Category Archives: candy

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

Vegan White Chocolate Truffles: Defense Catering, Part I

the matcha powder made the green tea ganache more solid than the almond-orange ganache 
Green Tea and Almond-Orange White Chocolate Truffles

I catered a luncheon before my defense because it gave me something to pour my nervous energy into. Also, I like feeding people. Also also, doing the cooking myself enabled me to make sure there were options for people who prefer vegan or gluten-free food.*

First up: dessert.

I kind of like how you can see the green a little bit where the white chocolate coating is thinner I used the cheap plastic molds and was afraid they'd be harder to deal with than the flexible silicone ones, but the truffles popped right out when the molds were inverted.

Challenge #1: Vegan White Chocolate

Vegan white chocolate is hard to come by. You can get vegan white baking chips, but they’re usually made with hydrogenated oil rather than cocoa butter, just like the white candy coating that was often labeled “white chocolate” before 2004. Since then, only products consisting of at least 20% cocoa butter can be sold as “white chocolate” in the U.S. and the only other fat can come from milk—none of that hydrogenated oil nonsense. Many premium brands have 40%+ cocoa butter, so they’re basically just like premium milk chocolate without the chocolate liquor.

I’m not a fan of white candy coating, and I suspect that white chocolate’s lousy reputation owes primarily to a residual association with the flavorless, waxy, oil-based, pre-2004 “white chocolate.” The difference between oil-based white candy coating and cocoa butter-based white chocolate is as stark as the difference between chocolate-flavored hydrogenated palm and soybean oil (like the coating on candy bars like Whatchamacalit) and real chocolate made with cocoa butter (like Ghirardelli squares).

Green tea just does not go with milk or dark chocolate for meIf I had to pick one kind of chocolate to eat for the rest of my life, gun to my head, it would be dark and bitter—something like 70% cacao, barely sweet. But especially when I’m making homemade candies, I’m deeply grateful for the unique properties of white chocolate. It’s softer, creamier, and has a much more delicate chocolate flavor. It really lets the vanilla in chocolate shine, which I love. It also pairs beautifully with flavors that tend to get overwhelmed by chocolatlier chocolates, like green tea, blueberry, jasmine, and any citrus other than orange.

I’ve only found one company with national distribution making vegan white chocolate: Organic Nectars in Hudson Valley, New York. They use cashew and coconut milk in place of the dairy. However, one of the Amazon reviews said it was excessively sweet, possibly because there’s more sugar than cocoa butter in the final product. Also, it’s expensive: 1.4 oz bars are normally 3 for $17 (though currently discounted to $10.27). Cocoa butter itself is far less expensive (you can get a pound for just under $10 and organic for $16)** and the other ingredients—sugar and milk powder—are even cheaper.  Bittersweet blog implied that making your own at home was pretty easy—just melt some cocoa butter and whisk in powdered sugar and milk. So I decided to try it.

Failure: White Chocolate with Raw Sugar

I decided I should use raw sugar, whizzed in a food processor until very fine, to avoid any non-vegan sugar bleaching agents in regular powdered sugar. I knew that would make it less white, but “golden chocolate” didn’t sound like such a bad thing. I was so wrong. Even though I processed it as fine as I could, the sugar wouldn’t dissolve, no matter how much I stirred it. I put the mixture back on the heat, hoping to melt the sugar, and ended up scorching the chocolate. Even before that, the mixture seemed to be breaking, like melted butter, so I doubt it would have set up smooth and hard like chocolate is supposed to (commercial manufacturers often add lecithin as an emulsifier for exactly that reason).

hard to tell in this shot maybe, but that is definitely not emulsified chocolate and this is what scorched chocolate looks like.

I wasn’t sure if the problem was the fineness of the sugar, the lack of cornstarch (added to powdered sugar to prevent clumping), or something else entirely, so I decided to do a few, small experimental batches:

Numbered in chronological order--the stove is to the right, so it went from closest to farthestThe left and center are the color you would get using unbleached sugar Test #3, Test #2, and Test #1

Test #1: 1 oz cocoa butter melted and mixed with .33 oz soy milk powder, .88 oz powdered sugar, and 1/3 vanilla bean (the original Bittersweet blog recipe).

Result: Looked similar to tempered white chocolate, but the texture was a little grainy. Seems like the milk powder doesn’t dissolve fully in the cocoa butter.

Test #2: .88 oz raw sugar cooked with 1 oz water and .33 oz soy milk powder until melted and removed from the heat, 1 oz cocoa butter added and allowed to melt, and a pinch of powdered soy lecithin granules and vanilla bean whisked in (based on a recipe from Vegsource)

Result: Texture was smooth, but it never set up. Apparently 1:1 cocoa butter: water is too much. Good flavor, though.

Test #3: .88 oz raw sugar cooked with 1/2 oz water until dissolved and just beginning to caramelize, removed from the heat, 1 oz cocoa butter added and allowed to melt, .33 oz dry milk powder and a pinch of soy lecithin whisked in at the end.

Result: Good flavor, but grainy and a little greasy to the touch. Graininess seems to be from sugar re-crystallizing, not from milk powder.

None of them were great, honestly. I thought about abandoning the project at this point and finding some other small, portable, vegan sweet to make. But I’d sunk too much time and cocoa butter into this project to abandon it. So I decided to use a variation on the Test #2 method for the ganache, which wouldn’t need to set up firmly anyway. And I used the Test #1 method for the coating chocolate. But if you really want a smooth, hard vegan white chocolate, I suggest ordering it from Organic Nectars.

Challenge #2: Vegan Ganache

Ganache is usually made by heating cream just until it simmers and then melting chocolate in it, with liquor or flavoring optional. I decided to sub cashew cream for the dairy cream—made by soaking cashews overnight, blending them with some water, and straining them through a fine mesh sieve. I whisked the vegan milk powder, powdered sugar, and vanilla bean seeds into the cream over medium heat until they dissolved. Then, I removed the mixture from the heat and added the plain cocoa butter, stirring until it was melted. That worked beautifully: totally smooth, creamy, vegan white chocolate ganache.

pre-soaking post-soakinga smooth, thick, white cream--just gritty before straining, but I'll drink this as is. straining out the solids it's not quite as smoth as dairy cream, but pretty close. can be thickened by heating. makes great sauces and ice cream, too.

I added LOTS of matcha, going for as intense a green tea flavor as I could get.

Putting It All Together:

I flavored half of the ganache with 1 teaspoon of almond extract and 1 teaspoon orange extract and the other half with 1 1/2 tablespoons of matcha (green tea powder).

I made another batch of white chocolate using the Test #1 method and rather than letting it set, I used it to fill candy molds 1/3 full, and then used a small candy brush to paint the sides of the molds. This took a little trial and error: immediately after filling the mold, the chocolate was too runny to coat the sides, but if I waited too long it would harden at the bottom and be difficult to spread. What worked best for me was to fill 4-5 molds with the liquid chocolate, and then go back and paint the sides of each one in the order filled. I put them in the refrigerator for about 5 minutes to harden fully. Then, using a pastry bag, I filled each shell 2/3 of the way with ganache. I let that chill for 15-30 minutes, and then piped more white chocolate on top, using the brush to push it to the edges to seal the filling.painting the moldsthe disposable pastry bags are genius for candy making. no more trying to get solidified chocolate out of the more expensive bags!

I repeated that with dark chocolate, which I melted in a double boiler. Rather than worrying about tempering it perfectly, I added a tablespoon of vegan shortening, which really doesn’t affect the taste or texture much but does ensure a smooth, dark coating with a good snap to it. Again with the painting, chilling, filling, sealing, and more chilling. When they were done, I inverted the molds onto a towel—some of them took a little twisting and shaking to come free.

All in all, I think using the molds was easier than hand-shaping and dipping each one, which I’ve done in the past. I’m actually not sure the white ganache would have set up enough to roll by hand—the matcha helped firm up the green tea ganache, but the extracts made the other one quite soft. If you want to make these and plan on shaping them by hand, it might be a good idea to cook the cashew cream down a little before adding the chocolate and avoid liquid flavorings.

the dark chocolate was much smoother for painting; possibly because of the soy lecithin in it topping the filled truffles

*I decided not to try to accommodate low-carb/paleo dieters because no one I know here is on that particular bandwagon, and trying to do vegan + low-carb makes my head hurt.

**For the failed batch and the test batches, I used the kind you can buy in 1-oz tubes at most pharmacies. For the truffles, I used a pricier “fair trade organic” brand from Whole Foods. Both said “for external use only,” but also claimed to be “100% cocoa butter with no additives,” which is a 100% edible substance. I have eaten at least two truffles-worth on multiple consecutive days with no ill effects. Ochef thinks the “food grade” business re: cocoa butter is just marketing, as it invariably costs more and they’ve also had fine results with the typical pharmacy brands. If you’re worried, buy the “food grade” stuff.

Recipe: Vegan Chocolate Truffles
(makes approximately six dozen truffles. consider halving recipe.)

  • 1 cup whole raw cashews
  • 1 cup water, plus more for soaking
  • 16 oz. vegan chocolate for filling (see recipe below for white chocolate)
  • 10-12 oz. vegan chocolate for coating (any kind you like)
  • 1/4 cup cognac, brandy, or liqueur (optional; recommended for dark but not white/milk chocolate especially if shaping by hand as it will make the ganache very soft)
  • flavoring (optional): 2 teaspoons flavor extract, 1/2 teaspoon food-grade essential oil, 2 Tablespoons herbs, dried flowers, tea, or citrus zest (infused in the cream), 1 1/2 Tablespoons flavored powder like matcha

1. Cover the cashews in cold water and let soak overnight. Roasted cashews will have a stronger flavor—if you want the truffles to taste like cashew, use them instead. Raw cashews will make a rich, neutral cream.

2. Drain the cashews and place in a blender or food processor. Add just enough fresh water to cover. Blend until very smooth.

3. Strain through a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth.

4. Heat the cashew cream in a medium saucepan.

Optional step: If you want to flavor the truffles with any herbs, flowers, or teas, add them to the cream. Bring to a simmer, remove from the heat and let steep for 10-15 minutes. Strain out the herbs/flowers/tea/zest if using, and bring to a simmer again.

5. Remove the cream from the heat, add the chocolate and stir until melted and very smooth.

6. Add the liquor or liqueur and any other liquid or powdered flavorings, if using. Taste and adjust if necessary.

6. Shape

For hand-shaped truffles: Chill the ganache in the fridge for 30 minutes or until firm enough to scoop. Using a mellon-baller or two teaspoons, make balls approximately 1” in diameter and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper. Chill those for another 30 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the coating chocolate in a microwave or double boiler. Either follow careful tempering temperature guidelines and reserve some of the chocolate to use as “seed” crystals or add a tablespoon of shortening. Let cool slightly. Remove the ganache balls from the fridge and roll gently between your hands to make them smooth (using gloves if desired). Using two spoons or a dipping fork, quickly roll each one in the cooled, melted chocolate and transfer them to parchment or waxed paper to set.

For molded truffles: Melt the coating chocolate in a microwave or double boiler. Either follow careful tempering temperature guidelines or add a tablespoon of shortening. Fill molds 1/3 of the way with melted chocolate. Paint the sides. Chill for 5 minutes, or until hard. Fill the hardene shells 1/3 of the way with ganache and chill for 30 minutes. Either paint or pipe more melted chocolate on top to seal the filling.

Recipe: Vegan White Chocolate
(45% cocoa butter)

1 oz sticks are usually about $1 each at most pharmaciesFor 16 oz: 

  • 7.2 oz cocoa butter
  • 2.4 oz vegan milk powder (like Better than Milk)
  • 6.4 oz vegan powdered sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean

For ~36 oz:

  • 16 oz cocoa butter
  • 5.3 oz vegan milk powder
  • 14.2 oz vegan powdered sugar
  • 2 vanilla beans

13 sticks, unmolded into a pot1. Gently melt the cocoa butter in a microwave in 10 second bursts or in a double boiler. Cocoa butter will melt at 90F and burns at a much lower temperature than completed chocolate, so watch it carefully and stir frequently. Once about half the butter is melted, you can remove it from the heat and just wait for the rest of it to melt.

3. Add the powdered sugar, milk powder, and vanilla bean seeds and stir until smooth and combined.

4. Pour into a mold or a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and let sit until hardened (approximately two hours at room temperature, or 15-30 minutes in the fridge).

Tis the Season for DIY Gifts: Chocolate-covered Buttercreams

If you want perfectly smooth chocolate coating, you have to use a plastic mold. Otherwise, unless you're a chocolate-dipping ninja, they will look "homemade." But that's sort of the point, right?

Making Candy Worth the Effort

A friend and fellow Michigan food blogger just celebrated her 10th Wedding Anniversary. The internet  informed me that the 10 years is the “tin” anniversary and her weddingAnd yet I made peppermint patties anyway because they're a classic I knew people would enjoy even if they weren't excited about the other flavors. (not-)colors were black & white, so I thought a tin full of black & white candies would be an appropriate gift. The first thing that came to mind were peppermint patties. Bittersweet chocolate may not be quite black, but contrasted with the white, creamy center, it has the right effect.

However, it seemed a little silly to make peppermint patties by hand when those are so easy to find ready-made. Sure, if you use expensive chocolate and real butter, a homemade peppermint patty might taste a little different than a York. But probably not enough to justify going to all the trouble of clearing out space in the fridge for multiple rounds of chilling and dealing with the mess of dipping things in molten chocolate.

Instead, I decided to make an assortment of flavors that aren’t as easy to buy. The black & white theme restricted the flavor options a little, mostly because I thought it would be a little strange to eat something with a white filling that tasted like something with a firmly-established color signifier, like raspberry or orange or maple. Additionally, I have this silly desire to use the “real" thing when possible or something based on it—i.e., if not fresh or frozen raspberries, then raspberry preserves or Chambord, etc. So I had to come up with flavors that 1) aren’t readily available in commercial chocolates but do go well with chocolate and 2) make both culinary and aesthetic sense in white (or nearly-white) buttercream.the hibiscus tinted the buttercream a very pale pink (left) and lavender tinted it a barely-discernable lilac which almost looked greyish (right)You could also use milk or white chocolate

The answer seemed to be other herbs, like peppermint, or something similar: flowers, spices, tea, etc. Basically anything that would make the buttercream gritty if you tried to add it in its usual edible form. So texture was the culinary justification. The aesthetic justification is that there’s not as strong of a color association with things like jasmine or cardamom. Even things like lavender, both a color and a flavor/scent, doesn’t seem like it has to be purple in the same way that raspberry has to be red. The problem with things like lavender and jasmine is they run the risk of seeming more like bath salts than candy, so I decided on a few combinations and decided to make different shapes so people could distinguish between them visually:

Peppermint (patties)
Cinnamon-orange (squares)
Lavender-almond (balls)
Hibiscus-rose (striped balls)

peppermint  cinnamon-orangelavender-almond 

For a slightly more elegant presentation, you could put them in individual fluted foil or paper cups in a flat gift box.

Choose Your Own Flavor Adventure

You can use any edible extract, oil, or concentrate or infuse a flavor into the liquid in the buttercream. Some options:

Extracts and essential oils: Most grocery stores carry peppermint, lemon, orange, almond, and raspberry extracts. Some also have rum, maple, hazelnut, chocolate, strawberry, and cinnamon. Natural or specialty foods stores sometimes have essential oils designed for therapeutic use, but many of those are not safe for internal use. You can order edible essential oils online in a wide range of flavors including all the classics and more unusual things like bergamot, clove, oregano, and key lime. Essential oils are much stronger than extracts, so you only need 1/4 and 1/2 t. Start with the smaller amount and add more if necessary. Any of them can be combined—I’m especially fond of almond + orange.

Fruit: You can flavor any kind of buttercream with 2-4 T. fruit preserves—any kind of jam, marmalade, or curd will work. If you can’t find preserves in the flavor you want or don’t want to use something pre-made, you can make them yourself by cooking the fruit down into a concentrated paste, adding sugar if desired. You may want to add a flavor extract to the buttecream, too—raspberry preserves + raspberry extract will have more “pop” than either one alone.

Here's the lavender being strained out of the milk. The floral flavors were very strong in the buttercream, but were somewhat masked by the bittersweet chocolate. But the lavender-chocolate combination was especially nice, even though it was subtle.Infusions: Herbs, spices, tea, or anything masquerading as tea can be incorporated as follows: heat the evaporated milk or cream to a simmer (20-30 seconds in a microwave on high) and add 2 T. fresh or dried leaves or flowers, and/or 1-2 t. whole spices crushed slightly. Let it steep for 10 minutes and then press through a fine mesh strainer. This is where you can really play with things that don’t show up in commercial candies—basil, rosemary, tarragon, sage, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom pods, earl grey, oolong, rooibos, chai, tea scented with jasmine or fruit. The only thing you have to avoid are spices too finely ground to strain out of the liquid, although even those could be used if you have a very fine mesh bag—one of those disposable bags some coffee shops use for loose teas would probably work.

2 1/2 lbs of Callebaut bittersweet ($15) was more than enough to cover 120 chocolates Some flavors I considered and might make in the future, especially if color isn’t an issue, are cardamom-plum, strawberry-basil, and orange-bergamot. Of the four I made this time, cinnamon-orange is my favorite, but I’m pretty pleased with how they all turned out.

They may not be quite as sophisticated as truffles—buttercream is a cheap, pedestrian filling compared to ganache, and this recipe doesn’t even call for a real, cooked buttercream, it’s the powdered sugar version. Additionally, the chocolate coating has a little shortening added to it, which is a cheat that ensures the coating will be hard and shiny without the fuss of tempering, even if you store them in the refrigerator. So these are easier, less expensive, and more of a blank canvas for other flavors. I think that’s what makes them an ideal DIY gift—what makes them special isn’t pricey ingredients, but how you customize them for your recipients. 

Recipe: Chocolate-covered Buttercreams (adapted from The Joy of Baking and Chocolate Candy Mall #3)

all the flavorings involved--lavender and hibiscus flowers infusing in hot milk, rose water, and peppermint, vanilla, orange, cinnamon, and almond extractsIngredients:

  • 3 cups (240 g) powdered sugar
  • 4 T. (20 g) butter
  • 1/4 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 t. of another flavor extract and/or 1-2 T dried herbs, loosed tea, or flowers, 1-2 t. whole spices, or 1 tea bag*
  • 3 T. (30 ml) evaporated milk or cream
  • 12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 T. shortening

*The Classics:
For peppermint patties, use 2 t. peppermint extract or 1/2 t. peppermint oil, which is much stronger
For maple creams, use 2 t. maple extract 
For vanilla buttecreams use an additional 2 t. vanilla extract
For all other options, see the notes above.

1. Let the butter come to room temperature. If using dried flowers, herbs, spices, and/or tea, heat the evaporated milk to a simmer (about 20 seconds in a microwave on high), and steep the flavor element in the milk for 10-15 minutes. Press through a fine mesh strainer.

2. Combine the first five ingredients, using a spatula or a stand mixer—hand mixer not recommended  because the powdered sugar will just get everywhere. If using a stand mixer, start on a low speed. Once everything is combined, increase the speed and beat until the mixture is very smooth and creamy (2-3 minutes with a stand mixer, 5-10 minutes by hand).

powdered sugar, softened butter, hibiscus-infused milk, vanilla, and rosewaterin a different bowl, this one peppermint

3. Cover with plastic wrap or transfer to a small container with a lid and chill for 30 minutes to an hour.

3. Prepare a few cookie sheets by covering them with foil and dusting them lightly with powdered sugar. Shape as desired—For balls, quickly roll small amounts of the batter between your hands to form 1” balls. For patties, flatten balls with your hand or the bottom of a drinking glass to a thickness of about 1 cm. For squares or rectangles, place the buttercream in a quart-sized zip-top bag and roll flat with a rolling pin or empty wine bottle. Cut away the bag, and cut into desired shapes.

this is way faster than shaping them all by hand, but the squares are a little harder to dip whatever shape I made, 1 batch = approximately 30 candies

4. Return shaped buttercreams to the refrigerator for another 30-60 minutes.

5. Melt the chocolate and shortening in the top part of a double-boiler, a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water, or in the microwave just until smooth. Let cool for 5-10 minutes, and then begin dipping the buttercreams one at a time, making sure they get completely coated. Remove with two forks, letting excess chocolate drip back into the bowl. Set back on the foil or on waxed paper. Return to the refrigerator for 30 minutes if desired to set faster—the shortening will prevent the chocolate from “blooming.”

if you're not making a quadruple-batch, feel free to use a smaller bowl the little pooling bits can be snapped off after they're cooled

Buckeyes, Schmuckeyes, or if you prefer, Peanut Butter Bon-bons

When I first set out to make these chocolate-covered peanut-butter balls, I intended not to refer to them by their traditional Midwestern moniker. Surely, I thought, neither the State of Ohio nor its flagship public university can claim any special relationship to sweetened peanut butter in a chocolate shell. There’s no reason I have to invoke tOSU’s mascot in the middle of football season in Michigan. But then I found some pictures of actual buckeyes nuts, and I’ll be damned if they don’t look uncannily like their namesake.

shown here popping out of the big spiny, smelly balls that grow on the treesand here, looking almost unmistakable from the chocolate variety

 

really, the only difference is that the candy version has a flat edge

and yes, I posed these specifically to mimic the above picture

I'll eat YOUR eyes! Whitetail buck from flickr user key lime pie yumyum

Real buckeyes are the seeds of trees in the genus Aesculus, which includes between 13 and 19 species (depending on how you count) that grow all across the Northern Hemisphere. The name “buckeye” is generally attributed to an American Indian word for the seeds and the nutritious mash they made from them after roasting—“hetuck,” which means “eye of a buck.” One species in particular, Aesculus glabra, became commonly known as the “Ohio buckeye,” even though it grows throughout the American Midwest and Great Plains regions, ranging from southern Ontario to northern Texas, apparently because the botanist who gave the tree its English name first encountered it on the banks of the Ohio River.

However, there’s also a California buckeye and a Texas buckeye and even a Japanese buckeye. And the seeds of all the trees in the genus—including Aesculus glabra—are also commonly known as horse chestnuts, after the larger family they belong to (Hippocastanaceae). So there doesn’t seem to be any simple botanical or taxonomical reason why the “buckeye” became so firmly associated with the state of Ohio.

How the Buckeye Became Ohioan and Ohioans Became Buckeyes

According to one story, it all goes back the spectacularly-named Ebenezer Sproat (or Sprout), who was a Colonel of the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War. After an unsuccessful post-war stint as a merchant, he became a surveyor for the state of Rhode Island and bought stock in the Ohio Company of Associates, which sent him west with the group led by Rufus Putnam that founded Marietta, Ohio, the first permanent American settlement in the Northwest Territory. There, Sproat became the first sheriff in the NW Territory. And aside from being a relatively prominent citizen, he also happened to be quite tall and, “of perfect proportions,” according to Wikipedia, whatever that’s supposed to mean. The Indians in Ohio were impressed with his height and/or his importance, and thus came to refer to him as “Hetuck” or “Big Buckeye.” A similar account suggests that it was mostly his height—claiming he was 6’4” (which would have been tall indeed in the 18th C.) and that he earned the sobriquet on September 2, 1788 when he was leading a procession of judges to the Marietta courthouse. Indians watching the giant of a man walk by began calling out “Hetuck, hetuck.” 

E. G. Booz's Log Cabin whiskey bottle, c. 1860-1890 from Cornell University LibraryBut it’s not entirely clear why that nickname would have ever been generalized to the shorter residents of the region. The more commonly-accepted theory is that the association between buckeyes and Ohio(ans) has something to do with William Henry Harrison.

Harrison was a resident of Ohio in 1840 when he made his first, successful presidential run. According to the Wikipedia article about him, he had already acquired the nickname “Buckeye,” as a “term of affection” when he served in the U.S. Congress, first as a representative of the Northwest Territory and then as one of Ohio’s Senators—presumably because of the prevalence of the tree in the regions he represented. However, the general consensus elsewhere is that Harrison and his presidential campaign advisors carefully cultivated the buckeye mascot and nickname to bolster Harrison’s image as a “man of the people.” Particularly in Ohio, log cabins were frequently made from the wood of buckeye trees and people in rural areas used to string up the nuts that would accumulate wherever the trees grew, so the buckeye was a useful symbol of the kind of rustic frontier populism that Harrison was trying to project.

Meanwhile, they portrayed the Democratic incumbent, Martin Van Buren, as an elitist, or even as a royalist intent on the restoration of the British crown, largely by publicizing the fact that he had hired a French chef for the White House and purportedly enjoyed French wine.Van Buren was actually the son of small upstate New York farmers and educated in rural schoolhouses, whereas Harrison was the son of wealthy Virginia slaveholders and educated in elite New England academies—he even studied medicine with the renowned Dr. Benjamin Rush before deciding he didn’t want to be a doctor. But Harrison successfully managed to convince people he was one of them with the help of bottles of whiskey shaped like log cabins and campaign propaganda like this pull card:

From The Granger Collection Marvin Van Buren smiles when drinking “A Beautiful Goblet of White House Champagne”
pull the string, and he frowns with “An Ugly Mug of Log-Cabin Hard Cider”

Shortly after that, popular songs and texts start to show up that refer to “Buckeye it's not even really "anthropomorphic" because that would be a nut with arms and legs...this one has a separate torsoboys” and “Buckeye girls” and to Ohio as “the Buckeye State.” In the 1850s, Samuel Sullivan Cox wrote a series of letters based on his travels to Europe and the Ottoman Empire, which he published under the title “A Buckeye Abroad.” It obviously continued to the point that now, there are probably almost as many drycleaners, diners, and car repair shops named Buckeye Blank in Ohio as there are Empire Blanks in New York City.

Brutus the Buckeye, the bizarre nut-headed mascot that dances on the sidelines at football and basketball games wasn’t invented until 1965. But students, alumnus, and athletes from the Ohio State University [awkward definite article sic] were always called “Buckeyes.” The name is older than the University itself, which was founded in 1870, and was seemingly applied to sports teams from the very beginning. The short-lived AA professional baseball team that existed in Columbus from 1883-4 was also named the Buckeyes. And Jessie Owens, who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics, while he was a student at OSU, was  sometimes called “the Buckeye Bullet.”

But What a Stupid Reason That Would Be Not to Make Them

So even though it probably originated with a dishonest political campaign (is there any other kind?), I still feel like I have to cede the name “buckeye” to Ohio—after all, it’s older than the UM v. tOSU rivalry itself. And it just seems foolish to deny the resemblance. But it would be a real shame to let the apparent legitimacy of a name that happens to be associated with any state or school bias you against the salt-studded awesomeness of homemade chocolate-covered, sweetened balls of nut butter. Sure, they’re basically just Reese’s peanut butter cups, but you shouldn’t underestimate the difference that good chocolate, flaky salt, and having personal control over the level of sweetness can make.

the toothpicks make for easier dipping, and it's easy enough to smooth away the holesI probably wouldn’t normally bother with something so…I don’t know, cliché? Pedestrian? It’s not that I don’t like simple foods or classic flavor combinations, but somehow anything consisting primarily of peanut butter and chocolate just seems like cheating. Just like it seems like cheating whenever the contestants on Chopped use bacon if it’s not one of the secret ingredients, and like a petty perversion of justice that the bacon-cheater almost always wins. 

However, this recipe popped up on Serious Eats just as I was musing about how maybe I should throw together some sort of sweet nibble in case we happened to have people over this weekend—something I could make in advance and that would keep relatively well in case we didn’t have people over. These seemed to fit the bill because like most cookies, you can make them well in advance of serving, but like most candies, they won’t get stale. But what really sold me was the description of the crunchy flakes of salt in the peanut butter mixture—“like little mouth-fireworks,” the author said.

If they seem too boring as is, you could mix up the nut butter/chocolate coating combination or add a third or fourth flavor element. You could make Thai coconut version with a little chili pepper, powdered ginger, and dried coconut. Or mix in bits of toffee, puffed rice, or crumbled cookies for a different flavor or texture. You could use cashew butter or almond butter instead of peanut butter, powdered honey for some of the powdered sugar, and white or milk chocolate if any of those is more to your liking. You could even freeze little drops of fruit preserves or caramel and roll the nut butter around them so at room temperature, they’d melt into a sweet, gooey center. Now I’m dreaming of white chocolate-covered sunflower butter balls with vanilla caramel centers. You could even make a whole buffet of different buckeyes…and if you really can’t get past the name, just call them bon-bons or shmuckeyes instead. If you cede them to tOSU, I think that’s just another victory for “tWorst State Ever.”

Recipe: Peanut Butter Bon-Bons (from Serious Eats)
halved from the original, to make approximately 3 dozen

Ingredients:

  • 12 T. salted butter (or coconut oil)
  • 1 1/2 c. unsalted, unsweetened peanut butter (or any other nut or seed butter)
  • 3 c. confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. kosher salt (or more to taste)
  • 1 bag chocolate chips (or ~2 cups chopped bar chocolate, I used a 70% cacao)

1. Leave the butters at room temperature to soften.

2. Beat them together with a spatula or the paddle attachment of a stand mixer until completely smooth and well-combined.

the butters alone will be pretty liquidy first addition of powdered sugar but by the last addition it will be fairly stiff and should be able to be handled

3. Add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing until it forms a thick, malleable dough.

4. Stir in the kosher salt just until evenly distributed—you want to add the salt at the end so it doesn’t dissolve into the butter. Put the bowl in the freezer for about 10 minutes.

5. Roll heaping tablespoons of the peanut butter mixture into balls about the size of walnuts (or buckeyes) and place on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper or parchment paper. Place a toothpick in each ball and return to the freezer for 30 minutes.

september 066

6. Meanwhile, reserve a few pieces of chocolate and melt the rest in 15-second bursts in a microwave or a double-boiler just until it’s about 75% molten. You don’t want the chocolate to get too warm or it will burn.

7. Remove from the heat and stir occasionally until it’s entirely melted and slightly cooled, and then stir in the reserved pieces.  Wrap the pot in a kitchen towel—you want to keep the chocolate around 88F—I didn’t bother pulling out a candy thermometer, because that’s right around body temperature, so it should feel just barely warm to the touch. Otherwise, it won’t temper correctly, and will set slightly soft and greasy to the touch and may develop a white “bloom” on the surface. The reserved chips  “seed” the melted chocolate with the right crystalline structure to make it harden.

8. Dip each ball in the chocolate to coat and place on waxed paper or parchment paper until firm. Remove the toothpicks and gently smooth over the hole. Store in an air-tight container in a cool place or refrigerate until ready to serve.

The Case for Tomatoes as Dessert and Four Recipes: Fresh Tomato Juice, Tomato Curd, Shortbread Squares, and Candied Basil

not quite enough basil to go around, but that way the squares were basil-optional

The Legal Exception: Green Tomato Pie

When the Supreme Court decided in Nix v. Hedden that tomatoes couldn’t be legally considered a fruit because  they weren’t customarily eaten for dessert, there was only one real exception: green tomato pie.Paula Deen's green tomato pie, which includes raisins; click for the recipe The green tomatoes left on the vine at the end of the growing season aren’t especially palatable, at least when they’re raw. They’re hard, and contain substantially less of the sugar, acids, and aromatic compounds that give ripe tomatoes their distinctive flavor. Thanks in part to the 1991 Academy Award-nominated film based on Fannie Flagg’s novel Fried Green Tomatoes and the Whistle Stop Cafe, many people are familiar with the idea that green tomatoes can be eaten breaded and fried. Fewer people know that green tomatoes are such a blank slate that they can just as easily be used in sweet preparations. Sliced or minced and cooked in a pastry crust with lots sugar and some cinnamon or other spices, tomatoes make a sweet-tart fruit filling reminiscent of apples. The dessert was common in the American South by the mid-19th C.

However, it specifically relies on tomatoes that don’t taste like tomatoes. While it might seem like ripe tomatoes would be the more obvious choice for desserts because they’re so much sweeter, the savory meatiness imparted by the high glutamate content makes the flavor seem inappropriate for sweet applications.

At Least It’s Not Raw Trout

Still, if there’s anything the age of salted caramel and bacon chocolate should have taught us, it’s the fact that sugar plays well with salty, meaty flavors traditionally confined primarily to savory appetizers and main dishes. Indeed, dessert ice cream made with traditionally-savory flavors has become one of the hallmarks of avant-garde cuisine. Smoked bacon and egg ice cream is one of Heston Blumenthal’s most celebrated creations—and, notably, served with a sweet tomato jam as part of the breakfast-themed dessert that’s a fixture on the menu of his three-Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck. A San Francisco ice creamery named Humphry Slocombe recently profiled in The New York Times offers many savory-sweet flavors including foie gras, “government cheese,” and salted licorice. And the competitors on Iron Chef America have presented the judges with ice cream desserts using secret ingredients ranging from abalone to the infamous raw trout.

a tomato ice cream written about a couple of years ago in the NYTimes, click for the recipe Tomato ice cream may sound like just another novelty or oddball flavor, but in fact, it may have preceded all this recent nouveau frippery, possibly even dating back to the very origins of ice cream in America. In the 18th C., when ice cream was still a relatively new invention and hadn’t yet become common in England or America, Benjamin Franklin got his first taste of the churned, frozen custard while visiting Paris. He liked it so much that he wrote in a letter home: “I am making an effort to acquire the formula so we may sample this lovely fare upon my return to Philadelphia.” French and American cookbooks from the era suggest that the most popular flavors back then were apricot, raspberry, rose, chocolate, and cinnamon, but it has been rumored that the flavor Ben Franklin liked best was tomato.

Given the lack of documentary evidence for the existence of tomato ice cream in the 18th C. and in light of the Nix v. Hedden decision, the Franklin rumor is improbable. However, after making something very akin to tomato ice cream last year for Battle Tomato, I feel like it’s not entirely impossible. Prepared with enough sugar, tomato is a perfectly plausible dessert flavor—like strawberry’s slightly funky cousin or a less-tart gooseberry. It’s a tiny bit peculiar, perhaps, but also really alluring, a savory-sweet combination reminiscent of salt-water taffy or yogurt-covered pretzels or anything else that simultaneously hits sour, salty, and sweet tastes. It can be really delicious.

Tomato Squares

When I was trying to figure out what kind of dessert to make for the housewarming party—something I hadn’t made in a while, something I’d only make for company—Brian suggested lemon squares. I’d just been thinking that basically any dessert you can make with lemons should also work with tomato, so I decided to put that to the test. Tomato juice may not be quite as acidic as lemon juice, but I thought it would be tart enough to set off the buttery richness of a shortbread crust and eggy curd filling, but I also hoped the bars might get a little extra something from the savory-ness of the tomato.

I started by making some fresh tomato juice using heirlooms from the garden, which turned out insanely good—perhaps the purest, richest tomato flavor I’ve ever tasted. I used about a cup of that in place of most of the lemon juice in my standard lemon curd recipe, which uses a basic cake-mixing technique to obviate the need for straining by coating the egg proteins in fat before adding the acid. That also turned out totally delicious—the first time I tasted it to see if I needed to adjust the level of sugar or acidity, I just kept going back for more. Just as I had hoped, the tomato added a totally new dimension to the curd, giving it a little oomph and intrigue. I put most of it in the refrigerator and then licked the pan clean. I used the curd to top the shortbread crust that Rose Levy Beranbaum recommends for lemon bars, which I like because it stays crisp even after being topped with a wet filling, cooked it until the curd was just barely set. The curd was more of a golden color, but as it cooked, the red pigments started to come through more. And voila: tomato squares!

although I hadn't thought of it before, you could probably make bar cookies like this with any fruit or vegetable flavor...guava squares, mango squares, ginger-lime squares, cranberry squares, etc.

Candied Basil Leaves

Thinking they looked a little plain on their own, I decided to garnish them with some candied basil leaves—like a sweet take on caprese salad. First, I tried the method suggested by a cookbook called Wine Mondays, which involved poaching the leaves in a sugar syrup with a high ratio of sugar : water and then baking them at a low temperature until they crystallize. Unfortunately, they discolored, probably because there was a hot baking stone still in the oven and I’m an idiot.

So I improvised a second batch by simply poaching the leaves in a 1:1 simple syrup, dredging them in some extra sugar to crystallize them, and drying them at room temperature on wax paper. That worked pretty well, although once I put them on the bars, they absorbed a little moisture from them and ended up soggier than I would have liked. If I ever decide to candy leaves again, I’ll probably use another method I’ve read about that involves brushing the leaves with raw egg white, dredging them in sugar, and then baking them at a very low temp (~150F) until they’re hard and dry.

Very similar to candied mint leaves—intensely sweet and herbal.

first, unsuccessful attempt--not only did they discolor, they didn't get anything approximating crisp. maybe another 15-20 min. would have crystalized them?

second, better attempt; still not as crisp as I'd like

Please, Try This At Home

I’ve included all the recipes I used below, separated in case all you’re looking for is a good recipe for fresh tomato juice. If you want to try making tomato bars but this seems intimidating or tedious, there are lots of ways to simplify the process. You could use store-bought tomato juice instead of making your own, and probably should if you can’t get vine-ripened tomatoes from a garden or farmer’s market because at least canned and bottled tomato products are made with vine-ripened tomatoes at their peak, unlike the tomatoes you get at most supermarkets. If you don’t want to bother with a cooked tomato curd, I’ve included a recipe for an uncooked bar cookie filling below which you could use fresh or store-bought tomato juice in. Obviously, the candied basil leaves are optional. This doesn’t have to be a major undertaking.

You could also use tomato juice in place of citrus juice or fresh, ripe tomatoes in place of fresh fruit in any other dessert recipe. If using fresh tomatoes, you probably want to peel and seed them first to prevent them from watering down the recipe too much. I can imagine fresh tomatoes in place of peaches or cherries in a pie, or sweet cherry tomatoes caramelized on top of a tarte tatin. You could whisk tomato sauce or tomato paste into a standard cake, custard, or icing recipe or use slightly cooked-down tomato puree in place of applesauce or pumpkin puree in a muffin or spice cake. If you think the people you’re serving might be wary of tomatoes for dessert, you can always use the strategy Campbell’s used to sell its Tomato Soup Cake recipe to thousands of housewives during the Great Depression: call it “Mystery Cake” (or pie, or ice cream or whatever) and make people guess at the key ingredient. They’ll come to the realization that it’s delicious before they ever figure out that it’s tomato. 

it separates a little after sitting, but stir or shake before serving and just see if it doesn't beat out every tomato juice you've ever triedRecipe: Fresh Tomato Juice (from Simply Recipes)
(makes about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of juice)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs tomatoes
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 2 T. lemon juice

Method:

1. Core and chop the tomatoes roughly.

2. Place in a medium saucepan with as much of juice as you can get off the cutting board, and the rest of the ingredients.

3. Simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until the flesh is mostly broken down and very liquid.

4. Force through a fine mesh sieve or several layers of cheesecloth and discard the solids.

Recipe: Tomato Curd (adapted from Fine Cooking
(makes about 4 cups, more than enough to fill a 6-layer cake, two 9” pies, or a 9×13 pan of bar cookies; halve to thickened just enough to coat a spoon so that your finger leaves a trailfill a two-layer cake, one 9” pie, or an 8×8 pan of bar cookies)

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz. (12 Tbs.) butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup tomato juice
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice

Method

1. Using a stand or hand mixer or food processor, cream together the butter and sugar for at least 1 min or until the mixture is smooth and begins to lighten in color.

butter and sugar creamed together eggs beaten in well

2. Add the eggs and egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition and for 2 minutes after all the eggs have been added.

3. Add the tomato juice and lemon juice and beat until smooth. Mixture will likely look curdled or uneven.

4. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and place over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to look smooth.

5. Raise the heat to medium and cook, still stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens just enough to coat a spoon or spatula thickly enough that you can run your finger through it and see a trail. 170F on a candy thermometer—the mixture should not boil, but may begin to bubble gently at the edges and steam a little bit.

6. Chill until ready to use.

Recipe: Shortbread Squares (adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum)
(fills a 9×13 pan; halve for 8×8)

butter cut, wrapped, and ready to chillIngredients:

For the crust:

  • 20 T. (12 oz) butter
  • 4 T. powdered sugar
  • 4 T. granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or 3 cups cake/pastry flour
  • 1/2 t. salt

For the filling:

  • approximately 4 cups of fruit curd, pastry cream, or cheesecake batter

OR

  • 8 large eggs
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 2/3 c. fresh lemon juice (or substitute 1/3 cup of any other juice, like guava or cranberry)
  • 2 t. lemon zest
  • 2 cups fresh or thawed frozen fruit (optional; omit for lemon bars; however, blueberries and lemon make a great combination)
  • powdered sugar for dusting

Method:

For the crust:

1. Preheat the oven to 325 F.

2. Cut butter into 1-inch cubes and chill.

3. In a food processor, process the granulated sugar for 1 minute or until very fine—sugar dust will probably rise from the food processor like smoke, that’s normal. Add the flour, powdered sugar, and salt and pulse to combine. If you don’t have a food processor, just whisk the dry ingredients together.

sugar "smoke" You should be able to press the crumbs against the side of the bowl and have them stay.

4. Add the chilled pieces of butter and pulse until it’s just a lot of moist, crumbly pieces and no dry flour particles remain.

If you don’t have a food processor, cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter or two crisscrossing knives.

5. Dump the crumbs directly into an ungreased 9×13 pan and gently press all over to make it a solid layer of shortbread dough.

Beranbaum suggests kneading it together before pressing into a pan; I think pressing it against the bottom works just as well gently pricked with a fork, it's fine if that pulls a few crumbs up--they'll melt back in as it bakes

6. Prick the dough all over with a fork—the dough may want to come away with the tines, I just use two fingers to hold the dough down on either side of the fork tines as I quickly pierce the crust.

7. Bake 30-40 min or just until barely browning at the edges.

flaky and delicate, melt-in-your-mouth buttery shortbread

For the filling:

If using a prepared filling, simply spread it over the top of the crust and then return to the oven for 25-35 minutes or until the filling just barely jiggles in the center when the pan is shaken.

If using the filling recipe above:

1. Whisk together the sugar and baking powder and then combine with the eggs and whisk until they are beaten well and the mixture is smooth.

2. Whisk in the lemon juice and zest.

3. Stir in the fruit, if using and pour the egg mixture over the shortbread crust.

4. Return to the oven and bake until the filling is just firm and does not move when the pan is gently nudged, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and dust with powdered sugar.

fresh basil leaves, just picked from the garden, washed and dried wellRecipe: Candied Basil

  • whole basil leaves (about 20 large or 40 small)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided

1. Combine 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup sugar in a small saucepan over low heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved.

2. Remove the syrup from the heat and let cool to lukewarm (the bottom of the pan should be cool enough to touch).

3. Place clean, dry basil leaves in the syrup and let sit for 5-10 minutes.

poached in simple syrup tossed in sugar

4. Spread the remaining 1/4 cup sugar on a baking sheet. Toss the leaves in the sugar.

5. Place the leaves on wax paper and let them dry overnight or for at least 4 hrs.

the finished product, at a slightly different, but no less wonky angle. whee.

Homemade Peeps and Chocolate-Covered Marshmallow Eggs, featuring a Recipe Throwdown: Alton Brown vs. Martha Stewart

these are among the least hideous and turd-like of my marshmallow creations. so now you've been warned about what is to follow. 

“As a rule it is better and less costly to purchase marshmallows than to try to make them”

Ida Baily Allen, Cooking Menus Service (Doubleday: Garden City, 1935)

“Marshmallow” is one of those fantastic words that sounds like its referent—round with open vowels that get sort of squashed by that middle sibilant. Saying the word almost feels like eating something fluffy and sticky. But as it turns out, that’s just a coincidence. The “marsh” in the word does actually refer to a marsh, as in that soggy place between a body of water and land  that can’t seem to decide which one it would rather be a part of—a sort of alluvial purgatory. Because that’s where the flower called the “marsh mallow,” whose extract was originally used in the confection, likes to grow.

the marsh mallow, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Althea_officinalis_flor.jpgThe plant itself, Althaea officinalis, apparently has all kinds of medicinal uses—it’s a diuretic and  expectorant and seems to help with some digestive and skin problems. The Latin name Althaea apparently comes from the Greek root altho, which means to heal or to cure and it was also a part of traditional Chinese medicine. The young plants can be eaten raw, and the mature stem and roots can be boiled and fried, but since antiquity, the main delivery method has been candy. The ancient Egyptians boiled pieces of the mallow root with honey and used it to soothe sore throats. In the Middle East, it was sometimes used as a poultice and applied directly to wounds but also added to halva, the dense, sweet nut or seed paste. 

The type of candy we associate with the name “marshmallow” today was developed in mid-19th C. France. Some sources claim the candy was designed as a sort of advanced marsh mallow extract delivery system. According to Skuse’s Complete Confectioner (via foodtimeline.org), French confectioners added the medicinal extract to beaten egg whites to give it lightness dry it out, sugar to make it palatable, and gum to bind the ingredients.

However, other sources claim that it was marsh mallow’s unique culinary properties, not its medicinal properties, that prompted the development of the candy that now bears its name. Marsh mallow contains an abnormally large amount of a thick gluey substance called mucilage. Most plants contain some mucilage, and succulents and flax seeds contain a lot of it—that’s why cactus is so gooey and flax seeds mixed with water can be used as a vegan egg substitute. According to this version of the story, French candy makers used the mucilage extracted from mallow root as a binding agent for a mixture of egg whites, corn syrup and water. A book published in Philadelphia in 1864 called The Complete Confectioner actually mentions mucilage in the instructions for how to make a syrup of marsh mallow root:

Guimave is the French name for both the plant and the candy; the name comes from the English "white mallow" with the g --> w, as in William/Guillame or war/guerre: http://fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/guimauve

It does seem to make more sense that the candy would keep the name “marshmallow” even after actual marsh-grown mallows ceased to play a role in its production if the plant’s role was more about texture than flavor. By the end of the 19th C., gelatin and starch substitutes were developed that could stand in for the mucilage and industrial manufacturing methods made it far cheaper and more efficient to produce them in factories than by hand. Even the famous cookbook author Fannie Farmer, writing just before the turn of the century, calls for purchased, ready-made marshmallows in her “Marshmallow paste” and doesn’t include any recipes for making them yourself (again via foodtimeline.org).

Despite what Fannie Farmer and Ida Baily Allen would have you believe, there are a couple  of  advantages to making your own marshmallows at home. One is the freedom to flavor them however you want. Most commercial marshmallows are flavored with vanilla, although you can occasionally find gourmet versions flavored with peppermint or cinnamon (flavors seemingly chosen for their potential to enhance hot cocoa). But why limit yourself to those?  the chocolate coating also protects the marshmallow, keeping the inside soft and gooeyI made some with almond extract to accompany jars of homemade spiced cocoa mix I gave as gifts last Christmas. The chocolate-covered eggs I made are flavored with both almond and orange extracts, which is awesome especially with the chocolate. Other tempting possibilities: rosewater, cinnamon-almond, cinnamon-orange. Of course, vanilla’s good too. The second perk is that they’re divinely soft—as different from store-bought marsh mallows as fresh Peeps are from stale ones. I know some people prefer the latter in Peep form but who likes stale un-sugared marshmallows? (If you prefer your Peeps sacrilicious, see DoriaBiddle.com’s “Stations of the Peeps, which for some reason will not show up here in image form: http://www.doriabiddle.com/Stations1.html).

They’re also really easy to make if you have a stand mixer and you’re willing to live with squares or some other really simple shape. You basically just bloom some gelatin in a mixing bowl, heat some sugar and/or corn syrup and water to 240F, add it to the gelatin, and then let the mixer run for 10 minutes or so until it’s really fluffy. The whole process takes less than 30 minutes, and you don’t even have to do anything while the mixer is running. After my successful Christmas marshmallow experiment, I thought making homemade Peeps for Easter would be no big thing, but it turns out the difficulty is not in the making of the marshmallow, but in the shaping of it.

For every Peep I produced that was even vaguely cute-in-a-homely-sort of way, I made at least three horrifying turd-beasts that seem to look at you plaintively, as if to say, “Please kill me.”

baby elephant seal? embryonic anteater? lumpenPeeprotariat?

the whole mutant crew; in front there is what I think I turned into a vaguely passable snail

The problem is that marshmallow sets very quickly. I knew that might be a problem, so I only made 1/3 of the Alton Brown recipe I used at Christmas. But I could still only fit 1/3 of that in my pastry bag and by the time I came back for more, the mixture really wanted to become a marshmallow in the shape of a mixing bowl. Instead of my chicks getting progressively better as I learned how to make them vaguely less excremental, they got worse and worse as I struggled to push the mixture out of the pastry bag’s tip.

even before eyes and noses, a big improvement over the turdosaurish chicksSo, for my second batch, I turned to the undisputed queen of painfully-adorable festive sweets. Martha Stewart actually has a recipe on her website specifically called “Marshmallow for Piping” complete with pictures of perfect little marshmallow bunnies dusted with colored sugar. I used her recipe for my second batch, and it was indeed easier to work with and I made lots of little bunnies that are definitely less hideous than my turosaurish chicks. I also transferred all of the marshmallow extract to two pastry bags and a large ziplog bag I also used for piping as soon as it was done being whipped, and I think that helped prevent it from setting, but it was still getting a little tricky to work with by the end.

Martha’s recipe contains more water than AB’s, but it doesn’t include flavor extract, which as noted is one of the major perks of making marshmallows at home, and uses all sugar instead of corn syrup, which means you have to wash the sides of the pan down with water to prevent sugar crystals from messing up the whole thing. So the verdict in the throwdown, which I guess shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, is that AB wins on taste and application of science to improve the technique, and Martha wins on presentation if you want your marshmallows to look like adorable little animals.

For the last batch, which I made into vaguely egg-like shapes and then dipped in chocolate, I used a combination of both recipes. Also, I vowed never to make shaped marshmallows again. But in case you ever want to: 

Recipe: Homemade Marshmallows for Piping (adapted from Alton Brown and Martha Stewart )

  • 1 package unflavored gelatin
  • 1/3 cup + 3 T. ice cold water
  • 4 oz. sugar (approx. 1/2 cup)
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • a pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 t. flavor extract
  • 4-7 drops liquid food coloring, if desired
  • 1/2 cup colored sugar or a mix of 1/4 cup confectioners sugar and 1/4 cup cornstarch to coat
  • cooking spray

1. Put 1/3 cup cold water into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Sprinkle 1 package of unflavored gelatin on top and allow to bloom.

2. Combine 3 T. cold water, sugar, corn syrup and salt in a saucepan, cover and place over medium high heat for 3-4 minutes. Uncover and cook another 7-8 minutes or until the syrup reaches 240F (soft ball stage). Remove from heat.

3. Turn the mixer on low and slowly pour the syrup into the mixture—if possible, you want to avoid hitting the whisk because that’ll send the syrup flying all over the sides of the bowl. I aim for a spot on the side of the bowl an inch or two above the gelatin.

this is just after I've added all the syrup, you can see the spot on the side where it hit the bowl after whipping

4. Once you have added the syrup, increased the speed to high and whip 8-10 minutes or until thick and fluffy and lukewarm and holds its shape (if doubling the recipe, 10-12 minutes, if tripling 12-15 minutes). Add the extract and food coloring in the last minute of whipping. 

5. Shape and cool.

  • If you want squares approximately equivalent to standard large marshmallows, make 3x the recipe (or use AB’s original) and pour it into a 9×13 pan lightly coated in cooking spray and a 1:1 mixture of corn starch and powdered sugar. Smooth the top with a lightly-oiled spatula, dust with more corn starch and powdered sugar, and let sit uncovered for at least 4 hrs or overnight. When set, turn onto a cutting board and cut into 1” squares using a lightly-oiled pizza cutter or knife. Toss in more cornstarch/powdered sugar to cover sticky edges.
  • For mini marshmallows, cover 2 baking sheets with a 1:1 mixture of corn starch and powdered sugar, put the marshmallow mixture in a ziptop bag or pastry bag and pipe it in thin strips onto the prepared sheets. Dust the top of the strips with more corn starch and powdered sugar. Let sit at least 4 hrs, then cut into pieces with kitchen shears. Spray the sheers with cooking spray or dust with cornstarch/powdered sugar if they begin to stick. Toss the pieces in more cornstarch/powdered sugar to coat any sticky parts.
  • sugar and cornstarch-lined pans at the readyFor Peeps, color sugar by putting 4-5 drops of liquid food coloring per cup of sugar into a jar  and shaking vigorously until the color is distributed. Spread on a baking sheet and put extra in a bowl for scattering over the shaped marshmallows. Also have a bowl of water nearby—you can dip your finger in that and use it to smooth and reshape the marshmallow a bit, especially when it forms peaks in undesirable places. Transfer all of the marshmallow mixture directly into pastry or zip-top bags as soon as you’re done whipping it and, working quickly, pipe the marshmallow directly onto the sugar-covered sheet. Sprinkle with more colored sugar, and after 30 minutes or so, when they’re set, toss them in sugar to ensure they’re fully coated.
    • For chicks, use a large round pastry tip or cut a 1/4”-diameter hole by snipping one corner off a ziploc bag. Make an oval, and attempt to create a tail at one end by pulling up on the bag as you release the pressure. Then make a blob on the other end, and pull it first toward the tail and then straight up and release, attempting to create a beaked head. Good luck with that.

I suppose it's unreasonable to expect things made of a soft substance extruded from a small orifice not to look at least vaguely like shit

    • For bunnies, use a large ziplock bag with a 1/2”-1” diameter hole cut in one corner to make large round blobs for the bodies. Then use either a large round pastry tip or ziploc bag with 1/4”-diameter hole  corner cut off to make a tail on one end, a head on the other, and ears attached to the head.

the ear position does make the bunnies look a little...defensive or angry, especially before they have eyes

6. If desired, add chocolate eyes and/or dip in chocolate: cut up and melt chocolate in the microwave or double boiler, being careful not to scorch it. Still frequently and remove from heat as soon as it’s smooth. Allow to cool until barely lukewarm and then either dab bits on with a toothpick or dot them on with a small decorating tip. Or dip the whole things in, using two spoons to fish them out and place them on wax paper to harden. When chocolate is set, store in airtight bags for up to 1 month.

NYE 2010 Part I: Party Nibbles You Can Make Weeks in Advance

Life, as usual, gets in the way of finishing all the half-completed entries on cholesterol, trans-fats, cherry-almond oatmeal muffins, butternut squash soup, pie crust with and without lard, how to make your own sourdough starter, etc. It’s folly to start yet another series of entries I’ll never get around to finishing, but I tried cramming all the things I made for New Year’s Eve into one post, and I just couldn’t do it. 

This is why.

Roughly clockwise from the upper left corner, that’s matzoh toffee, peppermint bark, spicy cheese straws, spiced nuts, goat cheese and fig jam crostini, smoked salmon rolls, more nuts and cheese straws, bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with chorizo, warm crab florentine dip with flatbread and sourdough, flourless chocolate-orange cake, shortbread bars with strawberry-raspberry, peach-apricot, and blueberry preserve fillings, more cheese straws and nuts.

There’s no way I could have made and served that many different things by myself if many of them couldn’t be made in advance. So that’s the theme of the first entry in the NYE 2010 series. These are all things that I made before Christmas. In most cases, I doubled or tripled the recipes and packed most of them into tins and boxes to give as gifts. But I set aside enough to put out on New Year’s Eve. In short, these are handy recipes to have, especially around the holidays.

More pictures and recipes below for Spiced Nuts, Matzoh Toffee, Peppermint Bark, and Spicy Cheese Straws.

Spiced Nuts (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

One of the things I miss most about living in New York City is the smell that wafts from the street vendors who sell their version of these: nuts encrusted in cinnamon and sugar. I would occasionally cross the street just to pass a walk by one of the carts or linger a little downwind. But I rarely bought them—partially because they’re kind of expensive, but also because the taste doesn’t quite live up to the smell. They’re not very crunchy, which I assume is an inevitable cost of keeping them warm. And maybe that’s an acceptable trade-off, not just because of how the heat augments the smell, but because the heat makes the wax paper pouches they come in kind of soft and flexible, and especially in winter, walking down the street holding a warm little bundle of nuts that smell like grandmothers’ kitchens probably smell in heaven is basically sublime in the full sense of the word—like, it really does inspire the kind of immediate awareness of your own happiness and well-being that gives meaning to the cliche, “so happy I could die.”

Making these at home will never be able to compete with that experience. But on just the level of taste, these win hands down. It’s the bite from the cayenne and extra hit of salt in these and the fact that they stay crunchy—I’m actually not allowed to make them again until next Christmas because they’re so irresistible.

I used a mixture of pecan halves, hazelnuts, almonds, and cashews, and I can’t think of a nut that wouldn’t be even better this way. This recipe uses a beaten egg white to adhere the spice mixture. Some recipes use butter, some add an herb like rosemary, some forego the sugar. I don’t think there’s a bad way to make spiced nuts. This is just one way that is very, very good.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb nuts (like almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecan halves, or walnut halves)
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/4 t. cayenne
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 T. water

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 300F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil.

2. Beat the egg white and water until the the mixture is frothy, but not stiff. Add to the nuts and stir to make sure they’re all moistened all over.

3. Combine the brown sugar, white sugar, salt, and spices. Pour the mixture over the nuts and toss until they’re evenly coated.

4. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Let cool and break apart.

If they’re still sticky after they cool, which happened with one of three pans I made (it got the dregs of a triple batch, so I think it had more of the egg white than the other two), you can just put it back in the oven for another 10-15 min.

Matzoh Toffee (from David Lebovitz)

The function of the Matzoh here seems to be to add structure and snap to the toffee, which is baked instead of finished on the stovetop. That means no candy thermometer necessary, no washing down the sides of a pan with water to prevent crystallization, etc. As with most things involving caramelized sugar, a healthy pinch of salt does a lot to enhance the flavor. I made three batches, which used almost exactly one box of Matzoh and made enough to fill three large tins with more than enough left over to serve on New Year’s Eve.

still learning to use my new camera...

 Ingredients:

  • ~4 sheets unsalted matzoh
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chopped, toasted sliced almonds

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 375F and line an 11”x17” pan with foil. Cover the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.

2. Line the baking sheet with the matzoh, breaking them as necessary to fit.

3. Melt the butter and brown sugar over medium heat until it boils. Boil for 3 min, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add vanilla and salt.

4. Pour the mixture over the crackers, using a spatula to spread evenly.

5. Put in the oven and lower heat to 375. Bake for 15 min, checking occasionally to make sure it’s not burning. I turn the pans about halfway through because my oven’s uneven.

6. Sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over the hot surface and let stand 5 min. When melted, spread into a thin, even layer. Then sprinkle the toasted almonds over the top.

7. When completely cool, break into pieces.

Peppermint Bark (from Orangette)

This is basically like a sheet of truffle: two layers of tempered white chocolate with a layer of dark chocolate ganache flavored with peppermint extract in the middle. Topped with crushed peppermints. You have to cool each layer before spreading the next and last year I had some problems with the ganache melting. So this year, I froze one batch before pouring the top layer of white chocolate. And for some reason, that batch eventually…sort of wept. A lot of the crushed peppermint became a sort of sticky pink goop. The other batch was lovely, I swear, but that all got given away as Christmas gifts. Thus the little picture: I’m ashamed of my goopy bark.

I actually tossed the goopy pieces in more crushed peppermint in an attempt to mitigate the goopiness, but of course that just made them even goopier. and the lesson is: when a recipe for candy tells you to chill something in the refrigerator, it may not be a good idea to chill it in the freezer

Ingredients:

  • 17 oz. white chocolate, chopped (I use Callebaut)
  • about 30 striped peppermints, finely crushed
  • 7 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 6 T. heavy cream
  • 3/4 t. peppermint extract

Method:

1. Cover the bottom of a baking sheet with foil and mark a 9”x12” rectangle.

2. Put the white chocolate in a metal bowl and set it over a bowl of simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is melted, but don’t let it get too hot. Should be ~110F. Pour 2/3 cup onto the prepared pan and spread evenly to the edges of the rectangle. This is much, much easier using an off-set spatula. Sprinkle about 1/4 cup of the crushed peppermints on top and chill for at least 15 min in the refrigerator.

3. Meanwhile, melt the bittersweet chocolate with the cream and peppermint extract in a saucepan over low heat just until the mixture is smooth. Let cook until barely warm to the touch.

4. Spread the chocolate layer over the chilled white chocolate. Chill at least 25 minutes in the refrigerator.

5. Re-warm the remaining white chocolate to 110F. Pour over the chilled ganache and spread to cover. Sprinkle with remaining crushed peppermints and chill until firm.

6. Lift foil from baking sheet to a cutting board and peel the foil away. Cut into 2” strips, cut each strip into 2-3” pieces, and cut those diagonally into 2 triangles.

Spicy Cheese Straws

 (adapted from a recipe on GOD-DESS I think I found elsewhere)

These are basically thin strips of cheese-flavored pie crust spiked with cayenne, the homemade version of store-bought cheese crackers. These : Cheez-Its as Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies : Chips Ahoy. The more you like the cheese you use, the more you will probably like the straws it produces, but as with most baked goods there is a ceiling. In other words, don’t use commodity cheese, but don’t use $16/lb cheese either. I shoot for something as sharp as I can get for around $8/lb. You can also make interesting variations using cheeses like parmeggiano, romano, and asiago and an herb like rosemary or thyme instead of the paprika/cayenne, but cheddar-blue-cayenne is my favorite.someday I will learn to focus and frame things in a way that is not vaguely disorienting

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. butter, cut into 1/2” cubes and frozen
  • 8 oz. sharp cheddar, grated
  • 2 oz. blue cheese, grated or crumbled
  • 2 t. salt
  • 2 t. paprika
  • 1/2 t. cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 T. ice water

Method:

1. Cut and freeze the butter while you grate the cheese. I use a food processor.

2. If using a food processor, switch to the normal blade and add the flour, salt, spices, and butter. Pulse a dozen times or so, until the pieces of butter are the size of small peas. If mixing in a bowl, use a pastry cutter, fork, or two knives to combine the ingredients into a lumpy meal.

3. If using a food processor, let it run while adding the ice water in a slow stream. Stop as soon as the mixture begins to stick to itself and form a ball of dough. If mixing in a bowl, add the water 1 tsp. at a time until it begins to form a dough.

4. Spread a piece of plastic wrap out and dump the mixture onto it. Using the plastic wrap, press the mixture into a slab or a tube about 1” thick, wrap well and chill in the refrigerator for 30 min.

5. Preheat the oven to 350. Break the dough into 4 equal parts, re-wrap 3 and return them to the refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface, form the dough into a tube about 12” long and 1” thick. Flatten it so it’s a rectangle about 12” long, 2” wide, and 1/2” thick. Then, use a rolling pin or empty wine bottle or glass to roll it out to about 18” long, 3-4” wide, and 1/8” thick.

6.  Slice the dough into strips about 3/8” thick and place on ungreased cookie sheets. You don’t want them to touch, but they can be pretty close together.

7. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the edges are just beginning to brown. Watch them closely towards the end of the baking time, and rotate the sheets so they bake evenly if your oven, like mine, is uneven. If you under-bake them, they won’t be crisp, but too much and they’ll taste burnt.

8. Cool on paper towels, which will wick away a little of the excess grease. When cool, store in airtight containers.