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Archive for the ‘sweets’ Category

On the third Friday in July, I met Dorie.

Dorie Greenspan

I want so badly to tell you all about it. About how, at a fundraiser for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, my friend Ruby won a high-stakes bidding war to spend a day baking with Dorie in her Connecticut home. How she asked Adeena and me to join her.

About how Dorie bounded out of her house when we arrived, a scarf tied just so and a dark denim-colored apron wrapped around her spotless white oxford shirt. How she greeted me with one of the warmest, tightest hugs I’ve ever received. How her husband proudly showed us the collection of cars that he and his son have restored together over the past several years. How their house is more French than if it were in the middle of Paris, its walls covered with iconic vintage French posters, an entire corner dedicated to Gallic roosters, a farm table set with a purple and red jacquard tea towel and spread with rich yogurt, berries, and granola.

About how my pâte sucreé crust fell apart as I tried to roll it over the pan. How Dorie helped me patch it into a piecemeal press-in crust that she said even Martha Stewart would be proud of. How, when she realized that we had left out the butter, Dorie quickly scrapped our biscuit dough and started a new batch without missing a beat. How her assistant Mary taught us to pour cream over a spatula into a pan of near-boiling sugar to make caramel without vigorous bubbling and scary splattering.

About our alfresco lunch of simple vegetable salads, salmon smoked then baked, ricotta-herb dip, generous pours of rosé, and loaves of bread baked by Michael.

I want to tell you about the cookies we made. The two tarts we made. The strawberry shortcakes we made.

But mostly I want to tell you about the friend that I made, a friendship that developed over the course of the afternoon. About Dorie and Michael’s genuine invitation to come back to spend the day with them again. About Dorie’s goodbye hug that was even warmer and even tighter than the one she greeted me with just hours before.

Dorie and me!

There’s so much more to tell, but I’m on a brief layover at the airport in Vienna typing on a QWERTZ kezboard, er keyboard, and my flight’s about to board, and I can’t in good conscience leave you without the recipe for plum and rose shortcakes, adapted from Dorie’s one for double strawberry and rose shortcakes.

Dorie told us she had the idea to marry rose with strawberry when she learned at the Driscoll’s farm that the fruit is a member of the rose family. Strawberry season is short in my neighborhood and when I went to the greenmarket just a few days after our visit, the farmers told that the local harvest had ended. But stone fruits were – and still are – in their prime. Turns out, plums and other drupes are also roses, as Robert Frost knew:

The rose is a rose,
And was always a rose.
But the theory now goes
That the apple’s a rose,
And the pear is, and so’s
The plum, I suppose.
The dear only knows
What will next prove a rose.
You, of course, are a rose -
But were always a rose.

I’ll leave poetic analysis to the experts, but I guess that I, perhaps subconsciously, have always made the connection between plums and roses: exactly two years ago, I added rose water to Dorie’s dimply plum cake.

Dorie – the strawberry’s a rose and the plum is a rose. You, of course, are a rose. With toes, I suppose. And now I’m just being plain silly.

I’ll see y’all when I get back from vacation with my sister. Until then, I give you plum and rose shortcakes.

Plum and rose shortcakesPlum and rose shortcakes

Makes 12 – 20 servings, depending on the size of the biscuit cutter

Adapted from double strawberry and rose shortcakes recipe that Dorie developed for Driscoll’s, as taught to Ruby, Adeena, and me by Dorie herself. I replaced Dorie’s rose extract with rose water which is a bit easier to find and found that you need about four times as much rose water as extract.

For the plum compote:

Makes about 2 cups

I’ve started adding this compote to my morning yogurt and granola. Also, ice cream.

- 1 1/2 lb sugar plums, roughly chopped (about 3 cups)

- 3 T sugar

- 1 T rose water (or 3/4 t rose extract)

Cook. Toss the chopped plums in a small saucepan with the sugar. Put the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring, for 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the ripeness of your fruit, until the plums soften and slump into a thick sauce. Scrape the compote into a bowl, stir in the rose water or extract, and cool to room temperature. You can make the compote up to 3 days ahead and keep it covered in the refrigerator.

For the lemon-buttermilk biscuits:

Makes 12-20, depending on the size of your biscuit cutter.

Dorie prefers petite biscuits about 2 inches in diameter.

- 1 1/2 T sugar

- freshly grated zest of 1 lemon

- 2 C (272 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for sprinkling

- 1 T baking powder

- 1/2 t fine sea salt

- 1/4 t baking soda

- 6 T (3/4 stick; 76 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

- 3/4 C (180ml) cold buttermilk

Preheat. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Rub. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl and, working with your fingertips, rub the ingredients together unit the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the rest of the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk to combine. Drop in the pieces of cold butter and, again using your fingertips, crus rub, and blend the butter in. You’ll have flakes of butter and small pieces and this is just right.

Stir. Pour the cold buttermilk over the mixture, switch to a fork and toss and stir everything together until the milk is absorbed. Your dough might look like curds, but that’s fine. Don’t stir too much, too vigorously or for too long, and if there ar a few dry spots in the bottom of the bowl, ignore them. Reach into the bowl and knead the dough gently, folding it over on itself and turning it over 6 to 8 times.

Roll. Dust a work surface lightly with flour, turn out the dough, and still using your hands, pat the dough out until it is 1/2-inch thick. (The thickness sis what’s important here). Using a high-sided 2-inch cutter, cut out biscuits and place them on the baking sheet. Make sure to push the cutter up and down without twisting or turning so as not to crush the layers that you’ve worked so hard to create. Pat the scraps together until they’re 1/2-inch thick and cut out as many biscuits as you can. (The leftover dough can be cut into biscuits, but they won’t wise as high or as evenly ad the others – you can keep them as your baker’s treat.)

Bake. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the biscuits have risen gloriously and their tops and bottoms are holder brown Transfer the baking shed to a cooling rack and allow the biscuits to cool until they reach room temperature. (The biscuits can be made up to 6 hours ahead; keep them uncovered at room temperature.)

For the whipped cream:

- 1 C (240ml) very cold heavy cream

- 2 T confectiners’ sugar, sifted

- 1 t pure vanilla extract

- 1 T rose water (or 3/4 t rose extract)

Beat. Working with an electric mixer, theta the cream just until it mounds softly. Still beating, add the sugar, followed by the vanilla and rose water until the cream is fully whipped and holds firm peaks. The whipped cream can be made up to 3 hours ahead and keep tightly covered in the refrigerator; whisk a couple of times before using).

For the topping:

- 1/2 – 3/4 pound sugar plums

Slice. Just before you’re ready to put the shortcakes together, use a sharp knife to slice wedges of plums.

For assembly:

Split the biscuits and set the tops aside. Spoon compote in the center of each biscuit bottom followed by a scoop of whipped cream. Balance the biscuit top on the whipped cream and serve with plum slices.

Plum and rose shortcakes

 

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rhubarb thyme muffins

Once my maitre d’ trail was complete, I found my way back to the kitchen where my refrigerator was overflowing with greenmarket treasures. The crimson celery-like stalks of rhubarb beckoned.

rhubarb

Now, rhubarb and I don’t have much history. I’m not a fan of cooked berries unless they’re blue or come from a bog, so classic strawberry rhubarb pie, and, by association, rhubarb on its own, and I aren’t the best of friends. We don’t dislike each other; we just don’t run in the same circles.

We tried once to hang out – last year when I clipped a Saveur article and drooled over an upside down cake where rhubarb played the starring role. I read the reviews but never made it to the theater of my oven to see diva rhubarb on stage. She waited for me in the cold backstage of my fridge until she went sad and limp. This year, though, I made it my business to rekindle (or is it kindle?) a friendship. So, I got chopping, which I realize is where this little anthropomorphism should probably cease.

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I cooked down the rhubarb in a few generous pats of butter and a pile of sugar, more mountain than molehill. I looked for caramelization as the recipe suggested, but found only stringy mush in a pool of buttery syrup, more lake than puddle. With a combination of dismay (the rhubarb was, um, interesting looking) and intrigue (but its sweet and tart flavor was swoon-worthy), I persevered. I prepared a cake batter, covered the mess of rhubarb, slid the pan into the oven, and then pulled it out.

rhubarb upside down cake, downside up

The flip was a bit less than successful, so there’s no photo of a cake tinged pink. And with rhubarb mush, there was definitely no chance of a lovely cake covered in still discernable rhubarb pieces, flecked with crunchy caramelization. It tasted good enough, but when half of the cake remained after I brought it to family meal at the restaurant, I decided the recipe wasn’t worth a second try.

Nonetheless, it left me with a glimmer of hope. The next day, I went back to the market, brought home even more rhubarb, and sweated it out. Literally. It was one of those days when I had to close all of my window shades at high noon to keep the temperature in my apartment manageable even before I fired up the oven. And once the oven began its steady preheating climb, I had to turn on the air conditioning. But the rhubarb made me do it, and so do it I did.

My plan: muffins. While the oven was preheating, I made rhubarb compote. I diced the rhubarb and threw in some thyme…


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…then loaded it up with sugar and lemon…

rhubarb, thyme, lemon, sugar

…and melted it down…

rhubarb thyme compote

… to a silky compote. Looks a little like cranberry applesauce, no?

I threw together the cake batter I had used earlier, reducing the sugar and adding thyme to keep the muffins more breakfast than dessert. I scooped the batter into muffin tins, dotted with compote, and added another light blanket of batter.

rhubarb thyme muffins

Into the oven, and out of that oven, and off went the oven, and on stayed the air conditioning.

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Rhubarb thyme muffins

This recipe is inspired by a rhubarb upside-down cake in last year’s Saveur. I modified the caramelized rhubarb (which turned into mush, for me at least) into a lush not-too-sweet, still-somewhat-tart compote to which I added thyme based on this recipe. I used thyme because 1) I had it and 2) to keep this muffins out of cupcake territory. You’ll have about 1/2 – 3/4 cup extra compote – it’s fabulous spooned over Greek yogurt with a few clusters of granola. I also added some raw rhubarb to the batter – it cooks up nicely and gives some extra texture and a burst of tartness to the muffins. If I do try to make another rhubarb upside-down cake (and I have another pound-plus of stalks in my fridge), I’m going to go with raw rhubarb on the bottom, à la Melissa Clark’s recipe (read her notes here). 

You’ll need a total of 1 1/4 pounds of rhubarb to yield 4 cups chopped. 

Makes 16 muffins

For the compote:

- 3 C diced rhubarb

- 1/2 C sugar

- 1/4 t dried thyme

- 1 lemon for zest and juice

- pinch salt

For the muffin batter:

-  2 C flour

-  1 C sugar

-  4 eggs

-  1 C canola oil

-  2 t baking powder

- 1 t salt

-  1 t vanilla

- 1 C diced rhubarb

Prep. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease a muffin pan.

Simmer. Stir together the compote ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-high and continue to simmer until the rhubarb cooks down to the consistency of applesauce, about 15 minutes. Let cool.

Mix. Meanwhile, mix together the batter ingredients. You can mix this all by hand in less time than it takes to drag your stand mixer out of the cabinet.

Arrange. Fill each muffin cup with a scant 1/4 cup of batter. Top with 2 teaspoons of compote and an additional tablespoon of batter per muffin cup.

Bake. Bake the muffins for 20 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

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the brei

I can’t remember the last time I bought matzah.

Other than the seder feast preamble Hillel sandwich with its dab of bracing horseradish and spoonful of sweet apple and nut charoset nestled between two mismatched shards or maybe a few snapped rectangles smeared with Temp Tee and draped in smoked salmon the next morning, I largely stay away from the stuff.

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Every year, as I rush from my aunt’s house where we have the seders to the car/train station/airport, I grab whatever open box of matzah is on the kitchen counter and stuff it into a bag along with leftover ribeye and a few quarts of my mom’s matzah ball soup (more on that later).

matzah brei

My first morning back in the comfort of my own kitchen where I can make as big a mess as I want, I crumble a square or two of matzah into a bowl, scattering crumbs on the floor like a culinary Hansel and Gretel. Soaked in water, mixed with vanilla, milk, and an egg, and then fried, the matzah becomes brei, Passover’s answer to French toast.

This is the breakfast that dreams are made of.

matzah brei

It’s also what leaves me every single year facing the last few days of Passover with an empty box of matzah shards and an addiction-like need to make just one more batch. Or two. Or three. It’s what sends me out, year after year, foraging the grocery shelves in the shrinking Passover section for a new, shrink-wrapped, full box. More well-hidden than the afikoman (I found ours this year under the tablecloth), the mid-holiday box of matzah is elusive, assuming you don’t want the only flavor left: wheat bran. And no one wants that wheat bran straggler.

matzah brei

Unless I can borrow a few squares from a friend or neighbor, after a breakfast or two or three, I say bye-bye to the brei. And wait for Passover next year.

matzah brei

ps – If radiology was like this, I might have stayed in medicine. 

Matzah brei

This recipe makes a brei that is is like a big pancake, rather than a matzah scramble. While some like it savory, I take my brei sweet and add a fair amount of vanilla to enhance that sweetness. I don’t have real measurements other than one square of matzah and one egg per person. 

Serves 1

Crumble a square of matzah into small, but not tiny, pieces (about ½-inch wide) and place in a small bowl. Pour boiling water over top and allow to soak until the water cools enough so you can handle it. With your hand, cover and push the matzah against one side of the bowl and drain out as much of the water as you can. Mix in a splash of milk (1-2 tablespoons), a dash of vanilla (1-2 teaspoons), a pinch of salt, a sprinkle of cinnamon (optional), and an egg. With a fork, mix everything together. Generously coat a small pan (small enough so that the brei batter will fill the entire pan, about a half-inch thick) with olive oil and heat over a high flame for a minute or two until hot, but not smoking. The hot pan will help the brei develop a Drop the batter into the hot pan and distribute it evenly. Turn the flame down to medium. Then, do not stir it. You don’t want scrambled brei – you’re aiming for a large pancake. Peek under the brei periodically until you find it nicely browned and flip-able, loosening it from the pan a little bit at a time. This will take longer than you think, probably about 7-10 minutes. Yes, that long. Carefully flip the brei in one piece and continue to cook until browned, another minute or so. Slide the brei onto a place, top with a drizzle of maple syrup and a pat of butter.

 

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Whew, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

It sure has been hectic on my end. Between a new apartment and a new job and a whole bunch of travel and an asthma-inducing sleep-interrupting cold, I’ve had a hard time getting back here. While out of site (get it?), this little place was never out of mind. Don’t worry – I’ve finally organized my kitchen and I have a queue of recipes and photos just waiting to flit across these pages. The next few pre-Passover days should make up for lost time.

Mini chocolate hazelnut olive oil cakes with sea salt , ready for the oven

So, about that job.

Earlier this year, I started working front of house at Union Square Cafe. Learning in the restaurant that anchors all of Danny Meyer‘s work is a phenomenal experience and I’m punch drunk on the “enlightened hospitality” kool-aid. Perhaps it’s the novelty of a new direction for my life, but even aching feet after long hours in the dining room can’t dampen my spirit, particularly now that I re-invested in what I used to call hospital shoes.

Drop by, say hi. I’ll probably be there welcoming you into what has increasingly become my second home.

Skinned hazelnuts

Eventually, I’m hoping to do a mini-trail in the kitchen, but for now I just pepper Chef Carmen and pastry Chef Sunny with questions. Case in point: this year I’m in charge of our Passover seder desserts. In the past, I’ve made Jess’s chocolate hazelnut mini cakes, substituting margarine for the butter. One year I made a quadruple batch which yielded eleven dozen one-bite cakes. That’s 132 bites that disappeared over the span of a few short days. Wanting to avoid margarine this year, mostly because my restaurant schedule makes it difficult to get to a kosher grocery store, I picked Sunny’s brain for some suggestions. I was thinking coconut oil, but she suggested grapeseed or olive oil. And while we were on the topic, she mentioned that she’ll be making dairy-free, gluten-free macarons and macaroons in the restaurant over Passover. We chatted about different flavors – pistachio? citrus with jam filling? – and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with. More on that when I get the intel.

Mini chocolate hazelnut olive oil cakes with sea salt

I channeled a little Sunny today and tested Jess’s mini-cake recipe with olive oil.

Oh boy!

Oh boy oh boy oh boy!

The olive oil has a more complementary flavor than margarine, letting the dark dark chocolate shine and keeping the bites dense without heft. The hazelnut enhances the chocolate instead of turning the cakes into nutella wannabes, and the sprinkle of salt – well, you can’t go wrong with a little salt. I’ll see what Sunny has to say tomorrow when I bring them in for her to try.

Good night, all. See you back here real soon.

Update 4/9/14: Success – Sunny likes them!

Update 4/12/14: These work with almonds as well, though they’re a little less rich. See below for recipe modification tips.

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Mini chocolate hazelnut olive oil cakes with sea salt 

Adapted from Jess over at Sweet Amandine who turned a flourless chocolate cake from Gourmet into mini cakes. In order to make these non-dairy, I substituted 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil for 1/4 cup butter. Use a mild olive oil – no need for the fancy stuff here – and splurge on chocolate and cocoa. I normally use Callebaut (a mix of 65% and 70%) and on Passover I lean towards Swiss brands – Camille Bloch or Schmerling’s; I heard that Equal Exchange is making fair trade kosher for Passover chocolate bars this year and I plan to seek them out. I used Cacao Barry extra brute (dutched) cocoa (Cacao Barry and Callebaut are marks of the Barry Callebaut company); any high quality 100% pure, unsweetened cocoa powder will do (and doesn’t require special Passover certification).

Jess recommends using a mini muffin pan, but I only one with medium-sized cups (i.e., regular-sized in this day of mega everything). I filled each cup with approximately 2 tablespoons of batter. The cakes freeze well and Jess actually prefers their consistency when frozen and thawed – I agree, so you can prepare these well advance. 

Update 4/12/18: These work with almonds as well, though they’re a little less rich. If you are going to use pre-ground almond (or hazelnut for that matter) flour, measure out 60g which is the same weight as 1/2 cup of whole nuts. If you only have volume measurements, it will be a bit difficult to do this conversion, but I found that if you fluff up the nut flour with a fork, it’s just under 1/2 cup. If you compress the nut flour, it’s a little over 1/4 cup. 

Makes 2 dozen mini cakes

- 6 T olive oil plus extra for greasing
– ½ C unsweetened cocoa powder plus extra for dusting
– ½ C hazelnuts
– 4 oz high quality bittersweet chocolate
– ¾ C sugar
– 3 large eggs
– coarsely ground sea salt or fleur de sel

Prep. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Generously oil a 24-cup mini muffin pan or two 12-cup regular muffin pans. Dust with cocoa powder, tapping the pan to coat all surfaces, and then shake out any excess.

Skin. Toast the hazelnuts in the oven for about 8-10 minutes until fragrant and slightly darkened. Pour them into a container, cover, and shake (see the second photo above) – the agitation will help remove the loose skins. Hold the top on because it may pop off due to the heat of the nuts. Separate the nuts from the skins and allow them to cool fully (I put them in the refrigerator).

Grind. Once they have cooled, grind the hazelnuts in a food processor until fine. Make sure to use quick pulses to avoid making hazelnut butter.

Melt. Chop the chocolate into small pieces and melt it together with the oil in a large bowl placed over a pot of barely simmering water. Stir until smooth and remove the mixture from the heat.

Whisk. Whisk in the sugar – it will be a little bit grainy. Allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes and then add the eggs and whisk well. Sprinkle the cocoa powder and the ground hazelnuts over the chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined.

Sprinkle. Pour the batter into the pans, 2 tablespoons per muffin cup, and tap on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Sprinkle with salt.

Bake. Bake for approximately 12 minutes until the cakes have puffed up and the tops have formed a thin crust. Start checking at 10 minutes. Cool in the pans on a rack for five minutes. Slide a thin knife (I use a narrow offset spatula) around each cake to help nudge them out of the pan. As they cool, the cakes will fall a little bit. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

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kitchen rummaging

A few weeks ago, I found myself face-to-face with my twelve-year-old self.

A friend asked me for a few hours of emergency babysitting, and I rushed over to take care of her son. I checked in on the little guy and, reassured by his rhythmic breathing and his little wrinkled hand wrapped around a blanket, I did what every good babysitter does. I sussed out the snack situation. I set my computer and books down on the sofa and turned to the kitchen to rummage.

The counter was littered with bottles and formula. From the fridge, I grabbed a pear. Sinking my teeth into the crispy fruit to free up my hands, I reached for the cabinet above the sink. Cheerios. I filed the cereal in the back of my mind in case I got desperate.

Then I pulled open the freezer. Jackpot! A ziplock back of chocolate chip cookies. I snuck out one  golden craggy biscuit, carefully re-sealing the bag and returning it to its niche. I lifted the cookie to my teeth and broke off a cold piece with a satisfying snap.

Chocolate chip cookies

And with that one frozen bite, I was transported to the kitchen of my childhood.

I’m not sure when or how it happened, but at one point I took over the cookie-baking duties in my house. With the rare exception of an odd batch of peanut butter cookies with their tell-tale fork-made cross-hatch design or snickerdoodles rolled in cinnamon-sugar and tangy with cream of tartar, chocolate chip cookies were the darling of the Squires household. And I was  happy to comply. Whenever I baked, my chocoholic father showed his appreciation with a trail of crumbs from the cooling rack to his favorite chair in the living room.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe - Betty Crocker

When I made cookies, I was a one-kid production line. For efficiency’s sake, I calculated and jotted down on page 136 of our Betty Crocker cookbook* how much margarine (we didn’t use butter) I needed for a double chocolate chip batch: exactly 5 sticks and 8 teaspoons. We had two ovens – one below the stove, and the other above where most microwaves are installed these days. I used both of the ovens simultaneously, rotating three cookie sheets at a time (the top oven only  had a single rack). I had four sheets to work with, so there was always one dotted with raw dough ready to replace the one the buzzing timer told me was ready. 

I tried to keep everything moving like clockwork, but the cooling process was a bottleneck and my system typically broke down around the ninth dozen when I’d have a backlog of cooling cookies. My father tried to help, grabbing as many plaint, still-warm cookies straight off the sheets as he could.

At the end of the cookie-baking marathon there would be, oh, about 150 cookies. Yup. One-five-zero cookies. Once they were fully cooled, most of them went straight into bags and straight into the freezer where, weeks later, I might find a sweet dozen between packages of frozen broccoli, or behind a carton of sorbet, or in the ice-cube maker. If my father didn’t find them first. 

* I’ve written about chocolate chip cookies in the past here and here, substituting another recipe when I couldn’t find the Betty Crocker one I grew up with. About a year ago, I finally found poor old page-stained, spine-cracked, well-loved Betty while I was rummaging through the pantry at my parents house. Seems I like kitchen rummaging. I scanned the cookie recipe and one for pancakes as well.

Chocolate chip cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies

This recipe is adapted from page 136 in Better Crocker’s Cookbook, circa well before I was born.

These cookies are really flat and crispy. If you prefer ones that are thicker and chewy, add 1/2 cup of flour and replace half the butter with shortening. I used a mix of milk and dark chocolate chips just to shake things up a bit.

Makes 6-7 dozen

- 1 1/3 C butter, room temperature

- 1 C granulated sugar

- 1 C packed brown sugar

- 2 eggs

- 2 t vanilla

- 3 C all-purpose flour

- 1 t baking soda

- 1 C dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips

- 1 C milk chocolate chips

Prep. Preheat oven to 375ºF and position the racks int he top and bottom third of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix. Mix together the room temperature butter, sugars, eggs, and vanilla. I used the paddle attachment on my stand mixer, but growing up I mixed everything by hand. Stir in the remaining ingredients with a spatula.

Scoop. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls two inches apart on the lined  baking sheet(s). You can use two spoons, a spoon and a finger to nudge the dough onto the sheet, or a small cookie/ice cream scoop. The cookies will spread a lot, so make sure you leave enough room between them.

Bake. Bake in the middle of the oven for 8-10 minutes or until light brown. After the first four minutes, switch the sheets top and bottom and rotate them front to back for even baking.

Cool. Let the cookies cool on parchment on the baking sheet for 2-3 minutes until they firm up enough to keep their round shapes. If you try to lift the parchment and the cookies  wrinkle and squish, leave them on the tray for another minute. Slide the parchment off the sheet and allow the cookies to cool until you can easily slide them off the parchment straight onto a cooling rack. If you’re going to freeze the cookies, let them cool completely before slipping them into a zip-top bag. Otherwise you’ll end up with a big frozen cookie lump. Which isn’t always bad thing. If you don’t want to share.

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dessert first

Hello, December. Hello, snow.

December snow

Hello, birthday.

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Yup, December is birthday month over here. The official date is the 8th, and my friends and family made this past weekend wonderfully special. There was dinner and a spa and dinner again. And a few more things to come. As I said, it’s birthday month on my blog.

That chocolate cake up there? It’s a birthday cake. But it’s not my birthday cake; it’s Alyson’s. And I made it one year and ten days ago on the dot.

In case  you don’t remember, a few years back, Alyson and I went to Vienna where I dragged her from cafe to cafe in search of the best sachertorte.  From one side of the city to the other, we chased this dense, slightly-dry, not-too-sweet, layered chocolate cake whose richness can only be tempered by a large scoop of whipped cream. 

From the day my plane touched down back in Boston, that sachertorte haunted me. Within days of my return home, I started my search for a recipe. First there was Austrian chef Wolfgang Puck’s version and one from Kaffehaus, a cookbook of cakes from central Europe. Then a high school classmate sent me a German recipe that her husband swears is authentic, and that the daughter of a colleague translated for me. Just before summer, I clipped a recipe from Food & Wine and found this dreamy video of sachertorte being made (watch it if you think chocolate is sexy) and its accompanying recipe.

I tucked away all of the recipes and waited.

As Alyson’s birthday approached, I studied each set of instructions and devised a plan of action. I created a spreadsheet comparing each of the recipes I had collected: quantities of ingredients, number of cake layers, amount of apricot filling. (I know, I know. A spreadsheet? I know.)

Armed with way too much information, I decided to go with the recipe that had the highest bittersweet chocolate-to-sugar ratio, only two layers, and a hefty dose of apricot.

I cooked from sunrise to sunset on the day of Alyson’s birthday. In addition to sachertorte, I banged out challah, a roast, kale salad, and pomegranate carrots.

But here’s the deal. Since the torte was dairy, and dinner was meat, we ate dessert first. And then after dinner, we ate a second dessert.

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PS – I hear that the best sachertorte in NY is at Cafe Sabarsky. Guess where I’ll be later this week. Who wants to join me?

Sachertorte

As I mentioned above, I adapted this cake from five different recipes and most closely followed the one  from the most unlikely of sources. A sachertorte is definitely a special occasion cake: it takes about 4 hours to make (much of it cooking and cooling time) and you have to use and wash your stand mixing bowl three times.

Make sure to serve with barely-sweetened whipped cream. 

Serves 8-10

For the torte:

- 10 oz bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa; I used Callebaut)

- 8 eggs

- 1 C sugar

- 2/3 C unsalted butter, softened

- 2 t vanilla extract

- 1 1/3 C all-purpose flour

- 1 1/2 C apricot preserves (I used Hero brand)

For the chocolate ganache:

- 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

- 8 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used Callebaut)

- 2 T light corn syrup

- 1 t vanilla extract

For the whipped cream

- 1 C heavy cream

- 1 t vanilla extract

- 1 1/2 T confectioner’s sugar

Prep. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan.

Melt. Finely chop the chocolate and melt it in a double boiler (I set a metal  bowl over an inch of water in a pot) over medium-high heat. Set aside.

Separate. Separate the eggs (this is easier to do straight from the fridge).

Beat. Beat the sugar and butter in a stand mixer until creamy. Add the egg yolks one at a time, blending after each addition. Add the vanilla. Fold in the flour and melted chocolate (don’t bother cleaning the bowl you melted the chocolate in; you’ll need to melt some more chocolate later). Transfer the chocolate batter into another bowl, clean and dry the mixer bowl well and then beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold them into the batter in several batches.

Bake. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. (Clean the mixer bowl because you’re going to need it one more time.)

Cool. Let the cake cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes.

Puree. Pour the apricot preserves into a small bowl, microwave them for 10 seconds, and use an immersion blender to smooth into a glaze.

Cut. When the cake is cool, cut it in half crosswise, making two layers.

Spread. Brush the bottom layer with apricot, stack on the second layer, and then brush the whole cake with the rest of the preserves. It should look like this.

Melt (again). Melt the butter in a double boiler over medium-high heat. Finely chop the chocolate and add it with the corn syrup and cook, stirring constantly, until the chocolate is melted. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and let cool. Makes about 1 1/2 cups of ganache.

Pour. Pour the ganache over the cake, smoothing out tops and sides with a spatula. Before the ganache hardens, the cake should look like this.

Cool. Let the cool in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, until set.

Whip. Use a stand mixer to whip together the cream, vanilla, and confectioner’s sugar.

Serve. Serve each slice with a nice scoop of whipped cream.

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I pause

Meyer lemons

The weeks following February 22nd were the lemoniest weeks of my life. On that Friday, a box of two dozen child-picked Meyer lemons landed on my doorstep. (Thanks Jo!).

And just over a month later, I used up the last of these thin-skinned, almost sweet lemons. It was Passover and I zested the final five into macaroons.

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I was actually relieved to be done with all of those lemons. Which is strange. Or at least strange for me.

See, lemons and I have a funny relationship. There’s always at least one rolling around in my fridge or perched in a bowl on my counter. But instead of reaching for one when a recipe calls for its juice, I pause.

What if there’s another recipe just around the corner that really needs a lemon or two. Chicken skewers tomorrow? Joanne Chang‘s lemon poppy seed cake over the weekend?

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lemon poppy seed cake

So, I pause.

And then today’s salad gets dressed with a mild vinegar. One made from rice or maybe apple cider.

The first week I had the Meyers, I meted them out. I made some scones with fresh cranberries and another batch with blueberries and then hoarded the rest.

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Soon the irrational fear that I wouldn’t have a lemon when I needed it was replaced with a slightly more rational one.

What if those lemons go bad?

So there I was, struggling to use up all the lemons.

I scoured cookbook index after cookbook index for recipes that needed lemons.  

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I found recipes that feature lemons.

preserved lemons

I added lemons to recipes that don’t call for them. And that’s how I came up with Meyer lemon coconut macaroons.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALucky for me, last week when I was in San Francisco, Jo and I met for coffee. I now have another twenty lemons in my fridge.

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***

Before we get to the recipe, here are a few links I’ve been meaning to share.

Gabrielle Hamilton‘s article about a road trip to cook and eat with five home chefs in the South.

And while you’re at it, listen to the Tedx talk  that Penny de los Santos, the photographer who accompanied Gabrielle down South: “Yeah, I photograph food. I’m a a food photographer. But really what I do is capture human moments.”

Saveur senior editor Gabriella Gershenson’s writes about a trip to the Galilee (don’t forget the photos).

Jonathan Safran Foer’s opinion piece in the New York Times about the negative impact technology is having on our ability to provide undivided attention. “Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life.”

The Huffington Post on Sushi Yasusa’s recent decision to not accept tips.

***

Meyer lemon coconut macaroons

Adapted from Jess at Sweet Amandine who adapted it from Molly at Orangette who adapted it from Bon Appetit. The genius in Jess’s recipe is that it uses unsweetened coconut so you can control the level of sugar. Next time I’ll use even less sugar. 

Makes 40 small macaroons

- 3 C (9 ounces) lightly packed unsweetened shredded coconut

- 1 1/2 C granulated sugar

- 3/4 C egg whites (about 5 or 6 large)

- 1-2 pinches kosher salt

- 5 Meyer lemons (or 3 regular lemons) for zest

Preheat oven to 300ºF.

Heat. In a medium heavy-bottom pan, mix the coconut, sugar, egg whites, and kosher salt. Stir in zest. Cook over medium-low heat stirring frequently, for 10-12 minutes. It will start out looking sticky and creamy. As the mix heats, it will become drier and pastier. It’s ready when the mixture is still somewhat moist and still very sticky. Refrigerate the mix until cold, approximately 30 minutes.

Scoop. Line two cookie sheets with parchment. Once the mixture is cooled, scoop level tablespoons of  it onto the parchment, leaving about an inch between (they won’t spread). If you want your macaroons to be smooth, you can roll the spoonfuls into balls, but I prefer to leave them a little shaggy.

Bake.  Bake for 30 minutes until the coconut toasts and browns slightly. They should still be a little soft. As they cool, they’ll harden a bit.

Store. Keep the macaroons in an airtight container. They’ll soften a bit by the next day.

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I realize that these scones might not look like much.

There’s no shiny glaze, no bright fruits dotting the surface, but scrolling past these unassuming little lumps of baked dough would be a mistake.

They’re the most breakfast-y of scones I’ve ever known. And though I’ve never tried hot oatmeal – there’s just something about the texture that turns me off – I imagine that anyone raised on the stuff will find a familiar cozy feeling with each nibble. The scones are grounded in a healthy dose of oats, nearly as much oat as flour, which gives them heft without density. They get their sweetness from maple syrup (it’s in season right now, so go out and grab a gallon of fresh grade B), so they taste and smell of nectar and nature. Toasted pecans lend a buttery crunch. And then there’s butter and cream to round it all out.

Also, they take just a few minutes to throw together. In the time it takes to pre-heat your oven (mind you, mine takes ten minutes), you’ll have toasted and chopped the pecans, rubbed butter into flour, whisked maple into cream, mixed wet ingredients into dry, and scooped up these unremarkable looking lumps of dough. But bake these little guys up, and you’ll believe me when I say they’re all that.

No bag of chips necessary.

oatmeal maple pecan scones

Oatmeal maple pecan scones

Adapted from Flour, but just barely. I skipped the raisins and glaze in the original recipe, and made much smaller scones which reduced the baking time from 40 minutes to 25. Make sure to toast the pecans – I scatter them on a cookie sheet and pop them in the oven while it’s heating up. As for the maple syrup, buy grade B which is darker and mapley-er than grade A. You can also freeze the unbaked scones: scoop out the dough, freeze them on a baking sheet, and wrap them well in plastic. Then bake them straight from the freezer, adding about 5 minutes to the baking time. 

Makes 2 dozen small scones

- 3/4 – 1 C pecans (I used halves, but feel free to use pre-chopped)

- 1 1/2 C flour

- 1 1/4 C old-fashioned rolled oats

- 1 1/2 t baking powder

- 1/4 t baking soda

- 1/4 t kosher salt

- 1/2 C cold unsalted butter

- 1/3 C cold heavy cream

- 1/2 C maple syrup

- 1 cold egg

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Toast. Scatter the pecans on a baking sheet and toast in the oven while it’s preheating. This should take less than 10 minutes – the pecans are done when they color slightly and you can smell their nuttiness. Once the pecans have cooled, chop them.

Mix. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, mix together the flour, oats, baking powder, and baking soda on low-speed for 10 to 15 seconds, or until just combined. Cut the cold butter into small cubes and scatter into the bowl. Mix on low-speed for about 30 seconds on low-speed, or until the butter is somewhat broken down and grape-sized pieces are still visible. (Or just dig your hands in and rub the butter into the flour with your fingers).

Whisk. In a small bowl, whisk together the cream, maple syrup, and egg until thoroughly mixed.

Mix again. On low speed, pour the cream mixture into the flour-butter mixture and mix for 20-30 seconds or just until the dough comes together. It will be fairly wet and you will still be able to see some pieces of butter. Stir in the cooled chopped pecans.

Scoop. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop dough – about 3 tablespoons per scone – onto the parchment. I used a tablespoon-sized scooper and mounded one heaping tablespoon on top of another heaping tablespoon. A regular tablespoon and a gentle nudge with your finger will work just fine here as well. At this point, I slipped half of the scooped dough onto a baking sheet and into the freezer, eventually packing them up in a few plastic bags.

oatmeal maple pecan scones, scooped and frozen, ready to be baked

Bake. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the scones are golden brown on top. If you’re taking the dough straight from the freezer, baking will take about 30 minutes.

Store. The scones are best on the day they’re baked. However, if you can’t eat every last one, wrap up the leftovers and freeze them. I love them straight from the freezer; otherwise they thaw in just a few minutes.

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by my count

Look what arrived in the mail.

Picked with love from Evan and Mia

They were preceded by an email from Joanne:

“lemons arriving friday!!!!!!  organic, pesticide free, california meyer lemons picked just for you by child labor. enjoy!!!!!”

Here’s Evan.

Evan going to the post office

He and his sister Mia are the child laborers. The last time I saw Evan, he and I picked lemons together. Now he’s big enough to pack them up and take them to the post office.

Jo said he only dropped the box twice.

meyer lemon and fresh cranberry scones, ready for the oven

The lemons, all twenty-five of them, arrived swaddled in towels and perfectly intact.

Two went straight into these scones, dotted with chopped cranberries that I froze a little while ago. By my count, that leaves me with twenty-three more.

What would you make if you had a wealth of Meyer lemons? Because right now I feel like the wealthiest woman alive. Thanks Jo!

meyer lemon and fresh cranberry scones

Meyer lemon and cranberry scones

Adapted from Gourmet. I used some cranberries that I froze a few months ago (via Smitten Kitchen) and made a lemon glaze to cut the sweetness (via White on Rice Couple). Without cream on hand, I made a milk (1%) and Greek yogurt (2%) mixture. The resulting dough was more liquid-y than most scone doughs are, and they spread as they baked, but they were still delicious. I used a 1/4 cup ice cream scoop because forming by hand was too difficult. Next time, I’ll make these with blueberries (I also have a large bag in the freezer)

While I generally like to bake things that will keep for a few days, these are truly best right out of the oven and you’ll want to eat them within a day of baking. Shouldn’t be a problem, but you may need to invite a few friends over. If you think you’ll have too many, freeze half the raw dough. 

Makes 18-20 2-inch scones

- 2 Meyer lemons for zest (~2 T) and juice (~1/4 C)

- 2 1/2 C all-purpose flour

- 1/2 C plus 3 T white sugar, divided

- 1 T baking powder

- 1/2 t salt

- 1 stick (8 T or 1/4 C) cold unsalted butter

- 1 large egg

- 1 large egg yolk

- 1/2 C Greek yogurt (I used 2% fat)

- 1/2 C milk (I used 1% fat)

- 1 1/4 C fresh cranberries

- 3 – 4 T confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Pulse. In a food processor, pulse together the lemon zest, flour, 1/2 cup of white sugar, baking powder, and salt until it resembles a coarse meal. Cut the cold butter into small cubes and add to the processor bowl, pulsing a few more times.

Mix. Whisk the eggs, yogurt, and milk.

Pulse again. Add the liquid mix to the processor bowl, and pulse until the dough just comes together.

Chop. Coarsely chop the cranberries and mix with 3 tablespoons of white sugar in a bowl.

Stir. Stir the cranberries into the dough.

Scoop. Cover 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Use a 1/4-cup scoop (or a measuring cup with a spoon for nudging) to drop dough on to the parchment, leaving at least 1 inch between scone since they’ll spread a bit.

Bake. Bake the scones for 15 – 20 minutes until light golden.

Brush. While the scones are cooling, whisk together the lemon juice and confectioners sugar to make a glaze. I only used 3 tablespoons because I didn’t want the glaze to be too sweet. Brush the cooled scones with the glaze.

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we met and we ate

almond cake with orange flower water

Most people are watching the Super Bowl as I type. But instead of making chili and guacamole this evening, I threw a brunch this morning. Well before Beyonce rocked the halftime show and a blackout darkened the field (Oreos anyone?), four lovely ladies knocked on my door, arms full of food.

It all started in November with crowd-sourcing recipe site Food52, their second cookbook, and a give-away. I saw an announcement that the first forty people to sign up to host potlucks celebrating the book would receive free books and some other goodies. With a guest list of cooking friends in mind, I offered up my home to other Boston-area Food52-ers and secured the freebies. Four months later, we met and we ate.

Jenn walked in first with a blue Le Creuset pot of roasted carrot soup that we set on the stove to reheat. Megan, a friend of mine from high school, showed up with a bottle of Veuve and an apology for not being able to prepare a dish. (Full time job plus working husband plus two boys? No apology necessary, Megan.) Jenn chopped up some thyme in the kitchen while I reached around her to grab silverware and dishes and glasses that Megan set out on the table. We started in on the cheese and pears.

I pulled an almond orange cake out of the oven, clipped broccoli trees for roasting, and whisked together a smoked paprika vinaigrette.

Another knock on the door, and I took coats from Christine who had driven down from Portland and her friend Elizabeth. Christine brought the nibbles – chevre devils and blue cheese savouries – and her own contribution to the cookbook – decadent salted pumpkin caramels. Elizabeth presented a pan bagnat – salade Nicoise in sandwich form.

I lit a fire and we filled our plates, sitting around my coffee table and chatting. Cheers to new friends.

almond cake with orange flower water

So, the game just ended. Let’s celebrate with cake. Let’s mourn with cake. Let’s all eat cake.

Almond cake with orange flower water

Adapted from Food 52’s second cookbook, this is a pretty classic yogurt cake, enriched with almond meal and soaked in an orange flower syrup. I made my own almond meal by pulsing almonds in a food processor. I skipped the syrup and instead added orange zest to the cake batter and replaced the vanilla with orange flower water. I used 2% Greek yogurt because it was what I had, but next time I’ll use full fat because the cake didn’t rise as much as I thought it would and was a bit crumbly. I also think I topped the batter with too many sliced almonds, weighing the cake down. No worries, I’ll be making the cake again. 

Makes one 9×5-inch loaf pan.

- 2 large eggs

- 1 C 2% plain yogurt (original recipe called for full fat)

- 1 C sugar

- 1/3 C vegetable oil

- 1 t orange flower (blossom) water

- 1 orange for zest

- 1/8 t salt

- 1 1/2 t baking powder

- 1/2 baking soda

- 1 C flour

- 1 C almond meal

- 1/3 C sliced almonds

Prep. Heat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan. I cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan to make it easier to lift out the cake.

Whisk. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, sugar, oil, orange flower water, and orange zest.

Fold. Switch to a spatula. Mix in the salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the flours gradually to the wet ingredients, folding until just combined.

Sprinkle. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the sliced almonds evenly over the top.

Bake. Bake for 50 minutes (the original recipe recommends 40 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

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