Saturday, June 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Bakewell Tart

The June Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart/pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800’s in England.

This was my first Daring Bakers challenge, and I am dedicating it to the BF. Without a doubt, if it weren't for him, there is no way I would have completed this recipe. There were so many factors which tempted me to be a no-show for my very first challenge: (1) I was leaving to go out of town, and then out of the country, for 2 weeks, so would not be around to enjoy the results of the challenge (2) I really wanted to do something creative and I had the hardest time coming up with ideas (3) I had never heard of a Bakewell Tart, or even used almond flour, and (4) the recipe required a scale for measuring the ingredients, and my broke self does not own one.

With some much needed moral support from the BF, I finally decided to tough it out and complete the challenge, and I am so glad I did! Since I was not going to be around to enjoy it, I decided the next best thing would be to give it away. I wanted to give half the tart to a friend I was visiting who just finished business school, and since she is a major chocoholic I knew that I would have to incorporate chocolate into the recipe. So instead of the traditional fruit spread which the recipe calls for, I decided to go with a chocolate spread. They're almost the same, right? Cocoa is a fruit, right? Oh, it's not? Ok, well it grows on trees, right? Oh, not really? Ok, well it's sweet like fruit, right? No?! Ok, they're not similar, but they both make good spreads, so there.

The most popular chocolate-based spread I know of is nutella, which is made with chocolate and hazelnuts. But since this dessert uses almond flour, I decided to make my own version of nutella, with almonds instead of hazelnuts. The homemade almond "nutella" came out great, and was perfect for this dessert.

The Bakewell tart traditionally consists of a shortcrust pastry (like a pie crust), a layer of jam, and a frangipane (or almond cake) topping. I was a bit wary of this dessert, because I expected the frangipane to taste like marzipan, which I am not a fan of. Surprisingly, it tasted nothing like marzipan -- instead it was like a very rich, almost creamy, cake -- totally delicious. This was my first experience using almond flour and I loved it. It's a bit pricey compared to regular flour, but I will definitely be using it when I'm in the mood to splurge. Also, since I was short on time, I used my trusty pie crust recipe instead of the one given in the challenge. I really enjoyed this recipe. The butter, almond, and chocolate flavors came together really well to make a very rich and satisfying dessert.

As for measuring the ingredients -- the BF took them all to his lab and measured them for me using his lab scale! Ah, it's great to know a scientist, and even better when he's your boyfriend. :) As much as I appreciated his help, this challenge has definitely convinced me to invest in a kitchen scale, so this little baby will be sitting on my counter in 5 to 7 business days. Woot!

Bakewell Tart with Chocolate Almond Spread
  • One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
  • Bench flour
  • 250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability
  • One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
  • One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Sweet shortcrust pastry
225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Chocolate Almond Spread (Nutella)

Some people say that Nutella is the peanut butter of Europe. I'd have to agree. When I backpacked through Europe in 2005, I too often found myself in the 'exotic foods' section of the grocery store desperately searching the shelves for a jar of peanut butter. Usually there were just one or two jars of creamy unsalted for about twice as much as I would pay in the U.S. But price was not an issue, because denying oneself of a peanut butter craving for an entire month is not healthy, at least not for me.

My German friend has told me she's had a similar experience with buying Nutella in California. The stuff is way more expensive here than it is in Europe, and usually there is just that one brand - Nutella, whereas European groceries offer far more options.
Since I just got back from a week long European excursion through Germany and Prague, I am dedicating this post to Europe and it's delicious culinary invention of Nutella, or more generally, chocolate hazelnut spread.

I was curious about making my own chocolate hazelnut spread, but I wanted to try it with almonds instead of hazelnuts (I'll explain why in the next post). I found this recipe on Baking Bites and made a few adjustments.

Ok, I'm not going to lie -- this was not easy. Well, the original recipe is easy, but since I was looking for a smooth spread, I had to strain it all through a sieve to get rid of the chunkiness from the ground almond. But the taste? It was amazing and totally worth the effort. This spread had a strong almond flavor which was very nicely balanced with a sweet chocolatey flavor. All in all, this was chocolate almond heaven.

Chocolate Almond Spread
(adapted from Baking Bites)
  • 1/3 cup almond meal (ground almonds)
  • 1/2 cup dry nonfat milk powder
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup milk (2% or whole)
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract

1. In a medium saucepan, combine almond meal, dry milk powder, brown sugar, white sugar, cocoa powder and cornstarch. Add in milk and vegetable oil and whisk until smooth.

2. Cook over medium heat, whisking frequently, until mixture begins to thicken and just starts to bubble. Remove from heat and stir in almond extract.

3. To get a smooth spread, strain the mixture by placing small portions of it, one at a time, in a strainer. Use a spoon and the strainer to separate the mixture and the almond meal.

4. Transfer the spread to a heatproof container, preferably one with an airtight lid. Cool to room temperature and, if not eating right away, store in the fridge with an airtight lid on the container.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Brown Rice Risotto with Asparagus and Mushrooms

Ok, I've realized that I cannot go to Trader Joe's without buying at least 2 pounds of cheese. Before I made this risotto, our fridge was stocked with 14 kinds of cheeses, that's right FOURTEEN: mozarella, white cheddar, orange cheddar, Swiss, Gruyère, goat, Comtè, Fontina, Parmesiano-Reggiano, Pecorino, Monterey jack, feta, parmesan, and Harvati. So as much as I love risotto, this recipe was more about clearing up some fridge room than satisfying a craving.

I know that Arborio rice is typically used for risotto, but I wanted to try making it a bit healthier by using brown rice. I wasn't sure how it would work out, or if it would at all, since brown rice is definitely not as starchy as Arborio, and the starchiness of the rice is what gives risotto its creaminess. I used a simple recipe for asparagus and shitake risotto and used brown rice instead of Arborio.

Using the brown rice required much more time since brown rice takes longer to cook, but the end result was totally worth it. This risotto was just as creamy as other risottos I've had with Arborio rice. I used Gruyère and Fontina, which added a ton of flavor.

Brown Rice Risotto with Asparagus and Mushrooms (adapted from Gourmèt, May 2003)
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 pound thin to medium asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices, leaving tips 1 1/2 inches long
  • 4 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 pound fresh crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 shallots, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups Brown rice (10 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup Gruyere
  • 1/2 cup Fontina
1. Bring broth and water to a boil in a large pot. Add asparagus and cook, uncovered, until crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer asparagus with a slotted spoon to a large bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking, then drain and pat dry. Keep broth at a bare simmer, covered.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large heavy pot over moderately high heat, then sauté mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
3. Cook shallots in 2 tablespoons of oil in saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, about 1 minute. Add rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and cook, stirring, until absorbed, about 1 minute.
3. Ladle in 1 cup simmering broth and cook at a strong simmer, stirring, until absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue simmering and adding broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next, until rice is just tender and looks creamy, for about 1 hour.
4. Remove from heat and stir in cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Gently stir in asparagus and mushrooms. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Chocolate Truffles

mmm...who would have thought that wanna-be fungus could taste this good?

Last weekend the bf and I made chocolate truffles and they were scrumptiously good.

I read so many mixed opinions about truffle-making that I was a bit intimidated to make these. Some recipes boast about truffles being one of the easiest fancy desserts, while others go on and on about all the trillions of ways your truffles can fail, miserably.
Here's my conclusion: the basic truffle is very easy to make and even easier to eat. These are the kinds that are soft and creamy all over. The shell covered truffles, however, are a bit trickier.

We made both, and I have to say, I prefer the shelled truffles -- the contrast in texture just does it for me -- but the creamy ones are so easy, but the shelled ones are so fancy, but the creamy ones are so creamy, but the shelled ones...never mind.

For the shelled truffles, the chocolate coating must be tempered, and cannot reach a temperature higher than 94 degrees F (but this number varies depending on the recipe). This was definitely challenging, and it did not really work for me. The chocolate temperature fluctuated about a bajillion times and even went over (gasp...94 degrees F!!), but somehow magically it still worked, sort of. The truffles still got that "snap" that everyone talks about, although I'm guessing if I actually did it correctly, they would have been more...snappy.

There are several ways to temper chocolate -- our method was to consistently add and remove new pieces of chocolate chunks to the warm chocolate to make sure it doesn't get too hot. A good thermometer is vital, and the ability (which apparently I don't have) to make sure the thermometer does not touch anything but the chocolate (ie. the sides of the bowl). So to summarize: I need more practice. But any sort of practice that involves chocolate is always good!

Chocolate Truffles (adapted from Robert Linxe via Smitten Kitchen and Joy of Cooking)
  • 8 ounces good quality chocolate (at least 56% cacao), chopped
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 3 ounces good quality chocolate, plus a bit more for tempering (for chocolate shell), chopped
Truffle Coatings
  • Good quality cocoa powder for dusting
  • Bourbon Candied Nuts (Recipe Below)
1. Boil 2/3 cup heavy cream in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan.
2. Pour the hot heavy cream over the chopped chocolate, mashing any big pieces with a spoon.
3. Stir with this mixture together in concentric circles starting in the center and working your way to the edge with a whisk, being careful not to beat air into it and create bubbles.
4. Chill mixture for 1 hour.
5. Using a small spoon, scoop out about 1 tablespoon of mixture at a time, shape into balls, and place on a parchment-lined sheet pan.
6. Chill the balls for at least 2o minutes.
7. If you don't want to mess with the chocolate shell, then you are done! Enjoy. Otherwise...

For coating:
1. Temper 3 ounces of chocolate (here are some tips on tempering chocolate).
2. Using 2 spoons, or your hands, roll each chilled truffle in the melted chocolate.
3. While the coating is still wet, dunk the truffle in the chocolate powder or candied nuts.
4. Place each truffle back on the parchment paper. Chill for an additional 10 minutes (I didn't do this part, just ate them right after they were done. That's just me, I guess.)

Bourbon Candied Nuts (adapted loosely from Smitten Kitchen)
  • 1/2 cup well-chopped mixed nuts (I used walnuts, pecans, and almonds)
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 Tb bourbon
  • 2 Tb brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp salt.
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl and set aside.
2. Mix bourbon and egg white in a separate bowl. Stir in the nuts, coating evenly.
3. Sprinkle sugar mixture over nuts, and stir again, coating evenly.
4. Spread mixture onto parchment lined sheet and bake for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Let the mixture cool completely. Break into small pieces.