Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lesson learned.


There is one particular thing that I'm always all loud about not even BOTHERING to make from scratch. "Too cake-like," I insist. "Never gooey enough," I lament. "Too dry, too crumbly, too heartbreaking when you want a fudgy chewy almost raw inside but baked to perfection BROWNIE!"

This basically results in me never making brownies at all, which is a shame really. They are such a simple delightful dessert that nearly everyone adores. But in my defense it really is very hard to replicate that perfect boxed brownie without a mix full of whoknowswhat and a ton of vegetable oil. It seems like Cooks Illustrated tries to tackle the perfect unboxed brownie at least one every couple of years, and come up with various ways to boost the chocolaty flavor that I'm never really interested in trying (Espresso, anchovies, beef stock? Just kidding on the last two but you get the idea.)

For me, a perfect brownie has to hit the three major points of perfection:

1. It has to be shiny and crackly on top like pahoehoe lava.
2. It has to be chewy and decadent enough inside to make me feel naughty.
3. It has to have gorgeously dense chewy edges, such that people will come to blows over the four sacred corner pieces.        

Brownies in their natural habitat at Volcano National Park, HI
You probably could have guessed it by now, but I've found a recipe from scratch that hits all of these important points, and properly learned my lesson that fabulous brownies CAN be made from scratch. It even gets bonus points for its inclusion of big crunchy walnut pieces and nutty, lovely brown butter. And it gets even MORE bonus points by being really really easy. This is a rare dessert on Effing Delicious that doesn't require you to soak kids cereal in milk forever, or burn things with a blow torch or preform any science experiments at all. You just brown some butter, and mix all the other ingredients right into the pot. Pour it in a pan, bake and just see if you can let them cool before diving in. 

Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts
from Bon Appetit, February 2011, with my notes

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, chilled
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup walnut pieces 

Position rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat to 325˚F. Line an 8x8 metal baking pan with foil, pressing foil firmly to sides of pan and leaving a 2 inch overhang on two sides. Coat foil with nonstick spray. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at bottom of pan, stirring often, about 5 minutes. (Be careful here, because butter goes from browned and nutty to burnt and rancid pretty quickly! My butter took less than 5 minutes to reach perfection so watch yours!)

Remove from heat and immediately add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons of water, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir to blend. Let cool 5 minutes (mixture will still be hot). Add eggs to hot mixture 1 at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes. Stir in nuts. Transfer batter to prepared pan. 

Bake brownies until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean (with a few scrumptious crumbs attached...you really don't want to over cook these so err on the side of underdone, about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on rack. Using the foil overhang, remove from pan and cut into 16 pieces. Store in airtight container at room temp for up to 4 days...but they'll surely disappear before then.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

2011 Recap - my top recipes from last year!

I think it's always fun to look back on the year and see what the top 10 recipes on Effing Delicious happened to be...and by "always" I mean, I did it last year, so why not do it again this year? I know it's late in the month for a recap, but I'm going to do it anyway, because my little top 10 list post-it note has been stuck to my laptop for 2 weeks now, ever since I researched it using Analytics on New Year's Day...and I'm not the kind of person who could just throw that away and move on with another idea. That lil' post-it has been so brave and hung on all these days.


So without further ado, or rambling, here are the top 10 most popular recipes on Effing D in 2011 - a theme I saw emerge on this top 10 list is classic technique - hollandaise, creme brulee, meringue, how to make ice cream, how to ice cookies...which makes me happy! It makes me feel like you as readers are learning with me as I try to master these things, which I think is excellent...like we're all in this together, making life more and more delicious all the time. 


10. Poppy Seed Lemon Cake

9. Creme Brulee

8. Chicken Mole

7. Basic Hollandaise Sauce

6. Mocha Chip Meringues

5. Thai Tea Ice Cream
4. The Double Ginger Cocktail

3. Momofuku Marshmallow, Chocolate Chip, Caramelized Cornflake Cookies

2. Momofuku Ginger Scallion Noodle Bowl

1. Sugar Skull Cookies

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What's that pink kind!?

Pink.
(This is a tangent, but I promise I will eventually get to my point!)


When I was a kid we used to go on these epically long camping trips every summer – so long that my brother and I would almost forget there was any other routine besides waking up, taking a swim, going on some kind of crazy caving adventure or mountain hike, toasting marshmallows and falling asleep in front of the campfire.

We used to go all over in the beginning, then finally settled on a yearly excursion to Terrace PinesCampground, in Center Ossipee, NH. It was (still is) a super pretty, clean, secluded expanse of woods on two big lakes that were crystal clear and super deep – they were actually extinct calderas…I think. I can’t remember how I came across that information…it might just be a legend that grew all on its own as the years passed and the camping memories multiplied between my family and my parents’ best friends, the Bouleys, and their four kids – our camping partners in crime. There are lots of legends from those trips. Like the legend of Squirrel Ice Cream.

View of the lakes we camped on, from a tiny mountain.
When we’d be up in NH, sometimes we wouldn’t leave good old Terrace Pines for days. There was no need to really – we had the lakes, our tents, bikes, hiking trails, kayaks, canoes, snorkels, dominoes, even a shotty arcade with an 80s juke box, and most importantly each other…and the whole affair was graciously catered by my parents and the Bouleys. So when the elders would convene and decide that it was time to leave the campsite and go out for ice cream in town, we would go bonkers.

There was this one night we were ironically cognizant of our reactions, and our excitement lead us to pretending we had been camping for so long that we were losing our minds (might have been true). For some reason I will never forget Jessica, the younger Bouley daughter, crazily crossing her eyes and saying, “I hope they have chocolate, and vanilla, and WHAT’S THAT PINK KIND!?” It is embedded in my mind. We all concurred that the pink kind was Squirrel Ice Cream. And forever, still to this day, we refer to the ice cream shop we frequented that night and ever forward, as Squirrel Ice Cream. I have no idea what the shop is actually called – I can look at the sign again and again and never see the words correctly. My legend wins out in the end.

Consequently, every time I see ice cream that is pink in color, to this day, I think of this awesome and hysterical memory, and then *all* the camping memories come flooding back and it makes me super happy. I love how the human brain works – it’s so full of treats when it wants to be.

And speaking of treats, just look at that innocent lil pink bowl of ice cream in the photo above. What’s that pink kind indeed? It looks so sweet just sitting there, maaaaybe it’s made of squirrels, maaaaybe not. I thought about this story the whole time I was making it, eating it, and as soon as I looked at this photo just now. And the great thing about this ice cream is that it also tasted like another ultimate treat from my childhood, because I made it with milk that Fruity Pebbles had been soaking in…ahhh!

Yummmmm.
You read it right. Fruity. Pebble. Milk. Ice Cream. And you can thank the magical goddess of Momofuku Milk Bar, Christina Tosi, for inventing it. I’m certainly thanking her because it is not only ridiculously flavorful and so so delicious, but it also brought me back to one of those impossible-to-return-to childhood places…which really only the magic of food can do.

Make this stuff! You will freak out about it! I used a slightly tweaked version offered by Ms. Tosi in her amazing new cook book, but only because I didn’t have a food scale, or glucose on hand just yet (plan to get both to try other recipes). I *also* plan to expound on her genius in another post, because this post got happily hijacked by camping legends. It happens.


Fruity Cereal Milk Ice Cream
from Christina Tosi's Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook, 2011


1/2 teaspoon powdered gelatin
1 recipe Fruity Cereal Milk (see below)
2/3 cup sugar 
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup milk powder (there is no substitute for this - if you don't use it your ice cream will not come out the same as mine, and you will be sad.)
1 tablespoon corn syrup


Bloom the gelatin by sprinkling it over two tablespoons of cold water and letting it hydrate for 3-5 minutes.


Warm a bit of the fruity cereal milk in a small sauce pan and whisk in the bloomed gelatin to dissolve. Pour mixture into a large bowl and whisk in the remaining fruity cereal milk, sugar, salt, milk powder and corn syrup until everything is fully dissolved and incorporated.


Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into your ice cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions. This ice cream is amazing fresh out of the machine, but you can keep it in the freezer and it will be good for up to two weeks.


Fruity Cereal Milk

from Christina Tosi's Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook, 2011


2 cups Fruity Pebbles
3 3/4 cups cold whole milk
2 tablespoons brown sugar, tightly packed 
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt


Crush Fruity Pebbles into the texture of coarse sand or gravel. Pour them into a large glass pitcher. Add milk and stir vigorously. Let steep for 20 minutes at room temperature.


Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve, collecting milk in a medium bowl. Tosi notes that the milk gets thicker and starchier towards the end, and recommends using the back of a ladle to push the milk out of the Pebbles, but don't press so hard that you're getting Pebble bits into the bowl with the milk. Discard wet soggy Fruity Pebbles in a way that you see fit.


Whisk brown sugar and salt into milk until fully dissolved. Store refrigerated in a clean pitcher or milk jug if not using right away - keeps for up to 1 week.


*Thanks Em Davis and Nick Hubben for photographing the ice cream after I left it at your house!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Holiday Aftermath.



My house is still hung with the aftermath of a really lovely Christmas – the tree is still up, decorated if a bit dry, but no worse for the wear. There are even a few presents still under it glinting in our vintage oversized tree lights. Presents that have not found homes are all over the dining room, making friends with kitchen items that have been displaced thanks to a vacation-enabled cabinetry project. There are glittery pinecones and garlands of antique pink metal beads and a blood red amaryllis about to burst into bloom any moment now. There’s a fire in the fireplace, a milky black tea with honey by my side, and I’m still in PJs at 11:00am.

Our Tree

This aftermath suits me well. There’s nothing more relaxing than the rest of the lame duck year after Christmas blows by and we’re left in its tinsel and cookie crumb dust. It’s a calm space, free of major obligations – the resolutions have not yet been made. So the rest of those treats that are left over are still being enjoyed before we all press ourselves to make life better by eating more veggies, less sugar and gluten, drinking more water and much less alcohol and caffeine, in the new year. Maybe we’ll go to yoga more and do a few pushups. Who knows?

Tree light blur.

But for now, I’m still dreaming about the amazing chocolaty pie I made for Christmas day, the final crumbs of which have recently bid us adieu.  As any frequent readers know, I am not a huge fan of chocolate. I definitely go more for anything buttery or vanilla, with caramel, fruit, etc. But this concoction caught my eye from a Williams-Sonoma baking book I got as a wedding gift in 2005. It’s a light fluffy baked chocolate cheesecake with a dense, buttery, almost savory chocolate wafer cookie crumb crust. You could stop right there, or as suggested make chocolate whipped cream to spread on top just before serving, for another subtle chocolaty layer.

I made some changes to the recipe as it appeared in the book – originally it called for the inclusion of coffee, to create a delicious mocha flavor, but my tween nieces would be enjoying the pie too, and I didn’t think they (or their parents) needed the gift of extra caffeine to wrap up the holiday. So instead of using the coffee/hot cream combo called for, I infused the pie with yet another layer of chocolate, essentially adding heavy cream hot chocolate to the mix. Divine.

Wishing you all a Happy 2012!

Sweet Chocolate Pie
adapted from the Williams-Sonoma Baking Book, 2005

Crust:
1 package (9 oz) chocolate wafer cookies
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Filling:
1/3 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons sweet cocoa powder
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 lb cream cheese, at room temperature (make sure it is or you'll have unsightly blobs of undissolved cream cheese throughout your silky chocolate filling)
2 extra large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Optional:
Chocolate whipped cream - I didn't measure anything when making this really. Pour some chilled heavy cream into a chilled metal bowl then beat it with your hand mixer for about 2 minutes. At that point beat in as much or as little sweet cocoa powder as you like, tasting along the way. Keep chilled until just before serving the pie.

Preheat oven to 425˚F.

To make the crust, combine cookies and sugar in a food processor. Process until crumbs form. Add melted butter and pulse until crumbs start to stick together. Press crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of a 10-inch pie plate, creating a crust of even thickness. Poke holes with a fork in the bottom and bake for about 10 minutes.

Reduce oven temp to 325˚F.

In a small saucepan over medium heat gently warm the heavy cream until small bubbles form around the edges - do not boil. Add sweet cocoa powder and stir to dissolve. Remove from heat and set aside.

Melt semi-sweet chocolate (either very carefully in the microwave or in a double boiler over gently simmering water). Stir until smooth and set aside to cool slightly.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the cream cheese, eggs, sugar and vanilla. Beat on low until very smooth. Stir in "hot chocolate cream" mixture, then the cooled melted chocolate. (You'll have to fully incorporate this by hand in the end, for a completely homogenous mix.) Pour the batter into the cooled crust and smooth the top.

Bake until the top is dry to the touch and slightly firm, 35-45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Top with chocolate whipped cream just before serving. This is best at room temperature - if you chill it to have the next day it's still great, but it will get denser in the fridge.

Serves 8-10.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

This is what happens to delicious whoopie pies.


resize
image

It's true! They quickly get eaten. Yay animated GIFs! 

When I first met this whoopie pie, I was sad because I thought the filling might be peppermint...which would mean that we would never ever get along. But it wasn't! The cake was malted vanilla, and the filling was cranberry. So very yummy, and the perfect texture too. This practically bite-sized holiday-tastic treat came from the Area 4 bakery/restaurant in Kendall Square. The neighborhood around around MIT is starting to get so much more interesting, with all these lovely new food establishments popping up since the summer. I'm planning to include more of what makes this area so yummy in an upcoming post!