Week 3 Technical: Ciabatta

Although I can’t stand the way Paul Hollywood pronounces “ciabatta” the man knows how to bake bread. For bread week the challenge was to make 4 loaves of ciabatta. Based on Paul’s instructions, this is going to be a very wet dough. I’m going to try very hard not to handle it too much so keeping it from sticking to everything is going to be a challenge.

Also I cannot stand the way that Paul Hollywood pronounces ciabatta.

The Bake

1) The Dough

This dough doesn’t necessarily need to be kneaded, but mixed enough so the water is fully mixed in.

2) Rise

This dough was sticky. The descriptions weren’t kidding. I didn’t have a square tub so I used one of my glass cooking pans. I think I used one that was too big.

3) Shape & Rise Again

Separating the dough was harder than I thought. I cut it but it wouldn’t separate. I ended up handling the dough more than I intended.

The next rise didn’t change the dough much.

4) Bake

I used the whole oven (instead of my half oven). I think this got the bake just right.

The Final Result

The crumb is not bad. It’s light and airy, baked through properly. There’s a nice crust on the outside with a light golden-brown color. The issue is in the shape.

I suspect two issues for the lack of rise to the proper dough shape. Firstly, I used regular yeast instead of instant. I did activate the yeast, but perhaps I should have used warm water and let it cool. The second issue was the container for the first prove. I think if I had used a smaller but taller container, the shape would have been better.

Week 2 Technical: Florentines

Week 2 (Biscuits) presented the florentine as a technical challenge. These cookies are made of nuts and candied fruit melded together with a caramel-like consistency, then dipped in chocolate. The cookies need to be thin and lacey without falling apart.

The Plan

Gathering the ingredients was a challenge in and of itself! I had to buy another type of sugar (putting me at a grand total of 5 types of sugar in my house). Golden syrup is not something traditionally sold in the U.S. Essentially golden syrup is the lighter cousin of molasses. Some people have substituted this with corn syrup, but I’ve been warned against that. I had to order it on Amazon.

Apparently “candied peel” isn’t an American staple either, so I’ve been forced to substitute with dried apricots. I’m hoping the similar texture will be okay.

The Bake

  1. Prep

There are lots of small nuts and chopped fruits for this. I cut and weighed them, then cut them again to make sure they were really finely chopped.

2. Melt & Mix

The sugar gets melted into the heated golden syrup (which tastes a bit like honeycomb) and incorporated with butter as it melts. Does this count as a caramel?

3. Spread & Bake

I think I should have spent more time at this step to make sure they were proportionate and well-shaped. I also stacked the cookies thicker than I should have, which prevented some spread.

4. Temper Chocolate & Spread

I’m giving myself kudos for beautifully tempering this chocolate. It was shiny and pretty. I brushed on the chocolate to the backs of the cookies, but that zigzag was tough! I got pretty decent lines once I realized I should be using the back of the fork.

The Judging

As I’m not the biggest fan of nuts and dried fruits, I did not care for the taste. I’ve never had a florentine so I wasn’t sure if there was supposed to be a “snap” or if they should be as chewy as mine. I had some others try the cookies and they enjoyed the taste, so I’m blaming my personal bias against almonds and dried apricots.

I got some laciness on the larger cookies, which spread more. I did not however manage 18 cookies, only 12. I must have used too much batter and not spread the cookies enough. I got some odd shapes and the sizes weren’t consistent.

The chocolate, however, did not leak through the cookies. It was well-tempered and shiny even if the zigzag wasn’t the prettiest.

I definitely wouldn’t be in the top three for this technical challenge but I don’t think I’d be at the bottom either (mostly because I didn’t use a cookie cutter- sorry Enwezor!)

Week 2 Signature: Savory Biscuits

Week 2 is biscuit week, and the signature challenge is to make 36 savory biscuits. Again with the 36! Who is going to eat all of these?! Anyway, the challenge is to make 36 cheesy, savory British-style biscuits which are consistent in bake, size, and shape. Now as an American biscuits do not mean the same thing to me. When I hear “biscuit” I think Southern biscuit and gravy, light fluffy bread. What the British mean is something akin to a cookie or a cracker. While re-watching the episode they mentioned water biscuits/crackers and what “digestives” are.

The Planning

Originally I wanted to go with a cacio e pepe shortbread (because yum), but based on the description of the challenge this would be baked more like a slice of cookie than the desired biscuit. As I searched there were plenty of options, making it more difficult to choose from.

I skipped out on anything including a jam, as it is supposed to be savory, so I want to avoid sweetness like fig jam. I liked the idea of an herb paired with a cheese, so when I stumbled across Stilton and rosemary shortbread, I knew they’d be perfect. What’s more British than Stilton cheese? Unfortunately, Stilton is tricky to get here in the U.S so I substituted another blue cheese.

The Bake

  1. Making the Dough

This was honestly just a weird experience attempting to cream butter and blue cheese. The dry ingredients came next, but rather than add the rosemary after (as instructed) I’d heard on Spring Baking Championship that you can rub the herbs into the dry ingredients to get more flavor.

2. Roll & Chill

Shortbread is a really crumbly dough. I managed to stick it together, though I did consider adding cold water like a pie dough. Once chilled, I tried to roll it into a log shape so I could cut out even biscuits. Unfortunately they ended up flat on one end.

3. Shape & Bake

I tried to shape the biscuits into little squares but they crumbled easily. I ended up with an odd shape and very little consistency between biscuits. Fortunately, the bake got a nice golden brown on the edges (despite making my house stink!).

4. Redo

While the first batch baked, I tried re-working the dough. Rolling out the dough between saran wrap finally got the dough to come together. I cut out square shapes (though I honestly should have used a ruler) and baked again. These biscuits were wonderfully flaky with multiple layers. These are the ones I would have given to the judges.

The Judging

So it turns out not many people are a fan of blue cheese. One of my coworkers spit out the biscuit! One person who loved blue cheese liked the flavor. Boyfriend even enjoyed some, taking the whole biscuit when I offered him bites. Brother-in-Law also enjoyed them. One of the doctors at my office was impressed by the layers in the redo batch.

I guess whether or not I did well depends on if the judges like blue cheese. Stay tuned for the technical challenge!

Week 1 Technical: Cherry Cake

Technical challenges, obviously, are designed to challenge the bakers’ knowledge of baking. For Mary Berry’s cherry cake, the challenge was focused on how to suspend the cherries evenly throughout the cake, as well as how long to bake the cake.

For me, the challenge will be using ingredients I’ve never used (glacé cherries and self-rising flour), as well as toasting almonds for the first time. Even in the episode, Kate burnt her almonds.

Predictions

As this is essentially a fancy bundt cake, I’m not predicting too much difficulty in making this cherry cake. However, I do hope I can get the cherries to suspend evenly. Mary Berry’s recipe can be found here.

The Bake

Step 1: Prep

I ground my own almonds. Cutting the cherries took me so long I’m still kind of stunned. Also my fingers will probably be red for about a week.

Step 2: Batter

I’ve never used ground almond in a cake mix before. I mixed cakes like I’m used to (cream butter and sugar, then wet, then dry). I already knew about the trick with the cherries, both from watching the episode and from making Irish soda bread (the raisins have to be rinsed, dried, and coated in flour). I’m not a fan of the taste with the almond. Perhaps I haven’t ground them fine enough. I also have very little experience with self-rising flour.

Step 3: Bake

The instructions say to bake at 180 Celcius, which is about 350 F. My oven requires turning halfway through a bake, otherwise it will overbake one side. I baked for 20 minutes then rotated. I checked about 10 minutes before I hit 40 minutes (recommended bake time 35-40 minutes). The cake was dark brown on the bottom and came out clean when poked with a skewer. When I turned it over, it was a little delicate but looked baked consistently and all the way through. I probably should have baked in the center rack because the edges are more brown.

Step 4: Decorate

I ran out of icing sugar for the icing! I also bought slivered almonds instead of shaved, but that probably kept me from burning them. I have never toasted nuts. I thought about using the oven, but I remember the bakers using the stovetop. So I assumed its butter and almonds? Remember no research! They turned out a nice golden brown, which I’m hoping doesn’t mean they are burnt.

The Judging

I love how this turned out! I’m super proud of myself. As for the cake, Mary Berry would probably say it’s slightly overbaked, which made it a bit dry. My icing was also “higgledy piggledy” and I also iced a little too soon (before the cake was completely cooled). The flavor tastes lovely. The cherries add some moisture and the lemon keeps the cake from being overwhelmingly sweet.

The key to this challenge was the distribution of the cherries. Since the cake was fairly small, it seemed the cherries were spread throughout the levels of the batter. I’d say I’m still in the running this week, wouldn’t you?


Week 1 Signature Challenge: Strawberry Champagne Swiss Roll

For their first bake, the contestants were required to make a Swiss Roll. As usual the signature bake should taste and look pretty. The Swiss roll is actually an Austrian sponge cake which has been filled with whipped cream, jam, or icing. The tricky part of this challenge is the roll. If not rolled correctly the cake will crack. Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood were particularly focused on the presentation of the spiral of filling and cake.

The Planning

I found some recipes for a Swiss roll on Pinterest. I have made a Swiss roll as a Yule Log before, so this won’t be entirely new to me. I found this recipe for a champagne cake roll. Now of course, I didn’t want to be too simple. A plan champagne cake with powdered sugar is not Baking Show worthy. I started brainstorming appearance ideas. That brought about the idea of pairing with champagne: chocolate and strawberries. I love the idea of a light cake with a sort of decadence in the flavor profile.

I’ve never tried strawberry roses. Do the roses need leaves? There was the idea of sugared, candied, or soaked strawberries as well. I decided to leave them as is, to prevent an overpowering sweetness.

Then I came up with the idea of filling the roll with strawberries as well. I decided not to soak the strawberries in champagne. Though champagne is subtle in many baked goods, I want to avoid a one-note flavor to the cake.

The final draft is a champagne rolled cake soaked in reduced champagne, sprinkled with cocoa powder on the inside, and filled with champagne whipped cream and strawberries. The outside will be lightly dusted with powdered sugar and decorated with strawberry roses [and chocolate?]

The Bake

Step 1: Reduce the champagne

Reductions have always been a weak spot for me. If they’re supposed to be sticky, then this did not reach that consistency. It was on the stove for 30 minutes! I tasted toward the end and the champagne seemed a bit bitter so I didn’t want that flavor to get stronger.

Step 2: Make the Cake

This a cake without a fat. The air needs to stay in the batter. I actually folded most of my ingredients with a spatula, except for the meringue.

Step 3: Bake

I actually started with the timer at 10 minutes, even though the instructions said 15. It still needed some time but I watched like a hawk. But 14 minutes it sprang back.

Step 4: Invert and Roll

I’m not going to lie. I cheated a bit on this one. I had Bae help me invert since I’m scared of burning myself. I did, however, roll immediately as instructed.

Step 5: Fillings

Strawberries were hulled and chopped into manageable pieces, since apparently the grocery store only had gigantic strawberries available. The whipped cream is fairly easy but I definitely should have tasted before spreading it on the cake.

Step 6: Fill and Roll

I brushed the cake with champagne reduction, careful not to make the cake soggy. After a mishap with the cocoa powder, I lightly sifted some on the cake. I then spread the cream with a spatula and sprinkled sliced strawberries throughout.

Step 7: Decorate

Strawberry roses are hard! The first few attempts did not quite work out, but that’s why I bought extra strawberries. I finally managed to make two decent ones, but I think this will take some more practice.

First Try
Tada!

The Judging

I’m my own worst critic. The cake was light. No crack in the cake! Unfortunately, I couldn’t really taste the champagne. The strawberry was the right choice to keep the cake from being too sweet, however it was slightly underfilled. In places there were gaps due to lack of whipped cream, but you could still make out the swirl!

Although in my head the appearance was supposed to be classy, it ended up being kind of simple. Perhaps I should have cut more roses or added some chocolate shapes.

Bae played “Paul Hollywood.” He enjoyed the cake, but he couldn’t taste champagne either. He was glad the cake wasn’t tongue-numbingly sweet.

Overall I don’t think I’d be sent home quite yet. Let’s see how the other two challenges go! Next is the technical: Mary Berry’s Cherry Cake.

What to Bake For Your Valentine (Even if You Can’t Bake)

One of the most memorable things I ever made for Valentine’s Day was in high school – before I learned to bake. I was dating a boy at the time and I wanted to bake a treat for him like the other girls did for their boyfriends. I baked a boxed chocolate cake in a bundt pan, but it was still hot when I tried to “frost it.” I think I poured chocolate syrup (like you make chocolate milk with) on top because it was just getting soaked into the hot cake. I still have the picture of him holding it on Valentine’s. He and his friends ate the entire thing at lunch.

They say cooking and baking are the ways to truly show your love for someone. Most people have a happy memory associated with food made by a loved one. It’s only natural that you’d want to make something for your valentine. Unfortunately, not everyone’s level matches their ambition. Here are some suggestions for do-able Valentine’s Days treats for school, work, or that special someone.

Level 1: Chocolate Covered Fruit

I’m not going to pretend that this is magically easy for everyone. Stick with easy to cut fruits that pair well with chocolate like strawberries and bananas. If you don’t like fruit or have allergies, then pretzel sticks are a good choice too!

  1. Line a plate or baking dish with wax, parchment paper, or aluminum foil. This should be able to fit in your freezer.
  2. Prep your fruit first before you step near the microwave. Peel and cut bananas (slices or in larger chunks). Wash and dry strawberries.
  3. Microwave store-bought chocolate chips in a glass bowl for 30 seconds. Stir then microwave again if the chocolate isn’t completely melted. Continue until the chocolate is melted.
  4. Dip the fruit in the melted chocolate. You can use a fork, toothpick, or skewer so you don’t burn your fingers. Let the excess drip off. Place the dipped item on the baking sheet.
  5. Step up the decor! While the chocolate cools, sprinkle jimmies/sprinkles over top!

Brownie Points: Buy pink or red chocolate discs from Michael’s or other craft stores. I use Wilton brand. You can get cute holiday sprinkles too!

Level Two: Bake from a Box

There are a few options here. For the easiest options, I would go for boxed cupcake mix or boxed brownie mix. Don’t try and “hack” the recipe if you don’t usually have luck with these. Follow the recipes and it should be tasty. No one needs to know it’s a boxed product if you don’t tell them. To make these more festive, you can use pink store-bought frosting and sprinkles. Make sure to look at the flavor of the pink frosting to make sure it matches your flavors.

Brownie Points: Valentine’s Day themed cupcake liners or cut the brownies (once cool) into hearts with a heart-shaped cookie cutter.

Level Three: Bake from Scratch

I will share some tried and true recipes that I love dearly for chocolate chips cookies (the secret ingredient is pudding mix!) and chocolate red-wine cupcakes. For something no-bake and unique, try Brazilian brigadeiros.

Brownie Points: Dip the chocolate chip cookies in pink chocolate and use sprinkles.

For those of you looking for a challenge: Nutella Stuffed Cookies

If none of these sound appealing, food is not the only way to show your love. If you want to make something and it falls apart, buy some flowers and chocolate. You can never go wrong with chocolate. It’s the thought that counts!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Paleo Cookie Dough Truffles

Last year, I had a coworker and friend who needed a pick-me-up following a stressful exam. She wanted something sweet, but was making changes to lose weight and stay healthy. She told me she loved cookie dough more than anything, so I found a recipe for Paleo Cookie Dough Truffles. They’re made without any raw egg, so they’re safer to eat! (I shouldn’t really talk because the “danger” of salmonella has never stopped me from eating raw cookie dough).

These are no-bake, easy treats. You can barely taste the change in ingredients. Whether your New Year’s Resolutions have started early or you have dietary restrictions, these treats are delicious!

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups almond flour
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cup chocolate, melted

A note about the ingredients: For people who stick to the paleo diet hard-core, you’ll need a dairy-free dark chocolate. This is also true for anyone with allergies. I highly recommend the Enjoy Life brand. It’s made allergen-free and doesn’t taste any different from regular chocolate. I used dark chocolate Ghirardelli chips.

Instructions:

1) Mix together the almond flour and sea salt.

2) Whisk the melted coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla together.

3) Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

Honestly I usually skip Step 2 and just directly mixed in the wet ingredients.

4) Roll into 1″ balls. Place on a lined baking sheet.

5) Place in the freezer for 15 minutes to set.

6) Melt 1 1/4 cup chocolate. Dip the truffles into the chocolate and place back on the baking sheet. Freeze again.

For melting chocolate, you can use a double-boiler method. I just got a microwave-proof bowl, poured the chocolate in, and melted it in the microwave in 30 second intervals. Mix after each 30 second interval in the microwave.

Final Thoughts: I think the key to enjoying these is keeping them frozen. Almond flour has a very different texture, so freezing them kept the truffles held together enough to avoid a dramatic difference between a normal truffle and these paleo substitutes.

Triple Chocolate Cake Donuts

Doughnuts are one of my favorite treats. I have tried doughnuts from all over the Valley and chosen a favorite based on textures, flavors, and creativity. I asked for doughnut pans last Christmas so I could try my hand at baking some. I’m still not over my fear of frying so for now baked cake doughnuts will have to do.

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp espresso powder, optional
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp vinegar, white or cider
  • 1/2 cup (8 Tbsp) melted butter or 1/3 cup vegetable oil

Optional Chocolate Icing: 1 cup chocolate chips and 4 Tbsp milk or half & half.

Instructions:

1) Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two doughnut pans.

2) In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the cocoa, flour, sugar, baking powder, espresso powder, baking soda, salt, and chocolate chips. Set aside.

3) In a large measuring cup or medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla, and vinegar.

4) Add the wet ingredients with the melted butter (or vegetable oil) to the dry ingredients, stirring to blend.

5) Spoon the batter into the greased pans, filling them between 3/4 and full.

6) Bake the doughnuts for 12 to 15 minutes.

7) Remove the doughnuts from the oven, and after 30 seconds or so, loosen their edges and turn the pan upside down over a rack. Gently let the doughnuts fall onto a cooling rack.

8) For sugar-coated doughnuts, immediately shake the doughnuts in 1 tablespoon granulated sugar; add 1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder to the sugar.

OR

For iced doughnuts let the doughnuts cool completely. To make the icing, combine the chocolate chips and milk (or half & half) in a microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup. Remove from the microwave, and stir until the chips have melted and the icing is smooth. Dip the top of each doughnut in the icing; or spread icing on the doughnuts.

Final Thoughts: These are chocolately, chocolately, chocolately! I highly recommend eating them with a glass of milk because they are rich. I still find I don’t particularly care for cake doughnuts over fried, yeasted doughnuts. I think I’d rather just have cake.

Try it yourself and let me know what you think!

Easy Sopapilla Cheesecake

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Living in Arizona, the holiday is celebrated by our resident Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. I’ve never been one to take part of “Cinco de Drinko,” as that’s not why the holiday is celebrated. The holiday marks the anniversary of the Mexican Army’s victory against the French in 1862. It is not Mexican Independence Day.

In the US, Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of Mexican-American culture. Mexico has a rich, diverse food culture outside of the “Tex-Mex” often mistaken for true Mexican food. Though tacos, burritos and the like have Mexican counterparts, I wanted to make food that incorporated traditional Mexican foods.

Sopapillas are a popular dessert in northern Mexico and Latin America, the result of Spanish influence. Sweet dough is fried into a pillowy pastry that is then covered in cinnamon and sugar. I’m still not quite comfortable with frying, so I found this recipe for a faux-sopapilla cheesecake.

Ingredients:

  • 1 box (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 2 8 oz. bricks of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 + 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Notes about Ingredients: Frozen puff pastry takes about 30-45 minutes to defrost. For the best results in your baking, your ingredients (egg, cream cheese, sour cream, and butter) should be at room temperature.

Instructions:

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9×13 in. baking dish. Lay the first sheet of puff pastry flat in the bottom of the dish. Do not trim any extra dough. Gently press the pastry to the sides of the dish.

2) Poke holes in the puff pastry with a fork. Bake for 15 minutes.

3) Beat the cream cheese and 1 cup of the sugar. Add the egg, sour cream, and vanilla. Be careful not to overmix.

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4) Remove the crust from the oven. Let it sit for 5 minutes, especially to deflate. Pour the cheesecake mix over the crust.

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5) Top the cream cheese mixture with the other sheet of puff pastry. Gently tuck or press the sides of both sheets together. Brush this pastry with the melted butter.

IMG_0749

6) Mix 1/4 cup sugar with cinnamon.  Sprinkle over the melted butter on the pastry sheet.

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7) Bake 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 20 minutes at room temperature. Place the cheesecake in the refrigerator overnight.

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Final Thoughts: I’m not 100% sure this counts as sopapilla cheesecake, but it was tasty. It was less appealing once it had cooled, but it was sweet and tasty. Once I took the first piece, people were more willing to try (because it “looked weird”). By the end of our potluck, the entire cheesecake was gone.

 

Easter “Garden” Cups

Easter is a time for brunches and family dinners, but it’s also a time for candy and sweets straight from the Easter bunny! When you’re going to see your friends or family for a party or dinner, you should always bring something with you. Here’s a sweet treat you can bring for dessert without too much frantic effort. Plus they’re adorable! Happy Easter! Enjoy these cute Easter dirt cups.

Ingredients:

“CARROTS”

  • Fresh strawberries, rinsed and patted dry
  • Bag of orange candy melts (from Michael’s or Jo-Ann Fabrics)

PUDDING CUPS

  • Crushed Oreos
  • 1 large box chocolate pudding
  • 3 cups milk

Instructions:

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.

2. Melt the bag of candy melts, except for about 15 discs.

I used the microwave to melt the chocolate discs. I put it in a small glass bowl for 1 minute. Then repeat in 30 second intervals, stirring each time.

3. Grab the strawberries by the stem. Dip both sides in chocolate, then place on the parchment paper. Repeat with all the strawberries.

4. Put the strawberries in the fridge until the chocolate hardens.

5. Take a sandwich bag and cut the tip of it off. Melt the rest of the discs. Pour the melted chocolate into the sandwich bag. Close the bag and twist it. Drizzle over the strawberries. Let sit.

6. Make the chocolate pudding according to the instructions on the box.

I made the pudding first so it could sit in the fridge while I worked on everything else.

7. Put some crushed Oreos on the bottom of some clear cups. Pour pudding over top of them.

8. Top with more crushed Oreos. Press a strawberry into the center.

9. Refrigerate until you’re ready to serve/bring them to the party!

Final Thoughts: Mine turned out a little differently. I didn’t drizzle the strawberries with more chocolate, and I didn’t put Oreos on the bottom of the cup. These were a hit at the Easter party at work! And they are so incredibly adorable. A big group of them together is like a little garden!