This month we made a popular Italian yeast bread: focaccia. It wasn’t too difficult to make and it came out mouth-wateringly delicious. I mean, I have the other half of the round I made earlier today sitting on my counter, salty, greasy (in a good way), crunchy and chewy, tempting me to finish it off before I check out for the night.
We had a choice of variants to try out, and I went with a sourdough version. I didn’t have enough time to make a true sourdough (a pity considering I live in San Francisco and the right mix of yeasts and bacteria is apparently just waiting in the air), but I did make a starter that got a good 14 hours of fermentation before I officially began the process of making the focaccia and I think it did make a difference in terms of the taste.
For the month of April Rachael of pizzarossa and Sawsan of Chef in Disguise took us on a trip to Italy. They challenged us to try our hands at making focaccia from scratch
I didn’t add anything in terms of toppings except a lot of coarse salt, and having tried the finished product, I can’t say this is a decision I regret. If I were to make this again (and why wouldn’t I?), I might give some rosemary or olives a shot. Or I might just add some za’atar and make some manaeesh. Yummmm. I also cut the recipe into a quarter, and it still yielded a nicely-sized round. The full recipe could probably have fit on a couple of large cookie sheets.
Photos after the jump.
This was a relatively easy challenge, and the output was so incredibly delicious. (I love apples, but standard apple pies aren’t close to this delicious) You create a caramel, layer in sliced apples, let them cook together, throw on a layer of pastry dough, toss it into the oven to bake, then invert onto a plate and…voila! It’s really difficult to stop yourself from eating it when you begin…
For the March Daring Bakers’ challenge, Korena from Korena in the Kitchen taught us that some treats are best enjoyed upside down. She challenged us to make a tarte tatin from scratch.
Pics after the jump.
This month’s challenge was a nice one. Instead of indulging my sweet tooth, we were instructed to make something that could be savory: siopao (in Filipino), or filled buns. Most people know the Chinese pork variety (um, pork buns), but since I’m a vegetarian (who will, like the caricature that you know all too well even though it barely exists in the real world, guilt-trip you about eating meat until you succumb to my intense pressure and swear off carne forever), I went with two meatless variations:
- a “Chinese” bun, filled with Napa cabbage, tofu, ginger, sesame oil and scallions
- a “Thai” bun, filled with roasted kabocha squash, scrambled eggs, basil and jalapenos (aka pad faktong)
The February Daring Bakers’ challenge is hosted by Julie of One-Wall Kitchen. She challenged us to an easy, simple filled bun using no-knead dough.
They turned out pretty damn good. I preferred the Chinese-style bun, although I wish I had seasoned it a bit more with some salt and white pepper, or maybe something spicy. The Thai-style bun was too dry. I had oven-roasted the kabocha for the first time, and it really desiccated the squash; dousing it in lime juice and soy sauce was really too-little, too-late. I’d probably just make pad faktong the traditional way (basically braising the squash) next time.
Anyway, here are the pics (after the jump):
Another challenging Central European dessert, and another time that I failed at the glaze-over-apricot-jam layer on top of the multilayer cake. The icing might have been a touch too runny (and a touch is just far too much), so it kind of slowly slid off the torte. *sigh* Oh well, hopefully it will taste good. (I just finished in order to glide in before the deadline, and it’s supposed to sit in the fridge for at least a day before you cut into it, so I’ll have to update the post tomorrow with what the insides look like)
For the month of January Jelena from A Kingdom for a Cake invited us to start this year with a dreamy celebration cake. She challenged us to make the Esterhazy cake a.k.a the Hungarian dream. What better way to start the year than with a sweet dream?
However it looks on the top, I’m sure the taste will be fantastic: how could toasted hazelnuts, both in meringue and cream layers, with lemon and a touch of chocolate go wrong? It can’t. EDIT: We had a slice. Then two. It is absolutely delicious. If you like hazelnuts, you’ll love this.
Pics after the jump.
December’s Daring Bakers challenge was Dutch ontbijtkoek which means “breakfast cake.” Considering how busy December was, I’m really glad this was not a terribly difficult thing to bake.
For the month of December, Andrea from 4pure took us on a trip to the Netherlands. She challenged us to take our taste buds on a joyride through the land of sugar and spice by baking three different types of Dutch sweet bread
I went with Andrea’s kruidkoek (“spice cake”) recipe, mostly because I had plenty of cinnamon and nutmeg on hand. I have to say it was delicious, a bit dry (but from what I remember from my time in the Netherlands, the store-bought version was considerably more dry, so this was downright moist by comparison) but aromatic and just the right level of sweetness. It made breakfast fun for a few days.
Pics after the jump.
This month’s challenge was a French pastry. At first I thought “oh, great” – French pastry is incredibly time-consuming, and if you cut corners in any way, everything falls apart. Just like your typical Parisian when you speak broken French to them: very unforgiving. But this is supposed to be a challenge, right?
It turned out to be a lot of fun to make. I’ve never made a choux pastry dessert before, and as it turns out, with the exception of the fact that my pastry shells deflated a bit after taking them out of the oven (I probably should have let them bake a good five minutes longer), they came out great. The mousseline cream, based on a hazelnut and almond praliné, was really delicious. And, dusted with some powdered sugar and accompanied with Vietnamese coffee ice cream, it got the “oohs” and “ahhhs” that made it all worth it.
The November Daring Baker’s challenge took us for a ride! Luisa from Rise of the Sourdough Preacher challenged us to make Paris-Brest, a beautiful pastry celebrating the Paris-Brest bicycle race.
For the recipe, I ended up using Entertaining with Beth’s, but using Luisa’s hazelnut and almond praliné instead of the Nutella that Beth used.
UPDATE: The underbaked, collapsed pastry shells were really bugging me a day later. So since we were going to a friend’s post-Thanksgiving brunch, I decided to redo the recipe, allowing the pastry shells to bake quite a bit longer. I made a few other changes, too, but was overall very pleased with the outcome.
Pics and details after the jump.
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.
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.
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.
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.