Category Archives: recipe

Amigthalota (Flourless Almond Cookies)

I found it difficult not to pick them up by the stems as if they were real pears, resulting in several sad almond pears on the ground. But of course, I ate them anyway.

I have a bunch of almond flour in my cupboard leftover from my last flirtation with low-carb eating.* So this recipe published recently in the Miami Herald caught my attention. Just five ingredients—almond flour, powdered sugar, lemon zest, egg whites, and almond extract. Decorative clove “stems” optional.

like pears in the snow, which makes no sense, but is kind of pretty anyway They’re similar to marzipan, but not as sweet. Only 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar in the recipe goes into the cookies, and even a generous coating will only use another 1/2 cup, so most of the 2 1/2 cups called for is just for storing them. I’m not totally sure what the point of that is. I guess it might prevent them from absorbing moisture, although an air-tight container would probably suffice, especially if you eat them quickly.

The powdered sugar might detract a little bit from the pear resemblance, but it covers the cracks that appear during baking and I’m not sure they’d be quite sweet enough for me without it. If you generally like your sweets sweeter, you might want to double the amount of sugar in the dough. If that makes it too dry to work with, just add a little water. I suspect you could probably replace the egg whites with water if you wanted to make them vegan. There are other recipes that call for orange flower water and no eggs. I imagine you could use cinnamon and a dash of cayenne in place of the lemon zest for a spiced version.

But I’m also pretty pleased with what you get by following recipe as written—crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, not overly sweet, and kind of adorable.

before baking after baking

*In the short term, low-carb diets tend to perform better for both weight loss and health indicators like blood lipids than low-fat or calorie-restriction diets, but in most long-term controlled studies low-carb doesn’t do much (if any) better. As with most diet research, it’s hard to tell if the long-term failure is because most people stop following the diet or if weight regain happens even when people stick to the diet. If the former, it’s unclear if that’s primarily a psychological issue (will-power is a limited resource) or if there are physiological reasons (e.g. decreased leptin levels depress metabolism and increase appetite). Or both. Anyhow, I’m not interested in losing weight (or it might be more accurate to say I am interested in not being interested in losing weight), but many low carb adherents also claim to experience improved well-being, mental clarity, etc. so I was sufficiently intrigued to try it few times. Mostly it seems to make me slightly lethargic and depressed, so I never last longer than a couple of months.

Recipe: Amigthalota (Flourless Almond Cookies)
from the Miami Herald, who adapted it from The Complete Middle East Cookbook by Tess Mallos (Tuttle, original recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, so I probably used more; can reduce or eliminate if desired1999)

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups ground almonds
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar (only about 1 cup really necessary)
  • 2 egg whites
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 drops almond extract
  • 25-30 whole cloves (optional)

Method:

1. Whisk together the ground almonds and 1/2 cup sugar. Beat the egg whites until slightly frothy and stir them into the almond-sugar mixture. Add the lemon zest and almond extract and stir until it forms a firm dough.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly coat your hands with oil or butter, pinch off walnut-sized pieces of dough and roll them between your palms to form smooth balls. Or, if desired, mold into a pear shape and stick a clove in the top.

3. Bake about 20 minutes, until set and lightly browned. If they look like they’re browning too quickly, cover them with another sheet of parchment paper.

4. While still warm, dip or roll the cookies in some of the remaining powered sugar and then let cool. Store in an airtight container, sprinkled with the rest of the powdered sugar (probably optional).

although pears seem to be traditional, I'm sure other shapes would also work; it's not quite as malleable as marzipan, but almost.

Sautéed White Fish with Red Curry Coconut Sauce

not my prettiest plating. if you care, i'm sure you can do better

Fighting Frozen Fish Apathy

I got into sort of rut with frozen fish filets. Melt some butter in a skillet, toss in a few cloves of minced garlic, season the fish with salt and pepper and maybe a dusting of flour and some dill or curry powder or Old Bay, cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, and voila: dinner. Practically instant, and usually at least moderately tasty. But so boring.

So boring that at least once in recent memory, I let a package of filets go to waste. For the first few days after I’d pulled them out of the freezer, I could tell myself they might still be partially frozen. And I think there was something else in the refrigerator in more eminent danger of spoiling. And then I might have ended up eating dinner out once or twice. And I might have had one of those days when I ordered take out because taking even five minutes to put a piece of fish in a pan and flip it once while nuking some peas seemed too onerous. So the fish entered this sad limbo state where it might have still been edible and I didn’t really want to throw it away, but I also wasn’t particularly excited about opening up the package in case it wasn’t. Which made it all too easy to just ignore it for a few more days until it had reached an even sadder state where I was pretty sure  it wasn’t edible and I didn’t really even need to open the package to find out. Wasteful, profligate, shameful, I know. Lots of people don’t have enough to eat and people like me use far more than our share of resources.

not actually a cheese sauce, even though it sort of looks like oneAnyhow, this recipe isn’t going to solve world hunger or save the environment, but it managed to keep me from wasting another package of fish that was probably a day away from limbo. The sauce only takes a few minutes to throw together and reduces while you cook the fish, and it’s decidedly un-boring: velvety coconut milk infused with the classic combination of garlic and ginger, a little funk from the fish sauce, acid from the lime, mild heat from the curry paste, and bright cilantro to finish. If you wanted it spicier, you could double or triple the curry paste or use green instead of red. Including the Brussels sprouts, which I halved and braised for about 10 minutes in a cup of water, the whole meal took about 30 minutes from start to finish.

Recipe: Sautéed White Fish with Red Curry Coconut Sauce (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated cookbook)

2-4 servings (each 6-8 oz fish)

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 lbs boneless, skinless white fish filets—cod, tilapia, whitefish, catfish, etc.
  • 2 Tablespoons fat—butter, bacon drippings, oil, etc.
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (optional)

Sauce: 

  • 1 Tablespoon fat ginger, garlic, brown sugar, curry paste
  • a small knob of fresh ginger (about 2 teaspoons minced)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 2-4 teaspoons red curry paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 3 Tablespoons water
  • juice of half a lime (about 1 1/2 Tablespoons)
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 1-2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • salt and pepper

Method:

1. Heat 1 Tablespoon of fat in a small saucepan while you mince the ginger and garlic. Add them to the oil along with the curry paste and brown sugar and cook for about a minute

2. Add the coconut milk, water, lime juice, and fish sauce and simmer over medium heat for 5-6 minutes, until reduced to about a cup.

3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 Tablespoons of fat in a large skillet and season the fish filets with salt and pepper. Let the fish sit for a minute, until it starts to glisten and then dust with flour, if using.

4. Cook the fish in a single layer in the skillet, 2-3 minutes on each side for thin filets (1/4-1/2” thick),  3-5 minutes for thicker filets (1/2”+).

5. Add the cilantro to the sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve filets with sauce and lime wedges.

my flipping was maybe just a tad bit messy

Mini Zucchini Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

and tri-color candied citrus zest

The Fine Line Between Bread and Cake

Quiz!

1) What would you call a baked good comprised primarily of grated carrot, flour, sugar, eggs, butter or oil, spices, and baking soda/powder?

A) Bread
B) Cake
C) It depends on the proportion of fat: flour: sugar
D) It depends on how you combine the ingredients (i.e. whether the egg whites are beaten into foam)
E) It depends on the presence of cream cheese frosting, as does my eagerness/willingness to consume it

2) What would you call a baked good comprised primarily of grated zucchini, flour, sugar, eggs, butter or oil, spices, and baking soda/powder?

A) Bread
B Cake
C) It depends on the proportion of fat: flour: sugar
D) It depends on how you combine the ingredients (i.e. whether the egg whites are beaten into foam)
E) It depends on the presence of cream cheese frosting, as does my eagerness/willingness to consume it

If you answered C or D, I admire your attempt to make sense of a senseless world, but you get no points from me. If you chose E, I like where your priorities are, but I think you’re still wrong. For most Americans most of the time, #1 is carrot cake and #2 is zucchini bread, regardless of the ingredient proportions or method. It’s true that cake has generally come to refer to sweeter baked goods and bread to less-sweet ones, but that doesn’t seem to matter in the case of these grated-vegetable cake/breads. If it did, the inclusion of chocolate chips would make probably push you in the “cake” direction, but there are dozens of chocolate chip zucchini “bread” recipes and others that make the whole loaf chocolate, but are still named “bread.” Both probably fall into the categories of “quick bread” or “snack cake” but there’s no fixed culinary meaning for either of those categories either.

Anyhow, I blame whatever historical contingency landed chemically-leavened grated-carrot-containing baked objects in the “cake” bin and chemically-leavened grated-zucchini-containing baked objects in the “bread” bin for my failure to realize until now that the latter could also achieve its apotheosis under a mantle of sweetened cream cheese. And maybe I was too quick to dismiss answer E, because as soon as I realized I could frost what I would normally call zucchini bread, I was suddenly inclined to call it “cake.” In further naming hijinks, without the frosting, I’m pretty sure these become “muffins.” Right?

many tasty little muffins

Not The Answer to Zucchini Excess

My garden was the victim of serious neglect this year, so I’m not facing the Great Zucchini Glut of a typical July-August. If I were, I’d probably be knee-deep in fritters and garlicky almond sautés and wouldn’t waste my time with recipes like this, which use a pretty pathetic amount of zucchini. 2 cups? Please. A moderately-neglected garden can produce that much in the average Olympics break between NBC commercial broadcasts. This is also why recipes for zucchini bread so often describe the squash flavor as “delicate.” That means you really can’t taste the squash at all, but that’s a probably a good thing unless you’re into baked goods that taste like bitter, watery mush.

The grated squash adds some moisture, a hint of green (or yellow, depending on the color of your squash), and maybe a vague nutritional halo to the cake part. The brown sugar and vanilla in the frosting give it a kind of caramelly flavor, much like taffy apple dip. The citrus zest on top is mostly for color, but also adds a little sweet and sour crunch. If any or all of those things sound appealing and you have a solitary medium-sized summer squash you don’t know what to do with (or one or two little ones), this could be the recipe for you.

the citrus zest defintely makes it prettier, but it's really all about the cream cheese frosting

Recipe: Zucchini Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from Taste of Home, Ian Young via Martha Stewart, and ThatsSoYummy)

Ingredients

Cupcakes:

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour I used these two which was probably a little more than 2 cups, beer bottle for scale
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 medium or 2 small zucchini, shredded (1 1/2 – 2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup oil or melted butter
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup currants or raisins (optional) candying zest--this was a triple batch with 2 oranges, 3 lemons, and 2 limes

Frosting:

  • 4 oz (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened  
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup light-brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

Candied Citrus Zest

  • zest of 2-3 lemons, limes, and/or oranges
  • 1/3 cup water (plus much more for blanching zest)
  • 1/3 cup sugar, plus a few tablespoons more for sparkle

Method

Cupcakes:

1. Optional: if using currants or raisins, soak them in the orange juice (with a splash of booze, if you like) for a few hours or overnight.

currants submerged in the orange juice with a splash of cognac after 4-5 hours of soaking, all plumped up

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line muffin tins or coat with cooking spray or butter.

3. Whisk together the flour, sugars, spices, salt, and baking powder.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, vanilla, shredded zucchini, and currants or raisins with the soaking liquid (if using). Add this mixture to the flour and stir just until combined.

4. Fill prepared muffin tins approximately 2/3 full.

5. Bake for 12-15 minutes (18-22 minutes for standard muffin tins, 45-60 min in a standard loaf pan), until a tester comes out clean or the centers are at least 190F.

6. Let cool in pans 5-10 min, turn out of pans and continue cooling on racks for at least an hour before frosting.

Frosting:

1. Using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment or a spatula and lots of energy, beat the softened cream cheese until it’s soft and airy (3-5 minutes).

2. Add the softened butter and beat until evenly combined.

3. Add the brown sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth. It may be a little gritty at first, just keep beating and the sugar will dissolve.

4. Optional: add powdered sugar if desired to increase sweetness or to make it stiffer for piping.

5. Pipe or spread onto cooled cupcakes. Refrigerate if not serving immediately.

I just dipped the cupcakes in the frosting and swirled them around a little--much faster than piping. The extra makes a great dip for strawberries or apple slices.frosted but not yet zested

Candied Zest:

1. Peel fruits, minimizing white pith. Cut into shapes or strips as desired

this keeps well for a long time, so I made a big batch with 2 oranges, 3 small lemons, 2 limes; some people try to get all the white pith off, but I think blanching takes care of the bitterness cut into little strips, which is a little painstaking. could also use a zester that takes strips automatically to make it faster

2. Put peel in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 7-10 minutes and drain. Taste and repeat if desired. More blanching = less bitterness, but also less flavor.

3. Return the blanched peel to the pot and add sugar and water in saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook until the peel is translucent, 10-15 minutes. Remove peel pieces and separate onto waxed paper to let cool.

4. Optional: after 20-30 minutes, sprinkle with additional sugar and toss to coat. Continue to let dry 8-12 hours.

you can leave the zest unsugared, and then it'll look sort of glossy I prefer it with a little sparkle

Sweet Potato and Red Lentil Soup

not especially summery, but when you're living in AC all the time anyway, who cares? 

This is a new favorite. I improvised something like it a few weeks ago while staying at a stranger’s house with some friends. We were wandering around an unfamiliar supermarket trying to figure out how to make dinner in an unfamiliar kitchen, and someone grabbed some sweet potatoes because yams are a man’s crop. I decided they should become soup, and found some red lentils, coconut milk, smoked pork neck bones, and a cheap bottle of “Jerk Seasoning” (with cumin, coriander, fennel, turmeric, and chilis).

Back at the house, I simmered the smoked pork neck bones in water to start breaking them down while I prepped the “duh, soup” ingredients like onion and garlic. I also found a knob of ginger, so I minced that and threw it in, too. I added the lentils and sweet potatoes and Jerk Seasoning once the onions had started to caramelize and then added the pork bones with their broth and simmered it all until everything had melted into a thick stew and the meat was ready to fall off the bones. Coconut milk for creaminess, lemon for brightness, and a little salt. It turned out pretty tasty—smoky, sweet, spicy, and rich with the pork and coconut fat. We ate it with a super fast loaf of crusty no-knead bread (made with a full package of of rapid-rise yeast, 2 hour first rise, 30 min second rise, still damn tasty). It would be just as good with long-grain rice or flatbread or crackers or just all by itself.

after about 45 min of simmering, by the time you're ready to add it to the rest of the ingredients, the water should be cloudy and fat should be pooling on the surface chilis, turmeric, cloves, and cumin in the coffee grinder

It occurred to me later that it could have used a little cilantro, so I added some when I made it again at home, and I think that did improve it. In my own kitchen, I like to toast and grind the spices myself rather than using a prepared blend. You might not be able to taste the difference, but the smell of spices toasting in a pan is one of my favorite parts of cooking.

Variations

In this vegetarian version, I left out the sweet potatoes and used 8 oz fresh shiitake mushrooms, 2 cans of diced tomatoes, and mushroom bouillon in place of the pork bone broth. Still tasty. Like most soups, especially ones you make up on the fly, this recipe is very flexible. You could use another kind of lentil or dried peas, adjust the spices based on what you’ve got or use another kind of prepared blend, substitute cream or yogurt for the coconut milk (or skip that part entirely). If you want bigger, more distinct chunks of potato, leave them out until the last 30-40 minutes of cooking. If you keep kosher, you could substitute smoked turkey necks for the pork. Or leave the meat out entirely for a vegan version and use bouillon or vegetable broth instead, in which case you can reduce the cooking time to 1-2 hours or however long it takes for the lentils to be tender. To make up for the smokiness and umami you get from the bones, you can add some mushrooms, canned or fresh tomatoes, MSG, nutritional yeast, and/or liquid smoke.

Recipe: Sweet Potato and Red Lentil Soup

lentils, onions, garlic, ginger--the base of so many tasty mealsIngredients:

  • 2 onions 
  • 6-8 cloves of garlic
  • 2” piece of ginger
  • 2-3 Tablespoons butter, lard, or oil
  • 1-2 lbs smoked meat/bones (like ham hocks or turkey necks) OR 1-2 Tablespoons bouillon/MSG/nutritional yeast/liquid smoke
  • 8-12 cups of water or stock
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice, or 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 lb red lentils (about 2 cups) or split peas
  • 3 large sweet potatoes
  • spice blend below, or about 2 Tablespoons of curry powder or jerk seasoning or any other spice blend you like, preferably cumin-centric with a little heat
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • juice of 1 lemon or lime
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, plus more to garnish (or parsley if you’re cilantro-averse)
  • yay for toasting spicessalt and black pepper to taste

Spice blend (adapted from Post Punk Kitchen)

  • 2 teaspoons whole coriander seed 
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seed
  • 1 teaspoon whole fenugreek
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 4-6 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 dried red chili peppers (omit or remove the seeds if you don’t like heat)

1. If using smoked meat, put it in a large pot along with 8 cups of water and vinegar or wine and let simmer while you prep the other ingredients. The acid helps leach minerals from the bones.

2. Peel and dice the onions and mince the garlic and ginger. Heat your cooking fat of choice in another large pot for a couple of minutes and then add the onion, garlic, and ginger and cook until the onions are translucent and beginning to turn gold.

3. Meanwhile, peel and dice the sweet potatoes into roughly 1” cubes. Add them to the onion mixture and toss to coat in the fat.

chunking up some sweet potatoes

4. If using the homemade spice blend, toast the coriander, cumin, fenugreek, mustard, and cloves in a small pan for about 5 minutes or until fragrant and beginning to darken. Pulverize them along with the turmeric and chili peppers in a coffee grinder or with a mortar and pestle.

5. Add the spice blend to the onions and potatoes and stir to coat well. Add the red lentils, and the smoked meat & the liquid they’re simmering in OR 8 cups of water or broth and the bouillon.

6. Simmer for at least two hours, stirring occasionally and adding more water if it gets too thick. About an hour before you want to eat, remove the bones/meat (if using) and let cool for 30 minutes. Pick the meat off the bones and add it back into the soup.

7. Add the coconut milk, lemon or lime juice, and cilantro. Add salt and pepper to taste and adjust other seasonings as desired. Serve, garnished with more cilantro.

porky and veg versions working side by side, pork bones just transferred from the metal to black pot and about to be followed by the broth; the veg version in the blue pot in back had yellow split peas instead of red lentils, tomato instead of sweet potato, and mushroom bouillon + water instead of pork bone broth

Sourdough Cinnamon-Sugar Monkey Bread

sorry for the lack of items ot show scale...this is roughly the size of a standard angel food cake

Giant Interactive Sticky-Bun Hurrah!

Earlier this year, I posted the recipe for a savory cheesy garlic monkey bread, with a note about the name (to recap: it’s either a reference to the monkey puzzle tree or the process of assembling the loaf or the process or eating it, no one really knows). This one is more like what most people call “monkey bread,” with the pieces of dough covered in cinnamon and brown sugar, which caramelize in the oven until the whole thing resembles a giant sticky bun.

Most recipes start with refrigerated biscuit dough, which is a bit easier and quicker. However, if you have a sourdough starter that needs regular feeding & culling, you can use it to make a soft, slightly-sweet yeast-risen dough that works just as well. Depending on how active your starter is and how long you let the dough rise, the final product can have as much or as little sourdough flavor as you like (longer rise = more sour). I think a little tanginess is a nice counterpart to all the butter and sugar. Someone at the potluck I took this to asked if there was any alcohol in it, I think because the sourdough starter gives it a mildly boozy flavor. Speaking of which, adding a shot of whiskey or rum to the butter probably wouldn’t be a terrible idea.

I went with

Like basically all kinds of monkey bread, you assemble it by dipping small pieces of the dough in melted butter. In this version, the buttery pieces get a second coating of brown sugar and cinnamon (although you could substitute cardamom or ginger or cloves or whatever else you like—Alton Brown recommends rosemary). For a little extra sticky-sweetness, you can sprinkle a few tablespoons of brown sugar in the pan before filling it with bread. For a lot of extra sticky-sweetness, you can combine more brown sugar and melted butter and pour half in the bottom of the pan before filling it with the bread and the other half on top just before baking. If you want it sweeter still, you can drizzle the finished loaf with a powdered sugar glaze or cream cheese frosting. mini-loaf advantages: every piece is a "top"piece with lots of caramel

This recipe makes slightly too much for my tube pan, so I put the overflow in a regular loaf pan. Tube pans are ideal for monkey bread because they provide lots of surface area—fluted tube pans are even better. However, any kind of pan will work. You could use a 9×13 baking dish, or a few cake pans, or a large soufflé dish, or make individual serving-sized portions in muffin tins or ramekins, just adjust the baking time accordingly (see recipe).

Other combinations that might be tasty: rosemary & raisins with a lemony cream-cheese frosting, ginger and clove in addition to the cinnamon with tart apple pieces, cardamom with dried pear pieces & sliced almonds, maximum caramel with vanilla bean in place of the cinnamon and an extra pinch of salt, or Chinese five-spice with currants & walnuts. Nothing wrong with classic cinnamon, raisins & pecans, though.

this is a little misleading. there were more leftovers, but they stayed at the potluck I took this to; it does tend to disappear quickly

Recipe: Sourdough Cinnamon-Sugar Monkey Bread (adapted from Linda Wan, browneyedbaker, Alton Brown, and Smitten Kitchen)

Ingredients

Dough:

  • 2 cups refreshed sourdough starter (100% hydration)*
  • 1 egg
  • 3-4 cups all-purpose or bread flour (sub whole wheat, if desired)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 Tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup sugar, honey, or other sweetener

*To substitute packaged yeast, dissolve 1 package (2 1/2 teaspoons) of yeast in 1 1/2 cups warm water with the sugar and 1/4 cup flour. Let sit for 5-10 minutes or until frothy and then combine with the rest of the ingredients. Increase the flour to 4 1/2-5/12 cups

Coating:

  • 8 Tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon (or other spices/herbs as desired)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Optional additions: 1/2-3/4 cup dried fruit and/or nuts, 2-3 Tablespoons extra brown sugar for lining pan

Sweeter options:

Maximum caramel topping:

  • 8 Tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

Cream-cheese frosting:

  • 3 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 3 Tablespoons powdered sugar (plus more as needed)
  • 2 Tablespoons milk (plus more as needed)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Powdered sugar glaze:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons milk
  • 2 Tablespoons butter (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon flavor extract (optional)

Method:

1. Make Dough: Combine all the dough ingredients (only 3 cups of the flour at first) and mix until combined. Add more flour as necessary to form a dough that will clean the sides of the bowl and sticks to itself more than it sticks to you—I start mixing with a spoon, but finish with my hands. Continue mixing/kneading in the bowl for a few minutes, just until it’s evenly combined. You can turn it onto a floured surface and knead longer if you like, but it’s not necessary.

2. First Rise: Cover the bowl and let rise 2-24 hours (1-2 hours if using instant yeast), or until doubled. The rising time will depend on how active your starter is and how sour you want the dough to be. As soon as the dough is doubled in size, you can assemble the loaf; however, if you want a lot of sourdough flavor, you should let it rise at least 8-12 hours.

a nearly no-knead dough after ~12 hours

3. Prepare Pans: Generously butter your baking dish(es). Sprinkle with additional brown sugar or pour half of the “maximum caramel topping” into the bottom.

4. Assemble: Melt the butter for the coating in one bowl. Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt or other spices in another bowl. Divide the dough into pieces roughly the size of ping pong balls, either by pinching pieces off one by one, pressing the dough into a rectangle and cutting it crosswise with a knife or bench scraper, or forming a long rope and snipping pieces off with scissors. Roll each piece into a ball between the palms of your hands, dip it in the butter, roll it in the sugar & spice mixture, and the place them in the prepared pan(s) just barely touching each other or with a little space between them. If using fruit and nuts, sprinkle them in between the layers of dough balls.

if you use the cutting method, there will be some smaller pieces in the corners, which is fine--I like to put smaller pieces towards the inside of the tube pan and larger ones on the outside

5. Second Rise: Cover the pans and let rise 2-8 hours, or until doubled in size again. Alternatively, refrigerate for up to 24 hours and remove from cold storage 1-2 hours before baking to return to room temperature.

assembled risen again

6. Bake: Preheat the oven to 350F for 15-20 minutes. Uncover the risen dough. If using “maximum caramel topping, pour the remaining half over the risen dough. Bake for 15-50 minutes, depending on the size of your pan. Smaller portions/more surface area = less baking time, larger vessel/less surface area = more baking time. Individual servings in muffin tins may only take about 15-18 minutes. The single layer in my regular loaf pan took 20 minutes. Two layers in a 9×13 pan will probably take around 30-35 minutes. My tube pan with three layers took 45 minutes. A very large soufflé dish may take 50 minutes or longer. It’s done when the top is very brown and the internal temperature is 190F or a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

7. Invert: Let cool in the pans, on a rack if desired, for 5-10 minutes. Gently cut around the edges of the pan(s) with a knife, and then invert onto a serving plate. If icing, combine the ingredients for your desired topping and drizzle with a spoon or from a plastic zip-top bag with one corner snipped off.  

this is why you do not fill the tube pan to the top just inverted, ready to serve, and I think it's pretty even without icing

Blue Sky Cake with Pop Rocks and Crème de Violette

apparently the blue meth is a fictional device; people do sometimes color meth, but that's a sign of impurities added to create signature brands, not the sign of a non-Sudafed precursor

In honor of the premiere of the final season of Breaking Bad, I made a mousse cake inspired by the signature color of Walt & Jesse’s meth. The base has Blue Razz Pop Rocks coated in a mixture of white chocolate & almonds. The center is a lemon mousse with a hint of Crème de Violette. The mirror is mostly white grape juice with a little more lemon juice, Luxardo Maraschino, and Crème de Violette set with gelatin. On top is a whipped white chocolate ganache studded with more Pop Rocks and blue hard candy. It’s the bluest, fizziest thing I’ve ever made, not that it has much competition.

the color's a little hard to see here, but it's the only screenshot I could find of Jesse breaking the sheets of glass

this is a better shot of the color

Blue Sky meth (aka Big Blue aka Blue Magic)

shattering a sheet of candy that looks like glass is really funanyone know what the "meth" in the show is actually made of

Blue Sky candy (no street name)

Pop Rocks!

I’m pretty sure meth doesn’t fizz, but I’ve been wanting to incorporate Pop Rocks into a dessert for years. They’re a little tricky to work with because they’re activated by moisture—any moisture, including the moisture in the air. Leave a package open for long enough, and they’ll get flat and gummy. The only way to get them into a dessert with their fizziness intact is to coat them in fat.

For the crust, I used Heston Blumenthal’s method, which involves incorporating them into a chocolate & nut base. It worked well. The pop rocks retained a substantial amount of fizz, even 30+ hours after the packages were first opened. You could use the same technique with any kind of chocolate, nut, and flavor of Pop Rocks to make fizzy truffles or molded chocolates. For the ganache, I coated them with cooking spray and powdered sugar and hoped the fat content of the chocolate and cream would protect them, at least a little bit. It wasn’t quite as fizzy as the crust, but the moisture in the cream didn’t kill the effect completely—there were still a few reactive candy pieces in every bite.

Crème de Violette!

I'm a little surprised this cocktail isn't more common. It's really delicious.

Crème de Violette is a liqueur made from violets that plays a small but crucial role in the classic cocktail The Aviation, which I had for the first time recently at The Last Word. The liqueur itself is a deep purple, but when combined with lemon juice, gin, and maraschino liqueur, it’s the color of a clear blue sky. I was hoping it would have the same effect in the cake, but instead I got shades ranging from pale lavender to a truly unappetizing gray, so I ended up using food coloring anyway.

In terms of flavor, Crème de Violette is (unsurprisingly) sweet and floral. Beyond that it’s hard to define. It’s not quite like lavender or rose or jasmine or orange blossom, but it’s more like all of those than any fruit or herbs I know. If you’re think floral scents belong only in toiletries, you might find it off-putting. Even though I like floral scents in food, I wouldn’t want to drink it straight. However, I think it can be an appealing and enigmatic accent. It obviously works well with gin and lemon and cherries—the Aviation is a great cocktail. I can also imagine pairing it with other citrus fruits and berries, melon, honey, chocolate, or nuts.

If I had known it wouldn’t supply the color I wanted, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to track it down. Any other clear or pale liqueur, juice, or flavor extract would have worked just as well, and flavor-wise, I think it might have been better to stick to white chocolate, lemon, & almond.
 
ugly pictures! dropped my bounce flash. sad face.the crust was a little hard to cut through; individually-molded cakes would make for a prettier presentation 

Things That Went Wrong

  • My first attempt at making candy included lemon juice and Crème de Violette, and it started to darken and caramelize at 250F, long before it was hot enough to set properly. I’m not sure if the problem was the lemon & liqueur or if I was cooking it over too-low heat. I pulled it off the heat at 270F because it was threatening to burn, at which point any discernable violet/blue color had been completely obscured by the amber of burning sugar. Amber + blue food coloring = bottle-glass green, not sky blue, so I started over without the extras & cooked it over higher heat.
  • half toasted, half untoastedFor the crust, I initially used the ratios provided by the Blumenthal recipe, but there wasn’t nearly enough chocolate to coat all of the pop rocks and it only covered about 1/2 the springform pan. I threw together another batch and didn’t bother toasting the almonds for the sake of speed. I liked the color & flavor of the half with untoasted almonds better and adjusted the recipe to reflect the total amount of chocolate & nuts used to cover the 9” pan base.
  • White grape juice was the first nearly-colorless substitute I came up with for the strawberry juice in the recipe for the mirror. It was only as I was pouring the simmering grape juice over the bloomed gelatin that I realized I could have used champagne instead. Champagne might have needed more gelatin to set, but I bet the ratio I used in the Jell-O shots for NYE 2012 would have worked. Sad missed opportunity to reference Jesse, Combo, and Skinny Pete’s night at the strip club in “Mas.”
  • I intended to pipe the ganache on top in some kind of decorative manner, leaving at least part of the mirror exposed, but I over-whipped the ganache so it was a little grainy and weepy and not in good shape for piping.

Despite all that, it turned out mostly the way I had imagined: strange, fruity, fizzy, and very blue. It was designed more for looks than taste, but the flavor combination was kind of weirdly compelling. All hail King Heisenberg!

candy, before breakingRecipe: Blue Sky Cake

Ingredients

Hard Candy (from Allrecipes)  

  • 3 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon flavoring oil (I used almond)
  • 2-3 drops food coloring

Fizzy Chocolate Nut Crust mixing pop rocks into chocolate(adapted from Heston Blumenthal via Chubby Hubby

  • 1 cup (6 oz) blanched almonds
  • 1 cup (6 oz) white chocolate chips
  • 11 packages of Pop Rocks (I used Blue Razz)

Blue Lemon Mousse (adapted from Gordon Ramsay via Almond Corner and Hidemi Sugino via Chubby Hubby)

  • 5 leaves of gelatin or 1 package powdered gelatin
  • 1 1/3 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons Crème de Violette (or other liqueur)
  • just after folding the meringue into the gelatin-cream mixture and adding some color3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 egg whites
  • a few drops of blue food coloring

Blue Mirror (adapted from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody

  • 2 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons Crème de Violette
  • 1 Tablespoon maraschino liqueur (like Luxardo, not Grenadine)
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • mirror poured on top of mousse--many of the bubbles went away as the gelatin set1 1/2 packages unflavored gelatin (1 1/2 Tablespoons)
  • 1 1/4 cups white grape juice
  • a few drops of blue food coloring

Whipped White Chocolate Ganache with Pop Rocks

  • 8 oz white chocolate (about 1 cup chips)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 5 packages Pop Rocks (Blue Razz)
  • cooking spray
  • powdered sugar

Extras: 2 packages Pop Rocks for garnish

Method

meth cake 023CANDY: 

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Combine everything but the flavoring oil and food coloring in a pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Insert a candy thermometer and continue cooking without stirring until it reaches 290 F (the hard crack stage). If sugar crystals form on sides of pan, wipe them off with a brush dipped in water.

3. Remove from the heat, add flavor and color and stir just until mixed. Pour into the prepared pan and let cool completely.

4. Crack into pieces (I used the back of a cleaver), wrap in waxed paper or toss in a small amount of powdered sugar, and store in an airtight container.

CRUST:

1. Generously butter a 9” springform pan and line it with a circle of parchment paper cut to fit the bottom.

2. Toast almonds, if desired. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spread the blanched almonds on a baking sheet and toast for 5-10 minutes, or until fragrant and just beginning to color. Toasted or not, blend them in a food processor until they form a smooth paste.

3. Melt the white chocolate in a pan held over simmering water. Gently stir in the Pop Rocks. Then, fold in the almond puree.

4. Press the mixture evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

toasted almond puree; you could probably sub almond butter if you didn't want to bother with this step combining the chocolate, pop rocks, and almond puree

MOUSSE:

this was the color of the gelatin mixture--depressing grey instead of Aviation blue, but once mixed with the cream and meringue, it basically looked white1. If using gelatin leaves, soak them in cold water. If using powder, sprinkle it over 1/4 cup cold water.

2. Meanwhile, whip the cream until it will hold soft peaks and refrigerate until needed.

3. Warm the lemon juice and 1/4 cup sugar to a simmer. Remove from heat and add the gelatin, gently wringing out the leaves if using them. Stir until the gelatin is dissolved, and then add the liqueur.

4. Combine the sugar and water in a pot, bring to a boil, insert a candy thermometer and remove from the you can see the drip along the side where I poured the sugar syrup--you want to avoid the tines of the whisk or they'll spray the syrup all over the insides of the bowlheat when it reaches 235 F (soft ball stage).

5. Whisk the egg whites until foamy, and the continue whisking as you drizzle the hot sugar syrup into the egg whites. Keep whisking until stiff peaks form. 

6. Fold the whipped cream into the gelatin mixture. Then fold in the meringue. Add coloring if desired

7. Pour the mixture on top of the chocolate base and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

MIRROR:

1. Place lemon juice, liqueur, and water in a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over this mixture; set aside until spongy and soft.

2. Pour the juice into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Pour over the gelatin mixture and stir to dissolve. Tint with food coloring if desired. Place the bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice water and stir until the mixture is syrupy and just beginning to thicken.

3. Gently pour it over the mousse, tilting if necessary to create a thin, even layer. Refrigerate until set.most of the larger bubbles created by stirring the gelatin mixture will escape before the gelatin sets, I'm not sure how to get rid of the smaller bubbles

GANACHE:

don't do what I did and overbeat it, as soon as it will hold soft peaks, stop whipping 1. Heat the cream until there are small bubbles around the edges of the pot. Add the chocolate and let it soften, and then whisk until smooth.

2. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap pressed against the surface to prevent a skin from forming and let it cool completely (~6 hrs or overnight).

3. Whip with a whisk or electric beaters/stand mixer until fluffy.

4. Spread the Pop Rocks on a baking sheet in a thin layer and coat with cooking spray. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and toss to coat. Then, gently fold them into the ganache.

UNMOLDING, DECORATING, & SERVING:

Warm a knife by running it under hot water for a few minutes and use it to cut around the edge of the springform pan. Release the mold and remove it. Slide the cake onto a serving plate (or not, I just left it on the springform base). Fill a zip-top or piping bag with the ganache and decorate as desired. Top with the hard candy. Refrigerate until ready to serve. For the cleanest cuts, run the knife under hot water before & between slices. Sprinkle a few additional Pop Rocks on the plate before serving.

using a thin knife also helps this mirror turned out a bit thick--if I did it again, I might halve the recipe

Mother Waddles’ Sweet Potato Pone

much wetter than I expected; the liquid wasn't milky, it was more like the juice that seeps out of baked sweet potatoes so I'm not sure if reducing the milk would actually make it firmer or not

The Mother Waddles Soul Food Cookbook

this image appears at least three times in the book too, a constant visual assurance that everything is going to be a-okayA couple of weeks ago at John King Books, I found a pamphlet called The Mother Waddles Soul Food  Cookbook published by Perpetual Soul Saving Mission For All Nations, Inc. © 1970. Perpetual Soul Mission was an aid society founded by the Rev. Charleszetta Waddles (aka Mother Waddles) in 1957 to provide 24-hour emergency services to Detroiters in need, including food, shelter, clothing, medical and dental care, legal aid, transportation, job placement, training programs, and help for drug addicts.

Waddles also ran a kitchen on Cass Avenue which served 70,000 meals a year for 35 cents each, or “free if you have no money.” And she hosted a radio hour every weekday morning on WCHD-FM. She doesn’t sound like the kind of woman who sat still very often. According to a note on the inside front cover, she only found the time to write this cookbook while confined to a hospital bed after falling down a flight of stairs.

There are prayers and poems interspersed with recipes for oyster pot pie, chitterlings, beef gumbo, and hot dogs with spaghetti. The soup section is prefaced, “In the upper crust sections of each and every town, the serving of soup is quite reknown, but all you have to do in the ghetto sections of the same town is to mention soup and you might get knocked down.” There are nine recipes and one poem about neck bones, short meditations on what it means to be a “a true brother” or “grass roots people,” and a poem titled “The Devout Weight Watcher” describing a family party as a form of torture:

Look at uncle Bill eating all that meat
Boy, I wish I could have about 10 Bar-B-Que pigs feet
They said because of calories, I can’t eat what I please
Therefore, I just have myself some cottage cheese

I'm partial to any recipe books that call for bacon fat by the half-cup

And in the very back, there’s the full text of a resolution signed by Governor William H. Milliken proclaiming Mother Waddles week: 

WHEREAS The estimable and loquacious Mother Waddles has led this community in a fuller understanding of the mandate to, “Love Thy Neighbor as Thy Self,” and,

. . . .

WHEREAS Mother Waddles is in constant need of assistance, for money, for meat and potatoes, for clothing and shelter, and,

WHEREAS Mother Waddles’ dedication and commitment commands all of us to meet her half-way*

Be it therefore Resolved that October 19 through 26, 1970, be declared Mother Waddles’ week throughout the glorious State of Michigan, and, on this day let every citizen become cognizant of quest [sic] of this lovely lady who in a simple way labors for the gains of her neighbors and the glorification of her society.

topped with graham cracker streusel, a bit like an inverted sweet potato pie

*I love the idea of declaring an honorary week as a method of meeting someone “half-way.”

What the Heck is Pone?

Before the Mother Waddles cookbook, I’d only ever heard of corn pone, which usually refers to a southern-style corn bread made without any eggs or milk and traditionally cooked in a cast iron skillet. The word “pone” was apparently derived from the Powhatan word apan, meaning “something baked.” It was adopted by English-speaking settlers in Virginia to refer to what was also called “Indian bread,” or bread made from corn instead of wheat. But I can’t figure out how it also came to refer to what turns out to be a custardy sweet potato casserole, which, unlike corn pone, is full of eggs, milk, and sugar.

Mother Waddles’ recipe actually calls for so much sugar that’ I’m almost certain it’s a typo: 1 1/2 lbs (3 3/8 cups) in a recipe with only 2 lbs sweet potato? The rest of the recipes in the book give sugar amounts by the cup and some other recipes for sweet potato pone call for as little as 1/2 cup of sugar (or 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup molasses) for comparable quantities of sweet potato. I’m guessing the recipe was supposed to read 1 1/2 cups not pounds. The other recipes also claim that sweet potato pone originated as a 19th Century street food in New Orleans also called pain patate (potato bread), so perhaps this “pone” comes from pain not apan. 

Most recipes call for spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and most describe it as firm enough to slice and eat by hand. According to one cranky commenter on the recipe for Jazz Fest Sweet Potato Pone on Food.com, the “real deal” also involves coconut and raisins and a “darker topping that isn’t all sugar.” A Times-Picayune article says many home recipes call for a hefty dose of black pepper to give it a little kick. Some more recent versions add brandy and orange zest.

I used Mother Waddles’ recipe as a base, cut the sugar to 1 cup, added 1/4 cup molasses and a cup of raisins soaked in orange juice and topped it with a graham cracker & pecan streusel. It definitely wasn’t firm enough to eat by hand, although it might be if I’d used half as much milk & eggs, like some of the other recipes linked above. Instead, what it reminded me of most was bread pudding, but straddling the line between a sweet side dish and dessert. It also makes enough to feed a lot of hungry people, which I suspect was probably exactly what Mother Waddles had in mind.

Recipe: Sweet Potato Pone (adapted from Mother Waddles and assorted others)

Ingredients

  • 2 –2 1/2 lbs sweet potato (about 2 very large or 3 medium) I was initially going to bake this in a souffle dish, but there was too much of it
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 6 eggs*
  • 4 cups milk*
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon mace and/or allspice
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • juice and zest of a large lemon
  • 1 cup raisins (optional)
  • 1 cup orange juice (optional)

*For a less custardy, possibly hand-holdable version, reduce to 3 eggs and 2 cups milk

Streusel (optional) next time I might make more streusel

  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup melted butter

Method

1. Soak the raisins, if using, in the orange juice for a few hours. A splash of bourbon or brandy would also be welcome.

2. Peel & grate the potatoes and cover with milk to prevent browning.

3. Generously butter a 9×13 or 2 quart baking dish and preheat the oven to 250 F.

4. Beat the eggs well and add the rest of the ingredients, including the sweet potatoes and milk, mixing well to combine. Pour into the prepared dish.

5. Combine the streusel ingredients in a bowl and mix until crumbly. Sprinkle on top of the sweet potato mixture.

6. Bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until browned on top and set in the center.

7. Let stand for at least 30 minutes before serving.

halving recipe recommended; this makes an unseemly amount of sweet potato pone

Sourdough-risen Cheesy Garlic Monkey Bread

the pieces in the middle don't pull apart quite as easily in the savory version because the cheese and herbs bake in more easily than sugar

This is loosely adapted from my friend Linda’s recipe for sourdough-risen cinnamon rolls. When she sent it to me, she mentioned that she’s been using it to make monkey bread because it has a higher goo: dough ratio than the rolls. With that in mind, I’m not sure I’ll ever make the roll version.

What’s With the Silly Name?

For the uninitiated, monkey bread is a pull-apart loaf usually made by pinching off pieces of dough and rolling them in something or other—often butter and cinnamon-sugar, or sometimes a caramel sauce. Raisins and pecans optional. Whatever the coating, you toss all the balls in a pan and as they rise and bake, they come together into a coherent whole. However, the coating prevents them from becoming a completely solid mass, so you can pull the pieces off by hand. You could also slice it, and then you’ll get pieces that are marbled with the coating. But I’ve never seen it served that way. As far as I’m concerned, the entire raison d’etre of monkey bread is how the form seems to dictate the method of consumption: the bubbly exterior practically begs you to tear pieces off, each one coated in flavor.

There are apparently a few theories on the origin of the “monkey bread” name. According to the Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink (via the Food Timeline), some people claim that it’s named after the monkey puzzle tree (Arucaria araucana). Based on pictures of the tree, that seems plausible—although I’m not sure if the name would have been a reference to the bark, which has deep irregular ridges that do kind of resemble lumps of dough baked together, or because of the interwoven pattern of scale-like leaves, or because of its spherical cones, which might resemble the balls of dough.

monkey puzzle bark monkey puzzle leaves monkey puzzle cones

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan offered another explanation when she provided the recipe to the kitchen staff to prepare for holiday visitors to the White House in 1982: “’Because when you make it, you have to monkey around with it.”

The third possibility is that it’s a reference to the way people consume the bread, not how you prepare it. . From a 2003 New York Times article that accompanied a reprint of Nancy Reagan’s recipe: “Since monkeys are known for gleefully pulling at, well, everything, it makes sense that an audience-participation loaf should be called monkey bread. Formed of balls of dough and baked in a ring mold, monkey bread emerges as golden puffs that are irresistible to both hand and eye. The idea is that you pick it apart like a bunch of . . . that it’s more fun than a barrel of. . . . You get the idea.”

just out of the oven the first piece snagged

  More fun than a barrel of garlic-covered monkeys!

Variations

I was a little surprised to see that Reagan’s recipe and the “original” attributed to actress and cookbook author ZaSu Pitts and Ann King, her African-American cook, are both just a rich, buttery yeast dough cut into pieces coated in more butter and baked. No cinnamon-sugar. No raisins or pecans. Reagan actually calls for hers to be served with jam, which is totally antithetical to the sticky-sweet version I’m most familiar with, which often starts with refrigerated biscuit dough coated in so much butter and sugar that once it’s done, it resembles a giant sticky bun.

But I guess if the essence of monkey bread is that you pull it apart by hand and eat it, there’s no rule saying it has to have cinnamon-sugar goo on it. I decided to try a savory version kind of like this recipe by Sharon123 from Food.com. I reduced the sugar in Linda’s recipe and added some cheese and herbs. Then, I rolled the balls in melted butter mixed with minced garlic and then dipped each one in a mixture of parmesan and herbs.

set-up: dough, garlic butter, topping layer one in the dish

A few other modifications: Linda usually makes a sponge for the first rise, Sandor Katz-style, which is basically all the dough ingredients except about half the flour. You let that sit for 6-8 hours and then add the rest of the flour, knead, and let it rise for another 2-4 hours before shaping, rising again, and baking. Her recipe also calls for 2 cups of water and approximately 2x the other ingredients (3 beaten eggs, about 9 cups of flour total, 1/4 cup honey, 1/4 cup oil). I decided to skip the sponge step and mix all the flour in at the beginning, and I made a smaller amount so it would fit in one pan—I used a large souffle dish, but a 10” bundt or tube pan would probably work just as well or better. Also, instead of giving it a good, long knead, I just kind of smooshed it around in the bowl a bit until it came together as a dough. So basically, this is a much lazier version.

Making a sponge would probably give you more flavor (including a more pronounced sourdough flavor if you wanted it, although you could neutralize that with some baking soda if desired), and kneading the finished dough would give you a more even crumb and perhaps a fluffier rise. But even without all that, it’s still homemade bread coated in delicious, flavorful stuff—hard to go wrong. One change I’ll make next time is to pull out my tube pan or bundt pan—the soufflé dish worked all right, but the very middle was a little dense and doughy and I think having more surface area would help with that as well as providing more toasty golden brown edge pieces.

Recipe: Sourdough-risen Garlic Parmesan Monkey Bread (adapted from Linda Wan and Sharon123 on Food.com)

Ingredients:

Dough:

  • 2 cups refreshed 100%-hydration sourdough starter (see note below to substitute packaged yeast)dough ingredients--I didn't have quite enough cheddar and gouda, so I used some parmesan in the dough as well
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 4-5 cups bread flour
  • 3 Tablespoons oil or melted butter
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar, honey, or other sweetener
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 8 oz. grated sharp cheese, like cheddar, asiago, or aged gouda
  • 1 Tablespoon dried parsley flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder (optional)

Garlic Butter:everything just mixed together, no-knead style

  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced

Topping:

  • 1/2 cup grated hard cheese, like parmesan or romano
  • 2 Tablespoons dried parsley flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

To substitute packaged yeast: increase the water to 1 3/4 cups, heat it to 110 F, dissolve 2 packages or 4 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast (regular or rapid-rise) in the warm water along with the sugar and let sit for 10 minutes before adding the remaining dough ingredients. Increase the flour to 5 1/2-6 1/2 cups.

Method:

1. Combine the dough ingredients and stir just until mixed. Cover and let rise for 8-24 hours (1-2 hours if using packaged yeast). The longer you let it rise, the more sour it will taste. If you want to neutralize the sourdough flavor, you can add baking soda—start with 1/2 teaspoon and add more as necessary.

2. Melt the butter and add the minced garlic, and combine the topping ingredients in a separate bowl. Pinch off walnut-sized balls of dough and roll between your palms, roll them in the melted butter, dip in the parmesan mixture and place parmesan-side up in a large tube pan, bundt pan, soufflé dish, or other baking dish.

topping-side up in the dish a big bowl of monkey balls

3. Let rise for another 2-8 hours (1 hour if using packaged yeast) or until nearly doubled in size. I only let it rise for about 3 hours, but would have let it go for 6-8 if I’d had the time, which would have also helped with the dense & doughy center issue.

4. Preheat the oven to 350F at least 20 minutes before baking, and bake until the internal temperature is 190F. Start checking after 45 minutes. A soufflé dish will take longer than the bundt/tube pan—perhaps as long as 75 minutes.

Serve warm, if possible.

New Year’s Eve 2012

Happy last year of the Mayan calendar! Here’s how I welcomed it: 

punch and jello shots just barely visible in the upper left corner

How the spread looked around 8pm

not pictured: meatballs, hummus, and quinoa-blackeyed pea bundles, all of which were delicious, but none of which I made so I can't tell you/link you to the recipe

Cheese Balls Three Ways: Cheddar-Cranberry, Roquefort-Shallot-Walnut, and Herbed Goat Cheese
Sourdough-risen Baguette
Sourdough-risen No-Knead Bread
Crudités
Bacon-wrapped Dates stuffed with Parmeggiano & Almonds
Deviled Eggs with Caviar
Shrimp Cocktail
Cheddar-Ale Gougères
Mini Crab Cakes with Cilantro-Lime Ailoi 
Candied Cranberries
Dulce de Leche Crisps
Chocolate-covered Strawberries
Champagne Jell-O Shots with Raspberries
Dark Chocolate Truffles rolled in Coconut or Spiced Nut Crumble
Spiced Nuts
Admiral’s Punch

Mostly crudites and cheese balls left.

How it looked around 2am

Everything linked above was a repeat. New things I would make again: the mini-crab cakes, the champagne Jell-O shots, and the cheddar-ale gougères. All three were easy, delicious, and gone by the end of the night. Things I probably won’t make again: the dulce de leche crisps, which were kind of boring—neither sweet nor salty enough to be interesting, the truffles, because the nut butter made them a little grainy, and the cocktail sauce, which was exactly like cocktail sauce out of a bottle so why bother? Nothing else exceeded or fell short of expectations. Cheese balls are cheese balls. Caviar deviled eggs are caviar deviled eggs. Details on all of it after the jump.

Cheese Balls Three Ways (from Martha Stewart)

I think swiss cheese with rosemary rolled in crushed potato chips might be pretty good. Or a pimento cheese version with american + pimentos, rolled in...I don't know, maybe pecans?

These are tasty, pretty, and super simple: all three use the same cream cheese base and then you just fold in the different cheeses and roll them in different coatings. They’re also infinitely adaptable and can be made a few days in advance. Don’t like blue cheese and walnuts? How about pepper jack and pecans? Hate cheddar? Try swiss. Vehemently opposed to fruit and cheese combinations? Sundried tomatoes would be just as festive as the craisins. The one thing I might do in the future is halve everything: 3 lbs of cheese ball is a little much, even for a pretty big gathering. 

Candied Cranberries (from the Boston Examiner)

I keep thinking these would be a good garnish for something, but I'm not sure what...maybe some kind of custard? Eggnog creme brulee?Last year, I cooked the simple syrup to the hard ball stage, and the cranberries were almost impossible to extract and separate. This year, I followed the instructions exactly and they were much easier, but retained a lot more tartness & bitterness. I loved them anyway, but not everyone will. If you want them sweeter, you might try cooking the syrup to thread stage (230-235 F) before letting it cool and adding the berries.

Dulce de Leche Crisps (from Food and Wine)

I think unless "a grown-up twist" means "with booze in it," it's probably a bad thing.

Food and Wine described these as a “a grown-up twist on the classic Rice Krispies Treats,” which I guess is accurate in so far as adulthood is generally harder and less enjoyable. The rice gets toasted and combined with dulce de leche and sliced almonds, shaped into little mounds, sprinkled with salt and more dulce de leche, and baked. I think the main problem is they’re not quite sweet enough to provide a good counterpoint to the salt and just end up kind of “meh.” It’s possible that a drizzle of chocolate, a handful of butterscotch chips, and/or a pre-sweetened cereal would improve them, although those are probably all ways of regressing back to a less grown-up treat. Maybe the lesson here is that Rice Krispies, unlike cheddars and wine, don’t get better with age.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries (from The Food Network)

This was another one of the things we had a lot of leftovers of. It's possible I should have only made 1 lb of strawberries.

You don’t really need a recipe for this: melt some chocolate, dip strawberries in it. But the link above is useful for providing guidelines about how much chocolate to melt. I added some shortening because it prevents the chocolate from blooming without the fuss of perfect tempering and doesn’t change the taste/texture all that much. I also used a ziploc bag with the corner snipped off for drizzling, which is especially useful for the white chocolate which doesn’t really get runny enough to drizzle even when melted.

Bacon-wrapped Dates stuffed with Parmeggiano & Almonds

pro-tip: use not-thick-cut bacon

After trying these with chorizo, goat cheese, blue cheese, parmeggiano matchsticks, marcona almonds, and parmeggiano+almonds together, I think my favorite filling is still the first one I tried: chorizo. But they’re all pretty good. This year, I made the mistake of buying bacon that was too nice—really thick and gorgeously smoky, but it kept splitting as I tried to wrap the dates. Normal, not-thick, not specially-smoked bacon or proscuitto is the way to go.

Deviled Eggs with Caviar (from The Splendid Table)

we always have to have something with caviar, even though by "caviar" I usually mean cheap, frozen capelin roe

I added a few tablespoons of Dijon to these because eggs just don’t taste “deviled” to me without any mustard. You could probably use all sour cream or all Greek yogurt instead of a combination. The idea of sour cream + dill + caviar combo seemed vaguely Baltic to me, but they basically just tasted like deviled eggs with caviar. Good, but nothing all that special.

Shrimp Cocktail (from Smitten Kitchen)

ice in the bowl kept these nice and chilly all night I roughly followed poaching method described by Smitten Kitchen—simmered the shrimp shells and strained them out to make a stock, and then added a hefty glug of white wine, a dozen or so peppercorns, some tarragon and thyme and a lot of salt and sugar. Brought it all to a boil, threw the shrimp in, took it off the heat and covered it, let it sit for 8 minutes. Simple, tasty, but as mentioned above: the homemade cocktail sauce is not different or better than the prepared kind.

Champagne Jell-O Shots with Raspberries (aka “Champagne gelée” per Saveur, Epicurious, and Martha Stewart)

You could also use an 8x8 or 9x13 and just cut them into "shots"

These were definitely one of the highlights of the evening. I didn’t really follow any of the recipes linked above, although they provided the inspiration. Instead, I sprinkled two envelopes of plain gelatin over 2 cups of champagne and let it soak for 5 minutes while I boiled 1 cup of champagne with 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup Elderberry cordial. I stirred the hot champagne syrup into the bowl with the soaked gelatin, stirred until the gelatin dissolved and then poured it into mini-muffin tins and plopped a raspberry in each one. I chilled them for about an hour. To unmold them, I set the mini-muffin pan in a shallow baking sheet filled with lukewarm water for 30-45 seconds and then inverted the pan over another baking sheet lined with plastic wrap. I had to shake it a little, but they popped out pretty easily.

I was really hoping some bubbles would get trapped in the gelatin, but no such luck—the champagne fizzed up when I sprinkled the gelatin over it and the boiled stuff also released all its gasses long before chilling. Based on this article, I think you’d have to add some champagne at the very end. Blumenthal dissolves the gelatin in about 2 1/2 oz champagne + 3 1/2 oz liqueur and then adds the rest of the champagne directly to the molds. So I think next time I’ll try dissolving the sugar in 1/2 cup champagne + 1/4 cup Elderberry cordial (or another liqueur), sprinkling the gelatin over 1/2 cup champagne, stirring those two together and letting them cool to room temp, and then pouring in the remaining 2 cups of champagne just before pouring it into the molds.  

Cheddar-Ale Gougères (from 101 Cookbooks)

gougeres are kind of like un-filled cream puffs, and might be tasty filled with something like a Greek or mayonnaise-based salad

I took Heidi’s advice to make these in advance up to the baking step and then freeze them—worked perfectly. They still puffed up like magic in the oven. I under-baked them slightly, so a few of them collapsed just a bit and they were a little doughy inside but still tasty. Like the cheese balls, you can flavor these however you like—any kind of cheese/herb liquid will work. I used a chocolate ale, sharp cheddar, and thyme. Maybe next time, I’ll try gruyere, white wine, and rosemary.

Mini Crab Cakes with Cilantro-Lime Ailoi (from Always Order Dessert)

I think these were my favorite

Easy, delicious bite-sized crabcakes that don’t have to be deep-fried and are tasty even at room temperature. Can be baked in advance and held at room temp or re-warmed just before people show up.

Dark Chocolate Truffles (adapted from a Gourmet recipe)

in retrospect, I should have made a truffle yin-yang. my thirteen-year-old self is disappointed in me for failing to realize that at the time.

These were just okay. I used cashew butter in place of the almond butter, but neither that nor the dulce de leche came through much. So they just tasted like chocolate and the coatings, which wasn’t bad or anything, just nothing special. Plus, the centers weren’t nearly as smooth as traditional ganache-filled truffles. Instead of rolling them in cocoa powder, I did half in white chocolate with shredded coconut and half in dark chocolate with spiced nuts and chopped sliced almonds—the latter of which was great, and I would do again. I know I’m kind of doing the: “this recipe is mediocre. I didn’t follow it at all” thing, but I don’t think following it exactly would have yielded significantly better results.

So, there you have it: a merrily excessive farewell to the old and hello to the new. Wishing everyone a 2012 precisely as productive, pleasurable, meaningful, irreverent, nourishing, exciting, and relaxing as you want it to be.

Holy Crap, it’s Christmas! Cookies Part II: Soft Molasses Cookies

warm spiced cookies + a $5 bottle of blanc de blancs (thanks trader joe!) = enough holiday spirit to finally get around to decorating the tree

The Lovechild of a Gingerbread Man and a Snickerdoodle

Most of my Christmas standards are things I make because other people like them or because they’re my grandma’s recipes. In some ways, isn’t Christmas really all about grandmas? These are the one exception. They’re the cookies I make because I like them.

you could use cinnamon sugar if you want, but there's plenty of cinnamon in the dough and with the molasses making the dough darker, I'm not sure it would have much of a visual effectTexturally, they’re almost identical to snickerdoodles—they have the same ratio of butter : sugar : flour :  eggs and they’re also rolled in sugar before baking, so the outside gets crackly and has a little crunch. But flavor-wise, they’re all gingerbread: molasses and cinnamon and nutmeg and ginger and cloves. You can imagine how they smell as they bake.

The best part about these cookies is that if you don’t over-bake them, they turn out amazingly soft. And they stay that way even after they cool, even if you don’t store them in a perfectly airtight container, even if you want to make them a week before Christmas and savor them until New Year’s Day. I think it must be because of the little bit of oil in the dough. It does make them a little more prone to falling apart, but I think that’s a small price to pay for enduring just-out-of-the-oven softness.

If you like the kind of gingerbread that bites back, you might want to double all the spices. I think they’re  perfect as is: as much butter as you can possibly get into a cookie without it melting into a puddle of goo (which they occasionally do anyway, as you can see at approximately 3 o’clock in the picture above), just enough molasses and spices to be festive without getting too overbearing, and a little sparkle from the sugary coating. They’re also the easiest part of this year’s pared-down cookie assortment.

I don't know why they look so much darker here than above. Same cookies, I swear. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Recipe: Soft Molasses Cookies (from JoyofBaking.com)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flourI would not use blackstrap molasses. Also, whatever kind of measuring device you use, spray it with non-stick cooking spray first and you'll save yourself a lot of fuss.
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/4 teaspoon regular)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons neutral cooking oil (I used peanut)
  • 1/3 cup unsulphured molasses
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup white sugar (for rolling)

Method:

1. Whisk the dry ingredients together (flour, soda, salt, & spices).

2. Cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes with a stand or hand mixer, 5-10 minutes arm power).

3. Add the oil, molasses, egg, and vanilla to the butter mixture and beat until fully incorporated.

4. Add the flour mixture and stir just until fully incorporated.butter and brown sugar, beaten until light and fluffy

5. Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to a week.

6. Preheat the oven to 375 and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

7. Put the white sugar in a bowl. Shape the cookies by pinching off pieces of dough about the size of a walnut, rolling them between your palms until they form smooth balls, and coating them in the sugar.

8. Using something with a flat bottom, like a drinking glass, flatten the balls slightly.

squish. also, this glass wants scotch.

9. Bake for 9-10 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies are crinkled but barely dry. They will look a little underdone.

10. Let them cool on the pans for about 10 minutes and then remove them to a cooling rack or paper towels to cool completely. Store any that don’t get eaten immediately in an airtight container.