Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Caramel Topped Flan

Flan was on the menu four years ago this week for the Tuesdays With Dorie bakers, and it was on my menu in my quest to bake all the TWD recipes that were baked before I joined the group.  Flan is one of those order-at-a-restaurant treats for my family, and I was interested to see how it would work in my kitchen.

Dorie's recipe for Caramel Topped Flan is one of those mysterious recipes: you put everything in the baking dish and bake the flan and when you unmold it you have a lovely custard which through the magic of baking ends up covered in a delightful caramel sauce formed from the ingredients you put in the bottom of the flan dish.  Of course, as will all upside-down desserts, you never really know how it's going to turn out until it comes out of the pan!

n.o.e.'s notes:

-  Steph, of A Whisk and a Spoon has the recipe here:

-  I made a half-recipe of flan in a 6" round cake pan.

-  The first step in this recipe is to make caramel which is then spread - evenly, Dorie emphasizes - into the bottom of the cake pan.  My caramel kept pulling away from the edges of the pan; you can see from the picture above how that ended up looking.

-  Next, I mixed the custard, poured it into the pan, then baked it in a water bath in the oven until the custard was set.

-  The final step was unmolding the flan, flipping it onto a serving plate, leaving room for the caramel sauce to run down and pool around the edges of the flan. I was a little concerned that the magic wouldn't work, but the flan turned out perfectly. 

 the verdict:

This flan was every bit as tasty, and tastier even, than the versions that we order when we eat out.  We savored every spoonful.  Who knew that making fabulous flan at home could be so easy?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Irish Soda Bread

In honor of St. Patrick's day, the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group baked Irish Soda Bread as the second March recipe.   The group chooses one easy recipe each month from the book Baking With Julia, and one that's a bit more involved.  The soda bread is the easy one, and, folks, it doesn't get any easier than this: 4 ingredients and a minute of kneading and it's ready for the oven!

n.o.e.'s notes:

-  Julia's contributing baker for the soda bread is Marion Cunningham; you can find her recipe on either of the host blogs this week:
Carla of Chocolate Moosey put dried cherries in her bread
 Cathy of My Culinary Mission  made a gruyere version
-  Although the most traditional form of soda bread is plain, the recipe suggest adding currants so that's what I did.

-  I baked a half recipe, yielding one smallish loaf.

-  For one quarter of the flour I used Irish Style Wholemeal Flour from King Arthur Flour.  How could I not?  I had it on hand and it even has Irish in its name!  I love the slightly rough texture and full flavor of this flour.

-  I've learned from my yeast bread baking (thanks to British bread baker extraordinaire Dan Lepard) to knead the dough on an oiled rather than a floured counter.   For the soda bread, I used walnut oil, figuring it wouldn't hurt to add a bit of nutty flavor while I was conditioning the dough.

-  Soda bread is usually baked as a hearth loaf, but around my house bread made in loaf pans is the preferred type when it's destined for toasting, as this was.  So I used a medium-sized loaf pan.  The bread baked for 35 minutes at 375 degrees.

the verdict:

Eaten fresh and barely cooled from the oven, this bread was delicious: tender, nutty from the wholemeal, with little pops of sweet fruitiness from the currants.  I ate it spread with salted butter and my husband toasted it then buttered it.  Although the recipe indicates otherwise, we found the bread to be a decent "keeper." We both liked the bread, and you absolutely cannot beat the ease of preparation.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Brioche Raisin Almond Snails

In the breakfast section of her book, Baking: From My Home to Yours, Dorie Greenspan has a recipe for basic brioche dough which makes Golden Brioche Loaves and also forms the base for her Brioche Raisin Snails, which were originally baked by the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group four years ago today.  Thus the raisin snail recipe is this week's recipe in my TWD catch-up project.  (The brioche dough is also the base for Pecan Sticky Buns, which will be coming up in a few weeks' time)

As it worked out, although the raisin snails and the pecan sticky buns were chosen in the first 6 months of TWD, we baked the plain(er) Golden Brioche Loaves towards the end of TWD, just a few months ago, and I saved enough dough in my freezer to make the snails that I had not yet baked (and the upcoming sticky buns too!)

n.o.e.'s notes:

- [edited to add:
The recipe for these pastries is on Laurie's post here.]

- I made 1/2 recipe, yielding 6 rolls, using 1/4 of Dorie's brioche recipe that I had kept in the freezer.

-  There are four elements to the raisin snails recipe: brioche dough topped with pastry cream and flambeed rum raisins then sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.  These are all rolled together, sliced into individual coils (resembling snail shells), left to rise at room temperature, then baked until golden brown.

-  When I paged to the back of the book to find the pastry cream recipe, I saw Dorie's recipe for almond cream and began to formulate a plan to go rogue and use almond cream rather than pastry cream in my snails.  Then I saw in the almond cream recipe that Dorie actually suggests that would be a good filling for her brioche snails.  So I even had Dorie's permission to make the switch and I feel so much less guilty!

-  I added almond extract instead of vanilla or rum to the almond cream to intensify the almond quotient.

-  I soaked the raisins in hot water, then heated them, doused them with rum and lit a match. and another match. and another, well, four matches actually and there really wasn't much flambe, even though I had doubled the rum.  There wasn't much rum flavor to the raisins either.  Next time I'll soak them in hot rum instead of hot water.

- According to the recipe, right before rolling up the dough, it's time to sprinkle with cinnamon + white sugar.  My plan was to sprinkle with brown sugar and leave out the cinnamon so it wouldn't fight with the almond direction I was taking. At the appropriate time I was so busy rolling the dough that I forgot about the sugar step entirely.

-  My rolls didn't rise much before baking and they didn't rise much in the oven either.  They spread horizontally but not so much in height.  As it baked the almond cream puffed but it also oozed onto the silicone baking sheet liner and browned.  When I removed the rolls from the pan, it was an easy matter to break off the browned almond cream.

the verdict:

Things these snails were: buttery, yeasty, almond-y, raisiny.  Things the snails were not: rummy, sugary.  We enjoyed them for breakfast, a mid-afternoon snack, and for dessert with vanilla ice cream.  They were a little involved to make, so it's not likely that they will go into any regular rotation in my kitchen, but they were definitely delicious.

My baking buddy Leslie baked the snails this week; she's also playing TWD catch-up!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Shaker Lemon Pie for Pi Day

Baking has a lot to do with math - proportions, quantities of ingredients, precision all come in handy for optimal results.  I seem to end up using extra math in my baking.  I'm always reducing a recipe, or increasing it, and I have to multiply or divide ingredient quantities.  Or I am using a different type and/or shape of pan and have to calculate areas or volumes.  This kind of math is oddly satisfying to me, although I know that it gives most bakers headaches.

But once a year - on March 14 - all bakers get to have FUN with math: it's Pi Day (3/14, get it?) and we can all just bake a pie to celebrate and forget about the actual math if we want!

For this year's big pie holiday, I decided to make a recipe that intrigued me: Shaker Lemon Pie.  The distinguishing feature of this pie is that it is made with the entire lemon, rind and all. I had read a lot of recipes for the Shaker Lemon Pie, and many of them stresses what a great pie the Meyer lemons made (and what a tart pie the regular lemons made). Whole Foods was fresh out of Meyer lemons the day I stopped in so I had to make do with regular lemon in my pie.  After all, most of the recipes - and I daresay the Shakers themselves - use regular lemons.

n.o.e.'s notes:

-  As Deb Smitten explains in her Shaker Lemon Pie post, most recipes for this pie are nearly identical: 2 lemons, 2 cups of sugar, 4 eggs. A variation is to add melted butter and flour, and the recipe I used, from Molly O'Neill's One Big Table, followed this variation.  It it similar to the recipe on Smitten Kitchen, but doesn't require zesting the lemon before slicing it, and uses one tablespoon less of both the butter and the flour.  Also, the recipe I used calls for an initial oven temperature of 450.

-  My favorite part of this Shaker pie version is that it calls for a lattice top crust.  It looks so pretty and I like how the crust ends up being variable in thickness, with some parts crisper and other softer.

-  For this pie, the lemon is sliced very very thin, and I did this step by hand because my cheapo mandoline doesn't actually slice super thin. My lemon slices macerated in sugar on the countertop for about 8 hours before I put the pie together and bakes it.

-  I made a mini pie in 7 pie shell. For the crust I used half a recipe of the Cook's Illustrated Foolproof Pie Dough, which I posted here.  This time the dough was on the sticky side, which was controllable as long as I refrigerated the dough at every step. Making the lattice top, while not difficult per se, got a little tricky as the dough warmed.

-  I also made half recipe of the filling

the verdict:

This recipe was a runaway hit at our house.  My daughter JDE said it was her new favorite pie recipe, and this is coming from a girl who is a serious fan of pie.  Indeed the pie combined flaky dough with dense lemon intensity.  If you like lemon desserts, I'd highly recommend this pie - but don't wait until Pi Day rolls around again to bake it!

My previous Pi Day pies:
2011 Buttermilk Pie
2010 German Apple Pie

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Meyer Lemon Pudding

Although I love most any kind of fruit, citrus is my very favorite fruit family.  It is in season over the winter, and through the miracles of modern transportation, rays of citrusy brightness shine into cold, dreary, dark days everywhere.  As a celebration of all things citrus, Di, of Di's Kitchen Notebook is sponsoring a (Late) Winter Blog Event - Citrus Sunday, inviting her fellow bloggers to prepare a citrus dish and link to it on her site

I had found some lovely Meyer Lemons at the store and looked around for a dish that would spotlight this sweet, mellow variety of lemon.  I settled on Meyer Lemon Pudding, perfect cheery comfort food for the chilly, gray weather we were having.

n.o.e.'s notes:

-  I found the recipe on this blog post; it's from a book called Luscious Lemon Desserts.

-  The recipe called for 3 egg yolks, but used 4 egg yolks because the ones from the Jumbo eggs still looked pretty small to me.  I was in California when I made this recipe and it seems true that egg yolks in the western US are smaller than those in the east.

-  I didn't read the recipe and put the lemon juice in the saucepan along with the milk, eggs, sugar, and zest (it was supposed to be added later).  I realized my mistake right away and was nervous that the lemon would curdle the dairy, but I'm happy to report that it turned out fine!

-  I reduced the amount of sugar to 2/3 cup, wanted to retain some tartness of the lemon.

the verdict:

We enjoyed this lovely version of lemon pudding, finding it subtle but unmistakably lemony.  We loved that it was rich and creamy and not too sweet.  The pudding was also a good keeper; we enjoyed it for dessert each evening for several days, plain and dotted with fresh berries.

You can join the fun of the Citrus Blog Event - check out all of the linked recipes or post one on your own site and add your link (until March 25, 2012).

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


This week's recipe for the all-new Tuesdays With Dorie (Baking With Julia edition) is Rugelach.  I have baked rugelach once: Dorie Greenspan's recipe in the original TWD group, which I posted here.  Rugelach is a traditional Jewish cookie, and consists of a cream cheese dough filled with a jam or jam-like spread, and sprinkled with nuts and dried fruit then rolled and baked.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The host blogs for the rugelach are Jessica of My Baking Heart and Margaret of The Urban Hiker; you can find the recipe if you visit their posts (here and here).

-  The rugelach recipe in Baking With Julia contains several different components.  One is prune or apricot lekvar - a sort of a spread or paste made from dried fruit.  I had some nice soft prunes that I had used for a different recipe and wanted to use them up while they were still fresh.  I made 1/2 recipe of the prune lekvar.  It was easy enough to prepare and I froze the leftover lekvar for a future baking projects.

- For the dough, I had 2 ounces of cream cheese in the fridge to use up so I decided to make 1/6 recipe of the dough and the other components.  I know that I mixed up the dough without incident, but got a little tricky when I moved onto the "filling and topping" component(s)  I was cruising along with my mental calculations and then suddenly I got totally confused by my math in the sugar and nuts measurements.  I know that I reduced the sugar by a little bit, and reduced the cinnamon by a good bit (I wanted the fruit and nuts, not to mention the prune lekvar, to shine)

-  Roll-and-sliced was the recipe's preferred method of shaping the cookies, but it also allowed for the traditional crescent shaping - where you form long thin triangles of dough and rolling those around the fillings.  I decided to go for the crescent shape even though I suspected it would be hard to fit all of the filling inside the cookies.  I rolled my dough into a rough semicircle, spread it with the prune lekvar, scattered the fillings, and cut triangular wedges.  The recipe cautions against rolling the dough too thin, because it has a lot of filling to hold.  As it turned out, filling was spilling out, even before my cookies made it to the baking sheet.

halfway through the process of coating with egg wash and sugar/spices/nuts before baking
-  Once filled and formed, the cookies were treated to an egg wash and rolled in a mixture of  cinnamon, sugar, and nuts.  It turned out that the egg wash glued all of the elements of the cookies together.

-  These cookies, in my hands, were an unholy, glorious mess. They melted all over the baking sheet (thank goodness for silicone mats!) and stopped this side of charring before the pastry was finished baking, but they ended up perfectly baked inside.

the verdict:

Matching their untidy appearance, my rugelach were a riot of fruit and nut flavors, with a hint of sweetness + cinnamon.  My husband and I had no trouble polishing off the half dozen or cookies and wishing for more.  They were especially good with a cup of hot coffee or tea.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Somewhat Snickerish Squares

Four years ago today the Tuesdays With Dorie bakers posted Snickery Squares, a shortbread-based bar that contains the flavors of the world's most popular candy bar: caramel+chocolate+peanuts.  I'm on a mission to make up the all the TWD recipes that were chosen in the early part of 2008 before I joined the group. 

The recipe is one that I've wanted to taste for a long time because (1) the picture in the book (Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours) is very very inviting, and (2) I have heard good things about these bars from those who baked them before me.  What has kept me from baking the bars?  Four elements to prepare and then layer.  I usually default to an easier recipe.

When I saw that the bars were coming up in the list of TWD recipes, I included them as part of my pre-Lenten flurry of baking sweet treats.

n.o.e.'s notes:

-  The Snickery Squares were chosen and hosted by Erin of the blog  Dinner and Dessert.  You can find the recipe on her post.

-  The recipe gives direction for three elements - caramelized peanuts, shortbread, and chocolate topping - and specifies store-bought dulce de leche for the fourth.  As it turned out, only one of the four elements was prepared as directed by Dorie's recipe!

-  I did not use the dulce de leche but instead located some homemade caramel in my freezer and used it for the bars.  I had made the caramel from a recipe in the book Baked Explorations and it was a really intense, smoky batch of thick caramel.

- As I've shared in a previous TWD caramel+chocolate+peanut recipe, I don't really care for peanuts and chocolate.  This week, rather than peanuts, I used roasted, salted pistachios, which I caramelized according to the recipe's directions for preparing peanuts.

-  I wanted to experiment with a gluten-free version shortbread as a base for these bard.  I tried a recipe from Alice Medrich's cookie book.  I've never had a failure with a Medrich recipe, so I had high hopes for this shortbread crust.  The dough was not difficult to put together and the crust baked up to a nice, firm cookie that held together beautifully.

-  For the topping, I used 70% Green & Black's chocolate.

the verdict:

I found the combination of rich shortbread, good caramel, dark chocolate and crunchy candied pistachios in these bars to be out of this world.  Two tasters joined me for these bars.  One loved them and one didn't card for the caramel.  I'm guessing she would have loved them had I used dulce de leche.

I enjoyed the bars so much that I put some in the freezer for an after-Lent indulgence!  As much as I enjoyed this recipe, I am equally excited to find a gluten-free shortbread recipe to use as a base for other cookies and even for tarts.