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Alice In Videoland

April 13th, 2012 by Cocolat

Chatting with a serious documentary filmmaker decades before there was SO much food on TV, I expressed the opinion that the processes involved with chocolate and dessert making would look good on film.  She didn’t really get it! I explained how visual it all was: luxurious chocolate glaze flowing over a cake, up-close brush stokes marbleizing that glaze with milk chocolate so it looks like Italian or French art paper, deckle-edge ruffles of pure chocolate pealing off of a sheet pan, even the technique of beating and folding egg whites properly, lovingly, expertly, into a chocolaty batter. I thought it could be instructional andexquisitely beautiful. She looked dubious. I kid you not.

Decades later we have endless food TV—so what else is new?

Recently my publisher proposed that I teach video classes to support the launch of Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (out next month, btw). We discussed the recipes during a very enthusiastic conference call with the lifestyle editor at craftsy.com, who would be our partner in this video adventure. In the back of my mind, I was vaguely disappointed. I was finally doing video, but with the wrong content! I love my new book, but Sang An’s photography is already amazing, and the whole point of Sinfully Easy is that no one needs video to succeed with the recipes!

Then a miracle happened. The Craftsy team “remembered” that their audience of passionate crafters and DIY-ers loves ambitious projects and are eager to learn technique. They want to learn skills, not just recipes. Sinfully Easy was too damn —easy (yay!)—and thus not ideal for video. Would I consider scrapping the original plan and coming up with a list of more challenging desserts?

It took me three minutes to get a new menu on paper.

The course launched last week and you can see a little preview of it here: http://www.craftsy.com/class/Decadent-Chocolate-Cakes/64

Chocolate Hamantaschen

March 8th, 2012 by Cocolat

What?  Purim already?  I know people who don’t like Hamantaschen because they don’t like poppy seeds especially, or prune filling,  or anything else reminiscent of the Jewish cookies of childhood.  Well, I do like  (love, even) poppy seeds and prunes and the like,  but I am sensitive to the needs of others.  So I offer you this very good recipe for Hamantaschen filled with CHOCOLATE.  I think everyone will be happy  now.  Try it, you’ll like it!


CHOCOLATE HAMANTASCHEN

Forget poppy seeds, prunes, or apricots! Here, Haman’s Hat brims with bittersweet brownie filling and these cookies should NOT be saved for a Jewish, or any other, holiday
Makes 3 dozen cookies
Ingredients for Filling:

6 tablespoons (3 ounces) butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cups (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large cold eggs
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
Ingredients for Cookie Dough:

2 cups (9 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened but not squishy
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Equipment: 

Cookie sheets, lined with parchment paper
A 3-inch round cookie cutter
Make the filling: Melt butter with chocolate in a stainless steel bowl set in a wide skillet of almost simmering water.  Stir frequently until the mixture is melted and smooth.
Remove the bowl from the water. Stir in the sugar, vanilla and salt.  Add the eggs one at a time, stirring in the first until incorporated before adding the second.  Stir in the flour and beat with a spoon until the mixture is smooth and glossy and comes away from the sides of the pan, about one minute.  Scrape into a small bowl, cover and refrigerate until needed.
Make the cookie dough: Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together thoroughly and set aside.
In a large bowl beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.  Beat in the egg and vanilla extract.  On low speed, beat in the flour just until incorporated. Form the dough into two flat patties.  Wrap and refrigerate the patties at least until firm enough to roll, but preferably several hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350F.  Position racks in the upper and lower third of the oven.
Remove one of the patties from the refrigerator and let it sit until supple enough to roll but still quite firm.  It will continue to soften as you work.  Roll the dough between 2 pieces of wax paper or between heavy plastic sheets from a plastic bag to a thickness of 1/8 inch.  Turn the dough over once or twice while you are rolling it out to check for deep wrinkles; if necessary, peel off and smooth the paper over the dough before continuing to roll it.  When the dough is thin enough, peel off the top sheet of paper or plastic and keep it in front of you.  Invert the dough onto that sheet.  Cut cookies as close together as possible, dipping the edges of the cutter in flour as necessary to prevent sticking.  Press dough scraps together and set aside to reroll with scraps from the second patty.
Place cookies 1/2 inch apart on the prepared cookie sheets. Scoop and place a level teaspoonful of filling in the center of each cookie. Bring three sides of each cookie up to partially cover the filling.  Pinch the edges of the cookies well, to seal the corners.  Bake 12 minutes or until pale golden at the edges, rotating the cookie sheets from top to bottom and front to back half way through the baking. Repeat until all of the cookies are baked.
Slide the parchment liners onto cooling racks.  Cool the cookies completely before stacking or storing. 
Oh, and sorry, no photos today. I just now realized that it was Purim in the first place. 

What I Love About Genoise

February 6th, 2012 by Cocolat

I make genoise twice a year whether I like it or not.  I make it when I teach at Tante Marie’s Cooking School www.tantemarie.com because Mary Risley (Tante Marie) believes that all aspiring professional culinary students should be able to make genoise.    Despite its old school reputation, I do like genoise. And I agree with Mary, though I’m not sure working pastry chefs in this country actually make it very often. 
The problem with genoise is that Americans like super moist cake and genoise was never meant to be moist. The other problem is that, knowing that genoise is not meant to be moist, many chefs make it inedibly dry—which perpetuates the bad rep for genoise.  I don’t accept inedibly dry genoise.  I appreciate the usefulness of a cake that is dry enough to be soaked with flavorful liquids, but I pride myself on nibble-worthy genoise, one that soaks well but might not really need all of the usual primping, poking, soaking, and fussing that goes on in classical patisserie.

Meanwhile—and this is the part I love— the production of good genoise is an ode to technique, a paean to the details that make a difference.  I privately think it separates the women from the girls…

With only four ingredients plus salt and vanilla, you can mix up a genoise in less time than it takes to preheat the oven.  Simple right?  But if you don’t measure correctly (please buy a scale) or fold properly, or if you don’t know how to prevent tiny flour balls or a rubbery bottom layer, then sister you are cooked. 

To raise the stakes still higher, I like to use the smallest weight of flour possible.  This means that there can be no unnecessary moisture in the batter or the cake will sink in the center as it cools.  To that end I use clarified or browned butter or ghee—and I’ve even used olive oil.  And, the quantity of flour called for in the recipe is correct only for the type of flour called for.  If you use flour other than the unbleached all purpose flour called for, you may need to adjust the quantity of it to get my perfect cake. 

Here’s a preview of the chocolate genoise that I’ll make at Tante Marie’s Cooking School on the day after tomorrow, February 8th.  I will use it to build a spectacular cake wrapped in a sheet of chocolate and filled with rummy bananas, bittersweet chocolate mousse, and whipped crèmefraîche, and I’ll top it with chocolate ruffles. You can do something similar with your genoise, or you can just nibble the cake plain with your coffee! 

Or, you can click on the link above and sign up for the class.  Mary always leaves a few spaces open for the public.

ALICE’S  CHOCOLATE GENOISE

I urge you to use a scale for this recipe and check out the notes below for tips and greater understanding of what’s going on in the recipe.
Ingredients:

1.5 ounces (3 tablespoons) hot clarified unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.6 ounces (1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sifted) unbleached all-purpose flour

1.2 ounces (3/8 cup unsifted) unsweetened cocoa powder (see notes)

4 large eggs

4.3 ounces (2/3 cup) sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

Equipment:

8×2 inch round cake pan

Electric mixer with whisk attachment

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with a rack in the lower third.  Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Do not grease the sides of the pan.

Combine clarified butter and vanilla in a 4-cup stainless steel bowl and keep it hot until needed by setting it in a pan of almost simmering water.  Or put it in a microwave safe bowl and be prepared to zap it just before using it.

Whisk the flour and cocoa together thoroughly and sift it (or shake it through a sieve) three times and return it to the sifter/sieve and set aside.

In a stainless steel mixing bowl (I use my 5 quart Kitchen Aid mixer bowl) whisk the eggs, sugar, and salt to blend.  Set the bowl on a low flame and stir (sweeping the sides and bottom of the bowl constantly to prevent scrambling) just until the eggs are lukewarm to the touch.

Remove the eggs from the heat and beat them at high speed with an electric mixer until they have cooled, tripled in bulk, and have the texture of very softly whipped cream (a ribbon of batter should dissolve very slowly on the surface of the batter).

Sift about one-third of the flour mixture over the eggs.  Fold with a large rubber spatula until the flour is almost blended into the batter. Repeat with half of the remaining flour.  Fold in the last third of the flour.  Add about 1 cup of batter to the hot butter.  Fold until blended.  Scrape the buttery batter over the remaining batter and fold just until blended. Scrape the batter into the pan.

Bake until cake springs back when pressed gently with fingers, 25-30 minutes.   Set the pan on a rack to cool.

At your convenience (the cake can be warm or completely cool), run a small spatula around the inside of the pan, pressing against the sides of the pan to avoid tearing the cake.  Invert the pan to remove the cake and peel off the parchment liner.  Turn the cake right side up to finish cooling. The cake should be completely cool before filling, frosting or storing.  The cake may be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature for 2 days, or frozen up to 3 months.

NOTES

Cocoa Powder? I like Scharffen Berger Natural Cocoa Powder.  You can use a Dutch process cocoa if you prefer it.

Flour balls in your genoise? These are prevented by whisking the cocoa and flour together and then sifting the mixture a few times before sifting it into the batter, as described in the recipe.  For plain genoise, (without cocoa) whisk 2 or 3 tablespoons of the sugar from the recipe into the flour before sifting several times.  Interspersing the grains of flour with either cocoa or a little sugar plus fluffing and aerating the mixture separates the grains of flour (to prevent clumping) and makes it easier to fold it into the egg foam without deflating it.

Rubbery bottoms on your genoise?  This is prevented by folding a little of the batter into hot butter before folding everything together, as decribed in the recipe.

Awkward folding? If your mixer bowl is tall and narrow (like Kitchenaid mixer bowls), you might want to transfer the egg foam into a larger wider bowl to make it easier to fold in the flour and butter.

Carrot Improv

January 31st, 2012 by Cocolat

After enjoying Mourad’s Lahlou’s carrot soup with its fresh carrot juice and vanilla (see my last post, Where Ideas Come From),  I decided to try a little riff.  Instead of his touch of curry, I used a very small amount of fresh ginger, nutmeg, and citrus zest.  I cooked the carrots in water, puréed them and reheated the puree briefly with fresh carrot and orange juices and a couple drops of vanilla.  The resulting soup had a clean, bright, fresh carrot flavor from that last minute addition of raw juice, and because I used very little fat and no cream at all in the soup. It was compellingly carrot-sweet but not too sweet and the drops of vanilla added a very subtle savory note. It seemed a bit more like a light spring soup than a rich winter dish.  I did not keep track of everything perfectly, since I was just fooling around (and rather hungry) so you will have to make do with my notes.
CARROT AND CITRUS SOUP

In a covered heavy bottom saucepan over medium to low heat, soften in a little olive oil or butter, without browning:  ½ sliced onion, two peeled garlic cloves, about ½ teaspoon grated ginger, and a sprinkling of salt.  Stir from time to time. Add about 3 cups sliced carrots, cover and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes without browning. 
Add 2-3 cups water, more salt, and a strip of orange zest removed with a vegetable peeler (about 3 inches long and ½ inch wide). Cover and simmer until the carrots are tender, about 30 minutes.  Fish out and discard the zest.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer the vegetables to food processor and process them until smooth, adding liquid from the pot gradually. Scrape the mixture back into the pot. Add about 2/3 cup fresh carrot juice, the grated zest of about 1/4 of the orange, juice of half of the orange, a pinch or two of nutmeg and white pepper, and a drop or two of vanilla extract.  Reheat the soup, thinning it with a little water if necessary. Correct salt and seasonings (including zest and orange juice) to taste.  Serve hot.
I think the recipe made 3-4 cups.  It was good and I ate most of it up myself without measuring the yield—and I forgot to snap a photo until it was pretty much too late.  Such is the nature of hunger for carrot soup on a Sunday afternoon.   Mint leaves or cilantro would have been a lovely garnish, and maybe a dab of crème fraiche…but again, too late.
I liked it enough to make again.

Why are there so many carrot posts on this blog? I really don’t know.

Where Ideas Come From

January 27th, 2012 by Cocolat

I love cooking from other chefs’ recipes. I follow a recipe closely the first time because I want to taste what the chef was thinking and tasting.  I’m also curious about the recipe writing (this is an occupational hazard).   If there is something unusual about the technique or use of ingredients, I want to learn from it rather than assuming that my usual way of doing something will be better or just as good. I think cooks who pride themselves on never following a recipe exactly sometimes miss out on some spectacular outcomes and amazing nuances, but that’s another post for another day. 
Once I taste a dish, ideas come even (especially?) if the dish is fantastic.   It’s not always about improving a recipe, but about using something learned from it to do something else. Sometimes a recipe creates a spark that flies pretty far from the original fire. 
When I made carrot soup from Mourad Lahlou’s Mourad: New Moroccan, I was intrigued that the carrots were cooked in carrot juice instead of stock and each serving was garnished with fresh citrus.
The soup waslovely.  I started to imagine a new carrot soup with raw carrot juice added at the very end to capture both the bright flavor of raw and the lower and mellower notes from the cooked carrots.  Then I drifted to carrot sorbet made from a combination of cooked carrots and raw juice.  And now I thinking about a carrot duet: a smooth creamy carrot ice cream to serve next to a scoop of icy carrot sorbet.  Wait for it…
Meanwhile, a salad from Paula Wolfert’s Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco inspired this  seductive dessert, which will appear in my own upcoming book, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (coming May 2012 from Artisan Books).
FRAGRANT ORANGES WITH ICE CREAM, ALMONDS, AND DATES
From Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (Artisan 2012)
Scoops of creamy vanilla ice cream and icy mango sorbet in a pool of juicy scented orange segments with sticky dates, toasted almonds, and a fragrant top note of cinnamon. Serves 6

Ingredients:
8 oranges

1/4 teaspoon orange blossom water, or to taste

6 small scoops vanilla ice cream

6 small scoops mango or orange sorbet

12 plump dates, pitted and quartered

1/3 cup (1.5 ounces) chopped toasted almonds or toasted slivered almonds

A cinnamon stick (optional)

Equipment:

Microplane zester (optional)

Up to 1 day before serving, prepare the oranges: Suprime 6 of the oranges or simply peel and slice them, reserving the juices. Pick out any seeds and collect all of the juices and the segments or slices in a bowl.

To serve, taste the juice and adjust the orange flower water if necessary. Divide the oranges and juices evenly among six serving bowls. Nestle a small scoop of ice cream and a small scoop of sorbet in the center of each bowl. Distribute the quartered dates around the ice cream and sprinkle each dessert with the chopped almonds. Grate a little bit of the cinnamon stick over each bowl with a microplane zester, if desired, and serve immediately.

Crabby When Wrong

January 20th, 2012 by Cocolat

“I may be wrong but” is one of the ways I preface a statement when I really think I’m right but trying not to be too obnoxious.  Which is probably fairly obnoxious…
For years I’ve cooked Dungeness crabs in plain boiling water, no spices (horrors) and no salt.  The crabs are always stunningly delicious and sweet.  Divine really. But meanwhile my fishmonger, Paul Johnson (owner of Monterey Fish and author of 2008 IACP Cookbook of The Year, Fish Forever) insists that lots of salt in the water is really important.  I’ve been nagged by cognitive dissonance—I think Paul is fantastic AND I think my boiled crabs are fantastic.  I finally decided to test.  I bought two crabs—lets not tell Paul that all of the crabs at Monterey Fish were spoken for on the day I woke up with this bee in bonnet, and so I had to buy them across town… 
I boiled two big pots of water.  Into one pot I measured exactly ¼ cup of sea salt for each gallon of water, so you (or Paul) couldn’t say I didn’t do it exactly right. 
I took photos of the pots of boiling water and the crabs, so that when I turned out to be right, I could post the story with photos. 

The crab cooked in unsalted water was divine, just as I thought. 
But the crab cooked in salted water was a little bit more divine. 

Okay.  Okay. 
I’m posting anyway. 

Sinfully Easy

January 11th, 2012 by Cocolat

Everyone needs a sinfully easy dessert list.  What would be on yours?
I was invited to a dinner party set for the day after I would return from a trip. When I offered to bring dessert my hosts were okay with that. When I said it would be something super quick and easy, they were okay with that too.  I made Bittersweet Chocolate Soufflés and EVERYONE was extremely okay with that! The soufflés—always effortlessly impressive—were fantastic, even though the oven was accidentally turned off during the first half of the baking. Talk about sinfully easy and forgiving!
The recipe is from my book, Bittersweet, but you’ll find loads more sinfully easy desserts in a new book coming this May:
 Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts: Quicker Smarter Recipes by Alice Medrich.

Sinfully Easy is loaded with recipes that don’t require baking and plenty of easy ideas for dessert that—unlike the chocolate soufflé—actually sound like they are quick and easy.  You’ll find fun things to do with vanilla ice cream or fresh cheeses or strawberries; modern fruit desserts, new granitas, ice creams made without an ice cream machine, creamy dreamy puddings etc. But you will also find recipes— for soufflés and tarts and pies and even a torte or two— that you might not expect in a book meant for cooks in a hurry, cooks with small kitchens, beginners, or self proclaimed bake-ophobes, not to mention great cooks who just don’t like to make dessert!  
I know I’m stubborn.  I am certain that if people knew how easy it is to make say, sour cream Soufflés laced with chocolate, or a chocolate tweed torte, or a lemon or blueberry tart, they would add it to their personal “Sinfully Easy” dessert list along with all of the more obvious things. The recipes in Sinfully Easy are simple but clear and complete enough so that anyone can be successful making them, and none require a rolling pin, pastry brush, loads of counter space, or a million steps.  No rocket science, just great desserts.  I revised and streamlined some favorite recipes too: Did you know that you could make a classic Queen of Sheba Torte in one bowl without separating the eggs? Did you know that you could mix a delicious plain vanilla butter cake, or Fresh Ginger Gingerbread, or even an incredibly buttery spicy Linzer Torte in a food processor?  I do and you can.
Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts comes out in May.  Meanwhile try the chocolate soufflésthat I made while jet lagged and add them to your sinfully easy dessert list.

BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE SOUFFLES
Adapted from Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate

Ingredients:
Butter and sugar for the ramekins

8 ounces bittersweet 70% chocolate

1 tablespoon (.5 ounce) unsalted butter

1/3 cup milk

3 large eggs, separated, at room temperature

1 large egg white, at room temperature

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/3 cup (2.3 ounces) sugar

Lightly sweetened whipped cream, whipped crème fraiche, or a combination

Special Equipment:

Seven to eight 4-5 oz ramekins

If you are baking the soufflés right away, position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Butter the ramekins lightly but thoroughly and coat them with sugar (see tip).

Place chocolate, butter, and milk in a large stainless steel bowl set in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.  Remove the bowl from the water bath and whisk in the egg yolks. (Don’t worry if the mixture stiffens slightly or is less than perfectly smooth at this point). Set aside.

Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar in a clean dry mixer bowl at medium speed until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Gradually sprinkle in the sugar and continue to beat, at high speed, until egg whites are stiff but not dry. Fold 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it and then fold in the remaining egg whites. 

Divide the mixture evenly among the prepared ramekins, filling each 3/4 or more full. (Soufflés may be prepared to this point, covered, and refrigerated up to two days. Bake directly from the refrigerator)

Place the soufflés on a cookie sheet. Bake until they rise and crack on top and a wooden skewer plunged into the center emerges slightly moist and gooey, 14-16 minutes.  Remove from the oven, sieve a little powdered sugar over the top and serve the soufflés immediately. Pass a bowl of whipped cream to top the soufflés.

Serves 7 to 8.

Tip: The best way to sugar the cups is to butter all of them first, then add a couple tablespoons (a handful) of sugar to one ramekin. Shake and turn the ramekin sideways and then rotate it until coated.  Pour excess sugar into the next cup, tapping it to dislodge loose sugar.  Repeat with the remaining ramekins.  Add more sugar if necessary.

Poached Eggs Hold The Vinegar

January 4th, 2012 by Cocolat

I do love poached eggs. I eat one almost every day for weeks on end before I decide to take a break, and after a while I start up all over again. I eat them plain on whole grain or levain toast year round with or without asparagus in spring, tomatoes and basil in summer, and wild mushrooms in fall.
I also love vinegar. My vinaigrette errs on the tangy side but I’m okay with that.
Though I love it, I never ever add vinegar to egg poaching water! Here’s how I see it:

The usual problem with eggs is that the whites often end up too firm or tough by the time the yolks are ready. This is because egg whites are mostly protein, and protein starts to set (coagulate) as soon it meets heat. Yolks cook slower to begin with, and even more slowly when they are surrounded by their whites. Adding vinegar to poaching water makes the whites firm even faster to prevent them from dispersing in the water. But that extra firmness comes with a slightly grainy texture and an odd flavor. I want my poached eggs with lovely tender yolks and whites. So I say, hold the vinegar.
With or without vinegar, a little bit of each egg white always floats alway from the yolk and it may look a little messy at first, but most of it stays cuddled up with its own yolk as the egg cooks. When you lift the egg from the water, just trim any minor ragged edges between the edge of the spoon and the side of the pan and voilà! A shapely oval poached egg without vinegar or even swirling the water into a whirlpool.

I poach eggs in a wide shallow pan rather than a deep saucepan and I turn the heat off under the pan as soon as the eggs are in the water. The fresher the egg, the more it holds it’s shape: I love a fresh farm egg, but ordinary supermarket eggs also work quite nicely.
Should you want the taste of good vinegar on your eggs, by all means drizzle a little over them after they are cooked. That way you can have your perfect tender poached eggs and your vinegar too.

POACHED EGGS MY WAY
Perfect poaching is harder to write about than it is to execute. Poach one or two eggs for yourself in a small skillet for a few days running until you get the hang of it, and fine-tune the timing to your taste. You’ll learn to gauge doneness how tender and quivery the whites look when you lift the egg from the water. You can always change your mind mid-lift; just lower the egg back in the pan for another 30 seconds or so.

Here’s what you need:
Eggs
Toast

A skillet and cover: 8-inch for 1 – 3 eggs or 12-inch for 4 – 10 eggs

A large slotted spoon with generous-sized holes

A clean folded tea towel or a couple folded paper towels
Here’s what to do:
Fill the skillet with at least 1-¼ inches of water and bring it to a simmer.
If you are nervous, you can start with training wheels and break all of the eggs into separate cups before you start. (Soon you won’t need the cups.)

When the water is simmering crack one egg (or pick up one of the “training” cups). Starting at the 12 o’clock position over the pan: hold the egg very close to the surface of the water before letting it slip in. Don’t drop the eggs from a height—this is not a parachute jump or Liberace at the piano. Moving clockwise without delay, continue adding eggs to the water. The last egg or eggs can go in the center of the pan if necessary. The eggs may seem as though they are not holding shape, but don’t panic. When all of the eggs are in the water, turn the burner off and cover the pan. Leave the lid slightly ajar if the skillet is filled to brimming; otherwise, cover it completely.

Three to 4 minutes after adding the first egg, slip the slotted spoon under it and trim any ragged edges by pressing the edge of the spoon against the side of the skillet. Lift the egg from the water and nestle the spoon into the folded towel to absorb excess water; tilt the spoon into the towel to coax even more water from the egg (because nobody likes watery eggs) before sliding the egg onto a piece of toast. Continue clockwise, trimming, lifting, blotting, and setting the eggs on toast. The last egg out should be the last egg in. That’s all!

Want to see a photo? Check out my post From February 27, 2011.

Squeezing Hanukkah Potatoes

December 15th, 2011 by Cocolat

After Hanukkah for each of the last 15 to 20 years I’ve make a mental note to send my brilliant potato squeezing tip to Cooks Illustrated Magazine in time for the following year’s Latke Issue. And every year I let it slide until it is (again) too late.
 
So at last, here’s the scoop: Your potato ricer—that former darling of cooking magazines that now languishes in the back of your cupboard—is actually a Potato Squeezer. It will forever change your life with latkes.
 
Here’s what to do: Grate your potatoes as usual, with or without the onions or other veggies you are including. Scrub the dust from your ricer and fill it with as much of the grated mixture as it will hold. Squeeze hard: actually rest the ricer against the edge of the sink and lean on it. A little leverage goes a long way: you won’t believe how much water even a small or weak person can get from a few potatoes! Dump the squeezed stuff into a bowl and repeat until done. This is so easy (and kind of fun) that an obsessive person might be tempted to repeat the whole process a second time. Talk about dry potatoes!

Happy Hanukkah.

Rules and Ratios

August 27th, 2011 by Cocolat

I had tea yesterday with a very young friend who wants to bake. He asked if I would teach him one of my best basic ratios! This got me thinking.
 
I love the idea that cooking and baking has rules and ratios that define the perfect this or that (butter cake, crème anglaise, sponge cake, whatever). But many of the best and most interesting desserts defy the rules. The indescribably decadent flourless and nearly flourless chocolate cakes (upon which I built an entire career) are notoriously lawless (so flexible and forgiving and fun) and aren't they are some of the best desserts you will ever eat? And, wasn’t the recipe for brownies a mistake? You might argue that these recipes are not real cakes.
 
But the Bundt cakes and rich coffee cakes that we bake in tube pans are real cakes. These sweet rich moist crowd pleasers flaunt basic cake ratios too…they usually have too much fat or sugar to perform properly in any pan but a tube pan. It’s the tube that saves them from falling by giving them enough support to rise and stay risen. Just try baking some of these cakes in a regular round spring form pan, without a tube, and watch them sink in the center and become just another “cake failure”. The tube enables us to break the ratio rules. Small pans and cupcake pans do the same. And there are more tricks too.
 
My next book, Totally Easy Sinfully Delicious Melt-In-Your Mouth Desserts (Artisan 2012) is about to go to press and I just discovered that my gingerbread has a tendency to sink in the center. It seemed perfect when I tested half batches in half-size pans several months ago. But even so I made a note reminding me to retest the full recipe before publishing. From experience I know that even if a sample in a small pan works perfectly there is no guarantee that the full recipe in a full size pan will be equally successful. People think baking is all about the chemistry, but what about the physics? So here I am, at the eleventh hour, with delicious but sinking gingerbread. Clearly the recipe is unbalanced: too much sugar or liquid or not enough flour. But when I balance the ratios to prevent that sinking, the cake doesn’t taste as delicious. So I start thinking of ways to fix the problem without “fixing” the ratios. It occurs to me that extra beating (normally to be avoided because it causes extra gluten to develop) might be exactly what’s needed here. Maybe physics can trump chemistry. Maybe two wrongs can make a right.
 
I put all of the ingredients into the food processer and let it rip for a long 15 seconds. I’m rewarded with a cake that rises perfectly and does not sink. It is deliciously sweet and spicy and has a tender velvety texture. AND IT’S SIMPLER THAN EVER TO MAKE!
 
I’m just saying…. Ratios and rules don’t always get you where you want to go.
It would seem appropriate to publish the recipe here, but I can’t do that yet. Wait for it in Totally Easy Sinfully Delicious Melt-In-Your Mouth Desserts coming next spring. And forgive me.

The Best Old Things

April 5th, 2011 by Cocolat

I have mixers and processors, ice cream machines, an infrared thermometer, digital scale and my share of electric or electronic gadgets in my kitchen. But some of my best, most often used tools are old and simple. Good looking too. And filled with memories. A few date from l972, acquired in Paris, at La Samaritaine, or a street market or corner quincaillerie (hardware store). If I need a cup or two of grated carrots or beets, I'd rather reach for one of my tin (not even stainless steel) Mouli graters than bother with the food processor. One has a rotary barrel, the other slightly larger, Mouli Julienne, has three disks with different size holes. They remind me of finely shredded veggies dressed in vinaigrette, the ubiquitous salades de crudites we ate in modest French restaurants and cafes long ago.

Rolling pins? I have my great grandmother's tapered maple pin, with which my mother made her Thanksgiving apple pie, before she decided it was more convenient to make apple crisps instead of apple pies. I have a small slender pin made of dark wood, that's only 12 inches long and just an inch in diameter. More like a fat dowel than what we consider a rolling pin, this pin is used to roll out crackers or flat bread in I-forget-which country, and was given to me by a friend from Indiana. It is surprisingly versatile. Actually it's the sports car of rolling pins: I find it remarkably easy to manoeuvre and it turns on a dime. I also have a beautiful, and hefty, hand-turned ash and walnut pin crafted recently by another friend. I use whichever suits the task and my mood.

The slotted spoon is employed several times each week to lift perfect poached eggs from their hot (not-even-simmering) bath. I love my micro plane and vastly prefer the original design, without a handle to distract from the essential beauty of a perfect functional tool. I use the grooved mortar and pestle often to make, among other things, a ground coriander, fennel, and pepper corn crust for seared tuna (From Paul Johnson's book, Fish Forever).

The mystery tool that resembles a miniature jaws of life is one of my very best old things. In lieu of an oven mitt, it's used to grab a hot cake pan or dish from the oven, or at least slide it into view, without gouging the contents with the gigantic thumb of my oven mitt. Tell me that never happens to you… I bought this grabby thing at at the Bazaar de l'Hotel De Ville, (known as BHV, pronounced "bay ahsh vay" of course) for less than 5 francs when France had francs and francs were only 5 to the dollar! I'm afraid it will break some day and I have no idea what it is called or whether one can even still buy them in France (are you listening David Lebovitz and Dorie Greenspan?) I loved photographing these beloved and useful old tools and remembering when and where I got them. Not that I would object (at all!) to having a Pacojet

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

Cocoa Curiosity

March 31st, 2011 by Cocolat

About 10 years ago, the late Robert Steinberg (who, with John Scharffenberger, founded Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker) called to ask if I wanted to come over that evening and taste the first samples of what would later become Scharffen Berger natural cocoa powder. I did. I suggested that Alfred Peet join us. Neither John nor Robert knew Alfred and I relished the idea of introducing the man who changed coffee in America to a couple of new guys that I knew (even then) would change chocolate. Alfred, the late founder of Peet’s Coffee, was well over 80 at the time. When I phoned him, he said,“I’m just back from Holland, too jet lagged to drive to San Francisco”. I took a chance and said, “what if I drive?”. He never hesitated, “what time should I be ready?”
 
In Robert’s kitchen that night, I introduced the elder game changer to the two up-and-coming. I was the only female watching these boys figure each other out, joke with each other, and eventually find common ground, and even show a little respect. I had a wonderful time and left with the guy what brought me, that is, the guy that I brought… Memorable evening.
 
Ultimately Scharffen Berger cocoa was memorable too: aromatic, chocolaty, fruity, filled with a range of complex flavors. Because it was such a pleasure to work with, I began to pay careful attention…
I started to notice that simmering or boiling seemed to destroy some of its bright fruity flavors and sometimes produced unpleasant flavor notes. For that reason, my recipes for cocoa frosting and cocoa sauce call for heating but no simmering. Lately I’ve wondered if some of my older recipes, like Sicilian Gelato or chocolate pudding, would be improved by not boiling the cocoa.
 
So I tried the gelato without letting the cocoa simmer: I simmered the base mixture (Straus organic milk, sugar, and cornstarch) just enough to eliminate the raw starch flavor. Then I whisked the base into the cocoa at the very end. I was rewarded with better, brighter, and more complex cocoa flavor. That recipe was good before, and now it’s better. If you try it, remember that home made ice creams have no gums or additives to keep then from freezing rock solid. Once frozen, you will need to soften the gelato slightly in the microwave or fridge before scooping and serving. Then again, if your gang is available at the critical moment, this stuff makes irresistible soft-serve, right out of the machine. You’ll end up eating plenty that way, so be happy it’s relatively guilt free.
 
CHOCOLATE SICILIAN GELATO REDUX
Sicilian gelato contains no eggs or cream; it’s made with milk and thickened ever so slightly with starch to give it creaminess and body. When it’s done properly and with good ingredients, it is satisfying and flavorful and refreshingly not-too-rich. It’s simple and delicious, and I often like it better than richer and fancier ice creams.
 
Ingredients:
2.4 ounces (3/4 cup) unsweetened natural (my preference) cocoa powder
3 cups milk (whole, low fat or nonfat!)
4.6 ounces (2/3 cup) sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch.
1/8 teaspoons salt
 
Equipment:
Ice cream maker
 
In a medium large bowl, whisk the cocoa with just enough of the milk to form a smooth loose paste. Set aside, near the stove. In a medium saucepan, mix the sugar with the cornstarch and salt. Whisk in enough of the remaining milk to form a smooth paste. Whisk in the rest of the milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a silicon spatula or wooden spoon, scraping the sides, bottom and corners of the pan to avoid scorching, until the mixture thickens and bubbles a little at the edges. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, for two minutes longer. Scrape the mixture over the cocoa paste. Whisk until thoroughly blended. Let cool. Cover and chill several hours or overnight. Freeze according to the instructions with your ice cream maker. Note: the mixture is thick to begin with and may take less time than average time in the ice cream maker. Makes about 1 quart.
 
POSTSCRIPT: Just to muddy the water a little, just to prove that “consistency (really) is the hobgoblin of small minds” (apologies to Ralph Waldo Emerson) and that logical conclusions are not always logical, when I tried my best chocolate pudding recipe without boiling the cocoa, it wasn’t as good as the original. What’s good for the gelato is not good for the pudding? Go figure!

Duck Duck Duck Eggs

March 20th, 2011 by Cocolat

My friend Josh brought a dozen fresh eggs from his ducks. How could I be this old and never have tasted duck eggs? Never mind. I scrambled one immediately so he could share my first taste. I thought, “rich, not as egg-y (by which I guess I meant chicken egg-y) tasting as chicken eggs, hmmm”. Some people think they taste cheesy according to Josh. I didn’t and still don’t taste cheese, but the rich texture is somewhat reminiscent of scrambled eggs with cheese. And that extra richness does have its own flavor, which mutes what I would ordinarily consider to be an “egg-y” flavor. But I was hooked by the time I had finished my half of that first egg, which I had cooked hot and fast (but very soft) in brown butter and eaten with whole grain toast.
 
Over the next few days I ate a scrambled duck egg (often cooked in peppery extra virgin olive oil) everyday for breakfast. These have been so delicious I haven’t been able to make myself branch out and poach, fry sunny-side-up, or make custard with even one of them.
 
Last night, my cousins came to dinner. Duck egg virgins! What to do? I made a little appetizer: scrambled duck eggs with crunchy toasted baguette slices and chopped parsley on the side (a good call as it turned out), so we could each assemble our own little tastes. We had flakey Maldon salt and a pepper grinder at hand. Interestingly, the pepper overwhelmed the good duck egg-y flavor and the parsley was completely distracting. All that was wanted was a little salt after all.
 
This morning I was at it again. I scrambled my solitary egg in extra virgin olive oil, on low heat instead of high, and stirring constantly so the eggs came out very moist and creamy, very oeufs brouilles (someone please tell me how to get an accent egu over that last “e” please). I ate them with toast and salt. They were the best yet.
 
There are only a couple duck eggs left now. Tomorrow I might finally be able to poach one. Or maybe not.
 
 

Dulce Dulce

March 19th, 2011 by Cocolat

A couple of readers reported an unpleasantly graininess when they tried my dulce de leche from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies. I had good results when I tested for the book, so I was curious about the feedback. I made the recipe several times in the last few days, paying close attention to what might be going on.
 
Before I get into the details, let me admit that the recipe takes more like 60-90 minutes than the optimistic 45 minutes that I said it would take. And, you might as well use a bigger pot than I called for so that the mixture won’t flow over the moment you turn your back.
 
About the texture, it turns out that tending the pot and stirring frequently is critically important for a smooth sauce. You must stir any foam into the sauce regularly, as well as scraping the bottom and corners of the pot and around the sides, continually incorporating any thickened sauce from the sides and corners of the pot into the rest of the sauce before those thickened parts congeal and toughen. As the sauce thickens towards the end of the cooking, you must stir more often, and then constantly. I use a silicon spatula mostly, but have also used a whisk, though the whisk tends to cause more foam and if you whisk briskly the finished dulce will be lighter in color and texture, which may or may not be what you want. I’ve revised the recipe below with greater emphasis on stirring and with the additional step of straining the finished sauce for a little extra smoothness insurance. And I’ve added a pat of butter…
 
In one of my samples I ran out of whole milk and had to top off the measure with less than ¼ cup of non-fat milk. So, I added maybe a tablespoon of heavy cream to compensate. It seemed like a negligible amount so I promptly forgot about it. Comparing samples later, I liked the texture of that one best. I concluded that I had just been more careful about stirring. But later, I remembered that tiny bit of cream and wondered if such a small amount of extra fat could have softened the proteins (or something?). So I tested again with whole milk and but added a tablespoon of butter. I got the smoothest sauce of all… Of course I also tended the pot as though it were a baby. Clearly this is a recipe to make when you have time or other things going on in the kitchen meanwhile.
 
 
DULCE DULCE DE LECHE

(Revised from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies)

Makes 1 generous cup

Ingredients:

½ vanilla bean

1 quart whole milk

1 tablespoon butter

½ cup (3.5 ounces) sugar

½ teaspoon baking soda

Pinch of salt (optional but really good…)

Set a fine or medium fine strainer over a heatproof bowl.

With a sharp paring knife, cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. In a large heavy bottomed pot (that holds at least 6-quarts) combine the vanilla bean pieces with the milk, butter, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently, especially around the sides of the pot. At first the milk will foam dramatically, and it may curdle, but will eventually smooth out. Continue to cook, frequently stirring in any foam on top and sweeping the sides, corners, and all over the bottom of the pot with a silicone spatula. Keep the mixture boiling briskly but not furiously without letting it overflow. The mixture will gradually turn a deep caramel color as it thickens. This may take from 60-90 minutes, depending on your stove and the size of your pot. The mixture becomes especially bubbly and foamy in the last stages of cooking: adjust the heat so that it bubbles actively but not violently and stir it very frequently, and then constantly (especially around the sides and corners of the pot) until done. It is done when the mixture is reduced to a generous cup and a little spooned over an ice cube thickens to a soft gel. Scrape the sauce into the strainer and stir and press it through. Be sure to scrape the sauce from underneath the strainer into the bowl. Cool the sauce slightly, then taste and adjust the salt. You can put the spent pieces of vanilla bean back into the mixture if you like. They will either keep on giving flavor or at least look as though they are. May be kept in a covered container in the refrigerator for at least 1 month

Sending Back the Fish

March 9th, 2011 by Cocolat

I have a reputation in my family for sending back fish. I am not a hard to please diner. (Is that my daughter rolling her eyes?) It’s not my fault if I am served bad fish, or that someone at my table gets bad fish. I don’t think I am supposed to just sit there and let a loved one get sick. It happens disproportionately often when I am with my daughter. Once (with her) I sent back a platter of crudo at the Restaurant George atop the Centre Pompidou, even as we marveled at one of Paris’ most spectacular views. The waiter assured me that the fish had just come in. I assured him that (none-the-less) it did not smell fresh. Paris is yet another reason live: no one should die from eating bad fish.
 
My pre-teen had to learn to pretend she was not mortified to have a mother send back the fish, or wine from a bottle that was open too long or served in a glass that smelled of bleach, or baba ganoush that was beginning to ferment, or you name it. In my defense, I try always to behave graciously when sending food back. I do not berate waiters or behave obnoxiously. I have learned to be firm and reasonably charming (after a rocky start, I admit). In my further defense, my daughter, now in her early 20’s and no longer so easily mortified, has herself learned to handle restaurant situations with a modest aplomb that I did not acquire until I was much older. I am sure that she is grateful for her early training with me. I am sure…
 
Once, lunching alone, in San Francisco, two young women three tables behind me ordered the fish, though I did not. When the waiter walked past with their fish, I could smell that it was not fresh. I was beside myself. Should I mind my own fish (so to speak) or step up and appear to be a psycho: “Excuse me waiter, that fish over there across the room is not fresh…” I held my tongue. I wondered what the New York Times Ethicist would have said about allowing strangers to eat iffy fish, but I never wrote him and now he’s been replaced with a new guy that I am not yet comfortable with. I kept quiet but saved the story for my long-suffering offspring. She of the rolling eyes instantly understood both the hilarious irony of the situation and my acute discomfort in keeping silent. That’s my girl.
 
A few days ago I returned an expensive bottle of champagne to a neighborhood store…
I think we should speak up. How else will they know when something is not right?

Berkeley Breakfast For Two In 15 Minutes

March 5th, 2011 by Cocolat

Every now and then I love to be reminded that the best meals I’ve ever cooked are the simple fast ones I’ve prepared for people I love: a daughter, a lover, or a cherished friend. They often involve a little serendipity.

Last week my dear friend E set out for Berkeley from the North Coast to continue the celebration of her 75th. As usual, she stopped at the Booneville hotel to break the drive. But the Booneville was booked, so they tucked her in at the Toll House Inn 10 minutes up the hill on the road to Ukiah. She headed south again the following morning, after de-icing car door handles and scooping up the bottle of Alexander Valley chardonnay (Handley 2007) gifted by the hotel. Neither of us would have chosen the chardonnay, but even the persnickety can be tempted by free wine. Good thing.

POACHED EGGS FOR TWO W/ ASPARAGUS, BROWN BUTTER, FRESH TARRAGON, AND CALIFORNIA CHARDONNAY

Be sure the kitchen table is de-cluttered and the Magnolia blossoms plucked from the neighbor’s tree are in a lovely dish in the center. Tulips should already be arranged in the big vase behind the sink with lilies in the opposite corner of the room. (It wouldn’t hurt if the rest of house was de-cluttered as well-but that doesn’t count in my fifteen-minute prep time, nor does the fact that E usually gets up first and makes coffee for both of us well before we contemplate breakfast).
 
Put a wide skillet of water on the stove to heat. Meanwhile cut four slices from a loaf of Acme levain and put them in a turned off toaster oven. Rinse, snap, and peel asparagus stalks and set the kitchen table with flaky sea salt and a pepper grinder. When the skillet water is boiling, add salt and asparagus. Plop a chunk of unsalted butter into a tiny saucepan with a sprig of fresh tarragon over medium heat. Keep an eye on the butter and swirl it in the pot from time to time until it is fragrant and golden brown. When the asparagus is al dente (and still bright green), transfer the spears to a double layer of paper towels. (Check the butter and pour it into a ramekin when it is done).

Bring the asparagus water back to a simmer. Break four very fresh farm eggs into the water, in a clockwise pattern. Turn the burner OFF, cover the pan, and set the toaster oven for 3 minutes. Meanwhile uncork an expensive bottle of champagne and discover that it is not very good. When the toaster oven beeps, divide the toast between two plates and drizzle them with a little of the brown butter. Use a slotted spoon to remove the first egg, draining the excess water by resting the spoon on a folded paper towel before sliding the egg onto a slice of toast. Repeat, scooping each egg from the water in the order it was added. Garnish plates with asparagus and drizzle more brown butter over the eggs and asparagus. Top with tarragon leaves, pinches of flaky salt, and grinds of pepper.

Serve a slightly oaky, buttery, bottle of Alexander Valley Chardonnay (which turns out to be an even better choice than the champagne would have been…) Linger over breakfast as long as possible.

PS Enjoy left over brown butter on toast with salt and tarragon leaves for several mornings thereafter and don't forget to return the champagne to the store.

 
 
 
 

 

Good News and Bad News: Carrot Re-Torte Part Two

February 24th, 2011 by Cocolat

I was so smitten with my Carrot Almond Torte (Carrot Re-Torte) that I decided to try yet another variation. In testing it, I found a typo: the baking temperature for Carrot Almond Torte should be 325 degrees instead of 350. Mea culpa. Good news is that the bad news is not all that bad. I’ve already corrected the original post, but wanted to call out to the first group of enthusiastic readers who said they were going to try the recipe asap and may have printed it out before I corrected it. I hope not…
More good news is that there is a less messy ways to squeeze those carrots. If you have a hinged citrus squeezer for oranges or lemons, or potato ricer, you can use it to squeeze your grated carrots. I was able to get at more than 3 tablespoons of delicious juice from 8 ounces of carrots. You’ll see from the photo that I have the yellow lemon squeezer instead of the larger orange orange squeezer. Still, it took only three batches to squeeze all of the carrots and I didn’t need to use paper towels at all.  And, a potato ricer holds even more carrots…Just remember to squeeze hard and turn the squeezer sideways before you finish, to get those last drops of juice.

Carrot Re-Torte

February 23rd, 2011 by Cocolat

Nora Ephron remembers nothing. I remember nothing in my refrigerator. Why do I have so many carrots?

At the market, in the carrot aisle, I say (to myself), “you should eat more carrots” or “it’s cold outside, why not braise something (with carrots)” or “how about making those Spicy Carrot Macaroons…” (Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies, page 164). Then, having NOT eaten carrots, braised anything, or made macaroons, I’m flush with carrots, bags and bags of them.

While I can’t remember if I have carrots, I can remember the carrot torte that I made from the 1948 Settlement Cookbook when I was 15. It was certainly not the cake you are thinking of, with the oil and walnuts and crushed pineapple and spices all slathered with cream cheese frosting. It was a torte. Sophisticated. European. It was all ground almonds, grated carrots, eggs. It had no baking powder or soda and not a speck of flour! You had to separate those eggs and proceed as though making a real sponge cake, folding stiffly beaten eggs whites into the whole business at the end. I had never eaten or even heard of such a torte, but I made one that day in the large aluminum angel food pan that lived (though rarely used) in our kitchen. The batter rose beautifully (see, I do remember the 60’s) and then collapsed tragically. The golden brown edges, slightly crusty yet chewy, were still clinging to the sides of the pan but the moist center was caved in. I leaned against our grey Formica counter contemplating, meanwhile exploring (as anyone would have) the chewy and gooey parts of the cake with a fork. I must have been wondering what went wrong and what to do next. Did I scoop it out and serve the yummy stuff to the family with great dollops of whipped cream and confidence? Or did I nibble a bit too much of it myself and then chalk it up to failure? That I don’t remember. But the torte has been in the back of my mind ever since.

Today, reading the recipe I could surmise that I under-baked the original and perhaps overbeat the egg whites too. Who knows what my skills were at 15? Presuming an experienced baker, the recipe offers no more than a paragraph of instruction. I could fix that!

To begin, the recipe calls for grated cooked carrots. Surely I could get better color and brighter flavor if I skipped the cooking step and just let the carrots cook in the torte. However, I smartly decided to squeeze the daylights out of the raw grated carrots to remove excess juice, as there would be no flour to absorb extra moisture. It’s a shame to remove such delicious liquid, but no one likes a soggy carrot torte! And the baker rewards herself with that bonus shot of fresh carrot juice anyway. My first try was clearly on the right track. But it wasn’t quite the torte of memory. To my taste today, it needed more salt, more orange zest, a little cinnamon, a nuance of almond extract to compensate for (heat processed, salmonella-safe) less flavorful almonds, plus a slightly more detailed mixing method, just in case a less-experienced-but-ambitious young baker might want to try it.

Voila! It’s now as delicious as I want to remember it: still a little crusty chewy on the outside with a moist, nubbly, flavorful, slightly macaroon-like interior.

CARROT ALMOND TORTE

For such an old school recipe, it’s amusing to know how many pieces of electric equipment I managed to use here: two mixers and a food processor! But I used my trusty old French 1970’s hand crank Mouli to grate the carrots!



















Ingredients:
8 ounces (1 1/2 cups) whole almonds, skins and all
7 ounces (1 cup) sugar, divided
8 ounces (2 cups) lightly packed finely grated peeled carrots
1 medium organic or unsprayed orange
4 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon (slightly rounded) ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
Unsweetened whipped cream (with a little vanilla if you like)

Equipment:

8=inch spring form pan with sides buttered or greased
Food processor
A hand-held mixer and a stand mixer, if possible

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees with a rack in the lower third.
In the food processor, pulse the almonds with 2 tablespoons of sugar until the nuts are very finely ground. Set aside.


Stack three or four paper towels on the counter. A handful at a time, squeeze the grated carrots hard, over a bowl (if you plan to sip the juice) to extract as much juice as possible. Put each handful of squeezed carrots in the center of the paper towels until all are squeezed. Gather the edges of the towels up around the carrots and squeeze some more. (Or, see my next post about using a citrus squeezer or potato ricer to do this job).  Set aside.

Use a micro plane zester to grate the zest of the orange directly into a large mixing bowl. Add the egg yolks, salt, cinnamon, and almond extract. Set aside 2 more tablespoons of sugar before adding the remaining 3/4 cup to the bowl. Beat the mixture with a hand held electric mixer or with a wire whisk for 1 or 2 minutes until it is thick and lightened in color. Sprinkle the grated carrots into the bowl, but don’t mix them in.

In the (clean dry) bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the egg whites and cream of tartar. Beat on medium/medium high speed until the whites are white (rather than translucent yellow) and hold a soft shape. Gradually sprinkle in the reserved two tablespoons of sugar, beating at high speed until the egg whites are stiff but not dry. Scrape one quarter of the egg whites on top of the carrots and batter. Use a large rubber spatula to fold the whites and carrots into the batter. Scrape the remaining egg whites into the bowl and pour the ground almonds over and around them. Fold the egg whites and almonds into the batter. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread the surface level. 

Bake for 45-50 minutes until the surface of the torte is golden brown and just beginning to separate from the sides of the pan and the torte springs back when you press it gently with a finger. Cool the torte in the pan, on a rack. Slide a slim knife or spatula around the sides of the torte to detach it from the pan and remove the sides of the pan. Slide a knife between the cake and the bottom of the pan to detach it. Use a metal pancake turner to transfer the cake to a serving plate. Slice and serve with dollops of whipped cream.



Book Touring Blogger’s Guilt w/ Apple Crisp

December 16th, 2010 by Cocolat

Authors love to complain about book tours…even though they get tons of attention, stay in beautiful hotels, have stolen moments for breakfast or dinner with people they really like but rarely get to see, meet new interesting people who also (by the way) take care of them and drive them and make sure everything goes well for them at every event, etc.
 
And I’m no exception (about the complaining I mean) but how can I complain when I see buckets of good press for Chewy Gooey and I learn that my publisher is ordering a second printing for the book. Complaints? I will just say that I returned home from this last leg of touring happy for my own bed and a couple glorious morning sleep-ins, and my own good cup of coffee. But hey, where is my room service?????
 
I also returned with blogger's guilt. Why didn’t I post my favorite Thanksgiving dessert? Why didn’t I write something about book touring while actually on the book tour? (How do people blog from their iPhones I wonder?)
 
Fortunately Bea’s Apple Crisp is one of my favorite desserts for the entire fall holiday season…and beyond.
 
 
BEA'S APPLE CRISP
From: Pure Dessert (Artisan; 2007) by Alice Medrich

By the l970’s my mother’s magnificent double-crusted apple pie—perfected during my little girlhood—gave way to a series of lighter, simpler experiments. Around the turn of the twenty first century, The Pie became The Crisp. You might assume that The Crisp is best served warm or at room temperature. But I especially love it cold, even after two or three or four days in the fridge! Whipped cream on top is always nice, but not essential.The skins left on the apples actually add flavor and body to the juices, as do the dried apricots and orange zest. If some or all of the apples are red (but crisp and at least a little on the tart side), the filling will have a beautiful rosy hue. Chunks rather than wedges are the preferred cut, because small squares of apple skin are pleasant to eat while long thin pieces only suggest that the cook was lazy instead of smart like a fox.

Ingredients for the topping:
1/2 cup (2.25 ounces) all purpose flour
1/2 (1.85 ounces) cup rolled oats
Scant 1 cup (3.5 ounces) coarsely chopped walnut pieces
1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) sugar
5 tablespoons (2.5 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
1/8 teaspoon salt
 
For the filling:
Grated zest and juice of 1 bright skinned orange, preferably unsprayed or organic
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar, depending on the tartness of the apples
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 medium sized, crisp flavorful apples with a decent balance of sweetness and acidity (I have used all or a mixture of pippins, granny   smiths, sierra beauties, and new crop jonathans)
1 cup heavy whipping cream, lightly sweetened and whipped, optional for serving
 
Equipment:
2 quart baking dish

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Liberally butter the baking dish.

To make the topping: Combine all of the ingredients and mix well. Set aside.
To make the filling: in a medium saucepan, combine the orange zest, juice, and chopped apricots, and bring to a simmer, and cook until the apricots are soft. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the sugar and cinnamon. Halve and core the apples. Lay each half cut side down and cut twice in each directly to make 9 chunks. Add the chunks to the bowl and toss apples with the sugar and cinnamon. Stir in the apricots and juice from the saucepan.
 
Scrape the mixture into the buttered baking dish and spread evenly. Distribute the crumbly topping evenly over the apples. Bake until the crisp is browned on top and the juices are bubbling and thickened, about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Serve warm, cool or cold, with or without very lightly sweetened whipped cream. Serves 6-8.

The Safe Drivers’ Guide to Cupcake Calculation

November 4th, 2010 by Cocolat

I had a last minute email from the folks at Scharffen Berger Chocolate asking for an alternate version of the chocolate cupcake recipe that I created for the Scharffen Berger Tutti Foodie 2010 Chocolate Adventure Contest website (www.chocolateadventurecontest.com). The alternate version would call for unsweetened chocolate instead of cocoa powder, and it was needed almost immediately (don’t ask…). Hmmph.
 
Meanwhile, I had to drive from Berkeley to Cupertino at rush hour. I thought I’d pass the time by listening to NPR (of course) and thinking about how to revise the original (and really good) recipe.
 
Such a revision starts with simple math to figure out how much unsweetened chocolate would be needed to replace the 1 ½ ounces of cocoa in the recipe and to figure out how to adjust the amount of butter in the recipe to account for the increase in fat from the unsweetened chocolate. The cocoa is about 22% fat and 78% pure non-fat cocoa and unsweetened chocolate is a little over 50% fat. Had I been at home, I would have written a simple equation and used a calculator. I’ve always like math…
 
But in the car? I was pretty sure that using my Iphone calculator while driving was as dangerous as texting. So I decided to round off the ingredient stats so I could do the math in my head, easily and without killing anyone. I would treat the cocoa as though it were fat free and the unsweetened chocolate as 50% fat. Then it was easy to figure out that I would need 3 ounces of unsweetened chocolate to get the effect of 1 ½ ounces of cocoa powder. But substituting 3 ounces of unsweetened chocolate for 1 ½ ounces cocoa would also add 1 ½ ounces of fat to the recipe. I could compensate by subtracting 1 ½ ounces (3 tablespoons) of butter from the original 8 tablespoons in the recipe. Easy so far.
 
I was still driving impeccably, but the time had passed so quickly and pleasantly that I feared I might have driven past the Dumbarton Bridge without noticing. Where was I anyway? Uh oh. But no, Fremont comes before the bridge; I was still on track
 
I drifted back to my cupcakes (while staying scrupulously in my own lane of course). I began to think about how the texture might change from using chocolate instead of cocoa powder. Cocoa butter (which is the fat in the chocolate) melts at a higher temperature than regular (dairy) butter, and I would be replacing some regular butter with cocoa butter. This might produce a heavier, coarser crumb and a seemingly drier texture because cocoa butter takes longer than regular butter to melt on your tongue. My original cupcake was light, tender and moist—exemplary of the advantages of using cocoa instead of chocolate. What to do? Still driving safely, I decided to trade just a little of the butter for vegetable oil to counteract the harder cocoa butter. I arrived in Cupertino with a good mental draft of my revised recipe. I hadn't run anyone off the road either.
 
I tested the new cupcakes at home (as yet I have no oven or mixer in my car) and found them to be excellent. I didn't need to change a thing! Even I was amazed.
 
 
Later, out of curiosity (and yes, like a dog with bone), I sat down with a calculator and did the math accurately. It’s a good thing I decided to drive safely, because rounding off the ingredient stats resulted in my using more chocolate than I otherwise would have and conjuring up a terrific new recipe with only one real test! What more could I ask? Scroll down to see the original recipe and the Safe Driver’s Revision followed by a recipe for the frosting.
 
Are there morals to this story? 1. Doing the math is always helpful but you don’t always have to be perfectly accurate 2. It’s always good to consider what you know about the ingredients because math is not enough, and 3. You always have to test. Oh, and 4. Never text, use a calculator, or test a recipe while driving.
 
Want to learn more about formulas and strategies for converting recipes from one type of chocolate or cocoa to another? Check out the Dessert Makers’ Guide to Working with Chocolate, page 344, of my book, Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate (Artisan, 2003).
 
SCHARFFEN BERGER CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES
These are light, tender, moist, chocolaty, and so easy to make. The Safe Drivers’ Revision follows, and after than you'll find the frosting recipe. Make the frosting first and it will be almost ready to use by the time the cupcakes are baked and cooled.
 
Ingredients:
1 cup (4.5 ounces) all purpose flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (7.3 ounces) sugar
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1.5 ounces) Scharffen Berger Unsweetened Natural Cocoa Powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and warm
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup hot water
 

Equipment:

1 regular (not jumbo) cupcake pan with 12 cups, lined with paper liners

A hand held electric mixer or stand mixer with the whisk attachment (if you have a choice)
 
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
 
In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt together thoroughly. Add the butter, eggs, and vanilla and beat on medium speed for one minute. Add half of the water and beat for 20 seconds. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the remaining water. Beat for 20-30 seconds until the batter is smooth. The batter will be thin enough to pour. Divide it evenly among the lined cups. Bake 18-22 minutes (rotating the pan from front to back half-way through the baking time), just until a toothpick inserted into a few of the cupcakes comes out clean. Set the pan on a rack to cool for ten minutes. Transfer the cupcakes from the pan to the rack and let them cool completely before frosting or filling. Store and serve at room temperature. Makes twelve cupcakes
 
TIP: For light tender cupcakes, spoon flour and cocoa lightly into measuring cups (instead of dipping the cups into the flour or cocoa) and then sweep the measures level without tapping or shaking them. Better still, use your scale.
 
SAFE DRIVERS' AKA SCHARFFEN BERGER CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES 2.0
This version calls for unsweetened chocolate instead of cocoa and a little oil in addition to the butter.
 
Ingredients:
1 cup (4.5 ounces) all purpose flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (7.3 ounces) sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
3 ounces 99% Unsweetened Scharffen Berger Chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup hot water
 
Equipment:
1 regular (not jumbo) cupcake pan with 12 cups, lined with paper liners
A hand held electric mixer or stand mixer with the whisk attachment (if you have a choice)

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a stainless steel bowl set directly in a wide skillet of almost simmering water. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt together thoroughly. Add the very warm chocolate mixture, oil, eggs, and vanilla and beat on medium speed for one minute. Add half of the water and beat for 20 seconds. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the remaining water. Beat for 20-30 seconds until the batter is smooth. Divide the batter evenly among the lined cups. Bake 18-22 minutes (rotating the pan from front to back half-way through the baking time), just until a toothpick inserted into a few of the cupcakes comes out clean. Set the pan on a rack to cool for ten minutes. Transfer the cupcakes from the pan to the rack and let them cool completely before frosting or filling. Store and serve at room temperature. Makes twelve cupcakes

TIP: For light tender cupcakes, spoon flour lightly into measuring cups (instead of dipping the cups into the flour) and then sweep the measures level without tapping or shaking them. Better still, use a scale!

 
SCHARFFEN BERGER CHOCOLATE FROSTING
For the smoothest and glossiest frosting, allow it to cool and thicken slowly at room temperature (without stirring) while you make your cupcakes!
 
Ingredients:

3 ounces unsweetened Scharffen Berger 99% unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into several pieces
2/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

Place the chocolate and butter in a medium bowl and set aside. Bring the cream, sugar, and salt to a simmer in a large saucepan. Simmer for 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Whisk just until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth and glossy. Set aside to cool at room temperature, without stirring for 2 to 3 hours, or until the frosting is cool and thick enough to spread. Or, refrigerate the frosting for about 45 minutes or more (but not until it is hard) without stirring, then let it stand at room temperature until it is the desired consistency. Makes about 1-1/2 cups of frosting