Monday, January 31, 2011

Shoofly Pie

A potluck was planned at my grandma's retirement home, to use up a turkey that had been in the freezer. Most of the other family members were offering to bring Thanksgiving-style side dishes, so when I was asked to bring dessert, my first thought was pie. Not to mention that I could also play along with the "use-up from the freezer" idea, as I still had a pie crust in my own freezer from making just a single pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.

In any case, I wasn't ready to head straight back to pumpkin or pecan, so I started looking for  a recipe just a little bit different, and decided on this Brandied Date and Walnut pie.

My coworker, who is much more of a "foodie" than I am, and is also a loyal reader and tester of Fine Cooking magazine, gave me a couple of issues as a holiday present. In the "Test Kitchen" section, I came across a technique for edging a pie crust that I'd never seen before; they call it "wheat." I think it's just lovely, and especially appropriate as a design for any pie representing the American Bounty that is Thanksgiving. I decided to try it, and it is perhaps the easiest decoration I've ever done.

The unbaked pie crust with "wheat" edge.
Unfortunately, I'd forgotten that this was an all-butter dough, and so it couldn't stand up to par-baking at all. Given the slouchy, shrunken (albeit flakey and delicious) crust I was left with, I decided to use it for a purpose other than taking to a potluck at my grandma's, and find a more flattering accompaniment.

The baked all-butter crust.

What happens to a butter crust design after the pastry shrinks and slouches during baking. But it's this very
puffing and browning that make the butter pastry so delectable and flakey.
I had already mixed up the brandied date and walnut filling, so I simply baked it in a Pillsbury crust. I combed through my saved recipe file for the pie that I've always wanted to try, but never really had an excuse to make, and found the perfect alternative: Shoofly Pie. I'd always known this name, but never really knew what it was until I heard a segment about it on The Splendid Table. I'd saved the recipe, but was disappointed to see that it called for filling an unbaked crust, and I already had a baked crust. However, when I cross-referenced the ingredients with the recipe in Joy of Cooking, they were identical, but for the par-baked crust. The recipe really couldn't be simpler, with only a few pantry-staple ingredients, so in the mixture went to the crust, and back into the oven.

Shoofly Pie
 It's a very curious thing. It's good, but not really anything I would crave. It doesn't have a sticky or too-sweet texture like I thought it might. But it doesn't have much depth or layers of flavor either. I would say it is a satisfying snack; it wouldn't necessarily be the right choice after or with a meal, but it's hearty enough that it stands alone for an afternoon pick-me-up and is good with black coffee.

Don't forget to serve with a dollop of cream!

Then I finished up with baking the date-walnut pie:

I think I could have given this a few more minutes to allow the center to set-up more; though I couldn't have known that by looking. When we went to slice it, the center was a little soft, so my slices came out pretty messy looking, but the texture was delicious and the flavor even more impressive. The brandy - unlike some alcohol infusions - didn't taste boozy at all, but rather gave it a distinctly spiced aroma... one of the tasters asked if the pie contained cardamom, and there was certainly a "something" that makes this pie a special memory. I will definitely make again. Don't forget to serve with freshly whipped cream!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Grandmother's 91st

Last year, my grandmother turned 90 years old, and it was a grand occasion for the family, because she wasn't sure she'd ever have another birthday. I went all-out on my cake for her. But now, another year later, she's fiestier than ever and the family gathered around her for another celebration to mark her 91st birthday.

She's always loved jewelry of all sorts, especially gold and diamonds, and much of her home decor has also followed gold and sparklingly elegant themes. So in determining a cake that would meet the standard set for her 90th birthday, I focused in on shimmery gold, and was handed the perfect concoction by The Cake Bible with "Golden Cage."

This is the photo from the cookbook The Cake Bible for the cake I wanted to make.

The cake itself is a rich, but light, sponge cake called "Golden Genoise." Genoise is a very versatile type of cake layer, which is usually soaked with sugar syrup or liqueur to flavor it and make it moist. This recipe however, uses 12 egg yolks - and no whites - so it is tender and flavorful on it's own, plus has a delightful golden color to match the theme.

The cake is frosted with an apricot buttercream, whose tangy sweetness plays deliciously with the rich sponge of the cake, and adds sparkling flecks of fruit to again enhance visual appeal. The cake is not high or imposing, but the one cake layer is cut in half and filled with the same apricot buttercream that the exterior is frosted with, so individual slices have an attractive profile and servings are just the right amount of dessert without being overwhelming.

The crowning glory of this cake - and it really is a crown - is the spun-sugar "cage" that placed over the finished frosted cake. The cake in the photo was baked in a 9-cup kugelhopf pan (which I don't have, but was going to use a 9-cup stainless-steel mixing bowl.) The pan is inverted and covered with foil and carmelized sugar is drizzeled over it until it hardens, and then the foil is peeled back to create a sugar dome. Sadly, I tried this three times with three separate recipes of carmelized sugar on two different days, and was not able to get it to work. The sugar is to be carmelized to 350-360 degrees, but not only does this make it much darker amber than in the photo, it also gives it a distinctly burnt taste. I was worried that  my thermometer was not giving me an accurate reading and that I actually had burnt the sugar, so I calibrated my themometer with boiling water and tried again. The taste and texture were the same. It is very hard to do this correctly in humid weather, and it is very hard to live in Seattle, especially in January, and not have humid weather. So it could be that my skill level and tools had nothing to do with my failure, but that I was doomed by geography. But I still wanted that sparkling gold architecture to honor my grandmother, so I tried again the next day and didn't cook the carmel as long. I stopped when the sugar was the color I wanted, a lovely amber, but this had an even stickier texture than the day before. It set, but it didn't crack like a good hard candy, nor could I successfully extract it from the foil liner. So, I had pieces of my cage, but not a complete dome, so before I baked the cake, I decided to make it in a regular sized pan (rather than the bowl) and just decorate the top wtih the sugar pieces, instead of entrapping it beneath a cage.

The cage I made which I couldn't get off the mold, hence broke into a single "topper" decoration.

Fortunately, the cake and buttercream were much more successful and delicious. They truly were an excellent complement to each other, so I've retyped the recipes below. Be sure to note that these are credited to Rose Levy Beranbaum. Also, note that the apricot buttercream is not completely smooth for making fine piped details, but it has a smooth finish on the cake, and the texture tastes very smooth when eaten with the crumb of the cake layer. She strains her apricot puree, but I've tried that before with other fruits like raspberry and it makes a mess I'm unwilling to repeat. My immersion blender created a smooth and even puree that I was comfortable mixing into my buttercream, so I left it at that step.

The finished cake presented to my grandmother.

Golden Genoise
From The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum

3.5 fluid ounces clarified browned butter (scant 1/2 cup, made from 9 tablespoons butter)
1 teaspoon vanilla
12 large egg yolks
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup sifted cake flour
3 tablespoons unsifted cornstarch
1/4 cup water

Grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan. {Note: I used a false bottom cake pan instead, and some of the butter melted out the bottom during baking; this would be less likely with a springform, so that is recommended, otherwise, wrap your pan in foil or use a drip pan in the oven.} Preheat oven to 350.
Warm the clarified butter utnil almost hot, add vanilla and keep warm.
In a large mixing bowl set over pan of simmering water, heat the yolks and sugar until almost hot to the touch, stirring constantly to prevent curdling. Using a beater, beat on high for 5 miunutes or until triple in volume.
Sift together flour and cornstarch. Decrease speed and beat water into egg mixture. Sift 1/2 flour mixture over eggs and fold in gently. Repeat with reamining flour until flour is completely mixed in. Fold in butter in two batches until just incorporated.
Pour immediately into prepared pan and bake 30-40 minutes until cake shrinks back from sides of pan. Unmold from pan and cool on rack.

Apricot Buttercream
from The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Apricot Puree2 cups packed dried apricots
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar

Soak apricots in water for two hours. Then simmer over low heat, tightly ocvered, for 20 minutes or until apricots are soft. Puree entire mixture, and press through a fine strainer. Stir in lemon juice and sugar to taste.

Creme Anglaise
1/2 cup sugar
5 large egg yolks
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Have ready a sieve suspended over a bowl, near the stove.
In a medium, heavy saucepan, combine sugar and yolks.
In a small saucepan, bring milk and vinalla to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons milk to the yolk mixture, stirring constantly. Gradually add remaining milk, stirring, and cook over medium-low until just below boiling... 170 degrees. Strain immediately, scraping up any clinging to the bottom of the pan. Cool.

1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 cups unsalted butter, softened

Have ready a heatproof glass measure near the stove.
In a small heavy saucepan, combine sugar and water. Heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat.
In a mixing bowl, beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Beat in remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until stiff peaks form.
Increase heat and boil syrup until 248-250 degrees. Immediately transfer syrup to glass measure to stop cooking.
Gradually beat syrup into the egg whites in a steady stream.

Beat butter in a large mixing bowl until creamy. Beat into the creme anglaise until smooth. Beat in the meringue until just incorporated. If it looks curdled, it it too cold. Allow to warm to 70 degrees before continuing to beat. Beat in one cup of apricot puree.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Goose Addendum: The Potatoes (and oh yeah, some Cranberry Cabbage)

This is a follow-up to the goose posting, because I have a foil pouch of leftovers in the freezer, and still 2 jars of goose fat yet in my fridge. That was after giving a huge pint jug to my mother, and using up another smaller jar here and there to saute different vegetables. In my goose-preparation-research, I found this article which contains a solid recipe along with an excellent introductory pep rally. My mom made delicious roast potatoes for Christmas Day dinner with some of the fat I gave her, but I know she didn't make them the way this recipe calls for, so I'd originally saved it to forward to her. Then I decided to simply try it myself, and that's what I did tonight. Because it was for just me and Will, I only used 2 small baking potatoes in a 9x5 Pyrex loaf pan. I started them off at 500 for 15 minutes, then turned the potatoes them and returned to the oven for 20 minutes, which I lowered to 425 (because I was adding something else to the oven). They, and my vegetable, came out at the same time, both perfectly done.

I probably used about 1/4 cup of fat for my two potatoes, which is less than called for, and I can probably cut it back a little more still. 

Like I said, I turned down the over because I had some other things to put in. After the potates were about half-way through their cooking time, I added the actual goose meat, defrosted, but simply wrapped in a sealed foil pouch. And because we were low on fresh produce due to heading out of town in a couple of days (we have green salad pretty much every night with dinner), I created this "cranberry cabbage" from what I had around. It came out so well that it definitely deserves its place here.

Cranberry Cabbage
Serves 2

thinly sliced cabbage (for two people, I used about two-inches worth sliced off the side of a small-medium head of green cabbage, then thinly sliced cross-wise)
leaves from 4 springs parsley
4 teaspoons dried cranberries (I soaked these in some of the boiling water I drained from the cooked potatoes - they don't have to be soaked, but since I had the time and the water already, I appreciated the softer texture the soaking gave them in this dish)
1/3 - 1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach (no need to thaw)
2 teaspoons olive oil

Toss everything together in a 9x5 glass baking dish. Bake 20 minutes until soft and starting to brown.

I added this to the oven when I turned it down from 500 to 425, but if I was starting from scratch, I'd probably put it in at 450. Obviously, I just used whatever I had around. I like to buy cabbage because it's something that keeps well so when it's getting to the end of other salad greens and vegetables, I still have some cabbage around to make for the green side without having to stop at the store. I usually keep frozen chopped spinach, because it can be added to so many sauces and stir frys straight from the freezer to add an extra level of green nutrition without necessarily even being noticed. It was perfect that way in this, and I think broccoli would work well here too. With the cranberries, this ended up being quite a flavorful and attractive side.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Have Chard, Will Travel

Some friends invited us to dinner, and when I asked what we could bring, my assignment was "side dish." She said they'd be making a Norwegian cod and potato casserole, and some soup or salad. In my mind, my choice was a vegetable, since the main dish would have protein and starch. It would need to be something hardy, so it could survive the transport to their house. My first thoughts were along the lines of cabbage, beets, cauliflower, and broccoli. Cabbage and cauliflower were ruled out as being too white, given that cod and potatoes are also white. Beets are too messy, and while I have a few tasty ways to do broccoli (soy, ginger, red pepper saute; mustard and parmesan bread crumbs) none seemed the appropriate accompaniment for Scandinavian fare. And given that I was unsure what the rest of the nutritional composition of the meal would be, I really wanted something green. Spinach, kale, and chard all seemed like good choices for a sturdy, healthy, color-contrasting side. So I started my recipe hunt.

For Christmas Eve, my mom had made a sizzly kale with deep-fried garbanzos. These epicurious recipes also gave me inspiration: Kale with Garlic and Cranberries, Swiss Chard with Beets, Goat Cheese, and Raisins, and I also remembered back to this summer when I sauteed some chard with peaches. Below is what I came up with, and how I was able to prepare it four hours in advance and have it still enjoyable for dinner. This has nice colors to add depth to the plate, and no strong herbal flavors to clash with other dishes.

Chard for the RoadServes 4-6
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon butter
2-3 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts (or pinenuts or walnuts)
1 small (or 1/2 a large) shallot, diced
1 bunch red chard, stems removed and diced, leaves chopped and reserved
4 crimini mushrooms
1/4 cup golden raisins (or dried cranberries)
salt to taste
diced hot pepper (I used 1/2 a serrano chili, crushed red pepper would be good)
splash of wine (I used red, but white or sherry or balsamic would be fine too)

Toast the nuts in 1 teaspoon butter in a large skillet until golden brown and fragrant. Watch carefully as they can burn easily. Remove and set aside to cool.

Melt remaining butter in the skillet over medium-low to medium heat and allow to deepen in color, browning some of the particles that sink. Then add the chopped shallot and chard stems. Sautee 5-7 minutes until softened. Add the mushrooms, chilis, raisins, and salt to taste and sautee over medium heat another 3-5 minutes. Don't fully cook it yet, but add a splash of wine or other liquid to deglaze the pan, turn heat up to high and stir continuously about one minute until liquid is absorbed/evaporated, then remove from heat. Refridgerate or chill to room temperature, then stir in the chopped chard leaves. Cover and keep cold.

When ready to serve, heat covered over medium heat, stirring periodically, until leaves are wilted, about 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle with nuts and serve.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Safari Shower Cake

A friend of mine who is expecting her first baby recently travelled to Africa to work for 5 weeks. Upon her return, her mom planned a baby shower in which all the guests would create one square to be quilted together into a blanket for the baby. The quilt's border fabric was adorable safari-themed prints, and most of the guests chose safari-themes and African animals to decorate our squares. When I was invited to make a cake for the shower, naturally I wanted to continue the safari theme.

I started by looking and photos both of animals and animal-shaped cakes to get ideas. I decided on a lion's head, because just doing the face (as opposed to the outline of the body in profile) for any animal fits with the shape of cake better and reduces waste. We were expecting over 20 people at the party, so I wanted a design that be fun and themeatic as well as ready to serve a crowd. Once I had my decorating ideas established, I had to choose a recipe for the actual cake. In searching for the designs, I had also come across the Zebra cake on a couple of different blogs. What more perfect and completely literal way to represent a lion cake than to have a zebra inside!?!

I found the recipe on multiple blogs and it all appeared in exactly the same ratios. While I am usually fairly comfortable making adjustments, given the special viscosity of the batter and how it rises, I was careful in how I altered the ingredients. The technique would probably work with some other batters, but they would still need to be liquid enough to spread evenly while having enough structure to rise. The King Arthur flour's blog does a great job of documenting the making of this cake and spelling out the recipe.

The make enough cake for 20 people, I wanted to do a two-layer cake, plus have enough to bake in a smaller pan to form the "nose" of the lion. So I made a double recipe, keeping the first batch as plain vanilla, and then making the second full batch just as chocolate. In both batches, I cut back the oil to 3/4 cup (from 1 cup) and found the cake to have ample moistness. With the chocolate, in an attempt to dress it up slightly, I replaced the milk in the second batch with buttermilk (a common ingredient in chocolate cakes), used 6 T dutch cocoa (as called for for a double-recipe), and since I had already cut back on the oil, I also added a couple tablespoons of chocolate syrup. While I enjoyed the cake layers quite a bit, the individual flavors and textures of the specific vanilla or chocolate stripes were not especially pronounced, and ultimately, I don't think my changes to the chocolate mix added anything to the finished product.

The batter is poured into quantities of about 3 tablespoons into the center of the pan to form concentric rings; the laws of cake physics are such that it spreads and rises to form excellent zebra stripes in each slice of baked cake!

The baked layer, top.
The baked layer, bottom (side touching the pan) - I found it interesting, though not
especially surprising, I guess, that the chocolate batter sunk to the bottom.
To assemble the cake, I trimmed the rounded top off one layer, and placed it face down on the platter. I filled it with both chocolate and vanilla buttercream, in smooth layers (visible in the second photo at top of this page). Then I placed the second layer with the rounded side up. Putting the bottom layer with the cut side to the platter made for a fun (though unplanned!) mirrored "book-matched" pattern in the slices. Atop the second layer, after crumb-coating the whole cake, I placed my lion's nose (baked in a 4-inch round pan.) The nice rounded rise of the baked cake made for perfect formation of the lion's facial features, I couldn't have built a better structure on my own.

The decorating in process, I added the nose as a guide, but then started with the mane.
For frosting, I have struggled with recipes for years, and every experienced baker I meet is asked for their personal favorite recipe. My tastes prefer sweet and sugar to buttery, but I don't want it to taste corn starchy or to be a straight sugar taste with no flavor to complement the cake. Many of the better tasting frostings I've found do not have enough structure to pipe into attractive decorations, or smooth to a silky flat finish. So there is both a taste and a texture component that is very hard to deliver. Chocolate frosting is generally easier, because much of the flavor and consistency can come from the chocolate itself, rather than a combination of butter and sweetner. But for this recipe, I was thrilled to find a buttercream that I actually liked the taste of and which was easy to work with. It held it's shape fabulously (the "mane" was draped over the edge of the cake and still hung just as it was piped for 4 days!) and it tasted like actual frosting instead of just like whipped, sweetened butter. The recipe is from The Cake Bible (from which I have extracted many frosting recipe dogs) and appears below (notes in brackets are mine):

Neoclassic Buttercreamby Rose Levy Beranbaum
6 large egg yolks (3.5 fluid ounces)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 liquid cup corn syrup
2 cups unsalted butter, softened
2-4 tablespoons liqueur or eau-de-vie of choice

Have ready a greased 1-cup heatproof glass measure near the stove.
In a bowl, beat eggs yolks with electric mixer until ight in color. Meanwhile, combine sugar and corn syrup in a small saucepan and heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves and syrup comes to a rolling boil. [The properties of corn syrup allow for this combination to boil at exactly the soft-ball stage necessary for the right consistency of frosting. There is no need to use a thermometer.] Immediatly transfer syrup to the glass measure to stop the cooking.

Beat the syrup into the yolks in a steady stream. Don't allow the syrup to fall on the beaters or they will spin it onto the sides of the bowl. If using a stand mixer [which I recommend] pour a small amount of syrup over the yolks with mixer off, then beat at high for 5 seconds and repeat, increasing amount of syrup.
Continue beating until completely cool. Gradually beat in the butter, and if desired any optional flavoring. [For the lion cake, I used 2 tablespoons vanilla liqueur, and in the second batch of frosting, 7 ounces of melted bittersweet chocolate.]

The decorating - once both batches/colors of frosting were made (I could probably have made one batch, divided, and only added 3 ounces of chocolate to half the recipe, but I didn't know how much I would need to create the mane, and it's always nice to have extra in the freezer for later) the decorating went much more quickly than I was expecting. I used rolled-out Toosie rolls for the nose, ears, and whiskers (I couldn't find the licorice rope which would have been much easier for whiskers) and rolled out Dots (or any kind of gumdrops) for the eyes and tongue. I used both the Ateco #21 and #199 tips to pipe the mane, and the #4 for the piping around the eyes and nose. Once I'd made two layers of hair fringe, I mixed both colors of frosting in the piping bag to add a few blended tufts and that friendly-looking cat positively came to life!