R is for Rearranging

Pumpkin pie with pastryI couldn’t​ decide how to arrange the leaves on the pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving so I took a few shots before serving.

Pumpkin pie with pastry

I was so happy that I actually remembered to bake the leaves with the leftover pie crust scraps that I didn’t know what to do with them. It’s such a simple and cute idea but I always forget. I end up using the scraps to make a few tiny jam roll ups for a snack.

Pumpkin

There are times when I am too eager to taste my food to bother taking a quality photo and this was one of those times. Sometimes you just gotta dig in!

Slice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream and

B is for Brownies #AtoZChallenge

The last brownie in the glass baking pan with crumbs

Thank you to King Arthur Flour for this recipe for brownies. I love it because I always have the ingredients on hand, so it makes a good go-to if I need to make some in a hurry. These fall more into the cake-like brownie category rather than the fudge-like brownies. But if you find yourself out of baking chocolate and it’s time to bake some brownies, this recipe won’t disappoint you.

From the King Arthur Flour 10-lbs. bag of all-purpose flour.

Quick & Easy Fudge Brownies

Ingredients:

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/4 tsp. salt*
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. espresso powder, optional
3 large eggs
1/2 cup (8 TB) butter, melted
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
*increase the salt to 1/2 tsp. if you use unsalted butter

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F
  2. Lightly grease a 9″x13″ pan
  3. Put all of the ingredients into a large bowl in the order in which they’re written.
  4. Stir, then beat the mixture until smooth
  5. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan
  6. Bake the brownies for 25 to 30 minutes, or until they’re just barely beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan.
  7. Remove the brownies from the oven; let them cool completely before cutting.
  8. Store any leftovers, well wrapped, at room temperature for 5 to 6 days.
  9. Freeze for longer storage.

Yield: about 2 dozen 2″ brownies

K is for King Arthur Flour

King Arthur Flour Store sign Vermont

If you’ve ever flipped through the pages of the King Arthur Flour catalog, then you know what it is to dream. To lose yourself in the possibilities of so many different flours, to voyage across the globe in search of the perfect vanilla extract, to wrap yourself tightly in recipes, to line your imagination with parchment, to punch down doubt, and to rise above the ordinary loaf. To live, however briefly, and only in your mind, as the baker that you always knew you could be.

Or maybe that’s just me.

King Arthur Flour Store vt counter

Situated in Norwich, Vermont, this epicenter of all things baking features not only a café and bakery, but also offers classes, and a store that feels like the catalog come to life. But, if one of the drawbacks of the catalog is the high prices, you’ll see no relief from that here. True, by visiting the store you’ll save on shipping costs, but there are no additional discounts. There is a small clearance section where you may find a bargain, but if, like me, you were expecting some kind of “congrats for finding us in the middle of the Vermont woods” discount or a “thanks for driving allllll this way up route 91” price break, you may be a little disappointed.

King Arthur

But don’t worry, there’s always the café to lift your spirits. Sandwiches, salads, and sweets–everything I’ve tasted is delicious. There’s even a section of the place where you can watch the bakers create the specialties of the day. The café seating area is charming, with a couch-filled gazebo-like section in the middle and lots of tables and chairs surrounding that.

King Arthur Flour Store VT baker

So daydream your way through the store, stroll through each page of the catalog, and remember to check the back counter for a taste of the day’s sample. And if you don’t buy something, don’t feel bad. You never actually bought anything from the catalog anyway.

Get yourself a nice strong cup of coffee, pick out a pastry, and hit the road. I think of it as the fanciest pit stop I ever get to make while on a road trip.

King Arthur Flour Store cage

***

I’m participating in the A to Z Challenge for the month of April. The idea is to post every day, except Sundays, and end up with one post for each letter of the alphabet. It’s a good challenge to help me to blog every day.

A to Z Challenge badge

I is for Imagination

Homemade while wheat baguette

I’m running low on Ideas at the moment, so use your Imagination and pretend this baguette looks like the letter I.

Or is it a lowercase l?

Damn sans-serif fonts.

(Whole-wheat baguette baked yesterday to go with potato and ham soup. Winter was trying to hang around again this weekend, but things should warm up this week.)

***

I’m participating in the A to Z Challenge for the month of April. The idea is to post every day, except Sundays, and end up with one post for each letter of the alphabet. It’s a good challenge to help me to blog every day.

A to Z Challenge badge

Caramelized Onion Tart

Caramelized onion tart
This pastry was made with white flour only, so it is lighter in color than the first tart, which was made with half white, half whole-wheat flour.

If you love attractive food photography, you might want to close your eyes, haha.  The photos don’t do it justice, but this Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Tart is delicious.

I made this caramelized onion tart twice recently and I would happily eat it again anytime. I combined these two recipes: Rustic Onion Tart from Simply Kitchen and Onion and Mushroom Tart from The Kitchn. I wanted a tart with onion, mushroom, and ricotta, but I loved the folded crust of the first recipe. It is a bit heavy for the galette-style crust, and I can see why The Kitchn’s recipe uses a tart pan to support the mushrooms and ricotta. But it worked out fine for me, and I hope it works out for you, too!

Spread ricotta cheese mixture on the pastry
Spread the cheese on the pastry

Both times I approximated the ingredients. It’s pretty flexible in terms of the amounts of the fillings. The second tart didn’t have as many onions, but still turned out great.

There are 3 parts to the recipe:

  1. Onion filling
  2. Cheese filling
  3. Pastry (a pâte brisée recipe is at the bottom, or use premade pie crust)

Onion Filling
About a pound of onions, sliced
8-12 oz of mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 TB olive oil
1 TB butter
Salt, pepper
1 tsp balsamic vinegar (optional)
Thyme

Caramelizing the onions takes about 30-40 mins, so don’t heat them too high or too fast. Keep in mind that they will cook for a while. (Simply Recipes has this great tutorial on the process.)

  1. Heat oil and butter in pan, then add onions and sprinkle with salt.
  2. Cook on medium until onions are translucent, up to 10 mins.
  3. Then turn heat down and stir occasionally.
  4. After about 20 mins total in the pan, add mushrooms and garlic.
  5. Finish cooking (onions will be in for 30-40 min total).
  6. Add balsamic during the last 5 mins of cooking. (or stir in afterward if you forget)
  7. Take off the heat and sprinkle some thyme.
  8. Let this mixture cool a bit before putting into the pastry.

(When you add the mushrooms, some moisture will escape and loosen up the onions. Purists may say that this disrupts the caramelization process, but I didn’t want to dirty a separate pan to cook the mushrooms and garlic. I think it turned out fine, although it may not be technically correct. You could cook them separately and add them together at the end.)

Spread the onions and mushrooms on the ricotta filling
Add the cooled filling

Cheese Filling
3-4 TB ricotta cheese
3/4 to 1 cup shredded gruyère (or cheese of your choice), reserve 1/4 c for sprinkling on top
Salt and pepper

Mix together and set aside.

Tart Assembly

  1. Put parchment paper on baking sheet
  2. Roll out pastry dough to about 14 inches across
  3. Spread cheese in middle, leaving about 2 inches at edges
  4. Place onions and mushrooms on top
  5. Fold dough over edges of filling in sections, working your way around the tart
  6. Sprinkle additional cheese on top

Baking Instructions

  1. Bake at 450° for 10 min
  2. Turn down to 350° for 20-25 min until golden brown
  3. Let cool slightly before cutting
The pastry is folded over the filling and cheese is sprinkled
Fold the pastry over and sprinkle with gruyère

Pâte Brisée
1 1/4 c flour (I mix all-purpose and whole wheat)
1/2 c butter (1 stick), cut into cubes
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
3-5 TB ice water

Cut butter into flour, salt and sugar until mixture resembles course meal. Try to handle it as little as possible. Add water, one TB at a time until mixture will hold together. Do not add too much water. Flatten into disc and refrigerate at least 30 mins before using. Let sit for 5 mins after removing from fridge and roll out.

Caramelized onion and mushroom tart
The pastry is made with part white, part whole-wheat flour

Happy Belated Pi Day

Turkey pot pie and pumpkin pieYes, Pi Day was Monday, or 3.14. It’s a wonderful excuse to bake pie and it’s good motivation to teach the kids that math is fun. This post is late because I’ve been sick this week.

Carrots, celery, mushrooms, onion in a pan for pot pie filling

But I’ve been sick for a while now. Just feeling like I’m fighting off a cold, it comes and goes. Then I started feeling really bad, realized that I’ve been “fighting it off” for more than a month now, and finally went to the doctor.

Pot pie filling with gravy

He said I have bronchitis, and I left with a prescription for cough syrup and an inhaler. I feel like I’m 12, haha. But I’m happy that he didn’t give me antibiotics because he couldn’t be sure that I needed them.

Pate brisee dough ready to roll out

So here’s the turkey pot pie that I made for dinner on Monday and the pumpkin pie for dessert. All in the name of math education 😉

Flaky pate brisee pie crust
I’m getting better at working with the pâte brisée pastry to make it flaky

This photo below is from last year’s Pi Day, but we used these again to talk about circles.

circles, fractions, geometry for kids

Maamoul Cookie Adventures

2016-02-07 15.18.52
Maamoul filled with dates and walnuts

Thanks to a post on Lana’s blog Once Upon A Spice, I was introduced to a shortbread-style Middle Eastern cookie called maamoul. This was a guest post by Lynn at Lynz Real Cooking, whose fascinating blog provides recipes and stories of her life in the Middle East raising 9 kids. The pictures were lovely and the recipe sounded delicious. Also, I was intrigued by the idea of using a wooden mold to form the cookies (after seeing someone use a similar tool on the Great British Bake Off).

I was so curious about these cookies and did a little research. There seem to be many spellings of the cookie as well as many variations of the basic recipe. (Lynn spells her recipe “mamul,” and in general I found the most common spelling to be “maamoul,” so that’s what I went with). I was sold–this was something I had to try to make.

2016-02-07 15.41.16
Course semolina, fine semolina, and date paste

I found a specialty grocery store and talked to elderly gentleman behind the counter about what I was looking for. Did he have any molds, can he show me where the semolina is, oh and also the rose and orange blossom waters? See, I had found this recipe online and wanted to give it a try. He gave me half a smile and suggested that I might be interested in one of the many brands of maamoul sold in boxes, already made and imported.

“No, thanks,” I replied, and he came out from behind the counter.

He stopped in front of the semolina and asked if I wanted course or fine, holding one in  each of his hands. I said I couldn’t remember and started to fumble with my phone.

“I know it’s part flour and part semolina, but I don’t know which one,” I trailed off as I looked for Lana’s post.

“No flour, you don’t use flour in maamoul,” he said, “usually, you use part course and part fine semolina.” I replied that I had remembered seeing a different recipe that called for that, so maybe I’d start with that one and then figure out the other. I took the two bags from him.

“What are you filling them with?” he asked. I said maybe some with dates and some with walnuts, recalling some of the other recipes I had researched.

“How are you going to do the dates?” he asked.

“Um, chop them up I guess?” I replied. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. I started feeling a little self conscious. “Maybe the food processor?”

“No,” he said, handing me another package, “you need this: date paste. It’s ground up dates used for baking, they are ground very fine, and this is what we use in maamoul.” I thanked him for his advice, and appreciated what felt like insider information. I also picked up some rose water and orange blossom water. Unfortunately, they did not have molds, but I could figure something else out.

2016-02-07 15.22.10
Date paste balls and the walnut filling

We chatted some more and he said that he’s Lebanese. I realized that was why his recipe tips sounded familiar–because the recipe that had stuck out in my mind, one that I had bookmarked, was from a website called mamaslebanesekitchen.com. When I made my first version of maamoul, I used a combination of this recipe and the one in this video, posted by Laila’s kitchen.

Date paste filling for mamoul
Put the ball on the flattened dough

Watching the video was a great help because I could see what the texture of the dough should look like at each stage, and it was helpful to watch the cookies being filled. I did cut the rose and orange blossom water by more than half in the dough because the flavors were quite strong, and it’s not something that we’ve had before. I replaced it with orange juice when I mixed up the walnut filling.

My family liked the walnut-filled cookies, but the dates were a hard sell. I’m pretty much the only dates fan around here, but I shared with some friends, who really enjoyed them.

2016-02-07 15.21.13
Seal up the dough then press into the mold

Now, here’s an example of me falling into the trap of over-researching and over-thinking to the point where I start confusing myself. I had read lots of recipes, and I can’t say whether I read conflicting information on different sites, or whether I just got it confused in my own head, but I knew there was something about the shape of the cookie corresponding to the filling. As mamaslebanesekitchen explains:

Maamoul fillings can include dates, walnuts, pistachio, or a combination of both or other nuts. Traditionally, maamoul with dates (also called maamoul bi siwa) is made with a round shaped mold, and maamoul with nuts with an elongated shape mold.  Only nuts-filled maamoul gets sprinkled with powdered sugar. Dates-filled maamoul is baked slightly longer to get light brown cookies, whereas nuts-filled maamoul is removed from the oven at the slightest hint of browning.

So I followed the guidelines for the shapes, using a round plastic play-doh cap as my mold, and then shaping the other filling by hand. At some point while the first batch was in the oven, I decided to skim the recipe again and realized I had gotten the fillings and shapes switched. So for the subsequent batches, I followed the shape/filling combos above. This elegant system of the cookie shape indicating the filling inside was messed up from the start, haha. It was a bit of a gamble as to what kind of cookie you were biting into (luckily I liked both). But since I had read so many different variations on the recipe, I told myself that perhaps there is no hard and fast rule about the shape/filling relationship.

Maamoul cookies with powdered sugar
Executive decision to sugar them all

I knowingly decided, however, to break the rules and sprinkle powdered sugar on all of them.

Here are the results, one more time, of the recipe adapted from mamaslebanesekitchen and Laila’s kitchen.

2016-02-07 15.18.52
Maamoul filled with dates and also walnuts…but which is which?

And back to Lana’s post of Lynn’s recipe, which started it all. I was eager to make these cookies, too. They were delicious, and went over so well with the family. I ran out of walnuts for the filling so I chopped up some pecans as well (my favorite nut, yum!). Since I had leftover of both course and fine semolina, I used the course, which adds a little bit of texture to what is similar to a shortbread-style cookie. It’s an excellent combination. I did add a tiny bit of the rose and orange blossom water, but not too much. Just enough for a little hint of the flavor.

Maamoul
Lynn’s mamul recipe, filled with walnuts and pecans

Overall, this maamoul adventure was a lot of fun. Thank you to Lana and to Lynn for teaching me about something new! Without your posts, I would have never known of this new cookie to research and bake. And, of course, eat! I tend to bake my way through the bleak winter days, and this was a perfectly delicious distraction. So thank you again, ladies!!

Photo Challenge: Colorful Carrot Circle

Different color carrots in a circle

I have been using these colorful carrots for several months now, but every time I get a big batch together like this I have to pause and just appreciate their beauty. It gets me every time.

Colorful carrots chopped up in a pot for soup
Chopped up circles

This circle of colorful carrots turned into a soup for tonight’s dinner.

 Creamy Carrot soup with sour cream swirl
Creamy carrot circle

For flavors, I added grated ginger, lemon zest, parsley, and thyme to the base of carrots, onions, garlic, and turkey stock. Finished the bowls with a little sour cream.

Pumpernickel onion loaf,

And I also spent a few hours making this bread. I’ve had this pumpernickel flour for a while but never attempted anything with it. What better place to start than the recipe on the back of the bag for Pumpernickle-Onion Loaf (from King Arthur Flour).

Despite having to substitute a couple ingredients and not having any caraway seeds to sprinkle on top, I think it turned out well. I think next time I’d like a recipe that produces a darker bread, but this was a nice intro to the flour. It called for 1 cup pumpernickel and 2 1/4 cups AP and 1/4 potato flour. I’d like to see some white whole wheat  added next time to make a heartier bread.

Notes on the recipe:
The one online varies slightly from what was on my bag of flour. The bag called for 2 1/4 c AP and 1/4 c potato, but I used 2.5 c AP. I also didn’t have non-diastatic malt powder, but the bag said to use 2TB brown sugar instead. Did not have the optional deli rye flavoring so I ignored that, and in place of the caramel powder coloring I used molasses. I also didn’t have dried minced onion lol but I used powdered. I pretty much only had the two flours, the yeast and the water haha. But it still turned out yummy. I’m sure the specialty powders that the recipe calls for gives it a darker color, but I prefer a more natural approach.

Before I got off track with the recipe stuff, this was originally posted for the photo challenge called Circle

Christmas Bakes!

Chocolate cheesecake, Pulla, canalés, rum cake, Christmas cookies

I was in charge of desserts for our family gathering, and I had a lot of fun this year. I made a chocolate cheesecake (inspired by this one from TheRobbylicious blog), two loaves of braided cardamom bread (this recipe is for Pulla from the Saveur website), canalés from the blog mamangerie, rum cake (from the King Arthur Flour site), and some cookies (sugar, oatmeal, and snickerdoodles).

It was my first time making canalés, and I was very happy with the result. The recipe is clear and easy to follow (thanks, Sabine!), and the silicone pan was well worth the $9 investment. I didn’t do beeswax, and I got this tip from the baker at a nearby coffee shop: do two coats of melted butter before baking, putting the pan in the fridge in between.

This sugary smorgasbord was partly inspired by my discovery of The Great British Baking Show on Netflix last week (the name was changed from The Great British Bake Off for American TV, for some reason). I fell in love with the show, its focus on the technical aspects of baking, and the overall niceness of the contestants, judges, setting, etc. I found it much more enjoyable to watch than most shows on the Food Network, with their emphasis on drama between contestants and swearwords being beeped every few seconds. It’s not that I have a problem with swearing–I’m from New Jersey, after all–it’s just that it can be (BEEP)ing distracting when I’m trying to (BEEP)ing learn something.

The show inspired me to try some fun decorations for the cheesecake–the idea to pipe the whipped cream and the chocolate shapes came from things I’d seen.

I’m happy that I came across the show when I did. It was just right right time to explore new desserts and learn new things. Watching something that is so dedicated to the techniques and joy of baking made my holiday baking a very enjoyable experience this year.