Sunday, February 28, 2010

Chocolate with Francois - Chocolate Paris-Brest

I recently bought Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard, and I immediately wanted to start baking everything in the book. Days later, I stumbled on the group Chocolate with Francois, and joined on the spot. We're a very small group and we post once a month, which is doable even with all my other activities.

The first recipe I made after joining the group is the Chocolate Paris-Brest. The Paris-Brest actually got its name from a famous bike race in France. The racers go from, you guessed it, Paris to Brest and back to Paris. It is a round pastry made of choux (a flour/water/butter mixture that is boiled and then enriched by the addition of eggs.) The ring of choux is filled with pastry cream (in our case, chocolate pastry cream.)

Um, not here. My choux ring looked magnificently puffy when I pulled it out of the oven and fell faster than you can say "sacre bleu!" I guess appearances were deceiving; it wasn't as done as it looked. Fortunately, I made a couple of mini puffs with some of my excess choux, because this is what my choux ring looked like:

My minis were delicious. The chocolate pastry cream is ultra rich and chocolatey. Mine ended up a little over cooked because I ignored the voice in my head that said it was done, and continued on to the "let it bubble in the center for 20 seconds". By that time, the pastry cream was already cooked, so I did have a few textural challenges.

This month's recipe was hosted by my blogging buddy Susan of Baking with Susan. Check out her Paris-Brest, as I'm certain hers will be beautiful. You can check out the other Chocolate with Francois bakers here.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

CEiMB - Asparagus Cheddar Bake

This week's Craving Ellie in My Belly recipe was meant to be for breakfast, but don't you love having breakfast for dinner? We sure do. So I made this one with asparagus instead of broccoli, didn't bother with the overnight soaking of the bread and it was still delicious. You can find the recipe in Ellie Krieger's new book, So Easy. Many thanks to Heide of Chez Zero for hosting this week and picking an easy, versatile and yummy dinner. Even if it was supposed to be breakfast.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

TWD - Maple Wheat Cookies

For Tuesdays with Dorie this week, Michelle of Flourchild selected Dorie's Honey Wheat Cookies for us to bake. For some unknown reason, I had a hard time getting excited about this one. Maybe I thought we were baking sweet Wheat Thins, but whatever it was, I put this one off.

When I did make them, I substituted maple syrup for the honey  and left the lemon zest out. I may have added the baking powder twice, I won't really know for sure until I see the other TWD bakers' cookies. Whatever I did, I hope I can do it again and again because these were delicious! They're very easy to make and are soft, crunchy and sweet.

If you'd like the recipe, Michelle will have it posted. Better yet, buy the book we're baking from, Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

SMS - Strawberry Lemonade

What could be more evocative of spring than strawberries and suggestive of summer than lemonade? Although we don't get snow here in San Jose, I'm still more than ready to be done with the cold and the rain. And raining and gray it was on the day I made this refreshing drink, this week's Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe, selected for us by Jessica of My Baking Heart.

This was very easy to make. I made my simple syrup in the microwave and didn't bother with straining the solids out of the strawberry puree. It was a tart and sweet treat for a rainy day.

If you'd like the recipe, Jessica has it here. And thanks to Jessica for picking such a great recipe for all of us who are weary of winter.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

CEiMB - Dark Chocolate Mousse

This week's Craving Ellie in My Belly recipe was chosen by Laura at Edible Ventures. It was a recipe for which you really have to suspend disbelief--tofu as a base for chocolate mousse? No eggs? No heavy cream? Has Ellie gone mad??

But this is your healthy dream dessert. I used 70% chocolate and unsweetened cocoa. I substituted brewed coffee for the brandy. The mousse took 5 minutes to make: it has to be the fastest low-fat, most impressive healthy dessert ever. I forgot to stir the sugar into the melted chocolate before combining it with the blended tofu, but it was just fine added to the blender. I added 1 tablespoon of 1% milk to help the blender do its job because my blender is wimpy.

I skipped the whipped cream topping only because we don't like whipped cream. It doesn't need the whipped cream...this is a truly decadent healthy dessert without it. Deeply chocolate, it will satisfy your craving without blowing your diet. Sweet!

If you'd like to check out how the other CEiMB members fared with this one, you'll find links to their blogs here. And you'll find the recipe here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Salted Brown Butter Caramel Pecan Cookies

Yes, I know, it's a long name for a little cookie. But honestly, if I didn't put all of their charms on their calling card, you might just move on without a second glance. Let's pause to contemplate the total package.

Browned butter--nutty, rich, and nuanced;

Caramel--just a tease of caramel flavor from the hot browned butter cooking the dark brown sugar;
Pecan--plump, oven toasted pecans, crunchy and fragrant;
Salt--the perfect older sibling of ingredients, it flatters other flavors without stealing the show.

These cookies are the result of seeing a few of my Twitter buddies tweeting about trying the Cook's Illustrated
chocolate chip cookie recipeI baked along, but thought the chocolate eclipsed a cookie dough that deserved to be the star. So I tweaked the recipe and made it without chocolate, and doubled up on the nuts. I thought about adding some coconut but didn't have any in the pantry.

These are my perfect cookies. I'm in love. I've eaten about five of them. I wish I had more but I gave them all away. I sent some to my Secret Bakee this month. I hope she likes them.

Salted Brown Butter Caramel Pecan Cookies - makes about 4 dozen 2" cookies

Printable recipe

2 cups (7 ounces) pecans
1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons (7 ounces) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces/100 grams) granulated sugar
3/4 cups (5 1/4 ounces/150 grams) packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread pecans out on a large cookie sheet or sheet pan and bake for 8-10 minutes, until golden and fragrant. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Once pecans have cooled, coarsely chop and set aside.

2.  Line 2 large (18- by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

3. Heat 10 tablespoons/142 grams butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma and the milk solids are very brown, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large, deep heatproof bowl. Immediately stir remaining 4 tablespoons/58 grams butter into hot butter until completely melted.

4. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined. Stir in pecans and give dough a final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.

5. Portion out dough: 1 tablespoon will give you 2" cookies and 2 tablespoons of dough yields 3-3 1/2" cookies. Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets.

6. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 9 to 12 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

MY Best Chocolate Chip Cookie - A Chocolate Chip Cookie Tasting

Pull up a chair. We're talking chocolate chip cookies, and I have a lot to say. Here, have a cookie. Ready?

I first made Dorie's chocolate chip cookies right after I started blogging. In fact it was my first baking post. I liked them, but didn't love them. They are thin and I'm a chewy chocolate chip cookie fan. I made them again a few months ago, thinking I must have done something wrong, and still wasn't won over by them.

So when Kait of Kait's Plate selected My Best Chocolate Chip Cookies from Baking From My Home to Yours for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie, I wanted to mix it up a little. So I did a tasting of three recipes, none of them Dorie's. Sorry, Kait!

When the New York Times chocolate chip cookie recipe took the world by storm in 2008, I planned to make them and never did. So that was one of my picks. I had read with great interest when Nancy at The Dogs Eat the Crumbs made Thomas Keller's chocolate chip cookie recipe from Ad Hoc At Home. Nancy liked them a lot but wasn't sure, without a side by side tasting, if they eclipsed the NYT recipe. My third pick was Alton Brown's The Chewy, which has its legion of fans. I had made The Chewy a few months ago and liked them, but I didn't feel the earth move.

In order for the contest to be fair, I refrigerated all of the cookie doughs at least overnight as that is one of the two groundbreaking techniques in the NYT cookies. The three recipes utilized different techniques for creaming the butter and the sugar. The NYT relies on the standard creaming technique, while The Chewy recipe has us melt the butter and then cream it with the butter. The AHAH recipe has us cut the butter into small pieces and cream it while cold, then add the sugars. It also relies on using dark brown or molasses sugar.

For the NYT cookies, which call for using chocolate disks or feves, I used Valrhona 61% extra bittersweet feves. For The Chewy, I used Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips (the recipe didn't call for premium chocolate). The AHAH recipe instructs you to chop two different chocolates (one 71% and one 56%) and shake them in a strainer to remove the chocolate dust.

I conducted a mini tasting at home, forcing M. to eat multiple chocolate chip cookies "No, eat it now. I need to know what you think." His clear preference was the NYT cookie. He liked the flavor of the dough in the AHAH cookie, but he was wowed by the sheets of chocolate in the NYT cookie, the result of using the feves.

From left to right: Ad Hoc At Home, The Chewy, New York Times

Next, I conducted a tasting of the three cookies at work. My coworkers are a discriminating bunch, but they gratefully eat whatever I bring in, so I had to urge them to leave comments and criticism on sheets of paper. I tasted each cookie, listened to some of their comments, and then left the room.

The comments drove home that taste is indeed very subjective. What is delicious and decadent to me may be rich or too much chocolate to someone else. But what came through was a clear pattern of preference: many tasters liked the chocolate distribution in the NYT cookie but preferred the taste of the AHAH cookie. They didn't like The Chewy cookies at all, likening them to store bought. This gave me the information I hoped to get from the tasting.

Then Nancy, Cathy, Tracey and Wendy were tweeting about making the Cook's Illustrated cookies which Peggy the Baker raved about in the P & Q. The CI recipe calls for melting and browning the butter, then adding the sugar to it, whisking and resting several time before adding the dry ingredients and chocolate and nuts. If you'd like the recipe, you can find it here. Unbaked, the dough was fantastic. The browned butter and caramelized sugar flavors were prominent. I was sure I had found my #1 cookie.

Cook's Illustrated

Alas, the baked cookie was good, but the flavor of the chocolate overwhelmed the flavor of the dough. I baked some of the AHAH and NYT cookies I had in the freezer, and took them and the CI cookies to a friend's house for a mini tasting. She pronounced AHAH the best, followed by the NYT cookie.

Then I made my hybrid NYT/AHAH cookies. I used the dough recipe and technique using the AHAH recipe, but I used one kind of chocolate and used feves rather than chopping the chocolate. I refrigerated the cookie dough before scooping it out and baking the cookies. After trying the cookies with three combinations of chocolate (70% only, 61% only and a mix of the two), this was the cookie that was the recipe I wanted to eat the cookie for more than the chocolate. It's a richly flavored dough like the AHAH cookie, and it bears delectable sheets of chocolate like the NYT cookie. I will continue to tinker with it, but this is my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Lethally Delicious Chocolate Chip Cookies - makes about 30 cookies

11 3/4 ounces (335 grams) all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks (1/2 pound/227 grams) cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup (6 ounces/170 grams dark brown sugar) (preferably molasses sugar)
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces/150 grams) sugar
2 large eggs
10 oz bittersweet chocolate disks (preferred) or feves (I use 61%)

Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl, beat half of the butter on medium speed until fairly smooth. Add the sugars and rest of the butter, at beat until light and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the eggs, one at a time, beating until the first one is incorporated before adding the second egg.

Add the dry ingredient and mix on low speed until very few wisps of flour remain. Remove beater, add chocolate pieces, and finish mixing with a spatula or wooden spoon. Make sure you get to the bottom of the bowl while folding in the chocolate, and that the chocolate is evenly distributed.

Transfer cookie dough to a storage container or zip top bag, press out any air, and refrigerate overnight or up to 48 hours before scooping out the cookies.

To bake the cookies:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Center rack in the middle of the oven, and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.

Spoon out about 2 tablespoons of cookie dough (try for no more than 3 chocolate disks per cookie) and put on the cookie sheet, spacing 2" apart as the cookies will spread. Cookie texture and aesthetics are best if the chocolate disks are horizontal rather than vertical.

Bake cookies for 12 minutes, rotating cookie sheet after 6 minutes and checking cookies at 10 minutes. Cookies are done when the tops are a bit puffy, no longer shiny and the edges are lightly browned. Put baking sheet on a rack to cool for five minutes before carefully transferring cookies to a rack to cool completely.

Note: Scooped dough can be frozen. To freeze, place scooped dough on a cookie sheet and freeze until hard. Place frozen balls of dough in a zip top bag and freeze for up to 2 months. I write the name of the recipe, the oven temperature and brief baking instructions ("350 for ~ 12 min until tops not shiny") on the bag before I put the dough in the bag.

Monday, February 15, 2010

BBA - Lavash Crackers

My first foray into making flatbread or crackers was making this delightful crisp rosemary flatbread that I saw on Tracey's Culinary Adventures. It was so easy and delicious and played to my laziness.

But I was still eager to try Peter Reinhart's lavash, given the photos in the book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice. It's a tiny amount of dough, and the recipe calls for rolling it out paper thin. To accomplish that, I borrowed a trick from Ad Hoc At Home and used my pasta roller to get it paper thin. I could have read the newspaper through it had I been required to do so.

But that was truly too thin, and it made the lavash difficult to work with and made twice what the recipe was supposed to yield. It also went from raw to deep brown in about a minute.

I topped mine with a variety of twigs and seeds (zaatar, ras el hanout, sesame, kosher salt and dehydrated onion). All of the flavors were good in their own way, and the lavash was so fragile that it shattered when you bit into it. But it was good nonetheless, and it disappeared quickly.

Although it was good, I doubt I will make this one again. I've made Tracey's flatbread repeatedly, but this one is just too high maintenance.

Make sure you check out the other members of the Slow & Steady subgroup of the Bread Baker's Apprentice event (and they are Nancy (of Corner Loaf), Cathy (of The Tortefeasor), Jessica (A Singleton in the Kitchen), Melissa (of From Laptop to Stovetop), Kayte (of Grandma's Kitchen Table), Sarah (of Blue Ridge Baker), Di (of Di's Kitchen Notebook), Margaret (of Tea and Scones) and Natalia (of Gatti Fili e Farina). 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Barefoot Bloggers - Coconut Cupcakes

Why, Ina? Why? I really didn't want to fall in love with another one of your recipes that involves unwrapping multiple sticks of butter, blocks of cream cheese or measures sugar by the pound. But like my first flirtation with dark chocolate, there is no going back now that I've tried your luscious coconut cupcakes.

This one will be short as it's late and I'm trying to get this one posted on time. These were easy to put together (other than the pain of unwrapping six sticks of butter), and as I mentioned, they were deee-licious. Ina says this recipe makes 18-20 cupcakes. I don't know what kind of muffin tins she's using but I got 24 regular cupcakes and 24 minis. And I had a lot of leftover frosting.

If you'd like to make these delightful cupcakes, you can find the recipe here. Many thanks to Jamie from Jamie's Green Kitchen for hosting Barefoot Bloggers this week.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

TWD - Rick Katz's Brownies for Julia

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie pick was chosen for us by Tanya of Chocolatechic. Tanya has good taste, especially when it comes to chocolate.

Lots of people had problems with these. They were soft, unbaked in the middle, crunchy edges, crumbly topped misunderstood bundles of chocolate deliciousness.

Can you tell I liked them?

They have a lot of flaws (see above). But they have a key virtue: just enough flour to almost hold them together. Once you accept they aren't pretty, you're ready to experience their pure fudgy goodness. 

Thanks, Tanya. I knew you wouldn't let me down. 

If you'd like the recipe, Tanya will have it. Trust me, if you like brownies, you want the recipe.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

SMS - Red Velvet Cupcakes

Red velvet cupcakes are the foundation of many of the chic cupcakes shops springing up around the country. One of these shops was the reason my coworkers requested red velvet cupcakes. The shop cupcakes were dry, the frosting overly sweet and stiff, and they wanted the real thing.

Lucky for me this week's Sweet Melissa Sundays pick is red velvet cake, hosted by Rosy of Rosy Lips and Lavendar. I chose to make cupcakes, even though I was a bit intimidated that people would be comparing them to professional cupcakes. I know I've mentioned many times that my piping and decorating skills are primitive, but these cupcakes were exhibit A.

These were a snap to make, and in spite of the three sticks of butter and 12 ounces of cream cheese, the frosting was light and fluffy. And they were a hit at work. Raves all around.

Thanks, Rosy, for a great pick! If you'd like the recipe, stop by Rosy's as she'll have it posted.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

CEiMB - Curried Chicken Salad

What's that you say? It's Thursday? Already??

That means it's time for Craving Ellie in My Belly. And this week's pick, hosted by Sarah of the eponymous Sarah's Kitchen Adventures, is Curried Chicken Salad. I LLOOOOVVEE curried anything. In fact, my default tuna salad is curried. I am a huge fan of the curried chicken salad at Whole Foods, so I was eager to make this one.

Ellie's chicken salad begins with poaching the chicken, but I roasted mine instead. Once the chicken was cooked, the work was 3/4 done. After mixing fat free Greek yogurt with mayonnaise, adding curry powder, toasted sliced almonds, and a chopped apple, I gave it a stir. Since it's been a little chilly here, I couldn't get excited about serving this as a salad, so I served it on toast. It was so creamy and delicious. I finished it off last night, and was sorry indeed that it was gone.

If you'd like to see the recipe as Ellie intended it, you can find it here. Here is my take on the recipe:

Curried Chicken Salad - 4 servings
1 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and cooled
1/4 sliced almonds, lightly toasted
1/2 cup fat free Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder (more or less, to taste)
1 small apple, cored and chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup arugula, washed and dried
8 slices whole wheat bread

Chop chicken into bite-sized pieces and place in a medium bowl. Add the chopped apple and almonds and stir to combine. In a small bowl, thoroughly combine the yogurt, mayonnaise and curry powder. Pour over the chicken mixture and fold together to combine.

Toast bread, if desired. Divide the chicken salad over 4 slices of bread, top with the arugula and the rest of the bread.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My 200th Post: Dad's Bread

Those who know me realize the title of this post is an impossibility. More so, that my sister gave me the recipe.

See, I never knew my father, nor do I have any siblings. I tell you this only as background for this:

About a month ago, I received an email from a woman who said we might be related. And she was right - she's my half sister. Since we connected, she has taken over my thoughts and changed my world. So when she emailed me this recipe yesterday, I knew I had to make it.

That my father liked to bake bread is a bittersweet discovery. I've been making bread for about eight months, and I've loved it. How much more special it is as I feel the connection with that man who is half of me yet unknown to me.

This is my father's recipe, although I tinkered with it a little, replacing some of the white flour with white whole wheat. Otherwise, this is the recipe he Dad used to make. I'm sure I'll hear more about it, and him, when I visit my sister at the end of this month. Until then, I savor forming the words my Dad.

Dad's Bread - makes 4 8"x4" loaves (mine are a bit stubby as I used 9x5 pans)

In a large mixing bowl, combine:
2 ½ cups lukewarm water
½ cup sugar
1 package active dry yeast

To the above add 2 C flour, mix then slowly add another 2 cups flour.  Add 1 stick of butter, melted and cooled.  Mix. Add 2 more cups of flour then add 3 eggs one at a time, mixing after each.  Add 2 cups flour and mix thoroughly.

Flour hands, counter surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.  Lightly grease a large bowl and transfer dough to the bowl.  Cover with a towel and let rise till doubled.  Remove the towel, punch down and knead.  Cut into 4 equal portions.  Spray 4 8x4 loaf pans with non-stick spray.  Place dough in pans and cover with a towel.  Let rise till doubled.  Remove towel and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

How was it? I cautiously tasted the first piece while still slightly warm. I wanted to like it because of its provenance, but I was prepared for it not being my thing. I needn't have worried. It was light, fluffy, and slightly sweet, a beautiful enriched loaf.  And yes, there were a few tears for what wasn't and now can never be. But I have a sister, and that makes everything all right.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Deluxe Double-Chocolate Cookies - The Ultimate Cookie

In a serendipitous moment of browsing at Costco the other day, I came upon Tartine, the cookbook from the bakery of the same name. When I flipped the book open, the first recipe I saw was for the deluxe double-chocolate cookies. The recipe utilizes bittersweet chocolate and cocoa. The resulting cookies are deep, dark, sultry and intoxicatingly chocolate. They resemble chewy chocolate wafer cookies. Alluring. Irresistible. Dangerous.

Truly, for cookies as deep and mysteriously delicious as these, there are no words. Suffice it to say that they have become our favorite of all cookies.  Try them, and they're bound to become a favorite at your house, too.

Follow up:  I didn't put the recipe in my post, but you can find it here.

TWD - Bittersweet Chocolate Minis with Salted Caramel Ganache

I was all prepared to write a whiny, negative post about how disappointed I was with this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe. This after steering some of my fellow TWDers astray by complaining on Twitter that it was boring, dry, blah, blah, blah.

But you know what happened? My coworkers took me to task for dissing these cute little cakes. They loved them, LOVED them, and they questioned the fine tuning of my palate because I didn't like them, too. I guess I was wrong.

It all started with the name: Milk Chocolate Mini Bundt Cakes with Chocolate Glaze. I took exception to the milk chocolate (not a fan) mini bundt (don't own the pan) and glaze (I glaze about as well as I pipe--terribly). I was prepared to love this with a few changes. I substituted bittersweet chocolate for the milk chocolate and baked them in mini brioche molds. I decided to replace the problematic chocolate glaze with caramel ganache from Rose Levy Berenbaum's Heavenly Cakes, to which I added fleur de sel.

This was so much better than I thought it would be. That doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, but I feel good about this one. My coworkers, a discriminating bunch, loved it. They gave it a chance after I dismissed it, and in that I learned a valuable lesson: taste is subjective, and it's a judgment each person makes independently.

Many thanks to Kristin of I'm Right About Everything for picking this recipe for us. I never would have made this one otherwise, and that would have been my loss.