Saturday, June 27, 2009

Daring Bakers - June '09 Challenge or, I BAKE AGAIN!!

MAN, am I glad to be back on the wagon with the Daring Bakers group. I have really missed them over the last several months. Although I've never met any of them in person, I must say that it was a rather sad existence without them! The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

I was intrigued by this challenge because I had never heard of a Bakewell Tart/Pudding before! I made my tart... er... pudding in stages. Not my fave way to do things, but it definitely works with a "working mom/chick" schedule.

FIRST, I made Grapefruit Curd for the jam/curd layer, as I thought that would be a nice, summery flavor. The original recipe is here. I substituted the zest and juice of 1 ruby red grapefruit for the 4 lemons, and added about a teaspoon of lemon flavoring (it seemed like it was going to be a little sweeter than I wanted). I also couldn't find my little strainer this time, and was initially going to give this curd the "rustic" label and keep rolling. But it kept bugging me, and I ended up using my screen that fits over a frying pan to strain it instead because I really wanted a smooth textured curd. I was also going to put a drop of red food coloring in to give it a pinkish tint reminiscent of grapefruit pulp, but couldn't find it, either. Eh, whatever.

Tasting it after it chilled, I wasn't really impressed with the flavor, so I added a few teaspoons of lime juice, and it became Grapefruit-Lime Curd. Then, I wished that I had just made lime curd, as I adore limes - but I still had the rest of the tart/pudding to make.

NEXT (a few days later), I made the crust. I wasn't going to mess with that frying pan screen again, and didn't know where the hell that strainer was, so I bought a sifter at "Mega Lo Mart" on the way home from work so that I could sift my dry ingredients. =:D Excellent!

I used my Pampered Chef cheese grater to grate the frozen butter, which I'd definitely do again. If you do something like this, though, a suggestion: After a few turns of the handle, gently pull the butter out of the grater with a small spoon. I was happily grinding away at one point and realized that the butter had piled up inside of the grater, so that I had several masses of it mashed together by the time I got it out. It didn't make a huge difference when I mixed the butter with the flour mixture - I just pinched it gently apart with my fingers as I was mixing, and it did fine.

I probably used twice as much almond extract as the recipe called for, because I dreamily turned the little bottle over to sprinkle it into the bowl and it just came gushing out. For some reason, almond extract just *smells* to me like it would slowly and dramatically ooze out of the bottle and into the bowl. I don't crazy imagination.

THEN came the frangipane. I was excited about this, because it seemed like this was going to be a really yummy part of the dessert! I was interested in how my almond meal was going to turn out, because I bought blanched almond slices that I was going to have to grind up. I did this once before and I just couldn't get as smooth of a texture as I'd hoped. Initially, I was going to make the frangipane while the crust was chilling, but Hubby fell asleep on the living room couch.
You're probably like, "So freakin' what?? You cook in your LR?!" Yes, the big-screen TV folds down into a work station/range....but seriously. Our living room and kitchen are essentially one big open room separated by a counter/bar, so I didn't want to have that little chopper running like crazy while he snoozed. And I can't pick him up and carry him to bed like I can do with Sweet Pea.

So that waited until another day, when I finished it all on a Saturday night (whoohoo, that's me, the party animal!) -- speaking of animals, for some reason that night we were overtaken by flies! =:O I'm still trying to figure that out. But suffice it to say that they drove me NUTZOID while I was trying to mix and bake. ANYway . . . I rolled out the crust and cut it into circles (with a plastic drinking cup from my credit union - how high-tech!) that fit perfectly into my muffin pan for mini tarts/puddings. They really turned out cute!

Close-up of the layers

The next day was Father's Day, and my parents drove over for the day to pick up a bed that we moved out of our guest room to make room for New Baby. I thought that would be a GREAT time to share the latest kitchen creation. They adored it - yay! The grapefruit-lime curd was wonderful with the frangipane, and the crust didn't have any overwhelming taste of almond that I feared. As a matter of fact, I warned my mother about the potential almond tsunami because she isn't big on the flavor, but she didn't notice it at all. Personally, I think that it just gave the whole tart a nice warm undertone that blended well with the curd.

I thought this was a really fun challenge, and the crust and curd were great make-aheads. There are so many ways you could take this flavor-wise, as evidenced by the numerous posts by my fellow Daring Bakers. Be sure and check them out here!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Summer at the Farmer's Market and a Fruit Salad

This morning, my friend Kat and I decided we would go up the road to the Little Rock River Market and check things out. There are indoor shops, food vendors, and restaurants in the neat little downtown area. On Tuesdays and Saturdays during this time of year, they have the Farmers' Market.

Sweet Pea and I loaded up into Kat's car and off we went. Our intent was to leave and get up there early and beat the heat, as the last week or so has given us temperatures in the 90s with heat indexes of 100 degrees or so (for non-Southerners, Temp + Humidity = Heat Index, or how it "really" feels outside).

Although the Farmer's Market isn't the biggest one you'll ever see, it has grown over the years and now includes quite a few other things besides fresh fruits and veggies. We saw a dude selling wooden flutes, several people selling jewelry, and even one booth with crocheted items (though why anyone would want a cuddly crochet hat in the middle of the summer heat is beyond me). We wandered through and looked at all of the produce first to see what all was out, and then grabbed some lunch inside the River Market. Kat had gumbo from a Cajun stand, Sweet Pea had cheese pizza, and I enjoyed some sushi and a peach smoothie with "bubbles" or boba - also known as black tapioca pearls (yeh me - the weird eater - imagine!).

Refreshed after our travel-around-the-world lunch, we ventured back outside and dropped a couple of dimes on produce. I got orange bell peppers (my fave!), purple potatoes (more on them later), summer squash, a nice ripe-feeling canteloupe, and a loaf of wheat bread with sunflower seeds. Oh yes, and a potted mint plant as well as a potted basil plant. Mmmm.

After we got home - and after I took a nap because the heat had completely SAPPED me - I got to thinking how much I wanted to cut into that canteloupe. I'm typically not big on melon, and didn't realize until several years ago that canteloupe was actually GOOD. But it has to be ripe, and the melon you get in most stores and restaurants is rarely - if ever - ripe. However, I had a good feeling about this canteloupe I got and, while getting supper ready, I had an idea of a potentially yummy fruit salad that I just had to make. So here you go:

Strawberry-Canteloupe Salad

2 c. fresh strawberries, chopped

2 c. fresh cantaloupe, chopped

1 fresh lime, zest and juice

Fresh mint, minced

1/2 to 1 Tbsp. sugar (optional)


Toss to mix ingredients thoroughly. Chill thoroughly, stir well, and serve. Top with whipped cream if desired.

I think I've mentioned this before, but outside of baking I am SO the Approximate Cooker. So adjust the quantities to suit yourself - equal amounts of the berries and the melon, enough lime juice and mint to blend throughout the mixture, and a little sugar if you wish (I added just a bit so to soften the taste of the lime). Had I had any fresh ginger on hand, I think that a little bit would be good in there as well. Next time....

This is an easy One-Bowler and is an awesomely light and cool dessert during the hot season - not to mention it is healthy! YAY on all counts!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I have been so desperately out of the loop in doing the things I enjoy since I've been pregnant, and it finally got to the point where I *had* to do something in the kitchen! If I don't do something creative in some part of my life, I start geting really ticked off, and between you and me, I was past that point.

So the other Saturday, Sweet Pea and I decided to conquer the Daring Bakers' challenge for April - cheesecake!
Melted butter and graham cracker crumbs for crust
Hubby had brought home a store-bought one a few weeks ago that was fine as those go, but we all know that ANYTHING homemade is better, right?! Well, excluding SIL's cooking, mind you. . .but that's probably blog material for another day.
Le crust....
We did a pretty much basic cheesecake, the equivalent of wading around in the shallow end of the pool, LOL, but I wasn't really in the mindset to do anything grandiose that day. I did add about a teaspoon of lemon zest to the batter, and for the liqueur flavoring I used Grand Marnier - Sweet Pea and I chose that over the Frangelico in a sniff test. I figured kids and preggos would be OK after it baked out, anyway and - responsible parent that I am - told her that she could not TASTE the G.M. because, like vanilla, it was yukky alone but made other things taste great! :>
Cream cheese + Sugar = Yum
One other sub I made outside of the DB recipe was putting in 3/4 c. whole milk instead of 1 c. heavy cream, which we didn't have in the house (Hubby will, on occasion, come home with whole milk for no apparent reason; I don't ask, I just let him do his thing).
Cream cheese mixture, adding eggs
Into the pan we go!
Bain-marie (yes, the foil leaked - Grrr)
After 55 minutes, the cake looked firm but really jiggly, as the recipe said it would. That kind of thing always makes me nervous, but I've done cheesecakes before and it's just a feeling I ignore. When making cheesecakes, one must rack that kind of thing up to faith and just believe that it's going to turn out the way it's supposed to. And it looked great after doing its obligatory time in the oven and then cooling to room temp.

I then had what one or two people in the free world might call a "meltdown". Sweet Pea dug a hole in the top with her little play spatula, and immediately thereafter the fast food drink that Hubby had put in the front of the refrigerator toppled out as I was trying to get something else in there, and emptied its contents all over the floor. Sigh.
Looks good even with the hole out of the middle, eh? I like the toasty brown parts. :)

Now, I actually wasn't worried about the top of the cheesecake, since I had candied some kumquat slices (recipe below) with which to adorn it - it was the fact that I had already instructed her about twenty times this morning to leave things alone until I told her specifically to do something. It was just the principle of it all. Ahhh, mother- and wife-hood!

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Candied Kumquat Slices

16 kumquats, washed and sliced into rounds approx. 1/8" thick
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

Heat water and sugar on medium to med-high, stirring a couple of times, until sugar is dissolved and the mixture begins to boil. Add kumquat slices and reduce heat to med-low. Cook for 10 minutes. Remove individually, tapping/shaking liquid from pieces, and place in a single layer on a plate or piece of parchment paper. Allow to dry for a bit before decorating top of cake. Can sprinkle a small amount (1/4-1/2 c.) of sugar over them if desired.

Use the syrup (of which you will have a good bit) to glaze the cake, sweeten teas, etc. Will last in the fridge for a few weeks.
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Anyway, the cake looked like we were really going to enjoy it after it chilled. I brushed a layer of the kumquat syrup over the top, made a sun design with the kumquats (it wasn't my initial intent; it just ended up turning into a sun), and brushed another layer of the syrup over them so that it would have a nice glaze.

Yeah, I know that I said I was feeling quite low-maintenance with this baking endeavour, but I remembered the kumquats and thought that'd be a really good compliment to the orange flavoring and lemon zest in the cake. And I mean, really - don't expect me to believe that you're surprised. Please.

The Results: Awesome! This is a delicious, creamy cheesecake and the recipe is soooo versatile that you can go in any direction you feel. The general consensus in our house was that it was a totally dee-vine dessert. The kumquats and cake were a really good balance. I also took some to work, and my friends thought it was totally awesome. Yeeesss! I'll need to remember to press out the crust better around the edges, as that part was a little too thick, but I will definitely make this again!