Monday, January 27, 2014

Daring Bakers! - Baumkuchen

The January 2014 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Francijn of "Koken in de Brouwerij". She challenged us all to bake layered cakes in the tradition of Baumkuchen (tree cake) and Schichttorte (layered cake). 

Oh hello again, polar vortex. On Saturday I was driving back from the city and the snow and winds were so bad I had to drive 40 mph on the highway the whole way home! Glad I made it home safe though. I'll just listen to Let It Go over and over again and pretend the cold never bothered me anyway. 

Egg white hurricane!!!

So the challenge this month was a baumkuchen, or, tree cake. Though European in origin, it's quite popular in Japan (I've seen little prepackaged ones at the Asian grocery store). It's called a tree cake because traditionally, it's made on a spit, even layers of batter brushed on top of the last. It ends up looking like the rings of a tree. A professional can actually made a cake the size of a tree using this method–four feet tall and weighing 100 pounds! Insane. 


So though I had been wanting to make one of these for a while, I put it off, because...I was kind of terrified. The ingredients for this cake are expensive and I didn't want to waste them if I messed up! I also didn't want to burn my dorm down, or, on a less dramatic note, set off the smoke alarms and force everyone to leave the dorm. Eternal shame! Thankfully, none of those things happened and the cake turned out marvelously. Someone even said it looked like a tree! I used a recipe from Sasha at Global Table Adventure, because her tutorial is really clear and I think she's super cool. 

from Global Table Adventure 

1 1/2 cups almond paste, tightly packed (12 oz)
6 Tbsp half & half
1 1/2 sticks butter (12 tbsp), softened
1 cup sugar
10 eggs, separated (put the whites in a bowl big enough to whip them up to stiff peaks)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup cake flour
3/4 cup cornstarch

10 0z jar apricot jam
1 cup slivered almonds, coarsely chopped (I didn't use any, but you could!)

For the chocolate glaze:
3 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp rum, preferably dark (I didn't have any :c )
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp light corn syrup
3 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a clean, preferably not plastic bowl, beat the egg whites until they make stiff peaks, but aren’t dry. Set aside. 

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the almond paste with half and half, one tablespoon at a time. It will resemble mashed potatoes when you’re done. I used my hand mixer and this horrible salad bowl, which was a mistake, but it worked. Next, beat in softened butter until fluffy, scraping the bowl to make sure its all mixed in.
Next, beat in the sugar. Scrape down the sides. Add the egg yolks one at a time, then the vanilla. 
Next, sift in the flour and cornstarch in thirds. Beat until well incorporated, scraping the bowl as needed.
Fold the egg whites into the batter until it looks and tastes like an almond paste cloud. D'aw. 

Turn on the broiler and let it warm up for a few minutes. Meanwhile, grease and line a 9″ springform pan with parchment paper. Grease it goooood. You don't want the parchment to curl. Set aside half the apricot jam.
Next, spread 1/4 cup of batter in the bottom of the pan. It might not seem like enough. Put in more if you think you need it, but you only want a thin layer that will cover the bottom of the pan, but that's it. 
Broil this layer until deep golden brown. Don't leave it unchecked for more than 30 seconds. You're gonna be opening and closing the oven a lot. 
Then, add another 1/4 cup batter. Spread it out with a brush and broil, as before.After repeating this step a few times, spread a layer with a bit of apricot jam. Continue making a few layers of cake to every layer of jam, until you've used the 5 ounces.
Be sure to push the batter evenly around so the cake remains flat. Doming cakes are forbidden. You can correct as you go.
Refrigerate overnight.

Spread the top and sides of cake with the remaining half of apricot jam. Set in refrigerator while making chocolate glaze. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Add corn syrup, vanilla extract and rum. Dark rum is better but I didn’t have any. Simmer a few minutes to let the ingredients mingle. Remove from heat and toss in the chocolate chips. Cover five minutes, or until the chocolate is completely softened. Stir the glaze until glossy and pour evenly over top and sides of cake. Press crushed almonds over the sides and outer edge of cake. Refrigerate to set the glaze.
Hooray, you did it! 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Pho Party!

I miss Ireland. I miss being able to go to any store and buy salty, golden butter and rich, double cream that coats the tongue. I miss not being expected anywhere at any given time, the ability to slip away, cloaked in anonymity. I miss riding the bus alone, walking around town alone, sitting in caf├ęs alone. But I also miss how food could bring all of us lost ones together, I miss dinner parties and not even parties, just sitting around with a few friends and a dish of pasta. I miss staying up way too late talking, or watching movies. Mostly talking, sitting in those ridiculous green lounge chairs, relishing the moment. I even miss stupid RyanAir flights at 6 am, arriving at strange hostels groggy but so excited to explore a new city. We were alive, and free, and independent. The real world was an ocean away. There are so many memories but it doesn't seem real. It's strange to think how I have gone from all of that to where I am now. 

But if only for a night, I can pretend the real world isn't just around the corner, that I'm back in Ireland, where no one is on a meal plan and a gathering of friends for dinner is more of a (wonderful) necessity than just an indulgence, a luxury. Pho is an excellent dish for a party because it's so customizable. After broth and noodles, you can add any kind of topping your heart desires. I had Thai bird's eye chilis, limes, beansprouts, mint, cilantro, basil, scallions, and thin slices of beef. 

A good stock is essential to pho. I had never made beef stock before this and it was pretty exciting. I used some oxtail (which is exactly what it sounds like) as well as some ambiguously labeled "big beef bones". Bones for soup are SOUPer cheap (harharharharhar), and homemade stock tastes much better than store bought. I encourage you to gather friends for a meal, enjoy each other's company and take joy in the fact that in the moment, you are surrounded by something wonderful. 

Beef Pho 
adapted slightly from Serious Eats 
This will serve around 10 good size bowls, in my opinion.

2 large onions, split in half
1 large hand ginger (about 6 inches long), split in half lengthwise
3 pounds beef shin, with meat attached (I couldn't find this specifically, I used 5ish pounds of miscellaneous beef bones)
2 pounds oxtail, cut into 1/2 to 1-inch thick slices (You can really use whatever kind of bones you want. Buy what appeals to you)
3 whole star anise pods
1 cinnamon stick 

4 cloves1/4 cup fish sauce, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons sugar (preferably yellow rock sugar)
Kosher salt

To Serve:
6 to 8 servings pho noodles (or like...12, if you're me)
1 pound beef flank steak, sliced thinly against the grain. I used chuck, it was cheaper and tasted fine
2 to 3 cups mixed herbs (cilantro, basil, and mint)
2 to 3 cups trimmed bean sprouts
1/2 cup sliced scallions
Thinly sliced Thai chilis
2 limes, each cut into 4 wedges
Hoisin sauce and Sriracha

Place a wire cooling rack or grill grate directly over the flame of a gas burner set on high. Place onions and ginger on top and cook, turning occasionally, until deeply blackened on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Alternatively, Adjust rack to 3 to 4 inches from broiler element and preheat broiler to high. Place onions and ginger on a foil-lined broiler tray. Broil, turning occasionally, until charred on all surfaces, about 25 minutes total. Set aside.

Meanwhile, combine beef bones in a large stockpot. Cover with cool water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 15 minutes, then dump water and meat into sink. When cool enough to handle, rinse parts under cool running tap water, carefully scrubbing debris from off of any bones and out of cracks in the meat, then return them to the pot. Cover with cool water.

Add charred onions, ginger, anise, cinnamon, cloves, fish sauce, sugar, and 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a bare simmer. Continue simmering broth for a further 4-5 hours, topping up with water as necessary. Strain broth through a fine mesh strainer. If desired, pick meat and connective tissue from oxtails and beef shins. Discard bones and aromatics. You should end up with about 4 quarts broth. Dilute with water or reduce as necessary to reach 4 quarts. Keep hot.

Carefully skim fat off of surface of broth and discard. Season broth to taste with additional fish sauce, salt, and/or sugar. It should be highly seasoned. Slice cooked beef into thin slices or rough chunks.

Prepare pho noodles according to package directions. To serve, place re-hydrated noodles in individual noodle bowls. Pour hot broth over noodles. Serve immediately, allowing guests to top with cooked meat and slices of raw flank steak, herbs, aromatics, lime, and sauce as they wish.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Sponge Candy!

Ooh, this was a fun one to make. Sponge candy (also known as honeycomb, seafoam, cinder toffee, among other things) is weird. I'm still amazed by what sugar can do simply by heating it to different temperatures. The difference sponge candy has is baking soda. Some recipes use vinegar to create a bubbly reaction. In this particular version, just the thermal decomposition of the baking soda causes the release of carbon dioxide, which causes the bubbles. Same idea. 

I don't remember the first time I had sponge candy, but I definitely fell for it in Ireland. Crunchie bars are probably my favorite candy bar, and I'm super sad they aren't a thing in the US. It's probably for the better...I might not have teeth if they were. I am in love with this candy, everything about it. I love the golden color and thousands of holes dotting its surface. I love the delicate tinkling sound of pieces hitting against each other. I love the texture, crunchy but easily yielding to the teeth, then dissolving to nothing. 

Scary Cave. Why did this happen?

I tried making a recipe over Christmas Break, and it was HORRIBLE. It called for actual honey and it smelled so, so bad. Like a barn. And it tasted awful, and I was so sad. I did some more research and found this recipe from Wilde in the Kitchen, who seems to have done some serious sponge candy research. Mine turned out...okay? The outside bits are very good, especially dipped in chocolate. But the whole inside was this...scary cave. Trypophobes, beware! I just scraped all the yucky stuff out and was left with some lovely candy. If anyone has perfected a recipe, let me know! 

Sponge Candy
from Wilde in the Kitchen

¼ tsp gelatin
1 tsp water
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cups light corn syrup
½ cup water
1 tbsp baking soda (sifted)

Butter a 9x9 pan then dust with flour. Tap out excess flour.

In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over 1 tsp water and allow to bloom.

In a medium stock pot with high sides, mix sugar, corn syrup and 1/2 cup water together. Heat over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil. Wash down any sugar crystals from the sides with a wet pastry brush. Clip on candy thermometer and heat to 310° F.  Do not stir after you have clipped the thermometer on, the sugar will self stir.

Remove from heat and let sit for two minutes, bubbling should subside. Add gelatin and whisk, be careful, the sugar syrup will bubble up. Sprinkle baking soda over syrup and whisk vigorously. Return mixture to the heat and whisk for 30 seconds. The sugar will rise up in the pot, a lot!

Quickly pour into prepared pan, it should come out in a big blob. Do not spread the mixture, just let it settle into the pan. Allow to cool completely (about 2 hours or overnight) before removing from the pan.

Either break into odd pieces or cut into squares (this is a messy process!). To cut into squares - using a serrated knife, score the candy at 1-inch intervals. Snap the candy apart at the score lines. Then score and break into squares.

If you please, melt chocolate melts in a double boiler (or bowl sitting above a pot of boiling water). Dip sponge candies in chocolate, tap off excess. Chill in the fridge to set the chocolate shell. Enjoy!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Beef Suqaar

Welcome to the polar vortex. If you somehow weren't aware, the Midwest is basically shut down right now. There's ice inside my room (again). To go outside, which I have been avoiding as much as possible, I first have to suit up with wool socks, boots, hat, gloves, zip up hoodie, double layered jacket, and scarf obscuring every part of my face but my eyes. And my eyes froze. Should've worn goggles. 

Sous chef sister. Choppin' veggies, watchin' her 100th episode of Law & Order SVU

You can understand my desire to cook something from a warmer climate. I recently stumbled across the Global Table Adventure and fell instantly in love with the concept of cooking to promote peace and understanding.

I had never really given a thought to Somali food, though Minnesota has the largest Somali population in the US. Now, I can't wait to explore the culture more. Beef Suqaar is an easy and incredibly flavorful dish to make, despite its lack of spices. My family was skeptical at first, expecting it to be bland, but ended up loving it. I look forward to experimenting with more global cuisine. 

Beef Suqaar
from Global Table Adventure

1 small onion, sliced in half moons
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 green bell pepper, chopped
vegetable oil
1 1/2 lbs cubed beef
1 cup beef broth, more as needed
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 yellow potatoes, cubed
chili pepper, for heat (optional)

handful cilantro, chopped or torn (I hate cilantro, so I just didn't use any)

Fry the onion, garlic, and bell pepper in vegetable oil until soft and the house smells like glory (you'll know it). Then (and only then!) add the beef, broth, carrots, and potatoes. Finally, splash in the broth. Simmer until tender, about 30 minutes. The mixture will start out thin and soupy, but gradually thicken into more of a gravy.
If the meat is tough, add some more liquid and keep cooking until it’s completely tender.
Garnish with a handful of chopped cilantro and serve with rice.