Sunday, December 28, 2008

Daring Bakers: A French Yule Log

     When I first looked at this Daring Bakers Challenge, I admit I was a little intimidated.  I gathered my courage and sifted through the many recipes/variations for the different elements, and it wasn't as difficult as I first thought.  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.  I wish I could have made this at a time when I wasn't doing anything else so I could have given it more attention.  I did learn a lot about how to go about this from reading other Daring Bakers' comments in the forum (thanks everyone!).  Most of the elements went very well for me, but I had a few issues with the Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert and the Icing for the finish.  Here are the six elements I chose to make:

Element #1: Dacquoise Biscuit (Almond Cake)
Element #2: Dark Chocolate Mousse
Element #3: Dark Chocolate Ganache Insert
Element #4: Coconut Crisp Insert (instead of the Praline Feuillete version)
Element #5: Vanilla Creme Brulee Insert
Element #6: White/Milk Chocolate Icing

     I didn't have any trouble with the Dacquoise Biscuit or the Dark Chocolate Mousse (my favorite part of the whole thing!).  The Dark Chocolate Ganache was also good, as was the Creme Brulee.  I made the Coconut Crisp Insert much too thick, which made slicing the final product difficult.  I also did not really appreciate the taste of it and I think that had something to do with the white chocolate I used and the Special K.  If I did it again, I would probably made my own praline (do the chocolate version) and use Rice Krispies instead.  I intended to make the icing with white chocolate also, but I didn't have enough so I mixed some dark chocolate with it and ended up with something like milk chocolate, but again the taste was a little off in my opinion.  However, the combination of the all the elements was good, and everyone seemed to like it.  I am posting the recipes for the elements I chose, except for the Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert where I have included the Coconut Crisp (with white chocolate) version I used and the other option using praline and milk chocolate.  Don't forget to look around and see what other Daring Bakers have done.  They are awesome!

Element #1 Dacquoise Biscuit (Almond Cake)
Preparation time:  10 mn + 15 mn for baking
Equipment:  2 mixing bowls, hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment, spatula, baking pan such as a 10x15  jelly-roll pan, parchment paper
Note:  You can use the Dacquoise for the bottom of your Yule Log only, or as bottom and top layers, or if using a Yule log mold (half-pipe) to line your entire mold with the biscuit. Take care to spread the Dacquoise accordingly. Try to bake the Dacquoise the same day you assemble the log to keep it as moist as possible.

2.8 oz (3/4cup + 1Tbsp / 80g) almond meal 
1.75 oz (1/2 cup / 50g) confectioner’s sugar 
2Tbsp (15g) all-purpose flour
3.5oz (100g / ~100ml) about 3 medium egg whites    
1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar
1.  Finely mix the almond meal and the confectioner's sugar. (If you have a mixer, you can use it by pulsing the ingredients together for no longer than 30 seconds).
2.  Sift the flour into the mix.
3.  Beat the eggs whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until stiff. 
4.  Pour the almond meal mixture into the egg whites and blend delicately with a spatula.
5.  Grease a piece of parchment paper and line your baking pan with it.
6.  Spread the batter on a piece of parchment paper to an area slightly larger than your desired shape (circle, long strip etc...) and to a height of 1/3 inches (8mm). 
7.  Bake at 350°F (180°C) for approximately 15 minutes (depends on your oven), until golden. 
8.  Let cool and cut to the desired shape. 

Element #2 Dark Chocolate Mousse
Preparation time:  20mn
Equipment: stand or hand mixer with whisk attachment, thermometer, double boiler or equivalent, spatula 
Note:  You will see that a Pate a Bombe is mentioned in this recipe. A Pate a Bombe is a term used for egg yolks beaten with a sugar syrup, then aerated. It is the base used for many mousse and buttercream recipes. It makes mousses and buttercreams more stable, particularly if they are to be frozen, so that they do not melt as quickly or collapse under the weight of heavier items such as the crème brulee insert.  Gelatin is the gelifying agent in all of the following recipes, but if you would like to use agar-agar, here are the equivalencies: 8g powdered gelatin = 1 (0.25 oz) envelope powdered gelatin = 1 Tbsp powdered gelatin = 1 Tbsp Agar-Agar. 1 Tbsp. of agar-agar flakes is equal to 1 tsp. of agar-agar powder.

2.5 sheets gelatin or 5g / 1 + 1/4 tsp powdered gelatin                     
1.5 oz (3 Tbsp / 40g) granulated sugar        
1 ½ tsp (10g) glucose or thick corn syrup        
0.5 oz (15g) water    
50g egg yolks (about 3 medium)
6.2 oz (175g) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1.5 cups (350g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
1. Soften the gelatin in cold water. (If using powdered gelatin, follow the directions on the package.)
2. Make a Pate a Bombe: Beat the egg yolks until very light in colour (approximately 5 minutes until almost white).  
2a. Cook the sugar, glucose syrup and water on medium heat for approximately 3 minutes (if you have a candy thermometer, the mixture should reach 244°F (118°C). If you do not have a candy thermometer, test the sugar temperature by dipping the tip of a knife into the syrup then into a bowl of ice water, if it forms a soft ball in the water then you have reached the correct temperature.
2b. Add the sugar syrup to the beaten yolks carefully by pouring it into the mixture in a thin stream while continuing to beat the yolks. You can do this by hand but it’s easier to do this with an electric mixer. 
2c. Continue beating until cool (approximately 5 minutes). The batter should become thick and foamy.
3. In a double boiler or equivalent, heat 2 tablespoons (30g) of cream to boiling. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smooth.
4. Whip the remainder of the cream until stiff.
5.  Pour the melted chocolate over the softened gelatin, mixing well. Let the gelatin and chocolate cool slightly and then stir in ½ cup (100g) of WHIPPED cream to temper. Add the Pate a Bombe.
6.  Add in the rest of the WHIPPED cream (220g) mixing gently with a spatula.

Element #3 Dark Chocolate Ganache Insert
Preparation time: 10mn
Equipment: pan, whisk. If you have plunging mixer (a vertical hand mixer used to make soups and other liquids), it comes in handy.
Note:  Because the ganache hardens as it cools, you should make it right before you intend to use it to facilitate piping it onto the log during assembly. Please be careful when caramelizing the sugar and then adding the cream. It may splatter and boil.

1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar            
4.5oz (2/3 cup – 1 Tbsp/ 135g) heavy cream    (35% fat content)    
5 oz (135g) dark chocolate, finely chopped
3Tbsp + 1/2tsp (45g) unsalted butter softened

1. Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small saucepan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color (for most of you that means darker than last month’s challenge).
2. While the sugar is melting, heat the cream until boiling.  Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil.
3. Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth. 
4. Add the softened butter and whip hard and fast (if you have a plunging mixer use it). The chocolate should be smooth and shiny. 

Element #4 Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert
Preparation time: 10 mn (+ optional 15mn if you make lace crepes)
Equipment: Small saucepan, baking sheet (if you make lace crepes).
Double boiler (or one small saucepan in another), wax paper, rolling pin. 
Note:  Feuillete means layered (as in with leaves) so a Praline Feuillete is a Praline version of a delicate crisp. There are non-praline variations below. The crunch in this crisp comes from an ingredient which is called gavottes in French. Gavottes are lace-thin crepes. They are not available outside of France, so you have the option of making your own using the recipe below or you can simply substitute rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K for them. Special note: If you use one of the substitutes for the gavottes, you should halve the quantity stated, as in use 1oz of any of these cereals instead of 2.1oz.
If you want to make your own praline, please refer back to the Daring Baker Challenge Recipe from July 2008.

To make 2.1oz / 60g of gavottes (lace crepes - recipe by Ferich Mounia):
1/3 cup (80ml) whole milk             
2/3 Tbsp (8g) unsalted butter                
1/3 cup – 2tsp (35g) all-purpose flour        
1 Tbsp / 0.5 oz (15g) beaten egg
1 tsp (3.5g) granulated sugar
½ tsp vegetable oil
1. Heat the milk and butter together until butter is completely melted. Remove from the heat.
2. Sift flour into milk-butter mixture while beating, add egg and granulated sugar. Make sure there are no lumps. 
3. Grease a baking sheet and spread batter thinly over it. 
4. Bake at 430°F (220°C) for a few minutes until the crepe is golden and crispy. Let cool.

Ingredients for the Praline Feuillete (chocolate version):
3.5 oz (100g) milk chocolate        
1 2/3 Tbsp (25g) butter        
2 Tbsp (1 oz / 30g) praline
2.1 oz (60g) lace crepes(gavottes) or 1 oz rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K  

1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler. 
2. Add the praline and the coarsely crushed lace crepes. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate.
3. Spread between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard. 

Coconut Crisp Insert (white chocolate version)
3.5 oz (100g) white chocolate                
1 oz (1/3 cup/25g) shredded coconut
1 2/3 Tbsp (25g) unsalted butter        
2.1 oz (60g) lace crepes or 1 oz rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K

1. Spread the coconut on a baking tray and bake for 5-10 minutes at 375°F (190°C) to toast (a different temperature might work better for you with your own oven).  
2. Melt the white chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Stir until smooth and add the toasted coconut. 
3. Add the coarsely crushed lace crepes. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate. Spread between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.

Element #5 Vanilla Crème Brulée Insert
Preparation time: 15mn + 1h infusing + 1h baking
Equipment: Small saucepan, mixing bowl, baking mold, wax paper
Note: The vanilla crème brulée can be flavored differently by simply replacing the vanilla with something else e.g. cardamom, lavender, etc...

1/2 cup (115g) heavy cream (35% fat content)        
½ cup (115g) whole milk            
4 medium-sized (72g) egg yolks
0.75 oz (2 Tbsp / 25g) granulated sugar 
1 vanilla bean

1. Heat the milk, cream, and scraped vanilla bean to just boiling. Remove from the stove and let the vanilla infuse for about 1 hour. 
2. Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks (but do not beat until white).
3. Pour the vanilla-infused milk over the sugar/yolk mixture. Mix well. 
4. Wipe with a very wet cloth and then cover your baking mold (whatever shape is going to fit on the inside of your Yule log/cake) with parchment paper. Pour the cream into the mold and bake at 210°F (100°C) for about 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center.
Tartelette says: You can bake it without a water bath since it is going to go inside the log (the aesthetics of it won't matter as much since it will be covered with other things)....BUT I would recommend a water bath for the following reasons:
- you will get a much nicer mouth feel when it is done
- you will be able to control its baking point and desired consistency much better
- it bakes for such a long time that I fear it will get overdone without a water bath
Now...since it is baked in a pan and it is sometimes difficult to find another large pan to set it in for a water bath, even a small amount of water in your water bath will help the heat be distributed evenly in the baking process. Even as little as 1 inch will help.
5. Let cool and put in the freezer for at least 1 hour to firm up and facilitate the final assembly.

Element #6 White Chocolate Icing
Preparation time: 25 minutes (10mn if you don’t count softening the gelatin)
Equipment:  Small bowl, small saucepan
Note: Because the icing gelifies quickly, you should make it at the last minute.
For other gelatin equivalencies or gelatin to agar-agar equivalencies, look at the notes for the mousse component.

1.5 gelatin sheets or 3g / 1/2Tbsp powdered gelatin                
3.5 oz (100g) white chocolate            
2 Tbsp (30g) unsalted butter                
1/3 cup (90 g) whole milk
1 2/3 Tbsp (30g) glucose or thick corn syrup

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes.
2. Coarsely chop the chocolate and butter together.
3. Bring the milk and glucose syrup to a boil.
4. Add the gelatin.
5. Pour the mixture over the chocolate and butter. Whisk until smooth.
6. Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to gelify), use immediately.

Assembling Your Yule Log
I chose the following method for assembling my log, using a 9x5 inch loaf pan.  You can put the Dacquoise biscuit on the top and bottom, but I chose to do just one, on the bottom.  If you are doing the assembly UPSIDE DOWN (such as in a loaf pan) with ONE piece of Dacquoise on the BOTTOM ONLY the order is:
  1. Mousse (1/3 of prepared amount)
  2. Creme Brulee Insert 
  3. Mousse (another 1/3)
  4. Praline/Crisp Insert
  5. Mousse (final 1/3)
  6. Ganache Insert
  7. Dacquoise
     I would recommend making the elements in the following order to help you have everything ready to assemble at the right time:
1. Creme Brulee (freeze then cut)
2. Mouse (refrigerate at least 1 hour)
3. Praline insert (freeze then cut)
Then assemble these 3 items (see above for order of assembly) and freeze for 2-3 hours until set.

Now make these:
4. Dacquoise Biscuit (allow to cool and cut)
5. Ganace Insert (pipe on previous frozen Yule log)
Finish assembly and FREEZE UNTIL NEXT DAY.
6. Make icing, remove log from mold and coat.

This was a fun challenge and I definitely got to make a bunch of things I've never made before and I learned a lot.  So be daring!  You can make anything you want if you put your mind to it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Gingerbread House

Update 12-20-08:  You must check out the Grove Park Inn National Gingerbread House Competition!  My house looks like it belongs in the Child (8 and under) category compared to most of these spectacular creations.  I grew up in the Asheville, NC area and had the privilege of going to the Grove Park Inn to see the competition about ten years ago.  They are even more amazing in person.  Some of the best entries will be taken to New York the week of December 22 and will be on Good Morning America.  Also, if you are visiting the Asheville area, don't miss the Biltmore Estate.  They have beautiful Christmas decorations and a gingerbread replica of the Biltmore house is displayed in the kitchen every year.

Last year I started a new tradition for myself - making a gingerbread house from scratch.  No kit for me!  I had made one when I was in high school, but someone else baked the gingerbread for me and I just put it together.  I found a great book with a recipe and complete instructions for the project, Nick Malgieri's Cookies Unlimited.  This is a great book for a variety of cookie recipes and I highly recommend it.  I forgot to take photos during the process of baking and cutting out the pieces for the house so you may have a hard time figuring out how to lay them out, but I have tried to explain it the best I can.  I hope you'll just have fun with it!  Mine looks completely different this year from last year's house because I tried to find different candies and ways to use them.  The roof is lined with red licorice, gummy bears, and reindeer corn.  If you can find Necco wafers they make great roof tiles also.  The Royal Icing is a wonderful thick "glue" you can stick it all together with.  Use sheet gelatin or cellophane for the window "glass".  I also used an ice cream cone and some green royal icing to make a Christmas tree.  A sandwich sized Ziploc bagwith the corner snipped off is all you need to pipe the icing wherever you want to use it.  The house is perfectly edible if you have a few kids wanting to take a bite out of it!  We got a cute picture of our niece last year (she was 2) trying to bite a gum drop off the roof when she thought nobody was

Gingerbread Dough for Gingerbread Houses
 5 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon freshly grated nutmeg (I used regular ground nutmeg)
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, slightly softened
¾ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup water

  • Combine the first 7 ingredients (through salt) in a bowl and whisk to mix well.  Beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until soft and light, about 3 or 4 minutes.  Scrape the bowl and add a third of the dry ingredients.  Beat in half the water, then another third of the dry ingredients.  Finally, beat in the remaining water and the remaining dry ingredients. Note: If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can stir in the flour and water after beating the eggs and sugar with a hand mixer.  It is harder to stir all that dough by hand, but it comes out just as well in the end. 
  •  The dough will be somewhat dry and crumbly.  Scrape it onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it smooth, but don’t overwork it to the point that the butter melts.  I actually had to add a tiny bit of water at this point to get my dough to hold together, but use your judgement. 
  • Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rest for a few minutes at room temperature.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Divide the dough into 2 pieces and roll each piece to the size of a 10x15-inch jelly roll pan or cookie sheet.  A rolling pin worked best for me to roll out the dough, but you can also use the back of a spoon to help smooth it out.  I used a knife to cut the edges straight and then added the cut pieces back and rolled them in until each piece of dough was square and of even thickness.  I recommend lining your pans with parchment paper.
  • Bake the dough for 15 minutes, until it is firm, but not completely baked through.  Remove the pans of dough from the oven and place them on racks.  Use a sharp knife to cut out your pattern for the pieces of the house.  After cutting out the pattern, return the dough to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes, or until firm and baked through.  Repeat the cutting around the patterns with a small sharp knife, then allow the gingerbread to cool completely in the pans on racks. See below for pattern instructions.

House Pattern

I really recommend getting the book to help you with this part – it contains the pattern and how to lay it out on the dough.  I totally forgot to take pictures of this part of the process, so I apologize if it isn’t very clear.  Those of you who are very creative can probably figure this out on your own, and I will give the measurements of the pieces here to help you out.  I measured and traced them onto cardboard when I made the house last year and saved my templates (a large cereal box works well for this).

Side walls (cut 2)- 5.5 x 3.5 inches (windows are 1.25 x 1.5 inches and begin 1.25 inches from the bottom of the wall)

Front and Back Walls (cut 2)- 5.5 inches at the bottom, measure 6 inches from bottom to top of point and the slope up to the point is 3.75 inches.  For the front wall, the door should be 2.5 inches tall and 1.25 inches wide, windows are .75 inches wide and the same distance from the door.  You can pretty much eyeball this and do whatever looks right, although I recommend drawing it out first to check it and then using the template when you actually cut the dough.

Roof (cut 2)- 6.5 x 4 inches.

Shutters(cut 12)- 10 mm x 1.5 inches.  The easiest way to do this is cut a rectangle that is 3.25 inches by 1.5 inches and then after you cut that into the gingerbread, divide the rectangle into 8 equal pieces.  Cut another rectangle that is half that and divide it into four equal pieces to get your last four shutters.  I know it sounds complicated, but it’s really not.  Just use my finished picture as a general guide or go get the book (you might even be able to check it out from the library).

You should be able to get all of the pieces except for one roof piece from half the dough (one 10x15 inch sheet).  Cut one roof piece from the other pan of dough and you should have a 10x11 inch sheet of gingerbread left to use as your base.  There will be a few smaller pieces of extra dough scattered in between some of your cut pieces.

Royal Icing

3 large egg whites or 6 tablespoons pasteurized egg white or use powdered egg whites to make 3 egg whites according to package directions

1 pound (about 4 cups) confectioners sugar

½ teaspoon lemon juice or distilled white vinegar

  • Combine the sugar and egg whites in a bowl, and with an electric stand mixer or hand mixer, mix on the lowest speed until the sugar is evenly moistened.  Add the lemon juice, increase the speed to medium, and beat until the icing is light and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes.  This is best used the same day it is made.  If you don't use the icing immediately, press plastic wrap against the surface and cover the plastic wrap with wet paper towels to keep it from drying out.
  • If you are tinting the icing, use paste colors instead of liquid because the liquid colors will alter the consistency.  Wilton icing colors have worked well for me.

Happy House Making! 

Gingerbread Men Cookies on Foodista 

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Orange Cardamom Cake

I have a couple recipe notebooks mostly made up of recipes cut from magazines or printed off the Internet.  This year I decided not to renew my magazine subscriptions to Cooking Light and Vegetarian Times and actually start making some of those recipes.  They are both great magazines, but they were just piling up.  I went through those stacks and cut out every recipe I was interested in or possibly thought I would make.  I divided them into two different notebooks, one for breads, desserts, and other baked goods, and the other for everything else.  And I'm actually making some headway with them!  I counted today and I've made 10 recipes from the baking/dessert group and about 7 0r 8 from the everything group (this tally is just from the magazines, it doesn't include all the new recipes I've tried from food blogs!).    I have a lot more to go, but I have a goal of trying one or two new recipes a week until I get them all made.  I've added many new recipes from food blogs and other sources and I intend to weed out any I don't like as I go, although so far, every new thing I've tried has been a keeper.  Today's recipe is one of the ones I got from Cooking Light, and it comes from the December 2007 issue.  I finally got a nice Bundt pan the other day, and this is the recipe I decided on to try it out.

Orange Cardamom Cake
Makes 16 servings
3 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 3/4 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
2/3 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 cup powdered sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons fresh orange juice
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Coat a 10-inch tube pan or Bundt pan with cooking spray; dust with 1 tablespoon flour.
  • Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, leveling with a knife.  Combine 3 cups flour, sugar, baking powder, cardamom, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center of the mixture and add orange juice, canola oil, orange rind, lemon rind, vanilla, and eggs to the flour mixture.  Beat with a mixer on low speed until well combined, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally.
  • Spoon batter into prepared cake pan, spreading evenly.  Bake at 350 for 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 5 minutes on a wire rack, then remove cake from pan.
  • To prepare glaze, combine 1 cup powdered sugar, 4 1/2 teaspoons orange juice, and lemon juice in a small bowl, stirring well with a whisk.  Drizzle glaze over warm cake; cool cake completely on wire rack.  Calories 294, Fat 10.4g,Protein 3.8g, Carb 46.6g, Fiber 0.8g
This cake turned out well and it was delicious.  It is lightly spiced with a nice orange flavor.  I thought the spices and the orange flavor were more prominent a day after I made it, so this may be one of those things that is a little better left over.  This would be a great cake for a holiday party or family get together.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Thanksgiving Recap and My Christmas Tree

So, after taking a break from blogging for a little while, I wanted to show everyone how my Thanksgiving Dinner turned out.  I was happy with everything overall, but of course there are always a few things I'd do to fine tune some of the recipes for next time.  I couldn't find any brussel sprouts, so I made acorn squash with a recipe inspired by Sweets by Sarah.  I left out the butter, sprayed them with olive oil, used only one or two tsp of sugar with the nuts and sprinkled a little coriander and allspice over the top of it all.  They were really good, and probably my favorite thing from the whole meal.  The Impossible Pumpkin Pie from FatFree Vegan Kitchen was also wonderful and I will definitely make it again.  The Buttermilk Cluster Rolls took a little more work than I anticipated, but they turned out good.  I would advise anyone making the recipe to start out with only 5 or 5 1/2 cups of flour and work your way up.   Mine was too dry and I ended up kneading buttermilk into it for a long time before it was right!  I would also bake it for a little less time or maybe at a lower temperature, since I don't like my rolls quite as crusty on the outside as these were.  The mashed potatoes were also delicious, I love rosemary with potatoes.  The Roasted Root Vegetables with Maple Glaze were yummy too and I think I like them even more with the carrot/parsnip/turnip combo than the way I first made them.  Rounding out the meal was Cranberry-Ginger Relish and Cranberry Spice Pinwheel Cookies.  I'm sure some of you are saying "Where's the turkey or turkey-like thing?"  It's a cop out I know, but I used a canned vegetarian meat substitute called FriChik.  It's really very good.  A few days ago we got our Christmas tree up and it smells wonderful.  There's really nothing like the real thing!  Don't forget to check out my Christmas music playlist on the sidebar - click on the songs and you can play them full length right off my blog :)

Clockwise from top left:  Acorn squash, skillet cornbread dressing, more acorn squash, and roasted root vegetables with maple glaze.

Buttermilk Rolls

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers: Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting

This is my first Daring Baker's Challenge and I am very excited!  The recipe for this months challenge is Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon, as published on Bay Area Bites.  Our wonderful hosts this month are: Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity, Alex (Brownie of the Blondie and Brownie duo), and Jenny of Foray into Food.  For alternative bakers, we’ve once again turned to Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go to assist us.  I did not have time to make the optional caramels, but I am hoping to make them sometime in the next couple weeks.  I was a little intimidated by this cake after learning about all the trouble other Daring Bakers were having with the caramel syrup, but mine turned out perfectly the first time!  I did make only a half batch of the caramel syrup and that was just the right amount to do the cake and the frosting.  

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature
  • Preheat oven to 350F
  • Butter and flour one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.
  • Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.
  • Sift flour and baking powder.
  • Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. (This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.)
  • Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.
  • Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it. 
  • Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)
  • In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.
  • When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.
  • Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. (Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.)
Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

12 tablespoons unsalted butter 
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste
  • Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.
  • Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.
  • In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.
Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.  To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light.

     I really enjoyed baking this cake.  I have had very little experience with baking cakes from scratch, so I'm thrilled it turned out so well.  I highly recommend following the recipe exactly, as it makes all the difference.  When you are ready to make the caramel syrup, set up everything you need right there, and watch closely so that when the sugar mixture starts to caramelize, you are ready to pour in the water.  If you don't have everything ready at that moment, it will probably burn before you have the chance to pour in the water!  My cake got rave reviews at Thanksgiving dinner, everyone particularly liked the frosting and said they had never had anything quite like it.  I thought it was delicious.  I added a good amount of salt to the frosting, I'm not sure how much, but it really helped balance the sweetness.  The cake itself is a little more dense than other cakes I've tried, but very moist and perfect with the frosting.  I wish I had taken the time to get better pictures, but there were some hungry people milling about the kitchen, so I had to settle for some quick snapshots.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cranberry-Ginger Relish and Thanksgiving Menu

I'm starting to feel the pressure...all the planning and cooking and baking, not to mention the cleaning.  This is the first time I'll be the sole person responsible for planning and executing Thanksgiving dinner for more than just two people.  I'm actually kind of excited because I think its going to be really good!  I've planned the timing of all the cooking out carefully since it will just be me doing most of it.  I'll have some help on Thanksgiving Day, but not much time, so I'm going to make it as stress free as possible by preparing what I can in advance.  Today I made this Cranberry-Ginger Relish recipe I saw on a Martha Stewart show last year around this time.  This is the first time I've made it, but I think it's going to be yummy!  The picture is from since I didn't have time to take one myself.  I promise mine looks exactly the same!  

Cranberry-Ginger Relish from Martha Stewart
1 bag (12 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or red-wine vinegar
  • In a large saucepan, bring cranberries, sugar, ginger, and 2 tablespoons of water to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until most of the cranberries have popped, 10-15 minutes.  Stir in vinegar.
  • Remove relish from heat.  Let cool to room temperature and serve (or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 days).
Here is my menu plan for Thanksgiving, inspired by great recipes from all over the blogosphere.
FriChik (veggie meat substitute in a can)
Gravy (made from the FriChik juice)
Skillet Cornbread Dressing (from Vegetarian Times Vegetarian Entertaining)
So that is what I'll be working on over the next few days.  Some of these things I've made before and already posted, others I'll be posting about later.  I wanted to make my own seitan roast, but I'll have to save that one for Christmas, because I'm just not going to have the time this week.  There is one more thing not listed here, but that's a surprise, so you'll have to wait to find out what it is!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Book Review: The Secrets of Skinny Chicks

     This book actually came out in 2006, but I just noticed it at the book store last week.  I was immediately drawn to it because the author, Karen Bridson, profiles real women who work hard to look good and be healthy.  I began my own weight loss journey more than three years ago, on my 25th birthday.  I have since lost 50 pounds to reach my goal.  I have often heard people say things (about other women) like "Oh, she's so lucky to be so thin."  Even worse is "She must be able to eat whatever she wants."  Luck has absolutely nothing to do with it!  Losing that weight and keeping it off has been one of the most challenging things I've ever done, and one of the most rewarding.  It didn't get much easier when I got to the goal either, but I am learning to adjust my expectations.  I used to think there were people out there who could eat almost anything and not gain an ounce, but now I'm pretty sure if they do exist, there might be two people on the whole planet like that.  Everyone who sets a high standard for nutrition and exercise has to work at it, and if they tell you they don't, then they're probably lying.  I think when people say they can eat whatever they want it means that their appetites are probably in line with their needs.  They have perfectly reasonable expectations for the amount and type of food they need to eat, and how much exercise they need to do to look a certain way.
     What I really like about this book is the realistic view of what you have to do to look like the women (models, actresses, athletes) you've always envied.  Even if you don't want to take it to that extreme, this book is full of tips everyone can use to inspire them along their fitness journey.  Almost everything in this book is stuff I already knew, but we all need reminding of what we can do to be successful.  One of my favorite quotes from the book is "This is not about dieting, this is about changing the way you look at food and your perception of how much you need."(page 137)  This was one of the hardest things for me; changing my perception and expectations of how much food I could eat, particularly once I reached my goal.  It's really important to make the kinds of changes you can live with for the rest of your life, rather than going on a diet so extreme you'll never be able to stick with it.
     The author of The Secrets of Skinny Chicks is realistic and encouraging about what women need to do to reach their goals.  I would recommend this book to anyone who is just starting a diet and exercise program, and anyone who's been at it for a while and needs inspiration.  It is easy to read and something I will definitely refer to again for inspiration and when I need reminding of what I should be doing!  The book covers all the good habits of women who stay thin and healthy all the time.  Don't sell yourself short!  If you are willing to do the work, you can look and feel fabulous!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Puppy Cakes - Lick them before they lick you!

Pin ItTonight's project was decorating miniature cupcakes with my sister-in-law H for our niece B's birthday party.  B turned 3 on Thursday, and she is so cute!  Anyway, these little cakes were H's idea (the creative genius).  She baked them in a miniature cupcake pan, mixed up some basic buttercream icing, and brought them over to my house for the fun part.  I got to help decorate them.  Neither one of us has ever taken a cake decorating class (which I would still like to do), but I am very proud of how these turned out.  One mini cupcake is the base, while half a mini cupcake is attached with a toothpick or icing for the head.  We mixed up the different colors of icing and used sandwich bags with the corners snipped off to make the "fur".  We used cut up pieces of chocolate chips and raisins for eyes and noses and finished them off with little pink icing tongues.  They almost look like they could give you wet puppy kisses.  I think the kids will lick them first though!  They were a lot of fun to make.  Now I just need an excuse to come up with another cake decorating project.  

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Matter Paneer Made Vegan

My husband really likes Indian food.  When we started dating, he took me out to an Indian restaurant for my first taste of it.  I love that there are so many vegetarian options and it's all so good!  It's loaded with calories though, so we don't go out for it very often.  I was thrilled when I found this recipe for Matter Paneer in the October 2006 issue of Vegetarian Times magazine.  It can be made either vegan or vegetarian, depending on your preference.  The first time I made it, I was able to find some paneer at a local Indian grocery store, and it was delicious but full of calories and saturated fat.  After that, I used the suggestion from VT to make it with tofu and I think it is really good that way.

Serves 4-6
1 large onion, quartered
1 1/2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. whole brown mustard seeds
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic, minced (about 1 tsp.)
1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. garam masala
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen peas, thawed (1 generous cup)
3 Tbs. reduced-fat or fat free sour cream (or soy yogurt, or leave out completely)
1/4 tsp. sugar
1 8-oz. pkg. tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes (or paneer if you choose)
  • Purée onion in food processor.
  • Heat oil in pot over medium heat. Add mustard seeds, cumin and bay leaf. Cook 1 minute, or until fragrant.
  • Add onion and garlic, and sauté 5 to 7 minutes, or until browned. Stir in tomato sauce, coriander, garam masala, turmeric, salt and paprika. Simmer 10 minutes, or until sauce thickens, stirring occasionally. Add up to 1/2 cup water if sauce is too thick. I don't usually have to add any water.  
  • Stir in peas, tofu, sour cream (or soy yogurt or nothing) and sugar. Simmer 15-20 minutes more.  Remove bay leaf and serve hot with basmati rice or naan bread.   
  • If making with paneer, add the paneer 5 minutes after adding the peas and cook for only about three more minutes.
My tofu of choice is Mori Nu Lite Firm Tofu.  I like it because it has the fewest calories of any light tofu I have found, and it doesn't have to be refrigerated until opening.  I buy it in bulk so I always have some on hand.  This tofu comes in 12.3 ounce packages, so you may use only half the package for this recipe.  I usually double the recipe so I can use up a whole package.  It is good leftover and it never lasts long!  Your amounts of tofu and peas don't have to be exact for this recipe, but I generally add 2 1/3 cups frozen peas if I double the recipe.  I also like to serve this as a main dish meal, so if I make it as written, I divide it in half to make just two servings (1 1/2 cups per serving, makes 3 cups total or 6 if doubled).  I serve 1 1/2 cups of the matter paneer over 1 cup of basmati rice which makes a nice meal for about 475 calories (275 for the matter paneer, 200 for the rice).

When I started making this, I had trouble finding garam masala.  Here is a recipe to make your own, also from Vegetarian Times (I don't remember what issue).

Garam Masala
1 TBS ground cumin
1 TBS ground coriander
2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
Mix together well and store in an airtight container away from light.

If you want to make fragrant basmati rice, like you get in Indian restaurants, here is how.

8 whole green cardamom pods
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp vegetable oil (optional, I leave it out)
1 cinnamon stick
Add to basmati rice and cook according to package directions.  Remove cardamom and cinnamon before serving.  Note: I wasn't able to find whole green cardamom pods, so I used a couple pinches of dried whole cardamom.  It worked well, and you don't have to worry about removing them at the end - they're a little crunchy but not hard or unpleasant.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pumpkin Muffins

The recipe for these muffins came from a November 2006 issue of Cooking Light Magazine.  They are quite different from the Pumpkin Oat Muffins I posted previously.  I have to say, I think I like these better, but I didn't really give the other ones a fair chance with all the substitutions I made.  I'm hoping these will freeze well so we can enjoy them from now through Thanksgiving Day.  The recipe says they can be made up to two days ahead.  Tip:  to make your own pumpkin pie spice, follow this link.  I used recipe #4. 

Makes 18 muffins
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour (about 10 ounces)
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup golden raisins (I used dark raisins, since that's what I had)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Prepare enough muffin tins for 18 muffins by coating with cooking spray.  
  • Spoon flour into dry measuring cups, leveling with a knife.  Combine flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, ginger, and salt in a medium bowl, stirring well with a whisk.  Stir in raisins and make a well in center of mixture.
  • Combine brown sugar, canned pumpkin, buttermilk, canola oil, molasses, vanilla, and eggs, stirring well with a whisk.  Add sugar mixture to flour mixture, stir just until dry ingredients are moistened.
  • Spoon batter into 18 prepared muffin cups.  Sprinkle with granulated sugar.  Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Remove muffins from pans immediately; cool on a wire rack.  
These muffins turned out perfectly when baked for exactly 15 minutes in my oven.  I forgot to spinkle the granulated sugar on top, but I didn't miss it.  They were delicious!  They are 200 calories per muffin.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cranberry-Honey Spice Pinwheel Cookies

I found this recipe in an issue of Eating Well Magazine (November/December 2005).  These are great because they make a large batch ( about 90 cookies), and you can make them ahead of time, freeze the logs, and then only slice and bake as many as you want at a time.  You can also do the dough and the filling at different times (make the filling up to 2 days before you want to make the dough and assemble the logs).  They take about 1 1/2 hours of hands on time to make, and a total of 6 hours from start to finish, including freezing and cooling times.  They have a wonderfully spicy aroma and smell just like Thanksgiving and Christmas to me!  I am enjoying the smell of the first batch baking as I write this....mmmmmm.

1 1/2 cups sweetened dried cranberries
1 cup cranberries, fresh or frozen (thawed)
1/2 cup honey
2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom or allspice

2 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom or allspice
1/3 cup canola oil
3 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons lowfat milk, plus more as needed
2 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • For the filling:  Combine all filling ingredients in a medium nonreactive saucepan over medium heat.  Bring mixture to a gentle boil and cook, stirring, until the fresh cranberries burst and soften, about 4-5 minutes.  Let cool slightly, then transfer to a food processor and puree.  If the mixture seems dry, stir in up to 2 teaspoons of water.  Transfer mixture to a nonreactive container and refrigerate while preparing the dough.  Personal note:  When I first combined all these ingredients in the saucepan, I thought the mixture seemed very dry and I wondered how it would come to a boil, but have faith, as the honey warms and the fresh cranberries start to burst, the mixture will become very moist.  I did not have to add any water when I pureed it.
  • For the dough:  Whisk all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and cardamom (or allspice) in a large bowl.  In another large bowl, combine oil, butter, sugar, honey, eggs, milk, orange zest, vanilla and almond extracts.  Beat wet ingredients with an electric mixer on low speed, then on medium speed until well combined.  Add half the dry ingredients and beat on low speed until just incorporated.  Stir in the remaining dry ingredients until evenly incorporated, adding up to 1 tablespoon more milk if the dough is too dry to hold together  (I did not have this problem, my dough was just right without the extra milk).  Cover and refrigerate the dough for 30-45 minutes to reduce its stickiness.  I would recommend even refrigerating it for an 1-1 1/2 hours.  It was not overly sticky after 30 minutes, but I think it would be easier to handle and roll out if chilled well.
  • Turn dough out into a work surface and divide in half.  Shape each half into a 6-inch long log.  Working with one log at a time, center it on a 16-inch-long sheet of baking parchment or wax paper.  Cover with a second sheet and roll into a 12x15-inch rectangle of even thickness, inverting the dough to roll out any wrinkles and patching it if necessary to make the sides as even as possible.  Transfer the dough, in the paper, to a baking sheet and repeat with the remaining log.  Place the baking sheet in the freezer until the dough is slightly firm, about 15 minutes.  Personal note:  I would freeze the sheets of dough for 20 to 30 minutes.  Take only one at a time out of the freezer, and work quickly.  As the dough warmed, I had problems with it coming apart a little when spreading the cranberry mixture and sticking to the wax paper when I tried to roll it up.  I also recommend oiling your hands a little bit and using the side of an oiled spatula to loosen the dough from the paper as you roll it, if sticking is a problem.
  • To prepare pinwheel rolls:  Place one sheet of dough on the work surface.  Peel off the top sheet of paper.  Spread half the reserved filling evenly over the dough (it will be a very thin layer).  Working from a 15-inch long side, tightly roll up the dough jelly-roll style, leaving the bottom sheet of paper behind.  Wrap the roll in a clean sheet of wax paper, twisting the ends to prevent unrolling.  Place on a baking sheet and repeat with the second piece of dough.  Put both rolls into the freezer on a baking sheet and freeze until firm, at least 3-4 hours.  Note: to get a uniformly round cookie, enclose the rolls in the cardboard tubes from paper towels or foil before freezing.  Slit each tube lengthwise and insert the wrapped pinwheel log.  Secure the tube around the log using rubber bands or tape.
  • To bake the cookies:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.  Working with one pinwheel roll at a time, trim the uneven ends.  Cut the roll crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices using a serrated knife.  Periodically turn the roll to maintain a relatively round cookie shape.  Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 1/2-inch apart.  Bake until puffed and barely golden brown, 12-16 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking.  Immediately transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool.  Personal note:  I recommend putting the roll you are slicing back into the freezer while waiting for cookies to bake.  Even though I did that, it started to get a little soft towards the end, making it more difficult to slice.  Don't worry if the cookies aren't perfectly round, they will look better after baking.  They were done after 14 minutes in my oven.
These little cookies are delicious, and so pretty!  They smell wonderful and I think they will be a great addition to my Thanksgiving dinner.  I sliced and baked only one of the rolls for now and I'm saving the other one for next week.  These cookies will be good stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week, or you can freeze them after baking for up to one month.  The tightly wrapped dough rolls can be frozen for up to 2 months (do not defrost before slicing and baking).  They are 54 calories and 1g fat per cookie.