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The Joys of Being Late

I’m usually an early bird–getting things done way ahead of time, but I’ve begun enjoying the benefits of being late–especially in this baking blog.  I find when others have baked before me, I really learn a lot from their suggestions about what will improve a recipe.  It’s something I don’t get when cooking alone.   That’s how I came to my version of this wonderful Hungarian Shortbread!

Based on what others have posted, I went back to the recipe to confirm my original impression: the success of the recipe is based on the balance of sweet to tart.  I knew I wouldn’t be making the tart rhubarb jam called for in the original recipe because, let’s face it, rhubarb just isn’t a Florida crop!  I knew our local favorite, my homemade Mayhaw Jelly, was way too sweet for this, so I used a store-bought Black Raspberry Preserve (seedless).

I looked at the flour-to-sugar ratio in the shortbread and remembered what others had written.  It was way too sweet, especially  for my store-bought preserves.  I also remembered some had mentioned that it was bland.  To try to right the balance of sweet to tart, I added to the shortbread recipe the zest of one small lemon, one-half teaspoon of lemon extract, and reduced the sugar from 2 to 1 1/2 cups.  (Since there was vanilla in the original jam, I used 1/2 cup of vanilla sugar as part of the 1 1/2 cups of sugar.)

I froze the dough hard (this is FL and it was 90 degrees!) and it still defrosted as I grated it, but I made it through. (Ladies, I would recommend this as an upper arm firming exercise!)  Remembering that others had baked the bottom first and then the top, I did the same, baking my bottom layer in my 9×13 pan lined with parchment paper for 20 minutes.  When the edges got a little brown, I pulled the bottom crust from the oven.

I juiced the remains of my zested small lemon and mixed that into the 1 cup of black raspberry jam.  That punched up the flavor of this jam, which I felt was a little too sweet.  I spread the “lemon-ized” jam over the warm bottom crust and topped it with the grated dough.

As I was patting down the top crust, I was watching Giada on my kitchen TV.  She added nuts to a cookie bar recipe  because she liked the crunch(coincidence? fate? who knows?).  Remembering that at least one baker had said the powdered sugar topping melted and looked unappetizing, I opted for 1 1/2 cups of coarsely chopped GA pecans (pee-cans, not pee-kahns) sprinkled over the top.  These toasted nicely and provided a nice crunch to the finished bar.

I let my shortbread cool completely and then cut it into bars.  They are a little crumbly, but oh, so good.  My husband pronounced them, “Really good” and his praise is usually a semi-annual event!

Thanks to all of you early birds who let me enjoy the fruits of being late!


Lemon Loaves A Lemon?

My first car was a Volkswagen Beetle–bought new when I got my first job.  It was unremarkable, but reliable.  Steady, but not a standout.  That’s just how I feel about these lemon loaves and my sister-in-law, Sandy, my co-baker agrees.  We each made the loaf according to the recipe directions.  As noted, it was easy.  However the final product was just a little bland for us.  We then whipped up the Jack Daniels Lemon Glaze used in the Lynchburg Lemonade Tea Loaf from Miss Mary Bobos Boarding House Cookbook and soaked one loaf in it.  It was just what any sweet Southern lady needs in the afternoon–just a little kiss from Jack!

I have made the Lynchburg Lemonade Loaf for years and it was always a favorite with my coworkers.  (Wonder why?) I think I’ll stick with that recipe.  It bakes up a little lighter and tastes just a little better than Julia’s recipe.

What a Disaster!

This bake-along was a disaster from start to finish!  I am used to making pie crust-type dough that is not designed for Florida heat or humidity (yes, it was 80 degrees with 75% humidity on Friday) and I have worked with cream cheese pastry before, so I was ready for a dough that was difficult to handle.  What I wasn’t prepared for was the proportions in the recipe.

From the get-go, Sandy (my sister-in-law) and I read and reread the recipe to be sure we had it right. Even though we are both experienced cooks, we were concerned because we had never made rugelach before.  We assembled our equipment, ingredients, and got down to work.

We made the dough (no problem) and chilled it for three hours, so it was good and cold.  I had made the prune and apricot lekvar in advance (from the recipe in the book).  These were room temperature.  When we mixed up the sugars, chopped the fruit and nuts, and looked at the quantities, it seemed there was a lot of filling.  However, the recipe said these were to be generous and over-stuffed, so we went along with it–at least until we rolled out the first half of the dough.

We rolled the dough to the proportions suggested and measured them with a ruler to be sure we had the right size.  Then we spread the dough with the apricot filling, sprinkled on the sugar, added the nuts and chopped fruits, and couldn’t get the blasted thing to roll!  There was just too much filling and not enough dough.  We scrunched it together and chilled it, hoping that miraculously it would stay together in baking. (Obviously, Jesus is only looking out for Tim Tebow this year! LOL)

For the second half of the dough, we cut down on the filling and Sandy managed to get it into a roll.  We baked at our respective houses, using different ovens and different baking sheets, but got the same results.  Even though I rotated the pans and used VERY HEAVY baking sheets, both pans burned, rather than carmelized on the bottom.  The apricot rugelach came undone and made puddle of “candy” pocked with flakes of dough.  The prune rugelach, in which we had reduced the amount of filling, came out better.  It held together and gave us an edible, although ugly finished product.  (I wish the recipe had said use a double thickness of VERY HEAVY baking sheets.)

While the cookies taste good, I don’t like the “gritty” consistency of the sugar coating on the outside.  Sandy thinks they would have been easier to roll in the more traditional crescent shape.  We both think they would be better baked as mini tartlets–easier to make and easier to eat.  My husband thinks they taste very good, but as far as we are concerned, this recipe is an unqualified disaster–one that we have vowed NEVER to make again!  Live and learn, I guess!  On to Irish Soda Bread!


My Experiments with Chocolate Truffle Tartlets

In this recipe, I tried experimenting with different types of cocoa and different types of chocolate for the filling.  First, I used the Hershey’s blend of Dutch Processed Cocoa in the chocolate pastry. (No gourmet cocoas in Havana, FL and I forgot to order some online!  Oops!)  I then used regular Hershey’s cocoa in another batch of dough.  Here are the two doughs for comparison.  The darker one is made with the Dutch processed blend.


I usually don’t like to use Dutch processed cocoa as it seems to “discolor” chocolate cake.  However, here it is definitely preferable as it has a darker color.  I also noticed a difference when working the dough.  The Dutch processed cocoa seemed to make a more tender dough.  I wonder if the alkali used to process the cocoa makes a difference.

Then I experimented with different chocolates for the filling.  For the darker dough, I used Lindt Dark Chocolate, melted, for the filling with Godiva White Vanilla Bean Chocolate and Godiva Milk Chocolate for the “chunks.”  With the melted Lindt, I used Nonni’s biscotti.  For the second filling, I used Ghirardelli SemiSweet Chocolate Chips, melted, along with the Godiva white and milk chocolates, along with some Amaretti di Saronno that I had on hand.  It was all I could do to restrain myself from adding rum to these fillings.  Having lived for a time in Firenze, nothing chocolate ever comes without a healthy dose of rum!

The Lindt filling, in the tartlets, baked up darker than the Ghirardelli, in the larger tart, pictured below.  I had only four tartlet pans, so the remaining doughs and leftover fillings got baked into a third tart not pictured.  Waste not, want not!


I couldn’t help trying to stage a good picture (I obviously have a lot to learn about camera angles) AND I got to drink the champagne, too!

Taste tests coming later tonight…

Julia’s White Loaves

My sister-in-law and I are in this together–or at least so far!  We decided to make four loaves of bread: two with all purpose flour and two with bread flour to see what the differences were.  Here she is shaping one of the loaves.Image

We found that the dough for the all purpose loaf was wetter than the dough made with bread flour.  The all purpose loaves baked up lighter and flattened out (on left, below).  The bread flour loaves were rounder and smoother (on right, below). 


The crumb was different, too.  The all purpose loaves had a coarser crumb (below, left); the bread flour loaves had a crumb that was tighter and more uniform(below, right).


However, the proof of the bread was in the eating.  Our husbands joined us for the “taste test” (a requirement if they wanted any supper!) and we all agreed that the flavor of the loaves with bread flour was superior to those made with all purpose flour.  As my sister-in-law said, “It tastes more like bread” which is saying something in the South where an addiction to “light bread” is a badge of honor!

Overall, we were pleased, although I thought the tops of the loaves were too dull.  I’d like some suggestions for some “sparkle” there–gloss, shine, something.  We also have a ways to go in our technique (as evidenced in the photos above).  My husband pronounced this the best bread I’d ever baked, which is a compliment–I think!