Tuesday, December 29, 2009

{TWD} Low and Lush Chocolate Cheesecake

This week the assigned recipe for the Tuesdays with Dorie baking group, the Low and Lush Chocolate Cheesecake became the "Oh, NO! It's Smushed Cheesecake" (see? it rhymes with the original name!) in my kitchen. Luckily, however, despite a deep crater in the cheesecake, nobody was deterred from wanting it for dessert at Christmas dinner.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The cheesecake was chosen by Tealady (Margaret) of Tea and Scones. Margaret is a fun and gracious baker who features lots of delicious food on her blog. Stop by to see all the fabulous things she's cooking up. The cheesecake recipe will be on her blog, or you can find it on page 243 of Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking: From My Home to Yours.

- I made a chocolate crust for the cheesecake from homemade chocolate wafer cookies. This was the brilliant idea of my baking buddy Di, of Di's Kitchen Notebook. We baked Alice Medrich's Cocoa Wafers the same day, and compared baking notes via Twitter (you can find the recipe for the Cocoa Wafers here). I used about 20 of the wafers for the crust, grinding them in two batches in my mini food processor. I made a mistake reading the sugar measurement and ended up with about 3 times too much sugar in the crust.

- Dorie promises that this cheesecake is simple to make. Although there were several steps involved in preparing the cheesecake and plenty of dirty dishes generated -- small food processor to make the cookie crumbs for the crust (pre-crushed cookies would have saved that step), large food processor for mixing the filling, bowl for melting chocolate, bowl for mixing crust, springform pan for baking the cheesecake, a pan to put under the springform pan to catch any leaks -- there is NO WATER BATH, so it is automatically easy in my book.

- Despite the fact that I rapped the food processor bowl like a fiend on my counter top, there were still bubbles in my cheesecake.

- Before baking, the filling did not taste - or look - very deeply chocolate-y.

- I baked the cheesecake for 35 minutes, which may have been over-baked. Cracks were just beginning to form on the top and the center was no longer jiggly.

- The center was lower than the outside, which had puffed. But as it cooled, the cake became perfectly level.... at least for a little while. Then followed a bizarre series of events that began with bland-tasting chicken breasts, continued with a fire in my microwave, and concluded with a 1 pound jar of honey (complete with honeycomb) falling out of a cabinet directly into my cooling cheesecake.

the verdict:

My brother and sister-in-law were hosting Christmas dinner this year. On Christmas Eve I informed them of the unfortunate mushed fate of the cheesecake, and told them that I'd bring a plate of assorted Christmas cookies. My brother look at me incredulously and said, "Are you kidding? I want that cheesecake!" "Who cares what it looks like?" added my sister-in-law.

A little camouflaging holly and a high-heeled cake server really helped dress up the smushed cheesecake!
The cheesecake turned out to be a big hit at the Christmas celebration. It was creamy and smooth, and the chocolate crust really boosted the chocolate quotient, because the filling was very mildly chocolate. Truth be told, I think that the chocolate wafer crust really made the dessert (luckily the extra sugar in the crust didn't ruin it, but it would be even better with a bit less sweetness.) For next time I'd definitely repeat the chocolate crust, and maybe add a bit more chocolate to the filling.

Thanks, Margaret, for making such a great baking choice for Christmas week. My extended family was very pleased with this dessert!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Merry Christmas from The Dogs Eat the Crumbs!

I've been giving this a lot of thought, and I'm pretty sure that gingerbread is my favorite baked good, so I was unable to resist buying the cookbook Gingerbread for myself for Christmas. I didn't even peek inside before I wrapped it up for Christmas day. But I was still quite interested in gingerbread, so I fed my obsession by baking a couple kinds of gingerbread cookies and these gingerbread cupcakes, which I baked for a friend's Christmas party.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I had seen a lot of blogs feature Martha Stewart's Gingerbread Cupcakes. Martha uses a vanilla frosting and tops her cupcakes with little cutout gingerbread cookies. I had already baked a bunch of mini-gingerbread snowmen and snowflakes that I could use to decorate my cupcakes.

- The reviews for Martha's cupcakes were a bit mixed, with a few people finding them bland. I've got to say that "land" is the kiss of death for a gingerbread recipe in my book. Luckily my friend Tracy of Tracy's Culinary Adventures gave me a told me that Betty of Eat My Cupcake had rewritten Martha's recipe and ended up with good gingerbread cupcakes. I baked my cupcakes according to Betty's recipe. [edit: I realize that I left out the link to the recipe on Betty's blog. You can find it by clicking here.]

- I weighed the flour on my kitchen scale, estimating 3 5/8 oz per cup.

- I overfilled the muffin cups too much, so my cupcakes weren't as pretty as they would have been had I willed them with the proper amount of batter.

- Instead of Martha's vanilla frosting, I mixed up some lemon cream cheese frosting from Cook's Illustrated.

- My cupcakes were a bit oily when they came out the oven. Next time I'd probably add a bit more flour ( maybe use the measure of 5 oz per cup)

the verdict:

These cupcakes were adorable and I loved the deep spicy gingerbread flavor. I'm sure that these will have a regular spot in my holiday baking repertory.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

{TWD} Dorie's Favorite Pecan Pie

The Tuesdays with Dorie recipe chosen for this week is Dorie Greenspan's My Favorite Pecan Pie. It is a classic pecan pie, with a twist: Dorie adds chopped chocolate to the pie filling. The December recipe assignments were announced before Thanksgiving, which was great because that holiday is all about the pies. (Well, and turkey too, of course.)

Even though pecan pie is traditional at our Thanksgiving table, I dragged my feet about making this recipe. It used to be that I was philosophically opposed to adding chocolate to my pecan pie. I mean, a good pecan pie is perfection all by itself, I had a wonderful recipe with maple syrup rather than light corn syrup, and I saw no need to add chocolate. But then last year I baked a Texas Chocolate and Pecan Pie (from Bon Appetit) for my brother's Thanksgiving dinner (posted here), and it was absolutely delicious. So, grudgingly, I'm no longer hostile to the idea of chocolate in pecan pie. But still I debated whether to bake this one or not because it is nearly identical to the Texas pie, which I'd baked and posted a year ago. I was in the mood for my regular pecan pie. Or this Virginia Willis pecan pie recipe. Or the Pecan Maple Pie from the Tartine baking book. Although in theory I could bake a pecan pie any old time, the reality is that I will only bake one for Thanksgiving.

Enough whining. In the end I settled myself down and baked Dorie's Favorite pecan pie. I've never missed baking the weekly recipe for TWD since I joined the group in July 2008, and I wasn't willing to make an exception, even for a pie that was nearly the same as one I've already baked. We loved it last year, so I figured we'd love it this year!

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The major difference is that the chopped chocolate melted in the that recipe, but is stirred into the pie filling unmelted in Dorie's recipe.

- I followed the recipe nearly exactly, except for substituting golden syrup for the corn syrup. Inspired by Virginia Willis recipe (linked above), I increased the pecans by 50%.

- For a crust I used the Cook's Illustrated Vodka Crust (which I posted here). When I blind baked the crust, it sagged, so I decided to make just 2/3 recipe of the filling. I didn't think a full recipe would fit, especially with the extra pecans.

- I might have overbaked the pie. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I did. There was a lot going on in my kitchen on Thanksgiving.

- Because I was transporting three pies (and about 7 other dishes) to my brother's house for Thanksgiving dinner, and the capacity on my pie carrier is one pie, I was very excited to read a tip about carrying pies in the compartments of a 10" bamboo steamer. What a brilliant idea, I thought, and grabbed a steamer at the store. Fortunately I tested out my pie pans in the steamer in advance of the pie-baking session. It turns out that a standard pyrex glass pie plate is too wide to fit in the steamer. My favorite pie plates are smallish-but-deepish metal ones from a pie shop in Connecticut (you could keep the pie plate when you bought a pie, or you could get some money back if you returned the pan to the store). These pans just barely fit in the steamer, and only if the crust wouldn't overhang the edge of the pan at all. A double crusted pie wouldn't have fit, even in that smaller pan.

pecan pie on top, apple custard pie with streusel topping, on bottom

- If you use a bamboo steamer for a pie carrier, I'd recommend folding a dish towel and placing it in the steamer underneath the pan, which will make the pie much easier to remove from the steamer. Too thick a towel, however, and the pie will be too tall for the steamer lid to fit over it.

the verdict:

I'll be honest here. I had a sliver of this pie on Thanksgiving, and, while it went down easy, and seemed tasty enough, I couldn't give it full evaluative attention at the end of a wonderful meal of all new recipes, so I can't render a fair verdict. Luckily I have a report from another taster. My sister-in-law loves chocolate pecan pie, and thought this pie was absolutely delicious. I gave her the entire leftover pie to keep. The next day, I had a bit of donor's remorse - I really wished I could have tasted it then on refreshed taste buds for a fresher impression - but ultimately I'm glad that it all went to someone who would really appreciate it!

Thanks, Beth of Someone’s in the Kitchen with Brina for choosing this seasonally-appropriate and delicious My Favorite Pecan Pie, You can find the recipe is on Beth's blog (here) or on page page 327 of Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking: From My Home to Yours.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Lemon Poppyseed Jam Sandwich Cookies

Last December for Tuesdays With Dorie, we baked Dorie Greenspan's Linzer Sable Cookies. I used a bunch of cookie cutters that I had on hand, but soon after I bought a Christmas linzer cookie cutter set. It comes with one spiffy spring assisted round scallop cutter and several small interchangeable holiday-shaped dies that lock into place to make cut-outs in the middle of the circle cookies.

When I was paging through cookbooks and magazines, planning for this year's Christmas cookie baking, I knew that I wanted to find a recipe that I could bake with my special cookie cutters - and also use up a bit of my extensive jam collection. I bookmarked a few recipes that were ground-nut-based, like last year's Linzer Sables. And one that was a plain cut out shortbread.

But then one morning, the Washington Post Food Section (@WaPoFood) sent a link to these Lemon Poppy Seed Sandwich Cookies out on Twitter, and I knew these were the jam cookies for me!

n.o.e.'s notes:

- This recipe is from pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac, who is a major cookie afficionado, so I had high hopes that it would be delicous.

- The great thing about this kind of cookie: you can mix the dough one day then pop it in the fridge. Then roll it out in a ziploc and pop it back in the fridge for a couple of hours or a couple of days. Then you can cut and bake the cookies, and put the baked cookies in the freezer them until you are finally ready to fill, sandwich, and serve them. That's pretty much how I baked these cookies.

- Although the recipe provides a delicious-sounding cranberry filling that is made from fresh cranberries, and I have a bountiful supply of fresh cranberries in my fridge, I was determined to use some of my extensive jam holdings for these cookies. I chose raspberry jam, partly as a nod to the traditional Linzer flavor, partly because I wanted a red jam for the picture, and partly because I thought it would be good with the lemon flavor of the cookies. Plus, I already had a jar of raspberry open and in the fridge.

- Because I was in a hurry I just spead jam from the jar onto the cookies before assembling them. I have a lot of the unassembled baked cookies in the freezer, and the next time I assemble some I think that I'll cook the jam so it is thicker, as we did with the Linzer Sables last year.

the verdict:

When I tasted the dough right after I mixed it, I had doubts whether the lemon flavor was going to be noticeable in the finished cookie. I'm happy to report, however, that the cookies had a nice taste of lemon in a tender shortbread form, which paired beautifully with the raspberry filling.

I loved these delicious and unusual cookies, and can't wait to put them on the Christmas cookie platter; I'm guessing they will be a huge hit!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Oatmeal Raisin Cranberry Cookies

Last week, as I was gearing up for my holiday baking, I asked my husband which Christmas cookies he'd like me to bake for him. I was expecting him to choose gingerbread cookies (which he eats by the plateful whenever they are available) or sugar cookies (which fit with his love of simple, plain flavors). Instead he replied, "oatmeal cookies."

According to food lore, oatmeal cookies are descended from traditional Scottish bannock cakes - an (unsweetened, usually) oat biscuit. My husband has Scottish blood on both sides, so maybe that's why he has an abiding love of oatmeal raisin cookies.

They might not be the first cookie that you (or I) think of on the Christmas cookie platter, but a sweet and chewy oatmeal cookie definitely fits well with other delicious holiday treats. And the oatmeal cookie lovers among your family and friends will be so glad to see them!

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I pulled out a recipe that I'd begun working on over a year ago. The last time I'd baked the cookies, we'd loved the flavor, but they needed a slight adjustment to the leavening. I was happy to have an excuse to return to the recipe and see if I could "get it right" this time around. Scroll down to the end of this post to find the recipe.

- I came up with this recipe by comparing three different “ultimate” oatmeal cookie recipes. That's why I call them "The Best of the Best." The recipe is closest to that found in Baking Illustrated, by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine.

- In a nod to the season, I used a combination of raisins and dried cranberries in the cookies this time.

- I used 3/8 cup wheat germ and 1/8 cup ground almonds. I'm pretty sure it would work if you used any combination of ground nuts, ground flaxmeal, wheat germ, or any whole grain flour, as long as there was 1/2 cup total.

- If you have a dark cookie pan reduce your oven temperature to around 330. Bake the cookies for 20 or so minutes, until the edges are golden and the centers are set and a little dry looking on top. If you like your cookies chewy, aim to underbake them by a minute or so.

- I baked half of the batch of dough. With the other half, I formed the dough into balls and froze them unbaked. When the oatmeal cookie mood hits next time, I'll have the cookies all ready to pop in the oven.

the recipe:

The Best of the Best Oatmeal Cookies
by n.o.e.

1 cup flour (4.5 oz)
3/8 cup toasted wheat germ
1/8 cup ground nuts
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla
16 T (2 sticks, ½ lb) butter, softened
¾ cup (5 oz) light brown sugar
¾ cup (5oz) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups old fashioned oats (not quick oats)
1 ½ cups raisins, cranberries, or chopped dried tart cherries, or a combination thereof


1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or baking mats
2. Stir flour, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg and salt in medium bowl.
3. With electric mixer cream butter for 1 minute, then add 2 sugars and beat until fluffy, 3-5 minutes.
4. Add eggs, one at a time, and vanilla, beating to incorporate.
5. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture, mix on low
6. Stir in oats and dried fruit
7. Drop cookies in 2-inch balls onto prepared cookie sheets, spacing generously.
8. Bake until edges turn golden, and tops are set, around 20-22 minutes.

makes about 2 dozen cookies

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Dear Santa: Christmas gifts for the kitchen

There are still a few shopping + shipping days until Christmas, so I thought I'd share with you a few products that make my time in the kitchen a lot more enjoyable. I've acquired most of these since I began this blog (and actually started drafting this post more than a year ago!)

The single best piece of equipment in my kitchen is a digital kitchen scale from Will Knott Scales, the Salter 6055 . Although my scale has a handy storage spot, it rarely leaves the countertop. I use it dozens of times every day. With a little bit of practice, and recipes that are written with weights as well as volume measurements, you can nearly eliminate the use of measuring cups.

Although there are times when only a wooden spoon will do the task at hand, for most tasks that require a rigid spoon, a Tovolo silicone spoons is a an even better tool because it is heat resistant and non-stick. The spoon's handle is perfectly rigid, and that stiffness extends beneath the silicone layer of the bowl as well.

It's hard to beat the pungent spiciness of freshly ground pepper, and this 4" clear acrylic pepper grinder by William Bounds is a favorite. With a twist of the top, you can choose from three levels of grind. The whimsical fine print along the top ring reads, "made on the third planet from the sun."

Next to the digital scale, my digital thermometer has made perhaps the biggest difference in my cooking and baking. I use mine to test the temperature of ingredients, the gauge the internal crumb of bread, and check the done-ness of meat or poultry. The high-end thermapen is probably wonderful, but for a fraction of the price, I've loved this one: CDN Q2-450.

The Silpat baking mat is designed to line a baking sheet so that baked goods brown evenly and release easily. But the mats are also useful for lining a counter when you have to roll out dough or form loaves of bread.

My knife skills are mediocre at best, but with this Henckels 4 Star Santoku knife, I feel like an old hand at the cutting board. It's reasonably priced, well balanced, and a versatile size for most cutting and chopping jobs. I love the way it dices garlic and chops herbs.
Silicone muffin cups are wonderfully handy to have in the kitchen. You can fill them with batter and set them on a cookie sheet to bake. They make un-molding even the trickiest muffin or cupcake a fairly easy task. Because they are flexible, you can just push the muffin from the bottom. The cups are useful when a recipe makes a generous amount of batter and you need a couple of extra of cups beyond the 6 or 12 in your muffin pan. Additionally, when I'm baking a cake, I've often reserved some of the batter and baked a single cupcake for tasting purposes.

My Microplane brand grater/zester is a tool I use nearly every day, especially to zest citrus, grind nutmeg, and grate Parmesan cheese. The hundreds of tiny blades are razor-sharp, making quick work of grating tasks.

When I ordered an electric coffee grinder to use for grinding spices, it seemed like such a guilty indulgence. But I've ended up using it quite a bit, and love the time that it saves and the wonderful taste of freshly ground spices in the recipes I prepare. I use it most often for ground cloves and allspice, but it also grinds up dried vanilla pods (which I use in making vanilla ice cream - it really saves money over using just the seeds.)

Once you begin baking from recipes that list ingredients by weight rather than volume (those in many bread books, for example, or European recipes) you will eventually wish that you could measure in smaller amounts than your everyday scale can reliably deliver. That's when an Escali pocket scale is useful. When I reduced a bread recipe recently, this scale helped me measure the correct amount of yeast and salt.

I'd love to hear about your favorite kitchen tools - let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

{TWD} Cafe Volcano Cookies

If I didn't already love MacDuff of the blog Lonely Sidecar - and I did already love her fabulously written, wry, and observant blog posts - I would love her solely for the cookies she chose this week for Tuesdays with Dorie. The recipe is dead easy (if extremely unusual); with one pot and a couple of ingredients, these cookies were in the oven in a matter of minutes.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- This may be the oddest cookie I've ever made. It seemed improbable from the ingredients and the method that they would work out. Chopped toasted nuts are heated in a pot with sugar, egg whites and espresso powder, then dropped in blobs onto a cookie sheet and baked. I double and triple checked the recipe, expecting that it would require beating the egg whites, but it didn't. How wonderful to have a recipe with no special equipment or techniques!

- I had a bunch of egg whites hanging around the fridge - perfect for this recipe. The rule of thumb I use is 30 g per egg white.

- These are a good choice for anyone avoiding dairy products or grains.

- Because my cookie sheets are dark, I baked the cookies at 340 degrees for 15 minutes and they were perfect. They really did puff in the oven!

- I got around 33 cookies, which was just right. I'd say not to make them too small because the soft centers are the best part of these cookies.

the verdict

The first thing I noticed when sampling one of these cookies was strong taste of toasted nuts. But then I noticed the texture: a lovely chewy inside with light crunchy outside. The coffee flavor was a great balance for the nuttiness of the cookie.

I've become a real fan of nuts so I really enjoyed these. They are a great break from rich and gooey cookies and are a wonderful choice for anyone avoiding dairy and/or grains. I gave the cookies to my good friend who has celiac disease; she - and her family - really enjoyed the cookies. These are not a crowd pleasing recipe, but are lovely in their own right.

I quickly baked up another variation: maple/pecan/walnut, using maple sugar rather than white sugar, and pecans instead of almonds. I would have used only pecans, but when I was trying to replenish my pecan supply at Trader Joe's, there were none to be had, and I heard rumors of a pecan shortage. The maple flavor was subtle but good; these were winners also!

Thanks, MacDuff, for the fabulous pick this week! You made me, my friend, and her family, very happy. The recipe is on MacDuff's blog or on page 153 of Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking: From My Home to Yours.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Leek Bread Pudding

Once I received my copy of Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home, I couldn't resist dipping in and trying a recipe. And then a couple more. I was dying to taste the Leek Bread Pudding so much that I actually prepared it for Thanksgiving dinner in place of dressing! Luckily nobody left the table in protest. In fact, it was so popular, I wanted to make sure to post it in time for you to plan to make it yourself over the holidays.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the recipe for the Leek Bread Pudding at several online souces, including here.

- The recipe calls for brioche or pullman loaf bread. I baked up some Dan Lepard Milk Loaf in the original - all white flour - version for just the second time in all the many many times I've baked the bread.

- Keller gives instructions for emulsifying the butter while sauteeing the leeks. My butter "broke" repeatedly and I had to re-emulsify it about 6 times

- One of Keller's favorite techniques is to make a parchment cover for saute pan - basically a circle with a hole cut in the middle. It allows a simmering dish to vent but not dry out.

- The chives and thyme were from my herb garden.

- When it came time to bake the bread pudding, I used a "convect" setting on my oven, and the custard was set in half the time specified.

- This recipe can be served hot, room temperature, or anywhere in between.

- I was very tempted to add some sauteed wild mushrooms, and think that they would be a great addition.

the verdict:

This dish was a big hit with just about everyone at Thanksgiving dinner. I think people mostly forgave the lack of dressing/stuffing. The pudding is tender and delectable and has a lovely flavor from the leeks and herbs. It's quite rich, as would be expected with so much butter, cream, and cheese. I might reduce the cream and increase the milk next time around; I don't think it would be missed.

My husband was not the biggest fan of the bread pudding, though, because it reminded him too much of quiche (not his favorite). And being that it is a custard with cheese, he has a point. Oh well, that meant that I had to finish it by myself! Although the edges of the bread cubes weren't as crisp, the pudding was very good re-warmed.

The leek bread pudding would be a great dish at Christmas dinner, to accompany any type of roast meat or fowl. With the significant quantities of eggs and cheese, however, it's also substantial enough to stand on its own.

I'm submitting this post to Yeastspotting, a superb weekly compendium of yeasted baked goods and dishes made with bread.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

{TWD} Sablés

After the past couple of (rather complicated, albeit tasty) Tuesdays with Dorie recipes I was ecstatic that this week's assignment was Sablés - simple to put together (only one element to make!) and extremely handy to have on hand for holiday gatherings or an afternoon cup of tea on a chilly afternoon. Not only that, these cookies would be great to leave for Santa on Christmas Eve! I'm thinking of stashing a few logs of this dough in the freezer to bake as needed.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- It's hard to beat a plain buttery cookie, so for my first time baking this recipe, I stayed with the basic version, ignoring all of Dorie's suggestions for "playing around" with variations on this recipe. Next time around I'll probably try the lemon. Or the spice. Hmmm, the savory ones sound delicious too!

- The recipe is simple, no rolling pins or cookie cutters involved, and if the edges are covered in pretty sugar, the fanciness belies the ease of these cookies.

- After I baked the cookies, I was paging through some other baking books and saw some helpful tips for making better logs for refrigerator cookies [edit: like this YouTube video from the Culinary Institute of America - watch to the end for sables/sand cookies; also check out the post from Barbara, this week's hostess for tips]. Mine definitely need some work in the shaping department!

- I sprinkled some decorative sugar on the logs before I sliced them, but I think they'd also be wonderful with finely chopped nuts.

the verdict:

I brought the cookies to two gatherings last week, and while I didn't get any specific reactions or quotes, they seemed to be popular. We kept a small plateful here at home and loved them. This recipe makes a delicious classic cookie. I'm pretty sure they'd be a hit with Santa and his elves!

Thanks to Barbara of Bungalow Barbara for choosing the Sablés for us to bake. They are perfect for sharing! And for freezing to bake later! You can find the recipe on her blog, or on pages 131-133 of Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking: From My Home to Yours.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Thomas Keller's My Favorite Simple Roast Chicken

In browsing around the interwebs, I've seen references to Thomas Keller's roast chicken, as served at his restaurant Bouchon. The recipe is here. I'm going to say that once I tried this chicken, my quest for the "perfect" roast chicken came to a screeching halt. Thomas Keller's favorite is now my favorite!

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I used one of the wonderful pasture raised organic chickens from my farm box. I'm really glad that I stocked my freezer with these when they were available earlier this year, because they have not been available since that time. Apparently there is not a chicken processing facility for small operation chicken farmers close enough to make it cost effective for the farm box folks to continue offering them.

- This was first time I've ever actually fully trussed a chicken (before now, I usually tie the legs together and call it "done"). I used these directions and crossed a bunch of string. I can't say if my trussing effort was exactly correct but the bird was compact and nothing flopped around so I deemed it a success.

- Keller's roasting method couldn't be simpler: Salt + pepper in cavity. Truss. Salt and pepper outside. Roast 450 until done. Nothing else. Remove from pan, put thyme in pan juices, baste chicken and let it rest 15 minutes. Carve and enjoy!

the verdict:

Boy, did we enjoy! My husband repeated, "this is unbelievable," the entire time he was eating the chicken. Although Keller says to slather the meat with butter when you serve the chicken, I didn't think it needed anything. The chicken was succulent and filled with flavor. I'm sure some of the credit has to go to the organic pastured chicken, but the recipe is a treasure. I had no idea that a roast chicken could be this good...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

{TWD} Rosy Pear & Almond Tart with Two Nut Crust

Happy National Pear Month!

In recent weeks I've been madly bookmarking pear recipes. I've gone so far as to bring pears home from the market, but then I've gotten busy, and forgotten what I was planning to do with them. Unlike apples which will hang out happily in the crisper for weeks on end, pears are like little time bombs. They sit on the counter silently ripening until it is suddenly time to use them or lose them. Luckily I've learned that an easy way to keep pears is to poach them then refrigerate them, and in the past few weeks I've tried a few different poached pear recipes (which I will share on this blog soon).

This week's recipe for the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group is the Rosy Poached Pear and Pistachio Tart. The pears in this recipe are poached in red wine and paired with pistachio pastry cream. We've loved each of Dorie's tart recipes so far, and with poached pears on top, this one sounded delicious to me.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The recipe involves 5 elements: tart crust, poached pears, pastry cream, caramelized nuts, and a sauce. They can be made ahead and assembled just before serving the tart.

- I gave away all of our pies to family members on Thanksgiving, so I baked a small tart for my husband and I to enjoy with our Thanksgiving leftovers. He doesn't care for pistachios, so I substituted almonds in the pastry cream and the topping.

- The poaching liquid consists of most of a bottle of wine (just a few drops left for the cook), sweetened, and flavored with strips of lemon and orange zest. I used honey instead of sugar. My pears were very ripe (almost too ripe), so they were tender after poaching for about 10 minutes.

- I forgot to add a few drops of lemon juice when I caramelized the almonds so some of them crystallized; luckily most of them turned out well. They did sort of clump together, and were impossible to separate when they were hot.

- My pastry cream got very thick very quick, even though it never really boiled. It was more of a pastry paste. I did not strain out the nuts. Before spreading it in the tart crust, I thinned it with sour cream.

- After I substituted milder almonds for the pistachios, I decided to match the bold flavor of the wine-poached pears with a more assertive tart crust. I've been wanting to experiment with a gluten-free tart crust, and decided to bake one that was entirely free of any grain. After a bit of online research I made a variation of an all-nut tart crust from Sunset Magazine (you can find the recipe buried halfway down this page). My biggest changes were adding an egg yolk and changing the steps to make the dough in my food processor. Here's how I made my crust:
- pulsed 2 cups of walnuts until finely chopped
- added 1/2 c almond meal + 3 T confectioner's sugar and pulsed to combine with walnuts
- added 6 T cold butter + pulsed until combined
- added 1 egg yolk + 1 tsp vanilla and pulsed until the dough began to hold together
- Then I pressed the dough into the tart pan, froze it for an hour, covered it with buttered foil, and baked 25 min at 350 degrees.

- I reduced the poaching liquid into a syrup, but didn't end up serving it with the tart. The citrus flavors combined with red wine reminded me strongly of sangria, and for us that's an experience better left in the '70's.

the verdict:

We enjoyed this tart for dessert on three consecutive evenings. My husband gave the tart a rating of 10 (out of 10)! I agree that it was a lovely dessert, one that I'm glad I tried. The pears took on an assertive, interesting, and appealing flavor from the wine-based poaching liquid. Luckily their intensity was matched by the robust nut tart crust. I'm sure that I will bake the crust again, especially when I need to bake a gluten free dessert.

Today is National Pie Day, and I think this tart is close enough, don't you? The recipe was chosen by Lauren of I’ll Eat You - you can find the recipe on her blog. (check it out - her tart looks even prettier than the one in the book!) or on pages 370 and 371 of Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking: From My Home to Yours.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Split Personality Sweet Potato Casserole

In any large group of people gathered to share Thanksgiving dinner there are those who like their sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows and those who prefer nuts and brown sugar. Last November I found a recipe that provides the perfect solution to the sweet potato divide: a casserole with a half-and-half topping, one side marshmallow, the other nuts. I prepared a different sweet potato dish last year for our very small Thanksgiving meal, but this year our Thanksgiving dinner included people from three different families, so I gave the recipe a test drive and everyone was happy with one side or the other of this side dish.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the recipe on Saveur's site, by clicking here.

- This is a great make-ahead dish - the sweet potato mixture can be prepared a few days in advance. The nut topping can also be made early and refrigerated until time to assemble and bake the casserole.

- I used mostly fresh sweet potatoes which I braised in a covered pan with a bit of water and butter on the stove top until tender. I didn't have quite enough sweet potatoes so I supplemented with a can of mashed sweet potatoes (the most convenient thing ever!)

- After I mixed the sweet potatoes with the other ingredients, I gave a little taste. The filling was not very sweet at all, so, very unusual for me, I actually added sugar (3 T brown sugar)

- I've never seen cashews as a sweet potato topping - pecans are much more common in these parts - but I decided to give them a try.

- At first the amount of marshmallows seemed meager compared to piled-up nut topping on the other side of the baking dish, so I added more. I later realized that the marshmallows puff up in the oven. My brother's family doesn't eat red meat, so I used the natural fish-gelatin marshmallows from Whole Foods. They got a little dry and hard in the oven, but softened up once I covered the casserole with foil to keep it warm.

the verdict:

This casserole was absolutely adorable on the Thanksgiving buffet, and proved to be quite a hit. I can report that the marshmallow side disappeared faster than the nut one (all of the children present opted for the marshmallow part, in fact some of them opted for only the marshmallows and no sweet potatoes at all!)

I loved that this recipe is far less rich than others I've made - the relatively low amounts of butter and sugar in the sweet potatoes was balance nicely by the sweetness of both toppings. In fact, I really didn't need to have added the extra bit of brown sugar.

I'm sure that this split personality sweet potato dish will become a regular offering on my Thanksgiving table.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

{TWD} Variations on Chestnut Cake

Back in October when I saw that this month's assigned recipes for the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group included the Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake, I took a sharp breath. The cake as pictured in Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking: From My Home to Yours is a show-stopper: elegant, square, perfectly smooth, and topped with gilded chestnuts. It looked challenging, and reading the recipe confirmed that impression. The cake comprises 4 elements - cake layers, a boozy syrup, a caramel ganache, and a dark chocolate glaze - and incorporates ingredients such as vanilla chestnut puree (imported from France), jarred chestnuts (imported from Italy), and gold dust (edible gold dust, to boot!)

If I was going to bake a cake so luxurious and complex (and I was), I wanted to bake it exactly as Dorie wrote the recipe. At the same time I wanted my husband to be able to enjoy this confection, and he's allergic to chocolate. The cake layers have no chocolate, so I decided to bake a full recipe, frosting half with chocolate and the other half with a non-chocolate frosting. And finally, while the brandy syrup sounded delicious, I also wanted to try a non-alcoholic syrup. My solution? Cut the larger cake's layers into 4 smaller squares, assembling them them with and without chocolate, with and without brandy.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I'm not going to detail all of the crazy calculations and steps I took to produce the 4 little cakes. But I made 6 different elements (and wish I'd made a 7th!) and managed to put the cakes together without any errors. Decorated cakes are a real challenge for me, but I was happy with how my little cakes looked.

- I baked a full recipe of the cake in a new deep square pan with a removable bottom. It was a 9" pan - or so it clearly indicated - see the picture, below. After I baked the cake I realized that despite the label on the pan it actually measured exactly 8"! Luckily it was deep and the batter did not overflow the pan, although it rose quite high and took eons longer to cook. In the end, the taller cake was much easier to split into layers (I cut the big square cake into 4 smaller squares, then split each quarter horizontally to make three layers. The cake baked fairly nice and flat, although after frosting the first cake I realized I should to trim the layers for the other three cakes a tiny bit so they'd be more level.

- Because of the way I cut up my cakes, I needed nearly as much chocolate frosting for two quarter-cakes as I would have for a single whole cake. (This also means that I had a higher frosting-to-cake ratio for each slice.) I made 2/3 recipe of the ganache, and 3/4 recipe of the glaze.

- For the caramel ganache, instead of putting the cinnamon stick in with the caramelizing sugar, I followed a tip from the P&Q, and heated the cream and steeped cinnamon stick in it. I got the cinnamon flavor, but didn't have to deal with the stick. Also adding warm cream helped with making the caramel, as did adding a few drops of lemon juice after caramelizing and before cream. I was very relieved that the caramel turned out!

- I mixed up the brandy syrup for two of my little cakes. For the other two, I thinned some chestnut honey with water to make a syrup of the same consistency as the brandy one.

- I wasn't able to locate the edible gold, so my chestnuts are un-gilded. Luckily this was an optional ingredient

- Somehow the bittersweet chocolate glaze got a shade past pourable and ended up at spreadable.

- To frost the non-chocolate versions of the cake, I mixed 6 ounces of softened cream cheese, 10 ounces of mascarpone, and 6 ounces of the leftover vanilla chestnut cream with 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar. It made a lovely soft coffee-colored frosting with a bit of tang and a hint of chestnut. There wasn't a ton of frosting, and I hoped it would stretch for the two little cakes.

- It was only in retrospect that I realized that I should have made extra caramel to use as filling for the non-chocolate cakes. It would have saved the scarce frosting for the outside of the cakes (and the flavor would have been fantastic with the other elements of the cake). As it turned out, I had enough frosting to fill and frost the two little cakes, but just barely. The frosting layers were mighty thin, as you can see in the photo of the slice of cake, below.

the verdict:

Gilded chestnuts would have been very fun, but as it was, the cake was quite striking, almost as striking as the picture of the cake on p. 269 of Dorie's book. I served it to book group, and as the members of the group arrived last Thursday and walked into the kitchen they stopped in their tracks when they saw the cake gracing the center of my kitchen island. They were very reluctant to dig in, and kept asking me if I had made sure to photograph the cakes.

Most of my tasters thought the chocolate caramel version was very good - "near great" - layer cake. (One member is not a chestnut fan, so he chose vanilla ice cream rather than the cake.) The chestnut cream gave the cake layers a wonderful woodsy richness. The cake was dense and although the medium brown color kept making me think it would be dry, it really was plenty moist. The cake kept beautifully in the fridge for several days.

One tester, HY, said, "It's good, but some of the other chocolate desserts you've made are better." I think she's right - the 15 minute magic chocolate torte, the chocolate armagnac cake, the caramel chocolate tart are better (and, I might add, a LOT less work). Although, to be fair to this cake, it isn't chocolate, but has chocolate frosting

The non-chocolate cake was well received. One taster, AF (who usually loves chocolate), actually preferred it. My husband loved it, cutting himself two generous pieces. Another taster thought it was too plain. One tester suggested adding another element, and I agree. I think if I'd done a caramel filling it would have been delicious with the mascarpone/chestnut frosting. I was a little proud at how the frosting turned out (since it was my concoction!)

As for the different syrups, I'm sorry to report that I didn't find either one detectable in the finished cake, so there wasn't an appreciable difference between the brandy and the honey versions of the cakes.

Overall I'm very glad that I baked the cake. It's a seasonal and sophisticated take on a layer cake, and I was happy that my cake turned out successfully. But given all the time required to bake it, I'll be unlikely to reach for this recipe again.

This seasonal cake was chosen by Katya of Second Dinner. You can find the recipe on her post. I loved reading about her love for chestnuts and her excitement to be able to choose this recipe.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sweet Potato Black Bean Salad

Ah, Fall! Thank you for the abundance of orange foods - pumpkins, butternut squash, sweet potatoes - and a plethora of ways to enjoy them. Sweet potatoes are most commonly prepared to emphasize their sweetness, with added brown sugar and cinnamon, but they can be fantastic in a spicy, savory dish, such as Mark Bittman's Sweet Potato Black Bean Salad.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I didn't have red bell pepper, so used an orange one. It tasted the same, but wasn't as pretty.

- To amp up the heat, I threw in some additional chopped hot peppers.

- Just in case we might find the citrus overwhelming, I added half the lime juice.

- This versatile dish can be served warm or cold

the verdict:

I had high hopes for this salad, and it met and exceeded them! Despite the extra peppers that I added, there wasn't a ton of heat in this dish, but it was flavorful and delicious. I love that it can be served at any temperature, and can serve as a filling lunch or a side dish at Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

{TWD} All-in-One Holiday Bundt Cake

November is the month for giving thanks, and I'm thankful that we have permission to post the November Tuesdays With Dorie recipes in any order, and I have another week to get the time-intensive Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake baked! The recipe that I'm posting this week is the All in One Holiday Bundt Cake.

When I saw this recipe I was skeptical. I don't have a very good history with Dorie's hybrid desserts, especially where pumpkin and/or spices are concerned. (Last Thanksgiving's Twofer Pie (Pumpkin + Pecan) and the Chocolate Gingerbread were not successful combinations in my opinion.) I hoped that the cranberries and apples (and pecans) in this recipe would give the underlying pumpkin cake an interesting twist, but I worried that it would be a hodge-podge of disparate flavors from the multiple ingredients.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- For once I used the full amount of all-purpose flour, without adding any whole grain flour! I figured that I was making enough adjustments to the recipe as it was.

- Cranberry bread/cake is one of Winter's little joys, and the more cranberries the better. I didn't want insipid widely-scattered cranberries, so I increased the quantity of cranberries to 1 1/3 cups. I correspondingly I decreased the amount of apple (I used 1 cup of apple, which is equivalent to a medium apple rather than the recipe's specified large one)

- Although you really can't tell from the pictures, I cut the cranberrries in half (while they were still frozen) rather than chopping them. That's what we did with the cranberries in our cranberry bread when I was growing up, and I love the way they look.

- To build a little intensity in the cake I increased all the spices by half, except the fresh-ground nutmeg, which I mistakenly tripled. Instead of light brown sugar, I used the dark stuff.

- I substituted light tasting olive oil for 2 tablespoons of the butter.

- My bundt loaf pan is 10 cup capacity, and it was the perfect size for this recipe. I spooned a bit of the batter into a single silicone cupcake mold and baked it so that I could have a taste without cutting into the big cake.

- The bottom of the cake got a little soft after the first day or so, probably from the moisture of the apples. I think that if I were to bake this cake again that I'd decrease the quantity of apple a bit more - or maybe use dried apples - and definitely increase the cranberries.

the verdict:

Upon tasting the little cupcake, my first reaction was that it needed more salt. Then I realized that I had forgotten to put any salt in the cake at all.

Despite my apprehension, I found this to be a lovely cake. the combination works surprisingly well. The apple transforms the cake into a whole new dessert - sweet and tart, fresh and spiced - with all the different flavors contributing to the whole rather than fighting with each other. I loved the cranberries the most, and was very glad I'd increased the amount. In fact, I wish there were even more cranberries! The maple glaze dressed up the appearance of the cake, and had a nice flavor, but I wouldn't say it was necessary.

I brought the cake to a neighborhood supper club and it held its own next to a store-bought cheesecake and a store-bought caramel layer cake. (Our street has been meeting for supper club for 20 years, and I don't remember ever seeing store-bought desserts, but I will spare you an extended rant.)

And now I have a confession to make, something that wouldn't have crossed my mine before I started food blogging: I brought the cake over whole, figuring that there would be a lot of cake left over (this is a bundt cake after all, and can serve a ton of people - there are always leftovers!) and I could photograph a slice the next day. When dessert time arrived, I saw that the hostess had cut up the entire huge cake into small pieces. My first thought was: "Oh, no! What am I going to do about my pictures?" All was forgiven when she - and her sons - loved the cake and were excited to keep half the leftovers. The next day I put some of the little half slices on a plate, and took pictures, which were just fine.

Thanks to Britin of The Nitty Britty for choosing this lovely All in One Holiday Bundt Cake on pages 186 and 187 of of Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking: From My Home to Yours. The recipe is up on Britin's blog - click here - and on November 24, she will have her own bundt cake posted on her blog.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Blackberry Jam Bundt Cake

Today is National Bundt (Pan) Day!

I often find out about daily food themes on the actual day itself (if you follow @Foodimentary on Twitter you can also) but at that point it's too late for me to do a tie-in post on my blog. This time, however, not only do I know it's National Bundt Day, I baked a bundt cake, photographed it, and am posting it on the day! I certainly cannot take credit for this massive level of organization; I owe it all to The Food Librarian.

To say that Mary (that's the Food Librarian's real name) is obsessed with bundts would be an understatement. She has featured many beautiful bundt cakes in the past, and back in August when it was her turn to choose a recipe for the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group, Mary of course chose a bundt - the first one ever picked for TWD. That was the fabulous Classic Banana Bundt, definitley the best bundt I've ever baked.

But all of Mary's past bundt cake love pales in the face of her most recent project. She has just completed a 30 day marathon of bundt cake baking and posting, culminating today with her National Bundt Day wrapup/summary post. Mary called her project "I Like Big Bundts."

In theory I like big bundts too. But therein lies the problem. Bundts are big. A bundt recipe make a whole lot of cake. Countless slices can be hewn from one massive ring of cake and hardly make a dent. (Luckily, most bundts freeze well, so you can spring the same cake on your unsuspecting friends and family in the future.)

An alternative approach to the big bundt cake is to bake a big quantity of smaller cakes. Most of the time when I bake a bundt recipe, I use 2 loaf pans, or a bunch of mini-loaves. When you split a batch of cake batter, you have enough for every mood and occasion:




I found the recipe for this Blackberry Jam Cake in Nick Malgieri's The Modern Baker. Although I've had the book for six months this is the first recipe I've baked from it. Malgieri based this cake on American recipes that were more than a century old.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The recipe as I baked it at the end of this post.

- Apparently some of the old blackberry jam cake recipes used cocoa powder and some did not. I was baking the cakes for a variety of people, a few of whom cannot eat chocolate, so I made the cakes both with and without cocoa powder. Similarly, I skipped the nuts in some of the cakes. I won't go into all of the calculations and variables to assemble the correct amount of batter with the correct types of ingredients for the correct pan sizes, but I managed to pull it off without an errors.

- Malgieri introduced me to a cool technique to keep molded cakes from sticking to the pan: butter the pan, dust it with fine dry bread crumbs, then spray the crumbs with cooking spray. I made my own crumbs from pound cake and corn muffin remnants which I dried in oven then processed in a mini food processor. When I coated the pan with the crumbs, the layer was not precisely even. Since the crumbs were lighter in color than the cake my finished cakes looked a little mottled. Nothing a dusting of confectioner's sugar or a glaze wouldn't fix.

- Even though my raisins were brand new, they were not soft so I plumped them in some hot apple cider.

- I used full amount of butter although I was very tempted to substitute some plain yogurt, or even some extra-light olive oil.

- Jam is very sweet, and I didn't want the finished cake to be too sweet, so I cut the sugar by a tiny bit. I would cut more next time.

- I used my batter to make a 6-cup round fluted cake (served to my book group), two 2-cup mini bundt loaves (gave to two friends) and 6 airplane-shaped small cakes (for my husband who loves planes.)

- I used a kugelhopf pan for the round cake, which I thought was appropriate because apparently the bundt pan is an American descendant of European kugelhopf pans.

- The cake would have been very pretty with a glaze but I knew that the cake was sweet enough without it.

the verdict:

This cake tastes fantastic - a little bit spicy, a little hint of fruitiness, nice and moist with a soft crumb. Although it had a tendency to crumble (especially when it was warm) it wasn't at all dry. The cake was a bit on the sweet side, so I think I'd reduce the sugar even more the next time. I like nuts and raisins in baked goods, but I think this cake would be great without them - a lovely fruity spice cake.

I liked the airplanes the best - the edges of the wings were nice and chewy. Also, these didn't have cocoa, so the blackberry flavor was clearer. My husband loved the airplane shape and really enjoyed eating them for breakfast with coffee.

My book group liked the cake too, and were happy to split the leftovers. One of them, H, suggested that a tart lemon glaze would be a great counterpoint to the sweetness of the cake. I mailed the small bundt loaves to two friends. One of them, W, said it was "yummy!" and the other told me she enjoyed it with ice cream and warm blackberry sauce - now there's a great idea!

For more bundt-y goodness, check out 8 very tempting bundts from The Kitchn.

the recipe:

Blackberry Jam Cake

adapted from Nick Malgieri’s The Modern Baker
Makes one 10-inch tube cake, about 24 slices


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (recipe called for 3 cups all-purpose)
2 tbsp alkalized (Dutch process) cocoa (I omitted in some of my cakes; added equivalent amount of flour)
2 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
16 tbsp (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar (recipe called for 2 cups)
4 large eggs
1 cup dark raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (I omitted in one small bundt loaf)
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup seedless blackberry jam,
One 12-cup tube or Bundt pan, buttered, coated with fine, dry breadcrumbs, and sprayed with vegetable oil cooking spray


Set a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350℉.

For the cake batter, stir together the flour, cocoa, spices, and baking soda; set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar with the paddle on medium speed until light, about 5 minutes.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating smooth after each addition.

Remove two tablespoons of the flour mixture and toss it with the raisins and walnuts to coat.

Beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture on lowest speed. Stop and scrape down the bowl and beat, then beat in half of the buttermilk. Beat in half of the remaining flour mixture. Beat in half of the remaining buttermilk, followed by the remaining flour mixture. Finally, beat in the jam, and then the raisins and walnuts.

Use a large rubber spatula to give a final stir to the batter, then scrape it into the prepared pan.

Bake the cake until it is well-risen and firm, and a toothpick inserted between the side of the pan and the central tube emerges dry, about an hour.

Cool the cake in the pan for 15 minutes, then unmold onto a rack to cool.

Storage: Wrap the cooled cake in plastic wrap and keep it at room temperature. Freeze for longer storage. Defrost the cake and bring it to room temperature before serving.