even tasted one yet!

One second...

There, much better! It's very raisiny, and the brioche makes it great. Lots of flavor, even after-taste. I decided to take a bite from the runt of the litter...I'll leave the big ones for later! Maybe I'll even bring them in to work this morning, if I'm feeling generous.

I didn't bother making the glaze for this recipe. I feel that the tight rolled snails look good enough without, and they're plenty tasty without having to add more sugar to it.

Recipe: Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan, pp. 56-57.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


After seeing this recipe on Enza's blog, da grande, I had to give it a try. If you want to try authentic Italian food, where better to go than an actual Italian kitchen, right? It is a regional dish of Tuscany, and might be classified in the same family as gnocchi.

This was also my first time making a pasta sort of dish from scratch, so that was exciting. Also, good news: I finally got a camera. Bad news: I bought the wrong sort of memory card for it. I'll need to go beg Costco to take it was I supposed to know it only takes SD if they don't let me open the box first? Anyways, the camera only holds 11 pictures at a time (!!), so I'll probably get that taken care of tomorrow.

7 oz. ricotta
3 oz. parmigiano-reggiano, shredded
11 oz. chopped spinach, squeezed dry
1 egg

Simply mix together all of the ingredients, and gradually add flour until a dough forms that is no longer sticky. I started this out by hand, but eventually my fingers got tired so I moved to the stand mixer and used a dough hook. Once the dough is at a good consistency, roll the dough into long strips (think play-doh snakes), approximately 1.5 cm thick, then cut into pieces.

After all the pieces are cut, throw them into some gently boiling water. As they reach completeness, they pop up to the top. It was pretty entertaining watching them launch up one at a time. Once all of them are floating, drain, and your gnudi is done.

Enza then served hers with fresh tomatoes warmed in a pan with olive oil, basil, and a garlic clove. I still had leftover onions from before, so I sliced up the garlic and onion and threw it on the stove over medium heat with some olive oil until nice and tender. Then I sliced up 5 medium sized tomatoes (dried via salad spinner), and heated those on top until everything was nicely warmed through. While I was picking up the ricotta cheese, I saw some turkey sausages with spinach and parmesan in them and knew I just had to add them. Hey, all the flavors already matched, how could I turn that down?

I spooned some of the gnudi onto a plate, spooned on some of the tomato mixture, added a little sausage on top, and served with sliced baguette pieces. Simple dinner, but oh so tasty. You could also throw on top some parmesan, but I didn't see much of a need for it.

Thank you, Enza, for the wonderful idea for a meal.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Having time to spare, I decided to join the Tuesdays with Dorie blog group. This week's recipe was traditional madeleines. Being relatively new to the baking scene, I pulled an amateur move and burnt my first batch. The recipe calls for the cakes to be cooked for 11-13 minutes, so I set the timer for 12 and walked away. I forgot that I should probably start checking doneness around 9 minutes just to be safe, and paid for it. After eating a couple, I could tell that, minus the char, they would taste delicious, so I made another batch.

The second batch came out much better, but I pulled them out after only 9 minutes and they were still darker than those pictured in Dorie's book. However, after looking around on the internet a bit, I found that many from bakeries were the same color as mine, so I can't have been too far off.

When going to the kitchen store to pick up my madeleine mold, the lady behind the counter kindly asked me who was going to be baking them. After I replied that I was, she smiled and said, "I was hoping that would be your response." I assume they don't get too many 23 year old guys baking little cakes.

The pictures are still coming out fairly amateurish at this point in the blog. I want my rebate check to come in so I can go get a camera, instead of having to borrow my roommate's. Not only do I feel a little awkward taking pictures of my food with his camera, but I also don't know how to get it to focus correctly, like moowie's closeups.

I was also very happy that I got the coveted traditional "bump" on these little cakes the first time around (from reading about these a bit online, I guess they sometimes don't form, or are avoided by pouring smaller portions of batter into the mold). A lot of people in the Tuesdays with Dorie crowd had problems with this, and the only thing I can think of is possible gluten formation. When adding in the flour and butter, I folded by hand until just barely combined (think muffin method). There were still lumps of flour in it, but I left it alone, since they would bake out of it. I'm assuming people who left it in stand mixer until it was homogenous might have issues with the bump. The batter sat in my refrigerator for 3 hours, which was plenty. This recipe will definitely be fun to repeat, and at least now I've learned to be more careful with following baking recipes at face value.

Recipe: Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan, pp. 166-168

Friday, May 2, 2008

Cheesecake-stuffed strawberries

I've basically set up this blog to join the Daring Bakers blogroll, but I'll also post randomly for other good creations I come across. I need to get around to buying a camera so I don't have to bum other peoples' every time I want to take a picture of a new dish. Anyways, I missed the April sign-ups for the Daring Bakers, but I thought I'd give a try at the challenge that month anyways - cheesecake pops.

The basic premise was to bake a New York style cheesecake, cool it, make 2-oz. spheres, and then dip them in chocolate or some other flavor, and decorate as desired. The cheesecake had to remain white, but all decorations and flavors could vary. Right away I thought of what my favorite combination was with cheesecake, and I couldn't pass up the thought of having cheesecake with strawberries, but how could I get the strawberry flavor into the pops without having the pink color? Then I decided I'd really try something different...cheesecake-stuffed strawberries.

The worst part about this was cutting open 2 lbs. of strawberries and monotonously carving their innards, trying to hollow them out as much as possible with a paring knife. The cheesecake ended up being a bit runny for me, but spooned some into a plastic bag, cut off a corner, and simply piped the cheesecake into the hollowed strawberries. After filling the strawberries, I put them in the freezer so the cheesecake would solidify, then melted some chocolate and set aside a bed of graham cracker crumbs. Once cool, I dipped the strawberries in the chocolate, rolled one end in the graham crackers, then set onto wax paper until hardened.

The strawberries didn't stay around too long at work, but I felt that the cheesecake just didn't taste right, and the ratio of cheesecake to strawberry was much too low. I'd be interested in playing around with this idea more in the future, but it'd be with some serious modifications.