Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Kid's Thumbprint Cookies, a Big Hug and Then I Cry

You know how sometimes you have something you need to do that weighs on your mind, nagging nagging nagging you to DO IT so you can cross it off your list and feel the elation of procrastination overruled?

This is not one of those moments.

This is the last recipe in Baking From My Home to Yours for the group of bakers known as Tuesdays with Dorie. As much as I've itched to do my own thing these last few months, I've been dreading this day because of its last-ness. And because I have no words without tears about this, it's best that we proceed to the recipe.

I can only assume that as we neared the end of the book, our fearless leader Laurie asked Dorie Greenspan if she'd like to host the last pick, and what she would like that to be. And Dorie's pick this week is one of those crazy technique recipes that I used to scratch my head over in the early days and now I just go with without questioning. Dorie wasn't done teaching me, showing me new ways to do things.

These cookies are a peanut butter thumbprint cookie rolled in egg white and then peanuts. The dimple is filled with jam or chocolate chips. I opted for bittersweet chocolate chips. The recipe wasn't fussy until it came to dipping the balls of dough in frothy egg white before rolling them in chopped peanuts. In honor of Dorie, I didn't alter the recipe this week because I always tweak it. My balls of dough were a tiny bit bigger than they were supposed to be, but they were done in 11 minutes not 15-18 as the recipe suggested.

The cookies were good, though I didn't swoon the way I did over the other thumbprint cookies in the book. Maybe my tastebuds were depressed about it being the last recipe. Dunno, but I needed a big hug after finishing the last recipe from a book and a group that has been, well, a big hug for me these last few years.

To Dorie, your book changed my life. Truly. You taught me how to BAKE, and to make things I never would have attempted. That confidence seeped into other areas of my life, and opened me up to greater personal and yes, even professional success. The creative yearning I felt inside finally had an outlet, and I no longer had to stifle it in pursuit of my career. I always feel your presence and hear your calm encouragement in the kitchen, especially when the going gets tough. I have had failures, but I learned from them, and I have had successes, and I learned from them, too. It all added up to a strong and stable foundation of dozens of things a baker knows by instinct. I no longer assemble recipes; I am a baker. My heart is full and my eyes overflow with tears of joy, sadness and gratitude. Thank you.

To Laurie, whose personal mission to bake her way through the book started this group, I am forever grateful. You invited us on your journey, never complaining when hundreds of unruly individuals made managing the group more of a labor than a labor of love. That generosity hasn't gone unnoticed, and we love you for it.

I am not an easy person to get close to and yet I have made many friends in this group, and the entire group has been warm, welcoming and supportive. To my buds Margaret, Nancy, Kayte, Tracey and Di - I love you all. Anytime, anywhere.

Tuesdays with Dorie will continue on with another of Dorie's books, Baking with Julia. I contemplated staying on to explore that book, but it didn't speak to me the way Baking From My Home to Yours or Paris Sweets does. I want to return to some if not all of the BFMHTY recipes I missed, revisit old favorites, and take what Dorie taught me to other books, other projects. And so the sadness of the ending merges with the excitement of new beginnings. I can hardly wait to get back into the kitchen.

"The reward of a thing well done is to have done it" - Ralph Waldo Emerson

UPDATE: Due to overwhelming pressure from a few friends (you know who you are!) I took another look at Baking with Julia and decided to stick with the group when they start the new book in February. I'll also be revisiting the 78 recipes I skipped or that were made before I joined the TWD in October 2008. Look for the first one soon!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hazelnut Chocolate Chip Scones 2.0

I don't generally repeat a recipe I've previously posted but this is a rewind week for Tuesdays with Dorie so I'm making an exception. The first time I made these scones, I didn't post the recipe because it was a bit of a mess. It's taken a few tries, but I finally got it to the point where it's almost too good to share.

These scones are oh-so-light. Normally, when I pick up a scone it feels substantial. These are feather light, and they are fluffy and tender without being like eating cake. The hazelnut flour gives them a neat flavor and texture. The chocolate chips are a nod to loving chocolate for breakfast and wanting these to be evocative of Nutella. They're perfect to enjoy in the afternoon with a cup of tea, or in the morning for breakfast. You can leave them out if chocolate chips in your scones is not your thing.

The rest of the TWD bakers have chosen other recipes to rewind in this, the next to the last week for us. You can see what they made here. Next week we will be making the last recipe in the book, which was chosen by Dorie herself. Every time I think about writing that post, I tear up.


Hazelnut Chocolate Chip Scones - adapted from the chestnut scones in Baking From My Home to Yours
Printer-friendly recipe

1 large egg
3/4 cup cold heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons/210 grams all purpose flour
3/4 cup/84 grams hazelnut flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons/112 grams unsalted butter, cut into bits and chilled
3/4 cup/128 grams semisweet chocolate chips

Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.

Stir the egg, cream and vanilla extract together.

Measure the dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Turn the mixer to the lowest speed and let run for a minute or so to combine the ingredients. With the mixer still on low, drop in the butter and mix on low speed until the mixture is pebbly. You’ll have pea size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and everything in between.

With the mixer still on low, pour the liquid ingredients over the mixture and mix for five seconds then add the chocolate chips and mix until the dough almost comes together; it may be sticky.

Lightly flour a work surface, and place the prepared baking sheet nearby. Before turning the dough out of the bowl, gently press any stray flour into the rest of the dough with a flexible bowl scraper if you have one or a spatula if you don't. Turn the dough onto the floured work surface, dip the bowl scraper in flour and use it to coax the dough into a neater circle about an inch high. Using a 2" round cutter, dip the cutter in flour and cut out the scones, keeping your cuts as close together as possible to minimize waste. Gather the scraps and cut as many scones as you can. Place the scones 2" apart on the prepared baking sheet and place in freezer while you preheat the oven (at this point, the scones can be frozen on the baking sheet, then wrapped airtight. You don’t need to defrost the scones before baking - just add about 2 minutes to the baking time).

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400F.

Bake the scones for 17-19 minutes, or until their tops are golden and firmish. Transfer the scones to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before serving, or wait for the scones to cool to room temperature.  Makes about 14 scones.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Caramel Cheesecake Bars

I know what you're thinking...and yes, we did just have cheesecake bars recently, but these are as different from the lemon cheesecake bars as a dog is from a cat. Both have four legs, fur and can be domesticated to varying extents. But that's where the similarity ends. And so it is with these cheesecake bars.

Like so many good things I make, I found these on Tracey's Culinary Adventures.

And also like so many things I find on Tracey's website, the recipe was in a cookbook I own. For those of you who mastered the lemon cheesecake bars, these will be very familiar. I really like Alice's crust: it's almost a batter you spread in the pan...no fussy crust, no stress.

They're so easy, especially if you have the caramel already made, and although cheesecake isn't a favorite, these were otherworldly due to the salted caramel swirl, in spite of being a tiny bit overdone. Next time, I'll probably use my own caramel recipe (you can find my caramel 101 here) and add flour de del to it.

Caramel Cheesecake Bars - adapted from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy thanks to Tracey
Printer-friendly recipe
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1/2 cup (3.5 oz) sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups (9 oz) all-purpose flour

3/4 cup caramel sauce (recipe below)
1 1/2 lbs cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup (1.75 oz) sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature

To make the crust: Preheat oven to 350 F with a rack in the lower third of the oven. Line a 13x9 baking pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang so you can lift the bars out after they've baked.

Combine the melted butter, sugar, vanilla and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the flour until just incorporated - the mixture will be soft, that's fine. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking pan and press into an even layer on the bottom of the pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Let cool completely. Turn the oven down to 325 F.

To make the filling: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl then add the sugar and vanilla, beating until smooth and creamy, about 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating just until incorporated and scraping down the sides of the bowl in between. Transfer 2 tablespoons of this batter to the 3/4 cup of caramel sauce and stir to incorporate. Pour the remaining cheesecake batter over the cooled crust and spread evenly.

Dollop the caramel sauce mixture over the filling. Use a toothpick to gently marble the caramel, being careful not to scrape the crust while you are doing it. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the edges are puffed and the center is just barely set.

Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let come to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but preferably 24. Use the parchment sling to lift the bars out of the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into squares with a long sharp knife. The bars can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Salted Caramel Sauce - adapted from Cook's Illustrated

2 cups sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 teaspoon flour de del or grey sea salt

Add 1 cup of water to a 2-qt saucepan. Gently add the sugar to the center of the pot - it will mound, that's fine. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, uncover the pot and insert a candy thermometer. Continue cooking until the mixture registers 300 F and is just starting to develop some color, about 15 minutes. Reduce heat under the pot to medium and cook until the syrup is amber and registers 350 F on the thermometer, about another 5 minutes. Meanwhile, pour the cream into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. If it simmers before the syrup is ready, just take it off the heat and set aside.

Remove the caramel from the heat and add about 1/4 of the warm cream to the pot. It will bubble furiously so be careful. Once the bubbling subsides, add the remaining cream. When it stops bubbling, whisk gently to incorporate fully. Add the butter and the salt and whisk to combine.

Set aside 3/4 cup of the salted caramel sauce for the cheesecake bars. The remainder can be refrigerated for up to 1 month.

Makes about 2 cups

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Red Velvet Cupcakes

The other day, a coworker bought red velvet cupcakes at one of those fancy cupcakes stores and shared them with the office. Amid the oohs and aahs, no one seemed to notice that the frosting was overly sweet, the cake blah, and the general experience disappointing. This isn't a complaint directed at this kind gentleman, but an indictment of what passes as a good cupcake (hint: looks matter).

I was so disappointed in what felt like false advertising that I was determined to find a red velvet cupcake recipe that would make people swoon, that deserved the acclaim, and that we could all eat and feel like it was worth the calories.

I didn't have to look far to find what I wanted. Deb at Smitten Kitchen posted this red velvet cake back in 2007, and she noted many people had made it quite successfully as cupcakes.

The recipe didn't disappoint. For red velvet lovers, the cupcakes were swoon-worthy. For the rest of us, they were a pretty darn good cupcake.

Note:  You're working with red food dye here, so be careful not to splash it all over your kitchen. I have very porous light granite countertops and was careful to the point of paranoia. I think next time I'll just spread newspapers on the counter and not worry so much about making a mess. Be careful when you put the bowl, etc. in your sink. If the water splashes the batter around, you could have quite a mess.

Red Velvet Cupcakes - Adapted from "The Confetti Cakes Cookbook" by Elisa Strauss by way of Smitten Kitchen
Printer-friendly recipe
Yield: 36 cupcakes (I got 24 standard cupcakes and 24 minis)

3 1/2 cups/450 grams cake flour
1/2 cup/47 grams unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch process)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups canola oil
2 1/4 cups/450 grams granulated sugar
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons (3 ounces-3 standard bottles) red food coloring or 1 teaspoon red gel food coloring dissolved in 6 tablespoons of water
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl and set aside.

Place oil and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until well-blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. Turn off mixer, add the food coloring and drape an old (but clean) kitchen towel over the mixer to control splashes. Turn mixer on lowest setting, wait ten seconds then turn off the mixer. Remove towel, turn mixer to low and add the vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in two batches. Scrape down bowl and beat just long enough to combine.

Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds.

Fill cupcake papers 3/4 full, place in oven and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool in pans 2 minutes, then remove cupcakes to cool on a wire rack. Cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting-Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
6 cups/684 grams confectioner’s sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed (or use a hand mixer) for 5 minutes. Turn off mixer and add butter, then beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Turn mixer to low and slowly add the sugar and vanilla. Continue beating on low speed to combine. If too soft, chill until slightly stiff, about 10 minutes, before using.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Chocolate Espresso Cookies

Everyone is searching for meaning in their lives. The one true love, deepest calling, and perfect job absorb many of us well into our 50s and beyond.

Me, I've been fortunate to tie down all the above, so my searching is now directed to something more mundane but just as elusive: the most ethereal chocolate treats. A couple of weeks ago I posted another chocolate cookie, and I wondered if this recipe could come close or even surpass the perfection of the Jacques Torres Mudslide Cookies. I'm sure M. Torres wasn't losing any sleep because the Mudslide cookie is in a league of its own.

I made these cookie's for Di's Second Annual Virtual Cookie Exchange.  Some of my favorite bakers are participating (I am, ahem, late as usual). Di will post a round up on her blog, Di's Kitchen Notebook.

These cookies, which I saw in Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich, have a similar truffly interior, but I missed the sprinkling of flour de del on the tops. M (who was traveling when I made the Mudslide cookies) proclaimed these "excellent" in waves of "mmmm" sounds. They were best while still warm so the crunch of the edges contrasted more sharply with the soft interiors. When cooled, the inside was chewy and the border lost some of its crispness, but was delightful for the aforementioned truffle-like interior.

I made quite a few changes to Alice Medrich's recipe, which you can find in the book, but here is my version, which I think is a little easier but loses none of the flavor or texture that makes these great.

Chocolate Espresso Cookies (adapted from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy by Alice Medrich)
Printer-friendly version

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped 
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1 1/3 cups/9.33 ounces sugar
1 1/2 tsp espresso powder (optional)
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate discs (or substitute chopped bittersweet chocolate)

Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

In a heatproof bowl set over a simmering pan of water, melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate. Stir until the butter and chocolate are melted. Remove bowl from the pan and set aside while preparing the rest of the recipe.

Beat together eggs, sugar, espresso powder, and vanilla until pale, about 5 minutes. Fold the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and then add the flour and bittersweet chocolate discs. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicon liners. Drop the dough in heaping tablespoons about 2 inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the tops are cracked and the edge resists collapsing when pushed lightly with your finger but the center is still softish. Let the cookies cool for a couple of minutes before transferring to metal racks.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Turkey Soup with Mushrooms & Wild Rice

I don't know about you but I looked through dozens of use-up-leftover-turkey recipes before throwing up my hands, getting out a pot and doing it my way.

After Thanksgiving, the last thing I want to do is make a casserole with a block of cream cheese, or a soup with a pint of half and half. I want something easy that uses my leftover turkey, tastes fantastic, isn't over the top in calories and doesn't make me feel like I'm eating Thanksgiving dinner again.

If you have leftover rice, toss it in instead of making wild rice. Don't have leftover turkey? A rotisserie chicken would be great here. Just remove the skin and strip the meat from the bones. Save the carcass for making stock later!

This soup is easy, earthy, healthy, and deeply satisfying on a cold, rainy (or snowy) night. I like to cook my carrots, onions and celery down so they're lightly browned and very soft. Otherwise, I think the vegetables are too vegetal and they detract from the mellow flavor of the soup. To make it even faster, look for mirepoix (a combination of chopped celery, onion, and carrot) and cleaned sliced mushrooms in your produce section, and cook your wild rice before work, or the night before. Otherwise, you can start the wild rice, then chop your vegetables and make the rest of the recipe. By the time you finish with the rest of the recipe, your wild rice will be done and ready to add to the pot.

Turkey Soup with Mushroom & Wild Rice
Printer-friendly recipe

1 cup wild rice, uncooked

Prepare the wild rice according to package directions. Then chop the vegetables and prepare the rest of your soup:

3 tablespoons olive oil (plus additional if your pan gets dry)
10 ounces mushrooms, sliced
3 ribs of celery, chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
1 medium-large onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, crushed or grated on a Microplane
1/8 teaspoon (or to taste) cayenne pepper (optional)
3 leaves of sage, finely minced
4 sprigs of thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
6-8 cups chicken broth
4 cups cooked turkey, chopped

Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a large, deep saucepan (I made this in a 12" non-stick sauté pan, so you can go that route, too) over medium heat and add the mushrooms. Allow the mushrooms to soften and give off their juices, stirring only occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to a plate and set aside. 

Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pot, and add the celery, carrots and onion. Stir to coat with the oil and cook for about 5 minutes, until the vegetable have started to soften but are still firmish. Add the garlic and stir into the vegetables. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for another 5-8 minutes, until the vegetables are quite soft, medium brown and cooked down considerably. Stir in the cayenne, sage and thyme branches, add salt and pepper to taste. Pour in 6 cups of the broth and cook until mixture is bubbling around the sides, stirring occasionally. Once all is hot, add your cooked wild rice and chopped turkey. If needed, add more broth (I like my soups to be more stuff than broth, but it's totally up to you). Heat through, then remove the thyme branches before serving.

Makes 8 servings

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Normandy Apple Tart

This week, the Tuesdays with Dorie bakers are making Dorie's Normandy apple tart, selected by Tracey at Tracey's Culinary Adventures. More than any other individual blogger, Tracey's site is the one I check first when searching for something to make on a whim. She's a sweet, generous person and has helped me so much in the past with questions I've had about blogging and photography. I simply couldn't miss her final pick, one of the last ones we'll make with the group.

I was fortunate I had a tart shell premade in the freezer. I don't know if it's Dorie's recipe but it was there and that made this recipe even easier. So too for the apple sauce (I actually substituted apple butter). I used a recipe I learned when I went to canning school at Happy Girl Kitchen last month. I had made it a few weeks ago and I was so pleased with myself that I left the jars out on the counter to bring me a smile whenever I passed through the kitchen.

With the two most time consuming steps already out of the way, this recipe came together in minutes. I made a mini, because that was what the crust in the freezer was, and because I didn't have time to peel a couple of apples. I took the cheek off of one Gala apple, peeled that, thinly sliced it, arranged the slices on top of the apple butter, brushed it with some egg wash and off to the oven it went. 

Mine baked quite quickly because the tart shell was still hot when I loaded it up with the apple butter and apple slices, so I had to cover it with foil to keep the edge of the crust from browning too much. After just 25 minutes, it came out of the oven and I brushed it with a little quince jelly (which was one of the recipes Jordan made at the canning workshop). It gave the apple slices a lovely glow, and the combination of apples and quince is such a natural.

This was a delicious and, yes, even easy dessert with a little advance planning. The mellow tang of the apple butter contrasted nicely with the crisp-tender apple slices and the crunch of the tart shell. The star was truly the apple butter, so I encourage you to use a good quality filling.

If you'd like the recipe as Dorie intended it, Tracey has the recipe posted for you here. And be sure to check out what the other TWD bakers thought...you can find their tarts here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bittersweet Brownies

I joined Tuesdays with Dorie with the expectation that I would become a better baker, that I would enjoy working through a massive cookbook with many fabulous recipes, and the self discipline that comes with that would be a bonus.

Somewhere on the road of Become a Better Baker my journey changed, almost imperceptibly. See, I never set out to form friendships. Indeed, I liked the behind-the-scenes nature of the closet blogger. An insanely private person, I had no desire to get close to people.

Yet in spite of my best attempts at standoffishness I found friends, yes friends, whom I've never met. That is until about a week ago.

Enter Nancy of The Dogs Eat the Crumbs and the Nancy pan. Nancy was on the West coast and we arranged to meet up. In an opportune twist, Nancy hadn't baked these brownies yet, and neither had I, so she came to the house and we made them together.

It's always interesting to meet someone whom you know and yet don't. The voice, the face, the mannerisms all fill out the impression you have of that person. Nancy already had my sincere admiration (she seemingly never sleeps, rarely misses a week baking with the group even when traveling, and is among the kindest and most solicitous of a very kind group of gals) but getting to know her was like staying up late talking with a friend at summer camp.

Baking together was a joy (especially for me since Nancy is a champion nut chopper). We traded tips and ideas as we attempted to focus on the recipe and remember to take photos. Because we're coming to the end of the book, we were less concerned about being perfect and more comfortable enjoying the process.

It is bittersweet that our days of Baking From My Home to Yours are coming to an end. I have loved this book, loved 95% of what I've made from it, but the sweeter gift has been the friendship of a group of women whom I love and respect.

And so it was that the recipe that I had chosen for this week became the perfect metaphor. The sadness of finishing the book and knowing that many of the TWD bakers will be going their own way was sweetened by the friendships that have eclipsed the book. Bittersweet indeed, yet the perfect opportunity for two friends to share a brownie.

Bittersweet Brownies - from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
Printer friendly recipe

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (we used Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet chips)
1 1/2 cups/150 grams sugar (we cut it back to 125 grams)
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup/140 grams all-purpose flour
3/4 cup pecans, chopped (my choice, optional)

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a 9-x-13-inch baking pan with foil, butter the foil and place the pan on a baking sheet. (we used parchment paper, which doesn't need buttering)

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Put the butter in the bowl, top with the chopped chocolate and stir occasionally until the ingredients are just melted - you don't want them to get so hot that the butter separates. Remove the bowl from the pan of water.

With a whisk, stir in the sugar. The mixture might get grainy, but it will even out. Whisk in the eggs one by one, then add the vanilla and whisk enthusiastically to smooth the batter. Finally, gently whisk in the espresso powder, if you're using it, salt and flour, stirring only until incorporated. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle the pecans (if using) on top of the batter and lightly press into the batter, just enough to anchor the nuts.

Bake the brownies until the top is dull and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, usually about 40 minutes. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the brownies to room temperature.

When they are completely cool, turn out onto a rack, peel away the foil and invert onto a cutting board. Cut into 32 slender rectangles, each roughly 2 1/4 x 1 1/2 inches.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Jacques Torres's Mudslide Cookies

If ever there was the perfect chocolate cookie, this is it. If I stopped my search for the perfect chocolate experience with this cookie, I wouldn't feel like I was missing anything.

I've tried a lot of chocolate cookies in my time. Many I've baked but I've also bought. Some were mediocre, some good, some delicious, a few fabulous.

This is an extraordinary cookie.

I found them on the Crepes of Wrath (great name!) and I knew I had to make them pronto. I dreamt about them. I daydreamed about them. I plotted to have a free evening to make them. And finally, I managed to put together a few hours (not that they take that long, I just wanted to be able to savor them when not in a work-induced freak out).

I pulled out my Valrhona chocolate and flaky Malden sea salt to get the best result I could. Use the very best chocolate you can afford. You'll use a lot of it, but you won't mind a bit once you've had that first bite. Promise.

Chocolate Mudslide Cookies - adapted from Jacques Torres
Printer-friendly recipe

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2 pounds chopped bittersweet chocolate, divided
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and room temperature
2 1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
5 eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon walnuts, chopped
fleur de sel or flaky sea salt, for sprinkling
parchment paper, for lining the baking sheets

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. Melt 16 ounces of the bittersweet chocolate with the unsweetened chocolate in a medium pan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Set aside to cool while you prepare the rest of the recipe.

Beat together the butter and sugar for a few minutes, until it has the texture of wet sand. Add in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add in the flour mixture, and mix on the lowest speed until just moistened, then beat in the melted chocolate, until just combined. The dough will seem very wet at this point, but it will come together.

Fold the walnuts and remaining 16 ounces of bittersweet chocolate into the batter. Refrigerate the dough for 15-30 minutes before scooping the cookies.

Use a 2-tablespoon sized scoop or two spoons to drop the dough onto the baking sheets (it will be too wet to actually handle with your hands), then sprinkle with a bit of fleur de sel or sea salt. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes or so. Allow to cool completely before removing from the sheets. Also delicious warm if you can't wait.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


If you follow the goings on of the Tuesdays with Dorie bakers, you know these are supposed to be mini madeleines. But you also know I have a hard time following instructions.

I had something of a madeleine epiphany a while back when I mentioned my disgust with my silicone madeleine pan to my friend Kayte, and she gently referred me to her seminal post on madeleines (you can find it here). She won the blue ribbon at the county fair for her madeleines, and the post she wrote was the equivalent of a thesis on the delightful little cakes made famous by Proust. She eschews all mad pans other than the classic tinned steel, and I promptly bought two and donated my silicone madeleine pan to Goodwill.

These were a last minute project before work this morning and took longer than I thought they would. Of course, everything is taking longer now that I have my buddy with me again:

So yeah, I needed a little something something to cheer me up today. I was a bit preoccupied, and when the recipe said "whisk," I put the whisk attachment on my hand mixer and beat the poor batter like crazy. Oh, and I forgot to add the butter until the very end. But I buttered and floured my pans to the extreme and my exceedingly fluffy but bumpless madeleines popped right out of their pan. They were light, fluffy, crispy on the outside and did I mention they were fluffy? Nothing at all like the dense madeleines you may be used to from your neighborhood coffee shop.

This week's first recipe was selected by another buddy, Di of Di's Kitchen Notebook. I play Words with Friends with Di, and every once in a while she feels sorry for me and lets her eldest daughter fill in for her so I stand a chance of winning a game. If you'd like the recipe for these madeleines, Di has it for you here.

This week's second recipe was chosen by Valerie of Une Gamine dans la Cuisine. She chose Fall Butternut Squash Pie, which I'm sorry I didn't get to. Her pie is GORGEOUS. You can find it here.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lemon Cheesecake Bars

My recent windfall of Meyer lemons paid another dividend when I decided to adapt a recipe I originally saw on Tracey's Culinary Adventures. Tracey made hers with caramel but they were screaming to me to be the destination for my leftover lemon curd.

The recipe is from Alice Medrich's book Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy, which I own, but as with so many of my cookbooks I needed Tracey to point me to the right recipe. This is one of my favorite crust recipes, more like a thick batter that you spread in the pan rather than struggling with crumbly pastry. I use a piece of plastic wrap to tease it into place.

For me, cheesecake and lemon are a natural together as so many classic cheesecake recipes call for lemon zest. These bars, with their easy crust and no nonsense filling, are super simple. With the lemon curd swirled in they were delicious. The lemon was a lovely surprise in the creamy filling, with the crisp, buttery crust coming together in the perfect bite.

Lemon Cheesecake Bars - adapted from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy, thanks to Tracey
Printer-friendly recipe

14 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1/2 cup (3.5 oz) sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups (9 oz) all-purpose flour

1 cup lemon curd (homemade or jarred)
1 1/2 lbs cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup (1.75 oz) sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon Fiore di Sicilia (optional)
2 large eggs, at room temperature

To make the crust: Preheat oven to 350 F with a rack in the lower third of the oven. Line a 13x9 baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang so you can lift the bars out after they've baked. If using foil, spray it with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine the melted butter, sugar, vanilla and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the flour until just incorporated - the mixture will be soft, that's fine. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking pan and press into an even layer on the bottom of the pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Let cool completely. Turn the oven down to 325 F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl then add the sugar and vanilla, beating until smooth and creamy, about 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating just until incorporated and scraping down the sides of the bowl in between. Pour the cheesecake batter over the cooled crust and spread evenly.

Dollop the lemon curd over the filling. Use a knife to gently swirl the lemon curd into the cheesecake mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the edges are puffed and the center is just barely set.

Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let come to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but preferably 24. Use the sling to lift the bars out of the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into squares with a long sharp knife. The bars can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Mine weren't in an airtight container and they cracked but were still delicious.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Honey Pecan Scones

Just like a book you read which you come to with no expectations yet end up falling in love with, these scones are a sleeper hit. I made a couple of changes, used my favorite easy mixing technique, and they were a knockout. Absolutely a top three scone, maybe top two.

I might never have gotten around to making these if Jeannette at The Whimsical Cupcake hadn't chosen them for Tuesdays with Dorie. I made them when the November recipes were first announced, and I've been craving one ever since. Try them and you will to.

Honey Pecan Scones - adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours
Printer-friendly recipe

1 large egg
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup cold whole milk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Lightly flour a counter.

Stir the egg, honey and milk together in a measuring cup or small bowl and set aside.

Measure the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Drop in the butter and mix on low speed until the mixture is pebbly. With the mixer on low, pour in the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix until the mixture is not quite combined. You should have some streaks of flour but no pools of milk. Stir in the chopped pecans with a spatula. The flour should now be almost entirely worked in though streaks are fine (better in fact than no streaks).

Turn the dough onto your lightly floured counter and shape it into a circle about 1" high. Using a 2" biscuit or cookie cutter, cut out the scones, dipping the cutter in flour before each cut and making each cut close to the previous one; place on the baking sheet. Gently gather the scraps together and cut out the remaining scones. You should have about 12 scones.

Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the tops are deeply golden and firmish to the touch. Transfer them to a wire rack. Best served warm, still delicious at room temperature.

Note: My favorite way to make scones is to cut them out, put them on baking sheets, wrap well with plastic wrap and freeze them. To bake, place a few on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake them, still frozen, for 20 minutes.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lemon Curd Ice Cream

I've been doing a lot of lemon desserts since a friend at work gave me a bunch of her ginormous end-of-crop Meyer lemons. They sat in my fridge for a couple of weeks before I decided what I wanted to make with them, but I've been making up for lost time ever since.

I started by making lemon curd using my favorite recipe (you can find it here). I made a double recipe, so I had plenty of luscious lemon curd to play with. First up were lemon curd scones and now this ice cream.

Some people confine ice cream to the warmer months (I lean in this direction myself), but others enjoy it year round. That's great news since lemons are a winter fruit and it would be a shame to miss out on this ice cream because the seasons don't cooperate with the fruit.

This ice cream starts with a basic custard, to which you add lemon curd. Yowza, how great does that sound? I doubled the amount of lemon curd since what is lemon curd but a custard with lemon in it, and what is vanilla ice cream but a custard? The mad scientist in me thought of dumping the entire bowl of lemon curd in the ice cream maker but I resisted. Maybe next time.

I heard about this ice cream from some of my Twitter buddies. Kayte was almost in a state of rapture (she L-O-V-E-S lemon). I read Tracey's post about it, and she loved it, then Margaret raved about it. Three for three, so I simply had to make it, even though fall weather had definitely arrived.

When I made it, I didn't read the recipe before I made it and thought it was a typo that the cream wasn't added with the milk, so I tossed it in too. So I missed the part of the recipe where you're supposed to whip the cream and add it to the chilled custard. And it was so fabulous that I'll do it exactly the same way next time I make it. I can't imagine it being any lighter or creamier.

The true test of how good this was is that we have chocolate gelatto in the freezer, and this lemon ice cream is the one we go for every time. Yes, it's that good.

Lemon Curd Ice Cream (adapted from Murphy's Ice Cream Book of Sweet Things by way of Tracey's Culinary Adventures)
2/3 cup/130 g sugar
5 egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/2 cup lemon curd
zest of one lemon

Bring the milk and cream to a low simmer in a saucepan. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale yellow. Temper the eggs by pouring in the milk in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly.

Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and place over low heat. Stir continuously until the custard thickens slightly and just coats the back of a spoon (about 170 F). Immediately remove pan from the heat.

Add the lemon curd and lemon zest to the warm custard, stirring to incorporate fully. Cover the custard with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Remove the custard from the refrigerator and strain it to remove the lemon zest (unless you like it in there). Churn mixture in ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. The ice cream will still be fairly soft after churning so transfer it to a freezer-proof container and freeze until solid.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Making Jam at Happy Girl Kitchen

There are many benefits to living in Northern California. There's the fabulous weather, stunning scenery, lively food scene, numerous farmers markets, and countless small businesses that use the abundant produce that is grown here, much of it organic.

I enjoyed a muesli with maple yogurt and a Blue Bottle Coffee latte before the workshop

I discovered one of these businesses when I went to Pacific Grove last month. Happy Girl Kitchen is a cafe with a difference: the business is focused on sustainable practices and is single-handedly trying to revive the art of preserving the harvest. Jordan and Todd partner with local family farms, connecting the harvest with home preservation advocates. To further their efforts, they offer canning workshops. Five hours long, attendees learn several recipes hands-on, and get to take home a couple of jars of each recipe they make. They throw in a delicious lunch to boot.

Jordan uses the oven to make the apple butter, eliminating hours of stirring

Happy Girl recently opened a store in San Francisco's Ferry Building, yet all of the products they sell there, in Pacific Grove, and the farmers markets they sell at are made in a relatively small kitchen in their Pacific Grove location. It was here that I recently attended a workshop on apples, quince and pears. We learned how to make apple butter, apple chutney, quince jelly and can pears in a honey syrup.

Many hands make light work - ten of us were able to cut up pounds of quince in minutes

One of the reasons I've never canned is I'm afraid I'd do it wrong and kill someone. It turns out I'm not alone in that fear, but there's not too much danger of that if you follow some simple rules. We learned the importance of having a perfectly clean rim on the jar (a tiny bit of fruit or an herb interferes with the sealing of the lid), of processing the filled jars in a hot water bath for a long enough time to heat the center of the jar to a safe temperature.

Even the quince cores are used for their pectin. Wrapped in a cloth, they boil with the fruit.

Quince were new for me, and although they have a lovely aroma, they are tough to love. They're a bit wooly on the outside, and taste a bit too tangy. They're best when cooked and they are ideal for jelly. Jordan told us how to make membrillo with the quince pulp after we cooked it down and strained the juice for the jelly. She even let us take it home so we could make membrillo ourselves.

Straining the pulp to extract all the juice to for the quince jelly

That was something I enjoyed about my day at Happy Girl. When Jordan grabbed a jar of pickled beets to serve with lunch, she poured out the pickling liquid, ditto with the bread and butter pickled zucchini. The mixture smelled amazing, and Jordan explained that she'd save it for making a vinaigrette. At Happy Girl, they strive to use, and reuse, everything they can. Food scraps and paper products are composted so very little goes to waste.

The whole time we were there, Jordan was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable ambassador for canning. She encouraged us to experiment with herbs and spices by dividing a batch in several parts so that if something wasn't successful, you haven't spoiled the whole batch.

We've already sampled the pears (preserved in a bath of honey syrup with a cinnamon stick) and the quince jelly, and both were fabulous. Even the quince pulp (for the membrillo) was delicious. If the byproducts of the canning process are delicious, what's stopping me from taking up this almost lost art? Not a thing now that I know how to do it without victims.

I plan to make the trek to Pacific Grove in a few weeks for another canning workshop. Jordan and Todd will be doing one more tomato workshop and I plan to be there to learn to make their fabulous salsa.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Rant (with a Side of Cream Biscuits)

Even though I come from Florida, the land south of the South, when I was a child no self respecting cook would be without a box of Bisquick. As far as I knew, that was where biscuits came from, period. Home cooks (mostly moms in those days) had been freed from the enslavement of preparing food "from scratch" and convenience products, frozen dinners and instant breakfast (and orange juice!) were all the rage. I didn't know food came from another source that wasn't a can.

Having knocked out the basic biscuits from Baking From My Home to Yours just before my morning shower, I can scarcely understand the appeal of "instant" biscuit mix. How much more instant can it be compared to measuring out flour, salt, baking powder, butter and milk? We all fooled ourselves back then by saying things tasted just as good as homemade, but does any kid long for their mom's frozen waffles?

When I saw that Jennifer of Cooking for Comfort had selected these biscuits for Tuesdays with Dorie, I didn't intend to write a screed about convenience foods, but I can't help myself. As a society, the US has an appalling rate of obesity among children (and adults) and convenience foods aren't helping us. For all the bad press butter got even a few years ago, it turns out it's healthier for us than margarine (shudder) or that stuff in the tub. Eggs, shunned because they have cholesterol, aren't bad for us at all, and we're now told we can include them in a healthy diet. It turns out that food, the real stuff that we buy and cook ourselves, is good for us, even when it contains things we once thought were bad for us. That's because our bodies seem to find it easier to process things that are food rather than things born in a chemistry lab.

Convenience foods frequently contain ingredients that aren't nutritive, but they give the products the shelf life of plutonium. If I pull some lettuce out of the fridge that got neglected and turned brown and icky, I expect that. When I let some engineered dreck sit on the shelf for two years, then I open it and it tastes just as it would have two years earlier, that's a little scary.

I know people are busy, I get that. I am too, in fact I work two jobs myself, one of which is VERY full time. I'd rather make my own convenience foods and freeze them than buy engineered anything, so when I made these biscuits (which were great, I may have forgotten to mention that) I put a bunch in the freezer. One day when we're having chili or soup or an omelette for breakfast, I'll pull a few out of the freezer and bake them fresh. The house will smell amazing, they'll taste amazing, and all will be good in our world.

Now that's a convenience food.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Lemon Curd Scones

The old saying that necessity is the mother of invention was definitely at work for these scones. Inspired by my favorite DISCONTINUED scone at Peet's Coffee, they make use of that extra lemon curd lurking in your fridge. What, you don't have a problem with leftover lemon curd taking up valuable space? Me neither, which is why I made my go-to recipe (you can find it here) the night before I made these, but a good quality jarred lemon curd would be just fine.

My favorite Peet's lemon scone had a lemon icing, which I made, but I served some with a dollop of lemon curd instead. They were yummy and lemony without being too sweet. For me, the secret of a good drizzle is to cut out as much sugar as possible. I hate it when the taste of the sugar overtakes the flavor of the lemon.

Things you should know if you make these:
  • Flour your board (or counter) liberally as the dough is VERY wet and sticky.
  • I use Ina Garten's mixer method to mix my scones, but you could use a pastry blender, two forks or your fingers if you prefer.
  • Don't mix the dough until it's combined, stop when it still looks a little clumpy and floury. 
  • Use a bowl scraper to transfer the dough to your WELL FLOURED work surface. Then flour the bowl scraper and use it to press the dough into a circle that's about 1 1/2 inches thick.
  • I like to cut my scones with a 2" biscuit cutter (flour it before each cut) but you can cut your dough into wedges if you like triangular scones (I find the triangular ones too large).
  • Brush the scones with a little cream before baking for a nicer finish, but that's unnecessary if you glaze them.

Lemon Curd Scones
Printer-friendly recipe

1 egg
1/3 cup cream
1/2 cup lemon curd
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes
Extra cream for brushing (optional)
Lemon glaze (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, a silicon baking mat, or butter it lightly. Set aside.
In large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together and set aside.

In a small mixing bowl or 2 cup measure, beat together the egg, cream and lemon curd and set aside.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, drop the butter into the flour mixture and mix on low speed until the mixture resembles a combination of oat flakes and pea-sized pieces of butter. Still on low speed, pour in the liquid mixture and mix until flour is mostly worked in. Turn off mixer, and with a few swipes of a spatula, mix in any flour remaining on the bottom of the bowl. Dough will be very wet!

Flour a counter liberally and coax your dough onto the floured surface (a plastic bowl scraper is ideal for this). Flour your hands and/or the bowl scraper, and gently pat the mound into a somewhat cohesive disk about 1 1/2" high. Flour a 2" biscuit cutter and cut out scones, flouring your biscuit cutter before each cut. Place each on the prepared baking sheet. Brush with cream if desired.

Bake the scones for about 20 minutes (check after 18 minutes if your oven runs hot), until they are nicely browned. When cool, spoon on the glaze and serve immediately.

Lemon Glaze

Juice of 1 lemon
Approximately 2 cups of powdered sugar

Combine lemon juice and 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar in a bowl, stirring and mashing any lumps until the glaze is smooth. Add additional powdered sugar to get the desired consistency. Set aside until scones have cooled, then spoon on to scones.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Apple Pecan Muffin Cake

Few things are more evocative of autumn than the smell of apples cooking, warm with cinnamon. The smell that wafted from the oven when I made this made me want to pull out the fall coats (such as they are in northern California) and warm sheets. Even better, we had our first seasonal rain as I was baking this cake, and the gentle sound of the rain reinforced the feeling. Fall is here, and this cake is the perfect way to celebrate.

I mixed up the recipe a bit, doubling it as I usually do, and I omitted the raisins. Not a fan, and I didn't think dried cherries would be as good. The cake came together easily, the crust was crusty and the center fluffy, just like a terrific muffin. The flavor was delicious and the pecans made it extra special. A few ideas if you make these (Katrina has the recipe for you here):
  • I like to measure the brown sugar into the bowl, break up the lumps, then add the rest of the dry ingredients
  • I substituted quick cooking Irish oats since that's what I had
  • I omitted the almond extract and added 1/2 tablespoon of boiled cider (which I ordered from King Arthur Flour) for extra apple flavor
  • Toast your nuts for extra flavor
  • Although I didn't go in this direction, this cake would be great made with white whole wheat flour replacing all or some of the all-purpose flour
  • I almost added chopped candied ginger but I was afraid my tasters wouldn't like it
  • Add the apples, nuts and dried fruit (if using) before all the wet and dry ingredients are incorporated to help avoid over mixing

Katrina of Baking and Boys selected this recipe from Baking From My Home to Yours as this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe. I haven't posted for TWD in a long time, though I've baked along. I was home from work early to the other day, and realized with a thrill that I could bake for TWD and post on time. That's what people who aren't working 12 hour days do. Note to self...come home early more often!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Brown Butter + Cinnamon = Killer Cookie

Yes, I know. I've been gone a few weeks, but I'm back. A hectic month at work kept me away. Out of the kitchen? No way.

These dangerous cookies and a comment from my dear friend Margaret were what it took to get me back to blogging. They start with one of my favorite ingredients, brown butter. Now, when I make brown butter, I'm not content with some lightly colored solids at the bottom of my pan and pale butter. No, I take it to dark brown solids and a very brown butter. I think you get more of the brown butter flavor that way. They contain no chocolate or nuts so they're perfect for those who don't like "things" in their cookies.

These cookies were inspired by the Cook's Illustrated recipe for Brown Sugar Cookies, but I took them in an entirely different direction. They're easy, don't require you to have room temperature butter (a perfect last-minute cookie), and there's no chopping involved. Sweet! You can start the butter, and then measure the other ingredients while the browned butter is cooling. I scooped them out, left for two hours before I baked them, and they were fine.

Lethally Delicious Cinnamon Cookies
Printer-friendly recipe

14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks), divided
1 3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar (12 1/4 ounces)
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour (about 10 1/2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (table salt is fine, too)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk

Heat 10 tablespoons butter in a deep medium saucepan over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring with a heat proof spatula until the butter is medium to dark brown and has a nutty aroma, 3 - 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and transfer browned butter to a large heatproof bowl. Stir in the remaining butter into hot butter to melt; and set aside for 15 minutes.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together in medium bowl and set aside.

Add the brown sugar to the bowl with the butter and mix until no sugar lumps remain, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of bowl with a rubber spatula; add egg and egg yolk and mix until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl. Add flour mixture and mix until just combined, about 1 minute. Give dough final stir with rubber spatula to ensure that no flour pockets remain and ingredients are evenly distributed.

Scoop out the dough into 24 portions, and set on prepared baking sheet, spacing dough about 2 inches apart, 12 dough balls per sheet.

Bake one sheet at a time until cookies are browned and still puffy and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft (cookies will feel well formed on the edge but centers will still be soft), 12 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Do not overbake.

Cool cookies on baking sheet 5 minutes; then transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely (they are also delicious slightly warm).

Monday, August 15, 2011

German Chocolate Ice Cream

What do you get when you combine toasted coconut and pecans, deep, dark chocolate, cream and eggs?

German chocolate ice cream. Not the ooey gooey confection that sits on the eponymous cake, but an irresistible bowl of crunchy, chewy, chocolaty goodness.

My friend Margaret of Tea and Scones talked me into making this ice cream with her. The original recipe called for German chocolate, which I don't have because it's just too sweet for me, so I substituted semisweet. Margaret suggested toasting the coconut (she didn't but thought it would enhance the coconut's flavor). I was hesitant to use whole eggs in a "custard" but since you strain and process the custard in the blender, the risk of cooked egg bits was close to zero. I might try making this with all egg yolks next time to get an even more luscious ice cream.

Because of the straining, blending and multiple bowls and appliances required for this one, it isn't a low maintenance dessert but I think you'll agree it's worth it.

German Chocolate Ice Cream - adapted from Blue Ridge Mountain Ice cream Maker Store
Printer-friendly recipe
4 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup sweetened flaked coconut, toasted
½ cup toasted chopped pecans

Make an ice bath: fill a large mixing bowl with ice water and place a 2 quart bowl on top, resting in the ice bath. Set aside.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave on medium, stirring every ten seconds or so, or in the top of a double boiler. In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the cream, milk and sugar. Cook until bubbles form around the edge and mixture is warm to the touch. 

Whisk the eggs in a small bowl and slowly whisk in several spoonfuls of the hot milk mixture to the eggs to gradually warm them, then slowly add the rest of the hot milk, whisking constantly. Add the mixture to the same saucepan and continue to cook over low heat, whisking constantly. Mixture will thicken slightly and reach a temperature of 160 degrees on a candy thermometer. Stir in the warm melted chocolate and vanilla. 

Pour the mixture into the bowl in the ice bath to cool the mixture. When cool, pour the mixture through a strainer into a 1 quart measuring cup and then into the container of a blender, cover and process until well combined. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to freeze. 

Pour into the ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer's instructions for freezing. Just before the ice cream is completely frozen, stir in the 3 coconut and pecans and stir to combine ingredients. Transfer to a container and freeze until ready to serve.

Makes about 1 quart

*******PLEASE NOTE: Lethally Delicious is on hiatus for the month of Ramadan. I will be responding to comments but not keeping up with my Google Reader or visiting bloggers other than those who leave comments. I'll be back around August 31st with a spirit refreshed by this blessed month of fasting and prayer. Peace.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Carrot Spice Muffins/Cocoa Meringues

The Tuesdays with Dorie bakers have been exploring Baking From My Home to Yours one recipe at a time since January 2008. With the majority of the recipes in the cookbook chosen up to this point, one would expect the remainder to be the less desirable ones.

Not so. Last week, we had a light, easy cocoa meringue cookie made with almond meal and peppered with chocolate chips. It was knock-your-socks-off delicious, too good to eat just one, wildly popular with everyone who had one. Mike of Ugly Food For an Ugly Dude chose this one and I am forever grateful. I probably never would have made this one on my own even though there is a photo in the book and I love chocolate. These were fantastic and I'll definitely make them again.

This week, my buddy Nancy of The Dogs Eat the Crumbs picked the carrot spice muffins, an erstwhile morning glory that I made with carrots, pecans, coconut and dried cherries. I was excited to make these and made them the day after the recipes for this month were announced. Muffins are usually easy to put together as they require minimal mixing, but these were a little labor intensive. I shredded the carrots in my food processor, and toasted the coconut and nuts in the oven while I measured the wet and dry ingredients.

I normally double most recipes since I take most everything in to work but this time I made the recipe as written. When I make muffins from this book, I always get a higher yield than Dorie specifies in the recipe. With this recipe, I forced myself to pile all the batter into 12 muffin cups and was rewarded with 12 large, perfectly baked muffins. They were crunchy on the outside and moist and flavorful inside, all elements of a perfect muffin in my book. And they were great the following day, and the day after that. Definitely a repeater around here. Nancy has the recipe for you here.

*******PLEASE NOTE: Lethally Delicious is on hiatus for the month of Ramadan. I will be responding to comments but not keeping up with my Google Reader or visiting bloggers other than those who leave comments. I'll be back around August 31st with a spirit refreshed by this blessed month of fasting and prayer. Peace.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Revisiting My Dirty Little Secret

Back when I first told you (and showed! yikes!) my dirty little secret, I can admit now that I was frightened and overwhelmed by the prospect of where to start. It seemed so daunting. I was paralyzed.

If the longest journey starts with a single step, then the messiest pantry clean up starts with a single shopping bag.


That's right. It was the little shelf stuffed with shopping bags that got me off the sofa and into toss it/give it/use it mode. I literally couldn't jam one more shopping bag into the narrow vertical shelf most use for storing cookies sheets but I use for shopping bags. One weekend afternoon, I looked at it with exasperation and thought "Enough is enough!" I pulled them all out and piled them on the ottoman, then I sat down and got brutally honest with myself.

What exactly am I planning? To be nomadic, with all our possessions in shopping bags? I hope not, but the truth is even if we were, there's a limit to how many we can carry at one time. I love seeing the shopping bag from the duty free shop in the New Delhi airport, the one from the grocery store in Gilleleje, Denmark. Multiples from bakeries, chocolate shops, and cookware stores both here and abroad. They bring back memories. It would be one thing if I used them, but I seldom do. Ruthlessly, I cut handles off, recycled paper bags, and limited myself to just one or two of my favorites (Pierre Herme, Laduree and La Maison du Chocolat). The rest - gone. Bye bye.

The resulting look of order and restraint in that little slot in my big pantry was an epiphany. IF I DO MORE OF THAT, THE WHOLE PANTRY COULD BE TRANSFORMED!

So I did, and still am.

It's a work in progress, but everything is off the floor, unused serving pieces have a new home at the thrift store or Salvation Army, and like things now live together.

I did the majority Sunday evening of the July 4th weekend, and I stood there for about half an hour staring at the transformed space. Don't get me wrong, there's still work to be done, but I can easily get to things. I don't have to move the stack of bundt pans and a large serving tray to access the sheets of parchment paper.

Baking is now easier, packing lunches is easier and I'm not embarrassed any more when someone comes over and the pantry door is open. There aren't enough shopping bags to contain the great feelings I got from doing this.

Another benefit of my pantry epiphany is it carried over to the kitchen cabinets. I used to collect old Spode china, and I still had several sets that I never use because it doesn't go in the dishwasher, yet my formal china was still in boxes in the garage where it had lived since it was boxed up for the kitchen renovation. I felt ready to let go of this beautiful old china so it could be enjoyed by someone who would use it. That made enough space to bring in our formal china.

A few things I learned:

  • I had eight shopping bags from some stores, mostly small or impractical shapes. I kept the two I was most likely to use and recycled the rest.
  • We rarely entertain large scale because our home is small. The large serving dishes I had for that once-in-a-decade party were taking up valuable real estate. I can borrow from friends the next time we have 30 people over.
  • Keep the things you use all the time in a convenient spot. I put my steel cut oatmeal (fabulous overnight recipe here) in wide mouth Mason jars, but stashed the jars way back in the pantry and frequently knocked them over when reaching for other things. They're now in a cabinet, directly over the spot where I prepare my oatmeal each week.
  • Consider how you use your kitchen. I bake a lot, so having a variety of mixing bowls easily accessible is more important to me than a variety of sippy cups, but if you have kids, put the sippy cups directly over where you prep your child's drinks.
  • If letting go of something you've collected is hard, keep one or two pieces that you particularly prize and let the rest go with love. Imagine someone's thrill at finding that perfect object they've been searching for. I kept one place setting from one of my sets, and a simple square luncheon plate from the other. 
  • When you're packing things up and letting go of something just feels wrong, allow yourself to keep it. Just don't feel that way over every single object. When I was boxing up my Spode, I couldn't make myself give up the third set. It turned out that was the favorite of the seven patterns (yes, seven) that I used to collect. I couldn't bear to let it go, so I didn't. I may at some point decide I'm ready but for now I look forward to using it on weekends when I don't mind hand washing as much.

Because I didn't acquire this stuff in a day, the pantry won't get cleaned in a weekend. This is a project that, for me, has to be done over time. I still have two ice cream makers and more containers for storing leftovers than any three families can use. Those things will change in time, but for now I am thrilled to open the pantry door, reach for something, and not have to cover my head. We'll revisit the pantry when it's done. And now if you'll excuse me, I want to go sneak another peak.

*******PLEASE NOTE: Lethally Delicious is on hiatus for the month of Ramadan. I will be responding to comments but not keeping up with my Google Reader or visiting bloggers other than those who leave comments. I'll be back around August 31st with a spirit refreshed by this blessed month of fasting and prayer. Peace.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Daring Bakers - Fraisier

Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine.

I completely changed my approach this month, not just making the recipe (the first I've made since March) but making it EARLY in the month. Thanks to the long weekend for Independence Day, I got this baby done early. I think we need a long weekend every month.

It was stinking hot here that weekend, and the thought of turning on the oven filled me with dread. So I made the lemon chiffon cake layer before the sun was up when I could have the window open and the fan bringing in what little cooler air there was. And that's when I ran into a problem.

Let me just say I think Daring Bakers needs to have a reading skills test for new bakers. I read the recipe carefully and REPEATEDLY and saw "8" cake pan" every time. Except the time when I read it as I was about to prepare my 8" cake pan. Whuuutt, 8" springform pan?!?!? Who changed the recipe on me??

I have three springform pans, none of them 8". So do I make it in a 9" (have two of those) or the 8" cake pan? Since it's a chiffon cake, with parchment in the bottom I figured it would be easy to get out of the pan, so I went with the 8" cake pan. (Why I didn't think of my 8x8 with 3" sides I'll never know, but a square frasier would have been cool). Then I realized the 8" springform was so all the cake batter would fit in the same pan. So I quickly prepped two 4" springform pans and scooped the excess batter into them and baked the 8" for a few minutes less than the recipe called for, and it was glorious, puffy and lightly browned.

Other than the pan trauma, the recipe was uneventful. The pastry cream was easy. I made my simple syrup with POG (passion fruit-orange-guava juice) to temper the sweetness of the fruit. Loved the technique of lining the ring from a springform with plastic wrap before assembling the fraisier. Assembly was not a big deal, no trauma, nothing to mar my enjoyment of making this lovely dessert. I did bypass the thin topping of almond paste because, well, I hate the stuff. So my fraisier is no doubt less beautiful as a result, but it's something I enjoyed eating. So much so that I took the leftovers to work.

This was a fun challenge, and a recipe that I imagine I'll return to in the future, but with different fruit. Thanks, Jana, for a great recipe that even I could make!

Basic Chiffon Cake:

1 cup + 2 tablespoons (270 ml) (5½ oz/155 gm) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (4 gm) baking powder
3/4 cups (180 ml) (6 oz /170 gm) sugar
1/2 teaspoon (2½ ml) (1½ gm) salt, preferably kosher
1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) vegetable oil
3 large egg yolks
⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon (3.17 fl oz/95 ml) water
1 teaspoon (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon (3¾ ml) (3 gm) lemon zest, grated
5 large egg whites
¼ teaspoon (1¼ ml) (1 gm) cream of tartar
  1. Preheat the oven to moderate 325°F (160°C/gas mark 3).
  2. Line the bottom of an 8-inch (20 cm) spring form pan with parchment paper. Do not grease the sides of the pan.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour and baking powder. Add in all but 3 tablespoons (45 ml.) of sugar, and all of the salt. Stir to combine.
  4. In a small bowl combine the oil, egg yolks, water, vanilla and lemon zest. Whisk thoroughly.
  5. Combine with the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly for about one minute, or until very smooth.
  6. Put the egg whites into a stand mixer, and beat on medium speed using a whisk attachment on a medium speed, until frothy. Add cream of tartar and beat on a medium speed until the whites hold soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining sugar and beat on a medium-high speed until the whites hold firm and form shiny peaks.
  7. Using a grease free rubber spatula, scoop about ⅓ of the whites into the yolk mixture and fold in gently. Gently fold in the remaining whites just until combined.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  9. Removed the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the pan on a wire rack.
  10. To unmold, run a knife around the sides to loosen the cake from the pan and remove the spring form sides. Invert the cake and peel off the parchment paper. Refrigerate for up to four days.

Variations to the Basic Chiffon Cake:

Lemon Chiffon Cake

Ingredient Alterations:
Reduce water to 1/4 cup (60 ml)
Add 1/8 cup (30 ml) lemon juice
Increase lemon zest to 1½ teaspoon (7½ ml) (5 gm)
Remove the vanilla from the recipe
Direction Alterations:
Follow the directions, same as above, adding the lemon juice and zest to the oil, egg yolks and water in step 4.

Orange Chiffon Cake

Ingredient Alterations:
Replace the full amount of water with orange juice
Replace lemon zest with the zest of one orange
Remove the vanilla from the recipe
Direction Alterations:
Follow the directions, same as above, adding the orange juice and zest to the oil, and egg yolks in step 4.

Coconut Chiffon Cake

Ingredient Alterations:
Add ¼ teaspoon (1¼ ml) (1 gm) freshly ground nutmeg
Reduce oil to 1/8 cup (1 fl oz/30ml)
Reduce water to 1/8 cup (1 fl oz/30ml)
Add 1/3 cup (2 ⅔fl oz/80 ml) unsweetened coconut milk
Remove the vanilla from the recipe
Direction Alterations:
Follow the directions, same as above, adding the nutmeg to the flour mixture in step 3, and the coconut milk to the oil, water and egg yolks in step 4.

Chocolate Chiffon Cake

Ingredient Alterations:
Reduce all-purpose flour to ¾ cup + 1 tablespoon (195 ml) (4 oz/110 g)
Add 1/4 cup (60 ml) (3/4 oz/20 g) cocoa powder
Direction Alterations:
Follow the directions, same as above, adding the cocoa to the flour mixture in step 3.

Pastry Cream Filling:

1 cup (8 fl oz/250 ml) whole milk
1/2 teaspoon (2½ ml) pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon (1/2 ml) (¼ gm) salt, preferably kosher
2 tablespoons (30 ml) (10 gm)cornstarch
1/4 cup (60 ml) (2 oz/55 gm) sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons (30 ml) (1 oz/30 gm) unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon (3¾ ml) (4 gm) gelatin
1/2 tablespoon (7½ ml) water
1 cup (8 fl oz/250 ml) heavy cream
  1. Pour the milk, vanilla, and salt into a heavy sauce pan. Place over medium-high heat and scald, bringing it to a near boiling point. Stir occasionally.
  2. Meanwhile, in a stand mixer add the cornstarch and sugar. Whisk to combine
  3. Add the eggs to the sugar and cornstarch and whisk until smooth.
  4. When the milk is ready, gently and slowly while the stand mixer is whisking, pour the heated milk down the side of the bowl into the egg mixture.
  5. Pour the mixture back into the warm pot and continue to cook over a medium heat until the custard is thick, just about to boil and coats the back of a spoon.
  6. Remove from heat and pass through a fine mesh sieve into a large mixing bowl. Allow to cool for ten minutes stirring occasionally.
  7. Cut the butter into four pieces and whisk into the pastry cream a piece at a time until smooth.
  8. Cover the cream with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic wrap onto the top of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in the refrigerator for up to five days.
  9. In a small dish, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let stand for a few minutes to soften.
  10. Put two inches (55 mm) of water into a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer over a medium heat.
  11. Measure 1/4 cup (2 oz/60 ml) of the chilled pastry cream into a small stainless steel bowl that will sit across the sauce pan with the simmering water, without touching the water.
  12. Heat the cream until it is 120 F (48.8 C). Add the gelatin and whisk until smooth. Remove from the water bath, and whisk the remaining cold pastry cream in to incorporate in two batches.
  13. In a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream until it holds medium-stiff peaks. Immediately fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream with a rubber spatula.

Simple Syrup:

You may choose to flavor the syrup. One way is to use flavored sugar (for example: apple cider sugarorange sugar, or vanilla sugar) or to stir in 1-2 teaspoons of flavored extract. You may also infuse with herbs or spices, if desired or add four tablespoons (60 ml) of fruit juice while the syrup is cooling.
1/3 cup (2⅔ fl oz/80 ml) (2⅔ oz/75 gm) of sugar, flavored or white
1/3 cup (2⅔ fl oz/80 ml) of water
  1. Combine the water and sugar in a medium saucepan.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil and let the sugar dissolve. Stirring is not necessary, but will not harm the syrup.
  3. Remove the syrup from the heat and cool slightly.
  4. Transfer syrup to a lidded container or jar that can be stored in the refrigerator. Simple syrup can be stored for up to one month.

Fraisier Assembly:

1 baked 8 inch (20 cm) chiffon cake
1 recipe pastry cream filling
⅓ cup (80 ml) simple syrup or flavored syrup
2 lbs (900 g) strawberries
confectioners’ sugar for dusting
½ cup (120 ml) (5 oz/140 gm) almond paste
  1. Line the sides of a 8-inch (20 cm) spring form pan with plastic wrap. Do not line the bottom of the pan.
  2. Cut the cake in half horizontally to form two layers.
  3. Fit the bottom layer into the prepared spring form pan. Moisten the layer evenly with the simple syrup. When the cake has absorbed enough syrup to resemble a squishy sponge, you have enough.
  4. Hull and slice in half enough strawberries to arrange around the sides of the cake pan. Place the cut side of the strawberry against the sides of the pan, point side up forming a ring.
  5. Pipe cream in-between strawberries and a thin layer across the top of the cake.
  6. Hull and quarter your remaining strawberries and place them in the middle of the cake. Cover the strawberries and entirely with the all but 1 tbsp. (15 ml) of the pastry cream.
  7. Place the second cake layer on top and moisten with the simple syrup.
  8. Lightly dust a work surface with confectioners' sugar and roll out the almond paste to a 10-inch (25 cm) round 1/16 inch (1.5 mm) thick. Spread the remaining 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of pastry cream on the top of the cake and cover with the round of almond paste.
  9. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
  10. To serve release the sides of the spring form pan and peel away the plastic wrap.
  11. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.