Sunday, January 31, 2010

Earl Gray Doughnuts

My mom loves tea.  I mean really loves.  She drinks probably at least three cups a day.  And so, a year or two ago, when Kelly Alexander included a recipe for Earl Gray doughnuts in her New York Times Magazine article Fry Baby, a flag went up in my head. I have been wanting to make those donuts ever since.

Finally I did.  (Sadly my mom is far away and didn't get to taste this batch, but the next one she will.)  The earl gray comes in just as a topping, mixed with sugar and sprinkled over top.  The doughnut itself has orange juice and zest to pick up the bergamot in the tea. Otherwise it's a pretty basic yeast doughnut.

This was my first time making doughnuts, and I don't have a doughnut cutter, so I used one for biscuits. That's why there's no hole.  When they were cut and fully risen I fried them in a couple inches of canola oil.  They looked just like doughnuts from the store.  Except warm and more delicious.    Though I do think they'd be better with a hole, or some orange custard filling.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Heavenly Breakfast

I know I keep raving about Spring Ridge Creamery and how good their milk is.  But, really, it's true.  So the latest experiment was making ricotta.  And, after a little cooking, a little citric acid, and a stint with cheesecloth it came out great.  Thanks to the Creamery's milk our ricotta was light, creamy, and flavorful. 

Luckily at the same time, Amanda Hesser published Recipe Redux: Heavenly Hots.  The contemporary recipe is Jody Williams' Heavenly Necci.  Necci, Italian, are chestnut crêpes.  Williams re-vamped version of traditional Necci are more moist with slightly extra volume. 

It just so happened that I have chestnut flour lying around needing to be used.  Even more coincidentally, Heavenly Necci are to be served with ricotta.  The Heavenly Necci were delicious, though not so heavenly to make.  They were so thin and delicate that they were difficult to flip; we had several casualties.

In the end we had a beautiful breakfast of homemade ricotta and Necci, and it just fell together.  That's how the best things in life happen.  

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Elusive Root Beer Cake

I've been fascinated with root beer cake for awhile.  It all started with a Saveur recipe for, you guessed it, root beer cake.  Complete with root beer gummies on top, it seemed the perfect all-American cake.  The recipe has one rather elusive ingredient: root beer extract.  I halfheartedly searched for months for that extract.  And finally found it in November.  Caught up in the holidays I finally made the cake earlier this month.

Don't get me wrong it's a good cake.  Moist, with a great airy but somehow dense texture.  The icing was equally pleasing, except for a slight sugary grit. But the cake is disappointingly lacking in root beer flavor.  The let down was worsened by the months of anticipation.

That same weekend I came across the Baked cookbook (which, by the way, has some great recipes).  It too had a recipe for a root beer cake, this one a chocolate bundt root beer cake.  Eager to find a root beer flavored cake I tried it.

Now this too is a good cake.  It is made much like Coca-Cola cakes are made, by melting butter, cocoa and the soda on the stove top, and moving on from there.  Here too, it is lacking in true root beer flavor.  For chocolate lovers the fudge icing is exceptional, and makes the cake.  The cake itself is relatively run-of-the-mill.

I am still in search of a cake that truly tastes of root beer.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dessert Risotto: Revisited

Not too long ago I wrote about a dessert risotto, and suggested it might good brûléed.  So we pulled out the kitchen torch and tried it on a new batch.  I had never brûléed before, and I have to say, it was far easier than expected (and really pretty fun).  The most difficult part was getting the torch to work, ours is quite finicky

The resulting risotto was beautiful to look at.  Texturally it didn't quite work.  The beauty of crème brûlée lies in the contrast of texture.  The smooth custard and the crackle of the burnt sugar.  But in the risotto the crackle jumbled with the soft bite of the rice, and neither were enjoyed to their full extent.  This is why brûlée is best left to its crème and rice to its risotto.  Delicious as each is, they're simple best left alone.  

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sablés: A Special Cookie

The sablé is a very special cookie.  I'm not sure what it is exactly, the sandy texture, the rich butteriness, or the perfect half-dollar size.  Regardless this is a cookie that has a lot going for it.  I first encountered them while visiting Dijon, France, where sables were elevated beyond topic to subject--with twenty or more different kinds.

I forgot about them for awhile.  My interest was re-invigorated when I decided to make Amanda Hesser's Lemon Sablé from her book, Cooking for Mr. Latte.  (Her book, by the way, is purely delightful.  A must read if you eat and are a woman.)

Since Hesser's Lemon Sablés, I've taken up trying all sorts.  The latest experiment were cinnamon.  The recipe, supposedly David Bouley's favorite, were slightly disappointing.  Don't get me wrong, they're still great cookies.  But the wow factor is missing a little bit.  There are a couple differences between the Hesser and Bouley recipes, the most important, I believe is Bouley's uses half the egg of Hesser's and uses whole eggs instead of just the yolk as Hesser does.  There are other differences but I believe it is the yolk that elevates Hesser's recipe to sublime.

Next try will be cinnamon instead of lemon in Hesser's sablé recipe.  When it works, it works.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I Tried the Impossible

I've found this new patisserie blog, Tartelette, and it is great.

The first thing I tried was a recipe for saffron and pumpkin macarons. I substituted sweet potato for the pumpkin because we had it lying around.  Macarons are something I've been too scared to make.  They're so cute, colorful, and intimidating.  Particularly the egg white/cookie part.  This recipe was just too good to pass up.

I have to say that I was surprised and proud of the results.  For a first attempt I think they turned out great.  The saffron/sweet potato combination was surprising and perfectly complimentary.  The cookie got a little soft after they sat.  But the gooeyness worked.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Soft Pretzels

So work is slow right now, which is really great for me.  I spend a lot of time experimenting.  I was making cookies and the back of the flour bag had a recipe for soft-pretzels.  I decided to try them.

It's really a lot like making bagels.  You make a pretty basic bread dough, wait for it to rise, form the pretzels, give them some more time, boil them in alkaline water (made by adding baking soda, beer, or others), and then bake.  Oh and before the baking you can brush them with butter and add any desired toppings.

I tried a couple of different toppings: salt, sesame seeds, and poppy seeds.  My favorite, thought, was a six pepper blend of spices that we have that I just love.

We enjoyed the pretzels for a couple of days after they came out of the oven, but really they were best when they first came out.  And surprisingly easy to make.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Conquering the Souffle

Souffle is one of those dishes that has always scared me.  I made a chocolate one once, and it tasted good, but it didn't rise properly at all.  In fact in sunk more than anything.  It's those darn egg whites.

But the other day I found a link to a banana souffle on the Saveur web site.  We had a lot bananas, and it was so cold, that a hot banana dessert seemed perfect.

So we tried it, and it turned out perfectly, at least technically and aesthetically.  The recipe we followed had lemon juice in it, for us it was too much, it overpowered the banana, and was too lemony for a January day.  The texture was great though.

I've been inspired to experiment more with egg white dishes.  Who knows what might come out of our kitchen next?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dessert Risotto

At school we met this guy who really loves rice.  Who ever thought someone could love something so white, and, let's face it kind of bland.  But he kept us standing out in the cold for 8 hours talking about rice.  And we ate a whole lunch of rice: comparing, contrasting, and complaining.

In all fairness to him, he's Italian, and Italian rice (risotto) is far more complex than our plain rice version.  This guy's rice is carnaroli rice, a good rice for making risotto.  He ages his for a year which makes it even better for risotto.  The rice is Acquerello, and it goes for about nine dollars a pound on amazon.

We got a couple of cans of it for free on our visit, and we're just finishing it up now.  I'm just really not a rice person.  But this time we did something different with it...dessert.

We cooked the rice just as would for risotto.  Except instead of broth, we used the milk I keep raving about from the creamery down the road.  The result proves the point that quality ingredients make all the difference in the world.  It was absolutely delicious.  The next time we're going to try brulee-ing it.

I'm beginning to love rice.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Fighting the Winter Doldrums

On a Christmas shopping trip to Atlanta we bought some pasture-raised ground beef, and decided to freeze it as a treat post-holiday excitement. After being back at work for a week, and freezing cold temperatures we were ready for a little pick-me-up. Out came the ground beef.

We decided to make meatballs, and do them right. So we started by making our own spaghetti. For lack of a better place, we hung it on our laundry rack to dry. We made our sauce from scratch with San Marzano canned tomatoes, bought just for the purpose. And for the meatballs we made our own bread for bread crumbs, and got to rolling (with the addition of onions, garlic, and some spices).

But before we got to rolling, while at the library, I noticed meatballs glossing the cover of Bon Appetit magazine. The article shared about five different recipes for meatballs, mostly ethnic recipes of meatballs re-thought. None were very appealing to me. There were however five tips, universal to all meatballs. One was to cool the mixture in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before rolling. Another not to compact the meat too much while rolling, and still another to wet hands with cold water between each meatball.

I can't remember the other tips. But we did try those three. Maybe I took the compacting one too literally, because our meatballs fell apart a little bit in the browning stage. Those farther from the heat source seemed to fare better. I'm not sure how much those tips helped, it's not like we use a meat press for our meatballs.

Falling apart or not, they were tender, warm, and comforting. Perfect for a cold, January night at home.