Sunday, April 12, 2015

Fig, Olive Oil and Sea Salt Challah

A very long time ago I printed this recipe for Fig, Olive Oil and Sea Salt Challah from the Smitten Kitchen blog.  And I have been wanting to make it ever since, it just seemed to never happen.  When I was planning my sort of spur-of-the-moment Easter meal I remembered this recipe and decided it needed to be part of Easter.  I had all of the ingredients on hand so it clearly was meant to be.  Wow, am I glad I did!  Besides looking BEAUTIFUL (I seriously love the round braided look), it tastes absolutely delicious.  Yummy, get-in-my-mouth-right-now, might-could-eat-the-entire-loaf, good.  And guess what?  Not so hard to do! 

The dough for this bread is very wet, in fact at first I worried that I did something wrong and repeatedly asked myself if I put in the right amount of flour (answer, "yes").  But I rolled with it and it turned out fine.  You can make the dough in a mixer or by hand (what?  Not in this busy life...).  This bread is super fluffy and light.  I am sure it would taste quite good without the fig filling, but WHY??  The filling is made by re-hydrating dried figs in orange juice and some water and then pureeing it down so it becomes paste-like.  I could have added more liquid to mine I think, as it was VERY paste-like and hard to spread over the dough.  It was totally unevenly done but I didn't actually care about that so it was all fine!

The dough is divided into 4 long ropes that are then woven around each other to form this awesome round loaf.
There was no need for butter for this bread.  It was simply eaten as it was.  To RAVE reviews.  I will definitely be making this bread again.  You should, too.  It is so so delicious!

Fig, Olive Oil and Sea Salt Challah
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
makes 1 loaf
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon honey, divided
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for bowl
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt OR 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt (my sea salt was not "flaky" so I used 1 1/2 teaspoons)
4 cups all-purpose flour

Fig Filling
1 cup stemmed and chopped dried figs
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1/4 cup orange juice
1/ teaspoon sea salt
black pepper - to taste

Egg Wash
1 large egg
Coarse or flaky sea salt

Dough:  In a small bowl, whisk the yeast and 1 teaspoon honey with 2/3 cup warm water (110F-116F).  Let it stand for a few minutes to get nice and foamy.  Combine the yeast mixture with the remaining honey, olive oil and eggs in a large mixing bowl.  Add the salt and flour and mix with a paddle attachment until the dough begins to come together, then switch to a dough hook.  Run at low speed for 5-8 minutes.  Transfer the dough to large bowl that has been lightly coated with olive oil, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for 1 hour, until almost doubled.

Fig Filling:  Combine the figs, zest, 1/2 cup water, juice, salt and a few grinds of black pepper in a small saucepan.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the figs are tender.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and allow the mixture to cool to lukewarm.  Transfer to a small food processor and process until it resembles a fine paste.  Scrape the sides of the processor bowl as needed.  Allow to cool completely.

Spread Figs:  Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a well floured surface and divide it in half.  Place one half back in the oiled bowl and roll the other half into a wide rectangle.  The size doesn't totally matter.  Spread half of the fig filling over the dough, leaving an inch border around the edge.  Roll into a tight log along the long side of your rectangle.  Gently stretch and roll the log as long as is comfortable and then divide it in half.  My log/rope ended up being 3ft 10 inches before I divided the rope into two.  Repeat this process with the remaining dough and filling.

Weave!  You now have 4 dough ropes of equal length.  Arrange them in a tight tic-tac-toe shape, such that the knot/woven part is in the very center.  Lay your tic-tac-toe so that one strand goes over/under and the next goes under/over, i.e. it is woven together.  You will note that on each side of your tic-tac-toe board, one rope comes from under the knot and one comes from over.  Focus on the ones coming from underneath.  Take each of these "under" legs and cross them over the rope to their immediate RIGHT, keeping your rope pressed up against the center knot.  Do this with all four "under' legs.  Now take the legs that were the "over" legs from the beginning, and cross them each over the ropes to their immediate LEFT.  If you still have additional length to your  ropes, continue to repeat this process until you run out of rope.  Tuck the ends and corners under the dough with the sides of your hands to form a tight woven ball.  Place the dough ball to a parchment-covered heavy baking sheet or bakers peel (if you will be baking on a bakers stone). 

Egg Wash:  Beat the egg until smooth.  Brush it over the challah.  Let the dough rise for 1 hour.  Approximately 15 minutes before your hour rise is over, turn on your oven to 375F.

Bake:  Before placing the loaf in the oven, brush again with the egg wash and sprinkle with sea salt.  Bake in the center of the oven for 35-40 minutes.  The bread will be a dark golden brown.  Watch your dough - if it darkens too quickly, loosely cover the top with aluminum foil for the remainder of the baking time.  To check for doneness, you can VERY CAREFULLY lift up the bread and knock on the bottom, it should sound hollow.  Or stick an instant read thermometer into the loaf - it will read 190-195 when the loaf is done.

Cool on a rack before slicing.
Printable Recipe

Give this bread a try.  You CAN do this.  It looks more complicated than it really is, I promise.  And the end result is absolutely worth it!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

TWD: Baking with Julia - Sweet Ricotta Pie

Our recipe for today is Sweet Ricotta Pie, from Baking with Julia.  I made this recipe for Easter dinner, hence the bunny!  I have to admit, when I first saw this recipe I was not very excited.  The main flavor in the recipe is anisette, of which I am not actually a fan.  So I changed things up a bit for our tastes and it turned out quite good!

My first change:  Well, this may not actually be a change but I made my own ricotta for this recipe!  I know, crazy, right?  But I happened to get a recipe for making homemade ricotta in my Fine Cooking magazine this month and thought I should give it a try.  I have made it twice now and yum, is it good!  The key thing I need to figure out is the length of time for draining the ricotta.  The recipe says you can drain it anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours, depending if you want it soft or firm.  On my first trial, I made it fairly soft, and this time it was more firm.  None of this was actually intentional, it just happened this way because of course I didn't set a timer or anything smart like that.  Have you ever made ricotta?  It is not hard, just takes a little time.  The basic ingredients are whole milk, heavy cream, sea salt and lemon juice or vinegar.  It is all a matter of quantities of these ingredients.  Many recipes seem to have a 3c whole milk to 1 cup heavy cream and 3 TB acid (lemon juice/vinegar) ratio.  The Fine Cooking recipe used way less heavy cream (1 cup for a gallon whole milk) and called for 1/2 cup lemon juice.  I am not sure what difference the milk/cream ratio makes (creaminess) but the acid amount really does vary.  Lemon juice can have a varied level of acid so I found using apple cider vinegar seemed to get better results.  Using additional lemon juice worked fine too, which is what I did the first time.  It also depends on how pasteurized your milk/cream are.  The less pasteurized your dairy products are, the less acid you will need to get nice curds.  But I'll be darned if I could find anything but ultra-pasteurized dairy!  Anyway, if you have never attempted homemade ricotta cheese, I recommend giving it a try.  It's kinda fun to watch the curds form and could be a fun science experiment for your kids!

Back to the pie recipe!  There are/were very few ingredients for this pie:  crust, ricotta, sugar, anisette, eggs and cinnamon.  The crust recipe is from the book, called Pasta Frolla.  It is a very forgiving crust but not as yummy as my tried and true flaky pie crust.  I'd use my own crust next time.  To figure out what I wanted to do with the filling I did some internet research and learned that a ricotta pie is a traditional Italian Easter dessert!  Huh.  I looked at some recipes to get flavor ideas.  Instead of (1 TB!!) anisette, I used 1 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia (have you ever used this extract?  Amazing!) and the zest of 1/2 Mandarin orange (about 1/2 teaspoon).  I also added an additional tablespoon of sugar, as it seemed to need it when I tasted the batter.  I mixed the filling in my stand mixer, but an immersion blender would have been even better to get the filling nice and smooth. 

The pie was pretty funny looking when it came out of the oven.  The filling puffs up quite a bit, to the point that some of the lattice strips disconnected from the edges and sort of hovered above the pie plate!  When I looked at the end result, I decided it needed to be served with some blueberry sauce.  It was just a bit boring looking by itself!

I am glad I added the blueberry sauce.  It really did make it better.  My pie was a bit dry, which could be because my ricotta was to firm(?) so the blueberry sauce helped.  I did notice that one of the recipes I saw for a ricotta pie included a cup of cream in the filling, so that would have helped as well.  The filling itself is very light in texture,  almost like a light cheesecake.  I do not think it needed the lattice top, as it seemed to add to the dryness.  I am curious to know what others thought of this recipe.  I liked the pie with the changes I made, but it is not my favorite dessert ever. 

The recipe for Sweet Ricotta Pie can be found on page 376 of Baking with Julia

Blueberry Sauce
adapted from allrecipes
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1/4 cup water
1 cup orange juice
3/4 cup white sugar (I used a scant 3/4 cup)
1/4 cup cold water
3 TB cornstarch (I used 2 TB as I wanted a thinner sauce)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine the blueberries, 1/4 cup water, orange juice and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat.  Stir gently and bring to a boil.  Mix the cornstarch and 1/4 cup cold water in a small bowl. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the blueberry mixture, being careful not to squash the blueberries.  Simmer gently until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon, 3-4 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the almond extract and cinnamon.  If the sauce is too thick, thin with a little additional water.
Printable Recipe

Monday, April 6, 2015

Hoppy Easter!

While taking pictures with bluebonnets the other day, we met the Easter bunny!  Serendipity! 

I made Easter outfits for the clever kids, which I happen to absolutely love (both the kids and the outfits)!  The clever boy got another jon-jon using my favorite pattern from Children's Corner.  I've made it several other times as well (here and here).  The clever girl's dress is the Oliver + S pattern "Family Reunion Dress". Love.  I wasn't sure if I'd love it since the clever girl tends to prefer twirly dresses, but I am so glad I gave this pattern a shot!

Here's the clever boy!  Whereas I usually find an image from Google Images for my applique, this time I designed it myself.  The clever boy has a few favorite things right now:  #1 is trash cans.  This fascination for trash cans has gone on for a very long time (in fact "trash can" was one of the first things he said!) so I knew I wanted a trash can on his outfit.  His other two loves are dogs, and recently, trucks.  So, I combined the clever boy's most favorite loves together to make an applique for his jon-jon.  I love it!  So does he.  He was thrilled that he could wear a trash can AND a dog-dog AND a truck all at once.  It is the trifecta of awesomeness!

 Happy, happy boy!
What will I do when he gets too big for jon-jons?  I love this pattern!

Here is the clever girl's Family Reunion dress.  Though it looks like it might be complicated, it really wasn't difficult at all.  This is why I love Oliver + S patterns.  They are classic looks and the patterns are written extremely well.  In fact the only tricky part was the piping edge, which I decided to add and isn't part of the original pattern at all.  I forgot to take photos of the back, but it buttons all the way up and has the same little tucks as the front.  I love the tiny details of this pattern: the tiny tucks under the neckline, the little button placket, and the lines of stitching along the bottom edge which give the bottom of the dress both interest and weight so it hangs nicely.  The clever girl is quite thin, so I cut this dress in a size 5 around but size 6 in length.   Oh, and the material I used is also from the Oliver + S company.  Their fabric line is called Lisette and, miracle of miracles, they carry it at my local Joanns Fabric store.  It is a great quality fabric.

I love it!  I think she looks darling!

My clever kiddos.  They really are something special.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

TWD: Crispy-Topped Brown Sugar Bars (BCM)

I'm back!  I did not post with TWD last week, as (1) I was on vacation in Florida (yeah, me!) and (2) when I looked for barley flour in the grocery store I couldn't find it and decided it wasn't worth the stress of getting "pebble bread" done before vacation.  But I am back this week with Crispy-Topped Brown Sugar Bars, from Baking Chez Moi

This cookie is sort of like a super-fancy rice-crispy treat, but better!  My family was not a big fan of the marshmallow-y rice-crispy treat, so my mom made them with peanut butter instead.  This was definitely an improvement, but nothing compared to working with CARAMELIZED rice crispies!  Yes, caramelized.  That even sounds better, right?

The base of this cookie is what I think a sugar cookie would taste like if made with brown sugar instead of white.  Though Dorie says that the cookie layer is thin and chewy, mine was more crunchy, but not overly hard.  Many fellow bloggers had warned about baking the cookie layer too long, so I kept a close eye on mine and took it out as soon as it started getting golden brown.  I maybe should have taken it out sooner to get the chewy texture Dorie describes...

On top of the cookie is a thin layer of dark chocolate.  You literally chop it into small pieces and spread them over the cookie bottom when it is still hot from the oven.  Pop it into the still-warm oven for a few moments and then spread that melted chocolate all over the cookie.  Mmmm.

Now, it is the top layer that is the most important.  This is where the caramelized rice crispies come into play.  Before starting this entire project, the caramelized rice crispies are prepared and allowed to form a sort of brittle.  This crunchy deliciousness is crumbled on top of the melted chocolate and then the entire thing is refrigerated until the chocolate hardens.

What you end up with is a crunchy, fun sweet treat!  This would be fun for a school bake sale - a surprising upgrade from your typical rice crispy treat.  The end result is pretty sweet, and you could probably get away with cutting them into smaller pieces, to be honest.  But they are fun to eat and oh, that caramelized topping.  I'll be making more of that to put on ice cream and such!

These bars are a bit hard to cut and eat, as bits of caramelized rice crispies fly off in every direction.  But finding those little bits of goodness makes it all fine in the end!

The recipe for Crispy-Topped Brown Sugar Bars can be found on pages 324-325 of Baking Chez Moi.  If you google the recipe, you will find some people who have posted the recipe on their blogs, but you might just want to buy the book instead...  It's a good one!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Happy Belated Pi Day!

Happy Belated Pi Day!  Yes, I know I am late, but I have good reason!  And the mathy part of me just could not let this date pass me by.  By date, I'm talking about 3-14-15, and if you remember back to geometry class, Pi equals 3.1415....  There won't be another date like this!  Thus, March 14, 2015 was the best Pi day we will have in my lifetime, and what better way to celebrate than baking a pie?  It turns out that we left for Spring Break on March 13, and got to Florida on the 14th.  I did not have the ability (or groceries) to bake a pie right then, so I made it on the 15th instead.  And then didn't blog about it til now, because, well, I was on vacation!

We were on a beach vacation so I decided we needed a beachy pie.  I found  recipe for Pina Colada Pie!  Mmmm, hmmm.  If you are thinking, yum, you would be right!  However this ended up being somewhat of a comedy of errors pie as well.  See, I (being the baking nerd that I am) actually made and froze a pie dough disk in advance to bring to Florida.  Which totally worked.  However when I chose my Pina Colada Pie recipe, I did not think about the fact that you CAN NOT par-bake a pie with no weights inside.  I had not thought of bringing pie weights or buying dried beans, so guess what?  My delicious home-made pie crust slid down the sides of the pie pan and bubbled up in the middle and was pretty much a bona-fide mess!  Time for Plan B!  The pie recipe actually called for breaking up pecan cookies to make into a crust, so since I had thankfully brought a sleeve of graham crackers (theoretically for the clever boy's snacks), I used them for the cookies!  Problem solved!  Oh, and I sprinkled some brown sugar and cinnamon over the weirdo-looking pie shell, baked it for a bit longer, and we had that as a random treat.  I can't throw a delicious (though ugly) pie crust in the trash!

Ok, now that that craziness is all explained, let's talk about the actual pie!!  As I mentioned, the pie crust is made of crushed graham crackers (cookies), which is mixed with coconut and butter, pressed into a pie pan, and baked until browned.  The crust is topped with a layer of pineapple compote - crushed pineapple cooked with sugar and cornstarch until thick.  I added about a cup of coconut to this layer (as I originally thought I'd be using a regular pie crust and not have actual coconut anywhere in the pie).  On top of this comes a creamy layer of cream cheese, coconut cream and eggs.  The entire pie is baked, then you top this with whipped cream that has been beaten with more coconut cream.  I sprinkled toasted coconut around the edges and into a Pi shape in the middle.  Yum.  I mean. YUM.  It tastes like vacation in pie form!

Want to make this beachy treat for your family?  Here is the recipe!

Pina Colada Pie
adapted from Southern Living
2 cups pecan shortbread cookie crumbs (about 16 cookies) or 1 sleeve of graham crackers
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
2 TB cornstarch
1 8-oz. can crushed pineapple in juice
1 8-oz. package of cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups coconut cream (1 can - you can find this in the Asian section of the grocery store near coconut milk, OR near mix-ins for cocktails, called "cream of coconut" and often the Coco Lopez brand)
2 large eggs
1 cup whipping cream


Preheat the oven to 350F.

Mix together the cookie crumbs, coconut and butter, and press against the bottom and sides of a lightly buttered deep dish pie pan.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, until lightly browned.  Cool completely on a wire rack.  

Mix the sugar and cornstarch together in a small heavy saucepan.  Stir in the pineapple (I added 1 cup flaked coconut here).  Bring to a boil while stirring constantly.  Cook for 1 minute (keep stirring) until thickened.  Allow to cool completely (takes about 20 minutes).

Beat cream cheese at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer, using whisk attachment, until smooth. Slowly add 1 cup coconut cream, beating at low speed just until blended.  Refrigerate the remaining 1/2 cup coconut cream until later.  Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended each time.

Spread the cooled pineapple mixture over the crust, then spread the cream mixture over the pineapple.  Bake for 38-42 minutes, until set.  Cool completely on a wire rack, then cover and chill for at least 4 hours. 

Beat the whipping cream on high speed until foamy.  Add the coconut cream and continue to beat until soft-to-somewhat firm peaks form.  Spread over the pie.  Optional:  top with toasted coconut.
Printable Recipe

All in all, this turned out to be a super delicious pie!  I would definitely make it again, though this time I'd do the crust the right way from the start!

Did you do anything special for pi day??

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

TWD: Baking Chez Moi - Lemon Madeleines

Lemon Madeleines, from Baking Chez Moi.  Yes, the glaze is a bit drippy looking.  Let's just ignore that, shall we?  I should probably entitled this "looks can be deceiving" or something, as that would certainly be appropriate.  

My madeleines don't look anything like the glorious picture in the book.  They were supposed to be a bit more golden instead of brown, and have a lovely hump on the underside.  My oven temp seems to be off, which would explain the darkness of the madeleine.  Plus I super overfilled the pan, as the recipe said it would make 12 so I just used all of the batter in the 12 madeleine holes, instead of getting out my second pan and putting some in there.  They certainly would have looked prettier if they hadn't overflowed the pan.

This recipe was supposed to GUARANTEE a lovely  hump on the non-grooved side, which mine did not get.  This also could be due to overfilling the pan, I suppose.

However, looks aren't everything, because these are delicious little lemony treats.  I want to make a cup of tea and devour the entire bunch.  I will make these again someday.  That time I'll use more pans and see if that makes a difference.  But really, looks aren't everything.  These taste delicious, which is what it's really about!

The recipe for the Lemon Madeleines can be found on pages 212 -213 on Baking Chez Moi

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

TWD: Baking with Julia - Not-Your-Usual Lemon Meringue Pie

Lemon Meringue Pie is something I have made many times.  We are pretty big lemon pie eaters in my family, on both sides, actually.  It is my dad's favorite and something Mr. Clever Mom requests as well.  This is not to say that I make the perfect lemon meringue pie.  Not at all.  In fact recently I tried a lemon icebox pie and found that to MAYBE be superior to a lemon meringue....  (fighting words!)

Anyway, when I saw this week's recipe, literally entitled "not-your-usual lemon meringue pie" I definitely gave it a second look.  Huh.  It is sort of like a deconstructed lemon meringue pie, I would say.  Sign me up!

You start with making a lemon curd.  I followed the recipe against my better judgement, in that I used the requested amount of sugar.  We are tart lemon pie lovers, not sweet.  So I should have reduced the amount of sugar or used more lemon zest.  However if you like a sweeter lemon pie, the amount of sweetness might be just fine for you.  Even on our regular lemon meringues we drastically reduce the sugar amount.  Pucker up!

After the curd is made, it has to sit in the refrigerator for a little while to set.  In the mean time, you can take a nap as the rest of this recipe is really pretty simple to put together!

Using phyllo dough (from the frozen section of the grocery store), you make little triangles that are layered with clarified butter and sugar, and then baked until crispy.  This is the deconstructed crust.  You were supposed to bake this with a baking sheet on the top so that the phyllo does not puff, but instead I baked it most of the way with the sheet on top and then removed it for the last minute or so, which allowed the phyllo to brown a little.  No puffiness!

By the way, is anyone else watching The Great British Baking Challenge on PBS??  If so, I haven't watched the finale yet so don't spoil it, ok?  In a recent episode they MADE phyllo dough.  As in FROM SCRATCH.  Holy guacamole it was incredible.  These are home bakers, and their challenge was to make homemade phyllo.  I just sat there with my mouth gaping open, watching them pull the dough so thin!  (I do typically watch this show with my mouth gaping open at the bakers total amazingness, and drooling a bit as well, to be honest!  It really does  blow my mind!)  If you haven't been watching this show, I highly recommend seeking it out.  It is available "on demand" here... 

Anyway, back to the deconstructed lemon meringue pie!  Once the phyllo is made into crispy little triangles, whip up some egg whites with brown sugar and then all of the components are ready!

Here we go!  Layer one phyllo triangle,

Spread some lemon curd on the top,

Then top it with a zig-zag of meringue and torch the top.
Repeat this layering one more time and then end with a triangle.  Dust with powdered sugar and there you go!

This was a fun little treat to eat.  I liked breaking apart the phyllo triangles to get a full piece, and they provided a nice crunch to a pie with soft fillings.  Had I reduced the sweetness in the lemon curd, this pie would have been perfect!

Fun, relatively easy, and tasty!  A win-win over here!

You can find this recipe on pages 403-405 of Baking with Julia, or you can also find it here.   I made half of the recipe for  my little family, which worked out just perfectly!  Click on over to the Tuesday's with Dorie blog and check out what the other bakers though of this recipe, okay?