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Archive for June, 2009

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When we were kids, my brother had a friend named Donny Harmon.  I don’t remember a whole lot about him: tall for his age, lanky, lived in a trailer with his mom and younger brother.  Oh, and he ate butter straight from the wrapper.

Did that get a visceral reaction?  Or is it just me?  I still remember the day my brother told me that Donny ate butter, a stick of butter, straight from the fridge.  I couldn’t wrap my mind around it, and I still can’t.  When the oddball parent mentions that his or her toddler does the same, my eyes still widen.

What’s so puzzling is that it should be delicious, in theory.  Butter makes everything better: crusty bread, biscuits, mashed potatoes, pasta.  I’ll drive a half hour on Saturday mornings to track down the farmer who sells fresh butter with sea salt.  It’s incredible.

So I must blame Donny Harmon for my aversion to buttercream frosting.  Now, let me be clear.  I love frosting.  I’m that person who always angles for the slice of cake with the extra rosettes on top, or better yet, the corner piece, because it means more frosting for me.  And I actually like those giant sheet cakes from places like Costco.  Whether it’s achingly sweet powdered-sugar or tangy cream cheese frosting, I’m there.

Buttercream frosting, with all its slippery, stick-of-butter-consistency, is lost on me.  And this was my last best chance to get over it, because if Dorie’s gorgeous buttercream can’t convert me, nothing will.  Sadly, it did not.

Setting innocent little buttercream aside, I was pleased with these cupcakes.  The snowy white crumb cries out for a light layer of raspberry jam and coconut flakes, which happens to be my favorite birthday cake combination.  I didn’t have any coconut, so I needed to improvise a topping.  Candied lemon peel seemed like a nice possibility until I realized that it takes 1 1/2 hours to prepare.  Instead, I rubbed some lemon zest and sugar together and sprinkled it on top, which worked out fine.

I’ll post my favorite cream cheese frosting recipe, because it would be a lovely accompaniment to this cake.

Cream cheese frosting

Adapted from Ina Garten

1 pound cream cheese at room temperature
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 1/2 pounds confectioners’ sugar, sifted

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on low speed, cream together the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla and almond extracts. Add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until smooth.

Thanks to Carol of Mix, Mix, Stir, Stir for choosing this week’s dessert.  You can find the recipe on her site or on pp. 250-252 of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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The dacquoise requires patience.  If you need a quick dessert recipe, try the 15-minute chocolate amaretti torte or the Parisian apple tartlets.  But not the dacquoise.

For starters, the meringue cooks for three hours.  Three!  I put it into the oven, then went out to the farmer’s market, had some brunch, and came home with a half hour still left on the timer.  The white chocolate ganache filling and frosting pulls together quickly, but it has to chill for four hours.  Once the dacquoise is assembled (after a little detour to broil pineapple slices and toast coconut flakes), the whole thing needs to chill another four to six hours.  It’s an all day affair.

And you know, I didn’t love this dacquoise.  The flavors didn’t quite come together, and I found myself wishing it were something else: coconut cupcakes with cream cheese frosting or pineapple upside-down cake.  I suppose I missed the tenderness of a cake in place of the meringue layers.

But there was something about the leisurely process of building this dacquoise that really appealed to me.  It’s one of those recipes that requires sustained attention, but it also has an easy rhythm and flow to it.  So I was never rushed or juggling too many things and worrying that one or another would burn or curdle or scorch.  Everything had its purpose under the sun, and each piece built seamlessly upon the ones that came earlier.  It would be nice if more of life proceeded at this pace.

Thanks to Andrea in the Kitchen for selecting this recipe.  I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have tackled this dessert without a bit of prodding.  You can find the recipe on Andrea’s site or on pp. 293-295 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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I have to think for a minute about why I have three different homemade ice creams in my freezer.  Not that I’m complaining.  I like ice cream.  If it’s slathered in hot fudge sauce and whipped cream, or sandwiched between two chocolate chip cookies, I adore ice cream.  But I usually make one flavor and let it run its course.

Not this week.  Just now, I have burnt sugar ice cream, Vietnamese coffee ice cream, and honey peach ice cream all crowding and jostling each other, one or the other falling out each time I open the freezer for an ice cube or two.

The burnt sugar ice cream is easy to explain.  My husband is obsessed with peach tarte tatin, particularly the one made at Fore Street restaurant in Portland, ME.  So last week when he experimented with the Parisian peach tartlets, he wanted to incorporate a caramel flavor and a side of ice cream to capture a hint of the tarte tatin experience.  Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for burnt sugar ice cream served admirably.

The Vietnamese coffee ice cream was an attempt to prolong the entirely unexpected thrill of tasting Vietnamese coffee for the first time.  A few of my friends decided we should tackle the gargantuan new IKEA store in a nearby city, but first we stopped for lunch at a lovely Vietnamese restaurant.  At the end of the meal, everyone ordered Vietnamese coffee, and I thought, ‘why not?  I need something to keep me on my feet during this shopping expedition.’  It was a revelation.  How had I gone so long without drinking Vietnamese coffee?  I got home and made the recipe from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop.

And the honey peach ice cream?  It’s this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie recipe.  My local farmer’s market just started to offer local peaches this month, so the timing is perfect.  It has a great peach and honey puree in the base, and fresh peach swirled in at the end.  It’s smooth, silky, and refreshing.

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Try it with some amaretti cookies on the side.  It’s the perfect accompaniment.

Thanks to Tommi of Brown Interior for this week’s selection.  You can find the recipe on her site or on page 437 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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My husband has a few dishes that he makes with total confidence: ice cream, no-knead bread, mojitos, and anything on the grill.  He occasionally ventures outside his regular rotation, when I’m not elbowing him out of the kitchen, but most of the time he sticks with the tried and true.  And to be fair, “anything on the grill” covers a wide array of great meals: fish, chicken, hamburgers, steak, fajitas, flatbread.  He’s no slouch.

But he rarely bakes.  Maybe it’s because I’m always out in front on that one, my head swimming with dessert plans, leaving little room for whimsy on his part.

Well, step aside, ice cream, because Dave has a new dessert in the repertoire.  I know this because he made these gorgeous little tarts twice already this week.  Peaches and blueberries are in season here, so that’s what we used, and it was lovely.  I’m sure these are also wonderful with apples, plums, apricots, mangoes, pineapple, bananas, berries, cherries, figs, and the list goes on.

This recipe is a gem.  It requires no measuring, whisking, beating, tempering, sifting, rolling, chilling, or pouring.  You take a piece of puff pastry out of the freezer, cover it with slices of fruit, dot it with some butter and brown sugar, and pop it in the oven for 20 minutes.  I can’t think of a dessert that comes together more quickly than this one, or that requires less technique, but the results are stunning.  And you can make one at a time, if you like.  If you’ve mastered the grilled cheese sandwich, you can make this dessert.

Apparently it’s oh-so-Parisian to eat this dessert out of hand.  We tried that, sashaying around the house and crowing “ooh-la-la.”  We also tried it on a plate with Dorie’s burnt sugar ice cream.  Yum.

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Thank you Jessica of My Baking Heart for choosing a dessert that has instantly become a new family recipe.  You can find the recipe on her blog or on page 319 of Dorie’s cookbook, Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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As a 20-year-old, I was 40 pounds overweight.  It was fine, you know, not a big deal.  Oh, I suppose if you care about your appearance, want to be attractive to 20-year-old young men, or want to fit into your Belgian roommate’s cool clothes, well, then you’re sunk.  But other than that.

I eventually lost the weight, but it wasn’t through dieting.  I can’t diet.  It’s not an option.  I hate the denial.  The boring food.  The scale.  The early morning resolutions that crumble by day’s end.

So I devised a plan.  I examined every portion I mindlessly heaped onto my plate, grabbed a spoon, and put half of it back.  Then, after inhaling that smaller portion — and this is the crucial part of my plan — I used every ounce of willpower in my substantial frame to resist going back for more.  Instead, I gave myself a 10-minute window to withstand the obsession with getting more food.  If I could get past that 10-minute danger zone where I wanted more, much more, now, the fixation would fade and my mind would find something else to do.  And I reached a good weight.

I still have to think about what I eat every day.  I have to stop myself from pouring a second bowl of cereal in the morning (especially when I’m having Lucky Charms — is there some addictive ingredient in that stuff?  Somebody needs to conduct a study…); or adding way too many potato chips next to my sandwich at lunch; or eating tremendous mouthfuls of some delicious dessert straight from the pan.  And so it goes.  My bad eating habits are still there, waiting for a chance to exert themselves, but I mostly keep them under control.

However.

Certain desserts seem to activate my very bad habits and all hell breaks loose.  I forget about the half-portions.  I forget about not going for seconds.  I forget about the 10-minute cooling-off period. No, I stand over the pan and consume bite after bite, cramming it in, until I suddenly come to, shocked at myself.  What, am I a wolverine now?  Raiding, tearing, scratching, devouring.  It’s not pretty.

The Baked brownie has joined the ranks of a few other saboteurs that I allow myself to cook on a need-to-have basis only (Boston cream pie, whoopie pies, macaroni and cheese).

It’s the perfect brownie: dark, fudgy, soft, with intense chocolate flavor.  Their beautiful dark, fudgy, soft, and chewy quality permeates the entire brownie, so there are no dry and crumbly edges.

I’m so in love with these.  This week, inspired by a recipe I saw on David Lebovitz’s site, I added dollops of dulce de leche to the brownie batter.  The results were wonderful, but the dulce de leche was overshadowed by the character of the chocolate brownie itself.  That’s saying something, when caramel doesn’t improve a chocolate dessert.

Everything else I’ve tried from the Baked cookbook has been amazing, by the way.  Try the rice krispie treats with peanut butter and milk chocolate topping and you’ll see what I mean.

So now I’m 41 years old, and I can’t get by on the portion control thing alone.  I belong to a running group.  I go to the gym.  Still, as I get older, I follow a simple rule: if it’s worth the calories, have at it.  This one is worth it for me.

Baked Brownies

Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

Yield: 24 brownies

The Baked brownie is a beautiful thing. It has won the hearts and minds of many people, been featured on the pages of O Magazine as a favorite thing, and won best brownie by the folks at America’s Test Kitchen and the Today Show. Our brownie really owes many kudos to our friend and superstar pastry chef Lesli Heffler-Flick. She created the original ultimate brownie for us. It is dense, chocolatey, and slightly fudgy, and we are forever grateful to her for letting us adapt her recipe.

Baked Note: A great brownie is easy to make, but you have to be aware of several factors. 1. Use a dark cocoa powder, like Valrhona. A pale, light-colored cocoa does not have enough depth. 2. Make sure your eggs are room temperature and do not overbeat them into the batter.  3. Make sure you check your brownies often while baking. Once the brownies have been overbaked slightly, they have reached the point of no return.

1 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dark cocoa powder
11 ounces quality dark chocolate (60-72%), chopped coarsely
8 ounces butter (2 sticks), cut into 1 inch cubes
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter the sides and bottom of a glass or light colored metal pan 9x13x2 pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, the salt, and cocoa powder.

Configure a large sized double boiler. Place the chocolate, the butter, and the instant espresso powder in the bowl of the double boiler and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and combined. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water of the double boiler and add both sugars. Whisk the sugars until completely combined and remove the bowl from the pan. Mixture should be room temperature.

Add three eggs to the chocolate/butter mixture and whisk until just combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until just combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not over beat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.

Sprinkle the flour/cocoa/salt mixture over the chocolate. Using a spatula (do not use a whisk!) fold the dry into the wet until there is just a trace amount of the flour/cocoa mix visible.

Pour the mixture into the pan and smooth the top with your spatula. Bake the brownies for 30 minutes (rotate the pan half-way through baking) and check to make sure the brownies are completely done by sticking a toothpick into the center of the pan. The brownies are done when the toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.

Cool the brownies completely before cutting and serving.

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If you’d told me these cinnamon squares would test my willpower at every mealtime, I would have laughed and waved you away.  I’m not especially interested in the combination of cinnamon and chocolate.  I love each on their own.  Chocolate brownies are a lifelong love of mine, as I’ve mentioned before.  And I can’t resist cinnamon crumb cake.  But let’s keep them apart.

I was so convinced of this, that I went half and half on this recipe.  On one half, I dutifully followed Dorie’s directions and made a chocolate frosting.  On the other half, I used my favorite crumb topping from the Foster’s Market cookbook.  At least the whole thing wouldn’t be tarnished by the cinnamon and chocolate combination, I figured.  Damage control.

Ha!  How little I know of my own desires.  The cinnamon and chocolate are so fantastic together in this dessert/breakfast/mid-day snack.  Naturally, the crumb topping didn’t hurt one bit.  I ended up drizzling the chocolate frosting over that half, too!

I ate them in the morning for breakfast.  After lunch, as a snack.  And, of course, for dessert.  I actually found myself staring into the pan one morning, trying to calculate exactly how much of it I’d eaten myself, and what meager portions had been shared with my husband and 4-year-old daughter.  Oh, and my 1 1/2-year-old son surely ate a few crumbs along the way.  All this for a cinnamon cake with chocolate/cinnamon streusel and chocolate frosting.  Hm.

Because it’s so good, I’ll include the recipe for my favorite crumb topping from Foster’s Market:

New York crumb cake topping

Ingredients
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

Combine flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl and stir to blend well. Stir in the butter and set aside.  This makes enough topping for a 12 x 17-inch pan, but the recipe easily halves, quarters, etc. for smaller pans.

Thanks to Tracey of Tracey’s Culinary Adventures for choosing this one.  You can find the recipe on her blog or on pp. 210-211 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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