Sunday, June 29, 2008

Daring Bakers, June: Danish Braid

There's that logo again, that's right, it's . . . the Daring Bakers' monthly project!


In short, at the beginning of the month, the host(s) for the month assign a secret baking recipe to the DBers, and at the end of the month, all the DBers reveal their results! This month, Kelly and Ben assigned Danish Braids with whatever filling we chose. (Please click on their links for the recipe.)

Daring Bakers June: Danish Braid
I chose to go with an apple date combo and chocolate!

This wasn't my first time making danish. In fact, the first cooking class I ever took was in laminated dough. At that point, I still wasn't totally enamored with cooking and baking, especially baking. In fact, baking kinda terrified me. So I decided to jump in head first and take the most challenging class I could find. I was so pleased with the results! In fact, danish became and remains one of my favorite things to make! The danish braid forms I learned to make were different; this project had bakers physically braid the dough, where the form I learned earlier was more of a twist.

The start was the same, though:
Daring Bakers June: Danish Braid

And the next step just followed a logical course:
Daring Bakers June: Danish Braid

Filled and braided:
Daring Bakers June: Danish Braid

Daring Bakers June: Danish Braid

Chocolate (like pain au chocolat . . . mmm):
Daring Bakers June: Danish Braid

Overall, I was very happy with this project! The dough was a bit stiffer, and the recipe didn't talk about sealing the butter block into the detrempe (which I thought was odd). In class, we made our butter blocks on parchment and let them set in the fridge just for a short time before laying them into the detrempe, then sealed the block in to make sure it wouldn't ooze out during rolling. We paid special attention to how firm the butter felt before rolling it out after resting--if it was too soft, it might ooze out, and if it was too firm, it might tear the dough. I worked this dough intuitively, and it worked out well. For some reason, this dough didn't rise in the fridge as much as the dough I usually use. I'm really relieved it rose during proofing! The taste is definitely comparable! The essential cardamom and orange zest made that unmistakable danish taste, and the flaky, buttery pastry was just about as good as it gets.

Makes 2-1/2 pounds dough
For the dough (Detrempe)
1 ounce fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 large eggs, chilled
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
For the butter block (Beurrage)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Combine yeast and milk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed.  Slowly add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice.  Mix well.  Change to the dough hook and add the salt with the flour, 1 cup at a time, increasing speed to medium as the flour is incorporated.  Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until smooth.  You may need to add a little more flour if it is sticky.  Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Without a standing mixer:  Combine yeast and milk in a bowl with a hand mixer on low speed or a whisk.  Add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice and mix well.  Sift flour and salt on your working surface and make a fountain.  Make sure that the “walls” of your fountain are thick and even.  Pour the liquid in the middle of the fountain.  With your fingertips, mix the liquid and the flour starting from the middle of the fountain, slowly working towards the edges.  When the ingredients have been incorporated start kneading the dough with the heel of your hands until it becomes smooth and easy to work with, around 5 to 7 minutes.  You might need to add more flour if the dough is sticky.
1.    Combine butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and then beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free.  Set aside at room temperature.
2.    After the detrempe has chilled 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.  Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 18 x 13 inches and ¼ inch thick.  The dough may be sticky, so keep dusting it lightly with flour.  Spread the butter evenly over the center and right thirds of the dough.  Fold the left edge of the detrempe to the right, covering half of the butter.  Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third.  The first turn has now been completed.  Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns, or use a sticky and keep a tally.  Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3.    Place the dough lengthwise on a floured work surface.  The open ends should be to your right and left.  Roll the dough into another approximately 13 x 18 inch, ¼-inch-thick rectangle.  Again, fold the left third of the rectangle over the center third and the right third over the center third.  No additional butter will be added as it is already in the dough. The second turn has now been completed.  Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.
4.    Roll out, turn, and refrigerate the dough two more times, for a total of four single turns.  Make sure you are keeping track of your turns.  Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight.  The Danish dough is now ready to be used.  If you will not be using the dough within 24 hours, freeze it.  To do this, roll the dough out to about 1 inch in thickness, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze.  Defrost the dough slowly in the refrigerator for easiest handling.  Danish dough will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.
Makes enough for two braids
4 Fuji or other apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Toss all ingredients except butter in a large bowl.  Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat until slightly nutty in color, about 6 – 8 minutes.  Then add the apple mixture and sauté until apples are softened and caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes.  If you’ve chosen Fujis, the apples will be caramelized, but have still retained their shape. Pour the cooked apples onto a baking sheet to cool completely before forming the braid.  (If making ahead, cool to room temperature, seal, and refrigerate.) They will cool faster when spread in a thin layer over the surface of the sheet.  After they have cooled, the filling can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.  Left over filling can be used as an ice cream topping, for muffins, cheesecake, or other pastries.
Makes enough for 2 large braids
1 recipe Danish Dough (see below)
2 cups apple filling, jam, or preserves (see below)
For the egg wash:  1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
1.    Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper.  On a lightly floured  surface, roll the Danish Dough into a 15 x 20-inch rectangle, ¼ inch thick.  If the dough seems elastic and shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again.  Place the dough on the baking sheet.
2.    Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 5-inch-long cuts with a knife or rolling pastry wheel, each about 1 inch apart.  Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you’ve already made.
3.    Spoon the filling you’ve chosen to fill your braid down the center of the rectangle.  Starting with the top and bottom “flaps”, fold the top flap down over the filling to cover.  Next, fold the bottom “flap” up to cover filling.  This helps keep the braid neat and helps to hold in the filling. Now begin folding the cut side strips of dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished.  Trim any excess dough and tuck in the ends.
Egg Wash
Whisk together the whole egg and yolk in a bowl and with a pastry brush, lightly coat the braid.
Proofing and Baking
1.    Spray cooking oil (Pam…) onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid.  Proof at room temperature or, if possible, in a controlled 90 degree F environment for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume and light to the touch.
2.    Near the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Position a rack in the center of the oven.
3.    Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan so that the side of the braid previously in the back of the oven is now in the front. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake about 15-20 minutes more, or until golden brown.  Cool and serve the braid either still warm from the oven or at room temperature.  The cooled braid can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze for 1 month.
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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Chicken a la Can, Ginger Ale Style

My parents never roasted a chicken. I dwelled on this for awhile when I read somewhere that the true hallmark of a good chef is how well they can roast a chicken. It didn’t take long before I brought a roasting chicken and some vegetables home along with a cheap roasting pan and rack. It also didn’t take long to discover that my oven temperature was off by about 80 degrees in the unsafe direction. Unfortunately, I figured that out after the French bread fiasco, which came along after the roasted chicken debacle, which left my new cheap roasting pan lined with about an inch of vegetable and chicken fat-based charcoal. At the time, I figured I just wasn’t ready to reach that hallmark, yet. “Wow! Roasting a chicken is as hard as they say!” No, it’s not. And after investing in an oven thermometer, moving into a condo with a new and well-working oven, and many roast chicken dinners, I’m pretty comfortable and confident with my chicken roasting abilities.

I’d gone through Ruth Reichl’s “Garlic and Sapphires,” the BHG, Joy of Cooking, and the America’s Test Kitchen recipe (my favorite—brine, dry, splay over stuffing, then roast), combining ideas. The one recipe I kept putting off was for the infamous beer can chicken. First off, I didn’t have a grill. Secondly, the thought of sliding a pan with an upright chicken balanced on a partly full can of beverage was daunting and seemed dangerous, or, at the least, like I was pushing my luck. Thirdly, it reminded me of an old roommate’s penchant for roasting chickens on an upright roasting pan that looked like a witch’s hat—totally obscene, even if it was tasty. Also, I was always alarmed at how much juice collected in the hat’s brim, spilling over into the oven, making messes. I’m too lazy a cleaner to tackle something like that. And lastly, I don’t like the taste of beer enough to infuse it into a chicken. Sure, I’ve enjoyed my lemon-scented Hefes and sweet, wheaty beers, but I like those tastes in a glass, not in my poultry. It wasn’t until I read an article on Serious Eats that talked about using Coca Cola instead of beer than I finally decided to push my prejudices and fears aside; while I’m not a Cola fan, or even a soda drinker, the thought of ginger ale chicken was too appealing to pass up.

roasted ginger ale chicken

Prep was easy—in the morning, before work, I rinsed the chicken and patted it dry; let it rest in the fridge during the day so its skin would dry off further (dry skin = crispy roasted skin); seasoned it inside and out, including under the skin, with some salt, pepper, dry mustard, ground ginger, and garlic and onion powders; popped a ginger ale and poured some out; then trained my chicken—sit BokBok! Sit!!! Good bird. I let it rest in its rub while the oven preheated to 400. I’d set the bird up in a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan so I can make up a nice pan sauce afterward; I still have my cheap roasting pan of veggie charcoal fame, and I didn’t trust it on the stovetop for a reduction. I roasted away for about an hour, then braced myself for what I imagined would be the worst part—removing the bird from the oven, then transferring it onto another plate.

roasted ginger ale chicken

But, as luck would have it, it was easy as pie after I slide one pair of tongs under the chicken’s wings and another around the base of the can to hold it while I lifted the bird and settled it onto a plate to let it rest.

roasted ginger ale chicken

After that, I poured the chicken grease out of the pan, added some stock and ginger ale to deglaze, made up and threw in a roux, and tossed in some extra seasoning. Then, I let it reduce while I cooked up some instant brown rice.

ginger ale chicken with brown rice and gravy

And there you have it!

Yes, it was ginger aley. Yes, it was delicious. The skin was crispy; the meat was sweet, soft, moist, and gingery flavorful; and the pan sauce (how I love pan sauce) was absolutely gravy.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My macarons story


I’m pretty apathetic about being called a foodie. Even though I didn’t really enjoy cooking until a handful of years ago, in my late 20s, you could say I’ve been a foodie since I was 5 years old, demanding that the crusts be cut off my peanut butter sandwich before I’d even grace it with a glance. You could say it goes deeper than that, like knowing at the same age that you should twirl your spaghetti onto your fork to get a proper mouthful on it. Or even deeper, like knowing that a chilly, overcast day was best mourned with a bowl of homemade turkey soup. Even then, I recognized that a proper turkey soup needed shells and celery—it made as much sense as an orange’s being round. Everyone has those seemingly built-in tidbits of knowledge, though; everyone has their foodie traits. A lot of people think that being a foodie entails having some sort of higher knowledge about food, or eating only high end, or having an advanced palette. I disagree. I’d call anyone a foodie who was more than apathetic about food. I remember watching guys in college argue passionately about who had the best delivery pizza—national chain A or national chain B. Those guys were foodies.

But what is it for me?

For me, being a foodie is multi-faceted. Part of being a foodie means learning why ingredients do what they do when combined with other ingredients, or when combined with heat or cold. Sometimes, it’s Googling histories of why a dish is named a certain thing or why potatoes look the way they do or why cumin is used so commonly in both Indian and Mexican food. It’s finding new recipes that become old favorites, like the pot of chili I make regardless of the season or weather—sometimes every month for months on end. It’s remember how Mom used to make it and trying to recreate it, calling her up to walk me through, estimating what “some of this” and “a little of that” translated into when fumbling around with measuring utensils. Lately, a huge part of being a foodie is trying as much as I can, both in my own kitchen and in other peoples’ kitchens. It’s a lot of wondering—seeing, reading, or hearing about a food, and succumbing to a deep-seeded curiosity of what it tastes like.

I don’t remember the first time I saw a macaron, or even the first few times. I know those first few times were strictly in photos. Almost overnight, photos of them sprouted everywhere. I had to take notice. I made my brain separate the French macaron from the dry, crumbly, coconut macaroon I already knew I didn’t favor—such a horrible case of mistaken identity. I learned about the other ideas: pillowy meringue, almond flour dissolving on your tongue, complex creamy filling, and all this, in variety. I watched as instructions started to appear on food blogs I’d read, documenting the numerous failures suffered before the baker finally turned out a decent macaron. I started collecting good tips in my head.

My Advanced Pastry Arts chef-instructor told me he’d taught the Classical Desserts class how to make them, and I felt a little wretched for having taken the class a year earlier with a different instructor who spent very little time on any cookies at all. I asked eagerly if they were light inside with a crispy, yielding surface and if they’d developed the desirable “foot” when they’d baked them. He assured me that they had. I got excited—if the students in that class could bake them, then maybe I could, too! I was already starting to boot-kick memories of failed pavlovas and meringue cookies into the abyss and run home to start baking when he then added, “We don’t bake them at the F— (enter name of high-end resort where he keeps a day job)—they’re too too much of a pain in the ass.” I told him I wanted to try, anyway, and asked if the class had made its own almond flour. “Oh no,” another student who’d been in that class said, “we had to buy it—home-ground almond flour isn’t fine enough.” Bah. I’d turned almonds into roasted almond butter, fine genoise, and delicious almond paste—how bad could it be? Weeks later, I was still daunted. A big problem was not knowing what to aim for. I’d never eaten a macaron, and they weren’t like the common chocolate chip cookie, where you could fine them in every sandwich shop, bakery, or grocery store.

Then, in April, I was in Las Vegas for a daytrip to attend a friend’s wedding. Las Vegas, thankfully, is blessed with many patisseries branded with the names of skilled pastry chefs from around the country. RAD. The first thing I did was buy a package of five macarons from Payard. They were exactly what I’d imagined—the taste of almond, both light and teasingly crisp, landing on and then dissolving on my tongue before yielding to the settling of creamy, fruity or chocolaty filling. The tastes were great, but it was the almond taste combined with the texture that I kept returning to. Later, I stopped by Jean Pierre’s Patisserie and bought a legendary Ispahan—two big rose meringues surrounding rose cream, lychee, and a plump circle of raspberries to wall the cream in. And, to clinch it, it's topped with a sugar-coated rose petal. Yeah. This was no cookie. I couldn’t imagine Sesame Street’s furry blue beast gobbling these away, rose crumbs and raspberries flying everywhere. This was the type of thing you should eat with small, shiny, delicate silverware. Or, lacking that, do what I did—find a nice little nook overlooking the pool and gardens at the Bellagio, tuck your paper napkin over your lap, slide open the sturdy pink and brown dessert box, and remember to keep breathing while you take a bite of one of the best things you’ve ever wrapped your mouth around.

ipsahan1 ipsahan2

It was inspiration enough. David Liebovitz had a chocolate macarons recipe on his blog, and I decided on a non-chocolate version of that. I’d made almond meal for the Daring Bakers opera cake project the previous month, grinding the almonds with a little flour so it wouldn’t turn to paste. Everything else, I already had in my pantry. I went for it.



Aside from my overzealous piping (spherical macarons), I got what I was hoping for. Of course, while the taste and texture were there, the macarons’ sheer girth were . . . a challenge, and in the end, I decided to serve them “open-faced,” with a slice of strawberry on top.


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Thursday, June 12, 2008

eggplant (ratatouille before and afters, and friccassee)

Mmmm, eggplant. I love your whole family (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers). And while I've read that you and the rest of your nightshade kin can worsen arthritis and make certain tummies feel oogie . . . I'm glad I'm not one of them.

ratatouille with poached egg

I was never more grateful for the eggplant my parents grew in our yard than when my mom would make eggplant tortas.* It was always my favorite way to eat eggplant. Until I learned about ratatouille. And yes, I did learn it from the movie. I've read that in France, ratatouille is commonly served cold or warm, with eggs as a breakfast dish. I think that's my favorite way, too. And while it's tasty with an easy scramble, it's decadent with a poached egg.
ratatouille with poached egg

Ratatouille and torta are tied for first. Third place would go to the Silver Spoon's eggplant fricassee!
eggplant fricassee

*Tortang talong--my mom would chop her eggplant up after roasting them, though, instead of leaving it hole, though I do want to try this style someday soon. Every Filipino family seems to have its own recipe. In high school, I had friends who shocked me with their carrot torta. They were tasty, though! And simple zucchini tortas are a good way to introduce people to the idea of veggies shredded into beaten eggs and fried up into omelets. Read more!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Arroz Caldo, healthy style (pearl barley and chicken congee)

One of my favorite childhood comfort foods is the Filipino dish called "arroz caldo"--literally, rice soup. Like most of my mom's home cooking, her arroz caldo recipe is easy--brown some chicken, add some fish sauce (patis!) and a couple gloves of garlic, toss in a cup of long-grain rice and about 8 cups of water, toss in a few hunks of ginger, season with salt and pepper, and walk away for 90 minutes or an hour until you have a tasty, aromatic porridge. Because I'm trying to cut down on white rice, I decided to mix up a pot or arroz caldo with some pearl barley.

pearl barley "congee"

While the barley didn't turn totally soft the way white rice does, I still loved the outcome. The barley stayed al dente, like risotto (same ideas, basically), and absorbed the aromatic liquid while giving off just enough starch to thicken it up.

Arroz Caldo with Pearl Barley

Brown in a stew pot:
1 whole chicken, divided, in just a sheen of oil

Add and color:
1/2 chopped onion and two mashed garlic cloves

Season with:
1 healthy dash of salt (1/2 tsp) and 5 grinds of pepper

Stir in:
1 slosh of patis (about 2 Tbs)
3 hunks (about the size of an average-sized grape) of peeled and slightly smashed ginger

Then add and stir in:
1 cup pearl barley

And finally add and bring to a boil:
8 cups of water or chicken stock.

Let the whole thing simmer until it's either al dente or softer--at least 90 minutes. If you have it, top with green onion or a squeeze of kalamnsi (Filipino citrus).
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