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Tropical Napoleons

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I’ve been having a problem downloading photographs from my camera lately…apparently it’s a device driver problem with my PC, and so far I haven’t been able to correct it. In the mean time, I’m using my phone as my camera and emailing the photos to myself. The phone does a pretty good job, but I miss having the control that I have with the camera.

Tropical Napoleons are a reinterpretation of the classical French napoleon with a tropical twist. The recipe is contributed to Baking With Julia by Charlotte Akoto, who demonstrated the meringue recipes for the cookbook and the PBS series. A classic napoleon is constructed of layers of puff pastry alternating with a filling of pastry cream and optional fruit preserves, usually raspberry jam. Akoto’s version layers coconut meringue wafers with rum-spiked whipped cream and tropical fruits and berries.

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I found the meringue wafer cookies to be a challenge. Egg whites are beaten with sugar, rum, and vanilla, until they are stiff and shiny, then shredded coconut is folded in. I was fine up to that point. To form the wafers, you cut a template from plastic (I used a quart-size yogurt container lid). You then spread the meringue on a greased and floured baking sheet, using the template as a guide. I wasn’t sure how thick the meringue should be. With the first batch, I forgot to sprinkle the meringue circles with coconut and sesame seeds (those became the bottom layers.) By the second batch, my meringue had started to deflate, so I tried beating it again, unsuccessfully. I ended up using the somewhat collapsed meringue for my second batch, but remembered to top them with coconut and sesame seeds before baking. After baking, the meringue wafers were still sticky and chewy, so getting them off of the baking sheets was challenging.

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The rest of the recipe consists in assembling the components. To create the napoleons, the coconut meringue wafers are layered with the whipped cream and tropical fruits. I used mango, papaya, kiwi fruit, and strawberries. The flavors were varied and refreshing, the coconut a nice complement to the fruits. Contrasting textures added to the complexity of the napoleons. The recipe can be found on pages 393-394 of Baking With Julia. The Tuesdays With Dorie blog has a post with links to bakers’ experiences with the recipe.

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Scallop and Pesto Purses are little packets of phyllo dough wrapped around a sea scallop, some sliced scallion, and a dollop of pesto. I always find phyllo to be fragile and well-suited to a treatment where patching won’t be noticed. In this case two layers are brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with parmesan, then cut into squares for forming the purses. There was some tearing of the phyllo sheets, and I tried to align the layers so that a torn portion would stack over an intact portion. I still got some holes as I twisted the tops closed. The tops were to be tied with string, but my kitchen twine had migrated to the garden and was in no condition to return to the kitchen, so I left them rustically scrunched.

The simplicity of the filling is brilliant, three flavors and textures that complement and contrast with the crunchy phyllo. Mine came out of the oven with beautifully browned crimped tops and very soggy bottoms. I’m pretty sure the liquid was released from the scallops as they cooked, and since I dried the raw scallops carefully, I’m not sure what I could have done to avoid the sogginess.

Purses on baking sheet

I don’t often make appetizers, but in the past I’ve made both savory and sweet galettes to serve as appetizer and dessert. Since I was already working with the phyllo, I was inspired to create a dessert version of a phyllo purse. I brushed phyllo sheets with melted butter, and sprinkled them with cinnamon and sugar. Following the three-ingredient formula, I filled the purses with a piece of banana, a square of chocolate, and some chopped walnuts. The flaky phyllo was a perfect foil for the roasted banana, melted chocolate, and crunchy nuts.

Banana Purses on Platter

The recipe, from Baking With Julia, on page 435, couldn’t be simpler. More versions of Scallop and Pesto Purses can be viewed by following the links on Tuesdays With Dorie.

 

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.

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