Friday, February 29, 2008

Julia Child's French Bread

"I don't think there is a more fundamentally French metaphor:
the baguette symbolizes France."
--Steven Kaplan, 1700-1775, author of
The Bakers of Paris and The Bread Question

Julia Child sought to make the perfect French bread and hundreds of pounds of flour later, she and Paul Child discovered that to make authentic French bread, you needed to ""simulate a baker's oven with a hot surface to bake the bread on and steam to form a crust. Read more here.

Breadchick Mary of thesourdough and Sara of iliketocook,who are hosting the February Daring Bakers give us some instructions below on how to simulate a bakers oven. For complete French bread recipe, equipment needs and techniques, go here.

The Simulated Bakers’ Oven
Baking in the ordinary way, as described in the preceding recipe, produces an acceptable loaf of bread but does not nearly approach the glory you can achieve when you turn your home oven into a baker’s oven. Merely providing yourself with the proper amount of steam, if you can do nothing else, will vastly improve the crust, the color, the slash patterns, and the volume of your bread; steam is only a matter of plopping a heated brick or stone into a pan of water in the bottom of the oven. The second provision is a hot surface upon which the naked dough can bake; this gives that added push of volume that improves both the appearance and the slash patterns. When you have the hot baking surface, you will then also need a paddle or board upon which you can transfer dough from canvas to hot baking surface. For the complete set up here is you should have, and any building-supply store stocks these items.
For the hot baking surface: Metal will not do as a hot baking surface because it burns the bottom of the dough. The most practical and easily obtainable substance is ordinary red floor tiles 1/4” thick. They come in various sizes such as 6 x 6, 6 x 3, and you only need enough to line the surface of an oven rack. Look them up under Tiles in your Directory, and ask for “quarry tiles” their official name.

(Mary and Sara Note: When this book was written, quarry tiles had a fair amount of asbestos in them. Today, in North America and Europe, they normally are made of clay. Make sure if you decide to go purchase some quarry tiles you only purchase unglazed quarry tiles because most of the glazes used contain lead or some other nasty substance that could get transferred. A large pizza stone will also work but make sure it is at least 1/4 inch thick because the thinner ones can break when used at the high heats that baking bread requires. Make sure you never put wet tiles in the oven because they can shatter or worse as the oven heats up.)

Each step in the bread making process worked well until I got to taking the dough off of the floured linen cloth. As I was rolling the dough onto the baking sheet, it collapsed! I thought if I deflated them all and started over from the last rising point, there wouldn't be enough yeast to rise again. I baked the baguettes anyway hoping that I would at least have some edible French bread. The bread was delicious despite the near fatal mistake.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Three Color Focaccia

The famous duo of Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid traveled for two decades throughout the world doing culinary research and travel photography. In their quest, they found that nearly every culture and cuisine had a form of flatbread, whether leavened or unleavened and usually included ingredients indigenous to that particular country and cuisine.

Three Color Focaccia has the colors of the Italian flag,red sun-dried tomatoes, green sage and green flat-leaf parsley incorporated throughout the tender potato dough. This recipe is from their book "Flatbreads and Other Flavors" and is their version of a focaccia recipe from Carol Field's book, The Italian Baker. Three Color Focaccia is my entry into Bread Baking Day #7 hosted by chiliundciabatta.

Baking the breads in cast-iron pans gives them a nice crisp crust.I have a collection of different sized cast-iron skillets;the one on the lower left of the photo below is over 50 years old and was my mother's. The cast-iron pans are of assorted sizes, so I adjusted the baking times to compensate for the difference.

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons dry yeast
4-5 cups hard unbleached white flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cups chopped cooked peeled potatoes(about 4 medium)
1/2 cup potato water
1/2 cup packed flat-leafed parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup packed fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped (if you use dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes, soak them in warm water for 30 minutes, drain, and pat dry before using)
olive oil for brushing
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

Place the warm water in a large bread bowl and add the yeast and 2 cups flour. Stir to blend, then stir 100 times, about 1 minute, inn the same direction to develop the gluten. Let this sponge stand, covered, for 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Heat oil in a medium skillet, and fry the onions over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until translucent, about five minutes. Set aside.

Puree the potatoes in a blender with the potato cooking water. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the onion, parsley, sage, oil and salt.

Add 1/2 cup flour to the sponge and stir well. Then add the potato mixture and stir thoroughly. Add the chopped tomatoes and stir well. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead for 10-12 minutes, dusting both your hands and the kneading surface generously with the remaining 1-2 cups flour at intervals as you work, until the dough is no longer sticky, but soft and tender to the touch. Clean the bread bowl, oil lightly, and transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 2 to 3 hours until at least doubled in volume.

Gently punch down the dough, and cut it in half. Set one half aside, covered with plastic wrap. Cut the remaining dough in half. Form each piece into a ball. Generously oil two 8-9 cast-iron skillets or pie plates. Place a ball of dough in each skillet. Press down on the center of each ball of dough and gently press it out towards the edges of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Just before the first batch of focaccia has finished rising, shape the remaining dough into two loaves. (You may refrigerate remaining dough, well sealed in plastic wrap, for up to 2 days. Uncover and bring to room temperature before shaping and baking.)

When the first batch has risen, brush the tops gently but generously with olive oil. Press your fingers firmly into the dough to create deep dimples all over. Lightly sprinkle each one with 1/4 teaspoon sea salt. Bake in the center of the oven for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 375 degrees F and bake another 10 minutes, or until lightly golden. turn the breads out onto a rack and let stand for at least 10 minutes to firm before slicing. If baking the remaining breads, turn the temperature back up to 400 F. Repeat first batch procedure.

Makes 4 round breads about 8 inches across and 2 inches thick.

From "Flatbreads and Flavors, A Baker's Atlas" by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid .

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Chocolate Valentines Cupcakes

I have been on a cupcake roll for the last month and found a chocolate raspberry cupcake recipe which is decorated with chocolate fondant topped with red and pink fondant hearts. I thought this a perfect entry into Zorra's Heart for Your Valentine event. She posts each one as they come in and the last day for submission is February 15. The round-up can be seen here As my Valentine loves chocolate and raspberries, these chocolate raspberry cupcakes with fondant hearts were a perfect choice for Zorra's edible heart event.

Fondant is a confection I have never worked with, but prepared fondant is easily obtainable from many grocery stores or craft stores who sell Wilton products. The chocolate
fondant is hard to find so I bought brown edible paste to color it with. My friend in exercise class who bakes beautiful wedding cakes told me that you can order the chocolate fondant online and some tastes just like Tootsie Rolls. Most fondant doesn't have a real taste , but extracts can be kneaded into it to add additional flavor.

Adding raspberries and almond meal to the batter gives these Chocolate Valentines Cupcakes a rich and unique flavor. Below is a slideshow of some of the step by step instructions for making the cupcakes.

Double Chocolate Raspberry Cake

2 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2/3 cup self-rising flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/3 cup almond meal
3 1/2 ounces frozen raspberries


3 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 lbs chocolate prepared fondant
1/3 cup raspberry jam, warmed and strained
1/2 cup powdered sugar
5 ounces red prepared fondant
5 ounces white prepared fondant
pink food coloring

For Cakes
Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a large cupcake tin with 6 large paper baking cups or one standard 12 cupcake tin with paper baking cups.
Combine chocolate and the water in a small saucepan;stir over low heat until melted and smooth.
Beat butter, sugar and eggs in a small bowl with an electric mixer until just combined. Stir in the sifted flour, cocoa and almond meal; then warm chocolate mixture. Fold in raspberries. Divide among baking cups smoothing surface.
Bake large cakes about 55 minutes, small cakes about 45 minutes. Turn cakes onto wire rack to cool.

Decorating the Cakes
Remove baking cups from cakes. On a surface dusted with sifted cocoa powder, knead chocolate fondant until smooth. Roll out to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Cut out rounds large enough to cover the tops of the cakes.
Brush top of cakes with jam; cover cakes with the rounds of chocolate fondant.
On a surface dusted with powdered sugar, knead white and red fondant separately until smooth. Use coloring to tint the white fondant pink.
Roll each colored fondant to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Using heart-shaped cutters of varying sizes depending upon size of the cupcakes, cut out hearts from fondants of each color. Decorate cakes with fondant hearts using a small drop of water to secure the hearts to each other.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Asparagus and Crab Soup

You have to walk carefully in the beginning of love; the running across fields into your lover's arms can only come later when you're sure they won't laugh if you trip. ~Jonathan Carroll, "Outside the Dog Museum"

If you do trip and fall flat on your face in front of your love, this Asparagus and Crab Soup will surely perk you up,no pun intended! Chris, from Mele Cotte, hostess of Kitchen of Love 2008 isn't asking for Valentine's desserts, but for savory dishes made with foods considered to be aphrodisiacs, foods that arouse or enhance sexual desire. The word aphrodisiac is derived from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. Many foods such as leeks, bananas and carrots, are touted as aphrodisiacs due to their phallic shape, whereas eggs, oysters and cavier are suggestive of the female reproductive system. None of these foods have any scientific validity, but if they spice up your life, go for it!

Asparagus, another phallic shaped food, has always been prized for its medicinal properties and is considered one of the world's healthiest foods. Simple to prepare and colorful, asparagus is now available year round, but it always reminds me of the coming of Spring. Although my favorite way to prepare asparagus is to toss it gently with salt, freshly ground pepper and olive oil, then grill it 2-3 minutes a side, I love the Asparagus and Crab Soup that I made for Chris' Kitchen of Love 2008. Reminiscent of Chinese egg drop soup where beaten eggs are stirred into the mixture, the addition of cooked crabmeat and asparagus adds lovely flavor and color to this quick and easy soup.

Asparagus and Crab Soup

4 cups (32 fl oz) chicken stock
1 teaspoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
1/2 lb (250 g) asparagus spears, washed, trimmed of tough ends and cut on the diagonal into 1 -1/2 inch pieces.
1 egg, well beaten
1 tablespoon cornstarch, mixed with 2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 cup (8 oz) cooked crabmeat, picked over for shells

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine chicken stock and ginger and bring to a rolling boil. Add asparagus, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 2-3 minutes until asparagus is crisp tender. Reduce heat to medium-low. Stir 2 tablespoons of the hot stock into the beaten egg. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the hot stock, stirring constantly to form even threads of cooked egg.

Add cornstarch mixture, sherry, sesame oil and soy sauce. Cook, stirring until the soup thickens slightly, about 1 minute. Stir in the crabmeat and cook until heated through, 2-3 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Ladle into warmed bowls and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Recipe from "Williams-Sonoma Soup"

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Coconut Lemon Curd Cupcakes with Coconut Meringue

It seems I'm a little late figuring out that cupcakes are a lot easier to bake, decorate, eat and especially, photograph. My cake decorating skills are very limited, but I was inspired by a little cupcake book I found on the bargain rack at the bookstore. There were photographs for each cupcake recipe and a great section at the end of the book showing tools and decorating tips. With a little practice, most could be made without professional decorating skills. From a simple afternoon tea to a gala wedding, there are cupcakes for every occasion.

I wanted to practice piping meringue, so I chose to make the Coconut Lemon Curd Cupcake with Coconut Meringue. This recipe makes 6 Texas size or 12 standard cupcakes.

Coconut Lemon Curd Cupcakes with Coconut Meringue

Lemon Curd Cake

1 stick (4 oz)unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup milk
3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 1/4 cups self-rising flour

Lemon Curd

4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Coconut Meringue

4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 1/3 cups shredded coconut, chopped finely

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Make the lemon curd by combining ingredients in a small heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water, stirring constantly until mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of a metal spoon. Remove from heat. Cover and refrigerate until cold.

For the cupcakes, beat softened butter, lemon peel, sugar and eggs in a small bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Stir in milk and coconut, then flour. Divide mixture among 12 standard or 6 large muffin tin which have been lined with appropriate size paper baking cups.

Bake large cakes about 25 minutes, small cakes about 20 minutes. Turn cakes onto wire rack to cool. Increase oven temperture to 425 degrees F.

Cut a 3/4 inch deep hole in the center of each cake, fill with curd; discard cake top.

Make Coconut Meringue

Beat egg whites in a small bowl with electric mixer until soft peaks form; gradually add sugar, beating until sugar dissolves. Continue beating until stiff, but not dry peaks form. Fold in coconut.

Spoon meringue into a piping bag fitted with a 1/2 inch plain tube. Hold piping bag vertical to the cake, piping a spiral from the outside to the center of the cake. Place cake on baking sheet. Bake in oven 5 minutes or until meringue is browned lightly.

This is my entry into Click whose theme for February is "flour". Bee and Jai from jugalbandi are the creators of the this popular event.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Pain du Soleil

Eva from SweetSins is hosting BBD#6 created a few months ago by zorra whose first post for BBD can be found here. I am happy to include my Pain du Soleil into this event. Baking breads give me the most satisfaction of all my cooking experiences.

Sun-dried tomatoes give this sun-shaped bread a rosy hue while Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper add some pizzazz to make this a perfect accompaniment for soups and stews. Using the dough cycle of a bread machine to save time in kneading, the ingredients are combined in the machines pan and in a few hours, you have a nice, smooth dough to make the smiling sun.

Although shaping the dough looks difficult, a bowl placed in the center of the round facilitates cutting the sunrays into even sections. The bowl in then removed and each section is twisted three times to make the rays.

Pain du Soleil
Makes one 1 1/2 pound 14 inch round flatbread with 16 sunrays

3 cups bread flour-I used King Arthur Artisan Bread Flour
2 1/2 teaspoon bread machine yeast
1 cup water
1/4 cup fruity olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup minced sun dried tomatoes

Combine all ingredients in the bread machine pan except for the minced sun-dried tomatoes. Process on the dough cycle adding the minced sun-dried tomatoes after the first knead. When finished, remove the dough to a lightly floured board and punch down. Cover and let rest 10 minutes. Roll the dough into a 14 inch round and transfer to parchment paper liberally dusted with cornmeal. Place a bowl about 4 1/2 inches in diameter in the center of the dough. Then cut the dough from the bowl outward into four sections, then eight sections and finally into sixteeths. Remove the bowl. You now have sixteen sections radiating from the center of the sun. Dust the top with flour, then twist each sunray three times.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Slide the sun bread still on the parchment onto a baking sheet and let rise until puffy, about 20 minutes. Bake for 20 minutes, or until brown. Cool. Best served the day it's made.

Recipe from "Rustic European Breads From Your Bread Machine" by Linda West Eckhardt and Diana Collingwood Butts.