Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Baking Bible: Dattelkonfekt

Dattelkonfekt, or date confections, or date-nut meringues, are a surprisingly addictive cookie. They don't seem like much; in fact upon first sampling I gave then a resounding, "eh." But they sneak up on you, and suddenly you discover you've easily eaten about six of them while reading up on next week's baking project. Now I love them, and the only thing I regret is that there isn't any chocolate in them.

These are a super easy confection to make with a list of ingredients you can count on one hand: egg whites, sugar, almonds, dates, and vanilla extract.

The almonds are ground up in the food processor. Rose prefers unblanched sliced almonds as they have a more almondy flavor. I could only find blanched so I gave mine a little toast to punch up their flavor, plus I was worried they would taste a bit raw in the final cookie, and I don't like that.

Next the almonds are removed from the processor so that the dates can be ground down into a sticky mass. Then the nuts are pulsed back in and set aside.

Then the whites get beaten in the mixer at supposedly medium-low speed until soft peaks are held. I decided this must be a typo (which I don't think it is) and beat them at medium-high. The sugar is added and mixed (now really at medium high) for exactly five minutes. Rose warns that at this stage the whites will not hold a peak but will be glossy. Check. Mix in the vanilla, then add the dates and almonds, and that's that.

kinda looks like super milky oatmeal
 The sticky batter gets piped onto either fancy schmancy Back-Oblaten (which I had never heard of before) or onto parchment lined cookie sheets. I opted for the parchment.

I suck at piping, so the first batch of piped meringues look like somebody who sucks at piping piped them. (Peter Piper piped a peck of peculiar patties!)

The second batch is a bit better (except I bumped the cookie sheet on the way to the table and that one cookie fell off)


The cookies baked for a bit longer than the maximum time suggested to get a pale brown color. I like them as is, which is to say crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle. However, I wonder what they would be like if they were baked to a nice toasty brown? I might like that, too.

People who dislike the sickly sweetness of meringue have nothing to worry about here. Nuts do a wonderful job of offsetting sweet meringue, and the dates actually contribute some really nice jammy/fruity notes without adding more sweet. Super easy to bake, and super easy to eat. A surprise winner!

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The Pie and Pastry Bible: Shaker Lemon Pie

This week, the Alpha Bakers are baking up a really lovely looking and delicious Strawberry Shortcake Genoise, but since I want to wait for fresh strawberries I decided to skip this week's bake. Well, I couldn't take a whole week off baking so I decided to do something else. We had a couple of lemons laying around, and since it was Easter weekend, lemons seemed just Springy enough to work. So I decided to try a pie I've been curious about for a long time.

The Shaker Lemon Pie, from another of Rose's books The Pie and Pastry Bible, is a very tart and lemony pie made in the same manner as marmalade. That is, the entire lemon: peel, pith, and juicy segments are macerated in sugar for 24 hours and then all of it is mixed with eggs and baked in a pie crust. Crazy! I had to try it.

lemons, at the beginning of a 24 hour sugar soak
However, I am having such trouble with Rose's Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust that I took a break from it and used Martha Stewart's Pate Brisee. This is a standard workhorse of a pie dough; just flour, butter, salt, and some water. This crust can handle not being chilled before rolling, or not being chilled before baking, or not being chilled when it gets soft while rolling out. This makes it the ideal pastry for me, who does not like to wait more than is necessary for dessert.

Curiously, the pie is begun in a very hot oven but after 15 minutes turned down to 350 for the rest of its bake. This leaves the crust a pale blond color, not the nice crusty brown one expects from a baked pie. I wished I had brushed the top with cream or an egg wash or something to help the browning, plus a sprinkle of sugar would be welcome. Next time.

ready for a top crust

Rose gives instructions on how to slice the lemons super thinly by hand, but Mark encouraged me to use the mandolin slicer. I am afraid of anything that sharp as I'd like to keep my fingertips intact. He coached me through proper mandolin safety and reminded me several times to wear the teflon glove and stop slicing when I got to the pithy end. I did it, but if Mark wasn't home I would have totally sliced the lemons by hand.

I did make a mistake; I didn't read the directions very well and so I sliced up 340 grams of lemon, which it turns out is the weight of the whole lemons before slicing. I only needed about 300g for the pie, so I had 40g more already macerating in the sugar when I noticed. So, I shrugged my shoulders and hoped for the best. If I was smart, I could have figured out how to increase the sugar and eggs but honestly I didn't think of that until right now. Oh well!

This pie is for the ultimate lemon lover, who doesn't mind a bit of bitter. Maybe it wouldn't have been a bit bitter if I had the proper ratio of lemon to sugar, but I actually don't mind. I am always saying that the best part of any citrus fruit is the bitter white pith we are trained to throw away; the pith is where all the flavonoids live! A generous dollop of whipped cream plays really nicely with the Shaker Lemon Pie, as does a creamy cup of coffee or a strong cup of milky black tea. (Which also has flavonoids! You're being so healthy.)

Next week I'm back with the Alpha Bakers as we bake up date-nut meringue cookies. Do go and check out all the Strawberry Shortcake Genoise, they look so pretty and I know they must be delicious. I'll be dreaming of that cake until strawberry season hits.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Baking Bible: Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

A quick and easy cake this week; the cranberry upside down cake features my favorite sour cream butter cake with a caramel-cranberry topping. Nice and tart, mellowed by the raspberry jam glaze and the richly buttery cake, options for accompaniments include a raspberry italian meringue or raspberry whipped cream. I opted for the meringue, as I as was curious what it would be like to have a meringue as a side. I loved it, in fact I might like the meringue better than the cake itself.

Luckily I had a bag of cranberries stashed in the freezer, as it is really really hard to find cranberries when it isn't fall. There is a rhubarb variation which also sounds good but rhubarb won't show up for another month or so.

First up, we make a caramel. Sugar, lemon juice and zest, and a pinch of salt go into a pot to come to a deep amber color. Rose mentioned in the FB group the lemon juice is to prevent crystallization, FYI. When it comes to temperature, it gets poured into the prepared cake pan. The caramel started to harden in the pan almost immediately so I placed the pan in the preheating oven for a few minutes.The cranberries (fresh or still frozen) and then placed upon the caramel. I had a small handful of cranberries left over after the proper amount were placed in the pan, so I crowded those in, too.

Then the cake batter is made. My favorite kind of cake batter, a sour cream butter cake. You know it will be a good cake when it looks like frosting and you have to spread it over the cranberries like it is, uh, frosting.

Did I mention this is a sour cream butter cake? Did I ever mention that I almost always substitute whole milk yogurt for sour cream when I bake? Somewhere in one of Rose's cake books she says you can do that and so I do. This time, I decided to push the envelope and used what we had in the house, whole goat's yogurt.

I'm thinking maybe I went too far as my cake is a little mushy and squat. But all the flavors are delicious and it's almost gone anyways.

The cake is turned out right away and glazed with raspberry jam. Then you make a one-egg batch of italian meringue and flavor it with more raspberry jam to serve alongside. All very lovely.