Daring Bakers

Daring Bakers August 2013: Indian Desserts.

Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen was our August 2013 Daring Bakers’ hostess and she challenged us to make some amazing regional Indian desserts. The Mawa Cake, the Bolinhas de Coco cookies and the Masala cookies – beautifully spiced and delicious!

Bolinhas de Coco
Bolinhas de Coco

Where I found the time to do the Daring Baker Challenge this month, I'm not sure.  It could be that when I decided to check out what it was last week, I saw a vaguely Portuguese name for a coconut cookie... and of course I was sold. The sweets we were challenged to make were actually Indian in nature, and in the interest of time (and a bit of sleep deprivation on my part) I'll leave you to read what our host had to say about the history of the Bolinhas de Coco cookie.

As for my notes on the matter:  these cookies were really just okay for me.  I like cardamom, which were the main flavor component (other than the coconut), but these felt a little lacking.  They were at their tastiest just out of the oven; storing them even one day caused them to lose their macaroon-like crispy exterior/soft interior.  I thought the method of making them was unique and might be worth exploring more... but to tell the truth, I'm probably not going to get to that for a while!

Bolinhas de Coco

Read more about the challenge this month, get the recipes, and check out the blogroll for other participating bakers.  Maybe next month, I'll have a bit more time to dedicate to the Daring Baker Challenge.

Bolinhas de Coco

Daring Baker's Challenge March 2013: Hidden Vegetables.

Ruth from Makey-Cakey was our March 2013 Daring Bakers’ challenge host. She encouraged us all to get experimental in the kitchen and sneak some hidden veggies into our baking, with surprising and delicious results!

I kind of opted out on the challenge this month - in part because I've done my fair share of hiding vegetables in baked goods.  Instead of making something new,  I have quite a few successful experiments that I'll list here for you.

For example:

Beet Cake.  This was de-gluten-free-ified  from one of my favorite local bakers, Annie Wegner-LeFort. It was also a hit with my son, who would never touch a beet if prepared traditionally.  Click the photo for the recipe (and a link to the original, gluten-free recipe) on flickr.

chocolate beet cake

Hidden Veg Muffins.  There is pureed carrot in here, and some banana, making for a muffin with very little refined sugar.  For some reason, my kid will not eat carrots - but I try and sneak them in where I can, and this is one place where they went undetected.  Recipe is also linked to the photo on flickr.

hidden veg muffins.

And speaking of muffins, these Sweet Potato Muffins went over well at my house as well.  A whole cup of sweet potato puree in these!

sweet potato muffins

I mentioned in the notes for these Vegan Zucchini Carrot Muffins (also posted on flickr), that the world really doesn't need another muffin recipe - but that sometimes a good muffin recipe is hard to find.  I've made these several times - and they are deliciously able to hide about 2 cups of shredded vegetables and keep them hidden from suspecting children.

vegan zucchini carrot muffins

On a more desserty note, I had tinkered for some time with black bean brownies.  I probably haven't made them again in the 3 years since I wrote about them, but they were good, and vegan to boot.  I do highly recommend whipped cream with cayenne pepper though, which is what made these brownies not truly vegan.

Deena's Chocolate Zucchini Cake is probably one of my most favorite cakes ever - if you don't include her Honey Cake.  So much of what Deena writes sticks like glue in my  head.  The opening of her post on this worthy cake says: "My friend's husband once left her a note in the kitchen that read: Honey, we're out of bundt cake."  I always think of this when I want to make a bundt cake, because I grew up in a bundt cake-eating family, and I long to hear (or see)  these words lingering around a bundt in my own house.  My Husband is not so much a sweets eater, so I live vicariously through these words - and I make this bundt cake in the height of zucchini season when I have friends for supper.  Perhaps when my kids grow big enough to leave me notes, I'll be as lucky as Deena's friend...

chocolate zucchini bundt cake

Since adding copious amounts of shredded vegetables to cake is usually always a good idea, I took Susan from Wild Yeast's lead and made a cake with a whole lot of shredded parsnip.  The original cake was made with carrots, and it too is one of my favorites.  I try to leave myself a supply of sourdough ends to dry and grind up, just so I have the ability to make it on a whim, since there is no flour in this recipe - only dried bread crumbs!  I wonder how this cake would fare with well-drained zucchini?

baked parsnip bread crumb cake
Sourdough Breadcrumb Parsnip Cake.

Most recently, I made these Carrot-Banana Muffins, which were devoid of refined sugar and gluten.  In my opinion, they are the perfect near-dessert muffin - and they really satisfy a sweet tooth.  And we all know that I have a whole mouth full of those that I'm trying to deal with.

carrot banana muffin

Hopefully, I'll be bake to my Daring self next month and able to concoct something new and exciting.  But I'm glad I had a chance to think back on all of the ways I've been successfully able to hide vegetables in the baked goods here at my house.  Be sure to check the Daring Baker blogroll and website for more inspiration!

Daring Baker Challenge January 2013: Speculaas Gevulde

Francijn of Koken in de Brouwerij was our January 2013 Daring Bakers’ Hostess and she challenged us to make the traditional Dutch pastry, Gevulde Speculaas from scratch! That includes making our own spice mix, almond paste and dough! 


This month, the Daring Baker challenge was another thing I've never eaten, speculaas.  Indeed, I've never really heard much about it my neck of the woods.  The closest I ever came to any experimentation was when I read this piece by David Leibovitz over 2 years ago.  I imagined what the flavor of that speculoos spread tasted like, and wondered if I'd ever see a jar of it here, or better if I could make some myself.  Then I promptly forgot about it until this month when it rang a bell once again.

Speculaas Gevulde is Dutch, comprised of an almond paste center and a top and bottom layer of spiced shortbread.  There apparently are famous cookies, bearing the traditional shapes of their Dutch (or Belgian) counterparts.  This piqued my interest.  Some of the only non-homemade cookies I remember at my Gram's house were perpetual boxes of "Windmill Cookies".  They were almondy and brittle thin, slightly spiced and excellent when dunked in milk.  In fact, many cookies in my possession went submerged too long and turned into that miraculous cookie sludge in the bottom of my glass, that I happily drank after no doubt negotiating more cookies to replace them.  Perhaps that wasn't far off from the speculoos spread that Leibovitz heralded...

It appears that "speculoos" and "speculaas" refer to the same thing, names bound by a common Latin moniker I'd imagine, and used by citizenry of different countries.  What little online research I did prying into the past of speculaas didn't confirm much in the way of how a brittle spice cookie turned into a semi-soft, layered confection.  The term "gevulde speculaas" is Dutch for filled speculass, which is what this cookie-cake is called.  It really makes no difference to me how it came to evolve, because this little cake was actually very easy to make and incredibly delicious!


Our challenge was actually to make the almond paste middle as well, and since I had stashed some homemade almond paste in the freezer from last September (when I made this wonderful gluten-free upside down cake from the Bojon Gourmet), the cake came together even more quickly.  I used 12 oz. of stored almond paste that I made according to this recipe (except I added extra almond extract - I can never get enough almond!).  I let it thaw overnight in the refrigerator, and it was a perfect consistency to roll for the center of this dessert.  (I used my strange-sized tart tin, which measures 7 inches across the bottom and 8 across the top.)

Maybe 2 days before actually baking the speculaas, I mixed up the spice mixture and then the dough.  Using my food processor, which seemed to be the easiest and least messy way of cutting a good amount of butter into a floury spice mix, I had speculaas dough in short order.  I think the time in the fridge was good for marrying the spicy flavors as well.

speculaas spices.

One of the most interesting things about this challenge was the combination of spices.  Having never tasted the real thing, I relied on the formula our host provided.  In additions to mandatory inclusions like cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, optional spices like nutmeg (mace, nutmeg's weblike exterior coating, interestingly was also a mandatory spice), coriander, and white pepper.  Francijn suggested the parts of spice, but it was basically individual taste that dictated the final flavor.  I added extra ginger powder, but next time I'd like to increase the "spicy-hot" factor by adding more white pepper, and perhaps by using cassia cinnamon which has a hotter profile than Ceylon cinnamon.

Speculaas Spice Mix
(enough for several batches of gevulde speculaas dough)
  • 2 t. cloves
  • 1 t. mace
  • 1 1/2 t. ginger powder
  • 1 t. cardamom
  • 1/2 t. coriander powder
  • 1/2 t. anise seed, crushed to a powder
  • 1 t. nutmeg
  • 1/2 t. white pepper
After weighing the base spices (about 12 g.), I added the cinnamon.  I started with 8 g., which was a little light.  10 g. bumped it up to perfect.  To see Francijn's suggested measuring system for speculaas spices, click here.


The original recipe did not call for specifically for milk, but only to add some if the dough felt dry.  I poured it through the top of the processor as it was pulsing and stopped as soon as the dough pinched together like a pastry dough should. 

Speculaas Gevulde Dough (Francjin, via The Daring Kitchen)
  • 250 g. (1 3/4 c.) AP flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 150 g. (3/4 c. packed) brown sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 T. speculaas spices, see above
  • 175 g. (3/4 c. or 6 oz.) butter, cut into pieces
  • enough whole milk to hold it together, about 2-3 T.
Combine all ingredients except butter and milk in a food processor and pulse several times to combine.  Add the butter, and pulse several times until the mixture resembles "coarse meal".  Add milk as described above if the dough doesn't come together.

Transfer the dough to a plastic bag, form into a disc, and refrigerate at least two hours, and up to several days.  The dough can also be frozen for several months.

Assembling the final Speculaas Gevulde:

When it comes time to assemble your gevulde speculaas, roll out the speculaas dough in two equal pieces exactly the size of your chosen pan.  Use two pieces of cling wrap and roll between them. (It helps to work with the dough cold, as it gets sticky as it warms.) Roll out the almond paste to the same size as well.  Beat an egg for an egg wash, and have some blanched almonds ready for decoration.  (You can easily blanch the almonds and remove the skins yourself:  Bring a small pot of water to a boil.  Add almonds, cover and remove from heat.  Let stand for 1 minute, then drain and the skins will pop right off between your fingers.)

Butter your baking dish (glass pan, tart pan, etc.) well, then fit a layer of speculaas dough into the bottom.  Brush liberally with egg wash, then fit the almond layer over the top.  Brush again liberally with egg wash.  Top with the second piece of speculaas dough.  Brush a final time with egg wash, then decorate with the blanched almonds.  Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 minutes.  The top will be nicely browned, and the cake will feel set and dense.  Cool completely in the pan before removing and slicing.


I had just a small amount of speculaas dough left over and an even smaller amount of almond paste.  This came from trimming to fit a circular tart tin.  I made 9 small balls of the speculaas dough, and 9 tiny almond past balls, fit the two together, then pressed with a glass to an even thickness.  I refrigerated them until the gevulde speculaas was done baking, then popped them into the oven at 350 until they were browned and crisp, about 20 minutes.  They were much crunchier than the layered speculaas, and I liked them a lot!  I probably like the layered cake better, so I wouldn't make the dough especially into cookies, but it's a great use for the leftover trimmings.


 I really enjoyed this cake as it aged.  I stored it in my new obsession: these reusable, beeswax coated, hemp and cotton flats that can be made into envelopes around food.  I can't thank Deena enough for sending me a package of them - I had never heard of them, and I really love them!  The wrapping kept it moist and dense, and I feel like the flavors deepened as the days passed.

I'm so pleased with the way this challenge went.  An elegant, petite spice cake, spiked with almond and nearly endlessly adaptable to your liking?  How could I feel anything but pure love for this dessert?  Thank you to Francjin for a wonderful challenge selection!  Be sure to check out the original recipe, and a short history of the spice trade and the Netherlands role in this confection!

Daring Baker Challenge December 2012: Panettone


The December 2012 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by the talented Marcellina of Marcellina in Cucina. Marcellina challenged us to create our own custom Panettone, a traditional Italian holiday bread!

After a two month break from the Daring Baker Challenge, I finally felt up to participating.  It helped that the challenge host, a blogger I've followed for years who is quite an accomplished baker, chose a bread that I've always wanted to make: panettone.

I can tell I'm not quite back to my normal levels of crazy experimenter, because had I been, I'd have chased all over town checking Asian markets for elusive citron and candying them myself.  Traditional panettone contains ample amounts of candied citrus peels and the candy peel of the citron fruit, which is pith-heavy and floral citrus variety with roots in the Middle East and Asia.  Had I more gusto and time, I would do a bit more digging and find out how this unusual fruit happened to become the most important ingredient in an Italian delicacy - but I'll save that curiosity for another time.

panettone, unbaked

This heavily fortified bread reminded me of pan de muerto.  With so much butter, you could hardly expect it to be tender and light, but it is.  Despite the fortification, it also "stales gracefully", with a changing texture and deepening flavor complexity as the days wear on.  I made the breads at my parents' farm, where I have spent the entire week catching up on relaxing and enjoying heavy dustings of picturesque snowfall, which always seem to miss us so close to Lake Michigan lately.  My Mom graciously bought me some candied citron and fruitcake mix to use in my panettone, but after smelling and tasting the rising dough we both agreed that we couldn't ruin it with grocery store standard (and quite chemically tasting) fake peel. 

Instead, I used the remainder of a little packet of wonderfully delicious candied Meyer lemon and sour orange peels that Julia sent me in a Christmas card (and I didn't send out a single card this year, either...).  I chopped it very small, and added it to a mixture of real dried fruits my Mom had on hand: some dates, cranberries, dark raisins, and apricots - all soaked in boiling water to soften them.  Combined with the small amount of candied peel and the zest from both a lemon and an orange, my panettone may no longer be truly Italian in nature, but it was more than delicious.  I couldn't be more thankful I didn't use the fake, supermarket peel in them!

mini panettone

panettone, mini

Last year, I had intended to babysit my starter for a week and feed it multiple times per day (while maintaining it at a specific temperature as specified over at Wild Yeast to make sourdough panettone.  My neighbor had two paper molds that she gave me, and I've stored them for a year.  This was definitely the year that I had to make the panettone.  I made some slightly smaller in muffin liners to compensate for the 1/2 inch I was lacking in diameter.  In general I think portion control is a good thing, and I would definitely make the muffin-sized breads again.  As a note, I'll remember that filling the tins nearly to the top with a ball of panettone dough made a prettier and slightly heftier miniature bread.

mini panettone

sliced panettone

Otherwise, I made the breads just as Marcellina outlined in the recipe.  I let the 1st rise dough raise for about 2 hours on the counter, then popped it into the refrigerator overnight.  My Mom has a fancy oven with a proofing mode, so I was able to proof the breads at 90 degrees the next day.  Filling the cold dough with fruit and rolling it was easier with a soft dough just from the fridge, and the formed breads raised in about 21/2 hours in the proofing oven.  (Another note:  that the muffin tin panettone baked much faster than the deep, molded ones.  I baked them the same way, 10 minutes at 400, 10 minutes at 350, and maybe about 5 minutes at 325.)


I hope I continue to feel well enough to continue with the DB Challenge again next month.  I forgot how excited I get when I try something and it meets all of my expectations (not that it happens every time with the Daring Challenge...).  A huge thank you to Marcellina for choosing such a wonderful recipe!  I'm certain that I'll be making this again next year!

Daring Baker's Challenge September 2012: Empanadas

Patri of the blog, Asi Son Los Cosas, was our September 2012 Daring Bakers’ hostess and she decided to tempt us with one of her family’s favorite recipes for Empanadas! We were given two dough recipes to choose from and encouraged to fill our Empanadas as creatively as we wished!

I thought about this challenge a long while before actually beginning.  Our challenge was actually for the empanada gallega, which is technically more of a "casserole style" empanada.  But as I watched lots of Spanish-language YouTube videos of women folding the empanada dough deftly around fillings, I knew that I really wanted to try the individual, hand held empanadas instead.  I read over many recipes for doughs, noting that there were differences in those destined to house fried pastries and those for baked. 

Then, I had my first actual phone conversation with Deena - who I met in person this Summer, but I still somehow considered an "Internet friend" only.  All of a sudden, she felt like a real friend, someone to discuss food on the phone with.  I found myself wishing I still had the long, spiral-corded wall phone in my kitchen, the one that was easier to balance on your shoulder when doing the dishes and chatting.  She told me about the blog Laylita's Recipes, (after we talked about, and I remembered, these emapanda-related tuna and cauliflower versions that she made) and all of a sudden I was knew exactly what kind of empanada I would make, those filled non-traditionally with beets, Swiss chard, and goat cheese.

beet filling

I haven't made empanadas before.  I have made pasties, which are somewhat related - as are most pastry wrapped half-moons, I suspect.  To all of our neighbors south of us here in North America, emapanadas are an almost everyday food, a good way to use up a bit of leftover meat and veg (or even just cheese) in a maybe not so wholesome way, but in a very satisfying one nonetheless.

I think the reason it was so easy for me to decide on beet empanadas is because the wholesomeness quotient was certainly raised by using such high-nutrient vegetables as beets and chard.  I knew I'd be eating these alone, so I made just enough for me (and froze most of my dough rounds for another day).  I allowed enough extra filling to make a pizza for myself a couple of days later, and I just ate the last 1/4 c. of filling for lunch today alongside the last of my toasted rye bread and some salty Amish Swiss cheese.

Making the filling is easy:  just saute some garlic and onion in butter or oil until softened somewhat, add a few leaves of finely chopped chard and some salt and pepper and cook it down until wilted.  Add to a waiting bowl of (roasted, cubed) beets, cool slightly, and crumble in enough fresh goat cheese to satisfy you.  The secret ingredient is some fresh oregano added after the cooking.  My goat cheese was a widely available brand with peppadew peppers in it. (Laylia's recipe is here.)

beet filling empanada

The dough we were provided for the challenge was a yeasted dough, but I wanted a quicker dough, with some fat but not so much that the pastries felt greasy.  Since I was so excited about Laylita's Recipe blog, I decided to just try her dough as well.  A full 6 oz. of butter was perhaps more than I though necessary for a "healthier" empanada, but I decided I wanted to splurge.  After all, I've never made empanadas before... and it felt like a bit of a celebration.  I rolled the dough to about 1/8 of an inch thick, which felt a little on the fat side, but I saw why as I began to fold the edges.

I moistened the edges of the dough with water and pinched them together as I saw in so many videos.  After pinching, which really flattens the outer edge, you start back at the beginning and fold a crimp down the length of the curve.  (Here is a favorite video, you can see her folding over the crimp at 2:35.)  By the fourth try, I had it down, and that one was easily the prettiest one of the bunch.  It's the one on the lower right:

Laylita recommends filling the empanadas, then letting them chill for 30 minutes prior to baking. 

I made (and ate in one sitting, mind you) just 4 empanadas, technically empanaditas since they were a scant four inches across.  I even baked them efficiently in my little toaster oven.  After brushing them with a beaten egg, I beat another egg and that's what my son ate for dinner.  As they baked, I quickly made a sauce, also based on how Laylita ate hers.  To some whole milk yogurt, I added some minced garlic, a whole fresh cayenne pepper from my garden, a large handful of minced cilantro, lime juice and some salt and pepper.  The spicy dipping sauce was what made eating them feel more like a meal and not just a snack.

empanadas (2)

I ran out of time to make another, more independently inspired batch of emapandas.  I do have two very small leeks and some ancho peppers from my garden, still sitting out on the counter.  I intended to have them sauteed and added to some cheese to fill 4 more rounds that still sit well covered in plastic in my fridge.  Maybe tomorrow.  I also saved the scraps from cutting out the dough rounds and rolled a single 7-8 inch round that I thought I could top a pot pie with... but there is just so much appetite in a week!  Fortunately, pastry dough does tend to keep well under refrigeration for several days, and in the freezer even longer.  I'd say that the 6 oz. of butter is going a long way as well.

empanadas (3)

Be sure to have a look at the Daring Baker blogroll for other empanada inspirations, and at the original recipes that Patri provided us!  Even if I (once again) didn't follow instructions, I had a great time making something I've never made before!