Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cinnamon Rolls!

I love this week between Christmas and New Years. It's a short week because of the holiday, and it's quiet because most people are on vacation. The train is less crowded in the mornings, there are fewer people on the road, and there just seems to be a little bit more time in the day to do things like make your own cinnamon rolls.

Ever since getting the Bread Baker's Apprentice (remember its first appearance?), I've been eying these cinnamon rolls. But unlike the cinnamon rolls you buy in a can, roll out of bed and dump into a pan before the sleep is out of your eyes, these take a little more than 30 minutes to make. And by a little more, I mean a lot more. This is a serious undertaking, people. Not because of the labor involved (these are really no sweat!) but because of the time. Like all good breads, these rolls have to rise for 3 hours.

I know.

How is anyone supposed to make these for breakfast without waking up at an unholy hour?! Bakers lead crazy lives, I tell you! So I think I figured out a way to make them and have them ready for breakfast, but not lose out on sleep. Traditionally, you make the dough, let it rise for 2 hours, then shape the rolls and let them proof for 90 minutes. But instead of waking up 4 hours early, I made the rolls the night before, then instead of letting them proof, I put them on a pan and into the refrigerator overnight. I set my alarm for 5am, rolled out of bed and took the pan out of the fridge, then immediately went back to bed for 3 hours. (The rolls now need 3-4 hours to proof because they were chilling in the fridge all night). So when it came time to actually wake up for the day, the rolls were ready to put in the oven!

Yes, I wanted to kill myself when my alarm went off at 5am, but I was only awake for about 2 minutes, so really, it wasn't bad at all. And these cinnamon rolls are totally worth the slightly interrupted sleep. No matter how you decide to make them, please make them. I'm never buying cinnamon rolls in a can again!

Cinnamon Rolls
from the Bread Baker's Apprentice
makes 8-12 large cinnamon rolls

  • 6 1/2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 5 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 3 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 pkg active dry yeast (prepared as directed on package)
  • 1 1/8 to 1 1/4 c. whole milk at room temperature
  • 1/2 c. cinnamon sugar (6 1/2 tbsp. sugar, 1 1/2 tbsp. cinnamon)
  • 4 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. of orange extract (or vanilla, lemon, or rum extract...whatever flavor you want!)
  • 6 tbsp to 1/2 c. warm whole milk
To make the rolls:
  1. Cream together the sugar, salt and butter
  2. Whip in the egg and lemon juice until smooth
  3. Add the flour, yeast and milk
  4. Mix on low speed (or stir by hand) until the dough forms a ball
  5. Switch to dough hook and increase speed to medium, mixing for about 10 minutes (or knead by hand for 12 to 15 minutes) until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. You may need to add a little flour or water during the process to get this texture.
  6. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil.
  7. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.
  8. Mist the counter with oil, then transfer the dough to the counter.
  9. Roll dough into a large rectangle about 2/3 inch thick (about 14 inches wide x 12 inches long). Do not roll the dough too thin!!
  10. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the dough
  11. Roll the dough up into a cigar-shaped log, creating a cinnamon-sugar spiral as you roll
  12. With the seam side down, cut the dough into 8 to 12 even pieces about 1 3/4 inch thick
  13. Line one sheet pan with parchment paper
  14. Place the buns approximately 1/2 inch apart so they aren't touching, but are still close to one another
  15. Proof at room temperature for 75 to 90 minutes. OR retard the shaped buns in the fridge for up to 2 days, pulling the pans out of the fridge 3 to 4 hours before baking to allow the dough to proof
  16. Preheat the oven to 350 deg F with the oven rack on the middle shelf
  17. Bake the cinnamon rolls for 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown
  18. Let cool on the pan for 10 minutes then streak with white glaze across the tops while the buns are warm but not too hot
To make the glaze:
  1. Sift powdered sugar into a large bowl
  2. Add the 1 tsp. extract and slowly add warm milk, briskly whisking until all the sugar is dissolved (add only as much milk as needed to make a thick, smooth paste)
  3. Dip a fork into the glaze and then let the glaze drip off the fork onto the cinnamon rolls in streaks.
Happy almost 2010!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Three-Layer Brownies

I woke up this morning and realized that Christmas is in three days. I can't believe it. This whole being a grown-up and being away from home during the holidays thing is strange. Now, it's my responsibility to carry on the traditions of my youth for all of the fun things leading up to Christmas. But I was so busy this year that I didn't get a tree, I didn't hang lights, I barely even listened to Christmas music! It's no wonder I feel like Christmas snuck up on me.

Growing up, Christmastime meant a few things in my house: Mannheim Steamroller, driving around our neighborhood to look at lights, chocolate advent calendars, and my mom's three-layer brownies. Every year she made them for my dad's office, and every year at the start of the holiday season, my dad would come home saying that his coworkers were beginning to ask for the brownies. Yep, this was a sure sign of Christmastime.

Well, I may not have a tree, and I may be several days behind in eating my advent calendar chocolate (mmm I have some delicious catching up to do), but it's definitely not Christmas without Mom's Three-Layer Brownies.

I decided to carry on this tradition and bring them to my office during the holidays. The only thing is, the 2nd of the three layers is minty. And I don't do mint. Call me crazy, but it's just a flavor that I don't care for. So making these gets to be a bit tricky for me, because I don't know how much peppermint extract to add! This is why it is handy to have taste-testers around at all times :)

But despite my mint-aversion, these brownies are sure to please. And their green layer makes them a bit festive for the holidays. They just might become your holiday tradition too!

Three-Layer Brownies
recipe from my mom
(recipe is for an 8 inch pan, my mom recommends that you cut them small because they are so rich. for a double recipe, use a 9x13 pan, and you can get a LOT of brownies)

Brownie Layer
  • 2 squares (2 oz) unsweetened Baker's chocolate
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/2 c. sliced almonds or chopped walnuts (optional. i omit these.)
Green Mint Layer
  • 1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
  • 3 tbsp. butter, softened
  • 2 tbsp. whipping cream
  • 3/4 tsp. peppermint extract (more or less to taste)
  • green food coloring
Chocolate Glaze Layer
  • 2 oz. sweet cooking chocolate (I used Baker's German chocolate)
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
Brownie Layer:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 deg F.
  2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat. Set aside to cool.
  3. In a medium bowl, beat eggs and sugar until thick.
  4. Pour cooled chocolate into egg mixture and add flour.
  5. Mix together, then add nuts, if using.
  6. Pour into a greased 8x8 pan.
  7. Bake for 25 minutes, then remove from oven and cool.
Green Mint Layer:
  1. Beat all ingredients together in a medium bowl until smooth.
  2. Add green food coloring for desired color (I like mine to be pretty green).
  3. Spread over brownie layer and chill for 1 hour.
Chocolate Glaze Layer:
  1. Melt all ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat.
  2. Spoon over green layer in any design.
  3. Chill for 1 hour.
  4. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Steak and Mushroom Pie

Hi. It's been awhile. I don't mean to ignore you, really, it's just that things are quite busy around here. It's December, which isn't really a surprise because Thanksgiving just happened. But Christmas is coming up - and I am totally unprepared for that. Oh well, I still have 16 days........

But enough about the future, it's time to reminisce about my trip. I posted about pub food when I was in London. Steak pies are just so good! The crispy pastry crust, the delicious warm steak and gravy filling...mmm I want another one as I write this. I grew up eating chicken pot pies, but never having steak pie. Why don't we do that here in America? Or am I in some weird steak-pie-free bubble in California?

In any case, ever since I got back, I kept thinking about them. All kinds of meat pies. Steak, lamb, chicken - there are so many options! So when I was looking for a quick, easy dinner, I knew immediately that I had to make one. And I'm not kidding: this was not only really easy, but quite good. Now, this isn't an elaborate pie. It could probably use some fresh mushrooms and some peas or carrots, and I think that next time I make it I might take some effort to make my own crust, but when you're looking for a quick and delicious steak pie fix, look no further.

Steak Pie
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 pound cubed beef stew meat
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 (1 oz) package dry mushroom gravy mix
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Add beef stew meat, and cook until browned on the outside.
  3. Add the onion; cook and stir until tender, about 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in the mushroom gravy mix and 1 cup of water.
  5. Season with Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper.
  6. Turn heat to low, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.
  7. Preheat the oven to 400 deg F.
  8. Transfer the beef mixture to a pie plate.
  9. Roll out the puff pastry to cover the top of the plate.
  10. Press edges onto the rim of the dish to seal.
  11. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, until the pastry is puffed and golden brown.
I recommend serving this with some green bean casserole...mmmm!

Thanks for bearing with me while I get back in the groove. I have many more delicious things to share with you, so get ready, and be excited :)

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Strange Request

It comes with the territory that people frequently ask me what they should make for dinner. I try to come up with good ideas for them, but it's not every day that you get an email like this:

"Please figure out how to cook this.
Xoxo Erica :-)"

attached was this:


This, everyone, is a pheasant. In a plastic bag. With a CLAW. It's about the size of a cornish hen, still has a few feathers...and has a CLAW. Did I mention that it has a CLAW?

It turns out that her boss gave it to her this morning, and now she wants to cook it.

This is waaaay out of my league.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Green Bean Casserole

Well hello there! I am back from foggy Londontown, and here in a surprisingly not-so-foggy SFtown. I'll share some of my experiences in a near-future post, but right now, more important matters are at hand. Let's talk leftovers.

With the massive quantities of Thanksgiving dishes cooked, devoured, and preserved in tupperware (thanks, Mom!!), you would think that I would have leftovers for days. But Saturday rolled around, and I disappointedly looked in my fridge and saw my favorite dish already gone! I only get this green bean casserole once a year, and it only lasted 2 days?! This got me thinking: why do we only make certain dishes at Thanksgiving? Yams, stuffing, turkey...all are so delicious, why do we limit ourselves to one day (plus leftovers) of enjoyment? And the leftovers don't even last!

I need to break this habit of classifying foods as Thanksgiving-only. This green bean casserole is ridiculously good. If I had any proper sense, I'd be making it at least once a week. So as I stood in front of my open fridge (oops, did I, the energy consultant, admit that I was wasting electricity like this?!) I decided: I want more green bean casserole, and I want it now!

So now, think of your favorite Thanksgiving food. Got it? No, don't think about how unhealthy it is, and that maybe it's a good thing that you only eat it once a year (this could not possibly be a good thing). Think about how delicious it is and how you have so much anticipation each year just to eat it. Ok, now, repeat after me: I will make this food at least one more time before 2010.

See, aren't you excited already?

I made mine only two days later. And I am SO glad that I did! Now, do yourself a favor and get to the kitchen and make this green bean casserole. You won't regret it.

Green Bean Casserole
recipe from my Mom
  • 4 cans French style green beans, drained
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 lb. cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 roll of Ritz crackers, crushed finely
  • 1/2 c. melted butter
  1. Preheat oven to 350 deg F.
  2. Mix soup, sour cream, salt and garlic powder together in a large bowl.
  3. Add green beans and fold in to blend.
  4. Put green bean mixture into 2 quart casserole dish.
  5. Spread layer of cheese on top.
  6. In a medium bowl, mix melted butter and cracker crumbs.
  7. Spread crumb mixture on top of cheese layer.
  8. Bake for 30 minutes.
Happy Thanksgiving, the sequel!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving from Pacific Thyme!

We hope your day was full of delicious food, family and love.

-Erin and Linda

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

devils food cake how to

Hello faithful reader!

So, I've been doing interviews for grad schools. Erin's traipsing around Europe. It's no wonder NaBloPoMo has been harder than anticipated.

Today I was explaining the concept of NaBloPoMo. When I go on interviews, sometimes they ask for an interesting fact as an 'ice breaker.' I usually say 'I do a food blog with a friend.' Sometimes I tell people this even when it's not asked, and they think I'm weird. (Muscle memory?) Anyways, as I was explaining, I realized I sounded like a complete idiot saying 'Na - blow - poe - moe' out loud. It was the first time it had come up vocally! Ok, try it. Right now. It's kind of awkward.

Back to food: here's some info on that cake I mentioned earlier. It was a four layer devil's food cake filled with fresh raspberry sauce and frosted with chocolate swiss meringue buttercream. Seems Erin and I both have a thing for making fruit fillings. Once you get the idea down, it's incredibly easy to do with any soft fruit, and is divine all summer long with peaches, berries, apricots. This week, Safeway had a special on raspberries for some greenhouse/global trade blessed reason unbeknownst to me but I jumped on it. And, raspberry is great with chocolate, which I had in mind anyways.

Secondly, this is the debutante ball of swiss meringue buttercream on this blog, although it made a slight appearance at the brunch last month. Basically, it's a wonderful frosting you can use with cakes, cupcakes, spoon-to-mouth, etc. It's light, smooth, and glossy, and much more tenable than the usual 'american buttercream' that you've probably seen on grocery store cakes. You can set that stuff out and use it for drywall, mostly because it's just butter mixed with a few pounds of powdered sugar. Swiss meringue buttercream, on the other hand, is made from a base of slightly cooked and heavily whipped egg whites, which gives it the light, glossy texture. It sits cool and simply on your tongue, and it can be adapted to a wide variety of flavors: lemon, chocolate, fruits, caramel, camel. You name it. If you're curious, 'swiss meringue' refers to the temperature the egg whites are heated to. This gives the frosting some stability. Another version is 'italian meringue,' which is cooked even more and is thus, you guessed it, more stable.

For swiss meringue, you start by putting the egg whites and sugar in a mixer bowl, and heat the mixture to 140 degrees while beating. Here's my simple version of this: I have a small metal mixing bowl, a saucepan and a hand mixer. The boil water in the saucepan on medium heat and set the mixing bowl over the water and mix with the hand mixer. You should have a candy thermometer to measure the temperature here, and I actually have one, but I was too lazy to get it out so I winged it. Basically, beat the eggs until they are extremely frothy, like a foam latte. Also, be aware that the temp gets up to 140 pretty quick. Also, if you're a complete beginner, here's a tip that got me a few times. If you are whipping egg whites, make sure there is NO EGG YOLK or any kind of fat/grease in your bowl (stray butter). For some reason, this will prevent the whites from getting all whippy. If you are mixing and mixing and nothing happens, assume this is it, and you may need to start over.

Anyways, after you reach foam latte-ville, remove the bowl and keep mixing for about 5 more minutes until the whites are really thick and hold firm peaks, as shown below. I really love this part, because it looksl like raw mashmallow.

Next, beat the meringue and butter together. Start with 1/3 meringue and 1/2 of the butter, then add the meringue dollop by dollop, then the butter tablespoon by tablespoon. By the end, the mixture will look extremely curdled, and you will panic. Keep going. Eventually it gets glossy like this:

Then you pour in whatever flavor mixture you like, here it's melted semi-sweet chocolate:

And voila! Grab a spoon. Or, set aside for the cake.

Here's the general idea of the fruit filling. Honestly, there's no recipe even needed. You simply put the fruit in a saucepan, add some water to cover and about 3/4 cup sugar, and boil for 15 minutes. Then, add about 1 tablespoon of cornstarch slurried in water and mix vigorously, and continue boiling to desired thickness.

I did two things with this sauce. I strained it and used the smooth liquid part for a drizzle sauce on top of the cake, and the remaining solid (still pretty liquidy, since i didn't press it) to fill the cake layers.

Ok, cake assembly tutorial! I baked a martha recipe that makes two layers. Usually, this makes a two layer cake. You are supposed to cut off the round top of the cake to the layers sit flat. I've learned that you don't need to be too perfect at this, since you can adjust a lot with frosting and still come out with a perfectly shaped cake. See below!

And voila!

So. I realize this post took me forever to put up. In the meantime, I actually made other things, that I felt too lazy to take pictures of. I think I'm getting SAD, which in addition to be :( is also Seasonal Affective Disorder. It has been kind of cloudy lately.

I got good feed back on this cake though. The raspberry filling is involved but this devils' food cake is quite easy.

Happy baking!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Southwestern Squash Soup

[Guest Post]
My coworker, Claire, is a great chef too. She cooks with lots of veggies and organic things, and loves to make soups. She is awesome enough to share this soup with us!

This is a great soup for summer and fall. The depth and complexity of flavors and the pairing of squashes with hearty beans make for a soup that is as light and refreshing as it is warm and comforting. Although the ingredients are an unabashed celebration of summer’s abundance, many remain available at farmer’s markets as late as November or can be found in frozen form for the rest of the year. I do not advocate buying from the produce aisle out of season since the quality is typically low while the prices are high. However, if you have a hankering for this soup and can’t find the ingredients in their fresh form, or are simply low on time or budget, the frozen aisle is your friend.

Southwestern Squash Soup
Adapted from The Spiced Life
makes 4-6 servings

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium-large onion, chopped
  • Garlic, minced and as much as you want but no fewer than 2 cloves
  • ¾ tsp oregano (Mexican is ideal but regular oregano works great too)
  • 0.5-1 tbsp ground cumin
  • ½ t ancho chile powder, to taste
  • 32 oz chicken stock or 32 oz water with high quality bouillon cubes
  • 4-6 medium summer squash, sliced into small rounds or cubed. For a tastier and more colorful soup, mix up regular zucchini with crooknecks, yellow squashes, patty pans, cousas… you get the idea.
  • 1 sweet bell pepper, diced. Frozen works well too!
  • Corn from 2 cobs, or frozen equivalent
  • 1 14 oz can fire roasted tomatoes, you can roast them yourself but only do this if you have tons to use up or are feeling masochistic. If in season, I like to use sun gold cherry tomatoes along with the fire roasted tomatoes.
  • 4 oz can green chile peppers
  • 1 or 2 14 oz cans of beans, black or pinto or one of each
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Red pepper flakes to taste
To serve:
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Chopped cilantro
  1. Chop onion, squash and other vegetables, and mince garlic. Keep onion and garlic separate.
  2. Add oil to soup pot and sauté onion until tender.
  3. Add garlic and cook 1 minute.
  4. Add squash, corn and bell pepper and cook 1-2 minutes. Do not add corn or pepper at this point if you are using frozen versions of these items.
  5. Add stock, broth or bouillon cubes/water, tomatoes, and green chiles. Add oregano, cumin, and chile powder once there is liquid in the pot. Bring to a boil.
  6. Once boiling, add beans and any frozen vegetables you are using (if you want to add sun golds, now is the time!). Reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 10 minutes or until squash is barely tender.
  7. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste.
  8. Serve with fresh cilantro and grated cheddar cheese (mild or sharp, both work well).

  1. You can drain the beans or add their liquid. In the case of black beans, their juice will simply add a rich darkness to the red of the tomato juice.
  2. If using sun gold tomatoes, they can be halved or added whole, depending on size or preference.
  3. Add cheese to individual bowls to make clean up easier.
  4. Add cilantro to individual bowls to keep its pretty green color.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cheers from London

Hi. I made it! A 10 hour flight, no sleep, and lots of plane trivia later, I am here in London. Sadly, I have no internet where I am staying, so all hopes of keeping up with NaBloPoMo have flown across the Atlantic (oh wait, I did that). So unless Linda is insane, (she is superwoman, but this is just too much to ask of one person), NaBloPoMo might be on hiatus.

I know. It saddens me too.

But, just so you don't feel totally abandoned while I'm frolicking in Rainy Londontown, here are some things that I am eating:

Pubfood: Meat pie, mash, and veg. Really they call it mash and veg. Short, sweet, and yummy :)

This pie is made of lamb and a mushroom sauce. The pastry outside was really good, too. Pubs are great places to find cheap, filling food.

Is anyone else a Harry Potter fan? This pub (Heather's favorite, Blackfriars) served Treacle Tart! (Though sadly, I was too full from that meat pie to try it.)

And of course, I'm getting my fill of as much tea as possible. I love tea! This tea is from "Pure Waffle" which had not only delicious tea (this is assam tea), but also delicious waffles. If you are near Bond street, you should go!

Until next time I have internet...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

devil's food cake with raspberry sauce and chocolate swiss meringue buttercream

I have made this cake. It was huge. But as I sit here typing several hours post-cake, I can report the best news possible to cake bakers: it is all gone. All that remains are these photos. And a few more photos. And the recipe of course.

This is definitely a weekend cake. It was a lot of fun to put together, and I want to come back to give you all the details. I mean just look at the title. I had to take a break after typing it.

And as they say, suspense only makes the recipe reading sweeter. Or something like that.


Friday, November 13, 2009

weeknight meatloaf with veggies

I usually make a lot of cutesy things that involves swirled frosting. Frosting does indeed comprise the bottom of any balanced food pyramid, but one cannot live on frosting alone.

Meatloaf is not something I grew up eating. Actually most things I cook are not. But it really is an easy, delicious weeknight meal that can be spun in creative ways, much like my beloved risotto. This whole thing takes me about 10 minutes to put together and then it's really just a matter of letting it cook in the oven while I whip up a salad. What could be easier?

As an aside: meatloaf is usually made with worcestshire sauce. I thought I had some, but I didn't. Great story, I know. I compensated by using a combination of brown sugar and soy sauce, which I think tasted great. That's the good thing about simple cooking, substitute with abandon! Does not translate in baking though.

Easiest Meatloaf

1 lb lean ground beef
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 cup mushrooms, finely chopped
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 eggs
1 tsp basil
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon fennel
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Add oil to pan, saute onions, garlic, peppers and mushrooms several minutes until tender.
2. In a large bowl, mix together ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, veggies, and seasonings. It's really that easy, just mix everything together.
3. Spoon mixture into bread pan. Cover top with ketchup.
4. Bake 35-40 minutes. Slice and serve.

I happen to have a lot of spices, and I happen to love cumin and fennel. Don't be intimidated if you don't have these. To be honest, just put whatever you have into it. Then let me know how it was. It was probably good.

11:53. Just made it. And I already miss Erin. Treat her well, England, you hear me?


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Holy Guacamole

Hi. I'm going to make this quick. I'm packing for my trip and barely have time to think about food. But excuses, excuses. This is NaBloPoMo and time waits for no man.

What is a fast and delicious and filling food? Guacamole. Isn't that the easiest thing ever, you ask? Maybe so, but I JUST learned how to make it, so for all of you guac experts - please, no scoffing.

Quick Guacamole
as taught by my roommate Havah
  • 4 avocados
  • 1/4 c. cilantro chopped
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • onion powder -1/2 tsp
  • garlic powder -1/2 tsp
  • salt - 1/4 tsp
Mash the avocados with a fork, then add the chopped cilantro, lime juice and spices. Then add more to taste. Yum!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dark Chocolate Tart

I have been pretty distracted lately. I am jet-setting to London in 2 days, and I haven't started packing AT ALL. I did some laundry, which is a start, and I set out my suitcase, but nothing is inside it yet. You want to know what I've been doing instead? you even have to ask?

I sat at work yesterday afternoon (distracted I tell you) daydreaming about using my new tart pan. I bought it right before I went to Seattle, but I still haven't found an excuse to use it. And I sat there thinking, to heck with having an excuse, I want some tart!

I had never made a tart before. I had no idea how to use a tart pan (a removable bottom? why?). So after peppering Linda with questions (how does the pan work? will my crust break? do I need to grease the pan?)...turns out she'd never used a tart pan before either...I resorted to some online forums to quell my fear. I had nothing to worry about. You just push the tart through the bottom and the tart comes easily out of the pan. I think I could handle that...

I picked a tart with an easy crust for my first go. Boy, am I glad I did! And not just because it was easy, but because this tart is seriously DELICIOUS. Like, immediate chocolate heaven delicious. Like so rich you can only have a tiny piece but you want so much more delicious. Like, I wish these photos were scratch-n-sniff just because it is so unfair that you can't be smelling and tasting this tart right now. So please. Do yourself a favor and make this incredibly simple tart. It took me literally 1 hour from start to finish, and oh my, it was so easy I almost feel like I cheated. Make this. You will NOT regret it.

Dark Chocolate Tart with Gingersnap Crust
from (who else) The Smitten Kitchen

8 oz. gingersnap cookies (about 32 cookies), coarsely broken
1/4 c. salted butter, melted

12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used Godiva 60% chocolate chips)
1 c. heavy whipping cream
2 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1/4 c. sugar
1 tbsp flour
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon

For crust:
  1. Preheat oven to 325 deg F.
  2. Finely grind gingersnap cookies in processor.
  3. Add melted butter and process until moistened.
  4. Press crumb mixture firmly onto bottom and up sides of 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom.
For filling:
  1. Combine finely chopped bittersweet chocolate and heavy whipping cream in heavy medium saucepan. Whisk over low heat until chocolate is melted and smooth.
  2. Remove saucepan from heat.
  3. Whisk egg yolks, egg, sugar, flour, ground black pepper, salt and cinnamon in medium bowl to blend.
  4. Very gradually whisk chocolate mixture into egg mixture until smooth and blended.
  5. Pour chocolate filling into crust.
  6. Bake chocolate tart until filling puffs slightly at edges and center is softly set, about 30 minutes.
  7. Transfer to rack. Cool tart in pan 20 minutes.
  8. Gently remove tart pan sides and cool tart completely.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

pumpkin brown butter cupcakes

I'm sorry if you're tired of pumpkin already. Actually I'm not. Because you'd be wrong. Pumpkin is awesome. You might think you're awesome, but pumpkin wins. So you have no right to be tired of it.

The story of this cupcake is a bit roundabout. It actually started off as a madeleine, which failed in shape but not in taste. So I decided to adapt it into a mini-cupcake, which was quite successful, and it made an appearance at brunch. For the brunch, I did it with two different frostings: regular cream cheese and caramel swiss meringue buttercream. The latter was a hit and inspired likenings to "crack". These are the minis:

So then, I had the can of pumpkin from the pumpkin pancakes. And it was a friend's birthday. It's a little like the book "If you give a mouse a cookie..." I decided to make the pumpkin cupcakes again. For some reason, I thought I'd be cool and tweak the recipe by adding more flour. I though the original one didn't have enough structure or something. Then, unintentionally, I measured my tablespoons of pumpkin with 1/2 tablespoons instead. So, the full-size pumpkin version turned out a little dry. They were only slightly saved by the innovation of a cinnamon brown sugar cream cheese frosting.

So here are my tips for this recipe:
1. Don't get too creative. It's already really awesome.
2. Don't mess up when you're doing it.

If you must break 1, at least do so while following 2. Here's the slightly dry crumb:

Pumpkin Brown Butter Cupcakes
makes about 15 mini cupcakes or 6 regular sized cupcakes

Note: I'm of the Martha Stewart cake baking camp. This means that cake to me is 1. cream butter and suger 2. add eggs 3. add flour and milk, alternating 4. bake. This recipe is completely different, and every time I worry it won't come together, which partly spurred my genius idea to add more flour. Don't. Don't be a hero. Just follow directions. It works, and it's beautifully simple. I'm at the front lines, taking the bullets for you. You're welcome.

1/4 cup butter, plus more for toasting pecans and greasing madeleine tin
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
1/4 cup loosely packed brown sugar
1/3 cup + 1Tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp cinammon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp allspice
1 tsp. baking powder
4 Tbsp. pumpkin puree

1. Brown your butter by melting in a light colored saucepan. Butter will first melt, then froth, then go clear and slowly brown. Pour into a bowl to cool.
2. Sift flour, spices and baking powder. Set aside.
3. Beat eggs with a pinch of salt on high until pale and syrupy. If you have doubts, keep going. Slowly add the brown sugar. The mixture will have gained a lot of volume.
4. Slowly stir in flour. Then mix in pumpkin and brown butter.
5. Spoon into cupcake liners. Bake 10 minutes for minis, 15 minutes for regular sized cupcakes.

Cinnamon Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

So, if you don't feel like baking today, no big deal. Just make this frosting and eat it with a spoon. You might want to have the prenup signed first though.

1 package cream cheese (8 oz), at room temperature
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
4 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar (or to taste)

1. Beat cream cheese alone until fluffly. Add butter, beat to combine.
2. With the mixer on low, add brown sugar and vanilla, beat to incorporate.
3. Continue beating while adding powdered sugar. Taste frosting to gauge desired sweetness. ("to gauge...")

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Candy Corn Disaster

Well, I guess there's really no hiding it. Sometimes (read: all the time...) we foodbloggers fail. But you don't usually get to see that. We'd like you to believe that if you just ring our doorbells, you'll be greeted with a big smile and a plate of hot cookies (or cupcakes, if you're paying any attention at all). Don't we all wish.

Something else I wish for is to make everything perfectly the first time. This, dear readers, is not one of those times.

I have not yet been able to master making candy. Sure, I can melt some caramel and dip things in chocolate, but that doesn't really count as candy. Heck, I don't even own a candy thermometer! So why I thought it would be a good idea to make my own candy corn is a mystery. I think I was attracted to the glamor of candy making. Baking some bread is one thing, but making candy? This might even be out of my league.

It all seemed to be going fine. I boiled the corn syrup and sugar and butter. I added the dry ingredients to make it into a dough. Let it cool until I could handle it, then tried to color the dough orange, yellow and white (for full effect, of course!). But let me tell you...this dough was not pliable AT. ALL. My friend Tony was over helping me make the candy, and the dough was so hard that as he was kneading it, he got a huge blister!! I'm going to have to make people sign waivers to help me in the kitchen!! So after kneading for a good 20 minutes, and Tony talking me out of completely giving up, we made a few candy corns. Tada!

Kneading the dough should have been a warning sign for eating these suckers. They were so hard that they almost took out our teeth! Blisters, near broken teeth, and zero desire to complete the project: I deemed these a total, epic failure. The rest of the dough went promptly into the trash.

I won't bother reproducing the recipe with my adaptations...because clearly, I failed. But if you are curious and want to try and one-up me (go ahead, I happily dare you) then the recipe can be found here.

Next time (once our hands heal) I might try this recipe. The marshmallow makes it look a bit easier....
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