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.