Posts Tagged ‘Daring Bakers Challenge’

Ahhh! Paris!!!

Paris is one of my absolute favorite places on the planet. I’ve been lucky enough to travel there numerous times in the last decade and can’t wait to go again.  The romance, the architecture, the art, the cafe lifestyle; all sublime. But the best part about Paris is, of course, the food. I’m already seriously researching where to eat for my next trip in May. Yes, that’s right. It’s 8 months away and I’m still spending way too much time, every day, dreaming about what I’ll eat when I get there.

One of the many things I so love about Paris is that there’s an incredible bakery on almost every corner of every neighborhood in the city. Even the mediocre, non-artisan boulangeries have goods that beat anything I can get anywhere even close to my whole town. In Paris there are warm crusty baguettes available at almost any time of day, gorgeous, elegant pastries in every imaginable (and unimaginable) flavor. And of course, buttery, flaky, croissants. Who doesn’t love to start their day with a French roasted expresso and a fresh baked croissant? Heaven! And simply not available here in my neck of the woods. Unless of course I bake them myself, which I’ve sworn more than once, I would never do. It’s way to many steps, way too much waiting around for the various rises of the dough, and way to many calories to consume if I had a whole batch coming out of my very own oven. Plus, I knew I could never make them taste anything like ones in Paris.

Breads and pastries in Paris  

Well surprise, surprise! Just as I was salivating while researching which excellent bakery will be closest to the apartment I’m renting in Paris next May, (Le Grenier a Pain) I find out that the Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child! I guess I would be attempting homemade croissants after all.

I decided that if I was to do it at all, I’d try my best to do it right. I bought hand churned organic, cultured butter that was 85% butter fat and Callibaut for the chocolate ones I’d make. I followed the steps in Julia’s recipe religiously and patiently waited for the dough to rest and rise in it’s various stages.

The first rise

Folded and twice risen

I worked the butter until it was spreadable but still cool and carefully folded, turned, rolled, folded and turned. I let it rest for 2 hours and repeated the folding, turning. rolling and folding once again. And then, after an overnight rest in the fridge, I formed the croissants.

Butter spread and ready for folding and turning

The first croissant, finally shaped!!!

Patient again, I waited for them to rise a final time before double brushing them with egg wash and popping them into the oven.

Finally ready to bake!

It took a total of twenty hours to make 4 plain croissants and 6 pains au chocolate. As expected, they were expensive, time consuming, and challenging. I won’t be making them again any time soon but the surprise was that they were every bit as good as some of the best I’ve eaten in Paris. Crisp, flaky, buttery layers of deliciousness. I put on a pot of coffee and ate most of them warm, right out of the oven. I could almost imagine I was in Paris!!!

Fresh baked croissants! YUM!!!

Pain au chocolate anyone? yes please!!

And the bonus was the outrageous bread pudding I made from the 2 day old chocolate croissants I didn’t manage to stuff down when they were fresh.

Chocolate croissant bread pudding

And now, after a weekend of consuming close to a pound of butter (not to mention the heavy cream in the bread pudding!) it’s definitely back on the diet bandwagon.


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It’s that time of the month again: The Daring Bakers Challenge Post. The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drive and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!.  These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies!  This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at http://www.chocoley.com offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy!

Fortunately, I jumped right on this challenge and completed it 3 weeks ago! There’s no way I’d be making candy this weekend as we sit here waiting for hurricane Irene to hit. I’ll post soon about all the delicious things I’ve prepped for the promised power outages due to this big storm but for today, here are the sweet treats I made for this challenge.

My first ever attempt to temper chocolate. Not easy and not something I’ll be rushing to do again!

Tempered chocolate, shiny and smooth!

Making the innards of the truffles was a great deal easier and it was fun to be creative. I made an assorment and all were delicious

(From the upper left going clockwise) Mint ganache dipped in white chocolate, spiced nut bark, home made marzipan w/ dried cranberries dipped in dark chocolate, and chocolate dipped spiced carmelized nuts! Yum!

It was an interesting challenge and I’m glad I tried my hand at candy making but with a fabulous local chocolate shop close by (Munson’s) I think I’ll leave it to the experts.

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When I first decided to blog about food (with an occasional rant from my soapbox about the weight struggle and the cultural craziness that drives us to be thin!) I didn’t know that #1 I’d take on both the Bakers and Cook’s challenge and #2 that I’d end up hating the WordPress blogging format. Sigh.

So let’s start with my complaints about WordPress. Sooo not user friendly! Especially when it comes to posting pictures. What good is a blog about food without fabulous food porn to make readers drool and wish they were eating what I eat? But getting my pictures inserted into my posts is an epic task and every time I sit down at my computer to share with you the delicious things I’ve eaten and carefully photographed for your enjoyment, I end up swearing my brains out and wondering why I’m bothering to do it when the enjoyment is sucked right out by the frustrations of WordPress. I keep thinking I should switch to a Google Blog, which is supposed to be easy blogging for Dummies, but then I can’t seem to find the time to make the move.

Which brings me to the Challenges. It seemed like a great idea to have something spectacular to cook and to bake each month. I love to be creative in the kitchen, right? But I’m finding that it’s almost impossible to do the Cook’s and the Baker’s challenges each month, take some decent photos of the process and then write a blog post about it.Who has that kind of time?  And then, of course, I have to eat what I’ve baked! Sometimes a whole cake, like this month!

Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine. Now don’t get me wrong. This challenge looked awesome and I had no doubt that I’d love to have a slice of a gorgeous, rich Fraisier, but I knew if I made one, hubby and I would be eating the whole cake ourselves. I had almost decided to skip it in lieu of fitting into my bathing suit and heading to the beach, but it was a rainy day today and I was jonesing for something sweet so I whipped up this baby using a layer of chocolate cake I made and froze last month. I threw together a quick batch of pastry
cream, folded in whipped cream and a little gelatin, added some fresh oraganic strawberries and bananas, topped with chocolate ganache and a little toasted coconut and Walla! Chocolate Fresh Fruit Fraiser!

All the ingredients

Somehow I think we’ll manageto polish the whole thing off before the weekend is over.

Chocolate Strawberry Fraiser

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Where does the time go?! I barely completed the Daring Cook’s challenge and it’s back into the kitchen to be a Daring Baker. The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies. I imagine these two were paired as homage to Italian desserts however; Florentine cookies are not actually Italian cookies. These lacy, crisp and chewy treats were created by French bakers to honor Florentine royalty when they visited Paris. But still, enough of a link to get me thinking about delicious Italia.

The ancient colliseum in Rome

Panna cotta, means cooked cream in Italian and my first and only exposure to it (until making it myself for this challenge) was on a whirlwind trip through Rome, Florence, and Venice. As usual, between taking in all the amazing art, ancient history, and gorgeous scenery, we managed to locate and consume all the tastiest treats those amazing cities have to offer. It was a culinary adventure that foodie dreams are made of!

The best gelato!!

Oh! The aroma of all those shaved truffles!

Along with a daily dose of the finest gelato in countless fabulous flavors, the two week tour of the Big 3 of Italy included, amongst others, my first (and hopefully last!) taste of donkey, a plate of pasta with botarga (the roe pouch of grey mullet that’s been dried and cured in sea salt for a few weeks), the finest black truffles in a heavenly dish of Tagliatella e tartuffo, and an incredible boiled beef sandwich that was scarfed down at a crowded communal table in the Central Mercato in Florence. Every day was a new discovery of fish, meats and cheeses, fresh vegetables, pastas and pastries all prepared in authentic Italian style. We picnicked above ancient ruins and in the Tuscan countryside and dined in countless tiny candlelit trattorias. 

Italian sandwiches to die for!

It was in one of these dark, tucked away little restaurants where I first tasted panna cotta. Leo’s in Santa Croce was a very special place where Leo himself greeted us at the door and escorted us to our table. He spoke no English and we spoke no Italian but it didn’t matter. The warmth of his welcome and our obvious pleasure at the sight and smells of the food appearing from the tiny kitchen at the back of the restaurant were more than enough to create that special connection between host and guest that insured that a fabulous meal would ensue. We were not disappointed.

The meal started with the antipasti special, very thinly sliced, long strands of fresh raw zucchini with scallion, shaved parmesan and a light lemony dressing. Absolutely delicious. We also had a fresh tomato/basil brochette, served with a slice of unbelievably sweet melon. Next came veal scallopini with artichoke in a gorgonzola sauce with spinach and grilled baby lamb chops, served with potatoes and caramelized onions. The lamb had an intense and delicious charred flavor from the open fire grill and every bite was moist and tender. We sucked the bones totally clean, earning an approving pat on the back from the waiter when he came to take the plate.

Leo’s grilled lamb chops with melting potatoes

And finally it was time for dessert! I had heard the name but didn’t really know what it was so I ordered panna cotta, apparently a wise choice as I received an enthusiastic nod from Leo. He soon placed in front of me a white mound of thick, slightly gelatinous, sweet cream, covered with a rich chocolate sauce. It tasted just like whipped cream but had a consistency more like a thick custard or mousse. What could be bad? Of course, topped with an excellent chocolate sauce, I’d probably eat a scoop of Vaseline! But this was quite tasty and while I knew it wasn’t going to be one of my all time favorite food experiences, I was happy to have tasted a real Italian dolce in an authentic Italian trottoria.

Chocolate and Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta

So this month’s Daring Baker’s challenge was an invitation to make this dessert myself. Panna cotta is incredibly easy to make and is a very versatile dessert. The simplest method is to dissolve 1 packet of unflavored gelatin in ½ cup of cold cream or milk. Bring 1 ½ cups more of cream and ½ cup of sugar to a slight simmer. Remove from the heat and add 1 tsp of vanilla. Pour the hot cream over the dissolved gelatin and stir. This will serve 4 people and the recipe can be easily doubled. If you want chocolate panna cotta, simply stir in some finely chopped semi or bittersweet chocolate and stir until melted.

Vanilla bean panna cotta with strawberry sauce and Florentine cookie

There are countless variations and methods and plain panna cotta can be flavored numerous ways. It can be served in glasses, layered with fruit gellee or or can be unmolded after chilling in lightly greased custard cups and topped with a sauce. I made a vanilla bean version, both unmolded and served with a strawberry sauce and layered in fancy glasses with chocolate panna cotta. Add a fancy cookie on the side, like these irresistibly crunchy, chewy Florentines, and you’ve got a dessert that can easily transport you to Italy without ever leaving your own kitchen. Think of the money you’ll save on airfare!


2/3 cup (5.3 oz) unsalted butter                                                                                                                                                                               2 cups (5 2/3 oz) quick oats
1 cup (8 oz) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (3⅓ oz) plain (all purpose) flour
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
Melt the butter and then stir in the rest of the ingredients. Drop by teaspoon at least 3” apart on parchment paper lines baking trays. Bake in preheated 375˚ oven for 8 minutes, until spread flat and brown on the edges. Remove from oven and cool completely on trays, until totally firm. Then remove to a rack. Melt 1½ cups dark or milk chocolate until smooth and spread a thin layer on the bottom of a cookie and sandwich the chocolate between  a second cookie. Let the chocolate harden and EAT!

Florentine Cookies

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