Monday, December 15, 2014

The Baking Bible: The Ischler

This week we are baking a twist on a Hungarian classic: the Ischler cookie. Apparently the original cookie is an almond cookie sandwiched with apricot preserves and half-dipped in chocolate. Rose decided there should be chocolate in every bite and so these cookies have ganache AND apricot sandwiched between two cookies.


November 12, 2014
Name of Cookie: Chocolate-Apricot Sticky Middles (Mark named them)
Occasion: Because people like to bake cookies this time of year
Constituents: Almond cookies with thickened apricot preserves or blackberry jam and ganache centers

Disclaimer: I really dislike rolling and cutting out cookies. It's too much persnickety work and I am plenty satisfied with store bought cookies that I sandwich with nutella. If that means I have pedestrian tastes, then so be it.

Mark's mother has a tradition of baking Christmas cookies every year, so to Mark it isn't Christmas without a big cookie production. He told me I need to get used to rolling and cutting out cookies because Eliot needs this tradition too. I told Mark he is welcome to do this tradition with Eliot himself.

Eliot has a favorite book where Mama Owl invites Frog and Squirrel up to her nest for cookies, so when Mark told him I was baking cookies in case Frog and Squirrel came over, I was kinda obligated to bake the cookies. Plus, you know, the bake-through.

They are, in all respects, easy cookies to make. Everything gets mixed in the food processor and it goes really fast. First, almonds and powdered sugar are blended to a powder. Then a bunch of butter is added.

pay no attention to the dirty dishes

It will look like this:


Around now I was starting to wonder if we were sort of making our own marzipan.

Then you add half an egg and some vanilla.


The dough at this point is supposed to be moist and crumbly but mine looked moist and only just a little crumbly. The dough is then kneaded together, divided into quarters, shaped into discs, wrapped in plastic, and left to rest in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours.


Then comes the part of cookie baking that I dread the most: the rolling and the cutting out. This dough is sticky, but when you roll it out using plastic wrap to protect your roller from tearing the dough, it really isn't that bad. Still, it just takes longer than I would prefer. I didn't have the right sized cookie cutter but a wine glass was pretty close, so that's what I used.

After the cookies bake and cool, it is time to fill them with ganache and apricot preserves. There is an option to use apricot lekvar which I had all intentions of doing, but this week was not a good week for projects. So I bought some jam and called it good.  I failed to notice how much jam I would need and didn't have enough, but Mark suggested using the homemade blackberry jam our friends gave us, and that was really a great choice.

The jam gets boiled down to become a thick and sticky filling, hence Mark's name for these cookies.


These are good cookies, but I am not in love with them. They would have to be the most amazing thing on earth for me to feel they were worth all the rolling and cutting, and they are a good cookie but not the most amazing. People who enjoy making cookies will no doubt love these. People who enjoy eating cookies will no doubt love these. We have snacked on quite a few of them since yesterday as proof.


We have a recipe for you! Make these for your holiday situation! The recipe is posted up on Pastrygirl's blog, Dessert First.

with apricot
with blackberry

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Baking Bible: English Dried Fruit Cake

After last week's all-day, intensive Kougin Amann, this week's English Dried Fruit Cake was a snap. You don't even need the stand mixer! Just a little old fashioned elbow grease.


November 7, 2014
Name of Cake: Easy Peasy Fruitcake
Occasion: Winter is here
Constituents: a 9x13 fruitcake made with nuts and dried fruit, and fresh apple, soaked in rum

Rum! I love a boozy cake. The rum is technically optional, but I wouldn't dare skip it. If you do rum the cake, or booze it up in some other fashion, give it 24 hours at least to mellow. Or wrap it up in cheesecloth and plastic wrap and douse it regularly, and keep it edible for months.

What makes this fruitcake so unique is that it is made with fresh apple chunks and dried fruit instead of glaceed peel and whatnot. This not only makes the cake easier to make on a whim, but in my opinion makes it more delicious and accessible to the fruitcake-suspicious. Rose recommends dried pears, apples, apricots, and prunes but really you could do whatever you wanted. I chose dried pears, a few apricots, prunes, and some tart cherries. These got to soak in some hot water for a little bit to relax and soften.


I had pre-prepped all the ingredients I could earlier in the week, which made the assembling of this cake even faster. Right before I set to work I just needed to peel and chop the apple, measure out the butter, and add the baking powder (for some reason I never pre-measure the baking powder).


Instead of creaming the butter and sugar, or creaming the butter with the dry ingredients, the butter is melted and the sugars cooked a bit. Then the apples and orange zest are added.

Here I must stop and say, towards the end of the Heavenly Cakes bake-through, I received Rose's Zest n' Nest free with the understanding that I would try it out and mention it on my blog. I never did because I am lazy, but I will now say that I use the zester every time I need citrus zest, or grated ginger, and yes I once used it to very finely grate Parmesan. It is a wonderful tool. You all need to go out and buy one for yourself. Go on, consider it an early Christmas present.


Anyhoo, it turns out I only had half the recommended amount of orange zest, but the resulting cake still has a nice orangeyness to it. But note to self, next time buy two oranges.

The cubed apples are added to the pot of butter and sugar, then the eggs are mixed in one by one. You get a soupy looking pot that may look like this:


In the meantime, the soaked and drained dried fruit and the toasted pecans are stirred into the dry ingredients. Then the wet is folded in, and ta-da! You are done mixing the batter. It gets poured into a 9x13 pan and sent off to bake for 40 minutes or so. Which will result in something like this:


And your house will smell amazing.

So after a ten minute rest the cake gets bathed in rum and put to bed for another day. I stored the cake in its cake pan; I thought that would be the safest and easiest thing to do.

Mark and I eagerly took our slices of aromatic cake the next night and with a generous dollop of whipped cream (slightly rummed) and a sprinkle of cinnamon, we sampled the cake. It is delicious. It tastes of warm winter nights. Mark commented that even though it tastes hearty due to all the fruit and nuts, the texture was light and not cloying. There could have been more rum, but this way the booze didn't cover up all the delicate cinnamon and orange notes. The fresh apples keep the cake moist and soft. This cake is a winner. This cake is right up there with the Sticky Toffee Pudding as my go-to winter cakes that makes me feel warm and cozy and happy.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Baking Bible: Kouign Amann

Hello blogosphere! It has been well over a year since my last post. I was considering retiring the blog until Rose published her latest baking book (The Baking Bible) and the Heavenly Bakers were resurrected and renamed Rose's Alpha Bakers. I couldn't say no to another bake along with this wonderful group of people, so here we go.

The first project we tackled was the pastry that graces the cover of the book: the Kouign Amann. It is a marvelous laminated pastry from Breton: rich with butter, sweetened with sugar, and flaky and crispy and carmelized and pretty much all that you would ever want in a pastry.

I was terrified of laminated dough before I made these. All that rolling and turning and refrigeration! It turns out that it is pretty easy, although it requires a day when you can be at home, like, ALL DAY.

Name of Pastry: Laminate!
Occasion: Alpha Bakers, unite!
Constituents: flour, yeast, sugar, and a crap ton of butter

First off a dough of the usual suspects is made: flour, yeast, a little butter, water, a pinch of salt. Then comes the fun part: incorporating the crap ton of butter. Now, this butter should be a nice high fat kind like that stuff from Europe, so I chose the lovely Kerrygold. And you use the whole package.

So the butter is kneaded/shaped into a square, then the dough is rolled out into a larger square. The corners are rolled a little longer and folded around your butter like a little pillowy envelope.


Then the dough is rolled out into a rectangle (a very precise one with corners and straight edges and specific dimensions!) and folded into thirds. This get wrapped and put to rest in the refrigerator for an hour.


The second turn goes the same as the first. This time, I had some company from the young sir.


His name is Eliot, and he's 9 months old. That's his dad, my husband, standing next to him. They keep me busy.

The third turn is where things get all funky. This is where you add all the sugar, which eventually makes the dough sticky and wet and all sorts of difficult to work with.

Eventually the sticky sugar dough gets divided into eight pieces, shaped and placed into foil rings to rise and then bake.



The house smelled of butter as the pastries baked. That is a very good thing. The husband was very excited.

Oh man. Even when the dough gets sticky and difficult and you start to wonder if this is worth it, even when you've spent all day going back and forth from the refrigerator and not going outside, once you take your first bite of a still warm from the oven, homemade Kouign Amann, you know you are making them again. Mark called me a rockstar for homemade laminated dough, and that's a pretty cool complement.


So don't be afraid of laminated pastry, friends. Next rainy Sunday grab The Baking Bible and make yourself something amazing.