Tuesday, March 29, 2011

luck be a lady...finger

My good friends Steve and Julie were recently engaged to be married, and in celebration Miss C threw a dinner party.  In keeping with dinner party tradition, we had a theme--Italian--and assignments. I have made myself the official dessert maker, a distinction I take seriously.

So seriously, when it was requested that I make a tiramisu, I rose to the challenge, and pulled out my Baking with Julia, for the perfect ladyfinger recipe.  Julia did not disappoint.

sorry, but this is a horrible picture. you kind of get the idea, though, right?
Her ladyfingers involve egg yolks and eggs and sugar and cake flour--all ingredients I use almost every time I bake. And yet, by virtue of pairing them in different ways, mixing them for different amount of times, and adding ingredients in differing orders, the variations of batter, dough, and desserts are endless.  This is never so true when making the genoise for the fingers.  I had no idea that you could beat egg yolks until they turned white.  You can (and should).

Also, as proof positive, I wanted to add a photo from my process, notably the parallel lines I drew upon Julia's recommendation, to ensure my fingers were all the same length and had room enough to get three dozen on a pan.  (The sticks of butter are just to hold down the parchment. FYI, butter makes a great paperweight.)  I am not one for following detailed and irritating directions, but for some reason I pulled out the T-square and indulged Julia in her OCD.  I was not disappointed. My ladyfingers were quite uniform, and I would love to show them to you all lined up on the pans both before and after baking, but I got distracted when they came out of the oven, so intent on the next step.

The next step? The tiramisu.  For the recipe I used this.  And seeing as how cranky this guy appears to be, I followed his Italian in-laws' instructions down to the Italian mascarpone. Lucky for me, we happen to have an Italian grocery in Seattle, and there I was able to find--direct from Italy--the correct cheese.

And here's where you'll have to imagine whipping egg yolks until they're white (again!) and whipping whites until they're peaked and fluffy, and adding more cognac and cheese and layering the whole thing with bravado--because I didn't take any pictures of the process. I did, however, make my husband come downstairs and look as I was doing it, so excited was I.

Look! There they are! After having been dipped in cooled espresso/cocoa/cognac and lined perfectly in my pan!  Thanks Julia! (Having uniform cookies made lining them up in the pan so simple.)

And here's the finished tiramisu, which I got a little over-excited about and upon which I dumped too much cocoa.

(Also, apropos of nothing, but something I noticed after snapping this last photo, it would appear that the color palette for our kitchen backsplash could adequately be called "tiramisu.")

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Two words: YUM and YUM

The March 2011 Daring Baker's Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria's Collection and Jamie of Life's a Feast.  Ria and Jaime challenged The Daring Bakers to bake a yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake.

And it's wonderful.  The recipe is large and makes two coffee cake rings, and a lot of Daring Bakers split the recipe to make only one. I had planned on doing that as well, but in a last minute fit of generosity (oh! I'll bring one to work!) I made the full recipe. Let's just say that the second ring never made it to the office.

This recipe is a bit different than anything I'd ever seen--a yeasted bread roll filled with meringue.  And it's genius.  The filling melts and softens the bread around it--a gooey treat. But the meringue also crisps a bit where the slits are cut into the bread ring, allowing a tiny dried meringue crust to form in the oven.  Yum.

It's a straightforward recipe, very similar to making any kind of sweet roll, in that it's a soft dough that rises once, is assembled into a roll, and rises again before baking. The only difference here is the meringue filling--remarkably fun to spread out and work with---like baking with sweetened clouds.

I filled my cake with chopped Belgian chocolate, cinnamon, and strong, amazing East Indies nutmeg from Penzeys (which is my new favorite nutmeg, and since nutmeg is my favorite spice to bake with, that's saying a lot).

After you roll up the dough and form the circle, you snip deeply into the sides every so often to let the filling ooze out a bit to make the subtle crunch. A painting of egg wash, and the bread goes in the oven.

It comes out of the oven brown and lovely, and it's all you can do to let it cool enough to eat it without burning yourself on the filling.

The only thing I will change for next time? Nuts. This baby screams for pecans. And next time you can bet that I'll be answering that scream.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Number 19

Oh Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe.  Why did I not visit you earlier?

With your shrunken heads and your fetal deer in a jar and your taxidermic two-headed calf?

I mean, come on. You have two mummies and a full human skeleton. You have a taxidermy four-legged chicken.

You have stuffed dead things and fake things hanging from the ceiling in dusty, crazy-time splendor.

My favorite part, however, and the part for which I was woefully unprepared, are your old-timey carnival machines.  

There's the fortune teller with the glowing crystal ball, the one-armed bandit who dispenses tokens, the sex-appeal-o-meter, the strength-of-character-o-meter (measured by shaking hands with Uncle Sam), the Charlie Chaplin moving picture showcase and a number of old time peep shows.

You can bet that I'll be back, dear Shoppe, and this time with a fist-full of change.