Daring Bakers' Challenge: Strudel

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I went to culinary school. In everyday life, I try to avoid this topic of conversation; my boastfulness is most enjoyed over imaginary accomplishments. Nonetheless, I did spend a few good years attempting to hone my craft. Or something like that.

Anyhow, I did have a few classes in the pastry wing during my tenure and within the dining hall of that building, only windows separated noshing students from a particular class of aspiring pastry chefs. Now, all cooks took a short class on baking, mine taught by a small, charmingly grumpy old Frenchman who muttered "I hate cooks" under his breath just often enough to keep everyone on their toes. And while we learned to make sponge cake, dinner rolls, and cookies, the class beyond that glass wall made puff pastry, yeasted doughs, and on one notable occasion, skillfully stretched dough tissue thin across two 6 foot tables joined end to end. It was truly impressive; I never before would have imagined such a thing possible.

Leave it to the Daring Bakers to bring it all back with strudel, May's challenge brought to us by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. While we were given free reign with the filling, the strudel recipe itself is taken from Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Strudel is actually quite simple. The dough is little more than flour, water, and vinegar, and to my surprise, quite easily stretches to a paper thin sheet. True, I wasn't attempting a 12-foot length, but I did manage a fourth of that with no trouble. If you've stretched pizza dough before now, you can do this.

In the strudel recipe, it is recommended that you allow the dough to rest 30-90 minutes, but due to time constraints, mine rested overnight. It didn't seem to make any difference in flavor, though it may have added to its manageability. All in all, I find it simply an argument for patiently awaiting the 90 minutes to pass. It was suggested that we double the dough recipe in order to allow for some trial and error, but I got along so well, I ended up with two strudels. (Lucky me!) The original recipe contained an apple filling, though I chose to do both a cherry and a cannoli-like filling. While I felt that the ricotta filling was not nearly as successful as the cherry (the ricotta, in my opinion, became a tad rubbery), there were some huge advocates, and, at the very least, it would make a killer filling for (no mystery here) cannoli, but that's a different challenge.

For the complete strudel recipe, check out make life sweeter! and Coco Cooks. Thanks again, Ladies!

Cherry Lime Filling
inspired by cherry season

3 cups cherries, pitted and halved
½ cup sugar
Zest and juice of 1 lime
¼ tsp almond extract
Dash ground ginger
¼ cup walnuts, chopped fine
½ cup dry breadcrumbs

In a large nonstick pan, cook cherries and sugar until juice becomes very thick and syrupy (it should bubble vigorously and seem as if there is little juice left). Remove from heat and stir in lime zest, juice, almond extract, and ginger. Allow mixture to cool.

Combine walnuts and breadcrumbs; set aside.

Sweet Ricotta Filling
inspired by epicurious.com
and Daring Cooks’ May Challenge

1½ cups fresh ricotta
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp orange flower water
¾ cup bittersweet chocolate chips
Dash cinnamon

Combine all ingredients; mix well, set aside at room temperature until needed.

Do chill if you plan on using this filling for cannoli.


Daring Cooks' Challenge: Ricotta Gnocchi

It seems the Daring Bakers have decided look beyond their ovens and hit the stovetop. Yes, we now have Daring Cooks out there, each ready and willing to tackle a monthly challenge. For the inaugural challenge, Lis and Ivonne, the founders of Daring Bakers, and now Daring Cooks (which have joined forces in the Daring Kitchen) have decided on Ricotta Gnocchi from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers.

I am a huge fan of gnocchi, whether potato, semolina (double yum) or ricotta. So this challenge was a great pleasure to take to. On top of it all, I saw this as an opportunity to revive my currently defunct (but never forgotten) tribute to cheese, Serious Cheese. While I can't say that was successful (you haven't seen any new posts lately, have you?), it did get me thinking about how much I've missed making cheese.

Making ricotta is quite simple. It is the first cheese I ever made, way back when before I really even seriously dabbled in cheesemaking. It doesn't require any fancy equipment or ingredients, just milk, acid (lemon juice, vinegar, or citric acid) and heat. Oh, you will need some cheesecloth; but there are so many more uses for cheesecloth than cheese alone, and it's reusable, so a little goes a long way.

As for the ricotta gnocchi, they too are quite easy; here the trick is starting with a well-drained ricotta (Ms. Rodgers suggests testing the ricotta by placing a teaspoon or so on a paper towel; if after a few minutes you notice a large ring of dampness around the ricotta, it will need to be drained further). Beyond that, it could be that the most complicated part of this recipe is shaping the dumplings themselves.

While the recipe called for hands as the tool for the job, I chose to go with spoons. Okay, I'm gonna get all French on you now: quenelles. While many of you, I'm sure, know what a quenelle is, allow me to educate those who don't. Traditionally, a quenelle is a poached dumpling based on a forcemeat (finely ground mixture, typically of fish or meat), shaped into a three-sided oval using two spoons. More often than not, in the present, a quenelle refers to the oval shape itself, not the ingredients being manipulated.

Rooted in classical French cuisine, I'm sure you could imagine making a quenelle is no easy task. And I don't recommend you go into this quenelle thing thinking they'll look like they should, either. After some practice I'm still, well, practicing. But I can tell you it's worth the try; broaden your horizons and at the very least, you'll get beautiful dumplings, with or without sides.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese recipe via Serious Cheese

Please check out Lis or Ivonne's blogs to get the full recipe for Ricotta Gnocchi from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook.