Category Archives: Desserts

Filled Hearts

Love it or hate it, Valentine’s day is here again. I’m pretty neutral about the whole idea behind the holiday, but any day that gives me an excuse to bake is my kind of day.

I really hadn’t thought of doing too much specifically for V-Day, but Mikal and I were roaming around Target a couple of weeks ago and he gave me a wonderful idea. We were looking at the baking items in the seasonal section, and I made a comment about kinda wanting to do something, but really hating the traditional stuff. Mikal mentioned it would be really cool to make human heart-heart shaped chocolate and hand those out, possibly filled with some red syrup of some sort. An amazing idea, of course, though I let myself sit on it a few days before I actually sat down and ordered a mold on amazon.

Around this same time, I saw this amazing dohicky in the actual kitchen section of Target – it is a pot-pie mold!

I love pot pies, and my first thought when I saw this was, “Holy crap! Hand-held chicken pies!” I find chicken pot pies one of the best ways to stave off the cold and sucky, so this made me happy. Honestly, it wasn’t completely the first time I had come across the idea of non-pot pies; some days when I’m exceedingly braindead I peruse websites and recipes and see what strikes my fancy, and one day while planning a halloween celebration I came across this.

Suddenly I had a V-Day yummage extravaganza planned. My only regret is that I couldn’t do more, but these two experiments proved to eat up the whole day.

Heart Pies

Dough

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour plus extra for dusting
1 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup ice water, or as needed

Stir together flour and salt with fork to blend. Cut the fat into the flour using a food processor, pastry blender, or two knives. (For pies with liquid fillings like custard or cooked fruit fillings that are thickened with cornstarch or tapioca, the bits of fat should be evenly small, and the mixture should resemble coarse meal. This will result in a mealy pie crust, which is less likely to become soggy as the crust bakes. For pies to be filled with fruit or another nonliquid filling, leave some bits of fat in larger pieces, about the size of a small pea, for a crisp and flaky texture in the baked crust.) This is the reason I love the CIA cookbooks – it tells you a lot of the little things to think about as you’re preparing the food.

Drizzle a few tablespoons of the ice water over the surface of the flour mixture and quickly rub the water into the flour. Continue to add the water, a tablespoon or so at a time, just until it holds together when you press a handful of it into a ball. The dough should be evenly mouse, not wet, and shaggy or rough in appearance.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gather and press the dough into a ball. Divide the dough into 2 roughly equal pieces. Pat each ball into an even disk, wrap well, and let chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Filling

1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup carrots, cubed or half-rounds
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (if only I hadn’t completely forgotten to put those in ><)
2 chicken thighs (or an equivalent amount of meat)
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 cup white wine
1/4-1/2 cup flour
sage, salt, pepper, thyme, brown sugar to taste

Remove the meat from the chicken thighs and slice into smallish bite-size pieces. Toss in a pan with some olive oil or butter and cook until just barely done. Set aside.

Put water in small pan and bring to a boil. Add carrot bits and simmer for a couple of minutes until just cooked. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Repeat process for peas. Sauté onions in skillet until fragrant and slightly browning, then add mushrooms. Cook until mushrooms are just done. (By not cooking the life out of the veggies, you ensure that your filling has some texture other than gravy, meat, and those other squishy things.)

In larger skillet, add broth and wine, bring to a simmer. Add flour a little bit at a time until the liquid has the consistency you want. (Keep in mind you might want to keep it a bit wetter than you would like, as you’ll be cooking everything together a bit and the liquid will reduce.) Add the vegetables and meat, then add a sprinkling of sage and some thyme and let the concoction simmer for 5-10 minutes, until flavors have melded and gravy has reduced a bit more. At this point, salt and pepper to taste, and add however much brown sugar you feel necessary to balance the very savory flavors in the dish. Place the filling in a bowl and set in fridge while cutting out the pie crusts. (If you don’t refrigerate the filling before you put it into the molds, it ends up melting the dough a bit, rendering it annoying to get out of the mold.)

Take the pie dough out of the fridge and let sit for about ten minutes or so, until it’s pliable without being too soft. Roll out dough to anywhere between 1/16th and 1/8th inch thick. (These little things are -amazing- for rolling things out evenly D: Before I discovered these, I used a couple of 1/8″ pieces of wood I had lying around for rolling pin guides. These are perhaps the most awesome thing to happen to rolling things out since the invention of the rolling pin.) The thickness of the dough does matter: 1/16″ results in a baked crust that is pretty much perfect as far as ratio of starch to filling, but is more difficult to handle during assembly. The 1/8″ dough is easier to manipulate, but because this mold is on the small side, there isn’t quite enough filling to satisfy all the crust.

Then you open your heart-shaped thinger-doober package up, unclamp it, and use the backs of the mold to cut the shape of the hearts at approximately the size you want them.

(I ended up using the rolling pin on my heart-shapes a bit more because they don’t really leave enough dough for a satisfactory lip around the pocket.)

Put one heart-shape on one side of the mold, spreading the dough a little to make sure it comes around onto the edges a bit. Scoop approximately 1/8th cup filling into the cavity, leaving out as much juice as possible if it’s more liquidy than not. Spread filling around, then place second heart-shape atop the first, close the mold, and press together. (Note: if you use 1/8″ dough, you will occasionally snap the mold apart; that’s ok, because it’s plastic, and goes right back together. Try to not be too hard on it, though.)

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Remove the pie from the mold, and you have a wonderful heart-shaped pocket pie of awesomeness! Repeat process with remaining dough and filling. Remember to refrigerate the dough periodically so it doesn’t completely come to room temperature – if you let it come to room temp, the dough becomes soggy and you’ll lose a lot of the flake.

Bake pies for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. Let sit on rack for a few minutes, then enjoy. If you opted for the thicker crust, drizzle some of the sauce from the pan over your pot pie to give it a bit more liquid for the crust to play with.

 


 

I have attempted to make things with chocolate once before, only last time it was truffles. Strangely, it was the ones with a tempered chocolate shell that turned out the best. Strange, considering it was my first time attempting to temper chocolate. At that time, I found this page, which really helped me figure out the process. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure it out for the first batch of chocolate, and I couldn’t replicate the success of the second batch in the third. I’m not sure exactly how I’m screwing up, and perhaps if I had hundreds of dollars worth of chocolate to use I could figure it out. Unfortunately I don’t, but I do have proof of my success.

Molded Chocolates

Filling

3/8 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup (I used agave and it worked wonderfully)
2 jumbo egg yolks
3/4 cups (1.5 sticks) butter, cut into small pieces, room temperature (cut while cold – makes it easier)
3 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), melted and cooled but still pourable
1/8 cup dark rum

Stir sugar and corn syrum in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil 1 minutes. Meanwhile, using electric mixer, beat egg yolks in medium bowl until pale and thick. Gradually beat in hot sugar syrup; continue beating until completely cool, about 5 minutes. (Do yourself a favor: add the hot sugar syrup in small doses while beater is off – you’ll avoid a very pretty but very messy sugar drizzle fiasco around the sides of your bowl.) Beat in butter 1 piece at a time, incorporating each piece completely before adding the next. Blend in melted chocolate, then rum. (If buttercream looks broken or curdled, place bowl with buttercream over medium heat on stove burner and whisk 5-10 seconds to warm mixture slightly, then remove from heat and beat mixture again on medium speed. Repeat warming and beating as many times as needed until buttercream is smooth. (Before adding the rum, I halved my buttercream into two bowls, added raspberry liqueur to one, Grand Marnier to the other. Wonderful flavor combinations, especially if you should decided to make the cake this buttercream recipe comes from.)
Tempering Chocolate

For my successful batch, I used about a pound of dark chocolate. The actual amount isn’t so important, it’s more the ratio of melted chocolate to seeding chocolate. There are two methods for tempering chocolate: you can melt it to between 105°F and 120°F, then slather 2/3 of it on a large marble slab and spread it and mix it back into itself until it is a uniform 82°F, then add that back into the chocolate that remained, and bring it to around 88-89°F; or you can melt the chocolate to 105-120°F, remove from heat, and add the seeding chocolate to it and wait for it to cool to 88-89°F. I don’t know about you, but as much as I would love one, I don’t have a giant marble slab, so I seed. The ratio of melted chocolate to seeding chocolate is 4:1. If you want all the technical information, look here. I’m pretty sure I’d butcher the details.

Fully melt the larger amount of chocolate in a water bath (I do this the same way I double-boil things. I can’t tell if it’s actually supposed to be different, but I know it works. Also, if you cut the chocolate into smaller pieces, they melt more quickly and uniformly.) Remove the bowl of melted chocolate from the heat. The chocolate should be at 120°F for dark chocolate or 110°F for milk or white chocolate. (Cooking for Engineers states that as long as the temperature is over 105°F, the crystalline structure of the chocolate has completely dissolved, which is what is needed for tempering: tempering is the controlled restructuring of those crystals to create a crisp shell.)

Add the smaller amount of unmelted chocolate to the melted chocolate. This is called the seed; it will cool the melted chocolate and cause it to set the way you want.

Stir the melted chocolate gently and constantly until the temperature falls to 85°F for dark chocolate or 83°F for milk or white chocolate. This will take 15-20 minutes, and most or all of the seeds should have melted by the end of this time.

Test the chocolate. Testing chocolate for temper is the only way to know for sure that chocolate is actually tempered. Make sure the chocolate is below 90°F for dark or 87°F for milk or white chocolate. Dip a spoon in the chocolate, place the spoon on the work surface, and leave it undisturbed for 7-8 minutes in the working room at 68°F. Don’t refrigerate – this will throw off the results. (You will know within a few minutes if your chocolate is tempered. It will dull a bit, but still be slightly shiny, and it will look hard/dry in a few minutes. If your chocolate hasn’t set by the 7-8 minute mark, you’re not quite there.) After 8 minutes have passed, look closely at the chocolate on the spoon. If the chocolate has set so that it no longer looks wet, and the surface is uniform and without streaks, the chocolate is tempered.

If the chocolate sets properly, gently warm it over a water bath not exceeding 89°F for dark chocolate or 86°F for milk or white chocolate. Remove any unmelted seeds from the melted chocolate. (I had to shift between having the chocolate on the heat to having it on the counter in order to maintain the general temperature. Other ways to maintain temperature include using a heating pad or nuking it in the microwave.)

Lining the Molds

Pick out your chocolate molds. As I said, I had human hearts, and I even dug up a cutsie-heart mold. You can use anything, really, just make sure it’s clean, has no cracks in the mold, and is free of any debris.

Fill the mold cavities with the tempered chocolate. Use a spoon or ladle and allow the chocolate to fill all the cavities of the mold. Scrape off the excess chocolate. Remove the chocolate from the top of the mold with a scraper, just don’t dip into the mold cavities.

Vibrate the mold on the table. This step will remove any trapped air pockets that could mar the finish of the finished products.

Allow the mold to sit. This allows the shell of chocolate to begin to form. The precise amount of time varies with the chocolate used, the room temperature, and the mold. Usually for small molds, 1-2 minutes is sufficient. (Don’t do multiple molds at once unless you’re really quick about it – I had too much of the chocolate in the first mold set by the time I finished filling the second.)

Pour the excess chocolate out of the mold. Tapping the mold lightly will remove more of the chocolate.

Scrape off excess chocolate. Clean the top of the mold using the scraper again.

Invert the mold. Place the mold upside down, elevated, so that the excess chocolate can drain. Leave inverted for about 5 minutes, or until the chocolate is no longer flowing.

Clean the top of the mold once again. Scrape the top of the mold so that the top edge of each cavity is clean and uniform.

Filling the Mold

Grab the buttercream. The easiest way to get the buttercream into the molds is using a piping bag. Whichever way you do it, there must be 1/8″ between the filling and the top of the mold.

Allow the fillings to firm. If you need to accelerate the process, refrigeration for 15 minutes or so is an acceptable option.

Sealing the Mold

Pipe tempered chocolate over the tops of each cavity in the mold. Allow the chocolate to cover each filled cavity. If the filling is still a bit soft, don’t tilt the mold or you’ll run the risk of mixing the filling and chocolate.

Don’t make the two large mistakes I made: don’t overfill your molds, and immediately smooth the chocolate you pipe over to seal the chocolate if it needs it. Otherwise, you’ll get this: 

Allow the chocolate to set at room temperature for 15 minutes. The chocolate you just applied should set at room temperature.

Refrigerate the mold for approximately 20 minutes. Refrigeration will contract the chocolate and make the finished products easy to release.

Be careful when you try to take the chocolates out of the molds – you could screw up all your hard work. First flex the chilled molds slightly, like you do an ice cube tray. Place a flat pan on top of the mold. Invert the mold and pan together. Tap the pan and mold lightly on the table. Lift the mold off the pan. All or most of the chocolates should have come free from the mold and should be sitting on the pan. If there are reluctant chocolates, don’t beat the mold until they come out – twist a bit more, tap, and if they’re still reluctant stick them back in the refrigerator for another 5-10 minutes and repeat the process.

Mine are still a bit sloppy – this is really the first time I’ve used a mold. These babies are amazingly good, though. Whether you take my route and use the raspberry or Grand Marnier, or just random rum, or none, they’re sooooo good. You can also use peanut butter (if it’s runny, add a bit of powdered sugar to thicken it), peanuts, or even just have solid chocolates. If you go for the solids, skip the filling part and go straight to the sealing without emptying the molds of their liquid tempered chocolate.

Earl Grey Madeleines

But first, the chocolate chip cookies.

I managed to get a new range, which was a very good thing. And as a way to break it in, I made my favorite cookie recipe. I’ve been using it since some time during high school, and it has never failed me. I realized at some point that I use it to test out new ovens, which does make sense. I’m familiar enough with the recipe that I know what to expect at every turn, and I know how it reacts on certain stoves – if it takes 8 minutes, the stove runs a bit hot; if it takes a straight 10 minutes, that’s pretty good; if it takes 11-12 minutes, then I need to have patience with the poor stove.

I started using this recipe purely as a fluke, but I have completely fallen in love with it. It’s rich (a lot of butter – but anything worth doing is worth doing well), it has the perfect blend of white and brown sugar to make it melt just enough… so good! Very much my comfort food when I’m feeling too lazy to bake other things.

The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie

10 ounce(s) 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips
2 1/4 cup(s) unsifted flour
1 teaspoon(s) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon(s) teaspoon salt
1 cup(s) (2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup(s) sugar
3/4 cup(s) packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoon(s) vanilla

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Stir flour with baking soda and salt; set aside. In large mixer bowl, cream butter with sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla.

Gradually blend dry mixture into creamed mixture. Stir in chocolate chips.

If this seems like there’s a lot in the mixer, it’s because there is. I made a double batch so I could freeze some. 

Drop 1 tablespoon of dough per cookie onto ungreased cookie sheets.

When I first started making these cookies, I was still very much not a fan of getting my hands icky with sticky-gooey-greasy stuff. I would scoop with one spoon, and scrape off the scooped dough with another. It resulted in flatter, more oddly-shaped cookies. I liked them, frankly. They had nicely crisped edges. Then one day I baked with my bestest friend Lysandra, and she was rolling the dough into balls. I kinda thought it was funny, but I noticed that hers came out much more uniformly, and I liked that. I’ve been trying to perfect the way I do the cookies since then. I found that if I refrigerate them then roll them, they’re much easier to roll and don’t stick to my hands as much, but they don’t flatten out as much, tend to be much more normal-cookie-ish. If I don’t refrigerate, I get dough all over my hands. I’ve recently turned to cookie scoops, but the last one I had disappointed me by breaking. I got a new one that seems like it might actually hold up, but with these I refrigerated the dough, not thinking too much about it. I had to bake them for a slight bit longer to get the same sort of effect (about three minutes longer) as far as the browning, but even so they’re still more… thick than I’m accustomed to. But! using a cookie scoop makes it much easier to pack them onto a cookie tray for freezing 🙂 

Bake at 375ºF for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown.

 


So, this is the third week that I have tried to make madeleines. Luckily, there was success! Finally! Of course, I’m not entirely sure how successful, since I’m pretty sure I haven’t had any other madeleines than one from Starbucks in those little packages. Yes, I went to France and didn’t have madeleines. I was busy with many other delights.

I let my mother know I was going to be posting about madeleines, and she said, “Are you going to mention Proust? You can’t mention madeleines without talking about Proust.” Strangely, I had never read Proust’s materials on madeleines, so I looked it up. The excerpt comes from Remembrance of Things Past. I won’t go into depth on it, but the link I read is here. Proust talks about going home and his mother feeding him madeleines and coffee, and from the first bite of the madeleine he is thrown back into some wonderful memory from an earlier time. The phenomenon is called involuntary memory. It tends to hit as suddenly as déjà vu, and is nearly as elusive in recapturing, but pertains to memory rather than your neurons chasing their own tails. It’s an interesting little read. I really haven’t read much Proust, but this makes me want to read more.

Anyway, Mikal keeps complaining that there aren’t as many tea-oriented pastries as there are coffee: coffee cake, espresso mousse, etc. So I found Earl Grey Madeleines with Honey.

Earl Grey Madeleines with Honey

5 tablespoons unsalted butter plus additional for molds, room temperature
2 tablespoons loose tea or tea from 2 tea bags (preferably Earl Grey)

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon (packed) finely grated lemon peel

Line small sieve with 2 layers of damp cheesecloth and set sieve over small bowl. Melt 5 tablespoons butter in saucepan over low heat. Mix in tea. Let stand 10 minutes, then pour into sieve. Twist cheesecloth tightly around tea mixture, releasing tea-flavored butter into bowl.

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar in large bowl until thick, about 4 minutes. Add honey, vanilla, and lemon peel; beat 1 minute longer. Gently fold in dry ingredients, then tea-flavored butter. Press plastic wrap onto surface of batter; chill batter at least 3 hours and up to 1 day.

Just an fyi on the fridge time thing: if you leave it in too long, it will deflate. That’s the one thing I noticed from the failed batch when my stove died. 

Yay! I finally learned this trick! Funny how once I kinda sorta knew how to do it, I worried a lot less >.>;

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400°F. Brush twelve 3×2-inch madeleine molds with butter. Dust with flour; tap out excess. Place pan on baking sheet. Drop 1 scant tablespoon batter into each mold (batter will spread while baking, filling molds completely).

Yeah… When the recipe called for a scant tablespoon, I took it at its word, and immediately thought, “Wait, that looks like a lot. But they must know what they’re talking about, right? C_C” And I eventually remembered that I opted for the mini-madeleine pan, which means that I need about half of what they were saying. So Mikal has a bunch of oversized madeleines for his nomming pleasure. 

Bake madeleines until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 10 minutes. Sharply rap pan on work surface to loosen madeleines, then turn out onto rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

As I said, I really haven’t had much in the way of madeleines, but I think I will be making some normal ones at some point. These have a good flavor, but I remember the ones from Starbucks having a much lighter/gentler flavor. For me, these taste too much like tea, or rather that the mixture of the tea, vanilla, and the type of honey we used was just all a bit loud for this. Mikal wants to try creating an ultra-concentrated earl grey, and substituting the vanilla for that, and see how it makes it taste. All in all, these are pretty easy to make, as long as you remember to put the eggs on high speed when making them fluffy. I may also invest in a silicone mold… I had forgotten how much dark pans effect baking. :/

A day of sad crème brûlée and nearly everything else

I love baking and cooking, but yesterday was one of those days where nearly nothing worked out right. My plan was to make crème brûlée and earl grey madeleines with honey. Mikal is always complaining that there are lots of coffee foods, but nothing really with tea in it. I saw the recipe for the earl grey madeleines and was tickled – Mikal loves earl grey.

You will notice at some point that most of what I make is French, or at least the recipes I love and am familiar with. I’ve always loved to eat and liked to cook and bake, but my passion was not truly aroused until I spent a quarter abroad in France.

My friend Anneke and I stayed for a couple of weeks with a couple named Marie and Farid. We had found them through Craigslist; they were offering a very reasonable price for a room, especially since we were splitting the cost. They lived in one of the outer arrondissements, a bit outside the main part of Paris, but still close. The were very nice, we had a good dinner with them the first night.

The following morning Anneke and I woke to something wonderful: fresh coffee and freshly baked pastries for breakfast. Now, I had been having pretty much the same sort of breakfast the preceding weeks – grabbing a café crème and pain au chocolat or croissant aux amandes at various cafés – but this was different. We got to sit on the terrace and talk for hours while the coffee and pastries kept coming. So relaxing and so refreshing. I really can’t describe it adequately, but the closest I can come is… You know those commercials for resorts and spas where everyone is lounging on a beach, not a care in the world, sipping some cocktail and everything is sickeningly staged and fake? I think my experience was what those advertisements promise – it wasn’t completely carefree, but it was very much a mental vacation. It was just amazing.

This continued for a full two weeks. Turns out Marie is a baker, and she and Farid wanted to open up a patisserie in the States. I voted for them opening up one in Olympia.

Anyway, having fresh baked goods for breakfast every morning reminded me of how much fun I had had baking in the past, and Marie made it look so easy and natural. I resolved at that point to stop letting Mikal and his sister have all the fun in the kitchen.

French: The Secrets of Classic Cooking Made Easy was one of my first acquisitions after I returned home, and it has been my go-to book for French dishes ever since. I found this book on Borders’ clearance rack a couple of years before it folded, and I absolutely love it. This book is wonderful for easy-to-understand recipes for great French dishes. The crème brûlée is easy, though time-consuming, but oh! so very worth it.

Crème Brûlée

4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean pod, split lengthwise
6 egg yolks
2 tbsp orange or almond liqueur
1/3 cup soft light brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Plase six 1/2 cup ramekins in a roasting pan or ovenproof dish and set aside.

With a small sharp knife, split the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape the black seeds into a medium pan. Add the cream and bring just to the boil over a medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and cover. Set aside to stand for 15-20 minutes.

Since I almost never have vanilla bean on-hand, I use real vanilla extract. (Believe me, there is a difference between real and imitation.) I add a splash of it, which is anywhere between 1 tsp and 1 tbsp. I like vanilla, so I tend to go more, especially since this recipe calls for liqueur, which I never actually use.

In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and liqueur until well blended. Whisk in the cream and strain into a large jug or pitcher. Divide the custard among the ramekins.

You do want to strain the mixture before you put it into the bowls. It makes the texture almost silky, which is a little strange to say about a custard, but you’ll see what I mean.

Pour enough boiling water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan with foil and bake for about 30 minutes until the custards are just set. Remove from the pan and leave to cool. Return to the dry roasting pan and chill.

It was right around this point that things started going south. For one, I was already impatient because I had had to run out to World Market to grab more bakeware… I ended up leaving a batch of my pumpkin pots de crème with my friend Denney, and had completely forgotten to get them back. And it was getting late and I was getting crabby. But I wanted to get this done before I got too tired, so I put them in the oven, put the timer on. I took a peek at them when the timer went off at 30minutes, and they weren’t set. I thought, “Hm… give ’em five more minutes.” Five minutes later, developing a skin, but not so much set. Another five minutes, nope. Another -ten- minutes, still no. At that point there were these funky bubbles on the top, but the cream under the skin wasn’t custarding at all.

My oven was hot (and had in fact been perfectly fine cooking a pizza immediately before this…), but they just weren’t getting done. I will be investigating this… I was looking all over yesterday for a stove thermometer, but didn’t want to pay $9 for one when I know I can get one for $3-4. This is what happens when I don’t follow through with things I feel the need to do. I’m hoping that once I test the heat in the oven, I might be able to remove the skin from the top and pop them back in to complete the baking. They’re about half done. I tried brûléeing one, just to see how it would turn out, but it was a funny not-completely-liquid half-done consistency. Still tasted wonderful, but I might be able to salvage them.

Preheat the grill (broiler). Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the surface of each custard and grill (broil) for 30-40 seconds until the sugar melts and caramelizes. (Do not allow the sugar to burn or the custard to curdle.) Place in the refrigerator to set the crust and chill completely before serving.

 


 

I started the earl grey madeleines while I was initially letting the crème sit and develop flavor. Of course, my penchant for not reading a recipe through decided to kick my ass – the dough needs to sit in the fridge for three hours XD Of course! Me being oblivious. Go me! I will be documenting the madeleines in the next post tonight, because after the crème brûlée flopped, I really didn’t have the heart to attempt anything else. Except I already had.

I decided to make some bread because there is nothing better in the world with tomato soup than grilled cheese sandwiches. I have a very clear memory of sitting at my grandparents’ kitchen table dipping my sandwich into the soup while looking at the designs in the glass door and the plants beyond it. Outside of coffee, it’s one of my favorite comfort foods.

I like making bread, though it almost never comes out the way I want it to. I think the only time I’ve made bread that turned out really fantastic was some ciabatta bread a couple of years ago. Ever since then, it just hasn’t quite turned out right – either it’s too dense, I forget to add salt, something. So I decided to check and see what the CIA says about it in Baking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. One of the best things about CIA books is their depth about techniques and information about ingredients. I looked through what it said about yeast breads, and was surprised: “If using a stand mixer, put all the flour in the bowl followed by the yeast. Add the liquid and salt, then mix on low speed with the dough hook until the flour is evenly moistened.” Every other bread recipe I have followed has you put the yeast in with the water and either sugar or salt or something for it to nom on. I was intrigued, so I tried to follow it. First of all, 2 cups of water didn’t really moisten 5 cups of flour. Maybe that was the problem. I added what I think was about half a cup all told, did the rest of what it told me to do, and set it to rise on the stove (since the house is warm, but not really -that- warm). Usually I’ll see it visibly rising when on the stove within ten minutes. After half an hour: nothing. An hour: nothing. I finally poke at it, and notice granules spread throughout the dough…. Looks like the yeast didn’t even have a chance to start its thing. Really? Really?! That was the last straw as far as attempting to make anything as far as I was concerned. I’m not sure where it went wrong. I’ll probably try it again at some point and see if I was just not paying attention last night or what happened.

But! I do have something of a recipe that worked and is somewhat shareable! I mentioned a tomato bisque I made. I like old-fashion tomato soup, but ever since I had Safeway’s Tomato-Basil Bisque, I’ve been hooked. It’s rather expensive, though. So I tend to make poor-man’s tomato bisque.

1 20oz. can condensed tomato soup
1 small onion, chopped
2 14.5oz. cans petit-diced tomatoes
1~ cup cream or half-and-half (half-and-half makes a thinner soup, but still adds the creaminess)
black and white pepper
salt
granulated garlic
ground ginger
basil (fresh is better, but dried works)
butter or oil

Put the onion in the pan with either the butter or oil, and caramelize. (I never really noticed how long it takes to caramelize onion. Of course, I’m kind of impatient most of the time, so I may not have wholly let the onions properly caramelize until recently >.>) Once caramelized, add soup, tomatoes, and spices and leave at low simmer for 30mins or so, stirring a bit, until nicely cooked and the flavors have spread. Add cream, let it cook in for a few minutes, then blend the soup. I used a hand blender, but a normal blender works (do it in batches – much easier that way, unless you have a huge blender). I blended until mostly smooth. If you like yours with some more texture, blend less. Voilà, you have yummy soups. Change the spices out if you want – I like ginger because it adds a slightly sweet zing, and I also added chopped garlic before I blended – the less-cooked garlic gave nice little bites of flavor here and there.

So I will be posting more tonight after I finish the madeleines. The dough can sit comfortably in the fridge for up to 24hrs, so I will be able to post my results on that then. So… I haven’t managed to get ahold of an oven thermometer to check, but I have a feeling I know what the problem may be. I turned the oven back on when I came home from work, and noticed that when I accidentally hit the knob again after setting the temperature, it changed the temp displayed on the digital screen by 15 degrees. I tried just pushing it straight in, and the same thing happened – I didn’t shift it one way or another. So, I have a feeling that something has gotten screwed up. I’m hoping Mikal will be able to get the thermometer on his way home from school tonight so I can check to make sure, but I have a feeling I’m going to have to wait until at least tomorrow to do any baking. But there’s a conundrum… I’m not sure the madeleine dough will last that long. It says it can be refrigerated up to 24hrs, but does not say one way or another what would happen after that. Ugh! Whyyyyyy Mr. Stove?! Why must you hate me ; ;

Update: re-baking crème brûlée = bad idea. Le fail.

A very pumpkiny day

This was the view that greeted me this morning out my kitchen window. Wonderful view while making coffee 😀

I had a completely different recipe planned for today (it will likely appear next week), but I found that we still had a couple of jars of pumpkin puree that were (surprisingly) still good. So I decided to figure out what I could do to use all the puree. I spent most of my day on five pumpkiny recipes. In each of the recipes, I used my puréed pumpkin in place of canned.

Pumpkin Flapjacks

2 cups all-purpose flour
(I used 1/2 wheat flour 1/2 white because I have more wheat flour than I know what to do with)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups milk (I used soy milk because I had a lot of that to get rid of)
1 cup canned pumpkin
4 large eggs separated
1/4 cup butter, melted

In a bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. In another bowl, beat milk, pumpkin, egg yolks, and butter to blend. Stir into flour mixture until evenly moistened.In another bowl, with a mixer on high speed, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into batter just until incorporated.

Around 40% of the time I set my mind on a particular recipe, I get in trouble for not reading the whole thing through. Either I’ll be missing some necessary ingredient, a pan or tool, the dough will need to set overnight, or, as in the case of this recipe, it uses a technique I have managed to completely fail to master in previous attempts. I have made two cakes that require whipped egg whites folded into the batter. Each time, the cake has literally fallen flat. I finally figured out that the reason for it is I haven’t started the egg whites whipping at a high enough speed. I tend to do too many things at once, so I was starting the whipping off at a lower speed so I wouldn’t overdo what I was attempting. Underdoing is just as bad as overdoing, it turns out.

Place a nonstick griddle or 12-inch nonstick frying pan over medium heat; when hot, coat lightly with oil and wipe dry with a paper towel. (I tend to use cast-iron skillets for pancakes, because they heat evenly.) Pour batter in 1/2 cup portions on to griddle, spreading slightly with the back of a spoon, and cook until pancakes are browned on the bottom and edges begin to look dry, about 3 minutes; turn with a wide spatula and brown other side, 2-3 minutes longer. Adjust heat as needed to maintain even temperature. (Again, if I had read the directions all the way through, I’d have seen the “spreading slightly with the back of a spoon” bit. As it was, I used a 1/3 cup measure, and the flapjacks were rather poofy.)

Serve immediately or keep warm on baking sheets at 200°F for 15 minutes.

These had a rather light flavor, and great texture, for all the fluffyness. But if you’re going to be like me and not spread them, you do have to cook them at a lower heat a bit longer to make sure they cook all the way through without starting to burn. The batch made 11 1/3 cup flapjacks.

 


 

My mother didn’t bake a whole lot when I was younger, I believe mostly because she worked a lot and was getting her PsyD, which really doesn’t leave a lot of time for such things. When we moved up to Washington state and I entered high school, though, the first couple of summers saw Mom doing a lot of baking. I have a very vivid memory of the first time I saw Mom make scones. I was intrigued when she got out a couple of butter knives to cut the butter into the dry ingredients. And then I was a bit grossed out when she added the rest of the wet ingredients and was working with her hands and the dough was all gooey and sticky… I really don’t like sticky stuff on my hands. The first time I tried making scones myself I tried to do it with a wooden spatula, but it just didn’t work. Over the years I have gradually become more comfortable having various cooking ingredients on my hands, though I still have issues with slimy things like egg white and raw chicken.

This second recipe is the one I had planned to make all along, ever since I bought the pumpkins. Life just kept getting in the way, until I decided to not let it by doing this blog. Once the scones were done, I decided to add a Maple glaze I had seen somewhere, because the tops looked a little on the dry side.

Pumpkin Scones

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (Again, I used 1/2 wheat)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, cut into chunks
3/4 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp milk (Again, I used soy milk)
1 large egg yolk
1 tbsp granulated sugar

In a bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, baking powder, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and salt. Add 1/2 cup butter and, with a pastry blender or your fingers, cut or rub in until pea-size crumbs form.

In a small bowl, whisk pumpkin and 1/2 cup milk until well-blended. Add to flour mixture and stir just until dough is evenly moistened.

Scrape onto a lightly floured board, turn over to coat, and gently knead just until dough comes together, 5-6 turns. (Really, don’t go more than this. I forgot how much just a little kneading will effect scones >< ) Pat dough into a 6-inch round 1 1/2 inches thick; cut into 6 equal wedges.

Separate wedges and place on a lightly buttered 12×15 inch baking sheet. In a small bowl, beat egg yolk and 1 tbsp milk to blend; brush lightly over tops of scones and discard any remaining egg wash. In another small bowl, mix granulated sugar and remaining 1/4 tsp cinnamon; sprinkle evenly over scones.

Bake at 375°F until scones are golden brown, 25-30mins. Transfer to a rack; serve warm or cool.

Mine needed the full 30mins, but I have yet to invest in a nifty oven thermometer, so my oven temp may be a bit off.

 


 

After I did the flapjacks and the scones, I still had -tons- of pumpkin purée left, so I went a bit farther in my search for pumpkin recipes.

Pumpkin Chai Pots de Crème

1 cup whipping cream
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
6 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup canned cooked pumpkin
1/3 cup chai tea concentrate or strong brewed chai tea
2 tsp grated orange peel or Meyer lemon peel
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 325°F. In a 2-3 quart pan over medium heat, stir cream, milk, and brown sugar until sugar is dissolved, 2-4 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a bowl, whisk egg yolks until light yellow. Add granulated sugar and whisk until blended. Gradually whisk a fourth of the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture. Then slowly whisk in remaining cream mixture as well as the pumpkin, chai, orange peel, and vanilla.

Set six ramekins in a 12×16 inch glass pan at least 2 inches deep. Divide mixture among ramekins (I managed eight, but I think most of mine are a bit smaller than the average ramekin). Set pan in oven and pour in boiling water halfway up sides of ramekins.

Bake until custards barely jiggle when gently shaken, 45-50 minutes. Lift ramekins out of water and let cool on racks for 30 minutes, then chill until cold, at least 1hr. Cover when cold.

I have made chocolate pots de crème before, and I have made crème brulée a few times. This reminded me more of crème brulée, so I attempted to brulée. I looked in one of my recently acquired Culinary Institute of America books to see what method they use for bruléeing, and found that they use white sugar. I had previously used brown sugar, which is ok, but it tends to clump when trying to spread it out. So I tried the white sugar…. not as good. It didn’t melt and yummify the way the brown sugar did, but the jury is still out on that. If you have any experience experimenting between the two sugars in bruléeing, let me know. I’d love to hear what other people have done. Additionally, this had a less-smooth texture than I’m used to with crème brulée or chocolate pots de crème, which seems to be due to the pumpkin purée? A little unexpected, though understandable once I thought about it.

 


 

I was a bit iffy on the next recipe, just because I’ve never really done any bar cookies. I’ve seen my friend Amber make her famous lemon squares, but that’s not quite the same as doing. This recipe was surprisingly easy, though I did have one hiccough when I was reading the directions for the filling (blend all ingredients together), but looking at the ingredient list for the topping… Somehow I was still doing the right ingredients as far as the cream cheese and pumpkin, though I think I added vanilla. It wasn’t until I had spread the filling in the pan and decided to taste a little out of the bowl and realized it wasn’t nearly sweet enough that I looked back at the recipe and completely facepalmed XD Had to take all the filling back off the crust (no easy task, since it was rather warm and meltingish) and add the rest of the ingredients. All that being done, though, they turned out amazing. It’s a toss-up between this and the flapjacks as to which was the most successful experiment.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Crumble Squares

Crust
1 cup flour
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter, diced
1 cup pecan halves
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats

Filling
8 oz. cream cheese
3/4 cup pumpkin purée
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger

Topping
1 cup sour cream
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

For the crust:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter 9x9x2-inch baking pan. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Pulse the first four ingredients in processor until coarse meal forms. Add pecans; pulse until nuts are chopped. Add oats; pulse until mixture is moistened but not clumping. Press 3 1/2 cups crumbs onto bottom of prepared square pan. Transfer remaining crumbs to the lined baking sheet. Bake crumbs on sheet until golden, stirring once, 12-15mins. Cool crumbs. Bake crust until golden, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven while preparing filling.

For the filling:
Blend all ingredients in same processor until smooth. Spread filling over warm crust; bake until set, dry in center, and beginning to rise at the edges, about 20 minutes. (I had to run to the store really quick, and came back a few minutes after the oven had gone off. It was obvious that the cheesecake was a little overdone, but that really didn’t impact the overall flavor or texture of the squares.)

For the topping:
Mix all ingredients in small bowl. Spread evenly over hot filling. Bake until topping sets and bubbles at edges, about 5 minutes. Cool completely in pan on rack. Sprinkle crumbs over topping; gently press into topping. Cover; chill until cold, about 2hrs.

Keep chilled. Cut into squares.

So seriously good. The crust has a similar flavor to a graham cracker crust, but it’s a bit crunchier. I want to do a raspberry one, because that’s what I kept thinking when I ate it. I mean, it tasted like pumpkin, but apparently my memory of bar cookies of this type is strongest relating to raspberry ones, I just can’t remember actually having raspberry bar cookies…

 


 

After all these sweets, I figured a real-food dish would probably be appropriate, especially if I don’t want to have a stomach ache and gain twenty lbs over the next couple of days. I have made a couple of other squash soups that have gone off pretty well… There was a gingery one that was a lot more ginger than I realized, so we ended up using it as a dip for breads rather than a soup. This soup turned out really well – the brown sugar added at the end gives it just the right sweetness to counterpoint the other flavors and bring everything together.

Spiced Pumpkin Soup with Ginger Browned Butter

2 lbs Sugar Pie or other pumpkin (I used 4-4 1/2 cups puréed pumpkin, which may have been a bit on the light side.)
2 lbs butternut or acorn squash
8 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth, divided
7 tbsp butter, divided
2 medium onions, chopped
1 tsp salt
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp plus 1 tsp freshly grated ginger, divided
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup packed brown sugar

Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut pumpkin and squash in half lengthwise, scoop out strings and seeds. Put flesh-side up in a large roasting pan with 1 cup broth. Cover pan with foil and bake until tender, about 1hr.

Meanwhile, melt 3 tbsp butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and 1 tsp salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and start to look creamy, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low or medium-low and cook onions, stirring every few minutes, until they turn a caramel color and become quite sweet, about 30 minutes. Set aside.

When pumpkin and squash are tender, scoop out flesh and set aside; discard skins. Reserve any liquid from the bottom of pan.

Return pot with onions to medium-high heat. Add garlic and 2 tbsp fresh ginger. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add ground ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom. Cook, stirring, about 1 minutes. Add remaining broth, the carrots, cooked pumpkin and squash, and reserved liquid from roasting pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until carrots are tender, about 15 minutes.

Whirl vegetables in blender (in batches) until completely smooth. (For silky-smooth soup, you can pour the puréed soup through a strainer.) Return to pot and stir in brown sugar. Season with salt to taste. Keep warm over low heat.

Put a small bowl or measuring cup next to the stove. Melt remaining 4 tbsp butter in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. Add remaining 1 tsp fresh ginger. Cook, stirring occasionally, until butter starts to foam. Stir mixture constantly until it starts to brown. Pour mixture into waiting bowl or measuring cup. Divide soup among 8 bowls and serve hot, with a swirl of ginger browned butter in each serving.