Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hallo Deutschland

Hi all!

I'll be on my way to Germany to visit the Resident Taste Tester in one day. Don't worry, I'll be back in late October. Until then, I'll be eating a lot of Brot, wishing us away to Paris for a weekend, and I might even wear a Drindl.

Hang tight and keep baking.

X Melissa

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ladyfingers: Paving the Road to Tiramisu

 Ladyfingers piled into a tin shortly before being soaked in cold espresso.

I've done mis en place for tiramisu many, many times. I've even assembled these parts into a visually appealing (well, more or less given my fear of high speed plating) dessert on occasion. However, I've never made one of the very basic parts that arguably comprises a good two-thirds of the finished cake volume: Ladyfingers.

 Egg whites and sugar beat to stiff peaks.

Why on earth would you make the ladyfingers when you can buy them at the store and save yourself some time? I understand that at home, making tiramisu might seem like a lengthy process and the prospect of making each and every one of those little cookies (some of which break or dissolve to mush during the espresso soaking) sounds daunting, but I just can't help myself.

 Flour being folded into beaten egg yolks and sugar.

I need to know how things are made. I've come a long way from mixing flour, water, and food dye and "baking" it in the sun (I was a kid!), but the curiosity remains.

 Vaguely neat rows of piped batter.

Like I said, I've made tiramisu before, so that's part of the reason I won't go over the recipe (the other being it's not mine to share - oooh secret recipes). This, my friends, is about the humble ladyfinger.

 What I was aiming for.

Adapted from Delicious Days

Yields 25+ ladyfingers (these lovely approximations pop up when I start pinching cookies before the counting is done)

3  eggs, divided
90g  sugar*
1 tsp  vanilla
60g  flour
powdered sugar
  1.  Preheat the oven to 200C (390F) and line two trays with silpats or parchment paper.
  2. Combine the yolks and about half the sugar in a bowl and beat to around ribbon stage (pale yellow, thick, and leaves a trail when dribbled on the surface of the mixture).
  3. Stir in vanilla.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the egg whites and the remaining sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.
  5. Sieve the flour into the yolk mixture and fold to clear (no flour remains visible).
  6. Add about one-third of the beaten whites and mix to lighten the batter; gently fold in the remaining whites.
  7. Fill a piping bag with the batter, snip the tip off (to about half or three-quarters of an inch in diameter), and pipe the batter in lines about 4" long, 1" apart.
  8. Dust the piped batter with powdered sugar (be liberal with it!) and bake about 13 minutes until light golden brown.
  9. Immediately remove the ladyfingers from the parchment or silpat and place them directly on the oven rack.
  10. Crack the oven door an inch or two and allow the ladyfingers to cool inside.
  11. Enjoy immediately or store in an airtight container.
Ladyfinger Reflections

 Unique ladyfingers (like snowflakes, no two are exactly alike, at least not piped at my hands) placed in the tray to test for fit, pre-espresso soaking.

When these first came out of the oven, they were pretty soft cookies; a far cry from the stiff, boiling hot coffee resistant store bought breed I'd dealt with before. I decided to treat them like baguettes or any bread that I want a crisper crust on, hence steps 9 and 10. When they came out of the oven, they were a sturdier version of themselves, but still not nearly as tolerant of physical abuse as the pre-packaged variety, which was just fine by me.

The cookies are plain and pleasant enough on their own, very light and mildly sweet, the vanilla peaking through. Okay, pleasant enough that the Resident Taste Tester and I gobbled down a good handful without blinking.

 Home made tiramisu.

They did a lovely job in the tiramisu. I gave them a double turn in cold espresso and didn't have any of the problems of packaged ladyfingers (namely burning my hands trying to get the espresso all the way through without complete mushification). The RTT and I ate the cake straight away, and were both daunted by the task of finishing one piece each (these packed a triple layer of soaked ladyfingers and mascarpone, mind you); so rich and there seemed to be slightly too much mascarpone. But! After one night in the fridge, the cake had settled and found its stride; the textures and flavors and pieces all came together to make us swoon before lunch time.

Ladyfingers are not created equal. Rather, some are squiggly, some shorter or longer than 4", and some look, um, suggestive. None of this matters (at least, not to me personally). What does is that you took the time to make something from scratch just because, and it tastes mighty fine.

*I use this website for converting baking masses to and from volumes

Friday, September 17, 2010

Banana Zucchini Bread

Banana zucchini bread, fresh from the oven and cooling on the stove top burner grates.

When I was a kid, we had a small vegetable garden. Nothing elaborate, just some tomatoes, erratically growing sunflowers (with seeds we never ate), and most memorably, zucchini.

 One average sized grocery store zucchini yields about 1 cup when grated.

The zucchini would go unharvested until the squash dramatically presented itself, overshadowing and crushing the leafy vines from whence it came. These deep green behemoths would be piled on the worn surface of the kitchen table, only to be grated down into a soggy pile and integrated into a batter that would become zucchini bread.

All-purpose flour, oats, and ground flax seed.

I had no idea of what else people did with zucchini well into my teens. It certainly didn't show up in savory dishes at home, but during those summer days when my mom could be found buttering slices of zucchini bread any time between sunrise and sunset, I couldn't have cared less.

Banana Zucchini Bread
Adapted from Heather Duncan at allrecipes.com

Yields one loaf

1  whole egg
1  egg white

1  T olive oil
1/4 C  plain yogurt
1/2 C  packed brown sugar
1 C  grated zucchini
1  banana, mashed
1 tsp  vanilla

1 1/4 C  all purpose flour
1/4 C  oats
2 T  ground flax seed
1/2 T  ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp  ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp  salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp  baking soda

1/2 C  walnuts
  1. Preheat the oven to 325F (165C) and grease and flour a loaf tin.
  2. Beat egg and egg white to break up the membranes.
  3. Add the oil, yogurt, sugar, zucchini, banana, and vanilla and mix until homogenous.
  4. Add the flour, oats, flax seed, spices, and leavening agents and mix until homogenous.
  5. Fold in the walnuts.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin and bake about 60 minutes (most recipes call for 40-60 minutes, mine took about 75 minutes, so do the toothpick test, though this isn't entirely reliable here).
  7. Cool 45 minutes in the pan on a rack before unmolding and slicing.
  8. Enjoy!
Banana Zucchini Bread Reflections

 Slicing the banana zucchini bread reveals walnuts, stark white oats, and traces of green zucchini skin.

I played around with this recipe a lot and I would be lying if I said it was absolutely perfect. I could kick myself every time I go to bake and I don't have any whole wheat flour on hand. I added oats and ground flax seed to boost the fiber, reduced the sugar and oil, added yogurt to keep it moist, doubled the walnuts, and added more spices. All things considered, this is definitely a healthier version of the original.

The bread was oddly moist coming out of the oven at 75 minutes. I figured I'd let it rest the 20 suggested minutes and then try to slice it, but a pre-cooling test (which burned my fingers... oooh patience) hinted at the bread still not being cooked through all the way.

A good hour later (the bread still retaining some heat), I sliced it with my trusty bread knife. Zucchini bread is a mighty soft thing, and I'm sure sans nuts it could be tackled with a butter knife, but a sturdy, serrated knife was required in its thoroughly walnutted state.

Surprise! It was actually baked through. Another surprise: It was a tiny bit chewy, like over-done oatmeal (I like mine half-cooked with a splash of cold milk). And another surprise: Mildly sweet and not overbearing as the batter tasting suggested. No surprise: It's nothing like my mom's.

In the future, I would forgo the oatmeal and go straight for the all-purpose and wheat flours mix. I might add a tiny bit more sugar if I wanted something closer to home. All in all, it was a decent effort with decent results and something I'm not ashamed of. Still, I'll have to remember to ask my mom for that recipe soon and turn a blind eye to the amount of oil and sugar that pour on in because I just can't beat those summer memories.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

If I Knew You Were Coming, I'd Have Baked a Cake

I ran into this Sesame Street clip during my food blog wanderings (thanks Delicious Days for the reference and Nanto for posting on YouTube). I know I've been an incredible, bright-eyed procrastinator and have promised many-a-posts to you. With that said, I'm going to bake some zucchini bread (or maybe banana bread, if there's not enough zucchini) and post it tomorrow before the day is done.

I hope that making good on my promise will elicit renewed faith and readership. If I knew you were coming, I would have baked a cake.

Seriously, I would.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Teaser: Cupcakes and Apple Pie

There goes another month. Sorry!

Just a heads up: I'll be traveling here and there over the next few months, so updates may be severely jet-lagged and not just absent due to flat out negligence.

Here's a teaser on the next legit post: My friend A came to visit and we baked pie and cupcakes! Yay! You'll get the full post just as soon as I, um, find the recipes we used. Heh.

Happy baking everybody!