Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Daring Bakers: French Yule Log

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.

Holy cow, what a challenge this yule log was! It had so many different elements, many of which I had never tackled before, that had to come together to form this beautiful dessert.

Besides being challenged by the recipe, I was also facing the issue of time. This month, we were allowed to post on any one of three days (thanks Lis and Ivonne!!) and even still, I'm getting my post in just under the wire.

Of course there was Christmas to deal with this month that took up a whole lot of my time, but there was another obstacle - an ice storm that left us without power for six ... count them SIX ... days. I had already begun my holiday baking by the time the storm hit and without power, I wound up having to throw away the entire contents of my refrigerator and freezer.

Seven garbage bags of food in the dumpster. What a crying shame! (Lovely image to share when you're expecting a beautiful dessert, no?)

I know, I know ... I was not alone in this storm and many others had it far worse than I did. I should thank my lucky stars that there was no damage to my house or car and that the power was finally restored in time to restart my holiday baking and get my gifts completed (again, in the nick of time - 4 a.m. on December 25!).

When I finally had the time to begin the challenge, I was daunted by the 18-page recipe. But I forged on and went shopping for the ingredients for the log. Two ingredients specified by the recipe were not available in my area but with recipes for each, I proceeded in making the missing ingredients.

This was my first mistake.

Missing ingredient #1: Praline paste
No problem, I thought. It's basically just a brittle that gets spun in the food processor until it becomes a paste.

Except it never became a paste.

I spun that crap around and around for what seemed like 45 minutes (with little breaks here and there for my poor old food processor) and it never changed beyond finely ground nut powder.

With advice from Linda, I added a few drops of vegetable oil. Then a few more. Then a few more. What the frick?! I must have added half a cup of oil before I got a paste. Finally - paste.

A lot of paste. What the heck do I do with all this extra paste?

If only I had seen earlier that Nutella is an acceptable replacement. I had a brand new jar sitting in my pantry the whole fricking time.

Missing ingredient #2: Gavottes or lace crepes
For this ingredient, the recipe specified that Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies or Special K could be substituted. But stubbon me said, "nah, I'll just make the gavottes with the recipe included in the challenge."

Um, yeah. So the lace crepe wound up thick and pliable instead of thin and crisp. In the trash it went and out came the Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes. Lucky I had them on hand (I usually don't).

So steps one and two were done - kind of - and I proceeded with the rest of the recipe.

Next up, step 3: Make the vanilla creme brulee insert.
Mixing this one up was no problem but when it came to pouring it in my mold, it seeped behind the parchment so when I unmolded it later, I lost a chunk to the mold.

My second issue with the brulee was in the cooking. Either the temperature was too low or the time was too short. Either way, I checked it after 1 hour - still liquid. I checked after another 30 minutes - still liquid. What the hell?

I looked to Alton Brown for answers and decided to crank up the heat for 30 minutes or so. Finally the stupid thing set ... um ... maybe too much. The very top of the brulee was overcooked but underneath was perfect. Screw it ... in the freezer it went!

Step 4: Dark Chocolate Mousse
My chocolate seized. Damn. I added more cream which smoothed it out some but not completely. Luckily, Julie had experienced the same thing and advised that I continue on. The chocolate smoothed out in the following steps and came out fine. Though my arm nearly fell off from all that pate a bombe nonsense.

Step 5: Praline Feuillete Insert
Frick, the chocolate seized again! What is it with me and chocolate? I thought we were friends. I continued on and wound up with a crumbly mess. I shaped it and froze it anyway. When it came time to cut it to size, it fell apart. I got one large piece in the mold and then poured the rest in.

Step 6 (isn't this thing done yet?!): Dacquoise
My supermarket doesn't carry almond meal so I made some in my coffee grinder - which worked perfectly. This step was not so bad except that I made my dacquoise too tall and then cut it too small. Gah.

Step 7: Dark Chocolate Ganache
I burned my caramel again - I'll get it right someday - but I had much better luck in adding the liquid to the hot caramel than I did last time. This time, I poured s-l-o-w-l-y and had no issue.

Step 8: Begin assembly (finally!)
The instructions said to line the mold with rhodoid - which is basically a plastic transparancy (remember those?) - or plastic wrap. Well I was fresh out of tranparencies (no, not really) and used the plastic wrap.

If you are brave enough to make this, go to the office supply store and buy some transparencies. If you don't and you just use plastic wrap, you'll have a lumpy bumpy log like I do.

The log was assembled and frozen until the next day when it was to be iced.

Step 9:Dark Chocolate Icing
The hardest part about this - well one of the hardest parts - was knowing when the icing was cool enough to use and not yet too cold to use. It had to be just the right temperature to pour and not clump up or run right off. The first go around, mine was too warm and just ran right off the log and pooled in the parchment below.

No biggie, I thought. I picked up the parchment, poured the excess back into my saucepan and let it cool a bit longer. Then I poured again, this time covering the top nicely but leaving mostly naked sides. So I poured the excess back into my saucepan and poured it over the sides. By this time, the icing had cooled off considerably and left me with an odd edge between the top and the sides. I considered leaving it until I noticed the partially naked side.

So, I made another batch of icing and did the whole thing over again. I finally got a decent coating on all sides and I popped that bad larry in the freezer to set up.

So how to decorate, I wondered. I considered doing chocolate ruffles but was so ready to be done that I gave up on the idea. I decided instead to just pipe a border along the bottom edge. I wanted a frosting that was dark and shiny like the icing and thought a whipped ganache would do the trick. Well, in the end, whipping the ganache lightened it up to about the same color as a chocolate buttercream ... but I didn't care. On went my border and I wound up with so much extra frosting that I did a top border too.

Finally, this sucker is done! It definitely tastes good - not too sweet - and I adore the flavor of the dacquoise.

Am I glad I stuck with it and completed the challenge? Absolutely. Did I wish I had pastry-queen Tartelette on speed dial? Oh yes. Will I make this again? Hells no.

If you'd like the recipe, visit Hilda's blog. And be sure to check out the blogroll to see the Yule Log trials and tribulations of the other Daring Bakers!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

So good, it's gone!

I had a few lonely pieces of bacon left over from yesterday's breakfast and needed to use them up. I found this recipe and thought it sounded great ... and indeed it was. It was so good, we ate it up before I could take a proper photo!

Bacon and Egg Puffs
Adapted from Modern Classics (Book 1) by Donna Hay, as seen on 80 Breakfasts
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
4 strips of bacon
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Thaw pastry on countertop until soft and pliable - don't let it get too warm or the layers of butter will begin to melt. This took me about 20 to 30 minutes.

Place bacon on a baking sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes - just enough to crisp the edges. Remove from the oven and transfer to paper towels to drain.

Cut pastry to fit four 5-ounce ramekins. I used one of my new round cutters for the bottoms and then cut strips for the sides. Spread mustard on the pastry bases and sprinkle with the cheese.

Line sides of each ramekin with a piece of bacon - just bend it and follow the shape of the ramekin. Break one egg into each ramekin.

Bake for 15-18 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the eggs have set - remember to pull them a little early as they will continue to cook for a short time after being removed from the oven. Serve immediately.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A spicy kick

Around here, we're always up for a spicy dish. Indian? You bet! Thai? Yes, please! Mexican? We're on board!

When I saw this recipe for boneless buffalo chicken strips, I was excited to give them a try. The preparation was fairly quick and easy and the outcome was mighty tasty. The strips weren't quite as crispy as I was expecting, but that may have been due to the large amounts of buffalo sauce that I drizzled over the strips.

All in all, this was a pretty good dish that I will make again.

Buffalo Chicken Strips
Adapted from Cooking Light, as seen on Amber's Delectable Delights
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups coarsely crushed cornflakes
1 pound chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch-thick strips
Cooking spray
1/3 cup hot sauce (such as Frank's Red Hot)
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup ranch dressing
4 celery stalks, cut into sticks
4 carrots, cut into sticks or a handful of baby carrots

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine first 6 ingredients in a shallow dish, stirring with a whisk. Place egg whites in a shallow dish. Place cornflakes in a shallow dish. Working with one chicken strip at a time, dredge in flour mixture. Dip in egg whites; dredge in cornflakes. Place on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Repeat procedure with remaining chicken strips, flour mixture, egg whites, and cornflakes.

Lightly coat chicken strips with cooking spray. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes or until done, turning once halfway through.

Combine hot sauce, pepper sauce, and Worcestershire in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer one minute. Remove from heat; stir in butter. Drizzle hot sauce mixture over chicken. Serve with ranch dressing, celery, and carrots.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers: Caramel Cake

I've been a bad blogger! I honestly didn't mean to take a one-month hiatus from my beloved blog. It's like I blinked and a whole month passed! Please, dear readers, accept my humblest apologies and stick with me because there are posts a-plenty in the works!

And now on with the show ...

The hosts for this month's challenge are Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity, Alex of Blondie and Brownie and Jenny of Foray into Food. Also pitching in to assist the alternative bakers is Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go.

This month's Daring Baker's challenge was an exciting (read: dangerous) one with a sweet reward at the end. I'm talking about caramel - the sweet, sticky substance that I love so much.

The recipes chosen for this month are both from Shuna Fish Lydon. The rules for the challenge were to make both the caramel cake and caramelized-butter frosting.

Since I had never made caramel before, I decided to just keep it simple and follow the recipe as written, even though we had some freedom to customize our final cakes. In the end, I'm glad I did!

The first step to making the cake and the frosting is to make a caramel syrup. This is a bit tricky so be sure to carefully read and follow the directions before attempting to make this!

Step 1: Caramel Syrup
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)
In a stainless steel saucepan with tall sides (when in doubt, go large!), 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 and dark amber in color. Note: the change from clear to light amber to dark amber happens very quickly! Do not take your eyes off the syrup for any amount of time!

When color is achieved, VERY CAREFULLY and VERY SLOWLY, 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. For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

I mean it - be careful! If you aren't, this is what happens!

Which sets off your smoke detectors and then leaves you with this mess to clean up:

Or worse, you could seriously burn yourself! So pay attention and put down the camera for this part! Be a better baker than me on this one! (No, I didn't burn myself. Thankfully, I took the long sleeves tip seriously!)

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.) My syrup was getting too dark so I turned the heat off and whisked every few minutes until it was cooled. My syrup was a tad burnt. There is no fixing this, you just have to start over ... or use it anyway, like I did. Let the syrup cool to room temperature before moving it to the fridge.

Step 2: Caramel Cake
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/3 cup Caramel Syrup (from recipe above)
2 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 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan. I used two short 8-inch cake pans.

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

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs and 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.

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. For the two short 8-inch cake pans, bake for 20 to 30 minutes. 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.

Step 3: 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. I added a pinch of sea salt at the end of this process and found it to be a crunchy and unappetizing addition. I think next time, I would prefer to add it to the hot butter after straining it.

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.

All in all, this was a fun challenge! I will definitely make caramel syrup again - and next time I'll do a better job!

There was an optional challenge this month as well, but I didn't have the time to complete it. I do plan to try it in the near future though, so stay tuned!

Be sure to check out the blogroll to see how the other Daring Bakers made out this month!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Daring Bakers: A different kind of pie

This month's Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Rosa of Rosa's Yummy Yums. The recipe was originally chosen by Sher from What Did You Eat who passed away unexpectedly in July. This post is in memory of her.

The challenge this month was to create pizza dough using following the recipe (with the allowance of going gluten free if desired) and to toss at least two of the pieces of dough. Included in the tossing challenge was the requirement of photographing the high-flying fun.

The rules were pretty simple -- follow the dough recipe as written and top with both sauce and toppings. What sauce and what toppings were entirely up to us. How fun!

Now, I must admit that I was nervous about flinging the dough into the air never having done this move before. But in the end, it was rather fun! Thanks to Matt, my wonderful boyfriend, for taking the photos of me throwing the dough ... and for encouraging me to "throw it higher!"

One thing I definitely learned from this challenge is that I tend to make some pretty silly faces when throwing food in the air:

I was so paranoid about dropping it on the floor. I guess I was concentrating really hard because I kept sticking my tongue out without even realizing it! What a weirdo!

Some other things I learned from this challenge are:
1. Dry active yeast is not the same thing as instant yeast but will still produce a decent crust.
2. Develop gluten more by kneading longer. This will allow the crust to stretch more.
3. 6-7 oz portions are single serving size unless you go quite thin. I will divide into 4 pieces next time.
4. Only put semolina under the pizza, otherwise the extra will burn and smoke your house up. I had to stand waving a kitchen towel at my smoke detector trying to keep it from going off and pissing off my neighbors.
I was quite surprised that it didn't go off considering the billowing smoke clouds floating through my living room ...

All in all, I really enjoyed this challenge. It was my first attempt at pizza dough but it certainly will not be my last! I am excited to try out different recipes and other techniques. Although, I must say that this was a great recipe. Matt does not particularly care for pizza but expressed several times how great the crust tasted!

Basic Pizza Dough
Source: The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, by Peter Reinhart
Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches)

4 1/2 cups (20 1/4 ounces) unbleached bread flour, chilled
1 3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 cup (2 ounces) olive oil or vegetable oil (optional but tasty)
1 3/4 cups (14 ounces) water, ice cold (40° F)
1 tablespoon sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting

Day one:
Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer. (For those of you without stand mixers, check out Rosa's page for instructions.)

Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well with the paddle attachment on low speed until the ingredients come together in a sticky ball of dough. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5-7 minutes. (Longer may be better for good gluten production.) 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.

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

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).

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

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 and put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to three days. (For long term storage, pour a few tablespoons of oil in a medium bowl and dip each of the dough balls into the oil, so that each is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate zippered freezer 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.)

Day two:
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 thick and 5 inches 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.

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). (If you don't have a baking stone, you can use a cookie sheet or pizza pan -- just don't preheat them like you would a stone.)

Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan or pizza
peel with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take one 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.

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. If you have 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.

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

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.

Using the peel, shimmy the pizza onto the baking stone or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for about 5-8 minutes. After 2 minutes, rotate 180°.

If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly roll pan 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 roll pan.

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.

Pizza #1: Red pepper pesto sauce with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella

Red pepper pesto sauce (recipe follows)
1/2 beefsteak or plum tomato, sliced
Fresh mozzarella (amount to your liking)

Spoon a small amount into the center of the pizza dough and smooth with the back of the spoon covering most of the crust in a thin layer of sauce -- leave the edge plain. Lay a few thin slices of tomato on top of the pesto and then top with slices of fresh mozzarella cheese. Follow baking instructions above. (This is a bit wetter than the rest of the recipes I tried so you may have better luck moving it closer to the heating element in your oven.)

Red Pepper Pesto Sauce
Source: Rachael Ray as seen on
Two Novice Chefs, One Tiny Kitchen
1 cup drained, packed roasted red peppers
2 small cloves garlic
1 (3-ounce) jar pignoli/pine nuts
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, a couple of handfuls
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, eyeball it

Combine roasted peppers, garlic, pine nuts, parsley, salt and pepper and cheese in a food processor. Turn the processor on and stream in the extra-virgin olive oil to form a thick, pasty sauce forms. Adjust seasoning and transfer sauce to a large bowl.

The pesto is delicious and a nice variation on a classic. This pizza was a simple but crowd pleasing combination.

Pizza #2: Mexican Pizza

Mexican Pizza
Salsa (homemade or from a jar)
Black beans
Roasted chicken, sliced or shredded
Mexican cheese blend
Scallions, sliced on the bias
Sour cream, for topping
Guacamole, for topping (homemade or store bought)

Spoon a small amount of salsa into the center of the pizza dough and smooth with the back of the spoon covering most of the crust in a thin layer of sauce -- leave the edge plain. Sprinkle on a small amount of black beans and then lay on the chicken. Top with the cheese and bake according to the instructions above.

Once removed from the oven, top with the scallions. Top individual slices with a small dollop of sour cream and guacamole.

Pizza #3: White sauce with bacon, bleu cheese, ground beef, and onions

White sauce (recipe follows)
1/2 medium onion, cut into half moons and sauteed
3 sliced thick cut bacon, cooked, drained and chopped
1/4 pound ground beef, browned and drained
1 to 2 ounces bleu cheese
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Spoon a small amount of sauce into the center of the pizza dough and smooth with the back of the spoon covering most of the crust in a thin layer of sauce -- leave the edge plain. Add the sauteed onions in a thin layer then top with ground beef and bacon. Next, sprinkle on the bleu cheese and Parmesan. Follow baking instructions above.

Pizza Blanca Sauce (White Pizza Sauce)
Source: Shawn's Recipe Kitchen

2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

In a saucier, melt butter. While whisking, add flour and cook for a couple of minutes (to get rid of flour taste). Slowly whisk in milk, adding gradually to make a sauce. Stir in spices and cheese.

Pizza #4: Sausage, apple, and sage pizza with cranberry sauce

1/4 to 1/2 cup jellied cranberry sauce, warmed
4 fresh sage leaves, chiffonade
1/2 apple, sliced wafer thin (a vegetable peeler does a great job) and tossed in lemon juice to prevent browning
1 link sweet Italian sausage, removed from the casing and browned
Cheddar cheese, shredded (amount to your liking)

Spoon a small amount of sauce into the center of the pizza dough and smooth with the back of the spoon covering most of the crust in a thin layer of sauce -- leave the edge plain. Sprinkle the sage over the sauce and top with the apple slices. Add sausage and cheese. Follow baking instructions above.

Be sure to check out the blogroll to see what the other Daring Bakers came up with!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sausage, Cheddar and Apple Strata

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. Matt, however, is not a fan and doesn't care for most breakfast foods. Eggs? No thanks.

It is for this reason that I will often try new breakfast recipes on weekends. I want my Sunday breakfast to be slowly savored while sipping coffee. He wants it over with already.

I've been reading Eggs on Sunday for a couple of months now, and this is the first of Amy's recipes that I've tried. It was a great combination for a fall morning. I enjoyed the apples and sausage together but the bread was definitely the best part!

This makes a lot of food -- far too much for two people. I will cut it in half next time, but I found that it was even better left over, so I won't reduce the recipe too much!

Sausage, Cheddar and Apple Strata
Source: Feelgood Eats, guest post by Amy of Eggs on Sunday (adapted from Cooking with Shelburne Farms)
(Serves 6-8)
¾ pound (5 to 6 cups) cubed crusty bread, such as sourdough or multigrain
4 medium shallots, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 apples, peeled, cored and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 ½ cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 6 ounces)
1 pound Italian-style sausage, removed from casings if in links
4 eggs
1 quart (4 cups) half-and-half
½ teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the bread cubes on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 15 minutes, until golden brown around the edges.

Meanwhile, saute the sliced shallots in the olive oil in a skillet until translucent and starting to brown. Add the sausage to the skillet and cook until no longer pink, breaking up into pieces with a fork. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Whisk together the eggs and half-and-half in a bowl with the salt and a few grinds of black pepper, and set aside.

Lightly grease a 9×13 (or equivalent) baking dish. In the bottom of the baking dish, spread half of the sausage/shallot mixture, half of the cubed apples, and half of the cheddar cheese. Top with the toasted bread cubes. On top of the bread cubes, layer the remaining sausage/shallot mixture and the remaining cubed apples. Pour the half-and-half mixture over the dish, pressing the bread cubes down gently so they all get moistened. Top with the remaining grated cheddar.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, until golden brown on top and set.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Black Bean Pumpkin Soup

I, along with what seems like the entire food blogging community, consider fall to be my favorite season. I love wearing long-sleeve shirts or sweaters while leaving my coat behind. I love the crispness in the air and the beauty of the leaves changing (and living in New Hampshire, I see some amazing foliage). I love apple picking and trick-or-treating - oh, how I wish I wasn't too old for trick-or-treating! I also love cooking foods that seem most appropriate in the fall. Things like apple crisp and pumpkin bread warm my kitchen and my heart.

I recently made some lovely pumpkin-spice filled cupcakes and was left with quite a bit of pumpkin to use. I remembered seeing a black bean and pumpkin soup on Smitten Kitchen and decided it would be the perfect use for my leftover pumpkin.

Black Bean Pumpkin Soup
Source: Gourmet, November 1996 (as seen on Smitten Kitchen)
Three 15 1/2 ounce cans black beans (about 4 1/2 cups), rinsed and drained (I used only one can and found the soup to be plenty beany)
1 cup drained canned tomatoes, chopped (I omitted)
1 1/4 cups chopped onion
1/2 cup minced shallot
4 garlic cloves minced
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
4 cups beef broth
a 16-ounce can pumpkin puree (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup dry Sherry
(I omitted)
1/2 pound cooked ham, cut into 1/8-inch dice (I omitted)
3 to 4 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
Garnish: sour cream and coarsely chopped lightly toasted pumpkin seeds
(I omitted the pumpkin seeds. I did include the sour cream which was, in my opinion, the best part)

In a food processor coarsely puree beans and tomatoes.

In a 6-quart heavy kettle cook onion, shallot, garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper in butter over moderate heat, stirring, until onion is softened and beginning to brown. Stir in bean puree. Stir in broth, pumpkin, and Sherry until combined and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 25 minutes, or until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Just before serving, add ham and vinegar and simmer soup, stirring, until heated through. Season soup with salt and pepper.

Serve soup garnished with sour cream and toasted pumpkin seeds.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A perfect send off

This October is full of celebrations, especially when it comes to my office. One co-worker is retiring, one got engaged, four have birthdays, and one is getting married. To celebrate, we put together a lunch-time celebration on Wednesday.

My contribution to the party were some special wedding cupcakes for the bride-to-be. I wanted a beautiful white cake and a fluffy white frosting to match. And because the bride is such a fan of everything pumpkin, I filled them with a pumpkin-spice pastry cream.

Perfect Party Cake
Source: Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk (I used whole milk)
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (I omitted)
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract (I substituted 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-x-2-inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet. (For cupcakes: line two muffin tins with paper cups.)

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. (If you don't own a sifter, you can toss them in your food processor and pulse a few times.)

Wisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.

Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and, working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixes and well aerated. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula. (For cupcakes, fill each paper liner about 3/4 full.)

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch -- a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean. (For cupcakes, bake 20 to 25 minutes.) Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (The cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.) (For cupcakes, let cakes cool in the pan for about 5 minutes then transfer to cooling rack and cool completely before frosting.)

Pumpkin spice pastry cream
Adapted from: Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch, sifted
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
1/8 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons pumpkin puree
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces at room temperature

Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan (be careful not to let the milk boil over).

Meanwhile, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan (or saucier), whisk the yolks together with the sugar, cornstarch, spices, and pumpkin until thick and well blended. Still whisking, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the hot milk -- this will temper the yolks so they won't curdle. Whisking constantly, slowly pour in the remainder of the milk. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, constantly and thoroughly (making sure to get into the edges of the pot), bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk in the vanilla extract. Let sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until they are fully incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth and silky. Scrape the cream into a bowl. You can press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream to create an airtight seal and refrigerate the pastry cream until cold or, if you want to cool it quickly, put the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water, and stir the pastry cream occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes.

To fill the cupcakes, put the pastry cream into a piping bag or a zipper storage bag with a corner cut off. Insert a paring knife no more than one inch deep at a 45 degree angle halfway between the edge and the center. Gently turn the cupcake against the knife until you have cut all the way around. Remove the center cone you've cut and set aside. Pipe the pastry cream into the cavity. Cut the cone end off of the cupcake plug reserving the top as a lid. Place the lid on top of the pastry-cream-filled cavity. Repeat for each of the remaining cupcakes.

Buttercream frosting
Source: Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (I omitted)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or other large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat.

Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6 to 10 minutes. During this time, the buttercream may curdle or separate -- just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. you should have a shiny, smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the butttercream until ready to use.

I'm excited to send out a big congratulations to the newlyweds, Michelle and Rick! If you're interested in reading about their journey to the alter, you can visit their wedding blog.

Friday, October 10, 2008

So good!

Macaroni and cheese is one of my all-time favorite foods. I grew up eating the boxed stuff and that was a-okay by me!

For my birthday when I was about 12 years old, my grandmother, knowing how much I like macaroni and cheese, gave me a huge box full of the blue boxes and a double boiler so I could prepare them the way that she did. I was in mac and cheese heaven!

As I got older, I was introduced to baked macaroni and cheese. I find it to be so rich and delicious but quite a bit more work than the box so it's not something I make often. Most of the time, I just look to my good friend, ol' blue.

This version may have me changing my ways and setting aside extra time. It is so good!

Grown Up Mac and Cheese
Source: Ina Garten, as seen on Brown Eyed Baker
4 ounces thick-sliced bacon
Vegetable oil
Kosher salt
2 cups elbow macaroni or cavatappi (As suggested by Brown Eyed Baker, I used gemelli. Matt really liked this noodle choice.)
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
3 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated
2 ounces blue cheese, such as Roquefort, crumbled (As suggested by Brown Eyed Baker, I substituted Fontina)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
2 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed (I substituted 1 cup Panko mixed with 3 tablespoons of melted unsalted butter)
2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil leaves (I omitted)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place a baking rack on a sheet pan and arrange the bacon in 1 layer on the baking rack. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the bacon is crisp. Remove the pan carefully from the oven - there will be hot grease in the pan! Transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels and crumble when it is cool enough to handle.

Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package. Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it. Melt the butter in a medium pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or 2 more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, blue cheese, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and crumbled bacon and stir well. Pour into 2 individual size gratin dishes (I used a 2 quart casserole dish).

Place the bread slices in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until you have coarse crumbs. Add the basil and pulse to combine. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the top of the pasta. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top. (This only took 20 minutes for me, so check early and often!)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A go-to winner

When I first moved into my own home, I wanted to find a dish that I could serve to guests that would impress them. This dish does exactly that and, best of all, it is quick, easy and only uses one pan! I've made this one so many times that I have actually committed it to memory.

Blackened Salmon (serves 2)
Source: I copied it down four years ago from the Food Network website but cannot find it there now. I believe it was Sara Moulton, but I can't be sure.
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound salmon fillet, skin removed
Blackening spice, recipe follows
1 12-ounce can black beans, drained
4 cups fresh spinach, washed and dried
2 Tablespoons butter

First things first, turn your stove hood fan to high! Heat oil in a heavy non-stick saute pan over medium-high heat.

Coat salmon fillet well on both sides with blackening spice. Place in pan and cook on the first side until the fish is cooked about halfway up the height of the fillet, about two minutes. Gently flip the fish over.

Add the black beans to a corner of the pan. Pile the spinach on top of the fish and beans and top with the butter.

Cook for two minutes more or until the thickest part of the fillet is cooked through. Cut the fillet in half.

To serve, take the spinach off the top and place it on the bottom of a plate. Place a piece of the fish on top of the spinach and top with the beans.

Blackening Spice
5 tablespoons Kosher salt
5 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Store in a spice jar or tin.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Pie for dinner

The debate: is it Chinese Pie or Shepherd's Pie? What the heck is the difference anyway?

Chinese Pie, known as pâté chinois by the French Canadians, contains beef, corn and potatoes. Shepherd's Pie, on the other hand, contains the same beef and mashed potatoes but also includes peas, carrots, onions, and beef stock.

Being a New England girl, I grew up eating Chinese Pie but my family, of English decent, always called it Shepherd's Pie. So you can imagine my confusion when Matt called his mother's version Chinese Pie! We've been debating this issue for years (not intensely ... we're not that lame!). I've always resisted changing what I call it, but now I see that they truly are different ... and I've been eating Chinese Pie.

Chinese Pie
1 pound ground beef
10-ounce box frozen corn, defrosted
8-ounce can creamed corn
Mashed potatoes (prepared your favorite way, using 3 large Yukon Gold potatoes)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Brown ground beef, drain and spread evenly in the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate. Layer defrosted corn on top of the ground beef. Pour creamed corn on top of corn layer. Spread mashed potatoes evenly over the top of the dish. Be careful not to squish your filling as you apply the potatoes or it will spill over the edges of the pie plate. Sprinkle the potatoes with freshly ground black pepper.

Place pie plate on baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Allow the pie to cool for 10 minutes before digging in. (This will allow it to firm up a bit and make it easier to slice and serve.)

So here's one last question for you: cheese or no cheese?

Personally, I say ick to cheese ... well, in this recipe anyway. Any other time I'd say, "cheese? Yes please!"

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Omnivore's 100/The Sweet 100

I've seen this making the rounds on all the food blogs and have finally decided to go ahead and post my list. For those of you that have a blog, feel free to follow the instructions below and create your own 100 list.

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

Holly's Omnivore’s Hundred:
1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate (I don't think I've had this, but I have sucked on a cacao bean fresh from its pod in the Ecuadorian rainforest ... does that count?)
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

This list contains a lot of seafood and seeing as how I don't like seafood, I haven't tasted much of it. I would, however, try almost any food so I can't cross them off. The only thing I think I wouldn't try is the pufferfish. I don't want to take that risk!

31 33 out of 100 ... pathetic!

So while we're talking about foods I have and have not tried, I'd also like to take a moment to go through Cakespy's Sweet 100. A list of 100 sweet foods, now we're talking!

1) Copy this list into your site, including the instructions!
2) Bold all of the sweets you've eaten!
3) Cross out any of them that you'd never ever eat.
4) Consider anything that is not bold or crossed out your "To Do" List.
5) Optional: Post a comment at Cakespy linking to your results.
  1. Red Velvet Cake
  2. Princess Torte
  3. Whoopie Pie
  4. Apple Pie either topped or baked with sharp cheddar
  5. Beignet
  6. Baklava
  7. Black and white cookie
  8. Seven Layer Bar (also known as the Magic Bar or Hello Dolly bars)
  9. Fried Fruit pie (sometimes called hand pies)
  10. Kringle
  11. Just-fried (still hot) doughnut
  12. Scone with clotted cream
  13. Betty, Grunt, Slump, Buckle or Pandowdy
  14. Halvah
  15. Macarons
  16. Banana pudding with nilla wafers
  17. Bubble tea (with tapioca "pearls")
  18. Dixie Cup
  19. Rice Krispie treats
  20. Alfajores
  21. Blondies
  22. Croquembouche
  23. Girl Scout cookies
  24. Moon cake
  25. Candy Apple
  26. Baked Alaska
  27. Brooklyn Egg Cream
  28. Nanaimo bar
  29. Baba au rhum
  30. King Cake
  31. Sachertorte
  32. Pavlova
  33. Tres Leches Cake
  34. Trifle
  35. Shoofly Pie
  36. Key Lime Pie (made with real key lime)
  37. Panna Cotta
  38. New York Cheesecake
  39. Napoleon / mille-fueille
  40. Russian Tea Cake / Mexican Wedding Cake
  41. Anzac biscuits
  42. Pizzelle
  43. Kolache
  44. Buckeyes
  45. Malasadas
  46. Moon Pie
  47. Dutch baby
  48. Boston Cream Pie
  49. Homemade chocolate chip cookies
  50. Pralines
  51. Gooey butter cake
  52. Rusks
  53. Daifuku
  54. Green tea cake or cookies
  55. Cupcakes from a cupcake shop
  56. Crème brûlée
  57. Some sort of deep fried fair food (twinkie, candy bar, cupcake)
  58. Yellow cake with chocolate frosting
  59. Jelly Roll
  60. Pop Tarts
  61. Charlotte Russe
  62. An "upside down" dessert (Pineapple upside down cake or Tarte Tatin)
  63. Hummingbird Cake
  64. Jell-O from a mold
  65. Black forest cake
  66. Mock Apple Pie (Ritz Cracker Pie)
  67. Kulfi
  68. Linzer torte
  69. Churro
  70. Stollen
  71. Angel Food Cake
  72. Mincemeat pie
  73. Concha
  74. Opera Cake
  75. Sfogliatelle / Lobster tail
  76. Pain au chocolat
  77. A piece of Gingerbread House
  78. Cassata
  79. Cannoli
  80. Rainbow cookies
  81. Religieuse
  82. Petits fours
  83. Chocolate Souffle
  84. Bienenstich (Bee Sting Cake)
  85. Rugelach
  86. Hamenstashen
  87. Homemade marshmallows
  88. Rigo Janci
  89. Pie or cake made with candy bar flavors (Snickers pie, Reeses pie, etc)
  90. Divinity
  91. Coke or Cola cake
  92. Gateau Basque
  93. S'mores
  94. Figgy Pudding
  95. Bananas foster or other flaming dessert
  96. Joe Froggers (I haven't tried these but they sound remarkably similar to my Nana Cookies!)
  97. Sables
  98. Millionaire's Shortbread
  99. Animal crackers
  100. Basbousa
37 out of 100, I can't believe that! For a girl with a huge sweet tooth, this is really surprising!

Between these two lists, I certainly have quite a lot of tasting to do!

*I will be updating this list as I try the items I have yet to eat.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Daring Bakers: Lavash Crackers

So I've gone and done it. I've joined the Daring Bakers!

September was my first challenge, and what a challenge it was! This month's hosts are alternative bakers Natalie from Gluten A Go Go, and Shel, of Musings From the Fishbowl. They chose a vegan and/or gluten-free challenge: Lavash crackers and vegan and gluten free dips, spreads and toppings.

For a dish to be called vegan, it cannot contain any animal product or byproduct (this includes dairy, honey, etc.). Gluten free means that it cannot contain any wheat, barley, rye, or other grains or food additives that contain gluten.

Lavash crackers are a very thin, crispy cracker often topped with poppy seeds or sesame seeds. For the crackers, we had the option to make them gluten-free or use all-purpose flour. I chose the all-purpose flour route because I had plenty of it on hand. Peter Reinhart, the recipe's author, says that the key to a crisp lavash is to roll out the dough paper thin. I thought that I had rolled the dough out thin enough when I put it in the oven, but I found the crackers to be far too thick. Next time I'll roll them much thinner!

Lavash Crackers
Source: The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering The Art of Extraordinary Bread, by Peter Reinhart
1 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour or all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon agave syrup or sugar (I chose to use agave syrup which you can find in many health and natural food stores. I bought mine at Trader Joe's.)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/3 to 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, at room temperature
Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings (I went with cumin, caraway seeds and sesame seeds.)

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 amount of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.

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. The dough should be 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.

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).

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.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F 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.

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).

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.

I chose to make two toppings for my crackers. The first was a spread that was suggested by the challenge hosts, Tahitian Almond Dipping Sauce. This is a sweet and very thick dip. It would be a nice topping for celery sticks.

Tahitian Almond Dipping Sauce
Source: The Complete Book of Raw Food by Robert Yarosh and Lisa Soto
1 1/2 cups almond butter
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup fresh orange juice (you may want to add more juice or add some water, depending on the consistancy you like)
1 1/2 tablespoons agave syrup

Blend all ingredients together until smooth (in your blender or food processor).

For my second topping, I went with an Alton Brown recipe that I adapted in order to make it vegan. I was apprehensive at first about substituting a dairy product for a vegan soy product, but I really could not tell the difference! The flavor of the vegan cream cheese was so similar to regular cream cheese.

Roasted Vegetable Spread
Adapted from: Alton Brown
1 red bell pepper, sliced into rings
1 medium onion, sliced into rings
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small zucchini, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the bell pepper, onion, garlic, zucchini, and olive oil in a medium mixing bowl and toss until the vegetables are coated. Spread the vegetables evenly on sheet pan lined with foil and place in the oven. Roast, tossing occasionally, until they are soft and are beginning to turn brown around the edges, approximately 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

Place the vegetables in the bowl of a food processor along with the cream cheese substitute and process until well combined and spreadable; do not process until completely smooth. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if desired. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to one week.

This was my first attempt at making a vegan dish. I will admit that I was a bit intimidated at the beginning of the challenge. Not only did I have to make a vegan dish, but this was also my first time using yeast. (I know ... for shame!) In the end though, I think everything turned out fine. Though, I will say that I don't think I'll be going vegan any time soon.

I'm looking forward to next month's challenge and now that I've completed my first challenge, I can happily say that I'm a proud member of the Daring Bakers! Yay!

Now hop on over to the blogroll and check out what the rest of the Daring Bakers did with the challenge!