Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Clever Boy is 2!

The clever boy is 2!  Hard to believe.  Babies grow so fast!  A year ago he sat wherever you put him and now he is running all over the place and talking up a storm!  This boy is my grand finale of children, so I am trying to savor every minute of little-ness before he turns big.  It seems to happen overnight!

Are you a member of Tasting Table?  It is website that sends me recipes and dining advice and such periodically, and in February they sent a recipe for Chocolate Layer Cake.  Quite frankly, I already have a chocolate cake recipe that I love, but the write-up on this one was interesting enough for me to decide to give it a try! 

The results?  I will definitely make this cake again!  The frosting, however, was a bit gushy for me.  Maybe it needed to sit a little longer and firm up a bit.  When I served leftover cake the next day (that had been refrigerated and the let sit out to room temperature) the icing was much better.  The recipe says to allow the icing to sit for 20-30 minutes, and I probably should have given it more time.  However birthday time was near and I needed to get it done!  So, it was as it was.  Regardless of the consistency though, the icing was DIVINE.  Very delicious.  The cake itself isn't really sweet,  but it is VERY chocolatey, as it uses both cocoa powder AND melted unsweetened chocolate.  It is super moist and almost velvety in texture.  Mmm.  Mmmm. 

To create the decorations on top, I drew a big number 2 on a piece of paper, traced it on to waxed paper, and cut it out.  I gently placed it on top of the iced cake and then sprinkled sprinkles (!!!) all over the top of the cake, carefully avoiding getting any on the sides.  When I reached maximum sprinkles, I gently peeled off the waxed paper 2!  Voila! 
A hit.  The clever boy kept saying "Momma, cake, yum!" and making "mmmm" sounds as he ate.  The rest of the family cleaned their plates and sat with blissful smiles for a while.  Birthday success!

Chocolate Layer Cake
adapted from Tasting Table
3/4 cup cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
3/4 cup water
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken into 1-inch pieces
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1 cup whole milk

10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup granulated sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces

Cake:  Place oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F.  Butter the bottoms and sides of 2 9-inch cake pans and dust evenly with cocoa powder.

Stir the cocoa powder and water together in a small bowl to  make a paste.  Set aside.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure that the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl holding the chocolate.  Stir the chocolate with a rubber spatula until it is evenly melted and smooth, 2-3 minutes.  Allow to cool to room temperature.

Sift the flour and baking soda through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl.  Add the salt.  Beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until smooth.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and gently stir in the eggs, one at a time.  Once combined, add the reserved cocoa paste and melted chocolate and mix on low speed until thoroughly combined.

On low speed, add half of the flour mixture, then half of the milk.  Repeat with remaining flour and milk and mix just until combined.  Divide the batter between the two prepared pans.  Even out the tops of each pan with an offset spatula.  Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean.  Use a sharp paring knife to run around the edge of each cake to loosen them from the pans.  Place a plate or sheet pan on top of each cake and invert the cake onto a cooling rack.  Remove the plate/pan and allow the cakes to cool completely.

Frosting:  Place the chopped chocolate in a medium bowl.  Warm the cream and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar completely dissolves, 2-3 minutes.  Pour the warm cream over the chopped chocolate and allow it to sit for 2-3 minutes while the chocolate softens.  Whisk until smooth and allow to sit for another 5-7 minutes to cool a bit more.  Whisk the butter into the chocolate, 1 or 2 pieces at a time.  Make sure the pieces are all blended before adding additional butter.  Allow the frosting to sit at room temperature until it is set and spreadable, 20-30 minutes.

Assemble:  Place a small blob of frosting in the center of the platter/cake plate you intend to use.  Place one cake layer with the bottom-side up in the center of the cake plate, on the top of the frosting,  The frosting acts like glue, holding the cake in place on the plate.  Spread about 1 cup of the frosting on the top of this layer, smoothing with an offset spatula.  Place the second layer on top of the first.  If your cake domed a little when it baked, place this layer top-side up.  Otherwise, set it bottom-side up (this ensures that the top of your cake is perfectly flat.)  Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake.  Enjoy!
Printable Recipe

Happy Birthday, sweet clever boy!!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Fig, Olive Oil and Sea Salt Challah

A very long time ago I printed this recipe for Fig, Olive Oil and Sea Salt Challah from the Smitten Kitchen blog.  And I have been wanting to make it ever since, it just seemed to never happen.  When I was planning my sort of spur-of-the-moment Easter meal I remembered this recipe and decided it needed to be part of Easter.  I had all of the ingredients on hand so it clearly was meant to be.  Wow, am I glad I did!  Besides looking BEAUTIFUL (I seriously love the round braided look), it tastes absolutely delicious.  Yummy, get-in-my-mouth-right-now, might-could-eat-the-entire-loaf, good.  And guess what?  Not so hard to do! 

The dough for this bread is very wet, in fact at first I worried that I did something wrong and repeatedly asked myself if I put in the right amount of flour (answer, "yes").  But I rolled with it and it turned out fine.  You can make the dough in a mixer or by hand (what?  Not in this busy life...).  This bread is super fluffy and light.  I am sure it would taste quite good without the fig filling, but WHY??  The filling is made by re-hydrating dried figs in orange juice and some water and then pureeing it down so it becomes paste-like.  I could have added more liquid to mine I think, as it was VERY paste-like and hard to spread over the dough.  It was totally unevenly done but I didn't actually care about that so it was all fine!

The dough is divided into 4 long ropes that are then woven around each other to form this awesome round loaf.
There was no need for butter for this bread.  It was simply eaten as it was.  To RAVE reviews.  I will definitely be making this bread again.  You should, too.  It is so so delicious!

Fig, Olive Oil and Sea Salt Challah
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
makes 1 loaf
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon honey, divided
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for bowl
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt OR 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt (my sea salt was not "flaky" so I used 1 1/2 teaspoons)
4 cups all-purpose flour

Fig Filling
1 cup stemmed and chopped dried figs
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1/4 cup orange juice
1/ teaspoon sea salt
black pepper - to taste

Egg Wash
1 large egg
Coarse or flaky sea salt

Dough:  In a small bowl, whisk the yeast and 1 teaspoon honey with 2/3 cup warm water (110F-116F).  Let it stand for a few minutes to get nice and foamy.  Combine the yeast mixture with the remaining honey, olive oil and eggs in a large mixing bowl.  Add the salt and flour and mix with a paddle attachment until the dough begins to come together, then switch to a dough hook.  Run at low speed for 5-8 minutes.  Transfer the dough to large bowl that has been lightly coated with olive oil, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for 1 hour, until almost doubled.

Fig Filling:  Combine the figs, zest, 1/2 cup water, juice, salt and a few grinds of black pepper in a small saucepan.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the figs are tender.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and allow the mixture to cool to lukewarm.  Transfer to a small food processor and process until it resembles a fine paste.  Scrape the sides of the processor bowl as needed.  Allow to cool completely.

Spread Figs:  Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a well floured surface and divide it in half.  Place one half back in the oiled bowl and roll the other half into a wide rectangle.  The size doesn't totally matter.  Spread half of the fig filling over the dough, leaving an inch border around the edge.  Roll into a tight log along the long side of your rectangle.  Gently stretch and roll the log as long as is comfortable and then divide it in half.  My log/rope ended up being 3ft 10 inches before I divided the rope into two.  Repeat this process with the remaining dough and filling.

Weave!  You now have 4 dough ropes of equal length.  Arrange them in a tight tic-tac-toe shape, such that the knot/woven part is in the very center.  Lay your tic-tac-toe so that one strand goes over/under and the next goes under/over, i.e. it is woven together.  You will note that on each side of your tic-tac-toe board, one rope comes from under the knot and one comes from over.  Focus on the ones coming from underneath.  Take each of these "under" legs and cross them over the rope to their immediate RIGHT, keeping your rope pressed up against the center knot.  Do this with all four "under' legs.  Now take the legs that were the "over" legs from the beginning, and cross them each over the ropes to their immediate LEFT.  If you still have additional length to your  ropes, continue to repeat this process until you run out of rope.  Tuck the ends and corners under the dough with the sides of your hands to form a tight woven ball.  Place the dough ball to a parchment-covered heavy baking sheet or bakers peel (if you will be baking on a bakers stone). 

Egg Wash:  Beat the egg until smooth.  Brush it over the challah.  Let the dough rise for 1 hour.  Approximately 15 minutes before your hour rise is over, turn on your oven to 375F.

Bake:  Before placing the loaf in the oven, brush again with the egg wash and sprinkle with sea salt.  Bake in the center of the oven for 35-40 minutes.  The bread will be a dark golden brown.  Watch your dough - if it darkens too quickly, loosely cover the top with aluminum foil for the remainder of the baking time.  To check for doneness, you can VERY CAREFULLY lift up the bread and knock on the bottom, it should sound hollow.  Or stick an instant read thermometer into the loaf - it will read 190-195 when the loaf is done.

Cool on a rack before slicing.
Printable Recipe

Give this bread a try.  You CAN do this.  It looks more complicated than it really is, I promise.  And the end result is absolutely worth it!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

TWD: Baking with Julia - Sweet Ricotta Pie

Our recipe for today is Sweet Ricotta Pie, from Baking with Julia.  I made this recipe for Easter dinner, hence the bunny!  I have to admit, when I first saw this recipe I was not very excited.  The main flavor in the recipe is anisette, of which I am not actually a fan.  So I changed things up a bit for our tastes and it turned out quite good!

My first change:  Well, this may not actually be a change but I made my own ricotta for this recipe!  I know, crazy, right?  But I happened to get a recipe for making homemade ricotta in my Fine Cooking magazine this month and thought I should give it a try.  I have made it twice now and yum, is it good!  The key thing I need to figure out is the length of time for draining the ricotta.  The recipe says you can drain it anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours, depending if you want it soft or firm.  On my first trial, I made it fairly soft, and this time it was more firm.  None of this was actually intentional, it just happened this way because of course I didn't set a timer or anything smart like that.  Have you ever made ricotta?  It is not hard, just takes a little time.  The basic ingredients are whole milk, heavy cream, sea salt and lemon juice or vinegar.  It is all a matter of quantities of these ingredients.  Many recipes seem to have a 3c whole milk to 1 cup heavy cream and 3 TB acid (lemon juice/vinegar) ratio.  The Fine Cooking recipe used way less heavy cream (1 cup for a gallon whole milk) and called for 1/2 cup lemon juice.  I am not sure what difference the milk/cream ratio makes (creaminess) but the acid amount really does vary.  Lemon juice can have a varied level of acid so I found using apple cider vinegar seemed to get better results.  Using additional lemon juice worked fine too, which is what I did the first time.  It also depends on how pasteurized your milk/cream are.  The less pasteurized your dairy products are, the less acid you will need to get nice curds.  But I'll be darned if I could find anything but ultra-pasteurized dairy!  Anyway, if you have never attempted homemade ricotta cheese, I recommend giving it a try.  It's kinda fun to watch the curds form and could be a fun science experiment for your kids!

Back to the pie recipe!  There are/were very few ingredients for this pie:  crust, ricotta, sugar, anisette, eggs and cinnamon.  The crust recipe is from the book, called Pasta Frolla.  It is a very forgiving crust but not as yummy as my tried and true flaky pie crust.  I'd use my own crust next time.  To figure out what I wanted to do with the filling I did some internet research and learned that a ricotta pie is a traditional Italian Easter dessert!  Huh.  I looked at some recipes to get flavor ideas.  Instead of (1 TB!!) anisette, I used 1 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia (have you ever used this extract?  Amazing!) and the zest of 1/2 Mandarin orange (about 1/2 teaspoon).  I also added an additional tablespoon of sugar, as it seemed to need it when I tasted the batter.  I mixed the filling in my stand mixer, but an immersion blender would have been even better to get the filling nice and smooth. 

The pie was pretty funny looking when it came out of the oven.  The filling puffs up quite a bit, to the point that some of the lattice strips disconnected from the edges and sort of hovered above the pie plate!  When I looked at the end result, I decided it needed to be served with some blueberry sauce.  It was just a bit boring looking by itself!

I am glad I added the blueberry sauce.  It really did make it better.  My pie was a bit dry, which could be because my ricotta was to firm(?) so the blueberry sauce helped.  I did notice that one of the recipes I saw for a ricotta pie included a cup of cream in the filling, so that would have helped as well.  The filling itself is very light in texture,  almost like a light cheesecake.  I do not think it needed the lattice top, as it seemed to add to the dryness.  I am curious to know what others thought of this recipe.  I liked the pie with the changes I made, but it is not my favorite dessert ever. 

The recipe for Sweet Ricotta Pie can be found on page 376 of Baking with Julia

Blueberry Sauce
adapted from allrecipes
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1/4 cup water
1 cup orange juice
3/4 cup white sugar (I used a scant 3/4 cup)
1/4 cup cold water
3 TB cornstarch (I used 2 TB as I wanted a thinner sauce)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine the blueberries, 1/4 cup water, orange juice and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat.  Stir gently and bring to a boil.  Mix the cornstarch and 1/4 cup cold water in a small bowl. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the blueberry mixture, being careful not to squash the blueberries.  Simmer gently until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon, 3-4 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the almond extract and cinnamon.  If the sauce is too thick, thin with a little additional water.
Printable Recipe

Monday, April 6, 2015

Hoppy Easter!

While taking pictures with bluebonnets the other day, we met the Easter bunny!  Serendipity! 

I made Easter outfits for the clever kids, which I happen to absolutely love (both the kids and the outfits)!  The clever boy got another jon-jon using my favorite pattern from Children's Corner.  I've made it several other times as well (here and here).  The clever girl's dress is the Oliver + S pattern "Family Reunion Dress". Love.  I wasn't sure if I'd love it since the clever girl tends to prefer twirly dresses, but I am so glad I gave this pattern a shot!

Here's the clever boy!  Whereas I usually find an image from Google Images for my applique, this time I designed it myself.  The clever boy has a few favorite things right now:  #1 is trash cans.  This fascination for trash cans has gone on for a very long time (in fact "trash can" was one of the first things he said!) so I knew I wanted a trash can on his outfit.  His other two loves are dogs, and recently, trucks.  So, I combined the clever boy's most favorite loves together to make an applique for his jon-jon.  I love it!  So does he.  He was thrilled that he could wear a trash can AND a dog-dog AND a truck all at once.  It is the trifecta of awesomeness!

 Happy, happy boy!
What will I do when he gets too big for jon-jons?  I love this pattern!

Here is the clever girl's Family Reunion dress.  Though it looks like it might be complicated, it really wasn't difficult at all.  This is why I love Oliver + S patterns.  They are classic looks and the patterns are written extremely well.  In fact the only tricky part was the piping edge, which I decided to add and isn't part of the original pattern at all.  I forgot to take photos of the back, but it buttons all the way up and has the same little tucks as the front.  I love the tiny details of this pattern: the tiny tucks under the neckline, the little button placket, and the lines of stitching along the bottom edge which give the bottom of the dress both interest and weight so it hangs nicely.  The clever girl is quite thin, so I cut this dress in a size 5 around but size 6 in length.   Oh, and the material I used is also from the Oliver + S company.  Their fabric line is called Lisette and, miracle of miracles, they carry it at my local Joanns Fabric store.  It is a great quality fabric.

I love it!  I think she looks darling!

My clever kiddos.  They really are something special.