Sunday, February 21, 2010

The best brunches last all day.

And during those brunches that last for hours, you sometimes run out of orange juice, even when you still have plenty of vodka and prosecco.  It sounds like a sad state of affairs.  But today, with a little pinch of resourcefulness, it lead to the creation of a fabulous hybrid dessert cocktail…one that is sure to be repeated on purpose in the future.

After planning to serve my dear guests a popover-bacon-triple-berry-compote feast, I wanted to find a light dessert to offer them after.  My only inspiration was a bounty of gorgeous blood oranges hanging out in the fridge. 

Enter, granita.  Granita is basically Italian Ice – a slushy concoction made with fruit syrup and juice.  I’ve always been kind of skeptical about making my own because even in the pages of M-Stew’s Everyday Food, it looks like a bland, icy mess.

Not so.  And it just so happens that in a pinch, it pairs devastatingly well with prosecco to create a sort of adult Slush Puppie beverage.  Matched with some squares of super dark chocolate, it was the perfect dessert.  So perfect in fact that the picture above is all that was left.

Blood Orange Granita Prosecco Cocktails
Serves about 6

6 blood oranges (I don’t care what anyone says, this will only yield about 1 ½ cups of juice…cara cara are juicier, so you could throw in a few of those too!)

¼ cup sugar

2 bottles of your favorite prosecco (I really like il, which is available in most liquor stores)

Juice oranges to yield about 1 ½ cups of juice.  In a small saucepan, combine sugar and 1/8 cup blood orange juice.  Boil over high heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Transfer mixture to a shallow glass baking dish and add the remaining blood orange juice.  Stir to combine.

Freeze mixture, scraping around the sides and breaking crystals with a fork every 30 minutes for 2 hours total.  Cover with plastic and keep in the freezer until ready to serve.

When you’re ready to assemble the cocktails, remove the granita from the freezer and let it sit on the counter for a few minutes.  Break up the crystals again to form a firm slush.

Fill champagne flutes halfway with granita, then top with prosecco. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Some cupcakes...can sing.

My brain turns to mush a bit in the face of the tiny magical confections known as cupcakes. I know they’re poorly done a lot of the time, and can often lead to disappointment. I know they’re trendy.  I know probably even blogging about them is completely passé.  But these cupcakes…these cupcakes…need to have their moment in the spotlight.

Because we can’t stop eating them.  They’re a whole room away from me right now and their siren song is almost deafening.  I’ve already had one today and am desperately trying to justify another.  I made them as an innocent valentine for Seth, and they’re quietly dominating our lives (at least for the last 24 hours):

“Should we watch the Olympics?” 

“Oh snowboard-cross is on?  Sweet.”

“Wait, do you hear that?  Is it…singing?  Coming from the kitchen?”

“AH MAH GAHD LET’S HAVE SOME CUPCAKES!!!! And watch the snowboard-cross.”

So that’s the situation.  And here is the recipe, for extremely luscious vanilla coconut cupcakes with fluffy coconut frosting.  The key is the inclusion of a full fat coconut milk reduction in both the frosting and the cakes.  That extra step makes these a smidge more time consuming than your average cupcake, but I ask you this: can your average cupcake sing?  Didn’t think so.

(Singing) Vanilla Coconut Cupcakes with Coconut Frosting
Slightly adapted from Bon Appétit, April 2009

Reduced Coconut Milk:
2 13-14 ounce cans full fat unsweetened coconut milk

2 cups all purpose flour
2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder*
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cups (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup reduced coconut milk, room temperature

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 ½ cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup reduced coconut milk, room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1 ½ cups sweetened flaked coconut (for garnish)

For reduced coconut milk:
Pour contents of 2 cans of coconut milk (all liquid and solids, it will be separated) into a deep saucepan and whisk until smooth and combined.  Heat to a boil on medium-high, then reduce heat to medium low and boil until reduced to about 1 ½ cups, whisking occasionally, about 25 minutes (watch it because it will bubble over).  Remove from heat and cool completely.  Transfer to a small bowl and chill.  The milk will settle so whisk again before addition to batter and frosting.

For cupcakes:
Position oven racks in center and preheat oven to 350˚.  Line 18 muffin cups with paper liners.  Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. 

Using an electric mixer, beat butter in a large bowl until smooth.  Add sugar, then beat on medium-high speed until well-blended, about 2 minutes.  Add 2 eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, scraping down sides of bowl.  Beat in vanilla and remaining egg.
Add half the flour mixture, mix on low until just blended.  Add 1 cup reduced coconut milk, mix until just blended.  Add remaining flour, mix on low until just blended. 

Divide batter among muffin cups.  Fill any empty cups with a ½ inch of water, for even baking.  Bake cupcakes until tops are springy and a toothpick inserted comes out clean – about 20 minutes.  Cool cupcakes in pans on rack for 10 minutes, then carefully remove cupcakes and cool completely on racks.

For frosting:
Using electric mixer, beat butter in a large bowl until smooth.  Add sugar, 1/3 cup of reduced coconut milk, vanilla, and salt.  Beat on medium-low until blended, scraping down sides of bowl.  Increase to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy (you’ll know, just keep tasting it).

Frost each cupcake according to however you roll – pastry bag, spatula, whatever you like.  Be generous – at least 2 tablespoons per cake.  Garnish with flaked coconut and just try to ignore the siren song, which will begin immediately.

Makes 18 cupcakes.

* Just a note on baking powder – if yours is all pilly and hard and you’ve had it since, oh, 2004, buy yourself a new can.  It’s about $2.49 and makes a huge difference when it does its leavening job correctly.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Exquisite simplicity.

I love details, especially delicious ones that you can eat.  A splash of bitters that makes a cocktail seem more thoughtful and special.  An easy homemade compote at brunch to go with French toast.  A grind of fresh sea salt on a boring old pat of butter served with bread…when a bunch of tiny parts form one cohesive whole (especially when it’s a meal) I become so giddy that my guests probably think I’m nuts.

That’s why I’m so in love with this new dessert idea I’ve stumbled upon.  It’s lots of little fancy bits that come together to form something sort of overwhelmingly awesome.  I can’t take full credit of course – I found the idea in an old issue of Domino magazine (RIP, great loss, that).  It was part of an article about preparing a full English roast for 12 people, Yorkshire pudding and all.  Domino suggested a dessert consisting of Stilton cheese, squares of dark chocolate and a good ruby port or sherry.  Yum.

Recently I elaborated on that a bit (a lot), and I would encourage you to do the same.  For me sometimes preparing a big complicated dinner AND a scrumptious dessert for guests is exhausting to even think about…then I end up serving ice cream which is fine but sometimes feels a little pedestrian after a meal I put lots of thought and effort into.  I must boldly state that this is the perfect solution.

At two recent dinners I served guests the following for dessert:
English digestive biscuits
Chocolate (I chose Divine, milk with hazelnuts and dark with nuts and fruit)
Creamy spreadable Swiss cheese
A fig and pecan spread (store bought, by Trempeherbe, of Maine)
Nutella (always a winner)
A choice of a lovely ruby port (Quinta Santa Eufemia) or scotch (Glenlivet 12)

It was basically a fancy “choose your own adventure” dessert.  One night it was enjoyed in front of a roaring fire in the fireplace which was just one more detail that pushed its perfection almost over the top.  Pleasure comas all around.  I’m not kidding.  Maybe it’s my obsession with details…because this dessert is basically just a million details smushed together that make your brain go into overdrive. 

Okay enough gushing.  Just do this.  You will thank me when your guests are completely freaking out.  And if you’re like me and love details, you will be too.   Just the pictures are making you want to assemble it and eat it right now, actually.  And you can add any touches you want – nuts, dried fruit, not-dried fruit like strawberries or pears - all would be awesome.  Serve a champagne cocktail!  It’s got bitters in it for crying out loud!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Drawing with icing is hard.

Sooooo hard.  You think it’s going to be so easy, and that you’ll be able to create these professional photo shoot-worthy cookies with ease, no problem, sublime icing backgrounds dotted and swirled with tiny icing details.  Stunning…and delicious…oh it was no trouble at all…

Ha.  Not so much.  In fact, after baking these sweet skull-shaped sugar cookies for my darling cousin Chloe’s sweet 16 birthday this weekend, and beginning the decoration process, I almost scrapped the whole project.  When I first started spreading the gooey white tubed background icing, I knew I had sorely underestimated the difficulty of this task.  And when the first skull face came out looking like a blind monkey had drawn it, I had a mini internal temper tantrum.

But as it turned out, the learning curve wasn’t so bad (I’m still no expert), and the project was ultimately fun and yielded cute if mediocre visual results…but rather than the goofy skull faces I felt like the real star was the crispy buttery sweet cookie itself.   I’m still not 100% cool with the creepy processed store-bought icing I used - I considered making my own, but that would have been an ordeal unto itself.  Its super sweetness, however, did not kill the buttertastic glow of these amazing, simple lil cookies…rather it enhanced it, in a junk-food-you-used-to-love-as-a-kid sort of way…apropos.

*excuse the terrible iPhone photo...

Skull Cookies
by Beth Marois

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar  (preferably organic, natural cane sugar)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
yucky store bought icing in tubes, for decorating with the appropriate tips

Preheat  oven to 350˚.  Mix butter, egg and vanilla until very well combined (in stand mixer if you wish, but totally doable by hand).  Combine the remaining dry ingredients in another bowl (except the icing of course), then fold into wet ingredients.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 45 minutes.

Generously flour a clean work surface.  Roll dough out to desired thickness.  I think these cookies work best on the thin side, to create an addictive buttery snap.  Cut out skulls or other desired shapes* and place on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.  For thin cookies, bake 8-10 minutes; for thicker 15 minutes.  You’ll know they’re perfect when they just start to brown around the edges.

Let cookies cool on wire racks for 15 minutes.  When cool, decorate with icing, and good luck to you!  The only advice I can give you is to take a deep breath, apply consistent pressure to the tube, and get kind of zen about it.   Let the icing harden before stacking so as not to destroy your labor of sugary love.

*Now that I’ve done this I’m thinking of all sorts of other awesome shapes to make cookies in…today’s thought was Dharma Initiative symbols from Lost.  And check out these hilarious Lady Gaga cookies!