Sometimes it’s hot and you still need to turn the oven on and BAKE things. Sometimes you read 2 dozen recipes and none of them are the one you want to use. Sometimes you want to slap yourself in the … Continue reading
Two True Facts: 1) We are doing a lot of travel by airplane this year, and also some by train. Three quarters of it is international and so I am super excited. (That was an extra fact. 3 for the … Continue reading
I realized sometime in the last couple of days that I had put myself on an accidental hiatus. We went for a weekend away and that pretty much sealed the deal. It was actually pretty awesome, and definitely much needed. … Continue reading
On Wednesday I woke up to a gorgeous sunrise. OK, well to fair I woke up about an hour before the sun even did and then after lying in bed with a cuddly kid and a cuddly cat and a … Continue reading
I know this guy. We get along pretty well, so sometimes we hang out. Usually we don’t get to hang out by ourselves, but that’s OK with us since the rest of the usual group can be fun too, since … Continue reading
December can be rough. It can be busy and lonely and hectic and joyful and forgetful and cold and dark and rainy and bright and sunny and ecstatic all at the same time. Without even trying.
It’s this way for me, at least.
I got into the swing of things and was all full of holiday cheer for the most part, but it meant that some things fell by the wayside. There were posts I started to write that never went anywhere. Pictures I took for posts that will probably never even get started, and post ideas that never got pictures.
There was also the small matter of relicensing my small business, Infamous Pastries. I was *supposed* to do this before the deadline of December 31, or else have to pay an extra fee for doing it late. When I remembered that I still hadn’t done this last night just as I was falling asleep, I wept. The tears were tears of both sadness and relief.
I’m going to be honest here when I say that I don’t think I am cut out to run a business as a self-starter. I am an incredibly hard working person, and I could run a business probably without many hitches if I’d been going down that path for a while with the same job. But I am not an entrepreneur, it turns out.
I love what I do. I’m a pastry pro at heart. I love the chemistry, I love flavor, and I love pushing the limits of both. I do pretty good with trial and error. I work incredibly well under pressure and even though I generally dislike working with the public at large I seem to be pretty good at it when it comes to helping brides choose wedding cake flavors, etc. I’m bossy enough to get people to do what they need to do, and nice enough that they still like me later. I love to eat and to share that sweet little something with others. I love baking.
I am also an artist. I have been painting and creating art since I was very small, and I even went to art school for a brief time. Turns out, art school didn’t suit me very well (too commercial for me, ironically) so I came home and found a way to create and express that I never really connected to being creative and expressive before. Through food. I went to pastry school and I loved it. I would go back in a heartbeat. I love the 3 dimensional aspect of a cake as sculpture, and I love to get the flavors just right, layered they way paint is layered on a canvas.
But artists are notoriously bad self-starters and have for the most part terrible PR skills. That’s why there are so many artists who make no money doing what they love. And I guess I am doomed to fall into that category for now.
Reflecting back on 2011, it was like December on crack. It was every possible emotion and then some. I started a business and decided subconsciously to let it flounder when I found a way to express myself that matched my lifestyle better and came more naturally (blogging). I watched a baby grow into a little girl and grow even larger in my heart as a result. I fell even more in love with Joe, while still feeling like I was somehow growing apart from him because of the things going on in our lives.
I hope I haven’t neglected too many other important things this past year that were important, because I had a lot of other things to do. Go for walks in the rain with a toddler, make pies for people I love and laugh out loud at silly things.
I know that there is one thing for sure I didn’t and then did neglect: these marshmallows. When they were in the house we kept nibbling them before I could even give any away, and I had to hide the rest to stop us from finishing them all up. I finally gave some away, then I forgot about them because there were cookies and tarts and cakes. There are a few still hiding in the back of a cupboard somewhere.
They are simple to make if you have the right tools and you can add pretty much any flavoring you want, so long as you don’t add too much liquid. I had a girlfriend over to make them and we made three batches, all different flavors. We had a blast, and she was glad to do it with me because “I got her through” chemistry class, or so she claims, and wasn’t sure she would have been able to do it without me. They’re easy to make, but I did give her a lot of info that she wouldn’t have learned just making them out of the book. Don’t be frightened of candy making–it’s not even as hard as just plain living.
Adapted from The Professional Pastry Chef, by Bo Friberg (best textbook I ever bought)
Makes one 9×12 pan, about 3/4″ thick, or spread into a high sided sheet pan for thinner mallows
You kinda need a candy thermometer for this recipe. It’s not a big deal, I promise.
Cornstarch or powdered sugar
3 Tbsp (18g) unflavored gelatin powder
1 cup cold water, divided
1 lb granulated sugar
2 ounces light corn syrup
4 egg whites (about 1/2 cup)
Prepare the pan you will put the finished marshmallows in by lining it with parchment paper and dusting lightly with either the cornstarch or the powdered sugar.
Sprinkle the gelatin in a wide bottomed metal or glass bowl and pour 1/2 cup cold water over it. Stir it with a chopstick to make sure all the gelatin gets moistened, and set aside to soften. Once it’s all softened, put it over a pan of simmering water so that it gets warm and leave it there until you need it at the end. You need it to return to the liquid state of water, but you don’t want it to be too hot.
Place the egg whites in the bowl of your stand mixer with the whip attachment.
Combine the sugar, corn syrup and remaining 1/2 cup of water in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. This is where the thermometer comes in handy. You are going to boil the sugar to 245ºF. But wait! Once it reaches about 230ºF, you should turn the mixer on high and start your egg whites. They need to be whipped to stiff peaks. Watch closely because the sugar will get very hot very fast starting now. When it reaches 245ºF, turn off the heat and lower the mixer speed to about medium. Very slowly and in a thin, steady stream down the side of the bowl (not over the whip or the syrup will fly out!) very carefully pour the sugar syrup. Once the egg whites start to look pretty glossy and there is a lot of steam rising out of the bowl, you can pour a little faster but do not just dump it in there or it will not be pretty. (Just take my word for it.) After you’ve got all the syrup in there, and with the mixer still mixing, pour in the gelatin, making sure to scrape out all the last bits of it with a spatula. Mix it for a second and then turn the mixer back to high speed. Let it whip until it’s got a nice fluffy texture and smells amazing.
Add a little (tsp or so) vanilla or other extract now if you want and whip for a second longer. You can also fold in crushed just about anything, like we did with candy canes in one batch and Daim candies in another. About 1/2-3/4 cup per batch should do you right.
Pour it out into the prepared pan, spread with an offset spatula or the back of a clean spoon and sift more powdered whatever you chose over the top. Let set completely before cutting out of the pan. With a knife dipped in hot water, slice cleanly around the edges of the pan. Invert it onto a cutting board or other clean surface, and cut into desired sizes. You should dip your knife and wipe it on a clean cloth each time you make a new cut, for the best results.
* I made a chai version here, and to do that I steeped 2 chai tea bags in one cup of boiling water and then let it cool before using it in the marshmallows. At the end I added about 1/2 tsp of allspice and 1 tsp of ginger. It was awesome, and they are really amazing in homemade chai lattes. Just saying.
Update: I didn’t win anything this time around, but thanks to all who cast a vote in my direction!
A couple of weeks can fly by so fast when you aren’t looking. Weeks filled with playdates, family holiday parties, Drs appointments and colds.
They’ve also been filled with testing. I was selected to participate in a contest Marx Foods was holding: to create an original recipe based on chocolate, using samples of ingredients supplied by them. I met the Marx Foods guys back at Will Bake For Food in November, and thought it would be fun to work on my recipe testing skills in a semi-high pressure format. What can I say, I do better under pressure. I did have a little trouble deciding what I wanted to make though, so could only narrow it down as far as 3 different recipes. Dear readers, you’re in for a little bit of a ride, but it’ll be worth it.
So, I’ve been busy testing out cookie batch after cookie batch. A little cookie made of humble ingredients that have been mixed up to be larger than the sum of their parts. A cookie that started out as one thing and quickly turned into something else, something better. I thought it would be pretty perfect to have a cookie recipe, since cookies are such a big thing this time of year. Am I right?
I also tested some créme brulées that ended up being pots de créme instead. And there’s also one savory dish, in case you don’t like dessert. (Who doesn’t like dessert?) More about those later, as first comes first. And if you like any of these recipes (or just like me) you can click the Marx Foods banner at the bottom to vote for me once the voting process has started!
Without further ado, here it is:
Mexican Chocolate Tea Cookies
makes about 32 cookies
These cookies are based on a common Mexican Tea Cookie, but also are based on a regular old Chocolate Crackle. They were inspired by the chilies included in the samples I got as part of the contest.
8 oz semisweet chocolate, chips are ok but the better the chocolate, the better the cookie
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp chili powder (I used freshly ground dried Puya chilies from Marx Foods)*
1 tsp ground cinnamon
4 oz toasted ground almonds
7 oz all purpose flour
4 oz mini chocolate chips
Sift the flour with the baking soda and salt and set aside.
In a double boiler, melt the chocolates. When completely melted, add in the spices and sugar and mix to combine. Add the oil and eggs all at once and mix thoroughly. Next add the almonds, stirring with kind of a smashing motion to make sure that any lumps are broken up. Lastly, add the flour mixture and stir just until you see no more streaks. Let the batter rest until it is cool to the touch, then mix in the mini chips, otherwise they’ll melt.
Cover and chill for several hours in the refrigerator, at least 3. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350ºF, with racks in the lower and upper thirds.
Using a number 30 scoop, (or scooping about 1 1/2 Tbsp sized balls) portion the dough out, and place on a parchment lined tray. These cookies don’t spread much, so you want them to be nice and flat on the bottom and rounded on top, which is best achieved using the scoop. Leave about 2″ between each cookie.
Bake about 10 minutes, then rotate the pans, both top to bottom and spinning the pans front to back. Bake about 7 minutes more. They should be firm but not firm enough to lift off the pan while still hot. Let cool for about 5 minutes then remove to a cooling rack. Let cool completely before dusting with powdered sugar.
|The rejects, which we gladly ate anyway|
The best part about these cookies is that unlike a more traditional Mexican Tea Cookie, which are akin to a shortbread and must contain butter to taste good, these are parve (dairy free). If you keep kosher, that means that you can eat them as dessert following the main attraction:
Chocolate and Chili Braised Beef Short Ribs with Sweet Potato
serves about 6
The short ribs I used for this recipe are ones that came from the cow we bought back in summer. They were excellent, tender, flavorful and totally worth buying a freezer for. The sauce also goes great on the saffron roasted potatoes I served with the ribs.
4 lbs 3″ beef short ribs with plenty of meat on the bones
For the dry rub:
2 Tbsp ground Puya chilies*
1 Tbsp ground Chipotle pepper
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 Tbsp salt
10-12 grinds black pepper
For the braising liquid:
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 smallish sweet potatoes, cut into 1″ rounds
4 cloves garlic
1/3 cup tomato paste
2 cups of your choice of broth (you might need more if your pan is bigger)
1 cup cold strong coffee
6 oz chocolate
Mix together the dry rub ingredients in a large bowl, and coat each piece of rib completely. Cover and refrigerate the ribs for several hours or overnight.
Heat a large (at least 5 qt) dutch oven with enough oil to just cover the bottom. Working in batches, brown each rib on all sides, taking care not to crowd the pieces so that they don’t steam themselves. Remove the ribs to a clean plate as you go.
Once all the ribs are browned, add in the onions and cook till translucent and starting to get a little brown, then add the tomato paste and garlic. Stir it around the pan, cooking it until it starts to smell like tomatoes, then add the coffee, being sure to scrape up all the browned bits that loosed up when you add the liquid. (Use a wooden spoon or other tool that won’t damage the surface of your dutch oven.) Add the sweet potatoes, and then the ribs, tucking everything in all together as best you can. Cover with stock and place in the bottom third of the oven. Cook about 2 hours, until the meat is tender. Remove the lid and cook another 1/2 hour more, letting the liquid reduce down.
Remove the pan from the oven and then remove the ribs, discarding any bones that fall slip out. Place the ribs in a bowl, and strain about 3/4 of the sweet potatoes and onions out of the broth. Let the broth rest for a few minutes and spoon off any excess fat that rises to the top. Add the meat back in, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer on the stove for about another 1/2 hour, tasting for spice. When I tasted mine, I kept getting a hit of spice at the back of my throat that led me to believe that it would be pretty hot, but it wasn’t as strongly flavoured as I feared once we were eating it with all the components together. In the last 15 minutes or so of cooking, add in the chocolate. Be sure and stir it up so the sauce reaches a nice smooth consistency, but then add back in some more of those sweet potatoes for a little bit of texture.
Serve immediately, with a little sour cream on the side to cool the heat, if you want it. (We used Sour Supreme)
Of course, if you’re not worried about having a parve dessert after your dinner, you could always serve the next recipe instead. They started out as créme brulées, with the intention of using the coconut sugar to make the crust on top. Turns out, it was too moist and brown a sugar to work well and mostly just burned instead. Well, since the texture of the pudding itself had been closer to a pot de créme anyway, I just went down that road.
|The original créme brulées|
Fennel & Chocolate Pots de Créme
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/4 cup half & half
7 egg yolks
4 Tbsp coconut sugar*
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds removed*
6 oz good quality dark chocolate, chopped
1 Tbsp fennel seeds
2 tsp fennel pollen*
Preheat oven to 300ºF
In a medium sized, heavy bottomed pot, toast the fennel seeds until they are fragrant and starting to brown, just a couple of minutes. You’ll want to watch them carefully as they will burn easily. Using a wooden spoon, crush the seeds up a bit. Next, add the fennel pollen, vanilla bean, cream and half & half and heat until it almost reaches a boil. Turn off heat and add chocolate. Let this mixture steep for 15 minutes or so, until you can smell the fennel just the faintest little bit. If it smells stronger sooner, continue with the next steps.
While the chocolate mixture steeps, combine the sugars and the egg yolks in a large metal bowl.
Next, bring the chocolate mixture back to a simmer while stirring continuously (do not boil, or you risk burning the chocolate). Strain this mixture into the eggs yolks, and then whisk until fully combined. Pour into 6 small cups or ramekins, each at least 6 oz. You could also use smaller dishes and make more servings, as it’s a rich dish for some palates.
Cover each dish with foil and place in a high sided roasting pan. Place the pan in the oven on the middle rack and pour enough water into the pan to reach 1/2 way up the sides of the dishes. Bake for 30 minutes and check for doneness. Mine needed just about 7 more minutes after that. The crémes will be set around the edges but just barely so in the middle. Cool completely, and sprinkle just a pinch of coconut sugar over each one before serving, it lends a nice little crunch.
* These ingredients are the ones that were supplied to me by Marx Foods as part of the contest.
Recently I decided that my plate wasn’t quite full enough and that I should take up a new hobby. One that people get obsessive over and do for ever and ever and love.
Yeah, I know. It’s kinda cliche and all that, but honestly, I have this little cutie who totally deserves to have all kinds of awesome things knitted for her, but not too many people to knit them but me. Things like this. Or this totally awesome berry pie hat, which by coincidence was just gifted to Lilli the same day as knitting club, a late birthday present from our friend Meghan.
The knitting club I joined is pretty low pressure if you can ignore the fact that we usually refer to it as a cult. It’s with people I was already well acquainted with, so I knew I would fit right in and be comfortable getting help. So far I’ve been to just 2 meetings, but there’s only been 3 since this group even started, so I’m off to a good start with the socializing part. The knitting part is going to take some time. At this Wednesday’s circle I discovered that I was actually knitting totally wrong but somehow came out with the right result. What can I say? I’ve got skills.
Last week there was some delicious white chocolate covered popcorn with cranberries that I ate way too much of. Especially considering that I was eating caramel corn every day. And the fact that it was covered in sticky melty white chocolate. Not exactly the best thing to have coating your fingers when you are trying to use them to hold onto yarn and knitting needles, but that did not stop me from eating too much anyway. There was also some ginger cookies made by the friend who started the group, and they too were addicting.
It’s a good thing I finally started that sit-up challenge this week, because I have been eating too much.
Anyhow, for this weeks meeting I decided that I should make a treat, since that’s what I do best. To get into the spirit of the season (most everybody else’s season, that is) I made delicious brownies. With, you guessed it, candy canes.
Normally my go to brownie recipe is the one from the cookbook put together by the founders of Chocolate Bar in New York, but I wanted to make a double batch and that would have required more eggs than I was willing to spare (eggs are in short supply around here lately, as most of the chickens are molting so they aren’t laying much).
I made them with Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa which I purchased out of curiosity. It’s responsible for the deep rich black color of the brownies, which I absolutely love. Somehow it just makes them taste better knowing that they look like a galaxy of candy cane stars.
Peppermint Galaxy Brownies
adapted from the book Bittersweet by Alice Medrich
makes 16 roughly 2″square brownies, easily doubles
10 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup sugar (original recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups)
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, any type is fine but I used this
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy canes, plus extra for the top
Preheat oven to 325ºF, with a rack in the lower third of the oven. Line an 8″ square baking pan with parchment paper, letting it overhang on 2 opposite edges.
In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter without browning. Remove from the heat and add the sugar and salt and stir until well combined. Add the cocoa powder and vanilla and combine till it forms a thick paste. Add the eggs one at a time, and beat with a wooden spoon or a spatula after each addition. Add the flour and stir until you don’t see any streaks of flour, then beat for an additional 40 strokes. About 20 strokes in add the crushed candy canes, and finish combining.
Spread batter in pan. Sprinkle on some more candy canes, as many as you like. Don’t go too heavy–you want there to be a balance of chocolate and peppermint. Bake about 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with some batter stuck to it, but not totally glopped on.
Cool completely on a wire rack. Use the edges of the parchment paper to remove from the pan. Cut with a sharp knife, wiping clean on a damp rag before eat cut.
I don’t think I’m a natural born writer. I’ve never been one to keep a journal, and even keeping up a blog once a week or so is tough for me. I just never feel like I need to write. Take pictures or eat a cookie, sure, but writing is something I have to put a little effort into.
But there are things I can say I am a natural at. I am a natural blonde. I am a naturally good swimmer. I have a natural green thumb. And, I like to think that I am naturally gifted with a sense for what tastes good together, and also for having a sense for what a set of ingredients will taste like once they are combined. This last week a friend commented that he thinks I have really honed that sense of taste, which was a very sweet compliment (Thanks Mike!) and also got me thinking about if I am using that skill to it’s fullest potential.
I want to hope that I am, but in reality I probably am not. I mean, are any of us really using all of our skills to their fullest potential? Not if we are being honest with ourselves.
But the good news is that that means we have potential that is untapped, right?
I don’t mean to give a pep talk, but I guess I am feeling like I need one myself. I have recently had a lack of passion for what I do with food. It’s such a big part of my life, both for pleasure and necessity, as well as what I do for a living, that I guess I have lost a little bit of the magic. Lately, It’s been hard for me to get excited about food. As they say, this is probably a #firstworldproblem, but it’s my problem and it has been putting me into a sort of melancholy.
So to help me get out of my funk and to hopefully get me out of my “I’d rather stay home and not talk to any strangers” comfort zone a little bit, I’m going to be baking for a good cause. Next weekend is the Will Bake For Food bakesale, and I volunteered to bake some goodies and hang out at the sale for a while. There will be lots of other, much more well established bloggers (that’s where the nervousness about talking to strangers comes in!), and everyone will be contributing something delicious for you to take home.
This past Friday I ran a test for what I thought I might make and while it was very good, I think I’m going skip it in favor of something a little less fussy. It was a twist on something I dreamed up a few Thanksgivings ago–a dark, creamy pumpkin ganache tart–that turned out to be just too rich for it’s own good. I wanted to make it lighter and less intimidating. So, I turned it into a mousse, letting those amazing taste buds guide my stirring hand.
I hope I get my mojo back soon, because it makes me feel a little heartbroken to be missing it at this time of the year, when so much revolves around breaking bread with others. In the meantime, I guess I’ll take someone’s (my husband’s) sage advice and “fake it till I make it.”
Pumpkin Mousse Pie
For the filling:
11 oz ganache, melted but cooled
1 pumpkin puree
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar
For the crust:
1 cup hazelnuts, oven toasted and skins removed.
1 cup cake or cookie crumbs, toasted. Graham cracker crumbs would also work.
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup melted salted butter
For this recipe you will need an 8″ or 9″ springform pan.
For the crust:
Preheat oven to 375ºF.
In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts until they resemble crumbs. Add the cake or cookie crumbs and the sugar and pulse to combine. Pour into a bowl and mix in the butter. I like to use regular salted butter for this, I it helps the hazelnuts a bit. You can use unsalted if you prefer. Press into your pan and using a small measuring cup or juice glass, press some of the crust partially up the sides of the pan, making a thin crust. Bake for about 20 minutes, and let cool completely while you mix the filling.
For the filling:
When the crust is ready, assemble your mousse. Stir the pumpkin and cinnamon into the ganache. You might want to add more cinnamon if you really like that flavor combo, as what I have here is very delicate. Whip the cream to a soft peak then add the sugar and salt and whip till it holds a firm peak. Next, fold in a bit of the ganache mixture. Then pour the cream mixture back into the ganache and fold until you see no streaks of either cream or ganache. Pour it into your mold, and level with a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.
A note about the ganache: I often have ganache in the fridge leftover from other baking projects and this was one of those times. If you aren’t the type to have such a decadent leftover, you can make it from scratch easily using a recipe I’ll give you below. We like to warm it a little bit and smear it on a graham cracker as a sweet treat, or put it into heated milk to make a delicious hot chocolate…
10 oz good quality semi-sweet chocolate, chopped into pieces about the size of an almond
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
Place the chocolate and butter into a heat safe bowl. Using a heavy bottomed pan, heat the cream just to a very light boil and immediately pour over the chocolate. Let it sit for several minutes and then with a whisk, slowly incorporate the chocolate and cream. Start in the middle of the bowl and use very small movements, gradually working your way to the outer edge of the bowl. This helps to minimize the incorporation of air into the ganache for a smoother finished product, which is helpful if using it as a filling or icing.
|Ours was like this, but about 3 times bigger. Photo courtesy Route79 via flickr.|