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Archive for the ‘sweets’ Category

the chase

This recipe.

This recipe.

I’ve been chasing it for a long time.

It started with a birthday (Alyson‘s) and a pan that I had bought over Thanksgiving last year. Last year, folks.

It continued with a pâte sucrée that took months to perfect.

There were few false starts. The caramel burned. The pâte fell apart. The caramel burned again. And then.

And then one tarte had the potential for greatness. The wine and sugar caramelized. The pears softened. The pâte rolled out and tucked in beautifully.

But then.   

But then it fell short.

Note to self, peel and cut more pears to fill the center.

And finally, finally last week, perfection. Or pretty damn close.

Or course, when the tarte cooperates, the sun does not.

I actually placed the tarte on a rolling cart and chased the sun around my apartment. I finally got one good shot of the whole tarte in all its glory. Scroll back up to the top if you want to relive this shining moment.

Ilana came over to “taste” this year’s version of the tarte.

There wasn’t very much left over.

Tarte Tatin aux Poires et Vin

Serves 6-8. (Or 1 hungry Ilana.)

This tarte was inspired by a recipe in Food & Wine but unfortunately I found the proportions, use of puff pastry, and cooking time to be off target, resulting in a burnt mess on my first attempt. Instead, I adapted the tarte tatin recipe included with my tarte pan to incorporate red wine into the caramel and replace traditional apples with pears. This is a recipe that is not for the faint of heart. There’s a crust to make from scratch. Caramel to try not to burn. A breath-stopping flip of a juicy tarte. This is a special occasion dessert.

- 2 C red wine (I’ve made it with house red, Bordeaux, and Cabernet)

- 2 cinnamon sticks

- 1/4 C butter (or margarine)

- 1/2 C sugar

- 3-4 Bartlett or d’Anjou pears

- 1 batch pâte brisée or sucrée (see below) or prepared pie crust

Preheat. Preheat oven to 400°F

Reduce. Bring wine and cinnamon sticks to a boil, reducing down to about 1/4 C of syrup. This takes about 10 minutes. The kitchen will start to smell like cinnamon.

Caramelize. In the tarte tatin pan, melt butter/margarine with the sugar and stir frequently over low-medium heat (I use #3 – 4 on my induction stove) until it starts to turn a golden brown. Watch carefully. Really carefully. The second it starts to turn brown, take it off the heat. Turn down the heat and return the pan to the burner and let it get a little more golden. Watch it like a hawk. Add the wine syrup and simmer on low.

Cut. While the wine is boiling and then the sugar is caramelizing, peel and core the pears. I used a mini melon baller to help core them. I have made this with halves and quarters and find that while halves may look prettier, quarters are easier to slice and eat.

Cook. Arrange the halves (cut side up) or quarters (on their sides or belly side up if they’ll balance) in a circle around the pan (still on low heat) with thin ends pointed in. Cook for 15 – 20 minutes over low heat. The caramel will bubble up as the pears soften and pear juices seep out.

Roll. Take cold pâte sucrée out of freezer/fridge and roll between two sheets of wax paper into a circle about 1-2 inches larger than your tatin pan. Remove the top sheet, flip the crust over the fruit, and peel away the wax paper, tucking the dough in around the edges. Cut a few slits into the crust so steam can escape.

Bake. Bake 30 minutes until crust turns a nice brown.

Unveil. After cooling the tarte for a few minutes, place a plate (slightly larger than the tatin pan) over the pan, hold your  breath for a second, and carefully flip the tatin on to the plate. Excellent warm or at room temperature. Try it with vanilla ice cream or gelato.

For  pâte sucrée crust:

- 1 1/4 C flour

- 2 T confectioner’s sugar

- 1/4 t salt

- 6 T butter/margarine, partially frozen

- 1 egg yolk

- 3T cold water

Pulse. Add flour, sugar, and salt to food processor and mix. Add frozen butter/margarine and pulse ~ 10 times until the consistency of corn meal.

Pulse again.  Add egg yolk and 1T cold water, and pulse ~ 5 times.

Pulse again. Add 1T cold water, and pulse ~5 times.

Get the picture? Add the last 1T cold water, a little at a time, pulsing in between additions, until the dough starts to come together, but is still a bit crumbly.

Wrap. Gather the dough into a ball, flatten out, and wrap in plastic wrap.

Freeze. Freeze for 20 minutes before using. Or freeze until the next time you want to make a galette or pie or tart or tarte tatin – and then defrost at room temperature for about 15 minutes before using.

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say it out loud

It’s apple picking time!Would you believe that I’ve never been? Yup, it’s true. I am an apple picking novice. But no longer.

With a group of friends, some old, some new, I drove about hour outside the city to the North Shore, passing farm stands along the way. It was actually so beautifully sunny that I got a sunburn. These days, I welcome any sunshine and color I can attract.

At the orchard, we forewent the hay ride and took the 15 minute walk (hike?) up to the orchards. On the way, we got in trouble for picking  bosc pears. After I snacked on one and stuck two in my bag.

Ten pounds of apples in a bag, I rushed home to make strudel.

Correction – apfelstrudel. And you have to call it apfelstrudel with a German accent. Roll the Rs in back of your throat. Ap-fel-shtroooodel. Say it out loud.  A few times. It’s fun.

Apfelstrudel with cinnamon caramel

I asked my German friend, Melanie, how she makes apfelstrudel. She laughed. She said she loves it, but have never made it. Even so, she had some important guidelines, er, taste preferences. Luckily our taste buds match up pretty well. Her main recommendation was not to add raisins. Another friend of mine seconded those instructions and, as a frequent strudel maker, gave me a few more tips. Add a little flour to the apples to help thicken the liquids. Cut the apples into larger chunks so they don’t get mushy when they bake. Make sure to stretch the pastry taut over the apple chunks so you can see their shapes through the dough. And use an egg wash over the top before baking. Try adding some toasted pecans or walnuts to the apples. 

This recipe makes 2 apfelstrudels. It’s a great last-minute Rosh Hashanah dessert, but you might have to double this recipe  (you can always have leftovers for breakfast). I held off on the pecans until the next batch.

- 1 box / 2 sheets puff pastry (I generally use Pepperidge Farm)

- 5 large apples – I often use a mix of firm sweet and tart apples – this time I used Jonagold and Granny Smith

- 3 T lemon juice

- 1 C sugar

- 1 T  flour

- 2 T cinnamon

- 1 egg

- confectioners sugar

Thaw. Thaw the puff pastry – don’t unfold it (I find that the pastry can crack at the 2 folds). Thawing takes about 20 minutes at room temperature.

Preheat. Preheat oven to 425º F.

Peel and chop. Peel the apples. Cut them into ~1/2 – 3/4 inch chunks. Not too small.

Mix. Add the apples to a big bowl and toss with the lemon juice. Sprinkle with flour, sugar, and cinnamon and mix.

Roll. Keep the puff pastry folded and place on a floured sheet of parchment paper (the same size as your cookie sheet.  Roll out the puff pastry pretty thin into a rectangle nearly as long as your cookie sheet.

Stretch. Use a slotted spoon to transfer half the apple mixture to the puff pastry in a line a few inches from the long edge. Spread the apples evenly end to end. Try not to get too much liquid onto the pastry – save this liquid in the bowl for later. Take the edge of the pastry and stretch it over the apples. Take the opposite edge of the pastry and stretch it over the apples (this is a little easier than rolling the apples). If you have extra pastry, keep stretching and rolling a until the seam side is down. Tuck the ends under.

Brush. Transfer the parchment with the strudel to a baking sheet. Whisk together the egg and some cold water. Brush the egg wash over the top of the strudel. Using a sharp knife, make a few diagonal slices in the dough. This mostly looks pretty.

Bake. Bake the strudel for about 20-25 minutes until golden brown and shiny. Cool for about 10 minutes before eating.

Boil. In a small saucepan, bring the lemon juice – sugar – cinnamon mixture to a  boil. It will thicken into a loose  caramel.

Serve. Once the strudel has cooled, serve slices dusted with confectioners sugar and a side of cinnamon caramel sauce.

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he grabbed my hand

For the past 3 years, I have walked by my neighbor’s house nearly every day, staring at their carport. No, they don’t have a car that I covet. They have grapes that I covet. Big fat juicy concord grapes. I covet concords.

As I walked by their carport this morning I stared up at the vines normally heavy with grapes, and I saw … stems.

A father-son pair stood beneath those naked vines, hosing down the carport. “Good morning,” I said. “What happened to the grapes?”

“We just harvested them,” replied the father.

“Wanna see?” asked the son.

He grabbed my hand and scampered up the stairs. “We just picked boxes and boxes of them. I’m Noah.”

“I’m Gayle. You must really like grapes.”

Noah nodded.

“Are you gonna eat all of them?”

“No. Grampa makes jelly.”

“Wow, that’s a lot of jelly.”

Noah nodded.

“Do you know what I would do with all these grapes?”

Noah shrugged.

“I would make sorbet – it’s kinda like ice cream.”

Noah licked his lips. “Yum!”

“Would you like me to make some ice cream for you?”

Guess who brought  home a big bag of grapes!

The bunches climbed into a colander and took a few cold showers. The grapes said goodbye to their stems and assorted brethren – the travel weary, the old and wrinkly, the young and green.

The best of the crop took a dunk in the hot tub. A long dunk.

When they started to shed their skins, they knew they were done.

They left their skins and seeds behind, and, without a single glance back, dove right in to join their skinny dipping friends.

They then cozied up to a bar for a few cocktails, picked up some sweeties, and puckered up. (I added to the juice vodka, sugar, and lemon juice.)

Now, now, boys. It’s time to cool off. You’re gonna spend the night in the cooler.

These hooligans clean up nice, don’t they?

There was only one casualty.

I’m not sure there’s gonna be much left for Noah. But don’t feel bad for him. He has jelly.

Concord grape sorbet

I found inspiration for this sorbet in a few places. It seems that Gourmet, New York Magazine, and David Lebovitz all discovered and shared this gorgeous concoction in Autumn 2008 and 2009. I’m two to three years late here, folks. I guess that’s better than four years late. I always add some alcohol to sorbet so it keeps a smooth consistency and doesn’t get icy. I liked the NY Magazine version’s addition of a little lemon juice as well. I suspect you could make this with good pure grape juice (but what’s the fun in that?).

To get a smooth, silky texture that’s not icy, I use alcohol and an immersion blender. The alcohol (vodka here) prevents the sorbet from fully freezing. The immersion blender aerates the sorbet and this incorporated air helps with the texture. I happen to have the canister left over from an old Donvier ice cream maker — I keep it in the freezer to quick chill white wine — so that accelerated the process a bit. If you want the sorbet firmer, use less or no vodka. You can also adjust the suger based on the sweetness of the grape juice – as a general rule, sorbet should be a little bit sweeter than the juice (this is the case of all sorbets).

This recipe made approximately a quart (4 cups) of sorbet.

- 3.5 lbs grapes, straight from the vine, or 2.5 lbs grapes only (rinsed, de-stemmed, and yucky ones removed)

- 1/4 C water

- 1/4 C sugar

- 1/4 C vodka

- 2 T lemon juice

Clean. Rinse grapes in cold water, and then sort through, removing stems and any grapes that are dried, split, or green.

Simmer. In a non-reactive pot (I used hard-anonized), simmer, covered, the cleaned grapes with water until the grapes get soft. By this point, the smell of grape juice will entice you back to the kitchen. Give the grapes a stir a few times to loosen the skins. This whole process took about 20 minutes.

Strain. Pour the grape concoction into a fine-mesh sieve in batches, and push juice out into a bowl beneath, leaving the stems and seeds behind. I used a wooden spoon to press out as much juice as I could. I ended up with about 2.5 cups of pure grape juice.

Mix. Add sugar, vodka, and lemon juice to the grape juice and whir a few times with an immersion blender to dissolve the sugar. You’ll use the immersion blender again later.

Freeze and aerate. Pour the grape mix into a bowl, cake pan, or whatever you want and pop it into the freezer. The flatter the container, the quicker the sorbet will freeze. The more alcohol, the slower the sorbet will freeze. After about 2 hours, check on the sorbet. It should be about half frozen. Use the immersion blender to break up any icy bits. Return the sorbet to the freezer and repeat this every hour or so. If you forget and throw the sorbet in the freezer overnight, no problem – it will just take a few extra whirs with the blender to break up the solid mass the next morning.

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my daily bread

The food at our resort in the Dominican Republic was…

…well, it was there.

To be fair, it was plentiful. And there were some nice mangoes. And I had some lovely crêpe Suzette (the chef let me flambé them myself). But by day 2, and every day thereafter, I found myself stuffing a zip lock bag full of the corn bread served at breakfast to sustain me on the beach until dinner. Because we skipped lunch. Because there just wasn’t anything worth leaving that hammock and sunshine for.

So, let’s talk about that cornbread. Cornbread? Not really. It was more like a buttery pound cake with some corn meal thrown in for good measure. There were chocolate and strawberry versions as well, but I stuck with the original. I could fit 4, sometimes 5 slices into a zip lock bag. Bubbie would be proud!

So, imagine this. I’m wearing a little bikini, lying on a hammock on a tropical island, warmed by the sun … and eating pound cake. Actually, better to not imagine me. But you get the picture.

Cornmeal pound cake

I tried a few poundcake recipe and landed on Chocolate and Zucchini’s yogurt cake (“gateau au yaourt”).  It takes longer to pre-heat the oven than it does to mix together the ingredients.  I replace some of the flour with cornmeal to approximate the breakfast cake I had in the DR. The key here, like with pancakes, is not to overmix the batter. The cake is not nearly as rich and butter-laden as the original — and I like it even better. It’s especially great toasted and buttered.

- 1/3 C melted buter

- 2 eggs

- 1 C nonfat plain yogurt – don’t use Greek yogurt….it’s too thick

- 1 C sugar

- 1 t vanilla

- 1 1/2 C flour

- 1/2 C fine ground corn meal

- 1 1/2 t baking powder

- 1/2 t baking soda

- good pinch of salt

Prep. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease loaf pan (I used a 9X5) with spray oil (or whatever you like). Melt butter (to minimize dishes, I microwaved it right in my large mixing bowl).

Mix. Gently combine butter, eggs, yogurt, sugar and vanilla until well incorporated.

Fold. Sift into the mixing bowl flour, corn meal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Fold the ingredients together until just mixed. The batter should be somewhat thick and bubbly.

Bake. Bake cake 30-35 minutes until top is golden brown and toothpick comes out clean.

Cool. Cool in pan for 10 minutes and then transfer to rack. Don’t cut until fully cool.

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First, I invited Alyson over for a very low key shabbat dinner. She just moved into a new apartment and and was waiting for her stovetop to be replaced. She would bring salad.  And she had an extra french roast in her freezer — she gave it to me to braise along with some recipe guidelines.

Then Shoshana invited both of us over – she also has a new apartment. I offered to host because I have a dishwasher. She offered to bake challah.

Then Rachela invited all three of us over for an impromptu shabbat dinner. She was going to make fish. I opted for meat at my place and invited her and her husband Gedalia over as well. They brought 2 side dishes, one green, one carb.

I decided to top everything off with a fruit galette with a few farmers market finds.

No one left hungry.

 French Roast, Middle Eastern style

I used the flavors of Ana Sortun‘s spoon lamb mixed with recommendations for cooking a roast from Alyson and few of my cookbooks. While the lamb recipe and other braising recipes call for first browning the meat, most roast recipes do not. This is one of those recipes where you put everything in a pot and come back in 1.5 hours to find it almost done. Another an hour or two in the fridge, and then 15 minutes on the stove top, and dinner is ready to go.

- 2-3 T canola or grapeseed oil

- 5 lb french roast

- 1T (or more) ground cumin

- 3 cloves garlic, smashed

- 6 carrots, peeled and thickly sliced

- 1 large onion, peeled and quartered

- 2 C dry red wine (I used an Israeli red: Yogev 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon – Shiraz)

- 2 T pomegranate concentrate

- 4T cold unsalted margarine, cut into 2 pieces

- Salt and pepper to taste

- 1 lemon

Preheat. Preheat oven to 325°F.

Braise. Cover bottom of a large (make sure there is enough room for the roast to sit comfortably) dutch/french oven/cocotte with half the oil. Settle roast into the cocotte, rub with remaining oil and cover with garlic and cumin. Surround with the onion and carrots. Pour wine around the roast, adding enough water so liquid comes up 1/2 to 3/4 of the way up the meat. Cover tightly and braise for 1.5 – 2 hours. Use a meat thermometer to check the meat – an internal temperature 130°F for medium, 155°F for well done. Mine came out at ~150°F and was a bit too well done for my taste.

Strain and skim. Remove roast and carrots to a plate. Strain braising liquid through cheesecloth into a bowl. Refrigerate until the fat rises to the surface and can be skimmed off and discarded.

Reduce. In the cocotte, simmer the liquid until reduced by half and thickened (~10 minutes). Remove from heat. Stir in pomegranate concentrate, lemon juice, and margarine. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Reheat. Add the roast and carrots to the sauce and warm over low heat.

Eat. Slice roast against the grain. Serve with all that great sauce.

 

Plum Blueberry Galette

A galette is a free-form tart, similar to a crostada. The crust I use is a pâte sucrée – a regular tart/pie crust (pâte brisée) plus an egg yolk and sugar. Whenever I have extra yolks, I put each one in a small bag in the freezer and then use them to make this pâte. I try to keep an extra crust in the freezer in case galette or pie or tart or tarte tatin inspiration strikes. I used the recipe for a summer fruit galette in Paula Shoyer‘s The Kosher Baker but added yolk and sugar to make a sweeter crust. I also added a sprinkle of almond flour/meal (finely ground almonds) before adding the fruit to keep the crust from getting soggy. It worked really well, but you can skip this step if you want. To keep this recipe parve, I used margarine intead of butter.

For  pâte sucrée crust:

- 1 1/4 C flour

- 2 T confectioner’s sugar

- 1/4 t salt

- 6 T butter/margarine, partially frozen

- 1 egg yolk

- 3T cold water

Pulse. Add flour, sugar, and salt to food processor and mix. Add frozen butter/margarine and pulse ~ 10 times until the consistence of corn meal.

Pulse again.  Add egg yolk and 1T cold water, and pulse ~ 5 times.

Pulse again. Add 1T cold water, and pulse ~5 times.

Get the picture? Add the last 1T cold water, a little at a time, pulsing in between additions, until the dough starts to come together, but is still a bit crumbly.

Wrap. Gather the dough into a ball, flatten out, and wrap in plastic wrap.

Freeze. Freeze for 30 minutes before using. Or freeze until the next time you want to make a galette or pie or tart or tarte tatin – and then defrost for about 30 minutes before using.

  

For galette:

- 1 pâte sucrée crust

- 3C fruit – I used 2 Csmall red and yellow plums and 1 C blueberries

- 1T lemon juice

- 3T sugar

- 2T corn starch

- 1-2 T almond meal/almond flour (optional)

- 1-2T sugar in the raw

Preheat. Preheat oven to 425°F and place place rack on lowest shelf.

Cut and mix. Quarter plums (no reason to peel). Gently mix fruits with lemon juice, sugar, and corn starch until sugar dissolves.

Roll. Remove dough from freezer and sandwich between two large pieces of wax paper. Roll dough out to a 12- to 14-inch round. Trim any rough edges, throw them in the middle, and roll to incorporate. Transfer to a parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Sprinkle. Sprinkle center of crust with almond flour (if using), leaving a 1.5- to 20-inch edge.

Pile on. Pile the fruits onto the crust, leaving at least a 2-inch edge.

Fold. Lift the parchment to help fold edges one at a time towards the center of the galette. Allow edges to overlap, and pinch the overlapping edges together to seal the crust.

Sprinkle again. Brush the crust very lightly with water and sprinkle with sugar in the raw.

Bake. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Transfer galette on parchment to rack to cool for 15 minutes before serving.

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I’m back! I’m such a tease, I’m sorry. But I promise you, these brownies are worth the wait. And the anticipation.

Alyson, Ilana, and I had five days of sunshine, swimming, and general silliness. Let’s just say that the phrase whoo whoo got thrown around quite a bit during our vacation, inspired by the little red train we took through our resort one evening when we got lost. As in, chugga chugga chugga chugga choo choo! Yes, really. The arm gesture of pulling a bell was optional.

There was, however, no whooing when our flight landed and I looked outside our window.

As we disembarked and filed down the stairs, I snapped this photo before the police threatened to confiscate my camera if I took another picture on the tarmac.

In case you didn’t figure it out already, we were not in the Dominican Republic. The policeman’s shorts should give a clue. Shorts! And knee socks! We had an emergency landing in Bermuda (Bermuda!) due to a smoke signal coming from our engine. Yeah. Definitely no whooing at that stage.

Turns out, everything was alright. Four hours later we were back in the air. My requests for a short field trip to the beach were ignored.

During our trip, I took a break from everything in life. Including my camera. So, I don’t have any pictures of me on a hammock in the sun. Or of Alyson and Ilana lounging in the shade of a palm-covered cabana. Or the aqua blue Caribbean water.

Now home, I’m very tan.

And I’ve been thinking a lot about home recently and where my home is. Maybe it’s because my lease is almost up and I’m probably renewing. Maybe it’s because after 3 years here in Boston, I have a very strong chevra – a group of close friends. Boston is my physical home, but home is so much more than that.

I saw the band Stornoway a few months ago when my sister came to visit. (If you haven’t listened to them, you should. They have a folksy British vibe. So they have those swoon worthy accents. And as my sister says, they’re not too hard on the eyes either!) My favorite song, Fuel Up, captures my feelings perfectly:

Home is only a feeling you get in your mind
From the people you love and you travel beside

A few weeks ago, I was in DC, visiting my friend Reva.

Reva has a lovely home and I’ve always loved being part of it. During med school, we named her guest room “Gayle’s room.”

We did a lot over the weekend. And there was a fair amount of domestic bliss. Really, bliss for me. We went to her older son Isaac’s baseball game (and later performed some delicate hand surgery on his season-end trophy). We played board games and legos with her younger son, Eli. We drove first in her minivan and then in her husband’s white convertible. It reminded me of the days in med school when we used to drive around in my own white convertible. Except there was no car seat in the back of mine. Reva and I went out to dinner, but as usual, most of our time was spent in the kitchen, catching up, slicing and mixing, and cleaning. (Well, I’m not so good at the cleaning part.)

The boys got in on the action too when her husband Aaron and I made breakfast one morning — hash browns and eggs  — with Isaac’s help.

And then Reva and I made brownies together. In my experience, making brownies from scratch was a waste of effort since I really like the Duncan Hines ones. But, Reva explained, this recipe is worth the few extra bowls and elbow grease. After waiting patiently for the brownies to cool, one bite was enough. Well, enough to convince me to try these at home. After having a few more bites to make sure that I really liked them.

So, a few days later, I made a batch. But they just didn’t match up to Reva’s batch. I texted her that my brownies weren’t as good as her’s. She sent back instructions:

Over-brown the butter, I think! Leave out the nuts, add chocolate chips, and be careful not to over-bake. Also, chat with a friend during!

I made these a second batch the next day. (My office was quite happy to test both batches). I left the butter to brown and hand-beat the batter while balancing my phone between ear and shoulder and chatting with Meira and then Rachela. I only dropped my phone once. Luckily it missed the batter by a few inches. Lucky not because the phone didn’t get dirty, but because I didn’t lose a drop of batter.

Maybe I should call these whoo whoo! brownies.

Cocoa Brownies with Brown Butter and Fleur de Sel

These brownies are adapted from Alice Medrich‘s recipe in this February’s Bon Appetit. See that cover? Oh yeah, these brownies are on the cover. And never have I seen a dish so worthy of a cover.

The key to this recipe is the butter. Using cocoa means that all the fat comes from the butter. And browning the butter gives the recipe a nice nutty flavor. Don’t skimp here. It’s worth the extra pan to clean. And from me, that’s saying a lot. Or, you can brown the butter in a larger saucepan and then add all the other ingredients to the pan. One pan. Not bad! Before popping into the oven, sprinkle the brownies with a few pinches of fleur de sel.

- Vegetable oil spray

- 10 T unsalted butter

- 1 1/4 C white sugar

- 3/4 C cocoa powder – I’ve tried some of the fancier ones, but I’ve found that Hershey’s is the best for this recipe. Crazy, I know!

- 1 t vanilla

- 2 t water

- 1/4 t salt

- 2 eggs, chilled

- 1/3 C + 1T all purpose flour

- 3/4 C chocolate chips chopped into chunks

- a few pinches fleur de sel

Pre-heat and prep. Move rack to bottom third of oven and preheat to 325°F. Line an 8X8 pan with aluminum foil and spray with vegetable oil. The aluminum foil is key.

Brown the butter. This bears repeating – don’t skip this step! Got it? Melt butter in small saucepan or pan over medium heat. The butter will start to foam. Keep stirring and cook until the butter browns and little brown bits form at the bottom. When the foam starts to subside (in my experience, the foam never dies until I take it off the heat), take it off the heat and pour into a bowl. Scrape up those browned bits and add them to the bowl.

Mix. Add sugar, cocoa, vanilla, water, and 1/4 t salt. Stir to blend – it will be grainy.

Wait. Let butter sugar mixture sit 5 minutes until lukewarm (not cool).

Mix again. Add eggs to warm mixture, one at a time, beating after each addition. Keep beating until thick and glossy. This does take some work.

Keep mixing. Add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes. I’m not sure why 60 is the magic number of strokes, but fewer and the brownies bake up grainy. Add chocolate chunks and stir to blend.

Bake. Scoop batter into prepared pan (it’s thick, so you won’t be able to pour it) and smooth out with a spatula. Set timer for 25 minutes (but it may take up to 30 minutes) and bake until a toothpick comes out almost clean. There should be a few moist crumbs attached. If it’s really undercooked, put back into oven for up to 5 more minutes. But, don’t over-bake. Even if, like me, you like the crunchy corners.

Cool and cut. Cool in pan on rack and then remove brownies on the foil. DON’T cut while hot. Or warm. I know, it’s hard to wait, but do it. Then, when you cut them, use a big sharp knife. You’ll probably need to wipe the knife after every few slices. Cut into 16 squares or 24 bars.

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back in a bit

I’m off on vacation for a few days. Sun and sand. And probably a few thunderstorms. I promise to be back real soon. To tide you over, here’s a taste of what’s to come.

See you on the other side!

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Earlier this month, I started writing:

“As the thunder thunders and the lightening lightens the red sky, I’m sitting inside with a glass of red on my coffee table next to my propped-up feet, my keyboard perched on my lap.”

And that’s about as far as I got during the tornado that touched down about an hour outside of Boston earlier this month. I was glad to be inside and baking. It feels strange talking about cookies on a night that was so devastating to families nearby. But at the very least, I wanted to share this recipe.

Dark chocolate chip and orange cookies

Makes 4+ dozen cookies

This recipe is a close cousin of these chocolate chip cookies, adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, but with a decidedly more adult palate. Dark chocolate (70%). Orange zest and orange blossom water. Almond flour (if you have it). As I mentioned the last time I made them, these cookies bake up soft and round, so if you like them flatter and crispier, add 1-2T water with the wet ingredients. The picture above is the almond flour variation with an extra 2T of water.

- 1/2 C softened butter or margarine

- 3/4 C white sugar

- 3/4 C brown sugar

- 2 eggs

- 2 t orange blossom water

- zest of 1 orange (~1T)

- 2C flour or 1 C flour + 1C almond flour

- 1/2 t baking soda

- 1/2 t salt

- 1.5C  bittersweet (70%) chocolate chunks (Whole Food sells them, or you can chop up a block of bittersweet chocolate — my favorite is Callebaut)

- 1-2 T water (optional)

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Mix. Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs, orange blossom water, and orange zest, and beat until well blended. Add 1-2 T water if desired to make cookies crisper. Mix flour with baking soda and salt, then add it to the liquid ingredients and mix by hand. Fold in chocolate chunks.

Bake. Drop cookies by level tablespoonful onto a silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheet.  I use a 1T cookie scoop. Bake 10 minutes until lightly browned. Cool for a few minutes before removing from silpat/parchment and transfer to a rack.

I keep my cookies in the freezer and think they are best eaten cold.

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by the truckload

My last lemon dessert was a bit of a cheat.

This time, I’m coming clean. No short cuts. Just pure lemons.

Well, not just any lemons. Meyer lemons plucked from a backyard tree by an adorable little boy who says “um” when he means “yes.”  This is farm-to-table cooking. The first batch of lemons, carted inside in a mini dump truck, became lemonade with a quick squeeze and a whir of the blender and a little help from Joanne. The next batch was supposed to be transformed into dessert. Cookbooks were scoured, but by the time we decided on lemon bars, the salmon and steaks were ready to come off the grill and we lacked the incentive to blind bake a crust and make a lemon curd. The half pound of butter called for did not endear the bars to us either. So, we skipped dessert and I had to pick up some chocolate on the way back to the airport.

But I did dump that truckload of lemons into my computer bag and cart them onto the plane as a carry-on.

Back home, the lemons sat in my fridge for a few days, beckoning me every morning as I peered inside to grab milk for my coffee and yogurt for my bowl. They beckoned me every evening as I foraged for dinner. And finally one evening, I beckoned them. I lifted them from their shelf, enjoyed their heft in my hands. I piled them onto my counter and returned for more, my palms lightly perfumed with the oil from their skins.

Five minutes to press the cornmeal crust into a pan while the oven heated. Twenty minutes to bake while I whipped together the lemon topping. Lower the heat, pour on the topping, another 20 minutes. Voilà – lemon fabulousness. If Joanne and I had known how easy it was, I might not have taken home my souvenir.

Lemon Bars

Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Chocolate and the Art of Low-fat Dessert. The bars are made in two parts – you first make the crust and then pour the topping over the top. You need 1C of sugar, 1C of flour, 3 eggs, and 3-4 lemons. You also need to reduce the oven temperature from 350ºF to 300ºF when you bake the topping. Make sure to place the pan on a cookie sheet so that the bottom of the crust does not burn. The recipe takes about an hour from start to finish.

For the crust:

- 3/4 C sifted flour

- 1/4 C yellow cornmeal

-  pinch salt

- 1/8 t baking soda

- 2 T unsalted butter or margarine (room temperature)

- 1/3 C sugar

- 1 egg yolk

- 1 T light mayonnaise or yogurt

- 1/4 t vanilla extract

For topping:

- 1 egg white

- 2 eggs

- 2/3 C sugar

- 1/2 C strained meyer lemon juice (about 3-4 lemons)

- zest from 1 lemon

- 1/4 C flour

- powdered sugar (optional)

Prepare. Preheat oven to 350ºF and put rack in lower 1/3 of the oven. Grease 8X8 square pan with vegetable oil.

Make crust. Stir together the flour (3/4 C), cornmeal, salt, and baking soda. Beat margarine/butter until creamy. Add the 1/3 C sugar and beat for about a minute. Beat in egg yolk, mayonnaise/yogurt, and vanilla. Add in the dry ingredients and beat on low until just combined. It will be crumbly. Scrape bowl and knead briefly with hands. Press into the pan and prick all over with a fork. Bake on top of a cookie sheet so the bottom doesn’t burn. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the top gets light brown.

Make the topping. While the crust is baking, whip eggs and egg white with 2/3 C sugar until combined. Whisk in lemon juice and zest. And finally, whisk in1/4 C flour. Pour the topping on the hot crust right when you take it out of the oven. Turn oven down to 300º. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the topping just barely jiggles. Cool on rack and then chill in the fridge. Cut into squares or bars when cold. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if you’d like.


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After Tokyo, I headed off to Paris for 4 days. Life’s tough, right?

But I won’t share with you any pictures of Paris. Because I don’t have any of this culinary city. Crazy, no? Unfortunately I was swamped with work and by the time my meetings were over, I was too bone tired to really enjoy the city. A pity, but at least I know that I’ll be back again soon.

Before I left for my around-the-world-in-two-weeks adventure, a publisher sent me a new cookbook to review. To me! The cookbook is Paula Shoyer’s The Kosher Baker and it contains over 150 parve dessert recipes. It was dog-eared and covered in yellow stickies well  before I stepped on the airplane, and when I came home, I was inspired to try two recipes in as many weeks.

Not surprisingly, I prioritized a few of the more French recipes. First was a batch of madeleines. (The last batch I made was tainted by the silicone pan that I made them in, so a few months ago I bought a new pan.) Next up, almond tuiles. Before we get to the recipes and pictures, I want to share with you a little about the book and its author.

I spoke with Paula 2 weeks ago to learn about her inspiration for the book. Getting her on the phone took a fair bit of effort on both our parts, with her busy book signing and demonstration tour and my own crazy travel and work schedule. We finally caught up on a Thursday night as she was recovering from a cold and I was in a taxi en route to a 9 pm dinner after a long day in my New York office.

Paula lives just a few miles from where I grew up in Maryland and she has quite an affinity for French foods and pastries. While living in Geneva with her husband, she decided to go to culinary school in Paris on a lark and built up a reputation for her desserts in Switzerland and eventually the US. She opened a pastry school and has been teaching French (and other) pastries and desserts ever since.  She spent about 5 years creating and adapting from dairy the parve recipes in her own cookbook. She likens recipe development to science experiments and feels that  baking requires close attention to the details of recipes.

I asked Paula which recipe she turns to most often – and she referred me to “Everyone’s Favorite Chocolate Cake.” We bonded over the merits of an excellent chocolate cake that is so good it doesn’t require frosting. She also said that the scones often frequent her kitchen and table.

The book itself is conversational – it feels like Paula is cooking alongside you, with comments such as “if you use an electric mixer, be careful, the batter might splatter.” I liked the organization of book into three distinct sections based on preparation time (quick and elegant desserts, two-step desserts, and multiple-step desserts and breads) and a fourth section on Passover and low-sugar recipes. The index is complete with the added touch of some specialty ingredients, such as almond flour and orange blossom, being highlighted with recipes that feature them. The pictures are beautiful, but I could do with a few more. And scattered throughout the text are some black and white process pictures (my favorite is the one used to  demonstrate how to make  sablé galettes – essentially French shortbread). Again, I wish there were more.

On whole, I like the cookbook and have already found it a good resource.

So below are the recipes that I made the week I came home from Paris.

And I’m already bookmarking more recipes to try. I’ll soon be making sablé galettes and that chocolate cake.

Madeleines

Makes about 2+ dozen

Adapted from Paula Shoyer’s The Kosher Baker. I followed the recipe, except I missed one step (in the “mix one more time” section).  and used lemon extract instead of zest because I didn’t have any lemons around – and on day 2, the mads seemed a bit too dense. But straight out of the oven, they were fabulous (and that’s how I prefer to eat them anyway). Surprisingly, this recipe did not include a refrigeration step which is normally suggested to help get that little hump on the cakes. Finally and just so you’re prepared, this recipe does need a few bowls – so cleanup is a bit of a pain. But, hey, I really hate doing dishes.

- Spray oil and flour for dusting
– 4 large eggs, room temperature
– 1/2 C (1 stick) parve margarine (though butter would be better if you were making them dairy), melted
– 1 C flour
– 2/3 C sugar
– 2 t vanilla extract
– 1 1/2 t lemon zest from 1 lemon or 1/2 t lemon extract
– 1 T confectioners’ sugar

Prepare. Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease and flour the madeleine molds

Mix. Beat the eggs with a mixer on low for 1 minute. Add sugar slowly, in four batches, while continuing to beat on low. Add vanilla and lemon zest (er, extract) and now beat on high for 5 minutes. The batter becomes thick, creamy, and a light yellow.

Mix  again. In a different bowl, mix flour and melted margarine with a wooden spoon until it becomes a dry paste.

Mix one final time. Add  half the beaten egg/sugar mix to the flour/margarine mix and whisk. Put half this mixture back into the eggs and mix with a spatula. Add the other half of the mixture to the eggs and mix.

Bake. Fill each mold with a spoonful of batter and refrigerate the remainder. Bake for 12 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool. Immediately remove the madeleines from the pan to cool on a wire rack.

Start all over again. Make sure to clean the molds out and then regrease/flour, fill, and bake the next batch.

*****

Almond Tuiles.

Makes about 2+ dozen.

Adapted from Paula Shoyer’s The Parve Baker. These delicate cookies taste great. I had a bit of difficulty shaping them over my rolling pin, so next time I’ll use something with a smaller diameter.

- 2 large egg whites (I froze the yolks for another time)
– 1/2 C sugar
– 2 1/2 T flour
– 2 T parve margarine (or, butter if you want to make dairy), melted
– 1 t orange zest from one orange
– 2/3 C slices almonds

Mix. Whisk together egg whites, sugar and flour. Add the melted margarine and continue to whisk. Add zest and keep whisking. Add almonds and mix gently with a spatula, taking care not to break the nuts.

Wait. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or ideally overnight.

Bake. Preheat oven to 400°F. Cover a cookie sheet with Silpat or parchment. Drop teaspoons of batter on the sheet, about 4 inches apart. Use a fork dipped in water to spread batter and separate the nut slices. You want the circles to be about 3 inches in diameter. Thinner is better. (Cookies, that is.) Bake for 7-8 minutes or until the edges are brown and the center is golden .

Shape and cool. Remove from oven and let cookies cool for about 15 seconds (if you try to take them off too soon, they fall apart). Use a spatula to scape up each cookie and quickly place on a curved mold – I used a rolling pin – so cookies bend on the underside (i.e., bottoms are on the rolling pin) and the almonds are on the outside. Let cool.



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