Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Candied Kumquat and Ricotta Tart

For years and years, I've saved a candied kumquat and gingerbread cake recipe to make at the holidays. I love the idea of it, and the festive, jewel-like sparkle of candied fruit. But gingerbread just always sounds too heavy or substantial to follow what always ends up being rich and elaborate holiday meals. So when I came across this recipe also using candied kumquats but instead atop a delicate tart with a light ricotta filling, (on a day I just happened to unrelatedly click through a Facebook link to a blog post about making your own ricotta in the microwave!) I knew I had a winner. 




I have read previously about making ricotta at home and how easy it is and how superior it tastes to store-bought versions, but I'd still felt intimidated. Nor am I enough of a ricotta fan to notice sub-par commercial cheese in the few applications I ever use it. But when I read this posting for making it in the microwave literally in minutes, I had to try it if for no other reason than novelty. 

The recipe says 2 cups of milk yeild about 1/2 cup of ricotta. I repeated the recipe twice (used 1 quart milk total) and ended up with slightly less than a cup of cheese, which was just the right amount for the tart filling. I strained through paper towels for maybe 10 minutes and after refrigerating 24 hours, the cheese was quite firm and hadn't separated any more liquid. It was a lot of fun to watch the curds and whey separate so quickly and easily after just a couple minutes zapping, and in spite of the ridiculous ease, I didn't mind bragging that not only was the tart homemade, but so was the ricotta.

I also made the tart crust the day in advance, pressed into the tart pan and refridgerated unbaked. Other reviewers on epicurious were not as enamored with the crust, but I found it to be exactly right with this tart. It didn't crumble when sliced, it held up well against the soft cheese, and it was a tender crunch of sweetness. I only used just over half of what the recipe called for, and found it plenty thick in the pan. More would have disrupted the balance between flavors.

Slicing and deseeding the kumquats was by far the most time-consuming task. But put on some good music and it only takes about 40 minutes. I thought I did a really good job but when the kumquats were candying, a number more seeds floated to the top which I removed, and when I assembled the final tart, I found a number more that I couldn't retrieve, but which did not impact the final taste or texture. So, be conscientious in your removal, but absolute vigilance is not necessary.

I completed all steps the day in advace and kept components chilled separately overnight. The afternoon of the dinner I baked the crust, and as it takes just minutes to spread the filling in and top with kumquats, it was easy to assemble after it had cooled and still have time before dinner. 

One reviewer suggested slicing the tart before topping with the kumquats to make it easier to create attractive servings. I didn't have much trouble cutting through the full slice, but that is a good recommendation. My family all asked for seconds and were really impressed with the play of flavors in this tart. Happy Holidays!




Friday, November 22, 2013

Monday, September 9, 2013

Honey Spice Cake

 
 

SO good. So moist, with great carmelized texture on the crust and soft and spice interior. I would like to go back and try it with coffee next time, if it didn't overwhelm the spices. Ginger cakes are my favorite and the oil makes it so moist for days. I substituted nectarines for the plums because I couldn't find golden plums, and the thyme mixture was amazing.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Mortarboard Cake

What have I been doing that I haven't posted in a month?? I've been graduating! I finished up my Master's degree in August, with all the wrap-up and transitions that go along with it. But in the end I had a fabulous party to celebrate with friends and family (a few very notable exceptions were sadly not in attendance) and I made these cakes to mark the occasion. The design was really easy (which I needed because it had to be large enough to serve 60 people!) but super adorable and festive.

I used the browned-butter cake layers that I made for Will's birthday, and quadrupled the recipe. I browned all the butter (3 pounds) at once, but it still took over 45 minutes to brown the butter on medium low. And that was the only step I could combine; I had to make each recipe separately (ie: the same thing 4 times) otherwise my mixer would overflow.

One-and-one-half times of an 8 or 9" cake recipe will make 10" layers, but I baked each batch in my 2 10-in pans for 32 minutes each. This made thinner layers, which worked just as well for this application.

My party was on Saturday and I prepared the cakes on Wednesday, then froze the layers that evening.

These were a lot of cake layers!


Then I frosted with a double batch of milk chocolate buttercream.
Refrigerated chocolate cookie dough rolled out into a sheet and baked on
parchment makes an easy mortarboard for my graduation cap cake.


Two three-layer 10" round cakes.

Ganache goes on over the buttercream.
Glazed with bittersweet

The mortarboard cookie needed some structural support to keep from sagging;
I constructed a platform from thin tagboard.
And decorated with a package of chocolate cookie dough, rolled flat and trimmed to a square. A dollop of ganache held the tassel in place, and gold sprinkles made the caps particularly festive.  

The finished cakes, and the relieved graduate.

To make two 10" cakes each with four layers, I mixed the recipe below four times, and divided each between two 10" cake pans for slightly thin layers.

Browned Butter Cake Layers
by Tom Douglas as found in Food and Wine magazine

3 sticks unsalted butter (12 ounces), plus more for greasing the pans

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped (I used 1 tsp clear vanilla instead)
3 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups milk, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 325°. Butter two 9-inch cake pans and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pans with flour, tapping out the excess.
In a medium saucepan, melt the 3 sticks of butter. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until foamy, about 5 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the milk solids turn brown and the butter smells nutty, about 4 minutes longer. (Note, it took closer to 20 minutes for me.) Scrape the melted butter and browned bits into a large heatproof bowl. Set the bowl in an ice water bath until the butter begins to set around the edge, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the 2  1/4 cups of all-purpose flour with the baking powder and salt.

Remove the bowl from the ice water and scrape up the hardened butter. Transfer the butter to the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle and beat until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla seeds and beat at medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks followed by the whole eggs. Beat in the dry ingredients and milk in 3 alternating additions, scraping down the side and bottom of the bowl as necessary.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pans and bake in the center of the oven for about 40 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until the cakes are golden and a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans for 20 minutes, then invert them onto a rack to let them cool completely. Peel off the parchment paper.


Chocolate ButtercreamFrom The Cake Bible2 pounds milk chocolate
1 pound bittersweet chocolate (I use Lindt 70%)
24 ounces unsalted butter, softened


Melt chocolate, then stir until smooth and room temperature. Beat butter until smooth. Beat chocolate into butter until smooth.

Bittersweet Ganache Glaze
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used Lindt 85%)
1 cup heavy or whipping cream
1 tablespoon dark rum

Chop chocolate. Heat cream to simmer, and pour over chopped chocolate. Allow to rest a few minutes, then stir until smooth. Stir in liqueur. Allow to cool slightly, then pour over cake spreading till smooth but don't try to work it too much or it will streak and clump.






Monday, July 29, 2013

MM-Inspired Barley Salad for Picnic

I needed a good side dish to take to a bbq, and wanted to take a pasta salad but was worried that everyone else would do the same, so checked my cabinets and saw other delicious grains like quinoa and red rice, but selected barley as my base. I could easily swap barley for pasta and toss with sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and kalamata olives. Or with cherry tomatoes, basil, and corn kernals. But I wanted something with more vegetables and more protein.
 
This party was BYOM where the grill was fired up by we were supposed to bring our own grillables. I didn't really want any meat so I wanted to build my salad around some beans. A google search of barley and garbanzo revealed these two recipes which I used as inspiration.
Chickpea, Barley, and Zucchini Salad with Mint and Feta
Moroccan Chickpea Barley Salad


1 cup barley
1 15 oz can garbanzo beans
1 small zucchini, diced or cut into matchsticks
3 medium carrots, diced
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 cup fresh parsley (I used Italian parsley), chopped
zest from 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
 
Dressing:
1 tablespoon freshly squeeze lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
couple pinches of ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
 
Cook barley by toasting over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring periodically, until some kernels are starting to turn golden and it smells nutty. I added 1 cup broth and 2 cups water, but you can use all water or all broth, and not all will be absorbed, so you can use a little less. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 20-25 minutes until the kernels are tender all the way through. Cool. Toss with remaining ingredients except cheese. Drizzle with about half of dressing, and toss to coat. Add remaining dressing to taste. If not serving right away, reserve remainder of dressing, and toss just before serving, then sprinkle cheese over top and mix in lightly.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Dad's birthday blueberry pie


Dad's birthday is always a time for blueberries or peaches. I have tried multiple different desserts for him over the years, generally a blueberry tart or a peach pie. This year I offered up a blueberry pie and his level of anticipation kinda went through the roof. He was pretty pleased with the results, especially with the accompanying homemade coconut ice cream, which is good when you're 67 and have had all matters of different types of birthday celebrations and are getting a bit tired of the chocolate cake your mother buys your or the fancy restaurant your sister wants to take you too when it is the middle of July and all you want to do is sit on your deck in the sun grilling steak and prawns and sopping up buttery pie crust with some blueberry juice and melting ice cream. So go dad for doing what you want one day when all the rest of the year you do for others!
 
 


Everyone loved this pie and the coconut ice cream was an excellent accompaniment. I will not make it again, because I thought it was too gelatinous in consistency. It was also a bit sweet, but that could be a factor of the berries and not the amount of sugar - but perhaps 1/2 cup sugar would be plenty. I try to avoid pies in general that use thickeners, but I saw this Cooks Country recipe that calls for the pectin from an apple as part of the thickener along with a bit of tapioca and I might find that more to my preference for next time. Even my tried-and-true Joy of Cooking doesn't really have any berry pie options that sound much better, and that could just be the reason I'm not a huge fan of them. But if any of you readers have suggestions for great fruit pie recipes, please post them in the comments.

I do think the rum added a nice depth to this pie and countered some of the sweetness, and the slices were attractive and not so messy when served, which was also nice. I thought about plums as another source of pectin that might be complementary to blueberries in that they wouldn't be very noticeable but could still add some tartness and deeper notes, particularly in the version made with wine. Readers - try that and let me know! In any case, happy summer baking!

Blueberry Pie
From The Boozy Baker, by Lucy Baker

2/3 cup sugar
3 T cornstarch
¼ t cinnamon
¼ t salt
¼ cup dark rum (or fruity red wine for a “sangria pie!”)
4 cups fresh blueberries, divided
1 T unsalted butter

I used the other half of the Smitten Kitchen all-butter pie crust I had left in the freezer from two months ago. It bakes much more like puff pastry than what I think of as pie crust, meaning that it is totally delicious, but not necessarily always what you would want. As it was selected to accompany cherry pie, it absolutely worked well for an open-faced blueberry pie.


Combine sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, salt, rum (or fruity red wine), and 1/3 cup water in saucepan. Add 1 ½ cups blueberries and bring to boil over medium. Boil 1-2 minutes until very thick and clear. Remove from heat, add butter and stir until melted.

Add remaining 2 ½ cups berries and pour into piecrust, then chill until set.



Sunday, July 21, 2013

Salted Caramel Ice Cream and Coconut Ice Cream

Perfectly divine. Salted caramel is a trendy craze whose time - in Seattle at least - is over-the-hill in my opinion. But that doesn't make the salty sweet caramelized flavor of this decadent dessert any less delectable. I offered to bring homemade ice cream to a small dinner party and didn't have any guidance on the menu or other taste preferences. So I wanted to break out of the vanilla mold, especially since I wasn't trying to pair with a cake or pie or other baked good. I wanted a flavor that could stand on its own as dessert.

This ice cream is incredibly rich, and it is quite sweet, but I did not find it cloying and in spite of the heavy ratio of cream to milk, because of the caramel it did not have that greasy coat-the-spoon texture of some ice cream that is really just TOO rich.

When it was finished churning, it still poured out of the freezing canister (rather than being scooped) so I was a bit concerned about how it would set up. But what that really meant is that after a couple of hours of freezing, this ice cream had an absolutely perfect, creamy, scoopable consistency. Just don't expect to make and serve this right away, you'll want to plan enough time to return the churned product to the freezer.

I like to add a bit of alcohol to my ice creams, to preserve the consistency by preventing a completely solid freezing of the mix and to inhibit the particular formation of ice crystals that diminish an ice cream's consistency. In this case, dark rum - even in such a small quantity - adds a lot to play off the deep notes of caramelized sugar. This is absolutely a full-star recipe and I can't wait to make it again.



Salted Caramel Ice Cream
Adapted from
Gourmet Magazine

1 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups heavy cream, divided
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt such (I had fleur de sel)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
3 large eggs

1 tablespoon dark rum (or brandy)

Heat 1 cup sugar in a heavy, dry 10-inch pan over medium heat, stirring to heat sugar evenly, until it starts to melt. Stop stirring and allow sugar to melt to a dark amber, swirling occasionally. Once it gets going, it happens quickly, so watch the pan carefully.         

Add 1 1/4 cups cream (mixture will spatter) and cook, stirring, until all of caramel has dissolved. This can take awhile, and at first the sugar will all turn into a hard clump, but jut keep stirring the simmering cream and it ultimately will all dissolve. Strain caramel into a bowl and stir in sea salt and vanilla. Cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, bring milk and remaining cup cream just to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally.

Lightly whisk eggs in a medium bowl, then add a bit of hot milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Pour back into saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until custard coats registers at least 160°F (do not let boil).

Note: most of my ice cream recipes use a maximum of two eggs and 3 cups of milk/cream so the ratio of this step of the custard making is much different. As a result, the eggs come to temperature much more quickly and it's easy for them to curdle, so be sure to whisk constantly and watch carefully.

Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl, then stir in cooled caramel. Chill overnight, then stir in 1 scant tablespoon dark rum before freezing in ice cream churn. Allow enough time to return churned mix to the freezer to freeze for a couple of hours before serving. Mixture will still be quite soft after churning but will firm to the perfect consistency.

Coconut Ice Cream

I chose coconut ice cream to accompany blueberry pie for my dad's birthday. It was an excellent accompaniment with good strong coconut flavor, but the consistency of this batch was not comparable to the few I've made. I can blame it on coconut, which is not my favorite flavor to begin with, or I can blame it on the fact that I "upgraded" to heavy cream (which is 40% fat) compared to the 36% fat whipped cream that I usually use. I very carefully calculate the percentages of fat in all my recipes, accounting for whole versus skim milk, and I did not do that this time, and I think it makes a real difference. It could be an improvement that I am just not used to, or it could actually be what pushes it over-the-edge to "too rich." In any case, it worked great with sweet, fruity, berry pie but Will will have to work through the leftovers in the freezer on his own.

Bring 1 1/2 cups cream to simmer then stir in 2 cups toasted shredded sweetened coconut. Cover, and steep 30 minutes.
Strain mixture and stir in 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup milk, return to simmer. Separately beat 2 eggs, then slowly whisk in part of hot cream mix, then return egg mixture to remainder of cream and whisk constantly over medium heat until it reaches 160 degrees. Remove from heat immediately and stir in additional half cup milk and half cup cream, along with 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract and 1 tablespoon light rum. Chill overnight then churn and freeze.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Little Piggy Cookies

I've talked about my friends' Cinco de Mayo party in a previous post, along with the recipes I've made to take which are not necessarily traditional Mexican dishes, but then neither again is the holiday itself!
 
This year, as the date approached, other media sources were building up with discussions of festivities and ways to participate, and NPR raised the topic of cochinitos, or "piggy cookies." These are not something I had heard of before, though apparently they are ubiquitous all over Mexico year-round. I suspect that now that I know them, I will notice them everywhere, but it was fun to make a new discovery. They are a cinnamon-spiced honey or molasses cookie in the shape of a pig.
 

The recipe called for piloncillo, a type of brown sugar that is packed in a cone shape. It can be cut from the cone with a serrated knife, or grated. I tried multiple ways to prepare it, because it is quite firm, including serrated and chef's knives, box grater, and microplane. I found the microplane to be easiest, though for this particular recipe, because it is combined with water until it dissolves, I don't think the sugar has to be prepared quite so carefully, just cut into small enough pieces that it can dissolve evenly.

On my trip to the Latin market to purchase some, I checked their bakery section for already made piggy cookies, which naturally they had. I bought a few so as to have a comparison with my homemade version. The cookies from the store were very molasses-y, but the texture was quite similar. I baked my cookies the day of the party, so as the recipe explains, they were very soft and cakey. The guests all raved about them (though I suspect that could partially have been a result of the only other dessert being some dry brownies), so we didn't have enough to last days and see how they tasted as they got a little crunchier.

[For the shape, I used a pancake mold that I happened to have from a set of farm animal shapes that had been given to me due to the sheep, and the pig and cow molds were just the bonus. If you know of any "cow cookie" recipes, send them my way!]

Piggy Cookies
by Pati Jinich, from NPR.org
1 3/4 cups (10 ounces) firmly packed grated piloncillo (or dark brown sugar)
3/4 cup water
1 Ceylon cinnamon stick
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature, plus more for the cookie sheets
2 tablespoons honey
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten, at room temperature, plus
1 large egg, lightly beaten, for glaze
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the piloncillo, water, and cinnamon and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the piloncillo has dissolved and the liquid thickens to a light syrup. Turn off the heat and remove the cinnamon stick. Add the butter and honey and stir until they melt.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the piloncillo mixture. Mix with a rubber spatula until well combined. Add 2 of the eggs and stir until thoroughly mixed. The dough will be very sticky and gooey.

3. Place two long pieces of plastic wrap, one running horizontally and one vertically, in a medium bowl, letting the ends overhang the edges of the bowl. With a rubber spatula, scrape the dough onto the plastic wrap, then bring the edges of the wrap over the dough and secure tightly (leave the dough in the bowl). Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 2 days.

4. Preheat the oven to 375°F, with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Butter two cookie sheets.

5. Sprinkle flour on a work surface and a rolling pin. Cut the dough in half. Working with one piece at a time, roll out the dough about 1/4-inch thick. Using a 3-inch piggy cookie cutter, press straight down on the dough to cut out cookies, moving the cutter slightly on the work surface to make it easier to lift up the cookies. Gather the scraps into a ball and roll out again. Transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets, spacing them about 1-inch apart. If the dough becomes too sticky, roll it into a ball, wrap it again in plastic wrap, and place it in the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes before rolling again.

6. Gently brush the cookie tops with the remaining egg. Bake in batches for 7 to 9 minutes, or until the cookies are puffed and golden on top. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. Sift confectioners' sugar on top of the cooled cookies.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Tropical Carrot and Pineapple Cake with Coconut Frosting

This is the best carrot cake. It is so moist and sweet but it also gets an amazing caramelized crust. I frosted with coconut buttercream in this photo, but the coconut cream cheese frosting is also good.

I used the recipe as written to bake 12 cupcakes and two six-inch rounds. The cupcakes went with me to a party and the rounds went in the freezer. As it turned out, they ended up saving me from having to bake the very next weekend, but I know they would have lasted and still been delicious for much longer.
 
 


Tropical Carrot and Pineapple Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cloves

2 tablespoons minced crystalized ginger
 4 large eggs
2 cups superfine sugar
2/3 cup plain vegetable oil
¼ pound (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
One can (8 ounces) crushed pineapple in natural juices (I drained about 3 hours)
2 1/3 cups lightly packed grated carrots (I used the grate blade of the food processor, but if I had patience, I would prefer the smaller shreds from a box grater.)

Coconut Buttercream or Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners or baking pan with parchment. Enough for 3 8" rounds or 24 cupcakes. 
Sift flour, baking powder, soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves onto a sheet of waxed paper; set aside.
Beat eggs in the large bowl of an electric mixer on moderate speed 1 minute. Blend in sugar and beat 1 minute. Blend in oil and melted butter. Beat in vanilla and drained pineapple. Scrape down the sides of the bowl frequently with a rubber spatula.
On low speed, add sifted flour mixture in two additions, beating just until flour is absorbed. Stir in carrots and ginger. Scrape into prepared baking pan. Bake 20-24 minutes for cupcakes, or 40 to 50 minutes or until risen and golden brown on top; a wooden pick inserted into the center of the cake should test clean. The cake will pull away slightly from the sides of the baking pan. Let cake stand in pan on a cooling rack. Cool completely.

Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes about 4 ½ cups

12 ounces cream cheese, softened
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
 5 cups unsifted powdered sugar
 1 teaspoon coconut extract

With an electric hand mixer, or a food processor, beat cream cheese and butter together until well combined. Blend in extract.

On low speed, add powdered sugar in three additions, beating until thoroughly combined before adding the next batch. Scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Use the frosting within 30 minutes of mixing.

 OR

Coconut Buttercream
from Laura Temple
1 1/2 cups of sugar
6 large egg whites 4 cubes of unsalted butter (1 pound) softened to room temperature
3/4 teaspoon coconut extract

Put egg whites and sugar in top of double boiler over simmering water. Whisk until temperature reaches 160 degrees. Remove from heat and move to a stand mixer bowl. Whip on medium high until they are room temperature. (Wrap ice packs or bags of frozen vegetables around the base of the bowl to speed cooling).

Once the whites/sugar mixture is at room temperature, keep mixing, and add the butter a couple of tablespoons at a time until all is incorporated. It might looked curdled part-way through, but just keep going and it will come together. Add the vanilla and mix just enough to incorporate it fully. Stir in any optional food coloring. This makes a great stark-white buttercream on its own.
Use immediately, or keep at room temperature and re-beat for a minute before using. If you want to freeze the leftovers, make sure to bring it completely to room temperature before you re-beat or it will curdle.


 

Beet and Barley Salad with Kale

 
I decided to take it upon myself to be the healthful contribution to a Memorial Day "meat-a-pooloza"
© extravaganza. I had some amazing beets from the farmer's market, huge lovely golden ones. They formed a colorful base for this delicious and hearty side that was perhaps more autumnal than most would choose for Memorial Day season, but happened to pair perfectly with the 50-degrees and torrential downpour that pushed all grilling under the eaves and onto the stovetop.
Barley Beet SaladServes 8
1 cup barley, cooked in 2 cups chicken stock
2 large (8 oz each) golden beets, roasted at 375 for 45-60 minutes
1 bunch (8 oz) kale, center ribs removed then chopped in bite-sized pieces
1/2 onion
2 cloves roasted garlic
1/2 cup dried cranberries
Toss with lemon mustard vinaigrette

Bring 2 cups chicken stock and 1 cup water to boil, stir in barley, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered for 35 minutes or until done.
Meanwhile, dice onion and sauté in olive oil until tender. Stir in smashed roasted garlic and kale. Cover and heat over medium until kale is wilted. Stir in cranberries and toss with cooked barley and diced beets. Toss with a vinaigrette of your choice - I used lemon/mustard. Serve warm or chilled.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sour Cherry and Blueberry Ginger Pie with Almond Crumble Topping

This SmittenKitchen post was the inspiration for this recipe, but what I actually constructed is available below. A number of years ago I read some articles about sour cherries and became very intrigued. One year in Chicago, I saw them at a farmer's market, but had no way to transport them home (the same problem that plagues the entire industry!) so I've never actually had them. I think a couple people around Seattle have one growing in the yard, because I think I've seen them when out on walks, but with basically no hopes of trying fresh sour cherries, I bought a couple of cans at the grocery store one time when they were on sale. There they sat in my pantry. 

When we were invited to a Memorial Day barbeque, a pie just seemed like a better dessert contribution for cake, but especially in our region, it's still much too early in the season for any kind of fresh fruit. So I thought about pulling out those cans of cherries. I am always embarrassed to not use fresh ingredients - especially for guests! - but this seemed like a good time to give it a try, so I started my recipe search.

I screened out recipes using sweet cherries, since I was unsure what the conversions on sugar quantity would need to be, and I eliminated recipes calling for tapioca or other thickeners that I don't have on hand. I liked the crumble topping idea from Deb's Smitten Kitchen (mostly as a way to avoid the lattice top that I traditionally associate with a cherry pie! but also because she said it helps absorb some of the moisture in the pie to keep it less runny) so went with her version. Not to mention that Deb is universally trustworthy in all matters of baking.

What I especially liked about the post was her discussion of pie crusts. I have referenced before the  New York Times article, Heaven in a Pie Pan, by Melissa Clark, and Deb points to that as well as she explains her decisions not only to go all butter, but also to eschew the food processor as a blending method. I highly recommend reviewing this link for a better understanding of pie crusts.

For this pie, I did not blind bake, and I was impressed and amazed with how perfectly the final pie came out. We were able to cleanly slice and remove unbroken, lovely wedges from the pie pan. In addition, the crust was crispy on the bottom, not soggy, which I attribute to heavy draining of the cherries, but also to an excellent base recipe.

When I prepared the filling, it just did not look like enough to fill a pie. That is partly because I was using my favorite Emile Henry cherry red enamel pie pan, which happens to be a deep dish version. So to backfill, I added some large blueberries I still had in the freezer from last season when they were fresh. It ended up being just the thing and perhaps pectin from the berries helped hold the whole thing together in the end.

Finally, I wanted a bit extra flavor.as a way to add my own touch to the recipe, but also because I was anxious that a "canned" residue flavor might lurk from my shameful use of processed food. I decided on ginger and mixed some minced crystallized ginger into the fruit along with a dash of cardamom in the crumble topping.

Unbaked pie ready to go in the oven.


Pie Crust
2 1/2 cups (315 grams) flour
1 tablespoon (15 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt
2 sticks (8 ounces, 225 grams tablespoons or 1 cup) unsalted butter, very cold

1/2 - 3/4 ice water (on a Spring Seattle morning, I used 1/2 cup + 2 T)

Blend flour, sugar, and salt in large mixing bowl. Put in fridge while you cut butter into 1/2 inch cubes. Put butter in freezer for a couple minutes after cutting, to make sure it's all really cold. Sprinkle butter cubes over flour mixture and mix by hand using a pastry blender, until mostly even crumbles the size of small peas. Do not overmix. It's better to have pieces slightly too large or uneven.
Sprinkle 1/2 cup water over and continue to cut through with pastry blender. If necessary, add additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time, up to 1/4 cup more, just until the dough comes together.
Divide in two pieces, form into discs, and wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight, or freeze (defrost before using). If using canned cherries, start draining them now.

Roll out dough into 12" round and transfer to 9" pie plate. Preheat oven to 375 and prepare filling.

Cherry-Blueberry Ginger Filling
2 cans sour cherries (14.5 oz each) - can replace frozen or fresh, drained
1 cup blueberries (I used frozen, partially thawed, rinsed, and dried)
3 tablespoons corn starch
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger (use a microplane)

Start draining the cherries as early in the process as possible. I let mine sit over a strainer for almost three hours, stirring them periodically to release juice. Toss remaining ingredients together. Pour into unbaked pie crust.

Almond Crumb Topping
1/2 cup oat flour (or 2/3 cup whole oats, ground to a flour in a food processor)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 cup sliced almonds, lightly crushed

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Combine dry ingredients in medium bowl. Pour cooled butter over and stir with spatula until it comes together. (I felt this made too much topping for a 9" pie, so used all but 3/4 of a cup of the prepared crumb topping, but didn't want to scale back the original proportions here.)
Use your hands to crumble the dough over the fruit filling, smooshing into pieces the size of grapes.

Bake at 375 for 70-75 minutes until topping is golden and filling is bubbling. Since I was using a deep dish pie plate, there was no spillover, but it's a good idea to put a cookie sheet in your oven on the rack below the pie to catch any juices that might bubble over.
Cool on a rack to set.

Perfectly cohesive slice of baked pie, great with vanilla ice cream!


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Happy St Pancakes Day!

The best pancakes are buttermilk pancakes from the Joy of Cooking, but since Will likes pancakes every week, I generally just use a mix. The best we've found is Snoqualmie Falls. In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I added a few drops of green food coloring, and tried to shape the batter into shamrocks. May the luck o' the Irish be with you today!

 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Browned Butter Layer Cake with Chocolate-Whiskey Mousse and Dark Chocolate Buttercream

I always ask Will what kind of cake he wants for his birthday, though I know what the answer will be: "chocolate frosting." Yep, his answer to what kind of cake he wants is frosting. Does he want dark chocolate ganache made from fine swiss chocolate? Naw, he wants Crisco-style sugary frosting with the dried crackly crust from the big sheet cakes at Costco. So, like a loving, doting parent, that's exactly what his mom bought him. There were four of us at his birthday party.
 
 
 
I would admit to it being ridiculous that I would bake Will a cake the very  next day to celebrate his actual birthday with a couple of friends, except that I think the ridiculous part isn't that I would bake a cake with a Costco sheet cake less four slices in the fridge, but rather that someone would buy a Costco sheet cake for four people in the first place.  That puts ridiculousness squarely on the shoulders of my in-laws, and frees me up for a caramelly golden cake smothering milk chocolate whisky mousses and drenched in dark chocolate buttercream with whiskey buttercream trim. Nope, not at all ridiculous.
 
Will said this cake is his favorite of any I've ever made. I have a couple other contenders, but this is definitely near the top of the list, not just because each component is an excellent recipe, but also because as an aggregation, the combination of textures and flavors were spectacular, and the presentation was stunning. As always, my decorating skills are the weak link, but I loved this cake and frosting for how servable it is... the slices hold together perfectly and slice perfectly and yet still taste luxuriously, divinely homemade. 
 

Browned Butter Cake Layers
by Tom Douglas as found in Food and Wine magazine

3 sticks unsalted butter (12 ounces), plus more for greasing the pans
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped (I used 1 tsp clear vanilla instead)
3 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups milk, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 325°. Butter two 9-inch cake pans and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pans with flour, tapping out the excess.

In a medium saucepan, melt the 3 sticks of butter. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until foamy, about 5 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the milk solids turn brown and the butter smells nutty, about 4 minutes longer. (Note, it took closer to 20 minutes for me.) Scrape the melted butter and browned bits into a large heatproof bowl. Set the bowl in an ice water bath until the butter begins to set around the edge, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the 2  1/4 cups of all-purpose flour with the baking powder and salt.

Remove the bowl from the ice water and scrape up the hardened butter. Transfer the butter to the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle and beat until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla seeds and beat at medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks followed by the whole eggs. Beat in the dry ingredients and milk in 3 alternating additions, scraping down the side and bottom of the bowl as necessary.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pans and bake in the center of the oven for about 40 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until the cakes are golden and a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans for 20 minutes, then invert them onto a rack to let them cool completely. Peel off the parchment paper.



Chocolate-Whiskey Mousse
inspired by but not adapted from Tom Douglas
1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1/2 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons scotch whiskey (or bourbon)
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
4 ounces milk chocolate, melted and cooled
pinch of salt
Melt chocolate (can be done in the microwave, stir after 1 minute, then every 15-20 seconds). Set aside to cool. Sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 tablespoon whiskey until softened, about 5 minutes. Heat remaining whiskey in microwave about 25 seconds until boiling and stir into gelatin mixture until dissolved. Beat cream in separate bowl until soft peaks for. Stir in sugar and salt. Add gelatin/whiskey mixture to chocolate then combine with whipped cream and whip until combined.

Chocolate Frosting
This is a sweet chocolate buttercream that is pretty easy to make and similar to a store-bought frosting. Will and I both love the sticky, sugary frosting on store-bought cakes though we are often embarrassed to admit it. It's frequently too sweet to be a suitable accompaniment to many more subtle cakes but I thought it would work with this carmelly golden cake, and it does! The recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate to counter all the sugar, and I didn't have any so I had to calculate the ratio of sugar and butter to replace, but I think I'll keep this version because I rarely have unsweetened chocolate around. This spreads super smooth and holds its texture wonderfully for piping.

6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (60-70% cocoa), melted and allowed to cool
6 tablespoons corn starch
4 cups + 2 tablespoons powdered sugar (no need to sift)
3 sticks minus 2 teaspoons butter, softened
6 tablespoons whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup cocoa powder (your preferred brand, I just used Hersheys)
Combine all ingredients in food processor and pulse until smooth.

For the white decorative piping, I just used some leftover buttercream I had in the freezer, and flavored it with the same whiskey as in the mousse. The flavor was quite pronounced and really delicious.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY PRECIE!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Sicilian Sardine Pasta

I really enjoyed this dish for many reasons; it is: delicious, easy, healthy, unique. I was very excited to try it after having a sardine pasta at La Medusa in Seattle - an excellent Sicilian restaurant. Theirs uses tomatoes and olives as well, and while I really liked this version, I think just a bit of acidity would have helped such as from tomatoes, or olives, or as another person suggested, lemon. (Perhaps my wine was just a bit too sweet.) Otherwise, even with using a cheap piece of grocery store sliced bread for bread crumbs, this is a really great recipe!

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/reviews/Sicilian-Style-Pasta-with-Sardines-106272#ixzz2HGP09Kv7

Monday, January 28, 2013

Baby Shower Cake



I made this cake for a baby shower, where I had completely convinced myself that the mama was having a girl, hence the pink frosting and decorations. After I took the above photo, I texted the hostess to confirm and she reminded me that actually the baby will be a boy! As the frosting is tinted with blackberry, it really was more purple than pink, and the multi-colored sprinkles helped the cake be simply festive instead of gender-conforming.



Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake
Note, this is 1 ½ times the published recipe, which fills for 2 10” pans and serves 20.
3.375 cups cake flour
1.5 tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1.875 cups whole milk or buttermilk
6 large egg whites
2.25 cups sugar
3 teaspoons grated lemon zest
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temp
¾ teaspoon pure lemon extract
Preheat oven to 350. Butter/parchment pans.
Sift together flour, powder, salt. Separately, whisk together milk and eggs. Put sugar and zest in mixer; blend with fingers. Add butter, beat 3 full minutes on medium. Beat in extract.

Add one third flour then half milk and repeat, beat well until all ingredients are incorporated.
Bake for 30-33 minutes.

The white cake always tastes a bit dry to me, but no one else ever agrees with me. And with enough fruit filling and silky buttercream, even my criticisms become unnoticable. The cake is worth it because of how sturdy yet light it is, and what great slices it makes.


I was really pleased with the blackberry curd, made from berries picked from my in-laws' backyard. Blackberries are too seedy for me to get much enjoyment from eating them fresh, so I cooked them down with a bit of sugar and balsamic vineagar which I then pureed and strained into a thin sauce. It served as a perfect substitute in Rose Levy Berenbaum's Lemon Curd.
Blackberry Curd
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup + 2 T sugar
3 ounces blackberry-balsamic puree
4 T unsalted butter
pinch of salt
Beat yolks and sugar until blended. Stir in remaining ingredients and heat over medium-low, whisking continuously, until mixture reaches 160 degrees. Do not allow to boil or it will curdle. It is messier and more wasteful, but faster and easier to go ahead and cook the mixture quickly, then just strain out any cooked bits of egg. It will thicken as it cools. Chill completely.
Note: both the puree/sauce and the curd keep very well in the fridge and in the freezer.

This buttercream is the best all-purpose recipe I've found, and it is gaining quite a position of prominence on this blog. To assemble the cake, I spread plain curd on one layer, and mixed part of the curd with some of the frosting, leaving the rest of the frosting plain. The tinted frosting atop the glaze of curd makes a delicious filling. Use the remaining tinted frosting to decorate.

Amazingly Simple Buttercream
from Laura Temple
1 1/2 cups of sugar
6 large egg whites 4 cubes of unsalted butter (1 pound) softened to room temperature
3/4 teaspoon real vanilla

Directions:

Put egg whites and sugar in top of double boiler over simmering water. Whisk until temperature reaches 160 degrees. Remove from heat and move to a stand mixer bowl. Whip on medium high until they are room temperature. (Wrap ice packs or bags of frozen vegetables around the base of the bowl to speed cooling).

Once the whites/sugar mixture is at room temperature, keep mixing, and add the butter a couple of tablespoons at a time until all is incorporated. It might looked curdled part-way through, but just keep going and it will come together. Add the vanilla and mix just enough to incorporate it fully. Stir in any optional food coloring. This makes a great stark-white buttercream on its own.

Use immediately, or keep at room temperature and re-beat for a minute before using. If you want to freeze the leftovers, make sure to bring it completely to room temperature before you re-beat or it will curdle.







Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mocha Almond Dacquoise

I am on the email distribution list for Cooks Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen, and near the end of the year, their newsletter included this recipe for a special NYE dessert.  I highly recommend watching the video they've posted, because that is what makes it look so easy. Even though I had other preparation to do for dinner, I was inspired try it. It is a great recipe for make ahead, and not only does it require a minimum of a few hours to rest in the fridge, and gets better after 24 hours, it also retains flavor and texture for over three days.

I started making each component on Sunday morning and was planning to assemble it Sunday evening so it could rest overnight. Sunday afternoon, as my dacquoise was cooling and my buttercream was chilling, one of my guests emailed and asked to bring dessert. Buttercream and ganache keep just fine, and meringue should be okay sealed in an airtight container as long as it isn't exposed to moisture. So I didn't end up assembling the full cake until Wednesday evening, and we were still eating it like it was fresh-made on Saturday night.

Though Cooks Illustrated names this cake "Dacquoise," the word actually refers only to the layers. Dacquoise is meringue made with the addition of ground nuts. Both The Joy of Cooking and The Cake Bible has a different ratio of ingredients, and I will try another recipe next time; though I really enjoy very sweet desserts, I find that most people do not, and I think this is bordering on "too sweet."

As you can see from my photos, I didn't bother to spend a lot of time decorating it because it was just for Will and me, and not for company... though I rarely make a dessert as a "test run," in this case it was kind of fun to have it just eat and I will definitely make it again for a special occasion. 


The recipes below are for my future reference. The link above has very easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions if you are making it for the first time, but the versions below scale back the sweetness. Also, in my version, I used all almonds instead of part hazelnuts.

Dacquoise
from The Joy of Cooking
3/4 cup toasted almonds, finely ground
1 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 + 1/2 cup superfine sugar
4 large egg whites (1/2 cup)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 200. Outline 13" x 10 1/2" rectangle on sheet of parchment, and lay outline-side down on cookie sheet.
Pulse nuts, cornstarch, and 1/3 cup sugar in food processor until finely ground.
Beat whites until frothy, add cream of tartar, and beat at medium until soft peaks form. Slowly add remaining 1/2 sugar, beating until stiff peaks form.
Carefully fold in nut mixture and spread immediately on parchment in desired shape.
Bake for 1 1/2 - 2 hours, then turn off oven and leave with oven door closed for another 1 1/2 -2 hours.


While meringue is baking, make buttercream,

Coffee Buttercream3/4 cup whole milk
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons amaretto (I used Frangelico because that is what I had; it is hazelnut liquer)
1 1/2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
16 (2 sticks) tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Heat milk in small saucepan over medium heat until just simmering. In separate bowl, whisk yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in bowl until smooth. Remove milk from heat and, whisking constantly, slowly whisk a couple tablespoons of milk into yolk mixture. Whisking constantly, return tempered yolk mixture to remaining milk in saucepan.
Return saucepan to medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is bubbling and thickens to consistency of warm pudding, 3 to 5 minutes. Cover and refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.

Stir together liqueur and espresso powder. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter at medium speed until smooth and light, 3 to 4 minutes. Add pastry cream in 3 batches, beating for 30 seconds after each addition. Add amaretto mixture and continue to beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes longer, scraping down bowl thoroughly halfway through mixing.



When dacquoise is completely cool, peel off parchment, and trim edges flat using a bread/serrated knife. Measure and score 3" wide rectangles (by 10" long) and gently score through sheet of meringue with long sweeping cuts. These sheets are delicate so proceed carefully and with very light pressure.

Ganache
6ounces bittersweet chocolate (Lindt 70% or 85%), chopped fine
3/4cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons corn syrup
Heat cream to simmer. Pour over chopped chocolate and let rest one minute. Stir until smooth and stir in corn syrup. Set aside to cool, stirring periodically, until spreadable consistency.

Spread a thin layer of ganache on the flat side of each of 3 dacquoise layers. Place in single layer in fridge 15 minutes until firm. Spreak top of 4th layer with buttercream, and use as base of cake on platter.

Place chilled, ganache coated layer atop buttercream layer, chocolate-side down. Frost top of layer with buttercream, and repeat with remaining layers.  Frost entirely with buttercream, and chill until set.






Spread ganache over buttercream. Garnish with slivered or chopped almonds, hazelnuts, or chocolate curls and piped buttercream if desired. Refridgerate at least 3 hours before serving. Slice with a wet (! - yes, it works perfectly!) knife into 12 slices. Keeps well for 3-4 days.



The recipes I've shown above are for a reduced amount of sugar that I think will better highlight the flavor and amazing textures of this dessert. But it would be amazing with any number of combinations of filling and frosting flavors, so I plan to make this again and get creative with the layers.