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

Tuesday 17 June 2008

Its my turn to pick!

Its been 4 months since I first joined Tuesdays with Dorie and its been a wonderful ride. From the Brown Sugar Apple cheesecake, to the Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart to Big Bill's carrot cake, there have been so many firsts. So when it came time for me to pick a recipe for the entire group, I really wanted to pick something good. So I picked up my book and shortlisted a few recipes - the caramel-peanut-topped brownie cake, the blueberry crumb cake, the peppermint cream puff ring and the chocolate-crunched caramel tart.

If you know the book well, you'll know that there's one thing in common with all these recipes - they are all accompanied by gorgeous photographs! What can I say - I'm a visual person. I had a really tough time narrowing these 4 choices down to 1, however, so I enlisted M's help to pick. After all, he's the one who has to eat most of it so he might as well like it! And, that is how it came to be that this week's TWD recipe is the Peppermint Cream Puff Ring. (Of course, I had my reasons for picking the recipe as well. I wanted to choose something that the TWD group hasn't yet tackled as a group and since we've done brownies, cakes and caramel before, I thought pate a choux would be a good challenge!)

I didn't have too much trouble putting together this week's recipe. The closest heart-stopping moment I had was probably 15 minutes into baking time when my ring was already well beyond golden brown. I honestly thought the pastry was going to burn. Thankfully, although it is quite brown, it never did quite burn.

Some people had trouble getting the whipping cream to be of a firm enough consistency after folding in the creme fraiche but again, mine turned out firm enough to hold the shape of the rosettes. What I did to hedge against a too runny cream was whip the cream slightly longer than I would have otherwise, so that they formed very stiff peaks.

The verdict on this recipe? Absolutely scrumptious! Since Dorie mentions that the ring doesn't really keep beyond one day, M had 2 large portions. In my books, that makes this a winner!

PS: The TWD-ers decided that the person who picks the recipe will post the recipe on their blog and other members can then link to it. As such, here's the recipe!

Peppermint Cream Puff Ring
From Baking From My Home to Yours

For the Pastry
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup whole milk
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs

For the Cream
About 1 1/3 cups heavy cream
40 fresh mint leaves
6 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup cold creme fraiche or sour cream
Peppermint extract (optional)

For the Glaze
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 tbsp heavy cream
2 tsp light corn syrup
3 tbsp sliced almonds, toasted

Getting ready:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Draw a 7- to 8-inch circle on a piece of parchment paper, turn the paper over and use it to line a baking sheet. Fit a large pastry bag with a 3/4-inch diameter plain piping tip.

To make the pastry:
Bring the water, milk, butter, sugar and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the flour all at once and mix it in with a a wooden spoon, then keep stirring energetically until the dough comes together in a shiny mass. The bottom of the pan will be covered with a thin film of flour. Cook the dough for another 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly, then transfer the hot dough to the bowl of a stand mixer or another large bowl.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat in 3 of the eggs on at a time, beating until each is fully incorporated beore adding the next. Whisk the remaining egg in a small bowl and very gradually add enough of the beaten egg to form a dough that is thick, shiny and silky.

Spoon the warm dough into the pastry bag, position the tip above the outline of the circle and pipe a ring of dough about 1-inch thick. Pipe a second ring of dough inside the first ring and just touching it. Pipe a third ring of dough on top of the circle where the first and second rings of dough meet If you have any extra dough, pipe out as many cream puffs as you can or use the dough to make a few eclairs. (The cream puff dough must be piped out as soon as it is mixed. However, if you'd life, you can pipe out the ring and freeze it for up to 2 months beore baking it; don't defrost it, just add about 10 minutes to the baking time.)

Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees F.

Bake the ring for another 20 to 25 minutes (total baking time is 35 to 40 minutes), or until it is puffed, brown and firm. Transfer the baking sheet to a rack and let the ring cool completely.

To make the cream:
Bring 1 1/3 cups cream and the mint leaves to a boil in a medium saucepan. Pull the pan from the heat, cover and let steep for 1 hour, then pour into a bowl and refrigerate until cold, about 3 hours.

Strain the cream into a measuring cup and add as much additional chilled cream as needed to measure 1 1/3 cups.

Use a serrated knife and a very gentle sawing motion to slice off the top of the pastry ring in one piece pull out and discard any soft dough from the inside of the base. Carefully place the pastry ring base on a platter.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer in a medium bowl, whip the cream and 1/4 cup of the sugar until the cream holds firm peaks. Stir the remaining 2 tbsp of sugar into the creme fraiche and, using a rubber spatulat, gently fold the creme fraiche into the mint whipped cream. Taste the cream, and if you'd like a stronger mint flavor, add a drop or two of extract.

Spoon the mint cream into a clean pastry bag and pipe large rosettes into the base, keeping the rosettes close to one another. Pipe a second row of rosettes on top of the first row, piping the top rosettes between the bottom rosettes. Refrigerate the base while you make the glaze.

To make the glaze:
Melt the chocolate with the cream and corn syrup in a small heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring until the glaze is melted and smooth.

Using a small icing spatula, spread the glaze over the top circle of pastry. Sprinkle the toasted nuts over the glaze, and press them down gently. Carefully set the rign on top of the base - don't press down, you want to top to rest light on the whipped cream - and refrigerate the cake for at least 1 hour before serving. Covered lightly and kept away from food with strong odors, the ring can be refrigerated for up to 8 hours.)

Makes 12 servings

Tuesday 10 June 2008

A perfect dessert for a warm summer's day

This past weekend, it finally felt like summer arrived in London. The weather on Sunday was just absolutely picture perfect with temperatures hitting a balmy 25 degrees. For the first time in a long time, I could comfortably wear a sleeveless top and slip into shorts. It was, weather-wine, definitely the finest day all year, which made it just perfect for this week's TWD pick - La Palette's strawberry tart.

You see, right about this time of year, the supermarket shelves are just bursting with colour from all the in-season fruit. I had no trouble at all finding these gorgeous, juicy strawberries from Kent in my local grocer. The real difficulty was keeping myself from polishing these off before the tart was ready because they just looked so damn good.

The interesting thing about this tart is that instead of a cream or custard-based filling, the shortbread-like pastry crust is simply adorned with a generous layer of strawberry jam, topped with heaping tablespoonfuls of ripe strawberries and finished with a dollop of creme fraiche. This means that the tart is great for when you need to prepare a dessert in advance, such as for a dinner party. Just bake the tart shell the day before, then right before serving slather on the jam, spoon on the strawberries and voila! A picture perfect dessert for the summer.

PS: The TWD-ers have decided that going forward, we will stop posting Dorie's recipes each week. Since there are now so many of us, its almost as if we're giving away the book for free, which is really not our intention.

Tuesday 3 June 2008

I'm back... with French chocolate brownies to show for it

After what has to have been the best month of my life - M & I got married (twice, no less) and then had a heavenly honeymoon in Bhutan - I'm back to London and to the baking group, Tuesdays with Dorie, that was started by the wonderful Laurie. Usually, the rules are that TWD bakers must participate at least 2 out of every 4 weeks, but Laurie very graciously granted me a month's absence for my wedding with no questions asked. So, now I'm back, and more into this group than ever, if that's even possible!

Since I've only been back for 2 days, I'm glad that this week's challenge, French chocolate brownies, was much less involved than some of our other challenges. Still, simple doesn't mean compromising on taste.

I know some of you probably think that my brownie looks a little lonely on its plate in the photo. But as I was thinking what to top my brownie with, I finally decided that a great brownie needs no embellishment. Sure, brownies can sometimes be made better with ice cream whether as the base to a brownie sundae or as the fold-ins into a vanilla ice cream (brownie chunk ice cream), but the true test of a good brownie is one that holds its own and that you want to gobble down even with nothing extra on the side.

This, is one such brownie. Along the spectrum of cakey to fudgey, I think this brownie falls nicely in between. I found the brownie to have an incredibly tender crumb that was wonderfully moist at the same time. I was afraid that the rum-soaked raisins would overpower the chocolaty taste that I love in my brownies, but the rum flavour was extremely subtle and gave the brownie a more intriguing after taste.

Thanks to Di of Di's Kitchen Notebook for a great choice! Its my turn to pick a recipe in 2 weeks and I can't wait!

French Chocolate Brownies
Adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon (optional)
1/3 cup raisins, dark or golden
1 1/2 tbsp water
1 1/2 tbsp dark rum
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp; 6 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into 12 pieces
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar

Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 300°F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil, butter the foil, place the pan on a baking sheet, and set aside.

Whisk together the flour, salt and cinnamon, if you're using it.

Put the raisins in a small saucepan with the water, bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until the water almost evaporates. Add the rum, let it warm for about 30 seconds, turn off the heat, stand back and ignite the rum. Allow the flames to die down, and set the raisins aside until needed.

Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Slowly and gently melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and add the butter, stirring so that it melts. It's important that the chocolate and butter not get very hot. However, if the butter is not melting, you can put the bowl back over the still-hot water for a minute. If you've got a couple of little bits of unmelted butter, leave them—it's better to have a few bits than to overheat the whole. Set the chocolate aside for the moment.

Working with a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until they are thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Lower the mixer speed and pour in the chocolate-butter, mixing only until it is incorporated—you'll have a thick, creamy batter. Add the dry ingredients and mix at low speed for about 30 seconds—the dry ingredients won't be completely incorporated and that's fine. Finish folding in the dry ingredients by hand with a rubber spatula, then fold in the raisins along with any liquid remaining in the pan.

Scrape the batter into the pan and bake 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top is dry and crackled and a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and allow the brownies to cool to warm or room temperature.

Carefully lift the brownies out of the pan, using the foil edges as handles, and transfer to a cutting board. With a long-bladed knife, cut the brownies into 16 squares, each roughly 2 inches on a side, taking care not to cut through the foil.

Makes 16 brownies