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Daring Bakers: Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies

Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies

Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies

A look at the inside!

A peek at the inside!

 The July Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth.  She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

 My Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookie experience:

If you are like me,  you sit down and read the recipe you are about to attempt a few times to make sure you have a clear picture of exactly what it entails.   Now we know from experience that the written word in a recipe does not always translate into what can be referred to as …  “baking reality”. 

For example this recipe says:  Makes about 2 dozen cookies.  Liar … Liar … pants on fire!  They would have to be the size of saucers … cause I got 107 cookies using the recommended 1 and 1/2 inch cookie cutter. 

Next is the part I just love …  Pipe a “kiss” of marshmallow onto each cookie.   Sounds so easy.   Well, by the time I was done, I had “kissed” just about everything in my kitchen.   Thank goodness the boys (my cats Wally and Truman) were napping and not underfoot … otherwise they too would have received a dreaded marshmallow smooch.  I proved to be quite dangerous with a loaded piping bag.

Here’s another one … transfer to a pastry bag.  Makes it sound like it magically happens all nice and neat.  What it really means is you’ll be up to your elbows in marshmallow by the time you get it into the bag! 

So I guess the old saying “Don’t believe everything you read” is so true … even in baking!

Cookies "kissed" with marshmallow.

Cookies "kissed" with marshmallow. The cookies bake up to be very crisp ... but I swear they plump up and soften once you pipe the marshmallow onto them. Ready to be dipped!

 Mallows   (Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies)
Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website
Makes about 2 dozen cookies  (OK … someone really got this wrong cause I got 107 cookies!)

• 3 cups (375grams/13.23oz) all purpose flour
• 1/2 cup (112.5grams/3.97oz) white sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 3/8 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon  ( I only used 1/4 teaspoon as I did not want a noticeable cinnamon flavor)
• 12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter  (room temperature)
• 3 eggs, whisked together
• Homemade marshmallows, recipe follows
• Chocolate glaze, recipe follows

1. In a mixer with the paddle attachment, blend the dry ingredients.
2. On low speed, add the butter and mix until sandy.
3. Add the eggs and mix until combine.  (The dough comes together nicely.)
4. Form the dough into a disk, wrap with clingfilm or parchment and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.  (I divided my dough in half and formed 2 disks.  When possible I like working with smaller amounts so the dough does not warm up and become difficult to work with.)
5. When ready to bake, grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper or a silicon mat.  (I used parchment paper with great results.)
6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
7. Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness, on a lightly floured surface. Use a 1 to 1  1/2 inches cookie cutter to cut out small rounds of dough.   (I used a 1 and 1/2 inch round cookie cutter.)
8. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes or until light golden brown.  (I baked for 9 minutes.)  Let cool to room temperature.
9. Pipe a “kiss” of marshmallow onto each cookie.   Let set at room temperature for 2 hours.
10. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or silicon mat.
11. One at a time, gently drop the marshmallow-topped cookies into the hot chocolate glaze.
12. Lift out with a fork and let excess chocolate drip back into the bowl.
13. Place on the prepared pan and let set at room temperature until the coating is firm, about 1 to 2 hours.

Homemade marshmallows:
• 1/4 cup water
• 1/4 cup light corn syrup
• 3/4 cup (168.76 grams/5.95oz) sugar
• 1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
• 2 tablespoons cold water
• 2 egg whites , room temperature
• 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. In a saucepan, combine the water, corn syrup, and sugar, bring to a boil until “soft-ball” stage, or 235 degrees on a candy thermometer.   (I heat to 238 degrees to achieve soft ball.)
2. In a separate bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the 2 tablespoons cold water and let dissolve.
3. Remove the syrup from the heat, add the gelatin, and mix.
4. In your mixing bowl, whip the whites until soft peaks form and pour the syrup into the whites.  (I use the whisk attachment on my stand mixer.  Once you have the egg whites at the soft peak stage, turn down the mixer speed and slowly add the hot syrup mixture.  Try not to pour directly on the whisk attachement as it can “throw” the hot liquid outside the bowl.)
5. Add the vanilla and continue whipping until stiff.  (I let my mixer go full tilt for about 9 minutes.)
6. Transfer to a pastry bag. 

Chocolate glaze:
• 12 ounces semisweet chocolate
• 2 ounces cocoa butter or vegetable oil   (I did not use cocoa butter or vegetable oil.)

1. Melt the 2 ingredients together in the top of a double boiler or a bowl set over barely simmering water.

Daring Bakers:  Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies

Daring Bakers: Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies

Daring Bakers: Bakewell Tart …er…pudding

Bakewell Tart

Bakewell Tart

THE CHALLENGE:   The June Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart… er… pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800’s in England.

Bakewell tarts…er…puddings combine a number of dessert elements but still let you show off your area’s seasonal fruits.

Like many regional dishes there’s no “one way” to make a Bakewell Tart…er…Pudding, but most of today’s versions fall within one of two types. The first is the “pudding” where a layer of jam is covered by an almondy pastry cream and baked in puff pastry. The second is the “tart” where a rich shortcrust pastry holds jam and an almondy sponge cake-like filling.

The version we were dared to make is a combination of the two: a sweet almond-flavoured shortcrust pastry, frangipane and jam.

Bakewell Tart

Bakewell Tart

Bakewell Tart…er…pudding

Makes one 23 cm (9” tart)
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23 cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour
250 ml (1 cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability  (The recipe I used
                                                                                                                         follows.)

One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface.  If  it’s overly cold, you will need to let it set out at room temperature for about 15 minutes before you roll it out.  Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5 mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the center and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll.  When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough.  Patch any holes or tears with trimmed bits.  Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base.  Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes.  Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish.  Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.  The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking.  Remove from the oven and cool on the counter.  Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.  When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Sweet shortcrust pastry

30 g (1 oz) sugar
2.5 ml (½ tsp) salt
110 g (4 oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2  egg yolks
2.5 ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)  (I added the almond extract.)
15-30 ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water  (I used the full 2 Tablespoons.)

Sift together flour, sugar and salt.  Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater.  Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.  Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture.  Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.  Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  (This sweet shortcrust pastry can be made in a food processor.)

Jam Layer – Pineapple, Lime, Vanilla

From:   Sky-High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes
By:  Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne

1 can (20 ounce) crushed pineapple in juice  (no added sugar)
1 cup sugar
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice  (I used a little more.)
1  one inch piece of vanilla bean split in half

Combine the pineapple, sugar and lime juice in a pan.  Add the vanilla seeds you scraped from the vanilla bean.  (I tossed in the vanilla bean pieces for added flavor.  Just remember to remove them when cooking is complete.)  Warm over a medium-low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar, 2 to 3 minutes.  Raise the heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the juices have almost completely evaporated and its turned jam-like in consistency. (This takes a while, do not expect it to happen in just a few minutes.  Watch so it does not burn.)  Can be made a day in advance and refrigerated.  

Frangipane

125 g (4.5 oz) unsalted butter, softened
125 g (4.5 oz) icing sugar 
3  eggs
2.5 ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125 g (4.5 oz) ground almonds
30 g (1 oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy.  Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  The batter may appear to curdle.  In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic.  Really.  It’ll be fine.  After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again.  With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour.  Mix well.  The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pale yellow color.

Daring Bakers: STRUDEL

Apple ...  Pineapple and Maraschino Cherry ...  Cherry Cheese

Cherry Cheese ... Pineapple and Maraschino Cherry ... Apple

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks.  They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Courtney and Linda told us that they picked a recipe that is all about technique.   But they also picked the “right” strudel dough recipe.   I am in love with this dough.  It handled like a dream and before I knew it, with a little rolling and a bit of stretching, the double batch I had made almost entirely covered my 52 inch x 52 inch table! 

This dough handled like a dream!

This dough handled like a dream!

Stretched paper thin!

Stretched paper thin!

My Grandmother would tell me that you knew the dough was thin enough when you could see the lines on the palm of your hand thru the dough.   I think she would be proud of me … you can even read thru it!  As I was making this dough I would remember things she told me about dough stretching … never stretch dough in an area where you could get a cool draft … the best dough stretching temperature is when you have just a bead of sweat on your forehead.   The stretching cloths I used belonged to my great grandmother and were passed down to my grandmother and now my Sister and I share them for our poviticia and strudel making.

Strudel dough    (I doubled this recipe.)
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed    (I did not need more water.  The conditions in my kitchen must have been ideal on the afternoon I baked.)
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup.  Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed.  You will get a soft dough.  Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.   Take the dough out of the mixer.  Change to the dough hook.  Put the dough ball back in the mixer.  Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface.  Knead for about 2 minutes.  Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.  Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate.  Oil the top of the dough ball lightly.  Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap.  Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).  (I let my dough rest for a full 2 hours.)

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm).  Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric.  Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.  Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge.  This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs.  Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough.  You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold.  Put it on your work surface.  Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table.  Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands.  Stretch and pull the dough until it’s about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time.  Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors.  The dough is now ready to be filled.

Fillings on the dough and ready to be rolled!

Fillings on the dough and ready to be rolled!

Grandma always said to make sure you lightly butter the dough immediately after you have finished stretching and prior to adding the filling.  My Great Grandmother was well known for her “multi-filling” strudels.  If she did not have enough apples for the whole strudel she would use what else she had on hand.   So my strudel is a tribute to my Great Grandmother Roper!

After I lightly buttered the stretched dough, I added a light dusting of graham cracker crumbs.

FILLINGS: 

Apple:  I used about 2 pounds of Granny Smith Apples, peeled, quartered and thinly sliced.  Once arranged on the dough, sprinkle the apples lightly with sugar (used just short of 1/2 cup) and dust with apple pie spice .

Pineapple and Maraschino Cherry:  Sprinkle (lots of sprinkling going on with the strudel) about 1 cup of finely ground walnuts on the area where you will place your filling.   You will need about 3 cups of fresh pineapple that has been diced into small pieces and pressed to remove a good bit of the juice.  If you do not remove some of the juice your strudel will be mushy.  Place the pineapple over the ground walnuts.  Next add about 3/4 cup of maraschino cherries that have been finely diced.  Sprinkle sugar over the filling (I used about 1/2 cup).  You can add golden raisins if you like.  (I intended to use them but forgot!)

Cherry Cheese:  I used Gale Gand’s Cherry Cheese filling recipe.  Adjust the recipe as necessary to fit the size of strudel you are making.

Time to roll it up!

The rolling begins!

The rolling begins!

As you roll the strudel, add a layer of the cheese mixture to the cherry filling. 

I added the cheese filling as we rolled the strudel.

I added the cheese filling as we rolled the strudel.

Almost done!

Almost done!

Rolling complete!

Rolling complete!

The rolled strudel is coiled (in snake fashion) and transferred to a full sheet pan and brushed with butter.  It is baked in a 375 degree oven for about 45 minutes.  With the size of this strudel you want to get as much baking time as possible without burning the dough.  It is best to let the strudel cool prior to slicing.

Cherry Cheese and Apple

Cherry Cheese and Apple

Daring Bakers: Carrot Cake Cheesecake … Inspired by Junior’s of New York

Carrot Cake Cheesecake ... inspired by Junior's Cheesecake.

Carrot Cake Cheesecake ... inspired by Junior's Cheesecake.

Daring Bakers Cheesecake Challenge

Daring Bakers Cheesecake Challenge

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

Jenny’s Instructions: 
I know some of you will have made cheesecake before, but I’m hoping it is new for some of you.  The real challenge this month is to take this basic recipe and play with it.  Make it unique.  Make a showstopper of a dessert.   Add flavor, sauces, decorations – dress it up and show it off. To be clear, I’m allowing for almost any flavor modification within the basic recipe (alcohol, lemon juice, vanilla), changes for dietary needs, and you can also experiment with the crust (graham crackers not essential).  And then what you do on top – you have free reign here.

My interpretation:  Use any kind of base … use “Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake” recipe … Put anything on top.

My Creation:   Carrot Cake Cheesecake … inspired by Junior’s of New York.

Carrot cake base … cream cheese icing …  Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake … cream cheese icing … Carrot cake on top … cream cheese icing all around.
I believe I am Daring Bakers Challenge legal!
Layer upon layer of cheesecake heaven!

Layer upon layer of cheesecake heaven!

DAY ONE:
Bake your cheesecake.
  Our group used “Abbeys Infamous Cheesecake” recipe.

 Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake:
3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs   (I like eggs to be at room temperature.)
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream  (I let the cream set out a few minutes to warm up a bit.)
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)  (I used a good vanilla extract.)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake  (I chose not to use liqueur.)

DIRECTIONS:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.  (At this time, I generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9 inch springform pan.)

2. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth.  Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg.  Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

3. Pour batter into prepared  pan (I do not use a crust in the pan, so you will be pouring the batter directly into the pan.) and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.  (I use a triple layer of heavy duty foil around my springform pan.)

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done – this can be hard to judge, but you’re looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don’t want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won’t crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve. 

(To make my variation it will be necessary to let the cheesecake cool completely on a wire rack.  This took approximately 2 hours.  When the cake is completely cooled wrap plastic wrap around the pan and all and place in the freezer until you are ready to assemble the cake.  It is best to let this freeze overnight.)
 
Bake 2 layers of carrot cake.   You can use your favorite carrot cake recipe that makes two, 9 inch layers.  (My recipe makes a 3rd layer … some of which I crumbled for a decorative topping.)  I suggest you generously butter the sides and bottoms of the pans, insert a piece of parchment paper cut to fit the bottom of the pan and butter it as well.  Let the cakes cool in the pans, on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then turn them out onto the racks and slowly peel off the parchment paper.   Cool completely (about 2 hours) then wrap each layer individually in plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Refrigeration is crucial to the assembly process.
 
DAY  TWO:
Carrot Cake Cheesecake Assembly. 
When you are ready to assemble the cake, take the cheesecake from the freezer and carrot cakes from the fridge and allow them to stand at room temperature while you make the frosting.   I used the cream cheese frosting recipe from Junior’s Cheesecake Cookbook
 
Cream Cheese Frosting
Three 8 ounce packages of cream cheese (use only full fat), at room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar  (1  and 1/2 pounds)
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
Beat the cream cheese and butter together on high speed.  Add the confectioners’ sugar, than the vanilla, beating until smooth.  With the mixer running, gradually add ther cream and beat until the frosting looks whipped and creamy.  Add a little more cream if necessary until it’s easy to spread.   (I have never had to add any additional cream.  The frosting is always a perfect spreading consistency.)

Place one of the carrot cake layers (top down) on a cake plate.  Spread with frosting.  
 
Place the cheesecake (top  down), on top of the frosted carrot cake layer and spread with frosting.   (A  Junior’s tip for removing the frozen cheesecake from the pan helped me tremendously!  They recommend warming the bottom of the pan by setting it on a hot, wet towel long enough to melt the butter used to grease the pan.  Remove the pan ring.  Gently insert a long narrow spatula between the bottom of the cake and the pan bottom, moving it slowly in a circle.  Then lift up the edge of the cake with the spatula, oh-so-gently, just enough to release the vacuum between the bottom of the cake and the pan.)
 
Top with the remaining cake layer (bottom side down).  Ice the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting.   Refrigerate the cake until ready to serve  (it takes this cake about 2 hours in the refrigerator to thaw enough to easily slice.)  Use a sharp straight-edge knife, not a serrated one, to cut it.  If there’s any cake leftover, cover it and refrigerate.
 
Grab a fork and enjoy!

Grab a fork and enjoy!

Daring Bakers: Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna

Lasagna of Emilia-Romagna

Lasagna of Emilia-Romagna

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

Lasagna (singular, pronounced [laˈzaɲa] in Italian; plural lasagne pronounced [laˈzaɲe]) is both a form of pasta in sheets (sometimes rippled, though seldom so in Northern Italy) and also a dish, sometimes named lasagne al forno(meaning “oven-cooked lasagne”) made with alternate layers of pasta, cheese, and often ragù (a meat sauce) or tomato sauce.  The word lasagna, which originally applied to a cooking pot, now simply describes the food itself.   Americans commonly use the singular “lasagna” to refer to both the dish and the pasta, while others use the Italian plural “lasagne”.

Lasagna is many different things to many different people.   For me it has not been about how many layers of pasta you can get in your dish, but rather how much “stuff” you can fit between the layers and still keep it all in the pan!   So when I read that this dish should always be a ““vivid expression of the ‘less is more’ philosophy of cooking.  Mere films of béchamel sauce and meat ragu coat the sheerest spinach pasta. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese dusts each layer”, I was quite baffled.  Phrases like “mere film” and “cheese dusts” or “sheer pasta”  just do not describe the lasagna we make here in Kansas! 

For a fleeting moment … or two … I did consider passing on this challenge but I knew I couldn’t, as making homemade, hand rolled pasta is the number one item on my “gotta try it someday” list.   So I read all the info again with a much more open mind and figured out that the “most important” part of this challenge was the hand-made Spinach Egg Pasta and following the instructions for the final assembly. 

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
(Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish)
Preparation Time: 15 minutes to assemble and 40 minutes cooking time

10 quarts (9 litres) salted water
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows)#1
1 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows)#2
1 recipe Country Style Ragu (recipe follows)#3
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Method:
Working Ahead:
The ragu and the béchamel sauce can be made up to three days ahead.  The ragu can also be frozen for up to one month.  The pasta can be rolled out, cut and dried up to 24 hours before cooking.  The assembled lasagne can wait at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius/68 degrees Fahrenheit) about 1 hour before baking.  Do not refrigerate it before baking, as the topping of béchamel and cheese will overcook by the time the center is hot.

Assembling the Ingredients:
Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, and the pasta at hand.  Have a large perforated skimmer and a large bowl of cold water next to the stove.  Spread a double thickness of paper towels over a large counter space.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Oil or butter a 3 quart (approx 3 litre) shallow baking dish.

Cooking the Pasta:
Bring the salted water to a boil.  Drop about four pieces of pasta in the water at a time.  Cook about 2 minutes.  If you are using dried pasta, cook about 4 minutes, taste, and cook longer if necessary.  The pasta will continue cooking during baking, so make sure it is only barely tender.  Lift the lasagne from the water with a skimmer, drain, and then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking.  When cool, lift out and dry on the paper towels. Repeat until all the pasta is cooked.

Assembling the Lasagne:
Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish.  Arrange a layer of about four overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel.  Spread a thin layer of béchamel (about 3 or 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta, and then an equally thin layer of the ragu.  Sprinkle with about 1&1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and about 1/3 cup of the cheese.  Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of cheese.

Baking and Serving the Lasagne:
Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagne.  Bake 40 minutes, or until almost heated through.  Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, or until hot in the center (test by inserting a knife – if it comes out very warm, the dish is ready).  Take care not to brown the cheese topping.  It should be melted, creamy looking and barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagne rest for about 10 minutes.  Then serve.  This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.  (Please follow this step exactly as written and you will not be sorry.  The cheese on top was melted and so creamy looking … only a bit golden.)

Making the Spinach Egg Pasta  (Pasta Verde):

Ready or not ... it's time to start.

Ready or not ... it's time to start.

#1  Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)
Preparation: 45 minutes

Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings, equivalent to 1 pound (450g) dried boxed pasta.

2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more)     (I had to use 4 jumbo eggs)

10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry   (Used approximately 8 ounces of fresh spinach)

3 & 1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)  ( was unable to find stone ground, but did find all purpose, unbleached, organic flour.) 

Working by Hand:
Equipment

A roomy work surface, 24 to 30 inches deep by 30 to 36 inches (60cm to 77cm deep by 60cm to 92cm).   Any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired.

A pastry scraper and a small wooden spoon for blending the dough.

A wooden dowel-style rolling pin.  In Italy, pasta makers use one about 35 inches long and 2 inches thick (89cm long and 5cm thick).  The shorter American-style pin with handles at either end can be used, but the longer it is, the easier it is to roll the pasta.   (Found a 20 inch wooden rolling pin, 2 inches thick at Williams-Sonoma.  Wish I could have found a longer one as I had great success in rolling and stretching the dough!)

Plastic wrap to wrap the resting dough and to cover rolled-out pasta waiting to be filled.  It protects the pasta from drying out too quickly.

A sharp chef’s knife for cutting pasta sheets.

Cloth-covered chair backs, broom handles, or specially designed pasta racks found in cookware shops for draping the pasta.  (I used my dining room chair backs covered with kitchen towels.)

Mixing the dough:
Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle.  Add the eggs and spinach.  Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach.  Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid.   As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse.  Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough.  Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.  (I used my fingers/hands to incorporate the flour into the liquid.)

Kneading:
With the aid of the scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough.  Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy.  Knead the dough for about 3 minutes.  Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky.  If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour.  (My dough was sticky, so it was necessary to add  small amounts of flour to be able to work with it.)  Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic.   It will feel alive under your hands.  (This sounds odd, but you will feel the dough come to “life” as you knead it.)  Do not shortcut this step.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.  ( I recommend the full 3 hours.)

 
 

Stretching and Thinning:
If using an extra-long rolling pin work with half the dough at a time. With a regular-length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped.  (With my 20 inch rolling pin, I divided the dough into thirds.)  Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour.  The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it.  Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn.  As it thins outs, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward.  Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat.  Do twice more.

Kneading completed ... ready to wrap and let rest for 3 hours.

Kneading completed ... ready to wrap and let rest for 3 hours.

 

 Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin.  Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand.  Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.

OK … here is where I have to share with you my inspiration for using this method of rolling out the pasta.  The instructions are actually very good … but I could not “picture” how to do it until I watched the following video: 

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_jf9A1tVu8 . 

(Thanks to our Daring Baker hosts for including this in our challenge info.)  You might laugh … but I had my laptop on the counter, playing this video over and over,  while I was rolling out the pasta.  I found the music helped me keep a rhythm going! 

Ready to hand-roll one third of the pasta dough.

Ready to hand-roll one third of the pasta dough.

Trying to roll the pasta to the edges of the rolling pin.

Got the music playing ... and the dough rolling!

Roll & Stretch ... Roll & Stretch ... almost to the edges of the rolling pin!

Roll & Stretch ... Roll & Stretch ... almost to the edges of the rolling pin!

Success!   Wish I had a longer rolling pin!

Success! Wish I had a longer rolling pin!

Rolled and stretched as far as my rolling pins goes!

Rolled and stretched as far as my rolling pins goes!

Repeat the two processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner.  The goal is a sheet of even thickness.  For lasagne, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours.  Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm).  Note: Enza says that transparency is a crucial element of lasagne pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible.  She says this is why her housekeeper has such strong arms!   (When I held my dough up to the light you could see right thru it and see the outline of the individual chopped spinach pieces!)

 Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag.

DRYING THE PASTA

Pasta drying over the backs of dining room chairs!

Pasta drying over the backs of dining room chairs!

#2  The Bechamel Sauce
Preparation Time: 15 minutes

4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
2 & 2/3 cups (approx 570ml) milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.    

#3 Country Style Ragu’ (Ragu alla Contadina)
Preparation Time:  Ingredient Preparation Time 30 minutes
Cooking time 2 hours

Makes enough sauce for 1 recipe fresh pasta or 1 pound/450g dried pasta)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45 mL)
2 ounces/60g pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, minced
1 medium stalk celery with leaves, minced
1 small carrot, minced
4 ounces/125g boneless veal shoulder or round
4 ounces/125g pork loin, trimmed of fat, or 4 ounces/125g mild Italian sausage (made without fennel)
8 ounces/250g beef skirt steak, hanging tender, or boneless chuck blade or chuck center cut (in order of preference)
1 ounce/30g thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma
2/3 cup (5 ounces/160ml) dry red wine
1 &1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible)   (I made chicken stock.)
2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) milk
3 canned plum tomatoes, drained  (To clarify … this is 3 individual plum tomatoes from the can.)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

My shopping notes:  The ragu’ requires small amounts of 5 different types of meats.  Not very easy to buy 2 oz. of one meat or 4 ounces of another.   But again, Whole Foods came thru for me.  They were able to sell me 4 ounces of pork loin and 8 ounces of skirt steak!  Dean & DeLuca, an upscale grocery store chain, was more than happy to sell me 1 ounce of Prosciutto de Parma (good thing cause it ‘s like $32.00 a pound)  and 2 ounces of pancetta!  My local Price Chopper had the veal in the amount I needed.   So, my advice is not to be afraid to ask for what you need!

Working Ahead:
The ragu can be made 3 days ahead.  Cover and refrigerate. It also freezes well for up to 1 month.  Skim the fat from the ragu’ before using it.

Browning the Ragu Base:
Heat the olive oil in a 12 inch (30cm) skillet (frying pan) over medium-high heat.  Have a large saucepan handy to use once browning is complete.  Add the pancetta and minced vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, 10 minutes, or until the onions barely begin to color.  Coarsely grind all the meats together, including the prosciutto, in a food processor or meat grinder.  (I used my KitchenAid meat grinder attachment for the first time!)   Stir into the pan and slowly brown over medium heat.  First the meats will give off a liquid and turn dull grey but, as the liquid evaporates, browning will begin.  Stir often, scooping under the meats with the wooden spatula. Protect the brown glaze forming on the bottom of the pan by turning the heat down.  Cook 15 minutes, or until the meats are a deep brown.  Turn the contents of the skillet into a strainer and shake out the fat.  Turn them into the saucepan and set over medium heat.

Browning the Ragu base

Browning the Ragu base

Reducing and Simmering: Add the wine to the skillet, lowering the heat so the sauce bubbles quietly.  Stir occasionally until the wine has reduced by half, about 3 minutes.  Scrape up the brown glaze as the wine bubbles. Then pour the reduced wine into the saucepan and set the skillet aside.

Stir ½ cup stock into the saucepan and let it bubble slowly, 10 minutes, or until totally evaporated.  Repeat with another ½ cup stock.  Stir in the last 1/2 cup stock along with the milk.  Adjust heat so the liquid bubbles very slowly. Partially cover the pot, and cook 1 hour.  Stir frequently to check for sticking.

Add the tomatoes, crushing them as they go into the pot.  Cook uncovered, at a very slow bubble for another 45 minutes, or until the sauce resembles a thick, meaty stew.  Season with salt and pepper.

Assemble lasagne according to the directions listed at the beginning of this post.

As I was working my way thru the recipe I kept chanting under my breath, “I will never make this again … I will never make this again”.   BUT, it only took one bite for me to change my mind. 

I WILL BE MAKING THIS AGAIN !

Now I can mark making homemade hand-rolled pasta off of my "gotta try it someday list!

Now I can mark homemade hand-rolled pasta off my "gotta try it someday list!

Worth all the work!

Worth all the work ... 6 layers of pasta!

Daring Bakers: Chocolate Valentino

chocolate-valentino-slice1
The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE’s blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef.
We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

This certainly is a month of “firsts” as this is my rookie showing as a Daring Baker!

I openly admit I was a bit intimidated with this recipe of only 3 ingredients.  

Chocolate:   I used 50% bittersweet and 50% semi-sweet.
       Butter:    Next time I will use a much better quality of butter.
         Eggs:    Used farm fresh eggs purchased from the local “egg lady”

A flourless chocolate cake has been on my “gotta try it some day” list for quite a long time.   But any recipe that includes the words “whip the egg whites” throws me for a loop.   So thank you Dharm and Wendy for helping me overcome my “whip the egg whites” phobia!   I did make use of the video demonstration site you suggested.  My batter turned out fine … but I wonder if I might have over-whipped the egg whites.  Instead of a nice ribbon of egg whites being folded into the chocolate mixture (like I saw in the video) … mine kind of separated onto little “chunks”.  I expected my cake to be a bit “taller” … maybe having to take longer to fold the “chunks” of egg white into the chocolate mixture contributed to deflating my batter a bit.

I used an 8 inch heart shaped pan purchased especially for this baking occasion.  At twenty minutes into the baking cycle I tested my cake with an instant read thermometer and it had already hit 145F.   Darn … should have checked it at 15 to 18 minutes.  (Hind sight is 20/20.) 

chocolate-valentino-in-pan

 NOTICE  THE  HOLE IN THE MIDDLE OF MY HEART!
I had to laugh when I realized that the instant read thermometer left a permanent scar.

chocolate-valentino-in-pan2

Step 10 reads:  Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.   Yes, it was that easy!   I ended up with a perfectly shaped heart cake.

chocolate-valentino-unmolded

 You can visit Wendy or Dharm and get the recipe for this great Chocolate Valentino cake.

chocolate-valentino-the-end