Tuesday, April 26, 2011

{TWD} Cornmeal Shortbread Cookies


When my daughters were in the 5th grade they had to do what was called a "country report." This entailed writing a written report about a country to which they felt some connection, dressing in appropriate traditional clothes and serving some sort of dish native to the country. Drawing at my husband's heritage, my older daughter chose Scotland, and she baked shortbread from Sheila Lukins' Around the World cookbook. And thus began our love affair with homemade shortbread in general and that recipe in particular.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- If you click over to the blog Une Gamine Dans la Cuisine, Valerie will have the recipe on her shortbread post.

- I made half recipe of these cookies.

- Unlike my usual shortbread recipe, Dorie's recipe calls for both cornstarch and cornmeal, as well as lemon zest.

- I always love a chance to roll cookie dough inside of a zipper plastic bag before chilling and cutting it.

- As they baked, these cookies spread more than I would have liked. (I chose the best ones for the picture) But luckily, the shape didn't affect the flavor!

the verdict:

Shortbread is always a favorite at our house, and this version was well-liked. It was perfectly baked; not dry at all, with a wonderful lemony flavor and a bit of a crunch from the cornmeal. The cookies were popular with our book group. Most of the cookies flew off the plate, and I left the remaining few with the host couple. In truth, these shortbread cookies don't match the buttery deliciousness of our usual shortbread, but I liked the special quirks provided by the lemon and cornmeal.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Carrot Cake for Easter

IMG_2336 - Version 2

I recently acquired a vintage egg-shaped cake pan, made by Nordic Ware, and was dying to use it this Easter. The biggest question? Which recipe to use. My new Essential New York Times Cookbook, a labor of love (and talent!) by Amanda Hesser, has an intriguing recipe for a carrot cake that promises to be "light as cotton." Carrot cake - of the dense variety - is a huge favorite around here, so I thought I'd give the fluffy version a try. The cake's full name is Maria Tillman Jackson Roger's Carrot Cake, and with that moniker it just had to be great!

IMG_2347 - Version 2

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the recipe here, and, great news, it includes weight measurements as well as volume (the cookbook recipes are in volume only). Hesser made one change when she included the cake in the cookbook - she doubled the amount of cream cheese in the frosting while keeping all of the other ingredients the same. You end up with more frosting volume, and it is creamier and less sweet.

- The recipe yields three 9-inch cake layers. I was too lazy to measure the capacity of my egg pans, and, eyeballing it, decided to make half recipe of the cake. It turns out that the egg cake pans are bigger than they look, and the cake halves didn't rise all the way to the rims as they baked. As a result, my finished egg is a bit flat. I'm betting that 2/3 recipe would have been perfect, meaning that each of the two half eggs is equivalent to a 9" round layer.

- I did make a full recipe of the frosting because I had to frost the entire cake, including the bottom. It's hard to see in my pictures, but this is a three dimensional egg-shaped cake. (Would that be called an "ovoid solid"?) I had about 3/4 cup leftover frosting. I used the new frosting formulation from the cookbook, which doubled the cream cheese but kept the amount of sugar the same, instead of the frosting from how the recipe was originally published by the New York Times. (The original frosting is the one included in the recipe linked above)

- As I was frosting the cake I realized that I had not thought through a decoration plan for my Easter egg cake. Plain cream cheese frosting is fine for a layer cake, but a spiffy Easter egg should be a bit more festive. It was late at night, though, and I wasn't up to the challenge of tinting, piping, sprinkling or anything else. So on Easter morning I scattered some flowers from my herb garden over the cake platter and called it done.

IMG_2343 - Version 2

the verdict:

While I'm not sure I'd call my cake "light as cotton," it had a moist, even crumb that was not the least bit heavy. There was none of the usual spice and added ingredients that are endemic to carrot cakes, but the chopped pecans gave a welcome textural boost.

My daughter thought it was not carrot cake-y enough, and my husband thought it "could use a bit more spice but was superb otherwise." For the next time, I'd probably add some cinnamon and nutmeg to the cake batter, and a pinch more sugar to the frosting.

IMG_2350 - Version 2

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

{TWD} Brushes With Fame, Friends Real and Virtual, and Apple Tourte


Last week something happened that I had been nervously anticipating for several months. An article came out in "O" (Oprah's magazine) about the communities of bakers and cooks that have formed around Dorie Greenspan's two most recent cookbooks: the Tuesdays With Dorie group baking through every recipe in Baking; From My Home to Yours, and French Fridays With Dorie cooking through her Around My French Table.

Here's the reason for my nerves: I had been interviewed for the article, I was in a picture that was possibly going to be used, and I had no idea which quote would be chosen or what would happen when my name was in a national magazine. You can see the online version of the article here, or you could buy the newsstand version and see my quote featured in huge red type:

What happened when the article was published? Pretty much nothing! Our blog names weren't mentioned in the article, so there weren't any additional visitors to my blog. And nobody from my real life - present or past - contacted me to say, "is that you in Oprah this month?"

So in the ensuing quiet, I had some time to contemplate the article, which focused on the connections between members of the groups, the communities that we've formed. First of all, I was thrilled that the founder of the two Dorie groups, Laurie of the blog Slush, was in the article's lede. Such fitting tribute to a generous baker, organizer, and blogger!

I was interested to see my quote in print. My hour's conversation with the reporter could have yielded any number of quotes, and I can see why he chose that one for the way he wrote the article. And really, although what I said is a bit "state the obvious," I have enjoyed the real life encounters that I've had with virtual baking friends near and far.

My baking/blogging buddies certainly don't replace my other, more conventionally-acquired friends. Additionally, I haven't traveled very far solely to meet a fellow blogger (with the exception of a short trip to an adjoining state for lunch with a blogging acquaintance), but in my travels I have had lots of fun connecting with people I otherwise wouldn't have met if not for our online baking and cooking activities. When I recently learned that my husband will be spending substantial portions of time working in a far-away region of the country, one that I've never visited, I immediately contacted a TWD blogger and her positive response made me feel that I already had a friend in that area!

Back in November I was able to meet up with fellow TWD and FFwD members and got a chance to meet Dorie herself! I described the meeting in this post, and our gathering of like-kitchens formed the foundation for the article in O - three of the bloggers quoted were all at that meet-up.

December 11 2010 Bakers
Jessica, me and Jeannette in Houston

When I was in Houston in December, I managed to meet up with Jessica of The Singleton in the Kitchen (we went to an Alice Medrich cookie-baking demonstration which I wrote about here) and with Jeannette of The Whimsical Cupcake, who just so happens to be this week's hostess for Tuesdays With Dorie (ha! Bet you were wondering when I was going to get around to TWD!) Jessica, Jeannette and I chatted for hours that flew like minutes, and Jeannette's husband was very patient with all of our blog-and-food conversation. I knew that when it was her turn to choose, Jeannette would pick a fun recipe, and she did.

Dorie calls this week's recipe Tourtely Apple Tart, and it's a kind of apple pie where the crust is tart dough and the apple filling is pre-cooked to a near-applesauce consistency.


n.o.e.'s notes:

- For the recipe, click over to Jeannette's post about this tourte/tart. There are a few more steps than the average tart or pie.

- I made 2/3 recipe of this tart in a 7.5" tart mold.

- The apples I used were ones from my farm box orders that have been hanging around in the fruit drawer. They were not particularly tart, so I tried to take steps to boost the intensity of their flavor. In the filling I substituted boiled cider for the recipe's regular cider, and I used toasted almond meal. Furthermore, I used the optional golden raisins, salt, freshly ground allspice and cinnamon.

- The filling is intended to be a type of apple sauce. Mine was more apple than sauce, but apples were well cooked and soft.

- I realized - too late - that I'd left out the salt in the tart crust.


the verdict:

Here's the conversation I had with my husband as he tasted the tourte:

"This is really good stuff"
"Do you like it better than apple pie?"
"No, but it's good."

To me, the crust was crying for the forgotten salt. Also, if I'd used tarter apples the tourte might have been a bit more balanced. There's a lot of buttery crust, and a more assertive apple filling would have been better.

The two crust tourte was an interesting approach and I'd love to try it with a berry filling. Which, come to think of it, would resemble the recipe that Jessica chose when it was her turn (two layers of shortbread with a cooked cranberry filling.)

[edited April 24, 2011 to add: click here to read what Dorie Greenspan posted about the article and the online communities on her blog. And thank you, Dorie, for linking to our blogs!!]

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Asparagus with Tomato Bacon Stew

When I first had children, I heard someone joke, "I used to cook but now I just fix dinner!" In my case, the two have always been interchangeable - from the beginning my cooking was always designed to get dinner on the table, usually in a quick-and-easy-but-still-tasty-as-possible way. I didn't cook until I stayed home with our babies, and I was so pressed for time that a certain simplicity was a necessity. In those busy years, my method was to make no more than one actual recipe for any given dinner. If the main course was from a recipe, the veggies would be simply steamed, but if we had leftover main dish I might branch out to a side dish recipe.

In recent years, I've had a bit more time to cook, but I still feel virtuously organized if I use a recipe to make a vegetable side dish. Some of my favorite vegetable recipes are from Thomas Keller's book, Ad Hoc at Home, which he describes a book of home cooking. While the recipes are often a bit more complicated (with sub-parts that require a different recipe elsewhere in the book) than most cooking that goes on in my home, I have loved trying the recipes, especially the vegetables. Keller has several asparagus preparations, and I began with his Asparagus with Tomato Bacon Stew.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the recipe here.

- For this recipe I went with the maximum smokiness of Benton bacon, which I nearly always use when bacon is the accent in a dish. I can buy the bacon locally, but I have also ordered it online.

- If you keep pre-cooked bacon lardons in your freezer, and also retain your bacon fat, this recipe goes fairly quickly.

the verdict:

I loved this way of cooking asparagus. The smoky, complex tomato sauce contrasted with the freshness of the asparagus.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

{TWD} Strawberry Rhubarb Double Crisp

IMG_2290 - Version 2

There was a bank of rhubarb growing along the driveway of my childhood home, and my mother baked it into pies, combined with apples. I didn't learn until years and years later that the more common combination is rhubarb with strawberries.

Although I enjoyed rhubarb when it came my way, it's been a long time since I've eaten rhubarb, and I've never baked with it myself. So this week's recipe for the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group was an exciting first for me. Luckily our local grocery store had some fresh rhubarb in stock (thank goodness I asked the produce manager; the rhubarb was in the back) and some decent strawberries, so I was all set to bake this dessert.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The recipe was chosen for the group by Sarah of Teapots and Cake Stands. Check out her blog post to find the recipe.

- I made half recipe of this crisp, in an approximately 6" squar-ish ceramic baking dish. I really like this dish, but it's really red. In the ideal world it would be a different color when baking a crisp with a red filling that bubbles at the edges. However we all know this world is far from ideal; the dish was the right size so that's what I used.

- The "double" part of this crisp reflects the fact that in this recipe there is double the amount of crisp topping; half is pressed into the pan to form a bottom crust and the rest is reserved to be crumbled over the top of the fruit filling.

- Strawberries can be a watery fruit for baking, but Dorie solves this problem by cooking the strawberries with sugar and making a saucy filling by thickening them with a cornstarch slurry. This is then poured over the cut rhubarb, topped with the crumbs and put into the oven for a leisurely bake.

- On the advice of Caitlin at EngineerBaker, I cut the amount of sugar by about a quarter. The strawberry filling was still plenty sweet when I tasted it.

- The unusual part of this recipe is that it uses ginger in all components: ground ginger and chopped crystalized ginger in the crust/topping mixture and ground ginger in the filling.

- I love walnuts and was excited to include these in the crust/topping. I made sure to chop the nuts finely so that they would seamlessly combine with the oats.

- The crisp was hot and bubbly when I pulled it out of the oven. I spent a bunch of time trying to capture a picture of the crisp in mid-bubble, to no avail.

- We ate the crisp plain, in order to taste it more completely.

the verdict:

This crisp was absolutely delicious! I think it might be my favorite fruit dessert of all time. The rhubarb was meltingly tender and the flavor blended with the strawberry and ginger to produce a fresh, bright, intensely fruity filling that was tempered by the buttery, sweet, crunchy (thanks to the nuts), crust and topping. The oats and the ginger really took this one over the top.

Sarah, I'm so glad that you cared so much about rhubarb that you chose this recipe, and also glad that rhubarb was seasonally available around here when it came time to bake the crisp. I can't wait to bake this one again!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

{TWD} The Tale of the Ice Cream Tart

As a member of the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group for nearly three years, I've made every recipe that's been chosen since I joined the group, and I intend to bake all of the remaining recipes. (The jury's still out as to whether I'll go back and make all of the 25-or-so recipes that the group completed before my time.) So, since I know that each of the recipes will get chosen sooner or later, I usually wait and make recipes from Dorie Greenspan's book when they are selected for the group.

Every now and then, however, I find a recipe just too irresistible, and I make it before its turn rolls around. Then I save my notes until the recipe's turn in the spotlight and post my version along with the rest of the TWD group. Such was the case with this week's recipe, the Coffee Ice Cream Tart.

If ever a recipe had my name all over it, this was the one. I absolutely adore coffee ice cream, especially when accented with almond and chocolate, and the tart section is my favorite part of the book. It sounded delicious! I tried to patiently wait for the recipe to be chosen for TWD, but in December when we made plans to eat Christmas dinner with my husband's brother's family, I knew what I'd be making for dessert. Everyone in my brother-in-law's family are huge ice cream fans, and coffee ice cream is their favorite flavor too. I figured that this tart would be a great way to "dress up" coffee ice cream to bring to their house for Christmas.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Jessica of Domestic Deep Thought of the Day chose the tart this week; if you'd like the recipe, check out her ice cream tart post.

- For this tart, I made the coffee ice cream from Baked Explorations cookbook. I've tried a bunch of other coffee ice creams; and have liked them all. This recipe made a very nice ice cream, and was quite easy. But don't eat it in the evening if you are planning to go to sleep anytime soon! Usually I use a decaf option - decaf instant coffee or decaf beans, depending on the recipe - in coffee ice cream, but the recipe here called for espresso powder, so it definitely introduced a hit of caffeine. I've included the coffee ice cream recipe, below.

- The tart has an almond-based crust, then a layer of chocolate, then a filling made of ice cream combined with almond paste and almond extract.

- Even though I got the almond paste pretty darned smooth, it seemed like it gave a slightly gritty texture to the ice cream when I mixed the ingredients together for the tart filling.

- I topped the tart with sprinkled toffee bits and chocolate chips.

- We spent Christmas day visiting relatives and going to church. By the time the tart was finished, there was neither time nor daylight for me to take a picture of the tart. Time for plan "B": make sure there's one slice of tart left over so that I could photograph it the next day.

- As a result of its longer stint in the freezer, the crust got very hard, but the ice cream never quite got a chance to freeze completely and set up, so the tart didn't serve very neatly.

the verdict:

I can't say that this tart lived up to the anticipatory hype. The ice cream was a bit grainy with the almonds in there, and the crust was frozen way too hard. Each element was fine but I didn't love them together.

the rest of the story:

At this point you might be wondering why you haven't seen a picture of this dessert. Here's the rest of the tale:

We all enjoyed about 3/4 of the tart for dessert. It was below freezing - in fact we were enjoying a White Christmas - so with space in the freezer being a bit tight, after dinner I put the leftover tart on the table on the porch to keep cold. When it was time to head home I went outside to get the tart, and this is the sight that greeted me:

Buddy their dog had helped himself to a Christmas treat: he'd licked off all of the ice cream, leaving the chocolate-lined crust behind on the serving plate. And this is the only pictorial evidence I have of the coffee ice cream tart!

It wouldn't be very nice to leave you on that ugly note, so this week I made a mini ice cream tart, with a chocolate crust I happened to have in the freezer, and the Double Vanilla Bourbon ice cream I made over the weekend (which I posted here) It was an early birthday treat for my daughter JDE, whose birthday is in two days (but she won't be home. We've also celebrated with some delicious pots de creme, her favorite dessert.)

IMG_2259 - Version 2

the recipe:

Coffee Ice Cream
adapted slightly from Baked Explorations, by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito


6 egg yolks (90 - 120 g total yolks)
1 3/4 c heavy cream
2 c whole milk
3/4 c sugar plus 2 T
1 tsp salt
3 T instant espresso powder (not the same as coffee grounds)
1 T Kahlua

1. Put the egg yolks in a large heatproof bowl and set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan, stir together the heavy cream, milk, sugar, salt, and instant espresso powder. Bring the mixture to a slow, consistent simmer and remove from heat.

3. Whisk the egg yolks until just combined, then slowly stream in the hot coffee cream mixture while whisking constantly. Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (about 175 degrees)

4. Remove from heat and strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl set inside an ice bath. Whisk in the Kahlua, and let mixture cool to room temperature.

5. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the mixture and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

6. Freeze in an ice cream machine, following manufacturer's directions.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Double Vanilla Bourbon Ice Cream


Yesterday was my husband's birthday, and rumor has it that it was one of those round number ones. Instead of cake, I decided to make him his very favorite dessert: vanilla ice cream. I've made many different vanilla ice cream recipes, and wanted this one to be something special, so I turned to Fine Cooking's Double Vanilla Bourbon Ice Cream. I had actually bought the June 2009 issue of Fine Cooking magazine because of the ice cream article featuring David Lebovitz ice cream creations, including this recipe. But I forgot about it until my friend Di of Di's Kitchen Notebook mentioned that she made this ice cream recently (I don't think she's blogged it yet, though). I knew it would be perfect for my husband's birthday.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the recipe in Fine Cooking, here.

- I made 3/4 recipe.

- I used a "bourbon" variety of vanilla bean, which sounded appropriate for this recipe. I ordered the vanilla beans here.

- For the bourbon, I dipped into my husband's bottle of Maker's Mark, which has been gathering dust carefully saved for lo, these many years.

the verdict:

This was a delicious version of my husband's favorite ice cream flavor. It had plenty of vanilla punch, and the hint of bourbon added another flavor dimension. Everyone in the family enjoyed this birthday ice cream treat.