Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My Favorite Racist Cookie

Here, take a cookie. I promise, by the time you're done eating it, you'll feel right as rain.

— The Oracle (The Matrix)

These cookies and I have a troubled relationship. They were one of the first things G asked me to make, but one of the cookies that took longest to get right. As they sit now, they rate a 9 on the official cookie rating scale, which I say with some pride. But we both agree, there's still work to be done.

Black and white cookies are one of those really regional things("pop":Midwest as having-eaten-a-black-and-white-cookie:New York), though I personally feel they get short shrift. I'd never even heard of them before we met. They're really fantastic though—I really don't understand why they're not more widely appreciated. (And no, some episode of Seinfeld doesn't count as national exposure.)

The recipe I use is one of the few I can really call my own. I've played with it a lot in an attempt to mimic the cookie of his childhood—or more likely the cookie that he's created in his imagination as the cookie of his childhood. My initial cookies were too thick, didn't have the right flavor, and lacked sufficient size. It wasn't until I saw a one in NYC for the first time that I understood quite how large these are expected to be. And one of the most important steps forward came when he admitted that he just doesn't like the white side very much, which led to the 60% black and 40% white cookie.

Of course, who are we kidding here? It's not black and white. More like brown and beige. But I guess the brown and beige cookie doesn't roll off the tongue quite the same way.

Black and White Cookies
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice plus enough milk to make 1/3 cup
½ teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup (5 1/3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons light corn syrup, plus more if needed
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Stir together milk and vanilla in a cup.

Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes, then add egg, beating until combined well. Mix in flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately in batches at low speed or by hand (scraping down side of bowl occasionally), beginning and ending with flour mixture. Mix until smooth and refrigerate at least 15 minutes. While waiting, preheat oven to 350°F.

Spoon batter onto a large, greased baking sheet. The cookies should be quite large—one recipe will make about six cookies. Using fingers, spread cookies until flat and circular. They do not need to be extremely thin, but will puff up a fair bit in the oven. Bake in middle of oven until tops are puffed and pale golden, and cookies spring back when touched, 15 to 17 minutes. Transfer with a metal spatula to a rack. When completely cool, place cookies in plastic bag and leave in the freezer until hard. Return cookies to rack, flat underside facing up.

Combine confectioners’ sugar, corn syrup, and enough hot water until you have a thick paste. In a small saucepan over low heat, whisk until smooth and fairly thin. Working quickly, ice the flat underside of a bit less than half of each cookie (it will be necessary to continually adjust heat and liquid content). Return cookies to rack to drip, placing paper towels beneath to catch any drips. Combine chocolate (as well as any needed water or corn syrup) with remaining icing ingredients to make a thicker chocolate mixture and cover remaining part of each cookie.

Makes 6 large cookies.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Ugly Side of Deliciousness

It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression "As pretty as an airport." Airports are ugly. Some are very ugly. Some attain a degree of ugliness that can only be the result of a special effort. This ugliness arises because airports are full of people who are tired, cross, and have just discovered that their luggage has landed in Murmansk (Murmansk airport is the only exception of this otherwise infallible rule), and architects have on the whole tried to reflect this in their designs.

—Douglas Adams (The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul)

Things have been busy. Very busy. Of course, I take comfort in the fact that I am the only person in the world who finds the holiday season somewhat frantic. It makes my heart all warm and fuzzy to imagine everyone else just resting by the fire, without a care in the world. Santa bringing presents and elves fixing all the decorations, to avoid any of that holiday stress that was the bane of past generations. Sadly, my elves must have been lost in the mail.

In any event, I apologize for the lack of posts lately. But lack of posts does not imply lack of cooking—by any stretch of the imagination. Thanksgiving and no cooking? Are you joking?

I wanted to share one of my personal favorites from Thanksgiving (also one of the few that I was able to photograph). Unfortunately, it photographed rather badly. I was in a hurry, and it wasn't that pretty to begin with. But hot damn, it was fantastic.

I found the recipe here a long time ago, and have been waiting for an opportunity excuse to make it. My only regret is that I waited so long. Well, that and the fact that it turned out so ugly. But the beauty is on the inside. Or more accurately, the beauty when it's inside my stomach.

Pumpkin Cheesecake (stolen from The Joy of Baking)
1½ cup (150 grams) graham cracker crumbs
¾ cups (75 grams) finely ground ginger cookies, homemade or store bought
1½ tablespoon (22.5 grams) granulated white sugar
6-7½ tablespoons (84-90 grams) unsalted butter, melted

2/3 cup (145 grams) light brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
1 pound (454 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup pure pumpkin puree (canned or homemade)

1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
¼ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350˚F and place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Butter an 8-inch springform pan.

In a medium sized bowl combine the graham cracker crumbs, finely ground ginger snap cookies, sugar, and melted butter. Pour the mixture onto the bottom of the prepared springform pan. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent crust from sticking to fingers; press crust into bottom of tin. Using a flat-bottomed measuring cup (or another object with a similar shape), lightly pound graham crackers flat. The crust should begin to move up the sides of the tin as the bottom becomes thinner. Continue pounding until thickness is roughly even throughout tin, pressing sides of tin as needed to ensure that crust sticks together and does not run over sides of tin. Cover and refrigerate while you make the cheesecake filling.

In a separate bowl, stir to combine the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and salt. In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), on low speed, beat the cream cheese until smooth (about 2 minutes). Gradually add the sugar mixture and beat until creamy and smooth (1 to 2 minutes). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well (about 30 seconds) after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in the vanilla extract and pumpkin puree.

Pour the filling over the chilled ginger crust and place the spring form pan on a baking sheet to catch any drips. Place a cake pan, filled halfway with hot water, on the bottom shelf of your oven to moisten the air. Bake the cheesecake for 30 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 325˚F and continue to bake the cheesecake for another 10 - 20 minutes, or until the edges of the cheesecake are puffed but the center is still wet and jiggles when you gently shake the pan.

Meanwhile whisk together the sour cream, vanilla extract and sugar. Pour the sour cream mixture over the top of the baked cheesecake and rotate the pan slightly to evenly distribute the topping. Return the cheesecake to the oven and bake about 8 minutes to set the topping. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Loosen the cake from the pan by running a sharp knife around the inside edge (this will help prevent the cake from cracking). Then place a piece of aluminum foil over the top of the pan so the cheesecake will cool slowly. When completely cooled, cover and refrigerate at least ten hours, preferably overnight, before serving.

Serves 10-12 people.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Notes on the Vanilla Bean

You want some advice? Well, here's a piece of advice from me to you: lay off the caramels.

— Roxie Hart (Chicago)

Vanilla beans are ridiculous. Just ridiculous. You want me to pay how much for two beans? No, seriously. It's just two beans. How much again? I could buy enough vanilla extract for all the cakes in a ten mile radius for the same price.

Sadly, vanilla beans are also addicting. It would be much easier for everyone involved if they could please just not be any good, but they're kind of fantastic. I love almost anything when made with vanilla beans. Mint-coconut cream cheese? I'd rather die. But tell me that it's made with vanilla beans, and next thing you know it's in my mouth.

That having been said, I'm more than a little reticent to use them. I still have a bean and a half, and I'm clinging on for dear life. Only every oh-so-rare once in a while—for example when it comes to caramels—I'm willing to dig into my stash.

I loves me some caramel.

I tried making these caramels, and (while they were delicious) I must have done something wrong because they were the sort of things one bites into only after having moved all stocks into dentistry.

Mostly undeterred, I rolled up my proverbial sleeves again. And I must say, I'm extremely glad I did. G doesn't like the results quite as much as raspberry truffles, but I beg to differ. And no matter who you ask, they can't be that bad... they're disappearing faster than can be good for anyone's arteries.

Me: "How about we take some caramels to C's on Monday?"
G: Blank stare. "Very funny." [pause] "I'll kill you if you try." [pause] "But I love you."

Chocolate-Covered Caramels (adapted from the CIA)
1¾ cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 twelve-ounce can evaporated milk
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
1 pound milk chocolate

Flourless cooking spray for greasing

Lightly coat an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray. Cut two 8 x 16-inch rectangles of parchment paper. Lay one strip of the parchment in the baking pan, pressing it to the bottom and sides. Lightly coat the parchment with cooking spray. Lay the second parchment rectangle across the pan in the opposite direction to form a cross. Press the parchment to the bottom and sides of the pan and lightly coat with cooking spray. You should have a few inches of paper hanging over each side of the pan.

Combine the sugar, evaporated milk, vanilla bean, and cream in a 4-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once the mixture begins to boil, add the corn syrup and continue to stir. Cook the caramel until it reaches 230˚F on a candy thermometer, and then add the butter and the salt. Continue cooking and stirring until you reach 238˚F; immediately pour into the prepared pan – do not scrape the caramel from the bottom of the pan. Remove the vanilla bean with the tip of a knife.

Cool to room temperature. Using the excess parchment paper as handles, lift the caramel slab from the pan and place onto a cutting board. Cut the caramel into squares with a large sharp knife. If the caramel sticks to the knife when cutting, lightly coat the blade with vegetable oil.

Heat two-thirds of chocolate in a metal bowl above simmering water, to 105°F. Add remaining third and stir vigorously until chocolate is cooled, 95°F. If chocolate melts completely above 95°F, add more unmelted chocolate and continue stirring. If chocolate drops below 95°F without fully melting, return briefly to heat. Chocolate should achieve a nice shine if it is properly tempered.

Drop caramel squares, one at a time, in tempered chocolate. Using two spoons, cover caramel in chocolate. Remove caramel from chocolate with and drain off excess. Carefully return each caramel to baking sheet. Chocolate should harden at room temperature.

Makes 64 1-inch caramels.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Cake By Any Other Name...

On a stop light green means go and yellow means slow down, but on a banana it's just the opposite. Green means hold on, yellow means go ahead, and red means 'where the f&%# did you get that banana at'?

— Mitch Hedberg

Ha. "Bread". Banana bread is bread in the same way that sweetbreads are breads. Or sweetmeats are meats. We're not even talking about chances here. This snowball doesn't have a certain probability of surviving hell. This snowball is already a puddle in the fiery depths.

And since there's no use prevaricating about the bush (as Wallace likes to say), I choose to dive in head first. Bread? Bah. Would you like some chocolate chips with that cake you're eating? Why, yes, thank you. I think I would.

But bread or not, banana bread is one of my favorite treats. I was reading about using extra-black bananas the other day, and it sparked a great craving for banana bread. Soft, warm, and gooey, with lots of chocolate chips. Mmm. This particular recipe was a staple with my dorm mates in college. I can personally recommend it as one of the finest known methods for surviving late-night problem sets.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
2½ cups flour
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup salted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 cups mashed ripe banana (4 large bananas)
4 eggs
2-3 generous cups chocolate chips

Preheat an oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 2 medium (8½-inch) loaf pans.

In a medium bowl, stir and toss together the flour and baking soda. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until blended; a hand-held mixer is useful for this step. Beat in the banana, then beat in the eggs until completely mixed. Don't worry if the mixture looks curdled. Add the combined dry ingredients and stir until just blended, then stir in the chocolate chips.

Spread evenly in the 2 prepared pans. Bake until a thin wooden skewer or toothpick inserted in the center of a loaf comes out clean, 55-65 minutes. Let cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, and serve!

Makes 2 medium loaves; about 20 slices.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Thieving Again

When I was a kid, I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the Lord, in his wisdom, doesn't work that way. So I just stole one and asked him to forgive me.

— Emo Phillips

In the Thanksgiving spirit, I thought I'd participate in some good old-fashioned thievery this week. I was always told there's nothing like a little holiday spirit. Right? Right.

I had some leftover icing from my last cake, and it was feeling lonely. And a muffin has to look out for her icing. I'm sure you understand. I may have done some things I'm not proud of, but wouldn't you have done the same? It was in the name of love. Well, that and not throwing away perfectly good buttercream.

My acts of larceny number as follows:

1. A delicious yellow cake recipe, last seen in the company of Bakerella.

2. These fantastic turkeys from The Hungry Housewife.

The results sentence? Not bad. Not bad at all. I probably owe those from whom the recipes were stolen a cupcake.

Thanksgiving Cupcakes
48 double stuff Oreos
144 candy corns
24 malted milk balls
24 miniature Reese's cups
White, red, orange and black royal icing (or purchased decorating frosting)

3 large egg yolks (56 grams)
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar (75 grams)
¼ cups corn syrup (82 grams)
1 cup unsalted butter (227 grams)
1 tablespoon Godiva chocolate liqueur (14 grams)
3 ounces chocolate, preferably bittersweet

1 cup (2 sticks) of butter (room temperature)
2 cups of sugar
4 eggs (room temperature)
3 cups of sifted self-rising flour (White Lily)
1 cup of whole milk (room temperature)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon butter flavoring

Using white icing, attach unwrapped a Reese's cup to one face of an Oreo, placing it off-center such that it comes to the edge of the cookie. Affix a malted milk ball to the same cookie such that it too comes to the edge of the cookie, but at a point 180° around the cookie. (In other words, the points at which the peanut butter cup and the malted milk ball touch the edges of the cookie fall on a line that bisects the cookie.) Repeat until half of Oreos are assembled this way. Allow icing to dry.

Apply icing between the two faces of the cookies, where the candy corns will be placed for feathers. (These should be the cookies to which candy is already attached.) The icing will go in an arc around the malted milk ball that almost forms a semi-circle. Press five candy corns into the icing and Oreo filling, spacing evenly. Repeat for remaining cookies.

Dot each malted milk ball twice with white icing, for eyes. Make a third line down the middle, thicker at the top than the bottom (an upside-down isosceles triangle), for the nose. Use two dark dots of icing coloring on top of the eyes to make pupils. Again, allow to dry.

Lay down all the remaining (plain) Oreos and attach a decorated Oreo to each, perpendicularly. The turkey should now be standing up. Be sure to leave enough space for one candy corn "tail feather" on the back, and for iced feet on the front.

Using orange icing, make two feet for each turkey (at the base of the Reese's candy). Use red icing, just under the nose, to make the snood. Allow to dry.

Place 1 cup butter on counter (it must be soft when used). Heave ready a greased 1-cup heatproof glass measuring cup.

Using an electric mixer, beat egg yolks until light in color. Meanwhile, combine sugar and corn syrup in a nonstick saucepan. Heat, constantly stirring, until mixture is bubbling throughout. Immediately pour into heatproof cup.

Turn the mixer off and pour a small amount of sugar in with egg yolks. Immediately beat for five seconds at high speed. Turn mixer off and add larger amount; beat again. Repeat until all sugar mixture is incorporated. Use a spatula to get all the sugar out of the heatproof cup. Continue beating until completely cool.

Gradually beat in butter, liqueur, and chocolate. Place in an airtight bowl. Buttercream will keep for 6 hours at room temperature, or a week in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 24 muffin tins, or line with muffin cups.

Using a mixer, cream butter until fluffy. Add sugar and continue to cream for about 7 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat well after each egg is added. Add flour and milk (alternating to creamed mixture), beginning and ending with flour. Add vanilla and butter flavoring to mix; until just mixed.

Divide batter equally into muffin tins. Hold each tin about three inches above your counter and carefully drop flat onto counter several times to ensure release of any air bubbles. Bake for 25 - 30 minutes (depending on your oven) until done. Cool in pans for 5 - 10 minutes.

Remove and immediately wrap each cupcakes in plastic wrap to seal in moisture. Cool completely on wire racks.

Ice cupcakes with buttercream. Place one turkey on top of each cupcake.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Leftovers, Auditions, and Other Musings

Shrek: NO! LAYERS! Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have get it? We both have layers.
Donkey: Oh, you both have layers. [sniffs onion again and winces] You know, not everybody likes onions. [pause] Cakes! Everybody loves cakes! Cakes have layers!

— Shrek

Leftovers and I need to talk. Our relationship is strained, at best. To be fair, it's probably my fault. I need to work on my leftovers communication skills. "Couldn't we just dress up you a little? You'd look just as pretty as before..." "No! Go away! I'm not coming out!" G doesn't like them much, and I often can't eat them. I do try to fix them up so they'll be more palatable, but.. Well, I'm sure you can see where this is going.

Anyway, I had some leftover fondant in the pantry, which seemed about as friendly as leftovers can get. I've never really played with fondant, and I figured it might be a good time to experiment.

Step one: make something to go underneath the fondant. I pondered this for a bit, and decided to kill two bird one stone (in a less violent, proverbial way). Because little known to you, I have a culinary quest. It is a great quest, and instills fear in the hearts of the mighty. At least, I like to think so, because it certainly instills fear in my heart. I have tried before, and failed. I will probably fail several more times before I get it right. But I must be brave. I like to think of myself and my whisk as a stoic combination.

My goal is to make a seven-layer cake. And not just any seven-layer cake. A seven-layer cake like the one G's mother used to by from the fancy Swiss bakery down the street. I made Dobostorte, but that was definitely wrong. So my next attempt will be Prinzregententorte. I have a recipe, but I also have a sneaking suspicion that what he wants is really a house variation of Prinzregententorte. So I may have to figure out the components, piece by piece.

So, then, why not hold Prinzregententorte auditions underneath my fondant? (Said I to myself.) And I did. I must say an awful lot of egg yolks were involved, but it was generally well-received. The buttercream is a keeper, the cake not so much. Not that there's anything really wrong with it, just that we've concluded he wants a sponge cake and not a butter cake.

Step two: What do you do with your fondant once it's on top? This question (perhaps to my detriment) I pondered while running. Food sounded really good. Really, really good. The first thing that came to mind was Thanksgiving, so the next thing was a cornucopia. And thus my cake was born. It didn't turn out very well, but hopefully I learned from my mistakes.


Yellow Cake with Chocolate Buttercream and Fondant (from The Cake Bible)
1 tablespoon gelatin (10 grams)
3 tablespoons water (45 grams)
½ cup corn syrup (164 grams)
1 tablespoon glycerine (18 grams)
2 tablespoons solid white shortening (24 grams)
8 cups powdered sugar (920 grams)

3 large egg yolks (56 grams)
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar (75 grams)
¼ cups corn syrup (82 grams)
1 cup unsalted butter (227 grams)
1 tablespoon Godiva chocolate liqueur (14 grams)
3 ounces chocolate, preferably bittersweet

6 large egg yolks (112 grams)
1 cup milk (242 grams)
2¼ teaspoons vanilla (9 grams)
3 cups sifted cake flour (300 grams)
1½ cups sugar (300 grams)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder (19.5 grams)
¾ teaspoon salt (5 grams)
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (170 grams)

Place several cups of water on the stove and bring to a moderate simmer.

Pour 3 tablespoons water into a heatproof measuring cup, and sprinkle gelatin on top. Allow mixture to sit for five minutes. Pour hot water into large pan, and place measuring cup in the water bath. Stir gelatin, until it melts and no clumps are visible.

Add corn syrup, glycerine, and shortening. Stir until everything is melted, as much as six or seven minutes. The hot water bath may need to be replaced (or reheated) if it becomes too cold.

Measure out powdered sugar into extra-large bowl. Pour syrup over sugar. Lightly grease a wooden spoon, and stir sugar and syrup thoroughly. When no more sugar can be incorporated with the spoon, lightly grease hands and knead fondant in bowl. Try to incorporate all the powdered sugar into a ball of fondant (this may take a while). Turn out fondant onto a smooth, clean surface. Knead several more times to form a smooth ball. If fondant is sticky, add a bit more powdered sugar. If you are unable to incorporate all the sugar, add a few drops of water.

Wrap ball tightly with plastic wrap, and place in airtight container. Let sit at least three hours before rolling out. Fondant will keep a month at room temperature, or indefinitely in the freezer.

Place 1 cup butter on counter (it must be soft when used). Heave ready a greased 1-cup heatproof glass measuring cup.

Using an electric mixer, beat egg yolks until light in color. Meanwhile, combine sugar and corn syrup in a nonstick saucepan. Heat, constantly stirring, until mixture is bubbling throughout. Immediately pour into heatproof cup.

Turn the mixer off and pour a small amount of sugar in with egg yolks. Immediately beat for five seconds at high speed. Turn mixer off and add larger amount; beat again. Repeat until all sugar mixture is incorporated. Use a spatula to get all the sugar out of the heatproof cup. Continue beating until completely cool.

Gradually beat in butter, liqueur, and chocolate. Place in an airtight bowl. Buttercream will keep for 6 hours at room temperature, or a week in the refrigerator.

Butter two 9-inch cake pans. Line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper, then butter again and flour. Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine yolks, ¼ cup milk, and vanilla. Place dry ingredients in bowl of electric mixer. Beat 30 seconds on low speed to combine. With mixer still on low speed, add butter and remaining ¾ cup milk (gradually); beat 1 minute 30 seconds on medium to aerate and develop structure. Add yolk mixture, in thirds, beating 20 seconds after each addition. Pour into prepared pans and shake pans gently to smooth top.

Bake 25 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean and the cake springs back when touched lightly. It should not pull away from the sides of the pan until removal from the oven. Allow to cool 10 minutes. Invert onto rack and cool to room temperature before continuing (reinvert to prevent splitting).

Place one cake layer on a plate, then spread with buttercream. Top with second cake layer. On a clean, greased surface and using a greased rolling pin, roll out the fondant to 13 inches. Drape over cake and smooth with greased hands in a circular motion, working from the center out. Cut fondant at the bottom of the cake with a sharp knife.

To color fondant, place in a food processor with coloring. Process until fondant is evenly colored and comes back together to form a mass. Allow to cool slightly before using.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Fine, I'll Make My Own

I like vending machines 'cuz snacks are better when they fall. If I buy a candy bar at a store, oftentimes, I will drop it so that it achieves it's maximum flavor potential.

— Mitch Hedberg

Halloween is a sore spot for me. Having grown up in a hilly area with relatively few houses, I would usually get enough candy to fill up my plastic jack-o-lantern halfway. And when I was really little, this seemed like a fantastic deal. Enough candy for a month in one night? How could you go wrong!

As I got a little older, however, it became evident that my classmates were acquiring enough candy to fill multiple pillowcases. In retrospect, that wasn't really so much better. We probably ate approximately the same quantity of candy, between things going stale and parental intervention. Still, it was always a little disheartening when other kids would bring in incredible quantities of sugary goodness and trade for their favorites.

The last blow came when I was told I was too old to go trick-or-treating. You're kidding, right? I'm getting the impression it's less cute once you're over twenty. Or something. Life is full of disappoints.

Apparently, I'm in a chocolate-peanut butter mood lately. So when I decided I was just going to make my own damn Halloween candy, peanut butter cups seemed like a good fit.

Peanut Butter Cups
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
¼ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons whipping cream
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup chunky peanut butter (do not use fresh ground or old-fashioned style)
1¼ pounds semisweet chocolate, chopped
¾ cup roasted unsalted peanuts, separated in halves
36 foil miniature muffin cups

Mix first 4 ingredients in medium bowl. Stir in chunky peanut butter. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead.)

Place 36 foil miniature muffin cups on 2 cookie sheets, or in miniature muffin tins. (If miniature muffin cup unavailable, you may simply spread chocolate directly into tins. Once the peanut butter cups are prepared, freeze them and then knock them out onto the counter.)

Heat two-thirds of chocolate in a metal bowl above simmering water, to 105°F. Add remaining third and stir vigorously until chocolate is cooled, 95°F. If chocolate melts completely above 95°F, add more unmelted chocolate and continue stirring. If chocolate drops below 95°F without fully melting, return briefly to heat. Chocolate should achieve a nice shine if it is properly tempered.

Drop 1 teaspoon chocolate into each mini muffin cup. Rotating cup, spread chocolate ¾ inch up insides of cups with small palette knife. Allow to harden before continuing. (If chocolate does not harden, it has not been properly tempered and must be refrigerated before continuing.)

Drop 1 rounded teaspoon peanut butter mixture into each cup. Flatten slightly with back of spoon. Gently reheat remaining chocolate over simmering water. Spoon enough chocolate (about 1 teaspoon) into each cup to cover filling completely. Tap the muffin tins on the counter several times to get rid of air bubbles. Sprinkle each peanut butter cup with several peanut halves. If desired, dip fork into remaining melted chocolate and carefully wave from side to side over peanuts to create decorative pattern.

Divide peanut butter cups among airtight tins. (Can be prepared up to 4 days ahead and refrigerate.)

Makes 36.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Comfort Food (+ a little nostalgia)

My mother is a terrible cook. Or rather, she's just not a cook at all. I grew up on a diet of microwaved meals and sauceless pasta. And I ate a lot of pasta. I must have eaten enough starch for several lifetimes by the age of five. But as far as I can tell, it didn't really hurt me.

Slow food enthusiasts may disagree.

My mother likes:

Math. Computers. Dogs and classical music. She also likes to take out her frustrations on unsuspecting weeds in the garden.

My mother dislikes:


As with most rules, however, there are a few exceptions. Applesauce is one of them. I suspect it was, at first, just an attempt to use up the overflow of apples from the orchard. Fortunately for me, it quickly became an autumn staple. And I must say, I do loves me some applesauce. Well, real applesauce. Not the gross watery stuff you buy from the store. Does that make me an applesauce snob?

I don't know if the recipe works just because it's so simple and forgiving, or because I've been brainwashed by biology to love those foods associated with childhood—no matter how terrible they really are. I'm hoping for the former.

The way we make applesauce is less of a recipe and more of a guideline. It turns out great every time, so I don't bother to measure. (And I'm the sort of girl to measure, it must be said.)

It goes something like this:

Lots of apples
Brown sugar
Granulated sugar

Peel and core apples; cut into 1-inch pieces. Place in a large pot with water—about halfway to the point of covering the apples completely. Add small amounts of sugars and spices. As a rule of thumb, start gingerly. You can always add, but you probably don't want to cut more apples just to balance out too much cinnamon.

Cook over low heat for several hours, stirring occasionally. Continually add water as it boils off—the apples should be simmered, not pan-seared. When apples begin to break down, test for sugars and spices and add more to taste if needed. Continue cooking until only about one third of the apples remain as chunks. Turn off heat and crush remaining apples with a potato masher. (For chunkier applesauce, which I prefer, you can skip this final step.)

Serve warm.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Pear Liberation

Your date is better in your pie and your
porridge than in your cheek; and your virginity,
your old virginity, is like one of our French
withered pears, it looks ill, it eats drily; marry,
'tis a withered pear; it was formerly better;
marry, yet 'tis a withered pear: will you anything with it?

— All's Well That Ends Well, Act I, Scene i

I have a momentous announcement in the life and times of seamuffin:

As of this recipe, I have used up the very last pear.

These are the moments for which we live life. The moments for which confetti and kazoos and Handel's Hallelujah chorus were made. It just narrowly squeezed out being proposed to on the top of a hill in Scotland as "best Seamuffin memory to date". Wait, really? Yes, really.

No, not really.

For my final and crowning pear achievement, I saw this recipe for pear crisp at Inn Cuisine. And let's be honest. I was suckered in by the photography.

Fortunately, the pear crisp was actually really good. Really ridiculously simple, really good, and edible for just about any occasion (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, dessert, boredom). It lost to the pear cake for favorite pear dessert of the season, but that's no reason to be discouraged. The pear cake was phenomenal. This was just slightly less phenomenal.

Harvest Pear Crisp (from Inn Cuisine)
This dish can be assembled ahead of time and baked prior to serving. Serve warm from baking dish, or in stemware or other serving bowls. Can also be served over ice cream if desired.

4 Anjou or Bartlett pears, cored and cut lengthwise in 1/2 inch slices (peeled or not peeled, your preference)
1 tablespoon lemon juice (to prevent pear slices from browning)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Another 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pats
1/2 cup oats (quick cooking or old fashioned, your preference)
1/4 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Combine sliced pears in lemon juice and toss to coat. In small bowl, wisk combine cornstarch, cinnamon, and granulated sugar. Add to pear slices; mix together. Place in a greased 8 by 8-inch baking dish, and set aside.

In a food processor, mix flour, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon, until combined. Add butter; pulse 6 times. Add oats and chopped nuts; pulse 2 more times. Sprinkle this mixture over pear slices already in baking dish.

Bake for approximately 40-43 minutes.

Makes 4 servings.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Peanut Butter - Jelly + Chocolate Time

Augustus: I'm Augustus Gloop. I love your chocolate.
Willy Wonka: I can see that.

— Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I know. I just made truffles. But they're a popular item around here. I actually made ganache for four kinds of truffles last time I was playing with chocolate (raspberry, peanut butter, apricot brandy, and whiskey), so this is really maybe more of a follow-up post than anything.

Peanut butter are a close second place in the race for favorite truffle. The alcohol truffles were a bit more experimental, and sadly it showed. G described them as "apricot brandy kick-in-the-mouth" truffles. Peanut butter truffles, on the other hand, are mainstays of the seamuffin culinary repertoire. Depending on who you ask, they can narrowly surpass raspberry. And that's nothing to be sneezed at.

In case it's not obvious, we treat such things very seriously.

The recipe I use for peanut butter truffles is basically the same as for dark chocolate raspberry truffles. Exceptions to this rule:

1. I use milk chocolate for the ganache and the outer chocolate shell. Dark is better for raspberry truffles because the jam is so sweet, but here I like to up the sugar content. Plus, that sweet and salty combination never fails.

2. Tempering is more work. The melting point of milk chocolate is lower, because there's a lot of stuff in there that's not chocolate. So trying to get the right molecular structure for your chocolate is that much more work. Everything else is getting in the way of forming your lattice. I tend to temper a lot more milk chocolate than I need, because it's much easier to work with an excess of tempered chocolate than to be scraping it off the sides of the bowl. Just cool it and store it for another day.

3. The milk chocolate ganache is kind of frustrating. I don't like to make a hole for the peanut butter truffles with my finger, because it just sticks to your skin and then reforms in a blob (sans hole). The best tool I've found is an eighth teaspoon, which I twirl in the ganache balls. The hole goes all the way through to the parchment paper, but it's better than no hole at all. They'll tend to get a bit deformed... that's just the way it goes.

4. After adding peanut butter to the well, I refrigerate the truffles and then roll them into nice balls again. At this point, I find it's best to get them off the parchment with a sharp knife rather than trying to pry it off with fingers. Once they're spherical, I return them to the refrigerator again and let them set up before covering them in chocolate.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Bia Gaelach

Church of England fundamentalism is impossible because you can't have:

"You must have tea and cake with the vicar... or you die! Tea and cake or death!"

Cake or death?
Uhh, cake please.
Very well! Give him cake!
Oh, thanks very much. It's very nice!

[points] You! Cake or death?
Uh, cake for me, too, please!
Very well! Give him cake, too! We're gonna run out of cake at this rate.

[points] You! Cake or death?
Uh, death, please. No, cake! Cake! Cake, sorry.
You said death first, ahaaa, ahaaaa, death first!
Well, I meant cake!

Oh, all right. You're lucky I'm Church of England!

Cake or death?"

— Eddie Izzard

If there's one food in the world I love, it's Irish brown bread. I discovered it when I took a hiking trip to Ireland (, Republic of) some six-ish years ago with the Sierra Club. As a vegetarian, I ate a lot of vegetable soup. I mean a lot. And to be fair, much of it probably wasn't vegetarian—people have a tendency to sneak in nasty things like beef broth in seemingly-innocuous items. But it was beef broth or starving, so the best I could do was keep my fingers crossed.

The best part about the soup, though, was the brown bread that came with every bowl. It was... just über-excellent. Just the right texture, just the right flavor. I like white, fluffy bread too, but this is my favorite bread in the world. Bar none.

Sadly, I've been completely unable to replicate this bread in the States. It's not soda bread (no matter how many times people try to tell me that's what I should find on every Irish table), and despite how ubiquitous it was over there I can't seem to find a good recipe. Sigh.

Probably as a result of the bread, I've developed a general soft spot for Irish food (Bia Gaelach... I think... I did actually take a few Irish classes). So when I saw this recipe for an Irish apple cake (courtesy of Supercook), it seemed like a great use for all those apples.

Apparently, it was. And it was eaten so fast I didn't get a picture before it all disappeared. It was declared to be not quite as good as the pear cake or the key lime pie made around here of late, but you wouldn't know it by the way it got devoured...

I tried to make an artist's rendition of the cake, but it failed miserably.

So, on a completely different subject, I discovered these "blog blossoms" (which come courtesy of this fantastic website) on Warm Olives and Cool Cocktails. As described, they are indeed hypnotic to watch in the process of being built.




Sala, the creator, provides a nice key:

What do the colors mean?
blue: for links (the A tag)
red: for tables (TABLE, TR and TD tags)
green: for the DIV tag
violet: for images (the IMG tag)
yellow: for forms (FORM, INPUT, TEXTAREA, SELECT and OPTION tags)
orange: for linebreaks and blockquotes (BR, P, and BLOCKQUOTE tags)
black: the HTML tag, the root node
gray: all other tags

You'll notice my blog has blossoms of links (blue) and linebreaks (orange). Apparently, I like my spacing.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"World's Best Tomato Sauce"

Where I'm from we don't trust paper. Wealth is what's here on the premises. If I open a cupboard and see, say, 30 cans of tomato sauce and a five-pound bag of rice, I get a little thrill of well-being—much more so than if I take a look at the quarterly dividend report from my mutual fund.

— Garrison Keillor

Surprise, surprise. We have too many tomatoes. Fortunately, this is one of the easiest overabundance problems to remedy. Sun-dried tomatoes aside (well, really oven-dried tomatoes) and not even counting the chopped tomato that can make its way nightly into your salad, there's always tomato sauce. And when you're going with 2 pounds of tomatoes at a time, they disappear pretty quickly.

I stumbled on this Bolognese recipe about a year ago, and it's one of the most-requested recipes I make. I've tweaked it beyond recognition from the original, but to be honest I don't think it's awesomeness has much to do with the ingredients. I've come to the conclusion that a shoe or a hat, when cooked long enough on low heat with a little salt and pepper, could be fantastic. Something to bear in mind if you have the tendency to put your foot in your mouth.

I like to put the sauce on in the morning, and then let it cook for most of the day. If I didn't have anosmia (and I weren't vegetarian), I could tell you about all the wonderful smells. Apparently, the kitchen is a great place to be about 2:00 in the afternoon.

In any event, I give you the "world's best tomato sauce" (according to G).

Bolognese Sauce
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 small carrot, chopped fine
1 pound 86% ground beef
1 cup whole milk
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
32 ounces fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh basil

In large heavy saucepan, heat butter over moderately high heat until foam subsides; sauté onion and carrot, stirring. Add beef and cook, stirring, until majority of meat is no longer pink. Season mixture with salt and pepper. Add milk and nutmeg and reduce heat to low. Add wine, sugar, tomatoes and basil.

Cook slowly over low heat, as long as twelve hours. Let the liquid evaporate until the sauce reaches approximately the right thickness, then cover with lid to prevent further evaporation. Stir occasionally. Before removing from heat, taste test for sugar, salt and pepper. Add more if needed.

Sauce may be made ahead and cooled, uncovered, before being chilled, covered, 2 days or frozen 1 month.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


HAMLET: Tongue the on trippingly speech the speak.
OPHELIA: Hguaaaaaa!
HAMLET: Nunnery a to thee get!
OPHELIA: Lord my good.
HAMLET: Be to not or be to.
(HAMLET slaps HORATIO backwards)
HAMLET: Horatio, earth and heaven things in more are there.
HORATIO: Strange is this, lord my.

The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged)

I have a fear of fondant. Not (as it turns out) for any particularly good reason. I just do. It's probably fear by association: the first time one of my friends from school tried, it was a disaster. His cake was beautiful, but inedible. Except maybe if you tried prying off the fondant.

But when I saw these ghosts from My Sweet and Saucy, I couldn't resist. So after a bit of hunting for a good cupcake recipe, the fondant epic ensued.

It was, I have to say, shockingly un-epic. I was expecting tears and blood, and maybe a dragon lurking in the cupboard. Onlookers waiting for the spectacle were sadly disappointed. A lot of kneading (read: sweat) required, but nothing else worth mentioning. And in the end, the cupcakes and frosting were delicious—and the fondant was even better. Shows how much I know.

Ghost Cupcakes (stolen and slightly modified from My Sweet and Saucy, Sing for Your Supper, and The Cake Bible)
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup sour cream
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 tablespsoon confectioners’ sugar, sifted
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces

1 tablespoon gelatin (10 grams)
3 tablespoons water (45 grams)
½ cup corn syrup (164 grams)
1 tablespoon glycerine (18 grams)
2 tablespoons solid white shortening (24 grams)
8 cups powdered sugar (920 grams)
Black edible ink or edible coloring

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Fit the 12 molds in a regular-size muffin pan with paper muffin cups, or butter them with flour and tap out the excess.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for about 2 minutes, until it is blended into the butter. Add the egg, then the yolk, beating 1 minute after each addition and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Beat in the vanilla, then reduce the mixer speed to low and add half the dry ingredients, mixing only until they disappear. Scrape down the bowl and add the buttermilk, mixing until incorporated, then mix in the remaining dry ingredients. Scrape down the bowl, add the melted chocolate and mix it in with the rubber spatula. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin molds.

Bake for 15 to 25 minutes, or until the tops of the cakes are dry and springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into their centers comes out clean. Transfer the muffin pan to a rack and let the cakes cool for 5 minutes before unmolding. Cool to room temperature on the rack before glazing.

Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of shimmering water. Transfer the bowl to the counter and let stand for 5 minutes.

Using a small whisk or rubber spatula, stir the confectioners’ sugar into the chocolate, followed by the pieces of cold butter. If the glaze is too thin to spread or use as a dip, stir it over ice water for a few seconds (less than a minute). With a small metal icing spatula, give each cupcake a crown of shiny ganache, and let the glaze set at room temperature (or in the fridge if you are in a hurry). If the ganache loses its gloss and you miss it, give the tops of the cakes a puff of hot air from a hairdryer right before serving.

Place several cups of water on the stove and bring to a moderate simmer.

Pour 3 tablespoons water into a heatproof measuring cup, and sprinkle gelatin on top. Allow mixture to sit for five minutes. Pour hot water into large pan, and place measuring cup in the water bath. Stir gelatin, until it melts and no clumps are visible.

Add corn syrup, glycerine, and shortening. Stir until everything is melted, as much as six or seven minutes. The hot water bath may need to be replaced (or reheated) if it becomes too cold.

Measure out powdered sugar into extra-large bowl. Pour syrup over sugar. Lightly grease a wooden spoon, and stir sugar and syrup thoroughly. When no more sugar can be incorporated with the spoon, lightly grease hands and knead fondant in bowl. Try to incorporate all the powdered sugar into a ball of fondant (this may take a while). Turn out fondant onto a smooth, clean surface. Knead several more times to form a smooth ball. If fondant is sticky, add a bit more powdered sugar. If you are unable to incorporate all the sugar, add a few drops of water.

Wrap ball tightly with plastic wrap, and place in airtight container. Let sit at least three hours before rolling out. (Fondant will keep a month at room temperature, or indefinitely in the freezer.)

Roll out 1/3 fondant about ¼ inch thick. Using a round cookie cutter, cut out 12 circles. Place each circle on top of a cotton ball (set the long way) and shape to look like a ghost. Make two eyes with edible marker or coloring. Let ghosts dry slightly, then place on top of cupcakes. Rewrap remaining fondant and keep for future use.

Makes 12 cupcakes

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dark Chocolate + Raspberry

Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're going to get. Your life, however, is like a box of active grenades!

— Stewie Griffin

Truffles were a shock to me the first time I made them. Looking in those temperature-controlled cases in the chocolaterie, they seemed impossible for the average muffin. It wasn't until I discovered the Laboratory for Chocolate Science that I considered the possibility truffles could be within my reach. (And may I take a moment here to make a plug for the LCS, by the way?) As it turns out, they're orders of magnitude easier that I thought. They do require a fair bit of chilling and some tempering, but nothing close to what I'd imagined.

Truffles have the added bonus of being almost universally liked. I have yet to meet somebody who doesn't like truffles. While I'm sure those people exist, they appear to be few and far between. You need, more or less, to just dislike chocolate. Full stop.

I've made a fair variety of truffles, but I keep coming back to raspberry. 1) they're taste-ful and delicious, and 2) dark chocolate has more chocolate in it than semisweet or milk or white (making tempering easier). To be fair, adding little bits of raspberry jam is quite a lot more work than just flavoring the ganache with tea or alcohol or an extract, so if you're trying truffles for the first time this might not be the best choice. But it's almost an identical process if you forget the part about adding jam. (Add the tea bag, alcohol, or extract to the cream before adding chocolate.)

Dark Chocolate Raspberry Truffles
1 cup cream
15 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1 pound good-quality dark chocolate
Seedless raspberry jam

In heavy saucepan, heat cream on medium until hot; stir constantly. Add chocolate chips, one cup at a time. Remove from heat before chips are completely melted and stir until ganache is smooth and all chocolate is melted.

Cool and place into container suitable for refrigerator or freezer. Place in refrigerator at least two hours, until chocolate is hard. After 10 minutes, check to ensure that ganache is not separating. If so, add warm chocolate and stir vigorously, then cool slowly.

Line a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Using a melon scoop, scrape out balls of ganache (a bit over half the radius of the desired truffle). Roll quickly between palms to form even spheres. Wash hands regularly if ganache leaves excess residue. Place balls on baking sheet; when all ganache is shaped, return to refrigerator at least 30 minutes or until hard.

With tip of finger, make a well in each ganache ball. (The well should go almost all the way through the truffle.) Fill with jam. Return to refrigerator, until hard.

Heat two-thirds of dark chocolate to 105°F. Add remaining third and stir vigorously until chocolate is cooled, 95°F. If chocolate melts too easily, add more and continue stirring. If chocolate drops below 95°F without fully melting, return briefly to heat. Chocolate should achieve a nice shine if it is properly tempered.

Drop ganache balls, one at a time, in tempered chocolate. Using two spoons, cover ball in chocolate. Using spoons, remove from chocolate and drain off excess. Carefully return each truffle to baking sheet. Chocolate should harden at room temperature.

Return to refrigerator and serve cold.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fight to the Death

Remember please... the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch.

— Orson Welles

And now for something only vaguely culinary...

G and I are both, slightly, perfectionistic. We are also both, slightly, competitive. So let it be known that IT IS A MISTAKE to pit the two of us head-to-head in armed competition.

It was about a week ago that G casually mentioned he had never carved a pumpkin for Halloween. Wait. What? Sometimes I think he's lying when he says he had a childhood. This of course required an immediate trip to the pumpkin patch, followed by swift presentation of both pumpkin and pumpkin saw. "What now?" he asks. Upon explanation he gives me a baleful look. "Does this mean it's going to be gross?" So I scoop out the pumpkin and again present him with pumpkin (now hollow) and saw.

The trouble came when a friend casually mentioned that we should have a competition for the best jack-o-lantern. (I just love those casual, throw-away comments.) That sounds fun. Right? The entries can be judged be a jury of your peers and everything.

To be fair, it was fun. But my fingers now hurt. A lot. And there are probably other things I should be doing. I also have to admit that G's (winning) entry was very, very sweet. It's not everyday that a muffin gets her face carved into a pumpkin. Even if G says that he made me look like an Eskimo Inuit.

I was generally pretty pleased with my pumpkin, though there are definitely a lot of mistakes. To boot, you can't really see all the places where I carved through the skin at night. But for a losing pumpkin, it could be worse.

Apologies for the quality of the night picture. Oh, for want of a tripod (or a decent camera). Even if you can't tell, though, G's pumpkin is quite spooky in the dark.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cases of Strawberries

Princeton: I shouldn't be spending my parents' money on beer.
Bad Idea Bear 1: Oh, okay.
Bad Idea Bear 2: That makes me sad, thinking about you not having any fun. I'm gonna cry.
Princeton: Maybe I could afford a six-pack.
Bad Idea Bear 1: What about a case?
Princeton: A case of beer? No, no. I can't get a case.
Bad Idea Bear 2: But you're on a budget!
Bad Idea Bear 1: You're wasting money in the long run if you don't buy in bulk!

— Avenue Q

Oh, opulence. Does having too many of something ever get old?

I mentioned last time that having too many pears has been an epidemic of late. This time, it's having too many strawberries. And this time, it's not even that we grew too many. We BOUGHT them. (@^$&!)

It all starts when G and I go to my nephew's 4th birthday party. We drive down with my parents, who are charged with bringing fruit salad to the après-fête. "Let's get the nice strawberries that they have at the fruit stands down there," says my mother. It sounds like an innocuous suggestion. Even a good one. The strawberries are delicious and fresh, and put those large mutant things in the supermarket to shame. But then it hits. The giant tray of strawberries. "They're so good," my mother says. "And it was a good deal."

You got a case of strawberries? Were you wasting money in the long run if you didn't buy in bulk?!

This is some of my least favorite reasoning in the whole world, mostly because it's frequently employed by G in ridiculous situations. You know, dear, it's not a good deal when you don't want or can't use all those underwater basket weaving kits. Right?

"BUT IT'S A GOOD DEAL!" *whine*

So now it's up to me to use up each and every one of those strawberries. I ate so many yesterday that I made myself sick. I actually love strawberries, but berries are worse than other fruits when it comes to going bad. I've come to the conclusion that τ½ berries << τ½ everything else except maybe π0. (The mean life of a neutral pion is a little less than 10-16 seconds.)

So what does a girl do with that many strawberries? Strawberry shortcake? A strawberry tart? So many possibilities, but only so many options before the strawberries go bad. So I opted for something new (and, as it turns out, delicious): strawberry muffins. It was definitely a success. G refused to try them on the grounds that "muffins are gross", but I got a 4/4 and a 3.9/4 (points lost for being messy) from those who did.

Strawberry Crumble Muffins
3 tablespoons sour cream
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon skim milk
½ cup plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 egg
200 grams strawberries, chopped (not too small)
Zest of one medium-sized orange
275 grams plain flour
25 grams pastry flour
100 grams superfine sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
Shy ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

60 grams plain flour
90 grams of raw cane sugar
40 grams walnuts, broken into pieces
25 grams butter, melted (as much as needed to make topping stick together)

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line muffin tins with 12 paper cups. Combine sour cream, milk, vegetable oil, egg, and vanilla in large mixing bowl. Whisk the dry ingredients together in another bowl. Have the chopped strawberries with orange zest ready.

Whisk the liquid ingredients lightly; add dry ingredients. Mix together with large, light strokes. Stir in the strawberries and zest, remembering not to overmix. It should be lumpy but with no dry pockets of flour.

Stir together the crumble ingredients. Spoon batter evenly into the lined muffin tins and cover generously with the crumble topping. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes then move to a wire rack. Eat warm. Best eaten on the day they are baked but you can store them in an airtight container and reheat the next day.

These may be frozen in freezer bags when they have cooled completely.

Makes 12 regular muffins.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Too Many Pears

Pears can just fuck off too. 'Cause they're gorgeous little beasts, but they're ripe for half an hour, and you're never there. They're like a rock or they're mush. In the supermarket, people banging in nails. "I'll just put these shelves up, mate, then you can have the pear."

So you think, "I'll take them home and they'll ripen up." But you put them in the bowl at home, and they sit there, going, "No! No! Don't ripen yet, don't ripen yet. Wait 'til he goes out the room! Ripen! Now, now, now!"

—Eddie Izzard

We have too many pears. Way too many pears. Way, way too many pears.

This is a consistent problem with growing your own fruit. You don't have any pears/apples/plums/etc. for something like 80% of the year. So everything in the kitchen is quiet. Peaceful, even. But then all of a sudden, they attack. The first 20 plums are welcome. The next 20 tolerated. The next 300? They take over your kitchen counters, then your kitchen cabinets, then they're hiding in the oven when it's off and next thing you know they're in your living room and your dining room too. You wake up in the morning, only to find that plums are nestled in the warm covers. Plums in your jean pockets. Plums lurking behind a bottle of shampoo. You're making plum jam and plum pie and plum crisp but they just keep coming. It's invasion.

What makes this worse with pears is that I hated not only the 458th pear, but the first. Pears have an unpleasant taste and a worse texture. They're one of the few fruits I dislike. So when they pears start coming, I curl up in a corner and start rocking back and forth.

In a desperate-last-ditch attempt to make the pears go away, I found myself making pear cake. It was my first experiment with using SuperCook, a website that shows you available recipes based on what you have in the kitchen. I chose pear cake with lemon-honey cream cheese frosting, for no reason other than that it used up some of the lemons we have as well. To say I was not enthused would be an understatement.

And yet! Low and behold... the finished cake was fantastic. Everybody liked it, and it hardly tasted like pears at all. It was almost like a carrot cake - delicious because it tasted like carrot cake, but interesting because it only almost tasted like carrot cake. It was definitely something I'd make again, and a pleasant surprise.

But that having been said, we may still have to hold the first annual pear-lobbing contest: she who throws the pear farthest (on the condition that it lands in one of the neighbors' yards) gets to take home a great big bag of pears. Applications being accepted through the end of pear season.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Official Cookie Rating Scale

G is a demanding cookie customer.

To be honest, G likes cookies in a way that I don't really understand. Before I met him, I always thought of cookies as just sort of being nice. Not great. Not terrible. Just nice. The wallflowers of desserts, if you will. There's not enough to a cookie, even a really big cookie, to pack the right punch for me. I have no time for nibbling. Cookies, almost by definition, are made for nibblers.

G sees the world of cookies very differently.

Pie, my favorite dessert, is apparently "gross". Cake is okay—sometimes great, but often just so-so (or worse). Bars and squares? Meh. Ice cream is a take-it-or-leave-it kind of affair, except on really hot days. About the only point we can agree on is that chocolate is fantastic. But cookies... cookies are just a step above.

I've made a lot of cookies over the course of our relationship, and at this point consider myself somewhat of an expert in his favorites. I've made more black and white cookies than I'd care to count. At some point, no doubt, I'll post the recipe.

In fact, I've made so many cookies that we've finally come up with an official cookie rating scale. The standards are high. Despite many, many batches of chocolate chip cookies, they still only rate a 6.5 out of 10. (10, by the way, is defined as the rainbow cookie [also known as a tri-color cookie], which is not so much a cookie as a thin layer cake disguised as one. It's also a hell of a lot of work.)

So when I say that a cookie made it to 6 on the official cookie rating scale, that statement isn't made lightly. This cookie, the newest addition to the official cookie rating scale, comes to you care of Milk and Cookies. It's a sable cookie with chocolate ganache, and was a hit with everyone who tried it. The ganache is too dark for G, but the high sugar content of the cookie itself balanced things out nicely.

I altered the recipe slightly, but it's pretty simple to begin with and delicious either way. Recommended to be taken with milk, once daily. Or more often if prescribed by physician.

Sable Cookies with Chocolate Ganache
225 grams plain all-purpose flour
25 grams cornstarch
200 grams butter, diced and at room temperature
100 grams confectioner’s (icing) sugar
2 egg yolks
Pinch of salt

100 ml (¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) pure cream
100 grams bittersweet chocolate

Sifter or sieve
Medium mixing bowl
Plastic wrap
Parchment paper
Baking sheet
Rolling pin
Cookie cutters

Sift together flour and cornstarch. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the butter and sugar. Work together with your fingertips until no hard lumps remain. Add the egg yolks and salt, drawing in the flour. Work until the dough resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Do not overwork the dough. Roll the pastry into a log and refrigerate for two hours.

Preheat oven to 320°F. Prepare a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Remove dough from fridge and carefully roll out to a thickness of about 6mm. Cut out desired shapes using a cookie cutter. Place on lined baking tray and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until just golden on the edges. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and cool completely before spreading ganache.

In a saucepan, heat the cream until just before boiling. Pour cream over chocolate in a separate bowl; let stand for 1 minute allowing the heat of the cream to slowly melt the chocolate.

Using a spatula, mix cream and chocolate to make a smooth, glossy mixture. Place somewhere to cool, uncovered, at room temperature. Transfer to refrigerator to slightly set.

Spread ganache over the backside of a cookie, then place another on top to sandwich the ganache between. Return to the refrigerator to set.

Makes about 25 cookies.