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Posts Tagged ‘Daring Bakers’

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I’m sorry to say I had to pass on this month’s challenge.  I had every intention of doing it, even with all of the holiday activities.  Unfortunately, the weather had a different plan in mind.  We took a big hit of snow and ice starting almost 2 weeks before Christmas and lasting through Christmas.  Roads were bad, people couldn’t get where they needed to go, plans were changed, schedules rearranged.  I had plans to make this month’s challenge for a year-end birthday party for our family’s 3 December birthdays.  Unfortunately, rescheduling additional get-togethers, power outages, etc., prevented me from getting to this challenge. 

I’m bummed, because the challenge this month was a French Yule Log.  There are a lot of steps involved in baking this dessert, but if it’s anywhere near as good as the pictures I’ve seen  would imply, it’s got to be absolutley fantastic.  This month’s challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.  They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand

So, do yourself a favor and check out all the Daring Bakers that did pull off this month’s challenge.  There is some great talent out there and some great interpretations/variations on this recipe.  I’ve started checking them out myself, and I’m really impressed with what I’m seeing. 

I had a chance to join the Daring Bakers in July and I’ve participated in 5 challenges so far.  I’ve had a chance to do some things with my cooking that I would probably never have tried if it weren’t for the challenges.  If you’re looking for an opportunity to get involved in the online baking community and to stretch your baking skills, I would recommend you consider giving the Daring Bakers a try yourself.

Be sure to stop by and thank Lisa at La Mia Cucina and Ivonne at Cream Puffs in Venice for keeping the Daring Bakers rolling!

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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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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.

     

     

     

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As a departure from the past few sweet treats we’ve been baking up, this month’s challenge was to bake crackers, Lavash crackers, to be precise, along with something to dip or spread on the crackers.  

This challenge was a seemingly simple one.  The ingredient list was fairly short and the process would not be too time consuming, which is a welcome respite from time to time.  Since this month’s challenge is being hosted for the first time by a couple of Alternate Daring Bakers:  Natalie from Gluten A Go Go and Shel from Musings From the Fishbowl, this month’s challenge stated that, while the crackers could be made gluten free or regular, the dip or spread (at least one anyway) had to be both gluten free AND vegan.  There was a lot of latitude given on this challenge, which allowed for some really neat ideas as I’ve already seen on some other blogs – everything from savory to sweet.  I love the vast array of talent and creativity that populates the Daring Baker’s Blogroll; I’m pleased to be a member of this great group.

My crackers went fairly well.  I decided to make use of my mighty KitchenAid 6qt Stand Mixer.  First mistake.  This recipe does not contain a large number of ingredients, so when I placed them all in the big stainless bowl and lowered the dough hook, it hardly touched them.  I had to use my spatula frequently to keep things going – next time, I’ll either double the batch or just kneed it by hand.  Second mistake was that I couldn’t find my bag of bread flour – I know I bought it, but it’s missing – how in the world can you lose a bag of flour??  I’m thinking the same gremlins that steal socks from the dryer were getting hungry for some homemade bread.  Anyway, I used AP flour, which, according to what I read, should be okay.  Maybe it was or maybe it wasn’t, but I ended up with a very wet dough even though I didn’t add the full amount of water called for.  I had to keep adding and adding flour until I had added another ½ cup to the ball.  I finally stopped because I risked over-kneeding the dough.

The crackers actually rolled out beautifully.  No shrinking back of the dough.  When I went to roll it out ‘paper thin’ to the size rectangle called for in the recipe, it was still fairly thick.  I had to keep rolling until I got to the edges of my baking mat.  By that time, I still had some thick edges, but I ran out of room to roll.  I ended up cutting the big sheet into two pans’ worth of crackers – it made a lot more than I expected.  I added kosher salt and toasted sesame seeds and rolled them into the dough with my rolling pin to help them stick – which they didn’t, but that’s okay.  The crackers turned out fantastic.  I simply broke them into shards when they were done.

As for the dips, I couldn’t make up my mind, so I made three – two that were gluten free/vegan and one that wasn’t.  For the first dip, I did a Roasted Tomatillo and Garlic Salsa that I’ve made before.  It was very good, but wasn’t my favorite with the Lavash.  Dip #2 was Garlic Hummus.  This was my wife’s favorite with the crackers, and my second favorite.  Dip #3 is one of my all time favorite dips, a simple Smokey Salmon Dip – definitely my favorite with the crackers (sorry vegans, I just couldn’t help myself, it was really good).

I enjoyed this challenge and I’ll definitely be making these again.  Arika over at My Yummy Life made a sweet version with an Apricot Coulis that I can’t wait to try myself.

If you’d like to try these crackers or any of my dips, I’ve posted the cracker recipe here and the dip recipes here.   Click on any of the photos below for a full size view.

     

     

     

     

     

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This month’s Daring Bakers challenge was Chocolate Éclairs.  Using a simple mixture of Pate a Choux pastry, pastry cream and a chocolate glaze, the challenge was to create our own version of this fancy treat.  I was really looking forward to this challenge since I’ve wanted to try Pate a Choux for some time.

I love the idea of making éclairs.  I got turned on to the prospect after watching an episode of ‘Good Eats’ on the Food Network called ‘Choux Shine’.  Alton Brown (AB) made the prospect of whipping up a batch of éclairs seem within my reach.  That being said, I never did take the chance to try it, until now.

Thanks to the Daring Bakers, I now had a challenge, one I couldn’t let slip by.  Thanks to Meeta and Tony for selecting this month’s challenge.

Overall, things went pretty well.  The dough was really no trouble.  I chose to use a food processor for the final incorporation of the butter into the mix as suggested in ‘Baking Illustrated’.  I also chose to use their recipe and instructions for both the pastry cream and the chocolate glaze.  Since chocolate and chocolate seemed bit too much for me, I decided to try both a chocolate and a vanilla pastry cream.  The creams and the glazes came together well.

My only real problem was the pastry.  Following some suggestions, I neatly lined out some marks on my parchment paper with a ruler so I could keep my éclairs in nice neat rows of the same size and length, while maintaining the spacing that is important for the rise of the dough.  I wasn’t certain how I wanted to do the piping, so I decided to follow AB’s suggestion from his show and did a kind of ‘s’ shape as I piped the pastry.  I think I missed one step though, and that was to smooth out the layers of dough into a more uniform tube shape.  As I pulled the puffs from the oven, I realized that because I didn’t do this step, the puffs were uneven and looked a bit like smaller tubes of dough stacked together, not one larger, puffier tube.  They did bake and rise well, but I shorted myself on another step – the rest in the oven.  That wasn’t a good choice.  Again, following another suggestion, I pierced the ends of the éclairs with a paring knife at the end of the baking to help release steam and placed them back in the oven with the door propped open to let them dry out.  Okay, that was fine, but I needed the oven to cook dinner, so I only let them dry for about 10 minutes – no long enough.  Most of my éclairs collapsed within the next hour, only a few survived.  I did pipe a few pastries in the classic cream puff shape and, aside from being a bit overcooked, actually turned out much better than the éclairs.

Filling and glazing were actually pretty easy – they all came together pretty quickly. 

The final results were okay.  I would have liked to have had prettier éclairs, but I wasn’t too disappointed for a first go.  As for taste, well, they were fantastic.  The dough was just right, the cream and the glaze were very good.  My wife and I both agreed that the vanilla cream and chocolate glaze combination worked better together than the double chocolate.  Just our personal preference.

Thanks again to the DB’s and to Meeta and Tony for this month’s challenge, it’s been fun.  If you would like to give this recipe a try, I’ve posted a copy of the complete challenge recipe here.

The Piped Eclairs

The Piped Eclairs

The Piped Puffs

The Piped Puffs

Eclairs..Before the Fall

Eclairs..Before the Fall

Whipping up some Pastry Cream

Whipping up some Pastry Cream

Filling the Hollow Puffs

Filling the Hollow Puffs

Finished Eclairs

Finished Eclairs

Finished Puffs

Finished Puffs

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Making the Praline

Making the Praline

This month marks my first Daring Bakers Challenge.  I’ve been watching this group for the past year or so and debating with myself as to whether or not I wanted to join.  With a better than full time job, a wife and a 18-month old little girl at home, it’s not easy to spend a great deal of time in the kitchen.  That being said, after watching last month’s challenge, the Danish Braid, I just couldn’t hold back any longer.  They are baking up some great stuff and I just had to join in.  So, I sent my email and got on board, so, here I am.

This month’s challenge – and yes, it was a challenge, was a Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream selected by this month’s host – Chris over at Mele Cotte.  This recipe challenged me on several levels.  First, it was going to take some time.  I definitely had to plan out my baking schedule and do this in pieces. 

Cutting the Layers

Cutting the Layers

Second, I had to do some things I’ve never done before – whipped cream from scratch, whipping up meringue, making true Swiss Buttercream, melting sugar – all of which I have not done before.  Finally, here, like many other places in the country, it’s been a bit warm lately, and the thought of keeping the buttercream intact in the heat and humidity was a bit of a concern.

Finding the ingredients was not a problem.  Filberts (hazelnuts) are grown here in Oregon, so they can be purchased, in bulk for about $6.00/lb.  Add up the rest of the ingredients and the time it takes to make this recipe and it turns out to be a spendy little treat.

The Completed Layers

The Completed Layers

I enjoyed the fact that I was learning some new procedures.  I’ve watched countless times as meringue and whipped cream were whipped up on the Food Network, but I’ve never had the guts to try it until now.  You know what?  It wasn’t all that difficult.  Both came together very well.  I did add a small touch of cream of tartar to my egg whites as that is supposed to help give them volume and stability.  The hazelnuts weren’t too much trouble as I’ve worked with them before.  I had more trouble skinning the little buggers than I’ve had in the past, I’m not sure why, but I was left with some skins on the nuts.  Not a problem, I left them there with no ill effects.

The cake itself came together nicely, though there were a few hiccups.  I didn’t have any of the listed spirits available, so I used a Vanilla Flavored Rum we had picked up on a cruise to the Caribbean.  I forgot to spread the apricot glaze on the cake when it came out of the oven, so I did that later, after I had cut and filled the layers.  Cutting the layers wasn’t too difficult.  I have a Wilton tool for cutting cake layers, but I wanted to try it freehand and, if I do say so myself, the layers actually turned out nicely.  I did have some trouble cutting the sides of the cake.  I should have refrigerated the cake again for awhile after assembling the layers because the cake started to kind of crumble on me as I tried to make the cut.  The finished edges weren’t quite what I had hoped for, but once the ganache was poured on, it didn’t look too bad. 

The Big 'Ding-Dong'

The Big 'Ding-Dong'

Finally, I had a little trouble piping the buttercream on top of the cake.  I was trying to go around the outside edge of the top of the cake with a kind of scalloped pattern, but the buttercream was slightly separating and was breaking on me – kind of falling apart rather than staying in one nice unbroken line.  Oh well, I’m not much of a decorator anyway – that’s why my stuff has to taste so good – my creations may not be much to look at, but they usually taste great.  So, I made the best of it and I’m actually pretty pleased at my giant Ding-Dong of a cake (at least that’s how it looked with just the ganache on it).

Getting Ready to Decorate

Getting Ready to Decorate

We had a small gathering the day I finished the cake for an out of town visitor.  I served the cake to our guests who proceeded to wipe the whole thing out in one sitting.  One person thought I had bought the cake at a bakery – I’ll take that as a compliment.  They all enjoyed the somewhat complex mix of flavors in this cake.  It’s definitely what I would call more refined in terms of flavors.  You need to savor this cake slowly to appreciate the subtle qualities of taste and texture, rather than wolf it down with a big glass of milk.  No, for the amount of time and effort that goes in to making it, you’re darn well going to sit there and appreciate it! Tell me what a good job I did.  Tell me you love me. 

I guess it’s time to settle down and prepare for the next challenge.  Thanks again Chris for selecting a challenging recipe and to Lis and Ivonne for keeping the Daring Bakers rolling along.  See you all next month. I’ve posted a copy of the full recipe here.

 

 

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