April 2009


caramel-cheesecake11

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

I hate to admit, but I am not a fan of cheesecake.  I love cake.  I love cheese.  I love cream cheese (particularly on bagels!), but not a fan of cheesecake.  (I am also not a fan of ice-cream cake though I love ice cream and I love cake.  Go figure…)

My sister’s husband, on the other hand, is a big fan of cheesecake.  So cheesecake has featured a couple of times as my selection of birthday cake for him in the past.  My first attempt though was disastrous.  I found a seemingly simple baked cheesecake recipe and managed to make a mess of it. I prepared and baked it per instruction, but was left with a massive crack or two along the top.  I fondly termed it the San Andreas Cheesecake to play up the error.

After the failure, I obviously needed to do some troubleshooting.  I identified the problem.  No water bath.  So when another birthday for my brother in law rolled around, I gave the cheesecake another whirl.  This time, I am pleased to announce success.

So for this month’s Daring Baker’s challenge, I was quietly confident I could produce a ‘crack free’ cake.  The only question was how creative could be.  After considering a few outrageous flavour combinations, I settled on a simple caramel cheesecake.  I always seem to opt for simple.

Why caramel?  Mostly because I have never filled a cheesecake before and wanted to trial that outcome.  Also, because my lovely Chilean friend K. is always thinking about caramel so the flavour was top of mind.

As challenges go, this for me was pretty simple having made cheesecake before.  I was secretly grateful given some of the more time intensive baked goods I have been tackling this month (sourdough, bagels, brioche and croissants).

If you love cheesecake, this is a perfect recipe.  Proof?  After taking photos for this post, the cake was practically inhaled.  Major contributors include my partner (another cheesecake lover), my brother-in-law (of course), and my little Easter helpers, my nieces.  Every time I turned around another chunk had disappeared.  So proof enough for me!

Here is the basic recipe.

{ Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake }

* Ingredients *

crust:
2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
cheesecake:
3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake

* Directions *

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.
2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too – baker’s choice. Set crust aside.
3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.
4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.
5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done – this can be hard to judge, but you’re looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don’t want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won’t crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.
Pan note: The creator of this recipe used to use a springform pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil “casserole” shaped pans from the grocery store. They’re 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away.
Prep notes: While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Please plan accordingly.

croissants21

When I think of word association, I am pretty confident if someone flashed the word croissant to me, I would associate it immediately with the word France.  Pretty obvious perhaps, but when you think about it, that is a strong connection.

Well, it is for me because the croissant epitomises French pastries.  It is rich, it is light, it is multi layered, it is complex, yet so seemingly simple.

I have always wanted to tackle making croissants.  I have been deterred mostly due to the length of time they take to prepare.  It is not hard work necessarily (though it is more tricky than your average bread loaf!), but not so completely complicated that it is out of the realm of any enthusiastic amateur baker (e.g. me).

I do have a hidden agenda for perfecting the croissant, I must confess.  Recently, Christmases for me have included a new breakfast experience with my partner’s family … the bacon and egg croissant, cooked on the BBQ in true ‘Aussie’ style.  This year I would like to contribute homemade croissants for the breakfast.  There are a few months yet to practice, but no time like the present (with bread month!) to start.

I have also been inspired by Elra at Elra’s Baking, with her first and successful croissant this month.  She made it seem so easy that I knew I had to try, too!

I thumbed through a few croissant references I had on hand.  Sherry Yard, Roux Brothers, Martha Stewart, Julia Child.  I settled on Julia as I have not tried her yeasted recipes before.  Also, I know how tirelessly she worked to perfect her recipes that I assumed I must be in with a shot of success, too. 

So after practically double digit pages of instructions and two days later, I finally offer up homemade, freshly baked croissants.

Overall, I am happy they resulted in something resembling croissants, but they are less than perfect.  I fear I did not let the shaped croissants proof long enough prior to baking.  At that stage (end of day two), I was getting a little too impatient, I think.

I will definitely try these again with the same recipe.  Speaking of, details coming soon – right now I am short on time.

anzac6

ANZAC day commemorates the lives that selflessly fought for our freedom in the Great War at Gallipoli.  For me, Anzac day is also a day of memory for all the men and women that have fought and died in all our wars. 

I try to imagine what it was like to be one of the servicemen, almost 100 year ago, staring at the face of war.  They were mostly just kids.  Scared.  Not knowing whether they were going to live or die.  They were surrounded by bombing, fighting, injury, death, madness.  I cannot even begin to imagine.

I never knew my two grandfathers (they both passed away before I was born), but they both served in World War 1, both at the Somme.  They were the lucky ones that returned.  They both survived, but the British suffered around 420,000 casualties there.

Many of my friends here in Australia would also be touched directly by family that fought at Gallipoli during World War 1.  We (the Australians and New Zealanders), lost over 100,000 lives in this battle.  It was an atrocity.  It was a catastrophic loss. 

Mothers and wives of our troops lovingly baked biscuits to send to them while serving in Gallipoli.  The biscuits kept well with the addition of golden syrup and coconut.  These ANZAC biscuits are delicious any time of year, but their consumption bittersweet on April 25th.

This year, I have baked these biscuits in memory of my Uncle C. who passed away this week in the UK.  He also served his country.  Along with my father, he was posted in Malaya for two years and supported the Korean War effort for the British Army during the 1950s.

To my family, my daddy, my grandfathers and my uncle C, to these four lives that have now passed, I thank you.

To all the men and women who have served their countries, with immense gratitude, I thank you all for the simple and uncomplicated life I have now been afforded.  Thank you for your bravery.

Lest we forget.

{ Anzac Biscuits } recipe by Belinda Jeffery
Makes about 30 biscuits

* Ingredients *

90g rolled oats
50g shredded coconut
150g plain flour
165g castor sugar
125g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons golden syrup
2 tablespoons boiling water
1 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

* Directions *

Preheat your oven to 160′C. Line a couple of large baking trays with baking paper and set aside. In a large bowl, thoroughly mix together the oats, coconut, flour and sugar.  Put the butter and golden syrup into a small saucepan over low heat and warm them, stirring occasionally, until the butter has melted. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the boiling water and bicarbonate of soda and stir them in briefly.  Pour this buttery liquid into the oat mixture along with the vanilla extract.  Quickly stir the two together until they’re thoroughly combined.  Roll the dough into small balls, then flatten slightly.  Sit about 5cm apart.  Bake for 15 minutes or until the biscuits are deep golden brown but still soft, then remove them from the oven. Leave them to cool on the trays for a few minutes, then carefully transfer them to wire racks to cool completely.

gingerbread

In my bread quest this month, I could not go past brioche.  There are many egg-based breads.  Brioche :: Challah :: Panettone :: Stollen :: Pulla.   Brioche is probably the richest of them all.  In Sherry Yard’s, The Secrets of Baking handbook, she explains the foundation brioche recipe and its versatility to make flavoured brioche, lean and rich brioche, sticky buns, as well as fried brioche in the form of beignets and doughnuts.  When flicking through the pages, I stopped on her Gingerbread Brioche recipe.  I simply nodded and knew it would be where I would start.

As breads go, the recipe was actually quite simple.  Well, if you have a stand mixer, that is.  You simply make a sponge (yeast and warm milk added with a little sugar and flour to make a batter) that rests for about half an hour.  Then you add that with the rest of the ingredients into a mixer and gently work the dough for a few minutes.  Once that is done, it simply needs to proof a couple of times.  At the end, you shape into your favoured tin, and voila, you are done!

I only made half the recipe suggested as I was light on brioche à tête molds – I only had two medium sized available.  Even when I filled those I had some dough left over.  I looked around for some alternative pans / molds that would take the remaining dough.  I pulled out some little pudding molds which were perfect for the job.  For these mini gingerbread-y versions, I wrapped up the dough around a little square of dark chocolate.  What could be better?

The end result was fabulously light, buttery, rich and soft all wrapped up together.  The texture just perfect.  The only thing I would change next time would be the amount of nutmeg.  The flavour was a little overpowering compared with the other spices included.  When I was adding the spices I did pause when reading the quantity of nutmeg (thinking it was too much), but shrugged, figured Sherry knows best, and continued on.  I would probably reduce it by half or even a quarter next time.  But I have retained the original quantity in the recipe below, in case you are a nutmeg nut!

Sherry makes this bread specifically for French toast.  She serves it with orange butter and walnut-maple syrup.  After tasting the bread, I think she is on a winning combination.

{ Gingerbread Brioche }

* Ingredients *

Sponge:

½ cup whole milk at room temperature (see note)
1 tbsp dry active yeast
2 tbsp sugar
½ cup bread or all purpose flour

Dough:

1/3 cup unsulfured black-strap molasses (see note)
3 tbsp packed light brown sugar
2 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground cloves
4 cups bread flour 
2 tsp salt
6 large eggs, slightly beaten
9 ounces unsalted butter, softened but still cool

1 large egg

* Directions *

Make the sponge.  Combine milk and yeast in the mixing bowl of a standing mixer. Whisk and let sit for 5 minutes.  Add flour and sugar, mix to form a thick batter. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 30-45 minutes, until bubbles form.

Add the molasses, brown sugar, spice, flour, and salt to the sponge. Add the eggs. Beat with the paddle attachment on low speed for 2 minutes, until the eggs are absorbed. Increase the speed to medium and knead the dough for 5 minutes.  Hold the mixer when necessary.

Turn the machine down to medium low speed and add the butter, 2 tbsp at a time. Knead for another 5 minutes, until the dough is shiny.  Scrape out the dough and clean and lightly oil the bowl.  Don’t worry if the dough is difficult to handle.  Place the dough back in the bowl then turn it over so that the top is oiled. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 2 hours, until doubled.  When dough is has doubled in volume, punch it down by folding it two or three times. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

After the second rise, the dough is ready to be shaped.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  For brioche à tête generously butter two 8 inch brioche molds and put them on a baking sheet.  Punch the dough down again and transfer it to a work surface.  Set aside the equivalent of about 1 cup of dough, and divide the rest into two portions.  Firmly roll each portion of dough on the table in a circular motion with the palm of your hand to form a smooth ball.  Place into each mold.

With the reserved dough, divide in half and roll into a bowling pin shape.  Make an indention in the centre of the larger ball, and place the small pin into the centre of the brioche. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400F or 200C.  Lightly whisk the egg and gently brush the surface of the dough.  Bake for 10 minutes and reduce heat to 350F or 180C.  Bake for another 30 minutes depending on the size of your molds.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes.

{ A few notes … }
1. For the milk, I warmed mine ever so slightly to about 80 – 90 F.
2. I have had trouble finding unsulfured molasses in Australia.  As a substitute, I used dark treacle.  I use treacle for all my gingerbread baking and it works a treat.
3. Tête means head, as you can see why!

bagels2

After almost five years of living in Boston, and about 500 bagels later!, I returned to Brisbane to find no fitting substitute for this chewy and delicious bread.  I suffered terrible bagel withdrawal, but quickly learned to re-familiarise myself with the local offerings instead.

In Boston, I was spoiled for bagel choice.  There were a number of good independent Jewish bakeries around, but Finagle a Bagel was my favourite, most convenient, bagel destination.  Every visit I practically ordered the same thing.  Egg bagel :: toasted :: plain cream cheese.  Simple and delicious.  Occasionally I was tempted by the sweet selections of the chocolate chip and raisin cinnamon varieties.  Either way, my favourite part was watching the bagel selected for you whizzing down the conveyor to be unceremoniously cut by a massive circular saw.

Recently remembering my bagel-y breakfasts in Boston, I jotted down these chewy breads on my to-do list.  With my focus now on baking bread for the month, they have soared to the top of the list.

I am no a stranger to baking bread and have sporadically baked a loaf or two over the last 10 years when time permits.  During that time, however, I have never *boiled* pre-baked bread dough.  And that is exactly what you need to do for bagels.  The characteristic chewiness of the bagel is produced by a quick one minute dip of the pre-shaped bread in boiling water.  (Imagine ‘old school’ round doughnuts frying in a pot of oil, and you get the picture.)

I researched a few recipes and they all seemed similar.  I ultimately decided to go with an adaptation from Martha Stewart as many of her yeasted bread recipes have worked a treat for me in the past.  The process seems quite long, but it is really quite simple.  The time you need to factor, like for nearly all bread making, is for the proofing process.

The end result?  They were no Finagle a Bagel, but they were good.  They were chewy and slightly dense and delicious with a healthy helping of cream cheese on top.

{ Bagels } adapted from Martha Stewart

* Ingredients *

3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1-2/3 cups warm water
3 tablespoons sugar
4 ½ cups bread flour
1-1/2 tablespoons table salt

* Directions *

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the yeast and water. Let stand for 5 minutes until foamy.  Attach bowl to mixer fitted with the dough hook and with the mixer on low speed add the sugar, flour and salt.  Knead for about 1 minute until slightly tacky dough forms.  You may need to add more flour or water depending on what you find.  Continue to knead dough for about 5 more minutes then transfer to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with oiled plastic wrap.  Let rise in a warm place for 2 hours (until doubled in bulk).  Divide dough into 10 equal pieces. Cover with a damp kitchen towel.  Let rest for about 20 minutes.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly brush with oil; set aside.  With lightly oiled hands, roll each piece of dough into a 6-inch rope. Form a circle around your hand and then press the two ends together to seal.  Place the bagels 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Cover with a piece of oiled plastic wrap and let rest until puffed (about 20 minutes).

Preheat the oven to 500 F or 260 C with racks in the upper and lower thirds.  Fill a large stockpot with water and bring to a boil.  Gently drop bagels into the water (as many as will comfortably fit without touching each other). After 30 seconds, use a slotted spoon to gently flip the bagels over — simmer for yet another 30 seconds.   Then, using the slotted spoon again, return the bagels to the parchment-lined sheets. Top them with the seeds or salt .  Place sheets in the oven.  Bake for 5 minutes and then rotate the sheets and reduce the temperature to  350 F or 180 C.   Bake until golden brown for about 10 minutes.  Then flip the bagels over. Continue baking for another 5 minutes. Transfer bagels to wire rack to cool.

{ A little hint … }

:: I used poppy seeds for my bagels as I had them on hand, but take inspiration from Finagle a Bagel for the many flavour combinations available.  The choice is limitless.

P.S. I am submitting these poppy seed bagels to YeastSpotting, the weekly showcase of yeasted baked goods and dishes.  To find out more, click here.

hot-cross-buns

Easter is not Easter without Hot Cross Buns.

And it is not hard not to be tempted by the range available (they are everywhere!).  This year I wanted to forgo the usual and plentiful fruit, extra spice, and chocolate chip selections.  After staring at my pantry for a few minutes I happened across my trusty ground cardamom.  I love the flavour of this fragrant spice in Scandinavian baking and reflected it was perfect choice for these little festive buns.

easter-eggs2My little nieces were staying over during Easter so thought Hot Cross Bun baking was a perfect activity to tackle together.  I also thought it would be fun to add some Easter craft to the mix.  Inspired by the cover of latest Martha Stewart Living magazine (and the corresponding article on decoupage eggs), I purchased up a range of coloured paper and ribbons last minute before the sleep over to keep the ‘Easter twins’ occupied.

The baking was simple enough.  Hot cross buns use a basic sweet bread dough.  The dough is fairly versatile and can be flavoured, shaped and baked a range of ways (buns, rolls, scrolls, loaves …etc.).  For the craft, I opted against using blown out eggs (only due to time), and adapted the decoupage idea using a simple egg shaped card instead.  The end result actually worked well.  We created a range of individual little swing tags perfect for Easter gift giving!

On the craft front, next year I will plan ahead.  In the meantime, try this basic dough recipe anytime you want a sweet treat. 

{ Hot Cross Buns }

* Ingredients *

2 x 7g sachets granulated yeast
¼ cup (55g) caster sugar
1½ cups (375ml) warm milk
4 cups (600g) plain flour
2 teaspoon cardamon
60g butter
1 egg
¾ cup (120g) chocolate chips

Flour paste for crosses
½ cup (75g) plain flour
2 teaspoons caster sugar
1/3 cup (80ml) water, approximately

Glaze
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 teaspoon gelatine
1 tablespoon water

* Directions *

Combine yeast, sugar and milk in small bowl or jug; cover, stand in warm place about 10 minutes or until mixture is frothy.

Sift flour and spices into large bowl, rub in butter. Stir in yeast mixture, egg and sultanas; mix to a soft sticky dough. Cover; stand in warm place about 45 minutes or until dough has doubled in size.

Turn dough onto a floured surface, knead about 5 minutes or until smooth. Divide dough into 16 pieces, place piece of chocolate into each piece of dough and knead into balls. Place balls 8cm apart onto oiled oven trays, stand in warm place about 10 minutes or until buns have risen.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to hot.  Place flour paste for crosses in piping bag fitted with small plain tube, pipe crosses on buns.  Bake buns in hot oven about 20 minutes or until well browned. Turn buns onto wire rack, brush tops with hot glaze; cool on wire rack.  To make the flour paste for crosses, combine flour and sugar in bowl. Gradually blend in enough of the water to form a smooth paste.  To make the glaze, combine ingredients in small saucepan; stir over heat, without boiling, until sugar and gelatine are dissolved.

{ A few ideas … }

:: Flavour this dough with anything you like.  Cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice, lemon zest, orange zest … or even cardamon.  It is up to you.
:: For buns, loaves and rolls, towards the end of kneading, add a handful of any dried fruit, nuts, and chocolate or butterscotch chips etc. if you fancy.
:: If you wish to make scrolls, roll out each piece and spread with a flavoured butter (e.g. cinnamon), and then sprinkle with additives of choice.

chocolate-chunk-coconut-macaroons

My recent French macaron baking whirl produced a number of flavoursome experiments.  Mint, café au lait, lemon, rose, lavender, passionfruit and pistachio.  My macaron obsession is far from over, but for now, my macaron apron has been hung up.  For now…

In the meantime, I aim to bake a few other items off my ever expanding ‘must bake’ list.  While focusing on my French macarons, I was constantly reminded of the modest coconut macaroon.  Kerrin from MyKugelhopf recently made an outrageously rich matzoh dessert for Passover.  Passover seemed the perfect time to whip up a batch of coconut macaroons.

While reading about French macarons, I noticed these little tropical tasting treats were sometimes given a less than positive rap.  So I hoped to give these little hay-stacked cookies just a nudge of acknowledgement for what they are.  A simple little biscuit perfect for a sweet indulgence any time of day.  Nothing more, nothing less.

For the recipe, I chose the ever reliable version from Martha Stewart.  These are simple and quick to make.  The perfect snack to whip up at a moment’s notice.

{Chocolate Chunk Coconut Macaroons } recipe by Martha Stewart
Makes 20

* Ingredients *

3/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chunks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

* Directions *
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine sugar, coconut, egg whites, chocolate chunks, vanilla, and salt. Use your hands to mix well, completely combining ingredients.
2. Dampen hands with cold water. Form 1 1/2 tablespoons of mixture into a loose haystack shape, and place on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining mixture, placing macaroons about 1 inch apart.
3. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove baking sheet from oven to a wire rack, and let macaroons cool slightly on baking sheet. These are best served warm from the oven, but can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days; leave in a warm place for 1 hour before serving to allow chocolate to soften.

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