Tuesday 16 December 2008

TWD: Buttery Jam Cookies

In the run up to the Holiday season, things have just been so hectic and its been two weeks since I participated in TWD. Thankfully, this week's TWD pick - Buttery jam cookies - couldn't have been easier to make. Additionally, the uncomplicated ingredient list meant I didn't even have to step out of my house to pick anything else up.

The original recipe calls for apricot jam but Dorie provides some alternatives that can also be used. I chose to stick with the original and I thought the cookies were absolutely delish! They are small, bite-sized and perfect with a cuppa.

For recipe, click here.

Saturday 29 November 2008

Daring Baker's Caramel Cupcakes

Once again, its time for a Daring Baker's challenge and after several rounds of savoury offerings, I was happy to see that this month's challenge was a sweet one! This time, the pick was a Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting by Shuna Fish Lyon.

As I often do, I turned this cake recipe into cupcakes as I always find that makes it easier to share with friends, and in keeping with holiday spirit of this season, I decorated them with some "bling". All of the components of this cake were easy to make and I managed to do them all within about 2 hours. If you are pressed for time, however, the frosting can be made ahead and kept in the fridge and I imagine the caramel sauce can be as well.

The results? Scrumptious, but extremely sweet. Definitely for caramel lovers only.

Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting
Recipe by Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater

For the cake:
10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

For the caramel syrup:
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

For the caramelized butter frosting:
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light

For original recipe source, Bay Area Bites, click here.
Daring Bakers hosts this month:
Dolores from Culinary Curiosity
Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go

Wednesday 26 November 2008

Happy Turkey Day! (TWD edition)

To those of you who are celebrating Thanksgiving today, Happy Turkey Day. Although Thanksgiving is not officially a holiday here in London, there are enough Americans here that the significance of the day is still felt. Besides, 10 years of living in the US means I vividly recall the Thanksgiving feasts with all the requisite celebratory fare.

Unfortunately for me, I never developed a palate for pumpkin pie while I lived there... Chalk it up to fussy taste buds. In the last few years, however, I've become decidedly more adventurous in the things that I eat and pumpkin is now one of my favourite fall flavours. It is well-timed then, that this week's TWD recipe is the Thanksgiving Twofer pie, a combination pumpkin and pecan pie.

It was my first time making pumpkin pie and I think I must have had a little mishap because for some reason, my pie doesn't quite look like some of the pictures I've seen from fellow TWDers. Still, its the taste that counts and I still enjoyed it very much. I do, however, prefer just a plain pumpkin pie an think I will stick to that instead in the future.

For recipe, click here.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Arborio Rice Pudding

I've never really been a rice pudding kind of gal but part of the fun of being part of a group like TWD is trying stuff that you wouldn't normally otherwise make. Besides, the recipe looked really easy and I had all the ingredients to hand.

Now whenever a recipe has a chocolate option, you can be sure I'm going to take that! So this time, I chose to make both the white and the black version. I placed them in these tiny glasses that I picked up recently at a cooking school here in London and they made perfect "bite-sized" desserts for after dinner.

The verdict? Well, I'm not exactly a convert to rice pudding but I must say these were pretty good and I'm glad that I gave it a chance.

For recipe, click here.

Friday 31 October 2008

Trick or Treat!

Last year, when I had just taken a cookie decorating class, I went a little crazy with buying cookie cutters thinking that I was going to make cute cookies for every holiday / occasion there was. Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, you name it, I had it. Problem is, if you miss the day, you have to wait a whole year before you can use them again.

Having missed Halloween last year then, I was determined not to miss it again this year. Knowing that Halloween falls on a Friday, I carefully planned my evenings to embark on a 4-day cookie making project.

Day 1: Make the dough. Allow to chill overnight
Day 2: Bake the cookies
Day 3: Ice the black and white cookies
Day 4: Ice the orange and black coookies

Since I'm still very much a novice at this, I don't quite have my procedures for decorating cookies down pat. The first few times I tried, I always had to deal with leaky icing bags and usually ended up with more icing on the floor and counters than on my cookies. Now, I've solved the leaky icing bag issue but am still not the neatest cookie decorator around.

Still, I was very happy with the way the cookies turned out. Now if I can just get around to using all those other cookie cutters I purchased....

Monday 27 October 2008

Daring Bakers: Pizza

I honestly can't remember the last time I had pizza. Not that I don't like it, but besides our indulgence in sweets, we try to eat pretty healthy. But, given that this was a Daring Baker's challenge, I had the perfect excuse to indulge in a pizza or two (or six, if you made the whole recipe).

Although I've made pizza at least once before, I seem to remember it being more involved. Despite the fact that this recipe requires some planning ahead - really only so that you can let the dough have its overnight rest - its really easy to put together. No hassle, no fuss.

The tossing of the dough, called for in the recipe, also sounds more challenging than it is. Where I struggled was actually sliding my pizza off the back of my jelly pan onto my baking stone. Guess I didn't quite put enough cornmeal on the back of my pan.

I topped my pizza with Parma ham, artichokes and mozzarella cheese. For something so easy to make, the results were incredibly good. M was particularly impressed with the crust which he was surprised that one could do in our dinky home oven. 

For me, this recipe is definitely a keeper and it just might get me to increase my pizza consumption!

Pizza dough
From The Bread Baker's Apprentice


4 1/2 Cups (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) Unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant yeast
1/4 Cup (2 ounces/60g) Olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it’s better with)
1 3/4 Cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) Water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 Tb sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting


1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.
The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.

3. Flour a work surface or counter.  Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them.  Gently round each piece into a ball.

NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.


8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven.  Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C). 

NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time.
During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping. 
In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again.
You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.

11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter - for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

13. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for abour 5-8 minutes.

NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For an even baking, rotate 180°.

If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pane to a lower shelf before the next round. On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly.

14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving. 

Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9 1/2 inches or 23-30 cm in diameter)

TWD: Chocolate-chocolate cupcake

Cupcakes have been one of the hottest things around for quite a few years. What with Magnolia bakery, Sprinkles, Buttercup bake shop, etc., one can hardly turn a corner without seeing cupcakes in a bakery window. Even here in London, there are quite a few bakeries specializing in these American-style cupcakes. 

Its not hard to understand the love affair with all things cupcake. First, they offer great potential for decorating and dressing up. Second, they're bite-sized and feel a lot less indulgent than a whole cake (that is if you can stop at one). Third, they are great for sharing. What's not to love? 

I have my own favorite recipe for cupcakes but I just had to try Dorie's version. I was slightly skeptical about the amount of ganache called for in the recipe because it just seemed so little. I'm used to cupcakes where the frosting is as high as the cake itself! Still, I went ahead with the recipe as described in the book. I decorated most of them with sprinkles of cocoa nibs and the rest with sugar butterflies that I made a little while back.

The verdict? The cupcakes were good but I'm still sticking to my favourite recipe. You see, if I'm only going to eat one cupcake, I want to eat one that has frosting piled sky high!

For recipe, click here.

Tuesday 7 October 2008

TWD: Caramel-Peanut Topped Brownie Cake

For ages, I've had my eye on this Dorie recipe because the picture in the book just looked so damned good. I very nearly chose this when it was my turn to pick back in June but the hubby overruled the choice so I'm so glad that all us TWDers finally get to try this one out!

Given that there are just 2 mouths to feed in our household and that I didn't want to bring a half-eaten cake in to work, I decided to half the recipe and bake my cake in a 6" pan. Thinking that a smaller cake would probably need less cooking time, I baked my cake for about 35 minutes and on hindsight, wish I had taken it out 5 minutes earlier. The cake wasn't exactly dry but it wasn't quite as fudgey as I hoped it would be given its name. In case you haven't guessed, I'm definitely in the fudgey camp when it comes to the fudgey vs cakey brownie debate.

I didn't have any problems with the caramel except when it came to putting it on top of the cake. As you can see from my picture, the caramel started dripping down the side  of the cake because I didn't leave the cake in the pan when I was putting the topping on. Still, I think that the drips almost make the cake more enticingly yummy and it sure didn't hurt the flavour!

The cake tastes like a variation on a Snickers bar, so if you're a peanut lover, definitely try this.

For recipe click here.

Tuesday 30 September 2008

TWD rewind: Dimply plum cake

Since my blowtorch is on the fritz, I decided to take the option of doing a TWD rewind this week instead of messing around with my broiler for this week's intended Creme brulee recipe. Having read the glorious reviews that so many TWDers posted just last week, I decided not to go too far back into TWD history and settled on making Dorie's Dimply Plum Cake. Besides, it seemed like just the thing to celebrate the arrival of fall and makes for something different for a weekend breakfast.

Like many others had commented, I too found that Dorie must have used really tiny plums in her cake for my cake only took 3.5 plums to fill instead of the 8 that the recipe calls for. Still, I found that at this much reduced number, there was still a healthy plum-to-cake ratio, if you know what I mean. 

The cake was simple to make and baked up relatively quickly, but the reward sure outweighed the effort.

For recipe, click here.

Friday 26 September 2008

Daring Bakers: Lavash Crackers

This month's Daring Bakers challenge was a first in that not only were we given a baking assignment - Lavash crackers - we were also asked to make a dip / spread to go with it. Having recently tried some really yummy crackers which M's mom made during a recent trip to Sweden, I was really excited about trying my own hand at making some.

We were given the option of making regular crackers or gluten-free ones and I opted for the regular version. My main concern with this recipe was in making sure that the dough was rolled out thinly enough so that I would get really crisp crackers. Turns out I needn't have worried because misting the counter with some oil made it really easy to roll out the dough to the desired thickness. After sprinkling my dough with some paprika and sesame seeds, it was off to the oven.

I baked my crackers for about 15 minutes, but in hindsight, could probably have left it in the oven for at least another 2 to 3 minutes. The edges of my crackers were really crisp, but tended to get a little chewy in the middle. Still, it made for a great snack both plain or with the aubergine dip that I made to go along with it.

These crackers are definitely worth the effort so check out the recipe below.

Lavash Crackers
From The Bread Baker's Apprentice

1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread flour 
1/2 tsp (.13 oz) salt
1/2 tsp (.055 oz) instant yeast
1 Tb (.75 oz) agave syrup or sugar
1 Tb (.5 oz) vegetable oil
1/3 to 1/2 cup + 2 Tb (3 to 4 oz) water, at room temperature
Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings

1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, agave, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball.  You may not need the full 1/2 cup + 2 Tb of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.

2. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter.  Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed.  The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled.  Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

3. Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).

4. Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter.  Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour.  Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches.  You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax.  At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down.  Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes.  When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes.  Line a sheet pan with baking parchment.  Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment.  If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors. 

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf.  Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.)  Be careful with spices and salt - a little goes a long way. If you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough.  You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking.  If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first. 

6.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).

7.  When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes.  You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.

Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Book Review: The Sharper your Knife, The Less you Cry

Two weeks ago, I received a copy of The Sharper the Knife, The less you cry, a book that is a combination of food writing / memoir. Specifically, it chronicles one woman’s journey through culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu Paris.

Those of you who may have read my blog when I first started, may recall that I myself attended class at LCB Paris. I, however, did just one semester of Intensive Patisserie Basic, while Kathleen Flinn, the book’s author, completed the Cuisine Diploma. Although my personal dream would be to complete the Patisserie Diploma, I was still very much looking forward to reading about Kathleen’s experiences. Perhaps, it would be just the nudge I need to finally follow my dreams – an idea that I have played with in my mind occasionally.

From the day that I started the book, I found it hard to put down. It is an easy read, yet at the same time, I found it thoroughly enthralling. The descriptions of the demonstration rooms and kitchens brought back so many much-cherished memories of my time there in August 2005. In fact, as I would learn while reading the book, Kathleen and I may have crossed paths at LCB given that she completed her Superior cycle in August – November of 2005.

Although Kathleen’s book centers around her experience at culinary school, it is also at its heart a story about love, as it chronicles the progression of her relationship with her now husband – the man who encouraged her to drop everything and follow her dreams. We all need someone like that in our life and it made me remember once again why I love M so much – he, like Kathleen’s husband, has encouraged me to to re-enroll in LCB everytime I’ve brought it up.

As a bonus, Kathleen also concludes each chapter with a recipe. I’ve yet to try any of them but many of them do sound delicious!

If you’re a fan of food writing and / or are contemplating going to culinary school, I think you’ll enjoy this book.

The last of the cookies

As I mentioned in last week's post, this week's TWD pick is Chocolate Chunkers. As its name implies, its a chunky cookie crammed full of chocolate chips (both dark and white), salted peanuts and raisins. In fact, there's more "stuff" than cookie to this recipe, if you know what I mean, so it makes for a great (but indulgent) snack. 

Those of you who've been following the TWD cookie posts (Granola Grabbers, Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters and Chocolate Whopper Malted Drops) know that I'm a huge fan of the Granola Grabbers and its been that recipe against which I've compared all the other TWD picks. Until last week, in my book anyway, the Granola Grabbers reigned supreme. I'm happy to say that this week's Chocolate Chunkers is another winner! I like it as much as the Granola Grabbers, which for me, is a lot. I guess I have a thing for chunky cookies as that's what the two recipes had in common.

Although a huge cookie fan, I have to say I'm glad to take a break from cookies for now and turn to baking something else. Till next week, adios!

For recipe, click here.

Tuesday 9 September 2008

TWD: Another week, another cookie recipe

As I mentioned in my last post, this week's TWD pick is yet another cookie with a mouthful of a name - Chocolate Whopper Malted Drops. Just reading through the ingredient list of this cookie made my mouth water, literally. Filled with maltesers, chocolate chunks and malted milk powder, all flavours that I love, what's not to like?

Like most cookie recipes, this one was pretty easy to put together so I managed to do this in-between cooking dinner on Sunday night. The only slightly unusual thing about this recipe is the consistency of the batter, which as Dorie notes in her book, is more like a fudge or frosting texture than that of a traditional cookie dough. Having read the warning in the book, though, I wasn't concerned with the look of my batter.

As the cookies were baking in the oven, M caught a whiff of them and asked what we were having for dinner. When I told him cookies (jokingly of course) his response was "Sweet! Cookies for dinner." I don't think he was joking by the way. M has one of the sweetest tooths of any guy I know. Lucky for me since I need help devouring all the treats that TWD has me making!

All through dinner, both M and myself were thinking of the sumptious pile of cookies on the cookie rack and it was with incredible restraint that we managed to finish our dinner first being diving into the cookies. The verdict? I thought the cookie was nice and chocolately and I liked the chewiness of the maltesers in them. To be honest, I wasn't a great fan of the cakey texture of the cookie though - I would have preferred something with a bit more crisp in it. As such, of all the cookie recipes that TWD has done recently, the Granola Grabbers are still my hands down favourite. I just read next week's TWD pick however, and it looks like there's one more cookie recipe for next week. Stay tuned to see if it has what it takes to knock the Granola Grabbers off its throne.

For recipe, click here.

Monday 1 September 2008

TWD: Redeeming myself

After my slight mishap with the TWD cookie pick 2 weeks ago, I was eager to redeem myself with this week's choice - Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters. This was particularly so given my new found love affair with all things peanut butter, which started with a heavenly peanut butter dessert that I had while on honeymoon in Bhutan and was further spurred on by a peanut butter torte which I made several weeks ago.

Having been on vacation the whole of last week, I had to hurriedly whip together this recipe on Monday night after getting back from work. Slightly taken aback by the large quantity of cookies the recipe makes (60 cookies!), I decided to half it to make a much more manageable 30 instead.

All the while that the cookies were in the oven, I could smell the peanut butter aroma wafting through the kitchen and, indeed, the entire apartment. Try as hard as I might to resist eating them, I just had to pop one into my mouth while it was fresh from the oven. I thought the cookie was good, but personally, I found the nutmeg to be slightly overpowering. The granola grabbers from 2 weeks ago is still the winning cookie recipe for me although I think next week's pick of Chocolate Whopper Malted Drops may give it a good run for its money. Stay tuned to see which recipe will be the ultimate winner!

For recipe, click here.

Tuesday 19 August 2008

TWD: Granola Grabbers

Its Saturday now and I'm only just getting round to putting up my post for this week's TWD. Its just been one of those weeks. You know, late nights at work and all.

So, its no surprise that this week's recipe was Granola Grabbers, which has been already been blogged about (on time, no less!) by so many other TWDers. Still, I thought I'd still put up my post since I did make the cookies. 

Like many other TWDers, I was really looking forward to making these since its been such a long time since anyone picked a cookie recipe for us. The shortbread cookies near the beginning of TWD's existence, which was before I joined, could have been the last time. Having had too much, for now, of pies, tarts and other too rich desserts, I really liked the sound of this one. After all, with granola as a main ingredient, its got to be healthy right? :)

When I was taking my cookies out of the oven, I immediately noticed that mine looked different from the ones featured in Dorie's pictures (and from those of other TWD members). Its not only after I re-read the ingredient list that I realized I omitted the wheat germ and neglected to add in a substitute. As such, you'll see that my cookies spread out more than normal and were very thin and crispy around the edges. Still, the cookies were delicious and I was able to serve them to J, M's little brother, who was visiting from out of town. I loved them as all - in fact, I had some for breakfast this morning. Nothing like granola to start your day!

For recipe, click here.

Tuesday 12 August 2008

TWD: Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream

I love making ice cream, but since the main consumer in our household of ice cream is M, often times this means I end up making his favourite flavours which are, in descending order of popularity: mint chocolate chip, chocolate chip, anything chocolate flavoured, or anything with lots of candy/nuts/cookies in them. While I like ice cream myself, I try not to eat too much of it and my tastes run counter to that of M's. I hate candy or nuts in my ice cream and while I do like chocolate ice cream, I also like to sample the more unusual flavours such as goat cheese ice cream and olive oil ice cream. As such, I was glad that this week's TWD recipe allowed me to incorporate a great summer flavour into ice cream - blueberries!

Following the advice of some of the comments I read on the TWD board, I substituted the sour cream with creme fraiche as many TWDers noted that they found the taste of the sour cream overpowering. I found it quite unusual that there were no eggs in this ice cream as I am used to making a creme anglaise base for most, if not all, of my ice creams. Still, since the recipe didn't involve eggs, it meant that I could easily whip it up in an evening and have it churning in the ice cream maker by night.

I've yet to have a proper serving of this ice cream but I did lick the ice cream scoop and my first impressions are that it tastes a little like blueberry cheesecake and that the texture is less rich than some of the egg-based ice creams I've made in the past. Still, I thought it was yummy and will definitely be helping myself to more over the next few days! 

For the recipe, click here.

Tuesday 5 August 2008

TWD: Black and white banana loaf

Several years ago, when I was back in business school, one of the first things that I dabbled with baking is banana bread. It was one of the first few things, besides brownies and chocolate chip cookies, that started my whole love affair of baking and dessert making. So I was genuinely excited to see this week's TWD pick and to try Dorie's variation on banana bread.

One of the obstacles of making banana bread is having ripe enough bananas in the kitchen. And we're talking super-ripe. The type that has is mottled with black spots and one you probably don't want to eat. So almost a week to the day that I was due to bake, I picked up a small bunch of bananas and set it aside on the countertop with a message to all not to eat it.

Come the weekend then, my bananas were wonderfully ripe and just perfect for whipping up this recipe. Rather than making the standard 9 by 5 inch loaf, I decided to make mini loafs, which was just as well since I got a little greedy with the chocolate flavoured batter and ended up with way more than half the batch flavoured chocolate. As such, I ended up with 6 little mini loafs and one small chocolate banana loaf.

To be frank, I wasn't a huge fan of this recipe, much preferring some of the other banana bread recipes that I've used in the past. Still M liked it, so it wasn't a total loss.

For the recipe, click here.

Tuesday 15 July 2008

A pudding that will change your mind about puddings

I have to admit, I used to be a snob about pudding. I love chocolate mousse, creme brulee and pots de creme, but pudding to me always sounded like the kind of dessert that you make out of a box. Like a creamy jello of sorts.

This week's TWD pick, Dorie's chocolate pudding, has made me change my mind. Homemade pudding is different from anything that you'll ever get out of any box. This pudding, although made only with milk, is as creamy as any chocolate mousse you'll ever taste. And the texture, is so incredibly smooth.

I read on the TWD comments section about this recipe that one of the TWD member's son said that if you could put a dress on pudding and marry it, he would. That just made me laugh, not because its an exaggeration, but because that's how I feel too. Although in my case, it would have to wear a suit. Try it and see for yourself.

For the recipe, click here.

Tuesday 8 July 2008

Blueberries galore!

At this time of year, blueberries are seemingly overflowing from the supermarket shelves so it was fortunate timing that the TWD pick this week was Dorie's Double Crusted Blueberry Pie. Now I've made pies many times before but I've generally stuck to apple pies, so this was a chance to try something different. Besides, M absolutely loves blueberries.

Since baking the scrumptious TWD treats every week has taken a toll on my waistline, I decided to make just one fourth of the recipe and make an individual portion of this pie. Sure it was a lot of work to make just one serving of this but not having to sit around and resist a barely eaten 9 inch pie made it worthwhile!

I was skeptical about using bread crumbs to line the inside of the pie crust as I was worried that this would make the filling too "doughy" but I have to say that you really don't notice it in the taste and it definitely helps keep the base of the crust from getting too soggy. A good trick for future pie-making endeavours.

M and I shared the pie for dessert on Sunday night, and needless to say, we licked the bowl clean.

For the recipe, please click here.

Sunday 29 June 2008

Danish braid with chocolate

It feels like a while since I've last done a Daring Baker's challenge but in reality, I've only just skipped one month, when I was away on honeymoon. In any case, after a long absence, I was raring to go again and was delighted with the pick of Danish Braid for this month's challenge.

I rarely make yeasted doughs on my own simply because it requires a bit more planning, but I absolutely adore the results. Since we were given the option to vary the filling, I decided to skip the suggested apple filling and made my braid with chocolate instead. I suppose any kind of chopped chocolate would do, but since I had an excess of chocolate batons in my cupboard (the type for making pain au chocolat) I decided to use that.

The braid turned a little darker than I expected when it was in the oven, so next time, I might just decide to skip the egg wash. Taste-wise, however, the braid was a hit. I brought it to a friends' house where 5 of us devoured the braid over a cup a coffee. Will I make this again? Absolutely!

Danish Dough
From The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard

For the dough
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
3/4 tsp ground cardamom
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 large eggs, chilled
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt

For the butter block
2 sticks cold unsaltd butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Combine yeast and milk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed. Slowly add sugar, orange zest cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice. Mix well. Change to the dough hook and add the salt with the flour, 1 cup at a time, increasing speed to medium as the flour is incorporated. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until smooth. You may need to add a little more flour if it is sticky. Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Butter Block
Combine butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and then beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Set aside at room temperature.

After the detrempe has chilled 3o minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 18 x 13 inches and 1/4 inch thick. The dough may be sticky, so keep dusting it lightly with flour. Spread the butter evenly over the center and the right thirds of the dough. Fold the left edge of the detrempe to the right, covering half of the butter. Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn has now been completed. Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns, or use a sticky and keep a tally. Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Place the dough lengthwise on a floured work surface. The open ends should be to your right and left Roll the dough into another approximately 13 x 18 inch, 1/4 inch thick rectangle. Again fold the left third of the rectangle over the center third and the right third over the center third. No additional butter will be added as it is already in the dough. The second turn has now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

Roll out, turn and refrigerate the dough two more times, for a total of four single turns. Make sure you are keeping track of your turns. Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight. The Danish dough is now ready to be used. If you will not be using the dough within 24 hours, freeze it. To do this, roll the dough out to about 1 inch in thickness, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. Defrost the dough slowly in the refrigerator for easiest handling. Danish dough will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month. 

Danish Braid
1 recipe Danish dough
Chocolate batons (like those for Pain au chocolat)
For the egg wash: 1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk

Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the Danish dough into a 15 x 20 inch rectangle, 1/4 inch thick. If the dough seems elastic and shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again. Place the dough on the baking sheet.

Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 5-inch long cuts with a knife or rolling pastry wheel, each about 1 inch apart. Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you've already made.

Spoon the filling you've chosen to fill your braid down the center of the rectangle. Starting with the top and bottom "flaps", fold the top flap down over the filling to cover. Next, fold the bottom "flap" up to cover filling. This helps keep the braid neat and helps to hold in the filling. Now begin folding the cut side strips of dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished. Trim any excess dough and tuck in the ends.

Egg wash
Whisk together the whole egg and yolk in a bowl and with a pastry brush, lightly coat the braid. 

Proofing and baking
Spray cooking oil onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid. Proof at room temperature or, if possible, in a controlled 90 degree F environment for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume and light to the touch.

Near the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven.

Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan so that the side of the braid previously in the back of the oven is now in the front. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake about 15-20 minutes more, or until golden brown. Cool and serve the braid either still warm from the oven or at room temperature. The cooled braid can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze for 1 month.

Makes enough for 2 large braids