Monday, February 27, 2012

Danish Pastry

For me Danish pastry was my biggest challenge. The ultimate test (until I find something new of course, to tackle) of my baking skills. This intimidating pastry with layers upon layers of delicate, buttery delicioussness always seemed like something out of reach. But I knew I had to conquer it. Why? Because I grew up eating Danish pastry. We lived close to Solvang, a "Danish" village in California where pastry is abundant. Now I am in Nashville where the only place I've seen a Danish pastry was at Whole Foods. I needed to learn how to make this at home.

So I acquired "The Great Scandinavian Baking Book" by Beatrice Ojakangas. If you like baking and you like great Scandinavian breads and desserts this book is a must have. I have flagged about half of the pages in the book to try out. And those are just my priority recipes. This book will make you hungry! And ready to conquer baking. I used the Classic Danish Pastry recipe for the dough and the Danish Pastry Braid for the type of pastry. It is filled with almonds. Yum. When I was making the almond paste I could have eaten the entire bowl. Seriously. 

I'm not going to say that this challenge was easy. However, it was not as complicated as I thought it would be. Sure there are a lot of steps and I had to go and make things more difficult by making my own almond paste, but sometimes it is just worth it. Who doesn't deserve a decadent slice of pastry for breakfast? Or two or three? 

Classic Danish Pastry

1 1/2 cups chilled butter
2 packages yeast
1/2 cup warm water (110 F)
1/2 cup heavy cream or evaporated milk 
1/2 tsp crushed cardamom seed
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs, room temp.
1/4 cup sugar
3 3/4 to 4 cups flour

1) Slice butter into thin strips and place between plastic wrap. Roll out to make an 8-inch square. Cover and place in fridge to chill

2) Dissolve yeast in the warm water and let stand 5 minutes. Then add in the cream or milk, cardamom, salt, eggs, and sugar. Once combined add in 3 cups of flour and then stir in 1/2 cup more. Mix until smooth. Cover and place in fridge to chill 30 minutes to 8 hours.

3) On a floured surface roll out dough to make a 16 inch square. Place chilled butter on 1 side of square. Fold other side of dough over the butter and pinch together to seal in butter.

4) Roll dough to to make a square, as large as possible, pressing out air bubbles and resealing holes made by the butter. Just add slightly more flour to seal in butter if needed. When dough is rolled out fold into thirds, so there are 3 layers. Then roll out dough again to make a long narrow shape. Fold short sides into thirds. Repeat this process of folding into thirds and rolling out 3 more times. If you need to, chill dough to keep butter cold. Chill for at least 30 minutes. I chilled mine overnight so pastry would be fresh in the morning. Dough is now ready to filled and shaped as desired.

Danish Pastry Braid

1 recipe Danish Pastry Dough

For the filling:
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp almond extract
1 cup pulverized almonds
1 (3 oz) package almond paste (or you can make your own)
1 egg white

For the glaze:
1 egg, beaten slightly
2 tbsp milk 
Sliced almonds

1) Divide dough into 2 parts and roll each out to form a rectangle that is 12X6 inches and place on parchment lined baking sheets. Cut slanting strips using pastry wheel or knife on either side of pastry dough leaving enough space in the center to put filling in. So 1/3 of the pastry in the center should be left uncut. You are going to fold the cut pieces over one another to seal in filling. 

2) To make the filling cream the sugar with the butter until fluffy. Then add the remaining ingredients and blend

3) Spread filling into the center of the dough and then fold the strips over the filling in a braid-like pattern

4) Preheat oven to 400 F and let dough rest for 15 to 30 minutes
5) Brush top of pastry with glaze and almonds and place in oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown

6) Dough will look puffy, but will settle when it comes out of the oven and is sliced
7) Slice and enjoy with coffee!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Oven Ribs

Ok. So it isn't quite Spring yet. But that shouldn't mean I can't have delicious ribs. Right? We don't have a smoker, although we really want one. And I'm sure would have made these ribs even more amazing then they were. But I'm sure the majority of people out there also don't have smokers. So in situations such as these I turn to the oven. Sometimes we throw these on the grill at the end of cooking to give them a little extra flavor. But it's cold in Nashville. Well, except for yesterday. That was weird. But it's back to being cold and I am even more anxious for Spring. So if you have the Winter blues like me then cook up something that reminds you of warmer days.

Note: this recipe makes a lot of rub, if you don't like your ribs coated in a thick glaze of spicy, sugary, caramelized goodness then you can half it. I prefer mine with a crust and no sauce. But hey its barbecue and everyone has their opinions. 

Oven Ribs
Slab of pork ribs
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp cayenne
1 tbsp black pepper
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup paprika

1) Preheat the oven to 275 F and fill a pan with water to create a water bath on bottom rack of oven
2) Mix together rub ingredients and coat ribs with dry rub. Piling it on top if needed. Then place on foil lined baking sheet and place in oven to cook for 4 hours

3) Remove from oven and dig in or you can transfer to a heated grill and let it soak of some of that grill flavor and enjoy!

Monday, February 20, 2012

King's Cake for Mardi Gras

My friends had yet another opportunity for me to try new recipes. They threw a Mardi Gras party over the weekend and requested that I bring a King's Cake. I had never tried King's Cake and when I searched for them online I thought they looked absolutely disgusting. Cover in icing and sprinkles, I could hardly even see the cake, let along imagine what it was supposed to taste like. But my friends insisted that I make it. So I did. And you know what? It was actually really good and everyone loved it! It tasted like coffee cake. 

If you haven't made this recipe before or even ever had a King's Cake then you should try it. Traditionally the King's Cake has a trinket inside of it. Usually a baby or a bean. I couldn't find a baby to put in it and the only beans I had I thought would present a choking hazard. So I improvised and used a orecchiette pasta. Large enough to find and delicate enough to not chip a tooth. Whoever finds this trinket in their piece of cake is supposed to host the party next year. 

There are many recipes for King's Cake, but I used the one from It received good reviews and looked fairly simple to make, good for someone who has no idea how this recipe was supposed to turn out. Some recipes have fillings but this one doesn't. This recipe also calls for you to braid the bread dough, I've seen some that don't. I dyed my icing purple because I thought I was out of purple sprinkles, only to discover them hiding in the back. Oh well. I got to use my green and gold sprinkles. Overall I think this recipe came out great and will be making it again as a breakfast treat.

King's Cake
Adapted from

For the cake: 
1 cup lukewarm milk, about 110°F
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp yeast
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup melted butter
5 egg yolks, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp grated fresh lemon zest
3 tsp cinnamon
Several gratings of fresh nutmeg

For the icing: 
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup condensed milk
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Purple, green, and gold decorative sugars
1 fève (fava bean) or plastic baby to hide in the cake after baking

1) Heat the milk in a saucepan then add to bowl and whisk in the sugar, yeast, and 1 tbsp of the flour, let sit until foamy
2) Whisk in butter, egg yolks, vanilla, and lemon zest then fold in the flour, nutmeg, and cinnamon
3) Knead in mixer or by hand until smooth and elastic

4) Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours

5) Divide dough into 3 pieces and braid together then connect the ends in the shape of a circle and place on sheet pan

6) Preheat oven to 375 F and let dough rise for 30 minutes
7) Cook for 25 minutes, check after 20 minutes to make sure top isn't getting to brown
8) Let cool and tuck in trinket into bread

 9) Make the icing by mixing ingredients together, adding more milk or sugar to adjust to taste and consistency then pour over cake and top with sprinkles/sugars and enjoy!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

White Bean and Greens Soup

In the winter there is nothing better than I giant bowl of warm, hearty soup. If you feel the same way, then this is a recipe for you. I try and make a big pot of soup early in the week so we have something to take to school and eat for lunch. We rarely ever eat out and when we do it is for dinner. So having a lot of lunches that are easy to carry and ready in the fridge is a must have. Soup or some sort of casserole usually do the trick. Maybe a sandwich thrown in to mix it up a bit.

This soup is perfect for dinner or lunch. It is light but rich enough to satisfy. I think a hearty lunch really helps to keep the day going. Plus, the mixture of beans and greens is super healthy and great brain food!

White Bean and Greens Soup
1 onion, sliced
1 tsp rosemary, chopped
1 bay leaf
4 cups chicken stock
1 can white beans/canellini beans
1 bunch of chopped greens, you can use whichever you prefer, I really like chard
2 potatoes, chopped into chunks
3 carrots, chopped into large pieces
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1) In a large dutch oven heat olive oil and toss in the onion, saute with some salt and rosemary until softened

2) Add in the chicken stock and all other ingredients

 3) Let cook until vegetables are tender

4) Taste for salt and pepper, top with Parmesan cheese if you want, and serve with a good hunk of crusty bread

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day Cookies

Happy Valentine's Day! I hope everyone is enjoying this day and consuming a copious amount of chocolate. I woke up to the intoxicating aroma of bacon. Delicious bacon. I have no idea how I was a vegetarian for as long as I was. My boyfriend made me breakfast. Which of course included bacon as well as Belgian waffles cooked in a brand new waffle maker! He knows the way to my heart is through my stomach.

I decided to bake a whole bunch of cookies for Valentine's day. I love holidays like this because they are an excuse to bake and decorate cookies. I couldn't decide which kind to make so I made a variety of cookies. I thought I would have fun with it. And did I. Activities like this really get my creative juices flowing. I searched the internet for inspiration, but in the end most of the decorations I made up as I went along. I am very happy with the results!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Spaghetti with Sausage Ragu

There is nothing quite like the smell of a delicious sauce cooking all afternoon. The scent fills the house with warmth, especially on cold winter days. Speaking of winter days, Nashville has finally frozen over. I was hoping the mild winter would continue into the spring, but no, it is cold and there was even a snow flurry. This called for a meal that would warm our insides up as well as the kitchen.

I received Anne Burell's Cook Like a Rock Star for Christmas from my boyfriend. Cookbooks are gifts we both enjoy. I get to learn new recipes and he gets to eat them. I asked for this book because I really enjoy watching Anne Burrell on Food Network. I love her attitude. She is funny and lively and I love the way she talks about food. A girl after my own heart, or stomach. I had bookmarked her recipe for Sausage Ragu and finally decided to try it. Wow. I can't believe it took me so long. This is the most amazing recipe. I can't believe how much the flavors change as the sauce cooks down and reduces and simmers for hours. AMAZING! You have to try it.

The original recipe calls for both sweet and spicy Italian sausage. I just used the spicy Italian because it was all I had. I also didn't have any fennel. Next time I will add the fennel for sure. 

Sausage Ragu
Adapted from Cook Like a Rock Star

2 onions, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
Olive oil
2 cups tomato paste
2 cups red wine
2 lb spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
2 bay leaves
Dried thyme

1) Put the veggies in a food processor and puree until it forms a paste

2) Heat a large dutch oven and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, then add the puree and let cook down, stirring a couple times. As Anne says, "you want to brown the crap out of these guys until crud starts to form on the bottom of the pan" this will take about 30 minutes

3) When the puree has been browned add the tomato paste and let it cook for about 3 minutes

4) Stir in the wine and let it evaporate a little as it cooks for about 5 minutes
5) Add the sausage and break it up, let cook for 15 minutes

6) Add enough water to cover the meat by 1/2 inch, then stir and add spices and salt, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, checking flavor

7) Cook the sauce, uncovered, for 3-4 hours, checking it occasionally and adding more water, little by little, don't add it all at once, remember to keep tasting!

8) When the sauce is done toss in your favorite pasta and cook it in the sauce for a minute or so. Serve with Parmesan and enjoy!


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Amaretto Cupcakes

My friend had a shindig at her place last weekend. A perfect opportunity for me to try out a new recipe. It was a Eurotrash themed party and I had no clue on what dessert to make. After I searched my cookbooks for inspiration I came across a recipe for Amaretto cupcakes. Perfect, an Italian liqueur. Alcohol in a cupcake is certainly a plus at a party. So I spent the early afternoon baking away and preparing for the party.

The cupcakes were a hit at the party. The subtle almond flavor carried through in both the cupcake and the frosting. I even topped them with some gold sugar to add to the theme. Everything was going great, until... the smell of plastic filled the room. I had left my cupcake carrier on the stove (small place, very little counter space) and of course the burner knobs are touchy and a slight lean on them will turn the burner on. OOPS! Luckily we caught it in time! So now my cupcake carrier has a story to go along with it. Hey, at least everyone loved the cupcakes!

Amaretto Cupcakes
Adapted from 500 Cupcakes

for the cupcakes:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
4 eggs
1/4 cup buttermilk
3 tbsp ground almonds/almond meal
2 tbsp Amaretto

for the frosting:
1 cup cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1-2 tbsp Amaretto (taste to see if it needs more)

1) Preheat oven to 350 F and line mini cupcake pans
2) Add all ingredients into mixer and mix until combined

3) Pour batter into cupcake pans and bake for 12-15 minutes
4) Remove from oven, let cool slightly, then brush tops of cupcakes with Amaretto

5) While cupcakes are cooling, mix together ingredients for the frosting, adding more Amaretto if desired and adjusting thickness
6) Frost cupcakes and top with decoration of choice and enjoy!