Sunday 29 June 2008

Paws of a bear and a Danish braid

Firstly, I want to sincerely apologise for missing 3 Daring Bakers challenges in a row. But if anyone has noticed, my blog laid dormant for the months of March and April, which explains my absence from 2 of the challenges. As for the month of May, the call to make the Spring-inspired Opera gateaux, well, I was on the road, so that in itself presented a few of its own difficulties (map reading has never been my forte).

So with apologies and reasons for my absence out of the way, I present you this month's DB challenge : "Danish Braid" from Sherry Yard's "The Secrets of Baking", hosted by Kelly and Ben

I have to admit I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of having to make and work with a laminated dough because I envisioned the buttery mess I had to contend with and clean afterwards (and I am most certain, for many Daring Bakers hailing from North America who experienced the heatwave earlier this month and those living in the Tropics, this would have been the case). Let's all face it folks, butter is great in food and not so great on the kitchen counter. Nonetheless, I completed the challenge with an apple-custard Danish braid and 2 pairs of generously-sized bear paws bursting with walnuts and chewy dried figs.

Before I get into technical details, I have included some terminology below:

  • detrempe : ball of dough

  • beurrage : butter block

  • turn : each “fold & roll” of the dough produces a single turn. It is a 3-step process where the dough is folded exactly like a business letter in 3 columns. Each single turn creates 3 layers with this method.

  • laminated dough : is layering dough (detrempe) with butter (beurrage) by performing turns.

  • The key to achieving a golden, flaky, soft and deliciously crisp Danish pastry, is in the incorporation of butter into the dough, a process known as lamination. Commercially, pastry margarine is favoured over butter in the production of Danish pastries because it is more malleable and has a higher melting temperature thus making it easier to distribute evenly between layers of dough. However, I find the palate cling in vegetable-based fats very unpleasant and prefer to use butter as prescribed in the recipe for our challenge.

    To achieve an even distribution of fat between layers of dough, firstly, ensure the dough has the same temperature and "consistency" as the butter. This is to say, they should both offer a similar resistance when you press down with a finger. I prefer working with a slightly stiffer dough which is more difficult to knead but I find it aids the lamination process greatly. As the dough rests in the fridge, begin to plasticise the butter. This sounds more complex than it actually is and only involves beating a pat of cold (but not stone hard) butter with a rolling pin until the desired thickness is achieved. This is best done on a piece of baking paper or plastic wrap so the butter can be lifted off the work surface easily. It is very important to allow the dough to rest and chill sufficiently before rolling and in between turns in order to maintain a fairly constant temperature and consistency.

    With adequate lamination, steam is released by the butter between the layers of dough as the pastry cooks yielding a light and puffy product. If the butter layers between the dough are too thick and few, a greasey and flat pastry will result as butter melts and seeps out of the dough as it bakes. Conversely, if the layers of butter are too thin and many, a dense and bread-like finished product will be obtained. Technically, 27 even layers of butter between the dough which equates to 3 turns, will yield the qualities of a good Danish. But as if modern-day life isn't complicated enough, the laminated dough should not be rolled too thinly (3.5-4.5 mm is ideal) when shaping the braid as this will displace the butter layers causing them to fuse together thus resulting in a brioche braid instead of a Danish one.

    Much attention has been placed into the even lamination of butter in the dough up to the stages of proofing and baking, it is therefore critical to ensure the right temperatures are kept at each of these stages to allow the butter to work its magic. I proof my pastries at a low temperature of approximately 22 degrees C until they double in size. This usually takes longer (about 2 hours) than other yeasted doughs I have made in the past but I promise you it is well worth the wait as the layers of butter remain intact albeit soft. I then bake them in a 200 degrees C oven for 7 minutes before turning the temperature down to 180 degrees C for the remaining baking time.

    I have not included the recipe for the Danish dough in this post as it can be found on numerous DB's posts but here is how I prepared the apple compote and vanilla custard used in my Danish braid.

    apple compote (enough for 1 braid plus a lil extra to enjoy with vanilla yogurt later)

    peel 3 medium sized granny smith apples and cut into 2x2cm cubes. heat a saute pan until it is nearly smoking hot drop in a tablespoon of cold butter into the pan followed by the diced apples resist the temptation to stir the apples around as you want them to have a bit of colour and caramelisation add a tablespoon of sugar to the apples and give the pan a toss finish with a splash of rum or calvados and a small handful of raisins.

    vanilla custard (enough for 1 braid plus 2 small danish pastries)

    chill a medium sized bowl in the freezer beat together 2 yolks, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, 50g sugar and 20g cornflour in a small bowl. heat 250ml of whole milk in a small saucepan 'til just quivering add half the milk to the egg mixture and whisk combine egg mixture with the rest of the milk in the saucepan stir until mixture thickens allow to cook a little longer stirring the whole time remove custard and place in pre-chilled bowl place plastic film directly over the custard to prevent a skin from forming allow to cool completely before using.

    Thanking Kelly, Ben and other fellow Daring Bakers again for another great challenge, and the endless support, advice and encouragement on the forums.

    Saturday 28 June 2008

    Midnight blueberry muffins

    Mick used to go to bed rather late so whenever I had an urge to bake at midnight, he would always be there for me to bounce ideas off him. Sometimes he would ask for a progress report ("what is the consistency of the dough/batter?", "does it smell/taste/look good?", "when is it going to be ready?"), but he would always know of the outcome (by picture and word) before anyone else does.

    Blueberry muffins have been on my "to-bake" list for a while now and after swimming with my nephew yesterday and seeing his cute little tummy spill over his board shorts like a generous muffin top, I decided I had to make some blueberry muffins when I got home.

    The reason behind the lapse in decision making and executing, is that I have been doing a little bit of research on gluten-free (GF) baking and on how to replace sugar with agave nectar. Although there seem to be an inexhaustible resource on the internet on how to combine the both to produce delicious vegan and gluten-free muffins, I gave up my quest for tonight and decided to use a basic muffin recipe instead with some alterations made to accomodate the agave nectar, kamut and GF flour I intended to use.

    Blueberry muffins
    1/2 cup gluten free flour
    1/2 cup kamut flour
    1/2 cup plain flour
    2 tsp baking powder
    1/8 tsp salt
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    2 large eggs
    1/3 cup soy milk
    1/3 cup vegetable oil
    1/4 cup agave nectar
    1/2 cup frozen blueberries
    (makes 6 medium sized muffins)
    preheat oven to 180C
    grease 6 holes on a 12-hole muffin tin
    combine dry ingredients together in a bowl
    beat together wet ingredients in a measuring jug
    add wet ingredients to dry ingredients
    **stir until just combined! **
    fold in the frozen berries
    divide mixture equally into the prepared muffin tin
    bake for 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.

    Saturday 21 June 2008

    A special gluten free orange cake

    Lately, I've been finding myself trawling through the internet looking for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free products and recipes. It isn't that I have recently been diagnosed with an intolerance towards certain food groups (though oysters and mussels do make me crook!) but since returning from my vacation, I have felt this urgency for a lifestyle overhaul. I am not sure if it post-vacation guilt - the sort you experience knowing you've lived up one too many excesses but it definately feels like: "Can someone hit my reset button, please?".

    A few days ago, I caught up with my friend D who lives in Sydney and had a self-indulgent whinge-fest. The usual "Life sucks, my legs look like cottage cheese in a pair of nude stockings, I need a new job and any idea where I can find all the answers to every question I will ever have to ask so I don't have to ask them?" type of conversation.

    He listened empathically and replied, and I am paraphrasing here, "Darl, do the 15-day detox and start working in a big pharmaceutical company."

    Why of course! That's what I need. D is wise beyond his age.

    The 15-day detox plan he refers to follows a fairly strict diet of unprocessed food, no dairy, no eggs, no alcohol or caffeine, white fish but only 3 times a week and $70 worth of non-medically proven, herbal supplement tablets that make you feel cleansed from within. I've done it before - it works.

    It is not for the lack of commitment to a lifestyle change that I have not begun the abovementioned detox but I am looking towards a long-term strategy, something more sustainable so it becomes part of my being. I began researching the benefits and drawbacks of various types of diets: ovo-lacto vegetarian, vegan, macrobiotic and raw food.

    Needless to say, one thing led to another and I soon found myself perusing gluten-free websites and now have a better understanding of what coeliac is. I would like to digress a little, now many years ago, I suffered asymptomatic arthiritis and after prolonged medicating with non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, my condition did not improve. What made matters worse, I was taking more drugs to counteract the side effects of the anti-inflammatory drugs. Incidentally, I started reading Eat Right for Your Type by Dr Peter D'Adamo, a text which suggests a diet based on an individual's blood type and to cut a long story short, I refrained from products containing dairy and wheat, consumed more plant-based protein, and together with the power of positive thought, I no longer felt I had the body of a geriatric. Admittedly, I did grow weary of eating the same types of food and never grew accustomed to the texture and flavour of wheat-free baked products. But now, with a more open mind and palate, I am more than eager to explore alternative ingredients again.

    I tasted a flourless orange cake for the very first time at a Sunday picnic a few years ago and I was totally captured; left utterly speechless with my first mouthful. It's texture, a very unusual combination of nibbly, dense and moist bordering creamy but lacking the taste of creamery butter. It is more reminiscent of a steamed pudding - minus the cloying sweetness and the richness. Simply put, its texture was completely different to the conventional crumb of what I knew made a cake.

    Yesterday, I revisited this experience and made an orange cake following the recipe found in Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion. There are many contemporary renditions of this classic cake some with the inclusion of flour and meringue to ligthen its texture, maybe fewer eggs and even replacing the oranges with other citrus fruit that may be in season. Here, I adapted Alexander's recipe with the addition of some ground wattleseed (by Oz Tukka) and oat flour (NB the jury is still out on the appropriateness of oats in a gluten-free diet). Edible wattleseed was developed as a food flavouring back in the mid 1980s when its coffee, chocolate and hazelnut profiles were discovered and have since been popularised in modern Australian cuisine. With such characteristics, it comes as no surprise how I arrived at my orange and wattleseed pairing and why this cake is so delectably more-ish!

    Orange-wattleseed cake
    3 small unwaxed oranges
    250g sugar
    250g ground almonds
    6 large eggs
    1 1/2 tsp ground wattleseed
    1 tsp baking powder
    5 tbs oat flour (optional)
    (makes 1 20x20cm square cake)
    cover oranges with water in a medium saucepan and boil for 10 minutes
    drain oranges and cover again with water
    cook oranges in boiling water for 30 minutes, topping up the water level if necessary
    cool oranges and puree the entire fruit (yes, pith and all - minus the pips of course!) in a food processor/blender
    line the base of the baking tin with baking paper
    preheat oven to 170C
    combine almond meal, baking powder, wattleseed and oatflour (if using) in a bowl. whisk to mix thoroughly
    beat sugar and eggs until double in volume (this results in a lighter "mousse" textured cake. If you find yourself lacking the equipment or the patience, skip this step completely. Just combine the eggs, sugar and orange puree in a single step)
    stir orange puree into egg mixture until just combined - do not overmix
    fold dry ingredients into the mixture
    pour into prepared baking tin
    bake for 50 minutes or until only a few crumbs are attached to the skewer when testing for doneness.

    Sunday 15 June 2008

    A cake on Father's Day

    Yesterday, as any follower of Hallmark celebrations would know, was Father's Day.

    I'm no daddy-hater or cynic who look upon folk who enjoy these greeting-card celebrations with disdain and distaste. My family and I are consistently inconsistent about such celebrations. That is to say, we only celebrate such occasions depending on (a) whether we are sufficiently reminded of their occurrence and (b) if we are together as a family.

    So yesterday, we celebrated Father's Day with a cake.