Thursday, December 16, 2010

It's all about the frosting

My bestest-friend-since-we-were-12 April came to town recently.  She asked me specifically to make red velvet cupcakes.  I had never made them, and not being one to turn down a challenge, I obliged.  And luckily, the day after I made them for her, the Hubster and I were going to a gathering where I could bring food, so I had some people to eat the remaining cupcakes (this also explains the red, green and white sprinkles -- it was a Christmas thing).

Here's the thing about these:  first, they have a lot of ingredients, and second, I don't think I really like them all that much.  As far as cake goes, I found it sort of unexciting.  But that frosting!  Now there's a reason to celebrate.  It was tangy, sweet, soft and super creamy.  It took a great deal of restraint not to eat the leftovers right out of the bowl (wait, why did I leave frosting in the bowl?  what was I thinking?!?!). 

I'm glad I made these, so at least I can said I did it.  They will probably be a special-request-only type of thing, but whatever.  The frosting, however, will be made at every chance.  Really.  It's THAT good.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
Source: America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

Note:  For the cake to have the proper rise and color, you must use natural cocoa powder; do not substitute Dutch-processed cocoa.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
Pinch salt
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons natural cocoa powder
2 tablespoons red food coloring
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)

  1. Adjust two oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl.  In another medium bowl, whisk the buttermilk, eggs, vinegar, and vanilla together.  In a small bowl, mix the cocoa and red food coloring together to a smooth paste.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in one-third of the flour mixture, followed by half of the buttermilk mixture.  Repeat with half of the remaining flour mixture and the remaining buttermilk mixture.  Beat in the remaining flour mixture until just combined.  Beat in the cocoa mixture until the batter is uniform. 
  4. Give the batter a final stir with a rubber spatula to make sure it is thoroughly combined.  Use a greased 1/4 cup measure (or large scoop) to portion the batter into each cup. 
  5. Bake the cupcakes on the upper-middle and lower-middle racks until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 15 to 20 minutes, switching and rotating the tins halfway through baking.  Let the cupcakes cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.  Spread the frosting evenly over the cupcakes and serve. (or you can pipe on the frosting)
Cream Cheese Frosting
Source: America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

Note:  Do not use low-fat or nonfat cream cheese or the frosting will turn out too soupy to work with.  This frosting has a softer, looser texture than other frostings.  If the frosting becomes too soft to work with, let it chill in the refrigerator until firm.

Flourpile note: this recipe makes 4 cups of frosting, which will generously frost 24 cupcakes with some to spare.  if you were less generous, you could probably make a half batch of this, but where's the fun in that?

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks and softened
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups confectioners' sugar

  1. Beat the cream cheese, butter, sour cream, vanilla, and salt together in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until smooth, 2 to 4 minutes.
  2. Reduce the mixer speed to medium-low, slowly add the confectioners' sugar, and beat until smooth, 4 to 6 minutes.  Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, 4 to 6 minutes.
To Make Ahead
The frosting can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.  Let the frosting stand at room temperature until slightly softened, about 1 hour, then whip with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes.

Seriously, even if you never make the cakes, you should definitely try out the frosting.  It is amazingly good.  I got tons of compliments on it, and I just had to share the recipe. 

Also, I'm not that good at decorating things.  I took the easy way on this one and dumped the frosting into a pastry bag with a big round tip and squeezed it on, and then added some sprinkles.  They certainly weren't the prettiest cupcakes in the world, but the frosting made up for it. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gifts of Food

Since I enjoy cooking and baking, it makes sense that I enjoy giving food as gifts.  Recently my kitchen has been in nearly constant production mode, churning out breads, cookies, candies, and what not.  I will share my recipes with you, but only after the gifts have been given (read: I won't be giving you the majority of my recipes until after Christmas).  I don't want to ruin any surprises, since I know that at least some of the recipients are readers (yay!).

The first two things I can share with you have already been enjoyed: a challah for my boss (who celebrates Hanukkah), and a special treat to celebrate the birthday of a coworker. 

First, the challah:

I was immensely proud of this loaf of bread.  I had never made challah before, and this came out so pretty and shiny, and smelled AMAZING!  Fortunately, my boss was nice enough to bring me a chunk of it once she cut into it, since I obviously didn't get to taste it before gifting it.  Let me tell you, that bread was SOOOO good.  The egg and the butter in the bread make it so moist and flavorful.

I was a little intimidated by the whole braided loaf thing, but honestly, it was so bad, probably because I had good instructions (thank you, once again, America's Test Kitchen).  But, here's my dirty little secret about this bread:  this was the second batch I made.  The first time around, I thought I would make two mini loaves, one for giving, one for eating.  Well, I must have had some sort of short-circuit in my brain, because I didn't even think to reduce the cooking time, and I burned them.  So, I had to start over, and I decided not to try to make two loaves again, so I just made the one big one.  I'm really glad the second loaf came out so well, because it was about midnight when it finished, and I don't think I could have dealt with making another one without some sort of mental breakdown.

You really should try this, at least once in your life (once you taste it, you will want to make it more).  Leftover challah makes amazing french toast.  Just sayin'.


Source: America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book
Makes 1 large loaf

*Note: save the egg white from the egg yolk that you need in the dough.  You will need it later for the glaze.

1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3-3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 envelope instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1 large egg white
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon poppy or sesame seeds (optional)

  1. For the dough:  Whisk the water, melted butter, eggs, and egg yolk together in a large liquid measuring cup.  Combine 3 cups of the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook.  With the mixer on low speed, add the water mixture and mix until the dough comes together, about 2 minutes.
  2. Increase the mixer speed to medium-low and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.  If after 4 minutes more flour is needed, add the remaining 1/2 cup flour, 2 tablespoons at a time, until the dough clears the sides of the bowl but sticks to the bottom.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead by hand to form a smooth, round ball.  Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover with greased plastic wrap.  Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  4. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and divide the dough into 2 pieces, one twice as large as the other. Divide each piece into 3 pieces and roll each piece out into a 16-inch long rope (3 ropes will be much thicker).
  5. For the glaze and to braid:  Beat the egg white and the water together in a small bowl.  Braid two loaves, once large and one small. Transfer the larger braid to the prepared baking sheet, brush with some of the egg white-water mixture, and secure the smaller braid on top.  Tuck both ends under the loaf.  Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until nearly doubled in size and the dough barely springs back when poked with a knuckle, 45 to 75 minutes.
  6. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Brush the loaf with the remaining egg white-water mixture, sprinkle with the seeds (if using), then spray lightly with water.  Bake until golden and the center of the loaf registers 200 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 30 to 40  minutes, rotating the loaf halfway through baking.  Cool the bread on the baking sheet for 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature, about 2 hours, before serving.
To make ahead:
In step 3, do not let the dough rise, but refrigerate it overnight or up to 16 hours; let the dough sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, then continue with step 4.

And, now the special treat:

That's Peter.  For his birthday, I made him chocolate covered bacon (some with toffee chips on top).  You see, the crew at one of my theatres has been asking me to make chocolate covered bacon for a long time, and I have always resisted.  I'm not a huge fan of the recent trend of sweet things with bacon in them.  Don't get me wrong-- I love bacon, and I love sweets, just not together.  But, since this wasn't for me, I went ahead and made it.

When I presented Peter with the bacon, he laughed, and the rest of the crew gave me looks of profound admiration (I do believe the words "I love you" were uttered).  It was a total hit.  I had let the hubster have a piece, and he loved it too. 

The guys insisted that I share the "recipe" for this, so here you go:

Cook up some bacon.  I did 8 slices of thick cut applewood smoked bacon, but whatever you have on hand will do.  I cook bacon on a sheet pan in the oven.  It keeps the bacon nice and flat, and I don't end up with grease splatter burns on my arms.  When the bacon is cooked, let it drain on paper towels, and make sure to dab off as much grease as you can.  The chocolate will stick better if the bacon is kind of dry. 

Melt some chocolate.  I used probably about 3/4 cup of good quality semisweet chocolate chips.  I always do this in a double boiler because I always burn the chocolate when I try to melt it in the microwave.

I poured the melted chocolate into a loaf pan, so that I could lay the strips of bacon flat on the chocolate.  Lay a piece of bacon on the chocolate, and then flip it over using a fork or two.  When it's all covered in chocolate, transfer the bacon to a sheet pan lined with wax paper.  If you want to put anything on top of the chocolate (I highly recommend toffee bits), sprinkle it on when the chocolate is still wet.  Otherwise, just let the bacon hang out on the pan until the chocolate has hardened.  You can stick it in the fridge to speed up the process.  Once hardened, store it in an air-tight contaner in the fridge. 

So that's it.  Not really a recipe, just a technique.  Honestly, this was probably the easiest chocolate-dipping experience for me so far.  No real mess, which there usually is.  That is, until I dropped the spatula that was covered in melted chocolate.  There will little bits of chocolate that got flung all over the kitchen.  It was like someone let off a chocolate confetti canon.  Joy. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cookies make people happy

Recently I was asked to bake up something to donate to a bake sale for the local college chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota.  As an alumn of that chapter, and not one to pass up a chance to bake, I jumped right on that.  Having also picked up a couple of holiday cookie magazines, I was itching to make something new.  I wanted something that would look good, be fairly simple, and have a wide appeal.  I flipped through my magazines and picked out Cappuccino Crinkles.  How could I resist the sparkly, crunchy sugary exterior and the moist, fluffy chocolatey/coffee-ish interior? 

These cookies were pretty quick and easy to make, and they kept well (I gave most of them to the bake sale, but kept a few for us -- you know, in the name of quality assurance).  They are pretty rich, and would be so good with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate!

Cappuccino Crinkles

Source: Better Homes and Gardens 100 Best Cookies Magazine

1/3 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon instant coffee or espresso crystals (i used espresso crystals because i had them)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 egg whites
1/3 cup vanilla low-fat yogurt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds.  Add brown sugar, cocoa powder, coffee crystals, baking soda, and cinnamon.  Beat until combined, scraping side of the bowl occasionally.  Beat in egg whites and yogurt until combined.  Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer.  Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour.

(flourpile note:  at this point, i put the dough in the fridge for a while to firm up a little.  it felt too soft to roll into balls without making a huge mess.)

2.  Place granulate sugar in a small bowl.  Shape dough into 1-inch balls.  Roll balls in the sugar to coat.  Place balls 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

3.  Bake in preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are firm.  Transfer cookies to a wire rack;  cool.  Makes about 32 cookies.

To store:  Place in layers separated by waxed paper in an airtight container; cover.  Store at room temperature for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months.

I did notice that the cookies seemed kind of fudgey (I didn't think this was a good thing) when they were still warm, but became more cake-y as they cooled.  Totally worth waiting for them to cool.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

S'mores Cups

A while back, I made this tart.  As I said then, I was not thrilled with the results.  I was, however, enamoured of the fluffy marshmallow layer, and knew I wanted to use it again in something else.  It seemed like it would be perfect with a graham cracker crust and a chocolate drizzle.  Do you see where I'm going with this?  That's right, s'mores pie. 

But there's another little twist.  I had friends coming over, and when I invited them over, I told them that they would make the dessert of their choice.  They just said they wanted something that would be a finger food.

So, s'mores pie quickly became...  

S'mores cups

A note about the photo that I just have to share:  I made these, and served them to my friends, but saved out the prettiest one to photograph for the blog.  I put it on a separate plate.  Somehow during the clean up and the friends leaving, the pretty one got stuck on the plate with the rest of them.  The hubs wanted one, so he picked one up (guess which one...) and took a bite.  I immediately freaked out, realizing that the little plate I had put the pretty one on was empty, and the hubs was eating my photo subject!  But, it all worked out in the end, because the bite he took was nearly perfect, so I used the cup for the photo anyway.

These cups are pretty easy to make, and don't take a whole lot of hands-on time.  The crust has to cool a little, and the marshmallow layer needs time to set, but it's not a big deal. 

Graham Cracker Crust
Source: America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

8 whole graham crackers, broken into 1-inch pieces
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 tablespoons sugar

(Flour pile note:  first, i used cinnamon graham crackers, because i like the little extra flavor they give.  second, i made a bit of a change.  instead of the 3 tablespoons of sugar, i added about 1/4 or 1/3 cups of toffee bits.  it makes the crust a little crunchier and a slight bit sturdier, which is good when you are trying to have these things in your hands without them falling apart.)

Adjust and oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees.  Process the graham cracker pieces to a food processor to fine, even crumbs, about 30 seconds.  If using the toffee bits, add them at this time and pulse a few times to combine.  Sprinkle the butter and sugar over the crumbs and pulse to incorporate.

At this time, you can press the mixture into a pie plate, or you can press it into muffin cups like I did.

If you are making this in muffin cups, line 8 of the cups of a muffin pan with paper liners.  Press about 1/3 cup of the crumb mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the cup.  I found this easiest when I dumped the crumbs in the cup, then sort of made a well in the center, and then used the measuring cup to pack down the crumbs in the muffin cup.

Bake the crusts for 12-14 minutes until browned and fragrant.  Mine puffed up a little during baking, but as they cooled they settled down.  Allow the cups to cool before filling.

For the marshmallow filling:
Source: Rachel Ray Magazine

1/3 cup milk
28 large marshmallows

In a double boiler, melt the marshmallows and milk, stirring frequently until smooth.  Remove from the heat and let it cool. 

When it's cooled some (I did this when the filling was slightly warmer than room temp), spoon the filling into the crust cups.  Put the cups in the fridge and let them set for about an hour. 

After the cups were cooled, I drizzled them with some melted chocolate.  To melt the chocolate, just put a couple of handfuls of chocolate (a broken up bar is best, but chips will work) into a double boiler and stir constantly until melted and smooth.  If the chocolate doesn't get thin enough to drizzle, put a few drops of vegetable oil in it.  After the chocolate was melted, I put it in a ziplock bag (let it cool enough to handle), snipped the tip off, and drizzled it on the cups.

You could also top these with some chocolate ganache, if you want more chocolate flavor.  I did not have all of the ingredients to make ganache, and also I prefer more marshmallow to chocolate in my s'mores, so the drizzle was just right for me.

I recommend that you let the chocolate set a little before serving, but that didn't happen as we were all eager to eat them.  Slightly messy, but oh sooooo good. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pop Tarts, Take 2!!

I told you I would revisit making my pop tarts, since my first attempt was tasty, but not quite right.  This time around, I tried a different crust recipe. 


I was happy with the original filling, so I kept that (in fact, I had so much left over from the first time that I just froze it and thawed it to use this time).  The difference this time was the crust.  Previously, I used a regular pie crust, and while it was really good, it was also very flaky, which doesn't really work for pop tarts.  This time, I used my classic tart crust recipe, knowing that it was more like a cookie, and less like a flaky pastry.  It was a good choice.  They came out crisp, like a cookie, but also delightfully buttery and tender.  I made these small and round, because that's what I felt like doing.  I'm not very good at cutting perfect uniform rectangles, so it was much easier for me to just use a round cutter.  You could even make them into fun shapes, if you wanted to. 

The recipe for the crust can be found here.  The only thing I did differently was that I added about a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice to the dough to give it a little extra flavor.  Totally not necessary if you don't feel like doing it.

The recipe for the filling can be found here, or on the back of a can of pureed pumpkin. 

The glaze is a simple mixture of powdered sugar, milk, and pumpkin pie spice.  I think I over glazed them yet again, but it's hard not to.  At least it tastes good. 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

After the failure of the pumpkin fudge, I wanted to make something else to prove to myself that I can still function in the kitchen.  This took the form of dinner.  I know, I know, this is a baking blog, and what I'm about to share with you isn't really a baked good, but whatever.  It's my blog and I will post what I want.  And, you could probably adapt this into a dessert if you want to.

I decided while I was at work that I wanted to make wontons for dinner.  Okay, really I wanted cream cheese wontons, but I also wanted to try and make a filling that was a little better for me.  The only problem was that I didn't have any wonton wrappers at home, and I didn't want to go to the store to get them.  So, I decided to make them myself.  I looked up some recipes, and it seemed simple enough.  Here is the basic recipe:

Wonton Wrappers

1 egg
1/3 cup water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a medium bowl, beat the egg.  Mix in the water.

In a large bowl, combine the salt and flour.  Create a well in the flour mixture and slowly pour in the egg and water mixture.  Mix well.  If the mixture is too dry, add more water, one teaspoon at a time until a pliable dough has formed.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until it is elastic.  Cut dough into two balls. Cover the balls with a damp cloth and leave at room temperature for at least 10 minutes. 

Cut each ball into four equal pieces.  Roll each piece into a 10 1/2 by 10 1/2 inch square.  Cut each large square into smaller 3 1/2 by 3 1/2 inch squares.  Fill with the filling of your choice.

A note about the dough:  I had a heck of a time getting it rolled out really thin with just my rolling pin.  I have a sneaky suspicion that a pasta roller thingy would be very handy in getting the dough uniformly thin.  Because mine weren't that thin, the finished product was a little chewier than I really wanted.  Oh well, it's all a learning experience.

As I mentioned, I made two fillings: cream cheese and also a shrimp and veggie filling.  Both were excellent.  I am going to tell you what I did, but I didn't really measure anything, just guessed.

For the shrimp filling:

Rough chop some raw shrimp, probably about a quarter pound.  Put that in a bowl.  To the bowl, add a glug of soy sauce (low sodium, if you have it), a couple of splashes of white wine, some minced garlic, and grated ginger.  Stir it up and let it hang out for a minute. 

Meanwhile, heat up a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a pan.  While it heats, chop up about half an onion (whatever you have).  Put the onion in the pan and stir around a little.  Cook it until it softens.  While that is cooking, chop up some veggies.  I had a bag of broccoli slaw in the fridge, so I grabbed a handful of that and chopped it a little bit.  Add that to the pan and cook a little.

When the veggies are softer, dump in the shrimp and the sauce.  Cook until pink, stirring some.  Taste it for seasoning, and add more of whatever you think it needs.  When everything is cooked, turn off the heat, and let the mixture cool.

When it's cool, put a small amount on a wonton wrapper.  Brush the edges on one side of the wonton with water, and fold over the other side.  Press to seal.

You can cook this in oil in a pan, or in the oven.  If you decide to bake them, spray them with a little oil first, so they get nice and crispy.  I cooked these in oil in a pan.  Didn't take long and they were pretty good.

For the cream cheese filling:

In a bowl, put one 8-ounce block of cream cheese.  If you have time, let it soften at room temp.  If not, stick it in the microwave for 15 seconds or so.  You don't want to melt it, just make it easier to stir.

To the cream cheese, I usually add a couple of green onions, finely chopped, some minced garlic, and salt.  After that, you can add any veggies you might want.  This time, I added some grated carrot (fine grate, about half a carrot), and about a third of a large green bell pepper, chopped small.  It was really really good.  You could even add little bits of crab, to make them more like crab rangoon, but whatever you like is fine. 

Fill them the same way you fill the shrimp ones.  Try to push out any extra air.  I will mention that if you bake these, they do puff up a bit.  I don't mind it.  I baked these at about 350 for maybe 15 or 20 minutes, until they were golden and crispy.

Here's the thing:  I'm not sure I will make wonton wrappers again for a long time.  I can't honestly say that the results were that much better than the store bought wrappers, especially since I couldn't roll them out thin enough on my own.  The taste was great though, so maybe someday, when I have a pasta roller, I will try this again. 

This trick meant no treats.

I am beginning to recognize that there are things which I will probably never be able to make, or at least not make well.  One of these things is rice krispie treats.  I know that seems ridiculous, but I've only made them one, or maybe two times that they were actually good.  The other times they have been barely passable. 

Another thing is fudge.  This was not the first time I have tried to make fudge, and every time I try, it doesn't come out right.  It has been grainy, or too hard, or, like this time, way too soft.  Please turn your attention to the evidence:

Yes, that's right.  I made pumpkin fudge spread.  It wasn't supposed to be a spread. I followed the directions, put it in the pan, let it cool to room temperature for several hours on the counter before putting it in the fridge overnight.  And I got this stuff.  It's quite tasty, but not fudge.  It couldn't cut into pretty little squares, and therefore I couldn't take it to work as a Halloween treat for my coworkers.  All trick, no treat this holiday. 

I got the recipe here, if you want to check it out.  Like I said, it's tasty, just didn't set up for me. 

Anyway, I promised you when I started this that I would tell you about my failures, so here you go. 

And, PS, the hubster looked at the photo and said "dude, it looks like crusty peanut butter."  Sad thing is, he's right.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Feta & Creme Fraiche Tart, and an Improvement update!

I have two things to share with you today:  a new recipe, and an improvement on one that I have previously posted. I am very excited about both, so no more delays!

First, the improvement:

That's right, I made macarons again, but this time, they aren't ugly!!! The difference, and the improvement, this time around is that I didn't have any trouble with the chocolate ganache filling.  I think that the recipe I used last time had too much cream and not enough chocolate, so I remedied that.  Here's what I did:

In a small saucepan, heat 2/3 cup of heavy cream until hot. In a small heatproof bowl, put 8 ounces of chocolate, chopped fine.  When the cream is hot, pour it over the chocolate.  Let that sit for a minute, then stir until it is combined and smooth.  Add 2 tablespoons unsalted butter and stir until melted.  Let it cool until it is the right thickness for piping, then pipe onto the bottoms of the macarons and top with another macaron.

Let me tell you, when these things are right, they are SOOO good.  It is so hard not to just eat the whole bowl of them.  But, if I do that,  I will have one sad hubster on my hands.   So, I have put them out of view until he gets home.

Second, the new recipe!

Feta & Creme Fraiche Tart with Lemony Spinach Salad

Source:  Fine Cooking magazine, Fall 2008

I did not make this recipe the way it is printed, sort of out of necessity.  I will print the real recipe first, and then tell you what I did.  You can decide for yourself which way you want to make it, but do make this.  MAKE IT NOW.  This is so, so, so good, and really easy.  If you make it the way you are supposed to, it would only take about 25 minutes. 

The real recipe:

2 large eggs
1/3 cup creme fraiche or heavy cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus 1/2 cup loosely packed dill sprigs for the salad (optional)
1 teaspoon lightly packed, finely grated lemon zest
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 cup crumbled feta (about 1/4 pound)
4 small handfuls baby spinach, washed and dried
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice; more to taste

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to oven to 450 degrees F.  In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and creme fraiche or cream with the chopped dill, lemon zest, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and about 10 grinds of pepper.

On a lightly floured surface, gently roll out the puff pastry sheet until it measures about 11 x 13 inches.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat.  Lay the pastry on the baking sheet, wet the edges with water, and fold over a 3/4-inch border.  Distribute the feta evenly within the border, and then carefully pour the egg mixture of the cheese, taking care that is doesn't slosh onto the border.  Carefully transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake until the border and underside of the pastry is puffed and brown and the filling is golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. 

Slide the tart off the pan and onto a rack to cool slightly. Move the warm tart to a cutting board and cut into four rectangles, so that each piece gets some border.  Put the four pieces on plates.

In a large bowl, toss the spinach and dill sprigs (if using) with the olive oil and lemon juice until evenly coated. Season with salt, pepper and more lemon juice to taste. Arrange a handful of the salad on each piece of tart and serve immediately.

Alright, so that's the real recipe.  I did it differently.  I LOVE puff pastry, but for some odd reason, I couldn't find any when I shopped for this recipe.  I decided that my pie crust is really flaky, so I would just use that instead.  This is the same pie dough that I used for the Pop Tarts, so if you want, it, that's where you can find the recipe. 

Once you have the pie dough rolled out, you can do a couple of things to it: you can either make it a rectangle, and fold the edges over as the original recipe suggests, or you can do what I did and put it in a tart pan.  I didn't think there would be enough filling for a pie pan, and the more shallow tart pan ended up being the right choice. 

I did blind-bake the crust a bit, for about 20 minutes on 425.  After it was baked, I let it cool a few minutes, then followed the rest of the recipe. 

I am really happy with how this came out.  The crust was  flaky and wonderful, and the filling was so good.  I wanted to eat the whole thing.  I think it will be good as leftovers.  One thing I will suggest is that if you aren't going to eat the whole tart right away, don't top the whole thing with spinach, or it will get wilty, and no one wants that. 

And, just because I'm so happy with my pie crust, here's another photo, so you can experience the wonder:

Sunday, October 17, 2010


I recently attended a birthday party for a friend, and the guests were asked to bring a Spanish tapas-style appetizer to share.  Not being one to pass up a chance to bake, I started pouring through cookbooks, food blogs and other cooking websites, looking for just the right thing to bring. This was a little trickier than usual, because I had an extra requirement: it had to be something that could be made in advance (or at least mostly) because my work schedule was crazy just before the party, and I wouldn't have time to make something that day.

Enter the empanadas. 

These little beauties were perfect!  I could make them in advance and freeze them, and just bake them the day of the party!  I decided on two different types: Chorizo-potato and chocolate-banana.  The chorizo ones I chose because they were a little more appropriate for the theme, and the chocolate ones just looked too good to leave behind.

This was the first time I have ever made empanadas, and also the first time I have worked with chorizo, so it was a fun adventure, learning new things.  I'm happy to report that these were not difficult at all.  I just have a few little notes:
  • I made these smaller than the recipe states, because I wanted them to be two-bite treats.  This worked well, however it did mean it took more time to make them, because there was extra work to be done.
  • I had way more filling than I needed.  I made three batches of dough, and I still had about 3/4 cup of banana filling, and about 1 1/2 cups of chorizo filling left over.  I'm guessing this is because i made them small.  I stuffed as much filling in them as I could, and I was happy with the crust to filling ratio. I may freeze the extra chorizo filling to use later.  The banana filling is destined for some oatmeal.
  • After a little trial and error, I learned I needed to roll the dough thinner than I was originally thinking.  When they are small, it's easy for the filling to get overwhelmed by the crust, so just be careful about that.
(ha ha, get it?  "little" notes? hahaha!)

I used the same dough for both types, and it is a good general-use empanada dough:

Empanada Dough:
Source: Tyler Florence
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup masa-harina
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, masa-harina, baking powder, and salt.  Stir in the melted butter.  Gradually add 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of water, working it in with your hands to incorporate; the dough should be easy to handle and not sticky. Form the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic, and chill for 30 minutes.

I recommend that if you let the dough chill for more than 30 minutes, you should let it hang out on the counter for a bit before using it.  It is pretty hard to work with when it's really cold.

Chorizo Potato Empanadas

Source: Tyler Florence,

3 to 4 waxy red or white potatoes (about 1/2 pound), peeled and sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound chorizo sausage, casing removed
1 Spanish onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chicken broth
12 large pimiento-stuffed green olives, chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 recipe empanada dough (above)


Put the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water; add the salt and bring to a boil, uncovered.  Simmer until fork tender, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, place a large skillet over medium flame.  Add the chorizo, and cook, stirring for 5 minutes, until the sausage renders its fat and gets crispy.  Add the onion and garlic; season with the cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper.  Cook and stir for 5 minutes, until the mixture is soft and has a beautiful red color.  Pour in the broth and simmer for 3 minutes. 

Drain the potatoes and fold them into the pan, using a wooden spoon, break up the potatoes into nickel-sized pieces.  Add the olives and raisins and toss everything together; season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Allow the filling to cool before filling the empanadas.  Serve with cilantro cream.

Lightly flour your rolling pin and counter.  Dived the dough in 1/2 so it will be easier to work with and roll it out to 1/8-inch thickness.  Using a 4-inch cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out 10 circles of dough; repeat with other 1/2.

Spoon 2 generous tablespoons of filling into the center of each pastry circle, leaving a 1/2-inch border  Brush the edges with the egg wash and then fold the dough over in 1/2 to enclose the filling and form a semi-circle.  Tightly seal the edges by crimping with the tines of a fork.  Chill at least 30 minutes before baking.  (flour pile note:  you can also freeze them at this point. poke some holes in the top first.  when you are ready to bake them, do not thaw them -- brush with egg wash and pop in the oven.  you will probably have to add a few extra minutes to the baking time)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Place the empanadas on a buttered baking sheet and brush the tops with additional egg wash.  Using a fork, prick a few holes in the top of the empanadas for steam to escape.  Bake for 30 minutes, until pastry is golden brown.

Cilantro Cream

1 cup sour cream
1/4 finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 lime, juiced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the sour cream, cilantro, and lime juice together.  Mix thoroughly; season with salt and pepper.  Serve with empanadas.

Chocolate-Banana Empanadas

Source: Tyler Florence

4 large ripe bananas
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 recipe empanada dough
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken in chunks
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting


Mash the bananas, sugar, and cinnamon together in a mixing bowl until creamy, but not completely smooth -- you should still have pieces of banana chunks.  Spoon a generous tablespoon of the banana filling on the empanada pastry circles and stick a piece of chocolate on top.  Form and bake the empanadas as directed in the previous recipe.  Dust with confectioners' sugar, and serve hot.

(flour pile note:  as you can see in the photo, i forgot the confectioners' sugar.  i almost made a cinnamon whipped cream to serve with these, but i didn't end up doing that.  i should have -- it would have been nice)

Both of these recipes were a total hit at the party, but the chorizo ones went faster.  I highly recommend you try these sometime!

And sorry, no photos of the disaster that was my kitchen after making all of these.  It was frightening, and I wouldn't want to scare you away.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pop Tarts, Take One!!

About a week ago (maybe more?), Jackie from Not Your Bubbe's Kitchen and I got a bit obsessed with making our own pop tarts.  When I get obsessed with making something, especially if it's something I've never made, I don't stop until I've made it to my satisfaction. 

As a result of this, I have completed my first attempt at making pumpkin pie pop tarts.  Jackie also made some!  Hers, however, are a healthier (no, really) version.  She is infinitely good at making things healthier, so you should go check out her recipe.  I, on the other hand, don't even try to make things healthier.  I believe in butter and sugar and all that they stand for.

I say this is my first attempt because, while these were amazingly tasty, they were not what I want them to be.  Here are the things I will change the next time, just to start:
  1. The dough.  I used a traditional pie dough (spiced up a bit), and while it was delicious, it was also very flaky.  It was not like the cookie-ish crust that is on a normal pop tart.  Next time, I will try my regular tart dough, as it is more like a cookie. 
  2. More filling!  You can kind of see in the photo that there isn't a lot of filling.  I think I was worried that it would make the pastries explode during baking, so I didn't use more than about a tablespoon on each one.  Definitely not enough.
  3. Less glaze!  The glaze was really tasty, but I put it on too think, and it never got hard like it's supposed to.  

And, I have a couple of notes about this recipe. 
  1. I used my favorite pie dough.  You can use whichever one you like best.  However, if you are looking for a good all-purpose pie dough (except for this purpose, obviously), this is a great one. 
  2. I went simple for the filling.  I just used the recipe on the back of the can of pumpkin puree.  I thought it was just fine.
  3. Poke more holes in the tops than you think you will need.  The filling is really moist, so a lot of steam is going to be looking to escape.  If you don't poke a lot of holes, they will get really puffy and look weird.
  4. I am OBSESSED with pumpkin pie spice.  I have it in my cabinet all year round.  I used a lot of it in this recipe.  You don't have to use as much as I do.

Pumpkin Pie Pop Tarts, Take One

For the crust:
All-Butter Double Crust Pie Dough
Source: America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

1/3 cup ice water, plus extra as needed
3 tablespoons sour cream
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and frozen for 10 to 15 minutes

This is the regular recipe.  When I made it for this use, I added a little more sugar (like 1/2 tablespoon or so) and about a tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice.  You don't have to, but I felt like it added something nice.

1.  Mix 1/3 cup of the ice water and sour cream together in a small bowl until combined. Process the flour, sugar, and salt together in a food processor until combined (add the pumpkin pie spice at this step, if using).  Scatter the butter pieces over the top about pulse the mixture until the butter is the size of large peas, about 10 pulses.

2.  Pour half of the sour cream mixture over the flour mixture and pulse until incorporated, about 3 pulses.  Repeat with the remaining sour cream mixture.  Pinch the dough with your fingers; if the dough feels dry and does not hold together, sprinkle 1 to 2 tablespoons more ice water over the mixture and pulse until the dough forms large clumps and no dry flour remains, 3 to 5 pulses.

3.  Divide the dough into 2 even pieces.  Turn each piece of dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and flatten each into a 4-inch disk.  Wrap each piece tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.  Before rolling the dough out, let it sit on the counter to soften slightly, about 10 minutes. 

For the filling:
Famous Pumpkin Pie
Source: the back of the can of Libby's pumpkin puree

Note:  this makes enough filling for two large pies.  It's WAY more than you will need.  I made it all, since I figured I would be making pop tarts again soon.  Whatever's left I will freeze and use later for something else.

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
4 large eggs
1 can (29 oz.) pureed pumpkin
2 cans (12 oz each) evaporated milk

Mix sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves in a small bowl.  Beat eggs in a large bowl.  Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture.  Gradually stir in evaporated milk. 

At this point, I put the filling into the freezer to chill a bit and get slightly more solid.  You could use the fridge, but I didn't feel like waiting that long.


Heat oven to 350 degrees.

1.  On a floured surface, roll out your dough to about 1/4-inch thickness. You want it to be thinner than you would make it for a regular pie.  Cut the dough into whatever shapes you want.  I did rectangles this time, but you could use cookie or biscuit cutters.  I wouldn't do anything too complicated though.  And make sure you have two of each shape if you do multiple shapes.

2.  Spoon some filling on half of the shapes.  Spread it out slightly with your spoon.  Brush the edges of the piece with the filling with egg wash (1 egg beaten with a little water).  Top with another piece of dough.  Gently press around the filling to get out any air.  Crimp the edges with a fork to seal the pieces together.

3.  Poke several holes in the top of each pop tart with a fork.  Brush each one with egg wash.  Lay on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the pop tarts are golden brown and crisp. 

4.  Let the pop tarts cool on a rack.

Once they are cool, you can glaze them. 

For the glaze:

Okay, so this is where I forgot to measure stuff.  I took some warm water, combined it with powdered sugar, and added pumpkin pie spice to taste.  I beat it in a bowl with a fork until it was smooth, adding more sugar or water or spice until it was the taste and consistency I wanted.  When I got to that point, I spread it on the pop tarts and put them back on the parchment lined sheet pans, so that if the glaze dripped, I didn't have to really clean up anything.  If you want to add sprinkles, do it while the glaze is still wet.

Allow the glaze to harden before doing anything with them.  I let them sit overnight, and since I used too much, they got a crust on top, but were still soft underneath.  Meh, they were still really tasty, so I didn't care too much. Store them in an airtight container.