Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Daring Bakers - Apple Strudel (May 2009)

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

The main part of this challenge was the dough, though they also gave us a yummy apple filling to use. Since the ingredients for the dough are inexpensive, they suggested we make a double batch so that if one didn't turn out like we hoped, we had a spare. I'm glad I did because the first batch I mixed together seemed way too wet (on left in picture below). The second batch seemed to feel more like I was expecting.
As the dough rested I got started on making the filling. I used my trusty apple corer, peeler, slicer from Pampered Chef. The apples were really fresh and firm, so it worked well. As you can also see in the photo below, the raisins were soaking in the rum and the cinnamon sugar was already mixed. I think that the step of mixing the cinnamon and sugar was probably one I could have skipped, but the raisins did need to soak.
The dough was fairly easy to roll and stretch, though it was a messy job! Also, I probably should have ironed the cloth that I used because any bump in the cloth made a wrinkle in the dough. I didn't quite get it to the dimensions suggested, but the dough was paper thin. I could see my hand clearly through it.
Once rolled I added the filling. I did not use all of the bread crumbs, and honestly think that I should have used even less than I did. I'm also not sure I laid the filling out properly. Part of me thinks that the filling should have gone down the long end, not the short end.
The hardest part of the whole process besides not tearing the dough during rolling/stretching was getting the roll onto the pan! After fanagling it a bit I finally did though and got it buttered and ready for the oven.
As most baked goods with cinnamon and apples do, it smelled amazing while baking. It came out looking great!
The strudel tasted wonderful. Again, I probably would have used less bread crumbs as their flavor did show up, which was a bit distracting from the overall taste. The dough was flaky and crumbly when first out of the oven after cooling. The next day it was a bit soggy, but still tasted great.
My co-workers, who are my taste testers most of the time, said that it was really good. One said that she liked it a lot because it wasn't overly sweet. Another person said that it would have been great with whipped cream or ice cream, which I agreed. I'm one that likes my desserts to be on teh sweeter side, so this one was just ok for me. But, hey, how can you go wrong with apples and pastry.

The Recipe: Apple strudel
Preparation Time
Total: 2 hours 15 minutes – 3 hours 30 minutes
15-20 min to make dough
30-90 min to let dough rest/to prepare the filling
20-30 min to roll out and stretch dough
10 min to fill and roll dough
30 min to bake
30 min to cool

2 tablespoons (30 ml) golden rum
3 tablespoons (45 ml) raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 g) sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) fresh bread crumbs
Strudel dough (recipe below)
1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts
2 pounds (900 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (use apples that hold their shape during baking)

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can. Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.
4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

  • Ingredients are cheap so we would recommend making a double batch of the dough, that way you can practice the pulling and stretching of the dough with the first batch and if it doesn't come out like it should you can use the second batch to give it another try;
  • The tablecloth can be cotton or polyester;
  • Before pulling and stretching the dough, remove your jewelry from hands and wrists, and wear short-sleeves;
  • To make it easier to pull the dough, you can use your hip to secure the dough against the edge of the table;
  • Few small holes in the dough is not a problem as the dough will be rolled, making (most of) the holes invisible.
Enjoy With Love,

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Ulitmate Ginger Cookies

As previously mentioned, I'm a cookie gal. Therefore, whenever I see a new cookie recipe I want to try I try to get to it as soon as possible. That was the case with this cookie from Ina Garten's Cookbook Barefoot Contessa At Home.

You see, this cookie as it turns out, would really be great around the holidays. But it's summer! Alas this was a cookie that I had to waiting for sugarplums and dancing fairies.

I had most of the items in my pantry for this cookie, another bonus (won't break the bank!). The mixer got to mixing...

The dough came together fairly easy, though it was stiff. It smelled INCREDIBLE!

I couldn't wait to roll the balls and dunk in sugar to prepare for these cookies for their *exact* time in the oven.

Ready for the oven

The whole house smelled like the holidays! The cookies came out and, as Ina says in her book, "I like these best the day they're baked." I agree. Though they were still very good a few days later, they did toughen up a bit. Ina suggests refrigerating the dough and baking these cookies as you need them. I think that if you have more than a few people in the house though, a full batch would likely be gone in a day (it only makes 16-20 cookies).

I didn't get a glamour shot of the finished product, but they turned out looking just like the ones in Ina's book, so go check it out. These cookies were RAVED about by my non-chocolate fans, devoured by my sweet tooth fans, and honestly...were very quick and easy. I'll be making these again and most certainly adding them to my holiday baking schedule.

The Recipe
Ultimate Ginger Cookies
from Barefoot Contessa At Home
Makes 16-20 Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup unsulfered molasses
1 extra-large egg, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups chopped crystallized ginger (6 oz) (OOPS! I only had 4 oz....worked great anyway!)
Granulated sugar, for rolling the cookies

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper (I used my silpats).

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and salt and then combine the mixture with your hands. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the brown sugar, oil, and molasses on medium speed for 5 minutes. Turn the mixer to low speed, add the egg, and beat for 1 minute. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula and beat for 1 more minute. With the mixture still on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add the crystallized ginger and mix until combined.

Scoop the dough with 2 spooks or a small ice cream scoop. With your hands, roll each cookies into a 1 3/4 inch ball and then flatten them lightly with your fingers. Press both sides of each cookie in granulated sugar and place themon the sheet pans. Bake for exactly 13 minutes. The cookies will be crackled on the top and soft inside. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for a minute or two, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Enjoy with Love,

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Daring Cooks - Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi (May 2009)

This month is the very first installment of the new group called “Daring Cooks.” The founders of The Daring Kitchen, Lisa of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice, decided to add to the already established “Daring Bakers” with this group. I’m proud to say that I’m a charter member!

For our first challenge as Daring Cooks the ladies chose Ricotta Gnocchi. I’ve only had potato gnocchi once, and certainly never had ricotta gnocchi. I was a bit apprehensive about this challenge because I also did not have the best luck making the spinach pasta for the March Daring Bakers challenge. Not one to back away from a challenge though, I gathered the ingredients and set off to make gnocchi!

I let my fresh ricotta (purchased at Whole Foods Market) drain for two days in the refrigerator. It did not yield that much whey, but it also seemed to be dry enough according to the directions.

I added the other ingredients (I used nutmeg to flavor the gnocchi) and worried that my dough was too moist, but I persevered.
Gnocchi Dough
I did the test gnocchi and it turned out as described and did not fall apart so I continued to roll the rest of the gnocchi.
Rolling Gnocchi
I immediately cooked a few, so that could try them, but decided to freeze the majority of them so that I had more time and so that I could test that method as well.
Cooking Gnocchi
The few that I cooked immediately turned out pretty good. I boiled them as directed and then lightly sautéed them in the butter. The actual flavor of the gnocchi was rather bland in my opinion. I decided to hold off full judgment until I had tried the others. A few days later I cooked the frozen gnocchi. I did not thaw them as others in the Daring Cooks forum said that it was a fairly unnecessary step. This time I simply boiled the gnocchi and then topped them with a jarred pasta sauce. I must say, they turned out exactly like the fresh gnocchi. My thoughts were that the gnocchi simply took on the flavor of whatever sauce you put with it. I was not thrilled with the texture. For me it was a bit mushy. I do not know if that was due to an error or if that was how it was supposed to be.
The Finished Gnocchi
I know this is not a glowing review for this recipe, but I would encourage you to try it and see what you think.

The Recipe: Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi
Source: From The Zuni Café Cookbook.
Yield: Makes 40 to 48 gnocchi (serves 4 to 6)
Prep time: Step 1 will take 24 hours. Steps 2 through 4 will take approximately 1 hour.

1. If you can find it, use fresh ricotta. As Judy Rodgers advises in her recipe, there is no substitute for fresh ricotta. It may be a bit more expensive, but it's worth it.
2. Do not skip the draining step. Even if the fresh ricotta doesn't look very wet, it is. Draining the ricotta will help your gnocchi tremendously.
3. When shaping your gnocchi, resist the urge to over handle them. It's okay if they look a bit wrinkled or if they're not perfectly smooth.
4. If you're not freezing the gnocchi for later, cook them as soon as you can. If you let them sit around too long they may become a bit sticky.
5. For the variations to the challenge recipe, please see the end of the recipe.

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

For the gnocchi:
1 pound (454 grams/16 ounces) fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon (½ ounce) unsalted butter
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves, or a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg, or a few pinches of chopped lemon zest (all optional)
½ ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about ¼ cup very lightly packed)
About ¼ teaspoon salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
All-purpose flour for forming the gnocchi

For the gnocchi sauce:
8 tablespoons (227 grams/1/4 pound/4 ounces) butter, sliced
2 teaspoons water

Step 1 (the day before you make the gnocchi): Preparing the ricotta.
If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. In her cookbook, Judy Rodgers recommends checking the ricotta’s wetness. To test the ricotta, take a teaspoon or so and place it on a paper towel. If you notice a very large ring of dampness forming around the ricotta after a minute or so, then the ricotta is too wet. To remove some of the moisture, line a sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels and place the ricotta in the sieve. Cover it and let it drain for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can wrap the ricotta carefully in cheesecloth (2 layers) and suspend it in your refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours with a bowl underneath to catch the water that’s released. Either way, it’s recommended that you do this step the day before you plan on making the gnocchi.

Step 2 (the day you plan on eating the gnocchi): Making the gnocchi dough.
To make great gnocchi, the ricotta has to be fairly smooth. Place the drained ricotta in a large bowl and mash it as best as you can with a rubber spatula or a large spoon (it’s best to use a utensil with some flexibility here). As you mash the ricotta, if you noticed that you can still see curds, then press the ricotta through a strainer to smooth it out as much as possible.

Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta.

Melt the tablespoon of butter. As it melts, add in the sage if you’re using it. If not, just melt the butter and add it to the ricotta mixture.

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

Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the salt.

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

Step 3: Forming the gnocchi.
Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. When it boils, salt the water generously and keep it at a simmer. You will use this water to test the first gnocchi that you make to ensure that it holds together and that your gnocchi batter isn’t too damp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Form the rest of your gnocchi. You can put 4 to 6 gnocchi in the bed of flour at a time. But don’t overcrowd your bed of flour or you may damage your gnocchi as you coat them. Have a sheet pan ready to rest the formed gnocchi on. Line the sheet pan with wax or parchment paper and dust it with flour. You can cook the gnocchi right away, however, Judy Rodgers recommends storing them in the refrigerator for an hour prior to cooking to allow them to firm up.

Step 4: Cooking the gnocchi.
Have a large skillet ready to go. Place the butter and water for the sauce in the skillet and set aside.

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

Drop the gnocchi into the water one by one. Once they float to the top, cook them for 3 to 5 minutes (as in the case with the test gnocchi). When the gnocchi float to the top, you can start your sauce while you wait for them to finish cooking.

Place the skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. Swirl it gently a few times as it melts. As soon as it melts and is incorporated with the water, turn off the heat. Your gnocchi should be cooked by now. With a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water and gently drop into the butter sauce. Carefully roll in the sauce until coated. Serve immediately.

Variations: For the gnocchi, you can flavor them however you wish. If you want to experiment by adding something to your gnocchi (i.e., caramelized onion, sundried tomato), feel free to do so. However, be forewarned, ricotta gnocchi are delicate and may not take well to elaborate additions. For the sauce, this is your chance to go nuts. Enjoy yourselves. Surprise us!!!

Freezing the gnocchi: If you don’t want to cook your gnocchi right away or if you don’t want to cook all of them, you can make them and freeze them. Once they are formed and resting on the flour-dusted, lined tray, place them uncovered in the freezer. Leave them for several hours to freeze. Once frozen, place them in a plastic bag. Remove the air and seal the bag. Return to the freezer. To cook frozen gnocchi, remove them from the bag and place individually on a plate or on a tray. Place in the refrigerator to thaw completely. Cook as directed for fresh gnocchi.

With Love,