Monday, May 25, 2009

Crusty Chewy Pecan Squares

I thought I was clever. Not so much. The pecan part didn't really cook in the middle. Probably because of the crust. Disaster. I don't think I'll even insult your eyes (and tastebuds) by posting pictures. We'll just call this one a fail. I had to exorcise my baking demons and reassure myself that I DO know how to bake by making a Cherry Chocolate Pie on Sunday. Aaaahhh. Much better.

TGIP Rating--Crusty Chewy Pecan Squares--EPIC FAIL--don't even try to redo it in any way. Soooo not worth it.

Next up: clafoutis. I know, whhaaaatt?! I got together with some friends a few weeks ago and read a hilarious play called God of Carnage. You may have heard of it. It's been nominated for a FEW Tonys. They talk about clafoutis in the play. A lot. And I've never made it. In fact, I don't think I've ever eaten it. So, naturally, I feel compelled to try my hand it at. Could be interesting. Could be another epic fail.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Seconda's Fire Pie

You may recall, a while back, I posted this recipe Seconda created for "Fire Pie". Well, now it's a reality.

First you need firewood:

(It's leftover Whipped Caramel Ganache from the Sweet and Salty Cake. Seriously, there was some leftover. What was I going to do, throw it out? Hah!)

Then, you need flames (or some semblance thereof):

And then, you extinguish the flames so you can eat it:

Yup, she's a pretty smokin' kid.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Outside-In Focaccia Bread

A while back my brother asked me if I could take a bread recipe and snazz it up a little. He said it had great texture and firmness, but was lacking a little in the flavor department. So, I did some research and decided to add roasted garlic and rosemary. With, I humbly submit, marvelous results.

Here's the original (and originally unnamed) recipe (he got it from the Oregonian, Food section, September 26, 2006--I tried, truly tried, to find it online--I think their archives only go back to 2007) with my amendments (in red):

Outside-In Focaccia Bread *click here for printable version*



3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (3 1/2 ounces)
-I used bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast (see note)

3/4 cup room-temperature water (65 to 70 degrees)

1 2/3 cups room-temperature water (65 to 70 degrees)

4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (1 pound, 4 3/4 ounces)
-bread flour, again
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour (3 1/2 ounces)

1 tablespoon table salt

1/4 cup coarse cornmeal, for dusting


Makes 1 large loaf

Please note that I'm giving the flour measurements both in cups (be sure to use a dry measuring cup) and in weight, for those of you who have a scale. To measure the flour using a cup measure, spoon the flour from the bag into the cup and then level off with the back of a knife. Do not scoop the flour out of the bag, which would compact it and give you too much.

To make starter: In a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), stir together the flour, yeast and water with a rubber spatula until it is smooth with some lumps, like pancake batter. It will start to bubble immediately. Cover with plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature for 2 hours. It will rise in the bowl, thicken and be very bubbly.

While starter sits at room temperature: peel most of the paper off one head of garlic and cut the top 1/2 inch off the head. Place on aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt, and freshly ground pepper, and fold the aluminum foil closed around it. Roast at 450 degrees for about an hour. Allow to cool. Remove individual cloves from the garlic head and smash into a paste. Strip approximately 3 sprigs of rosemary and chop very finely. Mix with the garlic paste. Set aside.

To make dough: Into the starter, stir the water, all-purpose flour,
whole-wheat flour and salt with a few strokes of your spatula to form a scraggly dough. Cover the bowl and set a kitchen timer for 10 minutes to let the flour absorb all the water.

If using a stand mixer, attach the dough hook and mix on medium speed
for 10 minutes. The dough will clean the sides of the bowl but will stick to the bottom. Using the spatula, scrape the dough hook and the bottom of the bowl to collect the dough into a ball. Leave in the bowl.

[note: I kneaded it by hand and it was quite hard going. This is a good recipe to build up those arm and shoulder muscles. If you own a stand mixer you should use it.]-I disagree. Nothing wrong with muscles. If kneading by hand, work the spatula firmly through the dough to collect as much of the flour as you can. Scrape the dough onto a clean, unfloured countertop. Set a kitchen timer for 10 minutes and knead. The dough will become very elastic and will still be sticky. After 10 minutes, make a large indentation in the dough and place the garlic/rosemary paste in it. Knead the dough for another 5-7 minutes to work the paste thoroughly into the dough. You may need to sprinkle a little more flour on the dough at this point. Just enough to lightly cover the top surface of the dough and maybe the surrounding countertop. Using the spatula, collect the dough, including any scraps from the counter and your hands, into a ball. Flour your hands and place the dough back into the bowl.

To rise, shape and bake the bread: Cover the bowl securely with
plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature for 2 hours. The dough will rise to roughly double its original volume and look very spongy.

Sprinkle the center of a baking sheet with the cornmeal and set it aside. Dust the countertop with all-purpose flour. Using the spatula, scrape the dough from the sides and bottom of the bowl and tip it onto the flour. Flour your hands well and lift and tuck the edges of the dough underneath it like you're tucking in a sheet on a bed, to make a round. Pick up the round with both hands and continue tucking underneath the loaf until it is smooth.

Place the loaf onto the cornmeal, sprinkle it with all-purpose flour
over the top and drape it with plastic wrap. Let the loaf rise for 45 minutes. It will roughly double in size and look pillowy.

Fifteen minutes before the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, with the rack in the center.

Just before putting the loaf in the oven, use a serrated knife to cut a large X in the center of the loaf. Use a smooth stroke and cut about 1/2 inch deep.

Bake the loaf for 50 to 60 minutes until the crust is well-browned on
top and golden brown all over. When you press on the crust it will offer resistance and feel very crisp. Another good way to check doneness is with an instant-read thermometer. Insert it into the center; the loaf is done at just over 200 degrees.

Transfer the loaf to a rack and let it cool for 1 hour before slicing. Store the completely cooled bread in a resealable plastic bag for up to 5 days.

Note: Instant yeast does not need to be dissolved in water before
using. Look for three-pouch foil packs from Fleischmann's called RapidRise.

Also, please note: this recipe takes almost 8 hours from start to finish.

I was amazed at how thoroughly the garlic and rosemary were distributed throughout the bread. And, of course, pleased. This was the best bread I've made to date, I think. As noted, I used bread flour, as opposed to all-purpose, which could account for some of my success. I don't know if the starter accounts for the rest of my success, or what. But, I haven't had bread that rose so well or cooked up so perfectly with that crispy outside and slightly chewy inside (just slightly, that's how bread's supposed to be--too soft is just not right).

The kneading part, you should know, really does take some muscle (assuming you knead it by hand, which I did). It was extremely sticky dough (as is indicated in the recipe). So sticky it was just pulling my pastry mat up with it, so I did have to knead it on the counter. When I added the garlic and rosemary, as is to be expected, it became quite a bit more sticky. At that point, I added not quite another 1/4 cup of flour, just enough to sprinkle over the surface of the dough and the surrounding area of the counter. That seemed to get it to a point where it was kneadable again, though still very sticky. If I were a professional bread baker, I would have to have my shirts custom-made with the right arm larger around than the left arm from building up that muscle--I am not an ambidextrous kneader.

And--it tasted like focaccia, except better. A more complex texture and taste but with the benefits of a focaccia-like topping with the garlic and rosemary.

TGIP Rating--Outside-In Focaccia Bread--KEEPER--and try with other combinations, including kalamata olives.

Next up: I think this week I'll try inventing a recipe of my own. Combine Chewy Pecan Squares with an all-butter pâte brisée crust. We'll see how that works out.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Midweek Kitchen Confessions 15: My Last Meal

I'm intrigued by this book:

I'd like to own it--to add to my collection of food porn. I'm interested to read it, to see which chefs choose comfort over haute cuisine. To see who confronts the possibility of their death with what type of attitude: who celebrates and who contemplates.

Before reading it though (and thereby being influenced by all of them), I decided to try this little exercise myself. The idea is to answer 5 questions:

1. What would be your last meal on earth?
2. What would be the setting for the meal?
3. What would you drink with your meal?
4. Who would be your dining companions?
5. Who would prepare the meal?

I came up with four scenarios. The first two are purely impossible fantasy.

Scenario 1: I would eat my Dad's marinated flank steak (grilled to perfectly rare), a steamed artichoke (perfectly tender, and with lots of butter for dipping), and for dessert, angel food cake with cherry buttercream frosting. I would eat it on a hill under a giant honey locust tree. I would drink limeade (probably gallons of it). I would eat it with all of my immediate and extended family. The preparation would be overseen by my parents (as only they know how to make these dishes the way I want them), but the actual preparation would be done by people I don't know so that all the people I do know could sit down at one enormous picnic table. And there would be plenty for everyone. (These are the foods I used to request for my birthday dinner when I was a kid.)

Scenario 2: I would eat my Grandma Zine's meatloaf, mashed potatoes, potato bread (piping hot with lots of butter to spread on it), and for dessert, my Grandma Zine's cherry pie (with real whipped cream on top). I would eat it in the dining room of the home I lived in as a child. I would drink bourbon on the rocks. Again, I would eat it with all of my immediate and extended family. The preparation would be overseen by my Grandma Zine and my mother, but again, the actual preparation would be done by someone else so the two of them could sit and enjoy.

Scenario 3: I would eat pork roast (roasted perfectly, not too dry, with lots of nicely peppered and salted crispy fat on the outside), pasta with tomatoes and mushrooms sauteed in a garlic-basil-lemon cream sauce, a salad of mixed greens (with arugula please!) with garlic vinaigrette dressing, and for dessert, chocolate gateau with raspberry puree from Cocolat (a long-gone bakery in Berkeley). I would eat it in my current dining room. I would drink Clos du Bois Marlstone. I would eat it with my husband and my two children (and they would be well-behaved and perfect conversationalists). I would prepare the meal.

Scenario 4: I would eat a dessert extravaganza. Creme brulee. Chocolate pecan pie. Nestle Toll House cookies (dipped in milk). Bailey's chocolate chip cheesecake. Cherry pie. Ice cream from the Milky Way Farm in Pennsylvania. Wine cake. Apple pie. Lemon meringue pie. Chocolate cream puffs. Dark chocolate California brittle and Scotchmallow candies from Sees. Girl Scouts' Samoa cookies. I would eat it in my bed. I would drink coffee with cream. I would eat it with my husband. I would prepare the dishes. (My husband and I have often talked about the fact that I have a "dessert stomach". Even if I'm completely full after a meal, I always have room for dessert. I couldn't let this exercise go without an entire meal dedicated to that stomach.)

In case you didn't know, I'm a little sentimental. And I choose comfort food.

Now you. I want to know what your answers to these questions would be.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Midweek Kitchen Confessions 14: Lazy...or something

In light of the fact that I have five performances, one film audition, and two sick children this week...I'm taking the week off of baking...kind of. I'm not baking anything new and adventurous this week. I'll make a Chocolate Cherry Pie for a backyard barbecue we're attending on Friday. But I promise I'll make up for it next week by baking/altering a bread recipe on Monday and making Seconda's "Fire Pie" on Friday.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sweet and Salty Cake

"My every capillary is cacao now..."

Our friend, Matt Bennett, is an excellent playwright and wordsmith. Only he could accurately describe the effect this cake has on a body.

This one, I have to admit, was a challenge. There were times when it almost became not fun for me. But I persisted, and the result was pretty fantastic. What sort of blogger would I be if I didn't humble myself and admit my mistakes and failures? This process was riddled with mistakes. I had to do almost every component of the cake twice because it didn't work out the first time. All my fault, not the recipe's. The recipe is in my new favorite cookbook, the one over there --> (and somebody posted it here or if you live in New York you can just go pick one up instead of baking it yourself--I'm curious how much their cakes cost...).

Failed my first attempt at the cake itself because I assumed I could make two 9-inch layers rather than three 8-inch layers. I've done it before. Not this time. Got new cake pans.

Tried again. With success. Although the edges of the cake were still strangely crumbly (thank goodness for crumb-coating).

The cake wasn't dry, in fact it was perfectly moist and a lovely combination of airy and dense (yes, I say that's possible). The layers did sink a little in the middle, which is also strange, because I usually have the opposite problem with cake layers--they're usually overly risen in the middle. But notice how the cross-section looks:

The frosting had to be thicker in the middle in order to even out the layer. More frosting=not necessarily a problem. It just doesn't look as perfect as I'd like it to.

The genius part of this cake is the salt. The cake is very dark and rich, enhanced, I think by the addition of sour cream. On top of each layer is a coating of salted caramel sauce (which I had to make twice--first time, even though I cooked it to exactly the temperature the recipe called for, tasted burnt).

Then on top of that is a coating of the frosting (Whipped Caramel Ganache--which contains no less than a pound of chocolate and a pound of butter). My frosting turned out very loose. I had to refrigerate it for at least 20 minutes after mixing it in order to get it to the right consistency.

Then on top of that is a sprinkling of sea salt.

The salt cuts through the richness of the chocolate and brings the taste of the caramel forward for a simply delightful flavor.

Of course, there's more salt on top of the cake as a simple, tasty, and beautiful garnish.

A perfect birthday cake for the perfect husband.

TGIP Rating--Sweet and Salty Cake--KEEPER--make sure you set aside plenty of time, you can't make this one in a rush.

Next up: I've taken on some pretty significant challenges the past couple of weeks. I think I'll do something relatively simple this week. My brother sent me a bread recipe a while back that he says is perfect in texture but lacking a little in flavor. So, I'm going to give it a try and see if I can add some flavor to it, probably in the form of roasted garlic.