custom cakes/cookies

Monday, May 25, 2009

Pear-Ginger Strudel

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers. A bit of freedom was given in our choices for the filling and shaping of the dough.

Lately, I've been consuming a lot of delicious fresh pears. Although sheepishly I must admit, they are being imported from New Zealand (with a hefty carbon foot print, I know). So naturally, my filling choice was pear and nothing "pairs" better with pears than crystalized ginger. I couldn't decide what variety would be best so I used three different types: Taylor's Gold, Red Anjou, and Bosc.

This is the very first strudel I've ever made, and it's not that far removed from making a pie. The only difference is the technique in making the dough and then str-r-r-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-tching it to a paper thin thickness, which makes it a very large sheet of pastry to maneuver once you have achieved appropriate thickness. Very little sugar is added to the fruit, so it's a deceptively simple, light dessert. There's no getting around the amount of butter required to achieve a flakey crust, though. On that note, I made this recipe vegan by substituting Earth Balance buttery stick for the butter.

And one last thing, the origin of the word strudel derives from a German word that means "whirlpool" or "eddy". I was kind of disappointed in the final esthetics of my assembled strudel until I learned this fact. Eddy describes exactly the appearance of the ripples in the dough.

Pear-Ginger Strudel

adapted from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

2 tablespoons cognac
3 tablespoons crystalized ginger, diced
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
strudel dough (recipe below)
2 pounds pears, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (use pears that hold their shape during baking)

1. Mix the cognac and ginger in a bowl. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in another bowl.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.

3. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Make the strudel dough as described below. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Mix the pears with the ginger (including the cognac), and the cinnamon sugar. Spread the pear mixture about 3 inches from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch-wide strip.

4. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

5. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.

Strudel dough

1 1/3 cups unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.
Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.
Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches. Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.
Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet wide and 3 feet long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ricotta Gnocchi with Asparagus, Ramps, and Morels

The inaugural Daring Cooks challenge, Ricotta Gnocchicomes from the stunning cookbook by Judy Rodgers, named after her restaurant, The Zuni Café CookbookI’ve heard nothing but good things about this restaurant, which is now on the top of my list of things to do when I eventually (hopefully) get back to San Francisco one day.
We were given free rein on the flavor components of this recipe. My goal for this dish was buy local, buy fresh—take advantage of Michigan’s finest offerings of spring. This included ordering a pound of fresh ricotta from my favorite wine and cheese store Morgan & York and a stop at The Produce Station to buy asparagus and ramps just harvested that morning. Also, it’s morel hunting season. My co-worker offered me a sack full of these tasty shrooms that he'd recently foraged and dehydrated in exchange for a taste of the gnocchi. I was more than happy to oblige!

 Gnocchi made with ricotta is surprisingly straightforward to make and has an incredibly silky smooth texture. In my opinion it was a lot less prep work than would be if using potatoes as the foundation for the dough. These delicate pillows, which I flavored with sage and parmesean, were a bit fragile, though. Herein is where the challenge lied: handling and shaping the dough. Once formed, I simmered the gnocchi in the broth created from reconstituting the morels. This imparted an additional savory dimension to the finished dish. This morel broth (now melded with flavors from ricotta and sage) is liquid gold! I couldn’t bear to dump it down the sink when cleaning up the dishes. Instead, I strained and froze it. Someday soon it will reemerge in a hearty soup or risotto…