Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Great Asiago Cheese Bread Challenge

About two weeks ago, Lis over at La Mia Cucina and I were exchanging emails back and forth with a furious pace about important topics like fruit in sourdough starters, growing up along the Great Lakes, and 80's Hair Bands. Lis was sick with that awful head/throat/upper chest cold so many of us in this merry little band of food bloggers have been fighting on and off all winter. So naturally, our missives turned to foods we crave when we are sick. Mine included, of all things, McDonald's Big Macs and their vanilla shakes (Who would have thought that Wikipedia would have an entry for Big Mac??!!). Lis had only two foods she wanted, sweet potatoes and Panera's Asiago Cheese Bread toasted. She waxed very poetically about the crumb and the crunchy, cheesy top of the bread and how the zing of the cheese was perfectly matched with the sweet of the dough. A little digging on her part on the Panera website produced a complicated recipe for the bread based around a grape sourdough starter with overnight ferments and fussy steps. The recipe, while completely authentic and correct, was lots of work with lots of time involved; especially for someone not feeling well and just wanting their feel good bread. So, I offered to see if I could find a quick, easy, down and dirty way to short-cut the Panera recipe for a novice bread baker.

Studying the Panera recipe, I made a few assumptions about how to make the bread without having to go through creating a starter and long, overnight ferments but I would need to do some actual taste testing on the Panera bread to be 100% sure I was on the right track (darn). So off to my local Panera I went to purchase a few "control" specimens: two asiago cheese bagels and one asiago cheese loaf. Consuming one of the bagels on my drive home confirmed some of my hypothesis: the bread was very soft and chewy with a sweet tang undertone and that a sponge method probably would produce similar results in chewiness and texture. With a few ideas of how to shorten the time, all that was left was to figure out the exact proportions and ingredients.

Knowing that potato bread is a favourite for sandwiches because of its soft and chewy texture and has a golden colour, I decided to use as my base the potato bread recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible. Other recipes I took some inspiration from are Rose Levy Beranbaum's cheese bread from The Bread Bible and the cheese bread recipe from The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook. It took two attempts at making this bread before I was satisfied I had a recipe that was fairly easy to duplicate and had the same taste and texture as the Panera asiago cheese bread.

The first attempt was basically the potato bread recipe from The Bread Bible verbatim but with 1 1/2 cups of grated asiago cheese and 1/4 cup less liquid (to account for the moisture the cheese would add). It was tasty and soft with the right look but didn't have the chewy texture of the Panera bread nor enough of the tang. For the second loaf, I decided to make some adjustments to the ingredients and proportions as well as the sponge ferment time. The first adjustment I made was to increase the amount of potato starch in the recipe. Potato starch adds chewiness to bread which is why you will see ingredients like instant potato flakes and potato water in Canadian white bread recipes (not breads from Canada that are white but a "type" of heartier white bread popular in the US that is denser than traditional white bread). Not wanting to add more liquid to the recipe, I decided to stir into the potato water 3 tablespoon of mashed potatoes and then strain the water to get out any undissolved bits of potato. I also decided to add bread flour for more gluten (more gluten = bigger chew) and dry milk (softer crumb). Letting the sponge ferment longer than called for in the potato bread recipe would mean the yeast had more time to develop tang from the release of gasses. I also added 2 Tbsp of plain yogurt to get instant zing; a trick from a fellow sourdough baker who likes really zippy sour in his bread. The results this time were an almost perfect copy of the Panera Asiago Cheese Bread; chewy and dense with a super soft crumb and more tang.

Basically making this bread has six steps: Sponge, Make Dough, First Rise, Shape Loaf, Second Rise, Bake. Each one of these stages has a few mini-steps. Also, while this is shorter than the Panera Bread recipe which takes 12 -16 hours plus, making this bread takes about 7 total hours.So, here we go!

Breadchick's Copycat Asiago Cheese Bread
inspired by Panera Bread and Lisa of La Mia Cucina. With special thanks to Rose Levy Beranbaum and as always King Arthur Flour (Sounds like an Oscar acceptance speech doesn't it??)

1 medium high starch potato (I used Yukon Gold)
1 cup plus 3 Tbsp unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 cup potato water
3 Tbsp mashed potatoes
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp instant/rapid rise yeast

Step 1: In a large glass bowl or 2 1/2 quart plastic container with lid, combine flour and yeast and set aside.

Step 2: Peel potato and dice into small cubes, place in medium sized sauce pan. Add to 2 cups cold water and bring to boil. Let boil for 20 minutes. Don't worry if the cubes break down, we're going to mash the potatoes and we want lots of starch in the water. Strain the potatoes, reserving the water. Mash the cubes into a very fine mash using a food mill or potato ricer (or lots of elbow grease). Let potato water cool to 110 degrees and stir in 3 Tbsp of mashed potatoes until potatoes are dissolved. Using a very fine strainer over a liquid measuring cup (coffee filter in a strainer works if you don't have a fine mesh strainer), measure out 3/4 cup of potato water. Set aside remaining potato water, you may need to add more liquid during the dough stage.

Step 3: Add potato water and honey to flour mixture and mix thoroughly so there are no lumps of flour. Cover your glass bowl tightly with plastic wrap or if you are using a plastic bowl/lid combination, make sure the lid is on tightly. Place in a warm place (70 - 90 degrees. I like to use my oven with the oven light on for my warm place). Let ferment for 2 hours or until tripled. The sponge will be extremely bubbly and look like a billowing cloud.

Dough/First Rise
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp bread flour (12% gluten or more)
1 Tbsp dry non-fat milk
1 Tbsp instant mashed potato flakes
3/8 tsp instant yeast
3/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp plain (not vanilla) yogurt
1 1/2 cups of grated Asiago cheese (reserve 1/4 cup for top of bread)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Step 1:Combine flours, dry milk, potato flakes, yeast and salt into a medium bowl and add the fermented sponge (Since I use a 2 1/2 quart plastic bowl/lid combo for my sponge container, I use my sponge bowl as my mixing bowl/proofing box so I add the dry ingredients directly into my sponge). Stir until almost all combined. This will look dry. Do not add any liquid though.

Step 2: Stir in yogurt and cheeses. Dough will be sticky but shouldn't be runny. If runny, add more all purpose flour, 1 Tbsp at a time until dough is sticky but not oozy. If still dry, add more potato water, 1/2 Tbsp at a time.

Step 3: Turn dough out onto a well floured surface and knead for 5 minutes. Dough will feel lumpy due to cheese but will have some "spring" when done kneading. Let dough rest for 10 minutes to relax the gluten. Pull the dough into a ball. The dough should feel moist but not sticky. If still sticky, knead a bit more flour into the dough, 1 Tbsp at a time. If you add flour, let dough rest for 10 minutes and test for moist firmness again.

Step 4: While dough is resting, clean out sponge container and smear unsalted butter all over the container and lid (if using container with lid). Gather rested dough into round ball and place back into prepared sponge container. If using glass bowl, smear some butter on top of dough ball to prevent dough from sticking to plastic wrap at end of rise

Reseal sponge container or tightly cover glass bowl with plastic wrap and return dough to warm place to rise for 1 1/2 hours or until double.

Shape the Loaf/Second Rise:
Step 1: Remove risen dough from warm place and very gently deflate by placing fist in middle of risen dough and pushing down. Do not "punch" dough, we want some air to remain in the dough. This is what creates "holes" in the finished bread.

Step 2: Turn dough out onto very lightly floured surface. Dough will be very springy and bouncy to the touch. Gently press and stretch dough into a rectangle about 6 1/2" wide by 12" long. If dough keeps springing back, stretch dough a little, let it rest about 5 minutes, stretch dough a bit more, let rest and repeat until dough is about right size. (This is the gluten in the dough acting like a rubber band. Gluten is what gives bread its chew).

Step 3: With the dough rectangle oriented like this:

Starting at the top, fold 1/3 of the dough down towards you like a 3 fold business letter.

Fold bottom third of dough up and away from you to cover the first fold.

Place in buttered 8 1/2" by 4 1/2" glass loaf pan, seam side down. Brush melted butter on top of dough, cover loaf pan tightly with plastic wrap and return to warm place. Let rise for 1 hour or until dough begins to touch plastic wrap. Remove the plastic wrap and let dough continue to rise until about 1/2" above edge of loaf pan.

Baking the Loaf:

Step 1: If you are using your oven for your warm place, remove the risen loaf from the oven. Pre-heat the oven at 350 degrees.

Step 2: Gently brush top of risen loaf with and egg white wash (1 egg white and 1/2 tsp water combined). Sprinkle reserved grated asiago cheese on top of risen loaf

Step 3: Bake bread for 40 minutes or until golden brown. An instant thermometer inserted into the center of the bread will read 210 degrees when bread is done.

Step 4: Warning!! This is the hardest part of this recipe. Let bread cool COMPLETELY on a wire rack. If you cut into this bread while it is even slightly warm, it will get all gooey and soggy. If you want it warm when you eat it, heat it for 10 - 15 seconds in the microwave or toast it!

So you can see how my copycat loaf compared in looks to the Panera loaf, here are some pictures. The Panera "control" loaf is sitting on top of my bread.
Crumb and texture:

Crust and Colour:

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

One Last Paczki Post

While I work out a few "issues" with posting pictures from remote locations so I can finish up two requested posts (Yes, Lisa THAT post) you can feast your eyes on more Paczkis, including a big, huge live one...

Paczki Power in Northern Michigan

Neil Rubin sings to the love of a "jelly filled donut"

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

How Did it Get to Be Fat Tuesday?

Ok, so how did I miss that today was Fat Tuesday?

I had great plans this year to make a King Cake and bring it into work.

And I forgot to tell my mom to go to Rogers City over the weekend to get me a Paczki.


Oh well. Happy Paczki Day (that's Fat Tuesday to most of you!)

Note: I'm republishing this recipe from last year's Paczki Day Post
1 1/2 packages active dry yeast
10 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 ounce rum or whiskey
1/4 cup lukewarm milk
1/2 cup melted butter
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups canned prune filling or cherry jam
(Note: you can substitute any flavoured jam to your liking, just be careful to avoid the really sweet ones as they will be overpowering. Some recipes I’ve found also use poppy seed paste)
1/2 cup milk, scalded & cooled
1 teaspoon salt
powdered sugar

Step 1: Make the sponge

Activate the yeast by dissolving in the 1/4 cup lukewarm milk( milk will become slightly bubbly and frothy in about 5-10 minutes). Scald the 1/2 cup milk while waiting for the yeast to become activated and gradually add the flour into the scalded milk (I sift my flour before adding it to the scalded milk). Add the yeast mixture and stir until smooth. Cover and let rise until very bubbly (about 1/2 hour)

Step 2: Make the dough

Beat the salt into the egg yolks. Then add the sponge to the egg yolks and salt. Mix very well until smooth. Add the sugar and rum again mixing well. Knead in the bowl until a nice smooth dough ball forms. Next, form a well and pour in the melted butter and combine with your hands until thoroughly mixed. Place in a greased bowl, coat with nonstick cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled (about 1 - 1 1/2 hours). When dough is doubled, punch it down and let rise until double or triple (about 2 hours).

Step 3: Form the paczki:

Divide dough in half, set one half aside in covered bowl so it doesn’t dry out. Roll out the half you are working into a rectangle that is about 1/4 inch thick. Using a biscuit cutter or the mouth of a glass (2″ or larger) cut as many rounds as possible. Place a about 3 tsp of filling in the center of one round. Brush edge of round with egg white and cover the filling with another round. Seal edges very well so filling won’t leak out and rounds won’t separate during last rise. Place the filled paczki greased baking sheets. Leave about 4 inches of room between each paczki to allow for rising. Repeat the process until all the dough is used (this recipe will make between 10 - 12 good sized paczki depending on amount of dough). Lightly cover with greased plastic wrap and let the paczki rise until doubled (about 1 hour).

Step 4: Fry the paczki
(note: if you have a deep fryer, make sure you change the oil if you have fried anything other than pastries)

Pour a neutral tasting oil into a deep fryer or deep pan (about 7 inches if you are using deep pan ). Heat the oil until it is about 360 to 370 degrees. Deep fry the paczki for about 3 minutes per side or until golden brown on both sides and it floats to the top. Let drain on cooling rack covered with paper towel to absorb any excess oil (flip over after about 2 minutes or so) Dust with powdered sugar when slightly warm. Let cool completely before serving as filling will be very hot otherwise.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

My, What Beautiful Buns You Have!

The weather was absolutely frightful in Boston today. It couldn't make up its mind whether it wanted to snow, blow, rain, sleet, or of course it did all those things and sometimes all at once. I was out in our driveway three times today pushing the wettest, heaviest snow I think I've ever had to shovel. All this meant that I didn't go into work but rather "worked" from home.

And exactly what did I work on? I worked on my buns...

Beautiful Burger Buns
Adapted from King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion
Makes 8 Large Buns

8 oz water
2 Tbsp melted unsalted butter
1 large egg
1 tablespoon instant yeast
2 3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup bread flour
1/4 cup potato flakes
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp onion powder (optional)
sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or minced dried onion (optional)
1 egg white and 1 tsp water for egg wash

Sponge: Combine water, 1/2 Tbsp yeast, and 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour and 1/4 cup bread flour into a glass bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let ferment in a warm place for 1 1/2 hour or until tripled.

Dough: Add melted butter, sugar, egg, remainder of yeast, salt/onion powder (if using), and potato flakes to sponge. Mix thoroughly. Add remaining bread flour and 2 1/2 cups of flour. On well floured surface, knead in remaining flour. This dough will be very soft and sticky. Knead, adding additional flour 1 Tbsp at a time if necessary until dough is firm and smooth but still soft (about 5 minutes). Let rest for 10 minutes. Knead 3-5 additional minutes adding flour again 1 Tbsp at a time if dough is still too sticky. Place in buttered glass bowl and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled.

Forming and Baking Rolls: Gently "punch" down dough and on lightly floured surface, divide dough into 8 pieces. Shape each piece of dough into a ball about 4" in diameter, making sure not to compress too much. Brush the top of each ball with egg wash then roll top into seeds or onions. Place on greased baking sheet about 4" apart and cover with plastic wrap (spray plastic wrap with cooking spray to prevent it from sticking to risen buns). Let rise in warm place for 30 minutes or until doubled. Pre-heat oven at 375 degrees and place baking pan filled with 1" of water in the oven while pre-heating.

Bake buns for 12 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Note: You can shape this dough to be any type of bun you want (sub, hot dog, etc.)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Blog Party #19: Take Foods from My Home State

After last month's formal affair, our hostess of the Blog Party, Stephanie of Dispensing Happiness has declared February's theme to be Take Comfort. Considering the frigid weather we have been having in the northeast for the past two weeks, comfort food made bite size for and a warm drink will be perfect to share with friends new and old while we stand beside a roaring fire in the winter gloaming.

For this month's little shindig, I've decided to bring a dish from my home state of Michigan, Mini Yooper Pastys or Pasties depending on what part of the Upper Peninsula (UP) you go to buy your pastys (and NO...not those kind of pasties, jheesh).

To wash these flaky but filling little meat pies down, I've also brought along another Michigan original, Vernor's Ginger Soda!

It is much spicier than your normal ginger ale and the bubbles will make you sneeze. You can either have it straight up and ice cold (the way I like it) or served as a drink called a Hottness (I've got the spiced vodka right here in my hip flask) and if Stephanie has some vanilla ice cream somewhere in her freezer, you can make a Boston Cooler. Finally, if you are really talented (and deranged) you can make a Michigan Tech Boilermaker (beer in a pint glass, shot glass of Vernor's dropped to the bottom of the glass upright with Vernor's still in shotglass).

Pastys are originally from Cornwall, England where they were made for Cornish miners to take into the mines as meals. They were brought to the UP in the late 19th century by Cornish miners who came to work the iron and copper mines. Every miner's wife had her own recipe she used. Some were filled with sliced meat, others with ground meat. Some had purple turnips, some had rutabagas, some had only potatoes and carrots. My great great grandfather on my father's side was a miner in the Keweenaw Peninsula and the recipe I use is the one that my great great grandmother used except I don't use suet or lard but Crisco. Her pasty was filled with diced turnips, onions, potatoes, and ground venison. Over the years, the meat has changed to ground beef or a mixture of ground venison and beef. Normal sized pastys are huge!! (They were meant to fuel a miner for a 12-14 hour shift). They are about the size of one half dinner plate and are normally served smothered in gravy.

For our finger food version, we are going to roll out the dough to form a circle a little bigger than a dessert plate. Using a saucer as a pattern, we will cut out a circle that is about 6" in diameter. Using our rolling pin as a support for one half of the dough we'll evenly place about 3 Tbsp of diced turnips, onions and potatoes that have been seasoned with salt and pepper in the center.

Making sure there is a border of about 1 1/2" on the filling side, we'll then place 2 Tbsp of ground beef seasoned with salt, pepper and parsley that has been formed into a little half moon shape on top of the diced veggies.

We'll then place a little sliver pat of butter on top the meat and fold over the top crust, tucking it around the filling. We'll finish up by wrapping the 1 1/2" border up, over, and tucked down to make a really tight seal. A little prick on top to let the steam out and a bit of a milk wash complete the pasty.

Into a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes and out comes a golden pasty, ready to be placed on a little party plate with a side of gravy for dipping!

Mini Yooper Pastys
Adapted from my great great grandmother Burgess

Serves 8

3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/8 cup Crisco
1/4 tsp salt
6-7 Tbsp cold water

Combine salt and flour in large bowl. Cut Crisco into small chunks and using a pastry blender, cut Crisco into flour mixture until flour mixture looks like tiny peas. Don't worry about keeping the Crisco in large chunks. This crust should be a hardy crust not super flaky. Add cold water, one Tbsp at a time, until the dough is almost play dough consistency. Pull dough into a round ball and cover with towel. Let sit for 10 -15 minutes. Make the filling.

1 1/2 pound ground beef
1 medium purple turnips finely diced
2 medium potatoes (Yukon Gold), finely diced
2 medium carrots (fat ones work best), finely diced
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced

(note: I have no idea how much salt, pepper, and parsley is really in this recipe. I learned to make these by watching my grandmother. She always used about a quarter size dollop of salt in her palm x 2 and a quarter size dollop of pepper. For me, a quarter size dollop is about a tsp).

In medium bowl, combine turnips, potatoes, carrots and onions. Season with about 2 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of pepper. Set aside. In another medium bowl, mix ground beef with about 2 tsp of salt, 1 tsp of pepper, and 1 1/2 tsp of parsley (1/2 tsp = a nickel). Set aside.

To make a pasty:

Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. If dough is really sticky, knead in a bit more flour (1 Tbsp at a time) until the dough is moist but not stiff. Divide dough into 8 pieces. Roll each piece out into a circle about 7" in diameter. Using a saucer as a pattern and a sharp paring knife, cut out a circle about 6" in diameter (set aside the scraps to patch any torn pastys). Using the rolling pin to support one half a dough circle, spread about 3 Tbsp of veggie mixture on the the opposite side of the dough circle; leaving 1 1/2" border on the filling side of the dough (see pictures above). Take about 2 Tbsp of ground beef mixture, shape into a little half moon and place onto top of veggies. Place a pat of butter on top of the ground beef. Fold over the top half of the dough and tuck/seal around filling (if dough tears, use scraps to patch). Tuck over the top half seal, the 1 1/2" border crimping and sealing tightly. Prick top of pasty with a sharp knife to create a steam hole. Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper in pre-heated 400 degree oven. Bake for 40-45 minutes until crust is golden brown. Serve warm with gravy for dipping.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Retro Recipe Challenge #6: The Way to a Man's Heart...

This month's Retro Recipe Challenge, hosted every month by the lovely Laura Rebecca, has us cooking something for our honey for Valentines Day. This is a bit tough for me since we celebrate "anti-Valentines Day" in our house. Which actually is really nice because I never know when MBH is going to decide to hold an "Anti-Valentines Day" and surprise me with a small token of his affection like the package of pocket sized Moleskines he got for me a few weeks ago to jot down book titles, recipe ideas, and random thoughts or the Digital Food Photography book he gave me to celebrate the launch of Thus, I wasn't really planning on participating this month as I cook something special for MBH every day.

Until that is I stumbled upon a section in the McCall's Show-off Cookbook published in 1965 as part of the McCall's Cookbook Collection called "Cook Your Way Into His Heart with Our Man-Tested Menus". After finding this gem of a section, I knew I had to rethink my whole plan of not cooking for this RRC. I mean how can any 21st Century woman resist trying out a "Man-Tested Menu"??!! Especially when enticed by this wonderfully crafted opening paragraph:

"If it's true that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, then all a girl needs to achieve that end is a working kitchen and our man-tested menus. All planned with malice aforethought, these recipes are designed specifically with your man in mind. We can almost guarantee that you can cook your way into his heart - and live happily ever afterward."

WOW! With a statement like this I just HAD to try something from one of the "Man-Tested Menus"!

As you may recall from an earlier post, I use food as a motivational tool at work (ok, it really is a bribe). I knew this week's special project engineering meeting was going to be a particularly tough meeting. I have several projects with tight deadlines that need to have custom product developed for the projects. I also know that our engineering group is stretched to the max on the type of projects they can take on right now. So, as the only woman in the entire engineering group, I did what any self respecting woman of the 50's and 60's would do...I baked a cake. Not just any cake either but the Old-Fashioned Coconut Cake from the "Man-Tested Menus"!!

Girls, let me tell you this cake is four layers of pure coconut heaven. It is a classic all white cake with all white frosting with generous amounts of shredded coconut pressed into the frosting and liberally sprinkled between the layers AND IT IS TO DIE FOR. It is everything you expect a coconut cake to be: moist and dense, with a good dose of coconut flavouring with every bite. This cake isn't a start from a white cake mix type cake either. This is a whipping six egg whites, sifting cake flour, creaming butter, and adding the flour/milk in four parts starting with the flour and ending with the flour, don't go running through the house because the cake might fall type of cake. The frosting isn't for the faint of heart either. This frosting is the full on, bring the sugar and egg whites to soft-ball stage while you stand over a double boiler with your egg beaters going Seven Minute Boiled Frosting.

And I'll tell you what...if the reaction I got this morning during the engineering meeting when I opened the cake carrier and started handing out slices of this beauty are any indication of the results of using a Man-Tested Menu, then I say ladies, go get your man (and your egg beaters)!!!

Old Fashioned Coconut Cake
From McCall's Show-Off Cookbook (1965)

3/4 cup egg whites (about 6)
2 3/4 cups sifted cake flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup soft butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract (I used coconut extract)
1 cup milk

In small bowl of electric mixer, let egg whites warm to room temperature (note: let ALL your ingredients come to room temperature, they conveniently leave that little nugget about baking cakes from scratch out because they assume you know this because you always bake your cakes from scratch and your mother taught you this!). Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 F. Grease well, flour and layer with a circle of wax paper three (8 by 1 1/2 inch) or two (9 by 1 1/2 inch) cake pans. Sift flour with baking powder and salt into a medium bowl and set aside. At high speed, beat egg whites until foamy. Gradually beat in 1/2 cup sugar, 2 Tbsp at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat until soft peaks form when beater is slowly raised. Set aside. In large bowl of electric mixer, at speed, cream butter with rest of sugar and the extracts until light and fluffy. At low speed, beat in flour mixture (in fourths) alternately with milk (in thirds), beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat in egg whites just until batter is smooth, about 1 minute. Pour batter into prepared pans (about 1/2 full); bake 25 minutes or until surface springs back when gently pressed with fingertip. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove from pans; cool throughly on wire racks.

1/4 cup egg whites (about 2)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
dash salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla (I used 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tsp coconut extract)
2 cans (3 1/2 oz size) flaked coconut (I couldn't find this in a can, so I used bagged flaked coconut)

In top of double boiler, combine egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar, salt, and 2 Tbsp water. With portable mixer or rotary egg beater, beat about 1 minute to combine ingredients. Cook over rapidly boiling water (water in bottom should not touch top of boiler), beating constantly about 7 minutes or until stiff peaks form when beater is slowly raised. Remove from boiling water. Transfer frosting to medium bowl; cool completely. In small bowl, whip cream and vanilla until cream is stiff enough to hold its shape. Fold cream mixture and one can (1 cup) of coconut into cold frosting, with rubber scrapper, using an under and over motion and mixing until blended.

Putting the Cake Together:

Slice any "peaks" off the tops of the cakes so each cake is fairly flat (save this for a treat for the kids or for a dessert) Slice each cake into two layers. Starting with a bottom on the bottom, put a layer of frosting on top and sprinkle with coconut. Repeat until all the layers are used, finishing with a bottom with the flat part on top. Fill and frost the sides of the cake and then frost the top. Using a cupped palm, lightly press loose coconut into the sides and sprinkle any remaining coconut on top of the cake. Chill for one to three hours before serving.

Serves 10

Sunday, February 04, 2007

This Isn't Your Mother's Microwave

What do you get when you combine chocolate, coconut, almonds, and graham crackers with a microwave?

Instant Gooey Satisfaction...

Chocolate Almond Coconut Bars
adapted from Introduction to Cooking with the Amana Radarange Microwave Oven

6 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup toasted almond slivers
10 oz sweetened condensed milk
1 3/4 cup flake coconut
1 12oz pkg semi sweet chocolate chips

Melt butter on high until melted in a 8" x 8" x 2" glass baking dish. In small mixing bowl, mix graham cracker crumbs and sugar. Add graham cracker and sugar mixture to melted butter. Combine and press evenly and firmly into bottom of baking dish. Microwave on high for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes or until firm. Sprinkle almonds evenly over graham cracker crust. In same mixing bowl used to mix graham cracker crumbs and sugar, combine the coconut and condensed milk. Using a spatula, spread on top of almonds. Microwave on high for 4 minutes or until firm (if your microwave doesn't have a carousel, turn 1/2 way through cooking time). In medium glass bowl, melt chocolate chips in microwave and spread on top of coconut layer. Cool until chocolate is hard. Cut and serve.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Random Food Musings from a Commute

WHEW! We made it to Friday!!!

It has been a long week for both MBH and I. My new boss was in town from our corporate headquarters the first part of the week meaning long days at the office and little cooking went on at our house. MBH had a flurry of interviews and I am very excited to report that starting Monday he will be gainfully employed again!!! I'll be fixing one of his favourite meals tonight to celebrate.

I'm not sure if it was the busy week we both had or the cold weather but my creative food juices seem to have gone on Holiday (If they are smart, they went to Nevis or St. Lucia to laze around on the beaches in quiet solitude). I wandered around the kitchen on autopilot most of the week with the exception of Wednesday night when I made an interesting dish I'll be posting about over the weekend. Otherwise it was some old standbys and one night of take out.

I stumbled upon and was directed to a few interesting food sites this past week but by far my favourite was Airline; a review site of the food offered on the airlines of the world. The site encourages travelers to take food pictures of the meals they are served and rate them. There was even a section for the crews to rate the meal the 'company' provides. No surprise that US airlines ranked very low in the reviews, since unless you are in First Class (and even then not always) in the US Airlines don't offer much in the way of food any longer. If you have ever wondered what they serve for meals on Aero Mongolia, you can find it here. I loved looking at what other parts of the world serve as breakfast on airplanes.

A few of my favourite food bloggers all got together this past weekend and embarked on the Mount Everest of pastry making: flaky croissants. You've heard of movable feasts and dessert runs right? Well, these fine ladies, lead by Lis of La Mia Cucina, have a little cooking bee every month. If you haven't read these posts, I completely encourage you to visit over at their sites and read about their adventure with puff pastry. Make sure your mouth isn't full of coffee, tea or anything else though whilst reading their "round-up". Speaking of which....does anyone know how to get tea gunk off your monitor??

I think it is time to pull out the sweet starter from the fridge and bake with it either Sunday or Monday. I'll do that tonight when I get home and before I embark on MBH's celebratory dinner. I haven't baked with it in about five months so it will need two days to get going again. I've also been toying with the thought of making a "Herman" but every time I get close, I think I need another starter in my fridge like I need another hole in my head. Any thoughts on what I should bake with my sweet starter?

I can't wait until tomorrow. Not only is it Saturday but I've been craving dim sum. I see Boston's Chinatown in my future...