Monday, April 25, 2011

Frozen Fudge Cake

Life has been a bit crazy and a bit stressful lately. There has been a lot of work for me, in the form of substitute teaching and long papers to edit. I've been going into work five days a week rather than three, which makes a big difference in my cooking, shopping, and especially housekeeping schedule. We've been eating OK, but the apartment looks God-awful.
Also, Sami and I are both suffering from what we think is probably culture shock--it finally caught up with us. It was kind of funny--when I mentioned to him that I was walking around in a persistent state of unfocused dread, he admitted he'd had the same feelings. We are hoping for a speedy recovery, although lots of teaching perpetually irritating students and then a move will probably not encourage that. In the meantime, there is chocolate, and there is Pontlevoy.

If you've been reading for a while, you'll know we spent what was to Sami and me a magical 6 months in a tiny village in the Loire valley, Pontlevoy. You can ask the girls about their experience separately--it was only magical in that Voldemort kind of way for them. One of our favorite things to do there was entertain--we would have weekly parties involving groaning boards of cheese and charcuterie and, of course, Maida Heatter desserts. We fed students and faculty and village folk alike. Everyone had time for a dinner party, it seemed.

So when we decided to take a few days of our precious Easter holiday and drive down to Pontlevoy, we also planned a giant party at our host's house. Of course, that house was where we had stayed last year, so I knew my way around the kitchen. I bought a ton of food, did a bit of cooking, and mostly just put food on the table. At least 20 people and one dog came through the house. They put a dent in the food (I don't think the dog had any of the food), and they did not leave a drop of wine in the house (especially after the bar down the street closed early for Easter). It was definitely like old times, speaking French and English, filling plates and glasses, smiling at compliments, enjoying old and new friends.
And then there was this cake. I made it here in Le Pecq to transfer over since Maida said it would keep several days. When we arrived in Pontlevoy on Thursday, I turned on the freezer upstairs, wrapped the cake in plastic, and put it in there. On Saturday, the evening of the party, the cake was frozen solid but magically delicious. We sliced it and served everyone and there was still a largish hunk left over.
It's very rich and chocolatey--just look at the ingredient list! It's like a frozen chocolate/mocha mousse. Everyone seemed to love it, but it was too much for many people, who at that point were just concentrating on their wine.
Here's the recipe. Make this when you need a break from the stresses of life and/or when you have a lot of people to make happy.

Frozen Fudge Cake

18 oz. semisweet chocolate, broken up
2 c. (13 oz.) sugar
2 c. (1 lb.) butter
1 c. (8 oz.) strong brewed coffee or 1 T. instant dissolved in 1 c. boiling water
Pinch salt
9 large eggs

Heat the oven to 250-that's with a 2. Butter the bottom and sides of a springform pan and dust it with cocoa. Consider wrapping the bottom of the springform in aluminum foil. In a large microwave-safe bowl, mix the chocolate, sugar, butter, coffee, and salt. Melt at 30-second intervals until smooth. In a medium bowl, whip the eggs with a whisk until foamy. Gradually pour the eggs into the chocolate and stir well. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 2 hours. Then turn the oven off, crack the door, and let the cake sit in the oven for another 30 minutes. Take out of the oven and let cool to room temperature. Then unmold and wrap tightly in plastic. Freeze at least overnight--this is still good after a few days.

When you're ready to serve, whip some cream:

2 c. cream
1/3 c. (1.3 oz.) powdered sugar
3/4 t. vanilla
2 T. (1 oz.) Cognac or rum (I used whiskey)

Whip together in a chilled bowl. If you think you might eat the cake in one go (we couldn't even with well over 15 guests), frost it with whipped cream. It's safer to serve the cream on the side.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Raspberry Oranges

Wow, another healthy, light dessert from Maida Heatter! And yet another fruit dessert that involves puréeing a bag of frozen raspberries and pouring it over fruit. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

This sunshiny dessert might be even better in the winter, but I got some really good end-of-season oranges to make a double recipe for guests.

Maybe one orange per person was too much. Everyone had just a slice or two and a few spoonfuls of sauce. It's a bit much to eat a whole raspberry-sauced and crème-fraîched orange after three courses have already gone by...

But that's OK: this makes a great breakfast "side" by itself (or with Greek yogurt).

Or if you like a bit more for breakfast, the full angelfood cake (I had a lot of leftover egg whites) and crème fraîche treatment might be in order.

Either way, this is another dessert that takes about 10 minutes to put together and is completely delicious and refreshing. And one I might never have made without this blog--I tend to like butter and sugar in my desserts. So thank you again, Maida, for bringing more fruit into my life!

Here's the recipe. Make it when you'd like just a little something light--or an excuse to eat crème fraîche.

Raspberry Oranges

4 navel oranges (or blood oranges, or Cara Cara oranges--the best you can find)
1 bag (about 1 lb.) frozen raspberries, thawed
1/3 c. (4 oz.) honey
1/4 c. (2 oz.) framboise, Kirsch, or Cassis

Peel and slice the oranges and put them in a shallow dish. Purée the raspberries and pass them through a strainer, or pass them through a food mill with the small holes--a few seeds might escape, but it's less tedious than the strainer. Add the honey and liqueur. Pour over the oranges--make sure the sauce gets everywhere. Chill for at least 4 hours and serve with the crème fraîche and maybe some cake or cookies.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Strawberry-Strawberry Sauce

When I lived in Mississippi (and Alabama, and California), I never appreciated springtime that much. Especially in the South, although the beautiful dogwoods and azaleas certainly put a smile on my face, springtime usually meant that the stifling heat was not far behind.
However, winter can be cold and dark here in northern Europe, so springtime is something to celebrate. Time to cast aside the root vegetables and cook up some asparagus! Time to give up the applesauce and make strawberry sauce!

This is one of the easiest recipes in this book: it's basically a strawberry smoothie that gets strained and can be poured over almost everything. The first night we had it, we poured it over pound cake with strawberries and crème fraîche. Sophisticated strawberry shortcake.

The next morning, it went over lemon pancakes with a bit more crème fraîche. And finally that afternoon, I ate the rest with some plain yogurt. All fabulous.
I would make two notes on this recipe: I used really wonderful strawberries for it--so wonderful (and expensive!!) that I worried that it would be a waste to put them in a sauce (it wasn't). Even though you add a few flavor enhancers to the sauce, it won't make mediocre strawberries taste that much better.
Second note: I really made "strawberry-currant" sauce, using red currant jelly and Cassis instead of strawberry jam and Kirsch. This was a matter of personal preference, and I would tinker with this based on what you like and what's in your pantry/liquor cabinet.
Here's the recipe. Take 10 minutes to make the most of spring.

Strawberry-Strawberry Sauce

3 T. water
3 T. strawberry (or other) jam
2 T. sugar (I forgot this and didn't miss it. Taste your strawberries and decide whether you want it or not.)
8-9 oz. fresh strawberries, hulled and rinsed
1/2 t. lemon juice
2 t. Kirsch or other liqueur

Put the water, jam, and sugar (if you're using it) in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave about 45 seconds, until the jam has melted.
Put the berries in a blender or food processor and purée. Add the jam mixture and blend again briefly. Pour through a strainer into a bowl; add the lemon juice and liqueur. Refrigerate and serve cold with a number of things.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rhubarb Crumble

Ah, rhubarb. Rhubarb is a fruit? vegetable? that I've always been skeptical of. It doesn't seem to be something that grows in California, or at least none of my family ever did anything with it. I've never liked strawberry-rhubarb pie, partially because I object to cooked strawberries. My host mother in Germany makes rhubarb meringue cake that I kind of like. But rhubarb just has that really tart, kind of strange flavor that I'm still not accustomed to.

But here it is, springtime in France, and my local farmstand has rhubarb for sale, and there's a recipe for rhubarb crumble in Maida's book. So I took a deep breath and went for it.

I only made a half recipe because I was skeptical, and because I could only get one bunch. But I accidentally messed up my sugar calculation and put too much in. I think that was a good thing.

This crumble comes together in about 15 minutes and includes lots of yummy ingredients designed (in my opinion) to tone down the rhubarb: rum, orange, butter...

And it comes out of the oven all brown and bubbly and syrupy. How can you resist?

Well, we didn't--the crumble was gone by the end of the night. I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm now a rhubarb convert and will be making this again and again, but I will say that this is one of the least objectionable ways possible to eat rhubarb and that I'm glad I made it. So thank you, Maida, for forcing me out of my comfort zone on this one.

Here's the recipe. Make it if you want a quick and seasonal springtime dessert.

Rhubarb Crumble

(The recipe here is the original, for 8 portions. It can be easily halved for an 8-inch square dish for 4 portions.)

2 lbs. fresh rhubarb
Grated rind of 1 (organic) orange
1/3 c. (2.7 oz.) orange juice
3 T. (1.5 oz.) dark rum
2/3 c. (4.6 oz.) sugar (I used raw sugar)
1 c. (5 oz.) unsifted flour (I used about half whole-wheat)
1 t. cinnamon
Pinch salt
1 c. (7 oz.) brown sugar
1/2 c. (4 oz.) butter, cold and cut into small pieces

Heat the oven to 350. Butter a shallow baking dish that will hold 8-9 cups.
Wash the rhubarb, trim off the leaves (poison!), and trim the tops and bottoms as you would celery. Cut the rhubarb into 1-inch chunks. Put them in the baking dish.
Sprinkle the orange rind, orange juice, rum, and sugar over the rhubarb; toss that well.
In a medium bowl, mix the flour, cinnamon, salt, and brown sugar. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or your fingers. Sprinkle that over the rhubarb. Wasn't that easy?
Bake for 40-45 minutes: the rhubarb should be tender, the juices should be bubbly, and the topping should be brown. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream and remember: you're eating your vegetables.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

The other day Claire and I were having a discussion about ketchup and why she liked to put so much on her (homemade!) hamburgers. "Why do you even bother with the other stuff?" I asked. "All you can taste is the ketchup!"
"I like ketchup, " she replied. "What's wrong with having one flavor dominate?"

That is the big conundrum with these cookies. They're peanut butter cookies with chocolate in them. But really, it's a waste of chocolate because all you taste is peanut butter.

Don't get me wrong--I love peanut butter cookies. And the chocolate perhaps keeps them from being too sweet.

If I had to write nutrition facts for these cookies, sugar would indeed come first by weight: brown sugar, white sugar, sugar in the chocolate, sugar in the peanut butter.

Next would be peanut butter. There's even more peanut butter than butter. That leads to the dominant flavor but also a nice sandy texture.

This may be why I didn't taste the chocolate much in these cookies: some of it ended up on the fridge in a spoon-flinging accident. I have no recollection of how that happened.

To sum up, these are really good peanut butter cookies that happen to have some chocolate in them. So maybe Claire's right.

Here's the recipe. Make it when you're in the mood for peanut butter but have chocolate lying around the house.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 oz. semisweet chocolate
1/2 c. (4 oz.) butter, room temperature
3/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. vanilla
1/2 c. (3.5 oz.) sugar
1/2 c. (3.5 oz.) brown sugar
1/2 c. (4.6 oz.) smooth peanut butter
1 large egg
1-1/2 c. (6 oz.) sifted flour

Heat the oven to 375; line some cookie sheets with foil or parchment. Melt the chocolate in a small saucepan over medium-low heat or in the microwave. Set aside to let cool.
Cream the butter with the baking soda and salt; add the vanilla. Gradually beat in the sugar and beat for about 2 minutes. Beat in the peanut butter, then the melted chocolate. Beat in the egg, and then mix in the flour on low speed.
Plop the dough out onto a long piece of waxed paper or parchment and use a knife or bench scraper to cut it into 48 more or less equal sized pieces (this is a really good exercise for me, because I always make my cookies too big). Roll the pieces into balls, put the balls on the cookie sheets 12 to a sheet, and make a crisscross pattern on each with a fork.
Bake for about 15 minutes, switching the cookie sheets front to back and top to bottom if you have a non-convection oven. Don't let them get too dark.
Cool and serve with a glass of milk.

Cream Cheese Flan

When we lived in Hattiesburg, we sometimes hung out with a couple from New Jersey, Bill and Luis. Luis teaches in the English department, and they have a beautiful house that they decorate to the nines, especially at Christmas. But in our minds, Luis, who is of Cuban origin, will always be associated with flan.

Luis would make flan for every get-together we attended, and there was never any left. He even made pumpkin flan for Thanksgiving, which was much more popular than the standard pumpkin pie. His flan was and is the standard by which to measure all flan.

So I was pretty excited to try this recipe, billed as a Cuban flan. Maybe I could recreate Luis's recipe in my own kitchen!

Um, no. But I blame myself, not the recipe. I didn't have the soufflé pan the recipe called for, and so I used a pie plate. I think that led to my having overcooked the flan, leading to it being more grainy than smooth and delicious. Mind you, it wasn't terrible and got eaten, especially served with a "red fruit" sauce, but this was not the flan of my dreams. I guess we'll have to invite Bill and Luis to visit us here.

Here's the recipe. Be careful with the temperature, and you may have more luck than I did.

Cream Cheese Flan

3/4 c. (5.25 oz.) sugar
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
3 large eggs plus 6 egg yolks
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 13-oz. can evaporated milk
Pinch salt
1 t. vanilla
Grated zest of a lime
Juice of same lime

Heat the oven to 350. Get out a 2-quart soufflé dish and a larger, shallow pan that the soufflé dish can rest in. Heat up a kettle of water.
Put the sugar in a wide skillet over medium-high heat and stir until it starts to melt (it'll clump up; don't worry). Turn down the heat and keep stirring until the sugar is golden brown and smooth. Pour the caramel into the soufflé pan. Let cool a bit (the caramel will likely crack a bit, but no big deal). Butter the sides of the pan.
In a medium bowl, preferably one with a spout, beat the cream cheese until soft. Beat in the eggs one at a time, and then the yolks in several additions (2 at a time, say). Gradually beat in the condensed milk. Beat the mixture while you add the evaporated milk, vanilla, and lime zest and juice. Pour the mixture into the prepared soufflé dish. Put the dish in the larger pan and put both in the oven. Pour hot water into the larger dish until it comes about an inch up the side of the soufflé pan. Cover the soufflé dish with a cookie sheet. Bake for 1-1/2 hours or until a small, sharp knife comes out clean. You could also take the custard's temperature--175 is good.
Remove the flan from the pan with the water--careful! Let cool to room temperature, and then chill for 6-8 hours at least. Unmold at the last minute so that the caramel looks good.

If you want, serve with this sauce:

1 bag frozen raspberries (or mixed berries)
3 T. sugar

Mix the frozen berries with the sugar and let thaw. When it's thawed but still pretty cool, mash up the berries just a bit. Taste to see if the sauce is sweet enough.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Spiced (Hot Peppered) Pecans

There's not a lot to say about this recipe, except that it's really good and you should try it.

I combined two recipes in the book: the standard and the hot peppered pecans, using a bit less pepper than Maida's husband seems to require. These pecans are quite sugary--kind of like a praline--but the spices and pepper counteract that really nicely so that you get a really complex and even somewhat surprising flavor.

As Maida suggests, these make a great nibble with drinks, and they also make a great nibble when you're just hanging out in the kitchen. So beware.
These pecans are a bit fussy, in that they require the use of a candy thermometer. I was worried about that, because I can never seem to get an accurate reading, but I stopped cooking just shy of the "soft ball" point, and it worked out just as Maida told me it would.

Still, if I want to make candied nuts again, I'll probably use Elise's recipe for sugared pecans, which is a lot simpler and a bit less sweet. But I'll add pepper.

Here's the recipe. Make it for guests or for gifts--or yourself.

Spiced (Hot Peppered) Pecans

2 c. (7 oz.) pecan halves
1 c. (7 oz.) sugar
Generous pinch coarse salt
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. ginger
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. ground red pepper (not cayenne! I used piment d'esplette. Ancho chile powder might also work)
1/2 t. ground black pepper
1/4 t. cream of tartar
1/4 c. water
1/2 t. vanilla

Heat the oven to 350. Put the pecan halves on a cookie sheet or shallow baking dish and let toast 5-7 minutes, watching carefully. Turn off the oven and crack it open, but let the pecans stay in the oven to stay warm.
Get out a small saucepan and a medium saucepan. Put the sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, peppers, cream of tartar, and water in the small saucepan. Stir over high heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Put in a candy thermometer and turn the heat down to medium. Let boil without stirring until the syrup reaches 238 F (soft ball stage).
When the syrup is almost at temperature, take the pecans out of the oven and put into the medium saucepan. When the syrup reaches the right temperature, take it off the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour the syrup over the pecans and start stirring until the syrup turns into a dullish sugary coating--this could take about 2-3 minutes, but it didn't seem to take that long for me. Turn the nuts out onto a sheet of parchment paper to cool. Store airtight, preferably out of easy reach .