Monday, August 31, 2009

Helen Oless's Prosciutto and Olive Braid

You know how sometimes you go to the grocery store and pick up a few things you need, including a vital ingredient for a baking project? And then you pay and take your groceries home? And then someone in your household kindly unpacks the groceries? And then the next afternoon you start in on your baking project and find yourself at the step when you are supposed to add said vital ingredient? And only then do you realize that even though you paid for it, this vital ingredient didn't come home with you? And you wasted $4.99 (plus tax) on organic pitted mediterranean olives that you'll never get to use? And your Prosciutto and Olive Braid won't have olives?

Yeah, that happens to me sometimes too.

Not that this was a bad thing for mr. He doesn't like olives and was going to go ahead and try this bread in spite of that. He's quite the food-tasting soldier. But, he got off the hook on this one. I think the taste of the bread might have suffered some from the lack of olives, but that wasn't my biggest problem with this recipe.

It was just so much WORK. Normally, I'm okay with that. Trying to knead 3 cups of flour into a sticky wad of dough that seems unwilling to take on even 1 cup of flour--that's a little too much for me.

I think I kneaded for at least a solid half hour. And never got the dough to take the full 3 cups of flour. I don't know why. It was weird.

Once I determined that the kneading was done (i.e., gave up), it was easy enough--only 1 rise, easy braiding, easy baking (although the baking time isn't in the recipe--I baked for about 30 minutes).

The smell of this bread was amazing, I do have to say that. The taste was delicate and interesting not the punch of prosciutto flavor I expected, but good. With all the work of the knead, though, it didn't seem worth it. I felt like I could have put less work (albeit, more time) into making this bread, but with the savory ingredients used here--prosciutto, garlic, fennel--and it would have been more delicious, and would have had a better texture. I think I would use less fennel, that flavor can be a little overwhelming, although I realize that if olives had been present they might have countered the taste of the fennel a little bit. And I would probably use more prosciutto--it was a little too subdued for what I really wanted.

Helen, wherever you are out there (assuming this is your recipe), contact me and come to my kitchen and show me how you meant for this bread to work. Because I know it worked for you. I miss you and I hope your life is good.

TGIP Rating--Prosciutto and Olive Braid--not worth the workout. But the idea of it, the flavors, could definitely translate to a different bread recipe.

Next up: Not technically a BAKING project (not a baking project at all), but there's a recipe in BAKED that I'd like to try--homemade Vanilla Marshmallows. And since it's the last official weekend of summer coming up (and since our summer was an utter waste with not enough cookouts or swimming or even zoo trips), I'll attempt to end our summer right by using them in homemade Rocky Road Ice Cream.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Birthday Cupcakes

Sometimes I get far more credit for being creative than I actually deserve. Everything about these cupcakes was stolen. The cake recipe is straight out of BAKED (as is the buttercream frosting recipe). The idea for the decorations is also stolen from...somebody...or some collection of bodies on the internet that came up when I searched for "Beach cake". It all melded together in my brain and I spat out what you see above.

Seconda wanted a water party for her 7th birthday, complete with a beach themed cake. So, my version of that is...gummi bears in little gummi inner tubes riding the waves (with big fishes) while some other gummi bears lie on the sand (crushed vanilla wafer cookies) under big umbrellas.

But here's the part I will happily take credit for: I made the cake and frosting from scratch. I think that's only the second time in...*counting*...16 birthday cakes, that I've actually done it all from scratch. Usually I'm so focused on the decorations, or the girls want something so specific, that I feel it can only be done with boxed cake mix and/or tubs of store-bought frosting. *Standing in silhouette in the fields of Tara*--As god is my witness, I'll never use boxed mix again! Really. Never. And neither should you.

I used the Whiteout Cake recipe from BAKED (and followed their advice to use an extra egg yolk if making cupcakes). The cake was so tender, and moist, and delicious. Even without frosting.

But, of course, there has to be frosting. Once again, I used their Green Tea Frosting recipe minus the matcha powder, for a traditional buttercream frosting. And once again I sing its praises. Light, buttery, delicious. And, I discovered this time, holds its consistency well even with the addition of food dye and with being in and out of the fridge.

A tasty success.

TGIP Rating--Whiteout Cake--KEEPER. And next time I'm making it as a three-layer cake with their white chocolate buttercream frosting. Yum.

Next up: I started a job today. After being out of the workforce for almost exactly 10 years. One of my first (and most beloved) supervisors when I first started working at UC Berkeley, fresh out of college, was Helen Oless. She also happened to be a chef. We talked all the time about how she was going to teach me to make pastries, but we never actually did it. I, sadly, lost touch with her several years ago. But, a couple of weeks ago, in one of my random attempts to try and locate her again, I searched for her name on the internet and found this. And this. Frankly, I don't know if it's the same Helen. I suspect it is, mainly because of the Italian bent of these recipes. So, I think I'll try the one with prosciutto because it will give me an excuse to go to Caputo's. And I'll pretend Helen herself is teaching me to make make bread.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Peach and Crème Fraîche Pie...for real this time

I have kind of a love/hate relationship with peaches. I like the flavor of real, fresh peaches. I love them sliced up with a little sugar on top and whipped cream or crème fraîche. I don't like peach-flavored things--peach jello, peach candy, etc. Frankly, they make me a little bit nauseous. I don't think I've ever had any type of peach pie, so this was not only a cooking experiment but also a tasting experiment for me.

I found the recipe here and it was the first time I've ever thought "YUM!" when I saw a recipe that involved peaches. It's a really simple recipe. Crème fraîche is not necessarily easy to find, so you'll probably have to make your own (for instructions, just follow the link within the recipe on smitten kitchen and remember you'll have to start that process at least 24 hours before you want to make your pie). Other than that, it couldn't be more easy.

Sliced peaches sprinkled with sugar and a little salt.

Crème fraîche spread in bottom of partially baked pie crust (in the recipe she says to prebake the crust...or not. I chose to prebake, but for only half of my usual prebaking time).

Streusel on top. It's an interesting streusel--made with confectioners' sugar and no spices.

Voilà! Pie.

Of course, I used my own pie crust recipe, but she has an all-butter dough that might be worth trying, especially if you're vegetarian. And if you do try it, let me know how it worked for you.

A couple of things:
  • The streusel is deceiving. I'm used to streusel turning out a little crispy. This one doesn't, probably because it's not brown sugar. It does, however lend an additional creaminess (on top of the creaminess from the crème fraîche) that I really liked.
  • I like the color in the pie from leaving the skins on the peaches, but in my pie the skins seemed a little tough. Maybe it had something to do with their freshness? I got them at Costco. A few days ago. And they've been in the fridge. So, yeah, that one's probably my bad.
  • You know...and this may be a problem with peach pie in general...when they're cooked, peaches lose some of their delightful flavor and start leaning over into the "peach-flavored things" category.
I liked the pie. It just wasn't my favorite thing ever. Nor was it quite as good as I imagined it would be when reading the recipe. I'll give it another chance today. On smitten kitchen she says she liked it better after refrigeration.

TGIP Rating--Peach and Crème Fraîche Pie--KEEPER. It's a good pie. Truly. I don't know that I would ever make it for myself and my family again. But if I had a friend who loved peach pie, this is the one I would make for THEM.

Next up: We're having a 7th Birthday Party for Seconda on Saturday. She wanted a water party--with tropical beach themed cake. Considering how many people will be here, I think cupcakes are in order, decorated in some clever way, and using the Whiteout Cake recipe from BAKED.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Midweek Kitchen Confessions 20: My brother is better than your brother...

...unless my brother is your brother. A while back, I posted a challenge for my brother Bill. A woodworking challenge. To make me one of these:

He had already been thinking and plotting. Last week he brought me the results.

Not one, but four. And an apron. And a mug. And fridge magnets.

And they are so smooth and sturdy and perfect. Better pie boxes do not exist in the world.

I have no idea how he got the image from the top picture into a workable form. I asked him and still--it's a process that I can only describe as MAGIC. He even added the cherries from my banner image into the slice of pie being eaten.

It almost makes me feel bad for all those wrestling matches where I used my fingernails. Sorry, Bill. I love you. You're the greatest.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Peach and Crème Fraîche pie...NOT

I was *finger-pinch* this close to making this pie. Would have had to make my own crème fraîche, but I've done it before and I was ready and willing. EXCEPT...I forgot it has to sit for 24 hours while it actually becomes crème fraîche. And I didn't start it early enough. Couldn't find it at the store. Plan-B? Call mr. while I'm at the grocery store and ask him to go through my Firefox bookmarks for "Recipes to Try" while I look around at the produce to see what looks good and is local. So...Cherry Crumble Pie it is.

Aaaaand, as mr. said, calling an audible might not have been the best choice in this situation. Not that Cherry Crumble Pie was bad. It was delicious. It was also, just...odd.

Things started out on a good note: fresh cherries combined with sugar, brandy (YUM so far!), and...tapioca.

I don't have a lot of experience with tapioca--I've eaten it a couple of times, but never made it myself--but I went along with it. Then, as I started to make the pie dough, things started to go awry. I ran out of pastry flour a while back. I thought I would buy some at the local Roller Mills when I was in that neck of the woods last week. And they were having a sale! Alas, they no longer sell pastry flour. So I bought some at Whole Foods. Opened it, ready to use it, realized it's WHOLE GRAIN pastry flour. It looked great. When the dough was all together, it tasted great--sort of nutty with an interesting texture. Not so great in the rolling out and moving to the pan phase. Very ungreat. Disastrous. Had to start over with all-purpose flour. I like the idea of the whole grain pastry flour, I just don't think I'll be able to use it for pie crust.

Then things were okay for a bit--this crumble topping is one of the better ones I've made, the sliced almonds make it very crunchy and yummy.

Baking seemed to go okay. Although the instructions say to bake for 30 minutes at 425 and then reduce heat to 400 and bake for another 25 minutes "until filling is bubbling thickly and topping is brown and crisp". Well...that happened for me after the first 30 minutes. I baked for another 5 minutes and left it at that.

And then...after cooling...I cut into it.

A lake of liquid. Whatever the tapioca was supposed to do (I assume it was there as some kind of thickening agent) it didn't accomplish.

I just don't know about this one. It tasted very good. The cherries stayed firm, which can sometimes be a challenge with fruit desserts. I'm not so sure cherries and cinnamon-y, streusel-y topping are my favorite combination in the world. For me, that combination is reserved for apples or pears. Maybe I'm being narrow-minded. It was unbelievably messy to serve. Not that that's a reason not to make it. Sometimes the biggest messes are the most delicious desserts. And, the pie crust seemed superfluous. It seems like you could make the same dessert without the crust, call it "Cherry Crumble" or "Cherry Crisp" and you're good to go.

It did give me an opportunity to use my new cream whipper. A perfect gift from my incredibly generous friends Miriam and Dave.

TGIP Rating--Cherry Crumble Pie--Not one of my favorites. There's nothing really WRONG with it. It just didn't tickle my fancy. And I need to order pastry flour from here.

Next up: This week I really will make Peach and Crème Fraîche Pie.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Midweek Kitchen Confessions 19: Why is it...

...that I get teary whenever I read about Julia Child? Maybe because it seems like she is the godmother of the food appreciation movement in this country--a movement that has brought countless joys to my life. Maybe because she had a passionately devoted man by her side, a true partner, an experience that I relate to. Maybe because I've only starting learning about her life recently, years after I used to watch her shows on public television, and I wish I had known more about her then.

Read/listen to this.

And read this as well.

I can't tell you how much I wish for a similar (and similarly lovingly crafted) blue pegboard in my kitchen.

I'm hoping against hope that I get to see this over the weekend.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Gingerbread Bran Muffins

I never thought I would include something like this on TGIP. But, as things go, a few weeks ago mr. and I decided we wanted something to break up the monotony of high fiber cereal for breakfasts and I started experimenting with bran muffin recipes. Make no mistake: this is not an indulgent treat. This is not even a baked good that will cause me to wax poetic about taste and texture. It is a BRAN MUFFIN. It has a very utilitarian standing in the bakery world. Does anybody ever eat bran muffins because they WANT to? I would argue, no; they eat them because they should. Or even because they NEED to. Occasionally, you run across one that also has a good taste, which makes the eating of it at least something other than a chore.

So, after much trial and error, I give you:

Gingerbread Bran Muffins-liberally adapted from Kelloggs' "Best Bran Muffins" recipe
Makes 12 muffins
*click here for printable version*

1 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. whole wheat flour
1 T. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
ground ginger, cinnamon, and cloves (a sprinkle to 1/2 tsp. of each depending on your likes)
1-1/2 c. bran cereal (flakes, buds, whatever)
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. molasses
1 egg
2 T. unsalted butter (melted)
1/4 c. unsweetened applesauce
1/2 c. pecans (chopped and toasted)

Stir together both flours, baking powder, salt, and spices. Set aside.

In large bowl, combine bran cereal with milk and molasses. Let stand about 2 minutes or until cereal softens. Add egg, melted butter, and applesauce. Mix well by hand. Add flour mixture, stirring only until combined. Fold in pecans. Portion evenly into muffin tin coated with cooking spray

Bake at 400 for about 18-20 minutes or until lightly browned.

They're healthy, stick to your ribs, and the molasses and spices actually make them taste delicious. I'm not above spreading a little butter on something that is otherwise this healthy. Makes the whole thing go down a little easier.

TGIP Rating--Gingerbread Bran Muffins--KEEPER--We're eating them pretty much every morning, if that's any indication of their goodness.

Next up: I might try that Peach and Crème Fraîche pie I've been talking about. Depends on how sapped I am after Cousin Camp this week.

P.S. I hope by this time next week to have switched all of my printable recipes over to google docs. I think it is much more user friendly than the online word processor I've been using. If you click on a link and it's not working, please shoot me a message.