Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I was Strudeling along one day, in the merry merry month of May...

So here were are, it's May again, and apparently time for Strudeling according to our gracious Daring Baker hostesses. Now, to be honest, I am not a big fan of strudels, I don't know why since I have such a sweet tooth and am happy to eat any and all Viennoiseries, but my guess is that it's probably because I'm not a huge fan of cooked fruit in the form of fillings, although there are, of course, a few (or actually many) exceptions to that.
The other thing is have I mentioned that I am usually mostly crap at recipes where I have to knead the dough? I don't know what it is but I think I usually underknead or overknead or wrongknead the dough or something because the breads come out ok but nothing to write home about. Although I guess this also has something to do with yeast, and luckily for me this dough didn't require yeast. Luckily too, I am quite happy to dare to make strudel since I have never made it before and the endeavor here is to be daring (and perhaps with enough practice I'll be a little less crap at those dough-kneading recipes).

SafPeachNec Strudel
Anyway, A. is a big fan of strudels and immediately said cherry when I asked what flavor filling he would like (as our lovely hostesses used those magic words I love so much, free and creative). I did try to nudge him in the direction of pastry cream because then I would more happily gorge on it too, but no go. Unfortunately, while the cherry blossoms may be out all over London at the moment, the cherries, eh, not so much, and the ones that are available are, like my usual bread endeavors, nothing to write home about, so instead he opted for peach, and since I figured I could probably finnagle something with some half-decent peaches and nectarines and maybe a little of this and that other thing in the kitchen, a sort of peach/nectarine filling it was then. In the end I'd call this a saffron peach nectarine strudel. I've left the recipe as it was given to us with Rick Rodgers' apple filling below for you and if you want a recipe for the filling I used, email me. I will say this though, why use breadcrumbs tossed in melted butter when you can make brown butter shortbread from the Tartine cookbook and break it up instead. Much yummier if you ask me.
Saffron Peach Strudel
I have to tell you about the incident that almost killed this for me. I'd left my dough to rise for over a day so that when I came back to stretch it, it was an absolute dream how easy it was to get it paper thin. I can't go all around my table the way it's set up in our kitchen nook here in London so I thought, maybe I'll just ever so carefully turn the cloth around so I can get to the other side. Yeah. NO. My shirt got caught on one side of the cloth and the whole thing followed me and folded over on itself which, as you might guess, renders the whole exercise futile because it won't restretch again. After about 15mn of fuming at the universe, I made another batch of dough which I let rise for about 75mn before stretching it. It worked fine as you can see, but it wasn't as workable as the first one. I guess this means I'm going to have to do this again because, as much as I thought I didn't like strudel, I've tasted this one and I have to say I like it enough to make it and eat it again.

I am, again, ever so grateful for a recipe that can be completed in several short steps as this is easier to negotiate with Baby Saffron than one long stint in the kitchen, and I am doubly grateful for it turning me on to strudels (Thank you Linda and Courtney!). If you want to see what Baby Saffron looks like at 2 months old (just a few days ago), scroll down to the Lemon Bars post.
And apologies if this post seems rather incoherent, everything other than the baby around here is done pretty piecemeal these days...
Saffron Peach-Nectarine 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 Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Apple strudel
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

Preparation time
Total: 2 hours 15 minutes – 3 hours 30 minutes

15-20 min to make dough
30-90 min to let dough rest/to prepare the filling
20-30 min to roll out and stretch dough
10 min to fill and roll dough
30 min to bake
30 min to cool

Strudel dough
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.
Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.
Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.
Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

- Ingredients are cheap so we would recommend making a double batch of the dough, that way you can practice the pulling and stretching of the dough with the first batch and if it doesn't come out like it should you can use the second batch to give it another try;
- The tablecloth can be cotton or polyester;
- Before pulling and stretching the dough, remove your jewelry from hands and wrists, and wear short-sleeves;
- To make it easier to pull the dough, you can use your hip to secure the dough against the edge of the table;
- Few small holes in the dough is not a problem as the dough will be rolled, making (most of) the holes invisible.

Apple strudel Filling
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

2 tablespoons (30 ml) golden rum (I used mead)
3 tablespoons (45 ml) raisins (omitted)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 g) sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) fresh bread crumbs
strudel dough (recipe below)
1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts
2 pounds (900 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (use apples that hold their shape during baking)

1. Mix the rum and raisins in a bowl. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in another bowl.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.

3. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Make the strudel dough as described below. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the walnuts about 3 inches (8 cm) from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch-(15cm)-wide strip. Mix the apples with the raisins (including the rum), and the cinnamon sugar. Spread the mixture over the walnuts.

4. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

5. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Rainy Day Thoughts and Lemon Bars

Lego Lemon Bars
You know how sometimes you read a blog entry and it sets you thinking very intently about something that had been crossing your mind occasionally?
This blog entry by pastry chef Shuna Fish Lydon made me think that there was something I wanted to talk about in this post.
Amongst other things, she makes the point that to cook professionally you have to want it above all else, you have to be ready to give up normal hours, and you should have one way or another of supporting yourself that isn't through cooking professionally (at first anyway because you'll be be a no-pay or low-pay gofer).
There are two things that I would happily do 16 hours a day. One is work in film post production and the other is bake. I've been fortunate enough to do the first and will go back to doing that as soon as I can leave my perfect baby with someone else, but I will never do the second professionally, and that's ok because I've been able to do one of these two things which is more than most people get to do in life.
Now, if you've drifted in and out of reading this blog for as long as it's been around, you might know that I was trained as an engineer in college, but I think that if I remember my posts well enough, that may be all you know about me other than that I'm married with step-children, a new baby, and a menagerie of animals. So here's something I've been wanting to say on and off for a while now. I do not come from a family of people who love to cook or bake. My sister is probably the only person in my family that loves to cook. We were always told to do something practical like be an engineer before we went off and did anything else because it was a solid foundation for whatever else we might want to do. I don't begrudge my father for nudging us consciously and subconsciously in that direction because, even though I hardly use my engineering degree in the way it was intended anymore, that sort of mathematic and scientific foundation is useful every day in a myriad ways (including when I bake). It is interesting to me though that I'm suddenly realizing that if I had thought it was an option back when I was 18, I would have probably wanted to go to pastry school. As is, I went to graduate film school instead and here I am, doing something I love for a living, lucky me. The reason I wanted to mention this train of thought now is because I look at my two month-old daughter (today! boy time sure does fly) and my step-daughter, who is 9, and feel like my job as their mom is to make it possible for them to do whatever they want to do and to let them explore every option if possible so that they too can end up doing something they love. That's not a very deep thought, I know, but it's so important to me I felt like I needed to verbalize it somehow.

Lemon Bar Tartlet
What does this have to do with lemon bars? Well nothing really, I'd just been dying for some lemon pastry after seeing all these lemon desserts all over the blogosphere and baking them gave me a little bit of time to think about what I was talking about above. The recipe is from the Tartine Cookbook by Elizabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson with some minor tweaks here and there such as a little less sugar and unrefined blond cane sugar at that (I try to replace refined white sugar with unrefined sugar as much as possible where allowed) and pine nuts in the brown butter shortbread crust which is an optional addition in the recipe (and which I highly recommend). I'd made these once before with Meyer Lemons and did not like them nearly as much as I liked these made with regular lemons (and here is where I confess to those of you who've read this far that I don't think I like Meyer Lemons very much because to me a lemon should be tart and acidic and make me pucker and Meyer lemons just don't do it for me. I know, I can hear the collective gasp from all over the foodosphere). I also didn't have a 9x13 inch pan to bake them in so the surplus from my slightly smaller pan went into tartlet molds for those of us, such as A., who can handle a bigger piece than a 2 square-inch lemon bar.
A new picture of Baby Saffron will accompany this post tomorrow. Gotta get back to her now, my little precious...
"Maman! You are such a doofus sticking that big camera in my face!"

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Chocolate Love & Vegetable Color

My Maison du Chocolat Yumminess

In this context, I am not so witty as the master to entertain you with my kitchen failures, suffice it to say that as wonderfully tasty as salted butter caramel concoctions are, I have ruined enough of them in the kitchen this week (in terms of texture and presentation, not taste) to conclude that I am not mastering my time as a new mother as well as Béa, and to satisfy my craving for salted butter caramel for a little while (or at least until I get in the kitchen again). Now that the little gal is here, I'm suddenly so inspired to bake, cook and blog up a storm, but I'm irrationally nervous about her needing me every time I go into the kitchen and as a result my mind is only half on what I'm doing in there. Must be that whole as soon as you can't do something, you desperately want to be doing it again, and I have been neglecting this blog so.

That said, my absence from the interwebs does not mean that I don't eat or that I don't enjoy eating these days (far from it, in fact I don't see these extra pounds vanishing as fast as I'd like them to, but not eating whatever I want is as appealing as shoving a fork in my eye, so they'll just have to take their sweet time going away). So, to console me from my pastry failures and for my first Mother's Day (I have step-children but he meant it in the you-made-this-baby way), A. made me pick out a pound of chocolates at the La Maison du Chocolat counter at Horrid's yesterday while he went to the meat counter. I picked a few of just about everything they had except for the alcohol-filled chocolates (while we love us some booze in other instances, neither A. nor I have ever cared for alcohol in chocolates). I know, my life is hard.

Purple Asparagus

In a nod to that most brilliant ingredient photographer out there Haalo, I took pictures of some of the lovely colorful vegetables that A. brought home to make my Mother's Day dinner. Of course I didn't do them justice the way Haalo does, but since I'd never seen purple asparagus before and it is actually a very-short lived veg (in season 6 weeks of the year), and I often overlook round courgettes but these were such a gorgeous lemony color, here they are for your (perhaps) viewing pleasure. A. made us Moroccan meatballs with raita, sauteed horsehoe mushrooms and yellow courgettes, and grilled the asparagus (which were so loaded with flavor, I'm hunting them down every year from now on). It was delish. I love my husband.
Happy belated Mother's Day to all you mothers out there.

Yellow Courgettes

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