Archive for February, 2009


Why, oh, why did I make half a batch this week?  Every Tuesday we bake something delicious from Dorie Greenspan’s cookbook, and on the other weekday evenings I still make the usual suspects: chocolate chip cookies, pudding, cupcakes, or whatever else is on my mind.  So I suppose it was some misguided sense of moderation that led me to halve the recipe.

While it’s true that I only made a 9×9 dish of the caramel crunch bars, I quickly realized just how good these thin little treats were going to be.  So, I gave them the royal treatment: salted butter caramel ice cream and hot fudge sauce.

Hey, it was Dorie’s idea.  She said they make perfect ice cream sandwiches.  But it’s February, and they needed something warm.  My grandmother would be proud, as many times as she said, ‘Oh, Amy, dear, you look cold.  Let me bring you a nice sweater, a blanket, a pair of warm socks, maybe?’  The poor caramel crunch bars looked cold, for goodness sake.

These are delicious.  I took the extra 15 minutes to whip up a batch of homemade toffee to sprinkle on top (though you can always use packaged toffee bits or crushed Heath bar shards).

For the caramel crunch bars recipe, visit Whitney’s site. And, if by chance, you decide these bars need a little salted butter caramel ice cream on the side, I’ve included that recipe below.  [If the bars look chilly, by all means add hot fudge.  You won’t regret it.]


Salted butter caramel ice cream
Adapted from David Lebovitz
Makes 1 quart

Caramel praline (mix-in) ingredients:
½ cup sugar
¾ teaspoon sea salt, such as fleur de sel

Ice cream custard ingredients:
2 cups whole milk, divided
1½ cups sugar
4 tablespoons salted butter
scant ½ teaspoon sea salt
1 cup heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

For the praline:

1. To make the caramel praline, spread the ½ cup of sugar in an even layer in a medium-sized, unlined heavy duty saucepan.  Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or brush it sparingly with unflavored oil.

2. Heat the sugar over moderate heat until the edges begin to melt. Use a heatproof utensil to gently stir the liquefied sugar from the bottom and edges towards the center, stirring, until all the sugar is dissolved. (Or most of it—-there may be some lumps, which will melt later.)  Continue to cook stirring infrequently until the caramel starts smoking and begins to smell like it’s just about to burn. This will take about 5 minutes.

3. Without hesitation, sprinkle in the ¾ teaspoon salt without stirring, then pour the caramel onto the prepared baking sheet and lift up the baking sheet immediately, tilting and swirling it almost vertically to encourage the caramel to form as thin a layer as possible. Set aside to harden and cool.

For the ice cream:

4. To make the ice cream, make an ice bath by filling a large bowl about a third full with ice cubes and adding a cup or so of water so they’re floating. Nest a smaller metal bowl (at least 2 quarts/liters) over the ice, pour 1 cup of the milk into the inner bowl, and rest a mesh strainer on top of it.

5. Spread 1½ cups sugar in the saucepan in an even layer. Cook over moderate heat, until caramelized, using the same method described in Step #2.

6. Once caramelized, remove from heat and stir in the butter and salt, until butter is melted, then gradually whisk in the cream, stirring as you go.  The caramel may harden and seize, but return it to the heat and continue to stir over low heat until any hard caramel is melted. [During this step, you may despair that the ice cream will succeed.  Hang in there.  It looks bad now, but it’ll taste great later.]  Stir in 1 cup of the milk.

7. Whisk the yolks in a small bowl and gradually pour some of the warm caramel mixture over the yolks, stirring constantly. Scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan and cook the custard using a heatproof utensil, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture thickens. If using an instant-read thermometer, it should read 170 F.

8. Pour the custard through the strainer into the milk set over the ice bath, add the vanilla, then stir frequently until the mixture is cooled down. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or until thoroughly chilled.

9. Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

10. While the ice cream is churning, crumble the hardened caramel praline into very little bits, about the size of very large confetti (about ½-inch). You can use a mortar and pestle, your hands, or a rolling pin.

11. Once your caramel ice cream is churned, quickly stir in the crushed caramel, then chill in the freezer until firm.

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There’s a whole category of food out there, quasi-convenience foods, that I tend to take for granted: bagels, pretzels, jam.  I can get pretty good versions at the store, and there’s always a ready supply in my pantry.  Then one day I’ll realize, hey, I could make this myself.  So I do, and it’s a revelation, and suddenly I’m telling everyone I know that they should make their own, too.  Today.

That’s precisely what happened with this bagel recipe.  I know bagels cost less than $1 and they’re often eaten standing up or on the run.  But just try making a batch at home, and you’ll experience a bagel revelation: soft and chewy on the inside, golden brown and lightly crisp on the outside.

I happen to love everything bagels, though I usually leave one or two plain bagels in the batch.  Since each one is topped individually, it’s easy to mix and match.  Use poppy seeds, sesame seeds, garlic, onion, salt, cinnamon-sugar, or whatever you like.


Adapted from Molly O’Neill’s New York Cookbook


1 package active dry yeast

3 teaspoons dark brown sugar

1 1/2 cups warm (105-110 degrees) water

1 tablespoon salt

4 cups all-purpose flour

About 1/2 cup cornmeal, for dusting

Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, kosher salt, roasted minced garlic, minced onion, for toppings (or just have them plain, if you like)

1.  Proof the yeast by placing it in a large bowl and adding 1 1/2 teaspoons of the brown sugar and the warm water.  Stir well and set aside until the mixture bubbles and a slight foam forms on top, about 5 minutes.

2.  Add the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar and the salt; stir well.  Gradually add the flour, 1 cup at a time.  Using your hands, mix the dough until the flour is well incorporated.  Knead the dough in the bowl until smooth, about 7 minutes.  [You can also use a KitchenAid mixer with a dough hook for this.]  The dough should retain a sheen and not appear too floury.  Cover the bowl and set aside to rest in a warm place for 40 minutes.

3.  Lightly dust half a large cutting board with flour and half with cornmeal.  Turn out the dough onto the floured side of the board.  With a sharp knife, cut a thick 2-inch strip from the dough.  On the cornmeal-dusted board, roll out the strip with the palms of your hands until it resembles a rope as thick as two fingers.  Bring the two ends of the rope together into a circle and pinch the bagel together.  If it fails to hold together, squeeze the seal in your hand for a few seconds, then reshape the bagel, stretching and squeezing it with your hands.  Continue making the rest of the bagels.

4.  Lightly dust a baking sheet with cornmeal.  Place each bagel on the prepared baking sheet and set aside in a warm place to rise, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

5.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Heavily dust another baking sheet with cornmeal.

6.  Fill a large, wide pot two-thirds full with water and bring to a boil.  Using a wide, slotted spoon, drop the bagels in batches into the water; they must not touch.  Boil on one side for 2 minutes.  Turn the bagels and boil on the second side for 1 1/2 minutes.  They should firm and puff up.  Carefully remove from the water and drain for 1 minute on a rack.

7.  Place the bagels on the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with the desired toppings.  Immediately place the sheet in the oven and bake for 12 minutes.  Turn the bagels over and bake until deep golden brown all over, about 7 minutes.  Remove from the baking sheets to cool on racks.

Makes 10 beautiful bagels

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It’s not often we have a three-layer cake sitting around the house.  I really like my baked desserts fresh as can be — ideally eaten warm from the oven — and cakes have a way of sitting around for a while, getting dryer with every passing minute.  But I didn’t really see the point in cutting corners on this week’s cake, chosen by Stephanie. The whole idea is to have three beautiful layers, with plenty of billowy marshmallow frosting in between.  Who am I to stand in the way of a three-layer cake covered in marshmallow frosting?

My secret hope was that the cake would taste like a supersized whoopie pie.  There are few things in the world that make me happier than a truly excellent whoopie pie.  Maybe one day I’ll grow out of it.  I hope not.

Anyway, here’s what you need to know about this cake.  It’s definitely worth trying, but I found it to have two slight drawbacks.

The chocolate cake is good, very good, but it’s not intensely chocolate-y.  I would have liked one more ingredient to intensify the chocolate flavor — espresso, say.

The filling/frosting is a show-stopper, visually.  It’s light, airy, silky soft.  But the flavor left me a little disappointed.  I read in the Tuesdays with Dorie “problems and questions” discussion that some quirky bakers didn’t like cream of tartar. Huh?  Like baking soda or gelatin, cream of tartar should just quietly do its job to lift or stabilize or whatever needs doing and leave without a trace.  [Will I ever be able to write that phrase without hearing Phil Collins crooning in my ear?]  Well, it turns out I’m one of those quirky bakers.  Cream of tartar provides a slightly metallic, chalky flavor, and the frosting is so delicate, there’s no place for it to hide.  Little ole cream of tartar.  Who knew?

It’s a beautiful cake and I’m happy to have it here.  But next time I might try it with my favorite whoopie pie filling (coming soon) or perhaps my favorite peanut butter frosting….

Peanut butter frosting

Adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa at Home

1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup heavy cream

Place the confectioners’ sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work. Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

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Floating islandsIt’s hard to say how long I would have owned Dorie Greenspan’s cookbook before eventually trying these floating islands.  First off, they look like they’d take a lot of work.  Second, they’re very eggy.  Third, they look a bit like something you’d see on a B-movie about aliens who populate the earth with pod-like beings.  [This is obviously an eye of the beholder situation.  I asked my husband what he thought the floating island looked like and he said “an iceberg wrapped in fine gold threads.”  Okay, then!]  I do think they’re beautiful, in an other-worldly kind of way.

In any event, Shari of Whisk chose this dessert and I dutifully set about making it.  After quickly reviewing the recipe, I started to see the error of my ways.  I love vanilla crème anglaise.  I love caramel.  That’s 66.6% of the dish right there.

But still, there were those islands.  I like meringue, but I don’t get overly excited about meringue, mostly because it’s occasionally just frothy enough to seem like whipped egg whites.  Which, of course, it is.  But I don’t want to eat whipped egg whites unless they’ve altered their character substantially enough that they seem like something else entirely.

Anyway, this isn’t about me.  It’s about the floating islands.  The vanilla creme anglaise at the base is delicious.  The strands of hardened caramel cascading across the top are irresistible.  The caramel provides a crème brulée-like quality to the dish, and who among us can resist crème brulée?  Beware: It’s possible to crack your teeth trying to gnaw that hardened caramel off a spoon during clean-up.  But the floating island at the center, even with the sugar whipped in, tasted just a bit too much like a poached egg for me to be entirely happy.

I had some World Peace cookie dough still in the freezer and decided to try Floating World Peace Islands, just in case this combination could push World Peace into the next dimension.  Universal peace.  But the crème anglaise and the cookies weren’t really meant for each other.  I’ll have to keep searching….

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Aunt Rose’s Spaghetti

This recipe comes from my dad.  We’ve made this spaghetti for as long as I can remember and it’s always good.  It comes from my great Aunt Rose, as you’ll see:

If you’re looking for comfort food that’s quick and easy, this is it. Aunt Rose was a family legend, an outsized woman with an outsized personality, full of energy and full of fun. I was one in a long line of relatives who worked in her fancyshmancy grocery store, following in the footsteps of my mother (who Aunt Rose called “Miss Officiency”) and my Uncle Al.

Every Saturday I’d take the E Train to 53rd Street and walk uptown to Winter’s Market, on the corner of 71st and Third. My job was to help deliver food to Aunt Rose’s customers, whose cooks had called in their order for the day. Nearly all her customers lived on Park or Fifth Avenues.

Tony and I would drive over from Third, double park the van on a side-street, and head for the “service entrance.” Once in the basement we were glad to get out of the cold but not so pleased with the stifling heat of the furnaces and the stinky garbage cans. Our goal was the “service elevator” – the Rockefellers, the Guests and the other millionaires had their own, marble-paneled elevator, guarded by a doorman who stood outside the front lobby. Once upstairs we’d deliver our food to flirtatious Irish and Swedish cooks.

My aunt’s apartment was just around the corner from the store. At lunchtime Cora, my aunt’s cook (and perhaps this should really be called “Cora’s spaghetti”), would bring her a Mason jar filled with steaming hot spaghetti; Aunt Rose ate it right out of the jar. It was great then, and it’s just as wonderful now.

Aunt Rose’s Spaghetti

Made famous by (who else?) Aunt Rose, of New York City.


1 pound spaghetti

1 pound sharp yellow cheddar

2 28-oz. cans whole tomatoes in their juice

Lots of freshly ground black pepper

Grate the cheddar.  Cut up the whole tomatoes into big chunks, reserving the juice.  When the spaghetti is cooked (7 minutes), drained, and still steaming, add the grated cheddar and stir until it melts. Add the canned tomatoes with their juice, and a generous grinding of black pepper and salt. Serve hot.

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World Peace cookiesThese cookies are incredible.  I love them.  The intense chocolate flavor.  The sandy (sable) texture that’s both weirdly disarming and totally winning.  The healthy dose of fleur de sel.  You’ve gotta love these cookies.

The dough requires at least three hours of chilling, and that might seem like a long wait, but here’s a tip.  The cookie dough is phenomenal.  Just eat it out of the bowl.

Thank you to Jessica for selecting these cookies (and here’s the recipe).  Delicious.

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