Friday, August 27, 2010

Blackberry Streusel Coffee Cake

Okay, I think I got the most votes for the #1 photo, so here we go! I thought I was supposed to bring a dish for our church coffee table last week, when really it was this week. I took the coffee cake anyway. Upon arrival, it was suggested that I freeze it and save it for this week, but, um, yeah it didn't last. It was too good and was quickly consumed.

I modified a basic coffee cake recipe from The Joy of Cooking for this dish, and it turned out beautifully. My mom had brought home lots of huge, gorgeous blackberries from bushes my grandfather grew, and I was curious how they would turn out when baked. Would they be too watery? Too mushy? Would they taste more like raspberries or blueberries? All of my questions were answered in a coffee cake that turned out moist, tangy, nutty, and not too sweet. I even healthified it by using yogurt and applesauce instead of sour cream! Please find below my adaptation of The Joy of Cooking's Quick Sour Cream Coffee Cake, p. 630.

Blackberry Streusel Coffee Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9"x13" baking pan.

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine dry ingredients and whisk together thoroughly.

1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup applesauce
4 large eggs

Beat well in a large bowl. Add the dry ingredients and beat just until smooth. There should still be lumps in your batter; overbeating will toughen the cake. Spread in the greased pan. Dot batter with approximately 1-2 cups of frozen blackberries (or any other berry you wish to substitute). My blackberries were huge, so I allowed at least a half-inch of space around each berry. Sprinkle with streusel, recipe below.


2/3 cup sugar
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons butter

Blend ingredients until crumbly (hands work best!) and add 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 to 1 cup chopped nuts if desired (I used a mixture of walnuts and pecans). Sprinkle streusel over berries.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out relatively clean.

Be aware that I doubled the original recipe, which was to fit a 9" square pan, so this produces a high, thick cake. Feel free to experiment with pans of different shapes and sizes. The flavors in this recipe came together beautifully. The blackberries were tangy, but not as sour as raspberries, which complimented the rich streusel. The berries and streusel sank into the batter, producing a cake marbled with flavor. My substitution of yogurt and applesauce for the sour cream worked very well and yielded an incredibly moist, hearty cake. Overall, a great success!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Photo Vote!

Here are three photos of things I've made recently. Vote on which one you want me to post about next! Just hit the Comment button below and list the appropriate number.

Number 1:

Number 2:

Number 3:

The Pizza Experiment

I'm having a good problem right now, I suppose: I'm cooking faster than I'm blogging. I have four potential posts in the works and I'm tempted to do them all at once. But where would the suspense be in that?

First, the results of The Pizza Experiment! I followed my informational video closely, resting both the wet and dry dough for the prescribed amounts of time. I let it proof in the refrigerator for about three hours before getting out about two hours before I baked so it could warm up and rise.

Someone previously asked me about how to keep the dough from drying out while resting, and indeed this did become an issue. I should have covered the balls in oil and then placed them in a plastic-wrap-sealed bowl before refrigerating them. The dry outside of the dough balls didn't affect the quality of the dough, but it did make for a much lumpier crust when I spread it out.

I baked one crust on my pizza stone, on a layer of parchment paper, and the other on a basic cookie sheet. The pizza stone works well, but I always err on the side of too much baking time. This resulted in a very crunchy bottom crust, a little too tough for me. The cookie sheet pizza was near perfect, with a soft but dry bottom. The crust was flavorful and somewhat chewy; not quite the pizzeria quality I was looking for, but satisfactory.

It seems the key to a quality pizza crust is not so much your recipe, but the kind of oven and heat you're working with. Genuine pizza ovens (like ones I found here) can retain temperatures of 800 degrees Fahrenheit. This level of heat cooks the pizza very quickly, searing the dough and producing a crispy crust that's still soft and chewy inside. I recently found out that my aunt and uncle are putting a ceramic wood-fired pizza oven in their new house. I think this calls for a future Pizza Experiment field trip.

For my ingredients, I used one part semolina flour to four parts all-purpose flour. I used canned Furmano's pizza sauce and grated block mozzarella on my pizzas and was pleased with the quality of both.

My family loved the pizza, though we all agreed that the one baked on the pizza stone was too crispy. Next time I use it, I'm going to bake just until the cheese is completely melted. Overall, the Pizza Experiment was a success, but I still have more to accomplish.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Waiting for Pizza

It's pizza day! The initial phases of The Pizza Experiment have gone well. I followed the steps described in the instructional video in the previous pizza post, and my dough is now "proofing" in the refrigerator. My dough balls aren't as smooth as his, and I'm curious as to why his finished ball didn't seem to have risen, but overall, I think I'm doing well. I bought some parchment paper because I don't have a pizza peel to use with my pizza stone. I can assemble the pizza on the parchment paper and then lift it directly onto the preheated pizza stone.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed some Greek yogurt and a fresh peach for my lunch. If you haven't yet tried Greek yogurt, do! It's a naturally nonfat yogurt made by a straining process that produces a thick, creamy consistency. But don't go into this expecting Yoplait Rich & Creamy. Because yogurts like Chobani don't use corn syrup, cornstarch, or gelatin as thickeners, they leave a slightly sandy feel in the mouth. I don't find this off-putting, and the fact that my 6 oz. serving of Chobani vanilla contains zero fat and 16 grams of protein definitely makes it worth it. And the local peach...well, life doesn't get much better.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Favorite Breakfast

Now, the title of this post isn't entirely accurate. My favorite breakfast, and this is saying a lot, as I don't often pick favorites, is eggs benedict. Ever since I first had the dish at Bob Evans in college, I've been hopelessly devoted to it. That combination of smoky ham, creamy egg, and tangy sauce is divine. I've made simplified versions of eggs benedict at home (substituting turkey ham for Canadian bacon or a simple cheese sauce for hollandaise, etc.) but never the real, complete thing. Someday I will, and I'll post about it. For now, I'm just going to introduce you to my next favorite breakfast, easily made at home.

I grew up eating over-easy to over-medium fried eggs with toast my whole life. It's one of my mom's favorite ways to eat eggs, and has become one of mine too. What truly makes this dish superb, though, are the fresh eggs we get from my aunt's home-raised chickens. To see the visible difference, click here. Store-bought eggs, often gathered from chickens raised in cages and fed a poor diet, have pale, lemon-colored yolks, while cage-free chickens fed on food scraps and grass produce eggs with deep orange yolks. The whites from natural eggs are also sturdier and easier to cook, and the flavor is rich, tasting almost, like Julie claims in Julie & Julia, "like cheese sauce." I've been permanently spoiled. If I must buy eggs at the store, I always buy cage-free, and even they aren't quite as good as eggs you could buy locally. I am destined to spend the rest of my life obsessively hunting down chicken raisers and begging them to sell me their eggs.

I cook my eggs in a nonstick frying pan over medium heat with a little olive oil. I like my whites thoroughly cooked but the yolks still in a liquid state. I estimate that in a well-heated pan, I cook my eggs for about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on one side and 45 seconds to 1 minute on the other; different pans and stoves may alter this time, however. Meanwhile, I toast the bread (this morning, Italian Wheat) and throw anything else into the pan that I'm hungry for, usually a slice or two of turkey ham or some Swiss chard (pictured).

There's no beating this breakfast for economy of time and money, and an abundance of nutrition. And it's delicious.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Upcoming post: The Pizza Experiment

Just wanted to give you a teaser for an upcoming post: the chronicle of my grand Pizza Experiment.

Here's the background. My mother and I have enjoyed making pizza from scratch for years. We have a basic pizza dough recipe that uses all-purpose or bread flour, a tablespoon or two of yeast, and only rises once before being pressed into the pan. It's a good, reliable recipe, but it yields a dough with more of a biscuit texture than that chewy pizzeria crust I'm looking for.

For a while, I thought changing baking methods and pans would improve the texture. I switched from cookie sheets, to pizza pans with holes in the bottom, to a pizza stone. The pizza stone delivers a nice crispy bottom crust, but the chewiness still isn't there. I've also tried recipes from others who claim that their recipe is chewy. Yeah, no. No it's not. And I found out why.

Pizza dough can and should be rested for up to several days before baking, to encourage the gluten proteins to develop and "align" themselves into the long strands that create a chewy texture. It's also recommended to let the dough rise at least twice and punch it down. The time and processing develops the flavor of the dough.

Another option is to add a high-gluten flour, such as semolina, to your dough to encourage chewiness. I just picked some up at Wegmans today, so I'll be using it in my experiment.

Much of my information came from this wonderful informative video I found. I think that this Friday will be my official experiment day, after which I'll report my results! (A few lucky readers may get to taste the results. Oh, the privileges of being associated with an amateur foodie...)

Reed's Ginger Brew

(image courtesy of

After touring The Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and learning that they brew not only quality cheap beer but also the Reed's Ginger Brew that you can find in many supermarkets, I decided to try some.

The Reed's website says that the original ginger brew is hand-crafted in individual batches and contains 17 grams of fresh ginger root, lemon, lime, honey, fructose, pineapple, herbs, and spices. This information was confirmed by our Lion Brewery tour guide, who described how the brewmasters "dump" loads of fresh ginger into the brew.

The website also explains why their Extra Ginger brew is called ginger beer while the other flavors are marketed simply as ginger brew or ginger ale: "In the early 1800’s the two terms were used interchangeably. As time went on, the term 'ginger beer' became associated with the spicier ginger ales. That’s why our Extra Ginger Brew, with 25 grams of fresh ginger, is called ginger beer."

My first reaction upon sniffing my open bottle of Reed's was actually pretty negative. The ginger aroma is somewhat sour, in a stomach-sickening way--ironically, since ginger is a great digestive aid. The flavor, however, though it takes some getting used to after a lifetime of experience with Canada Dry and Schweppe's, is citrusy and refreshing. I liked it best over ice, with the flavor slightly diluted. The carbonation and stomach-settling qualities of the ginger and spices make it great to pair with a heavier meal, and the flavor and body of the drink are sturdy enough to substitute for a beer or other alcohol if you desire.

I got a 4-pack of Reed's at my local supermarket for about $5.00. The varieties available are Original, Extra Ginger, Premium (like the original, but sweetened only with honey and pineapple juice), Raspberry, Spiced Apple, and Cherry.