Monday, October 24, 2011

The Boys of Baking Volume III: Pan de Muerto

Please welcome Cupcake Avenger guest blogging all star Matt Sullivan, who graciously agreed to take the plunge for another episode of The Boys of Baking! I'm thrilled to bring you his super impressive attempt at a spooky Pan de Muerto just in time for my favorite holiday--Halloween! 
The dough version of this looked amazing! It was a skull and cross bones with large eyes. Very manly thing to bake if you ask me. The baked product ripped on me and made the skull askew and the eyes got way too big! It still tasted amazing though.
Pan de Muerto is fittingly... mueurto :(

Hello all once again. I am currently on travel to Arizona (read Northern Mexico) and with Halloween rapidly approaching I decided to take my baking south of the border.  I was born and raised in Phoenix, so I have had a lot of exposure to the Mexican culture. So when Hilary asked me to do this again, Pan de Muerto was the obvious choice. Pan de Muerto simply means the bread of the dead. It is traditionally eaten on November 2nd (Dia del los Muertos) at the grave sites of deceased family members. Creepy? Sure. But delicious none the less. Pan de Muerto can best be described as anise bread with an orange glaze. Trust me, it works. 

If you already skipped ahead and looked at the photo, you will see my masterpiece didn't turn out so well aesthetically, so I will make like Tarantino in this blog post tell you up front: I failed, but I had fun doing it. I also learned a lesson baking bread for the first time: just because you make bread dough into a shape doesn't mean it will look like that after it cooks.  

Word of warning for those attempting this: be prepared to have a whole day set aside to tackle this project. This was my first time really baking break, so it was an eye opener for me. I will try this recipe again one day, as I won't let one failed attempt stop me.

If you want to make your own, here is the recipe:
Pan de Muerto
    makes 2 loaves
7 cups all-purpose flour, sifted, plus extra flour for your work surface
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 pkgs active dry yeast, dissolved in 5 Tbs warm milk
12 eggs
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
2 tsp anise seed
2 Tbs grated orange zest

1.  Put sifted flour and granulated sugar in a large bowl; mix lightly to incorporate.

2.  Cut in the butter using your hands until it is well-incorporated (you may have little pebble-sized nuggets form; this is ok)

3.  Form a little well in the center of the mixture and pour in the yeast and milk mixture, cinnamon, anise seed, salt, and vanilla.  Add the eggs 2 or 3 at a time, mixing by hand or with an electric mixer after each addition.  Once all of the ingredients have been added, work the dough with your hands until it pulls away from the sides of the bowl.  If it is too sticky, add a little bit more of the flour until the dough is easily handled.  Shape the dough into a ball, and lightly grease the surface; place it back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Allow it to sit at room temperature for about 2 hours, or until it has doubled in size.  Once it has doubled in size, put the dough in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (or even overnight).

4.  Form the dough into the shape you want your Pan de Muerto to be.  I chose a skull and cross bones, you can try anything you want.

5.  Place your masterpieces on greased or parchment-lined baking sheets and let them sit for about an hour--they will probably rise a little bit more.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until golden on top.

6.  While your loaves are cooling, make the glaze by bringing orange juice, orange or lemon zest and sugar to a boil for about 2 to 3 minutes or until it has started to thicken and reduce a bit.  Apply directly to the still-warm bread with a pastry brush.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Homemade Argentinian Alfajores

Please welcome back my friend, guest blogger, world traveler, macaron-making partner in crime and soon-to-be American expat in Buenos Aires, Tanya Brothen, as she brings us one of the delicacies of her adopted new country! 

Red wine and red meat. These are two of the things that come to mind when I think about Argentina, and according to my highly scientific Wikipedia research, they are exactly what I can expect to find when I move there at the end of the year.

But in addition to the clichés steak and vino, I’ve been delighted to discover lots of other (non-red) edible and drinkable Argentine specialties. There’s the communal experience of mate tea, the creamy gelato brought to the Argentina by way of Italian immigration, and dulche de leche-filled cookies known as alfajores. Unable to resist the lure of dulche de leche, and wanting to see if alfajores will be to me in Buenos Aires what pain au chocolat is to me in Paris (less of an indulgence and more of a main food group), I decided to try my hand at baking alfajores.

The experiment began with making dulche de leche. And really, I could have just stopped there. Homemade dulche de leche pairs well with any number of other items you have in your kitchen. Vanilla ice cream, crêpes, brownies ,or simply a spoon. Better yet, it’s incredibly easy to make; all you need is a can of condensed milk. Pour the milk into a small pan, cover it tightly with tinfoil, place the small pan inside a larger pan, fill the larger pan halfway with boiling water, and stick the whole thing in the oven at 425 Fahrenheit for roughly an hour, maybe a little bit more depending on your oven, remove, beat until smooth, chill in the fridge. It should come out thick, caramel-colored, and delicious.

For the cookies I used a recipe from, but I found many options online, each with slight variations, such as this one and this one. I had to start the recipe over after mixing the sugar with the flour when I should have mixed it with the butter, but other than that there weren’t any major hiccups in the process.

Unfortunately, when it came time to fill the cookies with the dulche de leche and roll them in coconut…well…let’s just say it took many tries and highly rushed camera work to get photos of the alfajores looking normal. For some reason the cookies would not stay filled. They looked good at first, and then slowly all of the dulche de leche would seep out. Hmm. Did I not let the filling thicken enough in the oven? Possibly, but at least they were delicious, albeit un-servable to anyone other than myself. And I was sort of ok with that.