June 30, 2008

Pain Au Choco-Bana: Belated

Almost any food combination that includes chocolate appeals to me.

Chocolate and peanut butter.

Chocolate and pistachio.

Chocolate and raspberry.

... Even chocolate and bacon
(if you don't believe me, you need to order a Mo's Bacon Bar. Out-freaking-standing!)

You name it, if it includes chocolate, I usually like it. But, one of my all-time favorites is chocolate and banana.

For the June Daring Bakers recipe, our hosts—Kelly of Sass & Veracity and Ben of What's Cooking?—challenged us to tackle yeasted laminated dough in the form of a danish braid. Huh? I have to be honest that I get a little freaked out every time I have to work with yeast, let alone dough layered with butter. It scares the bejeezus out of me . Will it rise properly? Will the butter actually form layers or just blend in? I'm convinced this is why Julia Child always took a swig of her sherry while she was in the kitchen. Maybe she was just taking the edge off from attempting challenging dishes? . . . I digress.

The only hard and fast rules for this challenge was that we had to make at least one danish braid using the recipe provided. The suggested filling was apple, but we were given the option to go sweet or savory and use any filling of our choice. Since I'm always looking for excuses to eat chocolate, I knew I wanted to include that in my filling, but certainly didn't want just chocolate. I glanced around my kitchen for inspiration and fixed on the bananas across the room on my counter. Banana pastry cream and chocolate. Lovely combination.

While the total time took a while, the actual labor involved in making the dough was fairly easy and straight forward. I had to make the dough twice because I realized I misread the ingredient measurements the first time and added way too much flour. Otherwise, it came together easily for this home chef. The hard part was keeping track of how many times I turned the dough. I tend to multi-task, so kept track of my progress by making hash marks on my printed recipe. If you have a lot going on while making this, mark the dough with your finger (as the recipe suggests) or keep track on paper of how many times you have turned it. I found it to be a simple, yet helpful tip. The braiding came together quickly and I topped with the egg wash and some coarse sugar. The directions instruct you to fold up the ends of the braid, but I lean towards a more rustic look with pastries and rather enjoy seeing the filling peek out a little. So, I skipped that step and left my ends exposed.

As for the taste, I loved, loved, LOVED it! I made modifications to an existing vanilla pastry cream I had, so I was unsure it would come out okay, but I was so thrilled with the outcome. Just the right amount of banana flavor without being obnoxious. And the pairing with semi-sweet chocolate was the perfect balance. I cut it when it was still a little warm, so the chocolate and banana blended together.

For more yummy braids, check out the Daring Bakers blogroll. I'm a few days late getting my post up, so any Daring Baker regulars are probably overloaded on braids by now. Hopefully, this is at least different than anything you've seen. I haven't had a chance to look yet myself, so can't wait to see how everyone else interpreted the recipe. The opportunities are really endless. Thanks again to Kelly and Ben for a great challenge.

Danish Dough
from Sherry Yard's The Secrets of Baking
Makes 2-1/2 pounds dough (enough for two large braids)

For the dough (detrempe)
1 ounce fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 large eggs, chilled
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

For the butter block (beurrage)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

For the filling
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 banana, mashed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 4-ounce semi-sweet chocolate baking bar
To make the dough:
Combine yeast and milk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed. Slowly add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice. Mix well. Change to the dough hook and add the salt with the flour, 1 cup at a time, increasing speed to medium as the flour is incorporated. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until smooth. You may need to add a little more flour if it is sticky. Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Without a standing mixer: Combine yeast and milk in a bowl with a hand mixer on low speed or a whisk. Add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice and mix well. Sift flour and salt on your working surface and make a fountain. Make sure that the “walls” of your fountain are thick and even. Pour the liquid in the middle of the fountain. With your fingertips, mix the liquid and the flour starting from the middle of the fountain, slowly working towards the edges. When the ingredients have been incorporated start kneading the dough with the heel of your hands until it becomes smooth and easy to work with, around 5 to 7 minutes. You might need to add more flour if the dough is sticky.

To make the butter block:
Combine butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and then beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Set aside at room temperature.

After the detrempe has chilled 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 18 x 13 inches and ¼ inch thick. The dough may be sticky, so keep dusting it lightly with flour. Spread the butter evenly over the center and right thirds of the dough. Fold the left edge of the detrempe to the right, covering half of the butter. Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn has now been completed. Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns, or use a sticky and keep a tally. Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Place the dough lengthwise on a floured work surface. The open ends should be to your right and left. Roll the dough into another approximately 13 x 18 inch, ¼-inch-thick rectangle. Again, fold the left third of the rectangle over the center third and the right third over the center third. No additional butter will be added as it is already in the dough. The second turn has now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

Roll out, turn, and refrigerate the dough two more times, for a total of four single turns. Make sure you are keeping track of your turns. Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight. The Danish dough is now ready to be used. If you will not be using the dough within 24 hours, freeze it. To do this, roll the dough out to about 1 inch in thickness, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. Defrost the dough slowly in the refrigerator for easiest handling. Danish dough will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.

To make the filling
Heat milk in saucepan on medium-high until very hot. In a bowl, combine sugar, flour and salt. Whisk hot milk into bowl with dry ingredients. Pour the mixture back into saucepan. Heat to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook over medium heat a couple minutes, stirring constantly until mixture is thick and smooth. Reduce heat to low. Whisk in yolks and cook for a few minutes more. Remove from heat and let cool, stirring occasionally.

Mash bananas and lemon juice until smooth Add to milk mixture. Cover and refrigerate.

To assemble the danish braid:

1 recipe danish dough (see above)
1 recipe banana pastry cream, plus chocolate
Egg wash (1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk)

Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the danish dough into a 15 x 20-inch rectangle, ¼ inch thick. If the dough seems elastic and shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again. Place the dough on the baking sheet.

Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 5-inch-long cuts with a knife or rolling pastry wheel, each about 1 inch apart. Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you’ve already made.
Spoon the filling you’ve chosen to fill your braid down the center of the rectangle. Starting with the top and bottom “flaps”, fold the top flap down over the filling to cover. Next, fold the bottom “flap” up to cover filling. This helps keep the braid neat and helps to hold in the filling. Now begin folding the cut side strips of dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished. Trim any excess dough and tuck in the ends.
Egg Wash
Whisk together the whole egg and yolk in a bowl and with a pastry brush, lightly coat the braid.

Proofing and Baking
Spray cooking oil onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid. Proof at room temperature or, if possible, in a controlled 90 degree F environment for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume and light to the touch.

Near the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven.

Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan so that the side of the braid previously in the back of the oven is now in the front. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake about 15-20 minutes more, or until golden brown. Cool and serve the braid either still warm from the oven or at room temperature. The cooled braid can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze for 1 month.

June 12, 2008

Be Elegant, Be Earthy

Ina Garten is known for her simple, but sophisticated approach to food. Many also know her as the Barefoot Contessa, a moniker she earned from the Hampton's specialty store by the same name, which she used to own.

One of the reasons I admire Ina's cooking is that she always starts with good ingredients. I recently came across a group of other zealous Ina fans, where every two weeks members make the same recipe and post their results on the same day. The group, called Barefoot Bloggers, is currently about 70-members strong.

The first recipe for June is Pasta, Pesto and Peas. This was a super easy recipe and I could definitely see making this as a side dish for a summer barbecue. I made two substitutions: swapped the frozen spinach for frozen since I got a supply in my weekly CSA harvest box, and I used all fusilli pasta instead of a combo. As a superfan of all things basil, I thought the overall flavor was tasty. However, I could easily have done with about half the mayonnaise, as I am not so much a fan. It was just way too creamy for me, but cutting down the mayo is an easy enough modification.
Pasta, Pesto and Peas
3/4 pound fusilli pasta
3/4 pound bow tie pasta
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 1/2 cups pesto, packaged or see recipe below
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/4 cups good mayonnaise
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, defrosted
1/3 cup pignolis (pine nuts)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cook the fusilli and bow ties separately in a large pot of boiling salted water for 10 to 12 minutes until each pasta is al dente. Drain and toss into a bowl with the olive oil. Cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, puree the pesto, spinach, and lemon juice. Add the mayonnaise and puree. Add the pesto mixture to the cooled pasta and then add the Parmesan, peas, pignolis, salt, and pepper. Mix well, season to taste, and serve at room temperature.

1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup pignolis (pine nuts)
3 tablespoons chopped garlic (9 cloves)
5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups good olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Place the walnuts, pignolis, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process for 15 seconds. Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper. With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly pureed. Add the Parmesan and puree for a minute. Use right away or store the pesto in the refrigerator or freezer with a thin film of olive oil on top.

Notes: Air is the enemy of pesto. For freezing, pack it in containers with a film of oil or plastic wrap directly on top with the air pressed out.

To clean basil, remove the leaves, swirl them in a bowl of water, and then spin them very dry in a salad spinner. Store them in a closed plastic bag with a slightly damp paper towel. As long as the leaves are dry they will stay green for several days.

Yield: 4 cups

June 11, 2008

What's-in-the-Box Wednesday 6/11/08

This week's CSA harvest box was teeming with goodies:

  • Arugula
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Onions
  • Parsley
  • Radishes

We were delighted to discover we also got an extra bunch of greens (not sure which variety) and a bag of cherries. We had cherries in the house from our neighborhood grocery store, so did an impromptu taste test of the two kinds. There was no comparing. The ones from our farm were sweeter and tasted more like a cherry should. The store-bought ones tasted fine, but were a little tart and didn't have that lingering sweet cherry taste.

We just got the box yesterday, but the beets are arugula are already gone. Our farm includes a newsletter each week that talks about farm happenings, describes the week's harvest and provides a recipe to help you create meals with your harvest. The recipe this week was for a beet and arugula salad tossed with a simple dressing of olive oil, balsamic, garlic, salt and pepper. We topped it with feta crumbles and it made a perfect light dinner.

June 4, 2008

What's-in-the-Box Wednesday 6/4/08

Determined to get more vegetables in our diet, we purchased a CSA share for the 2008 harvest season. Short for community supported agriculture, a CSA is simply a group of community members who commit to support a local farm in exchange for a supply of fresh produce throughout the growing season.

CSA programs vary from farm to farm. Mine offers a few different box options: veggie (two sizes), fruit (two sizes), salad and tomatoes. Some also offer flowers, eggs and meat. Since this is our first year, we are keeping it simple and just went with the small veggie box. We are considering adding a fruit share, but are waiting to see how it works for us for a few more weeks before committing to more.

Our particular CSA runs May through October and we received our third box this week. The produce is just gorgeous and tastes so good. I've decided to show off my bounty each week in a regular post I'm calling What's-in-the-Box Wednesday. Sorry, I didn't take pictures of the first two weeks' boxes. This week, we received:

  • Basil
  • Carrots
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Garlic
  • Radishes
  • Red chidori kale
All CSAs offer different varieties and options, so my pictures are only representative of what you can get. But, I really encourage buying from local farmers when possible

If a weekly box of locally grown veggies sound good to you, you may be able to find a CSA in your area. If you already belong to a CSA, I'd love to see what you receive each week or hear how it's going for you.

June 2, 2008

Super Good Superfood

Many health experts support the belief that some natural food sources are so rich in antioxidants and essential nutrients, they are deemed superfoods. They're referred to as super because their nutritional properties are supposed to help lower cholesterol, improve mood and even reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.

There is no legal or medical definition of what constitutes a superfood, so there is no official list. However, most iterations I've seen include a similar variety of fruits and vegetables, plus walnuts, salmon, green tea and a few others.

With zero will power these days, I need as much nudging to eat super as possible. So I wanted to make sure I modified this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe to include something with good nutritional value. Di of Di's Kitchen Notebook selected French Chocolate Brownies. Some may argue that good chocolate has antioxidant properties, which is probably true if you eat a single brownie. But, I suspect the benefits kind of cancel out if you eat the full plate. (Is it wrong to eat a whole batch in one sitting?)

When I went to purchase the raisins for which the recipe calls, I noticed a display of dried blueberries. The packaging called out the antioxidant properties of blueberries and I decided to go that route. One for the nutrition, but (get real; we're making brownies here) two for the unique chocolate-blueberry flavor combination.

The prep for this recipe was fairly straight-forward and moved quickly. Others mentioned that the top of the brownies had cracked, so I kept close to the oven and removed the pan as soon as it looked like a crack was forming. I cooked it for 50 minutes and the consistency was perfect. The taste was very rich and chocolaty, but I was a little disappointed with my blueberry experiment as we couldn't really taste a strong blueberry presence. We occasionally got a bite of blueberry here and there, but no consistent blueberry taste.

Completing the blueberry theme, I paired the brownies with a scoop of homemade Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream, also from Dorie. The gorgeous blue-purple color popped against the white plate and dark brownie. We could really taste the blueberries in the ice cream, which can probably be attributed to using fresh berries compared to the dried berries in the brownies. All in all, the combination was extremely decadent and delicious. I would definitely make the brownies again, but might try adding fresh strawberries next time.

Check out more brownie action here.

French Chocolate Brownies
makes 16 brownies

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup dried blueberries
1 1/2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons dark rum
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons; 6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into 12 pieces
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar

Getting ready:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 300°F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil, butter the foil, place the pan on a baking sheet, and set aside.

Whisk together the flour, salt and cinnamon, if you're using it.

Put the raisins in a small saucepan with the water, bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until the water almost evaporates. Add the rum, let it warm for about 30 seconds, turn off the heat, stand back and ignite the rum. Allow the flames to die down, and set the raisins aside until needed.

Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Slowly and gently melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and add the butter, stirring so that it melts. It's important that the chocolate and butter not get very hot. However, if the butter is not melting, you can put the bowl back over the still-hot water for a minute. If you've got a couple of little bits of unmelted butter, leave them—it's better to have a few bits than to overheat the whole. Set the chocolate aside for the moment.

Working with a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until they are thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Lower the mixer speed and pour in the chocolate-butter, mixing only until it is incorporated—you'll have a thick, creamy batter. Add the dry ingredients and mix at low speed for about 30 seconds—the dry ingredients won't be completely incorporated and that's fine. Finish folding in the dry ingredients by hand with a rubber spatula, then fold in the raisins along with any liquid remaining in the pan.

Scrape the batter into the pan and bake 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top is dry and crackled and a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and allow the brownies to cool to warm or room temperature.

Carefully lift the brownies out of the pan, using the foil edges as handles, and transfer to a cutting board. With a long-bladed knife, cut the brownies into 16 squares, each roughly 2 inches on a side, taking care not to cut through the foil.

The brownies are good just warm or at room temperature; they're even fine cold. I like these with a little something on top or alongside—good go-alongs are whipped crème fraiche or whipped cream, ice cream or chocolate sauce or even all three!

Wrapped well, these can be kept at room temperature for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.
... if they last that long!

More Dorie recipes I've made from Baking: From My Home to Yours
Pecan Honey Sticky Buns
Florida Pie
Peanut Butter Torte
Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake
Bill's Big Carrot Cake
Fresh Tangelo Cream Tart
Gooey Chocolate Cakes
Perfect Party Cake
Brioche Raisin Snails
Russian Grandmothers' Apple Pie-Cake
Snickery Squares
Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits
Almost-Fudge Gâteau