Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ethnic Flavor: When you go to the store to buy a cookie...

Happy Purim! Today is the Jewish holiday of, duh, Purim, on which we celebrate someone trying to kill us and failing. As usual. The man who tried to kill us this time was named Haman, and he wore a three-cornered hat. So in a very ancient, holy and mystical tradition, we bake three-cornered cookies called "hamentaschen" so as to eat Haman's hat hat hat. That showed him.

I picked a British hamentaschen recipe so I wouldn't have to deal with the whole unit conversion thing. It was, shall we say, thoroughly O.K. Nothing special, and the dough was actually a lot tastier than the finished product, as is so often the case with cookies. But except for the fact that they took on a decidedly non-triangular shape in the oven (and that was only because I was too pressed for time to re-freeze the dough after shaping them), they were very serviceable hamentaschen. I imagine they would be even better if one didn't accidentally substitute baking soda for baking powder. I am a moron. Happy Purim!

Hamentaschen Recipe
From AllRecipes UK

340g butter or margarine, softened
200g caster sugar (Blogger's note: This is very fine sugar that they only really have in the UK. To achieve the same effect, buy superfine sugar or run granulated sugar through a food processor for a couple of minutes.)
2 eggs
6 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
560g plain flour
1 (390g) tin fruit filling of your choice (Blogger's note: I used raspberry jam)

Preparation method

1. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the orange juice and vanilla. Mix in the baking powder, then gradually stir in the flour until the dough forms a ball. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. I like to do mine overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 190 C / Gas mark 5. Grease baking trays.
3. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 6mm thickness. Cut into 7cm circles using a biscuit cutter or drinking glass. Place circles on the prepared baking trays. Spoon 1 teaspoon of filling onto the centre of each circle. (Any more and it will ooze out) Pinch the sides of each circle to form a triangle, covering as much of the filling as possible. The biscuits may be frozen on the trays if desired to help retain their shape while cooking.
4. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until light golden brown. These are best undercooked slightly. Cool on the baking tray for a few minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Ethnic Flavor: Adventures in Challah Baking

Ever since I was a kid, I have loved baking challah. My dad and I used to do it before Rosh Hashanah every year, each of us donning our aprons as we mixed, then kneaded, and then shaped the dough into round loaves.

As I've gotten older, my challah baking has become more frequent, and also less structured. I had trouble finding a recipe I liked, so I played around until I came up with my own. Even now, I often don't measure out my ingredients so carefully, instead preferring to dump things in the bowl and see what happens. (That recipe, or a version of it, will be posted at a later date-- keep reading!)

A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of teaching two of my dear friends, Jon and Gabe, how to bake challah. In addition to the fact that it is funny to watch boys try to braid things, Gabe convinced me to attempt my first foray into whole wheat challah. I admit that I was skeptical because things that are whole wheat often taste so... well... whole wheat-ish. However, he brought the flour, so I had no choice but to try it. And I have to say that with a half and half mixture of white and whole wheat flour, it was very successful, except that it did not rise quite as much as usual. So when I set out to make challah again a few weeks ago, I decided to try it again, this time with cinnamon sugar added as well. Also, as I was baking, I realized I was low on honey, so I added some brown sugar as well, just for fun. Overall, I was very pleased with the results-- a lesson to one and all that sometimes the best things happen when you don't follow the recipe.

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Sugar Challah:
2 packets yeast
2 cups warm water
3 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp kosher salt
4-6 cups whole wheat flour
4-6 cups white flour

Cinnamon Sugar
1 egg
1 tsp water

Mix the yeast and the water and let them sit. Add the eggs and mix well. Add the oil, honey, sugar and salt and stir. Add the flour two cups at a time, alternating between whole wheat and white flour. Add the flour until the dough is elastic but not too sticky.

Set the dough aside and allow it to rise, covered with a towel, for at least 45 minutes. Punch the dough down and separate it into six sections. Divide each of the six sections into three or four even sized pieces. Roll each strip into a long thin snake and then roll it in cinnamon sugar. Braid the pieces together. Repeat until you have used all of the dough.

Allow the dough to rise again, for at least 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350.

When the challah is ready to go into the oven, pour cinnamon sugar on top of the loaves, and then paint the egg and water mixture on. Allow to bake for 20-25 minutes, or until it sounds hollow when you knock.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cocoa Almond Meringues

I am really not a nuts person.  If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that we don't like nuts in our baked goods (especially not in brownies -- yuck).  You might think that we don't like these cookies, since they are called cocoa ALMOND meringues, but you would be wrong because they are delicious and we love them.

I first made them because I had so many left over egg whites from making ice cream and the whites were taking up space in my freezer.  I don't know where I first learned this trick, but when I separate eggs, I freeze the whites in small ziplock containers.  When the white is frozen, I pop it out and keep all the whites in a bag and use them when I need them.  However, my bag of frozen whites was getting kind of full, so I decided to make meringues with them.

This is another Dorie great and they are melt in your mouth delicious.  And, even though they are made out of egg whites, they are surprisingly forgiving.  I could not find the ground almonds that the recipe called for, so I chopped them by hand in my nut chopper and even though the pieces were not that well ground, they still worked.  I also didn't chop the chocolate so fine, and they were still delicious.  I liked finding a little bit of nuts or chocolate in each bite.  I highly recommend these cookies, if you have extra egg whites lying around (or even if you don't).  They are light and delicious.  

Here is the recipe:
1 cup powdered sugar plus more for dusting
1/3 cup finely ground almonds
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup very finely chopped bittersweet chocolate or finely chopped store bought chocolate chips

Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.  

Sift together the powdered sugar, ground almonds and cocoa.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the egg whites and salt on medium speed until the whites are opaque.  Increase the speed to medium high and continue to whip as you add the sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time.  Then whip until the whites are firm and hold stiff peaks, they should still be very shiny.  

Beat in the vanilla, and remove the bowl from the mixer.  With a large rubber spatula, quickly but gently fold in the dry ingredients, followed by the chopped chocolate.  The whites will inevitably deflate as you fold in the dry ingredients, just try to work rapidly and use a light touch, so you deflate them as little as possible.

Drop the meringue by tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between the cookies.  Dust the meringues lightly with powdered sugar (I skipped this step by accident).

Bake for 10 minutes, then without opening the oven door, reduce the oven to 200 degrees F and bake for one hour more.  Remove the baking sheets from the oven and allow the meringues to stand in a cool, dry place until they reach room temperature.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Truffle Brownies (for Valentine's Day?)

Yes, I am aware that Valentine's Day was last week.  However, I actually made these on Valentine's Day (the Lindt Truffles were on sale) but didn't have time to post on them.  I saw this recipe on She's Becoming DoughtMessTic, a great baking/parenting blog (actually she was guest posting on another blog) and I have been wanting to make them ever since.  Usually I am a take it or leave it person when it comes to truffles and chocolates, but I totally love Lindt Truffles and anything that combines those with brownies sounds good to me.

These brownies were good -- not my favorite brownie recipe -- but solid.  They were not that chocolate-y (my husband liked them, which is pretty much proof).  The only thing about them is that the truffles really melted into the brownies and didn't hold their shape, so I thought it was kind of a waste of yummy truffles.  However, they were lots of fun to make, especially cutting up the truffles.  I used the milk chocolate ones, but the truffles might be more noticeable if you use a combination of flavors.  It may have been that the milk chocolate was too mild for the brownies.  

These were nice for Valentine's Day, as I think the truffles were very Valentine's Day like.  If you like combining candy with your baked treats, these are for you!

You can find the recipe here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Camp Revisited: Coffee Cake

At sleepaway camp when we were kids, one of the standing traditions was the Saturday morning coffee cake. Every week, we knew that there would be a breakfast of hard boiled eggs, orange slices, frosted flakes-- and coffee cake. The cake varied greatly in terms of quality from week to week. Sometimes it was moist with lots of sugary topping; other times, it was kind of burnt and dry with almost no topping at all. Yet somehow, it never seemed to matter. No matter what, we would consume it in mass quantities, going back to kitchen for refill after refill.

Years passed, I stopped going back to camp, and coffee cake (sadly) ceased to make regular appearances in my life. So imagine my joy when I encountered a recipe for coffee cake while leafing through The Kosher Palatte. Anything that claimed to be better than Drake's-- snack cakes having been another feature of my childhood at camp-- was something that I simply had to try.

I had a couple of reservations looking at the recipe. Or really, just one-- the sheer quantity of butter the recipe called for. Meaning, a whole box. Ew. I understand that my sisters have made their peace with using endless amounts of butter, but I am not there yet. However, a few years ago, one of my roommate's friends taught me an excellent trick. You can almost always halve the butter, add skim milk as needed to get to the desired consistency, and it will taste the same. This trick has not failed me yet, and this time was no exception. Also, the recipe says you can make this coffee cake parve, but I find the idea of cooking with that much margarine and non-dairy creamer to be disgusting, so I will not encourage such behavior. You can decide for yourself.

Better-than-Drakes Coffee Cake (Adapted):

2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups of milk
3 cups of flour
1 1/2 cups of sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, melted

2 1/2 cups of flour
2 cups of sugar
1/4 cup ground cinnamon
1/2 cup of butter, melted
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 9x13 baking dish and set it aside.

Beat the eggs and milk in a small bowl and put them aside. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in the butter and the egg mixture, mixing until just combined. Pour batter
into the prepared baking dish.

Combine the dry ingredients for the topping, stirring until well blended. Add the butter, vanilla, and milk. Stir until the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle the mixture onto the cake.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow it to cool, and enjoy!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Coffee Ice Cream with Brooke

My friend Brooke is awesome.  Really, really, really awesome.  You see, she and her daughter came all the way here, to Texas, to visit us.  Really.  On an airplane (actually two), here to Texas.  That is why she is awesome.  If anyone else would like to earn awesome status, you know what to do.

As a reward for Brooke's awesomeness, we had to have yummy treats and what is yummier than coffee ice cream?  Especially coffee ice cream that you make yourself.  And then eat it, with Thin Mints and whipped cream.  Mmmmm!!!!!

If you like coffee ice cream, this ice cream is excellent.  It had a strong coffee flavor (although that might have been because we allowed the beans to steep in the milk for longer than the recommended hour because we were putting the kids to bed).  It was really delicious.  We also at it with chocolate chip cookies and it was still good then.  We made it with decaf beans, so we would not be up all night.

Here is the recipe, from David Lebovitz:
1½ cups whole milk
¾ cup sugar
1½ cups whole coffee beans
Pinch of salt
1½ cups heavy cream, divided
5 large egg yolks
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. finely ground coffee or espresso powder
Combine the milk, sugar, coffee beans, salt and ½ cup of the heavy cream in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Once the mixture is warm and just begins to bubble, remove from the heat and let steep at room temperature for 1 hour.  
After steeping, return the saucepan with the coffee mixture to the burner over medium heat.  Pour the remaining 1 cup heavy cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer over the top.  In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth.  Once the coffee mixture has become warm again, slowly pour the mixture into the bowl with the egg yolks, whisking constantly to temper the eggs.  Return the egg-coffee bean mixture to the saucepan over medium high heat. 
Cook the mixture, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula or spoon (about 170-175° F.)  Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream.  Press on the coffee beans in the strainer to extract as much of the coffee flavor as possible, then discard the beans (I used a heavy-bottomed drinking glass to do this.)  Mix in the vanilla and ground coffee or espresso powder.  Chill the batter over an ice bath, or in the refrigerator.  Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator and then freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

MSC Club: S'mores Cupcakes

So, I have still not been made an official member of the Martha Stewart Cupcake Club, but I am not going to dwell on it, since many of the lovely club members said they consider me part of the club, so here I go.  This month's cupcakes were S'mores Cupcakes, from page 150-151 of her book.  They were selected by Mary Ann, who has a really cute blog called Meet Me in the Kitchen.

Oh man, were these cupcakes a lot of work!  There were so, so many steps and so, so many dishes.  My poor husband, who does most of the dishes, doesn't even like chocolate, so these were lost on him.  If he is reading this (which he does only sometimes) -- thanks for doing all the dishes without much cupcake reward.  

I made a number of chances to the recipe, and I'm not sure all of them were for the better.  First, the Martha recipe called for graham flour, which I could not find anywhere.  There are some substitutions on google, but they all require buying a bunch of things I didn't have, so I knew I had to make a change.  I googled graham cracker cupcakes and decided to use 2 1/3 cups of regular flour and 1/2 cup of crushed graham crackers, based on the proportions in the recipe.  I know that graham crackers have a bunch of other things in them, besides graham flour, but I thought it might be ok.

Second, I reduced the butter from 2 1/2 sticks to 2 sticks.  I just thought it was too much butter, especially based on previous experience with Martha's cupcakes  where the butter seeped through the wrappers.  

Both those changes went ok.  I thought the cupcake itself had good graham cracker flavor (my husband has been eating them plain, without frosting) but they were a little dry, which might have been over-baking, or might have been from the changes I made.  I don't know, but I thought they were ok, but not fluffy and cake like, like I want my cupcakes to be.

I didn't make any changes to the chocolate ganache.  I had a lot left over and, after tasting the cupcakes, I wanted more chocolate flavor, so I probably should have put more on.  It was really easy to work with and easy to make.

For the frosting, I didn't use Martha's recipe because it called for gelatin.  Although there is kosher gelatin in the Kosher store, my friend Shoshana of Couldn't Be Parve said that the regular, plant based gelatin they sell in kosher stores doesn't hold up to the long beating time that marshmallows require, so I decided I didn't want to risk it (again, these cupcakes were MANY steps) and decided to make Dorie's marshmallow frosting from the Devil's Food White Out cake.  The frosting was good and marshmallow-y, but it didn't develop the crust that I expect from marshmallows.  I don't have a kitchen torch, so I didn't brown the frosting.  Maybe that would have made a different.  

Anyway, after all that, I thought the cupcakes were good but not great.  I actually liked them better when I cut off the bottom of the cupcake and smushed it on top of the frosting into a sandwich.  It was more s'more like that way.  Even though these cupcakes were not warm, they had that messy, runny feeling of a s'more.  If you enjoy s'mores, you will enjoy these, but it would be a lot less work just to make a s'more.

Here is the recipe for marshmallow frosting, from Dorie:

Marshmallow Icing - adapted from Dorie Greenspan
1/2 cup egg whites (about 4 large)
1 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Put the egg whites in a clean, dry mixer bowl or in another large bowl. Have a candy thermometer at hand.
Put the sugar, cream of tartar and water in a small saucepan and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, cover the pan and boil for 3 minutes. Uncover and allow the syrup to boil until it reaches 242 degrees F on the candy thermometer. While the syrup is cooking, start beating the egg whites.
When the syrup is at about 235 degrees F, begin beating the egg whites on medium speed with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer. If the whites form firm, shiny peaks before the syrup reaches temperature, reduce the mixer speed to low and keep mixing the whites until the syrup catches up. With the mixer at medium speed, and standing back slightly, carefully pour in the hot syrup, pouring it between the beater(s) and the side of the bowl. Splatters are inevitable — don’t try to scrape them into the whites, just carry on. Add the vanilla extract and keep beating the whites at medium speed until they reach room temperature, about 5 minutes. You should have a smooth, shiny, marshmallowy frosting.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

And The Missing Ingredient Is...

As avid readers of the blog will know, in December we made a fabulous Dorie Greenspan French pear tart with almond cream. It was so good that we quickly dubbed it one of the best things we've ever made, and I stand by that assessment. What could be better than pears and almonds? How about pears, almonds...and chocolate?

I found a UK measurements-friendly recipe at a blog called Tasty Diaries, and though the author calls it a fondant it bears no relation to that nasty crap people use to decorate wedding cakes. The chocolate feels like it's melting in your mouth and the flavors blend beautifully with each other. I had to crush the almonds by hand and they weren't very well ground but I actually liked it that way, since it made the texture more interesting. Just a warning: do NOT overbake this. It says in the recipe that the crust will be ultra-thin - it MEANS ultra-thin, in fact, hardly there at all! I ended up leaving it in too long and it got a little burnt on the bottom and around the edges. This was problematic, though not as problematic as when my friend Pam accidentally knocked it off the table and it landed face-down on the floor. Luckily, we're not that discriminating, and she, our friend Nikhita and I picked it up quickly and ate the entire thing in half an hour. Yummmm.

Oh and P.S. The best thing about this cake? It has no flour so it's kosher for Passover, and it doesn't even taste like it's kosher for Passover!

To-die-for 15 min chocolate, almond and pear fondant
200 g 70% cocoa good quality dark chocolate
150 g lightly salted butter
4 eggs (4 whites, 1 yolk)
80 g ground almonds
100 g sugar
3 ripe pears
This recipe works perfectly with my square 25 x 25 cm loose base non-stick cake pan. If you don’t have a loose base dish, use a silicone one instead for easier demoulding, or cover the bottom of your dish with a piece of greaseproof paper cut to size. Blogger's note: I used a round tin, worked very well.
Preheat the oven to 175 degree C
Cut the chocolate and butter into chunks and melt together in the microwave in a medium size mixing bowl. With my 850kW microwave, it takes 90 sec. Start with a 1 min session, mix well, and do another 30s. After that stir any unmelted chocolate chunks into the melted mixture, using the residual heat to finish the job. If you don’t have a microwave, place the chocolate and butter into a bowl over a saucepan of boiling water and stir regularly. Take out of the heat as soon as the ingredients have melted.
In a second bowl, lightly beat the egg whites and sugar with a fork until the mixture looks homogenous, for about 20 sec. Do not use an electric mixer for this, you don’t want the whites to bubble more than with a quick beating. This cake is not supposed to rise or be fluffy.
Add the almonds to the chocolate mixture and stir well. Dip your finger into the mixture, it should be just warm, i.e. you should not have any sensation of heat. If you do, wait a bit before adding the egg yolk otherwise it may curd. Add the egg yolk and stir energetically.
Pour the egg white mixture into the chocolate one and stir until reaching a homogenous batter.
Butter your cake dish and pour the batter into it.
Peel, quarter and core the pears, and cut into segments about 3 mm thick. Press the segments into the batter following a pretty pattern (concentric circles for a round mould, or neat, parallel lines for a square one) and leaving the tops of the segments visible. Make sure you place them very close to each other - leaving about 1 cm between each slice. You may not use up all the pears, I tend to fill my dish with 2 1/2 pears.
Bake for 35 minutes. Don’t worry if the cake feels a bit soft and creamy under its ultra thin crust, it will set when cooling down. Wait until the cake is nearly cold for demoulding it unless you have a loose base dish.
Eat the fondant warm or cold. The slices will be easier to cut once it is cold, but I usually can’t wait, even if it is much messier!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

In Honor of My Texan Sister: Cornbread

Okay, so she's not really Texan. But she lives there now, and very close to Mexico as well, and so I write this post in her honor.

I love Mexican food, which is a little strange since I don't think we ever ate it growing up. However, I have found that I love the spices and the flavors, and am always happy to integrate them into my diet. Burritos, enchiladas, tacos-- you name it, and I probably love it.

So I decided to have Mexican night for Shabbat dinner this week, which meant chili, along with the subject of this post-- cornbread! I really love cornbread, but something I have learned is that it is very hard to do well. Often, recipes come out dry and crumbly, and either too sweet or too bland. However, this time I seem to have found a truly excellent recipe.

This recipe is from the Kosher By Design series by Susie Fishbein. It's from the Short on Time cookbook, and unlike some of the recipes, which take much longer than claimed, this one is actually really easy. She says that the secret is the orange, which solves the too dry problem. I'll take her word for it, but trust me-- if you like Mexican, this cornbread is for you.

Orange Cornmeal Bread, from Kosher By Design Short on Time:

1 cup flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs
1 navel orange
1 cup soy milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 tablespoons butter

Preheat the oven to 400. Heavily grease and flour an 8 by 8 square baking pan. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.

In another bowl, whisk together the eggs and the juice of the orange. Add the soy milk and the lemon juice. Whisk in the melted butter. Then add the dry mixture to the egg mixture, using a wooden spoon to combine.

Pour the mixture into the baking pan. Bake, uncovered, for 25-30 minutes, or until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry. Cool and slice.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Adventures with the Ice Cream Maker: Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream

I have not bought any ice cream since getting my ice cream maker.  Homemade ice cream is just that good.  However, one of my favorite flavors of ice cream is Haagen Daaz Deep Chocolate Peanut Butter.  I thought this ice cream, from the wonderful and talented David Lebovitz, would be similar and boy was it goooood.  It was not exactly like the Haagen Daaz flavor, since the peanut butter was blended into the ice cream instead of in chunks, but it was still tasty. I am thinking about ways to boost the chocolate flavor a bit (the peanut butter is really strong), so if you have any ideas let me know.

Here is the recipe, from The Perfect Scoop:

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ cup smooth peanut butter
*The original recipe calls for 2 cups of half and half. Since I only had heavy cream, I used that and thinned it out with milk.
  1. Whisk together the half and half, cocoa powder, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan.  Heat the mixture, whisking frequently, until it comes to a full, rolling boil (it will start to foam up).  Remove from the heat and whisk in the peanut butter, stirring until thoroughly blended.
  2. Chill the mixture thoroughly, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

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