Saturday, August 29, 2009

Aug 29: Bitter Melon...

Going through the Asian vegetables at the local market, I spied a gourd that I haven't eaten in over 20 years - Bitter Melon (Karela in Indian cookery). I remember the melon having a strong flavor that was an "acquired" taste. In other words, the melon had a strong bitter (for lack of a better word) taste where I could not understand who figured out this was an edible vegetable.

The way I remember preparing the melon was with salted, fermented black beans and garlic. To mask the bitterness? Well... after 20 years, I was feeling nostalgic and decided to give it a go. Also, I had a craving for black beans and garlic.

The bitter melon is a ridged melon with bumps. Inside you see the seed and the pith which is different from what I remembered. I recall the pith and seeds coats being bright red, like pimentos. Maybe this is a different variety or an unripe melon.

The seeds and pith are scraped out with a spoon and cut into strips, using a diagonal cutting technique. Also, you can cut into large triangular pieces too.

To reduce the bitterness, you can par-boil for a minute or two. Also, I've read that you can salt the sliced pieces and rinse after 15 minutes.

For today, I opted to cook as is. Bring on the full flavor!

Bitter Melon with Black Beans and Beef

1 lb Bitter Melon, seeded can cut.
1 T Black Beans, soaked in warm water (5 to 10 minutes) and rinsed
1 t Garlic, minced
1 T Oyster Sauce
1 t Soy Sauce
1 C Broth
1 to 2 T Vegetable Oil
Beef (or pork or chicken)... to your taste.

Sauce (Optional)
1/4 C Water
1 t Corn Starch
1/2 t Oyster Sauce
1/2 t Soy Sauce
1/4 t Toasted Sesame Oil

The black beans (after a soak and rinsing) and the minced garlic.

Using the end of a cleaver, the two are mashed together.

Heat the oil in a pan on medium-high heat. When hot, stir the black bean/garlic mixture to flavor the oil (about 1 minute). Typically, you would add the meat next, but I used some precooked ground beef leftover from the piroshky bake... (Shhh! Don't tell anyone I used leftovers! lol)

Add the sliced bitter melon and saute for about 3 to 5 minutes.

The cooked ground beef was mixed in along with the oyster sauce and soy sauce.

The broth (or water) went in next.
The heat was reduced to medium and the pan covered.... Allowing the melon to cook for about 7 to 10 minutes.

Optional... After 7 minutes, the melon was done so the corn starch slurry was added. The corn starch will thicken the remaining liquids to give the dish a little sheen, but more importantly allow the flavors to "stick" to the melon.

Onto the serving platter.

A closer view... ready to be served.

Served with brown rice (my personal preference).

The Tasting...
I was expecting a strong mouth puckering flavor. However, I was surprised how unbitter the bitter melon was. There was only a faintest hint of the bitter flavor I remember from 20 years ago. Maybe I burned out my taste buds from all the hot sauce I eat or this variety just isn't that bitter.

Overall, still a good dish. My craving for black beans and garlic was satiated, and the bitter melon wasn't that bitter as I initially feared.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Aug 27: Daring Baker's Dobos

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful
of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos
Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite
Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

So, what is the Dobos Torta (or Torte)?

The Dobos Torta is a five-layer sponge cake, filled with a rich chocolate buttercream and topped with thin wedges of caramel. (You may come across recipes which have anywhere between six and 12 layers of cake; there are numerous family variations!) It was invented in 1885 by József C. Dobos, a Hungarian baker, and it rapidly became famous throughout Europe for both its extraordinary taste and its keeping properties. The recipe was a secret until Dobos retired in 1906 and gave the recipe to the Budapest Confectioners' and Gingerbread Makers' Chamber of Industry, providing that every member of the chamber can use it freely.

Thank you Angela (A Spoonful of Sugar) and Lorraine (Not Quite Nigella) for hosting this month's challenge.

For me, the challenge is broken down into three components - the sponge cake, the frosting and the topper.

I started with the buttercream since it could be kept in the fridge.

**************** The Recipe ***********************
Chocolate Buttercream
* 4 large eggs, at room temperature
* 1 cup (200g) caster sugar
* 4oz (110g) bakers chocolate or your favourite dark chocolate, finely chopped [I used 4 oz of 72% Dark Chocolate.]
* 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature.

Directions for the chocolate buttercream:

NOTE: This can be prepared in advance and kept chilled until required.

1.Prepare a double-boiler: quarter-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil.

2.Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened, about five minutes. You can use a balloon whisk or electric hand mixer for this.

Eggs and sugar... the next two photos illustrate the change in color.

Initial mixing... kind of yolky colored.
I hope my color balance isn't off in this photo... lol

As air is incorporated into the egg sugar the mixture begins to pale.

Now cooking over a double-boiler.

Whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes.

4.Scrape the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. It should be quite thick and sticky in consistency.

5.When cool, beat in the soft butter, a small piece (about 2 tablespoons/30g) at a time. An electric hand mixer is great here, but it is possible to beat the butter in with a spatula if it is soft enough. You should end up with a thick, velvety chocolate buttercream. Chill while you make the caramel topping.

After the mixture has cooled, the softened butter is whipped into the chocolate mixture.

The finished buttercream... I'm not a cake maker and don't have that much experience with buttercream. I was surprised how light the chocolate buttercream became after the butter was mixed in. I'm assuming the air from the mixing process paled the dark, luscious chocolate mixture. However, don't let the color deceive. The frosting is chocolatey without being too sweet.

Lorraine's note: If you're in Winter just now your butter might not soften enough at room temperature, which leads to lumps forming in the buttercream. Male sure the butter is of a very soft texture I.e. running a knife through it will provide little resistance, before you try to beat it into the chocolate mixture. Also, if you beat the butter in while the chocolate mixture is hot you'll end up with more of a ganache than a buttercream!

Sponge Cake Layers

* 6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
* 1 1/3 cups (162g) confectioner's (icing) sugar, divided
* 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
* 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (112g) sifted cake flour (SUBSTITUTE 95g plain flour + 17g cornflour (cornstarch) sifted together)
* pinch of salt

Directions for the sponge layers:

NOTE: The sponge layers can be prepared in advance and stored interleaved with parchment and well-wrapped in the fridge overnight.

1. Position the racks in the top and centre thirds of the oven and heat to 400F (200C).

2. Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit the baking sheets. Using the bottom of a 9" (23cm) springform tin as a template and a dark pencil or a pen, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over (the circle should be visible from the other side, so that the graphite or ink doesn't touch the cake batter.)

I don't have a springform pan so I looked around the kitchen for a 9" diameter circle. I didn't find anything so I looked around the house. I found that my party lampshade hat... woooo-hooo! was 9" in diameter. Let's Par-taaay!

3. Beat the egg yolks, 2/3 cup (81g) of the confectioner's (icing) sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes. (You can do this step with a balloon whisk if you don't have a mixer.)

The egg yolk, sugar and vanilla ready to be mixed.

The mixture was beaten until a stream/ribbon was formed when the mixer was lifted out of the batter.

4. In another bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2/3 cup (81g) of confectioner's (icing) sugar until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks.

Sugar mixed into the whipped egg whites (soft peaks). Note: You can see the soft peaks... the peaks are slumped over.

Eggs are now shiny and stiff peaks are formed. Stiff peaks you see the peaks are pointing straight up (with minimal slumping).

Using a large rubber spatula, stir about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of white visible.

Combine the flour and salt.
Sift half the flour over the eggs, and fold in; repeat with the remaining flour.

5. Line one of the baking sheets with a circle-marked paper. Using a small offset spatula, spread about 3/4cup of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet.

The batter was spread out to the edges using an offset spatula.
I also used the flat bottom of the measuring cup to push the batter out in an even layer.

Bake on the top rack for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the centre and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking sheet, placing it on the centre rack. When the first cake is done, move the second cake to the top rack. Invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper.

Slide the cake layer back onto the paper and let stand until cool. Rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. Continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six layers. Completely cool the layers. Using an 8" springform pan bottom or plate as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat round. (A small serrated knife is best for this task.)

I opted to bake the layers one at a time.
After the layer comes out of the oven, the parchment is peeled away.

Back onto the parchment paper to allow for more cooling.

Caramel topping
* 1 cup (200g) caster sugar
* 12 tablespoons (180 ml) water
* 8 teaspoons (40 ml) lemon juice
* 1 tablespoon neutral oil (e.g. grapeseed, rice bran, sunflower)

Directions for the caramel topping:

1. Choose the best-looking cake layer for the caramel top. To make the caramel topping: Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Place the reserved cake layer on the paper. Score the cake into 12 equal wedges. Lightly oil a thin, sharp knife and an offset metal spatula.

2. Stir the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved into a smooth syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil without stirring, swirling the pan by the handle occasionally and washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet brush until the syrup has turned into an amber-coloured caramel.

3. The top layer is perhaps the hardest part of the whole cake so make sure you have a oiled, hot offset spatula ready. I also find it helps if the cake layer hasn't just been taken out of the refrigerator. I made mine ahead of time and the cake layer was cold and the toffee set very, very quickly—too quickly for me to spread it. Immediately pour all of the hot caramel over the cake layer. You will have some leftover most probably but more is better than less and you can always make nice toffee pattern using the extra to decorate. Using the offset spatula, quickly spread the caramel evenly to the edge of the cake layer. Let cool until beginning to set, about 30 seconds. Using the tip of the hot oiled knife (keep re-oiling this with a pastry brush between cutting), cut through the scored marks to divide the caramel layer into 12 equal wedges. Cool another minute or so, then use the edge of the knife to completely cut and separate the wedges using one firm slice movement (rather than rocking back and forth which may produce toffee strands). Cool completely.

This part actually turned out to be the tough part.
I burned the sugar the first time. When the sugar starts browning, the sugar darkens rapidly. I got distracted for a few seconds and when I turned back; the sugar syrup was black.

I pre-cut the the sponge into wedges. I was hoping that the sides would be coated with the caramel.

The caramel turned out teeth-pulling chewy and sticky. I had to use shears (oiled the blades) to trim off the extra caramel.

I should have used a thermometer, but the instructions didn't have any temperature recommendations. The main thing I know is that above 320F the sugar syrup will begin to brown.

Angela's note: I recommend cutting, rather than scoring, the cake layer into wedges before covering in caramel (reform them into a round). If you have an 8” silicon round form, then I highly recommend placing the wedges in that for easy removal later and it also ensures that the caramel stays on the cake layer. Once set, use a very sharp knife to separate the wedges.

Finishing touches
* a 7” cardboard round
* 12 whole hazelnuts, peeled and toasted
* ½ cup (50g) peeled and finely chopped hazelnuts

Assembling the Dobos

1.Divide the buttercream into six equal parts.

2.Place a dab of chocolate buttercream on the middle of a 7 1/2” cardboard round and top with one cake layer. Spread the layer with one part of the chocolate icing. Repeat with 4 more cake layers. Spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake.

3.Optional: press the finely chopped hazelnuts onto the sides of the cake.

4.Propping a hazelnut under each wedge so that it sits at an angle, arrange the wedges on top of the cake in a spoke pattern. If you have any leftover buttercream, you can pipe rosettes under each hazelnut or a large rosette in the centre of the cake. Refrigerate the cake under a cake dome until the icing is set, about 2 hours. Let slices come to room temperature for the best possible flavour.

I (Angela) am quite happy to store this cake at room temperature under a glass dome, but your mileage may vary. If you do decide to chill it, then I would advise also using a glass dome if you have done. I should also note that the cake will cut more cleanly when chilled.

Shape: The traditional shape of a Dobos Torta is a circular cake, but you can vary the shape and size if you want. Sherry Yard in Desserts By The Yard makes a skyscraper Dobos by cutting a full-size cake into four wedges and stacking them to create a tall, sail-shaped cake. Mini Dobos would be very cute, and you could perch a little disc of caramel on top.

Flavour: While we both love the dark chocolate buttercream and this is traditional, we think it would be fun to see what fun buttercreams you all come up with! So, go wild! Or, you could brush each layer with a flavoured syrup if you just want a hint of a second flavour. Cointreau syrup would be divine!

Nuts: These are optional for decoration, so no worries if you're allergic to them. If you don't like hazelnuts, then substitute for another variety that you like.

Egg concerns

The cooking process for the buttercream will produce lightly cooked eggs. If you fall into a vulnerable health group then you may wish to use an egg-less buttercream.

The Finished Cake:
During the process of assembling the cake, I was so engrossed with leveling, layering, coating and topping the cake that I forgot to take pictures.

The caramel layer looks pretty cool, like the blades of a turbine engine.

Coarsely smashed roasted hazelnuts (Filberts) pressed onto the side of the cake.

You know the cake is good when the frosting layer is as thick as the cake layer. :-)
The nut angles the caramel turbine blades to the proper angle of attack. No stalling on these blades. lol... Engineering joke.

A view from the other side.

Overall, this was a fun challenge and a learning experience.

I'm not a cake maker so buttercream turning out is always a nice thing. However, I don't know about the caramel layer. The caramel was very lemony and very chewy. It seemed out of place with the rest of the cake. The chocolate and the cake itself was quite good. Yum! Hazelnuts and chocolate!

The next day, after I parsed out the remaining cake, I heard that the sugar layer softened up quite a bit in the refrigerator - makes sense since sugar is hygroscopic (water loving/water absorbing). A thumbs-up on the leftovers. The caramel softened up quite a bit. :-)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Aug 23: Lucky Recipe Find...

Chalk one up to serendipity!

I was at the local second hand store, Goodwill, looking at cookbooks... Hoping to find a cookbook by Julia Child. However, the colorful spine caught my eye and the title, Bite of Seattle Cook Book.

One of my favorite stops at The Bite is the piroshki stand - The Kaleenka. Thumbing through this cookbook their piroshki recipe is included for the home cook. Alright! Let's see how much this book will cost... small paperbacks are $0.69. Hmmm... I think I can afford 69 cents. What a lucky find!

Looking at the recipe, I was suprised to find that an enriched dough (milk, sugar and egg) is used.

Piroshky [Recipe provided by The Kaleenka]
[Ref: Bite of Seattle Cook Book, Vol VIII, Judith Deak and Gretchen Flickinger, 1993]

1 1/2 packages of yeast [I used 1 package of rapid rise yeast]
1/4 C Warm Water
2 T Sugar
1 t Salt
1 1/2 C Milk [I'm not a milk drinker but I did have powdered whole milk which I reconstituted using 3T powdered milk to 1 C hot water]
1 egg
1/4 C oil
4 to 5 C of flour

1 medium Onion, chopped
2 lbs Ground Beef
1 Clove Garlic
Salt and Pepper to taste

Usually with rapid rise yeast, proofing is not needed. However, the yeast expired May '09 so it's three months out of date. Before I continued on with the recipe, I proofed the yeast in 1/4 C warm water for about 10 minutes. Just to see if it was alive.

After 10 minutes, there is some activity. However, usually the liquid would be foaming like mad. At least some of the yeast is still alive. The good thing about yeast.... yeast reproduces quickly. So I carried on...

The dry ingredients were mixed together - 4 C flour, sugar and salt. In another bowl, the liquid ingredients were mixed together - yeast mixture, milk, oil and a beaten egg.

The liquid was added to the 4 C of flour mixture and mixed.
I could tell by how wet the sides were that a little more flour was needed.

Added another 1/4 C of flour and the dough came together, pulling away from the sides.

The dough was kneaded 10 minutes using a the remaining flour a little at a time. Total flour used was about 4 1/2 C.

The kneaded dough was placed in an oiled bowl and cover. Rising time was about 90 minutes.
While the dough was rising, the filling was made.

Hurray! The dough doubled in size - looks like the yeast worked after all.

The dough was punched down and golf ball/kiwi size dough balls were rolled out.
Dough balls were rested about 10 minutes for filling.

The dough was stretched out about 4 to 5" in diameter and filled with 2T of filling. The ends were brought together and pinched shut.

Part way through the batch of dough, I had the idea of adding cheese to the filling.
1 T of filling, insert the cheese chunk (approximately 1" by 3/8" by 3/8") and another 1T of filling on top of that.

After filling, ideally, the piroshkys are allowed to rest and proof 30 minutes before cooking.

My intention was to bake the piroshkys but my oven was acting up where I had to run the self cleaning mode. In the mean time, I deep fried some of the buns.

350F for about 5 minutes or until a uniform golden color is achieved.

My first batch out of the fryer. Looks good so far!

Another batch was stashed in the refrigerator to slow down the proofing.

My oven finally works... gave the piroshkys a coating of egg and off to the oven.

Bake 350F for about 25 minutes.

After 25 minutes, the piroshkys were pulled from the oven. Looks like baked Chinese BBQ pork buns... Recipe will be in a future post.

The Tasting
The deep fried pirsoshy with cheese.
The dough turned out nicely. Very similar to the "official" piroshkys... the beef is beefy and actually mildly seasoned. I've tried other piroshkis in the past where the filling seems to have a gravy with it. Next time, I can try adding more liquid and thicken with corn starch.

The baked version with cheese...
The bread here is drier than the fried version. Now I'm not sure if that's due to baking vs frying in oil, or if it's due to the extended proofing (about 2 hours) while I waited for the oven to finish going through the self-cleaning cycle.

Overall, the results were good. The bread part is very similar to restaurant version. The filling is good too. I do want to try adding more juiciness to the filling the next time around, if that makes sense. The book has already paid for itself with the delicious results! lol :-)