Monday, March 29, 2010

Tuesdays with Dorie: Coconut Tea Cake

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe features...wait for it...COCONUT! What a perfect recipe to finish up coconut month! And on the subject of coconut, I know we're all entitled to our opinions, yadda yadda politically correct lip service, but seriously, what's up with the coconut haters? Are you sure you guys have really tasted coconut? Because it's delicious. Maybe you're doing it wrong? Just a thought.

Anyhow, this vehicle of pure coconut love was a "tea cake," which is what I guess we're calling bundt cakes now.

You guys, I have a bundt problem. (That's what she said?) My allegedly nonstick pan is the stickiest thing since Super Glue. I coated it with spray AND flour, and still had a heck of a time coaxing the cake out without major damage. I'm wondering if there's a way I can re-season it--maybe oil it well and bake it for awhile? Or would that not work with a "nonstick" pan? Please advise. Signed, Baby Got Bundt

Aside from the sticky pan aggravation, this was a lovely cake. It had a nice pronounced but-not-overwhelming coconut flavor, and I loved the slight chew and moisture the shredded coconut added. I did "put the lime in the coconut," if you will, and added some lime zest and lime juice, but I couldn't really taste it in the end product, so next time I might double it--at least--to really get that flavor.

There were some comments from people who found this cake dry, and since the thought of a failed coconut dessert gives me hives, I decided to be proactive and soak the cake with a coconut syrup before glazing, just to give it a little bit of extra moisture. I'm not sure if it was necessary, but the end result was nice and moist (but not wet!) and just about perfect. The glaze was made with lime juice, coconut milk, and powdered sugar, and was really just for looks, although I think it also helps lock in a little moisture. All in all, a wonderful cake that we're enjoying a little too much around here, if you know what I mean, and one I'm sure I'll make again.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Coconut Macaroons

Today's recipe is another one appropriate for Coconut Month--

"Coconut Month?" you ask. "What is Coconut Month, and how can it be coconut month if the last two posts have had nothing to do with coco--"

Shh, shh! Don't worry your pretty little head about that. And don't interrupt. It's rude.

AS I WAS SAYING, it's still Coconut Month! And what better way to celebrate than with one of my favorite cookies, coconut macaroons?

These cookies are so simple, so unpretentious, and so downright delicious, they're almost impossible to completely botch. Still, because they're one of my favorites, I'm also really picky about them. The texture has to be just right: crunchy and golden brown on the outside, but still really moist and soft on the inside. And I can't stand it when the outside is unevenly cooked, or is still white, or has burned bits of coconut sticking up.

This is by far my favorite macaroon recipe I've made. I've tried variations with condensed milk, or where you just add the egg whites and stir before baking, but to get the taste and texture I love, for me, it's necessary to cook the whole thing on the stove before shaping and baking them.

I like my macaroons shaped into cones and dunked into bittersweet chocolate on top, but they're also great plain. Some people like dunking the whole thing, or just dipping the bottom in chocolate.If you can handle serious sweetness, another surprisingly good combination is coconut and butterscotch chips--be sure to add an extra pinch of salt if you go this route.

Bonus: you can amuse yourself by making your macaroon volcanoes do acrobatics!

My favorite macaroon recipe is under the cut. Enjoy!

Coconut Macaroons
Yield: About 12 generous macaroons

3 cups (lightly packed) sweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup egg whites (about 6 large)
1 3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Mix first 3 ingredients in heavy large saucepan. Cook over medium heat until mixture appears somewhat pasty, stirring constantly, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat. Mix in 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract and 1/4 teaspoon almond extract. Spread out coconut mixture on large baking sheet. Refrigerate until cold, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 300°F. Line another baking sheet with parchment. Press 1/4 cup coconut mixture into pyramid shape (about 1 1/2 inches high). Place on prepared sheet. Repeat with remaining coconut mixture. Bake cookies until golden, about 30 minutes. Transfer cookies to rack and cool.


Monday, March 22, 2010

TWD: Dulce de Leche Duos

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Dulce de Leche Duos, arrived with high expectations. I know I've mentioned this before, but I live with a devoted dulce de leche lovah. When the husband heard that the dulce de leche cookies were on the agenda, he looked a little something like this:

Unfortunately, the finished product left us looking a little like this:

The cookies themselves looked like this:

The tragedy of these cookies was that they were so very sweet, so very cakey, and so very bland. The rich dulce de leche flavor didn't come through very much, and so they simply tasted like a soft sugary cookie.

Like the rigid perfectionist that I am, I partially blame myself. I made a double batch of dulce de leche in a water bath in the oven (not my usual method) and I was in a hurry, so the DDL might have needed more time to darken and develop its flavor:

A whiter shade of paaaaale...ooooh...

However, I don't think a more pronounced dulce de leche flavor would have helped with my complaints about the sweetness or the texture. I think dulce de leche can be used to make an awesome sandwich cookie, but it should be paired with a buttery, slightly salty shortbread, maybe with a nut base.

Things improved only slightly when I added a layer of bittersweet chocolate:

All is not lost, however, because we still have a container of dulce de leche in the fridge that will be used to top ice cream and toast for the next week. If you happen to have some leftovers, here are recipes for truly outstanding dulce de leche brownies and candy.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

TWD: Kumquat-Chocolate Tart

This week's recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie was supposed to be a chocolate raspberry tart, but I couldn't bring myself to buy fresh raspberries this week. Not because they're hard to find (although they are) or expensive (although they REALLY are) but because they're out of season and that is no longer allowed. I'm currently reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and aside from making me feel guilty about basically every purchase I've ever made at a grocery store, ever, it's also really inspired me to try to start eating locally and buying food mindfully, with an emphasis on seasonality. (If you haven't read the book--and I highly recommend it--it's a nonfiction account of her family's attempt to spend a year eating food they either grow or raise themselves, or grown within a very small area around them. Fascinating and very compelling.)

But enough environmental preaching, back to the dessert. Since most raspberries available this time of year are probably flown in from Chile or similar warm climates, they're obviously verboten. However, citrus fruits are seasonal and plentiful in southern California right now, so I spent some time thinking about how I could incorporate citrus before deciding to use kumquats, those delicious little sweet-tart balls of exploding pleasure, by candying them. How do you candy kumquats, you ask? Quick and easy instructions are down below under the cut!

This recipe had a fruit layer on the bottom of the tart, and then a ganache-type mixture poured on top and baked. After sitting for a few hours, the tart has the most amazing texture, somewhere between a set pudding and a silky ganache. It slithered around in the mouth before melting away entirely, just in time for the next bite. I was a little unsure about how the texture of the candied kumquats would work. I knew I would like the flavor combination--candying removes a lot of the tartness from the kumquats, leaving just the beautiful floral citrus notes. But I was afraid the slices would be too hard or chewy after baking.

Good news--they actually seemed a little softer after their time in the oven! There was a little texture, no doubt, but I didn't mind it at all and thought the chewy slices were a nice contrast to the smooth chocolate and crunchy tart shell. The tart was finished with big rosettes of whipped cream and decorated with some kumquat slices on top and slivers of orange peel.

At the risk of giving away what big pigs we are at my house, this 9" tart is now gone, a mere 36 hours after it was made. And there are only two of us here. Put your snouts in the air, oink like you don't care!

For those looking to recreate the magic, the (original) recipe can be found on Rachelle's blog.

To make the kumquats for this tart, I used 12 oz of kumquats, with a few reserved to use as decoration and for munching purposes. Start by thinly slicing them into rounds between 1/8-1/4 inch wide. You'll spend some time picking out the small seeds from the little devils, but try not to eat too many of them as a reward for all of your hard work.

Once they're all sliced, combine 1.25 cups of granulated sugar and 1 cup of water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Once it's boiling, add the kumquat slices and turn the heat down so the mixture barely simmers. Cook until the kumquats are translucent, about 15-20 minutes.

After straining them (depending on what you're making, you may want to save the yummy syrup to soak cakes or something) they're ready to be used!


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Milk Chocolate Cremeux with Coconut Sorbet

This may sound odd coming from a sugarphile, but I don't usually order dessert when eating out. I eat so many sweets at work and at home as it is, I feel like it has to be really worth it for me to spend my dining-out calories on more dessert.

But when the husband and I were having lunch at Fraiche in Santa Monica this past week, I abandoned my anti-dessert stance and suggested we split a dessert. (By the way, lunch was fantastic and Friache is highly recommended to any fellow Angelenos.) Inspired partially by coconut month, we decided to order the Milk Chocolate Cremeux with Coconut Sorbet, Browned Butter Ganache and Candied Pecans.

The dessert was so good, I forgave the snooty waitress for smirkily correcting my pronunciation of "cremeux." Apparently the proper pronunciation is crque-mruouuouo.

I also forgave her for saying "That was fast!" with more than a touch of condescension when she came to clear away our plates. I wanted to say, "Listen lady, I had to share this weensy square of crque-mruouuouo with a man affectionately known around my house as "the ravenous ravenous rhino," whose arms are twice the length of mine and who possesses an uncanny knack for asking a question just to get me talking while he shovels in as much dessert as he possibly can in the 5-10 seconds I spend answering it. The speed of my eating this dessert is not greed so much as a legitimate concern for self, thank you." Instead, my snark was mellowed by a belly full of dessert, so I simply said "It was great!" in a fake chirpy voice.

I liked this dessert so much, I decided to recreate it when I got home. The basic elements were: the milk chocolate cremeux, a creamy mousse-like dessert with perhaps a bit more body than your standard mousse. What was special about it was that it really didn't seem sweet at all--it had a smooth chocolate flavor but none of the cloying sweetness of so many milk chocolate desserts. The coconut sorbet brought the sweetness with a smooth, light texture. I substituted candied walnuts for pecans (what I had on hand) and created a crispy chocolate topping to go with it--Fraiche's version had slivered chocolate that added some texture and crunch. I omitted the browned butter ganache, which looked like sad spaghetti strands on the plate and which didn't add much to the dish for my taste.

Success! We thought the recreation tasted very similar to the original, and it reminded us of how awesome this dessert was in the first place. The best part is that everything was really easy to make. The cremeux comes together in about 15 minutes, then just requires a little freezing until it is firm enough to cut and plate. The sorbet is a no-cook recipe that needs a few minutes in an ice cream maker to freeze, and the toppings are literally 5 minutes each. I had it all made and photographed in the space of a morning.

This experience also reminded me how useful it can be to order dessert out sometimes--it gives me new ideas, exposes me to new recipes and flavor combinations, and just recharges the creative batteries. And now we have a great new recipe for our next dinner party--no snooty waitstaff required.

Read on for the recipes!

Chocolate Cremeux
Yields 4-8 servings, depending on size

3/4 tsp powdered gelatin (or 1 gelatin sheet)
159 g milk (I used 1%)
102 g milk chocolate, chopped
24 g dark chocolate (70%), chopped
38 g egg yolks (about 2 large)
15 g granulated sugar, divided use
127 g heavy cream
good pinch of salt

Place 1 tbsp cold water in a very small bowl, and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Set aside to bloom while you continue preparing the recipe.

In a large, heat-proof bowl, combine the milk chocolate and dark chocolate. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and half of the sugar.

In a small saucepan, bring the milk, cream, salt, and remaining sugar to a simmer. As it comes to a simmer, place the gelatin bowl in the microwave and heat for about 15 seconds, just until the gelatin liquefies.

Temper the hot milk into the egg yolks: slowly drizzle a little hot liquid into the yolks, whisking constantly, until about half of the hot liquid has been incorporated. Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan and return it to the heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 182 F.

Remove from the heat and quickly whisk in the liquid gelatin. Pour the hot mixture over the chopped chocolate, and gently stir until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Do not whisk too vigorously, or you'll create air bubbles.

Pour the cremeux into your desired molds: bowls, glasses, ring molds, or one large pan to cut later. If you want to use a large pan, I suggest lining it with parchment or foil so you can pull it out later and cut cleanly. Refrigerate to set the cremeux. If you'll be cutting it, place it in the freezer until it is firm enough to cut and handle cleanly.

Coconut Sorbet

2 (14.5 oz) cans coconut milk
1 cup granulated sugar

Whisk together the coconut milk and sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved. Chill well, then freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. You can also add a cup or two of shredded coconut if you want to add some texture.

Crispy Chocolate Topping

45 grams dark chocolate, chopped
45 grams milk chocolate, chopped
50 grams praline paste (optional, adds great flavor)
50 grams cereal (like rice crispies or cornflakes. I used Honey Bunches of Oats!)
10 grams cacao nibs

Melt the chocolates together in the microwave, then mix in the praline paste. Gently stir in the cereal and the cacao nibs. Spread the mixture in a thin layer on a foil-covered baking sheet and refrigerate to set the chocolate, about 20 minutes. Once set, remove from the baking sheet and chop very finely with a large knife. This is also a great ice cream topping.

Candied Walnuts

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup toasted walnuts

Sprinkle sugar evenly on a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Allow sugar to melt without stirring, swirling the pan occasionally once it starts to melt to help the sugar melt evenly. Once entirely melted, it will start to color quickly. I like to let it get a good amount of color--a decent golden brown--before adding the walnuts. Once added, stir until they're entirely coated with the sugar and cook for a few more minutes, until toasty brown and fragrant. Pour onto a silpat or foil-lined baking sheet spray with nonstick spray. While warm, separate the nuts from each other and from any pooled caramel. Once cool, coarsely chop.


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

TWD: Thumbprint Cookies for Us Big Guys

Sorry, big guys, but you can keep your thumbprint cookies.

I had high hopes for these. Because it is still coconut month, I substituted some ground toasted coconut for part of the hazelnuts, and the raw dough had a wonderful flavor--buttery, nutty, slightly sweet from the coconut but with a good hit of salt. I noshed an alarming bit of dough before baking them off, in fact. [The coconut flavor didn't come through in the final product, though, so I guess this squeaks into coconut month on more of a technicality.]

The cookies came out of the oven and looked beautiful! They smelled awesome, and I was careful to bake them for only about 14 minutes, so they didn't take on much color, as instructed. They looked gorgeous sprinkled with sugar and filled with raspberry preserves. After the photos were taken we eagerly tasted one, and...well...are these supposed to you say...droopy? Soggy? Moist in the mouth? Instead of crunchy, buttery shortbread and smooth jam, the cookies turned unpleasantly soft. Now I love me some gooey cookies, but of the chocolate variety, not of the shortbread variety. It just seemed wrong. The texture was way too distracting, even if the flavors were nice. I did enjoy creating a Target logo out of my cookies, though:

So was this a fluke? Do thumbprint cookies usually go soft or stale so quickly? Truthfully I can't remember making these before, so maybe it's normal, maybe it's even desirable (impossible!). But for now, me and my thumbs will stick with chocolate chip cookies.


Thursday, March 04, 2010

I Decree It Is Coconut Month + 7 Layer Bars

Halfway through emptying my third bag of shredded coconut this past week, my tiny reptilian brain began to glimpse a theme in this month's baking. Coconut-Chocolate Tiramisu. Coconut Cream Tarts. Could the common thread be red velvet cake? Licorice whips? Monkey pantaloons? No, no, and NO, that's not it...perhaps coconut? Yes!
There has been a lot of coconut desserts around the hizzy, and I for one couldn't be happier. Coconut in all of its forms is one of my favorite things. Shredded coconut is great in desserts, of course, but I also love it in oatmeal, and as a crust on shrimp or fish. And do you guys know about the amazing manna from heaven that is coconut oil? It's only the greatest baking ingredient/saute liquid/toast topper ever. I could drink the stuff and live happily ever after.

ANYHOW. I figured since I was already on a coconut roll, I should christen this month Coconut Month and go out of my way to find some coconut recipes I've been meaning to try. Coconut Month shall last through the duration of March, or until I lose interest, whichever happens first.

First dessert item on my agenda: 7 Layer Bars, that staple of potlucks and summer picnics, beloved because it requires the least amount of effort of any bar cookie, ever. If you've never had one, a 7-layer bar basically consists of a base of graham cracker crumbs, toasted nuts, 3 kinds of chips (butterscotch, white, chocolate) and coconut, all held together with sweetened condensed milk. I feel like this recipe is so old fashioned, it's one step away from being covered with Jell-O and shoved into a novelty fish-shaped mold.

But, despite its charmingly retro style, it seemed like the perfect recipe for this week, because 1) Duh, it's Coconut Month and 2) look at what I unearthed when I tidied my chip drawer, and by "drawer" I mean "box in the closet" because I have seriously outgrown my tiny kitchen:
Five bags of butterscotch chips! Can you believe this started out as 10 bags? They were on monster sale last year for 25 cents each (EACH! They're usually like 3 or 4 bucks apiece!) so of course, being the obsessive hoarder that I am, I had to fill my basket with cheap-o butterscotch chips, never mind that I rarely, if ever, use them, and am now stuck trying to stick them in random recipes and cursed with guilt every time I see them because there's still so many left. This recipe took a good 1/2 cup, only 9.5 cups more to go!

The bars are ooey-gooey good and so sweet they'll make your fillings hurt, but that's part of their appeal. I shared them with a staunch coconut skeptic who loved them, and although it's been a good 4 or days since they were in the house, my husband is still talking about them and sighing wistfully and dropping not-so-subtle hints as to how much he'd enjoy eating them again. Soon. To which I replied, here's a can opener and a giant box of butterscotch chips. Go forth, my son, and bless you.

Click on for the recipe...

Seven-Layer Bars

1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
9 graham crackers (5 ounces), crushed
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup white chocolate chips
½ cup butterscotch chips
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat to 350°F. Line a 9x9 pan with foil and spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray. (For thinner bars, you can use a 9x13 pan. I'm just a big pig.)

2. Spread the coconut on a baking sheet and bake until it turns a light gold color, stirring every 4 minutes to prevent burning on the edges. Set aside.

3. Melt the butter and combine with graham cracker crumbs in a small bowl. Toss with your fingers until the butter is evenly distributed. Press the crumbs evenly onto the bottom of the prepared pan.

4. In order, sprinkle the walnuts, chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and coconut over the graham crumbs. Pour the condensed milk evenly over the entire dish.

5. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 25 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack to room temperature, about 2 hours.

6. Remove the bars from the pan using the foil or parchment handles and transfer to a cutting board. Using a sharp knife or bench cutter, cut into small bars.


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

TWD: Coconut Cream Tart Mad Libs

Sometimes I feel like my Tuesdays with Dorie posts get a little predictable. Maybe it's to be expected, when you bake something from the same cookbook every week, there's bound to be some repetition and overlap of sentiment. But it really struck me as I went to write this entry that I have said it all before. Maybe it was the post about the Pear Pistachio Tart, or the Banana Cream Pies, or the Chocolate Cream Tart, but somewhere in there, I've exhausted my supply of pastry cream-filled tart chatter.

So instead, of writing the same old thing, I thought we'd shake it up a little bit and do Food Blogging Mad Libs! Now you, too, can write my blog posts by filling in the blanks with the types of words suggested in parenthesis.

When I learned that this week's TWD recipe was _______________ [type of baked good], I was ____________ [emotion]. I mean, I have ___________ [past tense emotion] these ever since I was ___________ [age]! Truthfully, I was a little scared to make the ___________ [dessert component] because my ___________ [kitchen tool] is on the fritz, but I got my _________ [family member] to help me and __________ [action] the __________ [ingredient] with their ___________ [body part]. The end product was __________ [adjective]! It was as __________[adjective] as a ________[noun] and it had a __________ [adjective] flavor. My ________ [family member] especially _________ [past tense emotion] it and ate __________[number] helpings. Another ___________[adjective] recipe!

[If anyone actually does this, please tell me the results, because it was cracking me up just typing it.]

Truthfully, I thought this was great for what it was, which is to say, pastry-cream based tarts aren't quite my cup of tea. As always I greatly reduced the corn starch in the cream and found it to be much better that way, and I added toasted coconut to the tart dough, which might be my new favorite variation. Because of my personal preferences I was lukewarm on this, but my husband really liked it, and I think it's a solid recipe if you're a creamy tart lover.