Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Alpha Bakers - Lemon CreeMees

These were supposed to be Lemon Jammies, They are butter cookies enhanced with lemon zest, filled with, well...not lemon curd. Instead, I made Dorie Greenspan's (Pierre Herme's) lemon cream
Then I called them Lemon Creamies, and then that made me think of these. Now they're Lemon CreeMees. They were creamy (creemee). And delicious.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Alpha Bakers -- The Polish Princess

The Polish Princess. Sounds like a cruise ship, doesn't it? Or a jewelry display. 

But no, it is a cake. Under its fancy veneer, it is actually quite a humble and homebody cake. Just because a girl wears two layers of buttercream doesn't mean she's stuck-up. Also, doesn't she have a right to some honest pride when she's a righteous sponge soaked in a tea and rum syrup, topped with two smooth and creamy and eggy layers of pastry cream buttercream, one filled with cocoa and walnuts, the other with raisins and chocolate? 

The Polish Princess, or the Ambassador as it is apparently known in Poland, is a bakery cake--the kind you ogle in the pastry case that often doesn't punch its weight in taste outside the cage. This lady, however, holds up, especially at room temperature, where all the layers soften into a creamy blend.
 
The creation of the Princess happened over a few days, in slow stages. First, the sponge was baked and syrup-ed. The syrup, in Polish fashion, was meant to be a strong tea steeped spiked with vodka. Having no vodka, I used rum, which was delicious if not culturally appropriate. According to the recipe headnote, the cake was developed after the fall of the USSR, when new quality ingredients came to Poland, so perhaps it's just an appropriate cultural cross-pollination.

Then came the buttercream--one recipe divided at the end for flavorings. It starts with a goopy pastry cream, into which a LOT of butter is blended. I mean a LOT--about three sticks worth. Because I was making the recipe in stages, I had some trouble with the buttercream--it broke badly and became a cottage cheese looking wet mess. I waited for everything to come to a warm room temperature, added a few more tablespoons of butter, and came out at last with a creamy fluff. 

The Princess had a warm reception at work, as I made sure she was served at a cool room temperature, the spongy buttercream was a great success. One of our young shelvers (who have just been temporarily almost laid off due to budget constraints--call your city councilors!) told me it was a brand new cake experience for him--he had never eaten anything like it. 

The last few weeks have been stressful. Some of the stress is personal, a result of something very wonderful that I have the privilege to do, that is none the less...stressful. Also, a few mountains have been falling and a few cities have been burning, and that's not without its impact too, however far away it may be. Many of my friends seem to be finding themselves in a slightly ragged place as we straggle into spring. The reasons vary, from the personal to the professional, from life to love to happiness to sadness, but regardless, most of us need a heavy dose of cake and flowers and soup. 

Last Sunday I had a few dear ones over and made this soup--quick and simple and rich, a basic potato soup raised up with prosciutto and saffron and garlicky ground almonds, from my new cookbook, Food52 Genius Recipes. More from this cookbook soon. I'm going through my cookbook back catalogue and trying not to buy many more, but this one was a printed version of about half the recipes I have already bookmarked and printed out, and it seemed prudent to pick up the bound version.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Alpha Bakers - Dattelkonfekt

German baking is a great thing. I feel cozy just thinking of it. In my mind, German bakeries are full of dark, sour bread and gingerbread. Stodgy anise and apple filled yeasted pastry. In this mind palace of mine, all German dessert is half breakfast, which is exactly how I like my dessert. Between that and my grandmother's signature kompot, I am a true daughter of my Eastern European ancestry. But we knew that by now, of course. Can't wait for that Polish Princess (next week's recipe, a riff on a modern Polish status cake). I'm also pretty excited for this book.

Dattelkonfekt has many of the ingredients I love--meringue, sturdy sweetness, simplicity--and although I'm not usually given to the sticky sweetness of dates, I do eat more of them around Passover, especially when  I'm feeling Sephardic. So, in a way, this cookie links my Jewish identities. It's a perfect Passover treat, in that it's both flourless and kind of tastes like charoset, at least the date/orange kind I've been making in recent years. That said, my mind has been kind of elsewhere, and I baked this recipe late and took no pictures, and messed around with it.

The original recipe calls for an equal amount of dates and almonds, ground finely and folded into a sturdy egg white meringue with sugar and vanilla and not much else. My food processor was a bit too small for the date mixture, so I ended up with some lumps, although I helped out with my hands. I had no almonds, so I ground up a pile of walnuts. Walnuts are more oily than almonds, so my date mixture remained lumpy, but I thought their bitter edge cut the dates nicely. I also ran out of white sugar, so a little brown sugar entered the mix, which added moisture (bad in a meringue) and also made the cookies more prone to burning. It did add another darker flavor element, though, which worked.

I baked on a humid day, and had the aforementioned extra moisture, so it was no surprise that my cookies came out flat and chewy. They were no beauty queens, but they had a kind of health food cookie satisfaction (basically sugar). I took them to work and put them on the break room table, then noticed there were several bags of oreos there, left over from a book club meeting. I ate six oreos and left the dattelkonfekt. True story.*

*It was probably more like 7 or 8 oreos. I love oreos.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Alpha Bakers -- Rhubarb Upside Down Cake



I've always felt that calling something 'upside-down' cake was tempting fate a bit, and it turns out I was right. That's what parsley is for. Mush it up and call it trifle or pandowdy... Something like that. I blame another round of cold-medicine baking. The Rhubarb Upside Down Cake from The Baking Bible is a simple, rustic matter of buttery caramelized rhubarb baked under a blanket of soft butter cake. I was a bit careless in the unmolding, and probably should have selected a flatter plate. 

So it didn't look that good--stewed rhubarb never does. It was, however, delicious. Rustic was the name of the game, and so I left off the raspberry glaze and raspberry Italian meringue that could have gone with this cake. It was straight up and upside down and simple. Can't say it was pretty.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Alpha Bakers -- Luxury Oatmeal Cookies

Spring dawns with a slushy Narnia snow, and the Alpha Bakers are back to cookies.

Speaking of Narnia snow, everybody needs to read Anne Ursu's BREADCRUMBS immediately. Before the pain of winter fades. It's one of the darkest, loneliest, most fascinating children's books I've read in a long time. Anyone who loves 5th graders, superhero baseball, or Hans Christian Andersen should really, really read this book. I listened to the audiobook and that, too, is exceptional. Go read it. I'll wait.

In other news, I'm looking for a name for my almost-ready-to-launch library-stuff blog. It should include echoes of public access, children's services, solid strangeness, and delight. The Brecht Forum has already taken peoplesuniversity.tumblr.com, in case you were wondering.

The Luxury Oatmeal Cookies are a fairly classic oatmeal cookie recipe in the cookie-jar tradition, made with granola and chocolate instead of rolled oats. The Baking Bible includes a recipe for granola, but I had almost a cup of granola leftover and needing to be used up, so I used that. I am not sure exactly what was in it, as it was a gift from my cheesemonger friend Pam, who has a tendency to show up at the door with things like hand-dried Maine trompettes. I had slightly less granola than I needed for the quarter recipe I was making, so I subbed in the remainder with regular rolled oats. I included the raisins but omitted the chocolate, as I don't hold with chocolate in oatmeal cookies. Oatmeal in chocolate chip cookies, is, inexplicably, a plus. Something about the different ratios makes it so.

These were good cookies, clumpy and hearty in texture.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Alpha Bakers -- Sour Cherry Pi

Adventures in pie this weekend. March 14 was Pi Day (3.14), always a fun day to celebrate. The Alpha Bakers were making Rose's Sour Cherry Pie, and since that is one of my favorite pies in the world, I was completely on board. I even knew exactly which Russian grocery to visit for my frozen cherries. Of course, it was all the way out on Kings Highway, and before I knew it I had just gotten lazy, and was scouring my local fancy bodegas for jarred cherries. Didn't find them, although I know about forty places where they can be found, so I changed things up and bought frozen sweet cherries and a plum or two to make Rose's Cherry Sweetie Pie. Despite uninspiring plums and a potato starch that thickened a bit too much, the pie was a more than reasonable stopgap for Pi Day. My co-workers, volunteers, and the kid who'd ventured out early for tutoring were pleased.
I had made two batches of crust--one of Rose's cream cheese crust and one of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds butter crust. To fill the second one, I used the bodega blueberries and a peach or two. Out of season fruit. Less than inspiring. Still, I had a bit of crust left, and so I finally caved, picked up a jar or two of sour cherries in syrup, and made two little Sour Cherry Pies, reducing the sugar to 50 grams. Those I ate all by myself. See that flakiness in the pie crust? Now I just want to keep on making pie forever. This always happens. One pie is just not enough.


Monday, March 9, 2015

Alpha Bakers - Very Slow Caramel Buns








Cake is all right, and pie is delicious, but my real passion is for breakfast pastry, from waffles to scones, biscuits to brioche. Sticky buns are akin to the waffle sundae, a good thing taken to heights of unbelievable overkill, then garnished with nuts. I love them, although sometimes I love them better without the caramel. The sticky buns in The Baking Bible are called Caramel Buns, and they are a brioche base rolled with nuts, sugar, and rum raisins, baked, glazed with raisin sugar syrup, and covered in a thick drippy caramel and more nuts. I know. Seriously.
 
Rose's brioche is a simple but slow dough, one that makes me glad I have a mixer, as it would be a gigantic pain without. It starts with a little sponge, which is then covered with a flour mix and refrigerated for a while.

I ran out of flour so I supplemented with a touch of my gluten free mix, accidentally contaminating the GF mix in the process. I'll need to make a new mix (enriching Bob's Red Mill as usual), but the old one will still be useful for gluten light baked goods and experimental models.
 
After some overnight rising and then stretching and folding and more rising, the dough is rolled out, brushed with egg, sugar, raisins, and, in my case, walnut bits, and then rolled up and cut. Rose recommends cutting the rolls with a piece of dental floss, which works perfectly and is weirdly satisfying besides. I have a twitchy response to public flossing, as my family knows to their sorrow (seriously, why is this a public event?), but public cinnamon roll cutting is full acceptable.
 
When I rolled it up, I completely forgot the rum-soaked sultanas, so I poked a few in on top. Most of them were forced up and got a touch toasted, but I really wanted them in there. Not sure what to do with the remainder, but especially with the rum, they'll last a little while in the refrigerator.

The buns are proofed for a while (it was a snow day so I let it run a little longer), and then baked with a Ball jar in the middle. The jar is filled with water--boiling water. I almost missed that the water was supposed to be boiling but caught it at the last minute.
While the buns were baking, I made the glaze (mostly raisin, rum, water, and sugar) and the caramel. The caramel was a pretty basic sugar/cream/butter shake-up, but I got a little creative and threw some cloves, Meyer lemon slices, and half a vanilla bean in with the boiling sugar, straining them out afterward. This gave the caramel a sort of 'Christmassy' flavor, as one taster said. Candied Meyer lemon slices were a good cook's treat.
 I overbaked the buns a bit, or they would have benefitted from the leftover raisins, as they were a little dry. Now that I think about it, that might have been the non-wheat flours, too. Next time I might make them larger.  Perfect baking for a snow day.