Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Passover Surprise (The Good Kind)

Okay, we admit it, August has been a pretty weak month for the Baking Sisters. Rebecca has an infant and a toddler so she gets a pass; Rachel has been in Los Angeles helping take care of the aforementioned infant and toddler, so she also gets a pass. Basically, I have been unacceptably lame when it comes to posting. But that doesn’t mean I’ve been unacceptably lame when it comes to baking, no no no! So I’ll do my best to catch y’all up with my exciting baking adventures this week.

You know what’s the best? When you try a delicious baked good, exclaim over its baked goodness, look up the recipe, and then discover that it is, of all things, kosher for Passover. This is what happened recently in my office. Our office recently moved, and while we are now far away from most of the delicious food in the Murray Hill/Flatiron area, we are a mere block away from the delicious Francois Payard Bakery. One of my coworkers bought a fudgy chocolate cookie with nuts from FPB, and was nice enough to share it. It was so good – a little chewy, a lot fudgy. Another coworker managed to find the recipe on New York Magazine, and – behold! – it was flourless! It’s seriously awesome when that happens. So it became immediately apparent what I would be bringing in for Baked Goods Friday that week.

These cookies are seriously easy, like simple arithmetic or a loose woman. The only thing that isn’t totally straightforward is the amount of egg whites, as I learned from reading the many helpful comments on the recipe. I started out with two and, when the dough still seemed too dry, added a third. This is obviously less than the recipe calls for, but even so my cookies had a chewier, more meringue-like consistency than the ones from FPB. But I don’t think it made them taste worse, just different. Also, I know that the Baking Sisters are as a rule opposed to including nuts in baked goods, but honestly these cookies have so few ingredients that there’s barely anything in them without the nuts. I felt the nuts made it a little more substantial. (Oh, did I mention that without the nuts, there's no fat? God these cookies just keep getting better and better.) But if you’re a purist, do whatever you want, I don’t care. Just be sure to enjoy these cookies next time Passover rolls around, or even before then!

Fran├žois Payard’s Flourless Chocolate-Walnut Cookies
2 3/4 cups walnut halves
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350. Spread the walnut halves on a large-rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 9 minutes, until they are golden and fragrant.
(1) Let cool slightly, then transfer the walnut halves to a work surface and coarsely chop them. Position two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and lower temperature to 320. Line two large-rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
(2) In a large bowl, whisk (or combine in an electric mixer on low speed) the confectioners’ sugar with the cocoa powder and salt followed by the chopped walnuts. While whisking (or once you change the speed to medium), add the egg whites and vanilla extract and beat just until the batter is moistened (do not overbeat or it will stiffen).
(3) Spoon the batter onto the baking sheets in 12 evenly spaced mounds, and bake for 14 to 16 minutes, until the tops are glossy and lightly cracked; shift the pans from front to back and top to bottom halfway through to ensure even baking. Slide the parchment paper (with the cookies) onto 2 wire racks. Let cookies cool completely, and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Time to Go Bananas

As you all know, dear loyal readers, Sarah has instituted Baked Goods Fridays at her office, to celebrate the end of each week, show off her baking prowess, and (let's be honest) in the beginning to make people like her. However, I appreciate the impulse behind celebrating the end of each week. So this summer, when I was teaching in Drisha's five week July Institute, I decided that I would do Baked Goods Fridays for my students, as a way to motivate them and to reward them for their hard work all week.

Over the course of the summer, I made some classics (like this one, this one and this one) but this was the new recipe I was most excited about. I love banana bread, when it's done well, and I made three batches of this one-- one for a friend who had a baby, one for a friend I visited in Boston, and one for my students. All three were delicious!

I got this recipe from my dear friend Gila, who used to be my co-teacher until she up and left me to move to Israel. (I highly recommend her blog, which is not about baking but is still very entertaining and can be found here.) I like the chocolate chips, which cuts the sweetness of the banana bread, and the way the top is a little crunchy when it comes out of the oven. The one annoying thing about banana bread is that because it's so dense, it has to bake for a long time, but in my opinion, it is well worth the wait. You can fine the recipe below.

2 very ripe bananas, peeled and sliced
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup plus 1 TB orange juice
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract

You can also add chocolate chips (which I did) and walnuts (which I did not.) I also recommend cinnamon sugar sprinkled on top.

Bake at 325 for 1 hour and 20 minutes (if you're using a loaf pan - I use bake in something flatter so it's shorter cooking time.) Let cool before slicing.
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