March 12, 2014

Ginger Lime Meringue Tartlets

For me as a kid, religion and spirituality were bundled up into one shiny package of bribery that was exchanged for Saturday-night sleepovers and friendship. Don’t want to get left out of Melissa’s slumber party? Go to church with her friends and family on Sunday, then. Haley’s family is going to steal her away early Sunday and leave you without a buddy at your own secular family’s waffle breakfast? Well, then agree to Sunday service with her—y’all have permission to attend the afternoon sacrament. I tried out Catholicism, regular ol’ Christianity, Wesleyan services, Judaism, and was invited to an at-home Muslim observance as well—with the latter two being more about inclusion and not about Sunday circumstances, obviously. Very little of it stuck.

A friend once commanded me to walk around her lawn for an hour chanting about my love for Jesus, and afterward declared me saved; an unwitting backyard baptism ensued when she let me skim down the waterslide into the pool. I dropped in on a half-pipe to impress one boy and got my first memorable PG kiss from another at a 24-hour youth group lock-in. And during the worst birthday party I ever had, the prettiest Christian girls staged a mutiny when a few of us other kids decided to play Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board; I emerged from the room to be confronted by a bunch of cross-armed 12-year-olds who had already called their parents to pick them up because we were “raising devil spirits.” All that to say that religion was a prime bartering chip in the social economy of my youth, and spirituality never even entered into it.

As an adult, I’m firmly, contentedly god-free, but I realized recently that I totally lack any sort of spirituality, which for me would equate to an intentional practice of acknowledging developments and contexts both within and beyond myself. I’ve mentioned before that the end of my 2013 really launched itself into the shitter, and the start to this year was slow and sticky, but sometime two weeks ago I was overwhelmed by a need to recognize the positive things happening around me too: job, projects, confidence, family, friends with whom to share these tarts. Life is squaring up a little, and it’ll be a lot easier to get into the habit of appreciation now as opposed to during the next downward cycle. So until I figure out a different way to do it, the kitchen is my meditation space, I bake with the intent to share, and if you're ever raising hell at a slumber party, please give me a call.

As for these tarts, gingery shortbread crust holds this dang-luscious ginger lime cream, adapted heavily from Tartine’s lemon cream, and atop is a cute li’l marshmallowy meringue mohawk. If you go the Swiss meringue route, there’s no need to torch or bake the meringue, which is excellent since exposing the cream filling to heat would be a real textural bummer. You could make one larger tart—seven or eight inches would be fine—but the fun part about the tartlets is doling them out to friends, especially the ones who let you stay home on Sunday. 

Ginger Lime Meringue Tartlets
Yield: four six-inch tartlets, or one shallow eight-inch tart

For the crust
1 cup AP flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Mix all the dries in one bowl, add the butter, vanilla, and ginger, and mix with a fork until dough is evenly combined.

2. Divide evenly among your tartlet pans, press in and even crust, then bake for 20 to 25 minute until crust is golden brown. You can use pie weights held in foil if you’re worried about the crust shrinking, but I’ve never had that problem with this recipe.

For the ginger lime filling
½ cup lime juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1 egg yolk
3 whole eggs, large
½ cup sugar
Pinch salt
1 cup (2 sticks!) butter, unsalted, cut into tablespoons
2 teaspoons lime zest

1.  Pour water to a depth of about two inches into a saucepan, place over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Combine the juice, whole eggs, yolk, ginger, sugar, and salt in a heatproof bowl that will rest securely in the rim of a saucepan over, not touching, the water. (Never let the egg yolks and sugar sit together for more than a moment without stirring; the sugar will cook the yolks and turn them granular.)

2.  Place the bowl over the saucepan and continue to whisk until the mixture becomes very thick and registers 180 degrees F on a thermometer—ten to 12 minutes. Remove the bowl from saucepan, mix in zest, and let base cool to 140 degrees F—about eight minutes—stirring from time to time to release the heat.

3.  When the base is cool, pour it into a countertop blender. With the blender running, add the butter one tablespoon at a time, blending after each addition until incorporated before adding the next piece. The cream will be pale yellow and thick. Taste, and add more zest or ginger if you want to. Pour into tartlet shells and proceed with meringue.

For the Swiss meringue
2 eggs whites
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Pinch salt

1.  Bring a small saucepan of water to a simmer (I used the same pan from  the lime cream process), and over it, in the bowl of your KitchenAid mixer, whisk eggs whites, sugar, salt until mixture is very warm to the touch, about five minutes.

2.  Remove from heat, and whip to stiff peaks using the whisk attachment. Dollop tarts with meringue in whatever shape you like—I’m working on my quenelles—and refrigerate until filling is set, about two hours. Carefully unmold, and serve! Tartlets will keep for about three days in the fridge.

February 26, 2014

Double Chocolate Cake

 On any given no-good day, I’d just about kill for a wedge of Bruce Bogtrotter double chocolate cake—that is, as imagined in my head while reading Matilda as opposed to the awfully glassy and ganache’d version depicted in the movie adaptation. Tall as hell, thick, insanely tender, piled upon by a too-rich frosting, chockablock with ropes of filling, too big for my plate, nearly impossible without a glass of milk—that’s my ideal cake, and it always has been. Upon realizing that I know of nowhere a person might procure a slice of such a cake, and being a woman of much time and butter, I went ahead and made a dream cake for myself after a particularly shitty day last week. And this is it, my dudes. As described, and frosted with the back of a spoon that doubled as a snack stick, which is a method for frosting that I especially recommend if you’re into eating your feelings. (Duh!) Mood cake. Celebration cake. Bruce Bogtrotter childhood dream cake. Whatever your frame of reference, this is the way to enjoy a chocolate cake, and I can’t recommend it enough if you’re seeking to soothe your inner shenanigans or just looking for an old reliable that will make your fellow potluckers swoon.  
Chocolate Cake
Yield: Two or three nine-inch layers, depending on your thickness preference
Serves: One, if you’re Bruce Bogtrotter, or about 16 if you’re not.

3 ounces dark or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 ½ cups hot brewed coffee
2 ¾ cups granulated sugar
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
1 ¼ teaspoons fine-grain sea salt
3 large eggs
¾ cup vegetable oil
1 ½ cups shaken buttermilk
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

1.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter two or three nine-inch pans. My oven only has room for two layers at a time, so I make thick layers with an extra thick center filling, but this recipe yields enough for three layers if you prefer! Line bottoms with rounds of parchment paper and butter the paper.

2.  Finely chop chocolate and combine with hot coffee in a bowl. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

3.  Into a large bowl, sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat eggs on medium until thickened slightly and lemon colored, about three minutes. Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and mix on medium speed until just combined; finish stirring by hand.

4.   Divide batter evenly between pans and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Allow layers to cool in pans for ten minutes before unmolding; cool completely before frosting.
Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Adapted from Apt. 2B Baking Co.
Yield: enough for one cake!

For the ganache
18 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1 ½ cups heavy cream (I used coconut creamer, actually—to fine success and deliciousness!)
1 tablespoon super finely ground coffee
½ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the meringue buttercream
5 egg whites
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
1 pound butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoons
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1. Make the ganache: Combine chocolate, coffee, and salt in a medium bowl. Heat cream or creamer until steaming, and pour over the chocolate mixture. Let stand for five minutes; whisk thoroughly until the mixture is homogenized, then add the vanilla and whisk again. Let cool to room temperature—sped up by brief stints in the fridge—but do not let harden.

2. Make the buttercream:   In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the egg whites and sugar. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk continuously until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch, five to seven minutes.
3. Using the whisk attachment, beat the egg white mixture until stiff, glossy peaks form, and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about ten minutes; be sure that it’s really room temperature lest the butter melt into the egg whites.
4. Switch to the paddle attachment, reduce the speed to low, add the salt then add butter a few tablespoons at a time, and beat the frosting until smooth. You may find that your frosting breaks at this point. Just turn the speed up on your mixer and it should all come back together. Mix until all the butter is incorporated and frosting is smooth; add vanilla.

5. Add chocolate: Whip temperature ganache into the Swiss buttercream until no lumps remain. The finished buttercream should be glossy, smooth, and fluffy. If yours is too thin, pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes before filling and frosting your cake.

February 20, 2014

California Winter Cake—White Chocolate + Grapefruit

California was a treat, my dudes. Comprised of the usual spate of woodworking, welding, and face-stuffing with tacos, it was a completely undeserved and welcome respite from Baltimore’s too-long winter. Obviously there were gobs of citrus too, and after a long while spent pining for the lemon cream that Yossy loves, I went grapefruit on it and figured it was cake-worthy. The results totally ruled, and little needs to be said about this excellent thing, except perhaps that it was born of a winter vacation to a summery place—and it shows. A standard white cake recipe from the best baking dudes, sandwiched with a perfectly bitter, citrusy cream, dressed in a white chocolate ermine frosting that might supersede all previous frosting allegiances, and topped with my favorite roasted white chocolate garnish. Make it if you’re seeking celebration or a big fat slice of end-of-winter Hell-Yes. 

For cake layers
Cake and frosting adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking
Yield: Three 7- or 8-inch cake layers

2 1/2 cups of cake flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups ice cold water
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1.  Preheat the over the 325 degrees F. Butter and flour three 7- or 8-inch round cake pans with removable bottoms. Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside.

2.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening on medium speed until creamy, three to four minutes. Add the sugar, and beat on medium speed until fluffy, about three minutes. Scrape down the bowl, add the vanilla and whole egg, and beat until just combined. Turn the mixer to low. Add the flour mixture, alternating with the ice water, in three separate additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.

3.  In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Do not overbeat. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter. Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for ten minutes, then carefully remove cakes from pans and let cool completely. Remove the parchment.

4.  A tip for assembly: Have frosting and filling prepared when ready to assemble cake. The most important part of the whole she-bang? Pipe a generous, tall border of frosting around the edges of each layer, and fill the well with about a half-cup of grapefruit cream. The border will keep the cream from sandwiching out between the layers.

For white chocolate ermine frosting
6 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1.  Using either a double boiler or a microwave, melt the white chocolate and set it aside to cool.

2.  In a medium heavy-bottom saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add the milk and cream to cook over high heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil. Allow to boil for one minute, whisking quickly the whole time and being very careful not to scorch; all told this takes about ten minutes.

3.  Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool; the goal is to have the mixture be cool enough to emulsify rather than melt the butter. Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter; mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.
Add the vanilla and white chocolate and continue mixing until combined; it should thicken immediately. Use right away or, if frosting is too thin, thicken it up in the fridge for 20 to 30 minutes until it reaches desired consistency.

For the grapefruit cream filling
Adapted from Tartine Bakery, via Food52
Yield: 2 ½ cups, about twice what you'll need for a cake

1 cup grapefruit juice, reduced to ½ cup  
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces

1. Pour water to a depth of about 2 inches into a saucepan, place over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Combine the juice, whole eggs, yolk, sugar, and salt in a stainless steel bowl that will rest securely in the rim of a saucepan over, not touching, the water. (Never let the egg yolks and sugar sit together for more than a moment without stirring; the sugar will cure the yolks and turn them granular.)

2.  Place the bowl over the saucepan and continue to whisk until the mixture becomes very thick and registers 180 degrees F on a thermometer—ten to 12 minutes. Remove the bowl from over the water and let cool to 140 degrees F, stirring from time to time to release the heat.

3.  When the base is cool, pour it into a countertop blender. With the blender running, add the butter one tablespoon at a time, blending after each addition until incorporated before adding the next piece. The cream will be pale yellow and thick. It can be used immediately, but I had better results letting it thicken up in the fridge more. The cream will keep covered in the fridge for five days; do not store in a metal bowl.

January 29, 2014

Coconut Date Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies

Greetings, from my hometown! It remains unclear how long will be my California stay, but needless to say it will be filled with citrus and strange fruits if it carries on much past this week. In the meantime, there isn’t much that needs to be justified about these pudgy little oatmeal sandwich cookies that I made in Baltimore last week—they’re delicious, and so stupid cute. Melissa Clark gets it right again, as always, by adding some toasted coconut and swapping out the classic but insipid raisin for a totally charmed handful of dates. Dark brown sugar, as it should be, and honey, as I love it to be, round out the sweetness profile, and this cute little cookie is stuffed with a roly-poly rope of filling that really brings it all together. You may be stuck whiling away your winter in the sun or even stuck under a pile of snow, but either way, these cookies belong on your counter and in your belly—make ‘em today!

Coconut Date Oatmeal Cookies with Cream Cheese Filling
Adapted from Melissa Clark
Yield: 24 2-inch cookies, enough for 12 sandwiches

Only thing is, the photo of Clark’s recipe shows her cookies are as being much thinner. Mine turned out nice and thick and domed—I have no idea why—and I didn’t change much except to toast the oats. They’re undoubtedly good either way! I also cut her recipe in half, and I used a different filling that didn't require mascarpone (because I'm poor)!

Coconut Date Oatmeal Cookies
40 grams shredded sweetened coconut flakes
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
165 grams packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
95 grams all-purpose flour  
4 grams fine sea salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
4 grams ground cinnamon, divided
130 grams rolled oats
50 grams dates, pitted and chopped
30 grams granulated sugar, for rolling

Cream Cheese Filling
Yield: enough to fill the recipe above!

3 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1.5 ounces powdered sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.  Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread coconut flakes and oatmeal on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast, stirring occasionally, until coconut is lightly colored and both oats and coconut are fragrant, seven to ten minutes. Set aside to cool. Raise oven temperature to 375 degrees.

2.  In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until light. Beat in brown sugar and honey, then beat until very fluffy, about five minutes. Beat in the egg until well mixed, then vanilla. Scrape bowl.

3.  In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder and one gram of the cinnamon. With the mixer set on low, beat flour mixture into butter mixture until combined. Mix in the oats, dates, and toasted coconut by hand. Be certain that everything is evenly combined!

4. In a small bowl, stir together granulated sugar and remaining three grams cinnamon. Roll heaping tablespoonsfuls of dough into balls, then roll balls in cinnamon sugar; transfer to parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches of space between dough balls. Flatten tops just a little bit, and bake until cookies are golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool in the pan for two minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

5.  Make the filling and assemble: Using the electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Beat in sugar and vanilla until mixed, scrape down the bowl, and beat again until filling stiffens up, about five minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl. Pipe or scoop one to two tablespoons of filling per sandwich onto half the cookies; top with remaining cookies. (I preferred more filling to less, duh!) Assembled sandwiches will keep packaged in the fridge for several days. Clark warns about them becoming soft if filled and not eaten, but I liked ‘em that way.

January 20, 2014

Honey Panna Cotta with Olive Oil and Pine Nuts

There’s a newish restaurant in Baltimore that I can’t get enough of. It’s called Bottega, a BYOB 20-seater with a Tuscan menu, and the first time I ate there, the one-man kitchen had run dry of about a third of the offerings. That, in my mind, was an excellent rather than a bummer situation. The ingredients, their farmers, the food, and the service are special, and I don’t think that anything communicates that quite so well or confidently as does abiding by smallness. Without wanting to put words in Bottega’s mouth, there’s a lot to be said for enoughness and the choice to be out when you’re out. Like, you have zero uncertainty about the quality of the entirety of your shit, and your efforts are so intentional and so focused that disappointment isn’t possible. Smallness—as opposed to the rote production that perhaps characterizes its opposite—could be the trick to that sort of success.

Simplicity might be the other side of the smallness coin—Bottega has that too—and it was the restaurant’s most simple dessert that was one of the best finishers I’ve had in seriously forever. They’re currently offering a ginger-lemon panna cotta, infused with both flavors only barely, and it was purely, completely delicious—unmuddled, say. Set just a skosh more than pudding and a million miles south of jello, panna cotta is a straightforward cream dessert that is disarmingly good. Weirdly good. When we ate there last week, I’d been considering baking some fussy tarts and fancy cakes this weekend, but Bottega’s panna cotta righted my course and all. So, inspired by their general excellence and specific deliciousness, here’s a panna cotta riff with a pretty tasty honey profile, complemented by olive oil, salt, and pine nuts if you so choose. It’s small, simple, and delicious—there’s not much else you need.

(OH. And if you find yourself in Baltimore, totally please go to Bottega. My favorite savory dishes thusly have been the venison pappardelle and the speck with stracciatella—literally everything has been good.)

Honey Panna Cotta
Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert
Makes about 8 servings

Use the best dairy and honey to be found, y’all. I mean, we always say that, but since there are so few parts to this dessert, it’s especially excellent to use your favorites since every ingredient is discernible. Medrich cautions us to measure granulated gelatin very carefully, since even a hair too much could wrestle the panna cotta into jello territory.

3 sheets sheet gelatin OR 2 1/2 teaspoons granulated gelatin
1 1/4 cups cold whole milk
3 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup mild, delicious honey
1/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
Honey, olive oil, salt, and toasted pine nuts for garnish

1.  Pour the milk into a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over the top, don’t stir, and let soften for about ten minutes.

2. In a medium saucepan, heat the cream, honey, and salt until steaming, but but not boiling; stir a few times to ensure it does not scorch. Remove the cream from heat, add the milk and gelatin to the pot, and whisk vigorously to dissolve the gelatin.

3. Set a large bowl with a spout over a larger bowl filled with ice and a bit of water. Pour the hot cream mixture into the spouted bowl, and allow it to cool to 50 degrees F. Divide the cream mixture between your ramekins or jars, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to set for at least four hours, preferably overnight.

4. When ready to serve, top your panna cotta with a spoonful of honey, a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt, and a couple of pine nuts. Panna cottas will keep, covered in the fridge, for about a week.