Monday, June 27, 2011

Daring Bakers June Challenge - Baklava

In making this months challenge, I was absolutely physically challenged. Making homemade phyllo dough was a task. I would never have attempted it if not for this challenge and I am very grateful to Erica for creating it. I was in a constant state of "I don't know about this" as I progressed. I knew I had to accomplish it early on due to vacation plans. I wanted to do an unusual filling and decided to ride the current bacon craze (I have always been crazy about bacon) with a date, almond and turkey bacon filling. My hands swelled a bit and ached the day after making this dessert but it was delicious and I loved the flavors.
I have no plans to ever make this again. I am glad I did it though because it feels like a notch on my culinary belt. Ever made your own phyllo? I imagine a young whippersnapper grilling me?? Why yes I have, I will reply, and I think everyone should least once.

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 use that homemade dough to make Baklava.

I garnished the plate with Gumpaste Daisies. I served the Baklava on the screened porch with a strong black tea. The Baklava was very sweet so the strong tea helped soften the sweetness for me. I felt refreshed and a little full afterward. I thought about weeding the garden but decided for another slice of Baklava instead. The weeds would still be there but I knew I would share this hard earned dessert with loved ones and it would be gone soon.

Phyllo Dough
*Note 1: To have enough to fill my 8” x 8” baking dish with 18 layers of phyllo I doubled this recipe.


1 1/3 cups unbleached all purpose (plain) flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup less 1 tablespoon  water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons  vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon  cider vinegar, (could substitute white wine vinegar or red wine vinegar, but could affect the taste)

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour and salt
2. Mix with paddle attachment.
3. Combine water, oil and vinegar in a small bowl.
4. Add water & oil mixture with mixer on low speed, mix until you get a soft dough, if it appears dry add a little more water (I had to add a tablespoon more)
5. Change to the dough hook and let knead approximately 10 minutes. You will end up with beautiful smooth dough. If you are kneading by hand, knead approx. 20 minutes.
6. Remove the dough from mixer and continue to knead for 2 more minutes. Pick up the dough and through it down hard on the counter a few times during the kneading process.
7. Shape the dough into a ball and lightly cover with oil.
8. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let rest 30-90 minutes, longer is better.

Rolling Out The Dough:

1. Unwrap your dough and cut off a chunk slightly larger than a golf ball. While you are rolling be sure to keep the other dough covered so it doesn’t dry out.
2. Flour your hands, rolling pin and counter. As you roll you will need to keep adding, don’t worry, you can’t over-flour.
3. Roll out the dough a bit to flatten it out.
4. Rotate and repeat until it is as thin as you can it. Don’t worry if you get rips in the dough, as long as you have one perfect one for the top you will never notice.
5. When you get it as thin as you can with the rolling pin, carefully pick it up with well floured hands and stretch it on the backs of your hands as you would a pizza dough, just helps make it that much thinner. Roll out your dough until it is transparent. NOTE: you will not get it as thin as the frozen phyllo dough you purchase at the store because it is made by machine
6. Set aside on a well-floured surface. Repeat the process until your dough is used up. Between each sheet again flour well. You will not need to cover your dough with a wet cloth, as you do with boxed dough, it is moist enough that it will not dry out.

Baklava Recipe
18 servings


For the syrup:
· 1 1/4 cups honey
· 1 1/4 cups  water
· 1 1/4 cups sugar
· 1 cinnamon stick
· 1 (2-inch) piece fresh citrus peel (lemon or orange work best)
· a few cloves or a pinch or ground clove

When you put your baklava in the oven start making your syrup. When you combine the two, one of them needs to be hot, I find it better when the baklava is hot and the syrup has cooled
1. Combine all ingredients in a medium pot over medium high heat. Stir occasionally until sugar has dissolved
2. Boil for 10 minutes, stir occasionally.
3. Once boiled for 10 minutes remove from heat and strain cinnamon stick and lemon, allow to cool as baklava cooks.

Ingredients for the Baklava Filling:

1 (5-inch) cinnamon stick, broken into 2 to 3 pieces or 2 teaspoons  ground cinnamon
1 cup blanched almonds
1 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup turkey bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/3 cup sugar
Phyllo Dough (see recipe above)
1 cup (2 sticks)  melted



1. Preheat oven to moderate 350°F
2. Combine nuts, sugar and spices in a food processor and pulse on high until finely chopped. If you do not have a food processor chop with a sharp knife as fine as you can. Set aside.
3. Trim your phyllo sheets to fit in your pan.
4. Brush bottom of pan with butter and place first phyllo sheet.
5. Brush the first phyllo sheet with butter and repeat  4 times ending with butter. (Most recipes say more, but homemade phyllo is thicker so it's not needed)
6. Sprinkle 1/3 of the nut mixture on top.
7. Continue layering phyllo and buttering repeating 4 times.
8. Sprinkle 1/3 of the nut mixture on top
9. Continue layering phyllo and buttering repeating 4 times
10. Sprinkle 1/3 of the nut mixture on top
11. Continue layering and buttering phyllo 5 more times. On the top layer, make sure you have a piece of phyllo with no holes if possible, just looks better.
12. Once you have applied the top layer tuck in all the edges to give a nice appearance.
13. With a sharp knife, cut your baklava in desired shapes and number of pieces. If you can't cut all the ways through don’t worry you will cut again later.  Then brush with a generous layer of butter making sure to cover every area and edge.
14. Bake for approximately 30 minutes; remove from oven and cut again this time all the way through. Continue baking for another 30 minutes. (Oven temperatures will vary, you are looking for the top to be a golden brown, take close watch yours may need more or less time in the oven). The middle layers of the baklava take a little longer to cook so try to keep in as long as possible.
15. When baklava is cooked remove from oven and pour the cooled (will still be warmish) syrup evenly over the top, taking care to cover all surfaces when pouring. It looks like it is a lot but over night the syrup will soak into the baklava creating a beautifully sweet and wonderfully textured baklava! I actually used about half of the syrup because I do not like really sweet desserts. the more syrup used the sweeter the final product.
16. Allow to cool to room temperature. Once cooled cover and store at room temperature. Allow the baklava to sit overnight to absorb the syrup.
17. Serve at room temperature.

Storage: There are a few ways to store your Baklava. It is recommended that you store your baklava at room temperature in an airtight container. Stored at room temperature your baklava will last for up to 2 weeks. You can also freeze your baklava and then just set it out at room temperature to thaw. I stored mine in the refrigerator because of the bacon. I liked it right from the fridge but the flavors blended better after coming to room temperature.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Angel in Paradise

Seaside, Florida aka Paradise

We are in Paradise. We have been coming to Paradise since 1992. We skipped for a couple of years when we were trying for a child because Paradise has always been bursting with children and it was a bit hard to see when we wanted one of our own so badly.
When we arrived in Paradise, the housekeepers were still tidying up our slice of it. We were encouraged to drop out bags and give them an hour to finish up.We did and when we returned, it looked beautiful. It was not until later that night that my son could not find his blankie.

Our boy's blankie is his most cherished possession. When we went to adopt our boy in Russia eleven years ago, we took that blankie to him and put it in his crib to absorb the smell of his homeland.  In a broken wooden crib with no sheets, the blanket was his first possession. We brought our boy and blankie home and he was not without that blankie for the next eleven years. It has always been there more or less in the background as he grows older. There are no words to describe the sinking feeling I got as we looked over every single inch of the cottage, rental car, luggage, and even trash. Our boy knew he had brought it into the cottage and the only logical explanation was that housekeeping had taken it away with them.
I called that night..I stopped in at the front  desk the next morning. I called the next day. I called again the next day.
My husband finally called and said he would come sort through the rags and towels. He spoke with Molly, the head of Housekeeping who took pity on us...we were obviously out of our minds...and an hour later called to say they had found blankie. They rushed it over to us and after a quick wash and dry (it still smelled like blankie), our boy's first real possession was back in his arms.

Our boy always believed they would find his blankie. He had every faith in them. He said, " they will will find it but it might take a few days". He was right but I don't think he knows the enormous effort that was made to restore his cherished "blank". Our boy is not aware of a lot of the stumbles that life can throw at a person yet. He believes in a righteous world. Today he has me believing in it too.
Thank you Molly! Thanks for restoring our faith in good people who care about each other even if they will never meet face to face.
Thanks for being our Angel in Paradise!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Plain Delicious Cupcakes!

When I teach cake decorating, I am asked a lot about a really good yellow cake recipe. I, like many of my students, am always looking for a moist, slightly dense basic cake recipe. I found a really nice recipe online at Cake Central. It was a little sweet for my taste so I altered the ingredients a bit and came away with a recipe that is very reliable. I  use it for cakes and cupcakes. The recipe makes a little more than you would need for 8 inch pans but is perfect for two 9 inch pans. If you are making an 8 inch cake, I recommend having a couple of cupcake liners ready in a cupcake pan for the leftover batter.

For topping my cupcakes, I stayed Plain Jane with a Meringue Buttercream. I have been making this buttercream for the last fifteen years. You need a stand mixer for this recipe as it mixes a long time and the motor of a hand mixer will burn out.

The garnish on top of the cupcakes is heart shaped edible glitter. I love the simplicity of the cupcake. The moist cupcake lightly scented with vanilla blends beautifully with the creamy butter cream. I used a large round tip, 1A, to pipe a large spiral on top of the cupcake. I frequently dress up my cupcakes and I am a huge fan of the Hello Cupcake books. Yet when something is plain delicious, all you really need is a napkin.

Here is how you make them:

Classic Yellow Cake

* 2 ½ cups sifted cake flour
* 2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 pound (2 sticks) sweet butter, room temperature
* 1 ¾ cups sugar
* 4 large egg yolks
* 2 teaspoons vanilla
* 1 cup sour cream
* 4 large egg whites

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and line the bottom of two 8 x 3-inch baking pans with parchment and dress a cupcake tin with a few liners.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
Cream the butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until fluffy and light in color, about 2 minutes on medium speed.
Add the sugar and continue to mix until fluffy and light.
Add the egg yolks, one at a time, being sure each is well incorporated before adding the next one. Add the vanilla.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour. Be sure the mixture is completely blended after each addition. Scrape the sides of the bowl, and beat for 1 minute.
In a separate bowl, with clean beaters, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. Gently fold the whipped egg whites into the batter with a rubber spatula.
Divide batter into prepared pans. Bake until a tester comes out with moist crumbs attached. cool on a rack for ten minutes.
Remove from pans and cool to room temperature.

Meringue Buttercream

This recipe is formulated using a standing Kitchen Aid mixer. It will produce optimal results.

This a soft icing. It may not be appropriate for beginners making roses or other items that require a stiff icing consistency. It is best used for icing a cake which requires a thin consistency.

1 1/2 cups egg whites, room temperature
3 cups sugar
3 pounds unsalted butter, room temperature 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

In a large bowl, combine the egg whites and sugar and whisk until well blended. Set the bowl on top of a double boiler of barely simmering water and stir constantly with the whip until the mixture is approx. 140 degrees using an instant read thermometer.

Transfer to a large mixer bowl and beat on high with the whip attachment until the meringue is cool and forms stiff peaks. This takes quite a while..up to 10 minutes so a stand mixer is necessary. You may speed cooling process by putting a bowl of ice water under the mixing bowl, after a few minutes of initial mixing.
Slowly add the soft butter (approx. 67 degrees) about 2 TBSP at a time while beating with the paddle attachment on medium speed. Make sure the butter is incorporated before adding more. Should the icing begin to look curdled, do not despair. Keep mixing and the icing should come together. Curdling means that the butter was added too quickly.
Add the vanilla extract.
This icing should be chilled after icing cake or for storage. Bring to room temperature and whip lightly before icing cake.
Icing may be stored one week under proper storage conditions or two months in the freezer well wrapped and sealed airtight. Yield: 10 cups(Freezes well!)