Friday, May 29, 2009

Carrot Apple Spice Cake and Surfas

A lovely foodie friend mentioned Surfas restaurant supply store to me recently, and even though I missed taking my mom there on Mother's Day, their website had me buzzing with excitement about my delayed visit. Gelatin sheets! Powdered food coloring! Blanched almond powder!

And, as it turned out, these beautifully professional-looking baking papers! I took this opportunity to make the Gourmandise Desserts Carrot Apple Spice Cake that I had been keeping in the back of my mind. It was somebody's fault that the batter overflowed the cake papers, although I'm not sure if it's my fault for overfilling the papers (most likely) or the website's fault for inconsistencies in the printed recipe (it forgets to mention the baking soda in the recipe steps, and 2 T baking powder sounds excessive to me. I'm just saying.).

In the end, after taking one for the team and personally consuming all the overflowed cake batter, I think these cakes turned out nicely - light (baking powder, anyone?), a tad of ginger, moist, orange zest, and a dollop of mascarpone icing and caramelized pecans. It's not a classic carrot cake like my mom's recipe, but I certainly had no complaints. Gourmandise actually touts it as a breakfast-worthy muffin, so she's a versatile lady.

Surfas was most enjoyable; it's a trendy-feeling warehouse store with all the food and equipment stuff you can only find online. No promises that everything's affordable, but it offers high quality goods AND bulk goods for those who so desire. And it's got this cool cement walkway that has imprints of kitchen supplies.

Equally important, Surfas has a Zagat-rated cafe that blew me away with its creative menu. It's not a large menu, but full of seasonally-based fresh flavor combinations. I've been telling everyone I know about this salad - a bed of spring lettuce with thinly sliced strawberries, sautéed leeks, edible flowers, toasted pistachios, ricotta salata cheese shavings, and...chocolate balsamic dressing. It wasn't very sweet for a strawberry salad, and the flavors were brilliantly paired. I guessed that there was chocolate without reading the menu, but it was definitely a subtle flavor. And the ordinary-looking biscuit was a 42 (or was it 72?)-layer buttery biscuit. Fabulous.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sticky Chocolate Cake

I love the smell and flavor of brandy, and have been particularly enchanted by the idea of soaking various things in brandy for cooking projects, so this recipe appealed to me right away (Sometimes I feel like one of Jack Lemmon's characters in The Great Race, whose mantra is "Brandy! More brandy!"). Not to mention the fact that it's a chocolate cake. Or that it employs prunes, whose pairing with chocolate I have long been curious about. Or that it has almost no refined sugar (only what is in the bittersweet chocolate). Or that it's called "sticky," which also aided its recent publication on Chocolate and Zucchini.

In any case, this was an interesting cake to make, although not one that I expect to receive many party invitations. It would be worthwhile to try it with white whole wheat flour, just to bump it completely out of the refined carbohydrate orbit and make it even more hearty. Come to think of it, I also made it low fat, except for the one egg yolk in it. I'll keep this tasty wall flower around just for the brandy and relative healthfulness!

I would hesitate to recommend its flavor and crumb to all, except for the fact that I just ate, ahem, two of them. I guess I approve the prune-chocolate coupling.

Sticky Chocolate Cake
From Chocolate and Zucchini

For the cake:
8 oz plump dried prunes (about 16 medium), pitted
1/3 C brandy* such as Cognac, Armagnac, or other brandy
1/2 C plain nonfat yogurt
1 egg
6 T unrefined light brown cane sugar
3 T maple syrup
1 C flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
3 T unsweetened cocoa powder
5 1/3 oz bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped

For the syrup:
1/4 C unrefined light brown cane sugar

Preheat the oven to 360 degrees, grease the sides of a small cake pan (about 1 liter or 4 cups in capacity) and line the bottom with parchment paper, or line a muffin tin with cupcake liners for 12 cupcakes.

Place half of the prunes and the brandy in a small saucepan and heat over low heat until just slightly warm. Set aside to plump up.

Put the remaining prunes and the yogurt in a blender or mini-chopper, and process until smooth.

Pour into a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the egg, sugar, and maple syrup, beating well between each addition.

In a medium mixing bowl, place the flour, baking powder and soda, salt, and cocoa powder. Stir with a whisk to combine and break any lumps.

Fish the prunes from the brandy (reserve the brandy) and cut in halves. Set aside.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined; don't overmix. Fold in the chopped chocolate. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, level the surface, and top with the prune halves, pressing them down gently so they're half engulfed in the batter.

Bake for 30 minutes (15-20 for muffins), until set. A cake tester inserted in the center should come out clean (but don't mistake a melted chocolate chunk for raw batter).

While the cake is baking, prepare the syrup: add the 1/4 C sugar and 1/3 C water to the brandy in the pan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and remove from heat immediately.

When the cake comes out of the oven, pierce a few holes through it with a skewer and brush liberally with the warm syrup with a pastry brush, until saturated. Let cool completely before unmolding.

* If you can't or won't have liquor in your cake, you can replace the brandy with good black tea.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Beans, Greens, and Mint Frittata

And now for the token savory recipe of the month! I know I give the impression that I bake all the time (well, okay, maybe I do), but I do provide other food for myself to eat, and I really, really enjoyed eating this frittata. One of the things I love about egg dishes is how easy they are to adapt to the contents of your kitchen, as well as to make healthfully. This dish is all protein and vegetable fiber, with minimal fat from the egg yolks but great flavor.

The mint is a lovely touch; I actually think I like it better as a fresh seasoning for a frittata than I do basil. I had to make several trips to different stores to find the fresh mint and nutmeg required, but it was worth it!

This is the first time I prepared fresh fava beans (I've used the dried beans for falafel before), which was a satisfying process. The beans are wrapped in thick pods that are waxy green on the outside, furry white on the inside. The individual beans each ALSO have a waxy casing that needs to be removed, and inside there is the tender brilliant meaty bean that gets eaten. One spends a bit of time getting down and dirty with the natural bean packaging, unless one misses out and starts with frozen beans.

Of course, if you have favism in your family and are horribly deathly allergic to them, absolutely do not use them in this dish - but do still make some sort of frittata with mint! The dish would be completely fine with just greens or other vegetables mixed in, so don't feel limited. The beans do boost the fiber and protein content of the meal; edamame may be a good substitute to try.

This is one of the many new vegetables and legumes I've tried this year over the past seven months of receiving CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes of local produce. Any time I have mentioned kale, swiss chard, other greens, or beets on my blog this year, it has been because that is what arrived in my box, and therefore what I had to prepare for myself to eat. I have had a great experience with this particular CSA: it's delivered to my apartment complex, costs me $7 per week, introduces new vegetables to my diet, motivates me to learn new recipes, and moves my nutrition towards a more organic and plant-rich base, which makes me feel great physically. Not a bad counterpoint to all that baking, eh?


Beans, Greens, and Mint Frittata
Adapted from the Frittata Fève et Menthe in the Chocolate and Zucchini cookbook

3 C vegetable or chicken stock, or water
1 C shelled fava beans, fresh or frozen
2 C (several handfuls) cooked kale or other greens
6 large eggs
1/3 C plain non-fat yogurt
1 C grated cheese (Gruyère, Pecorino Romano, crumbled feta, or others would work)
12 fresh mint leaves, washed and chopped
1/4 tsp salt
pinch of ground nutmeg
a shake or two of black pepper

1. Fava bean preparation: After removing the beans from the pods, heat the stock or water to boil in a medium saucepan. Drop in the shelled beans and cook for 5 minutes (6 if the beans are frozen). Drain and drop into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Cut a tiny slit in the outer skin of each bean with a fingernail or a knife, and peel the waxy skin away with your fingers to squeeze out the inner meat. The beans can be prepared up to two days ahead of time and kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

2. Kale/greens preparation: Wash and tear up/chop the greens and cook them for a few minutes in a frying pan until they become bright green and slightly limp. Set aside off the heat.

3. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a 9 inch cake pan with parchment paper and grease the interior with cooking spray or olive oil.

4. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, cheese, and mint. Season with salt, nutmeg, and pepper. Gently stir in the beans and greens and pour into the cake pan.

5. Bake for 25 minutes, and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Chocolate Macarons with Coffee Buttercream

I continue to be content with my Parisian macaron recipe (can I call it mine now that I've adapted it to a new flavor with the strawberry macarons?), especially after it worked so well with the coffee buttercream that I made this week. I'm starting to realize that macarons get a large proportion of their flavor from the cream in the middle; the cookies themselves have to be mainly made of ground almonds, and any flavor they have has to be from some sort of dry ingredient source in order to not disturb the all-important texture of the macaron. So, this time I introduced coffee to my chocolate macarons with a few flecks of instant coffee on top of each macaron and a nice coffee cream in the middle. I was told these are the best I've made yet, although I am afraid they did not look as perfect as they have in the past. Still, very content.

I thought I'd include the whole macaron recipe, in all its glorious detail, plus a recipe for the coffee buttercream, which would be striking on chocolate cake as well.

This recipe is as verbose as it is because it has VERY IMPORTANT tips that will make your macarons succeed, so do read it carefully. Macarons are very much about proper technique. I've italicized a few parts that I missed the first time I made them, or that I find very unique about this recipe.

Chocolate Macarons
From NPR's The Splendid Table

5 oz. (1 1/3 C) finely ground almond powder or blanched almonds (see step 3)
2 C plus 2 T powdered sugar
1/4 C unsweetened Dutch cocoa powder (high quality if possible) plus more for dusting
1/2 C egg whites (about 4 large egg whites)

1. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper, put each baking sheet on top of another baking sheet (or use two insulated baking sheets) and fit a large pastry bag with a plain 1/2-inch or 3/8-inch tip; set these aside for the moment.

2. If you've got almond powder, just sift the almond powder with the confectioner's sugar and cocoa. If you're starting with almonds, place the almonds, sugar and cocoa in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process until the mixture is as fine as flour, at least 3 minutes. Stop every minute to check your progress and to scrape down the sides of the bowl. This is not a quick on-and-off operation. Although the almonds may look as though they're pulverized after a minute or so, they won't be. The nuts really need 3 to 5 minutes to be ground to a powder or flour. When the mixture is ground, press it through a medium strainer. In all probability, you'll have about 2 tablespoons of solids that won't go through the strainer - discard them.

3. For this recipe to succeed, you need 1/2 cup of egg whites, which may mean using 3 egg whites plus a part of another white. The easiest way to get a portion of a white is to break the white into a cup, beat it lightly with a fork and then measure out what you'll need. (If you put the egg whites in a glass measuring cup, the whites should come just to the 1/2-cup line when the cup is on the counter and you've crouched down to check the measurement at eye level.)

4. Once the eggs are measured, they need to be brought to room temperature so they can be beaten to their fullest volume. You can leave the whites on the counter until they reach room temperature, or you can put them into a microwave-safe bowl and place them in a microwave oven set on lowest power; heat the whites for about 10 seconds. Stir the whites and continue to heat them -still on lowest power - in 5-second spurts until they are about 75 degrees F. If they're a little warmer, that's okay too. To keep the eggs warm, run the mixer bowl under hot water, dry the bowl well, pour the whites into the bowl and fit the mixer with the whisk attachment.

5. Beat the egg whites at low to medium speed until they are white and foamy. Turn the speed up and whip them on high just until they are firm but still glossy and supple - when you lift the whisk the whites should form a peak that droops just a little. Keep the whites in the mixer bowl or transfer them to a large bowl. Working with a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients gently into the whites in 3 or 4 additions. There are a lot of dry ingredients to go into a relatively small amount of whites, but keep folding and you'll get everything in. Don't worry if the whites deflate and the batter looks a little runny - that's just what's supposed to happen. When the dry ingredients are incorporated, the mixture will look like a cake batter; if you lift a little with your finger, it should form a gentle, quickly falling peak. Try to incorporate all the dry ingredients in a total of 50 strokes or less.

6. Spoon the batter into the pastry bag and pipe it out onto the prepared baking sheets. (To keep the paper steady, "glue" it down by piping a bit of batter at each corner of the baking sheet.) Pipe the batter into rounds about 1 inch in diameter, leaving about an inch between each round. (Because you're going to sandwich the baked cookies, try to keep the rounds the same size.) When you've piped out all the macarons, lift each baking sheet with both hands and then bang it down on the counter. Don't be afraid - you need to get the air of the batter. Set the baking sheets aside at room temperature for 15 minutes while you preheat the oven.

7. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. You need to bake these one pan at a time, so dust the tops of the macarons on one pan with cocoa powder (or sprinkle decorative nibs on top to match the filling flavor) and slide one of the sheets into the oven. As soon as the baking sheet is in the oven, turn the temperature down to 350 degrees F and insert the handle of a wooden spoon between the oven and the door to keep the door slightly ajar. Bake the macarons for 10 to 12 minutes, or until they are smooth and just firm to the touch. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack (see step 8 for information on removing the macarons from the parchment), close the oven door, turn the heat back up to 425 degrees F and, when the oven is at the right temperature, repeat with the second sheet of macarons.

8. To remove the macarons from the parchment - and they should be removed as soon as they come from the oven - you need to create moisture under the cookies. Carefully loosen the parchment at the four corners and, lifting the paper at one corner, pour a little hot water under the parchment paper onto the baking sheet. The water may bubble and steam, so make sure your face and hands are away from the sheet. Move the parchment around or tilt the baking sheet so that the parchment is evenly dampened. Allow the macarons to remain on the parchment, soaking up the moisture, for about 15 seconds, then peel the macarons off the paper and place them on a cooling rack (I don't usually do this step, but it is helpful if you want to be absolutely certain your macarons do not tear when you remove them from the paper).

To finish:

Make a ganache and let it cool, or make a buttercream (coffee buttercream recipe below).

1. When the macarons are cool, sandwich them with ganache, buttercream, or ice cream. For the ganache/buttercream: Pipe or spread a dollop of filling about 1/2 inch across on the flat side of one cookie and use the flat side of another to complete the sandwich and to spread the ganache so that it runs to the edge. Transfer the filled macaroons to a covered container and place them in the refrigerator to soften overnight before serving.

Keeping: Baked, unsandwiched macaroons can be kept in an airtight tin at room temperature for 3 days. Once filled, the macaroons should be chilled and served the next day.

Coffee Buttercream

1 stick (1/2 C) unsalted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 C powdered sugar, plus extra to thicken as desired
1/2 T coffee (strong instant is fine) or more to taste
1/2 T heavy cream or milk (heavy cream makes it richer!)

Beat the butter and the vanilla until soft with an electric or stand mixer, and then gradually add the powdered sugar. Add the coffee and heavy cream/milk, and beat until light and fluffy. Add more powdered sugar if it's too thin to keep shape between cookies.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Not Baking

It's really hard not to bake something when you've got this photo from White on Rice Couple's blog on your computer desktop, let me tell you. I keep thinking what a beautiful batter that madeleine batter is, and how nice the madeleines would taste with their lemon glaze, and how much I want a copper mixing bowl. Gorgeous photo.

Meanwhile, I've been messing around with the blog template, trying to get a cleaner and more aesthetically pleasing layout that also works in my chocolate-dipped strawberry cupcake photo at the top, since that photo is on my card. What do we think? I'm still deciding if I will keep the layout or not...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Brandied Strawberry Banana Cupcakes

Presenting the recipe that couldn't wait til the weekend: Brandied Strawberry Banana Cupcakes. As with many ideas, it started with ingredients in my kitchen that were calling out for a meaningful use. Bananas that I didn't feel like eating and leftover strawberry buttercream from the strawberry macarons...hmmmm...strawberry banana cupcakes! Since Giada de Laurentiis' chocolate mascarpone cupcakes had worked so well for me, I went for her banana cake recipe I had seen a while ago, and was not disappointed! (Click here to watch a video of the recipe, here for the recipe on the Food Network)

These beauties are an adaptation of that recipe, with the spices removed and fresh diced strawberry, sugared and soaked in brandy, thrown into the mix. With or without the strawberry buttercream, they are moist, fruity, and light. And not too sweet! I would almost call them a "muffin" without the frosting. A lot of the strawberry flavor is in the frosting, however, so I wouldn't skip it altogether - perhaps just make it a glaze by adding less powdered sugar to the buttercream if you want to lighten the effect.

Brandied Strawberry Banana Cupcakes

1/4 lb fresh strawberries
several T sugar
several T brandy (optional)
1 1/2 C flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 C sugar
1/2 C canola oil
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 eggs
2 bananas, mashed well

Wash, cut off the tops, and dice the strawberries into approximate 1/4 inch cubes. Set in a bowl and sprinkle with a few tablespoons of granulated sugar and a few tablespoons of brandy (even if you eliminate the brandy, do sugar the berries, since this will draw out their juices). Let sit for at least a couple of hours or overnight if possible.

When the berries are ready, preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line a 12-muffin pan with cupcake liners. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside: flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder. In another bowl mix the sugar, oil, vanilla, eggs, and strawberries (which should be at least 2/3 C including the liquid that has developed with it).

Add half of the dry ingredients to the wet, and mix in until just combined. Mix in the mashed bananas, and then add the rest of the dry ingredients. Be sure to avoid overmixing - mix just until the dry ingredients are incorporated.

Divide into 12 cupcake molds, and bake for 25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely before icing.

I don't even really like banana and strawberry flavors together, but I loved these! I suppose I shouldn't make fun of Giada's bobblehead so much...come on, you know you've heard that one before. I repent, Giada, your cupcakes are amazing!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Strawberry Macarons and AMANDINE!

This has been a week heavy on the baking, partially because of Mother's Day, but also because I just CANNOT STOP BAKING. I was proud of myself for waiting until today to bake something that I thought up on Sunday - two days is a long time to wait when you've got all the ingredients sitting in your kitchen! I almost made myself wait until next weekend, but then I thought "that's ridiculous! by then I won't even care about this idea and will have moved on to another!" And so I baked. Although I do believe that that particular recipe was improved by ideas I thought up in the tween time, but that is a story for another post.

In any case, my baking schemes do offer additional opportunities to procrastinate actual work that needs to get done (like I need more than the internet and TV afford!), so predictably the recent increase in my workload corresponds closely to the amount of goods my kitchen has been producing. It seemed a perfectly natural choice to make strawberry macarons for my sister's belated birthday gift, rather than simply purchasing a membership to REI (sorry, Amy, that may be a gift for another time...).

I think the macarons turned out wonderfully; I was nervous to tinker with the recipe that worked for me, but I did, and it did, so I'm all pumped up to try other flavors! I took the recommendations from Tartelette's strawberry macaron recipe by drying strawberries in the oven and processing them into powder, then replacing the cocoa powder in my chocolate recipe with the powdered strawberries.

Then came my real innovation: strawberry buttercream. The strawberry flavor in the macaron was rather subtle, and my sister LOVES strawberries, so I definitely wanted to kick the flavor up a notch. I basically added concentrated strawberry purée to a buttercream recipe, and the lovely pink cream in the macaron above came about. Here's a guesstimated outline of the recipe (I made no measurements when I was actually making the cream):

Strawberry Buttercream

1/2 lb strawberries
1/2 cube (4 T) butter
at least 2 C powdered sugar
1 T heavy cream

Wash the strawberries and cut their tops off. Throw them in your food processor and purée completely. Heat the purée in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently to avoid burning, until the purée condenses down and thickens significantly (sorry I can't be more specific; think of this as reducing the water content of the berries and concentrating the flavor). Set purée aside to cool.

Once purée is cool, cream it with the butter in a stand mixer or with an electric hand mixer. The butter may not incorporate completely, but that's okay - it'll mix in better once the sugar is added. Add the powdered sugar bit by bit until the icing reaches the consistency you want. Make sure it is thick enough to hold its shape when spread, since you don't want it running out of the macarons or off the cupcakes or whatever. Mine was a little on the thin side. Add the heavy cream in just to make the mix more creamy. Yum!

I also finally made it to Amandine on Mother's Day, a bakery on Wilshire that I would have visited the previous week had it not been for a barricade of re-paving road work. The re-paving now finished, I successfully purchased some puff pastries that are certainly some of the best in L.A. I also bought my grandmother an almond raspberry tart, since she loves almonds, and the tart had a nice dense texture to it as well as good almond flavor.

These pastries, along with with the scotchmallows I made for my mom (layer of marshmallow, layer of caramel, glued together with chocolate) AND the dim sum feast we all ate together made for a nice Mother's Day. Not to sound completely selfish, but it's nice when our mother's desires coincide exactly with our own, isn't it?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Chocolate Mascarpone Cupcakes Dipped in Ganache

Oh, cupcakes. And ganache. How well they pair.

In my search for good homemade cake recipes, I stumbled upon this Everyday Italian recipe before it was yanked from Hulu, and I'm so glad I did! The cake itself has mascarpone cheese in it, and it ends up moist, nicely textured, VERY chocolaty, and not too sweet. This was not the most smooth ganache that I've ever made since I sort of forgot to stir it for a while after I had poured the cream over the chocolate, but still, the dipping process went well. I think they would look really pretty with a sugared violet on top of each one, so maybe that will be the plan next time!

Chocolate Mascarpone Cupcakes

5 oz. chopped unsweetened chocolate
1/3 C mascarpone cheese
3 C flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3/4 C chocolate chips
2 1/4 C sugar
1 T vanilla
1 C vegetable oil
3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Boil 1 C water in a small saucepan, and once it boils stir in the chopped unsweetened chocolate and turn off the heat. Off the heat, add the mascarpone cheese and set aside to cool.

Mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and chocolate chips. Adding the chocolate chips at this point will allow them to be coated in flour, which will help them to be suspended in the batter.

Use a handmixer to beat the wet ingredients in a new bowl: sugar, vanilla, oil, and eggs. Add the cooled chocolate to the wet ingredients and mix well with mixer. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in a few batches, stirring each batch just enough to mix it in without over mixing.

Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners; recipe makes about 33 cupcakes. Bake the pans one at a time in the oven for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

Bittersweet Ganache

2/3 C heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 C bittersweet chocolate chips

Heat the cream until bubbles form around the edge of the saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour the heated cream over the chocolate chips in a bowl. Stir gently until the chocolate has melted and well incorporated with the cream. Let sit and thicken until cool. Dip the cooled cupcakes and serve!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Flourless Chocolate Cookies à la Caramelized White Chocolate

I told you I would blog more about Caramelized White Chocolate! The day after I finished off my first batch of the ganache, well, I made another. I couldn't help it...and I have to say that I was quite satisfied with this use. Satisfied enough to post a photo of these silly things in the freezer bag that is supposed to protect them from me long enough to make it to my family's mouths this weekend...if I publish this online right now, I really do have to save them as promised...

This cookie recipe caught my eye last month on the Desserts Magazine site; I believe my cookies did not end up flat as theirs did because mine got overmixed. That's what happens when you follow time instructions rather than your gut. But these turned out well all the same, and perhaps chewier as a result of the mixing (although the photo on their website could be misleading, as the instructions say they should end up no more than half an inch thick, which is much thicker than the one in the photo, so maybe I just made mine too small). Super chocolatey, packed full of nuts, easy to make, and fabulously paired with caramelized white chocolate ganache and a touch of sea salt in the middle, yum! Glad I made the cookies smaller than directed since I made them into these rich sandwiches.

The white chocolate caramelizing went a bit different this time; the white chocolate chips did in fact liquify initially when roasted in the oven, but this did not affect the outcome. I just kept up the stirring, and it still turned nicely brown and crumbly, and worked equally well in the ganache. Which reminds me that it's a good idea to try a recipe more than once when posting it (as per these food blog ethics guidelines...), which I generally try to do - and I don't usually post something unless I'd make it again.

So here's one more thing I would definitely make again (maybe with almonds next time?):

Flourless Chocolate Cookies

1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons (68g) Dutch-processed cocoa powder (high quality for best chocolatiness!)
3 cups (350g) confectioners’ sugar
Pinch of Salt
2 3/4 C (272g) walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 Tablespoon (15g) pure vanilla extract

optional for more chocolatiness: 1 C bittersweet chocolate chunks

1. Place a rack each in the upper and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

2. Combine the cocoa powder, confectioners’ sugar, salt, and walnuts (and chocolate chunks, if using) in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for 1 minute. With the mixer running, slowly add the egg whites and vanilla. Mix on medium speed mix for 3 minutes (or less!), until the mixture has slightly thickened. Do not overmix it, or the egg whites will thicken too much.

3. With a 2-ounce cookie or ice-cream scoop or a generous tablespoon, scoop the batter onto the prepared baking sheets, to make cookies that are 4 inches in diameter, Scoop 5 cookies on each pan, about 3 inches apart so that they don’t stick when they spread. If you have extra batter wait until the first batch of cookies is baked before scooping the next batch.

4. Put the cookies in the oven, and immediately lower the temperature to 320 degrees F. Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, or until small thin cracks appear on the surface of the cookies. Switch the pans halfway through baking. Pull the parchment paper with the cookies onto a wire cooling rack, and let cool completely before removing the cookies from the paper. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

5. Sandwich the completely cooled cookies with the ganache of your choice and a light sprinkling of sea salt in the middle, and refrigerate to assist the bonding process. If the cookies are not completely cooled they will melt the ganache.

Really, don't forget to pair the caramelized white chocolate ganache with salt, no matter what you do with it!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Jin Patisserie

Jin Patisserie was the last bakery on my list of macaron places in L.A. to try; if there are others who make macarons here that are not on the list (like Vanilla Bake Shop), I will just have to discover them as I muddle my way around the city.

Jin is an Asian-inspired French pastry and chocolate boutique tucked away on Venice Beach's funky/trendy Abbot Kinney Avenue. This door leads into a nice little courtyard with fountains, tables to sit at, and nice greenery, behind which sits the shop itself. I feel very strongly that this should be called a boutique rather than a bakery, since the small indoor space is set up as a sparse store - a few glassed-in shelves on the back wall, a little chocolate counter by the cash register, and shelves of merchandise behind the counter. It's got style, but not a space to stay in; you buy your stuff and retreat into the courtyard.

I arrived 20 minutes before the store closed for the day, and the back shelves were already being cleared of any remaining items. There were three staff people in the small space, and they almost looked at me like I didn't belong in there. The only thing for me to do was to directly address one of them and ask to see the macarons, and she very nicely brought them out and showed me the flavors. I don't think I would have known what to do if I hadn't already known what I wanted when I walked in!

I ended up buying pistachio, violet-cranberry, rose, and sea salt caramel, and actually got them home without popping one in my mouth. It would have been easy to, considering the teeny-tiny size of these little guys.

These are the closest to Pierre Hermé's macarons that I have found in the States! In appearance they approximate his approach of couture cuisine (see the gold dust on the rose macaron?), in flavor they present inventive options (violet-cranberry, tea, sour plum, red bean paste, as in other items at Jin), and in texture they were JUST RIGHT. Not too chewy or substantial, not too crumbly inside the outside shell, not too brittle a shell, a nice slight sheen to the outside, pretty little feet, and lovely creams on the inside.

The pistachio's flavor tasted a teeny bit artificial to me, the violet-cranberry combination was interesting but a little too perfumy to be my favorite, but the rose was a wonderfully clear rose water flavor, and the sea salt caramel was marvelous! I'm not entirely sure why it's orange, but I suppose one has to make these decisions in high fashion food.

I feel that a properly made macaron is delicate enough to be in danger of being crushed in transport, but not so delicate that it crumbles at the slightest touch. It's always with a mix of relief and sadness that I find a crushed macaron in my bag after bringing it home!

So, to sum up the macaron scene in L.A.: absolutely do not miss Jin and Euro Pane, and stop by Milk if you feel like a macaron ice cream sandwich (fun and big!), but feel free to skip Paulette and Boule unless you want to be disappointed. And who wants to be disappointed by macarons?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Caramelized White Chocolate, Oh My!

This recipe was one of the things I saw on a food blog and thought immediately "I HAVE to make that!" David Lebovitz mentioned it briefly in his post about the Valrhona chocolate school, and the mere suggestion of caramelizing white chocolate intrigued me. Until this year I haven't been a big fan of white chocolate, but all of a sudden it has started to taste good to me - and I also LOVE all things caramel.

When I googled "caramelized white chocolate" and discovered that it tastes something like browned butter frosting and butterscotch, that sealed the deal for me. And it's easy to make, to boot! This website, The Chocolate Life, gave simple instructions that I put to the test, to fabulous results. My apartment filled with an amazing smell almost immediately, and I quickly found myself making a ganache and dreaming up ways to serve it (macaron filling? cupcake topping? cookie frosting? something with fleur de sel? never mind the fact that I scooped most of it into my mouth with my fingers...). I was already bemoaning the fact that Trader Joe's has discontinued their white chocolate chips, but now I'm practically in mourning. I may start buying them whenever I find them, since I'm finding them to be increasingly scarce.

Caramelized White Chocolate

12 oz. white chocolate chips
for the ganache:
1/2 C heavy cream (increase for a thinner ganache)
1 T unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Spread 12 oz. white chocolate chips (or more!) in a roasting pan and place in the oven. Stir every 8-10 minutes, for an average of 25-35 minutes in the oven. Be careful not to burn them (I often take them out of the oven at 25 minutes after stirring every 8 minutes). They will start out looking as pictured above - crumbling slightly and browned. They should liquify eventually. The time for this process varies greatly with different sizes and brands of white chocolate chips, so allow enough time for this to take more than an hour if you're trying a brand for the first time.

To make into a ganache, heat 1/2 C of heavy cream in a small saucepan until bubbles form around the sides of the pan. Then pour over the chocolate chips and stir smoothly until all the candy is melted, or process together in a food processor (keep the processor with the chocolate in it running while you pour the heated cream into it in a constant stream). Stir in/process 1 tablespoon unsalted butter. Let cool; whip with an electric mixer when cooled if you want a lighter whipped ganache. Makes approximately 1 1/2 C ganache.

If you don't want to make this into a ganache, well, get creative! I'm considering sprinkling them on top of, or maybe inside of, cupcakes...but the crumbly nature of the roasted chips makes them a little difficult unless they are mixed while warm with warm cream into the smooth ganache, or perhaps they would work in a buttercream frosting. It's certainly worth the time to explore the options for this wonderfully rich dessert flavor! I will be sure to post on caramelized white chocolate again and again.