custom cakes/cookies

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Wreath Stollen

I told a few people I was making stollen. Their first response: "Have you ever had fill-in-the-blank's stollen?!!" Me: "Um, no. I didn't think I liked stollen, and so-and-so's is kinda pricey. I'm just making it for my baking challenge. I figured I'd send it to my Ome."

I didn't realize so many places in town sold it or that it had a bit of an exuberant following. The adult me was relying on the kid me's experiences of not liking the sorta dry and strangely fruity, rum-scented bread. I wasn't that excited to make it, so I was looking at this as an opportunity to hone my bread making skills, which need some work.

Since I've moved, getting yeasted doughs to rise has been a challenge. I was wanting more recipes to troubleshoot warm, non-drafty proofing zones, to figure out if my stash of instant yeast I've been storing in my fridge for several years was still viable, and to learn the cues of achieving a springy, well-kneaded dough.

To my relief this bread came together perfectly thanks to thorough directions, finding an ideal proofing spot in my oven, and using brand new packet yeast instead of the old instant stuff. I'm still learning the trick of kneading and adding appropriate amounts of flour so things don't stick to my hands. Right now, I still rely on my stand mixer and dough hook to do the messy, hard work. But success with this has given me a little more confidence to try more bread projects.

In my opinion this stollen is best eaten within a day or so that it is made. But I suppose it would still be good toasted several days after. Mine didn't last long enough to find out... After eating two good-sized portions on my own, I sectioned off the rest and packaged them to give as gifts to neighbors, coworkers and family. It was studded with Grand Marnier-soaked cherries and candied blood orange peels and limequats. Yes, limequats! Apparently kumquats are being hybridized with other fruits. My grocer had already sold out of mandarinquats. I'm hoping they'll be restocked soon. I think a medley of kumquat hybrids would make a lovely marmalade!

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s

Stollen Wreath

Makes one large wreath or two traditional shaped Stollen loaves. Serves 10-12 people

¼ cup lukewarm water (110º F)
2 packages active dry yeast
1 cup milk
10 TBS unsalted butter
5½ cups (770 grams) all-purpose flour
½ cup (115 gms) sugar
¾ tsp kosher salt
1 tsp cinnamon
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp rum extract
¾ cup mixed candied citrus peel (here's a link to make your own) I used blood oranges and limequats this time
1 cup firmly packed unsweetened dried cherries
3 TBS Grand Marnier
1 cup flaked almonds
Melted unsalted butter for coating the wreath
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting wreath

In a small bowl, soak the cherries in the Grand Marnier and set aside.

To make the dough:
Pour ¼ cup warm water into a small bowl, sprinkle with yeast and let stand 5 minutes. Stir to dissolve yeast completely.

In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup milk and 10 tablespoons butter over medium - low heat until butter is melted. Let stand until lukewarm, about 5 minutes.

Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl and add the vanilla and rum extracts.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange and lemon zests.

Then stir in the yeast/water mixture, eggs and the lukewarm milk/butter mixture. This should take about 2 minutes. It should be a soft, but not sticky ball. When the dough comes together, cover the bowl with either plastic or a tea cloth and let rest for 10 minutes.

Add in the candied citrus peel, soaked cherries and almonds and mix with your hands or on low speed in the stand mixer to incorporate.

Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mixing with the dough hook) to distribute the fruit evenly, adding additional flour if needed. The dough should be soft and satiny, tacky but not sticky. Knead for approximately 8 minutes (6 minutes by machine). The full six minutes of kneading is needed to distribute the dried fruit and other ingredients and to make the dough have a reasonable bread-dough consistency. You can tell when the dough is kneaded enough – a few cherries will start to fall off the dough onto the counter because at the beginning of the kneading process the dough is very sticky and the cherries will be held into the dough but when the dough is done it is tacky which isn't enough to bind the outside cherries onto the dough ball.

Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Put it in the fridge overnight. The dough becomes very firm in the fridge (since the butter goes firm) but it does rise slowly. The raw dough can be kept in the refrigerator up to a week and then baked on the day you want.

Shaping the dough and baking the wreath:
Let the dough rest for 2 hours after taking out of the fridge in order to warm slightly. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Punch dough down, roll into a rectangle about 16 x 24 inches and ¼-inch thick. Starting with a long side, roll up tightly, forming a long, thin cylinder.

Transfer the cylinder roll to the sheet pan. Join the ends together, trying to overlap the layers to make the seam stronger and pinch with your fingers to make it stick, forming a large circle. You can form it around a bowl to keep the shape.

Using kitchen scissors, make cuts along outside of circle, in 2-inch intervals, cutting 2/3 of the way through the dough. Twist each segment outward, forming a wreath shape. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Proof for approximately 2 hours at room temperature, or until about 1½ times its original size.

Preheat oven to 350°F with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Bake the stollen for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue to bake for 20 to 30 minutes. The bread will bake to a dark mahogany color, should register 190°F in the center of the loaf, and should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.

Transfer to a cooling rack and brush the top with melted butter while still hot. Immediately tap a layer of powdered sugar over the top through a sieve or sifter. Wait for 1 minute, then repeat with another layer of butter and sifted sugar over the first. Wait a minute and then coat with butter and sugar for a final time. The bread should be coated generously with the powdered sugar.

Let cool at least an hour before serving. When completely cool, store in a plastic bag. Or leave it out uncovered overnight to dry out slightly, German style.

The stollen tastes even better in a couple of days and it toasts superbly.

The more rum and the more coatings of butter and sugar you use the longer it will store. Stollen freezes beautifully about 4 months, stores well for 2 weeks covered in foil and plastic wrap on the counter at room temperature, or for one month in the refrigerator well covered with foil and plastic wrap.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Holiday Cut Out Cookies, 2010

I've been collecting snowflake cookie cutters for a few years now, planning one day to actually use them to make a collage of edible flurries. Each snowflake is supposed to be unique so of course I needed time to gather a variety of cutters... Well this was the year! In addition to the usual sugar cookie cutouts, I used Sweetopia's recipe for gingerbread cookies. This is a sturdy not-to-sweet cookie dough, suitable for making gingerbread houses, and has a welcome level of fragrant, spicy heat and crunchy texture for eating as cookies.

In addition to snowflakes, I cut out ginger people as well. While I monopolized most of the snowflake decorating, my friends Matt and Shannon took a very non-traditional approach to creating the ginger people. Their creativity pleased me so much, I just had to share these adorable cookies with you all, too.

Gingerbread Cut Out Cookies
makes about 6 dozen

800 g all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
250 g unsalted butter
1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
4 tsp cinnamon
4 tsp ginger
2 tsp cloves
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 cup molasses

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix butter and brown sugar on medium speed until fluffy. Mix in spices first, then eggs and molasses. Reduce speed to low. Sift together flour, salt and baking powder and add to bowl; mix until just combined.

Wrap dough in a disc shape in plastic wrap. Let it rest by refrigerating until cold, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Roll out dough on a lightly floured work surface to about 1/4-inch thick. Cut shapes out with cookie cutters and place them approximately 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

Refrigerate until firm; at least 15 minutes to 1 hour.

Bake cookies until firm; 12 to 14 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

Decorate with royal icing and sprinkles.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oeufs en Meurette

I've been neglecting my usual posting schedule these past couple of months for good reason: I bought a house. It was a huge decision that caused me a lot of anxiety as my friends, family and realtor can attest. But now that I'm (mostly) unpacked, I feel very much at home. My house is cozy and full of character and enjoys hosting friends around my teeny dining table, or by the wood-burning stove, or even in the sometimes band practice area designated in the basement. When the time is right, I'd like to turn the back yard into a permaculture oasis complete with compost and edible garden and keep chickens and bees...

In the meantime, I've been welcoming friends over to warm my new space. Last weekend, I served oeufs en meurette for brunch. Eggs poached in red wine may seem like an intimidating, high stress choice to make for company...but I had a trick up my sleeve: eggs can be poached in advance, held in chilled water, then slipped back into heated water to gently rewarm just before serving. In fact, this recipe requires that advanced prep because the wine that is the poaching liquid becomes a velvety-rich reduction sauce (meurette) to complete the dish. I could crack eggs and troubleshoot mishaps without an audience. Also, I could use technical "crutches" without judgment. It was not easy to gauge the cooking progress of eggs dropped into an opaque liquid, so I used a thermometer to ensure an appropriate simmer was maintained and a timer to keep me from getting distracted by other prepping tasks of peeling onions, slicing mushrooms, and chopping bacon for the accompaniments.

This is a good snowy weather dish. Here's the recipe if you'd like to try it as well:

Oeufs en Meurette
Serves 8

8 eggs
1 bottle, full-bodied red wine (I used a Tempranillo)
2 cups chicken stock
1 onion, quartered
1 carrot, cut into three pieces
1 celery stalk, cut into three pieces
1 clove garlic, crushed
Bouquet garni (thyme, parsley, bay leaf)
½ tsp black peppercorns
2 TBS butter
¼ lb mushrooms, sliced
¼ lb bacon, diced
16 pearl onions, peeled
Vegetable oil for frying
8 slices of baguette, ¼-in thick
2 TBS butter, room temp
2 TBS flour
salt and pepper

1. Bring wine and stock to a boil in a large pan and then lower heat to maintain a strong simmer around 190°F. Poach eggs a couple at a time for 3-4 min. Yolks should be firming but still a little soft. Set them aside in a bowl of ice water.

2. Add the vegetables, herbs, and peppercorns to the poaching liquid and let the sauce simmer until reduced to half volume. This will become the meurette sauce.

3. In a separate large skillet, melt 1 TBS of the butter on medium-high heat and sauté the mushrooms until soft and then set aside. Add in another 1 TBS butter and the bacon, frying until browned, then set aside on a paper towel. Turn down the heat to medium, add in the pearl onions and sauté until softened and browned. Then drain off the fat and add the bacon and mushrooms back to the pan and set aside off the heat for the moment.

4. In a medium skillet, heat a few tablespoons of oil and then fry the baguette slices until browned on each side. Add more oil as needed. Set the fried bread (croûtes) on a paper towel and then place on a baking sheet in an oven that is set to whatever your lowest setting is to keep them warm.

5. Blend 2 TBS butter and flour together to form a paste of sorts that will be used as the thickener for the sauce. Whisk this into the reduction sauce until the sauce starts to thicken. Strain the sauce over the skillet of mushrooms, bacon and onions, and return the skillet to heat, bringing to a boil. Season with salt & pepper to taste, then set aside again.

6. Reheat the eggs by placing them in hot water for a quick minute. To serve, plate a poached egg on top of a croûte, and then ladle some of the mushrooms/bacon/onions and sauce on top.

Jenn and Jill have challenged The Daring Cooks to learn to perfect the technique of poaching an egg. They chose Eggs Benedict recipe from Alton Brown, Oeufs en Meurette from Cooking with Wine by Anne Willan, and Homemade Sundried Tomato & Pine Nut Seitan Sausages (poached) courtesy of Trudy of Veggie num num.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Apple Cider and Maple Cream Crostata with Maple-Cranberry Compote

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

Crostata is an Italian tart, the base of which is a sweet short crust pastry called pasta frolla. Pasta frolla is versatile. It can be filled with fruit preserves, pastry cream, fresh fruit, ricotta, and other ingredients, and, by itself, it makes very nice cookies. Made with butter, flour, sugar, and eggs, the technique to make this dough is a bit like making pasta though no harder to execute than any other type of pie crust.

I decided to make mine with whole wheat and hazelnut flours, and for the filling, I used this recipe from the October issue of Bon Appetit. Not traditional but definitely seasonal and highly amenable to local ingredients. The custard filling is made with no refined sugar. Instead, it is sweetened with maple sugar and a thick reduction of apple cider. Though humble in appearance, it's a decadent alternative to the usual apple desserts that show up this time of year.

Hazelnut Pasta Frolla

⅓ cup superfine sugar or ½ cup powdered sugar
¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup whole-wheat pastry flour
¼ cup hazelnut flour or meal
a pinch of salt
6 TBS cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
¼ tsp vanilla extract

Put sugar, flours, and salt in the bowl of the food processor and pulse a few times to mix. Add butter and pulse a few times until the mixture has the consistency of coarse meal. Empty food processor's bowl onto your work surface.

Make a well in the center of the mounded flour and butter mixture and pour the beaten egg and vanilla extract into it. Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the solid ingredients then use your fingertips. Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball. Shape the dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. You can refrigerate the dough overnight.

Roll out the crostata dough, on a work surface lightly dusted with flour. Roll the dough into a circle about ⅛-inch thick. If at anytime the dough becomes too soft to work with, chill in the fridge until firm again.

Ease the dough into the tart pan, centering it, and delicately press it all around so the corners are well covered. Trim the excess dough hanging over the edges of the pan. Press the remaining dough around the border into the sides of the pan making sure the border is an even thickness all the way around.

Roll out remaining scraps of pasta frolla and cut into lattice strips or desired shapes using a cookie cutter.

Cover and chill crust at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.

Maple Cream Filling

½ gallon fresh apple cider or cold-pressed apple juice
½ cup maple sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 large eggs
¼ tsp coarse kosher salt
⅛ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 drops maple extract

Bring apple cider or apple juice to rolling boil in large pot over high heat. Boil until bubbling thickly and reduced to generous ¾ cup, stirring occasionally, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer to small bowl and cool. DO AHEAD Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grind maple sugar to powder in spice mill, blender, or mini processor. Transfer powdered maple sugar to 4-cup glass measuring cup; add cream, eggs, ¼ teaspoon coarse salt, nutmeg, extract, and ¾ cup cooled cider reduction and whisk to blend well.

Place tart pan with crust on baking sheet; set on rack in oven. Pour in filling. Bake tart until filling is puffed and cracked around edges and gently set in center, about 35-40 minutes. Transfer tart to rack and cool to room temperature, 1 to 2 hours.

Push up pan bottom, releasing tart. Cut tart into wedges and serve with compote (recipe below) and if desired, freshly whipped cream.

Maple-Cranberry Compote

2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, picked over and rinsed
½ cup pure maple syrup (preferably Grade B)
¼ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
¼ cup apple cider
½ tsp finely grated lemon zest

Combine cranberries, maple syrup, brown sugar, apple cider, and lemon zest in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to low and simmer until most berries pop and juices thicken slightly, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to small bowl. Chill until cold, about 2 hours. DO AHEAD Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Mornin' Mash is the Truth!"

Those words were chatted to me enthusiastically after sharing my new go-to breakfast with my workplace BFF. He was referring to what most of Europe (and beyond) might call Bircher Müesli: a "mash up" of raw oats and raisins softened and plumped by a long soak in citrus juices and/or yogurt (or some other type of dairy), then embellished with endless combinations of fruits, nuts, and natural sweeteners. Absolutely refreshing and perfectly filling (in an appetite-curbing, good way), this is first-meal-of-the-day virtue at its humblest. It resembles a sort of cold oatmeal or soft, chewy granola, but with way, WAY better texture and flavor! I like to mix in mashed banana or homemade jam or applesauce to give it a bit of sweetness. I added mashed pawpaw fruit when that was in season! Pumpkin butter or apple butter or my pear butter would be a nice seasonal choice also. A jar of homemade granola always sits on my kitchen counter, so I sprinkle on a bit of that too for added crunch. If you don't eat breakfast in the car while driving to work like I do each morning, a drizzle of honey would be an excellent touch. I should also mention this is a great make ahead deal that with minimal advanced prep work should see you through a week's worth of breakfasts, helping you get out the door just a wee bit faster. Varying your toppings should keep you from getting bored.

I was introduced to Bircher Müesli several years ago at a hotel breakfast bar in Sydney and was happy to find it again when I traveled this summer to Hamburg and Oslo. European hotels' complimentary breakfasts (even the budget-friendly ones) knock the socks off of what's considered a "continental breakfast" in the States. Across the pond you will find generous spreads with much more healthy, non-processed options. Since returning home, I found a recipe in my Gourmet Magazine cookbook that I've been tweaking here and there and was eager to post my variations. Then David Lebovitz beat me to the punch with a post on Bircher Müesli last week! With that, I almost wasn't going to post my recipe, but then I thought twice. Perhaps ::shudder:: you don't know of his blog or have never heard of this recipe or of Maximilian Bircher-Benner, the Swiss equivalent of the Michigan health-enthusiast/inventor of corn flakes, John Harvey Kellogg. Everyone deserves a little morning goodness. I'm happy to do my part!

Bircher Müesli
makes 16 cups; serves 8-10

1 lemon
1 juicing orange
1 grapefruit
1½ cups steel cut oats (Irish oats)
3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
⅔ cup raisins
1 quart whole milk, plain yogurt

Toppings and Mix-ins:
sliced or mashed banana
coarsely grated apples
toasted nuts
fresh berries

Finely grate zest from lemon and orange. Squeeze juice from all of the fruits to obtain about 1½ - 2 cups of citrus juice. Combine the zest, juice, oats, raisins, and yogurt in a large re-sealable container. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Refrigerate covered for at least eight hours to allow the oats to soften.

When hungry, portion out servings into individual bowls and top as desired.

Bircher Müesli will keep for about a week, covered tightly and refrigerated.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Delicata Squash & Toasted Fennel Seed Doughnuts

I have fond childhood memories of doughnuts. Just ask me about “little girl” doughnuts and you’ll see my face light up about special, perfectly-portioned treats my dad used to bring us from a small neighborhood doughnut shop. It operated out of a trailer parked in the lot of a shopping plaza. (I suppose this was my early introduction to food carts.) The best flavors always seemed to sell-out before sunrise, and the shop never stayed open past late morning. Now that I'm older, for health-conscious reasons, I stopped eating such fried indulgences. And really, most places selling doughnuts around town just don't do justice to my flavor memory anyways.

Although lately, I've been justifying eating “junk food” if I make it myself AND if I turn it into something a little more “high-end”. About this time last year I became very interested in homemade doughnuts. I was inspired by this post from Cannelle et Vanille, and then as the doughnut trend took off, built up momentum in my doughnut-making repertoire trying several different recipes. The recipe below is adapted from Cannelle et Vanille, but it incorporates the flavors I’ve been drawn to this fall: roasted winter squash and toasted fennel seed; warm notes of caramel with cool notes of licorice. To me, that combination tastes like a decadent candy; satisfyingly sweet but not overly saccharin.

I’ve been sampling various squash from my farm share, trying earnestly to learn the differences amongst them. So far, my squash of choice is delicata. A well-ripened one will taste candied when roasted, but not cloying. A moderate-sized one (just under a pound) yields the perfect amount of puree needed to make these doughnuts. Expect about one cup of puree per pound of squash. Sure it’s an extra step of preparation to roast and puree a whole squash instead of mindlessly opening a can of solid packed pumpkin. But branch out a little in your “from scratch” abilities. Try a new flavor. Learn how to circumvent a pumpkin shortage, if the need again arises. Avoid the fallout from what BPA-lined cans might leech into your food. I'll stop. I think you get the point.

Farmer's Market photo by Sarijk.

The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.

Delicata Squash & Toasted Fennel Seed Doughnuts
makes about 20 doughnut rings plus 20 doughnut holes

Pre-preparation of squash puree and fennel seeds:
1 medium delicata squash (about 12 oz or 350 grams)
1 TBS fennel seeds

Preheat oven to 350° F. Slice the squash in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Roast the halves, cut side down, in a baking dish filled with enough water to come a ½-inch up the sides of the squash. Cook until ultra tender when pierced by a fork, 25-30 minutes.

When sufficiently tender, remove squash from oven and allow to rest until cool enough to handle. Scrape the flesh away from the skin and tranfser to the food processor. Puree until extremely smooth, like baby food. Transfer to a mesh sieve set over a bowl and strain for several hours to remove excess liquid.

Meanwhile, place the fennel seeds in a dry skillet set over medium heat. Toast the seeds for about a minute or two. Tossing the seeds often. When they have turned a few shades darker and begin to smell fragrant, remove from heat and transfer to a spice/coffee grinder. Grind the toasted fennel seeds to a fine powder.

To make the doughnuts:
3 cups (375 grams) all purpose flour
scant ½ cup (55 grams) hazelnut flour
10 grams baking powder
8 grams baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1½ tsp freshly ground toasted fennel seed
⅛ tsp ground cloves
10 grams salt
½ cup (110 grams) delicata squash puree
¼ cup (60 grams) whole milk at room temperature
2 TBS (40 grams) sour cream at room temperature
scant ½ cup (100 grams) sugar
2 eggs at room temperature
4 TBS (60 grams) butter, melted

Canola oil, for frying
2 cups (400 grams) sugar
2 tsp freshly ground toasted fennel seed
1 tsp ground cinnamon

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, hazelnut flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ground fennel seed, cloves, and salt.

In a separate bowl, mix the squash puree, milk, sour cream, sugar, eggs, and melted butter. Add this wet mixture to the dry ingredients and fold until it starts to come together. Knead lightly with your hands until a cohesive mass forms.

Dust your work surface with a bit of flour and turn out the dough on to this. Dust your hands and the top of the dough mound lightly with flour. Shape and pat the dough gently down into a circle about ½-inch thick. Using a doughnut cutter or two graduated-sized, round cookie cutters, cut out the doughnuts and place them on a sheet pan lined with parchment and dusted with flour.

To fry the doughnuts, fill a pan up to 2" of canola oil. Heat the oil until it reaches 375° F. Do not over-crowd the pan with doughnuts. Fry about 3 at a time (depending on the size of the pan). They will sink to the bottom but then float to the top. Turn them over and let them cook for an additional minute or so.

Drain them on paper towels and while hot, toss them in the cinnamon-fennel seed sugar.

These are best eaten the day they are made, but will last a day or more, loosely covered at room temperature.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Tea-Cured Salmon

I often contribute recipes to the blog of my friends' tea company, Arbor Teas. Here is the latest recipe I developed using a few of their teas.

Last time I was in DC, I made a point to dine at Teaism. If you're not familiar, it's a restaurant and tea shop that offers simple tea cuisine, including Japanese bento boxes, Thai curries and Indian tandoor breads. I ordered a bento box. It provided all of the ingredients necessary to makeshift handroll sushi. Tea-cured salmon was the star of the kit.

Tea-curing was a new concept for me. Something I just had to try for myself when I got back to my kitchen. If you think logistically, it's basically a variation on gravadlax, but with tea leaves instead of dill. Just imagine the flavor potential tea offers! I tried three very different organic loose leaf teas from Arbor Teas collection: a smokey lapsang souchong black tea, a fragrant jasmine green tea, and a citrusy schizandra berry white tea. Samples were offered at a brunch that centered around the task of making homemade bagels. Surprisingly, jasmine yielded the most predominant flavor, and was preferred by all who sampled. The lapsang souchong gave a more traditional lox-like option. For something light and different, schizandra berries, found in Arbor Teas' newest organic loose leaf tea, lent a hint of tangerine.

Though salmon is most common, this method of curing can be applied to any fatty fish. This recent article in the LA Times has plenty of suggestions and champions the return of this ancient form of food preservation. One day, I'd like to try similar methods with pork belly to make bacon, though I get the impression it may be a bit more complicated... If you get to it before me, let me know how it turns out!

Tea-Cured Salmon

1 pound salmon filet, deboned with skin on
1 cup loose leaf tea
½ cup turbinado sugar (granulated will work too)
½ cup kosher salt or flakey sea salt

Mix the tea, salt and sugar in a small bowl. Line a large, non-reactive casserole dish or baking pan with plastic wrap. Pat the salmon filet dry and lay it skin-side down in the pan. Sprinkle the tea-salt-sugar cure mix over the salmon and coat evenly. Fold the edges of the plastic wrap over the salmon (somewhat like a present) to wrap tightly. Use something heavy - about 5-10 pounds - to weigh the salmon down. Refrigerate for 3 days. You must allow up to three days for curing. Remove the salmon from the refrigerator and use cold water to rinse off the cure mixture. Pat the salmon dry with paper towels, then place skin side-down on a cutting board. With a sharp knife, slice the salmon diagonally off the skin. The sliced salmon will keep for about a week in the refrigerator. Layer the slices on sheets of wax paper and store wrapped in plastic.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Amy Atlas Wannabe

Last week my friend Jo got married. The wedding venue was a spectacular farm, complete with gorgeous barns, rolling hills, and a peaceful lake. Jo hired a super talented florist and one of the best local caterers in town. Heather (Sweet Heather Anne) and I were lucky enough to be asked to do an Amy Atlas-esque dessert table for the reception. Jo was such a laid back bride and gave everyone a lot of creative freedom to work within her vision. Her theme was a series of playful vignettes, packed with the charm and vintage worthy of a photo spread in Once Wed. Here's a peek at her penny candy table. See what I mean? Adorable!

And this is how the dessert table turned out. To pull the look together, Heather and I used various cake stands, jadeite platters, metal canisters, and a lovely floral tablecloth from Jo's collection of vintage treasures.

Heather made the cakes, three total and each a different flavor; I made the pastries; and together, we made 8 dozen painted sugar cookies!

The cake design was inspired by Jo's wedding attire, a striking teal mermaid gown with ruching from bodice to floor and a peacock feather hair piece.

The cake flavors were a ginger sour cream cake layered with apricot-ginger jam and topped with a vanilla buttercream, a caramel cake with praline crunch buttercream, and a rich chocolate cake with mexican-spiced chocolate ganache.

In addition to cake and cookies, beautifully rustic apple and raspberry pies made by Helen and Blake of EAT catering also had prominence on the table.

The pastries included chocolate dulce de leche bars, mexican wedding cookies, and brown butter spoon cookies sandwiched with either my homemade raspberry or apricot jams.

A small detail of which I'm most proud for the display is the signage. I was stumped by how to prop up the labels and disenchanted with the numerous cheesy place card holders available for purchase.

Then DIY inspiration hit. When looking through Jo's vintage tableware collection, I saw these: rusty mattress springs with alligator clips welded to the tips meant to be used to display the table numbers.

I made a miniature version by twisting 18-gauge copper wire into the necessary shape. Then, to eliminate the shiny, new-penny look, soaked the wires in a "tarnishing" solution borrowed from a jewelry-making friend to give the perfect brown/black patina.

Making this table (every step from concept to execution) was so much fun! A perfect use of my interests and talents. It would be a dream to quit my day job and instead do this full time. Watch out Amy Atlas, one day I may just get the courage to take the leap...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

two birds...

I might have a thing for owls...

so naturally, I was super excited when my friend Amanda asked me to make owl-themed sugar cookies for a baby shower. Coincidentally, the daring bakers challenged us to make September-themed sugar cookies. Owls are autumnal...right?

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.

Below is my tried and true recipe for sugar cookies. I prefer the flavor and the dough is easy to work. Peggy's recipe doesn't use a leavener, which may be important if you wish to preserve a flat decorating surface or have cookie cutters with intricate edges.

Iced Sugar Cookies
Makes about 6 dozen cookies

3 cups flour
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 sticks plus 3 TBS unsalted butter, softened
1 scant cup of sugar
1 egg
1 TBS milk
2½ tsp vanilla
¼ tsp lemon zest

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, beat together butter and sugar until fluffy and well blended. Add egg and mix until combined. Mix in milk, vanilla, and lemon zest. Gradually stir in flour mixture until well blended. Refrigerate dough until cold (at least one hour or up to several days).

Preheat oven to 375° F.
Roll out dough on floured surface to ⅛-in thickness . Cut out desired shapes and place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill cut cookies for ~10 minutes in the refrigerator and then transfer baking sheet to the oven. Bake 8 minutes or until edges are golden. Allow cookies to cool completely before icing.

Royal Icing

4 - 6 cups powdered sugar
4 large egg whites
4 tsp lemon Juice
2 tsp flavored extract, optional
food coloring

Beat egg whites with lemon juice until combined. Sift the icing sugar to remove lumps and add it to the egg whites. Beat on low until combined and smooth. Add desired amount of food coloring and mix until homogenous. Use immediately or keep in an airtight container.

Two amounts of icing sugar are listed. 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.