Monday, October 31, 2022

Cakes as Gifts

Happy Halloween! This lovely cake has three layers of apple cake filled with vanilla buttercream. The outside is frosted with salted caramel buttercream tinted orange and decorated with seasonal sprinkles and white chocolate ghosts. Isn't it delightful? My daughter made it to take to work today for Halloween...out of bits and pieces saved from other cakes she made on Saturday. It's a hobby that gives pleasure to others...quite a gift.

Our daughter has always been artistic. When she was in middle school she and a friend created a line of t-shirts decorated with puffy paints and sold them at a Christmas Boutique at the fairgrounds. Later, as a hobby, she painted mandala rocks with tiny dots of paint in mandala detailed and with amazing color combinations. Her latest artistic creations are even edible...gorgeous small-scale cakes.

These creations are about 6-inches in diameter, so they are about 1/4 smaller than regular layer cakes. Other than the size, they are just as complicated as the larger versions. She has perfected a buttercream recipe, figured out a combination of chocolate-espresso cake with chocolate icing that is the fan favorite combo, and learned all sorts of techniques and tricks.

She almost always makes them as friends or for the birthday celebrant (who might be a friend or a friend of a friend). A few times she made them at a request from a friend. Since it's a hobby, she won't accept any payment for the requested ones except to cover the cost of supplies. The rest are gifts.

As you may guess, I am very proud of her skills and talents in this area. You might think that I taught her, but in reality all I gave her was (probably) good genetics...the rest is all her!

Here are some examples of her cakes. 

This is one that she did in the early spring as a birthday gift. Almost all of the succulents were piped onto small pieces of parchment paper, then put on a sheet pan and frozen. As you can see, she really knows how to mix color. Once the cake was iced, she used a palette knife to place the frozen shapes on the cake, then tied it all together with the green icing 'vines'.

This beautiful cake is decorated with icing dahlias and glittery sprinkles The same technique that she used for the succulents was used for the flowers.

She made this lovely strawberry cake for her fiance' for Father's Day. The drips are white chocolate and I think she used some freeze-dried strawberry powder for the outer icing.

This one is a bit easier to do than some of them. The 'ice cream' is actually a cake pop made by mixing cake removed to flatten the cake top, mixed with some of the icing. It certainly looks like a birthday!

This one was made for a friend to take to a baby shower with a jungle theme. The cute animals were purchased and so were the round balls. Pretty cute!

Another strawberry cake, this time with three layers and a more opaque white chocolate drip.

This is a more classic design but the ombre' color effect is a challenge and roses are not easy to pipe.

This is probably my favorite cake...I just love the impressionist sky and the tiny stars on the sides, plus the black chocolate trees. It's like a painting.

This one is 'earthquake' cake with multi-color and multi-shape sprinkles and gold edging. Inside is the favorite cake...chocolate espresso with chocolate icing. 

Another birthday cake and a pretty elegant one at that. This cake is apple with salted caramel buttercream...sounds delicious. Some of the batter that was left over from this small cake was baked in larger pans to create the beauty at the top of the post.

By the way, this is not a business. This is her hobby and a way to be creative and to de-stress from a fulfilling but high-energy job. Can't wait to see what she creates next!

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Butternut Squash For Fall - Zucchini For Summer

By now we have usually taken in our front porch wicker furniture because of rain, but this year we continue to have weather more like June than October...including some fog, which I love. No rain.

This recipe reflects the two seasons in a way. I'm just beginning my use of winter this case butternut and have almost finished using the zucchini from my garden because we are not getting very much any more and mostly little ones at that. This recipe has both, plus some mushrooms and two kinds of rice, plus pecans and orange juice and zest. What ties it together is olive oil and balsamic vinegar, plus a bit of maple syrup on the roast veggies.

I saw a recipe on my phone for something similar to this a week or so ago, but couldn't find it when it was time to make this dish, so I sort of put things together that sounded right in proportions that seemed right and it worked out pretty well. Sweetie raved and had two servings.

 Although I often peel, de-seed and cut up fresh butternut squash, today I used a container from the grocery store that had already prepared chunks in it. I did cut a few of the larger chunks in half, but other wise just threw them into the mixing bag. The zucchini were small so I used two, cutting off the ends and cutting them in half, then slicing them. The mushrooms were already cleaned and sliced. You can use any kind of mushroom you like...these are plain white ones but cremini or one of the fancy ones would be delicious, too.

Do use a fresh orange for this. The zest and fresh juice are a background note, but make a big difference and that won't happen without the fresh oils in the zest and the unmistakable taste of fresh OJ.

I used a rice cooker for the rice but just prepare it in your favorite way. You can skip the wild rice if you want this to be less costly and it will still take great, but the wild rice really adds to the taste. This would make a great stuffing for duck if the butternut squash were chopped in smaller cubes. The flavors would be excellent with duck...or turkey. We had it with grilled chicken thighs and it was lovely.

Need to prep ahead? You can roast the veggie mixture in advance, keep in fridge, then warm in the microwave before mixing into the rice mixture. Both kinds of rice can be made ahead and rewarmed with about a teaspoon of water in the microwave with waxed paper over the container to keep the moisture in. Do mix up the 'dressing' at the time you are going to serve because fresh orange juice will taste fresher that way...and it matters. Pecans can be toasted ahead and kept in a airtight container.

Two Kinds of Rice with Butternut Squash and Maple
Serves 4-6

3-4 cups butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded, and cut into cubes of about an inch
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon dry thyme
1/8 teaspoon (or more if you like it spicier) cayenne pepper, ground
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh orange zest
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
2 small or 1 medium-large zucchini, ends trimmed, halved lengthwise and sliced in1/4-inch thick slices
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup cooked wild rice
1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
1/4 cup toasted pecans, broken in large pieces
1 tablespoon parsley, minced

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Place the butternut squash, olive oil, maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, thyme, cayenne pepper, ground black pepper, and orange zest into a large plastic bag (I use a clean produce bag) and shake vigorously to coat the squash in the other ingredients. Line a sheet pan with heavy duty foil and spray with spray oil (I used spray olive oil). Pour the squash mixture onto the prepared sheet pan. Let as much of the mixture as you can drip from the bag. Use the outside of the bag to pat the squash into a single layer, with the cubes separated from each other. Roast in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Add the sliced mushrooms and sliced zucchini to the sheet pan and use tongs or a wooden spatula to carefully mix them into the squash mixture while also turning the squash to another side. Try not to tear the foil since the coating mixture is sticky and could burn if it leaks underneath. Make sure that the mushrooms and zucchini are laying on a flat side on the surface of the sheet pan foil, then return the pan to the oven and roast another 10-15 minutes, or until butternut squash is tender.

While the squash is roasting, in a small bowl mix together the chicken broth, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.

In a large bowl place the two kinds of rice, warmed, the roasted veggies and any sauce, and the fresh orange juice dressing. Gently stir to combine. Add the toasted pecans and the minced parsley and gently stir to combine. Serve at once for warm dish, or serve at room temperature later.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Babes Bake Figgy Flatbread

It's the 16th of the month...the day for the Bread Baking Babes to share what they have been up to this month.

I'm Kitchen of the Month for October and I chose a lovely flatbread recipe for fall, enhanced with rosemary and figs and nuts. The recipe is from a cookbook that I found on sale at a local bookstore. The book is Joanne Weir's More Cooking in the Wine Country. The author, Joanne Weir is on a Public Televisions series 'Weir Cooking in the Wine Country II' and there are lots of delicious sounding recipes in the book. The first time I baked it I followed the recipe, but divided the dough in half and baked half with walnuts and half with pecans, plus I added some fresh figs to the dried figs. It was delicious!

For the second bake I left out the rosemary but added lemon zest along with the orange zest in the original recipe, plus I substituted pine nuts, and some whole wheat flour for part of the flour. As you can see, this is a versatile recipe. This time I had intended to weigh the ingredients, using the amounts provided by Elizabeth of Blogging from OUR Kitchen (THANK YOU Elizabeth!), but forgot to and used the cup measurements. I also used some fresh Italian prune plumbs along with the dried figs. They are in season now and added, along with the pine nuts, to the Italian feel of this flatbread. The whole wheat bread was nicely nutty but bland without the rosemary. Next time I'll stop being lazy and put in the rosemary as called really does make a difference.

This is an easy dough to work with. It might seem a bit stickier than you are used to, due to the use of potato water, but use wet hands and it will be fine. If you bake this and would like to be a Bread Baking Babes Buddy, just send me an email with a brief description of your bake and a photo and the URL of your post by Oct. 29th. Email is plachman*at*sonic*dot*net. I'll send you a Buddy Badge and include you in the round-up at the end of the month. The description and photos below are from my first bake. At the bottom I have some photos from the one with pine nuts and prune plums.

Be sure to visit the rest of the Bread Baking Babes to see what marvelous flatbreads they have created.

Kelly - A Messy Kitchen - Flatbread with figs and pears

Karen - Karen's Kitchen Stories - Flatbread with figs and sherry

Cathy - Bread Experience - Sourdough flatbread with home-grown dried figs 

Judy - Judy's Gross Eats - Flatbread with apricots and almonds

Aparna - My Diverse Kitchen - Flatbread with dried figs and walnuts and onions

Elizabeth - Flatbread with dates and pine nuts and red onions

This is one of those recipes where you can do parts in advance. I made the rosemary-infused olive oil a day ahead, cooked the potatoes the evening before I made the dough, saving the potato water and re-warming it, I even soaked the figs a day early and stored them in the marsala. Even though the recipe only calls for dried figs, it's fresh fig season, so I also included sliced fresh figs and I highly recommend this change! 

The dough is slightly sticky but not a high-hydration one, just soft. Once it rose and was punched down, it was pretty easy to work with. The first piece rolled out easily but the second one needed to have relaxation time after it was flattened before it would  roll out large enough. It baked up light on the inside and crisp and lightly brown on the outside.

Because I was working with fresh figs as well as dried, I watched the flatbread carefully towards the end of baking to avoid burning the fruit...which has so much natural sugar. I had the flatbreads on pieces of parchment which made it easier to get them onto the baking stone and then out of the oven when finished, although I did use a peel, with the parchment pieces on the peel.

 I typed this up exactly as it is in the cookbook...make changes as desired, although I do encourage you to make the bread dough with the potato water and rosemary oil and chopped rosemary. If you want to use your sourdough starter, just skip the yeast/bread flour/potato water initial poolish and use 1/2 cup sourdough starter. You might need more bread flour to get the dough right, but sourdough would be great with the topping. The recipe with weights, courtesy of Elizabeth, will be at the bottom, along with the photos of the flatbread baked using those measurements.

Happy Baking!

Fig and Walnut Flatbread

from Joanne Weir's More Cooking in the Wine Country cookbook
makes 1 flatbread, serves 6

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 1/2 teaspoons (I package) dry yeast
1/2 cup plus 2 cups unbleached bread flour, divided
1/2 cup lukewarm potato water or plain water (110 degrees F)
1 teaspoon coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup potato water (additional)
1 teaspoon salt

6 to 8 dried figs, sliced
1 cup Marsala wine
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, cut into 1/2-inch thick vertical slices
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon greated orange zest
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup walnut halves

In a small saucepan, warm the olive oil and rosemary. Remove from the heat and let cool for I hour. Discard the rosemary sprigs. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the yeast, 1/2 cup flour, and 1/2 cup warm potato water. Let stand 1 hour, until it bubbles up and rises. Then add the remaining 2 cups flour, the rosemary olive oil, chopped rosemary, additional potato water, and salt. Mix the dough thoroughly. Knead the dough on a floured board until it is soft but still moist, 7-8 minutes. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning it once to cover it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in a warm place (about 75 degrees F). Let the dough rise for 1-2 hours, until doubled in volume.

In the meantime, prepare the topping. Place the figs and Marsala in a small saucepan, and heat over medium heat until the Marsala bubbles around the edges, 1 minute. Remove from the heat and let stand for 1 hour.

Heat the 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft, 15-20 minutes. Add the orange zest, season with salt and pepper, stir thoroughly, and set aside to cool.

Place a pizza stone on the bottom shelf of the oven, and preheat the oven to 500 degrees F for 30 minutes.

Form the dough into a round ball. Let it rest for 5 minutes. On a floured surface, roll the dough out to form a 9x12-inch oval, 1/2-inch thick. Place it on a well-floured pizza peel. 

Drain the figs and distribute the figs, onions, and walnuts evenly over the dough. Lightly press them into the dough. Let it rest for 10 minutes. Then transfer the flatbread to the pizza stone and bake until golden brown and crispy, 12-15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Here are the measurements by weight. Just use the instructions above to make the flatbreads.

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil [60 ml/55 grams]

3 sprigs fresh rosemary (I skipped the rosemary in the whole wheat version)
2 1/2 teaspoons (1 package) dry yeast [7 grams]
1/2 cup plus 2 cups unbleached bread flour, divided [68 plus 274 grams] (I used all whole wheat flour)
1/2 cup lukewarm potato water or plain water (110 degrees F) [120 grams]
1 teaspoon coarsely chopped fresh rosemary [1 gram] (skipped this for whole wheat version)
1/2 cup potato water (additional) [120 grams]
1 teaspoon salt [6 grams]

6 to 8 dried figs, sliced [50 to 67 grams]
1 cup Marsala wine [240ml/240grams]
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil [45 ml/41 grams]
1 red onion, cut into 1/2-inch thick vertical slices
1 tablespoon sugar [12 grams]
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest [1 gram]
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest [1 gram]
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup walnut halves [75 grams] (I used untoasted pine nuts)
(I used three small prune plums, pits removed and thinly sliced...forgot to weigh them) Below is a photo of the topping. I added the drained figs and the plums once the mixture was off the heat.

Whole wheat version baked:
and served:

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

A Single Serving

Sometimes you just need one serving. One day in the last few weeks...I should know when but things have been busy, with very little baking and only a bit more cooking...Sweetie wasn't here for breakfast...I think he was volunteering with the group in Petaluma that fixes up old train I made a single serving of the Dutch Baby with blueberries. Sooo good.

You keep the same proportions for this mini-baby as you do for the large one, you just make it in a smaller pan. I was lucky enough to recently find a small Pyrex baking dish just the right size...the size of a small loaf pan, but about an inch wider. Be sure to use a dish or pan that is meant to be used with high heat and you will be fine. If it's even wider, the mixture might not puff up as much in the middle, but it will still rise at the sides and you will have a delicious single-person treat.

I ate mine with just a small drizzle of maple syrup, but you can use syrup, whipped cream, yogurt or any other topping that you like.

Dutch Baby for One with Blueberries

Serves 1-2

1 tablespoons butter (or non-dairy margarine or 'butter')
1 large eggs
1/4 cup milk (or nut milk)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
dash salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup fresh blueberries, washed and drained and picked over for stems or over-ripe berries
1/4 tablespoon granulated sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

As oven preheats, put the butter in an ungreased 3x5-inch baking pan and place in the oven, just until the butter is melted. (Mine started to brown slightly at the edges)

Place the eggs, milk, flour, salt and vanilla, (and lemon oil, if using) in a blender and process until smooth. Scrape down the sides, if needed, and process again for a few seconds.

Pour the batter into the hot baking pan, over the melted butter, using a spatula to scrape out as much batter as possible. Sprinkle with the blueberries and with the sugar (if using).

Bake, for 15-20 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Pancake will puff up, but will sink down again as it cools once removed from the oven.

Serve at once. Can sprinkle with powdered sugar, with lemon juice, or serve with maple syrup and/or more berries.

Note: you can make this without berries, too, and it will still puff up gloriously and taste wonderful.