Thursday, July 5, 2012

Baking Exploits of the Unemployed

Hey all!!  It's been a while, but I thought that I would get this out.  There's been many an experiment in my kitchen over the past few months, outside of the ones already blogged on.  This is going to be one doozy of a post, so hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen - let's get started!

As you may know, I've been using the time I have as an unemployed individual to further my baking skills, as well as bless my awesome community group with snacks each week, which also means that I have a willing test group for all my experiments (insert evil laugh here... muahahahaha).  No really, it's been super fun trying out new recipes and just seeing how different ingredients in different proportions can yield such delicious treats.

First up, I decided to try to make puff pastry from scratch.  It seemed pretty straight forward, but I always balked at making it because it took too much time.  Well hello endless hours of free time, so I tried my hand. There's an awesome youtube video ( that gives step by step directions.

Here's the basic recipe:
3.5 cup flour

1 1/2 t salt
1 cup water
1 pound of butter (4 sticks)

1. Mix the flour, water and salt together to form a cohesive dough.  Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
2. Pound out the butter between two sheets of plastic wrap to form an 8" square.
3. Roll out the dough into a 12 x 15 rectangle.
4. Place the butter square in the middle and fold over the corners of the dough to completely cover the butter.
5. Roll out the dough into a long rectangle and fold into thirds.
6. Rotate a quarter turn and roll out again into a long rectangle and fold into thirds again.
7. Refrigerate for 30 minutes and repeat steps 5 and 6.
8. Refrigerate again for 30 minutes.

It's kind of hard to understand all the folding, so the youtube video will help to see how it all works.  The purpose of the folding is to get the nice layers you like to see in a puff pastry, and the refrigeration keeps the butter nice and cold, so you get the wonderful flakiness.  Now puff pastry by itself is kind of boring, but pair it with some cheese or sugar and you have some awesome treats.

For cheese twists, mix together some freshly grated Romano or Parmesan, salt and pepper, a pinch of cayenne, and some Italian herbs or garlic powder (your choice).  Scramble one egg and brush over a rolled out sheet of puff pastry.  Sprinkle the cheese mix over one half of the puff pastry and lightly press into the dough.  Fold the other half of the puff pastry over the half with the cheese and gently roll over with a rolling pin.  Then cut into strips 1/2" wide and twist.  Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes or until lightly browned and let cool.

The other awesome thing you can make with puff pastry are palmiers.  These are flaky, sugary, delicious French cookies of a sort, and are perfect for a tea party or just to snack on.  Using about 1/3 cup, sprinkle sugar onto your work surface and place your sheet of puff pastry on top.  Then sprinkle another 1/3 cup on top of the puff pastry.  Roll out the dough into a rectangle, all the while pressing the sugar into the puff pastry.  When both sides have been completely coated in sugar, fold the outside edges into meet the middle, then fold in half again.  Using a serrated knife, cut into 1/2" slices, placing the cut side down onto a greased cookie sheet or parchment paper.  Bake at 400 degrees for 7 minutes, then flip over and bake for another 5 minutes or until golden brown.  Let them cool and have a decidedly sweet and crunchy taste of France.

On a healthier side, I've discovered the awesome-ness of Greek yogurt.  Yes, I know everyone is raving about how delicious it is and now it's become the new big food fad, but it really is fantastic.  Not only can you eat it straight out of the container with granola and fruit and all sorts of other things, but it makes an awesome fat substitute in baked goods.  I've had many a success with using it in scones, quick breads, pound cake, even muffins.  On a general note, usually you can replace half the fat with Greek yogurt, without drastically affecting the texture and taste of the finished product, and I've found this to be fairly accurate.  There have been too many times when I've substituted Greek yogurt, so I'll just leave you with one - lemon pound cake.

Pound cake is traditionally a cake made with one pound of flour, eggs, sugar, and butter, which is seems rather extravagant, and a bit heavy for my tastes.  And since I had some lemons, I thought I'd make a citrusy lighter version.


2 cups flour
3/4t salt
1 stick of butter at room temperature (1/2c)
1.5t vanilla extract
1.5 cups sugar
5 eggs
Zest from one large lemon

2 cups powdered sugar
Juice from one lemon (large)

1. Butter and flour bottom and sides of loaf pan.  Preheat oven to 350.
2. Mix flour and salt together.  Beat together vanilla, butter, sugar and yogurt together.  Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each.
3. Fold in flour mixture until fully incorporated.  Stir in zest.  Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for 60-65 minutes or until cake tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean. 
4. Cool in pan for 10-15 minutes, then take out and continue cooling on wire rack.  
5. Mix lemon juice and 1 cup of the powdered sugar together.  Add remaining sugar until glaze reaches desired consistency.
6. Once cooled, pour glaze over cake so that it runs over the side (recipe provided above makes more than enough).  
7. Let cake set for at least 30 minutes before cutting and serving.

It's a pretty terrible picture, but hopefully you get the idea.  I'm really rather terrible at remembering to take pictures of the food I make, and when I do, I really just want to take the picture quick so I can eat what I made.

Now, not all dessert is meant to be altered.  Special occasions and birthdays are celebrations that are often accompanied by decadent cakes and delicious desserts that make us rue our sweet tooth.  I had the opportunity to make a cake for someone's birthday (by commission, which is super awesome too), and I had a blast decorating and plying my craft.  The one problem was that they asked for a chocolate raspberry cake, and as a vehement chocolate hater, it made it rather difficult to taste and see how the cake turned out.  Not to mention, I never realized how easy ganache is to make.  Nevertheless, I was proud to have a beautiful cake delivered (in a Costco box to boot).  So there you have the finished product - chocolate cake with raspberry buttercream filling, frosted with chocolate ganache.

As I continue along this behemoth of a post, might I just say (to you who are still reading) what troopers you are!  One last baking adventure to make note of, and one that is rather splendiferous, if I don't say so myself.  As an individual of Chinese descent, I felt that it would behoove me to learn how to make some Chinese baked items, as I have spent many a dollar on the goodies offered in a New York Chinatown bakery shop or the delicious stylings of 85C.  And, with the recent addition of some bamboo steamers, I thought, well hey! Why not try to make steamed char-siu baos?  And so, the experiment begins!

Following this basic recipe from, it seemed pretty straightforward, although rather time consuming.  Once the dough was rising, I got the barbecue pork (that I had purposefully bought from Sam Woo beforehand), and made the filling, adding just a little extra sauce to it.  Then, cutting off small balls of dough, flattened them out with my hands, placed a small spoonful inside, and sealed it up, only to let it rise again.  By the time it was time for them to steam, they had grown into huge monstrosities, which once cooked, had exploded into ginormous buns of delicious goodness.  Now, the texture of the bread wasn't quite what I was looking for, but they tasted awesome, so I wasn't one to complain.  Perhaps next time, I will not let them rise so much.  And I definitely need to add more filling.

So there you have it!  The misadventures of a bored baker with endless possibilities still to be discovered and tried.  Although the baking portion of this blog will be put on hold, due to divine intervention in the form of a bi-continental job between here and Africa, I know that there will always be time for fun in the kitchen!!

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