Feeds:
Posts
Comments

image

Despite the many sweet focused posts on this blog, I don’t actually eat that many sweets. When I crave, it’s usually more along the lines of pasta and well, pasta. But recently at work I made a batch of chocolate sugar cookie dough that was a little off. It wasn’t bad, it just was a little too buttery. We baked off some of the cookies as a test batch and when everyone tried them, they thought they tasted exactly like the cookie part of an Oreo…only better.

The next day I decided to bake a few of the cookies as Oreo circles. When they were cool I piped our vanilla buttercream on half of the cookies and sandwiched them with the other half of the cookies. And voila we had Oreos…only a thousand times better. I had to break my month long no sweets at the bakery fast to try one. They were OMG good.

When I got home, I couldn’t stop thinking about those cookies. Luckily, the internet abounds with homemade Oreo recipes of which the Smitten Kitchen’s are among the most well known and oft copied. I decided to hop on the very old Oreo cookie making band wagon and with my trusty kitchen helper by my side, we made Oreos.

image

In the Smitten Kitchen recipe, the cookies are dropped by spoonfuls onto the cookie sheets. When I made the dough I thought it was sturdy enough to roll out, so that’s what we did. We rolled the cookies to a 1/4″ thickness and then used a circle cookie to make rounds which we baked on Silpat lined cookie sheets. We baked our cookies for 11 minutes instead of 9 because I wanted a crisper cookie. They turned out perfect.

image

I used my own very simple buttercream recipe that I made in the food processor because I was too lazy to take the KitchenAid out again and the food processor is lighter. I put 2 cups of powdered sugar in the food processor and sliced a stick of slightly softened butter on top and gave it a whirl until it was smooth. I then scraped the seeds of a vanilla bean into the mixer and drizzled in a teensy (less than a tablespoon) bit of coconut milk and whizzed it again. It made a gorgeous filling all speckled with delicately scented vanilla beans. So pretty. I used a disposable pastry bag from AC Moore to pipe my filling but you can always use a Ziplock bag with the corner snipped off.

image

image

Besides using my own buttercream recipe, I made a few changes to the cookie recipe on the Smitten Kitchen blog. I used white wheat flour in place of all purpose flour because it’s so finely milled that you don’t notice it’s whole wheat and I often substitute it in recipes. I used the 1 cup of sugar instead of 1 and 1/2 cups and I used a scant 1 tsp. of salt because boosting the salt makes the cookies a little less sweet and more grown up tasting. For the cocoa, I used Hershey’s Special Dark which gave my cookies that signature almost black look.

I don’t praise lightly but these cookies were phenomenal. One is enough to satisfy but it’s really hard not to eat more.

image

Advertisements

 

 

image

When I moved upstate from Brooklyn eight years ago, Glens Falls was a small, uninteresting blip on my radar. Today, it’s a destination with great shops and restaurants and the best reason to visit Glens Falls is Frank Vollkommer’s The Chocolate Mill Pastry Shop & Cafe

The Chocolate Mill serves a full service breakfast and lunch along with an excellent coffee and tea menu. They sell Sensibiliteas which is another fabulous Glens Falls local business. I’ve had several of their lunch items and they are always delicious but the real thing that draws me in is their gorgeous pastries and chocolates.

My absolute favorite pastry is the Tropical Breeze, pictured at the top of the post. Layers of tangy mango mousse and coconut custard topped with a thin layer of mango gelatin. The dessert is a study in perfection. Just sweet enough without being so rich that you can’t finish it, the Tropical Breeze is a dessert that makes me close my eyes and sigh happily as I take small bites, savoring each and every one. It paired wonderfully with a pot of Sensibilitea’s Passion & Envy organic tea. I loved the tea so much, I bought a pound of it along with my box of pastries to bring home.

But aside from the fabulous desserts, there are chocolates. Exquisite, lovely chocolates. My favorite being the Passionfruit Bon Bon. I do so want to learn how to make chocolates so beautiful and delicious. Need an apprentice, Chef Vollkommer?

image

Whatever you order at The Chocolate Mill, you are sure to be delighted. We never leave without taking a box of goodies home. Today this Strawberry Champagne Tart demanded to come home with me…

image

And this wee Raspberry Macaron…

 

image

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this Chocolate, Peanut Butter, Caramel tart that somehow found it’s way in to my bakery box…

image

Concord Grape Jam

I won’t presume to offer apologies for my teensy delay in blog posts because that would assume that anyone missed me. Instead I am going to jump back in to blogging with one of my very most favorite things to do. Make jam.

Have you ever made jam? To me, jam is the art of taking some fruit, adding sugar, maybe some herbs or spices if you’re fancy like that and cooking it until it is somehow better than and reminiscent of that fruit at its sweetest peak. And opening a jar of home canned strawberry jam on the coldest January morning? There is nothing better. Unless, of course, you are opening a jar of concord grape jam.

I don’t do things small. When I set out to make jam, I make a ton of jam. For this day of jam making I started with 10 quarts of luscious concord grapes.

10 quarts is a lot of grapes. But jam doesn’t like to be made in huge batches.  For safest results, jam should be cooked in small batches according to proven recipes. For these batches of jam, I used a recipe from Epicurious

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Concord-Grape-Jam-232813

It’s super easy to make although it is time consuming. Slipping the skins off of 10 quarts of grapes takes a while. It goes a lot faster with a friend…or a very patient boyfriend. Music helps. Alcohol helps more.

I’m thinking this should be the last of my jam making for this season. I’ve made a lot of jam this season. So far my cupboard contains:

Concord Grape Jam

Strawberry Jam

Strawberry Vanilla Jam

Strawberry Peach Jam

Peach Jam

Peach Ginger Jam

Cherry Jelly

Rhubarb Jam

Apricot Jam

Apricot Champagne Jam

Spiced Apricot Jam

Apricot Vanilla

I’m a little sad I never got to make raspberry jam but I’m thinking that we will not want for jam this winter.
How about you, have you made jam? What is your favorite kind of jam?

And it was so worth it. I can’t exactly say where these fabulous sour cherries came from, lest I incriminate myself. I like to think they were meant to be mine though. To be fair, the tree was on the property of a certain office building in Saratoga Springs and I passed it for so many mornings, the cherries glowing red and luscious but unpicked and unloved…there may or may not have been a certain amount of dangerously leaning over an elevated walkway to reach the lovely red orbs and there may or may not have been a certain amount of; very dainty, of course; low wall climbing involved but again, I can not say due to the whole incrimination thing.

Now In the spirit of honesty (let’s not speak of hypocrisy) I should tell you that I don’t really care for fruit pies. Except blueberry. Blueberries get an exemption for their perfect sweet-tartness, by now you should know what that combination does to me. I love fruit and I prefer it as close to it’s natural state as possible. Unless we’re speaking of jam but we’re not and I digress…

For the sake of recipe testing and making sure I know of what I speak, I did taste this pie and it was pretty good. As good as a cooked fruit pie could be. Luckily, the rest of the family was more enthusiastic and the pie is now but a memory.

Since we are talking about pie (and child labor, did we speak of child labor? See my laborers diligently picking cherry pits? They’re the best workers I’ve ever had! And for the record, my 16 year old does not have tattooed hands, she did that with a pen.)

since we are talking about pie, we must talk about pie crust. I love making pie crust. People seem to get needlessly intimidated by pie crust and I can not understand why. At it’s simplest, it’s three ingredients, flour, butter or shortening (though I am firmly in the anti shortening camp) and a little salt. I have tried many pie crust recipes over the years and the one I keep coming back to is my own, which is a riff on a basic pie crust I found in Gourmet (the now sadly defunct magazine) years ago. My pie crust always uses all butter, usually has some variety of whole wheat flour mixed with white flour, always a pinch of salt, often a bit of sugar and vodka. That’s right, vodka. Vodka is great in pie crust because when you mix it in, it makes the dough more workable but it evaporates during baking, making the dough lovely and flaky.

Pie Crust for a double crust pie

2 1/2 cups flour, I used 1 cup white flour, one cup whole wheat pastry flour and one half cup spelt flour. You can use all white if you wish but I like to sneak in whole grains where I can. I promise you my crust still turns out flaky. Try it.

2 sticks COLD butter, salted is fine.

2 TBS sugar

pinch of salt

2-5 TBS vodka

*optional* 1 tsp almond extract (it compliments the cherries)

Now usually I make my crust by hand with a large bowl and a pastry cutter. It’s the best way and it makes for the absolutely flakiest crust. However, I made this pie after a long day at work and I decided to use the food processor. Works well, though to my taste, by hand is best.

Combine flours, sugar and salt and whisk together if making crust by hand or pulse in the food processor if going that route. Chop butter into small pieces and add to flour mixture. If making the crust by hand use your pastry cutter and cut the butter in until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. It’s fine if some pea sized lumps remain. If using the food processor, pulse with short quick bursts until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs but be extra careful that you don’t over mix. Over processed dough makes a tough crust with little to no flakiness.

At this point, drizzle your tsp of almond extract extract over the mixture and sprinkle on 2-3 TBS. vodka. Using your pastry cutter cut into the dough until the dough starts to come together but is still pretty loose. When you squeeze the dough in your fist, it should hold together. If not, add a little more vodka.

Traditional wisdom holds that you should separate your dough into two roughly equal blobs, one slightly larger than the other to be your base layer, the smaller to be your top. The blobs should be formed into discs and wrapped in plastic wrap. Refrigerate them for at least an hour (I find one hour ideal) and then roll out. Me? Well I did mention that I just got home from a long day of work right? I didn’t have an hour so I just started rolling out my dough on a lightly floured surface. I roll my dough on a flexible cutting board because then it’s easy to lift in to the pie plate.

Fill with your favorite filling, for this pie I did sour cherries (about 5 cups?) with 3/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup cornstarch (I prefer tapioca but I was out) and lemon zest…not that sour cherries are not sour enough but I love lemon zest and it gives lemony flavor without being too sour.

Top with your second piece of rolled dough, like so…

and be sure to brush generously with a beaten egg thinned with a little water. Carving my initial in to your pie is optional but I would be impressed 😉 Carve something though. A pie needs to vent steam. Bake at 425 for 25 minutes. Lower the heat to 375 and bake 25 minutes more. At some point the edges of the pie might start browning too much, at that point, cut a piece of foil and fold it in half. Cut a half circle into the folded part and place it over your pie. Viola! The pie still cooks where it needs to but the edges stop browning. No need for 15 dollar pie protectors either.

Now. Cooling. You have to cool your pie. Hot pie is a lovely, romantic notion but it doesn’t make for very attractive pie slices. And hot pie has runny juices. Maybe you like this sort of thing but ideally (in my world of neatness and order) a pie needs to rest. For at least two hours. Mine rested over night because we were overfull from dinner and the next day it was damn near perfect.

Dontcha think?

Luscious Lemon Bars

It’s not like I have a ton of people who regularly read this blog. If I’m being generous I can say I have maybe 5 or 10 regular readers? So why do I feel so guilty for neglecting it? Probably because I had the best of intentions when I started it and I want to keep it going, I do. I’ve recently started a new job and I’m finding it hard to balance the job; which I love, for the record;  my responsibilities and the things I enjoy doing. Like puttering in the kitchen and putting together this blog.

In all honesty, I can’t say that I have been doing very much elaborate cooking. And baking, my one true love, has fallen by the wayside as I spend so much of the day doing it at work. That’s not to say that I haven’t done any baking…it is strawberry season after all. You must know that there have been strawberry shortcakes…along with strawberry cocktails, strawberry muffins and strawberries simply stuffed into hungry mouths with abandon.

It’s been a surprisingly rainy and dreary June, though and when it’s this dreary and depressing I want to be comforted. I need to be reminded that despite the heavy wetness and gray skies, summer really is around the corner. Sunshine really will come again. And nothing evokes sunshine more than these lemon bars.

I am very particular about my lemon bars. I like a tender, yet substantial crust topped with a bright, tartly assertive lemon curd. I don’t want my crust and curd to blend together. I want them to complement and set each other off. These are my gold standard for lemon bars and in the spirit of enticing my three readers to continue reading my blog, I’d like to share them with you. I hope you love them as much as I do and if you do try them, I’d love to hear about it.

Lemon Bars

Crust

9 inch square baking pan, lined with foil and sprayed with cooking spray or buttered generously.

1 1/2 cups white wheat flour

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 2 TBS. cold butter, salted is fine

In the bowl of a food processor add flour, confectioners’ sugar and salt. Pulse briefly to combine.

Chop cold butter into 1/2 inch pieces and pulse to combine with dry ingredients.

Pour out into prepared baking dish and press evenly with your fingers.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

While the crust is baking, prepare your filling.

Filling

5 large egg yolks, plus 3 large eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup lemon juice plus all of the zest from 4-5 lemons

4 TBS butter

pinch of salt

3 TBS heavy cream

Wash lemons in hot water with a little soap, or better yet, use organic lemons ( I rarely have them on hand because we use too many lemons!)

Zest all of the lemons with a fine microplane zester

Squeeze the lemons right on top of the zest until you get 2/3 cup of lemon juice

In a saucepan, whisk the eggs, lemon juice, zest and sugar with a pinch of salt.

Cut the butter into 4 pieces and add it to the egg mixture and set the pan over medium to medium-high heat.

Whisking constantly, bring the egg mixture almost to the boil but don’t let it boil. If it seems like it’s going to boil, lower the heat and whisk furiously. It shouldn’t take more than five minutes for the mixture to thicken. When it does, remove it from the heat and stir in the heavy cream. Pour through a fine meshed strainer right on top of the hot crust using a spoon to press it through. Bake for an additional 10 minutes until firm with a slightly jiggly center. The curd will completely firm up upon cooling. I like to let these set up over night. I usually just pop the whole pan, uncovered in the microwave. The refrigerator causes too much condensation to form. The next day, lift them from the pan by the foil, cut into desired shapes and sprinkle with powdered sugar.



Homemade Ricotta

When I was a child I used to eat ricotta with a spoon, straight from the tub like some people eat yogurt. This may have had something to do with why I was such a chubby child. Nevertheless, I did eventually stop buying ricotta by the pint just to have on hand and now we only buy it when we are making lasagna. Or lemon ricotta pancakes…I should tell you about those sometime. But recently, on Serious Eats I came across an article for making homemade ricotta. I’d never thought to make homemade ricotta. The recipe on Serious Eats is for ricotta made in the microwave. Now, I own a microwave and it’s handy for reheating food; though not as well as in a skillet or in a covered dish set over a water bath; but it does the job. I’m just not  into cooking in my microwave. Making cheese is cooking and to me that involves a stove, a pot and some stirring. I don’t want to make ricotta in the microwave no matter how foolproof the recipe is touted to be.

So I set out to find a more appealing recipe and I came across one on Simply Recipes by none other than David Leibovitz. He who lives in Paris (lucky!) must have a better recipe for ricotta. Right? I’ve never been let down by a David Leibovitz recipe so that’s the one I set out to use and to my delight it worked. And it was easy! Since I made ricotta that first time, I’ve made it several more times, that’s how easy (and addicting) it is.

Heat one half gallon of whole milk with one cup of whole milk yogurt and one teaspoon salt until hot but not boiling. The first two times I made this I used whole milk, happily, I have learned that it works beautifully with two percent milk. When the milk is very hot, just before a boil, add one tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice. The white vinegar makes a ricotta that tastes traditional. The lemon juice makes a ricotta that has a hint of citrus and a brightness that I think would work well in sweet or savory applications. I use whatever I feel like in the moment. Let the milk, yogurt and white vinegar or lemon juice boil gently for two or three minutes, stirring frequently. Watch carefully as it can boil over and make quite a mess.

When the milk is curdled, turn off the heat and let the ricotta rest for 15 minutes. The recipe doesn’t call for it, but I read it as a tip somewhere and the thought is that you get a better yield if you let the ricotta cool a bit before straining. The recipe calls for you to pour the ricotta through a fine mesh strainer lined with several layers of cheese cloth. I didn’t. My strainer has a pretty fine, double layer mesh so I took a chance and poured the ricotta straight through. Slowly, it’s still pretty hot. I didn’t bother letting it drain very long because I wanted my ricotta to have a very creamy consistency because I like to spread it on just baked bread. You can let it drain over night for a drier ricotta. But then you’d miss the warm, creamy goodness of moist, just made ricotta. Do what you will, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

If you want to get all fancy, it’s lovely on fresh baked bread with a little olive oil drizzled on top and a sprig of thyme. Or you can do as I did when my little photo shoot was over and rip of hunks of bread and dip it right into the warm ricotta. That’s my heaven.

The next night I used the dough from my Artisan Bread baking class to make a pizza. Lightly smeared with olive oil, layered with ricotta and then topped with oven caramelized onions that I have taken to making by the pot and keeping in the fridge. Ricotta and caramelized onion eggs? Deeeelicious.

A few weeks ago I was fortunate to attend a baking class at the Battenkill Kitchen in my adopted town of Salem, NY. The class was taught by Zoe Francois of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day fame, a book that I have and love. The class I chose to take was using recipes from the newer book, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Same principal as the first book but using whole grains.

The Battenkill Kitchen  http://www.battenkillkitchen.org/index.html is a non profit 800 square foot commercial kitchen facility that is available to the community on an hourly basis and also available to host events. And they have an awesome Garland restaurant stove that I totally covet.

Oh yeah- 6 burners, 2 ovens and a griddle on the side. I want. I yearn for one of those like some women do for designer handbags and Manolos. Sigh. One day.

I learned a lot from taking the class, some of it was about bread but some of it was about myself as a blogger. It’s nerve wracking going into a situation like this and asking if you can take pictures to document it for your blog. I found myself really hesitant and nervous about snapping pics even though I had asked permission and everyone seemed okay with it. As a result, I didn’t get very good pictures. My action shots always managed to capture someone with a funny look on their face. I’m not sure how to handle that in the future. But I’m supposed to be talking about bread! So let’s do so…

The class started out with Zoe giving a talk and explaining how the whole book project came about and then morphed into a second book. She demonstrated some techniques for mixing the dough and shaping loaves and then we were given a list of things to make and divided into groups of 4.

The members of my group watching as Zoe demonstrates stretching pizza dough with chef Suvir Saran in the back doing a little photo documentation of his own. The older gentleman to the right of Zoe is Jerry, he’s taken TEN classes at King Arthur flour and had a love of baking that was admirable. I wish I’d had more of a chance to hear his story.

Our group was assigned four things to make. We mixed a batch of dough to get a feel for what it should be like and then from dough that was premade my Zoe and friends, we made a baguette (and I made a Pain d’Epi), made bagels, pizzas and doughnuts! The doughnuts were made from a whole wheat brioche dough which was fabulous. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from them, I mean…whole wheat doughnuts? But they were good! Though, if I knew we were going to be filling them with jam, I would have brought some of my homemade jam. Smuckers has nothing on my jam.

See that sexy pizza bubble on there? I ate that. Tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, mushrooms and pepperoni. I don’t know who sourced out all the ingredients for pizza toppings but everything was top notch and delicious. One of the pizzas we made even had olives on it and I normally loathe olives but I inadvertently ate one and it was delicious.

Pesto, goat cheese, sweet yellow peppers, caramelized onions from Suvir Saran (what do I have to do to get that recipe???) and the aforementioned black olives. Obviously so delicious that it was almost gone before I thought to get a picture.

and the class gets interesting…I won’t blame my drinking three glasses of wine on Zoe telling us to let the dough relax and stop fiddling with it but I had to do something while the dough was relaxing! That’s my pain d’Epi that I almost forgot in the oven. It was lovely, I love how the bread breaks off into individual pieces. Beauty and function.

Panzanella, a fabulous way to use up leftover bread. There were lots of goodies to eat and snack on. Aside from the things we made ourselves, there was soup from Suvir Suran along with a lovely, silky hummus. By the end of the class I was quite full and maybe a little drunk. We all took home small bowls of dough from the class and I took home my pain d’Epi.

I was thinking the kitchen would be fabulous to rent out with a group of interested foodies and maybe have a cooking class or demonstration from a local chef. Such a great space, so many possibilities…