Friday, May 28, 2010

Happy Birthday to Le Chef: Devil's Food Cake with Chocolate Ganache Frosting

Eric’s (Le Chef’s) birthday is today. I affectionately refer to Eric as “Le Chef” because he’s as old-school and meticulous about cooking technique as my LCB chef instructors were. In other words, he’s just as much a hard-ass and can be as insufferable as a French chef. Fortunately, he’s only that way in the kitchen, and otherwise, is pretty easy going. I’m not very structured in the kitchen but am uptight about everything else, so we’re a pretty well-matched pair of opposites.

I decided to make a chocolate birthday cake to celebrate his birthday. Eric’s not much for dessert and usually bypasses all sweets, but he does have a soft spot for chocolate cake. He is human, after all, and who doesn’t like chocolate cake? So, I pulled out a recipe from a class that I recently volunteered for at Central Market’s Cooking School. The Beat Divas hosted the class, called Dishin’ with the Divas, and made a Devil’s Food Cake with a chocolate ganache frosting for dessert. I didn’t actually get to taste the Divas’ cake because we had a full house and there wasn’t enough to go around, so I was hoping the recipe would turn out okay. Cakes, you may remember, are not my forté. I’m happy to report that the cake turned out just fine and is delicious. Le Chef approved and gave it high marks!

Devil’s Food Cake with Chocolate Ganache Frosting
adapted from the Beat Divas

The Divas’ recommended using Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips in their ganache. I prefer to use a fruity, dark chocolate such as Callebaut’s Tanzania 75% Origin chocolate. Also, I subbed 1 T of vanilla for their recommended 2 T of Frangelica since I don’t like alcoholic desserts. The vanilla nicely complemented the fruity dark chocolate.

15 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 ½ c heavy cream
1 T vanilla

2 c all-purpose flour
1 ½ t baking soda
¾ t baking powder
¾ t salt
12 T unsalted butter, at room temp, and additional for greasing pans
2 c + 2 T sugar
¾ non-alkalized cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed)
2 t pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temp
1 ¼ c water
¼ c milk

1. Prepare the ganache before starting the cake as you will need to allow time for it to set up. Put chopped chocolate in a large, heat proof bowl. Bring the cream and vanilla to a boil in a small saucepan, remove from heat, and immediately pour over the chopped chocolate. Tilt the bowl slightly to allow the cream to settle and then allow to sit for approximately 4 minutes to melt the chocolate. When chocolate has melted, whisk the mixture until smooth. When cooled, cover with plastic wrap and allow to set up at room temperature for two hours or put in fridge to set.

2. To prepare the cake, place rack in the middle of the oven and pre-heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour two 9-inch parchment lined cake pans.

3. In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

4. In a mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth for approximately 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and begin slowly pouring in the sugar. Continue to beat for approximately 4 minutes until light and smooth. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula before the addition of each of the next ingredients. Add cocoa powder and vanilla and beat at medium speed for approximately 1 minute.  With the mixer running on medium-low, add eggs, one at a time, and beat for one minute between additions.

5. Combine the water and milk in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat.

6. With the mixer on low speed, add in the flour mixture, approximately ¼ c at a time. Then carefully pour the hot milk and water mixture into batter. Remove the bowl from mixer.  Using a rubber spatula, combine the batter until smooth. Pour the batter in even proportions into each pan.

7. Bake cakes approximately 30-35 minutes until the center springs back when lightly touched. Cool cakes on racks for approximately 10 minutes before removing from pans. When fully cool, trim cakes to level. Spread 1/3 c of ganache frosting on top of one cake layer and then place the other cake layer on top. Frost sides and top to fully cover. 

Monday, May 24, 2010

Rubyfruit Candies: Strawberry Pâte de Fruit

I loved seeing the jewel-like pâte de fruits in Parisian patisseries. I’m sad to report that I didn’t eat nearly enough of them during my stay in Paris, so I was delighted when I recently found a pâte de fruit recipe while perusing Tasty Kitchen, posted by Tracy from SugarCrafter. Inspired by the rhubarb version Tracy posted, I decided to make strawberry pâte de fruits. Luckily, I had strawberries that were almost past their prime (from the same CSA delivery I was stressing about in a previous post), and so the purée required for pâte de fruit was a perfect use for them. I am so looking forward to many more berry versions of this recipe now that the summer fruit season is upon us!

Strawberry Pâte de Fruit
adapted from SugarCrafter

3/4 c strawberry juice (about 10-12 oz whole berries)
2 c granulated sugar
1 (3 oz) envelope liquid fruit pectin
2 t lemon juice

1. Line an 8 x 8" inch baking dish with parchment paper, crisscrossed and extending over the sides of the pan. Purée strawberries and strain the juice into a large sauce pan. The mixture will bubble up and froth when boiling, so you’ll need a sauce pan large enough to allow room.

2. Heat strawberry juice, lemon juice, and 1/2 cup of sugar in the sauce pan over medium heat until the mixture reaches 113 degrees Fahrenheit. Add in remaining sugar. Continue cooking approximately 10 minutes until the mixture reaches 238 degrees Fahrenheit, then pour in pectin. Continue to boil and stir for 1-2 minutes.

3. Remove the sauce pan from the heat and immediately pour the hot mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar and let set for 2 hours.

4. When set, carefully lift out of pan using the overhanging parchment paper. Cut into 1″ squares and roll in sugar until well-coated. 


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Carb Overload: Parker House Rolls

A friend invited us over for dinner recently, and when she told me she was going to whip up a big pot of chicken and dumplings, I laughed and said I’d bring the bread. To many folks (other than Southerners), serving bread with chicken and dumplings may seem a bit redundant. Don’t the dumplings fulfill the carbohydrate quotient for the meal? Well, not if you grew up with my father. Supper was not served in his house without bread, no matter what we were having. My mother makes amazing chicken and dumplings, and since the dish is a family favorite, I grew up eating a lot of chicken and dumplings and bread to sop up the chicken gravy (is that what it is? it’s not really sauce or soup, but somewhere in between, so I’m going with gravy).

During an introductory, week-long pastry course I took at the CIA Greystone Campus, we spent a couple of days making different bread varieties, to include the most adorable little Parker House Rolls. In general, I’m not a big roll person but I was delighted with how cute the rolls turned out. Cute always gets me….  As a double bonus, the rolls are (fairly) quick and easy to make. To make the rolls to accompany my friend's dumplings, I pulled out the recipe we used at the CIA, but the ingredient quantities were listed to make 8 dozen. Not needing 8 dozen Parker House Rolls, and being too lazy to do the math to adjust the quantities, I quickly looked up a recipe on Epicurious that was a close approximation of the CIA recipe. The Epicurious recipe turned out pretty well, but I’d increase the salt a bit next time and have adjusted the recipe below accordingly. Also, I’m not one to hand knead when I’ve got a perfectly good KitchenAid to do so for me, so I changed up the instructions on kneading the dough.

Parker House Rolls
adapted from Epicurious

3 T warm water (105-110°F)
3 T sugar
2 1/2 t active dry yeast
1 stick unsalted butter
1 c whole milk
2 c bread flour
2 t salt
1 1/2 to 2 c all-purpose flour

Recipe will make approximately 20 rolls

1. In a small bowl, stir together warm water, 1 tablespoon sugar, and yeast and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

2. Melt 3/4 stick butter in a small saucepan, add milk, and just heat until slightly warm. In a large bowl, stir together the yeast mixture, remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, warmed butter mixture, and bread flour until combined. The initial bread flour dough will be very loose (see pic). Stir in about 1 and 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour and the dough will firm up enough to form a ball.

3. Butter a large bowl. Begin kneading balled dough in a KitchenAid, or similar, using a dough hook and add remaining ½ cup of all purpose flour if the dough is still too sticky. Continue to knead the dough until smooth and elastic. Remove from mixer and re-form the dough into a large ball and place in the buttered bowl. Turn in bowl to ensure the dough is coated evenly with butter. Allow to rise in bowl, covered with plastic wrap, in a warm place approximately 1 hour, or until doubled.

4. Butter a cup cake or muffin pan. Divide dough into 20 equal pieces. Take each of the 20 dough pieces and further divide into three equal size pieces and roll into balls. Place three rolled balls in each cup cake or muffin well in the pan and let rise, covered loosely, in a warm place 60 minutes, or until almost doubled.

5. Preheat oven to 375°F. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter and cool slightly. Brush tops of rolls with butter and bake in middle of oven until golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Let rolls cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes. Turn out onto rack and allow to cool slightly before serving.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

And I was just going to make scrambled eggs: Le Chef’s Braised Chard Soup with Poached Egg

I understand many people experience great satisfaction in hunting down recipes in which to use their weekly Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) produce delivery. I wish I were one of those people… instead, I suffer from CSA related anxiety (not to be confused with CRS related anxiety- I’ve got that, too).

While I want to be supportive of my work’s CSA program to ensure that it continues, I don’t order as often as I feel I should. The problem is that I get overwhelmed by the amount and variety of produce received and I wind up packing everything into the fridge to be dealt with later. Then, after a few days have passed and the produce is starting to look a little past its prime, I start stressing out about using it up before it goes bad.

Another problem that contributes to my CSA related anxiety is that I’m a baker and not so much of a cook. I appreciate those folks who both bake and cook with equal aplomb, but I am not in their ranks.

That being said, I do enjoy cooking. In fact, the more I bake, the greater the pleasure I get from cooking. I find it freeing to dispense with measuring cups and just add ingredients (more or less) willy nilly. I still, however, need a recipe to serve as a general guide to technique and ingredients. I am not, and probably will never be, a cook who can whip up a spectacular meal with whatever formerly unappetizing ingredients were lingering in the back of the refrigerator bins. Le Chef, fortunately, is a master of the art.

So last night, while foraging for dinner, I was bemoaning that the chard from our CSA delivery was on its last leg and was verbally contemplating how braised chard would go with scrambled eggs. (We’re lucky to live right around the corner from Green Gate Farms and have ready access to delicious farm eggs.)

After listening to my lament, Le Chef decided to take matters into his own hands. Voila! He took my poor, forlorn chard and turned it into a lovely braised chard soup topped with a poached egg with a lemon zest, parsley, and olive oil garnish. It was delish and he made it look so easy, I think I could do it myself.

And now I can, since I have the recipe.

Le Chef’s Braised Chard Soup

1/4 c olive oil
1 c diced, smoked ham
1/2 c yellow onion, chopped
½ c carrot, diced
1 T of shaved garlic
2 c chicken broth
1 c white wine
3 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme
2 cardamom pods, whole
freshly ground salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
red pepper flake, to taste

poached egg
lemon zest
parsley, chopped

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and add ham, carrots, onions, and garlic. Sauté until tender and slightly brown. Add chard and wilt. Deglaze pan with white wine. Add broth, herbs, and seasonings and bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer approximately 40 minutes until flavors begin to meld. Serve with a soft, poached egg and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and freshly grated lemon zest, cracked black pepper, and parsley.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Killer Breakfast: Homemade Strawberry Pop Tarts

I was reminiscing about the good old days while I made homemade pop tarts last weekend.

I had spied a recipe in a Bon Appetit issue and it came to mind when I was looking for a quick baking fix. I already had left over dough in the freezer from the lattice for the strawberry-rhubarb pie I made a few weeks ago and I used my Aunt Ferolyn’s Shelley's (turns out these preserves were from my other aunt- thanks to Mom for the reminder) amazing strawberry preserves for the filling. All that was required was a simple assembly job. 

You might think when I referred to the good old days above, I was talking about my childhood and a love of pop tarts. Now how boring would that be?

So instead I’m going to talk about an experience from my first “real” job.  

Fresh out of grad school, I took a job as a research assistant at a medical school. The head of our lab was a psychiatrist who was brilliant but quirky (stereotypes are so often true). For the purposes of this post, I’ll call him Dr. Psychiatrist. You just never know who’s reading…

Dr. Psychiatrist hated, just hated, to throw anything away. From pencil stubs to useless datasets, he never wanted to let go of anything. It was a running joke amongst his staff, in which I freely participated- until the joke was on me. He knew his staff ragged on him constantly and he delighted in paying us back. Since I was a newbie and gullible, Dr. Psychiatrist decided to saddle me with the “Food and Mood” dataset.

This dataset was a useless pile of data from food logs and mood assessments left over from an old research study. I later learned that, despite several attempts, no one had ever successfully been able to pull any useful findings from the data. I’d like to think Dr. Psychiatrist had great confidence in my abilities, but more likely, he probably sadistically enjoyed watching me chase my tail. Like any good psychiatrist, he was a world-class manipulator.

Dr. Psychiatrist arranged a meeting for me with a nutritionist to discuss possible correlations to explore between foods and human behaviors. This nutritionist was even wackier than Dr. Psychiatrist. I suspect he well knew this and I bet it tickled him to no end to set me up. That’s the thing about working in the psych field- paranoia is a job hazard. And nowhere is the old adage truer, “just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.”

The short version of the story is that, in our meeting, the nutritionist went off on a rant about how breakfast foods are making children violent. Huh? Yep, you read that right. She was convinced that the most important meal of the day was turning children into maniacal killers. Looking back, I’m sure the actual premise of her argument was based on the increase in child behavioral disorders coinciding with increased use of suspect food additives and the enormously high sugar content in most foods marketed to children. It’s an interesting argument, but she was such a wack-a-doo, it was hard to take her irate rambling seriously. Besides, this was back in 1998 before we were all Pollanized so I just wrote her off as nut job who bought off on the “Twinkie Defense.” Nowadays, her hypothesis seems a little more plausible. 

Needless to say, I didn’t get any helpful direction from my visit with the nutritionist, nor did I extract any scientific breakthroughs from the “Food and Mood” data. I did get a good story from the experience and, thinking back on it, it still makes me laugh. I guess I should thank Dr. Psychiatrist for that. 

Homemade Strawberry Pop Tarts

from Bon Appetit

Bon Appetit called for serving the pop tarts with a light dusting of powdered sugar and fresh strawberries. It’s just not a pop tart to me unless it has icing and sprinkles so I included additional ingredients and an extra step for frosting.

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour plus additional for shaping and rolling
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 tablespoons ice water
12 tablespoons strawberry preserves (preferably organic and/or homemade)
1-2 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup powdered sugar

1. Whisk 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour, coarse salt, and sugar in large bowl. Add butter. Using fingertips or back of fork, blend in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ice water by tablespoonfuls, tossing until moist clumps form. Gather dough into ball. Divide in half; shape each half into disk. Wrap in plastic. Chill at least 1 hour. 
2. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Working with 1 disk at a time, roll out dough on floured surface to about 13x11 inches. Trim to 12x10-inch rectangle, then cut into eight 5x3-inch rectangles.
3. Arrange 4 rectangles, spaced apart, on each sheet. Spoon 1 1/2 tablespoons preserves in row down center of each rectangle. Top preserves with second dough rectangle. Using fingertips, gently press all edges of each tart to seal; press all edges with tines of fork to double-seal. Using toothpick, poke a few holes in center of top dough rectangle. Cover; freeze tarts on sheets at least 2 hours and up to 1 week.
4. Position 1 rack in top third and 1 rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 375°F. Bake frozen tarts uncovered until golden, reversing sheets after 15 minutes, 25 to 30 minutes total (some preserves may leak out). Immediately transfer tarts to rack.
5. For icing, in a small bowl add milk to 1/2 cup powdered sugar until desired consistency. Use a teaspoon to spoon onto pop tarts and use the back of the spoon to spread the icing evenly. Top with your favorite sprinkles and serve.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Give Me My Daily Bread: Savory Bread Pudding

Whoever said, "man cannot live on bread alone" does not know this woman. I can and have! For the first two weeks I was in Paris, I was more than a little jet lagged and shell shocked from the "intensive" nature of Le Cordon Bleu. By the time I crawled back to my apartment at the end of the long days, all I could usually manage to "make" for dinner was a piece of bread, some stinky cheese, and a glass of wine to wash it down. Many nights those first couple of weeks, I feel asleep with glass in hand and bread crumbs on my pjs. 
While I can still happily make a meal of bread and cheese, I decided to forgo a full scale re-enactment of my Paris days. Eric (Le Chef) has gone to Florida this week to do a little fishing so I'm cooking for one. I had half a baguette left over from a bleu cheese and bread binge on Friday that was rapidly turning hard as a rock by Sunday, so I decided to make a kitchen sink version of Tartine's Savory Bread Pudding using what I had on hand, or rather in the fridge.

Savory Bread Pudding
adapted from Tartine cookbook

6 oz baguette
1 T olive oil
1/3 c chopped yellow onion
5 large eggs
1/2 t salt
1 c whole milk
1 c heavy cream
ground black pepper, to taste
freshly ground nutmeg, to taste
3 oz smoked ham (I used slices I had deli cut for sandwiches)
1 T tarragon (left over from my goat cheese experiment)
1/2 c braising green (all I had was green leaf lettuce- worked just fine)
1/2 c + 1/4 c shredded cheddar cheese

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and oil a 9x9 inch baking dish.
2.  Cut the bread into 1 1/2 inch cubes. Set aside.
3. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat and sautè the yellow onion until lightly browned. Remove from heat and set aside.
4. Whisk together the eggs and salt until well blended, and then whisk in milk and cream. Season the custard with pepper and nutmeg, to taste (I like a lot more pepper and nutmeg than the original recipe calls for).
5. In a mixing bowl, combine the egg custard, bread cubes, ham, tarragon, greens, cheese, and sautèed  onion. Pour into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the top with remaining 1/4 c of cheese and freshly grated black pepper.
5. Bake approximately 45-50 minutes until no longer runny in the middle. 

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Training Wheel Cheese: Homemade Chèvre

Wow! I never even turned on my oven last weekend - both of my chosen projects were cooked on the stove top. Aside from making caramels, I took my first stab at making homemade cheese last weekend.

Specifically, I made Chez Loulou’s homemade chèvre. As usual, Le Chef was suspect when I told him I was making homemade goat cheese. His first question was to ask where I found rennet to make cheese. I coolly explained that the recipe I was using didn’t call for any enzyme and was a simpler version of making cheese. He retorted that I wasn’t making cheese; I was just curdling goat milk. I suppose he would rather I have bought a goat, milked it, slaughtered it to extract rennet, tidied up, and then proceeded with making real homemade goat cheese. Sorry, I guess I’m just not a purist because that seemed like too large a task to accomplish in one short weekend.

So I cheated and made a tasty tarragon curdled goat milk cheese-of-sorts. I heeded Jennifer’s note to reserve some of the whey in case the strained cheese is too dry and I’m glad I did. I squeezed the cheesecloth bundle before hanging to dry, but next time, I think I won’t. I had to add back in a few tablespoons of whey to get the cheese to the consistency I wanted.

This was a fun, quick project and I’ll definitely try making some other cheeses. Heck, I might even hunt down some rennet. I’m going to skip the goat, though. We’re already violating our Homeowners Association rules on number of household animals with the three pups so I’m not going to push my luck.

Homemade Chèvre
from Chez Loulou

1 liter (1 quart) goat's milk - pasteurized or unpasteurized, not ultra-pasteurized
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 clove minced garlic
a pinch or two of sea salt
minced tarragon, to taste

1. Heat the milk over medium heat until it reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy or meat thermometer.
2. Take the milk off the heat and stir in the lemon juice. The milk should begin to curdle immediately but it may take a little while to get large enough curds to separate from the whey.
3. Line a strainer or colander with several layers of cheesecloth – depending on the tightness of the cheesecloth weave, it may require 3-4 layers. Make sure your layers will drain but aren’t too loose to allow the curds through.
4. Place over a large bowl to catch the whey and ladle the curds and whey into the cheesecloth lined strainer or colander. Reserve some of the whey.
5. Gather the corners of the cheesecloth together and hang from a wooden spoon over a deep bowl for about 60-90 minutes. The consistency will be similar to that of dry cottage cheese. If cheese is too dry, add reserved whey by the tablespoon until the cheese reaches your desired consistency.