Monday, December 21, 2009

Gingerbread Village

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

Here we come a caroling!

Yippee! I was worried this time that it would be something complicated I could mess up tempering or what have you, but no, this challenge was more artsy-fartsy and awesome for Christmastime!

I have to say I did have major trouble with cracking (I believe several DB'ers did also, so I can't beat myself up about it too much). I initially was going to also make a larger house, plus a small village. The walls baked beautifully at first, complete with Jolly Rancher windows that came out perfect, but the next day, two pieces were cracked, and then the rest followed. I was going to redo it, but I was too sad, and done baking... I have other cookies to bake. Maybe next year. I did make super sweet ornaments with Jolly Ranchers that, miraculously, did not crack.

Mini House Kit, available on Amazon

Anyhow, big house fail aside, the little village is downright cheery. I used cutters from a Mini Gingerbread House kit my mom gave me last year. Mini M&Ms, Sour Patch Kids, and Spearmint Leaves are the decorations/townspeople/trees. The pond is a Laffy Taffy rope I heated in the microwave a few seconds to soften, then rolled it into a lake-shape.

Laffy Taffy Pond

I had a great time making it while I waited for the blizzard-like conditions to ensue-- and did they ever. We got 20", which is more snow than my husband's ever seen and more than I've seen in years.

Snowman Building in Progress!

I used Y's provided recipe, but added some molasses for part of the sugar. I don't know if this added to the trouble or helped. I tried not to overmix, and I think my trouble started when I re-rolled scraps. I have not had a problem with cracking in years past, so I'll have to try and figure out what recipes I used successfully before. The Royal Icing recipe is one included with the Mini-House Kit.

Here are the recipes:

Royal Icing

3 tbsp. meringue powder/dried egg whites (I used "Just Whites")
1 lb. confectioners' sugar
6 tbsp. cold water

Mix dry ingredients, then add half the water. Add more water as needed.

Y's Recipe:
Scandinavian Gingerbread (Pepparkakstuga)
from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas

1 cup butter, room temperature [226g]
1 cup brown sugar, well packed [220g]
2 tablespoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ cup boiling water
5 cups all-purpose flour [875g]

1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until blended. Add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Mix the baking soda with the boiling water and add to the dough along with the flour. Mix to make a stiff dough. If necessary add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Chill 2 hours or overnight.

2. Cut patterns for the house, making patterns for the roof, front walls, gabled walls, chimney and door out of cardboard.

3. Roll the dough out on a large, ungreased baking sheet and place the patterns on the dough. Mark off the various pieces with a knife, but leave the pieces in place.

4. [I rolled out the dough on a floured bench, roughly 1/8 inch thick (which allows for fact that the dough puffs a little when baked), cut required shapes and transferred these to the baking sheet. Any scraps I saved and rerolled at the end.]

5. Preheat the oven to 375'F (190'C). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookie dough feels firm. After baking, again place the pattern on top of the gingerbread and trim the shapes, cutting the edges with a straight-edged knife. Leave to cool on the baking sheet.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Cannoli Queen

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

So I made a huge effort to get this done on time, and post about it in the month. Sweet success. My post on macaroons is still forthcoming.

This was a FUN challenge. I have to admit, I did not care for the filling recipe (too much cinnamon). But, I am looking forward to coming up with another filling to stuff the remaining shells, which turned out famously.

Here we go with the recipes. And a couple notes to start off:

- my cannoli form was cut portions of an old pool skimmer pole. My dad sawed them down into 5 8-inch lengths.

- i used a small counter-top deep fryer, and it worked like a charm. 2 minutes, with 2 cannolis in the oil at a time.

2 cups (250 grams/8.82 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons(28 grams/1 ounce) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.06 ounces) unsweetened baking cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon (approx. 3 grams/0.11 ounces) salt
3 tablespoons (42 grams/1.5 ounces) vegetable or olive oil
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.18 ounces) white wine vinegar
Approximately 1/2 cup (approx. 59 grams/approx. 4 fluid ounces/approx. 125 ml) sweet Marsala or any white or red wine you have on hand
1 large egg, separated (you will need the egg white but not the yolk)
Vegetable or any neutral oil for frying – about 2 quarts (8 cups/approx. 2 litres)
1/2 cup (approx. 62 grams/2 ounces) toasted, chopped pistachio nuts, mini chocolate chips/grated chocolate and/or candied or plain zests, fruits etc.. for garnish
Confectioners' sugar

2 lbs (approx. 3.5 cups/approx. 1 kg/32 ounces) ricotta cheese, drained
1 2/3 cups cup (160 grams/6 ounces) confectioner’s sugar, (more or less, depending on how sweet you want it), sifted
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon (4 grams/0.15 ounces) pure vanilla extract or the beans from one vanilla bean
3 tablespoons (approx. 28 grams/approx. 1 ounce) finely chopped good quality chocolate of your choice
2 tablespoons (12 grams/0.42 ounces) of finely chopped, candied orange peel, or the grated zest of one small to medium orange
3 tablespoons (23 grams/0.81 ounce) toasted, finely chopped pistachios

1. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the oil, vinegar, and enough of the wine to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and well blended, about 2 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge from 2 hours to overnight.

2 Cut the dough into two pieces. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Lightly flour a large cutting or pastry board and roll the dough until super thin, about 1/16 to 1/8” thick (An area of about 13 inches by 18 inches should give you that). Cut out 3 to 5-inch circles (3-inch – small/medium; 4-inch – medium/large; 5-inch;- large. Your choice). Roll the cut out circle into an oval, rolling it larger and thinner if it’s shrunk a little.

3 Oil the outside of the cannoli tubes (You only have to do this once, as the oil from the deep fry will keep them well, uhh, Roll a dough oval from the long side (If square, position like a diamond, and place tube/form on the corner closest to you, then roll) around each tube/form and dab a little egg white on the dough where the edges overlap. (Avoid getting egg white on the tube, or the pastry will stick to it.) Press well to seal. Set aside to let the egg white seal dry a little.

4. In a deep heavy saucepan, pour enough oil to reach a depth of 3 inches, or if using an electric deep-fryer, follow the manufacturer's directions. Heat the oil to 375°F (190 °C) on a deep fry thermometer, or until a small piece of the dough or bread cube placed in the oil sizzles and browns in 1 minute. Have ready a tray or sheet pan lined with paper towels or paper bags.

5. Carefully lower a few of the cannoli tubes into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Fry the shells until golden, about 2 minutes, turning them so that they brown evenly.

8. Lift a cannoli tube with a wire skimmer or large slotted spoon, out of the oil. Using tongs, grasp the cannoli tube at one end. Very carefully remove the cannoli tube with the open sides straight up and down so that the oil flows back into the pan. Place the tube on paper towels or bags to drain. Repeat with the remaining tubes. While they are still hot, grasp the tubes with a potholder and pull the cannoli shells off the tubes with a pair of tongs, or with your hand protected by an oven mitt or towel. Let the shells cool completely on the paper towels. Place shells on cooling rack until ready to fill.

9. Repeat making and frying the shells with the remaining dough. If you are reusing the cannoli tubes, let them cool before wrapping them in the dough.


1. Line a strainer with cheesecloth. Place the ricotta in the strainer over a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Weight it down with a heavy can, and let the ricotta drain in the refrigerator for several hours to overnight.

2. In a bowl with electric mixer, beat ricotta until smooth and creamy. Beat in confectioner’s sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and blend until smooth. Transfer to another bowl and stir in chocolate, zest and nuts. Chill until firm.(The filling can be made up to 24 hours prior to filling the shells. Just cover and keep refrigerated).

1. When ready to serve..fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain or star tip, or a ziplock bag, with the ricotta cream. If using a ziplock bag, cut about 1/2 inch off one corner. Insert the tip in the cannoli shell and squeeze gently until the shell is half filled. Turn the shell and fill the other side. You can also use a teaspoon to do this, although it’s messier and will take longer.

2. Press or dip cannoli in chopped pistachios, grated chocolate/mini chocolate chips, candied fruit or zest into the cream at each end. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and/or drizzles of melted chocolate if desired.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

This month, I was an un-daring baker.

Sorry folks, the challenge of a vol-au-vont didn't happen for me this month... but I'll be back on the Daring Baking wagon this month, believe you me.

Somehow with all the flying to London last minute, packing up the flat in a week, flying home to the States, and the whole "wedding" thing, I just couldn't rationalize baking my own puff pastry and inventing something to go with it... perhaps one day. But I did eat one at the wedding, and it was delicious.

I also took some nice pictures of food at Plimoth Plantation a couple weeks ago, mostly of onions and corn. Perhaps those should find their way to this blog, too. Corn chowder?

More to come in a week or so! xo

Friday, August 28, 2009

August Challenge: Dobos Torta

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 Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

I don't have much time as I am packing up my life (again) to move back across the pond. This time, Fraser will have his fiance visa in hand, ready for our nuptials, two weeks from Saturday! And I have also just completed my Master's in Design and Digital Media. See it here if you so desire!

Anyhow, here are some photos and the recipe. Looking forward to get back into the groove of taking my time with the challenges, getting creative... etc. :o). Also, next time I'll remember to take pictures of all the layers... d'oh. It was good, though. Didn't use the buttercream recipe given because of the eggs. We had a pregnant friend coming over, and I was not going to feed her undercooked eggs.


  • 2 baking sheets
  • 9” (23cm) springform tin and 8” cake tin, for templates
  • mixing bowls (1 medium, 1 large)
  • a sieve
  • a double boiler (a large saucepan plus a large heat-proof mixing bowl which fits snugly over the top of the pan)
  • a small saucepan
  • a whisk (you could use a balloon whisk for the entire cake, but an electric hand whisk or stand mixer will make life much easier)
  • metal offset spatula
  • sharp knife
  • a 7 1/2” cardboard cake round, or just build cake on the base of a sprinfrom tin.
  • piping bag and tip, optional

Prep times

  • Sponge layers 20 mins prep, 40 mins cooking total if baking each layer individually.
  • Buttercream: 20 mins cooking. Cooling time for buttercream: about 1 hour plus 10 minutes after this to beat and divide.
  • Caramel layer: 10-15 minutes.
  • Assembly of whole cake: 20 minutes

Sponge cake layers

  • 6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups (162g) confectioner's (icing) sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (112g) sifted cake flour (SUBSTITUTE 95g plain flour + 17g cornflour (cornstarch) sifted together)
  • pinch of salt

Chocolate Buttercream

  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) caster (ultrafine or superfine white) sugar
  • 4oz (110g) bakers chocolate or your favourite dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature.

Caramel topping

  • 1 cup (200g) caster (superfine or ultrafine white) sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (180 ml) water
  • 8 teaspoons (40 ml) lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil (e.g. grapeseed, rice bran, sunflower)

Finishing touches

  • a 7” cardboard round
  • 12 whole hazelnuts, peeled and toasted
  • ½ cup (50g) peeled and finely chopped hazelnuts

Directions for the sponge layers:

NB. 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 centre thirds of the oven and heat to 400F (200C).
2.Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit the baking sheets. Using the bottom of a 9" (23cm) springform tin as a template and a dark pencil or a pen, 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 confectioner's (icing) 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 with a balloon 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 3/4cup 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 centre and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking sheet, placing it on the centre 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 an 8" springform pan bottom or plate as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat round. (A small serrated knife is best for this task.)

Directions for the chocolate buttercream:

NB. 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 balloon 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.

Lorraine's note: If you're in Winter just now your butter might not soften enough at room temperature, which leads to lumps forming in the buttercream. Male sure the butter is of a very soft texture I.e. running a knife through it will provide little resistance, before you try to beat it into the chocolate mixture. Also, if you beat the butter in while the chocolate mixture is hot you'll end up with more of a ganache than a buttercream!

Directions for the caramel topping:

1.Choose the best-looking cake layer for the caramel top. To make the caramel topping: Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Place the reserved cake layer on the paper. Score the cake into 12 equal wedges. Lightly oil a thin, sharp knife and an offset metal spatula.
2.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.
3.The top layer is perhaps the hardest part of the whole cake so make sure you have a oiled, hot offset spatula ready. I also find it helps if the cake layer hasn't just been taken out of the refrigerator. I made mine ahead of time and the cake layer was cold and the toffee set very, very quickly—too quickly for me to spread it. Immediately pour all of the hot caramel over the cake layer. You will have some leftover most probably but more is better than less and you can always make nice toffee pattern using the extra to decorate. 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), cut through the scored marks to 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.

Angela's note: I recommend cutting, rather than scoring, the cake layer into wedges before covering in caramel (reform them into a round). If you have an 8” silicon round form, then I highly recommend placing the wedges in that for easy removal later and it also ensures that the caramel stays on the cake layer. Once set, use a very sharp knife to separate the wedges.

Assembling the Dobos

1.Divide the buttercream into six equal parts.
2.Place a dab of chocolate buttercream on the middle of a 7 1/2” 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 centre of the cake. Refrigerate the cake under a cake dome until the icing is set, about 2 hours. Let slices come to room temperature for the best possible flavour.

Monday, July 27, 2009

You say teacake, I say marshmallow pinwheel

The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

This challenge was awesome! I can't say I like marshmallow cookies much, but I was so excited to make marshmallow, it wasn't true. And these turned out scrumptious. Very bad for my goals to look slim in that wedding dress, indeed. But worth extra time in the gym, for sure. Yum!

A word on marshmallow. I am a bad semi-vegetarian. I sometimes don't check to see what has gelatin in it and what doesn't. However, when it comes to the food I cook myself, I cannot bring myself to use gelatin or meat products ever. There are always alternatives, and to be honest, finding them and trying them out is pretty fun.

This marshmallow was no exception. Granted, it was much easier when I made the second batch at my future mother-in-laws, what with her electric mixer and piping bags. The first batch took some muscle; I had to bring in my buff man to help me "beat" (if you can even call it that, it was more like forceful stirring with a whisk) the mallows.

Anyhow, without further ado, as I have a dissertation to write and any further chatter is just me procrastinating, here are the instructions. Note for the second batch, I added 1/2 cup coconut to the cookie base-- fantastic. I used galaxy milk chocolate. And I used vanilla extract instead of a bean in the mallow.

Mallows(Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies)
Cookie base recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website

Prep Time: 10 min
Inactive Prep Time: 5 min
Cook Time: 10 min
Serves: about 2 dozen cookies

• 3 cups (375grams/13.23oz) all purpose flour
• 1/2 cup (112.5grams/3.97oz) white sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 3/8 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter
• 3 eggs, whisked together
• Homemade marshmallows, recipe follows
• Chocolate glaze, recipe follows

1. In a mixer with the paddle attachment, blend the dry ingredients.
2. On low speed, add the butter and mix until sandy.
3. Add the eggs and mix until combine.
4. Form the dough into a disk, wrap with clingfilm or parchment and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.
5. When ready to bake, grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper or a silicon mat.
6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
7. Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness, on a lightly floured surface. Use a 1 to 1 1/2 inches cookie cutter to cut out small rounds of dough.
8. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Let cool to room temperature.
9. Pipe a “kiss” of marshmallow onto each cookie. Let set at room temperature for 2 hours.
10. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or silicon mat.
11. One at a time, gently drop the marshmallow-topped cookies into the hot chocolate glaze.
12. Lift out with a fork and let excess chocolate drip back into the bowl.
13. Place on the prepared pan and let set at room temperature until the coating is firm, about 1 to 2 hours.

Vegetarian Marshmallow:

• 60 mL water
• pinch of cream of tartar
• 255 g sugar, granulated
• 255 g light corn syrup
• ½ vanilla bean
• 85 g egg whites (about 3 egg whites)
• 5 g xanthan (0.76%)

Grind xanthan with a tablespoon of sugar. Set aside. Heat water, cream of tartar, remaining sugar, corn syrup and vanilla to 120ºC. Discard vanilla bean. Whisk egg whites for about 2 min until still soft. Continue whipping egg whites at slow speed while adding syrup slowly. Sprinkle xanthan mix while still whipping. Turn speed up and continue mixing for 2-3 min or until meringue pulls away from sides.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bakewell [sure does!] Tart

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

almondyberry goodness

And boy am I ever glad they did! I must admit, I was not as excited about this challenge at first, being swamped with schoolwork and and having been a faithful maker the past 8 months of Fraser's fave: Gaggy's Almond Slices (recipe to come... one day). Almond slices sounded really similar to this tart, and in fact they are.

Well I made the tart, and hubby-to-be liked it as much as Almond Slices his grandmother makes! And father-in-law-to-be said, and I quote, "I'll tell you what. You can make that and sell it in a restaurant. That's how good it is." AND mother-in-law-to-be said, and I again quote, "I don't want it to end!" Sister-in-law-to-be was not present, but she has a sweet tooth... 'nuff said.

Some people made their own jam, and I envy the amount of time they must have. I have always wanted to make my own jam... and I will... but not right now. I used The Co-operative's seedless raspberry... I bought fancier jam, but forgot it at the flat. So now, I have lots of nice jam.

So without further ado, I give you the recipe-- which I followed exactly-- and photos:

"Bakewell Tart …er…pudding"*
*just a quick sidenote: I asked Fraser's Scottish family, and they all said it was defo a tart!

slice me off a piece of that!

Makes one 23cm (9” tart)

Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour
250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Jasmine’s notes:
• If you cannot have nuts, you can try substituting Victoria sponge for the frangipane. It's a pretty popular popular cake, so you shouldn't have any troubles finding one in one of your cookbooks or through a Google search. That said, our dear Natalie at Gluten a Go Go has sourced some recipes and linked to them in the related alt.db thread.
• You can use whichever jam you wish, but if you choose something with a lot of seeds, such as raspberry or blackberry, you should sieve them out.
• The jam quantity can be anywhere from 60ml (1/4 cup) to 250ml (1cup), depending upon how “damp” and strongly flavoured your preserves are. I made it with the lesser quantity of home made strawberry jam, while Annemarie made it with the greater quantity of cherry jam; we both had fabulous results. If in doubt, just split the difference and spread 150ml (2/3cup) on the crust.
Annemarie’s notes:
• The excess shortcrust can be rolled out and cut into cookie-shapes (heck, it’s pretty darned close to a shortbread dough).

the whole tart-chilada

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

unbaked frangipane... tastes just as good as the baked stuff.


Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Two Strudels = One Toodle?

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.

Mango Coconut

Woo hoo! This was indeed, a Tasty One befitting this blog. I can't say I completed it without swearing, but I did so through I smile!


The challenge was to make our own dough, like my Gram Zupsic used to make. Apparently she was a real champ at strudelling. Unfortunately, my mom has been out of town and had no time to track down her recipe, so I used the apple filling provided in the challenge for one strudel, and a mango/cardamom/cocunt filling for the other.

My plan was originally, like my friend Kathleen, to stretch out the batch of dough and then fill it with two fillings at once, but I got a few giant holes in my first stretch (hence some of the swearing), so I just trimmed it smaller to the less-holy center, and mushed the scraps together and let them rest again an hour or two before I made the second one, which ended up stretching even better than the first one.

The second stretch was a lot more successful... as was the second filling. With the first filling (the apple and walnut), I managed to forget to put it in a strip. Instead, I spread it over the whole dough, which resulted in only one layer on the outside and a bunch of soggy dough layers in the middle (hence a touch more swearing). Duh.

Log of DOOM. Just kidding.

It was decent, but to be honest, I was not thrilled about the overall flavor. However, my German friend gave it a good review, so if it passed as apfelstudel, I can't complain.

The mango one was a true delight. I plan to make it again. And that's all I really need to say on that... onto the recipes and more pictures! First my notes:

- I made a half recipe of the apple filling, but the full recipe is posted; anything I deleted is crossed out and my additions are in italics.

- The mango/coconut filling is my recipe, just made it up... the measurements might be wrong, sorry.

- I don't have a mixer, and it is very easy to do it all by hand-- I had no trouble.

- 1 and 1/3 of a cup of flour is not 200 grams. It is 160, so that is about what I used.

- The instructions for stretching the dough don't make sense to me-- just do what feels right, as long as you make sure to start at the center in the beginning.

Mango Coconut Strudel

1 large, ripe mango cut into strips
5-6 cardamom pods, seeds ground
25 g creamed coconut, chopped up
100 ml hot water
100 g dessicated coconut

Melt the coconut in the boiling water until there are no lumps. Add the dessicated coconut, sugar, cinnamon, and half of the cardamom, mixing to form a creamy cookie-dough-ish paste.

Sprinkle the mango with the other half of the seeds.

Once the dough is stretched, spread the coconut mixture first, then lay the mango slices on top, and you're ready to roll.

Apple strudel

from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

2 tablespoons (30 ml) golden rum
3 tablespoons (45 ml) raisins

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 g) sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) fresh bread crumbs
juice of one lemon
strudel dough (recipe below)
1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts
2 pounds (900 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (use apples that hold their shape during baking)

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 lemon 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.

Strudel dough
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

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.

Pre-oven strudel.

Post-oven strudel.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Better May than Never: Hot Crossed Buns

I made these for Easter, there are some in the freezer that I will one day turn into a bread and butter pudding-- but between everyday healthy cooking, Daring Baking, a social life, and my dissertation, I doubt that will be anytime soon (if ever)!

I adapted the recipe, like many recipes I do, from Rachel Allen's cookbook, Bake!, which I highly recommend as a general cookbook for all things baking-related. Hers calls for a variety of dried fruits, but I used raisins, a different combination of spices, and of course, whole wheat flour.

The recipe will go up later, as I doubt anyone is aching to try this Easter treat over a month late!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

First-Ever Daring Cooks Challenge: Ricotta Gnocchi!

This is a few days late, but my activities have been limited lately as apparently I am 8 years old and have strep throat (I didn't think grownups got it for some reason-- and now I feel so sorry for all the wee lambs that get it a few times a year).

But I'm on the mend so now it's time to talk food again. Gnocchi is great. These gnocchi are amazing.

The first Daring Cooks Challenge required us to make ricotta from scratch (I chose this recipe, using whole milk and buttermilk, instead of cream or milk powder), let it dry out a little overnight, and then make clouds gnocchi out of it, along with a sauce of choice. I decided to make a sun-dried tomato pesto.

The result got rave reviews. I look forward to making this again-- but would try using prepared ricotta, as the one you make yourself-- although delicious-- results in too much whey and the ingredients are more expensive than just buying a tub prepared. I have used the whey in bread, but there is only so much bread a woman with no electric cooking tools can make.

The recipe below has been taken from Daring Cooks, then adjusted to the way I did it.

Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi

Source: From The Zuni Café Cookbook.

Yield: Makes 40 to 48 gnocchi (serves 4 to 6)

Prep time: Step 1 will take 24 hours. Steps 2 through 4 will take approximately 1 hour.

Equipment required:

- Sieve
- Cheesecloth or paper towels or clean tea towel
- Large mixing bowl
- Rubber spatula
- Tablespoon
- Baking dish or baking sheet
- Wax or parchment paper
- Small pot
- Large skillet
- Large pan or pot (very wide in diameter and at least 2 inches deep)

Videos that might help:

- Judy Rodgers Gnocchi Demo
- Making fresh ricotta demo
- Making ricotta gnocchi

For the gnocchi:

1 pound (454 grams/16 ounces) fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) unsalted butter
A few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg
½ ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about ¼ cup very lightly packed)
about ¼ teaspoon salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
all-purpose flour for forming the gnocchi

For the gnocchi sauce:

8 tablespoons (227 grams/1/4 pound/4 ounces) butter, sliced
2 teaspoons water

I used this instead:

  • 8 ounces sun-dried tomatoes (in oil), chopped, as well as some of the oil (one to three tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon chopped pine nuts
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons red wine
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Combine all ingredients and pulse in blender until smooth as you like. Add more oil if necessary.

Step 1 (the day before you make the gnocchi): Preparing the ricotta.

If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. In her cookbook, Judy Rodgers recommends checking the ricotta’s wetness. To test the ricotta, take a teaspoon or so and place it on a paper towel. If you notice a very large ring of dampness forming around the ricotta after a minute or so, then the ricotta is too wet. To remove some of the moisture, line a sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels and place the ricotta in the sieve. Cover it and let it drain for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can wrap the ricotta carefully in cheesecloth (2 layers) and suspend it in your refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours with a bowl underneath to catch the water that’s released. Either way, it’s recommended that you do this step the day before you plan on making the gnocchi.

Step 2 (the day you plan on eating the gnocchi): Making the gnocchi dough.

To make great gnocchi, the ricotta has to be fairly smooth. Place the drained ricotta in a large bowl and mash it as best as you can with a rubber spatula or a large spoon (it’s best to use a utensil with some flexibility here). As you mash the ricotta, if you noticed that you can still see curds, then press the ricotta through a strainer to smooth it out as much as possible.

Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta.

Melt the tablespoon of butter and add it to the ricotta mixture.

Add in any flavouring that you’re using (i.e., nutmeg, lemon zest, etc.). If you’re not using any particular flavouring, that’s fine.

Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the salt.

Beat all the ingredients together very well. You should end up with a soft and fluffy batter with no streaks (everything should be mixed in very well).

Step 3: Forming the gnocchi.

Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. When it boils, salt the water generously and keep it at a simmer. You will use this water to test the first gnocchi that you make to ensure that it holds together and that your gnocchi batter isn’t too damp.

In a large, shallow baking dish or on a sheet pan, make a bed of all-purpose flour that’s ½ an inch deep.

With a spatula, scrape the ricotta mixture away from the sides of the bowl and form a large mass in the centre of your bowl.

Using a tablespoon, scoop up about 2 to 3 teaspoons of batter and then holding the spoon at an angle, use your finger tip to gently push the ball of dough from the spoon into the bed of flour.

At this point you can either shake the dish or pan gently to ensure that the flour covers the gnocchi or use your fingers to very gently dust the gnocchi with flour. Gently pick up the gnocchi and cradle it in your hand rolling it to form it in an oval as best as you can, at no point should you squeeze it. What you’re looking for is an oval lump of sorts that’s dusted in flour and plump.

Gently place your gnocchi in the simmering water. It will sink and then bob to the top. From the time that it bobs to the surface, you want to cook the gnocchi until it’s just firm. This could take 3 to 5 minutes.

If your gnocchi begins to fall apart, this means that the ricotta cheese was probably still too wet. You can remedy this by beating a teaspoon of egg white into your gnocchi batter. If your gnocchi batter was fluffy but the sample comes out heavy, add a teaspoon of beaten egg to the batter and beat that in. Test a second gnocchi to ensure success.

Form the rest of your gnocchi. You can put 4 to 6 gnocchi in the bed of flour at a time. But don’t overcrowd your bed of flour or you may damage your gnocchi as you coat them.

Have a sheet pan ready to rest the formed gnocchi on. Line the sheet pan with wax or parchment paper and dust it with flour.

You can cook the gnocchi right away, however, Judy Rodgers recommends storing them in the refrigerator for an hour prior to cooking to allow them to firm up.

Step 4: Cooking the gnocchi.

Have a large skillet ready to go. Place the butter and water for the sauce in the skillet and set aside.

In the largest pan or pot that you have (make sure it’s wide), bring at least 2 quarts of water to a boil (you can use as much as 3 quarts of water if your pot permits). You need a wide pot or pan so that your gnocchi won’t bump into each other and damage each other.

Once the water is boiling, salt it generously.

Drop the gnocchi into the water one by one. Once they float to the top, cook them for 3 to 5 minutes (as in the case with the test gnocchi).

With a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water and gently drop into the sauce. Carefully roll in the sauce until coated. Serve immediately.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Daring Bakers' April Showers... Tofu-Amaretto Cheesecake

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

Now, I can't say I'm cheesecake's #1 fan. I have eaten a slice or two in the past few years, so I can't say the word "psyched" came to mind for this challenge. I wasn't keen on using the recipe provided either, which was full of heavy cream and full-fat cream cheese. Having recently worked hard to lose an entire stone (woo hoo!) the past few months, I just wasn't going to go there for something I wasn't dying to have, although I am sure it made a lovely treat for cheesecake lovers.

SO- what did I do? I went on the alternative forums and found a recipe that used tofu! I adapted this recipe on Fat-Free Vegan. The result was a [very twisty] twist on the Scottish dessert cranachan, which is a whiskey-cream topped with raspberry and oats. Mine was amaretto cheesecake instead of whiskey cream, topped with crunchy almond-oat flapjack bits and raspberries. The result was so good, I made it a second time for guests a week later. No one can taste the tofu, so no worries there!

Below are the recipes I created by making large modifications to other recipes:

Amaretto Tofu-Cheesecake

(not vegan, but sub Tofutti for the cream cheese and you're good to go)

  • 6 light rich tea biscuits
  • 6 light digestive biscuits
  • 70 grams margarine (I used Flora)

  • 14 ounces silken tofu
  • 8 ounces light cream cheese
  • 80 grams golden granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup Amaretto
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 350 F/160 C (fan). Boil a liter or so of water for a water bath.

Melt the butter in a small bowl or saucepan. Crush the biscuits in a blender/food processor and then mix them into the butter. Press this into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan (although, I used a large, loose-bottom tart pan and it worked very well). Bake this for 5-10 minutes to set up, then cool on a wire rack.

Place the water bath (I used a large ceramic dish) on the bottom rack of the oven, and place the other rack in the slot above it, to set the cake on.

Drain the tofu and put it and the cream cheese into blender. Blend until smooth. Add the sugar, and process again until sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and process until completely smooth, about 3 more minutes. Pour into the fairly cool pie crust and bake in the middle of the oven for about 55 minutes (40 minutes in a fan oven). Filling will be slightly jiggly, not completely set until chilled.

Remove from oven and allow to cool. Refrigerate until completely chilled (I made this the day before).

Cranachan bits (ingredients adapted from BBC):
  • 140g butter
  • 4 tbsp honey
  • 200g whole jumbo porridge oats
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 100g almonds, ground or chopped
  • 85g plain flour
Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Melt the butter and honey in a large saucepan, then stir in the other ingredients until everything is well coated. Spread out on a baking sheet, then bake for 20 mins until crisp. Cool, crumble into pieces, then set aside. Can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Raspberry Sauce: Blend 1 cup or so of raspberries (thawed or fresh) with a couple tablespoons of powdered sugar until smooth.

To serve: Put a stripe of raspberry sauce on a plate, then place a slice of cheesecake next to it. Top with raspberries and cranachan bits. Voila!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

March Madness- Whole Wheat Lasagne with the DB'ers!

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

My favorite challenge to date has arrived! How fun. I mean, I cut myself on the pasta machine and still had a smile on my face by the end of it! Don't worry-- I didn't bleed on anything in the kitchen. Promise.

Awkward intro aside, let's get to the good stuff-- as you might be able to tell from my other posts, I am a whole wheat fiend. If something can be made with whole wheat instead of white, I am there. On a previous challenge (the tuiles) I didn't know if it could be done, and was a little hesitant to mess with white-flour recipes when they were going to be a challenge to begin with, until I read this blog. She made her tuiles with whole wheat, and I said that from now on, I'd be going for it.

Now for the bragging bit: Not to toot my own horn, except I am, but this was the best pasta I've ever had. I even said the words "I am good!" aloud after I boiled the first batch and tried a taste of them. I never knew what a difference homemade made for pasta until now. I am a changed woman.

So, as some DB'ers know, I don't have many conveniences of a regular baker's kitchen-- no springform pans, no juicer, no rolling pin. Fortunately, my future mother in law, who lives in town, has them all-- including a pasta machine. Once I got the hang of using it, I had an hypnotic blast turning out the pasta, thinner and thinner with each roll through.

Well enough chat-- onto the recipes, as I made them (some parts are different from those provided to us DBers). This included making our own pasta, bechemel, and ragu from scratch.

Whole Wheat Spinach Pasta:

Preparation: 45 minutes

Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings, equivalent to 1 pound (450g) dried boxed pasta.

3 medium organic eggs
6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry and chopped super fine.
400g whole-wheat flour

Mixing the dough (same process as original recipe):
Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.

With the aid of the scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. It will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Rolling it:

Put 1/5 of the pasta through the machine at the widest setting, passing it through again at 1-setting smaller increments (I did mine in 9 increments) until you can almost see through it. If you put your hand behind it, you should be able to see its outline/shadow clearly. Cut them into shorter lengths and hang to dry.

Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.


Preparation Time: 15 minutes

4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
2&2/3 cups (approx 570ml) milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.

Vegetarian Ragu:

1 400 g cans diced tomatoes
1 box tomato passata
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 medium onion, minced
1 tsp. olive oil
6 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 cup vegetable broth
½ C. minced fresh basil leaves (or 2 Tbsp. dried)
ground black pepper

Combine the onion, olive oil, and ½ tsp. salt in a large saucepan. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until softened, 8-10 min. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, and red pepper, and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Stir in the broth and various forms of tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the flavors are blended and sauce is thickened. Stir in the basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Note: I layered my lasagne with a layer of steamed, chopped broccoli (about 4 cups) and layer of sliced pan-cooked mushrooms (about 3 cups) for a little more veggie goodness. I also used a regular-sized bag of mozzarrella instead of parmesan.

Now, once all the ingredients are prepared (I made the ragu the day before, and the rest on the day of baking), you can cook the pasta. I assembled mine a little differently from the directions I was given, and it worked well for me, so I will post them

Assembling the Ingredients:
Have the sauces and veggies ready to go. Spread a double thickness of paper towels over a large counter space. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).

Cooking the Pasta:
Bring a pot of salted (or not salted) water to a boil. Drop about four pieces of pasta in the water at a time. Cook about 2 minutes. If you are using dried pasta, cook about 4 minutes, taste, and cook longer if necessary. The pasta will continue cooking during baking, so make sure it is only barely tender. Lift the lasagne from the water with a skimmer, drain, and then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking. When cool, lift out and dry on the paper towels. If you don't have much room, go head and hold off on boiling more noodles until these are in the dish.

Assembling the Lasagne:
Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of about four overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel. Spread a thin layer of béchamel (about 3 or 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta, and then an equally thin layer of the ragu. Sprinkle the mushrooms on, followed by cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used.

Mine was like this, with the bottom ingredients listed first:


Baking and Serving the Lasagne:
Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagne. Bake 40 minutes, or until almost heated through. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, or until hot in the center (test by inserting a knife – if it comes out very warm, the dish is ready). Take care not to brown the cheese topping. It should be melted, creamy looking and barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagne rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

February Daring Bakers Challenge- Chocolate Valentino

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef.
We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

Flourless chocolate cake. What more can I say? This was a fun experience. Since the recipe calls for semisweet chocolate, and my real life "Valentino" won't touch it (sigh), I made it instead with a nice milk chocolate called Galaxy in the UK, or Dove in the States.
The result was a soft, decadent, cake-version of a chocolate bar. I baked mine in two shallow 8 inch round pans, resulting in cakes the thickness of brownies, rather than a cake, since I spread the batter thinner than if I had used one deep pan, which I don't have at the moment.

I cut the cakes into hearts, and plated them with Amaretto Frozen Custard... sounds good, right? Well, I would post that recipe, but the technique I used resulted in something that did taste nice, but the texture was an icy, yet fattening, slop. So I can't bring myself to recommend it, as I threw it out.

The Valentino, however, is good-- no, it's great-- taste and texture. Below are my notes on the recipe, followed by the recipe itself. Thank you for hosting, Wendy and Dharm!!

-- Many DB'ers found using full-on semi-sweet resulted in a bitter cake, even to those die-hard chocolate fans. I would probably say half-milk, half-semi would be good.
--I used 454 grams of milk chocolate, and reduced the butter by 2 tablespoons.
--I reduced the baking time by almost half, as I had two pans and a fan-assisted oven.

Chocolate Valentino
Preparation Time: 20 minutes

16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

1. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.
2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).
5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
7. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter. {link of folding demonstration}
8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C
9. Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.
Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.
10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Wholy Pretzels!

At Edinburgh's annual German market, I was a big fan of the big, soft pretzels. Inexcusably full of white carbs, I restrained myself... but with the German market over and done with, I miss those lil guys, even if my thighs don't. WINK.

I found a recipe in my new Rachel Allen cookbook, a Christmas present, which is a great resource for hunger-inducing ideas. Here I have adopted her recipe for soft pretzels into a more healthful 100% whole wheat version, and in part, a glazed raisin variety.

These are especially worth making because you can use them as a replacement for the usual sandwich bread or toast. I like to have one paired with soup for lunch, or half of one with an apple and cheese for a pre-workout snack.

Try it. You'll be saying "mmm, schmcekt gut!" in no time.

Wholy Pretzels (makes about 12, depending on how big you like them)

  • 500g strong whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp fast-acting yeast
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 375 ml warm water
  • rock salt
For the baking soda boil:
  • 75g baking soda
  • 1 liter water
  1. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, and make a well in the center.
  2. Mix the wet ingredients and add them slowly, mixing in between additions. You can mix this with your hands, which is fun.
  3. Knead the mixture for 10 minutes, until the dough bounces back to shape when poked with your finger. It should be quite firm, but not flaky and dry, nor sticky.
  4. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in a warm place until doubled in size (1-3 hours, mine took only 1).
  5. Preheat the oven to 230 degrees C (450 F) and line baking trays with parchment.
  6. Punch the dough down and divide into 12 (or less or more) semi-even-sized pieces.
  7. For each pretzel, roll the dough into a long snake, about as thick as a Sharpie. Twist the ends together and fold the ends over the middle of the pretzel and press down to seal the shape.
  8. After shaping all the pretzels, cover them up with plastic wrap and let them rise again for 15 minutes.
  9. During the end of the second rising, bring the water to a boil, and add the baking soda. Reduce the heat to a simmer.
  10. Place the pretzels, 2 at a time, in the water. Simmer for 30 seconds, then flip to simmer 30 more seconds on the other side. Remove and place back on the lined tray. Sprinkle a pinch of salt on top.
  11. Bake in the oven for 8-12 minutes, turning them over half way through if needed.

*Instead of salt, you can use poppy seeds, dried onion, nuts or other seeds.
*There's a reason for raisins: They're delicious. Work some raisins into the dough before shaping them into the pretzel shape. Try making 1 or 2 raisin pretzels in the batch if you don't want a whole batch of raisin pretzels.

  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 30g icing sugar (more or less to get the right consistency)
Mix together and spread over the pretzels, or use as a pretzel dip.