Monday, June 27, 2011

Daring Bakers - 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.

Baklava. Not a dessert that I usually raise my hand for. At least not until I saw that I could change up the ingredients so that instead of being drenched in honey and over the top sweet I could substitute chocolate, a variety of nuts, and a less sweet syrup. Now my hand might just be raising. 

I believe this was my first go round of making baklava, but for some reason I am not 100% sure. I know that probably sounds a bit strange, not remembering if I have ever made something before, but I can't remember if I made this in a high school home economics class or when I was younger. I seem to have some vague recollections of making baklava. Either way, I know that I had never made homemade phyllo dough. That was definitely going to be a challenge.
I think I gave myself some practice with patience and rolling dough when I made homemade whole wheat tortillas for our breakfast burritos that morning. When it came time to roll out my phyllo dough I felt like I was very calm, cool, and collected which is exactly what I needed to be in order to have a successful experience. What I didn't realize was that it was going to take me over an hour and a half to roll out 18 sheets of very thin dough. Over 90 minutes! Yikes! I was somewhat surprised that the time actually went by pretty quickly.

I decided to break my dough into 18 small balls ahead of time to make sure that I had enough dough to do all the layers I wanted. I am sure I didn't get them as transparent as some people were able to but I was very pleased with how they turned out. My one big mistake was not layering them with wax paper between the layers. I thought that because I generously floured them they wouldn't stick together. I even checked between layers every now and then to make sure that I could get them apart easily. And still . . . 

. . . they managed to stick together. It wasn't really apparent until I got to the stage of cutting the sheets to fit the size of the pan. I used a pizza cutter thinking that would be the best way to go but I was sorely mistaken. Between the warm kitchen and the blade of the cutter and the weight of the sheets on top of each other the edges adheared together. The center of the sheets were still separate but the edges became one.

The first few came apart fine. In fact, I was a bit giddy with how smoothly it was seeming to go. After the first layer of 6 sheets my joy was quickly overshadowed by frustration. By the time I came to the last few sets of layers I was literally peeling off strips and piecing them together. It felt a bit like I was wrapping a mummy. I had to use the scraps which I was going to save to make into another pieced together dessert but that's okay. At least I didn't have to re-roll any sheets or start from scratch.

Next step, toasting the nuts and getting together the ingredients for the filling. I chose to use nutella and a combination of toasted hazelnuts, toasted walnuts, toasted almonds, and roasted pistachios. I was also a bit surprised by how long it took me to do the layering. Then there was the cutting. All together another 30-60 minutes before getting it into the oven for baking. After the baking was done the syrup was poured on and it was allowed to sit and sit and sit. As the syrup sits it oozes down into the lower layers until everything has been coated. You can see below the baklava before baking, after baking, and after syrup.

Even though the baklava is supposed to sit overnight in order to absorb the syrup you can imagine that it wasn't very long before we felt the desire to do an informal taste test. Just consider it part of research, you know, the need to check the taste and texture right after baking, after sitting for a few hours, and after sitting overnight.

Overall I was happy with how this baklava turned out. It was a lot of work to roll out all the sheets of phyllo dough but I'm glad I did it. Will I do it again? Not sure. If I do, I will probably use refrigerated dough since it is faster and I don't know that people would be able to tell the difference. And as I said before, I am not a big baklava fan in the first place so I will probably use my other opportunities to expand my repertoire.


Phyllo Dough 
Makes 18 sheets for 9x9 pan

1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup less 1 tablespoon water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

In the bowl of your stand mixer combine the flour and salt. Mix with paddle attachment.

Combine water, oil, and vinegar in a small bowl. Add water and oil mixture to flour with mixer on low speed. Mix until you get a soft dough. (If it appears dry, add a little more water.)

Change to the dough hook and let knead approximately 10 minutes. (20 minutes if you are kneading by hand)

Remove the dough from the mixer and continue to knead for 2 more minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard on the counter a few times during the kneading process.

Shape the dough into a ball and lightly cover it with oil. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let sit 30-90 minutes (longer is best).

Unwrap your dough and divide into chunks slightly larger than a golf ball. Keep the rest of the dough covered so it doesn't dry out.

On a heavily floured surface, roll out each chunk of dough until it is as thin as you can get it. Continue adding flour (you can't over flour), and it's okay if you get rips in the dough since you just need the top piece to be perfect.

When you get the dough as thin as you can, pick it up and place it on a well floured surface. I would suggest putting wax paper between layers if you don't want the edges to stick when you cut to size.

Trim phyllo sheets to fit in your pan. Set aside.

1 cup hazelnut-chocolate spread (such as Nutella) 1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped 
1/2 cup roasted pistachios, coarsely chopped 
1/3 cup blanched toasted almonds, coarsely chopped 
1/3 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped 
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 350°.

Place hazelnut-chocolate spread in a microwave-safe bowl; microwave at HIGH for 30 seconds or until melted. Combine hazelnuts and next 5 ingredients (through salt).

Brush 9x9 baking pan with melted butter.  Repeat procedure with 5 phyllo sheets and butter. Drizzle about 1/3 cup melted hazelnut-chocolate spread over phyllo. Sprinkle evenly with one-third of nut mixture (about 1/2 cup). Repeat procedure twice with 4 sheets of phyllo, butter, hazelnut-chocolate spread, and nut mixture. Top last layer of nut mixture with remaining 5 sheets phyllo, each lightly brushed with butter. Press gently into pan. Tuck in all the edges to give it a nice appearance.

With a sharp knife cut baklava into desired shapes and number of pieces. (If you can't cut all the way through you will be able to cut it later.) A 9x9 cuts into 30 pieces nicely. Brush top layer generously with butter making sure to cover the entire area and every edge.

**Make syrup while baklava is baking**

Bake at 350° for about 30 minutes; remove from oven and cut again all the way through. Continue baking until golden brown (for me it was about 5 more minutes, for some about 30 minutes). Remove from oven.
Drizzle honey mixture over baklava. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Cover; store at room temperature.
    3/4 cup honey 
    1/2 cup water 
    1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick

    Combine the first 3 ingredients in a medium saucepan over low heat; stir until honey dissolves. Increase heat to medium; cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 230° (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat; keep warm. Discard cinnamon stick.

    Thursday, June 23, 2011

    Macaroni Salad

    Summertime and sunny days always makes me long for a picnic. And who doesn't like macaroni salad at a picnic? This particular recipe has been with me for a long, long time. I have tried a few others over the years but this is always the one I come back to because it reminds me of all those years of enjoying macaroni salad as a kid. It has a subtle taste and I love the combination of the eggs, mayonnaise, and olives and the crunch of the pickles. Enjoy! 

    Macaroni Salad
    Makes about 10-12 servings

    12 ounces elbow macaroni
    4 eggs
    4 medium-sized dill pickles, diced
    black olives, chopped

    Cook and drain macaroni according to package directions. Rinse with cool water.

    Cook eggs until hard-boiled. Cool, peel, and chop.

    Stir cooked macaroni, hard-boiled eggs, pickles, and black olives in a large bowl. Add enough mayonnaise to make the noodles moist. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

    Sunday, June 19, 2011

    Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

    Who would have ever thought that a slight change in baking and the addition of a crumb topping could make the same muffin batter look so completely different. I was so surprised when the second batch of muffins came out looking so golden brown with a crunchy top. I began to think of the pale ones as representing the great Pacific Northwest where most are a pasty white, and the darker ones as representing Southern California where many are golden brown and crispy.

    This recipe is actually similar to a banana bread recipe and it makes muffins that are very dense. You could weigh these puppies on a scale and they would definitely register. For the first batch of muffins, I baked them in cupcake liners and I chose to bake them naked with no crumb topping. They tasted great, like a slice of chocolate chip banana bread in muffin form. For the second batch I ran out of cupcake liners so I just baked them right in the muffin pan and I added the crumb topping. Holy cow! These were incredible. The naked ones make a great healthier muffin but if you want something with pizazz then the crumb topping is the way to go. Enjoy!

    Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins 
    Makes about one dozen muffins

    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    2/3 cups sugar
    1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 large)
    1 large egg
    1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
    1/4 cup milk
    3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

    Crumb Topping (optional):
    4 tablespoons flour
    1 tablespoon butter, melted
    1/4 cup packed brown sugar

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare your muffin pan (either line with liners or spray with oil).

    Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

    Mix mashed bananas, egg, melted butter, and milk in a medium bowl. Stir banana mixture into dry ingredients just until blended (do not over mix). Stir in chocolate chips.

    Optional Topping:
    Mix ingredients together and crumble on top of muffins before cooking. Just a little bit does it. Use judgment as to how wet or dry you want the crumbly top. More wet, less flour; drier crumbs, more flour.

    Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups, filling each about 3/4 full. Bake 25-30 minutes or until tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

    Thursday, June 16, 2011

    Brownie Trifle

    Doesn't this dessert look amazing! I mean, if you are into brownies and chocolate pudding and whipped topping and strawberries and more chocolate that is. It tastes every bit as good as it looks! Not only that but it is so easy to make and yet it looks like you fussed and fretted for hours. Okay, maybe not hours, but it really is an easy dessert to throw together. Enjoy!

    Brownie Trifle
    Source: Wilton Brownie Fun!

    1 box of brownie mix
    eggs, water, and oil to prepare mix
    1 package (5.1 oz) chocolate instant pudding mix
    2 cups cold milk
    6 cups thawed frozen whipped topping, divided
    4 cups sliced fresh strawberries
    1/2 cup chopped chocolate candy bars

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray pan with vegetable spray. (Use an 8" or 9" square pan unless your mix is for a 9x13 pan size.)

    In large bowl, prepare brownie mix following package instructions. Spread into bottom of prepared pan. Bake 20-25 minutes; set aside to cool completely. Cut into bite-size pieces.

    In large bowl, prepare pudding mix according to package instructions using only 2 cups of milk. Chill 5-10 minutes or until slightly thickened. Gently fold in 2 cups of whipped topping.

    In 3-quart trifle or other clear bowl, place 1/2 the brownie pieces. Top with 1/2 of the pudding mixture, 1/2 of the remaining whipped topping, and 1/2 of the sliced strawberries. Repeat layers with remaining ingredients. Sprinkle with chopped chocolate pieces.

    Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

    Makes about 12 servings

    Monday, June 13, 2011

    Southern-Style Baked Beans

    We had a few friends over and come dinner time we ended up grilling burgers. Since burgers, salad, and dessert were already covered I thought I would rustle up a traditional grilling side dish. After reading various reviews for these particular beans I figured I should probably give them a shot. I mean, they are found on a post titled "Best Baked Beans Ever" so I kind of figured I couldn't go wrong. Mind you, I really have nothing to compare them with. I usually just use a can opener to open my baked beans and then I heat them over the stove or if in a hurry zap them in the microwave.

    The only downfall is that I really was looking for something that was a bit more homemade (ie. doesn't use canned pork and beans as the base), but after checking out quite a few recipes it sounds like that is what gives you the best southern-style baked beans. So, I guess I'll go with it and leave the details to the experts (ie. those who live in the south). Enjoy!  

    *Side Note - I cut this recipe in half to feed 6 adults and 4 young kids with a serving leftover. I used my 8x8 pan and it worked fine.*

    Southern-Style Baked Beans
    Source: The Pioneer Woman using the recipe by Pam Anderson

    8 slices bacon, halved
    1 medium onion, diced fine
    1/2 medium green pepper, diced fine
    3 large cans (28 ounces each) pork and beans
    3/4 cup barbecue sauce
    1/2 cup brown sugar
    1/4 cup distilled or cider vinegar
    2 teaspoons dry mustard or 2 tablespoons Dijon

    Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees.

    Fry bacon in large, deep sauté pan skillet until bacon has partially cooked and released about 1/4 cup drippings. (Don't cook all the way, you want it to still have some room to get crisp in the oven.) Remove bacon from pan and drain on paper towels. Add onions and peppers to drippings in pan and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add beans and remaining ingredients bring to a simmer. (If skillet is not large enough, add beans and heat to a simmer then transfer to a large bowl and stir in remaining ingredients).

    Pour flavored beans into a greased 13-by 9-inch (or similar size) ovenproof pan. Top with bacon, then bake until beans are bubbly and sauce is the consistency of pancake syrup, about 2 hours. Let stand to thicken slightly and serve.

    Serves up to 18 people

    Friday, June 10, 2011

    Raspberry Muffins

    My little family of three had an early morning trip home from visiting my mom so in order to get out the door sooner I decided to make muffins that we could snack on in the car. I wanted to try a new muffin recipe and since I wasn't at home I knew it would need to be pretty simple, not requiring a bunch of special tools or ingredients.

    I typed "best muffin recipe ever" into goog.le and this was the first one that came up. Just looking at the ingredients and directions it seemed easy enough. I read through many of the reviews and made a few adaptations to the recipe based on the comments. My husband chose the fruit for our muffins when he stopped by the store for me on the way back to my mom's from running errands and I was pleased that he chose to pick up raspberries (it was between blueberries, strawberries, or raspberries).

    Yum! These muffins were so delicious! I really enjoyed the flavor of the raspberries and the moistness and lightness of the muffins. I will definitely be making these again, most likely trying out a different type of fruit the next time. Our 4 year old was very disappointed when I told him he couldn't have anymore as he was stuffing his third muffin in his mouth! Enjoy!  

    Raspberry Muffins
    Source: Adapted from All Recipes

    2 cups flour
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    3/4 cup sugar
    2 eggs
    1 cup milk
    1/4 cup butter, melted
    1 cup raspberries, individual raspberries cut in half

    Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Prepare muffin pan.

    Stir flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar together. Make a well in the center.

    Beat eggs with a fork. Stir in milk and melted butter. Pour into well in flour mixture. Mix quickly and lightly with a fork until moist. Gently stir in the raspberries so you don't smash them.

    Divide batter evenly between the prepared muffin cups. Turn oven down to 400 degrees F before baking. 

    Bake for 25 minutes or until golden.

    Monday, June 6, 2011

    Mini Chocolate Chip Cheesecake

    We don't typically celebrate half birthdays around here but on June 3rd we decided we would make an exception to the rule. You see, that was the day our little guy turned 4 1/2 years old and in the week before this momentous occasion we received our first foster care placement. While this has been a good thing it has also come with some adjusting. And since he has done such a great job with learning how to share his toys as well as his mom and dad we decided that we wanted to mark the date with something special just for him.

    He was pretty excited! While you might not think a 4 year old palate would be refined enough for cheesecake you would be mistaken. This boy knows his cheesecake. I think this may be the first one I've actually baked since he was old enough to eat it, but he has eaten it elsewhere and it is a dessert that has stuck in his mind like glue!

    While this is not my favorite cheesecake recipe, I like this particular one because it goes with our mini cheesecake pans and it is so easy to cut it in half and make only one little mini that is perfect (maybe still a bit much) for our little family. It is a bit on the sweet side for me, if you can imagine that, but I manage to muscle some down every time. Enjoy!

    Mini Chocolate Chip Cheesecake
    Makes one mini (5.5"/2 cup) cheesecake

    1/2 cup graham crackers, crushed
    1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
    1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted

    12 ounces cream cheese, softened
    1/4 cup + 1/8 cup sugar
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla
    2 medium eggs
    4 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)

    Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Brush bottom and sides of mini springform pan with a bit of melted butter.  Chill in the freezer until ready to use.

    In a small bowl using a fork, mix crushed graham cracker, 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar, and butter. Press onto the bottom of springform pan. Bake at 300 degrees for 5 minutes. Set aside.

    Using a mixer, mix cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla. Add eggs one at a time on low speed until blended. Add chocolate chips or any other mix-in at this time. Pour batter over the crust. Place pan on cookie sheet.

    Bake at 300 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until centers are almost set. Cool before removing from ring of pan. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

    **You can add any topping you would like. We chose to add fresh raspberries and a bit of chocolate syrup to this one.**

    Thursday, June 2, 2011

    Chocolate Fondue

    A post on a food blog that doesn't have much cooking or baking involved. Hmmmmm . . . sounds pretty good if you ask me.We love fondue for dessert! We like fondue for dinner as well, but we haven't ventured to make that at home yet and it's a bit too spendy to eat it out very often. The place where we typically have our dessert brings out a plate with pieces of pineapple, strawberry, banana, pound cake, brownie, marshmallow, and cheesecake on it. I know, over the top, right. You chose milk, dark, or white chocolate (if you eat dinner there you can pick from many more flavors) and you get to dipping. It is soooo good!

    Well, one night a few weeks ago my husband and I were hanging out after our son went to bed and I suddenly got the brilliant idea of using the chocolate bar in our cupboard for a little impromptu fondue. We happened to have some pineapple (although it was pretty ripe by then), strawberries, a banana, and some pretzels. No cheesecake, pound cake, or brownie but who would have all three of those sitting around their house at the same time anyway. Not me, otherwise I'd be in some serious trouble.  

    There really isn't a recipe per say. I just melted the chocolate in my fondue pot, cut up some fruits and grabbed some pretzels and got to dipping. I will say that I added in a bit (and I mean a tiny bit) of a chocolate bar with chili and that was a mistake for me. Oh my goodness, the fact that it was heated it made it so much hotter and the taste of the chili totally overran the chocolate. I'm all about the chocolate. I would not do that again. I guess you live and learn. Enjoy!

    Don't you love the 1970's electric fondue pot! My friend picked this up for me 
    at a garage sale for less than $2 when she heard how much I liked dessert fondue. 

    Glorious, glorious chocolate!