This month we had our first “Alternative” Daring Bakers’ Challenge! Natalie from Gluten A Go Go and Shel of Musings From the Fishbowl teamed up to bring us a two-part challenge. The first part involved making homemade lavash. Lavash are thin Armenian-style crackers. They are very popular here in Australia, and packets go for big bucks in the gourmet stores. Funny how easy it is to make them yourself! Lavash are great with cheese, but the second part of this challenge was to concoct a vegan and gluten-free spread or dip to go with them.
Lavash dough is a simple yeasted dough, rolled out thin and often sprinkled with a seedy topping. We were allowed to flavor the dough itself if we so desired, so I subbed a couple of tablespoons of the bread flour for wheat germ. This gave the baked crackers a subtle, almost Wheat Thins-like flavor. I made a full batch of the dough and divided it into two pieces–one to use straight away, and one to park overnight in the fridge. I used different toppings and made a different spread for each.
When it came time to roll the dough, I busted out my pasta machine (for the first time since moving to Sydney, so I was glad to actually have used it and justified its move). I’ve made some form of cracker in every restaurant I’ve worked in, and have always used a pasta machine to roll them out. It makes such quick work of it and is the easiest, least frustrating way to get your crakcers paper thin. Use the lasagna sheet section, work with one bit of dough at a time, and take it down to the thinnest setting.
For my first batch of cracker, I rolled out long, wide pieces that I sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds, cumin seeds, cayenne pepper and Kosher salt before baking (brushing on a little water first acts as glue for the topping). I simply broke these big pieces into more manageable shards after baking. I served them with a chunky avocado relish with heaps of cilantro, lemon juice and spices.
For my second batch of cracker, I got a bit more fussy. Instead of just baking off big pieces in whatever form they took when rolled, I used a pastry wheel to cut them into rectangular crackers. I sprinkled them with poppy seeds and Maldon salt. I had a huge bag of fava beans (a.k.a broad beans) from the farmers’ market, so I took about half of them and whizzed them into a dip for this batch of lavash.
I was really pleased with challenge! The lavash and dips made perfect pre-dinner snacks (with a glass of wine, not too shabby!). And how impressed would your friends be if you served them homemade crackers at a dinner party?
Check out the DB blogroll! And visit Gluten A Go Go or Musings From the Fishbowl for the lavash recipe (which was adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering The Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart). I made my two spreads pretty much freehand, but the basic procedures are below.
Chunky Avocado Relish
leafy green herb (such as basil or cilantro)
juice of half a lemon
olive or avocado oil
ground spices to taste (I used garam masala, cayenne, and cumin)
salt and black pepper to taste
-Scoop out the avocado and dice into chunks. Chop your herb. In a small bowl, make a dressing from the lemon juice, a slight splash of oil, the spices and salt and pepper. Add the avocado and herb to the bowl and toss gently to mix.
Fava Bean Dip
1 1/2 cups fava beans, shelled from the outer pod
1 clove of garlic
leafy green herb (such as basil, parsley or cilantro)
squirt of lemon juice
salt and black pepper to taste
-Bring a medium pot of water to the boil. Blanch the fava beans for about thirty seconds, remove with a slotted spoon and shock in ice water. Pop the garlic clove, peeled or unpeeled, into the boiling water and blanch for about 1 minute (this just helps take the edge off the raw garlic).
-Pop the papery outer skins off the blanched fava beans and discard. Peel the garlic clove if you haven’t already, and rough chop.
-Put the fava beans, garlic, lemon juice, herbs, splash of olive oil, salt and pepper into a mini food processor. Pulse until it’s the consistency you like (you can use a couple tablespoons of water to thin out, if needed). Taste for seasoning.
Éclairs may be my husband’s favorite pastry. He blames a box of éclairs that I made and brought home while in cooking school for sending him on a downward sweets spiral that resulted in him being on a diet for like two years after my graduation! I blame his lack of self-control. Let’s see if he can keep it together for this month’s Daring Bakers event– Meeta from What’s For Lunch, Honey? and Tony of Olive Juice have challenged us to make éclairs. Not just any éclairs, but Pierre Hermé’s éclairs.
Éclairs are made from choux pastry, usually filled with pastry cream and dipped in chocolate. They’re just like a cream puff, but elongated instead of round. Meeta and Tony wanted us to keep either the glaze or the pastry cream chocolate, but gave us free reign to make one of them non-chocolate. I kept the chocolate on top and filled mine with a coffee-wattleseed pastry cream.
It wasn’t until I took that top picture, that I noticed that from the side, my éclair looked a little weird. “What’s with this thing?” I thought. I usually prefer not to cut éclairs in half in order to fill them. Looks-wise, I like them better when they are kept intact and filled through a small hole in the back or on the bottom. But I was fast running out of daylight for my photos, so I figured I’d cut them in half to cool quicker and just assemble and photograph one right away. Upon closer inspection, I realized that rather than filling the bottom half of the éclair I photoed with pastry cream, I’d filled the top half of another one, and then sandwiched the two together. D’oh! I thought about a redo but then I decided to leave it, so you can have a glimpse of what it’s like to be me, the master (or mistress, I guess) of imperfection.
I made Dorie’s pâte à choux not too long ago, and I think I preferred it. The ingredients aren’t too different, although this one from Hermé has an additional egg. Perhaps that’s why it seemd a little crustier than I’m used to. I also had to bake it a bit longer than the recommended 20 minutes to dry it out and get it the shade of brown I like. I do love the chocolate sauce, though. It is delicious, and luckily I have a bunch left over..it will be great on ice cream.
When I saw that Chris of Mele Cotte would be taking charge of this month’s Daring Bakers challenge, I had my fingers crossed that she’d chose something sweet with an Italian twist to it. As if reading my mind, she chose Filbert Gâteau with Praline Buttercream–a cake featuring the quintessentially Italian combo of hazelnuts and chocolate (and two funny words, “filbert” and “gâteau”). Mmmm…wonderful.
I made a half recipe, fitting the cake batter into a six-inch pan with high sides. There’s a little bit of citrus in this recipe, but I decided to leave out the lemon zest in the cake batter and replace the Grand Marnier in the soaking syrup and buttercream with Kahlua, which suits my tastes better. As you can see, I kind of copped out and only cut the cake into two layers instead of three.
While I did not to make the praline to add to the buttercream frosting, I did make caramelized whole hazelnuts to use as decoration. I flavored my Swiss meringue buttercream instead with an unsweetened hazelnut butter that I had bought at the health food store awhile back. Buttercream is plenty sweet already, so this gave it a nice balance and a good hazelnut flavor. I realized that I’d have a few more of those caramelized nuts than I’d need to decorate the top of the cake, so I chopped up the extras roughly and sprinkled them over the buttercream before placing on the top layer of cake. That was a nice crunchy touch!
I am wondering if my glaze was a little on the thin side. The top was nice and smooth, but as it dripped down the side of cake, it seemed to get hung up on the little specks of hazelnut in the buttercream crumb coat (which I chose to use instead of apricot glaze). No matter…it was on to the decorating! Chris wanted us to use some of the buttercream in our decoration. Small cakes can easily look look overwhelmed by garnish, so I didn’t want to use too much. Little shells on the bottom border, a few rosettes on top, and that was enough for me. I finished it off with a little gold dust and the candied nuts.
After reading through all that, maybe you wonder what it tasted like. This cake was seriously delicious! We had it for three nights, and I savored every bite. There were a lot of steps to this cake, but the end result was totally worth it. I can hardly believe that I joined the Daring Bakers last July (I can also hardly believe that the group was still in the double digits back then)! I considered this to be my DB one-year anniversary cake!
P.S.: I’m still out of town, but back next week!
This month, the Daring Bakers tried our hands at making a laminated dough. Hosts Kelly of Sass & Veracity and Ben of What’s Cooking? chose a recipe for a Danish braid from Sherry Yard’s book The Secrets of Baking. While I can’t say that I ever feel the urge to have a Danish, I do appreciate tasty homemade breakfast treats, so I was looking forward to this challenge.
Like its sisters, puff pastry and croissant, a Danish is made from a butter-laminated, or layered, dough. This means a block of butter is encased in dough and repeatedly rolled and folded to create layers. Danish dough is sweet and contains a bit of yeast to help it rise (it also makes it a bit more bready than puff or croissant). While this type of dough may initially seem intimidating, it’s not hard to make in small quantities, and Danish dough is a good introduction to the laminating process.
The dough is flavored with cardamom, vanilla and orange. While the cardamom and vanilla were must-have flavors for me, I found the orange to be a bit too pronouned. If I made it again, I’d probably leave out the zest and use only the orange juice. We were allowed to choose our own filling, and I made mine with a center of sweetened quark cheese and cherries. It was great, but I was worried about having a runny filling so I was a little skimpy with the cherries. I wish I’d been a bit more liberal with them. Just about all sweet breakfast pastries should have an icing sugar glaze in my opinion, so I was liberal with that!
The full recipe provided by Kelly and Ben made two braids. I didn’t need that much, so I halved it to make just one. It was beautiful, and big enough for six quite healthy portions. And braiding dough is way easier than braiding hair, let me tell you. If I’d thought about it enough, maybe I would have made a smaller braid and saved aside some dough for other fun shapes like pinwheels…another time.
If you’d like to test your laminating and braiding skills, you can find the recipe in Kelly’s post or Ben’s post. And no need to worry if, even after you look at the zillions of braids on the DB Blogroll, you still feel nervous about trying it yourself. Kelly and Ben also pointed out a great video clip from Julia Child’s Baking with Julia series on PBS. This clip demos a different recipe by Beatrice Ojakangas, but the technique is very similar.
This May, the Daring Bakers’ challenge had a quartet of hostesses– a four-part harmony, featuring founders Ivonne and Lis and newer members Fran of Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie and Shea of Whiskful. In voices heard across the world, they sang out this month’s challenge: an opéra cake.
A traditional opéra cake is a thing of delicious beauty, carefully orchestrated with alternating layers of sponge cake, coffee buttercream and ganache, topped off with a dark chocolate glaze. As part of the challenge this month, our hostesses tasked us with rewriting the opéra for spring– the same basic components, but lightened up in flavor and color. For me, part of this challenge lay in that we are fast approaching winter here in Australia. While you can see from the flowers I pinched from a neighbor’s lawn, that I am by no means in a bare, frozen tundra, a lot of the things I may have chosen to flavor this cake are kinda off limits right now.
I’m no stranger to making opéra cake. At the first restaurant I worked for, we used little tiny pieces of the traditional version as a petit four. At least every other day for a few months, I’d make and assemble an opéra (and the scraps are dangerous– I would devour them as I portioned the cake into pieces!). Despite this, I did hem and haw my way through the month, wondering what to do flavor-wise. This past week, though, it was time to get down to business. Looking through my pantry, I realized I could easily make something that would pair perfectly with the Middle Eastern dinner I mentioned I would be making. My opéra would be composed of almond joconde moistened with lemon syrup, pistachio buttercream, lemon-rosewater mousse and white chocolate glaze.
I will make the same confession that I do with every DB challenge– I drastically scaled back the recipe. I made just one pan of joconde (the recipe halves perfectly), and only used half of that to assemble the cake. The rest I froze to use for other things, like the base for a meyer lemon bombe. My one-quarter sized opéra was small, but big enough to give the two of us dessert for three nights, and that’s about my maximum tolerance for any one particular thing.
We were allowed to use any buttercream recipe we liked…I used a whole-egg buttercream that I’ve made before, so as not to be suck with any bothersome extra whites or yolks. To turn it into a pistachio buttercream, I first eyeballed an amount of pistachios and blanched them so I could slip off their brown skins and expose their bright green insides. Then I roasted them in the oven just enough to dry them out, but not to color them, before grinding them in my mini food processor with a little bit of almond meal and drizzle of plain simple syrup. This formed a rough, homemade paste that incorporated easily into the buttercream and gave it pretty green flecks throughout.
I flavored the simple syrup used to moisten the cake layers with a few drops of lemon extract. I also used the lemon extract and rosewater to flavor the white chocolate mousse, which was the cake’s top layer, just beneath the glaze. I did this to taste–enough to make the flavor pronounced, without tasting like I swallowed a jar of perfume. (A chef that I used to work for once said that rosewater reminded him of “grandma’s panty drawer”–what?? And how the hell did he know what that smells like anyway??)
I must say that I was really pleased with how this cake came out. The joconde baked up to be my idea of the perfect height. Too thin and the joconde can be rubbery…too thick and you wind up with an opéra that’s crazy tall. I am quite particular and like all of the layers to be the same height, without feeling like there is too much of one component, and I was able to achieve that here. And the flavors were delicate, but wonderful. I was a little worried that the whole thing would be a bit too girlie for R’s tastes, but he loved it!
I tried sooo hard to get a photo of the whole cake, but it just wasn’t working for me. I couldn’t squeeze the whole thing into the frame without going on a weird angle that made it looked lopsided. That was a bummer, especially since I had bought a new platter to display it on. But it sliced really nicely, so at least I was able to get some good shots of individual pieces.
Last, but certainly not least, the Daring Bakers have dedicated this month’s challenge to Barbara of winosandfoodies.com. Even if you don’t know Barbara, it’s evident through her words that she lives everyday to the fullest and she lives strong. I think we can all sing to that.
If you haven’t had your fill of opera-related metaphors after that post, check out the DB blogroll! And visit Ivonne’s post for the recipe (which was adapted from two sources, Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle’s and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion).
I must admit that I almost skipped making these cheesecake pops, this month’s Daring Bakers challenge. Even though I went out and searched around for lollipop sticks at the beginning of the month, I hadn’t really been in a cheesecake mood. Then I realized that the photo opportunities here were too good to be missed! The recipe, from the book Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor, was chosen by co-hostesses Deborah from Taste and Tell and Elle from Feeding My Enthusiasms.
I found a recipe calling for five bars of cream cheese to be a bit much to swallow (literally). I scaled the recipe way back to just one bar and baked it in a small loaf pan. I put the batter together my favorite way– in the food processor. As long as all the ingredients are room temperature, you will never get a lump. It baked up nicely, but even the tiny amount that I made took about 20 minutes longer than the suggested time.
After a night in the fridge, I used an ice cream scoop to form the set cheesecake into rough balls, and put them into the freezer for half an hour before reshaping them a bit. They still came out looking a bit…ummm….individual. Not that that’s a bad thing! The sticks are really wooden craft sticks (I had no luck finding the paper ones here), and I loved their fun colors. The packet said non-toxic, so let’s just hope that’s right!
I’m not embarrassed to say that hundreds and thousands are my favorite cake decoration! Just looking at them makes me smile!
I decided to roll a couple in some almond cookie crumbs mixed with a little cinnamon to get kind a cheesecake crust thing going on. In the center of these ones, I managed to hide a blob of strawberry jam. Sneaky!
The cuteness factor is unbelievable, and they taste pretty good too! Just what I needed put myself into a cheesecake mood! Thanks Deborah and Elle! You can find the recipe for the pops on Deborah’s site. I’ve looked at a bunch of posts, and the DBers did a beautiful job this month, so please check out the DB blogroll!
If you´ve looked at this blog lately, you´ll notice that the sweets in most of my recent posts stem from the same source– Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan is turning into one of my most used cookbooks on the shelf! This recipe also comes from that book, but this time my post is not a result of Tuesdays with Dorie, but of the Daring Bakers. Morven from Food Art and Random Thoughts chose Dorie’s Perfect Party Cake as the March DB challenge.
Morven gave us basically free reign to flavor and fill our cakes however we liked, but I wanted to basically stick with Dorie’s version (which she actually accredits to Nick Malgieri), just to give the recipe a fair shot. I used the cake and buttercream recipes as they were written. Instead of using raspberry jam though, I filled my cake with blueberry preserves.
If I had one “issue” with this cake, it would be that I didn’t have enough buttercream for a good coat of frosting on the outside. I must have gone too crazy between the layers– oops!– and what I wound up with was more like a crumb coat. What to do?? I wasn’t about to make more buttercream, so I decided to toast my coconut flakes. Of course I didn’t get a pristine snow white cake like Dorie’s, but it desperately needed a little camouflage.
I know I must have said this a million times before, but OMG I love cake, and wow, was this good! The buttercream was outstanding, and the cake was really moist (and the jam helps keep it that way). I liked the instructions in the cake recipe to rub together the lemon zest and sugar. This is something we always do with citrus in the restaurant where I work and it really helps bring out the flavor in the zest.
This sounds bizarre, even to me, but I don’t think I’ve ever had lemon meringue pie (a.k.a. LMP) before. I can’t imagine how this is possible, but I also can’t recall ever having a piece. This month’s Daring Bakers challenge, chosen and hosted by Jen The Canadian Baker, was my chance to fill this gross void in my culinary experience.
Apparently LMP doesn’t keep well. The meringue can breakdown and weep (how sad!), and the crust can sog out if it’s not eaten within a few hours of being made. I decided that for just three of us, dividing the recipe in half might make more sense. I have some rarely-used mini pie tins that I put to work to get three baby pies.
The pastry dough came together easily in the food processor, but was a little more wet than the sweet dough I usually make. It rolled out fine though…I chilled it for several hours in the tins before baking, and it held its shape nicely in the oven. I was even able to pop them out of the tins successfully! The filling was super easy to make…much less work than a regular lemon curd, thanks to cornstarch. And I was really happy with the cloud-like fluffy whiteness of the meringue. In the oven, the peaks took on a gorgeous pale brown.
I must say, I thought my little guys came out really cute, what with their mounds of fluff heaped on top! But what did I think of my first taste of LMP? I liked it, but I could really take it or leave it. The lemon filling has a bit too much of that cornstarchy giggle. I think I prefer a traditional French lemon curd tart.
‘Tis the season…to eat cake shaped like tree branches! I love holiday baking (wish I’d gotten to do more of it this year) and I absolutely love yule log, or Bûche de Noël. If you were wondering what the Daring Bakers would be up to for the holidays, this is it! Or hosts, the co-founders of the group, Ivonne and Lisa chose a yule log, a symbol of light and warmth for this month’s challenge.
A Bûche de Noël is usually a genoise sponge cake rolled up with a filling, cut to resemble a log and frosted with buttercream. Then it gets all kinds of slightly wacky decorations. Mushrooms are a traditional yule log decoration. Don’t worry–I’m taking about sweet sugar mushrooms! We were able to chose to make our ‘shrooms from either meringue or marzipan. Not being a huge marzipan fan, I went the meringue route. I dusted them with cocoa and a little gold luster dust. My log came from a magical, sparkley forest!
I have made a couple of yule logs in the past, so I knew the general drill. The genoise sponge we used was slightly different from ones I’ve made in the past. This one had no butter and used cornstarch…more like a ladyfinger recipe I’ve used many times. I decided to keep my sponge plain in flavor, but I was worried it would dry out in the fridge, so I soaked it with a rum simple syrup before rolling it. We had to use coffee buttercream to frost the cake (which was fine by me), and it was made Swiss-meringue style.
I didn’t have any real problems making the yule log. The most difficult part was deciding on a filling, as we could chose whatever we wanted to roll our cakes up with. I decided to do a chocolate mousse filling. It set up nicely and went well with the coffee and rum flavors in the other components. Decorating the cake was a lot of fun, and we certainly had no difficulty eating it up!
I am flying to the States today for the holidays. I’m very excited about the trip, but it means I may not be able to comment on as many of my fellow DBer’s posts as I would like. I apologize for that, but do check out the Daring Bakers’ blogroll and see all the beautiful Bûche that were made! Ivonne has the recipe on her site. Happy holidays!
Ahhh…finally, today is the day when I can reveal my experience with the latest Daring Bakers challenge– it is something I really look forward to every month. This go-around Tanna from My Kitchen in Half Cups had us roll up our sleeves and bake bread! She chose a recipe for tender potato bread from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. This is a book I have on my own shelf, so I was extra-excited to give the bread recipe a try.
Besides being true to the base recipe, we had to knead the bread by hand (I hadn’t done that in forever!) and it had to be savory. But other than that, Tanna really encouraged us to play around with the shape of our bread and the flavorings used. I did cut the recipe in half, which is my usual MO, because R and I can’t (or shouldn’t) eat sooo much bread. I used the maximum amount of mashed potato suggested by Tanna (16 ounces for a full recipe, or 8 ounces for my half recipe), and I can say that kneading the dough was definitely a sticky process. But it wasn’t impossible on a well-floured surface…as the additional flour was worked in, I could feel the dough gaining structure and becoming easier to handle.
I split my dough into one small loaf and one small focaccia. I kneaded some grated aged cheddar and cracked pepper into the loaf portion just before placing in the pan for its second proof. The cheese bread was soft and had great flavor. I still have half the loaf in my freezer, just waiting to be eaten with a bowl of soup. The dough made for a fantastic focaccia as well– I put olive oil, olives, rosemary and Maldon salt on mine. It had a nice, crisp bottom crust from baking it on a ripping-hot pizza stone.
Thanks Tanna for giving us a good break from the sweet stuff. If you are afraid of yeast, don’t be– bread-baking is a truly satisfying experience! You won’t believe how delicious warm homemade bread is! If you want the recipe for the basic potato bread, look here on Tanna’s site.
And before I go, I’d like to wish a very happy birthday to Daring Bakers! This not so-little-anymore group turned one this month. Started by Lis and Ivonne, just two buddies wanting to make their own pretzels, the group is now more than 300 strong! To see how we all interpreted this month’s potato bread challenge, take a look at The Daring Bakers’ Blogroll.