Saturday, June 25, 2011

Sycamore Cookies (and a hot fudge lagniappe)

The evening I made these cookies, we were sitting around the table eating hot fudge sundaes (with Maida's World's Best Hot Fudge Sauce, which I'll post as a bonus recipe below), when Claire asked me, "What are you going to do when you finish all the recipes for the blog?" I didn't tell her that although I've finished several categories (to wit: layer cakes, chocolate cakes, sweet breads, yeast pastries, fresh fruit, ice cream, and candy), I've got a lot of recipes to go (just did the calculation: 46 of 195, to be precise). What I told her was, "Look, I've got shelves and shelves of other dessert cookbooks collecting dust. I'm looking forward to baking from them."
Julia (groan), "You're killing me, Mama! You bake so much more than you used to!"
It's true. I used to bake at most once a week, unless there was a special occasion. Now it's twice a week--and I create my own occasions.

Yep, baking has become a way of life around here. As I work at my actual paid job, as I wander the streets of Saint Germain, my thoughts are often on the next treat I am going to make from the Maida book, and when I might give myself permission to make it.

These cookies were my little reward to myself for finishing a translation project that had taken most of the week. I guess that's kind of pathetic: "OK, Maria, five more pages and you can hit the kitchen." But it works for me.

A few technical notes: In a fit of hubris, I once again neglected to read the recipe. That, and the fact that my sheet pan is not the same size as a jelly roll pan, made for this funky free-form cookie thing. I suppose I could have taken a ruler and shoved things around to make it prettier, but I guess I don't live up to Maida in her love of square edges.
But still, these were delicious--like really good, crunchy peanut butter cookies. I wish I had gotten to eat more than two before they all mysteriously disappeared (Julia took most of them to her internship to share with her co-workers). And since there was no actual peanut butter in them, I didn't have to worry about the funky added fat in peanut butter or about raiding our precious peanut butter supply. Yes, I understand that's a logical contradiction. But you're dealing with someone who is forcing herself to bake every single recipe in a book...

Here's the recipe. Treat yourself.

Sycamore Cookies

1 c. (5 oz.) salted peanuts
1/2 c. (4 oz.) butter, room temperature
1/4 c. baking soda
1/2 t. cinnamon
1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. (3.5 oz.) brown sugar
1 egg, beaten (note: you're going to divide up the egg, so in this case you'll want to beat it)
1 c. (4 oz.) sifted flour

Heat the oven to 325. Butter a 10.5 x 15.5-inch jelly roll pan. If you have freezer space, put the pan in the freezer--apparently that helps you spread the dough. Chop the peanuts fine, but not powdery fine, in a food processor (Maida suggests 10 pulses); put the peanuts in a bowl and set aside. In the bowl of the food processor, process the butter, baking soda, cinnamon, and vanilla until creamy and smooth. Pulse in the sugar, again until smooth and creamy. Then add just 2 T. of the egg, not the whole thing (I neglected to do this), the flour, and HALF the chopped peanuts (yep, didn't read that, either).
Now get your pan out of the freezer and put spoonfuls of dough all over it. Use the bottom of a spoon (I used parchment paper, but the dough kind of stuck to it) to spread out and flatten the dough. The dough may not cover the whole pan, and you'll need to make peace with that idea. Brush the dough with the egg that you remembered to reserve and sprinkle it with the peanuts that you were also smart enough to reserve. Bake for 25 minutes (careful--mine were done at about 15) or until "nicely but lightly browned". Let cool for 5 minutes, then cut into 16 pieces and remove to a rack to cool (or to a cutting board to cut into smaller pieces). Store airtight, and make sure you get some before they're gone.

World's Best Hot Fudge Sauce

This is a recipe that makes me think of my mother. She loved it and made it often. She gave jars away as gifts. My Book of Chocolate Desserts opens to this page, and you see the calculations for doubling the recipe (usually necessary) in her handwriting. Sweet memories.

1/2 c. (4 oz.) cream
3 T. (1.5 oz.) butter
1/3 c. (2.3 oz.) sugar
1/3 c. (2.3 oz.) brown sugar
Pinch salt
1/2 c. (1.5 oz.) sifted Dutch-process cocoa
(optional: 1/2 t. vanilla or 1 T. liqueur/booze of your choice)

Put the cream and butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Add the sugars and salt and boil a few minutes, stirring regularly, until the sugar has melted, it's reduced a bit, and the bubbles start getting a bit bigger. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cocoa and the optional flavoring. Serve over ice cream. Try to restrain yourself from eating it all.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Blueberries and Cream

Sunday was Father's Day, and we decided to do something nice for my father-in-law. Sure, he can be grouchy and controlling, but he means well. So we bought a lovely bottle of Bordeaux and brought over a bunch of food we thought he might enjoy eating. Sami went out into the cold rain (yes, it's June here--why do you ask?) and grilled a whole fish and some sausages (insurance against fish failure), and we had this potato salad (made with green beans instead of asparagus) and blueberries and cream.

And yes, I used frozen blueberries. France isn't really a blueberry kind of place. In season, you can get fabulous cherries and raspberries and apricots and currants...the list goes on. But the blueberries usually look sad and cost a fortune. These babies, from the frozen food store everyone loves to hate, are delicious and cost for a big bag what a tiny basket would cost at the market. And hey, I'm cooking them anyway.

This recipe is a keeper. It's like my favorite German dessert, Rote Grütze, which tends to involve lots of mixed red fruits: raspberries, cherries, currants, and the like. But the blueberry focus was nice here, and it seems so light and healthy and antioxidant-filled that it would be a shame not to put a giant dollop of vanilla-infused cream on top. So we went for it.
My father-in-law seemed very pleased with all that we offered him, so it was a good evening. You too will be happy to have made this very simple and delicious dessert.

Here's the recipe. Make someone happy.

Blueberries and Cream

2 T. (1 oz.) water
3 T. (1.5 oz.) lemon juice
1/2 c. (3.5 oz.) sugar--I used 3 oz. raw sugar, since I know the frozen berries are pretty sweet
Pinch salt
1 lb. blueberries, frozen or fresh
1/4 c. (2 oz.) cold water (you could use juice of your choice if you've got some lying around)
2 T. (0.5 oz.) cornstarch
About 1 c. (8 oz.) crème fraîche or sour cream
1-1/2 T. sugar
1 t. vanilla

Put the water, lemon juice, water, and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves and the mixture begins to come to a boil. Add the berries, bring the mixture back to a gentle boil, and then turn down the heat and let them simmer for 5 minutes. In the meantime, mix the cold water and cornstarch to dissolve. Stir it into the berry mixture and cook over low heat, stirring gently and occasionally, for a few minutes to cook out the cornstarch taste. Don't stir too much and don't let the mixture come to a boil. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate it for a few hours or overnight. While the mixture chills, at some point mix together the cream, sugar, and vanilla--all amounts are to taste. Serve the blueberries in bowls or wineglasses with cream on top.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Dione's Chocolate Roll

We had one last dinner last week with our friends Gabriela and Alberto, who are leaving France to return to their beautiful resort in Puerto Vallarta. I will miss them sorely--we've had fun learning about the French education system, exploring Paris and Pontlevoy, and eating some fabulous meals together.

Gabriela has also been a big supporter of the blog, suggesting that I branch out with tourism tips and the like. And she enjoys my cakes. So I had to make something special for the evening.

We met at an Italian restaurant, where we consumed a lot of food and even more wine--the pitchers of Italian red seemed to disappear before we even realized they were there. Five adults, five teenaged girls, five carafes of wine--it's no wonder a couple who had been seated near us asked to be moved.

But as things were winding down, I reminded Gabriela that I had made cake, so we went to our house to pick it up before returning to her place to enjoy it with, yes, a bottle of Champagne.

Gabriela told a story about how, growing up in Mexico, she always looked at the cakes on the covers of women's magazines and begged her mother to make those cakes for her. But in the tropical heat, with no air conditioning, the cream just didn't want to whip and the cakes looked kind of sad.

Well, I have to say my cake looked pretty sad, too. There's no frosting, and Maida says that cracks are to be expected. Fair enough. But I must also say that the cake disappeared almost as quickly as the wine.
We agreed that we would meet again soon, in Mexico (I seem to have my February vacation planned...) and that I would bake them another cake. I'm really looking forward to that.

Oh, and the cake is delicious--light and fluffy and yet extremely chocolatey. You may have noticed that I put cherry jam on half the cake because certain family members *cough Claire cough* object to fruit and chocolate. I recommend jam on the whole thing--cherry or raspberry or apricot. It offsets the chocolate/whipped cream thing nicely.

Here's the recipe. Make it for good friends.

Dione's Chocolate Roll

8 oz. semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped or broken up
1/3 c. boiling water
8 eggs, separated
1 c. (7 oz.) sugar
Pinch salt
1/4 c. (0.75 oz.) cocoa powder, for dusting

Heat the oven to 350. Line a jelly roll or large half-sheet pan (12 x 18 inches) with parchment and butter the parchment.
Put the chocolate in a large-ish glass bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Stir to achieve as much melting as possible--I needed to give it another 20 seconds in the microwave. Let cool a bit. Put the egg yolks and 3/4 of the sugar in a medium mixing bowl; beat at high speed until the yolks are almost white, scraping once or twice during the process. Gently fold in the chocolate until you have a uniform color. Set aside.
In a larger bowl, with clean beaters, beat the egg whites with the salt until they start to hold a shape. Gradually beat in the rest of the sugar and beat until the whites hold a stiff peak (see the picture above). Fold the whites into the chocolate mixture about a third at a time. Gently spread into the prepared pan. Bake for 17 minutes (I took mine out after about 14 minutes, when I was starting to smell burned chocolate. Use your common sense.).
While the cake is baking, get out a large, clean towel and get it just barely damp. When the cake is baked, put it on a rack and cover it with the damp towel. Cover that with a dry towel. Then let sit and steam for 20 minutes. Uncover the cake and sprinkle it with the cocoa powder (through a strainer is best). Then cover the cake with waxed paper and then a cookie sheet and flip the cake over. Carefully peel the parchment off and let the cake cool to room temperature, preferably covered with more waxed paper. When it's cooled down enough, it's time to whip the cream.

1-1/2 c. (12 oz.) whipping cream
3 T. (0.75 oz.) powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla
(1/3-1/2 c. jam of your choice)

In a chilled bowl with chilled beaters, whip the cream, sugar, and vanilla until quite stiff--Maida suggests just this side of butter. Spread jam on the cake if you'd like, then spread the whipped cream on top of that. Use the waxed paper to help you roll up the cake the long way. Yes, it will crack, and Maida says you can sprinkle on more cocoa if you want. Chill the cake and enjoy with a nice glass of Champagne.

Strawberry Yogurt Cream

There has been lots of cooking going on in my new kitchen, but not so much writing about it. I made this cream exactly one week ago to welcome Sami back from a short trip.

This dessert is one that I would classify as rather a fail. It was delicious (if not quite sweet enough!), but it didn't gel. I still haven't figured out how to work this agar-agar stuff. Everyone I've read about it says it works just like gelatin, but they lie, as far as I can see. On the other hand, look--ice! I have room to make ice in my new freezer!

Still--delicious strawberries in season, yogurt, whipped cream. Even though we drank it from the cups rather than unmolding it, we enjoyed this dessert--it was gone the next day. I just hope that by the time the next dessert involving gelatin rolls around, I've figured out how to make things gel.

Here's the recipe. Make it once you've mastered gelatin--or a substitute.

Strawberry Yogurt Cream
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
2 T. + 2 t. cold tap water
1 lb. strawberries, washed, hulled, and puréed (except for 6 pretty ones)
1/4 c. (1.75 oz.) sugar (or more--taste your strawberries)
Red food coloring, if you like
3/4 c. (6 oz.) unflavored yogurt--I used Greek
1 T. lemon juice
2 T. (1 oz.) dark rum or brandy (I bet something orange-y like Cointreau would be nice, too)
Pinch salt
1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. (4 oz.) whipping cream

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small cup and let stand until it softens. Meanwhile, put the strawberries and sugar in a medium saucepan and heat until it just starts to boil. Off the heat, add the gelatin and, if you like, add a few drops of food coloring. Strain the mixture into a bowl and let cool down until kind of warm but not hot.
Whisk the yogurt, lemon juice, booze, salt, and vanilla into the strawberry mixture. Then place the bowl over a larger bowl filled about halfway with ice and water. Let cool and thicken, stirring occasionally. In the meantime, whip the cream. When the strawberry mixture is starting to thicken (and you're justifiably starting to feel quite superior to me), fold in the whipped cream. Pour the mixture into 6 small custard cups or whatever you'd like to serve the cream in. Refrigerate until cold and firm--Maida says you can also freeze them.
If these have worked for you, you should be able to unmold them onto plates and top with the pretty strawberries. If not, top the custard cup with a pretty strawberry and serve with a spoon--or a straw.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Alfred A. Knopf Peanut Butter Candy

I've been looking forward to and dreading this recipe for a while. Looking forward to because, well, look at that ingredient line-up (do you like the powdered sugar wrestler?)! English digestive biscuits (graham crackers, more or less), crunchy peanut butter straight from the USA (Julia orders it from her friends whenever they're there), Valrhona chocolate straight from a run to G. Detou because I was out. Butter.

Dreading because, well, you see the ingredient line-up. Eight ounces each of butter, sugar, cookies, chocolate. A bit more even of peanut butter. That's going to taste good. Maybe a bit too good...

OK, so the bottom layer is not very photogenic. Never fear--it's delicious. If you like crunchy buttery peanut candy, that is. And it takes about 2 minutes to put together: once the butter is melted and the graham crackers are crushed, you're pretty much done.

Then all you have to do is melt some chocolate. This is milk chocolate with a 40% cocoa content, and it was perfect. If you don't like things too sweet, I would maybe use 1/3 dark chocolate (start melting that first) and 2/3 milk chocolate. If you like things sweet, get out the Hershey's.

You pour that on top and refrigerate it.

Then you cut it into tiny squares and begin taste-testing. And have your children taste test and say, "Oh, my gosh, Mommy, I love you!" And send said children off to parties laden with this candy because it must not be allowed to stay in the house.
I'm pretty sure I've had this kind of candy before. It's sweet and very rich--like a really excellent Reese's cup. The piece and a half I ate were delicious, but I don't think I'll be able to eat much more--it's just too much for me. That's probably a good thing.

So here's the recipe. Make it when you have 5 minutes and the right ingredients and a heap of willpower.

Alfred A. Knopf Peanut Butter Candy

1 cup (8 oz.) melted butter
2 cups (8 oz.) graham cracker crumbs
2 cups (8 oz.) powdered sugar (Maida calls for 2-1/2 cups, or 10 oz.)
1 cup (9.25 oz.) chunky peanut butter
8 oz. milk chocolate

Line an 8-inch square pan with aluminum foil. In a large bowl (maybe the one you melted the butter in), mix together the melted butter, graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and peanut butter until well combined. Spread into a smooth layer in the prepared pan. Melt the chocolate in the microwave--one minute in 30-second pulses should be enough. Pour the melted chocolate over the peanut butter mixture. Spread in a smooth layer over the peanut butter mixture. Refrigerate for at least an hour, then unmold from the pan/foil and cut into small squares. I like this cold, but Maida says to serve it at room temperature. Either way, enjoy--and give this away fast!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Peach Crisp

Welcome to my new kitchen! I believe it's now the sixth kitchen I've used since I began this blog, not counting guest kitchens. But here's hoping it's the last for a while. It's a good kitchen. You'll notice the nice light and view from the window. Also the larger new refrigerator.

And my new gas stove and the oven I brought from our last apartment. Yes, that's a washing machine under the stove. Welcome to European apartment living.

Just for contrast, here's the kitchen as we got it. No appliances, but at least we got the counters and cabinets. Often you don't even get that here.
So if I compare and contrast with my last kitchen, it's easy: this one is bigger and has more cabinet space. But it has almost no counter space (and no room for my beloved butcher block unit, which is now serving as a buffet in the living room) and only two drawers. We have plans and dreams for improving the kitchen, but first we have to recover from the financial shock of buying an apartment at Parisian prices...

But maybe you're here for the recipe. It's definitely worth making. It's called "peach crisp", but what I made was neither purely peach, nor did I find it to be a crisp per se. But it was delicious and easy.

I had planned to buy a lot of peaches, honest! But I was at the market and the apricots and cherries, which are more in season than peaches, were calling out to me. So I decided to make an "early summer fruit" crisp. There are some peaches there under the other fruit.

Now to the crisp part. Maybe it's the egg or the flour/butter ratio, but this is not the streusel-y crisp topping I'm used to. Maida said it would be "crumbly", but even after I added more flour and some oatmeal, it was still more like dough. No matter: I just broke it up and crumbled it over the fruit.

And here's the final product. To me it's more like a cobbler than a crisp (this is my go-to crisp recipe), but that doesn't stop it from tasting great. We were six at dinner, and there was nothing left at the end.
So whether you're in a old kitchen or a new one, whether you have peaches or apricots or plums or whatever, you should make this for a great ending to a good dinner. Here's the recipe.

Peach Crisp

3 lbs. peaches (or mixed fruit of your choice), peeled and quartered/thick-sliced
1-1/2 T. lemon juice
1 t. vanilla
1 c. (4 oz.) sifted flour (some whole wheat is nice here)
3/4 c. (5 oz.) sugar
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. almond extract
1 egg
6 T. (3 oz.) melted butter (consider browning it)

Heat the oven to 400. Butter a 2-quart baking dish. Put the fruit in the baking dish; sprinkle it with the lemon juice and vanilla and stir. In a medium mixing bowl, mix the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the almond extract, egg, and butter and stir well with a fork. It should be crumbly, but if it's not, you can still proceed without any problems. Sprinkle/crumble the topping over the fruit. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the topping is golden and the fruit is bubbling. Serve warm with ice cream.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Prune and Apricot Pound Cake

It was just about a week ago that Sami told me, "OK, you'll need to close the kitchen on Monday for the move. Maybe you'll want to make something to help fuel the move?"

Once again, Maida had just the right answer: fruits and nuts and butter and (cream) cheese. How much much more energy-laden can you get? So, delighted to have an excuse to use my kitchen one more time, I chopped and stirred and scraped...

...and I made a big loaf for us and little loaves to share. Except the girls took them over as soon as they got home. Even Claire, who's not a huge fruit and nut lover, really enjoyed this cake.

Indeed, this cake was excellent moving fuel. It took us from one apartment to another and gave us energy to pack/unpack just one more box. It also tasted really great.
The next recipe will come from my new kitchen in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. But in the meantime, try this one out, especially if you have heavy lifting in your future. (If there's not so much, you can halve the recipe and just make one loaf.)

Prune and Apricot Pound Cake

1/2 c. (2 oz.) blanched almonds, chopped (I used sliced, crushed a bit)
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1 c. (8 oz.) butter, room temperature
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
Finely grated rind of 1 large (organic) lemon
Finely grated rind of 1 large (organic) orange
1-1/4 c. (8.75 oz.) brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 c. (8 oz.) sifted flour (I used some whole wheat)
1 c. (8 oz.) pitted prunes, snipped into thin strips
2/3 c. (6 oz.) dried apricots, snipped into thin strips
1 c. (3.5 oz.) walnut halves or large pieces

Heat the oven to 350. Butter two loaf pans and coat them with the chopped almonds. You'll probably have too many almonds--save them to sprinkle them over the top of the cake.
Cream together the cream cheese, butter, baking powder, and salt until fluffy. Beat in the grated orange and lemon rinds and then gradually beat in the brown sugar. Beat a minute or two until the color lightens. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually stir in the flour at low speed. Take the bowl off the mixer and stir in the prunes, apricots, and walnuts. Pour the batter into the two loaf pans and sprinkle them with the remaining almonds.
Bake for 1 hour, check, then if the loaves still need more time, cover them with aluminum foil before baking another 20-30 minutes (mine was done well before 1 hour). Cool the loaves in the pan for 20 minutes, then unmold and cool. This keeps really well--it was still good 4 days later.