Friday, December 19, 2008

Bright Sables

Sables are tender, rich shortbread cookies popular in France. Dorie Greenspan provides a master recipe in her book Baking From My Home to Yours that makes the basic buttery sable. It's a wonderful base to add other flavors to. Be creative, have fun.

makes about 50 cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 large egg yolks
2 cups all-purpose flour

Beat butter until smooth and very creamy. Add d the sugars and salt and beat until well blended, about 1 minute. The mixture should be smooth and silky, not fluffy and airy. Add in the egg yolks and beat until homogenous.

Turn off the mixer and pour in the flour. Pulse the mixture until the flour is moist and incorporated into the dough. Work the dough as little as possible. You're looking for a soft, moist, clumpy (rather than smooth) dough. It should feel like play-doh when you pinch it. Scrap the dough onto a smooth work surface, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each piece into a smooth log about 9 inches long and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate the logs for at least 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice the chilled dough logs into 1/3-inch thick cookies. Place the rounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet with an inch of space between each. Bake for 17-20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet at the halfway point. The cookies should be light brown on the bottom, light golden on the edges, and pale on top. Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest before moving them to a rack to cool to room temperature.

  • For decorative purposes, you can brush the logs with egg yolk (before cutting) and roll them in clear or colored decorating sugar
  • Play around with the flavors - I used lemon zest and crushed rose petals (rub the lemon zest with the sugar before beating with the butter)

peace for you

Dorie Greenspan called these cookies the brainchild of French chef Pierre Herme, declaring it to be as important a culinary breakthrough as Tollhouse cookies. They are chocolate sables, dark with cocoa and flecked with bittersweet chocolate. The surprising and lingering aftertaste as the flavor travels to the back of the tongue is that of salt. Pierre Herme uses fleur de sel, a moist delicate French sea salt. Have you noticed that salt makes sweets taste sweeter and chocolate chocolatier?

When the recipe was published in her first cookbook, it was called Korova cookies. In her new book it is presented under a new name. Her neighbor, upon trying them, was convinced that a daily dose of these cookies is all that is needed to bring lasting planetary peace and happiness. So they were dubbed World Peace Cookies.

World Peace Cookies
Makes about 36 cookies

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tbsp (11 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp fleur de sel or 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped into little chips

Sift flour, cocoa, and baking soda together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably with a paddle attachment, or a hand mixer and a large bowl, beat butter until soft and creamy. Add in brown and white sugar, salt and vanilla, and beat for 2 minutes more, scraping down the bowl occasionally. Pour in the dry ingredients and cover bowl with a towel. Pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. If there's still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a few times more; if not, remove the towel. Mix at low speed for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough. It is important to work the dough as little as possible. Toss in the chocolate bits and mix until just combined. (The dough will seem very dry at first, but keep incorporating the dry ingredients into the butter mixture - I did this part by hand with a spatula - and it will eventually come together)

Turn the dough out on a work surface, gather it together and divide in half. Working with one half at a time, shape dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Using a sharp knife, slice the dough into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick (I found this to be too thick, I cut mine 1/3 inch thick). If the dough crack when you cut them, just press the pieces back together on the baking sheet. Arrange the rounds on the baking sheet, leaving about 1 inch between each.

Bake the cookies for 12 minutes. They wouldn't look done nor will they look firm, but as they cool they'll harden a bit. Transfer cookies to a cooling rack and allow them to rest until just warm. They're best served at this point or at room temperature.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

new flavors, basic recipe

I had planned on baking Dorie Greenspan's "Best Chocolate Chip Cookies" the other night. Her recipe made almost 4 dozen, so I was going to halve it and modify it to also make some white chocolate cranberry cookies with pistachios. It was late and I had stuff on my mind, so somehow I added in 2 eggs instead of 1 large egg as required. Past experience told me that if I continue with the recipe I'm going to end up with puffy cookies, which I hate. But I was hoping that since the eggs were so small, they would only really be...1 1/2 large eggs. I went ahead and baked off 1 or 2 to try. Nope, puffy and cakey. No good. The dough tastes great though, so I think I'm going to freeze it and use it in cookie dough ice cream later on. Or eat it straight when The Small One comes over. Shhh...

Fast forward to this morning. I decided to use my tried and true basic cookie recipe since I was baking for my friend, and didn't want to mess up again. I've used the recipe for chocolate chunk cookies, chocolate walnut, white chocolate cranberry, etc. I was making white chocolate cranberry cookies with pistachios today. The pistachios I bought were shelled and raw, so I toasted them slightly in a dry pan, and tossed them in.

Nom nom nom...lucky I gave most of these away

Pumpkin Harvest Muffins

The weather is finally nippy, the wind carrying winter's snappy chill. I like walking down the street with my coat pulled tight around me, with the sound of crunching leaves beneath my feet. The trees, now barren of once-brilliant foliage, wave their branching forms, both desolate and hauntingly beautiful. The sun engages in a game of hide-and-go-seek, peeking out once in a while to cast its glow over the otherwise darkened days.

I like baking in pajamas and fuzzy slippers, with Regina Spektor and Jason Mraz playing in the background. I surround myself with the flavors of the season and the smell of warming spices. There's pumpkin and cranberries, figs and walnuts, cinnamon and ginger and cloves and nutmeg. It is time to celebrate.

Pumpkin Harvest Muffins
Makes 12-14 muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup unsweetened pumpkin puree
1/4 cup milk+ 1/4 tsp lemon juice (or 1/4 cup buttermilk)
3-4 dried figs, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup frozen cranberries, chopped

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.

Beat butter until soft, and add in both sugars. Continue beating until light and smooth. Add the eggs one by one, waiting until the previous one has completely incorporated before adding the next. Add in vanilla, pumpkin puree, and milk. Slowly add in the dry ingredients, mixing only until the dry bits disappear. Using a spatula, fold in figs, walnuts, and cranberries. The batter will be stiff.

Spoon batter into lined muffin cups, an ice cream scope will come in handy. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until a knife come out of the center clean. Transfer to a cooling rack.

Serve warm from the oven or at room temperature, or split and toast them, plain or with butter and jam.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Roses and Mooncakes

My mom started making her own mooncakes two years ago. Every Autumn Festival, I would adamantly insist on her sending me a box. Her first batches were pattern-less, resembling little flat cakes, still delicious nonetheless. When she went back to China over the summer, she hunted everywhere for traditional mooncake molds, to no avails. Then she told me of how grandma went out early one morning and came back with one. She never told us how she got it, and we never asked :)

Mom and I were never fans of the traditional egg yolk mooncakes, deeming the filling too sweet and rich and the dough too heavy. Instead mom created this one - a mixture of nuts and sometimes dried fruits, sweetened with honey and bespeckled with crushed rose petals. Everything is surrounded with a layer of oil-based dough and then a water-based one. The resultant pastry is flaky and tender, the filling multi-faceted.

There's no recipe yet. We did everything by taste, feel, and experience. When I have time, I'll work out the exact amounts. But for now, enjoy the pictures...

Beautiful isn't it?

rose for tea, petals ready to be crushed

mixed in with a combination of pinenuts, peanuts, walnuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seed, oil, and honey

wrapped in two types of dough, pressed into mooncake mold

brushed with egg white and ready for the oven and then to eat

Friday, December 5, 2008

Pumpkin...Not Pie!

First of all, the picture sucks. I'm sorry. I took it under my kitchen light, which never looks as good as natural light. The coloring is usually a little too orange-y if I'm using the 'indoors' setting or too washed out and sickly if I use the 'tungsten'. Oh well, I'm negotiating with my parents for an SLR camera for Christmas. So far the best answer I've gotten is "We'll get it for you as a wedding present" O_o

About the actual goods though, this is one of Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten's unfailing recipes. I've been eyeing her pumpkin banana mousse tart for a while now, and finally found the time and occasion to make it. I brought it to a pre-Thanksgiving dinner (yes, this post is about 2 weeks late) in lieu of a traditional pumpkin pie.

This tart is much lighter and less cloying than a pumpkin pie. After a heavy meal especially, a slice of this will satisfy the sweet tooth but wouldn't make you keel over in a food coma and sugar crash. The crust is a classic graham cracker crust scented with cinnamon, baked til crisp. The filling of pumpkin puree and spices is lightened with whipped cream and brightened with a bit of orange zest. The banana adds an extra little something. The whole creation is a wonderful contrast of textures and harmonious blending of flavors. An elegant variation on an old classic.

Pumpking Banana Mousse Tart
Modified from Barefoot Contessa

For the Crust:

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For the Filling:
1 can pumpkin puree (15 ounces)
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3 large egg yolks
1 package (2 tsp) unflavored gelatin
1 ripe banana, finely mashed
1 tsp grated orange zest

1/2 cup cold heavy cream
2 tbsp sugar

For the Decoration:
Cold heavy cream
Sugar to sweeten
Splash of vanilla extract

To make the Crust:
Combine the graham cracker crumbs, cinnamon, and sugar. Mix in melted and cooled butter until crumbs are moistened. Press into a 11-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, starting from the bottom and then up to the sides. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees oven for 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

To make the filling:
In a double boiler over simmer water, stir together pumpkin, half-and-half, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt until combined and hot, about 5 minutes. Whisk the egg yolks in another bowl, stir in some of the pumpkin mixture into the eggs to temper them. Add the yolks back into the pumpkin mixture and stir well. Cook the mixture until thickened, about 4-5 minutes. Stir constantly. You don't want the eggs to scramble. Remove from heat.

Dissolve the gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water. Add the dissolved gelatin, orange zest, and mashed bananas to the pumpkin mixture and stir to combine. Set aside and cool completely.

Whip 1/2 cup cold heavy cream with sugar until firm peaks form. Carefully fold the whipped cream into the cooled pumpkin mixture. Pour the filling into the cooled tart shell. Chill for 2 hours to overnight.

For decoration, whip the chilled heavy cream with sugar and vanilla extract until firm peaks. Either pipe using a piping bag or simply spoon the whipped cream onto tart.

Serve chilled.