Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cream Colored Ponies and Crisp Apple Streudels

The May Daring Bakers Challenge is apple streudel! This was a tasty challenge, and not as complicated as the recipe/directions made it seem like it would be. It actually went together quite smoothly for me.
The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

The dough was a simple mixture of flour, salt, water, oil and a touch of cider vinegar. I mixed it in my Kitchenaid mixer and then kneaded it for a while by hand. The directions say to knead it on an unfloured surface, but I needed a little flour to keep it from sticking. (Otherwise the only way to knead it on the second stroke was to scrape it off the counter with my dough scraper. )

After the dough rested, covered, for 90 minutes, I rolled it out on a floured tablecloth until it was very large and thin. The dough was soft and elastic, and rolled pretty well without tearing. I couldn't get it to be quite as large as the directions called for, so my strudle was a little shorter and fatter than it should have been. I covered it first with melted butter, then a layer of toasted bread crumbs. These act as a separator to keep the layers of dough from sticking together, allowing air to get between them to make them flaky.
I covered the crumb layer with a layer of walnuts, then the mixture of apples, rum-soaked raisins, cinnamon and sugar. The filling isn't heavily sweetened, and this results in a lighter, fresher taste than a pie would have.

The dough stretched over the filling easily without tearing. Then I used the tablecloth to roll the streudel over itself, maying layers of pastry as it rolled. I rolled it right onto the parchment-lined baking pan. No muss, no fuss.
I brushed melted butter on the outside of the roll and popped it into the oven.

It came out crusty and golden. I brushed it with a glaze of confectioners sugar, water and vanilla to make it shiny.

When it was still warm, I had a bite. Very good, light and flaky.

The recipe says it is best eaten right away, and that is my only complaint about the resulting streudel. It was very good immediately after I took it from the oven and it cooled to just warm. Later that night when we actually ate some for dessert, it had begun to get soggy, and the next day it was very soggy! But the flavor was still wonderful! So if you are making it for guests, don't make this one ahead. An hour or two before you serve it would be my suggestion.

Here is the recipe:

Apple strudel from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

2 tablespoons (30 ml) golden rum

3 tablespoons (45 ml) raisins

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 g) sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided

1 1/2 cups (350 ml) fresh bread crumbs

strudel dough (recipe below)

1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts

2 pounds (900 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (use apples that hold their shape during baking-- I used Granny Smiths)

1. Mix the rum and raisins in a bowl. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in another bowl.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.

3. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Make the strudel dough as described below. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the walnuts about 3 inches (8 cm) from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch-(15cm)-wide strip. Mix the apples with the raisins (including the rum), and the cinnamon sugar. Spread the mixture over the walnuts.

4. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

5. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.

Strudel doughfrom “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed

2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough

1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Chicken Mama

I am now a chicken mama. 26 balls of fluff arrived on Monday at my Post Office. God bless small town post offices, the postmaster lady had covered the box up with her coat to keep them warm.

They are happily eating, drinking and pooping in their temporary quarters (a shallow stock trough borrowed from a friend.) This weather has been a challenge-- they are supposed to be kept at 95 degrees for the first week, but with the weather varying from 70's during the day to 30's at night, it's hard to get it to stay at that temperature. It gets to be 70 at night and 110 during the day. Probably not good, but what do I know? I'm new at this. Luckily, so are they.

I have 25 (female, I hope) Buff Orpingtons and one freebie, which is probably a Polish. It is gray with a yellow pom pom on its head-- a strange looking one, to be sure. I am raising them for the eggs, mostly. I may cull some out this fall if it looks like I have too many to overwinter, but that's really not the purpose at this point. I'll keep you posted on the continuing saga of "Chicken Mama."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day May 2009

Have I got the "blues"? Well, this Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, that's a good thing. Check out the veronica (left photo) and centaurea (AKA mountain bluet) on the right. Don't they just knock your socks off?

My garden seems to be between flushes of flowers at the moment. The early spring is a blaze of daffodils of many colors, sizes and shapes. Then the late spring is a mixture of peonies and irises. Right now, the herbaceous peonies are just budded, waiting for the sun to open them, and just a few iris are blooming, with more waiting in the wings. Tree peonies are beginning to put on a show now, along with veronica, centaurea, the early geraniums, and a giant allium or two.
Buttercups, though they can be a nuisance, are bright and cheery right now. Chives are blooming, and lily of the valley puts out fragrant bells in the dry shade in front of my house.
Also in bloom are the Stewartsonian azalea and the spirea (just past their prime). The Exbury azalea, in a sherbet yellow color, is in full glory.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

First Ever! Daring Cooks Challenge. Ricotta Gnocchi

Ladies and Gentlemen! I give you... drum roll, please... the first ever Daring Cooks Challenge!

You know about the Daring Bakers. I've blogged about all the yummy sweet and savory things I've baked with them for the past year or so.

But now there's a new wrinkle. The Daring Bakers have become part of the Daring Kitchen, and the other part is The Daring Cooks. And, since I had nothing better to do with the spare 15 minutes a week I have, I decided to do that, too. (Am I crazy, or what?)

The first ever challenge is Ricotta Gnocchi. (The recipe is from Judy Rogers and the Zuni Cafe Cookbook.) I never even made potato gnocchi, so this was all new to me. The ricotta was supposed to be fresh, rather than the kind from the grocery in the plastic tub. But, as you know, I don't live near a grocery store that has ever heard of fresh ricotta, and I really am too strapped for time this month to make my own. (I will try that some time soon, though.) So, I used the tub of ricotta, and hoped for the best.

The first step was to drain the ricotta overnight to get as much of the liquid out as possible. The next day I added two lightly beaten cold eggs to the ricotta mixture, and a tablespoon of melted butter (not margarine--eww!) Then I added some freshly grated nutmeg (just a pinch or two) and 1/2 ounce of Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated. The batter was soft, like grainy egg custard. I must not have got as much of the moisture out of the ricotta as I was supposed to. About now I was beginning to have my doubts about my chances of success with gnocchi.

I tried to take a small spoonful of it and roll it in flour as directed. Imagine dropping a spoonful of custard into a pile of flour and rolling it into a dumpling shape. It came out as a shapeless lumpy pile of mush, but I cooked a trial one, thinking maybe it would magically get solid as it cooked. Ha! It dissolved into the water, which now looked as though I had poached some eggs and removed them from the pan, and had the little squiggles of egg white still floating in the water. I dug out the cooked mush and tasted it-- it was really good! But the texture and shape needed a lot of work.

I tried adding egg white, as the recipe suggested, and that just made everything wetter. I chilled the mixture, but then I just had cold grainy egg custard. Thank Heaven for the Daring Baker blog-- some other folks had ended up with a wet dough, and had added some flour. I added 1/2 cup of sifted all purpose flour and Bingo! The dumplings rolled out of the flour looking like gnocchi. I cooked a test gnocchi, and found that it held together beautifully and still tasted wonderful, but was a little more dense-- which suited me just fine, since I like pasta to be a little more al dente than mushy.

I chilled them for an hour or so (more like three hours actually) and then cooked half of them, and served them with a garlic butter sauce. Yum! The rest I froze, and I'll have them with pesto sauce at another meal.

Here is the recipe:

For the gnocchi:
1 pound (454 grams/16 ounces) fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) unsalted butter
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves, or a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg, or a few pinches of chopped lemon zest (all optional)
½ ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about ¼ cup very lightly packed)
about ¼ teaspoon salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
all-purpose flour for forming the gnocchi