Saturday, November 29, 2008

Eggnog Caramel Cake

Eggnog Caramel Cake
It’s been a while since I baked a cake, in fact, it’s been a while since I last baked anything. No wonder I’ve been so grumpy and irritable lately. Thanks goodness for this long weekend and the Daring Bakers for bringing me out of this baking slump. And what better way to do that than with lots of dangerous molten sugar. Good times indeed.

Our hosts this month are Dolores, Alex, and Jenny and the recipe they've selected comes from pastry chef extraordinaire Shuna Fish Lydon and it’s her signature caramel cake with caramelized butter frosting. Sugar coma here I come.

By the time I started my cake, many if not most DBs had already finished and posted their take on the caramel cake, which is how I stumbled on Hannah’s beautiful caramel cake roulade. I hate frosting cakes (I'm too OCD in trying to make the frosting perfect) so I thought this was the perfect stress-free way putting together the cake and *cough* shamelessly copied Hannah.

I think my caramel syrup ended up being a little too dark (this is what happens when you take your eye off caramel for one second) but *shrug* its okay, it’ll just have more developed flavors and um, smoky undertones right? Instead of adding water to the caramelized sugar, I added orange juice, which gave it a really unique taste. I also used eggnog instead of milk in the cake batter and 1/4 tsp of ground nutmeg. The batter looked a little on the thick side so I added more eggnog, which was not the best move because it screwed with the ratios and made the cake kinda gummy. The eggnog flavor also overpowered the caramel notes in the cake. Next time, if I wanted an eggnog cake, I’ll just skip the caramel syrup and if I want a caramel cake then I won’t add any competing flavors. The frosting was mindblowingly delicious, I would have eaten it by the spoonful but I kept telling myself I would just be eating butter and sugar... a little gross when you think about it. Even though the cake turned out gummy and it isn't the prettiest caramel cake on the block, it was still pretty darn tasty. However, I did find the cake to be on the sweet side even after I trimmed down the sugar. This recipe is definitely a keeper and is something I’ll tinker with some more.

I was lazy and skipped making the spun sugar decorations and caramel candies. Instead I just brushed the cake with some leftover caramel syrup.

Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting
By Shuna Fish Lydon -

Caramel Cake
10 Tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 C granulated sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/3 C Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 C milk, at room temperature (in my case eggnog and 1/4 tsp nutmeg)

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

Caramel Syrup
2 C sugar
1/2 C water
1 C water (for "stopping" the caramelization process – I used orange juice)

In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

Caramelized Butter Frosting
12 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted (I cut it down to 2 – 3 C)
4-6 Tbsp heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
2-4 Tbsp caramel syrup (I used 4)
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light

Friday, November 28, 2008

Post-Thanksgiving Turkey Sandwiches

The Best Effing Turkey Sandwich Ever
I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Steven and I went down to his parents’ house and the four of us had an epic day of cooking and eating (turkey at lunch... prime rib at dinner... unbelievably awesome). We carted home a ton of leftovers, and the best part is all the leftover turkey! For me, turkey isn’t particularly exciting the day of, even though his mom did an amazing job and it was super moist with great homemade gravy and cranberry relish, because it’s all about the sandwich and soup possibilities the days after.

It’s Friday night, the turkey stock is simmering and the first round of sandwiches have been eaten.

So now I present The Best Effing Turkey Sandwich Ever.

First, take 2 thick slices of sourdough or whatever bread you like, but it has to be thick and hearty, no wimpy white bread allowed for this sandwich.
Spread some butter or better yet, rendered bacon fat on one side of the bread slices.
Flip the bread over to start building the sandwich.
Generously smear it with Dijon mustard, Grey Poupon, Roland, Maille, etc. etc.
Layer on the leftover turkey, thinly sliced breast meat.
Then 2 slices (or more) of precooked extra thick bacon, cut in half. I wouldn't have a problem with adding more bacon.
Add 1 – 2 layers of Swiss.

Heat a skillet over medium low to medium heat and put the two slices in bacon fat/butter side down.
Cover the skillet and cook, use a spatula and check the bread frequently to make sure they’re perfectly toasted and not burnt.
Take the pan off heat, leave the meat and cheese slice of bread in the pan covered while you pile stuff on the other slice.
On the naked slice of bread, spread on some cranberry relish (recipe follows).
Follow with thick slices of avocado.
Finally, top with greens – baby spinach, watercress, or arugula.

Now the crucial step, bring the two pieces of sandwich together without anything falling out and eattttt. I will not be held responsible for injuries to your mouth caused by the crusty bread.


Okay part two! The Afternoon Snack Turkey Sandwich.

Afternoon Snack Turkey Sandwich

This time start with an English muffin. Split it in half and add a little bacon fat on the inside – see a theme here? (or butter if you don’t have bacon fat). Toast it until it’s a little crusty, fluffy and warm.
Spread on some Dijon Mustard again.
Add the turkey, again thinly sliced breast meat.
Add some bacon. I’m telling ya turkey and bacon were meant to be together. Just like bacon and all other meats, and seafood, and meat substitutes… actually all foods...okay I digress.
Slices of extra sharp Cheddar cheese.
Relatively thick slices of Honeycrisp apples.
Top with the English muffin and eat again.

Cranberry Orange Cornichon Relish
1 C raw cranberry
6 cornichons
6 Tbsp orange juice
Sugar optional

Pulse in a food processor until finely chopped but not pureed. Add some sugar if you like it a little sweeter.

The Best Effing Turkey Sandwich Ever
2 thick slices sourdough
Dijon mustard
Leftover turkey breast, thinly sliced
2 slices cooked bacon, cut in half
2 or more slices of Swiss cheese
2ish Tbsp cranberry relish
Thick avocado slice from roughly half an avocado
Handful of spinach, watercress, or arugula
Rendered bacon fat or butter for cooking (bonus points for using bacon fat)

Afternoon Snack Turkey Sandwich
English Muffin
Dijon mustard
1 slice cooked extra thick cut bacon, cut into 3 pieces
Extra Sharp Cheddar
1/4 Honeycrisp apple, sliced
A little bacon fat (or butter) for spread

The Thanksgiving table before the onslaught of food.
Thanksgiving Dinner

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Daring Bakers: Basic Pizza Dough

Life has been hectic lately but I simply couldn’t pass up a reason to make pizza. I was really psyched for this month's Daring Bakers challenge because it's been a while since I last hauled out made Steven haul out the pizza stone. Thanks for choosing and hosting this month’s challenge Rosa! Even though I made the pizzas, I still screwed up because I didn’t take any pictures. I apologize for the boring all-text post and I’ll try to keep it short.

My go-to pizza recipe is my no knead pizza dough recipe (the no-knead concept definitely isn’t mine but I’d like to think the pizza recipe itself is my own creation, but eh semantics aside). It has great flavor, has a chewy crumb and crispy crust, and involves zero kneading so it requires next to no effort. Everyone can make it because you don’t need a KitchenAid. Good times. The recipe that the DBs are using this month comes from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart, which is one of the best cookbooks available for bread baking. Basically, my goal this month was to compare the two recipes.

The Reinhart recipe definitely requires a KitchenAid because even you're willing to to put in some serious elbow grease kneading, the dough will most likely be too sticky to handle so a KitchenAid is really your best bet. Both the no-knead and this recipe involves a long, slow rise (no-knead at room temp vs. Reinhart dough in the fridge), which results in good flavor so neither dough is lacking in the taste department. You can keep the Reinhart dough in the fridge for up to three days and you can transfer the no-knead dough to the fridge after the initial room temp rise for both storage and increasing flavor. While the Reinhart dough is still on the tacky side, it isn’t nearly as sticky as the no-knead dough, making it much easier to work with. On the other hand, the extra water in the no knead dough makes a crispier crust and chewier crumb. In the end, Steven preferred my usual no-knead recipe, which is fine with me because that dough is much faster to make. But the Reinhart dough is still excellent. Really, whichever way you go, you’re guaranteed to have great pizza crust.

Now that you have good dough, you just need good sauce and good cheese. I made the sauce with the roasted tomatoes I made two months ago. The roasting process really brought out the sweetness of otherwise pathetic run-of-the-mill store tomatoes and added a hint of smokiness. Or you can just use a can of decent tomatoes because honestly, who has 6 hours to spare waiting for tomatoes to roast? I certainly don't anymore. It’s also really important to use fresh mozzarella. If you live close to a Trader Joe's or Costco, you can get fresh mozzarella without breaking the bank. I think it'll run you about $5/lb. It simply doesn’t compare to the part skim low moisture bricks from the store - there’s no going back.

Basic Pizza Dough
Recipe from
“The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart

4 1/2 cups flour (I
used 3 cups of bread flour and 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour)
1 3/4
teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
1 3/4 cups
cold water
1 Tablespoon sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for

Mix the flour, salt and instant yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer.

Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well. Knead with the dough hook for 5 – 7 minutes. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is sticking to the sides of the bowl, add a tablespoon or two of flour. If the dough is not sticking to the bottom of the bowl, add a tablespoon or two of water.

The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky (if will stick to your hands), not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.

Divide the dough into 4 balls of dough. Brush the tops with a little olive oil, cover and keep in the fridge. Let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days. You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil (a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.

On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the cold oven. After the pizza stone is in the oven, then preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C). If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

Generously sprinkle the back a cookie sheet with no lip with some cornmeal . Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss (optional). Instead of tossing, continue to stretch the dough over your hands, or place on the cookie sheet and using your palms to stretch it into the desired thinness. Make only one pizza at a time.

During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping. In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully, then try again. You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.

When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter - for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for abour 6 – 10 minutes. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

Roasted Tomatoes
3 lbs tomatoes

Cut the tomatoes in half and get rid of the goopy stuff (I don’t know what else to call it) and the seeds).

Arrange the tomatoes in a large nonreactive baking dish like pyrex or corningware.

Roast in the oven at 350 degrees F for 4 – 6 hours or until the tomatoes start to shrivel and dry up but make sure they don’t burn. The roasting time will depend on how watery the tomatoes are.

After roasting, allow the tomatoes to cool. The skins can be slipped off really easily. Store in the freezer or use in soup or sauces.

Quick Tomato Sauce

(makes about 3 cups of sauce)

1 28 oz. can diced or whole tomatoes, pureed in a food processor, blender, or put through a food mill
2 tbsp olive oil
2 - 4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
salt and pepper
1/4 tsp oregano
About 1/2 C fresh basil leaves, chopped or chiffonade (optional, if you have it)

Add garlic and olive oil to a (unheated) saucepan or skillet and heat them up together over medium heat. When the garlic starts sizzling and smells fragrant (don't burn it), add the tomatoes, pepper, and some italian herb mix. Simmer uncovered until the sauce is thickened.

Season to taste with salt and stir in the basil off heat.


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