Friday, January 29, 2010

Daring Bakers January - Nanaimo Bars

I've eaten a graham cracker or two in my day. I grew up eating the Keebler ones dusted with cinnamon and sugar, and plain ones with a bit of peanut butter. These days I use graham crumbs for all kinds of crusts and streusels. For years, I've enjoyed these crunchy, perforated treats for years, but I've never once thought about making grahams from scratch, until this month's Daring Bakers challenge came along.

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

I opted to make my grahams with regular all purpose flour. Time and budget constraints prevented me from purchasing the special flours required to make the gluten-free wafers, but I hope to try them another time. My grahams were delicious - crispy, browned, and lightly sweetened with honey. They were great on their own.

The fresh graham crackers were crumbled and used to make Nanaimo Bars, a rich Canadian cross between a bar cookie and fudge. The graham crumbs are combined with cocoa powder, toasted almonds, and coconut, to form a rich base. A thin layer of buttercream enriched with vanilla custard is spread over the chocolate base. Melted chocolate tops it all off. Traditionally the bars would be assembled in a sheet pan and cut into squares or bars. I opted to build mine in silicone muffin tins for a slightly sleeker look. I froze the finished Nanaimos until just firm, and they popped out of the muffin tin easily.

A bite or two of these Nanaimo Bars is all it takes - these babies are super sweet. Try making them in a silicone mini muffin tin for tasty, layered petit fours.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day - Master Recipe

I've always been a little intimidated about making bread at home. The real process requires hours of time for the dough to aerate and develop flavor and texture, requiring a baker to plan well in advance when fresh bread will be on the menu. 2010 is the year that I put this phobia behind me. I'm very excited to be a part of a group of food bloggers who are baking (but not kneading) our ways through Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, a new book by Jeff Hertzberg, MD and Zoe Francois. They've built a method of bread baking that bypasses several steps of the traditional method and allows bakers to easily mix bread dough that can be used for up to two weeks when stored in the refrigerator. All of the recipes in HB in 5 include whole grains and wholesome ingredients. Their unique method is ideal for bakers who want fresh bread often, but lack the foresight to know when they'll want it. It's like this book was written just for me!

Our first challenge was to mix the Master Recipe from Healthy Breads. Part of the dough was shaped into a loaf and baked plain. It had a chewy, soft crumb with lots of tunnels. With a bowl of homemade turkey noodle soup, this bread made a really hearty wintertime meal. I especially liked it sliced and lightly toasted.

One third of the dough was shaped into an epi, a gorgeous decorative loaf that I haven't quite mastered yet. First the bread dough is gently coaxed into a baguette shape. Long, shallow cuts are made with kitchen shears down the length of the bread. The resulting scales are positioned to alternate to the left and right of the loaf. When it's baked, the epi should look a bit like leaves coming off of a vine. My cuts were a little wonky, so instead of leaves my epi looks slightly lumpy. I need to cut longer scales next time.

The remaining portion of the Master Recipe bread dough was turned into spicy crackers. With the help of lots of flour, the dough is rolled out paper thin, sprinkled with seasoning, and cut into strips with a pizza wheel. My cupboard was stocked with cayenne pepper, so the dough was dusted with that and a few granules of coarse sea salt. The baked crackers were crisp and spicy, and paired wonderfully with simple hummus. I loved the differences in shapes and sizes, caused by the dough stretching as it was transferred to the baking sheet. Very lovely.

You can find other interpretations of these recipes through Michelle of Big Black Dogs. She's the host of this group, and has been fantastic at organizing a schedule for all of us bakers.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Playing Catch Up

It's been busy around these parts. The holidays came and went, Dave busted his left shoulder, and soon we're leaving on a jet plane to Australia to eat meat pies and drink Shiraz.

There were lots of good things to eat and drink in December, but very little time to write about them. Here's a quick pictorial retrospective, and a recipe for my 2009 holiday-cookie-of-choice. Despite its short ingredient list, these little cookies have an amazingly enticing aroma and flavor. Since Dave is on the mend, I've been taking my own (crappy) photos. Let's hope he's back to good very soon!

Laurel and Bob's Wedding Cake
Devils Food Cake - Chocolate Mousse Filling - Vanilla Buttercream - Sugar Flowers

Baby Shower Cookie Pops
Almond Butter Cookies - Royal Icing - Sparkling Sugar

Classic Tiramisu
Ladyfingers - Espresso - Mascarpone Custard - Chocolate Shavings - Cocoa Powder

Chewy Amaretti Cookies

8 oz (1 can) almond paste
½ cup sugar
1 egg white
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
12 maraschino cherries, patted dry and halved
¼ cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 325°. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl, break almond paste into pieces. Add sugar and beat on low speed until mixture is sandy. Add egg white and beat until mixture is very smooth.

Drop dough by rounded teaspoons onto parchment lined pans, spacing 1” apart. Using your index finger, make a slight indentation in the center of each cookie. Push a cherry half into each indentation, and press slivered almonds around the cherry.

Bake 22-25 minutes, or until cookies are lightly browned around the edge. Cool for 5 minutes before removing. Cool completely before storing in airtight container.

Makes 24 cookies