Archive for the 'High-Altitude Baking' Category



S’More Squares

What the heck happened to summer?  I realize that by the calendar, we still have almost seven weeks (and I will continue to blog as such!), but I can feel it fading.  The neighborhood kids are going back to school tomorrow, and I was mildly freaked out to see racks and racks of fall clothes at the mall yesterday.  (At least that means football is coming, right?)

In my mind, this means we’d better enjoy as much summer fare as we can before it’s back to roasted squash and simmering stews.  And what’s the quintessential summer dessert?  S’mores, of course!  Today’s recipe is a dressed-up version you can use as a fun ending to the most adult dinner party, but kids love it as well (and I have the evidence!).

S’More Squares
Makes 9

Ingredients:
Vegetable oil, for brushing
4 packages unflavored gelatin (or 3 tablespoons)
3 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 6 tablespoons room temperature, plus more for pan
14 graham crackers, crushed to yield 1 1/2 cups crumbs
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

Method:
Brush a 9-x-13-inch glass baking dish with vegetable oil.  Cut a piece of parchment or wax paper large enough to cover the bottom of the dish and to overhang the longer sides.  Place the parchment in the dish, brush with oil, and set dish aside.

Pour 3/4 cup of cold water in the bowl of an electric mixer, and sprinkle gelatin on top.  Let stand 5 minutes.

Place 3 cups granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 3/4 cup water in a medium saucepan.  Set saucepan over high heat, and bring to a boil.  Insert a candy thermometer, and cook until mixture reaches soft-ball stage (238 degrees, about 9 minutes).

Using the whisk attachment, beat hot syrup into gelatin on low speed.  Gradually increasing speed to high, beat until mixture is very stiff, about 12 minutes.  Beat in vanilla.  Pour mixture into the prepared baking dish, and smooth the surface with an offset spatula.  Set dish aside, uncovered, until marshmallow becomes firm, at least 3 hours or overnight.

Place 1 cup confectioners’ sugar in a fine strainer, and sift onto a clean work surface. Invert large marshmallow onto the sugar-coated surface, and peel off the parchment paper.  Lightly brush a sharp knife with vegetable oil, and cut marshmallow into 2-inch squares.  Sift remaining 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl, and roll marshmallows in sugar to coat.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Brush a 9-inch square baking pan with melted butter.  In a large bowl, combine graham-cracker crumbs, 7 tablespoons melted butter, and remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar.  Using your hands, press mixture firmly into prepared pan.  Transfer pan to oven, and bake until the crust has set, 15 to 18 minutes.  Remove pan from oven, and transfer to wire rack to cool.

Bring a medium saucepan of water to a simmer.  In a medium heat-proof bowl, combine chocolate with remaining 6 tablespoons butter.  Set the bowl over the simmering water, and stir until chocolate and butter have melted.  Pour chocolate mixture over cooled graham-cracker crust.  Using an offset spatula, spread chocolate mixture into an even layer.  Transfer to refrigerator, and chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the broiler.  Cut chocolate crust into nine 3-inch squares.  Top each square with a marshmallow, and place assembled s’mores under the broiler just until marshmallows turn golden brown, about 20 seconds.  Serve immediately.

Source: Martha Stewart Living, May 1998

Time for S'Mores!Time for S'Mores!

Time for S'Mores!

S'Mores Square

Talk about a decadent dessert.  WOW.  The end result was really delicious but super rich; my group of tasters concluded that the chocolate was the culprit.  I used Baker’s semisweet for this batch, but I’m going to use Hershey’s milk chocolate (the classic!) next time around.  I might also play with the amount of chocolate in my next batch, though I’m not sure that half would be quite enough.  Additionally, I’ll probably cut the graham cracker base into a dozen squares instead of nine to make it easier to finish one off (though the size does make this a visually impressive dessert!).

This marshmallow recipe is pure perfection, everybody.  These were the most gorgeous, fluffy marshmallows I’ve ever made (and I’ve made lots), AND they taste exactly like Jet-Puffed marshmallows (a plus in my book).  Whenever I have a recipe that calls for marshmallow from here on out, I’m going to use these.  Also, this recipe makes more than double the amount of marshmallow you’ll actually need for the s’mores, so you’ll have plenty around for snacks.

So what else do I love about this recipe?  The same thing I love about so many things I post on this blog, which is “make-ahead-ability.”  The marshmallows will keep in an airtight container for about two weeks, and the chocolate-covered graham cracker squares can be kept in the refrigerator for at least two or three days.  If you have the components made, all you have to do is preheat the broiler, put the squares on a baking sheet, put marshmallows on the squares, and put the treats under the broiler for 20 seconds.  That’s about as easy as it gets.

A note about browning the marshmallows: I thought it might be OK to use a kitchen torch instead of the broiler, but that quite literally just browns the marshmallows. You totally miss out on the ooey-gooeyness that the oven time creates.  Also, if you make too many s’mores, I discovered that they’re quite good reheated the next day. Just let them cool completely, put them in an airtight container, and then pop them in the microwave for 15 – 20 seconds when you’re ready to enjoy.

TIP:  Since I live at 5900 feet, I had to adjust the temperature of my sugar and corn syrup mixture to make the marshmallow.  Water boils at 202°F at my house (instead of 212°F at sea level), so I took the mixture off of the stove at 228°F instead of 238°F.  Also, I had an incredible amount of powdered sugar waste after I cut and rolled my marshmallows; I think you could get away with sifting only 1/2 cup of confectioners’ sugar onto the work surface, rather than a full cup.

Update 4/23/12: I made these last night for friends with two modifications.  First, I used 9 ounces of Hershey’s milk chocolate instead of 12 ounces of semisweet chocolate.  I liked the flavor of the Hershey’s better, and the chocolate layer was a perfect thickness.  Also, one of my dinner guests from last night can’t have gluten, so I made the crust with Kinnikinnick S’moreables (and made sure to get 1.55-ounce Hershey bars, which apparently is the only size Hershey guarantees as gluten free).  Using the alternative graham cracker changed the texture of the crust a bit, but the dessert was still delicious.

Recipe link: S’More Squares

Daring Bakers’ Challenge: From Phyllo to Baklava

Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Bakers’ June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make baklava.
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Whew!  Talk about a project.  I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon making the phyllo and baklava (and a HUGE mess to go with it!) and then had to wait anxiously until this morning (after all the baklava syrup had been absorbed) to even see if it was all worth it.  Thankfully, the results are pretty delicious, even if I can’t say I’d go to all that trouble all over again.  Here are my notes:

  • I doubled the dough recipe (as recommended) and let it rest for 2 hours before rolling it.
  • The wrap-the-dough-around-the-dowel technique didn’t work for me, perhaps because my rolling pin is thicker and is silicone (not wood).  My dough just fused together into a tube instead of growing larger.  I just kept moving and flipping my dough, rolling it from every direction, until it was as thin as I could get it.  Then, as recommended, I stretched it even more with my hands.  I was pleasantly surprised by how well the dough held up for handling despite being rolled so thin.
  • Even though I definitely got my dough sheets to the point of transparency, I only ended up with 11 or 12 sheets.  Since they weren’t huge and I didn’t end up with quite as many of them as I hoped I would, I decided to use a 9-inch round cake pan instead of a 9 x 9-inch square pan for my baklava.
  • I thought I floured well between each sheet, but I apparently didn’t do it well enough; my sheets stuck together pretty badly when I was trying to pull them off to assemble the baklava.  I did my best to make sure I separated all the sheets, but one or two layers might have been doubled.  I had set one perfect sheet aside on the counter under some plastic wrap for the top, though, so I don’t think anyone would really be able to tell that I struggled.
  • I used the recommended nut combination for my filling (almonds, walnuts, and pistachios) and the recommended spices (cinnamon and allspice).  I think I overdid the clove a bit in my syrup.
  • I used an entire stick of butter for buttering between the phyllo layers.
  • The recommended baking time was 60 minutes at 350°F, but mine was a deep golden brown at 45, so I took my pan out of the oven at that point.
  • Since I used a 9-inch round cake pan (6-cup capacity) instead of a 9 x 9-inch square pan (8-cup capacity), I made 3/4 recipes of the filling and the syrup. The filling was just right, but I think there was a bit too much syrup; I should have followed my instinct and left a bit out.  Even after resting for 16 hours, my baklava was still oozing a bit, though the majority of the syrup did get absorbed.
  • In my opinion, the syrup is a bit too sweet.  If I ever make it again (with store-bought phyllo, sorry!), I’ll cut the sugar to 1/2 cup (for a full recipe) instead of 2/3 cup.
  • After the initial cuts (before baking, in the middle of baking, and post-syrup), I continued to cut through my baklava periodically as it cooled.  It came out of the pan very easily this morning.

Assembled, Unbaked Baklava

Baked Baklava

Cut Baklava

The end result was a tasty treat, but it was a LOT of work.  This challenge certainly relieved me of any pride that might get in the way of me buying frozen phyllo dough at the grocery store. 🙂

Thanks for a great challenge, Erica!

Recipe link: Phyllo and Baklava

Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Maple Mousse Served in an Edible Container

The April 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Evelyne of the blog Cheap Ethnic Eatz. Evelyne chose to challenge everyone to make a maple mousse in an edible container. Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 27th to May 27th at http://thedaringkitchen.com!
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I’m not going to win any creativity-related prizes for my container (the baker who created vols-au-vent out of pancakes with bacon spirals gets my vote!), but at least I completed the challenge.  I also managed to reset my kitchen disaster clock since my chocolate-coconut macaroon containers were mostly pried off my upside-down muffin pan in (flying) pieces, although one did survive for photos.  Here are my notes:

  • I made a half-recipe of the mousse.
  • Despite my best efforts, my gelatin just would not dissolve completely after the intervals in the microwave.  I ended up pressing my egg-maple-gelatin mixture through a sieve to eliminate any chunks before I let it sit for an hour.
  • For presentation’s sake, I found it better to allow the mousse to set up in the refrigerator inside the edible container, rather than allowing it to set and then transferring it.
  • I used the Chocolate-Coconut Macaroon Cups recipe (minus the almonds) from the April 2006 issue of Everyday Food for my containers.  I used 1/2 cup of batter for each container (I made four total) and just molded it over the tops of an inverted muffin pan that had been sprayed with cooking spray.  I baked the containers for 25 minutes at 350°F.  In hindsight, maybe they would have come off of the pan easier if I had placed cupcake liners over the muffin cups before molding the batter.  Lesson learned!

Maple Mousse in a Chocolate Coconut Macaroon Cup

Will I make this mousse again?  Probably not.  The consistency was a bit too thick and gelatinous (from the gelatin, naturally!) for my taste.  Many mousse recipes don’t use gelatin at all.  Despite the challenges, I will make this macaroon recipe again; I’ll just bake the cookies in their intended shape to avoid raining coconut bits all over my kitchen.

Thanks for the challenge, Evelyne!

Recipe links: Maple Mousse and Chocolate-Coconut Macaroon Cups

Coconut-Key Lime Pie

We are slowly and steadily working our way through the leftover party beverages, but I planned a dinner party for last Friday to help speed up the process.  The weather was relatively nice last week, which (1) motivated me to spring clean my grill, and (2) put me in the mood to serve brighter, lighter food for my party.  To keep things relatively stress free, I went with a menu I served to my family last summer: Cilantro Honey-Lime Grilled Chicken, Southwestern Two-Bean Salad, and Hill Country Coleslaw. Watermelon wasn’t going to work as dessert this time around, though, since it’s hardly the season.  I knew several of my guests were coconut fans and that lime would go well with the meal, so I decided to try a recipe from the November 2010 issue of Everyday Food: Coconut-Key Lime Pie.

I actually made the pie twice; I experimented on my family when they came to dinner two Sundays ago (I’m glad they welcome my tests!), and then I served it at the dinner party mentioned above.  I got fantastic results both times, but I have to admit I made a significant substitution.  Knowing that there are 50 calories and 5 grams of fat per tablespoon of heavy cream, I just couldn’t pile 32 tablespoons worth onto my pie.  Couldn’t do it.  I used an 8-ounce container of Cool Whip Lite instead and saved 37 Weight Watchers PointsPlus points for the entire pie.  I would probably dig out the cream if I planned to serve the pie to hardcore foodies, but my guests certainly didn’t have any complaints.  Here’s the recipe:

Easy Press-In Pie Crust
Prep time: 10 minutes | Total time: 20 minutes plus cooling | Yield: One nine-inch pie crust

Ingredients:
6 ounces cookies (about 12 graham crackers, 46 vanilla wafers, or 30 chocolate wafers, such as Famous)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Method:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a food processor, pulse cookies until finely ground (you should have about 1 1/2 cups).  Add sugar, salt, and butter and pulse until combined.

Firmly press crumb mixture into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch pie plate.  (If using a springform pan, press crumbs halfway up sides.)  Bake until crust is dry and set, about 12 minutes.  Let cool completely in plate on a wire rack before filling.

Coconut-Key Lime Pie
Serves 8

Ingredients:
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 can (13.5 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk
1/3 cup fresh or bottled Key lime juice
7 large egg yolks
1 Easy Press-In Pie Crust, made with graham crackers
2 cups cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons sweetened shredded coconut, toasted

Method:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  In a medium bowl, whisk together condensed milk, coconut milk, lime juice, and egg yolks until smooth.  Pour into crust and bake until set but still slightly wobbly in center, 40 minutes.  Let cool on a wire rack, 1 1/2 to 2 hours, then refrigerate 3 hours (or up to 1 day).

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat cream and sugar on high until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes.  To serve, top pie with whipped cream and sprinkle with toasted coconut.

Source: Everyday Food, November 2010

My notes:

  • When making the crust, I would recommend adding the salt while you’re grinding the graham crackers for the best distribution.  I often enjoy being able to taste the salt in sweet things, but you might want to cut the salt to 1/8 teaspoon if salt isn’t your thing.
  • Beware the unsweetened coconut milk!  I’m used to using sweetened coconut milk, which is pretty smooth and creamy.  The unsweetened, first press stuff is basically chunks and water; I still haven’t figured out how to successfully get it all out of the can without splashing coconut water somewhere.  Also, I would recommend whisking it separately until smooth before adding it to the sweetened condensed milk, lime juice, and egg yolks.  My filling came together much more easily when I did this.
  • I’m usually a from-scratch-all-the-way kind of gal, but when the two grocery stores I visited didn’t have key limes, I just went with the bottled stuff (although it was specifically key lime juice, not just lime juice).  One of my guests commented that he wasn’t usually into citrus desserts because the flavor is typically too intense, but he liked the mellow flavor of this pie.  The coconut probably helped as well.
  • My pie needed 45 minutes (instead of 40) at 325 degrees to be reasonably set with a wobbly center.
  • I already mentioned the heavy cream swap.

Coconut Key Lime Pie

This pie is seriously yummy.  The graham cracker crust is divine – sweet, buttery, salty, crunchy – and I love the bright but mellow citrus-coconut filling.  The cream (real or not!) and toasted coconut on top are great textural elements.  This recipe is perfect for summer, for Southwestern or tropical menus, or for any time you need a little sunshine in the form of dessert.  I’ll be making this one again for sure.

Recipe links: Easy Press-In Pie Crust and Coconut Key-Lime Pie

Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake

The March 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria’s Collection and Jamie of Life’s a Feast. Ria and Jamie challenged the Daring Bakers to bake a yeasted meringue coffee cake.
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I very nearly missed this one with all of the craziness leading up to our weekend trip for Dr. O’s birthday, but I didn’t want to skip two months in a row.  Thankfully, this was easy enough to make in an afternoon and it turned out on the first try.

Here are my notes:

  • I made a half recipe.
  • I measured all of my ingredients by weight.
  • I chose my filling based on what I had in the pantry: almonds, dried plums, white chocolate, and cinnamon-sugar.
  • I completely forgot to make the cuts in my cake before baking (I realized this about an hour later after the cake had cooled, of course), but it turned out just fine anyway.
  • I baked my cake for the full 30 minutes at 350°F.
Unbaked Meringue Coffee Cake

Unbaked Meringue Coffee Cake

Baked Meringue Coffee Cake

Baked Meringue Coffee Cake

Sugared Meringue Coffee Cake

Sugared Meringue Coffee Cake

Meringue Coffee Cake Interior

Meringue Coffee Cake Interior

This was a delicious and relatively easy cake.  I especially liked the crunchiness of the almonds and the fact that the cake wasn’t overly sweet.  However, the king cake I made last month is incredibly similar in concept, and I have to say I preferred the king cake.  I liked the crumb of the king cake a bit better and for me, cream cheese filling trumps meringue filling any day.  I loved the versatility of the meringue coffee cake recipe, though, and it was definitely fun to make and compare such similar cakes in a short period of time.

Thanks for a great challenge, Ria and Jamie!

Recipe link: Jamie’s version or Ria’s version

King Cake

We had our Cajun-themed gourmet club meeting on Saturday night, and I was on deck for dessert.  When we settled on a theme, the hostess asked if I had thought about making a king cake.  I had to Google it because I had never even heard of it (sad!), but it looked like fun, so I started hunting for recipes.

Since high-altitude baking is often a challenge, I felt lucky to find a recipe through The Denver Post that was specifically titled “Louisiana-to-Denver King Cake.” Surely, it would be fantastic, right?  Wrong.  It’s not so much that it didn’t work; it just wasn’t special enough to serve as the finale for what would surely be a spectacular Cajun meal.  It didn’t pack enough of a flavor punch and was a bit dry. Having learned that king cake was more like sweet bread, though, I realized that I didn’t really need to make any high-altitude adjustments and could just look for the best-rated recipe out there.

I settled on one with a sour cream base and cream cheese filling from Food.com. The results were amazing!  The recipe is a bit long so I’ll just link to it.  Here are my notes:

  • I used full-fat sour cream and light (neufchatel) cream cheese.
  • I made a half recipe each time.  The only challenge was using half an egg in the cream cheese filling; I used my kitchen scale to measure half an egg by weight.  (Half of a large egg weighed about 26 or 27 grams.)
  • Once I had rolled my dough into a rectangle, I found that it was best to distribute the cream cheese filling on the long side of the dough closest to me rather than spreading it over the entire surface of the dough.  I was able to keep most of the filling rolled up in the dough that way instead of having it ooze onto the counter.
  • I baked my cake for 20 minutes at 375°F instead of the 15 minutes recommended by the recipe.
  • I cooled my cake before icing it; otherwise, the icing would have just melted off the cake.
  • I already had colored sugars in my pantry, so I didn’t make any from scratch.
  • I did put a small plastic baby in my cake (per tradition), but I didn’t bake it in. I just poked it into the underside of the cake after the cake had cooled a bit.
Unbaked King Cake

Unbaked king cake

Baked King Cake

Fresh out of the oven

King Cake

Iced and ready to go

King Cake Interior

To-die-for cream cheese custard

This king cake is heavenly.  The bread is so incredibly moist, and the cream cheese filling bakes up into a delicious custard.  Wow!  I’ll be making this every year (sometime between January 6 and Mardi Gras day, according to tradition) from here on out.

Recipe link: King Cake

Heart Cookie Pops

For as much as I love making decorated sugar cookies, I often wish the process could be shorter.  It takes several hours (not all hands-on time, thankfully!) to even get to the point where you have cookies to ice.  Icing then takes a minute or so per cookie and they have to rest for at least four hours (!!!) before you can pipe anything on top.  I get exhausted just thinking about it.

So when I saw this recent cookie pop project in a Fancy Flours e-mail, I knew I had to give it a try.  The cookies were so cute, but they didn’t have any icing.  I am completely in love with my regular cookie recipe (No-Fail Sugar Cookies), so I decided to use my usual recipe with their technique.

I have made hundreds and hundreds of sugar cookies over the last five years, but I had never colored the dough before.  Talk about an easy way to dress things up!  I used Wilton’s gel paste food coloring in rose, and I added it after the butter and sugar were creamed but before the egg, vanilla, and flour mixture.  Once the dough was chilled and firm, I rolled it as usual and cut it with a 2-inch heart cookie cutter. I put each heart on top of a popsicle stick (my stash of white candy sticks is MIA, so I used what I had) and pressed the dough gently so it would adhere.  Fancy Flours suggested silver dragées in the corner of each heart but I had pearl ones; again, I used what I had.

My perfect baking time for 2-inch cookies was 8 minutes at 350°F.  I cooled the cookies for five minutes on the baking sheets before carefully transferring them to wire racks to cool completely.

Heart Cookie Pops

Pretty cute, huh?  And I loved that they were done once they were cool…  No additional decorating necessary!  Here are a few notes for any of you who want to give this one a whirl:

  • Based on the scale of dragée to cookie, I’d say Fancy Flours used a 1 1/4-inch cookie cutter.  I used a 2-inch cutter.
  • I think the white candy sticks look nicer, but the popsicle sticks will provide better support for a larger cookie.
  • I experimented with dragées around the entire perimeter of the cookie, but the results weren’t good.  Some of them dissolved a bit and shrunk during the baking process, which was really obvious when there were 10 or so per cookie.  One is perfect (and less time-consuming to place).
  • You could make a really cute Valentine’s Day “bouquet” with these if you stuck the bottom of the sticks into craft foam (maybe shaped like a heart and painted red or pink?).  They’d make great gifts individually wrapped and tied with a bow as well.

Update 2/15/11: I baked some mini (1 1/2-inch) heart cookies yesterday afternoon and the dragées held up beautifully.  I think the shorter baking time (5 1/2 – 6/1/2 minutes for the minis) made all the difference.  Heart-shaped Red Hots worked well as decorations for both the mini and larger cookies.

Recipe link: No-Fail Sugar Cookies




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