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The 2010 March Daring Baker’s challenge was hosted by Jennifer of Chocolate Shavings. She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, a dessert based on a recipe from Alain Ducasse’s Cooking School in Paris.

A quivering, glistening yolk, shortly before its demise

You may have noticed I’ve been conspicuously… um… silent lately. Yes, my friends, I am a Very Bad Blogger. *slaps my own wrist* I could spout all sorts of lovely excuses, but to tell you the honest truth, I’m kinda lazy. SHOCKING! I know, right? So I totally bailed on the DB challenge last month despite it being something very exciting and delicious (tiramisu! yum! and my fiance is STILL begging me to make it for him…). Mostly it was from the horrifying experience of trying to make my own mascarpone cheese – if any of you know me and my hatred of cheese, you’ll understand. BUT I WAS DARING! I tried, even though the smell of the cream heating and curdling on the stove almost made me vomit. I couldn’t bring myself to use the stuff when it was done. Sigh…

So THIS month I see the challenge and am left, well, a bit baffled. First of all, it was a word I’d never seen or heard before (what the heck is a “tian” anyway? really?). Then when I started looking further I just couldn’t help but think “okay, so it’s a cookie with jam, whipped cream, fruit and caramel on top? What’s the big deal? Needless to say, I was not particularly inspired to action. This is why I didn’t get off my fat ass to do the darn thing until the day the challenge was due. Will I never learn??? This is ALWAYS a recipe for disaster!

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It seems almost a shame to cover that shiny, yummy chocolate base... almost.

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…

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Disdainful snowman is disdainful.

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

– – – – –

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.

Royal Icing:

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.

Apparently, baby Ike is distrustful of strange women bearing candy...

Behold! The only appropriate use for holiday tree-shaped Peeps!

You say "fruit roll ups", I say "roof tiles!"

If only I could have found little gummy swords for these gummy bears to hold over the path...

Tipper wisely chose to construct a chimney out of gumdrops.

Tipper's house is too darling for words!

Nora eyes her mommy's delicious creation.

Yeah... uh... that didn't last long.

Macarons7

Sammiches!

 

Okay, I know. Go ahead and say it. I’ve been a BAD BLOGGER. Bad bad bad. When was my last update? MONTHS ago? Um… yeah… so… like… I moved, and then my new kitchen wasn’t done, and then…. um, yeah, I suck. But I’m back now and ready to rumble. Srsly. Ya rly. Gonna do it this time.

Once again, it’s time for the Daring Bakers Challenge. Your blurb of the month: The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Okay, so if you look at any other food blogs than this one (and why would you, really? I mean, this one is so awesome and stuff…) you may have noticed a strange cookie trend sweeping the intarnets. A wave of cookies sweeping the nation, crispy bottomed, brightly colored, flipped “foot” to “foot” and joined together in a holy matrimony of sweet fillings and buttercreams and curds… oh my! These funny, footsy little cookies are called Macarons (if you’re french, or suitably pretentious, which I am). Not to be confused with the humble american Macaroon (oh, how that extra O just goes and changes everything), which I also dearly lurve, the macaron is a frothy mix of egg whites, sugars, and finely ground nutmeats (hehehe… I just love saying the word “nutmeats” – it just sounds so dirty!), baked into little crispy-puffy dollops and eaten slathered-together with just about anything under the sun.

Macarons1

I call this one "vanilla bean meets grisly death at the hands of fluffy meringue"

I’ve been watching these little buggers for months now, taking over the food blogs, yet never quite having the excuse to give them a try. “Gosh darnit they’re PURTY,” I’d say, and then forget all about them until the next bit of macaron food-porn launched itself across my computer screen. Well here was my excuse! Daring Bakers picks a winner yet again! Woot!

Little did I know just how tricky these darn things are to get just right. Every one of those pictures I see of perfect, poofy macarons, now that I’ve tried to make them myself, I definitely think should have a bit fat warning label stating “YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY”. Not that my results weren’t delicious, scrumptious even. But not so pretty. And we all know how much I like to make my food pretty. Apparently there are fanatics out there that have dissected the concept of macaron-making nearly to death, spouting all sorts of arcane knowledge about “aging” one’s egg whites, resting pre-baked cookies, not cooking on a dry/humid/cloudy/sunny/rainy/insert-weather-here day. There are pages and pages dedicated to the magical incantations required to create the perfect “foot” on the bottom of the cookie (look at a proper picture and you’ll see what I mean). It’s nutty, I tell ya.

Whatever, I just wanna bake some cookies. So I threw myself into the recipe with enthusiasm, putting my own flavor twist to the buttercream center (caramelized pears with port!). Were they pretty to look at? Not so much. Were they yummy? Yes. Will I make them again? Maybe… who knows. Only time will tell. I packed up half of this batch and brought them over to the house of a couple of sick friends (for the sake of anonymity, let’s call them Joe and Jen). I am firmly convinced that my cookies completely cured them of all their ills. Seriously.

Macarons8

Care package is caring. And packagey. AND DELICIOUS!

Anyway, you can expect to hear from me again soon because I have some cool posts saved up, and in the next year will also be tackling baking my first and second wedding cakes! Always wanted to do that… Meanwhile, please accept this post as my humble offering back to the world of food-blogging. Forgive me for my absence. I promise to be better from now on. Pinkie swear and everything!

Macarons

2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 cups almond flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 egg whites, room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time [I added the guts of a vanilla bean – save the husk, we’ll use it later]. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip (Ateco #806). You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners (or parchment paper).
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F. Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
7. Cool on a rack before filling.

Theoretically, this yields 10 dozen macarons.

Macarons2

Little blorps of "cookie dough"

 

Macarons3

Alas, my macarons are "foot"less (and fancy free?)

Abbey’s Caramelized Pears with Port Buttercream

(based on Swiss Buttercream from Smitten Kitchen – this was the perfect amount for my half-batch of macarons, but YMMV)

2 pears, peeled and chopped into chunks
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 empty vanilla bean pod
cinnamon
freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons Port

1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg white
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Melt the 2 tbsp. of butter and brown sugar over medium heat. Add the vanilla bean pod to the butter and sugar so it can flavor the caramel. Once the sugar & butter are bubbly, add in the chopped pears. Sprinkle in the cinnamon and nutmet to taste, then saute in the caramel for 10-20 minutes, depending on the ripeness of your pears. Once the pears are good and soft, add the Port and let cook for 2-3 minutes more. Take off the heat and let cool thoroughly. Once cooled, prepare the buttercream:

Whisk egg whites and sugar together in a big metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. Whisk occasionally until you can’t feel the sugar granules when you rub the mixture between your fingers.

Transfer mixture into the mixer and whip until it turns white and about doubles in size. Add the vanilla, then add the 6 tbsp. of butter a bit at a time and whip until smooth and luscious. Set aside.

Get your cooled pear mixture and drain off as much of the syrupy moisture as possible, then mash the pears until you get a nice chunky texture. fold into the buttercream, then do with it what you will.

Macarons4

How can you go wrong when you start with butter, brown sugar, and a vanilla bean?

Macarons5

Pears enter stage left. And I swear, the "A" made out of vanilla bean parts was entirely accidental!

Macarons6

My buttercreams, let me show you them

Actual cookie image coming soon - missing due to technical difficulties.

Actual cookie image coming soon - missing due to technical difficulties.

It’s Daring Bakers time again! The July 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Nicole of Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

First of all, let me apologize for the lack of pictures in this post. I did take them, I promise, but at the moment they are living peacefully and undisturbed in a camera that is about 1800 miles away. Alas. I hope to upload them later, upon returning home from a brief 2-day stint in Los Angeles. Yes, my friends, this post comes to you direct from sunny Southern California! I can see the Shrine Auditorium from my hotel window, which is pretty darn cool. But I know you’re not here for that, you’re here for THE COOKIES!

This month’s challenge consists of two cookie recipes, but despite my best intentions, I was only able to make one – a lovely home-made rendering of the popular Milano cookies by a company I shall refrain from naming here. Though the cookies were delicious, I could definitely tell the difference between them and the original, and I must admit that the dough was not easy to work with. Granted, if I’d used a proper pastry bag and not a ziplock bag I probably would have had more control. As it was, getting any kind of even, uniform shape out of the stuff was difficult. After batch number one, I gave up entirely on the classic oblong shape and went for easier circles. Because of my less-than-ideal oven, they baked unevenly and it was hard to get them to that perfect slightly-crisp but not too brown state. And to add insult to injury, when making the chocolate filling, the chocolate seized on me! A hasty addition of some butter and more heavy cream brought it back into a sort of submission, but my overall impression of the recipe was this: FUSSY.

Regardless, they were REALLY DAMN DELICIOUS and were devoured eagerly by my friends before the night was through, so I must have done something right, right?

This is probably the lamest post I’ve done so far, but I blame Los Angeles and the rigors of air travel. I’m tired, dammit.

Here’s the recipe!

Milan Cookies
Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website

Prep Time: 20 min
Inactive Prep Time: 0 min
Cook Time: 1 hr 0 min
Serves: about 3 dozen cookies

• 12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter, softened
• 2 1/2 cups (312.5 grams/ 11.02 oz) powdered sugar
• 7/8 cup egg whites (from about 6 eggs)
• 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
• 2 tablespoons lemon extract
• 1 1/2 cups (187.5grams/ 6.61 oz) all purpose flour
• Cookie filling, recipe follows

Cookie filling
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
• 1 orange, zested

1. In a mixer with paddle attachment cream the butter and the sugar.
2. Add the egg whites gradually and then mix in the vanilla and lemon extracts.
3. Add the flour and mix until just well mixed.
4. With a small (1/4-inch) plain tip, pipe 1-inch sections of batter onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, spacing them 2 inches apart as they spread.
5. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until light golden brown around the edges. Let cool on the pan.
6. While waiting for the cookies to cool, in a small saucepan over medium flame, scald cream.
7. Pour hot cream over chocolate in a bowl, whisk to melt chocolate, add zest and blend well.
8. Set aside to cool (the mixture will thicken as it cools).
9. Spread a thin amount of the filling onto the flat side of a cookie while the filling is still soft and press the flat side of a second cookie on top.
10. Repeat with the remainder of the cookies.

Introducing the Banoffee-Bakewell Tartlette! British-British fusion at its best!

Introducing the Banoffee-Bakewell Tartlette! British-British fusion at its best!

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)!

I call this one "The obligatory almond"

I call this one "The obscene almond"

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.

Is that a crumpet ring or are you just happy to see me?

Is that a crumpet ring or are you just happy to see me?

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.

A quartet of banana slices, mired in delicious caramel goo

A quartet of banana slices, mired in delicious caramel goo

Ready for a quick trip to the oven before being ravenously devoured.

Ready for a quick trip to the oven before being ravenously devoured.

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!

It's hard not to just stick your finger in that, isn't it?

Please try and refrain yourself: licking your computer screen is not recommended...

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.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble...

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble...

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.

Frangipane:

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
Bench flour
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.

Jasmine’s notes:
• 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.
Annemarie’s notes:
• The excess shortcrust can be rolled out and cut into cookie-shapes (heck, it’s pretty darned close to a shortbread dough).

Beware! These tartlettes are guarded by Pearl the attack cat. Should you try and take one, she will promptly attack you with purring and snuggles!

Beware! These tartlettes are guarded by Pearl the attack cat. Should you try and take one, she will promptly attack you with purring and snuggles!

Left: It's PacMan!  Right: Is it smiling at me?

Left: It's PacMan! Right: Is it smiling at me?

As always, the requisite food-porn shot.

As always, I must leave you with the obligatory food-porn shot.

1 out of 2 cats approve of blueberry crumble a la mode.

1 out of 2 cats approve of blueberry crumble a la mode.

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Every month, an intrepid group of plucky bakers take on a challenge… yes, a CHALLENGE! It’s called the Daring Bakers Challenge, to be dared by only the daring-est of daring bakers across the land! Well, actually you just kind of have to sign up for it…. BUT STILL, it’s a chance for a lot of people to tackle the same recipe at the same time, and see what kind of learning and chaos ensues. In other words, if you’re a fan of food blogs, you may see quite a bit of strudel hit the interwebz today.

Most months require you to stick to the recipe exactly, but this month was a bit different. The mission? STRUDEL! And though the actual strudel dough is set in stone, the fillings – oh, the FILLINGS – are entirely up to us. Considering the plethora of beautiful bountiful berries hitting my supermarket shelves these days, I decided to throw a bunch of ’em in a strudel dough and see what happens! That and I love berries. No seriously, I lurrrve them. Like, one-day-we’ll-run-off-together-and-illegally-marry-each-other-and-those-normal-people-won’t-ever-understand-us kind of love. Berries are where it’s at. An ex of mine kind of hated many types of berries, because of all the little worrisome seeds (bah, humbug!). I like to think I left him because of the berries. It’s a better story that way.

But back to strudel. Or non-strudel, as the case may be. You see, it helps to bake strudel on a day not made entirely of FAIL! It also helps to not, like, make the recipe for the first time on the day the blog posts are due. Yes, my friends, I have been humbled today. My swollen culinary ego has taken a good swift kick-in-the-stones. This is probably a good thing, in the long run. Everyone needs to be taken down a step every now and then, right? Because I fully admit defeat today, and my foe, thy name is STRUDEL DOUGH. What follows is a true and harrowing account of my epic fail of a baking adventure today:

So remember those berries? Those scrumptious berries I’d been salivating over for the past week, imagining them in light, buttery, flaky strudel dough? Yeah, uh, I should have baked this a few days ago, because a good third of them were now slightly fuzzy and un-bakeable. Grumblecakes! Okay, so scrap two of the berries and go for pure blueberry! I love blueberries! I’ll put in a touch of cinnamon and some walnuts for texture. It will be beautiful. It will be a work of art! It will be the envy of daring bakers everywhere!

The dough, however, was also not-so-fortunate. The list of ingredients was so small, so simple. How could I fail, I thought. Well, for starters I wrote down the recipe wrong. NOTE TO SELF: 7 teaspoons and 7 tablespoons are two entirely different amounts. No really. I was so confused when I should have had a dough coming together and it was still a crumbly mess. I started adding more water to make up the difference, and have no idea whether or not I hit the right amount eventually. But I know dough – I know what it’s supposed to feel like! A bit of kneading, and into an oiled bowl it goes to sit and mellow out.

A few hours later, I assemble a scrumptious blueberry filling and then turn “to the dough. “It’s SO EASY to stretch,” they all said! “Worked like a dream… so stretchy and pliable!” Uh…. not so much. My FAIL of a dough refused to act with any civility whatsoever. It stubbornly fought me at every turn, causing a bout of cursing not often heard in the TLB kitchen. After nearly 45 minutes of gruesome stretching and pulling, I had a lumpy hole-ridden mess of dough that wasn’t anywhere near thin enough to even attempt rolling.

“ENOUGH!” I said. I may be stubborn, but I know when to throw in the towel. Strudel dough, you’ve won. I managed to salvage two tiny pieces of dough that were almost thin enough to work with, and used them to make two tiny little mini-strudels of dubious quality. The remainder of the filling, which still looked delicious, promptly got thrown into a casserole dish and topped with a buttery crumble to bake alongside the sad little strudel wannabes. I’ll be damned if I’ll let a perfectly good pile of blueberry deliciousness go to waste because I can’t manage to stretch a strudel dough!

So the results? Thick, lumpy misshapen logs of sadness that break my heart. Yes, they’re that bad. They look less like strudel than pale, bleeding dough-fetuses, curled upon their weeping berry centers. Case and point:

Strudel-fetus is sad.

Strudel-fetus is sad.

Strudel fetus bleeds for you.

Strudel fetus bleeds for you.

The crumble, however, is delicious!

The prerequisite food-porn shot.

The prerequisite food-porn shot.

This is a sad start to my Daring Bakers career, alas. Lets just say that from now on I’ll stick to making strudel with store-bought phyllo dough. But hey, at least I dared to… um… dare! I’m hoping next month’s challenge will be a bit smoother sailing?

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.
Close-up shot of BerryMint mini cheesecakes.

Close-up shot of BerryMint mini cheesecakes.

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!!

A silver platter of BerryMint mini cheesecakes.

A silver platter of BerryMint mini cheesecakes.

Another close-up shot of BerryMint mini cheesecakes.

Another close-up shot of BerryMint mini cheesecakes.

An army of BerryMint mini cheesecakes marching.

An army of BerryMint mini cheesecakes marching.

Mini BerryMint cheesecake plated, image 1

Mini BerryMint cheesecake plated, image 1

Mini BerryMint cheesecake plated, image 2

Mini BerryMint cheesecake plated, image 2

Bite taken out of the mini BerryMint cheesecake.

Bite taken out of the mini BerryMint cheesecake.

Apparently, I’m now famous on the interwebs? Or should I say infamous?

I’ve spent the last couple of days obsessively reading through as many Daring Bakers blog posts as possible. I am postively overjoyed, overwhelmed, (overstimulated?) by all the amazing renditions of my cheesecake which have hit the blogosphere. Seriously, y’all are INCREDIBLE people and I consider myself honored to soon be joining your ranks. Hopefully, as of tomorrow I’ll be an official member, privy to all the super-secret hush-hush forums and such. squeee!!!

When Jenny asked if she could borrow/use/abuse my cherished cheesecake recipe for the Daring Bakers Challenge, I honestly didn’t think much of it. I’d seen the Daring Bakers posts on her blog, and on a few others here and there, but never looked much into it. I thought it was just, maybe, like a few dozen blogs or something. Once I started getting reports back from Jenny about the response to my little recipe, I decided to look a little further into the whole thing to see what all the hoopla was about. And guess what – I’m hooked. I caught the bug. I signed right up then and there. And to tell you the truth, I’m still a little daunted by the whole thing, but at the same time, I’m excited and can’t wait for my first challenge! How excited am I? SO EXCITED THAT I’VE DECIDED TO JUMP THE GUN! HOLY SHEETCAKE!

As I said, I’ve spent the better part of three days reading blogs about cheesecake. This has made me… how shall I put it…. FREAKIN’ HUNGRY, DAMMIT. It’s also kicked my culinary imagination into overdrive, thinking of all sorts of new cheesecake ideas (maple-nutmeg with pecans! bananas foster brulee! avocado-strawberry with candied walnuts!)… suddenly I had a brainwave: If everybody else is posting on their blogs about my cheesecake, then SO CAN I! Mwahahahaha! [insert evil cackle here]

Obviously, a situation such as this calls for a brand-spankin’-new Abbeycheesecake flavor. I ain’t gonna rest on my laurels around you folks, I can tell you that much. So out to the grocery store I went, in search of inspiration. I’d planned to take pictures along the way as I cook, but of course I forgot to charge the camera (bad blogger! bad!), so you’ll have to make do with shots of the finished product.

They are in the oven RIGHT NOW, and smell pretty farking fantastic, so you’re just gonna have to wait for the final reveal and verdict tomorrow. You can’t rush perfection, ESPECIALLY cheesecake perfection. Anyhow, the next post will include the official writeup of my unofficial first Daring Bakers post, as well as some musings on the recipe, why I created it in the first place (funny story, really!), and some thoughts that have come up as I peruse all your blog posts.

Tonight I will leave you with just a teaser of the flavor combo that is to come tomorrow:

Blackberries

Mint

White Chocolate

I keep promising to actually START this damn blog one of these days… and I will. I promise! Cross my heart and hope to have my next souffle fall. But seriously, this isn’t easy for me – I’m not a blogger or journaler by nature. As a little girl I always wanted to keep a diary, but without fail, every diary I owned was discovered and read by my snooping older sister. No matter where I hid it, she found it. That fear of embarrassing discoveries turned me off the idea of journaling at a very young age. I’m now trying very, very hard to break that habit. So bear with me while I figure out how to do this. One of the problems for me with food blogging in particular is that a lot of what I cook is impromptu and improvisatory – I don’t measure, I don’t write it down. I taste, judge, revise, and create as I go. That’s a hard habit to break, and I’m not sure if I want to. Baking should be easier, since rarely do I venture off-recipe so drastically… Anyway, we shall see.

My dear friend Jenny (of JennyBakes) has begged my infamous cheesecake recipe from out of my brain, and promises it will soon have a global following. I approve of this! 🙂 And hey, it is finally inspiring me to actually work on this damn blog that I set up ever so long ago.