Saturday, April 12, 2008

Beirut Tahini Swirls

These Tahini Swirls are a common street food in Lebanon (from what I understand) and incredible as a brunch item. I made these this evening for a brunch tomorrow. They are made from a yeast bread rolled into 10 inch by 5 inch squares, spread with a paste of tahini, sugar, kosher salt, and almond paste and then twisted into spirals. You then roll these out flat with a rolling pin, brush with milk or an egg wash, and sprinkle with sesame seeds and freshly ground sea salt. They are around 8-10 inches in diameter and one 1/2 of these swirls is plenty for a quick breakfast. They are to die for and worth trying. 

As you might surmise, these can be a bit painstaking to prepare, but if you are into this particular form of punishment (as I am), these are absolutely worth the labor. The recipe is quite long and I am loathe to transcribe it this evening (now nearly midnight), but I will happily send it along to anyone interested in giving it a shot. Just shoot me an email.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Weekday Morning Bran Muffins

Unlike most of my recipes, these are sans butter and oil; these are a very low fat and guiltless weekday morning grab and go (which is typically the way I handle breakfast these days) and perfectly paired with a banana or other portable fruit.

  • 2 cups of unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup of pitted, chopped dates
  • 2/3 teaspoon of allspice (this is a lot of allspice - I love it, but reduce this amount if it's a flavor you are not accustomed too)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1 cup of wheat bran
  • 1/2 cup of soy milk or buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2-3 tablespoons of honey (depending on your tastes)
  • 3/4 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons of ground flax seed (this can be nixed if you don't have it around)
  • 1/3 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 2/3 cup unbleached flour
  • 1/4 cup of old fashioned rolled oats
  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line two muffin pans with paper cups.
  2. Mix applesauce, spices, and dates in a saucepan. Place this on medium heat and cook, stirring frequently for 15-20 minutes until the mixture reduces and your place smells divine.
  3. Transfer the applesauce (now apple-date sauce which, BTW, would be amazing with a bit of vanilla ice cream if you want to stop here) to a bowl. Stir in milk, bran, egg, flax, honey, and vanilla. Let this stand for 10 minutes or so.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking soda, and salt. When ready, whisk this into the applesauce-bran mixture.
  5. Fill the baking cups to the brim and bake for 20-25 minutes.
Watch these closely. When you can smell the muffins you should check the tops to see if they spring back a bit. If so, go ahead and pull them. With muffins that are typically dense as with bran muffins, it is always a good idea to pull them a bit before you think they are truly done. All baked goods continue to cook from their own internal heat. Overcooking these will give you a dry-begging-for-coffee-to-wash-it-down muffin. No good.

The workweek is not so bad when you have fresh baked goods to start the day. Suck it up and eat it up!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Saturday Morning Skillet Matzo Brei

I love this sweet dish on a lazy weekend morning. I made this for me and Eric today after rolling out of bed (you can tell by the kick-ass bed head thing I have going on). It was a dreamy way to start the day - a modestly sweet and simple dish with good coffee and the paper. I love Saturdays.

You can serve with jam, creme fresh, honey, or maple syrup. I think it's perfect on its own. In this version I used fresh apples and whole dried cranberries. I imagine it would be divine with dried apricots, pear, or even a bit of freshly grated lemon zest or ginger. You could take a savory spin on this and instead of fruits mix in spring onion and herbs and serve it with freshly made apple sauce and sour cream. If you do this, you would want to reduce the oil a bit and add an additional egg white.

This will serve 4 easily as a stand alone dish. With fruit and other sides, it will easily serve six. I would half the recipe if you are preparing this for two.

  1. Five Matzos broken into pieces
  2. Two large eggs
  3. 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  4. 1/2 cup of granulated sugar
  5. 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  6. 1 granny smith or tart apple peeled, cored, and diced
  7. 1/2 cup of whole, sweetened dried cranberries
  8. 1/2 cup of oil
Sleepy morning assembly
  1. Cover the matzos with water for 3-5 minutes to soften. Drain thoroughly and press out the excess water.
  2. Whisk the eggs, salt and cinnamon together in a medium bowl.
  3. Incorporate the matzos into the eggs. Add sugar, apples, cranberries, and oil. Mix until all ingredients are well coated with egg.
On the skillet
  1. Preheat a cast iron skillet with two tablespoons of oil on medium heat.
  2. Spread Matzos mixture on the bottom of the skillet and press into the bottom of the pan.
  3. Cook on medium-low heat if using cast iron or medium heat if using another type of skillet. Cook absolutely undisturbed for 5 minutes.
  4. Carefully flip the matzo mixture in the pan. It may break a bit and that's totally fine. Just flip it piece by piece.
  5. Cook until heated through and it turns lovely golden brown color on this side.
Eat right away while it's hot.

Clay's Almond and Cormeal Pound Cake

We had a new friend over for dinner on Sunday and I had a last minute compulsion to throw together a dessert. There was a bit of almond paste hanging around (not marzipan people) and I needed to find a way to use it up. I bake so much that I always have pounds (literally) of unsalted butter and eggs in the fridge and decided to go for this cake.

This cake was much simpler to assemble than it reads. I was able to put it together while I had a sauce going on burner - so don't be intimidated by the steps - it's perfectly manageable.

While we ate this as is (and it was gorgeously simple and light), it would be extraordinary with a pear compote in the winter or fresh berries or a rhubarb compote in the summer. A little freshly whipped cream wouldn't hurt either.

Makes one light and yummy pound cake:

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
  • 1 cup cake flour (not self-rising), plus more for dusting
  • 1/3 cup almond paste (3 1/4 ounces)
  • 2/3 cup plus 4 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature, separated
  • 1/2 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Get Prepared
For recipes that require many bowls (and a lot of beating), I typically like to get my ingredients lined up and ready for me before I fold them together. The follow steps are outlined to get you all set up for a gorgeously simple and light cake.
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. If you are particularly interested in getting this cake to release from the pan, it's best to line it with parchment. Always lightly (truly, lightly) butter the parchment as well and the sides of the pan. Lightly dust the pan and parchment with flour. For this cake I used a loaf pan but an 8-9 inch round with work. When using a loaf pan, I like to arrange the parchment so that it hangs slightly over the edge of the longest side of the pan. Then you can practically lift it right out of the pan after it cools.
  2. Sift together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Set it aside for later.
  3. In your mixer, beat the egg whites and remaining 4 1/2 teaspoons sugar on medium speed with a whisk attachment until they hold stiff peaks, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer these to another bowl and set aside in a cool place. (If you are a slow baker, you will want to wait to do this step until just before you incorporate the whites. Otherwise (and depending n the season) they may begin to break down.
Now for the fun stuff . . .
Here, you will begin working in the bowl of your mixer (be sure to wash it out and dry it after you transfered the egg whites)

Cut it, Beat it, Mix it, Fold it.
  1. Put almond paste and 2/3 cup sugar in the bowl of your mixer. Cut the almond paste into the sugar using a pastry cutter until you get a coarse meal (such as barley or steel cut oats). It is so much easier (and butch) to do it this way. If you break out the food processor, you will bit a bit annoyed when it comes time to wash-up. You can also cut the almond paste into the sugar with knives (which is, lets be honest, the hottest option here).
  2. Add butter and beat with your paddle attachment until soft and pale, about 4 minutes. Again, you can butch it up and do this by hand with a wooden spoon. It will take some time, but you will get admirable forearms out of it.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, vanilla, and egg yolks. 
  4. With mixer running, gradually add milk mixture to butter mixture and mix until combined. Scrape down the sides of your bowl as necessary. Make sure all the almond butter mixture is incorporated into the wet ingredients.
  5. Add the dry ingredients in in waves until incorporated.
  6. Now, fold in your egg whites until barely incorporated. Be careful here, if you over do it your cake will not leaven. After all the cutting and beating, this is the time to be delicate and gentle.
  7. Pour batter into your buttery pans. Bake until golden and it gives back, about 40, 50, or 60 minutes depending on your oven and the pan you use. Check the cake at about 30 minutes and keep an eye on it as it bakes from this point. If the top is browning quickly tent the cake with foil. I almost always do this with pound cakes in part because they are stand-alone desserts. This step will ensure that your cake has a delicate and even color throughout.
  8. Let it cool completely on a wire rack before you release it.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

T'Mac's Sixth 30th Birthday Tiki Cupcakes

In celebration of T'Mac's sixth 30th birthday, she invited a group of friends to the Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge for drinks. Lover of all things themed and kitsch, I needed to up the ante on the baked goods and develop a cupcake capable of out-camping flaming bowls of ice blue cocktails. Enter the raspberry-coconut tiki cupcake.

The Coconut Cake
In the mixer (beat-it baby)
3 sticks of unsalted butter, room temp
2 & 2/3 cups sugar
4 large whole eggs, plus 4 large egg whites
1 vanilla bean halved with seeds scraped from the pod (or 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract)

In the sifter (shake-it baby)
3 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sweetened, shredded coconut pulsed in a food processor (1-2 minutes)

Wet ingredients (oh-baby)
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk with a handfull of fresh raspberries blended into the coconut milk (like a smoothie)

Bring it together

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line your muffin tins with paper liners (I heart my unbleached paper liners).
  2. Using a paddle attachment (or your god-given strength and a wooden spoon), beat the butter and sugar together for four-five minutes and scrape the sides of the bowl as needed (unless you're a complete bad-ass, beating by hand will take much longer)
  3. Add in eggs and vanilla. Beat until incorporated (I always separate and crack my eggs into a separate bowl before doing this - it keeps things clean)
  4. Sift together all dry ingredients.
  5. Alternate adding coconut milk/raspberry smoothie mixture and dry ingredients into the butter mixture. Take you time and fold these in slowly on low speed until incorporated.
  6. Carefully spoon in the batter into the cupcake liners until they are approximately 2/3rds full. Take your time here as well. It will make sure your cupcakes bake evenly and at the same rate.
  7. Bake for 16 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through.
  8. A few tips on "doneness:" Typically, any baked good is near finished when you begin to smell it. Always check the oven when you can smell the cakes baking to make sure you do not over-bake them. For cupcakes there is really no need to use the toothpick test; you can tell if they have finished baking by touching the tops of the cake. If they are somewhat springy and give back to your touch they are ready to be eaten.
  9. Let the cupcakes cool completely before frosting.
Raspberry Frosting
In the Mixer
2/3rds cup fresh raspberries, pureed
2 sticks unsalted butter, slightly chilled
A pinch of coarse or kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
3&1/2 cups of confectioners sugar
  1. Beat butter and salt on high speed until smooth and fluffy
  2. Beat in confectioner's sugar
  3. Beat in raspberry puree one table spoon at a time, using discretion after 3 or 4 tablespoons
  4. Do not over beat frosting at this point. Aim for a thick, creamy, and sumptuous frosting that rivals the consistency of ice cream when it is at it's best - just a minute or two after scooping.

This is the best part. Generously frost the cupcakes. Now is not the time to strive for perfection. Cupcakes are dreamiest when the frosting is whimsically applied and imperfect. Sprinkle the tops with shredded coconut to your liking. You can use sweetened, unsweetened, or toasted coconut. I personally love the thick, coconut curls but here I went straight for mid-century Cleaver-esque sweetened and shredded. I added two raspberries to the top of each cupcake set under a cocktail umbrella. Completely ridiculous and perfectly appropriate.