Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Bear Claw Hunt #3 - Maple Leaf Donuts

Bear Claw Hunt #3 - Maple Leaf Donuts, visited August 1 & 2, 2017
I was now going for the third recommendation on my Next Door post. A couple of people spoke warmly of the bear claws at Maple Leaf Donuts. I’d never thought of trying a doughnut shop for anything other than doughnuts and possibly cinnamon rolls (Stan’s Donuts remains my favorite for both) but after three strikes on finding a genuine bear claw, I was more than willing to be open-minded about any possibilities.
Unfortunately, Maple Leaf was not as conveniently situated on my commute as Black Bear Diner had been. In fact, it was in the opposite direction from work. On the morning I had my biweekly 7 am meeting, I left my house at 6 to appear at Maple Leaf (fortunately they opened at 4 or 5 am, sign of a true “fresh doughnuts every morning” sort of place) in plenty of time to secure the bear claws and make it to my meeting on time.

Except when I got there, I saw the sign for “apple fritters and bear claws”, I saw the apple fritters but not a crumb of bear claw. I asked the counter lady if she had any. She said she normally had them every day but she was sold out that morning because someone had come in and bought all the bear claws. You’re kidding me. 6:10 am and “sold out”. Gah, it was a conspiracy, I tell you, to keep me from finding a genuine bear claw.
However, since I was already there, I figured I might as well not waste the trip so I bought an apple fritter. Had to inject some fat and sugar into my day if I had to be coherent for a 7 am meeting. And I had been thwarted in my bear claw hunt so I needed some kind of consolation prize. I like apple fritters but rarely eat them. For me, the calories aren’t usually worth eating them on a regular basis and my sweet tooth doesn’t normally kick in until later in the day. But once in awhile is okay, especially when I’m trying out a new place.
Apple Fritter
The apple fritter was quite good. Could’ve used a few more apples but overall, thumbs up. The outside was crisp and had just the right amount of light glaze to give it a crisp but melting texture. The fritter itself was also delicious, although there were a few bites I could taste the deep fried-ness of it and by the end, I was reminded why apple fritters are just a sometimes food. I don’t think I needed the sugar high quite that early in my day, especially since I hadn’t run that morning. 
Fortunately though, I did go for a run after work that day. Which meant I didn’t need to run the following morning and I worked off some of that apple fritter so it strengthened my resolve to try Maple Leaf again. At this point, my escalation of commitment was rising with every thwarted attempt to find a “real bear claw”. The next morning, I worked out at home, got ready and had just enough time to make another detour to Maple Leaf before getting into work at my usual time.
This time, there were bear claws available. But their appearance gave me pause. Just from looks alone, I could already tell this wasn’t a “real” bear claw. Despite having the “claw” appearance, it was obvious this was made out of doughnut dough, not brioche dough. I could also see apple bits peeking through the “claws” and even without the apples, the filling was darker than almond paste so I figured it was another brown sugar-cinnamon filling. Did someone change the definition of bear claws when I wasn’t looking? When did they stop having almond paste filling and switch over to brown sugar paste? Never, that’s when because these are not genuine bear claws.
I got one for me and one for Eileen but I lowered her expectations when I got to the office. It wasn’t a bear claw. It was an apple-filled doughnut with some weird cutouts that reminded me of bear knuckles perhaps but not bear claws. It was a good apple-filled doughnut but an apple-filled doughnut nonetheless. Who knew finding a genuine bear claw would be so hard? 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Bear Claw Hunt #2 - Black Bear Diner

Bear Claw Hunt #2 - Black Bear Diner, visited July 25, 2017
One of my Next Door neighbors also mentioned Black Bear Diner as a potential source for bear claws. Black Bear isn’t a bakery per se (the “Diner” in the name should be a tip off) but they do have a display of baked goods near the cashier. Another person had commented on my bear claw thread that Black Bear’s bear claws were “expensive and tasteless” while another said they were “huge”.  I decided to see for myself.

In a fortuitous set of circumstances, it turns out there’s a Black Bear Diner literally on my way to work. That’s the advantage of recommendations from Next Door; they really will tell you what’s in your neighborhood. So it was no problem at all, on one of my non-gym-running mornings, to make a brief stop to secure a bear claw. They were considerably more than the $2.50 bear claw at Copenhagen and clocked in at $5.99. So I didn’t buy 6 this time and instead settled for one. Given the negative review on them, I decided I should try them out for myself first rather than offering one to Eileen, untested. If it was delicious, I could get another one the next morning and declare the bear claw hunt at an end.
But alas, it wasn’t to be. The bear claw was indeed huge. They were indeed expensive. And yes, they were also indeed tasteless. By that I mean, the pastry itself was not of the flaky, airy quality of a Copenhagen bakery. It didn’t even begin to approach a croissant’s flakiness. Maybe more on par with an Entemann’s strudel dough. It was heavy and dense in texture. The claws were also not quite claw-like and instead made the whole thing look more like a crown than a mockery of a bear claw. 
What really killed it for me though was the filling. This one actually had filling so points for that. But demerits that the filling was a brown sugar-cinnamon filling and not an almond paste filling. Yes, it had the sliced almonds on top and the royal icing glaze. But no almond paste? It isn’t like I’m even a fan of almond paste but to me, that’s part of what makes a bear claw a bear claw. So no bueno on this “bear claw” either. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Bear Claw Hunt #1 - Copenhagen Crown Bakery

Bear Claw Hunt #1 - Copenhagen Crown Bakery, visited July 18, 2017
Technically, this is my second attempt to find my coworker Eileen a bear claw. Hannah’s Café was my first unsuccessful foray. But since then, I’ve made a more concerted effort to find it so I’m going to start numbering my attempts to track down an honest-to-goodness bear claw. Until Eileen pointed out how hard they were to find, I confess I’d never paid much attention to them. I like them well enough but they’re not my pastry of choice; that would be a pain au chocolat if I wanted to forego a protein breakfast and hang the calories.

A true bear claw is made from enriched dough like a brioche dough, is filled with almond paste, one long end is cut into the “claws” (Eileen insists that’s what makes them genuine bear claws), the top is garnished with sliced almonds to signal the almond paste filling and usually, though not always, drizzled with vanilla icing. I make a point of laying this out so you know what I’m looking for and why I consider my hunting attempts to be failures so far.

No longer trusting yelp reviews since that’s what led me astray to Hannah’s Café, this time I crowd sourced recommendations for bear claws from my neighborhood on Next Door. I easily got 5 recommendations and went with the one that got the most accolades: Copenhagen Crown Bakery.
I’ve been there before and written up the visit but at the time, I was involved with the burnt almond cake and had not paid much attention to the pastries. I had a 7 am meeting one morning but fortunately Copenhagen opened at 6 am so I was able to go before work and secure half a dozen: 1 for me to try and the rest for Eileen. They looked scrumptious and worthy of the recommendations from Next Door. They were also reasonably priced at $2.50 each and a perfect size, not too big but not too small either.

The pastry was flaky with just the right amount of buttery goodness tempered with the sweetness from the caramelized almonds. It was delicious. Unfortunately, it didn’t have any filling. At first I was puzzled. Did I just happen to get a bear claw that the bakery missed filling and baked “empty”? But in checking with Eileen and the box of 5 I had left her, it turns out they were all empty. So the lack of filling was deliberate. Ack. That didn’t make the pastry less delicious but, in my eyes, that disqualified it as a bear claw. Yes, the claws were there, yes the dough was the right dough, yes it had the almond topping. But a genuine bear claw pastry has almond paste filling and this didn’t. So the hunt continues.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Coconut Cream Bread Pudding

Coconut Cream Bread Pudding - made August 5, 2017, modified from Tornadough Alli
I haven’t made bread pudding in awhile. For some reason, I tend to think of it as a winter dessert and it’s been hotter than Satan’s armpit this summer. But truthfully, bread pudding is a year-round dessert since bread, milk and eggs, the basic ingredients for bread pudding, are not seasonal. It does tend to be a heavy dessert though and most people prefer lighter, cooler desserts for summer (ice cream, mousse, fruity desserts, etc).
In the interests of bucking that trend, I indulged in getting a loaf of my favorite challah from Trader Joe’s to try out this bread pudding recipe. I had high hopes since I like coconut and, again on a kick to clear out some ingredients from my pantry, I had a lone can of coconut milk waiting to be used.
All the recipes for bread pudding recommend using stale bread. I never hang onto bread long enough for it to stale since I don’t want to risk mold. But it’s easy to “manually” stale your bread by cutting it into cubes and then baking it as a low temperature in the oven for about 10 minutes, just long enough to dry out the bread but not so long that you turn them into croutons. Drying them out is important so that, ironically, the bread can better absorb the liquid custard mixture. I don’t know whether to describe that as ironic or self-defeating. Dry out the air and water, re-liquefy with milk-and-egg custard. It’s all good.
I changed the directions to let the custard absorb for a few hours rather than ten minutes that the original directions had said. I also only kept the foil on top for 30 minutes then took it off to let the top brown and rise for the last 30-40 minutes of baking.
I have mixed feelings about this bread pudding. I love coconut and I thought this would be a rich, flavorful bread pudding with the coconut milk. The texture was right in that it was like French toast on steroids, like any good bread pudding. But it lacked flavor and sweetness. The lack of sweetness wasn’t a surprise since there’s no added sugar in the custard. I would recommend adding up to ¼ cup of granulated sugar to the milk and egg mixture before pouring over the bread cubes. I thought the coconut would add enough sweetness to make up for the lack of sugar but it wasn’t.
Adding the glaze also helps to incorporate a little more sweetness. I tried the taste test bite without the glaze but that’s what made me decide to add the glaze. 
One 1-lb loaf challah, stale and cubed into 1-inch cubes
1 15-ounce can coconut milk, divided
1 1/2 cups milk
5 eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups shredded or flaked coconut

2 cups confectioner's sugar
remaining coconut milk
  1. In a large bowl, mix together 1 1/2 cups coconut milk, whole milk, eggs, cinnamon and 1/2 cup coconut; stir until combined.
  2. In a 2-quart casserole dish sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, spread a layer of bread cubes, top with 1/3 cup coconut and ladle just enough custard liquid to cover the bread. Repeat with remaining bread cubes and coconut. Ladle custard liquid over each layer, pouring all of the remaining liquid over the top. Cover and chill for at least an hour to let the liquid absorb fully into the bread cubes.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cover casserole dish with foil and bake for approximately 1 hour or until set and toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Remove foil and let bread pudding brown if not yet golden.
  4. To make glaze, mix the remainder of the coconut milk with confectioners' sugar and drizzle over top of bread pudding.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Chocolate Chip Cookies from Wishes and Dishes - Levain Bakery copycat

Levain Bakery copycat Chocolate Chip Cookies - made dough July 30, 2017 from Wishes and Dishes
I go through periods of clearing out the baking shelves in my pantry. Which means, I try to use up the ingredients I have without buying more so I can actually empty the shelves once in awhile. It’s a good practice so your ingredients are rotated through and used up properly and nothing’s allowed to go past its expiration date. For me, even though I bake quite often, it’s harder than it sounds because I’m a baking ingredient hoarder. I hate to run out of anything because you never know when the baking gods will smite me and propel me into the kitchen to bake something. In that mood, I don’t want to be out of anything.
What I tend to have a good amount of is – no surprise – chocolate. In multiple forms. I have unsweetened chocolate (big bag of Scharffenberger baking squares), semisweet chocolate chips (Costco-sized Tollhouse morsels), multiple packs of milk chocolate chips (Ghirardelli, Guittard, Nestle), bittersweet chocolate bars (Valrhona and Lindt), cocoa powder (my beloved Pernigotti) and a slab of Trader Joe’s Pound Plus milk chocolate. The latter is what I wanted to use up for this recipe.
Since I don’t believe in small or bite-sized chocolate chip cookies (who does??), I planned on making behemoth cookies (think 1/3 cup measure per cookie) so it seemed suitable to cut up the milk chocolate slab into chunks and use it for this recipe. Big chunks to go with big cookies, I say.
This is another Levain Bakery copycat but I have to admit mine didn’t come out like the original blog’s or like Levain’s. For one thing, mine spread too much. They still stayed thick but they were not mounded-chubby thick. I’m not sure why unless my butter got too warm as I was a trifle late in mixing it and the dough was a bit soft. So even though I froze the dough and baked from frozen dough, these still spread. They also, to my sorrow, were too sweet. I don’t say that often and I don’t know if my taste buds were off but rest assured, I tried two different cookies on two different baking days and the results were the same: sweeeeeeet. Which is a little odd because the recipe ingredients were not out of whack with other copycats and other chocolate chip cookies in general. I didn’t miscount the amount of sugar I added either. So it could be my taste buds had had enough sugar for the moment (you don’t know how much that thought fills me with horror. And denial).
However, I baked the rest of the cookies off for friends I met for dinner one night and distributed them via treat bags for them and their families and they loved them. I either have really polite, well-manned friends (totally possible) or it was just me (also possible). In either case, if I make this recipe again, I would probably go with semisweet or dark chocolate chips instead of milk chocolate to balance some of the sweetness.
1 cup cold butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup turbinado sugar (or can substitute 1/4 cup granulated sugar)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups chocolate chips or chunks
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.
  2. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing until just combined after each addition. Mix in vanilla.
  3. Stir in flours, cornstarch, baking soda and salt. Mix until just combined; do not overmix. Fold in chocolate chips or chunks.
  4. Portion into large dough balls and flatten slightly into thick discs. Cover and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.
  5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 410 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and evenly space dough discs, giving them room to spread. 
  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until edges are golden brown and middles no longer look raw. Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet for 5-10 minutes until set. Remove to wire racks until cooled completely.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Fried Cornbread

Fried Cornbread - made July 30, 2017 from The Southern Lady Cooks
After my hoecake experiment, I went a little more boldly into “southern cooking” with this recipe for fried cornbread. Actually, maybe not so boldly because I did modify the recipe slightly. I don’t have good luck with southern recipes. That’s not just my assessment but I’ve been told flat out from people from the South that I don’t really know true Southern cooking or baking. Harsh (and sometimes delivered rudely) but fair enough since I’m not from the South and wasn’t raised there but still I try. And I’m always willing to learn.
This recipe is from a blog called The Southern Lady Cooks so I’m trusting in the name and the recipe. The part I didn’t go bold on is I couldn’t bring myself to use all that oil as called for in the recipe. It essentially calls for deep frying the cornbread. I still wanted to use my griddle rather than a high-sided frying pan so I didn’t use all that oil but did generously grease the griddle with oil. Okay, I know, it’s not the same thing but that was a lot of oil.

Straying from the directions and not going all-in probably disqualifies me from true Southern cooking once and for all. The fried cornbread actually did taste like cornbread but I think I fried it too long and it seemed dry. And heavy. The batter was really thick. It also didn’t have as much flavor as I had hoped but it seemed really salty. Maybe my non-Southern taste buds veer more towards my sweet tooth than people from the South. Or I’m just not a cornbread person, fried or baked. Oh well, I tried.
1 1/2 cup self-rising cornmeal
2/3 cups buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup oil for cooking
  1. Mix together cornmeal, buttermilk, egg and salt. Drop by spoonfuls into hot oil. Brown on one side then turn and fry until golden brown on both sides. Serve warm with butter.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Buttermilk Pound Cake

Buttermilk Pound Cake - made July 30, 2017 Chocolate, Chocolate and More
You can tell right off from the pictures that this cake did not come out of the bundt cake cleanly. Despite my efforts of loosening the sides with a small spatula, loosening the cake from the center metal protrusion that makes up the bundt cake hole, inverting it while it was still warm but not hot, yada yada, the top curves did not want to leave the pan so the cake left the top stubbornly sticking to the pan instead. Yeah, not one of my finest cake efforts. As Mary Berry would say, “it looks a little informal”. Yes, I’ve been binge watching the Great British Bakeoff on PBS.
Taste-wise, though, this was a pretty good butter pound cake. Technically it’s a buttermilk pound cake but it also had a fair amount of butter in it so you can go either way. The texture was dense with a tight but soft crumb, like any good pound cake. I didn’t underbake it as I’m wont to do with cakes so while it was dense, it wasn’t heavy. Use fresh butter (don’t even think about margarine) and amp it up with vanilla bean paste if you have some on hand. If you don’t, an extra teaspoon of vanilla won’t hurt.
What I like about a simple, plain pound cake is it’s really durable in the heat of summer. No need to worry about frosting melting or spoiling the cake. Just plain vanilla, buttery goodness. If you don’t want it so plain, you can dress it up with fresh berries, whipped cream or ice cream if you choose as this makes a nice backdrop for any of those add-ins.
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly coat a Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Cream butter and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla and mix briefly to combine.
  4. Whisk together flour and baking soda. Alternately add the flour mixture with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour in three additions. Do not overmix.
  5. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 60-70 minutes or until toothpick inserted in thickest part of cake comes out with a few moist crumbs. Cool in pan for 10 minutes then loosen the sides with a small spatula and turn over onto a cake plate to cool completely.