Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Crepes for Pancake Day

This recipe is from Tante Marie, a famous French cook who, according to some "set new standards for French cuisine". With a name like "Aunt Marie", however, I find it rather difficult to believe that there actually was such a person. I could be wrong here, but it probably isn't unlikely that the name was a creation of someone trying to sell a cookbook. Not that there's anything wrong with that because the recipes that originated with Tante Marie's French Kitchen(now out of print, I think) are some french classics.
Take this crepe recipe, for example. It is lighter than most, using a combination of water and milk in the batter. It comes together amazingly fast, is versatile and delicate in taste and texture. The crepes are also very easy to work with, which makes them ideal for rolling or folding around different fillings, both savory and sweet. This recipe was also chosen as the best pancake recipe by a group of chefs who include Nigella Lawson, Nigel Slater and Heston Blumenthal (of the Fat Duck) . I'm still partial to the fluffy american style of pancakes, but these are excellent.
Let me stress that you do not need a crepe pan to make crepes. All you need is a good skillet, lightly greased. I think that a lot of people have never made crepes at home because they thing they need special equipment to do it, but this is definately not the case. Once the batter is in the pan, use the handle to lift it up and swirl the batter around to create a crepe of uniform thickness.
My absolute favorite way to eat crepes is with jam, for either breakfast or dessert. The ones in the photo above have raspberry and cloudberry jam in them, and are topped with a bit of confectioners sugar. Other sweet fillings that are good are butter, sugar and lemon juice or Nutella and banana slices. For savory fillings, I recommend leaving out the brandy or vanilla extract, which is a good substitution if you do not want to buy a whole bottle of brandy to use one teaspoon. Try filling the crepes with peppers, cheese and shredded chicken or a sauté of peppers, onions and mushrooms, with or without feta cheese, for a great main course.

Basic Crepes
(recipe from Tante Marie)
200 ml. milk
100 ml. water
100 g. all-purpose flour (3/4 cup plus 2 tsp)
2 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp brandy (optional)

Place flour in a large bowl, add milk and water gradually, whisking until the mixture is smooth. Beat in eggs, salt, vegetable oil and brandy (or vanilla extract), if using. Make sure batter is very smooth, then set aside to rest for at least 20-30 minutes.
Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly grease and pour a measure of batter onto the skillet (I used a scant soup ladel full, about 1/4 cup). Pick up the skillet and swirl the batter around until it even coats the entire bottom of the pan.
Cook until the edges come away from the pan and the top of the crepe looks almost dry, about 3 minutes. Turn and cook the other side for about a minute.
Fill with jam (or other desired filling) and serve immediately.
Makes about ten 10-inch crepes (can be doubled or tripled)

Sunday, February 26, 2006

King Cake

Mardi Gras is one huge party - there's no denying it. One of the traditions of the celebration is a king cake. Generally speaking, the cake is actually a yeast-risen bread. Sometimes, it can be a sort of rich, danish dough filled with almond paste, but more often it seems to be a variation on a cinnamon bun, filled with sugary cream cheese. I know that the colors of the frosting are based in tradition, but I suspect that they are merely preserved because they're festive and really dress up the bread. Everyone else dresses up in masks and fancy costumes - regardless of whether they are able to stay in them all night - so why not dessert?
I've never had a king cake before, but after checking out a Southern Living recipe, I decided to go with the cinnamon-swirl route and omit the cream cheese. Other recipes seemed more complex than I was willing to try, but I will (almost) never say no to a cinnamon bun. I decided to throw caution to the wind and come up with my own recipe.
The only problem I encountered in making this was that I didn't give myself enough space to roll out my dough. As a result, some of the filling leaked out and turned into cinnamon-caramel on my baking sheet. Delicious, but not what I had in mind. Give yourself plenty of room to roll up the dough - like a kitchen table.
I deliberately kept the dough not too sweet to balance the icing and the filling, so the cake turned out to be balanced and delicious. It wasn't any more difficult than making ordinary cinnamon buns and was really festive looking. I would definately consider making variations for, say, an Easter brunch or other spring gathering. I used skim milk, but using milk with a higher fat content will give you a slightly richer dough.

King Cake
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
3 tbsp sugar
1 cup milk, warm (110F)
1/2 cup buttermilk or sour cream, room temperature
1 egg
2 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp salt
3 1/2- 4 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
about 2 tbsp butter, melted

In a large bowl, combine yeast with sugar and 1/2 cup warm milk. Let stand for 5 minutes, until foamy. Add remaining milk, buttermilk (or sour cream), egg, butter, salt and 2 cups of flour. Stir vigorously, until smooth. Add remaining flour gradually, until a soft dough forms and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic - about 5-6 minutes. Place in a lightly greased bowl, covered wih plastic wrap, to rise until doubled, 1 - 1 1/2 hours.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Mix brown sugar, cinnamon and allspice in a small bowl.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a large rectangle, about 16x10-inches, with the long side facing you. Brush dough with melted butter and spread evenly with sugar and spice mixture. Beginning with the long side and working away from you, roll dough into a log, jelly-roll style. Pinch long edge to seal. Place dough log onto prepared baking sheet and wrap into a circle. Line up unsealed ends and pinch together to seal the ring. Cover with a dish towel and let rise for 20-30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375F while cake rises.
Bake at 375F for about 25 minutes, until golden brown.
Transfer cake to a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes while you make the frostings.

For frostings: Mix about 6 cups of powdered sugar with a few tablespoons of milk and a dash of vanilla or lemon extract until smooth and spreadable. Divide into three bowls and add food coloring to each to obtain gold, green and purple frostings. Spread in thick bands onto cake while still warm. Let cool completely (Though it's fine to pop your slice in the microwave to warm it up for a few seconds before you eat it!).

Makes 1 cake; serves 12-16

Saturday, February 25, 2006

IMBB #23: Alsatian Onion Tart

For this month's French themed Is My Blog Burning event, hosted by Cucina Testa Rossa, I wanted something simple. I also wanted to make a tart. Unfortunately, the two don't always seem to go hand in hand, but with the use of some store-bought puff pastry, I was able to make a delicious, simple and very French tart.
Alsatian Onion Tart is a traditional dish from the Alsace region of France. And no wonder it is a favorite that has stood the test of time. You cannot beat the flavor of the ingredients and it is easy to make variations by changing the type of crust or adding a few flecks of flavor to the filling. My father speaks fondly of a pub he ate at in France that served nothing by beer and onion tarts.
The tart had a delicious, sweet onion flavor, though the pastry didn't get nearly as crisp as I expected, due in part to the low oven temperature. Suprisingly, I actually really enjoyed it this way, as the onions seemed to meld fantastically with the buttery pastry. I made the tart both with and without bacon and it is excellent both ways. I prefet it without bacon, but it's a matter of personal preference. The bacon makes the tart a bit salty, so take care not to over-salt. I lightly salted the top of the tart - the part without bacon - when I put it into the oven instead of adding salt to the onion mixture after cooking. This worked out perfectly. Don't cook the bacon unti it is crisp, since it will cook further in the oven.
My only question about the recipe was about how much "4 very large onions" was? I wonder if my onions - which were over a pound each - constituted "very large onions" or were so large as to be in a class by themselves. I trusted my judgment, which led me to put them in the latter category and used only 2 onions. It turned out that I had plenty of onion to work with, so I'm giving the weight, not the number of onions, in the recipe below. The only change I made to the recipe was that I omitted the cream. Truthfully, I completely forgot to add the cream. I don't think the tart missed it, but feel free to put it in.
I highly recommend reserving the cooking liquid when you drain the onions. You will have about 2 cups and it makes a fabulous addition for soups or as a cooking liquid for just about anything.

Alsatian Onion Tart
(from Baking with Julia)
1 sheet puff pastry
2 lb onions, diced
1 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp cream
1/3 cup bacon, gently cooked and chopped (optional)
salt and pepper, to taste

Roll out puff pastry until it is 1/8-inch thick and cut into a 10 to 12-inch circle. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or up to several hours.
In a medium saucepan, combine onions and chicken broth. Cover and bring to a boil. reduce heat and cook until onions are very tender - about 25-30 minutes. Drain onions (reserving the delicious cooking liquid for later use in a soup or something) and let cool.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Toss onions in cream, if using, and a bit of salt and pepper. Add bacon, if using. Spread onions on rolled pastry all the way to the edge. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes, until light gold.
Serve immediately.
Serves 8.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Cooking School: Apple Kuchen

There are many, many varieties of dessert that claim the name kuchen, from yeasted pastries to custard and fruit-filled pies. At its core, though, kuchen is simply the German word for "cake" and none of the delightful baked goods associated with it are misnamed.
This recipe is published in the French Laundry Cookbook - the gorgeous tome dedicated to the works of Thomas Keller - but I picked it up some time ago on the Amateur Gourmet's site. The original version adds blueberries and has a slightly different spicing, though I really love the combination I used here. Mine has cinnamon and vanilla, in addition to nutmeg. The nutmeg really shines in this dish and I strongly recommend using freshly ground.
The unusual thing about this cake is that the batter is thick and stiff. It doesn't fill the pan completely in its unbaked state, but rises high around the apples as it bakes. The kuchen is beautiful to look at. After it has cooled, the cake will shrink back from the apples slightly, so don't be suprised when it happens.
Apples seem to pose a challenge to many chefs who don't like the fact that they begin to brown as soon as you have sliced into them. Don't bother tossing them in lemon juice or any other slightly acidic solution. The apples will brown in the oven, so it's not necessary to try to prevent browning before they are cooked. In fact, a browner appearance to the fruit will probably be more appealing the the final dish. I used a combination of Fuji and Pink Lady apples for this kuchen. I think that a sweeter apple is a much better choice to compliment the light sweetness and spicing of the cake than a tart Granny Smoth-type apple.
The kuchen is best served warm, so slice it after cooling only for a short time or let it cool completely and reheat each portion in the microwave. I think it tastes just as good, perhaps better, on the second day. Top each warm piece with a dollop of whipped cream or a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Apple Kuchen
(adapted from French Laundry Cookbook)
2 or 3 Fuji apples
1/3 cup butter, soft
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups ap flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg (fresh grated)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp sugar, for topping

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease an 8-inch round cake pan.
Peel and core apples. Slice into approximately 1/4 inch thick slices. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars. Beat in egg and vanilla. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon.
With the mixer on low speed or by hand, add flour mixture and milk to sugar mixture in 2 or 3 alternating additions. Spread into prepared pan.
Arrange apple slices as desired and sprinkle with 1 tsp sugar.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.
Serve warm.
Serves 10.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Roasting cauliflower is my favorite way to prepare it. It always seems incredible to me that such a boring vegetable can turn into something spectacular after a short time in the oven. Roasted cauliflower can convert even the staunchest non-cauliflower eater (like younger brothers). As much as I love it, though, even I need a change from time to time. Soup was the answer this particular time.
I had always heard that cauliflower could be used as a sort of stand-in for potatoes in soup, adding a creamy consistency and richness without the occasionally starchy heaviness of potatoes. Apparently, this is true, because my soup was creamy and rich, but not very heavy. Roasting the cauliflower, shallots and garlic gave the soup a depth of flavor – sweetness and intensity - that ordinary, stovetop cooking methods could not have provided in such a short time. In addition to enhancing the flavor, I could see little specks of roastiness in the final puree, which added a hint of interest to the appearance of the soup.
I did choose to add one potato to the soup, a Yukon Gold. The Yukon Gold potatoes have a beautiful, slightly gold tint and are creamier than other varieties of potato. As always, I like my soups on the thick side, so I did not thin this with very much milk. If you prefer thinner or more cream-enriched soups, feel free either to add an additional ½ cup of milk or to substitute the milk with cream. Serve this with bread and a salad for a fantastically comforting winter meal.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup
2-3 tsp olive oil
8-10 cups roasted cauliflower (2 bags)
2 shallots
2 cloves garlic
1 large Yukon gold potato, peeled
2 cups broth
3 cups water
¼ tsp smoked paprika
¼ cup milk (or cream)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375F. Toss cauliflower and shallots in 2-3 teaspoons of olive oil. Wrap the garlic cloves in a small piece of aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet with cauliflower and shallots. Roast at 375 for 45 min to 1 hour, until very tender and browned.
Put cauliflower into a large pot or dutch oven with chicken broth and water. Cut potato into 1-inch chunks and add to broth, along with paprika, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until potato is very tender.
Puree with a stick blender, or in batches in a blender. Add milk/cream, increasing amount to ¾ cup if you prefer a thinner soup.S
erves 4 with leftovers, or 8 as a first course.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Vegan Banana Ice Cream

Can ice cream every really be healthy? Or at least, not quite as bad for you?
I have concluded that this can only really be done if you take out what is truly (health-wise) objectionable about the dish: the cream. Skipping over any debate about whether something that contains no cream can legitimately be labeled as ice cream, this was one fine frozen dessert. It was smooth, creamy and rich tasting and - best of all - it doesn't taste anything like tofu! It looked and tasted like ice cream. I daresay that it would hold up to some fairly stiff competition in the flavor department. The only giveaway is that it does not have that sticky, unctuous mouth-coating that "real" ice cream leaves behind.
Bananas and tofu have a similar thick, creamy consistency and seem to work well together. I thinned the mixture with vanilla soymilk and sweetened it with brown rice syrup. Brown rice syrup is a corn syrup-like natural sweetener that seems to be called for in quite a few vegetarian recipes and is available in natural foods stores. I debated about whether to add it or not, since the banana/tofu mixture tasted quite nice without it. Freezing foods dampens their flavors, though, so I knew that it would not taste as sweet after I froze it if I did not add some sweetener. Corn syrup would be a good substitute here. I considered using maple syrup, but I honestly don't know how well the flavors would work with that substitution. The lemon juice doesn't give a flavor to the final product, it just helps to prevent discoloration.
The miniature chocolate chips give you many more pieces of chocolate per serving than regular-sized chips and have the added benefit of being unlikely to jam up your ice cream maker, which is why I tend to use them in ice creams as opposed to chunks of chocolate. Coarsely chop up some normal chips to mimic the effect, or simply stir in full-sized chips at the end of the mixing. Chocolate and banana always make a great pair, so feel free to add a generous pour of chocolate sauce over each scoop before serving.

Vegan Banana Ice Cream
12-ounces firm silken tofu
2 large ripe bananas
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup vanilla soy milk
1/4 cup brown rice syrup
1 tsp good vanilla extract
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Combine all ingredients except chocolate chips in a food processor and blend until completely smooth.
Pour into your ice cream maker, add mini chocolate chips and freeze as directed.
Serve immediately or store in the freezer.
Serves 4.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sunday Brunch: Strawberry Whole Wheat Pancakes

This is one of my favorite bakingsheet photos of all time, I think. Just looking at the photo reminds me of how delicious these pancakes were and how I wouldn't mind having another plate-full right now.
Going for something healthy for breakfast, I used whole wheat flour and wheat bran in these. I was hoping for something hearty, but not expecting a whole lot in the flavor department. These far exceeded my expectations. Not only were they hearty and satisfying, but they were delicious! I had a packet of freeze dried strawberries that I didn't know what to do with, so I threw them in. The berries, as it turns out, are nice because they keep virtually forever, but are really only good in cold cereal and pancakes. I liked them better than fresh fruit in pancakes because they were easier to incorporate into the batter and didn't stick to the griddle. The berries will rehydrate once they're mixed in, so don't worry about getting dry, powdery fruit in your pancakes. The strawberries gave the pancakes a lovely boost of flavor.
The maple syrup gave the pancakes a nice, natural sweetness and I think that the flavor works excellently with whole wheat. Oil is a fine substitution for the butter in these, though butter will probably give them the best flavor. You don't need more syrup if you are sensivite to sweetness in the morning or if you choose to use fresh berries in the pancakes instead of dried, but I felt no need to hold back and ate them with more syrup anyway. What is a pancake if not a maple syrup delivery device?

Whole Wheat Strawberry Pancakes
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup wheat bran
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp allspice
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
1 tbsp melted butter
2 tbsp maple syrup
1/3-1/2 cup diced strawberries (fresh or freeze-dried)

Whisk together flour, wheat bran, baking powder, baking soda, salt and allspice in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, milk, egg, butter and maple syrup. Pour into dry ingredients and stir until just barely combined (still lumpy). Quickly stir in strawberries. Some small lumps should remain in the batter.
Heat a lightly greased grill or large frying pan over mediu-high heat. Grill is ready when a drop of water will skitter across the surface of the pan. Drop batter in in 3-inch rounds. Cook about 1 1/2 minutes per side, until browned. Second side will take slightly less time than the first side.
Serve hot, with maple syrup.
Serves 2-3

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Daim Cookies

Daim are Swedish candies that have pieces of crunchy caramel enrobed in creamy milk chocolate. Though firm at room temperature, when you heat them the caramel becomes soft and chewy. I bought them at the Swedish market at Ikea, though some specialty foods stores will carry them in the states. If you can find them, it is worth picking up a package because they have a unique flavor, in addition to being incredibly delicious. A Heath or Skor bar is the closest thing you can come to Daim most of the time in these (Southern California) parts.
When I bought the Daim, I had it in mind to make a batch of cookies with them. I've had Samantha's Chocolate Walnut Daim Cookies before, but her delicious variation has walnuts, which I needed to excluse here due to allergies (not mine). Her cookies are fantastic, but since I don't have the recipe I was forced to make up my own. Of course, for inspiration, I had to eat a few bit-sized pieces of Daim while I waited.
The cookies are really perfect: buttery, sweet, crisp on the edges with a slight chew in the center. They are absolutely best right out of the oven - but what cookie isn't? When they're warm from the oven, the candies are soft and chewy, but after the cookies have fully cooled, the Daim manage to remain fairly delicate, not crunchy. The cookies will lose a bit of their crispness over the next few days when they are stored in an airtight container, but they do keep quite well. The Daim melt slightly into the cookies and are a fantastic addition. The combination of chocolate and caramel is addictive and somehow the ratio produced by crushing Daim bars seems to be ideal. These cookies are on the flatter side, but that just means that they are easier to pack up and send fo a friend. And I highly recommend sharing a batch of these with at least one other person, since you'll definately be in danger of eating the whole batch if left alone with them.

Daim Cookies
2 1/2 cups ap flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups (8-oz.) lightly smashed Daim pieces

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars. Beat in eggs one at a time, followed by vanilla. Gradually - by hand or with the mixer on low speed - work in the flour. Stir in Daim pieces.
Drop heaping tablespoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheet.
Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown around the edges.
Cool for 3-5 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes 4 dozen

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cooking School: Naan

I went back to a Paul Hollywood recipe for this week's Cooking School. I've mentioned before how much I admire him and love his recipes, so often I'll turn to his book, 100 Great Breads, when I'm looking for inspiration. This week I chose to make a favorite flatbread of mine: naan.
Naan is a traditional Central and south-East Asian bread that is baked in a special oven, called a tandoor. It is typically made with flour, water, yeast and yogurt, which gives it its traditionally soft texture. It is a bit similar to pita bread, if you have never had naan and are looking for something to compare it to.
Paul Hollywood's recipe is different from most because he calls for pan frying the bread instead of baking it. He also doesn't specify the exact amount of water needed for the recipe, so I made sure to measure as I went along to help any of you (readers) along. Paul includes cumin and carraway for seasoning, which contribute a hint of flavor that makes this bread perfect for pairing with savory dishes. Normally, I would recommend some sort of curry or saucy dish to dip the bread in, but it also functions as an excellent dipper for soups. This naan is fluffy on the inside wiith a nice chew to the outside. Though it was not quite as light as some oven-baked naan I've had, it was really excellent. The fact that it was incredibly is just an added bonus.

(adapted slightly from 100 Great Breads)
4 cups bread flour
1/2 ounce (5 tsp) active dry yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp carraway seeds
1 1/2 cups warm water

In a large bowl, stir together flour, yeast, salt, cumin and carraway seeds. Add water and stir until a soft dough forms, pulling away from the sides of the bowl. Add an additional tablespoon or two of water, if necessary.
Working within the bowl, knead dough until smooth and elastic. Divide dough into three balls and place on a large sheet of parchment paper. Let stand, uncovered, for 1 hour (add 15 minutes if room is chilly).
Roll dough out into 10-inch rounds. Let rest for about 5 minutes.
Spray or brush the bottom of a large skillet thoroughly with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Cook each naan until browned, about 5 minutes, before turning to brown the other side. Serve warm.
Makes 3 large naan.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Yogurt Panna Cotta

As much as Valentine's Day is know for its decadent and indulgent desserts, I still like something light after a delicious meal. Heck, I'm not averse to a light dessert at any time, since I am much more likely to have room to fit it in. Panna cotta is often regarded as a light dessert, in the sense that it is incredibly delicate and really melts away in your mouth, leaving you without feeling overly full or as though you have eaten something heavy. It is a lightly cooked cream, sometimes with added flavorings, that is set with gelatin. As you might imagine, this literally light-weight dessert is not very “light” on fat or calories. A good panna cotta is definitely worth the indulgence from time to time, but the dessert is so simple to make that it seems a shame to have to limit its appearance at the table.
I have tried a few times before to make yogurt panna cottas with only limited success. I like to use the thick, Greek-style yogurt and while every effort was tasty, they did not always have the light mouth feel and delicate consistency of the cream version. Adding buttermilk to thin the yogurt kept a delicious tang in the panna cotta even after sweetening it slightly with sugar. The resulting panna cotta was smooth, slightly tangy and incredibly good. It was still a bit thicker than an ordinary panna cotta, but that isn’t surprising since I was working with a thicker medium. I really loved this dessert.My panna cotta is pictured with a blood orange sauce that came about after experimenting with different types of fruit curds. Since it was actually a mistake, I don’t really have a recipe for it. I recommend serving the panna cotta with a raspberry puree or simply with some fresh fruit. Happy Valentine's Day!

Yogurt Panna Cotta
1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt (I used nonfat)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/4 tsp gelatin
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together yogurt and buttermilk.
In a small bowl, combine gelatin and water. Microwave gelatin and water for about 30-45 seconds, until gelatin is melted. Stir in sugar and vanilla.
Whisk gelatin mixture thoroughly into yogurt. Divide into four very lightly greased ramekins and refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours.
To unmold, dip ramekins in very hot water for a few seconds and invert on to plates.
Serves 4.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Two Tone Chocolate Peanut Butter Stars

I must say that I simply adore the look of these cookies.
I believe that the recipe is originally from the Cookie Bible, but since I jotted it down some time ago, it is quite dfficult for me to say precisely. I also found the same original recipe online in at least one place, so it is entirely possible that I saw it somewhere else, though I will still attribute its origin to that book. The book is actually easy to read and gives lots of clever tips on baking. I was impressed by the fact that it has so many illustrations and photos, which I did not really expect for some reason. I suppose I am a bit skeptical of anything that names itself as a (fill-in-the-blank) Bible. There is just so much to know about any subject and, as the fact that the cookbook section in the store is huge, no one book can really capture everything.
But back to the cookies.
These were actually much easier to make than they appear to be. The doughs are simply rolled out and the cut out shapes are mixed and matched to create the two-tone effect. I added some cocoa to the chocolate dough to deepen the flavor further, but bouth doughs turned out wonderfully. They were also very easy to handle and kept their shape during baking. Every cookie looked professionally done! The only note that I would make that is substantially different from the original recipe is to recommend freezing the doughs or, at the very least, the peanut butter dough, which was very soft and warmed up to quickly after only having been refrigerated.
The finished cookies were buttery and crisp, with and excellent deep chocolate flavor. The peanut butter cookies weren't overpowering, and the flavor of the peanut butter was about equal to the buttery flavors in the cookie. This helped it meld well with the chocolate dough.
The only problem with working with a chocolate dough like this is that it can be difficult to tell when the cookies are done. I recommend baking a batch of the peanut butter ones first. When the edges just barely begin to brown, the cookies are done. They should take just about 12-13 minutes, if you roll them ¼ inch thick, though a thicker cooker will take an extra minutes and a thinner cookie might be done slightly more quickly.

Two-Tone Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
(adapted from the Cookie Bible)

Chocolate Dough
1 cup butter, soft
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
2 1/4 cups ap flour
2 tbsp cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
Peanut Butter Dough
1 cup sugar
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup butter, soft
1 egg
3 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups ap flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
Mix chocolate dough:
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Beat in egg, followed by vanilla and melted chocolate. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low speed, or by hand, add flour mixture to chocolate mixture and beat until combined. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze until firm, at least 1 hour.

Mix peanut butter dough:
In a large bowl, cream together butter, peanut butter and sugar. Beat in egg, followed by milk and vanilla. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low speed, or by hand, add flour mixture to peanut butter mixture and beat until combined. Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze until firm, at least 1 hour.
Assemble and bake:
Preheat oven to 350F.
Line a baking sheet and a work surface with parchment paper.
Roll out doughs from 1/8-1/2 inch thick (3 mm) and use a 2-3 inch cookie cutter to cut large shapes. Use a small cookie cutter to remove the centers and switch them, creating a two tone effect. Gather up unused dough and reroll up to three total times, freezing again for a few minutes, if necessary to make the dough easier to work with.
Bake for 12-13 minutes, until the edges of the peanut butter (since the chocolate is harder to see) cookies are lightly browned.
Let cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes about 4-5 dozen, depending on cutter size.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Blueberry Muesli Bread

Muesli is basically a combination of uncooked oats with fruits, nuts and sometimes spices that is lightly toasted and sweetened, then stored dry, rather like an uncooked granola mixture. It is great as a snack, a hot cereal, a cold cereal or as a healthy topping for something like ice cream. I personally like snacking on it in the morning, but here I decided to add it to a quickbread.
I used a Swedish muesli that I bought at Ikea, Finax Good for You Muesli. It is very lightly sweetened with honey and has pieces of dried papaya, apples and raisins throughout. Though I did use all purpose flour, not whole wheat, the bread still has a lot of whole grains from the muesli, antioxidents from the blueberries and protein from the soy milk. It's quite low in fat, too, so this is a very healthy loaf.
The bread turned out to be exceptionally good. It developed a nice crust that contrasted well with the soft interior of the bread, which had a great texture due to the meusli. It is slightly sweet and suprisinly hearty, though neither heavy nor dense. There are also a lot of blueberries in every slice. While I'm sure that you could, I did not toast this bread, preferring instead to eat it plain, like a muffin. In fact, it would make great muffins, but even sliced, it was one of the most delicious and satisflying quick breads I've had in a while.

Blueberry Muesli Bread
1 cup muesli
2 cups flour ap
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup vanilla soy milk (plain milk is ok, too)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup blueberries

Preheat oven to 375F and grease and 8x4-inch loaf pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together muesli, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. In a small bowl, beat egg with sugar, then add in soy milk, oil and vanilla. Add sugar mixture to flour mixture and stir until just combined. Stir in blueberries.
Pour batter into prepared pan and top with a few tablespoons of oats or muesli.
Bake at 375F for 55-60 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.
Remove from pan and let cool completely on a wire rack.
Makes 1 loaf.

Note: If you are worried about over browning (though I did not have this problem), simply put a loose tent of aluminum foil over the loaf in the last 10-15 minutes of baking. Dried fruit bits in the muesli topping might scorch slightly, so it is best to remove them.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Virtual Vacation with Belgian Waffles


I set my alarm for 2:30 in the morning, after packing my bag with water, flashlight, camera, sunblock and granola. I definately didn't get enough sleep that night, but then, neither did anyone else.
When the alarms sounded, we quickly dressed - warmly and in layers - before piling into our rented car and driving the 45 minutes out to the beginning of the lava field. Predictably, the empty parking lot was full of signs warning about the hazards of what we were about to do, to say nothing of the fact that it was pitch black outside. Nevertheless, we headed out into the recent lava field, along the coast at the southern edge of the Big Island, to get close to the fresh, still-flowing lava.
The "trail" is vaguely marked with plastic traffic cones. Hardly a safe activity - so it is understandable that the park service does not want to be overly encouraging about making the trek - the park service would not be bankrupted by the use of a few more cones to guide by. They were all approximately 1/4 mile apart in a vast, black expanse of ridges and gullies; guesswork and a good sense of direction, for there are no maps, are the best way to navigate the field. The ground itself was rough, uneven and crumbling in places. It was necessary to war gloves because the hard, old lava cut like broken glass and, particularly in the dark, the route was treacherous. Flashlights must be trained on the ground directly in front of you to avoid tripping or turning an ankle if you do the hike in the dark.
Though the hike is over two miles on most days - it can vary with the direction that the lava flows - it took more than two hours to reach out destination. The air was hot and sticky, and the ground radiated heat as though it were a living thing. The smell of sulphur was strong and made the eyes water slightly, but it was hard to distinguish the source of tears when the sun rose above the horizon just as we arrived at the outskirts of the fresher flows. To describe the views as magnificent would be a complete understatement.

The fresher ground was smoother than at the beginning of the hike and almost delicate in places where it the ground was dry. Other spots were terrifyingly malleable. The discovery of a cavern looking down into the fresh, molten rock was both exhilaring and terrifying, as it meant that were were separated from thousand degree temperatures by only a few feet of rock.
Rather unwisely, this is where we rested before finally turning around to head back.
It was significantly easier to navigate the return hike since it was no longer pitch black outside, though the hike was hardly shorter. It was astonishing to see some of the more intricate patterns along the ground, previously unseen in the dark, as we struggled over the seemingly endless succession of sharp, black hills. Towards the very end of the trip, as we came closer to the unmanned ranger station, we passed a pair of people just beginning their journey. When they asked how far it was, I replied, "Far. But it's worth it."

We returned from the fields just in time for breakfast at the Country Goose Bed and Breakfast, where we were staying in one of their rental homes. The homes are beautiful and comfortable, while the proprietor, Joan, is friendly, helpful and a wonderful cook. It was just as well that we had made it back for breakfast because Joan was serving up hot Belgian waffles, with heaps of fresh fruit and whipped cream. And the only thing we wanted more than a shower was breakfast. The waffles were crisp, golden and immensely satisfying, while the accompanying papaya and fruit salad was refreshing. It did seem a bit odd to be conversing with other people who had just woken up when it seems like we had just had a full day, but the thrill of the hike was still wearing off and we simply smiled, ate and recommended that others try the hike as well....

I debated for a long time what I should make for Reid and Alan's Virtual Vacation Contest. Sifting through vacation memories is easy, but sometimes it is that bad food experiences, rather than the good, that stick out in your mind. For example, when I was 16, I went for lunch in what I believe was a butcher shop in Spain, with a group of friends. The walls of the dining room/restaurant were entirely hung with ham, floor to ceiling. We were served a seafood paella that was overflowing with everything from shrimp to octopus. Between disturbing visuals of the tentacles on my plate and the ham mere inches from my head, combined with the overpowering odor and summer heat, I had to leave the restaurant. As I recall, I went to McDonalds for a coke and air conditioning after that.
Other memories are more about the place than the food. I love a particular coffee shop in Mammoth Lakes, California because I love the mountains. I remember visiting an ice cream shop in Nice where I learned what the word "chantilly" meant, but mostly was glad to have arrived safely after having been in the car with a crazy French driver. I've blogged about memories from Australia, though time there couldn't really be considered a vacation.
Instead, I picked a fairly recent vacation.
I always love visiting Hawaii and don't think I'll ever get tired of the gorgeous scenery, excellent food or friendly people there. Plus, there are always new things to try. While these waffles may not be the same as the ones I had that memorable day, they are excellent. Light, fluffy and delicious. Keep them crisp by putting them in a warm oven until serving, or just eat them hot off the waffle iron, as Joan serves them. Top with whipped cream or, as I prefer, with syrup and fruit.

Belgian Waffles
(from Retro Desserts by Wayne Harley Brachman)
2 cups cake flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup milk
2 large eggs
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled slightly

Preheat waffle iron.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar in a large bowl.
In a large measuring cup, lightly beat together buttermilk, milk, eggs and butter. Pour into flour mixture and stir only until just combined. Batter should be lumpy.
Use a 1/4 or 1/3 cup measure to "blob" batter into the waffle iron, lightly grease yours if it requires it. Cook as directed.
Serve hot off the grill.
Serves 6-8

I’ll tag this entry for SHF, too, as you can serve these as breakfast in bed, not only after a 4+ hour hike through a lava field.

Tagged with + + +

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Cooking School: Oatmeal Crunch Squares

I realise that I don't do very many"bar cookies" on baking sheet. Sure, I have brownies and blondies, if you count those, but I think the world of bar cookies has a lot more to offer than the basics. The reason I don't do more of these is that cookies generally tend to be easier to store and take less time to bake. Somehow, whenever I make bar cookies, I feel a bit as through I've only been able to make one cookie, though I admit that it is a rather large one.
Despite my general non-interest in bar cookies, I could not resist the photo of Oatmeal Crunch Squares in my (relatively) new cookbook, William-Sonoma's Essentials of Baking. The book itself is fantastic - filled with a wide variety of recipes and mouth watering pictures, perhaps none moreso than the photo that accompanies this recipe. Just looking at it (page 149, if you have the book) is enough to almost taste the crisp, crumbly topping melting in your mouth with a kiss of sweet jam, followed by the oaty chew of the bottom of the bar. You might be tempted to either reach for a glass of milk or to try to wipe the crumbs from your face before turning the page.
Fortunately, once you try the recipe, you'll discover that these bars taste quite as good as they look.
They are crumbly and oaty, wth a hint of cinnamon. A cross between a cookie and an excpetionally good granola bar, they are crunchy and chewy at the same time. I am glad that I decided to add a good sized pinch of salt, as that really added some dimension to the basic flavors here. My only complaint was that my jam was difficult to spread on the oat base, so make sure to stir yours well in a small bowl to loosen it up. Try to avoid jams with large chunks of fruit, which will make the bars difficult to cut.
As with all bar cookies, the long baking time isn't something that can be adjusted, but they only take a moment to put together in the food processor and, if you do not have a food processor, can be mixed by hand as well. The squares keep very well in an airtight container, remaining fresh for several days, though they may not last that long.

Cherry Oatmeal Crunch Squares
(Adapted slightly from the Essentials of Baking)
1 3/4 cups ap flour
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup butter, cold and cut into pieces
1 cup/10-oz cherry jam or non-chunky preserves

Preheat the over to 325F and grease a 9-inch square baking pan.
In the food processor, combine flour, oats, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Pulse to combine.
Add butter and pluse 8-10 times, or until the mixture forms large, coarse crumbs. Set aside 2 cups of this mixture.
Pour remaining crumb mixture into prepared pan and pack firmly against the bottom and 1-inch up the sides of the pan. Stir jam to loosen, then spread evenly onto this layer. Top with reserved srumb mixture.
Bake for 50-55 minutes, until bars are a light, golden brown.
Allow to cool in the pan on a wire rack, then cut into squares. Store in an airtight container.
Makes 25.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Hot Artichoke Dip

I know that I have been posting a lot of artichoke recipes in the last week or so. I apologise, or, I would if I didn't like artichokes so much.
This dip recipe comes from EatingWell magazine, which means that not only is it very tasty, but it is quite healthy. This is a feat indeed, since that majority of artichoke dips are very high in fat. "Spinach Artichoke Dips" seem to be the worst offenders. Despite their healthy sounding name, these dips are usually creamy and cheesy, some having cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise and other kinds of cheese included in the same mix. Sure, they taste great, but I don't think that you should have to limit yourself to a few tablespoons of dip to save enough calories for dinner.
This artichoke dip has plenty of parmesan cheese and a little reduced fat mayonnaise. By thoroughly blending the mixture in the food processor before heating it, you will end up with a very creamy, cheesy and delicious dip - without any of the excess fat of the other dips that rely on huge amounts of soft cheese for their consistency. A bonus is that this recipe is very easy to make. Again, the food processor makes the job easy by eliminating the need for you to do any chopping before hand. Simply toss everything into the bowl of the food processor, turn it on and you have dip! Of course, the dip is best heated even though it is still delicious at room temperature. It can be made several days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

Hot Artichoke Dip
2 15-ounce cans artichoke hearts (packed in water), drained
2 cloves garlic
2 cups grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
2 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp salt, to taste
1/8-1/4 tsp cayanne pepper
black pepper, to taste

In a food processor, pulse artichoke hearts and garlic to chop. Add all remaining ingredients and whizz until smooth. Add additional salt and pepper to taste.
Heat in the microwave or in a 400F oven for 10 minutes.
Makes about 2 2/3 cups

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

All Purpose Cornbread

Cornbread is a food that has inspired a lot of debate. Do you like the southern, unsweetened, skillet-baked version with its crispy crust? Do you prefer the high rising, soft and sweet northern-style cornbread, which is almost a sort of cake? Maybe it's because I'm out on the coast, but I like both types of cornbread. While the lovers and the haters fight it out back east, I am content to have my own hybrid version.
My cornbread has all the elements of cornbread that I like. It has an equal ratio of cornmeal and flour, giving it both softness and texture. It has buttermilk, honey and sugar, for flavor and sweetness. Baking it at a high temperature allows the edges to develop a slight crispness, which leaves those who like a sort of crust satisfied and leaves the center to remain soft. The cornbread, while it may not be the paragon of cornbreads, will appeal to just about anyone. The perfect cornbread is probably an impossible task, since the "ideals" are at opposite ends of the spectrum, anyway.
Use this to dunk in a spicy chili or slather with butter. It is also excellent for breakfast with honey or jam. It's quick to make, too, so you can fix it during halftime and have it ready before the fourth quarter.

Buttermilk Cornbread
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
2 tbsp sugar
1 ½ cups buttermilk
1 egg
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 400F and lightly grease an 8-inch square pan.
Whisk together cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and sugar in a medium bowl.
In a large bowl, beat buttermilk, egg, honey and vegetable oil until well blended. Stir in dry ingredients, mixing until no streaks remain.
Pour mixture into prepared pan.
Bake at 400F for 23-28 minutes, until a tester comes out clean and the bread pulls away from the side of the dish slightly.
Serves 12.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Sunday Brunch: Blueberry Pecan Coffee Cake

I read quite a few food magazines every month. Given that I also have a fair number of cookbooks, recipes from other blogs and recipes that I either make up or have ideas for, I have accumulated quite a backlog of recipes and a magazine recipe has to be pretty appealing for me to bump it up in the queue. I picked up a copy of Healthy Cooking magazine recently, though, and there were a few things that caught my eye. I'm sure it didn't hurt that the issue was packed with holiday dessert recipes. Rum raisin rice pudding? Chocolate muffins? Yum.
This recipe isn't a dessert recipe, though. With blueberries and pecans, the coffee cake has some of my favorite ingredients. It looked and sounded like it would be light and tasty, with a very appealing nutritional profile, too.
As it turns out, I'm certain that the nutritional information given in the recipe is incorrect, unless they're using some fort of reduced-fat pecans that they don't sell out in my neck of the woods (though I would surely try them if they did). No matter, since the cake tastes great and is still quite healthy. The cake has no butter or oil added to it, getting its fat from nuts and eggs and making it quite similar to a sponge cake. It is fairly moist and has a lovely, crispy edge. I adore the combination of blueberries and pecans, but I wish that some of the berries had remained suspended in the batter, instead of sinking to the bottom. Next time, I'll toss them in flour first. If your nuts aren't ground quite fine enough, the texture will be a tiny bit rough, but no less delicious. The original recipe actually called for adding cornmeal to the batter, but I completely forgot to add it. I think this turned out for the best, as adding something with that much texture (coarseness) would not have improved the cake.
If your pecans are not already ground, toast them and grind them in the food processor with a tablespoon of sugar to help prevent them from getting pasty. Measure 1/2 cup after they have been ground, not before.

Blueberry Pecan Coffee Cake
(adapted from Healthy Cooking Magazine)
1/2 cup ap flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup finely ground, toasted pecans
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
Confectioners sugar for serving

Preheat oven to 375F. Grease and flour an 9-inch round cake pan.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat together pecans, sugar and one egg, adding the remaining egg and egg whites one at a time, until the mixture is smooth. Add vanilla and beat on high for 1-2 minutes, until slightly lightened. Beat in flour at low speed.
Toss berries in a teaspoon or two of flour, then fold into batter. Pour into prepared pan.
Bake at 375F for 40-45 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.
Let cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing. Serve with a dusting of confectioners sugar and more berries, if desired.
Makes 12 servings.

(Note about nutritional information: The recipe claims that each slice of the cake has 54 calories and 1 gram of fat, which isn't possible due to the fact that 1/2 cup ground pecans will have approximately 40 grams of fat. Pecans are, however, very low in saturated fat and at approximateloy 134 calories and 4-5 grams of fat per slice of cake, this is still a pretty healthy breakfast or snack choice.)

Friday, February 03, 2006

Cranberry Citrus Cornmeal Cookies

I would have been tempted to simply call these "Alliterative Cookies", were it not for the fact that alliterative does not start with the letter "c". I like the way the current name just rolls of the tongue, though I will admit that I spent a bit of time switching the order of the words around.
This is an adaptation of a recipe found in the Holiday 2005 issue of Food&Drink magazine, one of my favorites, which was generously sent to me by Randi. The recipe was from an article entitled "Nine Ways the Cookie Crumbles" that has three main dough recipes and three variations on each, for a total of nine. I love versatile recipes (not to mention cookies in general), so this was definately the logical place for me to start in the magazine.
The dough starts as a simple sugar cookie, with brown sugar in place of some of the white, making the cookie moist and giving it a slight chew. In addition to flour, the cookie has a fair bit of cornmeal. I added more citrus and cornmeal than the recipe called for, reducing the flour slightly, and as I knew in advance that the dough would be very crumbly, I added a bit of lemon juice as well. The extra juice still doesn't make for a moist dough, so it should be rested before your try to work with it. This will give the moisture in the dough time to disperse evenly. I found the crumblyness of the dough made if difficult to roll out, as the original recipe suggested, but I loved the result when I baked the cookies in rounded domes.
The final cookies had a texture reminiscent of a Melting Moment (aka Mexican Wedding Cookie), which is nut-rich, moist and smoothly melting in the center. Of course, the "3-c" cookies had much more texture due to the cornmeal and lacked nuts entirely, but the slight melting quality of the cookie's center combined with the crisp outer edge was wonderful. They are buttery, with a light citrus flavor and a delicious tang from the cranberries.

Cranberry Citrus Cornmeal Cookies
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp orange zest
2 cups ap flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup dried cranberries

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars. Beat in egg, followed by vanilla, lemon juice, lemon zest and orange zest.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking power and salt. Working in two or three additions, mix flour mixture into butter mixture by hand or with a mixer at low speed. Dough will be crumbly. Stir in cranberries.
Press dough down with your hands, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Shape into 1 inch balls and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Cookies will not spread very much at all, so there is not need to leave a lot of space.
Bake for 12-14 minutes at 350F, until just browned on the bottom edge.
Allow to cool on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack.
Store in an airtight container.
Makes 3 dozen.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Cooking School: Hawaiian Sweet Bread

Hawaiian sweet bread was my favorite sandwich bread growing up, though I did not have it often. Even better was the fact that not only could I use it to make my peanut butter and jelly before school, but when there was a loaf of it in the house I could have really delicious toast for breakfast, too.
Hawaiian sweet bread seems to be the same thing as Portuguese sweet bread, a name which is slightly more common. The brand that I always bought was King's Hawaiian Sweet Bread, which was soft, buttery and, of course, sweet. Hawaiian sweet bread is similar to breads like challah and brioche in that it is enriched with both egg and butter. Unlike those two, however, it has a tiny bit less added fat and a lot more sugar. Because it is also found in the Philippines, it seems likely that the recipe for the bread was spread by Portuguese sailors and settlers, traveling through the East Indies and other parts of the south Pacific.
Working with the ingredients of King's Hawaiian as a guide, I tracked down a recipe that seemed as though it would be a reasonable facsimile. The ingredients list flour, water, milk, sugar, margerine, eggs, butter, yeast and potato flour. A few ingredients, like high fructose corn syrup, I chose to disregard. The inclusion of potato flour is what keeps the bread moist and soft for several days after it is baked. I almost never use potato flour, preferring instant mashed potato flakes instead (potato flour is essentially the same thing, but approximately five times the price). This recipe, and slightly variations thereof, can be found all over the web and it is the one I decided to base my own recipe on.
The best way to mix this bread is using an electric or stand mixer, as it takes some time for the dough to come together. You can work the butter and extra flour in by hand, of course, but it really is much easier if you have a mixer. The dough is soft and heavy, with a lovely yellow tinge from the egg yolks. I chose to make free form loaves, but this dough can be put into two loaf pans, as well, for more traditional sandwich sized bread. It is sweet, buttery and everything that I hoped it would be - minus the high fructose corn syrup.

Hawaiian Sweet Bread
(based on this recipe)
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/2 tsp)
1/4 cup water, warm
1 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup boiled potatoes, mashed (* see note)
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 cup milk, warm
1 tsp salt
3 large eggs
1/4 cup butter, very soft
4-5 cups ap flour

In a large bowl, preferably the bowl of an electric mixer, conbine yeast, warm water, 1 tablespoon of sugar and the mashed potatoes. Let stand for 5 minutes. Add remaining sugar, lemon juice, milk, salt, eggs and 2 cups of flour, mixing very thoroughly with the paddle attachment of your mixer. Switch to dough hook. Add 1 1/2 cups more flour and butter, cut into chunks. Mix on low speed until smooth, then add remaining flour a few tablespoons at a time until dough comes away from the sides of the bowl and clings to the dough hook. Place on a lightly floured surface and knead for 2-3 more minutes to ensure smoothness. Place bdough in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled, 2-3 hours in a warm place.
Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface.
Divide dough in half. The dough can be shaped into two loaves as desired: two round loaves, two oblong loaves, two clover loaves (made with balls of dough) or shaped into rectangles and place in two, lightly greased loaf pans. Place free form loaves on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover dough with a clean dish towel and let rise for 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden. Loaves will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. The best way to check for doneness is to insert an instant -read thermometer (like a meat thermometer) into the bottom of the loaf a few inches. The temperature will read 200F when the bread is done.
Let cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.
Store in an airtight container or ziploc bag.
Makes 2 loaves.

*Note: Instant potato flakes make a great substitute for mashed potatoes. Use about 1/3 cup potato flakes with 1/2 cup hot water and let it cool slightly before adding to the yeast.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Artichoke and Yukon Gold Potato Gratin

I am not normally a big fan of wet, cheesy dishes, particularly if they are likely to contain large amounts of improperly cooked potatoes. Unfortunately, this includes almost all varieties of potatoes au gratin, which can be tasty but are often poorly done. Despite my general reluctance to make this type of a dish, this Leite's Culinaria won me over with three simple things. First, it included artichokes, which I love. Second, it did not have a huge amount of cheese or cream. And, finally, it was baked in a loaf pan rather than a more traditional casserole.
I took the liberty of replacing some of the cream with milk, which probably won't surprise any regular readers, but with only a few tablespoons, it doesn't make a huge difference in the turnout of the recipe. It does save a few grams of fat and a couple extra calories, though. There were not quite as many artichokes as I would have liked, but by thinly slicing them, I think that I got a fairly even distribution throughout the dish. I used canned artichoke hearts, packed in water, instead of cooking and slicing fresh ones, which saved quite a lot of time from the original recipe. It also turned out that I needed fewer potatoes. Though I did use the soft, buttery Yukon Gold variety, mine must have been large than the ones used by the recipe author, since I only needed about 4, not 6, to fill my pan.
I cut the potatoes very thin, aiming to keep all slices at about 1/8 inch (3mm) thick. The thinner your slices are the less likely your final dish is to have any undercooked potato bits. The resulting dish was slightly creamy, without being too wet, with tender potatoes and a hint of Gruyère. I was actually very happy with the amount of cheese in the dish, though a few more tablespoons wouldn't hurt if you're a big cheese lover. I baked it slightly longer than the recipe called for, testing it with a sharp knife to ensure doneness. I loved how this could be served in neat slices, rather than messy scoops, too.

Artichoke and Yukon Gold Potato Gratin
( adapted slightly from Leite's Culinaria)
4 artichoke hearts (cooked and canned in water)
2/3 cup heavy cream (or use half milk)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
4-6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp Gruyère cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350F.
Finely chop artichoke hearts.
In a small saucepan, conbine cream, garlic, salt and pepper. Bring almost to a simmer, stirring to ensure salt is dissolved, and set aside.
Peel and slice potatoes into 1/8 inch (3mm) thick slices.
Brush an 8x4 inch loaf pan with the olive oil. Layer 1/3 of the potatoes in the loaf pan, top with 1/2 of the diced artichokes and 3 tablespoons Gruyère. Repeat with next 1/3 of potatoes, the rest of the artichokes and 3 more tablespoons cheese. Top with remaining potatoes and cheese. Pour cream mixture over everything, cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 10-15 additional minutes, until the top browns slightly and a knife inserted into the potatoes comes out easily and cleanly.
Cool for 10-15 minutes before slicing.
Makes 4 main course servings or 6 side servings.