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.