(The Daring Bakers’ February 2012 host was – Lis! Lisa stepped in last minute and challenged us to create a quick bread we could call our own. She supplied us with a base recipe and shared some recipes she loves from various websites and encouraged us to build upon them and create new flavor profiles.)

Quick breads!  I used to make a lot of quick breads, but I haven’t done one in a while.  So I took the opportunity this month to make two – a Beer Cheese Bread and a Lemon Bread.

They were both simple – mix the dry ingredients, add the wet, pour in a pan, and bake.   I did the beer bread first.

When I used to skydive, the woman who ran the kitchen made amazing beer bread.  It was thick and crusty and always warm.  Every beer bread I’ve had since has been compared to it.

This one had two kinds of cheeses – a sharp cheddar and asiago, plus sautéed green onions.  I put too many onions in it – the recipe called for a cup, but I accidentally grabbed the two cup measure out of the cupboard, and didn’t realize it until I was putting dishes in the dishwasher.  But I like green onions, so we didn’t mind.

Beer Bread 

After baking for an hour:

 Beer Bread

It was really good.  It was even better toasted the next day.  And I expect it will be good again tonight.

Then I made a lemon bread.  This one had lemon zest and lemon juice.  It was supposed to make two loaves, but I only have one small loaf pan, so I made one loaf and baked the other half into muffins.

Lemon Bread

It was also really good, particularly with the Meyer Lemon jam we got on Saturday from Revival Market. I also picked up some smoked lard there, which is going to have to make it’s way into biscuits soon.

I’m going to make one more loaf this month – the America’s Test Kitchen Banana Bread.  It needs very ripe bananas, and they’re still not quite ready, so it’ll wait until later this week.

It was a fun, easy month.  Now I just have to find homes for more of this bread…

( see the recipes )

Cheesecake

Last weekend, I got invited to a friend’s place for a late lunch.  She was making Boeuf Bourguignon, and I was going to bring dessert.

I immediately thought of a great vanilla-bean madeline recipe I used to make.  There were only two problems – first, madelines are really good only for about half an hour after they come out of the oven, and while I suppose I could have lugged batter and the pans over to her house, it seemed like a lot of trouble.  The bigger problem was that I couldn’t find the recipe anywhere.  It wasn’t in my recipe database, it wasn’t in any of the cookbooks I looked in, and a Google search didn’t find me anything that looked like what I remembered.

So I gave up on the madelines, and made cheesecake instead.  This is an old favorite recipe of mine – I have no idea where it’s originally from, but I’ve made it for many years.  It’s got lemon, lime, and orange zest in it, which makes it interesting enough on it’s own that it doesn’t need a topping.

But then I remember that my cheesecakes always crack on top, so maybe I’d make something I could spread on top to make it look better.  And I remembered that I had a lemon curd recipe in my bookmarks, and immediately envisioned this beautiful, perfectly flat cheesecake with 1/4 inch of lemon curd spread perfectly on top.  It was a nice fantasy

I mixed up the cheesecake.  There’s not much to say about it – I threw half a package of graham crackers in the food processor to crush them, mixed them with butter and brown sugar, and pressed the crust into a pan.  The filling was 4 blocks of cream cheese, mixed with the lemon, lime, and orange zest and juice, some eggs, plus a little sugar and a bit of flour to thicken it.  I poured it over the crust and put it in the oven.

There’s a whole series of old wives’ tales about keeping your cheesecake from cracking.  Bake it with a bowl of water in the oven. Grease the sides of the pan.  Don’t over-beat it.  Don’t over-bake it.  Let it cool inside the oven with the door cracked. 

I try to be careful about how long I beat it, and I do put a pan of water in the oven, and my cheesecakes always crack on top anyway.  This one was no exception. 

So it went in the fridge overnight to cool, cracks and all. 

The next morning, I made the lemon curd.  The recipe said any citrus juice would do, but I used 2 ounces each of lemon juice, key lime juice, and orange juice, to mirror the flavors in the cheesecake.  I’m probably going to try a cranberry juice variation around the holidays, maybe as a base for a tart, because it looked interesting. 

It’s easiest to think of a curd as a custard, because it uses basically a custard method – warm up the liquid, beat the eggs, very slowly add just enough liquid to the eggs to bring them up to temperature without cooking them, then add the eggs back to the hot liquid to set everything.  Then, in a departure from “custard”, mix in the butter. The residual heat will melt the butter and thicken up the curd. 

When it was time to leave, I looked at the cheesecake and the bowl of curd.  I looked at how much cheesecake I would have to cut off to get rid of the cracks and make it smooth – and I just took it with me, exactly like it came out of the oven, and took the bowl of curd, and when it was time to serve it, we all had slices and topped them individually with a dollop of curd.

Everyone raved about it, and no one even mentioned the cracks.

Cheesecake

( see the cheesecake recipe )

( see the citrus curd recipe )

Lemon Blueberry Tart

The best part of getting new kitchen toys is finding ways to use them – and this has been the month of the New Mini Tart Pans.

I happened to see blueberries at the grocery store.  I’m not sure they’re quite in season yet, but I bought a package anyway.  And since the mini-tart pans were still sitting on my kitchen counter, I figured I’d make blueberry tarts.

So I went though that huge pile of bookmarked recipes that everyone has, and I found the recipes I needed for a nice, basic pastry cream tart.

The crust is from David Lebovitz.  Unlike the turtle tart dough, which used cold butter, this recipe has you put the butter in the oven for 15 minutes.  That gives it time to get that nutty brown butter flavor.  I’m not sure exactly what the tablespoon of oil is for, but I suspect it’s there to keep the dough from getting too firm to eat when it’s chilled.

The pastry cream is from The Kitchen.  The recipe as it’s written there isn’t very interesting – on my first attempt, I doubled the vanilla, and it still just didn’t pop for me.  If I wanted a very strong vanilla flavor, I think I’d scrape a vanilla bean in with the milk.  Plus, even with the smallest amount of flour, it was too thick and floury.

So, for version 2.0, I replaced half the flour with cornstarch, so it didn’t have to be cooked as long.  And then I decided lemon would be better with the blueberries, so I put in 1/4 teaspoon of lemon oil instead of the vanilla – and that made it exactly right.

Overall, they were good – the crust was amazing, the pastry cream tasted like the bottom part of lemon meringue pie, and the blueberries kept the pastry cream from being too overwhelming.

( see the recipe )

Lemon Rolls

Once a month or so, I have friends over to play Wii games and eat junk food.  It’s perfect – I can spend the day baking, and I get plenty of feedback on what worked and didn’t work.

And these worked.

The recipe is from The Kitchen – Sticky Lemon Rolls with Lemon Cream Cheese Glaze.

They took a while to make – 2 hours, at least, of rest time, plus half an  hour or so of hands-on time – but were otherwise not complicated.  And I’d never made cinnamon rolls before!

The dough goes in a stand mixer, or you can knead it by hand.  I added half a teaspoon of lemon oil to the dough just to give it a bit more lemon-ness.  Let it rise for an hour (it was cold yesterday, so I gave it a bit longer), then roll it out.

I have one of those silicone pastry mats, and it makes projects like this much less painful – instead of cleaning flour off the counter (which always results in flour all over the floor) – you just roll out your dough, then pick up the mat and dump it over the trash can.

This dough gets rolled out into a big rectangle, then covered with butter and the sugar filling.  I cheated, and I melted and then cooled the butter instead of just softening it.  That way I could just pour it over the dough, and spread it around with a pastry brush to get perfect coverage.

Then you roll it up, slice it, and put them in a 13×9 to raise for another hour, until they look like this:

Lemon Rolls

Then bake.  While they’re baking, make the frosting.  I tried to mix it by hand with a whisk, but I ended up with small lumps of cream cheese, even though it was very soft to start with.  I’d recommend doing it in a mixer or with a food processor.

The only change I’m going to make when I do them again (and I will do them again!) is to double the cream cheese in the glaze.  It came out too much like a glaze and not enough like cream cheese frosting.  Letting them cool a bit longer before I put the glaze on would have helped, too.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are a few left over in the fridge, and they’ll make a great breakfast….

( see the recipe )