Sunday, February 27, 2011

New England Boiled Cider Apple Pie

Around the beginning of February I heard a rumor that February is National Pie Month. [translation: I read it on the internet somewhere, but now I can't find a reliable citation.] Any excuse is a good excuse to eat pie, so I baked about half a dozen pies this month. I need to hurry if I want to share a pie with you before the month is out. So without further ado, I present a very special apple pie.

I stumbled on this recipe quite by accident when I was baking some bread from a James Beard recipe on the James Beard Foundation website. My eyes strayed to a box on the sidebar featuring two pies: New England Boiled Cider Pie and Shaker Lemon Pie. They both sounded absolutely delicious, but the cider pie was especially perfect because I have such an excess of farm box apples and also a bottle of boiled cider in the refrigerator (but I have since baked a version of the lemon pie too.)

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Richard Sax created this pie and you can find the recipe on the James Beard Foundation website, here.

- I made half a recipe and baked it in my 7" pie pan.

- The recipe calls for boiled cider, either prepared or homemade, giving directions for boiling 2 cups of apple cider until it is reduced to 2/3 cup. I used the boiled apple cider from King Arthur Flour. I have really enjoyed adding this concentrated cider to apple desserts to increase their apple-y goodness. In fact, my bottle is nearly empty!

- There's also a solid dose of lemon juice in the pie filling. I splashed in a bit extra because my apples weren't as tart as Granny Smiths.

the verdict:

This pie was packed with intense apple flavor. Whipped cream provided a mellow counterpoint to the sharpness of the tart apple and lemon/cider custard. This pie was such a hit that we pretty much fought over the last piece!

Monday, February 21, 2011

{TWD} Toasted Almond Scones

I'm pretty excited about Tuesdays With Dorie this week. Our host is Mike of Living Out West, and he has a brand new blog as of today. I don't think you can see his old posts at the moment so you'll have to imagine the beautiful baked goods that Mike consistently turns out. Not only that, he is creative, generous, and helpful to boot.

This week Mike chose the Toasted Almond Scones for all of the TWD bakers to bake. It's hard to go wrong with scones; they are quick and easy, and can do duty all through the day: scones for breakfast are a natural, but they are also yummy as a mid-morning, mid-afternoon, bedtime, or midnight snack, not to mention a sweet accompaniment to lunch or dinner. Yes, scones truly go the distance.

These scones sounded particularly delicious. Almond is one of my favorite flavors in baked goods, and are particularly almondy, since they are made with almond flour, almond extract and chopped almonds. With sliced almonds on top, they truly promise almond overload.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- If you'd like the recipe for these scones, Mike will have it on his scones post today.

- Working with scone dough, as with any "short" dough, it's important not to overmix the ingredients. I was very careful not to over-handle the dough. Patting myself on the back that I had kept a light hand when mixing my scones, I suddenly stopped short, realizing that I had forgotten to put in chopped almonds. And I had already formed the discs. At that point I decided to experiment. I took one of the discs and rekneaded it gently with half of the cut almonds, then reshaped it into a disc, topped it with slices almonds, and cut into wedges for baking. I left the other disc of dough as it was, with no almonds in the dough. Instead I sprinkled the chopped almonds on top before cutting it into wedges.

- Dorie's method of dividing the dough produces a dozen scones that are quite petite.

- My scones baked for 18 minutes (the recipe says 20-22 minutes) and they were definitely done. Another minute in the oven would have over-baked them.

the verdict:

It turned out that I didn't need to worry about over-handling my scones. Both sets of scones turned out fine, even the ones that I had to re-knead to add the chopped almonds. They all rose beautifully in the oven and came out puffed and golden. As far as taste, they were tender, flaky and delicately, but definitely, almondy. The scones weren't very sweet, making them the perfect vehicle for butter and jam.

Of the two versions, I actually liked the ones with the almonds on top and the plain insides. To my taste, the crunchy chopped almonds interfered with my enjoyment of the flaky goodness of the scones' crumb. My husband was thrilled to see a scone in his breakfast lineup: "I like this. It's nice and flaky" And every time he ate one he'd exclaim again about their flakiness.

Thanks, Mike for the great choice and congrats on your new blog!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

{TWD} Chocolate Oat Drop Cookies

I didn't bake many cookies during the Christmas season this year, so I was left with a surplus of cookie-baking energy. When the February recipes were announced for the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group, I baked the Chocolate Oat Drops right away; the combination of chocolate and oats in a cookie sounded like it would be a winning combination.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Caroline and Claire of Bake With Us chose the recipe this week; if you want to bake these cookies, click over to their post for the recipe, or find it on page 75 of Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking, From My Home to Yours.

- I made half a recipe, which produced 24 cookies.

- I used a combination of 54% chocolate and 72% chocolate.

- The first baking sheet of these cookies stayed mounded as they baked. Halfway through, when I rotated the baking sheet, I flattened them with a spatula. For the next baking sheet, I flattened them before I put them in the oven.

- My oats were Bob's Red Mill Old Fashioned Rolled Oats.

the verdict:

The cookies were cakey and soft and a bit crumbly, yet at the same time improbably, they were chewy. The flavor of cocoa came through like it would in a brownie.

I served the cookies at my book group meeting, and here's the report: nobody complained, they seemed happy to have some chocolate cookies, and I didn't have any trouble giving away the leftovers, but there were no rave reviews, either.

All in all, they were very pleasant chocolate cookies, although ultimately, when I want brownie flavor, I'd just as soon have a brownie.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cognac & Coffee Ice Cream

James Beard was a seminal figure in the coming-of-age of American food in the middle of the last century. I've heard of his many cookbooks - Beard on Bread, Beard on Food, James Beard's American Cookery, and many more - but I don't own any of them, and the only James Beard recipe I've made was his sweet potato dinner roll (which is my very favorite dinner roll). Determined to explore his cooking, I've been perusing the James Beard Foundation website, which has an extensive selection of Beard's recipes online. I bookmarked several, but the one that reached out and grabbed me was his recipe for Cognac & Coffee Ice Cream.

If there is one sweet my husband truly loves, it's ice cream, and I try to have some in the freezer at all times. He never tires of it, so I figured a special ice cream recipe would be a fun Valentine's day treat to make for him.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the James Beard recipe here.

- Seriously, you've gotta love this recipe's simple directions for making ice cream base: "combine all ingredients and stir!" I wasn't sure that the sugar or the instant coffee would dissolve when mixed with a bunch of cream from the fridge.

- I made half a recipe of this ice cream because a full recipe calls for a cup of cognac and that's an awful lot of Henne$$y to use in one recipe!

- I'm pretty used to ice cream recipes that call for the sugar to be combined with some of the liquid and heated, and that's what I did here. I warmed 1 cup of the cream with the sugar and coffee until they both dissolved. Then I added this heated mixture to the rest of the cream in an ice bath. I used half and half in place of the recipe's light cream.

- Alcohol is a useful addition to homemade ice cream because it keeps the ice cream from freezing rock hard. In cases where you don't want the flavor to stand out, vodka is a good choice. For fruit-based ice creams, David Lebovitz, my ice cream guru, recommends kirsch.

- When it came time to add the cognac, I got cold feet. David Lebovitz's rule of thumb is that 3 tablespoons is about the upper limit of alcohol to use for each quart of ice cream. And yet this recipe calls for a whopping half cup, which comes out to 4 ounces - 8 tablespoons! - for less than a quart of ice cream! As I was pouring the cognac into the ice cream base, it was looking like a ton of cognac. I didn't want the ice cream to be a slushy, non-freezing mess, so I stopped at 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) for the half recipe.- Luckily the ice cream froze despite the large amount of alcohol, but once out of the freezer it melted at lightning speed. I seriously doubt that the ice cream would have frozen if it had the full amount of cognac.

the verdict:

I'm used to ice cream with alcohol; I routinely add rum to our everyday vanilla ice cream and I've made an assortment of alcohol-flavored ice creams (for example, here and here) I've also churned several different coffee ice creams, but I've never combined the coffee with alcohol in ice cream, so I was curious to sample Beard's recipe. The taste of the cognac was front and center - this ice cream is quite boozy - but the coffee provided a nice supporting flavor. In fact, the ice cream was a little bit like a frozen Irish coffee.

My husband enjoyed this ice cream flavor quite a bit. When I told him he couldn't polish off the carton of ice cream quite yet because I needed to photograph it, his comment was, "Why? all ice cream looks the same." I have to admit that he has a point, especially given all the tan and white ice creams that we eat! Luckily I could placate him with cookies and saved the ice cream to photograph the next day in daylight.

Because this ice cream was not custard based it tasted a little "thin" when I ate it on its own. But with a brownie on the side, this ice cream was an amazing complement to the chocolate. A perfect Valentine's dessert.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cornmeal Lime Cookies

In the run-up to Christmas I read a lot of year-end cookbook reviews. A lot. You can see links to most of them from this post I wrote in December. The more I read, the longer my Christmas list grew and on Christmas morning there was a tall stack of cookbooks under the tree. I've been dipping into my new books here and there, and will be sharing some of my new finds with you, but one book that I've not yet used is Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe, written by Joanne Chang, owner of the three Flour bakeries in Boston.

My friend Mary of Popsicles and Sandy Feet is pretty much the reigning expert on the Flour cookbook. She's probably baked half of the recipes from the book at this point! I got the chance to meet Mary in person in November, and we hit it off instantly. We don't live very close to each other - Connecticut and Georgia - so we keep up with what's going on in each other's kitchens via Twitter. We got to talking and planned a Twitter bake-along for the Cornmeal Lime Cookies. We baked at the same time, in our own homes, and compared notes as we went along. Lucky for me, Mary was a bit ahead of me and I got to benefit from her tips as she baked! Check out her cookie post for more lime-cookie goodness!

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I used my brand new Flour cookbook for the recipe, but you can find it on this blog.

- I made 3/4 recipe, which scaled fairly easily. I would have needed 1.5 eggs, but luckily I had an 81 gram jumbo egg (a chicken egg!) which was a perfect equivalent for the way I scaled the recipe.

- The recipe calls for creaming the butter and sugar for a very long time. I used my hand mixer and instead of the recommended 10 minutes, I creamed for 7. The butter was plenty fluffy at that point.

- The specified size of 1/4 cup of dough would make a bigger cookie than I wanted, so I used 1/8 cup of dough per cookie. After 16 minutes in the oven they were perfectly done.

- Don't skip the glaze, even if you don't normally like frosted cookies - I don't - because the glaze makes these cookies. The glaze recipe yields just enough to thickly glaze the cookies.

the verdict:

We loved these cookies! They are soft and pillowy and taste sweetly of lime. The crunch from the cornmeal is fun and the zing from the lime glaze keeps things lively. Even though they are not pink or heart-shaped, I think these cookies would be a great shot of citrus sunniness to dispel any of your Valentine sweetheart's late winter blahs.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

{TWD} Bourbon Bread Pudding

In the past couple of years of blogging about baked goods, I've learned a few things about bread pudding. One, people either love it or despise it. Two, most people fall in the "despise it" camp. It's either too eggy, or too soggy, or both. Three, the people who despise bread pudding are pretty much never going to change their opinion to a positive one.

And here's a fourth thing I've learned: it nearly impossible to photograph bread pudding so that it looks appetizing, even to those who do like it, but especially to those who don't.

We like bread pudding, a lot actually, so I was happy to make this week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe, Bourbon Bread Pudding. When I was finished, it didn't look very pretty - bread puddings are never going to win any beauty contests. Because I was seriously short on daylight, and it was time for us to eat the bread pudding, I didn't garnish or decorate before snapping the picture. It might have helped the looks of the pudding but I doubt it would have won over any hearts and minds to the pro-bread pudding camp.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Sharon of the blog Simply Southern chose the bread pudding this week, and you can click over to her blog post to find the recipe.

- I made a quarter recipe in two individual ramekins. The ingredients divided quite easily except for the eggs - I needed 1 egg + 1 yolk. I solved the problem by using a huge duck egg (75 grams) from my farm box. Duck eggs tend to have very large yolks in relation to the amount of egg white, so I figured it would be perfect.

- My fridge had a perfect-in-size (2 ounce) piece of slightly old Milk Loaf. I further "staled" it in the oven, following Dorie's instructions. while the bread is getting stale and dry in the oven, it's quick business to make the custard, Then the custard is poured over the staled bread and the assembled puddings rest on the counter for an hour before baking, to allow the bread to soak up the liquid. That seemed like a very long time for my puddings; the bread got very soft as it soaked.

- There was only 1 teaspoon of bourbon in my quarter recipe. I gave the custard a tiny taste as I was mixing it up, and the bourbon was barely detectable, so I took a little chance and doubled the amount of bourbon.

the verdict:

We ate these puddings warm from the oven, and they were a welcome finish to a winter meal. They were not, however, my favorite bread pudding. The cubes of milk loaf nearly dissolved in the soaking and baking process, so the puddings turned out a little spongy. I prefer a more pronounced difference between the bread and the custard. If I were to use milk loaf again, I'd soak for a much shorter time before baking the pudding.

The flavor of the bread puddings was a bit bland. The bourbon was very subtle, even though I'd doubled the amount. Maybe tripling it would be a better idea? As it was, the stongest flavor was the cinnamon. I missed the texture and sweetness of dried fruit, which is not included in this recipe.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Wild Mushroom Basque "Tortilla"

Dorie Greenspan's book, Around My French Table, includes a variety of dishes that have come into France from other cultures, near and far. In the case of the Basque Tortilla, France borrowed at least the name of the dish from the area across the Pyrennes. This recipe has a Spanish name - "tortilla" - although we'd be tempted to call this fluffy egg dish a frittata or an omelet.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The Basque Tortilla is this week's choice for the French Fridays With Dorie cooking group.

- In Dorie's main recipe, a cooked potato and onion mixture is added to the eggs, but in the "Bonne Idees" sidebar, Dorie gives several variations, including a mushroom one. That was all the permission I needed to skip the potatoes and use the package of fresh wild mushrooms in my fridge.

- First I cooked the mushrooms with onions, sherry and nutmeg according to the mushroom filling in this strudel recipe from Leite's Culinaria. I had 4 ounces of mushrooms, just right for 1/4 recipe of filling.

- I skipped the tricky math and figured that my mushrooms would be about the correct amount for 2/3 recipe of the Basque Tortilla. That meant I needed 6 large eggs; I got out my scale and measured out the equivalent weight of fresh eggs from my farm box. 3 enormous duck eggs and 2 of the smaller chicken eggs were the perfect amount. I used my small cast iron skillet.

- The recipe couldn't be easier: mix the filling and eggs, then cook nice and slowly on top of the stove, with a few swipes of a silicone spatula to make sure the sides don't stick to the side of the skillet. When the center is nearly cooked the skillet is broiled until the eggs are just set. Under the broiler the tortilla puffs and browns beautifully.

the verdict:

The hot "tortilla" made for a lovely dinner with pumpkin soup and a green salad. The very center of the tortilla was like custard even though there was no dairy added to the eggs. The mushrooms/onion filling gave a savory, almost earthy, set of flavors to the eggs. Next time I might add a bit of prosciutto. Leftovers were quite nice for lunch the next day, served at room temperature as Dorie suggests. In fact, I preferred the barely-warm serving to the one that I ate when it was hot.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

{TWD} Honey Maple Great Grain Muffins

I began baking with whole grains years ago because of their touted health benefits. Somewhere along the way I realized that I liked the flavor of whole grains. A lot. In fact, in most basic breads I prefer those with some whole grain to the plain white flour varieties. I've even gotten used to the dense heavy texture that can come with whole grain baking.

When it came time to bake this week's Tuesdays With Dorie baking assignment, the Great Grain Muffins, I was curious to see how Dorie Greespan would handle a recipe with significant whole grain presence.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The recipe this week was chosen by Christine of the blog Happy Tummy. You can find the recipe by checking out her muffin post.

- Dorie's recipe has all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, corn meal, and rolled oats. I played with it a little bit and substituted 1/3 cup of oat flour for an equal amount of the white flour in the recipe. My final grain amounts were 2/3 whole grain and 1/3 white flour.

- As if there weren't enough ingredients and flavors going on in these muffins, I used half honey crystals, half sugar for the white sugar specified in the recipe

- To emphasize the maple flavor I used Grade B syrup.

- Dorie gives a lot of latitude to stir in any nut or dried fruit - or none, if that's what we choose. I added some chopped toasted pecans and chopped dried cherries

- I baked the muffins in 12 individual silicone muffin molds. The batter filled the muffin cups. I was a little concerned that I'd have overflow issues, but the muffins crested the edges of the molds without running over. They were just the slightest bit rounded on top, or maybe that was my wishful thinking.

- Even when fully baked my muffins were a bit pale, maybe because I lowered the oven temperature 25 degrees to compensate for dark silicone muffin molds.

the verdict:

There were just two of us at home the morning I baked these muffins, so I pulled out a container to freeze most of the muffins. Over the course of breakfast, however, the dozen quickly dwindled as we popped one after another of the still-warm fresh muffins onto our plates. By the time the meal was over, there weren't enough muffins left to freeze. I knew that we'd be excited to see them for breakfast the next morning, and that they would then be gone!

I'd venture to say that these were the best muffins I've ever baked. Despite the quantitiy of whole grains, the muffins were light and tender, and were filled with the kind of flavor that's just right with a cup of coffee, tea, or even orange juice. A perfect breakfast muffin!