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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.

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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.