Tuesday, March 29, 2011

{TWD} Pecan Powder Puff Cookies

I can't seem to get enough of cookie-baking lately. Few things are more appealing than fresh cookies, and this week's Tuesdays With Dorie baking assignment, Pecan Powder Puffs, provided my latest excuse to fill the proverbial cookie jar!

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Tia of Buttercream Barbie was responsible for choosing this week's recipe. If you'd like the recipe for these Pecan Powder Puffs, click over to her blog.

- This recipe is Dorie Greenspan's version of Mexican wedding cookies.

- The recipe came together easily. The only thing I changed was to use freshly-grated nutmeg instead of cinnamon.

- I found that my melon ball tool was perfect for scooping out the cookie dough into smooth spheres.

the verdict:

These were crumbly, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth delicious cookies. I'm thrilled to add them to my cookie repertory.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

{TWD} Chestnut Honey and Toasted Walnut Brownies

Before making this week's recipe for Tuesdays With Dorie, the Honey Nut Brownies, I had a little debate with myself. On the one hand I've never heard of honey as an ingredient in a chocolate brownie. I was skeptical.

On the other hand I like honey. A lot. In fact, I probably have half a dozen different types of honey in my cupboard. And little known fact: honey doesn't expire; it contains some antibiotic-type properties that preserve it indefinitely, apparently.

Back to the original hand, the question remained: Would honey be good with chocolate? Maybe I should cut the amount of honey and fill in with Llyles golden syrup, or sorghum, or even molasses. But that would totally defeat the intention of having honey brownies, wouldn't it? Dorie's unusual-sounding recipes have pleasantly surprised me time and again, so I decided to try the brownies as written and see.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The brownie recipe was chosen by Suzy of Suzy Homemaker. You can click over to her post to find the recipe.

- Since I was embracing the honey-in-brownies concept, I decided to go all-in and use uber-strong chestnut honey, since Dorie said that flavor complements the chocolate in the brownies.

- I made 1/4 recipe in 3.5 x 6 inch pan, which I lined with a non-stick foil sling.

- For nuts I used walnuts, since they have a strong enough flavor to stand up to a bold honey like chestnut.

the verdict:

I took a bit of brownie and thought, "Chestnut honey, and...more chestnut honey." Everything else faded into the background. The brownies forced me to decide how much I really like chestnut honey. David Lebovitz says that chestnut honey tastes "brusque and bitter" and maybe that's how to best describe its strong and unusual flavor.

At that point JDE walked into the kitchen. I asked if she'd be a taste-tester. Her reaction: "I don't think they can be called brownies if they don't have chocolate." Not only was there not enough chocolate to balance the strong honey taste, the chocolate flavor was nearly undetectable. With an undeniably cakey texture, these brownies were more like a snack cake than a typical chocolate brownie.

Although the brownies took me by surprise at first, I came to like them as I tried bite after bite; they were better the second day when the flavors had settled a bit. If you like honey and you're not expecting a strong chocolate hit, you might enjoy these brownies Be sure to use your favorite honey flavor because it will take center stage.

but they kind of grew on me

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Maple Glazed Pork Chops

Did you know that it's maple syrup tapping time right now? Although maple pairs beautifully with fall flavors such as apple and pumpkin, the actual making of maple syrup is a late winter/early spring endeavor.

I love maple, so I'll look for nearly any excuse to use it in a recipe. That's one reason why I chose the recipe for Pan-Fried Glazed Pork Chops from Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Food Revolution cookbook, which I borrowed from my library. According to the recipe, the pork chop glaze can be made with a number of different ingredients: applesauce, jam, honey, maple syrup, chutney. I was most excited to see maple syrup in that list, so that's what I used.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the recipe for these pork chops here.

- The premise of Jamie Oliver's book is that delicious homemade food from fresh ingredients is attainable for everyone in a short amount of time. This recipe came together quite quickly.

- The recipe gives directions for removing and cooking the skin from the chops until they are crackling, then serving them on top of the chop along with some fried sage leaves. The pork chops I used did not have any skin, so I just garnished with the sage leaves.

- I need to experiment a bit more with the cooking time and temperature. My chops got slightly overcooked as I waited for them to brown.

the verdict:

The chops had a wonderful sweet/savory combination of flavors. The fond in the pan tasted divine! I'll hang onto this tasty and fun recipe.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

{TWD} Citrus Currant Sunshine Muffins

Although Spring is just around the corner, this year's chilly weather needs a bit of a push. Enter this week's assignment for the TWD bakers: Citrus Currant Sunshine Muffins. Not only do these muffins promise some sunny warmth, they deliver it first thing in the morning when it will get your day off to a bright start.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Lauryn of the blog Bella Baker chose the muffins for us to bake this week. If you'd like to bake them, you can find the recipe on Lauryn's post.

- I had some whole wheat flour left after milling it for the Buffalo Barn Raisers bread that I baked earlier in the week, so I used it in these muffins. The whole wheat flour made up a little less than half of the total amount of flour in the muffins.

- The last time I stocked up on currants, the ones I found were extremely tiny, and I knew they would be perfect for muffins. I plumped the currants by letting them soak in warmed orange juice for about 10 minutes.

- My silicone muffin tins are dark in color, so I reduced the oven temperature a bit. My muffins baked 360 degrees for 18 minutes

- When the muffins came out of the oven they were flat-topped, just as Dorie described in the recipe.

the verdict:

Warm from the oven, these muffins were a taste of a bright sunny day, even in the middle of late winter chill - fresh and citrusy with a little shot of intense sweetness from the currants. They had a perfect balance of sweet and bright in a moist, muffin crumb. When the last muffin was gone it was like a little shadow fell over our kitchen.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Buttermilk Pie for Pi Day

Happy Pi Day! While every day is a food holiday of some sort, one of the very best is Pie/Pi Day, March 14. Get it? Pi, in its most significant digits, is 3.14 so each year 3/14 is the day we punnily celebrate Pi Day with pie!

For this special pie occasion I chose a pie that I've been wanting to try for a long time, Buttermilk Pie, which is an American classic.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The recipe is from One Big Table by Molly O'Neill. This cookbook is packed full of terrific regional dishes from all across the US. I have enjoyed the things I've made from the cookbook and was excited to try another recipe.

- I made a mini pie in 7 pie shell. For the crust I used half a recipe of the Cook's Illustrated Foolproof Pie Dough, which I posted here.

- For the buttermilk filling I used a heaping 1/3 recipe. I've included the recipe, as I adapted it to a mini, below.

- I watched this pie carefully as it was in the oven, and let it bake until the filling was just set. The pie had the most perfect creamy texture, and the top was just turning golden brown.

- To get the recipe's full effect, I made the blackberry sauce but instead of the liqueur in the recipe I used lemon juice to thin the preserves.

the verdict:

I brought this pie to my book group - and was lucky to get a picture before our meeting because it was totally gone by the end of the evening. The pie made quite a stir. One comment: "Oh. THIS is good." The pie was creamy and sweet with just a slight tang from the buttermilk. The tart fruitiness of the blackberry sauce provided the perfect complement to the pie.

the recipe:

Barbara J. Duke's Buttermilk Pie with Blackberry Sauce
Montgomery, Alabama, adapted from One Big Table by Molly O'Neill

Makes one 7" pie (serves 3-4)

For the Crust:

one half recipe of pie crust for single crust pie - I used the Cook's Illustrated Foolproof Pie Dough

For the Pie Filling:

1 jumbo egg, (61g without shell)

1/3 cup sugar
1 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
3 ounces buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the Sauce:
1/4 cup highest-quality seedless blackberry preserves
2 teaspoons Chambord liqueur (I used lemon juice)

1. To make the pie: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Roll out and fit the crust into a 7" pie pan. Beat the eggs slightly in a large bowl. Combine the sugar and flour, add to the eggs, and continue beating until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the butter and mix well. Add the buttermilk and vanilla and beat well to combine. Pour into the pie shell and bake for 25 minutes or until the custard is set. Cool on a rack.

2. While the pie is baking, make the sauce: Put the preserves in a saucepan and warm on medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the Chambord or lemon juice.

3. Cool to lukewarm and serve over the pie.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

{TWD} Slightly Less Corny Corn Muffins

The selection for this week's Tuesdays With Dorie baking group is Dorie Greenspan's Corniest Corn Muffins. Ever since I've joined this group I've heard rave reviews of these corn muffins, so I was definitely interested in trying them out for myself. Since they are kin to cornbread, there is the inevitable North/South/West divide as to the amount of sweetener that is appropriate. Luckily I sidestep all those differences of opinion and eat my cornbread any way that it is served to me. Except, however, with kernels of corn in it. If I chop the corn kernels when adding them to corn bread or muffins they will pass muster, but whole kernels are pretty much unacceptable.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The muffins were picked for the group this week by Jill of the blog My Next Life. If you don't happen to have the book, you can visit Jill's blog for the recipe.

- I love honey alongside my corn muffins, so this time I decided to bake it right into the muffins. I substituted 5 T honey crystals for the recipe's 6 T sugar. Next time I think I'd cut at least one more tablespoon.

- For oil I used light tasting olive oil rather than corn oil, because that's what I had handy.

- I omitted the corn kernels.

- The batter filled the muffin cups about half way. As they baked, they rose nicely and filled the muffins cups to the top.

the verdict:

These muffins lived up to their hype. They were fluffy and moist, lightly sweet, with a subtle crunch. My daughter JDE tasted one and observed: "these are really nice." They definitely beat out the box muffins from Jiffy!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Crispy Brined Pecans

When I saw this odd gadget in a back corner of my in-laws' kitchen cupboard I squealed with delight. And since they hadn 't used it in ages, I got to take it home with me. Why the excitement, you ask? This contraption is a pecan-cracker, and the beauty of the thing is that if you set it correctly, it will crack the shell so that it is easy to remove and leaves a whole intact nutmeat.

Here in Georgia I've been getting bags of pecans in my farm box each week, and have accumulated quite a stash. Up until now I've only had a hand cracker. The "new" cracker entered my life at just the right time; I had a recipe in mind, Spiced Brined Pecans. I'd seen it on the Food 52 site and the method was so intriguing I just had to try the recipe.

Food 52 is the brainchild of Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs and is one of the most fun and useful food sites on the internet. Not only does it have weekly themed recipe contests with really good recipes, a wildly entertaining annual cookbook tournament, and a cool shop, there's also a helpful forum that provides answers to cooking questions.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the recipe here.

- I increased the recipe by half, using 3 cups of pecans instead of the recipe's 2 cups.

- The recipe is quick to throw together unless you are cracking 3 cups of pecans. Even with my spiffy cracking machine, it took a bit of time to separate the nuts from the shells. Of course, it would be a cinch if you started with already-shelled nuts.

- My nuts soaked in the brine for 6 hours.

- I baked the nuts for for 9 1/2 hours. My upper oven doesn't go as low as 150 degrees, so I put the baking sheet in my lower oven. The dial for the lower oven has marked settings down to 200 degrees and a range of "warm" below that. I picked a spot somewhere in the "warm" range that I hoped was approximately correct. After a couple of hours, I went out and purchased an oven thermometer to see exactly where 150 fell on the "warm" scale. I realized that I'd been baking the nuts at around 175 degrees, but adjusted the oven down for the remainder of the cooking time. I suspect that if your oven doesn't go as low as 150, these would turn out just fine at any temperature lower than 200.

- The nuts needed little, if any, tending while they baked.

- At the end of the baking time, the nuts didn't look very different from how they started, except dry instead of wet. The showed no visible signs of spice or salt.

the verdict:

I love this technique! The brining adds lots of flavor, but it is subtly infused throughout the nut, and the long slow bake dries the nuts and provides an appealing crunchy texture.

I was very glad that I'd increased the recipe; these nuts make a great snack. There are other variations of nuts/spices on the food 52 site, and I can't wait to check out some of the other flavors.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

{TWD} Chocolate Pots de Creme

It's a testament to the depth and quality of Dorie Greenspan's book Baking; From My Home to Yours that even after three-plus years of the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group, the final 50 remaining recipes include an array of interesting, unusual, and also classic, choices for the group to make. Case in point is this week's assignment, the Chocolate Pots de Creme, a wonderfully elegant French nod to chocolate pudding.

I'm not sure I've ever tasted pots de creme, but I've certainly enjoyed my fair share of pudding, so a fancy-sounding French version seemed quite enticing. I'd make them in my glass ramekins. And then I looked at this week's P&Q post. The first comment, from Becky O., gave a link for purchasing specialized pots to make pots de creme. Once I clicking on that link I was smitten with the little pots, with their adorable little lids, and with their matching saucers. I had no idea such cuteness in baking dishes existed. Although I managed to resist purchasing any unitasking dessert bakeware, seeing the array of pots de creme sets kind of ruined me for making this dish in my everyday ramekins!

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Christine of BlackCatCooking chose this week's recipe. If you'd like the recipe for the pots de creme, click over to her post to find it.

- The hardest part of this recipe was figuring out what in my kitchen would be a decent substitute for the adorable pots de creme pots. I pulled out a couple of small pitchers and some tiny saucers that could serve as lids. Then I spied it: my little sugar bowl was just the right size and nearly the right shape. It didn't have a sweet floral print but it did have its own lid!

- I made half a recipe and decided this dessert was worthy of the good chocolate, so I pulled out some 62% Schaffen Berg dark chocolate.

- Back in the early days of TWD the fact that this recipe entailed tempering eggs would have sent me into a tailspin. But after making custards, ice cream bases, creme anglaises, etc., I've gotten quite used to add hot liquid to eggs without scrambling them.

- As I was portioning the liquid among my four assorted pots, I sampled a little spoonful. It tasted more creme-ish than chocolate-ish, and I wondered if I should have used darker chocolate, or more chocolate. But it was too late to change anything, so into the oven the little pots went, in their water bath, or bain marie, as the French would call it.

- My pots were baked in about 30 minutes.

- I served the pots plain so that we could assess/appreciate the chocolate flavor.

the verdict:

Based on my pre-baking sneak taste, I was not expecting great things from my pots de creme. But baking and chilling magically transformed the custard into a creamy version of milk chocolate heaven. The rich creaminess of the pots put chocolate pudding to shame.

My daughter JDE loved the pots de creme as much as I did. "These are soooooo good," she said, "I'm going to dream about them! Let's make every flavor of pots de creme." I think we might start with vanilla bean. And maybe this will be my signature dessert, and I can justify a little purchase of pots de creme pots...