30 March 2010

TWD: Coconut (Lime) Tea Cake

Whoops!  I almost forgot to post about this week's TWD recipe, chosen by Carmen.  You see, I was so excited about this cake that I baked it super early--last Tuesday instead of this past Saturday as I usually do.  I too like "plain" "dry" cakes, so I was amped and even did the full recipe instead of halving it.  Hope level was HIGH.  Code Red Expectations over here. 

I love coconut, and I love lime, so I decided to use that variation on the recipe.

 lime sugar smells SO GOOD!

This cake was a little unconventional in its preparation.  You start off beating sugar and eggs and then adding flour and leavening, but here you add hot (coconut) milk, too, after you add the flour.  This seemed dodgy as you generally try to handle batter as little as possible once the flour is in.   There is also very little butter and it is melted in the coconut milk.  I used "lite" milk, so I suppose my cake was kind of lowfat?  It was late, so I didn't bother toasting the coconut, though now I kinda wish I had to cut some of the sweetness.

The batter was really thin.  Surprisingly so.  I wasn't sure what would happen and I was afraid the lime zest would all migrate to the bottom of the pan.  It was bubbly, too.

My fear was unfounded.  The cake came out beautifully.

Taste:  was ok but disappointing.  It looked fantastic, was very, very moist and very coconutty and very limey--but somehow it wasn't nearly as compelling as I expected.  I tasted a LOT of sugar.  I couldn't taste the rum at all.  I made it, had a slice, thought, "not too shabby," and promptly forgot about it for a week.  That's not a good sign.  If I were to make again I'd definitely do a lime glaze for it, at the least.  But I don't think I'll be making it again.

23 March 2010

TWD: Dulce de Leche Duos

 a plateful of WIN+++++

More cookies!  This week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe, chosen by Jodie, are two dulce de leche flavored butter cookies sandwiched with more of the caramelly spread. 

Instead of trying to buy dulce de leche, I decided it was simpler and faster to just make my own.  I've done so several times before and it's so easy, I have a hard time believing it is at all authentic (weird, I know). But you get something usable and yummy from it, so....eh.  I try not to obsess too much about it.

Usually when I make dulce de leche, I do so by stripping a can of condensed milk, sitting the unopened can in a big ol' pot full of water, bringing the water to a boil, turning it down to a simmer, and letting it boil for a good 3-4 hours.  I've done this several times with no casualties yet, but I am also careful to keep the water topped up and not to open the can until it is plenty cool.  The result is a nice soft, smooth, medium brown sauce that thickens upon standing.

stovetop dulce de leche

This time, I decided to try it a couple of new ways.  First, the oven method, which involves opening the can and pouring the contents into a pie plate or casserole dish, setting it in a hot water bath, covering and baking until it's as you like it.

 I think you're supposed to use a flatter dish, but this is what I had. 

I baked mine for about two hours.  Doing it this way meant that I could add stuff if I wanted;  I threw in a cinnamon stick to infuse mine but I bet a healthy dose of salt would be good, too.  I found that I had to beat this dulce de leche to get it to be smooth; and it was the lightest in color and the most liquid of the three.

 oven-baked dulce de leche

The second new method was much like my stove version, just in the Crock-Pot rather than on the stove.

I place a can in a crock filled with water on low overnight, and then turned it off and let it sit in the water all day till cool.  I let mine cook longer than most, almost 12 hours, and so it came out quite dark and spreadable, but still tasted caramelly rather than burned (it was close, though;  another hour would probably have killed it).
 Crockpot dulce de leche

I wasn't thrilled with the big ol' ring-o-rust left in my crock, but it washed out without a problem.

Since several commenters at TWD complained that the cookies themselves needed more flavor, I decided to use the superdark dulce de leche in them. I think it was a good decision, because I felt the cookies were quite caramelly and buttery.  YUM.
 This gives you a better sense of the color of it.

My dough was really soft.  I mean REALLY soft.  So soft I was sure I had forgotten some important dry ingredient.  You can't really tell here, but it was somewhere between "cookie" and "pound cake" in consistency. 

I was very afraid to scoop the cookies, but I did so anyway.  It firmed up as time went on,  but even the initial softness came out just fine.

I got way more cookies than needed for 30 sandwiches out of the dough;  so many that I lost count.  When it came time to sandwich them, I mixed the dark, stiff crockpot stuff with the lighter, saucier oven stuff to get a very nice medium filling.

Filling was easy.  The cookies came out nice and round, so it wasn't too hard to match cookies, and the filling hardened enough to make them movable and packable soon after sandwiching.

 I took the resulting cookies to a party.  Only a few people tried them, as a bunch of other people had brought storebought desserts, but I did successfully pawn all the cookies off on my hostess, except a few I had at home and tried later...and was not happy till I finished them all.  I didn't know what to expect and didn't expect much but OH MY WORD THESE ARE DELICIOUS.  They were buttery and chewy and indeed, instead of being cloying the little layer of filling really makes them shine.  I tried a bit of Nutella on one cookie and I have to agree with Kristen and Becky O.:  it didn't really work.  Never thought there was anything Nutella could not improve, but there you have it.  You must either eat these plain or use dulce de leche.

Fortunately, I am too lazy to make three cans of dulce de leche very often and it's hard to find in the stores here, so I don't think I'll have a problem with slipping into the kitchen to make any more soon, but one day.  ONE DAY.  Yum.

16 March 2010

TWD: Soft Chocolate and Raspberry Tarts

I'm not sure if this is what Rachelle had in mind when she chose this recipe, but Happy Belated Pi Day, y'all!  I was actually interested in this week's TWD selection.  I really, really, really like tarts.  And this one promised to be different from the usual pastry-cream-filled tarts I am so accustomed to, plus it featured fresh raspberries, so yay!  Even though I was away most of the week on a completely undeserved Spring Break, I came home and made it in time for the "holiday"

 Bonus Awesome Points if you can tell us where I was!

I was also pleased to see that this recipe was one I could halve without too much trouble.  I'm trying to avoid having stuff sitting around the house to go bad and get scary in the fridge--like the coconut custard tart is doing right now, thanks to my impromptu vacay--so I am going to work harder at making sure to make smaller portions when I can from here on out. 

I had a small quantity of chocolate tart dough left from the custard tart, so I decided to use that and be all thrifty and Good Housekeeperish instead of making more.  I think I have some Sweet Tart Dough With Nuts banging around the freezer somewhere, too, but I couldn't find it.  I got two thin minitart shells out of the dough.  Froze 'em, foiled 'em, stuffed with beans (how many times can you reuse beans before you should toss them?) and baked.

Um.  They didn't turn out so well.  Too thin, I think.  The crust came off in patches when I removed the foil to finish baking. Seriously the ugliest tart shells I've ever made.  Oh well.  I figured I wasn't gonna share them anyway, so what did it matter?

Next day I made the filling.  It came together really fast.  I didn't use "premium milk chocolate", just regular ol' Hershey's*, but I think it was fine.   It seemed suspiciously like thin brownie batter, what with the undissolved sugar and all the eggs and whatnot.  I halved the extra yolk with a spoon.  I got enough batter for exactly two tarts--perfect!

But the batter floats on top.  Underneath is the fruit.  Now I love me some raspberries, yes I do--but it's early March.  Raspberries in the stores now are 1) expensive and 2) not very good and 3) probably came from somewhere shamefully far off.  I couldn't do it.  So instead I went to the jar of maraschino cherries that's been sitting in the fridge since the cherry brownie torte and used those.

I love the look of maraschino cherries--such a beautiful vibrant red!  I just wanna stare at them.


Now the regular 9-inch tart recipe calls for a 30 minute bake.  I figure, half the recipe, divided into smaller pans, should be 15, 20 minutes tops, right?

Nope.  Try 27 minutes.  I guess they were maybe a lil thicker than the 9 inch tart.

They even looked brownie-like upon emergence, all puffy and shiny and pebbly. 

 that's interesting.

I was not sure what the consistency would be. I didn't do a very good job of banging out all the bubbles in the batter (woohoo alliteration!), but I swear those jokers just started forming out of nowhere on me. 

After they cooled, I tried half a tart. 

I liked it.  The milk chocolate kept it from being overpowering.  The consistency was smooth and...well...soft.  Like a flourless brownie, or maybe a souffle.  I was surprised, however, that I couldn't really taste the cherries.  I had a pretty good-sized layer of 'em in there, and dude, they are maraschino cherries.  I think if you're gonna do this, you need some really, really robustly flavored fruit and I might also consider a slosh of some kind of liqueur or juice in the filling to boost.  I wanted more contrast but wasn't getting it.  Surely the chocolate crust didn't help matters, but---ah, shaddup.  It's a good "company" dessert.  Fast to throw together, no exotic ingredients, guaranteed (adult) crowd pleaser.  Unless your crowd doesn't like chocolate. 

*I keep a bar or two in the cabinet because: I am a secret S'mores FIEND.  Next to bread pudding, S'mores are my very favorite dessert.  I eat them ALL THE TIME.  And only Hershey chocolate will do for those.  I have tried making them with fancy chocolate and they SUCKED.  I know, it's very non-foodie of me, but I did say I wasn't one, didn't I?

08 March 2010

TWD: Thumbprints For Us Big Guys*

Today's TWD post is brought to you courtesy of  Mike at Ugly Food for an Ugly Dude (tee hee).

Thumbprints!  A cookie that has always left me feeling ".....eh."    They're super cute.  They are otherwise underachieving.  Yeah, you'll eat them if they are presented to you.  But no one ever thinks "gee I sure wish I had me some thumbprints right about now."  I don't really like jam-filled stuff (surprise, surprise;  see: my fruit dessert aversion) but reminded myself AGAIN about the spirit of TWD and bought a $10 bag of almond meal/flour/whatever you wanna call it to make them.  

After buying the bag of almond...grindings, I looked in the fridge and realized I had leftover dough for THREE different TWD cookies in there.  I was surely gonna have to pawn it off on somebody.  And why not pawn these off, too?  Once that was arranged, I set about making the cookies.

This was one of the fastest recipes from start to finish that we've done in a while.  I beat the aych out of the butter and sugar and it came together nicely.  

Some TWDers complained about crumbliness, but my dough somehow was a perfect consistency for hand-rolling (*pops collar*):

so I didn't chill it as some others suggested. I did give it a few turns with a rubber spatula to be sure it was all together.   I scooped out the teaspoons of dough and rolled them, thinking these cookies were gonna be really really tiny!  

The picture in the book didn't make them look so small.  

Those of you who know me in real life know I have ridiculously skinny alien fingers, which though they are not useful for much are good for 1) threading needles and 2) poking tiny holes in things.  



Baked the cookies for 12 minutes.  They spread a bit but a respectable amount, not bad, and the holes stayed pretty intact.  I did press them down to make them even but they were fine.  

Apparently there was a Bonne Maman sale at some point, as I discovered THREE different kinds of it at my house.  

In my indecision, I went with the Four-Fruit preserve, which after boiling was easy to spoon by 1/4 tsp into the cookies and gelled nicely.  I totally forgot to sprinkle the powdered sugar while the cookies were hot, but it still stayed in place and stayed white for a few days afterwards.  

My verdict:  an ok, inoffensive cookie.  Very pretty;  nice to serve with tea...if I ever did that sort of thing.  The cookie itself is kind of dry and tasteless;  some salt would really have improved it for me.  As is, some type of filling--and the powdered sugar garnish--are NON NEGOTIABLE.  They gave the cookie the interest and complexity necessary to make it eatable. I didn't hate them, but as a non-thumbprint lover they didn't pull me over to the Dark Jammy Side. I don't anticipate making them again.

I asked my tastetester for an opinion and got the following:


So my careful (and scientific) tasting of the thumbprint cookies has concluded and I am pleased to communicate the results of my inquiry: I think that the cookie achieves a nice balance between cookie and jam. The cookie was neither a vessel for delivering the jam, nor did the jam serve as decoration for a variation on a shortbread cookie. The texture was grainy which made it more cookie than pastry, which I suspect was the desired effect. Although my preference is for over-the-top-butter-saturated-artery-clogging shortbread, I found the cookie to be quite a nice substitute to my usual indulgence. A good simple cookie that nicely provides variety to a cookie plate.

(This is what happens when you ask people with PhDs to review cookies for you.)  

*what's up with that title?  Do y'all associate thumbprints with little kids?  Because they make me think of little old ladies.  I'm just sayin'. 

03 March 2010

TWD Spinoff: Les Macarons

Revered White Chocolate Brownie Campaign Manager CB of I Heart Cuppycakes proposed on the TWD blog that since we'd have so many egg whites (SEVEN!) leftover from the coconut tart, that we make macarons, the little ubertrendy Parisian sandwich cookies that everyone loves and everyone is afraid to make.

And with good reason.  Macarons have a reputation for being trying to the soul, even though they are made of only four ingredients.  It seems it is not so much that they are fussy or complicated as it is that no one seems to be able to write out really good beginner directions.  A lot of the stuff that makes them successful or flops depends, I guess, on your just knowing what to look for. I have tried making macarons once before, with the pistachio macarons recipe from How to Be A Domestic Goddess, a book I usually have pretty good results with.  I was prepping for my first trip to Paris and everyone seemed to rave about these cookies, so not really knowing what they were supposed to be like, I tried them.  I might not have known what they were supposed to be, or what I did wrong but I knew what I got wasn't it:  I got very tasty, very chewy, very flat round discs.

I barely got to try any while in Paris--too many tarts to be eaten and wine to be sloshed, and I never made it to Pierre Herme or Laduree or any of the other places where you are supposed to get your macarons.  Even when I saw a darling Laduree cart pushing cookies outside an exhibit on Marie Antoinette, I kept it moving, off to get chocolate l'africain at Angelina.

After returning to the states, I was still intrigued by the trepidation over the cookies and set about doing some research, determined to make some myself.  The amount of advice and techniques and recipes and methods and how-tos online was so daunting, I never bothered to settle on one, but I knew I'd come back to it sometime.

So here we are.  Caitlin at Engineer Baker recommended Helen's recipes at Tartelette, so I studied them all and also studied other online advice about making the suckers.  And on Tuesday evening I went for it.

go #1

First I tried the basic almond meringue recipe.  I had just enough almond flour to do it.  I weighed my ingredients as best I could, noting for the first time that my scale only goes to 50g increments.  I'll need to invest in a small digital one if I keep this up.

I beat the whites till they were sudsy and added the sugar gradually;  then realized I didn't know how much to whip the whites.

Afraid of overbeating, I stopped while they were still very soft, and folded in the sugar and almond flour with a bit of coloring.  The mixture was very runny, but I thought it looked lava-esque (everyone says it should look like magma, whatever that means) so I piped away...and watched my cookies run into one another.


I was CLEARLY gonna have to re-do, but determined to see these through, so I let them sit an hour and baked anyway to see if a miracle would unfold.  

Lo and behold!  They rose and they got feets! 

But I didn't have the right time for baking--I remembered that Tartelette's times vary widely, from 8 minutes to 25 minutes--so in addition to being ugly, they never came off the sheet.  Ho hum.


I thought I'd wait till the next day, but considering how frightened I was by this whole "leave-day-old-whites-out-on-the-counter-for-24-to-48-hours" thing and its kinda scary result:

it'sjustwaterit'sjustwaterit'sjustwater, not some evil organisms breathing and breeding

I came back pretty much immediately with Tartelette's pistachio macaron recipe.  Out of almond flour, and having no ground 'stachios, I pulled out the processor.  Will there be love today?

Alas, no.  I was quite disappointed in my processor's grinding ability. I let it go for over an hour and still had to sift, only to have this much stuff left:    

What am I doing wrong?  Why won't you let me love you?

After reconsulting my source, I whipped the whites to soft peaks this time, hoping that structure would make up for the nuts and sugar still in my sieve.

The cookies still spread on piping but in the oven they did indeed rise and pick up feet.  I let them bake for close to 25 minutes.  They got a little brown, but I could take them off the sheet.  Yay!

I should have tapped the sheet for bubbles before baking. 

Still got a ways to go, methinks, but maybe getting there?

I sandwiched them with some chocolate American buttercream I had sitting in the refrigerator and put in the fridge overnight.

And, um, YUM!  They have airy tops, thin crackly domes covering dense, chewy centers.

I still have no idea if that is how they should be, but I like them anyway, SO THERE.

I bet Richard Wright liked macarons, too.

Template by Suck My Lolly - Background Image by TotallySevere.com