Daring Bakers’ challenge: Pomegranate Crostata

November 27, 2010 § 18 Comments

I spent the day with my good friend K., who I’ve known for many years, maybe a good 8, although I’m not quite sure, time is flying and I tend not to litter my memories with facts and figures. It’s just one big Proust-like stream of consciousness that delights at odd, unplanned times. I’m afraid that if I catalogued happy memories, I’d access them to the point of rendering them mundane. So it is. My friend and I came together to catch up and engage in a bit of consumerism this Black Friday. To kick off the day I hosted a brief tea at my home and served mini crostatas, layered with cream cheese and pomegranate puree. I am very lucky to have received a visit from my pomegranate fairy C. (thanks C.!!) recently. So, I will be infusing everything with the fruit for a couple of weeks to come.

I was recently visited by the pomegranate fairy, C.

The crostatas were inspired by this month’s Daring Bakers’ challenge, which incidentally is due, so to speak, today! The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

My crostata shells, which I blind-baked before filling w. cream cheese and pomegranate puree and a 2nd baking session

The tart recipes Simona provided were with eggs, so I had to make a few substitutions to my own recipe, because any of you who follow the Veggie Test Kitchen know that I am obsessed with making tarts. I altered my classic tart recipe by simply adding powdered sugar, lemon zest and vanilla extract. I am not a big fan of sweet pastry crusts, so I added only 1/4 cup of the sugar.

The star of this crostata (Italian for ‘tart’) was the pomegranate puree I used as the top layer. This was an experiment that consisted of blending pomegranate seeds. I bet on the idea that blending long enough would pulverize the seeds. That didn’t exactly happen. During my attempt to strain the mush I ended up with a small shot of pure pomegranate liquid that I surely couldn’t bake. So, I drank it. And it was so much better than the bottles of ‘pure’ Pomegranate juice that I usually buy. I saw the leftover mush and thought, great, good as jam, right? Wrong, somewhat anyway. The seeds weren’t so bad (they survived largely crushed), and the crostata was great! I will have to figure out a way to really pulverize the seeds for the future. Other than that, I’d say this was a hit. The classic Italian crostata is made with a layer of fruit preserves much like my attempt here. I like the idea, and am glad to have added it to my tart repertoire.

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Oreo Chocolate Truffles

November 24, 2010 § 17 Comments

I’ve been randomly watching too many videos on tempering chocolate and other wonderful confections recently. My goal is to chart a serious course in the wonderful world of chocolatier-ing at some point in the future. The whole process. Down to the beans. This is a dream I guess you could say. I’ve been thinking about this recently. If there were no limits to what you could spend your life and days doing, what might you do?? Without a doubt, I would spend my mornings making pastries and confections in some well-light Parisian kitchen. I would have a fail-proof recipe for eggless double-decker macaroons that taste not much different from the wonderful goodness on display at Ladurée down the way. I’d spend my nights with the expats, and my vacations scouring the world, Indonesia, Ecuador… for the best cocoa crops. I’d retire to trading beans on the exchanges, and probably die as fulfilled as one can be after a life on earth. Maybe writing it down counts for something to the universe?? One can only hope, I suppose.

Making truffles in my little kitchen is a humble attempt into this world, and at that Oreo ‘truffle’s. A gateway to the gateway you could say. If oreo truffles could even be called truffles is suspect, as they lack the central tenet of truffle-ism, which is to possess a ganache heart. We can leave tradition and let it slide for the moment, as we’re currently spending our days in the States, which is about innovation and evolution, and lexical violations that might inspire people to venture in their kitchens with a smile are OK.

Ruminations aside, these are tremendously easy to make for those of you out there who may be thinking this is something you just cannot do at home due to the mess factor, the burning chocolate factor (this is real, and a menace, I have burned holes through many storage apperatusses due to overheating chocolate), or any other factor. It requires simply, one pair of hands, a double boiler, oreos, cream cheese and semi-sweet baking chocolate. The recipe I used is quite widely disseminated over the web. I think that maybe the only unique aspect in my go at it is that I chose to coat my truffles in melted dark chocolate. For the oreo truffle, many people choose to coat in melted white chocolate. If I were to do it again, which I definitely will, I would never again coat truffles in melted chocolate. I am going to get creative with the powder coatings. It’s the cleanest, most presentable method, and further, truffle centers tend to be quite rich so coating them with a powder would result in a more balanced finished piece.

Oreo Chocolate Truffles
(makes 20 two-bite pieces)

21 oreo cookies (do not get the double-stuffed stuff), uniformly crushed
4 oz of full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate baking chips

Mix the crushed oreos and the cream cheese with your hands until both are thoroughly incorporated. You should be left with a ball that looks like stiff mud. Roll out small balls with a melon scoop or with your hands. You should end up with about 20 small balls (as pictured). In a double boiler (or in the microwave, but be careful if you plan to use a microwave, as chocolate heats very quickly. I would suggest using a glass bowl and zapping at 15 second intervals, stirring in between), melt your chocolate chips until smooth, stirring consistently. Turn off the heat and dip your oreo balls in the melted chocolate. Lay the truffles on wax paper to harden. You can garnish your truffles with toppings before they set. Refrigerate for about an hour to allow the truffles to set. These can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.


Pomegranate Carrot Cake

November 22, 2010 § 6 Comments

Thanksgiving inspires a plethora of wonderful side and dessert recipes. Having a stronger sweet tooth, I’d say, my attention is always immediately drawn to the cakes I see. Cake recipes, pictures, descriptions, you name it. I’m all over cakes. One of the cakes I’ve been meaning to check off of my To Do list most recently is the Carrot Cake. It seems like such a natural idea to make a vegetable cake in the wintertime, I don’t know why. It’s kind of the same weird inclination that makes you want to eat fruit in the summertime, just a body clock thing I suppose.

While researching a good Carrot cake recipe, and eggless mind you, I noticed that a good number of recipes tend to mix a fruit juice into the batter. I’ve so far seen orange juice, pineapple juice, and applesauce used. In an effort to use what I have, and to put a personal spin on the dish, I ended up squeezing some pomegranate seeds to make a few teaspoons of pure juice that I put into my cake batter. In keeping with the pomegranate accent, I filled the center of the cake with pomegranate seeds. It’s a very interesting cake. And most importantly, MOIST. I’m very pleased with this cake, and plan to make it many times again in the future. 

Carrot and Pomegranate Cake
(makes two mini 2-layer cakes, or alternatively one 9-inch round cake pan. I make my mini layered cakes by baking in crème brûlée dishes)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp flax-seed powder mixed in with 3 tbsp warm water (this simulates the inclusion of one egg)
1/2 stick of butter, room temperature
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar in the raw
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup shredded carrots
2 tsps pure pomegranate juice

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt) in a bowl.

In a separate, and large bowl, heat your butter for about 15 seconds in the microwave. To this bowl, add the wet ingredients (flax-seed ‘egg’, brown sugar, sugar in the raw, vanilla extract, milk and sour cream). Mix until all of the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients while mixing. Once thoroughly incorporated, add the carrots and pomegranate juice.

Pour the batter into a greased and floured 9-inch round cake pan, or 4 crème brûlée dishes.

Bake on 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the cake(s) is(are) able to pass the toothpick test.

Garnish with cream cheese frosting & 1 cup chopped walnuts

Cream cheese frosting
(from Breakfast Lunch Dinner Punch)

4 oz cream cheese
1/4 cup butter
1/2 lb icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence

Beat ingredients together until fully incorporated.

If looking for a quick fix for the topping, try my lazy trick of mixing 1 part ready-made frosting with 3 parts cool whip. The cool whip acts to tone down the sweetness of the ready-made frosting. You can control the level of sweetness by adjusting the ratio of cool whip/ready-made frosting accordingly.

Coconut Macaroons

November 9, 2010 § 8 Comments

Coconut macaroons, finished product

I tend to like my desserts less sweet, and almost bordering on savoury (hence my obsession with tarts). However, for the sake of expanding my range of baking knowledge, I made these macaroons for the first time a few months ago. While I was practically indifferent to them (and as a result ended up giving most away), I received rave reviews. Go figure. So, for a recent celebration of exchanged desserts I was asked to make the macaroons, and so I did (even though I would have preferred to make a tart!!).

For those of you scared of baking, know that these are incredibly easy to make and almost hard to ruin. I’m more of a hybrid baker-cook, so following directions to a T isn’t really my thing. I like to have a roadmap but improvise along the way. As a result, I end up excelling, I guess, at baking items that don’t require absolute precision. This is one of those items. Classic macaroons are a different story, but the coconut variety just require 4 ingredients (5 if you count salt), a fork, bowl, oven and baking sheet. Very simple.

Coconut Macaroons
(makes two full size baking sheets)

-1/4 cup of flour
-2.5 cups of shredded coconut
-1 can of sweetened condensed milk
-1/8 tsp vanilla extract
-1/8 tsp salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl, combining the dry ingredients first. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the bottoms show golden brown (it will be very apparent).

Note: be very careful if you plan to use a dark or black baking sheet. I wouldn’t use a black baking sheet at all. The bottoms almost certainly will burn. Another issue of importance is using a surface that won’t cause the macaroons to stick. The last time I made these I used wax paper as a buffer between the baking sheet and macaroons. But this didn’t solve the problem entirely, as I was still left with a few messes across my batches. This time I was lucky to have my new silicon baking pads, which are amazing. They require no cooking spray, wax paper, etc. and the macaroons slipped off easily.

what the macaroons should look like before going into the oven

Peanut Butter Pie

October 26, 2010 § 8 Comments

We entertained a few international house guests this past weekend. In an attempt to contribute a bit of American flair to our Friday night dessert I made a Peanut Butter Pie. Admittedly, I did not come up with this idea on my own. My roommate bought a pre-made pie crust a while back (not the graham cracker kind), and I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with it ever since. Whenever I want a ‘pie’ I usually make a tart! So, this pre-made crust has kind of been a burden lingering in the refrigerator.

The foodbuzz network has a database of recipes which I used to skim through looking for anything I had all the ingredients to make, which left only (sad, I know) Peanut Butter Pie. In the end, I used the following recipe (link), which isn’t from the foodbuzz network, go figure. This peanut butter pie tastes a bit like a frozen version of the peanut butter part of a Reese’s pieces peanut butter cup (mouthful isn’t it). I garnished with shaved truffles, but you can always go heavier on the chocolate contribution. A little extra chocolate never hurt 😉 This is probably the easiest dessert I’ve ever made. I think it took a full 15 minutes, if even, not including the time to freeze.

Peanut Butter Pie
(makes one 9-inch pie)

1/2 (4oz) a pack of cream cheese at room temperature
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 (8oz) package frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 pie crust (graham cracker is preferred)
handful of shaved chocolate truffle shavings
Beat the cream cheese, sugar, peanut butter and milk until smooth. Fold in whipped topping. Pour into pie shell. Cover and freeze until firm.

B’s Perfect Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

October 17, 2010 § 2 Comments

My friend B and I plowed through a marathon baking session this weekend, making three batches of goodies:

1. Rustic Goat cheese Apple Walnut tart
2. Pomegranate Melting Moments cookie sandwiches
3. B’s perfect oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

This session was not without purpose. I hadn’t seen my friend in a while and we kind of bond over a love of food given our shared vegetarian diet constraint. So, now that I have this ongoing project of cooking/baking new things, we thought it would be cool to center a night around baking. The weather has been so depressing recently that it just felt right to hole up inside and whip up endless trays of warm, hearty treats.

So, the first of the treats was a variation of the rustic tart I’ve been very openly obsessed with posting here for the past few weeks. This might actually be my 9th tart in the span of like 20 days or something similarly strange. My inspiration here was the abundant apple supply we have here at the house, and a cylindrical block of honey goat cheese I picked up recently. For the tart crust (see my earlier post for the recipe and step by step), I substituted white flour with whole wheat as my ‘experiment’. It was NOT good. The classic sensational pleasures of the tart (flaky, butter goodness) were killed with this crust. My hunch is that in order to adapt the whole wheat to parallel the experience of the white flour crust, much more butter will need to be added, in addition to other substitutes that I honestly hadn’t looked into at the time. The whole thing was a bit cardboard-like and not picture worthy, although I managed to salvage a shot from my recycle bin to post here in case you’re interested. For the base I spread a layer of honey goat cheese, then followed with sliced apples and a brown sugar/chopped walnut topping. 

Oh, another thing worthy of noting here is that the pictures featured in this post are the first I’ve taken using a backdrop!! The reason I decided to go this route is because the overcast depressing winter sky is rendering all times of day unworthy of shooting with natural light!! Not to mention we baked all these goodies at night, so using a backdrop (in this case white) is the closest I was able to get to simulating mid-day. I will most likely expand my repertoire of backdrops and venture into props for your amusement. I’m sure staring at white space is going to get boring over time =)

Back to the food, the second batch of goodies was a spin on Liv Life’s Passionfruit Melting Moments. Her pictures were amazing and made me want to get my hands on those cookies. My attempt here is a version that replaces about 3/4 cup of pure pomegranate juice for the passionfruit juice that the original recipe calls for. The recipe is exactly the same otherwise. The extras I will note here are that the recipe only makes about 6 cookie sandwiches (if you decide to go down the road of filling) and that I would aire on the side of cooking them longer, like 15 minutes minimum, with an eye on them for the remainder. My result was delicious. The cookies really do just about melt in your mouth, likely attributable to the combination of corn starch and powdered sugar. My hunch is that it’s possible to make these cookies gluten-free all the way. It’s going to require some experimentation and research. In the meantime, I don’t really plan to make these cookies for a while. I’d say I had my fill. I realized in the course of sampling that I’m not really a cookie person. Maybe there is a petite French woman inside of me somewhere, but I don’t like my desserts too sweet, and definitely prefer a cake or a tart any day. 

Okay, now to the amazing cookies…

Whenever we do potlucks, my friend B brings the most amazing oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. I’ve always had her near, so I’ve had the luxury of being complacent in learning to bake them myself. But since I’m now interested in learning to cook and bake wild storms, I had to learn to make these cookies. There is a bit of a chemistry experiment involved, but don’t let that derail you. They are, for the most part, easy enough and they are delicious crowd pleasers.

B’s Perfect Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies
(from a Reader’s Digest best of issue many years ago, makes about 24 cookies)

1 cup soft butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup boiling water
1 tsp vanilla
1 + 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups quick oats
12 oz chocolate chips (I like bittersweet, the original recipe calls for semi-sweet)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the butter and sugar together. In a separate vessel, dissolve the baking soda in boiling water. Stir this into the creamed butter/sugar mixture. Add the vanilla and dry ingredients to the mixture. Finally, add the chocolate chips. Drop small balls on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

Chocolate layer cake adorned w. molded chocolate collar (Vegan)

October 11, 2010 § 9 Comments

I have been spending a bit too much time on baking desserts recently, and tend to use these sorts of dishes as bookends to my day. This simply means that I eat cakes and tarts for breakfast and then go back for a 2nd dosage at the end of the day for dessert. In the meantime, I’ve been kind of preoccupied with some issues here and haven’t been eating good foods throughout the day, in the pages so to speak. I noticed that I’ve been very lethargic over the past few days and I need to stop this spiral!!! So, I am going on a fruit and veggie diet for the next week. Check back for some interesting recipes (maybe?). Although, this week is about practicality, so I won’t be focusing on creativity, just getting back to nourishing my brain and my body! So, please enjoy this last sweet treat before my mini hiatus =)

Cherry Tea Cakes recently posted an awesome piece on chocolate collars with a how-to video link (see below). This inspired creativity is why I love the foodie community. The chocolate collars are molded chocolate strips that frame the outside of the cake to give it that ‘someone cared enough to dress me up and I belong in a serious pastry case’ look. I generally don’t bake without a couple of days notice, but after seeing this video and having recently vowed to make a vegan chocolate cake, I just got up and started baking within minutes, literally.

The vegan chocolate cake is a special calling, as I generally find the cakes I get from vegan restaurants to be dry and uninteresting. They make me wish I hadn’t entertained the idea of cake at all!! I decided to start with a basic recipe online. It’s pretty classic and posted just about everywhere (the one requiring vinegar). I made two small two-layer cakes, and only decorated one with the collar, the other is still waiting for my creative hand to receive inspiration from somewhere!!

The cake was, unfortunately, dry!!! I plan to try an applesauce or chocolate pudding variation in the future. In the event that it’s just impossible to produce a moist vegan cake (this just can’t be!!), layering is an excellent tactic. The more layers, the better. If one can construct multiple, perhaps 4+ thin layers sandwiching frosting, this would be optimal, as the cake layers would be too thin to detect the dryness, and that dryness would be infused with the moistness from the frosting. It would be sensory confusion, at least we can hope. For the frosting I just used a pre-made container, as I was kind of thrown off guard by this experiment and didn’t have vegan cream cheese on hand.

Making the collars

Note on the chocolate collar: the one I did here (pictured below) has what you can call a very ‘rustic’ look to it. I didn’t take much care to ensure the chocolate was spread evenly in making the collar, which is key if you are going for a very refined and classic look. I was just experimenting, and I quite like the rustic look. Taste wise, chocolate collars don’t add too entirely much to a chocolate cake. It does, however, add a variety of texture, which is paramount to inspired creative cuisine. I think taking this to the next level would involve flavored chocolate collars (think mint, cayenne pepper, etc..). Check out the video (below) for directions on construction.

When constructing the collars, start here. The cake should be lightly frosted so that the molded collars will stick to the sides of the cake.

              For a cake this size you will need only a handful of chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli dark chips). I heated them in a microwave in my glass tart dish, originally trying this experiment with tupperware. FAIL!!! Within one minute the thing was fried and the chocolate had died, leaving an ugly stench in its wake. So, if you do go the microwave route, stick to a very durable dish, porcelain preferably, and keep your eye on it like a hawk. You’ll want to warm the chips until they’ve just begun to melt. They will still retain the general shape of the chips, but that’s fine. Once you stir them, the mixture will become smooth, and if not, just keep zapping them at 15-ish seconds. It’s better to be cautious with chocolate!

Vegan Chocolate cake:
(makes two mini 2-layer cakes)

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/6 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup coffee (at room temperature)
1/3 cup soy milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsps vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix all the dry ingredients. It’s best to sift them so as not to let pass any dry clumps. Add the wet ingredients (sans vinegar) and mix with a fork until fully incorporated. Once incorporated, mix in the vinegar. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.

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