Thursday, September 19, 2013

Popovers on a rainy day

I have seen popover pans in Williams Sonoma since forever.  The picture on the front of them looked scrumptious and pillowy.  (In reality, they are hollow and almost crepe like on the outside.  They remind me a little of sopapillas, yet a little crunchier.)  I can't believe I have gone my whole life without eating them!

It's been a few years before I have thought about making them, but the other day a friend stopped by and asked me if I ever made them because hers were suddenly not rising.  We both blamed the altitude, and I suggested that maybe it was her oven temperature, and then she offered to lend me her pans to try them out myself.  Um, yes!  Of course that sounded like an excellent idea!

My favorite thing about these is their simplicity.  There is a beauty of something that only takes a handful of ingredients and hardly any steps yet turns out so perfectly.

From what I have read, room temperature ingredients are very important.  To bring your milk up to the right temperature, just microwave it for about 30 seconds.  For the eggs, soak them in a warm bowl of water for 5-10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425.

Take all of your ingredients-flour, eggs, milk, melted butter, and salt-and put them in a blender.  Blend briefly until everything is combined.

This is what mine looked like.  As you can see, there were some tiny lumps still in the batter.  

Don't try to mix or blend these out because it will make the batter tough.  Instead, pour the batter through a strainer.   

And then, just pour 1/3 cup of the batter into each cup in the popover pan.

Put the pan on the lowest rack in the oven and bake at 425 for 25 minutes.  Then lower the temperature down to 350 for an additional 15 minutes.  Now this is very important:  DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR.  It messes with the circulation of air that makes the popovers airy and puffy.  Opening the door with make them deflate.

Follow these simple steps and this is what you will get.

Everywhere I have read says that you need to eat them immediately.

Which really shouldn't be a problem.  Crack one open, and see how all the steam escapes from their hollow insides.

And then let some butter melt on it,

or if you want, honey too.

The book says these need to be eaten immediately.  Or they can be wrapped and frozen, then reheated for 15 minutes.  But they will never taste as good as they do right out of the oven.

Problems with Leavening

Back to my friend's original problem of her popovers not rising.  This recipe turned out beautifully.  They rose just like they should and were tender and hollow and delicious.  

Out of curiosity, my husband tried a recipe out of The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum.  Beranbaum is THE reason I became a baker.  I have all her books, and she is who sparked my interested in baking almost ten years ago.  Her recipes are sometimes unbearably fussy and precise.   They are almost always worth it.

Anyway, my husband tried her recipe and it didn't work as well.  The popovers didn't rise as fully and were more dense.  There were a couple of differences:

1.  The ingredients are to be put together cold.
2.  There are only two eggs.  

Could that be the reason for the failure to rise?  I do think that without any other leavening ingredients in the recipe, that the three eggs do all the heavy lifting in that department.  I also suspect that the extra egg is why my popovers were light and airy while my husband's were more dense.

Regardless, they were both pretty tasty.  Nice experiment for a rainy day, in any case!

Popover Pan VS Muffin Tin

Does it really make a difference?  Yes, it does!  Popover pans have the cups farther apart from each other, which allows for more air circulation around each popover.  Muffin tins are all close and crowded together, so you won't get the same result.  I have read that if you need to you can fill a muffin tin, but only fill every other one for a total of six in each tin.  

Julia Child's Popovers
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole milk (room temperature)
3 large eggs (room temperature)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbs melted butter

Monday, September 16, 2013

Pumpkin Bread

This week has been unseasonably (and historically) rainy here in Boulder.  Along with that, it has been pretty chilly with dark, looming skies.  A lot of us are stuck inside, and the schools are closed, which means my little ones are home for the foreseeable future.  So:  cold, rainy, flooding, school cancelled.  I think we need a little warmth and brightness, and this spicy pumpkin bread would help at least a little bit!  

This is not a Baking with Julia recipe, I should note.  Julia's pumpkin bread takes over 24 hours to make and we need comfort food now!  This recipe is one of my own that my lovely-about-to-be-married cousin shared with me several years ago and is a regular part of our autumn arsenal.  It's spicy and sweet, and I top it off with my cream cheese frosting that is always everyone's favorite.  It's hard to not let everyone eat both loaves at once.

Heat your oven to 350.

Take 1 cup of vegetable oil (I actually used olive oil because I don't usually have vegetable oil around.  And thinking about it, I'm sure that coconut oil would be awesome, too) and mix it with two cups of sugar in your mixer.  Mix well.

Next I just put in two cups of flour, the cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt and mix it lightly to just barely combine.  I don't sift them, or fuss with them, or anything.  I just put it in and it works great.  

The eggs should be room temperature when you use them.  When I don't plan in advance and have not left my eggs out, I bring their temperature up by soaking them in a warm bowl of water for 5-10 minutes.  It works like a charm!

I then put in the eggs one at a time, beating until combined, and follow with the 2 teaspoons of vanilla.  

I finish it off by putting in one can of pumpkin, which again I mixed just until combined well.  I like to also use a rubber spatula to go around the edges of the bowl to make sure no flour is sticking and not incorporating.  I give the spatula a few gentle turns.

Butter two loaf pans.  I have recently started doing this by hand instead of using the spray.   Personally, I don't want the chemicals and artificial things in my baked goods.  It usually only takes two or three minutes longer to butter and flour the pans yourself, and how much better will everything taste with melted butter on it, as opposed to soybean oil/silicone dioxide spray?

Pour in the batter and let these guys bake for about 50 minutes.  

Let them cool in their pans for 10 minutes before turned them out, then let them cook on wire racks.  It took mine a couple of hours to cool completely, but let them get to room temperature before putting on the frosting.

For the frosting, take one stick of room temperature butter, one container of cream cheese (also room temp) and beat well.  If you don't want to leave out your cream cheese to get to room temperature, soak it the same way as the eggs, keeping it in it's foil wrapper.  

Add about four cups of powdered sugar, and again, beat well.  Take your spatula and go around the inside of the bowl to get any sugar sticking to the sides.  Add about a tablespoon of vanilla, mix it in, and you're done!  This is the BEST frosting on the planet.

When the cakes are cooled, slice them in half and then spread with frosting.

Reassemble, and frost the tops, too.

This will keep for several days in the fridge, if your family doesn't get too tempted by them just waiting there for them.

Enjoy!  And enjoy the coming autumn!

Pumpkin Bread
2 cups flour

1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cloves 
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup cooking oil combine with electric mixer
4 eggs 
2 tsp vanilla 
1 15oz can of pumpkin 

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 Stick of butter
1 Container of Cream Cheese 
4 cups of Powdered Sugar
2 tsp Vanilla

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Fresh Fig and Raspberry Crostata

 The past couple of weeks I have seen little baskets full of fresh figs at Whole Foods.  For some reason, I have never in my life bought figs before.  Or even noticed them.  Maybe it's because I don't shop in stores that carry them?  Or maybe I just glaze over because I have no idea what I would do with them?  (Which is a lie, because I have totally been thinking about making a blue cheese, fig, and bacon pizza.)  Anyway, this year I have been wanting to use them in some kind of dessert when I came across this crostata.

Crostata apparently means "tart" in Italian.  Now you know.

The crust is made from sesame seeds and almonds, which sounded really unusual and is for sure something I have never made and maybe never tasted.  The book describes it as tasting like a Linzer cookie, and I have to say it is so incredibly good.  Nom nom nom.

Take 1/2 cup of sesame seeds and 3/4 cup of unblanched almonds and toast them.  I let mine get a little brown until they smelled deeply rich and nutty.  When brown, remove them from the pan so they don't continue cooking and let them cool.

While waiting for them to cool, mix two eggs with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

And mix the other dry ingredients.

When the almonds and sesame seeds are cooled, mix them in a food processor with 1 tablespoon of sugar.  Mix only until the almonds are coarsely chopped, but not enough that it starts to turn oily and into almond sesame butter (although admittedly that sounds kind of awesome).

With your Kitchen Aid mixer with a paddle attachment, add the flour mixture and the sesame seeds and mix the dry ingredients together.

Then add two sticks of butter and the eggs and vanilla.  Beat until the butter is in small pieces.  It's OK if there are still some small chunks in the dough because you will work them out when you knead it.

Turn out the dough and knead it.  Cut it into two uneven halves (the smaller half will be for the lattice crust).  Chill it until you need to use it-this doesn't seem to be a traditional crust where everything needs to be ice cold before baking it.

Now for the filling!  Wash and dry the fruit.

Cut off the stems of the figs and then cut figs into quarters.

Add half the figs and raspberries to a sauce pan along with 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of packed brown sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour, 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest and one tablespoon of butter and let simmer.  The fruit will release their juices and come to a boil ( it will probably splatter all over your stove top, just like it did on mine), making a very sweet jam.  You will need to counter balance the sweetness with some fresh squeezed lemon juice to add some dimension.  Just do this to your personal preference. 

Bring out the larger half of the dough.  When you unwrap it, it will smell sweet and buttery and nutty.  Yum!  Put it on a floured piece of wax paper.  Roll it out.  The dough is very soft and cookie like.  It will stick to the rolling pin, so go ahead and flour the pin as well.

And then gently drop it into the pie dish.  If it tears, just piece it back together with the warmth of your hands.  Also, as a side note, the recipe actually calls for a tart pan.  I'm not a huge fan of my tart pan and decided a pie dish would work perfectly fine.  Which it did.

Take out the smaller half of your pie crust, roll it out, and cut into strips for the lattice top. 

Weave the strips on the top of the pie. (FYI, I took all the left over scraps of the dough and cut them into squares, baked them at 350 for 10 minutes, and served them as cookies.  They tasted just like shortbread.)   Egg wash the lattice strips, and then sprinkle with sugar.

Take the assembled pie and chill in the fridge for at least thirty minutes.  You can leave it in the fridge for a couple of hours before baking, if you need to.  But who can wait that long?

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.  The filling should be bubbling and the crust a pretty golden color.  I really love using my pie crust protector, because it keeps those mercurial outer edges from burning.  

We served the pie warm with a scoop of melty vanilla ice cream.  Because is there anything really better than that?

My almost ten year old was a big fan of this pie.  "Tastes like I'm in heaven," he said as he tucked in.  Agreed.  

Sesame Almond Dough
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup unblanched almonds
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon lemon zest
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

Raspberry Fig Crostata
3/4 pound fresh figs
3/4 pound fresh raspberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Lemon juice

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