Saturday, August 27, 2011

August Daring Bakers' Challenge - Candylicious!

The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drive and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!. These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies! This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy!

Wait, did that say candy? Well, there is no better way to get the attention of a sweet tooth or her five year old daughter than to mention the word candy. From the moment I read the challenge this month, I was excited. Now, you know my opinion about when the challenges include contests, but not even that could dampen my spirits.

Lisa and Mandy (two totally awesome ladies and amazing foodies) provided a whole lot of recipes as inspiration for us, and challenged us each to make (at least) one chocolate and (at least) one non-chocolate based candy.

The first candy that I decided to try was one for which they provided a recipe, and it is called pate de fruit. Pronounced "pat du fwee," this is basically a fresh fruit jelly candy. I love anything fruity, and a fresh fruit candy seemed right up my alley. Unfortunately, the only fruit of which I had an abundance at the time was bananas. Do a google search for banana pate de fruit. Not a lot comes up. Undeterred, I tried anyway.

Little miss helped me peel and chunk up my bananas.

Then using my immersion blender, we turned the bananas (plus one peeled, chunked up apple, for the natural pectin in it and to add just a bit extra...) into a puree, which we then cooked on the stove top over medium heat to 225 degrees.

The cooked jelly is then poured into a pan and sprinkled with some sugar, than left to set.

Once the jelly sets, it can be cut into shapes, rolled in some sugar, and, voila! Beautiful candies! Right? Well, mine never quite set enough. I tried to make little pate de fruit dots using my apple corer.

Umm... okay, they stuck. Using a toothpick to get them out, I kept trying...

They look pretty good, right?
Now look at them from a different angle...

Umm... I don't think they are supposed to ooze down through the rack like that... Not wanting to scrap all the hard work, I scooped the rest of the jelly into a jar, and now have candy flavored jam instead of, well, candy.

Not to be deterred, and inspired by another Daring Baker on the forums, I decided to try a different non-chocolate candy - rock candy. I mean, what a fun science lesson for the five year old, right? Growing our own sugar crystals? Cool!

So we wet and sugared some lollipop sticks to provide something onto which our sugar crystals could grow.

We then made a super saturated sugar syrup (twice as much sugar as water), which we boiled, flavored (using candy flavoring concentrate) and colored in rainbow colors.

We set our sticks into the jars (and glasses), we then set the whole thing aside and waited excitedly to watch our candy grow.

And then we waited some more.

And some more.

We saw sugar crystals grow, all right... just not on the sticks.

Yeah, that is a pretty rainbow of hardened sugar on the glasses. As for our rock candy lollipops?

Not so much.

Trying not to get too discouraged, I actually tried again. This time using string instead of lollipop sticks, just to see if that was the problem.

It wasn't. I don't have a picture of the final fail on this one, but suffice it to say it didn't fare any better than my sticks. Daddy tried to make the best of the situation by using some of our rock candy syrup as simple syrup to make us some mojitos, but, well, that didn't work out so well either...

Ever vigilant, I tried another non-chocolate candy, again inspired by another Daring Baker in the forums. She showed us some super cute, super easy gummy candies, made using a package of jello, extra unflavored gelatin, and a little bit of water. Little miss helped me make this one.

The resulting liquid is then poured into candy molds. I used a cupcake-decorating sqeezy tube to make it a little easier for little hands to help.

The resulting gummies were... okay. They tasted like highly concentrated jello (which, well, they are...), but had a kind of weird consistency. And, while they were easy to peel out of the candy molds, they stuck to everything else, including the paper plate onto which I put them fresh out of the candy molds... So I rolled them in some white sugar to relieve some of the sticking.

I can't call them a complete fail, because I think they worked out how they were supposed to, but I can't not call them a fail, because a day later, they were almost impossible to chew - it was like chewing a chunk of rubber. Not pleasant. Oh well.

On to the chocolates, shall we??

Lisa and Mandy provided us with several scrumptious looking chocolate recipes as well, and I decided to try to make truffles. I made two kinds - plain milk chocolate, and mint-milk chocolate. The process for making the truffles themselves is straightforward - make a simple ganache, let it set, then shape it into truffles. The ganache is simply chopped chocolate melted by being mixed with simmered heavy cream. Easy peasy, right? And to make the mint? Simple - just add some fresh mint leaves to the cream as it simmers!

I let the mint steep in the cream for an hour, then reheated it and strained it over my chopped milk chocolate bits.

Once all of the chocolate was melted, I set the bowls aside to cool a bit, then into the fridge to set completely.

When I was ready to make my truffles, I simply scooped:

and rolled (with a little help from some little hands):

I then set my rolled ganache truffles into the fridge to harden back up, as I was really hoping to coat them in lovely tempered chocolate. Note my classy sticky note reminding me which are the plain milk chocolate and which are the mint ones...

Now, tempering chocolate was kind of the whole point of this challenge. Unfortunately, tempering chocolate is quite an exacting process. It requires time, patience and a specific kind of candy thermometer. None of which I possess. Did that stop me? Nah! I chose to try tempering my chocolate using a method called seeding. Basically, chocolate pieces are slowly melted over a double boiler, then the temperature of the melted chocolate is carefully lowered by mixing in unmelted pieces of chocolate. Make sense? The temperatures are also very specific, but without a chocolatier's thermometer, well, I couldn't control that so well. But I tried.

Because tempering is usually easiest with larger amounts of chocolate, I decided that, in addition to coating my truffles, I would try to make another kind of chocolate candy as well. And since my truffles were safe in the fridge, I started with my molded, filled chocolates. I painted my mold (okay, a silicone ice cube tray) with my "tempered" chocolate.

For my filling, I chose a delicious cinnamon caramel sauce that I have made before. But someone must have told the caramel sauce that I was making it for this challenge. And we all know my track record so far on this challenge. For the first time ever in my caramel-sauce-making history, my caramel crystallized.

Seriously?? Luckily it wasn't too bad, and after straining, the sauce was fine.

Once again using my cupcake decorating squeezy bottle, I filled my chocolate painted molds.

By this time, though, my "tempered" chocolate had cooled, and had become hard to pour. Umm... that was quick... I tried to bring it back up to temperature, but, well, I had no idea what I was doing. Daddy helped me, too, giving his attempt at re-tempering the chocolate, and we somehow managed to get all of the caramel covered with chocolate, sealing off the candies.

When it was time to pop them out of the molds, this was the result:

Umm... those look frozen, don't they? They aren't I promise. They just don't look tempered at all. Or even all that attractive for that matter, truth be told.

They tasted delicious, the cinnamon caramel and milk chocolate tasting delicious together, but they will not win any awards. Anywhere. And unless they were refrigerated, they were also a little messy to eat.

As for the truffles, well, they didn't fare much better. We managed to coat a few in the "tempered" chocolate, but had so much trouble that we soon gave up. So the truffle on the left is the milk chocolate, simply rolled in sweetened cocoa powder and the one on the right is the mint chocolate, with a milk chocolate coating.

They turned out alright, but not fantastic. The mint chocolate set much firmer than the milk, so while they look the same in these photos, that is only because they were stored in the fridge.

A few minutes later, the milk chocolate truffle (on the left) was super soft and mostly lost its shape. Oh well.

So, if you're counting along, that is one pate de fruit, two attempts at rock candy, one batch of gummies, two types of truffles and one attempt at filled chocolates. None of which worked how they were supposed to. Challenge 7, me 0. Ouch.

So to make myself feel better, I also made some peach fruit leather. Because little miss thinks it's candy, and I will encourage her to think so.

In reality, it's fruit. Lots of peaches, one third of a cup of sugar.

The fruit is cooked down, then blended smooth with the immersion blender.

The syrup (which, by the way, would be awesome as, well, syrup!) is then spread onto a rimmed baking sheet and set in a (very) low oven all day. Or as long as it takes.

The result is delicious. We roll it, then use kitchen scissors to cut strips as we want them.

Simple, delicious, and decidedly not a fail.

Lisa and Mandy, you ladies are awesome. Daring Bakers? I am in awe and, to be honest, very jealous of all of the results I saw on the boards this month. Hats off to all of you for some beautiful, delicious looking candies.

I highly recommend you check out the sweet confections prepared by our bakers this month. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

August Daring Cooks Challenge - Appam and Curry

One of the best things about the Daring Kitchen is being introduced to new styles of food. One of the other best things is the amazing community of really great people, not to mention inspirational cooks. This month, the two come together, with the challenge being hosted by one of the members who is always super supportive, super creative, and whose dishes are always amazingly inspiring.

Mary, who writes the delicious blog, Mary Mary Culinary was our August Daring Cooks’ host. Mary chose to show us how delicious South Indian cuisine is! She challenged us to make Appam and another South Indian/Sri Lankan dish to go with the warm flat bread.

I have embarrassingly little experience with Indian food, and thus even less knowledge about it. The challenge looked fantastic, and I was excited to try something new, but I was also extremely nervous. While the appam themselves looked relatively straightforward, all of the curries and accompanying dishes that I was seeing had massively long lists of ingredients including things that I'd never heard of before, much less knew what they tasted like.

After a trip to a local Indian grocery for inspiration, though, I got up the nerve to dive in.

The appam require some prep work and fermentation time, so I started with that recipe. I set some plain (raw) rice to soak overnight, then gathered up the rest of the initial ingredients - yeast (bloomed in sugar water) and a small amount of cooked rice.

Straining the soaked rice was tougher than it should have been, since I don't actually have a big sieve. I thought about using one of my colanders, but I was worried that the holes were too big, and that the rice would drain out with the water. So I went at it with my little sieve.

The ingredients were to be blended together to make a (very) thick batter. Not having a full sized blender, I used my mini-blender, which actually worked much better than I could have hoped.

And then the batter was covered and set on top of the stove, covered in plastic wrap, for the whole day to ferment. Yup, all that done by 8 am.

With the appam batter doing its thing, I was able to spend the afternoon focusing on the curry. I scoured the internet looking for a recipe that I felt comfortable with. Meaning one that didn't require me to buy tons of specialty ingredients, as well as one that my five year old would eat. When I found this one, I knew it was the one to try. Chicken cauliflower curry sounded delicious, and the review were good (and offered some delicious sounding modifications), so I knew I had a my recipe.

In addition to all of the vegetables, the curry requires specific spices. Like curry powder. Which is not something I have ever cooked with before. My sister (and fellow Daring Cook) happened to stock up on a variety of Indian spices in preparation for this challenge, and graciously shared some with me.

The recipe that I chose didn't call for all of these spices, but I wanted to include them anyway, so in addition to the ready-to-use curry powder, I prepared the other spices to include in my dish. I dry-pan-roasted fenugreek seeds and ground them in my mini blender.

Then crushed green cardamom pods to release the seeds, to add into the curry as well.

Preparing the curry was surprisingly simple. I sautéed onion and garlic, then added chicken to the pan to cook through. Once the chicken was ready, I simply layered on the other components - first vegetables, then the spices, then finally added coconut milk and stock to create the sauce for the curry.

Once all of the ingredients were added to the pan, I put on the lid and let it simmer away, filling my house with delicious smells.

Curry doing its thing, it was finally time to do the final preparations on the appam. The fermented batter being too thick to use, coconut milk is added, plus a touch of water (if needed, and I did) to create a batter slightly thicker than milk.

In order to make the appam, a few tablespoons of the batter (three worked well for me) are swirled around a lightly greased pan.

The pan is then covered to allow the appam not only to fry, but to steam.

And after two minutes, voila!

Once the appam were done, it was time to take the lid off of the pan of curry, and I was so excited by what I saw.

I was a bit unsure as to how to plate everything - some people served their curry on their appam, some on the side... I went for the side, to allow each of us to choose how we wanted to eat it, but I wound up putting most of my curry right onto the appam anyway.

I was really pleased with this dinner! While it was probably significantly less spicy than most traditional Indian fare, I think it was a really great recipe, and made for a really nice change of pace dinner.

The only problem was that there was a LOT of appam batter. Luckily, Mary told us that it can sit in the fridge for a couple of days, and gave us an idea as to what to try with the leftovers. Apparently, if you crack an egg into the batter after it is swirled in the pan, then cook it like the appams, it becomes something called an egg hopper:

As you can see, I thought that sounded like a good breakfast. The only problem is that I like my eggs cooked a bit harder. So I tried to flip my egg hopper to further cook the egg. The result, when I tried to check on it, was that the yolk broke, making the breakfast less than photogenic.

It was, however, delicious, and a great use of some of the leftover batter!

Mary, I can't thank you enough for introducing me to the delicious world of Southern Indian cooking. You were a fantastic, enthusiastic and energetic hostess and provided us with a great, well researched, fun and delicious challenge!

If you'd like to see the other delicious dishes cooked up in the Kitchen this month, check them out here.
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