Tribute to the Queen of all Daring Bakers, Lis

croissantfrench_1-photos

The world has lost a great person, I have lost a great friend. I have never met Lis in person, but we have exchanged countless of long, funny emails over the years. I first “met” Lis when the Daring Bakers was formed. And through the months and years we both laughed and exchanged emails about our baking triumphs and disasters. Lis was such a great writer, I told her she had some Bridget Jones feel going on in her writing.

Pictured above was the epic croissant challenge

She was such a staunch supporter when I decided to go full-time baking macarons and other little desserts. She was one of my test subjects when I tried shipping the macarons. She even had them for her wedding way back in 2008.

After both of us sort of fell off the blogging bandwagon, we found another common interest: True Blood! So we spent endless emails drooling over Eric and Alexander Skarsgaard and then bashing Bill Compton. And when Alcide showed up, well, we drooled all over him too.

Oh, Lis, I don’t think I ever told you, but I’ve finally watched Sons of Anarchy and you’re right, Charlie Hunnam is yummy.

And Lis was my biggest supporter when I told her I was writing a book. It was kind of funny how that went actually. Late last year, we were both exchanging emails about what books to read and I told her I’m writing my own book. So I sent her five chapters of a shitty first draft telling her I had no expectations of her reading it since it’s not her usual genre. She emailed me back and said she really liked what I had so far. So I think nothing of it and then a month later she emailed me again and asked: “Where’s the rest of the story?”

So I sat down and finished the manuscript and sent it to her. She said she loved it! Mind you this was an unedited final draft with all the horrendous grammatical errors and all. She became my beta-reader before I even knew what a beta reader was.

Lis,

I’m so sad you won’t get to read Viktor and Marissa’s story (although I have a feeling you’ll be reading over my shoulder as I write). But know that I’m thinking of you when I write them. You were my cheerleader—always. And somehow I know that wherever you are you’ll continue to give me that little nudge when I’m stuck.

You sent me an email the day before you passed, and I was wishing I had responded immediately, but if you’re reading this right now, I agree with what was in that email too.

I‘ll always remember you as the sister of my heart.

xoxo,

Your Sis

Swirls of Gold

passionfruitcake
Passion Fruit Layered Cake

I have no excuse. I simply don’t. Sure I was a bit busy, sure I had family over for a visit but the plain truth was I let myself be distracted so much that to sit down and write a post was quite a challenge. I don’t think I can define this as blog “block”, I have a ton of ideas running through my head, but just the thought of putting them together to form delicious prose during sweeps month on TV (the month where shows put on their best episodes) was indeed no contest. Yes, I watch too much TV. I could probably produce 3 posts a week if I just turned the idiot box off, but what can I say, I follow way too many programs. 🙂

That does not mean I had not been baking or cooking. In fact, the kitchen’s been humming and I’ve been worse in my obsessions. I’ve been testing recipes one or several ways. I have spied several must-try recipes from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s new book “Rose Heavenly Cakes.” I’ve been researching different fillings, cake textures and frostings – trying to figure out ways to reduce sweetness without sacrificing moistness in cakes and “standability” in frostings and fillings. When my sister-in-law was here we talked shop (she has taken over the reins of our family restaurant/ bakeshop) and about how American cakes seem to be too sweet (particularly fillings and frostings) and wondered if I developed one that wasn’t, if it would sell at all. We also discussed my niece’s wedding. Three hundred guests are expected, three hundred cupcakes for giveaway and a full blown dessert table to be planned that would include macarons hopefully. Fun! Specially since my sister-in-law has an army of bakers working for her, all she and I have to do is to prototype and delegate. Now is that not a dream job? Anyway, the event is going to be in the Philippines so I guess I can say Petites Bouchees will be going International! 😀

Anyway, this is a long recipe so I’ll keep my ramblings short. The genoise tasted a bit starchy – as if the cornstarch had not properly dissolved. I imagine the results would have been better if I had used Wondra flour. I made the genoise twice. Once with cake flour-cornstarch, the second with all-purpose flour-cornstarch. The cake flour version’s crumb was more fine than the all-purpose one but tastewise, was relatively the same.

I noticed a mistake I had made as I was typing out the recipe. I melted 3 tablespoons of butter for the clarified butter, the instructions meant to melt 4 tablespoons of butter and then take 3 tablespoons from the resulting clarified butter or buerre noisette. I do not think this would have changed the taste of the genoise too drastically though.
The passion fruit curd tasted very good, however, I thought the passion fruit syrup was overkill and made the whole cake too sweet and too “passion fruity”. I imagined a simple syrup mixed with rum would have balanced the curd better. My favorite part was making the White Chocolate Cream Cheese frosting and it complemented the flavor of passion fruit so well. More involved than regular Cream Cheese Frosting stiffened with powdered sugar, it does need to be refrigerated however it makes up for it by being silky and luxurious on the palate and not too sweet!

passionfruitcross
Passion Fruit Curd Filling

Continue reading

Cookie Swap: A book review

crescents
Sugar between the Sheets

I was sent a copy of Julia Usher’s new book: Cookie Swap, a few weeks ago. The first thing that struck me about this book was the lovely photographs (by Steve Adams) of dainty and skillfully decorated cookies. This admittedly discouraged me from trying out the recipes immediately because my piping skills are average and I have a hate/hate relationship with royal icing. However, a gorgeous tome can only be ignored for so long and I finally sat down and studied the pages and browsed through the recipes to pick out the ones I was going to try.

There are important “how-to”s about planning a cookie swap party in the beginning of the book. Also, the section “That’s how the cookie crumbles” gives valuable tips and information regarding the different types of cookies and their handling. The recipes are grouped by party themes, from Valentines day to weddings and from spring flings to Christmas.

I knew without a doubt that any recipe with sour cream in its dough is like honey to my bee which was why I zeroed in immediately on the Sugar between the Sheets – an appetizing walnut filled crescent cookie. I love the subtle tanginess that sour cream lends to baked goods especially pie-like mixtures.
I was not disappointed. This is one of the tastiest little treats I have ever made. The dough is so easy to put together and roll out. The resulting crust is so flaky and the walnut-sugar-cinnamon mixture is so simple, the first crunch of walnut crescent you get fresh from the oven is such a fulfilling bite.
Julia Usher’s shortbread recipe is also a keeper. It’s obvious that the theme here is not sugar overload but a balance of flavors. The almond in the shortbread plays up the buttery taste of the basic cookie but is subtle enough to be flavored.
I’d also like to commend her guidelines on royal icing – giving approximate measurements of water to dilute this quintessential decorating medium to attain desired consistency.

Judging from the resulting cookies, I must say careful testing had gone into this book. Each recipe is prefaced with the degree of difficulty, active time and the cookie type, as well as possible gotchas – for example a 2-3 hour chilling of a dough. Let’s face it, how many of us really read the recipe 3x before proceeding? It’s very intuitive of Miss Usher to state the pitfalls in a highlighted box from the get-go. I have been guilty of giving recipes are cursory glance only to be burned later upon realizing I should have had an ingredient at room temperature or a dough needing a certain amount of chill time before continuing.

As I have mentioned earlier, the decoration of the cookies in this book is perfection – it could almost be intimidating to the average baker. The instructions for decorating are very well-worded but I am a very visual person and I would have tried the recipes sooner if there were drawings and pictures of the decorating steps.

For those who love to decorate cookies and have cookie parties, this book is a definitely must-have in your cookbook library!

My ‘Tiers of Joy’ shortbread wedding cake didn’t turn out as flawless as the one in the book – obviously perfect royal icing dots are an Achilles heel of mine, and this is why I will never do wedding cakes ! 🙂
 

tiersjoy
Tiers of Joy

All recipes by Julia Usher from Cookie Swap

Sugar between the Sheets
Makes 4 dozen (2 1/2 inch) crescents

Sour Cream Dough

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into tablespoon-size pieces
3/4 cup sour cream
1 large egg, separated
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Cinnamon-Walnut Filling
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup walnut halves, toasted and cooled
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Mix the Sour Cream Dough. Stir the flour and salt together in a large bowl. cut in the cold butter with a fork or pastry blender until it resembles very small peas.
Whisk the sour cream, egg yolk, and vanilla extract together in another bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and gradually stir in the sour cream mixture, blending just until combined. (A few butter lumps are perfectly fine. Avoid overmixing, as it will toughen the dough.)

Divide the dough into three equal portions. Flatten each portion into a disk and wrap each disk tightly in plastic. Refrigerate 2 to 3 hours or until the dough is quite firm.
Make the Cinnamon-Walnut Filling. Meanwhile, place the sugar, walnuts, and cinnamon in a bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until the nuts are finely ground but not pasty. Set aside.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two or more cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Work with one disk of dough at a time. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 12-inch circle, about 1/16 inch thick. Using a 12-inch cake pan or bowl as your guide, trim the dough to a uniform circle. Carefully pick up the edges of the dough and brush any excess flour off the back with a pastry brush. Sprinkle the top of the dough with one-third of the filling, taking care to cover the entire surface as evenly as possible. Gently press the filling into the dough.

With a sharp knife or pastry wheel, cut the circle into sixteen wedges. (For fancier effect, use a fluted pastry wheel.) Starting at the widest end, roll up each wedge to form a crescent. (After each crescent is rolled, brush any scattered sugar mixture off the work surface so that it doesn’t get on the outside of the next cookie.) Place the crescents, loose ends facing down, 1 to 2 inches apart on one of the prepared cookie sheets. Repeat Steps 5 and 6 with the remaining disks.

Whisk the egg white until slightly frothy and brush it evenly on top of each cookie. (If you plan to freeze the crescents, do not apply any egg white until after the cookies are thawed.)
Bake 15 to 17 minutes, or until lightly browned on the top and bottom. Eat warm from the oven for best flavor or transfer immediately to wire racks to cool.

Shortbread, Straight Up
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen (2 1/4 to 2 1/2 inch cookie)

2 cups all purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

About 2 tbs. granulated sugar (for sprinkling)

In a food processor, fitted with a metal blade, process 2 tbs. flour and the almonds until the nuts are finely ground but not pasty. Add the remaining flour and salt, and process until well combined. Set aside.
Place the butter and sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Stir to bring the ingredients together; then beat on medium to medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Turn the mixer to low speed and add the vanilla extract. Gradually add the flour mixture, blending just until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to ensure even mixing.
Flatten the dough into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours, or until firm enough to roll without sticking.
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line two or more cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 1/4-inch thickness. Cut with a 2 1/4- to 2 1/2 inch round oval, or other cookie cutter. Using an offset spatula, carefully transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets, spacing them about 1-inch apart.
Sprinkle the remaining sugar evenly over the cookie tops to thinly coat them. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned on the bottom and firm to the touch. Immediately transfer to wire racks with offset spatula to prevent breakage. Cool completely before storing.

*Note, for my wedding cake cookies, I rolled the dough to 3/8 inch thickness and cut out equal numbers of 1 1/2 inch, 1 1/8 inch , and 7/8 inch diameter rounds. Bake the largest rounds 25 to 28 minutes and the smaller rounds 20 to 23 minutes. For more information on how to complete this, check out "Tiers of Joy" in the Cookie Swap book.
 

Cookies and Bloggers

Fieldguide 

Today is when my dear friend Anita makes her stop here at the Test Kitchen as part of her whirlwind virtual book tour that had started last week.

             I have always been an admirer of Anita’s gorgeous blog, Desserts First. I was fortunate to meet her last year in San Francisco when I was there to take some cooking classes. Anita is a graduate of the Tante Marie Cooking school pastry curriculum. Taking the course enabled her to evolve from being an occasional baker to a skilled professional. She is as eloquent in person as she is on her blog – her eyes gleaming with enthusiasm as we discussed our addiction to cookbooks.

             Below is a picture of me and Anita in San Francisco.

            Anita_1     

That was in August 2007.

What she didn’t know then was the following October she was offered the chance to write her own published book of delicious sweets.

Quirk Publishing found Anita through her blog. It is the publishing house behind the Field Guide Books – handy little reference-type volumes that cover a single topic extensively yet concisely. In this case they wanted Anita to write a Field Guide to Cookies – and can she do it in 8 months?

It was a tough deadline but she was up to the task. She quit her full-time job at the BitterSweet Chocolate Café and picked up some part-time consultancy work at an engineering firm –  work she had held in a life before pastry– so she would have more time to focus on the book.

At first, she was obsessed over the text of each cookie recipe, wanting to have it perfect the first time. She finally realized that continual back and forth with her editor about revisions, and additions were all part of the process.

Anita’s Field Guide to Cookies is as precious in its handy size as it is educational in the wealth of its content. I have never heard of the many different cookies in the book but they sound endearingly familiar in one reincarnation or another. For example the Mandelbrot appears to be a twin of the more popular Italian biscotti, and they are indeed related – adapted by Eastern European Jews who made them usually with oil instead of butter to keep them “non-dairy”.

The book is divided into four categories: Drop cookies where the batter is scooped by a spoon and dropped on a cookie sheet, bar cookies are baked whole in a pan and cut like brownie, molded cookies are ones whose dough are shaped into a mold and finally rolled cookie dough are shaped into a log and then cut. Each cookie is accompanied by a description and a brief history. Little icons denoting cooking tools or serving suggestions are deftly incorporated as little annotations to the instructions.

Mouthwatering photographs, positioned strategically in the center of the book, are handy in determining how a cookie’s end result will look like.

I asked Anita if she was to pick one cookie, a Sophie’s choice cookie, what it will be. She paused but a moment before she said: Palmiers. These are cookies made with puff pastry shaped to resemble elephant ears.  Historically, Palmiers were created to make use of scraps from leftover puff pastry. They can be dressed simply with sugar or made fancier with crushed nuts. In any case they make great desserts for parties.

So with a book under her cap, what’s next for Anita? She already has another book underway – the topic of which she will reveal in a few months. She is also teaching a three-day class, Cakes and Cupcakes, at the Tante Marie Cooking school. Anita said that the owner of the school, Mary Risley, likes to invite former graduates to come back and teach. Anita says it is a great opportunity for her to experiment and understand her craft even more by teaching other people.

 For my part, I was torn with which cookie to bake. Shall I make the banana chocolate chip cookies or her version of green tea cookies that use rice flour?  I was all set to make financiers – those delicious almond teacakes that are the mainstays of high tea, but my eyes caught the apple crumb bars. And on a cold windy day, there was nothing more comforting than the scent of apples and cinnamons wafting from the oven.

You’ll all have to excuse my less than stellar picture of the crumb bars…I made it on a Sunday just when Day light Savings time fell back and did not have enough natural light to take the picture.

Applebar 

Apple Crumb Bars

From Field Guide to Cookies by Anita Chu

Filling:

3 large tart apples, such as Granny Smith

3 tbs. softened unsalted butter

½ cup sugar

2 tbs. lemon juice

2 tbs. all-purpose flour

¼ tsp. ground cinnamon

Crust:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

6 tbs. softened unsalted butter

¾ cup light brown sugar

1 egg

Streusel:

½ cup sugar

2/3 cup plus 2 tbs. all-purpose flour

1/8 tsp. salt

6 tbs cold unsalted butter, diced

¼ cup chopped walnuts

For the filling: Peel, core and chop the apples in ½ inch cubes. Set aside in a bowl.

Melt butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat.

Add the apples and sauté for about 8 minutes until the apples are semi-soft.

Add the sugar, lemon juice, flour, and cinnamon to the apples and stir to combine.

Cook until mixture begins to bubble, then turn heat to low and cook for another 3 mintues, stirring constantly. Transfer filling to a bowl and let cool while you make the crust.

For the crust: Line a 9 by 13 inch pan with aluminum foil, leaving enough to hang over the edge to form handles for removing bars after baking. Grease foil with cooking spray.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl and set aside.

In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together on medium speed for several minutes until light and fluffy. Add eggs and mix to combine.

Add flour mixture and mix to combine.

Pour the dough into the prepared pan and gently press into the bottom of the pan and about ¼ inch up the sides, making sure it is level. Set pan aside while you make the streusel.

Preheat oven to 350F.

For the streusel: In a stand mixer, combine sugar, flour, and salt and mix to combine.

Add the butter, mix until crumbly and the butter pieces are very small.

Add the walnuts and mix just to combine.

Spread cooled apple filling evenly over the crust, leaving about ¾ inch between the pan sides and the filling.

Sprinkle the streusel evenly over the filling.

Bake for about 35 minutes until the top layer is golden.

Cool completely on wire rack before removing. Cut into 1-inch by 3-inch bars.

And don’t forget to check the delicious blogs on the book tour schedule:

Nov. 11th   – Jen of Use Real Butter

Nov. 12th   – Ari of Baking and Books

Nov. 13th    – Sara of Ms. Adventures in Italy

Nov. 14th    – Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice

Nov. 17th    – Helen of Tartelette

Nov. 18th    – Moi

Nov. 19th   – Aran of Canelle and Vanille

Nov. 20th  – Bea of La Tartine Gourmande

Nov. 21st  – Peabody of Culinary Concoctions Peabody

 

 

 

Summer’s Last Stand

Lemonbar 

We had been enjoying a very mild August weather; the transition into September had been promising with chilly mornings and humidity-free days. I was already starting my mornings daydreaming of cold weather stews and soups, gently poaching duck legs in duck fat to make duck confit and making flaky crusts for apple pies – so much so that I have mentally transported myself into autumn by evening. My daily reverie was completely obliterated this past weekend when an unusual balmy day escalated into an oppressive heat wave that turned parked cars into frying pans.

This presented a problem as we were having a party of grilled kebobs to celebrate the end of summer – little did we know that summer was not quite ready to leave. We had to move the time of the gathering from lunch to dinner as the noon-time sun would be beating down on the back deck where the grill was. Another dilemma was what dessert would be appropriate to follow the inevitable satiety of a kebab dinner and appealing enough to eat on a hot day: not chocolate, ice cream would be too heavy, maybe fruits? A light pana cotta was an option but since all the time I had was to make it the morning of the get-together, there would not be enough time to chill it. I rummaged through my trusty dessert books like Pure Dessert, The Sweet Life et al. for inspiration but nothing seemed to catch on. I do have some macarons…but that would be too predictable of me.  Finally, I pulled out Tartine.

My thoughts flitted back to my San Francisco visits where I always made it a priority to visit this beloved neighborhood bakery. Each time I visited, there were lines out the door but that never fazed me – everything was worth the wait from their ham and cheese croissants to their chocolate friands and from their fresh fruit tartlets to their yummy lemon bars. Panic always gripped me whenever it was my turn to order … decisions needed to be made quickly lest I hold up a line of equally eager customers and turn them into a menacing mob. So I just point and point and point and realized I had eaten again with my eyes as I left the pastry display case with boxes of goodies that would surely send me into a sugar coma by the end of the day.

My thoughts reluctantly left San Francisco to refocus back on the task at hand but not before pulling back a thread of inspiration.

Cold lemon bars…tart enough to whet a sated appetite and when served cold, perfect for that hot summer day!

I had everything I needed to make this dessert except lemons. I surmised that the newly opened Whole Foods wouldn’t be such a zoo at 9:00 am on a Sunday morning so I bravely set forth and sure enough there were but a few cars in the parking lot. I stilled myself to just go for the lemons when I stepped into its grand entrance, but my good intentions quickly dissipated as I saw the reduced price on the figs. And didn’t the hubby also mention he wanted some balsamic vinegar. I bought three. I walked towards the seafood area and wished I had a good reason to bring home a whole fish – they looked extremely fresh with eyes so clear they surely just made it off the boat.

Incidentally, here’s a picture of the shock and awe our Whole foods did on its second day of opening. I think it was a whole swordfish minus the head.

Fishwholefoods 

Passing the array of yoghurts, milk and eggs, I made a beeline for the meat case. Do I really need more meat? I looked longingly at their dry-aged beef display. There was only one thing to do – hightail my ass out of there.

So back to the lemon bars, an exciting moment came after discovering which brand of my assortment of egg trays had the most orange of yolk. Aren’t they lovely?

Eggyolk

 

Lemon Bars on Brown Butter Shortbread

From: Tartine by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson

One 9-by13-inch baking pan; twelve 3-by-3 ¼ -inch bars

Crust

  • 2 oz/55g           Confectioner’s sugar
  • 7 ½ oz/215 g     All-purpose flour
  • 6 oz/170g         Unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2oz/55g            Pine nuts (optional)

Filling

  • 2 ½ oz/70g       All-purpose flour
  • 1 pound/455g    Sugar
  • 9 oz/280 ml       Lemon juice
  • 1 small lemon    Zest

  • 6 Large whole eggs
  • 1 Large egg yolk
  • Pinch                salt

Confectioner’s sugar for topping

 

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 9-by-13 inch baking pan.

To make the crust, sift the confectioner’s sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the flour and stir to mix. Add the butter and pine nuts (if using) and beat on low speed just until a smooth dough forms.

Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and press evenly into the bottom and ½ inch up the sides of the pan. It should be about ¼ inch thick. To help even out the crust, use the flat bottom of any cup, pressing down firmly. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake the crust until it colors evenly to a deep golden brown, 25 to 35 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees if the crust appears to be baking unevenly.

While the crust is baking, make the filling: Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Add the sugar and whisk until blended. Add the lemon juice and zest and stir to dissolve the sugar. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the whole eggs and egg yolk with the salt. Add the eggs to the lemon juice mixture and whisk until well mixed.

When the crust is ready, pull out the oven rack holding the crust and pour the filling directly into the hot pan. (It is easiest to pour the custard into the pan if the pan is in the oven.). If the crust has come out of the oven and cooled before you have finished making the filling, put it back in for a few minutes so that it is hot when the custard poured into it. Reduce the oven temperature to 300F and bake just until the center of the custard is no longer wobbly, 30 to 40 minutes.

Let cool completely on a wire rack, then cover and chill well before cutting. Using a sharp knife, cut into 12 squares or as desired. If you like, dust the tops of the squares with confectioner’s sugar. They will keep in an airtight container or well covered in the baking dish in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Cooking Notes:

These bars were very easy to make. It needs 1 cup of lemon juice which amounts to about 4 regular sized lemons. Because we were having a party later I tried to reduce the mess I made as much as possible. For example, after weighing my confectioner’s sugar I immediately sifted it into a mixing bowl so I could use the same bowl to weigh the flour. And keep your measuring cup handy as you can use this to tamp down the crust when you are at that step. My crust took around 40 minutes to turn a dark golden brown. I had around 4 cups of egg mixture which I transferred to a large glass measuring cup to facilitate pouring. I had to take out the crust to remove the pie weights because I did not fancy picking them up one by one in the oven just in case I accidentally spilled them into the hot cavity.

These bars were delicious. The buttery crunchy crust complemented the tangy flavor of the lemon-infused custard. This was definitely a perfect sweet ending to the hot days of summer!

I'm also sending this to Susan of Sticky Gooey Creamy Chewy for her Blog Anniversary bash!

Beer and the No-Knead Bread

Noknead2

All of you remember the No-knead bread revolution that started last year when Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery revealed that the secret to great artisan bread is within the reach of the average home cook or even a four-year old. Having never made bread in my life before this (and that includes the bread machine) , I was highly doubtful that I could pull this off – but surprisingly I did and I had made the No-Knead Bread (NKB) a couple of times after that.

In the latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated (Jan/Feb 2008), they declared that they have developed a way to improve on the flavor and shape of Lahey’s NKB which they called No-Knead Bread 2.0  Personally, I thought Lahey’s version was pretty good, so I was wondering what else can be done to improve it? For the flavor issue, CI used lager which had the same yeast attributes found in bread and used less water which made the dough easier to form into a ball.

The resulting bread was mighty tasty but the crumb was closer knit unlike the original where it was perfectly airy.

I’m sorry for the lack of pictures, as I made this during a dinner party, the vultures descended before I was able to get a close-up of the sliced bread.

Just for giggles and because we did not want to waste beer, I tried ale in my next bread. Uh…the crumb was really close, the bread was heavy – it was tasty but it was as hard as a rock by day 2.

So, would I try this version again. No. I’d go with Lahey’s recipe – besides the times when I want to make this bread did not necessarily coincide with the time the “Hungry” Hubby might want to have a beer. The HH always says “Thou shalt not waste beer in this house.”

However, I would employ the method in the CI version of letting the dough rest, seam side down on top of parchment paper on a 10-inch skillet. This does make transferring the dough to a preheated Dutch oven easier. You do have to slash the top though.

No-Knead Bread 2.0

From Cook’s Illustrated Jan/Feb 2008

  • 3 cups (15 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting work surface
  • ¼ tsp instant yeast
  • 1 ½ tsp table salt
  • ¾ cup plus 2 tbsp water (7 ounces), at room temperature
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tbsp (3oz) mild-flavored lager
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar

Whisk flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Add water, beer, and vinegar. Using rubber spatula, fold mixture, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl until shaggy ball forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours.

Lay a 12-by 18 inch sheet of parchment paper inside 10-inch skillet and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead 10 to 15 times. Shape dough into a ball by pulling edges into middle. Transfer dough seam side down, to parchment-lined skillet and spray surface of dough with nonstick cooking spray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until dough has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when poked with finger, about 2 hours.

About 30 minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place 6- to 8-quart heavy bottomed Dutch oven (with lid) on rack , and heat oven to 500 degrees. Lightly flour top of dough and using a razor blade or sharp knife, make one 6-inch-long, ½-inch deep slit along top of dough. Carefully remove pot from oven and remove lid. Pick up dough by lifting parchment overhang and lower into pot (let any excess parchment hang over pot edge). Cover pot and place in oven. Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove lid and continue to bake until loaf is deep brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center registers 210 degrees, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Carefully remove bread from pot; transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to rat out the “Hungry” Hubby’s anal-retentive, mild OCD nature when it comes to kitchen cleanliness. Boy, do the Reynolds people love him! His motto is “the less to clean up, the better”.

Can you all imagine the look on his face whenever I tell him I’m about to fry or sauté something? He’d rather order take-out than have me cook just to avoid oil splatters.

During Cooking:

Duringcook_2

After Cooking:

Aftercook

I do admit his little trick does help especially when we have dinner guests coming over. 🙂

A Basketful of Brioche

Briochebasket

            I have always loved ensaymadas as a child. I would watch our baker swirl them into their fluted pans and wait for each batch to emerge, gloriously aromatic, from the oven. Ensaymadas are usually buttered, rolled in sugar and sprinkled with cheese; I did not like them overly covered in sugar and preferred mine buttered, sprinkled with just a little sugar and then “cheesed”. So I would snatch mine up from the cooling racks before they were prepped for their finishing touches. Such was my fond memory of this sweet baked bread.

             It was not until I tasted a brioche in a local French brasserie here in Richmond, Va that I was struck with how similar it tasted to the ensaymada. Unfortunately, this one I tasted was quite dry but the flavor was reminiscent of that childhood memory.

            When I saw Desire brioche in Alice Medrich’s book Pure Dessert (what can I say – I cannot help but bake everything I see in this brilliant tome), I knew it was time to attempt to recapture that moment of my youth.

I could not decide on which pan size to use so I bought 4 each of medium (5.5 inch) and small (4 inch) ones. I’ve also search for the distinct method of making brioche a tete and found this video to be very helpful although Alice’s book had very clear instructions on two methods.

It is also interesting to note that we food bloggers sometimes go on the same wavelength a lot. I was all set to make the brioche when the lovely Anita of Desserts First posted her yummy rendition of it. It was very reassuring that someone else have tested and tried the recipe I was about to undertake and had much success with it.

Briochecrumb

Cooking Notes:

The method in this brioche recipe requires that you chill the flour so you can beat oodles of butter into the dough without the butter melting. My resulting dough was so sticky, I was so sure I made a mistake. I refrigerated it over night and it did not rise much – I don’t think it was supposed to anyway.

I did have some difficulty forming my brioche a tete as evidenced by the results of almost non-existent “snowman heads”. I had to use a lot of flour just so the dough would not stick to the countertops and my fingers.

I went egg-wash crazy since I loved golden color – I liked it that the recipe tells you to strain your egg wash to get the lumpy egg whites off. I never did that before and am surprise how much easier the application of the egg-wash can be. I baked the brioche for about 20 minutes at 350°F. I was waiting for them to get really dark but a small voice told me to check the temperature of the bread.

The brioche is done at a temperature of 200°F. So I took a little one out and was dismayed to see it register at 210°F. A vision of choky brioche invaded my mind. I took the bigger one out and it registered at 199°F so I figured they were all done.

I let them rest for a couple of minutes and impatient as always with freshly baked bread, I split one of the smaller brioches in two. To my relief, the inside was still moist and the taste was lightly buttery. Of course, I slathered more butter on it and some local honey and popped a piece of it in my mouth immediately – YUM!

My only reservation with this brioche was that it was very crumbly – not dry but crumbly and this made it hard to smear butter and honey on it. I have a sneaking suspicion that I did not beat the dough enough to develop the gluten structure.

I would definitely make this again. Even after three days, it still tasted wonderful after toasting it lightly in the oven.  Rather than smearing the butter on, I made an “x” incision at the top of the brioche and inserted a chunk of butter in before I put it in the oven. That way the butter melts as the brioche warms up and that nostalgia of my childhood bread – the ensaymada – gets rekindled every time.