May 25, 2010

Strawberry Angel Pavlovas

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Let’s just get one thing straight right now: I’m a Midwestern person at heart. Born and raised in Illinois and proud of it. It’s a wonderful place to be from, and to me, there’s no better place to be in the summer. But I’ve lived in California for seven years, and although I used to think that someday I’d return to where I’m from to raise my kids, now you’d have to drag me kicking and screaming. Or at least grumbling the whole way. Because I’ve been brainwashed in that crazy way that so many Californians are, which is to say that, generally speaking, I totally believe that there’s no better place to live. I still can’t believe that I get to live here. The mild weather, the ability to see the mountains and the ocean in the same day, and all our year-round crazy sexy produce. I never understood the appeal of an avocado until I moved to California, and the strawberries, people. The strawberries!

Now, we have access to decent strawberries pretty much all year, but man, when prime strawberry season really hits here, we’ve got insanely gorgeous ones coming out our ears at criminally cheap prices. Pints at the registers in corner stores, full flats being hocked on street corners, even the organic berries are a steal right now. The fragrance smacks you in the face as soon as you walk into even the largest supermarket, piles of the kind of glistening, plump fruit that reveals a bleeding red interior all the way through when sliced. Like strawberries on Mother Nature’s steroids, I tell you. So awesome. And although I love a sparkling sorbet or a great shortcake recipe to showcase them, I think I’ve found my new favorite way to love on strawberries in their prime. I give you Strawberry Angel Pavlovas.

This recipe was inspired by one from the grande dame of the California culinary scene, she of the famous waffle recipe, Marion Cunningham. Her recipe for Strawberry Angel Pie got an instant bookmark–what’s not to obsess over when you’re dealing with a pie that involves a crisp meringue crust, billows of freshly whipped cream dotted with strawberries and dreamy lemon cream? Huminuh, huminuh.

As I’m wont to do with recipes with which I become obsessed, I thought about making that dang pie pretty much nonstop as soon as I found it, but hesitated because of the high risk of wasted delicious food. See, despite the insatiable sweet teeth that reside in this household, I really doubted we could demolish an entire pie in a day (not that I mentioned this to the husband, for fear he’d take pause, raise an eyebrow and ask if I’d care to make it interesting). And the reason it would all need to go down within one day is that with a base of delicate meringue and temperamental whipped cream, this is the sort of thing that you have to assemble and put in your face before it all starts to break down. But then I got all smart all of a sudden and opted to make pretty-pretty individual Strawberry Angel Pies, Pavlova-style.

Pavlova, for the record, would probably be up there for dessert after my very last meal. Not that I’m anticipating having my last meal anytime soon. That’s a horrible thing to say. How morbid. Sorry. But really, guys–crisp on the outside, marshmallowy-inside meringue shells topped with a bright lemon cream and whipped cream and peak of the season strawberries? Perfection. So perfect, it should be someone’s very first dessert. So let’s say that instead. The first dessert for a brand new, sweet-smelling little baby angel from heaven. There, that’s much better.

Strawberry Angel Pavlovas
Adapted from Marion Cunningham’s recipe in The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook

If you’d like to make this recipe into a pie like the original, then just spread the meringue in a buttered 9-inch pie plate, and bake just like you would for the shells. Fill with the lemon cream, then pile on the strawberry whipped cream.

Whether you make the individual Pavlovas or just one big pie, save your assembly for right before your serve it. The meringue can be baked a day in advance (store airtight), the strawberries sliced, and the lemon custard made the day before, stored in the fridge with a sheet of plastic wrapped pushed right on the surface (rewarm it a bit by placing the bowl in a pan of warm water and stirring well, just too loosen it up a little). This recipe can be halved to make four Pavlovas–just use a handheld mixer for the smaller amounts of eggs and cream.

Serves 8

4 eggs at room temperature, separated
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced, plus more for garnish
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 275 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

For the meringues: In the bowl of an electric mixer, place the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar. Beat on medium speed until soft peaks form, then slowly rain in 1 cup of the sugar. Beat on high until the meringue is stiff and glossy. Beat in the vanilla extract.

Portion the meringue into 8 mounds on the baking sheet, a generous 1/4 cup full each (a standard ice cream scoop works well to keep things even). Using a spoon, shape each mound into a little meringue nest, each about 4 inches in diameter. To create a small well in the center of each meringue shell, first rest the bowl of the spoon in the center of each meringue, horizontal to the baking sheet, then hold the spoon by the very end of the stem and turn it in a circle as you pull it up and off the meringue.

Bake the meringues in the center of the oven until they are firm and lightly golden, about 1 hour. Let them cool completely on the baking sheet in the turned-off oven with the door open.

For the lemon custard: Beat the egg yolks with an electric mixer until they are thick and pale yellow. Gradually beat in the sugar, then the lemon juice and zest. Scrape the mixture into a small, nonreactive saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the custard cool completely.

For the strawberries: Place the strawberries in a medium bowl. Sprinkle with the confectioners’ sugar and toss well to coat. Set aside.

When you’re ready to assemble the Pavlovas, whip the cream until it hold stiff peaks (you should have about 3 cups whipped cream). Fold 1 cup of the whipped cream gently into the lemon custard. Fold the strawberries into the remaining 2 cups of whipped cream.

Place the meringues on individual plates. Divide the lemon cream equally among the 8 meringue shells, and top with the strawberry whipped cream. Garnish with more strawberry slices. Serve immediately.

May 20, 2010

On Peanut Butter Pound Cake and Oven Rack Placement

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I love the idea of taking something awesome and making it…awesomer. Like a good old-fashioned pound cake, for example. When done right—golden, buttery, a slight crust with a tender crumb—it doesn’t get much better. Unless you add peanut butter. And wee chocolate chips, because it’s a natural thing to do. All aboard! The awesomer train is leaving. Am I right? Well, you just hang on there a second.

Okay, so. Because we’re friends, I’ll start by saying that I really sort of messed up this recipe. The finished product didn’t really reach its full potential and I totally take responsibility for that. It all started with so much promise—lots of creamy peanut butter swirled into a billowy, silky batter? I mean, come on—but then, then!, I committed one of the Cardinal Sins of Baking. I didn’t read all the instructions carefully enough before I started. Was it due to a tiny person suddenly overturning something heavy onto herself in the other room? Did I suddenly realize I’d forgotten to put on deodorant AGAIN? I’ll never tell. Either way, it was a very straight-C student thing of me to do, glossing over the instructions like that. Thinks of high school, covers face, runs away.

I’d prepped my (properly-sized) pan with cooking spray and parchment, started with room temperature ingredients, and preheated my oven to the right temperature with my trusty oven thermometer inside to make sure the heat was on point. But! I was a crazy fool and didn’t place my oven rack to the right position within that perfectly heated oven. Wuh-wuuhhhh. So I’ll take one for the team here and be the example of why being a nitpicker about oven rack placement really does matter. I love you guys that much.

So you might be saying, “Really, Shauna? Does oven rack placement make THAT big of a difference, or are you just being all Type A on us again?” . Well. The answer is oh, yes (on both accounts, really), and it separates the just okay results from the stellar ones. Most baking recipes will indicate where you should place the oven rack, and most often this will be in the center of the oven, where the heat will hit both the top and bottom of the baking pans with the same intensity and give even browning and baking. I’ve found that in most recipes where oven rack placement isn’t indicated, it’s safe to assume that the center position will give good results (or for things like cookies when you can bake more than one sheet at a time, go for the upper and lower thirds of the oven).

But other recipes, like those for thick, dense cakes like Bundts, loaf cakes, and ahem, peanut butter pound cakes, call for the oven rack to be placed in the lower part of the oven. With more heat hitting the cake from the bottom of the oven, the center will bake thoroughly without the top getting overly browned or burnt during the long bake (usually an hour or more) that these sort of cakes require.

So if you’ve got a perfectly browned peanut butter pound cake that’s still crazy raw in the middle after an hour, making your total baking time ridiculously longer than what the recipes suggests (and rendering the finished product edible, but undeniably overbaked) then you, too, might be a victim of Oven Rack Placement Issues. Just like me. Sitting here, eating a hunk of peanut butter pound cake with so much potential and great flavor, but an overbrowned crust and “meh” texture due to overbaking. Thinking about how I’ve got to add Oven Rack Placement Issues to all my other issues. I-yi-yi.

And now that I’ve broadcast the error of my ways, I’m still going to pass this recipe on to you with great faith that you’ll do it the right way. And then report back with your success in the comments section to rub it in. Please and thank you.

Peanut Butter Pound Cake

Adapted from Flo Braker’s recipe in The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook

Now, the original recipe didn’t include chocolate chips, but I literally could not hold myself back from adding them. It was a moral issue of sorts. You do what you like.

Room temperature ingredients are one of the pillars of great baking, but are seriously important here. With no leavening, all the lift in this cake with come from air incorporated into the batter—you’ll get the most air into the mix with truly room temperature butter and eggs.

Serves 8-10

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (the commercial stuff, not natural)
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
2/3 mini semisweet chocolate chips

Place an oven rack IN THE LOWER THIRD OF THE OVEN and preheat it to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a 9×5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray and line it with a a strip of parchment paper to create a sling with a bit of overhang on the long sides of the pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, about two minutes. Add the peanut butter and beat until well-combined. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce the speed to low and blend in the flour in two additions. When just a few streaks of flour remain, pull the bowl from the mixer and fold in the chocolate chips by hand.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 60-70 minutes. Let cool in the pan before slicing and serving.

May 14, 2010

Apple-Frangipane Galette

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Quick, guys! Make this galette before all the lovely warm-weather fruits really start parading into the markets, inspiring you and making apples seem a lot like my Mom Wardrobe, which is to say sad, hapless and completely boring. (It’s a problem, people. I don’t know what happened, really. But I can tell you that you will wrestle this pilly old cardigan from my cold, dead torso. I may dress in a manner that is as insipid as apples in May, but I am sort of in denial about the whole thing. I try to think of my clothes as the sort of shiny, happy green apples that still seem relevant, even as strawberries and rhubarb seem to be the order of the day. Lie to me.)

The good news about this Apple Frangipane Galette (because there’s really no good news side to the wardrobe thing, naturally) is that the apples really are just a jumping off point. Any fruity pie filling that you love and would normally put in a pie or tart (except strawberries, too much water) will probably work here. The magic, my friends, is in the frangipane.

I love me some frangipane, always have. It’s the irresistibly dreamy almond pastry cream that’s made with almond paste, the filling of so many decadent pastries and cakes. But until now, I’d never turned one out in my own kitchen. And now that I know I can make it in mass quantities in just minutes in the food processor, I may keep a jar on my bathroom vanity. Eating it will make you feel that pretty, I promise.

The frangipane is the secret weapon that turns something familiar into a next-level thing. When hidden beneath some fanned-out sweet-tart apples, it sort of bakes into the crust and melds with the fruit and adds a stealth layer of flavor that you just don’t expect when you’re faced with something as rustic and familiar as apples enveloped in pastry. I flippin’ love stuff like that. It makes new recipes worth trying, even those that seem like something you’ve had before.

And that brings me to the source of this recipe. It’s from the Great Lebovitz‘s latest recipe collection Ready for Dessert. I was so excited when my copy finally reached my doorstep, and my family was sort of relieved, too–perhaps I would then stop suctioning myself to the front window, practically licking the glass, in hot anticipation of the delivery. I started flipping and bookmarking as soon as I opened the box and this galette was in the oven less than two hours later. I may look a little out of touch in this pilly old cardigan, but I’m sure that’s got to be a new baking record.

Apple-Frangipane Galette
Adapted from David Lebovitz’s Ready for Dessert

Lebovitz’s headnotes indicate that you shouldn’t need to sugar the apples at all unless they are extremely tart; in that case you should sweeten to taste. I used Granny Smiths that definitely weren’t the most tart I’d ever had, so I skipped the sugar, but in the end wished I’d sweetened them just a bit. I might also add just a dash of cinnamon next time too–it was delicious without it, but I missed the flavor combination. Also, I used Demerara sugar for sprinkling and loved the toasty flavor and crunch, so I’m recommending it here, but you can use granulated or other coarse sugar that you like. As always with pastry-making, make sure your ingredients are as cold as possible before using.

Serves 8

For the crust:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and chilled
6 tablespoons ice water

For the frangipane:

4 ounces almond paste, crumbled
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon rum, kirsch or Calvados (optional)

For assembly:

6 medium apples (3 pounds), peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 tablespoons granulated, Demerara or other coarse-crystal sugar

First, make the crust. In the bowl of a food processor (or in a mixing bowl with a pastry blender, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment), mix together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter pieces and mix until the butter is the size of peas. Add the ice water all at once and mix just until the dough begins to come together. Shape the dough into a disc, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

To make the frangipane, place the almond paste, sugar, flour and almond extract in the bowl of a food processor or electric mixer. Mix until the almond paste is in fine, uniform pieces. Add the butter and mix until very well-blended, then add the egg and the liqueur, if using. Mix until the frangipane is smooth (there may be a few tiny unmixed pieces of almond paste, and that’s fine–they’ll disappear during baking).

When you’re ready to bake the galette, position an oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 375 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

To assemble the galette, lightly flour a work surface and roll the dough out into a circle about 14 inches in diameter. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet. Spread the frangipane in an even layer over the dough, leaving a 2-inch border. Arrange the apples over the frangipane, either scattering them in an even layer, or arranging them in concentric circles. Fold the un-frangipaned edge of the dough over the apples. Brush the crust and filling with the melted butter. Scatter half the sugar over the crust and the remainder over the apples. Bake until the apples are tender and the crust has browned, about 1 hour. Slide the galette (still on the parchment) onto a wire rack to cool a bit. Serve warm or at room temperature, ideally the day it’s baked.

May 10, 2010

Chocolate Mint Squares

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I really hope all y’all had a fabulous Mother’s Day. For me, it began with sleeping in until the heavenly hour of 8:30 a.m. and then waking up to a lovely gift of a seriously great cookbook and a pop-up card from Little C that was scrawled about with crayon and played a weepy version of “You Are My Sunshine” when opened. And because girlfriend can’t even let a commercial jingle pass without shaking a tail feather, I was also gifted an impromptu, twirling, giggly interpretive dance to the musical card and in no time was all what–there’s something in my eye, OKAY? Too much.

Since I was in a teary, slobbering pile before I’d even gotten half my coffee down, the husband (who deems a gift a true success when it makes the recipient tear up with sentimentality) obviously did an awesome job with the Mothers’ Day planning this year. Well played, indeed. Good thing I’d already made a pan of Chocolate Mint Squares that I was pretty sure he would inhale and declare awesome (I was correct).

You may remember me saying something recently about being in my Maida period. And if you try this recipe, I am sure I won’t be alone in this obsession. The base for these fudgy, minty, all around heavenly bars is similar to Maida’s legendary brownie recipe, the cellophane-wrapped ones she is known for toting around in her purse at all times and giving to whomever she happens to see. If that doesn’t make you fall in love with this woman, then you are an iceberg. The end.

But then you take her amazing brownies, spread them with a thin, but powerful, intensely minty buttercream frosting and a slick of bitter chocolate and the whole thing will blow you away. It’s like a brownie meeting a York Peppermint Pattie. Bliss, I tell you. The balance here is so strikingly delicious. At first, I thought it might all be too much–and make no mistake, these are indeed rich–but the ratio of fudgy brownie to creamy mint layer is so spot on, and with a shiny capping of crackly bitter chocolate (totally unsweetened, mind you, not bittersweet), they’re a taste and textural dream.

And even better, since the husband basically lost his ever-loving mind over these things, I’m feeling pretty confident that I now have a golden ticket the next time I lose my scruples or somesuch. Actually, with this recipe in my repertoire, I may have insured really excellent Mother’s Day gifts for my entire future. Boo-ya!

Chocolate Mint Squares
Adapted from Maida Heatter’s Great Book of Cookies

Don’t chill the brownies for too long after the mint layer is added–five minutes is all you need, just so the frosting isn’t totally soft. If it’s too cold, the bitter chocolate glaze will set before you can get it all spread evenly. These brownies are at their most awesome served chilled, or even frozen.

Makes 20

For the brownie layer:

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/4 pound (1 stick) butter
2 eggs
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour (I stirred the flour well, then spooned into the cup and leveled)

For the mint layer:

2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

For the bitter chocolate glaze:

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
1 tablespoon butter

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Lightly spray an 8 or 9 inch square baking pan with nonstick spray, and line it with two perpendicular strips of parchment paper (leave a bit of overhang on all sides), then lightly spray the parchment, too.

Being by making the brownie layer. Melt the chocolate and butter together in the microwave, about 45 seconds on high. Stir until smooth and set aside to cool slightly.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs on medium speed until light and foamy. Beat in the sugar, salt and vanilla. Add the chocolate mixture and beat on low just to combine. Stir in the flour by hand just until smooth. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 28 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack before icing with the mint frosting.

To make the mint frosting, beat together the butter, confectioners’ sugar, 1 tablespoon of heavy cream and the peppermint extract. Add more cream, a few drops at a time, until the frosting is thick but easily spreadable. Spread the icing evenly in a thin layer over the brownies. Chill in the refrigerator for just five minutes, until the very surface is set.

Prepare the glaze by melting together the unsweetened chocolate and butter in a small bowl in the microwave, just about 30 seconds on high. Stir until smooth and pour the hot glaze over the mint layer, tilting the pan to coax it into place, and using an offset spatula if necessary. It will be a very, very thin layer.

Refrigerate until the glaze is set, at least 30 minutes. Use the parchment handles to lift the brownie slab from the pan to a cutting board, and cut into squares. Chill the cut squares for a few hours until the glaze sets completely. Keep any leftovers in the fridge, tightly covered.

May 7, 2010

Raspberry-Pistachio Brown Butter Cake

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When one gets the crazy idea to become a mother, people come out of the woodwork with tales of joy and woe and generally way, way too much information. Everyone has an opinion, everyone seems to give unsolicited advice. I definitely found this to be the case while expecting Little C, and it made me all stabby on more than one occasion. But on the plus side, a few of those nuggets of wisdom did manage to cling to my already deteriorating memory, and by the time the tiny being who had set up camp in my body for the better part of a year became an outside baby, I felt pretty ready for this motherhood thing. After all, millions had gone into it before me and millions more have chosen to do it multiple times, God bless ’em. It couldn’t be altogether impossible, right? Right?

Well, it’s true–it’s certainly not impossible, though some days, especially early on, it absolutely felt that way. Never before had I ever had such an odd sensation, like laboriously wading through space, as though underwater, for weeks (months) on end. The long hours that my husband was at work and I was home alone with a strange newborn creature who was colicky, nursing on demand every 45 minutes and who refused to sleep at all, trying to keep her fed and clean and content on very little sleep myself were some of the most trying moments of my life. And I was more than a little depressed about the whole thing. Not. Awesome.

I’ve heard it said that you’re given the sort of child that you need in order to learn something from the experience. True. Even the very wee infant Baby C, so tiny and fragile, and yet so generally relentless, knocked my self-centered, poor time-managing behind so far down my personal totem pole, it took the better part of two years to even consider what I might like to do with the remainder of my life, outside of being a mother. This is something I’ve just started to mull in the past couple of months. And guys, it’s freaking me out.

Arriving at this point after so much time completely consumed with the day-to-day tasks of raising my baby has been sort of mind-blowing. I think about the next steps to move forward with personal goals and making long-held dreams come true and returning to projects I started before Little C, and I shake with anticipation, the thrill of doing something just for myself, and an incredible amount of fear. Because what if it’s too much? What if I drop the ball at home? Can I manage to shift focus without changing my priorities? And I feel such intense guilt, just thinking about focusing on something other than my family, before I’ve even done anything at all. I am convinced this is some kind of biological thing, because it’s a weight so heavy that it’s enough to hold a mother down in her nest, so that she’ll never go anywhere or see anything that might take her focus away from her brood. It’s a weight that is equal parts welcomed and wonderful, crazymaking and suffocating. The random well-wishers with all their fancy advice in the grocery checkout line never threw that one out at me while I was expecting. Would’ve been nice, randoms. Thanks.

But I keep returning to these ideas that I have brewing, these new opportunities I can create for myself, and think that maybe in the end, it would be about more than just me. If I can accomplish certain things on my Bucket List, even if they take me away from home here and there, I’m able to cross off the first thing on that list, which is to Be the Best Mother I Can Be. And I’m pretty sure part of that job description is to live by example. To show my little girl that anything worth having is worth working for, and that following dreams should be a lifelong journey. That the journey to realizing those dreams might slow down or get interrupted sometimes, but it should never stop altogether, no matter what circumstances come up. Even if those circumstances involve raising a beautiful, smart, funny, perfect baby girl who brings me more joy, more fulfillment on a level that I just can’t explain. The grocery store randoms did tell me about this bit, but I never could have imagined the depth of this love.

It’s a big deal, being a mother. I try to play it down sometimes to childless friends or other people I meet or even to my own mother, maybe to make it seem like I’ve Got This or to hide my own insecurities, but it’s a big, Biden-expletive deal. It’s why strangers feel like they can share war stories with pregnant people in grocery stores, why there’s a million blogs and books on motherhood, why we have our very own holiday and why you should make a beautiful, rustic, flavorful Raspberry-Pistachio Brown Butter Cake for every mother you know, and then invite them for tea this Mothers’ Day. It’s so good, I made one for myself.

Raspberry-Pistachio Brown Butter Cake
Adapted from The Craft of Baking

To make 1 cup of pistachio flour, grind 1 cup unsalted pistachios with 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour in a food processor or clean coffee grinder until fine. Note that this recipe uses kosher salt, so for regular salt, halve the amount. The Demerara sugar is for sprinkling over the batter, and makes for the most delicious, slightly caramelized, crunchy layer that really makes this cake–so don’t skip it.

Serves 8-10

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for the pan
2 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup pistachio flour (see note)
3/4 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
7 large egg whites
1 cup fresh raspberries
2 tablespoons Demerara sugar

In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt and cook the butter over medium heat until it is browned and smells nutty, about 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, pistachio flour, cake flour, and salt. Whisk in the egg whites to combine. In a slow and steady stream, gradually whisk in the browned butter. Cover and chill the batter until thickened, about 1 hour (or up to 1 week ahead).

When you’re ready to bake, position an oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the berries evenly over the top, leaving a 1/2 inch border around the edge. Sprinkle the Demerara sugar generously and evenly over the batter. Bake until the edges of the cake are golden and the cake springs back slightly when touched, about 35-40 minutes (I needed more time here, about 45 minutes).

Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool for a few minutes before removing the ring from the tart pan and letting it cool completely, or serve slightly warm. This cake is best eaten the day it is made, but can be wrapped tightly and stored for up to 2 days.

May 4, 2010

Monster Cookies

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So guys. If you’re ever in the market for what to gift someone who does something epic for you–say, take your child off your hands for two nights so that you and your husband can go up to Napa for the weekend, do some socially acceptable binge drinking under the guise of “wine tasting”, and not have to pack a dozen ever-loving sippy cups (it was lovely, by the way, thank you)–then I have a suggestion for you.

Give Monster Cookies. These Monster Cookies, specifically. Actually, maybe have a nice bottle of wine on hand as a backup. Because unless you can bake these Monster Cookies and give them away in record time, they likely will make it into your face before you can gift them. With a mise en place like this, you’ll probably guess you’re totally in for it.

Oats. Chocolate chips. Peanut butter (the good, junky supermarket kind). And…wait for it…REESE’S PIECES. Because I am a peanut butter freak and swapped out the M&Ms for more peanut butter in a crunchy candy shell. Can’t say I was wrong with that call, people. Not for a second.

As with all recipes with which I become completely obsessed, there’s a twist here. These aren’t your typical mix-up-the-dough-plop-it-and-go (hey, rhyme!) kind of cookie. The magic happens with an excrutiating five hour rest of the dough in the refrigerator, during which the dough firms up and the oats become tender and plump with peanut buttery bliss. There’s no other way to get there than with lots of patience and having someone you trust chain you to something heavy.

The other thing I found totally fascinating and am now finding a way to work it into a bunch of the recipes in my regular rotation is the tiniest dab of corn syrup in the dough. With just 1/4 teaspoon in the mix you may be tempted to skip it, but the headnote warns you not to, and because I will do pretty much whatever those Baked boys tell me to, I listened. And though they don’t say why it’s so vital, I’ll venture a guess and say that the tiny bit of corn syrup here supports the irresistibly chewy quality of this cookie (like, days after they are baked) and really helps with the browning of this cookie which is largely composed of peanut butter and oatmeal, two ingredients that don’t brown all that well unless you burn ’em, which would be undelicious. But these bake up so beautifully golden, you might just shed a tear.

You may try to give all these cookies away to a deserving party. You may try to have just one with a short glass of milk. But you will be depriving yourself the beauty of such a go-big-or-go-home cookie. My advice, because I care about you: save at least a half dozen for yourself, eat them two-by-two and go for the biggest milk glass you’ve got. You’re welcome.

Monster Cookies
Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

Now. The original recipe uses these amounts for a 3 dozen cookie yield, and that’s got to be a typo. I got 3 dozen when I halved the recipe (lightly beat one egg and measure out half for half an egg) and I even used the 2-tablespoon size scoop suggested in the recipe, so who knows? I’m calling it a cool 6 dozen with these amounts below.

Also, most monster cookie recipes use M&Ms, but like I said, I used Reese’s Pieces and am never going back. The result was fantastic.

Makes 6 dozen cookies

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 3/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant or quick-cooking)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups creamy peanut butter (I like Skippy or Jif for baking)
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup (6 ounces) Reese’s Pieces

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and oats until well-blended.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until smooth and pale in color, at least 2 minutes. Beat in the sugars on low speed until just incorporated.

Scrape down the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl as necessary. Add the corn syrup and vanilla and beat just until combined. Add the peanut butter and beat on low just until smooth. Add the dry ingredients on low speed in three additions until the dough is well-blended. Fold in the chocolate chips and Reese’s Pieces by hand. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate for at least 5 hours.

When you’re ready to bake, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Scoop the dough into 2-tablespoon size balls using a small ice cream scoop, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Bake until the cookies just begin to brown, about 12 to 15 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through baking. Cool on the pans for 8 to 10 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Apr 29, 2010

Marion Cunningham’s Raised Waffles

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Oh, my God, you guys. Guess what I’m doing this weekend? Going away, with just the husband. Like, away from this house while Little C frolicks here with her visiting Gramma. During this weekend, I will be in a magical land called Napa wherein my towels, sheets and dishes will be washed by other people. I will also be eating only at restaurants (one extra fancy) and drinking lots of delicious alcohol in the name of “wine tasting”. I am so pumped. Please don’t hate me. I mean, I’d hate me, if it wasn’t…me.

Know what I did last weekend? I did laundry. And cleaned. And went to Fairyland. And made and cleaned up after about 100 meals. All well and good. But I’m thinking that even if there is a massive natural disaster, this Napa weekend will totally top last weekend. Except for the waffles I made on Sunday. They were ethereal, transcendent, these waffles. So even if you won’t be getting away for the weekend, whipping up a batch of these waffles will transport you, if only for breakfast time.

I give you Marion Cunningham’s storied Raised Waffles, people. And I mean the culinary goddess Marion Cunningham, not the mom from Happy Days. And someday I’ll tell you how many years I lived not realizing they were two separate people.

But ohhhh, these waffles. So light, so crisp, so not at all sweet as to perfect balance with a good dose of maple syrup. The yeast flavor is so unexpectedly delicious, like the best parts of waffles and brioche having a baby.

And the very best part is you start the batter the night before. All you have to do in the a.m. is whisk in some eggs and baking soda–super easy, even with just one with one eye open and one tiny person clinging to your PJ pants. Who will not be accompanying us this weekend as we eat lots of beautiful food and imbibe in one of the most gorgeous places in the planet. Okay, now I’m just sort of bragging.

Marion Cunningham’s Raised Waffles
Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible

There are a few blog posts out there that have less than raves about this recipe, but for me, I found my experience with them to be completely awesome and I’ll pass along what worked for me. First, follow the instructions to the letter. Don’t short the rise time on the counter–start these the night before or pick another waffle recipe if you can’t. The magic of these waffles is because of a long, overnight rise for crazy lightness and tons of flavor.

Know that these waffles do have a yeasty flavor and are not sweet at all, so don’t expect an Eggo. Also, I found a lot of people online complaining about how rich with butter these waffles were, so for fun, I cut the butter down to 5 tablespoons instead of a whole stick. They turned out beautifully. It also seems that those who have a Belgian-style waffle iron don’t have as much success–mine is a standard waffle iron, the kind with lots of little squares rather than a few larger wells. Make a full batch; the waffles freeze and reheat in the toaster beautifully.

Serves 6 to 8

1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups warm milk ((I think anything but skim would be fine here)
1/2 cup melted butter (I cut this amount down to 5 tablespoons, no problem)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

In the biggest mixing bowl you own (the batter will rise to double its original volume) sprinkle in the yeast over the warm water. Let stand to dissolve for 10 minutes. Add the milk, butter, salt, sugar, and flour and stir to blend. Give it a blast with a handheld mixer on a low speed for just a moment to really smooth it out–you don’t want any lumps. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature.

The next morning, just before cooking the waffles, whisk in the eggs and the baking soda–the batter will be very thin. Depending on the size of your waffle iron, pour about 1/3 to 1/2 cup batter onto the hot iron (use a light hand at first and check your progress–this waffle batter expands rather impressively. Bake until golden and crisp. This batter will keep for several days in the refrigerator.


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