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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Daring Bakers Buns

I am officially part of the Daring Bakers ! The Daring Bakers is a group of curious, friendly and ambitious bakers who tackle a different baking challenge each month. They are a fountain of knowledge and an amazing resource.

I’ve always loved baking bread and working with yeast. So this month’s challenge was a wonderful opportunity to expand my knowledge. Thank you to Marce from Pip in the City for choosing the Sticky Buns/Cinnamon Buns recipe from the Bread Bakers Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. The recipe is posted on Marce's blog.

First, these sticky buns have zero shelf life in my house. They disappeared in under 24 hours. What would they be like if they actually stayed more than 24 hours? My family will never know.

This recipe had lemon zest which gave these buns a special edge. There was an added brightness and intrigue in the flavour which everyone in the family loved. My glaze was not as firm as I would have liked but that problem could be solved by placing the glass baking dish on the lowest rack in the oven...

...sigh, just like the recipe suggested...

Sticky Bun Bottoms

These are the bottoms before the buns are flipped. Notice the glaze percolating at the corners of the buns.

The buns were a technical challenge to photograph with only the flash bouncing off the glaze. I'm not satisfied with the contrast since it makes the raisins look like black bugs. I would have photographed them in natural light but my buns didn't see the light of day...

... but they were absolutely over the top delicious!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Lemon Olive Oil Cake

Epicurious is a fantastic website with an extensive recipe data base. One of the most helpful features is the review section. The feedback from readers and fellow cooks guides me when I'm attempting a new recipe.

This Lemon Olive Oil Cake was originally in Gourment magazine and is now posted on the Epicurious website. I've tweaked it a bit to intensify the flavour and I've even baked a version with fresh oranges. But, we ate that one very quickly and there are no photos!

Lemon Olive Oil Cake

¾ olive oil (Extra virgin olive will give a stronger olive oil flavour)
3 lemons
3 tsps of lemon zest
1 cup cake flour, sifted
1&1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
5 large eggs, separated
½ tsp salt
¾ cup white sugar
1&1/2 tablespoons white sugar to sprinkle on top of uncooked cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil springform pan, line bottom with parchment and oil parchment.

Finely grate lemon zest to obtain 3 teaspoons.

Beat egg whites with salt until foamy. Add ¼ cup sugar a little at a time and continue to beat until the egg whites hold soft peaks. (If you beat the yolks first, you have to wash and dry the beaters in between. Save time, beat the whites first since yolks don’t mind a little white.)

Beat yolks and 1/2 cup sugar at high speed until thick and pale. Reduce speed and add olive oil, lemon zest and 1&1/2 tablespoons lemon juice. Beating until just combined – mixture may look separated. Use a wooden spoon to fold in the flour mixture until just combined.

Gently fold one third of egg whites into yolk mixture to lighten. Then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.

Transfer batter to springform pan. Sprinkle top evenly with remaining 1&1/2 tablespoons sugar. Bake until puffed and golden and a skewer comes out clean, about 45 min – 40 min in 10 inch springform pan.

Cool cake in pan on a rack 10 min, then run a thin knife around the edge and remove from pan. Cool cake to room temperature, about 1&1/4 hours. Remove bottom of pan and peel off parchment, then transfer to serving plate.

Cake can be made one day ahead and wrapped well or stored in a cake keeper at room temperature.

Serve with fresh fruit or baked pears and cream.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Looks Like Chicken

That's what my husband said when I pulled this dish out of the oven ... not quite the aim of this dessert, ugh.

No, it's not a plate of chicken but pears baked with a homemade grape/wine syrup.

Pears are one of my favourite fruits. They are rock hard in the grocery store, but with some patience and time, they ripen beautifully into juicy tasty treats. My children will gobble the pears like candy when they are perfectly ripe but they refuse to take them on their lunch. It isn't appetizing to reach into a lunch bag and extract a sweet slimy mass of crushed pear.

Although the perfectly ripe pear is a treat itself, I prefer baking with the rock hard pears. They absorb flavours beautifully over a long cooking time. I baked these pears in a grape and red wine syrup with lemon and cinnamon. The intense flavour jumped in your mouth.

The grapes for the syrup were off of our vine and I practically wrestled them out of the greedy paws of the raccoons. As a result, I harvested them earlier than I would have preferred and the grapes needed a big bump of sugar to render the syrup palatable.

Baked Pears with Grape Syrup
Pere al Forno con Sapa

2 rock hard bosc pears, peeled, cored and quartered (you know, so they look like chicken drumsticks)
juice of 2 lemons
grated zest of one lemon
1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon

1 recipe Fresh Grape Syrup

Put lemon juice in plastic bag and place pear quarters inside. The lemon juice will protect them from browning. When you remove the pears to place them in the pan don't pour the extra juice into the pan... too much pucker.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter 9x13 dish. Arrange the pears spoon fashion in the pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon and lemon zest.

Bake the pears four about one hour. Baste every 20 minutes with Fresh Grape Syrup. When the pears are easily pierced with a knife, remove them from the oven.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Fresh Grape Syrup
4&1/2 pounds red flavourful grapes, with or without seeds
1 cup dry red wine
Sugar, if you suffer from sour grapes

Wash, stem and process grapes until finely chopped. Place crushed grapes into a glass or stainless steel container. Cover and refrigerate for 48 hours. Strain the grapes through a sieve and press out as much liquid as possible. Boil the grapes uncovered for about 20 to 30 minutes until thickened or reduced. It will foam with large bubbles. Blend in wine and boil 1 minute (to boil off the alcohol).

You can bottle and keep the syrup in the freezer.

The original and detailed recipes are from the fabulous recipe book The Splendid Table by Lynn Rosetto Kasper

FYI It didn't taste like chicken either.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Yeast Farts

Baking bread is something I've always loved. Maybe I haven't been the greatest baker but it's a great way to take a break when working at home. Stop. Punch some dough. Go back to work.

I once prepared a huge whack of focaccia for a friend's wedding.

As I was proofing the yeast for the umpteenth batch, I noticed a hideous smell coming from the yeast. It stunk. Had this happened in the previous batches? I hadn't noticed.

I called the 1-800 number and asked what to do? I was in the middle of making a ton of bread and now my yeast smelt like an old tennis shoe! The 1-800 lady started talking about the osmotic properties of yeast. What?!

Okay, I have some chemistry in my background and I know the meaning of osmotic properties of yeast.*

*Put quick rising yeast in water and the yeast cells become waterlogged, explode and die. The cell walls are delicate and need flour in order to shore them up. No, this is not scientific explanation of osmosis but this is all you need to know for yeast. Quick rising yeast needs flour.

But that had nothing to do with stinky sock smell emitting from my bubbling live yeast.

There was no explanation and the 1-800 lady assured me that the bread would be fine after I baked it. It was. The smell had been baked right out of the yeast.

She may not have had an explanation but I know.

It was yeast farts ..

... and dead yeast doesn't fart.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Spicy Tomato Soup

Even though Autumn has not yet arrived, I've already been hit with my first snivelling croaky cold. I'm not good at reclining on a sick bed - I'm generally whiny and self absorbed when faced with a runny nose.

Yeah, my universe shrinks to me.

Since I can't even stand myself, I search for the fastest route to health. This soup is my family's answer to a cold. Maybe it doesn't really work; but it helps me focus on something else. One box of tissues later and a batch of this spicy soup, I'm in the clear.

Spicy Tomato Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil, 15 mL
2 cups GF chicken broth, 500 mL
1 large onion, chopped
1 red pepper, diced
1 tsp sugar, 5 mL
2 tablespoons minced hot pepper or a generous pinch of hot pepper flakes
3 garlic cloves, minced
28 oz can diced plum tomatoes with juice, 1L

½ tsp ground cumin, 2.5 mL
½ tsp black pepper, 2.5 mL

Italian parsley (optional)

Salt to taste

Heat oil. Stir in onion, red pepper and hot pepper and cook until onion is translucent. Add garlic and heat until fragrant but not brown. Stir in tomatoes, juice, broth, sugar, cumin and pepper.

Stir in Italian parsley just before serving. You can serve it with a mix of sour cream and cilantro for a fresh clean taste.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Allergy Challenged Baking

School has started and with it comes the challenge of packing a healthy lunch that won't kill my children's classmates. We received a flurry of notes about severe allergies in the classroom with nuts and peanut butter being the main offenders. However, we've also received notes about fish, kiwi, dairy and egg.

This recipe is for Quellia. I use this recipe as a base for cupcakes or any other treats that I send to school. I've adapted it to make a banana cake after I realized I was inundated with over ripe bananas and there were no eggs in the house. In the adaptation, I would reduce the banana a bit and add oil to maintain a moister texture. But, the chemistry works, it's a healthy snack and no one gets hurt.

Chocolate World Cocoa Cake

3 cups unsifted all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups water
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 Tbsp vinegar
2 tsp vanilla

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Add water, oil, vinegar and vanilla. Beat 3 minutes and medium speed until thoroughly blended. Pour batter into a grease and floured 9x13x2 inch cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 35 to 40 minutes or until baked.

Cool. Frost as desired.

Banana Cake

3 cups unsifted all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
4 cups mashed bananas
1 cup raisins
2 Tbsp vinegar
2 tsp rum flavouring

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Add bananas and flavouring. Beat 3 minutes and medium speed until thoroughly blended. Pour batter into a grease and floured 9x13x2 inch cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 35 to 40 minutes or until baked.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Deer Lips

Not moose lips, but we couldn't resist.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Roasted Eggplant Soup

Eggplant is a favourite vegetable of mine but it's not easy to cook. Sometimes it can be bitter and if the skin is left intact - well, it can remind you of moose lips. Epicurious has a fabulous recipe for a roasted eggplant soup. It was flavourful, smooth and deep. The addition of Landini brand white truffle oil elevated the soup to new heights. (No, no one pays me to say that but they are welcome to send some!)

Roasted Eggplant Soup

3 medium roma tomatoes, halved
1 large eggplant or two small ones (about 1 1/2 pounds - 650 gr), halved lengthwise
1 small onion, halved
6 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 30 mL
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, 15 mL or 1 teaspoon dried, 5 mL
4 cups (or more) chicken stock, 1 L
1 cup heavy cream, 250 mL

Salt and pepper to taste
Truffle oil for garnish

Preheat oven to 400°F. Put all the vegetables in a plastic bag and pour in the olive oil. Squish it around so everything is coated then put all the vegetables on a large baking sheet. There should be no vegetables overlapping each other.

Roast until the vegetables are tender and brown in spots, about 45 minutes. Check the vegetables about every 15 minutes to turn them or remove if they are too cooked. There will be a lovely roasted smell from the tomatoes, eggplant and garlic when they are ready.

Remove from oven. Scoop eggplant from skin into heavy large saucepan; discard skin. Squeeze the garlic out of it's peel. Remove the the skins from the tomatoes and discard. If the onion has burned a bit, cut off or remove the burnt layers. Burnt onion or garlic will give a bitter taste to your soup.

Add the roasted vegetables and thyme to same saucepan. Add 4 cups chicken stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until the onion is very tender, about 45 minutes. Cool slightly.

Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth. Return soup to saucepan. Stir in cream. Bring to simmer, thinning with more stock if desired. Season soup with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and top with a dash of truffle oil and sprig of fresh thyme.

Serves 4.

The epicurious version of Roasted Eggplant Soup can be found here.