IndriVanilla Beans & Buttermilk Panna Cotta

indri vanilla beans

Until about a month ago, I had altogether stopped purchasing vanilla beans. I couldn’t justify paying $12 for a single bean — a desiccated looking one at that — at the grocery store when I could substitute vanilla extract with little harm done.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered IndriVanilla, a source for Fair Trade, organically grown vanilla beans at beyond reasonable prices — I ordered 19 beans online for a grand total of $13.50 including shipping. The beans arrived just days after I placed the order, their beautiful fleshy bodies visible through the cryovacked pack.

I didn’t want to break the seal, but I couldn’t resist. I snipped the corner, releasing a waft of vanilla aroma, and pulled out the bundle of tightly nestled glistening beans. But holding the pods in my hands wasn’t enough, nor was inhaling their perfume as I ran them under my nose. I grabbed my knife and made an incision, prying open the seam with the blade to reveal the caviar. Vanilla caviar — it’s an incredible sight. How could these beans cost only 50 cents a piece?

I contacted the company to learn more. The owner of IndriVanilla buys the beans directly from a farmer in Indonesia at his asking price. Without a middleman involved in the exchange, prices stay low. What’s more, this family-run co-op practices sustainable growing methods, using sheep to fertilize the crops and to control insect populations, precluding the need for pesticides, insecticides or synthetic fertilizers. While this farm has been growing organically for over ten years, they are not yet certified, the high cost of certification prohibiting the process at the moment.

So many recipes — Balzano apple cake, vanilla ice cream, homemade vanilla extract — flashed in my mind as I stared at that split-open bean, but I decided on panna cotta, a recipe I’ve been meaning to revisit after recently discovering my go-to recipe to be too sweet. I found this Claudia Fleming recipe on Saveur.com and frankly can’t find a thing wrong with it. Creamy, beautiful and delicious, it’s a perfect medium for showcasing these beans.

I know it’s still January, and we really shouldn’t be thinking about creamy desserts just yet, but keep this one in mind for Valentine’s Day, which is right around the corner. Those of you who have already made panna cotta know that it doesn’t get much more simple than this in the dessert department. It can be made ahead — several days in advance in fact — and the only cooking involved is bringing a little cream to a boil.

And if you don’t have time to whip anything up for a special someone, I think these beans alone would make a lovely gift. A bundle of vanilla beans, perhaps tied with a red ribbon? It doesn’t get much more romantic than that.

buttermilk panna cotta

buttermilk panna cotta

indri vanilla beans

pot of cream

strainer

whisking

buttermilk panna cotta

This is how the vanilla beans arrive — in a nice cryovacked pack. After you break the seal and are ready to store the remaining beans you are not using, it’s important to get the beans back into an air-sealed environment. If you have a FoodSaver, that is ideal, but that could become a pain if you are planning on using the beans frequently. The owner of IndriVanilla advises coiling them up and storing them in a glass jar with a rubberized lid and coiled ring. I bundled mine up really tightly in plastic wrap and then stored them in a mason jar. They seem to be staying very fresh. Pictured below are the premium beans — I have yet to open these beauties.
IndriVanilla beans

empty ramekin

Buttermilk Panna Cotta
Source: Claudia Fleming via Saveur
SERVES 6

Notes from Saveur: This recipe is adapted from one in Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course (Random House, 2001). Panna cotta means cooked cream.

1 1/2 tsp. unflavored gelatin
1 1/4 cups heavy cream*
7 tbsp. sugar
1/2 vanilla pod, split lengthwise
1 3/4 cups buttermilk

*If you want to lighten it up a bit, you could substitute whole milk (probably even 1% or 2%) for the heavy cream. This might alter the texture a bit, but I imagine the flavor will still be nice.

1. Soften gelatin in 1 tbsp. cold water in a medium bowl for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, put cream and sugar into a small saucepan. Scrape seeds from vanilla pod into pan, then add pod. Heat cream over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves, 3–5 minutes, then stir into bowl with gelatin. Stir in buttermilk, then strain into another bowl.

2. Divide custard between six 8-oz. ramekins and refrigerate until set, about 3 hours. To unmold, dip ramekins into a dish of hot water, then invert custards onto plates. (Note: I don’t invert — I prefer serving the panna cotta in their ramekins with a spoon.) Garnish with raspberries or other fruit, if you like.

empty ramekin

Rum Balls — So Easy, So Pretty, So Delicious

rum balls in gift box

It’s December 23rd. I’ll keep this brief. Rum balls are delicious. They are perfect for a crowd. They are perfect as a gift. They are perfect little bites of boozy goodness. I can’t think of a more perfect treat to have on hand this time of year.

What’s more, the batter takes all of about 5 minutes to whip up (if you have a food processor) and shaping, about 20 minutes more. I’m certainly not trying to make more work for you, but if you’re still on the prowl for one more treat to add to your dessert spread or if you need a last-minute host/hostess gift or if you just plain forgot to make rum balls this year, there’s still time. Get busy. You won’t be sorry you did.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Also, just a reminder, if you’re interested in winning Food52′s Holiday Recipe and Survival Guide iPad app and haven’t yet left a comment offering your entertaining advice, do so here.

rum balls

Feeding rum balls to small children is probably not advisable. Ella, however, was never happier:
Ella, sneaking a rum ball

Rum Balls
Yield = 40

3+ cups vanilla wafers (I ended up using a whole box (12 oz))
1+ cups confectioners sugar (plus more for rolling)
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons white corn syrup
2/3 cup rum

1. Place vanilla wafers in a food processor and pulse into fine crumbs. There might be a few large pieces that don’t catch the blade at this step, but they’ll eventually end up getting pulverized, so don’t worry. (Alternatively, place vanilla wafers into a Ziploc bag and bash them with a rolling pin until they are fine pieces).

2. Add confectioners sugar, cocoa and corn syrup and pulse till combined. At this step, you could do one of two things:

A. Add all of the rum and pulse, which will likely leave you with a mixture that is too wet to form into balls, and which will require you to add more vanilla wafers and perhaps more confectioners sugar. This is what I did, and I ended up correcting the texture by adding all of the remaining vanilla wafers from the box as well as a 1/4 cup more confectioners sugar.

or B. Slowly add the rum to the food processor until the mixture comes together and you are able to form small little balls using a teaspoon. This is what I’ll do the next time I make them.

3. Using a teaspoon (I used a measuring spoon teaspoon), scoop out balls from the processor, roll them gently with your hands into irregular shaped balls, and drop them into a plate (or shallow tupperware) filled with a thin layer of powdered sugar. Shake the vessel to coat the balls, then transfer balls to storage container until you are ready to serve them. I store mine in the fridge — not sure this is necessary, but I like the texture the rum balls get once they are chilled a bit.

Notes: When I first began forming the balls, I used a mini scoop — it’s one that I find perfect for making truffles. It was not working so perfectly with this dough, which is a little stickier than truffle dough (batter? whatever you want to call it). If you have one of these scoops, you could try using it, but I had better luck just using a teaspoon.

rum balls

Kristina’s Molasses Crinkles

molasses crinkles

I couldn’t believe the cookies were made with shortening. I’m an all-butter kind of girl. Until a week ago in fact, the thought of shortening, a product I reserved solely for seasoning cast iron skillets, sort of repulsed me. Until a week ago, I also would have told you I could detect the difference between a cookie made with butter and one with shortening. I mean, it’s a rookie skill, right?

So I thought. My cousin Kristina makes the very best molasses cookies I have ever tasted. And they’re not just the best molasses cookies ever; they’re one of the best cookies ever. Last December when I received Kristina’s recipe in the mail and discovered that her legendary molasses crinkles were made with shortening, my earth sort of shattered. I would have bet money they had been made with butter.

But perhaps this was an opportunity, I thought. I would substitute butter for the shortening and then blog about the nearly perfect cookie I had perfected with butter. But once again, my earth shattered. The cookies I prepared with the butter-for-shortening substitution were terrible. The texture lacked the softness and chewiness of Kristina’s, and the flavor, perhaps tarnished by over baking, was just not as I had remembered. Did Kristina in fact use shortening in her cookies? I was still in disbelief.

It was time for me to try shortening. And since I was venturing into the realm of repulsive ingredients, I thought why not try something truly repulsive? This past spring, a friend in CA introduced me to a little product called buttered-flavored shortening, an ingredient she had used in a batch of phenomenal chocolate chip cookies she was so graciously sharing with me.

Butter-flavored shortening. I mean, it doesn’t get much more repulsive than this. Have any of you ever opened a can of this stuff? Have you seen its color? Have you smelled it? Have you ever tried washing it off your hands? Have you reviewed the ingredient list? It’s filled with all of the worst sorts of things — fully and partially hydrogenated oils, mono and diglycerides, to name a few. It’s a list that might appear in Michael Pollan’s worst nightmare. Butter-flavored shortening. Truly, it doesn’t get more repulsive than this.

I couldn’t help but wish my butter-flavored-shortening molasses crinkles to fail. As they baked, I kept thinking, there’s no way my adorable cousin Kristina could use such a vile product. No way. But when I pulled from the oven a pan with nine perfectly golden domed mounds crinkling up at me, I began to believe. And then, after they cooled and I took a bite, and the soft and chewy texture was just as I had remembered, and the flavor, too, was buttery and not at all artificial tasting and spiced with those wintry flavors of cinnamon and cloves, I was convinced. These were Kristina’s molasses crinkles. I had never been so happy to have such a vile product in my pantry.

I had to call Kristina to discuss. “So Kristina,” I said when she answered the phone, “your molasses cookies and I have been on a long journey together, and I’ve finally accepted that you do in fact use shortening, right?”

“Shortening?” she replied. “No, I always use butter. I don’t know what shortening is.”

I had to laugh. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. What had gone wrong the first time I had attempted Kristina’s recipe? Was it just a terribly off day for me in the kitchen? And had I now gone crazy to welcome to my pantry such a product as butter-flavored shortening? What was going on? All of a sudden I heard myself trying to convince Kristina of the virtues of butter-flavored shortening. Kristina, rightly so, would hear nothing of it.

So where does that leave us? Well, I’m afraid, the conclusion to this long-winded post is that my quest to create Kristina’s molasses crinkles continues. The above- and below-pictured cookies were in fact made with butter-flavored shortening and truly were delicious. That said, I know my cousin’s cookies are better, and as soon as I can, I am going to make another batch of each — Kristina gave me some tips, which I enclosed below — and do a side by side comparison.

In the meantime, I guess I’m just going to have to embrace the repulsive yet remarkable ingredient that has entered my pantry. Butter-flavored shortening is here to stay.

molasses crinkles

dough balls

sugar coated dough balls

Molasses Crinkles
Source: Cousin Kristina via Betty Crocker’s Best Cookies
Yield = about 27 cookies

3/4 cup butter-flavored shortening (See notes below for Kristina’s variation made with butter)
1 cup brown sugar (packed)
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt (table salt as opposed to kosher)
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
granulated sugar

1. Mix shortening, sugar, egg and molasses thoroughly. (I used a stand mixer, but you probably could mix this batter by hand.) Sift (I whisked) all of the dry ingredients together. Add dry ingredients to wet and stir until combined. Chill. (A time wasn’t specified, but I would imagine one to three hours would suffice. I chill the dough and bake off six to nine cookies at a time — the batter will stay good for days.)

2. Heat oven to 375ºF. Roll dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. (I portion my dough into 7/8-oz (28g) balls using my Salter digital scale.) Dip balls in sugar and place sugared side up on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle each with two or three drops of water. (This is sort of awkward — I dipped a fork in a cup of water and sort of pulled water from the glass to sprinkle it on top… if that makes any sense. Kristina in fact skips the water-sprinkling step.) Bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely on sheet pan before eating.

Notes: Kristina uses butter in place of the shortening. She also uses a little bit less flour but didn’t give an exact amount — so maybe do a scant 2.25 cups or a heaping 2 cups. She also bakes the cookies at 350ºF for about 8 minutes.

molasses crinkles

Apple Hand Pies with Cheddar Crust— So Delicious!

apple-cheddar hand pie

This is the sort of discovery that inspires me to host a dinner party. After just one bite, I began envisioning the scene: my guests’ hands reaching to the center of the table; the plate piled high with steaming, half-mooned pastries slowly disappearing; the silence as first bites are taken. Just anticipating the reactions — “apple and cheddar?!” — makes me giddy. And giddy were we (my mom, my aunt and I) as we stood around the cutting board in my kitchen, tucking into one after another hand pie, analyzing the flaky cheddar crust, adoring the adorable shape, oohing and ahing over the whole package. These hand pies are a home run.

I’ve been wanting to make an apple pie with a cheddar crust for several years now. Hand pies of course are a little fussy — much more work than making a traditional-shaped pie – but oh so good, and oh so much fun for a party. The pies can be assembled ahead of time and baked just before serving — 20 minutes in the oven and these babies are done.

While apple with cheddar is an age-old pairing, their union in a pie, for me at least, still came as a surprise. A most delicious surprise! I have a feeling you’ll all think so, too.

apple-cheddar hand pie

Mom and Auntie, in town for the weekend, reading to Ella
mom, auntie, ella

Cameo and Fuji apples from Catoctin Mountain Orchard The Cameo apples were some of the best apples I have ever tasted.
Local Fuji and Cameo apples

apple filling

I adore this cheddar.
Cabot Extra Sharp

cheddar cheese pie dough

hand pie assembly

apple-cheddar hand pie

Apple Hand Pie with Cheddar Crust
Dough and Filling recipes from Martha Stewart
Yield = 1 10-inch pie or 10 hand pies + 1 mini pie

Note: If you don’t feel like making hand pies, follow this Martha Stewart recipe for a traditional apple-cheddar pie.

Cheddar Crust

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 ounces white cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup ice water

1. Process flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Add butter; pulse until pea-size lumps appear. Pulse in cheese. With processor running, add ice water; process just until dough comes together.

2. Turn dough out; gather into a block. Wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until cold, at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.

Filling
Note: This amount of filling is for a traditional sized pie. If you are making hand pies, you will have way too much filling. Halving the amount of filling will yield enough for the hand pies. Or, if you are creative, you could find a way to use up that extra filling…perhaps a crumble or a crisp of some sort?

1 1/2 pounds (about 3) Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into small cubes*
2 pounds (about 5) Cortland apples, peeled, cored, and cut into small cubes*
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves (optional, I didn’t use b/c I didn’t have)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (I forgot to dot filling with butter — so I would mark this as optional, too.)

1 egg yolk beaten with 2 tablespoons of water
turbinado or demerara sugar or regular granulated sugar for dusting

vanilla ice cream for serving (optional)

*These are the apples and amounts recommended in the Martha Stewart recipe. I used a variety of apples — Fuji, Gala, York — it came out beautifully. I think you could basically use any combination of crisp-textured apples.

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Divide dough into two pieces. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one half of the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Using a 4 1/2-inch-round cutter (something about the size of a martini glass, which worked quite well in fact) cut five to seven circles out of the rolled dough. (I was able to get five circles initially and had to gather the scraps, re-roll and cut again to get seven out of one half of the dough.) Transfer the circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and place in the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes. Repeat the rolling, cutting, and chilling process with the remaining half of dough.

2. Make the filling: Stir together apples, sugar, flour, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and cloves.

3. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator. Spoon about 1 to 2 tablespoons of filling onto one half of each circle of dough. Using your finger, brush a little cold water around the circumference of the dough. Fold the circle in half so the unfilled side comes over the filling, creating a semicircle. (You might need to let the circles stand at room temperature for a couple of minutes so they become pliable.) Seal the hand pie, and make a decorative edge by pressing the edges of the dough together with the back of a fork. Repeat process with remaining dough. Place the hand pies back on the parchment-lined baking sheet, and return to the refrigerator to chill for another 30 minutes.

4. Remove the chilled hand pies from the refrigerator, cut a small slit in each and lightly brush with the egg yolk wash. Sprinkle a pinch of the sugar lightly over the pies, and place pies in the oven to bake. Bake pie 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350ºF. Bake until the hand pies are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove the pies from the oven, and let stand to cool slightly before serving. Serve with vanilla ice cream if desired.

apple-cheddar hand pie

A mini apple-cheddar pie…yummmm.
apple-cheddar hand pie

Crème Fraîche Ice Cream in Almond Butterscotch Cookie Cups

Homemade Créme Fraîche Ice Cream

This isn’t really my thing anymore. As delicious as they are, I certainly don’t need to eat my nightly scoop of ice cream out of delicate cookie baskets. I’m quite happy scraping right from the carton actually.

So why have I gone through the effort to make these precious ice cream vessels? Well, here’s what happened. A few weekends ago a couple of dear friends came over for dinner. I served a disappointing steak along side delicious corn and tomatoes (from our CSA) followed by a disappointing dessert. So on all accounts I failed. I felt really off my game. I mean, the two dishes I put no effort into were the only edible foods on the table. What’s more, the dessert I served — buttermilk panna cotta — is usually a go-to for me. I used to LOVE this recipe. I blogged about it. Made it all the time. How could it fail me?

Well, it did. I took one bite and thought, “This is way too sweet.” So, I set to work trying a few variations of lemon panna cotta, all of which failed. I needed something else. I needed something cool and sweet and tangy and delicious. I needed a little something called crème fraîche ice cream courtesy of David Lebovitz’ The Perfect Scoop, a book I obviously have not explored enough.

Ice cream is such a treat. And on these hot summer nights, does anything sound better? (With the exception perhaps of a slice of this?) If you are in need of a summery, entertaining dessert that’s really not too much of an effort to put together, this combo is a winner. The cookies, to my surprise, were completely simple to make and quite forgiving (see photo below). Delicate and sweet (be sure to brush your teeth immediately following dinner), these cookies are pieces of art themselves. I particularly like the taste of a few sweet-tart blackberries with this rich ice cream, but any berry will do.

Homemade Créme Fraîche Ice Cream

Fruit from our CSA this week. So delicious.
Blackberries and Peaches from my CSA

unbaked almond cookie cups

Oopsidasies… here’s why you should follow instructions:
oopsidasies

Almond Butterscotch Cookie Cups

Almond Butterscotch Cookie Cups

Homemade Créme Fraîche Ice Cream
Yield = 1 quart

1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
big pinch salt (I used kosher)
5 large egg yolks
2 cups créme fraíche

1. Prepare a medium-sized bowl with a mesh strainer over the top and set it in an ice bath.

2. Warm the milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

3. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir until cool over an ice bath. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator.

4. Once cool, whisk in the crème fraîche, then freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Note: Mine thickened up really quickly. After about 12 minutes, I stopped my machine.

Almond-Butterscotch Cookie Cups
Makes 12 cookie cups

4 T. butter
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/8 tsp almond extract (if you have it)
1/2 cup sliced almonds
6 T. flour

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Have ready 4 overturned teacups or custard cups. (Note: I did not turn over my cups.)

2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan with the corn syrup and brown sugar. Stir in the almond extract (if using), almonds, and flour.

3. Drop 4 slightly rounded tablespoons of batter, evenly spaced, on the baking sheet and using the back of the spoon, spread them into circles about 2 inches in diameter. (Note: Mine were about 3 inches in diameter and not evenly spaced, and they baked into one large cookie.) Bake the cookies for 12 minutes, until they’re deep golden brown. (Note: if you end up forming one large cookie as shown in the picture above, just cut through the batter with a paring knife.) Let rest for 30 to 45 seconds, then lift each cookie off the baking sheet with a flexible metal spatula and flip it over onto or into your teacup. (If the cookies get too firm to shape, return the pan to the oven for 30 seconds to soften them.) Let the baking sheet cool, then repeat with the remaining batter.

Homemade Crème Fraîche:

To make crème fraîche, place 2 cups heavy cream (try to not use ultra-pasteurized if possible but see note below if it’s the only variety you can find) in bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of yogurt or 2 tablespoons of buttermilk. Stir to combine. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. Stir. Mixture will be nice and thick. Store in the fridge until ready to use.

Notes: If your mixture hasn’t started to thicken up after 12 hours, add a couple more tablespoons of buttermilk. I have noticed that when I use ultra-pasteurized cream (all that I can find these days) the mixture doesn’t thicken up as well or as quickly. I almost always have to add a couple more tablespoons of buttermilk. I have also found that plain yogurt seems to thicken the cream better than the buttermilk — it probably has to do with the amounts/types of bacteria cultures present in the yogurt.

You may have noticed that I love crème fraîche. I really do. I think I love making it just as much as I love eating it. It’s just so magical watching heavy cream transform into this thick unctuous mass. Yum. I’ve been making it a lot these days in my favorite quiche recipe, which I’ve been making without the crust — much less work and just as delicious.

Please forgive the videography!
This is what crème fraîche will look like after 12 hours at room temperature:

This is what crème fraîche will look like after 12 hours at room temperature + 12 hours in the fridge:

This is what my ice cream looked like after about 12 minutes of churning:

Homemade Créme Fraîche Ice Cream

Apricot & Almond Tart

unbaked tart

I have no restraint. As I scraped every last morsel of frangipane from my mixer into the tart shell, I knew it was too much. There was barely room for the apricots. I should scoop some of this filling out, I thought. Nope. Not going to do it. I assured myself it would work out and pushed on.

Fortunately, I followed every other instruction in the recipe as well, including baking the tart on a cookie sheet, which caught a frightening amount of spillage, saving me from enduring a major post-baking oven-cleaning session. Why? Why?! Why do I not use my head sometimes?

Anyway, on Wednesday, a dear friend, remembering my adoration for frangipane tarts emailed me telling me he was going to make this recipe over the weekend. I clicked on the recipe, which sounded lovely, and thought, I’d like to make that too. Right now in fact.

And so I did, and it turns out that the recipe is quite lovely. It’s summery and festive, and with sugar-crusted apricot halves peeking through a golden-brown top, it would be show-stopping at a picnic, just as the article describes.

But while I loved the crust and the overall taste of the filling — reminiscent of pecan pie but without that trademark Karo-syrup sweetness — I think I might prefer this tart with peaches or plums. I’m not sure what’s to blame but my apricots oddly developed an almost canned taste during the baking. Has that ever happened to you? It was strange. Or maybe I would just prefer fruit that is cut into pieces, which might not look as pretty, but which might offer a better balance of flavors overall. If any of you out there give this recipe a go, I’d love to hear your thoughts. And last, I should note that a spoonful of cool and tangy crème fraîche as suggested accompanied this tart perfectly.

apricot and almond tart

cut tart

apricots and almonds

tart-making montage

frangipane-filled tart

apricot and almond tart

apricot and almond tart

Apricot & Almond Tart

Source NY Times
Time: 2 hours 10 minutes, plus at least 2 1/2 hours for chilling and resting

FOR THE PASTRY
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
2 1/4 cups flour, plus more as needed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 large egg yolk

FOR THE FRANGIPANE
7 ounces whole blanched almonds, a bit more than a cup
1 cup light brown sugar, plus more for sprinkling
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise and scraped, pulp reserved and pod discarded
1 tablespoon flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 medium or 8 small ripe but firm apricots, halved and pitted

Crème fraîche or whipped cream, for serving*
* This recipe definitely needs something like crème fraîche or whipped cream. I made homemade crème fraîche, which couldn’t be simpler or more fun: Place 2 cups heavy cream in bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of yogurt or 2 tablespoons of buttermilk. Stir to combine. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. Stir. Mixture will be nice and thick. Store in the fridge until ready to use.

1. To make the pastry: in the bowl of a food processor, combine the butter, flour and salt. Pulse until the mixture resembles very fine bread crumbs. Add the confectioners’ sugar, egg yolk and 2 tablespoons chilled water, and pulse a few times to bring the mixture together. Pour onto a work surface and knead the dough sparingly until smooth, being careful not to overwork it. Flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.

2. To make the frangipane: In a food processor, grind the almonds to a fine powder. Transfer to a bowl. In the food processor, combine 1 cup brown sugar, butter, and vanilla pulp. Process until light and fluffy, then with motor running add the flour and the eggs. Add the ground almonds and pulse to mix evenly. Set aside at room temperature or refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Bring to room temperature and stir before using.

3. To assemble: Lightly flour a cool work surface and roll the pastry into a large disk about 1/4-inch thick. Press into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable base and trim the edge. Chill at least 1 hour.

4. Heat oven to 325 degrees with a large baking sheet on the middle rack. Spread frangipane in the chilled tart pan, and nestle the apricot halves evenly on top, cut sides up. Sprinkle each half with about 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar. Place the tart on the baking sheet and bake until golden, and set, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. If the top appears to be browning too fast, cover loosely with foil.

5. Trim any baked overflow to loosen the edge of the tart. Press up the bottom of the pan to loosen the sides and cool the tart in the pan on a wire rack. When completely cool, serve with crème fraîche or whipped cream.

Yield: One 9-inch tart (8 servings).

Rosemary Shortbread + Cute Parchment Paper Packages

rosemary shortbread, so so delicious

Careful. These are addictive. They’ve got that sweet-salty dynamic, but also a hint of rosemary, a savory touch that might lead you to eat ten of them, as you would a cracker. Try not to do that.

Man these are so good. I’m never crazy about breaking out the food processor — so many parts to clean and all — but this machine makes this recipe effortless. It literally takes five minutes to prepare.

If you’re like me, you won’t want to share these with anyone, but they would make a wonderful gift. According to Melissa Clark’s NY Times article in December 2005, these shortbread cookies are her all-occasion go-to gift:

“A friend’s birthday? A box of shortbread cookies wrapped in colored tissue. A colleague’s dinner party? A hostess gift of a vintage tin filled with shortbreads. The holidays? Many, many bright-hued bags filled with shortbread and tied with ribbons.”

Yesterday, feeling inspired, I fashioned a little package out of parchment paper and cooking twine. Then I tucked two squares inside, made a cute little tag, and wrapped it all up. Later that day, I opened the package and ate the treats. As I said, I didn’t want to share these with anyone.

Mmmmm … shortbread. These treats would be perfect with a cup of tea in the afternoon, but are delightful any time of the day really. What’s more, they stay fresh for days though they’ll likely be gone before showing any signs of age. Holiday season is rapidly approaching — practice making these pouches now, and you’ll be golden come December.

I love parchment paper. Have you ever tried to tape it, however? Nothing sticks to it. To make this package, I improvised with a hole punch and some cooking twine. Just fold up a piece of parchment paper to the size of your liking, punch holes in the sides, thread any sort of ribbon or string through the holes and make knots on one side. Ta-da! With some cute ribbon, these packages could be really darling.

With this recipe, you just have to be careful not to over pulse the dough. This is about what it should look like:

The dough is still very crumbly when you pat it into the pan.

Rosemary Shortbread With Variations

Yield: One 8- or 9-inch shortbread, about 16 pieces
Source: Melissa Clark of the NY Times

2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 scant tablespoon of finely chopped fresh rosemary (see photo above)
1 teaspoon plus 1 pinch kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted cold butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 1/2 tsp. honey

1. Heat oven to 325ºF. In a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar, rosemary and salt. Add butter and honey, and pulse to fine crumbs. Pulse a few more times until some crumbs start to come together, but don’t overprocess. Dough should not be smooth.

2. Press dough into an ungreased (or parchment paper-lined for easy removal) 8- or 9-inch-square baking pan. Prick dough all over with a fork. Bake until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes for 9-inch pan, 45 to 50 minutes for 8-inch. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cut into squares, bars or wedges while still warm.

For variations of this recipe, see Melissa Clark’s article.

Opposite side of parchment paper package:

David Lebovitz’ Chocolate Biscotti — Great Recipe

Chocolate Biscotti

Several months ago a dear friend casually mentioned in an email her disappointment with a batch of chocolate biscotti she had just baked. I have been obsessed with finding a good chocolate biscotti recipe ever since, testing recipes, fiddling with proportions, and generally just eating and eating and eating some more. I think I have started each morning for the past two months with a chocolate biscotti. None, however, was particularly satisfying until I discovered David Lebovitz’ recipe.

I held out on making this recipe for so long because I didn’t think a biscotti recipe without butter would be good. Boy was I wrong. These are divine. Perfectly sweet. Not too hard. Crumbly. Soft. Not too soft. Loaded with chocolate and studded with almonds. A perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee. I am convinced there is no better way to start the morning (and mid-morning and afternoon and early evening, etc.).

For those biscotti-making novices out there, there is nothing tricky about baking cookies twice.I basically followed Lebovitz’ instructions to a tee: baked the logs first for 25 minutes at 350ºF; let them rest for 15 minutes; sliced them up and baked them for 15 minutes more, which was a little bit less than recommended but a perfect length to achieve the texure I like. Yum yum yum.

I also can’t emphasize enough how easy baking becomes when you introduce a digital scale to your arsenal of kitchen tools. I tend to measure in ounces but Lebovitz’ recipe was in grams, which seem to be more precise. This recipe is a winner. Make these biscotti. They’re a real treat.

And if you’re not so much a chocolate fan, try these almond biscotti — it’s another great recipe.

Chocolate Biscotti

Source: Adapted from David Lebovitz
For notes regarding cocoa and other matters, check out his post. I do think using good cocoa makes a difference. I had good results with Ghirardelli.

2 cups (280g) flour
3/4 cups (75g) top-quality cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
3 large eggs*
1 cup (200g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 cup (125g) almonds, toasted and very coarsely-chopped
3/4 cups (120g) chocolate chips

Notes:

*Twice now I’ve had to whisk up another egg and add it to the batter at the end to help the batter bind together. So, if your batter doesn’t seem to be forming a mass, beat up an extra egg and mix it in. That should help. Next time I think I’ll just add 4 eggs.

** I chose not to glaze/eggwash my biscotti. I feel a glaze in unnecessary with chocolate biscotti. If you wish to glaze, however, refer to David Lebovitz’ post.

1. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C) degrees.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.

3. In a large bowl, beat together the 3 eggs, sugar, and vanilla & almond extracts. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients, then mix in the nuts and the chocolate chips until the dough holds together.

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Divide the dough in half. Form each half into a log. Transfer the logs onto the baking sheet, evenly spaced apart.

5. Bake for 25 minutes, until the dough feels firm to the touch.

6. Remove pan from the oven and cool 15 minutes. On a cutting board, use a serrated (or not … I’ve used both types) knife to diagonally cut the cookies into 1/2-inches slices. Lay the cookies cut side down on baking sheets and return to the oven for 15 minutes*, turning the baking sheet midway during baking, until the cookies feel mostly firm.

Notes:

* Lebovitz bakes his for 20 to 30 minutes during the second baking. I like my biscotti not too crisp and have found good results with just 15 minutes of baking second time around. Also, really make sure your oven is at 350º or less — the chocolate will burn if your oven is hotter.

**Once baked, cool the cookies completely then store in an airtight container for up to two weeks. If you wish, the cookies can be half-dipped in melted chocolate, then cooled until the chocolate hardens.

Peach-Blueberry Cobbler

I had signed up to make a “super summery dessert” for a Fourth of July party. I contemplated trifle, pie and tres leches cake. And then I thought, “What could be more summery than a pan of bubbling peaches and blueberries stewing below a floating layer of golden-brown sugar-crusted buttermilk biscuits? ”

Peach-blueberry cobbler it would be.

And it was. With vanilla ice cream melting through each bite, smiles abounded.

Have you found yourself in the same boat yet this summer? Needing to make a dessert for a crowd? Look no further. This is it. Yum yum yum yum yum.

PS: If you can find rhubarb in your parts, try this recipe.

Peach and Blueberry Cobbler

Serves 10 – 12

2 lbs. peaches, yellow or white (nectarines would be great as well)
3 cups blueberries, washed and stemmed
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/3 cup sugar*
zest of one lime
pinch of kosher salt

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup sugar
½ cup (1 stick) butter, cold
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons milk
2 teaspoons demera sugar

vanilla ice cream for serving

*I used 1/3 cup sugar and my peaches were on the very under-ripe side. So, depending on the sweetness of your fruit, adjust the amount of sugar accordingly. As an example, when I make this recipe using strawberries and rhubarb, I use 3/4 cup sugar because rhubarb is so tart.

1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Slice up your peaches — I got about 6 to 8 thick slices per peach. Place peaches in a bowl with blueberries, cornstarch, sugar, lime zest and salt, and toss to combine. Set aside.

2. In separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Cut the butter into the flour mixture in small pieces and stir with a fork to combine. Whisk buttermilk and vanilla together, then pour mixture into dry ingredients. Stir with a fork until mixture comes together — the dough will be very wet and sticky.

3. Transfer fruit to a 12 x 8½-inch (2 quart) baking dish. Break off portions of the dough (about 8-10) and arrange over the fruit. Brush the dough with the milk and sprinkle the sugar over both the fruit and dough portions of the dish.

4. Place in the oven for 50-55 minutes, until topping is golden brown and juices are bubbling. Let cool on rack 15 to 20 minutes before serving. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Shower Desserts: Lemon Bars & Brownies

Lemon Bars

Lemon Bars

Last week, for about point five seconds, I entertained the idea of making petits fours for a baby shower. I’m so glad I came to my senses. In fact I’m so glad I tossed out all of my  grand ideas: stork-shaped frosted cookies, a baby-buggy cake, mini baby brownie pops.

Instead, I made one batch of my favorite brownie recipe and one batch of lemon bars, a recipe I have been making for years, (one that surely will be used at Olalie Cafe … you can’t have a café and not offer lemon bars, right?)

What can I say, with a dessert platter filled with these super lemony and fudgy brownie bites, nobody missed the precious pastelly pastries previously prancing around my head. I would wager in fact that this duo of desserts in any social situation would satisfy nearly all sweet tooths (teeth?). 

For fun, I made some red velvet cupcakes, too, always a hit, but truthfully not as much a crowd pleaser as the lemon bars and brownies. And what could be easier? Nothing. Tis the season for showers … food for thought for keeping it simple. 

Lemons

Clockwise: Unbaked crust, baked crust, baked bars, finished bars:
lemon bar evolution

All-time favorite brownies:
Brownies

Red Velvets:
Red Velvets

Lemon Bars

Yield = a lot

½ lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup powdered sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
pinch salt

2 cups sugar
4 eggs
7 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup lemon zest
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ cup all-purpose flour
pinch salt

powdered sugar for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

2. Beat butter till fluffy. Beat in the powdered sugar. Beat in the flour one cup at a time. Add a pinch of salt. Press the dough into the bottom of a 13x9x2-inch pan. Bake crust till golden, about 20 to 25 minutes.

3. Beat sugar with eggs until blended. Add lemon juice and zest, baking powder, flour and salt, and beat until blended. Pour filling over hot crust. Bake until the filling is set in center and begins to brown on top, about 20 minutes.

Rich Fudgy Brownies

Yield = 16 (2-inch) brownies
Note: If you have a scale, I highly recommend using it. I use my Salter digital scale when I make these and they come out perfectly every time.

8 oz. (1 cup) unsalted butter; plus more for the pan
15¼ oz. (2 cups) granulated sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
2½ oz (¾ cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
3 oz (2/3 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour; plus more for the pan
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. table salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°F and position rack in the center of the oven. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan.

2. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the sugar and whisk until well combined. Add the beaten eggs and vanilla and whisk until well blended. In a large separate bowl whisk together the cocoa, flour, baking powder and salt. Transfer butter mixture to bowl with flour and stir with spatula or wooden spoon until batter is smooth.

3. Spread into prepared pan and bake for approximately 37-40 minutes. Insert a pairing knife or steak knife straight into center. If it comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs, the brownies are done. Let cool completely in pan on rack.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Yield=24

2¼ cups (9¾ oz) sifted flour (sifted, then measured)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoon red food coloring (2 1-oz bottles)
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups sugar
1½ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs

8 oz cream cheese, softened
8 oz butter, softened
1 teapoon vanilla extract
2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place liners in 12-cup cupcake pan.

2. Sift sifted flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla in small bowl to blend.

3. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until well blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. Beat in dry ingredients in 4 additions alternately with buttermilk mixture in 3 additions.
4. Spoon batter into cupcake liners only 2/3 or ¾ of the way full—don’t be tempted to fill them higher: they’ll bake into mushroom caps instead of nice rounded domes, and if they are filled too high, there will not be enough batter for the 24 cupcakes. Bake cakes until inserted toothpick comes out clean, about 23-26 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before removing from pan onto racks; bake remaining cupcakes; cool all completely before frosting.

Frosting: Beat butter, cream cheese and vanilla until smooth and combined. Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth.

work space