Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Midweek Recipes 2: Kazan Lemon Bars

A long time ago, before I was a wife or a mother, I spent a lot of my time with my friend Araxi (Tita Rax). I didn't know a whole lot about baking at the time. Just enough to get myself in trouble in the kitchen occasionally. And enough to know when a recipe was easy enough and delicious enough to keep. I've kept this recipe since Rax gave it to me (on 4/17/96 to be exact), partially because it's a great one and partially because it has a handwritten note from her reminding me that I needed to send her the recipe for Wine Cake. We don't see each other much anymore; life has gotten complicated for both of us...and we live in different states. But I still think about her often, especially when I make these.

Kazan Lemon Bars *click here for printable version*

1-1/2 sticks butter
1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Mix until crumbly. Press into an 8 x 8 pan. Bake high in the oven at 350 for 20 minutes.

3 eggs, slightly beaten
3 Tbls. all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
juice of 1-1/2 lemons

Combine ingredients, pour on top of baked portion. Bake another 20 minutes--take care not to overbake. Lemon topping should resemble custard with a faint browning in patches. Dust with powdered sugar while hot. Cut into small squares when cool.

This recipe is easily doubled for a 9 x 13 pan. Cooking times are very approximate--the recipe originated at sea level--so adjust as necessary. Resist the urge to cut large squares, the bars are very rich.

Me and Araxi a LONG time ago. In costume for a production of Measure for Measure, if you must know. We didn't dress like this ALL the time.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Shaker Lemon Pie

There is nothing more disappointing than a pie that turns out…less than delicious. All that time and effort, not to mention ingredients—gone to waste. I try to mitigate these kinds of results by choosing recipes that come from trusted sources and/or have excellent reviews (if they are online). Martha is usually a pretty trustworthy source. But this pie. A big fat yellow disappointment.

I don’t think I did anything wrong, I think it’s just not a pie that I like (nor does anyone in my family). It’s possible that my lemons weren’t sliced quite thin enough.

It’s possible that they weren’t large enough, yielding too little lemon in relation to sugar/eggs. But I don’t know that perfectly sliced lemons or the perfect proportion of lemon slices would have made the difference for me. The taste was just really uneven. Some bites were very lemony, some very eggy, some tooth-achingly sweet. Everything was stirred together completely, as it should have been. And even though the lemon slices sat, coated in sugar, for almost 24 hours, they still had a bitterness that was right on the verge of metallic.

It just…didn’t taste very good. And wasn’t the lemony dessert I was craving.

I’m tempted to make a Cherry-Chocolate pie to make up for the fact that I didn’t get to enjoy the pie treat I was looking forward to. But that would still leave me down one lemon dessert. Maybe I’ll make lemon bars using a trusted recipe from my dear friend Tita Rax. Which should I do? Help me decide.

And maybe one of you should try this recipe. One of you who owns a mandoline for slicing things super thin. And report back on how it turns out for you.

TGIP Rating--Shaker Lemon Pie--NEVER AGAIN. Not worth even 5 minutes of effort.

Next up: mr. is celebrating his 40th birthday in a week and a half. Per his request, I'm combining a couple of recipes to make a Dark Mocha Cake. And I think it will turn out beyummy (beyond yummy).

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Midweek Recipes: Hillman's Challah

Feel free to pronounce the first sound in "Hillman" the same as the first sound in "Challah". I do when I look at this recipe. Sorry, Hillman, I can't help it.

Anyway, some time ago, I blogged about challah and it was delicious and the recipe looked about as complicated as a recipe can be. I tried my dear (and awesome--see below) friend's (you also know her as The Priestess of Irish Car Bomb Cupcake fame) challah recipe and it was easily more delicious and is a much more user-friendly recipe. The addition of honey is *lipsmack* yummy. Try this one instead.

minorly adapted from Ethnic Cuisine by Elisabeth Rozin

Proof 1 Tbls. yeast in 1/3 c. warm water

Meanwhile, mix in a large bowl:
1/4 c. honey
1/3 c. vegetable oil
3 eggs + 1 egg white (save the yolk)
2/3 c. warm water

Then pour in the yeast water and mix well.

2 tsp. salt
2 c. flour (all-purpose white)

Beat until more or less smooth.

Add 3 more cups of flour to make a smooth, elastic dough. It'll still be sticky, though. Give it about an 8 minute knead, adding the smallest amount of flour you can as you go to keep it from sticking to everything. If you sneak in as little flour as possible, the challah will reward you with tenderness, but the dough will be too sticky to get away with adding none.

When your knead is done, oil, cover, and let rise in a warm place for an hour. Prep your baking sheet towards the end of the hour--I use oiled parchment.

Punch down the dough and divide it in half. Take one half and divide into two parts--2/3 and 1/3. Take the large part and divide into 3 parts and braid. Take the smaller part and divide into 3 parts and braid, then put the smaller braid on top of the large braid. Repeat for the second half of the dough. Now you have two challot--it's traditional to have two.

Cover and let rise for 45 minutes to an hour.

Take the reserved egg yolk and mix in 2 tsp. water. Brush both loaves thoroughly with the egg wash. Sprinkle poppy seeds or sesame seeds, or leave as is. Place loaves in a cold oven. Set it to 400 and bake for 25-30 minutes until nicely golden brown.

Two confessions:
  1. I ran out of all-purpose flour in the middle of this recipe. If you've ever seen the quantities of flour and sugar I buy, you would think such a thing would be impossible. I apparently thought so too. So, I used part bread flour and it still worked out beautifully.
  2. I still prefer the single braid, personally, but I'm a goy.

Hillman (as we most affectionately refer to her):

And if you know who those men are surrounding her, you know exactly how awesome she is.

P.S. I changed my mind about what I'm baking next. Spring has sprung and I'm craving lemons. In an ideal world, I'd make the tarts on the cover of BAKED. But I don't have mini-tart pans right now. So I'm trying this Shaker Lemon Pie recipe of Martha's. Bread & Puppet Theater bread another time.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Toasted Coconut Cake

So, apparently (at least according to the people on this particular episode of Throwdown!) coconut cake is something of a tradition in the South. *shrug* It looked delicious on the show, but I realized when I decided to make it that I had nothing to measure it against. I'm pretty sure I've never tasted a coconut cake. Of any kind. Nevertheless, I still think it's fair to say this is an incredibly delicious cake.

If you follow this link, you'll see the original recipe and you can go to the "Comments and Reviews" tab to see a whole lot of criticism of the recipe. Some of it deserved. I gleaned through all of those comments and took some of the advice given there and used it to adapt the original. Here ya go:

adapted from Throwdown's Toasted Coconut Cake by Bobby Flay (using some of the suggestions offered in the comments section of the online recipe)

Toasted Coconut:
2 c. sweetened flaked coconut

Coconut Simple Syrup:
1-1/2 c. water
1 Tbls. + 1 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. sweetened flaked coconut
1/2 tsp. coconut extract

Coconut Custard:
1-1/2 c. whole milk
1-1/2 c. unsweetened coconut milk
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
8 large egg yolks (reserve 6 whites for cake)
2/3 c. granulated sugar
6 Tbls. cornstarch
4 tsp. coconut rum
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. coconut extract

Coconut Filling:
1-1/2 c. coconut custard (recipe above), cold
1-1/2 c. very cold heavy cream
1 tsp. coconut extract

Coconut Buttercream:
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened, but cool
2-1/3 c. confectioners' sugar
3/4 c. coconut custard (recipe above), same temperature as butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. coconut extract
Pinch fine sea salt

1 c. whole milk, at room temperature
6 large egg whites, at room remperature
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. coconut extract
2-1/4 c. cake flour
1-3/4 c. granulated sugar
1 Tbls. + 1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. fine sea salt
12 Tbls. unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces, slightly cold

For the toasted coconut:
Preheat oven to 325.
Spread the coconut evenly onto a baking sheet and toast until lightly golden brown, stirring once, 8-10 minutes. Turn off the oven and let the coconut sit in the oven until very dry and crunchy, up to 15 minutes longer (check frequently, it may take as little as 5 minutes).

For the simple syrup:
Bring water and 1 Tbls. sugar to a boil. Stir in the coconut, remove from the heat and let sit for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours. Strain the liquid into a clean saucepan, add the 1 c. sugar and extract, bring to a boil and let cook until the mixture is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Let cool.

For the custard:
Combine the milks and vanilla bean seeds in a medium, nonreactive saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat.

Whisk together the yolks, sugar and cornstarch in a large bowl. Slowly whisk the warm milk into the egg mixture, then return the mixture to the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly, until thickened. Scrape the mixture into a bowl and whisk in the rum and both extracts. Let cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours.

For the filling:
Whip cream and extract until soft peaks form. Fold custard into whipped mixture.

For the buttercream:
Beat the butter and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the coconut custard, extracts and salt and beat until combined and smooth.

For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 2 (8-inch) round cake pans, line bottoms with parchment, then butter and flour over parchment and sides.

Whisk together the milk, egg whites, vanilla bean seeds, and both extracts in a medium bowl.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. With mixer running at low speed, add the butter, one piece at a time and continue beating until mixture resembles moist crumbs. Add all but 1/2 cup of milk mixture to crumbs and beat at medium speed until the mixture is pale and fluffy, about 1-1/2 minutes.

With mixture on low speed, add remaining 1/2 cup of the milk mixture, increase speed to medium and beat 30 seconds more. Scrape sides of bowl and mix for 20 seconds longer. Divde the batter evenly between the cake pans and smooth the tops using a rubber spatula.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with only a few crumbs attached, 22-32 minutes. Cool in the pans on baking racks for 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the side of the pan and invert cakes onto the baking rack, removing parchment paper, and let cool completely, about 45 minutes.

To Assemble:
Using a long serrated knife, slice each cake horizontally into 2 layers. Reserve 1 of the flat bottom layers for the top of the cake. Place another layer on a cardboard round (or cake plate) cut side up and brush with some of the coconut simple syrup. Spoon 1/3 of the coconut filling onto the cake and using a small offset spatula, spread it into an even layer, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge of the cake. Repeat with 2 more layers. Brush the cut side of the reserved cake layer with syrup and place cut side down on top of the cake.

Frost the sides and top of the cake with the buttercream. Pat the toasted coconut onto the sides of the cake and sprinkle the remaining coconut on the top of the cake.

It seems complicated, right? A lot of the comments centered around how long the cake takes to make. Whatever. It took about as long as any fantastic dessert I've ever made. I made the toasted coconut, simple syrup, custard, and cake all on Saturday, then made the filling and buttercream and assembled it on Sunday. No big deal.

A couple of things:

You will probably have simple syrup leftover. It should stay good in the refrigerator for about 3-4 months. I'm sure I can come up with some tropical cocktail that you could use it in if you don't know what else to do with it. I'll work on that.

The custard recipe as I've given it to you is double the original recipe. This will give you plenty to add in to the filling and buttercream (I also doubled the filling recipe). I only had about 3/4 cup of custard leftover, so I'm convinced that doubling it is the way to go. I separated the custard into the different amounts that I would need for filling and buttercream while it was still a little warm. It seemed like that would be easier to deal with than when it was cold and rather stiff.

The coconut buttercream...I don't even know what to say. I've never really considered myself to be a big coconut fan--you know, I like it but it's not my favorite thing in the world. This buttercream quickly became one of my...probably...5 favorite things. It is beyond delicious.

Note that your frosting job doesn't have to be perfect, you're just going to sprinkle and press the toasted coconut into it anyway, don't fret.

I had plenty of toasted coconut (as you can see)--probably would have been enough to sprinkle some over the filling in each layer. I think that would have made for a nice crunch in the middle of the cake. Next time.

And, I have to say, it's such a good cake. The cake itself is really moist and dense. The coconut in every element turns out so nicely, it's not too much, it's certainly not too sweet. And the toasted coconut just cuts through everything to add a wonderful crunch and a whole different layer to the coconut flavor.

TGIP Rating--Toasted Coconut Cake--KEEPER

Next up: This month's American Theatre magazine is all about food. It includes the recipe for Bread and Puppet Theater bread. A project that involves theatre and food?! That's for me.