Saturday, May 30, 2009

Daring Bakers: Strudel.

I'll get my pictures up, I promise. Annoy me if I don't.

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Wednesday when I should have gotten this up, I remembered about it whilst I was at a party Christopher was throwing to celebrate the start of summer and show off his new movie. Thursday I had a physical and got to pee in a cup for a job at Sac-N-Pac.

And then I went wandering with Will and Corbin through the outlet mall, trying on clothes I can't afford. I did buy a candle, though. Quickest decision of my life. They were only on sale if you bought two. Corbin said, "Quick, one of you find a second candle." I noticed a red candle, grabbed it, smelled it, "Okay, this one." Apparently it's Black Raspberry. Not bad.. but.. I used to always get only black cherry candles when I was little and have tried to get myself to branch out to othwer scents. -.- I guess it's branching out.

Friday... I found out how much effort I really put into that physical. Wow. When I was doing it, yeah, I knew I was working myself. But it wasn't -that- bad. And then I woke up Friday morning. Whoosh.

So. As for the strudel? It wasn't the greatest pleasure, either. Now, I'd never had strudel. Nor had I ever -seen- strudel. I'd heard of it, sure, but I'd no clue what it was.

I choose two different options. The first was a barbecued chicken strudel using leftover chicken, barbecue sauce, caramelised onions, bacon, and cheese. I liked the filling, but the crust part was rather gross. I had followed how much butter the recipe called for. Exactly. Blindly followed. When I poured my butter on my stretched out dough and smoothed it all out, I still had large puddles of excess butter. I figured, I don't know what I'm doing. Must be right. Yeah. That was -so- greasy. It tasted like the coating on fishsticks. My tastebuds were not amused.

So I went up for Round Two. This time? Chicken, mushrooms, broccoli, bechamel, and parmesan cheese. When I rolled out the dough, I used just enough butter to coat the dough. And I used my basic bristle pastry brush even though the instructions tell you not to use one. It woked fine for me. The crust was better this time, but I didn't fancy the filling as much. It all sort of melted into each other, so I didn't get any firm distinction between everything.

I might try again some other time, but at the moment... strudel doesn't seem all that enticing. I think part of my disappointment is that I was expecting it to taste like phyllo. Or be more like phyllo. I don't know. Maybe I should try it with all-purpose flour instead of white whole wheat...

Apple strudel
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

2 tablespoons (30 ml) golden rum
3 tablespoons (45 ml) raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 g) sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) fresh bread crumbs
strudel dough (recipe below)
1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts
2 pounds (900 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (use apples that hold their shape during baking)

1. Mix the rum and raisins in a bowl. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in another bowl.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.

3. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Make the strudel dough as described below. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the walnuts about 3 inches (8 cm) from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch-(15cm)-wide strip. Mix the apples with the raisins (including the rum), and the cinnamon sugar. Spread the mixture over the walnuts.

4. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

5. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.

Strudel dough
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.
Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.
Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.
Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

- Ingredients are cheap so we would recommend making a double batch of the dough, that way you can practice the pulling and stretching of the dough with the first batch and if it doesn't come out like it should you can use the second batch to give it another try;
- The tablecloth can be cotton or polyster;
- Before pulling and stretching the dough, remove your jewelry from hands and wrists, and wear short-sleeves;
- To make it easier to pull the dough, you can use your hip to secure the dough against the edge of the table;
- Few small holes in the dough is not a problem as the dough will be rolled, making (most of) the holes invisible.

Both Courtney and I did a trial run on making the strudel. Below are our notes:

Courtney's notes
- She could't get it to stretch to 2 feet by 3 feet, it turned out more like 2 feet by 2 feet. But the dough was tissue thin nevertheless;
- She got some serious holes, but after rolling it wasn't noticeable;
- She used a large cheese cloth which helped manipulate and stretch the dough more than a heavier cloth would have.

Someone Else's notes
- I made the dough by hand, just mixed the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon. Kneaded it for about 5 min like you would bread dough. This worked as well. Haven't tried using a standmixer so I don't know how it compares.
- Instead of cider vinegar I used red wine vinegar;
- I used bread flour;
- Picking up the dough to let it stretch didn't work well for me, holes appeared pretty much instantly. Instead I stretched the dough while it was lying on the tablecloth by putting my hands underneath and stretching it out further and further;

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Daring Cooks: Ricotta Gnocchi

So for the first Daring Cooks, they decided upon ricotta gnocchi.

Apparently a lot of people were surprised gnocchi could be made with something other than potatoes. I, however, had just never had gnocchi. I'd seen it and known what it was. But it was nothing that sounded that astounding.

But anyway. The recipe says it's best to use fresh ricotta if possible. Well. I could have looked for fresh. Or bought some pre-packaged. But instead, I decided to make my own "ricotta." (We all discussed it... it's not -true- ricotta... but it's close enough.) I had some milk that expired that day, some cream I needed to use up, and lemons. So I decided to do it.

It also suggests draining the ricotta for twenty-four hours at least. I didn't read that part. I drained it for.. an hour? I kept pushing on it and was unable to get more liquid. I suppose I could have drained it more because mine was -very- light. Like... it says if you don't drain it enough, it will disintegrate in the water. Mine didn't disintegrate. But the slightest wrong movement after it was done and it easily pulled apart. I didn't even have to chew. «shrugs» Oh, well.

My final thoughts were that it was okay. (I can't seem to love any of the recipes I've made in the Daring... Stuff except for the pizza dough and French yule log.) The part I loved best was my "sauce." I melted a bit of butter, splashed in some cream, and threw in freshly cracked black pepper along with freshly grated parmesan.

Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi

Source: From The Zuni Café Cookbook.

Yield: Makes 40 to 48 gnocchi (serves 4 to 6)

Prep time: Step 1 will take 24 hours. Steps 2 through 4 will take approximately 1 hour.


- If you can find it, use fresh ricotta. As Judy Rodgers advises in her recipe, there is no substitute for fresh ricotta. It may be a bit more expensive, but it's worth it.
- Do not skip the draining step. Even if the fresh ricotta doesn't look very wet, it is. Draining the ricotta will help your gnocchi tremendously.
- When shaping your gnocchi, resist the urge to over handle them. It's okay if they look a bit wrinkled or if they're not perfectly smooth.
- If you're not freezing the gnocchi for later, cook them as soon as you can. If you let them sit around too long they may become a bit sticky.
- For the variations to the challenge recipe, please see the end of the recipe.

Equipment required:

- Sieve
- Cheesecloth or paper towels
- Large mixing bowl
- Rubber spatula
- Tablespoon
- Baking dish or baking sheet
- Wax or parchment paper
- Small pot
- Large skillet
- Large pan or pot (very wide in diameter and at least 2 inches deep)

For the gnocchi:

1 pound (454 grams/16 ounces) fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) unsalted butter
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves, or a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg, or a few pinches of chopped lemon zest (all optional)
½ ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about ¼ cup very lightly packed)
about ¼ teaspoon salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
all-purpose flour for forming the gnocchi

For the gnocchi sauce:

8 tablespoons (227 grams/1/4 pound/4 ounces) butter, sliced
2 teaspoons water

Step 1 (the day before you make the gnocchi): Preparing the ricotta.

If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. In her cookbook, Judy Rodgers recommends checking the ricotta’s wetness. To test the ricotta, take a teaspoon or so and place it on a paper towel. If you notice a very large ring of dampness forming around the ricotta after a minute or so, then the ricotta is too wet. To remove some of the moisture, line a sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels and place the ricotta in the sieve. Cover it and let it drain for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can wrap the ricotta carefully in cheesecloth (2 layers) and suspend it in your refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours with a bowl underneath to catch the water that’s released. Either way, it’s recommended that you do this step the day before you plan on making the gnocchi.

Step 2 (the day you plan on eating the gnocchi): Making the gnocchi dough.

To make great gnocchi, the ricotta has to be fairly smooth. Place the drained ricotta in a large bowl and mash it as best as you can with a rubber spatula or a large spoon (it’s best to use a utensil with some flexibility here). As you mash the ricotta, if you noticed that you can still see curds, then press the ricotta through a strainer to smooth it out as much as possible.

Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta.

Melt the tablespoon of butter. As it melts, add in the sage if you’re using it. If not, just melt the butter and add it to the ricotta mixture.

Add in any flavouring that you’re using (i.e., nutmeg, lemon zest, etc.). If you’re not using any particular flavouring, that’s fine.

Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the salt.

Beat all the ingredients together very well. You should end up with a soft and fluffy batter with no streaks (everything should be mixed in very well).

Step 3: Forming the gnocchi.

Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. When it boils, salt the water generously and keep it at a simmer. You will use this water to test the first gnocchi that you make to ensure that it holds together and that your gnocchi batter isn’t too damp.

In a large, shallow baking dish or on a sheet pan, make a bed of all-purpose flour that’s ½ an inch deep.

With a spatula, scrape the ricotta mixture away from the sides of the bowl and form a large mass in the centre of your bowl.

Using a tablespoon, scoop up about 2 to 3 teaspoons of batter and then holding the spoon at an angle, use your finger tip to gently push the ball of dough from the spoon into the bed of flour.

At this point you can either shake the dish or pan gently to ensure that the flour covers the gnocchi or use your fingers to very gently dust the gnocchi with flour. Gently pick up the gnocchi and cradle it in your hand rolling it to form it in an oval as best as you can, at no point should you squeeze it. What you’re looking for is an oval lump of sorts that’s dusted in flour and plump.

Gently place your gnocchi in the simmering water. It will sink and then bob to the top. From the time that it bobs to the surface, you want to cook the gnocchi until it’s just firm. This could take 3 to 5 minutes.

If your gnocchi begins to fall apart, this means that the ricotta cheese was probably still too wet. You can remedy this by beating a teaspoon of egg white into your gnocchi batter. If your gnocchi batter was fluffy but the sample comes out heavy, add a teaspoon of beaten egg to the batter and beat that in. Test a second gnocchi to ensure success.

Form the rest of your gnocchi. You can put 4 to 6 gnocchi in the bed of flour at a time. But don’t overcrowd your bed of flour or you may damage your gnocchi as you coat them.

Have a sheet pan ready to rest the formed gnocchi on. Line the sheet pan with wax or parchment paper and dust it with flour.

You can cook the gnocchi right away, however, Judy Rodgers recommends storing them in the refrigerator for an hour prior to cooking to allow them to firm up.

Step 4: Cooking the gnocchi.

Have a large skillet ready to go. Place the butter and water for the sauce in the skillet and set aside.

In the largest pan or pot that you have (make sure it’s wide), bring at least 2 quarts of water to a boil (you can use as much as 3 quarts of water if your pot permits). You need a wide pot or pan so that your gnocchi won’t bump into each other and damage each other.

Once the water is boiling, salt it generously.

Drop the gnocchi into the water one by one. Once they float to the top, cook them for 3 to 5 minutes (as in the case with the test gnocchi).

When the gnocchi float to the top, you can start your sauce while you wait for them to finish cooking.

Place the skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. Swirl it gently a few times as it melts. As soon as it melts and is incorporated with the water, turn off the heat. Your gnocchi should be cooked by now.

With a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water and gently drop into the butter sauce. Carefully roll in the sauce until coated. Serve immediately.

Variations: For the gnocchi, you can flavour them however you wish. If you want to experiment by adding something to your gnocchi (i.e., caramelized onion, sundried tomato), feel free to do so. However, be forewarned, ricotta gnocchi are delicate and may not take well to elaborate additions. For the sauce, this is your chance to go nuts. Enjoy yourselves. Surprise us!!!

Freezing the gnocchi: If you don’t want to cook your gnocchi right away or if you don’t want to cook all of them, you can make them and freeze them. Once they are formed and resting on the flour-dusted, lined tray, place them uncovered in the freezer. Leave them for several hours to freeze. Once frozen, place them in a plastic bag. Remove the air and seal the bag. Return to the freezer. To cook frozen gnocchi, remove them from the bag and place individually on a plate or on a tray. Place in the refrigerator to thaw completely. Cook as directed for fresh gnocchi.


From Gourmet, April 2006

1 quart whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp coarse salt (kosher or sea salt)
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

Combine the milk, cream, and salt in a heavy saucepan. Separately, line a colander with cheesecloth and set it in a large bowl. Measure out the lemon juice and set it aside.

Bring the milk mixture to a simmer over medium high heat, stirring occasionally with a spatula to prevent scalding. Once the mixture has reached a steady simmer, add the lemon juice and stir gently with the spatula — quickly, just to blend. Let the mixture sit for about 1 minute, turning down the heat slightly so it stays at a simmer but doesn’t reach a hard, rolling boil. Stir with the spatula after about 1 minute, then let it sit another minute until it looks like most of the liquid has separated into curds and whey.

Drain the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined colander set over a bowl, and let it drain at room temperature for 1 hour. Transfer the ricotta to an airtight container and refrigerate.

Makes about 1 cup.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I have a new appreciation for people who don't know much about a kitchen.

So. I recently took up sewing. Why did I take up sewing? Naturally because I want to be the next Stepford Wife. I figured, "I already know how to cook. And I can crochet. And I clean the house. The next step is learning to sew and knit." No, not really.

I have a weakness for pretty dresses. I think pretty dresses are swing dresses. You know. Fifties and forties. Known today as "rockabilly." I never understood why people felt the need to give new names to old clothes. It's like Victorian clothes. They are now referred to as "Lolita" clothes. Erm. They're Victorian clothes. Just call them what they are. But apparently people don't like to be reminded that the clothes they wear because they find it hip and trendy (though Michael let me know that nobody uses "hip" unless it's followed by "I broke my") were worn by their great great great grandparents. Because apparently that means it's no longer hip. (I'll say "hip" however much I want.)

But anyway. My point is that whilst I fancy these dresses and skirts... erm.. they cost money. Lots of money. And well. I have never had a job. That's not to say that I'm some spoiled little eighteen-year-old that's gotten everything and that's why I've never worked. It's that I'm a spoiled little eighteen-year-old that has gotten a lot of the things I've -really- wanted... and I have no job experience so nobody will hire me. And I haven't even been shooting high. The highest I aimed for so far has been Kohl's. Seriously? I'm not good enough for -Kohl's-? I wanted to work in the kitchen and housewares department. <3 You should know I ramble.

I also happened to keep some old sheet sets from when I had a twin bed. A heart sheet set, a yellow sheet set, and a Lion King sheet set. I was convinced I'd "do something with them eventually." Click! I want a swing skirt. A swing skirt costs a hundred dollars. Well. There are some on sale right now for ninety. But still. I've found swing dresses cheaper for forty dollars. Yet a basic skirt, I can't find for less than a hundred. So I decided I should sew my own. I have sheet sets (free fabric) and some thread and my mom has a sewing machine (she doesn't know how to use it.. she got it so my grandma could sew things for my mom).

I've sewn three things so far. None have been the swing skirt I originally started this sewing kick for. One was a recreation of this dress I saw at that I liked.

You see that dress? Yeah. It costs a hundred and forty dollars. Ha. That's funny. You really thought I'd pay that much for a dress? Psht. I went to Hobby Lobby and bought twenty dollars worth of heather grey jersey knit fabric. (Grey t-shirt fabric for those unaware.) And I made myself a dress I based on that. Now. Mine isn't as sleak and hip and perfectly upscale like that one. But it's comfortable and I think it's pretty. I used lime green thread on all the visible seams. I love it. Others might find it cheap looking and tacky, but I think it's neat.

But as I delve deeper into the magical world of sewing, I find all these new terms that I've never heard of.

"Basting stitches? What? The only basting I know is, you know, roasting a chicken or turkey or something els in the oven and basting it to keep it moist. And I'm pretty sure that's not what you mean."

Seriously. I'm sooooo confused with all this stuff. I love it, but I'll find tutorials on how to make something, but I'm just so completely lost as to what they're talking about.

"Well. You take that one strip I told you about five lines ago and you fold it in half under the second bridge past the green house on a cloudy day the third Thursday of the month."

I've tried Googling. It doesn't help. Nobody expects beginners. Because yes, most beginners would be content going to the small, "Look! I sewed a -square-." Maybe. I don't know. I was never like that, though. I don't care if I'm a beginner at something. Doing beginner work bores me. It makes me -not- want to do something, then. Because it's so -easy-.

That's why I took AP Calculus my senior year. I was told I needed an elective. Just to fill an empty space in my schedule. I could have picked some slow blow-off class. But I didn't want to bore myself. I knew if I were bored, I'd blow it off. Because that's what I do. When something bores me, I stop doing it. I wasn't going to fail my senior year. So I opted for AP Calculus. Math has always come easy to me, so it wouldn't be too difficult, but it wasn't going to be so easy I got bored. And that's why I jumped straight into actual sewing of real garments. I just... need someone to guide me to explain, "This is what this means. You do this." And once I'm told that, psht, I've got it. But until someone tells me, I don't know.

Which is why I have a newfound appreciation for beginner cooks. Well. The ones that listen and actually comprehend. When I was in my Culinary Arts class, there were people there who'd never made scrambled eggs before. I first made scrambled eggs on my own when I was six. (Oh. In addition to not liking to do simple things, I liked to do things on my own. If I wanted food, I wanted to get it myself. I wanted to make it myself. I didn't want other people making it for me. In contrast, my oldest younger sister figures, if others can do it for her, why should she do it herself? She's the lazy one.)

There were people who didn't understand what folding meant. They didn't understand what kneading meant. Well. They understood. But they just kind of rolled the bread dough around and poked at it instead of actually kneading it.

They would wonder why I'd yell at them for using a metal fork to scrape something out of a non-stick pan, then complain later that their food was sticking to the non-stick pan. They didn't get that "chop as you go" meant to keep their boards and knives at their station for later. Just because there isn't anything to do for the next five minutes doesn't mean I won't need more later. They were the ones who started using all the rubber spatulas with non-stick pans because I yelled at them for using the metal utensils. Then they'd complain to me that the rubber spatula was melting. And so I'd yell at them again because I had already told them to use the -plastic spoons- not my rubber spatulas (I was designated pastry chef of the class). And then I'd hide my good rubber spatulas (the ones that weren't melted) and they'd use the plastic spoons (which weren't heat resistant, either, but they were more heat resistant than the spatulas) and then they'd complain that -those- were melting because they'd have the burner up full blast (commercial ranges are -hot-) and then leave the spoon in the pan. So they'd go searching for a rubber spatula but all they could find were spatulas that were already half melted (really.. half of it was gone) and they'd complain and I'd tell them they shouldn't be leaving utensils in their pans and they'd say that Rachel Ray does it and I'd tell them they weren't Rachel Ray. They didn't like me too much.

I didn't really like them, either. I didn't believe that I needed to hold their hand through everything. That explaining it one way should have gotten through to them. And now with sewing... I need someone to hold my hand. Because this explaining one way thing? I don't get it. It's not making much sense to me. I'm sure they understand it. And I'm sure it does make sense. But I'm apparently a visual learner. That's not to say that it has to actually be in front of me. But if I can see the words playing out in my head, I understand it much more than just the words themselves. And so many of these things.. the words just aren't creating the visual they are supposed to. So I don't get it. And I still need someone to hold my hand.