Monday, December 21, 2009

Chicken Pot Pie

I know that talking about the weather is nothing more than a pointless exercise in banality, but it's ridiculously cold outside. I'm not complaining- I'd rather be cold than hot at the moment- but on those days when the inside of your apartment feels like what you're used to the outdoors feeling like in the winter, it's hard not to run to the kitchen and make every warm, rich, cream-laden dish that enters your frostbitten brain in its search for a little extra insulation.

Recently, we had one of those days: wind chills of -20 with wind gusts around 40 mph. I thought people were always exaggerating when they talked about weather like that in the lower 48, but it appears that I was very, very wrong (just as wrong as I was in thinking I'd be able to get away with wearing my collection of cute peep toe heels and ballet flats during the winter and retain any sense of feeling in my feet. Come on, I've never lived north of DC... I'm a winter weather moron). But I digress... I had this recipe for chicken pot pie bookmarked for what seems like eons, but it inevitably fell to the bottom of my list of things I must make NOW because, let's face it, so many other things sound more rewarding to make and eat than chicken pot pie. Are we sensing a theme here? About me being wrong? I thought so.

Chicken Pot Pie
(adapted from Martha Stewart)

The original recipe calls for 4 chicken breasts and 4 chicken thighs, which seemed like way too much for my tastes. If you want more chicken, go for it. I also used slightly smaller, deeper baking dishes than stated here, and they worked beautifully. Homemade puff pastry works best here (believe me, one bite of the flaky, tender, buttery, ethereal goodness makes it worth the extra effort), but the frozen stuff will work in a pinch.

2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 ribs celery, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
3 carrots, coarsely chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup baby carrots
1 cup frozen green peas
1 cup fresh or frozen pearl onions
4 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups cremini mushrooms, trimmed and cut into quarters
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 sheets frozen puff pastry
1 large egg, beaten


1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Place chicken, chopped onion, celery, and chopped carrots in a large stockpot; season with salt and pepper and enough water to cover. Wrap thyme and garlic in a piece of cheesecloth and tie with kitchen twine to enclose; add to pot. Cover pot and place over medium heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until chicken is no longer pink, about 25 minutes. Strain, discarding vegetables, and reserve chicken and liquids separately; let cool and set aside.
3. Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil and prepare an ice-water bath. Add baby carrots to boiling water and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and immediately transfer to ice-water bath until cool. Drain; set aside. Place peas in boiling water and cook about 30 seconds; drain and set aside. Add pearl onions to boiling water and cook about 1 minute, transfer to ice-water bath until cool. Drain; set aside.
4. Heat 1 teaspoon butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and cook until browned, 3 to 4 minutes; let cool.
5. Cut chicken into bite-size pieces and place in a large nonreactive bowl along with baby carrots, peas, pearl onions, and mushrooms; set aside.
6. In a medium skillet, heat remaining 4 tablespoons butter. Add flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup of the reserved cooking liquid and heavy cream. Cook, stirring constantly, until liquid comes to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce; season with salt and pepper. Add to bowl with chicken and vegetables; toss to combine.
7. Divide mixture evenly between four 13-ounce shallow baking dishes. Cut puff pastry into four 8-inch circles and place on top of each of the bowls, crimping edges as desired. Cut a slit in the center of each piece of puff pastry to allow steam to escape; brush beaten egg over puff pastry.
8. Transfer bowls to a baking sheet. Bake until puff pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbling, about 25 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Little Celebration

I made this cake a few weeks ago, just because I wanted to send something nice to work with the hubs. I haven't had the energy (or the steady hands) to decorate a cake for a few months, but that has passed and I feel well enough to share a little secret with you...

We're having a baby!

Yes, the last few months of not feeling well have been due to severe morning sickness (which they really need to re-name, by the way). It was physically a very, very rough ordeal, but I'm finally gaining back the weight I lost, my energy is back, and food has regained its appeal. So again, please forgive my relative absence over the last couple of months. I expect to be posting regularly with lots of goodies for you.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookies

When it comes to what makes a good chocolate chip cookie, opinions usually favor one of two main camps: soft and chewy, or crisp and crunchy. My ideal cookie falls into the former category- thick and chewy in the center with lightly crisped edges... *drooling*... Anyways, as far as I'm concerned, these cookies have the corner on the texture market. I wish I could say I spent hours creating this recipe, tweaking it here and there until I finally reached my cookie nirvana, but alas, all credit must go to the incredible Deb over at SmittenKitchen. I used fewer chocolate chips by almost half, but feel free to use the amount given if you want uber-chocolatey cookies. Be sure to use a good quality chocolate, and for the love of all things chewy, please don't overbake these.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Deb at SmittenKitchen, who adapted it from here.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (I only used 1 1/4 cups)

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C). Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

2. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside. In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended.

3. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended.

4. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand using a wooden spoon. Drop cookie dough 1/4 cup at a time (for giant cookies) or a tablespoon at a time (for smaller cookies) onto the prepared cookie sheets. Cookies should be about 3 inches apart.

5. Bake larger cookies for 15 to 17 minutes, or 10 to 12 minutes for smaller ones (check your cookies before they’re done; depending on your scoop size, your baking time will vary) in the preheated oven, or until the edges are lightly toasted. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Monday, November 16, 2009

To Ease the Sniffles

Friends, the holiday season is in full swing, bringing with it friends, family, and unfortunately, all of their germs. It seems like everyone is falling prey to some random bug, but with so many obligations and various holiday gatherings, many people don't take the necessary time to rest and recuperate and end up exhausted, sick, and a wee bit cranky. If you know someone like this, please- do them a favor and stage a chicken soup intervention. Nothing gets people to slow down like a hot bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup, and we all know that it's the most comforting meal to those who are fighting off the sniffly sneezies. This particular recipe is for bare-bones, basic chicken noodle soup- no special ingredients, nothing spicy, just basic help-you-feel-better soup.

Chicken Noodle Soup

1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
4 celery stalks, sliced
1-2 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces (use dark meat if you prefer)
Chicken stock (preferably homemade)*
Salt and pepper to taste
Egg noodles**

1. In a large pot, cook the onion, carrots, and celery in olive oil until tender (about 5 minutes)

2. Add the chicken and cook for 1-2 minutes (don't cook through), then add desired amount of chicken stock to pot and bring to a boil.

3. Bring soup down to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste..If eating immediately, add egg noodles and boil until noodles are cooked through. Serve with a toasty slice of bread.

*If you don't use homemade stock, you will probably have to season the store bought stuff with parsley, thyme, oregano, or whatever you would use in your homemade stock.

** If you are making the soup ahead of time, reheat just the amount you want to serve to a boil and add the egg noodles at that time. That way, your noodles don't get soggy while sitting in the refrigerated soup.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Jumbo Cranberry Orange Muffins

Even though I am an unapologetic wuss when it comes to cold weather, I love this time of year, mostly because it means I can break out the cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon sticks, and it means that I can stock my freezer to capacity with fresh cranberries. And, with these cranberries, I can make my favorite cranberry muffins, and I can even call them healthy because there's wheat flour in them (just ignore the stick of butter. Focus on the wheat and the cranberries). In all seriousness, though, these are delicious, satisfying, and they're great to have when company arrives. I like to keep a batch in the freezer for unexpected guests, or for mornings when I want a baked good but just don't have the gumption to bake.

Jumbo Cranberry Orange Muffins
(makes 12)

1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup whole milk
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour (or graham flour, which I prefer)
finely chopped zest of 1/2 large orange (optional)
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries (or frozen, thawed, and drained cranberries)


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and prepare muffin tins for baking.
2. In a medium bowl, blend together brown sugar and butter with a wooden spoon. Whisk in eggs, one at a time.
3. Stir in vanilla, milk, and orange juice.
4. In a separate bowl, mix together remaining ingredients (except cranberries).
5. Pour wet mixture into dry mixture and stir until just combined. Do not overmix.
6. Stir in cranberries.
7. Divide batter evenly among muffin tins and bake for 17-20 minutes or until done. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then remove to cooling rack.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chocolate Ginger Brownies

For those of you out there who regularly read this blog (and yes, I am deluded enough to think that there's gotta be SOMEONE who does), I'm sorry that I've kept you hanging for so long. I'm still not feeling well, and most of my time over the past couple of weeks has been spent on the couch or in bed. Fortunately, I've banked up a few recipes for times like this, so you won't leave this post empty-handed.

I made these brownies about a month ago, and they disappeared within 15 minutes of hitting the table. They're rich, fudgy, and extremely easy to make. Though I am a die-hard purist when it comes to brownies, I actually enjoyed the fresh ginger, though I do think I'll dial it back a bit next time because, let's face it, anything extra in a brownie should showcase the chocolate, not compete with it.

Chocolate Ginger Brownies
Adapted from Martha Stewart

1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup AP flour
1/4 cup unsweetened DP cocoa powder
2 large eggs
1 tsp grated peeled fresh ginger
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1/8 tsp ground cloves

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter an 8" square baking dish (line with parchment paper if desired).

2. Melt butter and chocolate together in a medium saucepan over med-low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in remaining ingredients.

3. Pour batter into prepared dish and spread evenly with a rubber spatula. Bake until cake tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs, 30-35 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes. Lift out, and let cool completely on rack. Cut into 16 2" squares.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Chewy Molasses Cookies

I wish I could write a long post today that waxes on about the wonderful nuances and bold flavors of this cookie, but I can't muster up the energy for that. I'm not feeling well right now, and all I want to do is curl up with a blanket and sleep for a few hours; however, just because I feel like poo doesn't mean I should continue hiding this recipe from you. You need this recipe now, because you'll want to make these cookies several times between now and Christmas. I can't decide whether my favorite part of these is their soft chewiness or their perfect balance of sweetness and spice, but I do know that both of those traits together make one pretty fantastic cookie.

Chewy Molasses Crinkles
Adapted from Martha Stewart

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for rolling
2 large eggs
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

1. Put butter, brown sugar, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar int the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Mix in eggs one at a time, followed by the molasses and oil.

2. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and salt. Cover dough with plastic wrap; refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour or overnight.

3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Put remaining sugar in a bowl. Using a 1 3/4" ice cream scoop, form balls of dough. Roll balls in sugar to coat, and space 3" apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies are flat and centers are set, about 17 minutes. Let cool completely on sheets on wire racks. Cookies can be stored between layers of parchment in airtight containers at room temperature up to 5 days.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Boeuf Bourguignon, a la Julia Child

Because I understand your time is valuable, let me give you an advanced disclaimer: If you clicked on this post in hopes of finding a quick meal involving little work or prep time, you should probably stop reading now and look elsewhere. Go on. I promise, I won't be offended.

Anyone left? I hope so. I hope that everyone makes this dish at least once, no matter how pressed for time you may be. Yes, you have to blot your meat dry and saute your mushrooms in small batches and strain things and move this into that pot and then back again, but you know what? The aroma alone is worth it, and the flavors from such familiar ingredients are stunning, yet comforting. I prefer to make this a day in advance, as the flavors will improve overnight.

Boeuf Bourguignon

6 oz. chunk of bacon, rind removed and bacon cut into lardons (sticks 1/4" thick
and 1 1/2" long)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 lbs. lean stewing beef, cut into 2" cubes and patted dry
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 Tbsp. flour
3 cups of a full bodied, young red wine
2-3 cups brown beef stock (homemade)
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 tsp. thyme
1 crumbled bay leaf
18-24 small white onions, brown- braised in stock (recipe below)
1 lb. quartered fresh mushrooms, sauteed in butter (recipe below)
parsley sprigs

1. In a medium saucepan, simmer bacon rind and bacon in 6 cups of water for 10 minutes; drain and dry, set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a 9-10" fireproof casserole (at leas 3" deep), saute the bacon in the olive oil for 2-3 minutes over moderate heat until lightly browned. Remove the bacon to a side dish.

3. Saute the beef a few pieces at a time in the hot bacon fat until browned on all sides. Add the beef to the bacon, then brown the carrots and onions in the bacon fat. Pour out the sauteing fat, if any is left over.

4. Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef and vegetables with flour. Set casserole, uncovered, in the middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to oven for 4 minutes more. This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust. Remove casserole and turn oven down to 325 degrees.

5. Stir in the wine and enough stock so that the meat is barely covered. Add tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to simmer on top of the stove, then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces easily.

6. While the beef cooks, prepare the onions and mushrooms (below). Set aside until needed.

7. When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash our the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the meat.

8. Skim the fat off the sauce (I put my sauce in the refrigerator for a couple of hours while I ran errands and then just removed the hardened fat that had risen to the top). Simmer sauce for a minute or two. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to lightly coat a spoon. If too thin, boil down rapidly; if too thick, add a couple of tablespoons of stock. Taste carefully for seasoning, then pour over meat and vegetables.

9. Cover the casserole and simmer for 2-3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in the casserole.

Onions Brown-braised in Stock

18-24 peeled white onions (about 1" in diameter)
1 1/2 Tbsp. butter
1 1/2 Tbsp. oil
1/2 cup brown beef stock
A medium herb bouquet: 4 parsley sprigs, 1/2 bay leaf, and 1/4 tsp thyme, tied up
in cheesecloth

Heat the butter and oil in skillet until bubbling, then add the onions and saute over moderate heat for about ten minutes, rolling the onions so they can brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break skins.

Pour in the liquid, season to taste, then add herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet. Set aside until needed.

Mushrooms sauteed in butter

1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, whole if small, quartered if large
1 Tbsp. oil
2 Tbsp. butter

Place a skillet over high heat with the butter and oil. As soon as the butter foam has begun to subside, add the mushrooms. Toss and shake the pan for 4-5 minutes. During their saute, the mushrooms will at first absorb the fat. In 2-3 minutes, the fat will reappear on their surface, and the mushrooms will begin to brown. As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat. (Do not overcrowd the mushrooms in the pan! Saute in batches, or they will not brown properly). These may be cooked in advance and then reheated when needed.

Monday, October 5, 2009


My introduction to the palmier was, to put it mildly, a less than stellar experience. I remember stopping by a mediocre bakery in Kansas, starving from a long flight. Unimpressed by anything I saw, I resigned myself to the dry-looking palmiers and thought "These things look impossible to screw up. This can't taste as bad as that Napolean looks." (In my defense, hunger and judgment are inversely proportionate for me: the hungrier I get, the more my judgment suffers until I'm ready to gnaw off my own arm). Not surprisingly, my palmier turned out to be exactly the heart-shaped wood chip it appeared to be: my first bite turned it into a flaky mess all over my new pants and left me frustrated and seriously considering my right arm.

In contrast, my first bite of a homemade palmier elicited nothing but "Mmmmm...ooooohh...wooooow..." and then rendered me speechless. Imagine thin layers of pastry dough and butter generously sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, then folded or rolled in a manner that layers the cinnamon and sugar with the dough, then baked until the layers of butter and dough have worked their puff pastry magic and the sugar has caramelized, leaving you with a delicate cookie that's just crunchy on the outside, yet oh-so-tender and buttery on the inside. I know I often speak in superlatives, but I really do think this is one of the best cookies I make. Do you need another reason to make these? How about this- they're one of the easiest things you will ever bake. I'm not kidding- they take no skill whatsoever. Simply sprinkle, roll, slice, and bake. That's it. I would usually argue that you should make your own puff pastry, but I'll step off my pedestal and spare you the homemade-is-always-better argument (even though it still holds very true in this case and is worth the extra effort). Frozen puff pastry works in a pinch. Still not convinced? Let your friends and coworkers try these. They'll dub you a culinary wunderkind.


1-2 sheets of puff pastry, thawed
2 cups of cinnamon/sugar mixture

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Sprinkle a flat surface (I used my frozen marble slab) with some of the sugar mixture and place the puff pastry on top. Roll the dough into a square (roughly 12"x12"), then sprinkle liberally with more sugar mixture.

2. Shape:

Method A (my preferred method):Fold the sides of the square towards the center so they touch, then repeat. Then, as if closing a book, fold one half over the other half.

Method B (the method I used this time): Roll both sides in toward center until they meet.

3. After shaping, slice cookies into 1/2" thick slices and dip both sides in remaining sugar mixture. Bake on a parchment-lined cookie sheet for 8-9 minutes, flip, then bake 3 minutes more. These cookies are best eaten within a few hours of baking, but will keep for a couple of days in a tightly covered container.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Banana Bread, Sobered Up

I seem to be revisiting a lot of recipes lately, which is unusual for me. I know I've already shared a banana bread recipe with you, but I couldn't not let you in on this one, too. You see, that other recipe has attitude, panache, and lots of booze; this recipe is closer to my heart. It's my mom's version, just slightly tweaked. She used to make this any time we found ourselves with too many overripe bananas (which, in Virginia heat and humidity, happens quite often). I've swapped out oil for butter and milk for sour cream because, when I wanted to make it today, that's all I had on hand. It came out better than I had expected, with a tenderly moist crumb begging to be slathered in soft butter and slowly savored.

Banana Bread

4 Tbsp. butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup sour cream
2 1/2 cups AP flour
3 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3 overripe bananas, broken into small pieces (or mashed, if you don't like tiny bits of banana throughout your bread. I like the bits).


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two 8" loaf pans for baking, set aside.
2. Using the paddle attachment in a stand mixer, beat butter and sugars together until creamy. Beat in egg and sour cream until incorporated. Add dry ingredients and beat until just incorporated. Do not over beat. (Batter will look dry, but the next step will fix that).
3. Add banana chunks and beat until incorporated (you will see little chunks of banana in the batter).
4. Pour into prepared pans and bake until tester comes clean, about 35-40 minutes. Cool in pan for 20 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

September 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge: Vols-au-Vent.

First, let's get business out of the way:

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

Have I ever mentioned how much I love making puff pastry? Anything that gives me an excuse to utilize my marble slab and beat butter with a rolling pin excites me more than is probably considered normal or healthy. My original plan had been to make a large Vols-au-Vent and fill it with a very thick cream-based lobster soup, but I've been feeling a bit under the weather and the last thing I wanted to do over the weekend was deal with lobsters, so I decided upon something a bit simpler: I cooked down some golden delicious apples and quince with cinnamon, sugar, and a touch of nutmeg and used it as a filling for smaller Vols-au-Vents. I'll have to upload pictures of the finished product later (my camera is on the fritz at the moment), but believe me when I say you've gotta try this. Now. I don't care how long it takes to make puff pastry, or how much of an unexpected arm workout it is, or how finicky it is, or whatever else you may say. It's worth it, and it's SO much better than the store bought stuff. I tend to make it in large batches and freeze the extras for later use, and you can use the scraps for wonderful treats like palmiers. And really, do you need more motivation than palmiers?

Forming and Baking the Vols-au-Vent

Yield: 1/3 of the puff pastry recipe below will yield about 8-10 1.5” vols-au-vent or 4 4” vols-au-vent

In addition to the equipment listed above, you will need:
-well-chilled puff pastry dough (recipe below)
-egg wash (1 egg or yolk beaten with a small amount of water)
-your filling of choice

Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

Using a knife or metal bench scraper, divided your chilled puff pastry dough into three equal pieces. Work with one piece of the dough, and leave the rest wrapped and chilled. (If you are looking to make more vols-au-vent than the yield stated above, you can roll and cut the remaining two pieces of dough as well…if not, then leave refrigerated for the time being or prepare it for longer-term freezer storage. See the “Tips” section below for more storage info.)

On a lightly floured surface, roll the piece of dough into a rectangle about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick. Transfer it to the baking sheet and refrigerate for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the cutting.

(This assumes you will be using round cutters, but if you do not have them, it is possible to cut square vols-au-vents using a sharp chef’s knife.) For smaller, hors d'oeuvre sized vols-au-vent, use a 1.5” round cutter to cut out 8-10 circles. For larger sized vols-au-vent, fit for a main course or dessert, use a 4” cutter to cut out about 4 circles. Make clean, sharp cuts and try not to twist your cutters back and forth or drag your knife through the dough. Half of these rounds will be for the bases, and the other half will be for the sides. (Save any scrap by stacking—not wadding up—the pieces…they can be re-rolled and used if you need extra dough. If you do need to re-roll scrap to get enough disks, be sure to use any rounds cut from it for the bases, not the ring-shaped sides.)

Using a ¾-inch cutter for small vols-au-vent, or a 2- to 2.5-inch round cutter for large, cut centers from half of the rounds to make rings. These rings will become the sides of the vols-au-vent, while the solid disks will be the bottoms. You can either save the center cut-outs to bake off as little “caps” for you vols-au-vent, or put them in the scrap pile.

Dock the solid bottom rounds with a fork (prick them lightly, making sure not to go all the way through the pastry) and lightly brush them with egg wash. Place the rings directly on top of the bottom rounds and very lightly press them to adhere. Brush the top rings lightly with egg wash, trying not to drip any down the sides (which may inhibit rise). If you are using the little “caps,” dock and egg wash them as well.

Refrigerate the assembled vols-au-vent on the lined baking sheet while you pre-heat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). (You could also cover and refrigerate them for a few hours at this point.)

Once the oven is heated, remove the sheet from the refrigerator and place a silicon baking mat (preferred because of its weight) or another sheet of parchment over top of the shells. This will help them rise evenly. Bake the shells until they have risen and begin to brown, about 10-15 minutes depending on their size. Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF (180ºC), and remove the silicon mat or parchment sheet from the top of the vols-au-vent. If the centers have risen up inside the vols-au-vent, you can gently press them down. Continue baking (with no sheet on top) until the layers are golden, about 15-20 minutes more. (If you are baking the center “caps” they will likely be finished well ahead of the shells, so keep an eye on them and remove them from the oven when browned.)

Remove to a rack to cool. Cool to room temperature for cold fillings or to warm for hot fillings.

Fill and serve.

*For additional rise on the larger-sized vols-au-vents, you can stack one or two additional ring layers on top of each other (using egg wash to "glue"). This will give higher sides to larger vols-au-vents, but is not advisable for the smaller ones, whose bases may not be large enough to support the extra weight.

*Although they are at their best filled and eaten soon after baking, baked vols-au-vent shells can be stored airtight for a day.

*Shaped, unbaked vols-au-vent can be wrapped and frozen for up to a month (bake from frozen, egg-washing them first).

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough
From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough

Steph’s note: This recipe makes more than you will need for the quantity of vols-au-vent stated above. While I encourage you to make the full recipe of puff pastry, as extra dough freezes well, you can halve it successfully if you’d rather not have much leftover.

There is a wonderful on-line video from the PBS show “Baking with Julia” that accompanies the book. In it, Michel Richard and Julia Child demonstrate making puff pastry dough (although they go on to use it in other applications). They do seem to give slightly different ingredient measurements verbally than the ones in the book…I listed the recipe as it appears printed in the book.

2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter

plus extra flour for dusting work surface

Mixing the Dough:

Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.

Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)

Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that's about 1" thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.

Incorporating the Butter:

Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10" square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with "ears," or flaps.

Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don't just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8" square.

To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.

Making the Turns:

Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24" (don't worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24", everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).

With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.

Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24" and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.

Chilling the Dough:

If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you've completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.

The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Out and About: Illinois Wine Festival

It seems we moved to Chicagoland just in time for every local oenophile's favorite time of year. Each weekend since we have moved here, there have been no less than 3 wine festivals within an hour's drive; this weekend, we decided to break from our usual routine of exploring our new stomping grounds to visit the Vintage Illinois festival at Starved Rock. Saturday proved to be a day made of the quintessential end of summer/ beginning of fall perfection I love: warm in the sun, yet chilly in the shade; trees barely kissed with varied autumnal colors; and air charged with the feeling that change is coming soon. One couldn't ask for a better day to celebrate the fruits of the vine.

We spent a couple of lazy hours slowly weaving through the crowds, people watching and, of course, sipping wine- some inexplicably bad, and some surprisingly good. Piasa Winery's semi-dry River Road Red, for example, surprised my palate with a tumble of fresh strawberries and almost no discernible acid. Mr. Milk and Honey's favorite, Starved Rock Marketplace's Pink Catawba, was another delightfully fruity wine perfect for everyday drinking; their Rose, however, was too acidic for both of us and ended up in the dump bin after one small sip. Galena Cellars Winery showcased their best wine, a decent semi-dry Oktoberfest (a blend of Riesling and Muscat grapes), and their worst wine, a Muscat Canelli reminiscent of mildly alcoholic simple syrup. Possibly the most disappointing wine we sampled came from Mary Michelle Winery, who advertised wines that they didn't actually have. Though I'm not a huge fan of fruit wines, I wanted to try their apple wine; instead, they gave me a taste of Mad Squirrel, an uninspiring, flat wine they said was comparable to their absent apple wine. Not surprisingly, my Mad Squirrel promptly found itself in the dump bucket.

My vote for the prettiest wine would go to Baxter's Vineyard and Winery's jewel-toned Sweet Red blend. If you could take a bright red ruby and melt it together with sunshine, it would probably look like this wine; but lest you think this wine is all looks and no substance, it's also full of deliciously sweet cherry- too sweet for my tastes, but still very good- and underlying blackberry and a very subtle smokiness that's almost too evasive to mention. My favorite dry red was easily Village Vintner Winery's aptly named Ziggy, a peppery, fruit forward blend that, once it hits the palate, just won't quit. I also tried Village Vintner's dessert port, Cocoa d'Orange, which had an amazing aroma and a pleasant enough flavor up front that quickly led to a bitter, acrid finish. Cooper's Hawk Winery's Sparkling Almond wine proved the most surprising wine of the day. I was absolutely sure I would hate it, and I thought I had validated my suspicions within the first second or two of my first sip- it was a bit boring and flat- but within another second, the taste and perfume of perfectly toasted almonds stopped me in my tracks. I wouldn't necessarily buy it by the case, but I'd bet that it would be a nice wine to have up your sleeve for a dessert pairing.

Our final tasting of the day came from Wild Blossom Meadery and Winery. I've never had mead before, so I'm not sure how this mead stacks up against others, but I do know that I loved it. I tried a honeyed mead that had been aged in a bourbon cask, which gave it a stunning aroma of, well, honey with a touch of bourbon, and the taste? It made me want to sit in front of a cozy fire, or cuddle up with a warm blanket on a large wooden porch swing and get lost in a book. It's very sweet, so it's definitely something of which I would only want a few sips, but there is something decidedly charming and medieval about mead, and I think I might get a bottle to have around during the holidays.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Stuffed Red Peppers

Or rather, stuffing that you can use to stuff red peppers but is just as good (or better) eaten alone. This has quickly become my favorite dinner staple for a busy weeknight, though Mr. Milk and Honey prefers to eat it as a side dish when we have leftover meat of some sort, because for him, veggies and grain alone doth not a meal make. Though we may not agree about what role this dish should have on our dinner plate, we both enjoy the combination of fennel, zucchini, chickpeas, and tomato, and we love how the feta cheese lends itself to a wonderfully creamy texture in which the little bits of quinoa shine. The best part? It makes fantastic leftovers for lunch, and if you're like me, you'll find yourself looking forward to busy weeknights just so you'll have an excuse to make it again.

Quinoa and Feta Stuffed Peppers
Adapted from Epicurious

The original recipe calls for couscous, but I usually have quinoa on hand. Either grain works well.

Vegetable-oil cooking spray
1 1/4 cups fat-free chicken or vegetable broth
2/3 cup quinoa
4 large bell peppers, mixed colors
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
6 oz zucchini, quartered lengthwise then sliced across thinly
6 oz yellow squash, quartered lengthwise then sliced across thinly
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
15 oz canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 oz crumbled feta cheese (about 1 cup)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F F. Coat a small baking dish with cooking spray.

2. Bring the broth to a boil in a saucepan, add the couscous, cover the pan and remove it from the heat. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cut the stems and top half inch off the bell peppers and scoop out the seeds and membranes. Boil trimmed peppers for 5 minutes, then drain them upside down*.

3. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet. Add onion, zucchini, yellow squash, fennel seeds, oregano, and salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or until vegetables are softened. Remove from heat and stir in the tomatoes and chickpeas. Using a fork, scrape the couscous into the skillet and toss with the vegetables. Stir in the crumbled feta. Place peppers upright in the baking dish and fill them with couscous. Bake 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

* Instead of boiling, I prefer to roast my peppers in the oven for about 15 minutes before stuffing and baking them.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lebanese Lamb Chops + Bulgar with Herbs

For you shrewd observers out there, no, that's not lamb. It's goat, but this recipe works equally well with either meat, and I just so happen to have a lot of young goat chilling away in my freezer, sidled up to my 35+ lbs of beef bones I scored from a local butcher shop that, unfortunately, is going out of business. Oh, do I have plans...

But back to the goat. I still haven't decided if I prefer goat curry to grilled goat, but the seasoning in this recipe just might sway me to the grilled side (which is crazy considering how much I adore curry). I generally don't eat more than a couple of bites of meat with my meals (unless it's dispersed in small pieces throughout a dish, like, shall we say, curry), but I ate 2 of these chops. Due in great part to cinnamon, the spice blend has a warming effect on your sinuses, leaving a pleasant perfume lingering in your head long after your last bite. The minty/lemony/sweet hit from the accompanying salad adds a nice final touch. Serve this alongside a savory bulgar salad balanced with mint, cilantro, lemon, and scallions, and you've got a wonderful pick-me-up meal to stave off the mid-week schlumpies.

Lebanese Lamb Chops

2 large lemons
1 tsp sugar
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp baharat*
2 lbs rib lamb chops
2 heads bibb lettuce, torn into large pieces
1 1/2 cups mint leaves

1. Prepare grill for cooking over medium-hot charcoal (medium-high for gas).

2. Grate 2 tsp zest from 1 lemon. Trim ends of both lemons, then stand lemons on a cut side and cut peel, including pith, from lemons with a sharp paring knife. Discard peel and cut lemon segments free from membranes, then cut segments crosswise into 1/4" pieces. Toss segments gently with sugar in a small bowl and stir in 2 Tbsp oil. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.

3. Mince and mash garlic to a paste with 1/2 tsp salt, then stir together with baharat, grated zest, remaining oil, and 1/2 tsp pepper. Rub into lamb chops.

4. Toss lettuce with and mint with lemon mixture.

5. Grill chops, turning once, about 6 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer to a plate and let rest, loosely covered, 5 minutes. Serve chops over salad.

*Baharat can be found in most Indian markets, or you can make your own by grinding 1 tsp each of whole cloves, cumin seeds, Maras or Aleppo pepper (or, if you can't find either of these, a pinch of cayenne is better than nothing), and a 3" cinnamon stick in an electric spice grinder until finely ground.

Bulgar with Herbs

This salad is just as good (if not better) after sitting in the fridge. Even though I'm only cooking for 2, I make the full recipe and use the leftovers for lunches through the week.

1 cup bulgar
2 cups boiling-hot water
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 cup chopped scallions
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped mint
1 Tbsp roasted almond oil or olive oil
1 tsp fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

1. Put bulgar in a bowl, then pour water over it and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand until tender, about 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a small heavy skillet over medium heat until hot and cook almonds until golden, about 1 minute.

3. Drain bulgar in a medium mesh sieve, then return to bowl and stir in scallions, herbs, oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and almonds. Season with more salt and lemon juice if desired. Serve at room temperature.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Apple Almond Streusel Bars: Welcoming Autumn

This weekend was relaxing and fun, complete with dinner at Urban Belly in Chicago (if you haven't tried them before, go. Like now. Their udon is perfection in a bowl). This morning, though, I woke up asking myself the same question I woke up asking myself on the morning after we returned from our honeymoon: what now? Since May, we've had so much to do, whether job searching, visiting family and friends, or packing up our bags and moving, but it's over now. We're back to normality, and though this is exactly what I've been wanting since we left Kansas, it's strange. Nice, but strange.

Of course, in typically predictable Nic fashion, when I didn't know what to do this afternoon, I baked. I know it's not officially autumn yet, but September in Chicago is chilly enough to convince this Virginia girl that it's time to break out the apples, cinnamon, and everything else that screams crunchy leaves and crisp breezes. This recipe is a jacked-up version of a recipe in Baked: New Frontiers in Baking . I changed the decidedly summery lemon berry filling to a fall-friendly apple one, added more cinnamon, and tweaked the crumb by adding almonds. If you're reading between the lines here, this is a very versatile bar that you could fill with pretty much anything to fit the season. I'm thinking a splash of cognac or a pinch of cloves would be great additions to the filling, but it's delicious as is.

Apple Almond Streusel Bars

1 1/2 cups AP flour
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/3 cups rolled oats (Not instant, please)
1/2 cup whole almonds
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces

Apple Filling:
1/4 cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar (more or less to taste, depending on the sweetness of your apples. I used fairly tart apples).
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons AP flour
2 medium-sized apples of your choice, peeled and chopped into small dice
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch glass baking pan, set aside.

2. In a food processor, pulse flour, brown sugar, oats, almonds,salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon together until just combined. Add butter and pulse until crumb forms.

3. Reserve at least 1 cup of crumb mixture (I reserved about 1 1/3 cups). Place the rest of the crumb into the greased pan and press into an even layer. Bake until golden, about 10-15 minutes.

4. While the crust bakes, mix together the brown sugar, cinnamon and flour together. Add the apples and butter and gently toss until the apples are coated.

5. Spread the apples evenly across the baked crumb and sprinkle the reserved crumb across the apple filling. Bake 30-40 minutes until the top is golden brown. Let cool completely before serving.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Grilled Peaches

Looks good, eh? Whenever we grill, we try to make good use of our charcoal (read: we're too cheap to just let the coals burn down and let them go to waste, so we grill everything in sight until our little coals turn into an exhausted pile of ash). Usually, that means we end up with a bounty of grilled vegetables to use later in the week, but last night, there was nary a veggie in sight. We did, however, have too many not-so-fabulous peaches and no desire to eat them as they were. After staring down said peaches for a few seconds, the hubs and I shot each other a couple of shifty-eyed sideways glances, then a knowing nod, and with just a few deft swipes of a paring knife and some help from brown sugar, we knew we had a good thing going. It's so easy: slice the peaches in half, sprinkle some brown sugar on them, drop them onto the grill, drool as you watch the brown sugar carmelize and slowly drip towards the hot coals... These babies are great straight off the grill, but they're equally as good with fresh mint or rosemary over vanilla ice cream or sliced and served over toasted pound cake. I feel silly posting this since it's so simple, but it's too good to not share.

Grilled Peaches

Several peaches or nectarines, halved, pits removed
Brown sugar

1. Rub flesh side of peach halves with a generous amount of brown sugar and let sit for a few minutes.

2. Place peaches on grill, flesh side down. Grill for 1-2 minutes or until grill marks appear on the peaches. Remove from grill and serve immediately, or refrigerate for future use.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Goat Curry

Friends, we've finally made it to the Chicago area and, with the exception of a few boxes of textbooks and binders, we are completely unpacked. We've become experts at this whole moving process, but it still feels unreal to us. This summer has been difficult, thanks in great part to two moves across the country and crushing family upheavals that have left me feeling more than a little unsettled. It's strange to finally be in our own place, away from the epicenter of everything. Please don't mistake me- we're absolutely thrilled to be living here, and we are having more fun than we probably should be having exploring our new stomping grounds. We love our new home and the area in which we live; it's just going to take a little time to relax back into our own routine. That said, the hubs and I have already found several markets that we plan to frequent. Yesterday, we happened upon a halal market and stepped in with the intention to pick up some tahini; instead, we left with several pounds of fresh, young goat and every intention of shopping there weekly.

I opted to make a goat curry with the meat, simply because I wanted something easy with complex flavor, and because I absolutely adore curry. It's definitely my kind of comfort food, and did I mention how good this stuff will make your house smell? Seriously, with all the different curries out there, I'm pretty sure I could just sample different curry for the rest of my life and be happy. I didn't actually take the time to roast and powder my own peppers, or to go into any long preparation for this dish. I just used the powdered spices and it still turned out well. It's a wonderful way to welcome those cooler months that are creeping in on us, and if you're like me, you'll find yourself craving the aroma almost as much as you crave the taste.

Goat Curry


1 1/2 lb young goat (or lamb) cut into bite sized pieces
1 tbsp ginger paste
1 tbsp garlic paste
1 tbsp red chili powder (more or less, to taste)
1 tbsp coriander powder
1/2 tbsp black pepper powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 tsp cumin powder
Salt,to taste

2 cups chopped onions
1/2 split green chili, seeds removed (or more to taste)
2 tsp. fenugreek seeds
3-4 curry leaves
2 cups coconut milk
1 tsp garam masala powder
Juice from half a large lime


1. Rub the meat with a paste made out of the ingredients listed for the rub above. Let stand for 20 minutes at room temperature.

2. Heat oil in a deep pot and add the fenugreek seeds, onions, green chilies and curry leaves.

3. Once the onions start to brown, add the marinated meat pieces to the pot and stir well.

4. Add 1 1/2 cups of hot water and mix well. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes.

5. Add the coconut milk. Mix well and cook until the meat is tender, about ten minutes.

6. Add the garam masala and the lime juice and mix well. Remove from heat and serve over rice.

Note: Fenugreek can be hard to find, and unfortunately, I don't know of any good substitutes. If you can't find the whole seeds, try using powdered fenugreek and just adding it in with the rub. This is a milder curry- for more heat, use the whole green chili.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Lemon Buttermilk Cake

Remember a few months ago when I was drowning in lemons? I wish I would have had this recipe on hand back then. Not that having too many lemons is a bad problem to have, but finding a variety ways to use the juice and zest of 60+ huge lemons can be difficult. I made lemonade, lemon curd, lemon cake, lemon everything without even putting a dent in my stash before the hubs and I were completely lemoned out (if such a thing is possible). Long story short, I still have a substantial amount of lemon juice and zest in my freezer and only a few days in which to use it before we move to Chicago. This cake is particularly good for using up a lot of lemon in one shot, thanks to the surprising amount of juice needed for the batter and the soaking syrup; even better, though, is that it tastes so good, you'll want to double the recipe and give some away as a gift. Make it a day in advance so the soaking syrup has time to thoroughly moisten the cake, and so the initially strong lemon flavor can mellow into a pleasant balance of tang and sweetness. I'd also like to try skipping the final glaze and serving the cake with this instead, but this cake is perfect as is.

Lemon Buttermilk Cake
(Adapted from Ina Garten)

* 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
* 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
* 4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
* 1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
* 3 cups flour
* 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt
* 3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
* 3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the glaze:

* 2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
* 3 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 2 (8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch) loaf pans. You may also line the bottom with parchment paper, if desired.

Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, and the lemon zest.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. When the cakes are done, allow to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and set them on a rack set over a tray or sheet pan; spoon the lemon syrup over them. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and the lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth. Pour over the tops of the cakes and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Dobos Torte

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful
of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos
Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite
Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

Disclaimer: I have no pictures, because... well... I really didn't like this particular dessert. Somewhere among the pudding-like chocolate buttercream, the strangely textured cake layers, and the strong lemon flavor in the caramel, it just lost all appeal to my eye and my palate. I wish I could elaborate more, but at the moment, the moving guys are here packing up everything, and the car movers are supposed to be here soon. Forgive my brevity, but I've got a busy day ahead.

Dobos Torte


* 2 baking sheets
* 9” (23cm) springform tin and 8” cake tin, for templates
* mixing bowls (1 medium, 1 large)
* a sieve
* a double boiler (a large saucepan plus a large heat-proof mixing bowl which fits snugly over the top of the pan)
* a small saucepan
* a whisk (you could use a balloon whisk for the entire cake, but an electric hand whisk or stand mixer will make life much easier)
* metal offset spatula
* sharp knife
* a 7 1/2” cardboard cake round, or just build cake on the base of a sprinfrom tin.
* piping bag and tip, optional

Prep times

* Sponge layers 20 mins prep, 40 mins cooking total if baking each layer individually.
* Buttercream: 20 mins cooking. Cooling time for buttercream: about 1 hour plus 10 minutes after this to beat and divide.
* Caramel layer: 10-15 minutes.
* Assembly of whole cake: 20 minutes

Sponge cake layers

* 6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
* 1 1/3 cups (162g) confectioner's (icing) sugar, divided
* 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
* 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (112g) sifted cake flour (SUBSTITUTE 95g plain flour + 17g cornflour (cornstarch) sifted together)
* pinch of salt

Chocolate Buttercream

* 4 large eggs, at room temperature
* 1 cup (200g) caster (ultrafine or superfine white) sugar
* 4oz (110g) bakers chocolate or your favourite dark chocolate, finely chopped
* 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250g) unsalted butter, at room temperature.

Caramel topping

* 1 cup (200g) caster (superfine or ultrafine white) sugar
* 12 tablespoons (180 ml) water
* 8 teaspoons (40 ml) lemon juice
* 1 tablespoon neutral oil (e.g. grapeseed, rice bran, sunflower)

Finishing touches

* a 7” cardboard round
* 12 whole hazelnuts, peeled and toasted
* ½ cup (50g) peeled and finely chopped hazelnuts

Directions for the sponge layers:
(The sponge layers can be prepared in advance and stored interleaved with parchment and well-wrapped in the fridge overnight).

1.Position the racks in the top and centre thirds of the oven and heat to 400F (200C).

2.Cut six pieces of parchment paper to fit the baking sheets. Using the bottom of a 9" (23cm) springform tin as a template and a dark pencil or a pen, trace a circle on each of the papers, and turn them over (the circle should be visible from the other side, so that the graphite or ink doesn't touch the cake batter.)

3.Beat the egg yolks, 2/3 cup (81g) of the confectioner's (icing) sugar, and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a mixer on high speed until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and forms a thick ribbon when the beaters are lifted a few inches above the batter, about 3 minutes. (You can do this step with a balloon whisk if you don't have a mixer.)

4.In another bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2/3 cup (81g) of confectioner's (icing)sugar until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, stir about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the remainder, leaving a few wisps of white visible. Combine the flour and salt. Sift half the flour over the eggs, and fold in; repeat with the remaining flour.

5.Line one of the baking sheets with a circle-marked paper. Using a small offset spatula, spread about 3/4cup of the batter in an even layer, filling in the traced circle on one baking sheet. Bake on the top rack for 5 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed gently in the centre and the edges are lightly browned. While this cake bakes, repeat the process on the other baking sheet, placing it on the centre rack. When the first cake is done, move the second cake to the top rack. Invert the first cake onto a flat surface and carefully peel off the paper. Slide the cake layer back onto the paper and let stand until cool. Rinse the baking sheet under cold running water to cool, and dry it before lining with another parchment. Continue with the remaining papers and batter to make a total of six layers. Completely cool the layers. Using an 8" springform pan bottom or plate as a template, trim each cake layer into a neat round. (A small serrated knife is best for this task.)

Directions for the chocolate buttercream:
(This can be prepared in advance and kept chilled until required).

1.Prepare a double-boiler: quarter-fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil.
2.Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale and thickened, about five minutes. You can use a balloon whisk or electric hand mixer for this.
3.Fit bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan (water should not touch bowl) and lower the heat to a brisk simmer. Cook the egg mixture, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes until you see it starting to thicken a bit. Whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and cook, stirring, for a further 2-3 minutes.
4.Scrape the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. It should be quite thick and sticky in consistency.
5.When cool, beat in the soft butter, a small piece (about 2 tablespoons/30g) at a time. An electric hand mixer is great here, but it is possible to beat the butter in with a spatula if it is soft enough. You should end up with a thick, velvety chocolate buttercream. Chill while you make the caramel topping.

Lorraine's note: If you're in Winter just now your butter might not soften enough at room temperature, which leads to lumps forming in the buttercream. Male sure the butter is of a very soft texture I.e. running a knife through it will provide little resistance, before you try to beat it into the chocolate mixture. Also, if you beat the butter in while the chocolate mixture is hot you'll end up with more of a ganache than a buttercream!

Directions for the caramel topping:

1.Choose the best-looking cake layer for the caramel top. To make the caramel topping: Line a jellyroll pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Place the reserved cake layer on the paper. Score the cake into 12 equal wedges. Lightly oil a thin, sharp knife and an offset metal spatula.
2.Stir the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring often to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved into a smooth syrup, turn the heat up to high and boil without stirring, swirling the pan by the handle occasionally and washing down any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan with a wet brush until the syrup has turned into an amber-coloured caramel.
3.The top layer is perhaps the hardest part of the whole cake so make sure you have a oiled, hot offset spatula ready. I also find it helps if the cake layer hasn't just been taken out of the refrigerator. I made mine ahead of time and the cake layer was cold and the toffee set very, very quickly—too quickly for me to spread it. Immediately pour all of the hot caramel over the cake layer. You will have some leftover most probably but more is better than less and you can always make nice toffee pattern using the extra to decorate. Using the offset spatula, quickly spread the caramel evenly to the edge of the cake layer. Let cool until beginning to set, about 30 seconds. Using the tip of the hot oiled knife (keep re-oiling this with a pastry brush between cutting), cut through the scored marks to divide the caramel layer into 12 equal wedges. Cool another minute or so, then use the edge of the knife to completely cut and separate the wedges using one firm slice movement (rather than rocking back and forth which may produce toffee strands). Cool completely.

Assembling the Dobos

1.Divide the buttercream into six equal parts.
2.Place a dab of chocolate buttercream on the middle of a 7 1/2” cardboard round and top with one cake layer. Spread the layer with one part of the chocolate icing. Repeat with 4 more cake layers. Spread the remaining icing on the sides of the cake.
3.Optional: press the finely chopped hazelnuts onto the sides of the cake.
4.Propping a hazelnut under each wedge so that it sits at an angle, arrange the wedges on top of the cake in a spoke pattern. If you have any leftover buttercream, you can pipe rosettes under each hazelnut or a large rosette in the centre of the cake. Refrigerate the cake under a cake dome until the icing is set, about 2 hours. Let slices come to room temperature for the best possible flavour.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Another Big Change + Lemon Buttermilk Raspberry Muffcakes

People, this summer has been crazy. A few months ago, with only a week's notice, the hubs and I packed up our lives and moved across the country; this week, we do it again. Our destination? Chicago. It's going to be easier this time, though, because we haven't unpacked anything and have been living in limbo for the past 4 months, and the fact that we love the Chicago area helps make another quick move more palatable (though I'm totally ignoring the fact that Chicago is known for its brutally cold winters and I've never lived anywhere north of Northern Virginia. I lack that particular cold weather gene, so I'll probably be perpetually miserable for like 10 months out of the year, but I can adapt. Maybe. If you're ever in the Chicago area and you want to find me, just look for the woman wearing ski gear while everyone else is still in shorts. That'll be me). I'm not complaining, though. Chicago is a foodie's paradise with no shortage of fantastic restaurants, markets, and specialty shops to keep the hubs and me occupied. That said, forgive me if my posts are sparse over the next couple of weeks. I'll be a bit busy :).

I made these delicious little muffins a couple of days ago, and they were a hit. They're more cake than muffin (leading my husband to dub his "the muffcake"), so unless you routinely eat cookies and ice cream for breakfast, don't think of these as a breakfast item. They're sweet, with a slightly tart bite from the buttermilk and a hint of lemon that perfectly compliments the single raspberry atop each muffin. They're simple, satisfying, and all-around perfect.

Lemon Raspberry Buttermilk Muffcakes

(from Bon Appetit)
Makes 12-18 muffins (I got 17 out of this recipe)

1 1/8 cups sugar, divided
4 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
One fresh raspberry per muffin

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line muffin cups with paper liners or spray with nonstick spray. Mash 1/8 cup sugar and lemon peel together in small bowl until lemon peel releases oils and moistens sugar. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl. In a large bowl, beat remaining 1 cup sugar and butter in large bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in egg, then buttermilk, then vanilla and lemon sugar. Beat in flour mixture.

Divide batter among muffin cups (I filled mine about 1/2 to 2/3). Place one raspberry on each muffin and bake until tester comes clean, about 20 minutes.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cardamom Plum Compote

Mmm... wild red plums. We came across several baskets of these at our local farmers' market over the weekend. It almost seems like a crime to eat these precious little gems in any form other than the way nature intended- fresh and unadulterated; however, we found ourselves driving home from the market with more plums than we could possibly eat before they spoiled. What can I say? I have no self control.

Instead of letting my bounty go to waste, I threw together a quick compote, because really, there's never any good reason to throw away fruit. They're incredibly easy to throw together, they're a great way to use up excess fruit, and they're about the most versatile thing you'll ever make. They're fun to experiment with, and it's hard to go wrong: strawberries and red wine, peaches and ginger, or just raspberry with a hit of lemon. Berries and stone fruits work wonderfully, and you can it on anything from vanilla ice cream to lemon cake. I generally use 10 parts fruit to 1 part sugar, though that will vary based upon the sweetness of your fruit. I like to keep mine on the tart side since I usually use them to compliment a sweeter dessert. At any rate, I love keeping compotes on hand, because nothing takes dessert to the next level like a spoonful of this stuff.

Cardamom Plum Compote

This makes a small amount of compote, enough for 4-6 people.

Eight to ten small wild red plums, cut into smallish chunks
Sugar, to taste
One generous pinch of cardamom
1/4 tsp. vanilla

Heat fruit and sugar in a small saucepan until the fruit gives off liquid. Add cardamom, simmer 5-10 minutes until enough liquid has evaporated and compote has thickened. Stir in vanilla, adjust sugar (if needed), and simmer another minute. Let cool.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I should have titled this post as "Challah: Epic Fail," but then no one would want to read it. This was my second attempt at this lovely braided bread, but I still didn't get it right. Sure, it looks pretty, and I thoroughly enjoyed kneading and braiding the dough, but the taste and texture were nowhere near what I expected. I'm no expert on challah- my only experience with it is the stuff you get at a high-end grocery store bakery, which isn't bad, but I imagine the real stuff must taste better. I've heard several people who know what they're talking about (you know, those lucky people with Jewish grandmas who make it right) describe it as a rich egg bread, like brioche. I'm quite familiar with good brioche, and let me tell you- this challah didn't exactly remind me of anything remotely close to brioche. It was marginally better than the store bought stuff, but not nearly eggy or tender enough to convince me that I got it right. I know it's just a matter of finding the right recipe, but I hope I don't have too many more failures before I get it right.


1 1/2 Tbsp. active dry yeast
1 Tbsp. plus 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus extra to oil the bowl
5 eggs
1 Tbsp. salt
7 to 7 1/2 cups AP flour

1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 Tbsp. sugar in 1 3/4 cups of warm water. Whisk oil into yeast, then mix in 4 eggs one at a time with 1/2 cup sugar and salt. Gradually add flour until dough can be kneaded.

2. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Place dough into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for an hour or until doubled in size. Punch down, cover, and let rise again in a warm place for half an hour.

3. Divide the dough in half, then divide each half into 6 equal parts and roll each part into a 12" rope (this will make enough for 2 loaves of 6 braid challah). Pinch the ends of 6 ropes together and braid the challah. Place each loaf on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

4. Beat remaining egg and brush onto challah (save enough for a second brushing) and let rise another hour.

5. Preheat oven to 375 and brush loaves with the remainder of the egg. Bake in the center of the oven for 35-45 minutes or until golden. I usually have to put a layer of foil over the top of my challah after 20 minutes to prevent the top from darkening too quickly.