Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Irish Soda Bread: BWJ

Usually St. Patrick's Day comes and goes at our house and we take no notice of it.  I don't prepare corned beef and cabbage at our house, nor do we consume any green beer on that day.  We might have a leprechaun or two running around here, though, who knows.  However, I've always been curious what Irish Soda Bread tasted like, since I'd never had any before.  I always say I'm going to make some each year when St. Patrick's Day rolls around, but somehow shamrock sugar cookies iced bright green with sprinkles, always push their way to the forefront of my mind and end up being made while the soda bread gets forgotten yet again.

This year was different though.  No shamrock sugar cookies emerged, but a big, plump, currant and raisin studded loaf of Irish Soda Bread came out of my kitchen last night.  Irish Soda Bread was chosen by the Baking with Julia group as the second recipe to complete for March.  Many thanks go to our hosts for this recipe, who are: Carla of Chocolate Moosey and Cathleen of My Culinary Mission.  I've peeked at their blog posts already, and they made some super looking soda bread, so be sure and go check out their posts as well!

I've seen many, many recipes for Irish Soda Bread around, and the most common variation or component I see to them all is the addition of some sort of dried fruit, usually, raisins or currants, so that's what I added to mine.  I had some pretty dried up currants that needed using and since there wasn't quite enough for a half cup, I also added some raisins.  The recipe stated that you could add 1 cup of currants or raisins, but I thought a half cup seemed like plenty.  I warmed up a small bowl of orange juice in my microwave and dumped in my currants & raisins, to plump up for 15 minutes, while I mixed up the rest of the ingredients for the dough.  The recipe is quite simple, its just flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk.  A lot of the recipes I've seen include at least some amount of whole wheat flour, so I subbed 2 cups of King Arthur's White Whole Wheat Flour, for 2 cups of the all-purpose flour.

After stirring vigorously to bring all the dough ingredients together, I dumped in my plumped up dried fruit (drained of the OJ), and worked them into the dough in the bowl with my hands (it was kinda messy),
My dough was quite wet when I went to dump it onto my lightly floured mat, so I think next time, I'll hold back on some of the buttermilk.  I ended up using quite a bit of extra flour to get my dough kneaded.  Actually, I don't know if you could call what I did 'kneading'.  The dough was so wet I couldn't handle it, so I just used my dough scraper to fold it over onto itself numerous times, before I clumsily transferred the whole wet mass to my parchment paper lined, baking sheet.

I floured my hands and tried to shape it into a decent looking rounded disk, but the dough kept sticking to my fingers.  Aaaargh!!  I tried wetting my knife to slice my 'X' into the top, center of the dough, but it still stuck and pulled at the dough, so my 'X' was pretty sloppy looking.  Oh, well.

Here's the finished loaf out of the oven,  Aaaaah, I wish you could've smelled it, but then if you baked your own you know what it smelled like.  I kept smelling butter as it baked, but I think it was just that 'bread baking smell' that usually fills the house, that I have missed the past several weeks, since I've not been able to bake much.
It was sliced while still warm, as there was no way I was waiting until it was completely cool to dig in,
Hubby had butter on most of his slices, but as it was suggested that Irish Soda Bread goes well with spreads and tea,  I sat down for a breather after cleaning up half of the dishes, and enjoyed a large slice smeared generously with my leftover Prune Lekvar (sweet prune butter) that we made for our Rugelach recipe from February.  The lekvar was PERFECT on this bread!!!

This bread will definitely make an appearance again next year at our house at this same time, and I think I'll even have to dig up a recipe for a nice Irish stew to go with it:)
If you like what you see and you'd like to try this recipe for yourself, you can find the recipe at Cathleen's blog or Carla's blog today or if you'd like to own a copy of the Baking With Julia cookbook for your own, then perhaps go here.  Also, you can check out the posts of a whole host of bakers out there, who turned out some spectacular loaves as well this past week.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Buckwheat Crepes with Caramelized Apple Filling

Its been a few weeks since I made these, but a very annoying rotator cuff sprain has kept me from doing much of anything the past couple of weeks.  I'm just starting to feel a little better now with physical therapy and drugs (yea! for these) and so I wanted to post about these awesome little crepes.

As I was flipping through my spring catalogue from King Arthur Flour, a picture of crepes w/ bananas and fudge sauce drizzled on them, jumped out at me for some reason.  I hadn't made any crepes from quite some time, and I suddenly felt hungry for some. If you've never made crepes before, I encourage you to try them.  They are so simple and make for an elegant, light, after-dinner dessert.

I wanted to try a new crepe recipe and my first thoughts drifted to the buckwheat flour that I now keep in my pantry after trying a recipe for Winter Buckwheat Pancakes by Dorie Greenspan.  I really loved the nutty flavor of the buckwheat in the pancakes and I recalled that I had copied down a recipe some time ago, for Buckwheat Crepes, from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book.  I also did a search on the internet and came across a recipe for Buckwheat Crepes by David Lebovitz.  I combined what I thought would work best from both recipes to come up with my version of buckwheat crepes.  The recipe from KAF Whole Grain Baking also included a suggested variation, which was to fill the crepes with a caramelized apple filling.  Yum!  I was sold on the caramelized apple filling, even with no picture, since I love apples and it gave me an excuse to acquire a teeny little 50ml bottle of brandy.

Buckwheat Crepes
slightly adapted from KAF Whole Grain Baking and a recipe by David Lebovitz

3/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 tsp fine sea salt
1 cup 2% milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 large eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, unsalted, melted

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.  Pour the batter into a small bowl, cover the bowl, and stick it in the refrigerator.   Usually, I just refrigerate my batter an hour or two, but David suggests an overnight chill so that's what I did.

The next day, remove the batter from the refrigerator about an hour before you plan on making the crepes.  I use a small non-stick skillet to do my crepes in, but I can perhaps see a crepe pan in my future, since my non-stick skillet is only ~ 7 inches in diameter and I'd really like my crepes to be a little bigger.  An 8 or 9-inch skillet is the best size to make crepes in.  Heat your pan over medium low heat and also give the batter a quick stir with a whisk.  The batter should be the consistency of heavy cream.

Once it is good and hot, drop a small piece of butter into the pan and wipe it around with a paper towel to coat the surface of the pan.  Next, lift the pan off of the heat and pour in ~ 1/4 cup of the batter.  (Since my skillet is a little on the small side I usually use slightly less than 1/4 cup.)  Once the batter is poured into the skillet, immediately swirl the pan up and down to distribute the batter quickly and evenly over the bottom of the pan.

Once you set the pan back on the heat, the crepe will start to quickly cook and set up.  After about a minute, run a small non-stick spatula around the underside edge of the rim of the crepe, then flip the crepe over to cook the other side.  I always gently grab the crepe with the fingertips of both my hands to flip.  Let the crepe cook on the other side for ~ 30 seconds then slide it out onto a plate.  I separate each of my crepes w/ a small piece of parchment or wax paper so they won't stick to each other.  Repeat, cooking the crepes until the batter is gone, or until you get tired of making them, like I did.  I made about 7 or 8 crepes I think, before I stopped.

Don't be too upset if your first crepe doesn't turn out so well.  It takes a little practice to flip them without them getting folded and you'll probably have to adjust the heat on the burner if your crepes are cooking too quickly  The crepes are done when they are starting to brown and look dry on top. Your crepes should be fairly thin and flimsy.

I just let my crepes sit at room temperature until after dinner when I made this wonderful filling to fill my crepes, (but you can warm the crepes in the oven in a baking dish covered w/ foil if you want to before filling)

Caramelized Apple Filling
from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking

1 tablespoon butter
1 apple, peeled and thinly sliced (I used a Fuji apple)
1 tablespoon packed light or dark brown sugar (I used light)
1 1/2 teaspoons brandy

Heat the butter in a small saucepan.  Once melted, saute the apples until just starting to get tender.  Stir in the brown sugar and brandy, and continue to cook until the apples are tender and the sauce has thickened slightly, 5 to 7 minutes.  Serve filling inside buckwheat crepes, topped with whipped cream and a little sprinkle of cinnamon.  Serve warm and enjoy!!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Rugelach: Baking With Julia

The first pick of March for the Baking with Julia group turned out to be Rugelach.  I had made Rugelach before, just once, and loved them, so I was excited to try this recipe.  Traditional rugelach are made in the shape of a crescent with the filling being rolled up in little triangles of dough.  This is how I made them before, and it would've been easier to just deviate from the recipe and form the rugelach the traditional way, but then I wouldn't be trying something new, so my husband and I rolled our Rugelach jelly roll fashion as the recipe instructed.

Our hosts for this recipe are Margaret of The Urban Hiker and Jessica of My Baking Heart.  If you'd like to try making these Rugelach yourself, you can find the recipe on their blog post today, and you can also see how their Rugelach turned out as well!

The first component of the filling for these Rugelach was Lekvar.  I know, what a strange, kind of gross sounding word for something that supposedly tastes good.  An easier short-cut would've been to just use jam or something in the recipe, but I wanted to know what lekvar tasted like.  My husband and I chose to make the prune lekvar, since he is not too fond of apricots.  I made our lekvar up several days ahead of when we made the cookies.
It doesn't look appetizing, but it didn't taste bad.  The dried plums by themselves are rather bland and of course very chewy, but the lekvar was pleasantly sweet from the sugar that was added in making it.  The lekvar is just prunes, a smidgen of lemon juice, sugar and some finely chopped walnuts.

The actual rugelach cookies were a joint project that both hubby and I participated in.  I thought it was so sweet of him to offer to help me.  He is the best hubby in the whole wide world in my opinion!

First off we had to make our cream cheese pastry for the rugelach.  This was just cream cheese, butter, salt, sugar and flour mixed together in our stand mixer.  This finished, the dough went into the refridgerator for several hours.  While the dough was chilling we got together the rest of our filling 'stuff'.
For the nuts, I let him choose, and he wanted just hazelnuts and almonds.  Here's my trusty partner peeling the skins off the toasted hazelnuts:
Now we were ready for assembly.  The dried fruit we chose to use was blueberries, cranberries and a few currants.  The bowl in the far right corner is our cinnamon/brown sugar/sugar mixture.
First layer going onto our pastry dough is the prune lekvar,
then the cinnamon/sugar mix, next the dried fruit and lastly the chopped toasted nuts.
Now comes the tricky part,
...rolling the whole thing up jelly-roll fashion starting with the long side.  Did we do this right?  It seemed that a five inch width did not provide enough dough to roll up into a log and we had terrible trouble pinching the whole thing shut.  We didn't put on all the nuts and fruit called for, because we could see it was going to be difficult to roll.  All the topping tends to dam up at the end where you're trying to roll to.  I think next time we agreed that we would probably make a much wider and shorter rectangular piece of dough to spread our filing out on so that we'd get more 'spiral' effect to our cookies:)
After spending the evening in the refrigerator our log was nice and firm and we were able to egg wash it, slice it, and roll it around in our cinnamon/sugar/chopped nuts mixture.  Hubby did a thorough job of covering ours in the sugar mixture so that we'd have nice caramelization.
Oh, they smelled so good while they baked.  We made them first thing in the morning, so they were reminescent of cinnamon rolls in the oven.  The sugar made a beautiful little pool of golden goodness under each of the rugelach.  Normally I would break off crusty appendages like this, thinking they were unsightly, but not this time.  These were awesome little cookies.  We sampled them while still warm and gooey inside.  

The pastry part was light with a slight crunch and the whole thing did kind of resemble the flavors of a cinnamon bun, especially when eaten warm.  The filling was full of nice contrast, with the creamy lekvar, the crunchy nuts, chewy fruit all surrounded by a cinnamon-ey sweetness.  Very satisfying!

We still have more dough in the freezer so we'll be experimenting next weekend with modifying our rectangular shape for easier rolling, but other than that issue, we thought these were easy to make and a delight to eat as a husband and wife team.

Do check out how the Rugelach turned out for others in the group by going here.