ABC – Focaccia for Breakfast

For the past few months I have been experimenting with baking bread.  Every weekend my kitchen is covered in a fine layer of flour and I have proofing buckets of yeasty bubbling dough all around and eventually the wonderful smell of freshly baked bread wafting through the house as loaves of golden bread emerge from the oven.  It seemed only appropriate then that this weekend while I was surrounded by bowls of biga, poolish, wild yeast starters and the like that I should take some time out to make this very easy and delicious breakfast focaccia.  I have made focaccia constantly over the years and I am actually quite proud of my rosemary focaccia which I always seem to have on hand for snacking.  This focaccia will also be added to that list of have on hand snack breads to be experimented with and tweaked.

I was a bit skeptical at first that this might turn out to be just another coffee cake recipe but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the finished focaccia retains all the elements of a traditional focaccia while slipping in the added twist of sweetness from the berries and the spicy streusel topping.  There is no doubt that you are eating a bread with all the spicy, fruitiness of the deep green extra virgin olive oil.  The bread is crusty on the bottom and has the chewy texture of a traditional focaccia but then the juicy berries burst forth on the tongue with that fruity sweetness and the crunchy, spicy nutmeg and cinnamon infused streusel topping adds just that sweet/savory interest that you would expect.  This is one great breakfast bread.  I am already imagining making it with peaches, nectarines, plums, raspberries, blueberries and all sorts of seasonal fruits and spices in the streusel.  Definitely a winner and one that must be tried.

ABC – Frangipane Ripple Chocolate Pound Cake

Avid readers will already know about my fondness for pound cake.  I would rather have pound cake than just about any other dessert in the world.  I love having it on hand to dress up for company or a weekend dessert, toasted for breakfast or just as a grab on the run snack.  I have several go to pound cake recipes that I make weekly but never miss the opportunity to try out a new recipe for my beloved snack cake.  This recipe does not disappoint.  It is rich and moist with a nice change of texture and nutty flavor from the frangipane layers. 

I made my own almond paste for this recipe and it is much thinner than store bought almond paste so I have to admit that it sort of melted into the cake batter instead of baking into a separate rippled layer.  There was a small ripple layer visible and although it isn’t as visually pleasing as I would have hoped, it certainly does deliver on flavor.  The almond frangipane layer is a delightful contrast to the rich, chocolately cake.  I am not a huge fan of chocolate pound cakes but this one was a pleasant surprise.  The chocolate does not overwhelm the rich, buttery smoothness that you come to expect from a pound cake.  While the texture of this one is not as dense as a traditional pound cake, it does maintain the firm, smooth texture that you want from pound-cake.  Definitely worth making and making more than once.

Cupids Strawberry Cake

I can see why Flo calls this her signature yellow cake.  I found it a snap to make and it certainly delivers on it’s promise.  It is rich and buttery without being cloying and it is moist but has a firm texture and crumb similar to a poundcake which I find especially appealing.  It lends itself easily to a variety of fillings and frostings.  It can be eaten plain or with a sprinkling of powdered sugar or it can be dressed up or down as you see fit.  The combination of the strawberries and the lemon buttercream was especially appealing to my family.

Even though I had been warned that the frosting could be a bit sweet I decided to try it as is before I made any changes to the recipe.  While I didn’t find it to be too sweet for my taste, I did find it to be a bit soft and slightly hard to work with.  My first attempt at frosting the cake found it sliding down the sides.  I put it in the refrigerator for a bit to firm up before proceeding and had no problems with it after that.  I served the cake for a collectors club meeting I hosted and it was extremely well received.  I will definitely be making this one again and the yellow cake will certainly be added to my baking repertoire.

Quintessential Cheese Blintzes

I have to admit, we are not big breakfast eaters in my house.  Usually toast and coffee or cereal is about all we get around to in the morning, but when I saw this recipe I knew we were in for a special treat and I wasn’t disappointed.

The recipe is simple and easy to prepare.   The entire thing can be done the night before and refrigerated and then just heated in the oven in the morning before serving so you don’t need to slave over the stove on Sunday morning making a fancy breakfast.

These are made using a standard crepe batter of eggs, flour, milk and water all tossed into the food processor and blended until smooth.  Then the batter is left in the refrigerator for a few hours to rest.  When ready to cook the crepes, stir the batter to emulsify the ingredients.  Film a 6-7 inch saute or crepe pan with butter and pour about 1/4 cup batter into the pan and swirl it around to coat the bottom of the pan.  Cook over medium high heat until the top appears dry and the bottom is lightly browned.  The recipe calls for filming the pan with butter between each crepe but I didn’t find that necessary.  I had no sticking problems at all.  Maybe it’s my pan, maybe I have just made way too many crepes and am used to the process.  You can do whatever works for you.  Stack the cooked crepes on a plate between layers of waxed paper and allow to cool.  At this point the crepes can be refrigerated to assemble later or frozen.  I allowed mine to cool and them assembled the blintzes.

The finished crepe batterCooking the crepesCompleted crepes

The filling is a cheese mixture, I used Fresh Ricotta Cheese , lemon zest, sugar, vanilla and an egg as called for in the recipe.  Place about 1 to 1/2 tablespoons of the filling on the crepe, fold the bottom up, then fold the sides in and press to flatten and seal them, then roll them to make a rectangluar blintz.   Since I was going to bake mine the following morning, I placed the filled blintzes in a generously buttered baking dish and covered them with plastic wrap and stored them in the refrigerator.

The assembled blintzes

The next morning, I preheated the oven to 350 degrees and baked them for about 8 minutes, then turned them and returned them to the oven for another 10 minutes.

These can be served with any favorite fruit, preserve or jelly.  I had just gotten some wonderful peaches at the farmers market so I sliced them and sauteed them in a little butter to make sort of a fresh peach preserve and spooned it over them.  Heavenly.  These may just make breakfast eaters out of all of us.

ABC Bakers: Butterscotch Spiral Coffee Cake

I have always enjoyed working with yeast doughs.  There is something very satisfying about taking yeast and water and flour and ending up with a light, risen and almost earthy finished product.  Unfortunately, many people are put off by making yeasted baked goods.  Not so much because they feel they are difficult but because of the proofing and rising times, it sometimes seems as if there just isn’t enough time during a busy day to make a yeasted baked good.  This recipe is proof positive that a fine quality yeasted baked good is quite doable in a relatively short period of time.  That alone is enough to make you want to bake this but one taste and you will want to make it every week.  It is almost like a cinnamon roll on steroids. Not only is it of grand size but the flavors are big and bold and gutsy.  You can certainly play with your own spice combinations not only in the filling but in the dough itself.

I did take Hanna’s advice and double the quantity of spices in the dough and I can see where neglecting to do so would make for a more subtly flavored dough.  I am glad that I doubled mine.  I doubled the amount of cinnamon filling as well and I still didn’t feel like it was enough. The next time I make this I will triple it.  I also think that I would like to play around with the addition of walnuts or pecans to this recipe.  Another thought was to add a simple powdered sugar glaze on top of the butterscotch.  I may just be going for overkill here but I just can’t seem to stop myself from wanting to add more and more to this already delicious coffee cake.  I did make one other change.  I thought that I had a full bottle of dark corn syrup in the pantry and when it came time to make the butterscotch glaze it turned out that I didn’t so I substituted molasses for the dark corn syrup.  While it wasn’t a true butterscotch, it was certainly a rich and bold almost spicy glaze and I don’t think my coffee cake suffered from it in the slightest.  All in all, this is a great cake to have on hand at all times.

The risen dough
The filling

The rolled dough ready to rise

Favorite Buttermilk Cake

This months Avid Bakers Challenge was Flo’s Buttermilk Cake.  This is the kind of recipe that Flo really excels at, a basic, fine textured cake that just screams for you to play around with it.  My initial thought was to make this cake with a rich buttercream and do some fancy decorating but upon reading through the recipe I saw that Flo baked the cake in a square pan and that to me just screamed coffee cake.  Anyone who has been reading my blog knows that I just love to have these grab and go snack cakes on hand for coffee or when friends drop by.  I decided to follow Flo’s lead and make the cake plain and then just add a simple glaze to it. 
I opted for a simple brown sugar glaze which is nothing more than brown sugar, butter, water and eggs which is boiled, cooled and then beaten until it is a pouring consistency.  I just poured it over the cake and let it ooze down over the sides and then just sprinkled it with some turbinado sugar for a nice crunch.  I was quite happy with the results and while it certainly doesn’t look like much, I can assure you that it is truly delicious.  As a matter of fact, the cake didn’t stick around very long and I was back in the kitchen making a second one.  For the second go around, I decided to once again go with the coffee cake aspect but this time I made a simple cinnamon struesel topping and I added a layer of that to the cake and then just dusted it with powdered sugar.  It was truly wonderful. (sorry no pictures of this one).  That just proved to me that this is one very versatile cake and one that should be in every bakers repertoire.  I am going to try it with one of the fancy buttercreams and dress it up with some nice piping work for my next dinner party.  Everyone has to try this one at least once and let your imagination run wild with it.

Avid Bakers Challenge:Caramel Chocolate Cream Pie

This is one of those great kitschy retro recipes from the 60′s like grasshopper pie, baked alaska and mud slide pie that everyone seems to be revisiting these days.  This one is definitely worth a second look.  It’s the kind of dessert your mom would make for fancy dinner parties where she probably served Steak Diane in a chafing dish of Chicken Kiev.  As your making it you can almost see your mom, an apron covering her best sheath dress and pearls getting ready to make the grand presentation to the dinner guest and all of them oohing and ahhing all over it, without a care in the world about the thousands of calories one slice of it would bring.  Those were the days, and these are the days with this great pie.

The pie has several steps to assembly but none of them take more than 15 minutes to do and all of them except the final whipped cream flourish can be done ahead and kept until you are ready for assembly.  The crust can be made weeks ahead and frozen until needed.  If you really don’t want to be bothered with it,  just make the chocolate pudding filling and dollop it with some plain whipped cream and you will be in seventh heaven.  What a fantastic visit back to those glory days when big gooey desserts were the norm and calories, cholesterol and fat content were not a concern.  Let’s get back into our peddle pushers and high top keds and enjoy another slice, just this once.  Go ahead, you deserve it.

Eve Lieb’s Processor Challah

I bake bread often and have wanted to do a Challah for some time now but just never seem to get around to actually doing it. This was my excuse to finally try it and I am glad I did.  This was a quick and easy dough to make.  I usually shy away from using the food processor for my bread dough as I have a tendency to over mix the dough in the processor and my bread doesn’t turn out, so I usually do my bread by hand.  As always, Flo’s directions were letter perfect from start to finish and my dough turned out exactly as she described it in the recipe.  I was also expection the braiding and forming of the loaf to be a bit time consuming but it went together in a snap and when I had it in the oven I kept thinking to myself that if I had known how easy this was I would have been making Challah all along.  I know I will be making this again and again.  It is just too good and too easy not to.

The loaf ready for the oven

Maple-Pecan Medjool Date Rugelach

I have been wanting to try this recipe since I got this book.  Last year around this time the Tuesdays with Dorie group make Dorie’s Rugelach and I was intrigued.  It sounded so good and looked so tempting I was aching to taste it.  I even got out Dories book and made a shopping list of ingredients having every intention to make it.  Well, it being around the holidays and things being as they were I never got around to making it.  Finally my chance has arrived and I am happy to say that it was well and truly worth the wait.

These have a light but still rich cream cheese pastry dough which encases the maple syrup, brown sugar and cinnamon filling and a generous handful of ground pecans.  The inclusion of the Medjool dates just adds that final pop to push these little jewels over the top into pastry heaven.  The entire affair is dipped into a smooth, creamy maple syrup glazed and then decadantly dregged in still more ground pecans.  Simply heavenly. 

Don’t be fulled by all these different flavor ingredients.  These little pastries are indulgent but never overly sweet or cloying. The rich pastry dough is the perfect foil for all the powerful fillings and they rugelach arrive more rich and satisfying than just an overly sweet cookie.  I have an enormous sweet tooth and I found that just one of two of these little single bite morsels was more than enough to satisfy my sweet craving and I didn’t feel like I had spent a weeks worth of sugar allowance to endulge in them.

While I wasn’t entirely happy with the looks of mine (they definely looked homemade, not necessarily a bad thing), what they lacked in appearance, they more than made up for in taste and mouth feel.  The cream cheese dough is a bit soft and needs a gentle hand.  I have a tendency to be a bit heavy handed when working with doughs. None the less, they really didn’t give me any trouble and I am sure that after a few more batches of these, (which I definitely will be making), they will emerge from the oven looking totally beautiful.

Pumpkin Ice Cream Profiteroles with Caramel Sauce

  

I don’t know what it was this week but practically everything I made reminded me of my mom and being in her kitchen watching her cook and all the fabulous, homey, comforting meals she made for us when we were growing up.  Angelfood cake with fruit and stew and polenta.  All these foods she used to just turn out like it was nothing.  No recipes, no measuring.  Just toss them together and they were always spectacular.  Then here comes these profiteroles.  My mom was famous for hers only she called them cream puffs and she filled them with a heavenly, light and very rich vanilla custard and then dusted them with powdered sugar.  I can’t tell you how often I crave them and find myself in my own kitchen making them using her old handwritten recipe and reliving those wonderful times in my mom’s kitchen waiting for them to be ready to eat.  Who said you can’t go home again? 

These were really good and very very easy.  My mom’s cream puffs only in a smaller size.  Opened and filled with delicious pumpkin ice cream.  I made the David Lebovitz  recipe.  I have made it several times and find that it is tasty and rich without being overly sweet the way some store bought pumpkin ice creams can be.  As for the caramel sauce, I just boiled down the sugar and water until it was a deep amber color and added some cream and stirred it into glorious creamy smooth goodness.   While these didn’t quite taste as good to me as my mom’s giant cream puffs they were heavenly and I wouldn’t hesitate to  make them over and over.  Just fill them with any flavor ice cream you want.  Mint for Christmas,egg nog for New Years, raspberry for valentines day.  These will take you all through the year.  Enjoy