Monday, March 15, 2010

Happy Pi(e) Day

March 14th: sandwiched between Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day, my favorite holiday of the year, Pi Day.

Pi Day has had special meaning for me since AP US History in my junior year of high school. This is when I first encountered the nineteenth century movement referred to as the "cult of domesticity." Its proponents argued that a woman's place is in the home, and that domestic virtues were superior to all others. Struck by the ridiculousness of the idea and the very catchy name, my friends and I formed our own branch, a society loosely dedicated to the protection and preservation of the domestic arts. "Meetings," which we still have whenever enough of us are in the same place, mostly involve getting together to make pie and the "prostitute pasta" (pasta puttanesca) from TBS' Dinner and a Movie for Pretty Woman. Our Cult of Domesticity has had a long and storied life so far, and Pi Day is its anniversary of sorts.

Over the last eight years, some things have changed - our members have been scattered across the country in med school, law school, and various forms of gainful employment, and we can use real wine in the pasta sauce instead of sour-tasting Heinz cooking wine - but some things have not. My grandma's key lime pie, the pie that started it all, is still my favorite in the world. And good friends are still the best people to share it with.

So as an anniversary present for us all, here is the pie recipe that always makes an appearance at our gatherings. It's simple, straightforward, and can be made in about five minutes flat, including washing the dishes. You do have to let the filled pie chill for a few hours to set up, but if you get impatient or are in a hurry, you can always pop it in the freezer to accelerate the process.

At home I usually made this with a store-bought graham cracker crust, but you can easily make your own with some crushed up graham crackers and a bit of melted butter - just mix and press into a pie dish, then bake at 350 or so for about 10 minutes to set. Cool before pouring in your filling.

Grandma's Key Lime Pie
1 9" graham cracker crust, storebought or homemade
8 oz./ 1 c. sour cream
1 can sweetened condensed milk (my grandma's recipe specifies Eagle Brand, but substitutions should be fine)
1/2 c. key lime juice, fresh or bottled (fresh is more tangy, but allow a LOT of time to juice all the little key limes)
2 heaping tbsp. Cool Whip - I tend to interpret "heaping" very liberally, but I like Cool Whip.

Combine all ingredients, mixing until smooth. Don't worry if it looks curdled or weepy at any point, just keep mixing and it will all come together nicely. Pour filling into crust, chill for several hours, enjoy!
Leftovers (if there are any!) are best within the next 48 hours; the crust tends to get soggy after that.

Friday, March 12, 2010

best slice and bake cookies ever

Slice-and-bake cookies, to some people, are shorthand for lazy cooking and a Sandra Lee-esque approach to the kitchen. But these cookies, officially Mocha Latte bars, are head and shoulders above anything in the refrigerator aisle. I first made these during school last year, as an accompaniment to our creme brulees in a plated dessert unit. Their dense chocolate and slightly bitter mocha edge was a perfect foil for the silky cream of the brulee, but when I've made them since I've discovered that they stand very nicely on their own or with a cup of coffee or tea.

There is a little bit of work required before you get to the "slice and bake" part, but the recipe makes a lot of dough, which can be refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for several months. If you're planning to freeze it, I might slice it before freezing, but refrigerated dough can be cut and thrown straight into the oven. A log of refrigerated dough can travel well - I brought it on the subway to a friend's house and was feted as a hero when we enjoyed straight-out-of-the- oven cookies for dessert. It could also make a nice hostess or holiday gift for someone who loves baked goods but doesn't love the prep work.

I've made a few small changes to the original recipe - substituting a variety of chocolates for the gianduja, using Medaglia d'Oro powder - so my version appears below. enjoy!

Mocha Latte Bars (original recipe Vicki Wells, distributed at FCI)

250 grams butter (room temperature)
300 grams granulated sugar
1 egg and 1 yolk
1 1/2 tbsp. vanilla
325 grams all-purpose flour
115 grams unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Dutch processed here)
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. baking powder
2 tbsp. Medaglio d'Oro espresso powder
4 1/2 c. chopped chocolate (I like a mix of white, milk and semisweet or bittersweet)

Sift the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Cream the butter and granulated sugar until light and airy. Add the egg, then the yolk, mixing well to incorporate after each. Add the vanilla, slowly. Scrape down the bowl as necessary. Add dry ingredients, mix only until almost incorporated, then add chocolate in two or three batches. Separate the dough into two or three logs - these can be round, square, rectangular, or any other shape you like. Chill at least until firm (two or three hours), or up to a week.
When you're ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice your logs - I like these cookies between 1/4 and a 1/2 inch thick, and think a serrated or very sharp chef's knife works best - and arrange on parchment paper or a silpat on a cookie sheet.
Bake 10-15 minutes, or until cookies look firm and matte.

Let cool (or not - they're great warm!) and enjoy. Great with a glass of milk.

martha saves the day

A certificate in pastry arts may not seem like the most useful education, but on occasion, a chef can be a real hero. A few weeks ago I got a panicked voice mail from my sister. "Liz," she said. "It's a baking emergency. I need your help." I called her back, did some phone triage, and determined that somewhere in her attempt to bake cookies for a friend, something had gone horribly wrong. I knew from the tone of her voice that it was bad, but I still wasn't quite prepared for the sight that met my eyes when I entered our kitchen 20 minutes later.

These cookies, ostensibly Toll House chocolate chip, were probably the saddest I'd ever seen - completely flat, burnished dark brown, so thin they were almost transparent. There was still some dough left, so I performed the very scientific experiment of tasting a spoonful. The taste was fine, but the texture seemed soft and a little greasy. I quizzed Laura - did she follow the recipe? did she add a leavener? did she add flour? The answers were all as they should be, but they didn't tally up to the final product. I made the executive decision to mix in some more flour and chuck the dough in the freezer while we made a new kind of cookie for her friend, who had failed his driving exam and was in need of culinary comfort.

Wanting something foolproof and brown sugar-less (Laura had used the last in her ill-fated previous attempt), I pulled out Martha Stewart's Cookies, which I got for my last birthday. Martha offered up Giant Chocolate Sugar Cookies, which looked big and sweet enough to assuage most major life disasters. We must not have made our cookies quite as giant as Martha did, because we got about 50% more than the recipe suggested, but they turned out quite nicely. The slightly sticky dough baked into dark, crinkly rounds of chocolatey goodness, just the thing for soothing a friend's wounded ego or re-building confidence in the kitchen.

In case you were wondering about the disaster cookies, the rehabbed dough turned out just fine. Laura was able to bring a few of them to her friend, and for the first time in a while, I felt like a kitchen hero and stud of a sister. I think the moral of the story is: trust Martha to steer you straight. (Unless, of course, you're looking for a hot stock tip.)

Giant Chocolate Sugar Cookies (adapted slightly from Martha Stewart's Cookies)

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 c. butter, room temperature
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. vegetable shortening (or butter), melted and cooled
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.
Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and granulated sugar until light, soft, and aerated. Add melted shortening, mix thoroughly. Add egg, then vanilla, beating thoroughly after each. Mix until creamy.
Reduce mixer speed, then gradually add flour mixture. Mix until just combined.
Drop dough onto prepared baking sheet. Martha suggests using a 2 1/2 inch ice cream scoop, which holds about 1/4 c. of dough. Space the cookies about 4 inches apart (if making this size). Bake until edges are firm, 18-20 minutes, and let cool on sheets on wire rack.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

me = bad blogger

A real blogger probably would have had something catchy to post on the one year anniversary of their blog's beginnings... I am clearly not a real blogger, since I just realized my first post was over a year ago. I've been very occupied by non-Web-y things (like writing for grad school applications instead of this blog) for the last few months, but I do have a few delicious posts lined up to come your way very soon.

It's funny to think how much some things have changed since I started this blog (my location, occupation, and general life plan) but more important to think about all the things that haven't. I still love playing around in the kitchen, love sitting down to write about it, and am glad some people have read this and been inspired to play themselves.

see you soon!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Swedish for a Day

My family isn't Swedish (just Norwegian, German, and most of the rest of Northern Europe) at all, but you'd never know it from our holiday menu. Every Christmas Eve we have Swedish meatballs and Swedish sausage to go with our lefse and pickled herring, and this Christmas Day I made kanebullar, Swedish cinnamon rolls, to go with our traditional present-opening feast of a breakfast.

The kanebullar were mostly for my sister Kathleen, who studied abroad in Stockholm and occasionally has pangs of Scandinavian homesickness that require a trip to the closest IKEA cafeteria. She swears the cinnamon rolls there are the best you've ever tasted.
I decided that one of my presents for her would be to try and recreate these miraculous Swedish rolls in the comfort of our own home. My ally in this attempt was Beatrice Ojakangas, a widely published cookbook author (and Minnesotan!) whose book Scandinavian Home Baking seems to be the definitive English work on the subject.

The recipe was surprisingly simple- a yeasted dough enriched with eggs and melted butter rests overnight (growing enormously in the process), and can be made into rolls the next morning. There is no kneading required, and the process of rolling out and shaping the rolls can be done quite quickly if you have all your ingredients assembled. The recipe makes about 32 rolls, more than you might want in one sitting, so I recommend assembling all the rolls and then freezing whatever portion you aren't planning to bake and eat right away. Yeasted enriched dough should hold up well for at least several weeks, and can either be defrosted first or baked straight from its frozen state.

One word of caution on the rising process - make sure that your dough is rising in a space that is an appropriate temperature. On Christmas I was able to leave the dough in the garage overnight, but by New Year's it had gotten so cold that the dough froze before it rose all the way - I probably should have made space for it in the refrigerator. The dough recovered a little bit the next morning, but never got quite as light and fluffy as the Christmas version.

Ojakangas suggests a cornet shape, looking like a croissant, for these rolls, but Kathleen assured me that real Swedes serve cinnamon rolls in the traditional spiral shape. I split the difference by making about half of each shape once the dough had risen in the morning. The risen dough is rolled out, slathered with a really delicious butter/cinnamon sugar mixture, and cut into the appropriate shape.

We enjoyed these Christmas morning along with our presents, and they were as appreciated as the gifts under the tree. Though delicious enough to make any morning feel like a special holiday, they were so simple and quick that I'd make them on an ordinary weekend.

Kanelbullar (adapted slightly from Beatrice Ojakangas' Great Scandinavian Baking Book)

for the dough
1 1/2 c. scalded milk
1/2 c. butter
3 eggs
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 pkg dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)
1/4 c. warm water (105 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit)
6 c. flour (I used 1/2 all-purpose and 1/2 whole wheat)

for the filling
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. sugar
1 tbsp. cinnamon

1 egg
2 tbsp. milk
pearl sugar or coarse sugar

To make the dough, bring the milk just to boiling in a small pot. Pour into a large bowl with the butter and stir until butter is melted. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water, let stand for 5 minutes. Mix eggs, sugar, and salt into the liquids in the large bowl. Add yeast once the mixture has cooled slightly. Mix in the flour to make a smooth but thick dough.

Cover the dough and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours. The dough should rise substantially. When you are ready to make the rolls, prepare a clean, floured surface. Divide the dough into four parts, rolling each about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Once the dough is rolled to the correct softness, brush with softened butter and sprinkle with the cinnamon and sugar mixture. To make a cornet shape, roll the dough into either a circle or a rectangle. Cut long skinny triangles/wedges, and roll from the base towards the point. Curl the ends together.

For a more traditional spiral shape, roll the dough into a long rectangle before applying the filling. Roll it up, then cut 1-2 inch slices. Lay on the flat side.

Once the rolls have been shaped, arrange them on a cookie sheet (greased or with parchment paper), and cover loosely with saran wrap. Let them rise for about 45 minutes or until slightly puffy. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix the milk and egg for the glaze together, and brush on the rolls. Sprinkle the sugar on top. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, or until golden. Enjoy!

Monday, December 7, 2009

it's freeeezing here

Ok, I know that as a native Minnesotan, I am not supposed to complain about the weather. But three years in Manhattan, where the combination of population density and pollution prevents snow from sticking for more than four hours, have left me totally soft and unprepared for the vicious reality that is Minnesota winter.

We're set to get our first big winter storm this week, and it's supposed to be 2 below on Friday. Not below freezing - below ZERO. So I'm planning on spending most of this week and weekend heating up in the kitchen, hanging out by the warm oven and getting a bunch of my holiday baking done.

On the agenda so far: family classic Russian Teacakes, Peanut Blossoms, Scandinavian spritz cookies, and a brand new chocolate gingerbread cookie recipe from the geniuses at Baked, one of my favorite bakeries of all time.

What are you making for the holidays? And what else should I make? If you've been good this year, I might take requests ;)

very American apple pie

If there's anything more American than apple pie, it's this apple pie, which has a delicious pecan crumble crust covering sweetly spicy apples that have been sauteed in real Kentucky bourbon. Pecans, being native to south-central America, put the patriotic appeal of this delicious dessert right over the top.

I first made this recipe for Thanksgiving dinner two years ago, after seeing it in the New York Times. It comes from a restaurant called Bubby's in Tribeca, a diner known for an delicious home-style brunch and an extensive, varied, and invariably scrumptious selection of pies. I loved the recipe so much that I ended up asking for the book it came from that Christmas, and everything I've made from it has been really, really good.

But back to the pie at hand. We usually have a pretty good-sized crowd for Thanksgiving dinner, and not everyone in my extended family likes pumpkin pie (sacrilege, right? you already know how I feel about pumpkin flavored things). I love making classic apple pies (in fact, I entered one in the Minnesota State Fair this summer), but I was intrigued by the addition of the bourbon, the nutty crumble topping, and the fact that the apples get sauteed before being put in the pie shell.

This pie is fantastic with or without classic accoutrements such as whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, and was such a big hit with my family that we haven't been able to celebrate Thanksgiving without it since. For some reason, this year's pie was even more delicious than last - I don't know if it was the Wild Turkey, the Minnesota-grown apples, or my culinary education kicking in, but I hope next year's turns out just as well!

Bubby's Whiskey Apple Crumble Pie (slightly modified by me)

Pate Sucree (recipe from the French Culinary Institute):

125 grams butter, softened

63 grams powdered sugar

1 egg plus one yolk

250 grams all-purpose flour

Crumble Topping:

3/4 c. all-purpose flour

1/4 c. light brown sugar

1/4 c. granulated sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon


6 tbsp cold unsalted butter

1/2 c. chopped pecans

Whiskey-Apple Filling

3 tbsp. cold unsalted butter

2 pounds tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick (Granny Smith work great)

1/2 c. light brown sugar

Pinch ground cloves

Pinch ground nutmeg (freshly grated, if possible)

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

2 tbsp. whiskey or bourbon (I used Wild Turkey for an All-American Kentucky bourbon take)

1. To make the crust, bring the butter and the eggs to room temperature. Beat the butter and the (sifted) powdered sugar with an electric mixture until thoroughly creamed. Add eggs one at a time, careful to maintain the emulsion and mix thoroughly before adding the next. Add flour and mix only until incorporated. Wrap in plastic and chill in refrigerator for at least one hour.

2. Roll out crust, place in buttered 9-inch pie dish, crimp edges as desired. Chill for at least 30 minutes. (I like glass or Pyrex pie tins, because they allow me to monitor the done-ness of my crust more easily.)

3. Make the crumble topping, either by hand or in a food processor. If the latter, add all ingredients except butter and nuts, pulse to mix. Add butter, pulse until texture approximates lentils or small peas. Add chopped nuts. If by hand, mix all ingredients except butter and nuts until combined, cut in butter with pastry blender or two knives. Mix in pecans at end, chill until needed.

4. Core and slice apples (I tend not to peel mine, you can if you like). Melt butter in frying pan over medium heat, add apples and brown sugar. Cook until slightly soft around the edges, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, add spices, bourbon. Let cool for 10 minutes

5. Pour filling into chilled crust, top with crumble. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes; lower oven to 350 and bake for another 40 to 50 minutes, or until topping is set and filling is juicy, bubbling, and heavenly-smelling.

6. You'll want to eat it right away, but do yourself a favor and let it rest - the pie will cut more easily and taste even better once it's cooled down (at least an hour - our pie was even tastier the day after Thanksgiving!)