Thursday, June 30, 2016

Frosted Brownies

One of my favorite smells is something chocolate baking in the oven. It fills the house with such a sweet aroma and then of course there is the delicious treat that follows. As a major chocoholic I think brownies make the perfect way to feed my addiction because they are packed with intense fudgy flavor in each and every bite. What's not to love? While a plain unadorned brownie is quite fine on its own when you top it with a light, fluffy frosting it elevates this irresistible little treat into another stratosphere. 

If you prefer no frosting try these brownies I frequently make for Addison or Maddie's favorite cheesecake brownies when you can't decide between chocolate or cheesecake. Although even those who usually prefer 'cake' to 'frosting' seem to adore these frosted brownies and will ask for them again and again. Luckily they are easy and quick to make so you won't mind being asked.

Frosted Brownies

5 eggs
2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
1 cup (140 g) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (75 g) plus 2 tablespoons (14 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup (8 ounces/225 g) salted or unsalted butter, melted
3 ounces (86 g) semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325℉ (160℃). Line a 9 x 13-inch (22 x 32 cm) baking pan with parchment paper.

In a large bowl using a handheld mixer beat the eggs and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Put the flour and cocoa powder in a fine-mesh sieve and sift into the egg and sugar mixture. Beat with the mixer to incorporate. Add the melted butter and vanilla extract mix thoroughly. Fold in the chopped chocolate.

Spread the mixture in the prepared pan and bake 30 - 33 minutes until the top is set but the inside is still moist. Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

1 1/2 cups (210 g) confectioners' sugar
5 tablespoons (2.5 ounces/75 g) salted or unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup (25 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
5 ounces (140 g) cream cheese, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sift the confectioners' sugar and cocoa powder together in the bowl of a standing mixer. Add the butter and beat with the paddle attachment on low speed until the mixture comes together. Add the cream cheese and vanilla extract and beat until smooth. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until light and fluffy about 5 minutes. Use to frost the cooled brownies.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

(Toasted) Fresh Mint Marshmallows

I love spring - the new season brings a fresh batch of ingredients to cook or bake with - like mint. While the weather is beginning to warm up there are still moments when there is a chill in the air.

So I whipped up some fresh mint marshmallows to have on hand in case the cool spring breeze calls for some hot chocolate or an afternoon treat like a s'more. These marshmallows just add a little something special. This recipe makes a lighter and fluffier marshmallow than the more dense raspberry marshmallows I made for a post a few years back.

Homemade marshmallows are so much tastier than the store-bought variety and they are fun and easy to make. They can be stored in an air-tight tin for several days. Or you can even freeze them for longer storage. They are delicious as they are, but toasting them with a kitchen torch really enhances their flavor or use a real blow torch like I do.

(Toasted) Fresh Mint Marshmallows

2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, minced
1/4 cup (80 ml) light corn syrup
1/4 cup (60 ml) water
3/4 sup (150 g) granulated sugar
2 egg whites
1 tablespoon (7 g) unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
confectioner's sugar

Line a baking sheet with foil and generously dust with confectioner's sugar. Fit a pastry bag with a star tip (or any desired shape) and set aside.

Combine the 1/4 cup (60 ml) of water, corn syrup and granulated sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil. Continue to boil until the temperature reaches approximately 235℉/113(soft-ball stage) on a candy thermometer.

While the sugar syrup is cooking, in a small bowl sprinkle the gelatin over the 2 tablespoons of cold water and let dissolve.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. When the sugar syrup reaches 235℉/113℃ (soft-ball stage) remove from the heat and add the gelatin, swirling the saucepan gently to mix. With the mixer running pour the syrup into the egg whites, add the chopped mint and continue to beat until the mixture is stiff.

Transfer the mixture to the pastry bag and pipe stars or whatever shape you desire. Allow the marshmallows to sit at room temperature until stiff, about two hours. Store in an air-tight tin. Before serving toast with a kitchen torch or blow torch if desired.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Fresh Squeezed Grapefruit Soda

I have never been much of a soda drinker. I prefer my calories come from cake and cookies, but every now and then drinking something other than water (or wine) is a nice change. When my late husband, Chris, and I lived in Palo Alto we had a sailboat, Amber, we moored at Gashouse Cove Marina in San Francisco. As often as possible we would sail on the Bay armed with a picnic lunch or dinner and a couple of Hansen's Natural Grapefruit Sodas.

Before we owned Amber we were members of a sailing club. There is something about fresh air and being on the water that makes for a voracious appetite. One sailing club day Chris made especially tasty looking sandwiches on crusty french bread rolls piled high with roasted turkey, tomatoes, bacon, avocado, cheese and mayo. He wrapped them carefully in foil and put them in our cooler with two grapefruit sodas. When we arrived at the guest boat we transferred the sandwiches and drinks to the boat's built-in cooler. Unfortunately for us someone put a bag of ice on top of our sandwiches. At lunchtime Chris found our sandwiches floating in water from the melted bag of ice. They had doubled in size and felt like bricks. There is nothing quite as unappetizing as soggy bread. We tried to salvage what we could but ended up with a rather dismal lunch except for the grapefruit sodas. At the time I was really annoyed, but now it makes me laugh. If that had not happened I probably would not even remember the day. Funny how life is like that.

I was at dinner with friends recently at a trendy new restaurant. We noticed grapefruit soda on the menu. The server told us they had a local source who made them fresh grapefruit soda and they sold a lot of it. A few sips brought me back to our sailing days and made me smile. I am rather obsessed with grapefruit, so I decided to whip up a batch of my own fresh grapefruit soda to celebrate happy memories.

The soda is so bright and fresh on its own, but it would also make a nice base for all kinds of cocktails. Add a little rum and guava nectar for a tasty island punch or some tequila and lime for a south of the border taste.

I prefer my grapefruit soda a little tart, so I use 2 tablespoons of honey, but feel free to add the third tablespoon or more if you like it sweeter.

Fresh Squeezed Grapefruit Soda

1 cup (250 ml) fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
2 - 3 (30 ml - 45 ml) tablespoons honey
2 cups (500 ml) sparkling mineral water
grapefruit wedges as garnish

Put the grapefruit juice and honey in a pitcher. Stir until the honey is completely dissolved. Add the sparkling mineral water and stir gently. Serve over ice. Garnish with a grapefruit wedge.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Toasted Coconut Cream Pie

March 14th is Pi Day. It is just around the corner. What better way to share the love than to make a pie? With winter coming to a close and thoughts of spring break in warm locales swirling in our heads a tropical flavor seems the right way to celebrate. Looking back I've done a few pie posts: Cherry, Apple, Strawberry, an unconventional Sugar and an Apple Tart. It is time for something creamy and luscious and since I am sharing the love Toasted Coconut Cream Pie happens to be one of my father's favorites.

I think people either like coconut or they don't. I happen to love it, so this pie not only has coconut in the filling, it is in the crust, as well. Toasting the coconut first adds an additional rich, nutty flavor that is worth the extra step. When making the meringue heating the egg whites and sugar makes the meringue more stable and less likely to separate and becoming watery.

The recipe may seem long, but it isn't difficult. The crust and coconut custard can be made ahead of time. Leave the baked crust on the counter, but refrigerate the coconut custard (cover with plastic wrap on the surface of the custard) until ready to use. Make the meringue and finish the pie as close to serving as possible, but the pie will hold in the refrigerator for a few hours until ready to use. As with most pies it is best served the day it is made. 

Toasted Coconut Cream Pie

To toast the coconut:
Preheat the oven to 350℉ (175℃). Spread the coconut on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in the oven for 5-8 minutes. Stir with a wooden spoon once after 4 minutes and again if needed a few minutes later. Watch closely as the coconut can burn easily. Allow to cool completely before using. Store in an air-tight container.

Toasted Coconut Pie Dough
1 cup (140 g) plus 2 tablespoons (15 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (35 g) unsweetened toasted coconut flakes
1/2 cup (4 ounces/115 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (60 ml) cold water

If the coconut flakes are large rough chop them into smaller pieces. Put the flour, coconut and butter in the bowl of a standing mixer. Mix on the lowest speed until the mixture looks like course meal. Stir the sugar and salt into the cold water to dissolve. With the mixer on low speed slowly add the water and mix just until the dough comes together.

Remove from dough from the bowl and knead together to form a disk. Working on a floured surface or between two pieces of parchment paper, roll the dough into a circle large enough to fit a 9-inch (23-cm) pie pan. Transfer the dough to the pie pan and trim to form a flat edge.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400℉ (200℃). Line the pie pan with foil or parchment paper and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the beans/pie weights and foil/parchment paper and continue to bake another 5-10 minutes until the crust is golden brown. Watch carefully as the toasted coconut can burn easily. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack until ready to fill.

Toasted Coconut Cream Custard
2 cups (500 ml) whole milk
2 cups (140 g) unsweetened toasted coconut flakes, chopped slightly if large pieces
1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons (15 g) all-purpose flour
2 eggs
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60 g) butter, salted or unsalted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

With a sharp knife split the vanilla bean down the middle. Scrape out the seeds. Put the vanilla bean and the seeds in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with the milk. Bring mixture to a boil. Add the coconut and simmer gently for 5 minutes.

While the milk mixture is simmering, stir the sugar and flour together in a heat-proof bowl. Add the eggs and whisk until light. Whisk a 1/4 of the milk mixture into the eggs to heat them. Pour the egg mixture into the saucepan with the milk and cook over medium high heat whisking constantly until the center bubbles and the mixture is very thick. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and butter. Cool completely.

When the pie crust and the coconut custard are both completely cooled remove the vanilla bean from the coconut custard and fill the pie crust.  Set aside while making the meringue.

4 egg whites
1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put the egg whites and the granulated sugar in a metal mixing bowl. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (don't let the water touch the bottom of the mixing bowl). Whisk the mixture until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is hot, thick and foamy, 2-4 minutes. Remove from the heat and beat on medium high speed until the meringue is stiff and has cooled. Add the vanilla extract and beat to incorporate.

Spread the cooled meringue over the coconut custard. Swirl the meringue to make an attractive finish. Toast the meringue with a kitchen torch. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve. The pie is best the day it is made.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Parmesan Seed Crisps

I love cheese!  I do not discriminate - I love all kinds of cheese from a nice sharp cheddar to a rich triple crème brie to a pungent Roquefort.  I have almost never met a cheese I didn't like.  When you combine a good Parmesan and some crunchy seeds and toast them together to make a thin cracker-like crisp - well, what's not to love?

These crisps are a tasty accompaniment to a glass of celebratory champagne or an artisanal cocktail.  Or all alone when you need a savory snack to munch.  Make smaller versions and toss them in a Caesar salad in place of the traditional croutons for a modern take on an old classic.  

Substitute Romano cheese for the Parmesan cheese and chopped nuts for the seeds or add additional spices to mix it up and create different tastes.  The recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.  Once you try these cheesy, crunchy crisps you will want to make more.

Parmesan Seed Crisps
Yields 12, 3-inch (8 cm) crisps

1 cup (80 g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon (10 g) flax seeds
1 tablespoon (10 g) chia seeds
2 tablespoons (8 g) raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
freshly cracked pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350℉ (180℃).  Line 2 baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.  Mix all ingredients in a bowl.  Sprinkle a thin layer of the cheese mixture about 3 inches (8 cm) in diameter on the lined baking sheet.

Bake for 7-10 minutes until the cheese is melted and golden.  Allow to cool for a few minutes before carefully transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store crisps in an air-tight container for up to four days.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Sweet and Sour Lentil Soup

When I worked at the bakery in Palo Alto there was a man named Helmet who made soup for our daily lunch service.  All of his homemade soups were delicious, but his Sweet and Sour Lentil was a favorite not only with our customers, but with the staff.  I often think of that soup when the weather is cold and blustery outside.  I wish I had asked for the recipe.  

The ownership of the bakery has changed and I have no idea what became of Helmet so I decided to try and re-create the soup from memory.   I do know Helmet used dried apricots for the ‘sweet’ and red wine vinegar to create the ‘sour.'  With that knowledge and a little trial and error I think I got it right or at least pretty close.

Much of what I learned about the pastry world came from the owner, my boss and friend, Kelly, shown above with a much younger me in the background.  We worked hard, but it was fun and satisfying as nothing puts a smile on a person's face like someone holding a beautiful cake.

I am a firm believer that homemade stock is the secret to a really flavorful soup.  My sister, Michelle, and brother-in-law, Matt, host a large Thanksgiving gathering each year.  Since there are a lot of people to feed they cook more than one turkey, some in the oven and some on the grill.  I am the lucky recipient of the turkey carcasses each year which provide me with the bones to make a good supply of rich homemade stock.  

I find chopping vegetables therapeutic.  Since this is a rustic soup there is not need to be super precise  cutting the vegetables a rough chop is fine.

Sweet and Sour Lentil Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2-3 stalks of celery, chopped
2-3 carrots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
6 cups (1 1/2 quarts/1 1/2 liters) chicken or vegetable stock, preferably homemade
1 cup (250 ml) water
1 lb. (16 oz./454 g) lentils
1/2 cup (95 g) dried apricots, chopped
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or a heavy stockpot.  Sauté the onions, celery and carrots until soft.  Add the garlic and stir a minute or two until fragrant.  Add the chicken/vegetable stock and water, bring to a boil.  

Add the lentils and boil gently for 35-40 minutes until the lentils are tender.  With ten minutes left for the lentils to cook add the chopped apricots.  When the lentils are done remove from the heat and add the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt if desired. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Baby Blue Oven Pancake

Cooking for one is a bit of an adjustment when you are used to cooking for a family.  You have to down-size everything from the recipe to the pan.  But individual servings can be fun, too.  Addison and Maddie love this full-size Oven-Baked Apple Pancake in autumn and this Peach Oven-Baked Pancake in summer, but since I'm feeling a little blue about my empty nest I made a baby version with blueberries for myself.  Just because I'm cooking for one doesn't mean I can't eat well.

It is no secret I adore blueberries.  I can eat them by the handfuls.  For other blueberry treats try my Blueberry Buckle or Blueberry Muffins.  Fresh plump blueberries are preferred, but this recipe yields equally delicious results with frozen berries.  If you go that route leave them frozen and sprinkle over the batter.  I like to use white whole wheat flour in this recipe but all-purpose flour is easily substituted.

Baby Blue Oven Pancake

1/4 cup (30 g) white whole wheat or all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1/3 cup (75 ml) milk
1 egg
1 tablespoon (15 g) butter, melted
a splash of vanilla extract
a sprinkle of ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (75 g) fresh or frozen blueberries
additional butter and sugar to prepare the skillet and sprinkle on the pancake

Preheat oven to 425℉ (218℃). Generously butter a 6-inch (15 cm) cast-iron skillet and sprinkle with sugar to coat.  In a bowl stir together the flour, 2 teaspoons of sugar and pinch of salt.  Whisk the egg, milk, melted butter, vanilla and cinnamon in another bowl. Add to the dry ingredients and whisk to combine.  (The batter is quite thin.)

Pour the batter in the skillet and sprinkle the blueberries over the batter.  (If using frozen blueberries don't thaw them.)  Bake for 15 minutes at 425℉ (218℃) then reduce the oven temperature to 350℉ (175℃) and bake an additional 5-10 minutes until the center is set and the edges are puffed. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with sugar, remove from the pan and serve.