Monday, February 27, 2012


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.

Quick Breads!
Who knew there were so many different types?
Lis gave us a few recipes but encouraged us to try out our own which saw the Daring Bakers truely break out with some amazing varieties of quick breads. 

 I had some buttermilk in the refrigerator that need to be used so I checked out some buttermilk quick bread and basically settled on this one which give 10 different variations. Of course, I had my own varieation which involved substituing 1/2 cup flour with 1/2 cup cocoa, increasing the sugar to 1 cup, increasing the butter to 4 ozs and adding choc chips.  

Then I topped the whole lot off with more choc chips and walnuts. I didn't mind it but lets say it doesn't beat my favourite chocolate cake recipe just yet!

With more buttermilk to use up - the same recipe in the blueberry and lemon varitation in a muffin was delicious!

These didn't last long!
Aren't muffins just the best quick bread!

OK, now for the piece de resistance!
Wow, I have never tried them but what a revelation. No rising agent what-so-ever yet this amazing rise takes place! 

Thanks Renata for directing me to this recipe!
We enjoyed popovers for breakfast with strawberry jam.
Thanks Lis for hosting!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

"A Baker's Odyssey" Personal Challenge #5 - Date Babas

This week I bake my first recipe from the "Sweet Pastries" chapter of A Baker's Odyssey by Greg Patent. When introducing this chapter Greg says, " Baking this collection of recipes is like taking a pastry course at a culinary school. After making all of them, you'll be equipped to handle just about any pastry recipe that comes your way."  Flicking through this chapter I come across Baklawa, Apple Strudel, Puff Pastry Squares with Lemon Buttercream and I know that this statement is not made lightly. Certainly within one chapter there is a world of pastries that I  look forward to making and eating with high anticipation! But I start with Date Babas. This recipe looks simple enough - pastry wrapped around a date filling - and it is simple but the taste! The flaky pastry with a hint of rosewater encase a filling of blended dates. As with the Kahk I made previously, this is a recipe of Greg's childhood made by his Granny. As I have said before Granny was some cook! These are delicious! These will be a regular in my home.

Pay particular attention to how the pastry is made in the food processor which I have quoted directly from Greg's recipe for the precision that is needed. I think this method results in a very flaky pastry because the butter is not over processed into the flour instead there a little bits of butter scattered through out the pastry. Perfect!

Date Babas
Makes 30 pastries

2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping 
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
 1 teaspoon baking powder
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks or 170g) cold unsalted butter. cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon rose water

1 pound (450g) pitted dates, check for pits
2 tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter, at room temperature  

1 large egg. lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water for egg wash
sesame seeds for sprinkling

Put the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process for 5 seconds. Add the butter and pulse 5 or 6 times to begin cutting the butter into the flour. Combine the water with the rose water. As you pulse the machine rapidly, add the liquid to the dry ingredients in a steady stream, then pulse about 30 times until you have several large clumps of dough.  Remove the dough and knead the pieces together briefly. Wrap the dough in plastic  and refrigerate for 1 hour or over night.

Make the filling by first cleaning out the bowl of the food processor. Insert the blade add the dates and pulse several times until the dates are finely chopped. Add the butter and process to a paste.  Stop and scrap the sides of the bowl as necessary. Once pureed there may still remain a few small pieces of date but this is fine.  Divide the filling into 30 portions and roll each into a ball.

Line two baking trays with non stick paper and preheat the oven to 400F (200C).
Now to shape the babas, divide the dough into 30 equal portions and roll each into a ball. This dough is beautiful to work with but if you need add a little flour to your work surface or your hands.

Shape the dough ball into a cup extending up the sides to fit in a ball of filling. Wrap the dough up and around the filling complete encasing it.

Set the babas seam side down on the baking tray and flatten slightly with the palm of your hand. Continue with the remaining dough and filling. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds before baking in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

Cool on the baking sheet.

Babas keep well in an airtight container at room temperature for about 1 week - if they last that long!

Take a bite to reveal the rich filling of dates. The hint of rose water is barely detectable just enough to have the eater, (is there such a word?) wonder about the exotic flavour. 
These gorgeous morsels are a classic Iraqi cake and one bite will transport you on that magic carpet across the world.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

"A Baker's Odyssey" Personal Challenge #4 - Swedish Saffron Rolls

Prepare to drool!

These Swedish Saffron Rolls are part of my journey through the Baker's Odyssey by Greg Patent and what a journey it is turning out to be. These delicious buns are more like a gorgeously scented brioche. The saffron lends the golden hue, the cardamom takes you to another place and the texture sublimely melts in your mouth. Truly a bread for the senses.

These buns are traditionally made for St Lucia's Day, December 13th, and can be shaped into a large loaf, these S-shaped scrolls or myriad of other shapes. Legend has it that St Lucia eyes were removed.The legend concludes with God restoring her eyes. She is the Patron Saint for the Blind. The raisins on these scrolls Symbolize her eye returning to her.  

 I made these in my stand mixer and will give the recipe accordingly. Also it is really best to buy the cardamom pods, remove the seeds from within and grind to a powder. You will notice the difference !

Swedish Saffron Rolls
a Baker's Odyssey by Greg Patent

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 cup granulated sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick or 125g) unsalted butter
1 cup whole milk
3 cups unbleached all purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 package(2 1/2 teaspoons) instant yeast
1 teaspoon ground cardamom, preferably freshly ground
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup currants (optional)
raisins or choc chips

1 large egg, beaten for egg wash

Pound the saffron with 1 teaspoon of sugar in a mortar and pestle until the saffron is pulverised. I used 2 of these packets pictured which is already ground saffron. I had these in the pantry as I use them regularly for my risotto Milanese.
Edited 19/02/2012: I purchase this saffron from my local Italian deli but the threads are fine if you grind with with a little of the sugar.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the milk and heat until it reaches 120 to 130F (48 to 55C). It will feel hot to touch. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the saffron.
Place the sugar, flour, yeast, cardamom and salt in the mixer bowl. Add the hot liquid and stir well scraping down the  edges. Attach the dough hook and knead on medium-high  speed for a few seconds until the dough gathers around the hook. Reduce the speed to medium and knead for 5 minutes more to make a soft elastic dough.  On low speed, beat in the currants, if using. I add a spoonful extra of flour because the dough was very sticky but be careful  not to add too much flour it is meant to be a soft dough. Too much flour and your buns will be dry! 

Wash and dry the bowl and coat lightly with cooking oil. Shape the dough into a ball and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of flour.Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours until doubled. Test the dough by pressing it with a finger tip: the impression should remain if it is ready.

Scrape the risen dough onto an unfloured surface and gently deflate with the palms of your hands. Pat the dough into a 10 x 8 inch square. Cut the dough into twenty 2 inch squares. Shape each into a ball, cover and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes. 

Roll heach ball of dough into an 8inch (20cm) long roll, then roll each end of the dough in the opposite direction... form an S -shaped twist

Push raisins or chocolate chips into the centre of each scroll. Coat the rolls lightly with cooking spray and let them rise, uncovered in a warm place until doubled in size about 30 minute.

  Preheat the oven to 400F (200C) and prepare to baking sheets by lining with non stick baking paper.

Brush the risen rolls with egg wash and put the pans in the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes until the rolls are well browned. Rotate the pans top to bottom and front to bake once after 10 minutes of baking to ensure even browning. Remove the rolls to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Pleasure guaranteed!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

"A Baker's Odyssey" Personal Challenge #3 - Norwegian Walnut Butter Balls

 You might ask where does Marcellina in Cucina find a Norwegian recipe?
 Certainly it is not my culture or heritage but instead this recipe is taken from one of my favourite cookbooks by Greg Patent "A Baker's Odyssey". I am planning to cook my way through this book which is a treasure trove of traditional recipes from around the world brought to America by immigrants.  Greg gives a background to every recipe which paints a picture and sets the scene. I read this book over and over for a long time before I starting baking from it. It is that type of book that you just want to read and absorb. Though not all recipe are pictured, the book comes with  a DVD of some of the more complicated recipes and the recipe themselves are very detailed so this makes up for the lack of photos. This is my third post from this cookbook, the previous being Lebanese Pita and Granny's Kahk. Both fabulously successful!

For this recipe Greg recommends the use of a manual nut grinder or a hand-held mouli grater to grind or shred the nuts. I didn't have either but really wanted to try the recipe so I carefully whizzed the walnuts in my food processor paying attention to not turn the nuts pasty. I'm sure a nut grinder does a better job but I was quite pleased with the result.

Norwegian Walnut Butter Balls
recipe source: Baker's Odyssey by Greg Patent

3 ozs walnuts
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
about 2 cup confectioner's sugar 

Grind the nuts in a manual nut grinder, if you have one or carefully in the food processor. 

Beat the butter with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Add sugar, salt and vanilla and beat for 1 or 2 minutes until smooth and fluffy. With a wooden spoon stir in the nuts, then stir in the flour until the dough gather into a mass. Knead the dough briefly in the bowl until it comes together.
Prepare the baking sheet by lining with non-stick baking paper and preheat the oven to 350F/180C. 

Divide the dough into 36 equal parts. Roll each into a ball and place 1 to 2 inches apart on the prepared sheet.

Bake until the cookies are a very pale golden brown all over 20-25 minutes. This was way too long for my oven and I removed them from the oven before 15 minutes was up. Next time I think I would lower the temperature to allow them to bake for the entire allocated time.

Sift the confectioners' sugar into a large plastic bag and add half the hot cookies. Twist the top of the bag and gently manipulate the bag to coast the hot cookies with a generous layer of sugar. Remove the cookies from the bag with a slotted spoon and set on wire racks to cool. Repeat with the remaining cookies while they are hot.
I found the cookies were a bit soft to use the plastic bag method so a transferred the confectioners' sugar to a bowl and coated the cookies in the bowl. I have to say I always have trouble when I coat hot cookies because the sugar seems to absorb a lot of moisture and become sticky so I then sprinkle a little bit more on top as they cool. I think the humidity in our area doesn't help.
Well, the verdict?
A delicious little cookie with a great walnut flavour. Simple and doesn't take long. As Greg says in introducing these cookies "Cookies similar to this are found in many cultures" so you may know them by another name with perhaps different nuts.
Try these, you like them!