Monday, December 27, 2010

Williams-Sonoma Chocolate Cake

Last week, the lead up to Christmas, was really fun. We interspersed trips into Paris for shopping, dining, and avant-garde circus with staying at home and relaxing. And cooking. And eating.
We also had some friends from work over for dinner. I went into my usual "Oh my gosh, I have to feed French people!" frenzy, compounded by the additional stressor that one of the guests managed a restaurant in England. He told us stories about Gordon Ramsay. Gulp.
But things went well. I made this tart and a fabulous oven cioppino-type thing, and I made this cake.

There's a cake recipe that everyone in France makes--it's on the label of every bar of dessert chocolate. It's called Moelleux du Chocolat--a cake that's light on flour and heavy on chocolate. This cake is like that. But the port adds an extra zing.

There are many things to like about this cake. One is that it's super easy to make--a bit like making brownies, except that you beat in egg whites.

Another is that you can make most of the batter ahead of time, and then just whip the egg whites, fold them in, and pop the cake in the oven so that it can be served warm for dessert.

And finally, it may not be the most beautiful of cakes, but it's delicious--soft and dark and delicious. We ate it with custard sauce--our English guest was so pleased--and every bit of it disappeared. It's the kind of dessert that is satisfyingly chocolatey but doesn't hit you over the head like a chocolate mousse would.

Here's the recipe. Consider it for your next dinner party.

Williams-Sonoma Chocolate Cake

1/2 c. (4 oz.) butter
1/2 c. (4 oz.) port (I think either tawny or ruby would be fine here)
4 oz. semisweet chocolate
2/3 c. (4.8 oz.) sugar (Maida calls for a full cup, but I think that would be way too much!)
3 large eggs, separated
3/4 c. (3 oz.) sifted flour
1/8 t. salt

Heat the oven to 325 (or wait if you're going to bake this at the last minute). Line the bottom of a 10-inch springform with a circle of parchment and grease and flour the pan and paper.
Melt the butter and chocolate with the port either in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat or in the microwave. Let cool.
Beat the egg yolks with all but 2 T. of the sugar (4 oz.) until light and thick; you can do this with an electric mixer or a whisk and some elbow grease. Gradually add the chocolate mixture and beat that until smooth. Then stir in the flour. (You can set aside this batter for a while until you're ready to bake. Keep everything, including the egg whites, at room temperature.)
When you're ready to bake, make sure the oven is heated to 325. Now beat the egg whites with the salt until they hold a soft shape; gradually beat in the remaining 2 T. sugar and beat until they hold a fairly stiff shape. Fold the egg whites gradually into the chocolate mixture; you should not be too thorough.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes (check earlier if your oven runs hot). Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then unmold. Serve hot with whipped cream or custard sauce and/or fruit. Enjoy the praise of your guests.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Charleston Cheesecake Bars

We are in cookie overload right now--not that there's anything wrong with that. I have about four containers of cookies sitting on the counter, and I have cookie dough in the fridge. There's snow predicted for tomorrow, and the impending chaos that comes with it, and what did I get on my trip to the store? Flour, sugar, butter, and eggs. We must not have a baking crisis!

I have been bringing cookies to every possible event. I send cookies with the girls and Sami whenever there's the least occasion. I give cookies as tips. Just now, the postman came with a package, and after I buzzed him up, I quickly made a package of cookies.

These were a favorite. I brought them to a coffee, and they were appreciated there; I gave them to one of Claire's teachers, and I hope she likes them. And of course the family tried to eat as many as possible before I could give them all away.

This is a really great recipe in that it combines two really great dessert items: streusel and cheesecake.

The cheesecake is creamy and lemony; the streusel is crunchy and buttery.

And you eat it in bite-sized portions so it doesn't seem quite so decadent.

Here's the recipe. Make it when you want a cookie for dessert, or a dessert as a cookie.

Charleston Cheesecake Bars

1/2 c. (4 oz.) butter
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. salt
1/2 c. (3.5 oz.) brown sugar
1 c. (4 oz.) sifted flour
1/2 c. (2 oz.) toasted pecans, chopped
1 c. (2.8 oz.) quick or normal oats

Heat the oven to 350; line an 8-inch square baking dish with foil or parchment. If you're using foil, grease it.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter, cinnamon, and salt until soft; add the sugar and beat another minute or until light and well mixed. On low speed or by hand, mix in the flour, pecans, and oats. Set aside one cup of this mixture for later; pat the rest into the prepared baking pan and bake for 15 minutes. While it's baking, make the filling:

8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 c. (3.5 oz.) sugar
1 egg
2 T. (1 oz.) sour cream
Finely grated rind of 1 lemon
1 T. lemon juice

You can use the same mixing bowl that you just used for the crust. Put the cream cheese in there and beat until soft. Beat in the sugar, egg, and sour cream just until smooth. Stir in the lemon rind and juice.
Pour the cheese mixture over the baked crust and sprinkle the reserved streusel over that. Press the streusel to make it even and keep it firmly attached to the filling. Put the dish back in the oven and let it bake for 25 minutes, or until the topping is nice and golden brown. Cool this completely at room temperature and then either freeze it for an hour or chill it overnight. Remove from the pan, cut it into squares, and put it back in the refrigerator: these are best cold. Enjoy giving or keeping these.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Raspberry Pears

Sometimes a simple fruit dessert is just the thing. Especially when winter is coming and you've been baking cookies and not giving them away fast enough. Sometimes something cool and refreshing and not too sweet really hits the spot.

These raspberry pears turned out to be that thing. I had to modify the recipe considerably to make up for ingredients I didn't have:

Namely, "frozen red raspberries in syrup" and framboise or kirsch. I just didn't feel like going out and buying a bottle. Cassis was a nice alternative. And see that lemon? I didn't end up using that either.

Maida wants you to put the pears in lemon water until you cook them. But really, they didn't have time to brown, and they get covered in raspberry sauce. What's the point?

Maida also has you leave the pears uncored. I rather regretted not coring the pears--they were certainly more stable that way, but they were awkward to cut up and eat once they were cooked. I also imagine they'd soak up more raspberry sauce that way.

I don't know what I did, but I had way more raspberry sauce than Maida said I would--probably because I used a 1-lb. bag of raspberries rather than a 10-oz container. But that raspberry sauce was really good on lots of things: we used it on crêpes and on yogurt, among other things.

This is an easy and versatile recipe: you could serve the pears over waffles for breakfast or over ice cream for dessert. They're really good just by themselves as well.

Here's the recipe as I adapted it. Make it when you need a break from butter.

Raspberry Pears

1 16-oz. bag frozen raspberries
2-3 T. sugar
2 T. honey
2 T. + 1 t. framboise, kirsch, or cassis (basically, any liqueur that you think would go with pears and raspberries)
4 pears (I would use Anjou or Bosc but not Bartlett)

Make these the day before you want to eat them.
Toss the raspberries and sugar together and put in a sieve over a glass measuring cup to thaw. When they are thawed (this will take at least 2 hours, depending on how warm your kitchen is), push them through the sieve with a spoon. This is a tedious process and you will end up throwing away a lot of raspberry seeds/pulp, but it makes a nice smooth sauce. Don't forget to scrape the bottom of the sieve! Mix in the honey and 2 T. liqueur.
Peel the pears (core them if you wish) and put them in a saucepan or skillet just large enough to hold them. Pour the raspberry sauce over, cover the pan, and cook over medium heat until the sauce comes to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and let the pears cook about 20 minutes, basting and/or turning occasionally. Put the lid askew on the pan so that some steam can escape and cook another 15-20 minutes, until the pears are just tender.
Transfer the pears to a bowl. Add the teaspoon of liqueur to the sauce and pour it over the pears. Let cool to room temperature and then chill, probably overnight. Serve as you see fit.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I believe I have some cookies to bake.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wild Rice Pudding

When I was little, I used to be happy when there was leftover rice: Mom would almost always turn it into rice pudding. She'd spoon it into a casserole dish with some raisins (unless Alicia won the day), make a blender custard from the Joy of Cooking, and in the oven it went. Yummy--creamy, chewy, nutmeg-y.
She also sometimes made us custard or rice pudding when we were sick. So when Julia was home sick the other day, it seemed like a good time to finally make this wild rice pudding.

I was rather skeptical about the whole wild rice in pudding thing. Sure, wild rice is quintessentially American and all, but it's chewy and has that kind of grassy taste. Does it really belong in comfort food like rice pudding? I decided to make a half recipe, so as not to waste my precious stash of wild rice.

Julia helped with the food prep and photography. I let her portion out the raisins, and you can see she's overcome her raisin phobia.

The verdict? This would have made an awesome regular rice pudding. The custard is decadently creamy and delicious, but I found the wild rice's texture to be a bit off-putting. This is not to say, however, that these three portions of pudding did not disappear in record time. Julia ate hers while it was still warm. Claire ate mine, even though I protested that she wouldn't like it because it had raisins, in one rapid sitting when she came home from school. And Sami let me have a few bites of his later in the day.
This is not an everyday, oh-I-have-leftover-rice like Mom's standby recipe--it's a lot creamier and fussier, since you cook it before you bake it. But if you're looking for a luxurious custard with some chewy grain in it, look no further.
Here's the recipe. I'm giving you the full 6 portions.

Wild Rice Pudding

Generous 6 T. wild rice
1/4 c. light raisins (I bet you could use dried cherries or cranberries)
2 c. cream
4 egg yolks
1/4 c. sugar
Generous pinch nutmeg
Pinch salt
1/2 t. vanilla
1/4 t. almond extract

Rinse the rice and then cook it in a fairly generous amount of boiling water for about 45 minutes (or follow package directions); drain. The rice should be tender, and probably some of it will be split.
Heat the oven to 325. Get out 6 custard cups and a baking dish large enough to contain them. Divide the rice and raisins evenly among them. In a medium saucepan, heat the cream over medium heat until there are little bubbles around the side and it is starting to steam. While you're heating the cream, in a medium mixing bowl (or maybe a 4-cup Pyrex measure), whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, nutmeg, salt, vanilla, and almond extract. When the cream is hot, pour some of it slowly into the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time. Then return that to the saucepan and cook, whisking, over fairly low heat until the mixture thickens some--Maida says it should reach 174 degrees. This takes about 10 minutes. Strain through a fine strainer into the custard cups. Ours curdled some but was fine after we'd strained it.
Put the custard cups into the baking dish. Very carefully pour boiling water into the baking dish so that it comes about one inch up the sides of the cups--it may be safer to do this when the baking dish is already in the oven. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, but check after 20. Give the baking dish a little jiggle. If the custards look liquid-y, then need more time. If they look solid or just have a minor jiggle, they're perfect. Very carefully remove the baking pan from the oven and then very carefully remove the custard cups from the hot water. Silicon potholders are great here because the cloth kind can soak up hot water--ouch! Maida recommends that you cool these to room temperature and then chill for a few hours. I tried Julia's warm pudding and Sami's cold pudding and I liked both. Enjoy these in good health.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Carol's Crescents

I need more holiday spirit. Sure, I cooked a Thanksgiving turkey. I went to the school's holiday sale and picked up an Advent wreath and an Advent calendar, which I filled with goodies and hung up. It's snowing outside, for crying out loud. But I'm not feeling it. I think I need to bake more cookies.

These are technically not cookies: they're "yeast pastries". Yes, they have yeast in them. But they also have a ton of butter and sour cream. They were fun to make, and they made lots of people smile. Maybe "yeast cookies"? No, that sounds awful.

These are really rugelach--Eastern European Jewish pastry at its finest. I handed out a lot of these--at a parents' meeting, at the market--people first said, "Mmm! This is delicious!" and "Madame, you are adorable," and even "Congratulations!" (I think the translation for the French adorable is actually closer to "sweet". And I guess "Félicitations" is something you say when you're giving compliments. You learn a lot when you hand out cookies.)

But then they asked, "What kind of pastry is this? Where does it come from? (Why isn't it French?)" It's always hard to answer that kind of question. I just usually shrug, "Well, you know, we Americans take our cuisine a little bit from everywhere." (But I love that people are interested in this!) The recipe comes from an American desserts cookbook, but this obviously has its roots elsewhere.
Just did a little research: the rugelach we know today, especially the recipe I have posted here, probably came from Hungary, and with the sour cream and walnuts, that makes sense. But read this little tidbit from Joan Nathan's Jewish Cooking in America, "

It was Mrs. Knopf's friend Maida Heatter who put rugelah on the culinary map with Mrs. Heatter's grandmother's recipe. It is the most sought after of all Mrs. Heatter's recipes and is the rugelach most often found in upscale bakeries nationwide."

This isn't even the famous recipe that Nathan refers to: That one is in Maida Heatter's Cookie book, and it involves cream cheese (an American innovation, thanks to Philadelphia cream cheese) and no yeast. But this one should be famous--and maybe it is now, throughout my little corner of the world.

Here's the recipe (French ingredients and grams for my friend Cécile, who asked for the recipe). Crank up the Christmas carols and be prepared to share with strangers.

Carol's Crescents

1 c. (8 oz./225 g.) butter
1 T. sugar (I used a package of vanilla sugar instead of the sugar/vanilla)
1 t. vanilla
1/4 t. almond extract
1 t. salt
1 c. (8 oz./225 g.) sour cream (I used crème fraîche legère)
3 egg yolks
1 package yeast
3 c. (15 oz./425 g.) flour (T55)

Make the dough the day before: Melt the butter in a large glass bowl or medium saucepan in the microwave or on the stove. Make sure it's cool enough to touch, then add the sugar, vanilla, almond, salt, sour cream, and egg yolks. Mix that together well, and then add the yeast and flour. Beat well with a wooden spoon for a few minutes. Turn the dough out onto a large piece of waxed or parchment paper, shape it into a fat cylinder, and refrigerate it.

When you're ready to roll and bake (and you can do this a bit at a time, depending on how many you need), get out the following:

1 c. (4 oz./115 g.) walnuts
1 c. (7 oz./195 g.) sugar
1 T. cinnamon
1-1/4 c. (6 oz./170 g.) currants or chopped raisins and/or chopped dried cherries

Consider starting with half the amount of walnuts/sugar/cinnamon; I only used about half of what I had. Put the walnuts and sugar in a food processor and pulse until the walnuts are pretty fine. Add the cinnamon.

Cut the refrigerated pastry into 5 more or less equal pieces. Sprinkle a few tablespoonsful of the walnut/cinnamon-sugar mixture onto a rolling mat or clean countertop. Roll out the dough into about a 6-inch circle; turn it over a few times and press in the walnuts as you go. Use a pizza cutter or long knife to cut the circle into 16 wedges. On the outside of each wedge press a few raisins/currants/cherries, and roll that baby up (the picture above may help you visualize what you should be doing). Put the rolls fairly close together on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with as many pieces of dough you have the patience for.
When you have a sheet full, heat the oven to 350 (180C). When it's preheated, the rolls have probably had enough time to rest (they won't rise despite the yeast) and can go in the oven for 20-25 minutes (mine took 15). Remove the crescents from the paper and cool on a rack.
Enjoy these fresh--once you've tasted one, you'll realize the importance of giving away as many as possible!