Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Daring Bakers - Strudel Two Ways

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 Caf├ęs of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers. I opted to split the dough in half, making a smaller savory version and a sweet dessert version. I must not have split the fillings though, because my strudels, although very tasty, lacked a few flaky layers. I enjoyed stretching the dough tissue-thin, watching my hands work underneath it, knuckles pulling slowly and gently to resist tearing.

My savory strudel was loaded with Yukon Gold potatoes, crimini mushrooms, caramelized onions, and roasted garlic cloves. I seasoned the mixture simply with olive oil, salt, pepper, and oregano before roasting in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes. This strudel tastes wonderful, and uses easily accessible, inexpensive ingredients. The presentation though, is fancy enough for special occasions.

My dessert strudel threw up all over itself. The translucent dough just couldn't hold in all of the sweet-tart strawberry rhubarb goodness, and out it flowed. I really should have poked the top a few times to allow the steam to escape. Oops. The finished strudel was nearly hollow, so it was served along side the oozed fruit compote and a dollop of sweetened whipped cream.

In the world of pastry, strudel is somewhat simple. There is no yeast involved, no lengthy proofing. The dough doesn't need multiple chillings, or to be turned a certain number of times. It's just a simple flour, salt, water, and oil mix that stretches beautifully and welcomes so many kinds of fillings. Don't be afraid to make homemade strudel. It's worth the effort!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Oatmeal Clafoutis - A Disappointing Failure

It looks a lot better than it tastes. The texture is all off. I should have known better than to tamper with a recipe from files of fantastic Coltilde of Chocolate and Zucchini. Her Oatmeal Breakfast Clafoutis seemed like a great combination of healthful ingredients that I eat a lot of, but combined in a new way. In a effort to curtail breakfast boredom, I used Clotilde's recipe as a base, and began making substitutions and modifications to yield a healthier end product.

I should have left well enough alone (there is a reason that Clotilde has several book deals, magazine columns, and is fabulous in general - her recipes work). The steel cut oats that I substituted for regular did not break down, even though I soaked them in milk for 20 minutes before baking. The clafoutis is fibrous and tough, and would wreak digestive havoc on the greatest iron stomach.

So much for my good intentions of a healthier breakfast. This one is inedible.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pork Chops with Mock Mole Rub

Mole intimidates me. Love to love it, loathe to make it. Mole requires dozens of ingredients and lots of patience, fitting neatly into the category of "I'm not completely nuts yet, so I'll just leave this one to taquerias and restaurants."

Since mole is a labor of love that I avoid, I was pretty excited to see a simple idea for a mock mole rub in Food and Wine Magazine. Their recipe brines thick cut pork chops in a salt water and crushed red pepper bath. I added a bit of molasses to it, since I am fresh out of brown sugar.

The rub requires only a few items that most home cooks will have on hand: unsweetened cocoa powder, chile powder, brown sugar, and salt. The brined chops get coated with the spice rub and grilled over moderately high heat.

With so few ingredients, it would be silly to say that the chops tasted just like mole, but the smokey rich flavor certainly recalled it. Dinner came together quickly thanks to this rub, and I plan to elaborate on it, perhaps adding other mole elements like ground peanuts, and cumin, and cinnamon. I might just keep adding and experimenting until I get all the way to the real thing.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Put the Lime in the Coconut

It's been months since the reincarnation of the cupcake, sending yuppies, soccer moms, and recently dumped women everywhere to pay upwards of $5.00 for a single serving of cake and frosting. These one-and-done cakes are absolutely adorable, mind you, decorated to the nines with billows of frosting, shimmering crystallized flowers, or 24-carat gold leaf. Exotic (read: unappealing) ingredients including bacon, ranch dressing, and foie gras add more shock value than pleasure. All over the country, cutesy businesses with cutesy names have devoted themselves to cupcakes, and each time a new one pops up (and somehow, yes, new ones are still reappearing), I find myself thinking,


Still, with all of the kitsch of the cupcake craze, I find myself baking up a batch once in a while. They have built-in portion control, don't require as much time as filling and frosting a regular cake, and are super easy to transport. Cupcakes, in all of their twee glory, are a damn fine option for taking to a party.

I ripped a recipe for Coconut Cupcakes with Lime Buttercream straight from the pages of Cooking Light (May 2009). This particular recipe calls for a bit of potato starch, a rare ingredient that can be used in lower fat baked goods to help retain moisture. I was able to find Bob's Red Mill Potato Starch in the organic section of my grocery store. The end result: Moist cake with just the slightest hint of coconut. Gritty, fake buttercream frosting was pleasingly tart and refreshing, with pretty speckles of lime zest throughout. Try the cake recipe with a bit less sugar and 1.5 times the coconut to even out the ratios. A lime meringue frosting would work really well with the coconut cake, even better that Italian or French buttercream.

Fortunately, the buzz is that pie is edging its way into the Chicago spotlight, and that cupcakes are going down. There may be hope yet.