Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pistachio marzipan brownies

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas, if that's your sort of thing. I have been taking my 2 weeks of vacation very seriously, and have only baked a few pies and a birthday cake. I made this confection above the week before Christmas, and have been wanting to tell you about it, but couldn't find the time in the holiday mayhem. I'm not really sure what to call this, but the texture of the chocolate part was fudgy, with crispy edges, and the pistachio marzipan was rich and delicately flavoured. Together, they were outstanding, and I'm not even a chocolate fanatic.
I adapted this recipe from the gevulde speculaas, or spice cake with almond paste I made last month, by substituting Dutch-processed cocoa for some of the flour and making a sweetened pistachio paste from the fabulous, fresh Iranian pistachios available just down the street. I omitted the spices, but I bet a chocolate spice version would be fantastic. I baked it in a rectangular tart pan, but a round cake pan would also work well. Blanching and peeling the pistachios was a time-consuming business, but the end result was so worth it. Umm, that's a lot of 'buts', but I can't think of any other words right now. Bear with me. The brownies kept well in a covered container for well over a week, though I cut a small slice every time I walked by. 
Pistachio marzipan brownies
Adapted from Warm Bread and Honey Cake

1⅓ cups all-purpose flour
⅓ cup Dutch-process cocoa
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
7 oz/1 cup brown sugar
6 oz/¾ cup unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
1 egg, well beaten
10½ oz pistachio marzipan (I made my own, see below)
about ½-¾ of a beaten egg (reserve the rest for glazing)
  1. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt and sugar in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the beaten egg and run the food processor until the dough comes together. Try not to eat all the dough. Divide the dough into ⅓ and ⅔ portions, shape in discs, wrap separately in plastic and refrigerate. Chill for one hour. It can be made the day before, but will need to warm up before rolling to prevent it from breaking up.
  2. Preheat oven to 340℉/170℃  and grease a 9" cake pan, or a 13"x4" tart pan.
  3. Mix the pistachio paste with enough beaten egg to make a fairly soft, spreadable filling. Set aside. Roll out the larger portion of dough between 2 pieces of plastic wrap until it is about 1" larger than your pan on all sides. Make sure there are no creases in the plastic wrap. Use this piece of dough to line the pan, pressing it to the sides of the pan so it doesn't fall inward. Spread the pistachio paste evenly over the dough and fold in the dough edges so they rest on it. Reuse the plastic wrap to roll the smaller piece of dough into an 8½" circle. It should be slightly smaller than the cake pan. Trim it so the edges are neat. Moisten the edges of the dough in the pan and lay the smaller circle on top. Press the edges gently together to seal. Brush with the leftover beaten egg and prick with a fork in several places.
  4. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Leave to cool in the pan, then transfer carefully to a serving plate. If you can stand it, wrap this and let it sit for a day or two before serving for best flavour.
Pistachio marzipan
10 ounces/283 grams shelled pistachios
7 ounces/200 grams granulated sugar
2 egg whites

This was rather labour-intensive, so if you can find shelled, blanched pistachios, it'll be worth it. Otherwise, pick up about twice the weight of pistachios in the shell.
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add pistachios and blanch for 30 seconds to one minute. Test one by running it under cold water and seeing if the reddish skin comes off easily. If so, drain and rinse with cold water. Now, one by one, squeeze the pistachios to remove the skin. This is what keeps the marzipan bright green. Once they are all skinned, place on a towel-lined baking tray and allow to dry for at least 3 hours. Do not dry in the oven, as the colour may fade.
  2. Combine pistachios and sugar in a food processor and grind as finely as desired. I leave mine with a bit of texture.
  3. Add egg whites and process until well blended. Scrape into a container and refrigerate or freeze. This keeps well, and is best made in advance. 
Clockwise from top: pistachios in shell, shelled, blanched, marzipan
Oh, and here's the last slice of my mother's birthday cake: one for the baker!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cardamom crumb cake

I was so excited when I saw this cake appear on the December recipes list, thanks to Jill of Jill's Blog. However, with work, a nasty bug and general holiday craziness, I didn't get much time to spend on this. The one night I was able to bake this I discovered that I didn't have enough cardamom for both the cake and the crumbs. I put what I had in the cake, as I'm not usually a fan of crumb toppings and figured I'd be picking it off anyway. I know many people who prefer the crumb topping to the actual cake, but I am definitely not one of them. Other changes I made were to use slivered almonds instead of walnuts and I omitted the orange, as I wasn't convinced that it would work with both the coffee and cardamom. In the end, I didn't much like this cake, but I think it was probably my own fault. I found it tasted more of coffee than cardamom, and the texture was a bit coarse, like those boxed snack cake mixes my mother would occasionally buy when I was a child. Oh, and no surprise, but I didn't like the crumb topping. One good thing about it was that it kept very well: it sat around for about a week before I took a photo of it, and it was still perfectly fresh-tasting. Please don't let my poor results deter you--this was a well-liked cake by the rest of the TWD bakers. You can find the recipe here. I do have my eye on another cardamom cake recipe, so hopefully I'll be more successful next time. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Cupcake art

I have finally got over a nasty cold/sore throat that I had been fighting (and mostly losing) for about 2 weeks. As a result, I haven't felt much like baking. I did make 4 big pots of soup over that time, and I ate lots of poached eggs. Thursday I baked for the first time in a while, but you'll have to wait a few days to see what I made. It's worth the wait, trust me. Have I ever steered you wrong? However, while I was lying on the sofa and generally moping, others were busy. Most excitingly, one of my photos from the summer was turned into a print by Lisa Orgler of The Lunchbox Project. Lisa paints pictures of food and I love her quirky style. She asked for submissions of cupcakes for a poster she's putting together, and she chose mine! Here it is, with my original photo beside it. Here's the link to the original post, with recipe.

In other news, I spent the day yesterday making a birthday cake for my mother's surprise party tomorrow. It's a 2-layer, 12" vanilla genoise with raspberry and vanilla buttercreams. I will try to get a photo, but it's hidden in her garage, frozen solid. And, my Escher salamander cookies showed up in Not So Humble Pie's science cookie roundup #8. Check it out here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Daring Cooks poach to perfection!

I am always nervous when the Daring Cooks' challenge is revealed. What if it something really meaty? That just does not appeal to me. Eggs, on the other hand, are a staple for any meal around here. This was a perfect challenge, as I had already made the challenge recipe of Eggs Benedict, so I could branch out a bit and try other poached egg recipes. In fact, I got a bit carried away and made 4 different dishes, only missing making the fifth because I was out of a key ingredient.
First up, egg hoppers. Hoppers are a Sri Lankan stovetop yeast bread made with coconut milk. Usually an egg is cracked and cooked in the bread, but I poached mine and topped them with a coconut and curry leaf sambol. This was the dish I could not stop eating, and I think I had 8 of these until the sambol finally ran out.
Egg hopper with karapincha sambol
Next, I revisited Japan, and one of my favourite breakfasts. Hot rice, natto, and egg. What is natto, you wonder? Well, it's fermented whole soybeans that are quite slimy. They are often served with a raw egg beaten in, but I used a lightly poached one. Some say that natto is stinky, but I don't think so at all. This makes a filling, savoury breakfast. It was also a great excuse to use the natto bowl and spoon a friend had sent me from Japan.
Rice, natto, poached egg and black sesame seeds
Hmm, where to next? Well, back to Eggs Benedict, the dish that every brunch joint in North America serves. This is what I order almost every time I go out for brunch. I've had them on steak, lobster, crab cakes, biscuits, focaccia, with back bacon, with spinach... I had only made them once before at home, and that was for an Easter brunch of about 15 guests. This time, I made them for myself, for an indulgent breakfast on a day I wasn't working. First, I made crumpets, then topped them with steamed spinach, the eggs, and hollandaise sauce topped with a bit of smoked paprika or ancho chile, I can't remember now. Delicious!
I really wanted to make the oeufs en meurette, or eggs poached in a red wine sauce, but there are lots of mushrooms involved, and I'm not a fan of the fungus. I also thought about doing an eggs in tomato sauce, as that's another staple around here, but I just never got around to it. Instead, I enjoyed my eggs benny...
...and then it came to me. Of course! Eggs poached in maple syrup, that sugar shack specialty. I decided to make some buckwheat crepes and peppercorn crusted, very crispy bacon to accompany the eggs. Now, if you're recoiling at the idea of poaching eggs in syrup, relax! It's not nearly as sweet as you might imagine, especially when served with the unsweetened crepes. Don't forget to dunk your bacon in the syrup too!
 And now, the official blog-checking lines for a great challenge. Thanks Jenn and Jill!

Blog-checking lines: Jenn and Jill have challenged The Daring Cooks to learn to perfect the technique of poaching an egg. They chose Eggs Benedict recipe from Alton Brown, Oeufs en Meurette from Cooking with Wine by Anne Willan, and Homemade Sundried Tomato & Pine Nut Seitan Sausages (poached) courtesy of Trudy of Veggie num num.

Challenge PDF, recipes and recipe links can be found after the jump.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tuile not get the best of me!

What's your favourite thing to bake? Mine is cake. Not only do I love the texture, especially of a sponge cake, but the method suits me. You pay attention for a few minutes while you whip up the batter, then you put it in the oven and you've got at least 25 minutes before you have to pay attention again. Oh, and when you can smell a cake, it's almost ready. Cookies, on the other hand, require a whole different level of attention that I haven't got. Mixing the dough is fine, but then you have to roll it/cut it/mark it with a 'B'/divide it evenly/roll it into balls/roll them in sugar/press them flat with a fork or glass/space them evenly on the baking sheet/prepare that baking sheet/pay attention for 6 to 12 minutes or so/cool on sheet for a bit/remove to a rack to cool/cool baking sheet. And that only gets you about a dozen cookies, so you have to repeat! They sure do taste fantastic fresh from the oven, though. Why am I going on like this? Well, these tuiles and I are not friends, for many reasons. I made them a couple of months ago, to go with some pumpkin ice cream, but it took a few tries to get it right. I got it really wrong in a number of ways, including one smoke alarm incident. You can read about it here.
Tuile version 1.4, from earlier this year
Why could I make complex things, with multiple components like wedding cake, croquembouche, tian and pavlova, but not a simple cookie? So, when this recipe came up in TWD, I was leery. Did I need to make these again? Was it just bad kitchen karma the last time I tried? Well, the answer is yes, and no. I decided to try again, because they seem so simple. 4 ingredients, one of which is maple syrup. Then, Nancy posted the ingredients in weights, so it seemed easy enough just to make a half recipe. That would have been great, except for the attention span issue. Whenever I halve/double a recipe, I always forget to halve/double one ingredient. I can only pay attention for so long... This time it was the flour. I must have forgotten to halve it (for the second time that day), and didn't notice until I went to pull the first tray from the oven. They had hardly spread and could not even charitably be described as lacy. So, I added a bit of butter and syrup to the rest of the batter and tried again. They were even worse. At this point, I thought it was high time to give up. But, as bedtime approached, I couldn't. I made another half batch, carefully measuring all the ingredients this time.
Version 2.1 (in front) and 2.2 (in back): too much flour, but they tasted like
maple fortune cookies. I may be on to something.
Early the next morning, I got the batch you see up top in the oven, and I am so happy to say that they worked out well. They were crisp and lacy, and easy to remove from the baking sheet. I was so happy, that I had a few with breakfast, along with fruit salad in my favourite bowl.
Thanks so much to Clivia for selecting this recipe! I can now say I enjoyed the process, but I am not going to be making these again for a long while! I actually find them too rich and sweet, and greasy coming off the cookie sheets. Or perhaps that's just the contrast with the sour grapes! I promise not to complain next time. Even though I did get strep throat at school. See what the rest of the TWD gang thought here.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Hazelnut-buckwheat crêpes with pear-ginger compote and crème fraiche

I recently joined the Food52 site when I saw that you could sign up to test recipes that members had submitted. These days, it seems that I belong to too many cooking groups, but I liked that with this one, you only sign up if there's a recipe you'd like to test. For me, that means dessert recipes. Then, it's as easy as writing a 100-word review and sending it in to the editors to help them make their picks for the week's winner. I haven't got around to submitting a recipe yet, as I always seem to be cooking someone else's, but hopefully soon.
I chose this recipe because it seemed to have a really interesting mixture of textures and flavours, and also because I love both buckwheat and crêpes. I loved the pear compote, with its sharp, gingery and lemony syrup. Sadly, I did not love the crêpes. I found them really heavy, and, if I make this again, I will eliminate the hazelnuts in the crepes and just use them as a garnish. The only change I made to the recipe was to use a rich, thick, local Greek-style yogurt in place of the crème fraiche. It was what I had on hand, and I actually prefer it.

This recipe was submitted by user KTC, who has a brand-new blog called Whip & Spoon

Hazelnut-buckwheat crêpes with pear-ginger compote and crème fraiche
Serves 6

Pear-Ginger Compote:
8 pears, firm but ripe
Juice from one lemon
Juice from one orange
2-3 strips lemon zest
2-3 strips orange zest
¼ cup honey
½ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, beans scraped from pod
1 cup cup white wine, such as Moscato (or a dry wine will work, too)
1-1½ cups water (enough to cover pears in pan)
2 1-inch pieces fresh ginger, peeled
6-ounce container creme fraiche
  1. With a swivel peeler, peel skins off pears. Remove stems and cut in half. Cut each half into four even wedges; remove seeds and tough interior with a paring knife. Add to 2.5 quart sauce pan.
  2. Using a swivel peeler, remove zest strips from orange and lemon; juice lemon and orange. Add lemon and orange juice and zest strips, honey, sugar, vanilla beans and pod pieces, white wine, and ginger pieces to pan. Add one cup water (plus extra, if needed, in order to just cover the pears).
  3. Bring to a boil; allow to boil for just a few minutes. Turn down heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until pears are easily pierced with a sharp knife but not falling apart.
  4. With a slotted spoon, remove pear slices from ginger syrup and set aside.
  5. Turn up heat, bring syrup to a boil, stirring occasionally, until it's reduced to about 1.5 cups golden, thick syrup. Pour juices released by cooling pear pieces into the syrup as you cook it.
  6. Remove ginger pieces, vanilla bean pieces, and lemon and orange zest strips from syrup. Add pears to syrup.
  7. Keep pear-syrup mixture on low heat if you plan to serve immediately. Otherwise, cover and refrigerate; reheat when you're ready to use it.
Hazelnut-Buckwheat Crepes:
1 cup cold water
1 cup whole milk
4 eggs
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup sifted buckwheat flour
1½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 cups whole unsalted hazelnuts
2 teaspoons sugar
  1. Place water, milk, eggs, sugar, salt, and buckwheat and white flour into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (alternatively, you can use a hand mixer or a whisk and mix by hand).
  2. Mix on high (or vigorously, if by hand) for a few minutes until all ingredients are fully incorporated and batter is smooth. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
  3. Put hazelnuts onto a cookie sheet and into an oven preheated to 350 degrees. Roast them for 10 minutes (or, until skins start to pull away from the nuts and they turn golden). Remove the hazelnuts from the oven, wrap them in a clean kitchen towel, set aside for a few minutes to steam, then rub vigorously using the towel to remove as much of the skin as possible.
  4. Divide hazelnuts into two even batches. Place one batch onto a clean plate; place a second plate on top of the hazelnuts and press down firmly a few times to crack the nuts into large pieces. Set aside to use as a garnish.
  5. Repeat the above step with the second batch of hazelnuts then place the roughly cracked pieces onto a clean cutting board and chop them into fine pieces, about the size of Grapenuts. (Alternatively, you could chop them in a food processor, pulsing until you get the desired result, being careful not to overchop them into a paste). Set finely chopped hazelnuts aside.
  6. When you're ready to cook the crepes, bring the batter to room temperature. Check the consistency of the batter--it should just coat the back of a spoon, like a heavy cream. Add water a little bit at a time if you need to thin the batter, then stir in the finely chopped hazelnuts (it's best to add the hazelnuts just before you cook the crepes, otherwise, if they sit in the batter, they will get soggy). Heat a 6-inch nonstick skillet over high heat, add a dab of butter (enough to thinly coat the bottom of the pan), lift the pan from the heat, and pour 1/4 cup batter into the center of the bottom of the pan as you quickly swirl it around to spread the batter evenly.
  7. Return the pan to the heat. As it cooks through, gently peel it from the pan with a rubber spatula; flip the crepe with the spatula or your fingers and cook it on the second side until light golden brown. Repeat until all crepes have been cooked (stir the batter before you ladle the batter for each crepe, since hazelnuts may settle to the bottom of your bowl).
  8. To assemble, fold the crepes in half, then in half again. Place one or two on a plate. Top with 8 or so pear pieces; spoon ginger syrup over the top. Add a dollop of creme fraiche. Sprinkle coarsely chopped hazelnuts on top.

Read more: http://www.food52.com/recipes/7694_hazelnutbuckwheat_crepes_with_pearginger_compote_and_creme_fraiche#ixzz1759hNUKX

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Ad Hoc chocolate chip cookies

Are you always in search of the ultimate chocolate chip cookie recipe? It seems to me, from wasting time online my extensive research, that folks want a very chewy cookie. Caky is bad. Too thin and crisp is usually bad. So, basically we are looking for warm cookie dough, I think. Have I got my finger on the pulse of chocolate chip cookie lovers? Or is that a bit too personal?
Anyway, I was looking for something to make for the Ottawa Foodies potluck that happened recently. I had to work that morning, so it couldn't be too elaborate. It needed to be portable and not require any serving utensils, because I was too lazy to bring my own. So, cookies it was. I made a double batch of dough the night before and finished baking them seconds before I ran out the door, only an hour late. After reading Valerie's post on the cookies I decided to reduce the flour by a fair bit, as I did want the chewiest cookies possible. That made my cookies much flatter than hers, but I loved the texture, even a couple of days later. Yes, I kept tasting in the service of sharing my findings with you. I'm unselfish that way.
I froze the leftover dough and baked them to send to a friend for her birthday. I underbaked them, hoping they'd still be somewhat soft when Canada Post finished mangling them. Amazingly, they survived the journey. This batch wasn't as flat as the first batch, but the only picture I got were of the ones I forgot in the oven and didn't mail! They are brown and crisper, but still very good.
The overdone batch: dark and crispy
Oh, and what is with cookie yields? This recipe apparently makes 30 3-inch cookies, and I doubled it, expecting 60 or so. I used EXACTLY the measure called for and got about 100. Here's the recipe:

Chocolate chip cookies
from Ad Hoc at Home, by Thomas Keller

2⅓ cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 ounces 55% chocolate, cut into chip-sized pieces (about 1¼ cups) I replaced this with milk chocolate
5 ounces 70 to 72% chocolate, cut as above  I used 72%
8 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces *
1 cup packed dark brown sugar, preferably molasses sugar. I added a dollop of molasses to brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
Vanilla--not in recipe, but I couldn't help adding it

*I just noticed the 'cold' as I was typing. Maybe that's why mine were flatter. Oops.

For chewier cookies, instead of underbaking them, Keller recommends misting them with water before baking. I tried it, but couldn't tell the difference between those and the unmisted ones, so didn't bother after the first tray.

Preheat oven to 350℉. Line 2 baking sheets with Silpats or parchment.
Sift the flour and baking soda together and stir in the salt.
Put the chopped chocolate into a fine-mesh strainer and shake to remove any chocolate 'dust'.
Beat half the butter until fairly smooth. Add both sugars the remaining butter, and beat until well combined, then beat for a few minutes, until the mixture is light and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until the first one is incorporated before adding the next, and scraping the bowl as necessary. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed to combine. Mix in the chocolate, and fold with a spatula to ensure that the chocolate is evenly incorporated.
Using 2 level tablespoons per cookie, shape the dough into balls. Arrange 8 cookies on each pan, leaving about 2 inches between them, as dough will spread. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the tops are no longer shiny, rotating pans and switching racks if you are baking 2 trays at once.
Cool the cookies on the pan on cooling racks for about 2 minutes to firm up a bit, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.
The dough or shaped cookies can be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 weeks. Defrost frozen cookies in the fridge before baking.
Apparently makes 30 3-inch cookies, but I got substantially more than that.
The original batch: paler, flatter and chewier. Cloudier that day, too.