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Posts Tagged ‘baked goods’

This past week, even though it’s still rather warm here in Southern California, I’ve definitely noticed the changes that mark the movement of Summer into Autumn.  They’re very subtle, and someone who hasn’t lived here for most of their lives wouldn’t necessarily notice–how the morning air is just a few degrees cooler, the afternoon light tilts just slightly casting a warm glow across the skies, even though it’s still 85 degrees outside.  With the seasonal nestiness kicking in, my thoughts have been moving to some of my favorite things to make–roasts, braises, and the like.  Tonight, I made some last minute plans to have friends over for dinner, so I wanted some uncomplicated dishes that I knew I could put together easily–a Roast Chicken with root vegetables cooked in the pan; a salad… but what about dessert?

Yes, even with living a primal lifestyle, dessert can and does come into the equation.  The occasional sweet thing is not verboten, and with a little tweak here and there, you can make something spectacular.  Here at El Rancho, I had a bag of pears sitting on my counter that needed some attention, and I KNEW what I had to make.

Taking the firmest of the pears, they got the peeling and coring of their lives.

A vanilla bean was split down the middle and scraped of its insides (wow, that sounds awfully violent, doesn’t it?) and blended with some melted butter and local Orange Blossom Honey.  After the pears took a little bath in this magical syrup, they were nestled in one of my favorite roasting dishes and put in the oven for an hour.

What came out:

And I’m not joking when I tell you these smelled amazing when they came out of the oven.  The pears with the honey, vanilla and a splash of lemon just works.   What’s fantastic is that the juices mix with the syrup and caramelize into this sauce you could pretty much wear as a perfume.  It’s so simple, but one of these guys with a spoonful of whipped crème fraiche and a handful of fresh raspberries… okay, words don’t do it justice.

I admit:  not the greatest picture.  Not gonna apologize for it, either–that pear was warm, the crème fraiche was melting, and I needed to PUT IT IN MY MOUTH.

Honey-Vanilla Roasted Pears

  • 4 firm pears, peeled, cut in half and cored
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup butter, plus extra for pan
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Butter roasting dish and arrange pears cut side up
  3. Split vanilla bean and scrape seeds.
  4. Add seeds to a small saucepan with the honey, butter, lemon juice and melt on low heat until butter has melted and created a syrup.
  5. Tuck the remaining vanilla bean with the pears, pour syrup over the pears, making sure some of the syrup is in the core of each pear.
  6. Roast for about 30 minutes, then turn over and roast another 20-30 minutes until the pears are fork-tender.
  7. Turn the pears cut side up again, and brush juices over the tops.
  8. If you’d like a little extra browning like I did, turn broiler on low and broil the tops for 3-5 minutes.
  9. Serve warm with whipped crème fraiche or if you’re feeling decadent, some great vanilla ice cream.

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Yow, that was a long title.

Hey, can you believe it’s been this long since I’ve posted?  I’ve been a bad, bad food blogger, not getting pictures of anything interesting when I’ve made it.   Most of my holiday baking this year I’ve already posted about before, but I do have something new for you guys.  Tomorrow is the office holiday party, and we all know how much of a drag those things are, but I still wanted to bring something fun and tasty for the office.  These were a whole lot faster than trying to decorate an army of gingerbread men, but they’re full of spice, a little dense and moist, and the orange zest in the frosting helps keep the whole thing from getting too heavy.  As for decorating, go silly with sprinkles, or get elegant with some fine slivers of crystalized ginger.  You can see which way I went.

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean-Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes approximately 22 cupcakes

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup boiling water
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Sift together flour, baking soda, spices and salt
  3. Beat butter, sugar and molasses at medium speed until smooth and light.
  4. Beat in eggs one at a time, and scrape bowl between each egg.
  5. Add flour mixture alternating with boiling water, beating in at low speed after each addition.
  6. Spoon batter into paper-lined muffin cups and bake 20-25 minutes.
  7. Cool in pans for 5 minutes, then cool completely on wire rack before frosting.

Vanilla Bean-Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1-8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped (save pod for another use)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh orange zest
  • 1 pound confectioner’s sugar
  1. Beat cream cheese, butter, vanilla seeds and orange zest until fluffy.
  2. Gradually beat in confectioner’s sugar and beat until smooth.

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Growing up, there were two uses for pumpkins:  pie and jack o’lanterns.  I never heard of pumpkin in soups or curries or quick breads, and can you imagine, the little pumpkin-pie-lover that I am, to be opened to those possibilities?  Of course, I still love carving pumpkins for Hallowe’en:

We’ve had a surfeit of pumpkins and other winter squashes coming in with our CSA box–Long Island Cheese Pumpkins, Butternut Squash, Delicata Squash–perhaps not great for carving, but absolutely delicious when roasted and pureed into soups, and in this case, a savory tart.  It’s rich stuff, with butter and sour cream and sweetened ever-so-slightly with caramelized onions and the natural sugars that develop with roasting squash.  I’ll admit something to you–because I was baking this on Hallowe’en evening, and along with getting ready for the Big Night, I cheated and used a Pillsbury Pie Crust.  I KNOW, I KNOW, I can make pate brisee and it would have been so much better, but I was in a time crunch you guys!  Anyway, it was a huge hit with Choo, who shares my love of all that is pumpkin.

I used a blend of a few different squashes–I had roasted a pan full of pumpkin, butternut squash, and delicata to help clear some counter space earlier in the week.  Roasting winter squashes is incredibly easy:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°
  2. Cut squashes into large pieces, scrape out seeds and stringy pulp.  You can peel them, but it’s really not necessary–the flesh can be easily scraped out after roasting.
  3. Toss in just enough olive oil to coat pieces lightly, and if using squash for savory dishes, add a head’s worth of garlic cloves.
  4. Roast in oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until flesh is browned and tender.

If you have extra puree, then it’s fine to store in the freezer in an airtight container.

Even though I served it for dinner, this tart would make an excellent Autumn brunch dish–it would go perfectly with a mixed greens salad with fall notes (pomegranate seeds, candied walnuts, chevre, etc.).

Savory Winter Squash & Caramelized Onion Tart

  • 1/2 batch of Pate Brisee (or one refrigerated pie crust if you’re a cheater like me)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 large Maui Sweet onion, sliced
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 1/4 cups roasted squash puree, any combination of pumpkin, butternut squash or delicata
  • 5 cloves roasted garlic
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 Tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 10-12 fresh sage leaves (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 425°
  2. Roll out pate brisee and line a 9″ tart pan.  Cover and refrigerate lined tart pan for 20 minutes.
  3. Blind bake tart crust for 10-12 minutes.  Blind baking is done by lining dough with a layer parchment paper and filling crust with pie weights such as dried beans, rice, ceramic beads.  Set aside to cool slightly and turn oven down to 350°
  4. Melt butter in a skillet on medium-low heat and add onions.  Gently cook until soft and add thyme.  Slowly cook onions on low heat until caramelized, about 20-30 minutes.  Remove thyme branches and set aside.
  5. In a food processor, add squash puree, roasted garlic cloves and caramelized onions (and any melted butter remaining in the pan) and pulse until smooth.
  6. Add sour cream, eggs, cream, salt and pepper to food processor and pulse until incorporated fully, scraping sides down with a rubber spatula at least once.
  7. Pour into prepared tart shell and decorate with sage leaves if desired.  Bake for 30-35 minutes until center is set and top is browned.

 

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The strawberries are out in full force at the farmer’s markets right now; the bounty coming in from Ventura and Oxnard brings that heady, sweet perfume of fresh berries that wanders along the stalls, enticing you to stop and get a sample of one of those juicy little sugarbombs.  I picked up a 3-pack of some gorgeous, small, deep-red berries that packed a real punch of flavor for their size.

Now, when I have plans for a strawberry dessert, I usually either go with a pie or strawberry shortcake, but I was ready for something new.  I remembered a cake I had made years ago, with layers of meringue, strawberries and whipped cream, and I knew that’s what I wanted to make.

A dacquoise is a type of cake made with layers of nut meringue;  often, it is filled with ganache, mousse, and/or buttercream–Marjolaine is the perfect example of a dacquoise.  I decided to go with a deconstructed version, using freshly made lemon curd as a bright and tart replacement for ganache, sliced strawberries, lightly sweetened whipped cream, and crunchy-chewy almond meringues.

After baking, let the meringue layers cool completely.   This is a dessert, once assembled, that should be served within an hour or two, as the meringue softens after being in contact with the fillings.  However, the meringues can be made the night before, and left to cool in the oven overnight.  The lemon curd can also be made well in advance and stored in an airtight container.

Sure, it’s a little messy, but for this dessert, the point of it is being simple and casual–capturing the essence of early summer, like strawberries in season at the market, sitting outside drinking lemonade, and having a fun dinner with friends out on the patio.

Strawberry & Lemon Dacquoise

Meringue Layers

  • 1 1/4 cups whole almonds
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 6 large egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 275°.  Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Trace one 8″ diameter circle on to each sheet and turn paper over.
  2. Pulse almonds in food processor with cornstarch and 2 tablespoons sugar until finely ground.
  3. Beat egg whites at medium speed with an electric mixer until foamy, and add cream of tartar and a pinch of salt, then gradually beat in remaining sugar and vanilla.  Increase speed to high and beat until the egg whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks.
  4. Fold ground almonds gently into meringue.  Pipe or spread meringue evenly into the traced circles on parchment.
  5. Bake for approximately 1 hour until firm and golden.   Slide meringues onto a cooling rack while still on parchment.  When ready to assemble meringues, gently peel parchment off.

Lemon Curd (from marthastewart.com)

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest, plus 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces
  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, zest and egg yolks then whisk in lemon juice and salt.
  2. Add butter and place pan over medium-high heat.  Cook, whisking constantly until butter has melted, mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, and small bubble form around the edge of the pan, about 5 minutes (do not boil).
  3. Remove pan from heat while continuing to whisk.  Pour curd while still hot through a fine mesh sieve into a glass bowl.  Press plastic wrap against the surface of curd and refrigerate until cool.

Note:  this recipe makes approximately 2 cups; I found this to be pretty generous for the recipe, and had about 1/2 cup leftover.  Then again, I really don’t see a problem with having some extra lemon curd hanging around the house.

Filling and Assembly

  • 4 cups sliced fresh strawberries, plus 10-12 whole strawberries for decoration
  • 2 cups cold whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Whip cream with sugar and vanilla extract until it holds a soft peak.
  2. Place first meringue on a plate and spread about a 3/4 cup of lemon curd across the surface of meringue.
  3. Place half of the sliced strawberries on top of lemon curd.
  4. Spoon 1/3 of whipped cream on top of strawberries, and spread to cover.
  5. Place 2nd meringue layer atop whipped cream and repeat with lemon curd, berries, and 1/3 of the whipped cream.
  6. Top with final layer of meringue, spread remaining whipped cream on top, and decorate with whole berries.
  7. Best served within 2 hours of assembly.

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Sometimes, I wonder who on the Peach Board got the ear of the nation when it came to their fruit.  Let’s face it, Americans love peaches, and even the word peach is a part of our lexicon;  we’ll call someone a peach when we think they’re a nice, sweet person.  But… what about the other stone fruits?  Plums do get some recognition, but it seems like nectarines and apricots are a bit like the red-headed stepchildren of the stone fruit world.

The funny thing is, nectarines are essentially peaches, as they’re of the same species; they’re peaches that have a recessive gene that creates the nectarine’s smooth skin as opposed to the notable fuzzy skin of the peach.

You know what that means, right?  Anything you could make out of peaches can be made of nectarines.

Stone fruits are perfect for cobblers.  Juicy summer fruit topped with a buttermilk biscuit dough and baked?  Why, yes, please.  I love the addition of blueberries–they work so nicely with nectarines and peaches, and they’re so good for you.

Besides, it’s healthy because it’s fruit, right?  There’s something after a summer dinner of grilled meats that a bowlful of warm fruit, buttery biscuit and a ginormous scoop of ice cream that is just So. Right.

Nectarine Blueberry Cobbler

  • 5 cups fresh nectarines, sliced
  • 3 cups fresh blueberries (frozen can be used in a pinch, I promise, I won’t tell)
  • 3/4 to 1 cup sugar (check the sweetness of your fruit)
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 2 Tablespoons Tapioca*
  • 2 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • appx. 3/4 cup buttermilk
  1. Preheat oven to 400°.
  2. In a large bowl, toss nectarines, blueberries, sugar, lemon juice and tapioca and set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.
  4. Add butter to dry mixture, and cut with a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) until butter pieces are about pea-sized or smaller.
  5. Pour in buttermilk and stir until liquid is absorbed–don’t overwork–dough should be lumpy and on the wet side, like a drop biscuit.
  6. Butter a 9 x 13 pan and add fruit; spoon biscuit dough on top of fruit, spreading slightly to even out.
  7. Bake for about 30 minutes–top should be well-browned and the fruit will be bubbling through the cracks in the topping.
  8. Let cool about 15 minutes before serving with ice cream or whipped cream.

*Dry tapioca can be found where you would find pudding mixes at your local market.

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This is something we all know as the honest-to-god truth:  there’s nothing quite like homemade bread.  It’s just one of those happy scents that when it’s wafting through your house, you know there’s going to be something delicious on the table. 

See, last week I had a hankerin’ for some Middle Eastern food.  You know the drill:  hummous, baba ganoush, tzatziki, falafel, and pita bread.  I thought I’d give doing my own pita a shot again;  I had done it during those long-ago days of school, so I knew it wasn’t hard to do.  And, really, if you’ve ever made a loaf of bread in your life, making your own pita is a snap. 

This recipe makes a good amount of dough–I got a dozen 6″ pita breads, which is plenty for our little family.  The great thing about leftover pita bread:  it makes delicious pita chips.  All you do is cut them into 1/6 wedges, toss them in some olive oil and salt, and toast them in a 400 degree oven until crispy.  You’ll make pita bread just for the purpose of making chips, I tell you. 

Kiddo got into the act with helping roll out the breads. 

A great thing about pita is that it cooks fast–it’s just a few minutes on a pizza stone or sheet pan in a hot oven.  This is definitely worth the effort of making your own.

Pita Bread – Recipe adapted from Flatbreads & Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

  • 2 teaspoons regular dry yeast
  • 2.5 cups lukewarm water
  • 5-6 cups all-purpose flour (I used a 50/50 combination of whole wheat and white flours)
  • 1 tablespoon table salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water, and stir in one cup of flour and let sit for about 15-20 minutes. 
  2. Add salt, olive oil, and flour in 1 cup increments to the sponge (that bubbly flour-yeast mixture–it’s called a sponge, but you knew that, right?), stirring until the dough is too stiff to stir.  Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, or knead in a KitchenAid with a dough hook for about 6 to 8 minutes.
  3. Place dough in a clean and lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 90 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 450°.  Heat pizza stone or baking sheet in oven.
  5. Punch dough down, and divide into 10-12 pieces, and roll into balls.  On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/4″ thick.
  6. Place 2 or 3 breads onto heated stone/sheet and bake for 3 to 4 minutes, until bread has fully ballooned.  If your bread doesn’t balloon, it’s okay, it’ll still be very tasty.
  7. Keep baked pita wrapped in a clean kitchen towel to keep warm while the rest of the breads bake. 

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Ah, pretzels… a staple of ballparks and Oktoberfests everywhere.  There’s just something to the way they smell, the chew to the crust, the crunch of pretzel salt that brings back memories of good times.  Nowadays, you can find a pretzel stand at every neighborhood mall, and even though they may be tasty, they’re often doused with butter, oversalted, and the crust is all wrong. 

Surprisingly, they’re not as difficult as you may think to make at home, and they’re a great project for the kids in regards to the kneading and shaping of the pretzels. 

I started off with Alton Brown’s recipe as it seems to garnered quite a few good reviews;  I did make a few adjustments to the recipe to suit my personal tastes (don’t I always do that?).  While making the dough, I ended up having to add about an extra 1/2 cup of flour–it was a rainy night, and I do believe that affected the dough by being far too sticky to work with at the start.  I also cut down the amount of baking soda to a 1/4 cup in the boiling solution.  Adding an alkaline is necessary for the distinctive pretzel crust;  In Germany, the pretzels are dipped in a food-grade lye solution before baking. 

Yes.  Lye, the same stuff that’s in Draino and is used in soap-making.  It’s used in other foodstuffs:  it is what makes whitefish into lutefisk and corn into hominy.  I’m not going to tell you not to use it, but if you do (all the directions are out there and easily Googled), use all the proper precautions, because it is, even though it’s food-grade and diluted in water, it’s still a corrosive chemical.   Use goggles, gloves, and most importantly, common sense.  Here, for our uses today, it’ll be baking soda. 

The last adjustment I made to the recipe is I just didn’t bother with pretzel salt, mainly because I’m old and have to watch my sodium these days.  Boo, hiss, I know–but my fingers get all puffy if I’ve overindulged in the salty stuff.  I just gave them a very light sprinkle of kosher salt.   If you’re feeling fancy (and I may do this myself next time), they’d go nicely with a dusting of garlic powder and parmesan cheese, or perhaps a few jalapeño slices and a sprinkling of cheddar cheese just before baking. 

Alton Brown’s Soft Homemade Pretzels

  • 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil, for pan
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Pretzel salt

Directions

Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

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