Friday, October 17, 2014

Pumpkin Pecan Cinnamon Rolls

I’m finally getting into the swing of October and the seasonal enjoyment of pumpkin.  It’s hard to believe it’s that time of the year but here we are.  The chill is in the air and the leaves are swirling at our feet.  I love the light at this time, bright and overcast mingling together, the fog horn bellowing the incoming rush of morning dew.

I do really love pumpkin desserts and pastries so this preparation comes easily and with pleasure.  I’ve been wanting to get my hands back to working with yeast so I’ve made some basic cinnamon rolls with an added layer of pumpkin that’s been sweetened and spiced.  It’s just enough to ease into the pumpkin season and add a note of fall to your brunch table.  It won’t be long before we’re assembling our favorite pumpkin pies, swooning with glee at the bounty of fall.

Bench notes:
- If you're leery of working with yeast, this is a pretty simple formulation and one that isn't likely to cause any panic.  The simple and most important rule to follow is to dissolve your yeast in liquid that is 110 - 115 degrees F.  It should feel very warm, not hot.  I usually just let my tap water run to its hottest temperature, measure out what I need and place a thermometer in the measuring cup.  I let it cool just a bit and when it reads 110 - 115 degrees, I whisk in the yeast and then a pinch of sugar.  (Yeast feeds on sugar but yeast activity may decrease if it comes into direct contact with sugar or salt, so dissolve the yeast in water first, then add the sugar.)   I then set it aside to proof for about 10 minutes while I assemble all the other ingredients.  By the time I'm set to work on the recipe, the yeast is foamy and ready to go.
- If you're not sure whether the dough is ready after the first rise, just press your index finger about 1 1/2" into the dough.  If the indentation stays, the dough has completed the first rise.
- After the first rise, the dough is "punched down" to release the carbon dioxide and even out the temperature.  But rather than punching, gently press the air out with your hands.
- To avoid adding any additional excess flour when shaping the dough, I like to roll it out on a silpat.  No need for any dusting of flour.
- If you're using a glass pyrex baking pan, check the rolls after about 20 - 25 minutes in the oven.  Glass conducts heat more efficiently than metal.
- I place the pan of rolls on a baking sheet before it goes into the oven to prevent the bottoms from getting too brown.
- Everything you wanted to know about working with yeast can be found at Red Star.
- Some more of my favorite delicious pastries for pumpkin mania:  Pumpkin Pear & Pecan Streusel CakePumpkin Pecan Madeleines, Pumpkin Pie Pecan Squares and Pumpkin Cinnamon Swirl Yeast Bread

Pumpkin Pecan Cinnamon Rolls
Makes 9 rolls

Yeast Dough
1/4 cup (2 oz) warm water (110 -115 degrees F; warm but not hot on your wrist)
1 packet active dry yeast
pinch sugar
3 oz (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (4 oz) milk                                                                   
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla                                                                 
2 eggs
2 3/4 (13 3/4 oz) - 3 cups (15 oz) flour

Pumpkin Filling
15 oz can of unsweetened pumpkin puree                   
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (39 grams) dark brown sugar, packed                                                           
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon                
1/4 teaspoon ginger                                  
scant 1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pecan Streusel Filling
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup (2 1/2 oz) chopped toasted pecans                  
1 teaspoon cinnamon                   
zest of 1 medium orange
2 oz (4 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter

1/3 cup (40 g) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 1/2 teaspoons orange juice                  
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice             
few grains salt
For the yeast dough, place warm, not hot, water into a bowl and sprinkle the yeast over it.  Whisk to combine and add a slight pinch of sugar.  Whisk and set aside while you gather and prepare the other ingredients.

Cut the butter into 1/2” pieces and place in a saucepan with the milk.  Heat the milk and butter together just until the butter melts.  Take off the heat and add the sugar, salt and vanilla.  Combine with the yeast mixture and whisk in the eggs.  Switch to a fork and stir in 2 3/4 cups of flour.  If necessary, keep adding flour 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough is no longer sticky. 

Place the dough on a work surface and knead until soft and elastic.  Grease a large bowl with oil and transfer the dough to the bowl.  Toss the dough over once to coat the top of it with oil.  Place a piece of plastic wrap across the top of the bowl and set in a warm place to double in size, about 1 hour.

For the pumpkin filling, whisk together all ingredients until thoroughly blended.  Chill until ready to assemble.

Prepare the streusel by combining the brown sugar, pecans, cinnamon and orange zest. Cut the butter into small pieces and work it into the nut mixture with your fingers until it's moist and crumbly.  Chill until ready to assemble.

Lightly grease a 9” square baking pan and line with a piece of parchment paper large enough to form an overhang on two sides.  Set aside.

When the dough has completed its first rise, gently press on it to deflate it.  Place on a work surface with a very light dusting of flour.  Roll the dough out evenly to an 12” x 18" rectangle.  Spread the pumpkin filling over the surface, leaving a 1 1/2” border along the top of the long side.  Sprinkle the pecan filling evenly over the pumpkin.  

Starting with the long side nearest you, gently lift the dough and fold it over about 1”.  Continue rolling up the pastry until you get to the end, doing your best to keep the sides of the roll even.  Pinch and seal the dough.

Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the roll into 9 pieces, each one about 2” wide.  Carefully place the slices cut side up in the prepared pan 3 per row, leaving some space between for the rolls to expand.  Set the pan aside in a warm spot to rise for an additional 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  

When the oven is ready, place the pan of rolls on a baking sheet and bake until lightly browned, about 30 minutes.  Set on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Gently lift the rolls out of the pan using the paper overhang to assist.  Cool completely. 

For the glaze, sift the powdered sugar into a bowl and whisk in the milk, orange and lemon juice and a few grains of salt until smooth.  Drizzle over the top of the cooled rolls.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Chocolate Pudding Cake with Bananas

It feels like a good time to look to some comfort food.  This pudding cake is quick and easy and definitely satisfies the urge for a warm and gooey dessert.

It starts with a basic chocolate pudding cake recipe.  I add some banana slices to increase the comfort quotient and I also substitute a brown sugar caramel sauce rather the usual chocolate.  It brings together some great flavors that harmonize naturally and completely. 

Simply slice a banana into the bottom of an 8” baking dish.  Once you’ve measured and sifted the dry ingredients, melt the butter and whisk it with milk, an egg and vanilla.  Add the dry ingredients and you have your cake batter, which gets spread over the sliced bananas.  And then for the magic that is pudding cake, there’s another liquid layer that gets poured on top of the cake batter.  In this case, I simmer water, some brown sugar, butter, molasses, a bit of cinnamon and some vanilla.  The cake bakes in just 25 – 28 minutes and comes out looking a bit like a brownie with bubbling sauce on the bottom.  But the cake is super soft, tender and light and the bananas are nice and gooey.  The dessert isn't overly rich or heavy but there is a note of luxury.  It's best served warm, straight from the oven.  A scoop of vanilla, coffee, caramel or whiskey ice cream would send it over the top.

Bench notes:
- The banana should be ripe but firm, not mushy.
- I use natural cocoa powder, not dutched.
- The cake is done when the edges appear set but the center is still very moist.  A tester inserted into the center should have several moist crumbs attached.  If you bake it much longer, there won't be much sauce.
- The taste of chocolate in this cake is light.  If you’d prefer a stronger flavor, fold in 1/2 cup (3 oz) chopped bittersweet chocolate or chocolate chips to the finished batter.
- Toasted nuts might also be a good addition to the cake batter.

Chocolate Pudding Cake with Bananas
Serves 9

1 large ripe banana
1 cup (5 oz) flour

1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup (3/4 oz) cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder

heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg @ room temperature
1/2 cup (4 oz) milk 
@ room temperature
3 oz (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/4 cups (10 oz) water
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) brown sugar
, packed                         
1 oz (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons (24 grams) molasses
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8" square glass baking dish. Thinly slice the banana and distribute on the bottom of the pan.  Set aside.

Sift together the flour, granulated and brown sugars, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.

In another bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, melted butter and vanilla and combine thoroughly.  Add the dry ingredients and mix just until well blended.  Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and over the sliced bananas.  Gently spread the batter evenly to the edges.

For the topping, place the water, brown sugar, butter, molasses and cinnamon in a saucepan, Bring to a boil for one minute, whisking to combine. Take off the heat and add the vanilla.  Slowly and carefully pour over the cake batter.  Do not stir or mix in the liquid in any way. The liquid should just sit on top of the cake batter as a separate layer.

Bake the cake until the edges of the cake are set and a tester inserted into the center comes out with several moist crumbs attached, about 25 - 28 minutes.  Serve warm.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Espresso Chocolate Chip Blondies

When life throws us a curveball, our human response is to take stock of where we are and take a fond and cherishing look at all the good fortune in our lives.

A month ago I landed in an emergency room with pain and severe difficulty breathing.  Five doctors, several tests, x-rays, scans and lots of blood work later, it looks like I caught a very nasty virus that infiltrated my lungs and the sac surrounding my heart.  Confined to bed rest and a regimen of big doses of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medicine, I really had the stuffing knocked out of me.  But I began to get better, ever so slowly.  The pain went away and my breathing came easier.  I’m now thrilled to say I'm starting to feel human again.  I’m able to walk for several city blocks without losing my breath.  Although I still tire easily, I know it will be a few more weeks before I get my full stamina back.  And what I feel profoundly is a tremendous THANK YOU to all the doctors and medical staff who assisted in my treatment.  Each and every one of them have been inordinately kind, compassionate and perfectly professional.  I also want to say to all my readers, please take good care of yourselves this winter.  There are some terrible bugs out there.  It can be so easy to forget how fortunate we are to enjoy everything life has to offer. 

I hope to get back in the swing of working full speed in my kitchen soon, but for now I’m posting this very easy recipe for some simple Espresso Chocolate Chip Blondies.  They are a delicious treat incorporating some basic ingredients without much effort.   I hope you enjoy them.

My deep appreciation to all my readers who sent me the loveliest emails and good wishes.  I can’t tell you how much they really lifted my spirit.  You are the BEST.  And to my family and friends, I hope you know how much I love you.

Here's to lots of cozy fall days full of wonderful aromas emanating from our kitchens!

Bench notes:
- You can substitute coarsely chopped 3 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate for the chocolate chips, if you prefer.                  
- Add some toasted chopped nuts for more texture and flavor.
- Like any cake or bar cookie, once these are cut, the edges will begin to dry out.  Cut what you need and store remaining uncut pastry in an airtight container to prolong freshness.

Espresso Chocolate Chip Blondies
Makes about 16 slices

1 cup (5 oz) flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 oz (1 stick) butter @ room temperature                                  
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) dark brown sugar, packed
1 egg @ room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla                                                                                                              
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 tablespoon rum
1/2 cup (3 oz) semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease and line the bottom of a 8” square pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two sides.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

Cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 -3 minutes.  Scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl.  Add the egg and mix until fully incorporated. Combine the vanilla, espresso powder and rum and add to the mix.  Blend thoroughly.

Add the dry ingredients and combine just until barely mixed and a few dry streaks remain.  Use a rubber spatula to fold in the chocolate chips and finish mixing by hand. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread into a smooth and even layer.

Bake until a tester comes out clean, about 22 - 24 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack. Run a small spatula or a thin knife around the edge of the pan and remove from the pan using the parchment overhang to assist.  Gently peel off the parchment.

Friday, September 26, 2014

See you soon

I am really under the weather.  Hope to see you next week.

In the meantime, take a stroll through my flickr page for some pastry inspiration!

pastry studio

Friday, September 19, 2014

German Chocolate Ice Cream

We all know the composition of German Chocolate Cake: rounds of soft chocolate cake layered with a filling of toasted pecans and shredded coconut in a rich caramel.  It’s called “German” not because it originates in Germany but because of Sam German, an American chocolatier who created the cake in the mid-1800s.

German Chocolate Cake translates easily into an ice cream flavor.  I’ve dialed down the intensity for those who enjoy the idea of German Chocolate Cake but find it delicious only in small doses.  The ice cream is a deep chocolate blend.  Toasted pecans and coconut are combined with a bit of very simple brown sugar caramel. Chunks of chocolate cookies are added for more texture and more chocolate depth.  And although it’s not quite as rich as the cake version, all the essential flavors are there for a very delicious ice cream experience. 

Bench notes:
- When melting the chocolate, make sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the barely simmering water in the bain marie.   
- Place the pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast at 350 degrees F for about 10 minutes.
- Choose chocolate cookies that are soft so they’ll be a bit chewy.  I used Saucepan Fudge Drops and I thought they were perfect. 
- Change up the pecan, coconut and cookie proportions to your liking.
- Let the ice cream sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes to soften before scooping.

German Chocolate Ice Cream
Makes about 1 quart

Chocolate Ice Cream
8 oz bittersweet (63% - 72%) or semisweet (52% - 62%) chocolate                                             
1 1/2 cups (12 oz) heavy cream                                                   
1 1/2 cups (12 oz) milk                                                                  
4 egg yolks @ room temperature
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) sugar                                        
salt, to taste

Pecan Coconut Caramel
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) dark brown sugar, packed
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 oz) heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt, to taste
1/4 cup (1 oz) pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup (25 grams) shredded coconut

6 soft chocolate cookies (about 4 1/2 oz)

For the ice cream base, chop the chocolate into small pieces. Combine with the heavy cream in a heatproof bowl and warm over a bain marie of slow simmering water until chocolate is melted.  Remove from heat and stir until smooth and thoroughly combined. Set aside.

Bring the 1 1/2 cups of milk to a simmer. Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until thickened and light yellow.  Add some of the warm milk to temper the mixture, whisking constantly.  Pour in the remaining warm milk and whisk together thoroughly.  Return the mixture to the pan and place on medium low heat.  Cook, stirring constantly with a heatproof rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until the custard coats the spatula or back of the spoon and a finger traced through it leaves a clean track.  Do not boil.  Strain immediately into the chocolate/cream mixture and stir to combine.  Add salt to taste.  Cool and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, preferably overnight.

For the pecan and coconut caramel swirl, place the cream and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium low heat.  Bring to a slow boil for about two minutes or so until the sugar is dissolved, whisking constantly.  Take off the heat and add vanilla and salt, to taste.  Stir in the chopped pecans and coconut.  Chill just until the mixture thickens.

Chop the chocolate cookies into bite-sized pieces.  

Freeze the ice cream according to your machine’s directions.  Fold in the chopped chocolate cookies.  Pour half the ice cream into an airtight container and dollop half the pecan coconut caramel mixture.  Take a knife and swirl it through.  Repeat with a second layer of each, pressing and swirling the nut mixture into the ice cream. Press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the ice cream, cover and place in your freezer to firm up.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Brown Butter Banana & Chocolate Marble Cake

This is a back to basics kind of week.  Nothing very fancy or complicated, just simple ingredients you can find just about anywhere.  But since it’s also essential to have some fun in the kitchen, I mix things up just a little bit.

I start this pastry with a basic banana bread idea, which we all know and love.  Some banana breads are made with butter and some are made with oil.  Some have nuts and/or chocolate chips.  Some are hydrated with buttermilk and some just use a lot of bananas for more moisture.  

In this recipe I brown the butter to a nice nutty amber for additional flavor.  I add a pinch of spice and I use sour cream for moisture.  I’ve found that sour cream works best to really tenderize banana cake.  I use a mix of granulated & brown sugars for flavor and moisture.  I add bananas that are very ripe to make sure the right sugar levels are there.  And just to make matters more alluring, I portion a bit of the batter and flavor it with a cocoa & coffee mixture.  Then it's crowned with chopped nuts and into the oven it goes.

The resulting cake is tender with a soft crumb, not too heavy and perfect for an afternoon snack or morning brunch table when you feel like it's time for a little treat. 

Bench notes:
- Some tips for successful browned butter:
1) Use a stainless steel pan so you can best gauge the color of the butter as it starts to brown.  Have a small heatproof bowl near the stove so you can immediately pour off the butter when it's done.  I use a clear Pyrex custard cup so I can see the color.
2) Cut the butter into small uniform pieces so it melts consistently without spot scorching.
3) Use medium low heat and watch it carefully.  As the butter starts to melt and heat up, you'll notice small bubbles on the surface that get larger. You'll notice the milk solids starting to brown on the bottom of the pan very quickly.  Lift the pan and swirl for more control if it’s browning too fast or nearly done.  Keep your eye on it and keep swirling.  It will be done very quickly after you notice the first brown bits on the bottom of the pan.  Once you begin to detect a nutty aroma, it's about done.  Stop when you think it's almost there.  It will continue to darken off the heat.  Pour immediately into a heatproof bowl to stop the cooking.   Set aside to cool.
4) If you've gone too far, it will look very dark and taste bitter, so you'll have to start over again.  You’re looking for medium amber brown.
5) When adding the browned butter to the rest of the ingredients, include all the brown bits that have settled to the bottom of the bowl.
- I mashed the bananas fairly coarsely.  It's definitely not a puree.
- I tried this cake with melted chocolate rather than the cocoa mix and I prefer the flavor of the cocoa.

Brown Butter Banana Chocolate Marble Cake
Makes 1 loaf

4 oz (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
1/4 cup (3/4 oz) cocoa powder
1/4 cup (2 oz) hot coffee
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) sugar
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) brown sugar, packed
2 eggs @ room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup (6 3/4 oz; about 2 medium) ripe banana, mashed
1/3 cup (75 grams) sour cream
1/3 cup (about 1 oz) walnuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.   Grease an 8 1/2" x 4 1/2” loaf pan and line with a piece of parchment paper large enough to form an overhang along both sides of the length of the pan.

Brown the butter until it’s medium amber.  Immediately pour into a heatproof bowl and allow to cool.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Set aside.

Combine the cocoa powder with hot coffee until smooth.  Set aside.

In a bowl large enough to hold all the batter ingredients, whisk together the cooled browned butter and both sugars.  Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract and mix thoroughly.  

Add half of the flour mixture and stir to combine.  Blend in the sour cream and bananas and mix thoroughly.  Add the remaining flour mixture and mix just until there are no more flour streaks.  Remove 3/4 cup of the batter and combine with the cocoa/coffee mixture.

Pour half the banana batter into the prepared pan.  Dollop with half the chocolate batter and run a knife through in figure 8s to marble.  Repeat once again.  Press chopped nuts onto the top. 

Bake for 45 - 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Place cake on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.  Run a thin knife around the edges to loosen.  Using the parchment overhang to assist, lift the cake out and cool completely.