Friday, February 29, 2008

Ten rises and three rounds. Must be

Daring Bakers time!

The February Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Mary (The Sour Dough) and Sara (I Like to Cook). After several sweet dessert events, this one featured bread, and not just any bread, but classic French bread à la Julia Child. There were 16 pages of instructions! Well, that’s why we are Daring Bakers – no challenge is too difficult! Well, maybe.

Now, I love making bread, so I felt I was up for the challenge. How hard could it be?

Glad you asked.

Round One

After reading the instructions multiple times, I measured and kneaded and proofed. The dough was on the soft, wet side, so that required patience and care. All in all, pretty straightforward. Until I got to the shaping part. This required using a linen towel, saturated with flour, on which I was to place my shaped dough, upside down, for the final rise. After which, I was to flip the risen dough onto a wooden board, slash the tops, then slide those suckers onto a baking sheet. Right. Want to see a grown woman cry? When I flipped, the bread decided to stay firmly on the linen towel. To add insult to injury, they all deflated. So, I stood there, debating my choices: wad everything up and throw it all away or try to salvage something? Oh, it took every nano-ounce of self-control I possessed to keep going. I scraped the deflated bread-like objects off the towel, re-shaped them, and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. They were now on their fourth rise, and the oven was good and hot. After about an hour, I decided to bake them. I tried to slash the tops, I really did, but the dough was so soft that not even my sharpest knife would work. I just smeared the dough, deflating them yet again. Last straw, so into the oven they went.

Well, they look nice enough and they actually tasted good. But, I must have been the only one who failed at bread-flipping. Sad but true.

Should I make this recipe again? Am I going to let a French bread recipe defeat me?

No. I’m a Daring Baker after all. Onward.

Round Two

A week later, after some mental recovery, I decided to try again. Only this time, there would be no flour-saturated towel or bread flipping. All proceeded as per plan, and the loaves were shaped and placed directly on the parchment-lined baking sheet. I also changed the water-spritzing times, doing it every 30 seconds for the first few minutes, rather than at 3-minute intervals. By the time the bread has been in the oven for a few minutes, any further steam has minimal effect. The loaves turned out fine, although the baguette-like ones were fairly flat. The taste was wonderful in spite of the shape.

Should I make this recipe again, and try to play with the shape? Oh, why not.

Round Three (yesterday)

Ok. I can breeze through this recipe now with my eyes closed. I’m still not flipping and the dough is still so gooey that my knife just won’t cut it, but other than that all went well. Except for one thing. I forgot to play with the shaping bit. I remembered when I was about to slide them into the oven. By this time, I decided it didn’t matter, so into the oven they went. And, I was able to wait the requisite two hours before eating because of a phone call and a dog walk.

It’s delicious bread, to be sure, with a nice texture. And, even though it takes all day, it’s not that much trouble. But that flipping bit gives me nightmares. But. Must Not Try Again. ; )

If you want to experience an exciting bread-making adventure, you can find the recipe here. And, be sure to visit the 600-plus Daring Bakers and read about their successes.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie -- Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits

Pardon my crumbs.

Ashley, of eat me, delicious, was in charge of this week's episode of TWD. Her choice was Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits -- tender, flaky, nutty, yummy biscuits. I opted to use the AP/cake flour version and the biscuits basically melt in your mouth. I ended up with about 22 2" biscuits, re-pats included, and chose to save most in the freezer for later use.

Freshly baked biscuits:

Enjoy baking these and enjoy seeing how the other TWD bakers did (now over 50 strong!).


Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits (Makes about 12 biscuits)

2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour and 1/3 cup cake flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
1/2 cup cold sour cream
1/4 cold whole milk
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans, preferably toasted

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Get out a sharp 2-inch-diameter biscuit cutter and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.

Whisk the flour(s), baking powder, salt, and baking soda together in a bow. Stir in the brown sugar, making certain there are no lumps. Drop in the butter and, using your fingers, toss to coat the pieces of butter with flour. Quickly, working with your fingertips (my favorite method) or a pastry blender, cut and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly. You'll have pea-size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces the size of everything in between-- and that's just right.

Stir the sour cream and milk together and pour over the dry ingredients. Grab a fork and gently toss and turn the ingredients together until you've got a nice soft dough. Now reach into the bowl with your hands and give the dough a quick gentle kneading-- 3 or 4 turns should be just enough to bring everything together. Toss in the pecans and knead 2 to 3 times to incorporate them.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour and turn out the dough. Dust the top of the dough very lightly with flour, pat the dough out with your hands or toll it with a pin until it is about 1/2 inch high. Don't worry if the dough isn't completely even-- a quick, light touch is more important than accuracy.

Use the biscuit cutter to cut out as many biscuits as you can. Try to cut the biscuits close to one another so you get the most you can out of the first round. By hand or with a small spatula, transfer the biscuits to the baking sheet. Gather together the scraps, working with them as little as possible, pat out to a 1/2-inch thickness and cut as many additional biscuits as you can; transfer these to the sheet. (The biscuits ca be made to this point and frozen on the baking sheet, then wrapped airtight and kept for up to 2 months. Bake without defrosting-- just add a couple more minutes to the oven time.)

Bake the biscuits for 14-18 minutes, or until they are tall, puffed and golden brown. Transfer them to a serving basket.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Monster Bread

I just can't stay away from a bread challenge.

While I was reading through some of my favorite blogs the other night, I discovered a new 'sisterhood' of bread bakers -- the Bread Baking Babes. Now, I sort of feel like I'm crashing their party, but Mary (The Sour Dough) and Karen (Bake My Day!) did encourage other bakers to join in, so that's what I decided to do. I've been baking bread a looooooong time, so I'm quite willing to give a new recipe that old college try.

For the Royal Crown's Tortano, you create a preferment the night before, using just a minuscule amount of yeast. Twelve or so hours later, you begin the process of making the dough, and a wet one it is. To be fair, I had to add a bit more water than the recipe called for. Flour type and humidity can affect the moisture content and I knew from reading the other blogs that my current dough was too dry.

After mixing the ingredients, the dough is left to ferment for four hours, with four interruptions to fold the dough, which develops structure and redistributes the yeast. I went a little longer than four hours for the total fermentation, and finally poured the dough out onto the board. After letting it rest for 20 minutes, I managed to form it into a ring-shaped disk.

Now, the real fun began. First, I had to transfer this monster to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Right. Let's see how many places this guy can stick while I'm trying to pick it up. Shoot. With one huge effort, I just heaved the thing onto the parchment, and it wasn't too worse for the experience. While it was enjoying the final proofing, I got the oven ready, complete with baking stone, which, sadly, was about the same size as the unproofed loaf. Not wonderful.

Ok. Time to bake. Well, this turned out to be exciting.

So, I open the oven and attempt to snap the loaf of bread onto the heated stone. Hah! The 450 degree oven is trying to melt my contact lenses, and during the final rise, one side of the loaf decided to glue itself to the baking sheet, so it doesn't 'snap' with the rest of the loaf, leaving the whole thing half on the stone and half on the rack and a string of dough hanging on to the sheetpan. And I can't see. So, blinking wildly, I scrape off the offending piece of dough as quickly as I can, flip it onto the loaf, and shut the oven door. What's done is done. I pray for great oven spring since one side is now sort of caved in.

Actually, the spring happens relatively quickly, and except for the odd non-ring-like shape, you'd never know it was near-disaster. Half-way through the baking time, I managed to turn the loaf, putting it completely on the stone while simultaneously removing the parchment. It came out a little too dark for my personal taste, but it did survive.

Waiting to slice it was difficult, because I wanted to see what the insides were like. Not bad after all. How do you like those holes?!

This was rather fun to bake, in a weird sort of way. With all the struggle, it still worked, and it looked alright, and tasted really good. It's huge, though, and heavy. Almost a weapon.

So, I'll send along this little post to the bread-powers that be. Thanks for such a tasty and exciting challenge. For the recipe, check out the blogs of the Bread Baking Babes.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

WCC 25 -- Nigella's soup

This month’s Weekend Cookbook Challenge (#25) was hosted by Ani at Foodiechickie. As a theme, the task was to cook something created by Nigella Lawson. Now, I have two of Nigella’s books on my shelf, but I have never found the time to actually cook anything from them, so this was good incentive for me to either use ‘em or lose ‘em. With all the sweet-stuff I’ve been baking recently, I searched for something that met two requirements: it was a savory recipe and all ingredients were in my pantry. Since I’m a big soup fan, I decided to fix the cream of chicken soup from How to Eat, with only a few minor adjustments. The result was a delicious dinner, especially when paired with homemade bread and a salad.

Cream of chicken soup is not particularly photogenic, but it is very tasty. Be sure to check out the other

Cream of Chicken Soup

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1 regular leek, white part only, sliced very finely

1 ¼ cups chicken stock

1 ¼ cups milk

2 bay leaves

1 garlic clove, peeled

1 6-ounce chicken breast

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

pinch of salt

pinch of ground mace

1 egg yolk

3 to 4 tablespoons heavy cream

Put 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy saucepan, melt it, and add the leeks, cooking until soft. In a separate pan, put the stock, milk, bay leaves, garlic clove, and chicken breast. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until the chicken is just tender, about 10 minutes. A few minutes before the chicken is cooked, the leeks should be ready. Add the flour to the leek mixture and cook on low heat, stirring, for a few minutes.

Remove the chicken and pour the milk mixture into the leek mixture, stirring while doing so. Bring this mixture just to the boiling point, stirring occasionally. At the same time, shred the chicken breast, and add it the the hot milk-leek mixture. Add the salt and mace, and continue to cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the remaining butter, and continue to cook over low heat, stirring occasionally for another 5 minutes.

Finish the soup in one of 3 ways: 1. Pour the soup into a blender, about 1 cup at a time and then pour back into the saucepan, through a strainer; 2. use a stick blender in the saucepan; or 3. leave as is, with chunks of chicken.

Place back on low heat to warm up, if necessary. Meanwhile, mix the egg yolk and heavy cream. Take the soup off the heat, and stir in the egg yolk/cream mixture. Season to taste.

Serves 1 or 2.

From: How to Eat by Nigella Lawson (page 143)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Think Spice, Think -- Star Anise

This month's spice event, hosted by Sunita at Sunita's World, features star anise. I love anise flavor, and I've always been fascinated with star anise, and even though I have some in the pantry, the truth is, I've never used it. Until now. I wanted to find a simple dish that would focus on the spice. I ended up making a simple syrup, flavored with star anise, and then using it to marinate sliced Cara Cara oranges. Any citrus would work, and the flavors improve after 24 hours.

Basically, you combine 1/4 cup of sugar with 1/4 cup of water and 4-6 star anise, depending on how strong you want the flavor. Bring the mixture to a boil; boil for a minute or two; cool slightly. Meanwhile, cut away the skin and white pith of 3 to 4 small oranges or combination of oranges, grapefruit, clementines, etc.; then thinly slice and fan out in a shallow bowl. Strain the anise-flavored syrup over the oranges; then refrigerate. They can served as a dessert or a side dish.

Tune in to Sunita's World in March to see how other creative cooks have used star anise.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

If you like Piña Coladas, la la la

Last December I entered my first Cupcake Hero event, hosted by the always-humorous Laurie at Quirky Cupcake. I can’t say my cupcakes were a success – they tasted good, but they were only about half an inch high – cupcake tops I’d guess you’d say. Sigh.

In January, the cupcake theme was coffee. Like a glutton for punishment, I decided to try again. I made chocolate cupcakes with chopped up espresso beans in them. Well, they looked ok, but they were a bit too crunchy to eat. I just couldn’t be embarassed twice in a row, so I sat out the January event.

By now, it’s February. I shouldn’t have looked at the theme, but I couldn’t help myself. Liquor. Now, that could be a possiblity. Maybe the third time would be the charm. First, I had to solve the cake problem. I needed a cake that would survive being a cupcake with a twist. Well, a classic genoise would do, I thought. Most Americans aren’t thrilled with genoise because it is a dry cake, but that is perfect for soaking up a syrup. A rum syrup. Rum. Ah, the light bulb went on! How about a Piña Colada cupcake? Rum, pineapple, coconut. Everything was there in my pantry. But would it work? I put it off until nearly the last minute, then decided to go for it.

I made half a recipe of the genoise – with my past experience, I didn’t want to waste ingredients or time. The cupcakes seemed to turn out ok. The rum syrup was a piece of cake (so to speak, maybe the pun is intended. . . . .) I used some of my precious rum that I hand-carried back from Puerto Rice a number of years ago. I highly recommend touring the Bacardi plant if you ever go visit. Let’s see. The frosting came next, so I searched for a pineapple coconut concoction. Not the easiest recipe to find, but I was successful. I halved that recipe, too, just in case. Should have made the whole thing, as it turned out, especially when I added the leftover rum syrup to it.

After I frosted the cupcakes, I felt they needed a bit more color, so I continued with the experiment. One cupcake under the broiler along with some loose coconut. You have to watch carefully while doing this – I didn’t want the cupcake paper to ignite or the loose coconut to burn. Personally, I would recommend toasting the loose coconut, and not broiling the frosted cupcake. The frosting stuck to the paper, and it didn’t get as pretty a toasted color as the loose coconut.

Ok. Time to taste. I tore apart the broiled cupcake and sampled it. The verdict? A success, at last. Worthy of being submitted to Cupcake Hero, and definitely worthy of being made again. Maybe I can bake a decent cupcake after all.

(Twenty-four hours later, the cupcakes taste even better.)

Piña Colada Cupcakes


Genoise cake

(adapted from Baking with Julia, by Dorie Greenspan)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 cup sifted cake flour

½ cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Pour the melted butter into a 1-quart bowl and reserve.

Sift the flour one more time, adding in 1 tablespoon of the sugar, and the salt. Sift onto a piece of waxed paper and set aside.

Put the eggs and thre remaining sugar into a mixer bowl (can also use a hand-held mixer). With the whisk attachment, blend the ingredients, then whip on medium spped until it is airy, pale, and tripled in volume, about 4-5 minutes. It’s ready when the mixture galls back into the bowl in a ribbon that rests on the surface for about 10 seconds. If the ribbon immediately sinks, continue whipping for a few more minutes. Pour in the vanilla extact during the last few moments of whipping.

Remove bowl from mixer. Sprinkle about one third of the sifted flour mixture over the batter, and gently fold in until just incorporated. Fold the remaining flour into the batter in 2 more additions (3 times in all).

Gently spoon about 1 cup of the batter into the bowl containing the melted butter, and fold gently with a rubber spatula. Then, fold this mixture back into the main batter. Be very gentle at this stage, because the batter is fragile.

Spoon into cupcake papers.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until done.

When the cupcakes are cool, soak with Rum syrup. Then frost with the Coconut Pineapple frosting.

Rum syrup:

Place 3 ounces (75 g) water and 2.5 ounces (65 g) sugar in a saucepan. Boil until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and cool. Add .5 ounce (15 g) rum (or to taste!).

When cupcakes are cool, soak each one with some of the rum syrup. If you have any syrup leftover, stir it into the frosting.

Coconut Pineapple Frosting:

1 egg, beaten 3/4 cup sugar 1 tablespoon flour 2 tablespoons butter 1 (81/2-ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained 1 cup flaked, unsweetened coconut, plus a bit extra

In a small saucepan, cook egg, sugar, flour, butter and pineapple with juice over very low heat (if heat is too high, the egg will curdle). Stir frequently and cook until thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. (This is sort of like a pineapple curd.)

Stir in coconut and blend well. Spread on cooled cupcakes. Toast some extra coconut and sprinkle on top of the cupcakes.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie -- Almost Fudge Gateau

Ah, bittersweet chocolate -- my favorite kind. This week's recipe was the Almost Fudge Gateau, chosen by Nikki (via her husband) of Crazy Delicious. Now, among the group of bakers, the majority had issues with the dark chocolate. I guess it's not for everyone, meaning more for me (ha ha). For this recipe I raided my pantry and used Valrhona 71% cacao bittersweet chocolate. The end result was to die for. If you like bittersweet chocolate. Which I do. This is definitely a cake I will make again.

Check out the cakes from the other TWD bakers -- our numbers are growing exponentially, it seems. Thanks to Nikki (and her husband) for a delicious choice.

Almost-Fudge Gâteau

(from Baking: From My House to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan)

5 large eggs
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup of sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
2 tablespoons coffee or water
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt

For the Glaze (optional)
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, butter the paper, dust the inside of the pan with flour and tap out the excess. Place the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a mixer bowl or other large bowl and the yolks in a small bowl.

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and add the chocolate, sugar butter and coffee. Stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are melted; the sugar may still be grainy, and that's fine. Transfer the bowl to the counter and let the mixture sit for 3 minutes.

Using a rubber spatula, stir in the yolks one by one, then fold in the flour.

Working with the whisk attachment of the mixer or a hand mixer, beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt until they hold firm, but glossy peaks. Using the spatula, stir about one quarter of the beaten whites into the batter, then gently fold in the rest. Scrape the butter into the pan and jiggle the pan from side to side a couple of times to even the batter.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the cake has risen evenly (it might rise around the edges and you'll think it's done, but give it a few minutes more, and the center will puff too) and the top has firmed (it will probably be cracked) and doesn't shimmy when tapped; a thin knife inserted into the center should come out just slightly streaked with chocolate. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let the cake rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Run a blunt knife gently around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the pan. Carefully turn the cake over onto a rack and remove the pan bottom and the parchment paper. Invert the cake onto another rack and cool to room temperature right side up. As the cake cools, it may sink.

To Make the Optional Glaze:

First, turn the cooled cake over onto another rack so you'll be glazing the flat bottom, and place the rack over a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper to catch any drips.

Put the chocolate in a small heatproof bowl.

Melt the chocolate over a pan of simmering water or in a microwave oven – the chocolate should be just melted and only warm, not hot. Meanwhile, bring the cream to a boil in a small sauce pan. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir very gently with a rubber spatula until the mixture is smooth and shiny. Stir in the corn syrup.

Pour the glaze over the cake and smooth the top with a long metal icing spatula. Don't worry if the glaze drips unevenly down the sides of the cake – it will just add to its charms. Allow the glaze to set at room temperature or, if you're impatient, slip the cake into the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. If the glaze dulls in the fridge, just give it a little gentle heat from a hairdryer.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


breadbakingday 7

Bread Baking Day was created by Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte
for bakers who are passionate about bread. This month's event (BBD#7) is hosted by Petra of Chili und Ciabatta, and for her theme, she chose flatbreads. Just a few days before Petra announced her choice, I had come across an interesting recipe for a layered flatbread that I wanted to try, so the timing was perfect. I modified the recipe slightly for ingredients and I cooked the bread on my comal, since I make tortillas fairly often. I served it with some cheese-stuffed poblano peppers, but a few days later, I had some leftover spicy pork filling, which, wrapped inside the flatbread, was really delicious. Hope you give it a try.

Algerian Flatbread
(adapted from Gourmet, February 2008)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup olive oil, divided
1 1/2 cups water

1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon turneric

Dough: Stir together the flour, salt, and 2 tablespoons oil in a large bowl. Slowly stir in the water until a soft dough forms. If necessary, add more water 1 tablespoon at a time. (You may not use all the water.) Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead,
dusting with just enough flour to keep dough from sticking, until smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes.

Form dough into a ball and coat with 2 tablespoons oil in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough stand at warm room temperature for 1 hour.

Stir together cumin, paprika, turmeric, and the remaining 1/4 cup of oil in a small bowl.

Shaping: Divide dough into 12 equal pieces and work with one piece at a time, keeping the remaining pieces covered with plastic. Flatten each piece of dough into a disk and roll it out as thinly as possible (around 9 inches) on a lightly floured surface. Spread t teaspoon of spiced oil on the dough with your fingertips, then roll up tightly into a long cylinder and coil into a tight spiral. Transfer to a large sheet of parchment paper, then loosely cover with plastic wrap. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.

Cooking: Using another sheet of parchment paper, roll out 1 spiral of dough into a round
approximately 6 inches in diameter.

Heat a dry, large cast-iron skillet or griddle over medium heat until hot, then cook the flatbread, turning once, until puffed and browned in spots, 3 to 4 minutes in all.

Transfer to a plate and cover with a kitchen towel. Repeat with remaining pieces, stacking them underneath the towel.

These are best when freshly made, but can be reheated successfully. They're not overly spicy either, and it might be fun to play around with the spice mixture and try different combinations.

Thanks to Petra for hosting this month's event. Be sure to check out all the other flatbreads when they are posted in early March.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie -- Brown Sugar Apple Cheesecake

Yay! I'm not the only with a dent!

Oh, wait, background first. About a year ago I treated myself to a new cookbook -- Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. I had made at least half a dozen delicious recipes from it, when I discovered that a new group had formed among my fellow bakers to "bake the book" so to speak. Well, that was just too much for me, so I had to join.

My first event turned out to be this brown sugar/apple cheesecake.

I had all the equipment, thanks to previous cheesecake-baking experiences, and only needed to get extra cream cheese and apple cider. Basically, it all went together without a hitch. (The only change I would make in the recipe is to slice the apples into thinner pieces.) I, also, had to cook it about 10 to 15 minutes longer than the recipe advised, and oven fairies must have moved my foil covering, as you can see, because one edge got a bit crispy. In removing the foil, some of the top came off, too.

Now, the most difficult part of this whole experience was letting the cheesecake cool overnight! Torture. Yesterday afternoon, before I left for school, I unveiled the final product. Looked fine, tasted fine. It was a bit difficult to cut (the filling wanted to stay stuck to the knife) and the crust was on the soggy side, but overall it was a success. I was too impatient to do any kind of topping, so I sprinkled the slice with powdered sugar. Also, so, I can enjoy the cheesecake longer, I will be freezing a large portion of it in manageable amounts, which is a good thing!

Thanks to TWD for letting me join. Thanks to Ms Greenspan for a yummy cookbook. Thanks to all for providing a great opportunity to bake a variety of new recipes. Be sure to see the results from all the other TWD bakers.

Brown Sugar-Apple Cheesecake

For the Crust

30 gingersnaps (or a scant 2 cups graham cracker crumbs)
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted

For the Apples
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter
3 large Golden Delicious or Fuji apples, peeled, cored and cut into eighths
2 tbsp (packed) light brown sugar

For the Filling
1 1/2 pounds (three 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
6 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp
apple cider
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
1/3 cup heavy cream

Apple jelly, for glazing, or confectioner's sugar, for dusting (optional)

To Make the Crust: Butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan.

Put the gingersnaps in a food processor and whir until you have crumbs; you should have a scant 2 cups. (If you are using graham cracker crumbs, just put them in the food processor.) Pulse in the sugar and cinnamon, if you're using it, then pour over the melted butter and pulse until the crumbs are moistened. Turn the crumbs into the springform pan and, using your fingertips, firmly press them evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan as far as they'll go. Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven. (The crust can be covered and frozen for up to 2 months.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove the pan from the freezer and wrap the bottom tightly in aluminum foil, going up the sides. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust is set and lightly browned. Transfer to a rack to cool while you make the apples and the filling. Leave the oven at 350 degrees F.

To Make the Apples: Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the foam subsides, toss in half of the apple slices and cook, turning once, until they are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle the apples with 1 tablespoon of the sugar and cook them, turning, just until coated, another minute or so. Scrape the apples onto a plate, wipe out the skillet and repeat with the remaining apples. Let the apples cool while you make the filling.

Getting Ready to Bake: Have a roasting pan large enough to hold the springform pan at hand. Put a kettle of water on to boil.

To Make the Filling: Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese on medium speed, scraping down the bowl often, for about 4 minutes, or until it is velvety smooth. Add the sugars and beat for another 2 minutes. Beat in the cider, vanilla, and cinnamon. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Finally, beat in the sour cream and heavy cream, beating just until the batter is smooth.

Pour about one third of the batter into the baked crust. Drain the apples by lifting them off the plate with a slotted spoon or spatula, and spoon them into the pan. Cover with the remaining batter and, if needed, jiggle the pan to even the top. Place the springform pan in the roasting pan and pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 to 45 minutes, covering the cake loosely with a foil tent at the 45-minute mark. The cake will rise evenly and crack around the edges, and it should be fully set except, possibly, in the very center--if the center shimmies, that's just fine. Gently transfer the cake, still in the pan, to a cooling rack and let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate it for at least 6 hours; overnight would be better.

Run a blunt knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the crust, open the pan's latch and release and remove the sides.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Grits Are Romantic?

Well, yes, they can be. One of my favorite side dishes is grits. And, no, I'm not from the South nor did my family eat grits while I was growing up. But after tasting cheesy grits at a Waffle House on a visit to Mississippi, I decided to explore their potential as an alternative side dish. A few years ago, while planning an Easter dinner, I discovered the following recipe, which I use, now, for special occasions. So, in honor of Valentine's Day and of aphrodisiacs, I give you:

Creamy Grits with Arugula

Prepare enough grits for 6 servings, adding salt to the boiling water. Cooking time will vary depending on whether you use regular grits or quick-cooking grits. While the grits are simmering, saute 6 ounces of minced shallot in 1 tablespoon of butter until they are translucent. Lightly season with salt and pepper, then toss in 2 cloves of minced garlic and saute for another minute. Next, add 4 ounces of roughly chopped arugula and cook until just wilted. Remove from heat. As soon as the grits have cooked, add the shallot-garlic-arugula mixture and gently combine.

This goes well with beef tenderloin, although last night I served it with Osso Buco and roasted asparagus.

Many thanks to Chris of Mele Cotte for hosting this delicious Kitchen of Love event for lovers everywhere.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Meringue Heart Sundaes

In celebration of Valentine's Day and the yummy blogging event hosted by Zorra, I whipped up (ha ha) these heart-shaped meringues. Just add some strawberry ice cream or frozen yogurt and a strawberry sauce, and share it with someone special.

Meringue Heart Sundaes
(from Sunset, February 1976 and February 2008)

1 egg white
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

With an electric mixer*, beat the egg white and cream of tartar until very foamy. Gradually sprinkle in the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat until meringue holds very stiff peaks. Add vanilla; beat about 30 seconds longer.

Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper. Draw 2 heart shapes**, 5 inches across at the widest point, on the paper. With a spatula or knife, spread the meringue over the heart shapes, building up the sides so they stand 1/2 to 3/4-inch high.

Bake in a 275 degree oven for 45 minutes, then turn the oven off and let the meringue shells dry, in the oven, for 1 1/2 hours. If made ahead, wrap each so they are airtight.

To serve, fill with strawberry ice cream or frozen yogurt; top with crushed strawberries or strawberry sauce.

Serves 2

*A hand mixer would probably be a better choice than a stand mixer because there is only one egg white.

**Alternatively, draw 4 hearts that are 3 inches across at the widest point.

Take a look at all the other delicious Valentine's Day treats.

Fit to be fried

One of my earliest baking memories is making doughnuts. I was in high school at the time. My mother cooked good food, but didn't really like to cook. (She still doesn't.) So, of course, she wasn't very adventuresome and definitely cramped my style. I decided to make doughnuts one day, just because. I had to plan carefully, though, since I knew my mother would nix the whole project.

One summer day, she decided to go shopping in downtown Seattle. I made my excuses not to go, since secretly, I had other plans. Now, my mother learned to drive later in life, so driving into Seattle on her own was not an option. We were lucky to have public transportation in our neighborhood, and the bus stopped directly in front of our house. Lucky for me! I could watch as she left, and watch as she returned.

Upon her departure, I sprung into action, gathering up ingredients and equipment. I used a simple cake doughnut recipe and my mother's electric Corningware skillet so I could easily monitor the temperature of the oil. Well, all went fine -- I didn't even burn the house down. When she returned from her shopping trip, she walked into a spotlessly clean kitchen containing a big pile of fresh doughnuts and was amazed. From that moment on, she never discouraged me from my culinary experimentations.

So, in honor of my past and my mother and to celebrate Doughnut Day, hosted by Peabody and Helene, I have, once again, drug out the electric Corningware skillet (yes, I own it now, a thousand years later) and made doughnuts, a bit more sophisticated than the first ones but just as delicious.

Beignets Souffles
(half recipe)

5 ounces (125 g) milk
2 ounces (50 g) butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 ounces (75 g) bread flour
4 ounces (100 g) eggs (about 2 large eggs)

In a saucepan, heat the milk, butter, salt, and sugar until the sugar dissolves and the butter is melted.

Bring to a rapid boil, then remove from heat. Add the flour all at once and beat in vigorously with a wooden spoon.

Set the pan over medium heat and beat the mixture for 2-3 minutes, until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan, and lightly coats the bottom of the pan.

Transfer the mixture to a stainless steel mixing bowl and cool slightly.

Add the eggs, one at time, beating well between additions.

Place the dough in a piping bag fitted with a large star tip.

Fry the doughnuts in one of two ways:

1. Pipe the mixture directly into a deep fryer heated to 370-375 degrees, cutting off the dough in 3-inch (7-8 cm) pieces, using a knife dipped in hot fat. Fry until puffed and golden. Drain on paper.

2. Pipe 2-inch (5 cm) circles onto parchment paper. Freeze. Fry the frozen units as in #1.

Tips: For the dough, I might suggest add some grated lemon zest for a nice touch.

When frying the doughnuts, place them into the hot fat upside down. This will preserve the ridges from the star tip. After all that piping, you don't want them to disappear!

Drain on racks, set upside down on newspaper, then sprinkle with powdered sugar and/or cinnamon sugar.

I've served them with some pineapple-coconut ice cream and a splash of powdered sugar. Thanks to Peabody and Helene for a delicious event.

PS: While I was making these this morning, my favorite radio station was playing music devoted to Paris. How appropriate!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie . . .

Just an update: since I only joined this fine group on Sunday, I was given the choice to defer this week's recipe because of the last minute situation. So, please stay tuned, and you will see my efforts next week, along with all the other "Dorie" bakers.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Ripe Bananas

Thanks to Peabody (Culinary Concoctions by Peabody), I had dessert last night.

Bananas don't get eaten very quickly around here, so they turn into mummy-like creatures and have to be tossed. I wonder sometimes why I even buy them. When Peabody posted her delicious Banana Poundcake recipe awhile back, I figured it was worth a try and least give the very ripe bananas a chance. It took two cycles of bananas before I could get around to it, but yesterday I managed to squeeze the baking in.

The cake is tender and moist and delicious. I had a slice with my morning tea (after walking the dog, of course), and put half the cake in the freezer so 1. I wouldn't be forced to eat it all, and 2. I could surprise myself in several weeks by discovering a dessert that was already made. Sometimes, it's the simple things in life. . .