Tuesdays with Dorie: Hungarian Shortbread

I’m trying really hard to get my family into the mindset of eating seasonally.  I’d love to say it’s solely because I want my family to be in tune with the natural world, or because I try to eat locally, which tends to go hand and hand with seasonally.  But really, when you get down to it, it’s about taste.  If you eat something that’s at the peak of it’s season, more like than not, it’s going to be better than eating a poor imitation from halfway around the world the wrong time of the year.  Plus, there’s the added bonus that it’s usually cheaper.  I mean, I can buy organic grapes from chile in the middle of winter, for $4.00 a pound, but they’re a helluva lot cheaper and more flavorful if I wait until I can get them for $1.99 a pound at the farmer’s market at the beginning of September, not to mention much less beat up.

Another bonus to seasonal eating is that it gives you something to look forward to.  It’s like my own little celebration of the changing seasons…from Hood Strawberries in May, to the first apricots in July, to Peaches and Tomatoes in August, and all the amazing squashes, apples, and pears of the fall.  I think maybe the most celebratory of these must be rhubarb…the first harbinger of spring.  It even LOOKS like spring, a bright pink preview of all the luscious fruits to come.  I was so excited last week to see the first stalks of local rhubarb in the produce department of my grocery store, I bought all they had and ran home to make a rhubarb upside down cake.

So when I saw that the filling for this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie assignment, Hungarian Shortbread, was rhubarb jam, I did a little happy dance, and ran right out to the store to grab another bagful of those lovely pink stalks.

I opted to make a different version of rhubarb jam than the one called for in the book, mainly because I wanted a larger batch of jam, some for the cookies, and some to jar and save for a less rhubarb-y time of year.  I used a basic recipe calling for liquid pectin, since I had some left over from last time I made pate de fruits, and added the seeds of one vanilla bean and the microplaned zest of one lemon to give it a little complexity.  I may have eaten some of the jam right out of the bowl, purely in the interest of quality control…but I did leave enough for recipe too!

This shortbread recipe is unique in that instead of pressing the dough into the pan, it’s divided into two parts and then both parts are frozen.  Half the frozen dough is then grated into a pan, the jam spread on top, and then the second half of the dough is grated over the jam.  The whole shebang goes in the oven, and is baked until golden on the edges, before being topped with powdered sugar and sliced into bars.

The verdict?  Well I love shortbread, and I love rhubarb, so I knew it was going to be delicious.  However, I think it was a tad too sweet.  Next time I’ll cut waaaay back on the sugar in the jam and let some of the rhubarb’s natural tang come through.  But I bet it would be great with a cup of coffee!

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Tuesdays with Dorie: Pizza Rustica

Short and sweet post, I’ve been crazy busy with cake-age and getting back into the swing of things with school post-spring break.  I’m actually cheating, I made this recipe about a year ago, and luckily I took a picture!  Hooray for being a food geek!  I’m generally a fan of anything ricotta and prosciutto-filled, but for some reason this one just didn’t do it for me.  Maybe it was the combo of savory filling and sweet (in my mind TOO sweet) crust, or maybe it was that I used a so so brand of ricotta, but this one wouldn’t win any awards in my book.  However, I did use this crust on a couple other occasions with a sweet ricotta filling with much success.  I guess they all can’t be winners!


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Tuesdays with Dorie: Rugelach

I used to be a “by the book” baker.  I’ve always loved baking, but for the longest time, I wouldn’t deviate from the written words on the page, as if they were handed down from the culinary gods on high, not to be tampered with by mere mortals such as I.  But somewhere along the line (maybe it was after culinary school, when I got over a lot of my culinary phobias and hangups)  I started to come to the realization that these recipes were actually written by PEOPLE, like me, and could therefore be tweaked without risking much more than the waste of some ingredients.  It was a slippery slope, and now I rarely make a recipe that I don’t mess with in some way.

When I saw that the first Tuesdays with Dorie assignment for March was rugelach, my brain went into overdrive coming up with interesting flavor and texture combos.  Traditionally, the filling for these rolled cross-between-a-pastry-and-cookie spirals is a thick prune or apricot spread called lekvar and a sprinkle of nuts, sugar, and cinnamon.  In Baking with Julia, the recipe is tweaked by adding a bunch of chopped dried fruit to the inside of the rolled dough, and coating the entire thing in finely ground nuts, cinnamon and sugar.

The problem?  Not a fan of dried fruit, at all.  So I re-tweaked the tweak, and added some chocolate instead of the dried fruit, put the nuts back inside the spiral, and coated the entire thing in just cinnamon and sugar.  Oh, and I also changed the spread, going with half apricot jam, and half cherry preserves.  Not together obviously, but half the rugelach are one flavor, and half the other.  For the apricot filled pastries, I opted to go with cashews, basically because they were what I had on hand already toasted.  So sue me, I got a late start this month!  And for the cherry ones, I went with pecans and chocolate, always a favorite flavor combo of mine.

The other major tweak?  I made the dough in the food processor, rather than the mixer.  Not because I have any particular animosity towards my lovely KitchenAid, just because the bowl for the mixer happened to be filled with coffee chocolate chip buttercream from a wedding cake tasting, and I didn’t want to clean it out.  Because, you know, there might be an emergency in which the only way out is through a bowl of coffee chocolate chip buttercream…and here I’ll be, ready to spring into action.  I’m just that kind of “always prepared” girl, especially where buttercream’s concerned.

Anyways, the dough was really easy to put together, just butter, flour, cream cheese, salt, and sugar.  But it was SUPER sticky, and needed a good chill in the fridge before I could roll it out and fill it.  Once the dough was rolled, jammed, and filled with goodness, it went back into the freezer (yeah, I wasn’t about to wait the recommended 6 hours or god forbid overnight) for an hour to harden up.

At that point, the rolls were cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces, egg washed, rolled in cinnamon sugar, and baked until yummy and caramelized.  And after that?  Well, they disappeared into my tummy, of course!  And they were all the better for personalizing them…baking gods be damned!

For a peek into how all the other Doristas tweaked their rugelach, hop on over here.

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February Daring Baker Challenge: Quick Bread

I’d like to preface this post by saying I’m strongly pro-carb and pro-gluten.  That being said, I’m all about going with the least processed options when it comes to my food, and I do love to experiment.  So when a friend of mine said her doc recommended cutting wheat/gluten from her diet to potentially help with her migraines, I figured it was as good an excuse as any to make a tentative foray into the world of gluten free baking.  And when I saw this on my monthly visit to the Daring Baker Challenge board:

The Daring Bakers’ February 2012 host was – Lis! Lisa stepped in last minute and challenged us to create a quick bread we could call our own. She supplied us with a base recipe and shared some recipes she loves from various websites and encouraged us to build upon them and create new flavor profiles.

I figured that a gluten free quick bread was just what the doctor ordered, literally!  And so I got to work, did some research on the interwebs, and in between interesting decorating ideas, pictures of Ryan Gosling, adorable kittehs, and of course, the requisite FB status update checks, I found a recipe to start with here .  However, the rosemary in the original recipe needed to go.  I’m not a fan of christmas tree flavored desserts.  So I decided to go with blueberry as the flavor compliment to the lemon.  And when I stirred up the batter (which was super easy to do, once I made the trip to New Seasons to get the various starches necessary) I saw a problem with my initial plan.  This batter is THIN.  Like almost crepe batter thin.  Like, a layer of blueberries on the bottom of the pan thin.  So I tried something different.  I poured the batter (sans blueberries) into the pan, let it bake halfway to semi solidify, and then dropped the blueberries on top.  They sank about halfway in, rather than all the way to the bottom, and in general behaved themselves.  When the bread was done, I was bad and didn’t wait to cut into it like I was supposed to, because I wanted to try it out on my daughters for dinner.   And the verdict?  They LOVED it.  And at the very least it’s a little bit healthier for them since it used brown rice flour in place of the white flour.  I can’t wait to play around with the recipe and make some more for my friend.  Lime coconut quick bread, anyone?

The rest of the Daring Bakers’ quick bread themed adventures can be found here.  Can’t wait to see what they came up with!

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French Fridays with Dorie: Not Quite Nutella Tartine

You know what’s the coolest thing about participating in a cooking club?  Getting out of your comfort zone and getting over any cooking hangups you have.  For example, when I was in culinary school (for baking, mind you) I had the worst luck with my brioche.  It was overproofed…or underproofed…or just not the right texture.  I must have tried to make that damn bread like 10 times and I never quite got it right.  At that point, I pretty much gave up on brioche.  I mean, maybe it was just the fates telling me I needed to visit french bakeries more often.  And who am I to question fate?

So then, almost seven years later, imagine how delighted I wasn’t when one of the recipes listed in Around My French Table was for brioche.  I figured I’d take a pass on that weekly cook-along.  I mean, nothing like showing your ineptitude to the world by posting your bread baking failures on the interwebs.  But then I thought, isn’t that the whole POINT of the challenge?  So I gritted my teeth, pushed up my sleeves (well that’s a lie, actually, I HATE long sleeves, but I did push up my proverbial sleeves, I think I was wearing a tank top…) and decided to give the brioche one more try.  And damned if it didn’t turn out amazingly well.  Like, disturbingly well.  So well that when I made the extra dough into cinnamon caramel rolls people were literally FIGHTING over the last couple in the pan.  And now I’m all like, “Brioche?  Sure, I can throw together a couple of loaves for you, no problem, I’m all over it…”

So when the second brioche-based recipe came up for French Fridays, I was filled with more dread over having to share my bread with my family than having to actually make it.  And this recipe was definitely a keeper, a quick snack or amazing breakfast based on the french open faced sandwich called a tartine.  Starting with the aforementioned and no longer dreaded brioche, slices are buttered, toasted, and covered with orange marmalade, drizzled with nutella, and sprinkled with sea salt and toasted chopped hazelnuts.

The only small issues?  Not a big fan of orange marmalade.  And while Nutella’s okay, I’m not fond enough of it to keep a jar in the pantry.  So I made some adjustments.  I mean, it’s basically a sandwich, right?  It’s practically a given that the ingredients are gonna get messed with based on who’s building it…so here’s what I did:

-Subbed homemade sour cherry preserves for the orange marmelade.

-Subbed Trader Joes chocolate almond butter for the nutella…and btw, that stuff is the BOMB!

-Subbed chopped, toasted almonds for the hazelnuts.

Call it what you want, it was a damn tasty sandwich.  And a sweet reminder that sometimes challenging yourself can lead to some surprising results!

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Tuesdays With Dorie Week One: White Bread

Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that make you truly happy.  You know, dumb things like thinking you’re out of toilet paper and then turning around and seeing another roll on the tank behind you.  Or wrapping up in a warm towel right out of the dryer after a shower.  Homemade white bread is kinda like that.  It’s not complicated…there’s no fancy cheese, or interesting heirloom grains…it’s just white bread.  But warm, out of the oven, with butter, maybe a little jam, or as the foundation for an AMAZING bologna sandwich made with bologna from a real german deli, not that Oscar Meter crap…white bread is pretty damn tasty.  As evidence, I present to you the (formerly large) loaf that I pulled out of the oven about three hours ago:

Yep, more than half gone.  Sandwich?  Check.  Toast with butter and honey?  Check.  Heel of bread eaten all by itself?  Check.  Beat that, whole wheat.

This is the first recipe assignment from Baking With Julia, the second book the lovely ladies and gents at Tuesdays with Dorie are baking their way through.  I missed out the first go round when they baked all the stuff in Baking from My Home to Yours, and I’m giddy as the proverbial schoolgirl to jump in this time.  To check out what everyone else had to say about the inaugural assignment, hop on over here.

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Inaugural Post: The Whys and Wherefores…

Welcome to the new blog!  I’m jumping to this one as I broaden the scope of my blogging.  The name comes from the idiom “making a virtue out of necessity,”  which in my mind, is all about taking joy in the day to day mundane aspects of life.   Baking, cooking, gardening, maybe a little bit of sewing, some crafting, and random bits of flotsam from the internet, all with an eye towards the simple pleasure that comes from getting my hands dirty making my little world better.

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