Monday, November 02, 2009

Daring Bakers: French Macarons

HmHmm...sadly, this month's challenge is what I think as a failed mission. My intention was to remake these macaroons, but couldn’t find the time. I have made coconut based macaroons many times, but this is the first time making French macarons and I surely got a 'Ha ha, the joke is on you' slap.

First, even after I left it resting to dry, there was no obvious feet on the macaroons. Room temperature white eggs and I am quite sure I did not mess it up in egg whites beating part. Well..that was that. Then...

I suspect that I didn’t pipe it thick enough, hence the flat disk shape result. Didn’t have hard time in baking it though, came out perfectly fine (to my untrained eyes on macarons), it did not stick to parchment paper.

I made it with three different flavors; cardamom and cinnamon, chocolate and pandan. Pandan one tasted the best I think. Sprinkle a tad too much cardamom to first batch - and it was way infused with it! Though Vik found it to be a perfect match with chai and ice cream!

As for filling, I went on simple route - just made simple chocolate cream (sour cream, confectioner sugar, dash of rum, powdered cocoa; all whipped together until fluffy) and equally simple raspberry and cherry cream (whipped double cream, added with raspberry puree and cherry liquor).

I liked it better with filling. Vik, not so much. He dipped his to tea, coffee and crumbled it to ice cream.

This is one of those recipes that I made a note on, will get back to it one of these days and get those 'feet' on them!!

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.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Daring Bakers: Dobos Torte

When I saw this month's challenge, I thought about my (paternal) grandparents. This is just their type of cake. More so, my grandma. She'd hide certain fancy cake (chocolate especially) to the back of the fridge, just so she can devour it on her own during her high tea moment. Between 18 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren who constantly dropping by unannounced, I can't say I blame her, it's safer for her just to 'hide' 'em, you know? Cake, chocolate and good cheese - she is not sharing. So, I thought next time around when I visit home, I'd whip this up for her.

That said, I don't have the sweet tooth like my grandparents do. Neither my dear husband. And with all these layers of chocolate buttercream and caramel - it ought to be sweet! I was toying with the idea of different flavor of buttercream, it's endless. Fruity, or plain vanilla buttercream, rum buttercream, praline, etc. But my mind kept going back to the finished torte photos posted in DB forum. The delicate layers - pale color of sponge cake and dark chocolate buttercream - it's stunning!

In the end, I toned down the chocolate flavor by using less chocolate with shots of espresso in it. It's not very creative pairing. But I simply can't think of any better combination of flavor - rich and deep flavor of Sumatra coffee paired with bitter sweet chocolate.

It's pretty straight forward recipe to follow, in my opinion. Looks complicated, but once breaks down to stages. Oh fun! The sponge cake comes out perfect - light and airy.The butter cream does not hold very well for me, which is very surprising. Far from expert in butter cream making, but I am not a stranger of it either. So, it was quite perplexing on how or where did I go wrong on this part. I wished I toss in more chocolate though, as it did not turn out as dark as I would like either. Thoroughly enjoy the caramel part.

All said and done, this torte is simply delightful!! Absolutely a keeper! Maybe does not look as enticing as what I had in my mind, but the flavor and taste - divine! Can't wait to make it for my o-ma!

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonfulof 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.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Daring Bakers: Mallows and Milan Cookies

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.

As I looked at the recipe earlier on the month. I was feeling pretty comfortable, especially knowing we are allowed to bake both goodies or to choose one of the two. Have made Milan cookies in the past, so sort of thought I am pretty okay on that front. Never occurred to my mind to make homemade marshmallow; was a little bit reluctant to do so in all honesty. The only time I'll buy marshmallow is when we go camping. Should I really go through the trouble in making homemade version?!! Is it worth it? Sure it does. When else will I be tempted to make my own marshmallow if not now? Though I told myself, will do this challenge a week before deadline. Just in case.

That is until I stared at the calendar on Sunday morning and realized, holymarshmallow!! How could it be end of month already? My simple reasoning, weekend goes by so fast during summer. Especially summer in Toronto, I think. We just don't get enough of warm weather, so when we get them, we won't be wasting it one bit. Salsa fesival, jazz festival, Caribana, oh..all the activities!

So anyway, I decided only to make marshmallow cookies, just to take up the marshmallow challenge.

The marshmallow did not turn out as great as I hoped for and not at all as gorgeous as other Daring Bakers'!! Theirs seem to have a nice stiff peak on it. Mine, it flopped within minutes. Okay, so maybe my fault for not whipping it long enough. I was disappointed. Taste was pretty good, but ugh - the flat top!!! The end result however was quite delicious. Not exactly my type of sweets, but I could totally see the appeal of it. Just like opening Christmas gift! Marshmallow and Chocolate. Maybe something I'll make for holiday season for gifts.

With failed marshmallow episode, I was pumped to whip up second recipe. Pffftttt...Milan cookies, made it dozen times. As I mixed and whipped, it dawned to me that I have never really made it all by myself. It's my mom's cookies - it's her specialties kind of cookies. But yours truly posses a streak of arrogance in her, what my mom can do, I can do better. Yeah!!

I remember how fast my mom could pipe these babies. So, let me take it up a notch by piping them in stripes!! Yeepee! If only I piped it slower, it would have been fine and uniform. I was embarrassed, to say the least. All the crooked zig-zagged cookies!!! Well, this challenge surely keep my feet on the ground. :)

In short, appearance wise for this time around of Daring Bakers Challenge, I am not so proud of myself. In brighter note, Vik voted this Milano cookies as his favorite cookies!!

Extra Notes: Posting few days after the deadline. And this morning, Vik already asked for 2nd batch of Milan Cookies!! So I just baked another half recipe!

Thanks Nicole for this month's challenge!!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Daring Bakers: Bakewell Tart..err..Pudding

While loading photos to this entry, I can't help but wishing these tarts could just magically appear in front of me!! Either from my oven or materializing themselves from photos. Just my perfect kind of sweet thing.

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.

And I LOVE IT! As described in the recipe, the frangipane in this tart..mmh.. simply out of this world.

I have decided far in advance that whatever June's challenge will be, I am going to make it for Vik's birthday. Whether sweet or savory, it'd be on the menu. Less one item to worry about, right?

One of the challenges in making DB's challenges has always been the fact that there are only two of us and it's nice not to have leftover of anything sitting in the fridge. Hence, I've always tried to time my whipping up the challenge in such a way that we have some friends to share it with. No difference with this challenge - a dinner party for Vik's birthday. And may I say, nothing left! Except for the two I purposely saved up. The intention was so I'd use it the next day for photo taking purpose - of the filling/inside of these tarts. Well, obviously that did not happen. I completely forgot about it and we had the last two tarts with our morning coffee the next morning. Whoops!

For the jam part, I made simple pineapple jam; grated pineapple, sugar, cinnamon, and cloves. Cook 'em to somewhat thick consistency. I was pleasantly surprised on how easy everything came together. Great texture, right level of sweetness and the perfect size (mini tart that is) of indulgence.

Great pick of recipe! Thanks to Jasmine and AnneMarie!!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge: Apple Strudel

This gotta be a joke! The exact reaction I had over this month's challenge. Suddenly all other challenges I have done in the past sounded so easy. Pftt..what tossing pizza dough compared to stretching and rolling paper thin strudel dough?! I was about to sit this month's challenge out. As I diligently read the forum and gazing dreaming-ly to such beautiful results from fellow DBs - I was so tempted. And on very positive notes, seems like almost everybody was so surprised on how easy the dough come around. Maybe it's not at all too bad then.

The fact that this challenge does not cost much at all helped tremendously - in case I mess it up big time. Every single thing in recipe is pretty much a staple. I simply could not any excuse of having to buy extra fancy stuff to get this strudel going.

In short, oh wow...the result itself was slightly above average, the apples' one was bit too tart - hence I decided to glaze it with Canadian Maple syrup infused with orange peel, cloves and cinnamon. The cabbage one though was pretty good. However, what wow-ed me was the dough!! LOVE IT! It was super easy to work with and the feel of it - ahh...clay vs gum combo I think. I could just play with it for hours!! I was mesmerized by its elasticity and how transparent it could get without having to put too much effort in rolling. Just simply pull and stretch.

At first, I was just going to make apple strudel, with 1/2 recipe of the dough. However, after all that fun stretching, I couldn't resist to use the other half of the dough. Quick rummaging through the fridge, 1/4 head of cabbage. So, yeap..I was too lazy to come up with fancier filling. I also wanted to whip it up quickly while the other half of dough sitting on countertop for over 2 hours already. I sprinkled chopped up green onions when rolling out this savory dough. Quickly chopped up the cabbage, panfried it - with touch of sugar and pepper. Mmmh....not too shabby, if I may say.

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.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Daring Bakers: Abbey's Famous Cheesecake

Such dilemma when I saw this month's challenge. The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge. Cheesecake is one of very few desserts I can truly say that I enjoy. Almost savory dessert, see? The tag of the challenge though 'Be Creative with flavors, toppings, etc.' - oh, I think of myself as quite creative person. That's besides the point. Point is, I am cheesecake type of gal. Rarely go with something flavored or fancy toppings. One, the whole idea of cheesecake is the cheese, no? Second, cheesecake on its own is sinful enough.

However, if I were to make a batch of ole' plain cheesecake - how would I face fellow Daring Bakers? Hence, I decided to make cheesecake tartlets, couple plain ones and few assorted kind.

Figuring out the type of assorted flavor was a challenge on its own. I tried to remember the last time I had a not-plain cheesecake. Mid 2005! Cheesecake factory just came to the town I used to live at. Not a big fan of franchise and food in the Factory is mediocre, in my opinion. However, my parents were visiting and my dad was baffled on something called 'Cake Factory.'

Long story short - I took them there. Dad picked one with chocolate on it. He has never been a fan of cheese, but he'd eat bugs dipped in chocolate - just for the sake of chocolate. Mom decided on Tiramisu one. My dad ended up polishing his entire Chocolate Cheesecake and half of my mom's!

Hence, the Chocolate topping cheesecake and Tiramisu (swirled ones). Like usual, I tend to make sure there will be some other people (family or friends or strangers), other than us, who will help polishing off any dessert I bake. Girlfriend's birthday gathering happened to be on that weekend. Pretty sure that they'd go for chocolate/tiramisu kind, but just to complete the cheesecake scene - I did some simple fruit glaze: passion fruit and mixed berry.

Glad I only made 2 plain ones. If I were to make all plain ones, I'd just stand right in front of the fridge and ate them all!!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge: Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna

I was beyond ecstatic about this month's challenge. Was so ready for savory recipes!

The sauces are pretty easy. Have always made my own ragu sauce, so it's not a biggie, until I read the recipe. Celery and carrot. Really?! Just never thought of mixing in celery and carrot in it. Interesting. The way the sauces sounded, bechamel and ragu sauce..mmhh, I knew it'd be super delicious. And spinach is one of my favorite vegetables. What a combo.

I was so thrilled, or to be exact, so sure about my memory that I went pouncing to kitchen ready to make the lasagne shells without printing nor writing down the recipe. Flour, spinach, eggs. As I mixed in the dough, I though to myself, shouldn't this be somewhat sticky in the beginning? 'Nawh' - keep mixing keep mixing. )#()@!!!! This does not feel right.

Ran to my laptop - holycow!!! Spinach measurement!! 300 gr FRESH spinach or 170 gr FROZEN!!! Used frozen but with 300 gr (150 gr since I halved the recipe) as measurement. So 1 egg and 200 gr flour with 150 gr frozen spinach. Of course only time like this that I only had less than a cup of flour left in my flour tin. And no eggs!! Grrr!! Wait, I have some egg whites in fridge, leftover from some baking couple days ago. Hm. So it came down to, sprinkle some flour and egg whites and had to mix it by feel. Oh please please, let it come out alright!

The dough was not as pliable as I thought it'd be; I think I could safely blame it to my totally wrong ratio of ingredients! Such a simple and short list of ingredients and I just had to measure it wrong! Didn't roll the dough as thin as I would love to, simply because if I spent another 30 minutes to roll out the dough, I'd have no energy to lift my fork to eat the end result!! If I were to do this everyday, I would be able to omit all the dip and curl in the gym, for sure. Thin or bit thick pasta - did not seem to have a major impact on our appetite. No leftover!

Decided to skip out the meat part and used chopped up cremini mushrooms, red peppers, zucchini and artichoke. For having said that, I just couldn't say no to pancetta and prosciutto. It's just way too important of ingredient to be left out. :D The ragu sauce came out so good that I was so tempted to serve it right away with plain ol spaghetti.

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. And it is absolutely one of my favorites challenges and recipes from Daring Bakers!

#1 Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)

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.

2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more)
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)

Working by Hand:


A roomy work surface, 24 to 30 inches deep by 30 to 36 inches (60cm to 77cm deep by 60cm to 92cm). Any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired.

A pastry scraper and a small wooden spoon for blending the dough.

A wooden dowel-style rolling pin. In Italy, pasta makers use one about 35 inches long and 2 inches thick (89cm long and 5cm thick). The shorter American-style pin with handles at either end can be used, but the longer it is, the easier it is to roll the pasta.
Note: although it is not traditional, Enza has successfully made pasta with a marble rolling pin, and this can be substituted for the wooden pin, if you have one.

Plastic wrap to wrap the resting dough and to cover rolled-out pasta waiting to be filled. It protects the pasta from drying out too quickly.

A sharp chef’s knife for cutting pasta sheets.

Cloth-covered chair backs, broom handles, or specially designed pasta racks found in cookware shops for draping the pasta.

Mixing the dough:
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.

Stretching and Thinning:
If using an extra-long rolling pin work with half the dough at a time. With a regular-length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins outs, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward. Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat. Do twice more.

Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin. Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand. Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.

Repeat the two processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For lasagne, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm). Note: Enza says that transparency is a crucial element of lasagne pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible. She says this is why her housekeeper has such strong arms!

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

#2 Bechamel

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.

#3 Country Style Ragu’ (Ragu alla Contadina)

Preparation Time: Ingredient Preparation Time 30 minutes and Cooking time 2 hours
Makes enough sauce for 1 recipe fresh pasta or 1 pound/450g dried pasta)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45 mL)
2 ounces/60g pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, minced
1 medium stalk celery with leaves, minced
1 small carrot, minced
4 ounces/125g boneless veal shoulder or round
4 ounces/125g pork loin, trimmed of fat, or 4 ounces/125g mild Italian sausage (made without fennel)
8 ounces/250g beef skirt steak, hanging tender, or boneless chuck blade or chuck center cut (in order of preference)
1 ounce/30g thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma
2/3 cup (5 ounces/160ml) dry red wine
1 &1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible)
2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) milk
3 canned plum tomatoes, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Working Ahead:
The ragu can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. It also freezes well for up to 1 month. Skim the fat from the ragu’ before using it.

Browning the Ragu Base:
Heat the olive oil in a 12 inch (30cm) skillet (frying pan) over medium-high heat. Have a large saucepan handy to use once browning is complete. Add the pancetta and minced vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, 10 minutes, or until the onions barely begin to color. Coarsely grind all the meats together, including the prosciutto, in a food processor or meat grinder. Stir into the pan and slowly brown over medium heat. First the meats will give off a liquid and turn dull grey but, as the liquid evaporates, browning will begin. Stir often, scooping under the meats with the wooden spatula. Protect the brown glaze forming on the bottom of the pan by turning the heat down. Cook 15 minutes, or until the meats are a deep brown. Turn the contents of the skillet into a strainer and shake out the fat. Turn them into the saucepan and set over medium heat.

Reducing and Simmering: Add the wine to the skillet, lowering the heat so the sauce bubbles quietly. Stir occasionally until the wine has reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Scrape up the brown glaze as the wine bubbles. Then pour the reduced wine into the saucepan and set the skillet aside.

Stir ½ cup stock into the saucepan and let it bubble slowly, 10 minutes, or until totally evaporated. Repeat with another ½ cup stock. Stir in the last 1/2 cup stock along with the milk. Adjust heat so the liquid bubbles very slowly. Partially cover the pot, and cook 1 hour. Stir frequently to check for sticking.

Add the tomatoes, crushing them as they go into the pot. Cook uncovered, at a very slow bubble for another 45 minutes, or until the sauce resembles a thick, meaty stew. Season with salt and pepper.

Oh and the new logos are just way too cool!

My favorite is of course the Chopping Ninja!! Love my knife!