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Bacon Meringues

March 29th, 2013 by Cocolat

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.

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.



Weight(y) Matters

September 3rd, 2010 by Cocolat

Maybe it would take an iPhone app to get American home bakers to toss their measuring cups and start using a scale. If you want to skip my lecture on measuring (and why you should get a scale), just scroll down to see some iPhone apps (feel free to send your own photos). Meanwhile, ye faithful, read on…

They used to say American home cooks were intimidated by scales. Or was it that scales were too European? Or was it a slippery slope thing—a scale in the kitchen would lead to the dreaded metric system? Now that we think, cook, and eat globally, now that we are computer savvy from age two, now that every child's grandma has an iPhone… How can a kitchen scale be intimidating?
 
Let me review why a scale improves baking and makes life in the kitchen easier.

First, when I say scale, I don’t mean a spring-loaded thing with a dial. I do mean a scale with batteries (like your smart phone, your iPod, your camera, and all of your other necessities). The scale should register eighths or tenths of an ounce. Such a scale can be had for less than the cost of ten lattes, btw. And, you can learn to use it in less time than it takes your barista to make those ten lattes.

If you bake (especially if you bake), here’s why you want a scale.

Consider flour. A heavy hand with flour is the prime suspect for bad baked goods. The amount of flour you put into your measuring cup can make the difference between a moist, light, poem of a cake and a doorstop. It can make the difference between buttery melt-in-your-mouth cookies (or fluffy pancakes) and miniature paperweights. What is a cup of flour anyway? If you stir the flour in your canister a little (but not to much) to loosen it, and then spoon it lightly into your measuring cup and sweep it level without packing, tapping, jiggling or shaking the cup, you’ll have 4 ¼ to 4 ½ ounces of flour in your cup. If you dip your cup into that same canister, and level it against the side, or shake it or tap it or jump up and down to level it, who knows how much flour you’ve got in there? And, if you measure right from the flour sack stored in the pantry jammed behind cans of beans or under the potatoes, then all bets are off. I asked a close friend to please measure a cup of flour at her house, as though she were preparing to bake a cake, and dump it into a bowl and bring it to me at my house. I put her cup of flour on my scale. It was 33% heavier than the lightly spooned and leveled cup described at the top of the paragraph. Can you tell me that a cake or cookies made with a 6-ounce cup of flour will come out remotely similar to those made with a 4 ½ -ounce cup?

Maybe you are living gluten free? Maybe you’ve wondered why you get great results from some recipes only some of the time? Gluten free baked goods are hypersensitive to measuring variation, and the non-wheat flours and starches (rice, corn, tapioca, oat, bean, potato, et al) are especially hard to measure consistently using measuring cups. To add insult to injury, if you make your own gluten free flour blend, the weight of 1 cup of your blend will depend on whether you measure it right after blending or weeks later after it has settled in the canister (that is, unless you make a point of really fluffing the mix before you measure each time). Masterful gluten free baking is challenging enough; using a scale eliminates one very significant wild card.

More reasons to use a scale? A scale streamlines your movements in the kitchen. You can measure ingredients right into the mixing bowl, so you’ll use fewer utensils and have less to clean up. A scale means never having to sift or chop before measuring, and never having to wonder how lightly or firmly to pack a cup of brown sugar. Some of the best chocolates don’t come in one once squares, so you need a scale. I could go on…

A scale means that your results for a given recipe will be more consistent from one time to the next, even (or especially!) if you bake that cake only once a year. If you are someone who is always tinkering and tweaking recipes—you probably make notes in the margin. Weighing is a better way to track your tweaks, especially small changes in critical ingredients such as flour.

The rub? Not all recipes give weights (yet). Many cookbook or recipe authors don’t even tell you how they use their measuring cups, especially when measuring flour. That being said, more cookbooks than you think do explain measuring style—usually in the front or back of the book, where cooks in a hurry never venture. Go there and see! Baking books are more apt to give weights and they almost always describe how to measure flour with a cup if you don’t have a scale. You will get better results with a specific recipe if you measure like the cook who created the recipe, and more consistent results if you weigh… I usually assume that a lightly spooned and leveled cup of flour is meant to be 4 ¼ to -4 ½ ounces while a dip-and-sweep cup is meant to be about 5 ounces, unless of course the author tells me otherwise.
 

Meanwhile, here are some ways to use your iPhone to measure flour:
 

 
Don't forget the formula for classic pound cake: equal weights of flour and eggs…