Wrong-time-of-year King Cake

First thing I want to start off this post with, is something very personal and revealing.

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This is the most cohesive recipe I’ve ever gotten from my mom. Everything else I’ve gleaned through my nose and eyes. A couple of times I’ve gotten a dictated recipe full of vague measurements like “enough” and “some.”

It’s definitely possible to learn from and work with stuff like this!

This is also a big part of why I’ve always been a little inconsistent in how I post recipes. I fundamentally believe that the ingredients themselves are inconsistent–no two jalapeƱos are alike, and it’s important to be prepared to handle the differences.

Even with baking, I follow the same ideas. I started out using recipes as a crutch, but I grew to trust my senses. All sorts of things–humidity, age of the yeast or flour, temperature of each ingredient and of the air–influence the dough, and it is more important to look at the dough itself than to look at a dead page with dead script on it. So now recipes are starting points, style guides. And the pictures help keep me in tune with what things should look like. Good descriptions help fill in my senses and build my expectations.

So with that in mind, I took a ton of pictures of the process and I’ll try to be detailed in all my sensory descriptions.

It wasn’t the right season, but I’m consistently out of town for Mardi Gras, so we made a King Cake anyway last time we visited.

We’re not big on excessive food coloring or sugar, so the toppings are a bit different than what you’d normally see.
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For our version, there are actually two recipes. One for the filling (which we also used as an icing) and one for the dough. Our filling is a basic fluffy-almost-cream-cheese, but you can use anything you like. The filling was whipped up too fast for me to get a good picture, so here’s the recipe:

2 cream cheeses
1 tub of mascarpone (8oz)
1 cup confectioners sugar
tap of vanilla

Mix these all together in a bowl until smooth.
Resist the temptation to eat it all while making everything else.

But as for the dough, that’ll be a bit more interesting.

Assemble the following:
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
2 packages of yeast (or 4.5 teaspoons)
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup warm water
2 eggs
1/2 tsp nutmeg
5 1/2 cups flour (we used bread flour, cake flour would be nice too)
1 1/2 tsp salt

your selection of toppings/extra filling (we used a mix of blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries)

To start, we’re going to need to scald the milk.

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To do this, just heat the milk up on medium high. Keep an eye on it, because you don’t want it to boil, scalding is just before that. Stir it if you like, but it will slow down the process. When the milk starts to froth at the edges, you’ve reached the right point.

Take the milk off the stove, and pour it in your mixing bowl. Add your butter and allow to melt. Now that the pressure’s off of watching the milk, go ahead and preheat the oven to 375.

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Yeast is alive, and you don’t want to kill it. If you put it in the butter + milk too soon, you could murder it with heat. So let that cool until it’s cold enough that you would comfortably touch it, then add the yeast, sugar, water and eggs.

Lightly mix it. You don’t want to froth it up, but you want the ingredients to be equally incorporated. Top it off with the nutmeg.

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Then, add the flour slowly, about a cup at a time. Tap it into the mixer while it’s running, and add more once what was in there has blended in. Your dough will end up somewhat sticky, but not soupy. It’ll stick to your fingers, but that’s totally fine.

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This recipe makes three king cakes, but we only made two last time and that worked out well. You can play with this to see how many cakes you want and how thick they’re going to be. Once we grabbed as much dough as we wanted to use, we then separated it into two pieces. After the rolling and the filling, each piece will be a half circle for the whole cake.

Before rolling it out, prep the countertop and the rolling pin with more flour. Sprinkle liberally, but try not to have clumps.

As you roll it, if there are spots where the dough sticks to the rolling pin, just sprinkle more flour on. You’ll notice that it becomes easier to handle the dough once you start working it like this.

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Aim for a crust that is rectangular instead of square or circular, and make it around 1/4-1/2 inch thick. We’re going to roll it into a tube, and then make it a circle from there. But before that!
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Slap down some of the cream cheese filling and sprinkle your favorite things inside. We used mixed berries, but it works really well with any type of fruit, flavored cream cheese fillings, or even chopped up candy bars.

With your hands (not the rolling pin!), roll these flat doughs into tubes.

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You can see both of ours in the picture, back in the background is the second one. Once they’re both ready, curl one into a half-circle and make room to bring the other half over.

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We overlapped the dough a little to help seal the halves together.

Once the oven was ready, we popped it in, covered with high quality butter, and bake for 30 minutes. The butter isn’t strictly necessary, but it gives it a beautiful GBD color and texture.

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When the cake is done, let it cool on a cake rack until cool to the touch. If you try to ice it while it is still hot, the icing won’t set and will melt down the sides. We used the leftover filling for the icing, but you could definitely use something like a royal icing or a buttercream, or your favorite type of other-icing.

We sprinkled on the leftover fruit to finish it off, then chowed down.

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It was great as a dessert, but if you can manage, I recommend saving at least a little. It tastes great chilled (and I love the texture of the filling both hot and cold, so it’s good to try it both ways).

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Fungus Bacon, or, Mushroom Surprise, Part 1

I’ve been staying late at work a lot this week, so I’m going to pull that excuse and turn it into a fun advantage! Today’s article/recipe will be a bit of a teaser.

We were experimenting with mushrooms a little while back and got a sampler pack. In combining the different mushrooms in one dish, we tried out two different cooking methods. One is tried and true, tasty and vegan friendly–maybe even playfully deceptive if you’ve got a little Ferran in you.

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For this part of the dish, we used the shiitake, chanterelle, and king oyster mushrooms. We’ve done this with shiitake mushrooms, but the others were a bit of an experiment. We found out that they all work well, but the key is to make sure to cut them to the same consistency. Slight differences are magnified as the mushrooms cook down, so it’s definitely worth taking your time.

After cutting them, toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper. You want them to be covered, but not sopping, and as for the SnP, I say heavy on the P. Some salt is good to help out, but keep in mind that people add salt once it’s on the plate, so no need to overdo it here.

 

 

 

 

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Once they’re ready, spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes then flip. Bake another 15 minutes, then check and flip again. Moisture will evaporate more readily from the edges than the center, so try to re-disperse when flipping. Repeat this until the “bacon” is in a satisfactory zone of the crispy-gooey scale.

Honey Jalapeno Chicken

So recently I’ve learned a few things. One, roasting chickens is awesome. It’s cheap, easy, tasty, and impressive. Two, allspice is delicious.

I’ve been trying to save up money because I’m going to Costa Rica in August, so I’ve been eating a little cheaper (hah) but still pretty well. Chicken’s a good way to go with it, especially when you buy whole ones. They also give you a pretty good chance to experiment with flavor. Every time I’ve prepared chicken this way it’s been completely different, and it’s not hard to be creative.

This time honey jalapeno was the start.

Ingredients:
Whole chicken, thawed and innards removed
5 jalapenos
~2/3 cup honey
~3/4 cup water
~1/8 tsp allspice, ground
black pepper

The first thing I did was cut up the jalapenos and push them under the skin of the breasts and thighs. All five didn’t fit in there. The rest I put inside the cavity, save one which I used for the sauce.

Next I made a sauce to baste the chicken with as it was cooking. I combined the jalapeno, honey, water, allspice, and pepper in a saucepan and cooked on medium to start, then kept it on 2 as the chicken was cooking.

To go with the chicken, I scalloped some potatoes and put them in a pan under the chicken, to catch the drippings. Don’t cut them too thin, because they’ll just cook too fast and stick to the bottom if you do.

As for baking, there should be instructions on the packaging. I think it was 350 degrees for 20 minutes/lb. Mine was a five-pounder so it took a while. I started the chicken off with a little sauce, and every 15-20 minutes I brushed on some more. The whole process is very easy to walk away from, so long as there’s a timer going.

When there was only 20 minutes left, I opened up a can of chestnuts I had in the pantry and threw them in with the potatoes. (Chestnuts are amazing. If you’ve never had them, I highly recommend you do. They go really well with chicken and potatoes and drippin’s.)

With the chicken done and the oven on, I decided to make some asparagus to go with it. The timing worked out perfectly because by the time the asparagus was done, the chicken was cool enough to cut.

And wa-bham–cheap, easy, tasty dinner.

Lamb Burgers

This isn’t so much an instructional article as a show-off article. I’ll probably end up breaking this down into multiple articles explaining the different bits, but for now this will suffice.

We used:
ground lamb
shallots
olive oil
Asian pears
egg yolks
arugula
gruyere

This was a very long and complicated dinner, but it was so good we made it twice.

We started by dicing the shallots.

Then we cooked them in olive oil for about an hour on a med-low heat. The goal was to infuse the oil with the shallot flavor.

Once they had browned, we strained them out of the oil, careful to keep as much of it as possible. Then we mixed the shallots into the meat, along with a little salt and pepper.

Next, in the oil we fried thin slices of Asian pear. Not until crispy though, just until soft.

After that we let the oil cool and made an aioli with it and the egg yolks.

Ok, now imagine all that combined together–perfectly cooked meat along with a slice of gruyere and some arugula. I have to tell you, it tastes a bit like Heaven.