Friday, October 31, 2008

quiche florentine

After reading the French Laundry at Home blog (if you haven't read it, you must), I knew I had to have Thomas Keller's books. They were exactly what I'd been hoping to find--books that would tell me in great detail how to make restaurant-quality food at home. And not, you konw, Chili's-quality food. But why-can't-I-get-a-reservation-there-quality food. And when I picked up a copy of French Laundry and read, "French Laundry chefs will pass a sauce through a chinois twenty times or more. . . . We pass our pea puree for the pea soup through a tamis, then we blend the puree in a blender and pass it through a chinois. The result is texture on your tongue and palate that is almost indescribable. It is the texture of luxury," I was in love.

I decided to start my Keller experience with simple dishes. First, I tried the glazed vegetables. Then I made this quiche. This quiche florentine is simply the best quiche I've ever eaten. The custard was smooth and silky and rich. I loved it. I did run into some minor hangups--I misplaced part of my dough for the crust, and so didn't have enough to drape it over the edge. And as Keller warns, it did in fact shrink. It was rather misshapen, and my custard made it soggy. It was delicious, all the same. (And of course, this would be the one dish I forgot to take a picture of.)

quiche florentine (from Bouchon, Thomas Keller)
2 TB unsalted butter
.25 C minced shallots
1 lb spinach, washed, large stems removed
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
.75 C grated Comte or Emmentaler cheese
basic quiche shell, cooled
basic quiche batter
Canola oil

Melt the butter in a large pot or saute pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook gently for about 2 minutes, until they have softened but not colored. Add half the spinach, 1 tsp of the salt, and 1/2 tsp of the pepper. (To season the spinach evenly, it is best to sprinkled the leaves with salt and pepper before they wilt.) Stir for a minute to wilt, then add the remaining spinach, 1 tsp of salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring until all the spinach has wilted. Drain the spinach on paper towels and let cool.

Put a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 F.

Squeeze the cooled spinach to remove excess liquid and chop coarsely to make cutting the quich easier. Scatter .25 C of the cheese and half the spinach evenly into the cooled quich shell (still on the baking sheet). Blend the quiche batter again to aerate it, then pour in enough of the batter to cover the ingredients and fill the quiche approximately halfway. Top the batter with another .25 C of the cheese and the remaining spinach. Blend the remaining batter and fill the quiche all the way to the top. Sprinkle the remaining .25 C cheese on top of the quiche. (If you don't have a very steady hand, you might spill some of the batter on the way to the oven; fill the quiche most of the way, then pour the final amount of batter on top once the quiche is on the oven rack. Then top it with the remaining cheese.)

Bake for 1.5 to 1.75 hours, or until the top of the quiche is browned and the custard is set when the pan is jiggled. Remove the quiche from the oven and let cool on a rack to room temperature. Refrierate until thoroughly chilled, at least 1 day, or up to 3 days.

Once the quiche is thoroughly chilled, using a metal bench scraper or a sharp knife, scrape away the excess crust from the top. Tilt tthe ring on its side, with the bottom of the quiche facing you, and run a small paring knife between the crust and the ring to release the quiche. Set the quiche down and carefully lift off the ring. Return to the refrigerator until ready to serve.

To serve: Preheat the oven to 375 F. Linea baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly oil the paper.

Using a long serrated knife and supporting the sides of the crust, carefully cut through the edge of the crust in a sawing motion. Switch to a long slicing knive and cut through the custard and bottom crust. Repeat, cutting the quiche into 8 pieces. Place the pieces on the baking sheet and reheat for 15 minutes, or until hot throughout. To check, insert a metal skewer into the quiche for several seconds and then touch the skewer to your lip to test the temperature of the quiche.

2 C flour, sifted, plus flour for rolling
1 tsp kosher salt
8 oz. chilled unsalted buttter, cut into 1/4" pieces
1/4 C ice water
canola oil

Place 1 C of the flour and the salt in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Turn to low speed and add the butter a small handful at a time. When all butter is added, increase speed to medium and mix until butter is completely blended with flour. Reduce speed, add remaining flour, and mix just to combine. Add water and mix until incorporated. The dough will come around the paddle and should feel smooth, not sticky, to the touch.

Remove the dough from the mixer and check to be certain there are no visible pieces of butter remaining; if necessary, return to the mixer and mix briefly again. Pat into a 7- to 8-inch disk and wrap in plastic wrap. REfrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to a day. (If the dough does not rest, it will shrink as it bakes.)

Lightly brush the inside of a 9 x 2" ring mold with canola oil and place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Place the dough on a floured work surface and rub on all sides with flour. Flatten into a larger circle using a rolling pin or the heel of your hand. Roll the rolling pin back and forth across the dough a few times, then turn it 90 degrees and roll again. Continue to turn and roll until the dough is 3/16" thick and about 14" in diameter. (If the kitchen is hot and the dough has become very soft, move it to the baking sheet and refrigerate for a few minutes.)

To lift the dough into the ring, place the rolling pin across the dough about one-quarter of the way up from the bottom edge, fold the bottom edge of dough up and over the pin, and roll the dough up on the rolling pin. Lift the dough on the pin, hold it over the top edge of the ring and unroll the dough over the mold, centering it. Carefully lower the dough into the ring, pressing it gently against the sides and into the bottom corners of the ring. Trim any dough that extends more than an inch over the sides of teh mold and reserve the scraps. Fold the excess dough over against the outside of the ring. (Preparing the quiche shell this way will prevent it from shrinking down the sides as it bakes. The excess dough will be removed after the quich is baked.) Carefully check for any cracks or holes in the dough, and patch with the reserved dough as necessary. Place in the refrigerator or freezer for at least 20 mnutes to resolidify the butter. Reserve the remaining dough scraps.

Put a rack set in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 F.

Line the quiche shell with a 16-inch round of parchment. Fill the shell with pie weights or dried beans, gently guiding the weights into the corners of the shell and filling the shell completely. Bake the shell for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the edges of the dough are lightly browned but the bottom is still light in color.

Carefully remove the parchment and weights. Check the dough for any new cracks or holes and patch with the thin pieces of the reserved dough if necessary. Return the shell to the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the bottom is a rich golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow the shell to cool copmletely on the baking sheet. Once again, check the dough for any cracks or holes, and patch if necessary before filling with the quiche batter.

basic quiche batter

2 C milk
2 C heavy cream
6 large eggs
1 TB kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly fround white pepper
6 gratings fresh nutmeg

Combine the milk and cream in a large saucepan and heat over medium heat until scalded (meaning a skin begins to form on the surface). remove from the heat and let cool for 15 minutes before continuing.

Put 3 eggs, half the milk and cream mixture, 1.5 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp white pepper, and 3 gratings of nutmeg in a blender and blend on low speed for a few seconds to combine the ingredeints. Increase the speed to high and blend for 30 seconds to a minute, or until the batter is light and foamy.

This is the first layer of the quiche. Once you have assembled it, add the remaining ingredients to the blender and repeat the process to complete the quiche.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

corn chowder

B asked me to make corn chowder, and, as usual, I was leery of trying it. (I was a very picky eater as a child, and my default position on anything but dessert is to assume I'll hate it.) But I found a recipe in The Professional Chef and gave it a shot, and I really enjoyed it. Enough that I made a second batch, and doubled it.

The original recipe calls for salt pork, but I didn't know where to find any, so I used bacon. (The amount of corn makes in the soup makes it quite sweet, so I enjoyed the balance the smokiness of the bacon gave it.) I omitted the celery because I hate celery and the Tabasco sauce because we didn't have any.

corn chowder (adapted from The Professional Chef, The Culinary Institute of America)

4 oz bacon
2 oz butter
6 oz small-dice onions
4 oz small-dice green peppers
4 oz small-dice red peppers
3.5 oz all-purpose flour
64 fl oz chicken stock
2 lb corn kernels, fresh or frozen
2 lb potatoes, small dice
1 bay leaf
8 fl oz heavy cream, hot
8 fl oz milk, hot
salt, as needed
ground white pepper, as needed
2 tsp Tabasco sauce
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1. In a large pot, melt butter. Add bacon and cook until crisp.
2. Add onions and peppers and sweat until softened, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the flour and cook to make a white roux, about 3 minutes.
4. Remove from heat and add 1/3 of stock. Stir until combined. Return to medium heat and continue stirring to work out lumps. Repeat with remaining stock. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring periodically to avoid scorching, until thickened, 30-40 minutes.
5. Puree half of the corn and add to the soup with the potatoes. Add the remaining corn and bay leaf and simmer, covered, until corn and potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
6. Add the cream and milk to the soup, and stir to combine. Heat just until soup begins to simmer, about 10 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Finish soup or rapidly cool and refrigerate for later service.
7. To finish for service, return soup to a boil. Season with salt, pepper, Tabasco, and Worcestershire sauce and serve in heated bowls or cups.

deviled eggs

I never liked deviled eggs until one of my friends brought them to a party, still warm. They weren't rubbery at all, and they tasted great. I asked him his secret--it was something to do with the cooking--at then promptly forgot it.

Recently, though, B pulled out New Best Recipe to make himself some hardboiled eggs. And there was the same secret cooking method--bringing them just to a boil, turning off the heat, and allowing them to sit for ten minutes before putting them in cold water to stop the cooking.

B's eggs turned out so well that I decided to devil them, again using NBR. They were delicious, and we ate the entire batch by the end of the night.

deviled eggs (New Best Recipe, Editors of Cook's Illustrated)

7 large eggs
.75 tsp whole-grain mustard
3 TB mayonnaise
1.5 tsp cider vinegar (or vinegar of your choice)
.25 tsp Worcestershire sauce
salt and ground black pepper

1. Place eggs in medium saucepan, cover with one inch of water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove the pan from heat, cover, and let stand 10 minutes. Fill a medium bowl with 1 qt cold water and 1 tray ice cubes. Transfer eggs to ice water with a slotted spoon; let sit 5 minutes.
2. Peel the eggs and slice each in half lengthwise with a paring knife. Remove the yolks to a small bowl. Arrange the whites on a serving platter, discarding the two worst-looking halves. Mash the yolks with a fork until no large lumps remain. Add the mustard, mayo, vinegar, Worcestershire, and salt and pepper to taste; mix with a rubber spatula, mashing against the side of a bowl until smooth.

3. Fit a pastry bag with a large open-star tip. Fill the bag with the yolk mixture, twisting the top of the pastry bag to help push the mixture toward the tip of the bag. Pipe the yolk mixture into the egg white halves, mounding the filling about .5 inch above the flat surface of the whites. [I didn't mash mine smoothly enough and my star tip was a little on the small side, so I got tired of unclogging it and just spooned in the filling.] Serve immediately.

Monday, October 13, 2008

strawberries & cream cupcakes

These are currently my favorite cupcakes. We had some extra strawberries, so I made yellow cupcakes, filled them with a tart strawberry jam, and topped them with a lightly sweetened cream cheese frosting. They're unbelievably good.

They're cute frosted, but I prefer to just cut the cupcakes in half and slather frosting and jam on each half.

strawberries & cream cupcakes:

yellow cupcakes
(The New Best Recipes, editors of Cook's Illustrated)
1.5 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1 C sugar
1.5 tsp baking powder
.5 tsp salt
8 TB unsalted butter, softened
.5 C sour cream
1 large egg, plus 2 yolks, at room temperature
1.5 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Grease 2 mini muffin tins and line with muffin cups. Mix dry ingredients. Add butter, sour cream, egg, yolks, and vanilla, and beat until smooth and satiny, about 30 seconds. Scrape sides of bowl with rubber spatula and stir by hand until smooth and no flour pockets remain.Divide among mini muffin cups. Bake until cupcake tops are pale gold and cupcakes pass toothpick test.

strawberry jam

1 C strawberry puree
.25 C sugar
1 TB pectin

Heat the strawberries, sugar, and pectin on medium until the mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat. Allow to cool before using.

cream cheese frosting
16 oz cream cheese
.5 C butter
2 C powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla

beets and potatoes

This was an attempt to replicate the flavor of an Ethiopian dish that B and I love--beets with some potatoes mixed in. I haven't figured out yet what is missing from my version, but regular old beets and potatoes boiled with some salt and butter are still good.

beets & potatoes
10 small red potatoes
4-5 medium beets
2-3 TB beet water
1 TB butter
salt to taste

Boil the beets and potatoes (in separate pans) until tender. Chop and mix with salt and butter. Add water from the beets for a little extra color.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


My sister needed to make a Spanish dish for a class project, so we made these together. I'm a little distrustful of random Internet recipes. The pictures look so good, but something goes missing in the transcription. This one, though, is a winner. It's quick, easy, and delicious. The churros are perfect--crispy outsides and creamy, custard insides. And they're adorable. Despite making a quadruple batch, we ran out of churros within minutes of frying the last plateful.

churros (from Dean Derhak's Real Spanish Food Recipes)

vegetable oil for frying, heated to 360 F
1 C water
.5 C butter
.25 tsp. salt
1 C flour
3 eggs, whisked until thoroughly mixed
.25 C sugar
.25 tsp. cinammon

1. Put water, butter, and salt in a pot and bring to a rolling boil.
2. Add flour, put heat on low, and stir until combined in sticky ball.
3. Whisk eggs into flour mixture until smooth.
4. Place in pastry bag with large star tip.
5. Pipe 4-6 churros (or as many as your pan can hold) into the hot oil.
6. Cook about two minutes (until golden) on each side.
7. Remove from oil, place on paper towels to briefly drain, and coat in cinnamon sugar while still warm.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sam's gnocchi with tomato mozzarella artichoke sauce

My friend Sam is one of those talented people who can throw together ingredients without a recipe and create a masterpiece. Recently, she taught me how to make gnocchi, and she served it with a wonderful tomato mozzarella artichoke sauce. This was my attempt to recreate the dish. My gnocchi came out perfect, light and tender. My rendition of Sam's sauce, however, left a lot to be desired.

Sam's sauce goes something like this--a bit of your favorite spaghetti sauce, heated. Dice several small tomatoes and add to sauce. Add garlic, and fresh basil and oregano with a touch of rosemary. Drain and cut a can of artichoke hearts. Add to sauce. Chop fresh mozzarella and add to sauce. Serve. Our version is below. We're going to have to make it a few more times to get it tasting right. It'll be worth the effort. The dish Sam made for us was one of the best meals we've had.

2 lbs potatoes, boiled, peeled, and riced
1.5 C flour
Mix potatoes with flour until dough is workable. Roll into several thin logs. Slice into coin-shaped pieces. Press with fork. Put in boiling water and cook until pasta floats to the top.

2 cans tomato sauce
1 can tomato paste
1-3 cloves garlic, diced
fresh basil leaves
fresh oregano leaves
(or use Italian herb blend)
2-3 fist-sized balls of mozzarella, cut into chunks
1-2 cans artichokes, drained, and cut into chunks
5-8 roma tomatoes, cut into chunks
Briefly sautee garlic. Add tomato sauce and paste, with a bit of water. Add herbs and artichokes. When sauce is heated, add mozzarella. Allow to melt slightly. Serve.

apple-apple bread pudding

When I was looking for a base to make the rosemary hazelnut bread pudding, I decided on this one. On looking at the list of ingredients, I thought it would be a shame to use this just as a base when it sounded so good. So I made a batch of this, as well. The caramelized apples with the apple butter just melt in your mouth. I wish I had a piece right now.

apple-apple bread pudding (Baking, Dorie Greenspan)

caramelized apples 3 medium apples, peeled and cored (Dorie recommends Fujis or Galas; I used Granny Smith)
3 T butter
3 T sugar

12 oz. egg bread (I can never find brioche, so I used English toasting bread), sliced .5" thick
1 C spiced apple butter
3 C whole milk
1 C heavy cream
3 large eggs
5 large egg yolks
.75 C sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Butter a 9 x 13" baking pan, dust the inside with sugar, and tap out the excess. Line a larger roasting pan with a double thickness of paper towels.

Cut each apple in half from top to bottom, cut each half lengthwise into 6-8 slices, and then cut each slice in half crosswise.

Put a large skillet (preferably nonstick) over medium-high heat, add the butter, and when it melts, sprinkle over the sugar. Cook the butter and sugar for a minute or so--you want the sugar to caramelize but not burn, so adjust the heat accordingly. Toss in the apple slices--don't worry if the caramel seizes and lumps, it will melt and smooth out as you work--and cook, carefully turning the apples once or twice, until they are tender but not soft, 3-5 minutes. They should be golden, and some might even be caramelized. Transfer the apples and the liquid to a plate.
(I tore my bread into pieces before staling it, rather than retaining the whole slices.) If your bread is not stale, spread it out on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat and bake at 350 F to "stale" it for 10 minutes.

Spread one side of each slice of bread with the apple butter, then cut each slice on the diagonal to get 4 triangles. (I put my bread chunks and apple butter in a bowl and tossed them until they were coated.) Cover the bottom of the baking pan with half of the bread, arranging the triangles, buttered side up, so that they overlap slightly (don't worry about spaces between the slices). Spoon over the apples and their liquid and finish "the sandwich" with the rest of the bread.
Bring the milk and cream just to a boil.

Fill a teakettle with water and put it on to boil; when the water boils, turn off the heat. (I skipped this step, as I couldn't find my roasting pan to be able to put my baking pan in it.) Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolks, and the .75 C sugar. Still whisking, slowly drizzle in about one quarter of the hot milk mixture--this will temper, or warm, the eggs so they won't curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remaining milk. Add the vanilla and whisk to blend. Rap the bowl against the counter to pop any bubbles that might have formed, then spoon off any foam that has risen to the top. Pour the custard over the bread and press the bread gently with the back of a spoon to help it absorb the liquid. Leave the pan on the counter, giving the bread the back-of-the-spoon treatment now and then, for about 30 minutes.
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 F.

Put the baking pan in the roasting pan, slide the setup into the oven and very carefully pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the pudding pan. Bake the pudding for about 1 hour and 25 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean. Transfer the baking pan to a rack and cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

The pudding can be served as is or dusted with confectioners' sugar just before serving. Or, if you want to give the pudding a little gloss, put about .5 C apple jelly in a small pot with a splash of water. Heat until the jelly liquefies, then brush a thin layer over the top of the pudding.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

the marzipan people

My sister asked me to help her make a cake for a class project last spring. B and I stayed up basically all night making people and scenery for the cake. These are a couple of the people I made. Their bodies are marzipan and their clothes are fondant. I was particularly proud of the man's curly hair (you can't really see it here, though). I got a kick out of making the woman--I had to give her tentacles to give the train of her skirt more volume.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


This was another dish I ate at the Google cafe. I almost never cook beef--B and I both prefer chicken--but I enjoyed the tender meat with the flavor of the apricots so much I knew I had to have this again. I scoured the Internet until I found a similar-sounding recipe (although I may still beg our friend for the authentic Google recipe). Biltongmakers describes this as a "lovely" potjie. I couldn't agree more.

I did a little tweaking to the original recipe, and I'll do a little more next time. As we'd never heard of potjie before the Google trip, we didn't have a potjie pot. I just used a large pot. Next time, I'll use a crockpot. I left out the kidney because we're not kidney people. I also used a little under a pound of stew meat, because I didn't think about the math before I sent B to the store to buy the meat. If I used the proper amount of meat next time, I'll increase the amount of sauce, because I thought it was just perfect.

The recipe calls for the vegetables to be layered into the pot in the order the ingredients list gives them. This may work in a potjie pot, but it was not the best idea for a regular pot on the stove. I cooked our potjie for around an hour extra, and the cabbage still was not done. Next time, I'll cook the veggies in a more sensible order, adding them according to their individual cooking times. I also used fresh apricots, because our friend Z had just given us a bunch from her garden. I feel bad for using them in this dish, because they basically disintegrated. Occasionally, I would get a bite with a bit of apricot. They added a subtle flavor to the dish, but next time I'll use dried ones, so they'll hold up and give a more distinct flavor. I also omitted the sweet potatoes, because I don't like them. I may try them next time, though, as I thought that regular potatoes seemed out of place in this dish. Or maybe I'll just stir in some gnocchi before serving.
The recipe below is a combination of what I did last time and what I'm going to try next time, so the times may be a little off.

Beef and Veggies Potjie (adapted from
1 lb. stewing beef, cubed
2 medium onions, chopped
125 ml dried apricots, soaked in water for 1 hour
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
4 medium potatoes, peeled and halved
6 small zucchini, sliced
250 ml cabbage, chopped
1 tomato, peeled and sliced
30 ml dried parsley30 ml cooking oil
black pepper to taste

the sauce
125 ml sherry (the recipe calls for sweet; I used dry)
125 ml soy sauce
5 ml black pepper
3 ml dry mustard
1 ml dry rosemary
1 ml dry thyme
1 cube beef stock
500 ml boiling water

Don't add salt; there's plenty in the soy sauce.

1. Heat the oil in the pot cook the meat till almost brown.
2. Add the onions and brown together.
3. Mix the sauce and add it to the pot.
4. Stir well, cover with the lid and simmer for 1.5 hours.
5. Add the cabbage and cook for 30-60 minutes.
6. Add the carrots and cook for 30 minutes.
7. Add the dried apricots and the remaining vegetables, sprinkling some pepper over the tomatoes, and simmer until vegetables are soft (30-60 min).

prep time: 15-30 min.
cooking time: 3 hrs 15 min.-4 hrs 15 min.

Monday, August 25, 2008

bread pudding a la Google (rosemary hazelnut bread pudding)

I particularly enjoyed this dessert when our friend and his wife took B and I to dinner at the Google campus, and I've been wanting more ever since.

I used Dorie's apple-apple bread pudding as a base and added rosemary and hazelnut. This is best served cold; I found the flavor too strong when it was warm. If I make this again, I'll decrease the amount of rosemary and probably strain the leaves out of the milk altogether.

Rosemary Hazelnut Bread Pudding
12 oz. stale bread, torn into 1/2" chunks
3 eggs
5 egg yolks
1 C heavy cream
3 C whole milk
leaves from 1.5" piece of rosemary
1.25 oz hazelnuts, roasted and skinned

Bring milk and cream to a boil. Remove from heat and steep rosemary in hot mixture. Whisk together eggs and egg yolks. Temper egg mixture with about 1/4 the hot milk mixture. Then whisk in the rest.

Toss bread and hazelnuts together and place in buttered 9" x 13" pan. Pour custard mixture over top, and let sit for thirty minutes, using a spoon to occasionally press down any protruding pieces of bread.

Heat oven to 325 F and bake for about an hour and 25 minutes, or until pudding passes the knife test.

prep time: 50 min.
cooking time: 1.5 hrs.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

the vegetables

The vegetables Zillah gave us. I think they're gorgeous.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

chicken piccata

My brother came over the other day to learn a dish to cook for a date. We had to have something without alcohol, as he's underage and can't buy it to cook with himself, and something that used chicken breasts rather than a whole chicken, in the interest of time. I looked through New Best Recipes and chicken piccata was the first recipe I found that fit the bill. After reading the list of ingredients, I was expecting a light, sissified dish, the sort that comes with a few drops of lemon juice and olive oil and makes it so dieters can still eat at Italian restaurants. Which, as you probably already know, is not at all what chicken piccata tastes like. It was an explosion of sour, salty, smoky flavor. I was amazed that so much flavor was packed into the 1/3 C of sauce you're expected to divide between six servings. (We served ours with double helpings of sauce, and I'd still like to increase the portions.) This was an entirely enjoyable meal, and when my brother made it again for the rest of my family, all but one of my siblings loved it. No mean feat in a family where one child hates mashed potatoes, another hates hamburgers, and still another won't eat green vegetables.

chicken piccata (New Best Recipes, Cook's Illustrated)

2 large lemons
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (5-6 oz ea.), tenderloins removed and fat trimmed
salt and ground black pepper
.5 C flour
4 TB vegetable oil
a small shallot, minced, or 1 small garlic clove, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 C low-sodium chicken broth
2 TB small capers, rinsed
3 TB unsalted butter, softened
2 TB minced fresh parsley leaves

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position, set a large heatrpoof serving or dinner plate on the rack and heat the oven to 200 degrees.
2. Halve one lemon pole to pole. Trim the ends from one half and cut it crosswise into slices 1/8-1/4" thick; set aside. Juice the remaining half and whole lemon to obtain .25 C juice; reserve.
3. Sprinkle both sides of the cutles generously with salt and pepper. Measure the flour into a shallow aking dish or pie plate. Working with one cutlet at time, coat with the flour and shake to remove the ecxcess.

4. Heat 2 TB of the oil in a heavy-bottom 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. lay half of the chicken cutlets in the skillet. Saute the cutlets until lightly browned on the first side, 2 to 2.5 minutes. Turn the cutlets and cook until the second side is lightly browqned, 2 to 2.5 minutes longer. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the cutlets to the plate in teh oven. Add the remaining 2 TB oil to the now-empty skillet and heat until shimmering. Add the remaining chicken cutlets and repeat.

5. Add the shallot to the now-empty skilled and return the skillet to medium heat. Saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds (10 seconds for garlic). Add the broth and lemon slices, increase the heat to high, and sc rape the pan bottom with a wooden spoon or spatula to loosen the browned bits. Simmer until the liquid reduces to about 1/3 C, about 4 minutes. Add the reserved lemon juice and capers and simmer until the sauce reduces again to 1/3 cup, about 1 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and swirl in the butter until it melts and thickens the sauce. Stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve immediately.

whole wheat bread

Homemade whole wheat bread is one of my favorite things to eat, with its thin crust and tender but substantial middle. Mom always made this when I was growing up. On baking days, we'd have it for lunch, fresh from the oven.

whole wheat bread

4 C very warm water
1/8 C yeast
1/3 C oil
1/3 C honey
1 TB salt
1/8 C dough enhancer
11-12 C freshly ground wheat flour (white wheat, ground on finest setting)

Mix yeast and 6 C flour with water. Let sponge for 15 minutes. Add oil, honey, salt, and 5 C flour. Knead 6 minutes. Cover and allow to rise 30 minutes. Dump on floured surface. Cut into thirds, form loaves, and place in greased pans.

Preheat oven to 350. Place bread in pans on top of stove to rise 15 minutes. Then bake for 30-35 minutes.

Friday, August 1, 2008

vanilla pudding with fresh raspberries

Among the vegetables Zillah sent home with us were a bunch of the best raspberries I've ever eaten. There is something magical about eating raspberries fresh off the bush in the middle of a garden at dusk. I ate half the berries on the way home and decided they were far too good to be baked. So I made pudding to serve with the rest, instead.

vanilla pudding (The Complete Book of Desserts, Martha Day)

3.75 C milk
1.5 C sugar
6 TB corn starch
3 egg yolks
6 TB unsalted butter, room temperature, cut in pieces
1 vanilla bean or 1 TB vanilla

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk together sugar and cornstarch. Slowly mix in milk until smooth. Add vanilla bean if using. Heat on medium, whisking, until mixture begins to boil. Quickly whisk in egg yolks and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Whisk in butter until smooth. If using vanilla, whisk in. Strain the pudding into a bowl and refrigerate.

sauteed kohlrabi

Our generous friend Zillah recently gave us bundles and bundles of produce, fresh from her family's garden. (I'm going to post pictures soon, because it was just so pretty.) One of the things she gave us was a kohlrabi. I had no idea what it was or what I do with it, but I was delighted to get it because it looked like something from outer space.

We looked over some recipes and ended up deciding to simply saute it. We tried a few slices raw (reminded me of jicama), and then I fried up a few batches. I added garlic to one, garam masala to another, and just salted the rest. The garlic was overpowering, the garam masala was pleasant, and the salt was just right.

I'm not going to bother with a recipe here--just peel it, slice it, saute it to the desired tenderness, and season it with whatever makes you happy.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

peach cobbler

B isn't a sugar fiend the way I am, and he is frequently less enthusiastic than I'd like about the desserts I bake. He has, however, said he would enjoy a cobbler or crumble. And he likes peaches. So last night, we baked cobbler.

We were both happy with how it turned out. The biscuits were perfect--crispy on top and tender on the bottom. The peaches were wonderful. We did both prefer eating the peaches separately from the biscuits, but I think that's just because of the nature of peaches. I don't think they have enough flavor to stand up to a good sweet biscuit. When we ate them together, I found myself wishing for cinnamon and then for the peaches to be apples. But when we pulled them apart and plopped them both on ice cream, it was amazing.

Peach Cobbler (from New Best Recipes, Cook's Illustrated)
2.5 lb peaches
.25 C sugar
1 tsp corn starch
pinch of salt
1 TB lemon juice

3 TB sugar, plus 1 tsp
1 C flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
5 TB butter, sliced
plain whole-milk yogurt

Peel peaches and cut in half. Remove pits and clean out pit area. Cut each half into quarters. Place in bowl and gently toss with sugar. Let sit thirty minutes. Place in strainer and pour off juice. Reserve .25 C juice and discard the rest.

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Mix cornstarch, salt, and lemon juice into the .25 C juice to make sauce. Place peaches in 8 x 8" glass pan. Bake until juice bubbles, about 10 minutes.

While peaches are baking, make biscuits. (Do not make biscuits early--leavening may not work correctly if you do.) Mix together the dry ingredients (except 1 tsp sugar) in food processor. Add slices of butter and pulse until mixture feels grainy. Place in bowl and stir in yogurt just until mixture forms dough. Overstirring will make tough biscuits.

When peaches are baked, remove from oven. Divide biscuits into six and place evenly around the pan (not touching--biscuits will expand). Bake 16-18 minutes.

total time: 1.5-2 hrs

mango lime cake

I wanted to make a light cake to take to some friends recently. Deb of Smitten Kitchen's mango lime wedding cake intrigued me, so I decided to make a genoise layer cake, filled with my generic cream cheese/whipped cream mix, soaked in lime syrup, and topped with mango curd.

This was the first time I'd made a genoise. I had a lot of fun doing it. Watching the whole, heated eggs whip up light and fluffy was like watching magic. I had no idea whole eggs could do that.

I made a couple of batches of this. The one I made my friends was a bit on the limey side. It was nice, but the mango wasn't as flavorful as I would have liked. To remedy this, I used less soaking syrup and cut the cream cheese filling back to half for the version I took to B's family reunion. This brought out the mango nicely. Next time, I'm going to try a 3/4 batch of cream cheese mix to give it a little more height.

Mango Lime Genoise

1 sheet of genoise

2 batches of mango lime curd

1 C lime soaking syrup

3/4 batch cream cheese/whipped cream filling

Makes two small cakes.

Assembly: Use a straight edge and a serrated knife to cut genoise into four equally sized rectangles. Spoon .75 oz lime soaking syrup over two bottom layers. Cover each with cream cheese mixture. Soak two top layers and place one on each bottom layer. Spoon on mango curd and smooth with a spatula.

You will need two batches of curd for this cake. If you have a large processor, you can just double the batch. It's easier for me to make them separately.

Makes 1 to 1.5 cups

1 15-ounce ripe mango, peeled, pitted, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1. Puree mango with lime juice, sugar, and salt, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add yolks; puree 15 seconds longer. Strain through sieve set over large metal bowl. Discard solids in sieve.

2. Set metal bowl over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water); whisk puree until thickened and thermometer registers 170°F., about 10 minutes. Remove from over water. Whisk in butter 1 piece at a time. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

genoise sheets (The Art of the Cake, Bruce Healy)

6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
6.5 oz granulated sugar
5.75 oz all-purpose flour
.33 oz potato starch
.75 oz unsalted butter, melted

1.Preheat the oven to 375 F. Brush the edges and diagonals of a large, heavy baking sheet with melted butter. Line with parchment paper. Brush the parchment with melted butter.

2. Combine eggs, egg yolk, and sugar in a stainless steel mixing bowl. Break up the yolks with a wire whisk and beat until smooth. Set over a saucepan of simmering water, and stir with the whisk until warm (about 100 F), frothy, and pale yellow.

3. Remove from simmering water, and whip at medium speed in the mixer until the batter has risen and cooled, becoming light and thick and almost white in color. It should coat your finger very thickly and form very slowly dissolving ribbons when dropped from the whip.

4. Sift the flour with the potato starch onto a sheet of wax paper. A little at a time, dust the mixture over the batter and fold it in very gently but thoroughly. When the flour and potato starch are compeltely incorporated, slowly pour the melted butter over the batter and continue folding gently until the butter is uniformly mixed with the batter.

5. Scoop the batter from the mixing bowl onto the prepared baking sheet, distributing it evenly. Spread and smooth the batter with a large icing spatula to completely cover the baking sheet in an even layer about 3/8" thick.

6. Bake until the top of the genoise is lightly browned and firm to the touch but not crusty, about 6-10 minutes.

7. Remove from the oven aloosen the edges of the genoise from the parchment using a small icing spatula. Slide the genoise off the baking sheet onto a wire rack. When it is no longer hot but still warm enough that the butter between the parchment and genoise hasn't solidified, place a second wire rack upside down on top of the sheet of genoise and turn the genoise upside down with both racks to transfer it to the second rack. Lift off the first wire rack. Carefully peel the parchment away from the back of the genoise, and place it clean side down against the genoise to protect the cake. Place the first wire rack ack on the sheet of genoise and turn it right side up again. Lift off the second wire rack, and allow the genoise to finish cooling.

*When baked in a thin sheet, the genoise dries very quickly. It is best used the same day as it is prepared.

soaking syrup
.5 C heavy syrup
.25 C lime juice
.25 C water

heavy syrup (The Art of the Cake, Bruce Healy)
2 C granulated sugar
1 C water

1. Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve all the sugar.

2. Cover and allow to cool.

cream cheese/whipped cream filling
2 packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 qt heavy whipping cream, chilled
2-3 TB vanilla
1-1.5 C sugar

Whip cream. Add vanilla and sugar to taste. Mix in cream cheese. Mix until smooth.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

chocolate-filled sour cherry chocolate cupcakes

I made these cupcakes for a work party. They're Dorie's chocolate cupcakes again, the same ones we made for the tea party. I loved addition of the ganache filling and the sour cherry in the icing. Next time, I'm going to either swap the icing for a buttercream or use mascarpone instead of cream cheese. I want the icing to be firmer and with a stronger sour cherry flavor.

chocolate-filled sour cherry chocolate cupcakes
chocolate cupcakes (Baking, Dorie Greenspan)
1 C flour
1/4 unsweetened cocoa
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 cube unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 C sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 C buttermilk
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

Grease 2 miniature muffin tins and line with muffin cups. Preheat oven to 350.

Mix together dry ingredients (except sugar). Beat butter until soft and creamy. Add sugar and beat 2 min. Add egg, then yolk and beat for 2 min. Beat in vanilla. On low speed, mix in half dry ingredients. Add buttermilk and mix until incorporated.. Mix in remaining dry ingredients. Mix in chocolate.

Fill muffin cups with batter. Bake until cupcakes pass toothpick test.

3 oz bittersweet chocolate
3 oz cream

Melt the chocolate in the microwave, in 10- or 20-second intervals. Heat cream in the microwave. Pour over chocolate and whisk until smooth. Refrigerate until an hour or so before using. Ganache should be at room temperature when you want to assemble the cupcakes.

1 pck cream cheese, room temperature
150 mL sour cherry juice, reduced to 50 mL
sugar to taste (1/2 C to 3/4 C, baking sugar)
whipped cream (1/2 C to 3/4 C)

Combine all ingredients and mix until smooth. Icing should be refrigerated until you are ready to assemble the cupcakes. (This icing is on the thin side; you may want to adjust the proportions.)

Assembly: Just before serving, fill an icing bag (with a small tip) with ganache. Press tip into cupcakes and fill with a small amount of ganache.

Using another icing bag with a tip of your choice, pipe the icing onto the cupcakes. Serve immediately.


We've been trying to work more vegetables into our diet, so I decided to make roasted cauliflower. I have no idea where he got this recipe--he just pulled up the first good-sounding one he found on Google--but it's the same as the one Elise uses on Simply Recipes, so we'll go ahead and call it hers.

This was a pleasant recipe. Not amazing, but hey, it involves a vegetable, so I wasn't really expecting amazing.

Elise's Roasted Cauliflower

1 head of cauliflower
juice from 1 lemon
2-3 cloves minced garlic
olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Chop cauliflower. Toss with garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Place in one layer in a baking dish.

2. Bake 15-25 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with parmesan.

pea barley risotto

I told B that I would cook some real dinner recently. Closet Cooking is his favorite food blog, so he requested that I make Kevin's pea barley risotto.

I thought that a whole onion would be overpowering, so I replaced it with a shallot. I like shallots better anyway. We prefer our grains softer than al dente, so I cooked the barley longer and added extra broth (I think I ended up using about twice as much). I'm also lazy, so I got bored after twenty or thirty minutes of stirring and wandered off. I think you're just fine to do this as long as you check up on the dish every few minutes and then stir it constantly at the end to keep it from burning. It may decrease the creaminess. I don't know, but I do know ours tasted delicious. We were feeling a little skittish, because the last risotto we made involved practically a whole bottle of wine and was so soused we couldn't eat it, so we tried a batch with wine and a batch without. The batch without wine was fine, but the batch with wine was so much better than I won't be making it any other way. I forgot to stir in the parmesan at the end, but it was great anyway. We liked this so much we stocked up on barley and white wine on our next shopping trip so we could have it all the time. So thanks, Kevin, for the recipe.

pea barley risotto, modified from Closet Cooking
1 tablespoon butter
1 shallot (chopped)
1 clove garlic (chopped)
1 cup pearled barley
1/2 cup wine
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup peas
1/2 cup parmigiano-reggiano
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper to taste

1. Melt the butter in large sauce pan.
2. Add shallots and saute until softened.
3. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.
4. Add barley and stir to coat with the butter.
5. Add wine and stir until evaporated.
6. Add stock and stir occasionally, checking frequently.
7. When stock is nearly evaporated, check the texture of the barley. If it is still too firm, add more stock. When you like the texture, add the peas and continue to stir until stock is evaporated.
8. Add cheese, butter, salt, and pepper, and stir.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

lazy caramel brownies

I hate to go all Cake Doctor on you, but before I met Pierre Herme's recipes and learned what True Cooking was, I had this favorite brownie recipe. I'm sure you've seen some form of it online. You take a cake mix and throw in caramel and chocolate and marshmallows, and you get a chocolate confection that will put you in a diabetic coma. Being a sugar fiend and lazy, I modified it a bit. I increased the fillings, because if a little caramel is good, a lot is better, right? And I replaced the caramels + evaporated milk with plain old caramel sauce from a jar, because no one wants to spend half an hour unwrapping caramels.

This recipe comes with a warning: This is a *ton* of sugar. Too much for many people's taste. And you *cannot* serve it warm. You just can't. The brownies need to cool completely to room temperature to be good. If you serve them warm, not only are they ridiculously messy, but they taste much sweeter. To the point of being basically inedible. I made these for a sugar-eating contest with a friend this weekend and served them warm, and neither of us could get more than one of them down. When they're cold, I've single-handedly eaten a pan of them by myself in two days. They're that good.

caramel brownies

1 box chocolate cake mix, (the darker the better)
.66 C butter, melted
.33 C evaporated milk
1 C pecans, finely chopped or food processed until size of large crumbs
1 jar caramel ice cream topping
.5 bag mini marshmallows
.5 bag milk chocolate chips
.25 bag dark chocolate chips
handful of white chocolate chips (optional)

Mix the evaporated milk and melted butter into the cake mix until thoroughly combined. Add the nuts. Press 1/2 of dough into sprayed 9 x 13" pan. Bake about 6 minutes at 350. Sprinkle chocolate and marshmallows across crust. Pour caramel over top. Roll out remaining dough and press over the top. Bake about 15 minutes.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

floating islands

Carol Blymere's recent rendition of Thomas Keller's Iles Flottante reminded me that I'd been wanting to try Dorie Greenspan's version of this dessert.

I'd never made creme anglaise before, and I'd never poached anything, so I had fun trying this recipe. My creme anglaise turned out rather yellower and grainer (even after straining) than Dorie's beautifully smooth and white sauce, but it tasted great and added color to the dish, so I didn't mind. I had been afraid the islands would dissolve into a pan full of bubbles when I poached them, like the gnocchi I once tried to make, but they came out just fine. The dish as a whole was, well, really eggy. Without the caramel, it was nice, but not amazing. I decided to add the optional caramel.

I don't like hard caramel, but I topped the first servings with Dorie's caramel, just to give it a chance. And I still didn't like hard caramel, so I topped the next servings with generous portions of my honey caramel, and I loved it. The deep caramel flavor and the honey were just what the dish needed to give it some flavor, without sacrificing any of my fillings in eating it. Next time, I'd like to try a nice tart strawberry sauce in place of the caramel. (Or maybe with the caramel, although that seems weird. Maybe with a dark chocolate sauce instead of the caramel?)

Also, I had an unusual problem with my pictures this time. Normally, I take ten or twenty shots and spend half an hour deciding which is least ugly. This time, I couldn't decide which one I loved most--several of them actual looked edible. Many thanks to my husband for suggesting that I try a different lighting source.

Floating Islands
creme anglaise
2 C whole milk
6 large egg yolks
.5 C sugar
1.5 tsp vanilla

Bring the milk to a boil. Combine yolks and sugar in a heavy saucepan and whisk vigorously until thick and pale, 2-3 min. Temper yolks with a small amount of hot milk. Slowly add the rest of the milk while continuing to whisk. Put saucepan on medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until custard thickens, lightens in color, and coats the spoon (up to around 10 min.)--if you run your finger down the spoon, the track should remain. The anglaise should be cooked until it reaches 180 F.

Immediately remove from heat, strain into a bowl, and add the vanilla. Cover with plastic wrap pressed against the surface. Chill thoroughly (best if at least overnight, up to three days).

2 C milk
4 large egg whites, aged, at room temperature
pinch of salt
.25 C sugar
(makes 12)

Spread a clean kitchen towel on the counter near the stove and have a large slotted spoon at hand. Put the milk in a wide saucepan and bring to a simmer at low heat.

Beat whites on medium speed until foamy. Beat in salt. When eggs are opaque, increase speed to medium-high and add sugar 1 TB at a time. Whip until meringue is firm but satiny and still glossy.

Scoop up islands (about twice amount of egg) and lower into simmering milk, adding only as many as fit in the pan without crowding. (For smoother islands, transfer meringue between two large spoons a few times.) Poach for 1 minute. Gently turn over and poach 1 minute on the other side. Remove from milk and place on towel.

After cooking all islands, remove from towel and place on wax-paper lined sheet. Refrigerate 1-3 hours.

Dorie's caramel
.5 C sugar
.33 C water

Combine sugar and water in small, heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat, bring to a boil, and cook without stirring (swirling pan occasionally) until caramel turns a pale gold color (6-8 min.). Remove from heat and allow to cool just until thick enough to form threads when dropped from a fork. If it is too hard, rewarm slowly over low heat.

Pour creme anglaise onto plates. Place an island in the center and drizzle with caramel. Serve immediately.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

tea party cupcakes

My sisters came over for a tea party recently. My husband and I made these cupcakes for the party, and then my sisters helped me frost them. They are Oreo cream and Nutterbutter cream-topped chocolate cupcakes and white chocolate raspberry cream and strawberry cream-topped yellow cupcakes. Because we spent too long shopping, we threw the toppings on it a bit of a rush. I didn't have a big enough icing tip for the cookie crumbs to get through, so after the white chocolate raspberry, we gave up on making them cute and just slapped the whipped cream on. I liked this effect with the cookie crumbs, anyway.

chocolate cupcakes (Baking, Dorie Greenspan)
1 C flour
1/4 unsweetened cocoa
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 cube unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 C sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 C buttermilk
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

Grease 2 miniature muffin tins and line with muffin cups. Preheat oven to 350.

Mix together dry ingredients (except sugar). Beat butter until soft and creamy. Add sugar and beat 2 min. Add egg, then yolk and beat for 2 min. Beat in vanilla. On low speed, mix in half dry ingredients. Add buttermilk and mix until incorporated.. Mix in remaining dry ingredients. Mix in chocolate.

Fill muffin cups with batter. Bake until cupcakes pass toothpick test.

yellow cupcakes (The New Best Recipes, editors of Cook's Illustrated)
1.5 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1 C sugar
1.5 tsp baking powder
.5 tsp salt
8 TB unsalted butter, softened
.5 C sour cream
1 large egg, plus 2 yolks, at room temperature
1.5 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Grease 2 mini muffin tins and line with muffin cups.

Mix dry ingredients. Add butter, sour cream, egg, yolks, and vanilla, and beat until smooth and satiny, about 30 seconds. Scrape sides of bowl with rubber spatula and stir by hand until smooth and no flour pockets remain.

Divide among muffin cups. (This may take more than two tins, I'm not sure.) Bake until cupcake tops are pale gold and cupcakes pass toothpick test.

To top the cupcakes, I whipped a quart of whipped cream and added some vanilla. I left 1/4 unsweetened and added white chocolate raspberry ganache (1 lb. white chocolate, 1 bag of frozen raspberries food processed, simmered, and strained, and enough cream [started with 1/2 C] to make it goopy; I just added it to taste to the whipped cream). The white chocolate raspberry whipped cream needs work--more raspberry, less white chocolate. It came out tasting yogurty and not very raspberryish.

I sweetened the remaining whipped cream and divided it into equal parts. I stirred crushed Nutterbutters into one part, crushed Oreos into another, and food processed, heated strawberries into the last. The strawberries I used weren't very flavorful and didn't work well. The Nutterbutter and Oreo whipped creams were great, although they have to be eaten quickly or the cookie pieces go mushy.

fallen fairy cake

When I was baking the fairy cake, I thought it would be fun to make a honey caramel, too. One of the fairy cakes fell rather drastically, so I topped it with the caramel instead of filling it with whipped cream. By itself, the honey caramel is a bit strong for my taste. On the cake, though, I enjoyed it.

honey caramel

.5 C honey
1 C sugar
1.25-1.5 C heavy cream

Heat honey in pan and allow to reduce and darken (15-20 min. on med. heat). Remove from heat and whisk in half of heavy cream. Heat sugar on medium heat without stirring until dark translucent patches start to appear. Quickly stir together and add first the honey and cream mixture and then the remaining cream. Whisk until mixed thoroughly. Remove from heat. Serve over fairy cake base.

fairy cake

Every time I see a recipe for fairy cake or hummingbird cake, I get visions of this light, airy, summery, ethereal cake. And then I read the list of ingredients and realize that, while the cake sounds good, it is nothing at all like what I'd hoped for. The problem is, I can't figure out what it is I want.

Every time I condition my hair with Joico (recommended to me by the girl who cut my hair last and totally not worth the money, incidentally), I think, I want to eat this.

When I was drinking a Henry Weinhardt vanilla cream soda the other day, these ideas collided and I realized that the light, airy cake I've been craving is a citrusy honey vanilla cake.

So I pulled out Chocolate Desserts and used the cocoa cake for a base recipe to make a honey vanilla orange lemon cake. I soaked it in a honey vanilla orange lemon syrup and filled it with vanilla and honey whipped creams. The cake fell a little, so it was tough, and the whipped cream was too sweet. I think next time I'm going to add more vanilla, cut most or all of the honey out of the soaking syrup, and leave the powdered sugar out of the honey whipped cream. If there is a next time. I may make the cake base again; I'm not sure if I'll fill it with whipped cream. It just wasn't hitting the spot.

Fairy Cake

honey vanilla cake (adapted from Cocoa Cake, Chocolate Desserts, Pierre Herme)
7/12 C cake flour, -1 TB
3 1/2 TB corn starch
5 1/2 TB unsalted butter
9 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 1/4 C sugar, -1 TB
1 TB honey
1 TB vanilla
1 drop lemon oil
2 drops orange oil
5 large egg whites, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Sift together flour and starch. Melt butter and set aside to cool to room temperature. Divide sugar in half. Beat egg yolks until pale and fluffy, adding one half of the sugar sugar a bit at a time. Beat in vanilla, orange oil, lemon oil, and honey. Clean beaters. Beat egg whites to a soft peak. Gradually add the remaining half of the sugar and beat until peaks are firm and shiny.

Fold the dry ingredients and 1/4 the beaten whites into the yolk mixture. Stir a few teaspoons of this mixture into the cooled melted butter, stirring to incorporate the butter as much as possible. Add the butter and remaining whites to the yolks. Quickly and gently fold everything together.

Pour batter into a buttered 8 3/4" cake pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a knife inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Set cake aside to cool.

soaking syrup
6 oz water
2 drops lemon oil
2 drops orange oil
1 tsp honey
1 tsp vanilla

Mix all together. Heat briefly to ensure complete mixing. Set aside to cool.

honey and vanilla whipped creams
3 C heavy whipping cream4.5 tsp vanilla
1 TB honey
approximately 3/4 C powdered sugar

Beat whipping cream to soft peaks. Beat in 3 tsp. vanilla. Take 2 C of whipped cream and put in another bowl. Add app. 1/2 C powdered sugar and additional 1 tsp vanilla to larger bowl of whipped cream. Beat to firm peaks.

To 2 C of whipped cream, add 1 TB honey, 1/2 tsp vanilla, and app. 1/4 C powdered sugar. Beat until firm.

to finish:

Slice cake into 3 rounds. Soak each round with syrup before layering with whipped cream. On the bottom layer, spread vanilla whipped cream. In the middle, use the honey whipped cream. Finish the top with vanilla whipped cream.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


I tried madeleines for the first time at a local store about a month ago. We went back to buy more two weeks ago but couldn't find any. When we inquired about them, an employee told us they were seasonal. I'm hard pressed to understand how a cookie is seasonal, but this gave me a good excuse to go buy madeleine pans.

traditional madeleines (Baking, Dorie Greenspan)

2/3 C flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 C sugar
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt. Rub lemon zest into sugar until sugar is fragrant. Add eggs and mix 2-3 minutes on medium, until pale, thick, and light. Beat in vanilla. Gently fold in dry ingredients with spatula. Fold in melted butter. Press plastic wrap against surface of batter. Refrigerate at least 3 hours or up to 2 days.

Butter and flour 12 full-size madeleine molds, tapping out extra flour. Fill with batter. Bake 11-13 min. at 400 F.

classic brownies

One of B's bosses had a barbecue last night, so I made these brownies to bring. Fortunately, like most brownies, they were very forgiving. Somehow, I combined the butter, sugar, chocolate, and pecans but neglected to add the flour. (I really don't know what my deal is lately. I also almost wrecked the car yesterday--while B was driving.) I baked them fifteen minutes this way, realized what I'd done, and scraped them back out of the pan. I mixed them with the flour, baking powder, and salt and put them back in the oven, and they turned out just fine. Better than fine, actually. These are great brownies.

Classic Brownies (The New Best Recipe, Cook's Illustrated)

1 C pecans, chopped medium
1.25 C plain cake flour
.5 tsp salt
.75 tsp baking powder
6 oz unsweetened chocolated, chopped fine
12 TB unsalted butter, cut into six pieces
2.25 C sugar
4 large eggs
1 TB vanilla

Toast nuts on a baking sheet 5-8 minutes at 325 F. Melt chocolate and butter over a double boiler. Do not allow butter to separate. When melted, remove from heat and stir in sugar. Mix together flour, salt, and baking powder.

Spray 9 x 13" pan with vegetable oil and line with foil. (The CI folks claim this is to make the brownies easier to remove. It sort of seems like a waste of time to me.) Pour brownie batter into pan. Sprinkle nuts on top. (This is to prevent them from being steamed during baking.) Bake 30-35 minutes at 325.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

tomato pesto sandwiches

Since I haven't done any baking yet this week, I bring you tonight's dinner: tomato pesto sandwiches with havarti on toasted bread.

We live off tomato sandwiches in one form or another, as I'm always too busy cooking dessert to bother with dinner.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

lemon brulee (sugar-high friday)

I made lemon brulee and lemon tart for a work potluck today. The lemon tart didn't survive my post-midnight baking tactics, so I'll save that one to post another time. The lemon brulee was a little battle scarred, the crust having been forgotten in the oven while I was out buying extra cream cheese, but it still tasted good. I made extra crust this time, so I made a couple of minis in ramekins.

This is going to be my first contribution to Sugar-High Friday. It's lemon cream on a soft cheesecake filling with a shortbread crust. The whole thing is finished with a bit of bruleed demerara sugar.

Lemon Brulee

Shortbread (from The New Best Recipe, by the editors of Cook's Illustrated):

1.75 C unbleached, all-purpose flour
.25 C rice flour
.66 C superfine sugar (baking sugar)
.25 tsp salt
16 TB unsalted butter, cold

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Mix dry ingredients. Cut butter into pieces. Cut or rub into dry ingredients, using pastry cutter, food processor, or fingers. Stop when you have a bowl of pea-sized crumbs. Press into 9 x 13” pan.

Place in oven. Immediately turn heat down to 300 F. Bake for 40-60 minutes, until pale golden in color.


2 packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 qt heavy whipping cream, chilled
4 tsp vanilla
1-1.5 C sugar

Whip cream. Add vanilla and sugar to taste. Mix in cream cheese. Mix until smooth. Spread over cooled shortbread.

Lemon cream (from Baking, by Dorie Greenspan):

1 C sugar
zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
.75 C fresh-squeezed lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
2 sticks + 5 TB unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into TB-sized pieces

Rub zest into sugar until sugar is fragrant. Mix in lemon juice. Add eggs and mix thoroughly. Put in metal bowl over a pot of boiling water and whisk constantly until mixture thickens and reaches 180 F. Whisk will leave tracks in cream at this point. Remove bowl from pot. Pour cream through strainer (to remove zest and any egg bits that didn’t mix properly) into blender. Allow to cool about 10 minutes. Add butter pieces and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides of the blender occasionally.

Spread over filling. (This layer will be very thin, so spread carefully.)

Chill for a couple of hours. Before serving, sprinkle with demerara sugar and brulee sugar with torch. (You can probably stick it very briefly under the broiler if you don’t have a torch. I haven’t tried it, though.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

cream of spinach soup and creamy rosemary potato soup

I had the best soup ever last night. I hate spinach, but I love cream of spinach soup. I had it for the first time at a little bakery while we were on our honeymoon. I eat it every chance I get. Unfortunately, the bakery once serves it once a week, on a Tuesday or Wednesday, when it's usually impossible for us to drive out there. I've been meaning to learn to make it for months now, but I'm always intimidated by cooking real food. Moreover, when I get home from work, I'm starving and I want something that tastes good *now*, not something that might taste good in an hour or two. So I almost never cook dinner. We live on tomato sandwiches, toast, and cold cereal.

Anyway, I picked up some spinach last week, intending to make soup on the weekend. I just never got around to it, though. Hanging out with B and J and eating curry and then celebrating Mother's Day all sounded like more fun than cooking soup.

Last night, though, I had a major craving for cream of spinach soup. So I decided to give it a try. I pulled out my faithful America's Test Kitchen Best Recipes and was dismayed to find that they had no cream of spinach soup and no real cream soups to speak of. I decided to give my Julia books a try, even though my irrational fear of Julia's recipe is far greater than my irrational fear of cooking dinner.

If all of Julia's recipes are as straightforward as that soup, my fears were entirely unfounded. I have never cooked a dinner that was so fast and easy and tasted so good. A little sauteeing, a little boiling, a little mixing, and I had a wonderful, creamy, buttery bowl of spinach soup, every bit as good as the bakery's. It was so easy that I went ahead and used the base to make a batch of rosemary potato soup, as well. Julia's recipe says it serves six, so I doubled both batches.

Cream of Spinach Soup (Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, Julia Child)

5 TB butter
1/3 C onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt
3-4 C spinach leaves, chiffonaded
5 1/2 C chicken stock, boiling
3 TB flour
2 egg yolks
1/2 C cream

Saute onion in 3 TB butter until soft and translucent but not browned. Add spinach leaves and salt. Cover and cook on low until wilted, about 3 minutes. Stir in flour and cook over medium for 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in chicken broth.

Mix together egg yolks and cream in large bowl. Temper by whisking in 1 C of hot soup. Whisk in remaining soup in a steady stream. Finish by mixing in remaining 2 TB of butter (should be room temperature). (If you are planning to serve soup cold, do not add remaining butter.)

Rosemary Potato Soup (adapted from Julia Child's cream of spinach soup)

5 TB butter
1/3 C onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt
6 regular potatoes, peeled
3 TB flour
5 1/2 C chicken stock, boiling
2 egg yolks
1/2 C cream
2-3 tsp. fresh rosemary (or to taste)

Saute onion in 3 TB butter until soft and translucent but not browned. Stir in flour and cook over medium for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Chop two of the potatoes into chunks. Cook in broth until soft. Remove from broth. Rice into onion mixture. Add salt. Mix well.

Slice remaining potatoes and add to broth. Add rosemary. Cook until potatoes are soft.

Gradually whisk about half of the broth into the potatoes. Pour this into the remaining broth and stir.