DB#31 or An Apple Strudel a day...

Apple Strudel

An Apple Strudel would certainly put a smile on my face any day of the week! Apple Strudel is not exactly the kind of dessert I grew up with, and I don't have many memories of this sweet but I've been baking strudels for a while now. This lovely theme for this month challenge with the Daring Bakers got me thinking of many possibilities, and how I'd try different fillings and approaches to a new favourite. Except I forgot my trip to a place not so far from the Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague where Apple Strudel is baked everyday... Because of that I ended up going for the old traditional Apple Strudel, with further experiences postponed to another opportunity. Anyway, it's a wonderful recipe. Thank you Linda and Courtney!

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Apple Strudel

Apple strudel
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

2 tablespoons (30 ml) golden rum
3 tablespoons (45 ml) raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 g) sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) fresh bread crumbs
strudel dough (recipe below)
1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts
2 pounds (900 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (use apples that hold their shape during baking)

1. Mix the rum and raisins in a bowl. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in another bowl.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.

3. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Make the strudel dough as described below. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the walnuts about 3 inches (8 cm) from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch-(15cm)-wide strip. Mix the apples with the raisins (including the rum), and the cinnamon sugar. Spread the mixture over the walnuts.

4. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

5. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.

Strudel dough
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.
Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.
Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.
Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

My thoughts on the challenge:
- Both the filling and the dough recipe worked well.
- My strudel wasn't very pretty, and there was no time to 'make-up'! As said before I used the basic recipe without any different ingredients. In the end I was really happy with the overall taste.

Go and and I taste, I mean, a look at all Daring Bakers Strudels! ;)


On chasing dragons & waterfalls


For those you know me, I'm on the rational side kind of person. I like to be in control of the situation, I love to plan, and I adore when everything comes together the way I've meant it to be. But reason will take you only until a certain point. After that is all about feeling... Emotion, reason and belief play a very important and meaningful role in our lives. Fear not, I will leave it at that! It's funny how we choose things, and how sometimes things seem to choose you. My personal bond with Slovenia was totally unplanned, and yet so special. One of the few souvenirs I've brought from Ljubljana was a cookbook (surprising, I know!) with slovenian recipes. I bought the book mainly because I wanted to bake a cake called Gibanica (aka 'moving cake'). Although Gibanica is a traditional dessert in the Balkan region - many different variations can be found in Serbia, Macedonia and Bulgaria -,Prekmurje gibanica is the slovenian national dessert.

We're off to Slovenia again - can't wait to chase Ljubljana dragon and waterfalls like this! In the meanwhile, grab a cup of your favourite coffee. I leave you with a slice of Gibanica. :)



Adapted from Heike Milhench's Flavors of Slovenia

8-10 sheets phyllo dough
3/4 cup poppy seeds
1 cup (250 ml) milk
2-3 small apples, peeled, cored and sliced thinly
1/2 cup raisins, soaked in warm water or rum, drained
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (or 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped)
1 tsp cinnamon
Juice and zest of 1 small lemon (unwaxed, preferably organic)
680 grs ricotta or cottage cheese
2 large eggs
1 cup (250 ml) sour cream
1 cup walnuts, chopped
4 Tbsp butter, melted
Icing (confectioner's sugar) for sprinkling

Boil the poppy seeds in the milk until softened, about 20-25 minutes. Remove, drain, and set aside.

For the first filling, combine apples, raisins, sugar, vanilla (seeds or extract), cinnamon, lemon juice and zest in a medium bowl. Prepare the second filling separately mixing the cheese with the eggs and the cream, until smooth.

Preheat the oven to 150ºC (300ºF). Grease a rectangular baking pan. Place a phyllo sheet in the bottom, and brush with melted butter. Make sure the rest of the phyllo sheets are covered to prevent them to dry out. Spread a layer of cheese mixture over the dough. Cover with another sheet of phyllo, brush with butter, and spread a layer of raisin and apple mixture. Sprinkle with walnuts and poppy seeds. Repeat until you run out of fillings. Be sure to cover everything with 2 phyllo sheets. Brush the top with butter. Bake for 65-75 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven, and sprinkle with icing sugar.



DC#1 - Do I Dare to Cook?

Ricotta Gnocchi with Minted Peas & Broad Beans

The Daring Bakers are a well known group of people who dare to... bake! The million dollar question is: do daring bakers dare to cook? This one does! I didn't have too much time to give this challenge a thought, so I just gathered what there was available in the fridge and (dared!) to cook us dinner. And it tasted nice. Almost forgot to say that the very first Daring Cooks' challenge is ... Ricotta Gnocchi! Major thanks to Lisa and Ivonne for everything they've done. Thank you Ladies!

Ricotta Gnocchi with Minted Peas & Broad Beans

Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi
The Zuni Café Cookbook.

Serves 4-6

For the gnocchi:
1 pound (454 grams/16 ounces) fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) unsalted butter
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves, or a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg, or a few pinches of chopped lemon zest (all optional)
½ ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about ¼ cup very lightly packed)
about ¼ teaspoon salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
all-purpose flour for forming the gnocchi

For the gnocchi sauce:
8 tablespoons (227 grams/1/4 pound/4 ounces) butter, sliced
2 teaspoons water

Step 1 (the day before you make the gnocchi): Preparing the ricotta.
If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. In her cookbook, Judy Rodgers recommends checking the ricotta’s wetness. To test the ricotta, take a teaspoon or so and place it on a paper towel. If you notice a very large ring of dampness forming around the ricotta after a minute or so, then the ricotta is too wet. To remove some of the moisture, line a sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels and place the ricotta in the sieve. Cover it and let it drain for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can wrap the ricotta carefully in cheesecloth (2 layers) and suspend it in your refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours with a bowl underneath to catch the water that’s released. Either way, it’s recommended that you do this step the day before you plan on making the gnocchi.

Step 2 (the day you plan on eating the gnocchi): Making the gnocchi dough.
To make great gnocchi, the ricotta has to be fairly smooth. Place the drained ricotta in a large bowl and mash it as best as you can with a rubber spatula or a large spoon (it’s best to use a utensil with some flexibility here). As you mash the ricotta, if you noticed that you can still see curds, then press the ricotta through a strainer to smooth it out as much as possible.

Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta.

Melt the tablespoon of butter. As it melts, add in the sage if you’re using it. If not, just melt the butter and add it to the ricotta mixture.

Add in any flavouring that you’re using (i.e., nutmeg, lemon zest, etc.). If you’re not using any particular flavouring, that’s fine.

Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the salt.

Beat all the ingredients together very well. You should end up with a soft and fluffy batter with no streaks (everything should be mixed in very well).

Step 3: Forming the gnocchi.
Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. When it boils, salt the water generously and keep it at a simmer. You will use this water to test the first gnocchi that you make to ensure that it holds together and that your gnocchi batter isn’t too damp.

In a large, shallow baking dish or on a sheet pan, make a bed of all-purpose flour that’s ½ an inch deep.

With a spatula, scrape the ricotta mixture away from the sides of the bowl and form a large mass in the centre of your bowl.

Using a tablespoon, scoop up about 2 to 3 teaspoons of batter and then holding the spoon at an angle, use your finger tip to gently push the ball of dough from the spoon into the bed of flour.

At this point you can either shake the dish or pan gently to ensure that the flour covers the gnocchi or use your fingers to very gently dust the gnocchi with flour. Gently pick up the gnocchi and cradle it in your hand rolling it to form it in an oval as best as you can, at no point should you squeeze it. What you’re looking for is an oval lump of sorts that’s dusted in flour and plump.

Gently place your gnocchi in the simmering water. It will sink and then bob to the top. From the time that it bobs to the surface, you want to cook the gnocchi until it’s just firm. This could take 3 to 5 minutes.

If your gnocchi begins to fall apart, this means that the ricotta cheese was probably still too wet. You can remedy this by beating a teaspoon of egg white into your gnocchi batter. If your gnocchi batter was fluffy but the sample comes out heavy, add a teaspoon of beaten egg to the batter and beat that in. Test a second gnocchi to ensure success.

Form the rest of your gnocchi. You can put 4 to 6 gnocchi in the bed of flour at a time. But don’t overcrowd your bed of flour or you may damage your gnocchi as you coat them.

Have a sheet pan ready to rest the formed gnocchi on. Line the sheet pan with wax or parchment paper and dust it with flour.

You can cook the gnocchi right away, however, Judy Rodgers recommends storing them in the refrigerator for an hour prior to cooking to allow them to firm up.

Step 4: Cooking the gnocchi.
Have a large skillet ready to go. Place the butter and water for the sauce in the skillet and set aside.

In the largest pan or pot that you have (make sure it’s wide), bring at least 2 quarts of water to a boil (you can use as much as 3 quarts of water if your pot permits). You need a wide pot or pan so that your gnocchi won’t bump into each other and damage each other.

Once the water is boiling, salt it generously.

Drop the gnocchi into the water one by one. Once they float to the top, cook them for 3 to 5 minutes (as in the case with the test gnocchi).

When the gnocchi float to the top, you can start your sauce while you wait for them to finish cooking.

Place the skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. Swirl it gently a few times as it melts. As soon as it melts and is incorporated with the water, turn off the heat. Your gnocchi should be cooked by now.

With a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water and gently drop into the butter sauce. Carefully roll in the sauce until coated. Serve immediately.

My thoughts on the challenge:
- The recipe worked fine for me but I thought these were a pain to make... Bare with me, I've been working too much lately. ;)
- I've used half recipe, and it was more than enough for the two of us.
- Peas and broad beans (and a tiny little bit of chili) were all I added to the sauce, as well as a few finely chopped mint leaves.
- I thought the recipe was nice but not amazingly good.


Spicing up the day

Dal & Pumpkin Soup with Spicy Onion Topping

I'm not much into spicy dishes. Anything hot is usually too hot for me but I'm learning to adjust my taste to "new" flavours, and my cooking experiences (for instance with chilies) to my (mild) tastes... I guess the spice girl in me is not overly spicy or (anywhere) hot!! Which brings us to a soup. What were you thinking?? ;) But this is no ordinary soup. This is one of the best soups I had in a while. Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries is not just an adorable voyage in his daily kitchen but a very good recipe book. This is the soup Nigel made in New Year's, and it's not just a good start for a book. It's a darn good suggestion for a hearty soup.

Dal & Pumpkin Soup with Spicy Onion Topping

Dal and Pumpkin Soup

Adapted from Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen

Makes 4 good-size bowls

1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
A walnut-sized knob of ginger
225 grams split red lentils
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground chili
250 grams pumpkin
small bunch coriander, roughly chopped

For the onion topping:
2 medium onions
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 small hot chillies (or chili flakes, if fresh chilies aren't available)
2 cloves garlic

Peel the onion and chop it roughly. Peel and crush the garlic and put it with the onion into a medium-sized, heavy saucepan. Peel the ginger, cut it into thin shreds and stir that in too. Add the lentils and pour in 1 1/2 litres (6 cups) of water. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to an enthusiastic simmer. Stir in the ground turmeric and chili, season and leave to simmer, covered, for twenty minutes.

While the soup is cooking, bring a medium-size pan of water to the boil. Peel the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and fibre, then cut the flesh into fat chunks. Boil the pumpkin pieces for ten minutes, until they are tender enough to take a skewer without much pressure. Drain them and set aside.

To make the onion topping, peel the onions and cut them into thin rings. Cook them in the oil in a shallow pan until they start to colour. Cut the chilies in half, scrape out the seeds and slice the flesh finely. Peel and finely slice the garlic and add it with the chilies to the onions. Continue cooking until the onions are a deep golden brown. Set aside.

Remove the lid from the lentils and turn up the heat, boiling hard for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, then add the drained pumpkin. Blend the soup through until smooth, then pour it into a bowl. Stir in the roughly chopped coriander and check the seasoning. Serve in deep bowls with a spoonful of the spiced onions on top.