Friday, July 30, 2010

The cakes

PhotobucketLast night we ate the Sachertorte. It was delicious. A bit rich for me as I'm not a big chocoholic, but it was good. The cake portion had the right density, the filling was flavorful and the glaze was good. The glaze though is what I would change the next I make it (if I make it again). It was exactly how this recipe (and pictures) showed it should be, but it's not true to how it should look/feel. But, that's probably the easiest thing to fix - just need a different recipe!


And, because my mother in law is the way she is, said while eating my sacher torte what I predicted she would say, "The best sacher torte I ever ate was..." Ah... I know her well. She was a killjoy last night though. Something came over her at dinner that spoiled everything, but oh well. We enjoyed despite her mood.

Then there is the making of the somloi galuska. I looked and looked at the recipe I have, and it didn't feel right and since I already saw that the recipe for sachertorte (at least the glaze part) wasn't close to authentic, I decided I should go with my gut. I looked online for other recipes and 95% of what was out there was the recipe from the book copied word for word. Then, I found a recipe (same one on several sites) which appears to be more true to the construction of other European cakes I know, so I went with that - I just following the book recipe for the construction, cream and other stuff. Oh, and another thing I didn't like about the book recipe is that it said it assumed most cooks wouldn't have 3 9x13 pans, so they made the cake recipes three separate recipes, where traditionally it's one base recipe, divided and then each prepared and cooked at the same time. It would have been nice if they would have said how to do it for all three OR all three separately. So, I just figured out how to make the base on my own, and then baked them at once instead of using the same pan for three separate batches.

This cake has a lot of components. I noticed on a couple of sites that it's rated as hard a 5 on a scale of 1-5, 5 being hardest. I think part of it is that American cooks aren't used to making cakes like this, but the other part is just how many parts there are! This picture shows 'most' of it:


Left to right: top left is the apricot preserves (boiled), bottom left is a rum syrup with lemon and orange zest (zests taken out for assembly), center left in the bowl is finely diced walnuts and raisins, then the three pans of very thin cake layers - one plain, one walnut, one chocolate, then in the far right, half visible, is the cream filling (in a ice water bath). This is everything that needed to be done to assemble the cake with the exception of cocoa powder which is sprinkled on top.

Assembly is first layer: walnut cake, syrup, apricot preserves, cream, nuts/raisins, Next layer is: chocolate cake, syrup, apricot preserves, cream, nuts/raisins. Top layer is: plain cake, syrup and then cream, then dusted with cocoa powder.

When assembled it looks like this:


It needs to chill at least 7 hours to get the flavors to blend, then, when it's time to serve, you take a 2.5 inch ice cream scoop and scoop 2-3 pieces per serving. You will also need to make a chocolate rum sauce and sweetened whipped cream to serve. That means, there are 10 components to assemble this dessert. Uses LOTS of dishes. When we serve it tonight, I will add a picture of the assembled and served dessert.

Few days later and I finally get a chance to use the computer! (Can't wait till our laptop is working again). Not much to look at, but there are the three dumplings, topped with freshly whipped cream and warm rum chocolate sauce.


It really is a heavenly dessert. it melts in your mouth and the flavors are divine. Hungary knows how to make great desserts. And this dessert make one very happy mother in law. I even got a kiss and thank you - which is BIG.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Baking into the wee hours of the morning

I didn't get to baking until 10 pm and I totally didn't realize that the sachertorte cake would take until 2:00 to finish! Wowzers. I was too tired and out of steam (plus dealing with other stuff) to try to tackle two cakes. The cake turned out according to the book's directions and picture. Yet, when my mother in law saw it this morning, she informed me that the original (as she's had it directly from the source in Vienna) is taller and the icing is not shiny. And that comment just had me chuckle because it was so predictable. I have yet to make anything that she has had or has made better than how she remembers it. It will always start out, "this is good, but..." or, "This isn't x because..." and so on. But that's OK, it's just how she is. The rest of my family enjoys and everyone I cook for at gatherings enjoy what I create. That's just her quirk, and since it's so predictable, it makes me laugh (after years of banging my head against the wall trying to get approval).

Yesterday for my mother in law's birthday we went around to different European (really Russian) delis and groceries and a couple Kosher bakeries. There I saw mandelbread, and one similar to a recipe a good friend of mine makes. Later, she gave me the recipe (again). Woohoo! So, I plan to make that today.

Then, last night, while at the grocery store getting cake ingredients, bananas were 19 cents a pound and ripe, so I bought a bunch and will make some quick breads with that. This weekend is supposed to cool off, so it's a perfect time to bake. I still have to figure out which yeasted bread I'm going to try this time. I think I might go for a super easy, in a loaf pan, bread while I work on a starter. Or I might get brave and try the Pain de Campagne Honfleur again... we'll see how brave I am.

Ugh, speaking of starters. Last night at the grocery store, I bought the rye flour for the starter, but forgot the pineapple juice!  But then, I also forgot my son's favorite bread which he insists upon for peanut butter sandwiches (He is on the autism spectrum and has food quirks). Hmmm... though this morning he allowed the bakery challah bread as a substitute. Challah anyone?

Lastly, I've only been blogging a few days and someone has already offered to send me a dried starter. How cool is that?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Today is my mother in law's 75th birthday and it's time to make a cake (or two)

For those of you who don't know. My mother in law lives with us. In December of this last year, we joined forces when we moved for my husband's job. I suppose it's going about as well as can be expected, but it's difficult, really difficult. As my mother in law is a very difficult personality and has been alone most of her life.

Another thing is that my husband (and therefore my mother in law) are not from the United States. They are from Croatia. My husband came here to study a year before the Yugoslav war broke out. My mother in law, Sonja came here to live permanently when Adrian (my oldest son) was a bit over a year old because she wanted to be near her only child and grandchild.  Just try to imagine moving to a new country when you're 62 years old. (So, I do have empathy.)

What does this all have to do with cake? Well, it means that I really have to do something for her as I live with her. Second, it means she doesn't really care for (actually she really dislikes) American style of cake. So the cake I need to make is a European style cake which taste fantastic, but aren't the showy pieces most Americans are used to seeing and eating for birthdays.

The first cake I plan to make is the Sachertorta. When Sonja was back home a couple years ago, her best friend made it and when she came back, all my mother in law could talk about was how wonderful this cake was - the best she had ever eaten. Her best friend had given her the recipe, so last year for her birthday, Sonja tried to make it. Problem is, my mother in law really doesn't know how to cook. Growing up, her mother cooked or her grandmother cooked. Sonja didn't ever cook, until she was over 40 years old and even then, she only knows a handful of recipes and that's it. What's worse, is that because her mother and grandmother never used cookbooks, she feels that she doesn't need to either. She doesn't quite grasp that if you don't know a recipe, you need a guide. Her mother and grandmother (and I don't for many things either) need a cookbook. Many things come from the head because you know how things combine, or it's memorized. For special things, typically, a recipe card of simple instructions is enough, because you know how it's constructed, so you don't need details that say, "separate the eggs", or "cream the butter".  This last part is important.

It's one of those things we laugh about now, but my mother in law was quite heartbroken last year on her birthday when she tried to make her best friend's recipe of Sachertorta. The recipe, like many recipes I've seen from Croatia, are not like recipes we are used to in the states. We are used to details - what temperature to bake, how long, and most important, details of how to prepare it. The recipe Sonja got was like this: list of ingredients. Then: melt chocolate, mix egg yolks with butter and then with sugar, mix egg whites, mix chocolate into sugar and eggs, add flour, add in egg whites. Bake until done, cut in half, spread apricot jam in middle and around sides, cover with chocolate glaze, serve with whipped cream. Ok everyone - now JUMP and go make this cake right now! What??? You don't know what to do? Well, neither did my mother in law. That recipe was given to her with the thought that she knew how to make a typical Croatian cake - that she would know from years of doing or watching what to do. The recipe was a guide, but the rest, was assumed, she already knew. But, she didn't know as she didn't bake or watch her family bake.

My mother in law, not knowing better and not thinking to maybe look up other sachertorta recipes for a better guide, jumped in. She melted the chocolate, melted the butter and then mixed all of it together with the sugar and eggs (while the chocolate was still hot), added the flour, and then whipped the eggs whites, and then mixed that with the rest. She put it in the oven at 350 degrees, and then just watched it to be done. When it was deemed done, she had a dense, lumpy brownie (it's supposed to be a cake). Not being detered, she sliced it, spread jam all over it, made a really lumpy glaze of her own recipe, and then served it later with whipped cream. What she had was a very, very dense brownie (some almost so overcooked it was crunchy firm) and it looked like a mess on the plate. She took one bite and that was that... she was never going to try again. We all had a good laugh, and then, I asked to look at the recipe. I went home and looked up sachertorta in my European cookbook. Oh my goodness... how many ways can a recipe go wrong?

So, it's a year later and I would like to make her friend's recipe for her birthday. However, I'll use my cookbook as a better guide. Little things, like you need to let the chocolate cool, the butter and sugar need to be creamed until light, and then the yolks added one by one, gently stir in the flour, and then gently (just combining) the stiff beaten egg whites (all fluff comes from eggs in most european cake recipes - they don't use baking powder, baking soda, or yeast). I've made about 30 or so European cakes, so I know now how to do it - but my first attempts were a sweet egg baked omelette disk instead of cake too!

If I can get that cake correctly, I'll be a hero!

Then yesterday, while we were looking up recipes, Sonja noticed the cookbook I was refering to is called:  Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague. She gets curious and says, "I wonder if they the recipe for shclomigrashka" (or at least that's how it sounded to me.) "I had this when I went to Budapest when Sven was 10 years old." (My husband is now 43, btw, so she's remembering this from 33 years ago.) She continues, "I once asked for it at a Hungarian restaurant, but they didn't know what I was trying to say."

Ok I have to segway away from the story for a second here for a side note about my mother in law again. My mother in law insists she doesn't care about food. That food is food. She just eats it because she needs to and then she's done. This is partially true. For the food she prepares for herself, it's mostly just to feed her body. But part of that was she was cooking for one and eating alone. But...she remembers every special cake, or special ice cream or special meal she has eaten in her lifetime (up until probably age 60). I'll make something and she'll say, "This is good, but Oh, the way Maka made it was unbelievable." Or, "When I was in Sicily, we stopped in this little, little place and it was the best Pasta Frijole I've ever had. Oh, it was delicious." (while she's eating mine). She loves good food, she just won't admit it.

Anyway, the cookbook has this recipe for Somlói Galuska I looked up the recipe and it has everything she loves - rum, cream, apricot jam, walnuts, chocolate and a light fluffy cake. It looks easy enough to make, so I'll make that too. Pictures will follow later today or tomorrow. And maybe a story or two if they don't turn out as well as I expect. We aren't eating them until Thursday when Sven comes back from his trip (Sonja's idea). Plus, with most European cakes (unlike American cakes) it's better the next day.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Let's talk baking cookbooks and starters

While I'm not baking these days, I'm thumbing through all my baking books. I have a few as it is a passion of mine. As I mentioned in another post, I have "The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book". I love this book as it's a lot of whole grain goodness, easy to follow directions and healthy. One of my kid's favorites from it is a blueberry muffin recipe which I have converted into a mini chocolate chip muffin recipe. It's like a healthy cookie - each one is made with zero fat (except what's in the chocolate and egg), wheat germ and whole wheat and it's delicious (also is good as the blueberry muffin recipe too). From that book I also make my whole wheat Christmas stollen which everyone loves. There are also some great recipes for yeasted breads, but here is where it gets tricky. They specialize in making a desem - a type of wild yeast starter.

I remember reading through the book when I got it 16 years ago and feeling like, "Whoa, you can do that?" and "How and why?"

Later I added some other baking books which are quite good, King Arthur's Whole Grain Baking, Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads, some cake books, Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads, a few coffee table bread books which look pretty, but are mainly fluff, and then recently checking out from the library Amy's Breads. I have a list of others I want to check out too.

The more you get into breads and the more you read REAL baking books, the more you realize, you need a starter for those bakery tasting breads, but every time I read about them, I get confused and intimidated. They go by all different sorts of names and I'm sure some are the same while others are different - soakers, bigas, Poolish, desem. From what I gather (could be wrong) starters and desems are captured wild yeasts (instead of using commercial yeast) and soakers, bigas and a Poolish are different forms of prefermented starters using commercial yeast. Have I lost you yet?

Anyway, I have now read about 5 different ways to make a starter, I've looked at pictures online, I've read blogs on their development, yet I am completely intimidated. All this talk about hydration, different bacteria taking over at different times, etc. ACK!!! Brain overload. Yet... I'm itching to start one. I really want to be able to say, "I can create my own starter from scratch and make artisan tasting breads!" and how cool is it to say, "This mother starter is 10 years old (or more)."

Of course, I need to decide which one to do. I could go with Peter Reinhart's way of doing it, but there's something conceited about him that turns me off (Plus he borrowed the pineapple starter idea). Add to that, in the book I have, it's quite obvious the book deal came first and then he was scrambling to get his recipe right while working on the book... doesn't inspire confidence. In the book I'm reading right now, Amy's Bread, the make a simple flour and water starter, but I've heard those can get moldy quite easily. And then a bread forum favorite starter is the Debra Wink starter which started out from trying to figure out why so many people were having the same problems with Peter Reinhart's starter recipe in "The Baker's Apprentice". She is/was a perfect person to figure this all out - she's an avid baker AND a microbiologist - BINGO! I like her! (What's with me and smart people?)

If you like to know WHY things happen, you simple must read these articles. I've linted to article one, but at the bottom of that page it links to part two which also includes her formula.

So, that's the formula I'm going to follow. She designed the formula after figuring out what's happening at all stages of the fermentation at the microscopic level - totally cool!

Monday, July 26, 2010

While the English Muffins were failing

Since we are having a heat wave, I try to do everything in the mornings or late in the evenings. So, while I was making the English muffins, I had a starter going in the mixer beside me.

One of my favorite breads of all times is the Pain de Campagne which I can get at the farmer's market at Burke or at Whole Foods. It's such a big loaf, that you buy a section of it, not the whole thing and it's always expensive, which means, I rarely buy it. It's something like $6 for a section at Whole Foods.

Finding a recipe (several actually), I decide to give it a whirl. I know that breads with starters or bigas or pools lavains, or desems (so clueless what that all means still) have more flavor, last longer, get better air bubbles, and nicer crusts. Almost all artisan breads starts from one of these aforementioned 'blobs'. This particular starter is just an overnight (or minimum 4 hours) fermentation. Cool! I can try that!

So, beside me on the counter while making English muffins I had this yeast mixture growing (and man did it grow!). Come morning, I started the recipe - to the T. I first tried to convert the volume measurements to weight, but then realized, "Wait a minute, how do I know that MY weight measurements are the correct weights?" and they must not have been, because I was mixing a wet mess. I think I added about 1/2 cup more whole wheat and 1/2 cup more white to get it a still very wet, but more manageable dough.

The recipe then states to let it rise for 3-4 hours - until it doubles. Which is what I did (top photo is after this rise). It need not quite 3 hours.

Then the tricky part - this is a wet dough - wetter than any I've ever worked with, how will I shape this blob of goo (kind of like the consistency of slime, just sticky). I get it out of the bowl and place it on a well floured counter and work it. Surprisingly, the dough with a little flour is quite manageable. I try to do the shaping of a boule technique:

Now it says to let it rise 2-3 hours until it triple is size. Ah, here's where I really worry. Will it rise? Will it stay round? And, like all previous attempts, it spreads out - not up or staying roundish, but spreads outwards.

After two hours, I decide I should bake it. I try to slash one, but, again, as usual, I fail. I had a brand new razor blade, but it got stuck in the dough, didn't really slice it and made it deflate a bit - ARGH! Now it's even more flat! OK, fine, I'll just leave the other loaf as is and hope for the best.

In the oven they go and I watch and wait for a nice oven spring (more growth) and nope... again, as usual, not much happening. it bakes for 40 minutes on 425 degrees, I take it out and have a flattish bread. Let it cool and while it looks 'ok' and tastes good, it's still not quite right.

I go to get help from the bread forum and consensus is that I overproofed the loaves. Which, leaves me perplexed because how can I know? Which just shows me even more - I have so, so much to learn. Maybe I'll make a sweet quick bread tonight to give the yeast tries a rest. But, I'm also itching to start a try starter!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

How I've began

Not wanting to spend a fortune on bread anymore, feeling quite confident I could make bread as good as what I could find in the grocery store and hoping to make it even better (dreaming of making it like a true artisan, neck in neck with quality as the great bakeries), I started making breads in our new kitchen.

The first loaves - 8 to be precise. Were loaves I had perfected in previous years. We love them for sandwiches and for sweet bread. However, my mother in law didn't like it and who wants to eat the same bread every day?

So, my first breads were those you see in the loaf pans - cut and uncut. Pretty successful. But, note - they are in bread pans! Ah! One thing I haven't mastered and will talk about in the next post. I haven't learned how to get doughs to rise without spreading. I'm completely in awe with bakers who can get round balls and keep them that way!

Next, as the heat wave is making baking inadvisable, I decided to make English muffins. Sounds easy enough and all went well, but alas, my dough was too stiff and while tasty, they were tiny and had the consistency of a dinner roll, not an English muffin.

Why is it that I can't get those nice airy holes like you see in artisan breads? My dough rises, my kneading is done correctly, and I always follow the recipe. But... no nooks and crannies. Can I call them crumpets then instead?

Why am I baking bread?

When Sven and I were dating, Sven found a cookbook by Jane Brody. We both liked it and decided to get her recommended bread book, "The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book". It was great too and many pages are dog eared, but I never had a chance to really switch over to full time bread baking. I baked a few things, enjoyed it, but didn't have the time to devote to it between school, then kids and career and so on.

Then a few years back I got into baking sort of accidentally. First, I got into cakes. My best friend asked me to make her wedding cake, so I beefed up my skills and got pretty good for an amateur baker and I do enjoy making specialty cakes for friends and family and occasional paying customers. But, we are pretty healthy eaters and cake, while yummy isn't something you eat or should eat every day. After a few cakes with a bad mixer, I decided to get a beefy mixer that was not only good for cakes, but for making breads too. I was inspired to bake again because while I could get some amazing bakery breads, but they were so expensive. $8 for a small loaf we could eat in one sitting. I dibbled and dabbled, but never got into really with a toddler who refused to sleep.

Then, recently, we moved to Maryland, becoming a three generation home with my mother in law moving in. We spent 9 months of remodeling and now I have a new wonderful kitchen AND finally some time to bake. So, a few weeks back, I stopped buying all bread and started making our own after I discovered we were eating $20 worth of bread every week, when I could make it for $5 or less.

I started baking with the tried and true - my white whole wheat oatmeal bread and white whole wheat oatmeal bread twisted with cinnamon. While I loved it and the kids did too. My mother in law found it too heavy. I made a couple more things, and the same thing... too heavy or something didn't quite turn out right.

All my confidence of being able to bake luxurious breads started to dwindle. I found a bread forum for help (which is a tremendous help) and just came to realize, it takes TIME and practice to make great bread. So, that is what this blog is all about - this blog will be a trail of my triumphs and errors, which for now really does feel like more errors than triumphs, hence the bumbling in the title.