Archive for March, 2010

You’ve got to love a recipe that fits into the general chaos of family life.  I made this coconut tea cake last week, on a weeknight evening, between 5-6 pm.  I proceeded cautiously, moving in little, manageable, non-committal steps.

I got out the ingredients.  Looked around.  Noticed that the kids were dragging the coffee table to the edge of the living room and pulling off all of the pillows from the couch.  I know what’s coming, and it’s a good sign for me and my little baking project.

Sift the dry ingredients.  Set the bowl aside to answer the high-pitched pleas for music.  A request for Coldplay.  Oh, thank god, because I’m not sure I can stand another round of songs from The King and I.

Warm the coconut milk and butter in a saucepan amidst cries of “I don’t want this song.  I want ‘bum-BUM, bum-BUM, bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-BUM.'”  That’s 2-year-old speak for Coldplay’s Death and All his Friends.  The kid has an uncanny ear for rhythm and that’s how he names one of his favorites.  I change the song and return to my project.

I’m getting a little more committed now.  It’s time to beat the sugar and eggs.  But both kids are dancing full out now, and my daughter suggests that they put on dresses, a request my son agrees to instantly.  So they run upstairs to put on more formal dancing wear.

This is my chance.  I’m all in.  I beat in the vanilla and rum, reminding myself for the hundredth time to adjust the measurements (I’m only making 1/4 batch), then add the dry ingredients, knowing full well that the baking powder is already doing its work and I can’t turn back now or the cake won’t rise properly in the oven.

Both kids come giggling down the stairs in their “princess” dresses and resume dancing to Cold Play.  They’re dancing mosh-pit style, crashing into each other and tumbling onto the couch pillows, pink tulle and sparkly sequins flying up.  They come much too close to the sharp edge of the coffee table. and though I’m in the middle of pouring the batter, I set it aside to clear the coffee table far away from their barely-controlled “princess” slam dance.

I finish pouring the batter and I’m almost there, but then realize that my oven is still set at 425 because I’m roasting fennel.  I yank that fennel out and turn the heat down to 350.  But there’s no time to wait for the oven to cool down because my son climbed up the back of the couch and hoisted himself up onto the two-inch window ledge, flattened himself against the window pane, and he’s asking for help, so I shove the cake into the oven, slam shut the door, and come to his rescue.  Does everyone bake like this?  Is it just me?

In any event, these coconut tea cakes were delightful.  My 1/4 batch allowed for three mini-cakes.  The first night, after the kids were in bed, I made a buttered rum glaze and my husband and I split the cake.  Yum.  The second night, we got wise and each had our own individual cake.  This time, I made some vanilla pastry cream, cut the individual cakes in half, and filled them with pudding.  I put hot fudge on mine (Boston cream pie-style) and Dave put caramel on his.  Divine.

The cake itself is a cross between a pound cake and a sponge cake.  Dense, slightly springy, with a small crumb, perfect for brushing or soaking with a sweetened glaze.  I loved the combination of coconut and rum, and the buttery rum glaze couldn’t be easier.  Here’s the recipe:

Buttered rum glaze

1 1/2 sticks butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup water

3/4 cup rum

Boil butter, water, and sugar for five minutes.  Stir in rum.  Drizzle over anything you like!  Because I didn’t make a whole cake, I reduced this recipe a good bit: 2 Tb. butter, 1/4 cup sugar, 2 tsp. water, 2 Tb. rum

Thanks to Carmen of Carmen Cooks for selecting this week’s coconut tea cake.  You can find the recipe on her site or on pp. 194-195 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.  And thanks to my two young children for making life such a crazy, beautiful ride.

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All of the St. Patrick’s day celebrations last week got me thinking about Ireland.  I did my study abroad at the School of Irish Studies in Dublin, and it’s hard to believe, in retrospect, how many extraordinary experiences were packed into that semester.  The Chieftains visited our class to discuss Irish music and play a few songs.  Seamus Heaney visited our class to read and discuss his poetry.  We studied James Joyce’s Ulysses and then tracked Leopold Bloom’s progress throughout Dublin.  We all took a ferry to Wales, hitchhiked (for the first and last time), bought cable-knit sweaters in the Aran Islands, visited Yeats’ tower, and generally basked in the glow of the Emerald Isle.

All this, plus the rollicking pubs (our favorite was called The Foggy Dew);  live Irish music every night; fresh, hot sugar donuts near the O’Connell bridge; tea and pastries at Bewley’s; crispy fish and chips, sprinkled with vinegar, served in newspaper; Harp and Guinness.

At the end of the semester, we left Dublin to spend two weeks on the west coast of Ireland, in a town called Balleyvaughan.  The students all stayed together in thatched-roof cottages and we were to make our own dinners every evening.  You might expect this arrangement called for Ramen noodles or spaghetti with ketchup, but you’d be wrong.  My roommate, born in Belgium, had an incredible talent for cooking and she whipped up first-rate dinners at our little cottage just about every night.

She owned a sweet little Irish cookbook and of all the recipes she tried, griddle bread stands out in my memory.  And yet, I’m well aware that this memory is now twenty years old.  Those two weeks on the west coast of Ireland were defined by long nights of live Irish music, many rounds of Guinness, and even more rounds of “The Wild Rover (No, Nay, Never)” sung at the top of our lungs all the way back home through the lush green fields.  My roommate may have been a top-notch chef, but she was also very clumsy, and I recall several prolonged late-night adventures untangling her from barbed-wire fence or scraping cow flop off her shins, but that’s another story.  At that time, this breakfast was a revelation: slathered with fresh Irish butter and jam, it was hearty, quick, and delicious.  Twenty years later, I had to find out: would it stand the test of time?

Oh, man.  It’s exactly as I remember.

Irish griddle bread is a little less fluffy than a biscuit, not quite as crumbly as a scone, and, unlike biscuits and scones, it requires no technique whatsoever.  There’s no chilling, rolling, or shaping the dough with a feathery touch.  You just mix together the ingredients and fry it in a cast iron skillet.  Nothing could be simpler.  Eaten warm from the pan, spread thick with good butter and jam, it’s absolutely delicious.

Irish griddle bread

Adapted from The Irish Country Kitchen

* 2 cups flour
* a pinch of salt
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1½ tablespoons sugar
* 1½ tablespoon melted butter
* ¾ milk
* 1 beaten egg

Lightly grease a heavy cast iron pan.

Sieve flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl; add in the sugar. Add butter, milk and eggs to the dry ingredients and mix well. Heat the greased pan and cook the bread for 7-8 minutes on each side over low to moderate heat. Divide into 6 triangular shapes and serve hot with plenty of butter, jam and honey.

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I shamelessly stole from the Vosges line of chocolate bars *and* the pastry chef at Magnolia Grill for inspiration this week.  My favorite Vosges chocolate is the Barcelona Bar: milk chocolate, sea salt, and smoked almonds.  My favorite dessert at Magnolia Grill is the Barcelona Tart: dark chocolate, sea salt, smoked almonds.

I’m not sure why they both have “Barcelona” in the title.  Spain is famous for its Marcona almonds, but then shouldn’t they be called Marcona Bar and Marcona Tart?  I’ve been to Barcelona and my strongest food memory involves me and my husband eating paella on a terrace, poking at several mysterious chunks of meat in hopes of identifying their origin.  Eel?  Horse?  Meanwhile, several cats rubbed against our legs beneath the table and my husband inspected the meat, gazed back at the cats, looked more suspiciously at the meat, looked back at the…. well, you get the idea.  Me-ow.  We didn’t have much of an appetite that night.

Dorie’s original tart recipe calls for berries, but I substituted toasted almonds and smoked sea salt.  I hoped to smoke the almonds, but I don’t have a smoker, or a dehydrator, or any of the other nifty tools that are used for smoking.  And soaking the almonds with liquid smoke?  Forget it.  The smoked sea salt would have to do.

I’m getting crotchety in my old age.  This dessert wasn’t chocolate-y or silky enough for my taste.  It tasted too much like a brownie in a pie shell, and I was hoping for rich, dark, and intense.  Ah well, at least I can say with confidence that no cats were harmed in the making of this soft chocolate “Barcelona” tart.  🙂

Thanks to Rachelle of Mommy? I’m Hungry for selecting this week’s soft chocolate and raspberry tart (the original title).  You can find the recipe on her site or on page 354 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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I just noticed this is my fourth consecutive post about cookies: chocolate chip, honey-wheat, more chocolate chip (the championship), and now jam thumbprint cookies.

Is it too revealing to note that I also have ginger molasses cookie dough in my freezer, cherry scones on my kitchen counter, and chocolate-marshmallow whoopie pies in the fridge?  The whoopie pies probably push it over the edge, but they were mandatory last night.  Ever since my friend Michaela served whoopie pies at her Oscar party (almost ten years ago!), it’s been an annual tradition in my house.  I also have some carrots and mixed greens in the vegetable bin….

Does anyone else live this way?  I’m not the hoarding type by any stretch, but food does not go to waste in my house.  Not ever.  It’s become a bit of a joke around here.  If I bake a batch of anything — cookies, scones, cinnamon buns — my family must stake a claim after 24 hours or the entire batch will disappear.  Not into the trash (horrors!).  It goes straight to the freezer, carefully wrapped and dated, so it stays active in the rotation.

If something can’t be frozen, I craft a meal around it.  This can get extreme, but, you know, that’s why the culinary category of “hash” was invented.  It can create a bit of anxiety — I’ve got to do something with those lemons/avocadoes/mushrooms/fill-in-the-blank — but it’s not in me to throw something out.  So there it is.

Luckily for me, cookies freeze well.  Not that I even freeze cookies.  I freeze the dough, so I can get that fresh-baked, warm-from-the-oven goodness.  In any event, Dorie calls these “thumbprints for us big guys,” because she adds hazelnuts and raspberry jam.  I’ve always loved jam thumbprint cookies, though these tiny little morsels are more appropriately called jam pinky cookies.  I substituted almonds and I only had strawberry and apricot jam in the house, so these weren’t all that grown up after all.  But they were lovely.  And though they aren’t ideal candidates for freezing, this recipe makes a lot, so they’re in suspended animation.  Waiting for their second act.

Thanks to Mike of Ugly Food for an Ugly Dude for selecting this week’s thumbprint cookies for us big guys.  You can find the recipe on his site or on page 164 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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Nobody loves a tie.  We create layers of local, regional, state, national, and world championships and we need someone to be declared a winner, unequivocally.  An unwieldy trophy, a sleek gold medal, or a laurel wreath must be bestowed.  Can you imagine if, after the Final Four or the NFL playoffs, we announced that the two teams about to play for the national championship or the Superbowl could just head home: “Hey, let’s quit while we’re ahead.  You both win!”  Uh-uh.  Wouldn’t fly.

One of the things I love about Wimbledon is that slightly sickening realization I get when two very well-matched players are battling it out.  I’m always aware that this match could, in theory, last forever.  Deuce.  Ad in.  Deuce.  Ad out.  Deuce….  Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe could still be playing their classic 1980 tennis match today, right now.  We cannot let any game end without declaring a clear-cut winner.

Given our love of victors, I’m a little uneasy about the results of my chocolate chip cookie world championship.  Officially, it’s a draw.  Unofficially, I declare the NY Times chocolate chip cookie recipe the world champion.  My democratic nature bridles at this edict, this monarchic decree, particularly when I lassoed my neighbors into a one man-one vote system.

But it was a split decision.  The two husbands liked the Ad Hoc cookies best.  The two wives liked the NY Times cookies best.  That left it to the four children, ages 1, 2, 3, and 4, to break the tie.  It was not lost on me that little Ben, age 1, grabbed a NY Times chocolate chip cookie, took a bite, then reached his tiny fist back into the bowl for a second.  I wish I had a photo of his face, smeared with chocolate and cookie crumbs, to insert here, particularly as he cast the final and deciding vote.

I’m very happy to crown the NY Times chocolate chip cookie the winner — it is my personal favorite.  And yet.  I’m aware that new challengers will come along.  This project is not complete until I’ve conducted further testing.  Can’t rest on our laurels now, can we?

Thanks to Cathy of The Tortefeasor for inspiring the sports metaphors and giving me the idea to hold a chocolate chip cookie championship.  She conducted a taste-off between the NY Times ccc, Alton Brown’s “The Chewy” ccc, and Dorie Greenspan’s ccc, so be sure to check out her results.

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