Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Strudel sans Apple

True Confessions time: before this Daring Bakers challenge, I didn't know what strudel was.
[pause for everyone to stop laughing]
I'm serious. All I knew was that it was a German (Austrian? Austro-German?) dessert, and that it was mentioned in "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music, along with "shnitzel with noodle." Come to think of it, I don't know exactly what shnitzel is either, but I think it might involve fried meat.

So I obviously had a big learning curve when it came to this month's challenge. Step one: learn what strudel is! Step two: make some.

Turns out making strudel is easy. And fun! You get to play with your food, like this:

I was seriously tempted to drape it over my face and have a little Silence of the Lambs moment, but there was no one in the house to freak out, so I let it go.

I really like apple desserts, but I just was. not. feeling. the apple strudel recipe. I don't know, maybe it was all the breadcrumbs-- yes yes I know they're for absorbing moisture, but it just seems wrong. What's next, croutons in cake? It's a slippery slope, people.
So I solicited the hungry hungry hubby for filling ideas, and he suggested a cream cheese filling, like a danish. Denmark, Germany, danish, strudel, potato, po-tah-to, right? I ended up making a chocolate cream cheese filling with toasted hazelnuts and chopped dried cherries. Looks like hell, tastes like heaven, and it all evens out in the end.
The filling had a great flavor from the tangy cream cheese, bittersweet chocolate, nuts, and sour cherries. I wasn't sure how it would bake, all rolled up burrito-style, but it turned out fine, and of course it was much improved by the standard dollop of whipped cream on top.
The dough flaked and layered really nicely, and overall I'd say my first strudel outing was a success. It wasn't my favorite thing to eat--too much filling, not enough pastry around it--but the hubs adored it and ate three pieces in a row, so I felt better about my own apathy.

I don't know if I'll be making strudel again, but at least I'll be confident during this year's Sound of Music sing-a-long (September! Hollywood Bowl! I am so there) that I know exactly what Maria's favorite things are.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

TWD: Chipster-Topped Brownies

I'm sure we were all thinking the same thing when we read the description of this week's recipe, a bar cookie that combines chocolate chip cookie dough and brownies:

"Toniiiiight is the niiiiight that two become oooone..."

Don't play coy. You were all with me on the Spice Train, right?

[And also, I'm sure you've all seen the Spice World movie, right, and currently have an awesome mental image in your head of Alan Cumming singing "3 become 1" in a parody, right? ...just me, then? Okay.]

Aaaanyhow. Brownies! Chocolate chip cookies! Two become one, indeed.

These looked pretty sexy, what with the fudgy brownie bottom and the super crispy, chocolate-studded topping. They were a little iffy in the pan (a bit cracked on top, and way past the "golden brown" stage for me) but once cut, they looked much more palatable. And also, enormous. I don't know why I physically can't cut small slices, but it's like a personal failing. Each bar must be at least 3" long. It's like my knife hand has as mind of its own.I was all ready to love these right up, because I'm a simple girl, with simple tastes, and chocolate chip cookies and plain brownies are two of my favorite things. But I think in this case, the final product was a little less than the sum of its parts. Don't get me wrong, they weren't bad, and heaven knows I ate half the pan myself, so I did enjoy them. But I guess at the end of the day, I'd rather have a really well-made cookie and a well-made brownie separately than the two baked together.
But these were a fun little experiment, and I did think the brownie layer was ooey gooey goodness. The cookie layer could have been beefed up a bit more, since all I really tasted was a crackly crust. I think the extremely long bake time was a problem--by the time the brownies were done, the cookies had been baked into oblivion.

Next time I might try baking the brownie layer a bit first, and then adding the cookie layer, so that the cookies stand a chance of retaining a bit of soft texture. And, you know, I would consider adding a touch of cinnamon or something, since they could use a little...spice. Hi-yo!


Friday, May 22, 2009

Butterfly Cupcakes and the Tijuana Turtle Effect

So my boss Esti has a theory about miniature desserts we call the "Tijuana Turtle Effect." Observe:

One miniature butterfly cupcake is pretty cute.

Three mini butterfly cupcakes are kind of darling.
But a huge spread of dozens and dozens of mini butterfly cupcakes, arranged wing to wing? UNBEARABLY ADORABLE. This, my friends, is the Tijuana Turtle Effect.

As she explains it, it's like when you go to Tijuana and see these stalls selling hundreds of small bobble-headed turtle figurines. The sheer volume of the teensy turtles hypnotizes you into thinking they're just the cutest things you've ever seen, and pretty soon you won't be happy until you own a Tijuana turtle for yourself. Of course, you get home and it's not nearly as cute without its brethren--but that is the lesson of the Tijuana turtles. We've found this also holds true for all types of miniature desserts. No matter how cute something looks, it invariably looks twelve times cuter when surrounded by hundreds of clones. I made these butterfly cupcakes for my friend Heather's baby shower. Citrus flavors are her favorite, so I did lemon cupcakes with four different flavors of citrus curd inside. The green ones are key lime, the pink are pink grapefruit, the yellow are lemon, and the orange are (you guessed it) orange. Each is topped with vanilla buttercream and a white chocolate butterfly.
Arranged at the shower:
So the next time you're not so pleased with the appearance a dessert you've made, simply make a few dozen more and arrange them side by side. I guarantee they will look way cuter, and if you're still not pleased, you now have a ton of dessert with which to comfort yourself. Win-win!


Monday, May 18, 2009

TWD: Mango Bread

Mango bread? Never heard of it! Apparently it's a Southern thang. After making mango bread for the first time this week, I think it's going to be a regular thing--sorry, thang--around my house from now on, because I totally dug it! Here are the main flavor components of mango bread:
Yes, the dreaded raisins strike again. Why anyone would want shriveled grape carcasses in their delicious spiced mango bread is beyond me, but never fear--I left them out and was all the happier for it.

I'm a big fan of most quick breads--banana bread and pumpkin bread are both high on my list of fast and easy desserts/snacks/breakfasts/etc. This bread was very similar in texture to banana bread, right down to the amazing crackly, sugary crisp top layer. I pretty much never eat the bottom half of these breads, but could devour the top half in one sitting. If anyone ever opens a Seinfeld-esque Top of the Muffin bakery, for reals, I would be their biggest customer.I was surprised at how subtle the mango flavor was in the final product, since there was a lot of mango added. But it seemed to blend in very nicely during the baking, and I thought the balance of ginger, lime, and mango flavors was perfect. My one quibble with the recipe would be the pan size, since I got the Mt. Vesuvious of bread eruptions in my oven from using an 8.5 x 4.5 pan. I really debated using the pan, since it seemed so small (oh hindsight, call me next time!) but decided to follow the recipe, like a sucker. Next time, my larger 9.5 pan for sure.
One last note, because I think I have some Eddie Izzard fans reading. He does one particular sketch where he's talking about making breakfast, and he sings about "freshly squeeeezed mango juuuuice!" and that phrase has been on a loop in my head every time I think about this bread, only it goes, "Freshly baaaaked mango breeeead!" And um, I don't really know how to finish this anecdote, because I guess it isn't really that funny out of context. The end.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

TWD: Tartest Lemon Tart

This week's lemon tart was a nice walk down memory lane for me. My first pastry job was at an LA bakery called Sweet Lady Jane, and while I was there I developed a lemon tart recipe pretty similar to the one we made this week. Of course, getting the perfect recipe required many many trials, so there was a period of a few weeks where I was obsessed with lemon tarts. I dreamt of lemon tarts. I poured myself a big bowl of lemon tarts and milk for breakfast in the morning. And I tasted the tart variations constantly, so I was stuffed with lemon tart for about 3 weeks straight. Possibly because of that overdose, I haven't made a baked lemon tart in years, and eating this one brought me right back to the Lemon Tart Testing days.

This time, I followed some advice I found on the TWD blog and added fresh raspberries to the tart before baking. I had been planning this step from the beginning, but I absent-mindedly poured the filling in before laying the berries on the crust, so I ended up pushing them in as an afterthought. I think this is why you see the "floaters" through the filling. Ah well. The taste more than made up for the spotty appearance.

I also followed some advice and removed the white pith before pureeing the lemons in the food processor, to take away some of the bitterness. I reduced the sugar by 1/4 cup to compensate, and I thought the resulting filling was the perfect balance of sweet and tart.

For something so easy to throw together, this tart is a knockout. Eating it brought back a lot of memories to when I was a fresh young pastry pup, and I was pleased to realize that I still love the creamy, sweet-and-tart taste of this tart as much as I did back then.


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

No TWD; Instead, Dessert Smorgasborg!

This past week has been a blur of packing, moving, unpacking, baking, missing sleep, skipping showers, making poor nutritional decisions, and manipulating my husband into giving me endless foot massages. In short, I didn't have time to make the TWD recipe. But considering the fact that I don't drink alcohol or coffee, and I need another slice of cake like I need a hole in the head, perhaps skipping the tiramisu cake was not a huge tragedy. Moving on!

Here's what I've been up to instead. The small-scale wholesale bakery I work at has relocated from a small rental kitchen that we shared with a ravioli company to a huge, beautiful, sparkling clean kitchen that we OWN. Upgrade!

We used to do all of our baking in two ovens that looked like this. (Yes, just 2 small ovens.) This particular oven is my arch-nemesis for LIFE, because the pilot light would consistently go out and refuse to re-light for hours at a time. I really feel like we need some sort of Medal of Valor for doing mad volume in the face of horrible baking conditions.
We now rock it out in this spacious baketopia. [Ignore the clutter, these are move-in pictures.]To celebrate our swell new digs, we had a big kitchen-warming party this past weekend...5 days after moving in. Good thing we're awesome, otherwise it might have been a bit stressful! Setting up the dessert table:Chocolate-dipped strawberries. The berries came from the business next door. They're a real estate office/produce supply company/crematorium. Yes, really. And yes, I will never get tired of telling this fact to everyone I meet. Expect to read about it in every blog post from now on.
Chocolate-peanut butter mousse cups.
Brownie mint sandwich cookies, my personal fave.
Army of miniature cupcakes.

Creme brulees. These are SUCH a pain but they're really popular so we always end up making them when we do petit four catering. Curse our creme brulee skills!
Cake pops, on their own Dr. Seussical cake pop trees. They were the most popular thing at the party. We did red velvet, german chocolate, and vanilla berry. They'd be a great item to sell if they weren't so time-intensive and small. It's hard to charge a lot for a two-bite item, even if they take ages to make.
And who ARE the masterminds behind this bakery? These jokers here:
Now that we're all settled, I hope to do some more posting and be back to regularly scheduled blogging and commenting soon!