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Hey Kids!  Yea, I know it’s been awhile.  I haven’t had a lot to say, perhaps. Have no fears though, I still cook and bake like a fiend, trust me, every glance in my mirror attests to this fact.

This month, however, when I made my pilgrimage to the Daring Baker Forum I was immediately reminded of this guy….

...time to make the donuts!

I figured if he could drag his begrudging butt out of bed daily and make thousands of donuts so could I…well, a small batch at least!

A HUGE Thank You to Lori of “Butter Me Up” for a fantastic challenge, which has brought me out of my hiatus with the DB.

Being that I have been lax with the whole bloggy thing, I feel the need to go slow with getting back in the saddle.  So expect no tome this go ’round nor any outrageous wit just a few pretty pictures and a kick ass recipe!

First Pretty Picture….Glazed Chocolate Cake Doughnuts with Candied Bacon.

The recipe I used was one Lori suggested and can be found here.  I made a couple changes, first I halved the recipe, fifteen doughnuts and fifteen holes would not make my mirror any happier!  I also added 4 TBS. cocoa , 1 TBS. melted butter and omitted the nutmeg.  Being I have never made the recipe before I can’t say my substitutions had any ill effect but I know that I was very pleased with how things worked out.  I did have a little concern the “dough” was too moist but a little time in the fridge to chill and firm it helped in making it very workable.

Before a trip to the fridge...

...out of the fridge, rolled, cut and ready for a hot oil bath...

I managed to get 6 doughnuts and 6 holes out of the halved recipe, which I fried 3 holes at a time and 2 donuts at a time.    After the second batch of holes came out and cooled a bit, I just could not resist a little taste.  Hmmm, I was a little concerned, it seemed as if the dough had soaked up way too much oil.  Fortunately, it was just a case of not letting the oil temp up after the first fry.  I really didn’t think a few degrees off would be a bad thing…it was… 375° all the way kiddos!!

...fry , Baby, fry...

...off to the racks, just call me Torquemada!

glazed, topped and ready to go!

And that my friends was my time in the kitchen for this months Daring Baker Challenge.  Short and oh so sweet!!  Again, big Thank Yous go out to Lori, you brought me back!

The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.

Taken in the dark and with not an ounce of styling...so sue me!!!!

Feb.6, 2010 was an anniversary (you don’t need to know which!) of my 29th birthday (I will never turn 30…EVER!!) and also the day most of the east coast got blanketed in a very thick layer of snow.  As the clock struck midnight and the day rolled in, I had just set the sleep timer on the TV and was settling in for the night.  About 35 mins later I awoke with a start to no television, hmmmm, I know I set it for 90 minutes….what’s up now???  I made my way into the hallway and tried the light switch….nothing.  I then made my way to the spare bedroom and looked out the window, not a light on on the street!!  I looked further down and saw a few neighbors out shoveling their walk, defeated, I figured I might as well join them, best to get a jump on the snow!!! I was back in bed by 2am.

Fast forward 16 hours…the snow had stopped but not before dumping 22″ (official count but my backyard says 28″), we had shoveled for hours, the sun was again setting and dinner was calling.  The only thing was the electric had still not come back on..the house temp was reading about 54 (it bottomed out at 43 before the power returned) so I had 2 stockpots of water boiling to get some steam heat going.  What to do about dinner though?  I had some sweet italian sausage thawing in the fridge, which wasn’t going to make it to its intended use, so I figured sausage, home fries and eggs.  I threw a couple potatoes in one of the stockpots to par cook and got out the sausage, well the truth be told, I had no desire to pull out different pans to bring this meal together so it was improvise….Frittata!!!!  As some of you may know, Ray is a VERY picky eater and when I say “frittata” he says “eww”, however I was cold, tired, sore and truthfully not in the mood to please his pickiness…my anthem became “frittata or starve”.  I sliced the sausage and by the time it was done the potatoes were perfectly done to fry as homefries.  Now I can’t imagine I am saying this but it was such a welcome task to peel those right out of the pot potatoes barehanded……HEAT and lots of it!!!  I pulled the sausage from the pan and gave the potatoes a rough dice and threw them in till they were nicely browned and crispy, back in went the sausage.   I whipped up 6 eggs with a bit of water and salt and threw that in as well.  Damn!!!!!  I have an electronic igniter which can not be bypassed to light the broiler…ok then, a flipped frittata.   Oh Hell no!!!  I was too tired, sore and shaky from the cold to attempt a manual flip by candle light…now what?  I grabbed a lid and partially covered the pan, turned the flame down low and prayed for a done and non burnt frittata.  After some time dinner was served and quite edible.  We finished the night off with a few rounds of Yahtzee by candle light, then shivered the night away under many, many blankets.

8am this morn we awake, again, no power!!!!  Grand!  Immediately I dressed to go check on the elderly couple next door, I knock and Rose opens the door, in she beckons me…”you are gonna let out the heat” she says.  I walk in and the house is quite toasty….yea they were doing the big no no that so many old school folk do….they had the gas burners lit the night through!!!  After scolding them a bit and knowing that I wasn’t going to change their ways, I exited, Rose followed me out onto the porch and we continued to chat, 5 minutes later Nino pops his head out the door and told us the power had returned!  Hot damn!!!  Anyone that had been outside immediately went back in to enjoy the chance to join the 21st century again!!  After a bit of time, it became apparent that no plow was in sight, so one by one the neighborhood came together and we dug our way out.  By 3 in the afternoon we were again cold, tired and hungry.  In we went for a late lunch…we had power and we had leftover frittata so in the microwave it went.  We sat down to share the last bit of this cooked in the dark meal and finally Ray looks at me and says, ” ya know, this is pretty good”.  It was in that moment  I learned that after living life like the folks in “Little House on the Prairie” for over 36 hours….Ray ain’t so picky afterall!!!!!

Apfelstrudel, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways!!!!!

Well, I guess I need to rethink my love for it, or at least the classic Viennese version.  Which of course brings me to this…..

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.

As with anything, often there is more than one way to arrive at the final destination and strudel is no different.  The strudel my “granny” made, the strudel I make and the strudel I adore are not  strudel in the classic Viennese way.  With no hanging my head in shame, I proudly proclaim my love for strudel made with phyllo dough!!  This is not to say I won’t eat the classic Viennese version but there is an obvious difference in the doughs, both visually and texturally, and I prefer phyllo.

Visually the difference is more than obvious.

Phyllo vs. Strudel

Phyllo vs. Strudel

Texturally it is a bit more subtle.  Phyllo is like a 2000 year old papyrii disintegrating into a myriad of crackling shards when you bite into it.  Strudel dough is more like a thin leather scroll, dried and cracked but yet still retains a little “tooth” to it.

All of this being said, this months challenge was more about technique for me than taste.  Being that I have technically cheated on every strudel I have ever made, I figured giving the “real thing” a go would be fun…and thanks to

Linda and Courtney

it was!!!!

I stayed very close to the posted recipe with only 2 small changes.  The first being that I eliminated the walnuts and the second being I used Alpine Spice in place of the rum to soak the raisins.  The dough, for me , was the star in this show and after reading the forums and a few things on wikipedia, I had concerns.  Legend has it that the “Austrian Emperor’s perfectionist cook decreed that it should be possible to read a love letter through it“.  Being that I have a tendency to put holes in a lightly tossed pizza dough, I was positive I would end up with a Swiss strudel and not a Viennese one.

(I hope everyone caught that sad reference to swiss cheese!)

My concerns were for naught, this dough was absolutely a marvel to work with.  Not only did I manage to get the 2’x3′ dimensions suggested, I far exceeded them and I could have read numerous love letters through it.  My only “ahhh hell” moment came right after I knew I was done stretching but I had to go one more!!!!  Just a small tear, alas perfection was not to be!!!!

Just shy of perfection!!

Just shy of perfection!!

Dat's how I roll!!!!

Dat's how I roll!!!!

Lovin' from the oven

Lovin' from the oven

Strudel Viennese!

Strudel Viennese!

As for getting back to the roots of strudel, I am so glad this opportunity was given…I found that the technique for making the dough is not as bad as I thought it would be.  However, and I can only speak for myself on this, I have every intention of continuing my cheating ways and using phyllo for my strudel!!!

And please visit my fellow Bakers who dare!!

So as we all know, Blogland can be a wonderful place. We get the chance to meet people from far off spots and form some great friendships but oh so often it is a faceless world. Should any of you get the chance, as I did, to actually meet the friends face to face, jump at it!! Dive in, it truly is a wonderful experience.

A quick history lesson, then on to the fun. I joined both Blogland and the Daring Bakers back in April, so I am definitely still a toddler in this land. Immediately I met Lis, a most welcoming, warm and ab-so-FAKKIN-lutely hysterical person!!! Through her, I was introduced to some other wonderful and talented folk. Time marched on and we got to know a bit about each other, Lis announced her nuptials, then one day the mailman dropped off an invite….what to do? Oh, that was easy, clear the sched and get there!!!!!

I soon learned that Kelly and Helen(e) would be in attendance as well. Ray and I cleared our weekend, made arrangements and were ready to go. Now, if you have visited here before, you may be aware nothing goes as planned in my life. Yadda yadda yadda, ultimately we had a five hour delay in our start, we drove from Pittsburgh to Cleveland. We arrived at the hotel 15 mins before the reception started, took quick showers, dressed and got back on the road. Now I thought, this could be a good thing…I could make my entrance fashionably late, as is my usual MO. NOT TO BE!!!!

Kelly, is the only one of the 4 DBers in attendance to actually have her picture on her blog, so she was who I was lookin for. I had notions of what Lis and Helen looked like but no real reference. In a sea of faces I knew no one!!! Foolish foolish, foolish!! People kept coming but no light bulbs were going off…finally I heard someone say, “she is here”…YES!!!   Still who I saw was no one I knew! Finally I spy someone, I knew had to be Kelly, tentatively, I made my way over, yes it was her…hugs, nice-to-meet yous and all that goes with a first meeting…through this I noticed a dark haired sprite of a woman (in the HOTTEST tights you ever saw) checking us out….HELENE!! More hugs!!! Still however, no Lis or Wayne!!!!! Now, I have never heard her say this but I swear Lis’ motto is, “Schedules are meant to be broken“. Now, I left my watch in the hotel but I do know when we arrived and I know it was at least a half hour before I saw Kelly, so basically the Bride trumped my “fashionably late” entrance!!!!

The reception was wonderful, we drank (some of us too much, RAY!!!), we talked, we ATE!! Oh yes, the food as expected was wonderful.  L, K and H had a few days of kitchen time together, with other helpers of course, and they created a wonderful feast for an even more wonderful party!!! Helen, did Lis’ cake and as much as I want to share pics, I won’t, that is for Helen and Lis but I will tell you it was wonderful (don’t get bored with the over usage of “wonderful” it will all be clear soon enough).

Just a quick side note, bit of levity and inside joke…During the evening I got to meet many people, all very very nice, Lis surrounds herself with wonderful people!!  I met one person and was quickly introduced to “the girls”, “the girls” seemed to follow me wherever I went, a few times even “the girls” were WAYYY in my personal space.  Now you are thinking this can’t be all that bad…well, the truth be told I am not such a fan of “the GIRLS”!!!!!  (Lis, you owe me on that one!!!)

The reception came to a close and we all went off to get some rest, as there was more festivity planned!!!  Lis had us all over for brunch in the morn (afternoon actually).  Finally, my kitchen time!!!  I refused to let my fellow DBers say that I only came to eat!!   I was cookin’ for these kids!!!

We arrived at Lis and Wayne’s around 11 am and as expected there was alot of ass dragging goin on!!  Everyone was spent and just enjoying the “down” time.  Kelly was showering but her contribution to brunch was in the oven…a french toast bake, which again I will leave to her to tell of but, yes here it comes… Wonderful!  Helene, as I said before did the cake so she had a “Get out of the Kitchen Free” card.  Lis did eggs and hashbrowns, how wrong were we to let her in the kitchen on the morn after her wedding, bad DBers!!!!  My time came and I did a breakfast bruschetta, bascially a mish mosh of some recipe ideas I found and threw into one easy to eat package.  I will post what recipe I can for it here but basically it was toasted baguette slices topped with apple and golden raisin compote, crumbled bacon and Black Diamond Cheddar (which I was so happy to find in Lis’ local supermarket cheese case!!!).  Personally, I thought it was wonderful and they seemed to like it as well!  (I hope but don’t think that one of those guys got a picture of it, as I didn’t).  The Bellinis and Mimosas were made, we sat down to eat and talk and again had a wonderful time.

After some time together, Kelly’s driver came to wisk her off to the airport…hugs and kisses goodbye.  I and Ray (obviously) were fading fast, so we gathered ourselves and got on the road… more hugs and kisses.  A slight pang of guilt hit me as I was leaving Helen and Lis to handle clean-up but I knew it would get done, sooner or more likely later it would get done!

Now this is a blog and there must be the obligatory picture, well I have quite a few but I need time to download edit and upload, so a picture page will come soon but for now….Helene forgive me!!   Check out these tights!!!!

lis-weddingtightsedit

Are you ready for wonderful?  Well, if you are given the chance, meet your fellow bloggers.  I know I am glad I did!!

Lis and Wayne, Helene and Kelly, Greg and Bob, Laurie and “the girls” and everyone else….

We had a wonderful time!

We had wonderful food!

and most importantly

You are all WONDERFUL people!!!!!

KKHH

So the Daring Bakers put an end to May and the Opera cake, and as always there were a few days of anticipation for the upcoming challenge. What can it be? What will June hold? For those not in the know, the suspense between one month’s reveal and the next month’s challenge post is truly “Hitchcockian”. Finally, “the drumroll please”….

Courtesy of Kelly and Ben, Danish a ‘la laminated yeast dough…immediately my response was “Oh SHIT!!!!”. Ya see, I am an Italian with a mutant bread gene, unlike my fore “fathers and mothers” yeast does not flourish in my presence!!! Ciabatta, foccaccia and plain ole white bread are not items that roll out of my kitchen in abundance. Hell, I have been known to screw up those frozen, thaw, raise and bake bread doughs!!!! So kids…..I was SKEERED!!!

I read and reread…”what am I gonna do?”. Some more reading…..”laminating I can do, I’ve done puff in the past, this is the same”, all but the damn yeast, that is!!! Reread a final time…what are my options?

  • Hit the lottery and hire a personal chef to do the deed!
  • Claim employ by the CIA and that there is a covert mission I am involved in and that I must bow out of this month’s challenge.
  • Bite the freakin’ bullet and tame the yeastie beastie!

I am still po’ and I am sure as hell not Maxwell Smart, so I guess it’s biting the bullet. So on with the show and what a three ring circus it was!!!

There was not much to think about with this challenge (aside from how to not kill yeast), fillings came quickly and I decided on no added creativity, make a braid and get it to rise!! End of story, NOT!!

So in my travels through DBerdom, I have met some really interesting, talented and downright funny folks. As luck would have it, a group of them were having a sunday morning chat/bakefest and they invited me along. Yeehaw, maybe I can get some yeast pointers. Well, the evening before I made my dough and did my turns, I figured I would have just the proofing and baking stages to deal with during our chat session and I could get some good tutoring. That morn, I awoke earlier than expected, so I took one step more off my list and rolled, cut, filled and braided my dough, all that much more time to absorb the wealth of knowledge coming my way.

9 am est, finally chat/bakefest time!!!!! The conference began and the greetings flew, a joke or two and then….here comes the knowledge!!!! Well, I learned alot that morn…especially that a party hat emoticon on Skype is actually very pornographic!! Now really, it wasn’t all bad and bawdy, just 95% of it was!!!

The remaining 5% of the time, however, I learned a couple very important things…

PATIENCE!!

BREAD MACHINE YEAST!!!

While I learned these 2 very important things and while the bawdiness was ensuing, my neatly braided dough SAT there!! More chat and more bawdiness and still my dough just SAT!! I was losing hope!! “No no no, all is well” were the many replies to my chagrin. An hour past the recommended proof time my dough was still sitting, proud as a peacock it SAT!!! Finally, to all I proclaimed, “my braid is rising slower than a 60 year old whose Viagra script ran out last week!”. Oh it was funny, flippin hilarious as a matter of fact! Still Mary, the voice of hope and all that is yeast, encouraged me to have patience and faith, it is as it should be. She actually got me thinking, all was well!!! So in the oven it went, 25 or so minutes later it emerged, neatly braided, slightly darker than I wanted (personally it is my thought that the yolks in the wash added this color, I tend to only use the white and a little water in my eggwash)but all in all it was very visually appealing. A little after noon I ended my session, I had grass to cut and a yard needing tending (BTW, Did I mention that it was 90 degrees and about 300% humidity at 9 am, so imagine the temp at high noon). After the yard was dealt with and I had cooled down, I went to check on my braid, it too had cooled. I drizzled it with a simple powdered sugar glaze and it was pretty, although something kept telling me things were amiss.

I sent out a “Thanks for Having me” email to all the morning chatters and hint of my suspicions that the braid had failed. Again, “no no no, all is well”, “we want pictures” and most of all “patience”. Finally, time to cut, uh huh it did raise a bit…it actually had a great taste but was much more dense than the flaky pastry I was anticipating. An end to the June Challenge, or so I thought….

Now, it is not as if I lost sleep at night over this but I kept thinking laminated dough is to be flaky and tender, I had dense! Tasty but DENSE!!! OK, so perhaps that is this particular dough, seems I wasn’t the only one in the group with similar results. The last straw was an email that went something like this, “am I always the oddball in the group, my danish was flaky”, so off to the kitchen I went. The only differences in batches were the weather on the first attempt (oppressive heat/humidity) and I didn’t add any additional flour to the 2nd batch (the first needed a bit more than called for), all else was the same. So once again I rolled, folded, chilled and so on and so on! And what did I get…….?

Two, beautiful, flaky, tender laminated yeast dough Danish Braids!!!!

So, lessons learned once again…

Bread Machine yeast- It’s pretty damned hard to kill. Although in my first batch of dough I used the active dry called for, even though I didn’t really kill it, I did manage to severely maim it.

Patience- Not only in waiting for a dough to rise but also patience in perhaps having to do it a few times more before one gets it correct.

And one thing I wasn’t told of that day but I certainly learned from it…When one gives guidance and encouragement it most definitely has the power to inspire another to overcome whatever it is that is before them.

Thanks Mary, I haven’t beaten the yeastie beastie but I got the lasso ’round its neck and I plan on reigning it in real soon!!!!