Simple recipes often have some important techniques.

I’m back and ready to go with lots of new information to share with you.  This morning I decided to go back to an old favorite and play around a bit.  Normally I am purist when it comes to baking.  I like the best ingredients and I usually follow the recipe closely.  I have been known to make mistakes in the method because I thought I already knew how to do it.  This recipe is an example of that.  I baked the cake a month or two ago realizing part way through I had not followed the instructions.  Oh well, it all ends up in the pan. Right?  Wrong.  The first photo is the cake when I did not follow the method exactly.  The second shot is today’s cake.

I followed the method exactly but I sifted the flour as per a secret I read about that Julia Child swore by.  Plus I soaked the maraschino cherries in amaretto for 30 minutes before putting them in the batter.  I love maraschinos but they seem to lack the flavor I recall from my childhood.  I expected a bigger difference in the two cakes.  I thought the first cake had an uneven top but really the second cake looks no different.  Did it make a difference to the cake by sifting?  The distribution of cherries is no better in the second cake despite dredging in flour and being very careful when I folded them into the batter.

Two important techniques come from the method of this simple recipe for Cherry Cake (, Five Roses Flour, 22nd Edition – an old Canadian favorite from many prairie kitchens).  The first thing is the addition of dry ingredients and wet ingredients.  Why should we start and end with the dry?  The second thing is dredging fruit in flour before mixing it into the batter.  I am going to explain the theory behind these two techniques, next wek.Image

Summer Fruit Crostata – The relaxation of baking on spring break!

The other day I picked up a Barefoot Contessa cookbook, At Home, in the housewares section of Marshall’s.  Half price 🙂  Might as well start my cookbook collection at our vacation home in the sunny state of Arizona.  Friends have invited us for dinner so I decided to bake up a rustic pie.  I love the butter from Trader Joe’s.  It makes such a lovey crust and crumble on top.  Something about the butter tastes very fresh and creamy.  Hope everyone enjoys it!

Ragged Rugelach – delicious but a disaster!

So this week was a Tuesdays with Dorie baking challenge.  For those unfamiliar with my earlier posts this is an online group of bakers who, together, are working our way through a baking cookbook, called Baking With Julia written by Dorie Greenspan.

Tuesday’s mission was fraught with mistakes for me.  I misread the instructions initially so found out too late that I needed to chill the cookies a second time overnight before baking.  First, the rugelach I am familiar with are rolled in a crescent shape.  These are pinwheels, which in my case fell apart in the oven.  This was a labour intensive recipe that required quite a bit of preparation of the ingredients.  I made the apricot lekvar from scratch which was quite tasty (must be the amaretto!).  I was disappointed that you could not see the lovely apricot spread after the cookies were prepared.  You can taste it but I am going to make them again rolling them into crescents and not overstuff ing with the filling.  I would like to see the mix of the apricot with the nut and dried fruit filling.  The cream cheese dough was very easy to work with and added a nice complexity to the taste.  So aside, from the terrible appearance – I felt like they looked like pieces of bone marrow – the taste in your mouth, was delicious.  In fact, they are very addictive.

All baker’s encounter disasters along the way including making mistakes reading the instructions.  Like life, as long as we learn from the mistakes, we will be better bakers
in the end.

A quick science lesson: Why brown sugar instead of granulated sugar?

I’ve always loved brown sugar but it wasn’t until I lived in Hong Kong that I realized its importance to my baking.  In Canada I had always used the same brand of light brown sugar.  In the grocery stores in Hong Kong, frequented by ex-pats from the UK and Australia, I found that there was a wide range of brown sugars available.  Unfortunately none of them did justice to my family’s favorite chocolate chip cookies.  I could never figure out why.  Was it the butter or the brown sugar?

This morning while reading an old copy of a magazine, Summer Entertaining from the Editors of Cook’s Magazine, I found a small article written by Erika Bruce titled Science: Why Brown Sugar Makes Chewy Cookies.  In the article the author discusses how substituting brown sugar for granulated sugar in a cookie recipe changed the texture.  She goes on to discuss the extra moisture in brown sugar, which burns off in the oven rendering not much difference between the sugars.  As it turns out, the difference is invert sugar which is not found in granulated sugar.

“How does invert sugar work its magic?  Invert sugar consists of glucose and fructose, two simple sugars.  Invert sugar is especially hygroscopic, meaning that it pulls water from wherever  it can be found, the best source being the air.  And invert sugar keeps drawing in moisture even after cookies have been baked, thus helping to keep them chewy as they cool.  So when it comes to chew in cookies, regular granulated sugar – with its lack of invert sugar – is simply no competition for brown sugar.”

So there is something to the science of brown sugar as it affects our baking.  Hope this helps you with your baking or at least helps explain why some recipes call for granulated and why others use brown sugar.

Sugar topped lemon blueberry muffins for breakfast today!

Just whipped up some delicious muffins using fresh blueberries and Meyer lemons.  I have not made this recipe before but it comes from Canadian favorite Best of Bridge and is called Super Blueberry Lemon Muffins.  After the muffins were finished baking the tops were a lovely golden color but there was a drier look to the top than most muffins.  Fresh from the oven you dip the muffin in melted butter combined with lemon juice and then quickly dip them in white sugar.  What a difference to the finished product!  Beautiful.

Chocolate Truffle Tartlets – Baking With Julia

Today was the second challenge for the Tuesdays With Dorie.  I made the chocolate dough in my 4 cup food processor which was working at full capacity but it gave the dough a lovely texture.  The dough was difficult to work with as it was quite crumbly around the edges.  In my younger days, I would not have had the patience to work with this dough.  Lots of patching.  I used a rectangular tart pan rather than the small tart pans as I thought that size would be too large for this rich dessert.  The filling was easy to assemble.  I used Callebaut milk and white chocolate plus purchased the ladyfingers.  I had a small slice with a cup of tea for my dessert.  It looked beautiful however I think a garnish was necessary.  Perhaps a flavoured whip cream or a fruit coulis of some sort.  I found the creaminess of the chocolate bits inside to be distracting.  My filling may have been undercooked.  There was a slight “egginess” to it, I felt.  I cooked it for the full time and it was set when I tested it but I think next time I would increase the cooking time slightly.  What I loved about today’s challenge was that I used a food processor for the pastry.  Previously I would have made it by hand but I really liked the texture of the dough.  I think I will invest in a larger food processor.

Bake with your nose.

Today while I was making peanut butter cookies I realized that if I am in the kitchen, I tend not to use the timer but rather can smell when the item I am baking is almost done.  Take notice the next time you are baking one of your regular items.  A couple of minutes before the timer goes off, you will notice that you can really begin to smell the baked item.  In my experience most oven temperatures are inconsistent.  Pay attention to the smell and it may save you from overcooking something.  By the way, the cookies were delicious!  Perfect on a lazy, grey afternoon  My favorite recipe from one of the Moosewood Collection books.

Interesting baking supplies from IKEA. Who knew?

Today I was in the marketplace area of IKEA and found these cute cake doilies.  Classic though, didn’t realize one of the hearts on the pink doily was broken until I got home.  Anyway there are 4 of them – brown, fuschia, lime and pink.  Kind of fun.  Plus I picked up this loaf pan.  It is 2L or 2qt.  What I liked was it is narrow and long.  I can see using it for some kind of fruit and nut bread twist.  Yesterday I was thinking about changing up hot cross buns into some kind of braided loaf.

The promise of bread dough rising.

Today was the first day of Tuesdays with Dorie: Baking with Julia and assignment number one was White Loaves.  This is the first time that I have made bread dough using my KitchenAid standmixer instead of a bread machine.  The dough had a beautiful texture to it right from the start.  The job was too tough for my mixer so I finished the dough by kneading it myself.  Tough work.  I have a new-found respect for those strong prairie women.  I was beginning to breathe hard by the time I was done.  Although my arm fatigue might have had more to do with six sets of tennis and a session of yoga in the past 24 hours than with the actual dough. So what did I learn?  I did measure the water temperature which I have never done before.  Attention to detail always helps the end results when it comes to baking.  I have never kneaded the butter into the dough after the other ingredients.  This would have been easier but persistence in hand kneading paid off I think. The method for shaping the actual loaf was also new to me.  You roll the dough out and then fold 2/3 toward you, then fold it over toward you again.  You pinch the seams together, roll up the ends and place the nice little loaf in the greased pan.  I let the dough rise longer than the recipe called for (had to go to a meeting at the school!).  The final step, of removing the bread from the pans for the last ten minutes, to ensure that all sides brown evenly was something new to me also.  The results are fabulous.  My grandmother, a prairie farm wife herself, taught me to knock on the bottom of the bread.  If it sounded hollow, then the loaf was done.  I took out the loaf when I thought it was done using this method but double checked it with the thermometer as suggested in the recipe.  Turns out Grandma was right!  The thermometer and the knocking test produced the same results.  The loaves are cooling now on the kitchen counter.  The house smells heavenly and I feel like I have reconnected with my heritage.  Can’t wait to have toast and tea in the morning.