Thursday, March 24, 2011

Belated St. Patrick's Day

In my family, growing up St. Patrick's Day equaled Grandpa's birthday so I've never been all that into it especially since this year, he turned 90!  That milestone was a much bigger highlight of the month for me.  Unfortunately, I wasn't home in Hawaii to celebrate with him but I hope he knows just how much I love and respect him.  I hope he lives past 100.  But I know he'll only do it if my grandma stays healthy and sharp.  He always says that he has to die before she does.  He wouldn't know how to live without her.  Now that's love!  I always say that one day I aspire to be like my grandparents.  I can only hope to be so lucky.

Anyway, even though St. Patrick's Day has always been more about his birthday than shamrocks and green beer, I tried out a few recipes for kicks.  I'm always the mad scientist after all.

First up is some homemade Baileys Irish Cream.  I followed the recipe but it asked for A LOT of whiskey and reeked of liquor.  But it still made for a tasty Irish Cream Cake, which is basically a yellow bundt cake made with Irish cream covered in an Irish Cream glaze.  The glaze looks uneven because I brushed it on instead of pouring it so lesson learned for next time.  But it's my first bundt!

Second up are some Guinness stout chocolate cupcakes with an Irish Cream buttercream frosting.  Simple to make but the flavors are really defined.  I'm not a huge fan of beer flavored cake but if you are, this cake is for you.  Moist.

Last up are some oatmeal scones.  Not sure that they're very Irish but it felt of that part of the world so I made some anyway.  Plus, I have quick cooking oats that I'm trying to get rid of so it was a good way to experiment.  They turned out nice and crisp on the outside with a great texture overall.  The only problem is I was all set to make blueberry scones except...I forgot to add the blueberries.  I didn't remember until they were already in the oven for 15 minutes.  Whoops.  Oh well, they still tasted great!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Class 2 Homework ~ Croissant Bread Pudding ~

My coworker H has this amazing neighbor who owns a bakery/chocolate store.  This neighbor likes to leave leftover croissants on H's doorstep so they don't go to waste.  Free croissants!  But since one can only eat so many at once, they often go straight to the freezer.  When H told me about this wonderful phenomenon that occurred every so often, I half jokingly said that if she ever gave me some, I would make a croissant bread pudding for her.

Flakey on top, moist on the bottom.

A couple of months passed after our initial conversation and I almost forgot about it until one day, H appeared with a paper bag full of huge croissants! I immediately went home and baked them into a bread pudding since it was the perfect opportunity for me to do some "homework."

I ate one for dinner too, to taste.  Hey, I have to know what I'm baking with right?  It was still pretty flaky on the outside and with a couple minutes in the toaster oven, it was the perfect texture.  Very flavorful too.  Quite impressive for a bakery in Los Angeles.


I used my standard recipe.  Super easy but delicious and as always, I added some brandy.  The brandy is really what seals the deal on the deliciousness of this recipe.  But don't add more than the recipe calls for otherwise you will get a very alcoholic pudding, which is fine if you plan on serving it in place of a cocktail but as a dessert, not recommended.  Trust me.  I made another bread pudding shortly after this one and added extra brandy thinking more is better.  More is better when it comes to money.  And presents.  But not brandy in bread pudding!

Bread Pudding

1/2 loaf French bread or Challah, cubed (or in this case, an equivalent amount of croissants)
1 cup milk
2 cups cream
3 eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
zest from 1/2 orange
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup raisins soaked in 1/2 cup brandy
(if you don't like raisins, omit them but still add 1/4 cup brandy for flavor)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Butter a round or square baking dish.  Either 8" or 9" will work.  I suggest lining it with parchment too since raisins will stick to the bottom.  It's not as big of an issue if you aren't using raisins though.

2. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, milk, cream, sugar, cinnamon, zest, and vanilla extract.  Add cubed bread and stir to combine.  Note: you don't have to actually cube the bread with a knife.  You can just tear it into smallish pieces. 

3. Add raisins and brandy and stir to combine.  Let sit until the bread has soaked up the liquid mixture and become soggy.

4. Pour into the baking dish and place on the middle rack of the oven.  Bake until browned and set, about 1 hour.  Once cool, unmold the pudding and cut into squares.

I personally prefer it chilled but you can definitely eat it warm.  My style is to stick the cut pieces in the fridge and about 5-10 minutes before consumption, I pull a piece out and let it sit on the counter to warm up just a tad.  Best.  Ever.   

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pro Baking I ~ Class 2 ~

Class 2 was all about the custard.  I love custards, especially because ice creams are technically custards and I think ice cream is my favorite thing in the world.  Yum!

 We learned how to make a creme brulee, chocolate pudding, and a bread pudding.  I would've much preferred making a creme caramel, a flan, or a pots de creme since I like to eat those the most, it was fun using a torch for the first time.  Yeah!

I'm glad I got to practice making a stove top pudding.  My only experience with it has been to make vanilla pastry cream, and even that I'd only done a couple of times before.  This tasted much better than the plastic cups sold by JELL-O, but I'm sure it's also because this one is so much more caloric...

The creme brulee was fine.  But I'm not a good judge of creme brulee because I don't like it much.  it's too heavy for me, and it always has been.  The one made in class was no exception.  Plus, burnt sugar crusts are very take it or leave it for me.  I like cracking them and they're really fun to make (can't go wrong with a blow torch) but I can do without eating them.

But the bread pudding.  OMG.  This was the best bread pudding I've ever had.  It was the solid type that you can cut up into squares and package, not the spooning type.  It's made with Challah bread.  Ever since I discovered Challah a few years ago (late in life I know, but Hawaii doesn't exactly have a large Jewish influence) it has turned into one of my favorite breads.  It's great on it's own, it tastes great with creamy cheeses like Camembert, it makes the best french toast (much better than Brioche, trust me), and now I know that it's the best bread for bread pudding!

It's moist, sweet without being overtly so, and the texture--so yummy!  I used raisins soaked in Grand Marnier and they definitely made a huge difference.  No nuts though.  I don't like it when crunchy textures mix with soft textures so I left them out.  I can't wait to practice making this one.  Although I might eat the whole thing in one sitting...

The most important thing to remember with this is to let the bread soak up all of the egg/milk/sugar mixture before putting it into the oven, and then as hard as it may be, let the pudding rest overnight in the fridge.  All the flavors will really meld together that way.  If you can hold off for two days, that's even better.  Trust me on this.  And while it's good warm, I really like it cold.  Leave it out for about 5-10 minutes after pulling it from the fridge and it becomes nice and soft but still chilled.  It's the best.

Eat me!

I know it doesn't look amazing, but I promise you that it is!  Salivate...

Saturday, January 8, 2011

~Happy Birthday to Me~

Hi everyone, Happy New Year!

I realize I'm quite behind on my posting but in effort to catch up, here are some pictures from my birthday party.  I'd been looking at a lot of pictures of dessert tables and wanted to try making one myself.  I didn't pull off a red/yellow/orange color theme as clearly as I would've liked (my excuses mainly consist of a very stringent budget...but I know that's just an excuse) but I'm still pretty happy with how it turned out.  I actually had more dishes than would fit on the table so the quiche and the cheese gougeres didn't make it into the pictures but they were still enjoyed by all.  Thanks to everyone who came and celebrated my birthday with me!

Green Tea Mini Cream Puffs

Chocolate Cupcakes w/ Vanilla Buttercream Frosting & Chocolate Ganache

Caramel 4 layer cake

Mini Orange Cupcakes

Brownies, Pumpkin Seed Brittle, Dulce de Leche filled butter cookies

I also made regular mini cream puffs

Mini Pomegranate Panna Cotta cups

I had to practice macarons too!  Rasberry, Caramel, Pumpkin

I also made mini chiffon tartlets and fresh fruit tartlets.

There were mini triple mousse cups too (caramel, chocolate, and vanilla layers)
It was a bit of work to do all of this but I had fun doing it, and learned a lot too!  Hopefully I'll have another chance to do this but perhaps with sliiiightly fewer dishes.  I wish I had a picture of the quiche and the gougeres but they were devoured before I could snap some.  Next time!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Class I Homework ~ Part II ~

Truffled poached eggs rounded out our scone and orange-ricotta pancake brunch.  So delicious.

My friends and I decided to put together a brunch since I was in the mood to eat pancakes.  I love ricotta pancakes and they're so fool proof yet better than anything you can get at a restaurant, no matter how famous it may be.  And since this would be the perfect opportunity to have any baking projects consumed, I decided to practice making scones.

First, I remade the scones we did in class, with currants, except I left out the orange zest.  I wanted to see how the batter tasted plain.  I was a little under the weather this day though, so wasn't fully there and I ended up using salted butter instead of unsalted, and I forgot to add the sugar.  I baked them anyway and surprisingly, everyone loved them.  Seriously.  They were a smidgen salty for my tastes, but I don't like a lot of salt.  Everyone else just thought they tasted like the most amazing biscuits, albeit studded with currants.  Who knew?
Next came Claire Clark's Cream Scones.  I'd made these once before, way before, and while they turned out okay, I didn't really know how to make scones at the time.  This time turned out much better!  These scones don't use any egg, which I think makes them a little more crumbly than if you added an egg, but until I make a few more batches to really be sure, this may just be conjecture.  Regardless, they turned out great, and I love the look of the egg wash.  Scones definitely need an egg wash, not just cream.

Last came the fresh strawberry scones.  Teacher had told us in class that you can't just add fresh fruit to a regular scone recipe because it won't work.  There's too much liquid in fresh fruit.  She put a recipe for fresh strawberry scones on her blog and told us to check it out if we were interested, so I did.  The batter came out really runny and impossible to shape.  In hindsight, I guess I could've added more flour but oh well.  I just scooped out dough into little mounds and baked them.  I should've known to use far less dough per scone than I did, but of course, being slightly sick, I wasn't thinking and just went ahead with the giant blobs.  So I shouldn't have been surprised when out came these huge flying saucers, but I was.

Good thing they tasted great!  I've found that quite a few people don't really like scones because they can be on the dry side, but these blobs were really moist and flavorful and you could really taste the strawberry.  They aren't the most shapely scone, but they were the first to be gobbled up by the brunch table.

Last but not least comes my clotted cream making experiment.  I forgot to take this to the brunch so I ate them with the leftover scones later that day.  Sorry friends!

I'd always heard that you could make your own clotted cream since it's so expensive to buy them from those specialty gourmet grocery stores.  I found a recipe that said all you needed was unpasturized or pasturized cream (it would work as long as it wasn't ultra-pasturized).  I found some pasturized cream at Trader Joe's, so I dumped a pint sized bottle of it into an 8 by 8 Pyrex baking dish.  I set my oven to the warm setting and left it in there, covered with aluminum foil, overnight.  I left it there for approximately 10 hours.  Then I let it cool, scooped off the stuff on top, put that in the fridge, and voila--clotted cream!

It definitely wasn't as sweet and flavorful as real clotted cream made from fresh unpasturized cream, but it was still quite tasty on the reheated scones.  It doesn't make a lot though, so it actually might be worth it to pay the price tag on the expensive glass jarred stuff.  But it's a fun little experiment, and if you can't find any where you live, this is a great alternative for your next afternoon tea party!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Class I Homework ~ Part I ~

I apologize for neglecting this blog for so long!  I got sick and then became so busy with work and prepping for a special event that I will write all about later...but I know I know, these are just excuses.

Anyway, I'm back, and before I head off on my Thanksgiving vacation I promise to be more diligent about sharing.

First off is the homework project I did after my first class on quick breads.  Teacher recommended trying out an apple version of the blueberry streusel muffins so that's exactly what I did.  I baked a batch to give to a co-worker who just had a baby.  They came out pretty well although probably slightly over mixed.  Or it needed more sugar since the apples I used weren't too sweet.  Regardless, they weren't as good as the blueberry ones we made in class, but they were decent.

 You probably can't tell from the dark pictures, but they really were just fine. 

The big problem lay in the streusel topping.  I unfortunately had used old walnuts without realizing it.  Now I know the importance of tasting!  Or at least marking when I first use ingredients...

Needless to say, my co-worker did not see these muffins.  The inside of my trash can did though.

Practice session #2 came out much better.  I attempted the carrot cake Teacher demo-ed in class.  I decided to practice frosting the cake too, so I decided on a 2 layer cake with a cream cheese frosting.

The cake came out moist and flavorful, just like Teacher's.  The frosting job was mediocre, but I don't make layer cakes very often so I will just keep practicing until I get it right.  Also, I only had one single 8 oz packet of cream cheese so couldn't make very much frosting, which I needed if I was to create those thick layers you always see in magazines.  Taste-wise, it was probably better this way since the cake doesn't need gobs of frosting but stingy frosting certainly doesn't make for the prettiest cake.

Oh well.  That's why they call it homework.  The more I practice, the better I'll get, so I'll just keep chugging along.

And I didn't forget about practicing scones as homework!  Next up will be the three kinds of scones I baked to compare recipes and to practice my butter rubbing technique.  Fun times.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pro Baking I ~ Class 1 ~

I forgot to take my camera to class AND I deleted the first set of pictures I took accidentally so please bear with the sparse picture selection...
I started reading pastry textbooks in order to learn more about the science and technique behind baking, but no matter how much I read and experiment, it just doesn’t compare to watching a professional work and stealing their methods.  I imagine this is why apprenticeships always involve a lot of watching and mimicry.  

So, I decided to just go for it and signed up to take New School of Cooking’s Pro I Baking course.  It meets every Sunday morning for 10 weeks and it’s pricey, but it’s perfect for someone like me who can’t afford to attend a full time CIA or Le Cordon Bleu type school.  Although Le Cordon Bleu in Hollywood has a Food History course I’m DYING to take...

Streusel topping!

Anyhoo, Class 1 started off with Quickbreads.  Technically, a quickbread is a bread or cake that uses a chemical leavener.  That basically amounts to muffins, carrot cakes, biscuits, and scones, among others.

After the lecture that went into much more detail that that one measly sentence above, our teacher Carol walked through making a carrot cake.  Then she demonstrated how to make currant scones and blueberry streusel muffins.  After that, we were off measuring and mixing and making our own scones and muffins.  We got to taste her carrot cake but the making part was homework, although in this class, homework is a loose term.  It's not exactly required so it just depends on if you feel like practicing or not.

How did everything turn out you ask?

The blueberry muffin was perfectly moist, not too sweet, with a walnut streusel.  I love streusel topping, although I prefer an oat based one over a nut based one, but who can say no to butter, sugar, and nuts?  It was a good, solid blueberry muffin, but not my favorite.  I think I like creamed ones more, ones that use butter instead of oil.  But I have to try another recipe before I can be sure.  My friends who tried these raved about them though.  They're definitely better than Starbucks, that's for sure.

Currants, with little flecks of orange zest

As for the scones--the texture of these little guys was the best I’ve ever made.  They didn't turn out very pretty and my squares ended up a bit odd shaped, but they were moist while being the right amount of crumbly with that crust.  I could do without the sugar topping though.  Next time, I'm going with an egg wash to get that golden colored top.  Practice makes perfect so I'll get cracking on these.

Definitely don't need extra butter on these guys!

I'm excited to try making the carrot cake.  The one Teacher baked in class was ridiculously moist, spiced, and just really yummy.  Usually I need a lot of cream cheese frosting to mask the mediocre quality of the carrot cake layer(s), but not in this one.  I can see why The Appropriated Muffin posted the recipe on her site.  That's where I first read about it.  She called it the best carrot cake ever so I was going to try it but then the class came up.  Now I know where the recipe is from and I'm excited to try it myself, especially since I can't remember the last time I made carrot cake.

Time for some homework!