Tuesday, July 31, 2012

TWD -- First a failure, then some tweaking

I confess. I didn't like this blueberry/nectarine pie in Baking with Julia. So, I made it twice, once following the recipe almost exactly, and then making adaptations which I felt improved it immensely.

My faults with the recipe were three: the crust recipe, the amount of thickener and the baking temperature. By following the recipe I was left with a non-flaky, very pale crust. I had to jack up the oven temperature to 450 degrees at the end, just to get the pie to brown. And, had I used only the 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour called for in the recipe, I would have been left with a runny mess. I hate pie fillings that run all over the plate, so on the first go-round I doubled the amount of flour. The pie (at left) looks pretty decent. But trust me, the crust was NOT flaky.

On the second time around, I used my favorite crust recipe (5 cups of pastry flour, 2 cups of Crisco or a combination of lard and Crisco, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 2 tsp. salt, 1 egg, 1 tbls. of vinegar and approximately 2/3 cup of ice water. I worked the fat into flour mixture with my hands, leaving some pretty big chunks of Crisco. I portion the picture into 6 ounce discs and freeze what I don't need immediately. This is the same pastry recipe used in the bakery for which I volunteer and it is a very popular way of making pie crust in Ohio. Look in any community cookbook from this area and you will find this crust recipe. A variation has been published in two of Marcia Adams' cookbooks (a Midwest cook) and the 200th Anniversary King Arthur cookbook. In my mind, it can't be beat. The egg helps the crust brown -- I hate a pale pie crust.

I also switched thickeners the second time around, going from flour to Clear Jel. I used four tablespoons of Clear Jel -- my new go-to thickener for pies. I used to use tapioca, but Clear Jel is even better.

And, I upped the baking temperature to 400 degrees. This, too, helped the pie brown.

I'm not sure after making this pie twice that cooking part of the filling on top of the stove helps in the overall flavor. Since I make a lot of pies and taste a lot of pies at the bakery, I can't say that this method improves upon the end result. Plus, it's an added step that takes time and dirties a saucepan.

So, here is a picture of Pie No. 2 with the all-Crisco, pastry flour, vinegar and egg crust; Clear Jel; and a baking temperature of 400 degrees. As soon as I put a fork in the pie, I could tell a huge difference in the crust. The pastry all but melted in your mouth. Would I make this pie again -- yes, but with the adaptations mentioned above. And, I would substitute peaches for the nectarines -- I think they offer up more flavor.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

TWD--Semolina Bread

I was in my element with the latest Tuesdays with Dorie assignment: Semolina Bread. Although I have used semolina in pasta and pizza crust, I have never actually made a loaf of bread with the flour.

The instructions were clear, but anyone not used to making bread may have been put off with the loose and wet dough. It's tempting to keep adding flour, but I resisted, thinking that the wet dough would make a superior loaf.

I chose to bake my bread in a La Cloche. Being a "bread head," (I confess I currently have 14 kinds of flour on my shelves) I have a lot of equipment, and I often use the stone La Cloche baker for making French bread-like loafs. I recalled that Rose Levy Beranbaum recommended the La Cloche for her semolina loaf, so I looked up her recipe in "The Bread Bible" and, sure enough, it was very much like the one in "Baking with Julia." I let the bread rise in the La Cloche bottom, while I preheated the lid while preheating the oven. I then clamped the lid on the La Cloche just before putting the bread in the oven. With a La Cloche, there is no need to produce steam in the oven by dumping water or ice cubes in a preheated pan. The baker keeps the moisture in the bread from evaporating. I removed the lid after the first 15 mintues to allow the crust to develop.

I served the loaf at a Fourth of July get-together. Although no one commented on it, I thought it was good with a distinctive "buttery" taste. I froze the rest of the loaf and intend to make garlic bread with the remainder.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

TWD -- Hazelnut aka almond biscotti

Hazelnut, aka almond biscotti, was a fairly simple assignment for Tuesdays with Dorie. If you live in a town of 6,000 people and the nearest big market is more than 30 miles away, you have to find something to substitute for hazelnuts. I chose almonds after "googling" hazelnut substitute. I roasted the almonds for 15 minues at 350 degrees, then chopped them with a knife, rather than use a nut chopper. I wanted big chunks of almonds, not miniscule pieces.

From there on out, I followed the recipe to a T, even going so far as to measure the length of my biscotti "logs" with a ruler.

What I learned from this recipe is to bake the biscotti on a cooling rack for the second baking. That way you don't have to flip each cookie halfway through. What a concept! I loved it.

The biscotti turned out perfectly after 10 minutes in the oven at 300 degrees.. I hate jaw-breaking biscotti that one needs to keep the dentist's phone number nearby when taking the first bite. This biscotti was pretty crunchy (there was no fat in the recipe which tends to make it softer), but it wasn't so hard one had to fear an impending dental crown. One thing that might have made the recipe better was a half teaspoon of almond extract to boost the almond taste a bit. I added brandy and vanilla, but I found I couldn't taste either in the final product. But, all in all, the taste was good, perfect with a morning cup of coffee!