Tuesday, January 25, 2011

{TWD} Cinnamon Swirl Sour Cream Bundt Cake

This week Dorie Greenspan made me feel old. In the headnotes for her Nutty, Chocolaty, Swirly Sour Cream Bundt Cake - this week's assignment for the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group - Dorie says:
"One of the nice things about having baked for so many yeears is being able to see sweets come into fashion, go out of fashion and come back again. That's the case with this sour cream cake. I saw it come into fashion in the 1970's..., fall out of favor and make a comeback recently."

Really? I clearly rememer this kind of cake and have baked it often throughout the years. In fact, I have a recipe for sour cream cake on a card in my metal recipe file box. Come to think of it that file box should make me feel old all by itself, I guess. But at any rate, I had no earthly idea that sour cream pound cake had become a dinosaur, or that anything so simple and good could go out of fashion.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Jennifer of the blog Cooking for Comfort is responsible for choosing the bundt cake and you will find the recipe by clicking over to her blog.

- This cake was headed for the homeless shelter during Christmas week, on a platter with several different treats. I wanted the cake to have seasonal flavor so decided to emphasize the cinnamon. Here's how: I left out the dried fruit and the nuts in the swirl (both can be controversial in baked goods, and I wanted this to be of general appeal) and used cinnamon chips instead. So my swirl ingredients were 1/2 c brown sugar, 1/2 cup cinnamon chips and 2 tsp Vietnamese cinnamon.

- I baked a full recipe in a super-large decorative loaf pan that is equivalent in size to full bundt pan.

- Although the loaf pan I have is the same capacity as a bundt, it is much thicker (and shorter I guess, than a bundt would be if you stretched it out straight), so the cake takes a lot longer to bake. I'm pretty sure mine was a bit under-baked; in fact now that I look at the pictures again, I'm positive it was.

- Dorie says that it's fine if the batter doesn't close over the swirl when you put it in the pan. Now, I really hate to contradict Dorie, but you really do need to worry a little bit about covering up your swirl with cake batter. I was carefree about the whole issue and my batter didn't close up during baking. When I unmolded the cake and turned it right side up, all of the swirl fell out. I tried to stuff it back in but, really, there was no way it was going to stay there when the slices were served.

- I sliced the cake for the dessert platter and got a chance to taste the trimmed ends of the loaf.

the verdict:

Although sour cream cakes are classic for a (good) reason, I can't say that I remember the sour cream poundcakes of yore being this moist and fabulous. But Dorie's version is perfection itself, and when a cake is this good, it should never, ever go out of fashion.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Iowa Pork Chops

For over two years I have loved receiving my weekly order, which I fondly refer to as my "farm box," from Moore Farms and Friends. With the help of hoop houses, the associated farmers in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee manage to grow a pretty impressive array of wonderful vegetables and fruit throughout the winter months, and of course there is a veritable cornucopia in summer. We can also order eggs, dairy, and meats. The farm box pork comes from Thompson Farms and Riverview Farms, and because of its freshness and quality I've found myself cooking more pork. Availability changes from week to week, so I order a cut of meat when it's offered and keep it handy in the freezer until the occasion and recipe arise.

One recent winter day I found myself with a cool cookbook from the library and a bunch of pork chops in the freezer, so I put the two together and made Iowa Pork Chops from the Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland cookbook.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I've included the recipe at the end of this post, just scroll down.

- Despite a fairly long list of ingredients, the recipe came together quite quickly. I used my coffee grinder/spice mill, which ground up the whole spices and garlic all at the same time.

- Even without a spice grinder, this would still be an easy recipe using pre-ground spices.

the verdict:

These pork chops were a big hit at our house. The various spices in this recipe combined to give a lovely savory flavor, and the simplicity of the recipe makes it even more of a favorite. In fact, this recipe was such a nice find that I've put the cookbook on my wish list.

the recipe:

Iowa Pork Chops

from Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland

2 bay leaves
1 T freshly ground pepper (I used peppercorns)
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 T dried thyme, or 1/4 c chopped fresh
2 tsp ground cloves (I used whole)
1 T ground nutmeg (about 1 whole nutmeg, grated w microplane)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
4 thick premium loin pork chops (10 oz ea)
1 T olive oil
1 T each, butter and olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a coffee grinder, spice mill, or blender, process the bay leaves, pepper, garlic, thyume, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cardamom until completely blended (the bay leaves might not be completely crushed).

3. Rub the chops with the olive oil, then rub the spice blend over all of the chops. Cover and set aside for about 30 minutes to 1 hour at room temperature.

4. Sear the chops in the butter/oil in a heavy skillet over high heat about 3 to 4 minutes per side, until they are golden brown.

5. Place the chops on a rack over a baking sheet in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the juices run clear.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

{TWD} Lemon Poppyseed Muffins - Guest Post

Earlier this month my oven suddenly failed. I quickly ordered a new one and arranged a delivery date. Then we had 6 inches of snow, followed by too-cold-to-melt-things temperatures, making delivery impossible. It has finally thawed around here and my new oven is scheduled to arrive at dusk this evening, that is, after I could photograph the muffins. I was faced with the prospect of a missed or delayed Tuesdays With Dorie posting, but luckily my daughter Allison, previously known here as A.L.E., agreed to bake and photograph the muffins and write a post for me.

Allison is an artist, writer, entrepreneur, and cook/baker. She chronicles it all on her blog, Friends and Hammers. I'm her mom, so I'm biased, but any time I need a smile or a laugh I head over to her blog.

Here's her post:

My mom asked if I could bake these lemon poppy seed muffins for her, since she's in oven limbo right now and, while you can fry an egg on the sidewalk in Atlanta in the summer, you can't bake muffins on the sidewalk in Atlanta in the winter.

They're super easy and I could do the (few) dishes as I went along. I had all the ingredients except for sour cream, so I used yogurt. You'll notice that my poppy seeds were seriously antique, and I didn't taste them beforehand per Dorie's recommendation, but they were fine.

Best of all, we had guests staying over last night and I was able to greet them with a big basket of baked goods. I like to be able welcome guests with food, especially if they're coming in from a road trip. (I think I get that from my mother!) My usual "impress visitors with minimal effort" standby is Dorie's Swedish Visiting Cake, but these muffins might just become my alternate.

the verdict:

Guests loved the muffins. Roommates loved the muffins. I loved the muffins. They were like fluffy muffin-shaped clouds of perfect lemon flavor.

The muffins were chosen for TWD this week by Betsy, of the blog A Cup of Sweetness, who has posted the recipe here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

{TWD} Chocolate Madeleines

One of the treasured purchases I brought back from my afternoon of shopping for kitchenware at E Dehillerin and Mora in Paris this summer was a little madeleine pan. With just 6 molds, it met my requirements for pack-ability. I've never made madeleines, but I knew there were several madeleine recipes that would be coming up in Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking From My Home to Yours, and I wanted to meet the challenge with this pan!

The Tuesdays With Dorie group made traditional madeleines nearly 3 years ago; this week it was time for Fluff-Filled Chocolate Madeleines, Dorie's French-inspired approximation of a beloved American classic, the chocolate snack cake.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Margot of the blog Effort To Deliciousness chose this week's recipe. Her blog is always a fabulous read because of the ingenious way that Margot rates the recipes that she makes, with an effort-to-deliciousness ratio, thus giving a ready answer to the age-old question, "is it worth the bother to make this?" Margo's madeleines are adorable, and you can find the recipe and step-by-step photos if you click over to her madeleine post.

- I used Double-Dutch Dark Cocoa powder from King Arthur Flour.

- I made half a recipe, and there ended up being just a bit too much batter for my molds. When I was filling them it was hard to tell because my chilled batter was pretty much solid - like cookie dough. I had to scoop it into the molds. Luckily the molds did not overflow terribly as the madeleines baked, but they turned out a bit too large and a little odd in shape. There were pock marks from where bits of butter had melted as the batter baked. But regardless of their flaws my madeleines came out with lovely ridges!

- In spite of the fact that for many of my grade-school years I subsisted on fluffernutter sandwiches, or maybe because of it, I couldn't get behind the marshmallow fluff filling. If someone had handed me the requisite number of tablespoons and I didn't have to buy an entire jar, or better yet, if that same someone also offered to pipe it into the madeleines, that would have been fine. But that person did not appear in my kitchen, and so my madeleines didn't get filled.

- There was some extra Dorie ganache in the freezer, so that's what I used for dipping my madeleines.

the verdict:

My madeleines were not exactly light and tender; they had a sturdy, somewhat dense crumb. They tasted like little devil's food cakes, especially with the ganache icing. Although we enjoyed the madeleines well enough, there are too many other chocolate recipes I prefer so this isn't a recipe that I'm likely to repeat. Now that I've used my new madeleine pan, however, I'm excited to try making traditional madeleines!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Thick Hot Chocolate

Some of you will undoubtedly chuckle as you read this, but the big news around here is that we got 6 inches of snow last night; today everything is closed up tight and we are all snowbound.

Snow is not exactly unheard of in Atlanta, but it is always a cause for excitement. If we get more than an inch or so, we end up with a communal snow day, since the city has no plows, sanding or salting equipment. The snow sits on the streets until it melts, helped along by the inevitable rising temperatures and the cars of those intrepid souls who will brave the conditions and the other - bad - drivers on the roads. But generally, schools and businesses close, the mail does not get delivered, and folks stay home with their newly-acquired hoards of bread and milk and wait for the eventual thaw.

With every winter storm that comes our way the biggest question is whether the electricity will go out; this time we were thrilled to have our warm cozy house and full use of our kitchen, with the backdrop of winter wonderland outside the windows. Time for hot chocolate!

When I was growing up in the foothills of western Massachusetts, we would play hard, or shovel hard, in the snow, then go to the basement and in front of the furnace we'd peel off our wet snow suits, mittens and socks (two layers of each if it was really cold). Then it was time for hot chocolate, always made with milk, which we heated on top of the stove, stirring in Hershey's chocolate syrup. We drank it straight up, eschewing marshmallows big and small, and it warmed us to the tips of our frozen fingers and toes.

Today I thought I'd try a hot chocolate recipe that I bookmarked last winter, one that sounded decidedly grown up, the Thick Hot Chocolate recipe from Renee Shettler, who writes, beautifully, for Leite's Culinaria.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The recipe for Thick Hot Chocolate is here, along with a recipe for Thin Hot Chocolate, in case you are the type who likes to taste the milk through the chocolate.

- I made 1/4 recipe, which was just enough for two full mugs of steaming hot chocolate. It's rich enough that splitting it 3 ways - if I had to - would have been fine.

- The article includes a recipe for homemade marshmallows, but since I've never liked marshmallows in hot chocolate, so it was just fine that want to take the time to make any today (although they have been on my cooking "bucket list" for a while).

- I've made hot chocolate with chocolate syrup and with cocoa poweder (and with the powdered mixes, but we won't talk about those) but never with solid chocolate. This recipe specifies finely chopped chocolate, with around 64% chocolate solids. For half of the chocolate I used a Dagoba mocha chocolate bar, and I filled in with other random bits of bittersweet chocolate that were hanging around the corners of my chocolate drawer. (The little flecks in my hot chocolate in the picture above are bits of coffee beans from the mocha chocolate that I used.)

- I forgot the fleur de sel, which is pretty funny because as I was making the hot chocolate, my husband was setting up the two salt grinders that he recently ordered after hearing about them at a party on Christmas Eve.

the verdict:

One sip of this hot chocolate and I was spoiled forever. Two sips and I realized that I needed to snap a picture quick so that you could be spoiled also!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

{TWD} Midnight Cinnamon Ice Cream Sandwiches

As is true every week, Tuesday is the day when I post baked goods from Dorie Greenspan's book Baking: From My Home to Yours as part of the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group. But this is no ordinary Tuesday, it's the third anniversary of the founding of TWD by Laurie of the blog Slush. The recipe this week is Midnight Crackles, which are chocolate cookies. I thought I'd do something special to celebrate TWD's birthday and made the cookies into ice cream sandwiches, with David Lebovitz's Cinnamon Ice Cream! I've never really made ice cream sandwiches, and found that it was a fun and fairly simple process.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- If you want to find the recipe for the cookies, click on this link from the Tuesdays With Dorie website.

- The cool thing about this group and this book is that the author, Dorie Greenspan, has a blog where she often discusses her recipes. In the past I've learned things such as that Dorie's Swedish Visiting Cake can be baked as an apple variation. For this week's recipe, Dorie had posted about making the Midnight Crackle Cookies as cut out cookies rather than drop cookies. I was intrigued, and decided to use that method to make fancy cookies for the TWD anniversary.

- Once I planned to make cut out cookies, I figured I should make some sort of sandwiches with them. I had some cinnamon ice cream in the freezer, from David Lebovitz's book The Perfect Scoop, and knew that would be a great combination with the chocolate cookies. You can find the recipe for the cinnamon ice cream here. The ice cream is made with cinnamon-stick-infused cream and it has a subtle depth of cinnamon flavor.

- The secret to making ice cream sandwiches that will last until a photo is taken is the freezer. Every stage and every element needs to spend time chilling, including the plate your will use. I froze the baked cookies while I softened the ice cream, spread out in a flat 3/4 inch thick patch on the lid of a leftover container and refroze it. After the ice cream had hardened, I cut it with the cookie cutter and placed it back in the freezer. Half and hour or so later, I removed the frozen plate, put a frozen cookie on it, put the shaped piece of ice cream on it, topped it all with another cookie, pressed just a bit, and voila!

- Yes, you read it correctly. I made one ice cream sandwich. The rest of the cookie dough I rolled out inside of a large zipper freezer bag and froze. The next time I need cookies, I can pull out the frozen dough, cut with cookie cutters and bake.

- To see the midnight crackle cookies as they were written, puffy with crackled tops, check out the posts of the other TWD bakers.

the verdict:

Some day I'll try the recipe as it was originally written and make crackly pillowy chocolate cookies, but this week I had fun trying the roll-out variation Dorie had suggested. I discovered a wonderfully versatile, easy, and delicious chocolate cut out cookie that was great for ice cream sandwiches and would also be good for decorating or sandwiching in a number of other ways.

Happy Anniversary to the Tuesdays With Dorie group! I've enjoyed every week that I've been a member.