Friday, February 29, 2008

February Daring Baker Challenge-French Bread

I nearly backed out of this challenge...I mean I came so close to backing out. Yes, I realize that is not very daring of me, but when I compared the size of my kitchen to the length of this recipe I was just not sure I could do it without losing my mind. Luckily my sister, of Whiskful, was kind enough to offer to do the challenge together. So keep in mind any pieces of kitchen you see in these pictures are of her beautiful kitchen, not my pitiful one! In the end I was quite happy that I chose not to be a poor sport and a wimp. It was actually a lot of fun and really not that difficult, although it was quite time consuming. I definitely feel more like a daring baker now than I did before we took this on!

Anyway, on to the process. I'm not going to post the recipe here, but if you want to view it you can visit Breadchick's blog (who was also one of the hosts for this month's challenge). We of course had to do much kneading and rising, which should be expected when baking any kind of bread. I think I was a little shocked by just how long it was supposed to take for this bread to rise. I mean who has time to do all this except all of us crazy, daring bakers!

We had every intention of serving this bread with a full meal for our whole family, but we slightly underestimated the time it would take to finish the bread, so unfortunately our poor families had to smell the bread (which was a fabulous scent...I must say) but not get to eat any of it with dinner. After a near disaster (I smushed my sister's loaf while trying to move mine into the oven...thank goodness the loaf sprung back from disaster...whew!), we finally finished baking the bread around 8:30.

I think it turned out quite nicely. My hubby and I were able to hold out tasting until around 10:00, when we finally gave in and it was a fabulous tasting bread. I cannot believe that yeast, flour, water, and a little salt could make something that tasted so good.

We ended up making a batch of French Toast the next morning, which I'll post about separately a little later on. Anyway, this was a fantastic bread and it ended up being a great baking experience. Now I feel bad that I had any doubts whatsoever about baking this bread, it was definitely worth it!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie

I've definitely been lacking in my blogging duties lately, but I've got a backlog of things to post now so keep an eye on the blog to see all of the latest "goings on" in my kitchen!

My first post after the absence is another one from Dorie Greenspan's Baking from My Home To Yours, once again it's a phenomenal cookbook. The recipe for this week was Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits. I must say that I was pretty excited about this week's choice because I happen to think that I am a connoisseur of fine biscuits.

In the end, I was quite pleased with the taste of biscuits, but mine just did not rise well at all. They ended up fairly flat, they were still tender on the inside, but they didn't have the look that I was going for. I feel fairly certain that I made a mistake somewhere in the process. My best guess is that I overworked the dough. The next time I make biscuits I think I will go with the method of grating frozen butter into the flour mixture to avoid overworking the dough. So I would definitely recommend the recipe, but anybody should watch how much they work the dough.

Here's the recipe...enjoy!

Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits
(Makes about 12 biscuits)

2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour and 1/3 cup cake flour)

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar

5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces

1/2 cup cold sour cream

1/4 cold whole milk

1/3 cup finely chopped pecans, preferably toasted

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Get out a sharp 2-inch-diameter biscuit cutter and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.

Whisk the flour(s), baking powder, salt, and baking soda together in a bow. Stir in the brown sugar, making certain there are no lumps. Drop in the butter and, using your fingers, toss to coat the pieces of butter with flour. Quickly, working with your fingertips (my favorite method) or a pastry blender, cut and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly. You'll have pea-size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces the size of everything in between-- and that's just right.

Stir the sour cream and milk together and pour over the dry ingredients. Grab a fork and gently toss and turn the ingredients together until you've got a nice soft dough. Now reach into the bowl with your hands and give the dough a quick gentle kneading-- 3 or 4 turns should be just enough to bring everything together. Toss in the pecans and knead 2 to 3 times to incorporate them.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour and turn out the dough. Dust the top of the dough very lightly with flour, pat the dough out with your hands or toll it with a pin until it is about 1/2 inch high. Don't worry if the dough isn't completely even-- a quick, light touch is more important than accuracy. Use the biscuit cutter to cut out as many biscuits as you can. Try to cut the biscuits close to one another so you get the most you can out of the first round. By hand or with a small spatula, transfer the biscuits to the baking sheet. Gather together the scraps, working with them as little as possible, pat out to a 1/2-inch thickness and cut as many additional biscuits as you can; transfer these to the sheet. (The biscuits can be made to this point and frozen on the baking sheet, then wrapped airtight and kept for up to 2 months. Bake without defrosting-- just add a couple more minutes to the oven time.) (I actually froze most of my biscuits and have already cooked some of them and they turned out wonderful; I would definitely recommend freezing some of them!!)

Bake the biscuits for 14-18 minutes, or until they are tall, puffed and golden brown. Transfer them to a serving basket.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie

I can't begin to explain how excited I am about this new group of food blogging challenges. This group cooks a different recipe each week from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home To Yours cookbook. I was so happy when I stumbled upon this group on the blog Culinary Concoctions by Peabody; I had just received this cookbook and immediately fell in love with it. So I was thrilled to have a reason to make a recipe from it each week.

The first challenge for me was Dorie's Brown Sugar Apple Cheesecake. Just looking at this recipe made my mouth water so I was super excited about cooking it. I've only made one cheesecake before this one, so I was a little nervous about how it would turn out, but I think mine came out pretty well.

First the recipe:

Brown Sugar-Apple Cheesecake

For the Crust

30 gingersnaps (or a scant 2 cups graham cracker crumbs) (I used graham cracker crumbs)

2 tbsp light brown sugar

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)

1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted

For the Apples

1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter

3 large Golden Delicious or Fuji apples, peeled, cored and cut into eighths

2 tbsp (packed) light brown sugar

For the Filling

1 1/2 pounds (three 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, at room temperature

3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar

6 tbsp sugar

3 tbsp apple cider (I used apple juice)

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 tsp ground cinnamon

3 large eggs

3/4 cup sour cream

1/3 cup heavy cream

Apple jelly, for glazing, or confectioner's sugar, for dusting (optional)

To Make the Crust:

Butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan.Put the gingersnaps in a food processor and whir until you have crumbs; you should have a scant 2 cups. (If you are using graham cracker crumbs, just put them in the food processor.) Pulse in the sugar and cinnamon, if you're using it, then pour over the melted butter and pulse until the crumbs are moistened. Turn the crumbs into the springform pan and, using your fingertips, firmly press them evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan as far as they'll go. Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven. (The crust can be covered and frozen for up to 2 months.)Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the pan from the freezer and wrap the bottom tightly in aluminum foil, going up the sides. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust is set and lightly browned. Transfer to a rack to cool while you make the apples and the filling. Leave the oven at 350 degrees F.

To Make the Apples:

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the foam subsides, toss in half of the apple slices and cook, turning once, until they are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle the apples with 1 tablespoon of the sugar and cook them, turning, just until coated, another minute or so. Scrape the apples onto a plate, wipe out the skillet and repeat with the remaining apples. Let the apples cool while you make the filling.Getting Ready to Bake: Have a roasting pan large enough to hold the springform pan at hand. Put a kettle of water on to boil.

To Make the Filling:

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese on medium speed, scraping down the bowl often, for about 4 minutes, or until it is velvety smooth. Add the sugars and beat for another 2 minutes. Beat in the cider, vanilla, and cinnamon. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Finally, beat in the sour cream and heavy cream, beating just until the batter is smooth.
Pour about one third of the batter into the baked crust. Drain the apples by lifting them off the plate with a slotted spoon or spatula, and spoon them into the pan. Cover with the remaining batter and, if needed, jiggle the pan to even the top. Place the springform pan in the roasting pan and pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 to 45 minutes, covering the cake loosely with a foil tent at the 45-minute mark. The cake will rise evenly and crack around the edges, and it should be fully set except, possibly, in the very center--if the center shimmies, that's just fine. Gently transfer the cake, still in the pan, to a cooling rack and let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate it for at least 6 hours; overnight would be better.

Run a blunt knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the crust, open the pan's latch and release and remove the sides.

The first thing that comes to mind about the end result of this recipe is YUM! I could not have been more pleased with the appearance of the cake (no cracks!!), and the taste was out of this world. I will have to say that the color didn't photograph particularly well, but take my word for it, this cake is fabulous!
I served it to most of my family on Sunday night, and it was very well received. My niece was especially excited about the cake. I really think she would've eaten the whole thing if we would've let her. She also is now insisting on me making the cake again and having a special "Emma Day" to eat it!
Stay tuned for next week's challenge; I may actually be more excited about the next challenge than I was about this one!
If you want more info about the Tuesdays with Dorie baking group, visit the blog at There are also links on that page to all of the other members so you can check out their versions of the Brown Sugar Apple Cheesecake!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Buffalo Chicken Dip

Yes...I know this recipe has been done to death on food blogs recently, but it really is yummy, so I thought I would post it anyway. I made this for Super Bowl Sunday, and I think it went over pretty nicely. My biggest concern was being able to take a nice picture of a somewhat unattractive dish. Luckily my husband stepped in and helped me come up with a great picture!

Buffalo Chicken Dip (recipe from
2 (10 oz) cans chunk chicken, drained (I used one rotisserie chicken)
2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup Ranch dressing
3/4 cup Frank's Red Hot
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1 bunch celery, cleaned and cut into 4 inch pieces
1 (8 oz) box chicken flavored crackers

Shred rotisserie chicken (I used mostly white meat, but added in a little dark meat for flavor). Heat chicken with hot sauce in a skillet over medium heat, until heated through.
Transfer meat and sauce to small crockpot. Mix in cream cheese, ranch dressing, and cheddar cheese. Heat on low.

Serve warm with celery and crackers.

A quick synopsis of the results: I'm really glad that I decided to use rotisserie chicken. I can't imagine that the canned chicken would have added much in the flavor department. The rotisserie chicken worked great because of the added flavor plus the meat was tender and mixed in well with the sauce. The smaller pieces of meat allowed you to get more chicken and sauce in each bite, which is always important with dips. I also liked using the crockpot rather than baking the dip (as some recipes suggest); using the crockpot allowed the dip stay warm throughout the party.

Anyway if you haven't had a chance to try this dip yet, I definitely encourage you to give it a shot with this recipe. It is well worth it!