Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ich bin eine Strudel Frau!*

I love apple strudel. In my opinion, the gold standard is the strudel at the Black Forest Inn in South Minneapolis. A German restaurant and bakery, BFI serves the flakiest and tastiest apple strudel (with lots of whipped cream). I worked at the Black Forest years ago and served many, many slices. I ate my fair share too. I didn't know that strudel like that could be made at home. But it can! Look at that flaky pastry and tasting filling. I can hardly believe I made that. Surprisingly, it's not difficult and doesn't take all day.  

This month we Daring Bakers were given the opportunity to make authentic strudel. 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.

The strudel dough is mixed together, rested and then stretched, rather than rolled.  The first time I made the dough I was able to stretch the small ball of dough into a rectangle that was 2 feet by 3 feet, as called for in the recipe.  It is so thin you can see through it.  It's quite amazing how stretchy it is. The challenge recipe includes a traditional apple filling flavored with rum, raisins and walnuts. Everyone at my house loved this strudel.  It was even requested as a birthday dessert, so I made it again. I went on to make more strudels: a mango filling with coconut, almonds and pineapple. And one with cherry and honey-sweetened ricotta cheese.

I also made one savory strudel and filled it with chicken, spinach, mushrooms and fontina. It was very tasty and I'm sorry that I don't have pictures. By making a half recipe of the strudel dough, it was easy to make a dinner strudel that served four to six and didn't take up the entire kitchen when stretching the dough. 

I do recommend doing an internet search for strudel dough pictures and videos. There is really no comparison between seeing how it's done and reading about it. The challenge recipe can be found here.

Thanks to our challenge hosts for this recipe.  I loved learning how to make this dough and know that I will be making again often.

*Translation:  I am a Strudel Wife/Woman/Goddess!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ricotta Gnocchi with REALLY Fresh Homemade Ricotta

This month the folks at Daring Kitchen introduced Daring Cooks. The first challenge was hosted by Lis at La Mia Cucina and Ivonne at Cream Puffs in Venice. They chose Ricotta Gnocchi from The Zuni Café Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco’s Beloved Restaurant, by Judy Rodgers

The actual recipe for the gnocchis looked simple enough. However, the author's description and recipe in the book is six pages. The challenge hosts cut that down some and added their tips. Still, there was lots of text about “test gnocchi’ and tweaking the recipe after testing.  And then “re-testing to ensure success.” Testing and retesting? Before dinner? Also, much commentary about using only fresh ricotta that had to be drained just so. I’d read that ricotta wasn’t too hard to make, so I planned to make my own. That way it would be plenty fresh.

Yesterday afternoon I was in the kitchen and realized that I better get going on making that homemade ricotta. My thinking was that the deadline was just a few days away and I needed to make the ricotta and let it drain overnight. Then after checking to find that it was inedible or the wrong texture or just plain gross, I could run to the store and buy fresh ricotta for $12.00 from the fancy food emporium over the hill. So I did have a plan.

I went the refrigerator and the half-gallon milk carton was half empty. So, it would be small batch I thought. All went well with the heating and the curds separated from the whey as described here. Then when the cheese started to drain, it looked like a REALLY small batch, and just kept getting smaller. I squeezed the cheesecloth to help it drain, but I didn’t want to squeeze too hard because some of the precious cheese was leaking out of the cheesecloth. I put the ball, still in the cheesecloth, in a strainer, over a bowl, weighted it down with a large can of tomatoes and put it in the refrigerator to drain overnight. I sighed and planned a trip over the hill.

Then I moseyed on over to the computer to check the challenge recipe to see if I needed anything else from the store so I could make the gnocchis the next day. That’s when I realized that the posting date wasn’t a few days away, but the 14th….like the next day. It was 2:30 in the afternoon. As I shoot my photos with daylight, I’d have to produce some gnocchi asap if I wanted to make the deadline. I had one hour to go before I had to pick up my daughter.  Why not? I thought. Why not just whip out a challenge? All I have to lose is that little ball of what’s supposed to be ricotta.

So I took the ricotta out of the refrigerator. It looked dry enough to me. I weighed it and it was all of 5 ounces.  That’s between a quarter and a third of what is needed for the full recipe.  So I mixed up the dough, using between one quarter and one third of two eggs. How much is that? I formed all of the gnocchi (all 14 of them). Then decided I better test one. Boiled it for three minutes. Tasted it with butter. It was pillowy and light. And slightly eggy. I knew that eggy taste shouldn’t be there, there’s hardly any egg in it! I tested a second one and boiled it five minutes.  This time I browned some butter with some sage while waiting. Ate half the test gnocchi, eggy taste was gone. Dipped the remaining bite in browned sage butter. Heaven. Really the taste of the cheese, the butter and the sage was perfect.

I put the gnocchi in the refrigerator and ran off to pick up my daughter. I came back an hour later and boiled the rest and served them (to myself) with browned sage butter. They were fabulous. The gnocchi were so light and mild tasting. I’m not sure I’d want anything stronger than butter and herbs, or maybe a light tomato sauce (without garlic). 

I have to say my ricotta was the bomb! It tasted great all by itself.  The finished gnocchi taste pretty much like the ricotta. With so few ingredients, I think ricotta gnocchi requires the best you can find in ingredients. I have three kinds of sage in the garden and have never made browned sage butter before today. Talk about delicious simplicity! Melt one stick of butter with 1/3 cup chopped sage leaves. Let the butter continue to bubble on medium until it starts to brown and the foam subsides. Remove from heat. Let cool a few minutes before pouring over gnocchi. That's it.

You can find the challenge recipe here.  A more detailed description from Judy Rodgers can be found here.  Thanks to Ivonne and Lis for a tasty challenge.