Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Twice-Baked Biscuit

My good friend Rocio is in Bologna for the semester. We miss her a lot and we like to have parties. Therefore, we decided to celebrate her birthday, even though she wouldn't be here to share in the festivities. Oh well. (Note: this was back in September, but I just got the photos off of my friend's camera now, so you willl have to deal.)

I decided to make one treat pertaining to her current residence in Italy, and another honoring her Mexican-American heritage. The Mexican-American heritage treat came out a big soggy mess not worthy of this illustrious blog, but the biscotti was great! I had never made it before (well, sort of — my people call it mandel bread) and it's not my favorite, but I couldn't think of any other Italian sweets, so biscotti it was.

I ran into my friend Mike on the Main Green the day I was to bake it. He's also going to Bologna second semester, and we had the following conversation:

Sarah: I'm making biscotti today! I've never made it, and I don't know anything about it except that you're supposed to bake it twice.
Mike: Yeah, "biscotti" is actually Italian for "twice-baked."
Sarah: Oh really? I always thought it mean "biscuit."
Mike: Yeah, no... (backs away slowly lest my ignorance infect him.)

So, armed with my hard-won biscotti knowledge, I embarked on what was, to be honest, a fairly straightforward endeavor. I picked a chocolate biscotti recipe (from Dorie, natch), since the Mexican cake was non-chocolate. The only thing I didn't do in the recipe was stand up the biscotti like little soldiers, because they didn't have flat ends, but I don't mind because I prefer biscotti that's not too hard and in laying them down flat, only one side got crispy. After the disaster that was the Mexican cake, I was glad these turned out so well. A lot of people who, like me, are not wild biscotti enthusiasts said that they were delicious and ate them all up before the party was through!

Chocolate Biscotti Recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tbsp instant coffee or instant espresso powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar (I always use a bit less, more like 3/4)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped almonds (or hazelnuts - next time)
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat.

Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa, coffee powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

With a mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed for about 2 minutes until light. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the eggs and vanilla; beat for another 2 minutes. Decrease the speed to low and mix in the dry ingredients in 3 additions, mixing only until a dough forms. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix in the chopped nuts and chocolate.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead a few times just to incorporate any dry ingredients that didn't get mixed in before. Divide into two portions; on the baking sheet, shape each portion into a 12 x 2 inch log. Dust the tops with a little sugar. Bake for 25 minutes.

Remove the sheet from the oven and let it cool on a rack for 20 minutes. Then, with a very sharp, serrated knife, slice the logs into about 3/4 - 1 inch slices and leave the slices standing up on the baking sheet. Return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes of baking.

Transfer biscotti to a rack to cool.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Backtrack to Rosh Hashanah

So, I know I said I didn't get a chance to take pictures of anything I baked on Rosh Hashanah, which is true, but I had these pictures sitting in my backlog and I realized -- hey I baked these cookies for Rosh Hashanah. So these are not the actual Rosh Hashanah cookies, but they are the same recipe. Sarah promised she would blog about these but never did, so here you go.

These are Dorie's Molasses Spice Cookies and they are yummy. They have a good kick of spice, but also some sweetness from the sugar that they are rolled in. They freeze really well and you can make them parve, but substituting margarine for the butter. I would say that these are probably my favorite non-chocolate cookies (and are even better than some chocolate cookies). I have made them a bunch of times and they always turn out well, which is good in a cookie. The only thing I would say is don't overcook them, or they get too hard to eat. They will bake up really puffy and deflate when they come out of the oven, which is totally fine.

Perhaps Sarah has some more (funnier) words of wisdom on these cookies.

Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies
Page 77 from Baking from My Home to Yours
2.5 C flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
pinch cracked or coarsely ground black pepper (or more)
12 TB unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 C (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 C molasses (not blackstrap)
1 large egg

About 1/2 C sugar, for rolling

Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and pepper.

With a mixer, beat the butter until smooth and creamy. Add brown sugar and molaasses and beat for app. 2 min. to blend. Add egg and beat for 1 min. more. Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients, mixing until flour and spices disappear. If some flour remains on bottom of bowl, to avoid overbeating, mix by hand with a rubber spatula. Dough will be smooth and very soft. Divide dough in half and wrap each piece in plastic wrap. Freeze for 30 min. or refrigerate for at least 1 hour (or up to 4 days).

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats. Put the sugar in a small bowl. Working with one packet of dough at a time, divide it into 12 pieces and roll each piece into a smooth ball between your palms. One by one, roll the balls around in the bowl of sugar, then place them on the baking sheets. dip the bottom of a glass into the sugar and use it to press down on the cookies until they are between .25 and .5" thick.

Bake one sheet at a time for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the tops feel set to the touch. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and, iaf the cookies have spread anda re touching, use the edge of a spatula to separate them while they are still hot. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool to room temperature.

Repeat with the second batch of dough.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"The Cover Cake"

In continuing our celebration of all things Dorie* (either this is leading up to my finally meeting her or we just really like her), I present to you: Devil's Food Whiteout Cake, aka the cover cake, from the cover of Baking From My Home to Yours.

Last week was extremely stressful for me in terms of schoolwork and other things, and oddly, I'm in a phase of my life/baking where my response to a really difficult week is to want to make a really complicated cake. This one fit the bill. I always consider it a "special occasion" cake; the only time I'd ever made it before last week was when my brother-in-law's parents came to meet Baby Simon for the first time, and that was certainly a special occasion!

After making the batter, I thought to myself, "I don't know why I thought this cake was so temperamental. It's really not that difficult." Indeed, my spankin' new $2.15 pans from Stop n' Shop were doing beautifully, and although the layers were thin the cake cut with ease and elegance.

And then I remembered the frosting. And that the frosting requires a candy thermometer. And that I'm a ghetto baker. Whoops.

So I just soldiered along as best I could, desperately praying that when Dorie said to cook the syrup to 242 degrees she was just using that as a sort of estimate. (Don't you always use a nice round number like 242 when you're estimating things?) Anyway, I figured that 242 degrees is hot, so using the extremely scientific metric of when it got hot, I removed the syrup and hoped for the best.
Well, it wasn't the best but it wasn't the worst. The frosting certainly looked nice and whipped well, but flavor-wise it was slightly...tangy. Maybe it was the cream of tartar, I don't know.

When I tell people that it was tangy they get a look of horror on their faces; no one wants tangy marshmallow frosting. But it wasn't actually that bad. It was only
slightly tangy. Of course, it would have been better had it not been tangy at all, but the crumbs on the side of the cake did a good job of masking it.

It wasn't that bad, really! I gave it to my friends who live in another suite and they finished it off in a day, so I guess the tangy-ness did not interfere with their enjoyment too much.

*I admit, I cheated on Dorie with Julia from
Dozen Flours. I made the Stargazer Pie with my tutoring student, Jerryline. Jerryline is eight and loves to bake, but like a lot of eight year olds she isn't very good with measuring and mixing and things like that, so the fact that the recipe called for pre-made cookie dough and brownie mix made everything much safer. We brought the cake back to her house for her brother Solomon's eighteenth birthday, and it was a hit. It's incredibly rich, though; I ate half a piece at 4:30 and didn't eat anything else for the rest of the day. Worth it.

Here is the cover cake recipe, from the blog of the person who chose it for Tuesdays with Dorie:

Devil's Food White-Out Cake
Source: Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours p. 247-9
Makes 12 servings

For the cake

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1/2 cup buttermilk or whole milk, at room temperature
1/2 cup boiling water
4 ounces semisweet or milk chocolate, finely chopped, or 2/3 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

For the filling and frosting
1/2 cup egg whites (about 4 large)
1 cup sugar
3/4 tsp cream of tartar

1 cup water
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract

GETTING READY: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8-x-2-inch round cake pans, dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess and line the bottoms with parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

TO MAKE THE CAKE: Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugars and continue to beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla; don't be concerned if the mixture looks curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the melted chocolate. When it is fully incorporated, add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, adding the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the milk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients); scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter. At this point, the batter will be thick, like frosting. Still working on low speed, mix in the boiling water, which will thin the batter considerably. Switch to a rubber spatula, scrape down the bowl and stir in the chopped chocolate. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with the rubber spatula.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the centers will come out clean. Don't worry if the tops have a few small cracks. Transfer the cake pans to a rack and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (The cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.)

When you are ready to fill and frost the cake, inspect the layers. If the cakes have crowned, use a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to even them. With the same knife, slice each layer horizontally in half. Set 3 layers aside and crumble the fourth layer; set the crumbs aside.

TO MAKE THE FILLING AND FROSTING: Put the egg whites in a clean, dry mixer bowl or in another large bowl. Have a candy thermometer at hand.

Put the sugar, cream of tartar and water in a small saucepan and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, cover the pan and boil for 3 minutes. Uncover and allow the syrup to boil until it reaches 242 degrees F on the candy thermometer. While the syrup is cooking, start beating the egg whites.

When the syrup is at about 235 degrees F, begin beating the egg whites on medium speed with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer. If the whites form firm, shiny peaks before the syrup reaches temperature, reduce the mixer speed to low and keep mixing the whites until the syrup catches up. With the mixer at medium speed, and standing back slightly, carefully pour in the hot syrup, pouring it between the beater(s) and the side of the bowl. Splatters are inevitable—don't try to scrape them into the whites, just carry on. Add the vanilla extract and keep beating the whites at medium speed until they reach room temperature, about 5 minutes. You should have a smooth, shiny, marshmallowy frosting. Although you could keep it in the fridge in a pinch, it's really better to use it right now.

TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE: Put a bottom layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or on a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Using a long metal icing spatula, cover the layer generously with frosting. Top with a second layer, cut side up, and frost it. Finish with the third layer, cut side down, and frost the sides and top of the cake. Don't worry about smoothing the frosting—it should be swirly. Now, cover the entire cake with the chocolate cake crumbs, gently pressing the crumbs into the filling with your fingers.

Refrigerate the cake for about 1 hour before serving. (If it's more convenient, you can chill the cake for 8 hours or more; cover it loosely and keep it away from foods with strong odors.)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Black and White and Pudding All Over

This week is the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. On Sukkot, Jews are commanded to make their sukkot (little booths) like their homes, and one of the ways to do that is to eat in your sukkah. That means all meals must be eaten outside and a meal is anything that involves bread or cake or things like that. Since we don't have a sukkah, and we have a baby, sometimes it a challenge to get to a sukkah, so I have to be creative about what to eat (especially for dessert) if I can't get to a sukkah. Since most cake and cookies are out, pudding seemed like a good option. I saw on Tuesdays with Dorie that they were making split level pudding this week (Tuesdays with Dorie is a group that bakes a recipe from Dorie each week and posts it on Tuesdays) and I decided to bake along.

I had a little trouble with the texture of this pudding. Although I have made ganache a number of times, this time, it came out kind of grainy. Don't know why. In addition, the vanilla pudding looked amazing after I cooked it on the stove and was just the right texture. However, the recipe says to put it back in the blender for a minute after cooking and all of a sudden it was liquid. I whisked in some more cornstarch, which, after letting it set in the fridge, I think was a mistake. It has more of the texture of flan than pudding now. I should have just left it after taking it off the stove.

Even with all the problems, it was delicious. I think I am going to try Dorie's chocolate pudding next. Don't you just love pudding?

You can find the recipe here, on the blog of the person who chose it for Tuesdays with Dorie. Let me know if you make this and if you solve the texture problems.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Another Autumn Treat (Made During Summer)

So, I did a lot of baking for Rosh Hashanah. I made apple cake, orange cake, chocolate sorbet and a few other things I can't remember. However, due to an unfortunately timed stomach flu, I could not take pictures of any of it. However, the week before Rosh Hashanah I made this cake, which I think is a little taste of fall, since these small Italian prune plums only come out in the fall. However, here in Texas, fall doesn't come (as far as I can tell), but the fruit does.

This is a recipe I have made before. It is from Dorie, obviously, and it is called Dimply Plum Cake. It is really, really good. The first I made this, I made it with large plums, and did not need all 8 plums that the recipe calls for. When I made it with the smaller plums, I did use all eight. I think it is much better with the small plums, because when you cut it, everyone gets a plum, and you don't have to hack away at cooked fruit, which is always a plus. Anyway, you should make this cake when you are in a fall mood. It is a good cake to mark the transition from fall to summer.

Here's the recipe:

Dimply Plum Cake

- makes 8 servings -
Adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Scant 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cup flavorless oil, such as canola or sunflower
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
8 purple or red plums, halved and pitted


Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan, dust the inside with flour, tap out the excess and put the pan on a baking sheet.

1. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom, if you’re using it.

2. Working with a mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until it’s soft and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes, then add the eggs, one at a time, and beat for a minute after each egg goes in. Still working on medium speed, beat in the oil, zest and vanilla—the batter will look smooth and creamy, almost satiny. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated.

3. Run a spatula around the bowl and under the batter, just to make sure there are no dry spots, then scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Arrange the plums cut side up in the batter—I usually make four rows of four plum halves each—jiggling the plums a tad just so they settle comfortably into the batter.

4. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top is honey brown and puffed around the plums and a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 15 minutes—during which time the plums’ juices will seep back into the cake—then run a knife around the sides of the pan and unmold the cake. Invert and cool right side up.

Storing: You can wrap the cake and keep it at room temperature for up to 2 days, during which time it will get softer and moister.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

An Autumn Treat

"Friday evenings, people get together,
Hiding from the weather.
Tea and toasted, buttered currant buns
Can't compensate for lack of sun,
Because the summer's all gone."

It's fall in Rhode Island. That means the leaves are turning, the weather is brisk, the sun goes in and out all day, and it's time for some crisp New England apples. I love fall so much. It's my favorite season, except all the other ones. No, really, I couldn't pick a favorite season because I love them all! That's why I could never live in a place that has no seasons, like California. To me, there's nothing better than sitting underneath a big oak tree on the Main Green with a book while the leaves fall all around you- unless it's catching snowflakes with your tongue in winter, or watching the cherry blossoms come out in spring, or having a picnic on a warm summer evening. But each time a new season rolls around, I get convinced that it's the best season, and it's been the same this fall. It's the kind of weather that makes you want to wear some wine-colored corduroys and brown boots and walk around listening to "Autumn Almanac" while staring up at the foliage (all of which I did today, thank you!).

Yesterday was the weekly Brown Farmers' Market. After buying my customary baguette from the Seven Stars Bakery stand and my customary brownie from...that lady who makes really delicious fudgy brownies (gotta get my hands on that recipe), I espied some applesauce at the Hill Orchard stand, and I immediately thought of this recipe.

I had always wanted to make Dorie's Applesauce Spice Bars from page 117 of Baking from My Home to Yours, because the picture just looked incredibly enticing.

The picture

But the number of ingredients in the recipe always threw me. Now that I've made it, I realize it's not that many ingredients, but said ingredients included applesauce, which is not my favorite and is not something that I usually have around (especially now that I'm back at school and back to ghetto baking. I'll take a picture of my "pantry" one day and you'll laugh.) Yet I obtained applesauce, and I had some heavy cream left over from my friend Warren's birthday cake, so I was all set.

These were easy-peasy to make. Though peeling, coring and chopping the Cortland apple was as annoying as such tasks always are, the dough came together beautifully. I left out the optional alcohol (since I'm not 21) and the raisins (since they just didn't seem necessary), but everything was fine with just the apples and pecans.

Better than fine, in fact. These were the reactions the bars inspired:

"Mmm. Mmmm! MMMMM!" -My suitemate Devon

"Rebecca, I just found a recipe that we NEED to make when you come home." -Me, on the phone with Rebecca

And perhaps most indicative of all: I cut fifteen bars. Before I left at 4:00, Devon ate one and I ate one. When I came back, there were four left. Now, there are three girls in my suite besides me. They are all very thin. They think that cauliflower makes the perfect dessert. They're in Running Club. This is not to make them out as anorexics — in fact, they dutifully eat everything I bake. But this is definitely a record.

Everything about these bars makes them perfect for fall. They're cake-like in texture, very moist (although that may just be the dorm oven's chronic tendency to undercook things.) I used Cortland apples, which held up extremely well in the baking- they're practically still juicy, and I love the way they taste with the pecans. Originally, I was going to make another batch of glaze because I thought it was spread too thin, but I was out of brown sugar, and now I'm glad. The glaze is delicious, but its sweetness might have overwhelmed the subtlety of the flavor. If you love baking, apples, fall or all things sweet and good in this world, make these applesauce spice bars!
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