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.