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.