Monday, November 06, 2006

Cookbook Spotlight #2: Baking From My Home To Yours

When Sara at I Like To Cook and Weekend Cookbook Challenge asked me if I could find time in my busy travel for work schedule to be part of the second episode of Cookbook Spotlight, I didn't even hesitate. Of course I could find time to take part in this event. After all, I was getting a new cookbook to try several recipes from and then report back in a blog posting how I found the cookbook from a cook's point of view as well as from a manic cookbook collector's. So, it was great excitement that I came home from some place (Florida, I think...) to find a package containing Dorie Greenspan's "Baking From My Home to Yours" waiting for me. MBH had told me several days earlier in an email that I had a "heavy package" waiting for me and when I opened the package, it was indeed a heavy and big tome that awaited me. The very first thing that caught my eye? The luscious brown and white cake on the cover. "I HAVE to make that", I thought to myself. "That looks soooo decadent and rich".

I don't know what this means from a reviewers point but my flight got in at 1opm and I was home around 11pm. The next time I noticed a clock after opening the package it was almost 3AM! I had sat down where I opened the package and started flipping through the book ogling all the wonderful looking pictures of baked goodies. I wanted to make the Mocha-Walnut Marbled Bundt Cake on page 180 and then Linzer Sables on page 134. No, NO, NO, WAIT!! I really wanted to make the White Chocolate Brownies on page 110. So many wonderful treats to bake that I lamented that I could only bake two or three before I reviewed the book. Nestled snuggley in bed that night, dreams of Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies (page 77) and Dimply Plum Cake (page 41) danced in my head. Since the next day was Saturday, I got down right down to business and selected five recipes to bake: Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins, My Best Chocolate Chip Cookies, Flaky Apple Turnovers, Caramel Topped Flan and the cover cake and picture that captured my imagination, Devil's Food White-Out Cake.

The first recipe I cooked was the My Best Chocolate Chip Cookies. I was leaving for a longer business trip on Tuesday and I always leave MBH with a refrigerator full of food and something homebaked so he doesn't miss me too much. Chocolate chip cookies are MBH's favourite cookie. Dorie's recipe calls for hand chopped bittersweet chunks, perfect for MBH who likes uneven sized chunks of chocolate in his cookies. The recipe is basically the classic recipe with the exception it calls for a bit more butter. One thing I did notice about dough as it came together was it was a bit wet and hard to handle and I ended up adding about an 1/8 cup more flour to get the dough the right consistency. My kitchen was a bit humid when I made these so that could have accounted for the need to add more flour. The various shapes of chocolate chunks made a lovely looking ball of dough and the dough was quite tasty as well.

We like really big cookies in our house. So I got about 20 huge cookies from the recipe. MBH's verdict: very nice with lots of chocolate chunks but a bit crisp for his taste. I liked the cookie quite a lot and they froze really well. I froze a dozen to take to work, where they were devoured by 10am.

The next recipe I tried was for Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins, my all time favourite muffin that I have spent quite a bit of time obsessing over at the various bakeries in Boston. I had been planning on making lemon poppy seed muffins for some time but never seemed to find a recipe that read like it would result in the perfect combination of lemon and sweet. That is until I read Dorie's recipe. As I read through the ingredients I KNEW I had found the closet recipe to my beloved Lemon Poppy Seed Muffin from Panificio. I assembled all my ingredients (Dorie is right, doing this first does make you feel like you are staring in your own show on the Food Network).

I then proceeded to make the batter. Once again, the batter was not quite the right consistency, even by the description in the recipe. I ended up having to add another 1/3 cup of sour cream to get the batter to a lumpy muffin stage. But one taste of the batter and the zing was perfect as was the sweetness. The recipe calls for you to mix the lemon zest with the sugar first to infuse the taste of the lemon with the sugar. I could taste that step. Like our chocolate chip cookies, we like our muffins big. The recipe makes 12 muffins but I used a six "Texas" muffin pan and the batter divided up perfectly. As the muffins baked there was this wonderful citrusy, lemony smell filling my kitchen. I couldn't wait for them to come out of the oven. When they did, it was all I could do to wait for them to cool. I have to admit, I skipped the frosting step. I'm not a huge frosting on my muffin type of gal but I will tell you, skipping the frosting didn't hurt the taste of the muffin any. When I tore off the top, the inside was a perfect shade of cream and the taste and texture perfect.

The poppy seeds were very evenly distributed throughout the muffin and each bite was moist and lemony. Now, when I crave a good lemon poppy seed muffin, I don't have trek all the way down to Charles Street for a fix.

I had a bag of apples on the table that I had been saving for a special recipe. That recipe turned out to be the absolute winner of all the ones I tried from "Baking From My Home to Yours", the Flaky Apple Turnovers. I almost didn't do this recipe because in the past, every turnover I have ever made meant slaving for days/hours over puff pastry and I just didn't have the time to do that. But, after reading about the "miracle" dough that was the key to these little gems, I decided what the heck. Dorie is right on every front about this dough. It DOES come together in a snap and it IS a miracle. This turnover is bar none by far the absolute best turnover I have ever made. Period. The forming is a little difficult because the turnovers are so small and the first few I made I put too much filling into but once I got the hang of working with the dough and the amount of filling, they went fast. The egg wash and sugar topping take them from pedestrian to elegant.

Now, I'm not sure if this was an omen or not, BUT while I was making these, I was listening to the Bon Appetit podcast and the episode that I was listening to was the May 16, 2006 Episode where Dorie Greenspan discusses all the ice cream she made for an upcoming issue. Just as I put the first batch into the oven they gave her plug for her new upcoming cookbook: "Baking From My Home to Yours". The results? I have never had a fruit turnover taste this sinfully good. MBH took most of them to work the next day and received reports back like "delicious" and from the president of his company, "These are FANTASTIC". I took two into the founder of my company and he came into my office and told me that I had to make these again and wondered if I could make them with cherries or plums. Yup, I'll bet this recipe will lend itself very well to just about any fruit or fruit/cheese combination you can think of. These will be my Christmas morning pastry this year. I can't wait to see my family's faces as they eat these.

The Caramel Topped Flan recipe was good and came out exactly as predicted. There isn't anything super special about the recipe but the step by step instructions for getting the caramel evenly spread on the bottom of the pan were excellent.

This type of good advice and helpful hints is characteristic throughout the book. There are easy to follow directions for all the "tricky" things and each recipe has a "Playing Around" suggestion for those of us who like to take a good recipe and use it as a base for other good things. I took my flan into work for our weekly Thursday meeting and there wasn't any left by the end of the meeting.

The last recipe I made was for the cover cake, Devil's Food White-Out Cake. This cake calls for cocoa powder, bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate. If you like chocolate cake you are going to love this cake. The batter went together perfectly. I didn't need to add any liquid or flour. Do take the time to sift the dry ingredients together. It makes a difference and the alternating between milk/cream and dry ingredients is a classic way of making a moist cake. The cakes baked up nice and high with a nice springback.

The marshmallow frosting was a bit tricky from a timing standpoint. My eggwhites peaked about six or seven minutes before my sugar,cream of tartar and water reached 242 degrees F. But, when done, the frosting tasted just like Fluff, a super sweet marshmallow cream New Englanders, especially those of us from Boston, are fond of putting on top of ice cream, peanut butter sandwiches, and hot chocolate. I have to admit, I was skeptical at this stage. I'm not a big marshmallow fan and this frosting was like eating melted marshmallows. But, I persevered because the picture on the front of the cookbook kept calling me. The cake went together pretty easily. I did not crumble the fourth half though, opting to add it to the cake. Instead, I took the left over chunk of good Belgian chocolate from the chocolate chip cookies and grated it up and sprinkled it very generously all over the cake. After letting it set up in the refrigerator for about four hours I sliced into it.

My cake may not have looked exactly like the picture on the front but it tasted exactly like the description. The cake is moist and almost like a super fudgy brownie. The chips of semi-sweet chocolate hadn't baked into the cake so each bite has that nice texture of cake and chocolate chunk. And I was wrong about the marshmallow frosting. When I finished putting the cake together I commented to MBH that the next time I made this cake I would use a butter cream frosting but you know what, this cake just might make me like marshmallow.

DEVIL'S FOOD WHITE-OUT CAKE UPDATE (11/6 @ 10am): MBH took the remainder of this cake to work this morning. President of his Company's response: "WOW! Impressive"

A few other observations about "Baking From My Home to Yours". The recipes are fantastic and even someone who isn't an accomplished baker can follow them. That being said, it really pays to read through the entire recipe several times before starting them to make sure you understand the timing of everything and the order of the steps. While I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this cookbook to a beginning baker, I would suggest that the book is aimed towards the more advanced home baker who understands the way baking recipes go together and has enough experience with various baking techniques to feel comfortable when small problems we all have in the kitchen crop up. This is in part due to the multi-step processes that sometimes need to be addressed simultaneously, like keeping an eye on boiling sugar, water, and vanilla AND the egg whites and my experience with both the cookie dough and the muffin batter. If I had not had many years making both cookies and muffins, I would have not recognized my dough/batter that needed more flour/sour cream.

My final word; Dorie Greenspan's "Baking From My Home to Yours" has made me feel like a top notch pastry chef, cake baker, and dessert maker. I've gotten professional results from her beautiful book and I think it will continue to do so for many years to come. I can't wait to find out...

Flaky Apple Turnovers
From Dorie Greenspan's "Baking From My Home to Yours"

For the Dough:
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 sticks (12 ounces) cold unsalted butter cut into small pieces

For the Filling:
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 Fuji or Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into small chunks
3 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into small bits

For the Egg Wash:
1 large egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon of water

Sugar, for dusting

To Make the Dough: Stir the sour cream and sugar together; set aside. Whisk the flour and salt together in a large bowl, then toss the butter bits over the flour. Working with a pastry blender, two knives or your fingers, cut the butter into the ingredients until mixture resembles coarse meal. Don't worry about being thorough, it's better to have an uneven mix than an overworked dough. Switch to a fork and, using a lifting and tossing motion, gently stir in the sour cream. The dough will be very soft. Divide the dough in half. Put each half of a piece of plastic wrap and use the plastic to shape each piece into a rectangle, don't worry about size or precision. Wrap the dough and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to 2 days.

Remove one piece of dough from the fridge and roll it into a rectangle about 9 x 18 inches. The dough is easiest to work with if you roll it between sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap. If you want to roll it traditionally, make sure to flour the rolling surface. Fold the dough into thirds, like a business letter, wrap it and refrigerate it. Repeat with the second piece of dough and refrigerate the dough for at least two hours or up to one day.

To Make The Filling: Whisk the flour, sugar and cinnamon together in a large bowl. Add the apples and toss to coat.

Getting Ready to Bake: Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats. Roll out one piece of dough to a thickness of about 1/8 inch, and cut out 4 1/2 inch rounds with a large cutter or the edge of a tartlet pan. Repeat with the second piece of dough. If you'd like, you can gather the scraps together, chill them and make additional turnovers. The turnovers made from scraps will taste good but they won't be as pretty and light as the first rounders (Breadchick note: I found them to be every bit as flaky and good!) . You'll get 7 -8 rounds from each piece of dough. Place 1 to 2 tablespoons apples in the center of each round and dot with the butter. Moisten edges of each round with a little water and fold the turnovers in half, sealing the edges by pressing them together with the tines of a fork. Use the fork to poke steam holes inj each turnover, and transfer turnovers to the baking sheets. (At this point, the turnovers can be frozen; wrap them airtight when they are firm and store them for up to 2 months. Bake them without defrosting, adding a few minutes to their time in the oven.) Brush the tops of the turnovers with a little of the egg wash and sprinkle each on with a pinch of sugar. Bake for about 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front and back after 10 minutes. When done, the turnovers should be puffed, firm to the touch, and golden. Gently transfer them to racks and cool to room temperature.