Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Chai Scones: A Spicy Twist for a Tea Party

This Friday, Foodbuzz and Electrolux are partnering to sponsor a Tea Party Top 9 Takeover.  Foodbuzz Featured Publishers (like me!) are submitting tea party themed posts.  The best part?  Foodbuzz is donating $50 to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund for every recipe created by a Featured Publisher!  Who could resist?  Even better, all of you, dear readers, can participate.  Visit Kelly Confidential where you can join Kelly's virtual tea party for a cause. When you do, Electrolux will donate $1 to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.

So, jolly good fun.  But the question remained: what to make?  Well, I'm no history buff, but I've always enjoyed seeing the various ways British and Indian cultures have influenced each other.  I decided to apply this concept to a tea party, namely scones.  (I am a baker after all.)  And thus was born the Literate Baker's Chai Spice Scones.

Chai Spice Scones

2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon chai spice powder
1/3 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into cubes
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For top:
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon raw sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Combine dry ingredients and crystallized ginger in a large bowl.  Add butter and blend until the butter is the size of small peas.  Meanwhile, combine wet ingredients in a measuring cup or small bowl and beat with a fork to combine.  Add to the dry ingredients and blend just until a soft dough forms.

Dump dough on a floured surface and knead a couple of times.  Pat or lightly roll to 1/2-inch thickness.

Cut with your favorite 2 or 3-inch cutter and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with raw sugar.

Bake 18-20 minutes until golden brown.
Makes 14-16 scones.

To turn these scones into an full-fledged tea party, add some little sandwiches (egg salad spiked with a touch of curry, perhaps?) and a pot of your favorite full leaf.  Chai, of course, would be lovely, as would a nice Earl Grey, of you're into that sort of thing.

Of course, scones don't need a reason.  Neither does a party dress.  But throw put them together and throw in a few friends, and you've got yourself a tea party.  And there's little lovelier that that.  That said, if it's a Tuesday and you find yourself at the office, this will do just fine.

Either way, always make time for good food and good company and always...

Keep it sweet. Pin It

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kiss Me Even Though I'm Not Irish Soda Bread

I'm not Irish.  Not even a little.  Not even if I'm drunk on Bailey's and singing off key.  That doesn't mean I can't celebrate St. Patrick's Day.  And by celebrate, I mean bake for.  Obviously.

This year, I decided to try my hand at Irish soda bread.  Generally speaking, soda bread has a lot going for it.  One: it's fast and easy and does not require any proofing time whatsoever.  Two: it's an excellent vehicle for butter.  Three:  who needs a three when you have the first two?

My go-to girl Ina Garten made it a while back, so I tracked down her recipe at the always-helpful FoodNetwork.com

Irish Soda Bread

4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for currants
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk, shaken
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 cup dried currants

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.

With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together in a measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Combine the currants with 1 tablespoon of flour and mix into the dough. It will be very wet.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and knead it a few times into a round loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife.

Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound. Cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Literate Baker notes:  I didn't toss the currants with flour.  I generally only use that technique with thinner batters.  Also, instead of a sheet pan, I preheated my pizza stone in the oven.  The result was extra crusty yumminess.  Oh, and leave the other half of that stick of butter on the counter.  You're gonna need it.

The overall result?  I've spent every moment since wondering why I haven't been baking Irish soda bread at every possible opportunity.  It literally comes together in minutes.  The texture and great and, with a heavy schmear of butter... wow.  I think it would play well with other flavor additions, too.  Like dried cherries.  Or cheese.

Do yourself a favor and whip up a loaf right this minute.  You'll be so glad you did.  Happy St. Patty's Day all!

O'keep it sweet.
Pin It

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Chipwich for Mitch

I have a confession.  Sometimes, I get tired of cake.  There, I said it.  It's not like I ever stop loving it, it's just that, when it's around all the time, it stops feeling special.

The upside of this is that I tend to get a little adventurous when it comes to celebrating the birthdays of my nearest and dearest.  Most recent case in point?  The giant chipwich.

Now, I love sandwiches. Love them. If you factor in all of the possible variations, I could eat a sandwich for every meal of every day.  I also love dessert sandwiches.  Dessert sandwiches?  Oh yeah.  Perhaps you've forgotten the double doozy incident of last summer.

To make:  Bake a half batch or so of your favorite chocolate chip cookie dough in two 8-inch cake pans that you've lined with parchment paper.  (I'll tell you a secret... my super awesome signature chocolate chip cookies recipe is a very subtle variation of the Toll House cookie.)

Allow cookies to cool in pan.  Loosen edges with a butter knife, invert onto the counter, and remove parchment.  Line one of the pans with plastic wrap.  Place one cookie in the pan. Spread with 3-4 cups of softened ice cream (I like chocolate).  Top with remaining cookie and freeze for at least two hours.

Before serving, remove from pan and place on a serving plate.  Press chocolate chips into ice cream around the edge.  Cut with a large knife that has been dipped in hot water.

This definitely takes the giant office cookie to the next level.  You can even write on it.  Or douse it with homemade butterscotch sauce.  If you had some lying around.  Either way, when it comes to selecting your next birthday cake, remember to keep it interesting and...

Keep it sweet. Pin It

Monday, March 14, 2011

Happy Pi Day

I love a culinary pun as much as the next person.  What am I saying?  I love a culinary pun a lot more than the average person, I'm sure.  Which is why I love Pi Day. 

For anyone not in the know, pi (a.k.a. π) is the relationship between a circle's circumference and its diameter,  roughly 3.14.  It is celebrated, of course, on March 14th (a.k.a. 3/14).  In addition to pastry pun fun, Pi Day reminds me of those long ago days when I was a stellar math student.  It's also a perfect excuse to bake and eat pie.  What's not to love?

Pi Day is being celebrated all over the place.  At the University of Rochester (my Alma mater), there are lectures a-go-go by professors of mathematics, physics, and chemistry.  There's also a fun little feature on the website that makes note of the potential of double pies on June 28, since we so often note circumference as 2πr.  I love the way they think; my calendar is already marked!

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.  What pie is worthy of the occasion?  Chocolate cream?  Bourbon pecan?  Lemon meringue?  Oh, I'm getting hungry just thinking about it!  Okay.  Deep breath.  Focus.

It is a weeknight, so I really shouldn't be too ambitious.  I also don't want to go to the store.  Hmmm...  I do have some Fluff leftover from the holiday fudge.  And lots of graham crackers.  We all know how much I love a good s'more.  And my mini blow torch. 

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?  Oh, I do hope you're thinking s'more pie!

1 graham cracker crust
6 ounces milk chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream 
2 cups Fluff (give or take, please don't try to actually measure Fluff!)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Place chocolate and cream in a heat-proof bowl.  Microwave in 30-second increments, stirring after each, until melted and smooth.  Cool to room temperature.  Whip with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Spread in crust. 

Top with Fluff.  With a small kitchen torch, lightly brown top.  (You could also do this with a couple of minutes under the broiler.)  Sprinkle the sea salt over the top. 

To slice, run a knife under hot water prior to each cut.

Now, before you say anything, I know.  My Pi Day pie is technically a tart.  Apparently, I only have one pie plate and it's at a friend's house.  Forgive me for cheating and for only owning one pie plate.  I promise I won't let it happen again. 
Anyway, this pie is seriously rich.  Yet, the butteryness of the crust and the hint of salt keep it from being too sweet.  This is definitely a s'more all grown up.  If it wasn't 30 degrees out, I might be in the mood to go camping.
Hope your Pi Day has been delicious.  When it comes to 3.14, keep it round...
Keep it sweet.

Pin It

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

King Cake, and Other Legal Celebrations of Mardi Gras

Did I ever tell you about that time I lifted my shirt on Bourbon Street for a string of beads?  No?  Okay, then as far as you're concerned, it never happened.

Fat Tuesday is upon us once again.  For some, this means drunken revelry in the French Quarter or elsewhere.  For others, it's a day of low key indulgence in anticipation of the austere days of lent.  In my house, Mardi Gras means king cake.  Part breakfast, part dessert, all delicious--king cake is the traditional baked good for the celebration of the Mardi Gras season.  For a fun history of the king cake, check out NewOrleans.com.  For a fun do-it-yourself version of king cake, keep reading...

I think the key to a great king cake is in the dough.  I've made entirely passable variations with frozen bread dough.  I've made amazing king cakes with a scratch-made sweet dough.  This year, I tired a new recipe: Alton Brown's Refrigerator Cinnamon Rolls.  It's a nice enriched dough that makes enough for one large or two small king cakes. 

Truly, though, if you aren't the bread-making type, frozen dough is perfectly fine.

A traditional New Orleans king cake is filled with cinnamon sugar, like cinnamon rolls that didn't make the final cut.  Get it?  Cut?  Slice?  Sigh.  Anyway.  These days, you can find king cakes filled with fruit, chocolate, cream cheese, nuts, you name it.  In the spirit of trying new things, I whipped up a pralines-and-cream concoction that turned out even better than I'd expected:

4 ounces cream cheese
1 ounce butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
2 cups toasted pecans

Beat the cream cheese, butter, and brown sugar until well combined.  Add the salt, vanilla, and egg and whip some more.  Set aside. 

Roll whatever dough you're using into a 12x24-inch rectangle.  Spread the filling over the dough, leaving an inch or so around the edges.  Sprinkle pecans evenly over. 

For one large king cake, roll the dough into a giant log.  Brush the long edge with a little water and pinch the seam closed.  For two smaller cakes, cut the dough lengthwise and make two skinnier rolls.  Carefully transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, seam side down.  Shape into a ring, tucking one end into the other. 

Allow to rise for one hour at room temperature or for a half hour in the oven with a pan of boiling water.  Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes.

While the king cake cools, make the glaze:

4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 pound confectioner's sugar
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons of milk, to achieve a consistency that is thinner than frosting, but thick enough to spread

Spread glaze over cake.  Sprinkle with green, purple, and gold sanding sugar.  If you don't have sanding sugar, you can color regular granulated sugar with a few drops of food coloring.  Place in a container with a tight fitting lid and shake it (like a Polaroid picture).

Literate Baker note:  If you have a little plastic baby to put in your king cake, I suggest doing it after the cake is cool, but before you apply the glaze.  You can purchase a little bag o' babies at your local craft store (really).  I used to bake mine right inside, but given all the recent concern about plastic and the chemicals it can leach into food when hot, I stopped.  Just lift the king cake and stuff the baby in from the bottom.  It works just as well.

Slice it up and you have a party.  Sure, it's not as fun as a gallon of daiquiris, but you won't regret it quite so much the next day.  Of course, if you do go the gallon of daiquiris route, this is great the next day with a cup of coffee.  Either way, laissez les bon temps rouler and...

Keep it sweet. Pin It

Friday, March 4, 2011

Slice of Summer

It was five degrees here last week.  It was five degrees this week, too.  And although I truly appreciate bright sun and beautiful blue skies, there is something cruel about them when the temperature is so low.  Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled that I don't have to shovel anything and that I can wear my cute-but-not-waterproof boots for a change, but really, can't it just be spring already?

In addition to lamenting the cold, I have been seeking ways to keep my spirits up.  The trip to Louisiana, of course, helped.  Parking my car in the sun and rocking the greenhouse effect does, too.  I also pulled out my summer baker bag of tricks.  Okay, I don't have a literal bag of summer baker tricks, but I think I want one.  It would be super cute and full of cool and fresh recipes.  Cupcakes in bikinis on the side, perhaps?

But I digress.

I had a request from one of my best customers for a dessert for her women's group meeting.  She wanted something that at least gave the illusion of healthiness.  I wanted to do something fun and not cakey.  The solution: a fruit tart!

As much as I love chocolate, there is a very special place in my heart for a fruit tart.  I love pastry cream.  And shortbread.  And fruit.  Here's how I make mine...

Start with a standard shortbread cookie recipe.  I always use the Barefoot Contessa's.  (It makes enough for two.  Or one and some cookies.  Or one and some little baby tarts.)  Roll out or press into a 9-10 inch tart pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until light golden brown.

Make pastry cream.  Have I ever told you how to make pastry cream?  No?  Shame on me.  I don't have the recipe at my immediate disposal, but I'll look it up for you.  I promise.  And I'll include some of the fun variations I've tried.  For the sake of moving along, let's assume you know what to do.

Once both the pastry cream and shell have cooled, spread about two cups of the former in the latter. 

Arrange pretty fruit on top.  Although the spirit of summer is in my soul, the bounty of summer is not in my grocery store.  The strawberries looked decent, so I got them, a peach, and two kiwis.  Canned mandarin orange slices (well drained) and frozen raspberries (the individually frozen ones, thawed on a paper towel) work nicely, too.  Melt a couple of tablespoons of jam in the microwave.  I like to use apricot because it's pretty clear and won't discolor the fruit.  Brush over the tart.  This will make everything shiny and pretty.

If you were smart enough to make baby tart shells you made with the excess dough, fill them with whatever you have leftover.

I used a muffin tin to bake the shells.  At that size, you could eat one with no guilt, two with the tiniest of twinges.  Or you could eat three.  I, um, wouldn't know about that.

It will be a couple of months before the sandals come out and even longer before the local berries appear.  That's no reason not to feel springy.  Put a little love in your heart, some sweet in your tart, and no matter the weather...

Keep it sweet. Pin It