Sunday, April 24, 2011

Healthy, if not Pretty

photo by Anthony Palatta

When Anthony first took this picture, he asked me, "What is that, dog food?"

No, it's charoset, a traditional dish served as part of the Passover seder. It's also simple to make, relatively healthy, and delicious.

There are only five ingredients in my family's version, though there are other versions from around the world, for example, with chopped apricots and dates.

Start by peeling 3 apples and then chopping them into small pieces. Next, chop up a cup to a cup and a half of shelled walnuts. (I use the mini-chop for both these steps.)

Sprinkle with a tablespoon of sugar, 1/2 a tablespoon of cinnamon, and then about 1/4 cup of grape juice or Manischewitz concord wine, which is pretty much the same thing as grape juice. Stir, and then adjust the sugar, cinnamon, and wine to taste. Serve on broken pieces of matzo.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Lemon Crunch Cake

This simple yet addictive cake is quite simple and straightforward. It comes from The Book of Afternoon Tea, now out of print. You can find the recipe below.

When I made Lemon Crunch Cake this week, I had some Meyer lemons, so I decided to use them as an experiment.

I keep hearing all these great things about Meyer lemons, yet I have to say, I fail to see why they're such a big deal. Frankly, they smell and taste more like oranges than lemon to me. I've found that I get much more intense lemon flavor from regular lemons.

It's interesting that precisely because they had a lighter, less intensely sour flavor, Meyer lemons actually used to be considered reject lemons that got thrown away rather than sold.  I agree with the reject committee.  Maybe I'm missing something?

Whether you use regular or Meyer lemons, you can easily whip this up with ingredients you have lying around the house, butter, sugar, milk, and eggs, plus self-rising flour. Pour your batter into a parchment-lined 8 x 8 pan, bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.

As soon as the cake is out of the oven, top with a mix of lemon juice and granulated sugar over the top. As the cake cools, the sugar-juice mixture forms a sweet crust on the top of the cake, hence the "crunch" in the title.

The cookbook suggests cutting the cake into cute rhomboid-like diamonds, but that seems a big waste of cake to me.  I just do squares.


1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
Finely grated zest of 1 medium lemon (or 2 lemons if you want more intense flavor--I do!)
1 1/2 cups of self-rising flour
1/4 cup milk


Juice of 1 medium lemon
1/2 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350.  Line an 8 x 8 baking pan with parchment.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Beat in eggs, just to combine, then add lemon zest.  Fold in flour alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour.  Pour batter into prepared pan and level surface with metal spatula. Bake about 30 minutes, until well risen and pale golden.

Just before the end of the baking time, in a bowl, mix together lemon juice and sugar. Remove cake from oven when ready, and immediately spoon topping over hot cake.  Leave cake in pan until completely cold, then remove cake and cut into squares or diamonds.  Makes 16 squares.  Not sure how many diamonds you'd get.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Out of the Box!

 photos by Anthony Palatta

Last Thursday night was my "Out of the Box" baking class at Whole Foods. On the menu:  Pop Tarts, Banana Pudding with Nilla Wafers (see recipe below), Milano Cookies, and Oreos--all homemade.

We had a sold-out crowd, 13 students, and the butter was flying!

The class began with a demo of the banana pudding, which has a vanilla pudding base made on the stove. The recipe, which comes from the banana cream pie recipe in 500 Pies, is included below.

Next, we divided into groups to make 3 cookie doughs (Oreo, Nilla, and Milano) and fillings for the pop tarts. After cutting and shaping the cookies, we assembled pop tarts, using a modified pie dough that I demonstrated in my food processor, which I lugged from home.

The most challenging part of the class is managing all the trays of cookies going in and out of the oven!  The ideal way to bake cookies is one sheet in the oven at a time, but with all the cookies we made, that just wasn't possible.  However, thanks to the valiant support of Chef Wai Chu, who helps run the culinary center at Whole Foods, we got all the cookies baked and filled. 

At the very end of the class, we decorated the homemade pop tarts with three different icings and assembled banana pudding, layering it with sliced bananas and the nilla wafers we'd just made. Yum!  If you're interested in trying out the recipes for the Milano Cookies, the Oreos, or the Pop Tarts, they're up on this blog.  The banana pudding and wafers are pasted below.  Enjoy!

Nilla Wafers (Adapted from Alton Brown)

This cookie gets better and better the longer it cools, and freezes beautifully!

Makes about 40 cookies

1 ½ cups flour
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup vanilla sugar (or use regular sugar and add extra tsp of vanilla to sugar and butter in step 1)
1 large egg
4 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp whole milk

1.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Sift together dry ingredients and set aside.  Cream butter and vanilla sugar in stand mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping down sides.  Add egg and incorporate on medium speed for 30 seconds.  Scrape down sides of bowl, then add vanilla extract and milk and blend on low speed for 15 seconds.  Add flour mixture and mix on low just to incorporate.  Chill batter in refrigerator for at least 10 minutes before scooping.
2.     Scoop batter in teaspoon-sized balls and arrange them on 2 parchment-lined sheet pans.  Use the heel of your hand to slightly flatten each ball.  Bake, 2 pans at a time, rotating pans halfway through baking period, until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove pans to cooling rack to cool completely before removing cookies from the pan.

Homemade Banana Pudding (Adapted from 500 Pies and Tarts)

This fool-proof recipe produces a rich, silky pudding that’s just the right balance of creamy and sweet.

Serves about 8

3 large egg yolks
¾ cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups whole milk
1 ½ cups whipping cream
2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
4 ripe bananas
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 recipe Nilla wafers (above)

1.     In a medium-sized bowl, beat egg yolks with a fork.  In a medium saucepan on the stove, combine sugar, cornstarch and salt.  Combine vanilla, milk, and cream. 
2.     Turn on stove to medium heat, and slowly whisk milk mixture into dry ingredients in the saucepan to combine.  Continue whisking until mixture reaches a boil.  Cook for one minute, still whisking.  Quickly transfer half the milk mixture into the egg yolks.  Whisk to combine.  Return the egg and milk mixture to the saucepan.  Whisk to combine and bring to a boil.  Cook until thickened, whisking continuously, about a minute or two. 
3.     Remove from heat and whisk in the butter until melted.  Transfer to a cool bowl or plastic container and cover the surface with plastic wrap.  Chill for 2 hours.  Remove from refrigerator and whisk again until smooth.
4.     Cut the bananas into ½ inch slices and toss gently in a small bowl with lemon juice. 
5.     In a 1 ½ quart glass mixing bowl (ideal for presentation, but you can use any container you prefer), lay down a shallow layer of pudding.  Cover with a layer of vanilla wafers, then bananas, then pudding.  Keep repeating until you’re out of pudding.  Refrigerate 2 hours.

If desired for garnish:  whip 1 cup whipping cream, chilled, with 2 tbsp sugar until stiff peaks form.  You can dust the top with crumbled wafers, cinnamon, or any combination of the above plus banana slices coated in lemon juice.

Store up to 3 days.

Friday, April 1, 2011

City Bakery Style Chocolate Chip Cookies

My favorite place to get chocolate chip cookies in New York City is City Bakery... hands down.  I know Levain Bakery has their partisans, and they do make a nice cookie, but I prefer the crisp edges and chewy center of the flat brown sugar wheels at City Bakery than the doughy mounds at Levain.

Recently I happened upon a recipe for City Bakery style chocolate chip cookies on Chowhound, so I had to try them out.  The verdict?  They're not precisely City Bakery, but they are damned good:  my new go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe.

There's nothing that revolutionary in the ingredients. All the usual cookie suspects are there. I had everything in my pantry already. The key is to refrigerate the dough (I've heard the longer you refrigerate, the more flavor develops) and to underbake the cookies, then let them set as they cool.

Give this a try. They're quite easy... and addictive.

City Bakery Style Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ t. baking soda

½ t. salt

¼ pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

½ cup sugar

¾ cup tightly packed light brown sugar

1 ½ t. vanilla extract

1 large egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten

7 oz bittersweet chocolate, cut into 1/2 inch chunks [Or you could use half a 12-oz bag of bittersweet Ghiardelli chocolate chips, or semisweet if you prefer]
1) Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.
2) Using a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugars on low speed until it is smooth and lump free, about 3 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.
3) Add the vanilla and egg and beat on low speed for 15 seconds, or until fully incorporated. Do not overbeat. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.
4) On low speed, add the flour mixture. Beat until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the chocolate chunks and mix until they are just incorporated. If using a hand mixer, use a wooden spoon to stir them in. Refrigerate dough for at least an hour.
5) Preheat oven to 350. Adjust racks to lower and upper thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats. Spoon the dough using a 2-inch cookie scooper 2 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets. (makes about 23 3-inch round cookies)
6) Bake for 11-13 minutes or until golden brown around the edges, turning the sheets front to back and switching racks halfway through.
7) Remove the sheet from the oven and carefully slide the parchment or Silpats directly onto a work surface. When cookies are set, remove them to a cooling rack. Wait at least 5 minutes before serving or 20 minutes before storing in an airtight container for up to 3 days at room temperature.