Monday, October 24, 2016

Brandy Snap Cannolis

When I first made the two-year baking calendar for the Alpha Bakers, these cannoli were somewhere in the first three months.  Might as well get them over with, I thought.  But then I kept rearranging the list, and the cannolis kept going further down.  Until finally there was no escaping it.  Still, I thought to myself, this may turn out better than you think.  After all, the Meringue Twigs turned out to be fairly presentable.  And the Pink Pearl Lady looked a little weird, but it was good.  The more I looked at this cannoli recipe, though, the more I sensed disaster ahead.  Sadly, my prognosticating powers were all too accurate.  After hours of hard labor, I ended up with one moderately acceptable cannolo (honestly, that is the singular of cannoli).  Everything else went to the squirrels (who seemed quite delighted with the unexpected treat).

In fairness, making the batter for the brandy snaps was, well, a snap.  Just heat up some butter, sugar, and golden syrup.

And then add flour, whisking until the flour is completely mixed in.  Then pour onto prepared baking sheets.

The batter spread a lot (I may have made the cookies too big), and I only got five on the first sheet, so I switched to the bottom of a half-sheet pan.  Big mistake.  The cookies on the cookie sheet turned out fine.

But something about the makeup of the half-sheet pan didn't agree with the makeup of the brandy snap, and the cookies refused to crisp.  They refused to harden, although they seemed to be done.  Finally I scooped them up, turned them into a gooey brown ball, divided the ball into six pieces, and smashed them onto a cookie sheet.

The dark brown, lumpy ones below are the snaps that didn't work out.  At this point, I was still relatively optimistic that I could rescue at least some of the cannoli.  I figured I could just put more powdered sugar on the thick, lumpy ones, and, after all, half of them looked more or less like what they were supposed to look like.

Also, I was pretty proud of myself for figuring out that Rose's mini rolling pin would make the perfect sized dowel.

And for finding the same-sized pestle from a marble mortar and pestle set that served to keep the opening in the cannoli round while they cooled and hardened.

But here's where things really started to fall apart.  First, the pastry cream didn't thicken.

It was completely liquid, even though I used the correct amount of egg and cornstarch (I checked).  I thought it might thicken as it cooled, but it didn't.  Not at all.  I thought the mascarpone and whipped cream would make the filling thick enough if I just added a little pastry cream, but the entire mixture was still very thin.

I squeezed as much liquid from the dried fruit mixture as I could, and I didn't add the Grand Marnier, because the filling just didn't look thick enough to work in a pastry tube.  Actually, I was so dismayed at how everything was turning out that I forgot to be worried about the fact that I was going to have to use a pastry tube.

I picked a smallish pastry tip because I thought maybe the not-very-dense filling would work better coming through a small tip.  Alas, what happened is that the fruit got stuck in the pastry tip and nothing came out.  Refusing to believe I couldn't somehow rescue this, I grabbed another tip and another bag, and I sloshed as much filling as I could from one bag to the other.  Daubs of white filling flew all over the kitchen.  I ordered Jim to put his camera down--"I don't want a record of this," I said.

And that, dear reader, is how there came to be one cannolo on a plate and why the squirrels are now begging at our back door.  Jim said it was pretty good.  I didn't even want to taste it.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Midweek Roundup: "A Complete Doddle"

Photo by Nicola
She Bakes the Cake

To be precise, Nicola called this recipe a "complete doddle" if you have an already-prepared crust sitting in the fridge.  If you have to make the crust first, it's not so much of a doddle.  However, before you think this was a complete breeze for Nicola, you should probably also know that she overbaked the tart (but only because she followed the directions) and ended up with a "crack between the pastry and the filling [that] could swallow a small child."  (You can see the crack in the picture--it clearly presents a danger to small children).  This tart is on Nicola's make-again list, but next time she's going to eat it soon after it comes out of the oven, when the crust is at its crispest.

Creative Vicki not only made the tart ("exactly how I always wished a lemon bar would taste") but she also made a parfait with the leftover filling, crumbled shortbread cookies, raspberries, and whipped cream.  In fact, Vicki should get to work on her own cookbook, called something like "Everyday Trifles."  She clearly believes that any dessert can be improved, and any disaster can be rescued, by trifleizing a recipe.  And really, she does have a point.  Look at her parfait if you have any doubt.

Jen did something even more daring than making a parfait.  She made a tart crust without rolling out the dough--she just patted it into a pan.  Why has it taken so long for someone to suggest this?  No rolling, no splitting, no breaking, no sticking.  And it looks lovely too!  With no rolling of pie crust to put her in a bad mood, her blog is happiness itself:  "wonderfully creamy and lemony," "very simple to make," "a delightful dessert."  I don't think pastry whizzes understand how daunting rolling out a piece of dough can be to those of us who are pastry-challenged.

Leave it to Kristina to celebrate her making of the Araxi Lemon Cream Tart by visiting Whistler, B.C., the home of the Araxi Restaurant.  No word on whether she herself visited the Araxi for a taste of the original tart, but she did whip up her own, which she described as "quite a simple" recipe.  Just wave your hands around the ingredients and "Done!  This made a great dessert on Saturday, with my parents visiting.  Just had another piece tonight, and I think the rest might make it to work tomorrow."

Rachel noted that when you bake a lot of Rose's recipes, you realize that chocolate and lemon are high on her list of favored flavors.  And if you're "going to bake a lot of lemon desserts, this one should be on your list!"  Rachel also zipped right through this recipe:  "Almost before I realized it, I was pulling the baked crust from the oven!"  This was a satisfying recipe for another reason; Rachel figured out how to whip small amounts of cream with her hand-held mixer without splashing cream all over the kitchen walls.  (She made a makeshift silicone guard, and now most of the cream stays in the bowl).  It's the small things that keep us going.

When you start reading Faithy's blog, you think this is going to be a story with a very unhappy ending.  No time to rest!  Bubbles that couldn't be removed!  Poured too much filling in the tart shell! Until you get to the last paragraph, which is a perfect example of all's well that ends well.  "This is the BEST lemon tart I have ever tasted!  I always thought lemon tart is too sour for me ... but this cream tart, I love!  Now I feel like making it again...soo good!"

Next week:  Brandy Snap Cannolis.  I can pretty much guarantee that nobody is going to say that these were a breeze to make, but, like so many other of Rose's multi-page, multi-step, multi-process recipes, they may well turn out to be worth the effort.

The countdown:  Just eight more elegant recipes.  I hope you have time to try some.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Araxi Lemon Cream Tart

This tart was creamily delicious, and all my tasters loved it, and gobbled up every bite, but it wasn't my finest hour as a baker.  I've learned that there are a few of Rose's instructions that you can fudge on--not everything has to be strained, for example, and you can get away with some modifications.  But when she tells you over and over again that the filling of this tart MUST NOT leak or overflow, you should pay attention.

I know that some people don't like to drag out their food processors, but mine is always on the counter, at the ready, so I love recipes that give a food processor option.  Sugar and lemon zest buzz together to make the beginnings of pate brisee, AKA lemon sugar cookie dough.

Flour and lots of butter whizzed in with the lemony sugar.

Finally, an egg yolk and some heavy cream complete the pastry dough.  Nothing has gone wrong yet.

Believe it or not, I worked really hard on this tart crust.  I tried to make sure that the dough was pressed down, that it came up a little bit above the top of the tart pan's rim, and that no dough was sticking to the pan.

But it doesn't look so great when it comes out of the oven.  It's browner than it should be, although I used the minimum baking times at all stages.  I'd bake it on the next to the bottom level instead of on the lowest rack if I did it again--I don't have good luck baking things on the lowest level.

The filling is way easier than lemon curd.  Nothing has to be cooked.  You don't have to watch for steam or worry about scrambling the eggs.  Just whip together eggs, sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice.  (I used a mixture of Meyer and regular lemons, which accounts for it not being as tart as I expected).

Then you just whisk in some whipped cream.

Aside from the grotty-looking tart shell, this is where I made my big mistake.  Despite the multiple warnings and despite seeing that my tart shell had sunk so that the sides were considerably shorter than when I put the shell in the oven, I wanted to use all the filling.  Yes, I know that Rose says you shouldn't try to use all the filling if the crust has shrunk, but I really wanted to use all the filling.  I could have put together a little tartlet with the leftover dough and filling, but I had a thoroughly unwarranted confidence that everything would be okay.

Overbaked again.  Maybe it's time to check my oven temperature.  The filling pulled away from the crust and didn't jiggle one little bit in the middle.  And because I'd overfilled the tart, there was filling between the tart shell and the tart pan.  Horrors!  But the worst was yet to come.

I got the sides of the tart pan off pretty easily, putting it on top of a sugar canister and gently pulling it off.  But sliding the tart off the bottom of the pan was another story. Because of the filling that had leaked out, the bottom was firmly cemented onto the bottom crust.  I was struggling with it when Jim said, "Can I help?"  I said sure.  Unfortunately, he tried using brute force, pushing the crust in with both hands.  Suddenly instead of a round tart, I had two joined parabolas.  I screamed something like, "Oh my God, what have you done?"  I'll admit I didn't have the appropriate amount of gratitude in my voice.

It turns out that a double parabola can be coaxed back into something resembling a circle, and the pieces of crust that fell of during the rescue operation can be more or less pushed back into place.  But if I were the pastry chef at The Araxi, I would have been fired on the spot.  Fortunately, a rim of raspberries and a fairly heavy sprinkling of powdered sugar covered some of the flaws.  And once the tart was cut into slices, it looked less blemished.  The worst thing that happened was that the crust got soggy in places, so, although some pieces were fine, not every bite had the "contrast of the crispy crust and tart, creamy filling."  The good thing is that my guests didn't know they were supposed to have that experience, and one thing I have learned is not to apologize for the shortcomings in my food.  At least it didn't fall on the floor.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Giant Jam Cookie: "Absolutely delicious!"

Photo by Rosa
Simply Delicious

I didn't think that Rosa had made this week's project, but then I remembered she told me she'd baked it earlier.  I was determined to track it down, and I finally found it on a blog post she wrote in April of 2015.  She used apricot lekvar instead of raspberry jam (in case you're wondering whether she might have used golden raspberries), and it turned out to be just as pretty as the one in the book.  She used several cookie cutters and carefully planned it so each slice had a cookie cutter cut-out and a cookie cutter cookie.  And it looks like she got every slice right.

Nicola didn't have any "natty cutouts" in a "quaint tiny size," so she improvised with an icing coupler for a "minimalist circle."  Of course, Nicola refers to this as a "giant jammy biscuit."  (Thanks to all you bakers who actually speak English, I remembered to request an oat biscuit instead of an oatmeal cookie in a shop in Ireland).  Making the giant biscuit was actually pretty uneventful for Nicola, although she almost burned the raspberry jam while joining her sons in an exciting episode of "How to Train Your Dragon," and the same boys all thought they should be able to eat the entire jammy biscuit before they settled for a mere wedge.

I hope that Nicola's boys don't read Katya's blog.  If they do, they'll discover that at least one person managed to eat the entire cookie by herself.  She meant to share, but forgot to invite her colleagues to tuck into the cookie.  Then she took it to give to her parents, but they're off sugar.  (There's a lot of that going around, isn't there?)  So really, what choice did she have?  And here are Katya's new year wishes to you:  "Make cookies.  Be alive.  Forgive.  Refuse to forgive....  Lie down.  Get up.  New Year.  L'Shanah Tovah.  May it be sweet.  And bitter.  And tough.  And new."

I suppose I should say at some point that, although some of the above bakers described this cookie as easy, there are others who were a little disgruntled by the time and effort it required.

Catherine, for example, titled her post, "Giant Pain-in-the-Neck Cookie."  Even though she acknowledged that the "biscuit dough is easy to whiz up in the food processor," and the end result is "delicious," she thought the rest of the recipe was, well, a giant pain in the neck.  It is not the recipe "for the impatient, intolerant and generally irritable baker."  From her blog, I'd describe Catherine as generally amiable rather than irritable, but apparently you don't want to be in the same kitchen with her if she's "inverting dough onto trays and then re-inverting on to other trays and so on."  Still, "it's a really great combination of flavours," and that's what counts, right?  Right?

Rachel, like several of the rest of us, was somewhat cowed by the description that said, in effect, "that making it look like the photo would require painstaking precision."  Then she decided to kiss precision goodbye and make "Rachel's version of Rose's Giant Jam Cookie, and everybody who eats it will enjoy it because let's be honest, even a crumbling disaster of a Rose recipe is delectable."  As it turned out, Rachel's version was not a "crumbling disaster."  It was quite nice.  She used a mixture of strawberry and cherry jams, which sounds quite yummy.  The worst thing that happened is that she got a little mixed up when she was making the cut-out pattern, so it looked a little more free-form than the picture in TBB.  But "it was really good."

When you look at Vicki's giant cookie, you'll notice a fairly heavy layer of powdered sugar.  This layer, Vicki says, "hides a multitude of sins."  And no cut outs, either; "this dough is lucky it made it into the pan."  On the other hand, "the flavor is lovely and the house smells heavenly."  Glad to hear that there are heavenly smells wafting from your kitchen again, Vicki.

Jen allowed as how the recipe was a bit "fiddly," but she made her cookie over the space of a few days, so she wasn't too bothered by the "shenanigans" required by the recipe.  Despite a few minor problems (the dough not fitting in the freezer, "mangling" the tiny gingerbread men, having to piece together some split-off dough), everyone enjoyed the final result (although Mark would have preferred blackberry jam).

Here's the takeaway on the giant jam cookie--nobody didn't like it!

Next week:  The Araxi Lemon Cream Tart.  This is the last of Rose's fabulous lemon desserts, and a recipe that Rose liked so much that she added it after all the recipes had already been chosen, so it must be good!

The countdown:  Just nine more recipes and we'll have completed the entire Baking Bible.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Giant Jam Cookie

Fussy, fiddly, putsy, finicky, exacting--choose your favorite adjective indicating you're going to be in the kitchen for longer than it usually takes to make a cookie.  But most of the time is spent putting the cookie top and bottom in the refrigerator or freezer and taking them out again.  I got nearly 2,000 steps going from the kitchen to the basement (where my freezer is) and back!

The dough itself is easy enough to make in the food processor--just Demarara sugar, butter, flour, eggs, and salt.  They come together to make a nice, soft dough.  This is going to be easy, I thought.

You'd think I'd know by now that, at least for me, when a dough has been in the refrigerator for an hour or so, it's going to take a lot longer than five minutes for it to get back to the malleable stage again.  But I'll spare you the description of how the dough tore apart.  I eventually got it into a circular shape big enough to trace the shape of a 12-inch lid.

A pizza cutter works much better than a knife when you're trying to make a circle.

A few patching jobs here and there, and some wrinkles from the plastic wrap, but it's serviceable.

I ran out of raspberry jam, but I dug around in the refrigerator and found another half-full jar, so I didn't have use jam with seeds.  You should do the jam part first--you have to boil down the jam, and then let it cool to room temperature.  If you let it cool while you're running back and forth from freezer to countertop, it should be done about the time you're ready for it.  (That's if you don't elect to make the dough a couple of days before you bake the cookie).

I thought I was being very careful not to cut all the way through the dough, but, as I found it when I tried to slide the top layer over the jam, I wasn't careful enough.

The heart shapes came out in the cookie cutter, so I didn't bother to freeze them separately.  I just took the top layer down to the freezer and let it freeze solid.  This is a very important step!

Spreading the jam on the bottom layer and brushing the edge with water--super easy step!  I was getting too sure of myself.

Because even though the top layer was frozen solid, it started to thaw in about 10 seconds.  It came apart at the edges and at some of the wedge markings.  I pieced it back in one piece as well as I could and poked some holes in the dough.

I forgot to set the timer, but fortunately I didn't leave the kitchen, so I smelled it when the dough started to brown.

This is just the kind of cookie I like--tart fruit, crispy and buttery cookie.  Jim liked them too, although, to be honest, Liz and JJ only took a few bites.  Lily ate more, but not with the same gusto she displayed when she ate a chocolate ice cream sandwich.  I think this mega-cookie would be fun to bake for a crowd because who expects one cookie to serve 12 people.

Too tart for a four-year-old?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Midweek Roundup: "Super delicious and very rich!"

Photo by Peggy (Faithy)
The Amateur Baker

There was something about this cheesecake recipe that seemed to inspire mistakes.  On the other hand, there was something about the recipe that enabled it to forgive all mistakes and hand everyone a first-rate dessert.

Faithy, for example, ran out of white chocolate, so she substituted some dulce de leche (good thinking, by the way).  This wasn't much of a problem.  The real fun started when she put her not-quite-done cheesecake in the toaster oven for its cool down.  Unfortunately, she forgot to turn off the oven, so she ended up with a burned cheesecake top.  No problem, she thought--just tear off the burnt layer and cover with sour cream.  But the sour cream turned out to be heavy cream, which liquified on the cake and had to be laboriously siphoned off.  Plan B--cover the cheesecake with chocolate ganache--turned out to be a winner, as was the cheesecake itself:  "creamy, smooth, and deliciously melt in the mouth."

Rachel also substituted for the white chocolate--not because she ran out of chocolate but because she had a glut of bananas.  Banana + chocolate = very tasty.  Her cheesecake wobbled alarmingly when she took it out of the oven, and she was afraid the substitution didn't work because the liquid content of bananas is not exactly the same as that of white chocolate.  But guess what?  The cheesecake turned out to be perfect!  She couldn't say the same for the sponge cake, however, which for some mysterious reason turned out to be "leathery" and "burnt on the bottom."  Still the cheesecake was "great--super creamy and light-textured."

You've got to hand it to Jen.  Her cheesecake "mistake" resulted from her knowing Rose's cheesecake formula by heart.  The ratio is always a pound of cream cheese to about a pound and a half of sour cream.  So that's what she bought.  And then she read the recipe.  And decided to "Franken-bake a marble chocolate cheesecake."  Also, she did what I didn't have the nerve to do:  she spotted the leftover chocolate wafers and made them into a crumb crust for the cheesecake.  What happened with the Franken-bake?  Well, husband Mark proclaimed it "The Perfect Cheesecake."  And we all know how hard it is to improve on perfection.

Nicola's main problem was with the marbling, which she alternately describes as "unattractive brown splodge" and "more mess than marble."  (It was her main problem if you don't count being lured back on the sugar wagon by a certain "diabolical" blogger).  She had a few other gripes too--such as Americans' stubborn refusal to use the easy and logical metric system, and having to cool the chocolate to just the right temperature, lest it turn into chocolate chips, but all in all, it was a fairly easy project.  Although Nicola is sure she's not going to be called up to the Great British Bake Off any time soon, I think she misunderestimates (as a former president probably didn't actually say) the power of the cheesecake.

Catherine's entry into the cheesecake pool ruined the thesis of this roundup because she didn't have any problems at all with her cheesecake, even though her favorite almost-five-year-old refused to help her.  (Well, maybe it's because her favorite almost-five-year-old didn't help).  There was no chance to mess up the cake base because Catherine adapted the biscuit (cookie) base from the Frozen Lime Meringue Pie instead of the sponge (biscuit) base.  Why do English-speakers not speak the same language?!  I must say, the high point of Catherine's blog isn't really the cheesecake, although that part is very nice, but it doesn't compare to the pictures of Aunty Catherine and Parker made with stones, and with Aunty Catherine (but not Parker) sporting a stone belly button!

Next week:  Giant Jam Cookies.  I thought this might be a quick and easy recipe that had somehow missed being placed in that wonderful category.  Then I read more:  "Be warned.  The jam cookie is one of those things that looks simple and elegant, but it takes the skill of a craftsperson to achieve."  Uh-oh.

The countdown:  It's getting serious now.  Only ten weeks left.  We may be done before the snow flies!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Marble White and Dark Chocolate Cheesecake

Our last cheesecake.  Normally I enjoy making Rose's cheesecakes.  They take a while, but nothing is hard, and I know the result will be fantastic.  But this time nothing seemed to go quite right.  I think my brain was still a little addled from being on Dublin time, or I wasn't in the right mood for baking, or something.  I did pour the boiling water into the cocoa correctly--the first step to making the chocolate genoise that serves as the base and sides of the cheesecake.  Although I had no trouble with the cocoa, I was a little put out that I had to bake a cake before I could make the cheesecake.  I eyed the box of chocolate wafers, left over from the bourbon balls, and thought, "This would be so much easier...."  But I persevered.

Beating the eggs for the genoise.  This is when they're just getting started; they're much lighter and fluffier after being in the stand mixer for five minutes.

Adding the cocoa mixture to the genoise batter.

Aargh.  The genoise was completely uneven when it came out of the oven with one side thin and flat and the other side three times as high and much fluffier.  Fortunately, at that point I had to go to the opera (Romeo and Juliette by Gounod), so I just covered the cake with another half-sheet pan and went off to watch the star-crossed lovers.

By the next morning, the cake seemed to have evened itself out.  To my surprise, I didn't have any trouble cutting the shapes out or fitting them in the pan.  Still, I think a chocolate crumb crust would have worked just fine.

Next problem.  Melting the white chocolate.  I had half good stuff that melted like a dream and half stupid little chocolate chips that wouldn't melt.  Fake chocolate.  I remember it gave me problems the last time I used it, when I swore I'd never use it again.  Sadly, I forgot that vow before it was too late. (This time I threw the rest of them away.  I just hope I remember never to buy them again).

So instead of being smooth and stirrable like the dark chocolate, the white chocolate never did melt properly.  When I got it close to smooth, it just re-hardened.  At this point, there was no way I was going to start over.

2 pounds of cream cheese at room temperature.  I beat that for five minutes too, but, like the white chocolate, it never turned smooth and lump-free.

Three layers of cheese mixture:  white chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate.  The last layer came right up to the top of the cake sides.

I used a whisk to marble the cheesecake, but it looked odd, so I drew a sharp knife through it a couple of times.  I'm not sure I got to the bottom layer, so I guess it won't be marbled all the way through.

3 hours later....  If I was going to get this posted on Monday, I couldn't let the cheesecake sit in the refrigerator overnight.  After 3 hours, it was still not cold, about room temperature, I'd say.  The good news is that none of the difficulties I foresaw actually happened.  The cheesecake had no lumps or crunchy bits in it; it was completely smooth and silky.  And I LOVED the genoise enclosure!

I was right that the marbling effect didn't show through the whole cheesecake.  Cutting into it turned it into more of a layered cheesecake than a marbled one, but it didn't really matter.  I'm so happy that the last cheesecake turned out to be another winner in the pantheon of RLB cheesecakes!