Friday, April 27, 2012

The Daring Bakers' April 2012: Armenian Desserts!

The Daring Bakers’ April 2012 challenge, hosted by Jason at Daily Candor, were two Armenian standards: nazook and nutmeg cake. Nazook is a layered yeasted dough pastry with a sweet filling, and nutmeg cake is a fragrant, nutty coffee-style cake.

I am having issues adding photos to my blog at the moment. They will all load, but will not move to where I want them to be. Never happened before, but in about 20 minutes (now you all know I'm a huge procrastinator, even though I baked these a week ago!) I have to leave to take a middle school group to Chicago for an overnight trip. I'll revisit this when I get back from that exciting adventure! But for now, enjoy the one photo of Nazook :)

This month's challenge was a major hit, both with the baker and the tasters. I liked how straight forward and accessible both recipes were. Everyone who tried the nutmeg cake and Nazook said they were delicious. What a win-win recipe challenge!

The only mishap was that the walnuts that I sprinkled on top of the nutmeg cake sunk into the batter during the baking. They simply became tasty surprises rather than decoration. Not a terrible problem to have had happen. I may sprinkle them on top after the cake has set a bit more next time.

I am excited to try the Nazook again with different filling flavors. The one in the recipe was really delicious, I'd love to see what other flavors work well. 

Nazook- Yields 40 pieces

Ingredients: Pastry dough
3 cups (720 ml) (420 gm/15 oz) all-purpose (plain) flour, sifted
2½ teaspoons (12½ ml) (7 gm) (¼ oz) (1 packet) active dry yeast
1 cup (240 ml) (225 gm/8 oz) sour cream
1 cup (2 sticks) (240 ml) (225 gm/8 oz) softened butter (room temperature)

1 1/2 cups (360 ml) (210 gm) (7½ oz) all-purpose (plain) flour, sifted
1 1/2 cups (360 ml) (340 gm/12 oz) sugar
3/4 cup (1½ sticks) (180 ml) (170 gm/6 oz) softened butter (room temperature)
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract

1-2 egg yolks (for the wash; alternatively, some yogurt, egg whites, or a whole egg)

Make the Pastry Dough
1. Place the sifted flour into a large bowl.
2. Add the dry yeast, and mix it in.
3. Add the sour cream, and the softened butter.
4. Use your hands, or a standing mixer with a paddle attachment, to work it into a dough.
5. If using a standing mixer, switch to a dough hook. If making manually, continue to knead for about 10 minutes, or until the dough no longer sticks to the bowl or your hands. If it remains very sticky, add some flour, a little at a time.
6. Cover the dough and refrigerate for 3-5 hours, or overnight if you like.

Make the filling
7. Mix the flour, sugar, and the softened butter in a medium bowl.
8. Add the vanilla extract.
9. Mix the filling until it looks like clumpy, damp sand. It should not take long. Set aside.

Make the nazook
10. Preheat the oven to moderate 350°F/175°C/gas mark 4.
11. Cut the refrigerated dough into quarters.
12. Form one of the quarters into a ball. Dust your working surface with a little flour.
13. Roll out the dough into a large rectangle or oval. The dough should be thin, but not
14. Spread 1/4 of the filling mixture across the rolled-out dough in an even layer. Try to spread the filling as close as possible to the edges on the short sides, but keep some of pastry dough uncovered (1 inch/2.5 cm) along the long edges.
15. From one of the long sides, start slowly rolling the dough across. Be careful to make sure the filling stays evenly distributed. Roll all the way across until you have a long, thin loaf.
16. Pat down the loaf with your palm and fingers so that it flattens out a bit (just a bit).
17. Apply your egg yolk wash with a pastry brush.
18. Use your crinkle cutter (or knife) to cut the loaf into 10 equally-sized pieces. Put onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
19. Place in a preheated moderate oven for about 30 minutes, until the tops are a rich, golden brown.
20. Allow to cool and enjoy!

Armenian Nutmeg Cake

1 cup (240 ml) milk (I use whole, but nonfat or lowfat should be fine; non-dairy might work just fine, as well)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (5 gm) baking soda
2 cups (480 ml) (280 gm/10 oz) all-purpose (plain) flour (I suspect pastry flour or another low-gluten flour might even work better to achieve a light, fluffy crumb)
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (10 gm) (⅓ oz) baking powder (I used single-acting, because it's aluminum-free, and it turned out fantastic)
2 cups (480 ml) (400 gm/14 oz) brown sugar, firmly packed
3/4 cup (1½ sticks) (180 ml) (170 gm/6 oz) butter, preferably unsalted, cubed
1/2 cup (120 ml) (55 gm/2 oz) walnut pieces, may need a little more
1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons (5 to 7 ½ ml) (5 to 8 gm) ground nutmeg (try to grate it fresh yourself; the aroma is enchanting)
1 egg

Directions - the Traditional Way (The Fast, Easy Way further down)
1. Preheat your oven to moderate 350°F/175°C/gas mark 4.
2. Mix the baking soda (not baking powder; that's for the next step) into the milk. Set it aside.
3. Sift together the flour and the baking powder into a large bowl. One sift is fine
4. Add the brown sugar. Go ahead and mix the flour and brown sugar together. Or not.
5. Toss in the cubed butter.
6. Mash the butter with a fork into the dry ingredients (you can also use your fingers if you want). You'll want to achieve a more-or-less uniform, tan-colored crumbly mixture.
7. Take HALF of this resulting crumbly mixture into your springform (9”/23cm) pan. Press a crust out of it using your fingers and knuckles. It will be easy.
8. Crack an egg into a mixer or bowl.
9. Toss the nutmeg in with the egg.
10. Start mixing slowly with a whisk attachment and then increase to medium speed, or mix with a hand whisk if you're doing it manually. Once it's mixed well and frothy (about 1 minute using a standing mixer, or about 2-3 minutes of vigorous beating with a whisk), pour in the milk and baking soda mixture. Continue to mix until uniform.
11. Pour in the rest of the crumbly mixture. Mix that well, with either a paddle attachment, or a spatula. Or continue to use the whisk; it won't make much of a difference, since the resulting batter is very liquify.
12. Pour the batter over the base in the springform pan.
13. Gently sprinkle the walnut pieces over the batter.
14. Bake in a preheated moderate oven for about 30-40 minutes. You'll know it's done when the top is a golden brown, and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
15. Allow to cool in the pan, and then release. Enjoy!

Food Processor Directions1. Preheat your oven to moderate 350°F/175°C/gas mark 4 .
2. Mix the baking soda (not baking powder) into the milk. Set aside.
3. Put the flour, baking powder, and the brown sugar into your food processor. Pulse until uniformly mixed.
4. Toss in the cubed butter. Pulse until uniformly mixed into tan-colored crumbs.
5. Pour HALF of the crumbs into your springform (9”/23cm) pan. Press out a crust using your fingers and knuckles.
6. Crack the egg into the food processor with the rest of the crumbs still in it.
7. Grate 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg. Toss that into the food processor, too. Pulse until well-incorporated.
8. Pour in the milk and baking soda mixture. Continue to mix until a slightly lumpy tan batter is formed.
9. Pour the batter over the crust in the springform pan.
10. Gently sprinkle the walnut pieces over the batter.
11. Bake in a preheated moderate oven for 30-40 minutes. It's ready when the top is golden brown, and when it passes the toothpick test (comes out clean).
12. Cool the cake in the pan, and then dig in. Yum yum!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Skillet Flatbread

I recently saw a post on Pinterest about cast iron skillets being one of the most useful tools in your kitchen. I was lucky enough to get a nice one at a wedding shower last year, and I really have enjoyed using it. When I found a recipe for a soft flatbread made in a skillet, I knew I had to try it.

This flatbread is not of the crunchy cracker variety but is instead a soft, pillowy vehicle for sopping up sauces (we had it with baked ravioli last night), piling on the hummus or other dips, or great on its own (as we had it the first night with our maple eggplant). The bread itself is versatile, we have experimented with two different herb mixes in the past two nights.

You can either use a store-bought pizza dough, or use the quick'n easy recipe included below. Making it from scratch means starting this about an hour earlier than if you use store-bought (yeast proofing and dough rising times), but I always prefer to make things from scratch. No judgement from me if you choose to go the store-bought route though!

Quick'n Easy Flatbread Dough (good for pizzas too!)
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup lukewarm water (plus a bit more if needed)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups flour (combination of all purpose, wheat, whatever your pleasure is good!)
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon salt

1. Place yeast, water and sugar into the bowl of your mixer. Stir to combine and set aside for about 10 minutes, or until mixture is frothy.

2. Place the rest of the ingredients in the bowl and knead with a dough hook attachment on low speed for 5 to 10 minutes, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

3. Remove dough from the bowl and knead by hand on a lightly floured surface for another minute. Pat into a circle.

4. Lightly oil a large bowl and place the dough inside, flipping once to coat with oil. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Skillet Flatbread
(adapted from Sunny Anderson's recipe)
16 oz pizza dough (store-bought or homemade)
assorted fresh or dried herbs, chopped (whatever you fancy- we've done herbs de Provence, Italian blend)
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for coating bowl
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, smashed

1. Cut the dough into thirds. Roll out each piece of dough to about ½ inch thick. Sprinkle evenly with herbs. Fold into quarters and knead 3-4 times to evenly incorporate herbs. Reform the dough into a ball and place into a small bowl lightly coated with olive oil. Repeat with other dough sections. Let rest about 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter with the garlic. Remove from heat and keep warm.

3. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Roll dough out to about ⅛ inch thickness. Brush one side with olive oil and put oil side down on the skillet. Cook until golden, about 4-6 minutes. Brush the other side of the dough with oil, flip and cook another 4-6 minutes. Remove from pan, brush one side with the garlic butter and sprinkle with salt. Cut into 2 inch strips.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Daring Cooks April 2012: Recipe Roulette!

Our April 2012 Daring Cooks hosts were David & Karen from Twenty-Fingered Cooking. They presented us with a very daring and unique challenge of forming our own recipes by using a set list of ingredients!

List 1: Parsnips, Eggplant (aubergine), Cauliflower
List 2: Balsamic Vinegar, Goat Cheese, Chipotle peppers
List 3: Maple Syrup, Instant Coffee, Bananas

You may look at those three lists and say "how do those things even go together?!" I know I did at first. And then I sat down and really thought about it. I thought that maybe I could make something out of Maple Syrup and Eggplant. So I did a little research and found a recipe for Maple Grilled Eggplant that, surprise!, included balsamic vinegar AND said it would go well with goat cheese. Well, that sounded pretty good to me, so I printed it out and set it aside. Then all of a sudden, I was going home to Iowa for Easter vacation and the 14th was looming! Luckily we made this for dinner last night, so I was able to skate in at the deadline. Also, I hope that excuses the blurry photos. I was trying to get photos done quick & they aren't the best. Deal. ;)

We had a soft herbed flatbread (the recipe to which I will probably post later, it was pretty darn good!), and steamed broccoli flavored with lemon juice and garlic to go along with this meal, as well as a good bottle of wine. I was very surprised with the flavor combination of this dish, it worked out really well. It was looking a little cloudy around here yesterday afternoon, so instead of grilling, we broiled the eggplant, but it worked well anyway. 

Maple Grilled (or Broiled) Eggplant
adapted from a recipe of Chef George Schenk

1 Large Eggplant
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
sea salt
crumbled goat cheese to taste (optional)

1. Slice the eggplant lengthwise ¼ to ½ inch thick. Do not peel the eggplant. (The original recipe says to discard the side slices, but I kept them and cooked them along with the rest)

2. Lay the slices on a wire rack and sprinkle with salt. After about a half hour, when the salt has drawn out the water, wipe the slices with a clean kitchen towel. 

3. Whisk together oil, vinegar, maple syrup and salt and pepper to taste. 

4. Either preheat grill to medium heat and grill eggplant, or preheat broiler to low (put eggplant on a foil lined baking sheet.) Turn and brush eggplant with vinaigrette frequently. Grill or broil until golden brown. Sprinkle with goat cheese as desired.