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Archive for September, 2009

DSC_7516 So I joined a yoga class.  I mostly decided to do this because of my running.  Runners tend to work the same muscles and tendons over and over until one day a mutinous subset decide they’re going on strike.  It could be the foot, or the knee, or the hamstring; or, more likely, muscles and tendons and fascia you’ve never heard of before.  Whatever the case may be, it usually involves days or possibly weeks of being sidelined.  Runners do not like to be sidelined.  They fret.  They mope.  They make themselves a nuisance to the easy-going, bright-eyed, happy-go-lucky types who come into their orbit.

Yoga works muscles that I haven’t used since 1978.  It forces me into very silly poses.  On the first day, everything about me screamed “Novice!” to the class.  Ten minutes in, the instructor gently reminded “everyone” to remove their socks and I noticed that I was the only one who still had them on.  In downward dog, which we must have done 20 times, my loose shirt billowed up toward my head, exposing far more of my “core” than I would have liked.  But the poses stretch and strengthen and improve balance.  So I go.

I think about balance a lot, mostly as it relates to work/family.  And the “tree pose” (which in my case should be renamed “falling-tree” pose) forces me to work on balance, too.  In baking, I tend to forget, especially when it comes to an ingredient I adore, like chocolate.  Chocolate is good.  More chocolate is even better.

This chocolate-crunched caramel tart recipe made more ganache than I could fit into the tart.  What did I do?  Well, I flooded the tart up to its tippy top, filling every available inch with chocolate ganache.  And I’m struggling to say this, because it goes against my basic nature, but I think it was too… much… chocolate.

There, I said it.  The amazingly delicious caramel and the addictive honey-roasted peanuts were fairly drowned by the deep layer of chocolate ganache, and the tart wasn’t well-balanced.  It’s my own fault.  I’m sure other wise and thoughtful Tuesdays with Dorie bakers froze their extra chocolate ganache for another use or whipped up a second gorgeous dessert on the spot.  Not me.  Apres moi, le deluge.  So, if you make this lovely tart, by all means make the full batch of ganache, but set some aside for another worthy purpose, like eating it straight from a spoon.  You’ll have a perfectly balanced tart (without the sweat-stained mats and pretzel poses).

Thanks to Carla of Chocolate Moosey for selecting this chocolate-crunched caramel tart.  You can find the recipe on her site or on pp. 355-357 of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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This summer in Maine, I went to a Portland restaurant for brunch and ordered their house made cinnamon and sugar pop tart.  It was so delicious, I’ve been searching for a homemade pop tart recipe ever since.

Now, I hear cottage cheese and I think, “Oh, please.  Give me something I can work with here.”  Cottage cheese brings to mind stark deprivation diets and my grandmother’s second husband, Isaac.  A quirky guy, he wore Birkenstocks and Buddy Holly glasses, and I remember him always with a tub of cottage cheese in his hand and bits of dried cottage cheese in his beard. No way could a recipe with cottage cheese in the title rival something as self-consciously playful as a pop tart.

But as soon as these little pufflets came out of the oven, I could see they were going to be tender, sweet, and fruity.  I added some glaze,  sprinkles, and took a bite.  Yup, these are pop tarts all right (minus the cardboard texture, high fructose corn syrup, and scary preservatives of the store-bought original, naturally).

I loved hearing my 4-year-old running through the house saying, “Can I please have another raspberry pufflet?”  So perhaps I’ll just call these ‘house made raspberry pufflets.’  Whatever the name, try these for breakfast.  You won’t be disappointed.

A word about the dough.  It comes together easily in the food processor, but it’s finicky and sticky.  If you pack it into a 1-gallon freezer bag and roll it out to the edges before chilling, it keeps a perfect square shape.  Still, if the dough gets too soft, warm, and hard to roll, put it back into the refrigerator to firm it up a bit more.

Thanks to Jacque of Daisy Lane Cakes for choosing these cottage cheese pufflets.  Find the recipe on her site or on pp. 148-149 of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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This is my first full week back in North Carolina after spending the entire summer in Maine.  It’s entirely disorienting to enter my house and have an empty refrigerator and freezer.  Me, with an empty refrigerator?  Something needed to be done.

But so many other things crowded for my attention.  My two young children started preschool, so there are forms to fill out, new schedules, teary drop-offs.  My son started climbing out of his crib during naptime, which means we’re re-reading parenting books that I mistakenly hoped and believed were no longer needed.  All the while, I must carve out time for the writing and editing work that pays the bills.  And somewhere in there I try to find time each day to go to the gym or take a long run.  Flaky apple turnovers didn’t have a chance.

Or so it seemed.  But that empty refrigerator nagged at me.  First, I broke down and made my favorite recipe for whoopie pies (a final farewell to Maine).  The whoopie pies looked lonely, so I decided the apple turnovers would keep them in good company.  I pulled together the dough and let it sit overnight.  The next day, once the turnovers were in the oven, I started a biga for Peter Reinhart’s pugliese bread.  Then, I made pita bread.  And then Dorie’s chocolate chunkers.  (These were just the side projects, in addition to the usual routine of getting dinner on the table every night.)  It was a classic case of baking therapy.  I didn’t have time to make these things, but I needed the house to feel like it was mine again.  It worked.

These apple turnovers are sort of a blur, squeezed in amidst all the other baking adventures of this week.  The highlight was filling each turnover alongside my 4-year-old daughter, Sofia.  We tried all kinds of fillings: cinnamon apple, raspberry jam, lingonberry jam (impulse buy from IKEA), rum raisin, and nutella.  Sofia chose her own filling — marshmallows and milk chocolate.  Weird, but perfect for a little baker-in-training.  For my money, the cinnamon apple and rum raisin were clear winners.

Thanks to Julie of Someone’s in the Kitchen for choosing apple turnovers.  My freezer looks acceptably bountiful again.  You can find the recipe on her blog or pp. 316-317 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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Summer. It’s warm, light, full of breath and life, and perfect for a brief, shining moment. Turn your back, and it’s gone.

I spent the summer in Maine with my family, and we drove back to North Carolina over the Labor Day weekend. Nearly 900 miles. As we tooled down I-95, leaving behind the falling acorns and blushing maples of Maine, and eased our way back into the lush magnolias and twining kudzu of North Carolina, I couldn’t shake a bittersweet feeling. My 2-year-old blithely says, “Bye Bye, Maine!” as we cross over the Piscataqua bridge. My 4-year-old wants to count how many states we have left until we get there.  Meanwhile, I wrestle off a tinge of melancholy. Another summer. Gone? As my children nap in the back seat (at the same time, miracle of miracles), I conjure up my favorite summer 2009 “souffle” moment: beautiful, fleeting, effervescent.

At the cottage in Maine I’ve been coming to for over forty years, my two children are running across the sand, clambering on the rocks, hunting for crabs and snails and sea urchins, digging, dumping, splashing, and moving, constantly moving. Every now and then my daughter stops to yell, “Mom! Look!” And I lift my head from my book and peer out at whatever she has in her hand. It’s like time has stopped. Because I spent every year of my young life playing on those same rocks, picking up the ancestors of those same crabs, and shouting across the sandy beach to my mom who always peered over her reading to say something encouraging about whatever I treasured in my palm. “Oh my, look at that one!”

Eventually I put down my book and wander over to watch up close the things that so fascinated her. Just rocks, shells, a few small sea creatures scuttling along the sand. We tucked a few things into the tiny pockets of her “zookeeper’s vest” which will be too snug for her to wear next year. I was reminded of how long and slow and seemingly endless summer days can be to a child and it was a gift to my 41-year-old self to remember that feeling for an afternoon.

As for the chocolate souffle, it was equal parts bitter and sweet. It had a brief moment of glory — straight from the oven, it was something to see.  But by the time I hauled out the camera and snapped a few shots, it had lost at least an inch of height, deflated into a diminished thing.

The chocolate flavor was nice, but it could have used a shot of espresso or caramel to intensify and concentrate the flavor.  As for the texture, if I had adequately incorporated the egg whites, it would have been lovely. Because I was too concerned about overmixing the batter, I wound up undermixing the batter, which left unappealing puffs of egg white in the finished souffle. Ugh. All in all, not my best effort. But an apt symbol of summer’s end.

Thanks to Susan of She’s Becoming Doughmesstic for selecting this week’s chocolate souffle. You can find the recipe on her site or on page 409 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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My dad, a recently-retired college English teacher, used to have a quote tacked up to the bulletin board in his office.   It’s from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and it said:

“There’s nothing up ahead that’s any better than it is right here.”

As the mother of two young children, trying to manage part-time work and therefore driven to be efficient and productive much of the time, I tend to forget.  My children, on the other hand, know this instinctively.  If I’m holding my 2-year-old son on my lap, I start to pluck dog fur off the back of his shirt or scrape a bit of dried yogurt from his cheek.  He brushes my hand away, as if to say, “Can we just sit and be still?”  Or you know when you’re reading a book, and as soon as you’ve turned a page, you slide your finger beneath the next page so you’re already poised to turn another one?  My 4-year-old daughter will sometimes ease my finger out from beneath the next page as if to say, “Let’s just enjoy the page we’re on, shall we?”

They have an appropriate disdain for multi-tasking, hyper-efficiency, rushing, or preoccupation, and we’re wise to pay attention.  I learned this (again) while trying to photograph these espresso cheesecake brownies.

I had it in my mind that I would photograph this brownie with hot fudge sauce drizzling on top.  For me, these brownies had a lot of potential, but they didn’t quite come through.  The cheesecake part was very good, but the brownies on the bottom were thin and dry.  Also, my brownie batter was thick and heavy, while the cheesecake batter was light and soupy, so I couldn’t create pretty marbling on top.  When I added hot fudge sauce, it radically improved the flavor, masked the dryness, and hid the poor marbling.

Five small problems with my action photo: two young children, a full-grown dog, a 9-week-old puppy, and lots of wind.  We needed to shoot outdoors, so I brought the kids and the dogs out to the shore.  My husband set up his camera while I ran inside to heat up the hot fudge to just the right drizzling temperature.  When I walked back out, my son was crooning “hold yoooou” (he hasn’t quite mastered pronouns yet).  My daughter wanted someone to swim with her.  And the two dogs wanted the brownie, very badly.

We soldiered on.  With my son under one arm, my daughter momentarily transfixed by a hermit crab, and the two dogs held at bay with carefully aligned beach chairs, I set the brownie on a rock and poured a rapidly-cooling spoonful of chocolate sauce.  A big gust of wind came along and blew the chocolate sauce in little wisps onto the rocks, creating spindly marks on the brownie and the plate, followed by one big glop.

My husband, to his eternal credit, is an optimist.  And a problem-solver.  And nothing if not earnest.  As the dogs began to nose their way under and around the beach chairs, I announced, “This is not working.”  To any sane passerby, that would have been abundantly evident.

“Let’s try it again,” he said.  “Reheat the sauce.”

I stared at the brownie, then picked up the plate and started back toward the house. “Plan B.”

He shouted after me, “When you come back, bring a plate covered with aluminum foil!  I have an idea!”

I shouted back over my shoulder, “I’ll be right back.”  Inside the house, I warmed the chocolate sauce and drizzled it side to side over the brownie, plunked it onto a plate, and brought it back out.  For the next 20 minutes, my husband shot dozens of photos in total peace.  I held my son on my lap, my daughter played with her pail and shovel next to us, the dogs settled down in the grass, and we were still.

Zen dog at rest

Zen dog at rest

I half wonder what the ambitious plate-covered-in-aluminum-foil photo shoot might have resulted in, but sometimes it’s best to just let it go.  Cut the overblown action shot.  Find the still life.

Thanks to Melissa of Life in a Peanut Shell for selecting these espresso cheesecake brownies.  You can find the recipe on her site or on pp. 104-05 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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