Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Apple Strudel Challenge

I'm just getting this challenge finished on the reveal day--yes, the month flew by and before I knew it, today was here and I still needed to actually make the strudel. Before I continue with my explanation, let me officially introduce "the challenge".

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.

I have to admit that I was a bit nervous about making strudel. While I was in culinary school we had watched a demonstration of one being made from start to finish. It was very exciting to watch as our cakes class chef and his two assistants stretched the dough to be paper thin and I had furiously scribbled over six pages of notes, making sure not to miss a single detail of the experience. I remember that the dough was stretched out to be as long as the eight-foot table and the width of about four-feet. It was amazing! I also made a mental note that I probably wouldn't be attempting that anytime soon. That was over five years ago and the memory of that observation has stayed with me.

When the challenge was revealed at the beginning of the month, I immediately thought about that demo from school and I was already feeling stressed. As the month continued, business was increasing (which is a really good thing), but I kept putting it off and so here we are. I finally stopped all the other projects I was working on today and by 5:15 pm, I had begun. By 5:25 pm, the dough was made. I started to laugh when I realized how this wasn't going to be as complicated as I originally thought. Here's the recipes and some pictures from my baking experience.

Preparation time

Total: 2 hours 15 minutes – 3 hours 30 minutes
15-20 min to make dough
30-90 min to let dough rest/to prepare the filling
20-30 min to roll out and stretch dough
10 min to fill and roll dough
30 min to bake
30 min to cool

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.

*This dough should be so thin that you should be able to read something under it--my business card was handy and it was a great way to check that the dough was stretched out thin enough. (This was my favorite part of the process--ironically, it had been the part I was stressed about doing.)

Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

*Jill's Variation: I didn't use this apple mixture recipe (below)--instead I used an apple filling I made last fall from our own backyard apples, that I had in the freezer. This actually saved me some time today, since I did wait till the last few hours of this challenge. Here's a picture of one of our apple trees that the filling came from:

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 above)
1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts (I did add the walnuts and it added a nice texture to the strudel filling)
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 above. 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.
*I found that the baking time directions were a bit misleading. After 30 minutes, my strudel was no where close to a "deep golden brown", so I continued to bake it in 5 minute increments and checking it each time. After another 15-20 minutes I decided to take it out, even though it wasn't a "deep golden brown".

*I added some raw cane sugar after brushing the dough with the melted butter.

*Here is a picture of the strudel after cutting into it and I think it baked for much too long (trying to get that "deep golden brown" color) and it seemed to be overly crispy and not in the "flaky" good way. Also, from this picture you can see that the bread crumbs were out of control in the amount given in the recipe. If I were to make another strudel using this recipe, I would cut the bread crumb amount to half and only bake it for 30-35 minutes. Although I was a little disappointed with the dough texture, I was happy with the filling. Next time I will try a few more filling variations.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Anadama Bread: First BBA Challenge

I'm becoming a social butterfly in the blog world. In the last month I've joined several baking groups and today is the first post for the newly formed Bread Baker's Apprentice group, which was started by Nicole over at her blog Pinch My Salt. I found her blog while perusing Peter Reinhart's blog and he had made mention of this new group forming and how they would be baking each recipe from his book The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Well, I have been a huge fan of his since I was in culinary school and have several of his books, including this one. Every recipe I've tried of his, has always turned out great, and so I decided it was time to get back into bread baking more often.

The goal of the BBA group is to make each recipe in the BBA book weekly and I'm going to do what I can to stay on this schedule in going through this book. I own many, and I do mean many cookbooks, but I can't say that I've made every single recipe in even one--so this challenge will be an exciting one and of course I'll be sharing it here each week.

I love cookbooks that give stories or backgrounds of the recipes and this very first one had just that. Here's an excerpt from Peter Reinhart, explaining how this bread's name came to be:

"...I felt duty bound to revisit one of the great New England breads, anadama, and to come up with a definitive version. There are conflicting stories of the origin of the name. Judith and Evan Jones, in their wonderful The Book of Bread, tell the story of a Rockport, Massachusetts, man who was upset with his wife not only for leaving him, but also for leaving behind only a pot of cornmeal mush and some molasses. The angry husband tossed the mush and molasses together with some yeast and flour and muttered, "Anna, damn 'er!" This was later amended by the more genteel local Yankees, as they retold the story, to anadama. Sounds likely to me."

After reading about the name of this bread I just knew it had to be a good one. I wasn't disappointed.

Anadama Bread
Day 1 - Soaker
  • 1 cup cornmeal, coarse grind (I used a medium grind that worked great)
  • 1 cup water, at room temperature

1) The day before making the bread, make the soaker by mixing the cornmeal and water in a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight at room temperature.

Day 2 - Dough
  • 4 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour (I used 2 cups a/p flour & 2 1/2 cups bread flour)
  • 2 tsp. instant yeast (I didn't have instant yeast on hand, so I used a packet of active yeast instead)
  • 1 cup water, lukewarm (90 degrees to 100 degrees F)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 6 Tbsp. molasses (I used Grandma's Molasses - Original)
  • 2 Tbsp. shortening or unsalted butter, at room temp. (I prefer using butter, rather than shortening)
  • Cornmeal for dusting (optional) *The cornmeal is great and adds an extra texture that works well with this bread.

2) Stir together 2 cups of the flour, the yeast, soaker, and water in a mixing bowl. Cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap and ferment for 1 hour, or until the sponge begins to bubble.

3) Add the remaining 2 1/2 cups of flour, the salt, the molasses, and shortening or butter and mix on low speed with the paddle attachment, until the ingredients form a ball.

4) Sprinkle flour on the counter or large cutting board. Move dough to the floured workspace and begin kneading (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook), you may need to add more flour as you knead the dough, enough that it isn't sticking to the counter.

The dough should be firm but supple and pliable and definitely not sticky. It will take about 10 minutes of kneading to accomplish this (or 6 to 8 minutes in the mixer). *I mixed it first in the mixer for about 5-6 minutes, since I never get to use my dough hook. Then I finished kneading it on the counter.

Check the dough by using the windowpane test, if it passes, you are ready for the next step. *Thanks to my "photo helper" aka Mom for holding up the dough.

5) Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment the dough at room temperature for about 90 minutes, or until it doubles in size.

6) Remove the dough from the bowl and divide it into 2 equal pieces of 24 ounces, or 3 pieces of about 16 ounces. Shape the dough into loaves, and place them into the bread pans that have been lightly oiled or misted with spray oil (the larger loaves should go into 9 x 5-inch pans and the smaller loaves into 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch pans). Mist the tops of the loaves with spray oil and loosely cover the tops with plastic wrap. (I used glass pans, and they worked fine--just make sure they are well oiled, so the bread releases easily after being baked.)

7) Proof at room temperature for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the loaves crest fully above the tops of the pans. (If you want to hold back any of the loaves, place them in the refrigerator without proofing, where they will hold, or retard, for up to 2 days. Remove them from the refrigerator about 4 hours before baking and proof them at room temperature, or until ready.)

8) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Place the pans on a sheet pan and remove the plastic wrap. Mist the tops with a spray of water and dust with cornmeal.

9) Place the sheet pan in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the sheet pan for even baking and continue to bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the loaves are golden brown, including along the sides and bottom, and register at least 185 degrees to 190 degrees F in the center. They should make a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom.

10) When the loaves are done, remove them immediately from the pans and cool on a rack for at least 1 hour before slicing or serving.

*I set the timer for exactly 1 hour and only made it 26 minutes before cutting into the warm, oh-so-awesome smelling bread...

And the verdict you ask? Well, let's just say that I polished off three slices while it was still warm and yes, I will be making this recipe again.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Gift of Cake

I love to bake. I wouldn't be doing what I do, if I didn't. One of the things that I love about what I do is having a small part in helping make someones celebration a memorable one. It really is rewarding to see a big smile from a client and have them tell me how their cake was even better than they imagined.

Yesterday was one of those days, where I had created a cake for a bridal shower. It's always exciting to create a cake that has all the details that a client requested. After a long evening (and into the wee hours of the morning) of baking, my favorite part is the actual decorating. No matter how late it is, I always get that burst of extra energy when it's time to work on the decorating details and the final touches and bringing it all together for a finished creation.

It was a nice ending to a busy week, when I delivered the cake and the customer was so happy with how it turned out. This is why I do what I do. I love to bake.

*Bridal Shower Gift Cake Details: Dark Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Filling & Icing.