Tuesday, June 28, 2011

June 2011 Daring Bakers Challenge: Baklava

Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.

For those of you unfamiliar with Baklava, its a rich, sweet pastry made of layers of phyllo pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey. I was first introduced to it while studying in Canada and I'm definitely a fan but I haven't had any since I left, so when I saw that it was this month's challenge, I was very excited. It would normally be pretty simple to make using store bought phyllo but this challenge required that we make homemade phyllo, which was, well, difficult. The recipe can be found on the Daring Bakers Website

I began with the phyllo dough which was made by combining flour, salt, water, vegetable oil and cider vinegar then kneading it until smooth and letting it rest for 2 hours wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. During the resting time I prepared the syrup by boiling a cinnamon stick, lime rind, cloves, honey, sugar and water together for 10 minutes. 

While the syrup cooled, I created the nut mixture by grinding the walnuts, almonds, pistachios, allspice and cinnamon in the food processor. 

The phyllo dough was ready for rolling and I followed the instructions as best I could, trying to get it as thin as possible by rolling and stretching. I then layered about 5 sheets of phyllo, making sure to butter in between sheets, then 1/3 nut mixture, then another 5 sheets, more nut mixture, until the phyllo and nut mixture were all used up. I cut the baklava into pieces and generously buttered the top.

I baked it for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F, then cut it again and baked it for another 30 minutes. It smelled amazing when it was baking which made me a little upset that it had to sit overnight and I wouldn't be able to eat it until the next day. I removed it from the oven and it was lovely and golden. 

It looked just like the picture in the recipe and I felt a sense of achievement. I poured the syrup over it and left it to absorb overnight. There was so much syrup that my baklava actually began to float but I wasn't concerned since the recipe said we should expect it to be a lot of syrup but it would be absorbed overnight. The next day though I awoke to disappointment. The baklava was drowning in tons of syrup. I had to pour off the excess.

The flavour of the baklava was sweet, with wonderful spice. The flavour was terrific. But everything else was turned out to be well, not so great. The baklava was very wet and sticky, the  "phyllo" I made wasn't thin or flaky enough and the cinnamon sticks hadn't been ground up small enough so every now and then I bit into a very tough bite of stick. Had I known that would happen I would've just used cinnamon powder. I was very disappointed since I was so looking forward to recreating this dessert. I will definitely try it again one day, but with store bought phyllo and a different recipe and see if I have better luck. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Chocolate Covered Chocolate Dipped in Chocolate

A good friend of mine was leaving for Spain for six weeks and she made one request "Something Chocolate". I begun to quiz her on what she liked with chocolate. Did she like nuts, caramel,coconut, what accompaniments could I put in this dessert. To which she replied that all those things were just distractions, she wanted chocolate, forget the other stuff. So when I saw this recipe for Life by Chocolate on Pioneer Woman's Blog, I thought of her. These are chocolate cupcakes with a Hersheys Kiss inside dipped in chocolate ganache. Unfortunately the weekend before she left I bit off more than I could chew and fell ill, so I couldn't make them for her departure, however I made them this weekend to commemorate her long awaited return.

Dry mixture
These cupcakes were simple to make. I combined the salt, sugar and flour in a bowl. I used whole wheat flour instead of white because with all this chocolate I figured noone could tell the difference and we could all use some extra fiber here and there. Then I whisked the eggs, vanilla, baking soda and natural yogurt (used instead of buttermilk) together in a measuring cup. I melted the butter over medium heat and added the cocoa.  I used Hersheys Special Dark Cocoa Powder. I added the boiling water and removed the pot from the heat. Then I combined all three mixtures, the dry, the wet and the cocoa.
Wet mixture
Cocoa mixture


Dry, wet and cocoa mixtures combined

I filled each muffin cup with 1/4cup batter and placed a kiss lightly in the centre of each muffin cup. The muffins baked for 20 minutes.

As they cooled I made the chocolate ganache by adding warm cream, corn syrup and vanilla to chopped chocolate and whisking until smooth. When both the cupcakes and the ganache were cool, I dipped the cupcakes in them.

These were very chocolaty, not too sweet, with a sweet surprise milk chocolate kiss in the middle. This was chocolaty, chocolaty, chocolaty and quite dark. They were good and although I got rave reviews from my tasters, I didn't think it was great.A moister, fluffier cupcake recipe would take this from good to great!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Come Rain or Shine

For about two weeks the rain fell, and fell, and fell. It felt like it would never end. The weather inspired me to make something warm and cozy for the weekend and I selected a bread pudding with spiced rum sauce. I even decided that only a wimpy baker would go buy the bread to make the bread pudding, I on the other hand was a daring baker who did not believe in short cuts! So I decided I'd make cinnamon raisin bread days before and then turn it into bread pudding on the weekend. But, just as my plan came together the sun appeared, blazing with a vengeance and I just couldn't bring myself to execute my plan.

I went back to the drawing board and while in the grocery store I was inspired by a huge bag of limes. I'll make Key Lime Pie, I thought. But these weren't key limes, just regular limes. While talking about it with a friend she made a mistake and called it Lime Cay Pie. I liked the way it sounded and decided to rename my dessert after one of my favorite beaches. After all, this weekend would've been perfect for a trip to Lime Cay plus I'd eliminate the risk of being accosted by purists who are against using anything but Key Limes to make this dessert. I searched for a recipe and found one for Key Lime Tart in Martha's Baking Handbook. I love tarts and thought it would be more elegant and easier to slice so I went for it! Lime Cay Tart!

I ditched the crust in the book and decided to make one from ginger biscuits. The same crust I made for the Nectarine and Mascarpone Tart. I thought the ginger and lime would go well together. Perhaps it could've done with more baking because it crumbled quite a bit at the edges, affecting the look of my tart. After making the crust with processing ginger biscuits and combining the crumbs with melted butter, I baked it for 8 minutes and left it to cool. 

The filling was soooo easy to make, I beat egg yolks and sugar together until pale and fluffy, then added lime zest, condensed milk and lime juice. I then filled the cooled crust and baked it for 10 minutes. Then I attempted to cover it loosely with plastic wrap but once the plastic wrap touched the top some of it stuck to it. It ruined the smooth finish of the tart :( . Oh, the simple lessons I learn while baking. I placed it in the fridge and left it to cool. I declined to make the garnish. It would take 30-40 minutes of cooking to make and I did not have the luxury of time for such a frivolous undertaking. 

I tasted the tart and it was wonderful. It was tart but sweet, silky smooth and refreshing, just the thing you'd want on a nice hot day. The book suggested that it be served with sweetened whipped cream, which I also didn't bother to make but I can see why they would suggest it. Something to cut the tartness a bit. For me though, it was great without it. Had a lovely zing to it!

On Saturday my fiancĂ© mentioned he felt for ice cream so of course I volunteered to make some for him. I chose Unbelieveably Good Chocolate Blueberry Ice Cream from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours. I couldn't resist trying this recipe. The name was taunting me and I just had to know whether it did its name justice. This was my second time making ice cream but the first time I made one which contained egg yolks and had a custard that needed to be heated. Well I learned some lessons there as well, I cooked the custard into something resembling scrambled eggs twice before getting it right. But finally, on the third try I made the custard and heated it properly. Then I poured it over the chopped chocolate, stirred it until smooth and then put it in my ice cream maker. When it was almost done I added the blueberry preserves. I let the mixture freeze overnight before tasting.

The ice cream was tasty, very chocolaty and had a beautiful dark colour but unbelievably good? No. Just good. So, like the brownies and chocolate chip cookies, I'm still on the search for the perfect recipe.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Too Short Shortcake

Two friends of mine requested strawberry shortcake so I selected it as this week's project. While doing recipe research I discovered that what we have been accustomed to calling "Strawberry Shortcake" was not really Strawberry Shortcake. Real strawberry shortcake is made with biscuits. Yeah, biscuits, weird huh? Anyway, I set out to make the cake version and came upon this fabulous recipe for Strawberry Cream Cake from Cooks Illustrated

After last week's daring bakers challenge I thought this one would be 
easy as pie. then something happened that brought me down from my cloud of invincibility. I began by making the cake and followed the directions to the letter. But while it was baking I noticed it hadn't risen as much as I had expected. It also took 10 minutes more than the recipe said it would to bake. I let the cake cool, wrapped it in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight. It bothered me all night. I thought about it and the next morning I awoke feeling renewed and decided to make another cake. I decided to use a recipe for moist yellow cake layers from Nick Malgieri's Bake!. I figured the problem with the first one was the delicate folding in of the egg whites. Maybe I had mixed them too much. This recipe didn't have that, I thought it would be harder to screw up. 

While the cake baked, I prepared the strawberries. One of the things that drew me to this recipe was that it not only had fresh strawberries but also contained another filling made with macerated strawberries and cherry brandy. I sliced 24 of the strawberries and quartered the rest of them. 

Then I removed the cake from the oven. This cake didn't rise enough either. The cake was supposed to be 5cm tall and it was only 3cm. So with two short cakes I decided to make the best of it, cut each cake in half and use three of those halves to make the strawberry shortcake. 
Cake #1
Cake #2

I liked the texture of the second cake the most so I decided to use two layers of it and one layer of the first one. While cake #2 cooled, I macerated  the quartered strawberries with 6 tablespoons of sugar. After an hour I strained the strawberries and put the liquid in a saucepan with 3 tablespoons of cherry brandy and simmered it for 5 minutes until it became quite syrupy. The quartered strawberries were then pulsed in the food processor 5 times and added to the syrup. I put the mixture to cool while I made the cream. The cream was simple and involved beating cream cheese, sugar and vanilla together and whipping that with heavy cream. 

I assembled the cake by placing the fresh strawberry halves around the circumference of a cake layer then filled the center with the macerated strawberry mixture. Then I added a generous layer of the cream mixture. I repeated this for the next layer. Then I placed the final layer on top, topped it with cream and surrounded the top layer with fresh strawberry halves. My middle layer suffered an injury while being transferred, it broke in several places. I just put it together and hoped that this wouldn't seriously affect the stability of the cake.

I put the cake in the fridge to cool for a couple hours before I cut it. This was one of those weeks when I had a lot of tasters and I was nervous about how it would come out. I had some strawberry shortcake lovers in the group and I didn't want to disappoint them by not doing their favorite dessert justice. Despite my issues with the cake not rising and the breaking of the middle layer, the cake was deeeeelicious and still quite beautiful. I even have a request to make another one next weekend!