Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"I Can't Believe It's Over"

I'm sure many of you have been wondering where I've been for the last two weekends. I mean, this is supposed to be a weekly thing right? Well, I've been on vacation and I had a really good time. I just got back last night and I'm now having that "I can't believe it's over" feeling. I'm sure you can forgive me for taking a little break to get some rest and relaxation, can't you? I thought so.

Now I'm gearing up for what is going to be a very busy week. My parents and brother are coming for a visit. For those of you who don't already know, they all live abroad, so they've been forced to read about my baking from thousands of miles away, imagining what my treats taste like from the pictures. Now is my chance to bake them something and I am so excited and I'll confess, a little nervous. I'll be baking some of their favorites and since they have different tastes, that means more than one dessert. I haven't picked the specific recipes I'll be making yet, still searching for the perfect ones.

I'll be limiting the amount of tasting I do this week since I'm still quite stuffed from my vacation where I ate ample amounts of food. I ate what I want when I wanted it, did what I want when I wanted to and I was pretty much carefree for 10 days. Isn't that the way vacations should be though? But now the vacation is over, so I'll be making an effort to lose those couple vacation pounds. My family will be on vacation though, so they'll be carefree, and I can pretty much count on my younger brother to devour anything, once it's tasty, since he has a healthy appetite and killer metabolism (I'm quite jealous actually). So look out for my post this weekend, I have a feeling, its going to be delicious.

P.S.  A Note on Photos

After my last post I received many questions about whether the photos I post on my site are actual photos of my desserts. This was most flattering, my tart looked that good huh? You thought I stole that picture from somewhere? Nope! That was my beautiful tart that I made. Gorgeous wasn't it? I couldn't believe it myself, that I was capable of that. But then again sometimes we really don't know what we're capable of until we try.

Those particular photos of the finished Nectarine and Mascarpone Tart were taken by my boyfriend on a bright Saturday morning with his fancy camera which is by far superior to the point and click digital camera I normally use. This also contributed to the beauty of the photos. I'll try and get him to take more pictures for me, and perhaps I'll learn how to use his camera to take the pictures myself, in case he's not home.

But as a general rule, all the photos I've posted on my blog are of the actual desserts I made, taken by me, or in this case and hopefully many others, by my boyfriend. If at any time in the future I take pictures from a source, the source will be given full credit, and I'll let you know its not mine.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

It's Springtime!!

It's springtime! Not that it makes any difference in Jamaica, it's pretty much always warm. In my opinion there are three seasons here, rainy season, drought and hurricane season. But I know its spring because supermarkets are starting to carry the imported fruits that aren't always available here. Fresh berries, peaches, plums, nectarines. Forgive me if I take advantage of the availability and better prices and use them liberally in my challenges, I don't get to eat or use them often. This week I made a Nectarine and Mascarpone Tart with Ginersnap Crust from Bon Apetit July 2002.

I wanted to make this tart the moment I saw it on Epicurious.com. I mean, look at it, it's gorgeous. I think tarts are slowly becoming my favorite thing to make. I just think they are elegant, delicate, and stunning and fresh fruit makes them even more beautiful. Of course, the fact that the filling contains mascarpone and cream cheese was also a major factor in my choice. In case you didn't get the memo, I love cream cheese. I can't believe how wonderful it tastes in both sweet and savory preparations. Need a sweet tangy frosting for your carrot cake? Cream cheese. Need something creamy to go with your smoked salmon? Cream cheese. Mascarpone is also an ingredient I've never actually used before but I've learnt a lot about it from watching copious amounts of food tv. When I learnt it was a sweet Italian cream cheese, I knew we'd become great friends.

I came home early on Friday and headed straight to the kitchen. I made the crust first. I don't have a food processor but I do have a mini chopper which I used to grind 25 Jamaican Ginger Biscuits for the crust. I combined this with butter and pressed it into my 9" tart pan. The crust baked for 8 minutes, then I placed it on the cooling rack to cool.

While the tart cooled, I made the filling. For some reason both lemons and limes have totally vanished from the produce section at the supermarket. I had some oranges at home, so I used orange zest instead. I combined the orange zest, mascarpone, cream cheese, sugar, sour cream and vanilla and beat them with my hand mixer until the filling was smooth. Then I added a tablespoon of crystallized ginger. At first I was worried about the crystallized ginger at first, wondering if it would be like biting into a big piece of raw ginger when you're eating a nice piece of meat. Ginger is a wonderful spice and can make things taste amazing. But when you bite into a chunk of it, it's rather unpleasant. I decided to use it anyway, mostly because of the many reviews I saw that said it MADE the tart. So many people couldn't be wrong right? After making the filling I spread it into the cooled crust and refrigerated it overnight.

The next morning, I got the nectarines out to make the topping. I haven't actually eaten nectarines before, I have had peaches which are very similar. In fact I read that the difference between the peach and the nectarine basically boils down to the fact that peaches have fuzz and nectarines don't. I found them very hard to cut in half. They were glued to the stone. I tried my best to pry them open without ruining the fruit. I sliced three of them thinly and arranged them on top of the cooled tart. I brushed the topped tart with warm peach preserves and sprinkled it with two tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger.

So now for the most important part, sure it was beautiful, but how did it taste? The filling was really wonderful. The orange zest worked very well, adding a citrus hint to the sweet, creamy filling with a hint of ginger. The crust was also delicious and complimented the filling beautifully. I have a feeling that I'll be using this filling and this crust many more times varying the toppings and zests. There were mixed reviews about the fruit topping. The nectarines, by no fault of their own weren't ripe enough in my opinion. So they were not very sweet and quite crunchy. I would've preferred if they were ripes and sweeter. I guess thats what you get when you use a fruit you're not used to. Some felt as though the fact that they weren't as sweet was refreshing, and that the crunch added great texture to the creamy filling beneath it.

I'm certainly going to try it again with different fruits and riper nectarines. I know it will be even more delicious than it was this weekend and trust me, it was really tasty. So tasty in fact, that my friends have already devoured it. And as for the verdict on the crystallized ginger, lovely, subtle, spicy, perfect in both the filling and sprinkled on top. I should never have doubted it.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Move Over Cinnabon!

Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Glaze
When I'm travelling abroad and walking through the airport which has become such a tense environment nowadays with all the security concerns of air travel, there is a welcoming scent which I absolutely LOVE. It's the smell of the Cinnabon mmm. I'm a fan, well, I was until this week's baking project. This week I made Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Glaze from Bon Appetit 2008.

I've also been trying to sneak more fiber into my diet. So I thought I'd also make some bran muffins that I could have for breakfast in the mornings. I found a recipe from King Arthur Flour where the batter keeps in the fridge for 2 weeks, so you don't have to bake them all at once, which I thought was perfect for this purpose.

Bran Muffins
So I'll tell you about the bran muffins first since, let's face it, they're a lot less exciting than warm, soft, cinnamon rolls with cream cheese glaze mmmmm. Anyway, so I went to the store and picked up the bran twigs, yes that's the cereal that looks like shredded cardboard that I usually pass in the aisle and wonder what person in their right mind would eat that. But I'd be mixing it with a bunch of other wonderful ingredients that I figured would compensate. When made right, bran muffins can be a delicious start to the day.

Batter after refrigeration overnight
I started by soaking a cup of the bran cereal in a cup of boiling water for 45 minutes. In the meantime, I combined the flour, baking soda and salt. Then I added the raisins. The recipe said 1-1 1/2 cups. I'm always a fan of more raisins so I went for the full amount. After the cereal in boiling water had cooling I mixed in the oil and set it aside.  Then I combined the eggs, sugar and 2 cups of plain yogurt which I used as a substitute for the buttermilk. I mixed the flour mixture and the egg mixture together and added an additional two cups of bran cereal. Then finally, I added the mixture of water, oil and bran cereal to the mix. Then I refrigerated the batter overnight. The next morning the batter was very thick and dark in colour. All the cereal was now hydrated and ready to rumble. I used a 1/4 cup measuring cup to fill my 6 muffin tin and baked them for 25 minutes. Then popped em out and set them to cool.

The bran muffins tasted good and had a great consistency but I kept hoping I'd taste another flavour. Like some banana and a bit of mixed spice. However, the great thing about this recipe is, I still have two more batches worth of batter in the fridge , so I can always add those flavours to it and see how it turns out next week. I'm sure with those lil adjustments I'll completely forget I'm eating fiber and just think I'm eating a quick delicious breakfast. 

Now for the Pièce de résistance, the Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Glaze. I started by combining the dough ingredients and mixing into a sticky dough. I turned it unto a lightly floured glass cutting board and kneading it until it was more or less smooth. Then I put the dough in a large bowl sprayed with cooking spray, covered it in plastic wrap then a kitchen towel and left it to rise for 2 hrs. This recipe involves yeast, which I had never used before and was apprehensive about. I am not sure why, it was super easy and actually very cool to see how it made the dough rise like magic. Just look at the difference:

I had thought working with yeast would be hard but really it only requires you to stop for a while to wait for it to rise. I deflated the dough and rolled it out into a 15 x 11 rectangle which happened to be the dimensions of the cutting board i was rolling the dough on so I just rolled it to fit the board. I spread the butter on it and topped it with a mixture of cinnamon and brown sugar. Then I rolled it as tightly as possible and cut it into 3/4"-1" pieces and placed them in a 9 x 13 glass dish sprayed with cooking spray. It was at this time that I realized this recipe was going to be a real winner, they looked and smelled good already. I let them rise for another 45 mins.

I baked them for 40 minutes after which they were golden. While they baked I made the glaze which consisted of butter, icing sugar, and one of my favorite things, cream cheese :-)

I turned them upside down on a cooling rack and let them cool for 10 minutes, then I turned them right side up again, put them back in the dish and smeared the glaze over them. Then I served myself one.

Oh my goodness! Golden on the outside, soft on the inside, perfectly cinnamony and sweet, warm, comforting, and the glaze was the perfect compliment to it. This was better than Cinnabon, and I made them!!! Wow! I took out my phone and my ipod and sent texts and tweets to my friends. I wanted to spread the love. Soon after I had a group of 5 people in my kitchen eating cinnamon rolls, telling me they were great! I'm so glad they turned out so well, and so glad my friends liked them as much as I did. People were there trying to resist their, not second but third cinnamon roll . I had to remove and hide my boyfriend's share as it was in danger of being eaten. I wouldn't change a thing about this recipe and will be making it many more times. It's a definite winner and deserves its 4 fork rating.