Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday Cookie Ideas

Though I'm not Christian, I love making "holiday" cookies.  Okay, let's not kid ourselves.  These are actually Christmas cookies, but somehow calling them "holiday" cookies alleviates any sense of Jewish guilt I have over baking them.

Every year, I make big batches of cookies and then divide them up to give as gifts. I usually have a few standbys that I go to every year, like lemon gingerbread trees or chocolate snowfall cookies. But this time of year is also a time to try out some new recipes, usually with the aid of my partner-in-holiday-baking, poet Jeanne-Marie Beaumont.

This year, we tried out four recipes, all of which were hits:  "Amy-o's," which were chocolate wafer sandwich cookies filled with Kahlua buttercream, from a book called The Good Cookie; citrus thumbprints and pistachio-raspberry cookie sandwiches, both delicious and both from the very last stand-alone issue of Everyday Food; and finally "cinnamon sledges," which should be called "cinnamon pecan bars," from an old issue of Ladies Home Journal. They're easy and phenomenal-tasting!  I've attached a photo of the recipe here.

A couple of other recipes I tried this year included candy cane cookies, pictured above. I'd always wanted to make them, and though they look pretty, they're a bit of a pain because the dough is quite finicky to roll out and braid to achieve the candy cane look. Though they're traditionally peppermint-flavored, I did these with almond, just for  a change of pace. The results were a fragile cookie that was a bit dry, but very tasty right out of the oven. I'd like to experiment with them more to see if there isn't some way to liven them up.

I was a huge fan of another new recipe:  peppermint sugar chocolate-chip cookies. I suppose you could make these in different flavors, but I love the way the crushed candy canes sprinkled on top look on the cookie. These, plus the cinanmon sledges, have been my favorites of the holiday baking season.  Enjoy!

Peppermint Sugar Chocolate Cookies
(adapted from Everyday Food)

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4-1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
3-5 tablespoons heavy cream
12 round peppermint candies, crushed, for decorating

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, using a mixer, beat butter, granulated sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract on medium-high until pale and fluffy, 3 minutes. Beat in egg, then flour mixture on low. Stir in chocolate chips.

Roll dough into 1 1/2-inch balls and place, 2 inches apart, on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until edges are lightly golden, about 12 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Let cool on sheets on wire racks 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to racks and let cool completely.

Stir together confectioners' sugar and enough cream to make a spreadable glaze (if you like a strong mint flavor, stir in up to 1/4 teaspoon extract). Spread a thin layer of glaze on top of each cookie and sprinkle with candies. Let dry completely on racks.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Holiday Cookie Time!

Behold:  my holiday cookie mix from 2011. In all, I made sixteen different types of cookies, which was fun, but a bit overboard, I must admit.

This year, I'm already planning what I'm going to make for friends and family.  And in another annual holiday ritual, I'm teaching Holiday Cookies Made Easy at Whole Foods. We'll be making a few of the cookies seen in the picture (gingerbread trees with lemon icing garlands, mini citrus tarts, and raspberry crumb bars), plus chocolate snowfall cookies.

The class will be held on December 15th, which is a Saturday, from 2-5 pm.  If you'd like to sign up, just click on this link.

In the meantime, hit the Bar Cookies and Cookies labels to the right of this post to see some ideas for your holiday cookie season.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Easy as Pop Tarts













In my quest to reinvent a fall dessert classic--apple pie--as a pop tart, I faced two challenges: filling and icing.

I wanted my filling to have a distinct apple flavor, but also with a hint of darker tones underneath. As for texture, I wanted the apples to be tender, but not applesauce.

To get the flavor right, I used a combination of white, light brown, and dark brown sugar, to give the apples a caramel-like sweetness, as well as some cinnamon. For texture, I went with four Granny Smiths, diced, which I then softened by sauteeing with butter, and then thickened with a cornstarch slurry. If your pop tart filling's too wet, you end up with a dreaded "soggy bottom."  Not fun.

The filling ended up solving my icing problem too.  I reserved a tablespoon of the juice from the apples and mixed it in with my icing.

Individual portions of apple pie you can hold in your hand.

POP TART PASTRY RECIPE
This is basically a modified pie dough, but much easier to work with than a traditional crust.

Pastry Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons milk

1 additional large egg (to brush on pastry)

Your favorite fillings (recipes on previous page)

1.     Add flour, sugar, and salt to a large food processor and pulse to mix.  Add the butter and pulse until pea-sized lumps of butter are still visible, and the mixture holds together when you squeeze it.  (These steps can be done by hand, but will take longer.)  Transfer to a large bowl.  Whisk milk and egg plus 1 egg yolk together and then stir into dough, mixing just until incorporated.  Knead briefly if necessary.
2.     Divide dough in half.  Shape each half into a smooth rectangle, about 3 x 5 inches.  (Can be wrapped in plastic and stored in refrigerator for up to 2 days.)  Place one half on lightly floured work surface, and roll into a rectangle about 1/8 inch thick, and slightly larger than 9 x 12 inches.  Use a knife to cut the dough into a straight-edged rectangle, 9 x 12 inches.  (A good trick for this is to take a 9 x 12 pan and press it slightly onto the dough, then cut along the indentations.)  Repeat with the second piece of dough.  Slice the dough on the 12-inch side into 3 equal parts.  Then slice the dough on the 9-inch side into 3 equal parts.  You will have nine 3 x 4 inch rectangles.  (See chart for step-by-step illustrations.)
3.     Place half the rectangles onto parchment-lined baking sheets.  Beat the additional egg and brush the entire surface of the rectangles.  Place a heaping teaspoon of filling into the center of each rectangle and spread it out, leaving a ½-inch border of pastry bare around it.  Place a second rectangle of dough on top and press firmly around the edges with your fingertips.  Seal the dough well on all sides.  If desired, press the tines of a fork around the edge of each rectangle. 
4.     Prick the top of each tart 8-10 times with a fork so steam can escape.  Blot the juice coming off the tarts with a paper towel as much as possible.  Refrigerate the tarts, uncovered, for 30 minutes and preheat oven to 350.
5.     Bake the tarts 20-25 minutes until light golden brown.  Cool in pan on rack.  Serve plain or decorate with icings (recipes follow).

APPLE-CINNAMON FILLING (enough for 9 tarts)

Juice of half a lemon
4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2/3 cup brown sugar (a mix of light and dark)
1/3 cup white sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp cornstarch

Fill a large bowl with water and lemon juice.  Place sliced apples in water to prevent browning.  Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Drain apples and add to butter, stirring for 2 minutes.  Add sugar, cinnamon, and salt and continue to cook, stirring, for 2 more minutes.  Mix cornstarch with 1 tbsp water and then add to mixture.  Cook for 1 more minute, or until sauce has thickened slightly.  Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
OPTIONAL:  for extra flavor, consider adding a splash of vanilla, white wine, bourbon or calvados, apple cider, maple syrup, lemon or orange juice.  You could also add dried fruits or any of the “Thanksgiving spices” (nutmeg, cloves, ginger)


APPLE-CINNAMON ICING
(great for apple pop tarts)


1 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar
2 tbsp milk
½ tsp juice from apple filling
½ tsp vanilla


Mix all ingredients in a bowl, then spoon into pastry bag or plastic bag and cut off the tip. Draw a rectangle border of icing on each tart, then fill in with icing, using a knife to smooth out any gaps of icing. Garnish with red and orange sprinkles.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bold Fall Flavors



Tired of the usual suspects when it comes to your Thanksgiving dessert buffet?  I'm offering a class at Whole Foods on Monday November 12th, 6-9 pm, to give you some inspiration. 


Whip up some new riffs on classic recipes, and learn how to create unique desserts that are perfect for holiday entertaining and beyond. We’ll lighten up pumpkin pie with a lovely, no-bake chiffon filling; give apple pie a fun makeover; add a kick to bland banana bread; and turn your leftover Halloween candy into fun toppings for addictive (and kid-friendly) chocolate-coated shortbread. Best of all, these treats are crowd-pleasing and easy to make ahead, to ensure stress-free holiday celebrations.

On the Menu: Mom’s Pumpkin Chiffon Pie; Apple-Cinnamon “Pop Tarts”; Best Banana Bread Ever!; Halloween-Candy Shortbread Cookies.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Trying Out the Slutty Brownie



When I saw a link to the slutty brownie recipe on the Huffington Post, I knew I had to try them. (By the way, HuffPost lost the courage of their convictions, renaming them "Layered Brownies.")

Get this:  a brownie that consists of a layer of rich chocolate chip cookie cough, topped with a layer of Oreos, topped with a layer of fudgy brownies. 

A stoner's dream.

What's interesting is that the Oreos actually soften during the cooking process, creating a tender creamy white stripe in the middle of the finished brownie.

The hardest part of this is, like with any brownie, getting the middle just done enough so that it's not goo, without baking the outer edges to a hard shell. 

It's key to use the right size pan, 9 x 9, or your brownies will never bake through in the oven.

Why they're called "slutty," I don't know. Because they're so bad they're good?  I'm open to ideas here.

Slutty Brownies

Equipment: 9 x 9 pan


Ingredients
For the Brownie layer:
10 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups white sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup AP flour

For the Oreo layer:
1 package of Oreo (regular stuffed or double stuffed)

For the Cookie Dough layer:
1/2 cup unsalted butter (at room temp)
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups AP flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips


Instructions:
1. For the Brownie layer:
In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter over medium high heat. Add the sugar and cocoa powder once the butter is melted. Whisk to combine and remove from heat. Add the salt, vanilla and eggs and continuously whisk until the eggs are combined. Add the flour and continue to mix. Set batter aside.


2. For the Cookie Dough layer:
Cream together the butter and sugars in a mixer. Add the eggs and vanilla, making sure to scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl. Add the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder and mix on low until everything is incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips. Set dough aside.

3.  Assembly:
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Line the bottom of a 9x9 baking pan with tin foil and then spray the tin foil with a layer of baking spray.

Layer the cookie dough on the bottom of a 9x9 baking pan, pressing down to form the bottom of the slutty brownies.

Layer as many oreos that will fit on top of the cookie dough. No need to overlap. One single layer will do.

Pour the brownie batter on top of the oreo layer and make sure it's evenly layers on top.
Bake for 30-35 minutes. Test with a knife to see if the center is done. If the knife comes out clean, let the brownies rest before serving. If the knife comes out with batter still on it, allow the brownies to bake about 5 minutes more.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bon App: Couldn't You Have Written "Square"?


I love looking at Bon Appetit, to which I received a free subscription thanks to a promotion at Sur La Table. (Wow, that's more French in one paragraph than I use in this blog in an entire year.) They way they photograph food makes me want to make it.

The trouble is, so far, when I've actually made their dessert recipes, there have been a few glitches.

I tried a chocolate cake with ganache and peppermint frosting, an elaborate multi-stage process involving cake, two fillings (white and dark chocolate), and frosting. I didn't make it past the cake stage. The layers were dry, flavorless, even a bit gummy.

Next, I went for a poached rhubarb topped with Greek yogurt, honey, and toasted pistachios. Looked beautiful in the picture, sounded delicious from the recipe. The trouble was that the rhubarb had a sharp, unpleasant tang, and the contrast of the competing flavors of the dessert was overpowering.

My latest attempt was an 8-inch two-layer banana chocolate chip cake with peanut butter frosting. The recipe promised that the moist cake was "forgiving" and easy even for beginners.

Somehow this didn't ring true to my experience of working with moist fruit (as well as vegetables) in cake batter. I find that when there's fruit in the batter of a layer cake, it tends to mess with the evenness of the baking. The middle stays mushy while the ends get overdone.

Sure enough, though I tried this cake three times, I ended up with the same result:  a big crater in the middle of the layers. I tried different color pans, I tried cooking the cake for longer baking times. Same exact result each time. So much for forgiving.

(After checking the comments on the recipe, I found I was not alone. Several home bakers reported needing at least 20 minutes more to bake the cakes. One reported success when baking the cakes in 9-inch rounds. Finally the mystery was solved when one commenter noted that the recipe calls for 8x8x2 pans, meaning square rather than round pans, which makes a huge difference since the total area of an 8-inch square and a 9-inch round is the same:  64 square inches, as opposed to 50 for a 8-inch rounds.  I wish the word "square" had been noted in the recipe, or the 9-inch alternative had been suggested, especially since most home bakers do not have more than one 8-inch square pan.)

At any rate, the batter was so delicious that I felt obligated to give it one last try:  as a cupcake. I halved the recipe and made two dozen. There, I found success. The cupcakes domed perfectly and held their shape long after they cooled without drying out. Topped with an absurdly rich peanut butter frosting and chocolate candy as decoration, these make a dandy Halloween-themed treat.

If you dare, try the original recipe at this link.  Or, follow my lead and make cupcakes.

Ingredients

Yield:  24 cupcakes

Cake
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup mashed very ripe bananas
1/2 cup sour cream
5 oz. mini chocolate chips

Frosting
(You'll have extra frosting)
1 cup creamy peanut butter
3/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
Chocolate chips, mini chocolate chips, and chocolate kisses

Preparation

Cake

Preheat oven to 350°. Fill 2 12-cup cupcake pans with cupcake liners. Line bottom of pans with parchment; coat paper. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar, butter, and brown sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions and occasionally scraping down sides and bottom of bowl. Beat in vanilla.

Add dry ingredients; beat on low speed just to blend. Add bananas and sour cream; beat just to blend. Fold in mini chips. Scoop batter into cupcake liners, about 1/2 to 2/3 full.

Bake cupcakes until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Transfer to wire racks; let cool in pans for no more than 2 minutes. Invert cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely.

Frosting

Using an electric mixer, beat first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl until a light and fluffy frosting forms, 2–3 minutes.

Frost cupcakes. Garnish with chocolate chips and kisses.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Seven-Layer Cake

all photos by Anthony Palatta

This week, I published an article in Tablet Magazine on how to make seven-layer cake, a traditional Jewish bakery dessert, at home. You can click the link above to read the piece and get the recipe.

Below, I have some step-by-step behind the scenes pictures of how I assembled this cake.


Step one:  After mixing the batter, pour it in a thin layer in a baking pan.

Step Two:  When the cake is cool, split it into seven layers, roughly of equal size.  (You may have one extra.)


Step Three:  Begin assembling the cake on your serving platter, covered in parchment.  Spread thin layer of filling over each layer

Step Four:  After all layers are assembled, cover in chocolate ganache and let set.

Step Five:  Cut open, slice, and serve!  Cake can be stored in fridge.  Just bring it back to room temp before eating.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Lane Cake--A Southern Classic













In To Kill a Mockingbird, there's a character named Miss Maudie Atkinson who's famous for her "lane cake." What makes them so good? Apparently, they're very "shinny," in other words, loaded with liquor.

I had never heard of a lane cake until I was watching an episode of Cook's Country with Anthony one night and they were making it. The reason to eat the cake is its filling, a dense custard filled with dried fruit and spiked with bourbon. It looks like dog food, but tastes much, much better.

The cake itself is made using what Cook's Country calls the "reverse creaming method," but which I learned in cooking school as the "high ratio method." I've also seen it described as the "two-step" method. Basically, you whisk together your dry ingredients, and then cut in cold butter, as you would for a pie dough. The flour coats all the butter, which prevents the batter from getting over-gluteiny and tough like a loaf of bread. Then you add your liquid ingredients all at once, at the end. Finally, you fold in beaten egg whites to give the cake lift and air.

When the cake is finished, it gets covered in a smooth beaten-egg white frosting, like a marshmallow cream. It's all very light and fluffy, in contrast to the rich, sweet, and chewy filling, which I suppose you could load up with as much bourbon as you think your friends can stand.

Lane Cake
(adapted from Cook's Country)

Cake
1 cup whole milk, room temperature
6 large egg whites, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter,
cut into 12 pieces and softened

Filling
5 tablespoons bourbon
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Salt
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup pecans
3/4 cup golden raisins
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Frosting
2 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions
1. MIX BATTER Adjust oven rack to middle position and
heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch
cake pans. Whisk milk, egg whites, and vanilla in large
liquid measuring cup. With electric mixer on low speed, 
mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt until 
combined. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, and beat 
until only pea-size pieces remain. Pour in half 
of milk mixture and increase speed to medium-high. 
Beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Slowly 
add remaining milk mixture and beat until 
incorporated, about 30 seconds.

2. BAKE CAKES Scrape equal amounts of batter 
into prepared pans and bake until toothpick 
inserted in center comes out clean, 20 to 25 
minutes. Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes, 
then turn out onto wire rack. Cool completely, at
least 1 hour. (Cooled cakes can be wrapped 
in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature 
for 2 days.)

3. MAKE FILLING Whisk bourbon, cream, 
cornstarch, and salt in bowl until smooth. Process 
coconut in food processor until finely ground. 
Add pecans and raisins and pulse until coarsely 
ground. Melt butter in large skillet over 
medium-low heat. Add processed coconut 
mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until 
golden brown and fragrant, about 5 minutes. 
Stir in bourbon mixture and bring to boil. Off 
heat, add condensed milk and vanilla. Transfer to 
medium bowl and cool to room temperature,
about 30 minutes. (Filling can be refrigerated 
for 2 days. Bring filling to room temperature
before using.)

4. WHIP FROSTING With electric mixer 
fitted with whisk attachment, whip egg whites 
and cream of tartar on medium-high speed until 
frothy, about 30 seconds. With
mixer running, slowly add sugar and whip until 
soft peaks form, about 2 minutes; set aside. 
Bring corn syrup to boil in small saucepan 
over medium-high heat and cook until
large bubbles appear around perimeter of pan, 
about 1 minute. With mixer running, slowly 
pour hot syrup into whites (avoid pouring 
syrup onto beaters or it will splash).
Add vanilla and beat until mixture has 
cooled and is very thick and glossy, 3 to 
5 minutes.

5. ASSEMBLE CAKE Place 1 cake round on serving
platter. Spread filling over cake, then top with second 
cake round. Spread frosting evenly over top and 
sides of cake. Serve. (Cake can be refrigerated, 
covered, for 2 days. Bring to room temperature 
before serving.) 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mexican Desserts













You can find my latest Sweet Spot post on the website Mamiverse, with two original recipes for (hopefully) new Mexican dessert classics:  sangria tart and Mexican chocolate crepes.  Enjoy!

Friday, September 7, 2012

One Expensive Brownie!

Regular followers of this blog may know that I've been on a quest for that elusive go-to brownie recipe:  a fail-safe, delicious crowd-pleaser that has a thin crust on top and a rich fudgy interior.

This one's pretty good, but it has a major flaw:  you'll need to pony up fifteen bucks just for the chocolate!

I originally saw this recipe, called Full Moon Brownies for on the Huffington Post. It calls for all the usual suspects in a brownie recipe, but instead of baking chocolate, you use 2 3-ounce bars of Vosges brand Black Pearl Exotic candy bars. I happened to walk by their store on Madison Avenue, so I stopped in to try some, and I'm here to tell you these candy bars are almost worth their hefty $7.50 price-tag. In addition to dark chocolate, the ingredients include ginger, wasabi, and black sesame seeds, which hit you at the very end of the bite and add both crunch as well as richness to the chocolate.

You melt the chocolate with a half-pound of butter--yes a half-pound--and stir in a bit of cocoa butter for good measure. Then in go eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, and at the last, a bit of flour to bind it all together.

The recipe says to line a pan with parchment, then line it with tin foil. What for?  I just lined my pan with tin foil. It also says to bake the brownies for 35 minutes, yet when I took out my brownies at 30 minutes, they came out rich and fudgy in the center, but the ends were a little overdone. Next time, I'd check them at 25.

Still, after trimming the ends, I had a rich, satisfying brownie with a deep chocolate flavor. I noticed that the brownies on the Vosges website look thinner than mine, which I find often happens when I bake brownies. Maybe I'm just brownie-challenged?

Full Moon Brownies

Ingredients:
2 3 oz Bars Black Pearl Exotic Candy Bars
8 oz unsalted butter
3 tbsp cocoa powder
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 8 inch square baking pan, line with 2 pieces of aluminum foil perpendicular to each other so that you can lift the brownie out of the pan with ease after they have been baked.
2. Place chocolate and butter in a medium sized, non-reactive metal bowl and set over simmering water. Stir occasionally and whisk in cocoa powder until smooth, set aside.
3. In a mixing bowl, briefly whisk together eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt for about 30 seconds. Add warm chocolate mixture and then mix in flour just until combined. Be careful not to over mix.
4. Pour batter into prepared pan and cook for 25-30 minutes.
5. When finished, let brownies cool for at least 1 hour before removing from pan. Cut into 1 inch squares and share. Brownies can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated up to 5 days.

Yields: One Pan of Brownies

Friday, August 24, 2012

Pulverize Me!













I'll admit it:  I had my suspicions.

I'd never made a recipe from Saveur before, but the word on the street (so to speak) was that the magazine was more to look at and dream about than to actually use to make something.

And when I launched into this recipe for Mexican-style pecan shortbread cookies from Saveur's recent Mexico issue, I was a little dubious. For example, the ingredients called for 1 1/2 tsp of vanilla "preferably Mexican." I've made a number of baked goods with both Madagascar and Mexican vanilla and defy any blind taster to tell the difference.

I was even more doubtful when I saw the huge imbalance in the wet to dry ratio, only 6 tablespoons of butter for 3 cups of crushed pecans, sugar, and flour. And in fact, when I made the dough as instructed, it failed to "form a ball" in my food processor as promised. However, after adding 2 more tablespoons of butter to make an even stick, the dough came out just fine.

The results, however, have made a Saveur believer out of me.  Called "Polvorones" (which sounds like it should mean "Pulverized thing" to my tin Spanish ear), these earthy cookies have a rich pecan flavor with slight heat from ground "true cinnamon" or canela, which I bought in a Spanish grocery store. If you bake them just right, they're slightly chewy inside with a light powdery glaze on the outside that strikes a sweet high note.

This is definitely an instant classic.

Polvorones
(Mexican Pecan Shortbread Cookies)
Adapted from Saveur Magazine

3/4 cup pecans
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon (if you can find it, get canela bark or "true cinnamon" in a spice store or Mexican market, then grind it right before adding to the dough)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
8 tbsp unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup confectioner's sugar for dusting

1.  In a large food processor (not your mini-chop) process pecans and sugar into a fine meal. Then add the flour, cinnamon, and salt and pulse to combine.

2.  Add butter and vanilla and process until dough comes together (hopefully in a ball). Transfer to lightly floured work surface and form into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

3.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment.  Press, roll, do what you have to to roll out dough until it is just under 1/2 inch thick. (The dough's a bit crumbly, so you may have to work it with your hands--it doesn't roll out nicely.) Using a 1 1/4" round cutter, cut out cookies and transfer to cookie sheets, about 1 inch apart. Reroll scraps and continue cutting until the dough is finished. Place in fridge to chill for 30 minutes and preheat oven to 350.

4.  Bake until lightly browned and set, about 14 minutes.  Place confectioner's guar in a large bowl and set aside. Let cool for five minutes on sheets, then transfer to wire racks.  You can A) Let them cool completely and then roll in confectioner's sugar for a more powdery coating or B) As they're still warm, roll them in confectioner's sugar for more of a wet glaze. The choice is yours.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ice Cream Without a Machine--or Guilt!

Here's a quick test.

Take a look at the picture and tell me what you see.


Is this:

A)  A rich scoop of chocolate mousse

B)  A dollop of chocolate pudding

C)  A creamy bowl of full-fat chocolate ice cream

D)  None of the above

In fact, D is the answer. The above is my latest dessert experiment:  healthy, low-fat, and quite delicious ice cream made with frozen bananas.

The method couldn't be simpler. For each serving, peel a banana, cut into about four chunks, and freeze for several hours. (I tried freezing it in the peel and had a devil of a time trying to get the peel off.) If you want a fruit flavor, like blueberry, cherry, strawberry, or tangerine, freeze several chunks of those as well.

When you're ready, get out your food processor and toss in the banana chunks and flavorings (which could include cinnamon, as they did last night, or a heaping teaspoon of cocoa powder, as above, or maybe some delicious extract), plus a scant quarter cup of fat-free milk and some sugar or sweetener to taste. Whatever the flavor, you need to use the frozen banana to make your creamy ice cream base.

Churn, churn, churn, until the ice cream is smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust flavorings, and then you're done. You can also store the ice cream in the freezer, but let it sit for a bit on the counter before eating to soften.

The ice cream doesn't have the tang of dairy product or the richness of egg yolks you'd find in Ben and Jerry's, but it does have a light, fresh taste that surpasses some of those weirdly chalky "soft-serve" 99% fat free concoctions they sell in shopping malls. Plus, it's easy, fun, and inexpensive to make at home.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Cinnamon Coffee Cookies

Last December, I made these cookies as part of my holiday cookie spread. Imagine a chocolate chip cookie, now add some cinnamon-nutmeg-cloves and a dash of espresso powder to the batter and then replace the chocolate chips with crushed chocolate covered espresso beans.

Absolutely delicious--and I don't even like coffee!

I got this recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Cookies magazine, and it's pretty straightforward.

These cookies are great both soft-baked or crisp, perfect for dunking in a mug of hot chocolate or coffee...
Cinnamon-Coffee Cookies
(adapted from BHG Holiday Cookies)

Yield:  about 42 cookies

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening (I just substituted more butter here)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp instant coffee crystals (I used Medaglio instant espresso powder)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 cup chopped chocolate-covered coffee beans
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

1.  In a large bowl, beat butter (and shortening if using) for 30 seconds, then add brown and 3/4 cup white sugar, coffee, and 2 tsp cinnamon, baking powder, nutmeg, baking soda, salt, and cloves. Beat to combine, then add eggs and vanilla, beating until combined. Beat in flour until combined, then fold in coffee beans.  Cover and chill for 1 hour.

2. Preheat oven to 325 and line cookie sheets with parchment.  In a small bowl, combine 3/4 cups of sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon.

3.  Remove chilled dough from fridge, roll 1 tbsp of dough into a ball, then dip in sugar-cinnamon mixture to coat. Place balls 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets.

4.  Bake for about 12 minutes, or until edges are set. Cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes. (Leave longer for crisper cookies).  Transfer to wire rack and cool completely.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Galette = Easy Elegance

I love pie, but in all my years of eating and making it, I had never tried a galette.

That's funny, because it's hard to find something that's simpler to make than one of these beauties, which can be filled with just about anything you like, sweet or savory.

This particular variation is based on a recipe from the Martha Baking Handbook. You start with a cornmeal pate brisee, a.k.a, crust, which is very similar to regular pie dough. Chill, then roll out into a large round and transfer to a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. (These things tend to leak.)

In a large bowl, toss together whatever fruits you're using (I chose plums and blueberries--delicious!) with some sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, and salt.  A bit of cinnamon wouldn't hurt either.

Then pile the fruit in the center of your dough and simply fold up the dough all around it.  Before baking, for about an hour, brush the edges of the dough with a beaten egg and dust with sanding sugar.

This is one of the most delicious pies, tarts, or galettes I've ever eaten.  Really good with a dollop of whipped cream.  The crust is crisp (at least for the first day or two) and sweet, with a nice subtle undertone from the cornmeal, and the fruit is beautifully steamed and juicy.

I would serve this the same day for the best results as the juicy fruit tends to soften the crust the longer it sits.

Cornmeal Pate Brisee

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

Directions

Place the flour, cornmeal, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse several times to combine. Add the butter, and process, until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 seconds. With the machine running, pour the ice water through the feed tube in a slow, steady stream, until the dough just holds together (do not process for more than 30 seconds).

Turn out dough onto a clean work surface. Divide in half, and place each half on a piece of plastic wrap. Flatten each to form a disk. Wrap, and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 1 day before using.

Plum-Blueberry Filling

1/2 recipe cornmeal pate brisee
1 1/2 pounds stone fruit (plums, apricots, or nectarines) pitted and cut into sixths
2 cups fresh berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice, about 1/2 a lemon
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
sanding sugar for sprinkling (optional)

In a large bowl, gently toss fruit, sugar, lemon juice, salt, and cinnamon if using.  Arrange fruit mixture on top of dough, leaving at least a 2-inch border all around. Fold border over fruit mixture, overlapping where necessary and pressing gentle to adhere the folds. Brush edges with egg and sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake until crust is golden brown and juices are bubbling, about 1 hour. Transfer on baking sheet to wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Friday, July 13, 2012

Easy, Vegan, and Delicious--Possible? Yes!













Can one cake be all at once:  easy, vegan, and delicious?

Yes, if it's this "Busy Day Chocolate Cake" recipe I found by Lucinda Scala Quinn, via the Martha site.

I stumbled upon it by accident when asked to contribute a dairy-free dessert for an Orthodox Jewish Shabbat dinner (chez my nephews and niece).

How surprised was I to find that the ingredients for this cake include no butter, no milk or sour cream, not even any eggs, and that the original directions call for you to mix all ingredients in the 8 x 8 pan you bake it in?

I was even more surprised that when baked, the cake comes out so moist that you'd be hard-pressed to lift it out of the pan unless you'd lined it with parchment. And the flavor is unmistakably rich and chocolatey. You could easily double this recipe and make a layer cake out of it, if you could just get it out of the pan to frost it!

For frosting, I used the recipe on the box of Domino's confectioner's sugar, subbing water for milk and margarine for butter. I also dyed it pink because in my world, frosting is always better when it's pink.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 cup cold water

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In an 8-inch square baking pan, whisk together all-purpose flour, sugar, unsweetened cocoa powder, baking soda, and coarse salt.

2. Make a well in center of flour mixture and add vegetable oil, pure vanilla extract, white vinegar, and cold water. Whisk until well combined. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on a wire rack.

Friday, July 6, 2012


My next class at Whole Foods is on August 8th. Click here to register.  The description is below:

Wednesday, August 8th

La Dulce Vida: Mexican Desserts
6:00 PM - 9:00 PM

Hands-On and Demonstration, $55  REGISTER NOW!Mexican cuisine is perfect for summertime: fresh, crowd-pleasing, and fun! And while Mexican food is often associated with smoky heat or bold, savory flavors, the desserts can be just as dynamic. In this class, we’ll whip up four dazzling yet surprisingly easy treats that will be the perfect ending to your next South-of-the-Border-inspired meal. In addition to a feather-light tres leches cake and Mexican hot chocolate cookies, we’ll also create pastries inspired by classic cocktails: virgin sangria tart and virgin margarita pie (instructions for how to make boozy versions included, of course). Your sweet tooth will surely be satisfied after tonight’s fiesta.
On the MenuTres Leches Cake; Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies with Dulce de Leche and Crushed Almonds; Sangria Tart; Margarita Pie; Cornmeal Crepes with Fresh Fruit Filling.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Italian Rainbows!

I'm obsessed with rainbow cookies.

Whenever I stop by an Italian-American bakery, I invariably have to sample a few of these petit fours, almond cakes sandwiched with orange, raspberry, or apricot jam and sealed in dark chocolate. 

I never thought I could actually make them myself until I saw this recipe from the nouveau Italian restaurant Torrisi Specialities, first in New York Magazine and then again in Bon Appetit

These make a TON of cookies. I went with the Bon Appetit version, which makes half the amount of the New York version. The good news is they freeze beautifully.

The mode of operation is quite simple. You make three thin layers of cake, two dyed (I used extra food coloring for extra brightness), one plain, then layer them up with jam. Store them in the fridge, weighed down under heavy cans to press them firmly together, then spread melted chocolate over the top and bottom. When they're all set, cut to the desired size. Smaller and thinner is better.

A few tips.  First, underbake the layers slightly so they stay moist. Second, get some help in stacking the layers--these thin cakes are fairly fragile. I actually messed up my middle layer, but just smushed it into place. It worked out fine. Third, make sure to really press them down so they stick together. Fourth and finally, when spreading the chocolate, work quickly, as the cold cake causes the chocolate to firm up faster than you might expect.

Though I love them, these cookies aren't everyone's cup of tea: they're sweet and really almondy. But they look gorgeous!

Rainbow Cookies
adapted from Torrisi Specialities, as appeared in Bon Appetit

Ingredients:

2 cups unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
6 large eggs, separated
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
12 ounces almond paste (not marzipan), chopped
2 3/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon red food coloring (I used 2 tsp)
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup orange marmalade, heated, strained
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped, melted
1 teaspoon green food coloring (I used 2 tsp)

Special Equipment: 3 13x9x2" metal baking pans


1. Bake:
Preheat oven to 350° Line three 13x9x2" metal baking pans with foil, leaving overhang; grease with 2 tablespoon butter; set aside. Put egg whites in bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk; beat until soft peaks form. Slowly add 1/3 cup sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Transfer to a large bowl; cover; chill. Using the paddle attachment, beat almond paste and remaining sugar on medium-low until incorporated, 4–5 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high; gradually add remaining butter. Beat until fluffy. Beat in yolks, then flour and salt. Fold in whites in 2 additions. Divide batter evenly among 3 bowls. Mix red coloring into 1 bowl and green coloring into second bowl; leave third bowl plain. Spread 1 bowl of batter into each prepared pan; smooth tops. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until just set, 9–11 minutes. Let cool in pans.

2. Layer:
With a pastry brush, spread half of marmalade over green cake. Using foil overhang, lift plain layer out of pan. Invert onto green layer; discard foil. Brush remaining marmalade over plain layer. Lift red layer out of pan; invert onto plain layer and cover cake with foil.

3. Weight:
Top with a 13x9x2" pan. Weigh down pan with several heavy canned goods to compress cake layers. Refrigerate at least 4 hours and up to 1 day.

4. Unmold:
Remove cans, top pan, and foil. Transfer cake to a waxed paper–lined baking sheet.

5. Glaze:
Spread half of chocolate over cake in a thin layer. Freeze for 10 minutes. Cover with waxed paper, invert the baking sheet on top, and flip cake. Uncover and glaze with remaining chocolate. Freeze 10 additional minutes.

6. Slice:
Trim cake to 12x8". Cut crosswise into six 2"-wide strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 96"-wide cookies. Store in an airtight container.



Friday, June 22, 2012

Six Layers of Lemony Cake

photo by Anthony Palatta












Two years ago for my birthday, my husband Anthony took me to a steakhouse called Del Frisco's, where they serve a sweet, tart, and lemony "Doberge Cake." (It's not on the menu, but if you ask, they seem to always have it.)

Since then, I've looked online for a recipe, and while I haven't found an exact match, this recipe from Better Homes and Gardens, is pretty damned good on its own, so much so, that I made it for my birthday this year.

A quick word on Doberge cake, which is actually a version of a Hungarian torte known as "Dobos" cake, named after the Hungarian pastry chef who invented it. Consisting of any number of thin layers of spongy cake alternating with frosting, the cake made its way to New Orleans, where it became "Doberge" and was served in caramel, chocolate, and yes, lemon flavors.
Dobos Cake

The trick of this multi-component cake is to take it in stages. First, make the lemon curd filling, which can be done a day or two in advance. Next, for the cakes, you'll need three 8-inch cake pans. (I like light silver pans rather than darker ones, which for me result in lighter colored cakes with a minimum of caramelized edges.) When you make the batter, you pour half of it into the three pans, divided evenly, and then bake. Once the cakes are cool, wash out the pans and use them again for the rest of the batter.

Now for the assembly. Alternate layers of cake and lemon curd until you get to the sixth layer. Then cover the whole thing in a lemony cream cheese frosting. The cake I had at Del Frisco's had a more traditional lemony fondant shell, but that was a bit more trouble than I wanted to go to.
Del Frisco's Lemon Doberge Cake, with Fondant Icing

Though some of the layers baked softer than others, the lemon curd moistens each cloud-like layer, which melts into the filling and frosting to make a sugary pudding in your mouth.

I wonder what a chocolate version would be like...

Lemon Doberge Cake
(adapted from Better Homes and Gardens)

Ingredients

Lemon Filling (see below)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 egg yolks
3/4 cup milk
3 stiff-beaten egg whites
Lemon Icing (see below)
Shredded lemon peel (optional)

Directions

1. Prepare and cool the Lemon Filling. Grease and lightly flour three 8x1-1/2-inch round baking pans. Set aside. In a medium mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder, and salt.

2. In a large mixer bowl beat butter or margarine and shortening with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar and vanilla, beating until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating 1 minute after each.

3. Add dry ingredients and milk alternately to beaten mixture, beating after each addition until blended. Gently fold in egg whites by hand.

4. To make the 6 cake layers, transfer a generous 3/4 cup of batter into each prepared pan, spreading evenly over the bottom of pan. Bake in a 375 degree F oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until cakes test done. Cool 5 minutes in pans. Remove from pans and cool on wire racks.

5. Wash, grease, and flour pans. Spoon the remaining batter into the 3 pans. Bake and cool as directed above.

6. To assemble, place 1 cake layer on serving plate. Spread a scant 1/2 cup Lemon Filling evenly atop. Repeat with 4 more layers and filling. Top with final layer. Cover and chill thoroughly. Spread Lemon Icing over top and sides of cake. Cover and store in the refrigerator. Before serving, sprinkle top with shredded lemon peel, if desired. Makes 16 servings.

Lemon Filling

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
dash of salt
1 1/2 cups cold water
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 tsp finely shredded lemon peel
1/3 cup lemon juice
3 beaten egg yolks

Directions

In a saucepan combine 1-1/4 cups sugar, 3 tablespoons cornstarch, 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, and dash salt. Stir in 1-1/2 cups cold water. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. Stir in 2 tablespoons butter or margarine and 1/2 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel. Gradually stir in 1/3 cup lemon juice. Mix well. Cover surface with clear plastic wrap. Cool the mixture to room temperature without stirring. Stir about 1 cup of the hot mixture into 3 beaten egg yolks. Return mixture to saucepan. Bring mixture to a gentle boil. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.


Lemon Icing

Ingredients

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp finely shredded lemon peel
1/4 tsp vanilla

Directions

In a mixer bowl beat cream cheese and powdered sugar until fluffy. Add finely shredded lemon peel and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Summer Blues

I travel to Maine twice a year to teach, and like most New Yorkers, when I'm out of the city, I love to visit sprawling suburban supermarkets. I love the sensation of strolling down an aisle wide enough to fit two, count 'em, two shopping carts at once. I love the ampleness of the displays, the varieties of consumer products I hadn't known existed. I love how clean suburban supermarkets seem, how enticing and brightly lit they are.

In Maine, I tend to go to a supermarket called Hannaford's, which publishes a small cooking magazine that you can get for free if you spend more than twenty-five bucks, and it's there that I discovered this delicious blueberry pie recipe. Fair warning, the recipe would probably be even better with wild Maine blueberries, which are tiny, sweet, and have a subtle cinnamon flavor in my opinion. But made with blueberries from my local fruit cart on the corner, this was still one of the best blueberry pies I've ever had.

The recipe comes from Melanie Chandler of Cherryfield, Maine, who says she'd developed it in her head for about four decades. All that planning paid off when she won first prize in the Machias Wild Blueberry Festival Cooking Contest two years running (2008 and 2009). I'm impressed.

I was even more impressed by the final result when I made the pie recently. As Melanie points out in her Hannaford Magazine profile, the secret is the use of turbinado sugar. (You can also use demerara, muscovado or "raw" sugar, which has an almost identical flavor. You basically want natural brown sugar (not the kind that is refined white sugar to which molasses is added and is so good in banana bread or on oatmeal). The raw sugar has a deeper, muskier flavor than refined which is a nice match for the blueberries' sweetness.

The ingredients and preparation are simple. If you don't like the shortening in the crust, just substitute butter.

Melanie A. Chandler's First Prize Blueberry Pie
(adapted from Hannaford's Magazine)

Filling:

8 cups blueberries (I used 3 pints and was fine)
1 cup turbinado sugar (I used demerara because I happened to have some)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup corn starch

Crust:

2 2/3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup turbinado sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
1 cup solid vegetable shortening (I put mine in the freezer before I use it)
6 to 8 tbsp cold water

1. In a large stockpot, combine all filling ingredients and heat, stirring, until thickened to a pudding-like texture, about 15 minutes. Pour filling into a mixing bowl to cool while you make the crust.
2. Preheat oven to 400. In a food processor, mix flour, salt, and sugar, then pulse to add shortening until dough is fine and crumbly. (This can also be done by hand with a pastry blender or a fork and knife.) Add water until a rough dough forms.
3. Divide dough in half and pat into two disks, handling as little as possible. (The warmth form your hands can affect the texture of the pastry.) On a lightly floured surface, roll out one disk to fit a 9-inch pie pan and place in the pan. Pour reserved filling into crust. (N. B. the original recipe calls for a DEEP-DISH pan, but I just used a regular one.)
4. Roll out second disk of dough into a circle large enough to cover the pie. Place over filling and crimp edges. Cut 6 to 8 slits in the top and sprinkle with about 1 tsp sugar. Bake about 35 minutes until crust turns pale gold. Let the pie cool at least 2 hours before slicing so filling can set.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Makin' Easy Whoopie

Whoopie pies, which are really not a pie but a cross between a cake and a cookie, are a classic New England sweet snack that seems to have caught on more widely in the past few years.

A few holiday seasons ago, I made my first whoopie pies, though mine were a more modern riff on the traditional version: pistachio flavored cakes, pumpkin-marscapone filling, and a white chocolate glaze.

This recipe, via the Food Network uses the classic combo of chocolate cookie with a white fluffy filling. The cookie batter is much like a brownie base and is mixed by hand, no electricity needed. You drop tablespoons full of the rich brown stuff (unsweetened chocolate, semisweet chocolate, and cocoa powder for extra chocolate flavor) onto baking sheets and bake at 350 for about 7 minutes to get that cakey texture.

Next, rather than use marshmallow fluff or shortening, you simply place a marshmallow on top of one of the cookies and put it back in the oven to melt slightly, and then sandwich. Presto--you've got your pie!

The upside:  easy to put together. No muss, no fuss with the filling. The marshmallow is nice with the chocolate cake. The final product is very, very good.

The downside:  if your cakes aren't quite big enough, the marshmallow tends to seep out all over the place. Also, the top portion of the sandwich tends to slide off, so you may need to adjust it a bit until the cakes have set. Finally, traditional fillings are a bit more rich, like a frosting, and have an added payoff that this pie, as delicious as it is, lacks.

My verdict:  A+ for the cakes.  B+ for the marshmallow. A for the final product.  But if you want an A+, go for a more traditional filling.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Eating Green Tea













This recipe couldn't be simpler to make--and the flavor couldn't be more complex to taste.

Take your favorite shortbread recipe (or use the one below) and add two tablespoons of green tea powder. (If you can't find Chinese green tea powder, which I couldn't, just take two tablespoons of regular green tea leaves and grind them in your spice grinder into a powder.)

The result is a delicate cookie, in texture, color, and flavor, a subtle combination of sweet and umami, the least know of the five basic flavors (in addition to sweet, sour, salty, and bitter) which is often associated with foods like shellfish, seaweed, cabbage, mushrooms, and Asian cuisine in general.

The recipe I used suggested rolling the dough thin and cutting it into leaves like these. Not having a leaf-shaped cookie cutter, I did thin moon shapes, and then larger and thicker heart shapes, and I found both sizes and thicknesses delicious.

Green Tea Shortbread
(adapted from Martha Stewart)

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
2 tablespoons Chinese green-tea powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

Directions

Sift flour, tea powder, and salt into a small bowl; set aside. Place butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream on medium speed until fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add sugar; continue to beat until very light in color and fluffy, about 2 minutes more. Add flour mixture; combine on low, scraping sides of bowl with a spatula if necessary, until flour is just incorporated and dough sticks together when squeezed with fingers.
Place a piece of parchment on a clean surface; dust with flour. Roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness; chill in refrigerator or freezer until firm, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Cut chilled dough with 2-inch leaf cutters. Using a wide spatula, transfer to baking sheets. Chill until firm. Gather scraps together, re-roll, chill, and cut shapes. Bake until firm and barely starting to color, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating halfway through. Cool completely on wire rack; store in an airtight container for up to 3 to 4 weeks.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Rhubarb's Here!

I adore rhubarb.

Of course, I didn't know what it was for many years, and when I share my penchant for rhubarb with people, they often say, "Oh, yeah, I've heard of that.  What is it exactly?"

What it is exactly is an ancient vegetable that dates back to China. It was brought to the Northeastern U.S. in the early 1800s. Here in New York, we usually see it for about a month, beginning in late April. It looks like a long stalk of celery, ranging in color from pink to deep beet red, and has a unique slightly tart and fruity flavor.

Most often it's paired pleasantly with strawberries for a delicious sweet and sour combo. However, a couple of years ago, I had a residency at the Yaddo artists' colony where I was served the most delicious rhubarb pie--no strawberries, no nothing. Just tart rhubarb, with a rich pie crust. I decided to see if I could replicate that pie.

For my crust, I experimented with a pie dough my brother's been recommending to me, from America's Test Kitchen, which uses cold vodka rather than ice water. The vodka makes the dough easy to roll out, but then cooks out of the crust as it bakes, making it flaky and delicious.

For the filling, I used Mark Bittman's strawberry-rhubarb crisp recipe, though I omitted the strawberries. I thought about bumping up the sugar, but decided against it because I wanted extra tartness.

The result was a rich pie wit a deep savory fruit flavor, almost like a peach, except less sweet. In fact, I thought it wasn't quite sweet enough. Next time, I'm going to add a heaping quarter cup of sugar as well as decrease the lemon juice I used to see if I can get the taste just right. On the other hand, if you make it the way I did and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of the warm pie, I think the sweet-to-tart ratio is perfect!

Foolproof Vodka Pie Crust
(from America's Test Kitchens)
Makes 1 9-inch double-crust pie

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp table salt
2 tbsp sugar
12 tbsp cold unsalted butter cut into 1/4 slices
1/2 cup COLD vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor to combine, then add butter and shortening and process until dough resembles cottage cheese curds and there's no uncoated flour. Add the rest of the flour to incorporate and then empty mixture into medium bowl.

Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture, then with a rubber spatula, fold the mixture together until dough is tacky and sticks together.  Divide dough into two balls and flatten each into a 4-inch disk.  Wrap and chill at least 45 minutes.

Rhubarb Pie Filling
(adapted from Mark Bittman)


2 lbs rhubarb, cut into small dice
3/4-1 cup white sugar (depending how tart you want your pie)
3 tbsp quick cooking tapioca
1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
1 tablespoon zest (about 1 lemon)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp butter cut into small cubes


Combine all ingredients except butter in a large bowl and let sit for 15 minutes to let the flavors combine.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and set a half-sheet pan lined with tin foil inside to warm up.  Roll out first half of pie crust and line 9-inch glass pie plate.  If you like, you can brush the dough with egg whites to help seal the bottom crust so it's not too soggy. Mound the filling inside the crust and dot with tiny cubes of butter. (This will add flavor and help to thicken the filling.)

Roll out a top crust, either as a lattice or as a regular round crust. Attach to top of pie and crimp with a fork around edges to seal. If using a regular top, cut vents to allow steam to escape.

Place filled pie on sheet pan and bake about 20 minutes, until crust starts to turn golden brown. Lower oven to 350 and continue baking another 40 minutes, until crust is a deep golden brown and juices are bubbling vigorously. (You'll be glad you've put the pie on a pan to catch the runoff!)

Let the pie cool at least an hour so the filling has time to thicken.  Great with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Ultimate Lemon Bars


Though I'm a lemon lover, I'm not a lemon bar person. Generally I find the custard too sweet and cloying, aided and abetted by a mushy, sugary shortbread crust that tips the scales in the battle of tart versus sweet too far to the sweet side for my taste.

Then I tried these lemon bars with a brown butter shortbread crust. Now I'm a believer.

The extra step of browning the butter gives the crust an added depth of nutty flavor. I suspect it may even help keeping the crust firm, so that it can stand up to the lemony custard that gets added on top.

You might be tempted to use Meyer lemons in these, which I've never liked. To me they taste more like oranges than lemons, which perhaps explains why they were considered garbage years ago.  

Stick with the real thing. You'll be handsomely rewarded.

Lemon Bars with a Brown Butter Shortbread Crust
(via Martha Stewart)


Ingredients

For the Crust

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
Pinch of salt

For the Filling

6 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest of 1 small lemon, finely grated

For Serving

Confectioners' sugar, for dusting (optional)

Directions

Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan; line baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a 3-inch overhang on all sides.

Make the crust: In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat until barely browned in color. Remove pan from heat and pour butter into the bowl of an electric mixer, leaving any burned sediment behind. Transfer butter to refrigerator until solidified. When solidified, remove from refrigerator and let soften slightly.


Transfer bowl to electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat until butter is smooth. Sift flour, confectioners' sugar, and salt into bowl; mix on low speed until combined.

Transfer dough to prepared pan and press evenly into bottom of the pan using the back of a measuring cup; it should be about 1/4 inch thick. Transfer to refrigerator; chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Transfer baking pan to oven and bake until crust is golden brown, about 20 minutes. If crust appears to be browning unevenly, rotate pan.

Make the filling: Meanwhile, whisk together eggs, egg yolks, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour and sugar. Add lemon juice and zest; whisk to dissolve granulated sugar. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and whisk until well combined.

When the crust is golden brown, pull out oven rack and evenly pour filling mixture directly over hot crust (if crust has finished baking before filling has been made, return crust to oven for a few minutes so that it is hot). If air bubbles appear on the surface, remove them using a kitchen torch held 4 to 5 inches from the surface, moving in a slow even motion. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake until center is set, 30 to 40 minutes.

Remove baking pan from oven and transfer to a wire rack. Let lemon bars cool completely before covering and transferring to refrigerator until chilled.

Using a sharp knife dipped in hot water and wiped dry, cut lemon bars into twenty-four 2-inch squares and dust with confectioners' sugar just before serving, if desired.

Lemon bars will keep in an airtight container for up to 4 days.