Challah bread

22 Sep

IMG_0377It’s September 22nd and as everyone becomes antsy as the year is almost over I get excited. And maybe I’m biased because my birthday is in November, but isn’t it lovely when the smell of freshly baked cookies swarms the house, or savoring a thick slice of freshly craved turkey? Yes, yes, cooking and baking season starts today.

Let me say, I started on the right foot, or so I believe. I baked my first challah bread, the traditional Jewish bread baked for celebrations. I’m a big fan of it because it’s such a beauty; golden brown tones, perfectly braided strands, sweet taste and soft interior.

To be honest, I wanted to try the four-strand braided challah. Truth be told, I wasn’t brave enough and so I just went for the three-stranded one. As some may see I had some troubles, yet I had a lot of fun making it. Who knows, maybe I’ll be baking braided four-stranded challah rounds in no time…

IMG_0379Challah bread
Adapted from the Joy of Cooking

½ cup warm water
1 package active dry yeast
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 eggs, beaten
2 eeg yolks, beaten
3 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons sugar
1 ¼ teaspoon salt

In a measuring cup heat the water until just warm. Dissolve the yeast and let stand until active and bubbly, about 5 to 10 minutes. In a bowl, mix until combined ½ cup of flour, 2 eggs, yolks, canola oil, sugar and salt. Stir in the remaining flour. Using the dough hook, knead the dough until smooth and elastic. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic. Let stand in a warm area for 1 ½ to 2 hours, until doubled in size. Punch the dough and knead lightly a couple of times. Return to oiled bowl, cover in plastic and refrigerate from 4 to 12 hours (I proofed it for 24 hours). Remove from the fridge and punch down. Knead lightly. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Place in a greased baking sheet, cover with plastic and let rise for 2 to 4 hours. Roll each ball into a 13 to 14 inch long rope. Grease baking sheet and dust with cornmeal. Place the ropes side by side and braid. Pinch both ends and tuck underneath the loaf. Let rise for 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 375°F. In a bowl beat remaining egg with a pinch of salt. Brush the bread with the egg wash. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until golden and hollow when tapped.

Note. I opted to use the dough hook to knead the dough, though I usually like to go classic and knead it by hand. Either way, the recipe will work. When using the dough hook, you will notice it’s done when the dough no longer sticks to the bowl. Also, a valuable lesson I’ve learned over time in bread baking is that the more you let your bread proof, the more developed the flavor and the finer the texture. Don’t be afraid to let your bread rise for longer than usual!

Savarin

19 May

IMG_8333Very few bake savarin and many are unfamiliar with it. It’s seldom found on menus, that is, unless you find yourself in France. Maybe it’s because there’s a need for a special mold or because baba au rhum took most of its spotlight (recipes are quite similar, savarin omits currants).

Savarin is a yeast sweet cake of French origin. It’s name roots from the French politician, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. It’s soaked in rum syrup and can be served with Chantilly, fruit, pastry cream, or anything you want to fill in the center hole of the cake.

To be honest, I was unfamiliar to savarin myself. A trip to my grandmother’s house last weekend introduced me to this small cake rings. It was a memorable trip, one where she passed down many cooking and baking utensils. Between these, I found the savarin molds and so I dared myself to bake them.

Savarin
Adapted from foodnetwork.com

For cake:
6 tablespoons of milk
2 tablespoons of water
1 ½ teaspoon of sugar
1 4oz. packet of active-dry yeast
2 cups of flour
1 teaspoon of salt
5 tablespoons of butter, melted
3 eggs

For syrup:
1 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of rum
1 cup of water

In a small saucepan heat milk and water until warm. Place sugar in a small bowl and pour the warm milk. Sprinkle the yeast and whisk to dissolve. Let stand. In a bowl combine flour and salt. Add butter. Once the yeast is bubbly, add to the butter and combine. Add the eggs, one at the time, mixing after each addition. Knead the dough for a few minutes until it comes together. Place in a greased bowl and cover with a towel. Leave to rise for 30 minutes. Punch down and let proof for another 15 minutes. Shape the dough and place in the savarin molds. Let rise until the dough reaches the top of the ring, about 20 to 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400F. Bake savarin for 15 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the syrup. In a small saucepan combine sugar, rum and water, bring to a boil. Remove savarin from the molds and place in a pan. Pour the syrup on top of the savarin until soaked. Serve with fruit of choice and drizzle with honey.

Damn Good Tacos

27 Apr

IMG_6628I had some tacos during my recent trip to Austin, and they were pretty damn good. As the slogan goes for Torchy’s Tacos, these are probably one of the tastiest I’ve had in a very long time.

It all started in 2006 from a trailer where chef and owner Michael Rypka served delicious tacos, chips, guac, and hot sauce in South Austin. Today he has over 20 locations across Texas, a clear sign Rypka tacos are flavor packed, spicy and on the spot.

The first taco I tried was The Independent, a full-flavored vegetarian taco of hand-battered and fried Portobello mushrooms with refried black beans, roasted corn, escabeche, carrots, queso fresco, cilantro, ancho aioli sauce and avocado on a corn tortilla. I also wanted my share of beef and so I went for the Crossroads taco. Smoked beef brisket with grilled onions, jalapeños, cilantro, jack cheese and a slice of avocado con a corn tortilla, drizzled with tomatillo sauce.

The Independent taco was tasty, crunchy and very meaty. I actually didn’t miss the meat in this one, the combination of jack cheese, fried Portobello, avocado and spicy aioli created the perfect balance. The Crossroads was also incredibly delicious. The brisket perfectly tender, soft with a tasty smoky flavor and a great combination of spiciness and heartiness.

I really enjoyed my meal at Torchy’s, I found simplicity in its menu and operation, yet perfection in every taco. I also liked the idea they served local soft drinks, leaving out the popular soda brands. At first I was apprehended when I discovered the unknown fountain sodas but was struck by their delicious flavors, carbonated balance and proper sweetness.

Swing by during the morning and start your day the right way with a Torchy breakfast taco. Sleepyhead? Don’t worry, breakfast tacos are available all day.

You better try Torchy’s if you find yourself in the city of Austin (also in Dallas, Fort Worth, Lubbock, Houston, and recently Waco) these damn good tacos are not to be missed.

Torchy’s Tacos
Texas, USA

Funfetti Birthday Cake

10 Feb

IMG_4625I was a big fan of the East Village Momofuku Milk Bar. The infamous crack pie, the cereal milk, the chocolate malt cake and my favorite, the compost cookie. And then there was the birthday cake that I always yearned to try, but sadly that time never came around. I was a customer long after the no-cake-by-slice rule was imposed by Chang. It was painful to watch it, tall, beautiful and fun; plus I’m a devotee for rainbow sprinkles.

My birthday approached and as I searched for the treat-to-myself recipe, the light bulb went on and I thought of Momofuku’s birthday cake. I searched for Tosi’s recipe online but they all seemed quite tedious. They called for grapeseed oil, citric acid and clear vanilla extract, things that can be quite trivial to find in Costa Rica.

The recipe included four different steps: the cake, the soak, the frosting and the cake crumb. Too many steps and ingredients I didn’t have the time to look for. And so I decided to create my own funfetti birthday cake. Much simpler and still damn beautiful. Can’t tell if it was much better…but I still doubt it was.

It went simple. I adapted a birthday vanilla cake recipe, incorporated rainbow sprinkles, went for 3 layers (instead of 5), discarded the soak and swapped some ingredients for the crumb.

IMG_4636Funfetti Birthday Cake

1 cup of butter
2 cups of sugar
3 cups of flour
4 eggs
1 cup of milk
½ teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of vanilla
3 ½ teaspoon of baking powder
½ teaspoon of almond extract
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons of rainbow sprinkles
1 cup of dulce de leche

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a baking sheet and set aside. Shift the flour, eggs, salt and baking powder. In an electric mixer, cream the butter with the sugar at medium speed for 10 minutes. Add the vanilla and the almond extract. Add the eggs, one by one, beating after each addition. Scrape the bowl. Add the milk alternating with the dry ingredients. Add the ¼ cup of rainbow sprinkles until just combined. Pour the cake mix in an even layer on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of rainbow sprinkles.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool before cutting.

Cake crumb:
Leftover cake crumbs
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 tablespoon of brown sugar
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
¼ cup sliced almonds

Prepare baking sheet with Silpat and lower oven temperature to 300°F. After cutting the cake there will be some leftover cake. Crumble and toss it in the baking sheet along with the sugars, the salt, the oil, and the almonds. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until slightly golden and crunchy.

Assemble:
Cut the cake using a round mold that fits three times in the baking sheet. This way you will end with a three-layer cake. Place the first layer on a piece of cardboard. Spread an even layer of dulce de leche on the cake. Top with the second cake round and repeat the dulce de leche layer. Nestle the last layer of cake round and spread the remaining dulce de leche. Top with the cake crumbs.

Note. Sometime I heat the dulce de leche in the microwave for 10 seconds intervals. Once it is slightly melted it is easier to spread on the cake.

IMG_4635

Chia Seed Granola

11 Nov

photo 1Another take on granola, this time chia seeds being the star ingredient. I had read about these magical seeds longago,, but never really approached them. Until finally, I was developing a piece on superfoods that urged me to grab a bag of these at the supermarket.

Chia seeds are tiny brownish greyish seeds that come from the mint plant family. When mixed with water the seeds swell, creating a gel-like substance composed of fiber, which aids in digestion and helps regulate insulin.

Chia seeds are also a great source of omega-3, antioxidants, protein, calcium, manganese and phosphorous. What’s so charming about this small seeds it’s its high concentration of nutrients and other important elements for your body. All these, in just a couple of tablespoons.

Incorporate them into your diet; whether you sprinkle them on your smoothies, salads, or other daily meals−the seeds are virtually tasteless and nutrient-packed. More so, try this delicious granola and eat it with yogurt, milk, or as a snack. You’ll notice the difference in your digestive system.

Chia Seed Granola
Adapted from foodnetwork.com

1 ½ cup oats
½ cup chia seeds
¼ cup silvered almonds
¼ cup cranberries
¼ cup shaved coconut
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup sunflower seeds, roasted
¼ cup chopped walnuts
¼ cup maple syrup
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Pour prepared granola into baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring half way through. Remove from oven and let cool before storing in airtight container.

Cream cheese & cherry jam braided bread

4 Nov

IMG_3913I’m not a fan of cinnamon rolls, Danishes, or donuts. I’m not an enthusiast for croissants, pain au chocolatepalmiers, or turnovers either. To be honest, puff pastry and sweet yeast breads are not my thing. Though, I do eat them on a “now and then” basis.

I didn’t eat bread during my childhood, I just didn´t like it. Sometimes I think I might have a mutated gene in my body that rejects yeasty things. For this reason or another, these foods are not things I suddenly crave or dream about.

This fact doesn´t stop me from baking these. I find great pleasure kneading bread, watching it grow, proofing and baking. The smell of freshly baked bread is so intoxicating, there´s no reason in this world a human being  would dislike it.

For several days I had Pastry Affair blog open under the Blueberry Braided Bread From Emma Of Poires Au Chocolat post. I came across it one night I was blogging; I wanted to braid bead, a first thing for me. And so I merged the recipe with Deb Perelman´s recipe and baked this beauty. My entire kitchen smelled like donuts were being produced in my kitchen by the minute (Deb’s note, but it actually does smell like it).

IMG_3901The outcome was a soft, spongy sweet bread, lightly golden on the top with an oozing cherry jam, cream cheese filling. I ate a small piece once it rested for 10 minutes after I pulled it out of the oven. It was warm and it disintegrated in my mouth, it was…pretty darn good. Though, don’t take my word, this comes from a non-sweet-yeast-bread lover.

IMG_3903Cream cheese & cherry jam braided bread
Adapted from smittenkitchen.com’s Braided Lemon Bread

Ingredients
For sponge:
6 tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 package (¼ oz.) active dry yeast
¼ cup all-purpose flour

For bread:
7 tablespoons sour cream
4 tablespoons butter, softened
2 large eggs
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

For filling:
½ cup cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cherry jam

Preparation
In a small bowl combine water, sugar, yeast and flour. Give it a quick mix and cover with plastic. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes until yeast is bubbly and alive.

In a stand mixer with dough hook attachment, combine sponge, sour cream, butter, 1 egg, sugar, salt, vanilla and flour. Mix at medium-high speed until soft dough forms, about 6 minutes. Remove from bowl and knead in a lightly floured surface for 3 minutes until smooth. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic and let rise for 2 hours.

For the filling, combine all ingredients, except the jam, until smooth.

Gently deflate the dough. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicon baking mat. Transfer dough to parchment paper (or silicon mat) and roll into a rectangle. With hands, mark very lightly three even columns. In the middle column spread the cream cheese filling followed by the cherry jam, leaving 2-inches free in the top and bottom of the dough. Cut 1-inch strips on both side columns, removing the four corner segments. Braid the bread by folding the strips down over the filling, alternating strips. Cover braided bread loosely with plastic and let rise from 1 to 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375ᵒF. Whisk leftover egg and use egg wash to brush all over the braided bread. Bake for 25 minutes until puffed and golden. Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Baked Alaska It Is

3 Oct

IMG_3181Another cross-off my to-do baking list, this time it was Baked Alaska! From a young age I’ve been curious about it, seeing it in magazines and TV and wondering how the hell it stayed put. The idea of making a cake with layers of ice cream, topped with burned meringue, served astonishingly beautifully, and looking incredibly yummy just seemed impossible.

The turning point happened last May on a trip to DBGB Kitchen and Bar in New York. Of course, we were extremely full when it came to dessert; we’ve eaten way too much: calamari, charcuterie, chicken, spaghetti and the DBGB dog. Yet somehow we managed to squeeze-in dessert, mind me, it was the Baked Alaska for two. I think the waitress thought we were 3 cynical ladies, all slim yet ginormous stomachs. Check out a video of the flambé Baked Alaska at DBGB here: link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pv6svG5nuow&feature=youtu.be

It was a masterpiece. A thick and magnificent cake layered with pistachio and vanilla ice cream, and raspberry sorbet, flambéed in front our eyes with kirsch liquor. It was delicious and most of all, a work of art. That was it, I had to give it a try.

This laborious 3-day cake baking process (1. Bake the cake, 2. Assemble the cake. 3. Eat the cake) merited a special occasion and so when my brother’s going away dinner came along, the time was due. It wasn’t awfully difficult, just time-consuming. A huge satisfying feeling once you see everyone’s faces glow with the flames, and everyone awes when you slice to discover a 2-layer ice cream cake inside.

Baked Alaska
Adapted from epicurious.com

Ingredients
4 eggs
½ cup refined sugar
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
½ pint strawberry ice cream
½ pint chocolate ice cream
5 large egg whites, room temperature
¾ cup refined sugar
¼ cup brandy

For cake:
Preheat oven to 325ᵒF. Grease a 10-inch round springform pan and cover the bottom with parchment paper. In a large heatproof bowl mix eggs, sugar, and vanilla. In a saucepan, simmer water over medium to low heat. Place bowl over saucepan with simmering water and whisk quickly until mixture is warm, about 2 minutes. Remove bowl from saucepan and using electric mixer, beat until thick ribbons form when beaters are lifted, about 5 to 8 minutes. Gently fold in flour, followed by the melted butter just to combine. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool.

To prep cake:
Line a 10-inch diameter bowl with plastic wrap. Spread strawberry ice cream in an even layer, followed by the chocolate ice cream. Place cake atop chocolate ice cream layer and press firmly. Cover with plastic and chill overnight.

For meringue:
Using electric mixer beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, a few spoonfuls at a time until fully incorporated and meringue is glossy and stiff.

To assemble:
Slowly remove cake from bowl and invert into a plate. Remove plastic. Working quickly, assemble the meringue over the cake using a spatula to cover completely. Freeze for about 30 minutes. Before serving, remove from fridge and burn meringue peaks using a blow torch.

To serve:
Slowly pour brandy in the center of the cake, allowing it to drip to the sides. Being very careful, lit the top of the cake where the brandy pools and see it flambé beautifully.

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