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Friday, August 26, 2011

Croissants - Mastered!

Aaaacckkk! I just went to make a batch of these and realized, the hard way, that there was a typo in my recipe. I have made the adjustment below so it is now correct; I had an extra cup of water written into the recipe. I'm so sorry if anyone ran into problems because of this!

I am so excited to share this with you today. I absolutely love it when I finally get something right. After my initial flops and then the tasty, but not quite the real thing attempt, it just makes me giddy to get it right. You should have seen me crouched in front of the oven the other night giggling with excitement as I watched these bad boys bake.

I've made three batches of these things in the last four days. The first batch was good, but wasn't folded enough (I'll talk about that later). The last two batches were a controlled experiment where I only changed the type of yeast (and I'll talk about that later too). All in all, after these three batches, I feel very confident that I could whip out croissants with success whenever I want. I like that feeling! I like it a lot. And now I am excited to share it with you so that you can jump right to that success part without having to eat croissants for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for four days straight.

Don't worry, it's a sacrifice I am only too happy to make for you! .:burp:.

The first step is making the dough. There is absolutely nothing strange about making the dough. It's like making any other basic bread dough. I like to use my stand mixer, but it's a dough that could easily be made by hand. Knead for about five minutes and then place in an oiled, covered bowl and let rise at room temperature for one hour. Knock the dough down by folding it over on itself two or three times. Cover it back up and refrigerate for 8-16 hours.

In my previous attempts at croissants, I tried too hard to simplify the butter process. For proper flakiness, you must follow this process exactly! Fortunately, it's not a hard process, just a little involved.

The first step is to prepare the butter packet. To make a well shaped butter packet, let a piece of parchment do the work for you. This is a half-sheet of parchment that I folded into a roughly 7x9 inch envelope. If you have a roll of parchment, that might even be better; the more overhang you have on your folds, the less they want to open on you while you are rolling the butter.

Once the packet if folded, open it up and place your butter. One batch of croissants requires two sticks, or half a pound, of butter. You want it cold, but not rock hard. If it's too hard, just let it sit for a few minutes. Now, these are the long skinny butter sticks; in some places you may have the short fat butter sticks. Don't worry, you just may want to cut them a little more to facilitate pounding them out. In this case, notice how the butter has no more than an inch to spread in any direction.

Fold the packet back up and place with the folds down. Get your rolling pin out and get crazy! As you might imagine, you may not want to do this while the baby is napping. It's noisy! My dog was very concerned at first. Pound, pound, pound! It may be necessary in the beginning to rearrange the parchment slightly to maintain your packet shape. Once it's pounded fairly flat, then you can start rolling the butter toward the edges.

It softens up as you work, so it ends up being fairly easy to make a nice flat packet. Once it's finished, stick it in the refrigerator to firm back up for at least thirty minutes.

After your butter packet is chilled, get your dough out. Dump it onto a lightly floured board and start to roll it out. Use flour as necessary to minimize sticking, but try not to use too much. Roll the dough into a rectangle of such a size that your butter packet will sit in the middle as shown. The nice thing is that you can actually use your wrapped butter packet to test your size. Once you have it right, peel off the butter from the parchment and onto the dough.

Fold over the ends so that they match evenly in the middle. Pinch together to seal. Also pinch the edges together to seal. Notice that the butter did not go right to the very edge of the dough; that gives a little room to press the edges together.

Rotate the dough 90 degrees so that the sealed ends are now at your 12 and 6 o'clock position. Roll the dough out, again adding flour as necessary to keep the dough moving nicely, until it is about the width of your rolling pin and a little over two feet long. Don't forget to rotate before starting to roll! It is very hard to roll against the folds.

Once it is long enough, cut off the uneven edges. Cut off about one inch from each end. Not only does this tidy up the impending seam, but it ensures that the butter now goes to the very end of the dough. Discard or save the dough for some other purpose (
more on that another day!).

Now, fold the dough into a tri-fold brochure. Make sure to keep the edges as even and neat as possible. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least thirty minutes. After thirty minutes (or longer), roll out again with the folds on the side and the open edges at top and bottom. Roll out to the same dimensions as before and make the same tri-fold brochure (called a "single fold" in the pastry world). Refrigerate for thirty minutes before doing it one last time. All in all, you will complete this roll and fold scheme three times. Again, work carefully to keep things as straight and even as possible.

After the last fold and chill routine, roll out the dough the same way as before, but this time, try to get it fairly thin. Shoot for at least 2 1/2 to 3 feet long (still less than a rolling pin wide). It will fight you at this point and will not want to get much thinner than a quarter of an inch. The gluten in the dough may also be making things a little challenging, but don't worry, it will all work out in the end. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to cut triangles out of the dough. You can experiment with croissant size, but a four inch wide base is a good starting point.

Cut a small notch in the base of the triangle and then stretch the dough out a bit. Place the triangle back on the counter and pull the two notched edges apart slightly and then start rolling toward the peak of the triangle. Place the now rolled croissant with the point down onto a parchment lined baking sheet.

Brush the rolled croissants with egg wash and let sit to rise at room temperature until at least double. Depending on your household temperature, this process may take one to two hours. I recommend against covering since they are so delicate at this point. If they seem like they are drying out at all along the way, brush them again with egg wash. Once they are nice and puffy, brush them one last time with egg wash and place into a preheated 425° F oven to bake for 20-25 minutes. Do not remove them until they are nicely browned. The outside should not start browning significantly until the inside is well baked. Gently remove to a cooling rack to finish cooling. To store for less than 24 hours, simply wrap is a flour sack towel. If storing for more than 24 hours, place into an air tight container after they are completely cooled.

Now, a couple additional points of interest. This picture here shows what happens if the dough is not folded enough. See how the flakes of dough are very easy to see? Each time you complete a single fold, the dough between each layer of butter gets thinner, leading to more flakiness. These croissants were good, but the texture was not quite as flaky as you expect from a true croissant.

The other point I want to mention is yeast type. When making enriched and/or laminated doughs that have a lot of fat or sugar in them, it is recommended that you use osmotolerant instant yeast. (I got mine here.) Most of the literature I've read describes the need to use osmotolerant yeast in high sugar dough because sugar tends to rob the yeast of moisture, which can lead to uneven rising. While I've found no discussion on how osmotolerant yeast helps high fat dough, most of the professional formulas I've seen for high fat dough call for this special type of yeast.

How important is it? Well, as you can see from the picture below, in croissants, not hugely so. The croissant on the left was made with osmotolerant yeast while the one on the right was made with regular instant yeast. Notice that the crumb of the croissant on the left is a little more open? It did make a difference, but not enough that you should worry about making croissants without it. If you're an absolute perfectionist in the kitchen like I am, then you'll probably want to order some, otherwise, soldier on.

Yield: 8-16 croissants, depending on size

3 3/4 cup bread flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 tsp table salt
2 tsp (osmotolerant) instant yeast
1/2 tsp malt powder (see note below)
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 TBS butter
3/4 cup + 2 TBS warm water

Butter packet: 1/2 lb butter (2 sticks)

In a stand mixer, stir together the first five ingredients. Heat the milk and butter together in a microwave until lukewarm. Add the milk/butter mixture and the water to the mixer bowl and, using a dough hook, mix on speed 2 until it starts to form a ball. Once it forms a ball, mix on 2nd speed for another five minutes. Place dough into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature for one hour. Knock dough down by folding it over on itself 2-3 times. Return to the bowl, recover, and place in the refrigerator for 8-16 hours.

Prepare the butter packet by folding a sheet of parchment into a roughly 7x9 inch envelope. Slice two sticks of butter in half the long way and lay into the middle of the parchment envelope. Close the parchment and pound and then roll the butter until it has evenly filled the parchment and is nice and flat. Chill for at least 30 minutes before using.

Roll the chilled dough out on a lightly floured counter until it is a rectangle slightly larger than twice the size of your butter packet. Place the butter packet in the middle of the dough so that it is sitting long ways across the short direction of the dough (see photos). Fold the dough around the butter packet, pinching to seal.

Rotate the dough ninety degrees so that the folds are on the sides and the pinched edges are along the top and bottom. Roll into a long rectangle a little more than 2 feet long and about the width of your rolling pin. Carefully fold the dough into a tri-fold brochure, making sure the edges are nice and neat. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least thirty minutes. Repeat the roll out, fold, and chill routine two more times. Always be sure to place the dough and roll with the folds on the sides and the "open" ends at top and bottom.

After the last chill period, roll the dough out (folds on sides again) so that it is the width of the rolling pin and 2-3 feet long. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to cut into long triangles with the base around four inches wide (you can play with this dimension to adjust the size of your croissants). Cut a small slit in the middle of the base of the triangle and then stretch the triangle slightly. Pull the edges of the base of the triangle and roll up. Place with the point tucked on the bottom onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush with egg wash and let rise, uncovered, until doubled and puffy. Brush with egg wash again before baking. Bake in a preheated 425° F oven for 20-25 minutes, until nicely golden. Carefully move to a cooling rack to cool completely. If storing for less than 24 hours, wrap in a flour sack towel. If storing for more than 24 hours, store in an air tight container.

NOTE: While the malt is not technically required for this recipe, I think it really adds to the authentic flavor of these croissants. I used diastatic malt powder, but it doesn't really matter if you use diastatic or non-diastatic malt powder, as in this case, you are only using it for the flavor.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Chocolate Cherry Almond Cookies

Now here's a cookie to get you going. I initially came up with the idea... well, to be honest, I'm not sure what the thought process was. It just seemed like it would be a really good combination of flavors. And it is! I often snack on chocolate chips and almonds or chocolate chips and dried tart cherries; this seemed like a natural extension.

These are really good. The cookies are somewhat crispy on the outside with a pleasant chew on the inside. The nuttiness of the almonds are divine, and when you hit one of the chewy, tart cherries? Bingo! You're average six year old may not see their worth, but you will.

Start by creaming the butter and sugar together. Then add the cocoa to this mixture. Start this process slowly, lest you end up with a cocoa cloud in your kitchen.

Beat the eggs and extracts. Add the remaining ingredients save for the "add-ins" and mix. In this case, that refers to the nuts and cherries. I always hand mix the add-ins. It gives me the heebie jeebies when the chips and nuts scrape behind the paddle in my mixer. It's not quite nails on chalkboard, but I can't help but thinking it's not good for the mixer or the add-ins.

Be sure you toast your almonds before adding them to the dough. I like to use the slivers and then I give them a few extra rough chops before throwing them in there.

Drop onto cookie sheets. I use a size 40 disher, which is about 1 3/4 TBS. Dampen your fingers and press cookie balls somewhat flat, until they're about a half inch thick. Bake at 375° F for about 12-15 minutes. It's a little harder to tell when they are ready, because you can't easily see when they are starting to brown. What I look for is a certain "dryness" of the cracks that form in the surface of the cookie. When the cookies are done, those cracks won't glisten quite so much anymore. Let cool for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Chocolate Cherry Almond Cookies
Yield: approximately 40 cookies

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 eggs
1 2/3 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup toasted slivered almonds, roughly chopped
1 cup dried tart cherries

Cream together the butter and sugar. Slowly mix in the cocoa powder until well incorporated. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and the eggs. Beat together well. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, soda, and salt. Add to the butter mixture and mix just until incorporated. Mix in the almonds and cherries by hand.

Drop onto a parchment lined baking sheet using a #40 disher, or by dropping approximately 1 3/4 TBS mounds. Dampen your fingers and press the dough balls until they are about one half inch thick. Bake in a preheated 375° F oven for approximately 14 minutes. It can be difficult to tell when they are done based on color alone. Doneness can be determined by looking at how "shiny" the cracks in the cookie surface are. Look for the wet-look of the dough in those cracks to disappear. Let cool slightly on the cookie sheet before removing onto a rack to cool completely.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Pizza Crust

The other day I posted a recipe for a great calzone in which I urged you to make your own crust. I suppose if I am going to do that, I should probably suggest a good recipe to you. This is the crust I use most of the time when I am making full size pizzas (versus my pizza crust rounds, which I make and freeze in individual portion crusts).

I exclusively use instant yeast in my kitchen, but if you use active dry, just check out the note at the end of the recipe for conversion instructions. Lastly, while this dough is super easy to make in a stand mixer, it is also very hand-making friendly. Simply mix in a bowl leaving out half a cup of the flour and then knead that last bit of flour in by hand.

I really like the hint of sweetness and complexity of flavor the honey adds in this recipe, but you may omit it if you desire.

Pizza Crust
Yield: approx. 1 pound of dough

1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
3 cups flour (all purpose or bread)
1 tsp table salt
2 TBS vegetable oil
3 TBS honey (optional)
1 cup warm water

Mix all ingredients together in the bowl of a stand mixer outfitted with a dough hook. Process on medium low until the dough become smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place the dough in an oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for 45 minutes to an hour. Knead the dough a few times to deflate and cover with the plastic wrap to sit for 4-5 minutes; this lets the gluten relax slightly and makes it much easier to work with. Roll out on a floured board. Top and bake at 425° F. If you a topping fiend, I recommend baking the crust slightly before topping.

NOTE: if you use active dry yeast instead of instant, use 2 tsp instead and mix it with the water and a dollop of the honey and let it sit for 5 minutes before proceeding with the recipe as usual.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Prosciutto and Cheese Calzone

The simplicity of this dish belies its absolute deliciousness. The filling is simple and straight forward, and it takes mere minutes to put together, but the end result is so fabulous. This calzone is a flavor explosion in your mouth. Of course, you can never go wrong in my book with a dish containing prosciutto. Cured meats are always a good thing... flavor-wise at least. Then throw in a nice mixture of mozzarella and chèvre (soft goat's cheese), a little minced garlic, and fresh thyme, and you are on your way to paradise.

Make your own crust or use store bought. I've done it both ways and it is delicious either way. This is also a great dish to serve at a party; it's the perfect finger food. It's yummy hot out of the oven or at room temperature. And, though I haven't had this issue very often, it's also quite good cold the next day. Yum!

First, mix together the mozzarella cheese, chèvre, garlic, and thyme in a bowl.

Roll out your dough into a large rectangle. If you made your own dough, shoot for a 16 x 20 inch rectangle. That will set you up to fit nicely on a half sheet pan when you fold it over in half. If you are using rolled pizza dough out of a can, you will need two cans, one for the bottom and one for the top. Spread the cheese mixture over half the dough. Notice that it does not need to be too thick. Moderation is key here. I've found that too much filling can make a somewhat overbearing calzone.

By the way: be smarter than me. Place the dough on the baking sheet after you roll and before you fill... that's much easier than what I had to do to move this thing onto the pan after I had it all prepared. Hindsight is such a great thing, isn't it?

Then spread thin slices of prosciutto over the cheese mixture. Again, you don't need a lot to end up with a great flavor profile. Fold the dough over and crimp the edges. Brush the top with some egg wash to end up with a lovely golden crust. Bake at 425° F until nice and golden, about 20-30 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

Prosciutto and Cheese Calzone
Yield: 4-6 main course servings

1 lb pizza dough

3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup crumbled chèvre (soft goat's milk cheese)
1 TBS minced garlic
1 tsp fresh minced thyme
1-2 oz thinly sliced prosciutto

1 egg yolk & 1 TBS water for egg wash

Roll out the pizza dough fairly thinly. Mix together the cheeses, garlic, and thyme. Spread over half the dough. Lay the prosciutto evenly on top of the cheese mixture. Cover the cheese and prosciutto with the other half of the dough. Roll up and crimp the edges. Brush the top with egg wash and bake in a 425° F oven 20-430 minutes or until nicely golden. Let cool slightly before serving.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Good to Know...

Yesterday, I posted the recipe for my favorite cake of all time. Of course it is a chocolate cake. Duh. You would think that as often as I have made this cake that I might be immune to these kinds of mistakes, but - alas - I was in a hurry... or I was preoccupied... or... well, something. Please tell me I have an excuse.

As you can clearly see on the right in the above picture, the cake came out very, very wrong. At first, I wasn't sure what had happened. Was my cocoa bad? Did I make some hideous batch of coffee? Did I forget an ingredient? I wasn't sure; I just knew that I could not serve this horrible disaster of a cake.

So, I set out to make it again. Would you believe that I got all the way through mixing the dry ingredients wrong a second time before I realized my error? This is what happens when you screw up the leavening in this cake. The recipe calls for one teaspoon of baking powder and two teaspoons of baking soda. I simply measured out two teaspoons of baking powder and called it good. You gotta love it when you misread a recipe the same way twice. Sheesh.

Now, you may be thinking: baking powder, baking soda... what's the difference? Well, there is actually a big difference. Baking powder is a balance of an acidic salt and a base. When you add moisture, it starts the two components to chemically reacting, producing carbon dioxide bubbles. Heat can also accentuate these reactions, but moisture really is the key. Baking soda on the other hand, is sodium bicarbonate, a basic substance that needs an acid in order to react. Usually, you see baking soda in recipes with buttermilk or sour cream, honey or molasses. In this cake, cocoa powder is the acidic component.

What I find especially interesting about this whole thing is that, obviously, the reaction in this cake does more than simply create lift. Look at the difference in the color! I'm going to tell you, there were some major flavor issues too. So, the next time you see a recipe that calls for a powdered leavening agent, read carefully! It may be the difference between perfection and the garbage.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Audrey's Chocolate Cake

This cake... let me tell you something about this cake. You have never tasted chocolate cake until you have tasted this chocolate cake. In my family, there is no other cake. Ever. Every birthday, every Valentine's day, every special event that called for a cake while I was growing up, was celebrated with this cake. It's that good. It is so chocolaty and moist, there is absolutely no compare.

Imagine my surprise the other day when my mom informed me that she was surprised this cake wasn't already on here. What do you mean it isn't on there? I asked. Of course it is. But it wasn't. I guess this recipe is so ingrained in my life, it never occurred to me that I had never actually posted it.

Well, let me correct that error right this second.

As you might imagine, my family's had this recipe for a long time (I'm no spring chicken, you know). My family is from Pennsylvania Dutch country, near Hershey, which makes sense since I'm pretty sure this recipe is an adaptation of Hershey's chocolate cake recipe. Audrey is my aunt and I guess my mom got the recipe from her since it's her name that's been attached to this recipe for as far back as I can remember; I have no idea where she got the recipe. I suppose it's fairly irrelevant at this point. All I know is that this is the best chocolate cake ever. Oh wait, I said that already.

The first step is to sift together the dry ingredients. I'm not normally a stickler for this kind of thing, but cocoa powder can be lumpy.

Then mix together the wet ingredients. Brew a cup of black coffee and have it on stand by. Add the milk and egg mixture to the flour and cocoa mixture first and then add the coffee last.

This batter will be exceptionally thin. I guess that's what makes for such a moist cake.

Pour the batter into two greased and parchment lined (cut to fit the bottom of the pan to help the cake come out cleanly) 9" cake rounds. If you prefer not to make a layer cake, simply pour into a 9" x 9" square pan with 3 " sides. Bake at 350 degrees for around 35-40 minutes for 9" rounds, closer to 50 minutes for the 9x9x3 cake. Bake until a tester in the center comes out clean. Let cool completely before removing from the pan.

I like this best as a layer cake with frosting, but it is plenty good all by its little lonesome (that's how my mom usually serves it). Be sure to have a glass of milk or a cup of coffee on hand for this one; you're gonna need it!

Audrey's Chocolate Cake
Yield: one 2-layer 9" round cake or one 9"x9"x3" square cake

Sift together:
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup Hershey's cocoa powder (do not use Dutch processed cocoa)
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Mix together:
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup black coffee

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Sift together the first batch of ingredients. Mix together the second batch of ingredients in a separate, smaller bowl. Add the wet to the dry and mix thoroughly. Lastly, add the coffee. The batter will be very thin.

Pour the batter into two prepared 9" cake rounds. Grease and place a cut-to-fit piece of parchment in the bottom of the pans. Or, you can bake the cake in one 9"x9"x3" pan. Bake 35-40 minutes for 9" rounds or 45-50 minutes for a 9"x9"x3" cake, or until a tester placed in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before removing from pan and frosting.

Chocolate Frosting
Yield: enough to frost one 9" 2-layer cake

3/4 cup Hershey's cocoa powder
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
8 TBS milk

Sift together the cocoa powder and sugar. Stir in the butter carefully, lest you end up with a cocoa/sugar cloud. Add milk. When evenly moist, whip with a mixer until smooth.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Fresh Blueberry Pie

I can't believe I almost missed blueberry season. Granted, it comes a bit earlier than I'm used to down here in Florida. I was somewhat worried when I called the blueberry farm and was told the berries were getting slim and I'd better hurry up and get out there. All I've got to say is, if that's "getting slim," I'd hate to see it when the bushes are going all out!

I've picked a lot of blueberries in my life, but I've never been blueberry picking like this. I picked fourteen pounds in less than an hour. I simply had to put my bucket under a branch and rake my fingers through. The berries hung so heavy, thick, ripe, and sweet on the bush it was amazing! And the guy charged, get this... one dollar a pound! I felt like I had died and gone to heaven.

While there are all kinds of blueberry recipes out there, this is quite possibly my favorite. My mom made a version of it when I was growing up and if ever there were left overs, they would mysteriously disappear... into my tummy! I was a food sneak as a kid. Dang, who am I kidding? I still am!

I love a traditional cooked blueberry pie as much as the next gal, but the fresh berries in this pie just are so pleasing in flavor and texture, you've got to give it a try!

First, bake an empty pie shell. You can use any crust, homemade or store bought. Obviously, I would advocate the homemade one, but use your best judgement. In this case, I used a whole wheat crust for an added nuttiness.

In a medium sauce pan, combine one cup of the berries, the one cup of water, sugar, lemon juice, nutmeg, lemon zest, and corn starch together. Stir well and then place over medium high heat. The amount of sugar will depend on how sweet your berries are. I had really sweet berries, so I used only half a cup of sugar; if your berries are more tart, you'll want to increase the sugar to 3/4 or 1 cup. Separately, soften the gelatin in 2 tablespoons of water.

Once the blueberry mixture has come to a boil and is nice and thick and well cooked, pour and then press through a sieve.

This process will leave you with a beautiful blueberry syrup. Add the softened gelatin, stir well, and then set aside to cool.

Once the blueberry syrup and the pie crust are cooled, mix the syrup with the remaining fresh blueberries. Toss well to be sure all berries are covered.

Lastly, pour the covered blueberries and syrup into the cooled pie shell. Cover and refrigerate at least four hours before serving.

Fresh Blueberry Pie
Yield: 1 - 9" pie

1 baked pie crust shell

1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup water
1/2 - 1 cup sugar (depends on berry sweetness)
1 TBS lemon juice
pinch nutmeg
pinch lemon zest
1 heaping TBS cornstarch
1 tsp unflavored gelatin
2 TBS cool water

3 more cups fresh blueberries

Mix the one cup of berries, one cup of water, sugar, nutmeg, zest, and cornstarch together in a medium sauce pan. Separately, mix the gelatin and 2 TBS water together in a small bowl and set aside. Heat the blueberry mixture over medium to medium high heat. Stir regularly until the mixture comes to boil and thickens well. Remove from the heat and press through a sieve, discarding solids. Stir in the softened gelatin mixture and set the syrup aside to cool.

Once the syrup and the pie crust (if necessary) are both cool, mix the remaining three cups of berries and the syrup together and pour into the pie shell. Chill at least four hours before serving.
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