Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Something blue.

This post has nothing to do with weddings, but a lot to do with more blueberries! I think this has been a summer of blueberries for me. There must have been a couple of weeks where I was consuming them by the pounds, though I'm tempering that now. I like to think of them as fruits with the best ROI (return on investment). They're plentiful and not too expensive. They go well with other foods like yogurt and cereal, and are high in antioxidants. They're refreshing, and when I use them in desserts, I don't have to worry about peeling, slicing and all that--just wash and go.

So deciding on trying this recipe was a no-brainer. There are several things I love about this recipe. It incorporates two types of blueberry filling: a sort of blueberry jam (made by cooking the blueberries with some other ingredients and squishing them, which is kind of fun--almost like popping bubble wrap), and fresh blueberries with a glaze--it's kind of like eating both a blueberry pie and a fresh blueberry tart at the same time. The crust also includes ground almonds which adds more complexity to the texture and flavor. I did have to improvise a little, and crush the almonds by hand, then mix the crust with a pastry mixer since I don't have a food processor, but the effort was certainly worth it.

Blueberry-Almond Tart
Adapted from epicurious.com
Makes about 8 servings

For the filling:

1. Heat in a medium saucepan over medium heat, coarsely mashing the blueberries, until mixture begins to boil and thickens:
- 3/4 pound of blueberries
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 T. lemon juice

2. Whisk together the following, then add to the mixture from #1 slowly, and continue to cook for another couple of minutes until the mixture boils and thickens more:
- 2 large egg yolks
- 2 t. cornstarch

3. Add to the mixture:
- 3 T. unsalted butter
- 1 t. grated lemon peel

4. Remove from heat, cover and chill overnight.

For the crust (without food processor):

1. Lightly butter a 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

2. Lightly toast 1/4 sliced almonds, then crush by hand using a mortar and pestel (or any other means available to finely crush the almonds).

3. Transfer to a medium bowl, and mix with the following using a pastry blender until a coarsely combined:
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 2 T. sugar
- 1/4 t. salt
- 1 stick unsalted butter, chilled (which has been cut into cubes, about 1 T. each)

4. Continue mixing in:
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1/4 t. almond extract

5. Form the mixture into a ball then flatten into a disk. Press dough into the bottom and sides of the tart pan, and freeze for about half an hour. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

6. Line the crust with foil, and bake for about 12 minutes. Remove the foil, then bake for another 18 minutes until crust is golden brown. Allow the crust to cool completely.

To assemble:

1. Spread filling into the crust.

2. Spread on top of the crust:
- 3/4 pounds of fresh blueberries

3. Heat and pour over the fresh blueberries:
- 1/2 cup red currant jelly (or other preferred flavor)

4. Garnish tart with more lightly toasted almond slices (optional).

5. Cover with foil and chill for about 2 hours.

6. To serve, push up the bottom of the tart pan to remove the sides and place on a serving platter.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Edible nostalgia.

I stole that title from Williams-Sonoma. Ever since I came across this article in the New York Times about whoopie pies, I have been intrigued and excited to try the recipe out--though for whatever reason it took me a little while to get to it. I don't know what it was about whoopie pies that drew me in, perhaps the idea of going back to something simpler or being reminded of other frosting-filled chocolate cake snacks from childhood (Ding-dongs? Ho Hos?). But these are nice, round mounds of chocolate cake with a marshmallowy filling, and with a history that some say dates back to the Great Depression.

However they came about, they seem to be making a comeback in some circles, and they are a cute and uncomplicated alternative to the ubiquitous cupcake--maybe a little less extravagant (appropriate for these tough times) and certainly just as tasty.

I recently had a friend over for dinner to catch up on what's been going on her life, and she wanted to bake something chocolaty. I took up the opportunity to try out the recipe, and it provided for the perfect bonding experience. Baking with a friend (or even someone who's not yet a friend?) always makes for a great experience to share--there's something about creating something together.

The cakes turned out delicious, though they weren't quite perfect round mounds, and most came out as kind of deformed blobs of chocolate cake (my pictures tend to focus on the prettier ones). Instead of making the traditional marshmallow fluff filling, we made a basic buttercream frosting which was still gratifying. I've tried making it again, in hopes of making them nice and round, but yet again, to no avail--in addition to over-whipping the egg whites for the filling only to have it deflate later. I think I'm resigning myself to imperfection on this one in terms of "looks", but I'd like to think the imperfection adds to its old world charm.

Whoopie Pies
Adapted from the New York Times
Makes about 6 pies

For the cakes:

Preheat the oven to 350F degress and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

1. Cream together in a mixing bowl:
- 1/2 cup (or 1 stick) of butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup brown sugar

2. Add to the butter mixture, mixing on medium:
- 1 large egg
- 1 t. vanilla extract

3. Whisk together in another bowl:
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cocoa
- 1-1/4 t. baking soda
- 1 t. sea salt

4. Add to the butter mixture, alternating in 3 parts, combining well:
- flour mixture from #2
- 1 cup buttermilk

5. Create 12 mounds of batter on the baking sheets, each about 1/4 cup of batter, using a spoon or ice cream scoop. Each mound should be about 4 to 5 inches apart.

6. Bake on the middle rack for about 14 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

For the filling:

1. Temper the following by filling a saucepan with about 2 inches of water brought to a simmer, and whisking the following in a bowl of a stand mixer (or metal mixing bowl) over the the simmering water until the sugar is dissolved (or temperature reaches 180 degrees)--the mixing bowl should not touch the water:
- 3 large egg whites
- 3/4 cup sugar

2. Remove the mixing bowl from the simmering water, and whisk the egg white mixture on high until it increase in volume and becomes thick and glossy.

3. Reduce mixing speed to medium and add the following:
- 2 sticks butter, at room temperature; adding 1 T. at a time
- 3/4 t. vanilla
- 1/4 t. sea salt

4. Continue mixing until smooth, then increase mixing speed to high for one minute.

To assemble the pies, spread about 1/4 cup of filling on the flat side of one cake mound and place another mound on top, flat side down.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Hidden treasures.

Even though I really enjoy looking at other people's blogs and seeing their creativity, I am terrible at following them consistently. For that reason, it makes me really appreciate when people leave comments or tell me they love reading my blog--I know that it takes time to do something like that. And it's knowing that people read this that helps keep me going. So for today, I'd like to spotlight one of my readers, who has played a part in helping me keep my endeavor up. I'll refer to her as "Bikegal", the alias she uses in her comments, and I've asked her to be a guest blogger on this site to share a recipe that she discovered recently. I hope you enjoy it! Thanks so much Bikegal--they look yummy!

Cookies are a mystery to me. You can do everything right from the perfect dough to the ideal convection oven, it can still come out flat as a pancake. Just as I had nearly given up my search for the perfect cookie recipe, life presented me with an opportunity to redeem myself; road trip and the Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Cookies! That's right, a road trip means many hours in a car which means a need to snack. The Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Cookies that has gotten lost in my kitchen cabinet has over 475 recipes so the odds are definitely in my favor. I wanted cocoa for its health values and almond butter because I like the taste. BHG didn't let me down and I was able to find this cookie recipe which turned out to be a real jewel!

The original recipe is peanut butter filled chocolate cookie but since I loved almond butter, I simply switched the main ingredient. I was a little nervous how this would alter the consistency and taste but it didn't seem to be an issue.

Almond Butter-Filled Chocolate Cookies
Adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Cookies recipe

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup almond butter
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar (I skipped the sifting)
1/2 cup almond butter

1. In a medium bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda; set aside. In a large mixing bowl beat butter, the 1/2 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, and the 1/4 cup almond butter with an electric mixer until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg, milk, and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour mixture as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour mixture with a wooden spoon. Shape dough into 1 1/4 inch balls (should have 32) set aside. I ended up with 24 since I made bigger cookies.

2. For almond butter filling, in a medium bowl stir together powdered sugar and the 1/2 cup almond butter until smooth. Shape mixture into 1/4 inch balls. (should have 32). * I didn't bother to shape it into a balls but just generally mixed it together and it was just in a large clump.

3. On a work surface, or in your hands, slightly flatten each chocolate dough ball and top with an almond butter ball. * I just peeled off a small clump from the bigger clump. Roll dough into balls.

4. Place balls 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

5. Bake in a 350 degree about 8 minutes or until just set and surface is slightly cracked. Cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool. * In a convection oven, the cookie sheet placed closed to top of oven was done in 8 minutes but sheets on the lower shelf took an extra 5 minutes.

A bite into the almond butter inside the cookie was like finding the hidden treasure that is the ultimate flat proof cookie recipe!