Saturday, December 31, 2011

Raspberry Pâté

At some point during the holiday season, I lose all my will to bake. That's usually after I've baked the 11th or 12th batch of cookies. Family and friends no longer want to look at cookies, much less eat them. In fact, we've often already done our overeating before the actual holidays arrive.

 And yet, somehow, this Wednesday between Christmas and New Years, I decided I'd make a feast just for the family. I got a fancy roast from the butcher, made a gratin and sautéed wild mushrooms and cooked green beans. And I made this raspberry pâté.

There are two difficult aspects to this dessert, and you see the first above. You've got almost 2 pounds of raspberries that you need to force through a strainer. That takes a lot of patience and wrist strength.

 The second is the gelatin aspect. I still haven't figured out the gelatin/agar-agar thing, and the strange mushiness of this dessert is probably testimony to my lack of skill. Still, I consider it a success since I was able to actually cut slices of this rather than serve it in soup bowls.

 So, this is a sort of very rich gelatin dessert, with both cream cheese and whipped cream. It has intense raspberry flavor and isn't too sweet or rich. We all liked it a lot, except that Sami requested we not call it "pâté" since that name is in fact a bit off-putting for a dessert. He suggested "sliceable pudding", which still needs a bit of work, in my opinion. Maybe Bavarian cream cheese?

With the raspberry sauce and whipped cream, it's quite the elegant and festive dessert to serve after an elegant and festive meal--or just if you feel like having something special as you recover from the holidays. Here's to a great 2012! 

And here's the recipe:

Raspberry Pâté

30 oz. frozen raspberries in syrup (or 30 oz. raspberries and about 1/2 cup sugar), thawed
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1 c. (8 oz.) whipping cream
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 c. (3.5 oz.) sugar
Pinch salt
Juice of 1 lemon

Very carefully line a 6-cup loaf pan with aluminum foil (in hindsight, if you have a silicone mold, that might be the way to go here.). Don't let it tear like I did, or you'll have the same mess on your hands that I did. Put a strainer over a large bowl. Pour the raspberries and syrup (if you mix the raspberries and sugar before they thaw, a syrup will form) into the strainer. Before you start pressing down on the raspberries, pour out 1/2 cup (4 oz.) syrup. Pour 1/4 cup of that syrup in a small bowl and sprinkle with gelatin. Let sit while you work to force the raspberries through the strainer. I find a food mill unfortunately lets through far too many seeds to work well, so the strainer it must be. Put an interesting podcast or some good music on and grit your teeth. Make sure you scrape the bottom of the strainer well. Let that sit while you do some more prep: Whip the cream to soft peaks in a smallish bowl and refrigerate that for a bit. In the large bowl of a mixer, beat the cream cheese, sugar, salt, and lemon juice until light and fluffy. Beat in the hard-won raspberry purée. Mine looked kind of curdled, but it turned out OK in the end.
Remember the gelatin you had softening? Time to melt the gelatin. Heat a bit of water in a small saucepan: when you start to see steam and small bubbles, put the (heat-safe) cup with the gelatin in it; stir until it's dissolved. Carefully remove from the hot water and add the remaining 1/4 cup of syrup. Beat this into the cream cheese mixture.
Oops, this is the step I missed but you shouldn't if you want your pâté to set up better than mine: Put the bowl with the cream cheese mixture in a larger bowl of ice water and stir with a rubber scraper until it starts to thicken. It should be about the same consistency as the whipped cream you're about to fold in. When it reaches that consistency, remove from the ice water bath and fold in the whipped cream. Pour this mixture into the prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let chill at least 6 hours or overnight. 

While it's chilling, you'll want to prepare the raspberry sauce. Brace yourself: it involves more raspberry straining. In fact, if you're more organized than I am, you could thaw an extra 10 ounces of raspberries (in syrup, or with an added 2-3 T. sugar) along with the 30 ounces for the pâté, strain them, and take out enough so that you have 1-1/2 cups of purée for the pâté and the rest for the sauce. In any case, once you've strained the raspberries, you're home free: just add a bit (1 t.) of kirsch or cassis or framboise if you've got it. Taste to correct sweetness and chill until you're ready to serve.

When you're ready to serve, first whip 1 cup (8 oz.) whipping cream with 1 T. powdered sugar and 1/2 t. vanilla (and/or a bit more of that kirsch/framboise/cassis). 

OK, now it's time to unmold the pâté. First get out the plate you want to serve on. Then dip the bottom of the pan in hot water (this is another step I neglected but shouldn't have). Put the serving plate upside-down on top of the loaf pan and then reverse the two so that the serving plate is now on the bottom. With any luck, the pâté should unmold easily. Peel off the foil and breathe a sigh of relief. Now cut the dessert into slices and plate prettily with a spoonful each of raspberry sauce and whipped cream. Feel fancy.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Blueberry Surprise Cake

So this was the last cake in the book, and it's a good one. We had it for Saturday breakfast, but it would make a really nice afternoon tea kind of cake as well.

As you can perhaps see, the "blueberry surprise" element here comes from the fact that you put in a layer of buttery sour cream cake, then a layer of spiced berries, and then more cake (now with nuts added). You don't see the berries until you cut into the cake.

 The cake is perhaps a bit time-consuming for a Saturday morning: the batter and all come together fairly quickly (though it involves turning on the mixer, which I don't love doing so early in the morning), but it needs about an hour in the oven. But then again, given that the rest of the family isn't up until at least an hour after me, that's probably fine.

 The cake then gets a lemon-y glaze. I considered leaving it off, since the cake was breakfast and all, but I think I made the right decision to go for it: the tart sweetness adds a nice extra dimension.

When I cut into the cake, I thought, "wow, that kind of looks like a Pop-Tart!" Given that I don't much like Pop-Tarts, I'm glad that it doesn't actually taste like one. It's a nice mix of buttery richness and fruity sweetness. It was a great cake to finish off a long succession of great cakes.

Here's the recipe.

Blueberry Surprise Cake

1 c. (4 oz.) fresh (I used frozen) blueberries
3 T. (I used 2) sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
1 t. lemon juice (attention: zest the lemon before you squeeze it; you're going to want that zest for the cake batter)

Mix all these ingredients in a smallish bowl and set aside.

1 c. (8 oz.) butter
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 t. vanilla
1-1/3 c. (9.3 oz.) sugar
2 large eggs
1 c. (8 oz.) sour cream
2 c. (8 oz.) sifted flour (yes, I used some whole wheat here)
1/3 c. (1.3 oz.) toasted chopped pecans

Heat the oven to 350. Butter a 9-inch springform and dust with breadcrumbs, wheat germ, or ground nuts (I used ground almonds). Cream the butter with the baking powder, salt, lemon zest, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar and beat a couple more minutes until even more light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Beat in the sour cream and then mix in the flour at low speed. Carefully spoon half the batter all around the bottom of the prepared springform pan and spread it out as best you can--I had trouble getting the batter all the way out to the edges and it wanted to come up off the bottom of the pan. Then sprinkle on the berries, leaving a 1-inch margin at the edges. Add the pecans to the batter, stir them in, and then spoon the batter onto the berries, again gingerly spreading the batter as evenly as possible. Bake for 1 hour 20 minutes (check after 45 minutes) or until the top of the cake springs back when lightly pressed. The toothpick won't work because of the berries in the middle.
Let the cake stand in the pan while you make the glaze:

1 c. (4 oz.) powdered (icing) sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
boiling water as needed

In a small bowl, mix together the sugar and lemon juice. If the glaze isn't thin enough to barely pour, add a few drops of boiling water. 
Cut around the sides of the cake if necessary and remove the sides of the springform pan. Turn the cake over onto a rack and remove the bottom. Then reverse again onto a plate so that the cake is right-side up. Drizzle the glaze over the warm cake and spread it to cover the top--let it drip down the sides if you have enough. Obviously I didn't use the full cup of sugar here.
Enjoy the cake warm or room temperature. If you're not having it for breakfast, whipped cream or ice cream would be nice, but they're definitely not necessary.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce

This was a completely spontaneous dessert: I had planned on taking a break from blog recipes while concentrating fully on cookie baking, but then yesterday evening after a dinner of leftovers, Claire asked if we couldn't make fudge sauce. Now normally that would mean the World's Best Hot Fudge Sauce, but I knew there were some other chocolate sauces left to make, so I made a deal with Claire: she would photograph the process (all we could find was the iPhone; thus the strangely lit pictures) and I would make chocolate sauce.

 And so it was that we started chopping chocolate and microwaving it with milk and cream and sugar. The sauce comes together in just a few minutes, but Maida wants you to wait until it comes to room temperature and thickens a bit. No such luck here.

So, as you can see, the sauce was kind of a liquid-y puddle at the bottom of the bowl. It had a nice chocolate taste and was definitely not too sweet, but I think we all missed the fudginess of our favorite chocolate sauce. Still, it made for a satisfyingly sweet end to a long day and was a nice change from all the cookies.

Here's the recipe.

Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce

3 oz. unsweetened chocolate (if you can get fancy unsweetened chocolate like Sharffenberger or Valrhona, this would be a good use for it), chopped
1/2 c. (4 oz.) cream
1/2 c. (4 oz.) milk
2 T. sugar
(optional: 1 t. vanilla)
1 T. (0.5 oz.) butter

In a microwave-safe container, melt the chocolate in the milk and cream; this took me 1 minute 30 seconds in 30-second bursts. When the chocolate is melted, it will look all separated in the milk; don't worry but whisk the heck out of it until it becomes smooth. Stir in the sugar and vanilla; taste to see if it's sweet enough (Maida says you can add up to 1 more tablespoon of sugar). Then add the butter and whisk to melt. Let the sauce stand until it comes to room temperature. Serve over the ice cream of your choice.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

East Hampton Chocolate Icebox Cake

 Given the number of cookies I've been baking lately, this dessert can definitely be filed under "completely superfluous desserts". We didn't have any company or any excuse to share this. Good thing I have a cute little miniature springform to make half a recipe in.

So this is basically a classic chocolate mousse, raw eggs and all, with the added complication of gelatin (I tried the agar again, with mixed success. If you don't have a vegetarian in the house, use gelatin). I'm not really sure the gelatin is necessary because the chocolate will firm up nicely. What makes it an icebox cake is the ladyfingers surrounding it, which soften up (the only ladyfingers around here are the crunchy kind; I imagine the kind you can get in the bakery section in the US would work better) and make a nice textural contrast with the mousse.

You're supposed to serve it with whipped cream, but when we were ready to eat it, I was not ready to make whipped cream. It would have been nice, but I don't think it's absolutely necessary.

I'll hand the verdict over to Julia. While she was retreating to her room with a large slice to accompany her through her many hours of homework, she told me, "This is the best thing to happen to me all day." I guess it wasn't superfluous after all.

Here's the recipe.

East Hampton Chocolate Icebox Cake

6 oz. ladyfingers (about 40)
7 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
9 oz. milk chocolate, broken up
1/2 t. plain gelatin
1 t. cold water

6 large eggs, separated
1/2 t. vanilla
1/4 c. Grand Marnier or Cointreau
Pinch salt
1/4 c. (1.75 oz.) sugar

Get out a 9-inch springform and line it with ladyfingers. You can do it as I did in the picture above, but I think Maida wants you to line the sides with the ladyfingers lying horizontally. Of course, that would be impossible with the crunchy ladyfingers...

Melt the chocolate: put the semisweet chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave 30 seconds. Add the milk chocolate and microwave another 30 seconds. Stir and see if it needs a bit more melting: mine needed another 15 seconds, but I have a weak European microwave. When it's all melted, set aside. 
In a small bowl or custard cup, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and let sit while you beat the egg yolks.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks at high speed until they are pale and thick. Stir in the vanilla and about one-third of the Grand Marnier; let stand. 
Put some hot water in a small saucepan, put the custard cup in the pan, and place over low heat. Stir with a knife until the gelatin has melted. Then add the hot gelatin all at once to the egg yolk mixture, beating at high speed. Now beat in the melted chocolate.
In a large bowl with clean beaters/whisk attachment, whip the egg whites and salt at high speed until they hold a shape. Reduce the speed a bit and gradually beat in the sugar. Increase the speed again and beat until the whites hold a definite shape. Fold about a third of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture, and then fold the lightened chocolate mixture into the egg whites. Pour this mousse into the ladyfinger-lined springform pan. Cover the pan loosely with a paper towel and then tightly with plastic wrap. Let chill at least 6 hours. When cutting into it, have a tall glass of hot water handy to dip the knife in so that the mousse doesn't stick to the knife. Serve with whipped cream if you'd like. This is supposed to serve 8-10, but it's so rich that it would probably serve more. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Peanut Butter Icebox Cookies

It's early December, which means one thing around here: it's time to bake the cookies. I take that holiday duty very seriously: Christmas cookies are a big tradition. Even if we don't have a tree, we always have cookies in the house.

So the Peanut Butter Icebox Cookies that I was going to make anyway became the first in a series of cookies baked in nonstop succession.

In a nod to my new home country, where peanut butter is rare and exotic and children eat Nutella sandwiches instead, I decided to try doing a half batch of dough with Nutella and a bit of cocoa powder. I think I liked that one even better.

So the verdict on these cookies? Good but not great. Julia says the dough is much better than the cookies themselves, and she may be right. I'm trying to cut down on my cookie dough consumption with all the cookies I'm baking. The cookies taste really good but lacked that really nice sandy texture I wanted them to have. Perhaps I should have sliced them thinner or baked them longer, but they're not quite crisp and not quite soft.

Still, these are icebox cookies, which are always a good thing to have on hand: just slice and bake! Might be worth trying at different thicknesses and baking times.

Peanut Butter Icebox Cookies

1/2 c. (4 oz.) butter, room temperature
1/3 c. (3 oz.) smooth peanut butter (or Nutella)
1/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. cinnamon (I left this out)
(If you're doing the Nutella version, 1-2 T. cocoa powder)
1 t. vanilla 
1/8 t. almond extract (I left this out as well)
1/3 c. (2.3 oz.) sugar
1/3 c. (2.3 oz.) brown sugar
1 large egg
2 c. (10 oz.) unsifted flour (some whole wheat is fine here)

Beat together the butter, peanut butter, baking soda, and cinnamon until fluffy. Add the vanilla, almond extract, and both sugars and beat a few minutes more until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg for another minute, then stir in the flour.
This is where it gets interesting: Maida has you put the dough on a work surface and "push it off": basically, you take it little piece by piece and you squish it down onto the work surface with the heel of your hand. You can see a picture of me doing that with the peanut butter dough above. Do this twice with all the dough, then shape it into a log and wrap it in parchment, plastic, or waxed paper and chill at least a few hours.
When you're ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 and line as many cookie sheets as you think you'll need with parchment, foil, or silicone. Slice the dough into 1/4-inch slices and place fairly close together on the cookie sheets. Bake for 18-20 minutes (check after 15) until they are lightly colored. Remove to a rack to cool. You should get 3-4 dozen cookies.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

Here it is, "Thanksgiving" morning--we celebrated the Saturday after--in my new, improved kitchen. You can tell I've been busy: you can see, from the foreground, Brownie Schrumpf's brownies and Pennsylvania squares, some mango bread we ate for breakfast, some cheese straws ready for the oven, and way in the back on all my counter space, a bowl of toasted bread cubes waiting to become stuffing. Yes, even though I have a lot more counter space, I somehow manage to use it all.

This side of the kitchen is even more of a transformation: lots more counter space around the stove and a new sink. Of course we soon discovered that the wooden countertop doesn't like being near the sink, but I'm sure we'll very soon have a fix for that. Anyway, I am so very grateful to have a husband who's willing to put in the time and talent so that I can have a fabulous kitchen.

But back what I've been cooking in the kitchen. Of course I made pumpkin and pecan pie, but I wanted to do something for the blog as well, and Cranberry Upside-Down Cake seemed like the way to go. It's festive and easy enough to fit in with all the many other holiday dishes.

The fresh cranberries I got at my local supermarket (from Wisconsin) were huge! Underneath them is a thick layer of butter and sugar. Warning: the silicone pan was not the way to go here, as the sugar never caramelized. Use a metal cake pan and perhaps put a cookie sheet under it.

The cake batter comes together quickly, and you just pour and spread it on top.

Here it is fresh from the oven before being reversed on a plate.

And here's the result after being reversed but before being glazed (and set in a corner to wait while other dishes got the spotlight). Note the white patches of unmelted sugar. I was rather disappointed with that.

Of course, I got busy with cooking and guests (12 for dinner, a stretch for our small apartment) and didn't take a picture of the final product, but it was really delicious. It's got a refreshing tartness that was nicely offset by the crème fraîche I served with it. Mind you, like the Cranberry Grunt before it, this cake was the last to be finished, but I enjoyed every piece.

Here's the recipe. It's not pumpkin pie, but maybe that's OK.

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

10 T. (5 oz.) butter, room temperature, divided
1 c. (7 oz.) sugar, divided
1 12-oz. bag cranberries, rinsed and drained
1-1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
Grated rind of one (organic) orange
1 t. vanilla
1 egg
1-1/4 c. (5 oz.) sifted flour (I used some whole wheat, of course)
2/3 c. (5.3 oz.) milk
1/3 c. red currant jelly

Heat the oven to 350. Find a 9-inch cake pan that is at least 1 inch deep, preferably deeper. A pie plate might do the trick if you don't have a deep enough cake pan.
Take 4 T. (2 oz.) of the butter and smear it in a thick layer on the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Sprinkle that with half of the sugar. Put the berries in a single layer over that. Set the pan aside while you make the cake batter.
Beat the rest of the butter (3 oz.) with the baking powder, salt, orange rind, and vanilla until fluffy. Add the remaining sugar and beat another minute or two. Beat in the egg and beat another minute. Add half the flour at low speed, then the milk, then the rest of the flour. Pour the batter over the cranberries and spread it evenly: it should cover them fairly thoroughly, and the pan will be quite full. Bake (on a baking sheet for insurance) for 1 hour (check after as little as 35 minutes: mine was done at that point). The top of the cake will become dark brown. Cool the cake in the pan for 20 minutes. After 10 minutes, cut around the sides of the cake. While the cake is cooling, melt the jelly in a glass bowl in the microwave for about 30 seconds, or until it has melted. When the 20 minutes are up, cut around the sides of the cake again, put a plate on top of the cake pan, and (using potholders) flip the cake upside down on the plate. If you're lucky, the cake will slide right out. If you're not, scrape out the cranberries, put them back on top of the cake, and remember that you're going to be covering them up anyway. Pour the melted jelly on top of the cake, using a spoon to spread it out to the sides. Cool to room temperature. Serve with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or crème fraîche.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pennsylvania Squares

A couple of weeks ago, Julia and I were stocking up on baking supplies at G. Detou, the best little food shop in Paris. I had gotten a "small" (2-lb.) bag of milk chocolate chunks as well as my standard 3-kilo bag of bittersweet chocolate (which should last me about 6-8 months). I reconsidered and grabbed a second bag of milk chocolate--the girls like making their chocolate chip cookies with milk chocolate.

 "But Madame, if you buy the large bag, you're paying much less per kilo," the shopkeeper explained. Sold. You don't want to know how much that "low, low" price was, although I'm sure it's less than buying it bar by bar. But this is 40% Valrhrona chocolate--the good stuff. And I know I'll work my way through it--eventually.

 So we staggered home on the Metro with our giant chocolate-filled bags. And now you can see one of the many excellent uses for this chocolate--these Pennsylvania Squares.

 Words cannot express how much I love these cookies and their ilk: crispy, chewy butter/brown sugar base, chocolate, walnuts. Kind of like matzoh crack, but not as crunchy. Just delicious.

Another good thing about these cookies: they take almost no time to make, and they also make a large panful, which means that if you cut the cookies fairly small,  you might have a chance to eat two or three before the marauding herds of teenaged girls make their way through them. And if you don't have a lot of people to bake for, I have successfully halved the recipe to bake in an 8-inch square pan.

In summary: go find some milk chocolate (hint: it doesn't *have* to come from Hershey, Pennsylvania) and make these. You won't regret it.

Pennsylvania Squares

1 c. (8 oz.) butter, room temperature
1/2 t. salt (Maida calls for 1/4 t., but I think a cookie like this calls for more of a hit of salt)
1 t. vanilla
1 c. (7 oz.) brown sugar
1 egg yolk
2 c. (8 oz.) sifted flour
About 8 oz. milk chocolate, in thin bar form: chips might work as well
1-1/4 c. (5 oz.) walnuts, chopped fairly fine

Heat the oven to 350; grease a 9x13-inch pan. Beat the butter, salt, and vanilla with an electric mixer until soft and fluffy. Add the brown sugar and beat for a minute or two. Beat in the egg yolk until mixed, then gradually beat in the flour at low speed. Make sure to scrape the bowl well in between beatings so that you don't have the pockets of pure sugar I seem to have in my cookies (see photo). Drop spoonfuls of dough all around the prepared pan, then cover with a sheet of waxed paper and use your fingers or the bottom of a measuring cup to pat the dough into a fairly even layer that covers the bottom of the pan. Remove the waxed paper. Bake the cookies 23 minutes, until the dough is evenly golden--it will puff up and then settle down. While the cookies are baking, unwrap the chocolate so that it is ready to go on top of the cookie layer as soon as it comes out of the oven. You can use the time to chop the walnuts as well.
As soon as the cookies come out of the oven, cover the cookie layer with a layer of chocolate. You may need to break up some of the bars to make them all fit. If the chocolate bars are thin enough, they should melt within a minute or so, and you can spread the chocolate evenly with the back of a spoon. If the chocolate doesn't want to melt, put the bars back in the oven for just a minute. Sprinkle the walnuts over the chocolate and press them lightly so that they stick to the chocolate. Let the bars cool to room temperature and then chill them for an hour or so for the chocolate to harden. Cut the cookies into at least 32 rectangles.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

East Blue Hill Blueberry Coffee Cake

Last weekend was a three-day weekend (Armistice Day), and a well-deserved one at that: since I would be missing my four classes on Friday, my school's administration in all its wisdom spread the courses out over three days, two of which I normally have off. So I was ready for the holiday to roll around. 

The Saturday morning of a three-day weekend is awesome because it feels like it's already Sunday, but it's not! It's that feeling you get when your alarm goes off but you don't actually have to get up. And so getting up and making coffee cake was not a chore (well, it never is) but a pleasure.

And this is a good one: a simple butter cake topped with blueberries and sugar. Julia wondered what had happened to "the crunchy stuff" (I guess I like to put streusel on my coffee cake), but really, the cake was good without it.

The only downside to this cake was that I found it to have a bitter aftertaste. I had just read David Lebovitz's article about baking powder and saw that he buys aluminum-free baking powder to avoid that bitterness. I'm pretty sure my Target-brand baking powder has aluminum, but I'm just as sure that the Wal-mart baking powder I had before (can you tell I'm a cheapskate?) also contained aluminum. So I'm guessing the problem may be either that I just opened a fresh, new can or that this recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of baking powder for 1-1/2 cups (sifted) flour. I'm pretty sure that you're not supposed to exceed 1 teaspoon baking powder per cup of flour, and Maida likes you to use light (4 ounces, rather than the standard unsifted 5) cups of flour, so that may be the problem. If I were making this again, I'd use 1-1/2 t. baking powder at most. 
But otherwise, this is a fruity, buttery, not-too-sweet cake that tastes great warm from the oven on a lazy Saturday morning. Give it a try!

Here's the recipe.

East Blue Hill Blueberry Coffee Cake

1/4 c. (2 oz.) butter, room temperature
2 t. baking powder (see note above)
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
Grated zest of 1 (organic) lemon
3/4 c. (5.25 oz.) sugar (I used a little less than 5 oz.)
1 egg
1-1/2 c. (6 oz.) sifted flour (I used 2 oz. whole wheat)
2/3 c. (5.3 oz.) milk
1-1/2 c. (6 oz.) fresh or frozen blueberries
Additional sugar (raw or crystal sugar is nice here)

Heat the oven to 350. Butter an 8-inch square pan and dust it with wheat germ or bread crumbs. Beat the butter with the baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, vanilla, and lemon zest until soft and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat 2-3 minutes longer. Scrape down and add the egg, beating until well mixed. Stir (or beat at low speed) in half the flour, then the milk, then the rest of the flour. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. If your blueberries tend to be on the tart side, toss them with a couple of tablespoons of sugar, and then spread them over the batter (I didn't add any sugar to mine, and I thought the sweetness level was perfect). Sprinkle another tablespoonful of sugar over the berries and put the cake in the oven for 45-50 minutes (check after 30 minutes or so). Maida wants you to put the cake under the broiler for a minute to caramelize the berries and sugar, but I thought the cake was fine without that step. Serve warm with coffee for breakfast or with ice cream for dinner.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Old-Fashioned Spiced Pecan Cookies

Wednesday afternoon Julia came home from school to find her favorite thing, cookie dough, waiting for her.

"You always bake on Wednesdays, don't you?" she asked. Well, yes, usually by then whatever I've baked on the weekend is gone. And the blog, not to mention the family, must be fed.

I explained this to her, with the caveat that I probably wouldn't bake quite so much once I had finished with the cookbook.

That announcement led to mixed feelings for both of us: less baking will probably be better for the waistline but worse for the tastebuds.

But let me talk about these cookies: this is a standard molasses/spice cookie, on the chewy/cakey side, with crunch provided by lots and lots of pecans. Mine would have been better had my Trader Joe's pecans actually been fresh (expiration date is in 2012 and they've been in the freezer since I returned from California, but they're somewhat on the rancid side. Grrr...). But still, they're good cookies, and apparently the dough is good enough for me to have received a text in the middle of the day: "Please don't bake all of the cookies!"

Here's the recipe.

Old-Fashioned Spiced Pecan Cookies

1/2 c. (4 oz.) butter, room temperature
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1-1/2 t. ginger
1 t. finely ground white pepper
3/4 t. cloves
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. nutmeg
1 c. (7 oz.) dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 c. (2.75 oz.) molasses
1/4 c. (2 oz.) cold or lukewarm coffee (1/4 c. water + 2 t. instant coffee)
1 c. (4 oz.) sifted flour
1-1/2 c. (6.75 oz.) sifted whole wheat flour
1-1/2 c. (6 oz.) toasted chopped pecans
About 36 pecan halves, toasted

Beat the butter with the baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, pepper, cloves, salt, and nutmeg until soft and fluffy. Gradually beat in the sugar and beat for 2-3 minutes at medium-high speed. Scrape down and beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the molasses and coffee. Stir in the flours and then the chopped pecans. Transfer the dough to a smaller bowl or a Tupperware and refrigerate overnight. Hope that there will still be dough in the morning.
When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350. Line 3 cookie sheets with foil, parchment, or silicone. Scoop out 36 balls of dough and place them on the cookie sheets, then use wet hands to roll them into nice round balls. Top each with a pecan half. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly pressed. Cool on racks. These keep well and go nicely with a cup of tea.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Date-Nut Extra

There is something so American about this cake. It has that down-home, sensible-shoe aesthetic that makes French people recoil in horror. It wants to be all that it can be: it's a banana bread! It's an applesauce cake! It's a date-nut bread! It's pretending to be healthy while sneaking in a stick of butter.

Of course, I was pondering the over-the-top Americanness of this cake as I was baking mini corn muffins for a party. The muffins included bacon, hot peppers, onions, corn, and cheese. Do I cook for attention? Oh yes, I do.  I guess I'm a proud American when it comes to my baked goods.

And you know what? I like banana bread, and applesauce cake, and date-nut bread. And as I've mentioned before with another recipe suspiciously like this one, I love making cakes with a ton of different ingredients. So I was very happy with this cake.

I brought a hunk of this cake to tea with some French friends (who did not, in fact, recoil in horror!) and sent some with my in-laws to fortify them on an anniversary trip to Tunisia. And the rest just kind of...melted away. Probably went to someone pretending to be healthy.

Here's the recipe.

Date-Nut Extra

2 c. (7 oz.) walnuts
1/2 c. (4 oz.) butter, room temperature
1 t. baking powder
3/4 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. ginger
1/4 t. allspice
1/4 t. cloves
1/4 t. mace (note on the spices: I just used about 2 t. of "quatre épices", a mix of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. I love measuring out lots of spices, but the blend was there, so I used it.)
1/4 t. salt
1 c. (7 oz.) brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 c. (8 oz.) unsweetened applesauce
3/4 c. (6 oz.) mashed bananas (this was about 1-1/2 bananas for me)
1 c. (4 oz.) sifted flour
1 c. (4.5 oz.) sifted whole-wheat flour
1 packed cup (8 oz.) pitted dates, cut into quarters (I weighed mine before pitting, and there was still plenty)

Heat the oven to 350. Get out a loaf pan or other pan that holds about 10 cups (if you're not sure, measure out 10 cups of water and see if it fits in the pan.). Butter the pan. Take about 1/2 cup (1.25 oz.) of the walnuts and chop them finely by hand or with a food processor. Use the walnuts to coat the pan, leaving any that don't stick to the sides on the bottom of the pan. Chop the remaining walnuts coarsely.
Cream the butter with the baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cloves, mace, and salt until fluffy. Gradually beat in the sugar and beat another 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. On low speed, beat in the applesauce and the banana. Add the flour, also on low speed or by hand. Take the bowl off the mixer and stir in the dates and remaining walnuts by hand.
Pour into the prepared pan and use a spoon to make a 1-inch trough in the center of the batter. Bake for 1-1/4 hours or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes, and then unmold onto a rack to cool. As Maida writes, the cake slices best when it's completely cooled, but it tastes really good when it's still warm, so we both recommend very carefully slicing off a bit while it's warm.