Monday, December 15, 2014

The Ischler

I come from a long line of Christmas Eve-ers who firmly believed the table should groan from plates upon plates of Christmas cookies and tea breads to go with pots of hot tea while opening presents and singing carols surrounded by dozens of cousins.  Those days are long gone but baking these Ischlers brought back that cozy feeling which surprised me, probably because I forgot to toast the almonds, froze the dough by mistake which made it really easy to handle once it thawed a bit and opted for store bought jam.  In other words, I didn't get too fiddly with these cookies. 

Yesterday I had help mixing up the dough.  This is my youngest granddaughter who is four and half.  She scooted a chair up to the counter and scooted me out of the way.  I did a combination mini food processor and mixer method, opting to grind the nuts with the powdered sugar.  This little one is a real Let Me Do It kid and loved pushing the pulse button.  Not merely content to add cupfuls of flour, I was informed she was quite capable of turning on and off  the mixer after each addition  (with inconspicuous close supervision).   Today I rolled out the dough with this adjustable rolling pin, a gift from my daughter back in the Heavenly Cake days.  It works like a charm. 

I used wax paper instead of plastic wrap and popped the dough back in the freezer to rechill before peeling the cut out dough onto the baking sheet with an off set spatula.   Speaking of which, I noticed a huge difference between baking pans and how the cookies browned.  I have those air cushioned ones but also an older plain one which caused the cookies to bake too quickly.  I also noticed baking them higher in the oven was a better option for me, they didn't brown as fast.  A dough scraper with a sharp edge was the perfect spatula to move the hot cookies to the cooling rack.  I love Trader Joe's organic apricot preserves so that is what I opted for, along with their organic strawberry jam to try on a few for fun, thinking  chocolate dipped strawberries..  They did not have the correct percentage of dark chocolate so I used a mix of Valrohona dark and milk chocolate for the ganache,  

These cookies plain kept reminding me of  Russian teacakes.  I rolled a few in powdered sugar and they were really good!   So Ischlers are apparently quite versatile either using the traditional apricot and chocolate combination or different jams as well as the powdered sugar coating for children's palates.  Now that I've got the hang of rolling,  cutting, rechilling and transferring to the baking sheet, I will make them again will all sorts of different jam fillings.

Monday, December 8, 2014

English Dried Fruitcake

"We have fruitcake!"  heralded the text to my kids scattered hither and yon.  Rose is solely responsible for converting my offspring to the wonders of fruitcake ever since Heavenly Cakes and they consider it a holiday requisite.  This new old English fruitcake was literally a piece of cake to put together.  Middle granddaughter  who was almost four in this picture and is now eight years old, wants to bake along with me again.  This was the perfect recipe for a child to really get into, save for the apple peeling and chopping, and possibly the rum but as I remember, Mary Poppins was quite fond of rum!

Trader Joe's had a dried fruit mix package of cranberries, blueberries, golden raisins and cherries.  Sounded good to me and it is, but next time I may add more fruit and shred the apples plus up the cinnamon.  I loved the flavor of this cake, just want it to sing falalalala a little bit louder.

So first off, according to granddaughter,  was for her and I to don an apron.  Sad to say the beloved Disney Princesses apron was demoted and she unearthed one of my grandmother's.  I have a picture somewhere of her father standing on a stool stirring up something with his great grandmother who was probably wearing this very apron. We then got the ingredients mise en place, including German high fat butter which was a surprise find at the local grocery store and of course had a bit of a taste test.  The slight tang didn't meet with her approval but I assured her butterfat is the name of the game in baking.

Introducing a child to the kitchen scale was loads of fun, more so for her than me.  It has been awhile and wrapping my brain around a scale again took some effort.  She caught on quickly and cheered excitedly when the exact measurement was scored like a soccer goal.  I cracked one egg, she cracked five.  I got shells in mine.  She didn't and proceeded to reveal her secret for cracking eggs.  Finally the batter went into the cake pans without cake strips because I forgot to call around to see who had cake strips.  Off  to the Google and found out foil over wet paper towels was acceptable in a pinch.  So that's what we did. Into the oven it went and then came the best part....she brought her spa supplies to give me a pedicure and manicure, complete with eye mask and my choice of Hello Kitty nail polish.  I chose hot pink, just in case you were wondering.  And let me tell you, there is nothing more heavenly than getting a foot, hand and face massage while waiting for the timer to ring with cinnamon apple pecan aromatherapy.  .

Since we baked them in two round pans, I let her paint one with rum.  Patience is not a virtue when it comes to cake and we "had" to cut into the other.  It was dry, it definitely needs the twenty-four hours to meld together, the apples giving the cake moisture.  Still, it was good but much better today.  But it didn't matter to her, she loved it.  She declined to take any home out of consideration for her little sister who is seriously dairy intolerant and her mother is gluten free. The fun for her was in the baking and she even brought her camera to photograph the finished product.   Her father, however, was not to be denied and will be back post haste for the rum laden fruitcake.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Kouigns Amann

The aroma from these Kouigns Amann pastries is intoxicating!  Who knew such simple ingredients; flour, sugar, yeast, salt and butter could transform into something delectable?  Okay, the butter was of the extra luscious variety namely the highest butterfat possible but spices, no filling, no nothing and yet the alchemy of Rose's magical recipe turned these few staples into something I seriously doubted, mostly because the thought of working with yeast was a bit intimidating.  I should have known better, oh moi of little faith.  So this is the type of dough that Starbucks has filled their pastry cases with from La Boulange but no where near as flavorful.  Truly, I am stunned.

After shopping and collecting the ingredients, I eyed them suspiciously for two days, cursed myself for telling Marie to count me in, cursed yeast, cursed not having any idea where in my house this dough could possibly rise, and seriously questioned my sanity.  What was I thinking?  Summing up the inner fortitude to tackle yeast I opened the packet and promptly spilled it.  Baking with yeast baffles me.  It seems to require secret skills I know nothing of.  But that's the thing I should know by now with Rose; she makes it possible to bake extraordinary things with very little in the way of training, skills or talent.  She doesn't hold back, instead divulging all her baking knowledge in such a way that no matter how many mistakes I make, and believe me these KA's were no exception, it all seems to turn out in the end.  The foreboding task of rolling and folding and turning quickly turned into a relaxing, stress relieving activity.  The cold autumn days kept the butter from melting too quickly and it never broke through the dough although the plastic wrap didn't fare as well with the overzealous butter smackdown.  The biggest conundrum was  where to put the dough for the warm rise in this chilly house.  Preheating the oven automatically warms the broken top double oven so after emptying my mishmash collection of baking pans, I popped them in.  

Still, I didn't really hold out much expectation only hope the stapled foil rings would hold, but as for anything edible, not really.  And then, it happened.  Wafting waves of deliciousness started to fill the house, from one end to the other.  Well, it smelled good, but there was no way this could possibly taste good, not the way I rolled out the dough never sure which direction was correct and  flung sugar everywhere.  No one was more surprised than I how extraordinary these little pastry gems turned out.  Honestly, never before have I been so ecstatic over any other thing I have baked because now, a new world of yeast has opened up.  With all the rolling,  fear of pie dough has no hold over me now.  So little KA's, I have a special place in my buttery heart for you.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Nut-Crusted Chocolate-Banana Swirl Cake

This cake was easy to make.  Everyone who had a slice liked it.  What surprised me is that it isn't a terribly sweet cake.  The banana flavor was even better the next day.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Rose's Fruitcake

This is the third year I've made Rose's Fruitcake.  It is the first thing requested when the holidays roll around.
I felt a teeny bit smug getting the candied rind, cherries and raisins into the rum for a good long soak back in November.  Christmas came and went and the fruit continued to happily slosh about in the rum.  This past weekend I finally got around to mixing it up.  Once again, Rose's fruitcake was a hit!  It never ceases to amaze me how people who profess to detest fruitcake like Rose's version.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Eggnog Pound Cake with Crystal Rum Glaze

Eggnog Pound Cake with Crystal Rum Sauce is another outstanding Flo Braker cake.  It is perfect for the holidays and is sure to be requested next year.  I made this cake twice.  It's incredibly easy. The first time was a for my daughter's horse trainer who gave me a leopard print high heel cake slicer for Christmas.  If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes I wouldn't believe such a thing existed!  I completely forgot to take any pictures before boxing it up and thus a second cake was made.  The family was quite annoyed they hadn't so much as a crumb form the first one.  The aroma  filled the house with a wonderful Christmasy fragrance.

The first cake was brushed with the Crystal Rum Glaze.  It was fairly heady stuff so for the second, I opted to forego the sauce in favor of powdered sugar since children would be about.  The remaining eggnog beckoned to be turned into custard for ladling over each slice.  It was ridiculously simple and required just a smidgen of   cornstarch for it to thicken nicely.  Heating the eggnog toned down the flavor resulting in a  mellow eggnog custard. Adults and children both liked the flavor of this cake.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tropical Wedding Cake

I fully intended to make the Groom's Cake for our finale, but then Evil Cake Lady posted a Wedding Cake Roundup. It was inspiring and I took another look at Rose's chapter on wedding cakes.  The Tropical Wedding Cake beckoned.  Maybe it's the shock of freezing temperatures that settled in California.  Besides, my daughter is now engaged and it seems fitting to wait to make the Groom's Cake for the future groom.  Whatever the siren call, I unearthed frozen, blackened bananas from the depths of my freezer and stirred up this delectable cake.  It's quite a simple recipe really.  The hint of lemon from the zest lingers behind that of the banana.  Cashews were substituted for macadamia nuts only because the grocery store did not have any at the moment.  There was also a batch of leftover buttercream frosting from a recent cupcake marathon and I used that as well.  It's a lovely, light banana cake that I will make again with Rose's use of passion fruit and mousseline frosting.

When I announced this was the last dessert there was dismay and cries of woe.  The next question was "Isn't Rose doing another book of cakes that you can bake with again?  You've gotten to be such a good baker. You can't stop now!"   And really, that is high praise for Rose Levy Berenbaum.  Without one lesson in person, she took a very inept, amateur baker, and allowed me to make unbelievable cakes.   It was the best course in baking.  Weighing ingredients, cake strips, accurate oven temperature and an instant read thermometer have permanently changed my errant baking ways.

It's been more fun than I could ever imagine baking along with the Heavenly Cake Bakers.  I've looked forward to everyone's cakes. more than I have my own, and loved hearing about your lives.  We are such a varied group geographically and culturally yet Rose cut through the barriers with sugar, butter and flour.  I thank all of you for your encouragement and comments.

Top of my Christmas List is a new Rose's Heavenly Cakes book.

A fresh packet of cake strips.

And maybe an elf to wash a dish or two.