PEARLED FARRO WITH ASPARAGUS COINS

A few years ago I posted a pasta recipe using tiny little asparagus coins as a component of the sauce. The other day I decided to roast them and ended up with a side dish that won me over. Added bonus: it is super fast to prepare. Pearled farro cooks a lot faster than the regular grain, and I did not detect any loss in flavor or texture. If you find it in your grocery store, stock on a few bags.

PEARLED FARRO WITH ROASTED ASPARAGUS COINS
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

3/4 cup pearled farro
asparagus stalks, cut in very small rounds
2 Tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Herbes de Provence
squirt of lemon juice

Heat oven to 420F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the farro, cook for 15 to 20 minutes. If you like it with a bit more bite, check at 15 minutes and if it’s done to your liking, drain and reserve.

Meanwhile coat the asparagus coins with olive oil, season with salt, pepper, and Herbes de Provence, amounts are flexible, just go with your intuition. For a regular size asparagus bundle I used 1/4 tsp Herbes de Provence.

Place the asparagus in a single layer in a baking dish covered with aluminum foil to facilitate clean-up. Roast for about 15 minutes moving it around the baking sheet.  When they are done, squirt some lemon juice, adjust seasoning and mix with the warm farro.  Serve right away. Leftovers are great also. Even cold as a salad.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Many variations are possible here. If you don’t want to roast the asparagus coins, simply sautee them quickly in olive oil plus all the spices. Because the coins are so tiny, they cook very fast, so doing the top of the stove method, they can be ready in 5 minutes for sure. The roasted version has slightly more intense flavor. The second picture shows a similar approach (top of the stove), but using zucchini. Also very delicious.

I use farro a lot, but was a bit unsure about trying the pearled version, thinking it would not be nearly as good. I was wrong. It is a way to make farro a suitable option for a fast side dish after a busy day in the lab.

I hope you’ll give this simple recipe a try.

ONE YEAR AGO: Pistachio Caramel and Apple Mousse Cake

TWO YEARS AGO: Someone turns 70 today!

THREE YEARS AGO: Carioca Cake, the Final Chapter

FOUR YEARS AGO: Duck Confit for a Special Occasion

FIVE YEARS AGO: Ken Forkish’s Warm Spot Sourdough 

SIX YEARS AGO: Bran Muffins, Rainbows, and a wonderful surprise!

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Salmon Wellington

EIGHT YEARS AGO: The Green Chip Alternative

NINE YEARS AGO: Weekend Pita Project

TEN YEARS AGO: Let it snow, let it snow, eggs in snow

 

TROPICAL SUNSHINE ENTREMET CAKE

I know, winter is still with us, and it will be for a while. But I cannot resist a shout to what’s to come in a few weeks. This entremet cake celebrates summer in a tropical paradise, any paradise of your choice. Coconut and passion fruit, for a creamy and refreshing mousse cake.

TROPICAL SUNSHINE ENTREMET CAKE
(from the Bewitching Kitchen, adapted from several sources)

Silikomart mold:  Lady Queen

Two days before – make passion fruit insert and freeze.

One day before – make cake layer and coconut  mousse. Assemble cake and freeze. 

Showtime Day – make mirror glaze, glaze cake and defrost before serving

For coconut dacquoise layer
140g egg whites
½ tsp cream of tartar
170g  sugar
80g almond flour
60g desiccated coconut (I used coconut powder, a product from Sri Lanka)
28g  all purpose flour, sifted
20g butter, melted and cooled

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, place the egg whites, cream of tartar and whisk until foamy and a trail starts to form as the beater goes through the egg whites  Gradually add in the sugar until firm peaks form. Gently fold the almond meal, desiccated coconut and flour into the egg whites in 3-4 additions. Fold some of the mixture into the melted butter before adding back into the rest of the mixture and folding until combined.

Spread into a half Flexipat or a lined baking tray and bake at 400 F°C for about 9 min.  Cool,  freeze for 10 min and cut in the appropriate shape to fit the bottom of the mold. You will have cake leftover.

For passion fruit cremeux:
160g passion fruit juice/pulp
4g gelatin + 20ml cold water
100g sugar
4 egg yolks
20g cornstarch
120g butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Bloom the gelatin in cold water.

Bring the passion fruit juice to the boiling point in a saucepan. In the meantime, mix the egg yolks with sugar until pale. Add the cornstarch and mix well. Pour the hot passion fruit puree over the egg yolk mixture then return back on heat and cook on low just until thickened and it reaches 185 F.

Remove from heat and stir in the gelatin. Allow to cool down to 105F then add the butter and mix well. Pour the cremeux into the smaller mold of the kit Lady Queen.

For coconut mousse:
1 can coconut milk – approx 400ml
10g gelatin + 50ml cold water
2 egg whites
120g granulated sugar
60ml water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
150ml heavy cream, whipped to consistency of melted ice cream

Bloom the gelatin in cold water.

Heat up the coconut milk just until warm then remove from heat and stir in the gelatin and vanilla. Let it cool while you make an Italian meringue. Boil the sugar and water in a saucepan until it reaches 240 F.

While the sugar syrup cooks, whip the whites until fluffy. Pour the hot syrup over the whipped whites and continue mixing for a few more minutes until glossy and stiff. Fold the whipped cream into the coconut milk mixture then add the meringue.

ASSEMBLE THE CAKE
Place coconut mousse in the large Lady Queen mold filling halfway. Carefully drop the frozen insert. Fill with mousse almost to the top, cover with the cake.

Freeze the whole thing overnight. Un-mold and glaze on the day you want to enjoy the cake.

For mirror glaze:
3 sheets Platinum grade sheet gelatin
120ml water
150 g liquid glucose
150 g granulated or caster sugar
1 tsp agar-agar
100 g condensed milk
150 g white chocolate, chopped fairly small
½ tsp titanium oxide (optional, but advisable)
yellow and orange gel food coloring

Put the water, sugar, liquid glucose and agar-agar in a small pan and bring to simmering point, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and let it stand for about 5 minutes. This is the base syrup for the glaze.  Meanwhile, soak the gelatin in some cold water for about 5 minutes. Squeeze out the excess water and stir into the hot water, sugar and liquid glucose mixture to dissolve. Stir in the condensed milk and the titanium oxide.

Put the chocolate in a medium bowl and pour this hot mixture slowly over the chocolate, stirring gently to melt it, avoid making bubbles. A stick immersion blender works great, but you must keep the blades fully submerged at all times. If bubbles are present, pass the mixture through a fine sieve. When the glaze is at around 105 F, separate a small amount to dye yellow and a small amount to dye orange. Add them on top of the white glaze, do not mix too much, just a delicate swirl with a chopstick.

The ideal temperature to glaze is 92 to 94 F. Glaze the frozen cake. Defrost 2 hours in fridge before serving.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I used a Silikomart mold kit called “Lady Queen“, but you can improvise and make it in a circular mold with the insert made in a smaller ring. Or make individual semi-sphere cakes. The amounts I am giving you will leave you with some leftover coconut mousse, which freezes well in small amounts if you’d like to have a simple dessert later. The passionfruit insert is just right for the kit.

I really liked the way this cake turned out. Full disclosure: the chocolate decorations were added to hide some capital sins. I made a few wrong assumptions about the amount of glaze needed. The cake is only 7 inches in diameter, smaller than most cakes I am used to mirror-glazing, so I did a single batch of glaze. It is ok if you use a single color, but to make a white, yellow and orange with enough to cover all sides, it would be better to have about 25% more. However, I do believe you can get by with the exact amount I include in the recipe, IF you pay attention to the glaze as it drips down the sides, to notice right away if there are gaps. I was way too optimistic and careless. When I realized the gaps, it was time for a big adrenaline rush, followed by quickly scraping glaze from the baking sheet, and trying to fix as many boo-boos as possible. Good thing I had some tempered chocolate decorations in the freezer, so I put them to use. I am also quite grateful for the absence of cameras during baking disasters at home. Feels amazing to be able to deal with them without having to channel my inner Lucille Ball.

The dacquoise had a very nice coconut flavor and great texture. I think the mousse was a perfect match for the passionfruit cream, both in color and flavor. The way the mold is designed makes it for a pretty large insert, so it ended up a bit heavy and had a tendency to sink to the bottom. I believe they could have made the insert a tad smaller, but who am I to criticize Silikomart? Pouring less volume in the insert could be a solution, but it will have a higher chance to break as you un-mold it.  Overall, those are minor details and I am ok with the way it all worked.

This Tropical Sunshine Entremet Cake was the first dessert in the Mondays with Sweetness 2020 series. I hope our colleagues enjoyed it.

 

ONE YEAR AGO: Freekeh with Zucchini and Almonds

TWO YEARS AGO: Salmon a la Wellington, re-visited

THREE YEARS AGO: The Unbearable Unfairness of Cake Baking

FOUR YEARS AGO: Hermit Cookies

FIVE YEARS AGO: Cremini Mushroom Meatloaf

SIX YEARS AGO: Ottolenghi & Tamimi’s Roast Chicken with Clementines

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Eight-Ball Zucchini: The Missing Files

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Grilling Ribbons

NINE YEARS AGO: Peppery Cashew Crunch

TEN YEARS AGO: Ossobuco Milanese: an Italian Classic

EPISODE 8: GRAND FINALE OF GABS AND THE ALTERNATE REALITY

ONE LAST TIME….

SPOILER INSIDE!
If you have not watched the show,
save this post to read later

So many conflicting emotions as I sit down to write this post. Nothing can truly prepare you for what it’s like to be on the show, and now that it is over, the many alternate scenarios of what “could have been” seem to haunt me with full force. Would I do it all over again? Yes, no doubt. But there is a lot of sadness and regret in the  background. I am speaking exclusively for myself, but I imagine that the feeling hits some of my baking buddies also. The Path of the Tent is not smooth for anyone, winner included. In every single season you can go back and realize that the winner was at risk of elimination before, sometimes more than once. So the what-iff’s hit them too, probably, although obviously in a much more subtle (and less hurtful) way.

But the title of this post has a different reason. It’s not some type of a self-centered description of what could have been better for me or others eliminated early.  I want to talk about bakers who enter the group in a very strange category, they are “alternates.”  In every season the producers need to make sure 10 bakers will enter the tent. Stuff can go wrong, though. People can get sick, people can get into some panic attack and realize they just cannot deal with it. So they need to have backup contestants ready to step in (literally). Their identities must remain a secret. They go through the exact same preparation we all went through. They fly to London, they go to the tent on filming day one. Ready to join if needed. Then, once filming starts, and all the ten bakers are settled in, they fly back to the US. In complete anonymity. Can you imagine the feeling? The struggles, the anxiety? To just go back, unable to tell anyone about it, unable to get anything “publicly” out of the experience.  I want to say to the two alternates I had the chance to meet, you are amazing to me in every single aspect. You were pure joy to interact with and any of you two would be pretty hard to beat in the tent. In awe, I wish you the best of luck in whatever adventure life brings you.

Without further ado, I share with my readers what I had planned for the finale.

Signature Bake
Choux Buns

We were supposed to make two versions, one with a craquelin topping and another without, but with a glaze of our choice. For my craquelin version I chose a filling of Tonka bean creme patissier, very aromatic and flavorful.  For the plain version, lemon filling and a blueberry glaze. If you watched the show, you know that Dana forgot to add the craquelin before sticking her batch in the oven. Well, guess what? I did the exact same thing during practice. I was so concerned with rolling the craquelin topping with the right thickness, cutting the right diameter needed to cover the piped little blobs. But for optimal results, the little topping needs to be frozen. And once I put the little rounds in the freezer, they were “out of sight, out of mind.” Contrary to Dana, when I realized my mistake there were some choice words flying around the Bewitching Kitchen… Words that, in the tent would prompt an army of cameramen to gather around “Sally, do you mind repeating that for the cameras? But please, skip that initial expletive, ok? Or use Portuguese, how about that?”  So I understand exactly the shiver Dana felt, and how she was left with a very tricky decision. Start all over? Or quickly add the craquelin component? Tough choice. I would have done what she did, hurt a little the bake but not compromise completely the cruel timing of the game. They do not give you enough time for do-overs.  Which brings me back to Bianca and how fiercely she fought on cake day. Remember?

Technical Challenge
FRAISIER CAKE

Such a classic cake, I’ve made it once but not with the tricky topping of strawberry jelly, it seemed like a very stressful maneuver to do right at the end, not only they had to center the jelly-containing pan perfectly on top of the cake, but make sure to heat it uniformly and hope that it would fall without breaking. Probably if you do that a couple of times in your life you get the hang of it, but in the tent, with the cameramen at the ready to zoom in? Not that easy, my friends. Not that easy. Add some tempering of white chocolate to that equation and they had a real challenging task on their hands. Remember, we were not baking during winter. It was hot in that tent. Dana got first place in the technical, and Marissa got third.

Showstopper Final
Individual-Sized Dessert Display
(three desserts, 12 samples each)

The brief said not to repeat any bake previously made during the competition, and that desserts could not involve cupcakes or choux buns. All options must contain a baked element and be sweet. Easy, right? Oh, sure, in 4 hours and 30 minutes, including cooling time. Yeah, piece of cake. Literally.

I tell you one thing, I had a very hard time with this challenge, and my last dessert (the mini pavlovas) materialized around 5pm of the very deadline day. We had until midnight to send all recipes in the proper format. Did I ever mention to you that composing the recipes the way they need to be takes quite a bit of time? I was truly fit to be tied when I hit “send email.”  And not at all confident in my choices. Which were…

Reveillon Mousse Cakes, decorated sponge layer surrounding a white-chocolate coconut mousse and strawberries, plus a strawberry jelly on top (made with agar-agar).


Cappuccino Panna Cotta over a brown sugar cookie base, topped with chocolate-orange ganache. Once again, I resorted to agar-agar, an ingredient that is not very common, but when used in the right proportion, confers perfect texture and sets a lot quicker and more reproducibly than gelatin.  I intend to share posts on the blog about it in the near future. For the tent version I would use scalloped edged cookie cutters (I had them on order at amazon).

Last, but not least…

Candied Banana Mini-Pavlovas, inspired by the caramelized banana my Mom used to make when I was young.  I had originally played with the idea of making “Quindim”, a very traditional and unusual Brazilian recipe with Portuguese origins, but stumbled on several pretty bad recipes that failed to deliver what they promised. That set me back a couple of days and really raised the stress level sky-high.  There were tears, there was despair, and there was a desire to quit at the very end of the preparation stage. Then I thought about mini-pavlovas, and decided to give that option one last go before admitting defeat.

After watching the show, I concluded my mini-cakes were a bit too big and did not have enough textural contrast. Maybe it is a good thing I did not have to serve them to Paul and Sherry after all…  I was reasonably happy with the other two desserts, although baking the meringue base for Pavlovas can be tent-tricky.

If I had any input on the organization of the show, I would allow 1 full week to prepare for the semi-final and 1 full week to prepare for the final. When you consider we had to come up with 8 different recipes (2 kinds of canapes, 1 Opera Cake, 2 choux buns, 3 individual sized desserts) in 7 days, with sophistication and “wow-factor” expected this late in the competition, I believe it becomes almost unrealistic. What it amounts to is, your first idea must be the one you pursue to the end, because no investment of baking time can go to waste.

There we were watching together… the Premier of The Great British Bake Off that started on our last week in the UK. Tanya was out in a theatre play with her daughter, so unfortunately she is not in the picture. Marissa took the picture, which explains her absence. It was  such a cool evening! We were screaming at the TV:  “Nooooo! don’t DO THAT, are you crazy???? It’s not going to work!!!! Wanna be eliminated????”  It was fun and emotional at the same time. We knew that a few months down the line people would be watching us and maybe screaming the same way…. “SALLY, this gingerbread house is not looking good…. OMG Sally, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! Wanna be eliminated?”

As you know, there is no elimination in the final, but only one baker gets “the plate.”  That was Brother Andrew. Congratulations on making it to the final and being chosen as The Best Amateur Baking in the US, year 2019″. You had quite a ride, so enjoy the outcome!

Two of my dear baking buddies had the thrill of stepping in that tent for the Final together with Andrew, and they proved they had every right to be there.

Marissa… OMG she is just too funny and cool… I cannot help but think she would be PERFECT as part of the cast of a show like Saturday Night Live. Maybe you caught a tiny bit of her artistic flair when she impersonated Paul Hollywood during her bake. But she is just phenomenal imitating all kinds of accents and personalities. I never had kids, but I tell you, if I had, I wish they could be students in her acting class. She takes the funniest selfies and shares them with us in your texting group, I call them “The Many Faces of Marissa”, they are priceless. She is a fantastic baker, one who puts a ton of passion in her bakes. In the very early stages of the show, when we were hanging out in our “greenish room” (wink wink), she talked about how hard it is when you develop a recipe and feel very good about it, but then it gets harshly criticized. Why that happens? It is hard to tell, actually. The bake can go slightly wrong, or the ingredients might be a bit different, and let’s not forget, people have different tastes, and what you find amazing and delicious might not awe Paul and Sherry. Whatever the reason, the criticism hurts and you have to face it and deal with it, cameras right on your face. And try your best to put that behind you, so you can go on to the next task at hand. It is a psychological roller coaster, one that Marissa surfed with a lot of grace and wit.

She and her husband have been dealing with a benign brain tumor affecting Charlie, the cutest dachshund pup, something that came up as a seizure right when the first show aired. If you can help them with the expenses for the treatment, please do so with a click here.  It is a treatable condition with radiation therapy (that starts next week), and Charlie will have many more years of a good life together with them.

The other baker who stepped into the tent for the final was Dana. I share with you one of my favorite pictures of our time in the UK, taken in the hotel lobby.  What can I say? We clicked almost immediately. So many similarities between us… We are both not very tall (although obviously I beat her in the contest for The Vertically Challenged), we have three dogs, one of them is called Buck (!!!), we have two cars, one is a Tesla and the other a pickup truck. We love to exercise, we wake up at ungodly early hours, we do not drink, and we are in a slightly older age bracket than the other bakers (although I beat her by many years in that category too).  Of all the bakers in our group, I believed Dana had probably the best mindset to face the challenges. She is rock solid, and does not allow criticism or small setbacks to affect her. What you saw in the show, her focused approach to the bakes, was there from day one. She was doing in the tent what she loves to do and that was clear for all to see. In my mind, there was no doubt she would make it to the final, and quite likely be the winner. I cannot tell you how happy I am our paths crossed.

That is it, my friends. Eight episodes, eight blog posts. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and the first feeling I have, in that state in-between dream and reality, is sadness about how it all developed for me. Then it goes away, because I am so glad I had the chance to be part of it.

Dreams are for free. Maybe one day they will call some bakers to go back to the tent, give them a chance to bake their best one more time. Maybe they could mix British and American contestants… Maybe…. I tell you, I would go back in a heartbeat.. I need my handshake fix.

ONE YEAR AGO: Raspberry Ganache Macarons

TWO YEARS AGO: Pain au Chocolat

THREE YEARS AGO: Two Unusual Takes on Roasted Veggies

FOUR YEARS AGO: Kadoo Boranee: Butternut Squash Perfection

FIVE YEARS AGO: Creamy Broccoli Soup with Toasted Almonds

SIX YEARS AGO:
 Fennel and Cheddar Cheese Crackers

SEVEN YEARS AGO: A Festive Pomegranate Dessert

EIGHT YEARS AGO: My First Award!

NINE YEARS AGO: A Message from WordPress

TEN YEARS AGO: Turkish Chicken Kebabs

 

 

EPISODE 7: CANAPES, OPERA CAKE, AND RUNNING OUT OF GAS

SPOILER INSIDE!
If you have not watched the show,
save this post to read later

We arrived at the semi-final stage, in which we had three hours to prepare two types of canapes (12 of each)  using rough-puff pastry, and three and a half hours to come up with our showstopping version of the famous Opera Cake.  Keep in mind that in that same week of preparation we needed to design the bakes for the Final episode also. One of them involving 3 kinds of mini-desserts. When I look back at that week of my life, I realize I was stretched to the very limit, and I am sure all my baking buddies were also.

Taking a small detour again (should I call them Sally’s ramblings?)… In the Great British Bake Off, the contestants who are eliminated are done with their homework. That means that those who advance get a pretty nice dose of what I see as “good adrenaline” to keep them going. They know they are designing bakes for the chance to overcome one more hurdle towards the Final. I will admit that by the week we had to get these four sets of recipes ready, I was pretty burned. I kept telling myself that chances were I was not going to be in the final two episodes, so would  I really need to to work so so hard?  Of course, I did my best, but particularly for the final episode, I was not overly confident. But we’ll get there soon. For now, let me show you what I had planned for my signature bake.

Signature Bake
Chicken and Heart of Palm Squares
& Mushroom Puffs

This was a very tight challenge as far as timing is concerned. Do I seem to be repeating myself? Yes, I am sure, because it is the modus operandi in the tent. Three and a half hours to produce well-laminated dough, make fillings, roll the dough out and bake. With semi-final pizazz. Not easy at all. I actually made a blog post after coming back form the UK, in which I share a variation of the recipe I hd designed for the show. Of course, I could not tell you about it then, but now you know.  Visit my post with a click here. I wanted to bring one canape’ with Brazilian flavors. The combination of chicken with hearts of palm is a classic back home, in empadas, pies, and even pasteis. For my second canape’, I wanted a vegetarian option. Duxelles are delicious components of Beef Wellington and with a bit of truffles added to the party, I thought I would be in good shape for that challenge. Of course, disregarding tent-factors that might turn the best laminated doughs into a leaky package of melting butter (sigh).

Showstopper

Operetta Cake

This cake was fun for me to design, because when I made the traditional version for the very first time a couple of years ago, I was ecstatic about it. Cakes in general were still a bit tricky for me, but somehow following the detailed instructions of Colette Christian in her online class at Bluprint, I managed to come up with a version that pleased me quite a bit (click here for the post).

For the show, I chose a matcha-flavored sponge soaked with lemon syrup, filling of matcha-ganache and lemon buttercream. The cake would be coated with a shiny white chocolate glaze and decorated with tempered white chocolate. I made the full cake once, and a smaller version just to practice getting more filling in between the layers. The photo shows my first attempt, with a regular size cake. I loved the flavors, and everyone who’s tried it was very complimentary of it.  I knew I had to practice it one more time in the hotel if I was going to be in the semi-final, because I wanted to get absolutely uniform thickness of each sponge layer.  That can be tricky even at home (double sigh). The more I look at it, though, the more I think it was a bit too monotonous in the color scheme. I intend to re-make it but include a layer of some kind of berry in it, perhaps a blackberry-buttercream. To bring some contrast.

I don’t know how the bakes I planned would have worked for Paul and Sherry. I am aware that Paul is not wild about matcha, but I like it a lot and with the lemon and the white chocolate I thought the flavor worked well. I have the feeling Sherry could enjoy both the canapes and the Operetta Cake. But as we know, I wasn’t there, I was just in the hotel waiting for Alex, Dana, Brother Andrew and Marissa to arrive back.

Star Baker in the Semi-Final was granted to Dana, she simply rocked her way through each of the challenges, with her always serene and focused approach. She made ricotta from scratch, produced perfect souffles for the technical, and her Opera cake was a real showstopper, with three different cake layers. Congrats, Dana!

The real painful goodbye involved the one and only Alex…

I was in the tent for only three episodes, but I was pretty much counting on Alex being present in the Final. If you’ve been following the show, you probably thought so too. The guy is FAST. Meticulous. Artistic. Great with flavors. He actually told us that he’d practiced at home with speed in mind, and I must say that’s pretty clever, timing is the major factor that can kill you (or at least hurt you badly) in the tent. Alex’s approach was to work very very fast in the beginning to get all his components ready, so that he would have enough time to gild the lily in the end. That worked every time. Remember his highly decorated sweater sugar cookies? You could give me one extra hour, and I would say, thanks, but no thanks.  The sweaters might end up bright pink, but they will be very plain…

I can tell that Alex will have a bright future ahead, he has the will-power to do anything he sets his mind to, which is obvious when you see him in his “other hobby”, acrobatics. You don’t get to be that amazing without a ton of effort and commitment. And to top it all? A very kind and sweet personality, a pleasure to be around. When I was eliminated, I was pretty crushed. As I got to my room, I see a text message from Alex, and it was like a warm hug, just what I needed to hear at that moment. I was very surprised to see him go, but sometimes the tent plays tricks on you.

ONE YEAR AGO: Raspberry Ganache Macarons

TWO YEARS AGO: Pain au Chocolat

THREE YEARS AGO: Two Unusual Takes on Roasted Veggies

FOUR YEARS AGO: Kadoo Boranee: Butternut Squash Perfection

FIVE YEARS AGO: Creamy Broccoli Soup with Toasted Almonds

SIX YEARS AGO:
 Fennel and Cheddar Cheese Crackers

SEVEN YEARS AGO: A Festive Pomegranate Dessert

EIGHT YEARS AGO: My First Award!

NINE YEARS AGO: A Message from WordPress

TEN YEARS AGO: Turkish Chicken Kebabs

HAPPY 2020 IN MY KITCHEN!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

It is time to invite you all for a walk around our kitchen. In My Kitchen posts started many years ago with Celia and is now hosted by Sherry, from  Sherry’s Pickings.   As you now know, I lied to you in my last IMK post. I did not have a professional trip to the UK, my trip was to take part of one of the greatest adventures of my life. If you read my blog regularly, you know that I like to start this type of post with gifts. And I would have to list here the cards, the messages, posts, the support, the love, that I’ve received from so many people (most never met me in real life) ever since the show aired last month. You know who you are, and I say thank you so much!

And now to the many gifts that landed in my kitchen in the past three months

From our dear friends Virginia and Karl, the coolest bowl in the universe, colorful the way I love!

From Phil, one more coffee cup for our collection, again… color, color, color!

From Vy, a former graduate student from our Oklahoma days…   a set of measuring spoons… do you see a pattern? My friends all know of my passion for colorful things….

From Ines, a former graduate student and forever friend who lives in New York, a kitchen cloth with the map of her city. She knows I am the most orientation-challenged person in the planet. That goes in my luggage on my next trip to New York.

From my niece Raquel, a shirt sent all the way from Brazil… I have no words. It is just perfect…. do you notice COLORS?

From our dear friend Peying, a gift for the pups, special dog treats that they adored. Made in our town by a baker who is actually the girlfriend of one of our faculty members. Small world. The pups love them!

From the moderators of a Facebook group “Great British Bake Off Fans”, I got a series of gifts for bread baking, that included this unique triangular banetton, a baguette couche, lame for scoring bread. It turns out they have a contest every month and I won the month of October with a certain Halloween cake.  I was still dealing (in secret) with the sadness of my sub-par performance in the tent, and getting the best bake of the month in that very group (when no one even imagined I was a contestant in the American show), was pretty nice. I think in many ways it started my recovery from serving a tornado-hit house to Paul and Sherry… 

From Christine, a dear virtual friend from the UK…. I never got Star Baker in the tent, but this spoon will be with me 4ever… thank you, Christine, such a sweet gesture! And she included a beautiful card with drawings of the 12 days of Christmas. Just adorable…

From Steven, a virtual friend of more than 20 years… he got together with a bunch of other virtual and “real life” friends and sent me this adorable little witch. I had flirted with her online but decided against buying it.  I almost passed out when I opened the box. Her name is Philomena, and she is my twin.  I intend to dress like her in our next Halloween party.

From Sophie, at Love Productions UK, a printout of my headshot from the Great American Baking Show… will save that forever, and how it does make me look forward to getting my braces off for good!  (end of Summer, that’s what I heard…)

From Phil, a Christmas gift that took my breath away….  A small chocolate tempering machine, that works with up to 1 pound of chocolate. Perfect! I put it to use the following day, of course, making my beloved husband a Birthday cake that turned out really nice (stay tuned).

And now, let’s move on with the Bewitching Kitchen tour…

In our kitchen…

Some goodies from a special grocery store in New York, called Kalustyan’s.  I’ve always dreamed of going there, and finally paid them a visit with Courtnie, my stepson’s girlfriend who knew I would have a great time in there. We spent hours exploring every little corner of the store, and those are the things I could not resist bringing home.

In our kitchen…

Passionfruit pulp, portioned in large muffin cups, ready for the freezer. It should last the whole winter, and of course I have plenty of culinary projects for them. Entremets? You bet.

In our kitchen…

I could not resist trying this little gadget that I found at Marshall’s. I really like the way it worked for soft-boiled eggs, the only drawback is that you need a lot of water to start with, but it made perfectly shaped and perfectly cooked eggs.  I like it a lot.

In our kitchen…

My first springerlee mold. I’ve always been fascinated by these cookies that have been around since the 1600’s.  Thanks to a lot of help from my friend Margie, I managed to make my first batch and they turned out delicious, even if some of them exploded a bit, which is apparently very common in the first 100 batches you bake.  A post about them will be on the blog soon.

In our kitchen…

A cameraman to interview yours truly for a news segment in our local news. They aired the news on the morning and evening of premiere, Dec 12th. Of course, they had no idea of the outcome, and it was fun to play star for a day… He left with a very big platter of cookies, by the way.

In our kitchen…

Feeble attempt at dealing with entropy and definitely owning too many baking gadgets. Icing tips and cookie cutters were organized in our basement. I try, my friends, I try.

In our kitchen…

My way of showing you why getting a scale matters. The other day I was making some cookies and the recipe called for 3 cups of flour. I grabbed the measuring cup shown in the third picture, and started adding flour, scraping the top, adding to my bowl. It so happened that I had the bowl on my scale, and was a bit shocked by how much flour went in with the first cup. Way too much. I know that 1 cup of flour is between 120 and 130g (depending on which source of info you trust, but that’s the ballpark). So I decided to measure their volume using water, that has a density of 1.  One cup of water weight 237.5 g.  Only the measuring cup by Hudson Essentials was really accurate.  So, my friend, if you don’t want to ruin your bakes, start using a scale. If recipes call for cups, convert them to grams or ounces or whatever you feel comfortable with. Get a scale that will work with different units of weigh, and you won’t ever have to worry about anything.

In our kitchen…

My first attempt at a macadonut! Pretty tricky to pipe neat circles, but as Sherry Yard would probably state, a little drizzle and sprinkles cover a multitude of sins. Flavor is Almond Buttercream. These were, by the way, the last macarons of this decade. Wow.

In our kitchen…

Cookies galore. I think in December Phil and I baked and decorated more cookies than we ever imagined we would. It was fun to do it together, he is getting pretty good at it, I  must say. The Santa is one of his many productions.

 

But, but… what is happening?

Oscar is not happy and quite vocal about it. Bogey left the kitchen with disgust. Oh, I see they are jealous because “Short Stuff” was featured. Short Stuff is the way they refer to their brother, who definitely deserves a lot more respect, being the Senior Dog he is.  Ok, ok, you can come out and play also…

I actually do not mind Short Stuff being in your fancy blog (insert canine eye-roll), ’cause I am badass. I am the Alpha Dog who rests his face on hard surfaces and takes burrs as Medals of Honor. I AM BAD ASS.

And this Bad Ass happened to find the tomato you tried to sneak by in my bowl of food. Am I a joke to you, Karen? How many times do I have to let you know I disapprove of tomatoes in any shape or form?  And since we are on the subject of annoying things…

Well, I might be slightly out of focus, but at least I don’t look like a Wookiee. Like “certain pups” in the vicinity…

And, I am the one who inspires Mom’s outfits…

Buck firmly  believes  that  matching  outfits  is  over-rated…. He  prefers  to  just snuggle…

I agree, let’s just play, no matter the outfit!

Although I would really like to play with “other toys”…

Because this one? I am done with…

That’s all for now, my friends!  I hope you enjoyed the first tour of the Bewitching Kitchen for 2020!  It’s been an amazing year, with many ups and many downs, I look forward to what this year will bring. My main goal is to improve my skills on areas of baking I am still not too comfortable with, including things I’ve never attempted like chocolate bonbons. The messiness of the process bothers me, but life is messy, right? So why not make bonbons?

Participating of the show, the whole process of getting ready for it made me realize anything is doable, especially if you can take your time and not be discouraged by failures. They are part of the learning process, and usually taste pretty darn good! We are our own worse critics. Although Paul Hollywood takes a close second!  HA!

ONE YEAR AGO: Happy 2019 In My Kitchen!

TWO YEARS AGO: Happy New Year In My Kitchen!

THREE YEARS AGO: Happy New Year In My Kitchen!

FOUR YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen: Happy New Year!

FIVE YEARS AGO: And another year starts…

SIX YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen: January 2014

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Tacos with Pork in Green Sauce

EIGHT YEARS AGO:  Maui New Year!

NINE YEARS AGO: Natural Beauty

TEN YEARS AGO: Sunflower Seed Rye

 

 

 

EPISODE 6: COOKIES IN THE GREAT AMERICAN BAKING SHOW

SPOILER INSIDE!
If you have not watched the show,
save this post to read later

Cookie time, my friends. Sugar Cookies for Signature and Macarons for Showstopper. Macarons are my favorite thing to bake, but of course they had to make us build them into a tower using two different flavors (sigh). You may not believe me, but that episode had me very worried. It is true that I had issues with the oven and all the preparation was incredibly rushed, but independent of that I never felt confident about the tower thing. First, it required us to bake quite a large number of shells, because since there is always some proportion that might crack, or bake with irregular shape, I had decided to bake at least 20% more shells of each color than needed. I am also not that good at spacing things artistically around a cone and Phil had to give me a lot of input and help. Without him around, the outcome could be grim.

Signature Bake

Snowy Tree Sugar Cookies

For my cookies, I chose the flavors of Fiori di Sicilia and cardamon. The timing for this assignment was pretty cruel, if you ask me.  Two and a half hours to make the dough, roll it out, cut, bake, cool (the cookies, you will stay pretty hot throughout the challenge), and decorate them?  I knew I had to keep the decoration very simple or I would never finish them. And since consistency is important, simpler is once more better.  So I went with a wet-on-wet design that I could do without having to wait for one layer to dry before applying the details. I was pretty comfortable with the taste and texture of the cookies, but the consistency of my Royal icing in practice was slightly off. I had no chance to re-visit that challenge before leaving the US, and was already planning to practice in the hotel in case I advanced that far. Well, as we all know, that never materialized… Having watched the show, I realize my cookies would probably be ranked last, everyone else had much more daring bakes. Did you see Marissa’s paintings? Wow. Just wow.

Showstopper

Opposites Attract Macaron Tower

My two flavors would be pretty contrasting, and the decoration also. The light green ones would be filled with coconut and lime, pretty sharp and refreshing flavors, and after a drizzle of white chocolate colorful sprinkles would be added (I did not do it in practice rounds). The other flavor was more austere, a chocolate ganache with a touch of cinnamon, the decoration just a simple stroke with a fan brush of copper-color pearl dust.  Because it can be done very quickly, it would be perfect in case I ran into trouble with timing.  The photo shows a work in progress, I was trying to figure out the size of the shells, the size of the cone (I ended up opting for a smaller one to take with me), and it was all pretty stressful. I had that lingering thought in my mind that macarons would be the task bringing me down. Well, I wish. Would be so nice if I had stayed until then…

I was definitely not ready for the showstopper when I packed my things and left our home, but I’ve learned a few things while practicing. Slightly smaller macarons are easier to negotiate (we had a minimum diameter required, and mine were for the most part a bit bigger); glueing them with toothpicks is a total mess, much better to use melted chocolate (or candy melts) and a freezing spray as you go; the drizzled ones look better if you lay the decoration in similar angle throughout the tower; and finally, the stroke with luster paint should be done after they are in the tower, so you can have them with a similar angle very easily. Or so I hope.

That episode was probably the most dramatic of the whole season. I was at the edge of my seat, even though I knew the outcome, of course. Witnessing it all develop is a different story, brings back that “tent-feeling.” A lot of trouble for my buddies, but Star Baker was Marissa, who beautifully surfed through the challenges with a pretty clever take on sugar cookies (she used meringue powder that dries harder and quicker), a good performance on the technical (Fortune cookies, I so want to bake them!), and a Macaron tower that was beautiful and tasted great too. CONGRATS, MARISSA!!!! Speaking of Marissa, please visit the gofund page set up by Tanya, and if you can contribute, you would make this bunch of bakers very happy…

As the episodes go by, leaving the tent gets more and more painful. Sarita was eliminated. She showed a very good performance in the technical, but had problems to finish decorating her super cute sugar cookies (adorable mittens) and to stick the macarons to the cone with Royal icing. I do believe that the different behavior of powdered sugar from the US versus UK played a big role in my gingerbread sculpture fiasco and also on Sarita’s issues. At any rate, it’s the kind of stuff I should have considered and practiced when I had a chance in the hotel.

Sarita is a dynamo of energy, and there is simply never a dull moment when she’s around! The personal side of this type of adventure is one that most people have no idea. Sarita is a stay-at-home Mom of two adorable young daughters (the oldest looks like her clone!) and that is a full-time job that only those who face it, day in, day out know how tough it can be. So leaving for the UK for such an extended period of time leaving her kids behind was not easy for her. She missed things like their first ride on the school bus early one morning, but the producers were on top of it, and allowed a break in the filming so she could get in touch by phone and wish them a nice ride and good luck on that special day. She also had to deal with health issues that affected her Mom, to add to the stress of the tent-experience. She dealt with them all with that big open smile she always carries with her. After she was eliminated we did some sightseeing together in London, like a tour of the Tower of London, a place I’ve always wanted to see. Interestingly enough, the Tower of Macarons led to the Tower of London. Silver linings… once again.

(disclaimer: I do own more than one shirt)
😉

You can follow Sarita’s cooking and baking adventures through her blog Ritzymom.com. Pay her a visit to say hello!

 

By the way look at the tower I made after coming back home…


WHAAAT? I did not fool you for a second?  You are hurting my feelings now. Seriously, that was a beautiful tower that brought a sad smile to me and Tanya as we entered Laduree… 

ONE YEAR AGO: Brazilian Chicken and Heart of Palm Pie

TWO YEARS AGO: Roasted Butternut Squash with Walnuts and Tahini Sauce

THREE YEARS AGO: The Complicit Conspiracy of Alcohol

FOUR YEARS AGO: Candy Cane Cookies

FIVE YEARS AGO: Macarons: Much better with a friend

SIX YEARS AGO: Our Mexican Holiday Dinner 

SEVEN YEARS AGO: The Ultimate Cranberry Sauce

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Edamame Dip

NINE YEARS AGO: Gougeres

TEN YEARS AGO: Beef Wellington on a Special Night

EPISODE 5: CITRUS TART, NAPOLEONS AND A PERSONAL NIGHTMARE

SPOILER INSIDE!
If you have not watched the show,
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It was Pastry time, my friends! At the risk of sounding repetitive, I was very excited about that episode.  Once again I was happy with my signature bake and VERY happy with the Napoleons, which I made for the first time in preparation for the show.

Forgive me for taking a small detour. Over the years, as I watched The Great British Bake Off and later its American sibling show, I would be shocked when some contestants admitted in front of the cameras that they had never made… a souffle, or rough puff pastry… or… whatever it was that a technical forced them to face. And that is a criticism I see often in forums online.  People say “If it was me going into the tent, I would make sure to practice all those basic recipes, one by one.”   

So I am here to tell you why that happens.  First of all, when you submit an application, you know that the chances to actually be chosen are very slim. After my 2nd audition in Los Angeles, I was satisfied with my performance, but still not hopeful at all. I know that every person who applies feels the same, because we talk about it, many of the people I met in LA were trying for the second, third, even fourth time. So what I am trying to convey here, is that only when you are formally accepted, you get the pressure to get ready. However, the roller coaster you step into leaves you no chance of practicing for anything but the assignments for Signature Bake and Showstopper. I had no time, no opportunity, no energy to even THINK about what skills could be missing from my repertoire and asked for in a technical.  I am going to date myself big time, but have you played Tetris? You know how the more you advance the faster those stupid pieces start falling, and you cannot blink or you’ll be history? That’s a good description of what it’s like to get ready for the show. We (speaking exclusively about the Great American version) have to prepare for the whole show while in the US, as if we were all going to advance to the final. We must design and test four recipes per week, covering two episodes. It is intense, to say the least.  If you are not fully satisfied with a recipe from this week’s assignment, no time to tweak it, because the next assignment will arrive before you know it.

So now I get to the title of my post. My personal nightmare. It was the week in which I had to prepare the Citrus Tart, Napoleons & Palmiers, plus Sugar Cookies and a Tower of Macarons (!!!!).  I got the assignment on Wednesday, played a bit with ideas and practiced a tart on Thursday evening. Friday I worked in the morning and took the afternoon off. It was going to be a Napoleonic weekend. I had made puff pastry several times, but never the type needed for that pastry, because you essentially squish the pastry during baking. I made my laminated dough, and as I turned the oven on, absolutely nothing happened. The oven was DEAD. We have a BlueStar oven, and technical service is unavailable in our town. To  make a very long and very stressful story short, Phil managed to get a person to drive all the way from Kansas City on Monday to repair the oven. It took him the whole morning and part of the afternoon. So for a full weekend I had no oven and made zero progress in my preparations for the show. I was a basket case. Basket case: a term in English I find amusing. Except when it applies to my own self.

I did try to use our small Breville oven to practice, but it was just not possible to do a good job, especially considering the number of Napoleons needed and the precise dimensions. Honestly I still don’t know how I managed to finish that assignment before the deadline.

Signature Bake
DUET OF CITRUS

My tart had orange and lemon flavors together. The picture does not reflect what I hoped to bake in the tent. The final decoration would be a snowflake stencil (which I had ordered by only arrived after my practice runs) the pastry would be rolled thinner, and the layer of filling would be considerably thicker. But the taste was good, in my opinion.

Showstopper
Napoleons and Palmiers

For the showstopper I chose Napoleon in Sicily and Raspberry Candy Palmiers…  The Napoleons were filled with a coffee pastry cream and a layer of orange jelly made with agar-agar. I don’t have a picture of my palmiers, but here is what the Napoleons could look like (again, who knows what the tent could turn those into).

I haven’t made Napoleons again, but want to do so in the near future, because I really liked the way those turned out, the combination of orange and coffee was quite pleasant to me, and to those who tasted it.

Star Baker was awarded to Dana, who produced a beautiful square sour cherry tart, a great performance in the technical, and perfectly laminated dough in her Napoleons and Palmiers!  WAY TO GO, DANA!!!!

And the saddest moment could not be avoided. The baker to say goodbye to the tent was Tanya. Maybe as a viewer you don’t imagine, but when we watch the show of our elimination on TV, that very sadness of the moment comes back. Big, big time.

To be completely honest with you, I was happy to be eliminated before her, because I don’t know how I would have handled seeing her go. I met Tanya in the hotel lobby as we all had to wait several hours for our rooms to become available. We had never interacted during auditions, even though she also applied more than once, so we actually went through the process at the same time in 2018 and 2019. I immediately felt that I could sit down with her for a long coffee break, one that turns into lunch and dinner, you know the kind?  And I knew I was in front of one damn great baker, comfortable with many different areas of patisserie, including the one that inflicted the most fear on me. Yeah, THAT one. I would say that gingerbread sculptures are Tanya’s favorite thing to bake, and she is just awesome. C’mon, she made a GLOBE of gingerbread. Let that sink in for a moment…  In the tent. With cameras rolling and cameramen drooling in case the globe would roll out of the bench (well, just kidding, they were very supportive, just ready to capture drama if available).

I “borrowed” this picture from her blog, globalbakes.com, to show the kind of attention to detail and elegance she brings to her bakes. These “stained glass” pear slices took my breath away. She mentioned she was going to use them in her cheesecake, and how I wanted to see that in person! I saw on TV and I bet you did too. Just amazing, the final bit of painting gold on the edges? Brilliant (pun intended). The show skipped one amazing compliment she got from Sherry Yard, which I learned about later: Tanya, you’ve elevated cheesecake.  (oh, yes, she did!).

Not only I loved being around Tanya in the tent and hotel, but I had the chance of meeting her adorable daughter Haley and enjoying dessert together the three of us at Laduree.  Not sure that would happen without Tanya being eliminated, so it’s one of those bittersweet things that life brings me sometimes.

Before I leave you, let me share a recent post by Tanya, in which she goes after the cookie of her imagination and does not rest until she bakes it. You can learn a lot about baking just with that post alone. She left the tent carrying with her amazing compliments from Paul and Sherry, who clearly saw her elimination for what it was, just a bad baking day. Tanya: a remarkable baker, and a fantastic human being that I am so glad I had the chance to meet.

Go say hi to Tanya and give her a special virtual hug today…

ONE YEAR AGO: Brazilian Chicken and Heart of Palm Pie

TWO YEARS AGO: Roasted Butternut Squash with Walnuts and Tahini Sauce

THREE YEARS AGO: The Complicit Conspiracy of Alcohol

FOUR YEARS AGO: Candy Cane Cookies

FIVE YEARS AGO: Macarons: Much better with a friend

SIX YEARS AGO: Our Mexican Holiday Dinner 

SEVEN YEARS AGO: The Ultimate Cranberry Sauce

EIGHT YEARS AGO: Edamame Dip

NINE YEARS AGO: Gougeres

TEN YEARS AGO: Beef Wellington on a Special Night