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Archive for April, 2008

When Caitlin announced her choice for this week’s TWD recipe, a few of the group members said they were put off by the unusual mix of ingredients, especially for a dessert. But I was excited – I think it’s recipes like this where Dorie’s book really shines. She has a lot of interesting and creative recipes that I’m excited to make. This cake in particular is worth making for no other reason than to find out what a ricotta polenta cake tastes like.

A few bakers who made their cake early in the week thought it was too sweet, so I reduced the sugar by 33%. There were also a lot of questions about the possibility of substituting a different fruit for the figs that the recipe called for. I was halving the recipe and baking it in tartlet pans, so I used a different fruit (figs, dates, dried cherries, and fresh strawberries) for each pan.

To me, ricotta polenta cake tastes like sweet cornbread. I wish I hadn’t reduced the sugar because I think the extra sugar would have made it seem more like a dessert. Dave and I both liked the strawberry cake the best, although it was a little too moist and delicate since strawberries are so much more wet than dried fruit. I also really enjoyed the dried cherries. The figs were okay too, but I didn’t think the dates contributed much flavor. I would have liked more fruit in the cakes as well.

I have to admit that this wasn’t my favorite dessert, but it was certainly an interesting recipe to try.

Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my Home to Yours)

About 16 moist, plump dried Mission or Kadota figs, stemmed
1 cup medium-grain polenta or yellow cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup ricotta
1/3 cup tepid water
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup honey (if you’re a real honey lover, use a full-flavored honey such as chestnut, pine, or buckwheat)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs
8 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled, plus 1 tablespoon, cut into bits and chilled

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 10½-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom and put it on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

Check that the figs are, indeed, moist and plump. If they are the least bit hard, toss them into a small pan of boiling water and steep for a minute, then drain and pat dry. If the figs are large (bigger than a bite), snip them in half.

Whisk the polenta, flour, baking powder, and salt together.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the ricotta and water together on low speed until very smooth. With the mixer at medium speed, add the sugar, honey, and lemon zest and beat until light. Beat in the melted butter, then add the eggs one at a time, beating until the mixture is smooth. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are fully incorporated. You’ll have a sleek, smooth, pourable batter.

Pour about one third of the batter into the pan and scatter over the figs. Pour in the rest of the batter, smooth the top with a rubber spatula, if necessary, and dot the batter evenly with the chilled bits of butter.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. The cake should be honey brown and pulling away just a little from the sides of the pan, and the butter will have left light-colored circles in the top. Transfer the cake to a rack and remove the sides of the pan after about 5 minutes. Cool to warm, or cool completely.

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My first impression when I saw Elle and Deborah’s choice for this month’s Daring Bakers challenge was that it was going to be a pain in the ass. Then I convinced myself that it wouldn’t be so bad. I figured it would be a valuable recipe to have in my arsenal. It’s transportable, perfectly portioned, visually impressive, okay to sit at room temperature for a few hours, and well-liked. And how hard could it be? Scoop out some cheesecake, poke a stick in it, dunk it in melted chocolate. Easy cheesy.

Uh-huh.

Mixing up the cheesecake batter was as easy as I expected. The flour is an unusual ingredient in cheesecake which I’m assuming is there to stabilize the cake enough to form balls. I ate a lot of batter during this part. I like batter.

But after the batter-eating, things got dicey. I made half the recipe in a pan exactly half the area of the pan the recipe called for. I baked it far longer than the recipe stated and took it out when a normal cheesecake would be done – when an instant read thermometer read 150 degrees and it was a bit jiggly in the center. I let it chill overnight.

The next day, the center was far too liquidy to be formed into balls, although the outer half of the pan was more solid. I found out later that others had this problem as well. They came up with creative solutions such as piping the batter instead of rolling it and keeping the batter frozen. I just ate the too-soft middle portion with a spoon. Yum.

The rolling process was still a mess. It seemed like there was cheesecake everywhere. The dipping went similarly. Far messier than I had planned for.

But the real problem was that the balls weren’t stable outside of the freezer. Because the cake was so soft, the balls would fall right off the stick. Not good.

Tasty though. It’s hard to go wrong with cheesecake.

Cheesecake Pops

Makes 30-40 pops

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature
2 cups (14 ounces) sugar
¼ cup (1.25 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
5 large eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ cup heavy cream

Boiling water as needed

Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks

1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark,
milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known
as summer coating, confectionary coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply
stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

(Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)

Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) – Optional

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionary chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

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I don’t really get carrot cake. I don’t hate it. But what’s the appeal? Vegetables in cake – it just ain’t right. Wouldn’t you rather have a more logical flavoring for cake – chocolate or vanilla or strawberries or butter? If it’s the spices you love, pair them with apples. If it’s the cream cheese frosting, spread it on chocolate cake. But don’t put vegetables in my dessert. It just ain’t right.

So I can’t say I was ecstatic to see Amanda’s choice for this week’s TWD recipe. Plus, while I usually enjoy the creativity that comes from having someone else choose a recipe for me, it’s a problem when I already have a similar recipe picked out to try. I’ve had my eye on Cooks Illustrated’s carrot cake recipe for years, I guess with the idea that if anyone could make me love carrot cake, it would be CI.

I thought I could kill two birds with one stone – I’d make Dorie’s recipe and CI’s, and that way I could compare them. My mom has a recipe she loves, so I threw that into the mix as well. They each call for four eggs, so it would be easy to quarter each recipe. Then I decided that that would still be too much carrot cake, so I got all OCD and decided to use one egg total, but still make all three recipes, so I made one twelfth of each recipe. It was a pain in the ass even with good math skills and a digital scale. I skipped all of the chunky ingredients (coconut, raisins, nuts) in Dorie’s recipe so that the recipes would be more equivalent and comparable.

The three recipes weren’t drastically different in their ingredient lists, although the mixing method varied. After baking, Dorie’s and CI’s carrot cakes look very similar, but my mom’s recipe, which was the only one that didn’t call for baking powder, didn’t rise nearly as much. (CI’s is the bottom layer, then my mom’s recipe, then Dorie’s.)

Unfortunately, I can’t give a good comparison of the three cakes. I’ve only had one slice, and the cream cheese frosting pleasantly dominated the taste of the cake. I’ll try harder next time, scraping off the frosting and eating the cake plain. And then finishing dessert off with a spoonful of pure, unadulterated sugary cream cheese frosting.

Update/Comparison: I really didn’t eat much of this cake, so I can’t give a very good comparison.  That being said, I think Dorie’s recipe was my favorite.  My mom’s needs baking powder so it will rise higher.  Cooks Illustrated uses both brown and granulated sugar, and I think using all granulated sugar gave the cake more flavor.  I do like CI’s mixing method though.  Because most of the ingredients are similar, in the future, I’ll probably use CI’s recipe with all granulated sugar.

Bill’s Big Carrot Cake (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours)

10 servings

For the cake:
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon salt
3 cups grated carrots (about 9 carrots, you can grate them in food processor fitted w/ a shredding a blade or use a box grater)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
½ cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden) or dried cranberries
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
4 large eggs

For the frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pound (16 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or ½ teaspoon pure lemon extract
½ cup shredded coconut (optional)

Finely chopped toasted nuts and/or toasted shredded coconut (optional)

Getting ready: Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter three 9- by 2-inch round cake pans, flour the insides, and tap out the excess. Put the two pans on one baking sheet and one on another.

To make the cake:
Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In another bowl, stir together the carrots, chopped nuts, coconut, and raisins.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the sugar and oil together on a medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs one by one and continue to beat until the batter is even smoother. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing only until the dry ingredients disappear. Gently mix the chunky ingredients. Divide the batter among the baking pans.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point, until a thin knife inserted into the centers comes out clean. The cakes will have just started to come away from the sides of the pans. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes and unmold them. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.

The cakes can be wrapped airtight and kept at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.

To make the frosting:
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until the frosting is velvety smooth. Beat in the lemon juice or extract.

If you’d like coconut in the filling, scoop about half of the frosting and stir the coconut into this position.

To assemble the cake:
Put one layer top side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. If you added the coconut to the frosting, use half of the coconut frosting to generously cover the first layer (or generously cover with plain frosting). Use an offset spatula or a spoon to smooth the frosting all the way to the edges of the layer. Top with the second layer, this time placing the cake stop side down, and frost with the remainder of the coconut frosting or plain frosting. Top with the last layer, right side up, and frost the top- and the sides- of the cake. Finish the top with swirls of frosting. If you want to top the cake with toasted nuts or coconut, sprinkle them on now while the frosting is soft.

Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes, just to set the frosting before serving.

Serving: This cake can be served as soon as the frosting is set. It can also wait, at room temperature and covered with a cake keeper overnight. The cake is best served in thick slices at room temperature and while it’s good plain, it’s even better with vanilla ice cream or some lemon curd.

Storing: The cake will keep at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. It can also be frozen. Freeze it uncovered, then when it’s firm, wrap airtight and freeze for up to 2 months. Defrost, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.

Simple Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (from Cooks Illustrated’s The New Best Recipe)

2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon gound cloves
½ teaspoon salt
1 pound (6-7 medium) carrots, peeled
1½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs
½ cups safflower, canola or vegetable oil

Cream cheese frosting

8 ounces cream cheese, softened but still cool
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 tablespoon sour cream
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1¼ cups confectioners’ sugar

For the cake:

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13 by 9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment and spray the parchment.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt in a large bowl; set aside.

3. In a food processor fitted with a large shredding disk, shred the carrots (you should have about 3 cups); transfer the carrots to a bowl and set aside. Wipe out the food processor workbowl and fit with the metal blade. Process the granulated and brown sugars and eggs until frothy and thoroughly combined, about 20 seconds. With the machine running, add the oil through the feed tube in a steady stream. Process until the mixture is light in color and well emulsified, about 20 seconds longer. Scrape the mixture into a medium bowl. Stir in the carrots and the dry ingredients until incorporated and no streaks of flour remain. If you like nuts in your cake, stir 1½ cups toasted chopped pecans or walnuts into the batter along with the carrots. Raisins are also a good addition; 1 cup can be added along with the carrots. If you add both nuts and raisins, the cake will need and additional 10 to 12 minutes in the oven. Pour into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. cool the cake to room temperature in the pan on a wire rack, about 2 hours.

For the frosting
1. When the cake is cool, process the cream cheese, butter, sour cream, and vanilla in a clean food processor workbowl until combined, about 5 seconds, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the confectioners’ sugar and process until smooth, about 10 seconds.

2. Run a paring knife around the edge of the cake to loosen from the pan. Invert the cake onto a wire rack, peel off the parchment, then invert again onto a serving platter. Using an icing spatula, spread the frosting evenly over the surface of the cake. Cut into squares and serve.

Carrot Cake (from my mom, and I don’t know where she got the recipe)

1½ (10.5 ounces) cup sugar
2 cups (10 ounces) flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt (scant)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup cooking oil
3 cups (16 ounces) finely grated carrots (raw)
4 whole eggs

Sift dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl making sure they are thoroughly mixed. Add cooking oil and blend. Add eggs ONE at a time and mix (by hand). Stir in carrots. Bake in two deep cake pans sprayed with Pam. Bake at 350 for 30 to 40 minutes until cakes spring back in center or toothpick comes clean. Cool 10-15 minutes. Remove from pans and frost while warm.

Cream cheese frosting:
1 8 ounce package cream cheese (regular, not low or non-fat)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
4½ cups (16 ounces) powdered sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Let cheese and butter sit at room temperature for half an hour, then mix thoroughly. Add powdered sugar slowly, alternating with vanilla. Stir in nuts last. Frost and enjoy.

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It seems that creamy coleslaw has fallen out of favor. I think that if you only like vinegar-based coleslaw, then you’re eating the wrong creamy coleslaws. I didn’t like it before this recipe either. It was always too sweet or too watery or too heavy or too mushy. This recipe is none of that.

One key technique in this recipe is salting the cabbage and letting it set for an hour or so before mixing it with the dressing ingredients. The salt sucks water out of the cabbage so there’s less water to leach into the dressing. The cabbage has to be rinsed after being salted, which seems counterintuitive, but it’s easy to dry off the moisture outside of the cabbage shreds – there’s still less water in the cabbage, which is what will keep you from making a watery slaw.

Large shreds of cabbage keep this looking and feeling like a salad while eliminating any worries of mushiness. For those who think that creamy coleslaws tend to be too heavy, look at the ingredient list below – two thirds of the dressing base is low-fat buttermilk, with just a bit of mayonnaise and sour cream added for body and complexity of flavor.

I never liked creamy coleslaw growing up, and I still don’t usually like it at restaurants. But this recipe, with its creamy but not rich dressing, slight sweetness from the carrots and just half teaspoon of sugar, slight bite from the shallot, and overall balance of flavors is worth trying.

Especially if it’s an opportunity to use a fancy schmany monkey vegetable peeler. How cute is this guy? A friend got it for me, because, one could say, I have a bit of a thing for monkeys. (Or at least one.) And even better – it’s sharp. I love it.

Creamy Buttermilk Coleslaw (from Cooks Illustrated July 2002)

Serves 4

CI note: If you are planning to serve the coleslaw immediately, rinse the salted cabbage in a large bowl of ice water, drain it in a colander, pick out any ice cubes, then pat the cabbage dry before dressing.

Bridget note: The recipe says to salt the cabbage for 1-4 hours, but I’ve had better results when I err on the long side of that range.

1 pound cabbage (about ½ medium head), red or green, shredded fine (6 cups)
table salt
1 medium carrot, shredded on box grater
½ cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
½ teaspoon cider vinegar
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1. Toss shredded cabbage and 1 teaspoon salt in colander or large mesh strainer set over medium bowl. Let stand until cabbage wilts, at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours. Rinse cabbage under cold running water. Press, but do not squeeze, to drain; pat dry with paper towels. Place wilted cabbage and carrot in large bowl.

2. Stir buttermilk, mayonnaise, sour cream, shallot, parsley, vinegar, sugar, mustard, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper together in small bowl. Pour dressing over cabbage and toss to combine; refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes. (Coleslaw can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

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I hear a lot of requests for breakfast casserole recipes. They’re popular for good reason. Waking up to a tasty and filling breakfast that needs nothing more than to be thrown into a hot oven is a great way to start the weekend. I’ve made and loved Deb’s Boozy Baked French Toast, but it’s missing some sort of fruit to round out the nutrition. This sausage and mushroom strata has it all – protein, starch, and vegetables.

I’ve eaten a lot of different breakfast casseroles, and I’ve found that there are some tricks to making a good one. One is to use hearty bread and to dry it out so you don’t have a soggy casserole. You want to replace the moisture that’s naturally in the bread with your own flavored liquids. Also, don’t use so many eggs that they can’t be evenly mixed in and absorbed. I have a recipe for a breakfast casserole that I love the flavors of, but the original recipe calls for so many eggs that I once got a bite of nothing but unmixed egg white while eating it. Finally, of course you need to use a combination of flavors that you love, and adding lots of cheese never hurts.

Casseroles like this are perfect when you have a long day ahead of you and don’t have time to prepare a good breakfast in the morning. I’ve eaten them before skiing, hiking, and moving. They also make a great addition to a brunch menu.

Breakfast Strata with Sausage, Mushrooms, and Monterey Jack (from Cooks Illustrated November 2001)

Makes one 8 by 8-inch strata, serving 6

CI note: To weigh down the assembled strata, we found that two 1-pound boxes of brown or powdered sugar, laid side by side over the plastic-covered surface, make ideal weights. A gallon-sized zipper-lock bag filled with about 2 pounds of sugar or rice also works. This recipe doubles easily; use a 9 by 13-inch baking dish greased with only 1½ tablespoons butter and increase the baking time as directed in step 4. Feel free to substitute any good melting cheese, such as Havarti, sharp cheddar, or colby.

Bridget note: This time when I made this recipe, it ended up a bit too salty. I’m guessing the necessary salt will vary based on the sausage, so start low and add more if necessary. Pictures show a half recipe made in a loaf pan.

8-10 slices supermarket French bread (½-inch thick) or Italian bread (6 – 7 ounces)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces bulk breakfast sausage, crumbled
3 medium shallots, minced (about 1/3 cup)
8 ounces white button mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
Table salt and ground black pepper
½ cup medium-dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
6 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated (about 1½ cups)
6 large eggs
1¾ cups half-and-half
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 225 degrees. Arrange bread in single layer on large baking sheet and bake until dry and crisp, about 40 minutes, turning slices over halfway through drying time. (Alternatively, leave slices out overnight to dry.) When cooled, butter slices on one side with 2 tablespoons butter; set aside.

2. Fry sausage in medium nonstick skillet over medium heat, breaking sausage apart with wooden spoon, until sausage has lost raw color and begins to brown, about 4 minutes; add shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and translucent, about 1 minute longer. Add mushrooms to skillet, and cook until mushrooms no longer release liquid, about 6 minutes; transfer mixture to medium bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add wine to skillet, increase heat to medium-high, and simmer until reduced to ¼ cup, 2 to 3 minutes; set aside.

3. Butter 8-inch square baking dish with remaining 1 tablespoon butter; arrange half the buttered bread slices, buttered-side up, in single layer in dish. Sprinkle half of sausage mixture, then ½ cup grated cheese evenly over bread slices. Arrange remaining bread slices in single layer over cheese; sprinkle remaining sausage mixture and another ½ cup cheese evenly over bread. Whisk eggs and parsley in medium bowl until combined; whisk in reduced wine, half-and-half, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Pour egg mixture evenly over bread layers; cover surface flush with plastic wrap, weigh down (see note, above), and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to overnight.

4. Remove dish from refrigerator and let stand at room temperature 20 minutes. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Uncover strata and sprinkle remaining ½ cup cheese evenly over surface; bake until both edges and center are puffed and edges have pulled away slightly from sides of dish, 50 to 55 minutes (or about 80 minutes for doubled recipe). Cool on wire rack 5 minutes; serve.

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marshmallows (twd)

Who knew making marshmallows would be so much fun? Judy chose marshmallows as our TWD recipe this week, and while I didn’t think I’d be excited about eating them, I was interested in making them. And even though I know making marshmallows is common, and I trust Dorie’s recipes, I was surprised when I took my first bite, and it was, well, marshmallowy. Spongy soft, sugary sweet, coated in fine powder.

I was wrong about not being excited about eating them. Topping off of mug of hot cocoa, lightly charred and melted on a s’more, and plain in a pillowy mound are all satisfying methods for munching marshmallows. I’ve had to resist grabbing “just one more” every time I pass them in the kitchen.

And I found them relatively easy to make. Egg whites are whipped, a sugar syrup is made, gelatin is dissolved, and everything is beaten together and allowed to set. For the first time since I joined a blog baking group, problems arose with the recipe that I didn’t have. After months of curdled coffee buttercream, soupy lemon curd, flat party cakes, not-so-gooey gooey chocolate cakes, and a lemon cream that just wouldn’t reach the recommended temperature, my marshmallows whipped up nicely and solidified without separating. There was some confusion over Dorie’s instructions to beat the egg whites until they were “firm but still glossy”, and I almost always underbeat when I see “do not overbeat” in a recipe, and I think the problems people had may be attributed to that.

The rest of us were lucky enough to create pillowy soft sweet treats that are ready for any of your favorite marshmallow applications, or just dissolving pleasantly in your mouth without any accompaniment.

Marshmallows (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours)

Including marshmallows as a spoon dessert may seem like cheating – after all, they’re eaten with fingers (or, by campers, from sticks picked up in the forest) – but making them at home is too much fun to miss. And in fact this dessert is related to others in this chapter: the base is meringue – sweetened and strengthened by a cooked sugar syrup and fortified by gelatin.

There’s nothing difficult about making the marshmallows, but the meringue does need a long beating. While you can use a hand mixer, a stand mixer makes the job easier.

Makes about 1 pound marshmallows

About 1 cup potato starch (found in the kosher foods section of supermarkets) or cornstarch
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 ¼-ounce packets unflavored gelatin
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
¾ cup cold water
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1¼ cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar

GETTING READY: Line a rimmed baking sheet — choose one with a rim that is 1 inch high — with parchment paper and dust the paper generously with potato starch or cornstarch. Have a candy thermometer at hand.

Put 1/3 cup of the water, 1¼ cups of the sugar and the corn syrup in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar is dissolved, continue to cook the syrup — without stirring — until it reaches 265 degrees F on the candy thermometer, about 10 minutes.

While the syrup is cooking, work on the gelatin and egg whites. In a microwave-safe bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the remaining cold water (a scant 7 tablespoons) and let it sit for about 5 minutes, until it is spongy, then heat the gelatin in a microwave oven for 20 to 30 seconds to liquefy it. (Alternatively, you can dissolve the gelatin in a saucepan over low heat.)

Working in the clean, dry bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in another large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until firm but still glossy — don’t overbeat them and have them go dull.

As soon as the syrup reaches 265 degrees F, remove the pan from the heat and, with the mixer on medium speed, add the syrup, pouring it between the spinning beater(s) and the sides of the bowl. Add the gelatin and continue to beat for another 3 minutes, so that the syrup and the gelatin are fully incorporated. Beat in the vanilla.

Using a large rubber spatula, scrape the meringue mixture onto the baking sheet, laying it down close to a short end of the sheet. Then spread it into the corners and continue to spread it out, taking care to keep the height of the batter at 1 inch; you won’t fill the pan. Lift the excess parchment paper up to meet the edge of the batter, then rest something against the paper so that it stays in place (I use custard cups).

Dust the top of the marshmallows with potato starch or cornstarch and let the marshmallows set in a cool, dry place. They’ll need about 3 hours, but they can rest for 12 hours or more.

Once they are cool and set, cut the marshmallows with a pair of scissors or a long thin knife. Whatever you use, you’ll have to rinse and dry it frequently. Have a big bowl with the remaining potato starch or cornstarch at hand and cut the marshmallows as you’d like — into squares, rectangles or even strips (as they’re cut in France). As each piece is cut, drop it into the bowl. When you’ve got 4 or 5 marshmallows in the bowl, reach in with your fingers and turn the marshmallows to coat them with starch, then, one by one, toss the marshmallows from one hand to the other to shake off the excess starch; transfer them to a serving bowl. Cut and coat the rest of the batch.

SERVING: Put the marshmallows out and let everyone nibble as they wish. Sometimes I fill a tall glass vase with the marshmallows and put it in the center of the table — it never fails to make friends smile. You can also top hot chocolate or cold sundaes with the marshmallows.

STORING: Keep the marshmallows in a cool, dry place; don’t cover them closely. Stored in this way, they will keep for about 1 week — they might develop a little crust on the outside or they might get a little firmer on the inside, but they’ll still be very good.

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On one of our first dates, Dave and I drove two hours into Chicago to see one of his favorite musicians perform. It was a great night, one that moved our relationship from “so far, so good…” to “holy smokes this is going well.” At the beginning of every song, Dave would whisper in my ear that this one was his favorite. On the way home, we missed our exit not once, but twice, for which I still tease Dave. Fortunately, he had thought ahead and brought along some almond biscotti from his favorite bakery. It was one of my first times eating biscotti, and certainly the first time I gave it an honest chance.

It was good. I was surprised, always having likened biscotti to sweetened stale bread. But even though I enjoyed it that night, and Dave has asked me to make it several times in the past six years, I’d only bothered to once, and I sent that batch off to a friend. Dave still requested it, and I still said “yeah, of course, when I get around to it.” Deb finally convinced me that it was time with her recently published almond biscotti recipe.

And this recipe was worth getting out of my too-lazy-to-make-biscotti- for-my-boyfriend-then-fiance-then-husband habit. The biscotti are crunchy, but not rock hard. Sweet but not cloying. The almonds are a noticeable and satisfying addition.

The recipe is also adaptable. After the success I had with the almond variety, I wanted to try other flavors. I looked for good biscotti recipes on epicurious, but couldn’t find one that sounded good and had good reviews. So I decided to make the same base recipe I had before, but with different flavorings. I used dried cherries and hazelnuts, and it worked great.

Deb calls this recipe a hole in one, and I have to agree. Tasty, crunchy, straightforward, and adaptable – this recipe has it all.

Almond Biscotti (adapted from Bon Appetit, December 1999, as copied from Smitten Kitchen)

Deb note: They’re supposed to make 3 dozen, but my batch yielded at least 45.

Bridget note: The second time I skipped the egg white wash, and I recommend using it. I also substituted 1 cup of hazelnuts (toasted and chopped) and 1 cup of dried cherries for the almonds, and reduced the orange liqueur by half.  Also, my biscotti tended to be a little browner than I wanted, so I recommend reducing the baking times in the last step to 11 minutes on one side and 7 on the other.

3¼ cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
1½ cups sugar
10 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or orange liqueur
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 cup whole almonds, toasted, coarsely chopped or sliced almonds
1 large egg white

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into medium bowl. Mix sugar, melted butter, 3 eggs, vanilla extract, orange liqueur and zest in large bowl. Add flour mixture to egg mixture and stir with wooden spoon until well blended. Mix in almonds.

Divide dough in half. Using floured hands, shape each dough half into 13½-inch-long, 2 ½-inch-wide log. Transfer both logs to prepared baking sheet, spacing apart. Whisk egg white in small bowl until foamy; brush over top and sides of each dough log.
Bake logs until golden brown (logs will spread), about 30 minutes. Cool logs completely on sheet on rack, about 25 minutes. Maintain oven temperature.

Transfer logs to work surface; discard parchment paper. Using serrated knife, cut logs on diagonal into ½-inch-wide slices. Arrange slices, cut side down, on same baking sheet. Bake 12 minutes. Turn biscotti over; bake until just beginning to color, about 8 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool.

Can be prepared 1 week ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.

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