Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fun with Open Flames

It's been an unacceptably long time since I've blogged, but between coming back to Brown and the holidays and all that nonsense, I've just been super-duper busy! But don't worry, I will be more consistent from now on. Because I know that was the biggest worry on everyone's mind, just ahead of global warming and Mideast peace.

I feel like I should start with the big excitement, which was the purchase of...(drumroll please)...a blowtorch! Ohmygod it is so much fun. If anything in this world can turn me into a raging pyromaniac, it's the blowtorch. "And what will you do with it besides make creme brulee?" ask my friends as they note the manic gleam in my eye and slowly step away from the flame. Yeah, you can brown meringue and melt cheese on top of onion soup, but let's face it, the blowtorch is pretty much good for one thing. But man, is that one thing good.

I was fortunate enough to be able to travel around Europe when I was studying abroad, and none of this would have been possible without the generous hospitality of my wonderful friends: Jennie and Evan in Israel, Rebecca in Paris, Mike in Bologna and Maya in Berlin. In order to thank them in some small way for hosting me, I made them a dinner with themed dishes appropriate for each country (except I couldn't find any good German vegetarian cuisine so I just bought some Riesling and called it a day). The obvious dessert, considering my new baby, was some French-ass creme brulee.

Of course I went straight to Dorie, but I have to admit that I kind of regret it. Not because it wasn't delicious - it was! - but because it was sort of nontraditional-tasting for my first attempt at creme brulee and it was a lot of aggravation. The custard was supposed to take an hour maximum to set up in the oven, but after ninety minutes I had had enough and just stuck the ramekins in the fridge. There, they set up fine, but I combed through some of the Tuesdays with Dorie posts about this recipe and a lot of people said the low heat and lack of water bath meant it took a lot longer than expected to cook. That said, making the custard itself was as simple as can be, and the creme brulee was very tasty. When I say it's non-traditional I mean that it tasted a lot lighter and less dense than a typical creme brulee, which was good because the dinner had been so large, but I think next time I'm going to try a different, higher-heat recipe and see how it turns out. After all the fun I had with my blowtorch, there's no doubt I'll be making creme brulee again!

Oh, and I used the leftover egg whites to make cocoa almond meringues. Delicious as always.

Creme Brulee
From "Baking from My Home to Yours" by Dorie Greenspan

1 ¼ cups heavy cream
½ cup whole milk
3 large egg yolks
1 / 3 cup sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
About 6 tablespoons sugar or sifted light brown sugar, for topping
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 200ºF/ 93ºC. Put the six baking dishes on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.
Bring the cream and milk just to a boil.
In a 1 or 2-quart glass measuring cup or in a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla together until well blended but not airy. Still whisking, drizzle in about one quarter of the hot liquid---this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won’t curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remainder of the cream and milk. Give the bowl a good rap against the counter to de-bubble the custard, then strain it into the baking dishes.
Bake the custards for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the centers are set---tap the sides of the dishes, and the custards should hold firm. Lift the dishes onto a cooling rack and let the custards cool until they reach room temperature.
Cover each custard with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, preferably longer. (The custards can be kept covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.) For the sugar to be successfully caramelized, the custards need to be thoroughly chilled.
Makes 6 servings.
Serve the crème brûlée when the crème is really cold and the brûlée is still warm. You can serve the whole dessert chilled, but the sugar topping won’t have its characteristic crackle. And while I think crème brûlée should be served with nothing more then a spoon, you could offer berries and cookies as accompaniments.
The custard for crème brûlée must be made ahead so it has plenty of time to chill, but once you’ve caramelized the sugar on top, your storage time is over if your want the sugar to have crunch.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Summer is Finally Here...In Fall!

So, those of you living in Southern California right now know that we are experiencing a heat wave.  It is the hottest it has been since we moved here in the beginning of June.  Who knew that summer came in late September...and on Sukkot no less?  Sukkot always seems to bring extreme weather, either hot, cold or rain.  Somehow, when we have to eat outside and we are supposed to dwell in little huts, we are reminded that we don't control everything, especially the weather.  

When the temperature creeps up (or in this case jumps...it was in the 70s a couple of days ago and it is going to be 97 tomorrow!), nothing is better than ice cream.  In this case, it is a duo of ice creams...lemon ice cream and strawberry frozen yogurt.  Both these frozen treats were born out of fruit and/or dairy products that were about to go bad.  I am glad I was able to save them with this yummy product.

Both of these are from David Lebovitz, guru of all things frozen.  The only thing I would say about both these recipes but especially about the strawberry, is to make sure you have really good, flavorful fruit, because that is all the flavor of both these desserts.  We had yummy farmer's market strawberries, so it turned out well.  As for the lemon, it had a nice tart and creamy flavor, different from the expected lemon sorbet.

The strawberry frozen yogurt can be found here.
The lemon ice cream can be found here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

MSC September: Cookies and Cream Cupcakes that Almost Didn't Get Made

Imagine for a moment that you just started a new job, and it is at a synagogue, and Rosh Hashanah is 2 days after Labor Day, and the kick-off for the religious school you are running is one day before Rosh Hashanah.  As you can probably imagine, I was super busy and didn't have a lot of baking time.

Then, I saw that this month's Martha Stewart Cupcake Club selection, by Nina from Nina's Cupcakes, was cookies and cream cupcakes -- also known as oreo cheesecakes with oreo cookie crusts.  Yummy.  And, they seemed fairly easy.  I decided I would take some of these to my office and give some to my friend Mike for his birthday.

We had to work on Labor day this year because of the holidays and the start of school, so I thought these would be a nice treat, even if it didn't totally make up for being in the office on a holiday.  The people in my office don't often eat that much.  They eat lunch and everything, but cookies and other baked goods don't seem to hold the same allure as they did in my husband's office.  I thought I would have a bunch left over and would drive them to Mike after work on Labor Day.

The best laid plans...these were devoured in an instant.  There were none left for Mike (sorry Mike!).  I guess people liked these cupcakes a lot.  They weren't too heavy, even for cheesecake and the oreos stayed pretty crunchy on the bottom, which was a nice contrast.  Nina, thanks for the great pick and the people in my office thank you too!

You can find the recipe in Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ethnic Flavor: Challah, Again

I'm never satisfied with my challah recipe. Part of the challenge, and fun, of making up your own recipe is that it never feels finished. I think I'm getting closer, though. So in honor of Rosh Hashanah, here is another recipe for you to try. (To make it for this time of year, coil the challah into a circle and bake it in an 8 inch circular tin instead of braiding.) Shabbat shalom and shanah tovah!

For the dough:
2 cups warm water
2 packets yeast
4 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 tbsp. kosher salt
3/4 cup oil
2 tbsp. cinnamon sugar
6-8 cups flour (with potentially more needed, depending on the stickiness of the dough. Flour can be white or whole wheat, but should not be more than 50% whole wheat)

For the glaze:
1 tsp. warm water
1 egg
cinnamon sugar

Let the yeast sit in the water. Once it's dissolved, add the eggs. Mix until the eggs are blended. Add the salt, oil and sugar, and mix. Add about half of the flour. Mix in the cinnamon sugar. Add the rest of the flour. Allow the dough to rise, covered, for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350. Punch the dough down and knead. Divide it into 6 pieces. Subdivide the challah sections into three sections and braid. Allow the dough to rise again.

Mix the water and the egg. Using a pastry brush, spread it over the challah. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the challah sounds hollow when knocked.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Berry Crisp for Grandma

As my sisters have mentioned, our grandmother recently passed away. She was a great lady who very much enjoyed her time with her grandchildren. One of my favorite memories of our time with her is of the times we went berry picking together. Every summer, we would load into the car and go to a farm full of blueberry, blackberry and strawberry bushes. When we got there, we would eat be given our own container to fill as we went. I'm sure there were times when we ate more than we collected, but it was always a great time.

My grandmother was a great cook, but her general feeling on baking was that it shouldn't take longer to make than to eat. With these two memories in mind, I set out to make a berry crisp that would hopefully make her proud.

I happen to love berries, especially strawberries and blueberries, so I decided to use them as a base for this recipe. I didn't want to make a topping that was too sweet or too buttery, because I felt like that would take away from the flavor of the berries. I couldn't find a recipe that was quite what I was looking for, so I looked around and combined a few things to come up with this one.

I have to say, it was very tasty and very simple. I warmed it up before I served and we ate it with vanilla ice cream. Delicious!

Berry Crisp:

For the berry layer:
1 pint blueberries
2 pints strawberries, quartered
1 tsp. lemon juice

For the crisp layer:
1 stick butter, melted
1 cup oatmeal
1 cup flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 heaping tablespoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350.

Lay the berries into a 13x9 baking tin. Sprinkle the lemon juice on top. Combine the melted butter and the dry ingredients. Mix until it has a crumbly texture, but make sure everything is well blended. Distribute the topping evenly across the berry layer. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and crispy. Best if served warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
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