Sunday, March 31, 2013

Raspberry swirl ice cream


Why hello, gorgeous! Yup, that's me talking to the ice cream. I've got to admit - this ice cream is really pretty. The vanilla ice cream base is a beautiful pale yellow color with pops of bright red swirled throughout. Come to think of it, I feel like I'm describing a sunset - see the beautiful shades of yellow throughout the sky as speckles of red scatter throughout the horizon. Thank goodness I'm not a poet, right?

Well, this ice cream tastes just as good as it looks. The vanilla ice cream base is smooth, rich and creamy. Then add in ribbons of sweet raspberry, and you've got yourself one awesome cool treat. If you are a blackberry fan, you can substitute blackberries instead (just add a squeeze of lemon juice to the mixture to balance it out).

I'm sure I'll have more ice cream recipes to share soon.

Raspberry swirl ice cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 and 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  •  1 and 1/2 cups raspberries, fresh or frozen
  • 3 TBSP sugar
  • 1 TBSP vodka
Directions
For the ice cream, warm the milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. In a (separate) large bowl, pour the cream and set a mesh strainer on top.

In a separate small to medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks.  Once the milk mixture is warm, pour a few tablespoons of the warm milk into the egg yolks and whisk constantly. Slowly pour the egg yolk mixture back into the medium saucepan with the rest of the warm milk mixture.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and into the heavy cream. Stir, then add vanilla. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator (overnight preferred).

To make the raspberry swirl, smash the raspberries with a fork (if your raspberries are frozen, wait for them to thaw a bit). Add the sugar and vodka and keep smashing until the raspberries are juicy but are still chunky. Set in the refrigerator until you are ready to use the mixture.

Once the ice cream custard is completely chilled, freeze it in your ice cream maker machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. Alternate pouring the ice cream and the raspberry mixture into a container. Freeze for several hours before serving.

Yield: About 1 and 1/2 quarts

Source: The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz, pages 92-93

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Friday, March 29, 2013

Skating Fridays

Welcome to the 2nd edition of Skating Fridays! I had such an overwhelmingly positive response to the inaugural post that I will try to make this a weekly thing. Thank you all for being so supportive and interested in my life outside of baking.

If you are unfamiliar with skating, there are 4 levels that adult skaters can test out of in the United States Figure Skating (USFSA) track - think of it like belts in karate. You start off with Pre-Bronze moves-in-the-field (or MIF), then Bronze, Silver and finally Gold.  One must take and pass the corresponding MIF test before testing its equivalent in other disciplines like freestyle (that's the one with jumps and spins) and pairs. Dance is completely separate.  If and when a skater competes, he or she must compete at the highest level that has been passed.

Here is a link to the diagrams and some videos that the USFSA showcases on their website for each level of MIF.

Last week I showed you my forward outside and inside double-three turns for my Gold MIF test. Today I wanted to show you one of my weaker moves - backward inside double-three turns. It took me months to figure out how to do these correctly, but they are improving. I'm curious - after viewing the videos below, can you tell which is my weaker side?

Left backward inside double-three turns:


Right backward inside double-three turns (got interrupted by some kids during one of the turns):

The MIF pattern is not on the circle like I have demonstrated above but rather in alternating half circles down the length of the ice. Fun, isn't it?

And just because I can't work on MIF all the time, here is one of my favorite spins... it's a sit spin / cannonball / back sit spin combo.  My back sit isn't very low, but it's something I'll keep working on.



Less than a month to go before Test Day!

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Chinese "pineapple" (bolo) custard buns 菠蘿包


Redemption. Don't you just love it? After my epic fail in the Chinese custard buns that I made recently, I was extremely discouraged in trying to make Asian bakery style buns again. My yeast didn't rise in the previous recipe, and I was scared to try something similar another time.

Imagine my surprise when I got assigned Christine's Kitchen Chronicles for this month's Blogger's Choice swap, which is hosted by Sarah of Taste of Home Cooking. Although I had been eyeing Christine's bolo bao recipe for a long time, I was hesitant to try it after my baking failure since the bun technique was similar. "What the heck," I thought, "Let's give the bolo bao a try."

My bolo bao (菠蘿包) dough did not want to rise (I'm guessing because my butter was still too cold), so I tricked it. I covered my dough, popped it in the microwave for 20 seconds and let it rest. Then, about 15 minutes later, I zapped it for another 20 seconds in the microwave and put it aside to rise. When I returned 2 hours later, my dough had risen. Success!

These buns were beyond phenomenal. I did not add an egg wash to mine, so I didn't achieve the beautiful golden color on the top of my pastries. However, everything else was spot on. The dough was light and chewy, and the custard inside was slightly sweet. And of course, the best part of the entire bun was the topping, which is something that I could eat plain.

Thanks, Christine, for sharing such a fantastic recipe. I'm happy to say that this was a successful attempt at a pretty intimidating pastry.  And in case you're wondering, the bolo bao is often referred to as a "pineapple" bun because of the marks on top of the bread. The diamond pattern resembles the exterior of a pineapple. There isn't any real pineapple in the pastry otherwise.

Dough
  • 2 and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 TBSP sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 medium egg
  • 2/3 cup warm water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 TBSP milk powder
  • 3 TBSP butter
Topping
  • 6 TBSP unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 g salt (a pinch)
  • 1 TBSP milk powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Yellow food coloring (optional)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • Another egg for egg wash
Custard filling
  • 3/8 ounce custard powder*
  • 1 and 7/8 ounces wheat starch (tungmin flour)*
  • 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
*You can substitute with 1 TBSP of vanilla pudding mix (NOT instant) and 1/4 cup corn starch

Directions
Place the dough ingredients in a bread machine according to the manufacturer’s recommendation.  Set to the dough cycle and start the machine. It takes about two hours for the dough cycle to complete. (I do not own a bread machine and simply kneaded the dough by hand, covered it with plastic wrap and heated it in the microwave for 20 seconds. I then let the dough rest for about 10-15 minutes and reheated it for another 20 seconds in the microwave. I let the dough rest for another 2 hours before it rose.)

While the dough is resting, make the topping.  In a large bowl, mix the butter and powdered sugar together. Add in the salt, milk powder, vanilla, and food coloring and mix well.  Then add the beaten egg and mix.  Finally, mix in the flour and combine. If the dough is too sticky, place it in the refrigerator to firm up.

Prepare the filling.  Combine the custard powder (or vanilla pudding mix) and wheat starch (or corn starch) in a non-stock saucepan. Add in sweetened condensed milk, and mix over low heat until combined. Add butter. Bring the mixture to a simmer while constantly stirring. The mixture should turn into a consistency like paste.  Remove the mixture from stove and allow to cool slightly.  Once the mixture has cooled, add the egg and stir constantly until it has been well incorporated. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions, shape them into balls, cover with a damp towel and set aside.

After the dough has risen, punch it down and separate into 12 equal pieces.  If dough is too sticky, add a little bit more flour.  Using a lightly floured rolling pin on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough ball into a circle. Thin out the edges more than the center.  Add a custard ball in the middle, and wrap to form a bun.  Pinch centers to seal and place on parchment paper lined baking pan, seam side up.  Repeat for the other buns.

Remove topping from refrigerator and divide into 12 pieces.  Flatten topping dough with hands and gently place on top of bun.  Using a knife, score the topping 3 times vertically then 3 times horizontally.  Repeat for other buns and let dough rise for 40-50 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

After final rising, gently re-center topping if needed.  Gently brush egg wash over each bun.
Bake for 10 minutes at 325 degrees.  Then, reduce temperature to 300 degrees and bake an additional 5 minutes.  Allow buns to fully cool before storing in air-tight containers. These buns freeze exceptionally well (for several months). Simply reheat them in the microwave for 30-45 seconds to serve.

Yield: 12 buns

Source: Christine's Kitchen Chronicles; originally adapted from Chow Times and Recipezaar

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The best chocolate chip cookies ever - the New York Times cookie

The search has finally ended. After years of trying various chocolate chip cookie recipes, I have finally found the one. I am in the camp of people who like their cookies slightly crisp but mostly chewy. My ultimate chocolate chip cookies should be a bit poofy and not deflate over time. They cannot dry out or be too crunchy. They need to be sweet, but not too sweet. And of course, they have to be chock full of chocolate. Is that too much to ask for?

I should have known that Mr. Chocolate himself, Jacques Torres, would have the chocolate chip cookie that I have dreamed about all these years. I read his instructions and was horrified to learn that the cookie dough would have to be refrigerated for (gulp) 24 hours. A girl like me can't wait that long. This seemed like a harsh punishment and something that I wasn't willing to wait out. But knowing that Jacques Torres' confections have been top-notch (after all, my husband and my favorite cookies are his mudslide cookies), I figured it would be worth the lengthy wait time.

And how right I was. These cookies are my (current) favorite chocolate chip cookie of all time. Yes, they even beat out the ones from Back in the Day Bakery, but only by a slight margin. They met all the criteria that I outlined above, and their texture and taste remain unchanged after a few days. These cookies are indeed, the perfect and ultimate chocolate chip cookie. They are, at least, according to yours truly. Although a perfect man or woman does not exist, a perfect chocolate chip cookie does. This one. Go bake some now.

Jacques Torres' chocolate chip cookies
  • 2 cups minus 2 TBSP cake flour
  • 1 and 2/3 cups bread flour (I used all-purpose)
  • 1 and 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 2 and 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 and 1/4 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp natural vanilla extract
  • 1 and 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (I used a 12 oz bag of 365 dark chocolate chunks from Whole Foods)
  • Sea salt (I used Maldon sea salt flakes)

Directions
In a large bowl, sift the flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Using a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low, and slowly add the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined, about 5 to 10 seconds. Add the chocolate pieces in and mix them without breaking them (I mixed the chocolate by hand using a silicone spatula). Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. The cookie dough may be baked in batches and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

When you are ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat (I used my imitation Silpat). Set aside.

Using an ice cream scoop or medium sized cookie scoop, portion out six 3 and 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (slightly larger than a golf ball) onto the baking sheet, and make sure to flatten any chocolate pieces that are sticking up vertically. Lightly sprinkle the tops of the balls with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then transfer the cookies onto another rack to cool completely. 

Cookies can be stored in the freezer for at least a month, or in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.

Yield: I used a medium cookie scoop, made golf-ball sized spheres and got 3 dozen cookies

Source: Jacques Torres, via the New York Times

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Chocolate and cacao nib cookies

Are you a disciplined shopper or more of an impulse buyer?  I'd like to think that I'm pretty disciplined, but sometimes I can't help myself. We were browsing one of my favorite stores, For the Love of Chocolate, when I came across a can of chocolate covered cacao nibs.  And it was on sale.  I totally had to have it.  But of course, I had no idea what to do with it.

I researched some recipes online and found these chocolate and cacao nib cookies on Chocolate & Zucchini. The cookies were barely sweet but had an intense cocoa flavor. The crunchy cacao nibs provided a nice textural contrast to the soft, cake-like cookies. And the addition of sea salt helped bring out the deep cocoa flavor in the cookies. Ode to the sweet and salty combo!

I still have a bunch of chocolate covered cacao nibs left over and have an idea of how to use it up, but I'm open to some suggestions. Other than eating it plain, how else would you feature this ingredient?

Chocolate and cacao nib cookies
  • 4 oz good quality bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 stick (8 TBSP) unsalted butter
  • 1 and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel (can substitute with 1/4 teaspoon regular salt)
  • 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) cacao nibs (I used chocolate covered cacao nibs)
Directions

In a small saucepan set over low heat, melt together 3 oz of the bittersweet chocolate and the butter. Once melted, transfer into a large bowl and allow to cool for ten minutes.

In a separate medium or large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder and set aside. Finely chop the reserved (1 oz) of bittersweet chocolate and set aside.

Gradually whisk the eggs into the cooled melted chocolate mixture. Add the sugar and mix until well incorporated. Slowly add the flour mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula until well combined - the batter will be thick. Gently fold in the chopped chocolate, cacao nibs and fleur de sel (or regular salt if you are using that instead).

Preheat your oven to 350° F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick baking mat.

Using spoons or cookie scoop, portion out rounded teaspoons of batter. Using your hands, shape them into balls and place them on the prepared cookie sheet. Make sure you leave at least a one-inch space between them.

Place the cookie sheet in the refrigerator for ten minutes. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes or  until the tops feel just dry to the touch. Do not overbake.

Yield: I used a medium cookie scoop and got about 16 cookies

Source: Chocolate & Zucchini

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Skating Fridays

Most (if not all) of you know that I am a figure skater. I get questions all the time on what type of skating I do. People are curious if I'm doing triple axels (I wish) and "fancy" spins (depends on what your definition of "fancy" is).

I thought it would be fun for you to take a peek into my skating progress on Fridays. I'm not always going to be able to upload a video, but I will do my best.

My short-term goal is to pass my Adult Gold Moves-In-The Field test, which I have signed up to take in April. I have been working on the 6 required elements for almost two years, but inconsistently.  My previous coach moved to the west coast last summer, so I've been working with my new coach only since September 2012. These moves are all I've been focusing on since then.

One of the moves that I'll be tested on (in front of a panel of 3 judges) are my forward outside double-three turns. I do these down one length of the ice and then go into forward inside double-three turns. These are difficult to control while maintaining a quick speed. Not to mention, I have to place at least 4 of these half-circle patterns down each side of the ice.

The videos below isn't my prettiest attempt, but mostly because there are kids whizzing around the rink during the public session.

Forward outside double-threes:



Forward inside double-threes:



And just for fun, my friend K and I decided to work on our layback spins. Here I am trying out some new arm positions and starting from an inside-three turn.



Let me know if you want me to continue doing Skating Fridays. I'm open to any and all suggestions!

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Funfetti cake batter fudge


For the March What's Baking challenge, Jen of Beantown Baker chose sprinkles as our theme. I could have gone the easy route and simply added sprinkles on top of something like cupcakes or frosted cookies, but I wanted something that incorporated sprinkles into the actual dessert. Sprinkles in blondies? Eh, maybe. Homemade funfetti cake? Ooh, a possibility.  Funfetti... fudge?  Yes!

Fudge is something that I like sampling but don't usually eat a lot of. I found this recipe on Pursuit of Hippiness and was thrilled that I already had all the ingredients in my pantry. Plus, I knew that I could pawn this off on share this with my coworkers and friends. Since each fudge piece is a bite-sized treat, calorie counters had no excuse to not take one. I know who you are!

I am happy to report that this fudge was really good. It was very sweet but did taste like Funfetti. If you are not a fan of almond extract, feel free to leave that out or dial it back. The fudge only took about 10 minutes of touch time, so it was a simple and fuss-free snack. This would be fun for a rainbow-themed birthday party or any occasion where sprinkles are needed.

Funfetti cake batter fudge
  • One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 and 1/2 cups white chocolate chips
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • Rainbow sprinkles
Directions
Pour the sweetened condensed milk and white chocolate into a microwave-safe bowl. Heat for 2-3 minutes, or until white chocolate is almost completely melted. DO NOT OVERHEAT. Stir until completely blended, melted, and smooth.

Immediately add vanilla and almond extract and mix well. Add a tablespoon or two of the rainbow sprinkles and fold in quickly. If you don't work quickly, the sprinkles and melt and turn the fudge into an ugly brownish color.

Transfer to either an aluminum-foil lined 8×8 inch baking pan (I used an unlined silicone 8" x 8" pan) or an 11" x 7" pan. Let the fudge cool and set in the refrigerator.

Once the fudge has hardened, slice into squares and devour. The fudge can be stored in and airtight container placed in the refrigerator for several days.


Yield:About 64 squares of fudge (you can get more or less, depending on how big you like your pieces)

Source: Pursuit of Hippiness

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Chinese baked custard filled buns (奶黄包)

One Asian food that I have always loved and will always adore are Chinese pastries. My mom and I have been known to walk into a Chinese pastry store and come out with dozens of breads, buns and other delectable delights. The owners always recognize us and even offer us a volume discount. Yeah, we're those people.

Unfortunately for me (but fortunately for my waist), the nearest quality Chinese pastry store to me is a good 2 hours away. My best friend used to live a few miles down from one, but since she moved last summer, I haven't had the time to trek over to the pastry shop. My best friend was kind enough to buy me two dozen pastries and give them to me the last time I saw her. (Thank you, Y!)

Since my visits to the pastry store are few and far between, I thought I'd try my hand at making my own pastries. My all-time favorite is the baked custard filled buns, or nǎi huáng bāo (奶黄包). If you have an Asian bakery near you, I urge you to go in and give these a try. Also get a few varieties of buns and see what you've been missing out on. These are excellent for breakfast, lunch, dinner and anything in between (they are commonly eaten as breakfast, in case you are wondering). They're a perfect snack after skating too.

I ran into many snags with this recipe. Unfortunately, my yeast never rose (I let it rest for at least 3 hours, as opposed to 1). My buns did not turn out even half as pretty as the ones I normally buy, so that was seriously disappointing (I didn't add an egg wash, so that was part of my problem). I also had to make two batches of the water-roux paste, and the custard filling was only enough to fill 8 buns. I guess making these buns just wasn't in the stars for me today. I am still glad I tried baking these from scratch, but I am afraid I will just leave it up to the experts. The only saving grace about these custard buns was that they tasted good. They sure were ugly though!

Water-roux paste (I recommend doubling this)

  • 2 TBSP bread flour
  • 1/2 cup water

 Sweet bun dough
  • 1-1/2 cups bread flour (I used all-purpose)
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 7 tsp milk powder
  • 1/3 cup caster sugar (can sub granulated white sugar)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 package (2-1/2 tsp) instant dry yeast
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2/3 cup lukewarm or room temperature water-roux paste, more or less if needed
  • 3 TBSP butter, cubed
Custard filling (recommend doubling this)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
Directions
For the water-roux paste: In a small saucepan, mix the flour and water and cook over low to medium heat. Stir constantly until the temperature reaches 150ºF.  The mixture should have thickened to a paste and you should be able to see the bottom of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat, place saran wrap over the paste and set aside. The water-roux paste can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1 day if not used immediately.  DO NOT USE if the paste turns grey.

For the bun dough: In a large bowl or a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix together add the bread flour, plain flour, milk powder and sugar. Add instant dry yeast and continue to mix. If using a large bowl, form the dry ingredients into a well; otherwise, continue to the next step. Add the lightly beaten egg and water-roux paste and mix. Gradually add just enough lukewarm water-roux paste to form into a slightly sticky but soft dough. Knead by hand for 10 minutes (or using an electric mixer for about 3-4 minutes) until smooth and elastic. If you are kneading by hand, throw or slap the dough onto your working surface once every few minutes between kneading.
Knead in the butter until it is fully incorporated. Form the dough into a round ball, place into a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover and let it rest until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour.
 
After the dough has risen, remove it from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Punch the dough down, knead briefly and form into a ball shape. Divide the dough into 16 equal portions. Shape each portion into round balls and let them rest for 10 minutes.

For the custard filling: In a medium saucepan, whisk the sugar, flour, and salt. Add 3/4 cup of milk and mix until smooth.

Bring mixture to a boil at medium heat, whisking constantly. Do not scrape off any clumps that form on the sides and bottoms because they will leave clumps in your custard.


Cook another 2 minutes and remove from heat (do not turn off the stove). The mixture should have thickened up dramatically.


Mix the egg with remaining 1/4 cup of milk, then pour it into the mixture in the saucepan. Whisk vigorously to combine. Return the mixture to the heat and cook until it just starts to boil. There will be a lot of lumps initially but just keep whisking over the medium heat and most of the lumps should disappear.


Remove from heat and immediately stir in vanilla. Transfer the custard to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. If there are still lumps in the custard, you can 1) keep whisking until they disappear, 2) strain the custard using a fine mesh sieve to get rid of the lumps, or 3) scoop them out with a fork or spoon.


Chill at least 2 hours in the fridge or overnight.

Assembly: Preheat your oven to 375°F. Using a rolling pan, roll out one of the balls into a flat circle. Thin out the edges and leave the center a bit thicker. Add about 1 TBSP of the custard  cream into the center of the flattened dough. Avoid getting custard near the edges because it will be hard to seal.

Take opposite sides of the circle and bring them towards each other so they meet in the middle. Continue to bring opposite edges together until the filling is completely wrapped up.  Pinch off any excess dough that has gathered in the middle. Place sealed side down on a lined or lightly greased baking tray. Repeat with the other dough balls.
 
Cover the pastries and allow them to rise until they have doubled in size. If desired, brush the tops of the buns with an egg wash.
 
If desired, you can swirl any leftover custard cream on top of the buns using a pastry bag and tip. Alternatively, you can put the cream in a ziploc bag and cut off the tip of one of the corners.



Bake in preheated 375°F oven for about 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Yield:  16 buns (custard and water-roux recipes above only make enough for 8 buns)

Source: Custard filling from my Asian-style bakery cake; sweet bun dough and method from Corner Café

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Brioche burger buns


I have come a long way. For the longest time, I had a fear of working with yeast. I wouldn't go near it and avoided anything that required it. It was much easier to buy yeasted items from the grocery store or farmer's market. Little did I know that yeast wasn't so scary, and it's actually quite simple to work with. Hindsight is always 20/20, as they say.

Admittedly, my confidence deflated as I started working with the brioche dough. It was extremely sticky, and even though I greased my plastic wrap very well, parts of the dough stuck badly to it. When I shaped my buns, they were quite ugly, so I was concerned with the final product.

Thankfully, these buns turned out beautifully. Although my hands and working surface were sticky messes, these gorgeous brioche buns were worth it. They were soft, chewy, and exactly what I wanted in a brioche bun. We used them for lobster rolls and sloppy joes. Where have homemade brioche buns been my entire life?

This is a bread that I will certainly make again. Now that I know the dough will be extremely sticky, I will know what to expect so I can be aware of it next time.

Brioche burger buns
  • 3 TBSP warm milk
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 tsp instant yeast
  • 2½ TBSP sugar
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 cups bread flour (I used all-purpose)
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2½ TBSP unsalted butter, softened
  • Egg wash: 1 large egg beaten with 1 TBSP water
  • Sesame seeds (optional)
Directions
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the warm milk, water, yeast, sugar, salt and egg.  Slowly add the flours to the bowl and mix until it is fully incorporated.  Add in the butter.  Turn off the mixer and switch to the dough hook attachment. Knead on low speed for about 6-8 minutes.  The dough will be sticky but that is what you want - adding too much flour will result in hard and tough burger buns.

Transfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl.  Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1-2 hours.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  Divide the dough into 8 equal portions.  Gently roll each piece of dough into a ball and place on the baking sheet, 2-3 inches apart.  Cover loosely with lightly oiled plastic wrap and let the dough rise again for about 1-2 hours, until it doubles.

Set a large metal pan of water on the lowest rack of the oven.  Preheat the oven to 400˚ F and position a rack in the center.  Lightly brush the tops of the buns with the egg wash/water mixture and if desired, sprinkle the tops with sesame seeds.  Bake the buns for 7 and 1/2 minutes, then rotate the pans and bake for another 7 and 1/2 minutes until the tops are golden brown.Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Yield: 8 buns

Source: Annie's Eats, originally adapted from smitten kitchen

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Cinnamon sugar donut muffins


As weird as this sounds, there are some days that I don't feel very creative. "But you play the flute, bake and figure skate!" my friends would say. Yes, but what they don't realize is that all those hobbies are very disciplined and precise. A flute player must play the exact notes on the sheet music, as the composer has written, using the proper technique and expression. A figure skater must be on the correct part of the blade and extend one's feet and arms perfectly while gliding on the ice. One slight misstep and you could fall and injure yourself. And a baker must follow instructions to a T, or else that otherwise perfect baked good may turn out to be hard as a brick or grossly underdone.

So you see, I don't have much creativity.  I had been ogling over these cinnamon sugar donut muffins that my friend Kim at Just Baked posted. They were donuts - in muffin form. I wish I had the creativity to come up with that.  But I didn't.  I finally got a copy of the cookbook that Kim used and knew it was one of the first things I had to make.  Alas, I didn't have whole milk or buttermilk, and to my disappointment, neither did my grocery store.

Rather than run to a different grocery chain (and waste another 20-30 minutes), I decided to improvise and get creative. This isn't something that I do very often since it's not in my comfort zone, but I tried it. I had some extra half and half in my refrigerator and about half a container of plain Greek yogurt. I decided to sub these for the whole milk and buttermilk in the recipe.

What do you know - my substitutions paid off! The muffins indeed tasted like a donut, but more of the thicker, (baked) cake variety than the light and crispy version. The Greek yogurt helped prevent the donuts from drying out, and the cinnamon sugar topping provided a nice crunchy contrast to the dense muffin.

I guess I learned a lesson today - I am more creative than I thought, and I need to take more chances!

Cinnamon sugar donut muffins
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 2-1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 8 TBSP (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
Cinnamon sugar topping
  • 4 TBSP (half a stick) butter, melted
  • 1 cup sugar mixed with 1 TBSP ground cinnamon
Directions
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a standard muffin pan with 12 liners (alternatively, you can skip the liners and use baking spray to grease the muffin wells).

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and nutmeg.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a separate large bowl, cream the butter for 2-3 minutes on medium speed. Turn the speed down to low and slowly add the sugar. Keep mixing until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs individually and mix until just combined. Alternately add the dry ingredients with the half and half, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Once the mixture is almost fully incorporated, add the Greek yogurt. The mixture will be very thick.

Using an ice cream scoop or cookie scoop, drop the batter into the prepared muffin tins and fill them about 3/4 full. Bake for 20 minutes or until the tops of the muffins are firm to the touch and slightly golden.

Set up two bowls for dunking - one for the melted butter and one for the cinnamon sugar topping.

Once the muffins have fulled cooled, dunk them first into the melted butter. Then dunk them into the cinnamon sugar mixture. Shake off any excess cinnamon sugar.

Muffins can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days. They can also be frozen for about 2 weeks.

Yield: About 14 muffins

Source: Inspired by Just Baked and adapted from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook, by Cheryl Day & Griffith Day, page 20

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Alton Brown's "The Chewy" chocolate chip cookie


I have always been a late adopter on things. It usually takes me a while (sometimes years) to catch onto fads or whatever is the latest and greatest shiny object. In fact, I'm old-school and still don't use iTunes because I prefer to listen to CDs. Well, I do listen to XM radio and Pandora, but otherwise, I'm still stuck in the 90s. Don't get me started on how many mixed tapes I have lurking in the attic.

One recipe that made its rounds across the blogisphere is Alton Brown's "The Chewy." This chocolate chip cookie became many bloggers' favorites. I first heard about this cookie several years ago and had not made it until now. Just like I am slow with technology, I have been even slower to bake this cookie.

I guess I wasn't missing much because these cookies were not my favorite. They were a bit too greasy, and even though I baked for the exact amount of time that Alton recommended, my cookies came out too crispy and brown for my liking. The cookies spread and flattened out more than I thought they would too. Don't get me wrong - these are still good tasting cookies, but they were deceiving because I envisioned that these would be puffy, chewy cookies. If you like your cookies a bit darker and crispy, give these a try. Otherwise, skip this recipe and make the ones from Back in the Day Bakery instead. Those are cookies that you should not wait around for!

Also, if any of you can tell me the best way to transfer all the music off my CDs onto iTunes, that would be great (I do not have a CD reader on my iMac, and I am not allowed to install iTunes on my work laptop). Help me get into the 21st century, please!

Alton Brown's "The Chewy" chocolate chip cookie
  • 8 ounces unsalted butter (2 sticks)
  • 12 ounces bread flour (1 and 1/2 cups)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 ounces granulated sugar (1/4 cup)
  • 8 ounces light brown sugar (1 cup)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 ounce whole milk (2 TBSP)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (1 package)

Directions
In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Once melted, set aside to cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, salt and baking soda.

Pour the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer). Add the granulated sugar and brown sugar and beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed for 2 minutes.

In a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together the whole egg, the egg yolk, milk and vanilla.

Turn the mixer down to low and slowly add the egg mixture. Mix for about 30 seconds or until thoroughly combined.

Slowly add the dry ingredients into the mixer. You may need to stop the mixer a few times to scrape down the bowl.

Once the flour is fully incorporated, add the chocolate chips (alternatively, you can stir the chips in by hand). Chill the dough for 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F and place the racks in the top third and bottom third of the oven.

Using a cookie scoop or measuring cup, portion out the dough into 1-1/2 ounce balls onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Leave at least 2 inches between each cookie.  Bake for 15 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. Remove from the oven, let the cookies cool on a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for about 3 days. You can also freeze them for up to a month.

Yield: About 30 cookies

Source: Alton Brown, via the Food Network

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Monday, March 4, 2013

Boston Cream pie

I don't eat donuts very often, but when I do, my favorite type is Boston Cream. My dad introduced me to this wonderful variety when I was a little girl. It's something about the combination of the silky smooth custard and chocolate glaze that gets me every time. And the name of it is pretty catchy too - Boston Cream. Imagine my horror when I went to my very first Krispy Kreme during college and found out that my beloved donut was called Chocolate Covered Custard Filled. Yeah, try saying that 10 times fast!

My baking buddy Kim of Just Baked and I wanted to knock something off our baking bucket lists together, so we jointly decided to bake a Boston Cream pie. I figured this would be the next best thing after the donuts that I love and adore. Be sure to check out Kim's blog to see how her cake/pie turned out!

This Boston Cream pie was just as fantastic as I anticipated. The cake layers were slightly dense (halfway to pound-cake-like texture), and the pastry cream added enough sweetness to perk up my tastebuds. Then the chocolate ganache was the perfect topping for a chocoholic like me. 

My cake started getting stale after a day in the refrigerator, so it is best to eat this on the day you bake it. I did run into some challenges with my ganache because it was much more runny than I wanted, so I stuck it in the fridge for about 15 minutes before I poured it onto my cake. Also, my cake didn't bake up as tall and pretty as I would have liked, but the flavors and textures were all there. I'm excited to cross this off my baking bucket list and hope to tackle a few more recipes off there. Anybody want to join me?

Ingredients
Assembly directions
Place one cake round on a large (round) plate. Briefly whisk the pastry cream until smooth and then place onto the center of the cake. Using an offset spatula, spread the pastry cream evenly to the edge of the cake. Place the second layer of cake on top of the pastry cream, bottom side up. Ensure the cake layers line up evenly. Lightly push down on top of the cake to meld the layers together. Refrigerate cake while preparing glaze.

Once glaze is ready, pour it onto the center of the cake. Use an offset spatula to gently spread glaze to edge of cake. Allow the excess glaze to drip down the sides of the cake. Refrigerate the finished cake 3 hours before slicing. Cake may be made up to 24 hours before serving.

Cake ingredients
  • 1 and 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar
Cake directions
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Lightly grease two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and line with parchment. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a small saucepan over low heat, warm the milk and butter until the butter is melted. Remove saucepan from heat, add vanilla, and cover to keep warm.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whisk the eggs and sugar at high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Remove mixer bowl from stand. Slowly add the hot milk mixture and whisk by hand until incorporated. Gently add the dry ingredients and whisk until it is fully incorporated.

Divide batter evenly between the two prepared 9-inch cake pans. Bake until tops are light brown and toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean, about 20 to 22 minutes.

Transfer cakes to wire rack and cool completely in pan, about 2 hours. Run a small plastic knife around edge of pans, then invert cakes onto wire rack.

Chocolate glaze ingredients
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
Chocolate glaze directions
In a small saucepan set over medium heat, bring the cream and corn syrup to a simmer. Remove from heat and add the chopped bittersweet chocolate. Gently whisk until smooth, about 30 seconds. Let the mixture rest, whisking occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

Yield: About 12-18 slides, depending on how big you like your slices!

Source: Cake and chocolate ganache from Cooks Illustrated; pastry cream from my Chinese bakery-style cake post

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