HOME BAKERS COLLECTIVE: AUGUST PROJECT

One year ago, filming of Season 5 of The Great American Baking Show was coming to an end. In fact it was probably right this very day a year ago that Dana, Marissa and Brother Andrew faced their last baking challenges in that dreamy tent. Amazing that with this assignment we went full circle, and all the bakers who participate in “the collective”, proposed challenges on a monthly basis. It makes my heart sing. Dana chose a very cool project for the month of August.  Recreate your favorite childhood treat.  I had to give it some thought, but then my friend Denise (who grew up in Rio) reminded me of something called Nhá Benta. No need to panic, I will explain to you exactly how to say it (after the comments).  Nhá Benta is a kind of sweet that is found in many countries under names like Marshmallow Puff, Tunnock’s Tea Cakes, Mallomars. The Brazilian version had a very thin base and a ton (I mean a real huge amount) of marshmallow on top. It was very messy to eat, which was a bit of a turn-off for me. Both my late Dad and I, we shared a little quirk: intense dislike of sugary mess. Even as a child, you would never see me with ice cream melting down my arm or lips. The very idea would leave me paralyzed. But it was so tasty, I could never resist it for very long. My re-make of this Brazilian classic is “user-friendly” and “Dad-approved.”  A bigger, sturdier cookie base, and just the right amount of marshmallow to allow you to bite into it and not lose your dignity. To make it even more Brazilian, a green-and-yellow decoration, because sprinkles make my world go around.

NHÁ BENTA
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

for the cookie base:
100g flour
25g whole wheat flour
25g hazelnut flour (or hazelnuts, finely ground)
50g brown sugar
½ tsp salt
113g unsalted butter (½ cup) cold, cubed
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla

for the marshmallow (makes more than you’ll need): 
200 g sugar
¼ cup water
5 sheets gelatin
2 egg whites
¼ fine salt

For the chocolate coating:
250g chocolate couverture, tempered
1 tsp coconut oil, melted
drizzle: white chocolate, melted and dyed with oil-soluble food dye
sprinkles

Heat oven to 350F.

In a food processor, pulse together the flours, sugar and salt. Add the butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the milk and vanilla and pulse until dough holds together when squeezed. Turn the dough out onto the counter and knead gently to bring together. Dust the counter with flour and roll the dough to ¼-inch thickness. Cut into rounds and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Freeze for 10 minutes. Bake until firm and beginning to brown on the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool for 2 minutes on baking sheet, then transfer to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Make the marshmallows only when the cookies are ready and cool, because it sets reasonably quickly.  Soak the gelatin sheets in cold water. Add the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Start whipping the egg whites so that they are at soft peaks within 5 minutes or so. Reduce the heat in the saucepan to medium and boil until mixture reaches 235-240F. Remove from heat and allow bubbling to subside.

With the mixer running on medium-high, gradually stream in the sugar syrup and drained gelatin sheets along the side of the mixing bowl into the egg whites. Continue to beat until glossy, thick and cooled to room temperature, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the salt and mix for 1 minute.

Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a medium round piping tip and pipe over the cookies to form a dome. If dome needs smoothing, moisten fingers with water and gently smooth dome. Set aside to cool.

Temper the chocolate and add the coconut oil, mixing gently to incorporate. Immediately dip the cookies, marshmallow side down, into the chocolate. Flip to coat the bottom and place them gently over Silpat or parchment paper (do not place over a grid like a drying rack because that will mess up the coating at the bottom). Melt white chocolate and dye yellow. Place in a small piping bag, cut a very thin opening, and drizzle the surface of the covered cookies. Add sprinkles right away.  Cool and serve, they can be stored in the fridge.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: First of all, if you want to make a version closer to the authentic one sold in Brazil by Kopenhagen, roll the cookie very thin, and pile that marshmallow as if you are trying to reach the ceiling. Good luck coating it all with tempered chocolate… but I bet it can be done. This was messy enough for me, I tell you.  The drizzles are optional and are never found in the commercially available Nhá Bentas.


So what about its name? It would be best translated as Ms Benta. Nhá is a contraction of the word sinhá, a term commonly used in rural areas of the country decades ago. Basically, they are both  variations of the formal “Senhora” still used today as a respectful way to refer to an older woman. For instance, my friends addressed my Mom as “Senhora Salete”, and my Dad as “Senhor Danillo.”  The pronunciation of the word can be tricky for foreigners, so here we go, repeat after me…

This was my first time making Nha’ Bentas and I had no idea 2 egg whites would produce such a big volume of marsmallow. If your mixer handles 1 egg white, consider halving the recipe that part of the recipe.  I also had quite a bit leftover tempered chocolate, and saved it for future adventures…

Follow your heart…

Dana, this was such a clever challenge, I am looking forward to the flash-back into childhood of our tent-baking friends. I invite my readers to stop by the Home Bakers Collective to read all about it.

ONE YEAR AGO: The Best, The Very Best Hummus

TWO YEARS AGO: Chicken Katsu

THREE YEARS AGO: Whole-Lemon Marinade: Long Overdue

FOUR YEARS AGO: Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Almond Vinaigrette

FIVE YEARS AGO: Eggplant Tomato Stacks

SIX YEARS AGO: The Couscous that Wasn’t

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Apple-Cinnamon Bread

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Blueberry Galette

NINE YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, August 2011

TEN YEARS AGO: Journey to a New Home

ELEVEN YEARS AGO: Friday Night Dinner

HOME BAKERS COLLECTIVE: JULY PROJECT

Every month me and several of my friends who shared the amazing experience of baking “in a certain tent” face a little group challenge. This month our challenge was set up by Marissa, a finalist in the Great American Baking Show. Her brief could not be simpler: BAKE YOUR STATE. We could do pretty much anything in all areas of baking, but the theme would be the state we grew up or live in. I coupled the state where I live with my usual state of mind. And the outcome was obvious: Macarons!  Kansas is The Sunflower State, so a bit of sunflower seed “flour” went into the shells. And black walnuts grow wild here, so the filling was a black walnut buttercream. A little dressing up, and here’s my contribution for this month:

KANSAS SUNFLOWER SEED AND BLACK WALNUT MACARONS
(from The Bewitching Kitchen)

For the shells:
200g Icing/powdered sugar
100 g almond flour
15 g sunflower seeds, ground to a fine powder
115 g egg whites at room temperature (approx. 4 eggs)
1/8 tsp of cream of tartar
100 g granulated sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla paste or extract
green food color (I used green, brown and black to get a forest type green)

for the filling:
4 ounces cream cheese (half a regular package), softened
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon black walnut extract (or vanilla)
225 g powdered sugar
1/3 cup ground Black Walnuts

to decorate:
2 cups (about 1/2 pound) powdered sugar
2 tablespoons warm water
1 + 1/2 tablespoons meringue powder

Make the decorations, the day before. Beat all ingredients with a KitchenAid type mixer and the paddle attachment for about 7 minutes. Let the icing rest for 10 minutes, adjust consistency if needed. For piping rosettes, it must be thick but soft enough to squeeze through a small piping tip.

Color most of the icing yellow, color a small amount brown.  Use a small leaf tip to make the petals. Add the center with a small icing tip. Pipe your shapes over parchment paper and allow to dry. If desired, brush some of the petals with bronze dust.

Make the shells:
Line 3 heavy baking sheets with parchment/baking paper or Silpat mats. Layer the powdered sugar, and ground almonds in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture looks like fine meal, about 12 pulses. Pass through a sieve and transfer to a small bowl or to a sheet of parchment/baking paper. Set aside.

Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Make sure that the bowl and the whisk are impeccably clean. Starting on medium speed, whip the whites with the cream of tartar until they look like light foam. The whites should not appear liquid. The foam will be light and should not have any structure.

Slowly rain in the granulated sugar in five additions, trying to aim the stream between the whisk and the side of the bowl. Turn the speed up to high. Continue to whip the meringue until it is soft and shiny. It should look like marshmallow creme (marshmallow fluff). Add the vanilla and the food color. Whip the egg whites until the mixture begins to dull and the lines of the whisk are visible on the surface of the meringue. Check the peak. It should be firm. Transfer the whites to a medium bowl.

Fold in the ground almond/almond meal mixture in two increments. Paint the mixture halfway up the side of the bowl, using the flat side of a spatula. Scrape the mixture down to the center of the bowl. Repeat two or three times, then check to see if the mixture slides slowly down the side of the bowl. Put the mixture in a piping bag fitted with your choice of piping tip. Pipe shells, I like to count numbers in my head and use the same count for each shell so they end up similar in size.

Slam each sheet hard four to six times on the counter/worktop. Let the unbaked macarons dry until they look dull but not overly dry. Drying time depends on humidity. In a dry climate, the macarons can dry in 15 to 20 minutes; in a humid climate, it can take 35 to 40 minutes.

While the macarons are drying, heat the oven to 300 F. Bake one sheet at a time on the middle rack. Check in 11 minutes. If the tops slide or move (independently of the ‘feet’ when you gently twist the top), then bake for 2 to 3 more minutes. Check one or two. If they move when gently touched, put them back in the oven for 1 to 2 more minutes until they don’t move when touched. Let the macaroons cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan. The macarons should release without sticking.

For the black walnut buttercream: Add the cream cheese, butter and vanilla to the bowl of a KitchenAid type mixer and beat until very smooth. Slowly add powdered sugar,  whisk until smooth and fluffy, then fold in the black walnuts.

Assemble the macarons: match two shells similar in size and add buttercream to the bottom of one of them. Place another shell on top and gently squeeze to take the filling all the way to the edge.

To decorate the macarons, add the Royal icing flowers on top using melted Candy melts or royal icing. Store the macs in the fridge for 24 hours for perfect texture.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  I tried using exclusively sunflower seed as the component of the shell but it did not work. So I went with Plan B: added a small proportion to my regular recipe. It does bring a very interesting and noticeable flavor, I liked it a lot. As to the filling, black walnuts can be a bit of an acquired taste. They almost have a perfume quality to them. I am not too wild about extracts, but this one from Beanilla had nice reviews and worked well in the buttercream. If you cannot find or do not like black walnuts, use regular ones, slightly toasted.

The decorations were a lot of fun to make, although I realize the sunflower “look” is quite elusive. I used a very small leaf icing tip (this one) to pipe the petals, and a small icing tip (Ateco #2) for the center. It would be very hard to make the flowers without a little gadget to hold and rotate as you pipe. I made a template with parchment paper, clear acetate over it, and then glued squares of parchment on top with double-stick tape. Make a bunch of squares and have them ready, so you can pipe many flowers and then choose the best ones. Some will look like cabbages after a rabbit attack. Those you don’t use.


I find that the hardest part is getting the consistency of the Royal Icing right. It needs to be thick, but soft enough to flow smoothly without breaking, so it might take a few trials. Be patient. Once you get it all going, it’s quite mesmerizing to see each flower shaping up.

Marissa, thanks for choosing such a cool theme!  Amazing that we are publishing this on the 1st year anniversary of each of us stepping on a plane to the UK to start that incredible journey…

For my readers, make sure to stop by the Home Bakers Collective, to see what my friends baked for their states of choice… If the link is not yet published, try again a little later in the day.

ONE YEAR AGO: Curry Turmeric Sourdough

TWO YEARS AGO: Black Olive Tapenade and Deviled Eggs

THREE YEARS AGO: Blueberry Crumble Coffee Cake

FOUR YEARS AGO: Fresh Strawberry Yogurt Bundt Cake

FIVE YEAR AGO: Quinoa Salad with Red Grapes and Avocado

SIX YEARS AGO: Strawberry Coffee Cake

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Lemon-Poppy Seed Muffins

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Mascarpone Brownies

NINE YEARS AGO: Salmon Tacos

TEN YEARS AGOCinnamon Turban Bread

ELEVEN YEARS AGO: Summertime Gratin

HOME BAKERS COLLECTIVE: JUNE PROJECT

We just passed Summer solstice. It always makes me sad, knowing that days will be getting shorter and my beloved sun will stay around less and less time each day. Covid-19 is showing its ugly face again, adding more uncertainty to a year that has been full of it from the beginning. But for every yin there is always a yang, and the month of June also brought another group challenge by the tent bakers. This time Alex Tent Baker Extraordinaire came up with the theme, and he was quite straightforward with it. Laminate something. That was his  brief. A brief brief. I loved it! I had quite a few options dancing in my mind, but quickly settled on a Brioche Feuilletée, because it is all about the lamination, no distractions from it. So, without further ado, my assignment is here for you.

BRIOCHE FEUILLETÉE
(recipe from Matt Adlard’s Bake it Better)

for the dough:
415g all-purpose flour
8g salt
50g sugar
85g eggs
153g whole milk
42g soft, unsalted butter
9g instant yeast

for the butter block:
250g unsalted butter

OVERVIEW OF THE RECIPE 
(simplified version, original recipe is copyrighted)

The dough is prepared using all the ingredients and allowed to proof for one hour. It is next transferred to the fridge overnight. At that time, the butter block is made with dimensions of approximately 7 x 8 inches and also placed in the fridge.

Next day the butter block is enclosed in the dough and three folds are performed. First a double fold, the other two single folds. The dough is rolled out and cut into four strips, about 2.5 inches in width. Each strip is rolled and placed inside a loaf pan for a final proofing of 2 to 2 and a half hours.

Bake in a 325F oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until deep golden. Remove from the pan and allow it to cool completely.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe overview, click here

Comments: If you want to know all the details and tips that make this recipe easier to follow, you will have to join Matt Adlard’s site. It would not be fair to publish his detailed instructions here, plus his video is a great help. I’ve been a member of his online group for a few months and highly recommend it for those interested in all areas of patisserie. I will write a full blog post about it in the near future. Not only you learn a lot, but you get to interact with a lot of cool, baking-fanatic folks. See what they bake, follow their progress, share failures and victories.


Matt bakes it in a slightly different way. He adds a baking sheet and a heavy weight to the top of the pan, so that as the dough rises during baking, it gets squished on top, ending in a cool rectangular shape, laminated on all sides, but flat. I did not have a pan with the appropriate dimensions to achieve that effect, so I went with the regular baking in which it all freely explodes upwards.


No matter how you bake it, the result will be the same: layers of buttery goodness that you roll out and enjoy. Nothing else is needed, as the bread is quite rich and indulgent as it is, but if you want to spread it with jam, more butter, clotted cream, you will not hurt my feelings. And I bet Matt will not mind a bit either.

Alex, thanks for a great challenge this month… It is hard to believe that one year ago   we were all frantically practicing for the show in our own homes, wondering  who were the other bakers, how would we get along…  Good times.

For my readers, make sure to stop by the Home Bakers Collective, to see what my friends laminated this month… If the link is not yet published, try again a little later in the day.

ONE YEAR AGO: In My Kitchen, June 2019

TWO YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen – July 2018

THREE YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, July 2017

FOUR YEARS AGO: Secret Recipe Club: Falafel and a Bonus Recipe

FIVE YEARS AGO: Chocolate Toffee Banana Bread

SIX YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, June 2014

SEVEN YEARS AGO:  Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Baked Coconut and “The Brazilian Kitchen”

NINE YEARS AGO: Honey-Glazed Chicken Legs

TEN YEARS AGO: French-Style Rolls

ELEVEN YEARS AGO: Chicken Breasts, Coffee, and Serendipity

THE HOME BAKERS COLLECTIVE: MAY PROJECT

Another month in this crazy year is coming to its end. For May, the Bakers Collective challenge was set up by Bianca (check her site with a click here). I love how she shook things up a bit. We had to bake something savory but not using yeast. It’s a nice change from sweets, and getting yeast out of the equation makes it a tad more challenging. I settled on my choice almost immediately, because I’ve been flirting with soda bread for a long time. Perfect opportunity to give it a go.

PANCH PHORAN SODA BREAD 
(from Nadiya Hussain)

for Panch Phoran mix (all as whole seeds):
1 tsp fenugreek
1 tsp nigella
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp black mustard
1 tsp fennel seeds

for bread:
250g whole-wheat flour
250g bread flour
1 tsp fine salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp panch phoran (made from mixture above)
400ml buttermilk

Heat the oven to 400F.

Mix all seeds in a small bowl (you will have mixture leftover).

Put the flours, salt, baking soda and 1 tablespoon of five-spice mixture into a large bowl and mix well. Make a well in the center and add a little over half the buttermilk. Bring the dough together by hand, adding more of the buttermilk if needed (I used the full amount).

As soon as all the flour is absorbed and the dough comes together, lightly flour the work surface, tip the dough onto it and roll into a neat ball. Place on the baking tray. Using a sharp knife, make a cross cut almost all the way down to the bottom of the bread, but do not separate the pieces.

Bake on the middle shelf for 30 minutes, until the bread is golden and sounds hollow when tapped on the base. Allow it to cool completely before slicing.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

 

Comments: Soda Bread does not get high marks in the beauty department, I admit. It takes rustic to unprecedented levels, but I promise you Nadiya’s version is very tasty. That mixture of spices is perfect. You can buy packages of the mixture, but it’s really quite simple to prepare it yourself, and I happened to have all those seeds already in my pantry. I had fun browsing amazon and reading the comments from people who bought the mix. Some were furious because “it does not have nearly enough fenugreek.” So if you want to make sure to use the authentic “five spice mixture”, make it yourself. I actually loved so much the flavor of this bread, that I intend to make a sourdough version using those spices. Stay tuned.

Although quick breads leavened with baking powder and with little fat in theory do not stay good for more than a day or so, I was surprised by how good the bread tasted after FOUR days once toasted. We froze half of it because with just the two of us there is a limit to how much bread we can consume. But I know I will be making this and other versions in the near future.

Bianca, thanks for such a cool challenge that made me bake something I had never baked before. I am no longer a Soda Bread Virgin!

To see what my tent-baker friends came up for their challenge, visit the Home Bakers Collective site…. (post might take a few hours to show up, so keep that in mind)

ONE YEAR AGO: Purple Star Macarons

TWO YEAR AGO: Smoked Salmon, Fait Maison

THREE YEARS AGO: Kouign-Amann, Fighting Fire with Fire

FOUR YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, Yin and Yang

FIVE YEARS AGO: Chocolate Toffee Banana Bread

SIX YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, June 2014

SEVEN YEARS AGO:  Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Baked Coconut and “The Brazilian Kitchen”

NINE YEARS AGO: Honey-Glazed Chicken Legs

TEN YEARS AGO: French-Style Rolls

THE HOME BAKERS COLLECTIVE: MARCH PROJECT

If you don’t know what the Home Bakers Collective is all about, please read my post about it with a click here. This month’s challenge was… surprise surprise…. conceived by yours truly! In case you did not notice, we are following the painful path of elimination through the Great American Baking Show that aired in December. Seems like ages ago, as we face  difficult, truly stressful times. At some point I did not know if we could even meet this challenge. Things degenerated too quickly, nobody could find flour and many other baking ingredients were scarce (and still are), but my baking  buddies stood up to the task and here we are. The brief is: bake a pie to say goodbye to winter, dedicated or inspired by someone you miss. Mine is a Blueberry Pie, and I dedicate it to my stepson Alex. More about it on comments after the recipe.

Note added after publication: our next challenge, designed by Tanya, will be…. DONUTS!  Any shape, any kind… If you’d like to join, bake some and we’ll soon figure out a way to share them all…

BLUEBERRY-BERGAMOT PIE
(from the Bewitching Kitchen, inspired by several sources)

for pie crust:
200 g cold, unsalted butter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
85 g ice-cold water
350 g all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
egg wash (1 egg beaten with a teaspoon of water)

for the filling:
3 pints fresh blueberries.
Finely grated zest of 1 orange, plus 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice.
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons cornstarch.
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon.
1 drop food-grade bergamot essential oil (optional)

Make the pie crust. Mix the water, egg and vinegar in a bowl, reserve in the fridge. Add the flour, salt and sugar to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few seconds to mix, but just a few seconds, you do not want to heat up the ingredients.

Add the very cold butter in pieces and pulse briefly to form clumps of butter the size of peas. Turn the processor on and add the cold water/egg mixture through the opening of the lid. Process until the dough starts to come together, then stop immediately.  Grab the dough and press it as a disk over plastic wrap.  Reserve in the fridge for one hour.

Divide the dough in two parts, one slightly bigger than the other (to form the bottom crust). Roll the bigger portion as a round with about 3mm in thickness. Drape it over the pan and reserve in the fridge while you prepare the filling. Roll the second portion in the same thickness to cover the top. Using small cookie cutters make a design on the top if desired, and cut decorations from the same piece of dough. Place them in the freezer.

Heat the oven to 350F.

Make the filling. In a medium bowl, gently toss together blueberries, orange zest and juice, sugar, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, and bergamot oil.  Pour the  mixture over the bottom crust, dot with butter and cover with the frozen disk. Brush the surface with egg wash.

Bake until the filling begins to bubble out of the vents and the top crust is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 1 to 2 hours to let the filling set before serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I had a lot of fun making this pie, even if compared to the fancy designs made by serious pie artists, mine was pretty amateurish. I dedicated this pie to my stepson Alex. There are two food items that I will always associate with him, because he loves them so much. Blueberries and crab. No, not together, he is a man of fine taste… 😉  When he lived with us as a young teenager and blueberries were in season, we always kept many little containers in the fridge, so that he could have his blueberry fix with every meal. Steamed crab legs were another favorite of his, our dinners would take a long time, as the three of us went through an impressive number of crab legs. Unfortunately, we don’t see him as often as we would like. He is a physician in New York, a resident in Interventional Radiology working right in the center of the coronavirus pandemic. We wish we lived closer and that he could have enjoyed this pie, sitting right at our table with his adorable partner Courtnie…

Please make sure to stop by The Bakers Collective to see what my fellow tent-bakers did for this challenge. Not everyone could join, for obvious reasons. Life has been stressful for the whole human population. It is a strange way to feel connected to the whole world, and I hope that this nightmare will have a happy ending soon. Be well, be safe, be healthy and STAY HOME.

ONE YEAR AGO: Another Twisted Sister of the Shepherd’s Pie

TWO YEARS AGO: Cashew Chicken, My Way

THREE YEARS AGO: Two Deliciously Simple Salads

FOUR YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, April 2016

FIVE YEARS AGO: Spring has Sprung with Suzanne Goin

SIX YEARS AGO: Chai Brownies

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Pomegranate-Molasses Glazed Carrots

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Braised Brisket with Bourbon-Peach Glaze

NINE YEARS AGO: The Real Vodka Sauce

TEN YEARS AGO: Spring Rolls on a Spring Day