Wednesday, July 30, 2008

July Daring Bakers Challenge: Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream

Melissa's Orange-Hazelnut Extravaganza!

I'm so excited to be posting my first Daring Bakers Challenge results. Our mission was to make Carol Walter's Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream from the book Great Cakes. It took me days to figure out what I wanted to do with this recipe. It also took me days to make it. But it didn't take me days to eat it. Even though I made the full-sized 10" cake, we managed to polish it off in almost one sitting. It helped that I had guests for dinner, in-laws in town, and a friend who took 2 pieces as payment for helping me make it. Here's a break down of how it all went:

Days 1-2
Although hazelnuts are not my favorite nut, they do have a certain lovely, aromatic appeal. And, since this was my first challenge, I decided to stick pretty close to the original recipe. Now, elsewhere in the world, hazelnuts can be rather expensive. Not so in Oregon! After vowing not to spend $6 on a tiny bag of hazelnuts at Trader Joe's, I decided to go local and find some hazelnuts at a nearby farm stand. My husband ran that little errand and came back beaming: he had found some for $1.50 per pound! Here's what inexpensive hazelnuts look like:

That's right, they're still in the shell. So I bought a cheap nutcracker at the grocery store and set in shelling hazelnuts. Here's how many I had done 30 minutes later:

At the most, I think I was getting 1 hazelnut shelled each minute. My husband thought I was joking. Nope. Nor have I been putting you on all these years with my tales of upper body weakness. So, I turned the job over to him and he cracked the rest for me very quickly.

Day 4
I didn't think this hazelnut business could get any worse, but indeed, it did. I decided to do all of my hazelnut prep work the day before actually baking the cake. It turns out that I couldn't have done them on the same day if my life had depended on it. I started by toasting the hazelnuts for 15 minutes at 350 and then rubbing them in a clean kitchen towel, as per the instructions I found on Epicurious. It didn't work so well. I think 80% of the skin was still on the nuts. So I popped the hazelnuts in some boiling water for a few minutes, wrapped them in another clean kitchen towel, and rubbed them again. This actually did a great job of loosening the skin, but not of actually removing it. I know it wouldn't have mattered taste-wise, but I couldn't stand the idea of using hazelnuts with giant shreds of skin clinging to them. So I put them back in the oven for another 5 minutes to dry up the skin (not to mention the now soggy nuts), wrapped them in a third clean kitchen towel, and rubbed again. After all was said and done, I was pretty happy with the amount of skin removed. I do think the first toasting was unnecessary, but the boiling-toasting method seemed to do a pretty good job.

Hours later, the toasted, skinned hazelnuts

I also chose to make my praline paste and my buttercream a day early. I'm a little squeamish when it comes to raw or "gently" cooked eggs, and I'm not a fan of meringue, so I chose a simple, not exactly authentic, vanilla buttercream instead of the swiss buttercream in the recipe.

Vanilla Buttercream

4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups butter
2 tsp vanilla
2 Tablespoons cream
Combine sugar and butter, and whip until very smooth. Blend in vanilla, cream, and a pinch of salt.

I decided to do an orange/milk chocolate/hazelnut cake, so I threw the zest of one orange and the juice of 1/2 an orange into the frosting. It was so delicious, I had to really exert some willpower not to eat it right away! I was worried that the praline paste would ruin it, but guess tasted even better! I was kind of sad that at the end of day 4, the only thing I had to show for all that work was a bowl of frosting.

Day 5
Judgment day. My friend Annie didn't sign up in time for the July challenge, but I knew I needed help putting this cake together, so I invited her to come over and tackle this project with me. I honestly don't think I could have done it alone. We didn't vary at all from the cake directions, but were a little worried when it came out of the oven less than 2" tall. We used a toothpick/dental floss method for cutting the first layer. I pulled and pulled that floss and it cinched and cinched that cake until we thought it was going to pop! So we used a serrated knife to score the outside of the second layer and the floss cut through like butta.

Once we had the layers cut, we assembled the cake. Layer 1, sugar syrup, orange hazelnut praline buttercream, unsweetened whipped cream, layer2, sugar syrup, orange hazelnut praline buttercream, unsweetened whipped cream, layer 3, fruit glaze. In keeping with the orange theme, we used orange marmalade instead of apricot jam for the glaze. Neither Annie nor I had ever tried marmalade, and we were both worried about the outcome, but I think it was an OK substitution. Now on to the ganache! I didn't have any semisweet chocolate other than plain old chocolate chips, and I didn't think they would be classy enough for ganache. Instead, we used equal parts Swiss milk chocolate and 60% cacao bittersweet. After adding the cream, the ganache looked super liquidy, even after cooling for a few minutes. At the advice of our friend Marcelle (who is a cooking genius), we put it in an ice water bath for 5 minutes.

Annie, the cake, and the bathing ganache

That did the trick and we oooohed and aaaahed as it poured over the top of the cake and down the sides.

Check out that mirror-like shine!

We then stuck the cake in the fridge for about an hour before decorating it with the remaining orange-hazelnut praline buttercream, a crown of ferrero rocher, and a lovely orange slice.

The Results

A slice of hazelnut heaven

I don't know that I would make it again just because of all the work that went into this cake. It is the antithesis of convenience food. It could only have been MORE from scratch if I owned a cow! But, having said that, it was worth making this time. The orange, chocolate, and hazelnut flavors tasted amazing together, and we all thought it looked quite stunning. And I learned a lot of technical stuff, like how to make ganache, how to clarify butter, how to really skin a hazelnut, and that marmalade it a strange condiment.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Sun'll Come Out Tamale

I'm so glad I'm friends with Tannya. I have a lot of kitchen gadgets, but if there is something truly weird and obscure that I want to use, I know Tannya will have it. Like this crazy dim sum steamer.

Where do you even buy something like that??? And she's a fantastic cook who is willing to share her recipes and know-how. Right after I had my second baby, she brought us some fantastic homemade Mexican food, including some tasty little corn, cheese, and green chili tamales that I couldn't stop eating. I decided I wanted to make them and she not only gave me the recipe, she let me borrow her cool steamer tower and gave me a quick phone tutorial on tamale making. So I dedicate this post to you Tannya. Thanks for everything!!!

After giving me the recipe, Tannya said she usually doubles or triples it so she has enough tamales to freeze for later. In another perfect example of how my strange brain works, I thought, "If doubling or tripling the recipe is good, quadrupling it is even better!" I think I spent about 4 hours wrapping tamales yesterday, and only the first 20 minutes of that can be attributed to a learning curve. The rest was just tamales, tamales, tamales. I was reminded of the book Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto, a delightful story about too stinking many tamales!

Now that all that tamale making is over, I have both a belly and a freezer full of delicious tamales--and I won't have to make them again for a very, very long time. Since this is not my recipe to post, I will provide a link to Tannya's recipe blog...if she ever does one. In the meantime, a picture will have to be worth a thousand tamales, which is just about how many I made.

PS--Does anyone know how to get rid of the weird black lines/picture icons at the end of this post? I tried to get rid of one, but it replicated itself instead, and now there are two!
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Monday, July 21, 2008

Confessions of a Dough Eater (and Chicken Pot Pie)

I have inherited many things from my mom--my love of gossip magazines, my late-night TV-watching habits, and best of all, my appetite for dough. I love to eat bread dough, pizza dough, cookie dough, pecan-ring dough--in short, any type of raw bread-type product. Possibly my favorite dough to eat is the one that my mom uses on her mini quiche. I love it so much that whenever I see crustless quiche for sale anywhere, I automatically think, "Yuck. What good is quiche without the crust?" This delicious cream cheese pastry dough is very tasty, very easy, and very useful. I've used it in the aforementioned quiche, in savory Swedish hand pies, and in homemade chicken pot pie. It would probably taste good with some fresh herbs mixed in, and would most definitely taste delicious in sweet pastries as well. The only problem is how to restrain myself from eating it raw!

Chicken Pot Pie

This recipe makes 1 10" pie or 6 individual pies baked in mini loaf pans.
6 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups flour
pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer, turn it on, and mix until combined. Remove dough from bowl and divide in half. Wrap one half in plastic wrap and place in fridge. Roll the other half of the dough out into a circle big enough to fit in the bottom and up the sides of a 10" pie plate. If you are doing mini loaf pans, divide the unrefridgerated half of the dough into 6 equal blobs and press one into the bottom of each pan. This is the method I usually use because I don't like to get my rolling pin dirty:) Bake the bottom crust in a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes or until the edges begin to turn golden.

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 red potatoes, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 can chicken broth
1 packet chicken gravy
1 cup water
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon flour
pinch of dried thyme, basil, oregano, and parsley
salt and pepper
1/2 cup frozen peas

While the bottom crust bakes, saute chicken, garlic, and onion in a little olive oil until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from pan, add gravy and water and prepare according to package directions. Meanwhile, boil potatoes, carrots, and celery in chicken broth until mostly tender. When gravy has thickened and vegetables are tender, drain broth into gravy pan, add butter, flour, and dried herbs and simmer to thicken. Salt and pepper to taste. Pour frozen peas into baked bottom crust and top with chicken, vegetables, and gravy. Either roll out or press remaining half of dough to make a top crust. Place it on top of the pie filling, poke a few holes, and bake in a 350-degree oven until top crust begins to turn golden.
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Friday, July 18, 2008

Creamy Garden Pasta

This is delicious served with a fresh salad and hot french bread. I used broccoli, carrots, and peas because that's what I had on hand, but it would be equally good with zucchini, asparagus, squash, etc.

Creamy Garden Pasta

1 lb. spaghetti, noodles broken in half
6-7 boneless, skinless frozen chicken tenders
2 small heads broccoli, cut into florets
6 oz matchstick carrots
8 oz frozen peas, thawed
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1-1 1/2 cups cream
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 Tablespoon pesto
salt and pepper

Cook spaghetti to al dente according to package directions. Drain, rinse with cold water, remove from pot, and set aside. Meanwhile, pour olive oil into a saute pan and add frozen chicken. Season with salt and pepper. Cook over high heat until chicken is white on both sides, then cover and turn heat down to about medium-low. Allow to simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 7-8 minutes. Remove chicken from pan, chop, and set aside. In the same pot you cooked the spaghetti in, add brocolli, carrots, and about 1 inch of water. Put over high heat until water comes to a boil, cover, and cook until veggies are just becoming tender, about 4 minutes. Drain. Meanwhile, add garlic to chicken drippings and saute for 3 or 4 minutes over medium heat until garlic becomes golden. Add cream and heat to a gentle boil. Add cheese and pesto, stir to combine, and remove from heat. Add chicken, pasta, and sauce to vegetables and heat over low until everything is heated through. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with extra parmesan cheese.
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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Banana Split Tarts and Chocolate Truffles

I had quite a bit of homemade hazelnut praline paste left over from a recent project and could not figure out what to do with it. And I had book club coming up and wanted to make a fun dessert to take. So, I squished the two dilemmas together and decided to make tarts with a hazelnut crust for my bookclub. Each of the layers was very easy to make in theory, so they SHOULD have taken a lot less time to put together than they did. I think there were two main problems: 1) I made 20 tarts using only 5 pans, and 2) my first and second attempts at the caramel layer ended up in the kitchen sink and I had to throw something together because I was running out of time and ingredients. When I was finally finished and tried one, I was disappointed that it wasn't better, mostly because they took so much more work than I had anticipated. However, everyone else thought they were delicious. And I had just enough ganache left over from the chocolate layer to make 6 lovely truffles. They were so good, they made up for the so-so tarts.

Banana Split Tarts
Hazelnut Tart Crust:
After searching the internet for a while, I found a recipe on Epicurious for a hazelnut crust that could easily be modified to accommodate my praline paste. For the original recipe (using hazelnuts, not praline paste) click here.
1 cup hazelnut praline paste
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Combine praline paste, flour, and salt in the bowl of a food processor; pulse until combined. Cut cold butter into pieces and add; pulse until mixture resemble coarse meal. Add eggs and vanilla and pulse until dough comes together. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes. Divide dough into 20 balls, and press 1 ball over the bottom and up the sides of each tart pan. I used 3 7/8" pans and that was stretching it a bit. If you use bigger pans, you obviously won't get as many tarts. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes. Cool.

Chocolate Layer:
6 ounces good-quality semisweet chocolate
6 ounces heavy cream
1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
scant teaspoon vanilla

Chop chocolate and place in a medium-sized bowl; set aside. In a small saucepan, combine cream and corn syrup, and heat over low until mixture comes to a gentle boil. Remove from heat and pour over chocolate. Allow mixture to sit for 1 minute, then stir until smooth. Add vanilla and stir. Chill until spreadable.

Banana Layer:
2 large bananas, sliced very thin

Caramel Layer:
25 Kraft caramels, unwrapped
2 Tablespoons heavy cream

Combine in a small saucepan and heat over low until caramels melt. Stir to combine. Cool to room temperature.

Custard Layer:
1 large package cook and serve vanilla pudding
3 cups milk

Combine pudding and milk in a medium-sized saucepan. Cook following package directions. Chill.

Spread a small amount of chocolate in the bottom of each tart crust. Place 3 banana slices on top of the chocolate, then top with a small spoonful of caramel. Let the tarts sit for a few minutes to allow the caramel to spread out. Put a heaping tablespoon of pudding on top of the caramel and place tarts in the fridge. Just before serving, top with a dollop of whipped cream and a raspberry
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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Pesto Pizzas

After a whole week of eating heavy holiday foods, I wanted something that felt lighter. These pizzas were quick, easy, and tasted like summer. Magnifico!

Pesto Pizzas
1 cup warm water
2 1/2 tsp yeast
3 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 T oil

Combine water and yeast; set aside for 6 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile, combine remaining ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add yeast mixture to bowl and stir with the paddle attachment until combined. Switch to the dough hook and continue to mix on low until all the dough has pulled away from the sides. Oil the bowl lightly, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm spot for 30 minutes. When dough has doubled in size, punch it down, knead it gently a few times, then separate it into four equal balls. Roll each ball out to the desired thickness (I rolled mine to about 1/4").

Toppings per pizza:
1 Tablespoon store-bought pesto
4 thin slices tomato
4 thin slices fresh mozarella
kosher salt

Top pizzas. Bake for 18 minutes in a 450-degree oven. My friend Marcelle, whose dough recipe this is, likes to par-bake her dough for about 4 minutes before topping it. This produces a crispier crust.
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Mint Chip Cookie

I wanted something sweet the other night, but didn't want to fuss in the kitchen for hours. So, I whipped out a devil's food cake mix and some Andes Mint baking chips I found at Walmart (even though I hate shopping there, it does have some stuff I've never seen anywhere else). These cookies turned out just like every other cake mix cookie I've ever had--delicious!

Andes Mint Chip Cookies
1 box devil's food cake mix
1/2 cup oil
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
Andes Mint baking chips

Combine cake mix, oil, eggs, and vanilla until well blended. Add baking chips--however many you want. I just dumped them in and stirred, then added more and stirred again, until it looked about right. Roll dough into golf ball-sized balls and place 2 inches apart on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 350. I baked mine for 9 minutes and they were perfect: cooked all the way through, but not at all crispy.
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Friday, July 4, 2008

Holidays are for Eating

I love holidays because they give me a great excuse to put a lot of effort into the food I serve my family. No casseroles. No boxed-mixes. Just lots of time in the kitchen without anyone wondering "Why all the fuss?" Here's a sampling of what we ate today:

Triple Berry Shortcake with Vanilla Biscuits

These are easy, delicious, and make your house smell DEE-VINE. I didn't have vanilla sugar, so I just added 1 teaspoon vanilla extract to the wet ingredients.
1 3/4 cups flour
1/3 cup vanilla sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cold butter
1 egg
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
Mix together dry ingredients; cut in butter. Mix wet ingredients together and add to dry ingredients. Stir until just combined. Drop by spoonfuls (I used a HUGE ice cream scoop because I wanted big, honkin' shortcakes) onto a cookie sheet. **Now, the instructions I had didn't specify greased or ungreased, so I used a silpat and all was well.** Bake at 375 for 12-15 minutes. Cool. Serve with fresh, sugared berries (I used strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries) and whipped cream.

Berry-Lemon Sparklers (yes, that's right; berries AGAIN!)

I don't think I'm allowed to post the recipe because it came from Everyday with Rachel Ray. But they were delicious, so look up the recipe here.

Nana's Macaroni Salad

I don't like picnic salads: macaroni salad, potato salad, etc. But I have always loved my Nana's Macaroni Salad, and will take any excuse to make it.
1 lb small shell pasta, cooked and rinsed with cold water
1 can chicken chunks, drained and broken into small pieces
1 large carrot, shredded (I use the medium holes on a box grater)
6 decent-sized radishes, quartered and thinly sliced
1 bunch scallion, thinly sliced, white and light green parts only
3-4 heaping Tablespoons dill pickle relish
1 big scoop mayo
seasoned salt
Combine all ingredients. If it is too dry, add more mayo. Season to taste. Refresh leftovers with another small spoonful of mayo.
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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Tag...I'm IT

Not in a million years did I think I'd get tagged! Bunny from Bunny's Warm Oven tagged me. Here are the rules:

#1. Link to the person who tagged you.

#2. Post the rules on your blog.

#3. Write six random things about yourself.

#4. Tag six people at the end of your post

#5. Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

#6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

So here are six random things about me:
#1. I love fruit, but I have problems eating fruit grown in my own backyard. Crazy, but true. My husband has turned our 10th of an acre into a small farm, but I don't like to eat what we grow. I like to buy it in the store, wash it at home, and assume it is clean and bug-free.

#2. I will not watch scary movies and don't even want to see the trailers when they come on TV. I saw The Ring with my sister when it came out, and made her sleep on my bedroom floor for several days after. Now I know my limits.

#3. I love to read books and magazines. I especially love the gossip mags. Go In Touch!!!

#4. I am physically incapable of saying no to sweets. I try to help myself by not buying junk food, but my husband always spoils my plans by stopping at the grocery store on his way home from work. I ate a whole sleeve of oreos a few days ago and then went for the mini oreos on my daughter's snack shelf. Shame on me!

#5. I didn't think I would, but I find myself loving reality TV. I religiously watch American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, America's Next Top Model, The Next Food Network Star (go Kelsey Nixon!), Project Runway, etc. etc.

#6. I always, always try new recipes when we're having company over or for an event. Why? Because I'm a glutton for punishment.

Now, on to the tagging.
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