Sachertorte [Daring Bakers]



I loved this month’s challenge. Years ago, I used to order sachertortes from the Hotel Sacher in Vienna and send them as gifts. They came in gorgeous wooden boxes, and their thick glaze prevented the chocolatey cake from drying out in transit. I was too intimidated to try to bake one myself, but that’s what Daring Bakers challenges are for, right?

The October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Korena of Korena in the Kitchen. She took us to Austria and introduced us to the wonders of the Sachertorte.

This baby was a lot of work, but it was not impossible. And, most importantly, it was absolutely delicious. The chocolate paired with the apricot was delectable, and dipping each bite in unsweetened schlag made for a terrific pastry experience.

A few imperfections:

  • My cake didn’t have quite the same amount of lift as in Korena’s example. I think I might have underbeat my whites a bit; I was too afraid of overbeating them. But the cake was actually moist and not too dense, so no real complaints.
  • I didn’t strain out the solids in the apricot glaze, although I probably should have for the top, at least. It made for a bumpy-looking texture, and I suspect the chocolate glaze mixed with the apricot glaze a bit as it poured over, since it didn’t soak into the cake enough.

Here’s the recipe if you’re patient enough. Photos after the jump.

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Ensaimadas [Daring Bakers]



This month’s challenge was to make a Mallorcan pastry called an ensaimada. (There was also a challenge to make a Hungarian chimney cake called Kürt?skalács that I did not attempt). The ensaimada is a coiled, layered pastry with an optional filling that’s traditionally made with pork fat (saim means pork lard in the local Catalan dialect). In the version I made, I used butter instead. For the filling, I used a combination of Trader Joe’s speculoos butter and semisweet chocolate chunks.

The August Daring Bakers’ Challenge took us for a spin! Swathi of Zesty South Indian Kitchen taught us to make rolled pastries inspired by Kurtoskalacs, a traditional Hungarian wedding pastry. These tasty yeasted delights gave us lots to celebrate!

I made a few modifications to Swathi’s recipe:

  • I used bread flour (higher gluten content) instead of all-purpose, since all the Spanish videos and recipes I read called for it instead. Apparently the higher gluten content makes the texture better.
  • I added 2 tbsp of water to the dough since it was too dry (maybe bread flour requires a bit more water than all-purpose).

The ensaimadas were not difficult to make, and they were a hit at our picnic! All four were eventually polished off before we left. :)

Photos after the jump.

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Cinnamon Rolls [Daring Bakers]



This month presented a pastry item I thought I’d never make: cinnamon rolls. I didn’t grow up eating them, and except for Cinnabon (which I think I’ve eaten one of in my entire life), I still don’t eat them. But I do like cinnamon. And the whole point of Daring Bakers is to push you out of your comfort zones.

This month the Daring Bakers kept our creativity rolling with cinnamon bun inspired treats. Shelley from C Mom Cook dared us to create our own dough and fill it with any filling we wanted to craft tasty rolled treats, cinnamon not required!

Someone had suggested using these directions for a really great cinnamon roll, and I have to admit they were absolutely right. The recipe was involved and time-consuming (lots of bowls, utensils, two times where you had to allow the dough to rise for an hour) but by no means difficult. And the resulting cinnamon rolls were delicious: the pastry was fluffy and soft (must have been the mashed potatoes! I used Trader Joe’s frozen mashed potato medallions), and the cinnamonness (for the lack of a better word…) was great.

I realized belatedly that I didn’t have the powdered sugar to make the icing/glaze for the top. Most recipes I found online involved cream cheese, which I find nauseating (I really didn’t want to layer on a thick frosting), but I found out that I could make my own powdered sugar: you just blend 1 cup of granulated sugar with 1 tbsp cornstarch until it pulverizes. I used my Magic Bullet and it turned out reasonably well – the sugar was still a bit more granular than I wanted, but since it would be dissolved into a slurry, it didn’t really matter. The cornstarch really helped make it into a thick glaze and not just simply syrup.

Served at the end of brunch and everyone, even the kiddies, liked it!

Pics after the jump.

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Pao de Queijo and Whoopie Pies [Daring Bakers]



I kind of fell off the baking wagon over the past few months. I’d like to say that it’s because I switched to eating raw vegetables and fruits, and thanks to be pastry-free diet I’m 20 lbs lighter. But I’m as fat as I was before and my diet is nothing to be envious of.

I did come down with a terrible bout of food poisoning shortly after making–and eating–whoopie pies as part of December’s challenge, so that kind of put me off of baked goods for a few months. It took me about a month to throw away the container of leftover cream cheese frosting in the fridge; just looking at it made me gag for a long time.

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Why I love reddit



chicken-well

How this might be portrayed in other media…

FOX: Obama does nothing as Muslim chicken causes the death of 6 Egyptian civilians. Currently investigating connections to Benghazi.
MSNBC: Unregistered high capacity well kills 6 in chicken incident after Republicans fail to end sequester, preventing funding for well inspectors.
RT: chicken and 6 people die protesting US authoritarianism.
Liveleak: brutal 6 person drowning [contains death]

Facebook: Like if you are praying for the 6 lives lost today

Reddit-specific:
r/politics: I know this will get downvoted, but had the six had firearms they would have survived.
r/worldnews: 6 less muslims in the world.
r/atheism: 6 bigoted idiots believing in Muslim gods drown trying to save a chicken after raping a woman.

 

It’s time for a little Nyan Cat



nyan-cat

Hidden Veggies! [Daring Bakers]



This month’s challenge was fun, and it allowed me to make and try some of the baked goodies that Jessica Seinfeld (and the woman who sued her for plagiarism) touted in her cookbook. I personally think pastries with hidden vegetables are only marginally healthier than those without, but the inclusion of beans, spinach, and other protein-, fiber-, and vitamin-rich foods can’t hurt. But would they defeat the point of indulging in brownies and muffins in the first place?

Ruth from Makey-Cakey was our March 2013 Daring Bakers’ challenge host. She encouraged us all to get experimental in the kitchen and sneak some hidden veggies into our baking, with surprising and delicious results!

I made two recipes: black-bean brownies, and spinach-banana muffins. The first is a slight alteration of Ruth’s recipe (I used black beans instead of kidney beans, and added some decaf Starbucks Via) and I followed the spinach-banana muffins recipe to the letter.

The verdict?

First, both were incredibly moist and resistant to drying out. I baked them on a Saturday afternoon and left them uncovered outside, and by Sunday night both were still moist.

Second, I wasn’t personally too impressed with the flavor or texture of the brownies, which were more fudge-like than cake-like and lacked any of the crisp/crunch texture of regular brownies. I felt they could have used more sugar and cocoa. However, one of my dining companions liked the flavor and sweetness. Neither of us could detect any bean flavor.

Third, the muffins were great. But spinach has a natural sweetness to it, and, when blended, doesn’t have any of the bitterness or fibrousness associated with whole spinach. And the gorgeous green color was perfect for St Patrick’s Day, when we ate them!

I would have liked to experiment a bit more, but this month is pretty busy and I was glad to have completed the challenge at all.

Photos after the jump. (more…)

Crackers and Flatbreads [Daring Bakers]



In July 2012, we Daring Bakers made some crackers. Mine turned out pretty well. This time, we had a second go-around. The challenge was to make crackers and flatbreads of any sort, provided they’re crispy. Mine turned out – well, just OK.

Sarah from All Our Fingers in the Pie was our February 2013 Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to use our creativity in making our own Crisp Flatbreads and Crackers!

I went with the ground corn crisps (I used regular yellow corn flour instead of blue corn flour) and herbed flatbreads. My corn crisps were tasty except very hard to get them to be really nicely crispy (the thicker ones turned out soft, and the thinner ones started to burn a bit in the oven). My flatbreads almost all turned into pita bread, which is ironic since I never got the pitas I tried to bake on purpose last year to puff up so reliably. I didn’t have any good rosemary on hand, so I used sea salt and poppy seeds instead. Ah, well.

Photos after the jump.

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Gevulde Speculaas/Dutch Almond-Filled Gingerbread [Daring Bakers]



This was a surprising challenge. I thought I knew everything there was to know about Dutch cuisine. Well, making a spicy gingerbread from scratch (down to the marzipan-like filling) can make you change your mind. The resulting gingerbread wasn’t tough and cardboardlike; it was cookie-like, crumbly, and fragrant like you can’t believe. And the taste! It had a bite, and a lingering pungency that lasted for hours. Not that anyone was complaining.

Francijn of Koken in de Brouwerij was our January 2013 Daring Bakers’ Hostess and she challenged us to make the traditional Dutch pastry, Gevulde Speculaas from scratch! That includes making our own spice mix, almond paste and dough! Delicious!

The key had to be the blend of spices. Here’s what went into it:

  • 1/2 tsp mace
  • 1/2  tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper (yep, you read that correctly; gives it some really great subtle heat)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 4 tsp Saigon cinnamon

Francijn, this month’s host, also suggested ground coriander and anise, but I had neither. I don’t think my gingerbread missed them at all. I also used all of the spice mix (approx 8 tsp) when the recipe called for a bit less (2 tbsp or 6 tsp). Hey, I like my gingerbread HOT.

Photos after the jump.

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CSAs are a Ripoff



We signed up for a CSA with rave reviews (an average of 4.5+ stars on Yelp) and got two boxes. We paid $35 for week home delivery of a box of produce.

For $35, we got:

  • Strawberries (2 pints; several moldy or mushy)
  • 4 Fuji Apples
  • 4 Baby Bok Choy
  • 4 Green Bell Peppers
  • large bunch of Red Butter Lettuce
  • large bunch of Green Curly Kale
  • 1 Romanesco
  • 1 Cheddar (yellow) Cauliflower
  • 1 bag Bloomsdale Spinach
  • 1 pint Cherry Tomatoes
  • 1 bunch Pink Radishes

Hmmm…well, the quality was great, but not phenomenal. The tomatoes were delicious; savory. The lettuce was terrific, soft and blemish-free. The rest was quite good but nothing to write home about. And I believe all of it was organic.

For comparison, we went to Berkeley Bowl and got the following produce (hand-picked, so we could choose exactly what we wanted):

  • 48 squash blossoms (flor de calabaza)
  • 7 small beets (organic)
  • 1 large pomegranate
  • 4 large bunches of Swiss chard
  • 1 bunch of celery (organic)
  • 1 plantain
  • 1 medium-sized bunch of wine grapes
  • 1 small head (?) of ginger
  • 1 bunch of basil
  • 2 large yellow onions
  • 7 gorgeous heirloom peppers
  • 6 vine-ripened tomatoes
  • yellow and orange bell peppers (1 of each)
  • 1 fuyu persimmon
  • 1 hachiya persimmon
  • 1 bunch of radishes (organic)
  • 1 red prickly pear (cactus fruit)
  • 1 bunch of savory (herb; organic)
  • 1 bag of fresh fava beans (organic)
  • 5 carrots (organic)
  • 3 large watermelon radishes (organic)
  • 1 head green cabbage (organic)
  • 1 Chinese bitter melon
  • 1 kabocha squash (organic)

Now, not everything was organic, as you can see above. But the total cost of ALL of those items? $41.72. It’s easily twice as much food, and all food of our picking. What’s a little puzzling is that there is a middleman here who demands 50%, so the farmers are providing this bounty of food to BB for a bit more than $20. Aren’t CSAs supposed to be cheaper because there isn’t a middleman?

If you want to be completely fair about it, there’s the cost of gas (about 1.2 gallons for the round trip, so about $5.40) and the cost of the bridge toll ($5), so now we’re up to about $52. And there’s the cost of time, which is almost nothing, considering that my time is practically worthless at this point, I enjoy shopping there, and we have had to shop for non-produce items anyway.

Yep, we’ve cancelled our CSA service. And we’re planning on weekly trips to Berkeley Bowl instead.

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