Friday, December 30, 2011

Apple Brown Betty

After a week of lots of amazing food at many different celebratory tables, this might be a good time to return to something not terribly rich or fussy. This Apple Brown Betty certainly fits the bill. Although it’s been around since colonial times, I’ve just discovered in the waning days of 2011 yet another way to enjoy the pleasures of fresh fruit prepared simply.

Bread makes a strong showing in the realm of desserts in the form of Apple Charlotte, bread pudding and summer pudding. Apple Brown Betty is a combination of simmered apples and toasted breadcrumbs. Not at all fancy but tremendously satisfying and easy to prepare. Some recipes call for baking the dish in the oven but I took the easy route. In this version, I toast the breadcrumbs with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon and simply sprinkle them on top of apples that have been sautéed with vanilla and a splash of lemon on the stove top. Just a few ingredients and a couple of quick steps and you have an enjoyable treat to share on a cozy evening.

I wish everyone a very, very Happy New Year. May we all have lots of delicious moments and morsels in 2012 and savor each and every one of them to the fullest.

Bench notes:

- I chose Fuji apples for this dessert.
- Use your favorite bread, such as pain de mie, whole wheat or levain. I used a baguette, including the crust.
- Add a small dash of rum or brandy to the apples for something a bit more festive.
- For more embellishment, serve with ice cream, a dollop of whipped cream or honeyed yogurt.
- You can make this ahead and reheat in a 350 degree oven for about 10 - 15 minutes.

Apple Brown Betty
Serves 6

5 slices of firm bread
2 oz (4 T ) butter
2 T dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 t cinnamon

5-6 apples
3 T butter
juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
1 vanilla bean
1/4 C sugar

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Tear bread into small pieces and place in the bowl of a food processor. Process briefly to make coarse bread crumbs. Pour into a bowl.

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Melt the butter and whisk in the brown sugar and cinnamon. Drizzle over breadcrumbs and toss quickly to coat. Spread out in one layer on baking sheet.

Toast the breadcrumbs in the oven, stirring occasionally and turning pans halfway through, until golden brown and crisp, about 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Peel, core and slice apples into 1/4" wedges. Melt butter in a large sauté pan. Split vanilla bean, scrape the seeds and add to butter along with the bean casing. Stir to distribute. Add apples, lemon juice and zest. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Remove vanilla bean. Add sugar and continue to cook and stir until the sugar dissolves. Taste for sweetness. Top with toasted breadcrumbs and serve warm.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Chocolate Phyllo Napoleons with Pear and Raspberries

As we busy ourselves preparing for upcoming holiday meals and festive parties in celebration with friends and family, perhaps among your platters there will be small morsels of phyllo dough hors d’oeuvres. And if you happen to have a few spare sheets of phyllo, Chocolate Napoleons are an easy and super delicious way to enjoy the remainder.

This is a riff on a dessert from Gale Gand featured in the grand Baking with Julia collection. It’s a crispy crunchy lighter-than-air dream of a pastry that has guests devouring every morsel faster than you can say, would you like some dessert? It’s one of my favorites because it’s a perfect combination of textures and flavors that combine seamlessly, one into another. The cocoa is not overwhelming, the pears and raspberries freshen the palate and the cream makes it feel like the purest of luxuries. It's nearly weightless and there is no feeling of over consumption once you’ve enjoyed every last bite.

To prepare the pastry, cocoa powder is added to melted butter to make a thin paste, which is then slathered on sheets of phyllo. Each sheet is sprinkled copiously with sugar that I’ve combined with cardamom. The phyllo is baked flat and then broken randomly into crisp, crunchy shards of pastry. Using phyllo instead of the usual puff pastry creates thinner, crispier, lighter layers that snap into tastes of only slightly sweet chocolate.

It took me much longer to think about composing this than it actually takes to make it. Once you have the phyllo baked off, the dessert is assembled in just a few seconds. Poached pears are layered with billows of whipped cream scented with almond extract and the whole dish is garnished with a few slightly sauced tart raspberries. And in no time at all, it will be blissfully enjoyed by all.

I send everyone my very best wishes for a really wonderful holiday. May your days be merry and bright. Cheers!!

Bench notes:
- A few tips for working with phyllo: 1) Phyllo is usually found in the frozen food section of your market. Let it thaw at least 24 hours in your refrigerator without opening the package. (Trying to hurry the thawing process @ room temperature will result in phyllo that has too much moisture. Also, if you try to work with it when it’s too cold, it will crack.) Thawed phyllo in the package will keep in your refrigerator a few days. 2) Always have all your ingredients ready before you remove the phyllo from the packaging. Set up your work station so your phyllo and butter are in close proximity. 3) Remove the phyllo from the packaging and unfold it on a clean dry towel. Cover it immediately with another clean dry towel so that the entire surface is covered. (Although some suggest a moist towel, I find that only tends to render the phyllo sort of gummy.) The sheets are very thin and they will dry out and become brittle very, very quickly if they make contact with air for just a couple of minutes. So cover them completely after you remove each sheet. Keep your hands dry. 3) Don’t worry if a sheet tears. Just patch it with the piece that broke off. It doesn’t matter much because the sheets get layered. 4) Unused phyllo should be rewrapped tightly in the same protective packaging ASAP and refrigerated immediately. It will keep for a couple of days. Some people say it can be tightly packaged and re-frozen but I haven’t tried it.
- Gale Gand’s version of this dessert looks delicious and includes layers of chocolate ganache and simmered cranberries instead of raspberries. I omitted the ganache because I wanted the dessert to be lighter and I thought it would overpower the fruit. I couldn’t find fresh cranberries so I used raspberries. I think they make a perfect substitution. I also cut the butter in half. (She doesn’t appear to use it all in the making of her version.) For a step-by-step demonstration of how Gale Gand prepares her dessert, watch the video. Her original recipe is also included there.
- If you have a standard 13" x 18" half-sheet baking pan, you can simply make one large 3 layer pastry rather than cutting the phyllo in half and making two separate 3 layer pastries. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar on each layer.
- Once the chocolate phyllo is baked let it cool completely before handling. It will darken and firm up once it’s cool. Carefully peel off the parchment and handle it very gently.
- In general, I never suggest canned fruit but if you’re crunched for time or if you don’t have access to fresh and you can find a good can of pears go ahead and substitute that for the fresh. Be sure to drain the pears on paper towels before assembling the dessert.

Chocolate Phyllo Napoleons with Pear and Raspberries

based on a recipe by Gale Gand in Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Serves 4

2 small firm but ripe pears
2 1/2 C water
1 C sugar
1 t fresh lemon juice
1/4 vanilla bean, split and seeded

2 oz (4 T) butter
2 T cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed
1/4 C sugar
1/2 t cardamom
3 sheets of phyllo, 13” x 17”

1 6 oz packet of fresh raspberries
2 t sugar
1 C whipping cream
1 T sugar
1/4 t almond extract, to taste

confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

To poach the pears, bring the water, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla bean to a low simmer. Peel the pears. Slice in half and core them. Place in the poaching liquid as you go. Cut out a piece of parchment to fit the surface of the poaching liquid and place it on top to seal in the steam. Simmer for about 10 - 15 minutes until tender. Remove from heat and cool completely.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the pear halves from the poaching liquid and place on paper towels to absorb any excess liquid. Take a paring knife, slice into quarters and cut 1/4” vertical slices into each piece from blossom to stem end, stopping about 1/2 inch from the top so that the slices remain connected. Set aside.

Melt the butter and whisk in the cocoa to make a thin paste. Set aside. Combine sugar and cardamom together and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place two more sheets of parchment and another baking sheet nearby.

Open the phyllo package and place the sheets on a clean dry towel. Cover the entire surface of the phyllo immediately with another clean dry towel. Remove 3 sheets of phyllo and cut in half crosswise to create six 8 1/2” x 13” rectangles. Return them back under the dry towel and keep them covered.

Place one of the half pieces of phyllo on the parchment-lined baking sheet, brush it with cocoa butter mixture and sprinkle with 1/2 tablespoon of the cardamom sugar mixture. Cover with another sheet of phyllo, brush with cocoa-butter, and sprinkle with 1/2 tablespoon sugar. Repeat with one more phyllo sheet and sprinkle the last phyllo sheet with 1/2 tablespoon sugar. Cover the stack with a piece of parchment paper and repeat this process - stacking, brushing, and sprinkling with the remaining 3 sheets of phyllo and sugar. Cover with parchment paper and top with a baking sheet to weight the phyllo and keep it from puffing.

Bake the phyllo for 10 to 15 minutes, until the sheets are golden and crispy. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack, remove top baking sheet and cool completely. Once cooled, carefully remove the parchment and separate the two consolidated stacks of pastry. Gently break each sheet into 6 pieces for a total of 12 pieces to allow 3 phyllo shards for each napoleon.

Place half the raspberries in a small bowl and sprinkle them with 2 teaspoons of sugar. Macerate for about 20 minutes, then press through a strainer to remove the seeds. Toss this sauce with the remaining fresh whole raspberries. Set aside.

Whip the cream, sugar and almond extract just to a very soft peak.

To assemble the napoleons, place a small dab of whipped cream in the center of each of four dessert plates. Rest a shard of cocoa phyllo on the cream and press it down gently to anchor it. Top with a spoonful of whipped cream. Fan the slices of pear and place them on top of the cream. Add another small dollop of cream. Repeat with phyllo, cream, pear and more cream, topping with a third piece of phyllo. Dust each top piece of phyllo with confectioner’s sugar. Garnish with raspberries. Serve immediately.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pfeffernüsse Cookies

For me, the holiday season hasn’t really begun unless and until I reach into my cupboard for several jars of spice. Whether it’s pumpkin pie, gingerbread or cookies, the kitchen isn’t really firing on all cylinders until it’s full of the aromas and flavors of the sweetness of cinnamon, the brightness of nutmeg, the complexity of allspice, the magic of cardamom or the depth of cloves.

Most countries have a long tradition of preparing some sort of spice cookie for the holidays. Some of my favorites are Lebkuchen (Germany), Cuccidati (Italy), Pepparkakor (Sweden) and Basler Brunsli (Switzerland). I’m sure your family has its own must-haves each year.

One cookie I haven’t tried is the Pfeffernüsse from Germany. Translated as “pepper nuts,” these include freshly ground pepper for a more complex spicy sensation. There’s also molasses for the delicious richness so typical of the season.

This recipe is from Williams Sonoma. The cookies are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside and are a perfect representation of the holiday spirit. I hope you are well on your way to preparing your cookie platters to the delight of family, friends and neighbors.

Bench notes:
- There are of course lots of different versions of this cookie. Some are finished with lemon glaze rather than confectioner’s sugar, which sounds intriguing.
- I used a #40 ice cream scoop to portion these cookies. It speeds up the process and creates uniform cookies. You can make smaller cookies for a higher yield and bake them 10 – 12 minutes.
- This is always a perfect time of year to check your inventory of spices to make sure they’re fresh. I like to buy in small quantities from my local bulk store.
- If you're like me, you may want to increase the spices if you like more depth. I doubled the cinnamon and used heaping amounts of allspice and nutmeg.

Pfeffernüsse Cookies
adapted from Williams Sonoma Holiday Baking by Jeanne Thiel Kelley
Makes 28 2” cookies

2 1/4 C flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 t ground black pepper
1/2 t crushed anise seed
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t baking soda
1/4 t allspice
1/4 t nutmeg
1/8 t cloves
4 oz (1 stick) butter @ room temperature
3/4 C light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 C molasses
1 egg @ room temperature
2 C confectioners' sugar, for dusting (I used much less)

Sift together the flour, salt, pepper and spices.
Beat the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in the molasses.
Add the egg and combine thoroughly. Scrape down the bowl.
Lower the speed and add the flour mixture. Beat just until the dough is nearly combined. Remove from the mixer and finish mixing the dough using a rubber spatula. Place the dough onto a piece of plastic and shape into a disc. Wrap tightly and refrigerate until the dough firms up.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two baking sheets with parchment or silpats. Portion dough into balls 1 1/2” in diameter. Place cookie sheets about 2” apart.

Bake until the cookies are golden brown on the bottom and firm to the touch, about 13 - 15 minutes. Cool slightly on a wire rack. Dust or roll the cookies in confectioner’s sugar.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Olive Oil Cake with Candied Orange

There is a long tradition of semolina cakes in the Middle East and the Mediterranean that benefit from a dousing of syrup usually made from honey. There are varying ingredients and shapes and flavors that have endured through history but all are celebrations of culture and sharing. And though there are many wonderful variations, this particular Olive Oil Cake with Candied Orange is so deliciously constructed it rises to the top of most other cakes I’ve had in this genre.

The cake is enriched with olive oil and yogurt and lightly scented with cardamom and orange zest. There’s just a bit of interesting texture provided by semolina. But it’s the crowning touch of oranges that get candied in a sensational aromatic cardamom orange syrup that really sets it apart. It’s festive and beautiful and full of wonderful flavor that only the happy combination of all these great ingredients can provide.

Next time you're in search of a delicious dessert to share with friends and family, try this splendid cake. It's certainly befitting as the grand finale to any delicious feast where adventure is the centerpiece.

Bench notes:
- For the candied orange and syrup, I used 1 orange but only made half the syrup, which I thought was plenty. But you may want to make the whole recipe if you want to really soak the cake. Leftover syrup can also be used as a topping for ice cream or a sweetener for tea or a cocktail. Store the syrup in an airtight container in the refrigerator. [half syrup recipe: 1/2 C sugar, 1 1/2 C water, 1/4 C + 2 T honey, 1 1/2 T cardamom pods.]
- I didn't have any trouble inverting the cake but you may want to either leave the cake on the bottom of the springform pan or be extra careful if you soak the cake with the full recipe of syrup.
- Semolina is available at better supermarkets, Italian markets or in bulk food groceries.
- Use a very sharp knife to cut the oranges into thin slices.
- The syrup and candied orange slices can be made a day ahead. Pour the syrup into an airtight container and place in the refrigerator. Store orange slices separately. Warm the syrup just a bit before using.
- Choose a good olive oil for the cake. I used a delicious Arbequina extra virgin olive oil from California Olive Ranch.
- The cake has only 1/2 cup of sugar in it because the syrup sweetens and moistens it.
- For better ease of serving after presentation, set some of the candied oranges on the cake aside so you can slice it. Garnish each plate with some of the orange slices.
- If you like the combination of orange and cardamom, also try the Orange Cardamom Cake.

Olive Oil Cake with Candied Orange

adapted from Bon Appétit magazine
Makes 12 servings

Candied orange and syrup
1 C sugar
3 C water
3/4 C orange blossom honey
3 T green cardamom pods, crushed
1 small orange, thinly sliced

1 C flour
1/2 C semolina
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1/2 t kosher salt
1 t ground cardamom
3 eggs, separated
1/2 C olive oil
1/2 C sugar, divided
2/3 C plain yogurt
1 1/2 t grated orange zest
1 t vanilla
Chopped unsalted pistachios, for garnish

For the candied orange and syrup, line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat. Cut the orange into thin slices. Bring sugar, water, honey and cardamom pods to a boil until sugar dissolves. Add orange slices. Reduce heat to medium low. Simmer, turning orange slices occasionally, until they are tender and the syrup is reduced to 3 1/4 cups. This will take about 30 - 40 minutes. Arrange orange slices in a single layer on prepared baking sheet. Strain syrup. Set aside.

For the cake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush a 9" springform pan lightly with oil. Line the bottom with parchment paper.

Whisk together flour, semolina, baking powder, baking soda, salt and ground cardamom. Separate the eggs.

Beat the 1/2 cup oil and 1/4 cup sugar for 1 minute. Add the yolks and combine thoroughly. Add flour mixture and beat until blended. Beat in yogurt, zest and vanilla. Set aside.

Using a clean dry whisk attachment, beat egg whites in another bowl until opaque and soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until firm peak stage. Gently fold egg whites into cake batter in 2 additions. Transfer to prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake cake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

Place the cake pan on a wire rack. Pierce hot cake with a toothpick. Slowly drizzle 3/4 cup warm syrup over the top of the cake. When syrup is absorbed, slowly pour 3/4 cup more syrup over. [I skipped the second application of syrup.] Reserve remaining syrup for serving.

Cool completely. Run a thin knife around edge of pan to release cake. Remove pan sides. Carefully invert cake onto a plate and remove parchment paper. Invert again onto a serving platter so it’s right side up. Arrange candied orange slices over the top. Garnish with pistachios. Serve drizzled with more syrup, if desired.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Brown Sugar Brown Butter Cookies

If you’re a fan of the rich nutty flavor of brown butter and also a fan of the caramel notes that come from using brown sugar, chances are you’ll enjoy this super tender cookie that features the subtle deliciousness of both.

There’s nothing terribly fancy or complex about these cookies but they are somehow pretty irresistible. Pecans are finely ground with the flour to enhance the nuttiness of the brown butter. The brown sugar adds its distinctive flavor while the granulated sugar preserves the crispy texture. The egg yolks provide a large measure of tenderness. Vanilla adds to the flavor profile and salt gives the cookie a distinct edge.

So there you have it - a crispy, crumbly, buttery, not-too-sweet shortbread cookie to share with cookie lovers, especially during this season of appreciation and giving.

Bench notes:
- Toast pecans in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.
- If you don’t have a vanilla bean, add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract to the butter after it has browned.
- For a good illustration of how to brown butter, see the guidance at Simply Recipes. Use a stainless steel pan so you can watch the butter carefully as it can take just a moment to burn. Once you begin to detect a nutty aroma, it’s just about ready. I lift the pan off the heat and swirl for more control if I think it’s browning too fast or nearly done. It will continue to brown once you take it off the heat. Pour immediately into a heatproof bowl to stop the cooking.
- I used a #40 ice cream scoop to portion these cookies. It speeds up the process and creates uniform cookies. (The #40 refers to 40 scoops per quart.)
- One test for doneness for cookies is to gently nudge one with your fingertip. If the cookie slides easily, they are done. If you feel a lot of resistance, bake for another minute or so. Once removed from the oven, most cookies will need to firm up for a minute or two before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

Brown Sugar Brown Butter Cookies
Makes 2 dozen 2" cookies

8 oz (2 sticks; 16 T) butter
1/2 vanilla bean or 1 t vanilla extract
2 C flour
1/2 C pecans, toasted
1/2 t salt
1/4 C + 2 T dark brown sugar
1/4 C + 2 T granulated sugar
2 egg yolks

Cut the butter into small pieces and melt in a saucepan over medium-low heat. If using a 1/2 piece of vanilla bean, cut it lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and add it to the butter along with the casing. Swirl the butter carefully as the foam subsides, the mixture begins to brown and the flecks on bottom of pan turn golden. Lift off the heat periodically to check on the browning and to avoid burning. The browning only takes about 5 – 6 minutes. Pour into a clean container and set aside to cool. If you didn’t use a vanilla bean, add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract at this time.

Place the flour and pecans in the bowl of a food processor and process until the nuts are finely ground. Add the salt and sugars to the flour mixture and pulse to blend. Remove the vanilla been casing from the browned butter and add. Pulse just a few times to begin to combine. Add yolks and pulse until the dough starts to clump around the center of the machine.

Pour the dough onto a piece of plastic. Press into a disc and wrap tightly. Place in the refrigerator for about an hour to allow the flour to soak up the butter and the dough to firm up.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or silpats. Shape dough into balls about 1 1/4” in diameter. Place 12 on each baking sheet and press down gently to flatten just a bit so cookies measure about 2” in diameter.

Bake for about 15 – 18 minutes until slightly brown and firm to the touch, rotating pans from top to bottom and front to back about half-way through the baking. Cool on a wire rack.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Plum Sorbet

The end of plum season has sadly arrived, so I'm thinking of this as Last Chance Plum Sorbet. It’s an icy cold concoction of tart and sweet and a burst of bright color.

Sorbets are usually a fast and easy way to celebrate the pure flavor of fruit and this recipe from Emily Luchetti is no exception. The plums go into a handy food processor to become fruit purée. Put it through a strainer, add sugar, water, salt and lemon juice and off it goes into the refrigerator to chill. Give it a churn in your ice cream maker and there you have it. Last Chance Plum Sorbet.

Bench notes:
- Choose plums that are ripe but still fairly firm.
- If you decide to add more sugar, go easy or the sorbet won’t freeze properly and it will be very slushy.
- Add a tiny note of good quality kirsch if you’d like.

Plum Sorbet
adapted from A Passion for Ice Cream by Emily Luchetti

2 lbs (about 8) ripe plums
1/2 C sugar, to taste
1/4 C water
large pinch of kosher salt
1 t fresh lemon juice

Halve the plums, remove the pits and cut into 1/2” pieces.

Purée the plums in a food processor until smooth. Strain through a medium-mesh sieve into a bowl. There will be about 2 3/4 cups purée.

Whisk in the sugar, water, salt and lemon juice. Taste for sweetness and add a little more sugar if it tastes too tart. Chill thoroughly.

Churn in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Pour into a clean container, press a piece of plastic into the surface, cover and freeze for about 4 hours or until the sorbet can be scooped.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Pumpkin Pie Pecan Squares

As we head full speed ahead into what will surely be a season of busy kitchens bustling with inspired cooking and baking of all kinds, this recipe is blissfully simple. Not quite a full-blown pie, these squares are a super delicious pastry for those of us who can’t bear to wait for that dose of traditional Thanksgiving dessert coming in a few short days. So this is a sort of sneak peek of pumpkin enjoyment right now. I think you’ll be thrilled you didn’t have to wait.

To be sure, all the familiar elements are here - lots of spice and a lovely crust. But there’s also the additional benefit of chewy oat goodness added to a pastry dough that is pressed into the pan rather than rolled. The orange zest in the pecan topping adds a little burst of fresh citrus flavor. The pecan topping really adds a lot of flavor without being overly sweet.

Easy to throw together in the midst of a full schedule, this test run for the holidays is an irresistible treat of creamy soft pumpkin custard and buttery brown sugar caramelized pecans, the best of both holiday pie worlds. You will likely be extremely tempted to eat more than your fair share. Let's get this party started!

Bench notes:
- Yes, you can smuggle some rum or brandy into the whipped cream. ‘Tis the season!
- You could make the pastry base in a mixer but it’s much more fun to just mix it with your hands.
- The pumpkin filling has to bake for 20 minutes to set up a bit before adding the pecan streusel to prevent it from sinking to the bottom.
- The squares will continue to firm up as they cool. Store leftovers in a covered contained in the refrigerator.
- This recipe makes 12 servings. It can be doubled and baked in a 9" x 13” pan. You won't be able to lift it out of the pan easily so just cut into squares and remove by sections.

Pumpkin Pie Pecan Squares
Makes 1 dozen squares


1/2 C flour
1/4 C oats
1/4 C brown sugar, packed
1/8 t salt
2 oz (4 T) butter

Pumpkin Filling

8 oz (1 C) canned pumpkin
1/2 C whole milk
1/4 C heavy cream
1 egg
1/4 C + 2 T sugar
1/4 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t ground ginger
1/8 t cloves
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 t vanilla

Pecan Streusel

1/4 C chopped toasted pecans
1/4 C brown sugar, packed
zest of half an orange
1 T butter

1/2 C heavy cream (optional)
1 1/2 t sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare an 8” square pan and line with parchment with a few inches overhang on two sides.

Combine the flour, oats, brown sugar and salt in a bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces and work into the dry ingredients. The mixture should look like moist streusel. Press into the prepared pan in an even layer. Bake for 13 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Whisk together pumpkin filling ingredients and pour into the baked crust. Bake for 20 minutes.

While the pumpkin filling is baking, prepare the streusel by combining the pecans, brown sugar and orange zest. Cut the butter into small pieces and work it into the nut mixture until it's moist and crumbly.

When the pumpkin filling has baked for the initial 20 minutes, sprinkle the streusel evenly over the surface. Return to the oven and bake an additional 15 - 20 minutes until filling is set. Cool completely. Remove from pan and cut into 12 squares. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream, if desired.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Caramel-Glazed Cardamom Palmiers

When you work in a French pastry kitchen, puff pastry is the centerpiece of production. It takes a long time to prepare and due to the amount of butter involved, is quite dependent on temperature conditions. It's used for a range of classic French pastries, from tart bases to Chaussons aux Pommes, Napoleons and Palmiers, a small cookie-like pastry in the shape of a palm leaf. Puff pastry is always baked off to a deep golden brown to ensure its flakiness and full flavor. For Palmiers, a rectangle of pastry is rolled up from each side toward the middle to form a palm shape. Sugar is layered into the folds to create a caramelized look and taste.

This recipe for Palmiers from the incomparable Alice Medrich substitutes a very easy butter and cream cheese pastry for the laborious puff pastry. She then introduces cardamom to the sugar that is sprinkled throughout. This subtle but unmistakable embellishment makes for a super delicious variation on a theme. The utter simplicity of Palmiers is turned into a very different experience just by the haunting touch of spice. My advice would be to make sure you’re not alone when these come out of the oven. The aroma, the beautiful caramelization, the crunchy, crispy, chewy tenderness will have you unabashedly reaching for another slice.

These cookies would make a supreme partner at an afternoon break for refreshment, an elegant gift for a good friend or a lovely addition to your holiday cookie platter - or a cookie platter for any season for that matter.

**A special note of appreciation to Victoria, a long-standing East Coast reader of my blog who recently inspired me with a very gracious gift. Thank you very much for your thoughtful generosity!!**

Bench notes:

- This dough is pretty easy to work with. Although it sounds like a bit of work to prepare these, it really is quite simple once you get the idea of how to roll up the dough.
- Sugar is used generously to prevent sticking as you roll out the dough and to ensure that the cookies will caramelize properly. I also use a bench scraper to gently loosen any dough that appears to be sticking.
- Every oven has its own personality. Should the cookies brown at different rates, remove the darker ones and let the lighter ones continue to bake.
- I sliced mine a bit too wide and they took twice as long to bake.
- While the recipe calls for an ungreased cookie sheet, I used a silpat.
- The cookies will keep in an airtight container for at least a week.

Caramel-Glazed Cardamom Palmiers

adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich
Makes about 48 cookies

2 1/2 C flour
2 T sugar
1/4 t salt
8 oz (2 sticks) cold butter
8 oz cold cream cheese

For the cardamom sugar:
1 C sugar
1 t ground cardamom
2 large pinches salt

Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine the ingredients.

Cut each stick of butter into eight pieces. Cut the cream cheese into pieces. Add the butter to the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture resembles very coarse bread crumbs. Add the cream cheese pieces and pulse until the dough begins to clump together, about 30 seconds. Pour the dough out onto a work surface and gather it gently. Divide it in half and flatten into 2 squares. Wrap and chill until firm.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it soften for about 15 to 20 minutes.

Mix the sugar with the cardamom. Transfer 2 tablespoons of the sugar mixture to a small cup and mix in the salt. Set aside. Divide the remaining cardamom sugar in half. You’re going to use each half of the sugar for each dough packet.

To begin forming one packet of dough, sprinkle the work surface generously with cardamom sugar. Set the dough on the sugared surface and sprinkle it with more sugar. Roll out the dough, generously sugaring the work surface and the dough and lifting the dough to be sure it isn’t sticking. The desired shape is a rectangle 24” x 8” and about 1/8” thick. Trim the rectangle to form clean edges.

Mark the center of the long side of the dough with a small indentation.
Starting at one short edge, fold about 2 1/2” of the dough almost one-third of the distance to the center mark. Do not stretch or pull the dough. Continue to loosely fold the dough toward the center three times, leaving a scant 1/4” space at the center mark. Repeat with the other end, folding it in the same fashion toward the center three times, leaving the 1/4” space at the center. The dough should now resemble a narrow open book. Fold one side of the dough over the other side, as if you are closing the book. You should have an eight-layer strip of dough about 2 1/2” wide and 8” long.

Sprinkle the remaining cardamom sugar under and on top of the dough. Roll gently from one end of the dough to the other to compress the layers together and lengthen the strip to about 9”. Wrap the dough loosely in parchment or waxed paper (plastic wrap will cause moisture to form on the outside of the sugared dough). Place in the refrigerator to chill. Repeat this process for the second dough packet. Chill the formed dough for at least 30 minutes.

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

When the oven is ready, remove one packet of dough from the refrigerator. Trim the ends of the roll and cut into 1/3” slices. Place them on an ungreased baking sheet about 1 1/2” apart.

Bake until the bottom of the cookies are golden brown, about 8 - 10 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back about halfway through baking. Remove the pans from the oven and gently turn the cookies over. Sprinkle each cookie generously with the reserved salted cardamom sugar mixture. Return the cookies to the oven and bake until they are a deep golden brown, another 3 - 5 minutes. Rotate the pans and watch the cookies closely at this stage of the baking to prevent burning.

Transfer the cookies to rack and cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Gingerbread Shortcake with Pears

Fall is definitely in the air. It’s time to turn the corner and begin to focus on the flavors and spices of the new season. The weather will bring a crisp chill, the leaves will rustle and soon we’ll be turning back the clock. The moment has arrived for apples and pears, quince, lots of spice and chocolate.

This is a scone/shortcake recipe from Cindy Mushet that is reminiscent of a light gingerbread. It has a different texture but features the same sort of warm mixture of spices and a small dose of heady molasses. The food processor does all the work, so there is minimal handling and then a quick 14 minute bake in the oven.

I serve them here with pears and whipped cream but they’d also be really fabulous with some apples sautéed in a bit of butter, sugar and a pinch of cinnamon. The aromas and flavors are perfect for this time of year.

Bench notes:
- Unless you really love cloves, I recommend reducing the amount of ground cloves, which can really overpower other spices. The recipe calls for 1/2 t and I’d probably reduce by half from 1/2 t to 1/4 t and also increase the cinnamon to 1 3/4 t. Maybe add a little pinch of nutmeg.
- Once the dough is mixed in the food processor, handle it very little to ensure tenderness. Gather it together on your work surface and gently press it to form a cohesive circle, making sure the edges of the circle are firm.
- I used Bartlett pears. D'Anjou would also be nice.
- For a richer dessert, Cindy Mushet includes a recipe in her book for Cider Sabayon made with Calvados to use in place of whipped cream.
- These shortcakes would probably be great with sautéed bananas or a plum compote.
- It's very easy to over whip heavy cream. As it begins to thicken, stop every few seconds and check for a very soft peak.
- Dress up the whipped cream with a little splash of brandy or rum.
- Serve these as breakfast or brunch scones with a delicious pumpkin or apple butter, pear or raspberry jam.
- Shortcakes and scones should be eaten the same day.

Gingerbread Shortcake with Pears

adapted from The Art and Soul of Baking by Sur La Table with Cindy Mushet
Makes 8 shortcakes

Poached Pears

3 ripe but firm pears
2 1/2 C water
1 C sugar
1 t fresh lemon juice
1/4 vanilla bean, split and seeded

Gingerbread Shortcakes

2 C flour
2 1/2 t ground ginger
1 1/2 t ground cinnamon [I recommend 1 3/4 t]
1/2 t ground cloves [I recommend 1/4 t]
1/3 C brown sugar, firmly packed
1 3/4 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
4 oz (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 1/2” cubes
1/2 C + 2 T (5 oz) cold buttermilk
2 T molasses

1 egg, lightly beaten
2 t water
3 T turbinado or Hawaiian washed raw sugar

1 C cold heavy cream
2 t sugar, to taste
1/2 t vanilla

To poach the pears, bring the water, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla bean to a low simmer. Peel and core the pears. Cut them into 1/4" slices, placing in the poaching liquid as you go. Simmer for about 10 - 15 minutes until tender. Remove from heat and cool completely.

For the shortcakes, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.

Place the flour, spices, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process for 10 seconds to blend. Add the cold butter pieces and pulse about 5 times or until the butter is cut into smaller pieces. Combine the buttermilk with the molasses, add and pulse just until the dough starts to hold together in large, thick clumps. The mixture will look a bit like dark lumpy cottage cheese. Pour the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gather the dough and gently pat together into a circle about 7” in diameter and about 1” thick. Cut the dough into 8 equal wedges and transfer to the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2” apart.

Beat the egg with 2 teaspoons of water. Brush the tops of the shortcakes with a thin coating of the egg wash (you will not use all of it). Sprinkle generously with turbinado or raw sugar and press it gently to secure.

Bake for 14 to 15 minutes, until firm to the touch and golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack.

Whip the cream, sugar and vanilla just until very soft peaks form.

Gently slice the shortcakes in half with a serrated knife. Place a dollop of cream on the bottom half and layer some pears. Drizzle with the poaching liquid and top with the other shortcake half. Serve immediately.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Chocolate Biscotti

I seem to be on a biscotti jag lately. I love the crisp crunchy dry texture that begs for a good cup of steaming hot coffee or cappuccino. I love their rustic nature and the fact that most recipes have a lower sugar content and very little to no butter. And secured in an airtight container, they will last for quite a long time. Biscotti also make great gifts on any occasion.

This recipe comes from David Lebovitz, a pastry chef who’s earned everyone’s good trust with several terrific cookbooks over the years. These biscotti have a delicious depth of flavor from the use of good quality cocoa powder. That flavor is deepened with the addition of chocolate chips or chopped chocolate. The texture is also beautifully enhanced with chocolate’s soul mate, toasted almonds.

Although I didn’t take the extra step, David says he sometimes smears one side of the baked biscotti with melted dark chocolate. That, of course, would take these cookies into the realm of chocolate nirvana.

Bench notes:
- Since there’s a lot of cocoa powder in this recipe, use a good quality one, either natural or Dutch process.
- The dough may seem like it won’t hold together. Just gently press it into shape and it bakes off beautifully. I form the logs directly on the prepared baking sheet rather than trying to pick them up and transfer them from another surface.
- Use a sawing motion with a good serrated knife to slice the biscotti after the first baking. This will help prevent breakage.
- If you want your biscotti extra-crisp, turn each one over half-way through the second baking.
- Biscotti aficionados would also enjoy Classic Biscotti from Chez Panisse and Tish Boyle’s Triple Ginger Pecan Biscotti.

Chocolate Biscotti

adapted from David Lebovitz
Makes about 50 cookies

2 C flour
3/4 C cocoa powder
1 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
3 eggs @ room temperature
1 C sugar
1 t vanilla
1/2 t almond extract
1 C almonds, toasted and coarsely-chopped
3/4 C chocolate chips [I used chopped bittersweet chocolate]

For the glaze
1 egg
2 T coarse or raw sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.

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

Divide the dough in half. Place on the prepared baking sheet and form each half into a log about 14” long and about 2” apart from each other. Gently flatten the tops of the logs.

Beat the remaining egg and brush it on top of the logs (you won’t use it all). Sprinkle with coarse or raw sugar and bake for about 25 minutes or until the dough feels firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and cool 15 minutes.

Place each cooled biscotti log on a cutting board. Using a serrated bread knife, slice 1/2” cookies on a diagonal. Lay the cookies cut side down on baking sheets. Return to the oven for 20 - 30 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway though baking, until the cookies feel mostly firm.

Cool the cookies completely. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Wine Roasted Pears

This is a very light and super easy dessert that doesn’t require much forethought or lots of bowls and mixers. And since pears are coming into full blossom, it’s a great way to showcase their gorgeous simplicity.

These pears are roasted in a white wine baste sweetened with honey and sugar. You can serve the pears with a simple dollop of Crème Chantilly (a fancy term for whipped cream sweetened with sugar and flavored with a bit of vanilla), sweetened crème fraiche, vanilla ice cream or a slice of your favorite cheese. Very simple yet extremely satisfying fare.

Bench notes:
- Choose pears that are ripe but fairly firm. These are Bartletts.
- I used Viognier wine but a nice Sauvignon Blanc would be great.
- Use a baking dish just big enough for the fruit so that the wine syrup isn’t too shallow, which may cause it to reduce too much. Check the pears every few minutes toward the end of roasting to ensure the liquid hasn’t evaporated at the edges and started to burn. If you notice it’s reducing too much, add a bit of water and keep your eye on it.
- For an herbal backnote, add a sprig of thyme or rosemary after the syrup has been reduced and steep for about 15 minutes. Remove the herbs, pour the syrup over the pears and roast.
- This will serve 3 whole pears or 6 pear halves or any combination thereof.
- Try this with a fresh goat cheese or Humboldt Fog is delicious, as is Alta la tur, Robiola Bosina, Cana de Cabra, bloomy rind Cravanzina, salty blue Valdeon, Roquefort or any creamy blue.

Wine Roasted Pears

Serves 3 - 6

2 C white wine, such as Viognier or Sauvignon Blanc
1 C water
2 1/2 T honey
1/4 C sugar

3 ripe but firm pears

Combine the white wine, water, honey and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Keep at a low boil until reduced by half, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Peel, halve and core the pears. Arrange them cut side down in a baking dish small enough to just fit the pear halves. Pour the wine syrup over the pears and roast until tender, about 40 minutes, basting and turning the pears occasionally. Keep a close eye on them the last 15 minutes or so to be sure the syrup isn’t reducing too quickly. Add a splash of water if necessary.

Serve warm with desired garnish of whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, crème fraiche or a slice of your favorite cheese.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Plum Almond Streusel Tart

Plums signal the end of stone fruit for the spring and summer seasons. We have definitely arrived at the brink of fall as our thoughts turn to bundling up against the wind and preparing heartier food for our tables.

I love plums for their tart juiciness and their bright sensational color. They are wonderful in pies, tarts, galettes, compotes, ice cream and sorbet. They pair well with creams and custards and enjoy a garnish of nuts and spice.

For this plum pastry, I start with an almond pastry dough formed into a tart shell and pre-baked. The plums are sliced into chunky bites and combined with a bit of sugar and flour. The tart is then crowned with a simple brown sugar cinnamon streusel loaded with almonds to create a nutty flavor and textural contrast with the fruit. It’s a very simple and straightforward dessert, perfect for this time of year. Time to bundle up with some delicious plums!

Bench notes:
- Choose ripe plums that are firm to the touch.
- You can make the streusel ahead of time and store in an airtight container in your refrigerator.
- When rolling dough that has been chilled, let it sit for a few minutes to warm up a bit. As you begin to roll it out, if it’s cracking, it’s still too cold. Wait a couple more minutes and try again. The dough should still be cool but roll out smoothly without resistance.
-If you have a bench scraper, now is a good time to use it. As you roll out the dough, use a light smattering of flour as you gently lift the dough after each roll to prevent sticking. If you feel the slightest resistance, use your scraper to gently release the dough and apply more flour. Rotate the dough to ensure evenness. Try to work fairly quickly to avoid warming the butter. When the dough is rolled out to the desired shape and size, use a pastry brush to remove excess flour.
- Be careful not to stretch the dough when lining the tart shell. That will cause shrinkage. If the dough cracks or tears while you’re handling it, just use any leftover scraps to press into the crack to patch it up.
- If you don’t care to roll out the tart dough, try pressing it into the tart pan right after mixing. Just be sure the dough is evenly distributed and pressed to the same thickness throughout.
- Once the tart shell is formed in the tart pan, place it in the refrigerator until thoroughly chilled before baking.
- This tart is nice served with a dollop of fresh whipped cream or sweetened crème fraiche.

Plum Almond Streusel Tart
Serves 10

Almond Tart Dough

1/3 C almonds
1/3 C confectioner’s sugar
1 1/4 C flour
1/4 t salt
3 1/2 oz (7 T) cold butter, cut into 1/2” pieces
1 egg
1/4 t vanilla

Almond Streusel

1/2 C + 2 T flour
1/4 C brown sugar, firmly packed
1 T granulated sugar
1/8 t salt
1/4 t – 1/2 t cinnamon, to taste
2 oz (1/2 stick) cold butter, cut into 1/2” pieces
1/2 C + 2 T sliced almonds

6 – 8 medium sized black plums
1/4 C sugar
1 T flour

To make the tart dough, place the almonds, confectioner’s sugar, flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until the almonds are finely ground. Add the 1/2” pieces of butter and pulse the ingredients just few times until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Add the egg and the vanilla and process just a few seconds to blend. As soon as the mixture starts to come together in clumps, stop. Do not overmix.

Gather the dough and place on a piece of plastic wrap. Form a compact flattened disc, wrap tightly and chill for at least 2 hours.

When you’re ready to roll out the dough, remove from the refrigerator and place on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper or work surface. Let it rest for 3 – 4 minutes so it can soften just a bit to prevent cracking. Lightly dust the surface of the dough with flour and roll out to a round shape about 12” in diameter, large enough to line a 9” tart pan with a removable bottom. Keep the work surface and dough lightly floured as needed and gently lift and move the dough after each roll. When you have the desired shape, brush off any excess flour, lift the dough into the pan and shape it to fit closely into all the contours of the pan. Trim any excess. Chill for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prick the bottom of the tart shell several times with the tines of a fork.

Bake the tart shell for about 18 to 23 minutes or just until it has taken on a bit of color. Check halfway through the baking and prick the bottom once again if needed. Transfer to a rack to cool.

For the streusel, combine the flour, sugars, salt and cinnamon. Add the cold butter and work it in with your fingers until all the ingredients are moist. Add the sliced almonds and combine the mixture until there are both small and large crumbles. The streusel should be chunky rather than fine to add texture. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Cut the plums in half and remove pits. Coarsely chop the plums into bite-sized pieces and place in a bowl. Combine the sugar and flour and toss with the plums to coat evenly. Pour into the pre-baked tart shell and distribute evenly. Sprinkle with streusel.

Place the tart on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat. Bake for about 35 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and the streusel has browned. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Triple Ginger Pecan Biscotti

If you love the bright spicy heat of ginger, you'll definitely enjoy these biscotti. They are light, full of crunchy texture and deliver on the delicious flavor of ginger in three forms: fresh, ground and crystallized. This recipe comes from Tish Boyle, author of the tremendously fun and delicious cookbooks, The Good Cookie and The Cake Book. Be sure to visit her beautiful blog.

Biscotti are incredibly easy to make. It's just a short mixing of some basic ingredients, shaping the dough into logs and slipping them into the oven. Once they are baked, they are set aside to cool for 10 minutes and the oven temperature gets lowered. The logs are then sliced and go back into the oven for a final toasting and crisping.

The aroma of these baking will fill your kitchen with desire. The results are wonderfully fresh biscotti to keep you company at your morning and afternoon refreshments.

Bench notes:
- The dough is very, very sticky, so lightly flour your hands when shaping the logs.
- Next time I make these, I think I'll toast the pecans for a richer nut flavor.
- Use a microplaner to grate the fresh ginger.
- Biscotti keep quite a long time when stored in an airtight container.
- If you love biscotti, be sure to try Classic Italian Biscotti.

Triple Ginger Pecan Biscotti
adapted from The Good Cookie by Tish Boyle

1 3/4 C flour
1 t baking powder
3/4 t ground ginger
1/4 t salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 oz (5 T) butter @ room temperature
1 C sugar
2 eggs
1 T peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
1 t vanilla
1/3 C crystallized ginger
1 C pecans

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, ground ginger, salt and black pepper. Set aside.

Chop the crystallized ginger into small bite-size pieces. Coarsely chop the pecans. Set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar together at medium speed until well blended, about 1 minute. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the bowl. Mix in the grated ginger root and vanilla extract. Add flour mixture at low speed, mixing just until blended. Add the crystallized ginger and pecans and mix until just combined. The dough will be quite sticky.

Scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface and gather it into a disc. Divide the dough in two and place each piece onto the prepared baking sheets. Sprinkle the surface with more flour and shape each piece into a 12-inch log. Flatten the logs slightly until they are 2" - 2 1/2" wide. (The logs will spread as they bake.)

Bake for 35 minutes, switching and rotating the pans about half-way through, until the logs just start to brown lightly. Set the baking sheets on a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Gently loosen the baked logs from the parchment paper or silpat and transfer them to a cutting surface.

Using a serrated knife, cut the logs on the diagonal into 1/2-inch slices. Arrange them cut side down on parchment or silpat lined baking sheets. Bake an additional 18 - 22 minutes, switching and rotating the pans about half-way through, until the biscotti are dry and just begin to color around the edges. Transfer cookies to wire racks and cool completely.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Café Beaujolais Coffee Cake

Many years ago, if you found yourself wandering the mesmerizing landscape along the Mendocino Coast high among the cliffs and gorgeous waves, you’d probably run into a cozy little restaurant called Café Beaujolais. With a stunningly expansive coastline that seems to go on forever, Mendocino is most certainly a place to go to rest and be comforted. That version of Café Beaujolais is gone now but some of its recipes are still with us.

One of the things that made Café Beaujolais a destination was their coffee cake. As coffee cakes go, this one is as soothing as Mendocino itself. It's got a great texture with moist and spicy crumbs, lots of crumbs. It’s the kind of coffee cake that has you pressing your fingers against your plate until every last morsel is gone, chased down with your final sip of very strong piping hot coffee.

As you can see from the very brief instructions, this is a very easy pastry to prepare. File it away in case you have a spontaneous need or desire for a quick surprise for brunch or a meeting where you’d like to lend a touch of warmth and friendship.

Bench notes:

- The finished cake is only about 1” tall, so the servings are fairly modest. I haven’t tried baking it in a smaller pan for a taller cake.
- The recipe calls for corn oil, which I think is an artifact of the times. I used canola oil.
- This is a delicious cake. My personal preference is another recipe from Margaret Fox, which I posted as the Mendocino Coffee Cake. I love that streusel with its combination of espresso powder, cinnamon, cocoa and walnuts.

Cafe Beaujolais' Buttermilk-Cinnamon Coffeecake
adapted from Margaret Fox in the Los Angeles Times
Makes about 10 - 12 servings

2 1/4 C flour
1 C brown sugar, packed
3/4 C sugar
2 t cinnamon, divided
1/2 t salt
1/4 t ground ginger
3/4 C oil
1 C sliced almonds
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 egg
1 C buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare a 9" x 13" baking pan with butter.

Stir together the flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, salt and ginger. Add oil and gently mix in. Remove 3/4 cup of the mixture to another bowl and combine with almonds and remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon to form a streusel. Set aside.

To remaining flour mixture, add baking powder, baking soda, egg and buttermilk. Blend until smooth. Pour into the prepared baking pan. Sprinkle reserved nut streusel evenly over surface of batter, pressing gently into the surface just a bit. Bake for about 35 to 40 minutes or until cake tests done. Place pan on wire rack to cool.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cinnamon Toast Ice Cream

One of my first encounters with the world of cinnamon was making cinnamon toast as a kid. I would toast a slice of bread, swipe a bit of butter and then sprinkle with sugar heavily dosed with cinnamon. I think it’s where I first learned to appreciate the unmistakable allure of this spice. Even so, when I first saw this recipe for Cinnamon Toast Ice Cream from Gourmet magazine, I thought it sounded kind of strange. Cinnamon toast cubes in ice cream? How would that work? To satisfy my curiosity, I decided to make a batch.

To begin this adventure, the recipe calls for steeping a cinnamon stick in some hot milk. The next step is to douse some bread cubes in a mixture of melted butter, brown sugar and cinnamon and then toast them in the oven. The smell of that alone is enough to keep you going. Some of that toasted bread is then infused in the cinnamon milk for a few minutes. From there, you strain the milk and make a custard, chill the base, then freeze in your ice cream maker and fold in the toasted cinnamon bread cubes. Done!

Somehow the toasted bread oddly maintains its crunch despite being submerged in a luxurious cinnamon ice cream. Strange, I know, but the result is this very fascinating ice cream that really does replicate the flavor sensation of cinnamon toast. It’s a wonderful dose of cinnamon and totally reminiscent of my infatuation with this spice that began early in my life. So if you’re a cinnamon toast fan and would like to enjoy some ice cream that is off the beaten track, give it a go!!

Bench notes:
- The original recipe recommends white sandwich bread but I think even using your favorite bread, such as pain de mie, whole wheat or levain, would be just as delicious, perhaps more so. I used a baguette, including the crust.
- When soaking the bread crumbs in the milk mixture, keep your eye on the clock. Ten minutes is plenty or you risk having very soggy bread that can be pressed out but you are likely to wind up with less liquid.
- I use Vietnamese cinnamon. I love its sweet aromatic intensity. I buy it at my local bulk grocery but you can also find it online.
- Salt is an important element in most pastries and desserts. It enhances the flavor considerably, especially in dairy and chocolate.
- I took a few of the toasted bread cubes and made them into crumbles for extra garnish.
- The ice cream is very rich. I might reduce to 4 eggs next time. And perhaps reduce the granulated sugar by 2 T since the 2 T brown sugar used for the bread cubes is plenty sweet.

Cinnamon Toast Ice Cream
adapted from Gourmet magazine
Makes about 1 quart

2 C whole milk
2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
5 slices firm white sandwich bread (or your favorite substitute)
2 oz (1/2 stick) butter
2 T packed light brown sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
6 egg yolks
1/2 C granulated sugar
1/4 t molasses
pinch of salt
1 C heavy cream

Bring milk and cinnamon sticks to a slow boil. Remove from heat, cover and let steep for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Cut 3 slices bread into 1/4" cubes and place in a bowl. Chop remaining 2 slices and pulse in a food processor to make bread crumbs. Place those in another bowl.

Line two cookie sheets with parchment. Melt the butter and whisk in the brown sugar and cinnamon. Drizzle 3 tablespoons butter mixture over bread cubes and toss quickly to coat. Spread in 1 layer on a cookie sheet. Add remaining butter mixture to the bread crumbs and stir to evenly coat. Spread crumbs evenly on another cookie sheet.

Place the bread cubes and crumbs in the oven to toast, stirring occasionally and turning pans halfway through, until golden brown and crisp, about 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack, then transfer bread crumbs to a bowl.

Return milk to a boil, then pour over breadcrumbs and let stand 10 minutes. Strain milk through a fine-mesh sieve into a saucepan, pressing hard on solids. Discard bread crumbs.

Whisk together yolks, sugar, molasses, and a pinch of salt. Return milk mixture to a low boil and pour into yolk mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly until thoroughly combined. Return to saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is thickened, coats the back of the spoon and leaves a clean track when you run your finger across it. Do not let the mixture boil.

Remove from heat, immediately stir in cream and pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean container. Taste and adjust for salt, if needed. Let the mixture cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until completely chilled.

Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to instructions. Then fold bread cubes into ice cream and transfer to an airtight container. Press a piece of plastic into the surface, cover and place in your freezer to firm up.

The ice cream will keep but the toast is crunchiest the first 2 days after it's made.