Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Cinnamon Crème Brûlée

Yes, this is a story about baking. It's about crème brûlée, and how to make a fine, fine batch of cinnamon-flavored custard. But mostly it's a love story. I am speaking, of course, about the love between a girl and her brand-spankin-new Bernzomatic Fat Boy propane blow torch.

Because, you see, there is only one true way to make the caramelized sugar on top of crème brûlée, and it ain't with an oven. No, my friends, you need the fierce flicker of flame that only a blow torch can provide. True, I did not believe at first--couldn't I just take Dorie's advice and place my sugar-topped custards in an ice bath under a broiler, and all would be well? Or what about the other cheater's option of making a caramel in a saucepan and then pouring it on top? Couldn't I be content with these other methods?

But then I realized that I was passing up a prime opportunity to buy yet another kitchen gadget for my already-overstuffed cabinets. "Never!" I roared. "I shall not rest until I own a kitchen torch of my very own! I shall spare no expense or effort!" Imagine, then, what a surprise it was to find a big torch for sale at my neighborhood home & garden store for $15. Glad I stuck to my principles!

Trust me, though, it was completely worth it to do this thing right. Crème brûlée, or burnt cream in English, is first made by cooking a custard base of egg yolks, milk, and cream in individual ramekins. I infused my cream with several cinnamon sticks, which provided a delicious background flavor that blended well with the vanilla in the recipe. After the custard is baked, it's refrigerated until completely cold and firm. In my case I actually made it a few days in advance and kept it well-wrapped in the refrigerator. This prolonged chilling time didn't seem to hurt the flavor or texture at all.

After the custards are totally cold, they're sprinkled with a generous heaping of sugar, and the sugar is then heated until it caramelizes--it should be quite dark, but just on the safe side of burning (no one likes the taste of black sugar!) As I mentioned above, the caramelizing is best done with a torch, although other methods will do in a pinch. If done properly and quickly enough, the custard should still be set, silky smooth, and cool, and the sugar topping has formed a warm, hard caramel shell that has to be "cracked" before you can get to the custard underneath. It is this interplay of hard and smooth, warm and cool, sweet and almost burnt, that makes crème brûlée so irresistible.

...well, to some of us anyway. I'm sadly not much of a custard person, although I did think this recipe was an excellent, excellent version of crème brûlée. I just really don't love the texture, sad to say. However, my husband adored these and ate three in quick succession. And ate the fourth a few hours later. And then was heartbroken when there wasn't any more crème brûlée available. THAT must be the sign of a good dessert!


Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Daring Bakers: Lavash Crackers With Two Types of Hummus

I think it's fair to say that this month's Daring Bakers challenge had me a little kerfluffled. The challenge was to make a vegan (and, optionally, gluten-free) flatbread called lavash, and a dip of our own choosing. Lots of people were psyched about it, but I was decidedly more...meh. Let's run down the evidence: I'm a pastry chef by profession. The blog is called Cake or Death. I really, really like making (and photographing, and writing about) desserts. While I eat savory foods on a daily basis, they're not really what sparks my creativity and passion. Plus, I've already experimented with making crackers, so there wasn't even the thrill of a new technique to discover. In short, I had a bad attitude. And to top it off, I didn't check the posting schedule, so I'm posting this a day late! In the immortal words of Homer Simpson, D'oh.

But, after all of my whining and foot-dragging, the challenge turned out to be a fine idea. The hubs and I had tickets to see Beck and Spoon at the Hollywood Bowl, an outdoor venue where picnicking is practically mandatory, so I had a great excuse to whip up homemade crackers and two of our favorite types of hummus: traditional tahini-based hummus, and spicy black bean hummus.

Making the crackers was really simple. I'd say this was the easiest (fastest, least messy) challenge I've yet participated in. The dough came together beautifully in my kitchen aid mixer, then it rose overnight in the fridge. The hardest part was probably rolling it paper-thin so that it was crispy and not chewy upon baking. I rolled mine in two batches, which made the task significantly easier. One batch was topped with oregano and a mix of paprika and cayenne, and the other batch was topped with garlic and fresh rosemary. Of course both were generously doused with salt and pepper as well.

I first made my standard hummus recipe. This is my failsafe, go-to appetizer, because it is so good and authentic. Lots of lemon, lots of tahini, and of course lots of garlic and salt. Top it with a sprinkling of hot paprika, some toasted pine nuts, and a big drizzle of olive oil. Yum.

The "black bean hummus" is a bit of a misnomer, since it doesn't contain garbanzo beans or tahini. But it is a fabulous spicy bean dip, with pepitas, cilantro, and a big kick from chipotle peppers and extra adobo sauce. My (culinarily gifted) aunt created this recipe for a recipe contest a few years ago, and I've always thought it was a travesty that she didn't win. I now always refer to it as "award-winning black bean hummus!" in my head.
Lavash recipe is after the cut...

Lavash Crackers
Adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart.
The key to a crisp lavash is to roll out the dough paper-thin. The sheet can be cut into crackers in advance or snapped into shards after baking. The shards make a nice presentation when arranged in baskets.

Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers

* 1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread flour or gluten free flour blend (If you use a blend without xanthan gum, add 1 tsp xanthan or guar gum to the recipe)
* 1/2 tsp (.13 oz) salt
* 1/2 tsp (.055 oz) instant yeast
* 1 Tb (.75 oz) agave syrup or sugar
* 1 Tb (.5 oz) vegetable oil
* 1/3 to 1/2 cup + 2 Tb (3 to 4 oz) water, at room temperature
* Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings

1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, agave, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. You may not need the full 1/2 cup + 2 Tb of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.

2. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should pass the windowpane test (see http://www.wikihow.com/Determine-if-Bre … ong-Enough for a discription of this) and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.


2. For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), and slightly tacky. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

3. Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).

4. For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax. At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment. If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors.


4. For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Lay out two sheets of parchment paper. Divide the cracker dough in half and then sandwich the dough between the two sheets of parchment. Roll out the dough until it is a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. Slowly peel away the top layer of parchment paper. Then set the bottom layer of parchment paper with the cracker dough on it onto a baking sheet.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.) Be careful with spices and salt - a little goes a long way. If you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking. If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.

5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).

6. When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Black and White Angel Food Cupcakes

I was completely torn when I found out that cupcakes were this month's Sugar High Friday theme. I love Sugar High Friday! And I really, really love cupcakes. But I've been feeling a little...squishier around the middle lately, and I'm sure it's due to all of the baked goods lying around, and my accompanying lack of willpower. It's a potent combination. And since I just climbed dominated Half Dome, I've been feeling virtuous and didn't want to ruin my hard work with an ill-timed cupcake binge. What's a girl to do?

I decided to compromise and make healthy-ish cupcakes. Instead of my favorite intensely chocolate devil's food cakes loaded with rich buttercream frosting, I went with light and airy (and almost fat-free!) angel food cakes, topped with a modest dusting of powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Why, these are so healthy, they're practically vegetables!

Admittedly, these didn't turn out quite the way I pictured. I expected more of a rise out of the cakes, so they turned out a little shrimpy. And I really should have piped the batter instead of scooping it, because they look charmingly, uh, rustic on top.

However, the taste made up for their cosmetic deficiencies. The typical angel food cake batter was enlivened with a bit of orange zest and a healthy dose of finely grated bittersweet chocolate. The final result isn't exactly a chocolate angel food cake, but it's a complex cake with hints of citrus and chocolate in every bite. The chocolate was a great touch, and it definitely made the cake much more interesting than the typical "chewy sponge" flavor of regular angel food cake!

Of course these little cakes would be divine with a dollop of whipped cream and a pool of warm ganache, so if you're feeling less angelic, you could craft a really sinful dessert from these innocent cupcakes. Recipe after the jump!

Black and White Angel Food Cupcakes

This recipe makes about 30 mini cupcakes. I recommend multiplying it by 4 if you want to make a large (10-inch) bundt cake.

3 egg whites, room temperature
3/4 tsp lemon juice
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 cup AP flour
pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp finely chopped orange zest
1 oz chocolate, finely grated

Preheat the oven to 350 and line your mini cupcake pans with paper liners. (If using a bundt pan, do not spray it.)

Sift together the flour, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and salt three times. Place the egg whites in the clean bowl of a large electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat the eggs until foamy, and add the lemon juice. Continue beating on medium-high until soft peaks form. Slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 spoonful at a time, until the whites are thick, glossy, and hold their peaks.

Sift a third of the flour mixture onto the egg whites and gently fold it in using a rubber spatula. Alternately fold in the chocolate and the remaining flour mixture, being very careful not to deflate the egg whites in the process.

Scoop or pipe the batter into the prepared cupcake pans, and bake for about 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then remove them from the pans and allow to cool completely. Serve dusted with powdered sugar or cocoa powder, or topped with a bit of freshly whipped cream and chocolate sauce.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tuesdays with Elizabeth: Soft Granola Bars

Hi folks! I'm taking a pass on this week's Tuesday with Dorie (dimpled plum cake) because I've been out of town the past few days. Actually, I'm still away, but thanks to the magic of the internets (and good old-fashioned voodoo), I can still keep my Tuesday rendezvous with you all.

So what's so important that I can't drop everything to make a plum cake? How about...this?

That, my friends, is a tiny little hill known as Half Dome, located in Yosemite National Park. By the time you read this, I will have hiked up to the top of that rock (17 miles round-trip), including a final ascent that is so steep you have to pull yourself up using hand cables. Should be awesome! Check later posts for updates and mucho whining!

Knowing the hike is going to be taxing, I decided to make myself a small granola bar to provide a little energy:

I was all set to wrap up my giant granola bar o' power, until I realized it wouldn't fit in my hydration pack. D'oh! So I followed Plan B: cutting the huge granola slab into about 20 smaller (but still substantial!) granola bars. Let me tell you, these homemade granola bars are awesome. They're soft and chewy, with a good amount of crunch provided by toasted, salted nuts.

Granola as far as the eye can see!
I'd like to dedicate these granola bars to my kitchen sink, because it seems that I included everything but the sink in these babies. There's oats, wheat germ, flax seeds, coconut, almonds, macadamia nuts, peanut butter, dried cranberries, raspberries, apricots, goji berries, and much more, with a sprinkling of mini chocolate chips to finish it off.
It sounds busy, and it kind of is, but in the best way, where every bite is different from the one before. One might have a lot of tangy dried apricots, while the next bite is full of rich, salty macadamia nuts and coconut. You can bet I'm making room in my hiking pack for these bad boys!

Soft Granola Bars
Yields 16-20 good-sized bars

2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup chopped nuts--I used toasted, salted almonds and macadamias
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
4 tbsp butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt
8 oz dried fruit--I used a mix of 4-5 different kinds
1/4 cup natural peanut butter
1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips

Line a 9x13 pan with waxed paper and spray it with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix the oats, wheat germ, flax seeds and coconut together and spread them out on a baking sheet (and add your nuts if you are not using toasted nuts). Toast them for 10-12 minutes, stirring after every 2 minutes, until the oats are golden and smell toasted, but not burned.

In a large bowl, combine the chopped nuts, dried fruit, and toasted oats mixture.

In a medium saucepan, combine the brown sugar, honey, vanilla, salt, and peanut butter. Stirring constantly, allow the butter and sugar to melt, and bring the mixture to a simmer.

Carefully pour the hot sugar syrup over the oat mixture in the bowl, and stir very well until the ingredients are well-combined. Scrape the hot granola into the prepared pan and smooth it into an even layer. Sprinkle the top with the miniature chocolate chips.

Take another piece of waxed paper, spray it with nonstick spray, and press it, sprayed side down, on top of the granola. You need to really compact the granola so that it will stick together. I placed another 9x13 pan on top of my granola and put 10 lb dumbbells in it to do the work for me, but you could just press really hard with your hands, or use a few heavy cookbooks.

Allow the bars to cool completely, at least 2-3 hours. To serve, pull up on the waxed paper to remove them from the pan. Peel the paper off, and cut them into bars or squares. Wrap them individually in cling wrap to prevent them from sticking together.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Snickerdoodles of Lust

I have a shameful confession: I have been watching the new 90210 show. This is especially embarrassing because not only is it lowest-common-denominator teenybopper trash, but it's not even well done trash. Whereas viewership of One Tree Hill or Gossip Girl can be defended because they provide an endless stream of over-the-top soapy action and questionably awesome fashion, 90210 has NOTHING to redeem it. It is a badly written, poorly acted, atrociously styled timesuck. But that's not even the worst part! To add insult to injury, this show is dead dull. Like, it rivals the director's cut of Das Boot for sheer sleep-inducing torpor. So bad.

"That's great," you're thinking, "now I know you're a loser who should have her TV privileges revoked. But what does this have to do with snickerdoodles?"

Well, in addition to the fact that a plate of snickerdoodles has more personality than all of the 90210 characters combined (fact!), snickerdoodles were prominently featured in this week's episode. Fresh-from-the-Kansas-farm Annie baked a batch of snickerdoodles in a desperate attempt to redeem herself in the eyes of resident musician-actor-hunk-about-town Ty.

Go Fug Yourself, my idols in snarkdom, recently wrote about what's wrong with the whole show, and they rightly called Annie out on this pathetic behavior. In the process, they deemed the offending cookies Snickerdoodles of Lust, which I found absolutely hilarious, for reasons that cannot be fully explained. My husband suggested that we form a band just so we could use the name. "We're Snickerdoodles of Lust! Are you ready to rock, Springfield?!"

So the afternoon wore on, the joke persisted, and pretty soon...I was craving snickerdoodles. Nay, I was lusting for snickerdoodles. So I ended up making my own Snickerdoodles of Lust, and even though Annie claimed it took her "all night" to make them, it was less than an hour, start to finish.

To make them more lust-worthy, I added a little spice to the dough: just a pinch of cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, to give them an extra flavor boost. No wonder Ty took Annie back at the end of the episode--it's impossible to resist warm snickerdoodles fresh from the oven, with a crispy outer coating of sugar and spice and a soft, melting interior.


For the cookies:
3 cups AP flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp ginger
1 cup (2 sticks, or 8 oz) butter, softened to room temp
1-1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract

To roll the cookies:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp ginger

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large bowl sift or whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until they are fully incorporated. Add the vanilla and scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until well-blended. I think these cookies are better after the dough has chilled for a few hours, but you can make them right away if you want--they'll just be a little flatter.

Combine the sugar and spices used for rolling the cookies in a bowl. Scoop small spoonfuls of cookie dough and roll them between your palms to get nice balls. Roll them in the spiced sugar, and place them on cookie sheets covered with silpats or parchment.

Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes, until they are set, lightly golden, and crinkly on top. Cool on cookie sheets for 1 minute, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

[Random postscript: I have had Lou Reed's "Satellite of Love" stuck in my head since writing this post, and I'm trying desperately to re-write the lyrics to fit "Snickerdoodles of Lust." Any takers?]


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Chocolate Chunkers

Chipsters, Chunkers, Grabbers...we Doritos continue our obsession with twee-ly named cookies this week. "Chocolate Chunkers" have a rich, fudgy cookie base with lots of melted chocolate (unsweetened and bittersweet) AND cocoa in the batter, which is then loaded with chunks of bittersweet and white chocolate, chopped nuts, and dried fruit.

The original recipe calls for chopped peanuts (or pecans) and raisins. I spent my formative childhood years picking dry, hard raisins out of raisin bran and perfectly good oatmeal cookies, so you know there was no way I was letting a raisin anywhere near my precious chocolate cookies. Instead, I used chunks of high-quality Guittard bittersweet chocolate, Ghiradelli white chocolate, toasted hazelnuts, and dried cranberries. I think these would also be wonderful with chopped dried sour cherries.

I learned my lesson after the last TWD cookies, when mine fell a little flat and didn't look as gorgeous as the malt ball studded examples in the book. This time, I reserved some of the chocolate chunks, cranberries and nuts, and after mixing the dough and scooping them out on the baking sheets, I pressed some of the remaining add-ins on top of the cookies. I think this really improved their appearance, although the taste would probably have been the same either way.

Verdict: these cookies are tasty! I'm kind of a simple girl so they were maybe a little too full of chewy and crunchy elements, so next time I might cut the nuts and fruit down to 1/2 cup each so that I got more of the fudgy dough with each bite. But I thought the texture was fabulous, and I'm looking forward to baking off half of the dough that's calling to me in my freezer right now.

What did everyone else think?


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Chocolate Dacquoise with Hazelnuts and Apricots

Last week, I told you about my dried apricot experiments and the awesome dessert that resulted--chocolate-covered apricot ice cream balls. What I didn't tell you was that I was horribly torn between two possible apricot and chocolate recipes, and could NOT decide which one to make. So, like any good sugar addict, I made both.

This recipe also comes from David Lebovitz's Ripe for Dessert, and I have to be a fangirl for a second and rave about his cookbooks. Don't you hate it when you buy gorgeous cookbooks with the highest expectations, only to find that the recipes don't turn out the way they're pictured, or even worse, are so poorly written that they don't turn out at all? Yeah, David's recipes are the exact opposite. They always work and they're always delicious. Big fan!

But back to the dessert. This recipe consisted of chocolate meringue disks studded with chopped hazelnuts and dried apricots, sandwiching an apricot-infused ganache. The cookies are meant to be assembled a day before serving, so that the meringue softens and loses its crispness. The ganache and the inside of the meringue meld together in a sinful, fudgy rich chocolately orgy, while the outside of the cookies remain crispy. The hazelnuts add a great flavor and crunch, so these cookies don't verge into the too-gooey category.

Since I made these the same day I made the apricot ice cream, I couldn't resist filling some of the cookies with apricot ice cream instead. After carefully taste-testing the different versions, then thoughtfully re-testing them, then going back a third and fourth time, I honestly couldn't tell you which one is better! The chocolate-filled sandwiches are definitely more decadent, but the ice-cream filled ones stay crispier in the freezer, and their light texture and cocoa flavor is a great contrast to the rich ice cream. I'm afraid this calls for more deliberation and testing. I am nothing if not thorough.

I served these cookies with the apricot sauce from the ice cream recipe, because it made a ton and was a great dunking sauce. This recipe is a definite keeper, with the caveat that I would omit the dried apricots from the cookies next time (too chewy!). Otherwise, these were fab and I think they're a great company dessert, especially since they have to be made a day ahead--it ensures that you're not slaving too hard come the day of the dinner party.

Chocolate Dacquoise with Hazelnuts and Apricots
Adapted from Ripe for Dessert by David Lebovitz

3/4 c hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and coarsely chopped
1 cup (5 oz) finely diced dried apricots
1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder
5 large egg whites, room temperature
pinch salt
1/4 c sugar
2 tbsp apricot jam
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 275. Cover two baking sheets with parchment, and trace six 4-inch circles on each baking sheet.

Place the chopped hazelnuts, diced apricots, and cocoa powder in a small bowl and toss them together so that the apricot pieces are coated and separate.

In a *very clean* bowl if a stand mixer, place the room temperature egg whites and salt. Begin to beat them with the whisk attachment until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, a few spoonfuls at a time, until the whites are thick and glossy, 2-3 minutes. Whisk in the jam and vanilla. Fold in the apricot and hazelnut mixture.

Divide the meringue evenly between the twelve circles on the parchment, spreading each meringue disk into an even layer within the circle. Bake the meringues for an hour, then turn off the oven and let them sit in the oven for another 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely on the baking sheets.

These meringues are great filled with an apricot-chocolate ganache. They're also good filled with ice cream, and I imagine they'd be great with buttercream or caramel too. If you use ganache, fill them and wrap them in saran wrap, then let them sit (refrigerated) for at least 24 hours so the texture can meld together. They can be refrigerated up to 3 days, or frozen up to 3 months. Allow them to come to room temperature before serving.


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: Chocolate Malted Whopper Drops

Picasso had his blue period. Woody Allen had his Scarlett Johansson period. And we Tuesdays with Dorie bakers, we are in the midst of our great Cookie Period. Last week we did Chunkariffic Peanutty Buttery Oatey Chocolatey Cookie-y Chubbers (or whatever they were called) and this week we have Chocolate Malted Whopper Drops. No boring cookies for us, no sir.

The dough for these cookies has cocoa powder and malted milk powder (I used chocolate-flavored malted milk) and the cookies are studded with chopped malted milk balls--aka Whoppers--and chocolate chips.

I'd never baked with Whoppers before (go figure) and wasn't quite sure what to expect. Turns out I'm not a huge fan. Malted milk balls aren't on the top of my favorite candy list anyhow, but once they're baked, they lose their crunchy texture and become more chewy, with a stick-in-your-teeth quality that I didn't like. Which is unfortunate, because I really loved the dough. It had a deep, rich quality to it, like eating a mug of hot chocolate, and it stayed beautifully soft and tender for days. I would definitely keep the dough recipe, but omit the Whoppers next time.

That being said, a strange thing happened to me after I baked these cookies. I brought them to a family gathering and munched on them over the course of a long weekend. I don't know if they really changed texture, or if I came down with some sort of cookie-related Stockholm Syndrome, but I ended up really liking these by the end! The chewy Whoppers seemed to lose some of their stickiness, and the cookie became more uniform in texture. Four days after baking them, I liked them significantly more than when they were fresh out of the oven.

What did my fellow Dorites and Doritos think? Did you enjoy the Whopper experience?


Sunday, September 07, 2008

Fruit, Meet Chocolate: Apricot Ice Cream Tartufi

I'm a fool for many things: puppies with floppy ears. Rainstorms. Desserts of all shapes and sizes. Cookbooks with pretty pictures. Blog events that motivate me to bake things I wouldn't otherwise. My life is tragically low on both puppies and rain right now, but I did have the good fortune to buy three great new dessert cookbooks last week, and I've been dying to dive in and make some new sweets. So imagine my delight when I found that Meeta from What's for Lunch Honey was hosting a monthly mingle with a "Fruit & Chocolate" theme.

Perfect! One of the books I recently bought was David Lebovitz's Ripe for Dessert, a cookbook full of delicious fruity dessert recipes. I browsed through it, looking for those that combined fruit with chocolate. (Answer: almost all of them! I knew I liked this book.) Finally I settled on a recipe for Apricot Ice Cream Tartufi, because I knew I had several pounds of dried apricots languishing in the back of my cupboard.

...well, maybe calling them "apricots" is being too generous. By the time I pulled their blackened, shriveled forms from the back of the cupboard, the only clue that they were apricots came from the label on the bag. I took my life in my hands and tasted one, and it actually wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great, either. I would describe it as "highly fermented with a dash of decay."

Actually, this entire post is brought to you by the letter F, for Food Poisoning. Shortly after discovering my apricots were way, waaay past their prime, I opened a new jar of homemade apricot jam, only to find sketchy growths on the lid and in the jam itself. And the seal wasn't even broken! So my brilliant plan to create a dessert out of ingredients I had readily available backfired most horribly, and I made a last-minute trip to the store. At least it beat the projectile vomiting that would have resulted from using the suspect fruit and jam.

But enough about vomit, let's talk about my Apricot Ice Cream Tartufi! Tartu-what, you ask? Apparently "tartufi" is Italian for truffle, as these chocolate-dipped ice creams are mean to resemble truffles. They're simply balls of homemade apricot-orange ice cream, dipped in bittersweet chocolate and served with toasted hazelnuts and an apricot-orange sauce.

I was surprised at how good these are. I like apricots but I don't love them (for evidence, refer again to the neglected wizened apricot corpses in my kitchen) and I wasn't expecting too much from a dessert made from dried fruit. However, the apricot flavor really popped! They were vibrant and fruity, and although the ice cream had plenty of cream, it wasn't too heavy. The fruit flavor (and accompanying sauce) really helped to cut the richness.

I also liked that this dessert is a great hybrid of down-home cooking (simple ice cream made from dried fruit) and gourmet tastes and presentation. It can be made ahead of time and then brought out of the freezer to wow your dinner guests with fancy-pantsiness. It's also a nice amount of dessert--enough to satisfy you, not enough to have you moaning in a sticky pile of melted ice cream, cursing your lack of restraint. The chocolate shell is a pretty effective binge-preventing force field!

I realize the concept of dipping balls of ice cream in chocolate isn't novel, but for some reason it really hadn't occurred to me that I could easily do it at home. I'm excited to try this technique with other types of ice cream--I imagine it would be amazing with chocolate-raspberry, or mint chip.

I had a great time making these, and I also experimented with leftover ice cream and made some killer ice cream sandwiches--recipe to be later revealed this week. Recipe after the cut!

Apricot Ice Cream Tartufi
adapted from Ripe for Dessert by David Lebovitz

For the Ice Cream:

3/4 cup orange juice (or dry white wine)
1.5 tbsp plus 3/4 cup sugar
6 ounces dried California apricots*, cut into small pieces
1 cup milk
2 cups heavy cream, divided
5 large egg yolks
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1.25 lbs bittersweet chocolate

For the Apricot Sauce:

2.25 cups orange juice
2 tbsp sugar
3 ounces dried California apricots*
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used hazelnuts, DL recommends pistachios)

For the ice cream:

Bring the orange juice and 1.5 tbsp granulated sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan. Once it boils, remove it from the heat and add the apricots. Allow them to sit for 20 minutes until they are very soft. Once softened, puree them in a food processor or blender and set aside.

Combine the milk, 1 cup of cream, and remaining 3/4 cup of sugar in a medium saucepan. Place the egg yolks in a small bowl nearby and whisk them. Place the remaining 1 cup of cream in a large bowl with a strainer over it.

Bring the milk/cream mixture to a simmer over medium heat, but do not let it boil. Slowly pour one cup of the hot milk mixture into the yolks, whisking the entire time. Now begin whisking the milk in the saucepan, and slowly stream the egg yolks back into the saucepan, stirring constantly. Stir and cook until the custard coats the back of a spoon. (I usually use a thermometer and cook it to 175.) Pour the hot custard through the strainer into the remaining cup of cream. Whisk in the vanilla extract and the pureed apricots. Cover the top of the custard with cling wrap and chill it until it is very cold.

Freeze the ice cream according to the manufacturer's instructions. At this point you can chill it overnight, until very firm (DL recommends) or do my shortcut method: cover a baking sheet with cling wrap or foil. Using an ice cream scoop, scoop balls of ice cream and place them on the baking sheet. Freeze for one hour, then use the scoop and your hands to re-shape them until they're nice and round. Freeze them for another hour, until they are very firm.

Carefully melt the chocolate over a double-boiler or in the microwave, stirring until it's very fluid but not too hot. (I added a few spoonfuls of oil to thin it out.) At this point you can dip them by submerging them entirely in the chocolate, being careful not to let the ice cream melt into the chocolate, or it will seize. Instead of this (potentially risky) method, I did a two-part dip: first I skewered the balls with toothpicks on either side, and dipped the bottoms in the chocolate, just about 1/4 inch up. Returned them to the baking sheet, and froze them briefly. Then I balanced them on their chocolate bottom on a spatula and spooned the chocolate over the top, so that there was less risk of the ice cream getting into the chocolate. They were pretty well frozen, so maybe it was a moot point--but my method worked fine, and didn't take too long. While the chocolate is still wet, sprinkle the top with some chopped nuts. Return to the freezer to set the chocolate for about 20 minutes.

To make the sauce:

Bring the orange juice and the sugar to a boil, then remove it from the heat and add the apricot pieces. Let them soak for 20 minutes, or until very tender. Puree in a blender with the vanilla extract.

*David Lebovitz recommends using California apricots, as the imported varieties are overly sweetened. I found California apricots in a one-pound bag at Trader Joe's.


Thursday, September 04, 2008

Lemon Tea Cake

I am in love with citrus desserts. My obsession usually takes the form of chocolate-orange concoctions, but I have been known to binge on lemon treats now and again. So when I saw this drool-worthy recipe for Lemon Tea Cake on Sugarchef's blog, it immediately moved to the top of my Must-Bake List.This bread has a triple hit of lemon flavor. There's a lot of lemon zest and juice in the loaf itself, and then after baking the warm loaves are soaked with a lemon sugar syrup, and the whole thing is finished with a tart lemon glaze. People, this is lemon heaven. After their lemon-syrup bath
When freshly baked, these cakes have a very soft crumb, a vibrant lemon flavor, and a cakey texture. I froze several loaves (they freeze beautifully) and upon defrosting, the texture was a bit more like a poundcake or loaf bread. They're absolutely delicious as an indulgent breakfast, or with ice cream for dessert.

This recipe makes two large loaves, but I opted to make one large loaf and three small ones. The minis are a perfect size for snacking, and they'd make an adorable hostess or holiday gift.

I actually defrosed a loaf this week for a quickie dessert. I was making pizzas on the grill (fabulous, by the way, it's one of my favorite summer rituals) and I threw some fresh nectarines on the grill along with the pizzas. I served the warm nectarines with a slice of lemon cake and a generous helping of leftover chocolate sauce from August's eclairs experiment. It sounds busy, but it was really phenomenal: the rich chocolate, the fragrant, tart cake, the juicy nectarines--three complex elements merged into one simple dessert. Perfection.

8 Ounces Unsalted Butter (room temperature)
2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1/3 Cup Lemon Zest (use a microplane for fine zest)
4 Large Eggs (room temperature)
3 Cups Unbleached All Purpose Four
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice (fresh squeezed and strained)
3/4 Cup Buttermilk (room temperature)
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

For the Syrup
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Lemon Juice (fresh squeezed and strained)

For the Frosting
2 Cups Powdered Sugar (sifted)
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice (fresh squeezed and strained)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line with parchment paper two 8 1/2" X 4 1/2" loaf pans. [I used one 9x5 pan and three mini loaf pans.]

Put the 2 cups sugar and the lemon zest in a bowl and rub it between your fingers to release all the lemon oil into the sugar.
Cream the butter and the 2 cups lemon-sugar in the bowl of a 5 quart stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for about 5 minutes, scraping a couple of times. Add the eggs one at a time and beat to incorporate.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine the 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide the batter between the pans. There was about 1 pound 9 ounces batter per pan.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when checking. Do not overbake.

While the tea cake is baking combine the 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer until the syrup thickens slightly. Set aside to cool.

When the tea cakes are done remove them from the oven and let them cool for about 15 minutes before inverting them. Poke holes in the bottom of the tea cakes with a thin skewer, then ladle the syrup over the holes to soak in a little. Turn the tea cakes over and ladle the remaining syrup over the tops of the tea cakes. Let cool completely before frosting them.

While the tea cakes are cooling make the frosting. Whisk together the powdered sugar and lemon juice to make a smooth but slightly loose frosting. Pour over the cooled cakes and let sit at room temperature for the frosting to crust over. Cakes can be frozen or refrigerated, simply wrap them tightly in several layers of cling wrap.