Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Family Classic

Recently I committed a sacrilege, something I never thought I'd be able to do.

You see, I am the third generation in my family to love and make Virginia Apple Pudding.  It is simple to make, and is kind of like a cobbler but with more topping.  The batter is poured on top of melted butter, with cooked Golden Delicious apples centered on top.  After about forty minutes in the oven the batter rises up over the apples in a warm, buttery wonder.  The outside crisps and the middle is soft and slightly gooey.  Nothing fights the cold better.

This time I made Virginia Apple pudding with pears, instead of apples.  My mother would shake her head in shame, my grandmother worse.  It was good, definitely.  But it wasn't the same.  Which just goes to show you, why mess with a good thing?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Magnolia Bakery Cupcakes...Always Good

Living in a rural area I often miss the food from my undergraduate days in New York.  I had a couple of haunts, one being Magnolia Bakery.  I first went to Magnolia's during freshman orientation.  Overwhelmed by the late night line--people leave their houses after 10p.m.?--I quickly ordered the banana pudding.  And it was wonderfully light and creamy.

Then I tried their cupcakes: vanilla with buttercream frosting.  Magnolia cupcakes are light and moist, like eating a cloud.  The eponymous cookbook generously shares the recipe.

For awhile I made it often, recently I've been enticed by flashier more complex cakes.  Yesterday I revisited the Magnolia cupcake recipe, as a cake.  It turned out just as I remembered.  With rainbow sprinkles sandwiched between the layers, it was pure nostalgia.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

There's Never a Bad Time for Cranberry Sauce

My Aunt Donna (actually not my aunt, but close family friend) is an excellent cook with an arsenal of great recipes.

This is one of my favorites, her cranberry sauce.  I love this stuff.  I could eat it all year round.  It's pretty simple, cranberries cooked with apple juice and honey until they pop.  Throw in some orange zest, celery, and walnuts.  Let chill.  It is excellent with yogurt, ice cream, and really anything.  We've eaten it on pumpkin pancakes, and even used it as the base for a crisp.

This fall we bought extra cranberries and froze them so we could enjoy the sauce mid-winter blues.  And that's exactly what we've done.  Yesterday, while enjoying a bit with yogurt we thought of making frozen yogurt with a bit of cranberry sauce and some yogurt.  I'll update with some pictures and opinions soon.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fauschnauts Redux

I so enjoyed the sweet potato Fauschnauts that I decided to try it again.  I didn't have time to fill them, so I had to come up with something different.  We had some caramel left over from a bread pudding.  This was special caramel, made with brown butter. 

I am definitely convinced that brown butter greatly improves anything.  I decided to go with the theme, and brown some more butter.  I let it cool and then beat the brown butter with the caramel to make the frosting.

This was a DELICIOUS frosting: the nuttiness of brown butter, the richness of caramel, and the slightness of salt.  It paired perfectly with the subtle sweet potato flavor, even better than the cinnamon custard filled. 

P.S. I encourage everyone to put brown butter in everything.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Plaza Hotel Cheesecake

So the Plaza Hotel Cheesecake is in the 50 Best Cheesecakes in the World cookbook.  I decided I had to try it.

It's a pretty conventional cheesecake: cream cheese, eggs, and sugar.  Baked.  The difference here is, when that's all done it's topped with a mixture of sour cream, vanilla, and sugar.  And baked again, just for five minutes.

The result really is a great cheesecake.  Not just to eat, but visually stunning as well.  The two layers, different shads of white, are quite elegant when sliced.  The sour cream topping, lightens the cake, so you don't feel a brick in your stomach when finished.  It also lends a pleasing tang to the overall flavor, contributing to its increased complexity, while also cutting through the richness of the cream cheese layer.  Paired with some fresh berries this cheesecake would make an elegant end to any meal, whether you're eating at the Plaza, or not.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Cookies

(Yes we're talking Sablés, again)

This is a Dorie Greenspan recipe for Linzer Sablés.  These cookies are traditionally made for Christmas.  I think they're quite perfect for Valentine's Day, withe red jam and a heart window.  The dough is equal parts ground almonds and flour, as well as your normal cookie ingredients.  Just like traditional roll outs, the dough is chilled before flattening and cutting out the shapes.

The most important thing is that you have two heart shaped cookie cutters in the same shape but differing sizes.  One has to be small enough that it will fit inside the larger one while leaving you enough dough space that the cookie won't just fall apart.  The other important thing to remember is that you need equal numbers of plain hearts and windowed hearts.  Once that is done, they're ready to bake.

When the cookies have been baked and cooled, they are ready for assemble.  I made two kinds of jam for these linzers, with fruit that was otherwise going to go bad.  One is a strawberry balsamic jam, the balsamic cuts the sweetness of the strawberries nicely while still complementing the flavors.  The second was a basic cranberry jam.  (These are adult cookies, meant to surprise with the sweet and sour combination.)  

After sandwiching the jam between the two cookies, a little sprinkling of powdered sugar, you have a beautiful treat for your Valentine.  A platter of these cookies is really spectacular. 

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Fauschnaut Day

On Fat Tuesday, where I'm from, we eat Fauschnauts.  They're a German doughnut often made partly with mashed potatoes.  They are plain doughnuts, for those used to the sugar bombs at Dunkin' Donuts, they many not be doughnuts at all.  But to me they're tradition.

This year I couldn't wait for Fat Tuesday.  These I made using mashed sweet potatoes instead of the normal white potato.  Plus I added a little intrigue by filling them, with a homemade cinnamon custard.  Okay, so I like tradition with a twist, there's nothing wrong with that.  I finished them off with a simple glaze.

The added flavor and substance was much appreciated on my end. They really were quite wonderful, though maybe not "fauschnauts" to most. I guess I lean more towards the sugar bombs.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Queen of Cakes

As you can see from the picture this is a queen of cakes.  Not the queen, because that would be too difficult a decision, but a queen.  It is Red Hot Red Velvet Cake from Baked. 

We had some red hot laying around that I wanted to use up, and remembered this recipe from when I browsed through the cookbook a couple weeks ago.  The cake is pretty much a traditional red velvet recipe, but with less red food coloring.  The effect s more subtle than many fire-engine red velvets you see elsewhere.  This icing too is pretty traditional, with a few twists.  The milk is cooked with flour like usual, but in this recipe granulated sugar is added to the mix.  This mixture is beaten at high speed of an electric mixer until cool and then beaten with butter, heavy cream, vanilla extract, and cinnamon.  The resulting icing is light and deliciously creamy as one expects from a red velvet icing, but with the added intrigue of cinnamon and less sweetness thanks to cooking the milk with sugar and avoiding the powdered sugar.

The cinnamon icing complements the cake, complicating the flavor profile.  Ringed with icing dot and crowned with red hots, you have the queen of Valentine's Day Cakes.  (As I was writing I decided it needed an upgrade, plus what could be better for Valentine's than a red velvet cake?)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Knodels=Warm Goodness

One of my fellow classmates at school was Austrian.  After a cooking party, that ended with lots of leftover bread, he made Knodel.  I had never heard of it, but I fell in love instantly.

Knodel is basically meatballs but with bread instead of meat.  Your stale, leftover bread, is drenched in scalded milk, and mixed with egg and onion.  I put some celery in there too.  Recipes I looked at suggested parsley, being that parsley is the only food I genuinely hate, I left that out.  The mixture is then rolled into balls and poached in water or broth.  We had some broth that needed to be used, and I threw some cabbage and carrots in there just to add some vegetables and make it a full meal.

It snowed that night. We couldn't have planned it better.  What better to eat on a cold, wintry night than warm doughy balls.  A perfect comfort food, and tragically scarce in the States.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Rhubarb: A Delight Deserving a Starring Role

I love rhubarb.  The slight sweetness contrasts so delightfully with its sourness.  Plus its such a nice rosy pink.

So we still had some rhubarb in our freezer from last spring, and a Nigella Lawson recipe just waiting for it.  So on a cold wintry night we made Nigella's Rhubarb Cornmeal Cake.  The cake has a crumbly comforting texture and nuttiness of cornmeal.  Moist and delicious all around.

My qualm with the recipe is that it just does not have enough rhubarb.  It's not fault of the recipe, more just personal preference.  Rhubarb really needs and deserves more of a starring role.  I'm thinking crumble or crisp.  That's on the list for this spring.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Craving: Answered.

Recently I've become obsessed with the chocolate-mint combination.  I'm not sure why.  I'm not a big chocolate person but something about the cool lightness of mint and the way it cuts through the richness of the chocolate is intriguing me.  Then I made these...

These Chocolate Mint Brownies, posted on the Scrumptious Photography blog, are right up my alley.  First a fudgie cake brownie, then a minty cream layer, and a chocolate glaze for on-top.  And those three parts make one glorious brownie: pure indulgence (plus breath freshener).

I love these brownies.  And there's not much else to say, except that the picture doesn't do them justice.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Again With the Sablés

I know, I know, again.  I'm sorry, but really they're great cookies.

This batch of sablés are chocolate with sea salt.  The dough is the crumbliest of the different recipes I've tried.  In the mixing bowl I thought it would never hold together.  With determination and some quality hands it came together just find.  Equally challenging was slicing the dough before baking.  I lost a couple.  But after some practice I learned a cutting technique that proved quite successful.  (Support the slice with one hand while cutting with the other.)

All that extra maneuvering was worth it for the best in sandy texture.  With dark chocolate chunks, plus sweet and savory thanks to the sea salt, this recipe is for sure a keeper.  One of the favorite sablés.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Another Twist on Nostalgia: Graham Cracker Cake

In case you haven't noticed yet I love making cakes.  The artistry is so fun.  Plus they're tasty.

For Christmas I was given All Cakes Considered. It was written by a woman on staff of All Things Considered, who brings a cake to work every Monday.  One recipe particularly caught my eye, Graham Cracker Cake.  The cake has no flour at all, only graham cracker crumbs.  And there's something so good about graham crackers.

The icing is the perfect complement.  It's essentially whipped cream with some powdered sugar, coffee, and cocoa.  Light and airy, with a delightful touch of mocha flavor, it is delicious atop the heavy graham flavor of the cake.

The best part, for me at least, was decorating the top.  The series of stars we so much fun to do, and added such a special touch.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Crust, Jam, and a Little Nostalgia

 I think the picture pretty much speaks for itself.

We made homemade pop tarts. These were adult pop tarts, with a homemade cranberry jam filling; a little tang to counterbalance the sweet.  The recipe came from a great cookbook, Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It.  It's one we use often.  The pastry dough was some of the best I've ever had: flaky, flavorful, and tender.  We're going to try it as a pie crust.

But really, the pop tarts were super fun, especially for those of us who weren't allowed to eat them on a regular basis as a child.  They got a lot of laughs, great conversation piece.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Brown Butter Sablés

As I sat down to write this, I realized that I've been writing about my parents a lot lately.  Yesterday my mom and doughnuts, today my dad and cookies.  Why?  Because food is love, at least for me.

So, to celebrate my dad's recent retirement, and his surprise party that I missed.  We sent him Brown Butter Sablés, which my honey found a recipe for at  Yes, we're still obsessed with sables.  Yes we're trying every recipe we can find.  And yes, I'll probably write about another kind next week.  Sorry.  But you have to try these cookies.

Actually this particular recipe was not my favorite.  I love brown butter.  It has such a rich, nutty flavor far beyond regular butter.  I actually have recently become obsessed and have started using it in cookies and cakes in place of regular butter.  So, you can imagine how excited I was about these cookies.  They sound wonderful.

I'm not sure what it is I found disappointing.  Perhaps I built them up too much in my head.  But the finished cookies weren't as special as I expected.  They were too sweet, with not as much complexity as I expected.  I think a little extra salt would have added intrigue.  My honey, though, loved them.