Sunday, December 27, 2009

gingerbread house

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.

I've attempted gingerbread houses before, so I didn't really anticipate any difficulties with this challenge.  However challenged I was!  I didn't like the dough that was from the Good Housekeeping recipe and I tried two different royal icings - neither of which were easy to pipe.  Drat!  With being busy in general with Christmas and working full-time, this project took far longer than I had thought.  I ended up working on it over the course of a week.  This helped make the task more manageable.  

Using a template from Veronika Alice Gunter's book "Making Gingerbread Houses," I decided to go with a Victorian gingerbread house theme.  My version wasn't nearly as involved as the one in her book, but I had fun with it nonetheless.  I particularly enjoyed how my "Fruit by the Foot" stained glass windows turned out with the spearmint gum window sashes!  

Below is the recipe I used, but again, I found the dough very dry and difficult to roll out.  I ended up microwaving the dough for 30 seconds to make it softer.  That seemed to work.  Even though the dough had its challenges, I did find it to be structurally sound.  It did make a solid house. 

Spicy Gingerbread Dough (from Good Housekeeping)

2 1/2 cups (500g) packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups (360mL) heavy cream or whipping cream
1 1/4 cups (425g) molasses
9 1/2 cups (1663g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon(s) baking soda
1 tablespoon(s) ground ginger


1. In very large bowl, with wire whisk (or with an electric mixer), beat brown sugar, cream, and molasses until sugar lumps dissolve and mixture is smooth. In medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and ginger. With spoon, stir flour mixture into cream mixture in 3 additions until dough is too stiff to stir, then knead with hands until flour is incorporated and dough is smooth.

2. Divide dough into 4 equal portions; flatten each into a disk to speed chilling. Wrap each disk well with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until dough is firm enough to roll.

3. Grease and flour large cookie sheets (17-inch by 14-inch/43x36cm)

4. Roll out dough, 1 disk at a time on each cookie sheet to about 3/16-inch thickness. (Placing 3/16-inch dowels or rulers on either side of dough to use as a guide will help roll dough to uniform thickness.)

5. Trim excess dough from cookie sheet; wrap and reserve in refrigerator. Chill rolled dough on cookie sheet in refrigerator or freezer at least 10 minutes or until firm enough to cut easily.

6. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (149C)

7. Use chilled rolled dough, floured poster board patterns, and sharp paring knife to cut all house pieces on cookie sheet, making sure to leave at least 1 1/4 inches between pieces because dough will expand slightly during baking. Wrap and reserve trimmings in refrigerator. Combine and use trimmings as necessary to complete house and other decorative pieces. Cut and bake large pieces and small pieces separately.

8. Chill for 10 minutes before baking if the dough seems really soft after you cut it. This will discourage too much spreading/warping of the shapes you cut.

9. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until pieces are firm to the touch. Do not overbake; pieces will be too crisp to trim to proper size.

10. Remove cookie sheet from oven. While house pieces are still warm, place poster-board patterns on top and use them as guides to trim shapes to match if necessary. Cool pieces completely before attempting to assemble the house.

Royal Icing:

1 large egg white
3 cups (330g) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon almond extract

Beat all ingredients until smooth, adding the powdered sugar gradually to get the desired consistency. Pipe on pieces and allow to dry before assembling. If you aren't using it all at once you can keep it in a small bowl, loosely covered with a damp towel for a few hours until ready to use. You may have to beat it slightly to get it an even consistency if the top sets up a bit. Piped on the house, this will set up hard over time.

Simple Syrup:
2 cups (400g) sugar
Place in a small saucepan and heat until just boiling and the sugar dissolves. Dredge or brush the edges of the pieces to glue them together. If the syrup crystallizes, remake it.

Friday, November 27, 2009


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.

I admit I was a little apprehensive about trying cannoli.  It’s something I’ve always been interested in, and I love Italian desserts in general, but must admit this was something I wasn’t terribly familiar with apart from references from the “Godfather”… you know the classic line: “Leave the gun.  Take the cannoli.”  Plus the traditional recipe contains citrus peel and that’s just something that has never been top of my list… There are few foods that turn me off, but unfortunately peel is one of them.
So regardless of all that, I was certainly willing to give it a try.  To make it more manageable, I decided to break the tasks up a little and made the dough one day, fried and filled it the next.   But I’m not going to kid you – it still was a lot of work.
The dough came together easily… that was good.  I used my pasta machine attachment on my Kitchen Aid and it was easy-peasy... and I admit, rolling the dough onto the cannoli forms was no big deal.  However I do not own a deep fryer so used a deep pot instead.  Trying to maintain a consistent temperature was an ongoing struggle.  The first batch of dough I fried was overdone and trying to remove them from the forms was darn near impossible!  How the heck was I going to get a batch of pastry out of this?  I decided to try it at a cooler temp, so waited for the oil to cool down to 185 degrees and found that worked much better.  Once fried to a golden brown, I was able to remove the pastry from the cannoli forms without much difficulty.

Once that task was complete, it was time to fill them.  I altered the recipe somewhat – I didn’t use nearly as much icing sugar, and I omitted the peel and the pistachios.  I actually would have enjoyed pistachios in the filling, but didn’t have them on hand and frankly couldn’t be bothered to dash out to get them… I was going simple on this one!  One thing I did do was add a bit more chocolate to the filling… I used some melted Roger’s baking chocolate for the ends of the pastry, and the leftover chocolate was added to the filling.

If I had planned this better, I would have preferred trying a chocolate mousse filling, and an amaretto filling.

Once done, my boys gave them a try… I had mixed feelings… I mean these WERE a LOT of work… so I was hoping that they were good… But on the other hand, I didn’t want them to be the best thing ever, as I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be able to make these again.  I found myself saying “Like them, okay?  But please don’t love them!”  Darn – they actually turned out really well.  They were a hit.  Now if I can only wipe the cannoli experience from their memory banks just as in “Men in Black” and we’ll all be better off.

Lidisano’s Cannoli

Makes 22-24 4-inch cannoli
Prep time:
Dough – 2 hours and 10-20 minutes, including resting time, and depending on whether you do it by hand or machine.
Filling – 5-10 minutes plus chilling time (about 2 hours or more)
Frying – 1-2 minutes per cannoli
Assemble – 20–30 minutes

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

Note - If you want a chocolate cannoli dough, substitute a few tablespoons of the flour (about 25%) with a few tablespoons of dark, unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch process) and a little more wine until you have a workable dough (Thanks to Audax).

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

Note - If you want chocolate ricotta filling, add a few tablespoons of dark, unsweetened cocoa powder to the above recipe, and thin it out with a few drops of warm water if too thick to pipe.

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.

Pasta Machine method:
1. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Starting at the middle setting, run one of the pieces of dough through the rollers of a pasta machine. Lightly dust the dough with flour as needed to keep it from sticking. Pass the dough through the machine repeatedly, until you reach the highest or second highest setting. The dough should be about 4 inches wide and thin enough to see your hand through
2. Continue rolling out the remaining dough. If you do not have enough cannoli tubes for all of the dough, lay the pieces of dough on sheets of plastic wrap and keep them covered until you are ready to use them.
3, Roll, cut out and fry the cannoli shells as according to the directions above.

For stacked cannoli:
1. Heat 2-inches of oil in a saucepan or deep sauté pan, to 350-375°F (176 - 190 °C).
2. Cut out desired shapes with cutters or a sharp knife. Deep fry until golden brown and blistered on each side, about 1 – 2 minutes. Remove from oil with wire skimmer or large slotted spoon, then place on paper towels or bags until dry and grease free. If they balloon up in the hot oil, dock them lightly prior to frying. Place on cooling rack until ready to stack with filling.

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.

- Dough must be stiff and well kneaded
- Rolling the dough to paper thinness, using either a rolling pin or pasta machine, is very important. If the dough is not rolled thin enough, it will not blister, and good cannoli should have a blistered surface.
- Initially, this dough is VERY stubborn, but keep rolling, it eventually gives in. Before cutting the shapes, let the dough rest a bit, covered, as it tends to spring back into a smaller shapes once cut. Then again, you can also roll circles larger after they’re cut, and/or into ovals, which gives you more space for filling.
- Your basic set of round cutters usually doesn’t contain a 5-inch cutter. Try a plastic container top, bowl etc, or just roll each circle to 5 inches. There will always be something in your kitchen that’s round and 5-inches if you want large cannoli.
- Oil should be at least 3 inches deep and hot – 360°F-375°F, or you’ll end up with greasy shells. I prefer 350°F - 360°F because I felt the shells darkened too quickly at 375°F.
- If using the cannoli forms, when you drop the dough on the form into the oil, they tend to sink to the bottom, resulting in one side darkening more. Use a slotted spoon or skimmer to gently lift and roll them while frying.
- DO NOT crowd the pan. Cannoli should be fried 2-4 at a time, depending on the width of your saucepan or deep fryer. Turn them once, and lift them out gently with a slotted spoon/wire skimmer and tongs. Just use a wire strainer or slotted spoon for flat cannoli shapes.
- When the cannoli turns light brown - uniform in color, watch it closely or remove it. If it’s already a deep brown when you remove it, you might end up with a really dark or slightly burnt shell.
- Depending on how much scrap you have left after cutting out all of your cannoli shapes, you can either fry them up and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar for a crispy treat, or let the scraps rest under plastic wrap and a towel, then re-roll and cut more cannoli shapes.
- Push forms out of cannoli very gently, being careful not to break the shells as they are very delicate. DO NOT let the cannoli cool on the form, or you may never get it off without it breaking. Try to take it off while still hot. Hold it with a cloth in the center, and push the form out with a butter knife or the back of a spoon.
- When adding the confectioner’s sugar to the filling..TASTE. You may like it sweeter than what the recipe calls for, or less sweet, so add in increments.
- Fill cannoli right before serving! If you fill them an hour or so prior, you’ll end up with soggy cannoli shells.
- If you want to prepare the shells ahead of time, store them in an airtight container, then re-crisp in a 350°F (176 °C) oven for a few minutes, before filling.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

pisco sours

I recently went on a trip to Chile to visit a very good friend of mine, Melissa. While there, one of our favorite pastimes was to sample as many pisco sours as possible. I quickly learned to love pisco (and let's face it - it really wasn't that hard).

Here's a picture of me enjoying my very first pisco sour in Santiago.  Can you see the lightbulb going off?  Can you see the pleasure centre in my brain saying "Wooo hoooooo!  These are TASTY!"

Needless to say this was the first of many.  

In Chile, pisco is a hugely popular drink made from grapes (Chile and Peru are apparently battling over the distinction of labeling it their national drink).  

I managed to return with two bottles of pisco (Canadian customs only allows you one bottle of hard liquor but somehow I ended up with two bottles in my luggage - oopsie!).  Both bottles arrived unscathed, but once I returned to Canada I was on the hunt for a local source.  Concern was high... I mean, I've grown terribly accustomed to this beverage and Chile wasn't exactly a country I was just going to jaunt off to when the inclination hit me... Fortunately after checking out two other liquor stores, three times was indeed a charm and I hit paydirt.  Pisco!  Granted, the bottle had a layer of dust on it, but that's on the outside so who cares!  It's available in Canada and now I have an endless supply for pisco sours, and their tasty relative, the piscola.

Muy muy rico!!! 

These were the best pisco sours on my trip at a place we stopped for lunch in Puerto Montt.


Here's the recipe:

Chilean Pisco Sour

3 parts pisco
1 part freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon superfine sugar (like berry sugar)
1 tablespoon egg whites

Mix together in a cocktail shaker.

(I also rim the glasses with sugar too)

I do like to use egg whites, but I use "Simply Egg White" as in my mind it's safer than using just regular egg white and it's better than breaking open an egg and having a yolk to use up. I find the addition of egg whites makes for a creamer and richer pisco sour.

Here's a picture of me with an expert pisco sour maker at the Hotel Termas Puyehue who gave Melissa and me a lesson in the fine art of pisco sour making:

Another simple, yet tasty drink that I highly recommend is the piscola.


Get a large glass, put 2 to 3 ice cubes in it.
Add pisco to about 1/3 of the glass.

Fill the remainder of the glass with Coca-Cola.

It's also tasty with a bit of lemon.

I will always have great memories of hanging out in Chile and enjoying pisco (sours and piscolas) with my wonderful friend Melissa... Thanks Melissa!  

Saturday, October 17, 2009

german pancakes

Everyone has a special recipe which has been a favourite since childhood.  For me it’s German pancakes.  The first time I experienced this delicious breakfast was at my aunt's house in North Vancouver.  At the time I was pretty sure I’d never tasted anything so good.  She gave us the recipe and it is something I learned to make from a young age.  Growing up, my best friend Kristin and I would make these on a regular basis.  We never tired of them!  To this day, I can’t make a German pancake without thinking back to all that giggly silliness that Kristin and I enjoyed on Sunday mornings.   

These aren’t ordinary pancakes, so don’t you dare treat them as such.  First of all, these are baked in the oven and they puff up in all sorts of interesting ways.  My aunt served them with melted butter drizzled on top, dusted with icing sugar and then drizzled with fresh squeezed lemon juice.  Sometimes I’ll put a little bit of jam or jelly on my pancake if I’m feeling frisky, but I strongly encourage you to try the sweet, lemony buttery experience that is what I’ve traditionally done.  Trust me – you’ll be soooo glad you did. 

As my oldest son said recently when he tucked into one “Ohhhhh... these are soooo gooood.”  Try them for yourself and you’ll see why!!!

These are so easy to whip up and soon you'll have this recipe committed to memory.

German Pancakes

Depending on the size of the pie plate, this recipe can either make two large or three small pancakes.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

4 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp melted butter

Place eggs in blender and blend. Add remaining ingredients in mixer and blend until well combined. Butter pie plates and preheat them until the butter is bubbly. Pour batter into the pie plates.

Bake 10 minutes at 450 degrees, then turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake for 8 minutes until golden brown.

To serve, drizzle pancakes with melted butter, sprinkle with icing sugar and drizzle with fresh lemon juice.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


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.

With my second Daring Baker's challenge, I was really excited to learn I would be attempting puff pastry from scratch.  I'd made croissants and they turned out fine, so I was hoping this wouldn't be too much of an ordeal.  Overall, I found it worked well, but I did learn some important things about making puff pastry.

  1. The fridge is your best friend!  Chill, chill and chill again.  I got a little over ambitious with my rolling and the butter started to stick through the dough.  Convinced I'd ruined it, I patted the sticky areas with flour and promptly threw the dough in the refrigerator for 45 minutes.  When I took the dough out, it had miraculously recovered.  It was though I had pressed "reset" on my dough. Yay!
  2. Try to make the puff pastry the day before you need to use it - it's a much more reasonable pace.  It's okay - your dough won't feel neglected - it enjoys being in the fridge!
  3. Follow the steps to the letter the first time around.  I didn't and learned the hard way.  Getting a little cocky and over-ambitious, the recipe said I could do up to four turns prior to chilling if my butter still appeared cold, but the recommendation was to do only two turns initially.  I decided I could forge ahead.  Wrong!  Why do I get cocky when I've never done this before?  Silly me.
  4. Keep your children away if you're prone to swearing.  I think my youngest son may have learned a few new words as mommy swore like a trucker based on my experience in #1 above. D'oh!

Even with the little hiccups along the way, I did find this dough to be terribly forgiving... and so dangerously tasty.  Homemade puff pastry is indeed so much more delicious than store bought - and not nearly as dry and crumbly as any store bought I have used.  This dough is tender, flaky and it just has an excellent taste.  Considering this truly didn't take that much effort, and as I understand it freezes well, I may just have to make this more often.  I don't think I'll be going back to store bought again.  Mommy just has to watch the potty mouth.

For my Vols-au-Vent, I decided to use both a savory and a sweet version.  For the savory, I chose to fill them with chevre and ratatouille.  For the sweet, I elected to fill them with pastry cream, cooked apples, drizzled with caramel and creme fraiche.  Both were delicious.   

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough

From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough

Steph’s note: This recipe makes more than you will need for the quantity of vols-au-vent stated above. While I encourage you to make the full recipe of puff pastry, as extra dough freezes well, you can halve it successfully if you’d rather not have much leftover.

There is a wonderful on-line video from the PBS show “Baking with Julia” that accompanies the book. In it, Michel Richard and Julia Child demonstrate making puff pastry dough (although they go on to use it in other applications). They do seem to give slightly different ingredient measurements verbally than the ones in the book…I listed the recipe as it appears printed in the book.

2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter

plus extra flour for dusting work surface

Mixing the Dough:
Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.

Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)

Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that's about 1" thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing. 

Incorporating the Butter:
 Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10" square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. 

Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with "ears," or flaps. 

Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don't just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8" square.

To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. 

There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.

Making the Turns:
Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24" (don't worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24", everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!)

With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.
Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24" and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.

Chilling the Dough:
If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you've completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.

The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.

Forming and Baking the Vols-au-Vent

Yield: 1/3 of the puff pastry recipe below will yield about 8-10 1.5” vols-au-vent or 4 4” vols-au-vent

In addition to the equipment listed above, you will need:
-well-chilled puff pastry dough (recipe below)
-egg wash (1 egg or yolk beaten with a small amount of water)
-your filling of choice

Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

Using a knife or metal bench scraper, divided your chilled puff pastry dough into three equal pieces. Work with one piece of the dough, and leave the rest wrapped and chilled. (If you are looking to make more vols-au-vent than the yield stated above, you can roll and cut the remaining two pieces of dough as well…if not, then leave refrigerated for the time being or prepare it for longer-term freezer storage. See the “Tips” section below for more storage info.)

On a lightly floured surface, roll the piece of dough into a rectangle about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick. Transfer it to the baking sheet and refrigerate for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the cutting.
(This assumes you will be using round cutters, but if you do not have them, it is possible to cut square vols-au-vents using a sharp chef’s knife.) For smaller, hors d'oeuvre sized vols-au-vent, use a 1.5” round cutter to cut out 8-10 circles. 

For larger sized vols-au-vent, fit for a main course or dessert, use a 4” cutter to cut out about 4 circles. Make clean, sharp cuts and try not to twist your cutters back and forth or drag your knife through the dough. Half of these rounds will be for the bases, and the other half will be for the sides. (Save any scrap by stacking—not wadding up—the pieces…they can be re-rolled and used if you need extra dough. If you do need to re-roll scrap to get enough disks, be sure to use any rounds cut from it for the bases, not the ring-shaped sides.)

Using a ¾-inch cutter for small vols-au-vent, or a 2- to 2.5-inch round cutter for large, cut centers from half of the rounds to make rings. These rings will become the sides of the vols-au-vent, while the solid disks will be the bottoms. You can either save the center cut-outs to bake off as little “caps” for you vols-au-vent, or put them in the scrap pile.
Dock the solid bottom rounds with a fork (prick them lightly, making sure not to go all the way through the pastry) and lightly brush them with egg wash. Place the rings directly on top of the bottom rounds and very lightly press them to adhere. Brush the top rings lightly with egg wash, trying not to drip any down the sides (which may inhibit rise). If you are using the little “caps,” dock and egg wash them as well.
Refrigerate the assembled vols-au-vent on the lined baking sheet while you pre-heat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). (You could also cover and refrigerate them for a few hours at this point.)

Once the oven is heated, remove the sheet from the refrigerator and place a silicon baking mat (preferred because of its weight) or another sheet of parchment over top of the shells. This will help them rise evenly. Bake the shells until they have risen and begin to brown, about 10-15 minutes depending on their size. Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF (180ºC), and remove the silicon mat or parchment sheet from the top of the vols-au-vent. If the centers have risen up inside the vols-au-vent, you can gently press them down. Continue baking (with no sheet on top) until the layers are golden, about 15-20 minutes more. (If you are baking the center “caps” they will likely be finished well ahead of the shells, so keep an eye on them and remove them from the oven when browned.)

Remove to a rack to cool. Cool to room temperature for cold fillings or to warm for hot fillings.

Fill and serve.

*For additional rise on the larger-sized vols-au-vents, you can stack one or two additional ring layers on top of each other (using egg wash to "glue"). This will give higher sides to larger vols-au-vents, but is not advisable for the smaller ones, whose bases may not be large enough to support the extra weight.

*Although they are at their best filled and eaten soon after baking, baked vols-au-vent shells can be stored airtight for a day.

*Shaped, unbaked vols-au-vent can be wrapped and frozen for up to a month (bake from frozen, egg-washing them first). 

Sunday, September 13, 2009

cookies for breakfast

I was flipping through a cookbook looking for new breakfast ideas when I came upon breakfast cookies.  Cookies?  For breakfast?  The thought crossed my mind that I may be setting an dangerous precedent for the boys by introducing this idea... I envisioned the door opening in their minds and suddenly all cookies were now fair game for breakfast!  But no... these cookies are full of fibre and cereal... not quite like having Oreos for breakfast (but don't tell my boys that!)

Easy Breakfast Cookies
(from "Simply Great Food" by the Dieticians of Canada)

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil (or pureed fruit or cooked pureed white beans or red lentils)
1/4 olive oil
2 eggs
1/4 cup flaxseed (ground or whole)
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups 9-grain cereal (like Red River)
3/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries

1.  In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

2.  In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, cream sugar, butter, vegetable oil and olive oil until smooth.  Beat in eggs, flaxseed and vanilla.  Stir in flour mixture until combined.  Stir in 9-grain cereal, coconut and raisins.

3.  Drop dough by tablespoonfuls (15 mL), about 2 inches apart, onto prepared baking sheet.  Flatten with a fork.

4.  Bake in preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until browned.  Let cool on baking sheet on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove to rack to cool completely.   

These store amazingly well in an airtight container for several days.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

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.

Have you ever been intimidated by a cake?  I have.  I know... you're thinking "Suck it up, buttercup - it's just a cake."  I mean, cakes are so tasty - how can they be threatening?

So when I logged on to my first ever Daring Baker's challenge this month, I was sooo excited.  What would the challenge be?  And then my heart sank.  It was a Dobos Torta - a multi-layered sponge cake.  Normally layered sponge cakes don't phase me much, but this one was free form.  I was apprehensive.  I was worried that my layers would turn out all uneven and messy.  What if they burned?  What if they tore when peeling off the parchment?  What if they were an uneven, sloppy mess?  In my mind I imagined all the ways this recipe could go pear shaped.  

But heck – this is why I joined the Daring Bakers for in the first place.   I knew the challenges would help me stretch my skills and lead me to bake things I would never have thought to try.

So I rolled up my sleeves, put my game face on and decided to put aside a day to make the torta.

I adapted the recipe a tad. Instead of a five layered torte, I decided to make mine higher with 10 layers. Also, I am not a fan of hazelnuts (one of the few things I dislike!) so substituted almonds.

I’m not going to sugar coat things. Baking the sponge cake layers was time consuming. The recipe that Angela and Lorraine provided suggested that this stage would take about 60 minutes total – it took me almost twice that. But then again, I was going slow to ensure I got it right the first time and wouldn’t have any “re-dos”.

And it worked! It was so worth it… I didn’t mess up the sponge cake layers! They turned out just fine.

Sponge cake layers

6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups confectioner's (icing) sugar, divided
1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (112g) sifted cake flour
pinch of salt

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.)

Now this buttercream recipe is fantastic! I’m going to keep this for lots of other yummy creations… Just a warning though – it was nice and thick until I added the chocolate and then it got really runny. So I continued to cook it for three minutes and pulled it off to cool. It does thicken.But it gets much thicker after you’ve beaten in the butter and refrigerated it. Refrigerate it for an hour or two prior to using if you can.

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.

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!

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)

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
Divide the buttercream into six equal parts.

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.

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

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.