Saturday, June 27, 2009


The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England. (Check out Jasmine's blog and read all about the tart/pudding's 200 year history.) After the history lesson, the hosts set us free to create our own version. We were required to use the provided recipes for a shortbread pastry crust and for the frangipane filling (an almond egg mixture). We could use any jam or flavor for the filling. Making homemade jam or preserves was strongly encouraged!
A few days before the challenge was announced, I had made my first batch of jam in more than twenty years. I found someone locally on craigslist to trade their organic kumquats for marmalade. I had never made marmalade before. It was so easy, so delicious and so beautiful.
I was inspired by others at the Daring Kitchen forums to make mini-tarts. As I didn't own any small tart pans, I improvised with my muffin tin. My family loved the tarts. The almond frangipane goes well with almost any jam flavor. I was less than thrilled with the pastry dough recipe which I found too rich and too buttery. The tart has a wonderful rich filling (butter, eggs and almond flour). The tart crust was too rich for me. I was also disappointed when two different attempts with the mini-tarts ended with cracked tops.
I decided to give it another try with my new 9" tart pan. A batch of just finished homemade peach preserves was sitting in the kitchen. I was really looking forward to the peach and almond combination. I followed all the suggestions on the forums for getting the crust just right: chilled all the ingredients, froze the butter, then grated it. The crust was blind baked in an attempt to prevent it from being soggy. After all that, I'm still not impressed with that crust. It's still too oily and not crisp enough. The tart, however, was wonderful. Peach and frangipane is a divine combination.
Many thanks to the hosts for the delicious challenge. I know frangipane will have many uses in other desserts for me. I'm still in search of the perfect tart crust though. Feel free to make suggestions. You can find the entire challenge recipe here

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Potstickers for now....and later

In May, we Daring Cooks over at the Daring Kitchen were given the challenge of making home-made potstickers. Our challenge was hosted by Jen of use real butter. She dictated that we must make the potsticker dough from the recipe given (as opposed to buying pre-made wonton wrappers). She provided traditional recipes for pork and shrimp fillings, but encouraged us to go wild with our own filling ideas.

I wasn't that excited. As much as I like dumplings and potstickers, I've had problems preparing the frozen ones at home. There is always a lot of hot oil smoking and spattering. I thought potstickers were supposed to be stir-fried in a wok with lots of oil. Turns out there are much better ways, as I learned during this challenge.

The dough is just flour and water. It comes together easily, requires some kneading and then some resting. There has been a lot of kneading and resting in the challenges lately (strudel dough, lasagna dough). The dough rests, but you don't. The resting time (15-30 minutes) gives you enough time to put together a filling, making it possible to get potstickers for 4-6 people on the table in a little over an hour. The rested dough gets divided into four pieces, rolled into logs, and cut into 1 inch pieces. Then each piece is quickly rolled into a circle and filled. Filling and pleating the potstickers took some practice. Below are my first five dumplings. You can see that I'm just getting the hang of pleating the dough to fit around the filling by my fifth one (on the right).
I wanted a vegetable filling but wanted something different than tofu. I found a good recipe using quinoa, shitake mushrooms and vegetables. I made the recipe as written, and added 1/2 cup grated carrots. Making the filling was easy, but there is some serious chopping and mincing required. When making a large batch, you are going to want help in the kitchen. The recipe made exactly enough filling for the dough recipe in the challenge--24 large potstickers. I love when that happens!
I'm the only potsticker lover at home.  So, I rolled and filled only eight of them. Then I cooked them, following Jen's instructions for pan frying. I heated a couple of tablespoons of peanut oil in my 12" cast iron skillet, over medium high, put in the potstickers (flat side down) for a few minutes until very brown. Then I added 1/2 cup water and covered the pan and let the steam do the rest of the work.The finished potstickers were very brown on the bottom (the way I like them) and perfectly cooked on the inside.
I liked these so much that I decided to follow the advice in the challenge recipe for freezing uncooked potstickers. I went back and rolled and filled the remaining dough. The dumplings were set on a tray and put in the freezer for 20 minutes until hard, and then bagged for future use. I'm so happy to have my own brand of frozen potstickers in the freezer! 

Thanks to Jen for such a great challenge. This was certainly not a recipe or skill I would have come up with to challenge myself. As always, special thanks to the many Daring Cooks (especially Audax) who posted pictures, questions, suggestions, stories, humour and help at the Daring Kitchen Forums.