Daring Baker’s Challenge: Chocolate Valentino

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(must love dogs)

Well, even though I officially bowed out of the fabulous group Daring Baker’s last month, I was happy to have the oppurtunity to do two things I had always wanted to with this month’s challenge:

1) Make a flour-less chocolate cake
2) Do a DB challenge with my good friend, and fellow blogger, Judy from No Fear Entertaining. You can find the recipe and whole story over on her blog.

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Judy and I have talked for a long time about doing a DB challenge together, since we live in the same state and have so much fun with the challenges. So since Roberto and I went to visit her and her wonderful family during February, we decided to do the DB challenge as a dessert for a dinner party.

I am glad that I was able to do this challenge also because it was hosted by my other very good blogging friend Dharm and his DB partner for this month, Wendy.

So what can I say about this challenge? I absolutely loved it. It was a wonderful change of pace from some of the most recent DB challenges, and the cake was so delicious. Something I would make again, in a heart beat.

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It required very few ingredients, not many steps, and was not time consuming. The taste was fabulous. We used a combo of bittersweet and dark chocolate – but you can really use any kind you want!

So thanks Dharm, Wendy and Judy for making this such a great challenge.

***Just for the record, I am not leaving the DBs because of any displeasure on my part. This is an awesome group, who really helped me get over my fear of baking – both bread and pastry! So I really enjoyed my year as a DB. It has just come time for me to challenge myself in other areas this year. As with any adventure, things change as you learn more, so this year with the upcoming launch of my new website (maybe April or May) I will explain the journey of this blog up until this point and where I am headed with my adventures in food!

Daring Bakers: Za’atar Spiced Lavash Crackers with Spicy Walnut Dip and Cilantro Chutney

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When I saw the Daring Bakers challenge for this month, I was nothing short of ecstatic! Don’t get me wrong, I love the creativity behind all the cakes and pastries we have been baking as of late, and if I hadn’t done them, I would still be thinking that baking things like this was something un-attainable for me. But I am always much more into the land of savory. So this was going to be a real treat. I have never made crackers before, but I am a HUGE lover of crackers, eating them almost daily. So I figure it was high time to start making my own!

I was also excited because this is the first time the DB challenge is hosted by gluten free blogs, Natalie from Gluten A Go Go , and co-host Shel, of Musings From the Fishbowl. So when you look at the recipe, be sure to take note that there is a gluten free and non-gluten free version available!

So what is Lavash? It is an Armenian flatbread which is traditionally cooked in a clay oven or Tandoor and is usually used like a tortilla – as in you wrap a filling in it (like a kebab) and eat it like a sandwich. But we bakers are daring, so we are all attempting to make it into crackers using conventional ovens! :)

I love the foods of the Middle East, so to fulfill the other part of this challenge – making a topping for the crackers, I decided to stay in the same vein by preparing an Armenian Spicy Walnut Dip

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and and an Afghani style Cilantro Chutney

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(this was a discussion on the Leftover Queen Forum and now I can’t find the thread and I can’t remember the creator of the thread….if anyone recalls, please remind me!!!!).

I decided to make this treat for movie night accompanied by the Lentil Koftas I made some time ago.

The lavash was nice and crispy and the toppings were both fantastic!- the cilantro chutney is full of clean green flavors, while the walnut was very earthy and robust. I even had some leftover dough so I made a few breadsticks!

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I loved that this challenge was something I have never made before, yet didn’t take hours or even days to complete! Plus, there is just so much wonderful versatility possible here! So I am no doubt going to be making them again very soon and just play around with the flavors!

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Daring Bakers: Fruits of the Summer Eclairs

(NOW WITH PICTURES!)

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I was so excited to see that this month’s challenge was for Eclairs! We are at my mom’s this weekend, and unfortunately although we brought the camera to take the photos, we did not bring the cable to download them. So I will have to put pictures up on Tuesday when we are back! :)

Anyway, I have always wanted to make them, and although there were things the recipe called for that I had never made in the past – namely choux pastry and pastry cream, the process didn’t look too difficult.

I waited until this weekend to do the challenge, because I have a really small kitchen and not a lot of pastry equipment, like pastry bags and tips and the like. But my mom does, and she has made cream puffs many times before. This was a crazy month for me, and so I felt this challenge had a better chance of getting finished, if I had her help. So I waited until yesterday to do the challenge, so I could do this fun project with her.

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When Roberto and I arrived here yesterday afternoon, I hadn’t even gotten the challenge ingredients yet. But I knew that I wanted to do vanilla pastry cream with some kind of summer fruits and the chocolate glaze on top. The only requirement for this challenge is that we use the recipe for the choux pastry and have one chocolate component – whether it be chocolate pastry cream or chocolate glaze on top. So we went to the store after dinner and there was an abundance of beautiful fruits. We got kadota and black mission figs, fresh blackberries and blueberries, and something I had never had before, fresh currants. They were very reminiscent of the lignonberries I had eaten when I lived in Norway, but again, I had never eaten lingnonberries. Both the currants and blackberries were tart, so I decided to combine them with the sweeter fruits.

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We made 3 different fillings. Regular vanilla pastry cream, pastry cream mixed with currants and blueberries and the other with pastry cream mixed with black figs and blackberries. We also made 2 different shapes – Eclair and puffs. Of course, as per Meeta and Tony’s specifications, we made a chocolate glaze for the tops. Everything turned out beautifully, except that a lot of the Eclairs and puffs fell. My friend Judy, warned me that this might happen in sweltering humid Florida heat, but the cream and fruit perked them right up, and they turned out really wonderful. We finished the project at 11:30 last night, but before retiring, we each tried one of each flavor, and it was really hard to pick a favorite. All I can say is that I am glad there are some left and I don’t think I will turn them into ice cream. Although I am not too sure what I am going to do with the extra pastry cream! :)

If you want to try your hand at Eclairs, please check out the wonderful recipe that follows after the cut by Pierre Herme.

Thanks to Meeta and Tony for this awesome challenge!

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Ice Cream From Leftovers: Very Pistachio Cherry Ice Cream and Baileys Hazelnut-Gateau Ice Cream

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I have really so enjoyed my ice cream maker since we got it back in March as an early wedding present from my mom. Ice cream is a big passion of mine, it is something we eat almost everyday, in small amounts (sometimes!) and I find that it has been a really fun and creative outlet for me! But…we have been making so much ice cream since we got the maker, that I literally have a backlog of recipes to share with you all. So consider the next few days, the ice cream chronicles, as I share with your our creations!

I am always looking out for new and great recipes for ice cream, gelato (although you can’t really make true gelato without the proper equipment), sorbetto and slushies. I hoard little bits of this and that away in the freezer for future ice cream endeavors, especially from Daring Bakers Challenges.

This is the inspiration for today’s two recipes!

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For the Pistachio-Cherry, I broke down and went with an egg base, something I have been avoiding. However, I had 6 leftover egg yolks in the freezer from a Daring Bakers challenge that needed using. So I decided to finally do an egg based ice cream to remember what the difference in texture is. Texture has been the most difficult thing for me to perfect in past attempts. I was really frustrated to see that there really is a difference. This ice cream was so creamy, its nuts! And this ice cream TRULY was nuts because we went a little nuts with the pistachios! But I was really struggling with the consistency issue and not using eggs. I was determined to find something that will work besides eggs, and I believe I found my answer …in BOOZE (see more on this farther down)…

Roberto loves Pistachio gelato, or ice cream. It is his absolute favorite. Second runner up, Amarena, otherwise known as black cherry. So we decided that this ice cream should incorporate these two flavors making the Ultimate Roberto Ice Cream. Unfortunately, we did overdo it with the pistachios, which means that flavor really overwhelmed the sweet cherry flavor. But it was still good, just not very cherry.

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I had a lot of fun getting the cherries ready for this endeavor. I really enjoy cutting into rich red fruits, like pomegranates and cherries and watching their juices stain everything from the cutting board to my fingers. I can’t explain it, but it makes it fun. I guess it is the kid in me.

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The second “leftover ice cream” was made from the cake remnants from the last DB challenge – the Hazelnut Gateau which was kind of a disaster for me. So I had a LOT of remnants. I had it stuffed in the freezer and had pretty much forgotten about it until I asked Roberto what kind of ice cream he wanted next. We had recently gotten a bottle of Bailey’s to experiment with making cocktails and so we decided to make a Bailey’s ice cream. That night, I DREAMT about adding the gateau pieces to it (this is how obsessed I am about ice cream!) and I am telling you guys, it is worth making the gateau, to put in this ice cream! I feel so validated now! Ben and Jerry’s really needs to buy this recipe from me to mass produce! LOL! The Bailey’s, since it is alcohol, doesn’t freeze so it made this ice cream so soft and scoopable and creamy!

Click through to see how we made them.
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You Say Filbert, I say Hazelnut…A Schitzoid Daring Baker’s Gateau…with some serious issues…

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Let me just start this off by saying that I love the word Gateau, and the more times I can use the word Gateau in a post, the happier I feel. Why? Because I just love the sound of the word rolling off my tongue. There is a sophistication to the word, something refined, that “cake” just doesn’t quite measure up. I mean just look at it. A Gateau is something posh people eat, at an upscale bakery, after a nice dinner out that a super talented pastry genius prepared. Gateau gets washed down with a nice strong cup of quality coffee or espresso if you will, and it is meant to be savored. Cake is something that comes out of a cardboard box or even worse a plastic container already baked and smothered in plastic icing. Unfortunately my particular monstrosity, or Franken-cake really has no place being called a gateau, now does it?

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That first photo? The only salvageable piece of gateau-ness I could muster. The rest, mushy disaster.

This DB challenge started off with issues. There is the whole Filbert vs. Hazelnut deal. Lemme give it to you straight, they are not the same nut. First of all, Filbert sounds like the the guy in that comic about the world of cubicles- Dilbert. Ever since they started with this Filbert thing, I have been against it. Its like the checkers at the grocery store who look at my cilantro and ring it up as parsley. Or call a honeydew, cantaloupe. I was lulled into the lies too- thinking Filberts and Hazelnuts were the same. Unfortunately my mouth and tongue did not agree, when I bought a very expensive Filbert cake at Whole Foods years ago for my birthday (back when I didn’t bake) and my mouth itched the whole night immediately after taking one bite. Something that never happens when I eat something with “hazelnuts” in the ingredients. So what gives? I have had this discussion many times with different people and my conclusion is that Filbert is American and Hazelnut is European and that there must be a genetic variation somewhere!

That wasn’t the last time I was lulled into a false sense of security regarding these nuts as we will soon see….I was really excited about this gateau challenge because I just love anything with hazelnuts. I am a real sucker for them – I love them in chocolate, just plain as a nut, and my favorite way in gelato. I also love apricot so things were looking up. The only way I significantly changed the recipe was instead of using hazelnuts for the praline paste, I used pistachios. Roberto’s favorite nut – so it was a marriage between the favorite nuts in the family (pun totally intended!). I also had to add some white chocolate to the ganache, because I didn’t have enough regular. I was feeling pretty smug, not only was the cake coming along but, I also had a little leftover apricot preserves after making the glaze, so I made a simple syrup with that as a base for a fabulous cocktail -

Apricot – Hazelnut Gateau in a Glass (you’ll have to read through the rest of this, to get to that) ;)

I was feeling pretty good about things. All until last night when it came time to put the gateau together.

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Daring Bakers: Danish Braid (with Lavender Honey and Ricotta Cheese, Oh my!)

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This month’s Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Kelly of Sass and Veracity and Ben from What’s Cooking. This is one of the first challenges where I really know each of these bloggers and so I couldn’t wait to see what they would come up with to challenge us this time. I should have guessed from this pairing that we would end of with a pastry! Ben is a master at making Puff Pastry and Kelly is always coming up with great ideas of how to make the DB challenges reflect her culinary style. Therefore, it just made sense when I saw the challenge would be a Danish. On the outset, I must admit that I wasn’t too excited about the challenge, as I generally don’t like Danish. It is always so sweet and the dough is generally plasticy, wet and gummy from the filling sinking into it. But as I have come to learn with these challenges, the things we sometimes buy, often do not reflect what the original homemade variety would taste like.

Once I saw that cardamom was involved in the dough recipe they had picked out for us, I began to feel slightly more relieved, as I have a huge love for this spice. Then when I read further that we could experiment with the filling I felt even better! I do not like pie filling-like danish or pastries and when I skimmed the recipe and saw apple filling, my heart sank. I really dislike apples, especially apples in baked goods. But as I read more thoroughly, I was thrilled to see I didn’t have to go that route. So I thought about what flavors of Danish I do like, and I came to a conclusion, it had to involve cheese. In the Italian kitchen, ricotta cheese is often used as a filling for sweet confections and is often seen in baking, especially the more South you go. So I decided to go with the ricotta, but I needed some way to sweeten it. I didn’t want to use sugar, I wanted to make this pastry kind of classy and fit in with summer. As I mentioned in the last FFF post, I have always been intrigued with cooking with lavender, and I really wanted to try that out in this pastry. So I settled on honey. Honey is so luxurious and really has a warmth to it. Plus honey and lavender sounded like a match made in heaven. So I placed about 3 TBS of local honey in a bowl and mixed a heaping teaspoon of lavender in with it. The lavender hat we consume is the flower, and I know, from working with saffron (the stamen) that a little goes a long way because it is so perfumy. I then mixed this in with about 5 oz. of ricotta cheese and used this simple filling for this beautiful and delicate danish.

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Then at the end, I drizzled leftover buttercream icing from the Opera Cakes we did last month! It was heaven!

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I am a danish convert now. The dough was so beautiful and I loved all the layers we made within it. It created such a light but crunchy texture after it was baked. Oh and the baking was such a joy, as the smell was absolutely intoxicating! The cardamom in the dough was perfect. In my opinion it really made the whole thing. I didn’t have any oranges, so I left the zest out. But I don’t think it mattered much.

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If you love a good Danish, you must try this recipe. Even if you don’t love it, I suggest trying it out. I made one gigantic braid (didn’t read the directions thoroughly enough to realize the recipe makes TWO braids…, even though it is mentioned several times…), and I put about 2/3 of it in the fridge. We are having guests next weekend to celebrate Independence Day, and I think it will make a wonderful breakfast! Not just that, but we will get to enjoy it again.

Recipe to follow:

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Daring Bakers: Let Them Eat Cake…at L’Opera!

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I want to start off by saying this is by far my favorite Daring Bakers Challenge yet. Why? Well, true to its name… It was very challenging, and it was a lot of firsts for me as well: first buttercream (that worked), first mousse (that worked), first time making almond flour and first time making dulce de leche. So after creating this cake, or 15 mini cakes, in my case, I felt really really accomplished and super happy about how delicious they were. So thank you very much Lis and Ivonne, our fearless founders for this wallop of a pastry!

So here we are, just getting back from our wedding (there was cake there) and then our fabulous honeymoon in Jamaica (yes, there was cake involved there too) and when I check to see what the DB challenge for May is, I am faced again, with cake. Opera Cake to be exact, and when I printed out the directions and it was 9 pages long, I almost passed out from spiking glucose levels!!!
BUT, I had missed the challenges for March and April and I was not about to miss another. So I decided to just be smart about this challenge and create some mini cakes (easily given away, and small portions) for Mother’s Day, because who deserves all this time and effort I was going to put into these cakes more than my Mom? Who happens to love cake and opera…(right, mom? back me up here!)
*pics of my Leftover Opera Cake Ice Cream follow*
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Daring Bakers Challenge: Recipe: Lemon Meringue Pie (Tartlettes)

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I have to admit, sometimes being unprepared does have its charms and advantages. In regards to this challenge it caused me to be creative and not be afraid to play with my baked goods a little bit. As most of you have heard at one time or another, up until I joined the Daring Bakers, I didn’t bake – as a point of principal. Any recipe that had the words: Knead or Yeast or even really Flour and that was as far as I got, I wasn’t going to make it. Period. When I joined the Daring Bakers, I followed each recipe word for word. I did some modifications, sometimes, but nothing that really diverted from the recipe too much. I didn’t want to mess it up! But times change, you get older and wiser and all that good stuff. So here I am – it has been almost a YEAR since I joined this fabulous group of food bloggers, and I still don’t have a pie pan in my possession…therefore, it doesn’t take me long to realize there is no way I am making a big honkin’ pie. I just don’t have the equipment. This was going to give me a chance to play with my pie crust a little and do something fun. I decide to go all French and create mini tartlettes with my fabulous new muffin tin that I got for Christmas – (now a note to you DB purists, this was an allowed modification to the challenge)!

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Not only that, but I also got to christen my new Cuisinart Food Processor, an early wedding present from my Dad and Stepmom, who were here last weekend :) THANKS GUYS!!!
AND, it is also my first DB challenge in my new kitchen. So this challenge for me was also full of firsts. The pie crust in this recipe is great. Very buttery and flaky. Roberto and I went to visit my mom this weekend and she was making a chicken pot pie and needed a crust recipe. I gave her the recipe from this challenge (minus the sugar of course) and it was perfect! So delicious!

I learned a lot from this challenge too – number one, I never knew what actually made the pie filling of lemon meringue pie yellow. I assumed that it was from the lemons, but no, the color is actually derived from the egg yolks that make up the lemon curd. Very interesting. I wonder if the inventor of this pie planned it this way, or it just turned out to be the proper color by luck?

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I also got really creative with my leftover lemon peels. As those who have been reading my Farmers Market series know, I got some fabulous Meyer lemons, recently. I have been using them in a variety of dishes. They are just so tasty, I couldn’t waste even a peel, so I decided to make a lemon simple syrup to get ready for my next kitchen project – limoncello. As I was rooting around for the vanilla extract, needed for the lemon meringue recipe, I came across some dried lavender flowers I had, so I decided to make Lavender-Meyer Lemon Syrup. I also expanded my love of leftovers into the baking world. After I finished filling my tartlette crusts for the challenge, I still had more filling and more meringue. So I decided to play and have fun. I added some Lavender-Meyer Lemon Syrup to my leftover lemon curd to make meringue cookies filled with Lavender Lemon Curd. I think I enjoyed them even more than the original tartlettes. There is just something so spectacular about the combination.

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I also was a huge baking geek and researched online ways to keep the meringue from weeping. Lemon Meringue is my mom’s favorite and I had to make the tartlettes on Friday, so they were going to have to sit in the fridge overnight. So I wanted to do my best to keep them from disintegrating, since the recipe states you should eat the pies within 6 hours. I also learned a technique for making the perfect meringue (see my cooks noted embedded in the recipe for these tips).

This was a great challenge for me. I really had a great time making a huge mess in my new kitchen and using some new toys. It was really a fun day and left me feeling so happy and renewed inside. I am not sure why – maybe the sunshine stored inside those lemons!

So without further ado – here is the recipe for Lemon Meringue Pie.
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