Friday, August 28, 2009

Daring Bakers' Challenge: Dobos Torte

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caff├ęs of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

I'm late posting this month because I've been sick for the past week with some weird virus and a sinus infection on top of that, so it's taken me a while to get through all the steps involved in making this torte. Also, I finished after dark tonight and didn't want to delay posting any longer, so I took my picture with horribly unflattering fluorescent light. Forgive me.

Now about the recipe, I actually was (pleasantly) surprised that this wasn't harder to make. I was a little intimidated looking at the pictures that the hosts posted when they told us what our challenge would be this month, but really it wasn't bad. Maybe part of it was that I made mini dobos instead of the full sized version. I just knew that my husband, son, and I couldn't or shouldn't eat a whole one. Another thing I did differently is I eliminated the nuts that the original version has coating the sides of the torte because my son has a nut allergy. I wanted to try toffee bits instead but didn't have any. Maybe next time.

As far as taste goes, the star of this torte is the chocolate buttercream with an emphasis on butter. Seriously, I almost felt like I was eating chocolate butter, but it stopped just short of being too rich. It was so smooth and velvety, I kind of wanted to fill truffles with it. If you make it, just make sure you follow what the instructions say and make sure your chocolate mixture is completely room temperature before you add the butter. Also, make sure your butter isn't too soft--apparently some people had trouble getting their buttercream to set up because of overly-soft butter.

Anyway, this was fun, pretty, enough of a challenge to be good for Daring Bakers, but easy enough that I could do it sick. For the recipe you can go to the host bakers' blogs: A Spoonful of Sugar or Not Quite Nigella


Monday, August 10, 2009

Spiced Plum Pie

I think this has been the summer of free produce for me. I've been mooching off relatives' gardens for strawberries and raspberries, and this week I got a whole bunch of plums from my parents who went a little overboard on the produce purchasing at Costco. Unfortunately I'm the only raw-plum eater at my house and there was no way I was going to eat them all before they went bad, so I decided I'd put them in a pie and see if my husband would eat them too. So I did, and he did, and we liked it. A lot.

I was really glad that this turned out, since neither of us knew quite what to expect. I had never had plum pie before and didn't have a recipe, so I found two that I liked the sound of, combined them into one, and the result was pretty tasty, if I do say so myself. This pie kind of tasted like Christmas to me with all the spice. If you're not as much of a spice fan as I am you could certainly cut back on it a little, but I thought it was just right. The texture was kind of like peach pie, while the taste was almost like a spiced version of rhubarb pie without the funny aftertaste that I sometimes get from rhubarb.

I used the basic eating plum that is available in most grocery stores, but I'll bet local plums off a neighbor's tree would be delicious. Or you could even experiment with combining different plum varieties in one pie. Maybe three kinds of plums to make the three-plum pie that I've heard of on Pushing Daisies. Mmm. Anyway, here's the recipe. Enjoy!

Ooh, don't these plums look pretty?

Pastry for a 9-inch double-crust pie (my family's absolute favorite recipe is below)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup saltine crumbs
1 1/2 pounds fresh plums, pitted and sliced into fairly thick slices (I used 6 plums)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon grated orange peel or orange extract
3 tablespoons cold butter or margarine
1 teaspoon cinnamon-sugar

In a small bowl, combine brown sugar and crumbs. Line a 9-inch pie pan with bottom crust; sprinkle with brown sugar mixture and pack gently. Cover with plums. Combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange peel; cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over plums. Roll out remaining pastry to fit top of pie. Make small cuts or slits in top crust; place over plums. Seal and flute edges. Brush the top of the crust with milk (avoiding edges), and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 25 minutes more or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack at least 10 minutes before cutting. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream if desired.

Aunt Helen's Pie Crust:
2 c. flour
1 c. shortening
1 t. (skimpy) salt
1/3 c. flour
1/2 c. water

Cut shortening into flour using pastry blender or two butter knives until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. In small bowl, mix together the 1/3 c. flour, water, and salt with fork until smooth (this is called the slurry, for you vocabulary nuts out there). Add slowly to first mixture, blending with fork, just until it all sticks together. Drop dough on lightly floured board; knead 3-5 times, or until dough just forms a smoother ball. Do not overknead or crust will be tough. Roll out as desired.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Chocolate Crackle Cookies: It Don't Matter if You're Black or White

Ever since I won a Martha Stewart's Cookies cookbook from a bake-off, I've been slowly baking my way through the recipes. A tough job, I know, but somebody's gotta do it. I've made chewy chocolate gingerbread cookies, a variation on her lemon bars, and rocky ledge bars, which deserve a post of their own. One of the prettiest of the cookies I've tried, though, are these chocolate crackle cookies. Sure, mine spread a little more than the picture, but don't you just love how the black and white play off each other so nicely? It's enough to make Michael Jackson proud.

All random Michael Jackson references aside, these are lovely cookies, and also soft, and chewy, and chocolaty, and I will make them again. Just as a tip, if you roll the balls of dough in granulated sugar before the confectioners' sugar it will help keep the latter nice and snowy white. Also, this recipe calls for Dutch-process (alkalized) cocoa powder which is milder and more soluble than regular. I used Saco premium cocoa which is a combination of both types of cocoa because it's what I could find in the store, and it worked just fine.

Chocolate Crackles
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup whole milk
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup confectioners' sugar

Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring frequently. Set aside and let cool. Whist together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside.

With an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Mix in eggs and vanilla, and the the melted chocolate. Reduce speed to low; mix in flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the milk. Divide dough into four equal pieces. Wrap each in plastic; refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Divide each piece into sixteen 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar to coat, then in confectioners' sugar to coat. Space 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
Bake until surfaces crack, about 14 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Let cool on sheets on wire racks. Cookies can be stored between layers of parchment in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.