Sunday, March 23, 2008

Bread of the Angels

Pane degli Angeli

I’ve been looking for my favorite yeast lately – Dr. Oetker, a German brand that makes really superior bread and pastry. Nicer texture, more controlled rise, better gluten, and wonderful aroma. And, you usually only need to use half a packet, even for heavier doughs like whole grain or brioche. And I’ve been craving brioche lately, though for reasons explained below, that hasn’t happened yet.

Anyway, my usual sources for the yeast have dried up because they say they don’t sell through it fast enough. People are so funny – I haven’t found that yeast goes bad or that it falls flat even past the “sell by” date, but the whole obsession with “sell by” dates is a rant for another day. I finally found it in DeLaurenti’s, of course, though I don’t usually think of buying baking supplies there unless it’s fruitcake season. But that’s another digression. Anyway, right next to the Dr. Oetker yeast was this box of what looked very much like Italian yeast – oh, I was so excited – visions of pizza crusts danced in my head. And the name was just perfect “PANEANGELI” – bread of the angels!! Wow, with a name like that it’s got to be good! And the packaging was so pretty! And “Lievito” DOES mean yeast, it’s just that it apparently also has a more generic meaning – which turns out in this case to mean a premeasured mixture of baking soda and baking powder for cakes and cookies! And all of a sudden I have a box of 10 packets!

Now, in retrospect, there WERE some warning signs that should have alerted me, but the box was all in Italian and I kind of skimmed the words as I grabbed it, so I must have seen only what I wanted to see. I get it home and start to look more closely at it, and here are words like “dolce”, meaning “sweet” – still ok for croissants, right? And “vaniglinato” meaning “vanilla flavored” – well, still ok for brioche. . . . . And “istantanea” which of course means instant, which I took to mean “quick rising”. Well, in the end it I’m sitting there with these packets, a little annoyed at myself, but figuring I’ll find a way to use them. I love the Italians! Each packet has a recipe on the back! All different. And numbered so you can track them! And the web site for this product has a “recipe of the week’!

So I have to bake my way through them, of course. So far we’ve got Ciambelle, which are little rings, Crostata di Marmellata, or jam tart, and Torta al Limone, or lemon cake. It’s great, because they all taste really Italian – who knew there was a secret ingredient like this!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Jam Tarts

Pastry crust filled with a tender almond cake and a dollop of apricot jam, or blackberry redcurrant jelly.

I had a naming contest for these at work. My personal favorite is “Jammy Cakey Tarty Thingies”, but it may be reduced to a simple “Jammy Cakes”. I took some tartlet shells and filled them with a bit of Almond Cake batter – a dense and moist almond pound cake – then I plopped in some jam (apricot in some, blackberry red currant jelly in others) and then put more batter on the top.

Funny how all my baked goods look the same – kind of round and golden. Anyway, the crispness of the pastry crust played off of the tender cake in a subtle but very nice way, and the jam was fabulous – next time I would probably add more jam, but I was trying to avoid the potential for them all to turn volcanic in the oven, so I used a bit less than I really wanted to.

Scout, my adoring fan!

Friday, March 14, 2008


Lori's Birthday Cake - This was a special request for "something apple". So, that left me with plenty of discretion, except that pie of course isn't for birthdays, and the size had to be big enough to feed at least 16 people, because unlike the rest of us greedy and cake-hungry souls who don't want to share, Lori always invites everyone on the entire floor!

This was my first run with this particular square cake pan - for some reason I am loving everything square these days - picture frames, rugs, and now cakes. This pan is fabulous - it's Wilton, either 10"x10" or 11"x11" square - really a perfect size for brownies or cakes. The apple cake is a carrot-cake-like concoction - lots of oil and eggs and sugar, a dash of cinnamon and some diced Pink Lady apples - nuts optional. It's very dense and moist. I made two full cakes and used them as layers - sandwiched and frosted with nearly 2 pounds (!) of cream cheese frosting! So the entire structure was somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 pounds! omg. OK, maybe 9 pounds. But still. And we did get close to 20 servings. Anyway, it was quite the cake.

Apple cake

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups apples, peeled and chopped

(optional - 1 cup walnuts or pecans)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, sugars, cinnamon, salt and baking soda) until thoroughly combined.
Whisk together the wet ingredients (eggs, oil and vanilla) and stir into the dry ingredients. Stir to just combine. Fold in the apples and nuts if using.
Spread the batter into a greased and floured pan. Bake 50 to 55 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Make sure the cream cheese and butter are at room temperature!

Mix 2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, 1 stick unsalted butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla and confectioner's sugar to taste with an electric mixer. Beat until really light and fluffy. Spread over top (and sides if you want) of cooled cake.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ravioli ala Bunker

Far and away the best ravioli I've ever made - and I didn't even have to make them! A collaborative effort (read - Lisa bossing others around in the kitchen) with Gary and Tarri and Matt. These used a tomato pasta, just for the fun red color, but you could use plain or spinach as well.

Tomato Pasta
3 cups flour - all-purpose, unbleached
3 eggs
3 oz. (1/2 small can) tomato paste

To make the pasta, combine the ingredients in the work bowl of a food processor and process until well combined - it will be moist and mealy and hold together well - add a few drops of water if it seems dry - better too moist because you can always work extra flour in, but if it's too dry it's never going to be right. Roll it into sheets using a manual pasta maker (Atlas), and then fill with the herbed ricotta and walnut filling below, using a ravioli maker - actually just the plaque that lets you fill and form them by hand. So, even though they call it a ravioli MAKER, it doesn't really make them for you . . . . I have never used any of the other kinds though, and this is way better than shaping and cutting them individually. . . .

Herbed Ricotta Filling with Walnuts

1 -12 oz container of ricotta - firm/drained
a handful (3/4 c.) of fresh mixed herbs - we used flat leaf parsley, lemon thyme, chervil and basil
a handful of walnuts
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan
pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the herbs are finely minced and the walnuts are no longer chunky. Fill ravioli. These need to boil for about 2-4 minutes. Serve with cream sauce and additional parmesan cheese - sprinkle with chopped parsley if you want.

Was finally able to post additional pictures - here is the ricotta we used, and the basket of fresh herbs! Absolutely use lemon thyme, it was fantastic!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Girls Baking

We had a play-hooky-and-bake day on the 13th! So fun - started with a trip to PFI for chocolate, olives, cheese, almond paste, and other essentials, then to Bargreen's just for looking around (excellent source for pizza pans and peels, among other things), then for coffee, I think, then to the grocery store for eggs and a heart-shaped cookie cutter, then back home. So, no baking actually underway until nearly 1:00 PM. But when we got going, it went fast.

First, Nocciola Cheesecake to take into work - no particular reason. OMG - divine!

Then, truffle brownies, later to be cut into heart shapes, and the crumbs ingeniously rolled into cocoa dusted truffles!

Then, pine nut tartlettes - small technical glitches involving honey overflowing into the oven - that's what the foil on the bottom is for!

Then, at the last minute, heart shaped cookies with jam-filled windows! I know, I know, a bit heavy on the photos and light on text and recipes, but that's how it is sometimes!