Monday, January 31, 2011

Pains au Chocolat

Pains au Chocolat
Pains au Chocolat are my kind of treat: flaky, buttery dough concealing a piece of chocolate in the center.  They went over extremely well at my book club, especially with our leader, Isabelle, who hails from the Languedoc region of France.  She said they and the Pains aux Raisins (next post) were very authentic, and that the chocolate was perfect and not too sweet -- I used Valrhona Le Noir 61%.  Having no authenticity gauge myself and this being my first croissant, I was pleased to get such a ringing endorsement.  Plus, chocolate and buttery bread... what's not to like?

Pains au Chocolat
The recipe instructions may be long, but don't fret.  The dough-making was the laborious part, and all that's left is to roll it out and roll up the chocolate in it.  The proofing method is kind of bizarre, but was easy enough.  Updated note: I'm glad everyone likes the green cups, but they're espresso cups, not teacups -- just to give you an idea of how small the cups and pains actually are.

Unbaked Pains au Chocolat
If your dough refuses to roll out and springs right back into place, let it rest in the refrigerator for 10 minutes or so.  I hate doing that because I want to be done with a task pronto, but it won't behave otherwise.  In the end, my rectangle was still an inch short because of the springy dough, but what the hey.  The pains still looked good to me!

I got Sarabeth's Bakery as a Christmas gift, and these and the Pains aux Raisins are the first recipes I have tried from it.  I'm looking forward to trying more!

Croissant Dough

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Croissant Dough
Look at all the thin layers on this baby.  This croissant dough will be used in my next two posts.  I thought this was going to be a real project, and I psyched myself up for it.  It wasn't so difficult after making puff pastry, which is very similar.  If you can just set aside a block of time -- there are resting periods (both for the dough and yourself) -- it's very doable.  The timing was an intimidation factor.  The recipe from Sarabeth's Bakery says the dough must be frozen for a minimum of 24 hours and thawed for at least 8 hours, but cannot be frozen for more than 4 days.  So you'll have to choose two days: one in which you have time to make the dough, and another to bake it that comes at least 36 hours later but not more than 4 days.

Croissant Dough
Croissant dough is made much like puff pastry dough.  I was surprised not to see weight measurements for a bread recipe from a bakery book, but it worked out fine with volume measurements.  Clockwise from top left: The yeasted dough is made and then slashed with an X to represent four sections later; butter and flour are beat together and them formed into a square; the dough with the X is rolled out into four sections, and the butter is placed on the raised square in the middle; the dough flaps are wrapped all around the butter and flipped over.

Croissant Dough1
Clockwise from top left: The second "book" turn of dough is folded slightly to the right, and then the left is brought over; then the entire piece of dough is folded in half; the third and final turn of dough is done (both the first and third turns are simply folded into thirds like a letter); and the dough is sliced in half before being wrapped in the freezer.

There are lots of steps, but don't be intimidated.  I wish I could include the illustrations that came with the book as a guide, but you can refer to some of mine.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Brisket Melt

Brisket Melt
I had this sandwich with my sister at a restaurant last month.  It was a bitterly cold day, and we were starving.  I couldn't decide what to order, and asked Sis what she was getting.  "The brisket melt," she said, and I decided I had to have it too.  The brisket was juicy and fall-apart tender, and served on challah with melted cheese, onions, and peppers.  And I've been thinking of it ever since.

Uncooked Brisket
This version proved to be real easy.  Instead of placing the brisket and vegetables in a roasting pan covered with foil like the recipe said, I used my cast iron braiser and its lid.  Stick it all in the braiser, then in the oven, and come back in a few hours.  Toast a roll, melt some cheese on it, top it with some sliced brisket and onions, and you're done.  And really full.

Brisket Melt Dinner
I used Ina Garten's Brisket recipe, but downsized it for a 2½-pound brisket instead of the 6 or 7 pounds the recipe calls for.  If you can't find brisket at your supermarket, ask the butcher.  My only other deviation from the recipe was to use a can of tomato puree with some water instead of the tomato juice the recipe calls for, since I thought that was a weird choice of braising liquid and I didn't have any.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

At Last... Madeleines!

I have finally made a worthy madeleine, and it is a thing of beauty.  They are cakey and tender in the middle, crisp at the edges, shell-shaped with well-defined ridges, and lemony in an understated, floral kind of way.

Boston Taj Tea
I got some inspiration recently at my most favorite afternoon tea place in the world, the Taj Boston.  They have harpists and violinists, for cryin' out loud, and I love the beautiful china.  I hate it when tea is served in stainless steel pots.  But look at these amazing desserts.  There are (working from the top down) chocolate-covered strawberries, lavender sables, cornmeal scones, currant scones, lemon curd and Devonshire cream, macarons, citrus tarts, pistachio financiers, opera tortes, and, of course, little madeleines.  Sugar rush, anybody??

Madeleine Pans
What obstacle lay in my madeleine path?  For years I had this beautiful mini-madeleine pan, because I love all things bite-sized.  But though they were tasty and developed that hump the madeleine is known for, they never took on those beautiful ridges. So, in my opinion, it wasn't a proper madeleine. I wondered if it was some error of mine or a bad recipe.  Finally, I got a full-sized madeleine pan, one that produced beautiful ridges on the cookies.  Only they came out burnt brown, even though I opted for the lower end of the baking time in the recipe.  But determination won out, and I think these madeleines are perfect. Maybe some lavender or Earl Grey varieties are up next?

After the madeleine batter rested overnight, it became thick and developed air bubbles, like a yeasted dough. The batter is then scooped into the pan.  The first batch came out burnt, even though I followed the recipe!  I shaved off a couple of minutes the next time, and they came out to golden perfection.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mixing Up the Chicken Pot Pie

Personal Chicken Pot Pies with Butternut Squash & Spinach
This idea was born out of Thanksgiving leftovers.  After a few days of eating the same-old, I made a pot pie filling and threw in the turkey with the roasted butternut squash and spinach I had served on the holiday table, then topped it with pie dough and baked.  Sounds weird, I know, but it's incredibly good.  So good that I've roasted whole chickens and butternut squashes a few times since just to have the pie all over again.

Chicken, Butternut Squash & Spinach Pot Pie
The squash is a nice change from the carrots that often feature in pot pies.  And the idea of spinach in the filling may wrinkle noses, but it's a nice contrast for the richness, and the taste and texture are surprisingly mild.  Joe really loved it.  After this, I'm not sure we'll ever go back to ol' peas-and-carrots chicken pot pie again.

Chicken Pot Pie
Flour is stirred into the cooked onions, carrot, and celery, and then chicken stock is added to make the creamy sauce.  The chicken, butternut squash, and spinach are added.  Rounds of dough are cut for the pie tops, and holes are made in the top to let steam escape.

This thrown-together recipe makes a lot.  As in a 10-inch deep-dish pie plus two individual pies.  You can eat them for days, freeze them, or halve the recipe.  It's nice to be able to pull a homemade pot pie out of the freezer on a hectic day, far better than anything you can buy from the frozen section.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Blizzard Chocolate-Banana Bread Pudding

Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding
Just what does everyone make with the milk, bread, and eggs they buy before a big storm hits?  One possibility when you're all holed up is bread pudding!  OK, so this one is a little richer with half-and-half instead of milk, and you've got to have some chocolate and bananas on hand.  But when you need a break from shoveling a foot of snow and shaking your fist at the plowmen who piled a snow wall at your driveway, there will be bread pudding waiting for you.

Not my house, in case you had stalking intentions.  But the scene is pretty.  My honest thoughts about the bread pudding?  Definitely better cold, and not warm from the oven.  And it was good, but I think I had built up my expectations too high.  I'd rather have chocolate cake, or a banana split.  Even better, cinnamon raisin bread pudding.

Choco Banana Bread Pudding
The bread was soaked in the chocolate custard overnight.  I almost forgot to add the bananas the next morning before they went in the oven!  You can see that I switched the square pan up to a larger size.  Both the ramekins and the 10-by-7-inch pan were done in 45 minutes, in case you're interested in making smaller batches.  I also halved the recipe, since it makes a lot of bread pudding!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Flour's Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
I had previously made an easier Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, but this recipe from Flour proves that a little more trouble can really make it worth your while.  A homemade caramel takes some time but isn't hard to do, and fresh pineapple soaks up the caramel.  The cake is rich and moist but crisp at the edges.

Cut Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
If I had one complaint, it's that the caramel was just a tad too sweet.  Just a tad.  But my preference for sweets isn't the same as everyone else's, and Joe said the cake and level of sweetness were perfect.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
I get intimidated by caramels because of how easily those damned crystals form, but this one was simple enough.  The sugar-water mixture starts out clear, then develops a golden tinge.  At bottom-left, you can see the outer ring is still clear and the pot needs to be swirled before the whole mixture becomes golden brown.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake1
I'm glad Joe helped make this, not least because it's really hard to snap photos while whisking burning-hot caramel!  Butter is whisked in, making the caramel steam and froth; pineapple is added and cooked in the caramel, then removed to a plate before being placed in the cake pan.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake2
The caramel is poured over the pineapple, and then topped with the cake batter.  After the cake is baked and cooled, it gets up-ended onto a serving platter.  Each bite gives you a little burst of juice from the caramelized pineapple, and cake that's rich and moist.