Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Strawberry Almond Scones with Buttermilk Glaze for Austin Bakesale for Japan

I’m thrilled to have joined with a team of food enthusiasts and bloggers for Austin Bakes for Japan, a bake sale fundraiser to help survivors of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. We’re part of a national movement of bake sales for Japan happening on Saturday, April 2, 2011. Twenty-three cities across the U.S. are hosting fundraisers for Japan, including Boston, Washington, D.C., New York, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle.

Here in Austin, over 100 volunteers are contributing to the bake sale, ranging from home cooks to professional bakers. All funds raised will go to AmeriCares, a non-profit organization committed to providing emergency relief to survivors of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Our goal is to raise $10,000 or more to help the people of Japan in their time of need. For more information about the bake sale or to make a gift online, visit this website.

The response to the bake sale in Austin has been so astronomical, 5 locations will be set up where you’ll find homemade offerings including locally sourced, organic, vegan, and gluten-free items. In addition, gourmet pastries have been donated by some of Austin’s finest professional bakers.

Find us at:

Downtown: Woof Gang Bakery Austin, 1204 N. Lamar Blvd., Austin, 78703 (10am to 2pm)

North Central: Foreign & Domestic, 306 E. 53rd Street, Austin, 78751 (10am to 2pm)

South: Hotel San Jose, 1316 South Congress Avenue, Austin 78704 (10am to 2pm)

East: Nomad Bar, 1213 Corona Drive, Austin, 78723 (10am to 2pm)

West: Shops at Mira Vista, 2785 Bee Cave Road, Suites 336 & 341, Austin, 78746 (10am to 5pm extended hours to participate in a community block party)

If you’re a local Austinite, please visit the bake sale locations to support us- I’ll be (wo)manning the downtown table so please say hi if you stop in. Also, help us spread the word through e-mail, liking Austin Bakes on Facebook, and following us on Twitter @austinbakes. To read about efforts nationwide, follow the Twitter hashtag #bakesale4japan.
Strawberry Almond Scones
adapted from Food & Wine, March 2011

Since the bake sale will be kicking off at 10am, I thought I’d bring a breakfasty option for folks who may not want to eat dessert so early in the morning. So I went with strawberry almond scones. This recipe caught my eye since it’s perfect for all the luscious, bright red strawberries in season right now. Beautiful specimens are popping up in the markets but I’m still waiting for my little greenies to turn red. Cross your fingers! I made a test batch of scones according to the recipe below but when I remake them for the bake sale, I’m going to omit the whole wheat pastry flour and increase the all-purpose flour to compensate. I don’t know if it was just the brand of whole wheat pastry flour that I used (rhymes with Mob’s Bed Rill) but these scones had a vaguely corn mealy taste that I didn’t care for. And not to give Paula Deen a run for her money, but I’m upping the butter by a tablespoon or two as the batter was loose and crumbly and a little more butter never hurts, right?

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 c plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 T baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 1/4 c buttermilk, plus more for brushing
1 1/2 c sliced strawberries
2 T turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw)

1/2 c sliced almonds
2 c confectioners' sugar
3 T buttermilk
1/2 t pure almond extract
Pinch of salt

1. To make the scones, preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit with racks placed in the bottom and top thirds of the oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine flours with the granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt and stir to mix. Add the cubed butter and use a pastry blender or a fork to cut in the butter. The mixture should resemble coarse meal. Stir in buttermilk and then gently fold in sliced strawberries.
2. Scoop dough into 16 mounds on the prepared baking sheets. Brush the scones with buttermilk and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until golden, shifting the pans from front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking. Allow the scones to cool on a rack for 30 minutes.
3. While the scones are cooling, make the topping. Lower the oven temperature to 350° Fahrenheit and toast the almonds on a baking sheet for approximately 8 minutes, until golden. While the almonds are in the oven, whisk confectioners' sugar with buttermilk, almond extract and salt in a small bowl and let the glaze stand at room temperature until the scones have cooled.
4. Drizzle the scones with glaze and sprinkle on the almonds, pressing to help them stick. Allow the glaze to dry for 10 minutes, then serve. The scones can be made up to 6 hours ahead.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Rhubarb Tart with Orange Glaze

I love the tangy tartness of rhubarb. Of all the spring fruits, it just might be my favorite to bake with. But it’s not even really a fruit…

Did you know that rhubarb is actually a vegetable? Even weirder still, according to Wikipedia, here in America, where rhubarb is largely used as a fruit, a court ruling legally classified it as a fruit for regulatory purposes, thereby granting it a tax reduction. (I suspect that ruling had little to do with clarifying the usage and more to do with throwing businesses a bone i.e. a tax break. Such is the American way.)

I’ve been told that rhubarb grows wild in more northerly states but it won’t grow at all in the South. (I stand corrected: just heard a local farm is selling it at the farmer's market. I'm assuming it's forced, hothouse grown rhubarb. I'll be finding out very soon as I can't wait to check it out.) Apparently the plant requires a protracted period of freezing temperatures before it will flourish during the growing season. The rhubarb I find here in Austin is typically from the Pacific Northwest. I always jump the gun and wind up purchasing hothouse rhubarb as soon as it shows up at the store since I can’t stand to wait till late April for the field grown rhubarb to be harvested. I’ve baked with both and while hothouse rhubarb has a milder flavor than the field grown variety, it’s still pretty tasty.

I always make this tart to kick off my rhubarb baking season. It’s dead simple and delicious.

Happy spring!
Rhubarb Tart with Orange Glaze
adapted from Gourmet, April 2009

This tart is so good, it’s reason enough to make a batch of puff pastry, especially since the dough freezes well and any leftovers can be stashed for a later use. However, if you’re not in the mood to go through the labor intensive process of making puff pastry, the store bought variety that can be found in the freezer section works well too.

1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (I used 3 medium sized Texas Valencia oranges)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 pound rhubarb stalks, thinly sliced diagonally (approximately 1/8 inch)
1 sheet puff pastry (thaw before use if frozen)
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest

1. Make puff pastry according to the directions here. Or if you’re not into that, just pull out the box of frozen puff pastry you bought at the store, remove a sheet, and place it in the refrigerator to thaw out.
2. Prep all ingredients and when you’re ready to assemble the tart, preheat the oven to 400° Fahrenheit with a rack in the middle. Pour the freshly squeezed orange juice and lime juice into a medium large bowl and add sugar. Stir to mix well. Add the rhubarb slices to the juice/sugar mixture and allow it to marinate for at least 10 minutes.
3. Prep the puff pastry by cutting two rectangles and then roll out each piece into an 11-by 7-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface to a little more than 1/8 inch thick. Transfer the pieces to an ungreased large baking sheet and place them side-by-side. Use a thin paring knife to make a 1/2-inch border around each pastry rectangle making sure not to cut all the way through and use a fork to prick pastry inside the border all over.
4. Strain the rhubarb from the juice mixture and reserve the liquid. Arrange overlapping slices of rhubarb within the borders of each pastry rectangle. Bake the rectangles for approximately 30 minutes until puffy and golden.
5. While the pastry is in the oven, put the reserved juice mixture in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down slightly but allow the liquid to remain at a boil until reduced to about 1/4 cup. This may take up to 15 minutes depending on burner strength.
6. When fully baked, remove the tarts to a rack to cool slightly. Pour or brush the glaze over the tarts and sprinkle with orange zest. Use a pizza slicer to cut each rectangle into serving size pieces and eat immediately! Actually, the tart will keep in the refrigerator for a few days but the syrup will make the puff pastry a bit soggy. I’d advise reheating before serving if kept in the refrigerator.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Brownies with Caramelized White Chocolate

When preparing to go to Paris to attend pastry school at Le Cordon Bleu, I studied David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris like a high school girl cramming for a final exam. 

You often hear of the peculiar ways of Parisians but David captured their peccadilloes best in his hilarious account of adjusting to life in Paris. If you haven’t already, read the book. If you don’t laugh out loud, well, then there’s just no accounting for your sense of humor.

So color me thrilled when David made a stop in Austin recently to teach a class at Central Market Cooking School. I was lucky enough to see the class announcement the day it went out and made a reservation immediately, assuming, rightly so, that it would be a sell out. There were twice as many people on the waiting list as there were seats for the class.

David was just as funny and engaging in person as he is in his book. He totally charmed us; not only with his funny tales but also with his delicious desserts!
Brownies with Caramelized White Chocolate

Of all the incredible desserts David served- a ginger snap cookies sandwiched with Meyer lemon frozen yogurt, a goat cheese soufflé, Ile Flottante (Tangerine Floating Island- a meringue that floats in crème anglaise and is drizzled with a tangerine caramel sauce)- it was the chocolate spice cake with an amazing caramelized white chocolate sauce that most captured my taste buds. I knew I had to make it so I did a rendition on David's Dulce de Leche brownies using caramelized white chocolate. White chocolate gets short shrift from chocolate snobs and for good reason in some cases. Often a cheap coating product made of crappy, hydrogenated animal or vegetable fat, in lieu of cocoa butter, is passed off as white chocolate. Thankfully, US regulations now require that products labeled as white chocolate contain defined minimum amounts of cocoa butter and milk fat. While I agree that white chocolate can be a tad too sweet to eat alone, I’ve found that it is an excellent addition to many of sweet treats. It works well with citrus and is an excellent counterpoint to darker, slightly bitter chocolate, and when combined with coconut, is divine. But when you caramelize it, it is truly a revelation.
Caramelized White Chocolate
adapted from David Lebovitz

12 ounces (340 g) white chocolate
1-2 pinches of flaky sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 250º Fahrenheit (120 C). If you’re using a block of white chocolate, chop into pieces.
2. Spread the white chocolate pieces out on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake for approximately ten minutes to melt the chocolate. When melted, remove the pan from the oven and use an offset or rubber spatula to spread the chocolate into a thin layer that covers the baking sheet.
3. Continue to cook the chocolate for approximately 30-60 minutes. Throughout the baking time, check the caramelization progress and stir the chocolate at 10 minute intervals. The end product should be a deep golden brown, similar to the color of peanut butter. Stirring will help to smooth out the caramelized chocolate. David noted the following points: Don’t freak out if it looks lumpy; keep stirring and it will smooth out. If the chocolate becomes grainy, push it through a fine mesh sieve. If you couldn't find a high quality white chocolate with a high cocoa butter ratio, add 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (or cocoa butter, if available) to the chocolate at the beginning to help with ensuring the chocolate melts smoothly. If all else has failed, put the caramelized chocolate in a food processor or use an immersion blender to smooth it out.
4. When the chocolate has caramelized to the desired color, stir in a good pinch or two of sea salt. Store at room temperature until ready to make brownies. Makes approximately one cup (250 ml).
Brownie recipe
adapted from The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz

8 T (115 g) salted or unsalted butter, cut into pieces + additional for greasing pan
6 ounces (170 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 c (25 g) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3 large eggs
1 c (200 g) sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1 c (140 g) all-purpose flour
1 c caramelized white chocolate

1. Preheat the oven to 350º Fahrenheit (175 C). Line an 8-inch square pan with a sheet of aluminum foil that covers the bottom and reaches up the sides. If the entire pan can’t be covered with one sheet, overlap with a second sheet placed crosswise. Grease the bottom and sides of the foil lined pan with butter.
2. Place chopped up butter in a medium saucepan and melt over low heat. Then add the chocolate and melt over low heat while constantly stirring. Remove the pan from the heat and add in the cocoa powder. Whisk the butter, chocolate and cocoa powder mixture until smooth. Add eggs one at a time and stir in. Last add the sugar, vanilla, and then the flour. Stir the mixture until smooth.
3. Use a spatula to scrape half of the batter into the foil lined pan. Using another clean spatula, drop half of the caramelized white chocolate over the brownie batter. Swirl the caramelized white chocolate through the batter with a butter knife. Spread the remaining brownie batter over the top, add the other half off the caramelized white chocolate and swirl as described previously.
4. Cover the pan with another piece of foil to prevent the caramelized white chocolate from burning and place the pan in the oven to bake for 35 to 45 minutes. Do a finger test to check for doneness- when the center feels just slightly set, the brownies are done. Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool completely. When cool, remove the brownies from the pan using the foil overhang to lift them. Peel off all foil and cut. Makes approximately 9 large brownies. The brownies can be stored in an air tight container for up to three days.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Country Loaf with Homemade Pimento Cheese

I’ve been practicing making Tartine Bread’s country loaf lately. So far, my most successful attempt was the first attempt. Go figure.

In honor of my inaugural loaf and to mark the occasion, I decided to attempt another first for me.

I made pimento cheese.

Here’s where I admit something that no self-respecting Southerner ever should: I, heretofore, have always bought pimento cheese at the grocery store.

In my defense, it’s not like I’ve been buying those pre-packaged plastic bins of suspicious orange looking goop. In fact, I am fairly selective in my pimento cheese buying habits. I only buy the made in house pimento cheese found in the deli section of better grocery stores. I like to think someone’s grandma (or aunt or mama) is back there in the store’s kitchen whipping up the batch just for me.

So though I stand firm that store bought pimento cheese can be just as good, I realized it was high time I made a batch of homemade pimento cheese to test my conviction.

I have to say, the homemade pimento cheese I made was so good I almost changed my mind.

Almost... but not quite.
Pimento Cheese
adapted from Bellwether Vance’s recipe

The best ode to pimento cheese I’ve ever read, Bellwether Vance’s Pimento Cheese is Happy Food, is a direct repudiation of my stance. (The fact that it is the only ode to pimento cheese I have ever read should in no way diminish its greatness.) Since it pains me to disagree with as persuasive and entertaining a storyteller as Bellwether, I decided to split the difference. I made a homemade batch of pimento cheese by adapting Bellwether’s recipe to re-create the flavor of my favorite store bought pimento cheese. I think I got pretty close. My original plan was to get all fancy and make a good, garlicky homemade aioli to use in lieu of mayo. I figured this way I’d kill two birds with one stone- I’d have a way to incorporate fresh garlic and avoid the inevitable back and forth about who makes the best mayonnaise. The brand of mayo used in pimento cheese can be a major point of contention. (Can I just point out that the mayo is a vehicle for the other flavors, people, and not the main attraction?) After three failed attempts at making Judy Rodger’s aioli recipe, I gave up and went with Kraft. Many Southerners swear by Hellmans’ or Duke’s mayo but I grew up in a Kraft household and it works just fine.

4 oz medium sharp cheddar cheese
4 oz mozzarella cheese
3 T fresh dill, roughly chopped
1/2 t garlic salt
1 4-ounce jar of pimentos (or pimientos, as they are also called), drained
3-4 T of your preferred mayonnaise or aioli
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Grate the cheeses and portion out the amounts needed. Add the cheese to a medium large mixing bowl.
2. For all other ingredients, use the amounts above as a guide but add to suit your taste. It’s best to start slow and add more, if needed, as you go. Add the pimentos to the cheese (in total, I added approximately ¾ of the jar). Add in the garlic salt, ground pepper, and some chopped dill (in all, I wound up adding approximately 2-3 tablespoons of dill). Lastly, add the mayo. Mix and taste, then adjust accordingly.
3. Refrigerate for a couple of hours to let the flavors gel but set out at room temp for a short time before serving. You don’t get the full bloom of flavor if pimento cheese is eaten chilled.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookies

So the husband has worked out this deal with a co-worker: said co-worker supplies us with fresh eggs from his hens every week and in return I send baked goods.

The only problem is those hens are pretty prolific egg layers. I’m having a hard time keeping up. When Eric brought home two dozen eggs, I started scrambling (pun intended) for a recipe.

I didn’t scramble long though, since everyone loves chocolate chip cookies.

Really, how could you not? Especially these...

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookies
adapted from the Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe in Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce via 101 Cookbooks' interpretation 

There are a million ways to make a chocolate chip cookie and I’m steadily working my way toward trying all of them. I really liked this recipe because not only is baking the cookies in a skillet a quick and easy trick, I also love slicing pie-like wedges of cookie. For some reason this just tickled me. Per the name, these cookies are made using whole wheat flour in lieu of all-purpose white flour. Now, I usually wrinkle my nose at attempts to healthify (yes, I know that’s not really a word) treats but in this case it really works. The whole wheat flour just gives the cookies a slightly nutty, more complex flavor. They aren't overly healthy though, as these cookies do not skimp on butter. It’s just an irrefutable truth that you cannot make a tasty chocolate chip cookie with a nice texture without loading on the butter. Sad but true. So I’d just rather eat less of a really good cookie. These cookies break my rule, though- they’re so good it’s hard to eat less!

3 c (13.5 oz/380 g) whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 1/4 t fine grain sea salt
2 sticks (8 oz/225 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, plus more for buttering pan
1 c (5 oz /140 g) dark brown sugar
1 cup / 7 oz/200 g sugar
2 large eggs
2 t pure vanilla extract
8 oz (225 g) bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped into 1/4- and 1/2-inch pieces or use chocolate chips like I did

1. Preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit with a rack centered in the middle. Butter a 12 inch ovenproof skillet that is at least 2 inches deep. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl.
2. In another large bowl add the butter and the sugars and mix until blended. Mixing can be done by hand with a wooden spoon or using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment set on low speed. If using a mixer be sure to have a spatula on hand to scrape down the sides of the bowl between additions. Add the eggs in one at a time and mix until combined. Then add the vanilla. Add in the sifted flour mixture and mix until just combined, about 30 seconds if using a mixer set on low speed. 
3. Add most of the chocolate to the batter but reserve a small amount for sprinkling on top. Mix in the chocolate until evenly dispersed. Scrape the batter out of the bowl and into the skillet and use your hands to press it into the skillet to form an even layer. Sprinkle the reserved chocolate over the top and press it into the dough lightly.
4. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the cookie is golden brown around the edge and the center feels set when lightly poked with a finger. Remove from oven and allow to sit on a rack until cool before slicing the cookies. Cut in wedges to serve.