February 28, 2009

I decided that what with all my unrequired veganizing and complicating of things, I should join the ranks of the Daring Bakers. One might decide to brand me rather a rash baker or perhaps an incorrigible one, but neither of those handles lend themselves to wearing capes so "daring" it is. In any case, this is my first post as a daring baker and I'm very honored and excited to be counted among them. As a daring baker I am responsible for completing a culinary challenge each month. One of the requirements is typically little to no variation from the given recipe, a restraint at which I initially balked but which is really a blessing where I'm concerned. Sometimes I should just follow the recipe because someone along the line has to have know what they were doing. Particularly if they were French.

Anyhoot, here's the blurb: The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

This was the perfect challenge. Not only have I lately been nostalgic for my old favorite dessert (the chocolate cake from Just Desserts that only made an appearance on birthdays) but my ice cream maker was long overdue for a dust-off (two or three less than successful runs and it's been moldering in the corner for months? who am I?). This task was also a true challenge because it forced me to attack a technique I have never attempted: whipping egg whites into stiff peaks. No, my aversion to eggs in baked goods is not actually covering up a latent fear of exposing a gimpy whisking arm, but I don't make meringue and I rarely make cakes and etc etc basically I've never done it. I have emulsified in the name of aioli, however, so I entered the challenge only slightly daunted.

The cake that emerged from my chocolate fume-belching oven was so delicious and decadent that I almost couldn't believe I had produced it without the help of oats, yogurt, molasses, bananas or any of my other frequent crutches. The soy ice cream was not as much of a success story, but it was passable (luckily I had enough soy milk leftover to keep me from going into a chocolate coma while eating the cake). All in all this challenge was a joy and I can't wait until next month!

Chocolate Valentino Cake and Vanilla Pecan Soy Ice Cream
courtesy of the Daring Bakers, with help from PPK and David Lebovitz

A note regarding the cake: I had neither the required cooking utensil (an 8" springform pan) nor any parchment paper with which to line it. I split the batter into two buttered and sugared 6" ramekins instead and they worked perfectly. The cakes were a cinch to tip out of the ramekins and the sugary crust did not detract from their deliciousness.

For cake:

16 oz semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1 stick + 2 Tbl unsalted butter
5 large eggs, separated
Preheat oven to 375.

Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.

While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.

Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).

With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.

Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.

Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining whites. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter.

Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C

Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.
Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.

Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

For pecans:
2 cups toasted (for about 10 minutes at 350) and chopped pecans
1 1/2 tsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 Tbl dark brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 1/2 tsp maple syrup
3/4 tsp coarse or kosher salt
Mix other ingredients together before adding pecans. Thoroughly coat the nuts and spread them on a parchment or foil-lined baking sheet.

Place baking sheet in the 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, making sure to stir the nuts a few times while they cook. Remove and allow to cool, separating the nuts as they become cool and crispy.

For ice cream:
6 oz vanilla soy yogurt
4 oz silken tofu
2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 cup soy milk
Combine all the ingredients in food processor and blend until thoroughly combined and smooth. Pour into ice cream maker and follow the instructions, adding the cooled pecans just as the ice cream is beginning to thicken.


February 24, 2009

I've thanked my lucky stars many a time since Abraço wheeled into town. While they use different beans than oft-missed (yet thankfully oft-supplied) Blue Bottle, Jamie makes as masterful a cup of coffee as I've had the joy to shotgun in New York.

Aside from the impeccably-prepared caffeine injections, Abraço boasts a number of tasty goods. Though the pain perdu comes in at a very close second, my favorite of the lot is the black olive shortbread. Upon inquiring after the recipe I was politely declined but left with the helpful (and also self-evident if my brain hadn't been blitzed by deliciousness) suggestion that it's pretty much just shortbread with olives in it. Armed with this information and the confidence that the combination of olives, butter and sugar couldn't possibly lead to an unsavory result, I attacked the olive shortbread on Christmas Eve in anticipation of the imminent availability of family members virtually obligated to stroke my baking ego.

I can't take credit for much, seeing as I used Deb's shortbread recipe to the letter and literally just smashed whole kalamata olives into the dough, but I want to pass this along because it's so easy and so delicious. While the idea might sound a bit odd at first, think of the olives as simply a way of adding more salt with the added benefit of a meaty texture to complement the crumbliness of the shortbread. Much as I've gotten over my aversion to anchovies by thinking of them simply as little salt bombs, so anyone should get over a fear of injecting olives into baked goods.

Kalamata Olive Shortbread
by way of Abraço and Smitten Kitchen

A note: when I make this again I will roughly chop the olives in order to better incorporate them into the dough. I will also use a larger pan so that I am able to spread the dough a bit thinner so the resultant shortbread is a bit crispier.
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
5 Tbl cane sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup kalamata olives, roughly chopped
Line your baking sheet/pan with enough aluminum foil that it overhangs the sides.

Whisk together the butter, sugar, vanilla and salt. Add the flour and mix until just incorporated. Fold in olives.

Spread the dough evenly over your baking sheet. You're going to have to really press this stuff into the corners, I used the back of a rubber spatula.

Let the dough rest for a couple hours or overnight (don't refrigerate).

Preheat oven to 300 and place rack in the lower third.

Bake for 45 minutes, remove and let cool for 10 minutes. Cut shortbread into desired shapes and place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Return to the oven for 15 minutes, then remove and place on a rack to cool.


February 17, 2009

I don't know much about tahini outside of the deliciousness factor. There appear to be different types, but, well, actually I have no idea. I have had a jar in the cupboard (actually in two cupboards and a trunk, it's taken quite a tour of the Park Slope/Boerum Hill area) since purchasing it in the "ethnic foods" aisle of this deceptively nondescript goldmine of cheap sundry goods when I was working down the street. Tahini is also available at the co-op but, though I haven't done the research or read all the articles (spoken like a true liberal arts major), it doesn't seem like the same stuff. It seems thicker, more spread-like. Anyway, maybe I'll get around to googling that soon but in the meantime, I feel pretty confidant in suggesting that any tahini you can get your hands on will do just fine in the following recipe.

I'd originally purchased the tahini with the intention of making this, and I'd like to follow through on that but am in the middle of a mini-cookie roll at the moment. The hazelnut crackles were a smash hit with...me.....so I decided I needed to reach for success once more. The following did not disappoint. The combination of sesame and cranberry was inspired and yes, they were the perfect size. I might have to issue a decree that no doughballs shall exceed 1 tsp within 100 feet of my kitchen.

Cranberry Oatmeal Sesame Crisps
a riff on these, from the as-yet infallible Celine

a note: Celine calls for half brown sesame seeds and half black sesame seeds. I didn't want to spring for the black sesame seeds but I loved the way the black specks looked in her cookies so I used some poppy seeds instead, thinking they wouldn't add much of a flavor component. Fortuitously, since I love poppy seeds, they did lend a great flavor so I'm inserting them in the recipe. They don't give the same visual pop that the black sesame seeds would have, so next time I think I'll use both colors of sesame seeds and still include some poppy seeds so that's how I've listed the ingredients below. I think these would also be really good with chocolate, chopped walnuts, or raisins in place of cranberries.

Makes about 100 cookies depending on the twee levels in your kitchen.
1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 cup rolled oats
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbl poppy seeds
5 Tbl brown sesame seeds
5 Tbl black sesame seeds
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup soy milk
1/2 cup tahini
3 Tbl canola oil
3 tsp pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375.

In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Whisk in sesame and poppy seeds and oats and set aside.

In a medium bowl whisk almond milk, tahini, oil, vanilla and sugar together into a paste-like mixture.

Gradually add dry ingredients to wet, whisking consistently and adding more soy milk if necessary to incorporate dry. Fold in the cranberries.

Evenly place doughballs of 1/2 to 1 tsp in size on a parchment-lined baking sheet and gently flatten them. You can dust them with sugar if you want, I did so to a few and didn't have a preference.

Bake for 9-10 minutes (like the hazelnut cookies, you'll know when they're the right shade of brown) and remove from the oven. If possible, leave them on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before putting them on a rack to cool (otherwise they stick a bit to the rack, which was only a little bit annoying and certainly not disastrous).



February 10, 2009

The last of the snowmen eyes have gone to good homes in the form of about 90 delicious cookies. This extravagant number was achieved not by a bucket of cookie dough but by making dough balls so small that I felt absolutely ridiculous cramming them onto my baking sheets. Luckily I placed my trust in Heidi (which has never been a bad idea except for when I took her encouragement to make this exquisite cake as multiple mini-cakes (the downside being abject failure, the upside being that since I couldn't get the cakes out of the pan I got to eat them all myself with a spoon)) and sure enough these cookies turned out to be the perfect size. They are airy and crispy like these guys, but I resisted the strong urge to put pepper in the batter or salt on top, instead following the recipe exactly. I did use hazelnuts instead of walnuts, but that was just because it was the best I could do in a belated celebration of Nutella Day. At least I didn't use applesauce this time, just straight butter.

I don't know about making these into ice cream sandwiches but they are delicious dipped in milk or coffee and would probably actually be even better crumbled over ice cream...I'll be right back.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Oatmeal Crackle Cookies
thanks to Heidi

To reiterate: really make these cookies small, even if you feel dubious. Maybe it's just because I was never allowed to have cookie crunch cereal when I was a kid, but the revelation that small cookies = more cookies = handful of cookies in my mouth was one that hit hard. Re chocolate: Heidi says to use a bar of chocolate of your choosing but I just used mini-chocolate chips because I couldn't bear to see them sitting on the shelf any longer. They worked out just fine but I wouldn't recommend using regular-sized chocolate chips because they will be way too big for the cookies. Re hazelnuts: I didn't toast them or skin them before chopping and the cookies suffered no ill-effects.
makes 80 or so cookies depending on how small you make them
5 oz mini-bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup hazelnuts, finely chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup natural cane sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 Tbl molasses
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup large-grain sugar for dusting (optional)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and oats.

Beat the butter until fluffy, then beat in the sugar followed by the molasses, egg and vanilla.

Add the flour mix and stir by hand until mixed thoroughly, then add nuts and chocolate chips and mix just until uniformly incorporated.

Evenly distrubute doughballs of about 1/2 - 1 tsp in size over parchment-lined baking sheets. Flatten the balls and, if desired, sprinkle some large-grain sugar over each one.

Bake cookies for about 8 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Mine might have taken a little longer but just keep an eye on them, there's no mistaking when they turn the right shade of brown and crispy. They also continue to crisp up while they cool so don't worry if they're a little bit soft when you take them out of the oven.


January 25, 2009

I had to buy some mini chocolate chips to use as eyes for the snowpeople I made for the holidays but of course, as is the case for most of the adornments required by seasonal treats, I wound up with more chips leftover than chips used. They've been languishing with the frosting, red hots and sprinkles of assorted colors for the past month, and while the others might be in danger of meeting their fate in the trash, I figured I should do my best to make use of the chocolate. Of course my initial idea was a nostaligic revisiting of the Toll House recipe on the back of the bag but equally unsurprising was my decision to complicate things. After discovering that I had an abundance of hazelnuts I wound up tweaking a recipe from the Food Network's toothy and bafflingly slim Italian bombshell. The experiment was a solid success, producing a cookie that, while sort of vegan, retains its post-oven crispness such that it is perfect to dip in ginger tea. Pulsing the oats and nuts resulted in a uniform texture that was pleasantly nutty and granular, and the mini chocolate chips sat well alongside the similarly-sized chunks of hazelnut.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Veganish Cookies
inspired by Giada

brief note: Despite the inclusion of apple butter, these cookies do not taste like apple. There is a subtle fruitiness that pairs well with the chocolate and hazelnuts, almost like a fruit cake or lebkuchen. I wish I could say that I had been inspired to purposely emulate such established and successful a combination of flavors, but really I just used apple butter as a butter substitute and luckily it turned out well.

Also, I'm pretty sure that between halving the original recipe and jettisoning the butter, I managed to use twice as much butter substitute as butter. Meaning that I used 1/2 cup apple butter and 1/2 cup oil instead of what should have been 1/4 cup of each if I'd been paying more attention. The cookies turned out great but I'm suggesting that 1/3 cup of each be used because I think that would be fine and perhaps better given the proportions of the original recipe.

-makes 32 cookies-
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 1/8 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup apple butter
1/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup Fage 0% yogurt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup hazelnuts
7 oz semisweet mini chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350.

Toast hazelnuts and discard as much of the husks as possible before pulsing them in the food processor until chopped to your preference. I ground them to a pretty fine consistency because I didn't want huge chunks. Set aside.

Pulse oats in food processor and whisk together with flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Whisk together oil, apple butter and yogurt and add sugar and vanilla.

Gradually add dry mixture to wet and stir until just mixed before adding chocolate and nuts.

Set batter in fridge for 5-10 minutes before arranging tablespoon-sized dollops on a lined baking sheet.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until crisp. As happens with vegan fare, these fake-vegan cookies require some supervision. I baked the first sheet at 325 and they took over 20 minutes to firm up so I raised the temperture for the second round. Don't be alarmed, it's more a question of needing to frequently assess their done-ness rather than risking over-done-ness. These don't burn easily. Do remember that they will continue to crisp up after you set them on a rack to cool.