Sunday, December 29, 2013

Cheese Danish

I've been under a bit of a food curse lately...I haven't made anything I'm really that proud of over this break. I've also made a few things that were downright inedible. My first batch of whoopie pies were both burnt and flavorless, my challah got charred, my macarons were undercooked...frustration. Making something fantastic has become kind of a necessity, even if only to boost my ego.

Not sure what spurred it, but my mom suggested I make danishes last night. Seemed like the perfect opportunity to break my curse. I'm getting less afraid of making laminated dough like this, ever since making croissants in the summer. The first time I tried to make puff pastry was kind of a mess, but that's another story. 

Oh my goodness they are so delicious. I think something may have gone slightly wrong in the process, since they were oozing butter in the oven, but they still turned out with tons of flaky, beautiful layers. My brother said they tasted like toaster strudels, which I think is a good thing, coming from him. I'll try and give directions the best I can here, but it is a long, multistep process. I'm going to heavily rely on Joe Pastry's tutorials for guidance. Let me know if I can clear anything up for you guys. 

Cheese Danish
from Joe Pastry

Dough (feel free to double, triple, whatever the recipe, cause this is a lot of work and you might want some in the freezer for another time)

For the dough:
5.5 ounces (2/3 cup) milk
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) sugar
1 ½ teaspoons (6 grams) instant yeast
10 ounces (2 cups) all-purpose (AP) flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg

For the butter slab:
8 ounces butter
2 tablespoons flour

Combine all the dough ingredients (not the butter slab!) in a mixer and, using the dough hook, mix about five minutes until the dough is smooth and uniform (it will be somewhat sticky…this is what you want). Turn it out into a dough rising container and let it ferment for half an hour at room temperature, then put it in the fridge for a minimum of two hours, or overnight. 

While that is hanging out, you can make your butter block. Put your butter on a double layered piece of plastic wrap, and sprinkle the flour on top of the butter. Cover with another double layer of plastic. Now, with a BIG rolling pin, beat the crap out of it. Seriously. Here is what Joe Pastry has to say:

"What you’re shooting for here is a butter consistency rather like play dough. Not too firm, since you want it to spread as you roll the dough out. But then not too soft either, since if the butter actually melts it’ll soak into the dough and ruin the layering effect. What you’re after is a plastic texture that isn’t at all greasy looking or feeling. If the butter starts to shine, it’s too warm. Put it back in the fridge for half an hour and start over with the tension release"
When it has reached the proper consistency, shape it into a square and set aside. 

Roll out your dough into a square slightly larger than your butter block. Position your butter block on top of the square at a 45 degree angle, so it looks like a diamond on the square. Like this  Bring the corners of the dough into the center as tight as possible, so the butter is covered. Close all the openings, using a little water if necessary. You should now have a square filled with butter! 

Time for more beating. Whack the dough across, making an X, then vertically across, turning it until the butter is evenly distributed inside. You want butter within a half inch of every edge. Now, roll out the dough until it is about 1/3 longer than it is wide. Now fold it like you fold a letter to fit into an envelope. Repeat the rolling and folding process two more times, letting the dough rest 20 minutes between each one. I might stick it in the fridge during this resting period. 

Okay! Finally ready to rock & roll. If you're not into cheese danishes (you monster! Just kidding. Sort of.) there are tons of other variations to try. And prettier shapes. But I'm gonna go with this one. 

Cheese Filling

8 ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Combine all ingredients a bowl and beat until fluffy and uniform. 

As for the pastry portion, begin by rolling about three quarters of a pound of pastry dough into a rectangle about a quarter inch thick (exact dimensions are not important). Then simply cut it into squares with pizza cutter. I made 12. They were sort of big. Spoon about tablespoon of filling into the middle of the square, then fold in the the first two corners. Bring in the third corner and using your finger, dab a little bit of the cheese filling on it as a sealing compound. Fold in the last corner and you’re done! Brush with an egg wash.  Preheat the oven to 375 and bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on how big they are.  Cook until golden brown. You're done!! 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Daring Bakers! Chocolate Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies

The December Daring Bakers' Challenge had us all cheering - the lovely and talented Bourbonnatrix of Bourbonnatrix Bakes was our hostess and challenged us to make fun, delicious and creative whoopie pies! Delicious little cake-like cookies sandwiching luscious filling in any flavors we chose... What else is there to say but "Whoopie!"

 I hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas, surrounded by loved ones. We had a simple Christmas here, but that's okay. Sometimes simple is best. This house is small, which kind of forces all of us to be together. I have the tendency to want to run off and be by myself, so I'm still trying to find "hiding places", if you will. A kitchen can be a hiding space, but this kitchen is...quite small, like, difficult for more than one person to be in small. Spacewise, it reminds me of a dorm kitchen, but much, much nicer looking. Here, decide for yourself. 

Okay. Realtalk. After this point, when I was writing this post at 10:45 am, something crashed and I lost the rest of what I was writing. It was cutesy, and talked about the origin of whoopie pies, and how Maine holds the record for the world's largest whoopie pie at over 1000 pounds. I have no idea how you would even bake that. Maybe it had lead filling. 

Yeah, yeah, so the challenge was whoopie pies, which was good considering my limited space situation, but I was kind of hoping for something a little more difficult over my winter break, when I generally have access to more resources. C'est la vie. Of course these were tasty, you can't go wrong with chocolate and peanut butter (unless you have a nut allergy, then things could go terribly wrong), but they turned out a little thick for my liking. I prefer this variation. I filled them with a peanut butter frosting I've used in past blog posts, but I'll write it down again here, cause I know how annoying it is to have to flip tabs back and forth. You're welcome. 

Peanut Butter Chocolate Whoopie Pies 

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened  
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar 
1 egg 
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly spray cookie sheets with nonstick cooking spray or line with parchment. In large bowl, beat butter and sugar with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla; beat until well combined.
In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add half the dry ingredients into the butter mixture and mix on low speed. When dry ingredients are almost incorporated, stop the mixer and add the buttermilk. Continue to mix on low speed until all ingredients are almost incorporated. Stop the mixer and add the remaining dry ingredients. Mix on low until just combined. Spoon heaping tablespoons of batter onto sheets and flatten a little.

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the top of the cake springs back when touched. Cool completely before filling. To assemble pies spread filling on one cake and sandwich with another cake. 
Peanut Butter Frosting 
1 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup peanut butter
4 Tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup heavy cream

butter and sugar until combined, then add the rest of the ingredients. Beat until frosting has a smooth, fluffy consistency.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Avocado Fries

It hasn't been an incredibly restful break up to this point. My mom has been driving back and forth from Rochester to be with my dad/try and hold the fort down at home, so I've been trying my best to pick up the slack and keep things under control. Last night my siblings and I were urged to leave home and drive down to Rochester a day early so we could beat the oncoming snowstorm. Though stressful, I'm glad we did...cause it snowed seven inches at home last night.

Yeah, yeah, I know avocados aren't in season. But they're something I can eat at home and definitely not at school. Maybe at a magical college somewhere they have fresh, perfect avocado slices available at every meal. dice. So I'm going to eat a while avocado for lunch and no one can stop me.

Festive boooowls

As much as I love guacamole, I wanted to try something different. A recipe for avocado fries looked especially intriguing. Slices of avocado coated in a panko crust, then baked and served with aioli. Crunchy, creamy, and really fresh tasting. Definitely ate them all in one sitting.

Avocado Fries with Lemon Garlic Aioli
from Ginger Bear Kitchen

1 ripe avocado (not overripe)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg
½ tablespoon salted butter, melted
¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon paprika
black pepper
Lemon Garlic Aioli
¼ cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon garlic powder
black pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and place a wire rack on the cookie sheet.
Slice avocado lengthwise. I ended up with 12 slices for one avocado.
In a medium bowl mix flour with a pinch of salt and a pinch of black pepper. In a second medium bowl lightly beat the egg. In a third medium bowl mix the melted butter with the panko bread crumbs, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and a pinch of salt and black pepper.
Cover each avocado slice in flour, then dip in the beaten egg and finally coat with breadcrumbs before placing each on the wire rack.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until the breadcrumbs are lightly browned. While the fries bake, stir together all the ingredients for the dipping sauce and save in the refrigerator until the fries are finished baking. Allow the avocado fries to cool before serving with the dipping sauce.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Japanese Cheesecake

Hey everyone! I'm in the middle of finals week right now, which I always find to be a surprising calming time of the semester. There's no homework, extracurriculars have ended, so all that's left to do is study for four tests scattered over the course of a week. And if you've been going to class and paying attention, they're really not that bad. But that's just my opinion, feel free to disagree with me. 

Unfortunately, going home for break means I have to defrost my fridge. Always a pain. Since I don't want to throw anything away, I have to figure out how to use the odd ingredients hanging around. I'll probably end up making a bunch of pancakes later to finish off the milk and eggs. 

I'd been holding on to a block of cream cheese for quite some time, waiting and never coming across the right recipe. But now, it's crunch time! I decided to make a Japanese cheesecake. This is probably not like the cheesecake you are used to–it's closer to a cake called Castella. Though Castella (Kasutera/カステラ is now a special of Nagasaki, the cake was originally introduced to Japan by Portuguese merchants in the 16th century. I'm not sure if the terms Castella and Japanese cheesecake are interchangeable, but if you do, let me know! Anyway, this cheesecake is really simple, super light and fluffy, and gluten free! Give it a try :) 

Japanese Cheesecake 

7 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup superfine sugar (I used normal granulated, it was fine)
3 eggs, separated
1/4 cup cornstarch (DON'T use flour)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a 9-inch cake tin with cooking spray. I used 3, 3" heart springform pans. I recommend a springform pan if you have one.

Make sure your beaters and bowl are really clean for this. Beat egg whites until foamy. Gradually add remaining sugar and cream of tartar, beating on high speed until soft peaks form, about 8-10 minutes.
 In another bowl, beat cream cheese with milk to soften. Add half of the sugar, egg yolks, cornstarch and lemon juice. Beat until smooth. Gradually fold beaten egg whites into the cream cheese mixture, stirring gently.

Pour into cake pan and smooth the surface. Place cake pan into a larger roasting pan and place in lower rack of oven. Pour enough water into the roasting pan to come half way up the side of the cake pan. Bake 35-40 minutes, until a pick inserted in the middle of the center comes out clean.

If the surface becomes too dark while baking cover with a piece of tin foil, but be careful not to open the oven door until it has been in the oven for at least 20 minutes.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

What happened on Thanksgiving.

So I was all prepared to write a cutesy, heartwarming post about Thanksgiving and how even though we would be spending it in the hospital, we'd be together. I was going to talk about how stuffing is the superior Thanksgiving food and maybe even share a recipe. My mom was bringing a ton of food and we were going to feed all the young and hungry nurses and people waiting for heart transplants delicious, low salt food. OXO, my favorite company in the entire universe (yup, universe. I travel a lot) even sent me a ton of amazing cleaning supplies to clean up the inevitable, massive mess we were going to make in the hospital's patient lounge. Seriously though, I adore this thing and use it everyday. Go buy one. 

The call came at 3 am, Thanksgiving Day. After five long months, it was finally coming. The heart we had all been waiting for.  We hastily packed our bags and all the food we had prepared to make the four hour drive out to the Mayo Clinic. At 10 am, the nurses wheeled my him down to surgery, making an arch out of their arms for him to pass through, as I walked behind, Chariots of Fire blaring out of my phone. That image about sums up my father. 

It's been a long and stressful journey, but we can finally move on to the stages of recovery. And I can't think of a more appropriate time for this to happen than Thanksgiving. Thank you to all of you who have been so supportive through this whole process. We couldn't have done it without you.