Thursday, February 17, 2011

Carrot Chocolate Scones with Citrus Glaze

I made these spur-of-the-moment for a houseguest this week; after being assigned to a jury and being crazed with grading papers at the same time, I needed to decompress with a little baking. These scones came to mind when I realized that I had carrots in the fridge, and handling the sticky dough was just the thing for my tired mind.

Originally they were carrot coconut scones, but in the absence of shredded coconut in my kitchen, I replaced the coconut with chocolate chips, which worked out really well with the citrus glaze. You don't really taste the carrot in this, but it adds nice color to the scones. Carrot is sweeter than we realize, so it does work well in baked goods.

Carrot Chocolate Scones
taken from Carrot Coconut Scones in Baked Explorations

2 3/4 C flour
1/2 C sugar
1/2 C rolled oats
1 T baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 C chocolate chips (or shredded sweetened coconut)
1/2 C (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 large egg
3/4 C buttermilk*
1 T vanilla extract
1/4 C carrot purée**
1 egg white, beaten and set aside

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and position the rack in the center. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, oats, baking powder, salt, and chocolate chips (or coconut).

Add the butter. Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour until the butter is pea size and the mixture is coarse.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk, vanilla and carrot purée. Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until the dough just comes together. Gently and briefly knead the dough with your hands. The dough will be sticky and may need to be sprinkled with flour.

Roll the dough up, turn it on its end, and gently flatten it into a disk about 1 3/4 inches high. Do not overwork the dough.

Whisk the egg white with 1 T water. Set aside.

Cut the dough into 6 or 8 wedges (6 will make them very large) and place the scones on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops with the egg white wash. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a scone comes out clean. Do not overbake.

Transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool completely. Place the baking sheet, with the parchment still on it, underneath the rack.

Citrus Glaze

1 T fresh lemon juice
2 T fresh orange juice***
1 C powdered sugar

Whisk all ingredients together in a medium bowl. The glaze should be loose enough to drizzle. If it is too thick, add a little more orange juice. If it is too loose, add a little more powdered sugar.

Drizzle the glaze over the cooled scones and allow it to set before serving.

*I never have buttermilk around, but it's easy to substitute milk curdled by apple cider vinegar; just add 1 T vinegar to 1 C milk and let it sit for a few minutes until you see some thickening/bubbling occur in the middle. In this case, I added 3/4 T vinegar to 3/4 C milk before I mixed the other ingredients, and by the time I needed the buttermilk, it was ready.
**I just buzzed up 2 carrots in the food processor, and that was more than enough, but the recipe recommends the following for the carrot purée: Place 1 medium carrot and 1/4 C orange juice in a microwaveable glass bowl, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 5 minutes, until carrot is fork-tender. Blend/purée until smooth.
***Since I had no oranges, I juiced one lemon and then added 1/4 tsp orange extract, and that was sufficient liquid and flavor for the 1 C of powdered sugar.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Zimtsterne: Dairy & Wheat-free Almond Cinnamon Cookies

These cookies were another great travel companion, back when I went to Seattle in November. I knew one of my hosts was allergic to dairy, so I decided to take a variety of goods with me, including this dairy- and wheat-free option.

Since it was nearing the holidays, this cinnamon almond cookie looked cozy to me, and the star shape happy (hence the Swiss German name: Cinnamon Stars). I was pleased to find that the result was chewy but not overly dense, despite being made of almond powder.

If you're wary of raw eggs, you could replace the egg white in the glaze with milk/soy milk, but I had no problem with the egg I used.

When I think of these cookies, I feel comforted and warm - give 'em a try, whether you're dairy-/wheat-free or not!

Cinnamon Stars, from David Lebovitz' Ready for Dessert

3 C (240 g) sliced almonds, preferably unblanched
1 C powdered sugar, plus more for rolling cookies out
1 T plus 1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
1 T honey
1 large egg white

1 1/3 C powdered sugar, or more if needed
1 large egg white
1 tsp kirsch or other clear brandy, or lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 F and prepare a baking sheet.

Pulverize the almonds in a food processor with 1 C powdered sugar, the cinnamon, and salt until the almonds are finely ground. Add the honey and egg white and process until smooth. If it's dry and cracking, add a tiny bit of water and process until dough comes together (if using a blender, add the honey and egg white to the mixture in a bowl and knead by hand until smooth).

Dust a work surface with powdered sugar and roll out the dough 1/3 inch thick (no thinner). With a 6-point star cookie cutter about 2 inches in diameter (or other shape), cut out stars, and arrange them, evenly spaced, on the prepared baking sheet. Reroll the dough scraps, cut out as many cookies as you can, and place them on the baking sheet. Repeat until all dough is used.

Bake, rotating the baking sheet midway during baking, until the cookies are very lightly browned, about 12 minutes. They should be soft; don't overbake them. Let cool completely on the baking sheet.

To make the glaze, in a small bowl, mix together the 1 1/3 C powdered sugar and the egg white until smooth, then mix in the kirsch. The glaze should be quite thick, opaque, and almost hard to stir. If necessary, stir in additional powdered sugar to thicken.

Spread the glaze on the surface of each cookie. Sweep off some of the excess, but leave a layer just thick enough so that you can't see the cookie through it. Let the cookies rest until the glaze is completely dry.

These cookies will keep for at least 3 months in an airtight container.

And a little heart for Valentine's Day :).

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Brown Sugar Pecan Shortbread

Lately I've been traveling a lot with cookies as well as mailing them to people, so that's got me thinking about hardy baked goods. These little guys seem to hold together well, and are a nice ice box cookie that can be made ahead of time and stay good for a while.

I have to admit that I have a hard time making ice box cookies look pretty (except these semolina dried fruit cookies, because the fruits are so colorful), so that's why I dipped these in chocolate - in spite of the extra work it takes to chocolate coat. I also needed something to affix the sea salt, and all together it was Tasty. The flavor reminds me of my mom's pecan balls, which are buttery and pecan-y.

Hm, these would be great served with ice cream or coffee...

Brown Sugar Pecan Shortbread

2 C flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 C unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 C light brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 C pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a bowl by hand), beat together the butter and brown sugar on medium speed just until completely smooth and no streaks of butter remain. Mix in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture and beat until completely incorporated. Stir in the pecans.

Turn out the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and form it into a 4 1/2 by 6-inch (11 by 15 cm) rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap the dough tightly and refrigerate until chilled and firm, at least 1 hour and up to 4 days.

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat the oven to 350 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Cut the rectangle of dough lengthwise into 2 equal pieces. Cut each half crosswise into rectangles 1/4 inch wide. Place the cookies 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Top with a few bits of sea salt if desired.

Bake, rotating the baking sheets midway trough baking, until the cookies are deep golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets until firm enough to handle, then use a spatula to transfer them to a wire rack.

Optional: Melt some chocolate and dip each cookie in it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Coconut Milk Ice Cream: Blackberry Lemon

So, the good news is that I've found a great coconut milk-based ice cream recipe that's easy to make, experiment with, and render low-fat. The other good news is that you will want to sit down and eat it all at once, which could make this bad news for some of you.

It all started when I was forwarded this link to the best vegan ice cream recipes out there. I don't normally keep ice cream in the freezer, since I'm lactose intolerant, so this vegan ice cream thing is tempting me into a life of constant freezer goodness.

I first made the Caramel-Cinnamon Ice Cream with Black Gingerbread Chunks in a version that involved homemade spiced marshmallows, fleur de sel caramel sauce, Vietnamese cinnamon, dark chocolate chunks, and toasted pecans. I meant it to be a spicy caramely version of Rocky Road, but I'm really at a loss for what to call it. Whatever it was, it was tasty, and the homemade marshmallows really turned into wonderful chewiness in the frozen dessert.

I successfully substituted so many ingredients from the original recipe that I knew I could mess with it even more. This time I wouldn't make the mistake of adding more than a cup of mix-ins, since that made for super chunky ice cream, but I would replace the caramel sauce with blackberry jam and lemon curd, the cinnamon with a touch of ginger, add a bit of agave to sweeten it, and swirl in a ribbon of berry syrup.

The ice cream itself ended up incredibly creamy; next time I would probably leave out the berry syrup and just add it as a topping, since the water content of the uncooked berries froze very hard - or I would make the syrup break the berries down more before swirling it in to the ice cream. The lemon curd really made this flavor, so don't back away if berries and lemon sound strange to you.

Here's my take on this super easy, fabulously adaptable recipe:

Blackberry Lemon Coconut Ice Cream

1 C light coconut milk
2 C lactose-free, vanilla soy, or coconut creamer
1/4 C no sugar added seedless blackberry jam (strain to remove seeds)
1/4 C lemon curd (I love TJ's)
3 T agave syrup
1/4 tsp ground ginger
pinch salt
2 T corn starch
2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine the coconut milk and creamer in a medium sauce pan, along with the jam, lemon curd, agave, ginger, salt, and corn starch. Whisk vigorously to combine and beat out any lumps. Turn on the heat to medium, and whisk occasionally until it just comes up to a boil and has thickened significantly. Cool completely and add the vanilla. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator. Before churning the ice cream, prepare any add-ins (berry syrup, chocolate chunks, etc.). Once the ice cream base is chilled, churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions (mine took 20 minutes total), adding any add-in in the last 5 minutes of churning. Transfer to an air-tight container, and freeze solidly for at least 4 hours before serving.

Blackberry Syrup
1/3 C water
3 T agave syrup
1/4 tsp lemon zest
12 oz. blackberries

Combine ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and simmer for 8 minutes. Watch to make sure it doesn't boil over, stirring from time to time. After the 8 minutes, remove from heat. Optional: add up to 2 tsp liquor (brandy, framboise, etc.) and another 12 oz. of berries to add texture to the syrup. Let cool before mixing into the ice cream, or serve warm/room temperature as a topping on the finished ice cream.

How to adapt this recipe:
  • Replace the liquid sweeteners (jam, lemon curd, agave) with up to a total of 1 C of another liquid sweetener (the caramel Rocky Road version had 1 C of fleur de sel caramel sauce from Trader Joe's).
  • Replace the ground spice (ginger) with up to 1 tsp of another ground spice (the original had 1 tsp of cinnamon). Take care to not overwhelm the flavor you're trying to achieve - start with 1/4 tsp, taste, add more if you prefer.
  • Add up to 1 C of chunky/chewy add-ins: marshmallows, chocolate chunks, nuts, berries, cookies, cake crumbs, etc. Adding more than 1 C will mean you are chewing your ice cream rather than licking it.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Chocolate Caramel Tart

This tart is not a fancy looker, but it is extravagantly rich and chocolatey. The short crust is not overly sweet, balancing the chocolate ganache* filling along with the salted caramel layer hidden underneath.

I would also characterize this dessert as simple and easy to prepare ahead of time - both good things in my book. You'll need to plan ahead to make of the three layers, since the crust, caramel, and chocolate ganache each need to set and cool before the subsequent layer can be added. There is more time necessary for cooling than for actual preparation. I've yet to master the art of making pie crust - and am unlikely to do so since I'm not super into pies - so a tart like this is an easy way of achieving something similar, but more to my taste.

I took it to an engagement party as the chocolate component of a trio of desserts (with a pistachio cake and a lemon parfait of cream and sponge cake, to be posted soon). In my opinion, providing sweets for an event involves trying to make as many people happy as possible, and that means knowing your audience and finding a variety that will appeal to them. For this event, I knew the attendees did not prefer overly sweet desserts, so I looked for less sweet options that were in different media (cake, tart, and creamy) and different taste profiles (nut, chocolate, and lemon). And to keep me happy, options that would be interesting but easy to make!

The tart crust may be used with a wide variety of fillings - glazed fresh berries, baked custard with fruits, nutty creams - you just want to bake the shell ahead of time and then add the filling, to be baked or served fresh.

Chocolate Caramel Tart

Short Pastry (Pâte Sablée)
  • 1/3 C plus sugar (unrefined or white)
  • 1 C plus 2 T flour
  • 7 T butter (salted, or unsalted plus a pinch of salt)
  • 1-2 T ice-cold water or milk

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 10-inch tart pan with butter and set aside.

Prepare the pâte sablée. In the bowl of a mixer or blender, combine the sugar and flour. Add the butter and process in short pulses until the mixture resembles coarse meal. (Alternatively, rub the butter into the dry ingredients by hand with the tips of your fingers or a wire pastry blender.) Add a tablespoon of water or milk and mix again, in short pulses, until it is absorbed. The dough should still be crumbly, but it should clump if you gently squeeze a handful in your hand. If it doesn't, add a little more water -- teaspoon by teaspoon -- and give the dough a few more pulses until it reaches the desired consistency.

Pour the mixture evenly into the prepared tart pan. Using the heels of your hands and your fingers, press on the dough gently to form a thin layer, covering the surface of the pan and creating a rim all around. Don't worry if the dough feels a little dry, this is normal. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or up to one day.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden, keeping an eye on it. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Salted Caramel Filling (optional)

  • 1/2 C light brown sugar
  • 1 T honey
  • 1/2 tsp fleur de sel or kosher salt
  • 1/3 C crème fraîche or heavy cream**
  • 2 T unsalted butter, diced

Once the tart crust is cooled, prepare the caramel filling. Make sure you have all the ingredients measured out before you start. Combine the brown sugar and 1 T water in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan and melt the sugar slowly over medium-low heat. Swish the pan around from time to time to ensure even melting, but don't stir. As soon as bubbles form on the surface (avoid overcooking the caramel, which would result in a bitter taste afterward), add the honey and stir to combine. Add the salt and cream and stir until blended. Remove from heat, add the butter, and stir to combine. Pour the caramel into the tart shell and tilt the pan slowly in a circular motion to coat the bottom of the shell evenly. Let set in the fridge for 40 minutes.

Chocolate Ganache Filling

  • 10 oz. good-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped**
  • 1 C crème fraîche or heavy cream

Once the caramel is cooled, prepare the ganache filling. Put the chocolate in a medium mixing bowl, preferably stainless steel. Bring the cream to a simmer in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat (turn off the heat just after you've seen bubbles appear around the edge of the surface of the cream). Pour half of the cream on the chocolate (cover the rest), let stand for 20 seconds, and stir gently in the center with a whisk, gradually blending the cream with the chocolate until smooth. Add half of the remaining cream, and stir again until combined. Repeat with the remaining cream. Remove the tart pan from the fridge, pour the chocolate filling into the shell, and level the surface with a spatula, covering all of the caramel layer and spreading the ganache to the edges of the shell. Return to the fridge to set for an hour.

Remove the tart from the fridge 15 minutes before serving. Cut in small slices, and serve on its own or with fresh berries. The leftovers will keep for several days, tightly wrapped and refrigerated.

*Ganache is a smooth and creamy combination of chocolate and cream, similar to what you might find in the middle of a See's Candy chocolate. This recipe details one of several approaches to its preparation, but it is always a simple method.

**The price of butter and heavy cream at Smart and Final is regularly excellent, as is Costco if you have a membership. Trader Joe's is a slightly more expensive option, but still cheaper than most regular grocery stores.

***I like Trader Joe's Pound Plus for an affordable option, which is available in milk, bittersweet, and dark.