Tag Archives: Daring Kitchen

vols-au-vent with custard & raspberries, or “i am not a baker!” (daring bakers)

large vol au vent 2I had a conversation last night that went something like this:

My friend S to me: “Hey, you like to cook, you should join our Cooking Club, we get together every Sunday night and make food and watch Mad Men, it’s really fun!”

S to her friend A, also a member of said club: “Noëlle’s a great cook, she makes all kinds of stuff…”

A to me (apparently trying to suss out whether I was Cooking Club material): “Oh really?  What kind of stuff do you cook?”

Me (with a touch of pride): “Well, I just made puff pastry for the first time…”

Him (interrupts): “Oh, so you’re a baker.”

Me: “No, I mean, I participate in this baking-challenge thingy to try to broaden my skills or whatever, but mostly I cook…”

Him: “No, but you’re a baker.”

Here’s where it got weird, because I then found myself getting strangely defensive, insisting that no, I’m not a baker, I don’t even really like sweets that much, I was probably going to use my remaining puff pastry to make some sort of savory tart, and that 80-90% of the time I spend in the kitchen is spent cooking, not baking.  I really have no idea why it was important to him to stress that I was a “baker” rather than a cook, or why it was important to me to correct that impression, but so it was.

small vol au vent 1

My challenge results this month will back up my point.  I didn’t have too hard a time making the actual puff pastry dough, but shaping it into the vols-au-vent was an exercise in frustration.  I first made a batch that were supposed to be heart-shaped, which I was planning on taking to a bridal shower, but they were all so misshapen that I didn’t even bother.  The photo is of the best-looking ones of the bunch, and even those look pretty funky.  I put a little spoonful of honey into the hollow and topped them with raspberries and walnuts and they were tasty enough, but I wanted to do something more challenge-worthy, so I decided to attempt another batch.  This time I did square(ish) cutouts and made a pastry cream to fill them with.  I still had a terrible time handling the dough- it seems it can’t be at room temperature for more than a minute or two, and then you have to return it to the fridge lest it go all gooey on you.  It took me longer to cut the dough into shapes and assemble them than it did to to bake it and make the filling, because I had to keep stopping and re-chilling the dough.

My finished shells didn’t look like much- they were irregular and had cracks in the bases- but once I got them filled with pastry cream and threw a bunch of raspberries on top, no one was much complaining. I filled the shells about an hour or two before they were eaten, and the pastry held its crunch nicely without getting soggy, so I was pleased with that.  But I’m still not calling myself a baker.

And now a word of thanks for our hostess: The September 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan. (Coincidentally, the recipe I used for the pastry cream was also from Dorie Greenspan, from her book Paris Sweets.)

I do want to thank Steph for throwing down the gauntlet and getting me to make something I’ve always wanted to try but have been too intimidated. Now that I know the dough is doable, perhaps I’ll make it again but just use it for preparations that don’t involve so much handling, such as a tart crust.  For a recipe and instructions on making puff pastry, just click the link to Steph’s blog.

chocolate-covered marshmallow cookies, s’more style (daring bakers)

cookies on plate verticalThe end of July sneaked up on me like a ninja, what with studying for a final exam and just being busy in general.  We were supposed to post this a week ago… But as they say, better late than never, especially where cookies are concerned, am I right?  Hopefully this post will still “count” and I won’t be booted off the DB blogroll for being a procrastinator!

The July 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Nicole of Sweet Tooth.  She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

cookies w marshmallow 1

I’m not the hugest marshmallow fan, but the Milan cookies just seemed a tad bit boring/ unchallenging, and Daring Bakers is all about stretching yourself to try new things, so I opted for the Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies.  It occurred to me that I could make them a little more exciting by trying to make them taste like s’mores, so I substituted graham flour for half of the regular flour in an attempt to make the cookie part taste like a graham cracker.  (It sort of worked, but I think if I tried it again I would use an actual graham cracker recipe; I think it needed brown sugar or something else in there to give it that “graham cracker” flavor.)  For my marshmallows, I used golden syrup instead of light corn syrup because that’s what I had on hand.  It resulted in the happy accident of my marshmallows tasting like burnt sugar, giving them more of a toasted-marshmallow flavor which fit in perfectly with the s’mores thing I was going for.  Nice!

cookies being dipped

My marshmallow didn’t fluff up as much as it should have, and was a little runny, but other than that, the assembly went pretty smoothly.  I wasn’t sure if I had enough chocolate, so I just dipped the tops, which was actually a LOT easier in terms of messiness, and I think there was still a more than adequate chocolate-to-cookie ratio.

cookies on plate closeNow I just have to find a way to get rid of these… any takers?  I’m taking some to the zoo today to give to my niece & nephew, but I still have a few dozen in the fridge and there’s no way I’m going to eat them all myself!  Please apply within…

P.S.  I couldn’t resist updating this with a couple snapshots of the kids enjoying their cookies! Joey ate the top off his first, while Aleyna went for a more “direct” approach. 🙂

Joey cookie 2

cookie monster aleyna

bakewell tart (daring bakers)

The June Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart… er… pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800’s in England.
tart slice side view

As usual, I left this month’s Daring Bakers challenge until the last possible minute!  Fortunately, it was a pretty easy one to throw together.  We made a Bakewell Tart, which I am to understand is a classic British dessert (or “pudding”, as they say across the pond).  It’s basically a pastry crust with a layer of jam spread on top, filled with a batter of eggs, butter & ground almonds (aka frangipane).  Thanks to the help of my food processor and stand mixer, I was able to put this together Thursday after work and before band practice.  (I went up north Friday, so had to have it done before we left.)  Fortunately, the intense heat of the past couple days subsided just in time for me to heat up my kitchen with a 400-degree oven!

frangipane tart shell

The results of my tart were somewhat mixed.  It’s hard to say if it was successful since I’ve never tried or seen one of these with the exception of looking at other DBers’ photos, but the first thing I noticed was that my frangipane didn’t puff up whatsoever; it was fairly dense.  Also, the quantity of pastry crust called for seemed much more suitable to a 10 or 10.5″ tart pan rather than a 9″ (I used the whole quantity as specified, and ended up with a pretty thick crust that didn’t fully cook through).

Bakewell tart finished

Perhaps I would have had a better result if I had cooked the tart 5 minutes or so longer, but the top looked slightly browned and felt firm so I thought it was done.  However, my crust ended up pretty pale.  I don’t want to call the result a “fail”, but it just wasn’t to my taste.  I’m not a fan of baked goods that seem so moist that you feel you’re almost eating raw batter (I can’t stand doughy cookies or overly “fudgy” brownies), and this tart was verging on that texture. I was, however, quite pleased with the flavor combination I chose.  I used apricot-orange preserves from Trader Joe’s for the jam, and the flavors of the fruit paired brilliantly with the almonds.

tart slice 1

Verdict: If you’re a fan of almonds, and are looking for a fairly easy dessert recipe to put together, I would give this a go.  You may just want to bake it a little longer, or possibly add another tbs of flour if you prefer a less damp texture.  Also, the ground almonds I used were not skinned, so perhaps that’s why my tart had a denser texture (although the recipe did not specify skinned ground almonds).  I think skinned almonds would have lent a more refined appearance and possibly allowed the frangipane to puff up more.

6/29 Update: I went away for the weekend and stuck the remainder of my tart in the fridge; I had a piece today, cold, and liked it much better!  The texture was more like a firm bar cookie rather than a squidgy undercooked tart.

meyer lemon marmalade cheesecake (daring bakers)

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

cheesecake-db-3

I’m not a huge cheesecake fan- it’s not that I dislike it; it just wouldn’t be my first choice for empty calories (just give me the cheese plate instead!)- but I figured I would kill two birds with one stone and use it as my contribution to Easter dinner at Marvin’s mom’s house.  Turns out, his family all LOVES cheesecake- so much so that there were at two other cheesecakes at the get-together.  At least mine was the only one with lemons!

cheesecake-side-viewI had gotten the idea for candied lemons because a few weeks ago there were Meyer lemons all over the grocery stores and I wanted to take advantage of the season (go here and here to see all the citrus goodies I made).  Just after the idea had come to mind, coincidentally a fellow blogger whose blog I’ve started reading regularly posted a ricotta cheesecake with candied lemons.  I was glad not to have to hunt for a candied lemon recipe, but a tiny bit disappointed that someone had just posted on the same concept.  Ahh well, I suppose with the amount of food blogs out there these days, it’s hard to be totally original, unless you’re the Colloquial Cook! 🙂

cheesecake-in-water-bathThe recipe itself was pretty darn easy, mainly just combining ingredients in a bowl and dumping them in the pan.  And fortunately I didn’t have any issues with waterlogged crust or a crack in the top.  I thought this was a good albeit very rich recipe.  There was no flour (is there usually flour in cheesecake?  I have no idea.  I thought maybe there was a little), so the consistency was very soft and not at all “cake-y”, and it got kind of melty at room temperature, but was much better chilled.   The consistency may have changed a little due to my adaptation as well.  To flavor the cheesecake, I substituted 1/4 cup marmalade for 1/4 cup of the sugar, added the Microplaned zest of one lemon, and substituted lemon juice for the liqueur (too bad I didn’t have any Limoncello on hand!).  You’d think it would have turned out ultra-lemony, but it was actually pretty subtle.  The candied lemons on top were what really gave it some kick; I liked how their slightly bitter bite offset the sweetness and richness.

cheesecake-db

Incidentally, we had a great time at the family get-together, where we played a spirited game of Cranium with his cousins, and ate WAY too much food.  I’m still working through some of the leftovers! In addition to ham AND turkey, there was a delicious pork and bean dish with three kinds of pork, the ubiquitous arroz con gandules (this is the Puerto Rican side of the family), homemade grape leaves (a remnant of his mom’s marriage to his Chaldean father), several other side dishes, and about 15 different desserts including flan (which I polished off for breakfast with some banana and strawberries).  One of these days I am going to get together with his mom and learn some of the traditional recipes.  Meanwhile, I’m happy to bring my contributions, and was relieved at not having a whole cheesecake sitting around my house.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take my camera to Easter, so I only have the few photos I took before we left.  The photo of the cheesecake without the pan and the pics below of me photographing the cheesecake are courtesy of Marvin.

noelle-placematnoelle-photographing-2noelle-photographing

lasagne of emilia-romagna (daring bakers)

This is the second month in a row that the Daring Bakers challenge has been a recipe I’ve already made, but it was certainly one I was happy to revisit!

lasagna-lead

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

If you’ve only ever had Italian-American style lasagna, this version is quite different.  There is no ricotta and no mozzarella, and barely any tomato in the sauce.  Instead, a rich meat sauce is layered with béchamel and a small amount of parmesan.   I do like the gooey, cheesy tomatoey version, but I don’t think I exaggerate when I say this version is heavenly.  Rarely have I tasted anything with such an intense meatiness.  And the homemade spinach noodles added just a hint of vegetal flavor to keep the whole thing from being too one-dimensional.  As Kasper puts it, the dish should always be a “vivid expression of the ‘less is more’ philosophy of cooking. Mere films of béchamel sauce and meat ragu coat the sheerest spinach pasta. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese dusts each layer. There is nothing more; no ricotta, no piling on of meats, vegetables or cheese; little tomato, and no hot spice. Baking performs the final marriage of flavours. The results are splendid.”

The last time I made this recipe was about 3 years ago, and sadly, I think that is also the last time my pasta machine got used!  I can’t recall which sauce recipe I used that time, but I think I used half venison and half pork for the meats and it was delicious.  This time around, I stuck to the given recipe (veal, pork, beef, pancetta and prosciutto) with the exception of using pre-ground meat instead of grinding it myself.  This was partially due to time constraints, and partially due to economy- the ground meat was much less expensive.  (When I gave my shopping list to the butcher and told him what it was for, he said, “You’re going to grind these?” and steered me towards the already-ground meat.)  I was a little disappointed not to get to use my meat grinder, but as it was, I was short on time.  I had decided, since I was going to so much trouble, to have a few friends over for dinner to help me eat the lasagna.  And, as is typical for me, I was rushing to get things done at the last minute!

phil-noodleLast time I made the spinach pasta, it came off without a hitch.  This time, I used the food processor to mix the dough and I don’t know where I went wrong but it was a mess.  When I added the flour, it turned into a crumbly mixture about the texture of cornmeal.  I tried adding a little water and it still wasn’t coming together.  Then I thought maybe if I put it in the stand mixer and used the dough hook I would have better luck.  I added a smidgen of olive oil and then it turned pebbly but still wasn’t cohesive.  I added a little more water, kept mixing, and FINALLY it started to resemble pasta dough.  Luckily, my friend and former roommate Phil, who had stopped by to pick up some mail, offered to roll up his sleeves and help out by rolling out the pasta.  If he hadn’t been there, I probably would have had to resort to using boxed pasta because the sauces had taken longer than I expected and I was running short on time.  However, with his help I was able to have everything on the table just when I wanted to.

cheers

The dinner party went off without a hitch- everyone loved the lasagna and my friend Ian even said it was the best he’s ever had.  It was a lot of work, but I was glad to be able to share it.  For our first course, I made a carrot and avocado salad, and for dessert a blood orange sorbet, both of which I’ll post soon.  For now though, I’ll share a “photo essay” of the making of the sauce and lasagna assembly.

To make the sauce, you start off by browning a mirepoix (the “holy trinity” of diced carrots, celery and onion) with some diced pancetta:

mirepoix-prep

mirepoix-chopped1

mirepoix-prosciutto-in-pan

The next step is to brown the ground meats.  It’s funny because even though I’ve smelled meat and onions browning hundreds of times, it still almost takes me aback how great it smells each time.

meat-cooking

After the meat is browned, the recipe instructs to put it in a strainer and drain the excess fat.  I did do this; however, nothing really drained off.  Anyway, you have to remove the meats from the pan in order to deglaze the pan with the wine:

wine-reduction

The recipe instructs to transfer everything to a saucepan at this point before the next step of adding the remaining ingredients.

sauce-ingredients

First you add stock in 1/2 cup increments, cooking it off as you go.  Next, you add 2 cups milk.  I didn’t take any photos of this stage because frankly, it looked really unappetizing.  Before the milk reduces, it gets kind of curdly and the color of the sauce looks… well, not like something you’d want to consume.  After cooking for an hour, you add three plum tomatoes and cook for another 45 minutes.  Fortunately at this point, everything looks much more appealing.  I forgot to get a shot of the finished sauce, but you can kind of see it in the photo of the lasagna being assembled.

As for the pasta, I should have taken more photos but was discouraged and distracted by the fact that it took so much effort to get it to the right consistency.  The way the pasta machine works is that you start by rolling it through on a fairly wide setting and then once it goes through that setting smoothly, you go up a setting and continue the process until the noodles are the desired thinness (we went up to setting 6; I think the machine goes up to 12).

pastabike-dough

pastabike-noodle

In the photo above, you can see the dough tearing as it goes through the machine; you just have to keep putting it through until it goes easily before ratcheting it up to the next level.  The photo of Phil holding the pasta shows what it looks like as it gets to the right thinness.  Phil trimmed the noodles to fit into the 9 x 13 pan I was using, but we forgot to take into account the expansion of the noodles when cooking so they were a little long and I had to trim them when assembling.

noelle-lasagna-assembly

lasagna-mid-assembly

The only deviation from the instructions on the assembly was accidental- the final layer was supposed to only be béchamel and parmesan, but I hadn’t paced it out right and still had a little meat sauce, so that went onto the top layer too.  I think the main difference was aesthetic more than anything.

The only other slight deviation was that when serving the lasagna, I passed chopped fresh parsley at the table in addition to parmesan.  I’m a firm believer in the addition of a little parsley to brighten such a rich, heavy dish; not alot, but just enough to perk up your palate.

lasagna-side-view

I’ll finish things off with another photo of the happy diners (who, incidentally, supplied some very nice wine to complement the meal).  Can’t wait til the next one, guys!

happy-diners2

 

flourless chocolate cake with raspberry ripple ice cream (my first Daring Bakers challenge!)

cake-ice-cream-plated-2

I had seen this “Daring Baker” logo around a few different blogs I frequent, but wasn’t sure what it was all about, so I decided to check it out. For those of you who are unfamiliar, it’s basically a group of food bloggers who all make the egg-white-peak2same recipe once a month and post about it on a pre-determined day. I had seen some of the completed challenges on fellow MLFB blogger Maggie‘s site, and they looked pretty difficult, but I thought it would be fun to challenge myself. I signed up at the end of January and almost laughed out loud when I got the challenge recipe- a flourless chocolate cake. Ironically, flourless chocolate cake is my “ace in the hole” dessert, the one I can make in my sleep, when I need something that is simple but tastes like a million bucks, and for which I will likely have all the ingredients without having to make a trip to the store. It’s probably the only recipe for a dessert that I have memorized. I like to switch it up by adding different flavors such as cinnamon and cayenne for a “Mayan” cake, espresso powder, or a little orange oil or hazelnut oil. Since the top of the cake caves in and is not much to look at, I usually pile billows of lightly sweetened freshly whipped cream on top. People go into ecstasies at this cake, and it’s only a few ingredients. Once you master the knack of folding the egg whites into the chocolate, you’re golden.

(We’ll pause here for a word from our sponsors: “The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE’s blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.”)

chocolate-bars-2I was intrigued by the recipe given to us since it varies from mine in that it uses no sugar, less butter and an entire POUND of chocolate!!  If you’re feeding a crowd, maybe this is the recipe for you, but this is an extremely rich cake as it is, and I’ve never met anyone who could eat more than a small-to-moderate size piece.  But, I was curious to see how the DB recipe stacked up to the one I was used to using.  The final product was pretty similar to what I was used to, and may have even been slightly more chocolatey.  (My recipe yields a smaller cake, and is a little lighter, less fudgy and more “crumbly” on the edges.) I didn’t make it for Valentine’s Day, but Marvin had invited a couple friends over for dinner last night so I decided that would be as good a time as any.  And hey, it wouldn’t be in character for me to make anything more than a day before the deadline!

For the ice cream, our hosts provided a couple recipes for vanilla, but were gracious enough to let us pick our own flavors if we so chose.  I was going to do hazelnut ice cream, until I got to the store and found out that hazelnuts were $7.99 for an 8-oz bag.  Boo!!  I changed tack and chose raspberry instead, seeing as how a bag of good quality frozen raspberries can be had for a few bucks.berries-in-pan

If you’d like the Daring Bakers recipe for the cake, it can be found on either of the host blogs linked above.  I’m going to give “my” recipe below.  If you’re a chocolate lover, make them both and do a taste test and let me know what you think.  I have a slightly sentimental attachment to my recipe, as it comes from the first cookbook I ever owned, a tome entitled France the Beautiful Cookbook.  In the book, the cake bears the somewhat un-politically correct name “Le Nègre”, but if you can move past that, it’s a good recipe.  The ice cream recipe comes from Nigella.

Flourless Chocolate Cake (aka “Le Nègre”)

(printer-friendly version)

7 oz best quality bittersweet chocolate
7 oz unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, separated

Directions:  Preheat the oven to 375.  Butter an 8-inch round cake pan.  Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler.  Or, do what I always do and nuke them on really low power.  I do 5 minutes at 30% power, give it a good stir and then another 3-5 minutes at 20% power.  Set aside to cool.

egg-yolks-with-whiskWhile the chocolate is melting, separate the eggs, putting the whites in a metal bowl if you have one (I use my stand mixer).  It’s important that the bowl be very clean and grease free, or the whites will not attain their full potential.  (If you get any yolk in with the whites, start over, like I had to do, and save them for scrambled eggs.)  Whisk the yolks with half the sugar (you can do this by hand) until mixture becomes pale in color.  Whip the whites, gradually adding in the rest of the sugar, until glossy and forming stiff peaks.  (This is another difference in my recipe- because the whites have sugar added, they are sturdier when beaten, and I think easier to fold in to the chocolate.)

chocolate-eggs-swirl

Once the chocolate has cooled, stir in the egg yolks.  Take a large dollop of the egg white and beat it into the chocolate to lighten the mixture. Gently fold the chocolate into the egg whites until completely incorporated and no white remains.  The way I go about this is to pour the chocolate a little at a time down the side of the bowl and then stir with a spatula with a scooping motion, down the side, along the bottom of the bowl, up and over.

cake-on-cooling-rackPour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.  Let cool on a rack.  The cake will fall considerably, but c’est la vie.  If you want to decorate it, you can turn it out on a plate so the flat side is on top and use a stencil and powdered sugar to do a design.

Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream (adapted from Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson)

(printer-friendly version)

1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups half and half
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups raspberries

1 1/2 tsp best quality balsamic vinegar

berry-swirl-ice-cream2

Whisk together egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar.  Heat the cream until almost boiling, then pour the hot cream into the egg mixture, whisking.  Return to the stove over medium-low heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the custard thickens.  Let cool, and freeze in an ice cream maker according to instructions.  (If you don’t have an ice cream maker, the Daring Bakers hosts give instructions with their recipes.)Make the raspberry sauce by putting the raspberries, balsamic and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a blender and pureeing until smooth.  (The balsamic may seem like an odd ingredient, but it really amps up the raspberry flavor.)  If desired, put through a fine-mesh strainer to remove the seeds.  When the ice cream is almost frozen but still soft enough to stir, put it into a container a little at a time in layers, drizzling the raspberry sauce in as you go.  Use a skewer to swirl the sauce through the ice cream.  Freeze for another 1-2 hours until firm.  I made extra raspberry sauce to drizzle over the top of the cake.