Thursday, April 26, 2012

Braided Lemon Bread

Braided Lemon Bread
Photo updated December 2013
This braided bread looks sophisticated, and tastes even better.  The slightly sweet bread is filled with cream cheese and lemon curd, and it really brightened up our morning.  Here you can see that I switched up my second loaf with raspberry jam instead.  Both are good, but the lemon is where it's at.

Braid border

The mock braid is easier to assemble than it looks, and I will definitely be making it again.  A dusting of sanding sugar gives it nice crunch and extra sweetness, and that's what I sprinkled on the lemon loaf.  It's not as pretty or dramatic as the white nonpareils here, but it's better taste- and texture-wise.  (Nonpareils will melt in the oven, unlike sanding sugar, so cool the loaf completely, brush with a bit of corn syrup, and then sprinkle.  I still say, go with the sanding sugar.)  Update Dec. 2013: The new photo at the top uses Swedish pearl sugar, which won't melt in the oven.

The dough before and after its first rise.
Like almost all yeast bread recipes, this one takes time.  But it's well worth it.

Lemon Braid Collage 2
The dough rectangle is roughly divided into thirds, and the cream cheese and lemon curd are spread with space left on all sides; a bench scraper is used to cut strips at 1-inch intervals; the top and bottom flaps are tucked in, and then the strips are folded over on alternating sides to form the mock braid.
A bench scraper worked great here, creating straighter edges than a pastry wheel would.  I transferred the braid to a silicone mat, but I recommend assembling and baking on parchment (I didn't have any at the time).  Cutting on a silicone mat can damage it, and moving the braid can make it crooked or mess it up.  For convenience, I used storebought lemon curd.

Braid 3 border

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Cast Iron Skillet Pizza

Cast Iron Pizza 2

Have you ever heard of making pizza in a cast iron skillet?  We've owned a pizza stone for years, but when I saw this recipe I wanted to try it anyway.  I wanted to see how a skillet held up to a stone, and how storebought pizza dough compares to homemade.  Initially I waved away the idea of following the recipe by using storebought dough, but then I wondered what the quality of premade dough is like and if the convenience is worth it.

Cast Iron Pizza slice 2

You can buy premade pizza dough in the refrigerated section of your supermarket's bakery.  When I saw whole wheat dough along with plain, I decided to add another level to my experiment.  Both pizzas are made the same way, with a quick sauce from scratch, fresh mozzarella, and crumbled Italian sausage.  When they were done, I topped them with parsley and shavings of Parmesan.

Cast Iron Pizza slice

My verdicts:

1) Storebought dough is not as good as homemade dough, but it's not far off, and convenience counts for a lot.  Dough from scratch has to be made the night before, and there are resting periods in the refrigerator and at room temperature -- the storebought dough is ready to use when you bring it home.  The flavor of storebought is close to homemade, and the texture is a little doughier than homemade but not a deal-breaker.  If you want to go the from-scratch route anyway, I have only praise for Peter Reinhart's dough recipe.

2) I can't say the same for the whole wheat dough.  It rolled out nice and thin and didn't have the annoying elasticity of the plain dough, but I missed that elasticity and chew when eating the whole wheat crust.  It also had all the flavor of cardboard.

3) The cast iron skillet works great, producing a crust with a nicely crisped bottom.  If you have only a 10-inch skillet like me, a half-pound of pizza dough will work for this recipe or one pound will make two pizzas; scale down the other ingredients slightly as well.  If you're fighting kitchen clutter, you may opt for just your skillet instead of buying a pizza stone.

4) The pizza recipe is delicious as well.  I like the from-scratch sauce, and the small amount guarantees you won't have a soggy crust.  I like the use of fresh mozzarella, and even though it releases water after cooking the taste is superior.  I left out the arugula because I'm not a fan, but the parsley and Parmesan are nice.

If you've wanted to try making your own pizza, this is the easiest I've seen yet.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Flour's Country Ham, Cheddar and Tomato Quiche

075P quiche

This quiche is good, really good.  And not just for breakfast -- I'd happily have this with a salad for lunch or dinner.  The crust is buttery, sandy, and crumbly, and the freshness of the tomatoes nicely contrasts with the creamy filling, even after being baked.  I haven't had quiche in so long, I was imagining a big omelet in crust.  But this is a smooth, savory custard.  The amount of ham and cheese isn't over the top, and despite the richness of the dish it feels light on your stomach.  I wanted to photograph individual slices too, but there weren't any left!

091 quiche

The recipe for the filling looked very rich, so I subbed the heavy cream with more half and half.  Still not exactly healthy, I know, but I was afraid it might not set up if I used just milk.  I also correctly guessed there would be more filling than a standard tart pan would hold, so I opted for an 8-inch springform pan instead, making it narrower but taller.  If you do the same, just note that this will add 30 minutes to the cooking time.

My last few tips.  If you use a springform pan, wrap the outside in foil since my second try sprung a leak despite no visible crust cracks.  And like the recipe says, make your crust taller than necessary to account for some inevitable shrinkage -- mine originally came up to the rim of the pan.  An industrial-sized paper coffee filter is handy for holding pie weights during blind baking.  Also, save that leftover dough!  Any pieces of crust that break off or holes that appear after blind baking can be patched up with dough and then baked with the filling.

Update: This post made the daily Foodbuzz Top 9!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Easter Chocolate-Covered Marshmallows

Marshmallow Tray

Have you ever had a homemade marshmallow?  The first time Joe suggested we make them, I couldn't imagine their being worth the trouble.  Storebought marshmallows are all right in hot cocoa or crispy rice treats, but otherwise spongey and kind of like styrofoam.  Homemade marshmallows, on the other hand, have a creamy texture inside and are flavored with vanilla or whatever else you put in them.

Chicky Closeup

This chocolate-drizzled chick is nesting in toasted coconut.  It was a fun switch from my blog posting last year, where the marshmallows were just covered in colored sugar and sprinkles.  You can also submerge the bunnies and chicks completely in chocolate.  The thin layer of chocolate will crack and give way to the soft marshmallow, and the two flavors melting in your mouth are incredible.  Give them some Easter flair with colorful nonpareils, or sprinkle the coconut over the chocolate for some fuzzy bunnies and chicks.  Bag them up or tuck them in Easter baskets, and you'll have some happy campers.

Marshmallow Quad

For this look, dip a spoon in melted chocolate and let most of the excess drip off.  Then wave the spoon around in zig-zags or swirls, and sprinkle with nonpareils.  For the eye, dip a toothpick in the melted chocolate, then spin the toothpick to get off most of the excess.  Use the toothpick to make a dot on the marshmallow, avoiding any drips.  To cover the marshmallows in coconut, dip them in melted chocolate and then sprinkle with the toasted coconut flakes.  Set aside to dry.

Marshmallow Collage
A marshmallow syrup is made, then cooked later with more ingredients to make marshmallows; when that mixture is added to a gelatin mixture in the stand mixer, it steams and bubbles up furiously; after 10 minutes of whipping, the mixture has billowed into white marshmallow; the marshmallow is extremely sticky and must be spread out quickly in the pan before it begins drying and setting.
A couple more tips.  Don't even try to get every last bit of marshmallow off that beater and bowl -- it ain't gonna happen.  It's also not worth it.  You'll get marshmallow strings everywhere, and your marshmallow slab will begin to dry and set.  Also, when smoothing out your marshmallow into a slab, wet hands are your best friend.  Get your hands very wet with water, then use them to smooth the marshmallow out quickly.

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