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.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Letting Go

They say you start to mourn the loss of someone well before you lose them.  While I know this to be true from personal experience I also feel you start to mourn changes to your life long before they happen...  like when your children prepare to leave the nest.  Letting go is hard, but as a parent it is part of the job description.  Watching this butterfly flutter from flower to flower on Madeline's college campus was a gentle reminder that it is time for my children to fly and be free. 

 How, in the blink of an eye, did they go from this...

... to this?

I know I should not use food as comfort, (who am I kidding we all do from time to time), but during this truly bittersweet time I found myself taking more solace than I care to admit in the ice cream at Maddie's school's creamery to help me let go of her.  

The creative flavors and generous servings took my mind off matters for a while.

Wandering around the school's beautiful arboretum also brought me comfort and needed exercise after all the ice cream I consumed.  The calming lily ponds and soothing colors brightened my spirits.

The charming children's garden with vegetable and fruit beds and pint-size watering trough brought me smiles as I reminisced about Addison and Maddie's childhood years.

On the long, lonely drive home I realized I may have a rocky road ahead while I adjust to a quiet house, but a little ice cream might make the journey a bit sweeter.

The Toasted Vanilla Bean Marshmallow Rocky Road Ice Cream recipe looks long (the name sure is), but it isn't complicated and it can be done in stages.  Make the chocolate ice cream base and refrigerate it until ready to freeze in the ice cream maker.  This can be done up to two days ahead. The marshmallows can be made in advance as well.  Don't toast them until ready to add them to the ice cream, but they can be stored un-toasted in an airtight container for up to a week. The pistachios also can be toasted and chopped in advance.  Store them in a glass jar in the refrigerator until ready to use.

The chocolate ice cream is delicious on its own, so if you aren't a marshmallow fan leave them out and just make the ice cream.  Homemade marshmallows can be sticky business to make, but they taste so much better than store-bought.  Toasting them with a kitchen torch before folding them into the ice cream gives the ice cream a s'mores taste.  I used pistachios because I like their flavor with chocolate, but any nut will do, just make sure to toast them in the oven first to bring out their nutty flavor.

Toasted Vanilla Bean Marshmallow Rocky Road Ice Cream

Chocolate Ice Cream
makes about 1 quart (1 liter)

1 1/2 cups (375 ml) heavy cream
3 tablespoons (21 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
5 ounces (140 g) bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) whole milk
3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
pinch of salt
6 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan whisk the heavy cream and cocoa powder until thoroughly blended.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for a minute stirring constantly.  Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate.  Let the mixture sit for a few minutes then whisk until smooth. Pour the mixture into a large bowl scraping the saucepan as clean as possible.  Put a mesh strainer over the bowl with the chocolate mixture and set aside.

Put the milk, sugar and salt in the same saucepan heat until warm.  In another bowl whisk the egg yolks.  When the milk mixture is warm remove from the heat and add a small amount to the egg yolks whisking to warm them.  Continue slowly adding the milk until it is all incorporated.  Then return the mixture to the saucepan and heat gently over medium low heat stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon.

Remove from the heat and pour the mixture through the mesh strainer into the bowl with the chocolate mixture.  Stir in the vanilla.  Cool the mixture over an ice bath stirring occasionally then refrigerate until very cold at least two hours and up to two days.

Whisk the cold chocolate mixture to combine and pour into an ice cream maker.  Freeze according to the manufacturer's directions.   While the ice cream is soft fold in the ingredients to make the Toasted Vanilla Bean Marshmallow Rocky Road Ice Cream see recipes below.  Then return to the freezer until ready to serve.

To assemble the Toasted Vanilla Bean Marshmallow Rocky Road Ice Cream:

Put the chocolate ice cream in a large bowl fold in 1 1/2 cups (90 g) of Toasted Vanilla Bean Marshmallows (recipe below) or miniature store-bought marshmallows and 1 cup of chopped Toasted Pistachios (recipe below).  Store the ice cream in the freezer until ready to serve.

Toasted Vanilla Bean Marshmallows

1 cup (120 g) confectioners' sugar plus more if needed
1 large vanilla bean
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (90 ml) cold water
1 tablespoon unflavored powdered gelatin
2/3 cup (130 g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (60 ml) light corn syrup
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and sift a 1/2 cup (60 g) confectioners' sugar over the foil.

With a sharp knife split the vanilla bean in half length-wise.  Scrape out the seeds.  Put them in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.  Add a 1/4 cup (60 ml) of cold water. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water let it sit to soften.

Put the granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt and remaining 2 tablespoons of water in a small heavy-bottom saucepan.  Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and cook the syrup until it reaches 250℉ (121℃) on a candy thermometer.  When the syrup reaches the temperature turn on the mixer to medium speed and slowly and carefully pour the sugar syrup in a thin stream in to the bowl staying close to the side of the bowl so the whisk attachment doesn't splatter the hot syrup. When all the syrup is added turn the machine to high speed and whip the mixture for 5-8 minutes until it is like a stiff meringue.  Add the teaspoon of vanilla extract and whip to incorporate.

Spread the marshmallow mixture about 1/2 inch thick on the confectioners' sugar-dusted baking sheet.  Lightly dampen a spatula or your fingers to help spread the mixture.  It can be difficult to spread don't worry if it isn't perfectly even.  Let the marshmallows sit at room temperature uncovered until set, about 2 hours.

When the marshmallows are completely set put the other 1/2 cup (60 g) confectioners' sugar in a fine-mesh strainer and dust the top of the marshmallows and a pair of kitchen scissors.  Cut the marshmallow into strips and then into small pieces.  Sprinkle with additional confectioners' sugar so they don't stick together.  Shake off excess confectioners' sugar and spread the marshmallows in a single layer on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil.  Allow to dry for 10-15 minutes.

The recipe makes a little over 2 cups (120 g) of marshmallows, depending upon the size.  You will only need 1 1/2 cups (90 g) to fold into the ice cream so the additional marshmallows can used to garnish the ice cream or can be stored in an airtight container for a few days if toasted and up to a week if not toasted.

Using a kitchen torch toast the marshmallows on the baking sheet.  Put the tray in the freeze for a few minutes to make it easier to remove the marshmallows.  Don't worry if some stick together. They will come apart when you fold them into the ice cream.

Toasted Pistachios

1 cup (150 g) whole pistachios

Preheat oven to 350℉ (175℃).  Spread the pistachios on a baking sheet.  Toast in the oven for 5-10 minutes until slightly browned and fragrant.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes.  While the pistachios are still warm, but cool enough to handle rub them together between your hands to remove as much of the papery outer skin as possible and discard the skins leaving only the pistachios.  Allow to cool completely then rough chop with a knife and set aside until the ice cream is ready.

The Toasted Vanilla Bean Marshmallow Rocky Road Ice Cream is amazing on its own, but drizzle with my hot fudge sauce to make a sublime sundae.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Holding On

I did not plan to be silent for so long.  It just happened as I have been savoring the last moments of the cherished life I have known for so many years.  Addison graduated from college with his Masters of Architecture and is now working in another city.  Maddie graduated from high school and is off to college far from home.  In an attempt to hold on to the last remnants of a life I hold dear we took a trip to New York City.  One last hurrah before a new season in our lives begins.  

New York City is so big, vibrant and energetic.  Day or night it pulsates with life.  It is both exhilarating and a bit exhausting, but fun and exciting.  The architecture is truly awe inspiring. 

And when New York City gets a little overwhelming there is always a park nearby to escape to for a bit of peace or to rejuvenate.

I wonder what it is like to have a corner office in the Flatiron Building?  Is the furniture triangle-shaped?

Much to our delight we were accompanied by our dear long-time friends Jane, Collin and Elizabeth.  Jane is a friend from college who is part of my annual girls' weekend.  Her children, Collin and Elizabeth, are close in age to Addison and Maddie.  While we don't live in the same city we have done our best to spend as much time as possible together over the years.  Watching our children grow up and develop their own friendships with each other as well as with us has been a delight.

Lucky for us Collin worked in New York City this summer so we had our own personal guide.  He is definitely in the know with all things trendy and cool.  He took us to some undiscovered gems. Although I have been making avocado toast at home for years, Collin introduced us to an elevated version at Café Select.   For a nice twist there is a layer of roasted tomatoes under the creamy avocados.  It is the ultimate comfort food.  

New York City at Fourth of July is dressed very patriotic with flags flying everywhere and buildings beautifully lit.

Thanks to the kindness of the family Collin stayed with we had a front row seat to the festive fireworks over the East River.  The view was spectacular.

I got almost as much enjoyment out of the reaction of a friend of the family as I did to the fireworks themselves.  As each firework exploded in the sky she let out a cheer of excitement.

Of course no trip to New York City would be complete without going to the theatre.  An American in Paris did not disappointment.  The multi-talented cast was superb.

Even though we are not in Paris, I just can't leave New York City without a quick trip to Ladurée. We stopped by to pick-up macarons for our long drive home. 

But we were pleasantly surprised to find two of our favorite pastries as well - a Raspberry Passion Fruit Tart and a Strawberry and Pistachio Saint-Honoré cake.  What a treat!

Once back home and closer to the big changes ahead I needed a little comfort so I tried to recreate the satisfying avocado toast of Café Select. This recipe is very loose and easy.  It is all about a sprinkle of this, a pinch of that, add more or less to your taste.  I like a nice dense whole-grain loaf of bread, but substitute whatever you like.  There is no right or wrong, interpret as you please.

Roasted Tomato Avocado Toast

1 lb. (16 ounces/453g) ripe tomatoes
2 large cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 ripe avocados
juice of 1/2 of a lemon
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, optional
loaf of whole-grain bread
pinch of sugar
splash of balsamic vinegar
cherry tomatoes, optional
additional cilantro for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350℉ (175℃).  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Wash and dry tomatoes.  Cut the tomatoes horizontally in half.  Squeeze gently to remove seeds or use a spoon. Put cut side down on the baking sheet.  Peel the garlic cloves, leave whole, put on the baking sheet.  Drizzle tomatoes and garlic with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven for 20-30 minutes until very soft and the skins are slightly brown.  Allow to cool.

Rough chop the tomatoes and garlic and put in a bowl.  Add a pinch of sugar, a splash of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste and stir to mix.  The tomatoes can be done ahead of time leave at room temperature if using immediately.  Or store in a tightly covered glass jar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Cut the avocados in half length-wise remove the seed and put the insides in a bowl.  Squeeze half of a lemon in the bowl add the chopped cilantro if using.  Lightly mash the avocado and stir to combine.

Cut the bread in thick slices, toast and drizzle with additional olive oil.  Spread each piece with the tomato mixture and top with the avocado mixture.  Garnish with additional cilantro and cherry tomato halves.  Serve.  Makes 6-8 pieces of toast.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Buttermilk Chocolate Cake

I have been writing Kitchen and Cake for a while now and I realized I have yet to include a chocolate cake.  I don't know how that happened, but it is time to remedy it.  I have made countless chocolate cakes but one of my favorites is an old-fashioned variety made with buttermilk.  It is the kind of cake our mothers or grandmothers would have made.  Moist, chocolatey, sweet and nostalgic the chocolate cake partners well with many kinds of frosting but this chocolate buttercream is easy to make and even easier to spread and it holds its shape nicely.

To make the cake a bit more fancy I decorated the sides with rosettes.  I frosted the cake with a thin coat of buttercream, then added the rosettes around the perimeter.  Obviously, it isn't necessary to decorate the cake this way, but it sure is satisfying and therapeutic.  So if you are up for a little piping have fun, if not simply frost the cake to your liking and enjoy any extra buttercream sandwiched between graham crackers.  Left-over buttercream will keep for a few weeks in a airtight container in the refrigerator.  Just bring it to room temperature before using or microwave for a few seconds then stir if needed immediately for an afternoon snack-attack.

Single rosette made with a star tip
I was tempted to pipe rosettes on the top, as well, but I preferred to leave it flat and smooth.  If you are feeling the need for complete coverage, go for it.  Keeping with the nostalgia of an old-fashioned cake I wanted the rosettes to look more like a cabbage roses, so the piped rosette is twice around with a pastry bag fitted with a star tip.  Technically they are a double rosettes.  Whatever you choose to do be creative and have fun.  If you don't like the results scrap them off and start over.

Buttermilk Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Baking From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan

4 ounces (115 g) bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled
2 cups (280 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (50 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (8 ounces/225g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cup (300 g) granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml) buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350℉ (175℃).  Butter two 9-inch (23-cm) cake pans and dust with flour.  Line the bottoms of the cake pans with a round of parchment or waxed paper.

In a bowl whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat the butter on medium speed until light.  Add the sugar and beat 2 minutes more.  Add the eggs one at a time followed by the egg yolks beat well between each addition.  Stop the machine and scrap down the bowl a few times during the process.

Add the vanilla and the melted and cooled chocolate beat to incorporate.  With the machine on low speed alternate adding the flour mixture and buttermilk in three additions.  Mix just until incorporated after each addition and scrap down the sides of the bowl as needed to make sure the batter is mixed.

Divide the batter between the two pans.  Bake on the center rack in the oven for 25-30 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean.  Cool on a rack for 15-20 minutes.  Run a knife around the cake edge and invert on a rack to cool completely, leaving the parchment or waxed paper round on the cake.  While the cakes are cooling lightly cover with a clean light-weight kitchen towel to allow the heat to escape but keep the cakes moist.  Once cooled the cakes can be filled and frosted.  If not using immediately wrap tightly in plastic wrap and left at room temperature overnight.  Or refrigerate up to two days.  Freeze for longer storage, up to a month.

Chocolate Buttercream

9 ounces (252 g) bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped, melted and cooled
1 1/2 cup (12 ounces/340 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups (420 g) confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/4 cup (63 ml) boiling water

In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla extract and the melted and cooled chocolate mix to combine.  With the machine on low speed add the confectioners' sugar a little at a time until incorporated.  The mixture will be very thick and stiff.  Add the boiling water one tablespoon at a time until a smooth spreading consistency is achieved.  Add more water or confectioners' sugar to correct consistency if needed.  The buttercream is ready to use.

The recipe makes plenty of buttercream to generously frost the cake.  Left-over buttercream can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a few weeks.  Freeze for longer storage.  Bring to room temperature before using.

To assemble the cake:

Remove the parchment or waxed paper rounds from the cooled cakes.  Place one cake layer on a 9-inch (23-cm) cardboard round or a serving plate.  Generously spread a layer of chocolate buttercream on top.  Invert the other cake layer and place on top.  Frost the cake with a thin coat of buttercream.  Don't be too concerned with the sides as they will be covered but try to make the top flat and smooth.  Fit a pastry bag with a star tip.  Make two rows of rosettes around the perimeter of the cake stacking the rosettes on top of each other.

The cake can be stored at room temperature for a few days covered with a cake dome.  Refrigerate for longer storage.  The cake is best served at room temperature.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Strawberry Pie with Orange-Almond Crust and Vanilla Bean-Scented Whipped Cream in Honor of Pi Day

Pi Day is especially significant this year since the first five digits are 3.1415 and if you celebrate it at exactly 9:26:53 you have the first ten.  Pretty impressive.  It also happens to be Albert Einstein's birthday, so Pi Day and E=mc2 rule the day.  Which is rather fitting since math and science or physics if you want to get specific come together in the kitchen when baking.  Cooking is an art, but baking is a science guided by mathematics.  So let's celebrate with pie.  

When visiting Vienna a few years ago we happened upon a metro station that celebrates Pi with the equation etched into a very long mirrored wall.  

In hopes that spring is around the corner I created a fresh strawberry pie with a orange-almond crust and crowned the whole affair with vanilla bean-scented whipped cream.   Strawberries are the star of the show, so be sure to use sweet, ripe berries for maximum flavor.  The berries are tossed in a fresh raspberry sauce to give them a jewel-like luster.  If flavorful fresh raspberries are not available frozen berries can be substituted to make the sauce.  If you leave the strawberries whole they look like glistening gems, but it is easier to eat if you half or quarter the berries.  (If strawberries are not to your liking here is another Pi Day pie for the apple lover.)

The orange-almond crust is inspired by a tart crust from Ladurée's Sucré cookbook.  The crust is both flavorful and tender, but strong enough to support the weight of the berries.  The pie crust makes enough dough for an 11-inch (28 cm) pie.  If you prefer to make a 9-inch (23 cm) pie the left-over pie dough can be made into a few cookies.  If making a 9-inch (23 cm) pie only use 2 containers of strawberries for the pie and 1 cup (250 ml) whipping cream and 1 tablespoon (15 g) of sugar in the whipped cream.

The crust, raspberry sauce, and whipped cream can be made ahead making the last minute assembly a snap.  As with most pies, this is best eaten the day it is made.  Refrigerate any left-over pie.  

Strawberry Pie with Orange-Almond Crust and Vanilla Bean-Scented Whipped Cream

Orange-Almond Crust

1/2 cup (120 g) cold, unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (70 g) confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup (25 g) ground almonds or almond flour
zest from one orange, finely grated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
1 egg
1 2/3 cups (200 g) cake flour

Cut butter into small pieces and put in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the butter is creamy.  Stop the mixer and sift the confectioners' sugar into the mixing bowl of butter.  Mix until the butter and sugar are combined.  Then add the almond flour, orange zest, vanilla, salt and egg.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl making sure all the ingredients are incorporated.  Add the cake flour a little at a time turning the machine on and off just until the dough comes together.  Don't over-mix the dough or the crust won't have a crumbly texture.

Form a disk with the dough and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.  When the dough is well chilled roll the dough out between plastic wrap or parchment paper to about 1/10 inch (2 mm) thick.  Lightly spray an 11-inch (28 cm) pie pan with cooking spray.  Fit the rolled-out pie dough in the pie pan.  Trim any over-hanging dough.  Chill crust for an hour until very cold.

Preheat oven to 350℉ (175℃).  Line the pie pan with a piece of parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until the crust is set.  Remove the parchment paper and pie weights or dried beans continue to bake 5-10 minutes more until the crust is lightly browned.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

Strawberry Pie

2 - 6 ounce (170 g) containers of fresh raspberries
2-3 tablespoons (30-45 g) granulated sugar
3 - 16 ounce (454 g) containers of fresh strawberries
apricot or raspberry jam, optional

Wash and gently pat dry the raspberries.  Put the raspberries in the bowl of a food processor and purée until smooth.  Put the purée through a fine-mesh strainer to remove the seeds.  Stir in 2 tablespoons (30 g) of granulated sugar.  Add an additional tablespoon (15 g) or more if needed.

Wash strawberries and pat dry.  Remove stems and leave whole, cut in half or quarters as desired.  Put the strawberries in a large bowl.  Toss with the raspberry sauce.  If using spread a thin layer of apricot or raspberry jam in the bottom of the pie crust.  (The layer of jam will keep the crust from getting soggy.)  Fill the pie crust with the strawberries.  Top with Vanilla Bean-Scented Whipped Cream. (Recipe below.)

Vanilla Bean-Scented Whipped Cream

1 1/2 cup (360 g) heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons (30 g) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Split the vanilla bean in half length-wise and scrap the seeds out with a knife.  Put the seeds in a bowl with the whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla extract.  Beat until slightly stiff peaks.  Cover the strawberries with whipped cream leaving a border around the edges of the pie so the strawberries show a little.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  It is best eaten the day it is made.