Tuesday, December 27, 2011

December Daring Bakers Challenge: Sourdough Bread

 Our Daring Bakers Host for December 2011 was Jessica of My Recipe Project and she showed us how fun it is to create Sour Dough bread in our own kitchens! She provided us with Sour Dough recipes from Bread Matters by AndrewWhitley .

This challenge was like a science experiment. I never quite felt in control of the situation and that was a bit unnerving.  It is cold here now and that did not help my sourdough starter in the least. I made a rye starter and a wheat starter...twice. The wheat starter showed signs of life the second time around so I tried making some bread with it. My son came home from school that day and asked what the smell was in the house. It was my baking loaf of sourdough and I had to laugh. I had envisioned an aroma much like that of Merita Bread Company that baked bread in my hometown and made me hungry even if I had just eaten.
My bread made me open a window and light a scented candle.
The bread tasted flat and very sour. It was very heavy and I am sure I should have proofed it longer and baked it longer. I did not have the time or enough starter for a second batch. I will not give up though. I think I  will wait until the weather gets warmer here and then give it another try. I love the thought of having a sourdough starter in the fridge, making cakes, pancakes and especially pleasantly fragrant bread.

Until then, I am relying on Iggy's Bread,my local favorite, to see keep the sourdough love alive.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cake Pops Snowmen

I have had cake pops on my "to do" again list because I wanted to experiment with the chocolate consistency and see if I could achieve an easier dip to coat the pops.
I decided to make some snowmen and I used the Pops!Sweets on a Stick  book  as a guide and inspiration.
Making the cake for the pops, I use a super simple batter adapted from the 500 Cupcakes book. It makes a really dense cake which is just what I need for making pops. You can substitute your favorite pound cake recipe for similar results.  A  half recipe listed below makes about 14 snowmen.

Here is the recipe  for the cake:
4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2  eggs
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup buttermilk
1.Put all ingredients in a mixing bowl. With the paddle attachment or beaters, mix on low to incorporate. Then beat on medium speed until mixture is smooth and light colored, about 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Put into pans and bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned and center spring back. You may also use the toothpick test of inserting a toothpick into the center and checking to until a few loose crumbs attach when removed.
3. Remove cakes from oven when done and cool in pan for ten minutes. Turn onto rack and cool completely. Put cake into a large bowl and crumble into tiny bits with your fingers. Set aside.

For the icing, I made a small batch and had more than enough for mixing into the pops and decorating on top. Here is the recipe I used:
4 ounces(1 stick) unsalted butter
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Beat all ingredients together in a medium bowl on low speed to incorporate and then medium speed for about 3 to 4 minutes until icing is smooth and creamy. Use immediately or keep covered and re-whip slightly to restore creaminess before use.
 Depending on your climate(warmer may need less liquid and cooler may need more), you want a consistency that is spreadable, about the consistency of softened butter.

Mix together the cake crumbs and 1/2 to 3/4 cup of the icing. Now you have to mix this with your hands so take off those rings and bring out your best "mud pie" behavior. I find that if you really mush up the mixture and blend, it will take on almost a cookie dough appearance and feel. This is an important part. You do not want any large cake crumbs in the mix at this point because that will cause your pops to crumble and fall apart later.

 Roll your mixture into balls. I used 1 1/2 inch  for the snowman body and 1 inch balls for snowman heads. Set the balls  on parchment  or wax paper  lined cookie sheet with raised sides and chill for at least 30 minutes. I am impatient so I chilled for 15 in the freezer. Longer chilling is better!
 Dip cookie sticks (I used 6-inch sticks)  in melted white chocolate or candy melts and then insert about a 1/4 inch into the pop. I found that the deeper I inserted the stick, the less stable the pop was for dipping. It needs to be deep enough to hold the pop but not deep enough to crack the pop. The pops that I did push the the stick in to deeply cracked later.  Allow the pops to chill for at least 20 minutes. During pop production, try to keep the pops chilled when not working on them.

I used Wilton White Candy Melts for dipping the pops. I find that I have to add oil to thin the coating enough for dipping.  I melted the wafers first and then added the oil (canola for me-just don't use a fragrant oil like sesame or olive) a tablespoon at a time to reach a smooth dipping consistency. You can use a pop to experiment. There is a fine line between dipping to coat smoothly versus dipping and having all the chocolate slide right off the pop. If you cross that line, add some more candy melts and adjust till you feel you have a nice coating. You can also use chocolate but I am used to the melts and like that I can get them already colored.

I lined a Styrofoam block with foil to catch any drips and sprayed a wire rack with food release spray  for  the heads. I dipped the bodies first and then used a toothpick to hold the heads and dip them. I dipped some of the heads twice to get a nice even coating. Little imperfections are nice because they give the guys a bit of personality.The melts harden quickly and here in the northeast, I left them on the counter for about 10 minutes and they were solid.Then I dipped the base of the  heads in melted white chocolate(I used the dipping chocolate and it was fine) and attached the heads to the bodies.

I had some pre-colored fondant which made life real easy.I used  the Wilton Ribbon Cutter and Embosser Set,  I cut some rolled fondant into 1/4 inch by 5 inch strips that were 1/8 inch thick. I attached these around the necks for scarves dabbing a little melted chocolate from the tip of a toothpick as glue. If you do not have the set, you can use a ruler and exacto knife (just be careful of the cutting surface-you don't want to cut up your counter). Then I took a 1 inch size ball of fondant, massaged it well with my hands to make it smooth and pliable. I rolled into a smooth ball and then a cone shape altering its droopiness for the hats. I flattened the wide end slightly and , dipped it in melted chocolate and placed on top of the heads.  I used some Wilton neon orange fondant to make little tiny cones for the carrot noses. I made these in different sizes and shapes to give each guy his own look.


I colored some of my reserve buttercream with black icing gel color and put it in a decorating bag with a Wilton #3 tip.  I made dots for eyes and  mouths. I loaded some white icing into another bag with a Wilton #14 tip. Using a zigzag motion, I covered the seam between the hat and head. Then I added a star at the top of the hat to look like a pom.

I let the snowmen sit in the counter for about an hour allowing the icing to crust up a bit and then loaded them into a pop container.

I loved making these pops. They are  great afternoon project. I loved that I could walk away, do other things and come back to it. If the melts hardened,putting them in the microwave a few seconds  put me back in business.
I hope you have a chance to make these!

Let It Snow!