Sweet Berry Fougasse

SweetBerryFougasse_FinishedThe Sweet Berry Fougasse marks my first Tuesdays With Dorie post in almost six months.  While I continue to bake many of the recipes, in March I started a new job in San Francisco.  Eleven hours away from home each day, much of that spent in front of computer monitor sapped my motivation to put together posts.  Going forward, my hope is to return to a more regular schedule of baking and writing.  However, this will be my first experiment with somewhat more abbreviated (for me anyway) posts.

Sweet Berry Fougasse is a recipe from Craig Kominiak, former Navy cook and owner of Ecce Panis in New York.  Craig’s White Loaves were the kickoff recipe from Baking With Julia for the TWD group.  The group also tackled his Whole Wheat Loaves, and Foccacia, although I did not bake the latter.  The Fougasse uses focaccia dough as a base for a morning pastry of sorts, topped with fruit and a streusel mixture prior to baking.

The dough is a fairly standard high-moisture dough, with olive oil for added elasticity and a long refrigerated fermentation to develop a bubbly dough.  I veered slightly from the recipe, adding 4 1/2 Tbs. of sugar to a half recipe of dough.  For the fruit I went with a mixture of fresh raspberries and blueberries.

SweetBerryFougasse_TriptychAfter stretching out the dough (no rolling so as to preserve bubbles in the dough), I cut it into 6 pieces, toppings each with the fruit and then the sugar/flour/butter/spice mixture.  A little over 20 minutes in a hot and steamy oven, and they were done, save a brief period to cool off.

SweetBerryFougasse_MacroI prefer my pastries somewhat sweeter, both in the crust/crumb portion, as well as any fruit topping.  Raspberries in particular bake up quite tart.  I expected the streusel to counter the tart berries; it did not.  Perhaps tossing fruit with sugar would help, though I don’t see myself baking this recipe again.  I would definitely make the focaccia dough again for a savory application; the dough came together nicely and develops good texture with little work.

Posted in BakingWithJulia, Breakfast, TuesdaysWithDorie | 6 Comments

Boca Negra

BocaNegra_macroBoca Negra, which translates to “black mouth” in Spanish, is what’s in store for whoever takes more than a bite of this rich, decadent chocolate dessert.  The recipe comes courtesy of Lora Brody, whose other contributions to Baking With Julia include several varieties of bread.  For Tuesdays With Dorie, our baker/hostess this week is Cathy of A Frederick Food Garden.  The full recipe and method can be found on her blog post.  The collected efforts of the TWD group are collected here.

Boca Negra consists of a very moist, fudgy, and nearly flour-less cake paired with a white chocolate sauce.  Both include a lot of chocolate… 12 ounces each, and both are spiked with bourbon.  Otherwise, the ingredient list proves rather spare, so it makes sense to use the best chocolate you can find, and ideally a good bourbon in the sauce; the cake’s bourbon is boiled and then baked, so it’s wise not to use your best stuff there.

BocaNegra_sauceIngredientsI started by making the White Chocolate sauce on Sunday evening; apparently it improves with a day or more of fridge time.  Generally speaking my preferred Chocolate is Callebaut from Belgium.  However there’s something about their White Chocolate that I don’t like… a caramel-like, cooked milk taste.  It’s also more than a bit too sweet.  Valrhona ditches the cooked milk flavors, though is still rather sweet.  My favorite is E. Guittard White Chocolate, which comes in a fancy 1 lb. box.  The E. Guittard is harder to find, so I used the Valrhona Ivoire I picked up at Surfas over Christmas.  For the booze, I poured from a prized bottle of Jefferson’s Reserve.

BocaNegra_cakeDiptychOn Tuesday I tackled the actual cake.  For the sugar-bourbon syrup I went down-market with some donated Jim Beam.  I had a bit of trouble melting all the chocolate and butter and ended up finishing the job over a bain marie.  Otherwise the batter came together rather quickly.

BocaNegra_bakingLacking a roasting pan, I placed my filled cake pan in 12″ cast iron skillet.  Heeding the advice of a fellow baker, I baked my Boca Negra longer than 30 minutes.  I never did get a dry top, though it was definitely not wet when it exited the oven after about 40 minutes.  With a parchment above and below, the cake unmolded easily, though a short section of edge stayed in the pan.

BocaNegra_bakedAs it was a good three hours between baking the cake and eating, I warmed slices up before dolloping chilled White Chocolate Cream.  Given the bourbon in both cake and sauce, I figured it would be only fair to pair the Boca Negra with a bit of bourbon on the side.

BocaNegra_plated

Posted in BakingWithJulia, Dessert, TuesdaysWithDorie | 10 Comments

French Apple Tart

FrenchAppleTart_bakedMacroFrench Apple Tart is the second recipe of 2013 for the Tuesdays With Dorie crowd.  This tart is one of three from Seattle baker Leslie Mackie built on her recipe for Flaky Pie Crust the group first tackled last summer when baking the very excellent Blueberry and Nectarine Pie.  Hosting French Apple Tart this week is Cakelaw of Laws of The Kitchen.  Readers interested in the full recipe will find it at her blog.  The collected efforts of TWD participants are found here.

As alluded to, the French Apple Tart is made with Leslie Mackie’s Flaky Pie Dough.  While I still feel an all-butter dough yields a more flavorful pie crust, it is hard to argue with the relatively foolproof and superior flakiness of Leslie’s dough.  Though in a nod to butter’s better flavor, I increased the ratio of butter when making my pie crust this time around.  As with the Blueberry Nectarine Pie, I added a small amount of sugar to the dough as well.

FrenchAppleTart_applesHaving made the pie dough the previous evening, I took to the task of preparing the mountain of apples required.  Knowing I would have enough dough for several tarts, I visited the Berkeley Bowl, skipping over Granny Smith in favor of two other varieties.  My all-time favorite baking apple is the Stayman Winesap, which I first discovered about ten years ago in Southern California’s Apple Country.  Alas, I’ve never found Winesaps at a grocer, and not even the famed produce section of the Berkeley Bowl could deliver.  Instead I settled on Honey Crisp, a rather recent darling of the apple eating public, and Golden Delicious, the preferred apple for that other french apple tart, Tarte Tatin.

I made the first tart with Honey Crisp apples.  In so doing, I ran headlong into the fact that different varieties of apples cook in different times, and to different levels of tenderness.  Golden Delicious, for instance, will turn to sauce quite quickly.  Often apple pies call for a variety which will hold their shape during long cooking.  It turns out Honey Crisp were quite stubborn indeed.  Once sliced and spread on a sheet pan, I must have baked my apples for close to an hour.  Over that time much of the sauce that developed browned and thickened such that most of it remained in the pan.  While Honey Crisp developed excellent flavor, next time I use this variety I’ll be sure to give the apples a head start in the microwave.

FrenchAppleTart_triptychOne mashed and cooled, and with a blind baked tart shell at the ready, came the task of filling the tart, then layering the top with concentric rings of thinly sliced apples.  Having already used five large apples for the filling, the top required an additional three — quite a lot for an 11″ tart that ended up  barely an inch tall.  As with the compote, my decorative apples took forever to soften and brown in the oven.  Over the course of an hour, tented with foil and without, basted with melted butter, the apples finally submitted to the inevitable.  As I would discover though, such an extended baking time took its toll on the tart shell.

FrenchAppleTart_bakedThe finished French Apple Tart is indeed a looker.  And the long cooking time does indeed result in a very concentrated apple taste.  The crust however did not perform as well for me as it did for the Blueberry Nectarine Pie.  The combination of an extended cooking time and a thin metal tart pan resulted in a very flaky, very crispy shell.  While not a fan of soggy bottoms, I do like my pie or tart crust to maintain some degree of tenderness.  When I make the second tart, I’ll plan on blind-baking the tart shell a bit less, and par cooking the sliced apples.

FrenchAppleTart_slicedServed slightly warm with a bit of vanilla ice cream, French Apple Tart makes for an excellent end to dinner, a midday snack, or even breakfast.  On this occasion I went with all three!

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Pizza with Onion Confit

PizzaWithOnionConfit_macro For the first recipe of 2013, the bakers of Tuesdays With Dorie are tackling Pizza with Onion Confit courtesy of Steve Sullivan, founder of the Acme Bread Company of Berkeley, California.  Like many in the Bay Area culinary scene, Steve can trace his roots to a small restaurant occupying a converted Arts and Crafts home on Shattuck Ave.  While working at Chez Panisse as a busboy in the late 70s, Steve became the first in-house bread baker; his stint coincided with the opening of the Cafe at Chez Panisse,  which features a wood burning oven and pizzas unlike what had been seen in this country before.  This Pizza and its accompanying Onion Confit reflect that style of pizza, often absent a red sauce, and featuring ingredients and flavors associated more with the Mediterranean and the South of France than Italy proper.

I’ve owned Baking With Julia for close to fifteen years.  Prior to joining Tuesdays With Dorie, I had baked no more than a handful of the recipes.  But one recipe that I make regularly is Steve Sullivan’s recipe for pizza dough.  While I haven’t literally made a ton of this dough, I expect at some point to reach that milestone.  Through all those pizzas, I had yet to make the one simple pie described in this recipe.  This week would finally be that time.

At this point, I would normally direct recipe hounds to the blog of a fellow baker wherein the recipe might be found.  This week, I’m hosting, so the recipe is found at the end of this post.  The efforts of other TWD bakers can be found here.

Most times that I make this pizza dough, I use Caputo ‘OO’ flour, a finely milled flour (‘OO refers to the grind) imported from Italy.  For the last several years, I’ve also substituted as much as a cup of Extra Fancy Durum flour, which adds a yellowish tint to the dough and seems to lend a bit of extra chew to the finished crust.  This week I changed things up yet again to experiment with a higher gluten flour and longer fermentation times, in an attempt as Peter Rheinhart writes in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, “to coax flavor from the grain.”

PizzaWithOnionConfit_yeastDiptych This recipe starts like most bread doughs with hydrating and proofing yeast in tepid water.  After five minutes or so, a bit of bubbling and the smell of fermentation confirms your yeast is active.  A few tablespoons of olive oil lend elasticity to the dough, especially important when using a higher protein flour.

At this point, about half the flour is added to build a sponge, or pre-ferment, the purpose of which is to build flavor in the final dough.  As the flour sits with water, a number of complex chemical reactions take place, the most visible of which is the yeast converting sugars to alcohol and carbon dioxide gas.  Slower reactions involve enzymes which convert some of the starches to sugars and other flavor compounds.  The recipe calls for the sponge to rise an hour and a half at warm room temperature.  My sponge had an additional overnight cold ferment in the refrigerator.  Colder temperatures reduce the yeast’s activity, while giving enzymes the time to catch up.

PizzaWithOnionConfit_spongeTriptychLeft to Right: Immediately after mixing; following 90 minutes room temperature fermentation; overnight cold ferment

PizzaWithOnionConfit_kneadedDough In the morning, I combined the sponge with additional flour and salt in the mixer and kneaded it into a finished dough.  With the high-gluten flour, I noticed I had a much stiffer dough than I’m used to, even with only the minimum 2 cups of added flour.  I wanted to give the dough a few turns by hand, but it was so much stiffer that I had to rely on the stand mixer for all of the kneading.  I then shoved the dough in the refrigerator for about four hours, allowing it a final two hour rise at room temperature prior to shaping and baking.

PizzaWithOnionConfit_onionsTriptychWith the dough finished it was on to the confit.  My default onion is white, and after slicing two and a half pounds of yellow onions for the confit, I’m convinced they bring forth more tears.  Shallots do likewise, though their improved flavor makes them worth the tears.  As I was cooking in my parent’s kitchen, I did not have a large, wide, heavy bottomed pot in which to slowly cook the onions.  I’m sure this had something to do with the onions taking much longer than stated.  It was probably 20 minutes before I added the wine, which itself took almost 90 minutes to reduce.

PizzaWithOnionConfit_finishedConfit After two hours, I ended up with about three cups of onion confit, stained pink from the Pinot Noir.  Prior to adding the wine, vinegar, and thyme sprigs, my onions hadn’t really begun to carmelize.  With a wider skillet, I’m sure the result would improve, however I’ve had the best luck carmelizing onions in an enameled Dutch oven, starting on the stove and slowly finishing in the oven over the course of about two hours.  The confit would definitely benefit from this treatment.

PizzaWithOnionConfit_pizzaStoneWith the primary ingredients ready, it was now time to assembly the remaining ingredients and finish the pizza.   More important than type of flour or choice of toppings, the first order of business was to preheat the oven and baking stone.  Having baked pizza in electric and gas ovens, on baking stones thin and thick, I’ve come to the conclusion that the thickest stone in the hottest oven possible is the key to a great pizza.  After pre-heating the oven to 500o F with the stone in place, I give the stone an addtional 20-30 minutes of oven time at full temperature.  The initial searing of moist dough on a hot stone really sets the crust, as well as causing trapped gases in the dough to expand, helping to produce a thin and crispy bottom crust.

For toppings, I kept with the Provencal theme, adding clumps of soft chevre, quartered oil-and-salt-cured black olives, and a sprinkling of Herbs de Provence.  Above and below the confit I added some Fontina Val d’Osta, without which the other toppings might not have stayed put.

PizzaWithOnionConfit_onStone Working without a peel, it took a bit of effort to get the pizza onto the stone.  I’ve had more than one pizza fail to transfer over the years.  On one occasion, I managed a version of the classic parlor trick in which the table cloth is removed, leaving the place settings intact.  Only in my case the dough stayed on the peel, while all the topping ended up on a hot stone.

After observing a Costa Mesa pizzeria, I made it part of my normal practice to build a pizza with only sauce and a bit of hard grating cheese on the peel, transferring that onto the stone for a short bake of two to three minutes.  Removing the par-baked crust onto the peel, I then proceed with the remaining toppings before returning the pizza to the oven to finish baking.  When working with a thin crust or a slack dough (often the case when using Caputo or a similarly non-bread strength flour), this two part process helps immensely.

I’ve also used parchment paper to top and transfer the pizza.  At the high temperatures necessary for a crisp crust, parchment paper will burn around the edges, though not ignite.  This can be avoided by pulling the parchment after 2 or 3 minutes in the oven.

PizzaWithOnionConfit_macroThe finished pizza was decent, though not up to par with the best I’ve made.  Had I ended up with a wetter dough as per my normal routine, that crust would have been better.  The onion confit also could have been better… a wider pan, more carmelization on the onions.  However before I make the confit again, I’ll make many more pizzas with my preferred onion technique:  thinly sliced white onions, salted and allowed to sit for about 15 minutes before squeezing excess moisture with a towel.

Pizza with Onion Confit

Makes 2 large pizzas.  Here’s a dough that has enough texture and flavor to hold its own under any topping you choose, whether it’s the classic tomato and cheese or this Provencal-inspired onion confit.  Opt for the confit and you might want to make it as soon as you set the sponge aside to rise, since it needs to cook for about an hour and then cool.  Of course, you can prepare it a couple of days ahead and store it in the refrigerator until needed.

If you’re planning to make the Mixed-Starter Bread (page 113), save a piece of this fully risen dough to serve as the “old dough” in the first of the starters.

THE SPONGE

1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups tepid water (about 80o F)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Place the yeast in a medium bowl (you can use the bowl from your mixer) and add the water, stirring to dissolve the yeast.  Allow the yeast to rest for about 5 minutes, until it turns creamy.  Stir the oil into the mixture and then gradually stir in the flour, mixing until well incorporated.

First Rise.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover, and let the sponge rest in a warm place (about 85o F) for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the sponge is very bubbly and has risen to about double its volume.

While the sponge is rising, make the onion confit.

THE CONFIT

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 medium onions (about 2 1/2 pounds total), peeled, halved, and sliced 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon sugar
Fresh thyme sprigs or leaves to taste
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups red wine
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Creme de cassis to taste (optional)

Melt the butter in a large heavy skillet and stir in the onions.  Season with salt and pepper, stir, cover the pan, and cook the onions over low heat until they are soft, about 5 minutes.  Sprinkle the sugar over the onions, stir, cover, and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the thyme, 1 1/4 cups red wine, the vinegar, and a tablespoon or two of the creme de cassis, if you want to use it.  Stir well and cook the mixture over the lowest possible heat, stirring from time to time, for about 1 hour, until just about all the liquid has evaporated.  If the liquid has cooked off in half an hour or less, add a bit more wine.  Turn the onions out onto a flat plate and let them cool to room temperature.

The onions can be made up to 2 days ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator.  They should be brought to room temperature before they’re spread on the pizza.

THE DOUGH

The sponge(above)
2 to 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 to 3 teaspoons salt (depending on your taste)

If you didn’t make the sponge in your mixer bowl, transfer it to that bowl now.  Use a rubber spatula to deflate the sponge, which will be sticky and loose, and fit the mixer with the dough hook.  Add 2 cups of flour and the salt to the sponge and mix on low speed for 2 to 3 minutes.  Increase the mixer speed to medium and, if the dough isn’t coming together nicely and cleaning the sides of the bowl, sprinkle in a little more flour by spoonfuls.  Continue to knead on medium speed for another 4 to 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Although the dough may remain moist and a little sticky, you should be able to grip it without having it stick uncomfortably to your fingers.

Second Rise Place the dough in a lightly oiled large bowl, turn the ball of dough over so that its entire surface is moistened with oil, cover, and allow to rest in a warm place (about 85o F) for 1 1/2 hours, or until it has doubled in bulk and holds an impression for a few seconds when you prod it gently with your finger.

TO FINISH THE PIZZA

The onion confit (above) with olives, goat cheese, and/or Parmesan cheese(optional) — or any other topping you desire

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven, fit the rack with a baking stone or quarry tiles, leaving a border of at least 1 inch free all around and preheat the oven to 475o F.  Rub a baker’s peel with cornmeal and set aside until needed.

Shaping the Dough  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface (snip off a small piece of dough to save for the Mixed-Starter Bread if you want) and divide it into two pieces.  You’ll probably have to bake the pizzas one at a time, so keep one piece covered while you work with the other.  If you do not want to make two pizzas at this time, wrap one piece of dough tightly in plastic and store it in the refrigerator, where it will keep for a day or two, or wrap it airtight and freeze for up to a month.  Thaw frozen dough, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.  Bring the chilled dough to cool room temperature before shaping.  Shape the dough into a ball and then flatten it into a disk.  To form the pizza, you can either turn and stretch the dough, stopping to allow the dough to rest for a few minutes if it springs back readily, or roll it out with a rolling pin.  Either way, work the dough until it is about 1/4 inch thick (you can make it a little thinner if you prefer) and transfer it to the peel.

Topping and Baking  Top with half the cooled onion confit and any or all of the optional ingredients, or the topping of your choice, leaving a 1-inch border around the rim of the pizza, and slide the pizza into the oven.  Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, or until the topping is bubbling and the uncovered rim is puffed and beautifully golden.  Repeat with the remaining dough and topping.

Storing  Pizza is at its prime piping hot from the oven — don’t even think about reheating it.

Contributing Baker  STEVE SULLIVAN

My notes:

For a more manageable thin crust pizzas, I increase the dough by 50%, dividing the result into four portions.

Extra fancy durum flour (finely milled Semolina) makes an excellent substitution for some of the flour in the dough.

Contrary to Steve’s admonition, not only do I think about reheating this pizza, I actually follow through.  It’s best reheated on a hot stone, and failing that in a good toaster oven, wrapped in foil for the majority of the time.  A microwave is not an acceptable substitute.

Posted in BakingWithJulia, Bread, TuesdaysWithDorie | 48 Comments

Finnish Pulla

FinnishPulla_bakedWreathFinnish Pulla is the second recipe for TWD in December.  As with Gingerbread Baby Cakes before it, Pulla is often associated with the winter holiday season.  Beatrice Ojakangas’ recipe further emphasizes a seasonal connection by suggesting the pulla be formed into a rounded wreath.  Thanks go to fellow baker Erin of The Daily Morsel for hosting this recipe.  As always, the full recipe can be found at her blog.  Links for each participating baker’s efforts can be found here.

Not your usual, flour, yeast, water, salt bread, Pulla is a slightly sweet bread similar to challah and brioche.  All three are enriched with butter and egg.  As with challah, a pulla is often shaped into a braid.  Unlike challah and brioche, pulla includes an additional flavoring in the form of ground cardamom.  Previously I’ve encountered cardamom mostly via Indian cuisine, including spiced chai and kheer, an Indian rice pudding.  After tasting pulla, I’d be inclined to add cardamom in a few other desserts, including the dough for cinnamon rolls, and possibly in the pumpkin bread we baked for TWD a few months ago.

FinnishPulla_doughTriptychAlthough containing many of the same ingredients as brioche, making the dough varies somewhat; apart from the shaping, I found making pulla easier.  After proofing the yeast, a few eggs, milk, and about half the flour are first mixed to a smooth batter.  Melted butter is added and mixed until again a smooth consistency is reached.  Enough flour is then added to yield a stiff though not too dry dough.  After a short rest, the dough is can be kneaded by hand for about ten minutes.  Since I started the dough in a stand mixer, I left most of the kneading to the machine as well, finishing with a few of minutes of hand kneading.

FinnishPulla_braidedCreating a braid long enough to bend into a wreath requires three very long (36″/3 ft/ 1 meter) strands of dough.  Initially, I did my kneading and shaping on a marble board, which was not nearly long enough.  After rolling the strands, I realized I would be in for trouble if I to braid on a short surface.  So I switched to the countertop and did the braiding there.  Moving the finished braid onto the cookie sheet was a bit more challenging.  An experienced Pulla baker must have a trick or two for ending up with perfectly round wreaths.

FinnishPulla_risingDoughTriptychAfter transferring the formed loaf, the wreath of dough is allowed to rise under a towel for close to an hour.  What began as a somewhat diminutive ring puffed up quite nicely.  While it kept its overall diameter, the rising dough grew up and out to form a decent width.  To encourage a shiny and golden crust, the dough receives an egg wash, and a sprinkling of Swedish pearl sugar.  One could also sprinkle a handful of sliced almonds over the top.

Once in the oven, the pulla continued rising even as it browns.  As individual strands swell, newly exposed dough does not brown quite as much, resulting in an almost checkerboard of golden brown mixed with light yellow.  All the while, the scent of butter, yeast, and cardamom — a particularly warm and inviting smell — fills the kitchen.  Once removed from the oven, the pulla must be cooled to room temperature before carving off a slice.  The particularly wonderful smells of baking made this wait even harder than usual.

FinnishPulla_sliced

Posted in BakingWithJulia, Bread, TuesdaysWithDorie | 14 Comments

Gingerbread Baby Cakes

GingerbreadBabyCakes_MacroMention Gingerbread Men and like many my thoughts will turn to the Christmas season.  Baked into a round or square cake pan, the association with winter holidays fades for me.  Nonetheless, December finds the TWDers baking Gingerbread Baby Cakes.  These are definitely not your mother’s gingerbread (my mom’s came from a box courtesy of Betty Crocker).  In Johanne Killeen’s version, gingerbread takes the form of individual butter cakes featuring fresh and ground ginger, plenty of molasses, as well as a few ingredients you might not expect.  Our host for this week is Karen of Karen’s Kitchen Stories.  Should you want to bake along, you will find the recipe on her blog or in the pages of Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.  Other TWD bakers’ efforts are linked here.

Johanne Killeen, sometimes accompanied by her husband George Germon, were frequent guests of Julia Child in her later PBS series, including Baking With Julia and In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs.  Both are trained artists; George taught at the Rhode Island School of Design, a not-too-shabby art school in the smallest of these United States.  Johanne’s background as a photographer is reflected by the balance of flavors, colors, and textures in her desserts.

GingerbreadBabyCakes_DryIngredients

GingerbreadBabyCakes_CreamedButter

GingerbreadBabyCakes_AfterMolasses

As most butter cakes generally do, Gingerbread Baby Cakes start with assembling the dry ingredients, then proceed to creaming together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  At this point whole eggs are incorporated one-at-a-time into the butter-sugar mixture.  The butter mixture tends to break a bit.  I found it did so even further when adding the molasses.  Thankfully, the batter becomes uniform once more as the dry ingredients are incorporated.  As per the instructions, I folded the dry ingredients by hand; next time I would be tempted to use the stand mixer on it’s lowest setting to accomplish this task.

GingerbreadBabyCakes_FivePansAs written the recipe is portioned to yield eight 4″ diameter individual cakes.  I “only” have four such pans in my arsenal, so after filling the 4″ pans, I poured the remaining batter into a 7″ round.  For the baby cake pans, I brushed the sides and bottom with melted butter as directed.  For a bit of insurance, I lined the bottom of the 7″ pan with buttered parchment as well.

Possibly owing to the sheet pan, my baking times was a little longer than written — around 30 minutes for the 4″ cakes, and somewhat longer for the 7″ cake.  While baking may seem like more of an exact science than general cookery, the truth is that times and temperatures are guidelines at best.  I judged doneness by look, touch, and a well-placed toothpick.

After a short stint cooling in their pans, I removed inverted the cakes, flipping them right side up to rest on parchment lined racks.  Each of the baby cakes save one, left a bit of cake in the pan.  With the buttered parchment lining, the 7″ cake released perfectly.  On that basis I’ll be sure to line every cake with parchment next time.

The resulting cakes are definitely full of flavor.  One baby cake went to my local library.  A librarian correctly identified both the coffee and cocoa.  Being well-stocked with cookbooks, she pulled Baking With Julia from the shelf to consult the recipe.  For my tastes, these cakes were a little too strong with molasses flavor.  I attribute that to my use of Brer Rabbit “Full Flavor” molasses.  Milder molasses would have been more palatable, alas “Full Flavor” was all my local store carried.  A generous dollop of sweetened whipped cream is almost mandatory.

GingerbreadBabyCakes_platedThe next time I make these cakes, I’ll substitute honey, cane syrup, or another liquid sweetener for some of the molasses.  Likewise, I’ll cut back the espresso powder, and perhaps bump the ground ginger up a tad.  An encore may be as soon as this month.  Last year the brothers and their wives received homemade fudge and cream caramel.  This year, a few ginger bread cakes may find their way under the tree.

Posted in BakingWithJulia, Cake, Dessert, TuesdaysWithDorie | 14 Comments

Best Ever Brownies

This week’s Baking With Julia takes on Rick Katz’ Best Ever Brownies.  I think I’m not alone in the TWD crowd in feeling these are not the Best Ever Brownies, or to borrow the current phrasing of such things…. Best… Brownies… Ever!!!  To be honest I am somewhat skeptical when a recipe or dish claims the title Best Ever or  World’s Greatest.  Granted “pretty good brownies” doesn’t have quite the same ring.  Nonetheless, this recipe still yields a pretty good fudgey-chewy brownie.  It’s not the best I’ve ever made or tasted.  Given the number of individuals baking for Tuesday’s With Dorie, I would expect more than a few bakers to count these brownies as tops.  You can view all the other participants efforts here.  Thanks to Monica of A Beautiful Mess for hosting our Brownie Adventure this week.  As always, you can find the full recipe at her blog post, or in the pages of Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

Rick Katz recipe stays true to every other brownie recipes I’ve tried, at least where ingredients are concerned…  butter, chocolate, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and flour.  He deviates when it comes to the technique for combining eggs into the batter.  Every other brownie recipe I’ve seen blends eggs directly into a mixture of melted chocolate, butter, and sugar.  For this recipe, half of the eggs are added directly, while the other half are first whipped to a ribbon stage and gently folded in.  This produce a lighter batter which rises somewhat more during baking.

The chocolate flavor in these brownies is decent, though not as intense a few other recipes I’ve tried.  That flavor comes courtesy of 6 oz of unsweetened and bittersweet chocolate.  I substituted 6 oz of Valrhona 85% cacao dark chocolate bars available at Trader Joe’s.  Some recipes I’ve tried use more chocolate, or add additional sources of chocolate such as cocoa powder or chocolate chunks or chips.  Reportedly these brownies bake up fairly loose, so I refrained from adding additional chocolate.  Adding more might have kept them from setting up properly.

That may have been a good instinct.  The recipe specifies a 9″ square pan baked at 350 degrees for 23-30 minutes.  At the end of that range I had the dry top and the brownies appeared set.  I removed them from the oven to cool.  However,  25 minutes later I cut a test piece.  The edges of the brownie extended about 2″ in were well cooked, while in the interior only the top quarter-inch or so was baked.  The rest flowed like molten lava where a piece had been removed.  Though tasty, these were not brownies one could eat out of hand.  I returned them for a second baking in my small electric oven for an additional 25 minutes.  At this point the brownies were finished.  Set all around, and still fudgy.

As I said at the top, these were good brownies, however I would not deem them Best Ever.  My current favorite recipe is “Better than Box Brownies” from America’s Test Kitchen, and I will stick with that in the future.  Tastes in brownies are vary with the individual though, and I would encourage other bakers to give this recipe a try.  For those intrepid souls, I might recommend a slightly bigger pan, or reducing the recipe by 25 percent if baking in a 9″ square pan.

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