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I have a confession to make. Okay, well more than one. But let me start with the most pressing: I think I’m in love… with a dessert. Nanaimo Bars, where have you been all my life??? When I think of all the desserts, all the cookies, the cakes, the bars I have suffered through in my life, I only have one regret: that it took me 31 long years to find you. Was I perhaps a Canadian in my last life? Because I feel like I’ve known you longer than just a week. I feel an almost spiritual connection with you. When I press my lips to your unctuous sweetness, I feel as if I’ve come home. What do I love most about you? How to choose? First there’s your top layer, that dark ganache I can’t get enough of. Then I find your creamy center, so soft and buttery. All of this is supported by the strength and beauty that is your bottom layer, with chocolate and coconut and almonds and everything I could ever want. Put together, your layers make a symphony of deliciousness unlike any I’ve ever experienced.
I don’t quite know how to explain this forbidden love that I feel… what I do know is that I love you, Nanaimo Bars. Forever.
Before I continue any further with my love sonnet to your deliciousness, let me get this formality out of the way:
The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and www.nanaimo.ca.
Yes, Nanaimo Bars and I were introduced by friends, namely, the Daring Bakers. Oh, Daring Bakers, I will never be able to thank you enough for bringing us together. There are simply no words…
The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.
‘Tis the season to be jolly and all that… and what could be more jolly than a good old fashioned gingerbread house? One of my favorite holiday memories as a kid was making “gingerbread” houses with my mom and sister every year. Okay, okay, we cheated and used graham crackers, but STILL, they were beautiful and candy-ful and lovely in every way (don’t be a hater). When we got a bit older, the daughters of my mom’s employer (and our occasional baby-sitting charges) would join us in the house-making extravaganza. Really, it’s not the same unless you’ve got a munchkin there to share in the glory that is sugar and candy and all things sweet. So, in the spirit of my own family tradition, I called up my lovely friend Tipper and asked if her and Nora, age 2 and all things precocious, would like to join me in my holiday daring bakers endeavors.
Tipper is a big fan of the blog, and is an incredible cook and baker herself, and seemed excited by the idea. And hey, a guest appearance on her favorite food blog (it’s your favorite, isn’t it sweetie? ISN’T IT? HINT HINT) could very well make her famous on the interwebz, so can you blame her for jumping on board with my sugar-laden plan?
“Lets bake our gingerbreads the night before,” I said, “So they’ll be nice and rock-hard and ready for construction the next day!” So there I was, 10 pm the night before, and was my kitchen filled with the delicious scent of gingerbread wafting from the oven I’d slaved over all day? Um…. no. Not really. I’d been getting over a cold for days and days, and had a sinus headache that refused to lay down and die no matter how many lovely drugs I threw at it. All day I waited for the headache to pass, to no avail. That’s how it came to be that only 12 hours before we planned to meet and construct our spiced, saccharine monstrosities, I was sitting in a gingerbreadless apartment, feeling like the worst. food. blogger. EVER.
I started talking with Tipper, telling her my tale of woe, describing just what a FAILURE I am… when the skies parted above me and she uttered (well, um, typed) the magic words: “the recipe makes a crapload of dough. maybe there is enough for TWO houses. beats me.” And that, ladies and gentlepeoples, is how Tipper saved Christmas. Or at least my dreams of finally decorating a gingerbread house made from the real stuff.
Believe it or not, she had enough dough for THREE tiny houses, one for each of us and her husband as well. A Christmas miracle indeed. One manic candy-buying shopping trip later and we were ready to go. Sadly, some of my “traditional” childhood candies were not available at our local supermarket (Necco Wafers make the best roof tiles, dammit!), but we found enough goodies to fill two bags – more than we needed, but hey, it’s candy!
By the end of the day we were covered in icing, hopped up on sugar, and I’d introduced little Nora to the art of gingerbread houses and candy-eating. I’m a bad influence. Apparently she now asks for candy with her oatmeal in the mornings. My work here is done.
By the way, if you’re in need of some fine, home-made soaps, bath-bombs or body butters, please for the love of all things holy, visit the lovely Tipper’s Etsy shop! Her products are divine, and as you can see, she’s got an adorable family to support so your soap-buying dollars are going to a worthy (and CUTE) cause. http://www.etsy.com/shop/robinsdalesoap
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Scandinavian Gingerbread (Pepparkakstuga)
from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas http://astore.amazon.com/thedarkit-20/detail/0816634963
1 cup butter, room temperature [226g]
1 cup brown sugar, well packed [220g]
2 tablespoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground ginger
3 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ cup boiling water
5 cups all-purpose flour [875g]
1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until blended. Add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Mix the baking soda with the boiling water and add to the dough along with the flour. Mix to make a stiff dough. If necessary add more water, a tablespoon at a time. Chill 2 hours or overnight.
2. Cut patterns for the house, making patterns for the roof, front walls, gabled walls, chimney and door out of cardboard.
3. Roll the dough out on a large, ungreased baking sheet and place the patterns on the dough. Mark off the various pieces with a knife, but leave the pieces in place.
4. [I rolled out the dough on a floured bench, roughly 1/8 inch thick (which allows for fact that the dough puffs a little when baked), cut required shapes and transferred these to the baking sheet. Any scraps I saved and rerolled at the end.]
5. Preheat the oven to 375’F (190’C). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until the cookie dough feels firm. After baking, again place the pattern on top of the gingerbread and trim the shapes, cutting the edges with a straight-edged knife. Leave to cool on the baking sheet.
1 large egg white
3 cups (330g) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon almond extract
Beat all ingredients until smooth, adding the powdered sugar gradually to get the desired consistency. Pipe on pieces and allow to dry before assembling. If you aren’t using it all at once you can keep it in a small bowl, loosely covered with a damp towel for a few hours until ready to use. You may have to beat it slightly to get it an even consistency if the top sets up a bit. Piped on the house, this will set up hard over time.
The June Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart… er… pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800’s in England.
Is it a tart? Is it a pudding? Is it a pie?
Who the heck knows! It really depends on what slice of the globe you happen to call home and what you like to call your yummy baked goods. But regardless of the name, it is truly and utterly delicious.
The Bakewell tartpuddingpie has its roots in merry old England, and combines a number of traditional dessert elements in an interesting and scrumptious way. First you lay down a buttery, shorbread-like tart crust, slather it with your jam or curd of choice, then top with a mysterious concoction known as Frangipane. This exotic-sounding addition is a somewhat squidgy mess of eggs, butter, sugar, and ground almonds which bakes into a delightful, almost sponge-cake-like flufiness atop your tartpuddingpie. The combination of these three elements is no less than genious. Those 19th century Brits knew what they were doing, I say!
According to this month’s lovely hosts, “like many regional dishes there’s no “one way” to make a Bakewell Tart…er…Pudding, but most of today’s versions fall within one of two types. The first is the “pudding” where a layer of jam is covered by an almondy pastry cream and baked in puff pastry. The second is the “tart” where a rich shortcrust pastry holds jam and an almondy sponge cake-like filling. The version we’re daring you to make is a combination of the two: a sweet almond-flavoured shortcrust pastry, frangipane and jam.”
As for the tart/pudding debate, someone once said something like “The Bakewell pudding is a dessert. The Bakewell tart is that girl over there.” Use that knowledge as you may…
Again, this month’s challenge gave us daring bakers a little leeway in our baking madness: use the tart dough and the frangipane, but choose your own jam or curd for its innards. Making our own jams was heartily encouraged so, with last month’s sad failure still haunting me, I decided to start early in the month and work extra hard to make this challenge a success! And I’m happy to report, I did.
My first attempt began early in June, and true to the daring baker’s spirit, I made my own jam filling out of the fresh lovely produce hitting my local markets. I researched some jam recipes, and decided to just strike out on my own and see what happened. I figured I didn’t need anything worthy of canning (since I just don’t have the equipment for that), and if the texture was a bit runny or dense, it didn’t matter since it was just going to be the jam in my bakewell sammich. The result of my labors was a quite lovely Brown Sugar Stone-fruit Jam (the recipe is listed at the end of the post).
I chose to make my tart dough in the food processor because, well, I’m lazy! If this were something in which the flakiness of the dough was paramount to the dish, I might have taken the time and effort to do it all old-fashioned-like, but f*** that. And hey, this dough is merely a substrate for the jam and frangipane anyway! The frangipane was a breeze to whip up, believe it or not. Though the originators of the recipe warned could sometimes get an unappealing curdled-like texture, mine was nothing but smooth and creamy all the way. I think the trick is really making sure your butter is at room temperature, making sure to mix thoroughly between elements, and having a good quality hand or stand mixer at the ready. My KitchenAid hand-mixer is so freakin’ turbo-powered, I wish it had a *LOWER SETTING* – the 1st notch on the dial is hand-numbingly powerful, and I don’t think I’ve ever even dared to go beyond notch 3!
For my jam-based creation, I also decided to remain traditional with choice of cookware and size – a nice, standard 9-inch tart pan did the trick. I lined the bottom and sides with the pastry crust, oozed on a thick layer of jam (at this point it almost started to look like I was making a deep-dish pizza…), then smoothed the luscious frangipane over the top.
After a half an hour in the oven, it looked nice and brown on top, so I took it out and let it cool. The house smelled AMAZING – like marzipan and shortbread had been makin’ sweet, sweet love in my kitchen all day. I let it cool for quite some time, but upon cutting into it realized that I hadn’t quite baked it long enough: the frangipane in the center inches of the tart was still runny, and the dough beneath it suspiciously soft. That didn’t stop it from being DELICIOUS, however, and it firmed up a bit more after a night in the fridge. Undercooked or not, the boytoy and I inhaled the thing over the next couple of days – it makes quite a good breakfast, I assure you (as long as there are no bacon waffles nearby to compete with them)!
As good as that first tart was, I was sure I could do better. I wanted to do something a little more bold, now that I’d tackled the basics! First off, I decided to convert the recipe into cupcake-sized tartlettes, hoping the smaller size would help my frangipane to cook through this time. As for the filling, here was where I wanted to try something truly unique. With my mind stuck on yummy-British-dessert mode, I suddenly remembered a divine concoction known as Banoffee Pie: bananas and toffee/caramel are combined in pie format and then slathered with cream. I’ve seen it done a dozen times on my cable channel of choice, the Food Network, and every time found my chin dropped somewhere near the floor with a puddle of drool beneath it. I always imagined this combination to be something truly inspired, but as of yet, have never gotten around to making the damn pie! And here is where the idea came to me: why not make a crazy British-fusion dessert, combining the bananas and caramel of Banoffee Pie with the delicious almond-ness of a Bakewell Tart? GENIOUS! And thus the Banoffee Bakewell Tart was born!
So here I am, once again on the day that the challenge is due, working down to the wire to finish my baking. Yes, I got a head this month, but still, I seem to be a creature of (last-minute) habit. Luckily, this month luck was with me: I found that the single quantity of tart dough was the PERFECT amount for exactly 12 cupcake-sized tartlettes! After the dough was rolled out, I cut circles out of it with a crumpet-ring, then smooshed them into the dozen crevices in my standard-sized cupcake pan.
After a quick chill in the freezer, I filled each little tart with about a tablespoon of canned Dulce de Leche, topped that with a slice of fresh banana, then covered with frangipane like usual.
They cooked for about 20-30 minutes, until brown and poofy on top. With a bit of whipped cream dolloped on top, these Banoffee-Bakewell tartlettes were a clear winner!
Here are the official recipes and directions for all the elements of this fantabulous dessert. I highly urge you to give this one a try – it really wasn’t hard at all, and if you used store-bought jam, it would be even easier!
Brown Sugar Stone-fruit Jam:
- Approx. 3 pounds of stone-fruits (I used cherries, plums and peaches in roughly equal proportions, but feel free to play with this as you like), stones/pips removed, and chopped into small chunks
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup white sugar (I used vanilla sugar, but plain works too)
- Juice of 1 lemon
Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan tall enough so that you’ve got some room for bubbling without overflow. Cook on medium or medium-high, stirring frequently. Once the fruit has gotten very soft (after 10-20 minutes), start crushing the mixture with a potato masher, breaking up the fruit and syrup into a nice pulp. I let mine bubble, reduce and thicken for about an hour, but use your own judgement.
There’s a lot of info out there on jam-making and how to know when it has set enough (often involving frozen dinner plates or other strange things), but since texture wasn’t all that important in this case, I just cooked it until it looked thick enough for my needs. Let it cool, uncovered, until it isn’t scorching bloody hot anymore, then move to the refridgerator until you need it.
Sweet shortcrust pastry:
Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, plastic wrap
- 225g (8 oz) all purpose flour
- 30g (1 oz) sugar (or vanilla sugar, if you have it)
- 2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
- 110g (4 oz, or 1 stick) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
- 2 egg yolks
- 2.5ml (½ tsp) almond or vanilla extract (optional)
- 15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water
Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.
Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.
Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes
** If you want to make this in the food processor, combine all the dry elements and pulse to distribute evenly. Add chunks of butter, really cold or frozen is best. Pulse about 10 times or so until you have coarse crumbs and small chunks of butter. Add the egg yolks, pulse a couple of times, then start drizzling in water a bit at a time, pulsing in between drizzles. You don’t want to over-work the dough if you don’t have to! Open the lid and check in between each drizzle of water to check the texture. Don’t wait until the dough forms a ball in the mixer – it should look like fine yellowish crumbly crumbs that, when smooshed together with your fingers, hold together in a cohesive dough.
Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula
- 125g (4.5 oz) unsalted butter, softened
- 125g (4.5 oz) icing sugar
- 3 eggs
- 2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
- 125g (4.5 oz) ground almonds
- 30g (1 oz) all purpose flour
Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.
Bakewell Tartpuddingpie Assembly:
Makes one 23cm (9” tart)
Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges) or muffin pan, rolling pin
One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry
250ml (1 cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability (or 1-2 bananas and 1 can dulce de leche!)
One quantity frangipane
One handful blanched, flaked almonds
Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it’s overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 200C/400F.
Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.
The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.
When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.
• The jam quantity can be anywhere from 60ml (1/4 cup) to 250ml (1cup), depending upon how “damp” and strongly flavoured your preserves are. I made it with the lesser quantity of home made strawberry jam, while Annemarie made it with the greater quantity of cherry jam; we both had fabulous results. If in doubt, just split the difference and spread 150ml (2/3cup) on the crust.
• The excess shortcrust can be rolled out and cut into cookie-shapes (heck, it’s pretty darned close to a shortbread dough).
Brown Sugar Bacon Waffles.
Do I have your attention yet? Yes, that’s right, I said waffles, and bacon, and brown sugar, and ohmygod! So back when I lived in North Carolina, there was a popular breakfast joint in my town named Elmo’s Diner. On their large menu of breakfasty-goodness there was one item that never failed to take my breath away – the bacon-waffle. Just finishing one of these monstrosoties of deliciousness was a difficult task, once properly slathered with butter and real maple syrup. Yes, my friends, it is a heart attack on a platter, an untimely (but scrumptious!) early death just waiting to happen… and I loved him. It was a love that dare not speak its name – the kind of guilty pleasure indulgence food straight from the fatty-food-lovin’-Paula-Deen-butter-guzzlin’-southern-nation. You try and hate on it, but in the end you just can’t… because you’re too full.
Since moving away, there have been many things I’ve missed, and that bacon waffle is one of them. Since recently purchasing a Belgian-waffle iron, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of recreating this masterpiece. My first attempt was okay – decent tasting waffle (if a bit heavy), and delicious bacon crumbles. It definitely satisfied, but it wasn’t the kind of gluttonous, beautiful meal I remembered. So what do I usually do in the face of such a challenge? Go to the interwebz, of course! A bunch of googling later, I had some contender recipes, but none that really called to me with the promise of that long lost waffle of love. Until I found this one. The title, the pictures… I was sold. “I must make these,” I said, “and they will be awesome.”
Next step? Tracking down the best possible bacon available for this noble enterprise. I recently discovered a little butcher shop down the street from my work that puts out some of the best meat products I’ve seen in years. On splurge-nights, the boytoy and I get ourselves a big honkin’ ribeye (I’m talkin’ the couple-inches-thick kind) and proceed to have a steak better than a lot of restaurants I’ve been to recently. Their smoked products are out of this freakin’ world, and I was overwhelmed with joy upon finding they offered bacon in both hickory and applewood smoked varieties. I scurried home with a pound of some of the most beautiful, thick-cut bacon I’ve ever had the pleasure to own or eat (hickory, in this instance).
What intrigued/thrilled me the most about this particular bacon-waffle recipe was the semi-candying of the bacon itself under a veil of brown sugar. It seemed, to the imaginary tastebuds in my head, to be a great way to incorporate that sweet-salty-meaty-hot combo I love so dearly. So, like any recipe I stumble across, I made a few adjustments and plunged right in:
Brown Sugar Bacon Waffles
(adapted from Joy the Baker)
Step One: cut a hole in the box… um, er, I mean prepare the candied bacon!
The original recipe says to use 10 slices of bacon – which I did – but mine were so thick and luscious, I had to make a few adjustments in the baking time. My 10 slices were just shy of a whole pound, but ymmv depending on the brand and thickness of your bacon.
Lay your bacon out in a baking pan of some sort, with a tall enough edge to contain all the fat that will render off without splashing when moved. In order to fit in my pan I had to overlap the pieces a bit – this is okay. Sprinkle the top of your bacon layer generously with the following mixture:
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/8 tsp. onion powder
- 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/8 tsp. smoked paprika
- fresh ground pepper (to taste)
Bake this lovely concoction in a preheated 375-degree oven for 20-30 minutes, again based on the thickness of your bacon. Mine took 30 minutes, while the original recipe called for only 20. I suggest checking it at 20 minutes and adding more time as necessary. You want the bacon to look crisp but not burned. Immediately transfer out of the greasy sugar sludge with tongs to a cutting board to cool (don’t use paper towels for draining – the bacon will stick!). Once cool, chop it into happy bits of a size amenable to the chef (too big and they will make your waffle iron difficult to close, so be wary). Make sure to eat a few to make sure that they are okay… then a few more… oh crap, remember to save some for the waffles!
Now the waffle batter!
- 2 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
- 1/4 c. cornstarch
- 1 tbsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 4 large eggs
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 cups buttermilk (I use 6 tbsp. buttermilk powder + water)
In a large bowl combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, salt and brown sugar (if using powdered buttermilk substitute, add it here to the dry ingredients). Whisk to blend. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, oil, buttermilk (or water, if using powdered buttermilk) and vanilla extract. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and fold. Once almost fully incorporated, add the bacon bites. Stir. Try not to over mix the batter or the waffles will become tough. It’s ok if a few lumps remain in the batter.
Cook according to your waffle machine instructions. Generally, you should watch the steam coming off of your iron – when it starts to slow down or stop, your waffle is probably ready. It can take a while to get through all the batter – I made at least 8 belgian-waffle sized lovelies from my batch (hard to count when they keep getting eaten). What should you do to pass the time while your waffles are cooking? Well, if you’re me, you start eating waffles! And drink beer, that’s always a good choice (it pairs very nicely with both waffles and pancakes, I’ve found). In desperate times, get out a laser-pointer and make your cat run in circles around the kitchen floor. That’s always good for a laugh! Next thing you know, your waffle will be done!
Serve immediately (can keep warm in a low oven while batches finish), topped with real maple syrup (none of that fake stuff, you pansies!) and butter if you dare. Be prepared for moans of extasy to escape the mouths of you and your loved ones. Make this for your date and he/she will imminently propose marriage, simply to have these waffles of love be a regular part of his or her meal schedule. Warning : Waffles-of-Love have been known to cause pregnancy in certain circumstances. Please practice safe syrup.
Okay, confession time: I love scones. No, seriously, I loooooooooove them. Muffins are tasty, but always too sweet and squishy. Biscuits are good, but are an ideologically different creature from the muffin or scone. I just can’t put them in the same mental category. The scone, though, is perfection: not too sweet, not too moist, not too dry, not too crumbly, and best of all, it goes perfectly with coffee. If you know anything about me, you know that if something “goes with coffee” it will be a staple in my life. Coffee is so much more than a beverage to me – I like to say that coffee and I have had a loving, caring relationship for 16 years. I’m an insufferable coffee snob, of course, but I’m not ashamed of it at all. People accuse me of being a goth because I wear so much black, but really, it’s because it hides the coffee stains (I’m clumsy, and have a tendency to wear my food).
But I digress…
Back to scones, or I should say, the perfection that – in its earthly incarnation – is called scone. Like everything else in my life that I’m passionate about (coffee, beer, music…), I’m a snob. Snobbery gets a bad name a lot of the time, but when I use it to describe myself, it is merely a manifestation of the highest form of flattery. I love something so much that an inferior version of it makes me sad, because I know in my heart how good it could be.
The perfect scone is hard to accomplish. More often than not, the scones we run across (particularly here in the states) are more like flat, lumpy muffins… or dry oversized flavorless biscuits – never quite achieving that balance I’m always harping about in food. The “great” scones I’ve had in my life I can count on one hand. Frankly, only two come to mind. Sadly, one location is since out of business, and the other will probably soon be (and is inconveniently located a couple thousand miles from my house, damn them!). So I’ve been on the quest create the perfect scone for a while now, when I need that scone fix. I’ve yet to create the perfect one, but I’m happy to admit that I’ve come damn close!
Where did I find this recipe? Two words: Alton Brown. I’m very conflicted about dear Alton. I vary between loving him, and wanting to strangle him. At times he comes up with the most ingenious, brilliant solutions to cooking’s biggest mysteries. At other times, he zealously goes so far beyond the realm of practical or realistic that I want to know just what kind of crack he is smoking and will he share it with the rest of us. Case and point? Hot Wings. The man took a 5-minute prep time bar food and turned it into a multi-hour circus of cooking techniques requiring construction of a multi-layered wing-steaming device, and periods of chill-time between each step… lets just say by the time you finish preparing the paltry little pile of the damn wings, you will probably have already ordered take out – twice – and aren’t hungry any more.
In the case of scones, however, dear Alton is right on the mark. Bless him! His recipe is not only easy (win!) and delicious (epic-win!), but I have yet to BREAK it, despite my dubious tampering (double plus win!). I can’t leave a recipe alone, it’s true. Even after I subbed half and half for the heavy cream, replaced half the flour with whole wheat, swapped out a different sugar and added handfuls of additions (some of whom were liberally soaked in delicious booze!), it’s still golden! The original is lovely, of course, but give my rendition a try and you’ll see why I love them so very much and will try my hardest to make a batch of them every weekend.
Adapted from Alton Brown
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 4 tsp. baking powder
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp. margarine/shortening
- 3/4 cup half-and-half
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup dried apricots, diced
- 1/4 cup brandy (optional)
- 1/2 cup almonds, slivered or sliced
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp OTHER extract (almond, orange, more vanilla, or if you’re me, Fiori di Sicilia)
- demerara sugar, for sprinking (optional)
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Farenheit.
Take your diced apricots (or cherries, blueberries, mango, raisins, currants, cranberries… you get the idea) and place them in a small bowl with the brandy (if omitting the brandy, you can use water or fruit juice). Heat this in the microwave for only about 10-15 seconds, until the liquid is warm. Smoosh the pieces around in the bowl so they’re all covered and soaking up the lovely stuff.
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Mix well. Add butter and shortening in small chunks, and “cut” into the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter, two butter knives, or if you wanna get dirrrty, your fingers (clean, of course). You want this to end up as a kind of powdery, crumbly mixture – not a “dough” by any means, and not a bunch of flour with a couple chunks of butter floating in it. In fact, you don’t want uniformity at all. You want some of the butter to have disappeared into the flour to make a coarse meal, but you also still want some pea-sized clumps of fat in there too. If it looks messy, you’re doing it right!
In a separate bowl or large measuring cup, combine the half-and-half, egg, and extracts and whisk them with a fork until combined and uniform in color. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients – no need to make a fancy well or pour it in bit by bit, just slop it in there! Drain the liquor or water from the fruit (and if you’re me, you drink it right there! woot!) and add them to the bowl as well. While your at it, throw in those almonds (or pecans… walnuts… heck, whatever you got on hand). Get yourself a big wooden spoon and stir this stuff together until you have a loosely formed goopy mass. Don’t overmix! Don’t wait for it all to be perfectly uniform and un-clumpy. The less mixing the better!
Turn this mixture out onto a floured surface (or if you’re me and don’t want to get your counters sticky, into a Pie Dough Bag). There’s no need to ROLL out the dough or any such nonsense like that. Just moosh it all together into a pile so that none of the flour or clumps is left lying about. Form that dough pile into a rough circular shape, maybe an inch thick or so. Slice it into pizza-triangles and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle the tops with demerara sugar if you’re feeling fancy! Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until lightly browned on top. Try and wait for them to cool long enough to eat them. Fail. Eat them anyway. 🙂
I have always had a love-hate relationship with cheesecake. Really! It’s true! Despite the fact that in the past 6 or 7 years I have been come to be known as somewhat of a cheesecake artiste, cheesecake was for many years VERBOTEN! in my life. You want to know why?….. my big secret?….. I hate cheese.
I can hear the silence now. The confusion. (The horror?)
“All cheese?” you ask.
“Um… yeah… pretty much,” is my response. The short answer: there’s some sort of a taste going on in cultured/fermented milk products that, quite literally, tastes like vomit to me. Actual vomit. As in, if I get the slightest taste of it, it will trigger my gag reflex. Even strong cheese SMELLS will make me gag. Yeah, I know, crazy right? WTF? Trust me on this one, I wish with all my heart that I liked cheese. People hide it in things and don’t tell you. I have to quiz my waiter/waitress at almost every restaurant to make sure there isn’t any cheese hidden in strange places. I’m not a picky eater – dear god, I LURVE food. Cheese (and sour cream, and certain cultured butter) is the one thing everyone seems to love, but will make me retch. Life would be a lot simpler if I could just “get over it”, as some tactless people in my past have urged, people for whom my cheese-hatred was somehow offensive to their sensibilities.
Well, it’s not gonna happen. I’m 30 years old, and have TRIED numerous times to conquer this thing and every time, my taste buds and olfactory recepters revolt. If I were gonna grow out of it, it would have happened by now. Just call me a very specific supertaster!
So why, you may be thinking, do I make so many damn cheesecakes? HOW THE HECK DOES THAT WORK? Well, I have actually gotten better over the years when it comes to cheese. Certain cheeses in very small amounts in places where their noxious flavor is sufficiently masked is acceptable to me. Mozzarella on pizza is generally safe (heck, that cheese is barely a cheese since it isn’t left to culture/rot/etc. for any time at all). And cream cheese, though it tastes gross to me on its own, can be conquered if enough other mitigating factors are involved.
So finally, back to the topic of cheesecake. Many years ago, I came to realize that not all cheesecakes are inherently evil, despite the dreaded word in its title. Some cheesecakes, the ones I hate, basically taste like a brick of cream cheese with some sugar mixed in. Yuck. If I wanted to eat cream cheese, I’d freakin’ eat it already, and as y’all know, I don’t want to. Once in a while, however, I’d come across one that would be a bit creamier, a bit different, where the flavor of cheese did not prevail. I was intrigued. I took one of these recipes and started to tweak it. I was sure I could eventually come up with something that worked for me (I do like a challenge!). And lo and behold, I did. I blame the heavy cream. With a full cup of it in there, it manages to round out the flavor to the point that you taste DAIRY, not cheese. This is a Good Thing.
Lo and behold, my cheesecake was born. Lots of cheese for body, lots of cream for flavor, eggs for texture and binding, vanilla for unctuousness, and last but not least, lemon and booze for balance. Not flavor – at a tablespoon each you’re not going to really taste them in there. A good cheesecake is all about balance of cream and tang, depth and simplicity, heavy and light. The lemon and alcohol, I discovered, was my key to making the flavor really POP. There’s somethign about citrus and alcohol that just cuts through the heaviness of the cheese and the cream, brightens it, like that squeeze of lime over your pad thai. I truly believe that the little tinge of sour that they bring is what takes the flavor over the top.
Anyway, enough about cheesecake (I really could rhapsodize forever… I’m such a prose-slut). Or I should say, enough about cheesecake in general – and more about THIS cheesecake. The one I baked last night, styled this morning, and quickly snapped photos of before running off to work (where they were instantly devoured, of course)
After browsing through hundreds of renditions of my cheesecake recipe, I was filled with blog-envy. All those gorgeous photos! The flavor combos! Oh, for shame! It’s my recipe, yet I didn’t even make one of my own. The least I could do, as a brand spankin’ new member of Daring Bakers, was add my own humble rendition to the fray. I needed a flavor combo that was new to me, and wasn’t like any of the hundreds of recipes I’d already perused (even though many of them seemed to have stolen flavor combo ideas right out of my brain!). I’ve always kind of been enamored of the mixture of berry flavors with mint. It sounds weird to some, but it really, really works if you balance it right. You don’t want the berry to be too sweet, nor the mint to be too spicy. I thought the mellow, creaminess of cheesecake would be a perfect platorm on which to balance those two flavors. AND BOY WAS I RIGHT! So here goes, my official UNofficial first Daring Bakers post
The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge. The full recipe can be seen there – I won’t bother posting the full thing here. My (re)interpretation resulted in BerryMint Cheese(cup)cakes with White Chocolate Ganache. My changes/additions are tallied below:
* The heavy cream was heated briefly in the microwave, then a handful of torn mint leaves were left to steep as the cream cooled. The leaves were strained out prior to incorporating it into the batter.
* The crust was made with buttery shortbread crumbs and less melted butter.
* The liquor I used in the batter was white Creme de Menthe
*A vanilla bean created lovely little specks in the batter, rather than extract.
*I opted to make cupcake-sized cakes (so cute!), baked in a water bath for about 30 minutes, which when chilled were perfectly cooked and not cracked!
* Each cheese(cup)cake was topped with a quick white chocolate ganache: splash of cream was heated in the microwave, then a bar of good quality white chocolate was broken into the cream. Mix with a fork until smooth and dreamy… and no, I didn’t measure any of these amounts!
*Atop the pool of ganache I placed a single blackberry, which I then coated in a puddle of berry glaze. The glaze was simple: I took a couple of spoonfuls of seedless blackberry all-fruit preserves and a tablespoon or two of pomegranate molasses and microwaved them together for about 20 seconds. Stir until smooth, and again, no measuring! This glaze can also be used for presentation – just make a little extra and drizzle on the plate.
*Garnish with more blackberries and mint leaves, as desired. Voila!
And last but not least, the pictures!!