Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Chocolate Truffle Tartlets: Baking with Julia

The second recipe chosen for February for the Baking with Julia group definitely had me a little more excited than the white bread recipe that we tried a couple of weeks ago.  I had the 4 1/2 inch fluted tart pans required for the recipe, and since I needed something rich and chocolatey to serve my special someone on Valentine's Day, this was perfect.  

It wasn't hard to decide whether to use store-bought or homemade biscotti for this recipe.  The biscotti is what gets mixed with chunks of two different kinds of chocolate plus a third kind that is melted with butter, to make the filling.  I love to make biscotti and I was long overdue for making some.  I had printed out a recipe quite a while back, and it had been sitting on my counter for months begging to be made.  The recipe is for Coffee-Hazelnut Biscotti, a recipe created by Dorie Greenspan which I found here.  

I was a little worried whether these biscotti would work OK in the tartlets, because they were a bit crunchy.  I had used Hodgson Mill Stone-Ground cornmeal in the biscotti, and it is a little coarser than good 'ole Quaker Corn Meal that comes in the blue & yellow cardboard tube.  The biscotti were perfect w/ my coffee in the mornings though, and I was so happy to have a small stash of biscotti again.  Hubby thought they were a bit too nutty tasting, so he didn't bother them much (he's not a coffee drinker, but is known to steal my biscotti to nibble on if they're to his liking).
I made up my biscotti on Friday and then made the tartlets on the following Monday.  I was a little nervous about making the chocolate dough for these tartlets, so I was thrilled to see a link to a You Tube video, in our P & Q post, which showed the episode on PBS TV in which David Ogonowski, the contributing baker for this recipe, makes the tartlets for Julia Child.  I felt kind of bad that I had succumbed to my desire to see exactly how he did it, and therefore provide myself unfair advantage in making this recipe, but any guilty feelings I had quickly disappeared.  The video was very helpful, and it made me feel more at ease after having watched David make the tartlets.

I felt more confident after watching how easily David made his chocolate dough, but not so confident that I was going to combine my flour, cocoa powder, salt, etc. together in a pile on my counter and then plop the egg and water into a well made in the middle.  I opted to mix by hand, but I cheated and did it in a glass bowl:)  Richard Prince, the instructor for a pie class I took once, emphasized that the best kitchen tool we have is our hands, so I figured my hands would give the best results for the dough.
The dough was definitely crumbly and not very cohesive when I first finished mixing it, but I squished it together the best I could, preparing two packets of dough to be chilled, one for the fridge for 3 tartlets now, and one packet for the freezer, for 3 tartlets (a different kind) later.

The dough was rather sticky and delicate for rolling into little circles to fit into the tartlet pans, but I just mustered all the patience I could, and worked slowly and carefully.  I did have to do some patching, but it wasn't too bad.  I was just making sure that I didn't have any thin spots in my crusts in case the filling would leak through. 
The hardest part of the filling was all the cookie and chocolate chopping.  Cracking all the eggs and melting more chocolate with butter was also time consuming.  It makes my back ache just talking about it:)  I'm glad I was only making half of the recipe!  
I thought the swirling together of the beaten egg yolks and the melted chocolate mixture was so pretty.  I was mesmerized by it, and could've stood there quite a while watching it play together in the bowl.
These looked good enough to eat already!!  I almost didn't bake them, and wanted to just start eating the filling, with its chunks of chocolate and bits of coffee-hazelnut biscotti.    

They baked up in the oven for about 13 or 14 minutes.  I went just a bit longer than the time in the book, because they still looked wet on top, not dry.  

I wanted to make them special for Valentine's Day so I pulled out some as yet unused stencils I had picked up last year, and used confectioners' sugar to dust heart patterns on our tartlets.  
I added a sliced strawberry to the top of each one, since several people commented that it was rich and it needed something to break up the chocolate flavor.  I just can't do ice cream in the middle of winter when the average temperature is 40° outside, so I decided on fruit instead.  Raspberries or strawberries seemed a suitable substitute.  

I finished baking my tartlets off early in the afternoon and after they had completely cooled I covered them, and placed the pan in the fridge so they could firm up a bit if needed.  Then I let the tartlets come to room temperature while we ate dinner.  

We didn't speak much during dessert.   We just kept mumbling, 'Mmmmmm,  Mmmmm'.  The biscotti I made worked perfectly in these tartlets.  We couldn't even detect the crunchiness from the cornmeal.  The tartlet filling was firm, but really smooth and truffle like.  We were so stuffed after eating them, we thought we would explode.  They were very filling!  We split the third one for dessert the next night and it was just as good.

If you'd like to see how these tartlets turned out for others in the group, then click here.  If you'd like to make these tartlets for yourself, our hosts for this recipe are Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon, Spike of Spike Bakes, Jaime of Good Eats 'n Sweet Treats and Jessica of Cook Book Habit.  I believe they will all have the recipe included in their blog posts for February 21.  

Until March 6, when we get to make Rugelach!  

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cheddar Cheese Bread for Two (or more)

I wanted to share the best, and cutest little loaf of cheese bread that I made just a few Sundays ago.  Ever since I picked up a copy of an America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2011 magazine last year, I'd wanted to try this loaf of bread.  It just kept getting pushed to the back of my mind though, especially with our move to a new house.

Then, just a couple weeks ago I saw this blog post from King Arthur Flour for Creamy Tomato Soup, and wham, I had the idea to get out that ATK magazine issue and make it along with the soup, instead of the same old grilled cheese sandwich.

The recipe was super simple to put together and it was quick, since there was no yeast and no rising time involved.  As you can see from the picture above, the recipe only makes a very small loaf, in a 5 1/2 by 3 inch loaf pan, but you could slice this loaf into 4 nice size pieces and if you only had 4 people at the table each person would get their own slice.  You could also double the recipe and make two loaves.  I was just glad that the loaf was small enough that my husband and I could finish it off in one meal.

The creamy tomato soup turned out wonderful and my husband and I disagreed about whether this was the best homemade tomato soup recipe we've tried.  I thought it was.  I made a couple small changes to the tomato soup recipe.  I cut the recipe in half for one thing, since it was just the two of us.  I used a can of Muir Glen Fire Roasted Crushed Tomatoes (15 oz I think), instead of tomato puree.  I think it lent a nice smoky flavor to the soup.  I used a 5 oz can of evaporated milk, since they didn't have 6 oz cans, and I only used 1 tsp of sugar for half the recipe.  Their were quite a few larger chunks of tomato in the can of crushed tomatoes, so I did pour the soup into my blender at the end to puree it.  We don't particularly like chunky tomato soup:)

Here is the bread recipe,

Cheddar Cheese Bread
from America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2011

1 ounce Parmesan cheese, shredded on large holes of box grater (about 1/3 cup)
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of pepper
2 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar cheese (I used Cabot Sharp Cheddar),
    cut into 1/4-inch cubes (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup whole milk
3 Tablespoons sour cream
1 Tablespoon unsalted buter, melted and cooled
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 5 1/2 by 3 inch loaf pan with cooking spray, then sprinkle 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon shredded parmesan evenly over the bottom of the pan.

Whisk together in a medium bowl the flour, baking powder, salt, cayenne, and pepper.  Fold in the cubed cheddar until it is coated with the flour mixture.  In a separate small bowl, whisk milk, sour cream, melted butter, and egg together until smooth.  Gently fold the milk mixture into the flour mixture with a rubber spatula just until combined.  The batter will be thick.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Sprinkle the remaining shredded parmesan cheese evenly over the top of the batter.  Bake on the middle rack of the oven until golden brown and toothpick inserted into the center comes out with only a few crumbs attached, 30 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking.

Let the bread cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
The recipe said to let the bread cool 1 hour before serving, but by that time the bread was cooled off quite a bit, so you might want to warm it up just a smidge if it has sat too much longer than an hour.  I think it is better when it is served warm.

I just love the cute little drip of cheese that formed on the one side of the loaf.  It froze there before it got a chance to follow the rest of the cheese that oozed out just a bit onto the bottom of my oven.  I'd never made cheddar cheese bread before and so I was easily impressed by the hollow pockets that were left where the cubed cheddar was, before it turned to golden melty goodness. This bread was cheesy delicious!!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Best Banana Bran Muffins

I like to try new decadent desserts for my husband and I, but I try to keep these spaced out, so that we're not eating dessert 3-4 times a week, which is unfortunately just what happens when a dessert yields numerous servings.  I needed some baked items that I could insert into the weekly menu, and/or stick into lunches that were healthy AND tasted good. 

I had purchased a big ole' 2-lb bag of wheat bran at a local mill, because it was such a good price, and I needed just a little to make some bread recipes for Mellow Bakers.  So finding excellent wheat bran recipes seemed like a good place to start.  I really needed ways to use up that abundance of wheat bran in the fridge.

Well, one of the very first recipes I tried turned out to be a winner.  I've tried several other recipes since, but none came close to being as moist and decadent, in a healthy sort of way, than this one.

The recipe is from a cookbook I bought from Amazon a couple years ago, The Essential Eating Well Cookbook.  I own several of the Eating Well cookbooks and this one is currently my favorite.  The Banana Bran muffin recipe is on page 301 of the book and w/ just one small change, this has become one of our favorite muffin recipes.  In fact,  I get a craving for these muffins quite often, and not just when I'm feeling guilty for consuming half of a chocolate bundt cake and/or dinners numerous nights in a row with heavy whipping cream in them.

Banana-Bran Muffins
adapted just slightly from The Essential Eating Well Cookbook

2 large eggs
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2 medium)
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup unprocessed wheat bran
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purposed flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup cinnamon chips
         (the original recipe calls for optional chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Coat 12 muffin cups with cooking spray.

Whisk eggs and brown sugar in a medium bowl until smooth. Whisk in bananas, buttermilk, wheat bran, oil and vanilla.

Whisk whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the dry ingredients; add the wet ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula until just moistened. Stir in the cinnamon chips.  Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin cups.  Note: They will be pretty full.

Bake the muffins until the tops are golden brown (which is kinda hard to tell) and spring back when touched lightly, 15-20 minutes.  I also usually insert a cake tester to make sure it comes out pretty clean.  Be careful, as these muffins can go from perfect to a smidgen overdone in a short amount of time.

Let muffins cool in the pan for 5 minutes, before loosening the edges and turning muffins out onto a wire rack to cool.  Since its just my husband and I, these muffins can last us numerous days and still be fine.  However, during the warmer summer months you may want to refrigerate these, as they have gone moldy on us before.  (We always give them a quick zap in the microwave before consuming.)

Now, these aren't drenched in chocolate, nor is their any caramel, heavy whipping cream or garnishes involved, but these are highly delicious and my hubby is always very happy to see these in the kitchen!

Therefore, I highly encourage you to give these a try, and don't skip the cinnamon chips, as I think they are crucial to the final outcome;)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Baking With Julia: White Loaves

Well, its finally here, the first day of Baking With Julia!  I'm so excited to be starting with a group at the beginning of a book... and, its also not a book just about bread, which I'm happy about.  I love to bake bread and try new recipes, but there are also a lot of great baked treats out there, which I've never tried making before.  I'm kind of lazy in that if I don't HAVE to do it, I won't, so this group will help push me to try things I probably wouldn't have made otherwise.  

I love the new book, that the previously known as "Tuesdays With Dorie" group, is baking from now.  It's Baking With Julia, written by Dorie Greenspan and is based on the PBS Series which was hosted by Julia Child.  The show played host to several dozen well known chefs and so the book draws from a wide range of talent in the culinary world.  It's kind of nice to try so many different chefs' recipes, while only having to buy one book.

The first chapter of the book is Breads, which is where we find our first recipe for the group, which was fine with me, since that's what I'm most comfortable making right now.  The recipe for the White Bread, can be found on page 81 of the book or since this first recipe is being hosted by Laurie and Jules,  I believe the recipe can be found over on their blogs today.  They are the daring leaders of this group and I'm grateful for their willingness and dedication to keep the group going as it journeys into a new book.

I pretty much followed the recipe as its written, except that I substituted instant yeast for the active dry variety, which I don't seem to get along with very well.  I always keep a little plastic container of the instant kind in my freezer, which I pull out several times a week to make our sandwich bread, buns, pizza dough, etc.
I'm becoming so comfortable making bread, that alot of times I'm not really thinking about what I'm doing, or maybe just not thinking at all.  Extremely happy to be starting the first recipe the group is working on,  I was humming along to myself last week, as I was measuring my ingredients.  I was talking on the phone to my hubby, who called on his lunch hour, to make sure the house and myself hadn't blown away (big storm in the vicinity).  My mixer was whirring along and I told him I had to go, as the timer was about to go off.  I had mixed my dough for 10 minutes, as instructed in the recipe, BUT, I had used the paddle attachment.  YIKES!  I didn't know if this was a terribly big deal, but I lifted my ball of dough out of the bowl I'd just placed it in, chucked it back into the stand mixer bowl, attached the dough hook, turned the mixer on and set the timer for another 10 minutes.

I've included a couple process photos below showing the bread at different stages.  There is a picture for each step I followed under the 'Shaping the Dough' heading.  There are no pictures in the book for this part, but it was easy enough to tell what they wanted you to do.  Anyway, if you don't shape it exactly as they intended, it will still be a fine loaf.
The finished loaf of bread turned out really well, and the extra kneading, didn't seem to hurt the dough.  I proofed my dough in the oven with just the light on and that seemed to be enough warmth for the first rise and second rise that the dough went thru.

The taste of this white bread surprised us and was better than what we had expected.  It wasn't dry at all, and kept well on the counter in one of my bread storage bags that I picked up at King Arthur Flour at Christmas.  My husband couldn't quite think how to describe the bread, except that it was kind of like his favorite loaf of white bread, but kicked up a notch.  It didn't taste like supermarket white bread at all.   I've only made plain white bread a couple of times, but this recipe produced the best tasting loaf of the bunch and we used it to try out a recipe for tuna salad that I'd jotted down from an America's Test Kitchen magazine.

Stay tuned for more Baking With Julia, when I return in a few weeks with Chocolate Truffle Tarts!  Thank you Laurie and Jules for hosting this week!!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Cappuccino Thumbprint Cookies: Modern Baker Challenge

The Cappuccino Thumbprint Cookies were my first pick from the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of Nick Malgieri's book The Modern Baker.  They reminded me of the peanut butter blossom cookies my mom made us when we were kids, that had the Hershey's Chocolate Kiss in the center.  As as adult I've also grown to love thumbprint cookies with jam in the center, so I couldn't wait to try these.

The dough was easy to mix together and to get it into the 8-inch square shape before chilling, I opted to just dump the dough into my 8X8 pan.  It seemed to make the most sense to try it that way.  I smoothed out the dough, wrapped it good in seran wrap and dashed off to the grocery store, while the dough chilled for a an hour or so in the fridge.  Since the pan that I shaped my dough in didn't have perfectly round corners, and because my measuring wasn't exact, I had some pieces of dough that were definitely smaller than others.  So I stole bits and pieces of dough from larger squares as I was forming my little spheres.  

The dough got soft rather quickly, since it takes awhile to shape 20 little spheres of dough, so while I was working on the first sheet pan of cookies, I put the remaining dough back in the fridge until I was ready for it.

Coating the spheres in the egg white, before covering in the finely ground almonds, gave me some trouble.  I assumed you were to coat the whole sphere in egg white, so I lowered each sphere into the egg white and then carefully flipped it to cover both sides.  Some of the spheres did not want to come out of their egg white bath.  They'd jump off the fork and flop back in.  Urrghh!  Maybe it would've been easier to just use a pastry brush to apply the egg whites to the spheres?  

I debated about what to use to make the cavity in the tops of the cookies.  In the end, I used my pinky for the first sheet pan, and for the second sheet pan, I used my old plastic 1/4 tsp measuring spoon.  It seemed though, like the cavities in the picture in the book are bigger than mine. 
Cookies in the oven, it was time for a coffee break :)  

Whenever a recipe calls for strong brewed coffee or espresso now, I whip out a packet of my Starbucks Italian Roast Via coffee.  Instead of adding 8 oz of water to the packet contents, I add 6 oz to ensure it's nice and strong.
The cookies baked up fine and the browning almonds smelled quite nice, but my little cavities started disappearing as they got near being done :(   

I grabbed my little 1/4 tsp measuring spoon and as soon as they came out of the oven, while still soft, I gently used the spoon to press out the little cavities.  Don't push too hard though, as the cookies will crack.

The #1 mistake I made was to add cool vanilla to my melted white chocolate.  My melted chocolate seized up and no matter how much I stirred, even after adding my hot espresso, I couldn't do anything with the chocolate filling.  It was a grainy, lumpy mess.  I had to throw it out and try again.

For my second attempt, I only used 4 oz of white chocolate and some semi-sweet regular chocolate (to give the filling a darker color).  I added my vanilla to my espresso, then poured the espresso over the chocolate.  I then placed the bowl over my barely simmering water and melted the chocolate.    

I let the filling cool a bit, then poured it into a disposable decorating bag and filled all my cookies.  I'm not sure how Nick got such glossy smooth tops on his cookies.  My filling wasn't thin enough to ooze down into each cavity and smooth itself out.  I tried smoothing the tops with an offset spatula, but that didn't work.

The finished cookies were still very attractive.  We thought the flavor of these cookies was just OK, though. We like the toasted ground almonds on the outside of the cookie, but the flavor of the cookie is kind of plain, and they are a little dry.  Hubby says they taste 'floury'.  The flavor of the filling is good, but there is just not enough of it to make up for the flavor/texture lacking in the cookie itself.  Maybe this cookie is just not right for us, since we tend to like moist, chewy cookies.  Anyway, I'm glad I tried this recipe and I'm off to try another.   So far the Cocoa Nib Brownies are still my favorite!