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Danish pastry

Ta da! Finally… A day late in posting – June’s Daring Baker challenge to make a Danish Braid. And what a delicious challenge it was ūüôā

My tiny recipe tweaks included:

– nearly an extra cup of flour to get the dough to a kneadable consistency

– using a pear and raisin filling instead of apple

Pear-cinnamon-raisin filling in the danish pastry
It worked beautifully –¬†I was happy with my results¬†as a first-timer on this sort of pastry. I particularly liked the the feel of the¬†dough¬†under my¬†hands, gradually getting softer¬†and more velvety-gorgeous as it absorbed the butter with each ‘turn and roll’. A very therapeutic activity for a Sunday afternoon.

Tastewise, it was a big hit¬†as well (to¬†take these photos, I had to fend off Mr B. before he chomped the lot).¬†Not at all yeasty, which was something I was slightly worried about at the beginning of this challenge. The only thing that I wish I’d done differently was keep a better eye on the oven, as¬†the braid came out a¬†lot darker that I would have liked¬†– and that’s hardly the¬†recipe’s fault! A year after getting¬†our oven and I still forget that it gets super-hot…

This month’s challenge¬†definitely pushed me outside my shortcrust comfort zone and I’d like to try more variations on this recipe – if I can get myself organised, that is! In fact, at the excellent suggestion of Rachel, I’ve stashed the other half of the dough in the freezer for croissants next weekend. And Lorrie made cinnamon rolls with her leftovers… Oooh – it’s all very tempting!

Thanks to¬†Kelly¬†of Sass & Veracity and¬†Ben of What’s Cooking?¬†for a memorable challenge! For the full recipe, plus handy ‘as you go’ photos, here’s Kelly’s excellent post. Now, check out the rest of the DB gang on the blogroll. It never ceases to amaze me how we can all make the one recipe with such different and wonderful results ūüôā

danish pastry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Very nearly there… Just a two-hour rise in the airing cupboard and then into the oven.

… and I have a yummy pear-cinnamon-raisin filling cooling on the side.

So there will be a post about this month’s Daring Baker challenge some time in the next 24 hours!

Planning – not my strong point. But I am enjoying this recipe challenge a lot and have my fingers crossed for a good result.

In the meantime, check out all the other delicious offerings at the DB blogroll.

cheesecake pops

Advance planning – clearly not my strong point!

Here are my ever-so-slightly-late results for April’s Daring Bakers challenge¬†– cheesecake pops no less (or popsicles, as I keep calling them).¬†Set by Deborah of Taste and Tell and Elle of Feeding My Enthusiasms, this task saw DBers¬†around the world roll up their sleeves¬†to get busy with¬†gallons of¬†cream cheese and melted chocolate¬†to whip up¬†this recipe from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey.¬†Check out the Daring Bakers blogroll for¬†many rather more elegant versions than mine. There are some very talented people out¬†there ūüôā ¬†¬†

So yes, advance planning and/or a practice run would definitely have come in handy. Not because the recipe was tricky but because the whole shaping side of things went a little wonky and the results lack a little finesse on my part.

Partly that’s because I have the artistic abilities of a two-year old. But I think I also tripped up by not¬†chilling the cheesecake for long enough before scooping it into the rather lumpy shapes you see above. Less haste and more speed… Nevermind – it was still a lot of fun rolling¬†the pops¬†into shape and dunking them into the melted chocolate, before making judicious use of my sprinkles (that’s the second time in one week those babies¬†have come out of the cupboard).

I halved the recipe as we’ve got limited room in the freezer just now and that went just fine, which I was pleased with. Sometimes it’s not just a matter of chopping the¬†ingredients in half to achieve the same result for a smaller batch.¬†But after cooking it in the bain marie for about 45 minutes, the cheesecake had gone a beautiful golden-brown on top and had set quite nicely too. Seemed a bit of a shame to break it all up with the icecream scoop!

The slightly lumpy¬†results didn’t affect the taste at all – they’re scrumptious! Many thanks to Deborah and Elle for setting this challenge not just for the¬†kitchen fun¬†but¬†also because¬†they solved my dilemma about what to make first from this book. I picked up a copy when I was in London a few weeks ago and have been drooling over the contents so much ever since I’ve been unable to decide where to start! Perhaps this recipe has set the sticky, chewy, messy gooey ball rolling. If a ball like that could roll, that is.

Cheesecake pops from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor

Makes 30 to 40 pops

You’ll need:

Five 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup plain flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 large eggs (When I halved the recipe, I just used two eggs rather than messily trying to get a ‘half’ too)
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup cream
boiling water as needed
Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks
1 pound semisweet flavoured, milk chocolate flavoured, or brightly-coloured confectionery coating

1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 170C/325F

2. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer set on a low speed, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour and salt until smooth. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (still on a low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

3. Lightly grease a 10-inch cake tin (not a springform pan). Pour the cheesecake batter into the cake pan and place in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top – 35 to 45 minutes.

4. Remove the cheesecake from the waterbath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refridgerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

5. When cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the pops, uncovered, until very hard – at least 1 to 2 hours.

6. When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate coating. Place the chocolate wafers in a microwave-proof bowl. Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Remove and stir. If the chocolate is not completely melted, microwave for 30-second intervals, stirring until smooth. (Or just melt some chocolate in a bowl over some boiling water.) 

7. Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop into the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completly. Hold the pop over the melted chocolate and shake off any excess. Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined tray to set. Repeat with the remaining pops, melting more chocolate if needed.

lemon meringue pie

When I saw the latest challenge from the Daring Bakers, I did a little skip of¬†delight around the kitchen. We love lemon-flavoured anything around here – cakes, sweets, tarts, muffins, curd, alcohol, you name it¬†– so having to¬†make lemon meringue pie as DB¬†‘homework’ (set by Jen at The Canadian Baker) was always going to go down well at Bird Towers.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out quite as planned in the end and I would love to find out why.

The pastry came together well, no complaints there (especially easy if using a food processor). And the lemon filling turned out to be a mouth-puckeringly¬†sharp and gorgeous treat –¬†I would certainly make this recipe again as just a lemon tart and I thoroughly enjoyed playing with cornflour as I’d never used it to make a dessert like this before.

Nope, as you’ve probably guessed, my problem was with the meringue side of things. All looked promising as I eased the pie into the oven to cook off the topping – oh, yes, I was writing up this blog entry as a raving success in my head already. I was cruising this challenge. And it looked pretty darn good when it came out of the oven,¬†even if I do say so myself.

But then it all went pear-shaped (or should that be pie-shaped?).

You see that picture above? Notice that little gleam of something around the edge of the pie between the meringue and the pastry? That’s not just the halogen lighting bouncing around the camera lens (curse winter night-time photography). That’s the pie starting to weep. And lo,¬†it continued to weep – clear, unidentified liquid – for the next wee while, until the whole meringue topping was floating raft-like on a puddle of the stuff.

Eurgh. That’s not appetising by any standards.

Eventually, I took the pie over to the sink and carefully drained off the liquid before serving it up to some friends on Friday night. Luckily enough, they’re good friends and are used to having all sorts of food experiments inflicted on them, so they weren’t put off by the weeping meringue. The general consensus was that the pastry was a good ‘un and the filling was perfect – nicely sharp but not¬†cloyingly over-sweet as you sometimes find in store-bought versions (I’m looking at you, Caf√© Leon). Even the meringue, once you tasted it, wasn’t that bad.

So what went wrong? Could any of the following factors have affected the final outcome?

  • My kitchen was extremely warm – I was cooking a big dinner and the pie had to cool down next to the oven on full blast because there was nowhere else to put it. Did it, in effect,¬†start to melt?
  • I think that last point might be extremely wishful thinking, so… did I do something wrong when I whipped up the meringue mixture? Definitely possible.
  • Was there some kind of reaction between the luscious lemon filling and the fluffy meringue topping? I don’t know enough about the science side of things to say, but it’s unlikely – otherwise no one would ever make lemon meringue pie.
  • Was my oven at the wrong temperature? I think this is the most likely explanation. I noticed that the meringue was browning rapidly – too rapidly for it to cook over the allotted 15 to 20 minutes and not come out looking like a charcoal lump with goo on the inside. So I turned¬†reduced the temperature¬†a little bit and kept an eye on it. I think I didn’t get the cooking time right for my oven¬†after I’d fiddled with the temperature, leading to an undercooked, leaky meringue.

But if anyone else out¬†there has any theories on how I made my pie cry, then please leave a comment below. I’d dearly love to know because, overall,¬†I thoroughly enjoyed¬†this challenge¬†and would¬†give it another go¬†if I could work out precisely what went wrong!¬†

I’ll add the recipe later, but if you want to see¬†all the wonderful and creative¬†versions that the other¬†DB-rs¬†made of this¬†challenge, then take a quick¬†trip over to the Daring Bakers Blogroll. Enjoy ūüôā

Update: OK, I’ve found out how to stop the meringue weeping, thanks to Bellini Valli at More Than Burnt Toast. You need to add cornstarch to the meringue mixture because…

“It prevents the egg proteins from overcooking which causes shrinkage, beading or weeping in the meringue. Food stylists use this technique and have used it during photo shoots to produce beautiful pies.”

Aha! Suddenly it all makes sense!

Ta da! Here’s my first completed challenge for the Daring Bakers – a yule log with meringue mushrooms nestling around the edges for a bit of woodland scene-setting.

I’ve got to say, it was a lot of fun, even though it’s a bit hectic at the moment (for obvious seasonal reasons). Actually, it’s been quite therapeutic – having the chance to escape to the kitchen, taking some time out to focus completely on each step of making this cake, in the midst of all the chaos.

However, when I initially read through the challenge, I have to admit, there were a couple of parts that I found daunting:

– the genoise sponge – the last time I made one, it turned out flat as a pancake, so I’ve been a bit wary ever since

– the buttercream – if you take a peek at the recipe below, you’ll see that there’s a lot of whipping-eggs-over-hot-water action (same with the sponge). All I could think was that it would be too easy end up scrambling the eggs or curdling the whole lot when adding the butter

– and I don’t like coffee. So the coffee flavouring/colouring for the buttercream went right out the window

But I didn’t join the Daring Bakers because I thought someone would set a challenge to make chocolate krispie cakes ūüôā The clue is in the name. It’s all about getting out of that kitchen comfort zone and stretching yourself a bit.

In the end, the genoise sponge worked out well – the instructions were clear and thorough, so any apprehension I felt disappeared pretty quickly – I’m a genoise convert. It’s a good, flexible base recipe and I’d definitely try it again.

To solve the buttercream-flavouring/colouring problem, I melted 100g of Green & Black’s dark chocolate and, after letting it cool down a little bit, I added it to the mixture. Also, to prevent curdling, I made sure that the butter was thoroughly warmed through before use by leaving it in front of the fire for a while (and hoping it would soak up some loggy vibes whilst it was there).

Another tweak I made was to spread some berry compote across the cooked genoise sponge before adding the buttercream – a bit of sweetish-sharpness to cut across the creamy chocolate filling. But if I was going to make this again, I would use cherries soaked in kirsch to create a Black-Forest gateau-type dessert (which would be quite appropriate for a yule log). The jam is ok, in fact it works well, but the cherries would really pull out all the stops for a spectacular, boozy pud.

My log-rolling skills were a bit rubbish though – I didn’t end up with a log, so much as a plank (rolling from the long end). It’s probably something that comes with practice, needing a quick, deft touch – I was a bit too hesitant to make the roll tight enough. All good knowledge for next time ūüôā

Mushroom-wise, I had no option but to make the meringue version. The challenge offered a marzipan option but it required almond paste and corn syrup – neither of which are available locally (although I think the wonderful Fallon & Byrne in Dublin stock both products). Apart from nearly squirting meringue all over the kitchen when I first put it in the piping bag, this was an enjoyable side project to the main challenge and added a lovely touch to the finished cake. Although I think I made them quite large – I certainly didn’t get 48 mushrooms out of the meringue mix.

Next time, I think I’ll make a lemon version, with lemon zest in the sponge, lemon curd spread across the sponge and limoncello in the buttercream. Mmmmmmm – next time might not be too far away!

Thanks for such a fab and delicious challenge, Ivonne and Lisa – it’s been a lot of fun and I can’t wait for the next one. Take a look at the Daring Bakers blogroll to see how everyone else got on with this challenge (I’m off to have a look now). Merry Christmas everyone ūüôā

Yule Log from Perfect Desserts by Nick Malgieri and The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Dessert

Serves 12

Plain Genoise

3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
¬ĺ cup of sugar
¬Ĺ cup cake flour – spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off (also known as cake & pastry flour)
¬ľ cup cornstarch

one (1) 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again

1. Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.

2. Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.

3. Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger – it should be warm to the touch).

4. Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted.

5. While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.

6. Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.

7. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

8. Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly.

9. While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream.

10. Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.

Coffee buttercream

4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons rum or brandy

1. Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.

2. Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in the liquor and beat into the buttercream.Meringue

Mushrooms

3 large egg whites, at room temperature
¬ľ teaspoon cream of tartar
¬Ĺ cup (3-1/2 ounces/105 g.) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (1-1/3 ounces/40 g.) icing sugar
Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Have ready a pastry bag fitted with a small (no. 6) plain tip. In a bowl, using a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the egg whites and cream of tartar until very foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar while beating. Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Continue until the whites hold stiff, shiny peaks. Sift the icing sugar over the whites and, using a rubber spatula, fold in until well blended.

2. Scoop the mixture into the bag. On one baking sheet, pipe 48 stems, each ¬Ĺ inch (12 mm.) wide at the base and tapering off to a point at the top, ¬ĺ inch (2 cm.) tall, and spaced about ¬Ĺ inch (12 mm.) apart. On the other sheet, pipe 48 mounds for the tops, each about 1-1/4 inches (3 cm.) wide and ¬ĺ inch (2 cm.) high, also spaced ¬Ĺ inch (12 mm.) apart. With a damp fingertip, gently smooth any pointy tips. Dust with cocoa. Reserve the remaining meringue.

3. Bake until dry and firm enough to lift off the paper, 50-55 minutes. Set the pans on the counter and turn the mounds flat side up. With the tip of a knife, carefully make a small hole in the flat side of each mound. Pipe small dabs of the remaining meringue into the holes and insert the stems tip first. Return to the oven until completely dry, about 15 minutes longer. Let cool completely on the sheets.

Marzipan Mushrooms

8 ounces almond paste
2 cups icing sugar
3 to 5 tablespoons light corn syrup
Cocoa powder

1. To make the marzipan combine the almond paste and 1 cup of the icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on low speed until sugar is almost absorbed.

2. Add the remaining 1 cup of sugar and mix until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.

3. Add half the corn syrup, then continue mixing until a bit of the marzipan holds together when squeezed, adding additional corn syrup a little at a time, as necessary: the marzipan in the bowl will still appear crumbly.

4. Transfer the marzipan to a work surface and knead until smooth.

5. Roll one-third of the marzipan into a 6 inches long cylinder and cut into 1-inch lengths.

6. Roll half the lengths into balls. Press the remaining cylindrical lengths (stems) into the balls (caps) to make mushrooms.

7. Smudge with cocoa powder.

Assembling the Yule Log

1. Run a sharp knife around the edges of the genoise to loosen it from the pan.

2. Turn the genoise layer over (unmolding it from the sheet pan onto a flat surface) and peel away the paper.

3. Carefully invert your genoise onto a fresh piece of parchment paper.

4. Spread with half the coffee buttercream (or whatever filling you’re using).

5. Use the parchment paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder.

6. Transfer back to the baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours.

7. Unwrap the cake. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end.

8. Position the larger cut piece on each log about 2/3 across the top.

9. Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump.

10. Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark.

11. Transfer the log to a platter and decorate with your mushrooms and whatever other decorations you’ve chosen.

If anyone’s dropping by to see my results for the latest Daring Bakers challenge (hi!), please, please, please come back tomorrow for the finished item ūüôā

The yule log has just gone into the fridge to firm up (only a bit of cracking at each end, phew!) and I’m now off to whip up some meringue mushrooms.

But here are the results so far…

The genoise sponge topped off with some berry jam and chocolate buttercream:

The finished roll, ready to go into the fridge for the night:

Update: I’ve just realised what time it is and the mushrooms are going to take about an hour and a half to make. Think I might tackle them in the morning with a fresh brain!

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I'm short of stature (a family trait) but big of appetite (also a family trait). If you're reading this then you're probably big of appetite too. Or a member of my family (hello Mum).
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