Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Stollen

The last Christmas baking project was the making of an authentic Christmas Stollen. It was definitely the most involved project, since it required 3 risings of the dough, plenty of kneading by our resident kneading expert (Mihai), discoveries of new ingredients in the local suburban supermarket (dried currants), and many hours devoted to the process on Christmas Day. The results were mixed - I found the Stollen we collectively created a little dry, but my stepfather seemed to enjoy it more than any of our other baking projects, so I guess it just depends on your taste.

Christmas Stollen
Adapted from Under the High Chair

6-8 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon yeast
1½ cups warm milk
¼ cup dried cherries
¾ cup golden raisins
¾ cup currants
1½ cup almonds, chopped
¾ cup sugar
1½ cups butter, plus extra for brushing loaves, at room temperature
3 eggs
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons rum

1. In a large bowl, combine warm milk and yeast. Allow to sit 10 minutes until yeast is dissolved. Add 1 cup of the sifted flour and mix to form a sponge. Let sit in a warm place until doubled.

2. Meanwhile, combine cherries, raisins, and almonds and set aside.

3. When sponge has sufficiently rested, beat the soft butter with an electric mixer. Beat in sugar and blend until light and creamy. Add eggs one at a time, followed by the salt, lemon rind, and rum. Mix in the fruit and nuts with a spatula. Add all the sponge and the remaining 5 cups flour. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if too sticky (we ended up adding around 1 more cup).

4. Cover dough with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.

5. To shape dough, toss it onto a floured board and divide in two. Pat dough into a rough oval and fold over one third of the dough lengthwise onto the other two thirds. Repeat with remaining dough. Place each loaf on its own baking sheet and brush with butter. Allow to rise again until almost doubled in bulk.

6. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake loaves for about 40 minutes until they are a dark golden brown.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cranberry Coffee Cake

I invited my high school friends to come over while I was at my mom's house for Christmas, since many of them also make the pilgrimage home - we couldn't get everyone, but 5 out of 7 of us got to see each other. When they came by, I had a fresh lemon pie ready for them, and also this cranberry coffee cake for something a little more conventional. While I baked the lemon pie under my mom's supervision, I just followed Deb's recipe for this one, with only minor modifications. The resulting cake is great - very nicely moist and tart, not at all dry. As my mom pointed out after the fact, an interesting experiment would be to make our family lemon pie with the cranberry filling instead (since both the lemon and the cranberries would do a good job striking the balance between sweet and tart). Perhaps this coffee cake can also be made with the lemon filling to complete the switcheroo.

Cranberry Coffee Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1¾ cups sugar
2 cups fresh or thawed frozen cranberries (6 ounces)
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened, divided
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup whole milk

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Generously butter a 9-inch round springform pan. Line bottom with a round of parchment paper and butter parchment.

2. Pulse cranberries with ½ cup sugar in processor until finely chopped (do not purée).

3. Mix together 2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat together 1 stick butter and 1 cup sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add in the vanilla last and beat until well mixed. Add in the flour mixture and milk alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour, mixing with a spatula until just combined.

4. Spread half of batter in pan, then spoon cranberries over it, leaving a ½-inch border around edge. Spoon small bits of the remaining batter over the top of the cranberries and smooth them out gently.

5. Blend remaining ¼ cup sugar with remaining tablespoon each of butter and flour using your fingertips. Crumble over top of cake.

6. Bake until a wooden pick inserted into cake (not into cranberry filling) comes out clean and side begins to pull away from pan, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan 30 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely, crumb side up.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Lemon Pie

So it's a little embarrassing that I haven't updated this blog since the end of August, when school started again. Mihai and I have certainly had our fair share of delicious home-cooked meals since then, but despite my best intentions (we even took pictures of them), I just haven't had time to write about them. However, over the last few days there was quite a bit of Christmas-related baking at my mom's house, so I thought I should share some of the results.

First up is a family recipe - lemon pie. This is a somewhat unusual dessert, one that I've never had outside my mom's house, and one that my mom has never had elsewhere either - she got the recipe from one of her aunts many years ago. The unexpected elements (such as using yeast but not having to knead, and putting the pie into a cold oven) all work together well to deliver a not-too-sweet but perfectly tangy dessert that goes very well with a cup of tea. Mihai is very excited that I finally learned how to make this (having made it twice over the last few days), so that now we can have it not just at my mom's house.

Lemon Pie

For the filling:

1 to 1⅓ medium size lemons (if you have Meyer lemons around, so much the better)
1½ cups sugar

For the dough:

¾ cups warm milk
1 teaspoon sugar
1 packet of dry yeast or 1 cake of live yeast
3 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
200g butter (cold or frozen)

1. Boil a pot of water. Place the lemons in a bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Pour off the water and repeat two more times. (I know it's very tempting to skip/shorten this step, but don't give into that temptation! This three-peat of hot water is very important to make sure the lemons lose their bitterness.)

2. Cut up the whole lemons into pieces, and purée in a food processor (rind and inside part together). Transfer the purée into a medium or large bowl.

3. Dissolve the teaspoon of sugar in the ¾ cups of warm milk, and then add the yeast. Wait until bubbles form. (Make sure the warm milk is truly warm, not hot, otherwise the yeast will die and the bubbles will never form.)

4. While waiting for the yeast to activate, mix the salt and the flour together in a large bowl. Take the cold or frozen butter and grate it on a box grater into the bowl with the flour, stopping every few grating motions to mix the grated butter with the flour so that it doesn't all clump together.

5. By this point your yeast and milk mixture should be bubbling, so pour it into the flour-and-butter bowl, and mix the dough. Once it is mixed, divide into two halves, and roll out one half of the dough into a rectangle. Transfer the rolled-out dough onto a 9x13 cookie sheet (ideally one with edges). Don't try to make the dough rectangle large enough to fill up the entire sheet - it's actually best if it doesn't.

6. Take the 1½ cups of sugar and mix it with the lemon purée. When you pour all that sugar on top of the lemon purée, it always seems like too much sugar and my mom and I always feel like we should lower the sugar amount - having made this mistake at least once, we now know that with less than the 1½ cups of sugar, the filling becomes much too tart, even for us.

7. Spread the lemon and sugar mixture on top of the rolled-out dough on the cookie sheet, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges.

8. Roll out the second half of the dough, making sure it's at least as large as the first rectangle. Transfer this new rectangle on top of the dough+filling in the cookie sheet. Pinch the edges of the two dough pieces together, and tuck underneath the bottom layer to make sure none of the filling can leak out. Once all the edges are secured, use your hands to gently massage the top layer so as to spread the filling closer to the now-sealed edges. Use a fork to prick the top layer of the dough and also to create one small round hole in the middle of the top layer to let air escape.

9. Place the cookie sheet with the pie into a cold oven, and turn it on to 320°F. Bake for 35-40 minutes until it turns a very light golden color. (Baking it further won't damage the dough, but will cook and caramelize the inside lemon-sugar mixture too much.) Cool completely before slicing into diamond-shaped slices and enjoy!