Saturday, November 30, 2013

Maple Pecan Squares & Tartlets



One of my favorite desserts is Maple Pecan Tart, but this Thanksgiving, Oksana and I decided to make Maple Pecan Squares, since the shape is easier to serve for a large crowd, and you can use any square glass baking dish to make larger amounts. We had a little left over tart dough, so we also decided to make tartlets. The following recipe is for a standard 10 inch tart pan. I do not want to give the amounts for the glass baking dish we used on this occasion, since it's dimensions are actually kind of non-standard. Next time I will make Maple Pecan Tart, I will add a picture of it to this post.

Tart Dough:

1 large egg yolk
2 tbsp ice water, more if needed
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, but into tiny cubes

  • In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, ice water and vanilla extract. 
  • In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugar and salt. 
  • Using a pastry blender, cut the cold, unsalted butter into the dry mixture until coarse crumbs form.
  • Add the egg mixture and knead the dough until it pulls together. Add more ice water if the dough is too dry. 
  • Roll out the dough unto tart pan and blind bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes. 

There are many nuances to making the perfect tart dough or pie pastry, but I do not want to address them all in this post. I think I need to write an entire post of the tips and tricks that I learned from trial and error. This basic tart dough recipe comes from my Williams and Sonoma baking book - one of my favorite baking resources. 


Pecan Filling:

6 tbsp butter
2/3 cup maple syrup
3 cups of pecans
0-8 tablespoons of brown sugar, depending on preference
1/3 cup heavy cream

The directions for the filling are super-easy, and if it wasn't for the tart dough, this would be the simplest and quickest dessert on the planet.

  • Add the butter, maple syrup, and sugar (if using) to a large heavy-bottomed skillet. The reason I give such a wide range for the sugar is because it really depends on preference. The recipe that I used for inspiration asked for 1/2 cup or 8 tablespoons of sugar, but I found that it's way too much. It came out disgustingly sweet, and Oksana and I decided that for our taste, it doesn't need any sugar at all, since the maple syrup is sweet enough. But I suppose 1-2 tablespoons is a pretty good amount too. 
  • Once the sugar and butter have melted and the mixture begins to boil, turn off the heat and stir in the heavy cream. 
  • Stir in the pecans. 
  • Pour into tart filling and bake at 350 for 30 minutes, or until the filling begins to bubble. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Pumpkin Cake



This is the first of our Thanksgiving posts, cataloging all the desserts we made for this Thanksgiving. 

I tried this cake for the first time at a friend's house, asked for the recipe - which came from finecooking.com - and since then, I have been making it every fall. The topping - a generous heap of pecans and crystallized ginger - is what totally makes this cake. The smooth and rich cream cheese frosting complements the crunchy topping, and the layers are just the perfect pumpkin and spice base for the whole thing. There are several steps and the directions look long, but it's really worth it. 

One time, Oksana and I made two of these in one day - one with canned pumpkin puree and another with an actual baked pumpkin that we pureed ourselves. I was surprised that I actually liked the cake made with canned puree better - it turned out more moist. Maybe too much moisture escaped from our pumpkin when we baked it, or maybe it needed a dash of oil. 

Ingredients:
For the cake
  • 6 oz. (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 3/4 tsp. table salt
  • 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1 (15 oz.) can of pumpkin puree

For the topping
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 2 cups pecans
  • 2 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. table salt
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. chopped crystallized ginger

For the frosting
  • 6 oz. (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 12 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

Directions:

Make the cake
  • Preheat the oven to 350. 
  • Butter and flour two 9- inch round springform pans. 
  • Melt butter on stove-top. Cook butter for no more than five minutes stirring occasionally. Its supposed to turn a golden brown color with a slight nutty taste. Set aside to cool for about fifteen minutes as you complete the other steps. The butter should not solidify however. 
  • Combine all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl, besides the brown sugar and granulated sugar and mix. 
  • In  large bowl or stand mixer, whisk the eggs with the granulated sugar and brown sugar. Then add the pumpkin puree and buttermilk and blend well. 
  • Using a paddle attachment or rubber spatula, slowly add the flour mixture to the wet mixture until just blended. 
  • Add the brown butter until incorporated. 
  • Divide batter evenly between the two pans. It should come out more on the thick side. 
  • Bake for 28-30 minutes, or until the toothpick comes out clean. 
  • Let cool in pans for about 15 minutes, and then carefully transfer unto a wire rack to cool completely before frosting. 

Make the topping
  • Combine all the ingredients in a skillet and cook on medium heat for about five minutes, or until the sugar melts and the pecans are slightly toasted. 

Make the frosting
  • Melt butter. The original recipe asks you to clarify the butter with a series of complicated steps, but honestly I do not worry too much about it. I just melt the butter, put it through a tight sieve to catch any solids, and skim off the foam. Most of the the time it comes out looking pretty clear. Then I usually set the hot butter in the freezer for 10-15 minutes to cool, so it's ready quickly for the frosting. It must be cool but still liquid-y when used in the frosting. 
  • Beat the cream cheese, butter, light brown sugar and powdered sugar until fully combined. The original recipe asked for a little less light brown sugar and a lot more powdered sugar - about 1 1/4 cups. Since I am not a huge fan of powdered sugar, I added much less and found that it's not really necessary. The frosting is already sweet enough and the thickness is just right. But more powdered sugar can be added if preferred. 

Assemble the cake
Put one cake layer on cake plate or server. Spread a little less than half of the frosting and sprinkle the top with about 1/3 of the topping. Place the other cake layer on top and use the remaining frosting to frost the rest of the cake. Top with remaining pecans. 

-Yana

Friday, November 15, 2013

Croissants



Let's just say I was not prepared for how good these would turn out. 




I mean... Look at them! 

Croissants are known to be difficult to make, but I was inspired by this post. This redditor did such a fantastic job! As soon as I saw this, I researched how to go about making them.... which proved to be more difficult than anticipated. There are about as many recipes and methods out there as there are bakers.

I decided to go ahead and wing it. 

I used the recipe that my inspiration had used, with a few minor adjustments (purely because I was much too lazy to measure things in deciliters every time I made this). 

Croissants:

1 cup cold milk
25 g. fresh yeast
1 tbs. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 egg
3 cups flour
3 tbs. softened butter

1 ¼ sticks of butter

Instructions:

1. In a small bowl, using a fork or your fingers, mash the yeast and sugar together. Let this stand for a minute or two until the yeast has completely "melted". You'll know what I mean when you see it. 

2. In a large bowl or stand mixer with a paddle attachment, mix the milk, salt, egg, and yeast just long enough for it to blend together. The dough will be soft, probably a little more than you will be comfortable with. It'll be ok, I promise. I suggest against using the dough hook- there is no need since the dough will be fairly soft. 

3. Slowly add half of the flour. Once it is incorporated, add the butter and mix until there are no pieces of butter visible. Mix in the rest of the flour. Word of warning- I made this a few times already, and one time I did not let my butter soften very well and ended up with butter chunks in the dough. Make sure the butter is soft inside as well as out. 

4. Let rise in a warm spot for about an hour. I find that unless my house is upwards of 70+ degrees, the rising process take forever. I usually turn the oven on its lowest setting, let it preheat, and open the door. After transferring my dough to a glass bowl with a towel on top, I just put it on the open oven door so its nice and warm. (This is probably a sin somewhere, I hope vengeful bakers don't come running after me, rolling pins raised.) 

5. Now, about at this step, I started getting worried. Beating butter, folding butter into dough, folding the dough, flipping around, folding again.... you see what I mean? It really made no sense in my mind until I saw the pictures. From hereon out, I followed his method, except I did not refrigerate the dough after every fold. Come on, I wanted to eat them, not stare at them in the refrigerator. 

6. After all the folding nonsense, roll out the dough, cut it into triangles, and make the actual croissant shape. Then, swipe an egg wash all around them.  I actually ended up cutting the dough an extra time than he did because I wanted them to be a little smaller. I also filled a few with chocolate, which was about as delicious as it sounds. 

7. Preheat the oven to 395, and bake for 15 minutes (or until the outsides are brown and you just can't stand the anticipation anymore). 

These croissants were actually not as difficult to make as I originally anticipated, especially once I got the folding method down. Overall, I would say they were a success, and they definitely get better every time I make them. 




Make yourself a cup of tea and enjoy!
-Oksana

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Oreo Truffles



After those awesome Belgian cookies with chocolate on top, Oreo's are my second favorite. These truffles combine a few things I love- Oreo's, cream cheese, and chocolate.

For these truffles, I really recommend using a higher quality chocolate. While I don't suggest you go out and buy chocolate that costs 10 dollars an ounce, Hershey's standard just won't cut it. When I made these, I used Ghirardelli.

Oreo Truffles:

1 package Oreo's
1 package softened cream cheese
6-8 oz chocolate
1 tbs butter (It depends on the chocolate though. I has to be liquid-y enough to dip the truffles in)

Directions: 
1. Use a food processor or a well-washed meat grinder to make the cookies into crumbs.

2. Mix a softened package of cream cheese into the cookie crumbs. Honestly, I usually use my hands for this step. Using a spoon is just too tedious. 

3. Shape the cookie mixture into balls, and place them on a cookie sheet. I use an ice-cream scoop for this step so they are all uniform. 


4. Once you are done with shaping all the balls, pop them into the refrigerator.


5. While the truffles harden, use a double boiler to melt the chocolate. Once it is completely melted, add the butter and mix.

6. Dip the cold truffles in chocolate. Place them back on the cookie sheet and return to the refrigerator until the chocolate is solidified. This is defiantly the hardest part. Dipping doesn't really work well for me, so I impaled each one with a fork and slowly spun it in the the chocolate until it was completely covered. 

7. Once the chocolate has hardened, use a spatula to lift up the truffles up and put them on a plate. (Don't stack them or they will melt and stick together).


8. (Optional) To make them prettier, you can melt chocolate (without adding butter this time) and put in a ziplock bag. Let it set for about a minute, and cut a tiny hole off a corner. Use this to drizzle a zigzag on each truffle.

These are wicked simple to make, and if they were not so filling, I would probably eat them in one sitting.

-Oksana

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Lava Cake


I can't help myself sometimes- whenever my sister is over my house, I feel obligated to feed her something (unfortunately, she doesn't feel the same obligations).

That something  usually manifests into my go-to quick dessert, Lava Cake.
Lava Cake is one of those desserts that people are hesitant about trying for whatever reason, but once they do, they realize how easy it really is.

My recipe for Lava Cake is pretty straight forward, and will make 5-7 Lava Cakes, depending on the size of your ramekins:

Lava Cake:
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
5 tbs. butter
3 tbs. sugar
4 oz dark chocolate (And no, you can't use milk or white. Trust me)
3 tbs. flour
4 tsp. cocoa powder
pinch of salt
vanilla to taste

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 425. Hot, I know. Don't get scared. 


1. Melt your chocolate and butter in a double boiler.

2. Mix your eggs/yolks together with your sugar (use a handheld mixer). Once that is thoroughly mixed, add your melted chocolate/butter mixture. To this, add vanilla. If you're not a vanilla fan, its OK. Its not a necessity.  I am a vanilla fanatic, so I usually as about two tsp or more, depending on how I'm feeling that day. 

3. In a separate bowl, blend together the flour, cocoa, and salt. Make sure the flour and cocoa has no lumps in it. If it does, give it a quick sifting. 

4. Add the dry ingredients slowly into the melted chocolate mixture. I've read that some people tell you not to mix it with a mixer, but I've noticed that if I use the lowest setting I have absolutely no ill effects except perfectly mixed lava cake batter.


5. Take a little piece of cold butter and slather the insides of your ramekins with it. Its really important that the Lava Cake doesn't stick to the sides, or it will fall apart when you're going to try to take it out.


6. Bake for about 8-15 min. This is, hands down, the most difficult part of making Lava Cake. Remember, your goal is that the outside is cooked, while the inside is not, resulting in that "lava" that we are all craving. Usually, I start paying attention after they have been in the oven around 9 min. Once I see that the top is cooked, I see if a toothpick inserted into the very edge comes out clean. If it does, that means the sides are cooked and ready. If the toothpick comes out chocolaty  then I pop them back in, usually for one minute intervals. Remember: baking times might vary on your oven, so pay attention! 

7. And...you're done! Feel free to invert them on a plate and garnish, or just eat them straight out of the ramekins. We usually eat ours with vanilla ice cream and milk. 



Now, if you've over-baked your Lava Cakes, don't despair- you just made really tasty chocolate cake. Next time, just bake them a tiny bit less.

Also, remember that since the ramekins and cakes themselves are very hot, they will continue to cook even after you take them out of the oven. So, devour immediately!


Happy Baking!
       -Oksana