Monday, August 17, 2009

Everything nice.

In case you haven't picked it up by now, I'm kind of lazy. I applaud the return to simplicity but really all that means is that I don't want to put out a ton of effort when I bake or cook. I like things that are easy to make (but tasty), and I'll sacrifice presentation for convenience (unless I'm going to serve it to guests or something). Now that I've been baking and blogging for about 3/4 of a year, I realize that it's because I am so painfully slow when I bake and cook (and maybe even slower when writing my posts?!). When recipes include an estimated time to completion, without fail, I exceed that time period. I'm not even referring to Rachel Ray's recipes, which, as we know, take more than 30 minutes (I'm not docking her, I know few who can make a "real" full meal in under 30 minutes).

I can't really pinpoint what I'm doing inefficiently--although I do try to keep things tidy while I bake because I don't like to make a mess. Prep time (not including baking time) for something like chocolate chip cookies is rarely half an hour, as quoted. If I were to undertake a slightly more elaborate endeavor, say a chocolate cake with frosting, I could easily spend half a day in the kitchen. Making something like frosted cut-out cookies becomes a whole day affair.

For this reason, I love today's recipe (actually, what I mean is, I love the cookies you can make from this recipe). Again, it's "simple" but so appealing. Cinnamon and sugar is always a winning combination in my book (think cinnamon rolls or one of my favorite sugary cereals, Cinnamon Toast Crunch!). Plus I've been reading studies that cinnamon helps lower blood sugar levels, so these cookies can't be that bad for you (don't believe it). The recipe is from Sherry Yard, again, and it has an old-fashioned flair to it because it uses cream of tartar and baking soda, which predates the concept of baking powder. With prep time coming in at under 30 minutes, this will be a recipe I'll come back to in a pinch when I'm craving something sweet.

Adapted from Sherry Yard's The Secrets of Baking
Makes about 2-1/2 dozen cookies

1. Sift together the following in a bowl, then set aside:
- 1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 t. baking soda
- 1/2 t. cream of tartar

2. Using a mixer on medium, cream until color becomes lighter:
- 1 stick unsalted butter, cut in 1 inch cubes

3. On medium speed, mix in until smooth:
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1-1/2 t. cinnamon
- 1/8 t. salt
- 1-1/2 t. vanilla

4. Scrape down the side of the mixing bowl, then fully incorporate (but don't over mix):
- 1 large egg

5. Add in the flour mixture from #1, mixing on low, until dough is even. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees, and arrange the rack to the lower third of the oven. Line two cookies sheets with parchment paper.

7. In a small bowl, mix together by hand:
- 1 T. cinnamon
- 2-1/2 T. sugar

8. Removing the dough from the refrigerator, roll the dough into one-inch balls. Coat each ball with the cinnamon and sugar mixture from #7. Place each ball about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.

9. Bake each sheet individually for approximately 13 minutes. Cookies should be dry on the outside.

10. Allow the cookies to cool for about 10 minutes, then serve (or save some to store).

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tres bien.

I don't know what it is about the French, but have you noticed that everything in French sounds so much better? For example, Chocolate and Zucchini has wonderful recipes, but it is the French slant (including her periodic lessons on French idioms relating to food), that gives it a certain, well, dare I say, je ne sais quoi. Or think of the word souffle, and one can only respond with a monosyllabic "oooh" in awe. The French have kind of mystified food, and even their most basic dishes can seem humble yet refined at the same time. Movies are made about French food (Ratatouille, Julie and Julia...), with the message that French food is attainable yet underscores just how enlightened their cuisine really is.

This was brought to mind recently when some friends and I had an excursion to the city this past weekend and had dinner at a quaint French place called Cafe Claude. It's tucked away in an alley, and the average passerby would easily pass by it. Once inside, we were transported away from the city bustle, and it wouldn't take too much imagination to think we were in Paris--if it weren't for our entertaining, yet French-accent deprived, waiter. I can't remember what my dish was called, but I remember the taste vividly--the melding of the rare tuna steak with an onion and bacon infused cream sauce, that left me extolling its qualities and completely satisfied. Bacon (and butter) really does make everything better.

In honor of my French food experience, I'm going to share the chocolate souffle a friend and I made (having two people make this the first time really helps to make it less intimidating). With the exception of one or two that were slightly amiss, they came out rather fetching, and tasted the way you would imagine a souffle should--a little dreamy. I've actually been waiting to make this again before posting it here, since some of the souffles did fall and I had only my iPhone with me to take pictures, but I decided to go ahead and post this anyway. I think Julia Child would approve.

Chocolate Souffle
Adapted from Sherry Yard's The Secrets of Baking Makes 6 8-oz. ramekins

Coating the ramekins:

- 2 T. unsalted butter, melted
- 1/4 cup sugar
Lightly brush the ramekins with the melted butter, and coat completely with sugar. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425F, with rack in the middle.

- 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 3 large egg yolks, room temperature
- 2 T. corn starch (though Sherry Yard suggests potato flour)
- 8 large egg whites, room temperature
- pinch of cream of tartar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- powdered sugar

1. Chop the chocolate into 1/4 in. pieces, and place in a medium heatproof bowl.

2. Heat the heavy cream until boiling, and pour over the chocolate. After about 1 minute, stir the chocolate and cream until all of the chocolate is melted. Set aside.

3. Whisk egg yolks with corn starch in a small bowl, and set aside.

4. Using an electric mixer, whip egg whites until large bubbles form. Add the pinch of cream of tartar. Continue to whip until soft peaks form (egg whites begin to cling to the beater). Slowly add in sugar, while whipping. Stop whipping once the egg whites can stand up (medium peak stage).

5. Stir the egg yolk mixture into the chocolate mixture from #2 using a spatula.

6. Gently fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the combined mixture from #5, then fold in the rest. Be careful to not deflate the egg whites.

7. Fill each of the ramekins to the rim with the batter. Run a knife around the inside wall of the ramekin to create a pocket of air, which will help the souffle rise straight (we forgot this step!).

8. Place filled ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes. The sides should be dry. Gently (and quietly!) remove the souffles from the oven, dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately.

(the sunken souffle!)