Friday, April 30, 2010

Chocolate with Francois - Chocolate Mousse

Chocolate with Francois is a once-a-month group working from Francois Payard's Chocolate Epiphany. It's the perfect group for me as we only have to post once a month and every post has chocolate in it. Love that!

This month, Moogie of Moogie & Pap is our host and she has decreed that we will use our chocolate mousse in some new, creative way. What? Like what's wrong with shoveling it down with the biggest spoon you can find? So thinking portion control (yeah, right), I went for the cupcake liners. And crunchy chocolate pearls. Alas, I discovered my two pound bag of crunchy chocolate pearls isn't. They're chocolate, and pearls, but not crunchy. I guess that makes them expensive chocolate chips.

I made a technical mistake with this one. After piling the mousse in a piping bag, I had to run out for a minute, so I stuck it in the fridge and stepped out for a couple of hours. The look of the piped mousse would have been much smoother had I piped it before it firmed up.

Although this mousse was very chocolaty, it lacked the whisper-light velvety texture I appreciate in a chocolate mousse. Or maybe I need to try a little more of it to be sure...

If you'd like the recipe, Moogie has it for you here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

TWD - Chockablock Cookies

Mary of Popsicles and Sandy Feet chose the last Tuesdays with Dorie recipe for the month of April. I love Mary, her stories, her self deprecating sense of humor, and her excitement when she finds something she's excited about.

I thought these cookies sounded so good (though I did substitute butter for the vegetable shortening) until I got to the part where you add molasses. Molasses, to chocolate chip cookies? Really? There was the sweetness of the chocolate chunks. The sweetness of the sugar. The sweetness from the coconut. And raisins. And Dorie wants me to add molasses, too? But I added it. And the cookies tasted more like toxic waste than cookies. I had to throw them away. I wrote my post, queued it up for today, and moved on.

A few weeks went by. The P&Q was posted and the other TWD bakers liked these cookies. Had I done something wrong? A peek at my bottle of molasses confirmed that I had. Dorie specifically said not to use blackstrap molasses, so I bought unsulphured.  See:

But a closer look at the ingredients revealed this:

No wonder they tasted like toxic waste.

So I bought another bottle of molasses and tried again, this time without the coconut and substituting dried cranberries for the raisins. They turned out less dark, and much tastier. Not my favorite, but definitely edible.

If you'd like the recipe, Mary will have it here. And check out the rest of the TWD bakers here. They used a variety of sweeteners to replace the molasses, some of which sounded very good to me.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sweet Melissa Sundays - Strawberry Cobbler Tart

My blogging and tweeting friend Tracey of Tracey's Culinary Adventures is hosting this week's Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe, Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler Pie. Tracey's encouragement and especially her photo tips have made me a better blogger. She is sweet, kind and generous and her beautiful blog is the first place I look when I need a recipe. This is because her taste is impeccable and she's never disappointed me.

I've been super busy with work, with three separate audits (two of them major) happening concurrently. As if that isn't enough, M's business is at a crossroads where their accountant (me!) has to come up with a manufacturing inventory tracking system. Last night I worked until 11 just to get the year-end financials done and today I'll start on the inventory system.

How to juggle work with my desire to make Tracey's pick? Like Tracey, I have never had rhubarb and looked forward to this recipe so that I could try it. But that just didn't happen. I had fresh strawberries in the fridge, so I went with those. I knew I wouldn't have time to make pie crust and I eschew the store bought ones, so I went with the last sheet of Trader Joe's puff pastry I had in the freezer.

I made 1/4 of the recipe and baked my mini in a 4" spring form pan. I cut way back on the sugar, using only 1 tablespoon since the rhubarb needs a lot and my strawberries were sweet. I also didn't use lemon zest, opting to sprinkle cinnamon sugar over the biscuit. I barely had enough biscuit dough to eke out a thin heart-shaped biscuit to cover my little creation.

My mini baked in about an hour. The biscuit looked very brown before I pulled it out of the oven but the puff pastry and filling still needed more time. The P&Q indicated a lot of bakers had the same issue. Tracey related that her pie was a little soupy and mine was no different, but I was fortunate because it set up nicely.

This made a wonderful treat for us to split after having a small salad for lunch. M. stole most of the strawberry filling and proclaimed the dessert a success. The fresh berry flavor really came through and the crunchy biscuits contrasted nicely with the fruity filling. Puff pastry made this a super easy dessert. I can't call it quick, but if you have puff pastry in the freezer, the hands on time is minimal. I can't wait to try this with cherries, peaches, apricots...

Thanks, Tracey, for a pick that was a runaway hit with us. If you'd like the original recipe, Tracey has it here.

Strawberry Mini Cobbler Tart - adapted from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book
Printable recipe

For the crust:
1 sheet of puff pastry, defrosted in the refrigerator until pliable but not soft

For the filling:
1 cup sliced strawberries (about 10 berries)
1 teaspoon sugar (or more if needed - taste your berries so you know how much to use)
1/4 teaspoon cornstarch (if you add more sugar, use a little more cornstarch)

For the cobbler:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of salt
1/2 tablespoon chilled butter, cut onto bits
2 tablespoons heavy cream

For finishing the tart:
Extra cream or milk for brushing the cobbler
1 tablespoon cinnamon sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put a sheet of foil on a sheet pan and set aside.

For the crust, lay the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and cut a 6" circle out of the middle (you can use a 6" plate as a guide, I eyeballed it and it worked fine). Gently line a 4" spring form pan with the puff pastry, tucking in the folds to form a smooth surface around the side of the pan. Put pan in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling and cobbler.

For the filling, in a small bowl, toss the berries with the sugar and cornstarch. Set aside.

For the cobbler, stir together the dry ingredients in a small bowl. Work in the cold butter with your fingers. You should have a lot of flakes and chunks of butter. Add the cream. With your fingers, combine until the mixture comes together. You may need a few drops more cream (I did). The moment the dough comes together, drop it on a piece of plastic wrap and put another piece of plastic wrap on top of it. Push it into a roundish shape about 1/2" thick, and using a 2 1/2" biscuit or decorative cutter, cut a single biscuit. Remove the crust from the refrigerator, arrange the berries in it and top with the biscuit.

Put the tart on the baking sheet and brush the cobbler with some cream or milk. Sprinkle on some cinnamon sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, checking every few minutes toward the end. The tart is done when the juices are thick and bubbly, the puff pastry is browned and looks flaky and the cobbler is well-browned. Serve warm.

Serves two greedy people.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Barefoot Bloggers - Jam Thumbprint Cookies

Yes, April is the Month of the Cookie for the Barefoot Bloggers. We started with raisin oatmeal pecan cookies and now we have the jam thumbprints, chosen by Cassandra of Foodie With Little Thyme!. I for one appreciated that there was less than a pound of butter in these (unlike Ina's pecan squares I made last week). I was so inspired by the recipe I made strawberry jam. Yes, it was a first, but it won't be the last time. The strawberries are glorious here and I had just returned from a nursery sojourn to Watsonville with a friend. Watsonville is about an hour south of San Jose. On the way back, we stopped at a farm stand in San Martin and bought these beauties:

So I made jam with about half of them, froze some (after washing, coring and drying them) and ate a lot of them.

Once the jam was made, it was cookie time. This recipe was pretty easy, if a bit messy. The messiness was due to rolling the balls of dough in egg wash and then rolling them in coconut before smashing them onto the cookie sheet with your thumb. Dribble some jam on to each one and pop them in the oven.

I must admit I went into this one thinking, it's a jam thumbprint cookie, how great could it be? Well, they were really really really great. I wish I could take credit because of the homemade jam, but it was the flavor combination of the buttery cookie with the toasty coconut with the strawberry jam that made these irresistible. I topped a couple with salted caramel ganache from the freezer, but the heat of the oven made the chocolate all curded...still delicious but ugly. Maybe I'll mix strawberry and ganache next time and take it completely over the top.

Thanks, Cassandra, for a fantastic pick! If you'd like the recipe you can find it here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

TWD - Sweet Cream Biscuits

I hail from Miami, Florida. In 1998, two weeks after my 40th birthday, I watched as movers packed my belongings. Tropical storm force winds blew as a hurricane was about to hit. A couple of days later, after the hurricane had blown through, I said goodbye to friends, boarded a plane and headed to a new life in California. If you'd asked me to describe myself, I would have said I was a southerner before I said I was a Miamian. I was born a Florida cracker in a Miami that was a southern city and left a Miami that had reshaped itself into something I didn't particularly identify with.

The Miami of my childhood was gone and will never return. That makes me sad, but this recipe carried me back to the biscuits I remember from my childhood. It reminded me of the grand mansions that lined Brickell Avenue, the warm covered dishes of fried chicken we lusted for and the gigantic (to a child) marble staircase in the old Miami Public Library. It reminded me of Key lime pies. The old zoo on Key Biscayne. Riding down Collins Avenue on Miami Beach and seeing the ocean, not a canyon of hotels and condos, making sure to avoid South Beach, where the "hobos" hung out. Hours of playing in the surf on the beach. My sensitive skin burned so easily and my mom would rub me with vinegar, an old southern remedy. I'd smell like a pickle but it would take the sting out. If only life were that way.

Even though she was a Southerner, my mother was not a baker. I don't think she ever made biscuits from scratch, but we had them from the can you whack on the edge of the counter and of course in restaurants. Sometimes they were smothered in thick gravy, sometimes they had a melting pat of butter tucked inside, but they were buttermilk biscuits, sturdier and saltier than these lovely sweet cream biscuits. These cream biscuits were the fancy kind you'd enjoy at a tea room with strawberry jam.

These biscuits, chosen by Melissa of Love at First Bite (recipe here), were the sum of just a few ingredients handled gently and patted into a square before cutting into smaller squares. Less waste that way, you know? My mother would be proud. I pulled one, still steaming, off the baking sheet and tucked in a bit of butter, and ate it on the spot. Hot biscuit, cold butter. Ahh, memories.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pecan Squares for National Pecan Day

I finally did it.

I made a recipe that was enough to feed the hungry masses in the office, no doubling or tripling the recipe required.

The recipe for these pecan squares comes to us from Ina Garten. The recipe relies on honey and citrus zest for flavor, which give them floral notes that are different from traditional pecan pie. The ingredients are a bit daunting (2 1/4 pounds of butter, 2 pounds of pecans, almost 4 cups of sugar) and this recipe will be costly, but the results are delicious. Be sure to line the pan with a double layer of heavy duty aluminum foil, making sure you extend it over the sides by an inch or two. This will help you avoid a mess in your oven and make it easier to get them out of the pan. Since these are made in a sheet pan, I was able to use a favorite trick, using a rolling pin and plastic wrap to roll out the (very sticky) dough for the base. The rolling pin evenly flattens the crust and gives a nice lip along the sides:

You can find the recipe here. I dipped them in melted chocolate as Ina did. If you'd like to do that, I melted 1/2 pound of 60% bittersweet chocolate in a bowl set over simmering water. When it was melted, I took the bowl off the heat and stirred in 1/2 cup of heavy cream.

I plan to play around with the recipe a bit to mix up the flavor and come up with a version that makes fewer squares (I cut them much smaller than Ina recommends and got 60 bars--she suggests 20!).

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

TWD - Swedish Visiting Cake

I predict that unprecedented numbers of Tuesdays with Dorie bakers will make this one. Why?
  1. It's easy
  2. It uses ingredients you already have in your pantry
  3. It was selected by Nancy at The Dogs Eat the Crumbs
I know I'm not the only blogger who finds Nancy's recipe insights (her n.o.e.'s notes) as valuable as the recipe itself. Nancy has saved me from making mistakes, given me ideas for flavor combinations and inspired me to make substitutions I wouldn't have dared to make. She encouraged me to join the Slow & Steady Subgroup of the Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge and thereby opened the door to my embracing and exploring yeast breads. She urged me to cook from my copy of Ad Hoc at Home, rather than keeping it on a shelf, by telling me how many recipes she's made and that Keller himself encouraged cooks to take the book into the kitchen and get it dirty.

So if Nancy had chosen a recipe that got every bowl, pan, whisk, spatula, and food processor attachment dirty and took three days to complete, I would have made it. But she chose a simple but flavorful cake that was a snap to prepare and had no leavening, enabling our bakers who observe Passover to make this and serve it at their Seders. That is so like Nancy, to always think about others and find ways to include them.

As I said, this recipe came together easily and fit nicely into my 9" cast iron skillet, which I buttered as though my life depended on it. I used a huge lemon off of my tree, and it fragranced the cake beautifully. This was a huge hit at work, though too small for all the 60+ people in the office to have a piece.

I will definitely make this one again, and although this recipe lends itself to many flavor combinations (like grapefruit, orange, lime, mocha, chai), my next version will substitute the scrapings from a vanilla bean and vanilla sugar. See, Nancy was the one who gave me the idea to make vanilla sugar. It seems fitting, doesn't it?

If you'd like to see what the other TWD bakers thought of this one, you'll find them all here. And if you want to give this easy, delicious cake a spin, Nancy will have the recipe here.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Barefoot Bloggers - Raisin Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

Our first Barefoot Bloggers recipe this month is Raisin Pecan Oatmeal Cookies. I'm not a fan of raisins, nor of oatmeal raisin cookies. But I made them anyway. I kinda had to.

They were my pick.

Excuse me? You don't like raisins or oatmeal raisin cookies and you picked an oatmeal raisin cookie??

I know, I know. I had every intention of picking a savory recipe when my turn came. Like many of us, I belong to several baking groups and need recipes that can also double as dinner. But when I saw Ina Garten make these the other day, I couldn't wait to try them. Mine didn't turn out as lovely as hers, but who cares when they taste amazing? I toyed with replacing the raisins with dried cranberries but found an extra bag of raisins in my pantry. I used Vietnamese cinnamon and the flavor was fantastic. Honestly, the cookie dough was almost better than the baked cookie! And yes, they were good enough that I've overcome my dislike of raisins. Now THAT'S a great cookie.

  1. If you love cinnamon, don't be afraid to increase it a little.
  2. I toasted my nuts, chopped them and them combined them (separating any raisins that were stuck together) in a large bowl with the raisins and oatmeal. I find this distributes the mix ins better.
  3. If you wanted to reduce the raisins and add chocolate chips it would probably be pretty yummy.
  4. I made some cookies flattened as Ina instructs and some unflattened, and thought the flattened ones were not chewy enough. If you prefer a thin, crisp cookie, flattened is the way to go. If you like chewy, don't flatten. They will flatten out some but will be chewier.
  5. If you're going for chewy, pull the cookies out when the edge seems set but the middles are still a bit soft. Let them cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.

Oatmeal Raisin Pecan Cookies
Printable Recipe

Makes 30-35 cookies

1 1/2 cups pecans
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups old fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cups raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the pecans on a sheet pan and bake for 5 minutes, until crisp. Set aside to cool. Chop very coarsely.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla.

Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together into a medium bowl. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Add the oats, raisins, and pecans and mix just until combined.

Using a small ice-cream scoop or a tablespoon, drop 2-inch mounds of dough onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Flatten slightly with a damp hand. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer the cookies to a baking rack and cool completely.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

TWD - Mocha-Walnut Marbled Bundt Cake

Dorie has done it again.

In case you're wondering, the Dorie in Tuesdays with Dorie is Dorie Greenspan. She wrote a cookbook a few years ago that won all kinds of awards and a couple hundred of us are baking and blogging our way through it. If it wasn't for Dorie, I wouldn't have a blog, I'd be 20 pounds lighter, far less popular at work and you wouldn't be spending a couple of minutes of your valuable time reading about why you must buy this book.

The book? Baking From My Home to Yours. It's filled with hundreds of reliable, delicious, surprising recipes that are fun to bake and wildly popular with the people lucky enough to taste them. For this recipe, that was a small circle indeed.

I love chocolate, and I considered swapping the proportions of chocolate to non-chocolate batter to make the chocolate dominant, but I elected to use 70% bittersweet instead. I ground the walnuts in the food processor and substituted white whole wheat flour for about 1/4 of the all-purpose. Before I joined TWD 18 months ago, I never would have had the nerve or creativity to make substitutions in recipes, but Dorie's calm presence and the suggestions of my fellow bloggers have helped me to take chances, think creatively, and to be mostly successful no matter how crazy my changes have been.

I prepped my ingredients the night before I made this cake as I often do, and so making it was a snap. Dorie's instructions are always so detailed and helpful, and that is part of why her recipes are such a success. Dorie suggests dropping dollops of batter in the bundt pan before dragging a knife through it to marble the batter. That's a perfect approach for me since I'm neither precise nor artistic.

My cake tested done at 60 minutes, and slid out of its pan easily after 10 minutes cooling. I impatiently sliced into it after 10 more minutes. Moist, sturdy but delicate, richly chocolate with a slight hint of coffee, this cake was the one I couldn't resist cutting into each time I passed through the kitchen. It's the one that made me want to buy a lovelier bundt pan. A cake this good deserves to be as beautiful as it tastes.

This delicious cake was chosen by Erin of When in Doubt...Leave it at 350. She'll have the recipe, but you won't need it. Remember, you're going to buy the book! And check out what the other Tuesdays with Dorie bakers thought of this one. You'll find them all here.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sweet Melissa Sundays - Pecan Shortbread Cookies

Have I forgotten how to bake? I don't think so. But I had problems with this week's Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe, chosen by Lara of The Lab. It was simple, made entirely in the food processor, but I had to rework it in order to get a decent cookie. Unless I wanted the cookie to be shaped like this:

So I reverted to Dorie Greenspan's ziploc bag trick. Joy supervised:

After refrigerating the dough until it firmed, I cut open the bag, sliced the dough into bars and baked them for 17 minutes. I skipped dusting them in confectioner's sugar because they were very tasty without it.