Tuesday, March 31, 2009

TWD: Coconut Butter Thins

Mmmm, I *love* shortbread cookies! Many thanks to Jayne of The Barefoot Kitchen Witch for choosing the Coconut Butter Thins from page 145 of "Baking: from My Home to Yours" for this week's "Tuesday with Dorie" project.

These delicious little cookies are a shortbread flavored with lime zest, shredded coconut, chopped nuts and a pinch of coriander. For the recipe, please visit Jayne's blog. (Take a look at some of her other recipes, too, not to mention her extremely photogenic--and entertaining--children and pets. Jayne has a real gift for finding and conveying the funny, touching, fascinating moments in everyday life.)

Back to the cookies--I substituted roasted, salted cashews for the macadamia nuts. (Macadamia nuts are so pricey!) Also I used unsweetened coconut and reduced the sugar to 1/2 cup. (We're not fans of really sweet things.) Other than that, I stayed with the recipe.

Dorie's suggestion for rolling and chilling the dough in a gallon zip-top bag is a great one! Of course, being the ultra-recycling type, I used a bag that had already been used several times, so I wouldn't have to feel quite so bad about cutting it up and throwing it away.(I am not quite as frugal as my grandmothers were, though. They saved used string. I just cut it up and compost it!)

Something about Dorie's math is a bit off when it comes to her instructions for cutting out the cookies, though. She says you have a 9-by-10 1/2 inch rectangle of dough and you cut it into 1 1/2 inch squares to get 32 squares. By my calculations, you have to cut into 6 pieces along the 9-inch side, and 7 pieces along the 10 1/2 inch side in order to get 1 1/2 inch squares. That's 42 cookies. Yes, I know, picky picky. Maybe I should be a proofreader. Anyway, I ended up with an 8-by-10 inch rectangle and cut it into 6 pieces by 8 pieces. There wasn't room on my baking sheets to place them the full 2 inches apart, so I froze them for about 30 minutes before baking. It seemed to work -- they spread a little, but not enough to run into each other.

I wasn't quite sure how to tell when they were done. I took them out after 20 minutes, but a test nibble revealed the centers were still pretty soft. A few more minutes firmed them up nicely, without browning them. For next time, I'd bake them until they are firm on the edges and almost completely firm in the center, but still pale. If they "give" in the center, they're not quite done.

I thought the lime flavor was just a little more subtle than I'd like, and I couldn't taste the coriander at all. The sweetness level was just right for our tastes. The coconut and nuts were also subtle flavors but just right -- and gave the cookies a nice texture. Yum, yum!

Like most shortbread cookies, these improve with a few days of aging--though you may have trouble keeping them around long enough to tell. Ours are vanishing fast!

TWD: Blueberry Crumb Cake

OK, yes, I know this was last week's "Tuesdays with Dorie" recipe. Sorry, lots of late posts this month. But I promise the next one will be on time. (I can do that because it's already finished and waiting to post!)

For March 24, our challenge was to bake the "Blueberry Crumb Cake," chosen by Sihan of "Walking in the Rain." (Her blog has previously been known as "Befuddlement" and "Fundamentally Flawed" -- I like the movement towards a more positive name. Hope that reflects a good trend in your life, Sihan!)

This recipe made a really thick cake batter -- it was like a cross between a batter and a dough. I used two cups of frozen wild blueberries (8 ounces by weight) which did turn the batter a little bit purple. (No problem as far as I'm concerned.) The cake rose beautifully in the oven and came out tall and fluffy. Some folks said theirs was dry, but mine wasn't. It took a bit longer to bake than the book said, and I got a couple of small pools of butter on top when the topping melted. They ended up making two sunken, somewhat mushy spots underneath.

See the sunken spot in the center?

Overall, this was good, but too sweet for our tastes. Jim and I are both way on the "not sweet" side of the bell curve of taste preferences. I mostly end up reducing the sugar in recipes, but I was nervous about doing it for a cake recipe. They can be tricky. Also, the blueberries had been in the freezer too long and weren't all that flavorful anymore. My bad. I also thought I would have liked more of them.

I'd like to play around with this recipe -- reducing the sugar in the cake, adding more berries, and maybe adjusting the amount of butter in the topping. I liked the way the heavy batter turned into a light and tender cake! And we have lots of frozen home-grown black raspberries -- I bet they'd be great in this cake. (Yes, that will mean more purple batter. Purple is good!)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

TWD Late Report: Orange-Star Anise Cup Custard

Hi folks, this is a late post about the "Tuesdays with Dorie" choice of the week for March 10, 2009 -- the Lemon Cup Custards, chosen by Bridget of The Way the Cookie Crumbles. Bridget, I want to thank you for choosing this recipe, especially since it got a number of negative comments on the P&Q section. While it isn't going to end up on my list of all-time Dorie favorites, it was tasty, and I was very glad to have the chance to try this recipe and find out more about making custard!

I went for the Orange-Star Anise flavoring variation. (Actually, it was a tangelo, not an orange. Close enough.) I replaced 2 tablespoons of the milk with the same amount of heavy cream, for extra richness. (We love our butterfat!) I cut the recipe in half but left the zest, star anise, and orange extract amounts the same, based on some of the reports in the P&Q section.

I strained out the tangelo zest as per instructions, but it looked so pretty and flavorful that I changed my mind and stirred it back in again! The zest ended up all sinking down to the bottom of the custards. This would have been kind of a nice effect for a flan, or a custard that was going to be unmolded and served upside down, but I didn't like it as well for a plain cup custard. Tasted fine, though. Live and learn!

I had 4 smaller custard cups to bake for my half-recipe, and they ended up taking only about 25-30 minutes until they were just a bit jiggly. At this point I made a mistake -- I took them out of the oven, but left them in the water bath to cool for about 15 more minutes. By the time I took them out, they were firm. The final texture was OK, but a bit more firm than I would have liked.

The flavoring was pretty subtle despite having increased the amount of flavorings. And yes, it was a bit eggy, but hey, this is custard! The texture was good and would have been perfect if I hadn't left them in the water bath. Adding a flavorful topping made them really, really good. I used home-canned mandarin orange segments in syrup and brandy. Yummy, yummy, yummy!

I'm sure the custards would have been even better if I hadn't overcooked them. However, I don't think this is going to become my go-to baked custard recipe. Actually, I don't have a go-to baked custard recipe. Any suggestions? I think we want something more rich, creamy, decadent and flavorful. Still, I'm grateful for the experience and the chance to find out more about baked custards.

TWD: French Lemon Yogurt Cake, twice

This week's choice for "Tuesdays with Dorie" was the French Yogurt Cake with Marmalade Glaze, chosen by Liliana of My Cookbook Addiction. (Liliana, you're not the only one around here with a cookbook addiction!) You can find the recipe on Liliana's blog, and there are also variations posted on Epicurious and Serious Eats. And, of course, it's in the cookbook we all bake from -- "Baking: From My Home to Yours," by Dorie Greenspan.

I had a feeling I was going to like this cake, so I actually made it twice. The first time was a lemon version, with all flour (no almond meal). I used bleached flour and made cupcakes. The only other adjustment was to reduce the baking powder to 1 3/4 teaspoons, as I have read that too much baking powder can make for flat cupcakes. The recipe made 12 lovely, nicely domed cupcakes with a subtle lemon/vanilla flavor. (Baking time was about 20 minutes.) They just cried out for an intensely lemony filling and frosting!

I went with the Lemon Cream on page 461 of "Baking" -- which is actually the same as the filling for the Most Extraordinary Lemon Cream Tart on page 331-333. This was a past TWD pick, chosen by Mary of Starting From Scratch. Her blog seems to have been discontinued, but you can find the recipe on Serious Eats, and read some extra hints from Dorie on her own Web site.

Wow! This stuff really is extraordinary! (I really wanted to lick out the blender jar--ended up resorting to spatula and fingers to reach down to the bottom.) The cream has a lovely soft texture and intense tart-sweet-creamy-lemony flavor. (I did modify the recipe very slightly by adding 2 teaspoons of home-made lemon extract. It's not nearly as intense as store-bought extract--I made it by steeping grated lemon zest in vodka for about 6 weeks, then straining out the zest.) The cream's texture is really a bit too soft and runny for a good frosting -- it's sort of halfway between a frosting and a sauce. But who cares when it tastes that good!

My second cake was the Riviera variation with ground almonds (blanched and lightly toasted,then ground), strained yogurt (amazing how much water drained out!), olive oil, and the zest from a Meyer lemon. I thought the cupcakes were just a bit on the sweet side, so I reduced the sugar to 3/4 cup. That was perfect! I took two teaspoons of dried Herbes de Provence from Penzeys, ground it up fine in the coffee grinder I use as a spice grinder, steeped it for 30 minutes or so in warm olive oil, then strained the herbs out.

When I made the cupcakes, I found it was a bit difficult to stir in the oil at the end. So for the loaf, I just used the standard quick-bread or "muffin method" (as Alton Brown calls it). I mixed together all the dry ingredients except the flour & zest. In another bowl, I rubbed the zest into the sugar, then beat in all the wet ingredients -- eggs, yogurt, vanilla, oil. Then I made a well in the dry ingredients, dumped in the wet ingredients, and mixed gently until just combined. It seemed to work just as well and was easier as far as I'm concerned!

Since the loaf was baked in a Pyrex pan, I reduced the oven heat to 325 F, but even so, the cake took less time to bake than Dorie said. (I may have to check my oven temperature.) It was very brown on the outside, but tasted fine, and the crust and was not hard or tough.

As for topping, I'm pretty sure the local Woodman's store carries lemon marmalade, but I didn't have time for a shopping run. So I brushed the cake with a syrup made from Meyer lemon juice and sugar, plus some home-made Meyer lemon extract. Wonderful! My husband liked this version the best, but I preferred the cupcakes. We're both happy!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Visit to Mexico: Chapala

Hello folks! Here are some pictures from our visit to Mexico. Today I'll show you the town of Chapala, the largest town on the shores of Lake Chapala.

Lake Chapala is located south of Guadalajara, Mexico. It's a large lake, about 50 miles long but not very wide, and quite shallow in most parts. It's up on the mountainous central plateau of Mexico, so the altitude is about 5000 feet above sea level.

View Larger Map

How did we come to be visiting this part of Mexico? (Aside from the obvious -- we live in Wisconsin, of course we jumped at the chance to go south for 10 days!) Well, Jim's parents retired down here in 1982. Jim's dad was from Wisconsin, his mom was born in Canada. After they retired, they became "snowbirds" and traveled south for the winter, checking out various places. Eventually they decided to settle permanently on the north shore of Lake Chapala. Jim's dad died several years ago, and his mother has now moved into a nice assisted living place in the same area. (She said there was no way in **** she was moving back to Wisconsin!) So, we go down once a year or so to check up on her and have a nice vacation.

I'll post some more information about this area later on. It has long been a haven for expatriates and retirees, and has a large English-speaking population.

In the meantime, here are pictures from Chapala:

Looking northwest from the boat pier.

And northeast from the boat pier. There's a lovely park along the lakefront here, although the walkways were all torn up for renovation at the time we were there.

Looking east from the boat pier. There are a number of restaurants and cafes on the pier in left part of this picture. The white birds (pelicans, I think) are all standing in a particularly shallow part of the lake. Maybe it's a sort of bird cafe.

An egret -- there were lots of them around, too. The boat pier is in the background.

Then we walked a few blocks to the town plaza. I wish I'd taken a picture of the plaza -- all the towns in this area have one. But I didn't. Here's some of what we saw along the way.

A typical storefront. Small, brightly painted, and open to the street. This store sells office and school supplies. Quite a difference from Office Depot, no?

A store selling fruit and vegetables. The young lady is wearing the typical clothing of teenage girls and young women -- jeans and a tight and/or skimpy shirt. Sounds familiar, right? (Older ladies seem to go for slacks and a less revealing shirt.) Plus the smock, which is typical work-wear for women of all ages.

Chapala also has an indoor market. Here's one of the stalls. I recognized a lot of the fruit here -- but there were some things I'd never seen before.

This stall sells smoothies and desserts. Very tempting, but we weren't hungry.

There was a carneceria (meat-selling) stall just across from this one. Wish I'd taken a picture. Or maybe not -- it might have grossed out the vegetarians.

Jim in front of another stall in the indoor market.

That's all for now, folks!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

TWD: Chocolate Armagnac Cake

Hello everyone! We had a great trip to Mexico (more posts and pictures to follow). Now I'm back and into baking for "Tuesdays with Dorie" again.

This week's assignment was "Chocolate Armagnac Cake," chosen by LyB of And then I do the dishes. Wow! Seven ounces of chocolate, ground pecans, prunes flamb├ęd in fancy brandy, almost no flour, and three more ounces of chocolate in the glaze. This is the sort of dessert I love!

For the recipe, check out LyB's post. Or buy Dorie Greenspan's great cookbook, "Baking: From My Home to Yours."

What I did: used half almonds and half pecans because I had some ground-up almonds left over from January's French Pear Tart. Used mostly Scharffenberger 70% chocolate with a bit of Callebaut bittersweet when the Scharfenberger ran out. Used nice organic prunes and a mixture of good cognac and not-too-expensive brandy. Other than that, this is one recipe where I just followed the directions! A couple of tips: a pair of kitchen scissors works wonderfully for cutting up the prunes. Snip, snip, snip -- if the shears get sticky just wipe them with a damp cloth. Much easier than chopping with a knife. And, if there are any lumps at all in the confectioners' sugar for the glaze, be sure to sift it after measuring and before using.

whipping egg whites in the lovely copper bowl that my sweetie found in a second-hand store

My cake was definitely done after 30 minutes in the oven. In fact, I was worried that I might have overbaked it a bit, but tasting it later proved it was just right! My only complaint was that I couldn't really taste the brandy.

I can see making this again with different combinations of ground nuts, dried fruit and booze. Raisins and whisky -- candied orange peel and Grand Marnier -- dried cherries and brandy or rum -- delicious!