Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Nanaimo Bars and a Visit to Toronto


For the past three years, my girlfriend and I have made it a tradition to take a road trip with our kids for a few days during their two-week Spring Break. This year we traveled north to Toronto, Canada and stopped at Niagara Falls along the way. Toronto is only a 5-6 hour drive from Pittsburgh. Thanks to the Spilled Milk podcasts (co-hosted by Molly Wizenberg from Orangette) I had teed up on my iPhone, I giggled most of the way there and the driving time went by in a flash.

We visited the usual Toronto tourist attractions...

The CN Tower, where you ride up to the top and on a clear day you can see for miles. A portion of the floor at the top is made of glass and you can see straight down to the ground below.




The Toronto Zoo. The polar bears were so much fun to watch.




Casa Loma, the beautiful castle built on a hill overlooking the city, was quite interesting.





The Royal Ontario Museum and The Science Center kept us busy for hours.



We saw the Stanley Cup at the Hockey Hall of Fame and Justin Bieber's shoes at the Bata Shoe Museum. Only seeing Justin Bieber himself could've topped that (according to one fanatic 14-year-old)!




Of course, along the way, we had to stop at interesting bakeries and chocolate shops.
The Soma Chocolate Shop in the Distillery District was a chocolate lover's dream. The kids chose to buy milk chocolate bars and I had two chocolates from the glass case - a gianduja (pronounced john-DOO-ya, more on that in a post to come) and a chocolate-covered morsel of marzipan, my favorite treat.




The L'Espresso Bar and Pastry shop on Bloor street just down from the Royal Ontario Museum was fantastic. They played lively jazz music and the dining room was packed on a Sunday morning. Ellen and Ben were wanting to try a Canadian sweet and chose the Butter Tart. A butter tart is kind of like a pecan pie without the pecans. They are quite sweet. This one had traditional raisins in the filling. I purchased a cranberry shortbread and an almond shortbread cookie - one to eat now and one to have with my tea later. We took our treats to go and finished them on a bench outside the shop.




Another Canadian dessert we saw along the way was the Nanaimo Bar. We didn't get the chance to try it in Canada, so I made this version of the Nanaimo Bar after we got home. The original Nanaimo bar has a vanilla custard middle layer and the recipe calls for custard powder. I didn't have any custard powder, so I made this take on a Nanaimo bar from Alice Medrich's book, Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies. The middle layer is cheescake in this version. The cookie crust is wonderful, made with chocolate wafers (I used Oreos), dried coconut, and chopped pecans.

Although I loved Toronto, next year I vow to go south where it might be a little warmer. Any suggestions?


No-No Nanaimo Bars
adapted from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich

Base Layer
1 1/2 cups (5 ounces) chocolate cookie crumbs (I used Oreos)
1/2 cup (1.5 ounces) unsweetened dried shredded coconut (sweetened would work as well)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) finely chopped pecans
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar

Middle Layer
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons (0.875 ounce) packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg

Top Layer
2 T granulated sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
7 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate with 55% to 60% cacao

Equipment
A 9-inch square metal baking pan, the bottom and all 4 sides lined with foil

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Mix the crumbs, coconut, pecans, butter, and 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar and pat it very firmly into the lined pan. Bake the crust for 10 to 12 minutes, or until it looks slightly darker at the edges and smells toasted.

While the crust is baking, mix the filling. In a large bowl, beat the softened cream cheese, brown sugar, and 1/4 cup of the remaining granulated sugar until smooth. Beat in the vanilla and then the egg. When the crust is baked, dollop the filling onto the hot crust and spread gently with the back of a spoon. Bake the bars until the edges are slightly puffed, about 10 minutes. Cool on a rack for 30 minutes. Chill for at least 2 hours.

Dissolve the remaining 2 tablespoons granulated sugar in the cream. Bring 1/2 inch water to a simmer in a medium skillet. Coarsely chop the chocolate and combine with the cream in a medium metal bowl. Place the bowl directly in the skillet of hot water and turn off the heat. Let rest for 5 minutes and whisk until smooth. Set aside until needed.

Pour the warm ganache onto the bars, spread, and chill for at least 30 minutes before serving. Lift the bars out of the pan by using the edges of the foil liner. Cut into 16 or 25 squares, wiping the knife between cuts. May be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.

Makes 16 large (2 1/4—inch) bars or 25 smaller bars.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bagels - An Update



This is just a quick update on the bagels I posted a few weeks ago. Since then, I've made them several times and the kids are just gobbling them up. But I've learned a few things since that first time so I thought I'd share.

1. You don't need high gluten flour - I've used King Arthur Bread flour, found in most supermarkets (the cheapest around town is Wal-mart) and I found no difference in the results.

2. You really must try to incorporate almost all of the flour in the recipe. It takes a little while and even my Kitchenaid has trouble kneading the stiff dough so I knead it by hand, adding a little more flour every few kneads, until you're sure the dough couldn't handle another bit of flour. The one time I didn't add as much flour, the bagels were a little flat.

3. It took some trial and error, but the best way that I found to make your toppings stick, is to brush the bagel with egg white wash not once, but twice. Whisk an egg white with a teaspoon or so of water. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg white on, let it dry, then brush a little more egg white on and sprinkle on the toppings while the second coating is still wet. This method worked better than just one coating of egg, better than just water, and better than a water and cornstarch mixture.

4. I boil the bagels in the water bath for exactly 45 seconds per side, instead of one minute or more, so that they are the perfect chewiness.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Olive and Thyme Bread



Our local grocery store used to make a delicious olive bread in their bakery. I would slice it into thick slices and toast it and butter it and eat it for breakfast, or lunch, or dinner. Then one day, they stopped selling it. That was maybe 10 years ago, make that 15 - I don't think kids were in the picture yet. Back then I never would have thought that I could make it in my own oven. I just carried on - without olive bread.

Then I came upon this recipe in The Art and Soul of Baking and the memory of that olive bread came back to me. With more bread-baking experience under my belt, I decided to give this recipe a try. It was wonderful. It's moist and has just the right amount of olive flavor, not overpowering. It's even better than the bread I remembered. I still like it thickly sliced and toasted with butter, and now I'll even sprinkle a little extra sea salt on top (maybe because I buy only unsalted butter, even for my butter dish.) It's nice to know I'll never need to go without olive bread again.

Rustic Olive and Thyme Bread
from The Art and Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet (not a bad recipe from this book yet!)

Ingredients
Poolish (Pre-Ferment)
1 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast or 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 cup (5 ounces) bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour

Dough
1/2 cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast, or 1 1/8 tsp instant yeast
3 cups (15 ounces) bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme (I used a little less of dried thyme)
1 cup pitted and coarsely chopped kalamata olives

1. Pour the water into a medium bowl and whisk in the yeast. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes, or until the yeast is activated and looks creamy. Stir in the flour and mix until no patches of dry flour remain. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 4 to 6 hours at room temperature, or 24 hours in the refrigerator.

2. Pour the warm water into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the sugar and yeast, whisk by hand to blend, and allow the mixture to sit for 10 minutes, or until the yeast is activated and foamy or bubbling. Add the poolish and whisk by hand to blend well. Add the flour, salt, olive oil, thyme, and olives (make sure the olives are coated with flour before kneading). Knead the dough on low speed until is comes together in a cohesive mass, about 3 or 4 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 20 minutes to allow it to fully hydrate before further kneading. Turn the mixer to medium-low and continue to knead until the dough is firm, elastic, and smooth, 3 to 6 minutes.

3. Lightly oil a bowl, scrape the dough into it, and lightly cost the surface of the dough with a little oil. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic warp and let the dough rise until doubled, 1 1/2 to 3 hours.

4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Press down on the dough firmly to expel some of the air bubbles, but don't knead the dough again or it will be too springy and difficult to shape. Divide the dough in half and shape into two round, taut loaves.

5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat and place the loaves on the sheet about 5 inches apart, seam sides down. Brush the loaves lightly with oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Allow the loaves to rise until they are almost doubled in size and look like they have taken a deep breath, 45 to 60 minutes.

6. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Slash a pattern into the top of the dough with a chef's knife. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until their internal temperature registers 200 degrees. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. Slice with a serrated knife.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Baking with Kids: Monkey Bread


Last week I posted a recipe for white sandwich bread. It was very good, but not very exciting.
So Annie and I were "monkeying around" and made that dough into something sweet and delicious - monkey bread. The dough was just finishing the first rise when she came home from school. We broke the dough into little balls, and dipped them in melted butter, and then cinnamon sugar...


...then dropped the buttery, sugary, cinnamony balls in a loaf pan and let them rise for a while.


The whole house smelled wonderful as they were baking. I couldn't even get a picture before we all started digging into the pan. They were gone in record time.



Wanna bite?


Monkey Bread
from The Art and Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet

For the dough:
¼ cup warm water (110 to 115F)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon active dry yeast, or 2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast
1 cup warm whole milk (110 to 115F)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt

For the cinnamon-sugar coating:
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 teaspoons cinnamon

Place the water, sugar, and yeast in the small bowl and whisk to blend. Allow the mixture to sit for 10 minutes, or until the yeast is activated and foamy. In the medium bowl, whisk together the warm milk and melted butter.

Place the flour and salt in the bowl of the stand mixer. Mix briefly to blend. Add the yeast mixture and milk mixture and mix on medium speed just until the dough comes together, 2 to 3 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp lint-free cotton towel and let the dough rest for 20 minutes to allow it to fully hydrate before further kneading. Turn the speed to medium-low and continue to knead until the dough is firm, elastic, and smooth, 3 to 6 minutes. Finish by kneading by hand for another minute or two.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl or tub and coat the surface of the dough with a little oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp lint-free cotton towel and let the dough rise until doubled, 45 to 60 minutes (longer if the room is cold).

After 45 minutes, leave the dough covered, and start working on the cinnamon- sugar coating. Melt the butter in a bowl in the microwave. Allow to cool until still liquid, but not too hot for little fingers to dip in. In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar and cinnamon. Lightly butter a loaf pan.

After the dough has doubled, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Press down the dough firmly to expel some of the air bubbles, but don’t knead the dough again or it will be too springy and difficult to shape (if this happens, simply cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp lint-free cotton towel and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes to give the gluten some time to relax.) Flatten the dough into a rough rectangle and using a bench scraper, cut the dough into small pieces about the size of cherries.

Dip the dough pieces in the melted butter, and then roll them in the cinnamon sugar. Place the pieces side by side in the loaf pan. Fill the whole bottom layer evenly, and then move onto the next layer, arranging the pieces the same way, until all of the dough has been used up. Press down lightly on the top, and then cover the pan with the damp towel. Let the dough proof (or rise) for another 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. When the dough is ready, uncover the dough, and transfer to the oven. Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown and instant-read thermometer registers 200 degrees.

Transfer pan to wire rack to cool. When cool enough to handle, turn monkey bread out onto a dish or serving platter. (We just ate the pieces right out of the pan.)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

White Sandwich Bread, No Monkey Business


As I get older, I find that I prefer bread with at least a little whole grain, but sometimes, a really great white bread is required. For instance, I can't eat a BLT without white bread. And a grilled cheese and tomato is just better on the white stuff.

I have a bread machine, but I haven't used it in a very long time. A bread machine takes all the fun out of making bread. You can make bread dough in a Kitchenaid, and I often do, but I like to knead the dough by hand too. And even if I do make the dough in the mixer, I always like to finish by kneading the dough on the counter for a minute or two. It's a good practice to get into, so you can get used to how the dough is supposed to feel.

If you've never made bread, this is a good recipe to start with. It takes some practice, but each time you'll get better at knowing when to stop kneading and when to punch the dough down after the first rise.


This is a white bread you can feel good about eating - no high-fructose corn syrup or preservatives. It's nice a soft too. The crust gets a great caramelization, but it's not too strong-tasting either. The kids will still pick the super-soft supermarket bread over any other, if given the choice. But someday, when their taste buds are more discriminating, I know they'll prefer this one, like I do.

Next time, I'll show you how we "monkeyed around" with this recipe to make something no one in the house could resist!

White Sandwich Bread

Makes 1 loaf

¼ cup warm water (110 to 115F)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon active dry yeast, or 2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast
1 cup warm whole milk (110 to 115F)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 egg, lightly beaten


Place the water, sugar, and yeast in the small bowl and whisk to blend. Allow the mixture to sit for 10 minutes, or until the yeast is activated and foamy. In the medium bowl, whisk together the warm milk and melted butter.

Place the flour and salt in the bowl of the stand mixer. Mix briefly to blend. Add the yeast mixture and milk mixture and mix on medium speed just until the dough comes together, 2 to 3 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp lint-free cotton towel and let the dough rest for 20 minutes to allow it to fully hydrate before further kneading. Turn the speed to medium-low and continue to knead until the dough is firm, elastic, and smooth, 3 to 6 minutes. Finish by kneading by hand for another minute or two.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl or tub and coat the surface of the dough with a little oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp lint-free cotton towel and let the dough rise until doubled, 45 to 60 minutes (longer if the room is cold).

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Press down the dough firmly to expel some of the air bubbles, but don’t knead the dough again or it will be too springy and difficult to shape (if this happens, simply cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp lint-free cotton towel and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes to give the gluten some time to relax.) Shape the dough into a loaf. Lightly coat the loaf pan with melted butter, or a high-heat canola oil spray. Place the dough, seam side down, in the pan.

Lightly oil the top of the dough to keep it moist. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap or a damp lint-free cotton towel and allow the dough to rise again until its top is ½ to 1 inch above the rim of the pan, 45 to 60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400F and position an oven rack in the center. Brush the top of the loaf with a thin film of the beaten egg. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the bread is golden brown and the internal temperature registers 200F on an instant-read thermometer. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. Slice with the serrated knife.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Almond Macarons with Chocolate Swiss Buttercream



Alert the press!
Strike up the band!
I'm celebrating here at Marzipan!

Why? Because I made fabulous French macarons!

I've bookmarked so many posts and tutorials about macarons that they have their own folder in my bookmarks. I tried them last year and the result was a flat, undercooked cookie that wouldn't let go of the Silpat they were sitting on. I was completely psyched out after that.

Until Irina from Pastry Pal published her free tutorial, Master the Macaron. Not only is it a drop dead gorgeous and comprehensive primer, but it works. And the first and most important thing she tells you to do is to stop being intimidated by these little confections! Those were the words I needed to hear. I am intimidated no longer. And neither should you be.

Download your free copy of Master the Macaron here. And then go make yourself some macarons! They are so, so good.

Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream
From Martha Stewart's Cupcakes
Makes 5 cups

1 1/4 cups sugar
5 large egg whites
pinch of salt
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 ounces good-quality chocolate, melted and cooled, but still liquid

Combine sugar, egg whites and salt in mixer bowl, and set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved and mixture registers 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

Transfer bowl to mixer; whisk on medium-high speed until whites are fluffy and the outside of the mixer bowl no longer feels warm to the touch, about 10 minutes.

Reduce speed to medium-low; add butter by the tablespoon, whisking well after each addition. The icing will look curdled for a bit after all the butter has been added, but just continue to beat until the icing is fluffy and smooth. Switch to the paddle attachment and add vanilla extract and melted chocolate and beat until smooth. Pipe the icing onto the macarons with a pastry bag fitted with a medium round tip.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I Dare You to Find a Better Dinner Roll!



Honestly, I've made these several times and they never disappoint!

Common problems with some of the other roll recipes I've tried:
1. They're dry
2. They're "yeasty"
3. They're bland
4. They stale quickly

But these dinner rolls:
1. They're moist with a wonderful texture
2. They have no strong yeasty taste
3. They're delicious
4. They stay moist for days in an airtight bag and refresh easily after a few more days if you microwave a few seconds or wrap in foil and reheat in a 350 degree oven.
5. The kids will devour them
6. They make really good little sandwiches
7. They are not hard to make - at all. In fact, it's kinda fun! The dough is soft and smooth as a baby's bottom. You'll see!

Aunt Marie's Dinner Rolls
adapted slightly from Sortachef at woodfiredkitchen.com
See Sortachef Don's video on how to make these delicious rolls here.

Makes 32 rolls

4 ½ cups all-purpose flour, divided into two equal parts
1 cup milk
5 1/2 tablespoons salted butter, plus more for pan
¼ cup sugar
1 ¼ teaspoons of salt
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) of quick rise yeast (Rapid Rise and Perfect Rise are two types)
1 cup warm water (100°)
About ½ cup or more additional flour for kneading
Egg wash (1 egg mixed with a little water) for brushing on top of rolls

1.Heat one cup of milk in a medium saucepan until it’s hot but not boiling. Add the sugar, 5 1/2 tablespoons of butter and salt. Let the milk cool for a few minutes while the butter melts.

2. Pour the milk mixture into the mixing bowl, making sure to get all the sugar from the bottom as well. Add a cup of warm water, 2 ¼ cups of flour and sprinkle on the quick rise yeast. Attach the flat beater, and beat on medium speed for 4 or 5 minutes, until you have a smooth batter with no lumps. Scrape the bowl as necessary.

3. Now add another 2¼ cups flour, switch to the dough hook and beat for a further 5 minutes on medium low speed. The dough is ready for hand kneading once all the flour is fully incorporated and the dough is smooth and stretchy.

4. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Pull the edges of the dough in toward the center like an envelope, using the dough scraper at first and then your fingers as the dough gets less sticky. Continue kneading, constantly pulling and then pushing down on the center with your palms, adding a little flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough should be tacky but not sticky. After a few minutes, you will feel the dough push back as the gluten develops. Knead for a minimum of 5 minutes altogether, and then form a ball.

5. Put the ball of dough into a bread bowl and let rise in a warm spot, lightly covered, for 45 minutes or until doubled in volume.

6. Coat the bottom and sides of a 10 x 15 inch lasagna pan with softened butter.

7. Spread the dough into a rough rectangle on a lightly floured surface and fold the rectangle in half. Spread out into a rough rectangle and fold in half again. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes and then spread it out into a rectangle the size of the lasagna pan. Put the dough into the lasagna pan and spread it out evenly.

8. Using a dough scraper, cut the dough into 32 small squares inside the pan. To do this, cut lengthwise in half, then in half again. Along the long side, cut the dough in half, then each of those halves in half and in half again to end up with an 8 x 4 grid. Picking up each of the small squares of dough in turn, stretch the top skin across and down, tucking it roughly under to make a small ball of dough. Put each piece back where it came from. No need to strive for perfection here: to do this to all the rolls should only take three or four minutes!

9. Let the rolls rise for 30 – 40 minutes in a warm spot, until at least doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 350° when the rolls are nearly risen. Just before baking, lightly brush a little of the egg wash on top of the rolls with a pastry brush.

10. Bake for 20 minutes at 350° or until they’re lightly browned on the top and the internal temperature is 195-200 degrees F. Allow to cool until just warm before serving.

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