Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Blackberry Pie

Wow, I've been baking a lot lately! I guess it's a combination of not much to do and many willing mouths to feed. But I love having an excuse to bake, and my physique loves that I never get more than a piece of what I've made (even though sometimes, like right now, I mourn that extra piece...). I even doubled this recipe and made two pies; still it's all gone less than 24 hours later.
On to the pie:
My ingredients. The issue with this "blackberry pie": no blackberries, fresh or frozen. They're not a terribly popular fruit over here. So I got a "cocktail des fruit rouges" (mixture of red fruits) at the store--it does actually have blackberries in it.

So I believe it's got blackberries, raspberries, black and red currants, blueberries, and cherries. This is what you'd use to make Rote Grütze, one of my favorite German desserts. If I had put this on the stove, cooked it a few minutes, and served it with vanilla sauce, that would be yummy, too. But we're making pie. Or as the cleaning lady called it, "Crumble aux fruit rouges."

My funny-looking crusts filled with yummy-looking fruit. Confession: I bought my pie crust. It was all-butter and everything, but I'm not doing that again. Another mistake: importing aluminum pie plates. We had to toss them when we were done eating the pie. Oops.

OK, now we've got massive domes of fruit and streusel waiting for the oven. Maida had me worried about mass overboiling, but it really wasn't a problem. Maybe this particular combination of fruit doesn't run as much.

This is what was left this morning. Now it's gone. Don't you wish you had just one more slice, too?

Here's the recipe for one blackberry pie.

Blackberry Pie

1 9-inch deep-dish pie crust (If you don't have a fave, you could try this one or one of these.)
2/3 c. (4.6 oz.) sugar
2 T. "Minute" tapioca
1 lb. frozen blackberries
1 tart cooking apple (Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Braeburn), peeled and diced
2 T. lemon juice (I left this out since currants are already very tart)

1/2 c. (2.5 oz.) unsifted flour (I used part whole wheat)
1/2 c. (3.5 oz.) brown sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
Pinch salt (in my opinion)
3 oz. (6 T.) cold butter

Heat the oven to 350. Weight or prick your pie pastry and prebake it until golden, about 10 minutes. In the meantime, get out a large bowl and dump the frozen berries in it. Add the sugar and tapioca and toss them together. Add the apple and lemon juice and toss that in. Let that sit while you make the streusel.
Get out your food processor (or pastry cutter and bowl) and put in the flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Process/stir until mixed. Then cut the butter into small pieces and add. Pulse/cut in until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs with some visible pieces of butter.
Now put your prebaked crust onto a parchment or aluminum-lined baking sheet. Put the fruit into the crust and smooth the top. Then sprinkle it with the streusel--you may want to pack it down a bit. Finally, make a snake out of aluminum foil and use it as a pie crust guard. Now that your pie is protected from the top and the bottom, put it in the oven for an hour. When that hour is up, crank the oven up to 450, take off the pie shields, and give the pie another 8-10 minutes, until the filling is bubbly and the topping is nice and brown.
Chow down with vanilla ice cream or vanilla-flavored whipped cream. And have seconds now, before it's too late.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Pecan Sweet Potato Pound Cake

Baking American desserts in France involves a lot of obsessing on my part. Will I be able to find all the appropriate ingredients? Do I have the right equipment? Will the recipe work if I need to tweak it? Am I using the right kind of flour? Every time we go to a big store, not just the little "superette" here in town, I scour the shelves for specialty ingredients that I might need for one of the blog desserts. Right now my quest is for tapioca, but I suppose that can wait...
So the Pecan Sweet Potato Cake was a bit of a challenge for me. The pecans were not a problem, because I had imported a lot. The sweet potato turned out also to be less of a challenge than I had thought--many market vendors sell them here. I found a particular kind of coconut that is more like American sweetened coconut and less like the usual powdery unsweetened kind you get in France.

So here are all my carefully culled ingredients. Note that French sweet potatoes, like the African ones, are white rather than orange. I think they're also a bit less sweet. Not pictured here: the frosting ingredients.

Here's my pile of shredded sweet potato. Doesn't look too appetizing, does it? Fortunately, it baked up into a golden brown cake.

Oops, some of it stuck to the pan. I really should learn that you do actually have to grease a silicone pan. And note here that I made one big layer. This is supposed to be a three-layer cake, but I don't have three layer cake pans, so I made do. Sami was kind enough to split this horizontally for me so that we actually had two layers.

OK, this is my moment of glory. I was freaking out about how I would make the marshmallow frosting. I could not find any of these crucial ingredients/equipment: candy thermometer, corn syrup, cream of tartar. So I went on the Internet and did some research on 7-minute frosting, which this seemed to be, approximately. I looked here and here for the basic technique and then made it up as I went. I would have to go by time and texture rather than temperature, and I would somehow have to compensate for the lack of cream of tartar. Knowing that cream of tartar is an acid (I'm not sure where I picked that up), I squeezed the juice of half a lemon in with my egg whites, sugar, and a touch of water. Then I put my mixing bowl over a pot of simmering water, powered up the mixer, and set the timer for 5 minutes. You see the lovely results! I'm so proud.

Mmmm...cake with fluffy frosting and coconut. Does it remind you of something? Like the banana cake of a couple of months back?
This was good, but the banana cake was better. Julia, in her critique, said, "I don't see the point of the sweet potato in here. It's like a lot of these recipes, where she has you put weird ingredients in just to show you it can be done." Or something like that. An American sweet potato would probably give this more flavor, for sure. And I know that Alicia's towering three-layer delight will make my puny cake look very lame. But I'm not complaining. I got through the ingredient hurdle and the equipment hurdle and turned out a pretty darned good cake. The fact that there's only half a cake downstairs and we haven't had guests over (yet) speaks for something.

Here's the recipe. I'm going to give you the full Maida version with the candy thermometer, and then I'll try to recreate my half-assed 7-minute frosting.

Pecan Sweet Potato Pound Cake

1-1/2 c. (12 oz.) canola or salad oil (I used half melted butter)
Scant 2 c. (11 oz.) sugar
1 T. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 t. ginger
1 t. nutmeg
4 large eggs, separated
1/4 c. boiling water
1 t. vanilla
2-1/4 c. (9 oz.) sifted flour
1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and shredded FINE (use the small holes on your grater)
6 oz. toasted pecans, broken in pieces (or TJ's fabulous pecan pieces)

1/3 c. apricot jam, heated and strained
7 oz. shredded coconut

Heat the oven to 350 and get out 3 8-inch layer cake pans. Butter them, line them with parchment, and butter and flour them. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, sugar, baking powder, salt, ginger, and nutmeg (you can use your electric mixer for this, but it's really not necessary). Add the egg yolks and beat to mix. Then add the boiling water and vanilla. Fold in the flour, and then add the sweet potatoes and pecans. Beat the egg whites until you get stiff peaks, then fold them into the batter in 2-3 batches. Divide the batter among the pans and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Let cool in the pans for about 3 minutes; turn out onto racks and let cool. While they're cooling, you can heat (microwave for about 30 seconds) and strain your jam.

Now it's time to make frosting. This is Maida's recipe, which I was unable to try. You need an accurate candy thermometer.

1-1/2 c. sugar
2/3 t. (?) cream of tartar
2/3 c. water
1/8 t. salt
5 oz. (about 5) egg whites; these can be frozen (thawed) leftover egg whites.
1 t. vanilla
1/4 t. almond extract

Put the sugar, cream of tartar, and water in a smallish saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Cover it and let the mixture boil for 3 minutes. Then uncover and put in your candy thermometer. Let it boil without stirring until it reaches 242. While it's boiling, put your egg whites and salt in your stand mixing bowl with the whisk attachment. When the syrup reaches 236, turn on the mixer and start beating until the egg whites are stiff. Once the syrup reaches 242, keep the mixer on high and pour the syrup in a thin, steady stream over the egg whites. Keep beating for 5 minutes while the icing gets thick and stiff. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and beat another couple of minutes. OK, now get ready to ice the cake.
Put a cross-hatch of waxed paper strips on your cake plate and put layer one of cake on top of that. Spread a thin layer of jam on there, then give it a 1/2-inch layer of frosting. Put the next layer on top and repeat with the jam and icing. Once you get to the top layer, put the jam on top, but then Maida says to start with the sides and then frost the top. She's probably right. In any case, make your frosting all pretty and swirly, then get out your coconut and do your best to press coconut all over the sticky white frosting. If you're lucky like me, you'll end up with white frosting and coconut all over your hands, which you will then have to lick. Serve and enjoy your masterpiece.

Maria's Half-Assed Seven-Minute Frosting (for a small two-layer cake)

3 oz. egg whites
5 oz. sugar
Pinch salt
Juice of half a lemon
about 2 T. water
1/2 t. vanilla
Dash of almond extract

You'll need a heatproof (not plastic) mixing bowl, a saucepan that the bowl can sit over, and a hand mixer for this. Heat a few inches of water in the saucepan over medium heat. Put your egg whites, sugar, salt, lemon juice, and water in the mixing bowl. Set it over the hot water and immediately turn on the mixer to high. Set a timer for 5 minutes and keep beating. After the 5 minutes is up, take the bowl off the saucepan (careful, it's hot!), add the vanilla and almond, and continue to beat another 2 minutes. You should have a bowl full of fluffy white goodness. It crusts over pretty fast, so you'll want to frost your cake soon.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Apricot Bread Pudding

Being here in Pontlevoy is great for my baking experiments: the minute I've baked something, I can find many willing mouths to "taste-test" what I've done. I took a recent detour from Maida to make this and this (sometimes only chocolate will do). Both recipes disappeared in a flash. Sad to say, I had a hand in both disappearances.
But this bread pudding--well, I got to taste it. But that's pretty much it.

Sami and I are the Duke and Duchess of Chambord. What does that mean? Well, the Abbey has been divided up into four "houses" à la Harry Potter, and our house is Chambord. We meet with our students once a week to plan events and meals and generally discuss what it's like to live in France. And since I'm the Duchess, there are baked goods involved.
This bread pudding turned out to be perfect for our first group meeting. When I looked at the recipe, with all that cream and all those egg yolks, I knew we'd need help eating it. But I was a bit concerned that dried apricots and raisins would be "yucky" for picky college students. Never fear. When I brought it in, the students declared our house to be the best. Then they scrambled to get bowls, plates, etc. from the kitchen. Within minutes, a contented silence had fallen over the room. One girl was almost in tears as she contemplated her empty bowl. But everyone (except for Claire) was too polite to go for seconds. No problem there, either--Sami and Claire had a delicious breakfast the next morning.
This recipe is just as Maida describes--the tart apricots set off the bland, creamy custard perfectly. The almond extract adds a nice touch. And I wish I could have eaten one more piece.

Here are the ingredients. Note the size of the bread slices. I had to check on the Internet that an average slice of American white bread is about 1 to 1-1/2 ounces. Then I weighed my bread (half bakery bread and half supermarket bread, because that's what I had on hand). It was a lot more than 10 slices! Also notice that I used some "whole cream" (30%) and some "light cream" (15%). It turned out fine.

Mmmm...stacks of buttered bread. Can you tell the difference between the bakery bread and the supermarket bread?

Mid-assembly. The apricots look so nice against the white bread.

Fresh from the oven. The very brown parts are the heels of the bread. Waste not, want not.

Here's the recipe, if you've got hungry mouths to feed. Maida says it serves 8, but by my count, it served about 16.

Apricot Bread Pudding

6 oz. (generous 1/2 cup) dried apricots
1/3 c. (1.7 oz.) raisins, dark or golden
10 slices (about 12 oz.) good white bread, somewhat stale
About 3 oz. (6 T.) butter
2 c. cream (you can probably mix cream and half and half. Or just use half and half)
2 c. milk (again, you can probably adjust the fat content to your preferences)
5 large eggs plus 4 egg yolks
2 t. vanilla
1/2 t. almond extract
1/4 t. salt
1/2 c. (3.5 oz.) sugar, plus more to sprinkle

Get out a 13x9-inch baking pan (butter it) and also a larger baking pan that you can use as a bain marie (water bath). Snip the dried apricots into thin strips with scissors, then put them in a smallish bowl with the raisins. Pour boiling water over them to almost cover, cover with a plate, and let sit and soak for 20 minutes or so. In the meantime, get out the bread and butter. Butter each slice of bread fairly generously, stack the slices up, and cut them in half. When your dried fruit looks nice and plump, drain off the water. Now get out your buttered baking dish. Put in a third of the bread slices, buttered side up. Sprinkle them with the dried fruit. Repeat with another third of the bread, the rest of the dried fruit, and the rest of the bread. Maida suggests that you make sure that the top bread is arranged attractively. Maybe you shouldn't put the bread heels on top.
Now make the custard: Pour the milk and cream into a 4-cup Pyrex measure or another microwave-safe vessel. Heat for about 2-3 minutes or until steaming. In the meantime, put your eggs and egg yolks (save your egg whites in case you need to make fluffy white frosting someday...) in a large bowl and whisk them to blend. Add the vanilla, almond, salt, and 1/2 cup sugar, and then gradually whisk in the hot milk/cream. Slowly and evenly pour this mixture over the bread. Then put a piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap on top (I used parchment and the butter stuck to it) and push down the bread so that it all soaks up some custard. Let it sit at least 30 minutes; you could probably refrigerate this overnight and then bake it for a delightful breakfast.
Heat the oven to 325. Remove the paper/plastic from the pudding and sprinkle it with about 2 T. sugar. Put the baking dish in the larger pan. Put both in the oven and then VERY CAREFULLY pour hot/boiling water (I use my boiler for this) into the larger pan, avoiding the bread pudding. The water should be about an inch deep. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a knife comes out barely dry. Serve hot or warm (or cold for breakfast). Be prepared to defend your serving (or second serving).
Maida suggests this might be served with some warm apricot jam thinned with rum or bourbon, which I did not do but would probably be delightful. If you try this, tell me about it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

If you like molasses....

. . .then you'll love Maida's Shoofly Pie. Actually, you have to LOVE molasses. I think you have to be one of those people who put molasses in your coffee instead of sugar to enjoy this pie.

The one or two followers who actually read this blog will know that there has been a trend: If Maria really doesn't like something, then it is sure that my family will. So we were kind of excited about Shoofly Pie, because Maria really didn't like it. Everytime I looked at the recipe, however, I put it off, because I couldn't imagine what there was to LIKE about this pie, other than maybe the crust. It is 1 cup of molasses and 2/3 cup of brown sugar, mixed with very little else. Sucrose Pie should be the name of it.

On my busy weekend of softball games and harmonica lessons and beautiful San Diego weather to get out and enjoy, I threw together the Shoofly Pie. It is easy to make. The crust took about 5 minutes to mix together and throw into the fridge for chilling, and another 5 minutes to roll out. It did roll out beautifully -- with no cracks or problems. This should have been an indicator to me about how bad it would be. The best pie crusts (i.e the ones that flake like crazy when you bite into the pie) are the ones that are all cracked and falling apart when you try to get them into the pie dish. And the filling was simple as . . . well . . . pie, to throw together. Maybe the phrase "simple as pie" came about from people who made Shoofly Pie -- because I can't really think of any other pie that is so simple to make. Maybe pumpkin pie.

But pumpkin pie tastes good. Shoofly Pie does not. Unless, as I stated above, you LOVE molasses. I like molasses -- I love its taste in gingerbread. But I don't LOVE molasses enough to enjoy this pie. It was so strong that it was actually spicy. It is unbelievably sweet. I could feel my glucose level spiking to unnatural levels while I was eating the pie. This is not a pie for a diabetic.

I was thinking, while I was eating this pie, about Laura Ingalls Wilder. My favorite parts of the Little House books were the parts where she talked about food. I remember all of the food things they ate. And one of the things that they lived for was sugar. They would make a trip into town to buy a small packet of white sugar, which sounded like gold back then. And for Christmas, they would get a small piece of maple sugar, which they savored like there was no tomorrow. That family would have died and gone to heaven if they had this pie.

Not so my family. Maddy really enjoys molasses -- she will eat it with a spoon. So she did enjoy this pie -- or I should say she enjoyed one tiny piece of the pie. I had a really tiny sliver of the pie, and finished Cassandra's tiny sliver. Nobody else even tried it. It is still sitting on the counter, with about 1/12 of it gone. I think it is destined for the trash unless Maddy decides to take it to school tomorrow and try to sell it to her hypoglycemic friends.

So, Maria, I agree with the title of your post: "Shoofly Pie -- Why?"

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ginger cookies

My very favorite ginger cookies are Trader Joes Triple Ginger Cookies. I like them because they are very small and loaded with ginger flavor. I like to trick myself with small cookies. Because they are small, I can eat, say, 20 of them. They are small, right? A container of Triple Ginger Cookies is devoured pretty quickly in my household. Unfortunately, I eat most of them.
Maida's favorite ginger cookies -- the ones that she and her mother used to make all the time and send home with all of the people who came through their house when she was growing up -- are very much like TJ's Triple Ginger Cookies. Except they are quite large. Extraordinarily large. So large, that I could only eat TWO at one sitting (really, two is too many).
I had high hopes of making these cookies for our GS camping trip, so we would have cookies and Big Daddy's Cake. The problem with these cookies is that the dough is very difficult to work with. It is easy to make (except for the tedious task of dicing the candied ginger). I find that with candied ginger, I always end up with less than I am supposed to have, because Maddy and I keep eating it while I'm cutting it up. I was worried when I finished dicing my 5 ounces of candied ginger that I had only really diced about 3 ounces and the cookies were not going to be gingery enough. This was not a legitimate concern.
The problem is that this dough is VERY soft. Even though I refrigerated the dough overnight, as Maida strongly recommended, the dough was extremely soft the next morning, and I really didn't feel like fooling around with it while I should be packing for a camping trip. So I left it to chill for another few days.
Once you pull the dough out of the refrigerator, you have to work very quickly to roll and cut the dough. And use lots of flour. You do not have time to go find your cookie cutters once the dough is rolled out. I used my huge Roul Pat for rolling this out, and still believe this is the best investment in cooking ever. I used a drinking glass to cut the cookies, and was tempted to crowed them onto the cookie sheet, but yielded to Maida's warning about how the cookies spread.
Man do they ever. The 3 inches cookies I cut with the glass ended up being 5 inch cookies. They are very flat, and crisp and perfect looking. And perfect tasting. Really, one cookie is enough. Pete says that half a cookie is enough. This would be my favorite cookie recipe too, if it were not for the fact that it is so difficult to roll out, and that TJ's Triple Gingers taste so similar.
And now I've made two of the 3 ginger cookies. These were my favorite so far.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Pecan, Peanut Butter, Banana Bread: Nutty as a fruitcake

Dad uses this expression, "nutty as a fruitcake" a lot, and it's never made sense to me. Why would a fruitcake be nutty? Wouldn't it be fruity? Wouldn't a nut cake be nutty? Well, this Pecan, Peanut Butter, Banana Bread is a nutty fruit cake. Very nutty indeed.
My girls have a favorite after-school snack: bananas spread with peanut butter and often rolled in chocolate chips. So I figured this bread would be popular with them. In fact, I added some chocolate chips to half the batter and made muffins out of that. Very yummy. Those are already gone.
Opinions vary on the balance of the ingredients here. One family member who wants to remain anonymous said that she doesn't really like pecans or walnuts or whatever, but that they taste good with all the banana and peanut butter and chocolate. I personally feel that the pecans dominate--in a good way, since I love toasted pecans--and that the banana and peanut butter are just kind of background flavors. Which is OK, but if you want banana bread, you should try Elise's. Simple and perfect (especially if you add coconut and/or chocolate chips).

OK, a note about the ingredients. I'm starting to enjoy composing these shots. I admit to having emptied my freezer and at least half-filled a suitcase with nuts and dried fruits that are difficult to get in France. Thus the Trader Joe's pecans. Not pictured are the Louisiana pecans that I used up. They were in larger pieces and contributed more to the bread, I thought.
Check out the tiny jar of Skippy that cost 3.40 Euros ($4.66 according to my currency converter). You could probably buy the economy-sized twin pack for that much in the States. Oh, well. Also check out the nutmeg--"Muscade." You buy the whole nutmegs, and they come with this adorable tiny nutmeg grater. Very convenient.

So here are all the ingredients mixed together. I'm about to add a handful of chocolate chips for the muffins.
The batter hits the oatmeal-encrusted pan.
The oatmeal makes the bread look so healthy, don't you think?
Look at all those dominating pecans. Crunchy and delicious.

Here's the recipe, if you want to get nutty:

Pecan, Peanut Butter, Banana Bread

6 oz. pecan halves or large pieces
3 oz. (6 T.) butter, room temperature
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. vanilla (optional--I added some because I like it)
1/2 c. (4.5 oz.) smooth peanut butter
1 scant cup (6.5 oz.) dark brown sugar
2 large eggs (mine were medium, and the bread turned out fine)
2-3 bananas (8 oz. peeled), mashed with a fork to a chunky paste
1 c. (4 oz.) sifted flour
1 c. (4.5 oz.) sifted whole wheat flour
1/4-1/2 c. chocolate chips (optional)

Heat the oven to 375. Get out a loaf pan and some muffin pans--or if you happen to have two small loaf pans (maybe the disposable aluminum kind), that's what Maida calls for. Grease whatever pans you are using and sprinkle them with wheat germ or dry bread crumbs or oatmeal. Set them aside. When the oven is preheated, or just about, put the pecans on a baking sheet and toast them for about 7 minutes. Set aside to cool while you make the batter.
Cream the butter with the baking soda, salt, and nutmeg (and vanilla) until fluffy. Then add the peanut butter and beat that well. Gradually add the sugar and give that a good long beating--at least 2 minutes--and then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. If you're using a hand mixer, your arm should hurt at this point. Feel the burn!
Beat the bananas into the mixture until they are nicely incorporated, and then add the flours on low speed (or by hand) just until everything is just about smooth. Then add the pecans (and optional chocolate chips) by hand. Distribute the batter among the pans you've prepared--I got 1 loaf and 4 large muffins--and put them in the oven. Set the timer for 15 minutes. When it goes off, turn the oven down to 350 and set the timer for another 10 minutes if you've got muffins; 35-40 minutes if you've got loaf pans. In other words, muffins should take a total of 20-25 minutes; the loaves will take a total of 50-55 minutes (but I would check after 45 in case your oven runs hot like mine). In any case, when a toothpick comes out clean, you know the bread is done. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then unmold onto a folded towel in your hand (good tip, Maida!) and then onto a rack. Let cool as long as you can stand it, then enjoy!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Brandied Apples

Yes, Alicia, more apples. But these are sautéed, only require two apples, and only take about 10 minutes to put together. And we all wished there were more!
But before I write more about this recipe, I want to tell you about the apple guy. No, not Steve Jobs--the apple guy at the Friday market in Montrichard (the larger village where Claire goes to school).
Everyone has heard of, or seen, or seen pictures of French food markets. They're beautiful--all the produce and meat and fish and cheese presented just so. All true, especially in Paris. But the markets, especially in Paris, are not farmer's markets but food markets--the vendors go to the big wholesale market to buy their wares. Even though they tend to get the freshest and nicest produce and such, it's not as if they produced it themselves.
But here in the countryside, it's a bit different. There are stands with shiny, perfectly presented produce that probably comes from the Rungis (central) market. But you also see a lot of rather scruffy produce being sold by somewhat scruffy people. It's local, it's fresh, and it's not always shiny and perfect. One lady was selling carrots, among other vegetables. One bin had clean, shiny carrots; the other bin had carrots covered in dirt. I asked what the difference was--the price was the same. "Well, these carrots (the clean ones) come from Mont St.-Michel. These other ones come from the garden, you know? And they keep better with the dirt on them." I bought the dirty ones, and they're delicious.

Thus the apple guy. It turns out that the Touraine, the region we're in, is a big producer of apples. He sells 6-7 different kinds of apples and pears, and has firm opinions about which ones are good and which not so much. I like to try different types, but he has been somewhat disapproving about some of my choices: "The Ariane? It's kind of sour, kind of mealy. Don't you want a Braeburn instead?" I insist on trying a few ("Why five apples? What's with the number five?") as well as some Braeburns and others, and of course he's right. The Ariane is not a great apple. At the end of our jocular struggle for him to sell me his best apples and me to want to try the mediocre ones, I end up with 5 kilos of apples and pears, which he sells to me for 5 Euros (about $7.50). And most of them are delicious! But no Honey Golds there...
Since I didn't like eating those Arianes as is, I decided they would go into the Brandied Apples. After all, there's nothing like butter, sugar, cream, and booze to make a mediocre apple something special!

So here are the ingredients. Once again, this is a pretty straightforward recipe in terms of ingredients.
The apples hit the pan! Maida wants you to slice the apples and then use two cookie cutters to cut them into perfect rings. Guess what? I don't have any cookie cutters, so I did it by hand. You see the mixed results.

Fire!! I'm terrified of flambéeing, so Sami came to the rescue. Maida was right that this large amount of Calvados makes a huge flame. Too bad Pyromaniac Claire was not in the room to witness this!

And here they are, in their creamy, caramelized goodness. There were three servings like this. Maybe it's good to be restrained like that, and more apples would not have fit in the pan, but it seemed a little skimpy. Maybe with a scoop of ice cream...

Here's the recipe. It was great with mediocre apples, and would most likely be even better with wonderful apples.

Brandied Apples

2 large, tart apples (maybe a Pink Lady or a Braeburn)
1 T. butter
1/4 c. (1.75 oz.) sugar (I eyeballed this, but I'm pretty sure I used less)
2 oz. (1/4 c.) Calvados or other brandy (Maida says rum is OK, too)
1/2 c. cream

Make sure you have all your ingredients out and measured--this goes fast.
If you don't have two round cookie cutters (a large one about the circumference of the apple and a quite small one for coring), peel the apples. Cut off the very top and bottom of the apples and then slice into 4-5 rounds. If you've got the cookie cutters, use the big one to cut the peel off the apples and the small one to cut the core out. You should have beautiful, even rings. If you don't have the cookie cutters, just do your best to cut the core out without breaking the ring.
Now set a frying pan over medium-high heat and melt the butter in it. When the butter is no longer foaming, put in the apples in one layer. Sprinkle them with the sugar. Let them cook about 2 minutes per side, until they're just tender. Then get your Calvados and a match ready. Pour in the Calvados, light it, and stand back--that's one big flame. Swirl the pan, if you dare, until the flame has died down, then add the cream. Let that cook down just a bit, then remove the apples from the pan with a slotted spoon--if you're organized enough, try to get them straight onto the serving plates. Then let the cream cook down a bit more until it's a nice light caramel color. Pour the cream on the apples (there isn't a lot of sauce), and chow down. Maida says you can serve this with ice cream or sour cream. We had crème fraîche available, but it didn't seem necessary. But probably good vanilla ice cream would be a nice temperature contrast. Enjoy your simple but showy winter dessert!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Apples, and Doughnuts, and Cake, OH MY!

Maria has been baking. Maria has been blogging. Maria has been taking absolutely spectacular photos of her French kitchens and French baking ingredients.
Alicia has not been baking. Alicia has not been blogging. Alicia has let the battery run out on her camera and doesn't even remember how to take a picture.
So my posts will definitely not be so entertaining as Maria's. But if I don't write about what I've been doing, I will get even further behind in the race through Maida's book, so I better at least write about what I HAVE accomplished!
American Beauty Apples
At the beginning of January, my friend and co-GS leader Lisa asked me if I wanted to participate in the 3-Day Breast Cancer walk. Of course I said yes. I would never pass up an opportunity to walk 60 miles. Now if I didn't have to raise $2,300 it would be perfect. Of course Natalie wants to do it too. So make that $4,600. And Maddy is considering coming home from college for that weekend too. So that will be $6,900. Hmm.
Even though the walk isn't until mid-November, we decided to start our training with a 5-mile walk around Lake Miramar on the second weekend in January. The night before the walk, I made the American Beauty Apples.
As pointed out by Maria, things have changed since Maida wrote the book. I do recall being able to purchase boxes of highly sweetened raspberries. I couldn't find them -- even though I went to a questionable market which carries old-fashioned things. I did find a bag of "sweetened" raspberries however, so figured they would be good. And I don't think Rome Apples exist anymore. I bought some expensive type of apple called Honey Gold which looked very similar to what I remember Rome Apples looking like (very round and very red.) 6 Honey Gold apples set me back $12!
I was not a fan of this recipe. It involved coring apples, which is a job that I consider truly awful. The core never seems to come out cleanly, so there are always little seeds and stuff stuck in the apple after you are done. And then you still have that little butt end of the apple left, and if you get it in your mouth while you are eating the apple it is a most unpleasant experience. And then you had to thaw the raspberries and shove them through a sieve, which took FOREVER. I realized, after I was done, that I should have used the food mill. Instead, I got carpal tunnel syndrome mashing the berries through the super fine sieve I have. Not too much fun.
The baking of these apples also required a lot more work than I enjoy, because I kept having to open the oven, take the apples out, "baste" them, and put them back in. This continued for a while until the red raspberry puree had congealed around the apples. The apples looked quite spectacular actually. Of course, I didn't take a picture of them, so you have to take my word for it.
I think of baked apples as something that you eat hot. But Maida specified that these apples were to be eaten cold. I left them on the counter to cool, but then forgot about them and went to bed. Fortunately Maddy spotted them on the counter before she went to bed and shoved them into containers and put them in the refrigerator. Good job Maddy.
Next morning was our training walk. When we got up in the morning, I had received a text message saying that the walk was going to begin 1/2 hour earlier than I thought it was going to start. AAAAH! Maddy, Natalie and I threw on our clothes, washed our faces and brushed our teeth, and shoved a couple apples into bowls for eating in the car while we rushed to Lake Miramar.
The apples tasted like cold applesauce covered in raspberry jam. I like applesauce. I like raspberry jam. But I apparently don't like the combination. They were alright, but nothing to write home about (or even to blog about.). I ended up throwing away 4 of the 6 apples (so $8 worth of apples). I couldn't get myself to sell them to anybody else. I'm hoping there aren't anymore baked apple recipes in the cookbook. I haven't looked yet.

I made the doughnuts on January 24. I was determined to make the doughnuts that weekend. I had told the girls I was going to be making doughnuts, and that was definitely going to happen. I didn't get to it on January 23 because I ended up running all over San Diego trying to buy Maddy a Mac laptop at the "educational discount" price. That was a complete nightmare. By Saturday evening, I was exhausted and didn't feel like doing anything else. When Cassandra suggested that I should probably start the doughnuts that night, because "they might take a while," I told her that I would make them on Sunday. I didn't even look at the recipe. Probably because I knew she was right.
So when Sunday morning dawned, and I looked at the recipe, I discovered that Cassandra was, in fact, right. These doughnuts require a great deal of downtime. If I had started on them the night before, I would have been pulling the dough out of the refrigerator and cutting out doughnuts for their final rise. Instead, I was boiling potatoes.
My first sign that things were not going to go well with the doughnuts was that the yeast in the measuring cup really didn't rise too far. Nope. Not even close to double. But it did rise a little bit. That's what I kept telling myself. And the package wasn't expired. And I was NOT going to go out and buy new yeast. I got through the whole potato ricing, mixing, kneading process (on my new Roul Pat, which is the best cooking thing I have ever purchased in my life), and stuffed the bowl of dough into the oven with the light on so it could rise.
At that point, Pete suggested that we all pile into the car and drive up to the snow. In San Diego, this is a big event. People pull out the sleds from the mothballs, load up coolers, bring chairs and tables, and drive to the snow in droves. We just don't get snow that often. It had been snowing quite a bit that week in the mountains, and everything we heard said that you needed chains. I didn't have chains. So while Pete drove off to find chains, I took Maddy to the mall (an hour before it even opened) because she had decided to go to the mall instead of to the snow. A decision which I still do not understand.
When I got back from the mall, I looked at the bowl of dough. It really had not budged an inch. But I told myself it had risen a little bit, maybe, and "punched" it down (it didn't take very much effort to get it to go down . . .) and put it in the refrigerator for the "curing" phase.
And we went up to the snow. You didn't need chains. And there were about a million people up there. Thank god we chose to drive through Julian because the other road to the snow was backed up about 20 miles. We had a blast! We didn't have sleds in mothballs, so we just had a giant snowball fight.
When we got back from the snow, I pulled that bowl of dough out of the refrigerator and Sam and I cut out the doughnuts. I put the doughnuts onto cookie sheets and put them back into the oven to rise.
There was a little movement. Maybe. It was now an hour past the time when I was supposed to get the girls back to Stuart (he had given me permission to get them back late due to the doughnuts). I pulled the really super flat doughnut circles out of the oven and started frying them. My oil was apparently too hot, because they came out of the oil VERY BROWN. But they were puffy.
It was then I realized that I had no powdered sugar and could not make the glaze. Using Maria's technique, I just rolled the hot doughnuts in sugar.
So my doughnuts looked like the plain cake doughnuts they sell at doughnut shops covered in sugar. They were not large and puffy. They were kind of low and flat and really brown.
But apparently they were good. I forgot one part of this story. I hate doughnuts. I won't even eat a doughnut hole. Everybody else, though, said they were tasty. I gave almost all of them to the girls and don't know what happened to them. I brought the rest to work, and know that Ben ate at least one. He said it was like a Beignet. I guess that's good praise from a boy from Louisiana.

Big Daddy Cake

I made this one last Friday night. The Girl Scout troop was going camping and I recall Maria saying that this was a good cake to make if you have a lot of people to feed. It wasn't a LOT of people, but more than usual.

This cake is pretty fun to make, but uses a lot of butter. Kind of a scary amount, actually. And I was thinking my chocolate bars were 3 oz, and so used two of them to make up the 6 oz I needed for the tunnel of fudge. Oops. They were 4 oz. 8 oz. of chocolate in the tunnel of fudge, making for an even fudgier tunnel.

Although I buttered my pan and covered it with pecan dust, the cake did not want to come out of the pan on Friday night after the requisite cooling period. Because I started on the cake after work, and it takes a long time to bake, I had already stayed up way later than I wanted to. So I just left the cake upside down on the cake plate hoping that the forces of gravity would slide the cake out of the pan. No such luck.

So Saturday morning, I was faced with one of those situations where you know you need the cake to come out of the Bundt pan, you know it is almost impossible to get stuck cakes out of Bundt pans due to all the nooks and crannies in such pans, and you want a perfect looking cake to take a picture of. Oh -- that would be Maria, because I have stopped taking pictures for some reason. But I did want a perfect cake anyway.

I finally settled on my flexible cake frosting spatula, which I slowly worked around the cake. After about 20 minutes of this (20 minutes which I should have spent packing and getting out camping supplies and chopping vegetables and things in preparation for the camping trip), I got the cake out in one beautiful piece. Patience is a virtue. Just not my virtue.

Now 20 minutes behind on my preparations for the camping trip, I enlisted the support of my 3 able-bodied children to do things such as chop potatoes, clean out the car, and restock my camp kitchen, and made the glaze for the cake. This time I used the proper amount of chocolate, but it still looked like a lot of glaze. Cake done, I helped pack of the car and hit the road to Lake Perris. Which I have decided is one of my favorite campgrounds -- if you go in January.

We broke the cake out during the late afternoon and everybody had slices -- even Pete, who hates desserts. Everybody seemed to like the cake. Especially Maddy and I, who had more the next day for lunch. After skydiving. Ok, ok. Indoor skydiving. Really works up an appetite, let me tell you.

I liked this cake. The cake part reminded me of my favorite cake when I was a kid -- Rae Sveen's pound cake made with Crisco, sugar, flour, eggs, and almond extract. I could eat almost an entire cake by myself, especially if coupled with coffee ice cream. It is really a wonder I didn't weigh 400 pounds when I was a kid, considering how much I ate. Then there was the whole tunnel of fudge, which was tasty. And the crunch of pecans interspersed throughout the cake made for a nice contrast.

Maddy took the leftover cake, which had kind of rolled over in the cake carrier, to school. Apparently the people at school declared it "weird" and "too sweet." But they ate it.

I don't think it was weird. And all of Maida's stuff is "too sweet." That is the hallmark of a Maida Heatter dessert.

So apples, doughnuts and cake. I liked the cake. The apples -- not so much. The doughnuts -- well, I never like doughnuts.

Moving on.