Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tastes of the Season


So I saw these Eggnog Mini-Cakes in the King Arthur Flour catalog along with a recipe, and couldn't wait to make them. I ordered the festive holiday molds, but decided to pass on the eggnog flavor, and just replace the milk with eggnog. Wrong move. The cakes came out all right, like your average yellow cake, but they didn't taste noggy. I was guilty of licking the batter bowl, though, and that did taste like eggnog. Go fig. Decorating with royal icing is a fun project.

I also visited the family in New York for the holidays. Instead of a single birthday cake, my twin sister made the long trip to Carrot Top Pastries in Manhattan's Washington Heights and got slices of 3 cakes to create a sampler. I doubted it was worth the trip, and was so wrong! The Black Forest and Chocolate Mousse cakes were to die for, and I'm told the German Chocolate was good (I have a prejudice against baked coconut). I also went to Sunday brunch at B Bar and Grill in Manhattan, but my Eggs Benedict played second fiddle to the fresh-baked banana bread they bring you in place of a traditional bread basket. The bread is filling, but you can take the leftovers home. And their Peach Bellini was tasty, too. My dad's birthday falls near mine, and I took him and the family out to nearby Casa Calamari in Bensonhurst. Go if you're in the neighborhood. The prices are good, the portions are huge, and the food is fab -- I highly recommend the penne vodka and seafood ravioli. Happy new year!!

Eggnog Mini Cakes by King Arthur Flour
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) vegetable oil
1/2 cup (4 ounces) softened butter
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cup (8 3/4 ounces) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon eggnog flavor
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 1/4 cup (9 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup (8 ounces) milk
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the wells of a holiday mini-cake pan or 12 silicone cupcake molds.
Beat the oil, butter, eggs, sugar, salt, eggnog flavor and nutmeg until pale yellow and thick. Whisk the flour and baking powder together, and blend into the egg mixture alternately with the milk, beating until smooth. Use 2 tablespoons batter per cup, for the holiday cupcake pan; or 1/4 cup batter per silicone cupcake mold. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, until the cakes spring back when touched in the center. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a rack. To finish, sprinkle with confectioners' sugar.
Yield: 30 mini cakes.
Variation: Bake in a full-size (9-cup minimum) bundt-style pan for 50 to 60 minutes.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Thumbprint Trios

These are fun to make, and to eat. They're three thumbprint cookies stuck together and filled with different jams -- strawberry, raspberry, and apricot. I also like how easy they are, and how decorative they look for the holidays.

Trios from Gourmet (December 2007)
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 sticks (½ lb) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
About 2 tbs each of seedless raspberry jam, apricot preserves, and strawberry preserves

Whisk together flour and salt. Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until very pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes, then beat in egg and vanilla. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches just until a dough forms. Divide dough in half and form each piece into a 6-inch disk, then chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350° with rack in middle. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll 3 separate level teaspoons of dough each into a ball, then flatten each ball slightly (to 1 inch wide and less than ½ inch thick). Arrange them in a triangle with edges touching in center.

Then make a deep indentation in the center of each round with a wooden spoon handle. Make more cookies, arranging them 1 inch apart on baking sheets.

Fill indentations in each cookie with about 1/8 tsp jam (each cookie should have 3 different fillings).

Bake until cookies are baked through and golden brown on edges, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on baking sheets 5 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely. Bake more batches on cooled baking sheets lined with fresh parchment.

Dough can be chilled up to 2 days. Cookies keep, layered between sheets of parchment, in an airtight container at room temperature 1 week.

Friday, December 12, 2008

It's Almost Christmas: Linzer Cookies

1 comment:

My sister pleads with me to make these throughout the year, but they're a bit labor-intensive so I only make them before Christmas. The hazelnut dough lends a bit of spiciness, the red raspberry jam makes them festive, and the snowy dusting of confectioners sugar reminds me of Christmas. I bake the cutouts from the middle as bonus bite-sized treats. I also give them away as holiday gifts in colorful Chinese take-out boxes I get from the party store. They won't fail to please!

Linzer Hearts from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook
Instead of hearts, I use a round cookie cutter and holiday-themed mini cutters
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
1 cup (4½ oz) blanched hazelnuts
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
½ tsp freshly grated lemon zest
½ cup raspberry jam, for filling
¼ cup confectioners sugar, for dusting

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. In a food processor, pulse hazelnuts until finely ground. Whisk the ground hazelnuts into the flour mixture; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and granulated sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg yolks, vanilla, and lemon zest; beat to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. With mixer on low speed, add hazelnut-flour mixture, and beat until just combined, 10 to 15 seconds.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, divide in half, and shape into flattened disks. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.

Remove one disk of dough from the refrigerator, and let stand until softened slightly. (This will help keep the dough from cracking when rolled.) On a large piece of parchment paper lightly dusted with flour, roll dough to 1/8-inch thickness. To prevent sticking while rolling, occasionally run a large offset spatula under dough, and add more flour to the top or bottom of dough. Transfer parchment paper and dough to a baking sheet; freeze until firm, about 20 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough. (You can stack the parchment and dough.)

Preheat the oven to 325°. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove one sheet of dough and parchment from freezer; working quickly, cut into heart shapes with a 3-inch cookie cutter. Cut out center from half the shapes with a 2-inch cutter. Using a wide metal spatula, transfer open hearts to prepared baking sheets, about 1½ inches apart; freeze until firm, about 15 minutes. (You can bake the cutout centers for bite-size cookies, or reroll them to make the larger hearts.)

Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies are crisp and lightly golden all over, about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. (Cooled cookies can be stored overnight in an airtight container at room temperature before filling.) Spread the flat sides of the whole hearts with about 1½ tsp jam. Sift confectioners sugar over the open hearts. Just before serving, top open hearts with jam. Cookies should be eaten the day they're filled.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Beverly's Pumpkin Bread

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This pumpkin bread is seriously good. It's also one of the easiest recipes you'll ever make. Beverly, who is the master scone-maker at work, serves mascarpone (an Italian cream cheese) on the side. I love the combo because the mascarpone is rich but not sweet, so it tempers the sweetness of the bread (I dislike overly sugary toppings on already-sweet baked goods). I made it on Thanksgiving morning, and it was easier than pie.

Beverly's Pumpkin Bread
4 eggs
1 can (15 or 16 oz.) pumpkin
1 cup oil
2/3 cup water
3 cups sugar

Beat all the ingredients together until smooth.

3¼ cups flour
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda

Sift all the dry ingredients together, then beat them into the first batch of ingredients until smooth. Pour into 2 greased and floured bread pans. Bake in a preheated 350° oven for about 1 hour. That's it!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Italian Tricolor Cookies


These cookies take me right back to childhood. The section of Brooklyn we lived in had lots of Italian bakeries, so we never lacked sweets. These "rainbow cookies" or "7-layer cookies," as they're known, are my favorite, along with those butter cookies sandwiched with the apricot or raspberry jam half-dipped in chocolate with sprinkles (anybody got a recipe for that?). These tricolor cookies are sweet and almondy, and a perfect way to kick off Christmas cookie season.

The recipe calls for flavoring one layer with cocoa, and coloring another layer orange. I was out of red food coloring and unable to make orange, so I went with green, which looks avacado-y in this photo. I also only had one 8x8 inch pan, but these round cake pans worked out ok. The shapes didn't match up at the end, but I cut my way around them.

I don't recommend cookie cutters for the finished product, since the assembled layers were taller than the cutters. Sliced rectangles worked out the best. However you cut them, though, they'll taste great!

Baked Tricolor Cookies from Baked by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
For the cookie layers
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
7 oz almond paste (recipe follows, but I used storebought)
¾ cup sugar
½ tsp pure almond extract
1½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs
Grated zest of 1 orange
Orange food coloring (liquid or gel)
2 tbs dark unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

For the filling
2/3 cup apricot jam
2 tbs amaretto liquer (I left this out)

For the glaze
6 oz dark chocolate (60% cacao)
1 tsp light corn syrup
1 stick unsalted butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter three 8-inch square baking pans. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper and butter the parchment. Dust with flour and knock out the excess flour. (I used cooking spray in place of the butter.) Sift the flour and salt together in a small bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the almond paste, sugar, and almond extract together until small crumbs form. Add the butter and beat on high speed until the mixture is combined. Scrape down the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Add the orange zest and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture in three parts, beating on low speed after each addition until combined.

Divide the batter among three small mixing bowls. In the first bowl, add a few drops of orange food coloring to the batter, and mix well. Continue to add a few drops of food coloring and mixing until the batter is medium orange in color. In the second bowl, add the cocoa powder to the batter and whisk until fully incorporated. Leave the third bowl plain.

Pour each batter into a prepared pan and smooth the tops. Bake the layers for 12 to 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each layer comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack, remove the pans, and let cool completely. Remove the parchment.

In a small saucepan over low heat, stir the jam and amaretto until warmed through and completely blended, 3 to 5 minutes.

Place the chocolate layer on a serving rack and evenly spread half of the apricot jam over the top. Top with the plain layer and spread with the remaining apricot filling. Top with the orange layer and let the layers sit in the refrigerator for 5 minutes (or while you make the chocolate glaze).

In a large nonreactive metal bowl, combine the chocolate, corn syrup, and butter. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until the mixture is completely smooth. Remove the bowl from the pan and stir for 30 seconds to cool slightly.

Spread the glaze over the top of the bar cookies, completely covering the orange layer (some glaze may spill down the sides of the cake). Place the tray in the refrigerator until the chocolate topping completely sets (about 1 hour). Remove the tray from the refrigerator, wait 30 minutes for the chocolate to warm up, and cut into 20 individual squares or use a small cookie cutter to cream your own shapes.

The bars can be stored in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for up to 4 days.

Almond Paste
1½ cups finely ground almonds
1 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
½ tsp pure almond extract

Put all the ingredients in a food processor with 2 tbs water and process until a paste forms. Remove from the processor, wrap tightly in plastic, and refrigerate until ready to use. Extra almond paste, tightly wrapped, keeps well in the freezer.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Even better . . . Apple Pie!

1 comment:

I thought the apple turnovers I made a couple of weeks ago were great, and like this pie, they used a cream cheese crust. But this pie was unbelievably flaky and even crispy at the edges. It does involve a lot of steps, but Rose Levy Berenbaum knows what she's doing. For example, she calls for putting the pie plate directly on a baking/pizza stone. That kept the bottom cooking, avoiding that soggy bottom pies are sometimes prone to. Her recipe also includes cooking the fruit juices on the stove top, concentrating and thickening them. It may have been a bit of work, but I'll be making this again.

Classic Apple Pie from Rose's Pie and Pastry Bible
Flaky Cream Cheese Pie crust for 2-crust, 9-inch pie (recipe follows)
2½ pounds baking apples (about 6 medium), peeled cored, and sliced ¼ inch thick
1 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup light brown sugar (scant 2 oz.)
¼ cup granulated sugar (1.75 oz.)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
2 tbs butter (1 oz.)
1 tbs + 1 tsp cornstarch (0.5 oz.)

Between two sheets of plastic wrap, roll the bottom crust dough ⅛ inch thick and 12 inches in diameter. Transfer it to the pie pan. Trim the edge almost even with the edge of the pan. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 30 minutes to 3 hours.

In a large bowl, combine the apples, lemon juice, sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt, and toss to mix. Allow the apples to macerate at room temperature for 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Transfer the apples and their juices to a colander suspended over a bowl to capture the liquid. The mixture will release at least ½ cup of liquid. In a small saucepan (preferably nonstick), over medium-high heat, boil down this liquid, with the butter, to about ⅓ cup, or until syrupy and lightly caramelized. Swirl the liquid, but do not stir it. Transfer the apples to a bowl and toss them with the cornstarch until all traces of it have disappeared.

Pour the syrup over the apples, tossing gently. Do not be concerned if the liquid hardens on contact with the apples; it will dissolve during baking.

Roll out the top crust large enough to cut a 12-inch circle. Transfer the apple mixture to the pie shell. Moisten the border of the bottom crust by brushing it lightly with water and place the top crust over the fruit. Tuck the overhang under the bottom crust border and press down all around the top to seal it. Crimp the border using a fork or your fingers, and make about 5 evenly spaced 2-inch slashes for steam to escape. Cover the pie loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 1 hour before baking to chill and relax the pastry. This will maintain flakiness and help keep the crust from shrinking. (I brush some beaten egg white on the crust and sprinkle it with sugar.)

Preheat the oven to 425° at least 20 minutes before baking. Set an oven rack on the lowest level and place a baking stone or baking sheet on it before preheating. Place a large piece of greased foil on top to catch any juices. Set the pie directly on the foil-topped baking stone and bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until the juices bubble through the slashes. After 30 minutes in the oven, protect the edges from overbrowning with a foil ring. Cool the pie on a rack for at least 4 hours before cutting. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Rose's Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust
12 tbs unsalted butter, cold (6 oz.)
2 cups all-purpose flour (10 oz.)
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking powder
4.5 oz. cream cheese, cold
2 tbs ice water
1 tbs cider vinegar

Cut the butter into small cubes. Freeze it until frozen solid, about 30 minutes. Place the flour, salt, and baking powder in a reclosable gallon-size freezer bag and freeze for at least 30 minutes. Place the flour mixture in a food processor with the metal blade and process for a few seconds to combine. Set the bag aside.

Cut the cream cheese into 3 or 4 pieces and add it to the flour. Process for about 20 seconds or until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the frozen butter cubes and pulse until none of the butter is larger than the size of a pea. Add the water and vinegar. Pulse until most of the butter is reduced to the size of small peas. The mixture will be in particles and will not hold together. Spoon it into the plastic bag.

Holding both ends of the bag opening with your fingers, knead the mixture, pressing it from the outside of the bag, until the mixture holds together in one piece and feels slightly stretchy when pulled. Wrap the dough with plastic wrap, flatten it into 2 discs, and refrigerate at least 45 minutes, or overnight.

My notes: I didn't freeze the butter, using it straight from the refrigerator. I also didn't freeze the flour mixture, and kneaded the dough in a bowl instead of a bag. The crust still came out great.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Easy Butternut Squash Soup

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The best butternut squash soup I've ever had was at the Museum of Fine Arts cafe here in Boston. I haven't been able to find a recipe like it, but this one is pretty good, too, and probably healthier. I just roast a squash with onion and garlic, and whiz it in the food processor. And don't skimp on the cream: trust me, it's a small amount and it's better with.
Butternut Squash Soup
1 butternut squash
1 small yellow onion,quartered
1 head garlic
2½ cups chicken broth
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
¼ cup cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°. Roast your squash one of two ways. Slice it lengthwise, unpeeled, and scoop out the seeds; then place it face-down on a baking tray (you can lightly oil the cut side if you're not using a silicone mat). Or dice the squash, peeled, into bite-sized cubes, and toss with a tablespoon of olive oil. Use a very sharp knife, since the squash is hard to cut.

Place the garlic on a sheet of foil and drizzle with a bit of olive oil, then wrap up the garlic in the foil. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on the onion quarters as well. Place the onion and garlic on the baking sheet, and roast all the vegetables for an hour, until the flesh is easily pierced with a fork (the halved squash might take an extra 15 minutes).
When the vegetables have cooled a bit, remove half of the roasted cloves from the head of garlic, and out of their skins. Puree them with the onion and about 5 cups of the squash (you can increase quantities of the other ingredients if you have more squash) in a blender or food processor. You may need to add half of the chicken broth if the blade gets stuck. Pour the puree into a pot, adding the rest of the chicken broth, and heat the soup. Add the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste, and stir in the cream. Serve with a crusty piece of bread, spread with some of the remaining roasted garlic, if you like.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Apple Turnovers

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These are delicious and easy to make. I used the Tender Cream Cheese Pastry dough from Ken Haedrich's Pie, and it had recipes for turnovers with various fillings, but not apple. I was craving apple filling. So I winged it, throwing in the usual cinnamon and sugar, with some flour for thickening, and adapting the cutting, shaping, and baking instructions. Luckily, it worked!

Tender cream cheese pastry dough (recipe follows)
2 apples (use apples good for baking), cored and peeled
2 tsp flour
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 egg beaten with 1 tbs water

Preheat oven to 400°.

Cut the apples into a small dice. Toss them in a bowl with the flour, sugar, and cinnamon.

Roll each ball of dough out to 6 inches by 6 inches and trim the edges straight with a pastry wheel or knife. Place 3 tbs of the apple filling on each square of dough, and brush the border with egg wash. Fold the dough over into a triangle, and use a fork to crimp and seal the edges (merely pinching them resulted in some leakage the first time). Place the turnovers on two baking sheets lined with silicone mats or parchment paper. Cut three small slits into the top of each turnover to allow steam to escape. At this point, you can freeze some or all of them -- bake frozen turnovers, without thawing, for a few minutes longer.

When ready to bake, brush the tops with egg wash, and sprinkle each turnover with a pinch of sugar. Lower the oven temperature to 375° and bake for 20 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through baking. Eat them warm or at room temperature.

Tender Cream Cheese Pastry from Ken Haedrich's Pie
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
½ tsp salt
2 tbs sifted confectioners sugar
2¾ cup all-purpose flour

Combine the butter, cream cheese, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater attachment. Blend for 30 to 45 seconds on medium-low speed. Stopping the machine before each addition, add the confectioners sugar and 1 cup of the flour. With the mixer on low, blend until the flour is incorporated. Add another 1 cup of the flour and blend. Add the remaining flour. When all of the flour has been added and the dough starts to ball up around the beater, stop the machine. Remove the bowl and scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work surface.

Knead 2 or 3 times, then divide the dough equally into 8 balls to make turnovers. Flatten them into disks, then wrap them in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

1 comment:

I just got around to carving my pumpkin today. Mine's the "village" one with windowpanes, and the "Aku" one is Joe's.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge: Pizza!

Growing up in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, N.Y., I was surrounded by Italians and, consequently, excellent pizza. Outside New York City, pizza wasn't always so good, but with this Daring Bakers challenge I've learned to make a darned good one in my oven! True, Joe the Residential Pizza Maker had made this exact one many times before, but I'd always been a spectator and consumer, never the maker. This time, I watched and learned and tossed dough.

When it comes to pizza, I'm a less-is-more gal. Friends who know me as a meat lover may find it strange that I don't like meat on my pizza, but chicken or beef weighs it down. And I sure don't want servings of baked ziti on top, and I prefer the traditional sauce-and-mozzarella version. I like a topping of tomato slices with fresh basil, or my other favorite, which I made here -- Roasted Eggplant & Caramelized Onions. You may say you don't like eggplant (eggplant parmigiana seems to be everyone's exception), and I used to say that, too. But try eggplant roasted, slightly caramelized and well done, and it's nothing like that spongy, underdone stuff that restaurants sometimes serve up.

I roast a skinny Chinese eggplant (peeled, sliced, and tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper) in a 300-degree oven for 15 minutes. I also caramelize some onions in a saute pan with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper until they're translucent and slightly brown at the edges. Toss them on top of your pizza before it goes into the oven.

From Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter)
4½ cups (20¼ ounces/607.5 g) unbleached high-gluten (14%) bread flour or all-purpose flour, chilled
1¾ tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
¼ cup (2 ounces/60g) olive oil (Optional, but it’s better with)
1¾ cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 tbs sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting
1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).
2. Add the oil, sugar, and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.
NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.
3. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.
4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).
NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.
5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.
6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.
7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to three days.
NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.
8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly two hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about ½ inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.
9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F).
10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.
11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/ in diameter for a 6 ounce piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.
12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.
13. Slide the topped pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for 5-8 minutes.
14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

When It Gets Chilly, Make Chili

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I make and eat this year-round, but it's especially comforting in the cold months. I first found a recipe on Epicurious but have tweaked it a lot, cutting down the massive size of the recipe, cooking the bell pepper at the beginning instead of the end (too raw for me), and adjusting seasonings and ingredients. Instead of biscuits or cornbread, I spoon up the chili with tortilla chips. When I cook it for my sister, she asks me to make enough for leftovers.

1 large onion, chopped
3 tbs vegetable oil
2 carrots, sliced thin
1 tbs minced garlic
1 green bell pepper, chopped
About 1½ lbs lean ground beef
1½ tsp cayenne pepper (more to taste)
1½ tsp ground cumin
1½ tsp dried oregano
1 tbs paprika
1½ tsp red pepper flakes
8 oz can chopped tomatoes, drained
3 tbs tomato paste
6 oz beef or chicken broth
14 oz can red kidney beans
1 bag tortilla chips, preferable in the "scoops" shape

In a large pot or dutch oven, saute the onion and green bell pepper in the oil until the onion is translucent, then add carrots and garlic. Cook and stir for 1 minute. Add the beef, breaking it up and cooking until browned.

Add the cayenne, cumin, oregano, paprika, and red pepper flakes and stir. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and broth. Bring to a simmer and cover, cooking for 1 hour. Add the beans and cook 15 minutes more. Taste and add more cayenne if desired.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Best Pumpkin Tart/Pie

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This pumpkin pie is different. It's smoother and mellower than your usual pumpkin pie, and has the versatility of being dressed up as a fancy tart. I love it chilled, but some want it warm. I also make mine more festive with a few cutouts from leftover pie dough. Top it off with a dollop of freshly whipped cream, and it feels like the holidays!

Dorie Greenspan's Sour Cream Pumpkin Pie (or Tart)
9-inch single crust, partially baked and cooled *recipe below*
2 cups canned unsweetened pumpkin puree
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 tbs unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1½ cups heavy cream
⅓ cup sour cream
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
1½ tsp ground ginger
Pinch of ground cloves (I omitted)
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of salt
3 tbs dark rum (I also omitted)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 450°. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat and put the pie plate (or tart pan) on it.
Mix together all the filling ingredients, then pour into the crust. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 300° and continue to bake for 35 to 45 minutes longer (20 to 25 minutes for a tart), or until a knife inserted close to the center comes out clean. Cool to room temperature.
You'll have filling left over if you make a tart, but use it to make mini-tarts or possibly another tart.
I used Martha Stewart's pate brisee because I know it like the back of my hand, but here's Dorie's pie dough recipe.

3 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1½ tsp salt
2½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
⅓ cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
About ½ cup ice water

Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Drop in the butter and shortening and pulse only until the fats are cut into the flour. Pulsing on and off, gradually add 3 tbs water, then use a few long pulses to get the water into the flour. Pulse in as much of the remaining water as necessary to get a dough that will stick together when pinched. Lightly knead the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before rolling.
To partially bake the crust, preheat the oven to 400°. Butter one side of a sheet of aluminum foil and place that down on the crust. Fill the foil with dried beans or rice or pie weights. Put the pie plate on a baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and weights, and if the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Return the pie plate to the oven and bake for 8 minutes more, or until the crust is very lightly colored. (I skipped the 8 minutes when making the tart.) Cool to room temperature before filling.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Moosewood's Cheesy Potato Soup

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My friend Jill made this soup for my birthday last year, and I had to ask for the recipe. It's hearty and just what you want as the weather gets chilly. I like to puree a little over half of the soup, so you get that creamy texture but still have some good chunks. It's easy to make, and can come together in under half an hour.

Moosewood's Cheesy Potato Soup
3 tbs butter
2 cups chopped onions
1 garlic clove, minced
2 large potatoes, peeled in large dice
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped into chunks
3 cups vegetable stock or water
2 tbs fresh dill
4 oz. cream cheese
1½ cups milk
1 cup grated cheddar (3 oz.)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, saute the garlic and onions in the butter until translucent. Add potatoes and carrots and saute 5 minutes longer. Add the stock and dill and simmer until vegetables are tender (expect 15 to 20 minutes). Stir in the cream cheese and milk. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the cheddar and cook until just melted.

I throw chunks of cheddar in the food processor to shred, and then ladle about half of the soup in to puree.

Then return the velvety mixture to the pot, stir to combine, and add the cream cheese and milk.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Homemade Fried Chicken


Sometimes you just get the craving for fried chicken, and not the drive-through kind. After doing some reading on the subject matter, I threw together a simple enough flour mixture, though I admit there was a second try for some tweaking. Serve it with some mashed potatoes or biscuits, and one obligatory healthy side, and you're in heaven.

One other note: a thermometer is necessary. It takes longer than you'd think to get the oil up to temperature, and the oil needs to be hot enough and the chicken cooked long enough to get the perfect browning outside and doneness inside. A candy thermometer works great for this. I also have a deep fryer, but I find I like my enameled cast iron dutch oven better.

  • About 9 chicken thighs, wings, and drumsticks
  • 1 cup buttermilk or 1 egg plus 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbs baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp ground cayenne pepper
  • Enough oil to fill half of a large dutch oven
  1. Start heating your oil to 360º (the temperature will drop to about 350º when you add the chicken, which is where you want to keep the temp). It may take more than 10 minutes to heat up.
  2. Trim the skin off the drumsticks and thighs, if you'd like. Place all the chicken in a bowl filled with the buttermilk, or the egg and milk. In a shallow bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and peppers. Dredge the chicken pieces through the flour mixture and set aside.
  3. When the oil comes to temperature, add your chicken pieces. Don't overcrowd the pot or they won't cook evenly; 4-5 pieces at a time is best. Cook the chicken for about 13 minutes, turning the pieces halfway through the cooking time with a handheld brass strainer like the one in the picture. The chicken should be about the color in the photo. Drain the chicken on paper towels and pat dry, and serve.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

French Yogurt Cake with Toasted Almonds

I made this recently for my friend Jill's birthday. I know she doesn't like a big fuss, so a simple french yogurt cake seemed perfect. I dressed it up a bit with almond cream and toasted almonds. The birthday girl says she loved it!

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's French Yogurt Cake
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup ground almonds (or, if you'd prefer, omit these and use another ½ cup of all-purpose flour)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • ½ cup plain yogurt *low-fat will work*
  • 3 large eggs
  • ¼ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup flavorless oil, such as canola or safflower
  1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350º. Grease an 8½ x 4½ inch loaf pan and place it on a baking sheet. * I used a 9-inch springform pan for a taller, traditional-looking cake*
  2. Whisk together the flour, ground almonds (if you're using them), baking powder, and salt.
  3. Put the sugar and zest in a mixing bowl, and with your fingertips, rub the zest into the sugar until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Add the yogurt, eggs, and vanilla and blend well. Add the dry ingredients, then fold in the oil. You'll have a thick, smooth batter with a slight sheen. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top.
  4. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan; it should be golden brown and a thin knife inserted into the center will come out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes, then run a blunt knife between the cake and the sides of the pan. Unmold, and cool to room temperature right side up on the rack.
*I then spread the almond cream on the top, followed by a sprinkling of the almonds, but you can try other combinations. It's also delicious served plain.*

Martha Stewart's Almond Cream
*You may want to double this recipe*
  • 4 tbs butter, room temperature
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 large egg *If you don't want to use a raw egg, try 2 tsp mayonnaise*
  • ½ cup whole blanched almonds, finely ground in the food processor
  • ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp pure almond extract

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg. Add the ground almonds and flour, and beat until combined. Stir in the almond extract and salt. Continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. The almond cream can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Toasting the almonds

Pour 1 cup of slivered, blanched almonds into a dry nonstick pan and shake the pan every few minutes, until lightly toasted and aromatic. Or spread 1 cup of slivered, blanched almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast lightly in a 200º preheated oven for 20 minutes.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Worth Their Weight in Gold: Financiers

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I'd been wanting to add financiers to my repertoire for a while, and Aisha from A Piece of Cake told me about this recipe for Raspberry Financiers.

I only had one tray of the mini-muffin molds the recipe calls for, and didn't want that single tiny tray baking by itself for 30 minutes, so I also used 10 tartlet molds measuring 1¾ inches across and ½ inch deep, and they worked well (same amount of time in the oven). If you have rectangular molds, you can bake them in their traditional shape resembling gold ingots. They are tasty, and perfect for teatime!

Little Next Door's Raspberry Financiers

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes plus chilling time for the dough
Servings: Makes 2½ dozen
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1¼ cups powdered sugar
  • 11 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ cup almond flour (I just ground up blanched almonds very fine in a food processor)
  • ½ pint fresh raspberries
  1. Combine the egg whites and sugar in a medium bowl. Place the bowl over a similar-sized saucepan to form a bain-marie or double-boiler filled with gently simmering water. Stir the egg whites and sugar with a whisk just until the whites warm slightly and the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  2. In a small saucepan, cook the butter over medium heat until it begins to brown and gives off a nutty aroma. Remove from the heat to prevent the butter from overcooking. Set aside, but keep very warm.
  3. In a large bowl using a hand mixer, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, begin whisking the egg white mixture at low speed. With the mixer running, gently add the flour, followed by the almond flour, and mix just to combine. Add in the warm butter in a thin stream, mixing at low speed until it is incorporated. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl, and continue to mix 10 seconds more to ensure the batter is completely combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight.
  4. Heat the oven to 325º. Spray or butter a tray of miniature muffin molds (our molds measured 1¾ inches wide by ½ inch deep). Fill the molds two-thirds full with batter, and place a fresh raspberry on top of each. Place the tray in the oven and bake 30 to 40 minutes, until golden. Remove and cool on a wire rack. Repeat with the remaining batter.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge: Eclairs


My first Daring Bakers challenge! I just couldn't get them to look pretty, but let me tell you, they were tasty! Since we're a household of two, I brought most of the eclairs in to work earlier this month, and the reactions were funny. "You can make eclairs?" Some people thought they were made only in factories. They disappeared quickly, in any case. I had troubles in the beginning with eclairs that fell flat, since the instructions on sticking the spoon in the oven were confusing, but I got them to puff up all right.
I initially made both vanilla and chocolate pastry creams, since I thought that with the glaze it would be chocolate overload. But I wound up stirring melted chocolate into the vanilla cream after I tasted how divine the chocolate was. I also made the labor-intensive glaze on the first try, but swapped it out on Take 2 for a simple ganache (equal parts hot cream and bittersweet chocolate with a couple pats of butter). Now I just have to jog a million miles to work all those calories off!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Strawberry Scoops

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I made this earlier last week, when my college friend came to visit with her husband and kids. The looks on the girls' faces when I said I made them ice cream was adorable, and I let the older one turn on the machine and attach the paddle. Now my friend is all psyched to buy her own ice cream machine!

Strawberry Ice Cream from The Ultimate Ice Cream Book
3 cups strawberries (I used frozen strawberries without syrup, thawed)
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups half-and half
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

Puree the strawberries with the salt in a food processor. There should be about 2 cups of puree. In a medium mixing bowl, beat the sugar into the eggs until thickened and pale yellow.
Bring the half-and-half to a simmer in a heavy medium saucepan. Slowly beat the hot half-and-half into the eggs and sugar. Pour the entire mixture back into the pan and place over low heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the custard thickens slightly. Be careful not to let the mixture boil or the eggs will scramble. Remove from heat and pour through a strainer into a large, clean bowl. Cool slightly, then stir in the puree, cream, and vanilla. Refrigerate overnight.
Freeze in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

I made these for our summer intern's goodbye party, as a tribute to her southern roots. Paula Deen's recipe looked popular online, but I took note of comments about the recipe being too oily and the funny undertaste of food coloring and made adjustments. Actually, the latter adjustment was involuntary -- I had only a half-bottle of red food coloring, about half a tablespoon (a quarter of what the recipe called for), and the batter still came out scarlet, like a pretty nail polish, as you can see here.

It effectively tastes like yellow cake, and I used my own cream cheese frosting recipe, which goes on all my carrot cakes and pumpkin squares. They made a great first impression on my coworkers, but some of them asked, "What's in them?" Doesn't everyone know what red velvet cake is? A couple even wrinkled their faces and walked off when I joked, "red food coloring," but they generally got great reviews.

RED VELVET CUPCAKES (Adapted from Paula Deen's)
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk, well-shaken
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 tbs red food coloring
1 tsp white distilled vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In a large bowl, lightly beat together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla extract with an electric mixer. Stir in the dry ingredients.
Fill the cupcake tins about 2/3 full, and bake 20 to 22 minutes. Turn the pans around halfway through baking. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting. Makes 24 cupcakes.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat the cream cheese and butter together on high, and then mix in the confectioners sugar and vanilla extract on low. Frost cupcakes with an offset spatula or piping bag fitted with a star tip. Or snip the corner off a Ziploc bag to make a makeshift piping bag.