Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Partway There

It’s Tuesday, so it should be a Tuesdays With Dorie post, but right now I have graham crackers. The Tuesdays With Dorie dessert this week is Low and Lush Chocolate Cheesecake (the recipe is here on Tea and Scones), which will be made and posted later this week (we have permission to post late this week). Since I’m not a big cheesecake fan, I decided to make some graham crackers for the one I’m making for Josh so I would have a yummy treat this week too. I’m going to hold off on the EDR right now, as I was far too tired, hungry, and busy making dinner when I baked these tonight. They taste wonderful, though, and I’m sure they’ll be an excellent base for the cheesecake. The recipe is from Martha Stewart’s Cookies and can be found here on her website (I used a cookie cutter instead of trimming them with a pastry wheel and forgot to pierce them with a fork). I hope everyone had a great holiday and that you all are enjoying the last few days of 2009.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

TWD: My Favorite Pecan Pie

Dorie calls this week’s treat “My Favorite Pecan Pie.” I have to say, I generally like the idea of pecan pie better than the finished product. I mean, I like pecans and always think the pie will be yummy, but the proportion of nuts to sweetened gelatinous matter is often very disappointing. Not this one, though. Dorie decreases the sugar and amps up the flavor with cinnamon, espresso powder, and chocolate. I learned from making Dorie’s Cinnamon Squares what a marvelous combination those flavors are and they did not disappoint in this pie. And bonus: it’s actually really easy to make! You do have to plan a little bit ahead to make pie dough, but the filling comes together in a matter of minutes and requires only one bowl – awesome!

We rated this recipe a solid 9 for Deliciousness and a 3 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 3. Many thanks to Beth of Someone’s in the Kitchen with Brina for selecting this delectable pie. You can find the recipe on Beth’s site and stop by the Tuesdays With Dorie blogroll to see what the other bakers thought of this treat. Due to Christmas, it’s whatever day of the week we want with Dorie, though, so many will probably post later in the week. This would definitely be a wonderful Christmas dessert and I am slightly tempted to make it again.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee

Last week I mentioned some shortbread cookies I had baked for Secret Baker. Secret Baker is the collaborative idea of three fabulous baker/bloggers, Sarah of Blue Ridge Baker, Margaret (aka Tealady) of Tea and Scones, and Tracey of Tracey’s Culinary Adventures. They decided that since we all see and hear about what goes on in each others' kitchens, it was time we actually got to try some of the concoctions. Much like Secret Santa, you are randomly assigned someone to bake for and in turn, a mystery box of baked goods will arrive on your doorstep. Awesome, right? Sarah hosted the first round and there is a write-up about it here on her blog, and Margaret hosted this month and I’m sure she’ll have a round-up on her blog soon. The theme for this round was Christmas cookies. I did make shortbread and gingersnaps, but I thought it would be fun to make a candy as well.

Not long ago, the Sweet Melissa baking group made toffee. The recipe in the Sweet Melissa book gave me, as well as many of the Sweet Melissa bakers, a number of difficulties; I attempted three batches before I concocted one worth eating. It was yummy, though, and I knew I wanted to make more toffee this holiday season. Lucky for me, one of my fellow bakers, Joy of Hot Oven, Warm Heart, posted a different recipe the week the group made toffee, after burning a batch of the Sweet Melissa toffee herself. The recipe she used was David Lebovitz's , which can be found here on his site. I definitely recommend checking out his post, as it has a lot of tips on candy-making.

There were a couple things I did differently this time. David’s recipe did not specify how hot the stove should be, so I channeled my best caramel-making experiences and left it on medium. I figured I would rather have it be slow and steady than risk burnt candy again. Also, after always using the inexpensive, easily shatterable, and prone to fogging up so much you can’t read the temperature candy thermometers from the grocery store, I finally upgraded slightly with this one from Sur La Table and it seems good so far. The Secret Baker participants list their allergies and aversions, and the person I was baking for, Kayte, of Grandma’s Kitchen Table, said that the guys in her house do not like nuts “in” things, just on top or bottom of, so I only used half the nuts in the recipe, on the chocolate part, since when I made toffee before they sort of sunk in.

Josh and I thought the toffee was excellent, and Kayte informed me the guys over at Grandma’s Kitchen Table loved it, too. I rate this recipe a 9 for Deliciousness and a 2.5 for Effort, for an EDR of 3.6. A great last minute gift or snack to have around for the holidays! Oh, and above is a photo of the treats I received from my Secret Baker. The box was packed with a plethora of delicious goodies; there was no note, though, so the baker is still a secret to me!

Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee, recipe from David Lebovitz
(printable recipe)

2 cups (8 ounces) toasted almonds or hazelnuts, chopped between 'fine' and 'coarse'
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted or unsalted butter, cut into pieces
a nice, big pinch of salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, or 1 cup chocolate chips
optional: Ground cocoa nibs and fleur de sel

Lightly oil a baking sheet with an unflavored vegetable oil. Alternatively, use a 9”x9” square baking pan, line with a parchment paper sling (about 2 inches hanging over the sides) and spray with cooking spray. Sprinkle half the nuts into a rectangle about 8”x 10" on the baking sheet or the entire 9”x9” baking pan. (Or for a less nutty toffee, skip the nuts on this layer.)

In a medium heavy-duty saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the water, butter, salt, and both sugars. Cook, stirring as little as possible, until the thermometer reads 300 F degrees. (The recipe did not specify what temperature the stove should be on, so I left it on medium heat for about 10 minutes, then nudged the dial up just a bit and it reached temperature.) Have the vanilla and baking soda handy. Immediately remove from heat and stir in the baking soda and vanilla.
Quickly pour the mixture over the nuts on the baking sheet or pan. Try to pour the mixture so it forms a relatively even layer. If necessary, gently but quickly spread with a spatula, but don't overwork it. Strew the chocolate pieces over the top and let stand 2 minutes, then spread in an even layer with an offset spatula.

If using, sprinkle with a small handful of cocoa nibs and a flurry of fleur des sel.
Sprinkle the remaining nuts over the chocolate and gently press them in with your hands.

Cool completely and break into pieces to serve. Store in an airtight container for up to ten days.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

TWD: Café Volcano Cookies

The Tuesdays With Dorie bakers lucked out with two cookie recipes in a row this month. Don’t get me wrong, I do have a lot of fun making (and eating) the fancy desserts, but can never say no to cookies. This week’s concoction is Café Volcano Cookies, which consist of merely five ingredients and are a member of the meringue family. Mine, however, did not puff much at all – oops. I had used the last of my espresso powder making cheesecake the previous week and failed to replenish my supply, so I was happy to see on the Problems & Questions section that cocoa powder was a good substitution (I have pounds of that, thanks to a couple of over-enthusiastic internet purchases). So that is why my cookies look very dark, though admittedly they were also a little bit overdone.

I asked Josh what he thought of them and this was his reply, “they’ll get eaten, but I won’t request them again. The dough to stuff ratio is too low for me.” He hadn’t seen me bake them, so he didn’t realize there was neither flour nor butter in them. I also caught him feeding a piece to Eloise before he remembered they have chocolate, so I guess that’s what he meant by “they’ll get eaten.” I will admit they’ve grown on me a bit, and I definitely like the idea of a dairy and gluten-free cookie. If I ever make them again, I would not toast the walnuts, as I found the flavor overpowered the yummy almonds and chocolate. And though not a huge hit, I would consider making a variation of this recipe again.

This recipe rated a 7 for Deliciousness and a 2 for Effort, giving them an EDR of 3.5. Many thanks to MacDuff of The Lonely Sidecar for an easy yet interesting choice. You can find the recipe here on MacDuff’s site and visit the TWD blogroll to see what the other bakers thought of these cookies.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cold Weather Food

It was a gray and rainy morning on Saturday (and for the better part of the weekend, actually), which made me crave something warm and comforting for breakfast. I had starred some gingerbread pancakes in my Google Reader a while ago and decided it was the perfect morning to make them. Unfortunately, though scrumptious, they weren’t terribly pretty and I didn’t photograph them (we also devoured them rather quickly). Though I hope to make them again before the holiday season is over, it may not happen, so click on over to this recipe on Baking Bites for some fantastic Gingerbread Pancakes (I recommend upping the spices and subbing some whole wheat for white flour). Josh and Eloise would tell you the pancakes were the best idea I had all weekend, much better than my idea to go running in the rain.

I’m not going to leave you without a recipe and a picture of my wet dog. Another yummy comfort food I’ve been making recently is Pasta with Garlic and Oil; if you want to be fancy it’s called “Aglios E Olio”. In our house we refer to the dish as “garlic noodles.” It’s easy, delicious, and inexpensive to make – win-win-win! We won’t bother worrying about the nutritional content. Mondays are often rough for me, so it’s nice to have a simple and satisfying meal like this one at the end of the day. Before you proceed, I will warn you that you must love garlic, ‘cos there’s a lot in this recipe! This recipe received an 8.5 for Deliciousness and a 2 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 4.25.

Pasta with Garlic and Olive Oil (Aglio E Olio) from Cook’s Illustrated Italian Favorites
(printable recipe)

1 pound spaghetti or noodles of your choice
Table salt
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
20 medium garlic cloves from 1-2 heads, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about ¼ cup)
¾ teaspoon red pepper flakes
3-4 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
1 ounce grated Parmesan, about ½ cup (optional)

Adjust the oven rack to lower-middle position, set large heatproof serving bowl on rack and heat oven to 200 degrees. Bring 4 quarts water to boil, covered in large Dutch oven or stockpot. Add spaghetti and 1 ½ teaspoons salt to boiling water, stir to separate pasta, cover and cook until al dente; reserve 1/3 cup pasta cooking water and drain pasta.

While water is heating, combine 3 tablespoons oil, 3 tablespoons garlic, and ½ teaspoon salt or sea salt flakes in heavy-bottomed nonstick 10-inch skillet; cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until garlic foams and is sticky and straw-colored, 10 to 12 minutes. Off heat, add remaining tablespoon of garlic, red pepper flakes, parsley, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons pasta cooking water to skillet and stir well to keep garlic from clumping.

Transfer drained pasta to warm serving bowl; add remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and remaining reserved pasta water and toss to coat. Add garlic mixture and ¾ teaspoon salt or 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes to pasta; toss well to combine. Serve immediately, sprinkling individual bowls with Parmesan, if desired.

Recipe notes: I chop half the garlic with a knife and mince the rest with a garlic press, so there are varying size pieces. The recipe recommends sprinkling toasted bread crumbs over the pasta, which I think would be excellent (extra carbs!), but I haven’t had any on hand when preparing this.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

TWD: Sables

When I first started reading though Baking, one of the things I immediately enjoyed about it was that in addition to the fancy desserts, it is packed with simple but special recipes, which you can make from basic pantry staples. One that immediately caught my eye was the Sable recipe, which was described as a French shortbread (sounds so much more enticing than “butter cookie”) and is accompanied by a gorgeous photo. Anyway, it was one of the very first recipes I made from “the book” and I was happy to make it again when it was selected for Tuesdays With Dorie this week. Dorie offers a number of different flavor combinations in the “playing around” section of the recipe, and since I had made the basic cookie recipe the first time around, I was tempted to try one of the citrus or spice versions. Josh voted for plain butter, though, and I count on him to consume the larger percent of baked goods in this household, so I went with that one.

And yum! I’d forgotten what fantastic cookies they are; they are sturdier than a traditional shortbread, which coincidentally, I made a batch of for Secret Baker this weekend, and delightfully buttery. It has gotten quite cold (for California) this week and I really didn’t feel like running tonight; I just wanted to sit inside and eat these cookies – they’re that good. This recipe rated an 8 for Deliciousness and a 2 for Effort, giving it an EDR of 4. Many thanks to Barbara of Bungalow Barbara for a great selection. You can find the recipe here on Barbara’s site, as well as lots of lovely cakes and great information about baking. And stop by the TWD blogroll to see what other variations people made.

Here is a photo the shortbread I made for Secret Baker. The recipe can be found here on the Cook’s Illustrated site. I sampled one for quality control and they’re really good too!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

SMS: Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake (bars) with(out) Blackberry Glaze

This week’s Sweet Melissa Sundays treat is Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake with (or in my case without) Blackberry Glaze. It comes from the “Sunday Supper’s Grand Finale” section of the book and it is the group’s grand finale for 2009. We’ll be taking a short break for the holidays and returning in January. I am not a huge fan of cheesecake, but they’re generally appreciated by others and I knew Josh would be seeing his friends this weekend, so I made an entire recipe. This recipe revealed a couple deficiencies in my seemingly well-equipped kitchen. It was meant to be baked in an 8-inch springform pan, which I don’t have. I was going to scale up the recipe a bit and bake it in my 9-inch springform pan, but then I realized I didn’t have a roasting pan that would fit the 9-inch pan for its water bath, so I made cheesecake bars instead. This ended up working really well, since bars are more portable and I didn’t have to worry about water leaking into my pan, since they were baked in a standard 8x8 square pan (with 1.5 times the amount of crust) rather than a springform pan.

I have to say, I think this is a contender for “richest recipe I’ve ever made.” Seriously: a chocolate crust, chocolate on top of the crust, and half a pound of chocolate in the cheesecake, not to mention a healthy dose of cream. We ended cutting the cheesecake into 16 squares and even small squares seemed pretty intense. The recipe comes together fairly quickly and easily, but it does involve a bit of planning, as it bakes at two different temperatures (three if you count the initial baking of the crust), and then is supposed to sit in the oven for an hour after its second bake. I got as far as baking the crust on Friday night, then realized I would be up much later than I wanted to be if I continued the project, so the rest got left until Saturday. I actually had to defer the oven monitoring to Josh yesterday afternoon since I had an appointment, and he did a great job – the cheesecake baked and set perfectly!

I thought the crumbly chocolate hazelnut crust was superb, I might secretly scrape some cheesecake off a bar or two and just eat them as chocolate cookies. Josh liked the bars a lot and rated this recipe an 8.5 for Deliciousness. I give it a 3.7 for Effort, for an EDR of 2.29. Many thanks to Shandy of Pastry Heaven for selecting this decadent treat. You can find the recipe here on Shandy’s site and visit the SMS blogroll to see what the other bakers thought of this dessert.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

TWD: Rosy Poached Pear (Quince) and Pistachio Tart

Tuesdays With Dorie begins the month of December with Rosy Poached Pear and Pistachio Tart. Thanks to Josh’s brother, we have become acquainted with a very nice farmer. Amy runs the Petaluma Bounty Farm and, among other accolades, was featured in this article, “40 Farmers Under 40.” She knows I like to bake and on Thanksgiving she kindly gave me some pineapple quinces, which she thought I would enjoy. I had never worked with quinces before, but since they are a relative of pears, I figured I could use them for this tart. The quince were an excellent poaching fruit: they are not as hard and crunchy as apples, but have more give than pears, so they held up well and sliced nicely. I poached three large quinces and only made one tiny tart, so I will be making quince sorbet with the leftovers (and hopefully posting it).

Last month we had the privilege of posting the recipes out of order, and I will confess that I was a bit wistful for November, as this tart was a bit of a production to make just a few days after Thanksgiving, and I did not have the foresight to divide the labor up over a couple days. In addition to the fruit, there was pistachio pastry cream, a tart shell, candied pistachios, and a glaze made with the poaching liquid. The tart was really lovely, though, and though the pastry cream ended up being my least favorite part, it smelled amazing as the pistachios and sugar steeped in milk. I think the combination of textures in this tart may have been as good as the flavors, particularly the fruit and crunchy pistachios.

This recipe received a 7.5 for Deliciousness and a 4.5 for Effort, giving it an EDR 1.66. If I had a ranking for aesthetic appeal, this is a definite 10 – so pretty. Many thanks to Lauren of I’ll Eat You for selecting this dessert. You can find the recipe here on Lauren’s site and visit the TWD blogroll to see what the other bakers thought of this tart.