Friday, April 30, 2010

Hot Cross Buns

Ok, so I went out some days back to buy some heavy cream & Oreos but came home with a Bread Maker instead. 

I blame my impulsiveness on cabin fever: my kids have had chickenpox and as a consequence we've all been confined inside the house far too many days. Add to that, the stress of meeting deadlines and finding time to study.
Ever since I've gone back to school, Wednesdays are the longest and most stressful days of the week for me. It's the last day of the study-week and I have huge assignments due. So I treat myself by giving myself Thursdays completely off. I don't think/read/write or do anything else the entire day if I can help it. 

That is just what I was doing last night after we got home from having dinner out. I was poking around in the kitchen to come up with 'something sweet' (and ready-made) for my dessert-craving husband when it struck me to finally unpack the much coveted bread maker and give it test run. It didn't really matter that it was past 9 p.m. I just had to try it out: according to my husband, I don't  understand the concept of 'chilling out'. 

After a brief search online, I came up with a recipe for Pull-Apart Hot Cross Buns on Allrecipes. I was initially going to go with a recipe for a basic loaf of bread but the cardamom in the ingredient list drew me to this recipe. 

I had all the ingredients on hand except ... the flour! But I discovered a bag of whole-wheat flour and decided to substitute with that instead. The recipe required me to dump all the ingredients into my bread maker and set it on the 'Dough' cycle. Sounds simple, right? Only if you follow the instructions on your breadmakers' manual: I dumped everything in and an hour later, it didn't look very dough-like. 

Took a look at the manual. Duh! Pour in the water or other wet ingredients first. Which I  . . hadn't done. 

No big deal, I just took the very, very sticky dough out and kneaded it only slightly with well-floured hands. I added in some raisins, divided the dough into 12 as directed and left the balls of dough to rise in a 9x13 pan. 

They rose to gargantuan size. I thought about taking them all out and dividing them further into 24, but then (feeling lazy) baked them as they were. 

Result: Aromatic, soft  and huge hot cross buns that are subtly spiced and not overly sweet. We waited till this morning to eat them for breakfast and let me tell you how they tasted in one word: delicious.

Pull- Apart Hot Cross Buns
adapted from Allrecipes
1 x 0.25 oz package dry active yeast
1/4 cup water
4 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 1/4 cup lukewarm milk
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 egg
1/4 cup raisins

1 1/8 cup confectioners sugar
1/8 cup milk
1/2 tsp almond extract

Sprinkle the yeast over warm water and let it stand for 5 mins. 

Place the flour, salt, sugar, cardamom, milk, butter and egg into the bread machine (as per manufacturers instructions). 

Pour the yeast on top. Close the lid and set the machine for dough setting. Add raisins, if using, when it beeps. 

When the dough is finished, divide it into 12 portions and shape into balls. Place them into a greased 9x13 inch baking dish, cover with clingfilm and set aside to rise till double in size (about 45 mins).

Remove clingfilm. Bake at 350 for 20 - 25 minutes. 

Set aside to cool completely. Whisk together the milk, confectioners sugar and almond extract. Drizzle over cooled buns in a cross shape. 

Now that I own a bread maker, watch out for more Yeastspotting on this page ;-) 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Baking With Dorie: The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart

I have been more than ready for BWD Monday: this has been the longest, most exhausting and emotionally draining week for me. And so this recipe for Lemon Cream Tart, chosen this week by Elizabeth of Gluten Free Baking, was just what I needed to help me unwind. 

I turned it into a weekend project, and let me tell you: making this tart was a real labor of love. I started by making the lemon cream a day in advance. Now I love all things lemon - and any desserts with 'lemon' in the title sound wonderfully light and refreshing. Which is why I gawked a little when I read the recipe and discovered how much butter just the lemon cream requires: 21 tablespoons!! Yes, you read that right. 21. And 9 more in the tart. Did you just feel your arteries clog up upon reading that? I did! 

This was a tough one: I had to decide whether to play around and reduce the amount of butter or just go ahead and make it the way it is. But since this was my first attempt at making any kind of tart, I didn't want to mess it up. So, I chose the latter option, and decided to make mini-tarts and spread the love, so to speak, instead of making one large tart. 

The lemon cream: let's just call it extraordinary and leave it at that. Because I can't find a better word to describe how lovely it is: less sweet than lemon curd, tangy and silky with a burst of citrus flavor. In short: the stuff MY dreams are made of. 
Now if only it contained less butter! 

It took me just a little over 10 minutes to prepare the cream. I don't own a double boiler so I prepared it in a stainless steel bowl placed over a pan of simmering water. I wasn't really sure if I was getting it right - my candy thermometer crept up to almost 180F but the cream didn't look very thick to me. So I left it on for a few more minutes and then strained it into my food processor. My butter was very, very soft so it got incorporated pretty quickly. And my food processor didn't even protest, like Dorie had predicted it might. 

I still don't have much of a sense of smell and can only catch faint whiffs of stuff. Most of the time it is undertones that other people can't smell at all which makes me a freak of nature, so all I could smell was the eggs in this cream while I prepared it. I couldn't smell the lemon at all. While pouring it out into a jar for refrigeration, I decided I was going to give all the tarts away because I was definitely not going to like eating something that smelled so egg-ish. 
And then I licked my spatula. Oh my. 

I decided right then: I'm not sharing! 

And I also decided that I had to do one better than just simple Sweet Tart Dough and make it with either pecans or almonds. The lemon cream really deserved that little extra attention to detail.

So I reduced the amount of flour and made the Sweet Tart Dough with ground pecans like Dorie suggests. And I wasn't disappointed. I really loved the hint of nuttiness they lent to this tart.

Once again, the dough was easy to make and I didn't need to knead it at all because I figure I over-processed it and it formed a ball of dough right there in my food processor. I didn't have mini-tart molds with removable bottoms so I lined my mini tart pan with foil, which I greased lightly, pressed the dough in and froze the pan for half an hour. 
Since I have never made tarts before, I wasn't sure how thick the shells should be. And I had been warned by Susi that the dough could get flaky, so I kept them on the thicker side and made just 6. 

I ended up over-baking a little because I forgot that I was using a dark pan and should have reduced the temperature. No harm done: the tarts came out great. They were a little puffy in the middle so I pressed them down gently with the back of a spoon as soon as I got them out of the oven. I didn't put them back to bake longer even though the middles looked like they might be a little under-baked - I was too afraid I'd burn them because the edges were brown already. 

The only problem I had with this recipe was that when I took out the lemon cream out of the fridge the next morning the texture was not soft and pillowy as I had imagined, but a little on the harder side. I figured, I must have added a little more butter than called for: that is the only explanation I could come up with. Our sticks of butter here are not marked with tablespoon measures so we really  have to eye-ball it. 

Leaving the cream out on the counter for a short while solved the issue - it softened up and then I simply whipped it a little before adding to the tarts. The whipping seemed to have done the trick because I refrigerated the filled tarts, and hours later the cream was still soft. So it wasn't the quantity of butter after all. 

Will I make this again? Yes : but only if I can find a way to reduce the amount of butter in the cream. I really, really loved the lemon cream and artery-clogging it might be, but I am still going to save the leftover cream in my freezer and think up other uses for it. I dipped some gingersnaps in it & I loved the combination of flavors so it could be great as a filling for gingersnap sandwiches. Or something. I'll find a way to use it.

I'm beginning to think that every recipe in this book is extraordinary & I'm loving Baking With Dorie.

Check out what my fellow bakers Susi and Elizabeth have done with their Extraordinary Lemon Cream Tarts. 

For the recipe, follow me . . 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Date Bars

I've been trying to write a blog post all week. Then stopping, deleting what I wrote or abandoning it altogether. And coming back to it later, only to repeat the entire cycle.

To be perfectly honest with you, I haven't much to say. I've had a lot of worrisome stuff on my mind these past several days. Initially I was going to throw in a funny story about my kids and a pair of Goldfish called 'Sparky' and 'Dolphin'. But I'm just not inspired enough today to tell that story. Maybe later. 
For now, here's a recipe for Date Bars that will fill your kitchen with an irresistible, buttery, toffee-like smell. Go on, you know you want to try them out.

Date Bars

1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 stick butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1 cup self-raising flour
1/2 cup, roughly chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 325F. Grease the bottom only of an 8" x 11" dish.

Cream butter and sugar. Beat in the vanilla extract and egg. 

Fold in the flour and mix well. Add chopped dates and nuts, if using. 

Pour into prepared baking dish. Bake 30 - 35 minutes. 

Let cool completely before cutting into bars. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Scooby Snacks - an experiment

Meet my 2-yr old daughter: She's loves "Soogie-Doogie" (Scooby Doo) & is crazy about our next door neighbors' dog, Charlie. 

Charlie deserves a special mention here because he is the stuff all bedtime stories, bribes and disciplinarian actions are made of: "finish your dinner & Charlie will come sit with you on the swing" or "Charlie thinks you look so pretty in that dress, please don't take it off" .. and "Ssh! Keep it down, Charlie's napping and we can't disturb him". 

Other than constantly trying to appease "Charlie-Doggie", much like Scooby & Shaggy, my little girl will do anything when bribed with food - especially the sweet kind. 

I try to keep the tendency in check, but a treat once in a while is okay. This week I wanted to do something fun so I searched online for ideas for a  'Scooby Snack'. All searches pointed to the recipe here.

I couldn't be sure if this recipe was actually for kids or meant for dogs. Walnut extract and ground herbal medicine? In a cookie? For kids? 

I don't think so. 

The base recipe sounded mostly like any other recipe for oatmeal cookies and so I decided to play around with it a little create my own version of a Scooby Snack. 

I have lost my sense of smell and taste (again!) so  had to rely on feedback from my 5-yr old. I followed the original recipe - substituting applesauce for the butter and adding hazelnut concentrated flavoring instead of walnut extract. The recipe didn't ask for any baking powder, but I added half a teaspoon, and added 1/4 cup of semi-sweet mini morsels. 

We made a test-batch of 5 cookies. The end result: So-so. 

My son said he could not taste any chocolate. So we went back, chopped up a bar of dark chocolate and mixed that into the batter. The second test batch received better reviews because of the additional chocolate. But I'm guessing, at best - these cookies are just okay. Not really outstanding in any way.

I will re-visit this recipe when I have more time. I'm sure there must be a way to improve it and don't regret having made it - it was a good way to divert the kids with a fun indoor activity while it rained this morning and they weren't able to go out to play. 

The next time around, I want to make a crispier cookie since that is how I always imagined Scooby's snacks to be. 

For now, here's the recipe (adapted from the original here):

Scooby Snack

2 cups, all purpose flour
1 cup quick cooking oatmeal
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup applesauce
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp hazelnut flavoring (concentrated)
approx. 1/2 cup chocolate chips (I used 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate mini morsels and a 100 g bar of dark chocolate, chopped )

Beat the applesauce, eggs, sugars and flavorings for a few minutes to blend. 
Add in the dry ingredients and blend well. This batter is very, very thick and you might want to add a tbsp or 2 of milk for ease in blending. I didn't, but I will try that next time

I scooped out and rolled 1/2 tbsp-sized balls, flattened a little and baked them for 6 minutes in my Bakery Express cookie mould (which is so good that it deserves a blog post dedicated to its review - I've been meaning to get to it and will soon). 

When baking in a regular oven, preheat to 350 and bake for 12  mins.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Baking With Dorie: Lots-Of-Ways-Banana-Cake

One of the very first kinds of cake that I ever made, years and years ago, was Banana Cake. 

It was out of a book that my best friend and I co-owned. Or she owned it and I borrowed it so often, that I began to think of it as my own. To cut a long story short, I was bitten by the baking bug back then and so, feeling over-confident and using my newly acquired 'skill', I made banana cake to take to school.

Everyone seemed to love it. Except a smart-mouth who said, 'You couldn't have made this. And it surely doesn't contain any real bananas: it's just banana extract'. How mean!

In the years between then and now, I've made banana cakes and banana bread dozens of times. But never without thinking of that smart-ass comment.

And I thought of it today as well, while I assembled the ingredients for this weeks Baking With Dorie challenge. 

I chose this weeks' challenge as well and I am so glad that I picked this recipe. Let me just say I love the dense sweetness of this cake.

I halved the recipe and made a single layer, dusted with icing sugar. 

The moment I smelled this cake baking, I regretted not making the whole recipe and smothering it with chocolate whipped cream as I had originally planned. 

It is wonderful on its own but begs for a scoop of ice cream.

It does seem a bit lonely out there on its own, don't you think? 

This cake is really good. 

Contains real bananas. 

Toasted coconut too ;-)

(Pages 205 & 206, Baking from my home to yours by Dorie Greenspan)

2 2/3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1.5 sticks butter
1 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 ripe bananas
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 cup sweetened , shredded coconut. preferably toasted.

Whisk the flour, baking soda, salt and nutmeg in a medium bowl. 

In a large bowl, beat the butter till creamy. Add the sugars and beat for a few minutes. 
Add the eggs and vanilla. The mixture will be silky smooth - add banana and lower speed. 
Mix in the flour and coconut milk alternatively, beginning and ending with the flour. Stir in toasted coconut. 

Pour into two 9" pans and bake for 45 mins. Cool for 5 minutes in pan before inverting on wire rack to cool. 

Dorie suggests lots of ways to serve this cake. I chose the simplest possible & dusted with confectioners sugar. 

The next challenge will be posted on April 26th, and fellow blogger Elizabeth has picked The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart (pages 331 & 332) for the next recipe. 

If you'd like to join the challenge, please drop me an email. 

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Broccoli Chicken Cups

To be completely honest with you, I haven't really been able to get my act together since I moved exactly a month ago. 

I had thought of several new things to try out in my kitchen and then blog about, but time just seems to get away from me these days. I'm back in school after a 3-month break and am now trying to work on my non-existent time-management skills. 

Even simple tasks are over-whelming lately & so the thought of having people over really throws me over the edge. Although I love the whole process of entertaining, I find it nerve-wracking. Especially because I belong to the school of thought that "more is less". So I am very capable of adding last-minute things to the Smorgasbord and making DH run to the grocery store at the last minute for some essential ingredient for an unplanned-for addition to my menu. 

And so I am that person standing over the stove, stirring a pot of something or the other while throwing orders at the rest of my petrified family to run around fetching things for me seconds before our guests arrive. 

We had a replay of all of the above this past weekend because it was a people-filled one both days. I had a huge assignment due (for school) right before the weekend started so, much to my disappointment, out of the ten things I had planned to make; I could only manage a few (read 7 - why are you surprised? didn't I say, 'more is less'? ).  

These Broccoli Chicken Cups were one of several appetizers made (but the only ones photographed) and our friends loved them so much that they took along all the leftover ones home with them. I managed to sneak away just two - so I could take a photo of them in the morning! 

The recipe is adapted from Taste of Home. 

Broccoli Chicken Cups

2.5 cups roasted chicken, shredded
1 can (10 3/4 oz) reduced-fat, reduced-sodium condensed cream of chicken soup
1 cup chopped fresh broccoli
2 small tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 small carrot, grated
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
1 - 1.5 tsp freshly crushed black pepper
12 frozen low-fat puff pastry squares
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a large bowl combine all the ingredients except the Parmesan cheese. 

Gently press puff pastry squares into muffin cups coated with cooking spray.
Spoon chicken mixture into pastry cups. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. 

Bake 25-30 minutes. Serve warm.


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Lets Talk Chai

I'm a bit of a Chai snob. 

I normally decline offers of Chai that other people have made by either pretending I'm not a tea-drinker or by exaggerating my caffeine-intolerance. Most of the time I get away with it (Ssh! Don't tell anyone!). 

Chai, for me, has to be a strong brew and not predominantly milky. If I'm making it only for myself, I flavor it with cinnamon or green cardamom (I love Masala Chai for this reason). 

Not everyone gets it right. My husband, who is too polite to decline a offensive to the senses  cup of tea when offered, will always drink up any weak, watery, colorless concoction. But he invariably always asks me to make him a 'real' cup of tea as soon as we get back home. 
Here's how I make Chai with tea bags. 
For 1 strong cup of Chai, you need:

2 tea bags
2 tbsp regular or low-fat evaporated milk (don't use regular whole milk or low-fat milk if you want a creamy cup of Chai)
boiling water
sugar to taste
Place the two tea bags in a cup. Pour boiling water over them to come up 3/4 of the way up your cup/mug, cover with a saucer or small plate and let steep for exactly 3 minutes. 

Covering is optional, but I feel like it traps in more flavor. 
Uncover, remove tea bags (squeeze well before you do), add sugar and evaporated milk. Stir, serve. 

If you like spiced chai, like I do, throw in your flavoring of choice with the tea bags before adding the boiling water so they can steep together. Use a stick of cinnamon or 2-3 pods of green cardamom, crushed. Remove & discard spices before serving. 

Monday, April 05, 2010

Dark Chocolate Dipped Apples (Magazine Mondays #1)

This is a really good twist on your regular candy apple. 

I made these for my kids several weeks ago, right before we moved. And since it was meant to be a submission for 'Magazine Mondays', I needed to locate the Heart Healthy magazine I got the inspiration for these apples from in the first place.  

No such luck. I packed the magazine away or threw it out? some time before we moved and, as of yet, I've been unable to find it. I finally located the recipe online on the Heart Healthy Living website.

I didn't add the nuts or cranberries because I didn't have any almonds and these were meant for the kids so I was pretty sure they would not at all like the addition of cranberries. I was glad I stuck to plain chocolate because the kids loved these apples and I can see many, many chocolate-and-chopped-almond-covered Gala apples in their future (and mine). 

The original recipe can be found here

If you want to go with plain chocolate: 

Wash and dry the apples and insert a wooden Popsicle stick into each after removing the stem. 

Melt dark chocolate in a double boiler. Dip the bottom of the apples in the chocolate, set on wax paper to cool for at least 20 mins in the refrigerator. 

Meanwhile, melt white chocolate in a small pan. Place in a small zipper bag (corner snipped off). Hold the apple upside down with the stick, drizzle  white chocolate over the dark chocolate. Place back on wax paper and let cool in the refrigerator for half an hour, or until the white chocolate sets.


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