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As you read this, you will undoubtedly note it was posted several days late.  I actually completed the cake a few weeks ago, but the preparations for and cleanup after the holiday kept me from the computer for the better part of 5 days straight.  So, I hope you’ll grant me a little leeway this month (and probably next month too!)  I am one of those people who hates to be late to anything, so in order to address this issue, I can assure you I have properly punished myself with a steel whisk.

I have to say that there weren’t many challenges that could have been presented this month that would make me set aside the time from holiday (Thanksgiving) preparations in order to make them.  Which is why when I found out what this month’s challenge was, I was torn – do I spend time getting the house in order after our remodel, or do I bake?  Of course, baking won out, how couldn’t it?  Caramel Cake with Caramel Icing and Vanilla Bean Caramels?  Are you serious? The only thing that may have gotten my attention more than this would have been some sort of triple chocolate cake with triple chocolate icing and triple chocolate pots de crème shooters on the side.

So, I set about to make this cake for a November family birthday party.  Not having spent much time making caramel, I was a bit concerned about my ability to gently coax a lovely golden amber caramel out of my pot of sugar water.  Past experiments with this mixture have not always gone very well, but as a Daring Baker, I was determined to complete this challenge.

It wasn’t as time consuming as some previous challenges have been, but it did present a few persnickety steps, particularly, the caramelization process, that did involve some time and intense focus on the stove top.  Everything went well, though, and other than ending up with a pan that needed a little extra scrubbing, all of my caramel turned out just fine.  I wanted a slightly larger cake, so I doubled the cake recipe and used (2) 9″ round cake pans – the final size was just right for the birthday cake.  I did run into one issue in that I could not find any Golden Syrup available locally (I’ve seen it before, I just couldn’t find it when I needed it) so I ended up making a golden syrup copycat recipe I found online.

I shared this cake with about 10 other people and had mixed reviews.  The frosting was the issue.  I found it almost too sweet (if there is such a thing) and for my taste, the browned butter was out of place (as it was for several other tasters too).  I’ll stick with browned butter and mizithra cheese served over hot pasta. The caramels, however were a big hit and disappeared quickly.  Will I make this again?  The cake, absolutely yes, the frosting, perhaps a second go without the browned butter would be more to my liking as well as a thinner layer – this stuff is wicked potent!  The cake itself is one of the best I’ve ever tasted, and perhaps, if I’d toned it down a bit on the frosting, it would have been perfect.  As you can see by my choice of caramels for the opening photo, that I was impressed by them.  I only wished I’d topped them with some flake salt. The caramels are a definite make again recipe.

A big thanks again to Dolores at Culinary Curiosity, Alex of the Blondie and Brownie, and Jenny of Foray into Food for the great challenge and for hosting this month.  Natalie at Gluten A-Go-Go provided information for the Alternative Daring Bakers. This month’s Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting is courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon (Eggbeater), as published on Bay Area Bites.  The Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels are from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich, Artisan Press, Copyright 2007, ISBN: 978-1579652111

You can find a copy of the recipe here.  Click on any of the photos below to see a larger version.

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It’s coming, I promise.  I just got back to my computer after a 5-day absence.  I actually got my cake done more than 2 weeks ago, but the craziness of the past 5 days made it absolutely impossible to get to the computer and complete my post.  So, it will be coming, hopefully later today.  Stay tuned and check back in.  I’m looking forward to all of your wonderful posts as well.

I hope everyone out there had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday (at least those of you in the US!)

Erik – Baking in Oregon

Something a Little Different

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I mentioned a possibility of writing about pumpkin in my last post, and seeing as we are about to hit Thanksgiving, I thought it was time that I oblige the Foodie overlords and conjure up my obligatory pumpkin post.  To that end though, I wanted to try and do something a little different from the pumpkin pies, pumpkin cookies and pumpkin rolls.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all of them all, actually, pretty much anything made with pumpkin.  But since I don’t post often here, I wanted something that might catch your attention, especially if you are looking for something just a little different for this week’s festivities (for those of you visiting from outside the US, it’s just a great little recipe to try any time you’re in the mood for pumpkin).

Enter Pumpkin Pie Snickerdoodle Bars.  This recipe is a creation of Julia over at Dozen Flours and is based on another recipe creation of hers: Snickerdoodle Blondies.  My wife and I love Snickerdoodles, so any recipe with Snickerdoodle in the name is going to get my attention (I have yet to try the Snickerdoodle Blondies, but they are on the short list of items to bake). I had the task of baking up several items for a bake sale 2 weeks ago and selected this recipe as one of those items.

If you’re pressed for time, this is one of those recipes that doesn’t take a lot of time to put together.  As far as pumpkin desserts go, this is pretty different from all the rest.  I’ve tried a lot of different pumpkin combinations, and this one stands out on its own.  The topping is a simple drizzle of melted white chocolate mixed with pumpkin pie spice.  The bars look great, and once they were all plated up for the sale, they all headed out the door.  We did have to sacrifice a few as samples, mostly because people didn’t know what they were.  Everyone who tried them gave them high marks for flavor and texture.

I really liked the fact that this was something different.  I did my usual Candy Cane Brownies and an Apple Cranberry Holiday Cake, but these were more out of the ordinary, which got them noticed.  So, if you want to do something a little different for the holidays this year, consider giving Julia’s recipe a go.  You, and your guests, will be pleased.

Click here for a copy of the recipe on my site.  Click on any of the photos below to see a larger version.

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Spice is Nice

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If I haven’t already said it, I love Fall.  I love the weather, especially the cool days when the sun still shines and the leaves are just starting to fall.  I love the smell of fireplaces being started for the first time in months.  I love how much bluer the sky seems to me.  I love that it’s not 90 degrees anymore.  But most of all, I love the fall food.  Comfort food.  Soups, stews, casseroles, and, of course, sweets.

Fall is that time of year when we depart from the fresh and light of Summer and jump face first into heavy, spicy, creamy and hot.  It’s finally cool enough in the kitchen to actually spend some time in there without an air conditioner blowing full boar.  Yes, it’s finally time for spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and molasses.  It’s time for people to once again celebrate my favorite food fruit – apples.  And it’s finally time again to pop some cans of pumpkin.

I believe it’s required somewhere in the list of Foodie rules out there in the blogosphere that if you are a food blogger, then, come Autumn, you must post about pumpkin at least once.  Really.  I’m pretty sure the food police will come and find you and shove a real pumpkin up your nose if you don’t post at least one pumpkin recipe.

And so it is, for that reason, that I choose at this moment to blog about cookies – Big, Soft, Ginger Cookies.  What?  No pumpkin?  After all that talk about pumpkin?  Yeah, that’s right.  I did talk a lot about pumpkin, and, if you are desperate for something pumpkin, I may actually blog about something in the weeks to come.  Don’t forget, I wrote about spices too.  And spices are what I want to focus on right now.  I’ve seen a ton of blogs on pumpkin cookies, pumpkin bread, pumpkin rolls and pumpkin pie, you don’t need another one here.

Let’s keep this simple.  If you like soft, spicy cookies, make this recipe.  If you don’t like them, well, at least read my blog and leave a comment.  I’m sure if I could share one of these with you, I may be able to make you into a convert.  For now, you’ll just have to trust me.

I didn’t capture many photos this time, I can’t say why, maybe I was just being lazy.  Be that as it may, click on any photo below to see a larger image.  If you are tempted and would like to try this recipe, I’ve posted a copy here.

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Ahh, pizza.  On my list of the top 5 favorite foods, I would say pizza is either number 1 or 2 on the list.  If you asked me any day of the week what I wanted to eat for dinner and I could have anything I wanted, chances are good it would be pizza.  Hot, melting mozzarella, perfectly seasoned sauce, light, crispy and slightly chewy crust, garlic, any manner of cured meats – how can you not just love something like that?

I was really excited when Rosa of Rosa’s Yummy Yums announced this month’s challenge was Pizza Dough – hand tossed, no less.  My mind started dancing around ideas for pizzas.  The challenge left a lot of room for interpretation of your final pizza, as long as you hand tossed the dough and used some kind of sauce.

Unfortunately, this month has been so busy, I just couldn’t get to the challenge until the end of the month.  That’s just not the best way to do things – being rushed is a recipe for some kind of failure.  And, failure is what I experience (at least, in part).

It wasn’t a monumental failure, things just didn’t go how I had planned.  First, tossing the dough was an exercise in futility.  The first one started really well, but it wasn’t getting big enough.  I finally had to resort to kind of letting the dough fall over my hands as I rotated it to get the right size, shape and thickness.  Second, I thought I had liberally dusted the pan with semolina, and I was just going to slide the pizza right onto the hot stone in the oven.  It wasn’t to be.  The pizza would not move from the pan.  So, I ended up baking it on that pan, which took twice as long as the recipe called for, resulting in a new delicacy – blackened sun-dried tomatoes.  These tomatoes look like they were sun-dried on the surface of the sun itself.  Thankfully, even burned, they actually tasted good, hey, maybe I’ve discovered something I may try again.  Third, one piece of dough just wouldn’t work for me.  I had split my dough into 4 pieces and froze 1.  I pulled out 3 for the evening. 

I had planned 3 pizzas that night.  We were having guests and I decided, against my better judgment, to violate one of my rules about baking:  Never try a new recipe on guests, always test bake it at least once first.  Well, this was the only night I had available, and the guests were added after I made my plans.  Soooo, they get to by my guinea pigs.

For the savory pizzas, I made a simple pizza sauce I’ve used before.  Pizza #1 was topped with mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and roasted chicken breast.  Pizza #2 was topped with mozzarella, turkey pepperoni, sliced mushrooms and sliced olives.  So, back to problem #3 – one of the dough balls just wouldn’t work at all for me.  It tore, it formed a weird shape.  I let it rest and tried again, same problem as before.  I let it rest once more and it wouldn’t move, it was all seized up with gluten.  I tried to roll it out with a pin, but it wouldn’t budge.  I finally, out of desperation, trashed that piece of dough – I just didn’t have time to deal with it.

My dessert pizza was going to be a caramel apple crisp with a cinnamon cream cheese sauce.  I think it would have been great, and I’ll probably try it again sometime, but I just couldn’t get to it that night.  Unfortunately (or, perhaps, fortunately), I had already sliced up 5 apples and sautéed them with butter and brown sugar.  Now I had this pan of nicely cooked apples in a sweet buttery sauce and no dough upon which to which to mount my culinary creation.  But, this post is about the Daring Bakers, so if you want to see what I did with this, just scroll down to the next post or click here.

All in all, this challenge was only OK for me.  I really wanted to like this challenge, but I just didn’t have the time, the patience or the technique to do it quite right.  My guests were pleased and they ate up the 2 pizzas I did make, along with my dessert ‘punt’.  The dough wasn’t quite to my taste, though.  It just wasn’t quite the taste and texture I like.  While pan pizza isn’t my favorite (I prefer a thinner crust), I do really like this recipe I’ve used before.

You’ll notice that there is no photo of me tossing the dough.  Because of the last minute guests, I didn’t have another set of hands available to photograph me tossing the dough.  Sorry to bug out on that one.  I did try it, though I made larger pizzas and the dough kind of fell apart.  One other problem.  I’m 6′ 1″, and my ceiling is just a bit higher than 7′ – it doesn’t leave much room for tossing – the whole time I pictured a moment that might be like something out of an old I Love Lucy show – either pizza dough stuck to the ceiling, or draped all over my head.

Thanks again to Rosa and the Daring Bakers for the challenge.  It was a fun one.  I’m looking forward to checking out all the other DB creations out there, I can’t wait!!

I’ve posted a copy of the recipe for the dough and the sauce here.  Click on any of the photos below to view a larger version.

     

     

     

When Life Hands you Lemons…

…make Apple Crisp, right?  Perhaps, if you’re a baker, you may prefer a Lemon Meringue Pie.  I’m not a big fan of lemons, myself, so I’d probably just say ‘Thanks Life, I appreciate the lemons.  I think I’ll just put them over here for now.  Hey, would you mind handing me those apples behind you?  Yeah, those nice Granny Smiths – right there.  No, I don’t want the lemons right now.  Really.  I know people like lemons, I’m just not a big fan.  Besides, it’s fall, I want to use apples.  Yes, I’m sure.  Look, I’m the one doing the cooking, I promise I’ll use them for something later.  If it bugs you that much, you could just give your lemons to someone else.  Maybe they need a little zest in their lives, ha ha!  Yes, I thought that was funny.  Well, now you’re just being rude.  Just hand me those apples and go, we can talk more about this later.”  Wow, Life can be a real pain in the rear sometimes.

So, I was working on my October challenge for the Daring Bakers.  Pizza was the theme, and I had planned both sweet and savory pizzas.  At the last minute, the night I was going to make them, we ended up with visitors, a large group, so I had to rush things together a bit more than I had planned.  I set out 3 dough balls for my 2 planned savory pizzas and the dessert pizza.

The first one came together just fine, but the second one had a problem.  The dough came apart as I was shaping it, so I had to form it back into a ball.  By the time I had handled it that much, the dough would no longer stretch, so I set it aside to let the gluten rest.  Dough ball number 3 went fine again and I assembled my second savory pizza.  While those were cooking, I was also sautéing some apple slices, butter and brown sugar to prepare my dessert pizza topping.

I returned to that final ball of dough.  The gluten had relaxed and I tried to form it again.  Again, it didn’t work, the dough was tearing and not forming properly.  I decided to try rolling it out and wound up with a tightly wadded piece of dough that would hardly stretch.  I finally had to give up, the more I worked the dough, the worse it got.  That gluten is tough stuff, and a dough like that just couldn’t take the extra work.

So, now I had a house full of guests and no dessert.  The apples were now thoroughly cooked through and placing them into a dish that needed to be baked would have turned them to absolute mush.  I thought about a number of different apple dishes, but the apples I had cooked were sitting in a nice lightly sweet, buttery sauce, reminiscent to me of Apple Crisp.  I had recently read a blog entry by Joy the Baker for an Apple Crisp recipe.  I took the topping from that recipe, laid it out on a cookie sheet and baked it for about 20 minutes.  When it came out of the oven, I broke it up into pieces and used it to top spoonfuls of the tart/sweet apple mixture.

Results?  Success.  Lemons into apples.  Failure into triumph.  Everyone thought I had made a true bake-in-the-pan apple crisp.  Okay, so maybe it wasn’t done the traditional way, but you couldn’t tell the difference.

By the way, if the recipe makes more of the crisp topping than you need, not to worry!  It is a great addition to fresh fruit, ice cream, oatmeal, or even just to munch on (not that I would do that).

Life, I got you again.  You’re going to have to try a little harder to derail me in the kitchen next time.  Pfblllppfff!!!

I’ve posted a copy of this recipe here.  Click on any of the photos below for a larger view of the image.

     

Cheese and Chocolate

If midnight had a flavor, these brownies might come pretty close to capturing it – at least what I imagine in my mind midnight might taste like:  dark, rich, dense, smooth and not too sweet.  Imagine, if you will, a pure chocolate indulgence that screams sinfulness, yet exudes a level of luxury and sophistication.  Sophistication aside though, it’s time to clean out your pie-holes, clear your palette, and get ready for some serious taste.

Allow me to present Chocolate Mascarpone Brownies.  I discovered this recipe on Bri’s blog: Xplicit Sweetness.  She posted about them awhile ago and I marked that recipe as one I needed to try.  The photo alone made them look so good they needed to go on the ‘make it soon’ list.

Since I’m currently underway with a lifestyle change ala weight loss, I’m fighting the urge to bake things that are so tempting as to derail my efforts.  Thankfully, I decided to make these as a kind of fair well to the old me – not so much a celebration of my old habits as much as a look ahead to the person who can some day make these kinds of treats and enjoy them in simple moderation, all the while being satisfied that I don’t need more than a reasonable portion.

So, these were actually made over a month ago, but I’m only now getting to the post.  The recipe uses Mascarpone cheese in the batter.  If, by some chance, you aren’t familiar with Mascarpone, it’s kind of an Italian cream cheese – not quite as ‘sweet’ as regular cream cheese and not as ‘hard’.  It is a bit more expensive, so I don’t buy it very often.  If you want to see some of the other uses for Mascarpone, just check out Giada De Laurentiis on the Food Network – she makes good use of the stuff.

For the chocolate, I used my preferred baking chocolate – Ghirardelli.  I know a lot of folks prefer brands like Scharffen Berger, Valrhona, Guittard, Callebaut or even something organic like Dagoba or Green and Black’s.  I’ve tried many of them, and for my money, I’ve found the Ghirardelli to work best for my taste and for those who get to share in my creations.  They say if you like the taste straight out of the package, then cook with it – and Ghirardelli is one I do like straight out of the package.  I’m not much of a chocolate snob, but I know what I like, and if I can also manage to save a few bucks a pop, well, that just means I can afford to make more later.  For this recipe, I used their 60% Cacao Bittersweet baking bar.  I will say that if I were to do milk chocolate, the E. Guittard milk chocolate chips are a fine choice.  But, I digress.

After being topped with ganache and allowed to set up in the refrigerator overnight, you are left with an amazing-looking brownie.  These are not your typical eat out of hand brownies.  No, these brownies deserve to be served with some class.  I chose a simple presentation on a nice plate followed by a dusting of cocoa powder.  Partner with a good coffee or a tall glass of milk, and you have a recipe for simple indulgence.  Is this what midnight tastes like?  I don’t know, but I suspect once you try them, you’ll wait until midnight to pull them out so you don’t have to share.

I’ve posted a copy of the recipe here.  Click on any of the photos below for a larger image.