Thursday, December 24, 2009

Brownie Pudding

Last spring one of my bestest friends in the whole world, Lola, called me and asked if I would want to join her and some of her family and their friends on a Carnival Cruise to the Mexican Riviera in September. After about a nano-second of thought, I agreed that it would be way too much fun! I was in! I prepped all summer by being stressed out, making payments toward the trip, filling out travel documents for our good US of A and yet finding time to get my base tan (no sunburns allowed for me!) and plan excursions for Lola and I.

Once I was on my way to LA for boarding the ship, I had my vacation face on and let the cares of the world melt away....melt....ahh.....(can you see that stress level falling?!). I met the group....what a wonderfully, spectacular, (enter every great adjective here) and over-the-top-fun group they were/are! We got off to a great start right away and the fun didn't end....well, really ever!



As those of you who have cruised before will know, the food on any cruise is normally wonderful...this cruise was no exception. We dined on way many luscious entrees at lunch and dinner (lobster, steak, silky soups, escargot, you name it!), marvelous snacks at any time you had a thought to grab one (can you say 24 hour pizza bar?! It’s great after dancing the night away until 2-3am) and countless scrumptious desserts (the almost 24-hour ice cream station is dangerous...serve yourself!!), and were all looking for our stretchy clothes after day 2 on board.


One of the desserts deserves special mention. Most of our crew sampled it the first night at dinner. It was a warm chocolate melting cake with vanilla bean ice cream. You just gained 5 pounds reading that… ha! We fell in love….some harder than others (yes, Mike H…I’m talking about you). Sure they had other desserts each night, but this was a “classic” that was offered every night….and every night it made it to our table for at least one person. It was engrained into our cruising memories and hearts instantly. So ooey, gooey and warm. Rich and chocolatey but not overpoweringly so. Bliss in a ramekin…really…


The mission was clear….find the recipe for this sinful dessert and recreate. One of our group members was savvy. He asked a crew member on a special tour for the recipe…score!!! He gave it to me…we were on our way! Woot!

Sadly our time on the cruise ended (Oh, the memories! Oh the tans! Oh, the hangovers…shhh.). We excitedly planned for a reunion around Christmas time….I promised to try to recreate the succulent warm chocolate melting cake (yep, another 5 pounds).

As December approached I thought I might want to try to figure out if this recreation was possible. I scoured my home looking for the recipe we’d absconded with from the crew….yikes! I’ve lost it!! NOOOOO! Much sadness ensued. But, not all hope was lost. You see…I’d looked at the recipe pretty good when we first got it so I realized it was similar to others I’d tried before. I set off to try to find what I thought could be a close replacement. I went to my go-to-gal Ina…yep, Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. In her book, Back to Basics she has a recipe for Brownie Pudding. It looked close….and promised ooey-gooeyness. I thought I’d give it a try.

It was easy enough to assemble. Baking was a breeze. The true test was going to be the tasting. I drove it 2 hours to the reunion…hoping it would past the test.


The reunion was in full swing when I got there…the group hadn’t changed a bit, though we were missing a few people (missed you Lola and Ashley!). Dinner was ready and served shortly after I got there (OMGoodness….so good….great job gang!). Then it was time for dessert…the long awaited dig into our brownie pudding. It oozed….it looked gooey….and…it was….actually really close to the cruise dessert. No, it wasn’t perfect….ice cream would have helped, but it was really good. SO chocolatety…. a success, even though not a slam-dunk recreation. The group ate most of it (remember, it’s pretty rich, a little goes a long way).


So…no glamour shot (too much fun and digging in for all that), but I’d say give this a try…you may only gain 3 pounds…I'll leave you with a glamour shot of Mexico instead.





The Recipe: Brownie Pudding
Courtesy of Ina Garten’s Back to Basics
You can also find it on foodnetwork.com

Ingredients
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus extra for buttering the dish
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup good cocoa powder
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
1 tablespoon framboise liqueur, optional
Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Directions
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly butter a 2-quart (9 by 12 by 2-inch) oval baking dish. Melt the 1/2 pound of butter and set aside to cool.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar on medium-high speed for 5 to 10 minutes, until very thick and light yellow. Meanwhile, sift the cocoa powder and flour together and set aside.

When the egg and sugar mixture is ready, reduce the speed to low and add the vanilla seeds, framboise, if using, and the cocoa powder and flour mixture. Mix only until combined. With mixer still on low, slowly pour in the cooled butter and mix again just until combined.

Pour the brownie mixture into the prepared dish and place it in a larger baking pan. Add enough of the hottest tap water to the pan to come halfway up the side of the dish and bake for exactly 1 hour. A cake tester inserted 2 inches from the side will come out 3/4 clean. The center will appear very under-baked; this dessert is between a brownie and a pudding.

Allow to cool and serve with vanilla ice cream.

Enjoy with Love,
Christina

Monday, December 14, 2009

Daring Cooks: Salmon en Croute or Beef Wellington (December 2009)

The 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Simone of Junglefrog Cooking. Simone chose Salmon en Croute (or alternative recipes for Beef Wellington or Vegetable en Croute) from Good Food Online.

This month's recipe had me excited! Of course, not being one for seafood as a first choice I decided to go with the alternative recipe of Beef Wellington....I'd always wanted to try Beef Wellington! I'd heard such wonderful things about it and the early photos I saw made it look so beautiful. A wonderful challenge for entertaining during the holidays.

A warning before I get too far...I attempted this recipe on a worknight...a Monday...I didn't get started until about 8:00p...mistake...I'm a slow chopper....it finished at midnight. Ugh...were the results worth it...read on...

The recipe itself was fairly straightforward. The part that had me most worried were the crepes. After prepping the ingredients, letting it rest as instructed and such, I took a stab. The first one was a disaster...way too thick. But, once I got the hang of it, I don't think I did so bad. Should have made extra batter to play with though....I think I ended up being a bit short on my crepes.


The meat itself was beautiful. I must say, this recipe was not inexpensive, but considering how many people it would feed, it's reasonable. One word of caution...when searing the meat, don't shake the pan so much that oil gets on the burner....flames are scary. :-(


Laying everything out went well....though I'm thinking I could have either diced my mushrooms smaller or let them cook longer. They weren't exactly a "paste" as it says in the recipe.


Wrapping the chilled meat roll in the pastry was easy...It was late otherwise I was going to try to make it pretty with cut outs of dough. So, I went with slits hoping they'd be ok. I used a meat thermometer in my meat while cooking because I'm not one for rare meat. I like mine medium well. I cooked the wellington until it was just medium, knowing that any leftovers (who am I kidding....the entire thing was bound to be "leftovers" at midnight) would need some additional cooking/heating.


I must say...it came out looking pretty good....with very little juice seeping out from it...or was that butter from the pastry?!


The verdict....SO OMGOODNESS YUMMY! If it hadn't been midnight I'd have made a meal of it. Rather I ate a few bites and called a night. The meat was moist and so melt in your mouth tender (must use this cut of meat again!). The pastry was flaky and the mushroom/crepe layer was scrumptious. Try this recipe...use it to entertain with...it's beautiful, overall easy (though does take some time...plan ahead....the last step could be done while guests are snacking...only bakes for about 20-30 minutes). Here is the glamour shot...pretty nice ehh?!



Merry Christmas Everyone!

Recipe:
Salmon en croute
Ingredients:
Mascarpone or creamcheese 5.2 ounces/150 gr
Watercress, rocket (arugula) and spinach – 0.6 cup/4.2 ounces/120 gr
Shortcrust pastry – 17.6 ounces, 500 gr. Use a butterversion such as Jus-rol which is frozen or dorset pastry. or… make your own!
Salmon fillet (skinless)- 17.6 ounce/500 gr
Egg – 1 medium sized

Directions:
1.Heat the oven to 200°C/390 F. Put the mascarpone or cream cheese in a food processor with the watercress, spinach and rocket and whizz the lot until you have a creamy green puree. Season well.

2. Roll the pastry out so you can wrap the salmon in it completely (approx. 2-3 mm thick) and lay it on a buttered or oiled baking sheet (it will hang over the edges). Put the salmon in the middle. If it has a thinner tail end, tuck it under. Spoon half of the watercress mixture onto the salmon. Now fold the pastry over into a neat parcel (the join will be at the top, so trim the edge neatly), making sure you don’t have any thick lumps of pastry as these won’t cook through properly. Trim off any excess as you need to. Make 3 neat cuts in the pastry to allow steam to escape and make some decorations with the off-cuts to disguise the join if you like. Brush with the egg glaze.

3. Bake for 30 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and browned. To test wether the salmon is cooked, push a sharp knife through one of the cuts into the flesh, wait for 3 seconds then test it against the inside of your wrist; if it is hot, the salmon is cooked. Serve with the rest of the watercress puree as a sauce.

Shortcrust pastry
While this is not mandatory to do, I highly recommend making your own shortcrust pastry as it is very simple to do! As mentioned in the notes; please make sure to not add too much water as that is the key to having a successful shortcrust pastry. Watch this video to check the correct consistency of the dough Making shortcrust pastry

Ingredients:
450 gr (15.8 ounces or 3.2 cups ) of plain all purpose flour
200 gr ( 7 ounce) cold butter
pinch of salt

Sift the flour into a large bowl, add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. If you have a food processor you can use that as shown in the above video.

Stir in the salt, then add 2-3 tbsp of water and mix to a firm dough. Knead the dough briefly and gently on a floured surface. Wrap in cling film and chill while preparing the filling.

For best results make sure the butter is very cold.

Instructions for Beef Wellington (serves 4)
Button mushrooms – 17.6 ounces/500gr (stalks removed and finely chopped)
Olive oil – 2-3 tbsp
Thyme – 1 sprig
Beef fillet, center cut piece – 21.16 ounce/600 gr
English mustard – 1 tbsp
Puff pastry (all butter pastry pack) – 17.6 ounce/500 gr
Parma ham (prosciutto) – 3 slices
Egg yolk – 1 pcs, beaten

For the herb crepes:
Plain (all purpose) flour – 0.3 cup/1.76 ounce/50 gr
Milk – 0.5 cup/125 ml
Mixed herbs – 1 tbsp (chopped, use herbs such as cervil, chives and tarragon)
Butter – 0.5 tbsp

Instructions:
1. To make the crepes, whizz the flour, egg and milk with a pinch of salt in a blender or processor until smooth. Pour into a jug and stir in the herbs and some seasoning. Leave to rest.

2. Fry the mushrooms in a little oil until they give up all their moisture and it has evaporated, leaving you with a thick paste. Add the thyme leaves and some seasoning and keep cooking for a few minutes. Cool.

3. Stir the melted butter into the crepe batter, heat a 15 cm crepe pan and oil it lightly. Pour in enough batter to make a thin layer on the base of the pan, cook until the top surface sets and then turn over and cook briefly. Remove and repeat with the rest of the batter. This will make a couple more than you need so choose the thinnest ones for the recipe.

4. Sear the beef all over in a little oil in a very hot pan. Brush with the mustard, season and allow to cool.

5. Lay a large sheet of cling-film on a kitchen surface and put two crepes down on it, overlapping a little. Lay over the parmaham (prosciutto). Spread the mushroom mixture over the ham and put the beef in the centre. Roll the cling-film up, taking the crepe with it, to wrap the beef completely into a nice neat log. Chill for 1 hour.

6. Heat the oven to 200°C/390F. Roll out the pastry, remove the clingfilm and wrap the beef in the pastry like a parcel, with the ends tucked under. Trim to keep it nice and neat. Brush with egg, score with shallow lines across the top and chill for 20 minutes.

7. Cook for 20 minutes. The best way to test if the meat is done to your liking is to neatly and carefully stick a skewer into the beef, count to three and then test it against your inner wrist. If it is cold, the beef will be raw, if it is warm then the beef will be rare and if it’s hot, it’ll be cooked through. Leave to rest for 20 minutes before carving.

Enjoy with Love,
Christina

Friday, November 27, 2009

Daring Bakers - Cannoli (November 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.

When this month's challenge was announced I was super excited! I don't know how many times I've asked my "authentic" Italian friends, "How do you make cannoli shells?" I think Lisa must have tied down an Italian Nana or an Italian government official somewhere to get this recipe .... I've always imagined it was a state secret ... but alas! Lisa shared it with the Daring Bakers, and now I'm sharing it with you!

Canoli are one of those things that if it's on the menu, I have a hard time passing up. I've had some really good ones, some ok ones and some that I wish I could go for a swim with...you know, in the cream with a bucket of shells (heaven!) 'til I explode from eating too many. So...I eagerly started this challenge.

It all starts with the dough. I didn't remember to take pictures of assembling the dough, but it's pretty much dump and mix with a dough hook in the trusty Kitchen Aid. What you get when you're done is a yummy smelling ball of dough.


The next thing is draining the ricotta cheese (and the pumpkin, if using the pumpkin filling). I don't have a fancy way to do this so I just made up a system...it seems to work well. I let this contraption, along with the dough, sit in the refrigerator overnight.


The next day, I mixed up the filling. Again, my brain wasn't attached and I didn't take any photos. But, much like the dough, it was pretty much just dump and mix (with the paddle) for both of the fillings (I only make half of the "traditional" filling...it still made a lot!)

After the filling was made I got busy rolling out the dough for the shells. This dough was a lot like the dough for the strudel I made...very stretchy and hard to get to stay in place. It took some working but I finally got it very thin. I wanted to make 5" shells...so I hunted through the house for something that would work for me to easily cut 5" circles. An old CD (sorry AOL!) and a pizza cutter worked perfectly after I disinfected the CD.


The next step is to put the circles on the cannoli forms. I don't have pictures of this, but not because I forgot...but because goopy hands with egg whites and oil don't mix too well with my camera. :-) It wasn't a difficult process. I did learn along with way though that letting them dry for a bit helps them stay together. It's mentioned in the instructions, but let them sit a bit longer than you may think (5 minutes?). I found they stayed together better and actually fried better as well.  Frying time...I used the 2 minutes as recommended and it seemed to work well.


Once fried you let them drain on a paper towel. Make sure to have them tilted a bit so any remaining oil drains out of the tubes. I let one drain while I fried the next one and then removed the tube from the first one. BE CAREFUL!! The tubes are very hot, as are the shells. I had to use my tongs on a few of the more stubborn ones. Also be gentle with them as they are a bit delicate at this stage. (In the photo below you can also see one waiting to be fried, on the left.)


Once the frying was done and they shells had cooled I got out my fillings. I chopped up some pistachios and pecans and got out my mini-chocolate chips. I was ready for filling the shells and tasting these delightful treats. Filling was very easy...though it didn't look as smooth and creamy as some cannoli I've had. Here they are....the glamour shot:


So you know what's what: On the top is the pumpkin filling with pecans, the middle has one pumpkin filled (far) and one traditional filled (close) with pistachio nuts, and on the bottom is one traditional filled (left) and one pumpkin filled (right) with mini-chocolate chips.

So...how did they taste you ask?!


Very good! My heart will always fall for the traditional filling with chocolate chips, but all of the varieties were good. I'm not swimming with these yet, but the shells were crispy and tasted the way shells should, so I think it's a matter of perfecting the fillings...that part should be easy (I don't think it's a state secret!).

By the way...a Public Service Announcement... When you are rolling dough on your kitchen table, don't set the tub of flour too close to you. It's a mess to clean up if it gets knocked over....

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! I'm blessed to have you as a part of my life!

The Recipe: Canoli
From The Daring Bakers

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

Equipment Needed:
  • Cannoli forms/tubes - optional, but recommended if making traditional shaped cannoli.
  • Deep, heavy saucepan, enough to hold at least 2-3-inches of oil or deep fryer
  • Deep fat frying thermometer
  • Metal tongs
  • Brass or wire skimmer OR large slotted spoon
  • Pastry bag with large star or plain tip, but a snipped ziplock bag will work fine
  • Cooling rack
  • Paper bags or paper towels
  • Pastry Brush
  • Cheesecloth Sieve or fine wire mesh strainer
  • Electric Mixer, stand or hand, optional, as mixing the filling with a spoon is fine.
  • Food Processor or Stand Mixer – also optional, since you can make the dough by hand
  • Rolling pin and/or Pasta roller/machine
  • Pastry or cutting board
  • Round cutters (Or use my method of a CD with Pizza Cutter!)
  • Mixing bowl and wooden spoon if mixing filling by hand
  • Plastic Wrap/Clingfilm
  • Tea towels or just cloth towels
CANNOLI SHELLS
2 cups (250 grams/16 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

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, oiled..lol). 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

CANNOLI FILLING
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. 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).

PUMPKIN FILLING
1/2 cup (123 grams/4.34 ounces) ricotta cheese, drained
1/2 cup (113 grams/4.04 ounces) mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup (122.5 grams/4.32 ounces) canned pumpkin, drained like ricotta
3/4 cup (75 grams/2.65 ounces) confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1/2 to 1 teaspoon (approx. 1.7 grams/approx. 0.06 ounces) pumpkin pie spice (taste)
1/2 teaspoon (approx. 2 grams/approx. 0.08 ounces) pure vanilla extract

1. In a bowl with electric mixer, beat ricotta and mascarpone until smooth and creamy. Beat in confectioner’s sugar, pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla and blend until smooth. Transfer to another bowl, cover and chill until it firms up a bit. (The filling can be made up to 24 hours prior to filling the shells. Just cover and keep refrigerated).

2. Fill the shells as directed above. I dipped the ends of the shells in caramelized sugar and rolled them in toasted, chopped pecans

 
ASSEMBLE THE CANNOLI:
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.
 
TIPS AND NOTES:
  • 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.
  • Practice makes perfect. My first batch of shells came out less than spectacular, and that’s an understatement. As you go along, you’ll see what will make them more aesthetically pleasing, and adjust accordingly when rolling. My next several batches turned out great. Don’t give up!!
  Enjoy with Love,
Christina

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Peanut Butter Pumpkin Cookies

After my big failure with the macarons (see this post), I decided that I needed to make something fail-proof. Being that Halloween is here, I thought I'd get into the spirit of things and make peanut butter cookies shaped like pumpkins!

The recipe is a classic Pillsbury recipe, so I can't take ANY credit for it. I'm sure that you could attempt these with your own peanut butter cookie dough, but I wanted surefire success. I started by gathering all of the ingredients.


Once I had everything ready, I mixed and then started to roll and sugar. The messy part was sugaring the balls and then marking them to look like pumpkins without squishing them. The hard part was getting pretzel wheels to look like stems. I'd suggest using regular pretzels if you attempt these yourself.


I was a bit worried that they would spread and be flat, deformed pumpkins, but they didn't. Overall, I think they turned out pretty cute. They certainly didn't last long in my house...I love me some peanut butter cookies.... :-)

HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYONE!

The Recipe: Peanut Butter Pumpkin Cookies
From: Pillsbury

INGREDIENTS

1 roll (16.5 oz) Pillsbury® refrigerated peanut butter cookies
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup orange decorator sugar crystals
14 twisted butter-flavor pretzel sticks, broken in half

DIRECTIONS
1. Heat oven to 350°F. Spray cookie sheets with cooking spray. In medium bowl, stir cookie dough, egg yolk and flour until well mixed.

2. Pour sugar crystals into small bowl. Shape dough into 28 (1-inch) balls; roll in sugar crystals. Insert 1 pretzel piece into each ball for pumpkin stem. Using toothpick or tip of teaspoon, make lines around sides for pumpkin ridges. Place balls 2 inches apart on cookie sheets.

3. Bake 9 to 11 minutes or just until set in center when touched with fingertip. Cool 2 minutes; remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks. Cool completely, about 10 minutes.

Enjoy with Love,
Christina

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Daring Bakers – Macarons (October 2009)

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.

I was excited to learn that these cookies did NOT have coconut in them. I also was excited because I had never made these before but have seen them many times on the other blogs that I have wandered through. They looked so pretty. Also, the excitement grew when the ingredients did not include any "eye of newt" ingredients (or easy alternatives at least). I was up for the challenge and ready for success! Unfortunately, I was disappointed in the end and greeted with failure...but...let us start at the beginning.

First, in case you are not familiar with this french pastry should quickly head over to here to read a bit about them and see what they are supposed to look like.

The recipe starts by letting the egg whites come to room temperature. There was much discussion on the Daring Bakers forums about letting the egg white sit out for several days. I did this...they sat for 5 days. I was then concerned about them going bad, but read that as long as the end product is cooked that it should be fine. (So far, I think all the tasters are safe.)

SO...we started with whipping the egg whites to soft peaks.


Since the mixer does all the work, these were turning out to be quite easy. Mom was also assisting so I had her measuring out the almond flour and confectioners sugar.

Speaking of mom...she's a great help in the kitchen. She always protests that she cannot cook and is a disaster in the kitchen, but I dare say that this is simply not true. She has come up with some great dishes and well, fed me (and my family) well for many years with few complaints (other than some veggies, but I don't like them no matter WHO cooks them!).

Back to the challenge...once the soft peaked egg whites and sugar were whipped to what I thought was stiff peaks we started to fold in the almond/sugar mixture.


As I think I have mentioned before, I am a terrible folder. I think it has something to do with my lack of patience to get it all mixed together. This may have been the reason for my impending failure, or it could have been my lack of experience with getting the egg whites to a solid stiff peak. Either way, once the almond flour/sugar were incorporated we were ready to pipe. I had a sneaking suspicion at this point that the batter was not stiff enough, it was too runny. But, I pressed on.


After piping, we let the oven do the work of baking, raising the temp and then baking again. We crossed our fingers that a miracle would happen and the "feet" would form. Sadly, they did not.


The lowly cookies were spongey and soft. Most stuck to the baking sheet. The bottoms that did make it off the sheet looked like they'd be crunchy...if they had just risen. They reminded me a lot like angel food cake. Sticky and soft like that.

But, wanting to complete the challenge, even with a failed cookie, I pressed on. We had leftover cream cheese frosting from a wonderful banana cake (without the topping) that I had made from this recipe at Smitten Kitchen (ahh, one of my food idols!). I tinted the frosting orange with some food dye that I always have on hand and piped it between two cookies. The glamor shot...


So, as macaroons, these cookies were a major fail...no crunchy feet at all. They tasted ok, but since they were so difficult to get off the pan all but the three used in the glamor shot found their way to the trash. My tasters (mom and dad) said that the finished product tasted ok, but I think that is more a testament to the super yummy cream cheese frosting.

I suppose I should try this again, maybe using the recipe that many on the Daring Bakers site suggested from another food blogger Tartlette (find her recipes here). If you try this or another macaron recipe and are successful, please let me know!

Recipe: Mararons
From Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern

Preparation time: Not taking into account the amount of time it takes for you to bring your egg whites to room temperature, the whole baking process, including making the batter, piping and baking will probably take you about an hour to an hour and a half. How long it takes to make your filling is dependent on what you choose to make.

Actual baking time: 12 minutes total, plus a few minutes to get your oven from 200°F to 375°F.

Equipment required:
• Electric mixer, preferably a stand mixer with a whisk attachment
• Rubber spatula
• Baking sheets
• Parchment paper or nonstick liners
• Pastry bag (can be disposable)
• Plain half-inch pastry bag tip
• If you don’t have a pastry bag and/or tips, you can use a Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off
• Sifter or sieve
• Oven
• Cooling rack
• Thin-bladed spatula for removing the macaroons from the baking sheets
• Food processor or nut grinder, if grinding your own nuts (ouch!)

Ingredients:
2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 cups almond flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 egg whites, room temperature

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

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

3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.

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

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

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

7. Cool on a rack before filling.

Theoretically, this yields 10 dozen macarons.

Ami S gave us several websites to help us. Feel free to check them out...who knows, you may have better success! 
David Lebovitz breaks it down
More macaroon 411 from Serious Eats
Go behind the scenes of Paulette
Watch a pro pipe macaroons
Beating egg whites
 
Enjoy With Love,
Christina

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

This time of year my thoughts turn to apples, pumpkin and cinnamon. Fall is such a great time to bake! A few years ago I came across this recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip cookies and instantly fell in love with them. They have all the pumpkiny goodness of fall, yet are easy to make like a regular chocolate chip cookie. It doesn't hurt that they are delicious.

As I mentioned, they are made much like a chocolate chip cookie. Combine all the dry ingredients, Cream the butter and sugars, add the egg and vanilla, then incorporate the dry ingredients and pumpkin. Don't forget to add the chocolate chips (and nuts if you'd like...toasted pecans would be divine!!) What you get is a dough that is slightly more moist than your traditional chocolate chip cookie dough. 


The next step is to put the dough on the cookies sheet and bake them off. As I've suggested before, use a small ice cream scoop, or in my case, a melon baller. This allows the cookies to be even in size and shape for the best cooking experience (for the cookies of course!). The recipe calls for a lightly greased cookie sheet, but I've never had any problem just popping them onto my silpat without any greasing.


These cookies will come out 7-10 minute later all ooey and gooey and delicious! I would warn you to get your fill before sharing! HA! These always go quickly when I make them and get rave reviews. The combo of pumpkin, oats and chocolate is just too good!


Happy Fall everyone! May your kitchens be full of seasonal goodness, love, joy and laughter!

Recipe: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 cups flour

1 cup oatmeal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter (softened)
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup solid pack pumpkin (from the can)
2 cups chocolate chips (this can vary, depending on how much you like chocolate chips)

In one bowl, combine flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. In a separate bowl, cream butter; gradually add sugars, beating until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, and mix well. Add dry ingredients and pumpkin, alternating between the two, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Mix well. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop spoonfuls of dough onto lightly greased cookie sheets. Cook 7 to10 minutes in 350 degree oven. Keep checking bottoms, as they cook quickly.

Enjoy with Love,
Christina

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Daring Cooks: Quick Vietnamese Chicken Pho (October 2009)

The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen. The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook. Our challenge focused on Chicken Pho, or “Pho Ga” in Vietnamese and chocolate dessert wontons. (By the way, the correct pronunciation of Pho is “fuh?” Yes, you say the word like it’s a question! ) As someone that had never tried Pho of any kind before, I was a bit nervous going into this challenge. ..yet was hopeful.

The first step, before any of the cooking, was to shop for the ingredients. While for the most part this was an easy step, my regular grocery store did not carry the rice noodles nor some of the optional items used for topping. This was solved by finding a local Asian market, but it certainly was a bit frustrating because I like to shop all in one spot and not have to go all over town to find my ingredients. Once I did find all of the ingredients, I was off and running though.

Toasting spices in a dry pan releases their essential oils and adds more fragrance to the finished dish. This is a bit tricky because you do not want to burn the spices. I normally know that the spices are done when you can smell them. It does not take long.

Spices Toasting (Sorry for the blur)

Once the spices were toasted, I added them to the broth and other ingredients, including the chicken. I brought this to a boil and then reduced to a simmer. The broth smelled WONDERFUL!

Simmering
Once the chicken was cooked, I retrieved it from the pot and shredded it. Actually, my mom who was visiting and helping me with this new recipe shredded the chicken for me. I think she did a great job!
Shredding the Chicken

This is also the point where you skim out all of the "stuff" from the broth.

Broth - Skimmed


The next step was to cook the rice noodles. This step proved to be the most frustrating for me because I put too much water in the pot and it took FOREVER to bring to a boil (live and learn!). Once in the pot the noodles cooked quickly and easily. After straining the noodles, they were VERY sticky! I’d say get them back into the broth ASAP if you can. I had not planned ahead in this regard so I had a bunch of sticky noodles hanging around.

The finished product was very pretty (in my opinion) and very tasty! I skipped the bean sprouts because I do not like them…at all! The red Sriracha chili sauce was VERY spicy, but added a great flavor. The lime did its best to cut through the spiciness and cool things off. The cilantro and red onion added a nice flavor, as did the extra pepper. The hoisin sauce topped things off and added a touch of sweetness.

The true test was whether or not my parents enjoyed it! My dad loved it, though he only had the noodles, chicken and some lime in his bowl. My mom liked it though half was through, and after complaining that the hoisin sauce was spicy (which it is not), discovered she had picked up a stray pepper in her bowl along with her red onion. She squirted some lime juice into her bowl and that helped a bit with the spiciness. All and all it was enjoyed by all.

Pho Ga

Once we were finished with the Pho Ga, we moved onto our chocolate dessert wontons. I had fried wontons before so the challenge part of this was figuring out the fillings. I originally decided on doing Snicker bars. This proved to be a bit more difficult than I thought. I had kept them in the refrigerator so they were hard and kept tearing the wontons. I microwaved a few pieces and that seemed to work to get them in the wrapper a bit easier. Mom and I also tried to cut them into smaller pieces which also worked. I also remembered that I had a rich, fudgy, mint sauce by Tastefully Simple in the refrigerator. I spooned that into a few which was quite easy.

Wontons Filled and Ready for Frying

The wontons filled with the various chocolates were easy to pop into my preheated fryer. I left them in there for a few minutes, turning them so they got brown and crispy on both sides. This is an easy process, but it does take time and patience….neither of which I prefer to have at dessert time!

Frying the Wonton


We did not sprinkle with the confectioners sugar as we thought the fillings would be sweet enough. The verdict was that the Snicker-filled wonton was much tastier, but that the fudgy-mint ones were prettier and fuller. The Snicker-filled ones seemed to have a big hole without much filling in them. The minty ones oozed out once bitten into…yummy mess!

Chocolate Dessert Wontons
Overall this challenge was fairly easy and I am glad I stuck in there to find the noodles. I was introduced to a new dish (the Pho Ga) and experimented with the chocolate dessert wontons. I will likely make this Pho Ga again if I am ever out by that Asian market again to get the noodles, but the dessert wontons left something to be desired. Thank you to our lovely hostess…if you love this recipe, pick up her book…it will be out later this month!

PS…I love your comments, so leave me one at the end of this post!

Recipe: Quick Vietnamese Chicken Pho
Source: Jaden of Steamy Kitchen from her new book The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.

Equipment:
• Frying pan • Large stockpot • Tongs • Strainer, sieve or colander • Bowls for serving

Preparation Time: 45 cooking time + 15 minutes to cook noodles based on package directions
Servings: Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:
For the Chicken Pho Broth:
2 tbsp. whole coriander seeds

4 whole cloves2 whole star anise

2 quarts (2 liters/8 cups/64 fluid ounces) store-bought or homemade chicken stock

1 whole chicken breast (bone in or boneless)

½ onion1 3-inch (7.5 cm) chunk of ginger, sliced and smashed with side of knife

1 to 2 tbsps. sugar1 to 2 tbsps. fish sauce

1 lb. (500 grams/16 ounces) dried rice noodles (about ¼ inch/6 mm wide)

Accompaniments:
2 cups (200 grams/7 ounces) bean sprouts, washed and tails pinched off

Fresh cilantro (coriander) tops (leaves and tender stems)

½ cup (50 grams/approx. 2 ounces) shaved red onions

½ lime, cut into 4 wedges

Sriracha chili sauce

Hoisin sauce

Sliced fresh chili peppers of your choice

Directions:
1. To make the Chicken Pho Broth: heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the coriander seeds, cloves and star anise and toast until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Immediately spoon out the spices to avoid burning.
2. In a large pot, add all the ingredients (including the toasted spices) and bring to a boil.
3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 20 minutes, skimming the surface frequently.
4. Use tongs to remove the chicken breasts and shred the meat with your fingers, discarding the bone if you have used bone-in breasts.
5. Taste the broth and add more fish sauce or sugar, if needed. Strain the broth and discard the solids.
6. Prepare the noodles as per directions on the package.
7. Ladle the broth into bowls. Then divide the shredded chicken breast and the soft noodles evenly into each bowl.
8. Have the accompaniments spread out on the table. Each person can customize their own bowl with these ingredients.

Recipe: Chocolate Wontons
Recipe Source: Jaden of Steamy Kitchen from her new book The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.

Equipment:

• Small bowl • Pastry brush • Plastic wrap and/or damp paper towels • Wok or medium-sized pot • Frying thermometer (if you don’t have a thermometer, you can test the oil temperature by dropping in a cube of bread … if it browns quickly, the oil is ready)

Preparation time: 15 minutes + 15 minutes cooking time (for 12 wontons)
Servings: Makes 12 wontons.

Ingredients:
1 large egg

1 tbsp. water

12 wonton wrappers, defrosted (keep wrappers covered with damp towel)

12 pieces or nuggets of chocolate (use any type of chocolate you like)

High-heat oil for frying (i.e., vegetable oil, corn oil)

Confectioners’ sugar (icing sugar) for sprinkling

Directions:
1. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water to make an egg wash.
2. On a clean, dry surface lay 1 wonton wrapper down with a point toward you, like a diamond.
3. Place 1 piece of chocolate near the top end of the wrapper.
4. Brush a very thin layer of the egg wash on the edges of the wrapper.
5. Fold the bottom corner of the wrapper up to create a triangle and gently press to remove all air from the middle. Press the edges to adhere the sides. Make sure the wrapper is sealed completely.
6. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and chocolate pieces.
7. Keep the folded chocolate wontons covered under plastic wrap or a damp paper towel to prevent them from drying.
8. In a wok or medium pot, pour in 2 inches (5 cm.) of high-heat oil.
9. Heat the oil to 350º F (180º C) and gently slide a few of the chocolate wontons into the hot oil. Make sure you don’t crowd the chocolate wontons.
10. Fry the wontons for 1 ½ minutes, then flip over and fry another minute until both sides are golden brown and crisp.

Enjoy with Love,
Christina

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Daring Bakers – Vols-au-Vent / Puff Pastry (September 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.

I must confess I have not worked with puff pastry much. It always fascinates me and I think that the recipes I have seen it used in are great, but never bothered to get around to it. Yes, you can purchase it in the freezer section of your grocery store…but that is not too daring! The challenge this month was to make the dough and then fill it with something of your choice. The dough itself was not difficult to make. Dump it in a food processor and let it whirl.
Flattening the butter is something that one should do to relieve stress. Since it is best to keep everything super cold, the butter does not exactly cooperate at first. But, once you start to think of those people that stood you up or that co-worker that you would prefer no longer be your co-worker, it all seems to start to come together. Heehee…just kidding about the co-worker thing…really.
Rolling the dough with the butter was not overly difficult, but geesh, butter sure does melt quickly. I only made it through the first two turns before needing to get it back into the refrigerator. Two turns seemed to be all I could get in before the butter started acting up for the next four turns (six total).
I decided to be fancy and use my flower shaped cookie cutters. I think they turned out pretty good since I had multiple sizes. The docking and egg washing went pretty smooth as well.
After they were baked I was actually fairly impressed with myself! HA! They actually rose and looked really light and flaky. They did leak butter, but they still turned out pretty and impressive looking. One was lop-sided, which I think was an error of egg-washing. I chose to try a few different fillings for my vols-au-vents. I thought I’d get “cute” and try to do a whole meal idea. I started with my Aunt Judy's Black-Eyed Pea Salsa and then moved on to a chicken salad filled vols-au-vent. The chicken salad was a fail, so no recipe on that one (ick!). The best one though was easily the sautéed apple filling! I just sautéed a red delicious apple with some sugar and let it caramelize a bit so I had a sauce. OMGoodness…I ate all of that one…heehee! Here are the glamor shots of the finished products:

Black-Eyed Pea Salsa Filling

Apple Chicken Salad Filling
Yummy Sautéed Apple Filling
My assessment of this challenge is that it was daring, challenging, yet highly successful! I’d certainly consider making my own puff pastry again in the future if I had the time. It tasted wonderful and besides being time consuming and the butter being a bit cranky, rather easy. I am not sure I would do this in the throws of summer when it is warm, but the winter months could see me making puff pastry again!

Thanks Steph!


PS...I love reading your comments....feel free to leave one at the end of this post!

Recipe: Vols-au-Vent
I’m copying this directly from my Daring Bakers site…it’s long, but worth every word!

Equipment:
-food processor (will make mixing dough easy, but I imagine this can be done by hand as well)
-rolling pin
-pastry brush
-plastic wrap
-baking sheet
-parchment paper
-sharp chef’s knife
-fork
-oven
-cooling rack
-metal bench scraper (optional, but recommended)
-silicone baking mat (optional, but recommended)
-set of round cutters (optional, but recommended)

Prep Times:
-about 4-5 hours to prepare the puff pastry dough (much of this time is inactive, while you wait for the dough to chill between turns…it can be stretched out over an even longer period of time if that better suits your schedule)
-about 1.5 hours to shape, chill and bake the vols-au-vent after your puff pastry dough is complete

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).

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough
From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough

Ingredients:
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.

Extra Tips From Steph:
-While this is not included in the original recipe we are using (and I did not do this), many puff pastry recipes use a teaspoon or two of white vinegar or lemon juice, added to the ice water, in the détrempe dough. This adds acidity, which relaxes the gluten in the dough by breaking down the proteins, making rolling easier. You are welcome to try this if you wish.

-Keep things cool by using the refrigerator as your friend! If you see any butter starting to leak through the dough during the turning process, rub a little flour on the exposed dough and chill straight away. Although you should certainly chill the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns, if you feel the dough getting to soft or hard to work with at any point, pop in the fridge for a rest.

-Not to sound contradictory, but if you chill your paton longer than the recommended time between turns, the butter can firm up too much. If this seems to be the case, I advise letting it sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes to give it a chance to soften before proceeding to roll. You don't want the hard butter to separate into chunks or break through the dough...you want it to roll evenly, in a continuous layer.

-Roll the puff pastry gently but firmly, and don’t roll your pin over the edges, which will prevent them from rising properly. Don't roll your puff thinner than about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick, or you will not get the rise you are looking for.

-Try to keep “neat” edges and corners during the rolling and turning process, so the layers are properly aligned. Give the edges of the paton a scooch with your rolling pin or a bench scraper to keep straight edges and 90-degree corners.

-Brush off excess flour before turning dough and after rolling.

-Make clean cuts. Don’t drag your knife through the puff or twist your cutters too much, which can inhibit rise.

-When egg washing puff pastry, try not to let extra egg wash drip down the cut edges, which can also inhibit rise.

-Extra puff pastry dough freezes beautifully. It’s best to roll it into a sheet about 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick (similar to store-bought puff) and freeze firm on a lined baking sheet. Then you can easily wrap the sheet in plastic, then foil (and if you have a sealable plastic bag big enough, place the wrapped dough inside) and return to the freezer for up to a few months. Defrost in the refrigerator when ready to use.

-You can also freeze well-wrapped, unbaked cut and shaped puff pastry (i.e., unbaked vols-au-vent shells). Bake from frozen, without thawing first.

-Homemade puff pastry is precious stuff, so save any clean scraps. Stack or overlap them, rather than balling them up, to help keep the integrity of the layers. Then give them a singe “turn” and gently re-roll. Scrap puff can be used for applications where a super-high rise is not necessary (such as palmiers, cheese straws, napoleons, or even the bottom bases for your vols-au-vent).

You can find lots more general tips for making puff pastry on-line, including here at Baking 911.

I encourage everyone to watch the on-line video from the PBS show “Baking with Julia” that accompanies the book.

Enjoy with Love,
Christina

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Microwave Peanut Brittle

This recipe is special in our family, at least I think so. For as long as I can remember, my family has been eating peanut brittle and chocolate balls at Christmastime. Personally, since the chocolate balls have coconut in them my favorite was peanut brittle (though I always enjoyed helping roll and dip the chocolate balls). The mystique of making peanut brittle was great in my mind though. You had to cook it just long enough and work quickly so that it didn't set up in the bowl or too thick. I left this difficult task to the experts...my Grandma and Mom....until this summer.

I was home visiting family for my cousin's wedding (Congrats Rob and Sarah!) when I decided to have Grandma and Mom teach me the secrets of peanut brittle. We went to shop for all of the ingredients (more on that later) and got to work.

Mixing the peanuts, sugar and corn syrup, that's easy. Just be sure to get the sugar really mixed in with the corn syrup, coating the peanuts...makes it come together better later.

After the first cooking time, the mixture should be boiling and nuts brown. Keep in mind that every microwave is different. Apparently this is the real "secret" of making great peanut brittle...finding out how long to cook it for each step in your microwave. SO, you'll likely need to experiement a bit...good thing the ingredients aren't that pricey! A warning...from this point foward the mixture is extremely hot!

Anyway, since Grandma and Mom had done this a billion times before in Grandma's microwave, they knew the exact time...and it came out looking perfect. So we quickly moved on to the next step and added the butter and vanilla....stir it in and put it back in the microwave for the second time.

Ok...so this is the step where things were a bit scary for me....the warnings of "work fast," and "have everything ready to go so you can go quickly," were ringing in my ears. SO...take note...make sure you have your pan buttered, your baking soda measured and be ready when the buzzer goes off.
The baking soda, once added, will make the mixure foam up and you'll think you're working with a chemistry set (I guess in a way you are! Cooking/Baking is like that sometimes!). Again...work quickly, stirring it in and then....pour out onto the lightly buttered pan and spread the nuts into a single layer. You'll notice I let my expert mom handle this batch...so I could snap photos (I did do the other batches later though...I promise!). Now the hard part....waiting. HA! You have to let it sit and cool down. Once cooled you break it into pieces and enjoy. Yumm...(sorry for the blurry shot...)
As it turns out that one of the hardest parts of this family recipe is finding raw spanish peanuts....HA! So, I asked if we could make it with other more easily available nuts as well....we made a batch with the hard to find peanuts (as shown), a batch with cashews and a batch with mixed nuts. Of course, the traditional peanut was a hit, but I also really liked the other variations. They were all just as easy to work with and didn't require adjusting the cooking time. Though I would imagine if you were to use the larger Brazil nuts only, you may want too cook them a bit longer.

A tip for clean up: Soak everything that touched the brittle IMMEDIATELY! This stuff becomes rock hard, and pretty quick. Once you've spread out the brittle, take that spoon and the bowl and put it in hot water. You'll be glad that you did later....trust me.

I don't have a glamor shot of any of the three batches, but they were a big hit and enjoyed. It was so fun to be in the kitchen with my Grandma and mom learning this recipe. Maybe one day I can pass it along to the next generation now.

The Recipe:
Microwave Peanut Brittle

1 1/2 cups peanuts (or other nuts)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light Karo syrup
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda

Mix nuts, sugar and syrup in a microwave-safe glass bowl. Cook 7-10 minutes on high (again, adjust to your microwave!). Mixture should be boiling and nuts browned. Quickly stir in butter and vanilla. Cook 2-3 minutes more.

Add baking soda and stir quickly, just until foamy. Pour immediately onto buttered cookie sheet. Let cool. Break into pieces. Enjoy! (Store in airtight container, or as we do in my family, a zip-type baggie.)

Enjoy with Love,
Christina