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Posts from the ‘Daring Bakers Challenge’ Category

Savory Autumn Crostata

Everyone needs a little something to warm up their bellies for the Thanksgiving feast…a little nosh, a little nibble.  Savory Autumn Crostata with butternut squash, onion, apple and blue cheese is perfect.

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole.  She
chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata.  She used her own experience as a source,
as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced (1 stick)
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 large baking apple
  • 1 small or 1/2 medium butternut squash (about 3/4 pound), halved, seeded, and skin on
  • 1 small yellow onion, peeled, root end trimmed but intact
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
  • 1⁄3 cup crumbled Stilton or other blue cheese (about 1 1/2 ounces)

Now that the recipe is out of the way…let’s move on to the good stuff…

Start prepping your veggies.  The good news is there is no need to peel the butternut squash.  I had a nice small squash which worked out perfectly for slices.  When cutting your onion, leave the root end intact, only trimming away the root threads.  Core and slice the apple with the idea being to make all the slices about the same size and thickness.

Actually…first, make the dough.  Pulse the flour and salt together in a food processor.  Add the butter and pulse a couple of times until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal with a few bean-size bits of butter in it.  Add the egg and pulse 1 to 2 times more…it just hast to be damp enough to stick together.  If the dough seems very dry, add up to 1 tablespoon of cold water, 1 teaspoon at a time, pulsing briefly. Remove the blade and bring the dough together by hand. Shape the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Roll out the dough into a large disk, and dusting generously with flour.  All those wonderful creamy dots – yep, you guessed right…it’s butter!  Don’t be afraid, as this is what makes a crust flaky and lovely.  Remember to work with your dough quickly and as little as possible…if the butter melts…your crust is toast!

Put all the squash, onion and apple slices into a bowl, and pour the melted butter over the top.  Toss in the herbs, and season with salt and pepper, toss or mix them gently so each piece is coated perfectly in buttah!

Roll the dough to about 1/8 inch thick and about 2 -3 inches wider in diameter than you would like the finished crostata to be.  Place the dough on a sheet of parchment on a baking sheet and spread the mustard over the dough, leaving a 1-1½ inch border.

Beginning on the outside, alternate slices of squash, apple and onion in a circle, tucking them close together.

Continue layering it all into the center of the circle as well using smaller pieces to fill in the holes.  Next, fold in the sides, pleating where necessary to contain the filling.

Press the edges down gently and tuck any pointy pieces of onion or apple back down into the crostata.  Place in a 400° oven until the crust is golden brown and flaky, about 55 minutes.

While the crostata is baking…it’s time to get the blue cheese out…any blue will work…stilton would be especially delicious…and I used a roquefort.

After the 55 minutes, pull the crostata out of the oven.

Crumble the cheese using a fork and scatter over the top of the crostata.

Place the crostata back in the oven for another 5 minutes to melt the cheese.

Let is cool for a few minutes, slice it into wedges and serve.  It can also be served room temperature as well.  Enjoy and be sure to save a little bit of room for Turkey and fixin’s!

Spiced Sugar Doughnuts!


I couldn’t wait…I had to take a bite…and then several more.  These are seriously good.  But c’mon…who could say no to homemade doughnuts…?  My neighbors couldn’t…my husband couldn’t, I couldn’t, and my poor office mates who receive many-a-baked-good…could not say no!

The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.

Recipe thanks to Alton Brown

Yeast Doughnuts!

  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 1/2 ounces vegetable shortening, approximately 1/3 cup
  • 2 packages instant yeast
  • 1/3 cup warm water (95 to 105 degrees F)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 23 ounces all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting surface
  • Peanut or vegetable oil, for frying (1 to 1/2 gallons, depending on fryer)

Place the milk in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat just until warm enough to melt the shortening. Place the shortening in a bowl and pour warmed milk over. Set aside.

In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let dissolve for 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes, pour the yeast mixture into the large bowl of a stand mixer and add the milk and shortening mixture, first making sure the milk and shortening mixture has cooled to lukewarm.

Bet you didn’t know what fresh nutmeg looked like, did you?  It looks like a nut with very pretty insides once you start to grate it.  Fresh nutmeg was a revelation to me when I was living in France…it’s all they use.  The nuts left whole will keep for quite a while, and it is a much fresher taste than the already grated stuff you find in the spice aisle.

Add the eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg, and half of the flour. Using the paddle attachment, combine the ingredients on low speed until flour is incorporated and then turn the speed up to medium and beat until well combined.

Add the remaining flour, combining on low speed at first, and then increase the speed to medium and beat well. Change to the dough hook attachment of the mixer and beat on medium speed until the dough pulls away from the bowl and becomes smooth, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a well-oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

On a well-floured surface, roll out dough to 3/8-inch thick. Cut out dough using a 2 1/2-inch doughnut cutter or pastry ring and using a 7/8-inch ring for the center whole. Set on floured baking sheet, cover lightly with a tea towel, and let rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oil in a deep fryer or Dutch oven to 365 degrees F. Gently place the doughnuts into the oil, 3 to 4 at a time. Cook for 1 minute per side.

Transfer to a cooling rack or paper towels placed in baking pan. Allow to cool for a few minutes before rolling in your spiced sugar.

The makings of spiced sugar – ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon, I added just a touch of black pepper as well.

Mix it all together and once the doughnuts have cooled off, drop the doughnuts in the sugar and shake, roll, toss…whatever you need to do to coat them in wonderful delicious spiced sugary goodness.

Don’t forget to sample your finished product – very important step.  Pile high on platter, marvel at your work and then deliver to whomever is deserving of such love in the form of pure doughnutty heaven.

Chocolate Pavlovas with Mascarpone Mousse

So if you know me…you know that sweets aren’t really my thing.  At least not like salty-crunchy-starchy-delicious things are.  But…there’s a catch.  I like to make sweets…and as long as there are others around to eat them up…I’ll keep making and you keep eating.  Which brings me to the Pavlovas…made while on vacation when there were lots of people to make them quickly disappear.

The June 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Dawn of Doable and Delicious.  Dawn challenged the Daring Bakers’ to make Chocolate Pavlovas and Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse. The challenge recipe is based on a recipe from the book Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard.

Chocolate Meringue

3 large egg whites
½ cup plus 1 tbsp white granulated sugar
¼ cup  confectioner’s sugar
1/3 cup Dutch processed cocoa powder

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 200º F (95º C) degrees.  Line two baking sheets with silpat or parchment and set aside.

Put the egg whites in a bowl and whip until soft peaks form.

Increase speed to high and gradually add granulated sugar about 1 tbsp at a time until stiff peaks form.  (The whites should be firm but moist.)

Mmmmmm…cocoa powder!

Sift the confectioner’s sugar and cocoa powder over the egg whites and fold the dry ingredients into the white.

Mixing the cocoa powder and sugar into the meringue looks like it will never happen…just continue to fold gently and it will eventually come together.

I free-formed the meringue onto a silpat…you can really make them any size and shape you’d like.

I also filled a pastry bag with the meringue, and piped it onto a parchment lined sheet pan.  Overall, I liked the look of the free form shapes better, but they were a little big for 1 serving.

Bake for 2-3 hours until the meringues become dry and crisp.  Cool and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.  I was a little surprised at the extended baking time…but they worked out perfectly.

Onto the mousse…

Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse

1 ½ cups heavy cream
grated zest of 1 average sized lemon
9 ounces 72% chocolate, chopped
1 2/3 cups  mascarpone
pinch of nutmeg
2 tbsp Grand Marnier

Put ½ cup of the heavy cream and the lemon zest in a saucepan over medium high heat.

Once warm, add the chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth.  Transfer the mixtureto a bowl and let sit at room temperature until cool.

Place the mascarpone, the remaining cup of cream and nutmeg in a bowl.  Whip on low for a minute until the mascarpone is loose…I whipped by hand…as I was quickly using up every dish, bowl and utensil in the kitchen…and a good arm workout never hurt anyone.

Add the Grand Marnier and whip on medium speed (or continue to whip by hand with whisk until your arm almost falls off…either way…whip until it holds soft peaks.  Warning:  DO NOT OVERBEAT as the mascarpone WILL BREAK.

Mix about ¼ of the mascarpone mixture into the chocolate to lighten.  Fold in the remaining mascarpone until well incorporated.

I used two spoons to shape canelles of the mousse, plopped them onto the pavlovas and finished it with a loose whipped cream drizzled over the top.  The final tough is missing…and is actually a common mistake of mine.  I had a few fresh mint leaves to place artfully on top…and once again…forgot about them entirely until the camera was turned off and the plates scraped clean.

Sigh.  Next time….

Piece Montée, Crunch in the Mouth, Croquembouche!

So I joined The Daring Bakers!  It’s an online group of bloggers who issue and participate in a challenge each month.  There are rules and expectations, some people follow them, some use them more as rough guidelines…and lastly, everyone posts about the project on their own blogs the same day.

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.

So croquembouche.  Yeah…never thought I would be making one of these…which is a good part of the reason that I joined Daring Bakers.  I’m a little picky.  Everyone has their favorites, their fall-backs, their ruts.  Everyone can use an excuse to go beyond the recipes they lean towards.  I set out to make the whole shebang on a Sunday – yeah…that did not happen.

So I started with the custard – ’cause I had everything I needed to make it right then…and it needed to chill in the fridge before piping it into the puffs.  (recipe is posted below) Custard made on Sunday – and puffs made on Tuesday.

1/4 cup of milk is mixed with cornstarch…and the rest of the milk is mixed with sugar and heated on the stove.

Whole eggs are beaten into the milk and cornstarch mixture.

Then yolks are added – it is custard, after all.

Now is when things start to get dicey…and you start wishing that you had paid attention during those Patisserie classes, and you are crossing your fingers that you don’t scramble the eggs…as starting over at this point would bite!

You take the heated milk mixture off the burner and add some of it to the egg mixture…stirring constantly to avoid a chunky scrambling disaster…but this is not the crux yet.

*note – things were moving fast and stirring could not be stopped…so there are a few missing pictures.

Next, you add all the egg mixture back into the hot saucepan full of still-very-warm milk…and stir like crazy.  In my head –  I was thinking – okay…not so bad, I’m making custard…look at me go.  Then it was – wow…I’m really hot and sweating, is it done yet…?  It this thick enough…?  Oh god – how will I know when it is done enough…if my custard doesn’t set – croquembouche is a pipe(ing) dream.  Then…all of a sudden…and I mean SUDDENLY…I had custard.  It was thick and needed NO more heat.

You take it off the heat…once it has thickened…and hopefully not scrambled or burned…and quickly stir in butter and vanilla!  Whew!

I’ll admit…it is not the smoothest custard ever made – but taste was not sacrificed in the least.  Cover it and throw it in the fridge.

For the Vanilla Crème Patisserie
2 cup whole milk
4 Tbsp. cornstarch
12 Tbsp. sugar
2 large egg
4 large egg yolks
4 Tbsp. (30 g.) unsalted butter
2 Tsp. Vanilla

Dissolve cornstarch in ¼ cup of milk. Combine the remaining milk with the sugar in a saucepan; bring to boil; remove from heat.

Beat the whole egg, then the yolks into the cornstarch mixture. Pour 1/3 of boiling milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so that the eggs do not begin to cook.

Return the remaining milk to boil, and remove from the heat.  Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, continuing whisking.

Continue whisking (this is important – you do not want the eggs to solidify/cook/scramble) until the cream thickens and comes to a boil.  This can happen very quickly – not a good time to step away from the stove…or even look away.  Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla.

Pour custard into a glass bowl.  Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface.  Chill immediately and until ready to use.

On to the Pâte à Choux

Start with butter, salt, sugar and water.

Once the butter has melted and the water is boiling, add in the sifted flour while continuing to stir with a wooden spoon. Continue  cooking the mixture until it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.

I’ve completed the next steps in my Kitchenaid mixer…but decided I would follow the recipe provided to the letter…so it was time for an arm workout.  The dough gets dumped into another bowl…mainly so the hot pan doesn’t immediately cook the eggs.

Add one egg at a time and fully incorporate it into the dough before adding another egg.  It’s also important to consider how big your eggs are…if using large or extra-large eggs, I would recommend adding just a touch more flour.  Otherwise your dough can end up a little runny.

While mixing, you might feel like it will never mix together and like it is a sloppy eggy mess…keep mixing.  It will come back together.

Fill piping bag (no tip necessary – and a Ziploc with the end cut off works just as well).

I piped just enough batter out to make small puffs – about one and a half times around.  The exact form is not super critical, as they sort of melt before puffing up from all the moisture in the batter as it converts to steam.

Since I had two trays in the oven at a time, I switched them halfway through cooking.  It should also be noted that this is one of those recipe’s where the oven temperature needs to be reduced 10 minutes into cooking – don’t forget.

It’s easy to think that you can pull these out of the oven before the timer dings…don’t be fooled.  They must stay in the oven long enough to dry out a bit and this is important for two reason.  One – they will sink like soufflé if they have not been cooked long enough…and Two – you’re filling them with custard…and no one likes a soggy mushy cream puff!

Pate a Choux (Yield: About 40)
¾ cup (175 ml.) water
6 Tbsp. (85 g.) unsalted butter
¼ Tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup (125 g.) all-purpose flour
4 large eggs

For Egg Wash: 1 egg and pinch of salt

Pre-heat oven to 425◦F/220◦C degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Preparing batter:
Combine water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally. At boil, remove from heat and sift in the flour, stirring to combine completely.

Return to heat and cook, stirring constantly until the batter dries slightly and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Transfer to a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon 1 minute to cool slightly.

Add 1 egg. The batter will appear loose and shiny.

As you stir, the batter will become dry-looking like lightly buttered mashed potatoes.

It is at this point that you will add in the next egg. Repeat until you have incorporated all the eggs.

Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip (I piped directly from the bag opening without a tip). Pipe choux about 1 inch-part in the baking sheets. Consistency is important.

Using a clean finger dipped in hot water, gently press down on any tips that have formed on the top of choux when piping. You want them to retain their ball shape, but be smoothly curved on top.

Brush tops with egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten with pinch of salt).

Bake the choux at 425◦F/220◦C degrees until well-puffed and turning lightly golden in color, about 10 minutes.

Lower the temperature to 350◦F/180◦C degrees and continue baking until well-colored and dry, about 20 minutes more. Remove to a rack and cool.

Can be stored in an airtight box overnight.

When you are ready to assemble your piece montée, using a plain pastry tip, pierce the bottom of each choux. Fill the choux with pastry cream using either the same tip or a star tip, and place on a paper-lined sheet. Choux can be refrigerated briefly at this point while you make your glaze.

I planned my first layer before filling them, and used wax paper to make sure I ended up with a clean area around my finished ‘bouche.

Chocolate Glaze:
8 ounces/200 g. finely chopped chocolate (use the finest quality you can afford as the taste will be quite pronounced; I recommend dark chocolate – I used a 72% cacao chocolate)

Melt chocolate in microwave or double boiler. Stir at regular intervals to avoid burning. Use the best quality chocolate you can afford. Use immediately – although I didn’t have any trouble with it hardening up.

Assembly of your Piece Montée:
You may want to lay out your unfilled, unglazed choux in a practice design to get a feel for how to assemble the final dessert. For example, if making a conical shape, trace a circle (no bigger than 8 inches) on a piece of parchment to use as a pattern. Then take some of the larger choux and assemble them in the circle for the bottom layer. Practice seeing which pieces fit together best.

Once you are ready to assemble your piece montée, dip the bottom of each choux in your glaze (careful it may be a little hot), and start assembling on your cake board/plate/sheet. Continue dipping and adding choux in levels using the glaze to hold them together as you build up.

At this point, I was excited that my structure was holding, and decided I should take a break and let the chocolate harden a bit before continuing – I managed to catch a few minutes of Glee…thank goodness…and thank goodness for hulu.


Now, croquembouche are typically french wedding cakes and at least I was not under the pressure of presenting this at someone’s wedding…yikes.  It (or my version of it) is not the most elegant…but after taste-testing time after time after time (I ate at least 9 cream puffs at work – for the sake of research of course)…they were damn good!  I would make these again…just maybe without the design and engineering effort!  Can you croque…and bouche…?  🙂

Stay tuned for a Daring Cooks post in the next few weeks!

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