Sunday, May 24, 2009

Strawberry Cream Cake

Starwberry Cream Cake

I'll tell you something - I am not an impulsive person by nature. In fact, I am the complete opposite of that. I like to think and plan, to draw up lists (and lists of lists), to "talk things over" ... and over... and over until A. gives me that look and I know it's time to stop. And yet, I often do things on impulse because I just know that it's right and regrets are the worst things to end up with. Some of the best decisions I've ever made have been split-second-gut-feeling type of things and I've learned that trusting my intuition and letting go of control brings about the sweetest freedom.

Starwberry Cream Cake

I had this same feeling when I saw an email in my inbox from a person whose name I did not recognize. I read it, and I just knew. It was an email from a mother. She said that her son lives in Los Angeles while the rest of the family is in Brazil, and she said, "we would like to send him a strawberry cake with fresh whipped cream, for his birthday, because he loves it." She used to make this cake for his birthday all the time. She said that she and her mother looked through photos of cakes for an hour, and then, she saw a photo of my cake and said: "look, mom, this cakes look so good, and this strawberry cake looks like ours, it must be made by a jewish mother." It made me cry, and I am not the kind of person who cries easily at all, because I know that if I was far away, my mom would do the same thing, she would find a way to send me something familiar so that I know she is thinking about me and that she loves me. With a mother like that, no one can be alone, even in a strange country half the world away. I am not a mother yet, but this is the kind of mother I hope I will be. Of course, I had to make this cake. I was honored to do it.

Starwberry Cream Cake

Life is a strange and beautiful thing, my friends. How wonderful it was that she found me, me to do this lovely thing for her son. Happy birthday, dear S., and best wishes to your whole beautiful, loving family!

Strawberry Cream Cake
1 chiffon cake (recipe below)
2 lb strawberries
Whipped cream filling (recipe below)
Milk/rum mixture (below)
1/2 cup heavy cream and 1 tbsp sugar for the topping

To Assemble
After the cake has cooled, slice it into three layers with a very sharp, serrated knife. Remove the stems from the strawberries. Set aside the best 20 and slice those in half. Chop the rest of the strawberries and set aside. Prepare the whipped cream filling. Also prepare the milk/rum mixture.

Line the sides (not the bottom) of a 10-inch springform pan with plastic so that there is enough overhang to cover the cake completely. Place the bottom layer of the cake inside the springform pan. Moisten it with one-third of the milk/rum mixture. Arrange a ring of strawberry halves, cut side down and ends facing out, around the perimeter of the cake layer.

Spread half of the chopped strawberries on top of the cake layer. Gently spread half of the whipped cream on top of the strawberries. Place the second layer on top. Moisten and repeat with strawberries and cream. Place the third layer on top and moisten with the rest of the milk/rum mixture. Wrap the top of the cake in plastic and press gently to distribute filling. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

Whip half a cup of heavy cream and 1 tbsp sugar until stiff peaks form. Frost the top of the cake and decorate with more strawberries.

Chiffon Cake

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp of salt
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
6 large egg yolks (I used 5)
3/4 cup of water
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest, grated
10 large egg whites (I used 8)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan with parchment paper cut to fit the bottom exactly. Do not grease the sides of the pan.

Sift together the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add 1 1/4 cups of sugar and add the salt, whisk to combine. In a small bowl, whisk the oil, egg yolks, water, vanilla and lemon zest. Make a well in the flour and add the yolk mixture, and then whisk thoroughly and quickly until very smooth.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites on medium speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat on medium-high until the whites hold soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar until the whites hold firm, shiny peaks.

With a rubber spatula, fold about one-third of the whites into the batter to lighten and then gently fold the remaining whites until combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula if necessary. Bake for 45-55 minutes until the top springs back and the tested inserted into the center comes out clean (note: in my oven, this took an extra 30 minutes - I was checking every 10 min after the 50 minute mark). Let the cake cool in the springform pan (so the cake holds its shape) and then run a sharp knife around the edges and unmold.

Whipped Cream Filling

2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt

Place the heavy cream in the bowl of a mixer with a pinch of salt. Whip on medium-high until frothy, then slowly add the granulated sugar and vanilla. Whip until stiff peaks form.

Milk/Rum Mixture
3/4 cup whole milk
2-4 tbsp rum (depending on how boozy you want it to be - optional)
1/4 cup of sugar

Place the milk and sugar in a small saucepan. Heat on low-medium heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved (do not let the milk come to a boil). Take off the heat and add rum. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Assemble the cake and decorate! For the decorations, I melted about 4 oz of white chocolate in a double-boiler (well, my make-shift double boiler, which is a heat-proof bowl set over a pot of gently-simmering water - make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water and that steam does not get into the bowl). I drizzled some of the white chocolate over halved strawberries, left them in the refrigerator for an hour to set and then arranged them on top of the cake. I mixed the rest of the melted white chocolate with about 3 drops of yellow food coloring and piped the letters (as you can see, my calligraphy is atrocious... sigh... at least the white chocolate is tasty! I use Callebaut white chocolate and it melts like a dream).

Continued after the jump...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Nutella Chocolate Cake

Shoosh cake

Sometimes, a cake is not just a cake. See, when you're friends with someone for fourteen years, when you've been through the ups and downs of life together, when you've cried and laughed and found life a little ridiculous and wonderful together, a 30th birthday cake is kind of like a summation of all those nights we stayed up until 3am propounding theories about the boy who went to Jamaica and discussing the relative merits of Bakery Boy 1 vs. Bakery Boys 2 & 3 (don't ask, you don't want to know). The trips to Palm Springs, the times we went shopping and bought the same outfit (and didn't even get mad at each other), the almost-being-pulled-over-by-the-cops-while-sort-of-kind-of-tipsy and the one jaywalking ticket we had to split between the two of us (as well as the Haagen-Dazs ice-creams we always shared). We were probably the only ones who voluntarily read Anna Karenina in high school (and loved it). Holding each other's hand through the loves that never were and celebrating birthdays, graduations, new jobs, and even a wedding (guess who watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding with me the night before I got married and peeled the petals off of 10 dozen roses? And guess who laughed at me the entire time?). So many memories, so much love, and I tried to fit it all into one cake.

shoosh cake

Oh, but it was, it was a cake. Two thick, chocolaty layers filled and frosted with the most luscious, sweetest Nutella Swiss buttercream that you can imagine, and even a double layer of prime California strawberries in between. Because that's just what this girl likes, you see, and if a friend like that likes things like these, well, it's just a match made in heaven, isn't it? This cake could only go one way, and hoooo boy, did it ever.

Chocolate Nutella Cake

Happy birthday, my dear friend, and here's to many, many more birthdays and memories to be shared!

For the chocolate cake, I used one of my favorite birthday cake recipes from "Sky High," one of my favorite (probably the favorite) cake books. The cake is super moist and chocolaty and the coffee gives it an extra depth of flavor that I really enjoyed (you can use decaf if you don't drink coffee). The Nutella buttercream? I just winged that. All you need to know is that I used almost a cup of Nutella - I highly recommend it. Don't be intimidated by Swiss buttercream - once you know what to expect (and I'll tell you exactly what that is), it's really very easy to make and tastes way way better than the "simple" buttercreams that only use butter and powdered sugar.

To frost and fill the cake (mine was a 9x13 two-layer cake), arrange the first cake layer on a cake board. Spread a layer of buttercream about 1/2-3/4 inch thick on the layer. With a large round piping tip, pipe a border of buttercream along the outer perimeter of the cake. Hull and slice the strawberries (I use about 1 lb), and arrange them in two layers on top of the buttercream. Reserve a few as decoration for the top of the cake, if you'd like. Place the second cake layer carefully on top. Coat the top and sides with a thin layer of buttercream (that'll be your crumb coat) and refrigerate for at least an hour or until the buttercream is very firm. Then, decorate with the rest of the buttercream. I used Nutella to pipe the letters - bad idea, it pipes horribly (as you can tell from the picture) so next time, I will probably just melt a little bit of dark chocolate and use that for piping the letters.

Chocolate Butter Cake
Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes

A few notes about the cake:
(1) The recipe makes a three-layered 9-inch round or 8-inch square cake. However, I made mine a two-layered 9x13" cake and I thought that turned out really well. The layers were thick, but there wasn't *too* much cake, if you know what I mean. The size fed about 30-40 people (depending on how thickly you slice it) and seemed perfect for a birthday cake. However, I'd love to make the tall tall tall 9 or 8-inch version one of these days!
(2) This cake is pretty sturdy and yet, I had trouble (because of the size) lifting the second layer to fit on top of the first layer. Hence, I would really recommend wrapping the cake in plastic (3 layers) and freezing for a few hours or until the cake is firm. Then, it won't break when you're maneuvering the layers.
(3) Remember that as a butter cake, it will be dense if you eat it straight out of the refrigerator. Make sure to leave it out for at least a half hour to an hour before serving so you get maximum fluffiness. The buttercream holds up very well to all kinds of weather, so you can leave it out even if it's fairly hot.

3 cups cake flour
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
3 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups freshly brewed coffee (or decaf - I use instant coffee), cooled to room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter or spray your cake pans (or pan, if you, like me, only have one 9x13 cake pan and can bake one layer at a time) and line the bottoms with parchment paper cut to size. Butter or spray the paper.

In a large mixer bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. With the electric mixer on low speed, blend for about 30 seconds. Add the butter and buttermilk and blend on low until moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. At this point, please make sure to scrape the bowl very very often because the little deposits of flour, sugar and cocoa can really sneak up on you.

Whisk the eggs and coffee together, and add to the batter in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating only until blended after each addition. In the end, stir carefully, bringing up the batter from the bottom of the bowl to make sure all the batter is at an even consistency. Divide the batter among the prepared pans (if you are using 9-inch round or 8-inch square pans, each pan will take about 3 1/4 cups of batter; if you are only using two 9x13-inch pans, well, you can do the math, right? And if not, just eyeball it like I do).

Bake for 38 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Carefully turn the cake layers out onto wire racks and allow to cool completely. Remove the paper liners only when they are cool. (to frost, wrap tightly in plastic and freeze for a few hours).

Nutella Swiss Buttercream (also called Swiss Meringue Buttercream)
Nutella added to my favorite Swiss Buttercream recipe from (who else?) Martha Stewart

Note: because of the Nutella addition, I found this buttercream to be not as stiff as if I had made it without Nutella, so while you probably won't be able to pipe chocolate roses with it, it still holds up extremely well to simple piped decorations and I was very pleased with it.

5 large egg whites
1 1/4 cup of granulated sugar
4 sticks (1 lb) of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup Nutella, at room temperature

Place a medium sized pan with about 3 inches of water over medium heat and allow water to come to a gentle simmer. Put the egg whites and sugar in a large heat-proof bowl and set over the simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Whisk egg whites and sugar together constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved (when you rub the egg whites between your fingers, you should not be able to feel granules of sugar). This usually takes about 5 minutes.

Transfer the egg mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer (make sure to wipe the condensation off the bottom of the bowl which you've just taken off the heat because if water gets into the egg whites during transfer, they won't whip up properly). Whip on medium-high speed until the whites hold firm peaks and are cool to the touch.

Meanwhile, cut the softened butter into 1 tbsp chunks (8 chunks per stick of butter) and once the egg whites hold firm peaks, lower the speed to medium and add the butter one chunk at a time, allowing it to incorporate into the egg mixture for about 20 seconds before adding the next one. Continue to add until all the butter is incorporated.

Here's the thing with buttercream: you need patience and faith. At first, the mixture will look soupy and you will a little skeptical. Then, as more butter is incorporated, it's going to look soupy and curdled, and then you will be afraid that it's never going to come together. Then, it's going to look really curdled and disgusting, and you will want to cry and throw it out. Don't, just keep mixing. I promise that just when you think it's reached its most curdled and disgusting point, it's going to magically turn into smooth, beautiful, thick buttercream.

When the buttercream is smooth, add the Nutella and mix slowly to combine, scraping down the bowl if necessary.

Continued after the jump...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Baked French Toast

Baked French Toast

Here's something you've probably figured out about me: I like to throw parties. I love to see my friends and family all dressed up and ready to relax, tell jokes and eat some good food. I love seeing my dad tease my sister, my mom dashing around the kitchen with a glass of champagne, and all the other familiar patterns that always emerge when we all get together.

Mother's Day Brunch

I'll tell you something else - I have a hostess apron. A real, cute, frilled hostess apron that makes me feel like I want to twirl my skirt (and sometimes, I really do, kind of like a 5 yr old). Generally, I cook in an old ratty t-shirt that I'm not afraid to splatter with flour and butter, but a half hour before the guests are supposed to come over, I'll leave the kitchen and pretty myself, and then I will put on my hostess apron and make everyone believe that I've been standing in the kitchen for hours (when in fact, 90% of the work was done the night before and the day of, I pretty much frosted the cake and mixed up a green salad. I might have put things on platters, too, but I was eating scraps of cake so my brain is a little hazy on that point).

Baked French Toast w/Apples

This baked french toast (ok, it's more like a bread pudding) lets me get out of the kitchen that precious half an hour earlier. You do all the prep work the night before (there isn't much of it) and then about an hour before the guests arrive, you pop this baby into the oven and voila, out comes a perfect, fluffy, sweet treat that everyone will love. Minimal effort + maximum taste = pretty darn awesome. Oh, and just in the interest of full disclosure, I drizzled Nutella over my portion. I'd tell you how good it was, but it's a little x-rated, so you'll just have to use your imagination.

Baked French Toast

Baked French Toast
adopted from Gail Gand's Brunch

I love this little book. So far, the crepes were stellar and this bread pudding/french toast disappeared faster than I could stick a spoon in it. The book is sunny, homey and inviting with delicious photographs, and I love the way it has simple things - cheese and tomato galette, almond french toast, pear and almond tartlets, just to name a few - that I conceptually knew existed, but now cannot imagine living without.

10 slices of thick white bread (I use either challah or Hawaiian sweet bread)
7 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
3 1/2 cups whole milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract

6 medium apples (I use Gala or Golden Delicious)
2 tbsp unsalted butter and more for buttering the dish
1/2 cup sugar (I usually use less - about 5 tbsp - if the apples are sweet)
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon (more if you like cinnamon, up to 1 1/2 tsp)
sprinkle of ground nutmeg

The night before:

Make the topping: peel, core and cut the apples into 1/4-inch thick slices. Heat the butter over medium heat until melted, then add the apples and cook, stirring a few times to coat in butter, until the apples are tender (about 10 minutes). Turn off the heat and stir in sugar and spices. Set aside.

Butter a 9x13-inch baking dish. Cut the bread in half to make triangles and either toast it lightly or leave it out on the counter for a few hours. Arrange the bread in the dish in two rows, so the slices overlap.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar, milk and vanilla until smooth. Pour the custard over the bread, pressing the bread down a bit if it's poking up above the milk. Spoon the apples over the top. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day:

Heat the oven to 350F. Uncover the baking dish and bake 50-60 minutes, until the custard is set and doesn't shimmy when you shake the pan. It will puff up and brown slightly. Remove from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Continued after the jump...

Monday, May 11, 2009

Strawberry Bavarian Cake and a Trifle

Strawberry Bavarian
I am disturbingly indecisive these days. This is strange because I usually know exactly what I want (salespeople hate me) and go after it without too much internal debate. Lately, however, the prospect of the smallest decision, like choosing a sandwich at lunch, is making me want to either run away in panic or bury my head in the sand (I can't decide which one... heh).

Strawberry Bavarian
For example, this Bavarian cake. The internal monologue went something like this: "Omg, I hate this cake. There are just too many components. I mean, who wants to make a cake and strawberry puree AND a batch of pastry cream AND whipped cream AND stabilize it with gelatin?? I am crazy, aren't I? I'm preparing to have 12 people over for brunch. Why could I not have chosen a simple tea cake or something? OH MMMMM.... wait, this cake is AMAZING! It's fantastic, in fact! I am totally making this again! Well -- maybe without the pastry cream... But the pastry cream is SO GOOD! Maybe skip the gelatin? BUT......" and then my head exploded. But at least, I got to eat this cake, and so should you because, really, it's a perfect summer cake and it's totally worth it. I think.

Strawberry Bavarian

Strawberry Bavarian
The only problem I found with this recipe is that it makes way too much cake. I mean, you only need 2 layers, and I had enough cake left over to make 8 mini-trifles (cake cubes layered with strawberries, strawberry puree and whipped cream). Not that I'm complaining, the cake itself was deeeelicious, even if it took an extra half hour to bake, but I don't like surprises in baking, so next time, I would either halve the cake recipe (it halves beautifully) or make it a tall, 3-layer cake with less filling between each layer.

Strawberry Bavarian

1 Chiffon cake, cut into 2 layers (note: this recipe makes way too much cake. Next time, I will either do a tall, 3 layer cake, or halve the chiffon cake recipe)
Fruit puree (recipe below)
Filling (recipe below)
Whipped Cream Topping (recipe below)
Strawberries - about 2 pints (20 oz)

Assembly directions: Prior to assembly, bake the cake and cut it into 2 layers. Make the strawberry puree and the pastry cream. Then, line the sides of a 10-inch springform pan with plastic so that it does not cover the bottom, but there is enough overhang to cover the top of the cake completely. Fit the bottom layer inside and moisten it with half of the fruit puree. At this point, make the gelatin-stabilized whipped cream and mix with pastry cream.

Spread a little of the cream filling on the bottom layer, just barely to cover. Cut about 7-8 strawberries in half and line them up against the sides of the pan, pressing into the cream (so the strawberries go all the way around). Leaving the other strawberries whole, stand them up on top of the bottom layer of the cake, pressing into the cream. Carefully, spread the rest of the filling on top and fit the second layer on top of the filling. Moisten the layer with the remaining fruit puree. Cover in plastic and press gently to spread the filling evenly. Leave in the refrigerator to set for 4 hrs or overnight.

When you are ready to finish the cake, unmold it carefully from the pan and peel off the plastic, then whip the whipped cream with the sugar for the topping until soft peaks form and frost the top of the cake. Decorate. The cake will keep for 3 days (just be careful that it does not absorb the smells of the refrigerator).

Chiffon Cake
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp of salt
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
6 large egg yolks (I used 5)
3/4 cup of water
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest, grated
10 large egg whites (I used 8)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan with parchment paper cut to fit the bottom exactly. Do not grease the sides of the pan.

Sift together the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add 1 1/4 cups of sugar and add the salt, whisk to combine. In a small bowl, whisk the oil, egg yolks, water, vanilla and lemon zest. Make a well in the flour and add the yolk mixture, and then whisk thoroughly and quickly until very smooth.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites on medium speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat on medium-high until the whites hold soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar until the whites hold firm, shiny peaks. With a rubber spatula, fold about one-third of the whites into the batter to lighten and then gently fold the remaining whites until combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula if necessary. Bake for 45-55 minutes until the top springs back and the tested inserted into the center comes out clean (note: in my oven, this took an extra 30 minutes - I was checking every 10 min). Let the cake cool in the springform pan (so the cake holds its shape) and then run a sharp knife around the edges and unmold.

Fruit puree

1/2 pint (6 oz) strawberries
1/4 cup of sugar
pinch of salt

Combine everything in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.

1 batch of Pastry cream (about 2.5 cups)
1 1/2 tsp powdered gelatin
1 tbsp water
2 cups heavy cream

In a small dish, sprinkle the gelatin over water to soften. Heat about 1/2 of the pastry cream (in the microwave or in a double boiler) until hot and whisk in the gelatin until smooth. Whisk half of the remaining pastry cream into the hot mixture, then whisk in the rest. In a mixing bowl, whip the cream until it holds medium-stiff peaks. Immediately and gently fold the pastry cream into the whipped cream with a rubber spatula. Because the filling will begin to set as soon as the gelatin is mixed into anything cold, it's best to use it immediately (see instructions above on assembly).

1 cup heavy cream, very cold
4 tsp sugar

Whip the cream on high speed until thickened. Add the sugar slowly and whip to soft peaks.

You can make a liqueur-flavored sugar syrup in place of the fruit puree for moistening the cake layers. In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup minus 2 tbsp sugar (6 oz) and 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When the sugar has dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and refrigerate until cold. Select the liqueur or other spirit that complements the fruit you are using and whisk 2-4 tablespoons into the sugar syrup.

Continued after the jump...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Mother's Day & Rustic Bread

Mother's Day Collage

[the rustic bread recipe is after the jump]

So somehow, I was talked into (or talked myself into) having 11 people for brunch on Sunday to celebrate Mother's Day. I don't know how these things happen, I really don't. One minute, I'm contemplating making French toast for brunch on Sunday, and the next, there are 11 more people joining me. Really, I can't be responsible for myself when I'm thinking of brunch, it's all the hazy sunshine mixed with a heavy dose of champagne that clouds my judgment.

Regardless, if there is a holiday that is worthy of a brunch, it is Mother's Day. You see, my mom, she is amazing. She is a super-woman. I don't know how she does it, I wish I could tell you her secret, but she is just so above and beyond, well, anyone else, that when in 6th grade we had to write an essay about the woman we most admired in life (and boy, there is a wealth of choices, isn't there!), I was like, "DUH" and put "my mom." I don't think I ever let her see the essay, though, because that would have been embarrassing, to be admiring your mom in your teenage years, you know?

If your mom is a fabulous, sparkling, diamonds and rubies kind of lady, it's hard to find things to impress her with. Luckily, I don't have to - because she also loves me like no one else, which means it's easy to make her happy. And yet, such is the nature of the mother-daughter relationship, that I still try, all the time, to make something new to dazzle her with. I've put together a few recipes for you guys that my mom has loved and I hope that whatever you do, whatever you make, you just let your mom know that you love her, because that really is the most important part of Mother's Day (and every day). Ugh, now I am being schmaltzy, but it's just that time and I can't help it. On to the food:

Strawberry Frangelico Tart (with mascarpone)
Fruit Tartelettes
Cream Puffs
Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries
Crème Brûlée
Strawberry Tart (without Frangelico, but with pastry cream)
Crepes With Sauted Apples (here is a recipe for the crepes)
Strawberry Scones
Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes

Rustic Bread

What will I be making for my mom on Mother's Day? For the others, there will be bagels and crab salad and a yet un-tested and un-photographed (but delicious sounding) baked French toast with sauted apples; but for my mom, there will be bread, because it is the thing that sustains us, just like our mothers. Cue the music, you guys, because when I go for the sentimentalism, I don't hold back! :)

Rustic Bread
Adapted from Jeffrey Hamelman via Break for Bread (a lovely blog, btw)
Makes 2 large loaves

This is a wonderful, dense country bread that's perfect for sandwiches (or for slathering with salted butter, as A. likes to eat it, dispensing with all the sandwich nonsense). It wasn't difficult to make at all and I encourage you to try. As you can tell, my bread-slashing skills leave a lot to be desired, so if anyone has any advice on how to go about slashing the loaves, I would greatly appreciate it!

Overall Formula:
Bread Flour: 1 lb, 9.6 oz (80%)
Whole-wheat flour: 6.4 oz (20%)
Water: 1 lb 6.1 oz (69%)
Salt: .6 oz (1.8%)
Yeast: .06 oz, instant (.6%)
Total Yield: 3 lb, 6.7 oz (171.4%)

Bread flour: 1 lb (3 5/8 C)
Water: 9.6 oz (1 ¼ C)
Salt: .3 oz (½ T)
Yeast: 1/8 tsp, instant
Total: 1 lb, 10 oz

Final Dough
Bread Flour: 9.6 oz (2 ¼ C)
Whole wheat flour: 6.4 oz (1 ½ C)
Water: 12.5 oz (1 ½ C)
Salt: .3 oz (½ T)
Yeast: .06 oz instant (½ tsp)
Pre-ferment: 1 lb, 10 oz (all of above)
Total: 3 lb, 6.7 oz

1. PRE-FERMENT: Disperse the yeast in the water, add the flour and salt, and mix until just smooth. At 60 percent hydration, it will be stiff and dense, but add water if necessary to correct the hydration. Cover the bowl with plastic and let stand for 12 to 16 hours at about 70°F. When ripe, the pre-ferment will be domed and just beginning to recede in the center.

2. MIXING: Add all the ingredients to the mixing bowl except the pre-ferment. In a spiral mixer, mix on first speed for 3 minutes in order to incorporate the ingredients. As the dough is coming together, add the pre-ferment in chunks. If necessary, correct the hydration by adding water or flour in small amounts. Finish mixing on second speed for about 21⁄2 minutes. The dough should be supple and moderately loose, with moderate gluten development. Desired dough temperature: 75°F.

3. BULK FERMENTATION: 21⁄2 hours. [Irene's note: don't forget to fold! See step 4 below]

4. FOLDING: Fold the dough twice, once after 50 minutes of bulk fermentation and again 50 minutes later. [Irene's Note: I lifted the dough off the counter and let it stretch, and then folded in thirds like an envelope]

5. DIVIDING AND SHAPING: Divide the dough into 1.5-pound pieces. Preshape lightly into rounds and place on a lightly floured work surface, seams up. Cover the rounds with plastic. When the dough has relaxed sufficiently (10 to 20 minutes), shape into round or oval loaves, place them either into floured bannetons or between folds of floured baker’s linen, and cover with plastic. [Irene's note: I floured a stiff cotton apron that I have and folded it to make little wells for the bread, propping it up on either side with something to keep it from sliding apart]

6. FINAL FERMENTATION: Approximately 11⁄4 to 11⁄2 hours at 75°F.

7. BAKING: Invert the risen loaves onto the loading conveyor or peel. Slash the desired scoring pattern with a blade. Presteam the oven, load the bread, and steam again [Irene's note: I only did this once by putting an empty loaf pan on the bottom of the oven while it pre-heated, and then pouring a cup of boiling water into it right after I placed the loaves into the oven to create steam]. Bake at 450°F. Open the oven vents after the loaves show color, in order to finish the bake in a drying oven [Irene's note: I also didn't do this as my oven has no way to open and close the vents... it worked out just fine, I promise]. Loaves scaled at 1.5 pounds should bake for 35 to 38 minutes.

Continued after the jump...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries


I am lucky to have a friend. She is one of those very rare and beautiful people, I think you know what I mean. The kind of friend whom you can't imagine your life without and whose kids you love like they were your own from the first moment they enter the world. She has a beautiful soul, the warmest hugs and the sweetest smile. Really more a sister than a friend.

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My friend is about to bring her second son into the world, the cycle of life and birth beginning again and just in that magical time when the world is waking up, shaking the cobwebs out of its corners and clothing itself in brilliant colors. It's going to be a brilliant baby, just like her first one, and I don't only mean that he's going to be smart. He is going to bring her joy.

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It was her birthday yesterday and I wanted to tell her "I love you" because, let's face it, we just don't say it often enough to the people who should hear it. Maybe I didn't say it in words (I'm still working on that, it's always difficult for me to express it verbally, especially when it really means something), but I said it in chocolate-dipped strawberries.


This recipe is from Jen Yu's website, Use Real Butter, which is one of my daily reads. Jen, I know you only through the magic of the internet, which is to say I do not know you at all, but when I made these, I was thinking about you, and of family, friendship, love.

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries
via Use Real Butter

24 ripe strawberries (Jen prefers organic, and I do too)
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped (Valrhona 64% is always great, but I used Lindt)
1 oz white chocolate, chopped

Rinse strawberries and gently pat dry. Set on a rack to dry completely. Melt bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler.

Dip strawberries in chocolate and shake off excess. Set to dry on a rack (on the tops as shown in the photos) or on parchment (on the bottoms which will give you a foot of chocolate) in a cool, dry location [Irene's note: I let mine dry in the kitchen for a half hour and then got impatient and put them in the refrigerator].

When chocolate has dried, melt the white chocolate and drizzle over the strawberries [Irene's note: melting white chocolate is trickier than dark, you have to watch it continuously and make sure the heat is low and no steam or water gets into the chocolate. I put the melted chocolate into a ziploc bag with a tiny piece cut off the corner]. Or, you can melt more white chocolate and dip the strawberries a second time.

More chocolate-dipped strawberries:

Ash keeps it simple and classic
Elise dresses hers up like little grooms, complete with mini tuxedos
April takes it one step further and adds cheesecake, oh my!
Paula goes nuts with toppings
And for something a little different, a strawberry-Nutella panini (wow!)

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