March 31, 2008

Check Your Will Power at the Door

It's Tuesday (technically Wednesday now, since I am a bit lagging in posting) and Dorie fans across the blogosphere are sharing their weekly baked yummi-ness from Baking: From My Home to Yours. Many thanks to Leigh of Lemon Tartlet for choosing this week's recipe, Gooey Chocolate Cakes. Excellent, excellent choice, Leigh. These little cakes were so moist and gooey inside, I really considered licking my plate clean when no one was looking. I think I could have eaten all six myself, but I did exercise constraint and managed to maintain the slightest shred of dignity by only having one. My resident tasters were in love, too, hovering in the kitchen for quite some time looking for more long after the last crumb was gone.

Dorie suggests using disposable muffin tins for these. I had mini bundt pans in my kitchen that have been collecting dust for many months now and were begging to be used.

I topped each cake with an apricot and ginger glaze, as I wanted something to add a little color and unexpected flavor. It was the perfect balance of rich, gooey chocolate offset by the sweet apricot and a little zing from crystallized ginger.

Per the directions, I added finely chopped chocolate to the tops of the cakes, but I probably wouldn't bother next time. It didn't really add anything and really just made my cakes look a little messy on top.

All in all, this was very easy to prepare and is flexible to allow for modifications. I could see making this for dessert when entertaining. Get your fill of more gooey cakes.

Gooey Chocolate Cakes
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
~4 ounces coarsely chopped
~1 ounce very finely chopped
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
6 tablespoons sugar

Getting Ready
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter (or spray - it’s easier) 6 cups of a regular-size muffin pan, preferably a disposable aluminum foil pan, dust the insides with flour and tap out the excess. Put the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

Sift the flour, cocoa and salt together.

Set a heat proof bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water, put the coarsely chopped chocolate and the butter in the bowl and stir occasionally over the simmering water just until they are melted - you don’t want them to get so hot that the butter separates. Remove the bowl from the pan of water.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk until homogeneous. Add the sugar and whisk until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add the dry ingredients and, still using the whisk, stir (don’t beat) them into the eggs. Little by little, and using a light hand, stir in the melted chocolate and butter. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups and sprinkle the finely chopped chocolate over the batter.

Bake the cakes for 13 minutes. Transfer them, still on the baking sheet, to a rack to cool for 3 minutes. (There is no way to test that these cakes are properly baked, because the inside remains liquid.)

Line a cutting board with a silicone baking mat or parchment or wax paper, and, after the 3-minute rest, unmold the cakes onto the board. Use a wide metal spatula to lift the cakes onto dessert plates.

These should be served as soon as they are put on plates. The cakes are not meant to be served alone - they need something to play off their warm, gooey, soooooo chocolaty interior. Ice cream is the most obvious choice and, to my mind, the best in terms of texture and, of course, temperature. Any chocolate-friendly flavor will be good. Circling the cakes with crème anglaise is another good idea and, for those for whom too much is not enough, circling the cakes with crème anglaise and running a ring of bittersweet chocolate sauce through the custard is an even better idea.

Although the whole point of a warm, runny cake is to eat it when it is warm and runny, the cake is still delicious, but different, the following day. If you wrap the cooled cakes in plastic wrap and keep them at room temperature, the next day the texture of the center of the cake (the part that was once gooey) will remind you of ganache. Eating the cake will be like enjoying a bonbon: it will be firm on the outside and creamy within.

More Dorie recipes from Baking: From My Home to Yours
Perfect Party Cake
Brioche Raisin Snails
Russian Grandmothers' Apple Pie-Cake
Snickery Squares
Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits
Almost-Fudge Gâteau

March 30, 2008

Dare to Be Perfect

The March Daring Bakers host, Morven of Food Art and Random Thoughts, chose Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake. The requirements were few: we had to stay true to Dorie's cake recipe and we had to make a layer cake. I was particularly pleased to see that Morven allowed us to be creative from there.

After pouring over the recipe multiple times and wanting so bad to come up with a unique flavor combination, I realized that I loved the lemon concept of the cake, which goes so well with the raspberry that Dorie suggests. Even though we had carte blanche, I followed the recipe almost verbatim, up until the finishing. We're not that into coconut in our house. Not wanting to take away from the simple elegance of the cake, I decided to continue the berry theme and garnish with some piping of raspberry whipped cream and top with a few fresh raspberries.

One of the benefits of waiting to later in the month to complete the monthly challenge (read procrastinate until the last possible minute) is that you are able to learn from the experiences of others who have already completed the challenge. Many Daring Bakers who attempted this challenge earlier in the month reported that they had difficulty getting their cakes to rise. At their recommendation, I used all-purpose flour in lieu of the cake flour, and used four tablespoons less than called for in the recipe. With so many people saying that the cake didn't rise, I panicked a little and doubled the recipe and divided among three round cake pans. I didn't slice the cakes before assembling.

I had serious issues with the layers of jam and buttercream in between each cake. The two kept smearing together, creating a big pink mess. It only really impacted the presentation, but I was envious over the perfect little layers in cake picture in the book.
All in all, this really is the perfect party cake and, as Dorie suggests in her notes, I have marked this one as something to refer back to often. See what the other Daring Bakers baked up this month. You'll find just about every flavor combination imaginable.

Perfect Party Cake

For the Cake
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I prefer buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract
For the Buttercream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.
To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.

Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.

Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat.

Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.

Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread it with one third of the preserves. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover). Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top. Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator.Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.

March 25, 2008

Taking a Breather this Week

It's been a busy week in the Sweet and Savory kitchen. With holiday feasting and a large to-do list looming, I am bowing out of this week's Tuesday with Dorie recipe.

That doesn't mean there is nothing to ogle this week. Steph from A Whisk and a Spoon selected Caramel-Topped Flan. It sounds yummy, yes? Check out the TWD blogroll to see some flan-tastic desserts.

Next Tuesday, we're baking Dorie's Gooey Chocolate Cakes, selected by Leigh of Lemon Tartlet.

Other yummy treats I've made from Baking: From My Home to Yours
Brioche Raisin Snails
Russian Grandmothers' Apple Pie-Cake
Snickery Squares
Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits
Almost-Fudge Gâteau

March 24, 2008

If They Only Knew

Every cook has at least a few go-to recipes in her repertoire. You know the recipes. They're the dishes that you know you can put together with little fanfare. All the while, your guests ooh and ahh, wondering how you do it all.

With extra time at a minimum these days, I appreciate those recipes that are easy and flavorful. Usually, this entails using many ingredients and following lengthy directions. Not the case with this great asparagus Gruyere tart recipe I found recently. With just five ingredients, most of which you might have onhand at any given time, and about 30 minutes, you have an elegant appetizer or filling side dish. A leafless member of the lily family, asparagus takes three years to produce the spears that we eat. It may take long to grow, but it takes very little time to throw together this lovely little asparagus tart.

The Gruyere adds a very distinctive sharpness without being overpowering. The asparagus is cooked just long enough to border on being tender and crisp. Each bite is offset by the neutrality of the buttery, flaky crust. Try adding this recipe to your tried-and-true rotation. No one will know it's that easy. And, I won't tell ...

Asparagus Gruyere Tart
from Martha Stewart

Flour, for work surface
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
5 1/2 ounces (2 cups) Gruyere cheese, shredded
1 1/2 pounds medium or thick asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a floured surface, roll the puff pastry into a 16-by-10-inch rectangle. Trim uneven edges. Place pastry on a baking sheet. With a sharp knife, lightly score pastry dough 1 inch in from the edges to mark a rectangle. Using a fork, pierce dough inside the markings at 1/2-inch intervals. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.
Remove pastry shell from oven, and sprinkle with Gruyere. Trim the bottoms of the asparagus spears to fit crosswise inside the tart shell; arrange in a single layer over Gruyere, alternating ends and tips. Brush with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake until spears are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Cut into eight squares.

Weight Watchers = 7 points

March 18, 2008

Clear Out Those Cobwebs

The spiral symbol represents the birth-life-death cycle and denotes rebirth. This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe is Brioche Raisin Snails, selected by Peabody. As the name implies, these just happen to be shaped in spirals.

With the start of spring just days away, new life is already appearing. Flowers have started budding. Days are noticeably longer. And, I hear the birds chirping each morning when I wake.

In the spirit of renewed life and starting fresh, now is a great time to clear the clutter in your life and give your house a deep cleaning. If you don't know where to start, you can find some great tips here and here.

As for the recipe, I really enjoyed it and can see me making it again and again. It is a little time-consuming if you complete all the steps in one session. But, what's great is that you can prepare this ahead of time and toss it in the freezer for use at a later date. This is brilliant for those who entertain or often have drop-in company.

Flambéeing the raisins was easier than expected. I don't know why, but I expected to see a big dramatic torch of flame shooting up like you see in some restuarants when you order a flambé dessert. Instead, mine yielded an itty-bitty flame that barely reached the tip of my small saucepan. Even though the flame isn't large, it is persistent. So, you must keep stirring. A few times, the stirring antagonized a few bursts of flame, so it is important to pay close attention during this step. A trip to the emergency really puts a damper on baking. =-)

As for the pastry cream, don't take your eyes off it while you whisk. The directions said that the pastry cream would boil, but mine never did as far as I could tell. It was thin one second and then very thick and creamy the next. I've never made pastry cream before, so I dont' know if what I experienced is normal or not.

Since the snails recipe only calls for half a batch of dough, I wasn't sure what to do with the other half. I didn't want it or the extra pastry cream to go bad, so I already made another batch. I ran out of raisins though, so scrounged around the pantry. Instead of raisins, cinnamon and sugar, I used chocolate chips and toffee bits. Both versions were drool-worthy and so worth the time this recipe takes.

Check out the Tuesdays with Dorie blogroll to see more snails.

Brioche Raisin Snails

1 cup moist, plump raisins
3 tablespoons dark rum
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
Scant 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 recipe for Golden Brioche Loaves(page 48), chilled
and ready to shape (make the full recipe and cut the dough in half after refrigerating
1/2 recipe Pastry Cream (page 448)

For The Optional Glaze
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
About 1 teaspoon water
Drop of pure vanilla extract

Getting Ready:
Line one large or two smaller baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats. Put the raisins in a small saucepan, cover them with hot water and let them steep for about 4 minutes, until they are plumped. Drain the raisins, return them to the saucepan and, stirring constantly, warm them over low heat. When the raisins are very hot, pull the pan from the heat and pour over the rum. Standing back, ignite the rum. Stair until the flames go out, then cover and set aside. (The raisins and rum an be kept in a covered jar for up to 1 day.)

Mix the sugar and cinnamon together.

On a flour dusted surface, roll the dough into a rectangle about 12 inches wide and 16 inches long, with a short end toward you. Spread the pastry cream across the dough, leaving 1-inch strip bare on the side farthest from you. Scatter the raisins over the pastry cream and sprinkle the raisins and cream with the cinnamon sugar. Starting wit the side nearest you, roll the dough into a cylinder, keeping the roll as tight as you can. (At this point, you can wrap the dough airtight and freeze it up to 2 months; see Storing for further instructions. Or, if you do not want to make the full recipe, use as much of the dough as you'd like and freeze the remainder.)With a chef's knife, using a gentle sawing motion, trim just a tiny bit from the ends if they're ragged or not well filled, then cut the log into rounds a scant 1 inch thick. Put the snails on the lined baking sheet(s), leaving some puff space between them.

Lightly cover the snails with wax paper and set the baking sheet(s) in a warm place until the snails have doubles in volume—they'll be puffy and soft—about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Getting Ready To Bake:
When the snails have almost fully risen, preheat the oven: depending on the number of baking sheets you have, either center a rack in the oven or position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Remove the wax paper, and bake the snails for about 25 minutes (rotate the sheets if you're using two, from top to bottom and front to back after 15 minutes), or until they are puffed and richly browned. Using a metal spatula, transfer the snails onto a cooling rack.

If You Want To Glaze The Snails:
Put a piece of wax paper under the rack of warm rolls to act as a drip catcher. Put the confectioners' sugar into a small bowl, and stir in a teaspoon of water. Keep adding water drop by drop until you have an icing that falls from the tip of a spoon. Add the vanilla extract, then drizzle the icing over the hot snails.

Golden Brioche Loaves

2 packets active dry yeast
1/3 cup just-warm-to-the-touch water
1/3 cup just-warm-to-the-touch whole milk
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature but still slightly firm

For The Glaze
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water

To Make The Brioche:
Put the yeast, water and milk in the bowl of a stand mixer and, using a wooden spoon, stir until the yeast is dissolved. Add the flour and salt, and fit into the mixer with the dough hook, if you have one. Toss a kitchen towel over the mixer, covering the bowl as completely as you can—this will help keep you, the counter and your kitchen floor from being showered in flour. Turn the mixer on and off a few short pulses, just to dampen the flour (yes, you can peek to see how you're doing), then remove the towel, increase the mixer speed to medium-low and mix for a minute or two, just until the flour is moistened. At this point, you'll have a fairly dry, shaggy mess.

Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula, set the mixer to low and add the eggs, followed by the sugar. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes, until the dough forms a ball. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter in 2-tablespoon-size chunks, beating until each piece is almost incorporated before adding the next. You'll have a dough that is very soft, almost like batter. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes.Transfer the dough to a clean bowl (or wash out the mixer bowl and use it), cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, 40 to 60 minutes, depending upon the warmth of your room.

Deflate the dough by lifting it up around the edges and letting it fall with a slap to the bowl. Cover the bowl with the plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. Slap the dough down in the bowl every 30 minutes until it stops rising, about 2 hours, then leave the uncovered dough in the refrigerator to chill overnight.

The next day, butter and flour two 8 1/2-x-4 1/2-inch pans.

Pull the dough from the fridge and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Cut each piece of the dough into 4 equal pieces and roll each piece into a log about 3 1/2 inches long. Arrange 4 logs crosswise in the bottom of each pan. Put the pans on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat, cover the pans lightly with wax paper and leave the loaves at room temperature until the dough almost fills the pans, 1 to 2 hours. (Again, rising time with depend on how warm the room is.)

Getting Ready To Bake:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

To Make the Glaze:
Beat the egg with the water. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the tops of the loaves with the glaze. Bake the loaves until they are well risen and deeply golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer the pans to racks to cool for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the pans and turn the loaves out onto the racks. Invert again and cool for at least 1 hour.

Pastry Cream

2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits at room temperature

Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan.

Meanwhile, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the egg yolks together with the sugar and cornstarch until thick and well blended. Still whisking, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the hot milk—this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won't curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remainder of the milk. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, constantly and thoroughly (making sure to get the edges of the pot), bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk in the vanilla extract. Let sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until they are full incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth and silky. Scrape the cream into a bowl. You can press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream to create an airtight seal and refrigerate the pastry cream until cold or, if you want to cool it quickly—as I always do—put the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water, and stir the pastry cream occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes.

March 17, 2008

I Blame the Beer

I feel duped.

All these years, American culture has led me to believe that corned beef and cabbage are traditional Irish fare.

I recently discovered that, in fact, corned beef gained popularity in colonial America as an economic way to preserve meat. It has since become an American tradition to eat corned beef every year on March 17 and isn't really Irish at all. Not that I'm surprised, really, since it seems the majority of those I know who suck down green beer and sport kitschy pins with sayings like, "Kiss me, I'm Irish" aren't even Irish in the slightest. What's that saying? Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day.

While I have eaten many a plate of corned beef and boiled veggies in my time (and even had the occasional glass of green beer), I've never actually made the meal from scratch. I've always just had those heat-and-serve jobbies that show up in your local meat department each spring. In fact, up until a few weeks ago, I never gave much thought to how corned beef came about. When my March Bon Appetit arrived in my mailbox recently, I found a great article about and recipe for making your own corned beef at home. I was hooked. And the kicker? You brine the brisket for eight days in lager and then cook it in Guinness. The instructions are easy. I would say the hardest part about brining your own corned beef is finding roomin the fridge to keep it for eight days. Otherwise, anyone can do this. If you can pour a beer, you can make corned beef. The only modification I made was not using the Insta Cure. Without it, the meat turned a little gray. But, the recipe mentioned that would be the case if you don't use it, and personally I didn't see the need to consume nitrates unnecessarily.

Not wanting to be a total Irish poser, I paired the corned beef with Colcannon, a truly authentic Irish dish dominated by potatoes and cabbage.

Now, where did I put my "Kiss me, I'm Irish" pin ...

Just under the wire and actually a little late, this is my submission to Emiline's St. Patty's Day Pub Crawl.

Homemade Irish Corned Beef and Vegetables
from Bon Appetit

6 cups water
2 cups lager beer
1 1/2 cups coarse kosher salt
1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons Insta Cure no. 1* (optional)
1/4 cup pickling spices
1 6- to 8-pound flat-cut beef brisket, trimmed, with some fat remaining

Corned beef and vegetables:
1 12-ounce bottle Guinness stout or other stout or porter
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 whole allspice
1 dried chile de árbol,** broken in half
12 baby turnips, trimmed, or 3 medium turnips or rutabagas, peeled, quartered
8 unpeeled medium white-skinned or red-skinned potatoes (about 3 pounds)
6 medium carrots, peeled
4 medium onions, peeled, halved through root ends
2 medium parsnips, peeled, cut into 2-inch lengths
1 2-pound head of cabbage, quartered

For brine:
Pour 6 cups water and beer into large deep roasting pan. Add coarse salt; stir until dissolved. Add sugar; stir until dissolved. If desired, stir in Insta Cure No. 1. Mix in pickling spices. Pierce brisket all over with tip of small sharp knife. Submerge brisket in liquid, then top with heavy platter to weigh down. Cover and refrigerate 4 days.

Remove brisket from brine. Stir liquid to blend. Return brisket to brine; top with heavy platter. Cover; refrigerate 4 days. Remove brisket from brine. Rinse with cold running water. do ahead Can be made 2 days ahead. Wrap corned beef in plastic, cover with foil, and refrigerate.

For corned beef and vegetables:
Place corned beef in very large wide pot. Add stout and enough water to cover by 1 inch. Wrap cheesecloth around bay leaves, coriander seeds, allspice, and chile, enclosing completely, and tie with kitchen string to secure. Add spice bag to pot with beef; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until beef is tender, about 2 1/4 hours. Transfer beef to large baking sheet.

Add turnips and all remaining vegetables to liquid in pot; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and boil gently until all vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer vegetables to baking sheet with beef. Return beef to pot and rewarm 5 minutes. Discard spice bag.

Cut beef against grain into 1/4-inch thick slices. Arrange beef and vegetables on platter. Serve with Horseradish Cream and Guinness Mustard.

*Insta Cure No. 1 is a mixture of sodium nitrate and salt that is used in cured and smoked sausages to prevent botulism. In this brine, its only purpose is to prevent the meat from turning gray, so you can certainly leave it out. You'll find Insta Cure No. 1 at

**A thin, red, very hot three-inch-long chile; sold at some supermarkets and at specialty foods stores and Latin markets.

from Martha Stewart

Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes
1 savoy cabbage, trimmed, pale-green leaves finely shredded (4 cups)
1 leek, pale-green and white parts only, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Coarse salt

  1. Preheat broiler. Peel and quarter potatoes, and place in a medium saucepan; add enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until tender when pierced with a fork, about 15 minutes. Drain potatoes and return to saucepan. Mash with a potato masher or pass through a ricer; cover pan to keep warm.

  2. Meanwhile, in another saucepan, combine cabbage, leek, milk, 2 tablespoons butter, and nutmeg; season with salt. Cover, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until cabbage and leek is soft but not browned, about 15 minutes. Stir into potatoes.

  3. Spread mixture in an 8-inch square baking dish. Make a small well in the center, and place under the broiler until lightly browned on top, about 5 minutes.

  4. Remove from broiler. Place remaining 2 tablespoons butter in well. Serve immediately, spooning melted butter from well onto each serving, if desired.

March 11, 2008

It's a Pie! It's a Cake! ... It's a Turnover?

Last week was a little chaotic for me. I was in quite the hurry to post my weekly Tuesdays with Dorie dish and get back to my busy schedule, that I forgot (ever so rudely, I might add) to give kudos to Erin of Dinner and Dessert for selecting the Snickery Squares that with I am now in love (okay lust). So, please visit Erin's blog and also check out what's new with the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew.

So now that I got that out of the way ... This week, our lovely hostess, Natalie of Burned Bits, chose Russian Grandmothers' Apple Pie-Cake. What is a pie-cake, you ask? A wonderful hybrid dessert that seems like a pie at first blush, but surprises you with its cake-like consistency.I've never been a big fan of fruit pie myself, so I honestly wasn't chomping at the bit to get going on this week's challenge. Then I noticed in Dorie's Playing Around notes that she mentioned making apple turnovers instead of one large pie-cake. Now that is my speed. Food already made in individual servings. Right on!

I followed the dough recipe to the letter and only made a slight modification to the filling (instead of raisins, I added about 1 1/2 cups of combo of dried blueberries, cranberries, plums and cherries). I then followed the assembly instructions for the turnovers (see end of this post). Before baking, I brushed with egg whites and then sprinklef coarse decorating sugar for a little added crunch and sweetness.

I think I rolled the dough a little too thick because the turnovers were pretty dense. It wasn't bad, but I think the dough overpowered the amount of the fruit mixture. If I were to make these again (and I likely will), I would roll the dough out a little thinner and would probably add fresh blueberries instead of the dried fuit. Overall, this was another perfect recipe from Dorie.

Russian Grandmothers' Apple Pie-Cake

For The Dough
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 lemon
3 1/4 - 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

For The Apples
10 medium apples, all one kind or a mix (I like to use Fuji, Golden Delicious
and Ida Reds; my grandmother probably used dry baking apples like Cordland and
Squirt of fresh lemon juice
1 cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden)
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Sugar, preferably decorating (coarse) sugar, for dusting

To Make The Dough:
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and continue to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes more. Reduce the mixer speed to low, add the baking powder and salt and mix just to combine. Add the lemon juice - the dough will probably curdle, but don't worry about it. Still working on low speed, slowly but steadily add 3 1/4 cups of the flour, mixing to incorporate it and scraping down the bowl as needed. The dough is meant to be soft, but if you think it looks more like a batter than a dough at this point, add the extra 1/4 cup flour. (The dough usually needs the extra flour.) When properly combined, the dough should almost clean the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each half into a rectangle. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or for up to 3 days. (The dough can be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 2 months; defrost overnight in the refrigerator.)

To Make The Apples:
Peel and core the apples and cut into slices about 1/4 inch thick; cut the slices in half crosswise if you want. Toss the slices in a bowl with a little lemon juice - even with the juice, the apples may turn brown, but that's fine - and add the raisins. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together, sprinkle over the apples and stir to coat evenly. Taste an apple and add more sugar, cinnamon, and/or lemon juice if you like.

Getting Ready to Bake:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Generously butter a 9x12-inch baking pan (Pyrex is good) and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

Remove the dough from the fridge. If it is too hard to roll and it cracks, either let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes or give it a few bashes with your rolling pin to get it moving. Once it's a little more malleable, you've got a few choices. You can roll it on a well-floured work surface or roll it between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper. You can even press or roll out pieces of the dough and patch them together in the pan - because of the baking powder in the dough, it will puff and self-heal under the oven's heat. Roll the dough out until it is just a little larger all around than your pan and about 1/4 inch thick - you don't want the dough to be too thin, because you really want to taste it. Transfer the dough to the pan. If the dough comes
up the sides of the pan, that's fine; if it doesn't that's fine too.

Give the apples another toss in the bowl, then turn them into the pan and, using your hands, spread them evenely across the bottom.

Roll out the second piece of dough and position it over the apples. Cut the dough so you've got a 1/4 to 1/2 inch overhang and tuck the excess into the sides of the pan, as though you were making a bed. (If you don't have that much overhang, just press what you've got against the sides of the pan.)

Brush the top of the dough lightly with water and sprinkle sugar over the dough. Using a small sharp knife, cut 6 to 8 evenly spaced slits in the dough.

Bake for 65 to 80 minutes, or until the dough is a nice golden brown and the juices from the apples are bubbling up through the slits. Transfer the baking pan to a cooling rack and cool to just warm or to room temperature. You'll be tempted to taste it sooner, but I think the dough needs a little time to rest.

Playing Around
Apple Turnovers
Roll out the dough until it is a little thinner than 1/4 inch and cut it into circles 4-1/2 to 5 inches in diameter. Fill each one with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the apple filling (I chop the apples when I'm using them in a small turnover) or substitute another fruit filling, apple butter and apple chunks or some great preserves. Brush the edges of each dough circle with a little water, fold over the dough to make a half circle pocket and use the tines of a fork to seal the edges. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat and cut a steam slit in the top of each turnover. Bake in a 375-degree-F oven for about 20 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown and you can smell the sweet filling. Cool to room temperature before serving.

Other recipes I've tried from Baking: From My Home to Yours
Snickery Squares
Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits
Almost-Fudge Gâteau

March 4, 2008

Dolce Dulce

I've always wondered how dulce de leche is made and have read quite a bit on the subject recently. There seems to be two schools of thought on the process.

  • Some people, like Rachel at Coconut & Lime, suggest boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk for many hours. Easy enough.

  • Others are purists, like Pim at Chez Pim, passing on the can and opting for a heated combination of whole milk, sugar and vanilla.

Too indecisive to commit to one method and after reading others' rants and raves about each method, I tried both. The canned method was easy, but took much too long—three hours. My gas bill is probably going to be huge this month from boiling the cans for so long. But, the result was pretty close to perfect, so it's hard to argue with that. The color wasn't consistent when I opened the can. After a few swirls of the whisk, I ended with what can only be described as a pourable, rich caramel.

I then tried boiling the milk and sugar. Even with more ingredients to manage, this method seemed a little easier to me. I mean, come on. Dump everything in the saucepan and simmer for a couple hours? Easy execution. Maybe I didn't heat it long enough, though, because it never really thickened for me as much as the can method. But, I do think this one tasted better. Could be the addition of vanilla beans, I guess.

Since I was making layered bars here, I knew I needed something with a little body to it. So, in the end, I opted to use the condensed-milk version for my square filling and used the milk-and-sugar batch to make some killer gelato.

At the end of the day, what matters most is how the bars tasted. Good lord! Sinful is the one word that comes to mind. The recipe yields 16 squares, with each little gem being the perfect amount to satisfy even the most discriminating palates.

Snickery Squares

For the Crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten

For the Filling:
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 ½ cups salted peanuts
About 1 ½ cups store-bought dulce de leche

For the Topping:
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces, at room temperature

Getting Ready:
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 8-inch square pan and put it on a baking sheet.

To Make the Crust:
Toss the flour, sugar, powdered sugar and salt into a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Toss in the pieces of cold butter and pulse about 12 times, until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Pour the yolk over the ingredients and pulse until the dough forms clumps and curds-stop before the dough comes together in a ball.

Turn the dough into the buttered pan and gently press it evenly across the bottom of the pan. Prick the dough with a fork and slide the sheet into the oven.

Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes, or until it takes on just a little color around the edges. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool to room temperature before filling.

To Make the Filling:
Have a parchment or silicone mat-lined baking sheet at the ready, as well as a long-handled wooden spoon and a medium heavy bottomed saucepan.

Put the sugar and water in the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Keeping the heat fairly high, continue to cook the sugar, without stirring, until it just starts to color. Toss the peanuts and immediately start stirring. Keep stirring, to coat the peanuts with sugar. Within a few minutes, they will be covered with sugar and turn white—keep stirring until the sugar turns back into caramel. When the peanuts are coated with a nice deep amber caramel, remove the pan from the heat and turn the nuts out onto the baking sheet., using the wooden spoon to spread them out as best you can. Cool the nuts to room temperature.

When they are cool enough to handle, separate the nuts or break them into small pieces. Divide the nuts in half. Keep half of the nuts whole or in biggish pieces for the filling, and finely chop the other half for the topping. Spread the dulce de leche over the shortbread base and sprinkle over the whole candied nuts.

To Make the Topping:
Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Remove chocolate from the heat and gently stir in the butter, stirring until it is fully blended into the chocolate.

Pour the chocolate over the dulce de leche, smoothing it with a long metal icing spatula, then sprinkle over the rest of the peanuts. Slide the pan into the fridge to set the topping, about 20 minutes; if you’d like to serve the squares cold, keep them refrigerated for at least 3 hours before cutting.

Cut into 16 bars.

Weight Watchers = 10 points per serving (not including the gelato).
Ya, it's a lot. But, bank your points, people. This one is sooo worth it!