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How to Convert Recipes From Cups to Weights

November 8th, 2015 by Alice Medrich

In response to my article in the Washington Post about why you need a scale in your kitchen, a reader asked how to convert recipes from cups to weights and how to know whether a scale is accurate. Her questions and my answers follow, in addition to my cheat sheet of weights for the most common baking ingredients.

Q: Do I now toss out all my cookbooks & try to replicate recipes (including grandma’s) with appropriately written ones found on the Internet or in Medrich’s cookbook? How does one exchange old recipe cups for ounces or grams?

A: Please don’t toss out beloved old recipes (or books) just because they don’t have weights! There are two methods for converting recipes to weights, depending on whether a recipe is a familiar favorite or one that is new to you.

If a recipe is already a tried-and-true favorite—one that normally turns out well for you— measure with cups exactly as you usually do but then weigh each measured ingredient before you add it to the batter. Don’t use a chart in the back of a book or on the Internet for this—the idea is to capture what you actually do, but in weights. Jot your weights on the recipe. This requires extra steps only the first time you make each recipe again. You will up with a repertoire of reliable recipes with weights, and those recipes will forever be faster and easy to reproduce.

For recipes that you have never tried, use a weight chart from a credible baker or pastry chef (or my Cheat Sheet below) for ingredients other than flour. Don’t fret about slight variations (a few grams or tiny fractions of ounces) between charts for most ingredients.

Flour is a critical exception — a few extra nuts or raisins in a recipe don’t hurt a thing but too much flour can make a huge difference. There is no official agreed upon weight of flour per cup across all recipes and all cookbooks. My cup of flour weighs 4.5 ounces, while King Arthur’s weighs 4.25 ounces. People who dip and sweep may be getting 5 to 6 ounces in 1 cup. The trick is to use the same amount of flour as the cook who created the recipe!

Here’s how: if the recipe is in a book that does not include weights, read the front of the book to see if the author explains how they measured flour—whether they dip the cup into the flour and sweep it level or if they fluff the flour and then lightly spoon, or any other details. Then measure a cup of flour exactly as described and weigh it. Use that weight per cup for the recipes in that book or in any other book where the author describes measuring in the exact same way.

If you remember seeing your grandmother dip a measuring cup into the flour canister or sack—and that is probably how most grandmothers did it—or you remember her doing it a different way, then you should measure a cup of flour her way and then weigh it. Use that weight for all of her recipes!

Q: HOW DO I INSURE THE ACCURACY OF MY SCALE?

A: Check the weight of an unwrapped 4-ounce/113 gram stick of butter. If you plan to weigh small quantities, like salt and leavenings, or you just want to know that your scale is accurate in small increments, weigh some coins: 2 pennies or one nickel should weigh 5 grams. (Keep in mind that if your scale is accurate only to 5 grams, it will always round up to the nearest 5 grams: 1 penny will register 5 grams and 3 pennies will register 10 grams. Don’t let this confuse you. And don’t expect to be able to measure in 1-gram increments.)

If the scale is off, use the calibration feature—check the manual to see if has one and follow the instructions. Absent a calibration feature, return a new scale to the store. Or, regardless of age, email the manufacturer asking if they can fix it for you. They might ask you to send it to them. Do it. Sometimes they will send you a new scale!

ALICE’S CHEAT SHEET: THE WEIGHT OF COMMON BAKING INGREDIENTS

Butter: 4 ounces/113 grams per stick (thus 1 T=14 g)

Nuts: weights vary by type of nut and whether the nuts are whole or already chopped. When it comes to nuts, exact amounts are rarely critical, but it is so much easier to weigh first and chop next. Here are the weights that I use for different types of nuts:

Walnut and Pecan halves or large pieces: 3 ½ ounces/100 grams per cup, or 4 ounces/113 grams per cup if already chopped

Peanuts: 4 ounces/113 grams per cup

Whole Almonds or hazelnuts: 5 ounces/140 grams per cup, or 4 ounces/113 grams if already chopped

Pistachios: 5.33 ounces/150 grams per cup

Sugar

Granulated sugar: 7 ounces/200 grams per cup
Brown sugar (firmly packed): 7 ounces/200grams per cup
Confectioners’ sugar: 4 ounces/113 grams per cup

What to Expect When You Finish Writing A Book

September 19th, 2014 by Alice Medrich

My publisher (Artisan Books) is an imprint of Workman Publishing, the folks that brought us What to Expect When You Are Expecting.  Now that’s a book that will never go out of style, right?  The reader hangs on every word for 9 months:  month-by-month it tells the pregnant one what she may or may not be feeling. Way to hedge a bet!  Yet, somehow I never felt like throwing that book out the window, rather than just throwing up.  I kept reading and feeling “normal” and even slightly reassured.  The whole point, yes?

Because my ninth book, Flavor Flours, is finally about to come out, and because I’m bound to get swept up into the excitement of the blessed event, I thought that new cookbook writers might like to know what it may or may not feel like to finish a book for the first time—or the ninth.

When you send back (what you hope are) your final page corrections, you may or may not feel all of the adrenalin rush out of your body.

You may or may not know if what you are feeling is elated or shitty.

You may or may not feel the exact same things when you finish answering all the copy editor questions that come up after you send in your final page corrections.

Even after the book is en route to the printer, you may or may not continue to wake up at night thinking of cool things to add, things you wish you’d thought of earlier.

You may or may not want to publish ever again. 

You may or may not want to prove it by throwing out all of your backup notes, versions, and passes: instead you box them up and put them in the basement for when you die and the Schlesinger Library inquires after your remains.  Yeah, right.

You may or may not have a thousand new book ideas (I know exactly one person who felt that way, once)

You may or may not feel depressed (crabby, angry, frustrated, tired…). A pox on all their houses is exactly what you may or may not feel like saying.

You may or may not continue to create and test new recipes that could have, should have, and would have, gone into the book (because in spite all of the above, you know you still care)

You may or may not have the urge to clean, purge, and organize every nook and cranny of your office, kitchen, fridge, freezer, and pantry.  Don’t worry, even if you do have this urge, you may or may not ever actually act on it.

You may or may not dread the upcoming (and very exciting) book tour that is planned for you—the one that you are so very grateful to have because so few publishers provide such a thing anymore.

You may or may not believe your book is fantastic, even when your co-author, editor, publisher, and publicist know that it is.

You may or may not think you should finally return to blogging because, after all, it’s been soooo darn long, and what would you even write about?

You are certain to forget almost everything I just wrote the moment you see your advance copy—with all of its fingers and toes in place. 

Mine came an hour ago and already I remember (almost) nothing.

 

 

 

What I Learned From My Mother

May 1st, 2014 by Alice Medrich

Some people were taught to cook by their mothers.  I was not. My mother was not sure enough of herself in the kitchen to preach or teach, per se.  You just had to hand around.  She cooked simple food but was never adamant about her methods, although she was and is adamant about what she likes and doesn’t like.  She doesn’t like foods that are sauced to death or fussed with.  She doesn’t like mayonnaise on anything. She likes food to taste like what it is.  She wants her green veggies bright green, al dente, as we all learned to say a few decades ago.  Don’t give her any long-cooked southern veggies with pot licker; these would not be her style.  She probably sounds unsophisticated and unadventuresome.  She isn’t.  She knows good food when she tastes it, and though she was brought up in New York, she has the palate of a Californian. When I’d come home from college in the 1970’s, there would always be a perfect ripe avocado.  My dad thought avocados were for girls, and my brothers were not interested (!), so she didn’t buy any unless I was around to enjoy them with her.  We’d catch up at lunch: the avocado would be sliced and fanned on toast, sprinkled with salt and pepper with a squeeze of lemon. I recently saw a “recipe” for “avocado toasts” that involve mashing an avocado with mayo and this and that.  My mother and I just don’t get that: how to ruin an avocado, we would have said.

Several months ago, we had a late lunch at Mani Nial’s Sweet Bar Cafe in Oakland after a doctor’s appointment.  She wanted to share the turkey sandwich with avo and cheddar. I thought that sounded boring, but I agreed anyway.  It turned out to be a great sandwich. We fell silent for a while, just chewing and enjoying.  When she emerged from her reverie, she sighed,  “now I’m thinking about what (insert name of retirement community where she lives) would have done to these same ingredients”!  At times like that I realize two things:  first, my appreciation for good things to eat did not come out of nowhere, and second, we had better do something fast about institutional food, before we all go to live in (otherwise splendid) retirement communities!

My mother turned 91 recently.  She is still big on vegetables and salads, and fresh fish.  She and my father “discovered” Sushi 30 or 40 years ago, when you had to go to a Japanese community to get it.

Up until several months ago when my mother decided to stop drinking even the smallest glass of wine or beer, her “happy meal” might have been have been boiled edamame, a few pieces of super fresh sushi, and plenty of hot saki.  Gelato for dessert, if possible. She doesn’t care that sophisticated people drink chilled sake of better quality than the type that is served hot or warm.  She likes what she likes. If she weren’t my own mother, I would probably think she was the coolest sort of character.  Instead I roll my eyes sometimes.  I wish she were still drinking a little, because we tend to get along especially well over a glass of wine.  At least we are still eating sushi and avocadoes. And rolling out eyes together over what other people do with food…

Eye rolls aside, I am who I am because of her.  I don’t necessarily accept anyone’s rules about anything (especially food) unless I’ve proven them for myself.  Of course I have my own rules, but those usually come after I’ve thoroughly (but privately) discredited someone else’s. I am more rigorous in my process and more adamant about my food rules than she was or is, but she was a home cook, not a professional, so she gets a pass there.  Like her, I also have distinct preferences for good ingredients very simply prepared, I rarely eat a dish (other than dessert) with loads of creamy stuff in it or on it, and I like my food to taste like its ingredients.    

PS.  Since I wrote this post my mother has gone back to drinking a little wine.  This makes us both happy. 

Temper Tantrum Part Two

April 27th, 2014 by Alice Medrich

As I said in Temper Tantrum Part One (below), instructions for tempering chocolate are usually brief and deceptively easy looking.  As a result, many people find tempering to be completely frustrating.  I hope the following not-so-brief notes and instructions adapted from my book, Seriously Bittersweet (Artisan, 20130) will help.  Even if you prefer to use a tempering method other than The Chunk Method described, the information that follows it—The Test For Temper, Keeping Tempered Chocolate in Working Condition, and How To Fix Over Tempered/Over Seeded Chocolateis essential if you want order to avoid the heartbreak of grey or streaky confections, after all of your time and effort! 

Just A Few More Things to Keep in Mind before you jump in

A piece of tempered chocolate has a shiny reflective surface (unless it has been scuffed or jumbled with other pieces of chocolate) and an even interior color and texture. It is brittle enough to snap audibly when broken or bitten.  Melted chocolate that has been tempered shrinks slightly as it cools and so it releases perfectly from molds, and mirrors any surface with which it has been in contact: tempered chocolate poured into a mold with a shiny surface will emerge shiny.  Any bar or piece of chocolate that you buy was tempered at the factory and, unless it has been damaged by heat in transit or in storage, and will still be tempered when you unwrap it to eat or cook with.

Heat-damaged chocolate or chocolate that has melted and cooled at room temperature without being tempered again looks dull and gray, perhaps mottled or streaky.  It may be soft and cakey at first, but it will eventually become dry and gritty with a stratified interior texture. When that happens the chocolate actually tastes less flavorful and melts less smoothly in your mouth.

Whether in perfect temper or out of temper to start with, each time chocolate is melted, it must be tempered in order for it to cool and set at room temperature with a glossy surface and crisp texture. Chocolate can be melted and tempered over and over again.  

There is no need to temper melted chocolate used as an ingredient in a batter or dessert, sauce, or glaze.  However, if you want to dip cookies in chocolate that will dry hard and glossy, or if you want to make a molded chocolate rabbit, or if you want dipped chocolates (or pretzels) to dry beautifully and keep at room temperature, you must temper the chocolate.

Melted chocolate solidifies as it cools because the fat molecules link together and form crystals that connect to form a sturdy network. Cocoa butter is a complex fat capable of taken different crystal forms, but only one of the forms is stable and will cause the chocolate to contract and harden with the desired shiny surface and brittle snap.  This stable form is called beta. It takes only a small percentage of beta crystals in melted chocolate, to ensure that subsequent crystals will also take the beta form as the chocolate cools. The process of tempering involves a sequence of heating, cooling, and stirring steps designed to produce just enough beta crystals to set the pattern for the rest of the crystals that will form as the chocolate cools.

Under the right conditions, beta crystals form and survive at temperatures between 82°F and 91°F; they melt and are destroyed at higher temperatures.  Most tempering methods involve heating the chocolate well above 91°F so that all crystals (stable and unstable) are melted and destroyed so that you start with a kind of crystal-free blank slate.  Then, as the chocolate cools, you create brand-new beta crystals.  Once there are enough beta crystals, the chocolate is tempered.  Since you cannot see the crystals (alas), you can use a simple test to determine whether enough crystals have formed, thus whether the chocolate is in temper. 

And A Few Tips Before You Start

Keep this mantra in mind: Tempering is not simply a matter of taking chocolate from one prescribed temperature to another, even though most instruction focuses mostly on that activity. Tempering is a function of three interrelated factors: time, temperature, and agitation (stirring). This means that your chocolate may not be in temper the moment you have completed the steps to get your chocolate to the “correct” temperature. Often, the chocolate just needs a few more minutes of stirring.  Do not get so involved with temperature that you forget the necessity for time and stirring.  Use the test for temper as feedback as you work, and be prepared to practice, go slow, observe, and adjust (Zen and the art of chocolate tempering).

It’s best to temper more chocolate than you need for a recipe or dipping project.  A large bowl of tempered chocolate is easier to keep warm and in good working condition than a small one and any chocolate left over can be saved for reuse. I like to work with at least 1 ¼ pounds (565 grams) of chocolate, but you can temper any amount you like using the following guidelines:

-Use real chocolate (not compound coatings) but not chocolate chips

-Do not work in a hot room

-Don’t allow moisture to come in direct contact with the chocolate: make sure that the knife, cutting board, bowl, spatula, and thermometer stem are all clean and dry.  If you are dipping fruit, the fruit should be dry as well.

-Before tempering, prepare whatever is to be dipped and/or measure out any other ingredients needed (and have them at room temperature because cool or cold centers will cause the chocolate to crack when it cools) so that your tempered chocolate can be used immediately.

-Have a cool place to set trays of dipped items:  I set mine in front of a portable table fan (after anchoring the corners of the parchment or wax paper liners with tape).

-Last but not least, no one said tempering doesn’t take practice!

FINALLY: THE CHUNK METHOD FOR TEMPERING CHOCOLATE  

This method requires that 20% (one fifth) of the chocolate you start with be solid chocolate that is already in temper —and in one or two large chunks instead of chopped.  The remaining chocolate may be in temper or not.

You will need an instant read thermometer, or a chocolate thermometer

1. Set aside 20% of your chocolate for “seed”: the seed should be one or two large chunks and already in temper.

2. Chop the remaining chocolate into small pieces and place them in a stainless steel bowl large enough for thorough stirring. Set the bowl in a wider skillet of almost simmering water and stir frequently at first, and then constantly until about three-quarters of the chocolate is melted.  Remove the bowl from the water and stir for a minute or two to melt the remaining chocolate.  If the chocolate is not entirely melted put it back in the water and continue to stir briefly.  The goal is completely melted chocolate at about 100°F (if it was in temper to start with) or at 120°F (if it was not in temper).  If the chocolate exceeds these temperatures, don’t worry; just let it cool to 100° before proceeding.

3. When the chocolate is at 100°F, drop the reserved chunk(s) of tempered chocolate into the bowl and stir constantly, pushing the chunks around the bowl and scraping the sides of the bowl regularly, until the chocolate registers 90°F for dark chocolate or 88°F for white or milk chocolate. As you stir, you are simultaneously cooling the chocolate and melting the surface of the tempered chunks. As the temperature of the melted chocolate approaches 90°F, stable beta crystals from the surface of the chunks start to mingle with the melted chocolate and form the “seed” to create more beta crystals.  When there are enough beta crystals in the bowl, the chocolate is tempered. The object is not to melt the chunks entirely, but to use them to provide the beta “seed” to produce more beta crystals, and then fish out and save the chunks for another project.  In fact, if your chunks are completely melted by the time the chocolate reaches 90°F, the necessary beta crystals are likely to have been destroyed; you may have to add another chunk and continue to stir.

When the chocolate is at the desired temperature (90°F or 88°F), it may or may not yet contain enough beta crystals to be tempered.  Use the Test for Temper (see below) to be sure. If the chocolate is not in temper, continue to stir for a minute or two longer then test again.  As soon as the chocolate is in temper, remove the unmelted chunk(s) and chill them in the fridge for 10 minutes then store at room temperature to be used again. Use the tempered chocolate immediately.

THE TEST FOR TEMPER

Never assume your chocolate is in temper, or use it,  without testing it:  Drizzle a little of the chocolate onto a knife blade or a piece of wax paper. Set the test in front of a fan (preferably) or in a cool place. If the chocolate is beginning to set within 3 minutes and it has a nice sheen, it is tempered. If it is still completely melted and wet looking after 3 minutes, it is not yet tempered. (If it has begun to set but looks dull, it may be over tempered, see How To Fix Over Tempered/Over Seeded Chocolate, below).

KEEPING TEMPERED CHOCOLATE IN WORKING CONDITION

If you are using the tempered chocolate for dipping, stir it from time to time and scrape down the bowl to prevent chocolate from building up around the sides. The chocolate will cool and thicken as you work.  You can rewarm the chocolate in a pan of warm water for a few seconds at a time, or warm the sides of the bowl with a hair dryer, and stir until the chocolate regains fluidity as long as you do not let it exceed a maximum temperature of 90°F or 91°F for dark chocolate or 88°F to 89°F for milk and white chocolate.  Or, to keep the chocolate warm longer, you can keep the bowl of chocolate in a container of warm water just 2 degrees warmer than the maximum temperature for the type of chocolate you are using. Or set the bowl on a heating pad covered with several layers of two so that it is barely warm.

But tempered chocolate will thicken over tine as you work with it, even if it is kept at or reheated to its maximum temperature.  This means that too many beta crystals have developed: the chocolate is over seeded or over tempered

HOW TO FIX OVER TEMPERED/OVER SEEDED CHOCOLATE

Tempered chocolate thickens as you work with it.  Intuitively, it would seem that the thickening is due to cooling, but that is only partially true.  In the course of dipping centers (or whatever), re stirring the chocolate and scraping the bowl from time to time, tempered chocolate will thicken even if it is kept at its warmest “ceiling temperature”.  Why? Remember that the formation of beta crystals necessary for tempering the chocolate required time and agitation in addition to the right temperature.  Once the chocolate is in temper, time and agitation (that is, dipping and scraping the bowl and restirring the chocolate) continues to create more beta crystals, whether or not you want them.  More beta crystals make the chocolate thicker and harder to work with.  The chocolate is still in temper but it is overtempered or over seeded:  it will set even faster than before and with a duller finish.

The fix? If the chocolate is at or close to its ceiling temperature, but still too thick, you must melt and destroy some of the excess beta crystals by allowing some of the chocolate to exceed the maximum temperature.  Set the bowl in the water bath for a few seconds as before, but without stirring so that the chocolate around the sides of the bowl gets warmer than the rest. Then remove the bowl from the water and stir the chocolate thoroughly to mix in the warmer chocolate.  This should return your chocolate to a more fluid and, with luck, still tempered state. If it’s not fluid enough, set it in the water for a few more seconds, then remove and stir well.  After this maneuver, always test for temper again to make sure that you haven’t melted too many of the beta crystals and lost the temper of your whole batch.

Anther way to fix over seeded chocolate is to add a little “virgin” chocolate* to the thick chocolate and stir it in thoroughly.  This re-warms the chocolate, reduces the ratio of tempered crystals and puts you back in business

*Virgin chocolate=chocolate that has been heated to 125°F and then cooled to 92°F to 90°F without tempering.

 

Temper Tantrum Part One

April 11th, 2014 by Alice Medrich

I started my career making chocolate truffles without ever having tempered chocolate. I did not even know how to temper. I’m not bragging about my ignorance, but my rule breaking turned into revelation: a national obsession for chocolate truffles was launched from my Berkeley kitchen in the early 1970’s. Those truffles—first made in my home kitchen and sold at the Pig By The Tail charcuterie and later made and sold in my own shop, Cocolat—were as good as they were because I was doing a whole lot of things “wrong” which somehow added up to something spectacularly right. Somehow.

I have become adept at tempering since those early days, although I still use tempering avoidance tricks and “cheats” strategically when I think they are a quicker and smarter way to get certain kinds of results. Knowing the right way to do things wrong—when and how to not temper—remains a valuable part of my skill set!

You can read more about this and the story of Cocolat, and get recipes for those Cocolat truffles, in Seriously Bittersweet (Artisan 2013).

But I have a tantrum to finish.

When tempering is really necessary, I want to get it right. And I want others to be able to get it right as well. There are several methods to get chocolate in temper, so that it sets with an even sheen (and without streaks or white pockmarks), breaks with a snap, and remains stable at room temperature. But where are the good instructions (regardless of method) for making this happen?

The problem is that no one who publishes for the home cook wants to hint that tempering is tricky; much less that it requires knowledge and practice. Is it a conspiracy? Tempering instructions—on TV, in magazines and cookbooks, and even in cooking classes—are deceptively brief, almost breezy. They focus on melting the chocolate to a precise temperature and then cooling it down to another precise temperature with some chopped chocolate “seed” stirred in. It's as if all you have to do is get a thermometer and follow the steps and your chocolate will be in temper. 

This drives me absolutely crazy.

Once in a while, you can get lucky following simple rote steps and end up with tempered chocolate. But beginner’s luck is just that.Tempering chocolate requires three things: enough time, enough stirring, and the right temperatures. This means that it is entirely possible to heat and cool the chocolate, hitting all of the right temperatures, just as directed, and then dip your bonbons but find them dull, streaky, and mottled hours later. This happens to people all of the time. Sure, those ugly bonbons are still edible, but after spending time and the effort to temper the chocolate, “edible” hardly cuts it.  

Consider a driving manual that just tells you how to turn on the ignition, step on the gas, and turn the steering wheel…

Good tempering instructions should explain that hitting the right temperature marks without adequate time and agitation (stirring) will not result in tempered chocolate.  Good instructions should tell you how to test for temper to confirm that the chocolate that you think you tempered, really is in temper— before you dip those bonbons—and what to do when it isn’t. Good instructions should tell you how to keep tempered chocolate in temper while you work with it, and how to reheat it, if necessary, without breaking the temper. (Really good instructions should tell you what  “over tempered” chocolate looks like, and how to fix that as well!)

I’m sorry I’ve made tempering sound more complicated than any of us want it to be.  But knowledge is power, right?

Temper Tantrum (part two) coming up, with really good instructions for tempering chocolate.

 

 

 

Procrastination (With Extra Virgin Olive Oil)

April 15th, 2013 by Alice Medrich

I do some of my best work when I supposed to be doing something else.

Right now I’m supposed to be reading/correcting galleys for the revised edition of Bittersweet, which will come out in October (provided that I finish reading/correcting). The new title is Seriously Bitter Sweet. I’ve begun to think of it (affectionately) as SERIOUS BS, but we’re not mentioning this to anyone. My deadline is looming.

Otherwise I’m supposed to be testing recipes for yet another new book. My deadline is looming on this as well.

I’m also supposed to be developing a fun recipe for the back of a healthy cereal package. That deadline seems to be staring at me too.

Why, then,  am I trying out a new cookie recipe with extra virgin olive oil?  You tell me.  

HAZELNUT AND OLIVE OIL STICKS

Extra virgin olive oil and a hint of pepper make these slender crunchy nut cookies extra good. The flavors are subtle but sophisticated— they grow on you. You’ll find yourself eating more of them than you expected to eat. Delicious andinteresting. Strawberries should taste good with them, or cup of oolong might be the perfect, but I am much too busy to try either of those. I have deadlines looming.

I shape the dough free form on a sheet of foil before chilling and slicing, but you can use a loaf pan to control the shape if that seems easier.

Makes about three dozen 4 to 5 -inch cookies.

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup (76 grams) raw hazelnuts
  • 1 1/4 cup (160 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons (110 grams) sugar
  • 3/8 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black or white pepper
  • 6 tablespoons (80 grams) extra virgin olive oil (a lovely evoo from California would be good)
  • 4 teaspoons cold water

Equipment:

  • Food processor
  • 1 or 2 baking sheets lined with parchment
  • 5 x 9=inch loaf pan, optional

Combine hazelnuts, flour, sugar, salt, and pepper in a food processor, and pulse until the hazelnuts are finely chopped. Drizzle in the olive oil. Pulse until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs.  Add the water and pulse just until the mixture resembles damp crumbs—it should not be a smooth mass—but it should stick together when you press it. Pulse in a bit of extra water if necessary.

If using a loaf pan, line the bottom and sides with foil.  Dump the mixture into the pan and spread it evenly.  Press it very firmly, making a thin layer.  Or, dump the mixture onto a sheet of foil on a baking sheet and distribute it evenly over an area about 4 to 5 inches by 9 to 10 inches. Press it firmly, squaring up the edges, to make an even compact layer about 1/2 inch thick. Fold the foil over the dough and wrap it tightly. Refrigerate for 2 hours or over night.

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Position racks in the upper and lower third of the oven.

Unwrap the dough and transfer it to a cutting board. Use a long sharp knife to cut the dough crosswise, into scant 3/8 inch slices.  Use the knife to transfer the slice and lay it onto the cookie sheet.  Repeat, placing slices 1 inch apart. Slices will be fragile and require the support of the knife in transit.

Bake until cookies are golden brown, 15-18 minutes (time depends on thickness of cookies). Rotate the sheets from top to bottom and front to back half way through the baking time to ensure even baking.

Slide the parchment carefully onto a rack or set the pans themselves on a rack to cool. Cool cookies completely before stacking or storing. Cookies may be stored, airtight, for several days.

Bacon Meringues

March 29th, 2013 by Alice Medrich

I was getting tired of seeing and hearing about bacon in every recipe all day every day. The only answer was to try it myself.  These meringues really are good. You might want to cook the whole pound of bacon although the recipe calls for only 10 strips, because (who knows) you might need a snack…
One of my most esteemed tasters says “just pecans and bacon please, hold the chocolate”. I see her point, the pecans and bacon are superb with nothing else, but I also like the milk chocolate in there.  Have it your way. Let me know.

BACON PECAN MERINGUES WITH (or without) MILK CHOCOLATE
Something sweet and salty with nuts?  And chocolate?  How can this be wrong?
Makes 36-40 meringues
Ingredients:

Scant 2/3 cup (85 g) crumbled crispy cooked bacon*, cooled
Scant 2/3 cup (60 g) toasted pecans, chopped medium fine
3 ounces milk chocolate, cut in 1/3 inch squares (or ½ cup milk chocolate chips) (optional)
2/3 cup (133 grams) sugar
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
*Thin cut bacon works best, you will need about 10 ounces or 10 strips, before cooking. It should be well cooked, using your favorite method. Once cool check to see if it is mostly crispy; if not, chop to the size of crumbles and re cook briefly in a dry frying pan to render a little more fat. Let cool.

Equipment:

Cookie sheets lined with parchment paper
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven
Set aside 1/3 of the bacon for the topping.
Mix the remaining bacon with the pecans, chocolate, and two tablespoons of the sugar. Set aside.
Combine the egg whites and cream of tartar in a clean dry bowl. Beat at medium-high speed with a heavy-duty stand mixer (or high speed with a hand mixer) until the egg whites are creamy white (instead of translucent) and hold a soft shape when the beaters are lifted.  Continue to beat on medium to high speed, adding the remaining sugar a little at a time, taking 1 1/2 to 2 minutes in all, until the egg whites are very stiff and have a dull sheen. Use a large rubber spatula to fold in the bacon mixture, just until blended.

Drop generous tablespoons of meringue 1 1/2 inches apart on the lined cookie sheets.  Make sure all of the batter fits on the two sheets so all can be baked at once; if necessary make each cookie a little bigger. Sprinkle each meringue with a little pinch of reserved bacon. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, rotating the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking.  Remove a test meringue and let it cool completely before taking a bite (meringues are never crisp when hot). If the test meringue is completely dry and crisp, turn off the oven and let the remaining meringues cool completely in the oven.  If the test meringue is soft or chewy or sticks to your teeth, bake for another 15 to 30 minutes before cooling in the oven.
To prevent cookies from becoming moist and sticky, put them in an airtight container as soon as they are cool.  Cookies keep for a few days at least.

More Meringue Madness

March 28th, 2013 by Alice Medrich

I tasted my first Meringue Glacé decades ago in Castelnaudary, that French town on the Canal du Midi, renowned for its Cassoulet.  I was so full of Cassoulet I should not have even glanced at the dessert menu, but I couldn’t resist the Meringue Glacé.  When it came, what was it anyway?  Plain-as-can-be meringues with plain vanilla ice cream and plain whipped cream (or maybe it was crème fraîche). But it was so good I remember it now, 40 years later.  I’m sure the Cassoulet was nice too, but I don’t recall a a thing about that part of the meal.
The simplest meringue with ice cream and whipped cream still entices me. But I can’t always stop there: a garnish of juicy berries and warm bittersweet chocolate sauce produces even more drama and contrast: hot with cold, creamy with crunchy, sweet with bittersweet. If you turn the meringue into Pavlova, you can also get chewy with gooey!  
I love that meringues—simple cookies or elements of a more complex dessert— are easy make and easy to play with. Over the years, I have tried all kinds of inclusions, treatments, embellishments, and flavors, from bananas to bacon (including bananas andbacon).  Some of my results are amazing (if I do say), others not so much.  
A few of the things I have added to meringues over the decades are:
Espresso powder:  very nice
Nuts, raw or toasted, chopped and/or ground: obviously great
Roasted salted nuts with or w/o chopped milk chocolate: terrific
Thai curry peanuts:not as good as I had hoped
Salt and pepper cashews: not as good as I had hoped
Cocoa power: nice enough
Cocoa nibs: good when lots are added otherwise they  taste bitter and feel gritty
Chopped chocolate:what’s not to love?
Candied citrus peels: dries out and become too hard to chew
Grated citrus peel: dries out and becomes too hard
Pulverized freeze dried fruit: banana (with or without pecans or coconut) was especially good, as was pineapple (with or without coconut) are especially good
Dried jamiaca blossoms (aka jamaica tea): still a work in progress
Amchur powder: interesting

Tahini: yummy
Peanut butter:fantastic, also almond butter, cashew butter etc.
Peanut butter and jam: good, but a little too sweet
Coconut: always great
Bacon with toasted pecans and milk chocolate:  Delish! Recipe to come. 
Organic powdered milk: extremely promising
Saffron: promising, not yet perfected
Chestnut flour: amazing
Carrot chips and/or wasabi peas: ok, I ate them up before I made the meringues-will try again
Many of these things ended up as recipes in books, others are yet to come. I have a long list of other things to try…including pulverized dried mushrooms. 

I hate to limit anything delicious to a specific audience.  I’m afraid that if I label any cookie or dessert “for Passover” or “Gluten Free” people who don’t know from Passover or do not suffer from gluten insensitivity will just turn the page. Meanwhile, even though I normally prefer all kinds of bitter and tart flavors, like super dark chocolate, expresso, pungent olive oil, sour pickles and so forth, I adore meringues and just can’t get enough of them. Go figure.

When you add flakes of coconut, chunks of bittersweet chocolate, salted almonds, and nuggets of creamy coconut white chocolate to melt-in-your-mouth meringues, every bite becomes a riot of creamy with crunchy and chewy, and sweet with salty. These cookies are crazy good (addictive really) just as they are, or you can make them into pretty individual desserts by piling on a little whipped cream and fresh strawberries.

CHUNKY CHOCOLATE COCONUT ALMOND MERINGUES

Makes 45-50 cookies.

Ingredients:

1 cup (145) roasted salted almonds, coarsely chopped

4 ounces (115 grams) 70% chocolate (I used Scharffen Berger), cut into chunks or 2/3 cup purchased chocolate chunks or chips

3/4 cup (30 grams) unsweetened flaked coconut (coconut chips)

2 ounces (60 grams) Coconut White Chocolate (Lindt), cut into 1/3-inch squares

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (125 grams) sugar

3 egg whites, at room temperature

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

Equipment:

2 cookie sheets lined with parchment paper

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

For the topping, set aside and toss together 1/4 of the almonds, 1/4 of the dark chocolate, and 1/4 of the flaked coconut.

Mix the remaining almonds, chocolate, and coconut with the coconut white chocolate and 2 tablespoons of the sugar.  Set aside.

Combine the egg whites and cream of tartar in a clean dry bowl. Beat at medium-high speed with a heavy-duty stand mixer (or high speed with a hand mixer) until the egg whites are creamy white (instead of translucent) and hold a soft shape when the beaters are lifted.  Continue to beat on medium to high speed, adding the sugar a little at a time, taking 1 1/2 to 2 minutes in all, until the egg whites are very stiff and have a dull sheen. Use a large rubber spatula to fold in the mixture of nuts, coconut, both chocolates, and sugar, just until blended.

Drop generous tablespoons of meringue 1 1/2 inches apart on the lined cookie sheets.  Make sure all of the batter fits on the two sheets so all can be baked at once; if necessary make each cookie a little bigger. Sprinkle each meringue with a little pinch of reserved topping. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, rotating the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking.  Remove a test meringue and let it cool completely before taking a bite (meringues are never crisp when hot). If the test meringue is completely dry and crisp, turn off the oven and let the remaining meringues cool completely in the oven.  If the test meringue is soft or chewy or sticks to your teeth, bake for another 15 to 30 minutes before cooling in the oven.

To prevent cookies from becoming moist and sticky, put them in an airtight container as soon as they are cool.  Cookies keep for at least 2 weeks.

Sleepless And Going Bananas

November 3rd, 2012 by Alice Medrich

My pal Rick Rodgers www.rickrodgers.com, author of Thanksgiving 101 and too many other cookbooks to count, was in town just in time to escape the devastation back home in New Jersey.  We went to Bar César for lunch yesterday and, since November is still rosé weather in globally-warmer-than-ever Northern California, we each had a glass with our charcuterie and cheese… and then shared a second. We walked around the neighborhood afterwards, checking out the offerings at the Cheeseboard, the menu at Chez Panisse, and the chocolate chip cookies made with lard at the 1-year-old Local Butcher Shop. (The cookies were interesting but we really did miss the flavor and carmelization that comes with butter). We parted around 3:00, after tasting Hungarian tortes and sipping espresso at Crixa Cakes.  Such fun! But yikes!
 
To counter the buzz of alcohol, sugar, and caffeine (and lard?), I decided to walk the 2 miles home.
 
I was in bed but still awake at 2 AM, 3 AM, and 4 AM… then I gave up and played Words with Friends on my Iphone and exchanged silliness with David Lebovitz www.davidlebovitz.comon twitter for a while. I got up and cleaned out a drawer.  Back in bed, I worried about the election, wondered if the Buckwheat Walnut Crackers were baked at the right temperature, and finally started counting good things to do with bananas—instead of sheep.
 
I got this far: 
 
1. Grilled Sandwich: filled with sliced bananas, peanut butter and honey.
 
2. Bananas and Cream: slice bananas into a bowl with heavy cream and garnish with a couple thin orange slices, and perhaps a drop of orange flour water.
 
3. Bananas and Yogurt:  slice bananas into a bowl with plain yogurt, honey, and pistachios, walnuts, or peanuts.
 
4. Creamy Banana Yogurt “Pudding”: mash banana with an equal amount of plain yogurt. Sweeten and seasoned to taste with a bit of honey or brown sugar and pinches of cinnamon or cardamom. Top with chopped walnuts or pistachios. Top with extra pinches of spice.
 
5. Exotic Chocolate-Dipped Popsicles: mash bananas and season to taste with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. Freeze in popsicle molds, unmold and dip in chocolate (see below), and shower with optional chopped walnuts or sprinkles.
 
6. Chocolate Banana Blintzes:  fold three slices of banana and a spoonful of thick ganache into each crepe, as for blintzes. Keep refrigerated until ready to sauté (very briefly) in butter. Serve immediately.  Full recipe in Chocolate Holidays (Artisan, 2001) 
 
7. Ice Cream Sandwiches:  free banana slices until hard. Process them in a food processor until thick and creamy with a texture like soft serve ice cream. Return the mixture to the freezer to firm up.  Scoop and press between thin crunchy oatmeal cookies.  Serve immediately or store in a covered container in the freezer.
 
8.  Chocolate Dipped Bananas: impale bananas on sticks and freeze solid.  Dip frozen bananas in warm chocolate dip (see recipe below), and sprinkle with chopped peanuts, if desired.
 
9. Butterscotch Bananas Foster: Cut bananas in half crosswise and cut each piece in half lengthwise. Make Butterscotch Sauce from Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (Artisan, 2012)using Bourbon or Scotch, or warm purchased sauce in a skillet. Heat bananas in the sauce and serve with vanilla ice cream.
 
10.  Chocolate Banana Waffles: Sauté banana slices in a little butter. Serve on chocolate waffles. Top with crème frâiche. Full recipe in Chocolate Holidays (Artisan, 2001)

11. Salted-Caramel Banana Bread Pudding: recipe in Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (Artisan, 2012)

 
I could have gone on, but blessedly fell asleep around 6 AM.
 
 
CHOCOLATE DIP FOR FROZEN BANANAS OR POPSICLES 
Bananas are so long and curved that you would have to triple the recipe to fill a container large enough to submerge a whole banana!  The solution is to make a banana shaped trough out of heavy-duty foil (as described in the recipe) so you can submerge the banana horizontally (in a custom shaped container) without needing too much extra chocolate.  A little clarified butter added to the chocolate prevents a super thick coating and produces a pleasingly crisp coating that is not too hard to bite. 
 

Makes about 1 1/3 cups, enough for a dozen or more popsicles or 6 to 8 medium bananas, frozen on sticks.

Ingredients:
10 ounces dark chocolate (I use Scharffen Berger 70% Bittersweet)
1/4 cup clarified butter (or ghee)
2 pinches of salt, more to taste
1 cup chopped nuts or chocolate sprinkles, optional
 
Put the chocolate, clarified butter, and salt in a stainless steel bowl set in a wider skillet with less than an inch of not quite simmering water.  Stir frequently until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.  Taste and adjust the salt if necessary, just to brighten the flavor of the chocolate, without making it salty.  Remove the bowl and let the chocolate cool to lukewarm. Line a tray with wax paper and set nuts or sprinkles close at hand, if using.
 
For popsicles: pour the chocolate into a narrow container deep enough to dip the entire popsicle.
 
For bananas: Place a large piece of heavy-duty foil loosely over a bread pan that is longer than a banana.  Using the pan for support, mold the foil into a narrow trough— slightly wider and longer than a banana and deep enough to submerge the whole fruit, held by the stick, and lowered with the curved side down.  Fill the trough with chocolate; refill the trough as necessary with the remaining chocolate.
 
Dip each popsicles or frozen banana into the chocolate and sprinkle immediately with nuts or sprinkles, if using.  Set dipped items on the lined tray.  Put the tray in the freezer until the chocolate is completely hardened. Transfer treats to a container or zipper lock bag and keep frozen until serving.  Excess dip can be kept in the fridge or freezer and used again. 

I  had better finish up my 10 ideas for strawberries before strawberries go out of season! Fortunately this idea is good for fresh cherries too, not to mention figs.

Chocolate dipped strawberries(cherries, figs…)  are easy and fun to make.  Any child (of any age) would love to help you with dipping. Choose a brand of chocolate that you love to nibble. (And choose a bar of chocolate rather than chocolate chips or anything called “chocolate coating,” even if it is sold in the same aisle as the fruit. Chocolate chips won’t melt well, and the so called chocolate coating sold in the produce aisle is not delicious enough. No need to “temper” the chocolate to keep it shiny: the secret to preventing the chocolate from turning gray and streaky is to dry and chill the fruit before dipping, then refrigerate it as soon after dipping as possible.

CHOCOLATE DIPPED STRAWBERRIES

Serves 15 or more

Ingredients

About 2 pints small or medium strawberries (with or without stems), or up to 36 large

strawberries with stems, or 1 ¼ pounds cherries with stems

8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped, or milk or white chocolate, finely chopped

Equipment

Cookie sheets

Fluted paper candy cups (optional)
Rinse the fruit gently and spread it out on a tray lined with paper towels. The fruit should be as dry as possible before dipping; if necessary, pat it dry or use a cupped hand to cradle each piece gently in a soft dishtowel or a paper towel. Refrigerate until chilled.


Line the cookie sheets with parchment paper. Put the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl, preferably stainless steel. Bring an inch of water to a simmer in a wide skillet. If using semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, set the bowl directly in the skillet and keep the water at a bare simmer. If using milk or white chocolate, turn the heat off under the skillet and wait for 60 seconds before putting the bowl in the hot water.

Stir dark chocolate frequently, milk and white chocolate almost constantly, until almost entirely melted, then remove the bowl, wipe the bottom dry, and stir to finish melting the chocolate. The chocolate should be warm and fluid, but not hot. Grasp fruit by the stem or the shoulders and dip it about two-thirds of the way into the chocolate, or deeper if you like. Lift the fruit above the chocolate and shake off the excess, letting it drip back into the bowl, then very gently wipe a little excess chocolate from one side of the fruit on the edge of the bowl, set it on a lined cookie sheet, wiped side down, and slide it forward slightly to prevent a puddle of chocolate from forming at the tip. Refrigerate each tray as soon as it’s filled, and keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Serve any time after the chocolate has set enough that you can peel the fruit cleanly from the parchment. Transfer each one to a fluted candy cup, if desired.

If you are making chocolate dipped cherries, be sure to warn you guests that the cherries all have pits!

For more ideas for strawberries, see recent posts and my new book, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (Artisan 2012) by Alice Medrich 

STRAWBERRIES WITH WHIPPED CREAM AND HALVAH

Did you know that strawberries and sesame are divine together?

To find out, serve a bowl of ripe strawberries layered with chopped halvah (as much or as little as you like) and topped with unsweetened whipped cream and more halvah.
 
That’s the recipe. Really, that is all there is to it. 
 
I’m not even taking a photo. You know what strawberries and cream look like so just imagine it laced with bits of yummy, sweet, rich, sesame halvah. Alternatively, you can fold the halvah into the cream to make halvah whipped cream, and then slather the berries with it. Either way: delish!
 
There is only one problem with this recipe (not counting the possibility that you might actually dislike halvah, in which can you can skip to the last paragraph):
 
You have to go out of your way to find superb sesame halvah choices here in the US. The ubiquitous American-made halvah found in supermarkets, gourmet shops, and delis is disappointing.  I hope no one judges all halvah by that one.  Meanwhile, I have been tweeting and emailing with David Lebovitz www.davidlebovitz.com, @davidlebovitz) during his Israeli trip last week and drooling over his reports of great halvah (and hummus etc.).  And I’ve been remembering some stunning Lebanese (or was it Turkish?) halvah—with rose water and pistachios— that I tasted here, in a local Palestinian restaurant a few years ago.
 
So yes, even in Berkeley, one has to out of their way for good halvah. Having just written that, I realized that I regularly go out of my way for special ingredients, so why not spend an hour or two looking for halvah? I’ll bring home everything I can find within a reasonable radius and invite a couple halvah lovers in to taste. Then I’ll take a photo…
 
Meanwhile, back to strawberries and cream:  If you really hate halvah, or if you can’t find good halvah, or if you need instant gratification while looking for some good halvah, you can substitute crushed peanut brittle, almond brittle, or any kind of toffee with nuts, for the halvah. I didn’t say this would be the same as using halvah (not at all) but it will produce a very easy crowd pleaser: what’s not to love about crunchy, nutty, sweet, and buttery, bits of crushed toffee with berries and cream? I normally make my own caramelized nuts for this, but buying brittle or toffee while shopping for the berries and cream is quicker and very smart indeed.

For more ideas for strawberries, see recent and upcoming posts and my new book, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (Artisan 2012) by Alice Medrich 

STRAWBERRIES IN RED WINE

Open a modest bottle of red for this, or use wine left from a party. It's even ok to mix different kinds…no one will know.

Pour red wine over whole or halved ripe strawberries, adding about 2 tablespoons of sugar (to taste) per cup of wine and a squeeze of lemon juice. Macerate at room temperature for up to an hour, and then chill for up to an hour. Serve the fruit with some of it’s liquid.
 
Here is the bonus: 
After the strawberries are gone you may have lots of liquid left in the serving bowl. Simmer it until it has thickened to a syrupy sauce. Serve over vanilla ice cream, with or without new fresh strawberries. 
 
Photo by Sang An

 

For more ideas for strawberries, see recent and upcoming posts.  Also see my new book, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts(Artisan 2012) by Alice Medrich, page 48. 

Cocktail time at last!

Several years ago I celebrated the publication of my new book, Pure Dessert, with a party at the Hangar One/St. George Spirits Tasting Room. Better still (so to speak) the party was not actually in the tasting room, but in the hangar in front of the gorgeous copper still.  So chic yet industrial, and of course it smelled divine in there. Obviously we drank cocktails with all of the desserts. Two of them featured ripe strawberries.

THE ALICE COCKTAIL-aka THE BERRY FAIRY 

By Bay Area writer and mixologist, Lou Bustamante

1 muddled ripe strawberry

1/2 ounce lemon juice

1/2 ounce simple syrup

1 1/2 ounces Hangar One Mandarin Blossom Vodka 

1/4 ounce St. George Absinthe Verte

Shake all of the ingredients with ice, strain and serve up, in a martini glass. 


THE ANDIE/ALICE WHISKEY COCKTAIL

By Voka Vixen, Andie Ferman

1 1/2 ounces St. George Single Malt Whiskey (or a non-peaty single malt of your choice)
1/4 ounce lemon juice

1 muddled ripe strawberry

Dash of simple syrup


Shake all of the ingredients with ice, strain and serve up, in a sour glass. 


For more ideas for strawberries, see recent posts.  Also see my new book, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts(Artisan 2012), page 48. 

Does anyone else remember brunch in 70’s?  Yes, quiche was there, and very chic indeed.  But I especially remember this seriously simple and delicious dessert: a bowl of ripe strawberries was served, flanked with a dish of sour cream and a dish of brown sugar. Guests dipped a berry into the sour cream then into the sugar.  Finger food!  In more formal circles than ours, I suspect that each guest had their own little plate…

Either way, you can recapture and elevate this lovely retro dish by trading in ordinary brown sugar for dark muscovado sugar (one of my obsessions).  Stick with the sour cream (who doesn’t love sour cream?) or swap it for crème fraiche, or labneh, or drained yogurt, or any other slightly tangy or tart fresh cheese or cultured milk.  Could anything be easier?
 

For more things to do with ripe strawberries, see recent and upcoming posts.  Also see my new book, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts(Artisan 2012) by Alice Medrich.

 

 

 

Make sorbet without an ice cream machine? No cooking either? You can prep this sweet and refreshing dessert in fewer minutes (not counting freezing time) than it would take you to go out and buy it. It’s also a perfect way to use those delicious leftover berries that no longer look party fresh. Preserves instead of sugar syrup contribute a smooth texture and complex flavor. Serve the sorbet plain or with a little whipped cream or a dab of crème fraîche right from the carton. Oh, and yes, you can skip the balsamic vinegar; just replace it with water. That’s it.

 
FURIOUSLY FAST STRAWBERRY (BALSAMIC) SORBET
Makes almost 3 cups
 
Ingredients
1 pound (4 cups) ripe, flavorful strawberries
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons strawberry (or raspberry) preserves

Pinch of salt

A small lemon

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste

4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, or to taste

¼ cup water

Equipment

Food processor or blender

Rinse and hull the berries and put them in the food processor or blender with ½ cup of the preserves and the salt. Finely grate zest from half of the lemon into the processor bowl. Puree until smooth. Add the lemon juice, vinegar, and water and pulse to mix. Taste and add the remaining jam as necessary for sweetness and adjust the lemon juice, vinegar, and salt if necessary. The puree should taste a bit sweeter than you think it should and have a little zip to it.

 

 
Scrape the mixture into a shallow pan, cover, and freeze until hard, 3 to 4 hours.
 

                                        

Break the frozen mixture into chunks with a fork and process in the food processor or blender until there are no more frozen pieces to process, stopping to redistribute the mixture from time to time, until it is smooth and creamy and lightened in color. 

 

 
 

It may be frozen enough to serve right out of the food processor, or you can scrape it into a container and return it to the freezer until needed. If the sorbet freezes too hard, let it soften in the fridge for about 15 minutes, or carefully soften it in the microwave on the defrost setting, a few seconds at a time.
 
 
For more ideas for strawberries, see my new book, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts(Artisan 2012) by Alice Medrich, page 48.

 

I know. No one really needs a recipe for serving ripe strawberries topped with whipped cream, right? But I thought I would start with my basics (Alice’s Rules, so to speak) and let everyone take it (or not) from there.   

The strawberries:Start with great tasting berries. Don’t assume that the biggest strawberries are the best; the big guys are often the least tasty and odd shaped and odd sized small ones are sometimes spectacular. Great strawberries don’t need to be sugared, and unless you prefer otherwise, and you needn’t sweeten the cream either! If you don’t shop at a market (or farmers' market) where tasting is assumed, ask for a taste before you buy. You will be surprised at how often you will get a “yes”. Make friends with that farmer or produce person, you are going to need him/her (and a knife) later, when melons are in season!
 
Here’s how to keep ripe strawberries in good condition for several days: when you get home from the market pick through and discard any berries with a moldy or otherwise rotten spot. Spread berries (without rinsing them) in a single layer on a double layer of paper towels in a shallow container. Cover the berries with another paper towel. Cover and refrigerate the container. They should last for several days this way. Rinse and hull berries as you need them
 
 
The cream: Use great cream. Look for only one ingredient on the carton or bottle: cream. Don’t buy pre-sweetened cream or dairy topping or cream in an aerosol can (yes, I know how much fun that can be…but save it). The best tasting cream is not ultra-pasteurized nor is it stabilized with carrageenan (or anything else). Ultra-pasteurized cream has the faint flavor of canned milk and carrageenan produces a silky texture at the cost of flavor…
 
If you add vanilla extract to your cream, use pure (not artificial) extract. Don’t believe anyone who says no one can taste (or smell) the difference. Vanilla is nice, but not essential to good whipped cream. 
 
If you sweeten your whipped cream, use granulated rather than powdered sugar. Powdered sugar tastes faintly of the starch that is added to keep the sugar from clumping. Adjust the sugar towards the end of beating; sweetened cream tastes less sweet when it is fluffy than when it is fluid.
 
Reminder: Cream must be very cold or it will not whip properly: it will either refuse to thicken or it will curdle. If you are just back from the store and the cream has been in your shopping basket and car for a while, refrigerate it again before you try to whip it. Start with a chilled bowl and beaters for a little extra whipped cream insurance!
 
Whipping the cream: Using chilled beaters (or a hand held whisk), beat 1 cup of cream with ½ teaspoon or more vanilla (if using), in a chilled bowl until it holds a soft shape. Gradually add 2-3 teaspoons sugar (to taste), and beat until it holds a good shape but is not too stiff.

 

 

 

 

 

 
For more things to do with strawberries, see upcoming posts. And see my new book, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts(Artisan 2012) for more strawberry ideas and ten ways to flavor whipped cream!
 

Love To Cook, Hate To Bake?

May 19th, 2012 by Alice Medrich

My eighth book, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts is just out. You might be thinking, “what, another dessert book, can’t she give it a rest?”
What’s new, fun, and interesting about Sinfully? 
After seven books, I’ve shifted my perspective from baker to cook. I’ve always noticed that people who love (and are good at) baking think and learn differently than people who love (and are good at) cooking.  How many fantastic Top Chef candidates get knocked out of the competition because they can’t make a good dessert?  How many good home cooks put out fabulous, seemingly effortless meals with a store-bought dessert finale? Maybe this is you. Maybe you find baking too finicky or constraining. Maybe you like to taste and adjust as you cook; maybe you hate to follow a recipe exactly, or don’t like to measure precisely.  Maybe your cakes and cookies are more like doorstops and paperweights…
All cooks need simple sensational little desserts up their sleeves: clever easy things to do with fruit or ice cream, or a lightening quick gingerbread, a great little sauce, compote, or pudding, or a easier-than-it-looks soufflé.  We all need recipes that are simple but not simple minded, terrific but not time consuming, compelling but not complicated.
My editor (a very stylish cook who hates to bake) delights in saying that Sinfully is the dessert book with no pastry bags, pastry brushes, rolling pins, offset spatulas, or baking skills!
Visit my brand new and beautiful website (see previous post!) at http://alicemedrich.com/ to learn more about the book or check out my touring schedule. Maybe I will see you this week in Petaluma, San Diego, Westlake Village, New York (in late summer), or elsewhere in the Fall. 

My New Website

May 19th, 2012 by Alice Medrich

The title of this post suggests that I have redesigned or remodeled my old website.  That would be nice.  But the reality is that this is my very first website and it is now live. Finally. It took as long to design and launch as it me took to write an entire book, which I also did in the meanwhile (see right and my next post). The site is quite pretty (as is the book) which I feel ok about saying, since I did not design it myself. I am grateful to The Engine Room and Doug Ridgeway for that. I am pleased. I am also thrilled to cross it off my interminable to do list.

Even if you are not interested in my bio, book tour itinerary, list of books, video course, vintage and current media or video clips…You will find lovely photos and favorite recipes, and I will be adding more of both (especially from Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts) anon. Since I am a complete newbie when it comes to websites, your comments are welcome. Come on now, take a look!

Alice in Videoland Part Two

April 16th, 2012 by Alice Medrich

If you haven’t seen the preview of my video course, check it out at http://www.craftsy.com/class/Decadent-Chocolate-Cakes/64.
The beauty of a video course, and what makes it different from food TV, is that there is no rush to fit into a five-minute morning news slot or even a half-hour program. I get an opportunity to actually teach, as though I had a live class. I can explain all of the “ifs” “ands” or “buts,” discuss options, talk about what to do if something goes wrong, or what may happen if you don’t do it my way! I can give options and really get into things. It’s not purely about entertainment, although it is beautiful to watch. What more could I have wished for?
Maybe you’ve always wanted to perfect a show-off special occasion cake, master chocolate ruffles, or learn a little more about working with chocolate. Maybe you know an aspirational baker or cook who doesn’t have access to or funds for a cooking course?  This one is a bargain. It can be watched over and over again, and it’s interactive: students can chat with me, ask questions, and interact with others taking the same class.  I’m having my morning coffee these days while answering student questions.  And I’m learning from the questions too!  The Craftsy platform is pretty cool. I’m pretty psyched. 
Confession:   A couple of the recipes in the course are simpler to make than they look, which means that you can produce a gorgeous torte with perfect marbled glaze, or a whimsical chocolate centerpiece with far less effort than anyone will guess when they look at your results!