Sunday, March 27, 2011

monkey bread

So I started off the weekend with a classic from work---monkey bread. I've had it on the boardwalk down in Ocean City, but it doesn't compare to the version Chef makes at work. What could be better than buttery brioche poached on the bottom in a rich toffee sauce and dusted on top with cinnamon sugar? It's labor intensive to make but none of the steps are difficult, which is a plus. Brioche (as I've learned since I make it every day at work) is actually quite easy to make. I used a version of Chef's recipe that was featured on Martha Stewart radio a few months ago.

The dough comes together in two steps.

Step one: mix together all the ingredients except the butter with the paddle attachment on your stand mixer. I put the flour and sugar together in the bowl, then put the yeast and salt on opposite sides of the bowl (SALT KILLS YEAST. I feel as if this should be a bumper sticker.) and pour the milk and eggs right on top. Mix with paddle until the the dough comes together, then switch to the dough hook and continue to knead until the dough is smooth.

Step two: gradually add small chunks of the softened butter. Don't panic----it will take close to 20 minutes to get all the butter in and for the dough to come together and form a satiny smooth ball (take a gander at the picture below so you know what you're looking for).

I let the dough rest for four hours. Meanwhile, I made the toffee sauce for the bottom of the pan. Again, super easy. Everything goes in a pot except the second addition of cream and the lemon juice (the lemon juice will curdle the cream if you add it right away). Whisk the mixture together and bring to a boil. Add the rest of cream and lemon juice then bring back to a boil. Pour it into the bottom of your pan and let it cool down a bit.

I divided the dough into 20 pieces that are 30 grams each. The recipe makes the perfect amount, though, so that you can divide it by eye into 20 pieces without weighing them out. I dipped them in butter then in cinnamon sugar and placed them in the pan.

I let it proof for an hour. I had the oven on all day, so they proofed ridiculously fast. Chef says that you can also let them proof overnight at room temp then bake them off first thing in the morning. Below you can see how large the balls will get once they are proofed.

The recipe says to bake them at 350 for 40 minutes. Let me tell you that this was way too long and the the tops of my monkey bread got a bit too crispy. They should be finished baking in 25-30 minutes at the most.

I know that this seems like it would take a long time, but believe me, it's definitely worth it. People at work go nuts for this stuff and start circling like vultures as soon as we pull the trays from the oven. I always limit myself to just one, though, because they're so addictive. Well, at least just one to start...

Monday, March 21, 2011

it's finally here!

Anthony and I have been doing so many cakes together we decided to finally make it official! Please visit our new (and still in the works) website, like our page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to keep updated on all our future projects.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

frozen breakfast

frozen yogurt with agave nectar
A coworker and I have been talking about making frozen yogurt with just fat free greek yogurt and an alternative sweetener such as agave nectar or honey instead of granulated sugar---a sugar free and fat free froyo.

Chef Nancy makes a frozen yogurt at work which is ridiculously good. The recipe includes a Greek style yogurt, simple syrup (which is just granulated sugar and water) and corn syrup. During the summer, she adds fresh strawberry puree and vanilla bean to make the most outstanding strawberry froyo I've ever had.

Then again, it's not something you can have every day because of the fat and sugar content. And that's why I wanted to give a healthier version a try. With summer fast approaching, I can't imagine anything more delicious for breakfast than froyo with granola.

I ended up straining my own yogurt because I couldn't find fat free greek yogurt at the store (weird, right?). I strained 2 large containers of fat free yogurt (it ended up yielding roughly 4 cups of thickened yogurt, or as it's sometimes called, yogurt cheese) and whisked in a half cup of light agave nectar. While I waited for it to churn, I put together a quick granola to sprinkle on top.

I tossed oats, chopped pecans and sliced almonds with a little more agave nectar, a tiny pat of butter and lime juice and zest and baked it at 300 degrees for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. When it came out of the oven, I tossed in dried cherries and raisins and let it cool to room temp before sprinkling it on top a few scoops of the yogurt.

Overall, I liked the yogurt's the flavor, though I thought it turned out a little icy. Without corn syrup, though, that's the risk you run. Corn syrup adds sugar without additional sweetness. The more sugar, the smoother and less icy your final product.

So last week I didn't post anything because I held a dinner party. You can read more about it, including the menu, on my friend Anthony's blog. I thought I'd include a picture of the table because it looked so pretty when I was finished setting it. I love hydrangeas and try to have them in my house whenever possible.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

a pie problem

lemon meringue pie
Yes, I've tried a lemon meringue tart before, but never an official pie. The main difference between what I made and a traditional pie is that I used an Italian meringue (egg whites that are cooked by being whipped together with a sugar syrup) instead of a French meringue (egg whites whipped together with plain ol' granulated sugar). I like the smoothness of an Italian meringue. French meringues taste to much like eating cotton candy to me. Blech.

Chef is currently working on a lemon meringue pie at work to replace the long-running apple pie on the menu. There have been two main problems, though, with the meringue topping. First, the meringue has "weeped" or oozed down over the crust after it has been browned in the oven, making the crust soggy. Second, the meringue refuses to bond to the lemon curd filling and instead slips and slides all over the top of the pie. Lemon meringue is definitely not one of my favorite pies (meringue is just too sweet for me), but I found the problems intriguing and decided to give it a try at home.

There are two schools of thought when making lemon meringue pie. Some people think that the lemon curd filling should be poured into the pie shell immediately after the curd is finished cooking so that the piping hot filling will cook the underside of the meringue while the oven cooks the top of the meringue. Chef has been making her pies using this method. Theoretically, this method prevents the meringue from weeping by making sure the underside is cooked enough to stop any excess moisture in the meringue from leaking out. This method is obviously not full proof, because it has not worked on the pies in the pastry kitchen.

Other people believe that the filling should be cooled before adding it to the pie shell and topping it with the meringue. I decided to use this method at home, since Chef has not tried it at work. It's also a texture issue for me. I don't like the texture of the filling if you just let it set and then eat it. It's just too wobbly that way like some kind of messed up lemon jello. I prefer to let it cool then whisk it up before adding it into the pie shell so it is as smooth and creamy as possible.

I also changed the way I browned the meringue. At work, the pie was baked a few minutes in a 400 degree oven. Instead, I flashed mine under my broiler for a few seconds until it was golden brown.

And now for the results.

I loved my filling. After I pulled it from the broiler, I put it in the fridge for the curd to set up again. When I cut into it, it was firm enough to hold it's shape, but creamy enough to satisfy me.

Also, there was no weeping. I'm not sure if I should attribute it to less time in the oven or to the fact that I added some powdered sugar to the meringue. Chef had suggested adding it to the meringue instead of straight granulated sugar so that the cornstarch in the powdered sugar would help soak up some of the meringue's moisture. I went for half powdered sugar and half granulated sugar and it seemed to work beautifully.

However, I did still have meringue/filling separation issues. It seemed to be less than what I had seen at work, but the meringue was still not connected firmly enough to the filling (insert the appropriate expletive here).

Rome wasn't built in a day, I guess.