custom cakes/cookies

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gluten-Free Graham Crackers and Nanaimo Bars

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

I was quite excited about this challenge on a few fronts. Firstly, graham crackers are one of a handful of weaknesses of mine. It would be wonderful to learn to make them from scratch! I had seen the recipe from 101 Cookbooks and intended to try it eventually, at some point down the road.

The other reason my interest was piqued was that I've been hearing a lot about Nanaimo Bars (pronounced Nah-nye-Moh) recently--mostly from Cakespy, a huge fan of the three-tiered, Canadian treat. These bars are composed of a crumbly chocolate bottom layer, topped with a custard-flavored icing followed by a layer of ganache-y chocolate.

The bars have a bit of lore as to their origin. Legend has it that a housewife from Nanaimo, BC entered her no-bake chocolate bars in a magazine contest. By taking top prize with publication of the recipe in the magazine, it put both the bars and the city on the map.

The gluten-free portion of the challenge was optional, and I considered forgoing it in favor of the wheat-full version. Thankfully, no one in my immediate circle has a gluten intolerance. But more and more, in my wider circle of acquaintances, I'm disheartened by reports of late onset of problems with digesting wheat, so I decided to follow the gluten-free recommendation. I thought it would be interesting to experience first hand the "chemistry" of wheat-free baking and perhaps something to file away for future use. With using the alternative flours, the dough did seem on the sticky side, but I found ways around handling it--making it a good exercise in pastry technique as well. Gluten-Free Girl also recently posted a recipe for gluten-free graham crackers. It has different flour ratios than below, so if you are interested in pursuing gluten-free baking, I encourage you to take a peek.

I shared these bars with my co-workers of which includes a few Canadians and one person with Celiac. All gave the thumbs up approval.

Gluten-Free Graham Crackers
1 cup sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour)

¾ cup tapioca starch/flour

½ cup sorghum flour

1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed

1 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp kosher salt

7 TBS unsalted butter (cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen)

⅓ cup honey
5 TBS whole milk

2 TBS pure vanilla extract

1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal. If making by hand, combine aforementioned dry ingredients with a whisk, then cut in butter until you have a coarse meal. No chunks of butter should be visible.

2. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the honey, milk and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.

3. Turn the dough onto a piece of parchment well-floured with sweet rice flour and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours, or overnight.

4. Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of sweet rice flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be quite sticky, so flour as necessary. Cut into 4 by 4 inch squares. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place wafers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

5. Adjust the rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

6. Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more sweet rice flour and roll out the dough to get a couple more wafers.

7. Prick the wafers with toothpick or fork, not all the way through, in two or more rows.

8. Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Might take less, and the starting location of each sheet may determine its required time. The ones that started on the bottom browned faster.

9. When cooled completely, place enough wafers in food processor to make 1 ¼ cups of crumbs. Another way to do this is to place in a large ziplock bag, force all air out and smash with a rolling pin until wafers are crumbs.

Nanaimo Bars

Bottom Layer:
½ cup butter

¼ cup granulated sugar
5 TBS unsweetened cocoa

1 large egg, beaten

1¼ cups gluten free graham wafer crumbs
½ cup almonds (any type, finely chopped)

1 cup coconut (shredded, sweetened or unsweetened)

Middle Layer:
½ cup unsalted butter

2 TBS plus 2 teaspoons heavy cream

2 TBS vanilla custard powder (such as Bird’s. vanilla pudding mix may be substituted, but Bird's gives the most authentic color and flavor.)

2 cups powdered sugar

Top Layer
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
2 TBS unsalted butter

1. For bottom Layer: Melt unsalted butter, sugar and cocoa in top of a double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, nuts and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8 by 8 inch pan.

2. For Middle Layer: Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light in color. Spread over bottom layer.

3. For Top Layer: Melt chocolate and unsalted butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, pour over middle layer and chill.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Kumquats, an introduction

At the start of the year, a lot of food blogs began posting recipes and photos of kumquats. Some of the most inspiring came from Cannelle et Vanille. Really?! I thought. Kumquats? I'm originally from Florida and, having spent a good deal of my life in the state, I must admit: I've never had a kumquat. I had no idea what they tasted like. I was actually surprised people ate them because of a misconception I had about what they truly were. You see, the house I grew up in had palm trees in the front yard. These trees were queen palm trees that grew clusters of small orange oval fruits that looked not unlike the kumquat. If left unharvested (as often was the case), the fruits would over ripen on the tree and then drop to the ground to rot giving off a putrid, sweet odor. They were an added nuisance to yard work. If you ran over a pile with the lawn mower, they would sorely pelt your legs. Accidently stepping in a heap was a slippery mess. When I saw kumquats in the grocery store looking very similar to the fruits from our trees, I wondered why on earth someone would pay money to eat them.

I had mentioned that I was ready to try a kumquat, and my friend Elizabeth sweetly gifted me a pint. At first bite, oh how wrong was I! Kumquats are actually quite lovely. Brightly tart. Not overly bitter or sour. I might prefer them with popcorn as a movie treat over a bag of sour patch kids. I began to eat them like candy. The only thing that stopped me from consuming the whole pint fresh out of hand was that I wanted to incorporate some in a few upcoming baking projects. So I candied a portion to be used in a dried fruit and nut tea cake, and I sliced the rest to stir into a batch of marmalade. Thinly sliced discs of kumquats have great visual appeal. They look like tiny wagon wheels. I imagine they'd make a nice addition to a winter salad or atop a hearty braise. Hm, perhaps it's time to purchase another pint.

Candied Kumquats
From The Gourmet Cookbook edited by Ruth Reichl
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
⅛ tsp. salt
2 cups halved kumquats (leaves and seeds discarded)

Bring the water, sugar, and salt to a boil in a saucepan; stir the mixture until the sugar has
dissolved. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 2 minutes. Add halved kumquats and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally for 10 to 12 minutes or until tender. With a slotted spoon, transfer kumquats to a heatproof bowl. Boil syrup for 3 to 7 minutes, until reduced to about ¾ cup. Pour syrup over kumquats and cool completely. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Fruit and Nut Cake
makes 4 small loaves
Adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich

¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¾ cup packed dark brown sugar
3 cups walnut halves
2 cups dates, pitted and quartered
½ cup dried plums, cut into thirds
½ cup dried figs, cut into thirds
½ cup candied kumquats
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Spray loaf pans with oil and line with parchment paper

2. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 300°F

3. In a large bowl, toss together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the brown
sugar, walnuts, and fruits. Use your fingers to mix the fruit, separate any pieces sticking together.

4. Beat the egg and vanilla in a separate small bowl, then mix it with the fruit and nut mixture until everything is coated with the batter. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pans, distributing evenly across all pans.

5. Bake for 60-75 minutes until the top of the bars are golden brown and has pulled away just-slightly from the sides of the pan. Cool the bars completely in the pan, then lift out before serving.

6. Use a serrated bread knife to make clean slices through the loaf.

Citrus Melange Marmalade
makes 1½ pints
inspired by design*sponge

Juice and flesh from 2 oranges

10 thinly sliced kumquats (discard ends)

Juice and flesh from 1 large grapefruit

Juice and flesh from 2 Meyer lemons

2¾ cups sugar

½ cup water

Remove rind from all fruit with a vegetable peeler. (Set aside small piece of rind from all fruits to add in later)
 Remove all of the white pith from the fruit. If left on this will make your marmalade very bitter! 
Very thinly slice reserved rind into matchsticks.
 Supreme the oranges, gratefruit and lemons and add all ingredients including juice to a non-reactive saucepan.
 Bring to a boil and simmer until mixture begins to thicken about 45 minutes.
 Once mixture has become thick and reduced, registering 221° F on a candy thermometer, transfer to jars and process in a hot water bath canner.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Birthday Croquembouche: collaboration among friends

Last weekend I made my first Croquembouche in collaboration with my friends Elizabeth and Shana. Over the holidays, I had seen numerous pictures of towers of profiteroles adorned with spun sugar. Beautiful. Decadent. Time consuming. I had it in mind to make one--some day--but gosh that looks like a lot of work, and who would eat it? Not true, if you divide tasks among friends and make it the centerpiece of a 30th birthday party. Shane, Elizabeth's fiancé, took the amazing photos I'm posting here. More from the day can be found on his Flickr page.

The first step was to make the Pâte à Choux, the dough for the pastries.

This dough was piped onto parchment in small spirals,

and baked in the oven until golden and puffed. Meanwhile, a vanilla pastry cream was made. Unfortunately, no photos were taken to document the process.

The profiteroles were slit (slightly) with a knife, and once cool, pastry cream was piped into each.

Having an extra pair of hands made things go smoother.

As the cream puffs were being filled...

a caramel sauce was made.

The caramel was ready for dipping when it reached a golden amber color.

Quickly (being careful not to burn fingers) the cream puffs were dipped in hot caramel,

and layered to form a pyramid.

As the caramel cooled, it formed a crisp sugar coating over each cream puff. This is where the croquembouche gets its name, as it translates: "crunch in the mouth".

The caramel also serves as a natural adhesive, holding the pastries in place.

Once the tower was formed, a modified whisk (with ends snipped straight) was dipped into the remaining caramel and withdrawn slowly and vertically to create delicate wisps of sugar. The modified whisk was a kind gift from my dental hygienist, Cindy. She gave me plenty of useful tips on how to spin the sugar.

To transfer the sugar strands, they were gathered and pinched at the base with one hand and spun around the croquembouche with the other hand holding the whisk. Placing the cake plate on a turntable helped keep the distribution more even. Working quickly was key too. The sugar hardens into shape as it cools.

Here is the finished piece.

A view from the top reveals a degree of order to the messy, haystack appearance of the spun sugar.

Sparklers were a perfect match for this birthday treat. No other candle could quite do justice to this masterpiece.


Pâte à Choux
makes 35-40 profiteroles
adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé

½ cup whole milk
½ cup water
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
¼ tsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature

In a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to a boil. Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all the flour in at once, reduce the heat to medium and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough will come together quickly. Continue stirring until the dough is smooth, dry and has come away from the pan (2-3 minutes).

Transfer the dough into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (you can also continue by hand). Let the dough cool while mixing on low for a couple of minutes so that the eggs do not scramble.

Once the dough has slightly cooled, begin to add the eggs one at a time. The dough will separate in the beginning, but it should come back together after the 3rd or 4th egg.

While the dough is still slightly warm, scoop it into a piping bag to beginning piping the éclairs or profiteroles.

Pipe choux dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees F for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and dry. With a serrated knife gently slice open each profiterole to allow steam to escape. Cool completely.

Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.
You can pipe the dough and freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets, and freeze. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer the piped shapes into a freezer bag and store for up to 1 month.

makes 2½ cups

2 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
6 TBS sugar
3 TBS cornstarch, sifted
2½ TBS unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ of a vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped

In a small saucepan, bring the milk and vanilla bean seeds to a boil.

In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.

Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a couple spoonfuls of the hot milk into the yolk mixture. Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture.

Strain the mixture back into the saucepan to remove any egg that may have scrambled. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously until the mixture returns to a boil. Continue whisking for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat).

Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set in an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Make sure to continue stirring occasionally so that you end up with a smooth cream.

Once the cream has slightly cooled, slowly begin to add the butter in three or four installments.
Transfer directly to pastry bag fitted with desired tip and chill in the fridge at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

When ready to fill profiteroles pipe pastry cream into the slit edge of each pastry.

2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup

In a medium saucepan, combine 2/3 cup water, sugar, and corn syrup, and bring to a boil over high heat. Do not stir. Cover pan, and boil until steam dissolves any crystals. Uncover, and boil 5 more minutes, or until syrup is amber in color. Remove from heat. Dip the bottom of each cream-filled puff into the caramel, and arrange puffs in a pyramid.

To make a spun-sugar web to wrap around the croquembouche:
Cut the looped ends of a wire whisk with wire cutters, or use two forks held side by side, and dip the ends into caramel. Wave the caramel back and forth over the croquembouche, allowing the strands to fall in long, thin threads around it. Wrap any stray strands up and around the croquembouche. Serve within 2 hours.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dragon Well (Green Tea) Chicken Noodle Soup

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

The health benefits of green tea seem to be popping up perpetually in the news these days. Just recently a published study found that drinking green tea increases the effectiveness of antibiotics. Good news for those suffering this flu and cold season! Another well-vetted remedy for these ailments is a humble bowl of chicken soup. Why not combine the two to give your immune system an additional boost? Yes, green tea can be incorporated into the broth of the soup, but did you consider for an extra-added health benefit that the steeped leaves could also be eaten—as a vegetable? Go ahead; incorporate some of the unfurled tea leaves within the soup instead of discarding them in the compost bin.

In developing this recipe, I played quite a bit with the ratio of green tea to chicken broth. The tea adds subtle notes of astringency as its smooth, light-bodied flavor competes with the aromatic celery, parsley and peppercorns on the palate. Be it your goal to boldly bring forward the tea’s flavor or to creatively incorporate more green tea in your diet, try playing with the ratios yourself to suit your taste preferences. A good starting point is 1 teaspoon of loose tea per 1 cup of chicken stock. Interestingly, the noodles absorb the green tea flavor and color as they cook in the soup, providing yet another vehicle with which to consume the tea. As for any soup or stew, homemade stock makes all the difference in this recipe, adding a level of clarity and richness to the flavor. It is well worth the extra time it entails.

Wishing you wellness this winter!

Dragon Well (Green Tea) Chicken Noodle Soup
Serves 4-6

1 whole roasting chicken, rinsed well
1 large onion, quartered
6 carrots, divided
4 celery stalks, divided
One bunch of parsley, stems and leaves separated
6 ounces pappardelle (or other wide style) egg noodles (I used Pasta é Pasta-brand made in Michigan!)
About 3 TBS loose, organic green tea such as Dragon Well (Lung Ching) from my friends at Arbor Teas
1 TBS (plus more to taste) salt
1 TBS (plus more to taste) whole peppercorns

In a large stockpot, combine the chicken with onion, 3 carrots and 2 celery stalks cut into two or three pieces, parsley stems, salt and peppercorns. Add 8 cups water (or just enough to cover chicken) to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently for about 30 minutes. Skim and discard impurities from the top frequently.

When it is fully cooked, remove the chicken from the pot. Shred meat from bone when cool enough to handle. Reserve the shredded chicken for later use in the soup, and then return the carcass to the stockpot. Continue simmering, uncovered for 3 hours or more, adding water as needed to keep the carcass covered. Taste the stock and season with salt and pepper accordingly. When stock has reached desired richness, strain into a clean heatproof bowl, discarding all solids. Let the broth cool, uncovered, and then chill in the refrigerator (or force chilling more rapidly in an ice bath).

When ready to finish soup, skim the fat from the stock and return it to a stockpot with 3 carrots and 2 celery stalks roughly diced, chopped parsley, and the shredded chicken. Bring the soup to just above a simmer. Withdraw about a cup or two of broth and pour through a steel mesh tea filter or disposable t-sac filter bag containing about 3 tablespoons of green tea leaves. Allow tea to steep for 5 minutes.

While the tea is steeping stir the dry noodles into the soup. When steeping is complete, return green tea broth to the stockpot, adding a portion of the steeped tea leaves as well. Continue to simmer about 5-10 minutes more or until the carrots are crisp tender and the noodles are soft. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper before serving.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pork Satay with Trio of Dipping Sauces

My friend Shannon has declared this the year of the pig. While the Chinese zodiac may counter with the fierce tiger, I agree with Shannon. Pork, once vilified as a health hazard, is definitely making its way again into the food scene (particularly in my circle of friends in the form of artisanal bacon). As such, this month’s Daring Cooks’ challenge arrived with good timing: The January 2010 DC challenge was hosted by Cuppy of Cuppylicious and she chose a delicious Thai-inspired recipe for Pork Satay from the book 1000 Recipes by Martha Day.

No tofu for me this time around, I braved the prepping and marinating of pork and served the satay as a casual, New Year’s Eve dinner along side a stir-fry of rice stick noodles, delicata squash and kale. Having a trio of sauces to pass around the table for dipping the skewers made things a little extra festive. A big thank you goes to Matt and Shannon, my dinner companions and guest photographers for the evening.

Satay Marinade
½ small onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 TBS ginger root, chopped

1 Thai chili pepper, chopped
2 TBS lemon juice
1 TBS soy sauce
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground turmeric
2 TBS vegetable oil (or peanut or olive oil)
1 pound of pork (loin or shoulder cuts)

1. Place all ingredients (except pork) in a food processor or blender and process until smooth.
2. Cut pork into 1 inch strips.

3. Cover pork with marinade, cover/seal and chill, for 4-24 hours.
4. If using wooden or bamboo skewers, soak your skewers in warm water for at least 20 minutes before heating.

5. Gently and slowly slide meat strips onto skewers. Discard leftover marinade.
6. Broil or grill at 550° F (or pan fry on medium-high) for 5-10 minutes or until the edges just start to char. Flip and cook another 5-10 minutes.

Peanut Sauce
¾ cup coconut milk
4 TBS peanut butter
1 TBS lemon juice
1 TBS soy sauce
1 tsp brown sugar
½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground coriander

1-2 dried red chilies, chopped (keep the seeds for heat)

1. Mix dry ingredients in a small bowl. Add soy sauce and lemon, mix well.

2. Over low heat, combine coconut milk, peanut butter and your soy-lemon-seasoning mix. Mix well, stir often.

3. Serve warm.

Hot Chili Sauce
4 TBS soy sauce
1 TBS lemon juice
1 tsp brown sugar
1-2 dried red chilies, chopped (keep the seeds for heat)

1 finely chopped green onion

Mix well. Serve chilled or room temperature.

Tamarind Sauce
4 TBS tamarind paste
1 TBS soy sauce
1 clove of garlic, minced

1 finely chopped green onion
1 tsp brown sugar

Mix well. Serve chilled or room temperature.