Tuesday, August 30, 2011

{TWD} Blueberry Cornmeal Loaf-lets

Many years ago I learned a nifty trick from my sister-in-law for dressing up a plain box of Jiffy Cornbread mix: add blueberries and make muffins. I've served the blueberry/cornmeal muffins at brunches and luncheons, and they are always popular. When this week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe, Cornmeal Fruit Loaf came along, I knew exactly which fruit I wanted to try.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- We can thank Caitlin of the blog Engineer Baker for choosing this week's breakfast treat; click over to her post to find the recipe.

- Dorie's recipe calls for a mixture of dried and fresh versions of the same fruit. She suggests apples (dried + fresh) or pears (dried + fresh) At the time I baked this recipe, I had fresh + dried blueberries which I was excited to use, but in the future I'd try fresh + dried cherries.

- I made half a recipe. My pan collection has lots of cute little rectangular loaf pans that would have worked for the scaled-down recipe, but what caught my eye were some pretty flower-shaped baking molds that my daughter picked up for me when she traveled to Hong Kong. The batter is put together exactly like muffin batter, so I figured these would be perfect muffin-like loaf-lets. There was just enough batter in the half recipe to fill the four little pans.

- This was a simple recipe, and baked up in 22 minutes or so.

the verdict:

These were a lot like corn muffins with fruit in them. The dried and fresh blueberries combined to produce an intense blueberry sensation with each bite. We thought they were a terrific addition to the summer breakfast repertory. One suggestion: if you tend to like your cornbread sweet, go ahead and put the full measure of sugar in, otherwise you could cut the amount of sugar a bit.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Rich Vanilla Ice Cream a la Chez Panisse

This weekend the Berkeley, California restaurant Chez Panisse is celebrating the 40th anniversary of when it served its first meal. Far from being any ordinary restaurant, Chez Panisse, under the direction of its founder Alice Waters, was the standard bearer for fresh, local, and organic food, back at a time when those were exotic concepts.

Although I certainly cannot celebrate in person, I'm having a little virtual anniversary celebration right here on my blog, featuring a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from an old cookbook in my collection, Chez Panisse Desserts. I have the 1985 hardcover edition of the book, but it's available in softcover. I've included the recipe, below.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The recipe, as I made it, is at the end of this post, below.

- While I won't say I exactly changed the recipe, I made a few minor enhancements to boost the vanilla flavor. First, I used vanilla sugar for part of the sugar in the recipe. Vanilla sugar is about the easiest thing in the world to make: when you scrape the seeds out of vanilla pods, just rinse if necessary, then dry on the counter before popping them into a jar of regular sugar. The pods will infuse the sugar with a lovely flavor of vanilla.

- In addition to the recipe's directions to use vanilla seeds and infuse the custard with the pod, and my addition of vanilla sugar, I also added about 3/4 tsp of vanilla extract before churning. I learned that trick from David Lebovitz. His view is that several types of vanilla, especially extract with its alcohol base, give various experiences of the flavor: "Remarkably, alcohol also changes the way your senses ‘taste’ flavors, so I add a bit of vanilla extract to recipes even if I’ve infused them with vanilla beans."

- Incidentally, Lebovitz has a close connection with Chez Panisse. He worked in the kitchen there for 13 years, beginning as a line cook and ending up as the pastry chef, before leaving in 1999. Lebovitz is attending the 40th anniversary festivities this weekend, and has written a charming post about Chez Panisse.

- I also added a tiny pinch of salt.

the verdict:

This was the creamiest, most intensely vanilla-ish vanilla ice cream I've ever made. It had great texture and flavor, and held up well in the freezer.

the recipe:

Chez Panisse Vanilla Ice Cream
adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Remolif Shere
makes: 1 quart

1 vanilla bean
1 cup half and half ( I actually used 1/2 cup cream and 1/2 cup milk since I was out of half and half)
2 cups whipping cream
2/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
6 egg yolks (I used about 105 grams of yolk)
3/4 tsp vanilla extract

1. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the sugar, rubbing the mixture between your fingers until the sugar is fragrant.

2. Add the vanilla, sugar, vanilla pod, half and half, or milk and all the cream to a sauce pan. Warm the mixture, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.

3. Whisk the egg yolks in a separate bowl until just mixed. Gradually pour the hot mixture into the egg yolks in a steady stream, whisking constantly.

4. Pour all back into the sauce pan and heat over medium-low heat, stirring, until the mixture thickens slightly into a custard and coats the back of the spoon.

5. Strain the custard into a storage container, add back the pod to the custard, and chill in the fridge until cold.

6. Add the vanilla extract, remove the vanilla pod, and freeze in an ice cream maker.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

{TWD} Golden Brioche Raisin Bread

I ordered this cool cutting board here after hearing about it from Jaden of Steamy Kitchen

This week's recipe for the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group - the Golden Brioche Loaves - comes as a little bit of deja vu for those bakers who were part of the group's early history. Dorie Greenspan uses the same dough for this week's loaves as she uses as the base recipe for her Brioche Raisin Snails and her Pecan Honey Sticky Buns. Both of those treats were chosen in the first few months of TWD, so any bakers who were with the group from close to the beginning will have seen this dough previously.

I joined TWD after the sticky buns and raisin snails so I had not previously made Dorie's brioche formula, but I am not a total brioche newcomer. In bread bakers' terms, brioche is an "enriched dough" because it is, well, enriched - by a combination of eggs and butter. Brioche can be extremely rich, or it can be "lean" (which is still pretty rich) and used for en croute and other applications. I've baked a medium-rich brioche for the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge (you can read about that bread in this post on my bread blog) and I made a lean brioche dough of Dorie's when I made the brioche berry tart.

I decided to kill three birds with one stone this week. I froze two thirds of the dough so that I can use it for those Dorie Greenspan recipes that I missed, the Brioche Raisin Snails, and Honey Sticky Buns. Stay tuned for eventual posts on those breakfast goodies.

With the remaining third of dough, I decided to make another breakfast classic: raisin bread. Seriously, how delicious does brioche raisin toast sound?

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Margaret of Tea and Scones is the hostess for this week's brioche, and you can find the recipe on her post.

- Instead of active dry yeast, I used instant yeast, which doesn't need to be activated. Rather, it is added with the dry ingredients.

- I cut the quantity of sugar in half.

- I don't use a mixer for making bread, but I often use my food processor. One huge advantage to using the food processor for breadmaking is that you can start with cold ingredients; there is no need to warm them. The motor on the food processor can get hot, and it definitely warms up the bread ingredients as it mixes them. In many people's eyes, one huge disadvantage to using the food processor for bread dough is cleaning out the food processor once the dough is mixed!

Here's how I mixed the dough in my food processor: put the flour, salt, instant yeast and sugar in the bowl of the food processor and process enough to mix the dry ingredients. Slowly add the water, milk, eggs and process until the dough comes together. Add the butter and process until the dough passes the windowpane test. Then it is ready to transfer to the rising bucket.

- The brioche dough is very very soft, almost batter-like. Mine took a very long time to double.

- Once the dough has doubled, it rests in the fridge. After time in the fridge, the dough becomes quite stiff. that's when you form it into logs and lay them in the loaf pan to warm up, rise and then bake.

- To make the plain brioche into raisin brioche, I kneaded in some raisins, then divided the dough into four pieces. I flattened each piece, sprinkled it with cinnamon, and rolled it into a little log that lay crosswise in the loaf pan.

- I was way too lazy to break an egg to make egg wash for this little loaf, so I brushed the surface with some milk before popping it into the oven.

- My bread was baking swimmingly until I went to check it for doneness. One edge had stuck to the pan and when I loosened it with a spatula, I ended up deflating one side of the loaf. Which is why it looks so lopsided in the picture. Luckily, it was still fluffy and light inside.

the verdict:

Luckily the lopsided shape didn't matter once the bread was sliced up. The golden brioche made for a beautifully refined raisin toast. As if there wasn't enough butter in the dough (there was), the toast was fabulous warm with butter melting into the cinnamony raisiny tender crumb.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Tart Lemon Bars

Lemon bars are the Little Black Dress of the dessert world. They are season-less, elegant, and always in good taste. Nearly everyone likes lemon bars, making them a logical choice for a group, and they are fairly easy to transport, making them appropriate for nearly every occasion.

I've eaten many a lemon bar, and baked several different recipes (and a box mix or two, shhh!) in my day, and I was eager to try this recipe for Tart Lemon Bars from Alice Medrich's book Pure Dessert. Medrich's recipes are always impeccable, a perfect trait in a lemon bar!

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the recipe here.

- The recipe can be made with lemons or limes. Medrich notes that in the case of using Meyer lemons, which are milder in flavor than regular lemons, you should cut sugar nearly in half.

- I made this recipe several months ago when I had Meyer lemons on hand, so I decided to try that variation. I like that it has less added sugar.

- As they bake the bars can get a foamy film on the top, but no worries, the powdered sugar will cover it.

the verdict:

These lemon bars are amazing. They have a wonderful lemon flavor on a buttery crust. This will be my go-to lemon bar recipe from now on, and I am eager to try the lime version next!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

{TWD} not-so-Tropical not-so-Crumble

This week's recipe for the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group is called Tropical Crumble. The recipe's creator, the inimitable Dorie Greenspan, says, "think of this in the dead of winter, when a taste of the tropics can be as warming as a cashmere throw." For Gaye of Laws of the Kitchen who chose this crumble, this was indeed a taste of the tropics during the wintertime - she's in Australia where the seasons are the opposite of what I'm experiencing here in the US.

As for me, I don't have a huge incentive to experience the tropics at the moment; our temperatures have been sky-high for weeks, with humidity to match. Through the wonders of global trade I can definitely buy mangoes and bananas here year-round, but I turned instead to the plenitude of summer fruit that was filling my fridge and freezer. I had some ripce local peaches from my farm box, and a few weeks back when I was overrun with blackberries I'd tossed them in the freezer for future baking projects. Peaches and blackberries sounded like a winning seasonal combination to me.

While the "not so tropical" part was intentional, in the course of baking this recipe I had an unintended crumble fail. In the end, my dessert didn't bear a very close resemblance to the way I imagine this recipe was supposed to turn out.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the recipe on Gaye's post.

- As I was preparing to bake the crumble, my 1st question was how much fruit to use, seeing as I was using completely different fruit. So I put the issue out on twitter: "I need to figure out how many cups of fruit is the equivalent to two mangoes and four bananas. any guesses?" In a matter of minutes, I had a response. From none other than Nancie McDermott, who wrote the book on pies - literally - so if anyone knows her fruit, it's Nancie! And although she is a fellow Southerner (living in North Carolina), the cool thing is that she was traveling in Taiwan when she replied to my question! Her reply: "3 cups." Great! I had a plan.

- I had a fair amount of ripe peaches to use, and by the time it was all said and done, I probably used close to 4 cups of peaches and blackberries. Trying to approximate Dorie's instructions, first I cooked the peaches about 5 minutes on high and added the frozen blackberries for 2 additional minutes. I added a pinch of salt to Dorie's filling ingredients, and rather than a fresh lime, I used about 1/4 teaspoon of lime zest from my freezer. I refrigerated the cooked fruit mixture overnight.

- The topping recipe calls for 8 T butter to 1/2c brown sugar to 3T flour to 1/2c nuts. I didn't stop to think about that proportion, just measured and combined the ingredients and popped it into the freezer overnight. Looking back at it, that's a lot of butter for a relatively small amount of dry ingredients.

- The following day, I brought the fruit to room temperature, sprinkled on the frozen crumble topping and put it in the oven to bake.

- I'm pretty sure I measured my ingredients correctly. But as the dish was baking, the topping never became crumbly; in fact, it never became topping. It was just big pool of melted butter with some clumps of sugar and pecans discernible among the fruit

the verdict:

When I went to serve the "crumble" I spooned off as much of the pooled butter as I could, then put it in a bowl with some vanilla ice cream. My husband loved "the compote" and I agreed that it had good flavor. The lime and ginger paired beautifully with the peaches and blackberries, and the crunch from the pecans was lovely. Although it was a crumble #fail, it was at least a tasty flop!

Sometime I'd like to try this recipe as Dorie wrote it, with the bananas and mangoes, but before I did, I'd have to check the proportions of butter to dry ingredients so that it would be a true crumble rather than a buttery mess. I will be interested to see how this recipe worked for everyone else who baked this week.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

{TWD} Carrot Spice Muffins

When I signed up for the baking group Tuesdays With Dorie three years ago, there was a seemingly endless list of of names ahead of me in line to choose the weekly recipe from the book Baking; From My Home to Yours. But the day finally came for me to have a turn picking a recipe and playing virtual host to the group. I chose Swedish Visiting Cake, still one of my very favorite recipes in the book, and loved hosting the group for that week!

Never did I dream that I would have the opportunity to repeat the experience. But here we are, more than a year later, and there ended up being more recipes in the book than there are current bakers in the group. Through some sort of random selection process, some of us can choose a second recipe from among the remaining gems. It took me approximately a nano-second to select the Carrot Spice Muffins.

My husband and I (especially my husband) are huge fans of carrot cake (that was the flavor of our wedding cake 30 years ago!) and these muffins, according to Dorie, "have the spiciness of the all-American carrot cake...and...the cake's moistness" but in a breakfast-appropriate muffin version. Breakfast sweets are even more popular in our house than dessert ones - so this recipe had my name all over it!

I am thrilled to host this week and thank each person who baked the carrot muffins along with me. Sooner or later I will visit each of your blogs to check out the muffiny goodness.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- If you don't have Dorie's book, you are missing out on the best written, most deliciously conceived baking resource in print. Here's how you can get a copy of this book for your own kitchen:

Buy at Amazon
Buy at Barnes & Noble
Buy at Borders
Buy Indie

- You can scroll down to the bottom of this post to find the recipe for these muffins.

- No matter how much I'd like to have baked this recipe exactly as the inimitable Dorie wrote it, I was baking one of my husband's favorite sweets and he despises coconut, so I omitted it in my muffins. I added a couple of spoonfuls of toasted rolled oats instead.

- Had I added coconut, I would have used unsweetened flakes rather than that sweetened shredded stuff, and toasted them before stirring into the muffin batter.

- I used some carrots from my farm box. In addition to the fabulous flavor of these farm-fresh carrots, I love the variety of colors in the carrot bunches. The purple ones are my favorite: they are bright orange inside!

- In addition to the recipe's cinnamon and ginger, I grated some nutmeg and a bit of black pepper in with the dry ingredients.

- For most of the oil I used a light-flavor olive oil, but I used an ounce or two of regular olive oil also.

- For those who like the hearty nutty quality of whole grains, I think this would be a great recipe to replace some of the white flour for whole wheat. I used all white flour this time.

the verdict:

I love Dorie's assessment of this recipe: "...these carrot muffins...have enough spice and sweetness to keep you coming back for more, but not so much that you think you're eating dessert at the crack of dawn."

Even though Dorie was careful to design the recipe so that it would not be dessert for breakfast, my husband turned it around and had breakfast for his dessert. I baked these late in the day and when he came home from work they were cooling on the counter. Warm and fresh muffins make for a fine after-dinner treat!

Even with the extra spices I added, the muffins are lightly spiced. If you prefer a bolder flavor, you could probably double the quantity of spices.

And now, here's my husband's guest verdict:
First time I bit into one of the carrot muffins (warm from the oven, after dinner), a perfectly balanced taste and texture made my palate glow with a smile. Same thing even a couple of days later, if you store them correctly. These are not too dry, not too moist, not too greasy, not too sticky, not too sweet, but instead deftly walk a fine line though the minefield of mistakes that can yield unfortunate carrot related outcomes. They are my favorite.

I am thrilled to host this week and thank each person who baked the carrot muffins along with me. Sooner or later I will visit each of your blogs to check out the muffiny goodness. If you need the recipe, scroll down!

the recipe:

Carrot Spice Muffins
from Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan
makes 12 muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2/3 cup flavorless oil, such as canola, safflower or corn
2 large eggs
3/4 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup shredded carrots (about 3, peeled and trimmed)
1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1/3 cup moist, plump currants or raisins
1/3 cup pecans or walnuts, toasted, cooled and chopped

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter or spray the 12 molds in a regular-size muffin pan or fit the molds with paper muffin cups. Alternatively, use a silicone muffin pans, which needs neither greasing nor paper cups. Place the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the brown sugar, making certain there are no lumps. In a large glass measuring cup or another bowl, whisk the oil, eggs, milk, and vanilla extract together until well combined. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and, with the whisk or a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. Don't worry about being thorough - a few lumps are better than over-mixing the batter. Stir in the carrots, coconut, currants, and nuts. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted in the center of the muffins comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from its mold.

Serving: These muffins are delicious warm, but they're even better after they've had at least half an hour to cool. Like many sweets with spice, their flavor intensifies with time.

Storing: These are best the day they are made, but still good (and even a little spicier) 1 day later - just keep them well covered overnight and, if you'd like, give them a quick warm-up in a 350-degree-F oven, or split them and pop them into the toaster. You can also wrap the muffins airtight and freeze them for up to 2 months; rewarm them the same way.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Zucchini and Summer Squash Gratin

It's August, aka Month of Abundant Squash, when your garden, CSA box, or fridge produce drawer might be bursting with a bounty of yellow and/or green summer squash. What do you do with the piles of squash in your life? In my experience, zucchini bread has a pretty low squash-to-other-ingredients ratio, so after a loaf or two I'm on the hunt for ways to use up lots of squash.

Enter this recipe for Zucchini and Summer Squash Gratin. Last summer I was visiting my daughter, and her kitchen experienced a sudden influx of squash that needed to be used right away. We were brainstorming ways to use it, and my blogging friend Di suggested via Twitter that we make this gratin. That's what friends are for, right?

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The recipe is from Fine Cooking, and you can find it here. I love that the recipe ingredients are usually in my fridge, so when I have a bunch of squash I can throw this together just as quick as I can slice up the vegetables.

- Although the recipe specifies half green squash and half yellow squash, I tend to use whatever summer squash I have on hand.

- The last time I made the dish, I used a combination of Gruyere and Parmesan cheese, and it turned out beautifully (and deliciously!)

the verdict:

Really, how can you go wrong with summer vegetables plus cheese? I loved this dish, and so did my daughter and her friends. And when I got home, I made it for my husband and other daughter. Neither one of them likes squash one bit so I knew there was a chance that I would be eating the squash dish solo. But they liked it also. This dish has earned a regular spot on our summer dinner table, which is a very good thing, since my farm box is brimming with squash these days!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

{TWD} Cocoa Almond Meringues

Those of us who make ice cream on a regular basis - say, for the sake of example, once or twice a week - are absolutely thrilled to have something to do with the egg whites that accumulate as by-products when the yolks are used for the typical custard base. I'm always adding some extra whites to scrambled eggs, but a good many egg whites have taken up semi-permanent residence in zipper bags in my freezer.

This week's assigned recipe for the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group is Cocoa Almond Meringues, and meringues signify one thing to me: "egg whites"! I was more than excited to pull out a frozen bag of egg whites, but a good bit less excited when I discovered that the bag had leaked as it thawed, and there were egg whites oozing all over my kitchen counter. Thanks to the magic of paper towels, that was just a minor setback.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Mike of Ugly Food for an Ugly Dude chose the meringue recipe, and you can click over to his blog for the recipe.

- I've made meringues and I know that they bake in a relatively cool oven for a relatively long amount of time until they are relatively completely dry through and through. Sometimes they will be dry on the outside but still soft inside, which means to bake them a little longer and test them again.

- These meringues were different for me. I followed the directions exactly and at the end of the prescribed time, the meringues were soft to the touch. On the outside. So I baked them for an extra 15 minutes, then left them in oven as it cooled.

- As they baked, my meringues didn't get bumpy and cracked like the picture in Dorie's book. Instead they flattened and smoothed out. Their insides stayed soft, and even a bit gooey. I'm suspecting that although Dorie says "their interiors are wonderfully chewy and their flavor a bit caramelish, slightly nutty and quite chocolaty," mine might have been a bit more chewy than she intended. It's possible that the summer humidity might have been a factory, but our house is fully air conditioned, and it's pretty dry in our house.

the verdict:

I must admit that I wasn't particularly disappointed that the meringues that came out of my oven were not particularly meringue-like. Chewy cookies are my very favorite kind, and these were wonderful. I kept sampling them until I finally put them in a zipper bag and froze them (although I soon found that they are even better straight from the freezer!)