King Cake

King Cake
My First Homemade King Cake
For the past two years, I have bought paczki and King Cake at West Seattle’s Bakery Nouveau. This is quite a hike for me, coming from the other side of the city. This year I’ve been on a baking binge, and I figured I’d try my hand at making King Cake. Bakery Nouveau described this year’s King Cake on their blog as “made of laminated brioche dough” then, “rolled up with pureed Tatin style apple…cinnamon and sugar, and a sprinkling of raisins.” And finally, they “finish the cake New Orleans style, with a little bit of glaze and tri-color sugar.”

I would like to state for the record that I have never made brioche (though I have made Pulla). I have never laminated anything, let alone dough, nor have I made Tatin style apples. I have made cinnamon rolls, though, so, how hard could it be?

Sit back, and ready yourself for two days worth of work, and a lot of research. That’s what this took me.

I’m not going to give you the recipe, as that this is one of those triumphs that was cobbled from so many sources, and my own brain, that I couldn’t hope to write them all down. I will, however, point you to my resources.

1. Brioche – this part is easy, as that there is a wonderful source available, and that is the invaluable book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking. The brioche recipe I used came straight from this book. Other parts I used for guidance were the recipes for cinnamon rolls and such that can be made with enriched breads. This was the most carefree part of the entire endeavor, and this book is a must for anyone who likes fresh bread, but thinks it takes too long to make. I used half the recipe to make one King Cake.

2. LAMINATE. LAMINATE. LAMINATE. – What is laminated brioche? Think like croissants, but breadier. THe happy, buttery layers of bread come by means of laminating! What does this mean? You take a mixture of butter and flour and make it into a sheet, chill it, and then fold dough around it, kind of like the picture in an old ID badge, where the paper is the butter, and the dough is the plastic. I used a few resources to figure out how to do this, but the main one I used was here. Trust me, this is a part where the more research you do, the better.

3.Tatin apples? WTF? – First, thanks Mark Bittman, and How to Cook Everything. The iPhone/iPad How to Cook Everything app found the recipe for sautéed apples, which is what Bittman suggests for a crust-free tatin flavor. Basically, it’s like apple sauce made with extra sugar, and butter instead of apple cider/juice. Thanks to Bittman, something that could have been hard, was easy. I used one recipe of this, and pureed it.

4. Making the crown, and making it pretty – If I had to do it over again, I would have rolled out the length of my dough as a long rectangle on a Silpat first and then placed it in something like this Thunder Group 18 Inch x 26 Inch Full Size Aluminum Sheet Pan. I spread the puree in one layer from edge to edge, sprinkled on the raisins, and would have, had I not forgotten, added cinnamon/sugar sprinkle on top of the apple puree. Finally I rolled it up so it was a long cylinder, much like you would for cinnamon rolls. Before putting the ends together, I recommend cutting the ends off of the cylinder first, then joining them together to make the crown. Finally, I used Google to get the inspiration for making it pretty.

Laminated Brioche Detail
Buttery Layers
I baked the bread for around 35-40 minutes at 325°F on convection. If you don’t have a convection oven, you might want to try 350°F, and rotating the pan midway to get it evenly brown. I hid the baby Jesus in the cake AFTER baking, by stuffing it in one of the folds.

The cake came out looking buttery and delicious. I let it cool, and finished it off with a simple milk, vanilla extract, and powdered sugar icing drizzled over it, and an abundance of traditional colored sprinkles in purple, yellow and green.

I will be trying this again next year, without a doubt. Though I haven’t tasted this year’s cake (it went straight to my husband’s work), I heard it was delicious.

Bacon Maple Cookies (plus vegan version!)

Bacon Maple Cookies
Bacon Maple Cookies
I’ve been up to my eyeballs learning web development (specifically, developing wordpress site themes). I’m starting to dream about coding. I actually was dreaming about it in every dream last night!

All that aside, I’ve missed sharing another cookie recipe with you! Bacon Maple Cookies! I have a vegan version I want to try to make as well, so I will post the substitutions in parentheses. You won’t need a maple leaf cookie cutter, but it wouldn’t hurt. 🙂

Bacon Maple Cookies

Refrigerator Cookies
Oven 350°F
1 cup softened butter (or soy-free vegan butter)
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg (or 1 Tablespoon flax seed + 3 Tablespoon water)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt (substitute Bacon Salt if you like!)
2 1/2 cup sifted flour

Cream the butter and sugar together, then add the egg and continue to beat together with the vanilla. In another container, sift the flour, then take the 2 1/2 cups sifted flour and the salt and combine with the butter mixture. Make two balls and put in the refrigerator (you can also roll out 1/4-1/2 inch sheets between wax paper), and chill for 3-4 hours.

After chilled and firm, roll out into a 1/4-1/2 in disk if you haven’t already, and cut out your cookies, placing them on parchment paper or baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, checking to make sure they don’t get but a flush of brown.

Set on a cooling rack. Next it’s time to make the frosting!

1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon softened butter (or soy-free vegan butter)
3 Tablespoon 100% maple syrup
4 strips, thick cut bacon, (1/3 cup vegan bacon bits or vegan bacon)
Extra maple syrup and milk (or soy-free milk replacement) on hand to thin as needed)

Bacon – you can go about this a few ways if you use the real thing. You can fry up the whole pieces, then put them in a food processor and lightly chop them, do it by hand, or cut the small pieces of bacon before you fry them. (The vegan version can use the equivalent to 1/3 cup bacon bits or fry the vegan bacon and chop it up.) When crisp, drain the fat and set bacon on a paper towel to rest.

Mix 1/2 cup of powdered sugar with the softened butter. Then add the maple syrup and the rest of the powdered sugar. If this mixture seems too thick for you, thin out with maple syrup first, and then add milk if you feel you’ve gone into sugar overload and it’s not thin enough!) Add the bacon bits and stir until well combined. Take a small knife and coat the tops of the cooled cookies with the frosting. Let set 30 min before transporting!

As always, let me know if you try this recipe!

More Cookies! Salted Chocolate Shortbread

Salted Chocolate Shortbread
Salted Chocolate Shortbread
I made these cookies over the weekend with the help of a few of my friends. It’s a play on a standard shortbread recipe, and was pretty much totally made up. Because of that, it’s possible that I did it “sub-optimally,” but the result was a darn tasty cookie! For the sea salt, I used three different salts available at Whole Foods in Los Altos, CA. I had to ask the cheese counter for the salts, as that they were not out on the counter. The employee, though, was happy to go to the back and get the six salts available, and portioned out my request (small amounts) with no complaint. I spent about $3 on a tiny amount of salt, but it was well worth it. I used lavender flower, pink large crystal, and smoked sea salts. The lavendar salt went the fastest, but the pink large crystal salt was often commented on as being the tastiest, with the chocolate becoming more pronounced thanks to the salt.

Salted Chocolate Shortbread

Oven 350°F

2 sticks (cups) butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 oz fine unsweetened chocolate
2 tablespoons of at least one variety of fancy sea salt (large crystals)

Cream the butter with an electric mixer, then add the sugar and vanilla and cream until almost fluffy. Melt the unsweetened chocolate on the stove under low heat, stirring frequently, Remove from heat once it is melted and set aside. Mix the chocolate in with the butter. In another bowl, combine the salt and flour. With a wooden spoon, fold the flour mix into the butter mix. Don’t be afraid to not stir it in completely.

Use wax paper to either roll out the dough into a disk, about 1/2 inch thick or roll 1-2 small cookie logs. Make sure they’re covered with wax paper or plastic wrap. Put these in the refrigerator for at least an hour. After an hour has passed, either use a cookie cutter on the disk, or cut 1/2 in slices of the cookie log and place them on an ungreased baking sheet. Sprinkle about two pinches of coarse sea salt on each cookie. You can also use parchment paper on the sheet for easy clean up. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, or until just a little browned. Cool on a cooling rack and enjoy!

Coffeeshop for Daring and Open Minds

Yesterday I was wrapping up an impromptu weekend in the Bay Area and happened upon a most unique coffeeshop. One that is not for the closed minded or faint of heart. One where you must be 18 or older to enter. Ladies and gentleman, a kink coffeeshop and erotic boutique called Wicked Grounds.

I was low bloodsugar and short on time when I stumbled upon this place, and my need for food thankfully brought me in. Lucky for me, they had a food menu! I admit to being a bit intimidated to walk through the doors, not being a member of a scene and not oozing aloof awesomeness from every pore. Thankfully, once inside there was the relaxing warmth of a neighborhood cafe, just with more interesting art on the walls. I felt like I could actually sit, relax and not worry about social pretentions. (Crazy enough, I used to have that feeling in the Chicago goth scene, and haven’t found a good replacement on this coast.)

I had to grab my sandwich (and souvenir t-shirt) and run, unfortunately.

Not even a cup of coffee this time.

Next trip, I’ll definitely try to stop in again. I’ll repeat that the shop isn’t for everybody, however, it is one of the many reasons the crazy California vibe has ensnared me. Seriously, all the many permutations of humanity seem to have a home in this state, and I appreciate the beautiful juxtaposition between the polarities.

Kitchen Experiment: Bourbon Pecan Shortbread

Bourbon Pecan Shortbread
Bourbon Pecan Shortbread
This started out as an effort to make the Kentucky classic: bourbon balls, a traditional candy made during the holiday season. The ingredients are simple: butter, powdered sugar, pecans, chocolate. Nothing too complicated, except that the novice needs to follow the directions explicitly – which I did not. In the end, I had balls of sugared pecan and butter mix. I decided to use the bourbon ball mix (that is, without the chocolate coating), and make shortbread. This is a rough recreation of the recipe:

Bourbon Pecan Shortbread

Oven: 350°F
1 cup chopped pecans (and additional whole pecans for topping the cookies)
4 Tablespoons bourbon
1/2 pound of butter (2 sticks), softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour

Put the chopped pecans and bourbon in a bowl, cover and refrigerate at least three hours, or over night, to let the flavors blend. When the pecans are ready, cream the softened butter with an electric mixer, then add the sugar and blend together well. In another bowl, combine the salt and flour. Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until it is just barely combined. Next, either roll into a 2 in diameter log, wrapped with wax paper, or roll into 1/4-1/2 inch disk for cookie-cutters, and put in the refrigerator for at least an hour before cutting. After the hour has passed, cut the roll into 1/4-1/2 in cookies, or use a cookie cutter, and place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, or until a bit golden brown. Remove and let sit for a minute, then cool on a cooling rack. When all the cookies are out of the oven, make the chocolate ganache.

Chocolate Ganache
8 oz chocolate chips, semi-sweet (or chipped up fine chocolate)
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Put the chocolate in a heat-safe bowl. In a saucepan, heat the heavy whipping cream until steaming. Once the cream is steaming, turn off the heat and pour the cream onto the chocolate. Stir until well combined.

Let cool slightly, then spoon the chocolate into the center of the cookies, topping in the center with a single pecan.