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Cantuccini

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Cantuccini are a pretty basic biscotti, flavored with almonds, cinnamon, and vanilla. They’re perfect with coffee…dunking both softens the cantuccini and imparts the coffee flavor to the cookies. Easy to make, they suggest many possibilities for variations. The dough is simply dry ingredients and almonds mixed with eggs and vanilla. Shaped into flattened logs, they’re baked for 30 minutes, then cooled, sliced, and baked again to toast them.

The recipe for cantuccini is from Baking With Julia, pages 313-314. You can read about more baking experiences with cantuccini by checking out some links at the Tuesdays With Dorie blog.

Potato Lefse

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Making potato lefse takes some practice, especially if, like me, you are unfamiliar with this Norwegian crepe-like sweet. The basis for lefse is a dough of mashed potatoes, enriched with butter, heavy cream, and a little sugar and salt, and stiffened with flour. The dough is not unlike gnocchi dough. But unlike gnocchi, lefse are formed by rolling out small balls of dough into thin round “crepes,” which are cooked briefly on both sides in a dry skillet.

At this point, I need to say that I deviated somewhat from the recipe. Boiled potato chunks were called for, but I used some baked russet potatoes that were leftover makings for home fries. So right away I was dealing with a different moisture content. I went lightly with the added flour but wasn’t sure if the dough consistency was right. Apparently there is a lot of lefse making paraphernalia to be had: canvas rounds on which to roll out lefse, grooved rolling pins, and lefse sticks for turning the lefse on the griddle. I made do with a very well floured countertop, an ordinary rolling pin, and a spatula.

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Since my griddle pan is ridged, I used a cast iron skillet for cooking the lefse in the beginning, then switched to a larger non-stick skillet. With the cast iron, the lefse kept burning, even as I checked them frequently and  turned the heat down. The non-stick skillet worked out much better.

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After baking (or dry frying,) the lefse are spread with butter, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, and rolled up. They’re very tasty…kind of a cross between crepes and toast. You can smell the potato in them, and they have a different starchiness than standard crepes. The recipe is from Baking With Julia, pages 165-166. You can also read about the experiences that other bakers had with lefse by heading over to the Tuesdays With Dorie blog.

Mocha Brownie Cake

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A dessert called Mocha Brownie Cake that contains more than a pound of chocolate has got too be great, right? Well, it didn’t turn out that way for me. The recipe is from Baking With Julia and was contributed by Marcel Desaulniers. There is a compact one-pan chocolate cake filled and covered with mocha ganache. I baked the cake twice – the first time following instructions closely, except for the baking temperature. I set the oven at 425 degrees, instead of 325…oops. After 45 minutes, the cake was decidedly burnt.

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So I started again, but since I’d used most of the bittersweet chocolate in the first cake and the ganache, I used more unsweetened chocolate and less bitterweet in the second cake and added a little more sugar to compensate. I was also out of sour cream at this point, so I substituted some plain yogurt.

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The cake is cooled, sliced into three layers, then layered with ganache. The recipe calls for using a springform pan to contain the cake layers while pourable consistency ganache is added, then chilled to set. For this procedure to work successfully, the cake and springform pans have to be exactly the same size. My springform pan was slightly smaller than the cake pan, and the layering process was awkward. I think it would have been fine to just let the ganache cool to a spreadable consistency and spread it onto the cake layers.

I wasn’t overwhelmed by this cake. I found both the cake and ganache a little dry. It was very dense and rich and much improved with a scoop of ice cream. But the bottom line for me is that a cake with this much chocolate should be better than this.

The recipe can be found on pages 282-283 of Baking With Julia. The Tuesdays With Dorie-Baking With Julia website lists links to more bakers’ experiences with this recipe.

Buttermilk Scones

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The Buttermilk Scones recipe from Baking With Julia is a basic template for scones that invites almost limitless additions and variations. There are two shape versions, triangular-shaped and rolled. I decided to make rolled scones, filling them with apricot jam, chopped dates and pecans, as I feared they would be too plain otherwise. In fact, the flavor imparted by the lemon zest and the lovely buttery flaky texture would have been enough.

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As I started combining the dry ingredients, I realized that I only had enough flour for half the recipe, resulting in twelve small rolled scones. They’re so easy to whip up however, that it doesn’t really make sense to bake more than you plan to consume the same day.

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Dry ingredients are combined, butter cut in, buttermilk and lemon zest stirred in, and the result gathered into a ball of soft lemon flecked dough.

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For the rolled scones, the dough is rolled out into a rough rectangle and spread with the chosen filling. I completely missed a step after rolling out the dough: brushing with melted butter and sprinkling with sugar. While additional butter and sugar couldn’t hurt, these scones were fine without.

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Rolled into a log and sliced, the scones are ready for ten to twelve minutes in the oven. They really are fast. I dusted them with some Turbinado sugar before baking.

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I liked the flavors and textures of the fillings, and they offer so many opportunities for variations, but I think these scones in their basic version could stand on their own. The recipe is on pages 210-211 of Baking With Julia. Links to blog posts about these scones can be found at Tuesdays With Dorie.

Vanilla Chiffon Roll

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When I was young, my mother would sometimes make jelly roll…not often, but I remember that the shallow baking pan she used was called a jelly roll pan in our house. I remember her trimming the edges of the flat cake to make an even rectangle for filling and rolling. I don’t remember the cake being filled with anything other than a thinnish layer of jelly. Jelly roll seems like a thing of the past…I never see it any more on restaurant menus or in stores.

Although I have two “jelly roll pans,” I’ve never made a jelly roll, so I was looking forward to baking this recipe from Baking With Julia. The cake is a sponge cake batter lightened and leavened with lots of beaten egg whites, spread into a thin layer in the baking pan. The baking took about 5 minutes longer than the 10-12 minutes the recipe indicated. It came out of the oven light and fluffy and then deflated by about 50%, the better for rolling.

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This rolled cake has a walnut chocolate mousse filling instead of the jelly that I remember. The chocolate is fairly subtle, with the walnuts predominating in flavor and texture, a surprise as I think of mousses as having a smoother texture. Although it involved a lot of steps and required about every pan in the kitchen, the results were pretty amazing. It’s a recipe that can stand on its own without the cake.

The cake and filling rolled up easily and nicely. We didn’t wait for the two hour chilling, but tried it after about a half hour. Decorated with sieved cocoa and confectioners sugar, it was pretty and enticing. The recipe says that it serves six, but portions that size would have been 3″ thick slabs, much too decadent for a cake with so many eggs and so much heavy cream. It was delicious, maybe even better the next day, fully chilled.

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This is half of the chiffon roll.

The recipe can be found on pages 277-279 of Baking With Julia. You can read about the experiences of other bakers with this recipe by following their links posted on Tuesdays With Dorie.

Country Bread

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Home baked bread, eaten while still warm, slathered with butter, accompanying a hearty soup on a cold winter evening…what’s not to like? Country Bread is dense and sturdy, full of flavor and texture from whole wheat, rye, and white flour. It takes a couple of days from start to finish (unless you get started before dawn or want to eat it at midnight, by my calculation.) The procedure includes making a sponge that requires a six to eight hour rest at room temperature, or overnight in the refrigerator. So it requires some planning, although not so much active time.

I’ve always admired artisan bread that has a pattern of the weave from the basket or banetton in which it is formed. Not owning a banetton, I lined an oval basket with a kitchen towel rubbed with flour, amazed by the quantity of flour that was absorbed. My loaf came out of the oven with just a slight ghost of the basket weave pattern…but that was enough.

The half cup of rye flour in the sponge really called to me to add more rye flour to the dough, so I substituted a cup of rye flour for a cup of the white flour, possibly adding to the density of this loaf. Oh, and if you try this recipe, beware of adding the second yeast/water mixture to the dough while the mixer is running. I had yeasty water splattered all over the mixer, counter, and floor.

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This bread was fun to bake, but my go-to recipe for a rustic bread will still be the Pane Integrale in Jim Lahey’s book My Bread (similar to this recipe on the Sullivan Street Bakery website.) The recipe for the Country Bread is from Baking With Julia, on pages 136-137. Bakers participating in the Tuesdays With Dorie bake and blog project have posted links to their blog posts at Tuesdays With Dorie.

Gingersnaps

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A cookie recipe with only two tablespoons of butter…it didn’t sound promising. I thought of those rock hard gingersnaps that you can buy. This is a surprisingly small batch recipe. It makes about two dozen small thin cookies which happily are not hard at all. The recipe is a contribution from David Blom in Baking With Julia. I actually wound up making it twice, because the first batch was gone before I took photos. I tried some minor variations with both versions.

For the first batch, I doubled the amount of the spices, ginger and cinnamon, and I used whole wheat flour. The cookies were very sweet and chewy, and for my taste, the spices had just the right kick. The second time around, I added chopped pecans to add texture and cut the sweetness. I also used grated fresh ginger in place of powdered, again doubled the amount of cinnamon, and used a third whole wheat and two thirds white flour. I omitted the molasses glaze on the second batch…it seemed fussy without adding significantly to the flavor or appearance.

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I don’t make rolled and cut out cookies very often any more. When my daughter was young, I made them pretty frequently…we had a growing collection of cookie cutters…and we usually made gingerbread families at Christmas. These gingersnaps were so easy to put together, and the dough so easy to handle, that I may be motivated to start baking rolled cookies again.

The brightness of the fresh ginger and the crunch of the nuts made the second batch my favorite – a truly snappy gingersnap. The recipe is on pages 324-325 of Baking With Julia. To read what other bakers have to say about these gingersnaps, visit Tuesdays With Dorie.

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