June 28, 2009

Daring Bakers - Bakewell Tart...er...Pudding

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.

Bakewell tarts…er…puddings combine a number of dessert elements but still let you show off your area’s seasonal fruits.

Like many regional dishes there’s no “one way” to make a Bakewell Tart…er…Pudding, but most of today’s versions fall within one of two types. The first is the “pudding” where a layer of jam is covered by an almondy pastry cream and baked in puff pastry. The second is the “tart” where a rich shortcrust pastry holds jam and an almondy sponge cake-like filling. The version we made was a combination of the two, shortcrust almond pastry with frangipane and jam.

I was inspired by some photos on the Tartlette blog and decided to make a trip to our own San Francisco Farmer's Market for fresh blackberries. I wanted to make my own jam for the tart and found the market berries deliciously ripe and ready to become jam. I have never made jam from scratch and found it fairly easy (even though I really didn't have much of a recipe to follow). No matter the process, the jam turned out well and maybe a little more soupy than jam in a jar.

The Shortcrust pastry is a basic sweet pie crust only it uses eggs and the Frangipane is an almond-sponge. All together the textures form a wonderful dessert. Very interesting - and I believe "Dessert" is key for name here. I served it with unsweetened whipped cream and fresh blackberries. I will definitely be making this a regular dessert because I have a feeling it will very easily change flavors based on seasonal fruit available.


Blackberry Jam

1 pint fresh blackberries

2 T Sugar (more to taste)

Squeeze of lime (lemon or orange may substitute)

Combine berries and sugar in a saucepan over medium until berries 'give up their juice'. This takes between 5-10 minutes. Add citrus juice, continue to cook and stir for an additional 10-15 minutes. At this point the sauce will coat the back of a spoon and the liquid should have cooked down into something that resembles a jam. You may need to add a little cornstarch but is not completely necessary. Set aside to cool. Store excess in the fridge for one week.

Shortcrust Pastry

225g (8oz) all purpose flour 30g (1oz) sugar 2.5ml (½ tsp) salt 110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better) 2 (2) egg yolks 2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional) 15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes


125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened 125g (4.5oz) icing sugar 3 (3) eggs 2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract 125g (4.5oz) ground almonds 30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

To Assemble

Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

June 22, 2009

Cornbread, A little taste of the South

I have been making this particular cornbread recipe for over a year now. I seem to keep buttermilk on hand just in case the time feels right for cornbread. This weekend seemed right enough to me. Accompanied by crab legs and a new dish with roasted peppers, onion, garlic and feta cheese it was a delicious match. It was a mighty fine dinner and may disappoint only Paula Dean with the meager addition of only one stick of butter.
I highly recommend making cornbread from scratch if you can. It is so much better than the box - really. Cornmeal is very inexpennsive and when made fresh, has no strange processed food aftertaste. The texture is just right - moist with a tight crumb. It doesn't fall apart when you take a bite and the buttermilk adds just the right balance of tangy to sweet. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
Buttermilk Cornbread
1/2 C butter (1 stick)
2/3 C sugar
2 eggs
1 C buttermilk
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 C cornmeal
1 C flour
1/2 tsp salt
In a skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Remove from heat and stir in sugar and eggs. Combine buttermilk and baking soda then add to the butter mixture. Whisk until incorporated. Stir in cornmeal, flour and salt. Pour into a greased 8" pan and bake in 375* oven for 30 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. The top should be lightly browned.
I believe that you could use an iron skillet with this recipe and just transfer the mix straight into the oven rather than a greased pan but I have no such pan and have not tried it. happy baking.

June 21, 2009

Play Dough Making at the Mart

Yesterday I spent my afternoon in the company of a friend and a 19 month old (accompanied by his mom) at Frankenart Mart. This is the interactive gallery owned by my co-worker Leslie. Currently, her themed show is "Elementary School." I enjoy participating in her gallery and have to be creative when I do (though at the Mart, art is for everyone... even little 5 year-olds add to the show). I decided to use my baking skills and concoct a Play-Dough from scratch and teach a class. On Saturday I assumed the role of Professor Townsend (as all visiting teachers are donned) and taught the art of play dough making.
I have made play dough a few times before - mostly in college for a group of kids I used to babysit - but I had not come across the right recipe until now. After doing some research I revised my recipe to include Baby Oil instead of vegetable oil and reduced the amount of salt. What came out was a really soft and pliable dough, very closely matched to the real Play Dough. It takes a little effort and a little more time but it is definitely worth it. Adding baby oil instead of vegetable oil also gives it a longer life without molding or going rancid. Here is the recipe, I hope those of you with kids find time to try it. (I definietly had a great time playing with it!)
Play Dough
1 1/2 C water
2 T Baby Oil
food coloring (5 drops made a nice pastel colored dough)
2 C flour
1/2 C salt
2T cream of tartar

In a double boiler over medium heat, combine water, oil, and food coloring. In a separate bowl mix dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the water in thirds, stirring smooth after each addition. After all the flour mix is in, cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. The dough will seem watery but will come together into a ball. Take off the heat and let rest until it is cool enough to handle. Knead it until smooth. It will start out a little sticky but refrain from adding flour! It will work itself out. Store in an airtight container in the fridge to be able to use it for a few months.

June 18, 2009

Maybe the Worst Cookie Ever

Today I completely missed out on my morning caffiene dose (at a project site) so I decided to stop by Starbucks when I returned to the office. Like always, there was a guy outside the store asking for change or whatever else... and he pointedly said "Ma'am would you please by me one of those cookies in there?" and I responded with only a smile and walked inside. There were probably about 6 people in line ahead of me (yes at 11am people still need coffee) so I had time to contemplate.
My first thought was, "Michael would think it irresponsible for me to give this guy something that won't sustain his health by any means." Second I thought, "I would probably still want a cookie if I was homeless" and decided to buy him one. They carry different pastries at different times of day so they happend to have two: chocolate chip, and oatmeal with raisins sprinkled over the top. The second choice looked very unappealing like little bugs on a mound of dirt so I opted for the chocolate chip. I ordered my Tall Skinny Decaf Hazelnut Latte. It took a while to get my drink since the little barista was unsure whether or not he used decaf or not... and by the time I walked out the door my cookie receiver had fled the scene. Go figure.
Back to the office I go. My office is a little strange. I work in The Annex of our office (previously called "The Ladies Annex" since four women occupied the space) which is quite nice. It's quiet - no phone or jazzy elevator music - and a lot more relaxed than the main office. That is a lot of background for this.... one person can't eat chocolate, one can't eat sugar, and the other is out sick. That means I am left to eat the cookie myself. Not really a bad thing until you take your first bite. The cookie was absolutely tasteless. I am not sure how you make a bland cookie but somehow Starbucks achieved this. It was just so terrible! They should stick to breakfast related goodies and drinks. Maybe they should not be serving egg sandwiches etc. They are definiely attempting to become the one stop shop - the WalMart of Coffee chains. Really though, it is strange to me how many things they serve for a coffee shop. Pretty soon they may begin offering child care and insurance policies....
Enough of my ranting! Now, off to bake some interesting and hopefully good cookies. (I have faith that anyone could make a cookie better than Starbucks... even from a box).

June 17, 2009

A Crazy Idea

Some of you may know that I am part of an online baking club called Daring Bakers. I also wanted to join another cooking/blogging club called Tuesdays with Dorie but it is full for the time being. With a strong desire to connect to other bakers I wanted to see if anyone would be interested in joining a new club (or simply needed to justify baking at least once per month for no particular reason).
It would be open to all - even if you don't have a blog to post to (but I recommend it!) and I am thinking it might revolve around a theme... three months of breakfast, three months of cookies etc. but definitely does not have to! I will most likely limit it to strictly baking (sweets or breads) since that is my passion but I know of a few good cooking blogs to join if you are interested.
Please let me know your ideas and if you might like to join.... In the mean time I will try and dream up a name for it.
~The Lovely Lady Baker

June 14, 2009

It's Not Christmas Anymore

I know, what on earth does this title mean? Well, I have had cranberries frozen since the holidays waiting to become something besides cranberry sauce. I finally decided to use them and make Cranberry Orange Bread. I never actually made cranberry sauce from scratch before and we received at least 2lbs in our CSA box for Thanksgiving - of which I think I used about a third (the sauce is good but 6 people can only eat so much). So, with high hopes of making something based on tradition... out comes this bread.
I used my James Beard cookbook and some delicious organic oranges and orange juice. I have found it very satisfying to cook locally and thankfully living in California we have the opportunity to buy a huge variety of local produce. I also enjoy making things from my CSA box (like the strawberry rhubarb crisp) when possible, even if I wait half a year to do it. It actually takes a lot of planning when grocery shopping to get local foods because we have so many grocery store chains to choose from. One of my favorites is actually nestled in our neighborhood and stocks mostly organic and local foods. The butcher is especially great for a small store (think about a quarter or less the size of your regular super market). But, it is more expensive than Safeway, which requires planning. I have read that in other countries that people spend more money on food than we do here in the US and I think its time for us to take note. Buying fresh, healthy food (like grass fed antibiotic free beef) returns more to our bodies than eating from a box. The way we were meant to eat. These foods provide the nutrients our bodies need and we get healthy in return. What a concept for a diet! Enough of this though... read The Omnivore's Dilemma or In Defense of Food if you are interested in learning more.
I did enjoy making this bread and learned cranberry juice stains your fingers well. I'm especially excited for breakfast this week on account of this bread. The aroma was nice (paired with the sandwich bread I was baking in the bread machine). This bread seems like the type of bread that changes flavor as it ages - like pumpkin. It is fairly dense and has a very bright citrus punch followed by a sweet and tart finish. Maybe I'll try it with dried cranberries next to see how it turns out.

June 12, 2009

Cookies Cure Post Vacation Woes

After returning from vacation I was in need of some "baking therapy" as I called it. We spent 10 days in the South Caribbean (see photos if you like) and returning to work was not a happy time. I believe I had a little bit of post vacation depression - you might too if you were able to lounge around on a boat or beach and jump into the ocean at your leisure. In order to get out of my funk and exhaustion from work I decided to make some cookies. I don't actually remember the last time I made cookies but I will guess that they were Snickerdoodles by request (one of Michael and Brittany's favorites). 
I spent a while looking through two trusted cook books and decided to make coconut macaroons - only to find out I had used up almost all of my coconut stash. Instead of coconut I went for simple chocolate chip cookies. I think the recipe I used is one of the best, although I do enjoy a thicker cookie sometimes. I split the batter in half and added coconut and pecans for a change. Good texture and nutty crunch. 
Something I have been thinking about (since I did not post right after baking) is the strange phenomenon that happens when you leave cookies in a sealed container with a slice of bread. I found online an illustration of what they call "Cookie Osmosis." My mom did this when we were growing up and I was always amazed how the bread revived them. My husband was super skeptical calling it "an old wives tale" until I proved to him it worked. I can't think of a better way to make a couple dozen cookies last unless you freeze 'em. Give it a try!

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