Guest Post: A Birthday Surprise

First of all hello, I’m Colin, Freya’s partner. Like Freya, I’m a jack-of-all trades into all kinds of crafting and mischief. I knit, sew, cook, and brew. I’m excited to have the opportunity to post as a guest here on peculiarpurls.

When I asked her what type of cake she wanted for her birthday this week, she told me she didn’t know. After persistent questioning, she gave me some thoughts: “an almond raspberry cake, or maybe a cheesecake.” Well I’ve never made either of those cakes, but I accepted the challenge and set out to make both: an almond raspberry cheesecake! The recipe I used is adapted from Ina Garten’s raspberry cheesecake recipe on foodnetwork.

A beautiful cheesecake with a heart of raspberries on top. And a candle!

Here are the ingredients:

Crust

  • 10 honey graham crackers
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter

Filling

  • 2.5 lb cream cheese
  • 1.5 c sugar
  • 5 large eggs + 2 yolks
  • 0.25 c sour cream
  • ~1 tbsp lemon zest
  • 1.5 tsp almond extract

Topping

  • 1 half-pint raspberries

Instructions

Allow your ingredients to sit out for a while before cooking so that the cream cheese will soften. Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit.

Pulverize the 10 graham crackers in a food processor (or by other means), and mix into 6 tbsp melted butter with 1 tbsp sugar. Press this by hand along the bottom and corners of a 9″ springform pan. Bake for 8 minutes so that the crust is crispy, and allow to cool. Raise the oven temperature to 450° Fahrenheit.

Mix the cream cheese and sugar together on high speed in an electric mixer for about 5 minutes until the consistency becomes light and fluffy (and delicious). Wisk together aggs and yolks in a separate bowl. Slow the mixer to medium speed and add the eggs and yolks a bit at a time. When this is mixed, add the sour cream, lemon zest, and almond extract. Pour this mixture onto the crust and place into the oven (carefully! I was worried the pan would overflow so I put some aluminum foil on the rack below).

Bake at 450° for 15 minutes, then drop the oven temperature to 225° Fahrenheit for 1 hour 15 minutes. When the time is up, there are a couple of options. If you want a perfectly beautiful cheesecake, leave it in the oven with the door open for about half an hour before cooling for an hour at room temperature, and later move to the refrigerator to set overnight (or at least for several hours). If you care less about the aethetics, you can  put it in the fridge earlier, but expect the top to crack. When you’re ready to serve the cake, rinse the raspberries and make a nice arrangement on top. I chose a heart for mine, and since this is a birthday cake, it had to have a candle. And here is what you get when you make a tasty cake for a pretty girl:

A pretty girl blowing out a candle.

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Adventures in Sourdough

Again, I am sorry for the late release! My school schedule is interfering with my blog much too efficiently. The worst part is that I had the post written earlier today and just needed to add photos before posting and noticed as I was about to get into bed that I had forgotten to complete the entry. Without much further ado, please enjoy my first sourdough post.

Since I love sourdough and have a breadmaker, I figured I needed to get to where I can stop buying San Francisco Sourdough from the grocery store. About 5 days ago, I got a dry sourdough starter from Kitty Sharkey. It had been sitting in her kitchen for a while but she’d never

I’m working off of this recipe from King Arthur Flour.

July 5, 2011: Attempt No. 1

Attempt No. 1- Dough on the sheet

First, I cut the recipe in half. I(not knowing any better) used whole wheat flour not white. The dough was very dry and I added an unknown quantity of water to get better texture. I think the dough was still too dry but i didn’t want to deviate that far from the recipe. I think I mismeasured the flour or something becasue it shouldn’t have been so dry. I set the dough to rise in a pyrex bowl for one hour and was thrilled when it seemed to have doubled in size. I pulled it out of the bowl and all the air when right out of it. Crap. The recipe calls to let it rise again so I put it on a baking sheet and let it go for another 45 minutes. One problem. It didn’t really rise again. Nope, it spread laterally though. Didn’t get any flatter, just spread out. Weird… but I decided to bake it anyway. It needs more gluten for sure if I’m going to use all whole wheat flour. The loaf  turned out very flat, dense, chewy, and not very sour but hearty. I ate some with butter and jelly and it wasn’t too bad. It tasted a little yeasty though which makes me wonder.

Attempt No. 1 - A bread flavored brick

July 7, 2011: Attempt No. 2

Same recipe but this time I used half whole wheat flour and half white  and added 1tbsp vital wheat gluten. I didn’t feel like heating the whole house to bake what might well turn out to be a brick, so I’m baking in the bread maker. The dough turned out a MUCH better texture this time and I was very hopeful. I put it to rise in the bread-maker pan and decided I wouldn’t try to move it for fear of deflation. So much for that. In trying to get it into the bread machine the jerk from getting the pan into the clamps deflated the dough substantially. I actually HEARD the air go out of it. Sadface.

Attempt No. 2 - Deflated but doing okay

But, miraculously, the bread worked! It could still stand to be improved, but it’s much less dense and isn’t too crumbly. It didn’t taste as yeasty as the first loaf and rose much more. It’s still chewy, but I like that in a sourdough loaf. The crust didn’t turn out particularly nicely but its got a good crunch to it which is a goooood start.

Attempt No. 2 - Looks like bread alright!

July 10, 2011: Attempt No. 3

This one was another half and half loaf using the same ratio as before but I did I full recipe instead of a half. I added two tablespoons of vital wheat gluten and gave it a single rise of an hour and a half. I did this one in the breadmaker again since that seemed to work well last time and I’m really happy with the results! The crust looked much better since I was able to keep it moistened while rising and turned a beautiful golden color. The bread was still a touch crumbly on the inside, but it was nice and moist and light.

Attempt No. 3 - Looks like bread, tastes like bread, must be...

My mother was a baker for many years. She Delivered bread of Bread Workshop in Berkeley when I was very young and got hooked on baking. I just got hooked on fresh bread. She then worked for the Cheeseboard until she helped found the Arizmendi Bakery Cooperative in Oakland in 1997 and worked there until 2004. Sufice to say she’s got a lot of experience with breadmaking and sourdoughs.

Attempt No. 2 vs. 3 - Double recipe and stronger starter

She came over last weekend and gave me some tips for improving my starter and bread and I think it worked. Turns out I’d been feeding it too often but the goo(flour and water mixture) I’d been giving it was too liquidy and not enough of it.  I’m now feeding it about two cups of goo per one cup of starter and the good is very thick; I’m calculating the ratio by equal weights instead of equal volumes which is what my starter recipe had called for. Clearly it’s not the best recipe. Once I started halving the starter at every feeding, giving it a thicker goo and doing so less often it got waaay more active. The whole thing is permeated with bubbles and it tastes nice and sour but in the right way. Not like yogurt or cheese, but like SOURDOUGH! :] Now I’m not afraid it’ll die in the fridge!

The recipe I had been going off of had also stressed that using metal utensils or containers for the starter would somehow weaken or even kill it. I think this might be an old wives tale. I’ve been mixing up my goo with a  fork and stiring it into my starter with the same utensil and it’s doing really well. I’m not going to get a special small wooden spoon just for stirring my sourdough starter and I doubt most people do.

July 15, 2011: Attempt No. 4

Potluck! Time to try out my bread on a bunch of friends and strangers! I made this one with onion kneaded into the dough before letting it rise for an hour. Again the same recipe as above, but I used all white flour this time becasue I was in a rush to get it done. It was lighter and rose more than any of the others had. The slices were tender but stable and didnt crumble despite being handled roughly. The sour flavor was a little better, but I’m hoping it’ll get even stronger as the starter matures.

July 17, 2011: Attemp No. 5

I’m running out of the whole wheat flour so I’m using all white again. Made another full recipe based on the King Arthur Flour site. I think I added a little too much water since the dough was a little wet. I did a one hour rise this time and used a spatula to stir it in the pan it was rising in before giving it a second half hour rise. The starter is definitely getting much better. When I pulled it out of the fridge last night, I was a little worried becasue I saw no bubbles. I left it out overnight to come up to room temperature and this morning it was gorgeous again! Completely bubbly and had grown since the night before when i pulled it out. The bread was a little denser, but still very tender with a really crunchy crust. The texture was great and flavor even better than before. I’m thrilled with the way this bread just keeps getting better and better. I’ll try a new recipe soon and maybe I can go back to experimenting with whole wheat flour now that I’m getting the hang of white flour sourdough.

Attempt No. 3 - From starter to finish

I hope my adventures in sourdough have given a little insight into making sourdough at home. I’ll be sure to add updates on the blog as I learn more. And if anyone wants a bit of starter in the San Francisco East Bay, I’m more than happy to share. Just let me know!

Catering: Can’t Afford it? You can do it!

I have always wanted to host a  formal cocktail party with tons of tiny, beautiful hors d’oeuvres. This past weekend, I got my chance! Three weeks ago we got a new place in Berkeley (with enough space for a craft room!) and we used the opportunity to properly warm the place in high style. As someone with no steady income, buying catered food was out of the question, but I have a lot of time, which means it’s DIY time! The product of my toils was 72 Chocolate cupcakes with raspberry buttercream frosting, 30 mini apple-onion quiches, 36 mini bacon-apple-onion quiches, 24 mini broccoli quiches and one baguette’s worth of bruscetti. Below are some of the recipes I created or adapted for the event.

The cupcakes were made using Orangette‘s Far-From-Disaster Cake, by far the most delicate and moist chocolate cake recipe I’ve ever come across. A half recipe made 72 miniature cupcakes which I frosted with a Raspberry Buttercream adapted from Mommy23Monkeys.

Raspberry Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup packed raspberries (Don’t worry about bruising them.)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp citric acid granules
  • 16 oz. powdered sugar
Directions: Blend together wet ingredients and citric acid. If you like your frosting sweeter, leave out the citric acid. They will not emulsify perfectly because the raspberry seeds will leave lumps, but get as close as you can. I like smoother frosting, so I strained out most of the seeds before blending these ingredients. Slowly add powdered sugar until the frosting is stiff and smooth. If you use lemon juice instead of citric acid granules, you will need extra powdered sugar, or meringue powder to give the frosting enough hold.

I dont own piping bags but I still wanted a consistent and beautiful finish for my tiny little desserts. I got a single piping tip for under $2 at Sur La Table which I inserted into the cut off corner of a ziplock bag. That saved me the $8 piping bag and still let me give my cupcakes the “professional” look I wanted for my swanky party. They got the stamp of approval from several foodie friends.

As for the quiche, I actually tried several crust recipes before I found one I was really happy with. In all cases, the key seems to be the temperature of the butter. The colder the butter is at the start of the process, the more flakey and tender the crust will be in the end. I ignored the baking instructions given by this recipe and used a three-inch circle cutter to stamp out little crusts. I dropped them into the tins by ruffling the edge and pierced the ever-loving heck out of the bottom of the crust to keep them from bubbling and deforming. I prebaked them at 350°F for 7 minutes the day before the party and stored them under plastic wrap. Then, in the hour before the party, I filled them and gave the filled quiches their second bake.

Mini Quiche Recipe

Ingredients:
Crust (makes roughly 24 minis)
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into small cubes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 6 to 8 Tbsp ice water
Filling (makes roughly 48 minis)
  • 1 granny smith apple
  • 1 onion
  • 2 strips thick-cut bacon
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan or Asiago
Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F

1. Combine dry crust ingredients in a Cuisinart using the chopping blade. Cut in butter just enough to distribute it evenly then begin adding in the ice water one tablespoon at a time until the dough begins to clump using the pulse setting. To test if the dough is wet enough pinch a 1cm ball and try to flatten it. If they crumbled add a little more water. If only the edges crack, your dough is perfect!

2. Roll dough into sheets approximately 1/4 in. thick and cut out 3 inch circles. Gently drop circles into the mini cupcake tins, pushing in the ruckled edges at regular intervals. Use a toothpick to poke holes all over the bottom of the crust. This will keep bubbles from deforming your crusts. If you want shiny crusts, you can brush them with egg, but I didn’t bother.

3. Bake crusts for 7 minutes at 350°F. This shouldn’t be enough time for them to brown, only for them to become firm and start to crisp. Allow them to cool on a rack before filling them.

4. While crusts are cooling, prepare the filling. Chop onion, apple and bacon into 1/4 in cubes then saute until onions and apples are caramelized and bacon is browned. Whisk together the eggs and half and half. Fill 1 tsp of sautéed filling into each quiche shell then carefully pour the egg mixture over it being sure not to spill over into the tin. If you do overflow your shells, wipe away the excess and bake the overflowed ones anyway. I had no problems with the overflowed quiches sticking to the tins so you probably won’t either. I baked my quiches for 18 minutes, but start checking them at 14 minutes to be sure you don’t burn them.

5. As soon as you take them out of the oven, sprinkle shredded cheese on top. The heat from the quiches will melt the cheese without burning it. Then cool them on racks again. Serve them hot immediately or at room temperature, both are delicious!

I made two other versions of the quiches which were both vegetarian, one with apple and onion and another with only broccoli.

All of these made for an impressive and beautiful spread, perfect for the classy cocktail party theme. The last thing we needed was a signature drink!

The house drink was invented two summers ago when Colin and I were camping at the Lost Coast and wanted to make Cosmopolitan. Thinking we had all the ingredients covered, we trekked through the wild-fire fraught coast from Ashland, OR to the teeny tiny town of Honeydew, CA. The night we decided to have our campsite cocktails, we discovered that we only had one of the necessary ingredients to make the drink we had intended. Black Cosmos were the result of our desperate experimentation. It’s a full-bodied fruity drink that isn’t sweet like most cocktails and therefore appeals to almost anyone.

Black Cosmos
  • 2 oz. unsweetened pomegranate juice
  • 1 oz. dark rum
  • 1 oz. triplesec
  • 1 oz. sweetened lime juice
Mix ingredients in a shaker with ice and serve up. Garnish with a slice of blood orange.

I hope you enjoy the recipes and put them to good use!