Monday, December 29, 2014

Frozen Pecan Tart

Ah, sweet multi-tasking how I love thee....most of the time....but I think it failed me today, or maybe I failed.. in spite of it all, my Pecan Tart tastes absolutely divine!  We've just completed our 5th week of baking from the Baking Bible and as always, Rose provides clear and precise instructions each step of the way.

Pecan Pie is my absolute favorite pie in the world.  It started with Little Debbie pies as a kid (uh huh, don't do the math on my age, but remember those in the 70's and 80's?)  Thanks to Debbie, pecan pie is the first thing I look for in a bakery.  So when this little gem came up early in the cue, I was thrilled!

Being a pecan pie purist, I chose to forego the chocolate topping at the end, but did add a generous amount of Whiskey (4tsp).  ;)  Topped with some fresh whipped cream, you'll find it hard to control yourself and not have seconds, or maybe thirds..sigh.....I need to join the masses and make a New Years resolution  to avoid 2nds and 3rd of everything we're baking!!  It's about moderation, not elimination, Right??!  :)

The beauty of this Tart is that it has such a rich flavor, without the overwhelmingly sweet filling that causes so many people to turn their back on pecan pie.  Thank you golden syrup and Rose.  :)

The instructions for this tart are quite easy, even if they are several pages long.  But don't be fooled, you must pay attention to the cook time of both the crust and the filling.  Both of mine are little darker than I would have preferred and the filling slightly thicker from cooking it on the stovetop too long.  Thank goodness the flavor didn't suffer from my lack of attention!!

Instead of the traditional pie crust, Rose has a beautiful Pate' Sucree recipe that suits this tart perfectly.

Being careful not to over mix, put the crumbly dough in a bag and work the dough till it's mixed.

Roll it out to about 1/8" thickness.  I like to use "do stix" to ensure proper thickness.

Rose recommends using plastic wrap, but I prefer to use parchment sheets for rolling out the dough.  I buy a box of sheets from the restaurant supply store, which usually lasts me about a year.  It's totally worth the 40 bucks!

Flip the dough over a cake pan, or a pie pan in my cake pans are still packed in a sea of boxes.

Once in the pan, be sure all sides are trimmed and not over the top, otherwise you could have problems with the crust sticking later.  Now, pre-bake the crust.

Cook the filling

Pour in the pan

Voila'!  You've got a delicious tart!!!

Put it in the freezer.  Make some fresh whipped cream with whipping cream and powdered sugar to taste while you wait (I usually use 2tsp/1 cup of cream).  Whisk it up with your mixer and you'll be going back for more like me!

Now back to the dreadful task of pulling 20 year old wallpaper off my walls.  Complete kitchen and dining room demo starts in 2- 3 weeks!  It's going to be painful, but so worth having a kitchen actually designed for a baker.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Almond Coffee Crisps

Ah, the week before Christmas is slowly winding down, well, not slowly, but I can wish.  As usual, it's a continuous flurry of activity and baking.  I finished the 25 gingerbread homes, and moved onto sugar cookies for the 25 students to decorate and then the 100 dozen or so of cookies and pumpkin bread to be shipped to family and friends.  My kitchen is a zoo!

I can't believe we're finishing up our fourth week of baking!  I usually make the same Christmas cookies every year, but the Baking Bible has inspired me to try something new, so about half of the cookies I made are new recipes from the book.  Hopefully they'll be a hit with everyone, as I really enjoyed all of them.

I'm having technical difficulties with uploading pictures, but will have that fixed tomorrow.  In the meantime, I just wanted to share the few pictures I have from my phone and say that after reading about some difficulties my fellow bakers were having, I found myself analyzing each step of the mixing process being careful not to miss anything!  The results are definitely worth it, and hey....I don't even like coffee.
More to follow..........................

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Ischler

Whew, what a crazy week of holiday mayhem.  Good mayhem, but tiring nonetheless.  Christmas concerts, gingerbread baking and home building, Christmas cookies, and The Ischler.  Having baked my fair share of cookies, my initial impression was a bit skeptical as a number of fellow bakers have been kind of "meh" about it.

Feeling tired and exhausted from baking enough gingerbread for 25 homes, I sure hope my son’s fellow 2nd graders love their homes... 

I dove in and started working on this new and somewhat elusive cookie.

I decided to forego the mixer and use the food processor, as Rose provides instructions for both methods.  It turned out to be quite effective and time efficient...which meant a lot considering how tired my feet were tonight...

Having worried so much about my ingredients for the gingerbread homes, I used dry roasted almonds, as that's the only type of Almonds I could find in the pantry.  

After mixing, the dough definitely needs to be chilled; otherwise you'll be quietly muttering curse words to yourself- well that's what I do anyway because my 7 year old seems to have developed super sonic ears for anything even resembling a "bad word."  It reminds me of when your learning a new language and the first words everyone wants to know are "the bad ones."

Anyway, after the dough is chilled, you can roll it out to whatever thickness you desire.  Because this dough is quite delicate, I chose to go for delicate all around and rolled it quite thin and used cutters on the small side.  I wanted more of a bite size cookie.  

Given the time of year, I wanted to try a holiday theme as well, which turned out quite well.

Bake time is very quick,  (which means you can get to eating even quicker!)  ;)  So, don't find yourself busy with too many other tasks, otherwise you'll find yourself with brown and crumbly cookies.  

The traditional Ischler is filled with Apricot Lekvar, which Rose provides the instructions for, and then dipped in chocolate.  Rose took a few liberties and recommends filling each cookie with a layer of Lekvar and chocolate ganache.  Although, I haven't tasted the traditional method, I enjoyed having a balance of both fillings in each bite.  I'm not sure I would make these cookies regularly, but given their uniqueness, I would definitely use them for special occasions! 

Monday, December 8, 2014

English Dried Fruit Cake

Fruitcake, Fruitcake, Fruitcake!  That word elicits so many interesting facial responses.  

Confusion- as in why in the world are you making that? (My dear sons response)  He hates apples, who in the world hates apples??!!

Disgust- who in the world is going to eat that?  (Uh huh, this was my husbands response)

Mild interest- wow, you actually know how to make that?

Smiles- wow, can I have some? This would usually be followed by "don't tell anyone I like fruit cake, OK?" ;)  

Why the shame??  I love fruit cake.

As you may have noticed, this isn't any old ordinary fruitcake.  No siree, no candied fruit here.  This is more like a cake with fruit; even better, it's dried fruit reconstituted and fresh apples.  For some, nuts are optional, but not for me.  I not only included nuts, but two types: Walnuts & Pecans.  Like all relationships, these two together provide a level of complexity unattainable by themselves!  
Plus, it allows me to make a teeny tiny dent in the 10lb bag of walnuts in the background below.  :)

These are the best darn walnuts I've ever tasted.  They're grown locally here in Northern California and  I can't get enough of them.  Seriously!

Once again, Rose has provided a well-written, precise and tasty recipe.  You won't find any major surprises, nor will you feel any anxiety.  It's filled with a plethora of ingredients, but nothing the average baker won't find in their cupboard.  She suggests a few types of dried fruit, but it's really up to you and your palette.  

I chose apples, apricots, peaches, pears, and cherries.  When I make this again, I will eliminate the dried apples, as the fresh apple is enough.  I would suggest more apricots or peaches.

Combining ingredients was quite easy.  So easy in fact, a mixer wasn't required!

A variety of pans can be used, square, round, rectangle, whatever your heart desires!   Just remember to adjust the baking time.  I chose a 10X10 pan to allow for a slightly thicker cake.  This allowed me to cut circles with a large cookie cutter, for a slightly different presentation.   

And don't forget the Rum!!  Well, you can if you want to, but who eats fruit cake without Rum??  Isn't that part of the fun...

In case you're wondering, I chose to add a caramelized apple garnish on top.

In the end, I talked both my guys into tasting the cake.  I kind of omitted the fact that apples were in the cake when my son asked "what's in it".  Regardless, his 7 year old palette just didn't tolerate fruit cake.  :(  On the other hand, my husband seems to like it, well maybe mildly, but beggars can't be choosers, right??   I'll take it.  

Nonetheless, I really like this cake and added a little extra rum, since it looks like I'll be the only one eating it!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Kouigns Amann

Anyone who knows me knows that I love to bake.  Imagine how thrilled I was to learn about Rose Levy Beranbaums Alpha Bakers and their intent to bake through her entire Baking Bible… I had to be a part of this amazing journey.  
Lucky for me, Marie said yes, and well…here we are.  

This is the beginning of many firsts.  My first blog post, first day as an Alpha Baker, and my first go around with the Kouigns Amann.  Originating from Brittany, this pastry requires some time, but man is it ever worth it.  A gazillion pictures are soon to follow, but in the meantime, here's a sneak peek...

It's amazing that so few ingredients can produce such a fabulous pastry!  

I'm not kidding, this KA had everyone in my family and even a few friends begging me to make more.  (Hee hee...Little do they know I've hidden two just for the SoufflĂ©ed French Toast Variation Rose kindly included at the end of the recipe).  That's for another post though.

BTW, have I said that Rose nailed this recipe and instructions to a tee!!!!  On first glance, it may seem a bit daunting for a beginner baker, but I promise, if you follow the instructions exactly (get your ruler or tape measure ready :) you will have a beautiful pastry to share with your family and friends.

To show you how easy it can be, I've included a plethora of pictures detailing my journey with the KA.

Combine the ingredients...this won't take long as there are very few.  Make sure you use a dough hook if doing this with a mixer.  

This dough is amazingly soft and quite easy to mix and work with.

Continue mixing until it's combined and clears the bowl.  Rose gives much more detailed instructions that will make any novice baker feel like a pro.  

Now it's time to be meticulous.  This suits me fine as baking somehow sheds a positive light on my OCD!!  In fact, that's why I love baking so much, it' scientific, precise, and art all rolled in one.  Seriously, what could be better?  ;)

To obtain the proper layering needed for this fantastic pastry, the dough and butter really need to be measured exactly as Rose outlines in her instructions.  I know I said it before, but don't worry, Rose's directions are so precise; you'll know exactly what to do!  And yes, I do keep a tape measure and a few rulers in my kitchen just for baking.  Doesn't everyone??

Now, I'm going to get on my soapbox for a moment....using the proper butter is absolutely necessary.  European butters have a higher fat content, and frankly in my opinion, they just taste better, which means a better tasting pastry.  I know they have a tendency to cost more, but if you can swing it, I wouldn't skimp in this area.  Just sayin....

This method of rolling the dough is new to me, and I have made a few laminated doughs in my time, but it worked beautifully.'s the dough and ruler again.  As you get deeper into the instructions, don't slack off on measuring, it really does matter.  Trust me, the end product will be worth every minute you spend being precise.

The rolling and measuring may seem endless at times, it does with every other laminated dough out there, but the instructions are so precise (there's that word again!), you'll have no problem achieving the desired results Rose describes.

I always have a million things, well maybe 2 or 3 and a 7 year old distracting me, so I always score my dough with my finger each time I do a roll and fold.  This is something I learned early on and it has stayed with me for years.  It has literally saved me when I've been the phone and can't even remember what I planned to do next let alone how many times I've turned the dough.

Turn 1

Turn 3

I had a terrible time finding 4-inch rings!  How could I not find any in the San Francisco area??  No worries, Rose had instructions for such a scenario.  I'm not kidding, she has thought of everything!!!  I went a little crazy with the nonstick spray, which worried me at first, but it didn't seem to affect the final outcome.  Whew, huge sigh of relief!!!

Using a ruler, squares need to me measured precisely.  Never fear, we're almost to the end!

The KA's are folded into a beautiful shape and placed in the ingenious homemade rings.

My house was too cold last night, which caused the proofing process to be slow and a bit challenging.    I tried to warm it up a little by placing the pan on the stove top, and turning the oven to 200 degrees.  Unfortunately, I think it heated them too much.You can see all the butter in pan while they were baking.  I fretted over this the entire time they were in the oven, but alas they tasted and looked wonderful anyway.  Crisis averted!!

If you've made it this far with me, you must buy the Baking Bible and make this recipe immediately!  How have I made it this far along in life without tasting this pastry?  

Stay tuned...I'm going to try the Souffléed French Toast next!!