Sunday, February 27, 2011

BBB Anniversary - Croissants

My house smells like melted butter right now.  It's heavenly.  Yesterday it smelled like scalded milk; I can't decide which is better.  Some people look at me funny when I say how much I love the smell of scalded milk, but it's so nostalgic and comforting.  I didn't grow up with warm milk at bed time or anything, but it puts me in mind of homemade puddings and custards.  It's just very appealing to me.  Plus it makes great bread.  And this month's BBB challenge was to bake any one of their recipes (your favorite) from the previous three years.  I really loved the Ensaimadas from February 2010 but I wanted to try something I hadn't done before.  So I went back to a year before I knew about them and chose croissants because I've always wanted to try them out.  It's a long process let me tell you.  Croissants were the challenge for January 2009.  The recipe is posted there although I used a slightly different version by doing a preferment.

The whole process took most of the weekend, but not an obnoxiously large cumulative hands on time.  More like lots of little bits of time with lots of rests or rises or chills in between.  I started the preferment Friday night, that only takes a couple minutes.  Took a couple hours to put together the dough on Saturday.  A few more hours to do the laminating and turns.  Then the final shaping and rise on Sunday morning to bake them off.  I learned a lot.  I haven't done a laminated dough in 20 years.  I will use part pastry flour next time.  Gluten is a pain in the butt when it comes to rolling out laminated dough and King Arthur all purpose flour is actually a pretty strong flour.  I will also do a better job of making the butter malleable.  I did end up with break through on the third turn.  So here is the dough, which smelled absolutely sublime by the way, ready to laminate to the butter pack.  I took the time to find some cultured European style butter and picked the hardest one I could find since I heard that dry butter makes the best croissants.  I bashed and rolled it out between parchment paper to get my square.  I think next time I might work it with a paddle mixer until cohesive and then form and rechill a bit. 

After all that work and the butter breakthrough, which wasn't too terrible, I decided to take the precaution of putting foil under my baking sheet.  It's sideless and I knew I'd have a buttery, smokey mess in the bottom of the oven if I didn't.  It was a good thing too because the foil caught a good quarter cup of butter oil if not more.  I would recommend not using an airbake pan because it will leave the bottoms underdone while the tops are perfectly golden.  I am going to have to find myself a half sheet pan one of these days...

These things smell SO good when baking.  I liked the flavor enhancement from the preferment too.  No bland pastries, these.  They are positively swimming in flavor.  (And butter.)  Can't decide whether to use salted or unsalted butter next time.  Leaning toward salted and adjusting the salt in the dough.  Doing it over the course of a few days though gives it so much flavor already that it may not make a huge difference.

The girls devoured the little mini swirls I made out of the side scraps and declared them delicious.  Overall I am very happy with how they turned out for a first try.  French, they are not.  Tasty they are.  Most importantly, I did it!  As a matter of fact, I am going to take one of Cookie Baker Lynn's high fives for this one.

This post will go up for yeastspotting!


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Humble Poppy Seed Pound Cake

I've had this recipe in my file for well over 20 years.  I even got a division champion ribbon for it at county fair as many years ago.  (Of course it probably helped that it was still slightly warm at judging. )  So why would I bother messing with it?  Well, the last couple times I've made it, I was slightly disappointed that it didn't live up to my memories.  Maybe my adult palate doesn't appreciate the huge amount of sugar in it that my younger self thrived on.  And maybe that's a good thing!  So I did some reworking, some baking experimentation, some changing of the sacred recipe...  Okay, maybe that's being over dramatic.  I changed it up for size and taste and I liked the results.  This is more like what my memories tell me it should be.  A cross between a tea cake and a pound cake.  Not so dense and heavy, and not cloyingly sweet.  This has a nice velvety texture and enough poppyseeds to taste, though feel free to bump it up if you truly love poppyseeds and have no drug tests coming up!  It can be frosted, glazed, powdered, buttered, grilled and toasted.  My six year old has a pretty good sweet tooth and she loves it plain.  The new version makes a modest little loaf but feel free to double, as the original was meant to fill a 10" tube or bundt pan.  We don't need that much dessert laying around, being tempting.  Loaves also store easier and take up less space.  I recommend an 8x4" pan, even though I baked mine in a 9x5".  You get the more typical pound cake loaf size and shape in the smaller pan.  Whatever you have on hand.

Poppy Seed Pound Cake
Serves 6-8 (One 8x4" loaf)

¼ cup butter
¼ unhydrogenated shortening (Spectrum or Jungle shortenings are the best options, though you could use all butter or try coconut oil.)
½ cup evaporated cane sugar
½ cup light brown muscovado sugar, firmly packed
3 eggs (Farm fresh if you can get them.)
1½ cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/8 tsp baking soda
3/8 tsp sea salt
½ cup buttermilk (Bulgarian style is fabulously rich - the original calls for plain yogurt which works great too.  I had the bulgarian to use up.)
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp almond extract
2 tbsp + 2 tsp poppyseeds
powdered sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 325º.  Grease and flour a loaf pan.  Measure out buttermilk, mix in poppyseeds to soak and set aside.  Cream butter, shortening and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time,  beating well after each.  Mix in vanilla and almond extracts.  Combine flour, soda and salt.  Add to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk/poppyseeds, beginning and ending with flour.  (Three additions of flour and two of buttermilk are sufficient; don't want to overmix.)  Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes.  Test with a skewer or toothpick toward the end of the time.  Do Not Overbake.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.  Dust with powdered sugar if desired.  Or frost or glaze with a powdered sugar/almond glaze for a slightly more elegant dessert option.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sugar free Key Lime Cheesecake

So hubby and I have been on a low carb phase for the past month and he is railing at the lack of desserts.  Needless to say, when he came home to me piling creamy lime cheesecake filling into a pie shell, I almost lost my spatula before I finished.  He very happily scarfed down what was left on the spoonula and without even tasting the finished product, declared that I could make this every week no matter what phase we were doing.  His words:  "Mmmmmm... oohhhhhh... (smack, scarumph)... thish ish good."  And after trying the finished pie...  "This is the first real dessert we've had since we started this diet!"   Me:  But does it taste like a 'diet' dessert honey?   Him:  "NO." 

I think the filling alone is worth making for a quick, rich and creamy mousse-like dessert.  It is incredibly filling and satisfying because it is made with real, full fat cream cheese and heavy whipped cream.  If you have access to pecan meal, hooray!  If not, freeze some pecans and run them through a coffee/spice grinder to make a wonderful fine meal.  Don't try it without freezing or you'll get nut butter.  ☺  I have a spare coffee grinder I keep just for spices and tasks like that.  Almond flour is more readily available, but the finer the better as far as I am concerned.  Bob's Red Mill isn't all that fine but will do in a pinch.  With Stevia, less is more.  Start with a smaller amount and increase to taste.  Too much and you will get that tell tale bitter flavor.  Erythritol loves its crystalline form and doesn't like to dissolve so it needs to be powdered in the spice grinder too.  If you want to make this with real sugar and a graham crust, I'm sure you can, but it never hurts to ditch the sugar now and then.  When baking with sugar alternatives, the more kinds you can use, the better the flavor will tend to be.  A touch of honey does wonders to round out the sweetness as well.

Guilt free Key Lime Cheesecake
adapted from Healthy Indulgences
serves 8 ish ☺

1 cup blanched almond meal, lightly packed
½ cup pecan meal, lightly packed
½ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp powdered pure stevia extract
2 tbsp erythritol, powdered
½ tsp xanthan gum
3 tbsp butter, melted
½ tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp salt

2 (8oz) pkgs cream cheese, softened
7 tbsp granular erythritol (or other sugar substitute), powdered
¼ tsp powdered pure stevia extract
½ cup key lime juice, fresh or bottled
¼ tsp finely minced lime zest
1 packet (2 tsp) unflavored gelatin
1 cup heavy cream
pinch powdered pure stevia extract

To make the crust:
Preheat oven to 350º F.  Stir together almond meal, pecan meal, cinnamon, stevia, and xanthan gum in a bowl.  Whirl erythritol in a coffee grinder to powder it.  Give it a minute to let the dust settle.  Whisk into the almond mixture. Stir vanilla and salt into the melted butter.  Drizzle over almond mixture and knead together dough with fingers until thoroughly combined.  Lightly grease a large glass pie dish with butter. Press the dough on the bottom and up the sides of the pan in an even thickness.  Dock with a fork to prevent bubbles while baking.  Bake crust for 14-15 minutes or until edges are slightly browned.  Cool completely on a wire rack and dry for at least 2 hours.  Crust may be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated overnight if you'd like to prepare the filling the next day.

To make the filling:
Make sure cream cheese is at or near room temperature to prevent lumps.  Beat cream cheese with a mixer until smooth.  Powder erythritol in coffee grinder.  Mix erythritol and ¼ tsp stevia into cream cheese.  Beat on high speed for a couple minutes to ensure erythritol has dissolved and texture is smooth.  Refrigerate mixture.  Pour gelatin into lime juice to "bloom" it.  Heat in microwave for 1 minute and mix until gelatin is dissolved.  You could do this in a small saucepan on the stovetop as well.  Add lime zest to juice mixture.  Let cool for 5-10 minutes, or until no longer hot to the touch.  Gradually mix juice into cream cheese mixture.  You will end up with a creamy mixture that should leave trails from the beaters.  Set the cream cheese mixture aside.  In a separate bowl, beat heavy cream and the pinch of stevia until stiff peaks form. Fold a dollop of whipped cream mixture into cream cheese mixture to lighten it up a bit.  Fold the rest of the whipped cream into cream cheese mixture until evenly incorporated.  Pile into the cooled pie crust. Refrigerate the pie uncovered for an hour or so, or until texture is firm enough to cut. Serve topped with additional whipped cream if desired.  Pie will keep at least 3 days refrigerated but probably won't last that long.  ☺

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Walter Sands' Basic White Bread - KAF

Usually there is a memory of homemade bread floating around in your head; something that got you wanting to make your own bread in the first place.  Sometimes you just have to go back to that original soft white loaf of bread, warm and fresh from the oven, that is so enticing you simply cannot wait for it to cool completely before slicing it open.  Slather the first piece in plain butter and add some homemade jam to the second one.  Maybe butter and honey on the third...  Oops, did I say third?  It's just killing me that I can't eat this delicious bread right now.  One more month or two of low carb.  Anyway, I needed sandwich bread for the school week and decided to go back to basics.  This recipe, from King Arthur Flour, is touted to be the perfect sandwich bread.  After baking it up I think I tend to agree.  This is a soft, fluffy bread that is not so tender it can't stand up to a spread of soft butter even if it is still slightly warm.  (Though you are supposed to wait until it cools for ultra thin sliceability.)  It is probably the exact type of bread that those secret little hometown diners would use for grilled cheese and Texas or garlic toast.  This is the homemade wonderbread.  Well, maybe not.  You can't wad this loaf into a ball of dough that will fit in one hand.  But it would certainly make the quintessential PB&J. 
"Below is the recipe for the bread that Walter made faithfully once a week for years. Walter was the father of Frank E. Sands, King Arthur Flour's current chairman of the board. Because of his arthritic hands, he used a bread bucket with a crank, which kneaded hundred [sic] of loaves of this fragrant bread with all its happy associations. "
Walter Sands' Basic White Bread
From King Arthur Flour

2 cups (16 oz) warm water
2 tbsp (7/8 oz) sugar or honey (1½ oz) I used granulated coconut sugar
1 scant tbsp or packet active dry yeast I used 1 tsp Instant Yeast for a half batch
½ cup (2 oz) dry milk powder or granules (1¼ ounces), optional
2 tbsp (1 oz) butter, softened
6 cups (25½ oz) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons salt

Pour the warm water into a mixing bowl. Add and let dissolve the sugar or honey and then the yeast. When the yeast is bubbling, add the dry milk, butter and 3 cups of flour and the salt. Mix together and then stir in a further 2 1/2 cups of flour. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup on the surface you intend to use for kneading.

Knead the dough for 3 to 4 minutes, until it begins to behave as if it belonged together. Let it rest while you clean and grease the bowl. Continue kneading a further 3 to 4 minutes, until the dough feels smooth and springy.

Let the dough rise until doubled (1 to 2 hours). Knock it down, knead out any stray bubbles, cut it in half and form two loaves. Place them in two lightly greased 4 1/2 x 8 1/2-inch bread pans. Let rise until almost doubled (45 minutes to 1 hour).

Preheat the oven for 15 minutes to 350°F. Bake the loaves 35 to 40 minutes, or until nicely browned. Remove bread from oven and cool completely on a wire rack. Yield: 2 loaves.

(I like to brush my hot out of the oven loaves with butter for a soft, buttery crust.  Mmmmmm.)

This post will be submitted to Yeastspotting.

And yes, it does indeed make a fabulous grilled cheese!