Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Cherry Pop-Tarts

Homemade cherry pop-tart!

Pop-tarts are a treat that brings back memories from childhood. We used to get the strawberry (no icing) and brown sugar varieties. There was also the occasional cherry and grape. Does anyone remember grape pop-tarts? I have heard and read that they discontinued the grape pop-tart a while back. Apparently Kellogg has added a wild grape flavor to replace the old grape. Did they think "wild" grape would be more appealing?

Rolled out dough (homemade too, of course).

Of course if you consumed pop-tarts you also probably ate a toaster streudel at one point too. Toaster streudels were far superior to the pop-tart - with their flaky crust and warm icing. The fruit filling even resembled actual fruit (well sort of). You could even draw sweet pictures with the icing packets. But I don't think Toaster streudels could ever compete with the plethora of flavoring offerings for pop-tarts. Have you seen some of the new flavors? Hot fudge sundae, really? I mean kids could pretend a strawberry pop-tart was an acceptable breakfast, but ice cream in a pastry pocket form? I don't think so.

Just a spoonful (or two) of cherry jam.

But regardless of their nutritional value, pop-tarts will always have a nostalgic place in my heart. And pastry chefs across the country realize the nostalgic power of the pop-tart, putting their own versions on dessert menus. I ate a rather fine pop-tart at Tremont 647 in Boston a couple years ago.

Baking in the oven at 425 F. I could barely contain my excitement!

I have been meaning to create my own gourmet spin on the pop-tart, but didn't get around to it until NOW. Cherries have been on my mind for a couple weeks, and with a fresh supply from the farmer's market I knew I wanted to create a cherry pop-tart. Their are three key ingredients to making your own pop-tart: 1)pie crust 2)jam 3)icing.

Now I made my own pie crust, jam, and icing cuz that's how I do. My mother created this "everything from scratch" mentality, so you can thank her for that. :) Luckily I had some pie crust in the freezer, so it didn't take me ages. If you want to make your own dough from scratch I would make it the night before. Make the jam two nights before, that way you won't feel like you've spent 6 hours making pop-tarts.

Beautiful pockets of goodness.

The "jam" I made came together in a cinch. I chopped up three cups of cherries, threw them in a pot with 1/4 cup of sugar, juice from one lime, and lime zest. I cooked it on medium low for 40 minutes or so. You want to make sure the excess water boils off, so that the mixture is thick and chunky. This was more of a "quick" jam.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. While the jam cools off you can start rolling out your pie dough. Roll the dough out really thin - 1/8 in or so. I cut the dough into rectangles that were about 4 x 3 in (some looked more like 5x2). Put the dough back in the fridge for 15 minutes before you fill them.

Pink frosting what could be sweeter?

Once the jam has cooled, spoon on a couple tablespoons. You don't want to overfull the pockets, as they will burst open in the oven. Place a second rectangle on top. Using a fork, press the sides together to form a seal. Using the fork, poke a couple holes in the top of the pop-tart to allow some steam to escape during baking. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Mine needed about 12 minutes.

Make the icing using 1 cup confectioner's sugar and 1 teaspoon milk. I used part of it to drizzle over half of the pop-tarts. Then I added four drops of red dye to make pink icing for the second half.

This Googler approves!

These pop-tarts were flaky and butter. The cherry jam filling was tart and sweet. The icing made them visually stunning and added the right amount of sweetness to counter the buttery pastry and tart filling. These were a hit! They might be one of the best things I have baked. These would be wonderful to serve at a brunch, people will love you for it.

Verdict: Three JAMS!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Dynamo Donuts - San Francisco, CA

From top left: Sticky bun, maple apple bacon, vanilla bean, cornmeal cherry rosemary

However you spell it, donuts or doughnuts, fried dough is delicious. In the past couple years I have become more appreciative (and more discriminating) of these fried treats. The Doughnut Plant in New York elevated my expectations for what doughnuts can be - serving up divine flavors like coconut custard and dulce de leche. In Hawaii, Leonard's introduced us to the portuguese version of fried dough, malasadas, with exotic fillings like passionfruit and guava.

I have been searching for a comparable doughnut out in California. Stan's doughnuts doesn't offer any fancy, gourmet flavors, but they make one of the best glazed doughnuts I've ever had -warm from the fryer. Still I had heard great things about Dynamo Donuts in San Francisco and wanted to give them a try before declaring the winner.

Dynamo Donuts was created by Sara Spearin, a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, who wanted to bring her love of a well crafted donut to SF. These doughnuts are made with premium, organic, local, and sustainable ingredients whenever possible. And at $3 a pop they better be. The prices didn't seem to stop the yuppies and hipsters from forming a line at 9:30am on a Saturday morning. As I took my place in line (what does that make me?) I could smell the sweet dough hitting the oil. The menu is updated daily with offerings like lemon thyme and chocolate star anise. AJ and I ordered up a maple glaze bacon apple, cornmeal cherry rosemary, vanilla bean, and a sticky bun.

I took a bite of each doughnut before I declared the cornmeal cherry rosemary the winner. The cornmeal gave this yeasty donut some amazing texture, while the hints of orange zest and tart cherries paired well with the floral rosemary and honey glaze. Hello flavor! My only complaint (besides the hole in my wallet) was the temperature. These donuts were cool and would have been amazing warm. AJ declared the maple glazed bacon apple his favorite. I loved the maple glaze paired with the salty bacon, but I could've used more apple pieces.

The vanilla bean was rather tasty too - with flecks of vanilla bean swimming in the glaze and lovely lemon zest in the dough. The sticky bun was just that a sticky bun. I was hoping for some kind of fusiony doughnut - a doughnut that tastes like a sticky bun. Regardless of my expectations it was delicious with wide swirls of cinnamon and a caramel glaze. It didn't stand up to Flour bakery's version, but it was still tasty.

My final impression of Dynamo Donuts is that they have some amazing flavor combos and some great coffee that will top most donut shops in the Bay Area. But for $3 I'm not sure I would head here too often, when I can get a hot glazed donut for $0.80 at Stan's.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Cherry Bran Muffins

Go Muffins!

I don't know about you, but sometimes its hard to get excited about breakfast on a workday. I usually end up eating oatmeal (steel cut if I have the time to make it) in an effort to start off my day on a healthy note and mostly out of convenience. Now I love steel cut oats, but eating the same thing every day can be tiring. I love bagels, donuts, and muffins (all from my favorite food group - carbs), but I can't justify eating these every day. So what options are there for the person trying to make a healthy, tasty choice for breakfast?

Nice plump cherries.

I have actually come across a fairly healthy and tasty banana blueberry bran muffin at Peet's Coffe and Tea. I know what you're thinking - bran, really? What is bran? Whole grains are comprised of three parts - the bran (outer layer), the endosperm (nutrient-rich portion), and the germ (embryo). The bran is rich in fiber. Most refined grains have had the bran removed.

This batter is so easy to make.

But seriously these bran muffins are tasty and wholesome at the same time. I have been wanting to replicate this muffin in my own kitchen and came across at Bran Muffin recipe at 101cookbooks.com. The recipe takes a healthy approach to baking - using whole wheat flour, wheat bran, yogurt (instead of oil), natural unrefined sweeteners (honey), and just a touch of butter.

Again, you're probably thinking B-O-R-I-N-G. Hello, where's the flavor? I wanted to up the flavor too. I decided these babies needed some cherry action to brighten the flavors. But you gotta give wheat bran a chance - it adds a lovely wholesome texture. The yogurt adds a lovely buttermilk tang. You just have to make sure to use whole fat yogurt - see I wouldn't deprive you of fat entirely! The honey adds just the right sweetness and the cherries add depth with tartness (JAM Note: I also soaked a cup of dried cherries in hot water before I added them to the batter).

These go perfectly with a cup of tea or coffee.

These come together in a jiff and will have you set for many breakfasts to come. My batch came out with 21 muffins (I used regular sized tins). I may freeze some so I can heat them up when I'm in need of some oatmeal relief!