Monday, February 20, 2012

Guinness & Grains Cocoa Pretzels

This may be the point where you believe I've gotten carried away.  Or, you believe me to be a creative genius.  Which according to my daughter means, "Really really smart.  And clever."

Let's not get carried away.  Let's call it an experiment.

It goes back to an America's Test Kitchen episode I saw a while back.  Chris Kimball is sitting with a micro-brewer learning about the basics of making beer.  The brewer hands Chris a few malt grains to chew on, saying that the brewers often like to snack on them for their nutty, malty quality.


My wheels have been turning ever since.  At first I imagined using them to replace nuts in something sweet and bake-able.  I did a bit of research, asked a few questions of my friend Chris McKim from The Brew Kettle, and decided it was worth a try in some aspect of my sweet experimentation.

There are a LOT of different types of grains available for brewing beer.  Making those into something you would want to eat is another story.  I settled on two different types that I'd like to have on hand to dabble with: an imported Belgian grain called Caravienne Malt, and a domestic American grain called Victory.  What to put them in?

My first reaction happened while I was making those Lindemann's truffles - I wanted to loosely chop the grains and roll the finished truffle (using a stout beer) in the grains for texture instead of nuts.  Once I got the grains, though, I recalled Chris McKim's advice as I chopped them.  They could potentially be a little toothy.  Have you ever bitten into a partially popped popcorn kernel?  Uh-huh.

I shelved this original idea and will work on it more later.  But I wanted to try something to learn what these grains could do.  I wanted to stay with chocolate, liked the beer idea...and then thought about how beer and pretzels were such good buddies.  A chocolate-beer soft pretzel with grains baked in?

Cocoa Image Courtesy

I wanted to play it safe and use cocoa powder since I'd be making a dough.  I do know that cocoa powder often needs a lift to bring out the chocolate flavor.  Most folks use coffee, but I went a different direction.  Guinness beer is a lovely stout, slightly bitter with a coffee/chocolate memory.  I ground the Caravienne grains in my trusty grinder till they were loose and the husky outer shell was no longer stringy.  From there, it was a matter of gathering every pretzel recipe I could find, reworking them using my three odd ingredients and adding more sugar to boot. I ended up here.

     Guinness & Grains Cocoa Pretzels

The Dough
1 cup Guinness stout beer, room temperature 
1/4 c (60 grams) sugar
1/4 c (30 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon table salt
3 cups (400 grams) unbleached AP flour
1/8 c (28 grams) Caravienne Belgian malt grains, ground
2 1/4 teaspoons (7 grams) active dry yeast
1/4 c warm water
1 tablespoon canola oil

The Dip
2 cups hot water
2-3 teaspoons baking soda

The Dressing
1 egg, beaten
copious amounts of sanding sugar 

Combine sugar through malt grains in a large bowl, sift and leave out any large bits.  Set aside.

Sprinkle yeast over warm water in large bowl, let stand 5 minutes.

When yeast and water are ready, pour Guinness into yeast mixture and follow with oil.  Add the dry mixture and stir until dough comes together.  Place dough on a lightly floured surface, knead 8-10 minutes or until smooth & elastic.   Add more flour as you knead if necessary.  Place in a lightly greased bowl, pat with oil to keep ball moist and cover.  Let rise in a warm place (I turned my oven onto 175F and then shut it off, put the bowl in covered and left the door open) for 1 1/2 hours.  Dough should be about doubled.

Punch down dough and divide into 12 pieces for thin pretzels, or 8 pieces for "knot roll" shapes as shown in photo.  Roll each piece into a long rope (thicker for knots, thinner for more crunchy pretzels)  and shape the ropes into pretzels.

Combine hot water and baking soda in a shallow bowl.  Dip pretzels into the solution and place on a lightly greased or parchment lined baking sheet.  Cover pretzels and let rise in a warm place 20 minutes.  

Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with sanding sugar liberally.  Some will bake into the pretzel and some will leave the sugary crunchy exterior as shown.

Bake in a preheated 425F oven approximately 15 minutes.  Sprinkle with additional sanding sugar for a final crust.

The results?  Crunch through that sugar crust into a malty, delicately stout sweet bread with just a hint of cocoa.  I could very well see these equally along side a frothy pint of Guinness or a creamy warm cup of hot chocolate.  Dip in some caramel sauce for a "faux" mustard!  It falls somewhere in the "after dinner snack" and "dessert" category.  I think that this dough would also make lovely pretzel rods if you twisted the ropes and left them long and thin before sugaring, standing in a glass on the table while you pour yourself a pint!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Madeleines, The Season Finale

Notice anything?

The best part about starting off the blog with a project like this has been the discovery, hands down.  I anticipated making a recipe for Madeleines three times over and not finding much variance in the results.  Not true!  If anything is proving it for me, it's this third recipe.  It's from a very trusted source out there, Joy of Baking (dot com) and one that I have referred to often in my practice kitchen.

Honestly, I don't like their recipe.  gasp!

I chose this one for a couple reasons - it had a specific instruction to sift dry ingredients into the batter and it used three eggs instead of the two the other recipes required.  I thought that these differences must yield a different result, and they did.

This version also incorporates hand-folding the batter as opposed to using an electric mixer, and I knew after working on recipe #2 that I wanted another shot at that.  Really, if for no other reason than to see if I was the cause for the more dense results I got from Julia's recipe. 

I'm going to tell you, I am deeming this third recipe "fussy" and I don't mind fussy when you get a good result.  Unfortunately, Miss Fussy was also disappointing.  Here's the backstory.

The dry team was ready and waiting, and the eggs, sugar,and vanilla were beaten and beribboned exactly as instructed.  The recipe then says to sift "a small amount" of the dry team over this egg mixture.  How much is a small amount?  A tablespoon?  A quarter of a cup?  A third of the dry team?  I don't mean to be picky, but the idea is not to deflate that silky egg mixture. I think they needed to be more specific.  I was hesitant and knew the focus was to keep the batter light, so I decided "small amount" meant about three tablespoons.

With that folded in, and my gut telling me I hadn't burst the bubble, I followed instructions and sifted the whole remainder of the flour over the mixture and folded it in.  Again, this was a case of "doing what I'm told even though I think this is wrong" sort of thing.  It felt like it took a long time to fold in that much flour all at once.  I was delicate and deliberate in my folding, but I could see that I had to keep folding with so many streaks of flour in that batter.  With every cut and turn I kept finding big pockets of flour, and I knew that this batter was being overworked.  I resigned myself to Madeleine Sinkers.

The batter was refrigerated as called for, a good thing from my prior experiences in this project.  When it came time to bake these off, I was pleasantly surprised by how spongy the batter was as I scooped the tablespoons into the prepared pan.

Let me stop one second and say I decided to get all smarty-pants and play a bit at this point.  The recipe said you could butter and flour the pan to prepare it (been there, done that) or use a baking spray to coat the pan.  I hadn't done that yet in my little study, so I did it on the first batch.  Just to be clever, I did NOT do it on the second batch.  Check it out, guys:

Top: Batch 1, pan sprayed.  Bottom: Batch 2, pan untreated.
The first batch released easily from the pan and had the look of a craggy bath sponge.  Once the first batch was done, I wiped the pan down completely once it cooled and decided to risk it all and just bake them off trusting the nonstick surface to do it's job.  Guess what?  They released beautifully!  The surface was finely textured, even, and lovely.  Bear with me 'till I can tell you about the taste.

As this batter baked off, my Hubby walked by the oven and simply said, "Smells eggy".  This man has a gift for detecting flavors in scents even though he's not big on eating baked goods.  He was correct, for this batch really didn't have the characteristic smell of cooking sugar - that carmamelization- that I remember from the other recipes.  That extra egg and lack of lemon were up to something.

The taste?  Frankly, boring.  Using the baking spray really foiled the crisp exterior for me.  The texture was there but the taste was off-putting.  A bit chemical.  I think you can get away with using sprays in some applications, but for a little handheld cookie-cake, every bite matters, and truly, butter is better.  I learned that my pan could turn out these notorious stickers without a problem if left naked (based on the second batch) but I was really missing that buttery introduction. 

The interior was still a bit dense and dry.  Although with the other recipes you couldn't specifically detect the lemon, I really missed it's subtle magic with this last recipe.  It was missing some sort of lift.  Disappointing.  If these ladies hadn't been baked in that scalloped  pan, I think they'd be left at the wall at the prom if you know what I mean.  A pretty dress only goes so far!

I loved baking three different recipes of the same Madeleine.  I have learned that in something so simple, variations matter a lot in baking.  It pays to try something different ways.  I'm not even tired of Madeleines yet, which is a testament to how much I like them.  Satisfaction meter for this receipe?  Three.  Results not worth the fuss.  Au revoir, Madeleine!

I am admittedly a wee bit glad the project has come to a close.  I have some very exciting things planned for upcoming posts!  My creative juices are spilling over so much that I had to get a notebook to jot down all my ideas.  I've begun window shopping in a new way, from magazines to the aisles of stores. 

I cannot wait to move on!  Stay with me, everyone!  I'm taking it up a notch to a more creative and tempting level!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Lambic Framboise Truffles

With it being a Valentine's Day post, I knew I had to do chocolate.   I had a grandiose plan that involved a torte, but lacking equipment and resources led me to a much easier option ~ and just as tasty!


I started with a Belgian lambic in the raspberry style, because despite much searching on the internet, nobody had done this beverage in a truffle that I could find.  Lots of tortes and cakes, but no truffles!  I'm very pleased with the result: rich chocolate flavor, bright tart raspberry, and the texture of finely chopped nuts.  

Although very difficult to tell in these images, I tinted my confectioners sugar pink - I would have liked to see it more vivid but I think I need some practice in coatings, anyway.

Lambic Framboise Truffles
  • 1 cup chocolate baking chips (I used Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet)
  • 1 cup vanilla wafer cookie crumbs, sandy texture
  • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts 
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons lambic framboise (I love Lindeman's)  
  • confectioner's sugar for dusting
In a medium sized saucepan, combine baking chips, cookie crumbs, nuts and framboise on low heat.  This mixture will look very strange at first, going from mushy pink to a rich decadent cocoa once the chips warm up enough to melt.  

Frequently swipe through the mixture with a spatula to assure the chips are completely melted.  The mixture will still have the texture of a crunchy-style chocolate bar, but no visible chip pieces should be seen. 

Transfer to a shallow bowl or dish, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until solid.  Using a melon baller or spoon, scoop out portions and roll with hands to form the truffles.  Dust or roll in confectioner's sugar.  If they last the day, refrigerate them for later.  Enjoy!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Guest Post: Main Street Cupcakes

I have a Sugar Crush.  I have a Sugar Crush of the buttercream kind.  It goes by the name of Main Street Cupcakes.  My crush has a face. Two faces, actually.
Kimberly Martin and Sarah Forrer.  Sweet sisters.

I have been patronizing their Hudson shop for years now, and I think they know me at first glance.  My favorites are Petal Cake, The Buckeye, and Cup of Java. And I think they know.  And that's how they've become Cupcake Moguls.  I'm not kidding.
The Home Shopping Network successfully pursued them for a partnership.
TLC and The Food Network approached them about doing a reality show.   The timing was off.  Lucky for us!

I won't even get into how British Intelligence used their mojito cupcake recipe to deflect Al-qaeda.  I kid you not.  

I will get into the fact that Kim (cupcake lover) and her husband Sean (baker) noticed Ohio was seriously lacking in cupcakes-done-right.  In 2007 they put thought to action in picturesque Hudson (Happy 5th Birthday TODAY!).  They now have locations in Rocky River (Happy 2nd Birthday TODAY!) and Medina, as well.  If you walk in, you'll see something like this:
They must have to clean the lick marks off the glass a lot.
Gosh I wish I had smell-o-vision on my blog.  Have you ever smelled buttercream in full force? Gah.
When I started this sweets blog, I was driven by folks who turn something they love into something they share with others.  MSC fit the bill.  They don't just prey on the sugar-lover.  They love sugar, they love good cupcakes, and they love people.  A recipe for success!
A mere fraction of the 240 flavors on their menu.  Excuse me while I drool.
 Sarah was kind enough to let me pick her brain and share it with you all.  Because she's a genuinely nice (and pretty smart) cookie.  I hope you enjoy AND hope you stop in* to see them in one of their locations.  I assure you that you'll not only walk out with cupcakes, but a new friendship, as well!
1. I know that the original idea for MSC came through your sister Kim and her baker-husband Sean. Why cupcakes?
Why not!
It's a niche business and no one else was doing it at the time. We loved the idea of being the first in Ohio so we just went for it! We started with some great recipes that Sean had developed and the list has been rising ever since.
2. This seems like a venture for doing what you love and sharing it with people. Has building the best cupcake "empire" in Ohio over the years changed that original vision?
I think staying at the top of our field has definitely been a motivator. Doing well, being well received and having success is a huge motivator day to day. Above all though we've all had other corporate jobs and done a lot and we still love this job the best. It's very satisfying to have a fun popular company.
3. Ever since I first walked in MSC door I felt like your personal friend. How to achieve the personal connection with your customers?
From day 1 we said we set out to treat our customers like friends. That's just how we work. We blur the lines between customer and friend day in and day out. We are social people! Perfect example, at my small intimate wedding in 2010 I had four customers there who had turned into close dear friends.
4. Sharing sugar has made MSC famous. What is that like for you all?
Well it's sweet, of course ;)
It's pretty funny because I guarantee there is no one who takes butter and sugar more seriously than Kim does!
5. Do you love bossing your sister around? Does she retaliate? Does Sean ever have to send you to your rooms with no cupcakes for dinner?
Yes, I boss Kimmy around constantly. I'm not even kidding about this.
That said, when she speaks up it's law though. haha
We are sisters, we are insanely close, and we're Sicilian, do you think Sean gets in the middle of it?
6. Have you had any flavor failures? What happened?
We don't consider this a failure but Peaches & Cream was not a big mover in the cases. However, we loved it and thought it was totally tasty. So we decide to revamp it slightly by changing the decor and the name and low and behold we have a super popular cupcake by the name of...Bellini! It's all abut marketing sometimes!
7. You have an extraordinary choice of flavors on your menu. Aside from the Miami Vice, what is the WILDEST story about how one of the flavors came about?

I don't think this is a wild story at all, but it makes me giggle. It might be one of those you had to be there moments though. Early on years ago one night Sean was more than likely very tired and just playing around with flavors. He was trying to develop a flavor that was like that old fashioned cherry cake that our Grandmas used to always serve. He landed on an excellent combination but when we came in that day to open the store he had a little flag in the cake and had written "Nick Nock" on it. (Sean's last name is Nock.) Kimmy and I were like no way, thanks for trying but that name is not staying. So we put the kibosh on his name choice, and simply called it Chips & Cherries!
8. Are there any cupcake trends in style or flavor that you've decided to stay away from?
We like our cupcakes to be edible. I know that sounds obvious, and I'm not saying some people make their cupcakes inedible, but we are in the business of selling lots of cupcakes so we haven't jumped heavily on the savory bandwagon. True we do bacon flavors and we have some with outstanding spices, but we've read about cupcakes with smoked salmon, and honey glazed hot dogs. Let's be honest, no one is buying 10 dozen of those for the bosses birthday ;)
9. Can you share any sources for special ingredients you love to use?
Honestly, we do one thing and we try to hit a home run with it so we try to buy the best. One thing we personally love is Callebaut Chocolate. Sourcing ingredients is quite a task. As we speak we are waiting for an ocean liner to get to dock to get us  ingredients for our big buttercream project.
 10. A fan wants to know - salted or unsalted butter - or is it not butter in there and just love?
Gotta keep some secrets, but I assure you it is NOT shortening!
11. Do you have any tips for the home baker on turning out a great "from scratch" cupcake?
Don't over bake them!
12. If my dream came true and you created a feature flavor named "Sweet Teeth", what would be in it? Would you and Kim be in a photo with me eating it?
Maybe we should! What's your favorite flavor combination? Yes, we'd be happy to take a picture with you anything.
13. What's your satisfaction meter (1-5) sitting at today with regard to ascending to the status of Cupcake Queen?
I have a pretty big head, it sits at a 6! Kidding aside, if you don't have confidence in your business, whatever your business may be, then you're not going to succeed. If you're not at least your biggest fan then no one will get behind you.

*Main Street Cupcakes is also found on facebook, where they post their daily menu so you can plan your trips accordingly. 

Thank you, Sarah!  See you soon!
If you've already visited MSC, drop a comment below with YOUR favorite flavors!  Commenting is easy, and you don't need an account!  Just choose "anonymous" from the drop down and sign off your name in your comment, if you like!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Youthberry Sorbet & A Special Guest Post

Until recently I wasn't a coffee drinker, but I indulged in my share of fine tea.  Several years ago I stumbled upon a lovely place called Teavana  which sells, among other things, delightful loose-leaf tea.

They get me at the door with these huge tankards of brewed tea to sample.  Sometimes hot, sometimes iced.  They even blow your mind by mixing two or three different teas to make a unique blend.  You know.  Just to show you that if you buy more flavors you can get yourself tea crazy.

I've really taken to this blend they introduced me to:  Youthberry White Tea + Wild Orange Blossom Herbal.  It's delicate and sweet enough that I really don't add anything to it.  The fruit is so forward and balanced that it has a juice quality without any sugar whatsoever.
A spot of tea?

I've been drinking copious amounts.  So today I said to myself, "Self, how else can more of this magic potion be consumed?"  

Guess what.  My self answered!

I had a flashback to a really good Riesling Sorbet I had made one summer.  A delicate sweet wine paired with this floral and fruity tea?

Not today.

All we had was some Bordeaux that's aging and some Cloudline pinot noir that I'm saving for a vertical tasting.   But I did find a bottle of sparkling grape juice.  That was enough to spook the horses.
Tea?  Meet grape juice.  Get it on!
I put the whole bottle of juice into a large saucepan and heated to boiling.  All that carbonation made a beautiful pink foam that rose higher and higher in the pan, causing me not to get a good picture of it for fear of boilover.  It did not boil over, but once the foam had disappeared, I took the juice off the heat and added in 1/4 cup of the Youthberry/Orange loose leaf mix.  Popped the lid on and steeped for 20 minutes.

Once the steeping period was over, I strained the pot through a fine strainer into a glass bowl and covered it.  I know from lots of experience that you have to chill the liquid down well before trying to use the ice cream machine.  If you don't you get this crystally grainy mess that no one could even call granita.

I didn't wait till the liquid got to the 40 degrees I knew would make quick work.  I dared and tried 55 degrees - into the machine.  It took a while but it did come up to full slush consistency, probably about 20 minutes.  I know that if the mix was more chilled going in, it would have been firmer.  But, this can also be achieved by transferring the mix into a container and popping it into the freezer for an overnight nap. 

I couldn't make you wait that long.  I could not wait that long.
My dear Tea, you're blushing!
Anyone seen my spoon?

How cute would this be at a summer ladies luncheon? 

Overall I really like the way this turned out.  It's sort of "Grape Popsicle Meets Grownup".  I will attempt this again once I have a nice white wine on hand.  When I do, I'll let you know how it goes.  Until then,

Love Your Tea.
Folks, if you are still reading, I have an even better treat for you.

I have a very special GUEST coming to see you THURSDAY NIGHT!

I'm going to give you a few hints:

Don't lick your screen, save it for Thursday!
  1. The Queens of Buttercream.
  2. The Duchesses of Decadence.
  3. About 240 flavors to choose from their menu.
  4. This photo: