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.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Goldrush Sauce

I don't have much to say about this recipe except that it's yummy and you should make it soon.

It's basically a simple chocolate sauce--extra chocolaty from the unsweetened chocolate--with crunchy add-ins: pecans and toffee. No Heath bars or Almond Roca here, so I used Daims, a Swedish import.
They're really good but kind of pricey, which makes this a special-occasion sauce.

So if you like toffee, and hot fudge, and nuts over ice cream (or from a spoon), you should make this. It'll take you 15 minutes (plus time to cool before you add the candy). Just be aware that the sauce will be gone way before you want to stop eating it.

Here's the recipe. Make sure you have some good ice cream in the freezer.

Goldrush Sauce

2-1/2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 T. (0.5 oz.) butter
1/3 c. (2.7 oz.) boiling water
2 T. (1.7 oz.) corn or golden syrup
1 c. (7 oz.) sugar
1 t. vanilla
1 c. (about 5 oz.) Heath bars or Almond Roca, chopped coarsely
1/2 c. (2 oz.) chopped toasted pecans

Put the chocolate and butter in a small heavy saucepan. Pour the boiling water over and stir until everything is mostly melted. Whisk in the sugar and syrup and set over medium heat, stirring until the mixture comes to a boil. Then stop stirring, turn down the heat a bit, and let cook at a moderate boil exactly 8 minutes. When the time is up, take the pan off the heat and if possible, dip the bottom of the pan in cold water to make sure the boiling stops in time. Let the sauce sit until it's cooled to room temperature. Stir in the vanilla, toffee pieces, and pecans. Enjoy over ice cream: I bet coffee ice cream would be dynamite with this sauce.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cottage Cheese and Jelly Tart

It has become Family Ritual to eat with my in-laws every weekend. There's always a certain amount of grumbling about this, as we're expected to stay well past the actual meal, but it's generally a good opportunity to get caught up (and to dry our towels in their dryer).

Generally my mother-in-law does the cooking because my father-in-law is extremely suspicious about new foods. But occasionally we'll bring some food over--especially when there's a recipe I want to make that involves grilling--our grill lives at their house because it's about the size of our whole kitchen.

So this past weekend, I had Sami do a wood-smoked salmon thing from a back issue of Cook's Country (yummy), and I made potato salad and green beans and this cheese pie--the last cheesecake in the book.

This recipe was especially easy for me to make here in France because I could use fromage blanc, which is pretty much what the puréed cottage cheese Maida calls for is. Only better. It's smooth and creamy--kind of like a combination of yogurt and cream cheese. They serve it here for dessert with honey or jam, and it's quite good.

So as you see, this is kind of a pie/cheesecake hybrid: you make a pie crust and hope it turns out better than the one I made here--pie crust is always a crapshoot for me. You bake it blind and brush it with egg white and then with your favorite jelly (I used currant).

You then whisk together your creamy cheese with eggs and sugar and such, pour that in, and sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar (or vanilla sugar if you have cinnamon-suspicious eaters). You bake it and it puffs up all over the place. Then you chill it and eat it. 
I would have liked this even better if my crust had turned out and also if it had had more time to chill, but even so, it was delicious--lighter than standard cheesecake but with lots of flavor and a welcome fruity burst from the jelly. It's not my very favorite Maida cheesecake (I'll need to reflect on that one), but I'm glad I made it, and I hope you'll make it, too.

Here's the recipe.

Cottage Cheese and Jelly Tart


2 c. (8 oz.) sifted flour (some whole wheat is good here)
1 T. sugar
1/2 t. salt
3/4 c. (6 oz.) cold butter 
1 t. cider vinegar
2-3 T. cold water
1 egg white (you'll need a yolk for the filling below)

Put the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and give it a spin to mix. Cut up the butter in cubes and scatter them over the flour. Pulse until the butter is in pieces no larger than a pea. Sprinkle the vinegar and about 2 T. of the water over and pulse until the dough just begins to come together (you may need to add a bit more). Turn the dough out onto a piece of parchment or waxed paper and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Roll the dough out and use it to line a 9-inch pie pan. Chill again at least 30 minutes. Heat the oven to 450. Line the crust with foil or parchment and weigh it down with dried beans or pie weights or even, my new favorite, a vegetable steamer. Bake for 13 minutes (consider making the filling while the crust bakes). Take the liner out and bake another 2-3 minutes or until golden brown. Beat the egg white with a fork until it's frothy and brush some onto the crust. Put it back in the oven for a minute, then take it out and brush more egg white on it. Set aside or fill right away (keep the oven at 450 if you're going to bake the pie soon).

1-1/2 c. (12 oz.) full-fat cottage cheese (or fromage blanc or quark, if you can get that)
1/8 t. salt
1/2 c. (3.5 oz.) sugar
1 t. vanilla
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 t. lemon juice
2 eggs PLUS 2 egg yolks
1-1/2 T. (0.75 oz.) butter, melted
1/2 c. (4 oz.) sour cream

1/2 c. (about 4.5 oz; you can eyeball this) raspberry or currant jelly

1 t. cinnamon
1 t. sugar

If you have cottage cheese, you'll need a food processor. Put the cheese in the food processor and let it run, stopping a couple of times to scrape down the sides, for a full minute, or until it is absolutely smooth. To the smooth cheese add the salt, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, lemon juice, eggs, egg yolks, melted butter, and sour cream. Pulse a few times just until mixed.

Now it's time to layer the pie: spread the jelly in a thick layer over the pie crust. Pour the cheese filling over that, and then sprinkle with the cinnamon mixed with the sugar. Put that carefully in the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes. Then turn the oven temperature down to 375 and bake another 20 minutes. The filling will puff up quite dramatically but will settle down again upon cooling. Let cool to room temperature, then chill for at least 4 hours. Serve in large slices because it's "low fat".

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chocolate Fudge Candy-Cookies

One of our good friends was in town briefly for a sad occasion and said she'd drop by. As seems to be general instinct in these cases, I felt the need to provide food, and thus I baked these cookies in such a rush that I didn't have a chance to take photos.
These cookies come together quickly and live up to their name: they're very chocolatey and have a fudgy texture. I was a bit peeved that the recipe is very much like the one for chocolate miracles, but I liked it better: the butter and vanilla soften the chocolate, and the flour gives the cookies a more brownie-like texture.
As it turns out, our friend wasn't able to come by until long after the cookies had mysteriously disappeared (when kids are on holiday, it turns out, they eat and share more cookies) and all she wanted was tea anyway. But it was good to spend time together and good to have made this cookie recipe, which I would definitely make again.

Here's the recipe.

Chocolate Fudge Candy-Cookies

2 c. (12 oz.) chocolate chips or other semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 c. (2 oz.) butter
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 t. vanilla
1 c. (4 oz.) sifted flour
2-1/4 c. (8 oz.) toasted chopped pecans (I used about half this amount, and as you can see, there are plenty)

Heat the oven to 350. Line some cookie sheets with foil, parchment, or silicon liners. In a large microwave-safe bowl melt the chocolate and butter in 30-second pulses--mine took a minute and a half to melt completely. Stir in the condensed milk, vanilla, flour, and pecans. 
Choose your scooping spoon according to whether you want 55 fairly tiny cookies (as Maida suggests) or 36 somewhat larger cookies (as I did). I used normal-sized teaspoons and did not round them too much. In any case, scoop out balls of dough and put them 12 to a sheet on the prepared cookie sheets. These don't spread, so if you want to put them fairly close together, that's OK. Bake for "exactly 7 minutes". There's no way to tell if these are done, but you certainly don't want to bake them too long, or the chocolate will burn and turn bitter. Six minutes worked for my hot oven. The cookies will seem soft but will become firm as they stand. Slide the foil/parchment/silicon off the cookie sheet and let the cookies cool on the liner  before transferring to racks. Enjoy with an espresso.