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Cranberry & Walnut Crostata

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona from briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

This month’s challenge was to make an Italian dessert known as crostata (tart). The base of a crostata is made of pasta frolla, a sweet short crust pastry made of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs. A crostata can be filled with any number of fillings including fruit preserves, pastry cream, ricotta, and fresh fruit. For this challenge we were provided with two pasta frolla recipes to choose from for the base layer of the crostata. As for the filling, that was left entirely up to the bakers.

I was not familiar with crostatas at all before this challenge, so I spent some time reading up on some different recipes to get ideas for various fillings. I’ve been suffering a bit from “holiday fever” as of late, so when I stumbled upon this Crostata di Natale (Christmas Tart Recipe), I knew I had found my filling. The pasta frolla recipe I chose (Version 2 of the ones provided) worked up very nicely, and I was ecstatic to learn Simona’s little trick of rolling out the dough on plastic wrap (you can then fairly easily flip the dough over the tart pan and then gently peel away the plastic wrap) – worked like a dream! And speaking of rolling out dough, I think I may have finally started to get a handle on the secret to this essential baking skill thanks to another of Simone’s tips regarding working with firm dough – I finally achieved rolled dough that looked like the shape it was supposed to! The finished crostata was excellent. The pasta frolla crust had a great flavor and texture due to the addition of almond meal, and the filling was pleasantly balanced between tartness and sweetness – a perfect treat to start off the holiday season!

Slice of Crostata

You can view the recipes and instructions for assembling after the jump.

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Crab-Artichoke Souffle

Dave and Linda from Monkeyshines in the Kitchen chose Soufflés as our November 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge! Dave and Linda provided two of their own delicious recipes plus a sinfully decadent chocolate soufflé recipe adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s recipe found at the BBC Good Food website.

When it was announced that we would be making soufflés for this month’s Daring Cooks challenge I was quaking in my boots. I have seen my fair share of cooking shows featuring soufflés that never rise or if they do rise totally deflate before serving. With this culinary disaster stereotype in mind I was rather nervous to give this challenge a go. I did a lot of reading up on soufflés and tried to get as many soufflé baking tips in my arsenal before I actually attempted baking my own.

Dave and Linda provided us with three recipes, which we were free to use, but they also allowed us to substitute a recipe of our choosing as long as it was a proper, baked soufflé. We were also allowed to choose between making a savory or dessert soufflé.

When I told my husband about the challenge he immediately requested a savory soufflé, so that is where my recipe hunt began. Of course, I couldn’t help but take a peek at a few dessert soufflé recipes as well, and luckily, I had the time to try my hand at both a savory and dessert soufflé recipe before the posting deadline.

For my savory recipe I went with a crab and artichoke soufflé (pictured at the top). This was my first savory soufflé (to eat or bake), and I must say it is quite a tasty dish! They had a pretty good rise coming out of the oven, but they definitely began to deflate as I was removing the collars and trying to rush them to the table.

Banana Souffle

For the dessert recipe I chose a banana soufflé. I still have an abundance of Halloween candy lying around that I am trying to get rid of, so I decided to add a roughly chopped peanut butter cup to the recipe. This was a very good move; in my book, there are few things finer than the combination of bananas, peanut butter, and chocolate – and bonus, when combined in soufflé form, the combo gets all warm and deliciously gooey. Also, these babies rose sky high and held their shape considerably longer than the savory soufflés, which was pretty exciting.

All in all, I am really happy Dave and Linda challenged us with soufflés this month. Based on my previous notions of them I probably never would have dared to try baking one on my own. I would have most likely kept tossing them off as overly complicated or too finicky to mess with, but boy was I wrong! You definitely have to be on your toes when making them (have all those ingredients ready to go beforehand and be ready to serve immediately!) but the results are nothing short of spectacular. It is a pretty awesome feeling to pull out a pair of beautifully risen soufflés from the oven – something every cook should experience at least once!

You can view both soufflé recipes after the jump.

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