Thursday, June 24, 2010

Old Grand-Dad Sticky Buns

Mmmm...sticky buns. What a perfect Saturday breakfast for a cold and cloudy June day. These turned out to be our breakfast and a snack with tea (and rum!) later in the afternoon, because when we "gifted" these to our British friends, they promptly invited us for tea later in the day and "regifted" them as part of the spread. Pontlevoy hospitality at its best!
Sticky buns can seem like a big deal, but if you have enough time, they're not that hard. Here's my process:
You start by mixing the flour and yeast and sugar and salt together. With instant yeast, you don't really have to proof it anymore. At least, I've had good luck with this for the past few years (knock wood). Just add the warm milk and water straight to the flour mixture.

OK, with no heavy-duty mixer, I've just mixed this roughly by hand and am ready to knead. Like all of Maida's yeast doughs, this one handles really nicely and doesn't take long to achieve the desired smooth liveliness.

Getting ready for the first rise on Friday afternoon. It was cold that day, so it took a while.

But it finally did rise quite a bit--note the big bubble where my fingerprint had been. Now it's time to get the "sticky" part ready.

Mmmm....brown sugar, pecans, and rum. It's supposed to be bourbon (hence the "Old Grand-dad"), but we had dark rum, and it was very good. Also these are supposed to be baked in muffin tins, but I didn't have 2 big muffin pans available. I think this was easier and safer (less chance of bubbling. Note the parchment paper liner. This was a very good idea!

OK, the dough is all rolled out and buttered, sugared, and liquored up. Note that it's bigger than my Silpat. I need a bigger Silpat. I think there's one in a box somewhere...

OK, got these babies sliced up. I made 16 instead of 24. It seemed like the right size.

Here they are, all lined up and ready to go into the fridge for their overnight rise.

OK, I've stumbled into the kitchen and reached for the camera. Oven, camera, coffee. I'm dedicated to my baking. Note how well these rose even in the fridge.

About half an hour later--coffee is ready, family is starting to stir, kitchen smells fabulous.

These even flipped successfully! Maida says to wait 20 minutes or so before digging in, but you'd better believe we didn't. Yummy fluffy bread dough and sweet, boozy, nutty syrup. What's not to like?

Here's the recipe. Make it when you have some spare afternoon time before a lazy morning.

Old Grand-dad Sticky Buns

1/2 c. (4 oz.) water

1 c. (8 oz.) milk

About 4 c. (20 oz.) unsifted all-purpose or bread flour (I used some whole wheat flour)

1 package (2-1/4 t.) instant yeast

2 T. (0.9 oz.) sugar

1/2 t. salt

1 egg yolk

2 c. (14 oz.) brown sugar, divided

1/2 c. (4 oz.) bourbon or dark rum (I’m pretty sure I didn’t use that much, and you could taste the booze anyway. Judge the amount by taste and how expensive your booze is.)

4 oz. (1 c.) toasted pecan halves or pieces

2 oz. (4 T./1/2 stick) butter, room temperature

2 t. cinnamon

The night before you want to eat the sticky buns, heat the water and milk to just barely warm in a microwave or on the stove. Meanwhile, mix together the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the milk and water and then the egg yolk and mix until it all comes together. You can do this with the dough hook of a mixer or with a food processor or by hand. If you do it by processor or by hand, you’ll want to knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until it is “smooth and feels alive.” Return the dough to the large bowl, cover it with a towel, and let it rise in a warm place for an hour or two (depending on how warm the place is), or until doubled.

Get out a 13x9-inch pan (or two muffin pans, if you have them), line it with parchment or foil, and butter that. Sprinkle on half the sugar, then the pecans, then about half the bourbon/rum. Set aside the prepared pan. Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a floured mat or board. Roll it out into the biggest rectangle you can. Then spread that rectangle with the soft butter. Mix the cinnamon into the remaining brown sugar and sprinkle that on the butter. Then roll up the dough like a jelly roll and pinch the ends shut. Using a sharp knife or unflavored dental floss, cut the roll into about 16 pieces. Arrange the pieces in the prepared pan, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight (If you want to bake these the same day, let them rise in a warm place for another 45 minutes to an hour).

When you get up the next morning, take the rolls out of the fridge and heat the oven to 375. Make some coffee and potter about. When the oven is hot, remove the plastic from the rolls and put them in the oven. You might also consider putting a large foil-covered sheet pan on a lower rack, though my rolls did not boil over. Bake for 25 minutes, until the rolls are nice and brown and the syrup is all bubbly. While the rolls bake, prepare a large tray or cookie sheet by lining it with parchment or foil. As soon as the rolls come out of the oven, put the sheet on top of the pan and flip it over, letting all the syrupy goodness drip over the rolls. Let the rolls cool enough that you can touch them, and use two forks to pull them apart. Enjoy all day.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Long Island Potato Cake

Doesn't sound that appetizing, does it? Or does it perhaps sound like some sort of latke thing? In any case, I think this is not one of Maida's more inspired recipe names. It's not clear why it comes from Long Island--are they famous for their potatoes? And the potatoes are really background players here. It's more a Moist and Tender Chocolate Prune Cake. That title may not be more appetizing, depending on how you feel about the word moist and about prunes, but it's certainly more descriptive. The potatoes seem to be there as a butter substitute, as is sometimes seen in recipes using applesauce or prune purée. The cake is moist and tender without a lot of butter.
So here is the ingredient lineup. Spices, cocoa, mashed potatoes, prunes, walnuts. And of course butter, eggs, sugar, flour. How can you go wrong?

Look at that tiny chunk of butter. Barely enough to absorb the baking powder and spices.

I made half a recipe and thought it would be perfect for a set of large muffins. I was wrong.

Had to scrape out the muffin pan and use the loaf pan after all. Oh well.

I had one slice of cake and liked it a lot. Claire had a slice and objected to the "raisins." What a surprise. She was even more indignant when I told her that the raisins were prunes. Then I packed up the cake and brought it to Julia, lover of all things prune. When I asked her opinion, she told me that the prunes were great and the chocolate part was delicious and soft, "but the walnuts?" Everyone's a critic.

So if you like chocolate AND prunes AND walnuts and you want a nice moist, spicy cake, here's a good recipe for you. I'm giving the recipe as printed, which makes two loaves. If you only want one loaf (or maybe 18 muffins), cut it in half.

Long Island Potato Cake

3/4 lb. potatoes
8 oz. (1 cup, packed) pitted prunes
4 oz. (1 stick) butter
1 T. baking powder
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. powdered instant espresso
3/4 t. salt
1/2 t. nutmeg
1 t. vanilla
1-1/2 c. (10 oz.) sugar
4 large eggs
3/4 c. (2.25 oz.) Dutch-process cocoa
1/2 c. (4 oz.) milk
2 c. (8 oz.) flour (I used about a third whole wheat)
6 oz. (1-1/2 c.) walnuts, in large pieces

Heat the oven to 300; butter and flour two 8-inch loaf pans. Peel the potatoes and cut them into quarters or eighths, depending on their size. Cook them in unsalted water for about 20 minutes or until tender. Mash them (without butter or milk, of course) your favorite way—I used a fork but wished I’d had some more advanced technology (like a ricer or even a food processor) to deal with the lumps. Meanwhile, use scissors to cut the prunes up into quarters—Maida says the pieces should be the size of raisins.
When your potatoes are mashed and cooling off, start the cake: Cream the butter with the baking powder, cinnamon, espresso, salt, and nutmeg until nice and fluffy. Add the vanilla and sugar and beat another 2-3 minutes. Then add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each. On low speed, beat in the mashed potatoes, then the cocoa, then the milk, and finally the flour, each just until incorporated. Finally, mix in the prunes and walnuts by hand. Pour into the loaf pans. Maida suggests you draw a trench in the middle so that the cake rises better. I didn’t and my loaf wasn’t misshapen or anything, but it did rise high and crack like most loaf cakes do. Either way, put the loaves in the oven and bake for 1 hour 25 minutes (start checking after an hour) or until a tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then unmold onto racks and let cool completely. Maida suggests that you chill the loaves overnight, but I found the cake to be delicious warm from the oven.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Apricot Pie

This will be a short post with no photography, but it's urgent because apricot season is so short. I've written in previous posts about my childhood with apricots. Mom would take home buckets of "jam cots" (the bruised, bird-pecked, and overripe fruit) and would sometimes make pie from them as well. She would thicken the apricots with tapioca and the pie was fabulous with ice cream--sweet-tart and gooey with the tapioca.
So I was very excited about finally getting to make this pie: it comes early in the book, but we hadn't had apricot season yet, and I was not about to spend $25 on questionable Chilean apricots. So we bided our time. Now the apricots are coming in from Spain and southern France, and it's time to make pie! I'm sure the Blenheims are ready in California as well.
This is a pretty simple pie, and if the fruit is decent (mine was just decent, definitely not the apricots of my childhood), the pie will be yummy. I forgot the almond extract and liqueur, was not as careful about mixing the tapioca/sugar mix into the apricots as I might have, and didn't let the fruit sit long enough with the tapioca (we were in a big hurry to get the pie in the oven), but it still turned out great. We brought it to a backyard barbecue party involving Australians, Canadians, US Americans, and French people, and it was a hit! The children got to it before the adults did, and the pie looked pretty sad once we got to it, but everyone seemed to enjoy it nonetheless.
Here's the recipe. Hurry, make this before the season is over!

Fresh Apricot Pie

Pastry for a two-crust 9-inch pie: if your regular recipe does not involve sugar, add a couple of tablespoons.
2.5 lbs. apricots
1 T. Amaretto or other liqueur or orange juice
1/2 t. almond extract
3/4 c. (5.2 oz.) sugar
1/2 c. (3.5 oz.) brown sugar
3 T. + 1 t. (1.3 oz.) tapioca
(about 1/4 c. ground almonds)

To top the pie:

Heat the oven to 500. Get out a 9-inch pie plate and a large baking sheet lined with foil. Put the baking sheet in the oven. Cut the apricots in half, remove the pits, and put in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the Amaretto and almond extract over. Very thoroughly mix together the sugars and tapioca and then very carefully mix that in with the apricots to avoid lumps. Let the fruit stand while you roll out the pastry. Roll out the bottom crust and line the pie plate with it, leaving a 1/4–inch overhang. If you have room in your fridge, roll out the top crust, put it on a cookie sheet, and refrigerate it until you’re ready. Now Maida is very concerned that the cut side of the fruit never touch the pastry. Mom and Aunt Fran never worried about that, but OK. (If you have some, put in a thin layer of ground almonds on the bottom crust. They will soak up some of the juice and add nice flavor.) So put in a layer of apricots cut side up, and then put in a second layer cut side down. If you need to put in a third layer, that should also be cut-side down. Pour the tapioca/sugar/apricot juice mixture carefully over the fruit. Now, if you still need to, roll out the top crust. Put it over the fruit. Seal the two crusts together and flute them. Brush the top crust with a bit of milk and sprinkle it with sugar. Cut some slits in the top crust and put the pie on the foil-lined sheet in the oven. Immediately reduce the temperature to 450 and bake for 10 minutes. After that, reduce the oven temperature to 375 and give it another 35-40 minutes or until the crust is nice and golden and the fruit is all bubbly. Yum. Cool the pie completely, then refrigerate and serve cold with ice cream. Feel happy that summer’s just about here.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Rich and Beautiful Brownies

Need I say more? I enjoy trying out some of the odder recipes in Maida's book, but I always look forward to making brownies. Every one of her brownie recipes is delicious, and I would have to do a very dangerous side-by-side comparison of the recipes to determine which is my favorite. This one is up there with some of my other favorites: it's got lots of walnuts and a nice coffee kick, and it has a really nice fudgy top layer.
And, like other brownie recipes, this one comes with an important requirement: Find someone to give these to. Brownies really should not be kept in my house. Fortunately, we were able to send some home with dinner party guests, give some to the student workers here at the Abbey, and still have enough to take back to Paris for Julia and her friends. A 9x13 pan of really rich brownies makes a LOT!
So here we have the Brownie Usual Suspects. Note that one layer involves unsweetened chocolate--it's really the standard All-American brownie, I think--and the other involves semisweet, cream, and a lot of egg yolks.

Here's the first layer. Note all the walnutty goodness.

Layer 2 is all thick and rich and chocolatey. You can also see another advantage of this recipe: two bowls to lick. And even though that's two bowls, each mixture is super easy to make. If you have a microwave, they'll take 5 minutes each. On the stove it's a bit longer, but not by much.

The finished product. I forgot to flip it right-side-up. Oops. It still tasted great.

The brownies that made it to Julia. If I were a better photographer, you might be able to see the layers in them. That being said, the layers are pretty subtle. You might almost say they're like frosted brownies without the mess.

Here's the recipe. Make this for a large group of chocolate lovers.

Rich and Beautiful Brownies

Bottom Layer:
2.5 oz. unsweetened chocolate
4 oz. (1 stick) butter
Pinch salt
1 t. instant espresso
1/2 t. vanilla
1 c. (7 oz.) sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 c. (2.5 oz.) unsifted flour
6 oz. (1-1/2 c.) walnuts, in medium-sized pieces

Heat the oven to 350. Line a 9x13 pan with foil or parchment, then put some butter in it. Put the pan in the heating oven for a minute or two, then brush the melted butter everywhere. Set aside. Get out 2 smallish saucepans or two medium-sized microwave-safe bowls. Melt the chocolate and butter in one of those pans or bowls, then add the coffee and salt. Take the pan off the stove if you’re using the stove and stir in the vanilla and sugar, then the eggs one at a time, followed by the flour and walnuts. Pour that mixture into the prepared pan and set aside while you make the top layer.

Top Layer:
4 oz. (1 stick) butter
8 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
2 T. (0.9 oz.) sugar
1/2 c. (4 oz.) cream
Pinch salt
1 t. instant espresso
1 t. vanilla
1 egg
4 egg yolks

In the second saucepan or bowl, melt the chocolate and butter. Be a bit more careful this time because semisweet chocolate burns more easily than does unsweetened. Add the sugar, cream, salt, espresso, and vanilla and stir well to mix. Take the pan off the heat, if you’re using the stove, and stir in the egg and the yolks, one at a time, until the mixture is very smooth. Pour that mixture over the first brownie layer. Can you feel the chocolate?
Put in the oven and bake for 28-30 minutes (check after 22 minutes or so; you don’t want to overbake) or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan, and then chill in the fridge or freezer for an hour or so. Turn out the brownies onto a board or cookie sheet and then flip them over so they’re right side up. Keep them in the fridge until you’re ready to serve them. Cut them into tiny squares and give them away as fast as possible.
(p.s. If you want to go all the way over the top, serve these with salted butter caramel sauce. And, hell, maybe some vanilla ice cream. You won't be sorry!)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Date-Pecan Pie: Size matters!

It's the beginning of June, but up until now, it's been pretty chilly. Last weekend I made chili and cornbread, and it seemed just right for the weather. And so this pecan pie, which seems so out of season, actually wasn't.

I had to make this pie when Julia was visiting, since she is quite the date fiend. Claire is the one who, like her aunt, objects to all things dried fruit, so I had to time this pie carefully. Cool weather+ Julia visiting=date pecan pie.
I always forget two things about pecan pie: 1) I really like it, even though it's awfully sweet; 2) it's really easy. 5 minutes of mixing and you're done. I added an extra step to Maida's recipe that took about 10 minutes longer: I browned the butter. Very worthwhile, in my opinion. Browned butter adds a really lovely depth of flavor and boosts the toasty taste of the pecans.

Do you get the impression that I liked this pie? I really did. Look at all those pecans! Julia's still adding them, though the pie shell is just about full.
Which leads me to the point about size: I neglected to note that this recipe is written for a 9-inch extra deep pie plate. You'll see, however, that I have a pitiful little aluminum pie plate. Did I scale down the recipe? I did not. Below you see the result...

Can't contain the spillage!! Not good. We made little extra shields out of foil and ended up baking a ramekin of crustless pecan pie, which was very much appreciated by Claire (because it had no dates and no crust).

The weather warmed up enough that we could dine al fresco. Note that the pie is very dark, even a bit burned, on top. I recommend checking it and putting foil on top if it seems to be getting too dark too soon.

Out of focus pie with boozy whipped cream. Mmmmmm.....
Verdict: This is really good pie. The dates add a bit of texture but are not too distracting. If you buy the really good Medjool dates from, say, Whole Foods, they will be soft and melty. If you buy the crappy Dromedary dates, you have only yourself to blame.
Julia is still dreaming of the pie; I had to send the remaining half (minus a small piece for myself) out the door with some students who had happened to come by at an opportune time.
Here's the recipe. Make this when the weather is cool and your sweet tooth is working on overdrive.

Date Pecan Pie
1 9-inch EXTRA-DEEP pie shell, baked (try this recipe or this one. I used Maida's recipe, but it wasn't super awesome. I think I worked it too much.)
8 oz. really good dates
4 oz. (1 stick) butter
4 large eggs
1 scant c. (6.5 oz) sugar
1 T. flour
1/8 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
1 c. (11.5 oz.) corn or golden syrup
6 oz. (1-1/2 c.) pecan halves (toasted pieces worked fine)

Heat the oven to 350. Get out a large baking sheet and cover it with aluminum foil. Put your baked EXTRA-DEEP pie shell on the baking sheet. Use scissors to cut up your dates. If you got the good kind, you’ll need to pit them as you go, but it’s worth the sticky fingers.
Put the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Let it melt, then watch it carefully as it bubbles and complains; take it off the stove when it starts to smell really good and the solids begin to brown. You could just melt the butter in the microwave, but this extra step is totally worth it, I think.
Now, in a medium bowl, beat the eggs until they are very foamy. Add the sugar, flour, salt, and vanilla and beat to mix well. Add the butter (it can still be hot if you beat constantly while you add it) and the syrup. Add the dates by hand. Now (and this is weird) get out a slotted spoon and take the dates back out of the liquid and put them in the pie crust (did you remember to use your extra-deep pie pan? Good!). Now sprinkle the pecans over the dates. Finally, pour the remaining liquid over all. It will be a lot of stuff. Bake for 45 minutes or until the top is very well browned (cover it with foil if it looks too brown) but the center is still jiggly. Cool on a rack and then refrigerate. Serve very cold with boozy whipped cream:

1 c. cream
1-1/2 T. maple syrup or honey
1-1/2 T. rum or bourbon

Whip. Enjoy.