Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Norwich Sourdough and Chicken Enchiladas

This last weekend was truly the last week for the red gold nectarines that are, as my cousin put it, "what ambrosia must taste like." The particular farm that grows these confirmed that they wouldn't have anymore until next season. :( Luckily we managed to snag a box of seconds, and I came away with 14 nectarines.

I'm thrilled to report that I've gotten comfortable enough with wild yeast starters and bread making that I successfully made Norwich Sourdough -- without following exact amounts, even (amazing for me!). The first time I made this, it didn't turn out well at all, and I was really disheartened. I REALLY need to improve my dough slashing, which probably involves both technique and instrument. I baked two 800g loaves, and ONE slash came out nearly perfectly, which is progress. On top of that though, I'm still having a little trouble with my oven browning bread far too quickly. :/ I'd like to get a little more open crumb, but otherwise the taste and texture were great. I tried using the lava rock steaming technique that Susan at Wild Yeast recommends, but I've personally found Peter Reinhart's method of steaming (with hot water and a cast iron pan) more effective for me personally.

I also baked a whole chicken the other day, but had a ton of it left. I could have easily reheated it plain or made sandwiches with the leftovers, but I wanted to eat something a little more interesting. I'd just had a friend over and served chili, so I had the perfect ingredients left over from that to make enchiladas! I adapted a few recipes that I found here and it came out great! If you don't want to make your own enchilada sauce, they (and I) recommend the bottled kind you can get from Trader Joe's.

Chicken Enchiladas


  • 8-10 corn tortillas
  • 2 cups shredded or chopped chicken
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 7 oz. can green chilies, chopped and drained
  • 1 12 oz. package of cheese, shredded (your preference; I used cheddar and Swiss)
  • enchilada sauce (I made this one)
  • olive oil to stir fry
  • 1 cup vegetable oil


  1. On medium-high heat, saute the onion in some olive oil for 2 minutes. Lower the heat to low and continue to saute for another 20 minutes, to brown (but not burn) the onion. During the last couple of minutes, add the minced garlic (don't burn it).
  2. Add the green chilies and chicken to your onion and garlic. Stir well and cook for a few minutes.
  3. Remove from heat, then add 1/2 cup of the cheese and fold it into the chicken/ sauce mixture.
  4. Heat vegetable oil in a pan large enough to hold a corn tortilla. When the oil is hot, use tongs to pick up a tortilla and place it in the oil until it bubbles (about 3-5 seconds -- if it doesn't bubble in that amount of time or less, the oil's not hot enough). Lift and dip the tortillas in and out of the oil 3 times fairly quickly. The goal is to make them soft and easy to roll. Place the tortillas on a plate or tray covered with paper towels and blot excess oil from them. Repeat with however many tortialls you're using.
  5. When you're ready to assemble the tortillas, add a generous amount of chicken mixture on top of the tortilla. It should be distributed down the middle, from one end to the other.
  6. Take the end of the tortilla closest to you and draw it up and over the chicken, using the other end to meet it and place it gently, seam down, into your baking dish. They don't need to be tightly wrapped; a loose configuration is fine.
  7. After the chicken enchiladas are in the baking dish, spoon or pour enchilada sauce over the top of the enchiladas. Be generous with the sauce; it should pretty much cover everything.
  8. Sprinkle cheese on top of the chicken enchiladas. (A mix of white and yellow cheeses make for a nice presentation.)
  9. Baked uncovered in a 400°F oven for 10-12 minutes or until the cheese melts and the sauce is bubbling around the edges.
  10. Serve immediately, with sour cream and guacamole.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Lavash Crackers -- Daring Bakers Challenge September 2008

This month's Daring Bakers challenge provided me with the opportunity to try not just making my own crackers for the first time, but two other recipes I've had my eye on.

Seeing all the other DB's efforts totally put my own to shame, but I had a ton of fun anyway.

Making the crackers was actually fairly easy. I happened to have the book where the recipe came from (Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering The Art of Extraordinary Bread), so I followed it from there. Basically it's like making bread dough, but instead of shaping into loaves you're rolling it out thin and sprinkling seeds and seasoning onto it.

Here the first batch of crackers have been rolled out, cut, and seasoned (paprika, sesame seeds, sea salt). I was pretty proud of how thin I was able to roll them out. The second batch I baked as a whole sheet and broke it into shards when it was finished baking.

Unfortunately, even though the dough had seemed really thin when I rolled it out, the baked crackers lacked the snap of real crackers -- and were obviously too thick. Still decent enough to eat, but the next time I make these I may try using a pasta roller to make sure I get the thinnest possible dough.

Here we have the two dips I'd been wanting to make: hummus, and what I'm calling "Bright Red Salsa." I've been wanting to make my own salsa and hummus for awhile, and having crackers around was the perfect excuse. Both dips I made were completely vegan, as per the requirements of the challenge.

The recipe for the hummus that I used required too much lemon juice, so it ended up being far more sour than I prefer hummus to be. The salsa, though, was fabulous -- fantastic not just for taste, but nutritional value!

Bright Red Salsa

- 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes, drained
- 8 oz. of red beets, diced (canned or freshly roasted)
- 6 oz. of sweet corn kernels
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 1/4 cup cilantro or parsley, chopped
- 2 tsp olive oil
- salt to taste

Combine all ingredients. Add salt to taste. Best when served a bit chilled.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Challah and Red Gold Nectarines

According to my cousin, two short weeks out of the year these beautiful, delicious red gold nectarines are available at her farmer's market. Given the limited period of availability, she buys them by the caseful, and recently we met to have lunch and make an exchange: 8 nectarines for a loaf of fresh-baked challah bread. I have to admit, I got the better end of the deal.

I've been eating two a day, and frankly I wish I could indulge in more, but I don't want them to be gone too quickly. They are unbelievably sweet, which is reason enough to love them, but the best thing of all is that they are not mealy whatsoever. Mealiness ruins all fruit, but these have the perfect juicy flesh that makes nectarines and peaches such a delight. (I'm particularly thrilled, since after the wonderful donut peaches I blogged about earlier, I've only had one good peach/nectarine while the others have been disgustingly mealy.)

Random aside: I know peaches and nectarines are supposedly exactly the same except for their skin (fuzzy and smooth, respectively), but I swear they taste different to me. My cousin agrees.

These nectarines are so good that when they're gone I'm going to go into withdrawal, I just know it.

And while the challah bread I exchanged was decent, it was nowhere near the nectarines on the deliciousness scale. I've never had challah bread before, but I was expecting it to be sweeter and not so dry. Then again, I've never made challah before either, so maybe it was the recipe I used or my technique. Aesthetically, I'm fairly pleased with how the loaves came out.

I'd had the urge to 'play' with dough and decided on challah, which would give me the fun of braiding it. I was prepared to tackle complicated 5- and 6-braids; I was not prepared for how tiring it was to roll each braid length out! The elasticity of the dough made it hard work to shape it into those long rolls, I must say. The braids were easy compared to that! I used a 5-braid technique on one of the loaves from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice (since that's where I got the recipe), and a 6-braid technique that I read about on Wild Yeast.

I liked how both came out once baked, though in terms of presentation I think the 5-braid looks better (that's the one I gave my cousin). Plus it rises higher, which makes it more useful for sandwiches and toast and what not.

The 5-braid:

The 6-braid:

The one bit of trouble I had (other than my tired arms) was that, as usual, my oven seemed too hot and the loaves were well browned before the minimum baking time was up. I threw a sheet of foil over them for the last 5-10 minutes. Maybe they would have been less dry if I'd taken them out earlier; maybe I need to set the oven 5 degrees cooler to bake bread. More experimentation is necessary to get to know the eccentricities of my oven!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Chocolate Eclairs -- Daring Bakers Challenge August 2008

This was my first Daring Bakers challenge, and I lucked out because it was the perfect thing to bring to a barbecue/potluck, which we happened to be having in August for work. Though the challenge allowed us a bit of freedom in personalizing the recipe, I decided to make them just as the recipe suggested -- with chocolate pastry cream and chocolate glaze. My coworkers are chocolate fiends, and I was depending on them to eat all or at least most of the eclairs, as I didn't want to have to eat them all myself!

The barbecue was on a Friday, and I don't have the luxury of being able to take a day off from work just to bake (more's the pity), so I made of the components (the chocolate sauce and chocolate pastry cream) in advance, as suggested by the recipe. I didn't find that doing so detracted from their flavor at all.

Even though there are seemingly a lot of steps to eclair making, it's actually quite simple and not that time consuming (except for having to wash everything afterward, of course). The part I was most nervous about was the cream puff dough, which The first snag I had on that front was that I wasn't able to find a 2cm tip. That's fairly large, and all the stores carry are decorating tips, which are a fraction of that size. I even went all the way to freaking Sur la Table! I ended up having to improvise with a regular plastic food bag.

Step-by-Step Pictorial: Chocolate Eclairs

I made the least "important" component first, because it was the easiest. Here's the prep for the chocolate sauce, which is an ingredient that goes into the glaze. Here's heavy cream, sugar, chocolate, and water added together in a pot, about to be boiled.

Here it is after the first boil + 15 minutes. It's thickened enough that it should be ready now.

It's coating the back of my wooden spoon, as the instructions say, so yep, it's ready! At this point I poured it into a large mug to cool. I kept it in the fridge for about 3 days, after which time I warmed up a bit to use in the final glaze.

Here's a mixture of 4 egg yolks, sugar, and corn starch while 2 cups of whole milk are heating up on the stove. This will eventually become pastry cream.

A couple of spoonfuls of boiling hot milk have been added to the egg mixture to "temper" it. This raises the temperature slowly and will prevent the eggs from curdling (and making scrambled eggs!), as would probably happen if you just added all the hot milk at once.

All the hot milk has been added to the yolk mixture.

The milk/yolk mixture is strained into the saucepan to remove any bits of egg that's been curdled. I actually think I managed to avoid that. The bits in the strainer are unmelted yolk/sugar I think. Or... okay, maybe it's tiny pieces of scrambled egg, who knows.

After bringing the milk/yolk mixture to a boil, this lovely pastry cream is what it becomes. I was amazed to see it happen so quickly and beautifully.

Here I've added melted chocolate to the pastry cream, thus making it chocolate pastry cream. Wild, I know.


Here the pastry cream has been cooled to 140°F with an ice water bath (which you see pictured), and I'm mixing butter into it.

After adding the butter, the pastry cream cools to room temperature via the ice water bath. At this point it's going to be stored in the fridge until it's time to fill the eclairs with it. I was 'forced' to eat a spoonful when I had to take the spoon out and it was delicious.

So the morning of the BBQ, I prepared the cream puff dough and the chocolate glaze, and suffered through a conference call that was more than an hour long. But I digress. Here I've brought some whole milk, water, sugar, salt, and butter to a boil.

Added 140g of flour to the boiling mixture, resulting in this clumpy, unappetizing mess. Just a note that I weighed my ingredients where weight measurements were provided. It's much more accurate than volume measurements, and I need all the help I can get.

After 3 minutes of stirring, the dough has come together and is ready to be placed in the mixer for the addition of the eggs. A slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan during this step, which is to be expected.

Here's the dough after the addition of 1 egg. It separates a bit, as you can see.

After 3 eggs, it's starting to come together a little more.

Here's the dough after the 5th and final egg, and a couple minutes of extra mixing (to get the consistency to match what the instructions say, that the dough should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon when lifted).

I then scraped the still-warm dough (very important) into my makeshift pastry bag, which was just a large freezer bag with a hole cut into one of the corners.

I lined two baking sheets with parchment and made notations on each for 4 1/2-inch sections where the eclairs would be. The piped dough came out more like a ribbon instead of a chubby finger, so what I did was just go back over the first layer of piped dough with another layer. It worked decently well for being a makeshift thing.

Baked as instructed. There was one part where the instructions weren't clear though. You're supposed to put them in the oven and let them bake for 7 minutes, then stick a wooden spoon in the oven door to keep it slightly open for another 5 minutes for a total of 12 minutes. After that you're supposed to switch the trays from top to bottom and front to back, then bake for an additiona 8 minutes, but it doesn't say whether you're supposed to keep the door slightly ajar as you were doing right before, or go back to having the oven door fully closed. I learned from my bread experiments that doing so dries out the bread (or in this case pastry), and since eclairs/cream puffs are generally drier from what I recall, plus there would be pastry filling, I opted to keep the door ajar. At the first switch, the eclairs that were on the upper shelf had puffed much more than the ones on the bottom. After the full baking time, the ones that had been switched to the top were puffy while the ones on the bottom were flat. I'm not sure what I could have done to prevent this.

It didn't matter that much though, because after awhile even the puffy ones deflated quite a bit. I also don't know what to do to prevent that either! Also, I don't know if you can tell from the pictures, but they weren't that big. They were like, mini-eclairs. Also, I ended up piping around 14 eclairs at a length of 4 1/2-inches each. The instructions say that there should be enough dough for 20-24 eclairs. So I don't know if those eclairs puff up much bigger than mine did, or if they're meant to be small.

Here's the chocolate sauce I made in advance.

I added the chocolate sauce to some more chocolate, butter, and heavy cream, and that created this glaze. The flash kind of ruined this shot. ><

Hmm, I guess I should have used parchment paper on the wire rack as suggested in the recipe, as the glaze was really ... drippy.

Filled the bottoms with previously made chocolate pastry cream and gingerly dropped the still-wet tops on them.

It would have been helpful if the instructions had said how long it would take the glaze to cool, because it definitely took awhile. The tops were still wet when I put them together. However, it took me about an hour to get to the BBQ, so they were drier by then.

I tried one to make sure it was edible and wouldn't be subjecting people at the barbecue to eclair rocks. The cream puff dough I thought tasted a bit eggy, but the chocolate covered that up pretty well. The chocolate pastry cream/glaze were both very good. And I was actually glad that they were miniature size, because eating a mini-eclair is much more acceptable than eating a normal-sized one.

They were a hit at the party (or everyone was being very polite). They all pretty much disappeared, and my manager even asked if I had made the dough myself and how I'd done it. Yay for chocolatey baked goods!