December 26, 2009

The Magic of a Gingerbread House! Daring Bakers Challenge, December 2009


Having been a Daring Baker (Daring being the operative word here) for exactly 2 years now, I knew that our challenge for this month would definitely be in keeping with the season. I did however think it might be some complicated-to-make cake I had never heard of before. I certainly didn't expect to be asked to bake and put together a gingerbread house!

That's right, the December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

We don't celebrate Christmas and this month hasn't been very celebratory in my home so I almost didn't do this challenge. My daughter was however, taken up with the excitement of making a gingerbread house from scratch. Since my sister was down for a short stay, we both decided to indulge Akshaya and make the gingerbread house after all.

We decided to make the gingerbread house after her school term exams were done (on the 22nd) but when we finally got to doing it, my sister and I were left with the gingerbread on our hands as Akshaya was too busy celebrating the beginning of her vacation with a movie and a sleepover at her friend's place!





Gingerbread was not something I grew up with except in books and the gingerbread house decorated with sweets, cookies and chocolate from the story of "Hansel & Gretel" always made me think how wonderful it would be to live in a house one could snack on every now and then. No veggies, just a lot of chocolate seemed perfect to my then 8 year old mind!

Gingerbread always brings back memories of reading the "Gingerbread Man" to my daughter when she was 3 or 4 years old. She loved the story of how the gingerbread man would outwit everyone and not let them eat him, but would never let me finish the story because the wily fox would finally eat the gingerbread man and that would make her so sad.




All done up at the back of the house too!



My Gingerbread House Experience:


I have never ever made a gingerbread house (or even seen or eaten one) but I must say this challenge was something my sister and I had a lot of fun with. Even though I studied to be a biochemist, my dream was to be an architect and this challenge satisfied that dream somewhat! This month's challenge definitely had a lot more to do with being a Daring Engineer rather than a Baker!!!

I chose to use Y's recipe because Anna's recipe required molasses which isn't available where I live. A lot of fellow bakers seemed to have issues with weight/ volume of the wet versus dry ingredients and a crumbly texture to their dough.
I am one of those who cooks/ bakes without a kitchen scale (Did I hear gasps?) and just used my standard measuring cup (a cup which is left from a set of coffee mugs I had!) and my gingerbread dough had the perfect texture.
I did reduce the spices a bit, and used only half the baking soda suggested. Like Y, I didn't use the sugar syrup but the royal icing for "glue".
The detailed recipes for the challenger can be found on Anna's and Y's blogs.

As usual, this challenge meant many "firsts" for me. This was the first time I made gingerbread, a gingerbread house and decorated with royal icing.
It took us a while to figure out just how we were going to make our house and what we were going to decorate it with.




All decorated and ready to be "glued" together


I used this template as a guide to make my gingerbread house and the specifications of the individual pieces I used were as following:
For the side walls: Two rectangular pieces each 5" wide and 3" high.
For the front and back walls: Two pieces (front and back) 51/2" wide and 61/2" high (at the highest point). On the front wall, the door measures 21/2" high and 1 1/2" wide. The round window is 1 1/4" in diameter.
For the roof: Two rectangular pieces each 6" wide and 6" high.
Cut out other shapes as desired for decorating the house.



Useful Tips For This Challenge:

- I found it easier to divide the dough into 2 (or 4) equal portions, flatten each portion into a disc and then wrap and refrigerate them.

- I rolled out the pieces for the house (sides and roof) to 1/4" thick and the pieces for decorating into about 1/8" thick. This made the parts of the house sturdy enough to stand while the pieces that were used to decorate were thinner and looked nicer.

- It is very important to check that your pieces of your house measure the same at the edges where they are to be joined together. So check this as soon as they come out of the oven, and trim to them to fit!

- I found it easier to use disposable pastry bags (without the metal tips), as it kept the royal icing from drying out and whenever the bag tips got blocked with dry icing, I just needed to press them out to get the icing flowing smoothly.

- While assembling, a use heavy object to lend support to the pieces being joined together till the royal icing dries. I used my spice jars. They were especially useful to provide support to the roof.




My cardamom jar (and other spicejars too) lends roof support!


Verdict:

 
Never having eaten gingerbread before, I'm not sure how exactly it was supposed to taste. I understand gingerbread recipes used for gingerbread houses are usually more about texture and strength rather than taste.
My sister has had gingerbread before and she said it tasted good. In fact, half the gingerbread house is going back with her to the U.S. as I type out this post!

I personally have always found Beatrice Ojakangas recipes to work well for me, and I have to say the same about this one too.
The gingerbread was not too sweet and once the royal icing was used, just right where sweetness was concerned. The aroma of the spices every time we went anywhere near the gingerbread house was also something worth mentioning.

As I mentioned before, we had fun putting it together and it felt sad to have to take it apart after so much work went into it.
Please do not forget to explore the magic world of gingerbread houses in the world of the Daring Bakers.



***

"Seasons Greetings, Happy Holidays"

And

"Best Wishes for a Very Happy & Prosperous New Year!"


***


Read full post.....

December 23, 2009

Monica's Friend V's Ps! And There's A Winner Of The Cookbook Giveaway!!


I am posting this recipe because I got quite a few requests for it when I reviewed Monica Bhide's latest book, Modern Spice. Monica's friend Vrinda cooks potatoes like this and so she calls them V's Ps!

When I first saw this recipe in the book, it looked a lot like one of the potato "curries" I make, so I'm very sure Monica's friend is a south Indian. My own version is traditional south Indian style of cooking potatoes and doesn't include garlic, but I have to say that garlic really adds to this recipe.

Monica says her friend Vrinda doesn't consider herself a "real" cook in the style of exotic, stylish and gourmet cooking.
I guess each of us has our own idea of what a "real" cook is, but like Monica I also think that anyone who puts in their effort and love into cooking up tasty and satisfying food is the "real" cook.





This is a very simple yet tasty way of cooking potatoes. I did change a few small things in the recipe when I made this for my convenience and to suit our taste. I am adding this in brackets wherever applicable, in a different colour.



Ingredients:


2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tsp mustard seeds

4 whole dried chillie

3 garlic cloves, crushed (1/2 tsp garlic paste)

1/2 kg (1 pound) baby potatoes, peeled and quartered

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

8 to 10 fresh curry leaves

2 tbsp minced cilantro

salt to taste



Method:


In a large lidded skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to crackle, add the red chillies.

Add the garlic and potatoes and sauté for about 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the turmeric and mix well. Add the curry leaves and cilantro and cook foe another minute.

Add the salt to taste and about 2 tbsps of water. Cover and cook over low heat until the potatoes are tender, 12 to 15 minutes.

Serve hot. This recipe serves 4.

I made a couple of changes to the recipe in the cooking. I reduced the garlic a bit because we do not like the flavour of garlic too much; just a faint hint of it was fine for us.
I added the chopped cilantro at the end after the cooking was done.

I also cooked my potatoes in the microwave till they were just done and then added them to the pan. This meant that it took less time to cook up this dish and so I added just a splash of water instead of the 2 tbsp.



Now to the bit about the cookbook giveaway I had promised while celebrating 2 years of blogging. Before I get to that, I would like to thank everyone (including those of you who still didn't delurk) for encouraging me to continue writing and sharing my kitchen stories here.

Thank you also for all those lovely comments about my posts and pictures. Regarding the couple of suggestions, I have already been working on them. This blog should have a header (finally!) and a cleaner and less cluttered look by the New Year.

And the lucky lady who has won the book Petite Sweets: Bite-Size Desserts to Satisfy Every Sweet Tooth by Beatrice Ojakangas *drum roll, please* is Madhuli.

Madhuli, please mail me your postal address so that I can send you the book.


"Season's Greetings and Happy Holidays!"







Read full post.....

December 21, 2009

Viennese Striesel


Before I get on with this post, I would like to say a special thank you to everyone for your thoughtful, kind words and support during our time of loss.
As you all know, this month hasn't quite been the month that December is considered to be. There have been a lot of changes in our lives and right now we have our hands full trying to adjust to it all. Everything shall settle into some sort of routine eventually and we're getting there slowly.

In the meanwhile, I haven't been cooking much other than rather routine (and maybe boring) stuff. My sister is down for a short stay and I have been quite happy to let her take over as much of my kitchen as she chooses to while she's here.

I'm also finding it a bit of an effort to get back to blogging. Just the thought of cooking something, then taking a picture of it and trying to write a post when words seem to have deserted me, seems to tire me out. Every time I feel it's time I got back to blogging, I invariably end up thinking, "I'll do this tomorrow". Except tomorrow seems to be hiding some place where I cannot find it!

So I thought the best way to get out of this apathy would be to jumpstart things by baking some bread. For me, there's something almost therapeutic about baking bread and it certainly helps that we also really love bread.

When I saw that Katie of Thyme For Cooking had chosen a Viennese Striesel for the Bread Baking Babes (and Buddies) to bake, I thought this festive holiday bread ought to be a great way to get back to baking. I have been planning to make this since I saw it a couple of days back and finally did it yesterday!





I just mostly followed the given recipe (from Breads of Many Lands by Clara Gebhard Snyder).

I had a little less than the required amount of candied cherries and my daughter doesn't really like raisins, especially in bread. So my striesel has a little less of these two ingredients than required, which explains why you need to really search for them in my striesel.

I couldn't find any candied orange peel, so I compensated for this by adding orange extract to the sugar glaze.
I also had a slightly difficult time doing a 4-stranded braid and messed it somewhere in the middle. However, the 3-stranded braid placed over it and a 2-stranded twist right on top helped a lot to disguise the mistake!

My baking tray proved a little small for my fully risen striesel, so I didn't quite get the finish I was looking forward to. All said and done, this slightly sweet festive bread is quite delightful, soft yet not rich.
If you are thinking of leaving out the sugar glaze (I almost didn't as I thought it might make the bread too sweet), please do not as it certainly adds to taste and the visual appeal of this bread.


Ingredients:


 
Basic Sweet Dough:

1 package active dry yeast

1/4 cup very warm water

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup sugar

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp shortening, melted (I used butter)

2 3/4 - 3 cups flour

1 egg


Dissolve yeast in warm waterScald milk. Put milk, sugar, shortening, salt in bowl of mixer. Cool until just warm. Stir in 1 cup of flour. Mix in dissolved yeast.Whisk egg and add to dough. Add remaining flour and knead until smooth and satiny.


Viennese Striesel:

1 recipe Basic Sweet Dough (from above)

1/4 cup seedless raisins

1/4 cup candied cherries, chopped

2 tbs candied orange peel, chopped

1/8 tsp mace

1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

1 tbsp milk

almonds or walnuts for sprinkling



Method:


Add fruit and mace to basic dough before the last cup of flour. Mix in well. Add remaining flour and finish kneading until smooth.Shape into a ball, place in lightly greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled, about 2 1/4 hours.

Punch down. Divide into 9 pieces, shape each into a ball and let rest 5 minutes.Roll each piece into a rope about 15" long.
Lay 4 strands on a lightly greased baking sheet, overlapping at the center. Braid from the center toward each end. With the side of your hand make a trench down the center. Now braid 3 strands, also from the center to each end, and place in the 'trench'. Twist the 2 remaining strands loosely together and place on top, bringing the ends over the end of the loaf and tucking in.

Cover loosely and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours. Bake, 350F (180C) for 40 - 45 minutes. Remove and cool on a wire rack.Mix milk and sugar. When bread is cool, drizzle frosting over the top. Sprinkle with nuts.



This Viennese Striesel is being YeastSpotted!

The winner of my blog anniversary cookbook giveaway will be announced in my next post. That's a promise!







Read full post.....

December 18, 2009

I'm Back.................


I guess many of you would have noticed that my blog has been rather silent in the past couple of weeks. My Dad passed away rather suddenly at the beginning of the month and I was away. I got back a few days ago but right now, there are a lot of things keeping me otherwise occupied and I might not be able to post as regularly as I used to for the rest of this month.





My thanks to everyone who called or mailed me enquiring about my absence. I very much appreciate the wishes and prayers you all sent my way, and for keeping me in your thoughts.



Read full post.....