May 27, 2009

Spinach and Feta cheese strudel

Thank you thank you Courtney of Coco cooks and Linda of Make life sweeter for this great challenge!!! I would've never thought to make a strudel. Pastries are always so intimidating to me. If someone told me you have to stretch the dough so thin that you can see through it, I would say you're craaazy!

But because it's a daring baker challenge, I knew I had to do it. And...I did it!!! You have to try it too, you really do. The strudel dough is so much fun to play with. You really can stretch it so thin that you can read fine print through it.

I decided to make a spinach and feta cheese strudel...kinda like a spanakopita strudel. It came out really really good. The strudel was nice and flaky and the spinach filling was delicious. The strudel was gone in no time. You have to try it, you won't regret making it!! Here are the recipes.

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Spinach and Feta cheese strudel
filling recipe adapted from David Lebovitz's Spanakopita

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
strudel dough (recipe below)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and minced
10 oz package of frozen spinach, thawed and drained
salt and freshly-ground pepper
8 oz feta cheese
1 stalk of green onion
pinch of freshly-grated nutmeg
1 large egg, at room temperature
lemon juice

1. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.

2. Heat oil in a large saucepan or skillet. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent.

3. Transfer the onion to a medium bowl. Add the spinach and green onion. Allow mixture to cool

4. Add the feta cheese to the spinach mixture. Add the nutmeg and a squirt of lemon juice, plus more salt and pepper if desired. Stir in the egg.

5. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Make the strudel dough as described below. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the spinach mixture about 3 inches (8 cm) from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch-(15cm)-wide strip.

6. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

7. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.

Strudel dough
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

1 1/3 cups unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a medium size bowl. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour and mix until a rough dough forms. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.

2. Knead the dough on an unfloured surface until a soft and elastic dough forms. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally. Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (see note).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth (see note), dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.

4. Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

5. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

  • *I allowed my dough to rest for 3 hours and it was really easy to manipulate. I don't know if you actually need to rest it for that long.

May 25, 2009

Elmo cupcakes

My baby niece turned one this week and her favorite thing is Elmo. My sister had an Elmo themed birthday party for her and I wanted to make her Elmo cupcakes for dessert. I did a lot of research on this topic before I proceeded. I wasn't able to find any tutorials on making Elmo cupcakes, just a lot of pictures on Flickr of Elmo cupcakes.

Then I came across this picture from Cupcakes Takes the Cake and I knew this would be the one I would want to imitate. The next dilemma was to find a vanilla cupcake that would bake up flat and also taste yummy. I ended up choosing a Vanilla cupcake recipe from Amy Sedaris' I like you, hospitality under the influence via 1 tsp love.

As for the frosting, I chose a basic vanilla buttercream frosting from My sweet and saucy. The result? The vanilla cupcakes took no time at all and were very tasty. I thought they were a little bit too sweet, even after I cut down on the sugar, but everyone else thought they were fine. The frosting was tooth-achingly sweet. I think I prefer the taste of swiss buttercream vs. the powdered sugar buttercream. I chose to use the powdered sugar buttercream because they hold up better than the swiss buttercream.

Here are the recipes and also a tutorial for the Elmo cupcakes. Bare with me as this is my first tutorial...

Vanilla cupcakes
from 1 tsp love
makes 20 cupcakes (see note)
total time: 40 minutes

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar (see note)
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/4 cups milk

1. Preheat over to 350 degrees.

2. In large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

3. Beat in eggs, one at a time until corporated. Then add vanilla, salt and baking powder.

4. Add flour in 3 batches, alternating with milk.

5. Beat at low speed for 30 seconds or until mixture is smooth and satiny.

6. Divide batter evenly among cups (see note). Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until tops are pale gold and toothpick or skewer inserted into center comes out clean.

7. Cool on wire rack for 45 minutes or until at room temperature.

  • *The original recipe says it makes 16 cupcakes, but I was able to make 20 cupcakes out of the batter.
  • *The original recipe calls for 1 3/4 cups of sugar. I brought it down to 1 1/2 cups when I made mine and I thought it was still too sweet. I will use 1 1/4 cups of sugar next time.

Vanilla Buttercream
from My sweet and Saucy
Makes about 2 cups
total time: 30 minutes

4 oz. unsalted softened butter
2 1/2 c. or 10 oz. powdered sugar (see note)
1/2 t. kosher salt
1 T. plus 1 t. whole milk
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1 t. fresh lemon juice

1. In a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter & salt for about 30 seconds and then add half of the powdered sugar and the milk to the butter and beat again until combined. Scrape down the bowl.

2. Add the rest of the powdered sugar, the vanilla, and the lemon juice and beat until combined. Scrape down the bowl again. Beat on high speed for 5-6 minutes or until the frosting is fluffy.

  • *The original recipe calls for 10 oz or 2 1/2 cup of powdered sugar. I only put 2 cups and I thought it was very sweet, but I think you need the sugar for the texture.

Now for the Elmo cupcakes

Reserve about 1/2 cup of the frosting before making the red frosting. To make the bright red frosting, I added about 1/2 bottle of Wilton Red (no-taste) icing color. I don't think you actually need 1/2 bottle if you made the frosting ahead of time as the color got darker when you let it sit. With the reserved frosting, combine red and yellow food color until you reach a bright orange color.

Using a grass tip (Wilton tip #233), pipe Elmo's fur. Pipe fur by piping frosting until desire length is reached, then release pressure, and pull to the left or the right. You can rotate pulling left, right, or just straight up to give Elmo's hair that "natural" look. =P

For Elmo's eyes, cut a jumbo marshmallow in half and place them on the cupcakes.

For Elmo's nose, use the orange frosting with a plain circle tip and pipe a circle under the eyes.

For Elmo's eyeballs, melt some dark chocolate and pipe two circles on the marshmallow halves. That's it, you're done!

May 14, 2009

Real spaghetti and meatballs

I would really love to be a good cook AND a good baker, but they are such different animals. The best cooks don't follow any recipe while a good baker follows the recipe to the t. I think I'm a better baker because of it, it's like a science experiment. Everything is very exact...while for cooking..there's so much leeway. It's just really hard for me.

I hate when a recipe tells me add something to your taste. I can tell you when something doesn't taste quite right, but I can't tell you what it needs. I am surrounded by great mom and dad are amazing in the kitchen, and so is my sister..but me..I have more failures than success. Things seem to always taste just okay...maybe practice?!

So here's my attempt to cook more often. Maybe you'll be seeing more savory posts from now on. Anyway..on to the spaghetti and meatballs. This recipe is from Ina Garten. I have been craving spaghetti and meatballs..don't know why as I'm not too much of a beef eater. This recipe looks the most promising and I didn't really need to pick up too many ingredients.

My was good. I think next time I will make the meatballs a little smaller. They were quite big and it was hard for me to eat such a big chunk of meat. I thought the tomato sauce was really good. It was so much more flavorful than a plain tomato sauce. It must be because it was simmering with the meatballs. who knows? Here's the recipe:

Real meatballs and spaghetti
from Barefoot Contessa family style
Serves 6
total time: 2.5 hours

For the meatballs:
1 lb ground pork (see note)
1 lb ground beef
1 cup fresh white bread crumbs (4 slices, crusts removed)
1/4 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 extra large egg, beaten
vegetable oil
olive oil

For the sauce:
1 tbsp good olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup good red wine, such as Chianti
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

for serving:
1 lb spaghetti (see note)
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Place the ground meats, both bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg, egg and 3/4 cup warm water in a bowl. Combine very lightly with a fork. Using your hands, lightly form the mixture into 2 inch meatballs. You will have 14 to 16 meatballs. (see note)

2. Pour equal amounts of vegetable oil and olive oil in a large skillet to a dept of 1/4 inch. Heat the oil. Very carefully, in batches, place the meatballs in the oil and brown them well on all sides over medium low heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. This should take about 10 minutes for each batch. Don’t crowd the meatballs. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard the oil but don’t clean the pan.

3. For the sauce, heat the olive oil in the same pan. Add the onion and sauté over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, salt and pepper.

4. Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. Serve hot on cooked spaghetti and pass the grated Parmesan cheese.

  • *Don’t use oil in the spaghetti when cooking it, the sauce will stick better.

  • *The original recipe calls for 1/2 lb of ground veal and 1/2 lb of ground pork. I used 1 lb of ground pork.

  • *I was able to make 20 meatballs from the recipe. I think I will make 30 meatballs next time so that they're bite size.

  • *Original recipe says to use 1 1/2 lb of spaghetti. I only used 1 lb because we like lots of sauce in this family.

May 13, 2009

Oreo buttercream frosting

UPDATE: I finally figured out why some of you are having problems with this recipe. The frosting is runny is because the egg whites weren't heated enough. The egg whites need to be heated to 160 degrees for the egg whites to set. I came up with a better oreo buttercream with no runny problems. Give it a try and let me know what you think. You can find the recipe here!

Mr G. (my sweetheart) had a potluck party this past weekend and requested a dessert. I love when he does this because I get to bake and I won't have to worry about eating it all by myself. He complained he didn't get to eat the chocolate cupcakes earlier, so I decided to do an encore. Instead of the peanut butter frosting, I made an oreo frosting.

I couldn't find any oreo frosting recipes that I liked, so I decided to make one myself using the buttercream recipe from a previous daring baker challenge. The frosting is rich and creamy, very yummy. It's not like the peanut butter frosting which was light and fluffy, this is really rich. Here's the recipe for the frosting.

Oreo buttercream frosting (see note)
adapted from Nick Malgieri’s Perfect Cakes

2 large egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
12 tbsp of unsalted butter, softened
6 oreo cookies, crushed
6 oreo cookies, halved for decoration (optional)

1. Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot (approximately 160 degrees).

2. Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth.

3. Add crushed oreo cookies and continue to beat until they are incorporated.

  • This recipe barely made enough for 12 cupcakes. As you can see, there's not a lot of frosting on the cupcakes. If you are a frosting person, you might want to double the recipe. Frosting is normally not my favorite part, so this was just enough for me.

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