BraveTart’s Brown Butter Carrot Cake

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Ugly spatula work, delicious cake

These days, I bake desserts rather infrequently, and when I do decide to make something, I want it to be worth my while – and I trust Stella Parks from Serious Eats. Her recent April Fools’ article for the site was an embodiment of the surgical attention to detail that she stands for. And her carrot cake recipe is just that. I always read recipes before I begin them, and even then, I made a few mistakes which thankfully didn’t hurt the cake at all.

This carrot cake is really delicious and well worth the hours of attention it demanded. It’s moist, is generously studded with pecans, and the cream cheese frosting is not overly sweet. However, I did make a few tweaks to the original recipe:

  • I had halved the recipe because a) I didn’t want to have to shred two pounds of carrots and b) I’m going to get pretty sick of eating all that carrot cake after some time. It still produced a substantial two-layer 8-inch cake, and there weren’t any volume issues when it came to mixing the cake in the stand mixer, so I would highly recommend
  • I also accidentally used 25% less butter in the cake than prescribed – I had set aside 1.5 sticks of butter for the frosting, but instead used it for the cake (which required 2 sticks). I thought the cake did not suffer from this reduction at all.
  • I used 19% more carrots than instructed because I didn’t read the recipe carefully enough – the ingredient list called for 405g whole, unpeeled carrots, while you only need 340g of shredded carrots in the cake. I didn’t think the extra carrots hurt the recipe either.
  • I did not have a vanilla bean and just used 1 tbsp of regular vanilla extract in the cream cheese frosting. It ended up tasting way too artificial, so I would recommend procuring a vanilla bean, or using maybe just 1 tsp instead of 1 tbsp of extract as a substitute.
  • This might be a controversial opinion, but as moist the cake was and as wonderful the crunch from the pecans were, I was really missing the burst from plump, juicy raisins. If I were to remake this, I’d probably add in some golden raisins (they tend to be juicier) or at the very least, raisins re-hydrated in hot water, that’s 50% the volume of the pecans.

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BraveTart’s Brown Butter Carrot Cake

Makes a two-layer 8-inch cake
Adapted from Serious Eats
Note: I’ve modified the recipe and instructions to better suit the half-recipe I made with the inadvertent “healthier” substitutes (i.e. less butter, more carrots).

For the Cake:
7 ounces pecan pieces (1 3/4 cups; 198g) (I got the toasted version from Trader Joe’s which eliminated the toasting step)
14 oz finely shredded carrots (approx 3.5 firmly packed cups, 405g) can be refrigerated up to a week in advance)
6 ounces unsalted butter (1.5 sticks; 170g)
7 ounces white sugar (1 cup; 198g)
4 ounces light brown sugar (1/2 cup, gently packed; 113g) (I used 100g of white sugar and 13g of Grandma’s Original Molasses)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 + 3/8 teaspoons (3.5g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 tbsp vanilla extract (7g)
3 large eggs, straight from the fridge
5.5 ounces all-purpose flour, such as Gold Medal (1 1/4 cups, spooned; 155g)
2.5 ounces whole wheat flour, not stone-ground (1/2 cup; 70g)

For the Frosting:
(The amount below makes 50% of the original recipe, but the surface area to be frosted only dropped by 33%. This will mean a slightly thinner frosting than if you weren’t making a half-recipe, but I was fine with the amount of frosting the cake had.)

Custard
6 ounces milk, any percentage will do (about 3/4 cups; 170g)
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
4 ounces sugar (about 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon; 113g)
3/4 ounces cornstarch (about 1/6 cup, spooned; 23g)
1.5 large eggs, straight from the fridge (for the half egg, use 2 tbsps of a beaten egg)
1/2 tbsp vanilla extract (7g)

Buttercream
8 ounces full-fat Philadelphia cream cheese, softened to about 65°F/18°C (1 eight-ounce packages; 227g)
6 ounces unsalted butter, softened to about 65°F/18°C (1.5 sticks; 170g)
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 tablespoon; 15g)

Instructions
To better synchronize the downtime between recipes, make the cream cheese frosting first, which is made of a custard and a buttercream.

FROSTING, PART 1 of 2: The Custard
1. In a 3-quart stainless steel saucier, combine the milk and vanilla bean and bring to a simmer over medium heat. When it begins to bubble, shut off the heat, cover, and steep 30 minutes. Alternately, cover and refrigerate until needed, up to 24 hours to extract the deepest vanilla flavor. Meanwhile, whisk the sugar and cornstarch together in a medium bowl, followed by the eggs.

2. Return milk to a simmer and discard vanilla bean after scraping out the flavorful pulp inside. Ladle 1/4 cup hot milk into the eggs and whisk to combine. Repeat with a second and third ladleful, then pour the warmed eggs into the pot. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the custard turns thick and lumpy, about 3 minutes. After it begins to bubble sluggishly, continue cooking and whisking 2 full minutes to neutralize a starch-dissolving protein found in the yolks, and until the custard is smooth.

3. Off heat, stir in vanilla extract, then pour custard into a large baking dish to speed the cooling process. Press a sheet of plastic against the surface and refrigerate until thick and cool, about 1 hour, or to roughly 68°F (20°C). Alternatively, refrigerate up to 1 week and stand at room temperature until warmed to roughly 68°F.

Now that the custard is cooling, move on to making the cake. I would finish the frosting recipe while the cake is cooling.

CAKE
4. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 350°F (180°C). Toast the pecans on a baking sheet until golden brown, about 10 minutes, and cool completely.

This would be a good time to shred your carrots, if you haven’t already done them.

5. To make browned butter for the cake: in a small saucepan, completely melt the butter over medium-low heat. Increase to medium and simmer, stirring with a heat-resistant spatula while the butter hisses and pops. Continue cooking and stirring, scraping up any brown bits that form along the pan, until the butter is golden-yellow and perfectly silent. Pour into a heat-safe measuring cup, along with all the toasty brown bits, and proceed as directed, or cover and refrigerate up to 1 week; melt before using.

6. Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Lightly grease two 8-inch anodized aluminum cake pans and line with parchment (instructions here). If you don’t have two pans, it’s okay to bake the cakes in stages; the batter will keep at room temperature until needed.

7. Combine white sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, baking powder, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, cloves, vanilla, and eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Mix on low to moisten, then increase to medium and whip until thick and fluffy, about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together all-purpose and whole wheat flours. Drizzle in the brown butter in a steady stream, then reduce speed to low and add the flours. Once smooth, fold in shredded carrots and pecans with a flexible spatula.

8. Divide batter between the prepared cake pans, about 28 ounces each. If you don’t have two pans, the remaining batter can be held at room temperature up to 3 hours. (Note that if you only have one cake pan, this will mean you’ll have to be in the kitchen at 30 minute to 60 minute intervals. So don’t commit to anything else. Really.) Bake until cakes are golden, about 30 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center will have a few crumbs still attached, and your fingertip will leave a slight indentation in the puffy crust.

9. Cool cakes directly in their pans for 1 hour, then run a butter knife around the edges to loosen. Invert onto a wire rack, peel off the parchment, and return cakes right side up (covered in plastic, the cakes can be left at room temperature for a few hours).

Now that the cake is cooling, it’s a good time to prepare the buttercream to finish up the rest of the frosting.

FROSTING, PART 2 of 2: The Buttercream
10. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the softened cream cheese and butter on medium speed until fluffy and light, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, stir the thick pudding in its dish to create a thick, dough-like mass. Scrape the bowl and beater with a flexible spatula, then switch to whisk attachment and whip on medium speed. Add pudding a few tablespoons at a time, then drizzle in the lemon juice; if you like, season to taste with a pinch of salt (see note). Scrape the bowl once more and whip a few seconds to ensure no lumps remain. The finished frosting should be light and creamy, but thick enough to hang upside down from a spoon.

Once the cake layers are cooled, it’s time to stack it up!

11. I didn’t think the cake needed leveling since they didn’t dome that much, but please use a serrated knife to do so if you wish. I also did not have a cake turntable or an offset spatula, so I placed the cake on an inverted plate and used the back of a chef’s knife to apply the frosting.

12. To crumb coat the cake:Use 1 cup of the frosting to spread it on one of the cake layers. Place the second layer on top, and top with another cup of frosting. Cover the sides of the cake with about 3/4 cup of frosting, as thinly as you can. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes so the frosting sets.

13. Decorate the cake with the rest of the frosting. Under a cake dome or an inverted pot, the frosted cake will keep 24 hours at cool room temperature. For longer storage, freeze the sliced cake for a couple of hours until the frosting is hard and no longer tacky. Wrap each slice well with cling wrap to avoid moisture loss or air exposure. Freeze cake for up to a month.

Super Thick Levain-Style Chocolate Chip Cookie from Stella Parks

Chocolate chip cookies will never go out of style, and there’s always a new recipe claiming to be the best or the Last Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe You’ll Ever Need. And honestly, I prefer a more egalitarian approach – it’s all going to boil down to what you’re in the mood for. And this time, I was in the mood for a big honking ooey-gooey Levain-style chocolate chip cookie.

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And this was definitely a honkingly huge cookie from Stella Parks of Serious Eats. Each cookie weighed 6 ounces. I don’t even want to think about how many calories it contains. But by God was it delicious. The original Levain cookie contains walnuts, as does this recipe. And there have been competitors like Chip NYC and Gooey on the Inside that also do the barely-baked-hunk-of-dough thing, but their chocolate chip cookies do NOT have walnuts and I think it makes a significant difference to the textural and flavor complexity of the cookie.

Stella Parks’ recipes are always detailed, and they’re not only prescriptive but also informative. She explains that a pinch of nutmeg makes butter taste more buttery, and also recommends using different sizes and darkness of chocolate chips to add interest. I don’t usually keep chocolate chips at home because I prefer to chop up a high quality bar of semisweet, but Stella explains that this massive cookie needs the structural stability that commercial chocolate chips would provide.

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The original recipe indicated a 22 minute bake time at 350 F, and I thought that was a little too gooey for me, as pictured below. The cookie was falling apart in my hand, but it was still super delicious. I’d probably bake it to 25 minutes next time though. I love the crisp edges and the gooey and toasty interior. I made a half recipe (which yielded 4 cookies), and didn’t have any issues with simply halving everything. These cookies do require an overnight rest period, but I promise it’s worth it.

Super Thick Levain-Style Chocolate Chip Cookie from Stella Parks
Makes 8 large shareable cookies
From Serious Eats

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces unsalted American butter (about 1/2 cup; 113g), softened to about 65°F (18°C)
  • 4 ounces light brown sugar (about 1/2 cup, firmly packed; 113g)
  • 3 1/2 ounces white sugar, preferably well toasted (about 1/2 cup; 100g)
  • 1/2 ounce vanilla extract (about 1 tablespoon; 15g)
  • 2 teaspoons (8g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight (plus more for sprinkling, if desired)
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of grated nutmeg
  • 2 large eggs (about 3 1/2 ounces; 100g), straight from the fridge
  • 10 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 1/4 cups, spooned; 283g), such as Gold Medal
  • 15 ounces assorted chocolate chips (about 2 1/2 cups; 425g), not chopped chocolate; see note
  • 8 1/2 ounces raw walnut pieces or lightly toasted pecan pieces (shy 1 3/4 cups; 240g)
  1. To Prepare the Dough: Combine butter, light brown sugar, white sugar, vanilla extract, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and nutmeg in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
  2. Mix on low to moisten, then increase speed to medium and beat until soft, fluffy, and pale, about 8 minutes; halfway through, pause to scrape bowl and beater with a flexible spatula. With mixer running, add eggs one at a time, letting each incorporate fully before adding the next. Reduce speed to low, then add the flour all at once. When flour is incorporated, add chocolate chips and nuts and keep mixing until dough is homogeneous.
  3. Divide dough into 8 equal portions (about 6 ounces/170g each) and round each into a smooth ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 12 hours before baking; if well protected from air, the dough can be kept in the fridge up to 1 week.
  4. To Bake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 350°F (180°C). Line an aluminum half-sheet pan with parchment paper. When the oven comes to temperature, arrange up to 4 portions of cold dough on prepared pan, leaving ample space between them to account for spread. If you like, sprinkle with additional salt to taste.
  5. Bake until cookies are puffed and lightly brown, about 22 minutes or to an internal temperature of between 175 and 185°F (79 and 85°C). The ideal temperature will vary from person to person; future rounds can be baked more or less to achieve desired consistency.
  6. Cool cookies directly on baking sheet until no warmer than 100°F (38°C) before serving. Enjoy warm, or within 12 hours; these cookies taste best when freshly baked.

Rye-Cranberry Chocolate-Chunk Poppy Seed Cookies

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Now that it’s officially fall, it means that turning on the oven to cook is no longer an unwelcome prospect. I came across this chocolate chip cookie recipe on the New York Times and was intrigued by its unconventional additions. It contained rye flour (of which I still had some remaining from my Nordic bread-making experiments), but also dried cranberries and poppy seeds.

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The cookie was invented by Moko Hirayama, who runs a bakery called Mokonuts in Paris, and she was very precise about why each ingredient is included:

The cranberries are a bit sour, and they offset the cookie’s sweetness; the chocolate is bitter, another guard against the cookie’s being too sweet; and the rye flour, well, it makes the cookie a little more tender, but it found a place in the mix because Hirayama was attracted to its beautiful gray color. [The poppyseeds] speckle the cookie, look tweedy and autumnal and taste just this side of knowable — there’s a mystery about them. Hirayama says she added them to make the cookie crunchy, and they do.

I’ve not seen these ingredients in combination before, but it makes so much sense now that I’ve tasted these cookies. Poppy seeds also have a special place in my heart. I had mohnkuchen – or poppy seed cake – in Austria for the first time last Christmas, and it’s not like the sparsely populated application that you see in lemon poppy seed cake – the poppy seeds in mohnkuchen was packed to density and made the cake look nearly black.

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Mohnkuchen, or poppy seed cake in German

But back to these cookies. I really enjoy how sweetness isn’t its primary feature: the nuttiness from the rye flour, the textural complexity from the poppy seeds, plus the generous sprinkle of flaky sea salt definitely makes these a gourmet chocolate chip cookie that you should try making this fall.

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Rye-Cranberry Chocolate-Chunk Poppy Seed Cookies
Makes 15 large cookies
From NYTimes

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons (130 grams) medium rye flour
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (85 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 10 tablespoons (140 grams) unsalted butter at cool room temperature
  • ½ cup (100 grams) sugar
  • ½ cup (100 grams) light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  •  cup (50 grams) poppy seeds
  •  cup (80 grams) moist, plump dried cranberries (I did this by steeping my dried cranberries in hot water for about 15 minutes)
  • 4 ounces (113 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chunks
  •  Flake salt, such as Maldon, for sprinkling

PREPARATION

  1. Whisk together the rye flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, sea salt and baking soda; set aside.
  2. Working with a mixer (fitted with the paddle attachment, if you have one), beat the butter and both sugars together on medium speed for 3 minutes, until blended; scrape the bowl as needed. Add the egg, and beat 2 minutes more. Turn off the mixer, add the dry ingredients all at once, then pulse the mixer a few times to begin blending the ingredients. Beat on low speed until the flour almost disappears, and then add the poppy seeds, cranberries and chocolate. Mix only until incorporated. Scrape the bowl to bring the dough together.
  3. Have a baking sheet lined with parchment, foil or plastic wrap nearby. Divide the dough into 15 pieces, roll each piece into a ball between your palms and place on the baking sheet. Cover, and refrigerate the dough overnight or for up to 3 days. (If you’d like, you can wrap the balls airtight and freeze them for up to 1 month. Defrost them overnight in the fridge before baking.)
  4. When you’re ready to bake, center a rack in the oven, and heat it to 425. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Arrange the cookies on the sheet, leaving 2 inches between each cookie (work with half a batch at a time and keep the remaining balls of dough in the refrigerator until needed). Sprinkle each cookie with a little flake salt, crushing it between your fingers as you do.
  5. Bake the cookies for 10 minutes, pull the baking sheet from the oven and, using a metal spatula, a pancake turner or the bottom of a glass, tap each cookie lightly. Let the cookies rest on the sheet for 3 minutes, then carefully transfer them to a rack. Repeat with the remaining dough, always using cold dough and a cool baking sheet.
  6. Serve after the cookies have cooled for about 10 minutes, or wait until they reach room temperature.

Crispy Chocolate Popcorn

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In the past year, I’ve completely overhauled my diet. I eat a lot more fruits and vegetables, keep my foods minimally processed… and that also means cutting out sweets. I don’t crave dessert with the same intensity as I used to, but every now and then, I just want something a little sweet and chocolatey, y’know?

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Enter chocolate popcorn. You can eat more than a couple of bites and still minimize the caloric impact AND indulge your sweet tooth. I came across this crispy chocolate popcorn recipe from Stella Parks on Serious Eats a few months ago and I finally got around to making it. You essentially make a caramel, flavor it with chocolate, and toss freshly popped popcorn in it. The end result is a chocolate-flavored caramel popcorn that agglomerates in chunks.

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I wanted to stretch my chocolate calories even further, and I boldly decided to double the amount of popcorn recommended in the recipe. It was still excellent! The original recipe called for about 7 cups of popped corn (or 50g), but as you can see in the half sheet above, I used 100g of corn and I felt like there was still plenty of coating per kernel. I even recently remade this recipe with 125g of popcorn and still felt like the coating-to-popcorn ratio was fine, and I didn’t mind a more naked kernel every few bites, and a less agglomerated effect. That’s probably as far as I would go with regards to stretching the chocolate caramel coating, though.

I feel like this recipe is ripe for a riff – maybe adding more salt for more of a sweet/salty effect? Maybe add a pinch of cayenne pepper for a touch of the exotic?

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A few things I noted about this recipe:

  • I love that Stella is a pastry chef. That means recipes have weight measures, and even better, they’re in grams, so I can get my precision down to a TEE.
  • The recipe calls for a candy thermometer which I did NOT have, so I kinda eyeballed the caramelization around the 7-8 minute mark and when it looked like the color of caramel, I turned off the heat. (Sorry I can’t give more specific guidance other than that; therein lies the wisdom of trial and error)
  • Here’s how to pop corn without any special equipment OR added oil. I heated a large soup pot on medium high. When you spritz a bit of water with your fingers in the pot and it immediately sizzles and evaporates, that’s when the pot is hot enough. Put your corn in there – it should all be in contact with the pot bottom. Cover the pot with a lid. For the next few minutes, you should be continually jiggling the pot lightly so the kernels don’t get too hot in one spot. After 20-30 seconds, the popping will start, and it should pick up at a pretty quick clip eventually. When it takes more than 3 seconds for the next kernel to pop (either by sight if you have a clear lid, or by ear if you don’t), that’s when you’re done and you should turn off the heat – you don’t want to burn your popcorn for the sake of popping those stragglers.

Crispy Chocolate Popcorn
Adapted from Serious Eats

Ingredients
2 ounces unsalted butter (about 4 tablespoons; 55g) or 1 1/2 ounces raw cocoa butter (shy 1/4 cup; 40g), plus more for greasing
3.5 ounces freshly popped popcorn (about 14 cups once popped; 100g, you can go up to 4.5 oz or 125g for a lighter coating)
3 ounces water (about 1/3 cup; 85g)
4 ounces golden syrup or light corn syrup (about 1/3 cup; 110g)
9 ounces sugar (about 1 1/4 cups; 255g)
3 ounces 72% dark chocolate, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup; 85g)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon (1g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
Directions
1.
Lightly grease a large bowl, and add freshly popped popcorn. You should have about 7 cups; if significantly less, this may be a sign the the popcorn is dense and stale and that a newer batch of kernels is in order.

2.
In a 3-quart stainless steel saucier, combine water, golden or corn syrup, butter or cocoa butter, and sugar over medium heat. Stir with a fork until bubbling hot, about 4 minutes. Increase to medium-high, clip on a digital thermometer and cook without stirring until the syrup is 340°F, about 10 minutes. If the process is taking too long, simply increase the heat.

3.
Meanwhile, lightly grease a rimmed half sheet pan, and prepare the remaining ingredients so they’re ready to add at a moment’s notice. When the syrup comes to temperature, remove from heat, stir in chocolate with a heat-resistant spatula, followed by the baking soda and salt. When the mixture is foamy, pour over the popcorn and fold until the pieces are thoroughly coated.

4.
Scrape onto the prepared baking sheet, pulling the chunks of popcorn into bite-sized clusters with a pair of metal forks. Cool until the soft candy shell is hard and crisp, about 45 minutes, then transfer to an airtight container. It’s best to store the popcorn as soon as it’s cooled, as excessive exposure to air may cause it to soften from humidity. Store up to 2 weeks at room temperature, or 1 month in the fridge.

Chocolate Currant (Faux) Sourdough, Made with Poolish

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I’ve been obsessed with Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s “How to Make Bread” ever since I first browsed it while I was dining solo at Michelin-starred Aniar in Galway, Ireland. I’ve made a few recipes from it now, and I will say that as an experienced cook/baker, breadmaking is a very humbling experience.

In general, the fewer the ingredients, the less forgiving a recipe is – and how much more spartan could a recipe get when you’re making a sourdough bread composed entirely of yeast harvested from the air and milled flour? Not that this chocolate currant bread is nearly anywhere as minimal as a medieval loaf might be, but I still find the idea of a sourdough bread, steeped in history and reminiscent of a simpler time past, incredibly romantic.

But also incredibly frustrating to make. I’ve spared you the dense, gummy, overly-sour failures of sourdough breads I’ve made, and this chocolate currant bread is actually a slight adaptation of the sourdough recipe that Emmanuel has in his book. At the moment, I’ve given up on harvesting and maintaining my own sourdough culture, and have been using poolish in place of a sourdough starter.

What is a poolish, you might ask? A poolish is a pre-ferment made ahead of time before you bake your loaf. Some amount of yeast, (usually) equal amounts of flour and water are mixed to form a doughy paste that’s left to rest for anywhere between 8 and 16 hours in advance of your loaf. This poolish imparts a complexity in flavor absent in bread made from “straight dough” (which is made by mixing everything up in a single episode) by allowing the yeast more time to create delicious byproducts of fermentation like organic acids and esters.

For this chocolate currant sourdough bread, I simply replaced the recommended sourdough starter (at 100% hydration, which means equal parts flour and water) with a poolish following this formula to determine the amount of yeast needed relative to the flour in the poolish (source: Weekend Bakery):

Poolish up to 8 hours in advance – 0.23% – 0.33%
Poolish up to 12 hours in advance – 0.1% – 0.2%
Poolish up to 16 hours in advance – 0.03% – 0.08%

Use the lower percentage for a warmer kitchen, and the higher percentage for a cooler kitchen (e.g. if you were baking in the winter).

Example: if you wanted to make a poolish up to 8 hours in advance in the winter, this is what you should do to substitute for a 170g of sourdough starter at 100% hydration: Mix 85g of water, 85g of flour, and 0.2805g of yeast (0.33% x 85g) in a bowl, cover the bowl with cling wrap, and let it rest for 8 hours.

You might ask – how am I going to measure 0.2805g of yeast? Well, you can invest in a precision scale that goes up to 0.001g, which I have the good fortune of owning – or you can just grab a pinch of yeast and monitor how it goes. I highly recommend reading the Weekend Bakery’s post for more information on how a poolish should look like.

Anyway, enough of my geeking out (even though there’s way more where that came from!). This is my second attempt at making this chocolate currant sourdough recipe with a poolish preferment, and even though I can see the myriad of ways my technique could be improved, the flavors remain unparalleled. The loaf has an abundance of Zante currants that turn juicy when warm, and you are surprised by the gooey milk chocolate chip that punctuates the loaf every now and then, but not so often you feel like you’re having cake or dessert. The bread is definitely good enough to eat on its own, but who would decline a smear of Nutella?

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Chocolate Currant Sourdough (made with poolish)
Adapted from Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s How to Make Bread
Makes one large loaf (approx 950g)

For the poolish
85g bread flour
85g water
Yeast, per percentages outlined above

For the bread
200g/1 1/2 cups Zante currants
80g/2/3 cup milk/semi-sweet chocolate chips (I chopped a Trader Joe’s milk chocolate Pound Plus bar)
330g/ 2 2/3 bread flour
8g/1 1/2 tsp salt
20g/2 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
250g/250ml/1 cup lukewarm water

Equipment needed
long proofing basket (if not, a colander with a linen towel could substitute)
baking sheet lined with parchment paper

  1. Mix all poolish ingredients into a large bowl 8-16 hours ahead of time, before you will make your loaf. This bowl should be large enough to include all the bread ingredients. Cover bowl with cling wrap and let rest at room temperature.
  2. When ready to make the bread, mix currants and chocolate and set aside.
  3. In a (smaller) mixing bowl, mix the flour, salt and cocoa powder together – this is the dry mixture.
  4. Add the water to your poolish, and mix until combined. This is the wet mixture.
  5. Add the dry mixture to your wet mixture and mix until it comes together.
  6. Cover the dough with the bowl that had the dry mixture in it and let rest for 10 minutes.
  7. Knead the dough by pulling a portion of the dough from the side and pressing it into the center. Repeat this motion all around the perimeter of the dough 8 times and the dough should start to resist.
  8. Let rest for another ten minutes.
  9. Repeat step 7 and 8 twice, then step 7 again. (i.e. Mix, knead, rest, knead, rest, knead, rest, knead.) Cover the dough with the bowl again and let rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
  10. Punch down dough with your first to release the air.
  11. Transfer ball of dough to a lightly floured work surface and divide the dough into two equal portions, rolling each into a ball.
  12. Dust the proofing basket with flour, and lay the two balls side by side so they are touching snugly.
  13. Let the dough rise until about double the size (for me it takes about 8 hours, but may be as few as 3 depending on the ambient temperature in your kitchen).
  14. About 20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 475F/240C. Place a roasting pan at the bottom of the pan to preheat. Set aside a cup of water.
  15. When the dough is doubled, flip it out onto the parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle flour on it and slash crosses on each ball.
  16. Place the bread into the oven, and pour the reserved cup of water into the roasting pan. Close the oven door, and lower the oven temperature to 425F/220C.
  17. Bake for 30 minutes or until brown. Bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom when it is ready.
  18. Let cool on a wire rack.

 

Raspberry Bakewell Cake

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The thing that can make foreign foods inaccessible is when it has names that give no indication as to what is inside of it. What is a Cornish pasty? What is a Gur cake? What is a Bakewell tart?

My first taste of a Bakewell tart, a traditionally English confection, was actually in Ireland. My Connemara day tour took a pitstop at Kylemore Abbey where I had a light bite at the attached cafe. I was intrigued by all the mouthwatering treats on display, but wanted to try something outside of the scone box. My eye was drawn to the Bakewell traybake, primarily because it had a sticker next to its label indicating that it was the winner of a local baking competition. They were squares with a dense, powdery-looking yellow filling on a crust, topped with caramelized sliced almonds. I took a gamble, and gave that a try, even though I’ve found that my mileage tends to vary with non-chocolatey, fruit/nut-based desserts.

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Bakewell tart from Kylemore Abbey

Upon tasting it, it felt like a blast from the past. It tasted so familiar, yet I’ve never had a Bakewell tart before. I eventually realized that I was thinking of raspberry thumbprint cookies, which have the exact same almond-raspberry flavor profile but just in a different format. The frangipane filling (equal parts butter, sugar, and almond flour) was crumbly and almost shortbread-like, which was such a fascinating texture for me.

Ergo, I had to replicate this at home. I did some research, and I decided that before venturing into a full-on tart with a pastry crust, I would make a cake version of it. The cake version doesn’t have as much of a shortbready texture that I enjoyed so much, but as you can see, it still is a little more crumbly than it is cakey.

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I did make some tweaks to the BBC recipe I referenced: I used raspberry jam since I wanted a truer Bakewell flavor and texture, and was worried about a soggy cake. I also added lemon zest since I saw that in a few other recipes, and I felt that the recipe with the jam substitution was a little too sweet and could be cut with some citrus.

Several reviewers replaced the vanilla essence with almond extract, and I think that was a smart choice. Another swap I made was to use half cake flour and half all-purpose flour with 1 1/2 tsp of baking powder and a 1/2 tsp salt in place of the recommended self-raising flour. I learned that flour in the UK tends to be a little softer (i.e. less protein content) than flour in the US, so I wanted to make sure the cake retained a tender crumb. However, if all you have is all-purpose, I don’t think the cake will suffer very much at all.

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Raspberry Bakewell Cake
Adapted from BBC
Makes an 8 inch round cake

140g ground almond
140g unsalted butter, softened
140g granulated sugar
140g self-raising flour (or 70g all-purpose flour + 70g cake flour + 1 1/2 tsp baking powder + 1/2 tsp salt)
2 large eggs
1 tsp almond extract
Zest from 1 lemon (optional – if using, reduce salt in flour to 1/4 tsp)
3 tbsp or 65g raspberry jam (I just used as much as needed to spread a thin layer)
2 tbsp or 16g sliced almonds

1. Heat oven to 180C/355F and grease an 8 inch cake pan.
2. Cream butter and sugar in a stand mixer, then mix in almond, flour, eggs, lemon zest (if using) and almond extract until well combined.
3. Spread half the mix over the cake pan and smooth over the top. Spread the raspberry jam onto the cake mixture, then dollop the remaining cake mixture on top and roughly spread – you might find this easier to do with your fingers.
4. Scatter with flaked almonds and bake for 50 mins until golden. Cool and remove from the tin.

Chocolate Barmbrack Bread from The Great British Bakeoff’s Andrew Smyth

bakedbarmbrack

When I had made this bread, I was a week away from my first visit to Ireland. I was so pumped to go that I wanted to make something Irish at home so I could compare it to what the “real thing” would taste like. I picked this chocolate barmbrack bread that Andrew Smyth made in season 7 of the Great British Bakeoff.

It tastes just like fall. I ordinarily do not like dried fruit at all, but the sweet chewiness of the jumbo raisins and candied orange peel pairs very well with the warming pumpkin pie spice flavors. It’s an excellent loaf of bread, but a traditional barmbrack it is not. What I had made here is a yeasted bread with chocolate. A traditional barmbrack is typically a quick bread, does NOT have chocolate in it, and is studded with a lot more tea-soaked dried fruit than what I made here.

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The one thing that I didn’t do that I should have done is use bread flour. I just used all-purpose flour because that’s all I had, but as a result I had a flatter loaf. I also didn’t hand-knead this wet and sticky loaf at all, leaving it all up to my Kitchenaid dough hook, and just guesstimated when I thought it might be done.

This loaf required a couple of special ingredients that are not commonly found in American pantries. Mixed spice and candied peel, specifically. Mixed spice is used in British baking, and its American doppelganger is pumpkin pie spice. Both include cinnamon and nutmeg, sometimes cloves, ginger, and allspice. While I found candied ginger readily, I did not find candied lemon or orange peel.

So I made my own.

candiedpeel

I used Alton Brown’s recipe, and it’s a very thoroughly-written one. It’s pretty straightforward to make, and turns what would ordinarily be tossed into the garbage into a sweet and sour crystalline treat. I made two oranges worth of candied peel and I still have a bunch leftover.

sliced

The one thing I did omit from the original recipe was the chocolate glaze; I didn’t want this bread to be *too* dessert-y. I also converted some of the ingredients/measurements into American for all ya Yanks.

Chocolate Barmbrack Bread
Adapted from BBC Food/Andrew Smyth from GBBO
300g/10½oz bread flour, plus extra for dusting
2½ tbsp pumpkin pie spice
¼ tsp salt
8g instant yeast, or active dry yeast if you need it (modifications below)
33g/1¼oz unsalted butter, softened
66g/2½oz granulated sugar
200ml/7fl oz semi-skimmed milk
1 large egg
100g/3½oz mixed dried fruit
30g/1oz mixed candied peel
100g/3½oz Belgian milk chocolate chips
1 tbsp sunflower oil or cooking spray, for greasing

Method
1. For the bread, line a baking tray with parchment paper and dust generously with flour.
2.Sift the flour, spice and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast on the opposite side to the salt. Add the butter and sugar. Mix using your hand in a claw position until well combined.
3. Gently warm the milk until it is warm to touch, then whisk in the egg.
Make a well in the middle of the dry mixture and pour the milk mixture into it. Dust your hands with flour and mix using your hand as before, until the dough comes together. It will form a very wet dough. Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes in the bowl (use a dough scraper if you have one), or until the dough starts to tighten (though it will still be sticky). Regularly scrape off any dough stuck to your hands.
4. Flour the work surface and your hands. Spread the dough out in a rough rectangle and add the dried fruit, candied peel and chocolate into the middle of the dough. Knead for a further 2 minutes to incorporate.
5. Place the dough on the prepared tray and shape into an oval. Lightly dust with flour and cover with oiled cling film. Leave in a warm place to prove for an hour or until doubled in size.
6. Preheat the oven to 380F.
7. Once the dough is proved, remove the cling film and slash once lengthways across the top with a sharp knife. Bake for 40 minutes on the bottom shelf of the oven, rotating the tray midway through cooking to ensure you get an even crust (the loaf should be a dark-brown colour). If the bottom edges brown too early, wrap a strip of aluminium foil around the loaf.

*If you end up using active dry yeast, mix the yeast and the warm milk and a tablespoon of the allotted sugar and allow to rest for five minutes until you see bubbles on the surface. Proceed with whisking in the egg after, then mix with the rest of the dry ingredients and butter.