Monday, September 27, 2010

Daring Bakers-Decorated Sugar Cookies

I can't believe I missed the past two Daring Bakers' challenges. Both challenges were super fun but I just didn't have it in me to participate, I would have done a semi good job.

The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.

This new challenge was fun, fun, fun, so thank you Mandy! Mandy challenged us to make the cookies, which were straight forward and simple, and decorate them, which was challenging! She also gave up free range for the theme, which had to do with the month of September. First of all I love making cookies of all sorts, and to decorate them it is even better. It took me a while to decide what to use as the theme, as I quite never thought of September as a month that has a particular meaning (besides the marking of a new school year). I first thought of making flowers, then I thought of leaves as it is Autumn after all, but apparently in don't own either shape in my huge collection of cookie cutters, not sure how this happened. I then decided to try this composition I saw years ago in a cake store as a sample for their cookie decorating class. I thought it was so beautiful and clever, and for years I have wanted to make it but never got around to it. I thought it was great to start early on Halloween, one of my favorite times of the year. I don't think that this cookie will be eaten, we'll keep it for decoration.

The recipe is really easy, the cookies are not too sweet and like Mandy mentioned they really don't spread that much, keeping their shape pretty well. I baked them at 325 F as I do for all the cookies, this way they color more evenly and I never risk over baking them if I forget to check them often. I used vanilla as flavoring, but lemon zest would have been even better. The royal icing is also straight forward, Mandy's instructions are really detailed. Decorating took a lot of patience, as you have to wait for the icing to dry, in my case it was so hot that it took no time at all.

How can you resist this face?


Basic Sugar Cookies:
Makes Approximately 36x 10cm / 4" Cookies

200g / 7oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
400g / 14oz all purpose flour
200g / 7oz / caster sugar / superfine sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
5ml / 1 tsp vanilla extract / or seeds from 1 vanilla bean

• Cream together the butter, sugar and any flavorings you’re using. Beat until just becoming
creamy in texture.
• Beat in the egg until well combined, make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the sifted flour and mix on low until a non sticky dough forms.
• Knead into a ball and divide into 2 or 3 pieces.
• Roll out each portion between parchment paper to a thickness of about 5mm/1/5 inch (0.2 inch)
• Refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes.
• Once chilled, peel off parchment and place dough on a lightly floured surface.
• Cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a sharp knife.
• Arrange shapes on parchment lined baking sheets and refrigerate for another 30mins to an hour.
• Re-roll scraps and follow the above process until all scraps are used up.
• Preheat oven to 180°C / 350°F.
• Bake until golden around the edges, about 8-15 minutes depending on the size of the cookies.

Royal Icing:

315g – 375g / 11oz – 13oz / 2½ - 3 cups icing / confectioner’s / powdered sugar, unsifted
2 large egg whites
10ml / 2 tsp lemon juice
5ml / 1 tsp almond extract, optional


• Beat egg whites with lemon juice until combined.
• Sift the icing sugar to remove lumps and add it to the egg whites.
Tip: I’ve listed 2 amounts of icing sugar, the lesser amount is good for a flooding consistency, and the larger amount is for outlining, but you can add even more for a much thicker consistency good for writing. If you add too much icing sugar or would like to make a thinner consistency, add very small amounts of water, a few drops at a time, until you reach the consistency you need.
• Beat on low until combined and smooth.
• Use immediately or keep in an airtight container.

Thanks go to Cat for choosing this month's challenge and to Lisa of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice, the creators of the Daring Bakers' challenge. To check other daring bakers' creations, please check the daring kitchen's site. To see the complete recipe and more detailed information on how to decorate please check Mandy's post here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Baked Peaches, Zabaglione Cream, and Streusel

I love summer for many reasons, one being the variety and deliciousness of stone fruit, so it is a sad day for me when I step into my local grocery store and all I see are apples and pears (I love pears and apples, don't get me wrong, but let's face it, they can't compete with stone fruit). Today was the day I sadly realized that the summer season is over, fall is here, and I have to change my baking flavors. I luckily had some wonderful baked peaches in the fridge so I made this flavorful dessert to say goodbye to summer and welcome fall.

This dessert is a winning combination for a dinner party as all the components are made ahead of time, all you need to do is assemble them on a plate. Baking the peaches concentrate the flavor, not to mention the wonderful color that the skin imparts to the pulp. For the best result buy free stone fruits so the pit comes off easily. The fruit should be perfectly ripe for the skin to come off easily, best is to buy the fruit 2 to 3 days before you plan to serve them.

Zabaglione is traditionally made with Marsala, but I prefer to use more delicate sweet wines, like Port, Sauternes, or Passito.

Almond Streusel
8 oz finely ground almonds (pistachios will work really well too)
8 oz sugar
8 oz all purpose flour
8 oz cold butter, cut in pieces
Mix the dry ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the cold butter and mix until it just starts coming together. Cool for at least an hour in the refrigerator (the unbaked streusel keeps for few days). When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 325F. Spread the desired amount on a baking sheet lined with a silpat or parchment paper and bake for 10 minutes. When the sides start coloring, remove the pan from the oven and break any lumps with a bench scraper, mixing the streusel for even baking. Cook for another 5 minute and repeat the mixing, so no lumps form. When the streusel in nicely colored but still soft looking, remove it from the oven, repeat the breaking of the lumps one more time and cool completely. Keep in an airtight container. This is such an amazing recipe and it can be made with other nuts, and sprinkled on anything. Warning, it is addictive!

Baked Peaches

8 free stone peaches (yellow or white)
1/2 cup sweet wine (same wine use for the zabaglione)
sugar to taste

Cut the fruit in half and remove the pit. Bake at 400, cut down, covered with aluminum foil, until tender but not mushy (10-15 minutes). Let cool, remove the skin, and cover with the pan juices. Refrigerate until needed.

Zabaglione Cream

8 yolks
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup sweet wine (Port, Sauternes, or Passito)

1 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped

Mix the yolks, the sugar, and the wine in a stainless steel bowl. Adjust the bowl on a pan of boiling water so the bottom doesn't touch the water. Cook the zabaglione whisking constantly. To make it more stable, cook it until it deflates and is very creamy, 15-20 minutes. Strain it and let it cool completely on an ice bath. Whip the cream to stiff peaks and fold it into the zabaglione. Keep refrigerated at all times.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Panini con l'uvetta-Raisin rolls

Well...I have some news...I have not been working for two months but I will spare the details for a variety of reasons. I can't believe that I haven't posted in so long, the past two months have been interesting to say the least, a whirlwind of things; my job ended, my husband broke his ankle and had surgery to repair it (guess who is doing all the driving?), we had a 15 year old visiting from Italy for two months, and then my best friend Paola and her daughter visited from Venice. It was such pleasure having Paola here, and being a great hiker and nature lover I took her to all my favorite places around town, what a blast! I wish she could come here often, two weeks just flew by.

The three months I worked were very exciting but really crazy, opening a brand new restaurant is really hard but very rewarding and I have learned tons. I had never worked such long hours in my life, sometimes 6-7 days a week, I had time for very little, and the blog was seriously neglected. I am now getting some well deserved sleep as waking up at 4:30 for weeks was taking a toll. I started exercising almost every day and I feel great. My garden and house plants are getting some TLC that they desperately needed, and I am enjoying the final days of string beans, cucumbers, tomatoes and basil. The house is getting organized and I am finally baking for my family.

Remember these? When I first tasted them I immediately recognized the flavor, having eaten something very similar all my childhood. I immediately loved the flavor and the texture of these little morsels, and in an effort to create a sweet treat to sell at my dream bakery, I took this recipe out and started working on it. I increased the butter and added sugar, eggs, and raisins to the dough. I didn't change the method, and the water content is the same because I wanted a dough at a higher hydration to compensate for the dry raisins that would absorb some water from the dough.

The resulting bread is really similar to the panini con l'uvetta I grew up eating in Venice as snacks after school, and that is exactly the flavor I was trying to replicate. I am submitting this bread to the wonderful weekly showcase of yeasted bread in Susan's blog, yeastspotting.

Pane all'uvetta-Raisin bread

200 g bread flour (if you don't have it, use all purpose)
5 g fresh yeast or 1/4 tsp dry yeast
170 ml water

- Dissolve the yeast in the water and quickly work the dough together in a small bowl.
- Cover the biga and let it develop for 15-24 hrs.

200 ml water, lukewarm
15 g fresh yeast or 2 tsp dry yeast

all the biga
500 g all purpose flour
25 g extra-virgin olive oil
2 large eggs
50 g sugar
12 g salt

50 g butter
150 g raisins

- Dissolve the yeast in the water.
- Add all the ingredients, except the butter and raisins, into the bowl of an electric mixer.
- Work the dough with the hook attachment until it is smooth and doesn't stick to the mixer bowl. Adjust the amount of flour to create a soft and somewhat wet dough.
- Add the softened butter slowly, then mix at low speed for 5 minutes to let the dough develop.
- Add the raisins and mix only until just incorporated (mixing more will break the raisins)
- Pour the dough onto a well floured surface and let rest for 5 minutes.
- Stretch the dough with your hands, fold it like an envelope and form it into a ball, cover it and let rest for 30 minutes. This will further develop the gluten and distribute the raisins evenly.
- Repeat the stretching and folding a second time.
- Put the dough into a container, cover it and leave to rise until doubled (at this point you can refrigerate it overnight).
- After the dough has doubled, divide it into smaller parts, about 70 g/2,5 oz each.

To see how to shape each piece of dough please check Ilva's or Lien's websites.

1. Roll out each portion into long strands and lay them out on a flat surface.
2. Make a semi-circle with a dough strand.
3. Twist the two ends together.
4. Bring the two ends towards the upper part of the circle.
5. Lift/fold the top part over the twisted part.
6. Take the two ends and join them together under the knot, this will make the knot part come out more and will hide the ends.

- Put the knots on baking sheets, brush them with an egg wash, and let them rise until they have doubled in size. Brush them again once risen, before baking.
- Bake in a pre-heated oven (200°C/390°F) for 20-25 minutes.


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