Archive for July, 2007

I’ve Been Simpsonized

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007
You can now purchase my handmade candy bars and marshmallows at http://www.bonbonbar.com/
Simpsonized Us

EDIT: Now Chad has been, too. 🙂

I’m not sure how accurate my simpsonification is, but it’s pretty cool to see myself in that world, in whatever form.

http://simpsonizeme.com/#

Be warned, this went pretty slowly on my computer… I am now all too well aware that the pink-frosted donut used in promotions is actually a jelly at heart.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Mousse, Two Ways

Sunday, July 29th, 2007
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Peanut Butter Milk Chocolate Mousse on Toasted Peanuts in Caramel Syrup and topped with Orange Blossom Honey Roasted Peanuts.

About once a year, I get a serious craving for peanut butter. It can happen in the summer or the winter, and either way, it’s short and intense — peanut butter has a way of overwhelming my whole being.

So, this year, I experimented with Peanut Butter Chocolate Mousses while the excitement lasted. I chose a mousse as its vehicle b/c I wanted the peanut butter flavor without its heavy stickiness… and mousse is another rich thing that I can handle about once a year.

I went through my usual rounds of recipe research, and I found that most recipes use either cream cheese or powdered sugar as the body of a peanut butter mousse and paired it with a chocolate component. I thought that was odd. Why not just incorporate chocolate to begin with for a cleaner flavor?

There’s quite a bit of leeway with chocolate mousse recipes, depending on the desired density and the intensity of chocolate flavor. Back when I started baking, the differences in ingredients from recipe to recipe for the same dessert seemed very mysterious, but it’s actually pretty straightforward — if you imagine the properties of the ingredients on their own, there’s a good chance that they’ll contribute those properties to the final dessert.

So, when I thought about what kind of mousse I wanted, I thought about the textures and flavors of… whole eggs… egg yolks… egg whites… gelatin… heavy cream… milk… water… alcohol… milk chocolate… dark chocolate…

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Believe it or not, I actually went for an eggy mousse for my first version b/c I wanted that thick, bubbly texture as a refinement of the texture of peanut butter. My recipe was based on Albert’s Mousse in Bittersweet by Alice Medrich. I subbed 33% of the semisweet chocolate with peanut butter, used slightly less liquid (milk and water; to make up for the looseness of the peanut butter compared to chocolate), included Tuaca as the alcohol (an orange-vanilla liqueur from Italy), and whipped whole eggs. Since there was no cream in the mousse, I thought I’d put some on top, whipped. I also had some spiced nutty caramel leftover from a candy bar experiment, so I thinned it with water and put that in the bottom of the glass for kicks.

It was good ‘n rich. The peanut butter flavor was pretty mild, and allowed for the other flavors to come through, too. It had the stable bubbly texture that I wanted — removing a spoonful of it revealed that structure of air pockets that reminds me of slicing into a fine ciabatta dough in miniature. By the next day, the liqueur flavor was much stronger, overpowering the peanut butter. It was also denser, as mousses are wont to become over time.

For my second mousse, I aimed for a silky light texture, so I decided that the mousse would feature milk chocolate and whipped cream, with a little semisweet chocolate for more chocolate flavor and structure (from the add’l cocoa butter). I formulated it based on the Milk Chocolate Mousse recipe in Bittersweet and the Chocolate Peanut Butter Gianduja contributed by Nicole Plue in Scharffen Berger’s The Essence of Chocolate.

Plue’s gianduja is an amazing dessert that I sampled during a dinner at Julia’s Kitchen last year, and I’d recommend making it at home b/c it’s delicious and handy– it goes straight into the freezer. You can freeze it for several weeks, slicing off servings as you please, and letting it sit for 10 mins at room temp before eating.

So, below is the peanut butter chocolate mousse recipe that I came up with. It’s silky and peanut butter-y, with a strong dairy contingent, as you can tell by the ingredients . The chocolate flavor is more of a backdrop (though you could probably sub some of the milk with water to bring out the choc flavor more). It’s also very rich. Even though it was in my small Pierre Herme verrine glasses, I was overwhelmed by the amount; half would have been perfect for me. It’s nice topped with honey roasted peanuts and over the caramel syrup with toasted peanuts. The clear, gem-like caramel syrup is only caramelized sugar and water with a little salt; a caramel sauce with cream and butter would have been too rich.

And yes, it’s rather Snickers-like, isn’t it?

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Mousse

6 oz Milk Chocolate, chopped (I used Callebaut)
1 oz Semisweet Chocolate, chopped (I used 58% Cacao Barry)
Pinch Fine Sea Salt
6 oz Peanut Butter, room temp (I used Whole Foods Organic Creamy PB)
5 oz Whole Milk (I used Organic Valley)
8 oz Heavy Whipping Cream (I used Organic Valley)

In a double boiler over steaming hot water, melt the chocolates in the bowl of your stand mixer. Stir together the peanut butter, salt, and milk until smooth, and then stir the peanut butter mixture into the chocolate mixture until smooth. Transfer the bowl to the mixer. Whip on high until smooth and shiny, about 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, whip the cream to soft mounds. When the chocolate mixture is ready, stir in 1/3 of the cream, then quickly and gently fold in the rest.

Pour into vessel/s (and over caramel syrup and peanuts, if desired). Chill 1-4 hrs before serving. It will become denser as it chills longer.

Warm Plum Torte with Sweet Corn Ice Cream

Saturday, July 21st, 2007
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Warm Santa Rosa Plum Torte with Sweet Corn Ice Cream

Until a few weeks ago, I somehow wasn’t aware of the existence of either Chef Patrick O’Connell or the Inn at Little Washington. But after I saw him featured on Chef’s Story, I was intrigued by his astute musings and self-taught background, so I ordered one of his cookbooks, Patrick O’Connell’s Refined American Cuisine.

And now I’m a believer.

I like that his dishes are rooted firmly in American tradition, and their refinement involves allowing them to be the best they can be, without cutes-ifying or deconstructing them. Occasionally, European or Asian influences step in. Some of his dishes are based on classics but many are combinations that reflect a clever understanding of how flavors and textures can work together… like Macaroni and Cheese with Virginia Country Ham (with garlic, chives, parmesan wafers, crispy onions, and optional white truffles)… Crab Cake “Sandwich” with Fried Green Tomatoes and Tomato Vinaigrette… Mussels with Orecchiette… Miniature Ham Biscuits with Mascarpone Pepper Jelly… Watermelon-Tequila Soup… Cabbage Braised in Champagne… Shavings of Country Ham with Parmesan, Pears, and Pine Nuts… Scallopine of Chicken with Grapefruit and Pink Peppercorns… Pan-Roasted Maine Lobster with Rosemary Cream…

Country ham and corn pop up a lot (and lemon verbena!), as do pictures of the Inn and its surroundings. It’s a wonderful way to do some culinary armchair traveling to the American Southeast. There are also pictures of nearly every dish, with their striking, yet logical, presentations; it’s beauty without fussiness — or gratuitous verticality, for that matter. His dishes look eatable.

His commentary is useful, and often amusing. In the intro, he describes the rituals of entertaining that existed in his childhood home, including his mother’s signature dish: “Little Nancy Etticoat in Her White Petticoat.” It involved placing a banana through a Dole pineapple ring, surrounding it with shredded iceberg lettuce, letting Hellman’s mayo drip down the sides, and finishing it off with a Maraschino cherry. O’Connell concludes the vignette with “all I can say is, that’s a dish I’ve never had the balls to serve.”

When I saw the recipe for this plum torte with sweet corn ice cream, I saw an opportunity to try out a recipe at just the right seasonal time and to experience O’Connell’s culinary sensibility.

The torte has a buttery, brown sugar and buttermilk-laced cake layer topped by plums that have been macerated in sugar and brandy (he calls for plum liqueur, but I didn’t have any) and a crumb topping rounded out with walnuts and spices. There’s also some orange zest in the cake that adds a lovely edge (incidentally, O’Connell has a great respect for the power of acidity in his dishes). My torte turned out puffier and less brown than the picture in the book, but it was good nonetheless.

The sweet corn ice cream seemed like a wild card, but I reasoned that cornmeal is used in fruity American desserts (such as shortcakes and pancakes); the ice cream is corn’s chance to both aggrandize its flavor and sidestep a gritty texture.

So, in this dessert, I see elements of buckles (the cake), crumbles/crisps (the crumb topping), shortcakes (the cornmeal), and pie (it’s baked in a pie pan). I usually have difficulty choosing which of those desserts to make with my fruit, so I was looking forward to making this all-in-one.

O’Connell provides a recipe for the ice cream, but it has eggs so I adapted one of my Philadelphia-style recipes for the infusion of corn kernels and cobs. Since corn goes well with eggs, a custard-based ice cream makes sense, but what can I say… I prefer to go eggless in ice creams whenever possible. I was thrilled by his use of maple syrup in the recipe. It accentuates corn so well, and I wouldn’t have thought to add it. And I think that the corn’s starch also helps keep the ice cream smooth when frozen, so it has a nice texture.

Individually, the torte and ice cream are very good and full of flavor. When eaten together, they tend to act like two strangers walking towards each other in opposite directions, though. A strong corn flavor is initially in the foreground… then a unique spark of epiphany occurs btw the sweet corn and the sweet-spicy plum together… and then the plum flavor steps into the spotlight for the rest of the bite.

Here’s the recipe I used for sweet corn ice cream, which reconciles methods from this cookbook, The Perfect Scoop, and my own sensibilities. It turned out a little sweet, so I’d recommend initially decreasing the sugar a little bit and then adjusting it to your tastes. Don’t decrease it too much, though, or else it can freeze too hard (since sugar helps keeps it soft).  I used organic wherever possible.
Sweet Corn Ice Cream, Philadelphia Style
Yield: a scant Quart

1 cup + 1 cup Heavy Whipping Cream
1 c Whole Milk
100 g (1/2 cup) Sugar
pinch Salt
2 Corn Cobs, shucked
1/4 tsp Vodka
2 Tbs Maple Syrup

Lay a corn cob flat on cutting board. Slicing vertically and rotating the cob, chop off all the kernels. Break the cob in half. Repeat with rmg cob.

Combine 1 cup cream, milk, sugar, salt, cobs, and kernels in a medium saucepan. Over medium heat, bring to a boil. Take off the heat, cover, and infuse until it tastes like sweet corn, about an hour.

Strain into a storage container; discard cobs and kernels. Stir in 1 cup cream, vodka, and maple syrup.

Chill in refrigerator, then freeze in an ice cream machine.

A Strawberry-Cacao Nib Trifle To Go

Sunday, July 15th, 2007
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Strawberry-Cacao Nib Trifle: Orange Chiffon Cake, Blackberry-Strawberry-Grand Marnier Puree, Whipped Cream, Cacao Nib Pudding, and Halved Camarosa Strawberries.

It wasn’t until I was nearly done constructing this trifle that I actually looked at the sides — and saw the rustic result. But I decided that since I’d be transporting it to a casual barbecue 1.5 hrs away and it would taste good in any case, I may as well leave it as is… and dare to post it on my blog.

The starting point for this dessert was to use up the scraps of orange chiffon cake that I had leftover in my freezer from the Blood Orange Creamsicle birthday cake. I went back into the Tartine cookbook for their ideas on how to construct a trifle, and found that they soak the cake layers in a lightly sugared and liqueured fruit puree. I didn’t want to add too many flavors, so I just blended a few blackberries into my pureed strawberries, as well as Grand Marnier. The resulting strained puree was juicy, but it didn’t soak into the cake readily. That’s fine b/c it allowed for more textures, but if you want a thoroughly soaked layer with an eye-catching purple hue, I’d add a little water (which would have been included if simple syrup had been used) and use thin layers of cake.

The recipe also called for pastry cream, but as I’ve said, I’m not terribly into eggy desserts, especially if fruit is involved. So, I was really excited to happen upon Alice Medrich’s recipe for Nibby Pudding in Bittersweet. Not only is it egg-free (relying solely on cornstarch to thicken the cacao-nib infused sweetened milk & cream), but it also added a complementary note of flavor. I’d considered using chocolate pastry cream to liven things up a bit (esp since it goes with strawberry and orange flavors), but it could easily be too heavy and overbearing. The nibby pudding gave an earthy but nimble flavor that accented the fruit and cream nicely, and it wasn’t too sweet. The light taupe color was also a nice slight contrast to the whipped cream, which I sugared lightly. The only trick is that since cacao nibs are broken up pieces of cacao beans, they unleash some cocoa butter (which is solid at room temp) into the cream and milk during the infusion. The cocoa butter gives the pudding a novel kind of unctuousness, but if the pudding sets more firmly than you’d like, you can whisk it to loosen it and/or fold in some whipped cream.

Dangerous Chocolate Chip Cookies Dissected

Friday, July 13th, 2007
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These are basically my perfect chocolate chip cookies. They’re just chewy and moist enough throughout the center, slightly firm and crispy on the edges, thick enough to be satisfying, full of chocolate, and their sweetness has complexity – of vanilla, butter, molasses and maple…

And that’s why they’re dangerous. I replaced the granulated sugar with maple sugar. Although the maple flavor does not dominate the flavor of the cookie enough to justify calling them maple chocolate chip cookies, the maple sugar gives them just the right texture and just the right flavor. I think that the hint of maple bridges the molasses, vanilla, and chocolate flavors; it elevates the cookie’s sweetness into true flavor.

The problem is that maple sugar is something like the gold dust of baking. Whereas granulated sugar can be about 48 cents per pound, I’ve seen maple sugar range from $9-$48 per pound. That’s at least 18.75 times more expensive. So, to recommend its use in chocolate chip cookies seems like recommending the use of Perigord truffles in a dish that won’t really taste like them.

But they’re so good.

And the maple flavor gets a little stronger on the second day.

I made another batch with significantly more maple sugar (140 g maple sugar to 80 grams brown sugar instead of 100 g to 120 g), but the cookies again eluded a strong maple flavor; instead, they were just too sweet. But the cookies are perfect in an ice cream sandwich paired with a rather unsweet Cocoa Nib Ice Cream w/ Caramelized Cocoa Nibs that I made. With the added crunch, caramel flavor, and creaminess, there’s very little more that I could ask for in the world… Perhaps only cheaper maple sugar.

There’s a lot to be said about CCC-making. I see them as the wild cards of baking. Cookies are always a little temperamental, but CCC’s have a way of turning out differently due to very small changes in technique, ratios, and weather; I tend to blame the brown sugar, which has more moisture issues than most ingredients. Even dough from the same batch can bake up differently depending on how it’s been treated and baked. And the cookies change texture over time, sometimes in a matter of hours. There’s a reason why Mrs. Fields insisted on selling cookies that were no more than 2 hrs out of the oven.

So, below is the recipe for the cookies, complete with every single step of the process for CCC’s in general detailed to the best of my knowledge. It’s a work in progress, though, b/c I haven’t yet made the perfect ccc cookies without maple sugar to my liking. Please feel free to add any wisdom or thoughts. Megnut posted the mean chocolate chip cookie a couple months ago, and this is my attempt to figure out what it all means.

And after the jump is the un-annotated version for faster reference. I used to make the recipe for Toll House cookies on the chocolate chip bag, but it tends to produce a flat, crisp cookie. My version is based on what’s usually referred to as Blue Ribbon Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Here goes… All the world in chocolate chip cookies.

Dangerous Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield: 34 cookies

4 oz Butter, cold, cut into 1/2″ pieces

  • I use unsalted Challenge Butter, but I’m considering trying salted butter. The salt particles are small in it, and so will disperse evenly. It also saves a measuring step.
  • Some recipes call for softened butter, but I don’t aerate cookies as much as I do cakes, so I’m not concerned about having the butter at prime plasticity for aeration (about 65-75F). Also, friction in the bowl will heat it up and soften it quickly.
  • Some recipes call for melted sugar. I’ve never done that; Cook’s Illustrated claims that it leads to a greasier cook.
  • Some recipes call for some shortening. I don’t like the flavor or way it lingers in my mouth, but it makes for a puffier, chewier cookie.
  • Some recipes also call for milk, which will produce a flatter, crisper cookie b/c of the added water.

100 g Maple Sugar

  • The stuff of worship.
  • There are also Maple Flakes, but since they’re freeze-dried, I don’t think they’d bake well. They’re more for sprinkling on ready-to-eat food.
  • I tried a batch that added maple syrup to sugar and brown sugar, but it didn’t taste much like maple.
  • The original recipe used an equal amount of granulated sugar. In her magnificent essay on sugars, Beranbaum says that the two can be substituted without change in texture. But maple sugar is sweeter and contains more water (Beranbaum says 8% to granulated’s .5%, but it just occurred to me that it may be .8%, since it doesn’t seem very moist and her chart is otherwise arranged in progression; but I could wrong).
  • The ratio of granulated sugar to brown sugar in chocolate chip cookies is often a defining factor of CCC recipes, affecting the chewiness, moistness, color, puffiness, and flavor.

120 g Light Brown Sugar

  • Here’s a CCC that uses all brown sugar.
  • I use C & H brand, which is real brown sugar, not granulated sugar sprayed with molasses, as some are.
  • Sometimes different sugars are used. Here are my experiences:
  • Dark brown sugar can be substituted for a more pronounced molasses flavor and slightly chewier texture
  • A mixture of granulated sugar and molasses can be substituted, but the batter will need to be chilled and the cookies will be more delicate; I think b/c granulated sugar granules are finer than brown sugar granules. See the Tartine cookbook for two excellent examples of cookies that use granulated sugar plus molasses instead of brown sugar for CCC-style cookies.
  • Some recipes also use corn syrup, for moisture and chew.
  • I once used Dark Muscovado Sugar instead, and the cookies were flatter, too chewy, and had a greyish hue. It would probably work better with a lower ratio of this sugar, or maybe with more butter. I also mixed in some cinnamon, and that was a great flavor combination.

heaping 1/4 tsp Kosher Salt

  • I dislike “heaping” instructions, but I think the original recipe was meant for table salt. Since I use Diamond Crystal kosher salt, which has larger granules, more volume of it needs to be added. 1/2 tsp seemed like too much, and since I don’t have a 1/3 tsp, I heap.

1/2 tsp Baking Soda

  • If you use just the right amount of baking soda, the cookies will rise just so. If you use less, acc to Cook’s Illustrated, the cookies will be a little thicker. If you use more, the cookies will be more brown and spread more, but they may taste soapy.
  • Cook’s Illustrated substituted baking powder to increase the acidity so that the cookies would set faster, and so have more of a contrast btw a chewy interior and crisp exterior. I’ve also seen recipes that use vinegar or lemon juice to add acidity as well as cut the sweetness.

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

  • I’ve been using Nielsen-Massey Mexican Vanilla recently. It seems more spicy and pungent to me. I like it.
  • Vanilla extract is a flavored alcohol, so I tried using Meyer’s Dark Rum with the Dark Muscovado Sugar batch, but it didn’t add adequate flavor. I do want to experiment more with different alcohols in the future.
  • I used to use Vanilla Paste a lot, and I liked it for its true vanilla flavor and aroma. It doesn’t have any alcohol in it, so I wonder if that affects the texture of the cookie at all.

50 g Egg, lightly beaten

  • I beat it lightly so that it incorporates more evenly more quickly.
  • Some recipes use an extra egg (for moistness and cakiness), yolk (for richness and lift), or white (for chewiness). I don’t care to have their extra flavor in my cookie, so I haven’t pursued those routes.

175 g All-Purpose Flour

  • I use King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour.
  • Some recipes add more flour for a heftier cookie, but it’s harder to bake out all of the starch that way and the cookie can taste more floury.
  • Some recipes use different flours (such as bread which will make it chewier and heftier, or cake which will make it cakier). I find that bread flour dulls the flavor, so it’s not worth the extra chew to me.

180 g Chocolate Chips

  • I like Guittard’s Semisweet chips, but I sometimes chop up whatever couverture I have around for it, too (which, frankly, is a pain to cut into nicely-sized chunks). In the picture above, I used halved Cacao Barry 58% callets, which were perfect with the maple b/c they’re not too sweet.
  • Milk or white chocolate — or any mix-in for that matter — works, too.

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 300F.

  • I’ve found that anything higher makes the edges and bottoms of the cookies brown too fast for this recipe, but other recipes may require a higher temp to bake properly, perhaps more acidic ones.

Line a baking sheet with a silpat.

  • I like that the silpat insulates the cookies slightly, whereas parchment or direct placement on the baking sheet browns them more. I haven’t used insulated cookie sheets (with a layer of air in between layers of metal), but I think it would be too much insulation.

In an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugars, salt, baking soda, and vanilla on low until mostly combined. Increase the speed to medium, and beat until homogeneous and slightly creamy, about 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and paddle.

  • You’ll notice that a couple “dry” ingredients are being mixed with the “wet” here. It’s just to ensure that ingredients are evenly distributed. The salt and baking soda are usually added with the flour, but the flour should be incorporated with as little mixing as possible so that the cookies aren’t tough from gluten development. Baking soda and salt do not contribute to gluten, and I think that it’s important to distribute them evenly in the batter.
  • Rose Levy Beranbaum has technique of mixing butter cakes in which she adds the soft butter and then the eggs to the dry ingredients. I’m tempted to try this for CCC’s, and mix it less.

Add the egg, and beat until combined. Scrape down the bowl and paddle.

  • I once mercilessly overmixed a batch of cookies trying to get cold eggs to emulsify into the batter (which, incidentally, is unnecessary for CCC’s), and the cookies were quite cakey and slightly drier.

With the machine on low, gradually add the flour.

  • I transfer the flour with a flat plastic dough scraper to do this, b/c pouring flour from a bowl is perilous at best, unless you’re using bigger equipment.

Stop the machine when the flour is mostly incorporated and scrape down the bowl. Add the chocolate chips, and mix on low until just combined.

Drop the dough by tablespoon onto the silpat.

  • I use a spring-loaded ice cream scoop.
  • I’ve found that flattening room temp dough with your fingers or a cup will produce a flatter cookie that’s crispier on the outside.
  • You can chill the dough for a few days, but either let it come to room temp before baking or flatten them slightly (otherwise, they’re puffy and weird).
  • You can freeze the balls of dough on a baking sheet, and then put them in a ziploc bag for longer storage. Defrost them overnight in the refrigerator, separated on a flat surface and closely covered. The issue here is that you don’t want condensation to form on the dough.

Bake for 18 minutes, until dough is just set across the top of the cookies and the edges are browned, rotating the pan after 11 minutes. Remove from the oven. Let sit until stable, then scrape up each cookie and remove to a cool surface.

When cool, store in an airtight container.

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