Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Vegetarian Gumbo

Gumbo is an extremely satisfying winter time meal. It is a thick stew, originating from louisiana, and often made with sausage, chicken, and seafood. Although I cannot attest for the meat version of this dish, the BF loves it, and I can't get enough of the vegetarian version. Even in the vegetarian version, the flavors are so complex, I often stop and think about all the ingredients while I'm eating it. There is the warmth from the vegetable broth, the kick from the spices, and the subtle sweetness from the Worcestershire sauce. To me, this gumbo is even better than what I've tried in New Orleans.

The BF and I have made this gumbo a few times, and although it is time consuming, much of the time is spent just waiting for it to simmer. There is a bit of work making the roux and cooking the vegetables, but after that it is almost 2 hours of just simmer time. I can be pretty impatient in the kitchen, but I will honestly say that this gumbo is worth every minute of preparation is that good!

The original (meat-friendly) gumbo recipe comes from Paula Deen (but suprisingly doesn't have much butter). Below is my vegetarian version.

Vegetarian Gumbo (adapted from Paula Deen, 10 servings)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped (I omitted this)
  • 3 stalks celery chopped
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce (vegetarian recipe below)
  • 1/4 bunch flat leaf parsley, stems and leaves, coarsely chopped, plus chopped leaves for garnish
  • 4 cups hot water
  • 4 vegetable bouillon cubes
  • 1 (14-ounce can) diced tomatoes with juice
  • 2 cups frozen sliced okra
  • 1/2 lb tofu, well drained and diced into cubes
1. Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the flour, add 2 tablespoons of butter, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until brown, about 10 minutes. Let the roux cool.

2. Return the pot to low heat and melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Add the onion, garlic, green pepper and celery and cook for 10 minutes.

3. Add the (vegetarian) Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, to taste and the 1/4 bunch parsley. Cook, while stirring frequently, for 10 minutes.

4. Add 4 cups hot water and bouillon cubes, whisking constantly. Add the tofu. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes.

5. Add tomatoes and okra. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Just before serving add the green onions and remaining chopped parsley.

Vegetarian Worcestershire Sauce (about 1/4 cup)

1 1/2 Tablespoons water
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon blackstrap molasses or tamarind paste
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
a pinch of onion powder
a pinch of powdered cloves or pumpkin pie spice

Stir together all ingredients.

Mexican Wedding Cakes

These cookies are seriously amazing. Six ingredients (one of them is salt), no eggs or leavening, and they taste amazing. They are extremely easy to make and too easy to eat. The BF made these to bring to my family back in NY, and I think we will be making these every year now.

Mexican Wedding Cakes (also called Snowballs or Russian Tea Cakes; adapted from Joy of Cooking) makes 30 cookies
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup pecans, lightly toasted, and finely ground
1 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease or line 2 cookie sheets.
2. Beat the butter, 1/4 sugar, salt, and vanilla in a large bowl until blended.
3. Stir in the pecans. Stir in the flour until well blended.
4. Shape into 1-inch balls and arrange about 1 1/4 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Bake each sheet at a time, for 12-15 minutes or until the cookies are lightly browned. Let stand for about 2 minutes, then remove to rack to cool.
5. Roll the cooled cookies in 1/3 cup confectioners' sugar.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

I discovered these cookies on Joy the Baker's wonderful website about a month ago. Since then I have made these cookies 3 times. That's saying a lot for someone like me, who gets bored of the same desserts after about...a day. But there's something really satisfying about these cookies. They are soft from the pumpkin, chocolatey from the chips, and cruchy and wholesome from the walnuts - a perfect mix of three great cookie traits.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Joy the Baker) (makes about 14 cookies)
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 chopped walnuts
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter two baking sheets.
2. Stir the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices together in a medium bowl and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the eggs and sugar until smooth and lightened in color, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl as needed during mixing. On low speed, mix the butter, pumpkin, and vanilla until blended. Mix in the flour mixture to incorporate it. Mix in the chips and walnuts.
4. Scoop about 1/4 cup mounds of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing the cookies at least 2 1/2-inches apart.
5. Bake for about 14-16 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Homemade Mascarpone

As part of last month's Daring Bakers challenge, I made mascarpone cheese to fill my cannoli. Homemade mascarpone is really simple, and I think much simpler than homemade paneer (or ricotta). The reason is that mascarpone is made with heavy cream (as opposed to whole milk) so it is much more resilient to heat. The first time I made paneer I burned a whole gallon of milk. Not fun.

These pictures are not so good as I made this at night, but hopefully they will explain the process.

You start with some heavy whipping cream and heat it in a double boiler (I use a make-shift double boiler by placing one saucepan on top of another) until it reaches 190F degrees (this took about 25 minutes for me):

In case you're wondering, yes, that is a thermometer clipped on with a clothespin (the BF's idea). Once the cream reaches 190F degrees, add fresh lemon juice and stir. The cream will eventually thicken, enough so that it coats the back of a wooden spoon:

Let the cream cool for about 20 min. Then pour it in a sieve lined with cheesecloth, and refrigerate. Before the refrigeration, the cream is still well, creamy, and not as thick as you would expect a cheese to be, but don't fret. Refrigeration is key - after a night of refrigeration, you will have mascarpone. And it will taste divine!
Homemade Mascarpone (adapted from Baking Obsession)
Makes about 12 oz
  • 500 ml whipping (36 %) pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized), preferably organic cream
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1. Prepare a double boiler OR make your own by placing about 1-2 inches of water in a saucepan, then placing another saucepan (or bowl) inside the first. The bottom of the second saucepan should NOT be touching the water.

2. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low so the water is barely simmering. Pour the cream into the top saucepan.

3. Heat the cream, stirring often, to 190 F. It will take about 25-30 minutes.

4. Add the lemon juice and continue heating the mixture, stirring gently, until the cream curdles. Do not expect the same action as you see during ricotta cheese making. All that the whipping cream will do is become thicker. It will cover a back of your wooden spoon thickly.

5. Remove the top saucepan from from the water and let cool for about 20 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, line a sieve with four layers of dampened cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. Transfer the mixture into the lined sieve. Do not squeeze the cheese in the cheesecloth or press on its surface (be patient, it will firm up after refrigeration time). Once cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (in the sieve) overnight or up to 24 hours.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Daring Bakers Cannoli...Yes, it's Late

This is my first time posting late for a Daring Bakers Challenge. I'm sorry! I am hoping that my tardy posting will prevent me from getting kicked out of this group that I am actually really honored to be a part of. These are some seriously DARING Bakers. This month (or I guess last month) however, they were Daring Fryers, as the challenge recipe was Cannoli.

Mmm...Cannoli. I remember those little rolls of deliciousness from my school days back in Queens NY. Every once in a while I would walk into my favorite pizzeria on my way back from school, and treat myself to one of these babies. The fried crispy shells filled with white yummy filling (which is what I knew it as back then since I had never even heard of ricotta or marscarpone), speckled with mini chocolate chips. It was heaven! Unfortunately, these "cannoli" I concocted last weekend, were not :( .

I'm not sure if it was my fault or the fault of the recipe (I'm guessing its the former since others had good turnout with this recipe), but my cannoli shells were pretty awful. Firstly, the recipe said to fry for 1-2 min, but doing this caused major burnage for my shells -- so much that I was frying for about 30 seconds tops to make sure they didn't burn. Secondly, they were bland! I tried the suggested recipe for chocolate cannoli thinking chocolate anything has to be good -- but no, they were just chocolate blandness. And lastly, probably the saddest part of this challenge -- my shells did not stay crispy. The morning after they had basically become...tortillas. OK, maybe not as flimsy as a tortilla, but maybe something more like a pita. No joke!

Anyway, my favorite part about this recipe was a homemade chocolate mascarpone filling that I made to fill the cannoli (will post about it next). I was really surprised at how easy it is to make mascarpone at home! I would say it is even easier than paneer (or ricotta), since the first time I did that, I ended up burning the milk. Cream, on the other hand, is much tougher, and requires much more carelessness to burn. YES to burn-resistant ingredients!

Please check out Lisa's fantastic blog for the cannoli recipe. Her cannoli are seriously stunning and I'm sure much tastier than mine!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Blondies and My First Award

Wow. I know it has been too long since I've posted. And I've wanted to so much, but really have had no time this last month. I am teaching a class in my university, and I am really enjoying it but it is extremely time consuming. From preparing all the lectures, exams, and home works, grading, and holding office hours, I have found so little time to do other things I enjoy, including cooking. I've made a few interesting things here and there (mainly for Thanksgiving), but they were all either made at night (not good for photos), or eaten right away (too hungry to stop for pictures). So sadly, I have not been able to post, and really, I missed it so much. There is something so exciting about seeing comments on your postings, it really makes it all worth it. Thank you so much to my commenters! You all rock.

A while ago, I posted about whole wheat peanut butter cookies, and a whole wheat challenge where I was baking some of my favorite recipes by replacing some (or all) of the all purpose flour with whole wheat. I got a request from lucysmom for whole wheat blondies, so here they are!

This is the blondie recipe I ALWAYS make. It is fantastic -- the result is a soft, chewy, toffee-flavored, blondie loaded with chocolate chips (I also often put walnuts and pecans). I have always made it with all purpose flour, but a while back I tried replacing all the all-purpose with whole wheat pastry and I seriously cannot tell the difference. I guess the amount of butter and brown sugar in the recipe takes away the healthy tastes of the whole wheat (woot for butter and brown sugar!) If you don't have whole wheat pastry flour, I've also replaced half the all purpose with regular whole wheat and the result was just as good.
A few weeks ago, Memória from Mangio da Sola (a very lovely blog that I read regularly) gave my blog this award.
I am so grateful to her for recognizing my blog. I also really appreciate her generous and thoughtful comments on my blog. Thank you Memória!
In honor of this award, I will pass it on to two other drool-worthy blogs that I like to read regularly: Dolce at Confessions of a chocoholic and Jill at Jillicious Discoveries. Congratulations! :)

Whole Wheat Blondies
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted (preferably on the stove top)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or 1/2 cup whole wheat flour + 1/2 cup all-purpose flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/4 chopped pecans or walnuts
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Mix the brown sugar with the melted butter (I usually do this by hand). Add the eggs and vanilla. Stir until well combined.
2. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix until just incorporated.
3. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts.
4. Pour into 8x8 in pan and bake for 25-30 min or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Acorn Squash Quesadillas with Apple Salsa

I love making quesadillas. They are super versatile since you can fill them with pretty much anything and they are just gosh darn tasty. The gooey warm fillings combined with a crisp exterior is just perfect with some cool salsa. I make quesadillas often in the summer time since there are so many awesome summer vegetables to stuff them with, plus yummy tomatoes for pico de gallo (aka salsa). This time, I wanted to try a more autumnized version of quesadillas, because hey, Fall has some great vegetables to offer too. I went with acorn squash and spinach. I also wanted to make a yummy autumnized salsa so I decided to make a sweet, spicy, and tangy apple salsa.

This combination was fabulous! The quesadillas rocked (as expected) but the salsa was AMAZING. No joke -- I seriously made a bunch of extra salsa and just ate it all on its own, it was that good. If you don't want to make the effort to make these 'dillas (although they are not difficult) you should still try this salsa. Even if you end up eating it out of the bowl like me.

Acorn Squash and Spinach Quesadillas with Apple Salsa
(makes 2 servings)
For the Quesadillas:
  • 1 Tb olive oil
  • 2 cups acorn squash, peeled and chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 handfuls of spinach, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup cooked beans (pinto, black, kidney)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 large tortillas (I used whole wheat)
For the Apple Salsa:
  • 1 medium crisp apple (I used fuji), diced
  • 1 handful of cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
  • salt, pepper to taste
For the Quesadillas:
1. Roast the acorn squash in the oven for about 20 min, until softened, but not mush.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet, and cook the onion for about 5 min. Add the squash, spinach, and garlic, and cook for about 10 minutes. Stir in the beans, cumin, and salt and pepper. (Here's a secret: I also do this step in...the microwave! Yes, when I don't have the patience to stand over the stove, I put all these ingredients in a bowl and nuke 'em for about 2 minutes. And you know what? I can't tell the difference).
3. Add a few drops of oil to a hot skillet. Place a tortilla on the skillet and add to one side half the squash mixture and half the cheese. Fold over and cook for about 5 minutes on each side, until crispy and browned. Repeat for other tortilla.

For the Apple Salsa:
1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pecan Tartelettes

Since the first time I tasted pecan pie it has been my favorite Thanksgiving dessert, and one of my favorite all time desserts -- which is pretty hard to believe considering it has no chocolate. Something about the gooeyness and nuttiness...yum. I've always used a simple recipe I found online for pecan pie, but after all this recent talk about the evil that is corn syrup, I decided to replace some of the corn syrup with honey. I also made them in a muffin pan, which allowed them to be super cute. Its funny how you can take any standard dessert, make them in a small pan, and all of sudden, cuteness.

For the crusts, I used my go-to pie crust recipe, but continuing with my whole wheat challenge, I swapped the regular flour with whole wheat pastry. The result was still good, although I have to admit that I could taste a difference in the pie crust. The whole wheat definitely tasted more wholesome, which is not necessarily bad, but not as good as the standard buttery pie crust. Maybe more butter would help. Or maybe a half and half mixture. Otherwise these little tartelettes were pretty awesome. Sweet, gooey, nutty all wrapped in a cute little package.

Pecan Tartelettes
  • 2 Eggs, Slightly Beaten
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup Light Corn Syrup
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Flour
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla
  • 1-1/4 cups chopped pecans
  • 1 unbaked pie crust (recipe below)
1. Preheat oven to 375 deg F.
2. Using a 2in diameter cookie cutter, cut 16 rounds of pie dough. Lightly press into a buttered muffin pan.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, honey, syrup, sugar, flour, salt and vanilla. Pour about 2-3 Tablespoons in each mini pie shell. Be careful that the filling doesn't flow over the shell.
4. Spread 2 Tb pecans in each shell.

Bake at 375 deg F. for 20 minutes or until filling is set. Remove each tartelette onto cooling rack and let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Whole Wheat Pie Crust (adapted from Land O'Lakes)
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup cold butter
  • 2 to 3 Tbs ice cold water
1. Combine flour and salt in large bowl; cut in butter with pastry blender or fork until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in enough water with fork just until flour is moistened.
2. Shape dough ball. Flatten slightly. Wrap ball in plastic food wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ok, I'm trying something new here. Lately, I've been making my favorite recipes by replacing the all purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour. A few weeks ago, I made chocolate chip blondies (yum!) using only whole wheat and I was seriously amazed. I could not tell the difference AT ALL! Even the BF who hates my healthy replacements had to admit (hah!) that he could not tell a difference. I really wanted to blog about those blondies but unfortunately I ate them all before I could. Oof. This time, I had some restraint and photographed these lovely whole wheat peanut butter chocolate chip cookies before I could eat them all. Not that they weren't worthy of being eaten in one day. These cookies were amazing! So so good and again -- I could not tell the difference between these and the original recipe that used all white flour.

So now I've decided to do a test -- I will try to remake some of my favorite all-purpose flour recipes (I'm thinking chocolate chip cookies, brownies, pie crusts) by replacing some (or all) of the all purpose flour with whole wheat. And...I'll take requests for recipes too! I'll be your guinea pig. So send me a recipe that you are curious about and I'll take the whole wheat test and report the results. In the meantime, make these cookies!

Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease or line 2 cookie sheets.
2. Whisk together:
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 whole wheat (pastry) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3. Beat in a large bowl until well blended:
1/3 cup (5 1⁄3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar

4. Beat in:
1 large egg
1 cup peanut butter (smooth or chunky)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips
5. Stir in the flour mixture until blended. Shape into 1-inch balls and arrange about 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Press in some extra chocolate chips on top. Bake 1 sheet at a time, about 8 to 10 minutes. Let stand briefly, then remove to a rack to cool.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tres Leches Cake

On our way back from Peru last month, we had a 14 hour lay over in Mexico City. After we visited the lovely Chapultepec Castle, we walked downtown searching for a good authentic Mexican meal. While the BF was thinking about burritos and tacos, I was dreaming about dulce de leche, tres leches, flan and other types of creamy, milky desserts. So after lunch, I was on the hunt for a cute, authentic bakery that would satisfy all my creamy milky cravings. So we searched, and searched, and although we did find some cute bakeries, we could not find these authentic desserts that I had been dreaming about. We did find brownies, cookies, cheesecake, and apple pie. But nothing that seemed downright Mexican. Naturally, I had to satisfy my craving, so one of the first things I baked was this tres leches cake.

The original recipe is from Martha Stewart. Of course traditional tres leches is chocolate-free, but I find it hard to make a dessert that doesn't have chocolate (I'm trying to change, really), so I added some chocolate chips to the batter. To compensate, I also reduced the sugar.

There are literally millions of recipes for tres leches, and I chose this one because the cake part was a sponge cake as opposed to a yellow cake. I remember reading that sponge cakes are better for absorbing liquids. And I say the more creamy, milky, the better! I also cut the cake into hearts since I was feeling girly.

Chocolate Chip Tres Leches Cake (adapted from Martha Stewart)
  • Unsalted butter, room temperature, for baking dish
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 can(12 ounces) evaporated milk
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. In a mixing bowl, beat egg yolks and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy. In another bowl, beat egg whites to soft peaks. Using a rubber spatula, fold whites into yolks until almost combined. Gently fold in flour first, then chocolate chips (do not overmix).
  2. Spread batter in prepared dish. Bake until golden and pulling away from sides of dish, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool cake for at least 20 minutes. Once cool, use a fork to poke several holes all over the cake.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the three milks; pour evenly over cake. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
  4. To serve, prepare topping: In a mixing bowl, whip heavy cream with sugar to soft peaks. Chill cake and cut into squares; serve topped with whipped cream.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Chocolate Chip Filling

Yes the title is correct and no there is not an extra 'Chocolate' in there. That's what these are: Chocolate cupcakes with a chocolate filling that has chocolate chips in it. Can you tell I was craving something when I made these?

These cupcake are a delicious conglomeration of two fantastic chocolate recipes: Beatty's Chocolate Cake (from Ina Garten) and Scharffenberger's Chocolate Pudding. My additions are a vanilla (just to keep things interesting) buttercream frosting and mini chocolate chips in the pudding. Simply bake the cupcakes, cook the pudding, add the chips, core the cupcakes, fill with pudding, and frost. Ok, so maybe a few more steps than your average cupcake, but I promise these are totally worth the effort. Being super rich and chocolatey, they are sure to satisfy even the fiercest of chocolate cravings.

(Please forgive this picture, I realize the filling doesn't look very creamy at all. But it was about 90 degrees when I decided to take these pictures and I couldn't get the frosting to drip off without throwing these guys in the fridge for a few minutes, hence the funky looking filling. But not refrigerated, this filling is super creamy.)

Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Chocolate Chip Filling (makes about 28 cupcakes)

For the chocolate cupcakes:
I don't make any changes to the chocolate cake recipe, so the recipe is here.

Chocolate Chip Filling (adapted from John Scharffenberger via Wednesday Chef)
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups 2% milk
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips or coarsely chopped chocolate
Vanilla Buttercream Frosting (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
  • 3 to 4 cups confections sugar
  • 1 stick butter, at room temperatue
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
To make the Filling:
1. Combine the cornstarch, sugar and salt in the top of a double boiler.
2. Slowly whisk in the milk, scraping the bottom and sides with a heatproof spatula to incorporate the dry ingredients. Place over gently simmering water and stir occasionally, scraping the bottom and sides. Use a whisk as necessary should lumps begin to form.
3. After 15 to 20 minutes, when the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of the spoon, add the chocolate. Continue stirring for about 2 to 4 minutes, or until the pudding is smooth and thickened.
4. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
5. Let cool to room temperature, and add the chocolate chips.

To make the Frosting:
1. Whip the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, for several minutes, until light and fluffy. Slowly add the powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time.
2. When the frosting looks thick enough to spread, add 2 more tablespoons of the confections sugar, one at a time. Drizzle in the milk, and mix it until combined. Add one more tablespoon of the sugar, then drizzle in the vanilla and mix until combined.

To prepare the cupcakes:
1. Let the cupcakes cool to room temperature. Insert a paring knife into each cupcake at a slight angle, halfway between the center and the outside edge of the cupcake. Cut a circular cone out of the cake, being careful not to cut all the way to the bottom.
3. Chop the pointy ends of the cones off, and set the circular bases aside. These will be used to cover the cupcake holes once they are filled.
4. Using a small teaspoon or a piping bag, fill each cupcake with the filling. Cover each cupcake with a circular base, and frost.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fig Jelly

Last time on CCT, I talked about a fig balsamic glaze made with fig jelly. If you've never had fig jelly, you are missing out. The BF makes an amazing fig jelly and he agreed to do a guest post! So here it is...

This is a little late but sometimes good things come to those who wait, or so they say. I decided to make some fig jelly finally. I guess it is really preserves, but I call all these types of things jelly. I had all these figs in the freezer from slowly hoarding them over the summer. There's this really big fig tree that nobody takes advantage of and if it wasn't for me they would all go to the birds...and rats.

It was only a couple of years ago that I had tried fresh figs for the first time. I'm not really into a lot of fruits like some people, but I really enjoyed the figs, especially right off the tree. This new found discovery for me, and the fact that I have a tendency to squirrel things away, prompted me to try putting some of these figs away in the form of a jelly. It turned out to be a fairly straightforward process, but I did manage to make a few sticky messes out of it along the way. The word on the street is that one should not double a recipe for jellies, but I did not heed this and I think it turned out well. The guidelines came from "The Joy of Cooking." I really only used this recipe to figure out what proportions of figs, lemon juice, and sugar to use, and for processing time. Apparently, figs are low in acid, so the lemon juice is necessary for preservation. I also processed much longer than what is called for in "Joy."

Fig Jelly (adapted from Joy of Cooking)
  • 4 pounds fresh figs washed, stemmed and quartered
  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice (This turned out to be 3 lemons)
  • Enough jars (pint or 1/2 pint) to contain ~ 4 pints of jelly
Mix the figs and sugar in a big pot and simmer on the stove for about 30 minutes. I cooked them longer because I wanted to break apart the chunks a little bit more. While this was happening I got the jars ready and my boiling water started so that I could get the jars boiling as soon as I packed them. After simmering, I added the lemon juice and turned up the heat until it was rapidly boiling - constantly stirring. This is when it should reach the jelling point. I tested this by pulling out a sample and watching it gel as it cooled. I removed the pot from the burner and spooned the jelly into the jars leaving 1/4 inch head space, screwed the lids on, and processed for one hour. I then removed the jars to cool.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Vols-au-Vent

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

My goodness this was a challenge. Roll, fold, chill, and repeat, about 900 times and somehow you end up with puff pastry. Form the pastry into pretty shapes and fill them and you get Vols-au-Vent (little puff pastry cases designed to hold filling).

The BF helped out big time with this challenge because for once he was as excited as I was about making it. No surprise since it was the first non-dessert challenge I've had with the Daring Bakers. So the BF and I each picked our signature filling and had a vols-au-vent throwdown.

Meanie: Goat cheese and roasted red pepper with basil pesto.
(Yes, it's lopsided, but just tilt your head to the right and I promise it'll be ok).

BF: Smoked pork with fig balsamic glaze.
Unfortunately, I didn't try his (don't eat meat), but he assures me that he's the winner ( I just nod and smile).

Puff Pastry/vols-au-vent : here on Steph's amazing drool-inducing blog.
Basil Pesto: From Ina Garten

Fig Balsamic Glaze
1/4 cup fig jelly
2 Tb water
1 tsp salt
2 Tb balsamic vinegar
1 tsp chilli powder

Stir the jelly and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in salt and chilli powder. Cook for 5 min. Lower the heat. Stir in vinegar. Cook over low heat for 5 min.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Carrot Cake with Dulce de Leche Cream Cheese Frosting

I remember growing up in New York, winter was always my favorite season. Snow -- I LOVED snow. Couldn't get enough of it, actually. I would spend literally hours outside running around in it, without even noticing that it was uhm, cold. What is it about kids and snow? Do they not feel how cold it is?
As I got older, either snow got colder, or I got weaker, because winter is no longer my favorite season. Don't get me wrong, I still love the snow (and totally miss it), and LOVE winter, but my favorite season has shifted to Fall.
Something about the crispness in the air and the colors in the trees is so comforting yet exhilarating at the same time. Wow, for a second there I almost forgot that here in California, on the 2nd day of Fall it is - ready for this ? 94 degrees!!?? 94 degrees??!!? Any other Californians out there longing for Fall to actually start?

This carrot cake has Fall written all over it. It's spicy and sweet, and comforting and exhilarating. Ok, maybe not exhilarating, but it is all of those other things and super delicious. Plus, it is good for you. I took one of Dorie Greenspan's fantastic recipes (I love her but does every recipe REALLY need 2 cups of butter?) and added some healthy tweaks (surprise) and extra spice. I also ditched the usual cream cheese topping, and swapped it for a super rich and decadent dulce de leche cream cheese frosting. The dulce de leche adds an awesome butterscotchy flavor that I can't explain but try it and you'll see.

Spicy Carrot Cake with Dulce de Leche Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from Dorie Greenspan)

  • 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups grated carrots (about 5 carrots),
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 2 large eggs
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar, sifted (more or less to taste)
  • 2 Tb dulce de leche (homemade or store-bought)
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 8 in square pan.
2. Whisk the flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. In another bowl, stir together the carrots and chopped nut.
3. Beat the sugar, oil, applesauce, and vanilla extract together on a medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs one by one and continue to beat until the batter is even smoother. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing only until the dry ingredients disappear. Gently mix in the nuts ingredients. Pour in pan.
4. Bake for 40-50 minutes, rotating the pan from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point, until a thin knife inserted into the centers comes out clean.
5. For frosting, beat the cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until the frosting is velvety smooth. Beat in the vanilla and dulce de leche. Allow cake to cool completely before spreading frosting.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Guess Where I've Been

Sorry y'all. I know I've been away for a while. Things are busy here in CCT land. I've been traveling a bit lately. Where to? Here's a hint...
Not sure? Ok, here's another one...
Still no? Ok, one more, and hopefully this will do it:
Yes! This month I traveled to the magical, mystical, breathtakingly beautiful Peru. It was one of the most awe-inspiring places I've ever been, and the trip was fabulous.
Unfortunately, it pretty much drained me out of free time when I got back, so I've been slacking on the cooking and posting. But not for long. See you soon!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Daring Bakers Dobos Torte

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

The Dobos Torte is a five-layer sponge cake filled with chocolate buttercream and topped with wedges of crunchy caramel. The orginal recipe called for a buttercream made with eggs and many of the other Daring Bakers had complained that it melted easily. Since I knew I'd be taking this cake to work, which is a 1 1/2 hr drive, I opted for a more resilient chocolate buttercream (recipe below). I added a bit of coffee to the buttercream and brushed on a simple syrup of kahlua and water to the cake layers. I finished off by covering the cake in toasted hazelnuts.

The most challenging part of the recipe was preparing the separate cake layers. I followed the recipe exactly but somehow ended up with 5 layers. They were still 5 layers of sponge cake and chocolate buttercream goodness. If I were to make this again I think I would skip the caramel topping. They were a bit too chewy and sweet for my taste.

Here are some comments from co-workers:

CW1: Fancy!
CW2: Wow! You made this from scratch? And the frosting is not from a can?!
CW3: Very yummy and not too sweet.

There you have it folks. Dobos definitely knew what he was doing when he came up with this cake. Check out the recipe here. Below is my favorite recipe for melt-free chocolate mocha buttercream (tried and tested after many many not-so-good recipes).

Chocolate Mocha Buttercream Frosting
  • 2 3/4 cup - 2 Tb confectioners sugar
  • 8 Tb cocoa powder
  • 6 Tb butter, NOT melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 Tb milk
  • 2 Tb strong coffee
1. In a large bowl, sift together the confectioners sugar and cocoa, and set aside.
In another large bowl, cream butter until smooth. Gradually add in one quarter of the sugar mixture, 2 Tb at a time. Add in all of the vanilla, then another quarter of the sugar mixture, two tablespoons at a time. The mixture should be firm. At this point, gradually add the milk and coffee, alternating with 2 tablespoons at a time of the rest of the sugar mixture.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Indian Chickpea Curry (Chole)

Here is Part III of my Indian Menu: Indian Chickpea Curry aka Chole.
Chole is a very simple, tasty, and healthy Indian dish made from chickpeas and tomatoes and flavored with all sorts of traditional Indian spices. It is very good served with some Indian bread (rotis or naan) or simply rice. The flavors in this dish are so delicious that you won't miss all the cream and butter found in many other Indian dishes. Plus it takes about 30 minutes to make! No joke. This stuff is the bomb.

Indian Chickpea Curry(Chole)
  • 4 medium tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons peeled and grated fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 3 small green chilies
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 teaspoons coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon red chili powder
  • 3 cups (2 15 oz cans) of cooked chickpeas/Garbanzo beans
  • 1 2/3 cup water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • freshly ground pepper
1. Blend the tomatoes, ginger, garlic, and chiles to make a puree.
2. Heat the oil and lightly fry the cumin seeds and bay leaves for
about 1 minute over medium heat. Add the flour and stir fry until lightly browned.
3. Add the tomato puree, coriander, tumeric, and chili powder, and let cook over for about 5 minutes.
4. Add the chickpeas and water, and let cook, covered, for about 10 minutes.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Indian Eggplant and Okra Curry

Note to self: I do not have the photography skills to make eggplant curry look good. And actually, that is really sad, because this stuff was sooo good. Out of all the Indian dishes I cooked up last weekend, this was probably my favorite. I bought the eggplant and the okra for 5 bucks (yes $5 TOTAL at the farmers market) and the tomatos were from my own garden. Now how's that for eating local?
I've made an eggplant and tomato curry a few times in the past since I really like that combo, but this time I decided to add in fresh okra. I'm so glad I did too. It really adds a nice flavor and more so an awesome texture to this curry. And guess what? My okra wasn't slimy! For reals!! I really thought it would be, and I was almost expecting it, preparing myself, being ready for it. But I read some tips online and somehow I was able to achieve the deliciousness of okra without the slime. Woot! Don't believe me? Try this recipe. And make it look pretty, and take a picture, and send it to me!

I think the tricks to cooking okra slime-free are (1) use fresh okra, when possible (I've made this recipe with frozen okra in the past and noticed it was definitely slimier) (2) be as gentle as possible when cooking it. Stirring it around like crazy will only bring out more slime, and (3) add an acidic ingredient (eg. tomatoes) to the recipe if possible -- something in the acid helps cut down the slime (don't you just love my very scientific explanations for things).

Indian Eggplant and Okra Curry
  • 2 Tb olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 large eggplant, chopped into 1 inch cubes
  • 5 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tsp tumeric
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp coriander
  • 1 1/2 lb okra, trimmed and chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 handfuls of cilantro, chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
1. In a large pot, fry the cumin seeds in the olive oil over low heat.
2. Increase the heat, add the eggplant, and let cook for about 10-15 minutes just until it begins to soften.
3. Add the tomatoes and cook for another 10-15 minutes.
4. Add the tumeric, cumin, red pepper, and coriander, and stir the mixture.
5. Add the okra and stir gently so as not to break the pieces. Let cook for 8 minutes.
6. Stir in the cilantro and salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Indian-Style Zucchini Patties with Tamarind Chutney

I'm back! Finally! Things have been pretty hectic this summer since I'm commuting home every weekend from my internship. The little time I've had on the weekends does not want to be spent cooking. So although I neglected my kitchen (and my blog) for a few weeks, last weekend, a sudden cooking urge came over me. So I threw on the old apron (yes, I wear one-I spill A LOT) and got to work. First, I noticed that the majority of the recipes on this site are desserts. Anyone else notice that? Although desserts do make a hefty portion of my diet (chocolate IS a food group, no?), I felt the need to prove to the world or at least all my readers ( all 11 of you) that yes, I do eat other things -- actual non-desserts. Since I've been missing my mom's cooking, I planned a big fat Indian menu and gave myself the whole weekend to make them. Of course I was fooling myself because 2 days is definitely not enough time to prepare all the dishes I had in mind (or at least not enough time for someone as inefficient as I sometimes am in the kitchen). I literally finished cooking at 10pm on Sunday night, right before I took a nap on the kitchen counter.
So here is Part I of my Indian menu: Indian Style Zucchini Patties with Tamarind Chutney. In Bengali, these are called 'chops' (pronounced chawps) and they are usually deep fried in oil. Sorry to mess with tradition, but something was calling me to try baking these. So I made up a batch of the patties, baked half of them (the ones in the photo are baked), and fried the rest. Both were very tasty. Of course the fried ones were a bit more indulgent, but the baked ones were just as satisfying.

Indian-Style Zucchini Patties (makes about 10 patties)

  • 3 medium zucchini, grated and drain (drain by wrapping grated zucchini in paper towels and squeezing out the excess water)
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper (add less if you can't handle the heat)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 + 1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs, divided
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 Tb cornstarch
  • oil for frying or baking (I used canola for frying, olive for baking)
1. Mix the grated zucchini, red pepper, cumin, cinnamon, coriander, salt, pepper, and 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs in one bowl.
2. Mix the 1/4 cup water and cornstarch in a separate bowl.
3. Form the zucchini mixture into small patties (about 1 heaping tablespoon each). Dip each pattie into the cornstarch mixture, then into the remaining 1 cup of breadcrumbs.
4. If baking: Generously (really generously -- I didn't put enough oil, and got some major pan stuckage) grease a large baking sheet. Gently brush both sides of each pattie with olive oil. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, or until the tops are browned. Then, flip each pattie over, and bake again for an additional 10 minutes.
5. If frying: Fry in oil about 2 minutes on each side or until browned.

Tamarind Chutney (makes about 1 cup)
  • 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 Tb tamarind paste (available in International Markets)
  • 3 1/2 cup water
  • 2 Tb tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 3/4 tsp red pepper
Fry the cumin seeds in a bit of oil. Add water and tamarind paste, and cook for about 45 min, until mixture is reduced to about 1 cup. Add the tomato paste, sugar, cumin, and red pepper. Mix well until all is dissolved.

I am submitting this recipe for Weekend Herb Blogging hosted by Prof. Kitty at The Cabinet of Prof. Kitty. Checkout the lovely photos of her garden!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Daring Bakers: Mallomars

The July 2009 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

For this month's challenge, I chose the Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies. I really wanted to try both, but I've been super busy with my internship and only had enough time to try one. The marshmallow cookies were intriguing because I've never made marshmallows before and definitely wanted to give it a try.

I wanted to make the marshmallows vegetarian (no gelatin), so I followed one of the recipes on the Daring Bakers Alternative Bakers forum. The recipe uses Xanthan Gum instead of gelatin to achieve the gelatin-like consistency, and it is fantastic! I read some reviews and was worried that the marshmallows would be too runny. But I followed all the steps and holy moly!
It was true...I had marshmallows. And they weren't runny piles of goop, they were just soft and fluffy, like little pillows...little pillows that were a magnet to uhm, everything. Literally. By the time I was done dipping the last cookie, my kitchen had become a marshmallow. Fortunately, it was worth it because this recipe makes some mighty good cookies, and a ton of them! I
only made a third of the recipe and still ended up with about 20 big cookies!

I made two variations of the cookie: for the first type, I added a layer of homemade dulce de leche (think: marshmallows, chocolate, and caramel...oh mama). The other variation was inside out Mallomars: I used a chocolate cookie base and dipped the cookies in white chocolate.

This recipe was definitely a challenge for me - although the individual parts were simple, putting them together was trickier. Also, trying to get the world's stickiest stuff to do what you want is not particularly easy. Still, these cookies were very very tasty and I would definitely recommend this recipe -- just be prepared, you might end up with marshmallow on your ceiling (I did).

The recipe for the cookies is here. Below is the recipe I used for vegetarian marshmallows. I followed the recipe exactly except piped the marshmallows onto the cookies instead of spreading it on a baking pan.

Vegetarian Marshmallows (by Elizabeth Falkner of Demolition Desserts)

• 60 mL water
• pinch of cream of tartar
• 255 g sugar, granulated
• 255 g light corn syrup
• ½ vanilla bean
• 85 g egg whites (about 3 egg whites)
• 5 g xanthan (0.76%)

1. Ground xanthan with a tablespoon of sugar. Set aside.
2. Heat water, cream of tartar, remaining sugar, corn syrup and vanilla to 120ºC. Discard vanilla bean. Whisk egg whites for about 2 min until still soft. Continue whipping egg whites at slow speed while adding syrup slowly. Sprinkle xanthan mix while still whipping. Turn speed up and continue mixing for 2-3 min or until meringue pulls away from sides.
3. Sprinkle a pan or baking sheet generously with cornstarch and spread out the meringue. Sprinkle top with cornstarch, cover with plastic and leave to set for 4 hours in a refrigerator. Cut marshmallows into desired shapes and dip cut surfaces in cornstarch.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Dulce De Leche

After making a half recipe of Magic Cookie Bars, I had some leftover condensed milk. I'd recently seen some dulce de leche recipes which use condensed milk, and although I've always wanted to make it, I was a bit intimidated. The possibility of exploding cans and spurting liquids combined with my luck in the kitchen was not a good combination. So I did some research and found a fool-proof, no explosions recipe for sweet delicious dulce de leche. Woot!

The recipe was really simple, and the ducle de leche came out great. My only advice with this recipe is to ditch the whisk and just use a spoon to stir it up. Although a whisk would still work, I found that much of the dulce de leche just ended up stuck in the wires of my whisk. Plus, licking the stuff off a spoon is so much easier than trying to lick a whisk clean.

Explosion Free Dulce de Leche (by David Lebovitz)

1. Preheat the oven to 425° F (220° C).
2. Pour one can (400 gr/14 ounces) of sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk) into a glass pie plate or shallow baking dish. Stir in a few flecks of sea salt.
3. Cover the pie plate snugly with aluminum foil and set the pie plate within a larger pan, such as a roasting pan, and add hot water until it reaches halfway up the side of the pie plate.
4. Bake for 1 to 1¼ hours. (Check a few times during baking and add more water to the roasting pan as necessary).
5. Once the Dulce de Leche is nicely browned and caramelized, remove from the oven and let cool. Once cool, stir with spoon until smooth.

Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Warm gently in a warm water bath or microwave oven before using.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Magic Cookie Bars

This is it folks -- the mother of all desserts: Magic Bars. These little babies combine my three favorite dessert ingredients: chocolate (of course!), caramel, and nuts.

There are many different names for these bars: Magic Cookie Bars, Hello Dolly Bars, Seven-Layer Bars, and (the very creative) Chocolate Coconut Bars. But they all equal the same thing: a dessert so rich that you only need about one piece to satisfy your sweet tooth. Unless you have my sweet tooth, which means you'll eat until your stomach hurts.

I combined a few of the recipes I found to make a more wholesome version of this recipe. Notice I didn't say "lighter" version, just "wholesome". So even though they're still loaded with calories, they'll make you fuller, which means you'll eat less of them. Unless, of course, you're like me. I think I may have a problem.

Magic Cookie Bars
  • 1 cup whole wheat graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal
  • 1 Tb brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)
  • 1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cups flaked coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
1. Preheat oven to 325°F . Line a 8x8-inch baking pan.
2. In small bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, oatmeal, brown sugar, and butter; mix well.
Press crumb mixture firmly on bottom of baking pan.
3. Sprinkle chocolate chips, coconut and pecans on top. Pour the condensed milk evenly.
4. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until slightly golden on top.
5. Cool for 15 minutes before removing from pan.

Monday, July 6, 2009

100% Whole Wheat Bread

I was almost starting to believe it wasn't possible: 100% whole wheat bread made at home that doesn't taste like a stale crouton. I tried so many whole wheat bread recipes and either (1) they didn't make a 100% whole wheat bread (ie. they called for some all-purpose or bread flour) or (2) the bread had the texture and feel of something I want to throw at idiot drivers who cut me off when I'm riding my bike. And just as I was starting to lose hope that it was actually possible to make tasty, soft, 100% whole wheat bread at home, I found it -- THE perfect recipe.

The original recipe is from King Arthur Flour, but I found it at Cooking for Seven, which by the way has some great recipes which are tweaked to please us healthy-type folks.

100% Whole Wheat Bread (adapted from King Arthur Flour via Cooking for Seven)


  • 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) lukewarm water
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter, coconut oil, or olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey, molasses, or maple syrup
  • 3 1/2 cups Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1 tablespoon vital wheat gluten
  • 2 tablespoons flax meal, 10 grain cereal, wheat germ, etc. (optional and very good)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast

To prepare the dough:

(Hand Method) Combine all of the ingredients, and mix them till you have a shaggy dough. The dough will seem wet, but remember: wetter is better. Let the dough rest, covered, for 20 minutes, then knead till smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Allow the dough to rise, covered, for 1 to 2 hours, or until it’s puffy and nearly doubled in bulk.

(Mixer Method) In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine all ingredients and mix them till you have a shaggy dough. The dough will seem wet, but remember: wetter is better. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes, then knead by machine until fairly smooth, about 10 minutes. Allow dough to rise, covered, for 1 to 2 hours, or until it’s puffy and nearly doubled in bulk.

(Bread Machine Method) Place all ingredients in bread machine pan and set to dough cycle.

To Shape the Loaves

After the dough has risen, gently deflate the dough, shape it into a log, and place it in a lightly greased large (9×5 inch) bread pan or two small bread pans. Cover the pan with a towel*(see note below) or lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow it to rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes-1 hour, till it’s crowned about 2 inches over the rim of the pan. Preheat your oven to 350°F about halfway through the rising time.

Bake the bread in a preheated 350°F oven for 45 minutes or until it turns a deep brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Yield: 1 large or 2 small loaves.

* I've found that if I place the towel directly on the dough, it sometimes causes the loaf to deflate when I take the towel off. I think a better approach (the BF discovered this) is to prop the towel over the bread (using 4 small jars on each corner of the bread pan) to make sure there is no direct contact between the towel and the dough.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Bakewell Tart

The June Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart/pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800’s in England.

This was my first Daring Bakers challenge, and I am dedicating it to the BF. Without a doubt, if it weren't for him, there is no way I would have completed this recipe. There were so many factors which tempted me to be a no-show for my very first challenge: (1) I was leaving to go out of town, and then out of the country, for 2 weeks, so would not be around to enjoy the results of the challenge (2) I really wanted to do something creative and I had the hardest time coming up with ideas (3) I had never heard of a Bakewell Tart, or even used almond flour, and (4) the recipe required a scale for measuring the ingredients, and my broke self does not own one.

With some much needed moral support from the BF, I finally decided to tough it out and complete the challenge, and I am so glad I did! Since I was not going to be around to enjoy it, I decided the next best thing would be to give it away. I wanted to give half the tart to a friend I was visiting who just finished business school, and since she is a major chocoholic I knew that I would have to incorporate chocolate into the recipe. So instead of the traditional fruit spread which the recipe calls for, I decided to go with a chocolate spread. They're almost the same, right? Cocoa is a fruit, right? Oh, it's not? Ok, well it grows on trees, right? Oh, not really? Ok, well it's sweet like fruit, right? No?! Ok, they're not similar, but they both make good spreads, so there.

The most popular chocolate-based spread I know of is nutella, which is made with chocolate and hazelnuts. But since this dessert uses almond flour, I decided to make my own version of nutella, with almonds instead of hazelnuts. The homemade almond "nutella" came out great, and was perfect for this dessert.

The Bakewell tart traditionally consists of a shortcrust pastry (like a pie crust), a layer of jam, and a frangipane (or almond cake) topping. I was a bit wary of this dessert, because I expected the frangipane to taste like marzipan, which I am not a fan of. Surprisingly, it tasted nothing like marzipan -- instead it was like a very rich, almost creamy, cake -- totally delicious. This was my first experience using almond flour and I loved it. It's a bit pricey compared to regular flour, but I will definitely be using it when I'm in the mood to splurge. Also, since I was short on time, I used my trusty pie crust recipe instead of the one given in the challenge. I really enjoyed this recipe. The butter, almond, and chocolate flavors came together really well to make a very rich and satisfying dessert.

As for measuring the ingredients -- the BF took them all to his lab and measured them for me using his lab scale! Ah, it's great to know a scientist, and even better when he's your boyfriend. :) As much as I appreciated his help, this challenge has definitely convinced me to invest in a kitchen scale, so this little baby will be sitting on my counter in 5 to 7 business days. Woot!

Bakewell Tart with Chocolate Almond Spread
  • One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
  • Bench flour
  • 250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability
  • One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
  • One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Sweet shortcrust pastry
225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Chocolate Almond Spread (Nutella)

Some people say that Nutella is the peanut butter of Europe. I'd have to agree. When I backpacked through Europe in 2005, I too often found myself in the 'exotic foods' section of the grocery store desperately searching the shelves for a jar of peanut butter. Usually there were just one or two jars of creamy unsalted for about twice as much as I would pay in the U.S. But price was not an issue, because denying oneself of a peanut butter craving for an entire month is not healthy, at least not for me.

My German friend has told me she's had a similar experience with buying Nutella in California. The stuff is way more expensive here than it is in Europe, and usually there is just that one brand - Nutella, whereas European groceries offer far more options.
Since I just got back from a week long European excursion through Germany and Prague, I am dedicating this post to Europe and it's delicious culinary invention of Nutella, or more generally, chocolate hazelnut spread.

I was curious about making my own chocolate hazelnut spread, but I wanted to try it with almonds instead of hazelnuts (I'll explain why in the next post). I found this recipe on Baking Bites and made a few adjustments.

Ok, I'm not going to lie -- this was not easy. Well, the original recipe is easy, but since I was looking for a smooth spread, I had to strain it all through a sieve to get rid of the chunkiness from the ground almond. But the taste? It was amazing and totally worth the effort. This spread had a strong almond flavor which was very nicely balanced with a sweet chocolatey flavor. All in all, this was chocolate almond heaven.

Chocolate Almond Spread
(adapted from Baking Bites)
  • 1/3 cup almond meal (ground almonds)
  • 1/2 cup dry nonfat milk powder
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup milk (2% or whole)
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract

1. In a medium saucepan, combine almond meal, dry milk powder, brown sugar, white sugar, cocoa powder and cornstarch. Add in milk and vegetable oil and whisk until smooth.

2. Cook over medium heat, whisking frequently, until mixture begins to thicken and just starts to bubble. Remove from heat and stir in almond extract.

3. To get a smooth spread, strain the mixture by placing small portions of it, one at a time, in a strainer. Use a spoon and the strainer to separate the mixture and the almond meal.

4. Transfer the spread to a heatproof container, preferably one with an airtight lid. Cool to room temperature and, if not eating right away, store in the fridge with an airtight lid on the container.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Brown Rice Risotto with Asparagus and Mushrooms

Ok, I've realized that I cannot go to Trader Joe's without buying at least 2 pounds of cheese. Before I made this risotto, our fridge was stocked with 14 kinds of cheeses, that's right FOURTEEN: mozarella, white cheddar, orange cheddar, Swiss, Gruyère, goat, Comtè, Fontina, Parmesiano-Reggiano, Pecorino, Monterey jack, feta, parmesan, and Harvati. So as much as I love risotto, this recipe was more about clearing up some fridge room than satisfying a craving.

I know that Arborio rice is typically used for risotto, but I wanted to try making it a bit healthier by using brown rice. I wasn't sure how it would work out, or if it would at all, since brown rice is definitely not as starchy as Arborio, and the starchiness of the rice is what gives risotto its creaminess. I used a simple recipe for asparagus and shitake risotto and used brown rice instead of Arborio.

Using the brown rice required much more time since brown rice takes longer to cook, but the end result was totally worth it. This risotto was just as creamy as other risottos I've had with Arborio rice. I used Gruyère and Fontina, which added a ton of flavor.

Brown Rice Risotto with Asparagus and Mushrooms (adapted from Gourmèt, May 2003)
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 pound thin to medium asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices, leaving tips 1 1/2 inches long
  • 4 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 pound fresh crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 shallots, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups Brown rice (10 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup Gruyere
  • 1/2 cup Fontina
1. Bring broth and water to a boil in a large pot. Add asparagus and cook, uncovered, until crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer asparagus with a slotted spoon to a large bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking, then drain and pat dry. Keep broth at a bare simmer, covered.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large heavy pot over moderately high heat, then sauté mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
3. Cook shallots in 2 tablespoons of oil in saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, about 1 minute. Add rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and cook, stirring, until absorbed, about 1 minute.
3. Ladle in 1 cup simmering broth and cook at a strong simmer, stirring, until absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue simmering and adding broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next, until rice is just tender and looks creamy, for about 1 hour.
4. Remove from heat and stir in cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Gently stir in asparagus and mushrooms. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Chocolate Truffles

mmm...who would have thought that wanna-be fungus could taste this good?

Last weekend the bf and I made chocolate truffles and they were scrumptiously good.

I read so many mixed opinions about truffle-making that I was a bit intimidated to make these. Some recipes boast about truffles being one of the easiest fancy desserts, while others go on and on about all the trillions of ways your truffles can fail, miserably.
Here's my conclusion: the basic truffle is very easy to make and even easier to eat. These are the kinds that are soft and creamy all over. The shell covered truffles, however, are a bit trickier.

We made both, and I have to say, I prefer the shelled truffles -- the contrast in texture just does it for me -- but the creamy ones are so easy, but the shelled ones are so fancy, but the creamy ones are so creamy, but the shelled ones...never mind.

For the shelled truffles, the chocolate coating must be tempered, and cannot reach a temperature higher than 94 degrees F (but this number varies depending on the recipe). This was definitely challenging, and it did not really work for me. The chocolate temperature fluctuated about a bajillion times and even went over (gasp...94 degrees F!!), but somehow magically it still worked, sort of. The truffles still got that "snap" that everyone talks about, although I'm guessing if I actually did it correctly, they would have been more...snappy.

There are several ways to temper chocolate -- our method was to consistently add and remove new pieces of chocolate chunks to the warm chocolate to make sure it doesn't get too hot. A good thermometer is vital, and the ability (which apparently I don't have) to make sure the thermometer does not touch anything but the chocolate (ie. the sides of the bowl). So to summarize: I need more practice. But any sort of practice that involves chocolate is always good!

Chocolate Truffles (adapted from Robert Linxe via Smitten Kitchen and Joy of Cooking)
  • 8 ounces good quality chocolate (at least 56% cacao), chopped
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 3 ounces good quality chocolate, plus a bit more for tempering (for chocolate shell), chopped
Truffle Coatings
  • Good quality cocoa powder for dusting
  • Bourbon Candied Nuts (Recipe Below)
1. Boil 2/3 cup heavy cream in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan.
2. Pour the hot heavy cream over the chopped chocolate, mashing any big pieces with a spoon.
3. Stir with this mixture together in concentric circles starting in the center and working your way to the edge with a whisk, being careful not to beat air into it and create bubbles.
4. Chill mixture for 1 hour.
5. Using a small spoon, scoop out about 1 tablespoon of mixture at a time, shape into balls, and place on a parchment-lined sheet pan.
6. Chill the balls for at least 2o minutes.
7. If you don't want to mess with the chocolate shell, then you are done! Enjoy. Otherwise...

For coating:
1. Temper 3 ounces of chocolate (here are some tips on tempering chocolate).
2. Using 2 spoons, or your hands, roll each chilled truffle in the melted chocolate.
3. While the coating is still wet, dunk the truffle in the chocolate powder or candied nuts.
4. Place each truffle back on the parchment paper. Chill for an additional 10 minutes (I didn't do this part, just ate them right after they were done. That's just me, I guess.)

Bourbon Candied Nuts (adapted loosely from Smitten Kitchen)
  • 1/2 cup well-chopped mixed nuts (I used walnuts, pecans, and almonds)
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 Tb bourbon
  • 2 Tb brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp salt.
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl and set aside.
2. Mix bourbon and egg white in a separate bowl. Stir in the nuts, coating evenly.
3. Sprinkle sugar mixture over nuts, and stir again, coating evenly.
4. Spread mixture onto parchment lined sheet and bake for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Let the mixture cool completely. Break into small pieces.