Tuesday, September 29, 2009

TWD: Chocolate-Crunched Caramel Tart

This week’s Tuesdays With Dorie treat is Chocolate-Crunched Caramel Tart. I was hoping our house would be set up for wireless internet tonight and I would be able to write my post from the couch, but sadly it’s going to take a least one call to the internet provider, so I’m going to keep this short ‘cos our overloaded DVR is calling my name. Dorie describes this tart as “a mix of posh and pop,” which seems very accurate: it is a beautiful slim tart, but I think this amazing caramelly, chocolaty concoction would be a hit pretty much anywhere you took it. I thought that this tart may be a little over-the-top decadent for me, however, I thought it was absolutely scrumptious.

After two bites, my boyfriend and I both emphatically scored it a 10. The tart did have several different components, so the Effort was 4, giving it an EDR of 2.5. On the Effort note, though, I am pleased to say I had a very positive caramel making experience. Most caramel making endeavors around here have been fraught with tears, bad words, and burnt caramel, but thanks to Dorie’s thorough instructions and Leslie of Lethally Delicious’s excellent blog post with photos, it was painless this time. I guess medium heat is the key to success – for me, anyway. Just for fun, I made both a regular sweet tart crust and also Dorie’s chocolate tart dough. Although they were both tasty, the buttery crunchiness of the plain shell complements the chewy caramel layer and the chocolate ganache much better.

Many thanks to Carla of Chocolate Moosey for a terrific selection. You can find the recipe on Carla’s site and see what the other bakers thought of this treat via the TWD blogroll.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

SMS: Caramelized Onion, Sage, and Cheddar (Gruyere) Muffins (Loaves)

The Sweet Melissa Sundays group made its first savory recipe this week: Carmelized Onion, Sage and Cheddar Muffins. I think caramelized onions are the one of the most delicious foods not containing any dairy or flour, so using them in bread sounded like a splendid idea - adding them to anything is generally a good idea. I had initially thought I would make the muffins for breakfast since I don’t always like sweet things in the morning, but on the SMS Problems & Questions section, a lot of people were talking about serving them with soup, so I decided to make the muffins (or as it turned out, bread) and soup for lunch today. When I got this idea I hadn’t counted on it being close to ninety degrees today, but I had a plan and went with it.

I made a half recipe of the muffins, which generously filled two mini loaf pans. The recipe was laden with quite a few rich dairy products: butter, cheese, heavy cream, and whole milk. When making quick breads, I generally find if fairly easy to cut back some of the fat without sacrificing flavor or texture, so I went ahead and subbed nonfat yogurt for three fifths of the butter and used half & half instead of heavy cream. I had actually purchased white cheddar for this recipe, but when I looked into the refrigerator I saw some gruyere that probably didn’t have too many good days left, so subbed that for the cheddar. I thought the gruyere was excellent with the caramelized onions, and that the bread was very flavorful with a nice fluffy texture. The soup I paired it with was Smoky Shrimp-and-Chorizo from the October issue of Food & Wine magazine, and it was also fantastic.

The bread gets a 7.5 for Deliciousness and a 3 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 2.5. Many thanks to Hanaa of Hanaa’s Kitchen for selecting our first savory recipe. You can find the recipe HERE on Hanaa’s site, and take the time to look around: Hanaa takes on some very impressive kitchen projects such as a making a wedding cake and entering multiple items in her state fair, she also always has a useful culinary tips with her posts. Check out the SMS blogroll to see what the other bakers thought of the muffins, too. And the recipe for the soup, which we thought deserved a rating of 8.5 and enjoyed even on a hot day, can be found HERE on the Food & Wine website.

Grammy's Chocolate Cookies

My Sweet Melissa Sundays post will be intentionally late today, as opposed to most other weeks when I just don’t around to doing it until 9:00 PM, since I am making the muffins for lunch.

You’ll have to believe me: I’ve been making a lot of delicious things lately, but somehow none, save for my baking group creations, have made it to my blog. You know, we’ve just eaten things too fast or they’ve started to look sad before I’ve gotten around to photographing them. (On that note, it’s getting dark so much earlier! The window for photographing with natural light shutters too fast these days). Anyway, I finally got my act together and managed to take photos of these chocolate cookies.

I was inspired to open my poorly neglected Martha Stewart’s Cookies book* after seeing this chocolate cookie sugar cookie post on My Baking Adventures. The recipe I ended up making was slightly different (there are several tempting chocolate cookie recipes to choose from in that book) and incredibly good. My boyfriend proclaimed them the best chocolate cookies I’ve made, which is surprising since Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace Cookies have been a favorite since and scored a rare 10 rating in this household. I think I like the World Peace Cookies a bit better (I just love the way the salt enhances the chocolate flavor in them), but for a nice pure chewy chocolate cookie with a crunchy sugar coating, these are wonderful. It’s definitely not a bad thing to have multiple excellent chocolate cookie recipes in your repertoire, especially when they fall into different categories. This recipe gets a 10 for Deliciousness and a 2 for Effort, giving them an EDR of 5!

*The first recipe I made from this book was kind of a dud and so I felt a little resentment towards it. It did not help matters that I bought Dorie Greenspan’s Baking shortly after receiving the Martha Stewart book and was absolutely enchanted with it from the moment I opened it. I’m happy to say that I will definitely be baking more cookies from the MS book.

Grammy’s Chocolate Cookies from page 75 of Martha Stewart’s Cookies, CLICK for printable recipe page
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¾ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Sanding sugar, for rolling

Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. (I didn’t actually bother sifting, but did combine very well with a fork.)

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat to combine. Form dough into a flattened disk, wrap with plastic wrap, and chill until firm, about an hour. (In the interest of time, I made the dough one night and baked the cookies the next. I let the dough sit out for about an hour before baking the cookies).

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Shape dough into 1 ¼ inch balls. Roll each ball in sanding sugar (I shaped mine with a cookie scoop and after rolling in sugar, I flattened just slightly so they were more disk-like). Place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper or silicone baking mats, about 1 ½ inch apart – they will spread a lot. Bake until set, about 10 to 12 minutes, rotating halfway through. Transfer baking sheet to a rack to cool for five minutes. Transfer cookies from baking sheet to wire rack. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week. Makes 3 ½ dozen.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

TWD: Cottage Cheese Pufflets

Did anyone watch season two of “Project Runway Canada?” I live in the United States, but my super-awesome boyfriend found episodes of the Canadian version of my second-favorite reality show online and downloaded them. One of the aspiring designers was named Adejoké, but we always misunderstood host Iman’s Somalian accent pronunciation and thought she saying “the other Jacque.” We also wondered who the first Jacque was. Anyway, this week’s Tuesdays With Dorie recipe, Cottage Cheese Pufflets, was selected by Jacque of Daisy Lane Cakes and she is the only Jacque I know of in the TWD baking group. You can find the recipe HERE on Jacque’s delightful blog.

I had a difficult time mustering up too much enthusiasm for the pufflets, but I had in the back of my mind that they may be one of those sleeper hits. I have been skeptical of recipes in Baking before and rarely have they let me down. I am sorry to report that this one did. It may have been because I overbaked them just a touch, but I tried just the tops and the jam center alone, and just thought they were kind of bland and doughy tasting. I think this is one of the only baked goods no member of my household was would eat. Even if I’m not completely thrilled with the outcome, Mr. Penpen will usually consume an adequate amount before calling it a loss. Eloise was left alone in a room with them a reachable level for a minute, which is about thirty seconds longer than it usually takes her to steal baked goods, and she did not devour them. The good news, though, is I apparently did not have the monumental problems with the dough that many other bakers did, according to the Problems and Questions portion of the TWD site. I attribute my success to draining the cottage cheese before making the dough and chilling it about every five minutes during the rolling/cutting process. I had never baked with cottage cheese, but I have made ricotta gnocchi before (yum) and a crucial step is draining the cheese, so I figured it would help with this dough. This recipe gets a 4.5 for Deliciousness and a 3 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 1.5. Please visit the TWD blogroll to see how the other bakers fared with the recipe and hopefully see some better reviews and nicer looking cookies.

The other good news is that the same afternoon I baked the pufflets, I made Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice (after seeing many rave reviews on other blogs), and I think it’s one of the best things to ever come out of my oven. You can find the recipe HERE on Google Books preview.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

SMS: Orange Scented Scones

This week’s Sweet Melissa Sundays treat is Orange-Scented Scones. I love waking up on Saturday mornings knowing that I have time to fuss around in the kitchen and make us a nice breakfast, rather than the typical rushed weekday, and I am always happy to try new recipes. I’ve mentioned before that I think oats are wonderful in scones, so I was happy to see that it appeared in the ingredient list for this recipe. I made a few minor modifications to the original recipe: I added the zest of an entire orange rather than two teaspoons (that didn’t seem like it would give these a bold enough flavor), I added an extra tablespoon and a half of sugar since one tablespoon seemed a little low, and in an effort to cut a few calories, I used half and half rather than heavy cream – I figured the orange would be the star of the show, not the cream as in some scones.

My dough was a little on the sticky side, I assume due to the half and half, so I contemplated scooping the scones into rounds rather than cutting into triangles. Instead I added a dash of flour to the dough and generously dusted my pastry board with flour, which enabled me to shape the dough into its eight-inch round and slice. I cut my scones into eight wedges rather than the suggested six, since they looked like they’d be substantial enough either way (and also to help myself with portion control). The scones baked up beautifully, they had a nice tender crumb and I enjoyed the essence of orange. The book suggests pairing them with jumbleberry jam and coincidentally I had made the jumbleberry jam in the Sweet Melissa Baking Book two weeks ago, so I opened a jar to spread on our scones. Melissa is right; it is a lovely accompaniment, as these scones are not terribly sweet.

I gave this recipe a 7.5 for Deliciousness and a 2 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 3.75. Many thanks to Robin of Lady Craddock’s Bakery for selecting this great recipe. You can find the recipe HERE on Robin’s site and see what the other bakers thought by visiting the SMS blogroll.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TWD: Flaky Apple Turnovers

This week’s Tuesdays With Dorie treat is Flaky Apple Turnovers. My boyfriend is particularly fond of desserts in the apple and flaky category (it’s really a good thing we don’t live close to a good bakery, I think he’d get a pastry every single day), so I was definitely looking forward to making these. I did have my reservations, though: back in April when the Sweet Melissa group made apple turnovers, a recipe that called for pre-packaged puff pastry ended up taking me almost two days to complete and some minor frustrations due to various mistakes I made and I did not want a repeat of that. I think I subconsciously began the process on Friday evening in anticipation of disaster, so I’d have time to start over if the recipe didn’t work the first time. This is what my dough looked like after chilling overnight: a big crumbly mess!

I was afraid of “overworking” the dough, so I may not have mixed it enough before it went in for its first chilling period, figuring it would be cohesive after resting for a night in the refrigerator. Instead of tossing it, I hydrated it by adding a tablespoon of water and a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (a good dough tenderizer), mixed it back up, and refrigerated it again. When I took it out ten hours later, it pleasantly rolled and folded for me – I guess it’s pretty forgiving dough. In addition to apples, I filled a few with some jumbleberry jam I made the previous weekend; the turnovers seemed like such a fall recipe, but technically we still have a tiny bit of summer left, so it seemed appropriate. I thought it would be fun to make some minis with a three-inch biscuit cutter; unfortunately, though cute, I could hardly get any filling in them at all. I also had a little problem sealing the turnovers and it didn’t occur to me until filling my second-to-last turnover that putting a little egg wash on the inside would help seal them up. Oh, well – next time. And I would definitely make these again (though I didn’t do it this time, I love that you can freeze them and bake them up when a pastry craving strikes) since any problems were easily remedied and we thought they were fantastic little treats. The pastry was nice and flaky and I liked the simplicity of the apple filling.

This recipe rated an 8.5 for Deliciousness and a 4 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 2.12. Many thanks to Julie of Someone's in the Kitchen for selecting this wonderful dessert (or breakfast or snack). You can find the recipe HERE on Julies’s site and see what the other bakers thought via the TWD blogroll.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

SMS: Perfect Pound Cake

This week’s Sweet Melissa Sundays treat is Perfect Pound Cake. Whenever superlatives such as “perfect” or “best” are pre-assessed by a recipe’s author (Cook’s Illustrated,* I’m looking at you), I inevitably set my expectations for the outcome high. I can’t say I eat a lot of pound cake these days, but a few years back I was rather taken with a highly cravable buttermilk pound cake from Whole Foods (I don’t know if they still sell it since I had to make myself stop purchasing it and I don’t really peruse the pre-made baked good sections these days), so I was happy to revisit pound cake with the Sweet Melissa group this week.

I made a half recipe in two mini loaf pans, and since I wasn’t sure what my plans for serving for the cake were, I decided to add mini chocolate chips to one of the loaves. The chocolate turned out to be a good idea since we ended up taking that loaf as a snack to a baseball game last night, and I think I might have found the plain cake a little dry on its own, though the more I ate, the more I liked it. I thought the lightly sweet vanilla flavor was excellent and my house smelled amazing while the cake was baking. I mentioned recently that I have gotten better with the math for scaling back recipes, but don’t always do so well with the baking time, which may have contributed to the dryness: I baked the two mini loaves for thirty minutes at 325 degrees, which may have been about three or four minutes too long. The second loaf is patiently waiting to be eaten; I’m thinking of making a lime glaze and pairing it with some homemade raspberry ice cream tonight. This recipe rated a 7.5 for Deliciousness and a 2 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 3.75. Many thanks to Michele of Veggie Num Nums for selecting this cake. You can find the recipe HERE on Michele’s site, plus lots of other yummy vegetarian goodies. And visit the SMS blogroll to see what the other bakers thought of this recipe.

*I recently purchased a stack of old Cook’s Illustrated magazines (mid to late nineties – I had no idea Mark Bittman and Nick Maglieri used to be regular contributors!) at a library book sale, and yesterday when I was cleaning up a bit, I noticed one of the magazines does in fact have an article entitled “Perfect Pound Cake: New Mixing Method Yields Ideal Texture” with a recipe called “The Best Pound Cake” and now I want to try that recipe too!

Kitchen cleanup crew in action!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

TWD: Chocolate Souffle (plus Cheese Souffle)

This week’s Tuesdays With Dorie recipe is Chocolate Souffle. There seems to be a lot of trepidation surrounding soufflés: they’re fussy, they won’t puff, they fall. They’re actually not that difficult to make, which is how I ended up making two yesterday, and even if they don’t puff as much as you want them to (mine didn’t) and they inevitably fall, they still taste great! I will get to dessert in a moment, but this selection inspired me to make a cheese soufflé, so I’ll start with dinner. I don’t recall ever having tried a chocolate soufflé until this weekend (and now I’ve made two variations), but cheese soufflés were in my dad’s regular dinner rotation; I loved them as a child and still make them occasionally. I definitely inherited the “Enjoyment of Rich Foods” gene from my dad, but luckily he also passed down the “Compulsion to Run 30 Miles per Week” gene, so it all balances out (more or less). This is the Souffle Au Fromage from Mastering the Art of French Cooking; I won’t post the recipe since it’s kind of late (I’ve been a terrible procrastinator with my TWD posts, it’s a vicious cycle) and I’m sure it can easily be found online, though I assume most home cooks, particularly food bloggers, probably own MTAOFC. And if you don’t own it, I recommend it; it’s worth it just for the yummy soufflé recipe.

As it turns out, I like chocolate soufflé just as much as cheese. I made a quarter recipe, divided into three six-ounce ramekins and baked them for eighteen minutes; I think I probably could have gotten away with two (and had a higher, more dramatic puff). I would have eaten the entire ramekin of soufflé either way, so I guess this is better for portion control. The soufflé was super-chocolaty, creamy, and the dusting of sugar in the ramekin gave a delightful crunch at the end. Mr. Penpen called it "perfect chocolateness." We gave this dessert a 9.5 for Deliciousness and a 2.5 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 3.8 – I can’t wait to make it again. Many thanks to Susan of She’s Becoming DoughMesstic for choosing this awesome dessert. You can find the recipe HERE on Susan’s site and visit the TWD blogroll to see what the other bakers thought of it.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

SMS: Fallen Chocolate Souffle Cake

This week’s Sweet Melissa Sunday treat was Fallen Chocolate Souffle Cake, which happens to be the “cover cake” of the book. It seems like it had been a while since the Sweet Melissa group made a fancy dessert and the photo is wonderful, so I was enthusiastic about this selection (even with a second chocolate soufflé looming around the corner for Tuesdays With Dorie). With the second soufflé in mind, I tried to actually get my act together ahead of time and make this last Sunday, but then I realized I had forgotten to buy an orange (for the zest) and Grand Marnier, so it got shelved until Friday afternoon (yay for an early-start holiday weekend). I kept vacillating on which size to make; it seemed most practical for me to quarter the recipe, but then I read on the Problems and Questions section of the SM site that this was not a great one to reduce. However, another baker had success with minis, so I decided to go ahead and make two in my four-inch springform pans.

I think I might have overbaked my soufflés just a little bit (about twenty-two minutes), nonetheless the flavor was divine; the essence of orange from the Grand Marnier complemented the fruity chocolate I used, Scharffen Berger 62%, very nicely. In addition to this dessert being simple to make and delicious to eat, it was also fun watching the soufflés fall as I photographed them; all around a very positive baking experience. This recipe received a 9 for Deliciousness and a 2.5 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 3.6. Many thanks to Sarah of Blue Ridge Baker for choosing this splendid dessert. You can find the recipe HERE on Sarah’s lovely blog (she makes so many scrumptious-looking treats, often with creative substitutions for cane sugar) and see how the recipe fell for the rest of the bakers via the SMS blogroll. The ice cream on top is the Cacao Nib Gelato from the post below this one.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Cacao Nib Gelato

The other day while I was talking to my mom on the phone, Mr. Penpen pulled a bowl – to his credit, it was one of our ice cream bowls – out of the freezer and gave me an inquisitive look. I told him not to eat the contents of the bowl since it was shortening, which prompted my mom to ask, “Don’t you have any ice cream?” I told her that of course we had ice cream, homemade Cacao Nib Gelato, actually. She then said she hadn’t seen it on my blog, which was true: not all ice creams make the blog. I did figure the Cacao Nib Gelato would make an appearance at some point, probably as an accompaniment to another dessert, but then I decided and ice cream this delicious deserved its own post. Seriously, I think this may be my very favorite flavor this summer.

I had initially thought the cacao nibs were mixed into the ice cream, but instead they are infused in the gelato base, giving the gelato a glorious depth of cocoa flavor, without overpowering the pure taste of sweet cream. Since this gelato is not a typical heavy chocolate ice cream, you can pair it with chocolate desserts without going into overload. It’s also perfect on its own, especially eaten in spoonfuls (just one more!) straight out of the container. This recipe gets a 9 for Deliciousness and a 2.5 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 3.6

Cacao Nib Gelato, from the September 2009 issue of Bon Appetit (for printable recipe, click HERE)
1 ½ cups heavy cream

1 ½ cups whole milk

½ cup cacao nibs
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise (you could also use 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract or vanilla paste)

5 large egg yolks

¾ cups sugar

Combine heavy whipping cream, whole milk, and cacao nibs in heavy large saucepan. Scrape in seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean; add bean. Bring mixture to simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat. Cover and let mixture steep 30 minutes. Uncover and return to simmer. Whisk 5 large egg yolks and 3/4 cup sugar in large heatproof bowl until mixture is pale yellow and slightly thickened. Gradually add hot cream mixture to yolk mixture, whisking until well blended. Return mixture to same saucepan and stir over medium-low heat until custard thickens and coats back of spoon when finger is drawn across and instant-read thermometer inserted into custard registers 170°F, about five minutes (mine took less than five minutes). Transfer custard to medium bowl, cover with plastic, and chill overnight (both times I’ve made this, I’ve chilled the custard at least twenty hours).

When ready to churn the ice cream, pour custard through fine strainer set over bowl; discard solids (cacao nibs and vanilla beans) in strainer. Transfer custard to ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer gelato to freezer container. Cover and freeze until ice cream is firm, at least 8 hours or overnight. Can be made three days ahead. Keep frozen.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

TWD: Espresso Cheesecake Brownies

This week’s Tuesdays With Dorie treat was Espresso Cheesecake Brownies. I know the union of brownies and cheesecake is probably dessert bliss for a lot of people, but I’m not a huge fan of cheesecake. In fact, I have only skipped two weeks since joining Tuesdays With Dorie last November and one of those was the Tall and Creamy Cheesecake, though, since most other people like cheesecake, I have since gone back and made it (Floating Islands, I promise to get to you someday). Anyway, I went into this one anticipating not liking it very much. I thought about filling a graham cracker crust with brownie batter and calling it a brownie cheesecake, but ultimately decided to make a quarter of the original recipe, sans the sour cream topping, as I planned on freezing three out of the four brownies – too many treats around.

As I was putting the brownies together, the smell of the cheesecake layer reminded me a lot of tiramisu, which I enjoy quite a bit, so I was feeling a bit more optimistic about the outcome. Over the past few months I have gotten pretty good at scaling down recipes and need a cheat sheet much less often than I used to. However, I don’t always get the baking time quite right and I think the brownie layer turned out a little overdone. Normally dry brownies would make me cranky, but the cheesecake layer was moist enough, so it balanced out. My boyfriend and I sampled a brownie last night and concurred that they deserve a 7 for Deliciousness (better than expected) and I gave them a 2.5 for Effort, giving them an EDR of 2.8. I’m sure Mr. Penpen will enjoy the frozen brownies on some rare occasion when we don’t have fresh baked goods in the house and I don’t feel like making any. Many thanks to Melissa of Life in a Peanut Shell for selecting this recipe (we're going to be don with the brownie section before you know it). You can find the recipe HERE on Melissa’s site and visit the TWD site to see what the other bakers thought of these brownies.