Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A new addition, a new hope , & how NOT to make an ice cream cake.

August is always marked with my philosopher's birthday, and this year was especially worth noticing. It marks the last year he'll spend as a twenty-something before he hits the dreaded 3's and officially becomes an old boring man.  This year was special, and this years cake had to be especially enthralling consider the track record of his last few birthdays in my company. Unfortunately, my philosopher is not a big decision maker when food is involved, and so I was forced with thinking about something quintessentially him, and completely delicious. Something that could beat chocolate brioche pain perdu in Paris, and a peanut butter mint hybrid. What I devised was a melding of passions, and so came about the invention of a red velvet and maple ice cream cake, with spiced pecans. It was delicious, but it was also crucial learning experience in how NOT to make an ice cream cake. You get to learn from my mistakes.   You get to judge precisely what failure is. It was swoon worthy still, even if not the greatest looking cake.

In more successful news however, more directly related to my changing trajectory....

The times they are a changing, I landed a job at the new Eataly that is opening by the end of this month, put in my two weeks notice, began looking for apartments, and brought home a little hellion of a kitten that goes by the name of Murdock. Named for his comic book counterpart, Mr. Matt Murdock. He has a nasty habit of attacking whatever he can't see, which is everything. My hands look like I was playing with rabid squirrels now.

This is our new addition. 

And this is a delicious if not ugly birthday cake. The Red Velvet was adapted from Bakerella's recipe.  And the Maple ice cream I snatched from Cupcake Project. Both are delicious on their own, but together, they're even better.

Maple-Red Velvet Ice Cream Cake with Spiced Nuts.


Red Velvet Cake

Maple Ice Cream 
3/4 cup grade B maple syrup. 
2 cups of heavy cream
1 cup of whole milk.
4 egg yolks, at room temperature.
3/4 teaspoon of maple extract or "flavoring". 
One very heavy pinch of salt.

Spiced Nuts
1-2 pounds of pecans.
4 tablespoons of butter.
2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon salt.
2 tablespoons granulated sugar.

Red Velvet Cake 
2.5 cups AP flour
2 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon dutch process cocoa

i very heavy teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs

1.5 cups vegetable or safflower oil (I prefer safflower for texture, but it's not on hand in most kitchens.)
1 cup buttermilk (don't freak out looking for full fat, it doesn't exist)
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Red (or any other color) gel food colouring, about 1 half to a full canister.

Two 9 inch cake pans
Plastic wrap and tin foil.
A baking sheet
Parchment Paper

And Away We Go!

First and foremost make your ice cream. In a small sauce pan, reduce your maple syrup until it's lost about a quarter of it's original volume. I went for about 8 to 10 minutes on a low, low simmer because I was terrified of scorching it. Then, stir in your dairy and the salt and bring it just under a boil. Stir constantly-ish to prevent a skin. 

Once it reaches it bubbling point, slowly pour (WHILE STIRRING) about an eighth of the mixture into your egg yolks (Which you've set aside in a bowl of course), then a quarter, and then half, and then the rest. You could be risky and do it in two additions, but my first custard ice cream disaster has made me wary of curdling yolks.

Return the custard back into the pot while straining through a sieve, cheese cloth, whatever the hell you may have to remove any errant cooked egg bits. Add your extract if you have it. Cook over medium low heat, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (run a finger down it, does the line get filled in? It isn't finished.) 

Place into a bowl with plastic wrap set straight down on the custard, and chill for 12 to 24 Hours. In the mean time, make your cakes. 

Red Velvet is literally the easiest cake in the to make. Here's how you do it. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit, and grease and line the bottoms two 9 inch cake with parchment paper.  Take all of your liquids, eggs, buttermilk, vinegar, oil, and combine in one vessel. Then take all of your dry ingredients and mix them together in a big bowl with a wire whisk. Combine the two together! Then add food colouring to your desired hue. 

Divide between the two pans, knock against the counter a few times to get rid of any extreme air bubbles, and then bake for about 20 to 40 minutes depending on your oven. Check in between with the toothpick test. 

Allow to cool about 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a rack (covered with plastic wrap) to cool completely. Then...

This is what I DIDN'T do that I should have to avoided that terrible black hole in the middle. When they are finally cool. Totally cover the cakes with saran wrap and foil and then freeze until you're ready to assemble your cake. 

While those freeze up you can finish your ice cream! Take the chilled custard and churn it according to your ice cream maker's instructions. While it churns line a 9 inch cake pan with plastic wrap.  When it's finished pour the ice cream into the pan, cover and cure in the freezer for at least 12 hours. 

For the nuts. Chop and toss the pecans in the melted butter, cinnamon, sugar, and salt until thoroughly coated, and then place them on baking sheet in a 400 degree oven to roast and toast and dry out. You really just need to keep an eye on them and when they smell like nuts and feel relatively dry pull them out, give on a taste. If it's not right, stick them back in for another minute or so. Allow to cool on the pan.  While that cools you can make your whipped cream. 

THEN....You can finally assemble. Take your favorite cake plate (that will fit in your freezer. Unwrap your cakes. Smear a bit of whipped cream and then layer the red velvet cake, an eighth to a quarter of the nuts and then the ice cream*, more nuts, the rest of the cake. Then frost with the whipped cream, garnish with the rest of the nuts and freeze.   

In my original preparation I used whipped cream in between layers which I think may have caused a bit of a vaccum as well. 

Remove from the freezer 20-30 minutes before serving.


And leave a comment to let me know how yours turned out.

Trains, strain, and chocolate pudding.

One might think that when one begins going to school for baking and pastry there would indeed be a lot more time for...said baking. That had been my presumption, that was...until I started actually going. Perhaps if the commute was less harrowing, or the feelings of complete and utter exhaustion upon returning home confined to a day or so per week it would be a tad different. I could maybe find time to pop out a cake or cookie in between the rush...but fact remains that I don’t, and haven’t.
There is however, one small dessert that can typically be made in no time flat, that is delicious and beloved by all, and that in times of dire exhaustion and soul crushing depression that follow late nights on the train and the ache of having to finally send your childhood pet across that Rainbow bridge(by the way, does anybody know where the fuck that saying came from?) can lift the spirits and make the world right again.
  That little thing, is chocolate pudding. Devastatingly under appreciated in our adult years, forgotten to the small snack packs that lay in our lunch boxes or came at the end of a particularly good school lunch. Can be revamped, and beloved again. In an entirely grown up sort of fashion. I don’t remember what magazine I tore the recipe from, I think it may have been Food Network, but it has been committed to memory since. This is quintessential, easy to make, and sure to impress at any pot luck. 

Dark Chocolate Pudding with Spiced Whipped Cream

5 oz. 50%-62% dark chocolate (Only real honest to god chocolate, melting chocolate, chocolate chips will not work..they have weird stabilizers added to them.)
3 cups of milk (whole or 2% is fine)
1/2 to 1 full  teaspoon of salt (the amount depends on your tastes really, you can always add more in the final stage)
1.5 tablespoons of vanilla puree
1/4 teaspoon of almond extract (optional)
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
Half cup of sugar.

A medium sauce pan.
A retaining vessel.

And Away We Go...

Chop up the chocolate and add it to the milk with the salt in the sauce pan and put it over medium heat, while this is melting down pull out a bowl and whisk together the sugar and cornstarch. Then incorporate the egg yolks so it becomes one big yellow blob. Set it aside and pay attention to the milk.

Stir occasionally until the chocolate has entirely melted into the milk and it’s at a hot cocoa kind of temperature. Then add a little bit to the egg mixture so it loosens up and the eggs get tempered, continue this little bit at a time process until about half of the milk is incorporated and the lumps and sugar have dissolved. By this time you should be able to add the rest, whisk it all together and then return to the sauce pan.

Over low to medium heat simmer the pudding stirring constantly until it’s thick and ribbony, this is the time to add your extracts and any additional salt if necessary. When it reaches a loose custardy consistency pour into your waiting vehicles of choice. I tend to make this in multiple batches and so use a low metal cake pan to help it cool faster and to incorporate other batches. But one batch will fill about 8 of those little pot de creme cups.

Put in the refrigerator to chill. Top with homemade whipped cream that you’ve spiced with a tablespoon of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice.

An important note: When making more than one batch, do NOT double up the recipe and cook twice as much at one time. it takes FOREVER to thicken up on the stove top and then you’re stuck there stirring and panicking for a full half hour or so. Just make each batch individually and add it to one big vessel. When they are all combined, whisk the whole bunch together for consistency. Let cool on the counter for a bit, and then chill. 


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The fruits of my labor, and zucchini cake.

Now that summer has reached full swing our garden has been over flowing with the fruits of my naive gardening labor.  It's amazing what can happen in such a tiny space, and with a whole lot of start up capital. My carrots and beets have been trucking along, and the string beans and tomatoes are taking over, and the odd berry has been popping up in my bushes. It's nice to feel productive, food grown by your own two hands tastes better. And more importantly....the zucchini that come from a garden are fantastic mutant giants that make grating a million times easier. 

I come before you with a transformation. This is my zucchini. 
 (Note the head to vegetable ratio.)
 And this is my Auntie Bev's Zucchini Cake, or Bread...if you'd like to feel virtuous. With an impromptu cream cheese icing that you can feel free to omit should it not strike your fancy.
 Auntie Bev's Zucchini Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

 Zucchini Cake. 
2 cups granulated sugar
3 cups AP flour. 
3 large eggs.
1 cup of vegetable oil. (If you're like me and like your cake super moist and dense..add another 1/8 of a cup.)
2 1/3 cups shredded zucchini. 
1 1/4 teaspoons of salt.
1/4 of a teaspoon baking powder.
1 teaspoon baking soda.
3 tablespoons vanilla extract.
1 tablespoon cinnamon. (I couldn't resist adding a pinch of ground ginger and a pinch of cardamom.)
1/2 cup walnuts or raisins. (I didn't add either.) 

Cream Cheese Icing. 
1/8 to 1/4 pound cream cheese brought to room temperature.
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract. 
1/2 cup confectioners sugar.
1/4 cup hot water. 

Hand mixer. 
1 huge bowl. 
Box grater.
2 loaf pans, greased. Or one bundt pan.

And away we go...
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and grease your vessel(s) of choice. Add the sugar, oil, eggs, vanilla, and salt into the bowl and mix together. Then I like to sift the flour, baking powder and soda, and spices together separately before adding those in as well. Grate the zucchini on the "Mozzarella" side, if it's as big as mine you probably will want to quarter it prior. Pack into two cups and add them last. Beat it all together and fill your waiting pan. 

Pop it into the oven, it should take about an hour and a half if you use a bundt pan. Though...I started the cake off at 325 as per the recipe, after about 20 minutes I switched it to 350. If you're using something as big...I'd recommend starting at 350, and checking after a half hour. And then every 15 minutes after.
If you're going to be working with loaf pans, keep it at 325 and check every 15 minutes. When the top is dry and golden brown, and a knife comes out clean you can assume it is done. Take it out and let them cool completely before allowing it to disembark. 

Microwave the cream cheese for 30 seconds to soften it, then whisk in the vanilla equal amounts of the confectioners sugar and hot water until it becomes a slightly thinned out glaze. Spoon over the cake as much as you like.  Crush some nuts or grate some lemon zest and sprinkle on top to garnish if you'd like. 


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"Whatever You Fancy" Shortbread Bars.

I have a poetic adoration of shortbread. I feel that while cupcakes might be fine for paintings, shortbread brings about the sort of inspiration that would bring one to create Byronic odes in honor of it's quintessence. It's amazing by itself with tea, or dipped into drinking chocolate, and makes the perfect base for all kinds of other delicious confections.

Shortbread is a natural beauty, made with little effort and few ingredients. But through the alchemy of heat and love they all combine to birth a lascivious, addictive personality.

The following recipe is one of my own creation with the base adapted from Gale Gand. These were created as a quick way to make something for my Uncle that was "lemony".  What I like is that they can be baked up to feature anyone's favorite flavor, making the recipient feel just a little special for having been thought of. These in particular have been made with homemade strawberry quick jam, since I had a ton left over after a late May influx. However, feel free to use any good preserves or curd that you might have lying around. I particularly like Bonne Maman preserves and Dickinson's Lemon Curd. 

 Strawberry Shortbread Bars 

2 cups strawberry jam, or any other filling you might like to use. 
5 sticks of salted sweet cream butter, softened to room temperature.
1 cup packed light brown sugar.
4 1/2 cups AP flour. 
1/2 cup of cornstarch.
1 tablespoon vanilla puree.
1 tablespoon cinnamon. 
5 tablespoons of demerara or raw sugar. Granulated white if you have neither. 

French whisk.
2 bowls. 
Baking sheet. 
Silpat or Parchment Paper. 
Hand mixer. 

And away we go...
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and either lay down the silpat or liberally butter and line a 12 inch by 17-18 inch by 1 inch high baking sheet. 
In one bowl combine the cornstarch, flour, and cinnamon with a whisk and set to the side. In the other cream together the sugar, butter, and vanilla puree. When they've become incorporated add the dry goods in a little bit at a time until it's a wet sticky sort of mess. Then turn it out into a floured work surface and knead a bit until it forms a ball.

Take a little more than half of the dough and press it into the band so that it's roughly 1/2 inch high and even, then dimple it gently with your fingertips and spread the jam on evenly. Feel free to use your discretion here and use more or less depending on your tastes.

Take the remainder of the shortbread and crumble it over the top in a sporadic kind of way, and set it into the oven to bake for about 20 minutes. Knock it once against the rack, and then check again ever 5 minutes or so until the top is gently browned and the jam appears a bit sticky. 

Sprinkle the top with the sugar so it gets nice and sparkly, let it cool about 15-20 minutes in the pan and then cut into squares. Don't be hasty, the jam is like fucking napalm when it comes out of the over. When completely cool remove and set into an airtight container.

(P.S.  I'm obviously new at this, so if you have any opinions or thoughts on what I could do to improve these recipes.. Feel free to let me know in the comments.)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Brownies and Sympathy.

Life for the past month has been nothing but a shit storm of insanity brought on by parties, impromptu binge drinking, an upper respiratory infection, and somebody that just might be certifiably insane. I apologize for my absence, for broken promises of going away party crafting and cooking....but I come back bearing something even better. Chocolate.

In a world of uncertainty, there is always the finite principle that chocolate will always make life better.  No matter how fucking deep the shit spiral goes. 

In my personal opinion, the only thing better than straight chocolate, is a brownie.  And strangely enough, until last night I had never made them from scratch before. I was a little intimidated, scared of what might come.....while cakes and cookies, custards and candy have always made sense...something about the texture has always spooked me. I like a squidgy brownie, a dense delicious brownie. Ghiradelli always did a damn fine job, so I never really thought to adventure further. That was until the beginning of this week, when I had to think of something perfect to bring my Philosopher's Mother, when we visited to attend his Grandmother's funeral.

Brownies. It seemed perfect, and so I got to poring through my cookbooks. At first I endeavored to recreate Thomas Keller's, but the sheer amount of chemistry needed made my already addled brain spin. Nigella's was poetic, but I felt too lazy to convert. And then my dearest Ina, the Barefoot Contessa came to my rescue. And though I did not follow her recipe to a tee...it produced some damned delicious brownies. Totally fudgy and dense, they stand as a kind of ideal. They're also incredibly rich. A tiny square served to satiated the hormonal beast within me just fine.

This is my version, but most of the credit goes to Ina...I'll notate any big changes here. 

Fucking DELICIOUS Super Fudgy Brownies.

 1 pound salted, sweet cream butter. (Ina like most bakers calls for unsalted, but I like the extra salt content.)
28 oz of semisweet chocolate chips. 12 oz reserved. (Most bags come in 12 oz. portions, 3/4 of a cup equals about 4 ounces to round out the pound.)
6 oz unsweetened baking chocolate.  
6 extra large eggs at room temperature. 
3 tbsp instant coffee.
3 tbsp vanilla bean puree (Ina calls for extract.)
2 1/4 cups white sugar.
1 1/4 cups AP Flour, 1/4 cup reserved.
1 teaspoon salt.

French whisk.
3 bowls.
A sauce pan.
Baking sheet.
Inglourious Basterds, or a comparably long movie.

And away we go. 
Preheat your oven to 350 degree Fahrenheit, and seriously butter and flour a 12inch by 17-18 inch by 1 inch high baking sheet. Set both aside.

In a double boiler or a bowl set on top of simmering water add the pound of butter, 16 ounces of semisweet chips, and 6 ounces of unsweetened chocolate. While that melts into a dark, delicious pool pull out a big bowl and a whisk. Combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and coffee granules and set aside.

Once the chocolate has melted set that aside as well so that it can cool down, in a second bowl combine a cup of flour, the salt, and baking powder. Combine with a whisk if you're lazy like me, or sift if you feel like adding something to your clean up. In a third bowl toss the 12 oz. of chocolate chips in the 1/4 cup of flour.

The chocolate mixture is ready to be incorporated when you can stick a finger in and it doesn't burn you, or it's just warm. Add a little bit at a time to prevent the eggs from scrambling, and once the egg mix is tempered feel free to dump the rest in and just combine. Try to forget it, ..essentially the batter needs to come to room temperature before you can proceed which is a wholly painful and testing sort of time period. So...go watch the movie, you may need to extend past the movie time in which case I'd recommend either The Brothers Bloom (because it's fantastic) or Chocolat should you want to get in the mood for things to come.

When the batter has come to room temperature, combine in the flour and then add the floured chocolate chips.* Pour into your pan and then place into the center rack in the over. Bake for 20 minutes then thump it against the oven rack to "let the air escape from between the batter and the pan".  I'd test it now too, dip a toothpick in and see if it comes out clean...then check again every five minutes until it does.

Let the brownies cool completely, refrigerate and cut into the desired amount of squares. Ina calls for 20, but these are so rich I went for 30 something.  


*There are two types of people in this world, those that like nuts in there brownies and those that don't. I don't....it gets in the way of the squidginess. However if you're one of those that prefers them, Ina calls for 3 cups of walnuts which you ought to toss together with the chocolate chips and flour. But feel free to experiment with whatever else you'd like and I'd recommend toasting them prior due to the thickness of the batter.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Virtue in Hedonism.

My philosopher snores so loud that sometimes it is a sincere wonder to me that he doesn't wake himself or the dead up. It's utterly wretched, the sort of noise that penetrates through to your very core making your spine shiver and causing that thrum of nerves that any sane human knows how to control.  I control it because I love him, because I am courteous enough to not yet start punching him since sleep for me is very far away at the moment, and because smothering him with a pillow is in no way conducive to a healthy relationship. It may be fodder for writing, but it does not help me relax enough to sleep.

And I am exhausted in a way I haven't felt since last summer, with days spent trekking hundreds of miles in the heat through Europe.  I joined a gym, having abandoned Bally's more than half a year ago due to a sheer lack of will power. And in the past six days, I have gone five times, with H as my conscience and over achieving work out partner. I have done far more cardio in the past few days than i think I may have ever accomplished in my life. Simply stated, I want to die.

Today was my first weigh in since then, from two weeks ago I have gained 1.8 pounds and I am now 208 pounds respectively. It is still almost 30 pounds less than I was at my heaviest, and I have been at this plateau for some time now. It's time for a change, and the time is now. I don't necessarily plan on dieting all too much during this experience, as I am quite sure culinary school and my own hedonistic tendencies won't allow much. But there will be small changes. And no, this will not turn into a Diet Blog, I simply figure that by making this public. I will work harder, and perhaps in the process a few good ideas will come from it. My ultimate goal? 20 pounds lost by the end of the Summer. 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Manic planning and a reprieve.

I've fallen behind on posting but this is primarily the result of what could only be describe as a miniature panic these past few weeks. I'm been busy planning a giant sized party for my old school BFF, who I've known since we were but wee 7th graders working on Ku Klux Klan project.

We shall call her H, H has joined the Peace Corp and for the next two years she will be taking up residence in the Philippines. Furthermore, her birthday has never been given much thought due to it's place in the year. I'm both marvelously proud and somewhat guilty that I've never given her the same treatment, and thus...voila...a giant mashed up party.

The problem with a giant party, however, is that one's small party preferences - like a cohesive theme, pretty decorations, delicious home made food, fancy drinks and good wine and beer.... Are extremely difficult on a limited budget, limited time, and with only one pair of hands. As this is a surprise party; and H is typically the workhorse who helps me with all of my affairs I have had very little help. Although I did trick her into helping me lay a pathway and plant a bit of a side garden.

And so it has been my challenge to switch around our dismal back yard into something presentable to the mass of strangers I have invited to our home, lay down some pretty things to make it look charming, and to find decor on the cheap and funds from wherever possible. It is set for this Friday, and you, dear readers shall be privvy to the entire god damned process- from back yard renovation to my "Ghetto Ass Fancified Banner Techniques" and the art of purchasing party items that can be reused in a multitude of ways!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A means of escape.

Life, has been only vaguely chaotic as of late. Enough to cause one's brain to shrivel and any productive notions to be set aside in the name of mental rest. But spring has finally bloomed upon the Island, and gardening and exploring the great outdoors has aided in the earlier atrophy which had plagued me. 

With the spring also comes good news. Of a new beginning. Of hope. 

As of July, I will be a bonafide culinary student. I begin at ICE on July 7th, as a student in Culinary Management and Baking and Pastry Arts.  I'll not only be on my way to opening the long awaited tea shop, as well as being forced to finally take on those projects that terrify me. Like a Mille-feuille! And bread! And other terrifyingly flaky butter based French confections. 

This also means that by the end of the summer, I will be off of this god forsaken island.


Saturday, May 1, 2010

Resisting Atrophy.

 I've been sitting at a cross roads for exactly five months now.  I am officially a college graduate, sitting in her parents' house with a philosopher, a one eyed cat, and a bachelors degree in Art History and Anthropology.

So I sit in transition, as I imagine all college graduates or those recently laid off are.  The world is spinning and I've been in one spot for too long. I have felt my brain atrophying without the rigors of academia.  And so I've decided that I must write, I must write or die.

This is blog attempt number six. What is different? I finally have something to write about, and an identity. I will no long try to be Jeffrey Steingarten, Martha Stewart, Anthony Bourdain, or Bakerella. I will be me. A girl, in transition.

There will probably be bitching, there will be the shenanigans of the one eyed cat named Odin,  and there will be food. Delicious food. And plenty of recipes along the way.