Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I'm Still Here (ish)

Look at the sad princess. She is so sad. 

This blog started as a way to distract myself while I waited for a decision on my graduate school applications. You can probably get a sense of how that turned out, since there was a precipitous drop in post frequency right around the fall of 2009. A couple years later I graduated and got a job in my field. And that was selfish of me. I hope you will dig down into the cold and slimy cockles of your soul and find a grain of forgiveness. And I hope that grain of forgiveness becomes a pearl of largesse which you might affix to a band of munificence and wear on your lovely, tapered finger, which you will then use to dry my tears of remorse. "There there, little Baking Kat. Do not cry," you will say. And I will say, "Oh Reader! How can I not but cry when your finger is so soft and your magnanimity cradles my broken heart! I have wronged you." And you will say, "Oh lovely Kat, thee of the baking, there is no need to be sorry, for you have a long summer break approaching, and much time for recompense." Here I will raise my eyes to meet yours (which are large and clear and free of wrinkles -- do you moisturize?) and I will shout, "Yes! The plans I've made! I'm going to bake this, and this, and soon, this!"

Things are coming. Soon my lovely princesses with your silky skin and glimmering baubles symbolizing forgiveness, soon.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Shout-Out to ME

Remnants of my tuna salad at Martha's Leelanau Table.

Last month my dear friend Sarah posted a tuna and white bean salad recipe I invented that was inspired by a lunch I had at Martha's Leelanau Table in Sutton's Bay, Michigan. It's probably the only time I have successfully recreated a dish, ever, so I'm posting it, even though it's not a baked anything. So suck it, haters!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Espresso cup and saucer by Urban Soule.

The heart wants what it wants, and my heart wants chocolate chip cookies. Every. Day. I have to admit that as much as I love to bake, and as much I love trying new things, I keep coming back to chocolate chip cookies. 

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Potica, or Slovenian Nut Roll (Heh. Nut roll.)

There are a lot of things I enjoy about the holidays: the stop-motion animation TV specials, the tacit acceptability of binge drinking, and of course, the food. The piles and piles of food. And dudes, I start training right at Thanksgiving and I do not stop until New Years', by which my stomach is stretched enough to accommodate a Pontiac Aztec, if I could just unhinge my jaw.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

October Daring Bakers' Challenge: Maca-wrong Number.

These Macarons are neither lime green, lime green, nor tangerine.

I had the best laid plans this side of America, but no dice. In spite of multiple attempts, I could not seem to produce French macarons that even remotely resembled those of Laduree or Pierre Herme. Or David Leibowitz. Or Tartlette.

But before I get ahead of myself, let's get official business out of the way: the 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

French macarons look deceptively simple to make. There are only four essential ingredients, and they don't require precise timing like candies. The hardest part is making the meringue, but I'm confident with a mixer so no probs, right? Except the thing is, a French macaron is not just a cookie like any other, it's a pastry. See, that takes it to a new level, right? It's not enough just to sling' em in the oven and wait for them to brown like a batch of snickerdoodles, they have to rise. And grow FEET.

Not made by me, obviously.

Check out the photo above. See those rough ridges next to the filling? Those are the feet. On the ideal macaron,  those feet should have a nice ruffle and not protrude from the shell. The dome should be rounded, smooth and shiny, but give easily to the tooth. Now scroll back up and look at mine. Pitiful. About as domed as a Ritz cracker and worst of all, no feet. Not even a toe. Not even a toeNAIL.

Lest you accuse me of giving up too quickly, I made TWO batches, people. I tried letting the piped batter rest for two hours before putting them in the oven, I tried "drying" them at a low temperature before baking at full heat, and I tried just putting them straight in after piping. I tried 375°F for 7 minutes, and 250°F for 25 minutes. They all came out exactly the same.

I've included the challenge recipe below in case you're interested in trying for yourselves. If you want to go full nerd, I highly recommend this excellent collection of links and tips.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go to my room and write bad poetry and sew Sisters of Mercy patches onto my backpack.

Toasted Sesame Seed Macarons
  • 2 1/4 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 2 cups almond flour*
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 5 egg whites (Have at room temperature)
  • 2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
*If you can't find almond flour you can make your own: grind 2 cups of almonds along with a cup of the confectioner's sugar.   Run food processor for at least 60 seconds, or longer than you think you need. They need to be extremely fine—powdery, in fact, like flour. It works best with blanched or skinned almonds, or you could toas your nuts ahead of time and rub off the skins with a dish towel.

Yield: I got about two dozen filled macaroons.

1. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.

2. Toast and grind the sesame seeds. Place the seeds in a dry pan over medium heat, periodically shaking the pan to turn, until golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Do not leave them unattended! Transfer the seeds to a clean spice mill or coffee grinder and grind for a few seconds, until fine. Add to the almond flour mixture.

3. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.

4. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.

5. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.

6. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).

7. Bake the macarons for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.

8. Cool on a rack before filling.

Toasted Sesame Seed Italian Buttercream
(From A La Cuisine!, adapted from The American Boulangerie by Pascal Rigo)
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 4 oz (½ cup) unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into slices
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, ground (see method above in macaroon recipe)
1. In an electric mixer bowl, whisk together the egg whites and sugar.  Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and heat the mixture, whisking often, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until it feels warm and sugar has dissolved.

2. Transfer the bowl to the electric mixer and whip warm egg mixture on high speed using the whisk attachment until stiff and shiny, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the butter, one slice at a time, and continue to mix until all the butter is thoroughly incorporated.  Blend in sesame powder and refrigerate for 1 hour or until it becomes firm.  The buttercream can be kept, covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week.

3. To fill the macarons: Fill a pastry bag with the filling. Turn macaroons so their flat bottoms face up. On half of them, pipe about 1 teaspoon filling. Sandwich these with the remaining macarons, flat-side down, pressing slightly to spread the filling to the edges. Sprinkle with extra sesame seeds for garnish. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

September Daring Bakers' Challenge: Vols-au-Vent!

A what-au-what? I'll say it again: vols-au-vent. In French it literally translates to "flight with the wind," which I assume is a reference to the light, flaky layers of dough that characterize these pastry shells, but Francophobes and the pretension-averse might prefer something a little more descriptive, like "flaky dough cups." Whatever you want to call them, they were this month's Daring Baker Challenge, and I was powerless to resist.

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan. While contemplating fillings for this challenge I consulted my brand-new, newlywed-issue copy of The Art of French Cooking and found a couple of savory recipes, one requiring a whole roast chicken and the other requiring sweetbreads. And for half a second, I swear to god, I actually considered it. Then I remembered my student loans, closed the book, and went to ponder other options over a dinner of stale bread and Goya black beans from a dented can.


Sunday, September 06, 2009

Carrot Macaroni and Cheese - It's Baked! It Still Totally Counts, You Guys

If you've ever been to a Costco or any other kind of bulk food store, you've no doubt encountered the giant pallets of Kraft macaroni and cheese. And if you're like me (i.e., awesome) you know exactly how difficult it is not to grab 45 boxes and head straight to the Kirkland Signature wine aisle. Because in spite of all of my efforts to eat healthfully and incorporate more whole grains into my diet, unholy orange is still one of my all-time favorite flavors. My dude and I left the store without the mac not because we're virtuous, but because we are not ready to admit that we are capable of eating that much Kraft cheese, even though who are we kidding, really. Next weekend we'll totally be running down to the deli for our next fix. We're kind of like smokers who insist on buying our cigarettes one pack at a time rather than by the carton at the airport. Sure, it's more expensive, but we like to cling onto the possibility that this one really is our last box.

I'm not going to argue that this recipe is an analog to the little blue box. It is admittedly more time-consuming, and it contains actual ingredients found in nature -- wait! Don't close the tab! What I was going to say is that while this recipe produces a different kind of macaroni and cheese, I've found that it satisfies my cravings without the guilt and chemical aftertaste that tends to follow an E-Z Mac binge. I was as skeptical as anyone about the carrot puree, but it seems to function here almost like a roux, giving the cheese sauce a velvety texture. And as an added bonus, carrots are, you know, really good for you.

I found the original recipe a bit scanty on cheese so I upped it just a bit, but it still retains its healthy properties with a minimal increase in fat.

Carrot Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from  Food and Wine, April 2009
Serves 4

ADVANCE PREP: Making the carrot puree is the most time-consuming part of this recipe, so on several occasions I've made it in advance and stored it in the fridge overnight, with no ill effects.

  • 3/4 pound carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • Zest and juice of 1 navel orange, zest removed in strips with a vegetable peeler
  • Salt
  • 3 cups penne rigate (9 ounces)
  • 4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
  • Freshly ground white pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a medium saucepan, combine the carrots with the zest and juice and 1/4 cup of water. Season with salt and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over moderate heat until the carrots are very soft, about 30 minutes. Discard the zest. (Kat sez: This is very important! The first time I made this I left the zest behind and the results were...orangey.) Transfer the carrots and any liquid to a blender and puree until very smooth.

2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.

3. Return the pasta to the pot. Add the reserved water and the carrot puree and cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until the pasta is coated with a thickened sauce, about 5 minutes. Stir in three-fourths of the cheese and cook, stirring, until very creamy, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Stir in the tarragon and season with salt and white pepper.

4. Transfer the pasta to a medium baking dish and top with the remaining cheese. Bake until the cheese is melted and lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Pretzel Bread

There are few things I love in this world more than a good sandwich. Except maybe cereal. Honestly, if you broke down my diet, it would be 80% sandwiches and cereal. The other 20% would be Spanish wine with an $8 price point. Anyway, when we were planning our honeymoon to Michigan's Leelanau Peninsula, I read about this joint called the Village Cheese Shanty, located in a historic fishing village in the town of Leland. The menu looked tasty and affordable, and I try to patronize shanties whenever possible, so we decided to hit it our first day in town.

My chicken and brie on a baguette was excellent and easily big enough for two, but when I took a bit of My Dude's turkey club on pretzel bread, I knew that I had chosen...poorly. First of all, bacon on anything is kind of a gimme, but the bread. The bread! Soft and sweet inside with a thin, faintly bitter crust speckled with salt crystals. Imagine all these flavors combining with cool, creamy mayo and the watery crunch of cucumber -- it just really ties the fuckin' sandwich together, you know?

We looked around at the local bakeries, hoping to bring a couple loves of our new favorite bread with us, but we came up empty. That left me no choice but to scour the interwebs for a recipe and attempt to recreate these warlocks for myself. The closest thing I found was a recipe for something called "bretzels" on the always-lovely Smitten Kitchen. These were more the size of dinner rolls, but it's the same basic concept -- a slightly sweet dough boiled in a sugar-soda bath, then baked. I made my rolls twice as large and they turned out about the size of bagels, just perfect for sandwiches. Cheese Shanty, you just got owned.

Pretzel Rolls
Adapted from Bon Appetit, January 1994, via Smitten Kitchen. Makes 4 sandwich rolls.
  • 2 3/4 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose
  • 1 envelope active-dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar plus 2 tablespoons, divided
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (about) hot water (125°F to 130°F)
  • Cornmeal
  • 8 cups water
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1 egg white, beaten to blend (glaze)
  • Coarse salt
1. Combine bread flour, one envelope yeast, one teaspoon salt and one teaspoon sugar in food processor and blend. With machine running, gradually pour hot water through feed tube, adding enough water to form smooth elastic dough. Process one minute to knead. Grease medium bowl. Add dough to bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then towel; let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

2. Flour baking sheet, or clear area of counter. Punch dough down and knead on lightly floured surface until smooth. Divide into 4 pieces. Form each dough piece into ball. Place dough balls on prepared surface, flattening each slightly. Using serrated knife, cut X in top center of each dough ball. Cover with towel and let dough balls rise until almost doubled in volume, about 20 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line another baking sheet with parchment and sprinkle with cornmeal. Bring 8 cups water to boil in large saucepan. Add baking soda and 2 tablespoons sugar (water will foam up). Add rolls one or two at a time and cook 30 seconds per side. Using slotted spoon, transfer rolls to prepared sheet, arranging X side up. Repeat with remaining rolls.

4. Brush rolls with egg white glaze. Sprinkle rolls generously with coarse salt. Bake rolls until brown, about 25 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool 10 minutes. Serve rolls warm or room temperature.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

August Daring Bakers' Challenge: Dobos Torte!

If you ever wanted a good reason to join the Daring Bakers, look no further than the confection above. This is exactly why I signed up: to push my comfort level beyond cookies and cupcakes and into the realm of show-stopping centerpieces. And honestly? It isn't as hard as it looks. While the steps are numerous, this torte requires no esoteric flours or expensive equipment, just a little patience and Hungarian fluency. I kid! You can get by with 8th grade Hungarian.

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague. It's a Hungarian invention consisting of five sponge cake layers with a dark chocolate buttercream, topped with caramel-coated cake fans. According to Le Wiki, there are over a hundred variations out there, so if you like this torte you could easily stay busy for the next several years trying them all.

Zsa Zsa Gabor: Eminent Hungarian

I've left in the metric amounts because lately I've been pulling out the kitchen scale and measuring out my dry ingredients by weight whenever possible. As you may know I'm a stickler for accuracy and I get much more consistent results this way.

Dobos Torte

  • 6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups (162g) powdered sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (112g) sifted cake flour (OR 95g plain flour + 17g cornstarch sifted together)
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) superfine white sugar (you can make your own by grinding regular granulated sugar in a food processor)
  • 4oz (110g) bakers chocolate or your favorite dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (180 ml) water
  • 8 teaspoons (40 ml) lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil (e.g. grapeseed, rice bran, sunflower)
  • 12 whole hazelnuts, peeled and toasted
  • ½ cup (50g) peeled and finely chopped hazelnuts
EQUIPMENT: The only special equipment required is an 8" cardboard circle. You can buy special cake rounds at baking supply shops, but I made my own by cutting up a cardboard box. You'll use it first as a template for cutting the sponge layers, then as a base for your torte.


The sponge layers can be prepared in advance and stored interleaved with parchment and well-wrapped in the fridge overnight.

1. Position the racks in the top and center thirds of the oven and heat to 400F.

2. Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit the baking sheets. Using a compass, pan lid, or any other 9" circular template, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over (the circle should be visible from the other side, so that the graphite or ink doesn't touch the cake batter.)

3. Beat the egg yolks, 2/3 cup (81g) of the powdered sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes. (You can do this step by hand with a whisk if you don't have a mixer.)

4. In another bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2/3 cup (81g) of confectioner's (icing)sugar until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, stir about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of white visible. Combine the flour and salt. Sift half the flour over the eggs, and fold in; repeat with the remaining flour.

5. Line one of the baking sheets with a circle-marked paper. Using a small offset spatula, spread about 3/4 cup of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet. Bake on the top rack for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the center and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking sheet, placing it on the center rack. When the first cake is done, move the second cake to the top rack. Invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper. Slide the cake layer back onto the paper and let stand until cool. Rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. Continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six layers. Completely cool the layers. Using your 8" cardboard round as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat circle. (A small serrated knife is best for this task.)


This can be prepared in advance and kept chilled until required.

1. Prepare a double-boiler: quarter-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened, about five minutes. You can use a whisk or electric hand mixer for this.

3. Fit bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan (water should not touch bowl) and lower the heat to a brisk simmer. Cook the egg mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes until you see it starting to thicken a bit. Whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes.

4. Scrape the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. It should be quite thick and sticky in consistency.

5. When cool, beat in the soft butter, a small piece (about 2 tablespoons/30g) at a time. An electric hand mixer is great here, but it is possible to beat the butter in with a spatula if it is soft enough. You should end up with a thick, velvety chocolate buttercream. Chill while you make the caramel topping.


1. Choose the best-looking cake layer for the caramel top. Allow it to reach room temperature if it is just out of the fridge.

2. Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Place the reserved cake layer on the paper. cut the cake into 12 equal wedges and arrange in a tight circle. Lightly oil a thin, sharp knife and an offset metal spatula. Keep the oil nearby for easy reapplication.

3. Stir the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved into a smooth syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil without stirring, swirling the pan by the handle occasionally and washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet brush until the syrup has turned into an amber-coloured caramel.

4. Now here comes the tricky part, so make sure you have a oiled, hot offset spatula ready. When the caramel is ready immediately pour all of it over the cake layer. Using the offset spatula, quickly spread the caramel evenly to the edge of the cake layer. Let cool until beginning to set, about 30 seconds. Using the tip of the hot oiled knife (keep re-oiling this with a pastry brush between cutting), divide the caramel layer into 12 equal wedges. Cool another minute or so, then use the edge of the knife to completely cut and separate the wedges using one firm slice movement (rather than rocking back and forth which may produce toffee strands). Cool completely.


1. Divide the buttercream into six equal parts.

2. Place a dab of chocolate buttercream on the middle of your 8” cardboard round and top with one cake layer. Spread the layer with one part of the chocolate icing. Repeat with 4 more cake layers. Spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake.

3. Optional: press the finely chopped hazelnuts onto the sides of the cake.

4. Propping a hazelnut under each wedge so that it sits at an angle, arrange the wedges on top of the cake in a spoke pattern. If you have any leftover buttercream, you can pipe rosettes under each hazelnut or a large rosette in the center of the cake. Refrigerate the cake until the icing is set, about 2 hours. Let slices come to room temperature for the best possible flavor.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I'm Sorry. Have Some Cake?

Photo by Katie Claypoole
Wow. So.

I've been gone a while, I know. I know. See the thing is, I got married. And decided to go to grad school. And...my dog died? The meeting ran long? I have a hard time walking in these shoes? And I lost my phone? All that stuff happened. For two months straight. Rough, right? Everything's fine now though, thanks for asking.

Anyway, as you may or may not have deduced, that's my wedding cake at the top of the post. It doesn't symbolize anything other than the fact that monsters are awesome. We bowed to tradition in many other respects, but the cake was our one little pushback against the Wedding Industrial Complex. Although, now that I think of it, all that colored fondant? It wasn't cheap. In fact it cost...oh, hell. I'm waving the white flag (or dress?). You win, Wedding Industrial Complex.

Was it all worth it? Let's get a look at those faces one more time:

Photo by Katie Claypoole

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

May Daring Bakers' Challenge: Apple Strudel!

Ah, the Daring Bakers' Challenge. You never fail to reduce me to a pile of anxiety and self-loathing, dusted with a fine coating of flour. Mr. Kat has learned to retreat to the furthest corner of our home when I attempt these challenges, since my stress level can raise the blood pressure of anyone within a 5-foot radius.

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers. Being of Eastern European stock, Mr. Kat was particularly excited about this one, although I could see the dread creep over his face as he envisioned me struggling with a large sheet of paper-thin dough (He was right to worry. I am not the most patient person, and once threw a new cordless phone across the room when I couldn't get a dial tone. I still returned it for a full refund, though, so, snap!).

Apple Strudel

1 1/3 cups unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Apple filling

2 tablespoons golden rum
3 tablespoons raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
strudel dough (recipe below)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2 pounds tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (I used Golden Delicious)

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.

Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.

Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.

Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

1. Mix the rum and raisins in a bowl. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in another bowl.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.

3. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Make the strudel dough as described below. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the walnuts about 3 inches (8 cm) from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch-(15cm)-wide strip. Mix the apples with the raisins (including the rum), and the cinnamon sugar. Spread the mixture over the walnuts.

4. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

5. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.

Monday, April 27, 2009

April Daring Bakers' Challenge: Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake with Blueberry Lavender Topping!

Aaaand she's back! After taking a little hiatus to concentrate on the details of planning a wedding and getting into graduate school, I'm coming out my corner swinging with a particularly exciting Daring Bakers' Challenge. 

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.While the basic recipe is fantastic on its own, Jenny encouraged us to get creative and put our own spin on the cake. I've been obsessed with lavender-infused anything lately, so that provided the jumping off point for my brainstorm.

After a brief love affair with Smitten Kitchen's Key Lime Cheesecake, I came across this recipe in the Washington Post and decided to incorporate the key elements into Abbey's Infamous version. It's unfussy enough to please diehard cheesecake fans, but the addition of the honey and lavender along with the blueberries give it an added sophistication. 

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake with Blueberry Lavender Topping 

  • 2 cups vanilla wafers, crumbled
  • 1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 8 vanilla wafers, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)
  • 3 tablespoons good-quality honey, such as wildflower
  • 3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries, stemmed and washed
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dried culinary lavender (I found a small package for $3.99 at Kalustyans in New York's Curry Hill)
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature (do not use low-fat or nonfat)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
PREP NOTES: While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served, so plan accordingly.

EQUIPMENT: The creator of this recipe used to use a springform pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil "casserole" shaped pans from the grocery store. They're 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.

Combine the crumbled wafers and 3 tablespoons of the honey in a small bowl.

Star thistle honey from my home state of MI.

Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, and lemon juice, and blend until smooth and creamy. Fold the wafer-honey mixture into the batter.

Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top.

While the cake is baking, prepare the topping: Combine the blueberries, water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the berries are very soft.

Add the lavender and remove from the heat. Let the mixture steep for 15 minutes, then transfer to a blender and puree. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. There should be about 1/4 cup of lavender syrup; discard the solids.

Culinary lavender
Beat the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer on medium speed for several minutes, until it is smooth and creamy. Reduce the speed to low, then add the yogurt and the lavender syrup. If needed, use a spatula to make sure the mixture is blended together completely.

Remove the pan from the bain-marie and place on a wire rack; let it rest for 5 minutes, then spread the topping evenly over the cheesecake. Cool completely, then cover and refrigerate overnight (still in the springform or aluminum pan). Drizzle with honey or garnish with mint leaves prior to serving.

          Sunday, February 08, 2009

          Blueberry Monkey Bread

          Monkeys! Who doesn't love monkeys? They can fly spaceships, run hotels, play professional baseball, even catapult a B-List actor to the presidency! So what could be better than monkey bread?

          One of my favorite ways to eat any kind of bread is to just pull off a chunk with my hands and go to town. Since monkey bread is simply a loaf comprised of bite-sized rolls, it's the ideal treat for the bread-loving savage. This particular recipe was inspired by the Fluffy Blueberry Cardamom Monkey Bread at Bake My Day and James Beard's recipe in his classic book, Beard on Bread. It's a sweet and spicy twist on such breakfast classics as the blueberry muffin or the blueberry pancake.

          Blueberry Monkey Bread
          • 2 cups milk, luke warm
          • 2 tsp. active dry yeast
          • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar
          • 10 tbsp. butter
          • 1 tsp. ground cardamom seeds
          • 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
          • 1 large egg
          • 1/4 tsp. salt
          • 5 cups bread flour
          • 1/2 cup blueberries (I used frozen)
          • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
          Sprinkle the yeast over the milk and let proof, 5 minutes. Combine the 2 tbs.sugar, 2 tbs. butter, egg, zest, cardamom, salt and 1 cup of the flour in a bowl. Add the milk/yeast mixture and stir with a spatula until smooth. Add 2 more cups of the flour and stir again to a smooth paste. Add another cup of flour and mix to incorporate, adding more of the flour as you think necessary. It should be a soft dough, but not so sticky that it adheres to the side of the bowl.

          Turn the dough out on a floured work surface and knead by hand, just a couple of times. For bulkrise, place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 90 minutes. Punch the dough down and let it rest for 5 minutes. Return to a floured work surface and shape it into a ball. Let it rest for another 5 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, butter two loaf pans.

          In a small saucepan, melt one stick of butter with the blueberries, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and the cinnamon. To shape, divide the dough into ping-pong ball-sized balls by rolling them in your hands. I dusted my fingers with a tiny bit of flour when the dough got too sticky to mold. Roll the balls in the butter mixture (I found a slotted spoon quite helpful) and line each pan with them, arranging in loose layers. Pour what is left of the butter mixture over the top of the loaves. Cover loosely with a foil tent and let the dough rise to the top of the loaf pans, about a half hour. Place both pans in a preheated 375F oven and bake for 40 minutes, until golden.

          Makes two loaves.

          Thursday, February 05, 2009

          From the Let's Get Real, I'm Never Going to Do This Department

          How to Make Your Own Vanilla Extract 

          This is up there with churning your own butter. It doesn't sound all that hard, but neither does sewing my own curtains, and I don't do that either. What the hell are mother-in-laws for, anyway?