Thursday, May 27, 2010

Daring Bakers - Croquembouche

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.

May is the third month I will have taken part in a Daring Bakers challenge and so far the same thing has crossed my mind each month after reading the presentation of the challenge: "Oh man, what have I gotten myself into". It is typically followed by reading the recipe, looking at a few examples, and in general processing the whole idea before I soon realize that this is something that I can do. It may not be the most beautiful creation ever to grace a food blog, but it will be completed and done to the best of my ability. This month was no exception.

When I read the title (very French sounding) and saw the photo on the challenge instructions I immediately felt a certain amount of anxiety. I am imagining that if you saw a huge tower of pastries with firecrackers coming out of it you would be a bit stressed too! Couple that with the fact that the pastry components had unfamiliar French names and that I have never even made a cream puff in my entire life (and have rarely eaten any either), and I immediately felt the stress level increase. After settling my thoughts down a bit I began to look over photos of several other completed croquembouche and realized that there was quite a variety of flavors and styles of this elegant dessert. Whew, that made me feel a bit better. Well, that and actually watching the whole 15 minute video of Martha making one. I've told you before, I am a visual learner.

So, on to the challenge. A croquembouche, or piece montée, is a high pyramid/cone made of profiteroles sometimes dipped in chocolate, bound with caramel, and usually decorated with threads of caramel, sugared almonds, chocolate, flowers, or ribbons. In layman's terms, it is basically a tower of cream puffs that are bound together with chocolate or caramel and then can be decorated with a variety of edible and inedible items. For this particular challenge we were given a specific recipe for the crème patissiere (pastry cream), pate a choux (puff pastry), and a chocolate or caramel glaze.

My first intention was to make three different versions as mini towers so that I could experiment with different flavors and glazes. I had intended to make a whole batch of puff pastries, and then divide a half batch of pastry cream between a raspberry flavor and a coffee flavor. The raspberry flavor I was going to pair with a white chocolate glaze and the coffee flavor would be paired with a dark chocolate glaze. Unfortunately, I forgot my idea in the glee of my pastry cream actually turning out and added the raspberries to the entire batch. Not only that but I also forgot that I was going to freeze half of the puff pastries and promptly filled every single one of them with the raspberry cream. Oops! Add to it the fact that once my husband and I ate one for a taste test we couldn't seem to stop eating them. I think the fact that they are light as air has something to do with the fact that you have to eat a whole batch to feel like you've eaten anything. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

Back to the process. There was one point when I was whisking the pastry cream where I felt that I had screwed things up because it was looking like it was starting to have chunks in it, like the eggs had solidified. I even gave up for a minute, set the whisk down and was ready to throw in the towel, but then I decided to keep stirring a bit. I'm glad I did because once it cooled in the fridge and I added the raspberry puree it turned out just perfect.

This was my first time making puff pastry from scratch. It was interesting to see how the dough would change as you added the eggs one by one, stirring between each addition. When first adding the egg the dough would be slimy and balled up, but as you stirred it in and the egg became absorbed, the consistency changed to that of mashed potatoes. Every time an egg was added the same thing happened. It was really quite fascinating. I did get a bit frustrated shaping the actual pastry since in my non-existent experience I was unsure of what to do to get the shape I wanted. They are supposed to be piped out of the pastry bag as round balls and you smoosh the little hat down with a wet finger. Mine not only had hats, but heads and bodies as well! I think it just added a bit of character to my little misshapen cream puffs, but that does not work to your advantage when you are looking for identical rounded balls to stack on top of each other.

Assembling the tower was not terribly difficult for me. Partly because it was a small tower in comparison to some of the croquembouche that are out there and also because I considered this my practice run. At this point I was still thinking that my final product would be raspberry filled cream puffs with a white chocolate glaze, but once I drizzled the white chocolate over the top I found it terribly plain looking. I knew I did not want a bunch of stuff sticking out of it like I had seen in some examples, and there was no way I was ready to do spun sugar, so I decided to add some dark chocolate drizzle to see if that livened it up a bit. Who can go wrong with dark chocolate? It not only livened up the appearance of the croquembouche, but it also livened up the flavor. I may still attempt another masterpiece before the month is over, but at this point I don't think my husband and I can get away with eating 35 raspberry filled cream puffs, half drizzled in oodles of chocolate, in a three hour time period again, so I'll have to come up with a different plan for its consumption. Enjoy!

If you would like the recipes for the pate a choux (puff pastries), crème patissiere (pastry cream), and the glazes, please email me. I followed the exact recipes, but I added a raspberry puree to the pastry cream once it had cooled and set up in fridge. The raspberry puree was made from frozen raspberries, thawed and then all the juices squeezed out through a cloth so there were no seeds. Sugar was then added to taste.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Triple Coconut Cream Mini Pies

While trying to decide what to make for a small get together I was having I ran across this recipe and I knew immediately that this would be what I was going to bake for dessert. There were two reasons for this, the first and most important being that over a year ago my husband and I got our hands on a magazine that showcased the best desserts in Seattle and this was in there. We tried many, and I mean many of the other restaurants, cupcake bakeries, and dessert shops, but we had yet to make it to the Dahlia Bakery to try the famous Triple Coconut Cream Pie. The second reason was that I was looking for something that I could serve in individual portions instead of one large dessert where half would be left when everyone was gone and I would be forced to eat it all by myself.

These mini pies really were the perfect size. The coconut pastry cream was so rich that having only a small portion of it really made it quite manageable. This was my first time purchasing an actual vanilla bean and now I know why I don't do it often. They are fairly expensive but I figured I'd splurge for this dessert. I did have a few issues with baking them but nothing that I wasn't able to work out. In the original recipe for the pastry crusts it was unclear to me whether to leave the chilled dough in the pan while baking or to move them to a cookie sheet. Well, let me just say that it is a good thing that I set the timer for only half the required baking time because when I opened my oven and saw them laying as flat as a pancake I realized my error. I was able to scoop them up with my spatula and then reform them into the muffin tin, stick them back in the oven, and they turned out fine. There was a momentary sense of panic at the time though! I also had no dried beans or pie weights so I just used parchment paper with rice poured on it so that the bottoms wouldn't puff up and it would hold it's general shape.

I found that one batch of the pastry crust made enough for nine small pies, but one batch of coconut pastry cream and one batch of the whipped cream actually made more than enough for the nine pies. I ended up making another half batch of pastry crust and using the leftover coconut cream and whipped cream to make 2 more 4-inch pies (that was after eating a few spoonfuls of the coconut pastry cream out of the bowl). Now all that's left to do is to head down to the Dahlia Bakery to compare pies. Enjoy!

Triple Coconut Cream Mini Pies

Coconut Pie Shells (can freeze unbaked, formed pastry shells for a few weeks)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
3 to 5 tablespoons ice water

Mix together flour, coconut, sugar, and salt until combined. Add butter and blend in with pastry blender or two knives until butter forms little peas. Add water a tablespoon at a time, blending with a fork after each addition just until dough hold together.

Turn crumbs onto counter, form into a ball, and divide into 9 equal parts forming each into a small disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Upwrap rounds; working with one disk at a time, set on a lightly floured surface, and roll dough into a 5-inch circle using short strokes from the center outward (about 1/8" thick). Transfer dough to brioche mold (or muffin pan), letting it fall into place (if you push or stretch the dough it will shrink back when baked). Trim overhang flush with edge (I didn't do this for the muffin pan). Prick bottom lightly with a fork. Repeat with the remaining rounds. Chill unbaked pie shells for 1 hour before baking.

Put an oven rack in the lowest position and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lay a sheet of parchment paper in each pie shell and fill with dried beans or pie weights (I used rice). If using brioche mold, put shells on a cookie sheet; if using a muffin pan, leave shells in muffin cups. Bake until medium golden, about 10-12 minutes. Remove beans and parchment paper; return to the oven. Bake until bottoms of crusts have golden brown patches, about 10 minutes. (Mine were done after the first 10-12 minutes baking so I didn't need to remove the paper and rice and bake them longer.) Cool completely before filling.

Coconut Pastry Cream (can be made ahead and refrigerated up to two days)
2 cups milk
2 cups sweetened finely shredded coconut
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
2 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Put milk and coconut in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean and add both seeds and bean to the saucepan. Bring mixture to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and flour. While whisking, drizzle about 1/3 of the hot milk mixture into egg mixture, then slowly whisk the egg mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking, until the pastry cream thickens and begins to bubble (about 4-5 minutes). Remove from heat, stir in butter, and discard vanilla bean.

Spoon hot pastry cream into a bowl and set in a larger bowl filled with ice and cold water, stirring occasionally, until cooled to room temperature. Remove bowl from ice water bath, cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto surface (to prevent a skin from forming) and chill until cold, at least 3 hours.

Whipping Cream and Garnishes
2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 - 3oz. chunk of white chocolate
1 cup unsweetened "chip" coconut (found at natural food stores) or 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut,
          toasted (toast coconut in a 350 degree oven until golden, about 5-10 minutes)

Assembling the pies:
Carefully remove pie shells from the brioche mold or muffin pan. Spoon chilled pastry cream into shells, filling each a little more than halfway (I went all the way to the top of the pastry crust).

With an electric mixer, whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla until it holds stiff peaks. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip (no. 6) with whipped cream and pipe a double layer of cream onto pies, or simply spoon it on. (The pies should look like little beehive hairdos.)

With a vegetable peeler, scrape wide curls or shavings from the chunk of white chocolate. Sprinkle curls or shavings over pies, dividing evenly, and top with toasted coconut. Serve immediately. (You can fill the pastry crust with the coconut pastry cream hours before and just add whipped cream and garnishes right before serving.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cranberry Orange Scones

I think this is the yummiest scone recipe I have made so far in all of my time baking. I don't think it has anything to do with the fact that the recipe calls for three quarters of a pound of butter, do you?. That can't be why they are so buttery and melt in your mouth good!

The only change I made to the original recipe is that I did not use the glaze on the batch of larger scones, but I did use it when I made the mini scones. They tasted great with and without the glaze so you can decide which way you want to eat them. Enjoy!

Cranberry Orange Scones
Source: Barefoot in the Kitchen

4 cups + 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
3/4 pound unsalted butter, cold, diced
4 extra large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup heavy cream, cold
1 cup dried cranberries (or 2 cups fresh or thawed cranberries, quartered)
egg wash (1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water, milk, or leftover cream)
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
4 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix 4 cups of flour, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder, salt, and orange zest until combined. Add the cold butter and mix at the lowest speed until the butter is the size of small peas.

Combine the eggs and heavy cream in a small bowl. With the mixer on the lowest speed, slowly pour egg mixture into flour and butter mixture. Mix until just blended (the dough will look lumpy).

Combine the dried cranberries and the 1/4 cup of flour, add to the dough and mix on low until well blended.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead. Divide dough in half. Roll half the dough in a 1-inch thick circle. Cut into 8 wedges, or use cutters or however you are dividing your portions. (I used a drinking glass.) Repeat with second half of dough.

Brush tops of scones with egg wash, sprinkle with sugar, and bake for 20-25 minutes until the tops are browned and the insides are fully baked. The scones will be firm to the touch. Allow the scones to cool for 15 minutes. Makes 16 scones.

For Glaze: Whisk together the confectioner's sugar and orange juice and drizzle over scones.

Friday, May 14, 2010


Who can resist a great lasagna recipe? B.etty has gotten me through many a year with this standby lasagna recipe. I typcially make a few changes to the original recipe (like more cheese than they call for) but for the most part it is straight out of the cookbook. By they way, Italian sausage and ricotta cheese make a big difference in the overall taste of the dish so make sure you use those ingredients instead of a beef/pork sausage and cottage cheese substitute. Enjoy!

Italian Sausage Lasagna
Makes 8 servings

1 pound Italian sausage
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
1 can (16 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (15 ounces) tomato sauce
12 uncooked lasagna noodles (I usually boil a few extra in case of rips)
1 carton (16 ounces) ricotta cheese
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese

Cook sausage, onion and garlic in skillet, stirring occasionally, until sausage is brown; drain. Stir in 2 tablespoons parsley, the sugar, basil, tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Heat to boiling, stirring occasionally; reduce heat. Simmer uncovered about 45 minutes or until slightly thickened. (I usually never let it simmer that long.)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cook noodles as directed on package; drain. Mix ricotta cheese, 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon parsley and the oregano.

Lay four noodles on the bottom of an ungreased 9x13 baking dish. Spread with half of the meat sauce. Spread with half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Sprinkle about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of the mozzarella cheese over the top. Layer with four more noodles, the other half of the meat sauce, the other half of the ricotta cheese mixture, and another 1 to 1 1/2 cups of mozzarella cheese. Layer with the last four noodles, the remaining mozzarella cheese and the 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese.

Bake for about 30 minutes. Check and cover with foil if darkening too much. Bake for another 15 minutes. Let stand about 15 minutes before cutting.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Iron Cupcake Challenge - Horchata Cupcakes

The Iron Cupcake Challenge visited Mexico this month. My first thought upon hearing our destination was chocolate and chile but I wanted to find a flavor that was a bit more unique. After asking friends and searching for Mexican flavor combos I was left with these two cupcake flavors, margarita and horchata. Most people have heard of a margarita and they are aware that it typically involves lime, salt, sugar, and alcohol. However, I'm sure many people have not been introduced to horchata. It is a drink that typically includes rice, almonds, cinnamon, milk, and honey. I was a bit skeptical at first, never having tried one before. Imagine my surprise when I went to purchase one and learned that it was a cold drink. In my mind I had been imagining it as a hot drink, similar to a hot chocolate. After sampling horchata from a local taqueria and another from a taco truck I decided to go ahead with the horchata flavor. And let me say right now, I am so glad I did!

The cupcake has a cinnamon flavor, but there are subtle flavors of rice milk and almond mixed in. The cream cheese frosting is the perfect addition! These little guys just kept popping in my mouth; right out of the oven, cooled down that evening, the next morning, then with the frosting, later in the afternoon. Yikes! My husband was even talking about these the next day at work. I didn't make any changes to the recipe. I have included the recipe for homemade horchata but I used the one I bought from the taco truck. Enjoy!

Horchata Cupcakes
Source: The Pink Apron

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 level tablespoons cinnamon
1 1/3 cups safflower oil
1 cup fresh Horchata (see recipe below or purchase already prepared)
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. In a large bowl, gently beat together the oil, horchata, eggs, vinegar, and vanilla with a mixer. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until smooth and thoroughly combined. Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake tins, filling about 2/3 full. Bake for about 12 minutes, rotating the pan about halfway through baking. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 cup butter, room temperature
16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Cream the butter and cream cheese on medium speed using an electric mixer. Add vanilla extract, mix in thoroughly. Gradually add the sifted powdered sugar and mix on low-med speed. Once all the powdered sugar is mixed in, put mixer on med-high speed and beat for a few minutes until light and fluffy. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes. Shake cinnamon over the top as a garnish.

Makes 3 cups

1/3 cups (2.5 ounces) rice, medium or long grain rice will work
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (3 ounces) blanched almonds
3 inch piece of cinnamon stick
1 1/4 cups hot tap water
1/2 cup turbinado (raw) sugar, plus more to taste
1 cup cold vanilla soymilk or almond milk

In a large bowl, combine the rice, almonds, cinnamon stick and water. Cool, cover and refrigerate overnight.
Pour the mixture into a blender or food processor, add the sugar and blend on high for several minutes, until the mixture is as smooth as possible – there will still be a hint of grittiness when you rub a drop between your fingers. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing on the solids until only a dryish pulp remains. Pour into a pitcher and add the milk. Taste and sweeten with more sugar to taste, if needed. Enjoy over ice.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Peanut Butter Paisley Brownies

When making the oatmeal raisin cookies that I posted a few weeks ago I was also looking for a bar/brownie recipe that I could bake to accompany them to the homes of my friends. While scouring my baking cookbooks I came across a picture for Peanut Butter Paisley Brownies and thought they looked visually appealing and sounded different enough in ingredients from the cookies I was already baking. Not only that but I actually had all the ingredients on hand.

They were very easy to bake but I had difficulty swirling the batter for a marbled effect. Instead, as you can see from the photo, it ended up that the chocolate pretty much just covered the top layer. Oh well. Not every recipe can turn out like the photo in the cookbook, right? In case you hadn't guessed I am one of those visual people who always wants her food to look just like the picture. Ask my husband about Black Forest Cake and he'll have a story for you.

There is also an option to make Double Peanut Butter Paisley Brownies by adding peanut butter chips into the batter. If you want a stronger peanut butter flavor I would suggest adding the chips. While these brownies tasted good, there was not an overwhelming flavor of chocolate or peanut butter that I could detect. For me they were something that grew on me instead of a "wham these are great right out of the pan the very first bite" type of reaction. Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Paisley Brownies
Makes about 3 dozen brownies

1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (5.5 ounce can) chocolate syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Blend butter and peanut butter in large mixer bowl. Add sugar and brown sugar; beat well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to peanut butter mixture.

Spread half the batter in greased 9x13 inch pan. Spoon syrup over top. Carefully spread with remaining batter. Swirl with spatula or knife for marbled effect. (I found that half my batter didn't even fill the bottom of a 9x13 pan so I ended up putting all of it in, pouring the syrup over the top and trying to marble it with a knife. It ended blending instead of swirling.)

Bake for 35 to 40 mninutes or until lightly browned. Cool; cut into squares.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Quiche Lorraine Scones

Don't these scones look mouth-watering and delicious? What's not to love about a flaky crust, melting swiss cheese, and salty bacon. I had a desire to bake scones one weekend so I started searching for a new recipe to try. I originally started out looking for a sweet, fruit type scone but once I came across these I knew I had picked my winner. I had never made a savory scone before and these were a great introduction.

They were easy to make, easy to clean up, didn't require a mixer and tasted fabulous. The only drawback is that it did take a bit of prep to cook the bacon, cube the cheese, and slice the green onions but that was so worth it for the result. I will definitely make these again. Enjoy!

Quiche Lorraine Scones
Source: Brown Eyed Baker

4 ounces swiss cheese, cubed
3 green onions, thinly sliced
7 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 cups + 1 teaspoon all purpose flour, divided
1 tablespoon baking powder
pinch cayenne pepper
dash nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons cold butter, diced
1/2 cup half-and-half
2 eggs
egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Prepare the cheese, onions, and bacon. Toss these ingredients together with one teaspoon flour; set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or two knives until the butter is pea-size. With a fork, lightly beat the half-and-half and eggs and add to the flour mixture. Add the bacon, onion, and cheese mixture. Using a wooden spoon, fold mixture until it begins to come together.

Turn out the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead gently for less than one minute. Pat dough to 3/4 to 1-inch thick and cut using 3-inch biscuit cutter (for large scones) or cut into square or triangles. Place the scones on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops of the scones with the egg wash.

Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until golden brown.