Sunday, November 15, 2009

Apple Cider Pound Cake

Hi there, remember me? Yeah, me neither!

This summer was a blur. It left me buried under a pile of CSA vegetables and farmer's market offerings. As much as I loved my CSA, I found myself overwhelmed with prepping, pickling and preserving the season's bounty.

And before I knew it, it was all over. Summer had gone and fall had arrived.

Apple Cider Pound Cake

Growing up in New England, apple cider was a given at our family Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. My grandmother would prepare the dinner and my grandfather was in charge of filling everyone's glasses. Besides washing the dishes, the cider was his only real responsibility and he was so enthusiastic about it!

When they got older and my grandmother could no longer host, my grandparents would come to my mom's house, my grandfather carrying a cooler that surely contained cider.

Now that they're gone, I think of them both every fall when I enjoy my first glass of apple cider. And you'll never find my Thanksgiving table lacking apple cider!

Apple Cider Pound Cake

The cider flavor in this cake is not overly pronounced but the spices give a heavenly fall flavor!

Apple Cider Pound Cake
Source: Taste of Home
3 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups butter, softened
6 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup apple cider
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 10-inch tube pan (I used a 9 1/2 inch bundt pan and had some batter left over. Two 9 x 5 inch loaf pans should also work just fine.) and set aside.

In a large bowl (I used my stand mixer), cream sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a medium bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients and set aside. Combine cider and vanilla. Alternate additions of the dry ingredients and the cider mixture to the batter. Mix until well blended.

Spoon into prepared pan and bake for 1 hour 10 minutes (mine took longer) or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Remove cake from the oven and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Then invert pan onto a cooling rack.

Combine icing ingredients in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Drizzle icing over the cake while it is still warm.

Apple Cider Pound Cake

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Face off: Butter vs. ICBINB Cooking & Baking Sticks

Recently, I told you about my interest in testing the difference between butter and I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Cooking & Baking sticks. Well, I finally had a chance to put the two up against each other in a good old-fashioned taste test.

For the test, I chose to whip up two half batches of Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies – one using butter, the other using ICBINB sticks.

I set up two bowls, each labeled with the fat of choice.

ICBINB vs. Butter

Next, I creamed the sugars and fats together.

ICBINB vs Butter

Then, I added the eggs and mixed until well combined.

ICBINB vs. Butter

This is when I noticed the first major difference – the texture of the ICBINB mixture was much softer and looser.

ICBINB vs Butter

Then, I added the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.

ICBINB vs Butter

Next, I lined two half-sheet pans with parchment paper and marked the underside of each sheet with either a B or I to indicate which batch was which.

ICBINB vs. Butter

Then, using a large spoon, I dropped the dough onto the appropriate pans. The ICBINB dough was significantly stiffer.

ICBINB vs Butter

Between batches, I switched up which versions cooked on which racks in the oven. When each batch came out, I noticed that the butter-based cookies consistently spread more and browned more.

ICBINB vs. Butter

In the side-by-side taste comparison, the ICBINB version was preferred 6 out of 10 times. My taste testers commented that the ICBINB cookies were moister and tasted a bit sweeter. Truth be told, I still preferred the butter version, even though I was outnumbered. But, I wouldn't turn an ICBINB cookie down. If I weren't tasting them side-by-side, I don't think I'd notice a difference.

ICBINB vs Butter

So, in the end, what does this mean? Well, if you're watching your saturated fat intake, the ICBINB Cooking & Baking sticks might be a better option for you and you don't have to sacrifice taste. That's good in my book.

ICBINB vs Butter 2

*This post is in no way endorsed by I Can't Believe It's Not Butter. I did this test because I was curious. = )

Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Source: Quaker Oats
1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 6 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup raisins

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. In large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed of electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well. Add oats and raisins; mix well.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets; remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered.

On a separate note, it's my blogiversary! A whole year ago, this little blog was born. It's been a lot of fun and I'm excited about the year to come!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Eating local and Food, Inc.

Recently, I've begun looking into ways to eat more locally. That is to say, I'd like to support local farms and move towards eating more organically grown/raised foods. To that end, this year will be my first involved with a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, share and I could not be more excited!

It all began last summer when I stumbled upon Amy's blog, Eggs on Sunday. She documents the contents of her weekly shares and then spotlights recipes she made with those items. I was fascinated! Until that moment, I had never heard of the CSA concept before and had to know more about it.

To my delight, there are several CSA options in my area. Local Harvest is a great resource for finding a farm that you can sign up with! I found one that suited my needs and budget and signed up immediately! I'm so happy to be able to support a local farm and benefit from the foods I will receive.

Now, I've got my sights set on finding local resources for eggs, dairy, meat, and fruit. If you know of any good ones in southern New Hampshire, please let me know!

It was just today that I learned about a new documentary called Food, Inc. This film sheds some light on the realities of food production and manufacturing. It looks to be a real eye opener and I am looking forward to watching it, for sure.

Check out the trailer!

What efforts have you made toward eating locally, if any?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Daring Bakers: Apple Strudel

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caf├ęs of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

In my life, I've known two incredible bakers. One that I've mentioned many times before, was my grandmother, Pat, who taught me how to bake. From her, I learned how to follow a recipe and measure precisely.

The other is my step-father's step-mother Rozina, or Rosie as we call her. She's one of those people that never uses recipes and never measures a thing, and yet everything she makes comes out perfect. (I'm sure she'd disagree with that statement, but it's so true!)

Rosie grew up in Slovenia before moving to Canada and later to the U.S. As soon as I saw that the challenge was a traditional European dessert, I knew what I had to get her involved. So the e-mail went out asking if she'd be interested in making strudel with me. She surely was and the plans were made.

Rosie grew up eating, and later making, strudels. It was a tradition to have them for holidays. Since fruit, especially apples, was rare in Slovenia, the typical strudel in Rosie's home was made with farmer's cheese, sour cream and raisins. I later found that Kaffeehaus includes a recipe for this style strudel.

As it turns out, Rosie hadn't made strudel in years ... but even still, she knew it by heart. In keeping with the challenge, we used the recipe from Kaffeehaus for the dough. Though we measured the ingredients for the dough, Rosie mostly went by feel. She knew what the dough should look and feel like and added extra flour until it was just right.

Then, Rosie kneaded the dough using a side-to-side motion that I had never seen before. She was moving so fast I had a hard time catching a photo of her in action! She has clearly made a strudel or two over the years.

The dough was kneaded until it was no longer sticky and had become smooth and firm. Then the dough was oiled and covered. It rested for about 45 minutes while we prepared the filling.

Rosie's favorite strudel filling is apple walnut. She typically uses shredded apples for her traditional apple-walnut filling, but for our joint-effort version, we thinly sliced five Granny-Smith apples and then roughly chopped them. They were sprinkled with a bit of lemon juice to prevent browning, then covered with 1/2 cup of granulated sugar.

The apples were set aside while we prepared the walnut portion of the filling. 1/2 pound of shelled walnut halves went into a food processor with 1/2 cup of brown sugar. Cinnamon was added, though I couldn't tell you how much - Rosie sprinkled it until it looked right. My guess would be about 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon.

The final filling component was 1/2 cup of ground Nilla wafers (in more traditional strudels, breadcrumbs would be used), about eight wafers worth.

The filling was set aside while we worked with the dough. Rosie spread out her strudel tablecloth (yes, she has a tablecloth just for strudel!) and sprinkled it with flour.

The challenge recipe called for rolling the dough, but Rosie did everything by hand. She sprinkled a little flour on the dough ball, picked it up and stretched it over the backs of her hands.

Once the dough was too big to hold, she set it down on the tablecloth and began stretching it carefully.

She lifted an edge, reached under the dough, then with her hand flat against the dough, gently pulled it toward her.

For me, this was my favorite part of making the strudel. It wasn't nearly as difficult as I had expected - it was even fun!

Once the dough was tissue thin and very large, we trimmed off the thick edges and added the fillings.

First, we sprinkled the walnut mixture evenly over the dough, then the Nilla wafers. We gently spread the nuts and crumbs to just an inch shy of the edges being careful not to tear the dough.

We followed the walnuts with the apples but only along one end of the dough.

The last step before rolling the strudel was to drizzle one stick of melted unsalted butter over everything. Alternatively, you could brush the just-stretched dough with a butter-soaked pastry brush, but you risk tearing the dough.

Then it was time to roll. We gently folded about an inch of dough at the edge over the apples. I fully expected the rest of the rolling to be difficult. I thought the dough would be gently and slowly rolled to prevent tearing. Boy, was I wrong!

Rosie grabbed the tablecloth and with one swift motion, flipped the strudel over. She did this repeatedly until it was completely rolled. She went so fast I couldn't get a good shot of it!

The roll was then cut into two pieces, so as to fit on the sheet pan, and brushed with more melted butter.

The strudel baked in a 350 degree F oven for 45 minutes to an hour until it was golden brown. Then it was covered in a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

This challenge was fantastic! Not only did I get to spend time with Rosie, but I learned to make something new from an experienced baker and it came out beautifully. The strudel was much easier to make than I expected and I would love to make it again and again.

If you'd like the recipe for the dough, please check out Linda's post.

Now get yourself over to the blogroll and check out the other Daring Bakers' strudel creations!

Monday, May 11, 2009

What the?

So I was flipping through one of my many food-themed magazines yesterday when I came across an ad for I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Cooking & Baking sticks.

Their big claim is 50% less saturated fat than butter. But in a way, I'm not sure it's worth it as there is no difference between butter and this product in terms of total fat and calories.

Now, I've got to ask. Has anyone tried these? I'm so curious about their taste! I'd love to try a side by side comparison by baking a recipe once with these and again with butter.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A confession

I have a confession to make.

I've been afraid of yeast. It's true.

For the longest time, I've been watching other bloggers post beautiful breads, doughnuts, bagels, pretzels, etc., etc. and I've been jealous.

That's one of the reasons I joined The Daring Bakers back in September. I was hoping to overcome my fear of yeast. I thought surely I'd be thrown in to a world of yeasted treats – then I'd have no excuse. I'd have to jump in and get over it.

And sure enough, my first challenge was a lavash cracker that included yeast. And though my batch came out all right, they were too thick and not quite right.

Then, my second challenge was pizza. Again, a yeasted dough. And while I thoroughly loved this challenge, my dough, again, wasn't quite right.

So, I decided to try again. I'd find a recipe that featured yeast and give it a shot.

Months ago, I saw Amber's post on Focaccia, a no-fuss recipe that looked simple enough. Yet, I bookmarked it and tucked it away in the corner of my mind. You see, I was still scared.

Finally, I convinced myself to give it a try. Why hide forever when I can keep trying until I get it right?

Luckily, this recipe really was no fuss. It worked like a charm! The bread came out light, airy and full of flavor!

No-Fuss Focaccia
Adapted from: King Arthur Flour, as seen on Amber's Delectable Delights
1 1/2 cups warm water
3 tablespoons olive oil (plus additional for drizzling)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
14 ¾ ounces King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1/2 white or yellow onion, frenched
3 to 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed and stems discarded
5 sprigs fresh thyme,
leaves removed and stems discarded

Lightly grease a 9" x 13" pan, and drizzle 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil in the bottom.

Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer and beat at high speed for 60 seconds.

Scoop the sticky batter into the prepared pan, cover the pan, and let it rise at room temperature for 60 minutes, until puffy.

While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Gently poke the dough all over with your index finger.

Drizzle it lightly with olive oil, and sprinkle with additional herbs.

Bake the bread until it is golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes.

Remove from the oven, wait 5 minutes, then turn it out of the pan onto a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Stay tuned – there are more yeasty recipes to come!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Cheesecake

You may be wondering where I've been. In fact, I'm wondering where I've been! Sadly, I've been around but not posting. It seems I've lost my bloggy mojo. And damn, if time doesn't fly! Before I knew it, a month had gone by, then nearly two! Don't fear though, I will find my mojo once more! Expect me to be back and posting regularly again soon!

But now, it's time again for another Daring Bakers challenge! The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.
For a light(ish – it is cheesecake after all) springtime treat, I chose to make a Limoncello cheesecake.

My love of Limoncello started way back when Food Network was relatively new to me. I saw an episode of Mario Eats Italy all about the fruity liqueur. I was fascinated, mostly due to my love of anything lemon, and had to get my hands on a bottle.

For some reason, I didn't run out and buy some. No, I waited until Christmas and was happy to unwrap a bottle – a gift from my mother. I stashed it in the freezer and, when icy cold, finally had my first taste. Wow! What a refreshing spirit!

Strangely, even with my enthusiasm for it, this bottle lasted me forever. I'm not much of a drinker, you see. At Christmas this past year, my mother remembered that I had once wanted a bottle and bought me another, not knowing I had yet to finish the first. So now I figure, it's time to start using it up!

For the original recipe, please visit Jenny's site – the version below is a variation of Abbey's recipe.

Limoncello cheesecake
For the crust:
2 cups Nilla wafer crumbs
1 stick butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the filling:
3 sticks of cream cheese, at room temperature

zest of 1 lemon
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 tablespoons Limoncello

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too. If using a two-piece springform pan, cover bottom of the pan securely with foil. Set crust aside.

Mix sugar and zest together until fragrant. Combine cream cheese and zest/sugar mixture in the bowl of a stand-mixer and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place a pan, larger than your cake pan, on the center rack of your oven. Place the cake pan into the larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan.

Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done – this can be hard to judge – you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill overnight.

Overall, this was a great challenge. I think the recipe could use a bit more lemon flavor – it was a bit too subtle. Perhaps some more limoncello or some lemon extract would intensify the flavor. Also, the crust was a bit soggy so I plan to blind bake the crust the next time I make this.

Now hop on over to the blogroll and check out the creative flavors the other Daring Bakers came up with this month!